Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Progress and Happiness

Matt Yglesias comments on the Progress Paradox:

"The real progress paradox isn't "why doesn't all our stuff make us happy" but rather, given that all our stuff pretty clearly doesn't make us happy, how do we come to have all this stuff."

My answer: The Difficult to Predict Future.

The apparently insatiable need that we have for more is rational if one thinks in terms of our species coming from a resource scarce past. It is only recently that we have gained the remarkable control over resources that we have - a product of the development of agriculture. For most species finding the next meal remains dangerous and full of uncertainty. In such conditions it makes sense to be only temporarily satiated. The going was good today but that does not mean that things tomorrow won't be disastrous.

Our past has taught us a lesson: Beware of extrapolating the good times. Its still part of our psychology to be only temporally satisfied with what we have and will tend to strive for more "stuff". Which is why we have such "consumerist" tendencies (not because we are manipulated by Big Business like the Greens maintain) and why the high from a round of shopping therapy does not last.

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