The world is arranged in such a way that a person has a gene of egoism that guides his actions, and competition lies at the foundation of the struggle for survival. But the problem is that the consuming lifestyle doesn't make us happy.
Some say development is about skyscrapers, highways, new metro lines and a rapidly growing GDP. However, development can mean something else: improved communication between people, the manifestation of empathy and mutual understanding, the revival of local communities, interpersonal cooperation, slowing down the pace of life and increasing the level of satisfaction with it. Development may also mean that endangered plant and animal species are saved, that forests and meadows will increase, but that bison and badgers can be found on a forest walk, and more seals and porpoises swim in the Baltic Sea. The development goal does not have to be the consumption of more and more goods and services, that is, the growth of GDP.
Someone might say that in capitalism, both are possible, that we can have material wealth, and at the same time a good quality of life. But it is not so. Some people find their place in the existing socio-economic system and lead a completely prosperous life. At the same time, many other people live in poverty, feel lost, alone, or simply unhappy. The modern version of global capitalism does not seek to effectively solve the problems of that part of society that feels bad under it. It strives for something else: to allow those who yearn for wealth and power to concentrate in their hands as much property as possible, even if this happens at the cost of other people or excessive exploitation of natural resources.
Of course, over time, the financial situation of a significant part of society has also improved, and not only the richest have benefited. But how did this affect life satisfaction? Let's take a look at the results of a study conducted in the United States. In the 40s of the last century, when a third of the apartments had no running water, bathrooms and toilets, half had no central heating, and most children did not finish the eighth grade of school, life satisfaction was at around 7.5 (on a scale from zero to ten). Now in an ordinary American household there is not only a plumbing and a toilet: the area of housing has doubled, computers, televisions, dishwashers and washing machines, microwave ovens, DVD players have appeared, and adults (and not only) households have acquired mobile phones. Meanwhile, the level of life satisfaction dropped to 7, 1.
However, this does not confuse enthusiasts of unlimited enrichment and an unregulated market. You, too, can be part of the group of millionaires or billionaires, they emphasize. The most important thing in life is to have as much as possible. One house is not enough. If you're creative enough, adventurous, hard-working and don't share your income with others, you can buy a huge yacht with a basketball court and your own island in the Pacific Ocean. You can also buy your own TV channel, which will provide you with entertainment after boring meetings in the office (who will watch the programs of other people's channels). Just think: money and fame. It will all be yours, you just deserve it. Do not look back at others, open a company, go public and multiply wealth, and soon your name will be included in the list of the richest people on the planet. Well, do you want this?
However, there is one catch: the wealth and power will go to a few. The rest will be pushed to the sidelines by competitors. They will have to bite their elbows and sigh, sinking into frustration that they have not been able to achieve the same as others. Losers are not to blame, it cannot be said that they did not try enough, that they were not ruthless enough or creative enough: this is just how this system works. The place at the top of the pyramid is only for a narrow group of people.
It should be noted here that this system could not function if people were happy with what they have. If they didn't feel the urge to buy more and more items, then new products would start piling up in warehouses. The efficiency of the company can be increased by introducing more productive machines and increasing the volume of production, which is what the shareholders want. But who will buy all this? PR agencies and government policy were involved to introduce the consumer lifestyle in as wide a circle as possible. One of the methods that was used for this purpose was influencing the sense of self-worth: people were convinced that if they did not have, for example, fashionable clothes, or the latest TV, then they were worse than others. But don't worry, you can handle it and feel better by going shopping. The consumer society did not arise as a natural stage in the evolution of mankind, but was created for the sake of businessmen in order to provide a market for their products.
But the problem is that the consuming lifestyle doesn't make us happy. Happiness has nothing to do with the number of items we own, with the purchase of new things. The joy of shopping is short. To get it back, you have to go back to the store. For business owners who want to build wealth, such dissatisfaction is not only beneficial, but even necessary, because it allows you to constantly sell a lot of items. But is the dependence on the acquisition of unnecessary things good in terms of the quality of life?
In 1976, a study was carried out in the United States among young people (12,000 people) who graduated from the most prestigious schools or began studying at the most famous universities. They were asked about their plans and values. About 20 years later, when the respondents were about 37 years old, they were contacted again to find out how satisfied they were with their lives. It turned out that those who prioritized material values and multiplication of money felt less happy than others.
In turn, American studies of people whose property value exceeded $ 10 million showed that these people were no more satisfied with their lives than the office workers or workers they hired. Another study of 792 people with over $ 1 million in investments showed that more than half of this group did not feel happier with more money. Almost a third of those who own properties over $ 10 million said the money had created new problems for them rather than solved old ones.
Of course, the quality of life of those who live below the poverty line will improve if they additionally receive, say, three thousand zlotys a month. This will noticeably change their lives. Nevertheless, the reflection of income growth on the quality of life has its limits, and when a certain level is reached, the mechanism stops working. When the most pressing material needs that weigh people down are met, further growth in incomes no longer brings such joy. An example is the United States again, where, despite the fact that the average income in 1957-2002 almost doubled, the number of people who consider themselves very happy remained at about the same level. Despite this, the majority of politicians continue to consider the growth of consumption as a priority task for the development of the state.
How to get rid of this? Modern capitalism is based on a certain picture of the world and on the ideology that supports its existence. According to her, man is by nature greedy and selfish. The world is arranged in such a way that a person has a gene of egoism that guides his actions, and competition lies at the foundation of the struggle for survival. Therefore, the desire for material wealth is natural, greed is good, and government policy should not hinder the realization of material aspirations leading to true happiness. The state should limit its interference, since the invisible hand of the market will by itself ensure well-being for all. And if this does not happen, then because this process is limited by unnecessary laws.
The state is a necessary evil, like society, which, in fact, does not exist (as Margaret Thatcher once noted): there are only individuals living side by side.
According to this approach, market regulation is unnecessary, as it only complicates the activities of the enterprising and admirable people on the Forbes list, from which to take an example. Economic growth, like a tide in the ocean, will lift all ships, so taxes should be as low as possible, or even better, abolish them altogether. Everything with the exception of the police and the army must be in private hands. Wealthy citizens have no obligation to the rest of society, since they made their own fortune, and no one helped them in this. Paying people beggarly wages or moving factories to places where you can spend less on workers is normal and justified by the desire to maximize the company's revenue, which should be a global priority. The task of the school is to educate disciplined obedient workers who will willingly and on time carry out the tasks that the future boss will give them. At the same time, they should be creative, because thanks to this, their chef will receive an award, and they will receive a certificate of honor, which will be posted in the lobby. Man is not a part of nature, he rises above it, and this frees him from the obligation to take care of the state of the environment or the preservation of various species of plants and animals.
But what if all this is a collection of myths that do not find confirmation in reality, or are simply invented as a theoretical basis that justifies the desire to fulfill all your desires? What if a person is not selfish by nature, but is capable of empathy and compassion, and good relationships with other people and helping those in need fill him with joy and a sense of fulfillment in life? Psychologists conducted an experiment on this topic with children a little over three years old. It consisted in the fact that the adult sitting at the table dropped the handle, reached for it, but could not reach it. Scientists wanted to test how children would behave in this situation. Almost all of them approached, understood the pen and handed it to an adult. In the first group, he did not react in any way to help, in the other, the child heard gratitude, and in the third, he received a toy as a reward. It turned out that children from the first and second groups continued to come with help, and in the third they did it less often, as they began to wait for reward for their actions.
The importance of social connections in life is indicated by the results of studies of neuroscientists who have established that humans have an innate tendency to empathize and enjoy good relationships with others, and this can be confirmed by visualizing the way the brain functions. However, not only humans, but also other mammals (not only primates) are capable of empathy. The natural world is not a continuous struggle for survival and competition, it is also cooperation and relationships associated with feelings. One of many experiments showing that animals also have empathy was carried out with rhesus monkeys (narrow-nosed monkeys) in 1964. The monkeys had to pull on the chain to get food. But when they found out that this was another monkey receiving an electric shock, the two poppies stopped pulling the chain, depriving themselves of food. One macaque fasted for five days during the experiment, and the other for twelve.
In turn, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, who has worked with people in conflict zones in Rwanda, Israel, Palestine and Sri Lanka, writes that in his classes with people in these places, he asked to do one thing: to think about which their actions over the past 24 hours have made other people's lives happier. Then he asked: how do you feel, thinking that you have done something that will contribute to the happiness of another person? “Then everyone started smiling,” notes Rosenberg. - Why? Because each of us is pleased to know that he can improve the lives of others. And when I ask if something else can give a similar feeling of self-realization, I get the same answer all over the world: "There is nothing better than trying to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others."
We usually hear something different from politicians and economists. In their statements, very often there is a picture of the world, which is promoted by the supporters of neoliberal capitalism, and which politicians or mayors willingly pick up and disseminate. The neoliberal approach is considered to be something completely ordinary, which does not cause surprise or outrage, as, for example, Janusz Korwin-Mikke (Polish politician of the conservative-liberal wing) on the topic of women. But maybe this is wrong? What if we replace the admiration for power and money that underlie this picture of the world with such qualities as caring and empathy, and on their foundation we plan changes in the social and economic system of the state, as well as the development of cities and rural areas? Wouldn't it be better for our quality of life?
If you look at the functioning of the state from a different perspective, choose the goal of improving the quality of life of society, and not increasing the income of corporations, then the decisions that are being promoted now seem preferable.
Is the global economy such a great idea? Is it good that you can suddenly close the plant and move it to the other end of the world, to Southeast Asia? Maybe a special high duty should be introduced on the products of such a company, so that it becomes unprofitable to buy them, and at the same time, with the support of the state, open a local plant in the form of a cooperative, the owners of which will be the employees themselves?
Yes, this is "interference" of the state in the economy. And I don't see anything wrong with that. These actions have an important purpose: to enable people to feed themselves. I believe that this is what the state is needed for, and it is this kind of activity that should be considered normal. It is clear that, on the whole, the state is functioning poorly now, and democracy requires many significant amendments. Nevertheless, in order to improve the quality of life, it is better to make the state more efficient than to limit its field of activity or, in the name of neoliberal myths, surrender to the mercy of the leaders of large companies, the whims of the stock exchange and the reaction of the "markets" that cause awe and constant torment, not whether investors disappear somewhere. Enough of this.
Shortening of the working day so that a person has the opportunity to spend more time with loved ones; the creation of consumer cooperatives; local currency; community-supported agriculture; democratic governance and joint ownership of companies; deliberative democracy; corrective social justice; a school that emphasizes children's contact with nature, free play and cooperation; measuring life satisfaction rather than focusing on GDP are some of the many solutions that can be implemented almost immediately. The starting point here (as idealistic as it may sound) is to change our priorities and values, as well as our view of the world.