Affluence’s Curse

When everything is due, anything that goes missing causes a tragedy

Why is it that the most affluent societies are the ones where the fear of the future becomes some kind of collective Phobia of the Novelty, mixed up with a morbid fascination for dreaming up their own, however improbable, catastrophes?

Conversely, what makes quite poor people keep their hopes high for the future? If we could restrict ourselves purely to risk analysis, the opposite would be true.

Being rich means having a multitude of metaphorical cushions protecting one’s fall, for example being able to buy actual insurances.

For many instead, being poor means finding oneself wondering if there will be anything to eat for dinner.

And yet it’s in the Affluent West, plus Japan that blatant absurdities like the Principle of Precaution are fashionable.

I won’t even mention how many people are hooked into believing in toto the interminable series of catastrophical environmental reports that nowadays grace newspapers almost as commonly as gossip columns.

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One way to understand such a paradox is via what can be called “the Curse of Affluence“.

Humans naturally being hoarding animals, they have no qualms in pretending that everything they can get their hands onto is actually due to them.

Therefore, the more they have, the higher their fear some, any of it may disappear.

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Imagine one earns $25,000/year. Having been particularly good at their job, he/she gets a promotion and a salary of $40,000.

The happiness that brings disappears quickly though, and the following year the new level will be considered a given, not an achievement.

One will soon start to yearn for a higher salary still. Not only that: the new income will have surely brought a few more luxuries in one’s life. Losing those would feel like an abysmal failure: anxiety for the future will therefore kick in.

If left unchecked, that anxiety will increase more and more with increasingly higher salaries.

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If we apply the same line of thought to a society of people, then we can understand why they would all live in fear of losing their affluence rather than trying to enjoy it while they have it.

If everything is due, then anything that goes missing is in itself a tragedy (it works the other way around: if nothing is due, than anything that is obtained is a cause for celebration).

At the end then, a whole nation of rich people may as well stop functioning, with each one of them paralyzed by the fear of losing any of their innumerable luxuries, life included.

With the trap of a pessimistic Decadence bubble growing larger and larger, progress is then passed on to those that are not yet rich enough. And so on.

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To free affluent societies from their fears, first of all risk management should be made part of the school curriculum, like literature or maths. Also, people must be reminded for example via museums of the terrible aspects of non-affluent life.

In general, anything that would expose them to the practicalities of being dirt poor will definitely help. Just as (of course!) the spreading of a simple concept: that the neverending accumulation of stuff can only kill all hopes.