System Failure: We Are Approaching the End of Society As We Know It -- And That May Be a Good Thing
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TM: The book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett makes that case.
PG: If we're extremely unequal, then we all suffer. Not only that, but research on consumerism has found that once you get to a certain point, more stuff doesn't make you happier. Social scientists say that once you get your basic needs met, you may work harder, you may get more money, you may buy more stuff, but your average quality of life does not improve. So the system isn't working for us anyway.
We need to make our societies more equal; we need to have greater opportunity for the poor; and the rich need to realize that more money doesn't actually improve their lives. We need to recognize that less consumption, spending more time helping each other, more time learning, more time involved in community, these are the behaviors that actually bring a better quality of life. That's why I argue that the crisis that's coming will lead to a better world than the one we have today.
TM: You mention Schumpeter's idea of creative destruction. It is usually thought as economic destruction where a corporation or an industry fails and is replaced by a new one. But implicit in what you're saying is that creative destruction applies to society as well. The model that we have lived under will be destroyed and there will be pain, but the shift will be movement forward for the species.
PG: I would add to that, let's think in terms of the evolution of higher consciousness as well. Let's recognize that we continue -- as we have had since we were monkeys -- to evolve to a better, more civilized place. This is the path we're still on. That's why I think we should recognize this is not about defending something old. In this process, we are actually building something new.