After years and years of darkness, suddenly… Enlightenment, Renaissance… Progress! Although the Industrial Revolution brought about material progress, it was Gutenberg’s printing assembly line, the Printing Press that changed the world, as we know it. As soon as the first book -King James’ Bible or Gutenberg’s Bible- was printed, the world changed forever. Masses and masses of knowledge were spread around the world. Science, Literature, Arts, Mathematics and Religion inundated every corner of our civilized community. From then, and for many years -arguably up until today- discoveries and advancement provided humanity a never-ending source of production; production of thoughts techniques and technologies that made the world what it is today.
As sudden as the appearance of life in our planet; in the universe, mass culture took upon itself to carry generation after generation through the path of wisdom. Soon, libraries appeared, usually around churches, which up until that point held massive amounts of books and journals. Hubs of information such as universities followed up. With the widespread availability of textbooks on science and Mathematics, humans learned to take advantage of raw materials in a substantial way. But the opportunity to reach the masses brought upon us another phenomenon. The Penny Press, probably the first form of mass advertising, impacted the world as people were not only given what they needed, but also what they didn’t need. It played along with people’s desires and it is called Pop Culture.
The Industrial Revolution gave humanity the opportunity to use coal, fossil fuels and metals to produce finished products, which helped improve out lives exponentially. With it, the sustainable agricultural societies were terminated to give room to mass production. A new era of modern economics came along. Soon, individuals found themselves pursuing their own interests, their own goals in a society where maximum economic production and individual success was the new motto. Fueled by the hoax of a “free market” society, where the limit is the sky the industrialized world entered a race to produce more of everything. Individuals look upon each other according to their riches, their possessions, and left behind the family oriented, community first tradition that had worked just fine for thousands of years. Adam Smith’s explains it very clearly in his book The Wealth of the Nations. “Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally… He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security.”
Society then grew familiar with having more of everything and happiness was equaled to possessing. A new devotion to growth began. Every effort, every technology was used to give us everything we needed and also everything we didn’t need. Happiness was given a new definition: I have then I exist then I am happy. But if happiness comes in boxes and shopping bags, why is it that people are sadder, more stressed than ever? Polluted rivers and smog-covered cities should give us a hint. But let’s take a look at raw data to support this statement. Since 1972, the National Opinion Center surveys Americans about their level of satisfaction and happiness. In 1974, a poll asked people to rate their level of contentment. In the middle of economic hardship and an oil crisis, 38 percent of people responded to the question and said they were “very happy”. Today, when the same question is posed, only 33 percent find themselves in the same position.
When you go out and buy a Ford Mustang, it means that this very car is what at that moment makes you happy. It is instant satisfaction. If conditions permitted it, you would go out again and buy another car that makes you feel happier. Having the best car, the latest plasma T.V set, the fanciest house with the greatest amount of stuff in it buys you instant pleasure, but how long does it last? A study by professor Corey Keyes of Emory University, found that only 17 percent of Americans lived satisfactory lives while 26 percent saw themselves as depressed. Environmentalist Alan Durning found that in 1991 the average American owned twice as many cars than in 1950, and consumed 21 times as much plastic. In the United Kingdom, real GDP per capita grew two thirds between 1973 and 2001, but people’s level of happiness did not increase.
Why is it our main goal then to accumulate wealth? Let’s take the American Dream. The idea that anyone can become rich, no matter how poor or unskilled he or she is. The idea of private entrepreneurship as a tool to become successful in life, to change one’s future with little or no regard for what the community needs is what has driven us to look the other way. Americans are almost always forced to go at it by themselves. Private health saving accounts, Army of One, surviving in a desert island alone, the typical secret agent that takes on everyone and succeeds… All these portraits of success have taken us off-guard and have turned us into the brainwashed unhappy consumption-oriented hyper-individualistic beings we are. Here is where Pop Culture comes into place. Television, radio, magazines and newspapers profess the benefits of buying this, owning that. People on the street see drama shows as mirrors of their own lives. One day, while I walked on the street, I heard a woman saying: Oh! Desperate Housewives, that’s us! We all want to have what people on TV have. We want to be as popular and cool as they are. The H3 Hummer, to ride on pave roads, the house in the Hamptons, the Summer home by the beach with the boat tied from the private dock. Does anyone ever think about growing the ideal family, having the safest community, enjoying healthy relationships with the neighbors? No. We all enjoy shopping at the
“The World’s Economic Outlook” , John Maynard Keynes. 1932.
Mother Jones Magazine.
Stuff: The secret lives of everyday things. Alan Durning
“How to Organise a Wave of Prosperity”, John Maynard Keynes. 1928.