- Countless shells are piled and ignored on this beach, thrown up by storms from countless countless more living in the water beyond. Nobody desires to take more than a few home. This contradicts modern mythology which states: “Any organism must struggle for scarce resources or perish. All resources are scarce.” An intellectual priesthood intones an innate drive to desire more _ knowledge, power, goods, happiness_ infinitely and forever. Desiring more is a positive social good, justifying wealth, evil, and misery in the name of universal scientific truth.
- I gaze on these oysters, whelks, and moonshells and do not seek more, nor do I believe any child would do so. Those priests, if present, would take me aside and explain, “No, son, perhaps you do not desire more of these particular shells. You will soon yearn for something else, or will desire finer and rarer shells, from elsewhere. There is joy in possessing something that others do not.” They are wrong. I recognize no “hierarchy of needs” in myself. Basic requirements satisfied, all other desire is a figment of imagination. Religions and societies less dependent on capitalistic consumerism have recognized that fact for tens of thousands of years.
- Life’s most endearing traits are a desire to continue moment after moment, and an occasional overwhelming desire to create copies. That desire to continue is quite remarkable. A mature specimen of any large species living in a stable niche should be literally bored to death. Survival struggles are generally confined to the young and the old _ not even a pack of wolves, for example, is going to take on a bull American bison in its prime. An organism’s most mysterious genes are those that keep it eating, facing each day, struggling through storm and season, simply to experience another storm and season.
- Darwinistic capitalism preaches that “survival of the fittest” means the fit must totally control their environment, and must grow ever more powerful. But in nature, “more” is rarely involved. Predators stop when their territory is adequate size, prey rests when it has enough food, trees attain only a certain height. I believe the fittest prosper in their niche, and limit, rather than ceaselessly expand, their desires.
Shouldn’t we desire intangible things as much as goods? Shouldn’t we pause and reflect?”
“Ha!” he exclaims happily. “Fortunately, your questions are easily answered!” He bends closer to the black box in his hand. “Siri?”
- Sometimes the greatest desire is simply to rest and enjoy a calm view of the world. Unseasonably warm weather for the last few days has driven many from offices at lunch, happy to spend time with sun and clouds and temperatures that promise spring. Even seagulls got into the act, mobbing some poor unfortunate who threw the remainder of her sandwich on the sand. Out on the bay, clammers seem to be the only people at work.
- In my more active days, I tried to take lunch in the open whenever possible. At that time, many remained tied to their desks as they jammed in nourishment, or else rushed off on some errand. Now I see where companies are forecefully encouraging employees to eat together, in effect making what used to be break time into just another dreary meeting. Freed from such supervision, my only real chore is to continue to waste hours doing nothing but listening to birds and watching the slow opening of crocuses and daffodils.
- As is said in investment advertisements: “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” We may be about to discover whether a species genetically driven by desire for more can be satisfied with enough. Or perhaps can redirect its acquisitive instincts to intangibles such as beauty.
- Why is desire genetic? Any evolutionary theories are pure speculation, but it is generally accepted that our most remote ancestors were driven from disappearing forests onto the savannah because of climate change. Since modern man appeared and left Africa, population pressure combined with human ingenuity to destroy most large land animals and place people everywhere on the planet.
- With the advent of agriculture, civilizations with enough land, water, climate, slaves and serfs could provide stable surplus for aristocratic elites. The problem, of course, was that in spite of plague and war, populations in some places just kept growing and needing more resources . Since the Renaissance, humans have increasing swarmed everywhere, and now threaten the biosphere itself. Because of the way we are made, because of all we know, we desire more and more because stability or loss feels dangerous
- And yet ….
- Although all economics, politics, and social theory is based on how to handle the problem of scarcity, more and more it appears that if it avoids catastrophe, civilization could enter or has entered uncharted territory, where the problem is surplus. That’s why we cannot depend on the past. A person in 1200 dreaming of a day when billions of words would be available for anyone to read would have imagined millions of slaves copying manuscripts. A person in 1800 informed that anyone would be able to listen to any music anytime anywhere would have pictured a world filled with musicians. A Roman emperor could never have conceived of a city fed by the efforts of a few farmers. And so on.
- Most socioeconomic theories implicitly assume that idle hands are dangerous hands, that a society liberated from necessary work will rapidly devolve into chaos, that slaking desire with abundance will halt any progress. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps we need new theories.
- Oh, some will say I live as the favored few or that scarcity continues evermore as population rages out of control. Yet birth rates can be and are being controlled, the majority of people live with more goods than they had in 1950, automation threatens to drown every job in a cornucopia of output. I believe it may be time to examine desire itself.
- Words can be irrelevant. There is a huge stretch of imagination to conceive of the bursting of buds in spring as somehow involved with the desire of a plant to continue to live. The impulse, and genetic drive, is more primitive and integral than any fancified poetic metaphors. All such words only have meaning for use, the bushes and trees and even birds (and some would claim people as well) are just doing what they are mindlessly wired to do until Malthusian Darwinism drives them into overpopulation and extinction.
- Some of these current bad photos have the (bad) excuse that I have a newer, supposedly more capable, camera and have not worked out how to handle it properly. I will continue to inflict them on my blog for a while because that is the only way to force myself to actually reread and understand all the settings available. Manuals are pretty deadly and now that they are all on line I cannot just curl up somewhere and page through them.