Why are we all so unhappy all the time?
Western civilization is an unhappy civilization. It\'92s technologically advanced, but it failed in the most basic undertaking, making its members happy.
We are not happy.
Is it because we don't have enough money? No. We have more money than ever. We have more gadgets than ever. We go through more bodies than ever via sex, casual sex. I mean, affluence. Everything is at our disposal and our fingertips.
And yet we are not happy.
Is it because we don't spend enough time with Sam Vaknin? Could be the explanation, but I tend to doubt it.
My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, and of course, a professor of psychology. I will never let you forget this. Never, ever. I'm going to make you marginally more unhappy in this lecture. You have my word on it, because I'm going to discuss the reasons for unhappiness.
Why are we unhappy?
We are all profoundly unhappy, and a growing minority of us are clinically depressed, anxious, mentally ill. Something like one-third to two-fifths of the population had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression following COVID-19.
But that figure is simply a revelation of an underlying situation. People avoided reporting or self-reporting their condition until the pandemic had struck.
So about half of us are mentally ill, and all of us are existentially and profoundly sad.
This astounding outcome of human history can be traced back to four pernicious wrongturns.
Number one, agriculture.
Number two, organization.
Number three, growth orientation.
Number four, the adversarial organizational principle.
Let me unpack and deconstruct each and every one of these.
Start with agriculture. Agriculture was the harbinger and antecedent of the rape of Earth. Yes, you heard me right, the rape of Earth.
Think about ploughing. What is ploughing? It's when you take this sharp implement known as a plough and you thrust it into the innocent, unsuspecting soil.
How symbolic. A metaphor of rape. Using sheer muscle power, men, mainly males, harnessed natural resources unsustainably.
The rape of Earth had begun in earnest with agriculture.
Climate change is a direct consequence of agriculture, for example, cattle raising. Agriculture created surplus produce, and this surplus produce freed the majority of the population from hitherto communal hunting and gathering.
Let me explain this. A small group of people, right now, about 2% in the United States, a small group of people create enough food for the other 98%. So these 98% don't have to work to generate, to create, to grow their own food. So now they're free.
There's a new concept, leisure. What to do with leisure? Well, you provide services to each other. You trade in goods and commodities and all kinds of manufactured goods. Industry, devices, entertainment, academic pursuits, all these are the outcome of agriculture.
Surplus produce, surplus food, equals freedom, and freedom equals civilization. We no longer have to hunt and gather in order to survive. But hunting and gathering was a communal activity, the glue that held tribes, clans, families and later societies together.
In the absence of these communal activities, we started to drift apart, to disintegrate and get atomized. We lost each other. I'm not advocating going back to hunting and gathering. I strongly suspect that I would be a very poor hunter.
Well, a good predator, but a poor hunter. So that's not what I'm advocating. Of course, sustainable agriculture is a good thing, but we failed. We failed to establish communal alternatives. We failed to create social institutions that would prevail, that would have longevity and resilience.
And so we fell apart.
Agriculture gave rise to an addiction to economic growth. Economic growth is an overriding value.
Economic growth at any cost, human cost, environmental cost, psychological cost, social cost, consumerism and economics were the efforts inculcating tools were the mythology of capitalism and Western civilization, the twin mythologies, consumerism and market economics or free market economics.
This addiction to economic growth, this sacrifice of everything that is human, everything that is, that makes us a species, a sui generis, this sacrifice is coming back to haunt us.
Our chickens, proverbial chicken, are home to roost.
And so if we don’t change the mindset of economic growth as the only benchmark, yardstick and standard for progress, if we don’92t realize that progress is about being happy, not about owning material goods, if we don’92t exit this death cult, because it’s a death cult, a civilization that sacrifices human beings in order to further production of material goods is a death cult.
When we value inanimate objects of a people, it’s a death cult and we are all members of this death cult and we worship in this cult. We have shrines called shopping malls. We have prayers, prayer books and catechisms known as advertising and marketing. And so it’92s a religion.
Consumerism is a religion, pernicious, insidious phenomenon that had taken over our minds and hearts.
It all started with agriculture. Agriculture also led to the emergence of institutions such as the patriarchy, men dominating and enslaving women.
Slavery and agriculture gave rise to cities. Cities are not natural. They are not normal. Cities are pathological, sick amalgamations. Cities, slavery, patriarchy, go together and they are unnatural arrangements with grave social and psychological outcomes.
We are unhappy because we live in cities. We are unhappy because there is war between the genders and we are unhappy because many of us, majority actually, are still literally and figuratively enslaved.
Finally, as a species, we had opted for conflict rather than harmony and justice. We conjured up adversarial, combative systems and conflict-based science. The science was a way to back up the culture of adversity and conflict.
For example, evolution. The theory of evolution is a conflict-based theory, survival of the fittest. It’s a jungle out there. We’re all apes. Free market economics is an adversarial system. Winners and losers, zero-sum games, Trump’s world.
So if you put all these together, if you take into account agriculture, urbanization, cities, growth orientation, sacrificing everything on the altar of economic growth and the adversarial conflict-based organizational principle of society and science, you would understand why we are at the place that we are. Why we are so profoundly, so profoundly desolate, despondent, disappointed, dysphoric and dysfunctional.
What can we do about all this?
Agriculture had led to industry, industry had led to services and the consumption of utterly unnecessary material goods.
We can and should reverse this. We should put humans above production, humans above material goods.
Urbanization, we should break cities apart. It’s doable with the power of computers, with the digital world allows us to break cities apart. Suburbs started this trend in the 1950s and 60s, but it didn’t go far enough.
We need to break apart this unnatural sick pathologized in infested, infected, abrogates and conglomerates of humans upon humans upon humans that we call cities.
We need to let go and forgo of urbanization. It’s sick.
We need to create a new form of economics which takes into account happiness, welfare, long term sustainability, the environment.
It’s already starting in places like the Netherlands.
And finally, we need to give up on most, if not all, western values.
Because western values are sick, majority of them, not all of them of course.
Freedom is great, for example. But many western values. We’ve gone the wrong way. We’ve exaggerated. We had radicalized. We became fundamentalists. We became fundamentalists of the western religion.
Exactly like Muslim fundamentalists or Jewish fundamentalists or Christian fundamentalists.
Freedom is bad for your health. And we have fundamentalists of western value.
In academia mainly, but not only there.
We need to stop this. It's taking us to a bad place.
Ask any woman who can't find a partner. Ask any man who can't establish a family. Ask any person who doesn't have friends.
Shockingly, a huge percentage of the population don't have a single good friend, studies show. It's not working.
The idea of the west, Mr Ferguson, is not working. We need to supplant it. We need to replace it with something a bit more holistic, a bit more human, a bit more down to size and down to earth, literally, earth.
We need to do it now. We need to do it now.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call. Climate change is a wake-up call. It's our chance. It's our chance to wake up from this nightmare that we had inflicted upon ourselves.
If we don't take it, we'll be trapped forever in this world of lucid dreaming. And we will never emerge, like an inception, the movie.
Do we want that? Do we want that? Is this the future that we envision for our children and grandchildren?
A dystopian world where everyone is out on his own in a modern urban jungle, where material goods are far more important than any number of people, where viruses ravage us, nature fights back, drowns us, kills us, with all the weapons at its disposal.
Because make no mistake about it, nature will fight us. We had become a threat, not only to ourselves but to the universe at large. We will not be allowed to continue. We will not be allowed to subsist and persist.
If we do not change course, now it's already almost too late.