Old Monopoly localization, with Colombo streets
I was reading American Psycho in which the homicidal maniac is lovingly detailing the features of his Walkman. That book in its loving and pathological detail documents a certain dated 1980s style decadence luxurious in the abstract but moreso in relativity. That is luxury is relative to the plebes you can lord it over. Take any medieval king of England and I, with access to flush toilets, anti-biotics and airplanes, have it incomparably better then them. Yet am I happy as a king? Not so much. Why not?
Happiness is not, I think, tied to the physicality of these things but some sense of our relative position in the world. It is not the greenness of the grass in the abstract but it’s greenness relative to the neighbors lawn. The guy in American Pyscho was living an incomparably rich life in New York, but even 25 years later my iPod puts his Walkman to shame. And he would take that seriously. Yet I get not the same pleasure from my Nano as one would get from a similar product in 1985.
It seems that any amount of progress will be unsatisfactory. The term itself, like the common understanding of evolution, is not quite correct. A lot of people mention evolution as if it’s leading to a particular state, and it’s not. Evolution doesn’t know the future, it’s simply adapting to the present based on clues from the past. It is not like there is a set environment that we have simply taken millennia to figure out. The environment is constantly changing and evolution is the act of adaptation. It is not progress in the linear sense.
In the same way, no amount of technological or material progress is going to lead to a goal state of contentment. A) the environment will change and B) the technology itself will change the environment. Instead of being happy with the accumulation of ten thousand years of progress we think about next years model, and if it will have a color screen. We rarely look down and go HOLY FUCK I CAN SEE PEOPLE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD. This would, for any of our ancestors, be biblically awesome, yet we are like ‘meh’. It is all relative and I suspect something will always be wrong.
Seeing that this material happiness is – in the abstract – bullshit, I suppose it should be possible to simply rejigger ones mental relations to the point where one is happy as a 16th century king. One must maintain a constant level of surprise. A young friend of mine still freaks out every time he sees an elephant. One must aspire to this.