We all have it but we don’t notice it. It steals what we value. Like King Midas we discover that everything we delight in becomes, through excess of our attention, no more than another commodity. We are all conditioned to want more stuff so that we are good consumers and therefore help to support an economy that is consuming the planet on which we live. … and we think of this as “progress” – but what are we observing?
It is much more widespread than that. It affects almost every aspect of our living. Read the ancient tale of King Midas – it has never been more relevant and touches every person on earth.
Consider the example of tourism. An adventurer once discovered a far off land where the people were innocently going about their simple lives in what seemed to be paradise. The sun shone on the lush landscape, wildlife flourished, pristine beaches were lapped by clear waters, simple facilities catered well enough for travellers’ needs. The adventurer wrote for the newspapers and before long crowds came, those who served the tourists made money, homes became guest houses, fishermen became tour guides. Then foreigners invested in new hotels, souvenir shops, nightclubs, diving schools and an airport. Everything the adventurer had written about passed into history. What was remarkable has been reduced to a global product in exchange for cash.
Such a story has been repeated worldwide in myriad forms at every scale – but we still pack our bags and fly to exotic locations, blind to the fact that we are contributing to the process of raping the planet for money.
Your child or grandchild enjoys treats. You enjoy giving treats. You collude with one another until it becomes one of the norms of your relationship. Unless you are very careful the receiving of treats becomes an expectation and even a precondition of being together. What was once of intrinsic value is only valued for its extrinsic worth. What lesson have you taught?
Turn on your TV and you are bombarded by exhortations to indulge yourself – “because you are worth it”. You are seduced into desiring stuff you could well live without but this persuasion is a cultural force. You will be diminished in the eyes of your friends or neighbours unless you have this gadget or that car or another TV or a new kitchen – and so on. Of course, you are not naïve. You discriminate. But even so your values are eroded and you begin to want what previously you had never even heard of. You now have to buy your own self-esteem!
It will not go on for ever. There will be some kind of reckoning. Perhaps, like Midas, we will wake up too late to save ourselves. Perhaps it will simply be a shortage of everything or maybe the whole system will collapse and we will revert to being hunter gatherers in warring tribes. But remember there are now almost 8 thousand million people and awesome destructive powers on earth. It will be for the survivors to make something of the wreckage we leave behind, in a heavily polluted world.
Is there hope in artificial intelligence? AI can be stupendously smart. But AI is not our intelligence being used as it could be. It shines because we insist on being dumb. And is AI with all its cleverness really capable of the finer intelligence for which we humans have the potential – the possibility of enjoying art and music, of spiritual awareness, of love?
Remember the scene in 2001 Space odyssey in which the protagonist shuts down Hal, the brilliant computer. Why would humanity invent its own demise and abdicate in favour of AI?
The very idea is perhaps the equivalent of King Midas’s daughter who also turned to gold. Midas relented. Will we do so also? What can we each do to rediscover what makes living worthwhile – the very meaning of our life?
The search for meaning is what High Trenhouse exists to support. Join us on one of our open events! OR bring your group to HTH to explore your own quest for meaning.