In order to survive a comfortable life, humans (and most animals) must adequately fulfill three basic needs: hunger, rest, and social interaction. In nature, in the majority of occurrences, these needs are simple to acquire. By hunting, foraging, and performing social rituals, animals have employed a straightforward, consistent manner in which they attain food, shelter, and companionship.[i] Before the modern lifestyle was developed, humans also lived a simple existence in accordance with their basic needs. However, due to scientific and technological advances, there is now an excess of food, shelter, and people available to us, though the process in achieving these means has become increasingly complicated and inapposite with the task of fulfilling them. As a result of this, we have created a system unfit for valuing our living demands, labor, and commodities.
A dire consequence of this disconnect is that we have no intrinsic measure of a commodities value. We overvalue certain necessities, such as accommodation and clothing, at the expense of undervaluing other necessities, such as our personal relationships and emotional well-being. Furthermore, because many of us don’t have the experience necessary to assess the value of our needs, we let an external market[ii] dictate the price and amount of work we will have to expend in order to acquire such goods rather than appraise the items ourselves, and are thus left spending astronomical prices for goods and services such as education, housing, and health care.
Not only do we lack an intrinsic understanding of the value of necessary commodities, we also have a poor understanding of how to compensate labor. Since the majority of work in our society does not actively contribute to fulfilling our base needs, the value we place on labor doesn’t equate to its practical value, but rather it’s capacity to create further capital. This is why certain professions, such as those in finance or business, can be insanely overvalued whereas others, such as caregivers, teachers, farmers, and construction workers, insanely undervalued (despite the fact that these professions actively create the means necessary for nourishment, shelter, and human interaction).
However, our disconnect with an object or an occupation’s value is deeper than just a detachment with its market cost. When we spend our days at a computer or in meetings exchanging words, ideas, or capital around, we are not actively engaged in the work necessary for fulfilling our two major needs: rest and satiation.[iv] Logically, we can comprehend the link between work, monetary reward, and the power it grants us to buy food, shelter, and a social standing, but- since the work we perform is detached from our survival processes- our careers can feel unfulfilling and meaningless.[v] Moreover, since the majority of us cannot grow crops, hunt, or construct a building, if a situation were to occur that we lose our current employment, we would be unable to acquire the items we need to continue living, especially in a society where such commodities are severely overvalued. Thus, we become dangerously reliant on our jobs for survival and increasingly obsessed with acquiring both job security and savings, which instills in us a desire to stockpile our wealth, even at the expense of others.
This obsession is a concerning matter, as it results in a society preoccupied with driving up prices for the consumer in order to extract the highest profit possible, which promotes a selfish, anxious, busy, and solitary society to form. Furthermore, all members of a society are affected by this greed since everyone (regardless of whether they produce or not) is a consumer. Since an event or action often generates a correlating reaction, as producers try to expand their profit by increasing the cost of a service or product, other services and products, in order to compete with this, will increase their services or products; so any profit generated will likely end up being used to purchase the increasing cost of other items.
The end result of such a disconnected value system is a society with an absurd amount of excess, but an even more absurd amount of waste. The sheer insanity of having countless overstocked grocery stores and colossal waste disposals when we still have rampant starvation worldwide, or the fact that a financial analyst whose job it is to assess numerical values and trade capital be paid billions of dollars more than a farmer generating necessary nutritional output, are matters that need to be addressed if we want to mitigate the inequality, mental illness, and corruption pervasive in our society. And if we don’t take the difficult step of addressing our insensible value system, that fair and equitable society many of us idolize will only come via a necessary and inevitable catastrophe.
[i] This does not imply that nature continuously produce these basic necessities, or that fulfilling these needs is simple, but that the effort required is consistent with the surrounding environment and the organism’s attributes.
[ii] (That, it is worth noting, has consistently worked against the majority of the human population.)
[iii] In the majority of professions, we aren’t completing our social needs either, because professional environments require that we set aside our personal emotions, thoughts and needs in order to present a curated – often falsely optimistic- image of ourselves.
[iv] This could be a subconscious reason why so many people feel dissatisfied with their careers or have an overly-idealistic mentality in regards to agricultural labor.
If you obsess over growth, you will never succeed, as nothing perpetually increases.