Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
We seem to have lost our ability to feel what’s enough somewhere around the upgrade from stone to iron axe.
Since then, we’ve had too much of some things and too little of others. We’ve lost our natural balance and peace of mind, which other animals who opted out of the upgrade, seem to have retained.
It looks as if we willingly quit the garden of Eden, while all the other species stayed. Well, they would have, but we destroyed most of their natural habitat with our fancy new axes and later chainsaws. So no more garden of Eden for anyone.
The axe upgrade is certainly not at fault here.
An axe, even a very sharp one is nothing but a useful tool in the hands of a fully rounded human being. But in the hands of a raging maniac or a 5 year old child, it becomes a source of potential mayhem.
And that’s exactly what humanity at its current stage of development resembles. Not sure, whether it’s a raging maniac or a 5 year old. But definitely someone out of touch with reality and themselves.
So how did we get here?
Did we lose our peace of mind because of the axe and what we’ve done with it? No. The other way around.
We’ve done what we did – screwed up our environment and ourselves – because we lost our peace of mind as a result of how our brains evolved. Coincidentally, that evolution also enabled us to create better technologies. So we found ourselves in the rainforest with stone, then later iron axes in our hands, gradually rising above other species, loosing touch with ourselves, our true needs and with what’s enough. With iron axes in our hands, everything started looking like a tree to be cut down and a prey to kill. We just can’t seem to stop cutting and killing ever since.
All this seems to have been inevitable. Whatever happened in our brains that afforded us unprecedented dexterity to manipulate our material environment, our psychological attunement and capacity to know who we are, where we belong and how we can live in harmony with the rest of the world, in short, our capacity to know what’s enough was definitely left out of that upgrade.
Fast forward some tens of thousands of years and that brain structure has not changed at all. So our technologies got better gradually, but our spirit seems to have changed little, except we’ve grown out of touch with it.
Then modernity came along, say a few hundred years ago, which sped up the previous gradual development of technology to exponential levels. As a result, in the 20th century, every generation experienced a radical change in their way of life, which used to happen once every 10 thousand years and at a smaller scale.
So we ended up with entire generations out of teach with one another, with individuals out of touch with each other living as a mass and with the prototypical consumer who derives their sense of identity from their shopping cart and is entirely out of touch with their real needs.
We are the people, who bang the table at Starbucks if our latte is not warm enough and look the other way when we find out that the people who grow and pick the coffee beans for us earn less money a week than what our latte cost. And we also conveniently look the other way when we find out how much more rainforest had to be cut down to grow our coffee, palm oil and beef.
This is not to send you on a guilt trip. It is to drive home the point that the mismatch between our psychological needs and the way of life our technology affords and compels us to live is obscene. We lost our ability to know what’s enough and consequently of who we are.
We need love and affection, so we consume information on a gadget.
We need human connection, so we interact with profile pictures online.
We need to rest, but despite our time saving appliances, we have less time to rest than ever.
We need stress relief, so we eat, drink, smoke or binge watch some series.
We could feed everyone on the planet, but we don’t.
We see in the dark, so we don’t sleep when it gets dark.
Our civilization and way of life look like they were designed by somebody who only had access to a certain part of their brain, the faculty of rationality, but even that got twisted and turned into irrationality along the way.
Our psychotechnologies, tools we use to maintain and regain our original balance and peace of mind, as well as transcend our individuality, advanced very little over the history of our species and most of us have no access even to those techniques, because they are either banned (psychedelics) or economically unattainable (therapy) or simply out of fashion (religion, community).
On the other hand, material technologies have taken quantum leaps in development and we’ve grown completely dependent on them both as societies and as individuals.
AI is still only a figment of the imagination, at least the version with a will of its own and consciousness, and yet it doesn’t seem outlandish to say that we don’t make technology anymore, technology breeds us. And we seem to enjoy it too.
But why wouldn’t we?
Who wouldn’t choose a warm bedroom with a private bath over a stinking cave shared by three generations of humans, a dozen reptiles and a colony of bats?
In a way, we lost our innocence, our original balance and peace of mind as soon as we rose above the rest of the creatures by being able to kill them with our stone axes all too easily.
We traded our innocence for convenience.
Space travel, RNA vaccines, nuclear reactors and all our fancy gadgets are implicit to the stone axe and even to the change in our brain that allowed us to make it in the first place.
What are we to do when we find ourselves in an existential and environmental crisis and in a psychological vacuum at the same time, with a
stone axe smartphone in our hands as we do today?
Ask Siri or Google what to do…
Isn’t that what got us in this mess in the first place? We listened to our rational faculties of mind and nothing else. We optimized the hell out of our environment to maximize our chances of survival, then our level of comfort. That seems totally rational. And yet, here we are.
How about trying something else for a change?
How about asking what’s enough?
Enough time alone.
No engineer, scientist, computer or robot will ever give us the answer to what’s enough?
What’s enough is encoded in our being. It’s in our bodies and in our spirits. Not in our rational minds.
We just need to slow down enough, pay attention close enough to feel what’s enough. And that’s exactly the reason why, today, we have no clue about what’s enough.