Toward Perpetual Progress

According to the Forbes 400, the net worth of the richest Americans has decreased $300 billion over the past year. The ten richest Americans lost $39.2 billion. Bill Gates alone lost $7 billion and is now only worth a paltry $50 billion.

On the one hand, this is an obvious indication of the economic slump that has occurred over the past year.

On the other hand, I cut my own hair because I can’t afford to shell out $12 (+ tip) at Mastercuts.[1]

I could lament about the obscene gap between rich and poor in this world.[2] One needn’t leave this country to find people living in abject poverty and working people at that.

But what interests me more is the following question: What would human beings do if our notion of “progress” didn’t include “profit” as in its current conception?

It seems to be generally accepted that human beings have a tendency to create goals and projects for themselves and work toward them.  It seems that this also generally goes beyond meeting basic life-perpetuating needs like the search for food, etc. Those actions are “instinctual” and not a result of conscious goal-setting.

I don’t necessarily buy into this story, but it seems to me that most people do.

So then, what would our world be like if this “progress,” our projects, our goals, all revolved around something like art instead? Or good health? Or religious devotion? Or world peace? Or anything non-quantitative?

There’s probably an economic reason lurking behind any purposeful action in the world’s current state, which is absurd, because the economy is fake anyway. Money is an invention and not necessary at all to quality human existence.

I’m not saying that “progress” devoted to anything else would make for a better world (though I do think it could), but rather that it would change our entire world into something completely unrecognizable than it is today. Our day to day living would be utterly altered. Our mindset, our very egoic drives would be directed in a completely different way.

Quantitative, economic “progress” is beaten into us to such an extent that anything else is even difficult to imagine.

Maybe that’s the point.

[1] Even if my net worth was $50 billion, I would probably still cut my own hair.
[2] Or even between the disgustingly rich and your average millionaire.

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