Nirvana

Ross Gittins has a typically excellent review of Clive Hamilton’s book Growth Fetish in today’s SMH. I blogged on aspects of the book dealing with happiness studies some time ago, as did other bloggers including John Quiggin here and here.

Gittins discusses a range of other issues raised by Hamilton, but finishes with this observation about happiness:

Unending growth in the consumption of goods and services doesn’t create happiness.

Rather, unhappiness sustains economic growth. The marketers and advertisers have to play on, and play up, our discontents, holding out the promise that another tub of margarine – or a Rolex watch – will bring us to nirvana.

The producers have to con us into keeping up our consumption so that production can keep growing. This makes sense?

Gittins’ question gives me the chance to make a point about happiness that I intended to mention previously. The Buddha discovered this fundamental truth about happiness thousands of years ago, and not only about material possessions. All worldly striving and attachments, Buddha taught, are ultimately unsatisfactory. Happiness is transitory by nature.

But endemic human unhappiness and striving are the engines of growth and development, including in an intellectual and cultural sense. They have led us to decreasing levels of hunger, disease and malnutrition, as well as great discoveries in science and the arts. Nirvana is not only perfect peace, but the nothingness that occurs when all desire is conquered. Maybe the Buddha’s vision of nirvana, or Clive Hamilton’s, might be worth having when disease and hunger are completely eliminated. In the meantime, the answer to Ross Gittins’ “This makes sense?” question is “My oath it does!”

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I’ve been deeply suspicious of Buddhism ever since I discovered that a number of the Dalai Lama’s more celebrated injunctions were the same as those you find on “Fantale” wrappers. I wondered whether he was using an automatic ‘insights of great wisdom’ generator[?]

On the other hand Clive Hamilton looks uncannily like a particularly humourless Calvin in a snappy outfit. Plus ca change.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Ross has two writing personalities – one the well-read scientist (viz his recent article defending globalisation) and the other the bleeding-heart socialist (as today’s) where his logic is all over the place. This is a favourite theme of his lately. He sets up a straw man (economists base their theories on ‘money brings happiness’ and predictably he is able to prove it does no such thing).

Like all socialists he puts down the common man (and woman) by pretending we are all putty in the hands of the evil capitalistic multi-national producers and advertisers of rubbish as distinct from the Gittins and Hamiltons who know we’d all be better off if we would only accept that society be ordered by the great and good (themselves of course), they having been endowed by buddhist-like wisdom in their knowledge of our base natures.

If only we’d subscribe to uplifting classical concerts, opera, and fine art instead of this disappointing listening to loud rock, watching the footy on TV, and eating McDonalds and KFC.

slatts
slatts
2022 years ago

”Unending growth in the consumption of goods and services doesn’t create happiness.”
Seems to me it depends. If I work hard and save enough to buy a fridge it will make me happy. No more rotten food, plenty of cold beer. Likewise, if economic growth continues in say, India, to the point where Indira can do likewise in her formerly impoverished village, I’d confidently say it would make her happy.
Now, getting a new fridge every year, just because I or Indira can, will not make us happy.
But getting a washing machine for the first time will have us pretty chuffed, likewise a TV, a computer, a car.
And getting a new one next year, will make us happy if it is an improvement on the previous model. And that, more than any other factor, puts the “unending” in “unending growth”.
Gittins fails to discriminate between consuming because of need and consuming for the sake of it.
And because there are so many needy in the world, I think the former will outnumber the latter for yonks yet.
And this doesn’t take into account consuming for enjoyment and benefit, eg art and travel.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

That’s one of the things I like about comment boxes. You get people like Geoff and Ron and Slatts who cut through the crap and distil some basic no bullshit commonsense from all the pretentious waffle (mine and Ross Gittins’).

meika
2022 years ago

consider the internet fridge

SLATTS’

“for yonks yet”

what then, then?

slatts
slatts
2022 years ago

Well, meika, by then those in the most advanced economies will need essentials like inter-galactic trips to see the great-great-great-great grandkids (lots of advances in longevity maintenance). so consider yonks as eternal.

Indole Ring
2022 years ago

Don’t diss the Buddha!

The Dalai Lama represents the philosophy of the Buddha about as much as the Pope represents the philosophy of Jesus.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

Greetings the Learned Ken,

the Lrnd. K parses the Buddha’s teaching:

The Buddha discovered this fundamental truth about happiness…All worldly striving and attachments [including material posessions]…are ultimately unsatisfactory.

I have some empirical evidence to support the Busshist happiness hypothesis. Some time ago a fire burnt down my flat with all my worldly posessions in it, including a 20 year collection of academic books, punk records & collectible magazine, whilst I was in a post-coital drunken comatose state.

I was a little unhappy at losing the records and the lease to the flat, but I got another nice flat and my music collection is now larger, and listened to more often, through peer-to-peer.

The girl’s gone, but I got another better one in her stead. I exercise more and now write my own stuff, rather than collect other people’s dead knowledge.

I consolidated a shaky friendship through asking this bloke, who I had previously dissed on first contact (sound familiar?), to look after me whilst I was in need.

All in all, the devastating fire was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

So there is something to the Buddha’s theory.

Alpha-males status competition for the right to access nubile females is one of the driving forces of superior performance. But it is good that this competition is not purely physical & material. I take it as a sign of social progress that nerds can now get a date.

Clive Hamilton
Clive Hamilton
2022 years ago

Why are nine out of ten bloggers incurably right-wing?

Mark Upcher
Mark Upcher
2022 years ago

Based on these blogs it looks more like 3 out of 6.