One of the underlying problems, argues Professor O’Gorman, is in consumer society brought about by globalised capitalism. Our economy is such that it depends utterly on creating new desires among consumers, whether or not the satisfaction of those desires leads to happiness or anything worthwhile sub specie aeternitatis. Without a constant desire for something new, for something supposedly better, our economy would deflate like a balloon emptied of gas. If a large proportion of the population were to decide that it already had enough to meet its needs, and that it would be no happier if it possessed anything else, economic activity would stagnate at best. It is therefore necessary that there should be a population that is never materially satisfied, that supposes that the next purchase will bring it fulfillment: which, of course, it never does, which explains why so many people go out shopping when they actually need for nothing.
I know these claims well, having made them often enough when I was young and stupid(er). Still, despite my intimate familiarity with the mindset, I find it almost incomprehensible now. Like all religious visions of paradise, it defines itself against the hated fact of ceaseless, omnipresent change which defines our very existence; it imagines a scratch to end all itches forever, a final resolution of all recurring chores. In paradise, our satisfactions will be spiritual and self-contained, impervious to decay. In reality, our acceptance of the need to work in order to consume in order to work is simply an acknowledgement that the least-worst option is often the only realistic one. Smug adolescents of all ages always act like they’re the first to discover that material possessions don’t bring permanent fulfillment. For the rest of us, the transient pleasures of purchases and novelty are valuable insofar as they make one day, one place or one shared experience just a bit brighter.