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The Crisis and the Influence of the Social Environment

These connections become more complicated and more prominent as the world becomes increasingly globalized. The tightening connections among the various parts of the world have turned the human society into a single global and integral system, causing every element to become dependent on every other element in the system.

Lecturers in happiness economics often ask their audiences to find out where their clothes and gadgets were made, thus demonstrating how dependent we are on other countries in the world. But the connection between all of us is far broader and deeper than our clothes or smart-phones.

In his depiction of the modern world, economist Geoff Mulgan wrote, “The starting point for understanding the world today is not the size of its GDP or the destructive power of its weapons systems, but the fact that it is so much more joined together than before. It may look like it is made up of separate and sovereign individuals, firms, nations or cities, but the deeper reality is one of multiple connections.” [90]

Under such conditions, the traditional economy, which is based on individualism, isn’t working any longer, and today’s global crisis is proving it each day. It is impossible to pursue personal gain without including the myriad connections that affect each and every one of us.

In 1996, renowned sociologist, Manuel Castells, argued persuasively that “...a new economy emerged around the world.” [91] We can use the changes that the economic system is undergoing to balance our material needs with our social needs. However, when we examine today’s society, we see that seeking material benefits and personal gain are disproportionally more dominant in society and in the media than ever before. This is a manifestation of consumption that has grown out of control.

An average person in the U.S. is exposed to approximately 600 commercials daily, all carefully crafted to convince us that the satisfaction and benefits from buying the advertised product will make us happy. [92]

In truth, the only satisfaction obtained is the advertisers’. Also, we are often promised rewards for personal success, even when that success may come at the expense of others. It follows that a person will do the utmost to gain and feel superior to others.

We live in this world buffeted by two conflicting influences. We are fast becoming aware that we are unable to provide for all of our own needs, and need to depend on others, who in turn depend on us in the same way. The media, however, relentlessly pitches to us the idea that the more each of us possesses, the more successful and superior we are to others. These messages surround us, although by now it is quite clear that we are not self-sufficient and that wealth is not the only means of achieving happiness.

On the one hand, since we always compare ourselves to others, when one person has more than others, it arouses envy and makes others wish that person to fail. On the other hand, attempts at communism, where everyone has the same amount, have failed bitterly. In the Soviet Union “experiment” with communism, the coercive leveling of people’s material assets, regardless of individual needs and without proper education and explanation—necessary components of voluntary change—resulted in the death of tens of millions.

This led to the ultimate demise of the regime and an enduring aura of negativity around the entire idea of this philosophy. Forced solutions do not work, especially when they radically differ from those preceding them. We should carefully heed that lesson now that humanity has reached a tipping point in its evolution and is beginning to move from the failed, contemporary economy into a new, balanced economy connected by the concept of mutual guarantee.

We cannot detach ourselves from society, as it provides us with all that we need for life. Accordingly, any paradigm or attempt to solve the global crisis with tools from the old economy is bound to fail, as such attempts derive from a competitive, self-centered approach that is quickly becoming obsolete. Instead of trying to “force” our existing models on reality, we should try to change the economic system and human society to match the newly emerging reality.

Essentially, we are referring to a psychological transformation. Just as humans developed mechanisms that assist us in coping with the elements, today we can adapt our thinking to become congruent with the conditions of the 21st century.

[90] Mulgan, Geoff, Connexity: Responsibility, Freedom, Business and Power in the New Century (revised edn.) (London: Viking, 1998), 3

[91] Castells, Manuel, “Information technology and global capitalism” in W. Hutton and A. Giddens. (eds.) On The Edge. Living with global capitalism (London: Vintage, 2001), 52

[92] “Our Rising Ad Dosage, It’s Not as Oppressive as Some Think,” Media Matters (February 15, 2007), p 2,

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