It’s not often that one reads something that sparks multiple thoughts in one’s head, prompting one to dig deeper into each and come out with one’s own views on these topics. A recent article in the New Yorker by Ben Taub called ‘Imagination Could Save the World‘ is precisely one such piece.
I am not going to summarise the entire article here. Please do read the entire piece yourself, it will be well worth your time. But, I will, over a series of articles, aim to provide my thoughts on the topics raised by the author and the subject of his article, Jonathan Ledgard.
The first point I want to address is the question that appears to be driving Mr. Ledgard’s projects – “What if human greed could be harnessed as a kind of natural resource, and redirected to mitigate its own effects?”.
Greed is a complex topic. We are, typically, taught that being greedy is not good. However, we cannot deny that greed (or rather the desire for consumption) has come to be accepted as a part of our lives, at least in strongly capitalist economies (which is now most of the world). The reason for this is not too difficult to see. The more one desires stuff and consumer it, the more businesses need to make this stuff. The more businesses need to make stuff, the more they need to employ people (and resources). The more people are employed, the more money they can make, improve their standard of living, and, of course, consume more! I believe consumption has a vital role to play in redistributing wealth from the rich to the not-so-rich. And this has, no doubt, worked very well in the past and helped raise millions out of poverty across the world.
In addition, I believe greed (or desire) to be different, famous, successful, rich also helps drive innovation. I would argue that most of today’s large tech organisations that play such key roles in our daily lives might not have developed if not for this ‘greed’.
However, there is a fine line between ‘good greed’ and ‘bad greed’. And we have seen a few instances recently of this line getting crossed, leading to turmoil affecting a disproportionately large segment of the population (the dot-com bubble, real estate bubble).
I no not believe that greed, as a human emotion, is going to go away anytime soon. Sure, there are the beginnings of what one might call a reaction against rampant consumerism, but the majority of us are going to be driven, at some level, by this emotion. The key question that we have to ask, as Mr. Ledgard seems to be, is if we can channelise this greed to make our lives more equitable and sustainable.
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