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Breaking free from the World of Excess
- Read in 18 minutes
- Contains 11 key ideas
Enough offers a scathing critique of the one rule that always seems to hold in Western societies: “more is always better.” With the help of compelling biological and psychological studies, Enough shows us how our obsession with “more” is actually the source of many of our woes, as well as what we can do about it.
Key idea 1 of 11
Clever marketing tricks exploit our natural desire for more and more stuff.
From a big-screen TV to a fridge packed with food, a fancy sports car to the many household appliances that you’ve only used once: the average citizen in Western societies owns or consumes an astonishing amount of stuff.
The reason has to do with the legacy of our evolutionary history: in order to survive and develop as a species, human beings had to be eager to try out new things.
Throughout most of human history food was scarce, and most humans weren’t getting enough. To compensate for this scarcity, our bodies evolved to eat as much as possible when food was available and store the energy when it wasn’t.
Eventually, we learned that collecting and hoarding vast quantities of resources, like food, clothing or tools, would further help us survive times of scarcity.
Another part of this legacy is a desire for both material and nonmaterial goods. Just like we collect material goods, we also collect as much information as possible: our ancestors had to be constantly aware of their surroundings and note every possible detail in order to survive.
Our brains even reward us for our awareness with chemicals called opioids that make us feel good.
And while this desire to collect information and things was advantageous for most of human history, today’s advertisers now know how to exploit these ancient mechanisms in order to motivate us to consume more than we actually need:
They can, for instance, exploit our fear of scarcity by creating "limited editions,” thus tricking us into thinking that passing on a chance to buy now will mean losing out on a limited opportunity.
Or they can exploit our desire to emulate society’s most successful members. In the past we would look to the strongest or best-fed members of the group as role-models. Nowadays we look to celebrities who we hope to become by buying the products they’re hawking.
Clearly, the mechanisms that once ensured our survival are problematic in today’s world. Our following blinks will discuss this disconnect in more detail.