Power corrupts, so they say. Greed has undoubtedly lead to many societal ills and environmental damage. Yet, like so many other facets of the human condition, there is a positive component to this desire for power—innovation and wellbeing have increased in dramatic fashion over time. Of course, we don’t settle for this, and our constant drive for more is one topic within Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens:
“People pursue wealth and power, acquire knowledge and possessions, beget sons and daughters, and build houses and palaces. Yet no matter what they achieve, they are never content. Those who live in poverty dream of riches. Those who have a million want two million. Those who have two million want 10 million. Even the rich and famous are rarely satisfied. They too are haunted by ceaseless cares and worries, until sickness, old age and death put a bitter end to them. Everything that one has accumulated vanishes like smoke.”
This need to accumulate more means we’re never simply happy with what we currently have. If we’re never content, we live with a sense of angst and discomfort for the majority of our years.
“Great gods can send us rain, social institutions can provide justice and good health care, and lucky coincidences can turn us into millionaires, but none of them can change our basic mental patterns. Hence even the greatest kings are doomed to live in angst, constantly fleeing grief and anguish, forever chasing after greater pleasures.”
To read more, I recommend Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.