In Frivolity we trust

One of the main points in a Huxleian vision of a bleak future, one that I heartily agree with, is that we are turning into a trivial society too amused by its own silly frivolities to consider doing meaningful things, or to even recognize its own serious problems. This classic comic comparing Huxleian and Orwellian dystopias would be a quick summary. 

I found these paragraphs in Alain de Botton's most excellent Pleasures and Sorrows of Work a fantastic counterbalance to this claim: 
It was in the eighteenth century that economists and political theorists first became aware of the paradoxes and triumphs of commercial societies, which place trade, luxury and private fortunes at their centre whilst paying only lip-service to the pursuit of higher goals.From the beginning, observers of these societies have been transfixed by two of their most prominent features: their wealth and their spiritual decadence.

Their self-indulgence has consistently appalled a share of their most high-minded and morally ambitious members, who have railed against consumerism and instead honoured beauty and nature, art and fellowship. But the premises of a biscuit company are a fruitful place to recall that there has always been an insurmountable problem facing those countries that ignore the efficient production of chocolate biscuits and sternly dissuade their ablest citizens from spending their lives on the development of innovative marketing promotions: they have been poor, so poor as to be vulnerable citizens, whom they have lost famines and epidemics. It is the high-minded countries that have let their members starve, whereas the self-centred and the childish ones have, off the back of their doughnuts and six thousand varieties of ice cream, had the resources to invest in maternity wards and cranial scanning machines.

Amsterdam was founded on the sale of raisins and flowers. The palaces of Venice were assembled from the profits of the carpet and spice trades. Sugar built Bristol. And yet despite their frequently amoral policies, their neglect of ideals and their selfish liberalism, commercial societies have been graced with well-laden shops and treasures swollen enough to provide for the construction of temples and founding hospitals.
Alas, it is true. It is the finicky cigarette manufacturer looking for a new thing to say in his marketing campaign that is interested in the intricacies of a better edge-detection algorithm. The question, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?" quite loses its punch, doesn't it?

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