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John Gray nails Raj Patel

This from John Gray’s review of Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing:

Oscar Wilde may have been right that people know the price of everything and the value of nothing, a remark Patel cites at the start of his book, and which gives him its title. But what is value if it is not price? It is telling that when trying to flesh out a non-market account, Patel turns to religion, in this case Buddhism. The Buddhist tradition gives him what he needs – an understanding of human wellbeing that does not centre round the satisfaction of wants. Like the ancient European Stoic and Epicurean philosophies, Buddhism proposes that happiness lies in shrinking the self – in giving up our wants, rather than forever chasing after them. It is a thought that occurs to many well-off people from time to time, but it is hard to imagine large numbers of people ever acting on it.

Theories of value that focus on curbing desire run up against the demand for self-realisation, which is one of the strongest impulses in modern life. To be sure, the pursuit of self-realisation does not often result in happiness. But is it happiness that most people are pursuing? Or is it stimulus and excitement? In the Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, Patel informs the reader, the introduction of satellite television has been followed by a crime wave. He seems to think this fact somehow strengthens his argument. But what it tells us is that no culture can now resist the dangerous charms of a life spent in insatiable desire.

Couldn’t help but concur with this, as I sat through a hundred or so movie previews jammed with fast cars flying through the screen at me, and fast women having sex standing up, with someone else…in advance of watching two and a half hours of actor (and here producer) Russell Crowe selling-out, prancing around as Maximus in green leotards…all horse, sword, bow and arrow play, sans intelligent storyline, sans interesting dialogue, in an orgy of empty Avatar-like stimulation, in front of a sold-out crowd of vicarious thrill seekers. Myself included.

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