The Root of All Problems

Scarcity refers to resources and desires. The simple fact that there is less in store than our desire drives us to make choices and compete. Competition, I believe, is at best contradictory in nature. On one hand, we’re pushed to move out of our comfort zone in fear of falling behind, which we perceive is necessary for happiness. On the other hand, competition leads to jealousy, and, I believe, explains everything we deem negative in our day-to-day lives.

Let’s walk through some examples:

  • College admissions
    • We all wish to get into the best college we can, despite an ever-growing application pool strength and fixed spots that colleges can offer.
  • Dating life
    • We all desire to date the best partner possible (biologically we are wired to want the most desirable gene pool).
  • Jobs
    • We all wish for higher pay and power, but the job market is in itself, a self-regulating competitive hierarchy that is mostly fixed and governed, too, by supply and demand.

Even the source of our more mundane headaches can be explained competition:

  • Buying a gift
    • Limited resource forces us to strike a balance between the gift that will best satisfy the other (and boost your image) and the cash in your pocket.
  • Procrastination
    • We wish we have time for everything, but we only have 24 hours a day, which forces us to prioritize things and put off leisure activities.
  • Social media
    • We wish we live in a society of selflessness, but the truth is: giving a person elevated attention may trade off the public attention that could’ve been saved for ourselves, aka jealousy.

This is pretty fun, seriously. Try it yourselves: think of any problem you face, and explain it using scarcity.

In each case, there is always the limiting resource (time, popularity on social media, etc.) and a demand (money, satisfaction, reputation, etc.) By law of supply and demand, satisfaction, and thus happiness, is directly proportional to supply (resources available), and inversely proportional to demand.

I hold nothing against cool gadgets and gimmicks, but often times we ignore a fact. Most of technological advancements have addressed only the supply part of the happiness equation: by giving us access to more choices.

What most people don’t realize is: the more information we give, the more competitive it gets; the more competitive it gets, the more people desire that thing. From our happiness equation, this means that although supply has been increasing, so has desire (demand). This, I believe, is what explains the stagnant nature of happiness over time (the forefront of behavioral psychology). Having more options is not the best thing.

Facebook and Google open the doors for universal accessibility to information, providing us with more choices than ever before. Social media gives us motivation to improve ourselves by providing a platform for us to flaunt how awesome our lives are, but in the end, it just leads to more jealousy and self-closure in our generation, as there will always be someone who seem to have a better life than you. The gilded nature of virtualization is that, though virtual worlds will provide everyone with choices and opportunities never thought possible in the real world, so will our desire. When we take off our AR goggles or lens (this will happen by 2030), we realize: damn, how shitty our lives are.

I’ve thought about this ever since I was growing up, but to maximize happiness, the only two options are either to: fixate supply and decrease demand, or fixate demand and increase supply. The point of innovation has long been the latter (to varying success), but I have my eyes set on the former.

Decreasing demand would mean wiping out the notion competition altogether – without the notion of competition, I think, we would be well on our way to utopia.

This inspires me to study Artificial (General) Intelligence (AGI). The time AGI can understand and predict humans better than we can would be the time we can end consumer culture (instead of house searching when AI can know exactly which house we want, optimized to our preferences, liking, and values as learnt over time?). Without consumer culture, there would be no opportunism or incentive to compete. Universal Basic Income can finally be introduced, and what remains of innovation would no longer be driven by greed but our nature to expand consciousness and be curious. Under this system, we would have time to be creative, invent, learn, and do everything we wish we could’ve done as kids until we get thrust into a society of self-perpetuating competition.

If I shall devote my life to making this a reality, so be it. If I could see the intended effects of AI moving in the right direction in my lifetime and know I played a role in it, that would be pretty awesome.

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