Monday, January 19, 2009

A Farewell to Alms and Emotional Awareness

I began A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark (2007) today. Clark argues against Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs, and Steel fame, as well as those like Pomerantz, who argue that colonies and coal provide the explanation of the Great Divergence (i.e., why Britain and then Europe zoomed to a dominant position via the Industrial Revolution). Our visit to Cameroon spurred this interest, as the gap between the Cameroonian standard of living and ours is so great. Why? In reading Clark’s introduction, he sets forth his basic tenants. First, until the 1800’s and the Industrial Revolution, everyone remained nearly equally poor. In fact, humankind may have been worse off on the eve of the Industrial Revolution than we were as hunter-gathers over 8,000 years ago. Until the Industrial Revolution, humans did live in a Malthusian world. However, in Britain, because of culture, the Industrial Revolution took off. Clark argues that coal and colonies did not distinguish Europe from China and Japan. Indeed, Clark suggests that certain attributes, such as delayed gratification and hard work spread into British society before or more effectively than others, perhaps even genetically. Finally, in his introduction, Clark reminds us of the weird but often-cited fact that we are no happier, and perhaps less happy, than are much, much poorer ancestors. Indeed, in our recent trip to Cameroon, we found the villagers where we stayed to be really quite warm and welcoming, seeming quite happy. Clark suggests that envy is the problem, perhaps, he says, the envious will inherit the earth.

I’ve been listening to the Dalai Lama (voice over by Richard Gere) and Paul Ekman in the audio book of Emotional Awareness (2008). The conversation is fascinating. Ekman the Western scientist has obviously been very impressed with his introduction to Buddhist thinking in the areas of consciousness, awareness, and emotional control. Today he and the DL discussed compassion and how we can cultivate it. Do we need to have suffered? How can we foster universal compassion? Ekman and the DL seem to agree on a lot, and it shows for me the deed empirical wisdom of this aspect of the Buddhist tradition, the Buddhist psychology (and Buddha was perhaps the greatest psychologist-therapist).

No comments: