Oops, wrong brain
28th January, 2009
What on earth are we thinking when we go into shops and buy lots of pointless stuff we just don’t need? John Naish says it’s not so much what’s on our minds, but which brain we use when we spend
The past 20 years have given our culture ample chance to understand that spiralling consumption imperils the planet and that earning and consuming above society’s median levels brings no greater contentment. But still society strives ever harder. Even in the midst of the credit crunch, there is no popular debate on using our reduced economic activity as an opportunity to build a sustainable future. Mainstream opinion seeks only to return to the ‘norm’ of perpetual expansion. It’s a prime case of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, believing one thing but doing the opposite: like a 60-a-day smoker, we know our behaviour will kill us, but we can’t stop. Why?
Medical-scanning science makes the answer increasingly clear. Our culture over stimulates the wrong parts of the human brain – the primitive areas that are bewildered by modern life into feeling beset by famine and poverty, despite the abundant sufficiencies surrounding us. This creates great fodder for consumerism, but it threatens to send us knuckle-dragging into ecological disaster. The alternative is currently taboo: changing tack, from a lowbrain culture to one that actively fosters our civilised higher cortex....
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