The Paradox of Satisfaction

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing” declared Plato so many centuries ago.

The paradox of satisfaction suggests that the tools we employ to increase our satisfaction of choices — filters and recommendations — may be unsatisfying if they diminish the power of our choices. Another way to put it: no system can be absolutely satisfying.

In classical economics, students are more or less familiar with Smith’s paradox of value (known also as the water-diamond paradox). This one declares that although water is the most essential need for humanity to survive, it is less valuable than a diamond and so humans value the later than the former.

It is the same stupid case which happens at the turn of each February every year when a young dating couple meets up. He buys her a bottle of water that costs $1 but she gets jealous when the next table a diamond necklace that costs $200 changes hands between him and her.

In modern times, the paradox of satisfaction comes out clearly when Bill Gates decides willingly to commit $10 million to fight the coronavirus just a day or so when it broke out. Then the humanity floods Twitter and Facebook, saying well, it is good but not “enough.”

It is apparent when Jeff Bezos, the current number one rich man on earth commits $10 billions to fight climate change progressively in the next coming decades. That means (he will keep committing as long as the threat remains existential) but humanity says, it won’t be enough.

What the hell is happening? What is enough to be enough?

Do you know how many dollar billionaires are there in the world who decide to eat their wealth in complete silence, pretending that they know not about the world’s most pressing problems? Let me give you some data in just one rich place.

Seventy-six billionaires (or nearly a fifth of the Forbes’ 400 list of rich American billionaires) earned the lowest-possible philanthropy score of one, which means they have given away less than $30 million or under 1% of their fortune in their lifetimes. And your guess is right, President Donald Trump is one of them!

Steven Pinker makes a startling point about this satisfaction paradox in his mind blowing book: “Enlightenment Now” when he jokingly writes about humanity’s lack of appreciation for progress, particularly on happiness. Quoting comedian Louis C. K, he says that today people who fly in an air plane upon arrival will always complain about all the bad things that  they experienced.

They’re like, “it was the worst day of my life…. We get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes.” Louis jokingly inquires, “oh really, then what happened next? Did you fly through the air, incredibly, like a bird?” He goes on to implore that “you’re sitting in a chair in a sky. You’re like a Greek myth right now.”

And when people complain of air flights delaying, for example, the case of a flight from New York to California which today takes five hours, Louis reminds us that it used to take 30 years a century or so ago.

Most often, we tend to forget how much the world has achieved which also clouds our mental faculty leading to us belittling the humanity’s generous contributions.

The news headline is full of craps, of most things negative, less positive. The recent coronavirus outbreak for example, has left you more hopeless about the world, forgetting that there was a smallpox which has since gone to extinction thanks to human ingenuity in science and medicine.

So stop the satisfaction paradox and appreciate more today.

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