The Unhappiness Machine

People used to be genuinely happy, whether they were suffering or not.  Unhappiness, in its present form, didn’t come into existence until our recent history. The modern version of unhappiness was invented by those in power, whether religious or political leaders.  Once these leaders discovered that unhappy, scared people are much easier to manipulate, they began to use fearmongering and “artificially created” discontent as powerful weapons in their campaigns.  They used these weapons to distract, confuse, manipulate, and enlist people into their agendas.  Those leaders who created, and then harnessed discontent, became the most successful.  Unhappiness became a vital element of functioning society.  It became a resource, one to be monetized and weaponized.

Unhappiness was a rough diamond at first, but soon these various leaders learned how to extract it, cut it, and shape it into different types of unhappiness that suited almost every single type of human being.  Now everyone could be unhappy: however rich or poor, healthy, or ill.  The finished product of unhappiness became shiny, mesmerizing, and irresistible to all humans.  Thanks to this evolution, today there are millions of ways in which a human being can be unhappy.  Just turn the TV on for 5 minutes and start counting the number of things or products you saw which are missing from your current life. You’ll probably count at least 30.

The invention, amplification, and monetization of unhappiness eventually became one of the founding principles of modern capitalism.  Unhappiness became the most crucial industry on the planet.  It became the Unhappiness Machine, ensuring that people are constantly feeling unfulfilled, lost, searching for “meaning”.  Unhappy people are very useful to society because they buy more stuff.  They also tend to buy the wrong stuff and are also more easily manipulated.  Ask any marketer, politician, or religious leader.  All three of them do the same job anyway, which is sales.  The evolution of modern unhappiness has been vital to the development of our economic, religious, and political systems.

The way that the Unhappiness Machine has always functioned is to convince people that something is wrong, something which is making them unhappy, and to offer “solutions” that can alleviate this unhappiness.  These so-called “solutions” are often the very agendas of economic oligarchs: “We know that you are unhappy and worried about water availability, so we will divert the Colorado river” (and our infrastructure investors can get rich while nature suffers).  Often a specific person or nation is blamed for people’s unhappiness, therefore justifying war or other “solutions”: “We will invade country X so that you feel safer” (and our defense industry can profit).  Whatever the cause of unhappiness, the motives behind exploiting it are always economic.  The unhappiness machine is an economic machine, able to enrich the oligarchs that depend on disaster capitalism, empower the religious leaders who concentrate their powers in times of “crisis”, and provide the political leaders who were crippled by the democratic process with a carte blanche to shift into fascism.

It is no wonder then, that today people are the most unhappy that they have ever been.  This is an indication that our capitalist system of unhappiness is working according to plan.  Hollywood movies make us unhappy about the lifestyle that we don’t have, which stimulates the important real estate and automotive industries.  Women are made to feel ugly and old, which stimulates the massive cosmetics and IVF industries.  Our city lifestyle is so brutal to our soul, that we must take long trips abroad to recover mentally and physically, which stimulates the aerospace and hospitality industries.  All economic activity is based on maintaining high levels of unhappiness throughout society.

Unhappiness is vital to our civilization.  The more, the better.  Unhappiness is money.  Any good marketer knows this.  Our economic and political systems depend on keeping us unhappy and unfulfilled, so that they can continue to control us and sell us “things” and ideas.  Most things that humans “need” today are not actual needs. They are implanted fantasies, obsessions, and insecurities.

Without existential unhappiness, neither capitalism or fascism would survive. Our leaders depend on us feeling unhappy and scared, so that they can manipulate and distract us from the issues that they know they cannot solve (or do not want to solve).  Their ultimate goal?  Absolutely none, they have no goals.  They don’t even have these “hidden agendas” everyone is talking about in their conspiracy theories.  All they care about is simply maintaining their position, the current power structures, and existing religious and economic institutions that support them. 

These structures are so efficiently integrated into the Unhappiness Machine that they almost maintain themselves: they have evolved over thousands of years of human civilization with the sole purpose of perpetuating and monetizing unhappiness.  They have stood the test of time because they run on fear, the most timeless of emotions.   They run on humans who are first and foremost scared consumers: running around all day shopping to temporarily cure their insecurities, carefully implanted by marketing messages.

But they also run on our fear of death and trauma.  We are all born into a system that exploits us and traumatizes us, every single day. The human being is the most traumatized animal on Earth.  Humans are so conditioned to their own trauma that they cannot feel it anymore: it has become part of their identity, so much so that they confuse feeling trauma with feeling alive.  They actively seek it, in all forms of self-destructive addictions such as drugs and consumption, hoping that they will revisit it and numb the pain, while in the meantime they make sure to inflict trauma on all other 8 million species of this planet, to falsely affirm their supremacy over trauma, pain, fear, and death.

Capitalism’s manipulative genius was in that it managed to turn people against themselves, without them even realizing just how, and when, they had been manipulated and traumatized. Capitalism’s marketing techniques made people feel so empty, inadequate, and insecure about themselves, that selling them anything was a piece of cake.  No one ever dragged consumers by force into shops, forcing them to spend their money.  We all became willing participants, without ever realizing that we were accomplices to our own slavery.  In fact, very few people today can see just how much they have been exploited.  Consumption has become a natural state for humanity, a bodily function, much like eating and breathing.  We simply cannot imagine ourselves without consuming for consuming’s sake. “To be” is to consume, and to consume is to be.  Most of us draw our sense of existence from the transactional act of consumption of products, media, and manufactured entertainment, rather that genuine, meaningful real-life experiences. Those of us who have tried to stop consuming non-essential products very soon begin to experience strange feelings of “non-existing”, almost like dying inside, within just a few days into our “fast”. 

This sinking feeling of “existential death” is of course much like that of a drug addict’s withdrawal symptoms: the addict doesn’t just feel physically sick.  Without the drugs, they feel that they are “not themselves” anymore, that their life has “no meaning”.  Like any Class A drug that hijacks parts of our personality and identity, capitalism renders us dependent on a lifestyle where we are completely hostage to products and to money for any sense of self-worth.  Capitalism is a thief, cleverly stealing happiness and meaning from our lives, so that it can sell it back to us in the form of premium-priced, temporary substitutes of happiness called “products”.  These of course never make us truly happy, but luckily new versions of these products soon emerge, and the Unhappiness Machine thus perpetuates itself.  It is a machine which simply feeds on peoples’ misfortune.  The more misfortune it creates, the more it profits, getting stronger and smarter in making people feel unfulfilled.  Capitalism thrives in the most abundant, yet ironically the most unhappy societies.

All of this was done under the cover of night.  Capitalism invaded our homes under the pretense of being the family psychotherapist, but a bad one at that:  doing everything in its power to first convince us that we all had some type of childhood trauma or other unresolved issue which needed to be cured.  It then pretended to be our benevolent guardian, showering us with gifts like a negligent parent to a teenager who needs real love, not “stuff”: “yes darling, you have been through so much.  Yes, you deserve this blow dryer with five different speeds.  Yes, you deserve this boob job”.  Capitalism quickly managed to replace our emotional needs with product needs.  And to transform our existential unhappiness into narcissism, creating the perfect consumer:  self-centered, greedy, and utterly lost.  

And what is for sure is that narcissism is much stronger than intelligence.  Narcissism can override all other brain functions.  Our economic system wants us to be as narcissistic and selfish as we possibly can be, so that we continue to blindly consume without any second thinking of the ecological and other ramifications of our choices.  The greatest irony behind narcissism is that it is ultimately self-destructive.  An ultra-narcissistic humanity will be busy taking its “selfie” before the collapse of modern civilisation, rather than acting on its predicament.

Feeding our narcissism further, the world of business and its marketing machine are always trying their best to convince us that they care about us, and that they know us.  They care about human rights.  About the environment.  About the planet.  Corporations today are quick to embrace gay and transgender rights, black lives matter and other human “points of difference”, mounting expensive corporate responsibility campaigns.  These of course are not genuine.  Corporations pretend to support human rights not because they care, but because they want to turn human rights issues into “handicaps” that they can monetize.  Each handicap is a monetizable source of unhappiness.  Each new handicap or social issue is a brand-new consumer segment.  The more handicaps, the more unhappiness, the more consumer segments, the more money to be made.  There are more useless products than ever which help people “find their identity”, celebrate their difference as a segment, and regain their “happiness”.  Brands and businesses are trying to appear “human” to us, while somewhere in an Asian sweatshop or Brazilian rainforest a human being, animal or plant is paying the price so that the architects of greenwashing and “human rights” PR campaigns can get paid.  Corporate responsibility PR has a heavy carbon footprint, but a bloody human rights footprint as well. 

In fact, corporate responsibility as a term is an oxymoron.  Business never follows ethics or ideals.  Business is the enemy of ethics, simply because the environment and human rights are, and will always be, a threat to the bottom line of any business.  Business and the Unhappiness Machine thrive on unhappiness and inequality.  Business can only be positively transformed when its interests and its bottom line are directly attacked.

Despite itself having no emotions or ethics, capitalism has cleverly taken control of people’s emotional world.  In fact, it has hijacked our emotions and is now telling us when and what to feel, and how to express our feelings.  It has made us incapable of spontaneously saying “I love you” without reaching for our wallet to buy a valentine’s present or a plastic toy for our children.  Our “love” is so monetized today, that it is breaking Earth’s heart.  Our love comes with its very own carbon, human and animal rights footprint.  A web of capitalist techno-dystopia has come between us and our fellow humans. People used to need each other and help each other. Now they are helped by apps, supermarkets and credit cards.  Our own feelings, the most personal, intimate and sincere part of ourselves, is filtered through digital algorithms and consumer transactions before it reaches the other person.

People have become busy consumers: too distracted by their own “implanted unhappiness” to demand a happier life from their leaders, and to even know what genuine happiness is.  Modern humans complain that they have no free time, yet they succumb to each and every distraction that capitalism throws at them, which is responsible for consuming their time.  They have no idea that they’ve been manipulated, nor do they know what happiness is, so they keep on feeding the Unhappiness Machine.  They have become willing slaves. 

Slaves will never run away if you manage to convince them that they are nothing without their slave master.  Likewise, consumers will never wean themselves off products if you convince them that their lives mean nothing without these products.  They are addicted, dependent, and powerless. 

In much the same way as slavery, capitalism has gotten us completely addicted to the products, services, and entertainment distractions that we are willing to sacrifice everything for: our time, our dignity, and even each other.  We are the slaves that are in fact owned by these products, services, and distractions.  The products, as funny as this may sound, are our real slave masters.

Each purchase is another vote for the system that maintains our unhappiness.  Every time we purchase a product, the planet becomes poorer: because to make any type of product, a natural resource or human resource somewhere on the planet must become impoverished.  By purchasing more products than we need, we are boosting the oligarchs who control the production of goods, while actively encouraging further natural destruction.  Our civilization is ecologically corrupt.

Each consumer product is another distraction.  Each transaction is another monetization of our unhappiness.  The Unhappiness Machine may have helped capitalism, but it has presented a lose-lose situation for humans, even for those in power: it gave people the illusion of happiness, while ripping them apart forever from the free, simple, and less stressful things that used to make them genuinely, truly happy.  In our obsession to service the Machine, we have become too busy, too self-absorbed to even notice, recognize, admire and enjoy the beauty of this planet. Surely if we cannot appreciate beauty we must be at the most dangerous point in our history. If we can’t admire beauty, then we won’t protect it. 

We are the only species on Earth who has willingly settled for living in polluted environments toxic to its physical and mental health. Our civilization doesn’t just cause ecological collapse, it actually embodies it.

In order to serve the Unhappiness Machine, people had to become machines as well.  Our work culture treats humans like machines with a predefined working lifetime, expiration date and baseline expected performance.  We are often made to feel guilty when sick, and considered a liability to the stability of the overall system, rather than as biological organisms who should be entitled to their good days, and their not-so-good days.  We should be organisms entitled to their own life and death on our own terms.  From bullying to burnout, our economic system relies on doing to workers what it has done to nature for hundreds of years. This culture of exploitation is what has brought this planet’s climate to its knees. 

Humans may have abolished racial slavery within their species, but hundreds of forms of slavery continue to be the fundamental driving force behind our global economic system.  Modern humans have been forced into the “work, sleep, repeat” pattern to cater to capitalism’s “produce, sell, repeat”. We all serve the insatiable capitalist CO2 machine, risking our health and freedom in order to make others rich.  Our ability to scale up production and obliterate entire ecosystems in the process, depends on keeping this planet and the 8 million species that live on it enslaved.  We have put shackles on every single resource that exists on this planet, exploiting it to death.  Every single one of us is a slave master and slave at the same time, simply by association with this toxic economic system that relies on exploitation for its very survival.  Those who play by the rules of the system become rewarded and promoted to “superslaves”.  Corporations have evolved sophisticated cultures and processes that reward the most selfish, ignorant and morally corrupt employees. Then these “high achievers” become leaders who, ironically, promise to fight selfishness, ignorance and lack of compassion.  If a system continues to allow leaders with no ethics or honesty to survive, then it is not the leader that’s the problem. It is the corrupt system and our personal corruption, both on a personal and collective level. 

There are no corrupt politicians. There are corrupt political ecosystems which select for them, endorse them, promote them and maintain them in power.

Crucial to this transformation of human beings into machines was the development of city life and the development of Urban Sadness, which became additional food for the Unhappiness Machine.  Cities became places where the incomes of ordinary people were robbed, and consumption was boosted by a deep sense of unfulfillment that the city tried to instill into all its inhabitants.  Yet another trap that capitalism set for humans was the invention of “income”: unlike genuine life experiences, income is never enough, it isn’t actually meaningful, and never results in true happiness.  Everyone had to have ambitious career goals, and everyone had to feel ashamed of how they live in comparison to a rich neighbor.  As the cost of urban living went up, peoples’ mental health went down.  They began chasing after money and “things”, living robotic lives paycheck to paycheck, working not to better their lives anymore, but to simply pay their rent.  Their life’s purpose became to serve The Machine.

The rent slaves of the city eventually became unhappy because their lives lacked genuine meaning.  Even the city’s mass-manufactured products and entertainment were not enough to lift them out of their depression.  Most of the products didn’t really fulfil any tangible, urgent needs.  They were there merely for the purpose of robbing people of their income, and to leave them feeling even more empty so that they come back and purchase more useless products, just in case these new products “worked better” and perhaps would finally make them happy. 

All of those free, fun activities that people used to do in the countryside were now long forgotten in the city.  They had been replaced by expensive, artificial, ready-made, pre-planned and pre-booked entertainment.  And this was by far the biggest heist in the history of human civilization: robbing people of the genuine meaning their lives used to have, robbing them of their right to live simply, right here, right now, and be genuinely happy simply by existing.  The cage of the big city robbed people of the choice to live how they wanted.  You could say that, it robbed them of their consciousness. 

Capitalism converted our former meaningful existence to a cold transaction. Nothing feels real anymore, because nothing is genuinely meaningful. Even the sixth mass extinction is a business venture, instead of a holocaust. Capitalism introduced us to millions of products, addictions and preoccupations.  These in fact became millions of ways to feel even more unsatisfied, incomplete, confused, empty and unhappy.  We are so addicted to these distractions that they have become coping mechanisms:  the closer collapse approaches, the more distractions people have at their disposal to keep them busy while they wait for the lights of civilization to switch off.

The biggest irony of the collapse which our civilization is currently undergoing is that, as electricity, supply chains and technology eventually begin to lessen their stranglehold on our lives, many people will actually feel happier, even though life will be much tougher.

George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books

8 thoughts on “The Unhappiness Machine

  1. Thank you for this essay, dear George!

    So evident and yet so easy overlooked. If it doesn’t work with the individual directly it works via the partner, the family, the friends.
    The fear not to belonging is sufficient to consume, even if it’s a stack of tacky Christmas cards. The wish not to be rude makes one attend kitschy weddings far away and spending a grand.

    I’m so excited to examine my own daily decisions now. Not too confident though I can find the strength to resist these powerful manipulators nor to erase a lifelong conditioning.

    Best wishes
    Florian

      1. Now, look into the vibration/ energy of unconditional happiness. So much misunderstanding by human beings that happiness lies in getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want. Unconditional happiness is a state of being, available in the present moment. Not a condition to seek, find ,create in the future. It is a choice . Happy, Peaceful, Loveful Present Moment, dear fellow human being🌸🌺🌼

  2. Was Ted Kaczynski right? As I sat on a Boston bench across the street from Harvard medical school drinking a cup of hot water from Starbucks, staring at my phone screen, waiting for my wife who was getting her chemo at BIDMC hospital, a construction worker walking by asked me that question just 2 days ago. Very interesting way to say hello. Some people are beginning to wake. Love Rick

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