The Good-Enough Life

Book review by Deane Barker tags: philosophy

This is an incredibly idealistic book that will never be read by anyone who needs to read it to bring its dream about.

I thought it was a book about accepting imperfection in one’s own life, a la Four Thousand Weeks. However, it’s really a book about how the entire world should accept less than greatness so we can all be better off.

The idea is that the pursuit of individual greatness is making life worse for most people. Consider the hyper-rich – their pursuit for more and more money is starving the middle and lower class. If they would just accept a “good enough life,” then everyone would benefit.

So, the book is not targeted to individuals and how they should accept imperfection, but about how societies should treat goals and status, which will then hopefully “trickle down” to the individuals. This, of course, becomes a problem because whenever more than one person is asked to accept anything, they have to agree on it, and this is why we have politics.

Now, the idea that we could all do better together is probably true, but it will never happen. I’ve come to realize that lots of people are simply hard-wired for competition – especially in capitalist countries, and especially in the United States. They see life as a zero-sum game, and all that matters is how well they do relative to other people. You can’t just “reset” these people, especially in American culture – they will always push forward to get ahead of the pack.

(For the record, I’m not setting myself apart here. I might be one of these people myself. As I get older, I’m mellowing out a lot, but there’s no question I was one of these hyper-competitive people at one time – or maybe several times – during my life.)

Conversely, some cultures – like the Scandanvian countries – have held community values for years that inculcate their population to the type of lifestyle that this book espouses – more community, less individual (also, see this blog post: The Individual vs. The Community). But America is not Scandanavia, and it would be a massive shift for this country.

Clearly, those are the people who need to read the book and internalize the message. But, they never will. In fact, they would interpret the book as some kind of call to socialism or conformity (perhaps rightly?) and overlay some sense of evil of it.

And the book is very short on practical strategies. And what would they even be? I think for people to homogenize or “level out” success – certainly financial success – it would need to be by force, meaning increased taxation. And isn’t this what a lot of people are trying to do right now anyway? (And, again, back to the “socialism” argument…)

So, in the end, the book makes an important point, but it’s ultimately useless. It’s not actually going to drive change, because the ideas inside it run absolutely anti-thetical to the part of the population that would need to get onboard for it to work.

(It kind of reminds me of Winners Take All, in that sense.)

Book Info

Avram Alpert

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