No two ways about it: We are making ourselves wretched. We are more affluent than ever, but riches—and power, the only point in having riches—do not make people happy. Ask a psychiatrist. Or take a look at the face of Vladimir Putin, who has, alas, the power of life and death over millions of people and is the owner of the most expensive toilet-paper dispenser in the world. No, affluent as we are, we are also more anxious, depressed, lonely, isolated, and lacking in purpose than ever. Why is this? I suggest it is because we no longer have the foggiest idea what human life is about. Indeed, there is a sense in which we no longer live in a world at all, but exist in a simulacrum of our own making.
Leaving nuance aside, and condensing three decades of research and a vast body of supporting evidence into a phrase: We are now mesmerized by the least intelligent part of the human brain. For reasons of survival, one hemisphere of the brain, the left, has evolved over millions of years to favor manipulation—grabbing, getting, and controlling—while the other, the right, has been tasked with understanding the whole picture. So conflicting are these goals that in humans the hemispheres are largely sequestered, one from the other. Our seeming ability these days to hear only what comes from the left hemisphere does not arise from the brain’s having changed radically in the last couple of centuries, though it is indeed always evolving. It’s more like this: You buy a radio set, and you soon find a couple of channels worth listening to. After a while, you find yourself listening to only one. It’s not the radio set that has changed; it’s you. In the case of the brain, it would not matter so much if we had settled on the intelligent channel—but we didn’t. We settled on the one whose value has nothing to do with truth, or with courage, magnanimity, or generosity, but only with greed, grabbing, and getting. Manipulation.