For many decades, critics of economic development argued that rising incomes and greater material abundance did not lead to higher levels of happiness. In 1974, Richard Easterlin from the University of Southern California noted that people in richer countries were not happier than people in poor countries. Subsequent research found that the so-called Easterlin Paradox did not exist. Instead, happiness seems to increase with affluence. Today, a different kind of criticism is gaining round. Happiness may be increasing, the critics of economic development concede, but life in a modern capitalist society is more and more devoid of meaning. What are we to make of this criticism?
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The so called postmodernists had a different view on the matter. They apparently thought that all this arguing is too much of a hassle, so they decided to make it simpler by drastically lowering the standards of what should count as an argument. That is why you can find sentences such as: “It is the horizon itself that is in movement: the relative horizon recedes when the subject advances, but on the plane of immanence we are always and already on the absolute horizon.” (That is an actual sentence from What is Philosophy, by the French duo Deleuze and Guattari.) The first and most obvious thing about this sentence is how convoluted and apparently meaningless it is. But while there are ways by which one can navigate the jargon and find some meaning in these words, there is no justification for it; no argument to demonstrate that “on the plane of immanence we are on the absolute horizon.”
As I said, Brazil’s situation is not the same as in the US. Intersectionality has just now started creeping out in the media and academia, and college campuses are part of a slowly bubbling debate on free speech. Still, in other aspects Brazil seems to be ahead of the postmodern curve when compared with America. Postmodern thought is prevalent from high school onwards and I am sure that it is at least part of the reason why, despite heavy investments in education and a growing number of college enrollments, Brazil’s education seems not to have improved at all in the last decade.