Our built-in dopamine-reward system makes instant gratification highly desirable, and the future difficult to balance with the present. This worked fine on the savanna, said Whybrow, but not the suburbs: We gorge on fatty foods and use credit cards to buy luxuries we can't actually afford. And then, overworked, underslept and overdrawn, we find ourselves anxious and depressed.
That individual weakness is reflected at the social level, in markets that have outgrown their agrarian roots and no longer constrain our excesses — resulting in the current economic crisis, in which America's unpaid bills came due with shocking speed.
But with this crisis, said Whybrow, comes the opportunity to rethink how Americans live, as individuals and as a nation, and build a country that works.
"We're primed for doing things immediately. We're poor at planning for the future, unless we get into circumstances like these, where we're forced to think cleverly about what to do next," he said. "In a way, this financial meltdown is a healthy thing for us. We'll think intuitively again. . ."
"America has always believed that it was the perfect society. When you have that mythology driving your culture, it's hard to look around and say, 'Is someone else doing it better than us?'" said Whybrow. "But you can trace the situation we're in to our evolutionary origins. Now that we find ourselves in the middle of this pseudo-abundance, we're in trouble. And the fantasy that we can restart the American dream just isn't true."
Zen-like tranquility is just around the corner.