Dangerously close to wanting nothing

All or Nothing?

“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” — Sylvia Plath

Which do you find more dangerous: wanting nothing, or wanting everything?

This is the daily prompt for a couple of days ago.


The desire for everything or freedom from desire altogether. Clearly this is a false dichotomy: there is a whole range of desires between these extremes. Nevertheless, as an exercise it is worth exploring. Wanting everything is surely the more dangerous. For a start it is unobtainable, there will always be something else that is beyond your grasp. Time, money or limited availability will ultimately frustrate you. This is the road to obsession, or something worse. Desiring everything then is setting a course for failure. Now this may be acceptable for some people; Enoch Powell, known mainly for another quote, said this about politicians:

All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.

Research consistently indicates that contrary to popular belief, excessive wealth and material accumulation does not lead to increased happiness, and may lead to a decrease in one’s sense of well-being and happiness. Each successive layer of possessions will mean less than the previous. I know it may be hard to believe, yet the evidence suggests that only below a certain threshold, does wealth correlate with happiness, beyond that point it does not. Moreover that threshold can be surprisingly low. Regardless of the precise amount of that threshold, its very existence shows that a desire for everything is flawed.

If having everything is impossible, then having nothing is arguably inevitable. Dead, we are empty handed, possessing not even our own lives. Yet, I am sure this is not an argument for going through life empty handed. And here the false dichotomy bites. Both maximum and minimum are unrealistic and unreasonable. So how could we re-think the question? If we choose to read it as desiring the maximum or the minimum, we progress, but only a little. Perhaps desire for as much as we can get, or as much as we need might be a more useful redefinition. Now this gets interesting, for example this quote form Mikhail Bakunin comes to mind:

We wish, in a word, equality — equality in fact as a corollary, or rather, as primordial condition of liberty. From each according to his faculties, to each according to his needs; that is what we wish sincerely and energetically.

But we are back to politics; and I never discuss politics with friends 😉




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