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Monday, October 09, 2006

The Myth of Sisyphus

The poet Homer thought he was a sterling guy, while other Greeks pictured him as a roundabout knave. Either way, the gods found a way to dislike him, eventually binding him to the task of rolling a huge stone up a hill, only to have it roll down again, ad infinitum. Sounds to me like a typical 9 to 5 job, only thing that Sisyphus didn’t have a coffee break or vacation time. To rephrase Santayana, those who do not remember the metaphors of the past are condemned to repeat them. In this case, a boulder in the gloomy underworld has been replaced with the more wholesome metaphor of an athletic club treadmill. Called the the satisfaction treadmill by the psychologist DanielKahneman, the idea is that the things we desire most have a habit of becoming boring when we finally attain them, thus causing us to become disappointed once we get our proverbial rock off. So down we go, and work perpetually for the next novelty, only to work for bigger and better pleasures that like Sisyphus’s boulder will also go down with a thud.

A gloomy state of affairs to be sure, but one relieved by the fact that we can never get what we want, and have to continually make do with the bright horizon that looms right over the boulder that we will be rolling forever upwards for all our working days. So the moral is that it is good that you dear reader are not yet famous or rich, for if you ever reach that pinnacle of your treadmill existence, you will have only the faint ember of past anticipation to keep you warm.