For Schopenhauer the labors of desire were never quenched, slaves of our needs we assume not only natural cravings, but unnatural or abstract ones as well: ambition, power, money…
As Frederick C. Beiser informs us:
The main contention of [Schopenhauer’s] argument is that we inevitably acquire new needs, which grow in intensity, so that it becomes increasingly harder to satisfy them (V, 347). This adds a completely new dimension to the life of desire, because it is not only that the same needs regenerate but that we acquire new ones, which have no natural limit and which grow the more we satisfy them. Schopenhauer’s example for this kind of need is ambition. We are not satisfied with just a little recognition; we demand more and more, until we achieve fame; and once we are a little famous, we want to be more so. Schopenhauer could have chosen other examples, such as money and power, which were favorite targets of the Stoic and Epicurean traditions. Of these too we can say that the more we have of them, the more we want them, where there is no limit to how much we want. But the greater our wants, the harder it becomes to satisfy them, so that the feeling of discontent only grows.1
The amazing trick here is that capitalism hooked into this little trick of human need and desire, developing a whole consumer society based on it; and then set it loose upon the natural order of the world where it doesn’t exist. Thereby making of the natural an unnatural need of endlessly unsatisfied consumer products or abstract desires based on obsolescence and the need for more and more all bound to the cycle of the eternal return of our secret cravings, thereby creating a cannibalistic society of self-consuming artifacts desiring greater and greater levels of satisfaction that cannot be fulfilled. Who needs hell when you have capitalism and consumer society promoting the discontent of desires that can never be quenched? The fires fueling hell are not so much below us as much as in us, the very force of our unnatural cravings for more and more and more… Capitalism is nothing more than a unified conduit that imprisons our cravings in a closed system of eternal return, a circulation of desire for profit that seeks only to continue its endless round of profit making at the expense of the desiring unit: the human. As Marx once stated: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” We are zombies (“death-in-Life”) of Capital, our desires the juice that fuels the unnatural machine of Capital, and line the pockets of those .01% who skim the top and keep the machines running and sucking on our dead labor.
- Frederick C. Beiser. After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900 (Kindle Locations 3018-3024). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.