Where we are and where do we go ?
Although I think we can learn a lot from the Greeks and past ideas, especially from what we think will work but seems to fail in practice, we have to deal with the here and now, in our real world and not hypothetical worlds or limited experiments which we think model the world but actually model experiments.
The way I see it, the modern world is attempting to deal with the outcomes of two major changes, the industrial revolution and the ideas of Charles Darwin.
It is the wrong application of these major containers of wisdom ( division of labour and natural selection ) which has got us into a society where many are bored, angry and despair at falling levels of societal cohesion.
As Adam Smith rightly stated, the division of labour is natural and has a long history in human society with trade being the natural product of it.
We all benefit from “experts” and can see the advantage in the situation but a too finer division such as that on the industrial “production line” can produce boredom of such high levels that it both dulls the mind and causes people to seek high stimulus outside of work.
The same problem can be seen in the ‘slow food’ movement where people do not want the free market “optimal” time and ease solution of industrial style supermarkets but a farmers market or allotment for “own production”. A longing for a slower, more natural way of life is still within us.
This desire is against economic theory of maximisation because society is made up of a wide variety of humans who may have to spend some time as economic units of production and consumption but who are, fundamentally, products of a long evolutionary forged past to produce humans and not economic, machine like beings.
We feel a pull to nature and times past, we see in paintings how people lived closer to nature for even the small city states had vast countryside around them and within easy reach. One can see in paintings or by visiting rural areas a slower pace of life, a pace with natural gaps and societal bonding with ‘social’ drinking in the village pub, chats outside church on Sundays and the like.
This is how humanity lived, this is what evolutionary pressure shaped us to do but now we are often seen as ‘assets’ to ‘maximise’ by employers, as ‘target consumers’ by advertising firms who wish us to purchase.
Darwinists say ‘this is natural, change happens’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ in their view of economics and society but these are factors which usually take place over millions of years, gradually, incrementally.
Humans have always lived in societies with rules to control behaviour seen as negative to the whole or the leadership, we, as a species, do not stand back, we intervene and see it not as ‘altering Darwinian destiny’ but right and proper.
Standing back produces a rather cruel and brutal society, we only have to look at the excesses of the past with slavery, child workers, lax regard for health & safety to wonder at how such things which now seem horrific were actually accepted as normal.
The influence of social reformers like John Ruskin helped to create a moral backlash against excess, without it, we would indeed now live in a dystopia.
However, we have to ask ourselves, after the economic failure of communist and socialist ideas in practice, did we rush too far in praise of ‘the market’, yes, it does produce wealth, yes it is efficient but we forget it’s failings, that it has to be tamed, monitored, kept in check, as the recent banking crisis has shown, human greed will produce great highs and lows.
So thus, unto the problem, how do we limit the excesses of a free market in the post industrial revolution age ?
Bertrand Russell advocated a 4 hour working day in his essay ‘in praise of idleness’ but I am unsure such a leap forward can be achieved and we are more used to weekends and public holidays so I propose more public holidays to give us an increased opportunity to ‘break away’ from our free market, industrial revolted [sic] situation.
Now, I know a philosophy that advocates more free time, more leisure may not be as popular as a striving philosophy like that of Nietzsche but if we try VERY hard, we may be able, to enjoy life, more.
By Jason Palmer
19 September 2008