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Mr Rayon

If life was fair would it be boring?

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Does everyone wish for human equality and good global living standards? In what ways would this be a bad thing?

Edited by Voltman

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It would reduce the pleasure of status-superiority and deprive people of the sense of satisfaction they get from knowing that other people have it worse; not to mention the fact that they wouldn't be able to use the fact that other people have it worse to silence people who complain about problems in their own lives.

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I would like everyone to have a good standard of living, few wouldn't. However, I do like the exciting feeling that with a lot of hard work and a bit of good luck, I can make myself ridiculously wealthy. Or if I don't play my cards right, I could end up being an epic failure. It truly is the most dangerous and exciting game. So yes, if life were fair I would be bored.

 

I think it would be great if we lived really long lives and went through multiple cycles of wealth and poverty. Everyone would have perspective and understanding of the other side. I know several people who started life at the bottom of the working class and through sweat and blood now drive expensive cars and park them at expensive houses. Those people tend to be wise beyond their class.

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I'd say I wish for minimum standards of living. Having everyone be equal would be impossible anyways, people would find some way to improve their status.

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I would like everyone to have a good standard of living, few wouldn't. However, I do like the exciting feeling that with a lot of hard work and a bit of good luck, I can make myself ridiculously wealthy. Or if I don't play my cards right, I could end up being an epic failure. It truly is the most dangerous and exciting game. So yes, if life were fair I would be bored.

If people could actually work their way back up after falling into poverty, that WOULD be fair. It's the fact that once you're poor, you basically have little choice but to take a low-wage job and barely cover your costs month-to-month that prevents most people from going from rags to riches. Yes, you could get lucky and find a niche that pays handsomely and escape poverty that way, but can everyone do this? I believe the answer is no because for everyone to have this kind of social-economic mobility would require it to be equally dangerous for wealth to be lost and I don't think it is that easy to lose if you manage it well. Basically, economy is organized in such a way that prevents people from getting rich (or poor) quick, if at all.

 

I think it would be great if we lived really long lives and went through multiple cycles of wealth and poverty. Everyone would have perspective and understanding of the other side. I know several people who started life at the bottom of the working class and through sweat and blood now drive expensive cars and park them at expensive houses. Those people tend to be wise beyond their class.

Actually, I think many people who experienced poverty and escaped it avoid contemplating the thought of having to return to such a life. Many would lie, cheat, steal, etc. to maintain their position to avoid going back to what they fear from experience. It would be nice if poverty was regulated in some way that made it manageable so that people would avoid and escape it out of fear and desperation. There's really nothing wrong with living meagerly if you have access to basic means of shelter, warmth, decent nutrition, clean water, hygiene, social-contact, leisure, etc.

Edited by lemur

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If people could actually work their way back up after falling into poverty, that WOULD be fair. It's the fact that once you're poor, you basically have little choice but to take a low-wage job and barely cover your costs month-to-month that prevents most people from going from rags to riches. Yes, you could get lucky and find a niche that pays handsomely and escape poverty that way, but can everyone do this? I believe the answer is no because for everyone to have this kind of social-economic mobility would require it to be equally dangerous for wealth to be lost and I don't think it is that easy to lose if you manage it well. Basically, economy is organized in such a way that prevents people from getting rich (or poor) quick, if at all.

 

 

Actually, I think many people who experienced poverty and escaped it avoid contemplating the thought of having to return to such a life. Many would lie, cheat, steal, etc. to maintain their position to avoid going back to what they fear from experience. It would be nice if poverty was regulated in some way that made it manageable so that people would avoid and escape it out of fear and desperation. There's really nothing wrong with living meagerly if you have access to basic means of shelter, warmth, decent nutrition, clean water, hygiene, social-contact, leisure, etc.

 

I grew up somewhat poor (by American standards). Many months my mother really struggled to keep the lights on. Now I'm in school for chemistry at a major university and I have a 3.9 GPA. I'm actually making money in college through a lot of academic and music scholarship. I plan to get an MBA after that which might hoist me into a delightful income bracket. I went to high school in a school district with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and statistically a great majority of students didn't attend college. I graduated high school with a 3.8 and a rocking SAT. So one can really "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" and change their financial situation for the better. It takes back breaking work, late nights, sweat, tears, and desire to leave one life behind for a different one. Not trying to pat myself on the back, but I'm saying that life can become whatever one wants if you've got the stones for it. By the way, I've been supporting myself by working the whole time in addition to the scholarship money. My school/work days are about twelve to fourteen hours long but I wouldn't have it any other way. Life is a game. If one wants to win, put on your cleats, get out there and score some goals.

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I grew up somewhat poor (by American standards). Many months my mother really struggled to keep the lights on. Now I'm in school for chemistry at a major university and I have a 3.9 GPA. I'm actually making money in college through a lot of academic and music scholarship. I plan to get an MBA after that which might hoist me into a delightful income bracket. I went to high school in a school district with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and statistically a great majority of students didn't attend college. I graduated high school with a 3.8 and a rocking SAT. So one can really "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" and change their financial situation for the better. It takes back breaking work, late nights, sweat, tears, and desire to leave one life behind for a different one. Not trying to pat myself on the back, but I'm saying that life can become whatever one wants if you've got the stones for it. By the way, I've been supporting myself by working the whole time in addition to the scholarship money. My school/work days are about twelve to fourteen hours long but I wouldn't have it any other way. Life is a game. If one wants to win, put on your cleats, get out there and score some goals.

 

I'm sorry but while I'm sincerely happy for you, your story exemplifies the flaws in the ideology of meritocracy. I too, like you, "climbed the ladder of success" from a poor youth to prestigious academic achievement, etc. Only at some point I began to apply the things I was learning to analyze the economic logic of meritocracy in the first place. It's basically a system of artificial rewards for compliant participation in systematic economic structuring whose intent is to disempower individuals by making them specialists dependent on an elaborate division of labor. This system is very sad, imo, because the people who do not get validated as "meriting" "a delightful income bracket" (as you put it) don't have any real means of supporting themselves except by appeasing the gate-keepers of the meritocratic system of income distribution. Access to arable land and the means to utilize it effectively are restricted by a pricing system that requires people to work for money before being able to invest in their own independence. Personally, I don't see why it should be necessary to provide labor to someone else before going to work for yourself. You would probably want to if you had the chance, just to be able to learn skills and techniques of an experienced veteran; but should people really have to indenture themselves for many years to "earn/merit" freedom? What's more, how many people emerge from indenturement (i.e. working for money) to independent homesteading? Most people have gotten so indoctrinated into consumerism that they just put in their 30 years or whatever it comes out to so that they will be able to retire and continue being dependent on the consumer-system, only now without having to put in any labor hours anymore. This system is fine, even good, when you're on the winning end. It's when you get stuck in a dead-end job to pay bills, or even become unemployable, that people should have the option of working for themselves instead of a manager and/or paying clients, imo.

Edited by lemur

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Human equality...oh no...Are you sure you want to remove free bus travel for old people? Or make bus travel free for everyone?

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Say you are playing a sport where the officials are making sure nobody cheats and all play by the same rules, will the game always be boring? The answer is no.

 

Say we put together a game of ball, where we have a few ringers and many low skilled players, would the game be boring? Or would the game be more interesting if all the players were more tightly bunched with respect to their skill levels?

 

From the point of view of the players, it gets boring playing against low skilled players or against players who are too good. The first doesn't challenge you or bring out your best, and the second never gives you a chance to practice your skills and improve. If the players are closer, the game can be exciting for all.

 

The game of life is no different. If life is a battlefield instead of a game, the rules of war are different. There is no such thing as cheating. There is no requirement for a fair fight, since only winning the battle and war matter. But games are more fun and much more relaxing.

Edited by pioneer

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Say you are playing a sport where the officials are making sure nobody cheats and all play by the same rules, will the game always be boring? The answer is no.

 

Say we put together a game of ball, where we have a few ringers and many low skilled players, would the game be boring? Or would the game be more interesting if all the players were more tightly bunched with respect to their skill levels?

 

From the point of view of the players, it gets boring playing against low skilled players or against players who are too good. The first doesn't challenge you or bring out your best, and the second never gives you a chance to practice your skills and improve. If the players are closer, the game can be exciting for all.

 

The game of life is no different. If life is a battlefield instead of a game, the rules of war are different. There is no such thing as cheating. There is no requirement for a fair fight, since only winning the battle and war matter. But games are more fun and much more relaxing.

 

Good metaphors/analogies, but the real basis of economic life is not game-playing or fighting but rather producing what is needed and wanted. People do fight over "the means of production" as Marx calls it, but labor ultimately comes down to using those means of production to produce what you need and want (and deem morally/ethically good to produce and consume).

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I'm sorry but while I'm sincerely happy for you, your story exemplifies the flaws in the ideology of meritocracy. I too, like you, "climbed the ladder of success" from a poor youth to prestigious academic achievement, etc. Only at some point I began to apply the things I was learning to analyze the economic logic of meritocracy in the first place. It's basically a system of artificial rewards for compliant participation in systematic economic structuring whose intent is to disempower individuals by making them specialists dependent on an elaborate division of labor. This system is very sad, imo, because the people who do not get validated as "meriting" "a delightful income bracket" (as you put it) don't have any real means of supporting themselves except by appeasing the gate-keepers of the meritocratic system of income distribution. Access to arable land and the means to utilize it effectively are restricted by a pricing system that requires people to work for money before being able to invest in their own independence. Personally, I don't see why it should be necessary to provide labor to someone else before going to work for yourself. You would probably want to if you had the chance, just to be able to learn skills and techniques of an experienced veteran; but should people really have to indenture themselves for many years to "earn/merit" freedom? What's more, how many people emerge from indenturement (i.e. working for money) to independent homesteading? Most people have gotten so indoctrinated into consumerism that they just put in their 30 years or whatever it comes out to so that they will be able to retire and continue being dependent on the consumer-system, only now without having to put in any labor hours anymore. This system is fine, even good, when you're on the winning end. It's when you get stuck in a dead-end job to pay bills, or even become unemployable, that people should have the option of working for themselves instead of a manager and/or paying clients, imo.

 

Whoa, I said I might land a well paid position...who knows these days. I think we can agree on that!

 

Are you advocating subsistence farming as a viable alternative to a free market meritocracy? Society moved beyond that in the industrial revolution for a reason. People wanted more leisure time, greater access to a variety of goods, and a higher level of general education.

 

Lemur, you know I've got respect for your skill in philosophy. I agree with your philosophy here, that would be a wonderful world. However, it could never happen if we wish to preserve the quality of life we a have become so accustom to. Technology and the collective human knowledge has advanced to the point where specialization is required. I don't know of anyone who conducts serious research who doesn't spend the majority of their time with books, pencils, computers, and calculators. Do you want a neurosurgeon operating on your brain that doesn't spend all of his time doing neurosurgery?

 

I can tell you are an advocate of equity over efficiency. This is the great battle of economics. There is no way that the labor force can be divided equitably while still maintaining the level of efficiency that is required to maintain and innovate in our society. A choice must be made between an unfair efficient society and a fair inefficient society. I choose efficiency because I couldn't be writing this post right now if I had to work the farm from sunrise to sunset just to meet my nutritional needs. No one would have time to build computers anyway.

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Whoa, I said I might land a well paid position...who knows these days. I think we can agree on that!

Well-paid is relative. Why would you land a poorly-paid position unless others who do similar work to yours get paid less on average or your field gets decimated and a large proportion of you can't find work doing what you do?

 

Are you advocating subsistence farming as a viable alternative to a free market meritocracy? Society moved beyond that in the industrial revolution for a reason. People wanted more leisure time, greater access to a variety of goods, and a higher level of general education.

For one, I don't see them as mutually exclusive. The industrial revolution and the technological and labor advances that have evolved from it should not be seen is a definitive economic structure for society but as simply a collection of available technologies and techniques that can be applied in various situations. The leisure time, access to goods, and educational access have all become more constrained due to consumer demand. Many people have to work 40 hours or more, their "free time" is spent engaging in institutionalized consumption or just driving or standing in lines, they have access to a fraction of the goods they desire, and they don't really care about knowledge because they've come to see education as a means to more money and nothing more. I think that the ideology of meritocracy has promoted a belief that things are just the way they are and all you can do is plug into a job and get rewarded for doing your small part to make "the system" keep doing what it does, even if its generating lots of problems and dissatisfaction.

 

Lemur, you know I've got respect for your skill in philosophy. I agree with your philosophy here, that would be a wonderful world. However, it could never happen if we wish to preserve the quality of life we a have become so accustom to.

This is an assumption that is insistently maintained by a reactionary political stance. Basically what you're saying is "life is good and to keep it nothing should be changed." The problem with that is that things are getting changed all the time for the worse because of the view that there is no change going on as long as people are reacting against change. You could call this reactionary status-quo progressivism.

 

Technology and the collective human knowledge has advanced to the point where specialization is required. I don't know of anyone who conducts serious research who doesn't spend the majority of their time with books, pencils, computers, and calculators. Do you want a neurosurgeon operating on your brain that doesn't spend all of his time doing neurosurgery?

Specialization and practice certainly benefit skill and efficiency. It just depends on the nature of each particular type of work how much specialization/dedication is needed. A surgeon might perform optimal surgery working, say, 30 hours/week, due to burn-out or other over-working stresses if she does more hours of surgery than that. Why shouldn't that person do other labor during their off-time, though? Instead of the argument you're making, it sounds more like what you want to say is that people who provide a great deal of benefit with their work (such as doctors/surgeons) should be compensated with lavish lifestyles that liberate them from doing their own housework, contributing to their own food supply, etc.

 

I can tell you are an advocate of equity over efficiency. This is the great battle of economics. There is no way that the labor force can be divided equitably while still maintaining the level of efficiency that is required to maintain and innovate in our society. A choice must be made between an unfair efficient society and a fair inefficient society. I choose efficiency because I couldn't be writing this post right now if I had to work the farm from sunrise to sunset just to meet my nutritional needs. No one would have time to build computers anyway.

No, you're creating a false dichotomy to make equity seem like a necessary cost of efficiency. If you recall, my position wasn't about equality anyway. It was about interdependence and disempowerment through meritocratic economic structuring. It may actually be the case that consolidating various forms of labor by allowing people to develop multiple specialties and avoid monotony of working constantly in one by switching back and forth between more than one, they would actually perform more efficiently. What's more, if you compare different approaches to agriculture: 1) local community farming for produce with consumer-participation 2) local community farming for produce with dedicated specialists 3) distant farming with all production done by dedicated specialists, including transport/distribution; #2 would probably generate the most yield with the least resources, #1 would come in second, and #3 would be the least efficient in terms of resources and, more so, it generates the most free-time which results in an even greater resource-drain as consumers use their free-time to consume more goods and services because they have nothing else constructive to do.

 

I don't think people would have to work long hours to keep community farms planted, fertilized, mulched, and weeded if it was planned/organized well. I think a little labor could be divided among a large number of people (like jury duty is, for example) and people would spend a weekend a month (like the army reserves) or something similar contributing to local sustainable farming. Anyway, agriculture is just one example since there are many other ways people could become less economically dependent, thus increasing economic efficiency generally, while giving them more of a dense of democratic voice in the overall structuring of their economies than does meritocracy.

 

 

 

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Specialization and practice certainly benefit skill and efficiency. It just depends on the nature of each particular type of work how much specialization/dedication is needed. A surgeon might perform optimal surgery working, say, 30 hours/week, due to burn-out or other over-working stresses if she does more hours of surgery than that. Why shouldn't that person do other labor during their off-time, though? Instead of the argument you're making, it sounds more like what you want to say is that people who provide a great deal of benefit with their work (such as doctors/surgeons) should be compensated with lavish lifestyles that liberate them from doing their own housework, contributing to their own food supply, etc.

 

Nothing stops them from doing labor on their off time. Then they just made the choice to expend their labor/time capital rather than their currency capital. Every action costs some sort of capital to the individual and to society.

 

I'm saying that those individuals who posses skills that are of sufficient rarity and value to society will and should be compensated based on the apparent market value of their set of skills. If that compensation is sufficient to allow the employment of outside labor for daily tasks then what is the problem? If someone works forty hours a week and they don't have time to cut their own lawn what is wrong with them paying someone who needs the work to do it for them? Everyone wins in that trade.

 

It is impossible for society to enjoy the variety of products and services that it does without specialization. Even if one grows a personal vegetable garden, environmental constraints still prevent us from enjoying variety. One just can't grow oranges in Ontario. So we pay orange growing specialists in Florida to do that for us. That is a more efficient use of resources as growing oranges in Florida requires less resources to produce the same amount of oranges. One could say warm climates have a comparative advantage in citrus agriculture.

 

Also think of opportunity cost. If a doctor earns $100/hr. and can earn $10/hr. sweeping floors, then every hour he sweeps floors cost him $90. Or for every hour he tends to a home garden, lets say he produces $1 of food, he could have bought himself 100x more food than he could have produced himself. Opportunity cost is the reason there will always be an un-equitable division of labor. It is to the advantage of the individual and to the advantage of society as a whole to be devoted specialists.

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Nothing stops them from doing labor on their off time. Then they just made the choice to expend their labor/time capital rather than their currency capital. Every action costs some sort of capital to the individual and to society.

That is very astute analytically, but the challenge is to translate that into a more sophisticated economic analysis.

 

I'm saying that those individuals who posses skills that are of sufficient rarity and value to society will and should be compensated based on the apparent market value of their set of skills.

People don't get compensated on the basis of "value to society" but on the basis of value to paying customer. Often it is neither rarity nor value that are rewarded but institutionalized need, which may be quite far from any kind of real "need." That's the difference between institutions and reality.

 

If that compensation is sufficient to allow the employment of outside labor for daily tasks then what is the problem? If someone works forty hours a week and they don't have time to cut their own lawn what is wrong with them paying someone who needs the work to do it for them? Everyone wins in that trade.

That's not what meritocracy is, though. Meritocracy is the belief that people are supposed to be rewarded for their educational or other attainment of institutionalized milestones. Get a certain score on a test, get into a certain college, get certain grades, get the credentials to acquire a certain job, fulfill certain performance criteria and pass assessments, collect salary, benefits, and ultimately pension. The direct relation between worker and production is severed and replaced with institutionalized evaluation criteria. The lawnmower no longer has any relationship to the value of what s/he produces, only the standards of the employer and what the market value of lawn-mowing is. Economic-productivity becomes completely subjective.

 

It is impossible for society to enjoy the variety of products and services that it does without specialization. Even if one grows a personal vegetable garden, environmental constraints still prevent us from enjoying variety. One just can't grow oranges in Ontario. So we pay orange growing specialists in Florida to do that for us. That is a more efficient use of resources as growing oranges in Florida requires less resources to produce the same amount of oranges. One could say warm climates have a comparative advantage in citrus agriculture.

You're conflating theoretical and practical arguments. You're right that specialization facilitates products and services that wouldn't be available if everyone was a perfect generalist. That, however, doesn't mean that everyone has to be a totally specialized worker for things to function. What's more, it does not mean that the more specialized individuals become, the more beneficial their labor to an overall economy. That's oversimplifying. You have to look at concrete specifics. If you grow locally prolific vegetables in local farms, it reduces the amount of shipping necessary for produce along with a number of other labor-hours needed for longer-distance distribution. Oranges are only more efficiently produced by specialists in orange-groves to the extent that it's not efficient to replace some orange-consumption with consumption of some other locally-grown fruit. Every economic process has multiple levels on which it can be "tweaked" in various ways. It doesn't come down to an either/or question of whether specialism or generalism is ultimately more efficient for ALL economic processes.

 

Also think of opportunity cost. If a doctor earns $100/hr. and can earn $10/hr. sweeping floors, then every hour he sweeps floors cost him $90. Or for every hour he tends to a home garden, lets say he produces $1 of food, he could have bought himself 100x more food than he could have produced himself. Opportunity cost is the reason there will always be an un-equitable division of labor. It is to the advantage of the individual and to the advantage of society as a whole to be devoted specialists.

By this logic, it would be more efficient for a doctor earning $100/hr to pay someone else to wipe their butt, yet they don't do that because it is undesirable and unpleasant to be surrounded by loads of dependent servants. Still, a level of service-dependency has built up for various reasons that has undermined the ability of people to practice greater independence. This excess-dependency is a form of inefficiency, not efficiency. It may make sense to you that specialization and differentiation of labor should proceed ad infinitum but at some point it creates more inefficiency than it resolves. The trick is to figure out which forms of labor-specialization promote real efficiency and which forms of consolidation or multiple-specializations add more to efficiency. You may find that economics is more complex than you would assume in you one-dimensional "specialization = efficiency" logic.

 

 

 

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If life distributes economic rewards extremely unequally, then those at the bottom who have to devote all their energies to mere survival (e.g., the person living in a dumpster) have profoundly boring lives, since they lack the leisure for sophisticated thinking about anything. Even with lesser degrees of economic inequality, the danger of some segments of the population being condemned to boring lives is extreme, since many will be forced to become human machines by their lack of the necessary skill sets to secure an intellectually challenging job, and many others will have so little surplus income to provide leisure for the education of their tastes and critical faculties that their dulled minds will never be capable of appreciating what is truly interesting in life.

 

The premise of the question is any case false, since it inaccurately assumes that the major or only source of interest in life is the battle with the constant threat of poverty or the shallow temptation to define ourselves by the trashy trinkets we can own. But the truly interesting quests in life are for meaning, love, and the fulfillment of intellectual curiosity, all of which are undermined when we have to live in an environment of economic danger where the animalistic struggle to pile up enough food in the nest to survive the winter becomes the degraded preoccupation of entities dignified with the capacity for human reflection.

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If you want to know how civilised a society is look at how it looks after the disadvantaged members of that society. Although it will never happen we should do what we can to give those people who are mentally, physically or through poverty unable to join the giddy heights to which many of you aspire the same benefits that you enjoy.

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Aristotle defined justice as giving to each what he deserved, so the Ariston, the best people, deserved the best, while the slaves barely deserved to be kept alive. But ever since the Bourgeois Revolution circa 1789 the basic assumption in the West has been that everything which counts as a human being is equal. The debate, however, is over what that means. Capitalist democracies assume it means that all have basic legal rights and an equal right to vote but nothing more, while socialist societies would argue that since the net social product, which is always the result of the cooperative work of everyone in society, can never be rigorously subdivided in such a way that we can really guarantee that each person receives as income exactly what he contributed to the net wealth of society, we should just act on the assumption that all people being equal means that they are entitled to an equal share of the net social product. After all, if the $20,000 a year toilet cleaners don't do their work at the hospital, the $400,000 a year brain surgeons couldn't earn a penny because the hospital would have to close.

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The premise of the question is any case false, since it inaccurately assumes that the major or only source of interest in life is the battle with the constant threat of poverty or the shallow temptation to define ourselves by the trashy trinkets we can own. But the truly interesting quests in life are for meaning, love, and the fulfillment of intellectual curiosity, all of which are undermined when we have to live in an environment of economic danger where the animalistic struggle to pile up enough food in the nest to survive the winter becomes the degraded preoccupation of entities dignified with the capacity for human reflection.

Ok, Maslow. Personally, I don't see any barrier to intellectual richness in living various forms of material struggle. I forget if it is Foucault or Deleuze or both that talk about philosophy being not just about thinking but about embodied living as well. How empty would it be to theorize abstractly about physics and never pay attention to things like inertia, momentum, heat, energy, etc. going on around you and through you as you engage in various life activities? I think a big part of the joy of theoretical philosophy is engaging in practical activities that give you direct experiential data on your study object.

 

I was actually just thinking recently about how much it undermines the study of poverty that relatively privileged students and others are told how terrible it is that people are so poor and how much they suffer, etc. How are people supposed to get motivated to improve poverty the way they get motivated to develop a new type of battery for the latest greatest gadget technology? If you take poverty as a challenge, however, like a sport of living with very little money, facing various forms of adversity and struggle, and developing innovative techniques to be happier and more comfortable amid unkind conditions, it can be very interesting. For example, even if you have the means to heat your living area to a cozy comfort level, you can attempt to deal with the lowest temperature possible for as long as you can take it and see what works best for you. Presently, I find that Walmart's discounting of the Snuggie from $19 to $15 is a great contribution to easing the suffering of people who are trying to get out of debt by lowering their energy-bill. If I would not have experimented with it for myself, I would have just theorized that it was an insufficient solution to a deeper problem, because I would have confused theoretical depth with practical experience. In practice, Snuggie is an anti-poverty technology.

Edited by lemur

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While what you say is correct in theory, in practice it turns out not to be. Essential to the OP is the question of what can be interesting. While refighting battles on a boardgame can insulate the intrigue of tactical ingenuity from the actual experience of shooting and being shot at and thus highlight the interesting element, the actual business of fighting battles -- while still retaining that element of interesting intellectual challenge -- is so overwhelmingly an experience of terror and panic that the fact that it could be interesting as well as terrifying is phenomenologically inaccessible to those involved. The same is true of dire poverty. The coping strategies involved can be interesting if you analyze them from afar, but the actual experience is such an existential crisis that the interesting aspect does not appear to those engaged in the struggle.

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While what you say is correct in theory, in practice it turns out not to be. Essential to the OP is the question of what can be interesting. While refighting battles on a boardgame can insulate the intrigue of tactical ingenuity from the actual experience of shooting and being shot at and thus highlight the interesting element, the actual business of fighting battles -- while still retaining that element of interesting intellectual challenge -- is so overwhelmingly an experience of terror and panic that the fact that it could be interesting as well as terrifying is phenomenologically inaccessible to those involved. The same is true of dire poverty. The coping strategies involved can be interesting if you analyze them from afar, but the actual experience is such an existential crisis that the interesting aspect does not appear to those engaged in the struggle.

Basically what you're saying is that transcendence of the suffering involved in both situations is key to the pleasure of engaging in (practical) theorizing. Yet there are progressive levels of immanence that transcend transcendence, so to speak, thereby bringing the theorist ever closer to the experience they are studying. The board-game general, for example, might move on to engage in paint-ball battles or become a general in an actual war. In either case, they would be moving a step closer to actual war from their boardgame, and thus the pleasure of transcending the deepest suffering of war would be intensified by becomiing that much more immersed in the reality of it. The same may be true for a person with the means to transcend poverty to experiment with transcending it by non-monetary means. Sure, if you have the money you can buy your way out of any tight situation, but when you discover a problem-resolution that costs next-to-nothing, you just transcended poverty in a way that is accessible to anyone on a tight budget. If you share your findings with someone else in poverty, it could directly improve their life. That is real, direct power imo.

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It seems that you have moved from the issue of the interest generated by unfair situations to that of the pleasure they can generate, which are two different things.

 

My basic point would be that while for the oncologist there is great interest, even fascination, in calculating the exact optimum point between killing his patient by the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and their resulting cachexia, the patient dying of cancer -- even if he is also an oncologist -- somehow fails to find this calculation interesting in his own case. You would think that it should logically become more interesting because the cancer-stricken oncologist now has the further motivation that his life is on the line, but in fact the stress of the misfortune seems to extinguish the interest. Existential engagement seems to swamp the capacity of intellectual stimulation to have its usual effects.

 

This phenomenon is very close to the related question of why films of intellectually engaging and terrifying struggles can be entertaining and interesting, while the same sorts of events in your own life are just terrifying and numbing.

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