How should we live?

As a youth, I often pondered on the value of philosophy.

At the time I was preoccupied with earning a living in a capitalist system and that system inculcated in me a belief that if you can’t sell something, then it was worthless. As far as I could make out, philosophers dealt in ideas. How could they possibly make a living working with ideas that didn’t make any money? Not only that but the ideas themselves seemed like a waste of time; why should anybody care whether a tree falling in a forest devoid of humans makes a noise or not?

Then as I made my journey through life I started to notice more and more that very little was arbitrary or natural about human society. Somebody made a decision about how to do things – will we endorse slavery, or will we oppose it? To make such a decision, you have to consider many things, the most important aspect being the morals of the argument. And where do our morals come from?

Ahh, so that’s why philosophers exist.

Morals are a human invention. Philosophers ask the question, “how should we live our lives?” and the answers form the basis of our society.

I have now come to realise that this question is, in fact, the only question worth asking. Everything that happens to human society is grounded in this question.

Which brings me onto capitalism. Up until quite recently I used to believe that capitalism was spectacularly successful at increasing our standard of living (I also believed it was intellectually bankrupt in the developed world but that is for another blog post). Then I realised it was in the interest of the owners of capital to convince everyone else that this was the best system in exactly the same way that communist Russia inculcated its people with communist propaganda about its system.

The truth is, it is merely a system which certain people have adopted because it suits their interests. The increased standard of living is due to the creativity of human ingenuity. This ingenuity would exist within any system. Whether a social system attempts to suppress the ingenuity or not is a decision for the organisers of that system. An increased standard of living is not an exclusive benefit of capitalism. I have even heard some people argue that capitalism stifles real innovation because it is too short sighted with regard to return on investment; that return is exclusively fixed on financial return to the detriment of any other societal or environmental benefit.

Here is Noam Chomsky elucidating further on this topic. What a loose canon he is.

Leave a Reply