Man does not live by it alone, but too much makes him obese. Not just physically fat, but mentally flabby as well. Until about the last 80 years the main human activity was devoted to survival. Hobbes famous declaration that in a state of nature – ie, one without government – life would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short now seems in need of modification. Hobbes thought the solution was a government with absolute power. Time has proved that such a government does not solve the five characteristics he felt required such a regime.
Representative government seemingly has modified the bad behavior Hobbes thought innate to humans without recourse to absolutism, but it hasn’t completely erased them. Hobbes thought a strong central government would protect the people from the harm they would mutually engage in absent restraint from the center. But the invidious behavior of the center ever eager to expand its reach has shown that men need protection from the sovereign as they do from each other.
There is no doubt that the world is more prosperous than it was in 17th century England. Life is also longer. I’m not so sure that it is less brutish given the events still within living memory. While life is longer, nastiness seems a persistent component of human nature that religion, philosophy, or government cannot completely deter.
Focus on prosperity. Uniform prosperity has never existed. The difference between the richest and poorest today is likely as great or even greater than at any other time. Envy was recognized by the ancient Hebrews who were enjoined against it without much result. No matter how rich a man is, he may be miserable if surrounded by those whose wealth is greater. It is upsetting for many if the desirable constituents of life are unequally distributed as they must be given that we are unequal in abilities, history, and good fortune.
The desire to impose equality from the center is a relatively new phenomenon. It has been the same beast regardless of label. Socialism, communism, and now equity are the products of the conceit that a person or coterie has discovered the secret of how society should be best organized. So certain are utopians of their plans that they are willing to impose them on everyone no matter how unwilling their beneficiaries are to be subjected to manipulation, ostensibly for their own good.
That many young people are drawn to the promise of perfection is mainly the fruit of a bad education and a prosperous upbringing. The bad education component now ranges from preschool to postgraduate study. My attention here is prosperity.
A prosperous childhood and adolescence does not deform the thinking of all those who experience such good luck. But a few are warped by the experience and there’s no limit on the avalanche of mischief that can be wrought by a determined minority in a relatively free society. Never in history have there been so many determined to overturn a society so well formed as that wrought in the West. Of course, said society is necessarily imperfect, as anything human must be, and its virtues either escape notice or are felt insufficient by those whose only goal is perfection.
So take that weak minded fringe of the prosperous youth and expose them to a flaccid education and the result is a young man or woman who hasn’t even enough wit to tell which of the two he or she is and who is immune to the restraints of logic and necessity. Undone by affluence is the fate of the of a distressingly large fraction of the privileged.
Homo sapiens evolved in an environment in which every waking minute was spent in search of food or fighting or fleeing from everything animate. Only a brief respite was allowed for reproduction which explains a lot of current human behavior, but that’s the subject for another time. Thus, our genes are not programmed for leisure. Some of us made good use of the increasing amount of spare time – hence art and invention. Others actually engage in occupations and pursuits that benefit those less fortunate; they do it personally and one person at a time. But many lacking in skill or motivation turn to quackery. An awful lot of nonsense masquerades as learning.
There is a sharp distinction between those who want to help man in the aggregate as opposed to those see the obvious flaws of the herd, but who are compassionate toward individuals who need aid and accordingly provide it – at the level of the individual rather than the collective. It is the former group who are defeated by leisure. They fill their time with schemes for the greater good that demand obeisance from any who dissent. They will even use violence in place of argument to force the unenlightened to conform to their muddled view of of a better order. The supposed betterment of the whole is favored at the expense of the single person.
Effective use of leisure requires an evolved state that many will never acquire. John Adams’ chart of generational progress seems to have missed the mark for today’s third generation of relative privilege: I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
I’m not so sure that studying painting, etc to the exclusion of everything else will lead to a healthy disposition, and obviously most do not have such an inclination. A focus on work, family, and the study of something interesting combined with a bit of free time seems the best prescription for a satisfying and useful life. Marching and proclaiming virtue seem the opposite and are certain to addle all but the most stable minds. The verities of human existence have been known for millennia, but each generation has to learn them anew. Today’s blatant craziness, taken seriously by many, suggests that Adams should have stopped with his sons’ vocations and left his grandchildren to figure out the direction of their lives on their own. When deciding on how to spend your free time, remember that its value is directly proportional to scarcity. Too much bread can not only affect your waistline, but your brain as well.