Happy Twentieth! Anticipating Fortune

Happy 20th to Epicureans everywhere! Today is International Day of Happiness, and the Epicurean Garden in Athens has been busy promoting today with an event called Happiness is a Human Right, which is part of their Declaration of Pallini initiative to establish the right to happiness for every citizen of the European Union.

In my message of the last twentieth, I opened up a conversation about Epicurean economics. Since then, Scientific American published a very intelligently-argued piece titled Revolt against the Rich: Nobel laureates, a new congresswoman and others urge raising taxes on the ultrawealthy to counter surging inequality with numerous links whose content is as interesting as the essay itself. One of the questions posed in our discussions of labor and leisure deals with what will we do when automation replaces the majority of our jobs, and there is a growing movement that proposes a common-sense solution: abolish billionaires (via taxation of excess wealth). I believe that the advance of automation will inevitably bring to light the urgency of this.

The essay Adam Smith, Loneliness, and the Limits of Mainstream Economics argues that many factors are difficult or impossible to quantify in the field of economics. The essay raises important questions:

What happens to people who no one pays attention to, people who struggle to find respect, honor, love? What happens to people who feel as if they do not matter?

Mass shootings in America are almost always done by a lonely man with a gun.

The policy debate focuses on the gun…

The essay also discusses the opium crisis, and reminds me of Eastern countries that use a Gross Domestic Happiness index to measure the well-being of their citizens, rather than the strictly-mathematical models used in the West, which many claim to be more scientific but are in many ways deficient. Clearly, when the banking cartel is making money, this will likely show up as a sign of economic strength in a country, but in reality it means that more people may be in debt. The measured gain does not represent well-being for the majority. And so many things that are quantifiable mathematically do not correlate in any way with the well-being of the members of society. It seems to me, then, that mainstream economists are distorting or confusing our values–perhaps through no fault of their own, because so many things related to our well-being are hard to quantify.

I have anticipated you, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all your secret attacks. And we will not give ourselves up as captives to you or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who here vainly cling to it, we will leave life crying aloud in a glorious triumph-song that we have lived well. – Vatican Saying 47

I have been considering the above Epicurean Saying in light of Epicurean economics. Most commentary on the saying focuses on the attitude one is to have at the time of death, and on how we should show disdain towards Fortune. But Norman DeWitt once said that, to Epicureans, “the unplanned life is not worth living“, and another way of reading this saying would ask the questions:

How do we anticipate Fortune? How do we arm ourselves, or entrench ourselves against her attacks?

I can not imagine answering this without discussing important, long-term self-sufficiency projects, and without delving deeply into important economic issues. In other words, how do we make ourselves worthy of this saying, so that we live our lives with the confident expectation that we will be able to provide our natural and necessary pleasures? This requires–among other virtues–autarchy!

On the subject of autarchy and reinvention of labor and retirement, the TED Speech Why you should think about financial independence and mini-retirements by Lacey Filipich, discusses the freedom and happiness one is able to enjoy when one has what former Uruguay president famously called “time to love“. Speaking of time, here is a great review of the book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund (book here); and the essay Epicureans on Squandering Life, by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse, was published this month. It included the following Lucretius quote:

You, even while you still have life, are as good as dead. You squander the greater part of your time in sleep, you snore when awake . . . you are buffeted with countless cares on every side and drift aimlessly in utter bewilderment of mind. (DRN 3.1050)

I found an interesting essay that discusses what might seem like Epicurean interior design titled Marie Kondo’s deceptively simple ‘Tidying Up’ tips are spreading the gospel of joy when Americans need it most, with the subtitle “Kondo’s show is popularizing an array of un-American philosophies: be thankful for what you already have, practice humility, seek peace“. I initially read about Kondo in a book about Hygge, of which I wrote a book review.

Man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings. – Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus

Further Learning:

TED Speech: Why you should think about financial independence and mini-retirements by Lacey Filipich

 This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom

Trickle-Down Economics Must Die, Long Live Grow-Up Economics

Day of Happiness Page

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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