Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
It can still feel weird discussing having had depression and anxiety to strangers in public talks. Although I’m fairly used to exposing myself these days (as it were), there are still occasions when I think ‘is this really a good idea?’ I had that feeling this week, standing in front of a gym full of colossal rugby players at Saracens rugby club, staring at me stony-faced as I discussed how ancient philosophy helped me through panic attacks. What the hell am I doing here?
I was invited to Saracens’ training ground in St Albans to give a talk about ancient philosophy, virtue ethics, and the Greeks’ ideas on the good life. I believe, and Saracens also believe, that ethics are right at the heart of sport. Sportspeople, on a daily basis, are faced with the questions that Socrates first raised: is it worth being an ethical person? What is the appropriate trade-off between external and internal goods? What does it mean to succeed at life? How do we cope with external pressures and still maintain a good character?
We, the spectator-public, like to think that professional sportspeople are shining knights, that sports coaches are founts of moral wisdom like Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights. We look to professional sportspeople as moral guides – recently I was at a conference on well-being at work, where the keynote speaker was Sally Gunnell, who was greeted like a demi-goddess by the assembled businesspeople. But professional sports looks much better from the outside than the inside, and what’s good for external success (prizes, profits) is not necessarily good for a person’s character or well-being. You can be a highly-successful athlete and still a very messed-up human being.
Professional sports is not necessarily the character-forming crucible we amateurs think it is. It’s big business and razzle-dazzle spectacle, with huge amounts of money involved and an intense focus on winning at any cost. David Priestly, who is head of the Personal Development Programme at Saracens, says: ‘People have an incredibly romantic view of professional sports. But it can be a very brutal world, a machine that squeezes everything out of a person and then tosses them aside. Most of the people in that world are very far from being role-models. Most people in professional sports shy away from anything explicitly about ethics. It’s just about winning. Younger players can see people at the top of their sport who are doing very well while still behaving in a questionable manner.’
The Saracens revolution
Which brings us to Saracens. The club was 50% bought by a South African consortium in 2009, who appointed Edward Griffiths as the CEO – the man who’d managed South African rugby in the run-up to their nation-building 1995 World Cup victory. Griffiths promised a ‘Saracens Revolution’ which would turn rugby into a glitzy, entertaining and crowd-pleasing spectacle. Saracens matches would alternate between Wembley and a new astroturf stadium in north London, match attendance would rise from 14,000 to 80,000, spectators would be able to watch replays on their smartphones, even order pizzas from their seats. The club was now in the business of ‘making memories’.
But the other side of the Saracens Revolution was a focus on character and virtues, as proclaimed by the South African director of rugby, Brendan Venter. He’s a doctor, a Christian, and something of a rebel, who’s surprised journalists with comments like: ‘You can’t think about winning all the time. I’m far more interested in my players, along with me, improving as people. That’s basically the only thing that really matters.’ He’s also said: ‘If we win everything there is to win but we’ve broken relationships, we’ve lost the plot. We’ve missed our point of being on earth, it’s as simple as that.’
Venter, who studied to be a doctor while playing rugby, insisted the players need to be well-rounded and prepared for life after rugby. They need to be cared for as individuals with souls rather than commodities shoveled into the money-furnace. Their academic pursuits should be just as important as their physical fitness. Players were asked to write essays on ‘the ideal 20-year-old’ and to think about questions like: ‘How does the ideal 20-year-old treat women? How does the ideal 20-year-old treat alcohol? How does he handle his finances? How does he deal with life in general?’
Alex Goode, the 25-year-old Saracens and England full-back, saw the revolution first-hand, having come through the Saracens Academy as a teenager. He says: ‘The old Saracens was not a particularly friendly place. There’d be quite brutal banter. Players lived spread out across Hertfordshire and hung out separately A lot of the players were in it for their own benefit and not the team, they didn’t make sacrifices for the team. Now, there’s much more of a feeling of togetherness. The players and families are really taken care of, and the flip-side of that is we have to work incredibly hard.’
The Revolution seems to be succeeding. Having never won the English rugby premiership, Saracens were runners-up in Venter’s first season (2009-2010), then won it in 2010-2011. This season, however, has been tough – they led the Premiership by wins and points, but then lost in the play-off semi-final, and also lost in the Heineken Cup semi-final to Toulon. The defeats raise the age-old question again: is it worth putting character before external success?
The Jerry Maguire of sports coaching
Venter stepped down as director of rugby and went back to South Africa in 2011, following a series of family bereavements back home, but he’s still technical director. The ethical revolution, meanwhile, continues through the Saracens Personal Development Programme, which is run by David Priestly and David Jones. The latter David is a philosophy grad, who read my book and got in touch. He has the unique vision that philosophy has a place in professional sports – and he’s stuck his neck out by inviting me to speak to the lads.
His boss, 34-year-old David Priestly, has a remarkable, zen-like calm about him. He is something of a Jerry Maguire-figure in that he genuinely believes winning isn’t everything. He says the ‘performance-based myopia’ of professional sports can be morally corrupting for players and staff. This is somewhat heretical in professional sports, even in the world of ‘performance lifestyle coaching’, which is meant to be provide care and guidance for sportspeople but is often just as obsessed with winning at any cost.
Priestly is different. He’s nick-named ‘The Priest’ at the club because he is something like a moral compass for the team, keeping them honest, challenging them to live by their mission-statement, rather than just hanging it prominently on the wall. For example, if a match-winning player fails to meet the ethical standards of the club, will that player be dropped before a big game? Is the club’s commitment to virtues just window-dressing, or does it translate into actions? The players will watch to see how the management acts, and will adapt their behaviour accordingly.
Priestly tells me: ‘Players can smell it a mile away when you say one thing but behave differently. But if you genuinely live by what you teach they will respond to that.’ He has the backbone to stand by his beliefs even in a high-pressure workplace, and the wisdom to recognise that even hard-as-nails rugby men need the occasional opportunity to be vulnerable.
He has written:
In my opinion it is neither ‘soft’ nor ‘fluffy’ nor easy to listen to someone sharing their innermost difficulties. In fact, when someone feels able to bare their soul and be completely vulnerable in my company, I actually believe it to be an incredibly privileged experience. [Sports psychologists] obsessed with performance will never even get close to touching this kind of information…When you are told that you need to be tough, why show that you are vulnerable?
He gives me some advice as I go in to talk to the players: ‘They will be interested. They might put forward a tough-guy front, but they’ll be listening intently.‘
Virtue ethics and sports psychology
There’s a good turn-out for my first workshop, 20 or so players and coaches, including various internationals like Chris Ashton and Steve Borthwick. And so, with these assembled tough guys in front of me, I launch into my talk. It feels slightly surreal at first, but I tell myself to keep going.
After the initial weirdness of exposing my soul to a room full of rugby players, I settle into it, confident that virtue ethics has important things to say to sports psychology (and vice versa). Sports is a lot about emotional control, and no one understood emotional control better than the Stoics. They insisted our emotions come from our judgements and perceptions. We can change our emotions by becoming more aware of our beliefs and attitudes, and more skillful in what we say to ourselves.
This is a familiar idea to sportsplayers, who have already been drilled in the importance of ‘attitude’ to winning, although one of the players asks me if the Stoic idea of controlling your perceptions and emotions means ‘always being positive’. I reply that no, being ‘philosophical’ is not necessarily the same as never feeling negative emotions. Aristotle thought sometimes anger and grief were appropriate responses to life’s tragedies. I say this not realizing that one of the team’s core values is ‘be relentlessly positive and energized at all times’…which sounds a bit exhausting. Surely it’s OK to be frightened, angry, upset or lost sometimes?
The Greeks’ techniques for creating ethical habits are also obviously useful to sportspeople, particularly the idea of repeating maxims to yourself over and over. Sportspeople already use ‘mantras’ and mottos to ingrain attitudes, and Saracens has its mission statement posted on the walls around the gym. I talk about the Greeks’ idea that excellence isn’t just about how you perform in the classroom (or the rugby pitch) – that it extends out into all your interactions, how you treat your wife, your children, the younger players, the referee, how you cope with setbacks in your life. Everything is training.
The players are particularly interested in Epictetus’ idea of focusing on the things you can control in life without freaking out over the things you can’t completely control (your reputation, your body, other people, the weather etc). Again, this is not a new idea in sports psychology (or management – it’s one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits), but it still resonates.
One player tells me, privately, they’ve not been picked for a big game this coming weekend, but they’ve decided that the coach’s choices are beyond their control. Rather than sink into a week-long funk of resentment and depression, the player has decided to focus on what’s in their control – their own beliefs, their own attitude.
We talk about not using externals as an alibi for your own bad behaviour – the referee, for example, your team-mates, your wife, your childhood. Letting go of the past is such a key skill for sportspeople – whether that past is your childhood, the last match or the last point. Andy Murray said in a recent BBC documentary that one of the main things he’s worked on in the last year is not wasting energy thinking about past points during games. Priestly says to me, ‘So much of what I’m trying to get across comes down to the three words: ‘Let it go’.
We also talk about the idea of not caring too much about your status and reputation, not building your house on sand as Jesus put it. Professional sports people have to deal with an incredibly volatile status throughout their life, as Alex Goode tells me. ‘It’s a big shift from schoolboy rugby to professional sports. Suddenly, you go from the blue-eyed boy of your school team to a situation where no one cares if you’ve played England Under 18s, and you’re on the bench and not playing all the games. That’s hard to deal with.’
Then, like Goode, you might get to play for England, another huge step-up in terms of pressure and publicity. He says: ‘Suddenly, everyone wants to talk to you about rugby. By the end of last season, for the first time, I didn’t want to talk about rugby any more, I needed something separate from it.’ Goode was then injured and side-lined, thereby perhaps missing the Lions tour. Injuries can be existential crises for sportspeople, depriving them of the activity by which they define and validate themselves. Alex got through the disappointment of his injury partly by having ‘something separate’ – he tells me he’s found pleasure in reading novels, and is interested in becoming a journalist after rugby.
A lot of the volatility of elite sportspeople’s status comes from the media, which can be a circus mirror, distorting reality into simplistic narratives. In 2006, the 19-year-old Andy Murray was being interviewed with his friend Tim Henman. They were teasing each other about the World Cup and Murray joked he’d support ‘anyone but England’. The joke was seized on by a journalist and hung round his neck like an albatross for years. It prompted Tony Parsons to fulminate that the comment was ‘the tip of a toxic iceberg of anti-Englishness’. Journalists divide humanity into heroes and villains, and sports stars can be canonized one day, demonized the next. They have to live with that volatility of image, accept that its out of their control, and let it go. Not easy.
Not just means, but ends
So there are many meeting points between sports psychology and virtue ethics. What philosophy brings to the table – why Saracens asked me there – is that philosophy isn’t just about techniques for on-the-field success. It’s also a way to question what success actually looks like, what end or goal we’re using all these techniques for. Is winning your ultimate goal – your God – or is there something higher? It’s possible to win a lot of medals and lose at life.
I put it to the players that there is something more important than external success, that you can live a good life even if you fail to win the World Cup, say, or to win the league.
This does not go down that well with the players. ‘I don’t even consider failing’, says one player. ‘It’s not an option. If you think you won’t get a goal, why bother trying to get there’. It’s a fair point, and I am reminded again of the difference between philosophy and professional sports – sometimes there is a tension between internal and external goods. A complete obsession with winning might be very good for professional sports, while in some sense…bad for the person?
After the talk, several players came up and shook my hand, which was heart-warming, because I’d wondered how my talk would go down, as a small philosopher in a world of big athletes. I subsequently went back for a second workshop, and this time I talked less and let the discussion flow – what was really interesting was how the players started listening to each other, swapping stories, letting themselves be vulnerable. The best way to learn is not to teach from the front, perhaps, but to let the group help each other along. Anyway, I’ve applied for funding from the AHRC to prepare and teach a course in 2014 at Saracens, as well as in Low Moss prison in Scotland and a mental health charity in London. Fingers crossed we get it and we can continue exploring the role of ethics in professional sports.
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
The book, which I wrote back in 2010, is really philosophy ‘for dangerous situations’, and when I think of it, most of the examples in the book are of people using philosophy to survive and endure crises – imprisonment, abuse, life-threatening illness. I wanted to show that philosophy can work not just for bored yuppies suffering from ‘status anxiety’ or ‘affluenza’, but for people in the very worst experiences. As Major Thomas Jarrett puts it in the book, ‘if your philosophy doesn’t work in the worst situations, then it’s a cafe philosophy’. And I also wanted to tell my story – how philosophy helped me (and lots of people like me) overcome emotional disorders like depression and PTSD, to show again how philosophy can really help you when you’re in the shit.
But that focus on crisis-management means the general thrust of the book is pretty ‘defensive’, and the book doesn’t talk enough about flourishing, joy, love, about the importance of relationships and opening yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. I end the book by saying something like ‘we are not, and should not strive to be, Stoic supermen, safely cut off in our self-sufficient fortresses of solitude. We need one another’. That’s why, since the book came out, I’ve been exploring Christianity as a philosophy of love, relationships and mutual dependence. Though I still find a lot of Christianity weird – the relationship with God is so much more intense and personal in Christianity, compared to the chilly pantheism of Stoicism or the mystic maths of Plato and Pythagoras. As a detached Stoic, I’m like, Dude, not so close!
Anyway, the University of Humanistic Studies is an interesting institution, founded in 1989, making it the youngest university in Holland, and also the smallest with just 400 students. Students take BAs and MAs in ‘humanistics’, which is a combination of philosophy, psychology and social science, and which trains students to consider the meaning of life, the good society, and so forth. A third of the students then become ‘moral counselors’, who are basically like humanist chaplains, in the army, hospitals and so on. Interesting eh? A seminary school for humanists. The professor of ethics at the University is Joep Dohmen, who is the leading ‘philosopher of life’ in Holland. He was one of the founders of Filosofie magazine in 1992 (it’s grown to a circulation of around 20,000), and has since written 10 very successful books on the ‘art of living’. Now, he tells me he is setting up a ‘Senior Academy’, teaching art of living classes to the elderly. Smart move.
I’m in Holland until Sunday evening, when I am giving a sort of ‘secular sermon’ in a church here. Then next Sunday I’m speaking at Holy Trinity Brompton about my experience of the Alpha course. One Sunday in a humanist church, the next in HTB. I feel a bit schizophrenic at the moment.
Unusually, I’m actually being paid to give the talk tomorrow. Writers are in a slightly tricky position at the moment of being expected to do more and more talks and festival appearances to promote their books, while not necessarily or even usually being paid to do them. There was a line of thinking that, as the publishing industry follows the record industry and becomes more digital, public speaking will become a more and more important revenue stream for authors.
The reality is, as in the rest of the publishing industry, the top-end authors earn big bucks, and the rest get a bottle of wine. So, right at the top of the speaker chart is someone like Tony Blair, who reportedly charges £190,000 for a speech, or Hilary Clinton, who charges $125,000 for a two-hour talk. Then, among professional writers, you have Malcolm Gladwell, who reportedly charges around $80,000, or Thomas Friedman, who charges around the same. In self-help and philosophy, the biggest names – Deepak Chopra, Alain de Botton, Michael Sandel – can charge tens of thousands for talks to corporates (though they might do some talks for free too).
Then there are lots of ‘mid-list’ writers who are happy to do talks for free. A school, a student philosophy society, a regional philosophy club or a festival invite you to talk, and you think, ‘wow how flattering, sure!’ Last year I must have done 40-50 talks, sometimes two a day, mainly to philosophy clubs and festivals. I did it partly out of an evangelical zeal to ‘get the message out’ and support grassroots philosophy, partly because I was flattered to be asked and I enjoyed it, and partly because I thought all the talks would be good for book sales and general publicity. And they were. However, the royalties authors now get from books – around 7.5% per trade paperback – means even if a book sells, say, 10,000 copies in a year, that will only translate to around £4K in annual royalties. So it’s not worth it, from a strictly economic perspective, to do loads of free talks, even if you sell say 20-40 copies after the talk.
I can’t complain too much, as I ask philosophers who are far more experienced and better-known than me to come and give talks for free to the London Philosophy Club (and they do: John Gray, Robert Skidelsky, Angie Hobbs, all happily come and talk for free). I think it’s wise to learn to charge some audiences (corporates, particularly) thereby enabling yourself to give other talks for free (to student philosophy societies for example). What I also need to do, next week, is sign myself up for organisations like The Speakers Agency, which book speakers for corporate audiences. Though I wonder if doing lots of talks to a corporate audience is going to turn me into Tim Ferriss. Well, hopefully not.
More broadly, the question of ‘how should a philosopher make a living’ has always been at the heart of philosophy. There’s a story that Pythagoras struggled so hard to find students, at the beginning of his career, that he actually paid his first student to study geometry! Plato of course famously criticised Sophists for charging for their lessons – but surely he charged students to his Academy? Aristotle raised some eyebrows making a living by becoming tutor to a dictator’s son (it probably contributed to him being exiled from Athens). 19th century authors like Marx and Mill made their living mainly from journalism (and were better writers as a result). Then, in the modern era, the invention of the university philosophy department supported a vast expansion of ‘professional philosophers’, though perhaps the comfier philosophers became, the more boring the philosophy they produced.
In the last decade, we’ve seen the return of the extra-academic philosopher – the pre-eminent example is Alain de Botton, the philosopher-as-entrepreneur. But can the free market support thinkers who have dangerous or difficult ideas? Perhaps it can – two of the most successful extra-academic philosophers are John Gray and Slavoj Zizek, both of whom are sort of professional insulters of free market capitalism. It seems there is market demand for anti-market polemics.
Well, I’ll continue trying to work it out as I go along – I’m trying to create a sort of ‘mixed model’ of academic, media and speaking work. In the meantime, the new edition of my book comes out next Thursday, it is smaller and slightly cheaper than the trade-paperback. It would be AMAZING if all my British readers would pop into their local bookstore and order it – you don’t have to buy it, just order it! The new cover looks so great that it will sell once it’s in the bookstore anyway.
In other news:
Avant garde composer Richard Carrick talks about how his new work, ‘Flow Cycle for Strings’, was inspired by Positive Psychology.
Here’s a little article I did for the Faculty of Public Health’s magazine on the politics of well-being.
Here’s a good review of a new book called Infinite Progress, a prime example of Techno-utopianism, which argues we can banish poverty, ignorance and want by uploading all our details into a global super-computer.
Democracy will fail because the Left is too weak, argues this essay by Henry Farrell in Aeon magazine. I blame critical theory! The Left became fatally seduced by critical theory in the 1960s, and by poseurs like Alain Badiou and Jacques Lacan. No wonder it failed to stand up to Neo-Liberalism. The Right had graphs and data, while the Left had ‘the mirror phase’ and ‘the event’. It was always going to lose.
Talking of critical theory, I’m reading a good book by Simon Critchley, a leading British philosopher (although he lives in New York) and a big fan of critical theory. The book is called Faith of the Faithless, and is all about how modern political ideologies are really re-formulations of the sacred, and quasi-religious fictions. He writes: ‘The return to religion has become perhaps the dominant cliche of contemporary theory’. It has? Who knew! I realised that Terry Eagleton had ‘returned to religion’, I didn’t realise the likes of Badiou had as well. Anyway, I’ll try and write a review of the book for next week’s newsletter.
See you next week – and don’t forget, go to Waterstones and #askforjules !
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
Would you say there is such a thing as a ‘practical philosophy movement’?
Yes, though it’s a very broad movement. What’s happened is that over the last 20 years there’s been a revolutionary rise of interest in the question of how to live. And that question has taken a practical focus in many ways, through philosophy clubs and organisations like the School of Life and Oxford Muse.
Why is there this interest in the question of how to live? Why now?
A number of factors spring to mind. Firstly, in the last decade or two, there’s been a flux or crisis in the art of living because of rapid technological changes, like the growth of online dating and social networks, which are raising new issues about how we conduct our relationships. Questions about how to live have also arisen because of the perceived failure of consumerism to deliver the good life, and due to advances in medical technology which mean we’re living longer than ever and having to think more about how to spend the extra years granted to us. Another factor is that people are rethinking their lifestyle choices in the face of the growing threat of climate change.
And finally, I’d suggest these questions have become more prominent as an unintended consequence of the Freudian revolution. We’ve just emerged from a century of psychoanalysis, of a therapy culture that says look inside of yourselves. That inner gaze has not done enough to solve the dilemmas of life. So we’re beginning to look outside of professional therapy for answers, and we’re looking to more communal places like The School of Life or the London Philosophy Club.
A lot of those questions about the good life, it seems to me, were asked by student radicals in the 1960s. One of my hypotheses is that the practical philosophy movement is in some ways the child of 1968.
Perhaps. Though of course the 1970s was the Me Decade, when self-obsession reached new heights. It’s reflected in the rise of things like erhard seminars training, Maharishi communes, therapy culture. Peter Singer writes about this in How Are We to Live?: Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest (1997), where he notes that all his academic colleagues are on therapy, spending a quarter of their salary on analysis. He thought they were being too inward looking in their search for the good life.
So do you think self-help is just selfish and narcissistic?
There are competing streams in the broad self-help movement. In the 1970s and 1980s, you see a very commercial version of self-help emerge, which is all about scrambling up the corporate ladder. Then, as a counter to that, you have a more spiritual form of self help, people like Ram Dass, and the simple living movement which arose in the 1980s. The dominant stream, however, was the commercial / corporate form of self-help.
Tell me how you got into this area.
When I was 17, I discovered Bertrand Russell and read his books. Then, from 1989 to 1992, I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. I discovered to my horror that the great questions of how to live were not addressed in an Oxford PPE degree. This was a great disappointment. I’m not certain that academic philosophy has changed much since then. Academic philosophy has mainly failed to respond to the public demand for guidance as to how to live, and has lost the Ancient Greek ideal that philosophy is something that should be applied to the dilemmas of everyday living.
After graduating from Oxford, I travelled for a couple of years, then I did a masters in Latin American Studies. Following that I did a PhD in political sociology, and began university teaching, mainly in the fields of sociology and politics. I didn’t at that point have any intention to be a philosopher, or write popular philosophy books (in fact, I don’t really think of myself as a philosopher). But I came to believe that the best way to achieve social and political change was not through big structural changes such as new laws or institutions, but rather that the biggest changes in history came through changes in individual relations, through the flowering of empathy. I became very interested in empathy, as a meeting point between the art of living and social change. And that led me to leave academia, because at that point empathy couldn’t easily be researched in academia. It was seen as a psychological phenomenon, and I saw it as more complicated and as involving many different disciplines. I also wanted my investigation to be more practical and to affect people’s lives.
So you left academia. It strikes me that many interesting intellectuals of your age left academia – Alain de Botton, Adam Curtis, George Monbiot. Why the diaspora?
By the late 1990s, to be an intellectual and thinker, you had to escape from the bureaucracy of academia. Take George Monbiot. He could easily be a professor in a range of academic fields – he has enormous scholarly acumen – but my sense is that he feels more intellectual freedom outside of academia, and has more space to pursue his political activism (he has, though, been a visiting professor at several universities). I feel that The Wonderbox is no less rigorous than an academic work. But academics have always been suspicious of popularising or outreach, particularly in history. Historians are embarrassed to look into the past and find lessons for today. Or they think history can teach us how to organize big political systems, not so much provide life lessons on the individual level.
So what options were there for thinkers outside of academia in the late 1990s?
By a fluke, my partner, a development economist, had a research assistant who was working with Theodore Zeldin. I’d read Zeldin’s An Intimate History Of Humanity, and thought it was one of the greatest books I’d read. I’d heard a talk by him about conversations on the radio. Then I discovered that Zeldin had an organisation in Oxford, where I lived, called Oxford Muse. I went to meet him one evening, at a dinner organized by my partner’s research assistant. He liked me, I liked him, and I was intrigued by what Oxford Muse was trying to do – create conversations that promoted mutual empathy.
What is Zeldin like?
I thought he was one of the most amazing and original thinkers I’d met. I worked with him for three and a half years, and what I really noticed was how he would question absolutely everything. He would come into The Oxford Muse and say ‘right, today we’re going to re-invent the insurance industry’, or he’d say ‘there’s a problem with money, we need an alternative’. Then he’d spend months trying to come up with an alternative. He incorporated his daily experience into his ideas, and he never described The Oxford Muse the same way twice. My time working with him was enormously intellectually invigorating.
Tell me about his Feast of Strangers project.
They’re basically what The Oxford Muse calls Conversation Meals, using a Menu of Conversation containing questions like ‘What have you learned about the different varieties of love in the course of your life’. It’s very philosophical – you try to get strangers to talk about how they see the world and themselves. We would try to draw together different groups, like CEOs and homeless people. Or, within companies, we would create conversations across hierarchies. Zeldin thinks that, in a conversation between two people, it is possible to create a tiny bit of understanding and equality – that’s how you change the world, using a microcosmic strategy, one conversation at a time. Another thing we did at The Oxford Muse was to create written portraits of people around Oxford, where they describe themselves and their philosophy of life in their own words. We recruited hundreds of volunteers to talk to people, and created a book called Guide to the Unknown University – revealing the lives of people from every walk of life who exist around Oxford.
So you left Oxford Muse in 2006.
Yes, I felt it was time to move on. I wanted to teach my own courses on the art of living, so started to do that.
Well, in the beginning I couldn’t find a venue, so the first courses were held in my kitchen. I covered topics such as love, time, work and empathy, and particularly approached them through the lens of cultural history. How can looking at the past help us rethink our approach to everyday life? I also wanted to encourage creative and adventurous thinking about how to live. Gradually, those classes shifted into the public realm. The QI Club in Oxford was looking for new public events, so I began running evening workshops there. My first one was on Love and the Art of Living. I tried to make them as participatory as possible, to get away from the academic seminar format. My main advice is never to speak for more than 20 minutes before you give the audience an opportunity to participate. Try to make ideas accessible and get the audience to work on them. For example, if I was teaching a course on love, I’d not only speak about the history and philosophy of love, I’d get people to draw ‘love maps’ depicting the different kinds of love in their own lives. I thought hard about teaching and the structure of workshops.
To what extent did you feel you were doing something new and unusual?
I didn’t know anybody else doing those sort of classes. I knew of the School of Economic Science’s courses in practical philosophy, but that’s different [Jules' note: they're a neo-platonic sect, as I describe in my book]. Then, in 2007, Alain de Botton, who knew about my work at The Oxford Muse, got in touch to talk about the possibility of setting up some kind of ‘university of life’. This is what eventually became The School of Life. Its first director, Sophie Howarth, was the driving force behind shaping the intellectual approach and feel. She asked me to develop one of the five core courses that The School of Life was going to offer, on the topic of work. The love course was developed mainly by Mark Vernon and Alain, the family course by Charles Ferneyhough and Rebecca Abrams, politics by Maurice Glasman and myself, and play I believe grew out of Sophie Howarth’s ideas. Other thinkers such as the philosopher Robert Rowland Smith were also involved. They were all designed to be six week courses, or intensive weekend courses.
Preparing the launch of the School in 2007 and 2008 was a very wonderful period of my life. I wrote a 100,000 word course handbook for the work course, drawing on literature, philosophy, history, anthropology. People don’t realise how much intellectual work went into the School of Life. We’d all draft sections of courses, then come together to discuss them, try out classes, hammer out ideas. It was done very professionally, and required a lot of hard work to get right. We were trying to do something that had never been done: to create a university of life, which was an alternative to mainstream university, intellectually vibrant and absolutely practical.
Most of the people that Sophie Howarth recruited and that Alain got onboard were trying to develop their ideas and careers outside of academia. But they were all academically very well qualified: Robert Rowland Smith had been a fellow of All Souls, Mark Vernon was a PhD, Maurice Glasman was a lecturer at London Met, Rebecca Abrams had published books on family relations (while also teaching creative writing at Oxford University), and Alain got a double starred first in history at Cambridge.
How was it funded?
The idea was that funds were available to get it going for the first few years. There were debates about pricing, and about balancing financial sustainability with accessibility. We felt the courses were affordable – a lot cheaper than the cost of doing an Open University degree, for example. We had to charge, though, to make the School self-sustaining. We also wanted it to expand – the idea was always not just to have one School of Life, but one on every high street.
Was it Sophie’s plan at the beginning to make it more of a social enterprise?
Well, Sophie came from the Tate Musuems’ public engagement programme. Her idea was that The School of Life should strive to be as community-orientated as possible. Although not set up as a charitable foundation, it was certainly not intended that it should be a great profit-making enterprise. Sophie eventually left to start a family, rather than because of any disagreements. The School of Life is now very lucky to have Morgwn Rimel as the director, who is doing a great job taking it forward.
How has the School done?
It’s now almost four years since it launched. It’s been amazingly successful. Approximately 50,000 people have come through its doors. It is clear that there is a real hunger for public spaces where people can think about the big questions of everyday life.
Has it changed since the launch?
The core vision is still there, the practical model has changed. Initially it was focused on these six-week courses or intensive weekends. But we noticed people would sign up but not be able to go every week. So we incorporated more individual classes in the evening. But the quality and intellectual breadth of the content hasn’t altered.
Tell me about the Sunday Sermons.
I think there was a recognition that people love community and ideas, and there’s something wonderful about the sermon tradition, but we wanted to do it for the modern age. And they’ve been packed out since we launched it. I could never have predicted that public hunger for ideas.
Do you think the School of Life is a community?
I think people come not just to get good ideas for their lives, because it makes them feel they’re not alone. People turn up and realise there’s a large group of like-minded people who care about how to deal with the dilemmas of life. The hunger for shared community is part of the grand transformation that’s happening now – the escape from extreme individualism and the age of introspection, and the recognition we need to nurture our social and communal selves. It’s happening in many forms – in philosophy clubs, in Transition Towns, and so on.
People have criticised the School of Life as being a bit commercial, a bit lifestyle-obsessed.
I don’t think it’s commercial, it’s driven by ideas. But it doesn’t necessarily yet have as much of a collective ethos to it as it could have, that strong sense of collective ownership among the people who attend. If The School of Life is going to thrive in the long term, I think it needs to develop that. Is The School of Life a community? Yes, but not yet fully realized. You often see the same people coming to classes, sermons etc, but they’re not necessarily creating their own self-sustaining communities once they step back outside the door.
How involved are you in the School now?
Not hugely involved right at the moment because I’m working on a new book. But I still teach classes and courses, and am involved in some of the larger events we do, such as conversations with visiting thinkers like the recent interview I did with Brené Brown at Conway Hall. I also authored one of the School’s six new self-help books, on How to Find Fulfilling Work, and went on tour with my fellow authors. I understand the School is going to be opening branches in Australia, Brazil, and the US over the next year or so, although I’m not directly involved in that.
So how do you think the practical / grassroots philosophy movement will grow?
I think the great task of philosophy clubs is to turn into collective movements of social change, which are capable of tackling the great problems of our age. Look at what they did in the past – at how the Circle of Tchaikovsky in 19th century Russia drew thinkers together and helped to inspire socialist and anarchist movements. That’s the potential of philosophy clubs – they need to escape the obsession with lifestyle. I think we need to wean ourselves off the contemporary obsession with happiness. It’s framed in too individualistic terms. I think we’re going through a great revolution in our understanding of the self, and are realising we’re wired for empathy and mutual aid. If we just obsesses about our own lifestyles, I don’t think we’ll get very far.
Do you think philosophy clubs could help tackle climate change, for example?
I think of our failure to tackle climate change as an empathic failure. It’s a failure to step into the shoes of other people today – especially in developing countries who are suffering the impacts of climate change – and of future generations. We’re hopeless at empathising with people who will be alive in 2100. I’m going to continue my work on empathy to try and contribute to that grander project.
You’re planning to set up an empathy museum?
Yes, it will be the world’s first. We need new institutions in public culture. The Empathy Museum may start by existing online, offering downloadable exhibits. I’m interested in the Human Library Movement, which began in Denmark in 2000. You go along to the library on a certain day, but instead of borrowing a book, you borrow a person for conversation, who tells you their story and answers your questions about their life. I’d like to create a downloadable kit so you can put on events like Human Libraries or Conversation Meals in your own community, school or organisation. Then the museum can be put on everywhere by everyone. It breaks down the old static model of the museum and makes it more participatory.
I’m also an advocate for teaching empathy in schools. And perhaps the next revolution for practical philosophy, which grew up outside of university, is to take it back into universities. They need to be reinvented.
This interview was done as part of my research project into grassroots philosophy clubs, which will eventually be found at www.thephilosophyhub.com, with interviews with several other pioneers of grassroots philosophy, and a global map of philosophy clubs.
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
The main idea of the mass intelligentsia is that today, in the words of Bragg, “a very substantial minority is prepared to put time and effort into subjects that used to be the preserve of a very small minority”. There’s always been an intelligentsia, it’s just become a lot bigger, and turned into a mass phenomenon in the last 30 to 40 years. As David Brooks put it in the New York Times back in 2008: “People in the 1950s used to earnestly debate the role of the intellectual in modern politics. But the Lionel Trilling authority-figure has been displaced by the mass class of blog-writing culture producers.”
The chief driver behind the emergence of the mass intelligentsia, as Bragg told me, is the expansion of higher education since World War II. Back then, less than 5% of the population of OECD countries went to university. Now, the OECD average is around 35%. This expansion of higher education was part of the emergence of what Daniel Bell called ‘post-industrial capitalism’, or Peter Drucker termed ‘the knowledge economy’.
The industrial sector of the economy shrank, as did the number of blue-collar jobs, while the services sector grew, along with the middle class. Higher education expanded to create what Bell called a ‘new intelligentsia’ to work in the services sector of the economy, in academia, scientific R&D; communications, computing and digital technology; in think-tanks and policy, and in the arts.
The new intelligentsia has two wings – cultural and scientific – with quite different temperaments and attitudes. The scientific intelligentsia tends to be positivist, to believe (naturally enough) in the power of science and empirical measurement to arrive at truth and improve society. The cultural intelligentsia tends to believe in creativity and authenticity, it tends to be anti-positivistic, wary of the de-humanising potential of technological advances, and resentful of the spread of scientific metricisation into the arts and humanities. Sometimes they clash, sometimes they find compromises: Steve Jobs is a good example of someone who combined the scientific intelligentsia’s love of tech with the cultural intelligentsia’s ethos of personal freedom and authenticity.
The mass intelligentsia is characterised by the pursuit of lifelong learning. They are the creators of a new ‘learning society’. Some theorists of the learning society characterize it as a desperate attempt to keep up with rapid changes in the knowledge economy. That’s the wrong way to see it. Instead, learning is pursued by people as a good in itself. Learning is pursued for pleasure, knowledge, community and enhanced experience – and jobs are another means to those goals, rather than the end which learning serves. People work for money, but they mainly work for new learning experiences.
The transition from university to the marketplace is a continuation of the learning process, rather than the end of it. ‘Market-place’ is probably the wrong word for the modern work-space. It’s a ‘learning-space’. The best companies realise this, and adopt many of the features of a university.
Robert M. Hutchins, author of the 1968 book, The Learning Society, suggested a good model for the future society was ancient Athens, in which “education was not a segregated activity, conducted for certain hours, in certain places, at a certain time of life. It was the aim of the society. The city educated the man.”
In the learning society, leisure-time is increasingly used for intellectual stimulation. The mass intelligentsia construct thousands of informal networks, online and offline, to learn, collaborate and expand their minds. Informal learning websites like the Khan Academy, TED, In Our Time, the RSA and Philosophy Bites feed the rising public demand for intellectual stimulation. There is also a craving for new forms of intellectual community. In the 1990s, book clubs mushroomed across Britain, and the book festival scene exploded: there are today over 300 book festivals in the UK. Social entrepreneurs create new informal schools for lifelong learners, like the School of Life, the General Assembly, the Faber Academy, Mumsnet Academy, or Jamie Oliver’s Recipease.
Much of the innovation in learning is peer-led. The internet lowers the barrier for entry, and makes it much easier for small, grassroots clubs to organise themselves. The University of the Third Age is an example of what can be achieved – it started off as a top-down organisation for learning with the elderly in Australia, and then became a grassroots peer-led phenomenon here in the UK (the same thing happened with Skepticism, by the way, which was a top-down movement in the US and Australia, and then turned into a grassroots peer-led movement in the UK. It’s now a good combination of top-down organisations and grassroots clubs)
Meetup.com, in particular, sparked a revolution in peer-led learning and mutual improvement. There are today 2,162 book club meetups, 1,799 art meetups, 1,009 environmental meetups, 811 philosophy meetups, 524 Skeptic meetups, 348 animal rights meetups, 260 history meetups, 230 ethics meetups, 124 feminist meetups, 110 astronomy meetups, and 610 meetups interested in ‘intellectual discussion’. You can find, on any given evening in London, art history in the pub, philosophy in the pub, psychology in the pub, even live therapy sessions.
British universities struggled, on the whole, to recognise the potential for the new adult learning market, with the exception of the Open University, which makes 22 of the top 100 courses on iTunes U, and is the only UK university to appear in that list. Many of the most influential British intellectuals now work outside of academia. Universities have, perhaps, been weighed down by their history and bureaucracy, and can be suspicious of innovation and entrepreneurialism. However, the rise of Ed-X heralds a period of rapid change for higher education, as it finally adapts to the lifelong learning needs of the mass intelligentsia. The university of tomorrow will follow the Open University model, and have multi-media production and adult learning at its centre, rather than at the margins.
What’s wrong with the mass intelligentsia?
The growth of the mass intelligentsia is often portrayed, by elitist intellectuals, as socially and morally undesirable. Modernist intellectuals criticised it in the 1920s as the rise of the ‘middlebrow’, and the end of avant garde. In a similar vein, some recent thinkers have criticised the growth of informal learning on the internet as the triumph of the ill-informed amateur and shallow thinking. It’s also easy to criticise the commercialism of informal learning entrepreneurs like Jamie Oliver, Alain de Botton or TED’s Chris Anderson. They are giving the people what they want, rather than what they supposedly ‘need’.
The mass intelligentsia as a class are often depicted as selfish, narcissistic, obsessed with personal growth. The communitarian philosopher Charles Taylor, for example, warned in A Secular Age that the individualistic ethos of 19th and early 20th century bohemians had become a ‘mass phenomenon’ in the 1960s: now we’re all selfish seekers after personal freedom and authenticity, and have recklessly rejected the traditional forms of church, family, corporation and political party. Robert Putnam also warned of the erosion of social capital and civic virtue, while labour sociologists like Richard Sennet and Jeremy Rifkin have suggested that the knowledge economy’s increased volatility has made us lonelier, more anxious, and less virtuous. This generally negative view of the mass intelligentsia was well-expressed by Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised, in which the two main characters, representatives of the cultural and scientific intelligentsia, are cut-off, selfish and morally lost.
I have some sympathy with this pessimistic narrative. It is easy to argue that the widening of education has come at the expense of a flattening. Where are the geniuses of the 19th and early 20th century, where the contemporary equivalents of Joyce, Marx, Freud, Mill, Picasso, Wittgenstein, Einstein? Where are the great plays and novels? Perhaps we are even in a period of intellectual stagnation. We have more and more media on which to communicate ideas, and ever-fewer things to say, with the result that the same ideas and case studies are endlessly recycled in books touted as the Next Big Idea.
Yet I choose to hold a more optimistic narrative. If the new intelligentsia has abandoned some of the old forms of community, it immediately set out to create new forms – like Esalen, the Californian commune so ably mocked by Houellebecq. Yes, many of these new communities turned out to be vapid, or commercial, or even cultish. But the rate of social innovation has been incredibly quick, and those forms of community that work have survived and spread. Witness, for example, the success of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the best example of peer-to-peer learning we have.
There have been many elegies written for the end of the traditional working class, the end of socialism, the end of working men’s clubs and the worker education movement – see, for example, Jonathan Rose’s wonderful book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, the last chapter of which delivers a tirade against the ‘weekend bohemianism’ of the new mass intelligentsia. But that critique seems misplaced. The rise of the mass intelligentsia is proof that the centuries-long drive for workers’ self-education succeeded. It’s just that it didn’t create a proletarian utopia, instead it created a hugely expanded middle class. The radical ethos of informal learning via mutual improvement clubs and corresponding societies didn’t disappear, as Jonathan argues: it went mainstream, and became the modus operandi for the learning society. (I’ll send Jonathan this piece and see what he thinks).
You can criticise the mass intelligentsia as selfish and self-obsessed, as Charles Taylor does, but I think that’s unfair. We may have a problem obeying traditional hierarchies – but is that so selfish, when you consider how the Catholic Church has behaved over the last 30 years? The search for personal well-being and authenticity, which Taylor seems to find so narcissistic, has in fact rapidly led the mass intelligentsia back to ancient sources of wisdom. We’re searching for the good life. And we’re learning, increasingly, that the good life is best practiced together. We’re trying to construct non-hierarchical forms of community to practice the good life. We’re building a society that I think Aristotle would have welcomed: in which everyone has the opportunity to learn, to collaborate on meaningful projects, and to expand their awareness. That’s a society worth striving for.
Here are some interesting links I came across this week:
Yesterday I met Rob Symington, one of the founders of Escape the City, which is totally an example of what I’m talking about above: a platform, network and community to help people find learning experiences in the workplace. They have 100 meetups around the world, and have raised $600K in crowd-sourced funding on CrowdCube. Way to go!
There’s a great philosophy event next month: The Philosophical Society of England is celebrating its centenary with a weekend event, featuring Angie Hobbs talking about ‘ancient Greece and the future of philosophy’, Brenda Almond on ‘has applied philosophy lost its way?’, as well as Jonathan Ree on ‘philosophical societies and social change’. Jonathan is hopefully speaking at the London Philosophy Club in October.
Here’s a cool video on The Future of Philosophy, made by Leah Green, featuring Angie Hobbs and the London Philosophy Club.
Come to Interrogate, a festival at Dartington Hall in October, where I’ll be speaking, along with lots of other thinkers / practitioners on happiness and well-being. It will be brilliant.
Talking of happiness…I wrote this blog post celebrating English melancholy.
This account in last Saturday’s Guardian of RD Laing’s Kingsley Hall, and the orgies, LSD parties, black magic and naked wrestling that went on there, was extraordinary.
I have been doing a lot of research on Skepticism as a grassroots movement (an interesting part of the learning society). Thanks for everyone’s help with it. The community is clearly going through ‘growing pains’ as Massimo Pigliucci put it, or ‘a bit of a rough patch’, as Sid Rodrigues of Skeptics In the Pub said. Here’s one ex-Skeptic’s account of why he’s leaving the community, and here’s the founder of Atheism Plus’ account of misogyny in the Skeptic community has made her give up blogging. As a Skeptical theist (there, I said it!) I hope the community gets over this difficult patch.
At philosopher Brian Leiter’s blog, an old post that I came across and enjoyed: what are the 100 most influential philosophy books published since 2000? Above my pay grade… but I enjoyed Taylor’ Secular Age and Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought. And Sandel’s Justice – poppy, but good, and widely read.
Here’s a fascinating set of short articles by famous British philosophers in 1946, about why philosophy is in crisis and needs to connect with the wider population. Plus ca change…
Right, that’s your lot for this week. Let me know if you have any thoughts on my thesis above on the mass intelligentsia – I’m writing a report on it at the moment so would welcome any input and feedback.
PS Thank you for all the nice reviews on Amazon – 22 reviews on there now, 19 of them five-star. It’s looking hopeful for a sale to a US publisher – send me good luck in the next few days!
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>
In the last few weeks, I’ve been following the trail of the New Left, a group of left-wing thinkers who coalesced at Oxford in the 1950s, including Stuart Hall, Charles Taylor, Raymond Williams, EP Thompson and others.I first came across them when I read EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class a couple of months ago, as part of my research into philosophy groups. Thompson wrote brilliantly on 19th century adult education clubs like the London Corresponding Society and Mechanics Institutes, and the role they played in the development of a working class political consciousness. The word ‘pub philosopher’ came from the early 19th century, as a term of abuse for working class artisans getting together in pubs to read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (itself written in a London pub).
I also realised, through my research into adult education (particularly the work of Roger Fieldhouse), that many modern universities grew out of informal learning clubs like Mechanics Institutes. Birkbeck College began as the London Mechanics Institute, meeting in the Crown and Anchor tavern on the Strand, while Queen Mary, University of London, where I work today, began as the New Philosophic Institute (later re-named the People’s Palace) in the East End.
What I then discovered (and wrote about on Monday) was that this history of grassroots ideas clubs fed into a vision among New Left thinkers (and particularly Edward Thompson) for citizen education in the 1960s. Thompson hoped to start a network of New Left clubs around the country, where the working class could debate, discuss, learn and self-organise. New Left figures including Raymond Williams and Eric Hobsawm were also actively involved with the Workers Education Association (the WEA), and taught WEA extra-mural courses at Oxford and other universities. As the first issue of the New Left Review put it: ‘We have to go into towns and cities, universities and technical colleges, youth clubs and Trade Union branches and–as William Morris said–make socialists there.’
Well, that failed, sadly. The New Left clubs didn’t last long – as Stuart Hall wrote in the NLR, a division grew up between the clubs and the journal, and between the intellectuals at the centre and the grassroots periphery. Formal adult education through the WEA, extra-mural courses and residential colleges like Toynbee Hall also declined steeply from the 1970s to the 1990s. This morning, I interviewed Derek Tatton, director of the Raymond Williams Foundation, who painted quite a bleak picture of the state of formal adult education:
The kind of adult education we’re talking about – in politics, philosophy and so on – declined quite catastrophically. And in general, the number of adult learning courses provided by the WEA or universities or local education authorities has declined steeply, and the number of adults involved with adult education courses has declined by several million people in the last few years. All Local Education Authority-funded residential colleges that I know of have either closed or are threatened with closure. And most universities provide no extra-mural courses anymore. [The one ray of sunshine in this rather dismal scene is, of course, the Open University...]
However, the picture for informal learning is rather more optimistic. Derek says:
In one sense, adult education as Raymond Williams thought of it is virtually dead, because of political and social changes and the rise of a rampant capitalism not interested in education for its own sake. But we are seeing the rise of informal learning, partly through the rise of new technologies like the internet. By informal I mean it’s not publicly-funded, and is often self-run by volunteers. In that sector, there’s a lot of activity. We’ve seen the rise of informal, grassroots organisations like the University of the Third Age, Philosophy In Pubs, Cafe Philosophique or Socrates Cafes, book groups and so on, which are doing for free what funded organisations like the WEA were doing in the 1960s.
Derek rightly points to the internet as one of the factors helping the rise of informal learning. His discussion circle in Staffordshire, for example, uses In Our Time as a learning resource for its talks. Melvyn Bragg has, in fact, spoken of the rise of ‘the mass intelligentsia’, which I think is a great and inspiring description for what’s going on.
I’d love to explore the ways that universities and academia can be freed from their prison of managerial paperwork and REF reports to genuinely have connect with their communities. Why is the present Higher Education framework so inhospitable to adult learning and extra-mural activities? How can we help connect academics to adults who want to learn? How can we help academics get more pleasure and sense of purpose from their work? As Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton says in this interview, “most academics I know are desperate to get out”.
Here, by the way, is a piece by the National Institute for Advanced and Community Education (NIACE) on the Occupy movement’s Tent City University and other alternative forms of learning that are springing up at the moment.
One of the philosophers who came to talk at Tent City University was Lord Robert Skidelsky, who I saw speak at Hay a fortnight ago. He and his son Ed have a new book out calling for a new politics and economics rooted in a vision of the good life. They outline that vision in this article.
The rise of informal learning is one of the topics being discussed at EdgeRyders, an EU project that’s hosting an online and offline conference at the moment in Strasbourg. It’s connecting young social entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to improve the world (while also making a living). You can follow their discussions on Twitter at #LOTE.
I’m speaking at a similar sort of event this coming Monday, called A Good Week. Come along if you’re free – I’m doing the opening talk (gulp!). I think I’ll be talking about combining inner work on the self with outer work on society.
The BBC’s ‘New Elizabethans’ series, celebrating the lives of great modern Brits, had a programme on pioneering social entrepreneur Michael Young, who did a lot for adult education by setting up the Open University. You can hear it here. Interesting highlights: he wrote Labour’s 1945 manifesto when he was 29, and at the end of his life he was working on plans for a colony on Mars!
Here’s a great example of an informal learning model that draws on new technology: Think Cafe, from South Korea.
I gave a lunchtime talk on the politics of well-being at the London think-tank IPPR yesterday. You can read the notes for it here. Thanks to everyone who came – it was a real boost that more experienced experts in the field like James O’Shaughnessy and the new economics foundation’s Juliet Michaelson come along and contributed to the discussion. James is working with Wellington College and speaking at their Festival on Education next weekend, which promises to be a great event. I’ll be there on Saturday, not speaking, just mooching around.
Juliet works at the new economics foundation’s well-being centre, which yesterday brought out its annual Happy Planet Index report, measuring nations’ well-being and ecological footprint, asking which countries’ achieve happiness most efficiently, from an environmental point of view. Central America seems to do best.
The economist and social historian Deirdre McCloskey poured scorn on happiness economics in a New Republic cover story this week. She argues that there are some areas of human life into which social policy should not intrude. I critiqued her critique here, arguing that she simplified the movement and that she espoused a naive belief in a bourgeois liberty somehow independent of social policy. She replies briefly in the comments.
I was sorry to hear of the death of Alan Saunders, a British philosopher who presented ABC’s philosophy show on Australian radio. Sounds like he did a great deal to bring philosophy into everyday life.
Finally, some wise advice:
See you next week,
Philosophy for Life - official website of author Jules Evans -]]>