Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A return to virtue....

I'm a little hesitant to pursue a society that exalts virtuousness because it's easy for that society to become sanctimonious and from there it's very easy to move to being judgmental. A trait that occasionally reveals itself in me and I try to keep in check. But heck, I'm only human. However, I believe democracy and civil society requires something more than pursuing one's interest above else. This is especially true now given humanity's ability, even regular people like ourselves, to have a disproportionate impact unconsciously.

My background is technical, though that's because I didn't have the courage in my youth to pursue a career in letters, and often your brain may lead you to places your heart does not. Another interest that developed in my later years was economics, books like Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics showed how much economics can reveal about our every day lives, even unexpectedly. Behavioral economics may be showing more about how the mind works than psychology. So I often troll around some economics blogs. Today on the liberal economic blog Angry Bear there was a post where the left and right started converging on capitalism run amuck. Or at least the flavor of capitalism that runs rampant today. Here is an excerpt.

Our consumerist economy depends on people's inability to discipline their consumption. The best consumer sees no reason why he shouldn't have what he wants, right now. The best consumer, in other words, exists in a perpetual state of childishness.

This reminds me of ancient Rome:

Democracy requires virtue. So does a healthy capitalism. A nation that cannot govern its own appetites will, in time, be unable to govern itself. An economy that divorces economic activity from the restraining virtues that make for good stewardship will implode.

I'm not sure capitalism requires virtue, nor democracy, but it does require empathy. I can tell you humanity does too. The lottery of life places one in different circumstances, and one cannot simply exist oblivious to the plight of other. If you see a child suffering on the road, you do not go on by. We know that much true. So with that simple case, imagine the situations of differing degrees that our shopping and living actions impact others. Perpetual youth means you forgo one of the benefits of experience of the ages and that is called wisdom.


At 2:52 PM , Anonymous CindyW said...

My background is technical as well. I stuck with it all the way to a master degree in engineering, largely because many people told me that I could or should not because of my being a girl and all. Hindsight, choosing a career to prove other people wrong wasn't exactly the right strategy :) Beside psychiatry and cultural studies, I have been quite interested in economic theories as well, though I can't say that I have devoted much time to it. People are beginning to question whether our current economic theories are fantasy theories, because they do not consider the finite supply of non-renewable raw materials and increasing cost associated with product disposal. In any case, I recently picked up Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken & etc. It's true, I was late to the game since the book was published in 2000. But better late than never. It addresses many of the questions I have about our current economic assumptions.


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