Book quotes

Goethe felt that the purpose of living was to enrich life and that human beings are endowed with a special appreciation of life —a heightened consciousness—so that we might steward all that is alive.

I mean, he’s not wrong. We’re scared and spend a lot of time NOT enriching our lives by buying something that is supposed to make us “happy” right here right now, whatever that means in the 2020s.

The Romantics therefore reveled in a human nature that was deeply embedded in nature, and rather than repudiating nature, as the Protestant ascetics and Enlightenment philosophers chose to do, they embraced it with zeal. While the Protestant theologians thought of nature as fallen and the Enlightenment philosophers viewed it in utilitarian terms as useful resources, the Romantics viewed it as good and the basis of all creativity.

I might be a romantic like, a lot.

For the Romantics, individuality was of a different kind. They believed that each person is a unique being endowed with creative potential and that the truly liberated life is the one that optimizes opportunities to be self-fulfilled.

I mean, what’s not to like here? I read this, think about Felipe Nunes and nod heavily. Felipe skates better than I do, by far, and has no legs. Nurtured Individuals are extremely powerful and enjoying life at its fullest. Instead of creating a world that leans toward nepotism with other rigid schools of thought, the Romantics balance it all out by making each individual a special and not special person at the same time. Because that’s what we are, a paradox. I dig.

Even Karl Marx, who was anything but naïve, was seduced by the misguided Romantic fervor that equated the good old days of Paleolithic, Neolithic, and even feudal life with a certain sensibility that needed to be recaptured. His referencing of an idealized past, like others at the time, reflected a growing sense of alienation felt by millions of Europeans caught up in the throes of a fast-industrializing society that was reducing all of life to self-serving material ends.

The idea here is that Romantics were thinking too much of nature being everything. The thing is, nature is always what we need at some point. Always. We need nature to get away from cities. We need nature NOT to burn down because we’re living in the middle of it? It is our freaking ecosystem and we need to preserve it because it sustained us very well. We’re lucky it happened. We should care about it, which means consuming less stuff. That doesn’t mean going back to living like we’re in 1115 Europe, obviously.

The Romantics, like the Enlightenment rationalists, believed in progress, but for them it had nothing to do with accumulation of wealth but, rather, the accumulation of natural wisdom.

Yes and what’s today’s natural wisdom telling us? Share this gigantic amount of wealth created by all of us adequately, without creating casts, layers or pyramids within society. Nurture a simple and healthy communal life. Communities with different vibes sharing common resources. Why the fuck is this hard?

Commercial exchange in the Trobriand Islands was always preceded by social exchange, again confirming the ancient wisdom that cultural capital precedes commercial capital and that commerce is an extension of cultural relations and, therefore, not a primary institution in the affairs of humankind.

Super key fact. Which connects with another one: culture first, then commerce, then politics. Basically Culture, Economics and Politics are inseparable (Harold Cruse wrote about that). You can’t change one without modifying the others. That fact has so many ramifications I can’t even.

The relationship between empathic and commercial bonds is complicated and fragile. That’s because, as previously mentioned, empathic extension is always a non-conditional gift, freely given, without consideration of reciprocity on behalf of the other, either in the moment or in the future. While commercial exchange would be impossible without empathic extension first establishing bonds of social trust, its utilitarian, instrumental, and exploitative nature can and often does deplete the social capital that makes its very operations possible.

Which is why we need UBI so badly. There’s been enough slavery, free work done to this day around the world and for centuries for us to be honest and fair and stop making most of us suffer for no reason. The empathic extension has to rise dramatically right now.

A flood of new sociological, psychological, and  cognitive studies have begun to challenge the basic proposition equating increased wealth with greater happiness. What we are beginning to discover is something relatively apparent but largely overlooked in the public dialogue. Studies show that if people are very poor and unable to muster up the bare essentials for their physical survival, they are unhappy. The interesting twist is that the same studies show that once people have reached a minimum level of economic well-being that allows them to adequately survive and prosper, additional accumulations of wealth do not increase their happiness but, rather, make them less happy, more prone to depression, anxiety, and other mental and physical illnesses, and less content with their lot.

Yup. It’s extremely clear in my life: most people I know well above the survive and prosper line, are depressed. The ones on the line or being in and out of survive and prosper are the most likeable and “human”. They show compassion while working hard, know how to calmly indulge and be thankful simultaneously. Wasn’t Chrissy Teigen, a model and TV personality complaining about being depressed while on vacation in Italy in a pandemic? We have proof left and right that accumulation of wealth as a pure focus in life leads you to not enjoy why you exist. Subtleness is not punchy, sadly. People miss the point of money.

The American dream puts a premium on individual autonomy and opportunity and emphasizes material self-interest as a means to secure both personal freedom and happiness. While the European dream doesn’t discount personal initiative and economic opportunity, it tends to put equal weight on advancing the quality of life of the entire society. The dream is an acknowledgement that one doesn’t thrive alone in autonomous isolation but, rather, in deep relationship to others in a shared social space.

This is a big cliché to me. Europeans are as materialistic as Americans or rather, joined the club in the past 20 years. People got bored and started to buy SUVs to go to the supermarket. Also advancing the quality of life of the entire society doesn’t mean much for Muslim women in Europe. Nor does it for all of its cannabis users. The wealthiest escape taxes just fine. Europe is bad at serving its citizens and America is as well. Different reasons, different cultures but same lack of empathy so same results. States all over the world could do a much better job to be honest. There’s room for improvement.

The problem is that when so many young people feel they are special and more important than other people, they become less tolerant of others and less willing to brook criticism; they also are less able to manage failures that are inevitable part of life and less able to express empathy to others.

And then you give them devices that supercharge this whole vibe and you end up with young adults on TikTok spitting out their age-bound lack of understanding and comprehension of the world really loud, and being rewarded for it. I don’t know, man.

Anyway, The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin. Pretty good, pick it up at your local store or library.

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