HTLGI2013 The Devil’s Work

May 28, 2013

Michael Foley again (Lord preserve us) but better this time when he had to interact rather than preach.  We also had Godfrey Barker who has a charming belief in British values that does not match reality but some very interesting things to say about Golden Ages and how we live in them and what happens later (spoiler alert its bad).  The real star here was Frank Field who is a deep thinker and connected to the reality of the constituents he represents.  He makes the valid point that the Labour Party is no longer a mass party, but a grouping of section interests driven by ideologies which is not popular with at least one member of the audience.

All talk about virtue without mentioning Aristotle too much but that is fine, its not compulsory and the point remains, and its a question we don;t often ask enough.  What does it mean to live a life of virtue?  It is a better question that How do I make a lot more money than everyone else.  Worth the delay and a long drive in the dark to a hotel near Taunton in preparation for a meeting then a month of travel plus an MRI scan tomorrow night.  More on that after it happens.

For the moment Hay is over for the year.  I missed good stuff over the last weekend and I will miss stuff this weekend.  Next year I will be there, God willing for the whole event and hopefully with a Cognitive Edge group.



Michael starts talking about striving, says there is confusion.  Striving is necessary for fulfilment, everything worthwhile has to be earned.  (More random scattering of Philosophy names and poorly understood biology).  Distinction between productive and non-productive striving.  That means in the current world that we strive for money etc and (he keeps talking about this) sex with younger people (to get a laugh but its tiresome).  Some people see this and say its wrong but then get to the conclusin that all striving is wrong.  Neither work.  Answer is that the human organism is imensile complicated and therefore needs a sophisticated strategy.  Have to understand ourselves, know thyself, know thy age (the time we live in).   Have to work out an optimal strategy.  Striving should not be to demand but to understand.

Godfrey wishes to propose that we are living in a golden age if idleness.  Jam today and the bill tomorrow and age of luxery, arts etc.   The UK is a world society, London world capital of the Arts for reasons we cannot explain.  We are now living in mid 18th C Paris, Florence in the enlightenment, 3rd C India.  Such Golden Ages do not last long and are typically followed by war and revolution.  Enjoy it while you can.  Now to semanitcs, idleness is the opposite of action.  Some forms of idleness are good some blessed some destructive.  We have to work out which is which.  If I choose to be idle someone has to care for me.   If that moves money from me to a person without then regardless of my idleness society benefits.  But if I just receive as a free gift we have a problem.  A lot of people are idle in the UK, some by choice many are deeply unhappy about it. It can never me a life long social agenda.

No Frank Field yet ….

Michael says we can look at broad principles of advice offered over time but have to make it relevant.  Different for everyone and there is no final thing called the good life, there are no final states.
Godfrey is asked about the economic climate and if it means we should not be idle.  Asks why does an Indian sandboy have a wider smile on his face that someone with a mortgage in this audience.  Can see no more worthless life than living in a drugged state.

Michael is asked if this is a romantic fantasy and he agrees it is.  There is no way back to innocence.  Whole question of happiness is difficult its a problematic word.  Achievable only intermittently, maybe better to talk about fulfilment or flourishing.

Godfrey suggests older words such as the life of virtue reference to Aristotle.  Older societies have devoted more thought to what constitutes a worthwhile life.   The noblest way of living and loving was the agenda.  Reminds chairman about the misery of thirty years after the war, the stigma if hire purchase.  Says no one under 45 has any idea of the change created by the credit card.  It was the same in Paris before the revolution.  Read Trollope on the debt collectors, it is now luxery, pleasure and idelness.  Love it while it is here it could get worse

Michael says he is confusing idleness with luxury.  In the medieval period they only worked part of the year had half of the year off.

Asked about the value of work says that we should not take our idea of self worth from work,  Now working is living not work to live.  Corporate workplaces are now the new village to encourage the notion that work is the only life.

Godfrey suggests that Socrates might not be ignored in the modern age but does accept we are defined by the work we do and the titles we hold, but the media makes that happen

Frank Field now joins

Frank says that self worth comes from roles and for males it was paid work for women their dominance in the home.  For a whole group of people there is no work and the role of home is devallued (reference to his constituency).  We need to redefine roles.  When he went to Birkenhead there were 19K jobs in the ship yards.  Young Male's value went when they could no longer bring home a wage.  At the same time the welfare system made them unnecessary.  Witnessed stripping out of communities.  All the social clubs that came from the Churches no longer exist, trade unions reinforced and now gone.  Not a catholic town any more.  sense of identity and purpose has gone.  Working class women support for the Labour Party has collapsed.  Professional women think self realisation comes from a male model through work and they are driving policy.  In his constituency the driver came from their home and family. 

Godfrey says that in the US self worth is highly contingent on how much you earn, mercifully this country is not in the grip of a society based on money. 
Frank says the parties manage the gangs in westminster and the two parties run on gang systems.  Both parties linked to money, but you can get into the system without having a personal fortune.

Michael thinks we could do something with hedonism, idealism is normally associated with physical inactivity but you might then be mentally active. 

Godfrey says we have 17 centuries of thinking about the meaning of live and that thinking produced amoral  philosophy that we still reference.  Idleness carries a pejorative weight but contemplation philosophy and thought are among the most valuable aspects of our lives.  In Britain we attach more value to this than most countries.

Frank says that most of the organisations he has been part of do not value contemplation, individuals may but not organisations.  Some of us have the luxury to add ideas but most don't

What gives people the Good Life?  Its about practicing the virtues, through he practice of our functions we develop virtues and then get to the good life.  The good life comes in small particulars, how do we join them up so large numbers of people can consider themselves as part of the good society.


Did not like the gender distinctions (women's officer in the Labour Party)
Frank Now 20% of women vote labour from 80% so people have walked away from us, they do not share the agenda of the questioner.  No longer a great political party but open to pressure groups.  Need millions interested not just small sections.

Raises academic issue of measurement by volume and courses have to deliver jobsMichael agrees its a change but can't blame educational system as its following a social trend.  It is preventing abstract understanding.  Analysis and thinking have gone

Godfrey says its being a material culture since the 1840s
Frank talks about going to university when 3% went,  I fyou move to 50% the ability to doanything like   abstract knowledge radical changes things and we have not faced up to it

Takes issue with Frank Field about members of parliament, thinks that they should think more rather than just getting things done.  If we thought about it we would have less accountants and other things

Frank says we could get more if we changed things – he tries to answer individual questions then tries to work out policy.  Says the form of government is representative and accountable because a government can carry a programme.  Not what people thought its what they do



Godfrey says that the life of virtue and perfectibility of man in Athens and it would be better (me – what about hte slaves)

Michael says education suppressed desire to learn, its the freedom to learn that matters. Understanding is transformation

Frank says he has been trying to write a book on the politics of virtue but has not got very far.  Its central to our traditions but it is very hard for politicians to shape their lives so hey pickup that conversation

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