A book recently published by Richard Sennett discusses the atmosphere of the typical 1970′s workplace in the UK. Work was often hard and boring, sometimes dangerous; the bosses were frequently bullies, and the workers stuck together against the bosses. Notwithstanding this companies were held together by what he calls the social triangle of management, workers and unions. In a crisis everyone worked together and there was respect on most sides and civility in the way people were dealt with.
Nowadays , under flexible work practices and short-term contracts the loyalty of boss to worker and worker to boss has evaporated. Long gone is the lifetime career, with training and promotion. Sustained relationships, which build mutual cooperation have given way to an atmosphere where both sides are out for what they can get. Economist Bennett Harrison blames ” impatient capital”, whose objective is faster and bigger returns. This leads to shallow relationships, remote executives (who now have useless MBA’s and know nothing about man management) and intense feelings of the uselessness of many endeavours.
My experience in the 1970s was a company which was as much social as economic, indeed, maybe more so. The jokes started at 8 a.m and finished in the pub at 9 in the evening. It was fun and funny and became a game in which the objective was customer satisfaction. This is not a “business model” that would be much in vogue today.
Which brings me to Epicureanism: it offers food for the brain, fun laughter, and a social life that potentially counteracts the money-madness of the modern world. The Epicurean garden cannot offer you an income , but it can offer a lively refuge.
(Richard Sennett, “Together: The Rituals , Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation”)
Today I received a Summary Prospectus for an investment made some months ago. I was never told that I was buying a fund partly consisting of derivatives (or maybe I didn’t read the yawn-inducing small print – quite possible) . Since the financial services people didn’t understand derivatives and derivatives nearly sank the economy, what am I doing with the wretched things? This is what the brochure says; who would invest after reading it?:
Derivatives are subject to certain risks, including the risk that the value of the derivative may not correlate with the value of the underlying security,rate, or index in the manner anticipated by portfolio management. Derivatives may be more sensitive to changes in economic or market conditions and may become illiquid. Derivatives are subject to leverage risk, which may increase the Fund’s volatility, and counterparty risk, which means that the counterparty may fail to perform it obligations under the derivative contract .
The moral seems to be that the financial services industry has learned nothing from their debacle. A short while ago a worker in financial “services” told me indignantly that if the American and British government continued to regulate the financial industry in the current manner, everyone would move to Dubai. I would suggest instead the Empty Quarter of the Arabian desert, half an hours drive away.
Allowing for the current rate of inflation a rational Epicurean should consider keeping the money under the mattress.
According to James Haught, editor of the Charleston Gazette, George Bush phoned French President Jacques Chirac in 2003 and, appealing to their “common faith’, asked for his support in invading Iraq to thwart Gog and Magog, the satanic agents of the Apolcalypse (he didn’t get it – rightly). Gog and Magog are at working the Middle East, he is supposed to have said.. …The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before the New Age begins. In case you don’t get it, His people are the Israelis.
I personally thought Bush invaded Iraq to get the oil, which at least would have been rational. Others were conned into thinking Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or were of the opinion that Bush was avenging his father, or whatever. It turns out that Bush was actually a dangerous religious nut, and had around him other people in the same mold. I remember speaking to a neighbour and personal friend of the Bushes in Crawford Texas in 2002, who told me that George was a really smart guy who was posing as as one of the lads for political purposes. She added that he was very conversant with foreign affairs, and especially the Middle East. She told me not to underestimate him.
Four thousand American deaths and $1 trillion dollars later Israel is no more secure, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the Americans didn’t get the oil. No wonder a majority of Americans believe their country is in decline.
In the face of all this crassness and incompetence Epicureans should close the door and stay within the calm and beauty of a garden, ignoring the crazies.
Upfront I have to say that I attended a business school myself, got an MBA, found it useless and reverted to the reasonably successful manner by which I had previously run the company, that is by using my common sense.
Young students, eyes on the CEO’s job and untold riches, think that the way to the top is via business school. Well, for some it is, the accountants and the financiers. You can actually get some training if you are one of those. And if, at twenty, you are stepping from business school straight into the top job at a company with 30,000 employees, then business strategy (as a way of thinking), can be helpful.
However, for the rest :
1. Kids go far too early to business school. For the young an MBA isn’t worth the paper its written on. What experience do they have? It’s just money-grubbing by the institutions.
2. Business schools are partly responsible for the whole lead up to the Great Recession, stressing short-term profit and helping to bid up the outrageous salaries of top executives.
This is an actual comment made in class: “CEO salaries are high because we have to compete for talent worldwide. If an American CEO gets $20 million a year then British CEO’s have to get the same or better. The task of recruitment agencies and headhunters is to bid up the price to get the best.” We have experienced the chill and the divisiveness this attitude has brought to Western economies.
3. Some business schools have highly experienced and knowledgeable staff, but all too often the fact is that those who can, can, and those who can’t………..you can complete the sentence yourself. The worst are the “marketing” lecturers , who in my experience should have been in the audience keeping rather quiet.
What has this to do with Epicureanism? A lot! Business school is the polite end of a mindless, greedy, useless materialistic culture, which is anathema to every good follower of Epicurus. Business is common sense! You’ve either got it or you haven’t. I maintain that businessmen cannot be forged in the white-hot cauldrons of the Harvard Business school; they are born, not made. Epicureans can safely give the business school a wary bypass. They do not fit the ethical standards expected.
Warships armed with guided weapons nearby; 33,000 “security” men surrounding the site; blocked roads; officials whisked like Kremlin apparatchiks through red traffic lights while locals fret in traffic jams; residents asked to leave the city; and now panic about the inability of the city’s main airport to handle a fraction of the visitors expected? Log jams, road jams, air jams and jam on it for the officials and hangers-on.
A developing country? Part of a report on a coup d’etat? No, news dribbling out about the London Olympics.
I have nothing against the idea of the Olympics. I am an Epicurean, and Epicurus, like all ancient Greeks, enjoyed the spectacle, I’m sure. I will watch the Olympics on television from a safe distance. But all this this shows, if anything shows, that:
1. Al Quaeda has actually won the war. The only hugely expanding industry is the “security” industry, and the biggest casualty are shrinking human rights. This is a very dangerous development and has gained a momentum of its own. We can never re-assign the “Security guards” to proper, productive jobs. Instead, they will be a law unto themselves and in future chase off abroad and hire as many prostitutes as they want, and bully the rest of us.
2. The Olympics have become big business, involving big corporations (with associated bribery and corruption), and athletes whose incentive is now money. As someone who will be asked to pay for all this razzamatazz I wish to lodge a public protest! It is a futile protest, I know.
“Bread and circuses” still work to distract the populace from who is really winning. Rant over.
Deuteronomy Chapter 17 verses 2 to 5:
If there be found among you man or woman……who have gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded…..Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.”
Fear is the first weapon of the priest and his (always his) hangers-on. Power is their game and control their first priority. Epicurus enjoins us to put away both fear and all superstitions. That way lies peace of mind.
The State of Connecticut is proposing a law to gag free speech on the internet. These are some of the clauses in legislation, currently under review, which would render comment illegal:
(a) A person commits electronic harassment when such person, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, transmits, posts, displays or disseminates, by or through an electronic communication device, radio, computer, Internet web site or similar means, to any person, a communication, image or information, which is based on the actual or perceived traits or characteristics of that person, which
(1) Places that person in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property;
(2) Has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person’s physical or mental health;
(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person’s academic performance, employment or other community activities or
(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person’s ability to participate in or benefit from any academic, professional or community-based services, activities or privileges; or
(5) Has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation to that person within an academic or professional community.
In 1811, two years after Jefferson left the Presidency, Jefferson wrote a letter to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution. Jefferson said that he supported taxes (then tariffs, since there was no income tax yet) falling entirely on the wealthy. As Jefferson explained: “The farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of this country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings.” (Quoted by Rep. Alan Grayson in a newsletter April 21st).
Jefferson, despite being a slave owner (a mark against him), was a highly intelligent man, a man of the Enlightenment and a self-described Epicurean. No bible-thumper he.
We have to struggle against those who try to own the American Founding Fathers, purporting to act in their name and attributing to them ideas they never held. Common sense and Epicureanism go hand in hand.
Some multi-millionaires object to welfare on the grounds that it discourages hard work and and encourages dependency. In the U.S capital gains and qualified dividends in the US are taxed at only 15%, and if that isn’t welfare for the rich I have never seen welfare. The huge gulping noise you hear is the sound of the rich sucking money out of the pockets of the rest of us. Much of this money, saved at the expense of the taxpayer, finds its way into investments in Brazil, China, Zurich (and those centres of job-creating energy - Jersey and various Caribbean islands), not into creating jobs in America, where demand is weak. The idea that if you reduce taxes for the rich you get a boost to the economy may have worked once in a while before globalization, but its exponents are now living in the past. The idea is now fraudulent, old-fashioned and damaging.
Good Epicureans, anxious for a fair and equitable world where stress and envy are at least minimized, should not support the current tax regime.
“to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”.
Aeschylus, born about 525 B.C, may well have inspired Epicurus with the above words – we don’t know. But we can say that we have to tame the savageness of mankind on a continual basis. Manners, consideration for others, generosity, kindness and empathy may all be hard-wired into many of us, but regrettably not into all. Every generation has to be tamed, knocked into shape, and instructed on how to relate to others; that is the job of parents (not just teachers, as some parents seem to think).
Is it my imagination, but are we being a bit less successful at making gentle the life of this world better than in prior years?