Pig Satisfied or Socrates Disatisfied? Or, How Utilitarians Are Stuck-Up Jerks and I Hate Them

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863)

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In 1863, John Stuart Mill answered the criticism that utilitarianism (the moral theory that morality is creating the most use (or pleasure) for the most people) would lead to everyone just doing what they pleased by splitting the pleasure of clever people and that of idiots and saying obviously the pleasure of clever people is better. The idea being no superior being would subject themselves to being less superior. Or, to put it another way, it’s better to be Socrates and miserable than a happy pig.

The problems with this are manifold. For instance, many very clever people like less deep activities to ease the burden on their minds. That does not make them fools or pigs because they prefer Wrestlemania to reading The Iliad. Or maybe they prefer reading PasturesFresh to The Economist. Everyone needs a break occasionally.

(At least I’ve never pondered a question as dense as why milennials are shunning diamonds)

Furthermore, this demarcation between high and low pleasures has a class element to it. But I’d say, even as a non-football fan, I’d rather watch half an hour of analysis on a match than listen to a 15-minute podcast on epistemology – the wettest, sloppiest, nerd of the philosophy department. Football fans are undoubtedly happier people than philosophy fans, meaning they have worked out more of their own personal meaning of life. If anything, I’d say that makes them better developed than sad utilitarians.

And lastly, pigs are wonderful animals.

They are highly social animals, they dream, they have a rudimentary language, they are a fertility symbol in China, possibly because it has been said male pigs can orgasm for 30 minutes, though in actual fact they merely ejaculate for that long. Still, we don’t know a pig’s brain enough to know how much pleasure they feel but maybe it’s a lot.

If you think about how clever Socrates was, his work being arguably the basis for all modern western philosophy, and you consider how disatisfied he could actually get, pretty sure you’re better off being a pig.

In sum, pigs are awesome and pleasure is cool and utilitarians need better analogies. Even then, there’s other flaws.

The writer of this piece is no philosopher and it shows.

Bonus comic

[Fun fact: I called him Socrates like So Crates for the longest time.]

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Measuring things in numbers

In this article, Kevin Schenk avoids measuring things numerically…

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We measure many things in life, good and bad. We measure our height, and our weight. We measure distances travelled, we count our money, and we look at the number of our possessions and our achievements. We do these things to compare easily and readily. I have one home, two cars and one job. This man I met, he has three apartments, two cars, and two jobs. If you look at that and have read this sentence, intrinsically I believe you will have thought “that man you met is doing pretty good for himself!”, correct? You will immediately think B (Man I Met) is better than A (Myself). It is something we do automatically, perhaps even instinctively. However, it is not guaranteed at all that this measurement alone is a gauge for happiness or satisfaction, yet we do so automatically. They have more, so they must be happy. Perhaps the man with three apartments and two cars has the two jobs, because he can barely afford them. Maybe one of the tenants is also trashing his apartment and he has to spend a substantial amount of money to renovate it, and feels miserable in his two jobs that drain a lot of his strength. Meanwhile I have a bad car, a very small apartment, but a fulfilling job and am feeling happy.

It is easy, and quick, to compare and deduce from these comparisons if one or the other thing is going alright. It is important to realize that we should not measure ourselves, our happiness, or our position in the world with that of other people. Comparing ourselves to other people will only create feelings of animosity and jealousy. If you cannot help to compare, compare yourself only to your past self. How have you improved in the last years? Did you leave a bad job to find a new one, and it is doing you well? Did you leave a relationship that was detrimental, be it a friend or a partner, and have found more like-minded kin?

Look at your day today and take a few moments to list all that is good and well in your life. If there are people on that list, tell them that you appreciate them and are glad to have them in your life. Make them aware that your happiness is increased by having them in your life. Cherish the things you have in your life and look not to that grass on the other side. In the end it, too, is grass. It is also green and if tended to correctly, will grow fine. Mow the lawn, sow your seeds of friendship and watch as the trees of happiness bloom everlasting. The other lawn? Throw them a seed, too.

Kevin Schenk

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The writer of this piece counted the number of words for this text and deemed it appropriate for publication. Further metrics can be found here.

Poetry After Auschwitz

“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – Theodor W. Adorno

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Whenever a bad event happens like the recent shooting in a New Zealand Mosque which killed 49 people, the above Adorno quotation comes to mind. It speaks to a great problem in writing at all times but especially on days like today. Essentially, how can one think of anything else but what has just happened? How can writers and poets move on after tragedy?

These are important questions which aren’t becoming less relevant. Instead, the Internet and online radicalisation are creating monsters every day.

In order to answer how writers and poets can move on after tragedy, we need to define poetry (impossible, but bear with me). Poetry is the act of unification, of an idea or a feeling, with another, idea or feeling, into one space. This makes it one of the most valuable things to do after a tragedy as it can clarify what happened, why, and what needs to happen moving on.

The truth is, we need to continue writing in the wake of tragedies as otherwise the reactionaries win. This need is how writers continue. A sense of duty, because these thoughts need to be out there in this context. Writing needs to step up and tackle the problems.

The ironic Nazis need to be called out, especially the day after one of them commits crimes.

And all decent people need to call for the dismantling of these neo-Nazi ideas and spaces and refuse them access to mainstream platforms and amplification of their sick ideas.

In as much as poetry, and writing in general, is the act of unification of ideas or feelings into one space, its importance is in allowing people to cry out about the problems of the world at the moment. It provides vital solutions and poses important questions which need answers.

It’s too early for any full poems to have been written on the shooting but some tweets have all the hallmarks of a good act of unification, and so I will end on a modern classic from the woman who married me (in the ministerial sense)

Fraser Medvedik-Horn

A Day Planner

Fraser Medvedik-Horn has picked up a note pad.

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Where the productivity happens. Quick note on the setting, my family has owned this coffee table for at least 20 years and it’s still solid and hardworking. It’s full of character from all the coffee, wine, and water marks. It’s like a whole other family member and I love it.

I have an issue when it comes to working and it’s taken me years to figure out how to fix it – I like to work a lot and do many different tasks, but doing too much can be distracting and it’s very easy to forget what needs done. It’s the opposite of a perfectionist’s problem. A perfectionist focuses diligently on one job and fails to accomplish anything else as they spend too much time pursuing an impossible quality. Both problems in productivity can be solved by one easy tool – a day planner.

Thus, I have began to chart my days according to what I’d like to accomplish over the next one. Ideally all of these tasks will be done by 5pm today.

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A list

It’s shortly before 12 and as you can see I have already done half the list. This pleases me because I am more than just a flitterer, flittering between tasks as the mayfly ‘cross a pond, no, I am a completionist.

One issue with lists for some people is that they can be demotivating if you haven’t done much and it’s getting near the end of the day. I can sympathise because I have a decent number of days where I manage little substantial. This is why another great trick of mine is to include some low-hanging fruit.

Low-Hanging Fruit

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Fruit which hangs so low it’s on a counter and isn’t even fruit plus is a picture I’ve used before. Because it’s easy. 

Low hanging fruit is the best. Why fill your list with hard tasks when you can populate it with stuff that’s two-minutes but important? Tasks like recycling. Cleaning the kitchen counter is another favourite of mine. Slip a couple hard tasks into an easy list, like sneaking your dog medicine wrapped in ham.

(Note: neither a dog owner nor a vet, is ham okay or good for this task?)

Today I’ve loaded up on some quite difficult tasks, but also stuff that is 90% done, such as writing articles or buying presents. This keeps the day active, but simultaneously of Easy Difficulty.

This day is going to get 100% done and then I’ll sleep well.

So you’d be well advised to get yourself a good note book, come up with a list the night before about what you’ll do the next day, then wake up and smash it out of the park.

Fraser Medvedik-Horn 

The writer of this piece will eat the list when it’s done to ensure total completeness and to avoid the vainglory of looking back and past successes and feeling sinful pride.

Rubber Duck Debugging

Fraser Medvedik-Horn looks into an innovative form of problem solving.

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A favourite trick of tech guys, keep a rubber duck in your desk drawer. If a particularly tricky problem arises, go into your drawer and find the duck. Take it out, put it on your desk, and describe your problem to it.

Certain problems don’t need external input but they do take more than one mind working on it. The duck makes your brain take on the problem from multiple angles. You spark off each other. The duck is surprisingly inventive.

Rubber duck problem solving is all about opening your mind to unexpected solutions. It teaches you to approach difficult problems with a wider range of tools to fix them. It gives you double the potential. Not only are you working on it, the duck is as well. That problem doesn’t stand a chance.

It’s a really helpful tool for cases in which your first thoughts may be wrong. It lets you interrogate yourself in a non-judgemental and non-critical way, leading to better insight into the whole problem, its background and solutions. Moreover, it encourages you to take a breath and consult your trusted advisor.

I must freely confess, I felt like a bit of an idiot when I first started talking to inanimate objects. It’s against the main purpose of speech, communication, to chat to that which can’t comprehend. I therefore found it more helpful to talk to the cats. The fact they move a lot means I activate the kinetic part of my brain chasing them.

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Bruce is a big asset  

One good alternative I’ve found is talking to people and telling them I’m not looking for their input, but that does put a lot of unwanted pressure onto them. Thing is, talking to inanimate objects isn’t that bizarre. It’s probably less bizarre than talking to people and asking them to not respond. People often talk to their car to get it to perform better. I’ve seen people apologise for knocking into objects before. Journalling is also a popular way which uses a similar principle, probably the most similar since it is using a communicative skill, writing, to talk to yourself.

I don’t know about you, but talking to me is great fun.

I highly recommend this technique for solving some of your more complicated problems, because it’s great to have a friendly ear to solve your issues who won’t blab to other people. Once you can get over talking to a duck, you’ll have a new best friend to solve all your tech and personal problems. You’ll think better and you’ll have a great conversation partner.

Fraser Medvedik-Horn

The writer of this piece probably gets about many solutions as problems from the cats so he’d encourage you  simply get a duck