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Life Arts

Gary Gutting on the Skidelskys' Views of Capitalism

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I know, I know, we could think of relentless revolution in our desires as another kind of insatiability. But relentless revolution also seems to suggest that certain old things go out of existence, perhaps because of a kind of satiation, and certain other new things come into existence. For example, when I was 20, I had certain desires in my life that I do not have today. So certain old desires have gone out of existence, perhaps because they have been satiated. In addition, my new desires in life may ones that can be satiated and thereby be sources of fulfillment in my life.

Next, I want to turn to discussing Gutting's thought-provoking critique of the Skidelskys' proposed anti-satiability view of the good life and their legislative suggestions. Gutting critiques the Skidelskys for making the "mistake of thinking that we can transform our world by legislating values from above."

In connection with this point, I would mention Prohibition as a famous example of legislating values that failed. So Prohibition was eventually repealed.

Gutting claims that "the transformation [of our world] must come from below, forged by the very people it is meant to benefit." In short, each person in a capitalist economy must examine his or her own life and work to cultivate the virtues of moderation and courage in their lives.

In connection with this point, I would mention the famous saying that virtue is its own reward. The virtues of moderation and courage as Plato and Aristotle understand them are their own reward, even for people who grown up and work in a capitalist economy.

Instead of advocating legislative measures, Gutting advocates liberal education as he understands it as the solution for growing up and working in a capitalist economy and living in a democracy. So political liberalism and economic liberalism require liberal education.

I have mentioned the three parts of the human psyche that we find mentioned in Plato's REPUBLIC and the PHAEDRUS. The rational part of the human psyche involves Gutting's liberal education. The desiring part of the human psyche is involved in political liberalism, and the spirited part of the human psyche ("thumos" or "thymos") is involved in economic liberalism.

Even though Gutting does not happen to advert to MacLean's way of thinking about the triune human brain, Gutting envisions the possibility of political liberalism (democracy) and economic liberalism (capitalism) and liberal education as he understands it as three parts of growing up in America that can somehow work together optimally as a triune liberal way of living the good life. Good for Gary Guting! We Americans today need such a vision.

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Nevertheless, I want to discuss further the possible insatiability of our individual desires. I have no doubt that some people have insatiable individual desires that we refer to as addictions. For example, certain people are addicted to alcohol. Their addiction to alcohol can be so insatiable that even when they manage to stop drinking, they refer to themselves as recovering alcoholics, not as recovered alcoholics.

Out of respect for this humble way of thinking and speaking, I would say that there is a limit to the rational part of the human psyche and to the self-conscious cultivation of the virtues of moderation and courage -- and of liberal education as Gutting understands.

We do not fully understand alcoholism or other forms of addictions. But addictions involve insatiable individual desires. So does it follow from the example of alcoholics who have stopped drinking referring to themselves as recovering alcoholics, instead of recovered alcoholics, that we cannot overcome our addictions with any finality?

Insatiable individual desires are cravings. Over the centuries, different traditions have worked out different forms of meditation. In general, I see meditation as the key antidote to our insatiable individual desires.

Because Gutting says nothing about any kind of practice of meditation, I think that his faith in the efficacy of liberal education by itself is not a viable solution to our insatiable individual desires.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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In light of Republican obstructionist tactics in C... by Thomas Farrell on Thursday, Dec 27, 2012 at 4:33:51 PM
capitalism is a disease and shud be eradicated. &n... by Lester Shepherd on Friday, Dec 28, 2012 at 10:34:21 AM
Advertising creates new desires.  This is a "... by Derryl Hermanutz on Friday, Dec 28, 2012 at 8:16:18 PM
I've been practicing meditation for nearly 40 year... by Tommy Wright on Saturday, Dec 29, 2012 at 12:37:52 AM