Politics should focus more on the Good Life

April 22, 2022

We need to fundamentally revitalize the concept of the Good in politics to counterbalance our obsession with risks. Otherwise, a stoic ethic, imposed by grim world outlooks, will further complicate structural change. In the Netherlands, we have a famous saying that goes: “met mij gaat het goed, met ons slecht” (I am well, but we are not). This perfectly fits our long history of prosperity and grumbling national character. But this paradoxical state of a happy private life combined with a hopeless outlook on the world is well on its way to becoming the human condition of the West, perhaps even more deeply entrenched than the cynicism and nihilism of the postmodern 80s. 

On a political-institutional level, we seem to be stumbling from crisis into crisis while academics, politicians, and intellectuals warn us against the real crisis looming ahead. The saying “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity” is only a pathetic way of apologizing for this terrible worldview that is so extremely preoccupied with risk management and resilience politics. Yet, at the same time, even though many people worry about the world, most of us (no, not everyone) seem to be dealing with it pretty well. This is because the good life has already been detached from public life. In the past two centuries, living standards have increased enormously and, step by step, the ideology of liberalism and individualism have privatized the Good Life, replacing communal and political values with private ones that sacralize everyday life (e.g. family, friends, fun). On the one hand, this now actually works as a shield – “let the world burn, I’m doing fine” – but, on the other hand, if we do not revitalize the ethics of the Good Life in our national political institutions, citizens in (rich) Western countries will further disengage from national and global issues. 

Burning Questions:
  • How can we reinstate the concept of the Good without downplaying the systemic risks threatening our global society?
  • What is necessary in order to realign the privatized art of living with a political discourse or ideology?

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
Read the article
2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
Read the article

About the author(s)

Economist and philosopher Sebastiaan Crul writes articles on a wide range of topics, including rule of law in digital societies, the virtualization of the lifeworld and internet culture. He is currently working on his doctoral degree on the influence of digitalization on mental health and virtue ethics, having previously published dissertations on the philosophy of play and systemic risks in the finance industry.

You may also like