Enough Schadenfreude

I have been reading How Much Is Enough?, which is a wonkish analysis of that age-old question.  Bemoaning the death of the concept of  the Aristotelian “good life” the authors write:

“For all its vestigial resonance, the idea of the good life no longer forms part of public discussion in the Western world.  Politicians argue their case in terms of choice, efficiency or the protection of firhgs.  They do not say, “I think this policy will help people lead fruitful, civilized lives….  If there is no such thing as the good life, then acquisition has no absolute goal, only the relative one of “as much as” or “more than” the others’ a goal that, since it is shared by those others, must recede forever into the distance.”

Okay, I noted it was “wonkish,” but their analogy is what caught me:

“Imagine, by way of analogy, two men walking to a certain town.  One their way they get lost, yet keep walking, now with the sole aim of staying ahead of their fellow walker.  Here is an image of our situation.  The vanishing of all intrinsic ends leaves us with only two options: to be ahead or to be behind.  Positional struggle is our fate.  If there is no right place to be, it is best to be ahead.”

It is, indeed, alarmingly easy to forget the “intrinsic ends” and lapse into “positional struggle.”  We can argue at length about the meaning of life, but it seems pretty clear that the answer is not schadenfreude.

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