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Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness (1932) (zpub.com)
300 points by kamaal 1445 days ago | hide | past | web | 120 comments | favorite

There are a number of beautiful places in the United States where it is possible for a person to subsist quite luxuriously on $1200/mo and preserve the ability to throw parties for friends, buy books and tools, etc. As of January a person with such income will have free Medicare in Oregon.

"Fuck You" money is an illusion that keeps you working. The mind loves to believe that having enough of some external thing will give us control, safety, or whatever we most fear the lack of. It isn't true. A man with with excess money is absorbed in concerns of what to do with it and is hardly free. He might be able to say "fuck you" to people, but he can't say "fuck you" to money.

Freedom is measured by the scarcity of our concerns. And happiness, perhaps, by closeness with people to whom we need never say "fuck you" because we love them and accept them fully.

That is my receipe as well. I live in Poland, where stuff can be hilariously cheap when living on a good "first world" contracting rate. In the last 7 years I've contracted for maybe 3.5 years total. Right now I'm about to end my last contract and have money for another 4-5 years of freedom. And my lifestyle includes eating out 1-3 per day, having a maid, brand new car, some travel. Seriously, I sometimes feel sorry for people born in rich countries (esp. living in places like NYC, London) who need to work much more than I do to maintain the same lifestyle.

Shut up and stop giving away the secrets of life! People were supposed to find those on their own!

yea, but you still need $360k or so to be able to withdraw $1200/month forever without worry. That's still a decent chunk of change. I guess you can save it in 5 years, but if you don't like working those 5 years will be hellaciously long

Working part time seems a decent compromise. There's no reason you have to live off of savings only.

How are you investing $360k to make $1200/month forever without worry?

Any specific recommendations? I've seen Eugene, Boise, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque thrown around on HN before but I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Eugene is in Oregon with the free medicaid. ABQ is my favorite, though. I hear great things about Boise, especially if you are into river sports.

Boise is flippin fantastic. I say this as someone from the Northeast who never gave a state like Idaho a second (or even first) thought. I like being close to family (here on east coast), but if I was picking one place in the US to live based on cost of living and awesome things to do, with amazingly beautiful women, awesome outdoor activity, coupled with good urban lifestyle, Boise would be IT. Also a decent tech/software scene I hear. Just look at what $400k will buy you. It's outta this world, plus you're in an awesome location (right at the base of the Rockies).

Commenting so i remember yours.

The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers.

I'm down. We should be massively ramping up the amount of leisure time in our society so that we, as a society, never miss out on a potential Darwin or Lincoln or Jesus or whomever. How many world-changing, mental giants have we missed out on because they couldn't free their minds from working 40+ hours a week?

Well, apart from that last fictional character who has arguably brought more harm than good through his ideas (and arguably through them being misinterpreted), I'm all down with that.

Actually, Jesus himself isn't fictional and his existence is pretty much agreed upon as a historical fact.[1]

It's the details of his activities in the New Testament and various Gospels that are hotly debated.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus (use this as a starting point for further citations..)

/pedant mode off.

Absolutely wrong. If you have evidence that this character existed, please point to it more specifically than a whole Wikipedia article. Nothing about "Jesus" is hotly debated because there isn't a single mention of a "Jesus" in any believable document to begin with. This is not the place to discuss, but I didn't want your wrong message to be the end of it.

The problem is the decision to do this is never in the hands of the wage-earners...

Only the powerful and rich can really change this reality, and it's clearly not aligned with their interests.

I don't know. If the venture finance industry has taught us anything, it's that one big win can pay for a whole mess of failures, and then some.

If you tell a bunch of rich people they've got a good chance of financing the next Leonardo DaVinci or Thomas Edison by providing the living essentials to 5,000 people, you could probably get a few to take you up on it. Just make sure you're cutting them in on the profits.

Unfortunately from someone looking from the outside, it looks like the venture industry you talk about is very small and restricted to a few areas.

Maybe one day... but even with companies that come from that culture, normally after reaching a certain point of greatness, many stop helping the solution and give in to the system in pursuit of more and more profits.

I'm very skeptical when it comes to changes in society. I really don't think it'll change anytime soon. At least not for better.

The standard 8 hour / 5 day work week in Europe did not happen after some day the rich and powerful decided it, far from it. Strong labor unions were the key into making it a reality. While they might be impeding financial growth and make some things more bureaucratic, the increase in living conditions makes them worth it.

As wikipedia notes on Bertrand Russell:

> His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science (see type theory and type system), and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.

Plus he won the Nobel Prize in Literature!

For a very approachable overview of Russell's complex life, I highly recommend the graphic novel "Logicomix"


Then you will certainly find yourself wanting to learn more about this amazing person.

For a very approachable view of Russel's thoughts and work, you can try reading his own writing:


My personal favourite so far has been 'Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays' with 'Analysis of Mind' currently at the top of my reading queue. Not everything he did was like reading 'Principia Mathematica' and his writing is very open, readable and eloquent.

> Whoever contemplates the world in the light of an ideal--whether what he seeks be intellect, or art, or love, or simple happiness, or all together--must feel a great sorrow in the evils that men needlessly allow to continue, and--if he be a man of force and vital energy--an urgent desire to lead men to the realization of the good which inspires his creative vision.

"Proposed Roads to Freedom" is my pick for number one.

I liked a bunch of the essays I read by him, and loved "A History of Western Philosophy". I'm well aware (and felt his writing made it obvious enough) that it is not necessarily a 'accurate' history of philosophy, but it was a great book with a great approach.

What it lacks in accuracy it makes up for in entertainment.

Thanks for that link to Gutenberg. Adding those essays to my reading list.

so he proposed a nuclear first strike against russia? what an amazing person :D

Yes, Russell definitely did that and was evasive about it afterward. In the late 1940s this insanity was widespread: an entire movement of politically influential players dedicated itself to nuking the Soviet Union before it achieved the bomb and (so the argument went) inevitably used it on us. Von Neumann was another prominent advocate ("If you say bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say do it at five o'clock I say why not one o'clock?") Many hawkish military leaders (e.g. Curtis Lemay) pushed strongly for it, though others (such as Eisenhower, IIRC) had the wisdom to be appalled by the idea. Thankfully Truman refused. [1]

I got all this from William Poundstone's book on the Prisoner's Dilemma. It's been years since I read it, so corrections on details are welcome.

That is the climate that was satirized in Dr Strangelove.

It was sordid on Russell's part to agitate for nuclear strikes, but everyone makes mistakes and everyone is subject to social climate. What is arguably worse is that once the insanity had passed, he refused to own up to it fair and square and just say "we were mad, and thank goodness it didn't happen". Perhaps that is what a world reputation as a moral authority does to the ego. I remember doing a double-take when I first read about this and wondering why it is so little known. If Barry Bonds deserves an asterisk beside his name in the record books then surely so does Bertie.

[1] Contemporary analogs left as an exercise to the reader.

Looking at http://www.economist.com/node/699582/print?Story_ID=699582 it seems to be open to some doubt whether Russell was actually advocating a nuclear first strike. (It seems clear that he was prepared to countenance one in some circumstances. That's not obviously completely unreasonable.)

After that he went on found the Pugwash conferences, be the first president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, etc., so he can hardly be painted as a nuclear warmonger generally. As you say, "everyone makes mistakes and everyone is subject to social climate".

Could you be more explicit about how he "refused to own up to it"? I mean, did he deny saying the actual words he's documented as having said, or did he disagree with someone else's interpretation of them, or what?

Could you be more explicit

I'm afraid I don't remember the sources I read (other than Poundstone's book) and don't have time to dig into it just now, though given what I posted I suppose I should. FWIW, my memory is that he was asked about it more than once in the 1960s, denied that he'd said what he'd said, and then responded evasively when presented with evidence of it. On the other hand, my memory is that he'd advocated for a nuclear strike in print; and given the debate you linked to, that seems unlikely.

Edit: My conscience wouldn't sit still until I did dig around a bit. The question is more controversial than Poundstone's book made it seem, so I definitely shouldn't have said "definitely". When will I learn :) On the other hand, there's a lot more material than that Economist article made it seem (the editor of Russell's letters who was defending Russell in that piece really comes across as disingenuous for not mentioning this), and some of it is pretty unpleasant.

The consensus seems to be that Russell advocated threatening the USSR with nuclear strikes to force them to change their policies. Whether he advocated pre-emptive war itself is controversial. He made many comments about this in the 40s and 50s. From a BBC interview in 1959:

BBC: "Is it true or untrue that in recent years you advocated that a preventive war might be made against communism, against Soviet Russia?”

Russell: “It’s entirely true, and I don’t repent of it.”

Other comments were ambiguous (he thought it necessary to "bully the Russians" with the threat of bombing them but hoped it would not lead to war, etc.) Later, he claimed that he had simply "entirely forgotten" that he had ever advocated this. At least two serious biographers, Ronald Clark and Ray Monk, do not find this credible. Here's Clark:

[Russell's] explanation that he had simply forgotten what he had said [...] would be more acceptable if applied to one speech rather than to a long series of articles and statements [...] It might be possible to argue that his disavowal of advocating preventive war was based on the most academic interpretation of the term: that advocating the threat of war unless a potential enemy submitted, even though being prepared to have your bluff called, was not advocacy of a preventive war. But even this questionable escape-route is blocked by Russell’s own statement to [the BBC] and [by] his earlier suggestion that “a casus belli would not be difficult to find".

This paper (a long and convoluted defense of Russell) shows up in Google and contains the salient quotes: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?articl...

My conclusion is that what I wrote wasn't far off, but it was unfair to lump Russell in with von Neumann, Lemay, and the rest of the Dr. Strangelove set who were advocating for nuclear war outright.

> reputation as a moral authority

His treatment of his first wife should have ruled out any idea he was a moral authority.

Well, maybe. It's a bit hard to tell from that one-liner whether you're being serious or glib, but the question of how the great man or woman treats the people closest to him or her is a tricky one. I agree that it's relevant, but it hasn't traditionally been considered to be. And we never have access to the full story. Everyone knows from their own personal life how utterly different things can look up close than they do from afar.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Russell were the classic intellectual type with strong affections for humanity in the abstract and the people around him not so much. Champions of causes are often this way. There are incredibly striking and tragic cases of this, such as what happened between Gandhi and his oldest son. But one should especially hesitate to condemn in matters of the heart.

Meh. The world has suffered enough from "the classic intellectual type with strong affections for humanity in the abstract and the people around him not so much". I'd much rather listen to someone who's attached to others and behaves decently towards them.

(I've got a particular bias against Gandhi for what that so-called "moral paragon" famously said about the Holocaust.)

For others who are curious about the Gandhi reference, here's what I dug up:

"“Hitler,” Gandhi solemnly affirmed, “killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. I believe in hara-kiri. I do not believe in its militaristic connotations, but it is a heroic method.”

“You think,” I said, “that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?”

“Yes,” Gandhi agreed,” that would have been heroism. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to the evils of Hitler’s violence, especially in 1938, before the war. As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”"


Yes, basically, that. It kind of indicates that he believed Jewish lives are worth so little that we should have pointlessly thrown away millions of them for publicity.

Edit: It's questionable whether this was something specific he had against Jews or not. Frankly, I'm not even sure whether an anti-Semite or an anti-humanist is morally superior.

No, he wasn't saying that "we should have pointlessly thrown away" any of them. He was saying that the Jews should have sacrificed themselves to make a point, in something like the same way as many of Gandhi's followers put themselves in danger to make a point, and Gandhi himself went on (life-threatening) hunger strike to make a point. And he was saying that the end result would likely have been the loss of fewer Jewish lives.

There is a big difference between "It would be a noble and also an effective thing for group X to sacrifice themselves" and "Other people should sacrifice group X", and it seems very clear that Gandhi was saying the first of those and not the second, and that he was advocating that they should do the same kind of thing as he did himself.

Now, for the avoidance of doubt, I think (1) he was wrong about this and (2) there's still something a bit indecent about saying "those people should have sacrificed themselves". But I don't see anything anti-Semitic, or anti-humanistic, in this, nor do I think he was saying that Jewish lives were worth little in absolute terms or relative to others. He was saying that in the face of a powerful oppressor self-sacrifice is both an effective tool and a noble thing to do.

Ah. The dispute here is that I (along with most Jews nowadays) simply do not believe that self-sacrifice is effective or noble. The Holocaust was, in fact, our single biggest lesson ever in precisely that. From our perspective, self-sacrifice is anti-humanistic, it's a simple murder: you kill yourself, save nobody else, and win nothing for it but the sympathy of future generations -- hopefully.

I mean, for that matter, compare how many Holocaust victims did fight back versus those who didn't. Since the vast majority didn't fight back, what could they have done to make their deaths into an effective "martyrdom"?

Thank you for this lucid explanation. Gandhi's way of thinking and acting remains extremely counterintuitive (to us), so it's important to remember both that he practiced what he preached and that it actually worked. If one forgets either of those things, many of his statements become obvious monstrosities. But the fault is with our definition of "obvious".

The early 20th century's celebrity philosopher. With Whitehead they wrote the book Principia Mathematica which provided the foundation for LISP.

It is rather strange. More and more things of everyday life are automated and computerized. Nevertheless, I have the impression to have less and less time to do all the things I want/need to do.

Something happened to me yesterday that I haven't quite had the time to figure out.

I'm normally the introverted "stay at home and relax" type, at least during the week. I frequently want to get home from work as early as possible to play video games, play music, or read. The only problem I've had lately is I've had little motivation to do the creative parts (e.g. creating music or programming something).

But last night I went to the gym after work, making me get home an hour later than usual. Then I went out to an open mic with some music friends and had food and beers. Then I came back home and played video games for an hour or so. Then I managed to actually write music for another hour and a half.

It was weird, because normally I'd feel like I had a huge block of time in front of me (in theory, "relaxing"), so I could do whatever I wanted. But the catch was that I actually wouldn't do them! I'd procrastinate, and feel like I wasn't using the time "best" way. Last night was so different, and I felt really energized this morning.

What's the takeaway? I don't know yet. Maybe I'll try to do more. It was fun.

Honestly I think it's neurochemistry.

Things cause stress. Stress hormones float around in your brain "motivating" you. This isn't real motivation, it's stress-based motivation.

Exercise in my experience is the best cure to this stress condition. Unfortunately exercise tends to leave you tired. The other things that can help it pass are pleasurable, simple things. Video games, TV, reading a book you've read before, socializing in a comfortable environment. The exercise seems to remove that stress, while the rest just helps you not accumulate it while you take your mind off of other things.

It's not until that stress has passed that you get the clear head that lets you want to do something creative.

In the future, maybe when you feel that you aren't being creative, instead of trying to do more, just try to exercise, have a glass of wine, play some video games, and see if it happens again. Maybe go to bed early.

I think momentum plays a big part. That goes both ways in creative pursuits of getting things "done" or at least moving forward on projects, as well as stagnating.

The more time you "I'll do it later" on something, the easier it becomes, etc.

The book "Art of War" while some "hippie'esque"'ness breaks down "resistance" to getting to creative pursuits.

I think you might mean "The War of Art," which is a great motivational book. The "Art of War" is good too, but would be tough to classify as "hippie'esque."

I think it is especially this. There's a reason for the thought that the best person to ask for help or a favor is a busy person, as they are more likely to reliably do it if they say yes (and often they do, just as much as less busy people).

I've experienced this quite often myself. I remember a period when I was particularly productive and creative, but also very busy two bachelors and three side-jobs.

I have noticed the same. Then I remembered the internet makes my day feel like running with a parachute.

Sure, I could just get up and go make lunch when I'm hungry. But I could also just refresh HN first. I think it takes a second, it actually takes 10 minutes. Especially if I reply to something.

Sure I could just get home from exercise and start working. But I can also check out imgur and twitter first. I feel liek it takes 5 minutes, but it's actually half an hour.

I have all this leisure time that I am being leisurely, but it doesn't feel leisurely. It feels like a rush to quickly pack more stuff in between work.

>>I have all this leisure time that I am being leisurely, but it doesn't feel leisurely.

This happens to me too.

I wonder its because we are using the same tools for work and leisure. I would describe leisure as going out and playing a sport, or playing a musical instrument, or <add non computer hobby here>.

I am now thinking we are confused between leisure and procrastination.

> I am now thinking we are confused between leisure and procrastination.

It's even simpler than that. We're addicted to the instant gratification of easily digestible information packets. Humans like to be informed and we innately think this is valuable, even when it isn't.

Your last sentence is on the money, and the reason people "enjoy" using Facebook.

We're addicted to the applications that were designed like VLTs. Practically every application feeds into the animalistic trigger, action, reward habit loop in order to retain users.

Advertising and sites that sell user data attain value through eyeballs. It doesn't matter whether those eyeballs are glazed over, sad, and lonely.

It actually helps if those eyeballs are sad and lonely, since sad and lonely people frequently buy stuff in the hopes that it will either make them less sad and less lonely, or make it easier for them to cope with their sad loneliness.

>the internet makes my day feel like running with a parachute

this phrase gets you an upvote. thank you! :-)

Especially considering he replied to "parasight".

I'm beginning to think this is the problem of our time. We have the combined resources to solve any and all problems, but generally solve none of them, and the predicament spans individuals to governments. There is no readily apparent solution, because if there was, it would already be happening (is there a scientific term for that?)

The book The Harried Leisure Class (http://www.amazon.com/Harried-Leisure-Staffan-Burenstam-Lind...) suggests an interesting explanation for this.

thanks, I just found it in a library. Yes, a real library!

Might that simply be because there's more things you want to do? Isn't this a basic psychological tendency, to want more and more when you have more?

Really, just prioritize what you want to do, rather than just doing it in the moment. You'll limit yourself this way to the cool stuff and still have time for doing nothing. But the "do nothing" time has to be made a priority, rather than being what's left over. If you have to, schedule the do-nothing time. It's incredibly refreshing and balancing.

And why is it we all seem to spend the majority of our time doing things for others? Surely there must be a net equality to this?

"If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment."

What is "obvious" to Bertrand Russell is bad economics.

When the peasant puts his money in a stocking, he causes a slight deflation, so prices decrease, which increases the value of everyone else's money. So everyone else effectively has more to spend, if they want to.

However, everyone else would be prudent to assume that the peasant will eventually spend his money, which will correspondingly cause prices to rise again.

It might seem that an earlier gain is offset by a later loss.

But, those who benefit from the slight deflation can choose to invest the increased value of their monetary holdings into industry. At a later time, when the peasant decides to spend his money, the products of that industry will be ready for purchase.

Thus, with nothing more than surplus cash and a stocking, the peasant has driven investment in industry, productive employment, and long-term growth in the wealth of society, the benefits of which he has foregone since he chose not to seek a return of interest on his savings.

Keep in mind this was 1932 when there was the gold standard. Inflation was more volatile then and was -10% (minus!) according to http://www.rateinflation.com/inflation-rate/usa-historical-i...

That's not how deflation works. If it was, it would be far less painful.

I have to say there's a good chance that society is already moving toward Russell's ideal.

If you just look at accelerators like YCombinator, you'll see that two successful startups (Dropbox and AirBnb) are by-and-large paying for the investment of the other several hundred startups several times over.

So when will we see it going to the next level? Gather a bunch of people together, using whatever criteria you see fit, and tell them to do whatever they want. Pay for their room and board, and see what is produced from their complete leisure time. If the produce of that investment was one of the individuals simply having an idea on the scale of something like "Democracy" or "Altruism", wouldn't it be completely worth it if the other individuals never did anything more than eat, sleep, and play video games?

We called those "housing projects" and they were not exactly a paradise to live in. Superficially need some minimal level of education/civilization. Which merely excludes those bored by formal education, most of whom are idiots and a small fraction of them are geniuses. For lack of a better idea you could use some weighted GPA/IQ/GRE/SAT/ACT score system. Assuming the smartest people are those who come up with the best ideas. It does seem that to spread an idea you need a smart dude but a think tank should hire marketing people for that? Perhaps a lotto would work just as well for selection. A lotto instead of elections would likely give us a superior government, perhaps it would give us superior ideas on average.

Another interesting example is the Institute for Advanced Studies nearby Princeton, I think. You might want to examine whats been produced there.

Surely YCombinator and startup culture is the antithesis of what Russell is talking about as being desirable? The legions of burned out coders would probably not equate crunch time with leisure time.

Of a similar thinking is, I suppose, "The Right to Be Lazy" by Paul Lafargue.

I read it some time ago and if I remember correctly he believed that there isn't/wasn't any need to work more than 3 hours a day because of the technological advances of the time (and to think this was in 1883!)

After a quick search I found it is available online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lafargue/1883/lazy/

"Quitting the Paint Factory" is another good essay on the theme but is marred by an atopical discussion of George Bush.


Trivia: Lafargue was Marx's daughter's husband.

Trivia: And one of the people Marx was referring to when he said that if they are Marxists then "what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist."

There is this thing about ancient China: each son, when his father died, had to mourn for three years. Yes, three years. And it meant stopping your official occupation, e.g. official employment. (This didn't apply to the peasant).

Result: most of the great products of Chinese culture are a direct consequence of this forced idleness.

Here's something sort of related in Deuteronomy 24:5 - If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married

How much of the rest of the Bible came out of obeying that law, I wonder?

Could you provide a source for this conclusion? I'm interested in the idea, but can't find anything on it.

It has been mentioned in Essays on China by Simon Leys (I read it in French).

> If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Notwithstanding that small matter of formally defining the logical foundations of all mathematics.

Well, having a good bash at that particular problem. Not sure if Russell and Whitehead actually succeeded.

"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid."

I've always liked that quote.

How does programming fit into this? It feels a bit in-between. On the one hand, you tell the computer what to do, in a way that feels similar to Type 2; on the other hand, you actually have to do the work of programming, which feels much like Type 1, except you're not moving physical matter around, but stuff in 'concept space'.

In all seriousness, I've long thought of what I do as moving electrons around, getting pits onto CDs in the right place, things like that. Whatever I do in, say, C++-land, is a means to those ends. An intermediate step. I arrived at that way of thinking after trying to define 'work', and deciding that it always consists of moving matter around (transporting it, putting it into a desired configuration).

Interesting conclusion. However, notice that most of the energy (in thermodynamical sense) in this "work" is not spent on moving electrons in the computer around, nor even in the C++-land, but in concept-space. We do our work by building castles in the air out of abstract mental structures, and only then we formalize it in code that moves electrons around.

When I look at the end results of work, I come to the same conclusion that indeed it ultimately consists of reconfiguring matter. That's what we need to do to reach whatever goals we have. Maybe the conceptspace work maps to the levels of intricacy of the end-result matter configuration, i.e. the more complex, precise thing you want to get, the more energy you need to expend on thinking rather than arranging atoms. It's easier to move a ton of bricks from one place to another than to design a microprocessor.

So I guess that ultimately I agree with your comment.

(disclaimer: writing this after two beers)

I disagree. What programming is doing is "telling [something] what to do." The difference is that instead of telling people what to do, we are telling inanimate idiots what to do, and therefore it is not necessarily pleasant, and highly pedantic.

The output of a programmer is the output of their mind, not of their muscles. I've stacked boxes in a warehouse and that sort of work is altogether different from telling transistors when to output a high voltage instead of a low voltage, which is fundamentally what we are doing when we are programming.

third, telling computers what to do, which is partly unpleasant but highly paid.

Actually, Gödel proved that no such foundation exists.

Gödel proved that the foundation can't be complete (without being inconsistent), but it can still be useful.

Which is quite significant I would say. Suddenly we can no longer talk about what is objectively true and false, only what is subjectively useful. That last sentence is of course also neither objectively true nor false, just like this one. See it's a mess :)

Gödel's incompleteness theorem does not imply that NOTHING can be objectively true or false.

It really depends on what is meant by "objectively true or false".

You're right that some statements within a formal system are true or false.

However, the theorem does imply that the behavior of the "world out there" (and any explanation of it) is either contradictory or not following a fixed set of rules.

So yes, we can state something to be "objectively" true or false but only if we're willing to use a contradictory explanation - which we usually are in the name of usefulness, not in the name of "absolute objective truth".

There is a great deal of anarchist and libertarian communist literature critiquing the modern concept of work, notably Russian anarchist Kropotkin's book 'the conquest of bread' originally written in around 1906. http://libcom.org/library/the-conquest-of-bread-peter-kropot...

Anyone looking for more praise of idleness should look into the works of Tom Hodgkinson. How to Be Idle is particularly brilliant.

Here's the 5 minute summary: http://www.wikisummaries.org/How_To_Be_Idle

The irony of only having time to read a Cliff's Notes version of a book called "How To Be Idle" is truly sublime.

This book is less about being a guide and more about learning how to experience the world at a human speed. The chapters are just guide-points or koans.

I think that book ruined my life, albeit in a very enjoyable manner.

I was half through and I suddenly had a click in my head, thought this was written by pg.

Same clean and efficient style, same nakedness without any philosophical scaffolding, while being bullet tracing a straight line through many philosophical stand points.

Two very clairvoyant minds. Let's go back reading.

I wonder how much Mr. Russel was idle himself having written on average 2 books per year throughout his life and significantly contributing on so many levels.

On the same note I would like to add another related and a great article: The Quality of life http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2013/07/31/the-quality-of-life/

I recently stumbled upon a great graphic comic (mostly factual) about Betrand Russell and his life. I'd highly recommend it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logicomix

I wonder what Bertrand Russell would say about Undercover Cop. If only he were alive today and given the chance to produce his on reality tv show. I wonder what that would be like?

I notice that nobody has related this to the Swiss proposal to provide a basic income for all adults. If it works there, I wonder if other countries will move in that direction.

"...there is no reason to go on being foolish forever."

Except there are...

Reasons that are not ours, but for those who control us.

I'm way too lazy while idling to read this. tl;dr?

As automation increases and we have machines do most of our work. We don't seem to put that saved time into leisure. We rather seem to use that saved time to do more work.

Humans aren't too happy with every one getting the same, even if that is sufficient for every one's sustenance. We inevitable use our time to buy things that distinguish us from other fellow humans.

The theme was also propagated in the novel 1984,concept of equality among humans was/is going to be a big disaster.

From what I recall of the Party in 1984 (at least the Inner Party) they had no illusions about them holding power to benefit anyone else:

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."

[NB I find the natural antidote to this to be the speech from the end of The Great Dictator http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IvPIWzQcUY]

The problem with 'holding power' is you also need submission from the masses or at least need to keep them in order.

There is never ever going to be a period of time in the human history, there was none in the past, nor will there be in the future where we shall attain peaceful uniform equality among humans. The very concept is against our very internal wiring. Equality means, every one gets the same regardless of their efforts in getting it. This is a very strange concept, and the human understanding of motivation rejects it. Those who contribute more, always assume they need to get proportional to their effort(which is justice), those who contribute less or nothing at all feel they are entitled to get the same as everyone because they think equality is justice.

Net result? The hard working no longer feel motivated to contribute, or worse move else where where they feel they will better rewarded. The situation in the system worsens with no one building anything of real value, while expecting to get the same. That's how socialists and communists systems across the world have collapsed over time.

Secondly, war will be perpetual state in which humans will live for many ages to come. In fact this too was discussed in pretty detail in 1984. War is basically an activity that destroys human effort, so that there is room to create more and more of it. That will ultimately be the only way in which more goods can be created and consumed.

Unless of course in the far future we colonize universe to an extent there is far too much space for us to interfere. Just like the very very early humans on earth.

"There is never ever going to be a period of time in the human history, there was none in the past, nor will there be in the future where we shall attain peaceful uniform equality among humans"

This is simply not true. Hunter-gatherer societies are typically egalitarian, and our species has subsisted by hunting and gathering for the vast majority of its existence.

In the tribe there was inequality of status (eg best hunters) and mate choice.

Between tribes there was inequality of where to live, or living at all due to border clashes, raids etc

This really isn't true on a wide scale. There are exceptions but most hunter-gathers tend to be very egalitarian. There were no permanent leaders, and everyone worked together as a team.

The best part about hunter-gather lifestyle was there was tons of free time.

Personally, I rather like this take on equality:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

There is never ever going to be a period of time in the human history, there was none in the past, nor will there be in the future where we shall attain peaceful uniform equality among humans. The very concept is against our very internal wiring. Equality means, every one gets the same regardless of their efforts in getting it. This is a very strange concept, and the human understanding of motivation rejects it.

My crystal ball is probably murkier than yours but I would disagree with the assertion that that humans will never achieve equality as you define it. All our current systems of economics and power are predicated on the belief that "resources" are limited and must therefore be allocated (owned, shared, distributed, exchanged) on the basis of scarcity. In such a system, the question of distribution becomes critical; the models been some combinations of "according to effort" or "according to need". However in a "post-scarcity" environment (free or cheap energy, for example) in which the belief is no longer true, other models of distribution become possible. It's far fetched, but I wouldn't bet against it. Just think of the various social, political, economic and technological changes over the past few hundred years.

>>However in a "post-scarcity" environment

Scarcity of which commodity? The western civilization is already at a point where food and clothes aren't even a problem. Yet the debates about rich and poor are common.

Problem isn't the lack of things. The problem is the people thinking that rewards must go in proportion to efforts. That will never change.

Tomorrow if every one were to get free food, clothes and a home to leave. There will still be arguments of inequality as to why its unfair the rich can drive a Ferrari while the poor can't.

>>However in a "post-scarcity" environment >>> Scarcity of which commodity?

Scarcity of materials and energy, mostly.

>>> The western civilization is already at a point where food and clothes aren't even a problem. Yet the debates about rich and poor are common.

You are correct that the segment of the population that does not need to worry about food and shelter is much higher than before, but we're not there yet: the "west" is generously about 15% of the world's population.

Unfortunately, discussions of possible futures tend to be rooted in current thinking and assumptions (mostly by necessity); by our current thinking, yes, people would get "free food, clothes and a home" but imagine if those things were as available as the air we breath. We neither talk about "free air" nor argue about its unequal distribution. In fact, we complain when our air is polluted.

> Hunger in America exists for over 50 million people. That is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population – including more than 1 in 5 children.


>The theme was also propagated in the novel 1984,concept of equality among humans was/is going to be a big disaster.

Not at all. If you want to mention an anti-egalitarian novel, Harrison Bergeron is probably the one to pick.

Orwell was very definitely big on equality and socialism - In one of his essays, circa World War 2, he even proposed a maximum wage!

1984 was largely a critique of Stalinist totalitarianism (and post-war British austerity) rather than a criticism of socialism itself. In fact, one of his problems with Stalin (as well as the previously-mentioned totalitarianism) was that Stalin was a counterrevolutionary who crushed the egalitarian revolution going on in Spain during the Civil war - Orwell was fighting alongside a Trotskyite militia at the time and recounted his ideas in Homage to Catalonia. Orwell was to the left of Stalin, if anything.

Orwell's socialism is certainitely the main thread throughout all of his work, but unfortunately his two most famous works - Animal Farm and 1984 - because they happen to be attacks on the Soviet Communist Party, are often erroneously read as attacks on socialism.

Orwell's main target seemed to be those who "corrupted" what he felt were the originally good ideas/intentions of socialism (Stalin in particular), with the result that people were left worse off (or, at best, no better) afterwards than they had been before socialism.

Whether such "corruption" is inevitable or not... given his other writings, Orwell would have said no, but readers can have their own opinions.

> Humans aren't too happy with every one getting the same. > We inevitable use our time to buy things that distinguish us from other fellow humans.

IMHO this is cultural, not biological phenomenon. In developed countries, especially US, people are pretty much being brainwashed to 'think different and buy X'.

Yes, inequality is inevitable to some extent, however it is often artificially promoted for its own sake.

there's a great book in the same vein, How to be Idle. http://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Idle-Manifesto-ebook/dp/B00DB3F...

"borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present"

and now for something completely different http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k799LiPqu2g [Bertie in Bollywood]

He also wrote "Conquest of Happiness".

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. - Bertrand Russell


>The number one economic fallacy is this: he claims that doing a job, all other things being equal, removes bread from someone elses mouth. This is 100% false.

Russell agrees with you, through the medium of sarcasm and reductio ad absurdum:

>If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread.

He prefixes citing the argument with:

>Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept.

in case you don't get the sarcasm.

No. He says he 'cannot accept' that argument:

'Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept.'

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