Socrates, who according to Plato argued around 400BCE that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” might have expected those of us lucky enough to have escaped the restrictions of a subsistence economy (that is, a billion or two people) to enjoy their wealth by spending more time contemplating and philosophising. Karl Marx wrote very little about what a communist society would look like, other than “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (which is pretty much how the British National Health Service works). But he did talk, in The German Ideology (1846) of how the absence of the grinding specialisation of capitalism would allow people ” to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic”. This suggests a rich and varied life, including learned conversation. And Keynes, who very much enjoyed the good life and earnestly hoped that economic success would allow many others to also, wrote in Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1936) of a time “when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.” He had in mind stimulating conversation, the contemplation of beauty, art, theatre and other Bloomsbury activities (Keynes founded the Arts Theatre in Cambridge).
All would therefore be a little disappointed to learn that in early 21st century civilisation, the period of greatest human economic and technological achievement, we celebrate our success by sending funny pictures of cats over the internet. My contribution to this activity is to draw your attention to this article, which has the pedigree of being published in the distinguished US journal Foreign Policy. It’s called “14 Hairless Cats that Look like Vladimir Putin“.