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The Age of Abundance is Over... So How do We Prepare?
Which lessons from the ancient world should we heed?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron, issued a somber warning that the ‘end of abundance’ is over:
“What we are currently living through is a kind of major tipping point or a great upheaval … we are living the end of what could have seemed an era of abundance … the end of the abundance of products of technologies that seemed always available … the end of the abundance of land and materials including water,”
Whether he is right or wrong, whether the situation in Europe (and specifically in this case France) is applicable elsewhere, and the degree to which this abundance is ending, is not the discussion. While it is an important line of enquiry and may perhaps align with anecdotal experience of supply line disruptions and previously unfelt stock depletion, there is another, more general, more important, question we should always ask.
What would happen if we were suddenly without?
The Stoics would call this negative visualization, a tactic for reminding oneself to be grateful... Others might see it as an essential device for planning for the unplannable, anticipating black swans and being prepared for the inevitable rainy day .... Others still may feel it's a panic inducing question, one they’d rather avoid all together.
The difficult thing is... whether you avoid it or not, at one point or another, something will happen.
In the words of the French Algerian philosopher (and great lover of the classics), Albert Camus:
“There have been many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.”- La Peste | The Plague
And so as the world undergoes massive changes, from pestilence and invasions, to rising inflation and lower standards of living, two things stick out:
Perhaps we never fully appreciated how much we have had and...
History is replete with so many examples of this sudden (or not so sudden) shift in fortune.
So with those two items firmly implanted in the mind, what past lessons should we be revising to prepare? What philosophies can help us, physically, mentally, spiritually?
If the age of abundance is really over, how should we prepare for what comes next? Which lessons from the ancient world should we heed?
As always, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email. I’ll post your responses next week. In the meantime, you can enjoy this week’s Monday Mailbag below, “Can a Lie Ever be Noble?”... we had so many submissions, we could only share a mere smattering of the responses, but you will definitely find some thought-provoking ideas below worth contemplating…
All the best,
Founder and Director
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Re: Noble Lies
(Welcome back, Anya. I trust that all is well with you and yours.)
‘Noble lies’ is an oxymoronic figure of speech and non-existent—it cannot exist in real life. i.e. Noble is used to signify heredity of high social class and high moral principles: lies by definition represent low class and low/despicable moral principles.
But should we adopt Plato’s well-intended concept that at times lies can be for a greater good? No! No! No!
Any life worth living is irreparably damaged by any intentional lying. I remember when I told my first lie to my mother: my virginity of truthfulness was lost, stupidly thrown away, never to be reclaimed in this lifetime. Lies damage both the purveyor and the recipient beyond the repair of their humanity and relationship.
I vowed, at that moment, when I was exposed to my mother’s pained look of disappointment to never lie, again. My soul still shows the scars of that damage to my ego as I relate it to you. Yet, my life, with the responsibilities and consequential lumps of telling the truth, has been worth living.
I may not be a virgin of truth, but I am not a whore of lying.
Re: Noble Lie
I would say that if there is a noble lie out there today, I can’t find it.
We are in the Information Age. It’s still easy to perpetuate partisan propaganda, but extremely difficult to think of a noble lie that would last. In addition, I object to the whole concept of a “noble lie.” If the only way to accomplish something is by lying, you should really step back and ask yourself if you’ve corrupted your achievement by doing so.
I certainly can’t think of a lie that makes a society more just. Every example I can think of in which nearly an entire society has been convinced of a lie is connected to the most brutal and unjust societies I know.
Thanks for your website! Just discovered it today. Seems great!
Re: Noble Lies
Religions are all perfect examples of noble lies.
Re: Noble Lies
This comes from a 90 year old who has been a researcher for about 70 years. While the first thought about a lie may be to allow someone to feel better, avoid conflict, etc., the bottom line is always negative. So, no, there is no noble lie.
Re: Noble Lie
Hello Anya, on Plato's Noble Lie .......
Certainly the idea of a Noble Lie for the greater Good exists today, and is applied by politicians and journalists all the time. But they have not read Plato well. For Plato, the Noble Lie is something special. It is allowed only to philosopher kings who are godlike, yes: godlike by their philosophical achievements. And the Noble Lie is strictly bound to a really noble purpose. It is safe to say that most lies issued by our politicians and journalists today do not fulfill the requirement.
Plato would be horrified about their idea of his Noble Lie. Plato would tell them to have a look at the "collateral damages" of their lies: They are huge! This is what most Plato interpreters do not realize: Plato was very eager to be truthful. The idea of a Plato who easily fabricated lies and untrue myths is fundamentally wrong. In addition to that, there is the wrong idea of the 19th century that Plato's works would be full of irony. Malicious irony, sarcastic irony. Also this proved to be wrong. These are readings of Plato reflecting our times, not his times. Simply put, most people read Plato the pseudoscientific way. They read what they want to read, not what is really written, under the perspective of the historical context.
With best regards
Thorwald C. F.
Re: Noble Lie
This is the fundamental problem with a representative democracy. Are we prepared to delegate to others the power to tell us only what THEY consider to be for our own good? And the power to decide on our behalf what is truth and what is "disinformation"? Personally I want to be able to make up my own mind, based on ALL the available information. So for me, no falsehood can be noble, even if it's deemed for the greater good.
However, recent events have shown us that this view is now in a minority. It seems that most of our fellow citizens like the comfort of having someone else think for them, so they don't have to make any difficult decisions, they just follow instructions.
For Nassim Taleb, the notion of True and False is less important in human decision-making than the consequences (risks/rewards) of those decisions. Maybe we should focus on that concept, rather than a futile search for the absolute Truth.
Re: Noble Lie
In regard to the Noble Lie, when it comes down to it, I don’t think people like to be lied to for any reason. People don’t like to be told what their best interests are from someone who isn’t them. Even if the lie is actually noble, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and all of that. People like to be informed and they like to make decisions for themselves on what to do and what to believe and how to feel, their susceptibility to falsehoods aside.
In a post-Pentagon Papers world, where trust in the government has been deteriorating, I think for many of us in my generation and younger (xennials and younger), our baseline already is that we’re being lied to and we seek out information to verify or disprove what we’re being told. In the current age of mis- and disinformation, we’re doubly skeptical of what we’re getting. I think there are lies that can be noble on a very small, individual scale. But at a higher level, a lie is ultimately the removal of autonomy, a removal of trust that we are fully functioning human beings capable of making the best decisions for ourselves. The concept of nobleness is an anesthetic at best.
Re: Noble Lie
The answers to these questions bloom with the union of the words noble and lie. Typically, we take the word noble to mean possessing a quality of moral or ethical superiority, differentiated by what we mean when we say, “She made a noble effort” or, “The nobles of the realm demand the truth.” Once we agree on this first definition, the seed is sown. The moment we attach the word lie to the word noble we create a flower of contradiction, a word synonymous with paradox.
Avid readers of the classics do not fear paradox, no matter how hard Zeno tried, for as Heraclitus taught us, “the road up and the road down are the same.” It is here, in paradox, that the noble lie flourishes.
Simply put: Truth lies in paradox.
Well, a certain kind of truth anyway. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of truth: Absolute, relative, and paradoxical. Paradoxical truth is necessary for the resolution and perpetuation of absolute truth; relative truths are the effluvia generated by the interaction of absolute and paradoxical truth.
The noble lie is an example of enantiodromia in action. Appropriately, the word is ancient Greek, from enantios – opposite and dromos – running course. Here again, Heraclitus is the inspiration and founder for what the Romans came to call coincidentia oppositorum, the unity of opposites. Perhaps nowhere else does the unity of opposites display itself more prominently than in the realm of politics.
The important thing to remember about enantiodromia is that it is a process; its shape and pattern are recognizable. Its salient tenet is thus – when a thing reaches its extreme it transforms into its opposite. Few things are more extreme in collective human endeavor than an empire. Empires are patterns as well, a fact well known to Marcus Aurelius (the last of the “five good emperors”) – “Look back over the past, with its rising and falling empires, and you too can see the future.”
So can any falsehood be noble? Is it not true that great good often first passes through the arch of evil? Is its opposite, that great evil often first passes through the arch of good, also true? William Blake tells us we know when we have encountered a profound truth when its opposite is also true. Is this not the definition of paradoxical truth? The noble lie is noble on the obverse and ignoble on the reverse. The curse of the noble lie is not knowing which side of the coin will show itself after the toss. Therefore, even if an empire (or country, state, city – hell, school board) chooses to employ it out of a sincere effort to serve “the greater good”, that greater good is only ever served half of the time. Such are the vagaries of human endeavor, every problem carries the seed of its solution and every solution carries the seed of the next problem.
It would be comforting to think we can do away with the noble lie but we cannot. We can, however, choose to use it only by extreme necessity.
Truth lies in paradox.
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