Retraining Our Desires: How to Be Happy in the Coming Robot Age

We will need a good dose of healthy stoicism if we are to survive in the world after work. 

We will need a good dose of healthy stoicism if we are to survive in the world after work. Luxury items will be significantly reduced in the world we’re imagining. Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca recommended that we adjust our desires to simple, reliable pleasures, like fresh water, decent bread, modest clothing, and good friends. Luxury pleasures are rare and unreliable so we suffer more when they fail to materialize.


But chocolate cake is delicious and diamonds are beautiful. When Plato sketched a Spartan lifestyle in the Republic, his friends accused him of designing a city for pigs not humans — and they demanded that he add spices and luxury to the imagined utopia. While I’m sensitive to this worry, I hasten to point out that many Americans are currently, and by their own initiative, downsizing their sense of the good life. The contemporary “tiny house movement” — which builds elegant housing around 1/10th the size of average homes — is already the kind of stoic adjustment that Americans will need to make when we’re all unemployed

When we’re all unemployed, we might reconnect with the people we have pushed to the margins of our work-dominated lives.

Refinement of social arts is also a crucial aspect of intangible culture. When I lived in China, I glimpsed a post-labor world. Since the 1950s, Chinese men have been able to retire at age 60 (sometimes 55) and women can retire at age 50. What do all these able-bodied pensioners do with their free time? They gather daily in the local parks — spending time together, trading stories, singing in impromptu choirs, dancing, smoking, playing musical instruments, doing calligraphy, drinking tea, and enjoying the rich social currency of friendship. They have adapted well to life after work. Their pleasures are cheaply bought, but richly savored.

When we’re all unemployed, we might reconnect with the people we have pushed to the margins of our work-dominated lives. We’ll need to cultivate the arts and rituals of friendship — “grooming” each other again, like our primate cousins, but with language and gossip, coffee, and wine. We will have to do more than press “like” buttons on our Facebook “friend” pages. 

--

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he is also Senior Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture. He is the author of ten books, including The Evolution of Mind and Against Fairness and writes regularly for The New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Skeptic magazine. Asma is also a blues/jazz musician who has played onstage with many musical artists, including Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy. His website is www.stephenasma.com.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less