How should people live?
Rob Riemen is the Founder, President, and CEO of the Nexus Institute, a leading international center for intellectual reflection to inspire the Western cultural and philosophical debate. Mr. Riemen is also the editor of the essay journal "Nexus."
He is the author of Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal (2008), which has been translated into eighteen languages, and the new international bestseller To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism (2018)
Question: How should people live?
Rob Riemen: Imagine . . . Imagine that everybody, at least to a certain level, will have the guts to say look. This is my life. Probably not that long. No guarantee that I will become 80 or whatever, not even to mention my health. I don’t . . . I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want it that others are gonna tell me what I have to do – whether it’s my family-in-law, or my . . . I don’t want to do that. I want to live my life, and I want to live it in such a way that I can at least give it a certain meaning. Or as Americans would say, that I can make a difference. Then the very first thing to be done is that whatever you do . . . whatever you do, whether you are a translator; or whether you are a nurse; or whether you are working in politics or whatever; that you do it just very, very well. And that you refuse to do things on the automatic pilot, or because he or she told me. That’s all nonsense, and we all know it. Because we also know that if this is the kind of life you have to live, you’re not living a life. You’re just trying to earn some money; trying to get over this as soon as possible and then move on or whatsoever. So again I realize that I talk about a kind of privileged position. But yet . . . But even for being a student. When you are a student you don’t accept crap. You don’t accept, you know, that you only get a PowerPoint presentation or something like that. I mean you only want to have the real things because you realize that you are a privileged person that you can go to this college or this university. And when you are working in a publishing house, you only publish the real books. And when you are a journalist, you only write about real things and try to present the facts. And you don’t give up to this pressure of . . . Because again it is quite simple. It’s quite simple. I mean there isn’t . . . It’s a big mess of, you know, why to say to people if we don’t do this, then you will . . . But grass roots. I mean again you know Americans are very good today, but this whole grass roots . . . Look. Let me give a certain optimistic tone here as well. One of my dearest friends is somebody I deeply, deeply admire. It was the youngest daughter of Thomas Mann. Thomas Mann was probably not a very good father. Of the four children . . . Of the six children, four committed suicide. That’s a bad track record, right? But his two sisters also committed suicide. It was in their genes. Elizabeth survived also because she escaped from the amazing family. And what she did together with Robert Hutchins, the famous president of Chicago University Presses, she became the grandmother of the environmental movement in Europe and here in America. She was the grandmother at the United Nations who organized that there would be a law for the oceans; that the oceans are not, you know, private part of a certain economy, but it’s a general responsibility of all nations. Now if you look at what happened in the ‘70s to ___________ trying to push the environmental agenda . . . As I said, Al Gore who is doing great things, but he’s following the footsteps of my friend, Elizabeth ___________. If you see what’s happening right now, yes, still many things to be done. But within half a century . . . within half a century the environmental movement created miracles . . . created . . . because the awareness is there. Now if we can do it on the level of environmental issues, we can also do it on the level of, you know, of our culture and our civilization. So I mean it is possible. Nobody is gonna tell me that it’s not possible. The proof is already there. Civil Rights Movement, the same. They did it. They did it. I mean it’s not that long ago that it was slavery in America. They did it. Nobody can do . . . It’s unacceptable now. So we should try to . . . From every side, if you say okay I will . . . I live my life. I will not compromise. I want to do the right things, and that’s what we gotta do. And if I do it I want to do it in right way. Imagine . . . I mean imagine, John Lennon. But imagine if next week all television stations only devote their time to real issues; cut the crap. Okay. We will have much more time to read because there will be much less television, but the television left will be very interesting.
Question: What question should people ask themselves?
Rob Riemen: Oh that’s a very simple one. It’s the question of Socrates, to which he devoted his life, and for which he was put to death at a trial because it was too troublesome a question for his fellow citizens in Athens. And that is the question, “What is the right way to live?”
Recorded on: 10/3/07
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Deciding how we ought to live is one of the greatest challenges of being alive. Ask yourself these important questions to gain clarity, with philosopher Peter Singer.
- Philosopher Peter Singer cites his top three ethical issues in the world today as: extreme poverty; climate change, which is related to poverty; and the way humans treat animals.
- Any rational being should be interested in trying to understand how they ought to live, and whether they are doing things that are right or wrong. Singer suggests asking yourself important questions. When it comes to extreme poverty, ask: "Is it okay for me just to be living my life in my society and not doing anything for people who, through no fault of their own, are living in extreme poverty?"
- For climate change, ask how you can put pressure on political leaders to take serious steps to prevent a climate change catastrophe that will disproportionately affect the poor. When it comes to animal cruelty, ask: "Am I complicit in the suffering that's being inflicted on animals, especially in factory farms but in other forms of farming as well? Am I complicit in that when I buy those products? And, if so, does that mean that I need to stop buying them?"