Welcome to Finance and Fury. I’d like to start a serious conversation about the individual self and our drive for meaning within society.

This relates to economics and by extension, personal finance – as economics focuses on how the individual incentives drive decision making – all with the aim to maximise our utility – i.e. gain the maximum benefit – which could mean we driven by money, freedom, or some other purpose – What drives the way that we act? – so in this episode, we will be adding a philosophical element to this topic – this episode isn’t about the property or share market, so if that is why you tune in – feel free to not listen – the purpose of this episode is more abstract – and aims to help those who want to help themselves through making sense of the current state of the world and prospering through this.

To do this – we will draw on some of the teaching of the greatest philosophers through history – like John Locke, Carl Jung, and Viktor Frankel to name a few – this will be a bit of a longer episode – as there is a lot to unpack

If you are still with us – To start with, I am going to read a passage from Carl Jung’s book, The Undiscovered Self – 1958 – then we will break this down to unpack the individual in relation to society and the state

  1. “Instead of the concrete individual, you have the names of organizations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the State as the principle of political reality. The moral responsibility of the individual is then inevitably replaced by the policy of the State. Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you have public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in the individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed, and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses. The rulers, in their turn, are just as much social units as the ruled, and are distinguished only by the fact they are specialized mouthpieces of State doctrine. They do not need to be personalities capable of judgment, but thoroughgoing specialists who are unusable outside their line of business. State policy decides what shall be taught and studied.”
  2. There is so much to unpack in this one paragraph alone –
    1. The first few lines look at once individual responsibility has been replaced by the policy of a Government – the differences of the individual are no longer celebrated in society – it is used to create an us versus them mentality – when a government have two primary parties, politics becomes a sceptical, like a game of rugby, AFL, cricket, NFL – there are two teams competing for the win – and each side has their supporters – and each side has some level of animosity towards the other – often not much, but you can see this spill over – like in some south American football (i.e. soccer) games
    2. Once we get to this point – there is no need to focus on the individuals rights or happiness – as we are supporting a team – “goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in the individual development but in the policy of the State” – therefore, the state (or government) tries to replace your own individual goals with public policy – in a utilitarian way – this then leads into the state focusing on their own definition of public welfare and the raising of the living standard – which requires increased authority of the state
      1. The desire to increase public welfare and raise the living standard is a noble goal – but unfortunately centralised powers have a hard time actually achieving this goal – and throughout human history – I cannot find any examples where the state, when given extreme powers to achieve this goal, have been able to deliver in the long term – otherwise the USSR, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela and the list goes on, would have been able to economically outperform countries with less centralised state control – and provide their populations with higher living standards
        1. This ties back to the statement “the policy of the State, which thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself” – the state tells you how you should live in an abstract idea – which through social reinforcement leads to a trend, where public consciousness starts to sway towards this end – this is where sentiments such as eat the rich come from
      2. Remember – the economy is the sum of our individual economic output – so the more power the individual has to better their lives, the better the society and at large the economy become – plus, one single policy cannot be utilitarian by definition, as every individual has different goals and desires, so there is no one size fits all style of policy making
    3. Jung’s insights here do seem profound – given this book was written in the 50s – but in reality, we as humans have not changed in this time period – and the same governmental forces existed throughout Jung’s life – Remember – people were drafted to go half around the world to fight wars in WW1, WW2, Korean and Vietnam wars – over 16m men were drafted in the US alone in these wars
      1. We actually have access to more information than ever – through the internet and platforms like youtube – in response – governments and state media needs to try even harder to shut down any alternative information
      2. But just like a sports team – people choose who to believe, follow and root for
    4. The one major difference between Society now compared to a few decades ago – we have legislation on legislation – which has created a more complex society and economy – this legislation has had one demonstrable outcome – increased government control through more and more laws – there was a book written over a decade ago – Three felonies a day – which covers people unknowing breaking laws – the fact that the average person can break three laws every day and not realise this is a sign of the over legislation of society
    5. Does any of this really matter? Yes and no
      1. Yes – these laws that politicians put in place are the framework in which we live – and if you put all of your hopes into the state solving your problems, you might be less likely to take agency over your own life – to find your purpose and solve your own problems
      2. No – Because we can try our best to work withing that framework – the more the overreach of the state – the more it just requires additional effort to overcome the laws – legally to prosper – but the important thing is to at least retain some semblance of freedom to make choices that can benefit ourselves –
      3. What becomes the issue here is the ability to make choices all depend on rights
      4. If society reaches a point where there is a loss of the induvial self – and loss of the individual rights – then what do we have as a society?

This is where we move on to John Locke – with the concepts of your rights – you might call the human rights, I prefer to think of them as natural rights

  1. Rights are a concept meant to help us define the ethical limits of human behaviour in society
    1. In other words – what types of interactions with other people are and are not acceptable?
  2. But rights are based around an individual and societal moral agency – if we are going to make any claims about what is right and wrong in society, the individual must be able to choose how to act – this is the very nature of free will – the individual should be allowed to act in their own best interest – as long as this does not infringe on another person – i.e. I cannot steal from you
    1. There is where the individual should be held accountable for their actions if it impacts on the rights over others
    2. This is the distinguishing factor between natural (aka negative rights) and positive rights – natural rights are those that protect the individual – nobody has the right to take your property, or coerce you into any decision – but positive rights by their definition require that you are infringing on the natural rights of someone else
  3. This is where the original concept of Rights was distinct from privileges or entitlements – it’s not about demanding free stuff at the other persons expense (which would be a positive rights) – it is about how we act to better our own situation in life and in response, how we expect others to act – positive rights are a relatively new concept which take away the agency of the individual – as positive rights need to be enforced by an expanding state – i.e. through legislation as enforcement
    1. At the very base of natural rights – We should all have the expectations to not be assaulted or murdered, or stolen from or enslaved by other individuals
      1. Also – we have the expectations to not be coerced by other people – or imprisoned without cause – in other words, we should be secure in our property rights and sovereign selves
      2. The corollary to all of this is the responsibility to uphold those same rights for everyone else – these are all the basis for natural rights –
    2. Functioning societies all over the world depend on people and institutions respecting individual rights – I did an episode a few weeks ago on freedoms – and how we have been lucky for quite some time – but when a state and by extension, the society is lead into not respecting individual rights – the more volatile society gets and the poorer the population becomes over time
  4. It comes back to moral agency and responsibility – rights holding agent is both capable of demanding their rights be respected – but also demonstrated the ability to respect those same rights in others
  5. This is something that every human can do – even if we don’t always do this – But Rights are specific to human beings – without the concept of the self and our natural rights, we are no different from animals
  6. Animals can’t have genuine rights – they are neither capable of respecting the rights of others – nor are they held personally accountable for their actions when they are in breach of another’s rights
    1. No polar bear or shark will ever be arrested or put on trial for murdering and eating a seal to survive
    2. No seagull will be put into a prison for sealing your chips at the beach – as this is the easiest way for them to find food – On top of this – they wouldn’t comprehend it if they were –
  7. As a society – we need to respect the moral agency of everyone – we sustain society through voluntary interactions – this is reduced at every stage when governments increase their control over our lives
  8. Imagine that we have a government that promises us that they will pay for our food and housing – in this situation we would want to have all the pros and none of the cons – live in a house that we choose and eat the food that we want – in reality this isn’t the case – as the government will only spend $100 per week to cover your housing and $50 to cover food costs
    1. Let’s say that we do get to spend all we went on housing and food at the tax payers expense – even though in reality this is never the case, as if nobody is working where does this tax based come from? – but let’s say in a hypothetical situation, we can live in a mansions and have all of our desires paid for – all of these pros can actually lead to some major cons for us as individuals – if life becomes so easy that you no longer need to stive for anything, or have a purpose to wake up every morning – essentially removing any meaning to your life, does this help or hinder you?
    2. It is hard to have any meaning in life if all your desires are now met – there will be outliers who still want to forge their own path – but this is likely a minority of the population at large
    3. In the situation where the government is in complete control – we often see populations become apatetic and drift into nihilism – this is a perfect situation for the totalitarian state
    4. The state can highjack our inbuilt desire to follow the path of least resistance – naturally we want to get what we want in the easiest way possible – without governments, this leads to innovation and an ingrained purpose to prosper on our own – but with governments – we can be provided what appears to be the easy way out – but if we always take the easy way out, does this make us stronger or devoid us of purpose?
  9. Without the right to make our own choices and have the freedom to fail – individual purpose can be diminished further

With this framework in mind – How do we find meaning in the worst of situation – Viktor Frankl’s philosophy of Logotherapy can help to answer this – he himself lived through a number of concentration camps under the Nazi, where he was separated from his wife where she died, plus his parents and brother – he came up with this theory in the camps where people could still find meaning and happiness –

  1. Logotherapy is based on the premise that the human person is motivated by a “will to meaning,” an inner pull to find a meaning in life. The following three principles are the basics of logotherapy:
    1. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
    2. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
    3. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.
  2. Frankl wrote extensively on discovering meaning – and the importance of suffering and sacrifice
    1. According to Frankl, “We can discover meaning in life in three different ways:
      1. by creating a work or doing a deed;
      2. by experiencing something or encountering someone;
  • by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”
  1. This is where finding work that you find fulfilling, which can also provide you a monetary compensation is important for two reasons – gives you purpose but also, the path to create your own financial freedom –
    1. By no means does this mean that life will be easy every day – this is against the point – the point is to find some purpose in life, whether this is doing a trade, or some service role in society which you can earn a living – then work towards your end goal of generating enough in material wealth to become self-sufficient – where you now have the choice to continue working – if it bring you fulfilment -then most people continue to work
  2. You can also find meaning through building strong relationships within your community
  3. If someone finds meaning through certain actions which are promoted by governments – where the government choose to use their final freedom
    1. i.e. things like universal basic income – the individuals attitude towards a certain situation can be coerced into agreeing with the government – then their individuality can be said to no longer exist, but simply follow the collective doctrine – but ironically at the same time, this individual will find meaning in this – even though this stance is antithetical to their own self interest in the long term –
  4. Frankl also noted the barriers to humanity’s quest for meaning in life. He warns against “…affluence, hedonism, and materialism…” – if someone is purely living for money, with no higher purpose of enjoyment of their job, providing for their family, or some other form of fulfilment in what they do, such as providing a public benefit, then the quest for meaning in life can be stunted
  5. This comes back to Jung – “Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you have public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed, and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.”
  1. Frankl observed that it may be psychologically damaging when a person’s search for meaning is blocked by governments, or even other people. Positive life purpose and meaning has either been associated with strong religious beliefs, membership in groups or a community, dedication to a cause, life values, as well as having clear goals.
    1. In this framework – maturity emphasizes a clear comprehension of your life’s purpose, having a direction to follow, and intentionality which contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful.

To give an example from your own personal situation – I have found a transition in my own life over the years – from being very materialistic and monetarily focused, to my family needs and community focused – strengthen relationships with neighbours and build a community

  1. I’ve been thinking about this over the past few years – if someone was living off the gird, fully self-sufficient, as well as being in a community of others – the government would need to really totalitarian to affect them – this is why I have been designing my own life in this way – to become more self-sufficient as possible – not reply on supply chains as much as possible – but this is hard – it is much easier to go to WOW or Coles to buy broccoli and sweet potato compared to growing this yourself –
    1. I know that it will take decades to build towards these goals, but that gives some long term purpose, something to work towards
  2. This is the beauty of this philosophy – everyone can come to their own conclusion – what is correct for you and what matters – it is all about finding your own path and purpose in life – I would recommend anyone interested read the works of Jung, Frankl and Locke

In summary –

  1. The point of this episode is to help find your own purpose in life – create your own leaning in life – build goals and desires – then use your ability as an individual to create your vision in life
  2. Find your own meaning – do not let others or the state dictate to you what you should do
  3. Don’t become nihilistic or let the state of the world get you down – if you are unhappy, explore these feelings and look at where you would like your life to go
    1. Come up with a game plan to achieve your ideal outcome

Thank you for listening to today’s episode. If you want to get in contact you can do so here: http://financeandfury.com.au/contact/

 

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