A life of splendid uselessness is a life well lived

Joseph M Keegin in Psyche:

Great art and thought have always been motivated by something other than mere moneymaking, even if moneymaking happened somewhere along the way. But our culture of instrumentality has settled like a thick fog over the idea that some activities are worth pursuing simply because they share in the beautiful, the good, or the true. No amount of birdwatching will win a person the presidency or a Beverly Hills mansion; making music with friends will not cure cancer or establish a colony on Mars. But the real project of humanity – of understanding ourselves as human beings, making a good world to live in, and striving together toward mutual flourishing – depends paradoxically upon the continued pursuit of what Hitz calls ‘splendid uselessness’.

The culture of the 21st century – on an increasingly planetary scale – is oriented around the practical principles of utility, effectiveness and impact. The worth of anything – an idea, an activity, an artwork, a relationship with another person – is determined pragmatically: things are good to the extent that they are instrumental, with instrumentality usually defined as the capacity to produce money or things.

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