Why Nietzsche is my desert island philosopher

by Emrys Westacott Friedrich Nietzsche is my “desert island philosopher.” Guests, or “castaways” on BBC Radio 4’s long running program “Desert Island Discs” are allowed to take to their desert island, in addition to eight pieces of music, a text of religious or philosophical significance. Many accept the bible as the default option. For me,…

Why aren’t people paid according to their social contribution?

by Emrys Westacott What should we do with our leisure? In his Politics, Aristotle identifies this as a fundamental philosophical question. Leisure, here, means freedom from necessary labor. If we have to spend much of our time working, or recuperating in order to work more, the question hardly arises. But if we are free from…

Will sanctions affect Putin?

by Emrys Westacott Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is clearly a historically momentous event, already appearing to cause a seismic shift in the geopolitical landscape. What the long-term consequences will be are hard to say. The most obvious losers are the millions of Ukrainians–killed, injured, bereft, and displaced–who are the immediate victims of Putin’s…

Poem

Moth A tap at the black glass, discrete, but urgent. A night moth, big as a beech leaf, burnt, brown, wind-ripped, flaps in its frame, peddling high-step, then ascends the pane as if winched, hovers against the jamb, plunges free fall, recovers, begins again to climb, then crabs sidewards across the window, drifts back, then…

Trying to understand vaccine resistance

by Emrys Westacott Upton Sinclair famously remarked that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” It is easy to imagine the sort of scenario that illustrates his point. A drug company rep works to increase how often a certain drug is prescribed, putting…

The grandfather of modern self-help

by Emrys Westacott 1859 was not a bad year for publishing in Britain. Books that came out that year included Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and George Eliot’s Adam Bede. The first installments of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White also made their…

The justification of Idling

by Emrys Westacott The work ethic is deeply ingrained in much of modern society, both Eastern and Western, and there are many forces making sure that this remains the case. Parents, teachers, coaches, politicians, employers, and many other shapers of souls or makers of opinion constantly repeat the idea that hard work is the key…

On George Saunders’ “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”

by Emrys Westacott George Saunders’ recent book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, is the most enjoyable and enlightening book on literature I have ever read. Saunders’ collections of short stories and his 2017 Booker Prize winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo have earned him numerous awards and much acclaim. He has taught…

The oldest injustice

by Emrys Westacott Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations begins with this claim: The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes….[1] In other words, labour is the ultimate source of a society’s wealth. In feudal times it had…

The European Super League and its Critics

by Emrys Westacott The scheme Two weeks ago European soccer world was rocked by an announcement that 12 of the top clubs had agreed among themselves to form a European Super League (ESL) to replace the existing European Champions League (ECL). The “dirty dozen” were Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan,…

Where work came from and where it is going

by Emrys Westacott If, for a long time now, you’ve been getting up early in the morning, setting off to school or your workplace, getting there at the required time, spending the day performing your assigned tasks (with a few scheduled breaks), going home at the pre-ordained time, spending a few hours doing other things…

‘Consolation’: A poem for now

by Emrys Westacott A friend, knowing that I’ve been learning German, recently sent me a volume of Theodore Fontane’s poetry.  Fontane (1819-1898) is best known today for the novels that he wrote in the later part of his life.  But some his poems have an affecting simplicity–a simplicity that is perhaps especially charming to those…

Reflections on American democracy’s near-death experience

by Emrys Westacott Like millions of others, my reaction to the result of the US presidential election was primarily relief. Relief at the prospect of an end to the ghastly display of narcissism, dishonesty, callousness, corruption, and general moral indecency (a.k.a. Donald Trump) that has dominated media attention in the US for the past four…