by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The point is that we’re all as endowed with leisure time comparable with that of the most blue-blooded aristocrats of centuries past, and we mostly use it to lay about and watch cat videos. Charles Murray, Robert Putnam, and Allan Bloom, among other social scientists, have chronicled the decline of civic engagement and overall service to neighbors within American culture pretty convincingly. We have more free time than ever, but instead of using that gift to multiply happiness for those nearby, we use it largely on ourselves, on self-referential activities like Facebook and manicures. “Me time” is a distinctly postmodern concept. So have we really gained anything from all our technological “progress”?
We have the potential good of frequent rests from our labors, yet we squander it in frivolity—giving credence to my hypothesis that human morality remains constant over time. We may have eradicated slavery and reduced the amount of effort necessary to secure air conditioning for the poor, but in our air-conditioned homes we enslave our souls through repeat video game and pornography sessions, or mindless hours on social media, and other types of comfortable social withdrawal. We have more power over our material circumstances, yet have lost the character to know what that power is for, and to follow through. …
… Aristocrats were brought up conscious of their privilege, and commanded to use it to uplift others. Yes, some notables proved themselves unworthy of their station, but to be a true gentleman or lady meant disposing one’s talents in the service of others and cultivating one’s character and talents. Read any Jane Austen novel. A prime characteristic of a gentleman or lady is a finely tuned ability to put others first, whether it means engaging the lonely lower-class girl for a dance or cheerfully visiting and aiding those who have fallen on hard times. Now we all have aristocratic comforts and opportunities, even an aristocratic 22 years of nearly no obligations before adulthood that could dispose young people towards the nobility of character that makes for a free and happy society. Instead we spend those years telling young people to look out for themselves and that the goal of their existence is to pursue private visions of pleasure.