The Rich Life of Homo Economicus

Homo Economicus or James Peterson as his friends called him was a confident teenager just entering the prime of his life. However, despite his confidence James had some very difficult choices ahead of him.

During High School, James played in a hardcore punk band called “The Rotting Mung Beans.”  James acquired a great deal of pleasure from playing in the band, and according to his calculation playing in this band was what gave him the largest percentage of the overall pleasure that he acquired through living. According to his calculation playing in “The Rotting Mung Beans” accounted for 40% of the pleasure that he gained on an average week while spending time with friends and family gave him 35% of his pleasure in an average week.

James was a fine guitarist and “The Rotting Mung Beans” had developed a significant following within the Sequoiaville area. Their sound could be compared to  Black Flag, the Dead Boys and Minor Threat.  After realizing how much pleasure he derived from playing in the band, and their relative likelihood of success, James made the difficult decision of not entering a post-secondary institution so he could devote all of his time to playing with his band. While this decision was difficult for him to make, it was fairly simple. James merely discerned that he would gain the most pleasure and experience the least amount of pain if he took this path.  Even though James had graduated at the top of his class and could have pursued any profession this was irrelevant as according to his calculation every other life path he could have taken, besides playing with “The Rotting Mung Beans,” would yield more expected pain and less expected pleasure. In fact, he had discovered that the level of expected pleasure he would gain by devoting his time to playing in his band was 50% higher than the rate of expected pleasure that he would gain by pursuing any other career. Likewise, the rate of expected pain that he would experience by devoting his time to playing in his band was 30% lower than any other life path that he had before him. 

James applied this decision procedure to all of his decisions, and this decision procedure was not something that he had constructed, but rather it was something that was a natural part of his constitution. Making decision in any other way was unthinkable to him. He thought to himself “how could anyone make a decision in any way except according to the rational weighing of expected pains and pleasures? Surely any other method would be irrational and artificial.”                

Furthermore, this decision making method had worked for him in the past. While he had never done something magnanimous or honorable, he had managed to live a pleasant life thus far. Furthermore, he was a well-regarded person, because even though he was not particularly charming, his decision procedure had led him to treat people with respect, as this would ensure that no one would prevent him from leading his life according to his decision procedure. 

The Relationship Between Leisure and Entertainment

When one asks the question of what place entertainment should have in our lives most inhabitants of industrialized nations would respond that it is perfectly legitimate to spend one’s leisure time being entertained. In this blog, I would like to show the problematic nature of the aforementioned opinion.

Entertainment at its very core seems to be something that must be enjoyed through immediate consumption, rather than something that has durability and requires time to fully appreciate. For example, the quintessential entertainment activity might be watching a sitcom. At the time, the sitcom is pleasant, but it does not require reflective analysis, or a rich set of capabilities to appreciate. It is something that is immediately consumed. Just like eating a chocolate bar, we immediately consume a sitcom and enjoy that moment. Furthermore, entertainment does not teach us anything or stick with us; it provides us with a short pleasant experience, and once the experience is over we move on with our lives as though nothing has happened. When we watch a sitcom, we do not think that this episode really counts in the overall structure of our lives. It is a mere pleasurable experience with no further meaning attached. Entertainment is thus quite fairly characterized as a pleasant distraction.

Now it should be noted that I am not suggesting that sitcoms are inherently incapable of sticking with us and engaging reflective analysis. Part of what makes entertainment what it is, is the subject matter, but, the other side of what makes entertainment what it is, is how it can be appreciated, and how it tends to be appreciated within a particular context. In principle, there may be sitcoms that can engage reflective analysis and stick with us, but very few of us appreciate them in this way, and they can be enjoyed as merely pleasant experiences.

It is problematic to say that it is legitimate to spend one’s leisure time being entertained, because while entertainment is certainly a valid practise, if being entertained is the sole, or primary, purpose of our leisure time it will distract us from being reflective, and of discerning what kind of life we truly want to live. Entertainment temporarily abates the answering of difficult questions, and this is both its vice and its virtue. It is its virtue in that it allows us to temporarily get away from our problems and difficulties and face them anew. It is its vice because it is very easy to become addicted and overly preoccupied with being entertained, such that answering the question of how one ought to live ceases to be interesting and desirable.  It seems to me that one of the most admirable qualities of humans is that they have the capability to reflect on what kind of life is the best and most admirable. If we are overly focused on entertaining ourselves our capability for reflection atrophies and we are left living a life where we work so that we can be entertained during our leisure time. This sort of life does not seem that admirable and while it is certainly not the worst, the focus on entertainment within our culture threatens to destroy some of our most admirable capacities. Consequently, while there is nothing wrong with spending some of our leisure time being entertained, we should be ever vigilant that we do not let these pleasant distractions, distract us from other more important matters, such as answering the question of how it is best to live.