Philosophy of Happiness final excerpt

Like I said yesterday, I've got a lot going on right now. I am, again, going to be at work until after midnight. So, here's an excerpt from my final paper for Philosophy of Happiness, "Capitalism vs. Happiness: 21st century capitalism is incompatible with happiness as a human right." This part is on how capitalism conflicts with the pursuit of happiness as defined by various schools of thought that argue that the path to happiness is living virtuously. Capitalism versus happiness through virtue

Aristotle argued that individual virtue was a prerequisite for both happiness and personal success. He lists four cardinal virtues: Prudence, temperance, courage and justice.

Seligman argues for six specific categories of virtue, which he argues are key to pursuing happiness: Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence.

Taoism's approach to happiness is virtue-based, too -- of particular relevance are the Three Treasures: mercy, economy and humility.

In all of these contexts, complete personal failure is incompatible with success in capitalism. But complete, or even just uncommon, success in virtue is also incompatible with the most substantial forms of success within capitalism. At best, the extremely virtuous compromise their own access to comfort routinely to avoid more direct violence at the hands of the system; at worst, they are injured, imprisoned or killed.

It's not that capitalism privileges vice, exactly -- the system just as eagerly imprisons the exceptionally immoral as the exceptionally moral -- in general, capitalism privileges market stability, and so it privileges a collection of median states. Prosocial but not socialist; neither debilitated with addictions nor totally sober; physically functional but not healthy; ambitious and hopeful but not happy.

Many of the virtues listed above can be directly contradicted by the basic values of capitalism. For example:

Prudence (Aristotle) or Economy (Taoism): Markets thrive on the continuous movement of money. Careful decision making about responsible money use on the part of the majority of the population would completely disintegrate some markets, and substantially harm all of them.

Temperance (Aristotle and Seligman) or Mercy (Taoism): This one reminds me of the Jeff Bezos quote: "Your margin is my opportunity." That is, it's a fundamental capitalist advantage to exploit other people's limitations, to push them up to and over their ability to cope and function, to push even yourself beyond realms of normal human coping.

Mercy and temperance aren't fundamentally opposed to a capitalist market, but they are fundamentally opposed to the capitalist market that exists, and they will naturally be eradicated over time from any market. Markets will escalate in violence until they reach a Nash Equilibrium -- a state in which no player has any advantage to be gained by changing strategy. That can only occur when there are no available mercies left to abandon.

Justice (Aristotle, Seligman):  Justice undermines hypocrisy as a basic tool of functional capitalism; a system optimized for justice is by definition not optimized for the well-being of individuals in correspondence to their access to capital.

Humanity (Seligman): Humanity suggests an implicit intention to guarantee the well-being of all members of a civilization. Capitalism relies on the ability to threaten its participants with withholding resources for non-cooperation.

So -- it's clear that one of the fundamental virtues under capitalism is hypocrisy. But while a well-developed skill in hypocrisy makes a person well-equipped to navigate the world insofar as it consists of marketplaces, it makes a person profoundly unlikely to successfully navigate the world insofar as it consists of other humans, and of meaningful relationships.

If we take meaningful relationships to be important for happiness, then that, too, suggests that being good at capitalism is inconsistent with being happy.