The Quest for Happiness Could Actually Make You Unhappy, New Study Says

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Trying to be happy should result in more happiness, right? Not so fast. Aekyoung Kim of Rutgers University and Sam Maglio of the University of Toronto recently released a study on happiness for the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. And as a lifelong cynic and generally skeptical person, this new report brings great joy to my cold, pessimistic heart.

The pair set out to investigate if pursuing happiness can actually make people unhappy. Turns out, it can.

If one approaches happiness as an end goal, it can create a sense of time scarcity, making you anxious that you’ll never be able to achieve full happiness no matter what you do. Which is a total bummer.

The research team asked one group of people to list the things that would make them happy, or try to make themselves feel happy while watching a boring (their words) movie about building bridges. The other group was asked to list things that had already made them happy or watch a slapstick comedy. The first group was designed to make people feel like happiness was a fixed goal, and when the researchers asked each group to report how much time they felt they had, the first group reported feelings of time scarcity.

“Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit,” explain the researchers. “This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being.”

More tips on living your best life:

h/t Bustle

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Making music using new sounds generated with machine learning

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Technology has always played a role in inspiring musicians in new and creative ways. The guitar amp gave rock musicians a new palette of sounds to play with in the form of feedback and distortion. And the sounds generated by synths helped shape the sound of electronic music. But what about new technologies like machine learning models and algorithms? How might they play a role in creating new tools and possibilities for a musician’s creative process? Magenta, a research project within Google, is currently exploring answers to these questions.

Building upon past research in the field of machine learning and music, last year Magenta released NSynth (Neural Synthesizer). It’s a machine learning algorithm that uses deep neural networks to learn the characteristics of sounds, and then create a completely new sound based on these characteristics. Rather than combining or blending the sounds, NSynth synthesizes an entirely new sound using the acoustic qualities of the original sounds—so you could get a sound that’s part flute and part sitar all at once.

Since then, Magenta has continued to experiment with different musical interfaces and tools to make the algorithm more easily accessible and playable. As part of this exploration, Google Creative Lab and Magenta collaborated to create NSynth Super. It’s an open source experimental instrument which gives musicians the ability to explore new sounds generated with the NSynth algorithm.

Making music using new sounds generated with machine learning

To create our prototype, we recorded 16 original source sounds across a range of 15 pitches and fed them into the NSynth algorithm. The outputs, over 100,000 new sounds, were then loaded into NSynth Super to precompute the new sounds. Using the dials, musicians can select the source sounds they would like to explore between, and drag their finger across the touchscreen to navigate the new, unique sounds which combine their acoustic qualities. NSynth Super can be played via any MIDI source, like a DAW, sequencer or keyboard.

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Part of the goal of Magenta is to close the gap between artistic creativity and machine learning. It’s why we work with a community of artists, coders and machine learning researchers to learn more about how machine learning tools might empower creators. It’s also why we create everything, including NSynth Super, with open source libraries, including TensorFlow and openFrameworks. If you’re maker, musician, or both, all of the source code, schematics, and design templates are available for download on GitHub.

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New sounds are powerful. They can inspire musicians in creative and unexpected ways, and sometimes they might go on to define an entirely new musical style or genre. It’s impossible to predict where the new sounds generated by machine learning tools might take a musician, but we’re hoping they lead to even more musical experimentation and creativity.

Learn more about NSynth Super at g.co/nsynthsuper.

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Activists and families of gun violence victims protest with 7,000 shoes on Congress’ doorstep

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The Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, took place just six years ago, in which 26 people were killed — 20 of whom were young children. Since then, thousands more have died in school shootings.

On Tuesday, the 7,000 children who have lost their lives from gun violence since Sandy Hook are being remembered with an eye-opening visual memorial on the southeast lawn outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Avaaz, a global activism organization founded in 2007, has placed 7,000 pairs of empty shoes side-by-side on the lawn — one pair for each child killed by a gun. The shoes include pairs from families who lost their children in school shootings across America.

The memorial, which will remain on the lawn until 2 p.m., will also feature shoes from celebrities like Alyssa Milano, and citizens from around the country.

The installation appears one day before a scheduled nationwide school and university walkout, planned by a group associated with Women’s March organizers called EMPOWER, is scheduled.

On Wednesday — exactly one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — teachers, students, and faculty members across the U.S. are invited to leave their schools for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. local time, to honor the 17 lives of those killed on Feb. 14.

The shoe memorial is also raising awareness for the March For Our Lives, a March 24 protest organized by Stoneman Douglas student activists, in which kids, families, and concerned citizens will march the streets of Washington, D.C., and other cities to demand that Congress take action on gun control.

Though this particular memorial is raising awareness on the tragic casualties of gun violence, Avaaz has also used empty shoes for activism in the past. After large demonstrations were temporarily banned in Paris in wake of the 2015 terror attacks, the group placed thousands of shoes in Paris’ Place de la Republique to represent people protesting ahead of the COP21 climate conference. The shoes included pairs from Pope Francis and then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

After the 7,000 pairs of shoes are removed from Congress’ doorstep on Tuesday, they will be donated to local homeless shelters and other people in need.

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The Cheapest Places to Stay in Japan

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My room for the night at a Shinjuku capsule hotel.

I keep telling people that traveling to Japan is way more affordable than they think, especially if you book the right accommodations. We’re talking as little as $20 to $50 a night if you know where to look! These obviously aren’t five-star resorts, but they’re worth it for the money you’ll save.

Capsule Hotels

Staying at a capsule hotel—pictured above—may have been one of the oddest travel experiences I’ve ever had, but not in a bad way. Yes, you’re basically sleeping in an oversized coffin (this is not for the claustrophobic), and yes, the amount of privacy you get is roughly -100%, but it’s a huge money saver. For about $20 to $40 a night (mine was $30), you get a bed in a capsule; a locker for your luggage; access to a bathhouse; access to a coin-op laundry room; and usually a common room with TV and food available for purchase.

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These establishments are primarily intended for business folk who had too much to drink, but you’ll be around plenty of tourists if you’re in a popular area. My night involved too much whiskey in Golden Gai, late night KFC, then waking up in my capsule and forgetting where I was. There was a brief moment I thought I had awoken from cryo-sleep on a spaceship and that my entire life was just one long dream, but I’m sure that won’t happen to you. If you’re traveling solo, or with some adventurous buddies, it’s totally worth it.

No matter where you stay, you won’t have very much space. Bed in a business hotel in Akihabara, Tokyo.

Internet or Manga Cafes

Internet or manga cafes, which are known as “manga kissaten,” aren’t actually hotels or necessarily intended for overnight accommodation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them for that. These places are filled with computers and comic books, but you can rent private rooms for long periods of time at a very low price. Manga kissaten cost about $15 for an eight-hour stay, and that includes unlimited access to comics, drinks, sometimes snacks, a community toilet, and a shower. You can grab a shower and catch some Zs in a comfy chair for the cost of a meal.

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Some of these places even have beds, laundry stations, and offer extended stay options, where you pay a certain amount per week or month (usually averaging about $20 to $25 per day). Manga kissaten aren’t ideal to stay in if you’re in a group, or if you need certain amenities they don’t offer, but they can save you in a pinch.

Business/Western Hotels

If you want the usual amenities you come to expect from a western hotel chain, Japan has plenty of options: APA, Dormy Inn, Flexstay, etc. These places will pop up in popular accommodation search engines, so start searching and try to find a good price. I usually stay at these places when I visit Japan because it’s nice to have a private shower and toilet, and many of these places offer a great breakfast that can be included in the cost of your room.

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The downside is that they can get expensive if you don’t plan ahead (up to $200 a night), so book as early as you can. I recently stayed at the Hotel Gran Ms Kyoto for three nights at only $49 a night because I booked early and traveled during the off-season. If you can get a sweet deal on these types of hotels you might as well take advantage.

Western hotels will have a private shower/bathtub/mirror/sink.

Economy Hotels

Economy hotels, or “kanshuku” (simple accommodations), are a step up from capsule hotels and kissaten, but don’t have nearly as many amenities as business hotels. When you search for places with an accommodation search engine, these will probably be listed as “hostels,” to which they’re very similar save for one thing. The bathrooms, dining areas, and common areas are all shared, but you still get your own room outfitted with a futon or tatami mat. So, if you’re down with the idea of hostels but want a bit more privacy, check out some kanshukus. They usually cost $20 to $60 per night.

Overnight Buses

Why not sleep and travel to your next destination at the same time? Overnight buses, or “yako bus,” can cost anywhere from $30 to $120, depending on where you’re going, and they can save you tons of time and money in the long run. These are the two major yako bus companies in Japan:

These won’t be the most comfortable nights of your life, but it’s a lot cheaper than a night in a hotel and a bullet train ticket.


A note on booking accommodations in Japan: You absolutely must book everything in advance. It is considered polite to book your accommodations at least 30 days before your stay. It’s not impossible to find places to stay day-of (like capsules and kissaten), but it will be more difficult (especially on weekends), and some places may not even allow it out of principle. Also, make sure you have cash on hand when you go to check in. Many smaller establishments will only accept cash. Lastly, check-in and check-out times are ironclad. Don’t expect any flexibility there.

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Here’s What Could Happen To Your Body If You Keep Drinking So Much Coffee

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Everything is fine in moderation. Unfortunately, people are terrible judges when it comes to moderation, and some people can’t even spell the word.

Coffee, in moderation, is fine. It could even be beneficial to overall health. If you drink coffee at the correct time, it works. If you’re drinking it all day long, it’s doing absolutely nothing. It could even slowly be killing you on the inside.

In this entertaining little video, Life Noggin discusses what would happen if coffee were the only thing a person consumed in a day and postulated on how much coffee it would take to OD on java.

There’s a good chance you’re at least ingesting some food along with your constant double espressos, but you’re more than likely wasting money. How about saving cash by investing in a machine for home and drinking a little less, so you don’t just up and die one day at Starbucks.

[via Laughing Squid]

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Bitcoin boosters partied hard at SXSW as the currency sinks — here’s what it was like

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  • Cryptocurrency enthusiasts threw a party at SXSW.
  • The bar accepted bitcoin and other coins as payment for bottle service.
  • The mood was merry despite recent plunges in the price of bitcoin.

 

When groups of cryptocurrency enthusiasts raised shot glasses at a nightclub in Austin, Texas, late Tuesday night, the price of bitcoin was hovering around $9,000.

House music played as guests danced and mingled. Barely-dressed bartenders poured shots. For one night only, Austin’s Rio club accepted cryptocurrency as payment for bottle service.

No one can seem to agree if or when the bitcoin bubble will burst, but for the currency’s biggest boosters, it doesn’t matter. They’re holding their cryptocurrency rather than selling it.

BYOBitcoin, a startup based in Austin that builds and maintains facilities for bitcoin mining, threw the first-ever "Just Hodl It" party at the SXSW film festival and tech conference on Tuesday. (Hodl is a a slang term in bitcoin that means to stay invested in cryptocurrency and resist the urge to sell when the price slides.)

The idea was to bring together cryptocurrency enthusiasts at the festival to share in their passion, and ultimately, console one another on the recent plunge in bitcoin’s price.

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Fears of a global crackdown on cryptocurrencies led to a violent sell-off at the start of 2018. The price of bitcoin fell to $5,947 in February, or about 225% below its record high in December.

The currency is now trading over $9,000 per coin, and it remains extremely volatile.

Still, the mood was merry at Rio. Guests started pouring into the club after 9 p.m. and received plastic coins at the door that entitled them to free drinks at the bar.

A bartender told me that customers could buy bottles with bitcoin, Ethereum, or Litecoin, but that she didn’t know how to do it and would have to hail a manager if I wanted to try doing so. 

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The event kicked off with a panel of entrepreneurs in the cryptocurrency space, speaking about the state of bitcoin in 2018. Some of their companies had also sponsored the party.

One panelists encouraged solidarity as "we all sort of survive this crypto winter."

Randall Crowder, whose LinkedIn account describes him as chief operations officer and "chief crypto zealot" at software maker Phunware, Inc., searched for the silver lining in the situation.

Cryptocurrencies have created "one of the largest transfers of wealth going on in the history of the world," Crowder said during the panel. He added, "It’s just getting started."

When Crowder told the packed room at Rio, "It’s 1994 all over again, and you have an opportunity to make a sh–load of money," the crowd (mostly men) erupted in cheers.

Kim Parnell, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur from Toronto attending the conference, said she had spent the previous two days attending cryptocurrency-focused panels and meetup events.

She told Business Insider that because of "huge run we had last year," cryptocurrencies like bitcoin attracted tons of new buyers in 2017. The cryptocurrency community has become so broad, she said, it can be defined as two groups: the longtime believers and novice investors.

People who boarded the bitcoin bandwagon before 2017 are less worried about the volatility, Parnell said. She said she focuses more on "exciting new projects" instead of bitcoin’s price.

SEE ALSO: Homeowners across America are trying to sell their million-dollar homes for bitcoin — and it could be a disastrous idea

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: NFL superstar Richard Sherman is all-in on cryptocurrencies, but doesn’t think his grandmother should invest

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How Much Exercise Do I Really Need?

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Zero exercise is not enough. Going for a walk every day is probably a good thing. And if you’re training for a marathon, you’ll be on your feet for a couple hours of hard workouts every week. But what is the benchmark for a human being just trying to squeeze enough healthy exercise into their life? Let’s break it down.

Fortunately, all the major public health organizations are in agreement. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association are all on board with the following guidelines for aerobic exercise:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like walking, ideally broken up into 30 minutes per day over five days
  • 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise like running, ideally in three 25-minute chunks
  • It only counts if you do 10 minutes or more in each session, and you should spread your sessions throughout the week (so, you can’t take a single 90-minute spinning class and figure you’re done.)

If you’re a stroll-around-the-neighborhood person, go with the first recommendation. If you enjoy hard workouts, but would rather not change into your gym clothes every day, you can just go with the 75 minute recommendation. And feel free to mix and match. Here are some possibilities:

  • Walk 15 minutes to and from work every week day (5 x 30 minutes = 150 moderate)
  • Go running on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, each for 2-3 miles (3 x 25 minutes = 75 vigorous)
  • Take a 90-minute heart-pounding cycling class, and go for a walk after dinner at least a few other days of the week (1 x 90 minutes = 90 vigorous, plus perhaps 3 x 15 = 45 moderate)
  • Go for a 30-minute easy bike ride on Monday. Try a 45-minute water aerobics class on Wednesday. Take a short hike on Saturday. Mow the lawn for an hour on Saturday. (30 + 45 + 30 + 60 = 165 moderate)

If you’re confused about what counts in each category, the UK’s National Health Service has a list of “moderate” and “vigorous” activities here.

If you’re pretty athletic, the above won’t sound like much. Good news! The WHO has set a secondary goal for folks like you. It’s simple: just do double the above. So you can aim for 150 minutes per week of vigorous activity:

  • Two of those killer 90-minute classes, Monday and Thursday
  • A three-mile run every weekday
  • An hour-long martial arts class three times a week

…or, to meet the requirement with moderate activity, you can stroll for an hour before breakfast each day, the favorite activity of spunky grandmas and grandpas who will probably never die. (To be fair, the recommendations we’re talking about are for people up to age 65.)

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So, what about an upper limit? There isn’t one, from a public health point of view. More is better. (And even if you are doing less than the recommendations, anything is better than nothing.) That said, it is possible for you as an individual to do more exercise than your body is ready for. Don’t jump from a life of occasional strolling to a marathon training plan. And if you are on that marathon training plan and you’re feeling worn down, take a break already.

Strength, Flexibility, and More

So far we’ve been talking about aerobic exercise, which is the kind where you’re continuously moving (or, perhaps, doing quick work/rest intervals) and your heart rate is up. But there are other important forms of exercise, too. The WHO and other organizations recommend two days per week of “high intensity muscle strengthening activity,” which includes anything where you’re thinking in terms of sets and reps. (Three sets of eight to 10 reps is a good structure to start.)

That activity can be anything that challenges your muscles, and where the 10th rep is a lot harder than the first: lifting weights, or resistance band exercises, or bodyweight exercises like push-ups. So if you run three days per week but have time for more, don’t just fit in extra runs; try adding two days in the weight room instead.

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In addition, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends two other kinds of exercise you might otherwise forget:

  • Two to three days per week that include stretching, ideally spending 60 seconds stretching each major muscle group. This can be in a few short stints of 10-30 seconds each.
  • Two to three days per week that include neuromuscular training. Think of this as hand-eye coordination and its full-body equivalents. Anything involving balance, coordination, or paying attention to your gait fall into these categories.

Both of these can fit into your other workouts. Stretching works well in a cool-down session after your main workout, or some people prefer to put it into a warm-up. If you’re doing functional movements like lunges that challenge your balance and coordination, you’re working on neuromuscular fitness.

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These 3D-Printed Houses Of The Future Could Cost Less Than $4,000 And Be Built In 24 Hours

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The future of homes could very well be 3D-printed abodes that could be built in less than a day for much lower costs than traditional housing. One of the companies in the forefront is ICON, which believes the future of homebuilding is using 3D printing. At SXSW, ICON unveiled a protoype of the first permitted, 3D-printed home in Austin, Texas.

The Austin-based startup wants to provide housing that is affordable, “specifically for the developing world.” The company wants to make housing that is customizable as well as sustainable. The Vulcan mobile printer can be brought to a development and create a new community in extremely little time. Manufacturing the homes produces nearly zero waste and doesn’t need too many resources or a huge labor force. The project expects to tackle worldwide housing shortages.

ICON can print a single story home that is 600-800-square-feet and be built between 12-24 hours. Currently, the costs are $10,000, but ICON expects to build these houses for less than $4,000. ICON hopes to create 100 3D-printed homes for low-income people in El Salvador by next year. The 3D-printed house could be the future of affordable housing.

[TheVerge]

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Footage Shows How Dangerous Big Wave Surfing Can Be When Surfer And Rescuer Get Rocked By Waves

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Big wave surfing is often overlooked amongst the most dangerous extreme sports on the planet. If you’ve never been surfing before it’s difficult to understand how powerful the ocean is even when it comes to small waves.

When a surfer is riding skyscraper-sized waves like the ones in Nazaré, Portugal, one of the largest big wave breaks in the world, they’re putting their lives at risk everytime they paddle out. But, they are providing themselves with a safety net in most instances. That safety net comes in the form of the rescue team riding wave runners that are rigged to swoop in and rescue the surfer between waves.

If a surfer wipes out and/or pulls out of a massive wave then the rescue jet ski rider can haul ass in there, grab the surfer and pull them on the back, and get out of there before the next wave comes through. This is how it works in most instances but when the waves are as gargantuan as they are at Nazaré then all hell can break loose even for the best-trained teams.

This footage shows professional big wave surfer Alex Botelho paddling into a wave at Nazaré back on February 16th before getting caught in the mush. Hugo Vau on the ski rescue swoops in to get him, then they try and go back for the lost board and that’s when things go from bad to worse in a matter of seconds.

Want to see more surfing footage from Nazaré, Portugal? Check out the Big Wave Surfing archives on BroBible!

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Why Is Modern Morality So Shrill?

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It’s hard not to notice that in interactions both online and off, people seem increasingly polarized when it comes to political, social justice, and moral and ethical issues of all kinds. Rather than engaging in a civil discussion, debates turn into emotionally-charged flame wars, marked by blame, shame, and the exchange of insults. Such interactions are acrimonious, seemingly interminable, and markedly shrill.

What accounts for the tenor of these melees on morality?

Some astute observers have posited that our political and social positions have become more fervent as society has become more secular. People seem to have an ingrained penchant for the “religious” — a proclivity to draw lines between us and them, the pure and the polluted, doctrine and heresy, the unconverted and the woke — and in the absence of traditional faith-based outlets for these energies, have channeled these “religious” impulses towards partisan politics.

There’s surely something to this theory. But the shrillness of our modern debates on morality has an even deeper underlying cause.

The 3 Elements of a Rational, Functional Moral Culture

In After Virtue, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that Aristotelian virtue ethics offers the best model of a healthy and well-functioning moral system; its strength, he asserts, is the presence of three elements — all of which must be in place for any moral system to thrive:

1. Man-as-he-happens-to-be.

This is a human being in his raw, morally untutored state. This is man left to his own devices and allowed to follow his default impulses. Man on the path of least resistance.

2. A view of man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos. 

Telos is the Greek word for man’s ultimate aim. It represents his ultimate purpose and function — an essential nature that can only be realized by throwing off the inertia of default desires and actively striving after it.

For the ancient Greeks, a man’s telos was reaching a state of eudaimonia; a word that is hard to translate but means something akin to happiness, excellence — full human flourishing. For Aristotle specifically, eudaimonia meant not only possessing good character, but achieving excellence in action. Virtue was both the goal and the practice — the end man should strive for, and the active means of attaining that end.

For Aristotle, a “good man” was as functional and objective a concept as a “good watch” or a “good musician.” A good watch accurately tells time; a good musician plays his instrument well; and a good man fulfills his purpose as a man. Each statement, the philosopher would say, is equally objective and factual. 

3. An ethical code that allows a man to move from state #1 to state #2.

Man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-if-he-realized-his-telos are antagonistic states — one slides into the lowest and easiest, while the other aims for the noblest and highest.

To transition from the former to the latter — to access one’s full potential — you need to adopt certain behaviors and habits of action. What behaviors and actions to take are prescribed by a set of ethics that are specifically designed to move you from state #1 to state #2. The code lays out which virtues will take you towards your telos, and conversely, which vices will stymie your progress in reaching it. As MacIntyre explains:

“The precepts which enjoin the various virtues and prohibit the vices which are their counterparts instruct us how to move from potentiality to act, how to realize our true nature and to reach our true end. To defy them will be to be frustrated and incomplete, to fail to achieve that good of rational happiness which it is peculiarly ours as a species to pursue.”

Although we can describe this set of moral precepts as an ethical code, it should not be thought of, at least in the context of Aristotelianism, as primarily a set of rules. As MacIntyre observes, “the most obvious and astonishing absence from Aristotle’s thought for any modern reader” is that “there is relatively little mention of rules anywhere in the Ethics.” In the absence of strict, rote, universal rules, Aristotle instead argued for the cultivation of a kind of master virtue which would aid a man in acquiring all the rest: phronesis, or practical wisdom. As a virtue in one context can be a vice in another (e.g., being frugal vs. being cheap), a man needed phronesis to guide him in doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.

Each of the three elements above “requires reference to the other two if its status and function are to be intelligible.” The combination of the three produces a moral culture that is not only functional, but rational.

Such a moral code is rational in the sense that there is a logical relationship between is and ought. That is, if your telos is X, we can objectively say that you ought to do Y, and you ought not to do Z, in order to reach it. To achieve this end, you must adopt these means.

While this threefold scheme can form the basis of a personal moral code, Aristotle specifically imagined his system of virtue ethics in the context of community (in his case, the Greek city-state). Individuals aim to fulfill their telos as men, while pointing that effort towards what MacIntyre calls a “shared project of achieving a common good” (for Aristotle, for example, reaching one’s telos was closely tied to being a good citizen and contributing to Athenian democracy). Within a community with a common telos, rules are erected that prohibit negative behaviors that would be destructive to the efforts and relationships necessary to achieving its shared project, while virtues — positive traits of character that move the community closer to that common good — are celebrated and encouraged. The rules cannot be understood apart from the virtues at which they aim; the former are not arbitrary, but designed to facilitate the greater flourishing of the latter.

The same 3-part moral framework also exists within the Abrahamic religions, only, as MacIntyre explains, shaded a bit differently:

“The precepts of ethics now have to be understood not only as teleological injunctions, but also as expressions of a divinely ordained law. The table of virtues and vices has to be amended and added to and a concept of sin is added to the Aristotelian concept of error. The law of God requires a new kind of respect and awe. The true end of man can no longer be completely achieved in this world, but only in another. Yet the threefold structure of untutored human-nature-as-it-happens-to-be, human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-realized-its-telos and the precepts of rational ethics as the means for the transition from one to the other remains central.”

For the religious adherent, one’s telos wasn’t eudaimonia (at least as Aristotle understood it), but salvation — being transformed into a creature divinely made perfect.

The Fate of a Moral Culture Without a Shared Telos 

Over several centuries, and for complex reasons, a teleologically-based moral system eroded in the West.

As MacIntyre succinctly summarizes, “the joint effect of the secular rejection of both Protestant and Catholic theology and the scientific and philosophical rejection of Aristotelianism was to eliminate any notion of man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos.”

The idea of having an ultimate aim survives on a personal level (though scarcely few people seem to think of themselves as having a telos, or know what theirs is). But on a broad, cultural level, Western societies no longer share a telos in common. The kind of moral system outlined above can really only function in a fairly homogeneous community of limited size; as a society grows increasingly large and diverse, people no longer share the same telos (or have a concept of telos at all), nor a project of common good that the telos supports. Thus in our own culture, many competing teloi exist, or are absent altogether.

Yet, we still retain the other two pieces of classical morality: man-as-he-happens-to-be and a set of ethics. Witness the effect this creates:

The moral code which was specifically created to move man-as-he-happens-to-be towards his telos, now hangs in space, detached from a larger purpose.

There is only man in his raw state, and a code of behavior he is to follow. But, in the absence of a telos, this code consists not in virtues, alongside attendant rules that help a man achieve them, but in the rules alone. As McIntyre observes, when a moral culture lacks a teleological element, “Rules become the primary concept of the moral life.”

In a moral system which lacks a telos, there exist only negative proscriptions for appropriate behavior — rules which are not designed to move man to fulfill his essential purpose, but simply to allow the basic functions of society to continue.

No. No. No. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.

And so today we have an abundance of voices pointing out what a good man isn’t, but very few describing what a good man is. We lack a positive ideal. In this we’ve become a nation of something worse than school marms — for at least the disciplinarian teacher reprimanded her students with some end in mind.

At the same time that rules become more central to such a moral culture, they become less motivating. Still today we know that man in his untutored state is prone to bad behavior, and so establish rules in an attempt to educate that behavior. But in the absence of an accompanying telos, such rules lack a compelling why — a rationale for why a man should choose to undergo this education, and offer his compliance, rather than following the less challenging path of least resistance.

This is quite problematic, for as pointed out above, man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-if-he-realized-his-telos are antagonistic states. The latter is not how we act if left to our druthers. Achieving one’s telos involves mastering lower impulses to reach for the higher variety. It requires self-mastery, self-control, delayed gratification. It’s not a “natural” state, and as such, its pursuit requires strong motivation — motivation that can only be furnished by pointing to an overarching aim.

Given the lack of motivation inherent to a telos-free moral code, vice inevitably waxes and virtue wanes. This ethical lassitude is still a cause of consternation to a culture, that, even if it’s lost hope in producing citizens of sterling character, still needs them to act with a minimum of propriety and trust in interpersonal relationships in order to keep day-to-day life safe and copacetic. It is rightly felt that people can no longer be left to rely on their phronesis to make moral judgements (for without a telos, what would this judgement be based on?), and so more and more granular and restrictive rules are created as to what constitutes appropriate behavior — external, universal, one-size-fits-all guidelines that of course work much less well in some circumstances than others.

Naturally, there is much disagreement on just how far all these rules should extend beyond the enforcement of the bare minimum of propriety. Just how granular the rules should get is a matter of one’s perspective of what is “just” and “right” and these positions are based on conflicting telos, or on no defined telos at all.

Indeed, the disappearance of a shared telos from a culture’s moral code ultimately has a deteriorating effect on that culture’s moral discourse. When a culture loses its shared telos, is and ought are divorced. Without this connection, moral precepts lose any objectivity — a rational basis for why we should choose one position over another. Though we still voice our positions as if they had this kind of rational authority, our moral arguments in fact become “mere instrument of individual desire and will.” We assert our opinions as if they are objectively true, when they are in fact the arbitrary product of emotion and personal preference. One notices that there is very little philosophical discussion surrounding our moral debates at all; very little appeal to reason is issued beyond “This is the way it should be! . . . Because!” Moral debate becomes a series of reciprocal shouts. Flaming, blaming, shaming.

Or as MacIntyre puts it, “without a teleological framework the whole project of morality becomes unintelligible.”

As he observes, each person has become an autonomous moral agent, who “now [speaks] unconstrained by the externalities of divine law, natural teleology or hierarchical authority; but why should anyone else now listen to him?”

Living a Eudaimonic Life In an Irrational, Dysfunctional Moral Culture

MacIntyre truly offers an incisive explanation for why our moral debates are so shrill. Moral precepts — encouragements of virtue and prohibitions of vice — are rationally based when they lead to a clear telos. If your telos is this, you ought to do that. When a culture lacks a shared telos, and everyone is following their own ultimate aim (or lack such an aim at all), people with competing teloi simply talk past each other, while those without any teloi make moral arguments that sound objective but are really the irrational products of personal preference and emotion.

While MacIntyre’s insights are descriptive, and it’s enormously helpful to understand why things are the way they are, they’re less prescriptive; what should we do with this information? Three takeaways suggest themselves:

The importance of having a personal telos. Even though modern society no longer shares a common telos, you still should be clear on your own. What’s your ultimate aim? What’s your essential purpose and function? Throwing off your default desires is never easy. Knowing the end you’re aiming for will make you far more motivated in embracing the means — the habits of action attendant to living a strenuous life of virtue and excellence — that are necessary to get there.

The pointlessness of debate (with those who don’t share your telos). The West still celebrates the debate of political, social, and moral issues, and we do so because of the tradition we inherited from the ancient Greeks. But the framework that allowed their rigorous exchanges to function — the context of a defined city-state with a shared telos — no longer exists in our large, heterogeneous modern countries. We’re still trying to engage in an old model of rhetoric, despite inhabiting a very different cultural landscape. The result is our empty, interminable, emotion-driven shouting matches.

Now I’m not saying we should never debate important ideas. Such debates can be healthy and robust when in engaged in between people who share the same telos. And those who do not share the same telos can debate issues in a strictly pragmatic way — arguing for which solutions will be most effective or expedient. But when debates concern issues of “right” and “wrong,” if the parties do not share a common telos, the result will only be pointless, irrational pontificating.

The importance of belonging to a community. While it is impossible to share a telos with millions of other people, it is still quite possible, and desirable, to do so with a smaller community of like-minded folks. For Aristotle, achieving a life of eudaimonia could never be a solo affair; it required working on a shared project of common good with others. Comrades in a common purpose sharpen each other, and can create and achieve things they couldn’t by themselves. 

Just as importantly, communities of virtue act as repositories of moral excellence, emitting an influence and fragrance that strengthen and leaven the larger culture, and preserving virtues that might otherwise disappear. As MacIntyre ended After Virtue over three decades ago:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.”

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