New Philosopher #18: Stuff


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New Philosopher is an independent quarterly magazine devoted to exploring philosophical ideas from past and present thinkers on ways to live a more fulfilling life. Commentary on New Philosopher aims to guide readers into living a happier and freer mode of existence.

In this issue: In 15th and 16th century Venice, more than a dozen laws were passed to prevent ostentatious and wasteful consumption. One such law dictated that no more than six forks and six spoons could be given as a wedding gift; another outlined in detail what could be served as dessert at banquets (in-season fruit and small pieces of pastry). The theory was that cupidity was the root of all evil, that superfluous spending was a threat to the republic.

Fast-forward 500 years and we can give or receive as many forks as we please, and we can serve our guests mangoes from India and mochi from Japan at any time of the year. In the 21st century there are no pesky laws to hold back our desire to consume and discard at will.

The problem is that today we have more than forks and fruit on the menu. Now we have fidget spinners (50 million sold in two months), smartphones (1.3 billion sold per year), and plastic bags (1 trillion used each year), which will take more than 500 years to decompose. Perhaps the Venetians were on to something.

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