The ancient Roman philosophy

As one reads about the daily lives of ancient Romans, one runs across the two major schools of philosophy: stoicism and epicureanism. These schools, along with other smaller schools such as cynicism, contended for the minds of the citizens of the Roman Empire. However, these schools were not proselytizing by nature. Citizens were attracted to them per individual tastes and mindsets.

Alongside this, one observes that the intellectuals among the ancient Romans, such as Cicero, were not great believers in the pagan gods of the day. The attitude to religion overall was that of customary common practice, rather than having a prepackaged set of beliefs which had to be digested by each follower. It appears that it was mainly near the Eastern borders of the empire that people were more prone to pay obeisance to their potentates and thus, had a more servile attitude towards their gods.

Argue against yourself

Every time one does this, it is a great exercise: argue against yourself. To play the devil’s advocate against one’s own beliefs and convictions can on many occasions be an exhilarating and educational experience.

One of the key aspects of intellectual debate and growth is to treat opposing viewpoints with the respect they deserve. It is almost always the case that if you clearly and convincingly argue the opposing viewpoint before presenting your argument, your argument will come out the stronger for it. Many times, one finds opponents straw manning each other, which leads to friction and talking past one another, but not to much enlightenment or intelligent discourse.

From an Ancient Indian perspective, debates between opposing viewpoints fall into three categories: honest debate (vaada), bad debate (jalpa) and wrangling debate (vitanda). On the other hand, a harmonious dialogue or conversation is characterized as samvaada. Upon reading many of the Sanskrit texts of the various philosophical schools, one comes across a style of writing wherein the opposing viewpoint is presented first. Then, based on the various logical premises, one’s own argument is presented as clearly as possible to the best of one’s ability.

Below is a small essay written by me from such an opposing viewpoint.

Universal basic income is a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country receive a regular, unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, independent of any other income. I personally feel this concept is going to become essential going forward with the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and related technologies. In this essay, I am going to take the position of someone who believes that having a universal basic income is not a good idea.

Basic income, as a concept, is one that is inherently flawed. It claims to address the needs of supporting a population when automation and computers have taken away most jobs. However, it fails to do so and leads to unpleasant consequences for the country. In this essay I try to lay out some key arguments against this concept.

Tax burden increases

Firstly, it imposes a bigger burden on the tax payer. The tax burden on citizens today is already quite massive. Providing a basic income to citizens on top of the existing programs will require more taxation, which will likely be opposed by the public.

Incentive to work is lost

Having a universal basic income will take away the incentive for people to work. Today, many people are incentivized to work because they need to eat. Providing a universal basic income will take this reason away from people, thus causing massive lack of productivity and unemployment.

Having lost the incentive to work, people will become lazy. Fewer people will be interested in studying or researching. So, this could easily lead to a stoppage of scientific progress. Also, economic progress may be affected by universal basic income because people may no longer be interested in innovating by coming up with new products and services.

Personal identity is lost

Today, for many people, the income derived from their job forms a basic part of personal identity. So, people will struggle to replace this very basic part of their identity. This may affect a large swath of the population psychologically, leading to a public health crisis.

Unemployment increases

Ironically, it may allow computers and automation to take away more jobs, since companies will not need to pay workers anymore. Basically, having a basic income will take the pressure off businesses to provide employment to society. Thus, most businesses will opt to automate to the fullest extent possible. Also, even more jobs will be outsourced and offshoring will become more rampant.

Unrest among younger population

It will cause unrest among the youth of the country. The youth, who have will have lost the incentive to find a job, will look to other pursuits. It has been seen on many occasions throughout history that a young population with no interest in careers or jobs will turn to anti-social, violent behavior.

Challenge to existing programs

It will interfere with the existing social welfare programs. There are even some senseless suggestions from the proponents of basic income that it could replace the welfare system. People who are receiving social benefits will now need to be provided this additional benefit. This will interfere with the purpose of having a social safety net, which is to provide a cushion to citizens facing difficulties such as unemployment, poverty, old age and sickness. People losing jobs are provided unemployment benefits as a stopgap measure until they apply for or find new jobs. So, such people may be discouraged from looking for or finding new jobs, because of receiving a basic income from the government.

It will require enormous change to the way the government functions. Currently, many government agencies are in place to perform a number of tasks. Now, having to provide a basic income to people would mean that new departments will have to be formed in the government, leading to massive upheavals in government infrastructure and may cost the taxpayer dearly.

Long vs short

It is a often-repeated teaching in sales that focusing on retaining repeat customers is way more important than getting a sale done immediately.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink gives an example of a car salesman who is the best-performing salesperson. His secret is shown to be that he has a host of long term customers who absolutely  trust him in their next car purchases.

Similarly, in many other aspects of our life, thinking long term turns out to be a better choice than the short term.

When it comes to relationships, avoiding direct criticisms and having a diplomatic outlook, as suggested in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a way to act in the long term interests of the relationship.

In the world of finance too, a great piece of advice is to avoid or control impulsive buying and, instead, focus on saving for the long term.

Overall, it appears that a change of mindset needs to occur in order for the above to be effective.

Practical philosophy

Philosophy oftentimes can become very abstract and otherworldly. This makes it out of reach for many people who would otherwise find it very useful.

The stream of what appears to be noise coming from ivory towers are not something very appealing to most people.

However, an ancient philosophy which is both practical and approachable is the one espoused by Epictetus who said:

Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it

Epictetus was an advocate of stoicism which is a simple, practical philosophy of personal ethics.

Marcus Aurelius and Seneca were two other famous ancient Roman stoics.

The writing of these philosophers is very reachable to everyone. The philosophy is also timeless because, as humans, we could always make use of such a well developed and robust system of personal ethics.