Monday, August 13, 2012

M +++ Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837)

Frenchman Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837) was a philosopher and utopian socialist. It was Fourier who coined the word feminism. He was a powerful advocate of the importance of community and the Communards of the Paris Commune were greatly influenced by his ideas.

Fourier asserted that poverty was the cause of most of the ills of society, hence there must be a decent minimum wage for everyone, including those unable to work. This is perhaps the first appearance of the "basic income" doctrine - everyone in society to have a guaranteed amount of money to live on - although it was assumed that anyone who could work would work and no one would choose to opt out and simply take the money (if they were neither ill nor unemployed against their will).

Fourier wanted to liberate every human being - every man, woman, and child - and he regarded liberation as having two primary aspects: intelligence, nourished by education, and joy, nourished by the healthy expression of human passion. Everywhere, he saw intelligence and joy under attack. Education for the vast majority of people remained rudimentary and religion continually constrained all joyful activities. Work always undermined joy, so he wanted to crack the secret of turning work into play.

People who love what they do will invest far more time and care into it than those who hate their work. They will do a far better job and be enormously more productive. They will feel fulfilled, contented, at one with their work, with how they use their time. The most depressing thing is to be alienated from how you spend your time because that's what constitutes your life. To love life, you must love how you spend your time, and you never will if you're trapped in a job you hate and you're only doing it because you have no alternative. That makes you a slave, and there's nothing worse than that. People and work must be harmonised. The State should find what people like doing and give them jobs that involve that activity, in the company of others who enjoy it too. Work should be the centrepiece of a joyful life, not the thing that people flee from. Most people spend their lives dreaming of their free time and of the "weekend" when work mercifully stops for 48 precious hours. So many people are driven by this permanent Sisyphean treadmill of work, play, work, play, ad infinitum. Play takes on a kind of insane, desperate character with many pumping themselves full of drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of their lives. Precious few use their spare time to dig their escape tunnel from their prison camp. They never get out.

Life can be good only when work and play coincide - you love what you do to earn your living. Soccer players are immensely envied because they relish what they do, get paid a fortune for it and receive endless adulation and all the finest things in life because of it. Most soccer players are morons, but, hey, you can't have everything, can you?

Fourier was a zealous proponent of a New World Order based on harmonious collaboration.

As an ardent feminist and advocate of equal rights for women, he believed that the traditional family home oppressed women and that they would be much freer within a community, supported by many other women. He considered that all important jobs should be open to women and men on an equal basis and aptitude alone should decide who was given the job. He was keen to speak of women as individuals rather than as appendages of men.

Interest in Fourier grew in the 1960s, with hippie communes imitating some of his ideas. They particularly liked his advocacy of sexual liberation and free love.

Fourier is a truly great visionary. His ideas concerning turning work into play, a variety of work to prevent boredom, a designed community, sexual liberation, an educational emphasis, a hatred of oppression, an appreciation of the importance of psychological profiling, his championing of feminism, mark him out as a man well ahead of his time. Perhaps the world is only now ready for Fourier.

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