Kings of the 21st century

If you told Alexander the great that in ~2400 years, at the click of a button, anyone could – get pizza delivered to their doorstep, watch a panda eat bamboo in China, and book a room in another continent – would he even consider himself a king anymore?

But that’s exactly what has happened! Now, more than ever, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that a lot of people have the comforts and entertainment available to them that were once limited to only the rulers and elites. In fact, it would be a safe bet to assume that most kings would instantly agree to swap places with an average person living in the 21st century. So then, would it also be safe to assume that with all this access, comfort, and entertainment – people are, at the very least, happy?

Ahem, not so fast. You see, right now there’s not much that one has to technically do – there are machines, people, and softwares that do the job for you – which leaves one ample time to ponder about the other things in life, namely and most importantly, oneself. Now, that’s exactly when things start going south. If you dig more into WHAT exactly did the kings of the past actually do except for just chilling on the throne, a disturbing trend seems to emerge, which is that they created artificial diversions and conflicts to keep themselves entertained (+1 for nihilism).

Hunting, wars, and other activities were not merely good pursuits to achieve power or showcase skills, they were essential diversions to keep the rulers busy, for else they might start thinking about themselves, and eventually about their mortality. What’s the point of stating all this? I think that the current rise in mental illnesses across the globe is not because of just social media, or technology or whatever other factor is trending right now, but rather due to the vast amount of time available to us after the industrial revolution.

Of course, you can keep yourself busy with work or entertainment even today, but as technology takes over more and more of our day-to-day chores and people get more free time, we all will be left unprepared and helpless on how to deal with what comes next. However, fret not, the VR gurus are arriving soon to let you off the hook from reality itself, and transport you to a world that’s a little more interesting, and much more meaningful (Don’t forget to harvest your crops in Farmville VR!).

The dilemma then, for the 21st century kings, is whether to grind in the real world or the virtual?

Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion, and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself. Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us. Reasons why we like the chase better than the quarry. Hence it comes that men so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible. And it is in fact the greatest source of happiness in the condition of kings, that men try incessantly to divert them, and to procure for them all kinds of pleasures. The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself. This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophise on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us. - Blaise Pascal