The commodification of wisdom

I like what the School of Life is trying to do – bringing philosophy, wisdom and broader thought into our daily lives.  Indeed, Life Squared shares a similar aim in much of its work.

Where we differ (apart from size, finances etc!) is that Life Squared is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to offer its ideas and output to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay – whereas the School of Life is a business, offering its wisdom only to those who can afford it.  This is not a criticism in itself – it’s a business with a positive social outcome.

But I worry that the finance-generating side of the business could be diluting the credibility of their content.

It was seeing some of their new products in a local shop that made me feel sufficiently queasy to write a post on it.  These products include 6 pencils, each embossed with a ‘key word’ (such as ‘tragedy’) from psychoanalysis, literature and visual art – all for the sum of £12.  Or a set of 3 essentially blank note books for £15.

Not only does this seem like a lot to pay for very little, but surely it also contradicts some of the wisdom and ideas that they are trying to spread to people?  And also by commodifying these ideas in a rather throw-away manner like this it feels like the SOL leaves itself open to accusations of being inauthentic, which may reduce its credibility as a source of wisdom and stimulating, challenging ideas.  Just a thought.

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I totally agree with you! Their classes are very expensive, as are the products, like you mention. I abandoned the School of Life for Life Squared in the end, although I do still enjoy their free resources such as the Book of Life and their YouTube videos. Obviously, as a business, they need to make a profit, but I definitely agree that it comes across a little hypocritical/inauthentic. Perhaps putting some of that money into offering disadvantaged people free/cheap access to their classes would be a more positive option?

    • That definitely makes sense Sarah. Completely agree that lots of their stuff is great and I think it works in a complementary way to what Life Squared produces. Yes – more free/donated stuff or subsidised ‘scholarships’ might be the way to go.

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