Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Failed Diplomacy


1.

One party says small government, another says government of the people, another says end the grave danger threatening from without, another says take care of the threat coming from within. There is never any attempt to tell a more comprehensive story.

There is a good reason for this.

As long as there is a story, any story, every political action can be seen as a means to the end of making the story real. The story smallest in scope becomes total in scope when all of life is adapted to realize it.

For example, Marxism is a theory relating economic relations and quality of life. Once we set out to make a Marxist state, however, not just economics, but all social, political, and money matters came under control of the state.

A story gives a criteria of judgement: will this act under consideration lead faster or slower to achieving a small government, safety from invasion, the right human relation to property? Efficiency and power become decisive, when previously there was only the question, will this act lead to good or bad? To more justice, equality, fraternity, or less? To less violence, or more? But now anything, good or bad, is permitted in the cause of efficiency.

Telling little stories in politics leads to totalitarianism, a very big result.*

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* On not making human arrangements your ultimate goal: Aldous Huxley, Ends And Means


2.

- I heard an new one last night.
- A new story?
- At the Hammer Museum two guys were on stage with a moderator to talk about failed diplomacy. A former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia covered modern diplomacy: the failed war on terror, the failed war on poverty, the failed war on drugs, failed relations with Russia, failed wars in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Pakistan, failed attempts at resolution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute. American diplomacy was wrong headed, moralistic, presenting ultimatums, either do what we say is right or we won't talk to you and when we get around to it we'll bomb you. Parallels with the failed diplomacy in World War I were presented by the other speaker who'd written a new book. Like our times there was recently intensified globalization and application of technology. And like in our times diplomacy failed to prevent embarking on an unreasonable course of action, prevent Austro-Hungary going to war despite every possible reason not to, despite knowing it very well could lead to the empire's destruction.
- And what would you call this story?
- Efficiency.
- Not what we're to be efficient going about getting, but efficiency pure and simple. A democratic society getting efficiency from its government need not ask for more. Hasn't this political story has been going around Europe for while*?
- Now it's reached our shores. The claim of the diplomat on stage at the Hammer was that if only we'd let the experts like him do their jobs everything would go well. But we've filled the diplomatic service with donors to politicians' campaign funds, with Harvard and Yale graduates, relations of the corporate managers who fund the politicians. We get what you'd expect.
- And your view?
- You're letting me talk today?
- It's your story.
- It's their story. The same list of failures, even the failure of Austro-Hungary and Germany in World War I, can be easily transformed into a history of success.
- Go on.
- All you have to do is ask, Is Austro-Hungary identical with the people of Austria and Hungary? Is The United States identical with the people of The United States?
- Do governments act in the interests of the people as a whole, or in the interests of the wealthy, lobbies, special interests, or of the aristocracy as in the case of World War I?
- Yes. The aristocrats and wealthy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany wanted honor and profits for their industries and were willing to face political destruction, looking ahead to family and corporate wealth surviving that destruction, as they in fact did, and did again a couple decades later in the Second World War. In the American story, in almost every case the diplomatic failures cited were occasions of immediate profit for the corporations and interests funding the politicians responsible for the supposed failures.
- So the diplomat and the historian of diplomacy on stage are liars. The diplomats are already operating at maximum efficiency.
- Lying is traditional diplomatic behavior and they are lying at maximum efficiency.
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* The European Union recently commissioned a study to evaluate its "austerity" policies of forcing debtor nations to cut pensions, employment, and social services in order to repay in full their debt plus interest. With over 50 years experience with policies of economic efficiency enforced on dozens of nations, the results showed that the policies "failed", the debtor nations became more and more incapable of repaying their debt. The European Union nevertheless continued to enforce its austerity measures.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Game Of Hypocrisy

1.

- This Cambridge guy, he writes for the London Review Of Books, you know him I guess, he wrote a book about hypocrisy* a few years ago. I was wondering what you think of him.
- Do I think he is a hypocrite?
- Do you? He says hypocrites are not simple liars, but people who pretend they have a certain character and then act out of character.
- And he means people who pretend to be of good character and act bad.
- Yes.
- And to be of good character is to act on a general principle considered to be good.
- Yes.
- And he argues that people in public life, politicians, must be hypocrites, because it is not possible to accomplish anything in politics by always staying in character.
- You've read the book then.
- Yes. The politician is not simply a liar, because the politician's job in a democracy is to represent. They get the job by saying they will represent in accord with certain principles. And we say they are hypocrites when they act inconsistently with those principles, which inconsistency is necessary to get anything practical done in politics which is always a matter of compromise.
- That's what he argues. Do you agree?
- I think his definition of hypocrisy is wrong. We are not born into a world that allows us to get everything we want immediately and all at the same time. We can get some things but must give up others. Declaring we want all those good things, and not being able to get them, for ourselves or others, does not make us hypocrites.
- What does then?
- Lying about what we want.
- Thomas Jefferson praising the brotherhood of man and himself being the master of slaves is not a hypocrite if he claims he really doesn't want to be a slave master?
- If he admits his keeping slaves is wrong, no, he's not. His character is faulted. He'd rather not, but he's not strong enough to live up to what he believes in right.
- Can't every politician make the same claim?
- Let's go back to your Cambridge Professor of Politics who writes for the London Review of Books. He argues in another book...
- You've read it?
- Yes. He says people in the American democracy are childish, inconsistent and unrealistic, because they have been fortunate enough to take democracy for granted. They play politics under the parentage of the safe functioning of democracy. The general character politicians are hypocritical about is offered to the people to vote on, as character type is all they are willing to divert themselves from their private games to pay attention to.
- But you think that politicians are not the Jefferson kind of hypocrite who really believes in good and compromises out of human weakness. They are hypocrites who are not of the character they claim to be at all. The character represented to the people is what is false, and the hidden exceptions express their true nature.
- Right. There is long tradition in philosophy of politics putting into effect a shadow or representation of the truth, of the necessity of compromise with real present conditions. It is sort of obvious when you think about it. To always tell the truth, even when it is not opportune, is to make an end in itself of truth telling, of making a show of truth telling. That means putting truth telling ahead of making life good, when good life is the object of good character. A public character of truth telling, when that is inconsistent with real good character, is hypocrisy.
- Your kind, not the professor's. Pretending to a character one doesn't really have.
- Yes. The professor doesn't make the distinction. The democratic politician is like the democratic public, childishly playing, playing the role of politician. They don't have character any more than a child has character. They've found a game to play that for them is most fun and they play it for all it is worth.
- If the parent of the people is their democracy, who is the parent of the politicians?
- Who else? The people.
- Who elect them and let them play their games. But if politicians are just big kids like the rest of us how can we accuse them of being hypocrites? They just want to play.
- What game are they playing?
- I see. The game of hypocrisy. I suppose that's also your answer to my question about this Professor of Politics at Cambridge, writer for the London Review of Books, whether or not he is a hypocrite. Because he fails to distinguish between having good character and not in his definition of hypocrisy, he himself is just playing the part of good character, a searcher after the truth of politics. He's not really interested.

Further Reading:
There Is No Conspiracy Because There Are No People
Liars & The Free Market
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
The Game Against The Game
_________________
Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and BeyondDavid Runciman


2.

- Now the story really gets interesting.
- What story?
- The story of how hypocrisy develops.
- Does hypocrisy develop?
- You decide. The Cambridge Professor of Politics, writer for the London Review Of Books, says he admires George Orwell, but he dismisses Orwell's socialism, his wish to organize society making a first principle human happiness, not property, as unrealistic. In fact, says the professor, Orwell's depiction of totalitarianism shows we are better off accepting hypocrisy in politics since the alternative of honesty is worse, the alternative to democratic hypocrisy is the honesty of totalitarianism.
- Where does he get the idea totalitarianism is honest?
- Because it openly is after power. And the language of totalitarianism is honest in being openly meaningless. It doesn't state anything meaningful to be hypocritical about.
- Is he serious?
- Serious as the democratic hypocrite he recommends we all be can be.
- But totalitarian governments don't exercise power for the sake of the people as they pretend but for the sake of the leaders.
- Of course. The professor doesn't want to know that. He wants to remain a favored child playing politics, and that requires the secure parentage of democratic stability. Orwell's social ideas challenge that stability so are rejected out of hand.
- The professor wants to go playing undisturbed.
- Yes. A hypocritical attitude towards public life creates a distance between people, an unreality. That distance blocks the development of politics based on people liking each other, actually living with each other. Totalitarianism isn't honest about relations between people. Assuming the democratic hypocrisy so admired by the professor, it says to the people: you can play for all you are worth, go ahead seek the power you want, but understand that power of government tells you what you can play and allows that you can play at all. Orwell's "double think", "war is peace" for example, says play war, but remember it is really only play, it really is peace, if the government wants you to play that game instead, it's not up to you.
- Totalitarian language has meaning. It says, go ahead and play, it's all about power anyway, but remember hypocrisy is fun but when all is said and done it's us, the government who are your parents and we say what goes, what really goes. If you don't listen, there's always the fall back to physical force. You see, we've invented something new, a perfected form of politics. A tyranny is dictatorship maintained by force, theocracy is dictatorship maintained by tradition, but our dictatorship is neither, but rather a development and the destiny of democratic hypocrisy.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Freedom Rising & Falling





- In last year's "Freedom Rising: Human Empowerment and the Quest for Emancipation", a book of world history, German academic Christian Welzel proposes that the people of North America and West Europe, also Australia/New Zealand and Japan/South Korea, have been lucky geographically living in a cold wet climate. It got them emancipated. Food could be hunted for in many places, water sources couldn't be easily monopolized. It was harder to enslave people. The Middle East and the other unfortunate regions of the world depended on agriculture developed much earlier than in Europe. This made it difficult for people to run away, and scarce water readily monopolized made sure there were few places to run to. The decentralized slavery of feudalism in Europe and America, where monopolies of power were divided among municipalities, principalities, etc, allowed the development of merchant capital investment and the industrial revolution which in turn provided economic security. From that security, the argument goes, developed imagination of possibilities of freer ways of life, which when social opportunity, education and connection to others allowed them to be acted upon, lead to demands on masters for changed institutions to protect those new possibilities. What do you think?
- What do the authors say about the ongoing, intensifying redistribution of wealth in the direction of the rich in those very cold wet regions?
- Contingencies of history can disrupt the process of emancipation. And not to worry either about the new economy's supposed isolation of individuals from each other: in this world of freedom it is actually the opportunity for individually chosen connections.
-  A new study* of the poor in the United States shows that they are less connected, less liable to want to get an education. Poverty seems to be removing the economic stability supposed to be the beginning of the process of emancipation.
- How can we decide the question?
- One thing strikes me right off. If monopoly of resources is what stops the process from even beginning, and our North American and West European societies are in the grips of rapidly enlarging monopolies, is not the project of emancipation fundamentally threatened?
- Institutions have to be adapted. Then the process can continue.
- The withdrawal of security, according to theory, removes the desire for emancipation. The development of monopolies leads to the withdrawal of security for the majority of people. The progress of monopoly decreases the demand for emancipation, facilitating further monopolization.
- Then that has to be understood and prevented.
- Will that happen? Atomization, isolation of individuals, even without economic insecurity, leads to selfishness, founding security in power over strangers that is associated with acquiring possessions. Selfishness might allow ever freer choice of associations, but it does not allow for concern for the impoverishment of those who suffer the effects of monopoly control of markets and bribed governments. The result is the poor don't care to be free, and the rich don't care about the poor.
- Like ancient Athens, we'll have a creative, emancipated upper class supported by a mass of slaves. Do you think the masters of North America and West Europe deliberately create economic insecurity with their monopolies to undermine the emancipation project?
- You're asking, have they noticed that wars and economic crises serve their interests?
- I guess that bankers know when they come out with more money.
- Level Germany and Japan to the ground the Germans and Japanese feel the loss and capitulate. Try the same with more enslaved societies with different result. Our societies are vulnerable.
- Someone probably noticed.**

Further Reading:
___________________
* Robert D. Putnam's upcoming book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, 2015
** Emancipation progressing by means of monopoly economics endangers not only the functioning of democratic institutions that support it, but more importantly the practice of moral universals which give emancipated life under those institutions meaning and value. In North America and West Europe public life is lead under principles of compromise: insecure individuals make demands on each other. Functional public life demands the opposite, independent individuals of settled private life contributing mutual respect to the development and support of institutions. In North America and West Europe, public life is not built on the practice of universal principles in private life, nor does it give opportunity within itself for the practice of universal principles. See: Killer Metaphysics

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Search For Evil



1.

- This book I'm reading about evil offers a definition: destruction you can't find a practical reason for, but can find a psychological reason.
- Which is?
- Because an individual's desire is diverted to social conformity, both the act of satisfying desire and acts of social conformity, when this is known, are illegitimate, alien to the individual, and merit destruction by the individual. He suggests evil, depending as it does on intellectual analysis, is fairly rare, both in individuals and societies.  
- Let's take an example: the company Google, whose slogan for a while was "Don't be evil''. Their primary business is operating a search engine, their primary source of income paid advertising. They believe it is good to make a machine that functions to a good purpose, helping people find information. Which also is the presumed socially useful function of advertising. Google's search rankings are done mainly by popularity. Advertising in reality substitutes for the function of providing information a false claim of popularity, associating their product with symbols of acceptance and power over other people. Google takes the money of advertisers who sell images of false popularity and gives them the place real popularity achieves. 
- Google gives, by priority placement in its results, both a false sense of popularity and the advertising itself gives a false sense of popularity.
- Yes. Google and its advertisers are in a kind of arms race. The better, more accurate, more useful and informative Google's search results are, the less effective paid advertising is, therefore advertisers have to spend more. This in fact is what is happening as we speak. But the more advertisers spend, the more Google's results reflect advertiser priority, the less useful Google itself is as source of information, and Google needs again to improve the usefulness of its results if it hopes to continue to be bought out by advertisers.
- Then you are accusing the managers of Google of being evil? Arguing that no one could reasonably desire to make such an idiotic machine, such desire would be alienated desire. And a society where institutions for communication function fundamentally at cross purposes with themselves is worthy of destruction. The people who manage and participate in such institutions, if they know what they are doing, are evil.
- Do you think the people at Google know what they are doing, know their own desire is for something they don't really want, money and power, and feel oppressed by the worthlessness of the society they participate in creating?
- No. They are doing what everyone around them is doing.
- Remember what we've said about ritual. The individual's passionate participation in the group, in which his desire is not his own, results at the conclusion of the ritual in a sense of power and security within the group. The "alienated desire" is constructive of a world that is desirable. A better definition of evil is assigning other people the role in ritual of obstacle to be overcome to regain security and power.
- Not just our desire is corrupt, not really ours, and the world is artificial and not worth desiring, so I'll destroy it. But if I abandon my poor worthless self to a ritual, in a fight to the death with those who've forced a world not worth desiring on me, I will get free. And that is really what evil is. 
- At least might be a better definition. And examples won't be hard to find. But an evil individual acting alone is uncommon. An evil individual is insane.
- Why?
- Because the ritual obstacle for him is the whole world, with him in it. At the conclusion of the ritual he, with his worthless desire, is unchanged.
- Then why continue?
- Because in general, in our social lives, ritual works. It established security. The evil individual sees what he has done, made a mockery of the world, expressed his power, but he knows that even that expression of power over this world  is contemptible and worthless. It is too abstract, unphysical, it is not really his. 
- And he once again sets out to lose himself in ritual violence.
- Knowing that losing himself in violence he is doing something worthless. But for a moment, while it lasts, is relieved. 
- Yes. And on and on. Relieving loss of self in violence, disgust, loss of self in violence....


2.

- Let's go back to Google. They're not evil because they know not what they do. Why don't they?
- Good question.
- And the answer is?
- Since Plato philosophy and religion have been thought best kept out of politics.
- Thought by who?
- Philosophers.
- Not the religious.
- They vary.
- And the philosophers don't?
- They do. I'm referring to the best philosophers.
- According to you.
- Sure. Democracy was the safest form of government for philosophers to live their private lives.
- With or without religion?
- With.
- So Google is not evil because there are no philosophers there.
- That's right.
- Why aren't there any philosophers at Google?
- Another good question. Something happened in the last couple of centuries that never happened before: the possibility for philosophers to speak openly about politics and religion in public life without getting killed for it.* Democracy, when it uprooted class held monopolies over property and allowed freer exchange, allowed the aspects of social life, political and religious, that had supported class authority to be questioned.
- And philosophy and religion return to public life.
- Yes. But with the understanding that no one would take them seriously for the same reason they were allowed back.
- What?
- No one cared. Democracy is the form of society where people are allowed to disagree about what is best in life, as long as what supports that understanding is not put in question.
- Free exchange of property.
- Yes. The age of reason launched a vicious attack on religion and society. The nineteenth century followed with attempts to see more clearly what really goes on in the minds of individual participants in religion and society, culminating with Frederick Nietzsche throwing down the gauntlet proclaiming outright we are blond beasts pursuing our desires and sleepwalking slaves deluding ourselves both that we are not beasts and not slaves.
- Like the people over at Google. There doesn't seem to be any difference between this ordinary life and evil except being deliberate and self aware about it. Assuming Nietzsche didn't think this beastly and sleepwalking ignorance was too nice, did he go beyond criticism to how we should get religion and philosophy in our public lives and save ourselves?
- We should act on our own will not that of others, we should love life as it is so much we'd be willing to relive it endlessly, we should use tested knowledge to remake our place in community.
- He didn't say how?
- No. The kind of human being who'd be doing the remaking and he claimed to be the precursor of, the loving, scientific, self willed super human, didn't yet exist.**
__________________
Bringing philosophy and religion into public life, in addition to being a danger to the philosopher, is also a danger to the public: see The Islamic Philosopher Farabi And Our Times
** "We have no right to stand out individually: we must not either make mistakes or hit on the truth individually. Instead, our thoughts, values, every ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘if ’ and ‘but’ grow from us with the same inevitability as fruits borne on the tree – all related and referring to one another and a testimonial to one will, one health, one earth, one sun. – Do you like the taste of our fruit? – But of what concern is that to the trees? And of what concern is it to us philosophers? . . ." (Preface, The Genealogy Or Morality, 1887, Frederick Nietzsche)


3.

- What is your dog doing?
- I don't know. I looked it up on the internet but couldn't find anything.
- Sort of like dog-paddling. Except that's for floating in place. The fountain is only two feet deep. She's standing on the bottom on her back legs and paddling the surface with her front legs. I've never seen anything like it.
- What brings you to UCLA?
- The quiet. Sometimes I read by this fountain. I grew up living up in the hills over there. I've been coming here most of my life.
- What are you reading now?
- Nietzsche.
- Which book?
- Genealogy of Morality. I was thinking about evil, and this book provides one of the most famous definitions and examples.
- What is evil?
- Resentment. Destruction without practical intention, done for the feeling of power. The Jews, the book proclaims, were dark skinned slaves who created Christianity to poison, drain the life out of their masters, the light skinned Aryan race. Recognize the idea?
- The Nazis.
- Yes. Nietzsche said he liked to joke, say sombre things laughingly.
- Doesn't seem funny to me.
- Look at your dog. Do you know what I think she is doing? Playing with the light.
- She can feel the underwater light on the bottom with her feet.
- I don't mean the fixture, I mean the light. Watching the light change with her dog paddle splashing. Look, she's dunking her head under water to look at the source.
- She does that.
- So Nietzsche, the historian of ideas, makes this claim about the Jews. They invented compassion to undermine their masters' power, who before they'd been corrupted had been individuals, loving life, studying life, like the ancient Greeks. The trouble is, one thing the Jews are not especially is compassionate. I can tell you that as a Jew myself. There is nothing in their history, before and after the beginnings of Christianity, to bring in as evidence the Jews wanted to poison their master race the Christians. And the theology and philosophy of the Jews, both before and after, especially when you take Kabbalah into account, leans not towards the passive, un-individual, unknowing compassion they are supposed to have poisoned the Christians with, but very strongly in the opposite direction.
- Nietzsche was joking.
- Yes. But for fun, or out of resentment, as an act of evil? Was his writing an example of an individual's will to know the world out of love for the world? Or an act of hatred and destruction?
- What do you think?
- Nietzsche to me is insane. He watches himself as he throws his own poison into the world, sees that act itself as futile, and throws himself back into more destruction to avoid the sight of his own futility. In one famous passage he predicts the coming of destruction like the Nazi's soon brought citing Neitzsche himself as their authority. Hey. I've got a hypothesis now, a way to test my theory about your dog.
- What?
- She seems to be always facing the light while she kicks up her waves. Going around it, positioning herself like the hands of a clock.  Do you know, going home last night, passing Holmby park, I stopped to talk with a group of men playing frisby. They called themselves a men's support group. Once a week they got together to open themselves up to each other. Take them as an example of the poison compassion Nietzsche hated. They talk about their lives, but practically speaking, did they share their lives? Do things with each other, help each other out of practical difficulties? Or only feelings. Look at your dog! She was at three o'clock, now she's at nine o'clock. Even though her body is not exactly angled to the light, her head is.
- Interesting.
- What I'm interested in with Nietzsche is definition of the problem: if we're not going to live with each other in false compassion, with resentment against our social conformity, acted upon or not, how do we live? How do we act with individuality, love, and science with each other? Look now. She's at one o'clock. Theory confirmed!
- You're probably right.
- Dogs play with sticks as toys, perhaps imagining them as prey. But this play with light seems to be abstract play, like making music, or mathematics. It's not impossible. Dogs love their masters and play with them, learn their habits and manipulate, master their masters. Your dog shows you her new art, while I've been coming here for decades and never did anything but sit and read. She could be the first of Nietzsche's prophesied master race, the individuals who'd invent scientific, loving lives with each other.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Prize

Hammer Museum, Westwood, July 15, 2014

- They put us down here. I feel uncomfortable.
- A whole auditorium of people looking at the back of your head. The front row probably was reserved for important people who didn't show up. Anyway we'll see faces of the important people on stage. If you consider them important.
- You don't?
- They're going to talk individual entrepreneurial genius. But I think there might be a direction to history somewhat independent of important people. This one of the two who's from XPrize seems to think so too. His company holds prize competitions: reusable space shuttles, oil spill cleanup kits, etc. He says poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years, and that over the next several decades it will be possible with exponentially increasing technology to significantly raise global standards of living.
- But?
- In that same last 50 years, the net worth of the average American family went from about $170,000 to less that nothing.
- Because of debt.
- Yes. In another, famous prize competition, in 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality on a subject proposed by the Academy of Dijon, which was in full: "What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men, and is it Authorized by Natural Law?" The epigraph he chose was from Aristotle:
We should consider what is natural not in things which are depraved but in those which are rightly ordered according to nature.
Rousseau believed the arts and sciences corrupted human nature.
- That human nature was naturally good. I know. I read about him in school.
- I'll show you something on my computer. I don't think you've read this.
- The discussion is going to start.
- We have a couple minutes. Here:
The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. These interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case the economic system will be run on noneconomic motives.*
What if our technological development is relying on unnatural economic relations?
- How do you define unnatural relations?
- Doing for the sake of doing.
- Why do things for no reason?
- For no specific reason: for the feeling of power. Rousseau described how we go from naturally doing what we learn is good for ourselves to do, to learning what other people want us to do, then doing it, for the sake of the power over others it gives us.
- What good is power for its own sake?
- None. Power has its reward in displacing fear. The more we know we can do things because we've already done them many times before the safer and more powerful we feel. Anthropologists call this practice ritual.
- I think I understand.
- If economics in our times excludes or dominates all other aspect of life, and technology is now taking place within that constraint, what can we expect?
- Better health, less poverty.
- But greater inequality too throughout the world, as in the past 50 years? The CEO of XPrize discounts the economic downturns, wars, climate catastrophes of the 20th century as surmountable obstacles.
- You disagree.
- Free Market economic jargon has it that executives "grow" their corporations, as if there was a natural direction they are entrusted with nurturing.
- But Rousseau saw an unnatural growth.
- Yes. If we are going to imagine a direction to history we have to have a model of how history grows. Say we use the model of ritual, doing for the sake of doing. We are worried about wars, and economic reversals, delaying the course of progress despite technological advance. Economic reversal has happened clearly in the case of the U.S., but not in the case of poor countries, so the argument goes. Let's look at it logically. Four categories:
economics for their own sake, outside the country
economics for their own sake, inside the country
war making for its own sake, outside the country
war making for its own sake, inside the country
Recent history of the U.S. shows both war making for its own sake and economics for its own sake in foreign lands.
- How?
- By invading and developing markets without concern for other factors in those countries. If we look within our country, we see economically, as I mentioned, the entire destruction of the middle class by exclusive focus on economic interests. What about internal war?
- Civil War?
- We have suspension of civil rights since 2002 and the Patriot act, torture, secret prisons, abduction, denial of legal representation, assassination. We have government spying on all communications. Still we have a long way to go before totalitarianism.** We have economic freedom. We can choose our jobs, quit at will. The question is, how does technology fit in? Technology facilitates economic transactions, shipping and high speed trading, both inside and outside the country. Technology facilitates foreign war, suppling equipment and communications. Won't technology be turned also to civil war, the powerful acting deliberately against the powerless, if not directly militarily, then with economics exclusively in their control, financial war waged to increase further inequality? ***
- There should be a prize to stop it.

____________________
The Great Transformation Karl Polanyi

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Some Girls Like To Fight




- I have this new idea. I was walking home from UCLA, passed the L.A. Country Club and had stepped onto the small pedestrian island at Beverly Triangle, the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds....
- Where the Peninsula Hotel is...
- ...when someone squeezed in between me and the signal post. I looked up with astonished recognition: a provocatively dressed extremely well taken care of beautiful young woman, smiling broadly at me. Beside her a middle aged man, not looking at her.
- An escort and her client. How did you know her? Do you have secrets I'm not aware of?
- My runaway wife told me how I looked when she looked at me looking at her: astonished recognition.
- Recognizing what?
- Something I appreciated.
- Your wife had been an escort for a while.
- So she hinted. In fact I had been thinking of her during my long walk. 
- You never get over her. What's there to appreciate in these women? 
- Thoughts of appreciation were circulating in my mind, along with conspiracy theories, economic and political, and how accumulation of property leads to a slave society.
- Nothing else?
- No. I thought that imagining people plotting against you left you powerless if you didn't have some model of why and how they were doing it, some way to analyze the situation that would suggest some action to take. And that might also be true on a basic level, and there was a logic to how accumulation of unused property in developed societies led into slavery.
- When accumulated property is inherited, monopoly ownership of property develops forcing those without property into slavery.
- But what if, besides this practical, historical likelihood, there is some inherent relation between the two practices?
- Like what?
- Accumulating unused property, not giving it away, keeping it to pass down to descendants continues the same practice of not sharing.
- Leaving them property is sharing with descendants.
- Life is not shared with those property is left to. 
- And?
- I think it might be important. In undeveloped societies the donor of accumulated property continues to live with recipients.* In developed societies, the value of accumulating unused property, not giving it away, is in the power it represents, and power can be transferred freely and arbitrarily after death since no sharing of life is involved. With no mental dissonance unused property can be transferred to the oldest son while leaving the other sons and daughters totally disinherited. 
- The transition from unused accumulated property to slavery comes about not merely out of a practical chain of events, but because of an arbitrary division of people into inheriting and not inheriting, neither class based on shared life.
- Waiting for the light to change on that Beverly Hills corner I turned a face of astonished appreciation, reminded of my wife who was wised up to the conspiracy of relations of men to women. How men wanted to buy women, but at the same time wanted to imagine that the women they bought like them. 
- You're going to say they wanted to imagine the money they're paying as a bequest to a descendant.
- Right. The men want to see the beauty they think they are buying as really theirs.
- They want to be women?
- They want to possess the power of the woman's beauty, as they have acquired unused property for the sake of the power it represents.
- Then slavery, as a product of imagination, develops directly out of inheritance of unused property. 
- That's my bright idea. 
- Interests conspire to wage wars, they transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to themselves, they care nothing for the destruction of the environment and of human lives, not because they are crazy, but because slavery is a natural consequence of acquiring unused property. 
- Yes. 
- Women who professionally use men know exactly what they are doing, are experts in giving men the impression power is transferred with their beauty. You admire these women because they're wised up, but they don't do anything about the male conspiracy except take the money and run.
- They reveal a vulnerability.
- They're tougher than the men.
- I mean the men's weakness. If what appears to be their conspiratorial madness is actually continual dependence on acts of imagination, and everyone wises up on a massive scale? Interfering with the imaginings might be a step towards bringing down the whole edifice of accumulated property and slavery.
- I can follow that, that's the old idea of "withdrawing consent".** For the rest, give me a chance to catch up! 
- Take your time.
- Try this: accumulation of unused, unshared property is done for the sake of power property represents. Power to be safe and prosperous. Transmission of property to some descendants rather than others creates in the mind of the giver haves and have nots. And this too is done for the sake of power. The donor believes, in passing down property, he is buying into the power of the descendants, like the middle aged man buying the escort's beauty. And the power of haves over have nots is the idea of slavery. How'd I do?
- Not bad. You put together everything - property accumulated, unused, unshared, passed on, as an inheritance, selectively, for the sake of imagined power acquired through the bequest. You could maybe have been clearer with the conclusion. When those accumulating unshared, unused, property buy the imagined power of descendants, power is passed on to those already with it, and this what creates social class.
- Power stays with power. ***

Further Reading: Married To The Business Of Buying
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** See Their Technology And Ours
*** For an example of how the idea of slavery is translated into class identification, see: The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alien Invasion



- You know this book by the physicist, A Short - something - About Time, said to be the most bought and not read book in human history? Have you read it?
- Didn't buy it but tried to read it in a bookstore.
- The physicist says, maybe someplace else, I'm not sure, that if we want to know how aliens will treat us when they land on our planet we should look at how those of us with high technology treat those with lower technology.
- They'll massacre most and enslave the rest.
- Yes.
- I guess people bought the book thinking that to compete they had to be up to date on technology and then didn't like reading the part about technology dooming the species to massacre each other and finally be massacred by aliens. Did you get far enough yourself to find out if he talked about societies that didn't organize themselves as parts in a machine?
- The first societies,* where prestige of doing things well was tied to giving away the products of doing things well. Wealth wasn't accumulated, so wasn't inherited. And the technical knowledge responsible for accumulation, also not inherited, could not become the basis of social class.
- And not lead to massacring and enslaving each other.
- I am among those who couldn't finish the book, but I'm willing to bet it's not there.
- What about another bet? What are the chances alien invaders come from the end of the line of technological evolution rather than the beginning?
- Since the exceptions to technology and slavery appear only at the beginning of our history and in scattered small societies that have been isolated from history, isn't it likely aliens will travel the same path?
- We've had a lot more bad societies than good.
- Yes.
- And the only good societies we've had don't do well when contacted by the bad.
- They don't. The good don't survive.
- Will the bad societies survive?
- They have, so far.
- Suppose though slavery, massacre, inherited hierarchy destine us for destruction. On the other hand, the archeological record and continuing survival of isolated communities show that good societies are stable and long lasting.
- So if good societies that go bad self-destruct, and good societies that stay good survive, and there is no necessity for good societies to go bad, then our reasoning is wrong: it is infinitely more likely we'll be contacted by people who stayed good, because there are more good societies than bad out there in space.
- As you said: if good societies don't all go bad. And if they get technology.
- What if technology always makes us bad and without technology we'll always be conquered by those with?
- Then aliens will come massacre and enslave us.
- Look on the bright side: every year that we continue to survive and the aliens don't come to get us is an argument that they don't want to. They have better things to do.
- And then like them we'll someday work out how to use technology and stay good.
- Do you know what else is encouraging?
- What?
- No one reads that guy's book.

Further Reading:
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Monday, July 7, 2014

Democracy & Inequality


- Start with ancient Athens, the first democracy?
- Ok.
- In Plato democracy was the kind of government in which people didn't agree with each other about what is best, and which in any case they didn't know: they educated each other in manners and beliefs in daily life without conscious knowledge.
- People in democracy were ignorant, and indifferent to the truth.
- Exactly.
- And the beautiful idea of equality?
- The mutual power people had over each other.
- Which they learned to have unconsciously and indifferent to good and bad.
- The power they had came from a very real, material source: property ownership. Workers of the land and makers of things, as owners of property, could not be frightened into accepting conditions of slavery. They saw their civic status in terms of power not to be slaves. Inequality existed both in the home, where there was strict hierarchy, man master of women, older master of younger, and in the imperial policy of the government, exacting tribute from dominated foreign lands.
- Are you saying that democracy is the product of slavery? Not just economically, but morally? Equality is the product of inequality?
- Yes. Equality politically is mutual power. Emotionally it is common security gained by losing individuality, performing a ritual of rebirth in a group.
- Loss of individuality in acquiescing in master-slave relations in the home and in politics, and in return being rewarded by common security in sharing power, neither good nor bad, the result of unconscious learning, with "The People". That explains the terror that interrupted the French Revolution. But you don't deny, even if in democracy equality is built on inequality, that it allows better than any other government "liberty and fraternity"?
- The liberty and fraternity depend on the common power of the people. And common power depended, as we saw, on property ownership. Remove that condition, and the people must sell themselves into slavery as employees, and share with each other lives of mutual powerlessness.
- Alright. That is what the Athenians thought. What do you think?
- Nothing new, nothing not already said by Plato. Political equality is not a good in itself, and does not have good results because it does not depend on knowledge. If we want liberty and fraternity, techniques of government, of power sharing, will not get them for us.
- Knowledge, not power. We won't get anywhere until we know how to live.* 

Further Reading:
The First Culture
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* How ideas, good ones!, caused the French Revolution: Jonathan Israel's
Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, 2014