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Archive for July, 2011

Self-preservation is the primary objective of existence, but in and of itself it is a process that takes place completely within a subjective conception of personalized reality. There is an ideal that is beyond the subjectiveness of our personal realities and narratives, and that ideal is called Truth. Truth is not what we generally consider “something that is true” such as that “Today is Sunday” is a true statement; the Truth I am talking about are the immutable laws of the multiverse. Human language may not even be able to explain them, nor our minds to even understand them, but all of our thoughts and actions are informed by our own conception of what Truth really is, and by striving towards this ideal, we can approach it even without ever getting there or knowing where we are going. In mathematical terms, existence is the limit as time approaches Truth.

Living only for one’s own preservation and without respect to Truth is what creates the ennui, the existentialism angst that pecks at our minds. We try to ignore this angst by giving our senses stimulus, but this can only temporarily bring us respite, for these stimuli are temporary, and the angst itself is a spiritual issue into which we are born, and over the course of our lives we struggle with. The angst exists as a condition of existence, it comes from the same place as Truth: somewhere beyond our perceptual frame.

The best we can hope to do with our lives is to respect the Truth. Understand that Truth is something outside of us, towards which we can only approximate. As the only ideal, Truth is unattainable, but at the same time it is a worthy exercise to try and attain it. To be engaged in this world is to be on the quest for truth; to hide away inside of ourselves is to turn away from truth and to be disengaged from reality.

If Truth doesn’t make sense to you, substitute in God, infinity, whatever marker you use within your own mind.

Truth is everything. Reality is an approximation of the Truth. Our lives are experiences within reality.

What is true? The only thing I know for certain is that our current conception of reality and existence will end in something we call death. Everyone knows this, but is afraid to acknowledge it. The only thing guaranteed in this life is our demise.

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Categories: Philosophy

Ghost Whispers in the Echo Chamber

Sometimes I write just for its own sake. It is a skill that needs practice. Other times, I think I am writing for a cause, but usually I am really just angry at something and I am not so much serving a cause as I am myself. I have descended into mundane punditry on more occasions than I am comfortable with…

Why do I do this then? First to conceive, then to think so highly of my conception that it merits articulation, dissemination, and permanence… is that what it really is about, the permanence, the irreconcilable death-fear, the denial of my own mortality?

Is the fear of death or the denial of our mortality really the basis for all action and expression?

I suppose that I am trying to cultivate a modicum of self-discipline for myself by doing something that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with, for its own sake rather than for a reward, however discrete or abstract that reward may be.

Writing on a blank page allows me to create something over which I have complete control… an appealing proposition to anyone, not only the “creative types”.

The question to ask myself should be what is the purpose of my audience. They keep you accountable but they are also a first exposure to judgement; but as soon as you start caring about the judgement, you lose touch with your subject and content. The true purpose of the writing must be the words itself. The words themselves are a representation of truth, the most abstract of philosophical concepts and also the most ideal. Truth is the ideal that everything measures against: words, actions, subject, object.

Nothing is entirely true but has certain aspirations towards truth, and strength of these aspirations is what we feel as the emotional resonance of something, whether a simple statement or a great artist’s magnum opus.

This is an accord with myself to write better, to find more truth, to not focus on the WHY but the WHAT.

Categories: Uncategorized

If you read one thing about political economy all year, read this interview with Michael Hudson

Stumbled across this interview with one of my favorite economists, Michael Hudson. He is not from Harvard or MIT or Chicago, so he doesn’t get as much attention as the Paul Krugman’s of the world, but he punches well above his weight when it comes to his abilities to articulate what is happening within the political economy of the world.

The interview is long but you should read the entire thing. It is honestly the best piece I have read on political economy in at least 2 years. The tl;dr version is that Obama long ago sold out the Democratic constituency to Wall Street, the deficit debate is all political theater, the bailouts vested the power of Wall Street in the same way that the railroad land giveaways vested the power of the robber barons, Greece will default and get kicked out of the EU, the financial estate is essentially at war with the public… it’s all stuff you’ve probably heard before, but Hudson does an exceptional job of tying it all together.

I feel like most people are still asking “How did it all happen?”, when what we really need to do is ask “What is happening right now?”. The vast majority of people believe the propaganda pushed out by the media. No one reads or listens with skepticism and objectivity anymore, and I don’t mean to rant, but maybe they never did. Is there just too much noise? How can you explain the entire political economy without debasing your argument by making it sound like a wild conspiracy?

I think this is the point that a lot of mainstream middle Americans don’t get: it isn’t that there is a group of Illuminati who sit in a lair somewhere and have discussions about how well their plan is going, it is that there are outsiders and insiders: the insiders understand what is happening and do their best to work within the system and profit from it, while the outsiders, some of whom know what is happening, are the majority who get screwed.

The only thing we can really do about it is stop caring about money; stop caring about year-over-year GDP growth; most of all, stop believing what you are told. You are not “informed” because you watch both MSNBC and Fox News, you are not one of the people who “get it” because you vote Democrat, read the Huffington Post, and have a Noam Chomsky book or two sitting on your bookcase that you probably never read. I’m stoked that you are at least a social progressive, and I am glad that you read more books than the Bible, but do yourself a favor and divorce your conceptions from the pop cultural memeosphere. We all have an emotional and cognitive investment in the world as we see it, but we are often unaware of exactly how and when these investments were made… and we sure as hell don’t check on them with half the alacrity we reserve for our financial investments.

Comparative Advantage and The New World Economic Order

One of the subjects that doesn’t get mentioned often in the context of financial crises is comparative advantage. The idea of comparative advantage is essentially the basis for economics, and periods of tumultuousness within economic systems can be understood as miscalculations of comparative advantage over an intertemporal period.

Imagine that a plane crashes over a deserted island, and the only two survivors decide to build a new society. The two survivors are Noam Chomsky and Larry the Cable Guy. Lucky for them, the island has enough food and water for them to survive with little effort, so they use their spare time to produce goods: long-winded political critiques and “jokes”. Chomsky is able to produce 10 critiques in a day if he devotes himself entirely to this endeavor. However, were he to concentrate all of his efforts on writing “jokes”, he would only be able to produce 2. Larry, on the other hand, is capable of producing “10” jokes everyday, but when it comes to politics, he just doesn’t really understand, and so from a single day’s efforts he can only produce 2 critiques. Now, imagine that it is preferable for Larry and Noam to consume a mixture of jokes and critiques (this relates to the law of diminishing marginal utility, which maybe I’ll write about later, but if you think about it, it should make sense to you… variety is the spice of life). So if Noam and Larry each minded their own business and did not cooperate, they would spend half their time writing jokes and half writing critiques. Each would have 5 of one, and one of the other, and the total size of the economy would be 6 jokes and 6 critiques per day. But if they were to focus on producing only one good, the one with which they have a comparative advantage at producing, they could collectively create 10 jokes and 10 critiques everyday, which they could agree to share, and both would be able to consume more this way (5/5 for each instead of 5/1)

I have just explained to you the basis of trade and economic organization aka division of labor. In today’s global economy, certain countries have comparative advantages when it comes to producing certain goods. China, for example, has a much larger pool of labor than Japan, and the Chinese laborers are able to work for a much smaller wage because the large supply there deflates the price. Japan, on the other hand, has a great deal of technological capital; the kind of machinery and expertise required to produce high-tech goods at relatively cheap prices (again, the prices are cheap because of the relatively high supply of capital in Japan). So, for most of the 1970’s to the late 1990’s, China’s economy was based on its supply of cheap labor, which it could indirectly export to the world by being a producer of cheap (easy to manufacture; requiring little technical expertise and inexpensive materials) goods, whereas Japan used its supply of technological know-how and cutting edge manufacturing facilities to create televisions and computers, which it could then export across the world. The entire global economy was engaged in a beautiful/terrifying dance: Canadian lumber, German engineering, Italian design, Australian minerals, Brazilian agriculture, Saudi Arabian oil… all of it going across continents and oceans in order to create the optimal number of goods for the world’s citizens to consume.

Sounds like a beautiful story, but it’s only one layer of the onion. I mentioned the 70’s-90’s because that is the “economic narrative” that most adults subscribe to: a basically static world where “Third World” economy is still an apt description of most the world’s countries that I didn’t bother mentioning. This story is outdated, and I have probably even embarrassed myself by telling it, because it shows my Western-centric world view and the Cold War backdrop of my birth. In reality, the latest wave of neoloberal reforms and subsequent globalization have created a world where China is right on the heels of Japan in high technology, the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian nations are becoming the centers for cheap labor, and much of the Western world is having an identity crisis as they grapple with the emergence of a new world order.

The shifting comparative advantages have created a world economy that, in the aftermath of a severe financial crisis, is having a hard time figuring out how to reallocate who should be writing the political critiques and who should be grunting out “Get er done!”; it is as if Larry the Cable Guy went to college and became a Rhodes scholar, while Noam Chomsky has taken up huffing glue, and neither are exactly sure who is better at what anymore. In the real world, at any given point in time, it is nearly impossible to know exactly what your economic output is or what your comparative advantage is, especially in a world that produces millions/billions of goods and services, with millions of firms and hundreds of countries, each one in an almost unprecedented state of flux in regards to its own abilities. So while everyone tries to figure it out, we have economic pain aka unemployment, slow-to-no growth, and inflation (the inflation isn’t directly related to the readjustment, per se, but is a consequence of it).

The extent of the adjustments taking place is greater than a lot of laypeople understand. Technological and institutional innovations from the last 30 years have greatly accelerated the pace of change in an ever more global marketplace. This has been the “Big Story” since the end of the Cold War. The effects of these changes will propel us into a new world order, most likely a multi-axis world where regional power brokers jockey for positioning and privilege within a global political order. The last time that the world was in such a geopolitical configuration was centuries ago. For us in the West, who have been born into a society based on the ideas of unlimited privilege and potential, it will require a bit of existential recalculation as a complement to our professional/economic recalculation. This can be a startling process, but the integrity of the West’s political institutions will persevere, and the decline will be gentle, gradual, and all together not-that-scary. There won’t be a new “Dark Ages” because there will not be a political vacuum such as what was seen after the end of the Roman Empire.

We may all develop a sense of nostalgia for Pax Americana, similarly to the British pride over their own fallen empire, but we should hope not to develop jingoistic or xenophobic ideas about this turn of historical events; I fear if we do, it may precipitate a period of world conflict. The last great wave of globalization in the late 1890’s/early 1900’s ended in two world wars, after the entire era of 1880-1939 was hyphenated by numerous severe economic crises. With history as an example, we are better prepared to not make the same mistakes of the past, but there is a large and vocal minority that would like to see the continuation of the American System, and this minority is very powerful due to the lucrative profits from the military-industrial-old media-financial complex (and I guess that is a coconut to crack for a different day, but take my word for it that they are all in it together… the smartest parts of the complex have already shifted their focus away from America, and the firms in the most developed parts of the developing world are already engineering the creation of their own rival power complexes…).

Categories: Economics, History

Conservatism and Human Exceptionalism

This post is going to be more for the benefit of myself than my viewers, but I am going to publish it anyway and hope that I get some feedback while I work out the kinks in my theories.

The entire conservative movement is based on the idea of homosapien exceptionalism.

Humanity itself is seen by conservatives as a oft-times devinely created being, and each human life is by extension seen as a philosophical end in and of itself.This is a viewpoint that is in accord with Humanism, which first came into the canon of Western thought around the time of Christianity’s reformation, and in turned paved the way towards Liberalism.

I look at the philosophical evolution of Humanism into Liberalism as social egressions from tyranny and the rule of man, in the same tradition as what we now call the Progressive movement. The relentless social march towards enfranchisement, self determination, and ultimately spiritual enlightenment has always been obstructed by the entrenched interests of the old order, who use there position of power and privilege to extract economic rent from the outgroups. The questioning of this system is ultimately what has driven mankind to struggle against it, and this drive to question is also the essential action that defines Scientific Skepticism.

I believe that scientific skepticism is currently incompatible with homosapien exceptionalism, insofar as homosapien exceptionalism is itself a distinctive philosophy from Humanism. My reasoning for this is that, based on science, we have evolved from lower lifeforms through processes known as natural selection, and that carbon-based life itself has little conceptual difference from computer code: we are simply a set of behavioral instructions that have been let lose to evolve within the operating environment of our universe.

If a human life is somehow demarcated as “special”, or rather as an end in and of itself, where do we draw the line as to what constitutes a human? Is it some special gene or cognitive function? Because in either case, we share many genes with chimpanzees and many cognitive functions with them as well. Furthmore, there would have had to be some sort of evolutionary threshold that was crossed which would differentiate the exceptional man from the unexceptional animal.

Or if you prefer to think that ALL lifeforms have some form of sanctity, we are undeniably living in a horrendously immoral universe.

I personally am more of an agnostic nihilist when it comes to ethics and morality, but I am also comfortable arguing from the aforementioned “all life is sacred” position; that all life has a certain type of sanctity and is philosophically an end in and of itself (most likely my affinity for Buddhism plays a role in my comfort with this position) follows logic. But the exceptionalism of homosapiens is logically impossible: we are either as worthless as bacteria, or bacteria are as mighty as us. To assume otherwise is to believe that there is some type of evolutionary threshold that must be attained before life is sacred, which I cannot prove to be, but believe to be, impossible, because of the genetic subtleties and nuances of different human beings, and at the same time the relative similarities between the different species.

Categories: Philosophy

Ron Paul: You Make Me Want to Cry

July 14, 2011 1 comment

My homie Ron Paul might be going a little too far off the reservation for me. I know it’s just a campaign ad, so it’s “meaning” is abstract to say the least, but is he really insinuating that we default on the national debt? It’s still early in the morning for me (anytime before noon is early for me), so maybe I am just not awake enough to understand the benefits of destroying the entire world’s economic order, however fraudulent fractional reserve banking may be.

Starting to think that maybe Godley and Creme wrote this song about Dr. Paul:

Pragmatic Libertarianism

The following post was inspired by these two articles.

Joseph Stiglitz: The Evils of Unregulated Capitalism

Anthony Gregory: Why the Left Fears Libertarianism 

The above two pieces are not necessarily diametrically opposed to one another, but reading them on the same day made me reflect on the sorry state of discourse between contemporary liberals and classical liberals. If you boil it down to a single defining characteristic, it is the socialist welfare state that divides the two, and nothing more. I look at the development of the modern social welfare state as a centuries-long process of negotiation and compromise between the classes of society. The current socialist democratic makeup of the developed world is the result of this (often violent) negotiation process, and it represents a sociopolitical equilibrium that will continue to shift as time marches forward. I say all of this without making any normative statements as to whether or not such a equilibrium is preferable to any other hypothetical states of equilibrium. Libertarianism makes the case that an equilibrium can exist at a point with much less government power and less consolidation of authority, and that such an equilibrium would be a “better” place to be as a society. Essentially, Libertarians are making the argument that Pareto-efficient social outcomes exist at some point where there is dramatically less government intervention in society. I am not going to comment on that statement for now, and instead go back to the articles that inspired this post, but keep this sociopolitical equilibrium model in mind.

Gregory makes some interesting points about how much the popular left has maligned libertarianism since the onset of the Obama presidency and subsequent rise of the tea party. He also does a great job of pointing out the Obama’s failures: not ending the wars, selling out to the big corporations in both health care and financial system reform, and just generally being more of the same (what else should we expect from a major party candidate?).

Joseph Stiglitz, fighting from the other corner, has a remarkably simple and coherent plan for fixing the economy: end the wars, rein in military and drug costs, and raise taxes on the rich. I can get behind that 100%. Maybe that doesn’t really make me a “real Libertarian” like I purport myself to be, but the fact of the matter is that such policy would be much more libertarian than our current policy of corporate welfare and endless intervention in the affairs of other countries.

Yeah, the rich should pay some more taxes… they have been sucking off the public’s teat forever, maybe its time for them to give a little back. I am not ideologically Libertarian because Libertarian is the best political ideology and all other ideologies are inferior; I am Libertarian because I believe that people should be free to live their lives unencumbered by the constraints imposed upon them by political, religious, and cultural institutions. I believe that, as long as we are not depriving other people of their own right to be weird, we should be as weird as we want to be. My personal philosophy is actually inherently progressive. Maybe I am really a Marxist; if you know your history, it is kind of hard not to be. I think there is a mountain of evidence that the monied classes have been systematically abusing our democratic system for their own personal benefit… for at least 30 years, perhaps closer to 300, or 3000… its hard to know exactly how far to go back, but if Libertarians were to look at the tenets of Liberalism that inspired their own philosophy of freedom, they would see that Liberalism and the Enlightenment were about giving power and choice to the people. The Liberal revolutions that brought us the American Revolution, French Revolution, and countless other political and social movements were an inherently democratizing and enfranchising process. It is a process that has been taking place all over the world, and has yet to reach its culmination.

Today’s libertarians need to consider their end game: is a libertarian utopia, even if hypothetically achievable, even sustainable? Can the equilibrium that they believe in even exist? I unabashedly believe we need more libertarian-minded reforms in this country, but I also am skeptical that a pure libertarian equilibrium exists. If we are only concerned with Pareto-efficient outcomes, I think there are a number of things that can be accomplished within the democratic socialist framework of our countries institutions. This is where I have an ideological split with “fundmentalist libertarians”, who would never use the corrupted means of government power to establish an end that is marginally more libertarian. Would it be worth it to spend $1 trillion dollars on a national project that delivered clean and cheap fusion energy to every household in North America? If it guaranteed that we wouldn’t need a foreign policy centered around the invasion of energy-rich countries, I say such a project is a net-gain for Libertarianism (as well as practically every single person on Earth).

The reality is that there is no such thing as a free market, and consequentially there are a huge number of goods and services that are misprovisioned. If you accept the hypothesis that “pure libertarianism” is unfeasible, or at the very least unworkable (and I actually think most people who identify as Libertarian recognize the futility of their ideological affiliation, but are like me and stick to their guns because they believe marginal steps towards libertarian principles are what this country and the world need), it is only a logical extension that such an aforementioned “Manhattan Project” for energy is a good idea.

Ideology is always a mistake. It blinds us to the facts. It doesn’t really matter from which angle you are coming from; if you believe in an idea in and of itself as an end in and of itself, you are abandoning any pretext of objectiveness. You are using bi-variable equations to explain phenomena that take place in four dimensions, and your model will ultimately fail.