Friday, December 31, 2010

Capitalism

As an economic system, Capitalism is nothing but the only economic system that has worked well throughout human history, added to the scientific method and industrialization. It has no moral component, other than the demand for honesty in business, diligence at work, and--for success--imagination.

It is as wrong to say greed has no part in it as to say greed has everything to do with it. All people, for all of history, have wanted more than they had, absent some comforting social narrative, like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Christianity. What they would normally do is invade other nations, and take their stuff. This was as creative as they got.

Socialism is simply a variant of this, in which the "invasion" is domestic, making the paradigmatic socialist war the civil war. Quite obviously, most deaths from Communism were caused by those in power, and inflicted on those whose welfare they purportedly cared about. Softer versions of this simply lead to economic impoverishment. Tax rates are a tool of war, too, and those enacting them forget that those able to amass wealth are generally much more skilled at keeping it than the State is at stealing it.

The point I wanted to make, though, is that at root much of the driving energy of our economy--at least when it is growing--is that same restless energy that led previous nations to war. Rather than fight with guns and bullets, we fight with aggressive ad campaigns, price cutting, innovation, and business structures.

This is a vast improvement over shooting wars. It is an enormously powerful engine for material prosperity. At the same time, it is not the energy of contentedness. It is not the energy of stability.

In my imagination, I look to a world in the future of villages. I look to a system of economic and social life that is relatively stable, and in which most people feel no need to venture that far from home. This can be brought about, I think, through social innovation, through increased skill at the cultivation of happiness, both as individuals and as communities.

What I would hope to see is a gradual reduction in the restlessness that leads us to fight one another so hard. A key component in this will be winning back the control of our money, and stabilizing it. Building wealth should be much easier than it is currently.

That's all for now. Things to build.

Children

I have observed this before, but it is interesting to me that the sadness that marks the growth of my children is not associated with their own development, but seeing it in their schoolmates and friends. I suppose I know I will always be around them--to some extent, who knows if they will leave town?--but will not be around their schoolmates. Those children, whose progress I only see in fits and starts, at awards or at sporting events, mark for me I guess times that are now gone. I remember them when they were little. I remember, then, who my own children were then.

Experientially, it is like an odor that just suddenly transports you into a completely different emotional gestalt, associated with another time and place. One marks, by contrast, the slow progress of time, the slow passage on a conveyor belt that ends for all of us sooner or later.

What do children give us? Why do we value the time when they are little so much? I think it is innocence. I think we are all born with the capacity for unreasoning cruelty, but not for intentional cruelty, knowing cruelty.

Deep requited love--and children respond marvelously to sincere love--is a sensation of RELAXATION. This hit me the other day. All of us keep, from necessity, psychological boundaries in place, to prevent emotional injury. Love is dropping those boundaries. It is a risk whose payoff is a profound sense of released tension.

We want to be with others. We want to be with them in an emotional room where you can't be hurt. Yet that is not how things work.

I wonder, though, how things would be if there were no children, if we all lived as adults our whole lives. Would we not need to recreate or retain some of the innocence that children bring? And as I have wondered before, what if we had no gender, and could not have physical sex? How would we relate to one another? That sense of connection, love, is the real one. Everything else has the potential to include love, but need not. Quite obviously, sex can be loveless, and quite obviously many parents indulge their own need for affection by taking and using the love children offer so spontaneously, without repaying the debt.

Few thoughts, sparked by some dreams I had last night.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trivia

I've played Trivia in bars a few times. With a couple smart people, I can usually win.

At the same time, I don't find it very entertaining, or useful. You either know facts or you don't. Knowing a lot of facts is useful, but it is much more useful to know how to contextualize facts.

What would be interesting and useful to be would be not "name the four cities the Concord flew to", but "what was the social and political significance, if any, of the Concord jet?"

Everyone could read their answers, and people could vote for the best one. That I would find entertaining.

As things stand, I was pondering the perhaps superficial and inaccurate observation I have that--based on the names of the groups that participate--that Trivia participants tend to be more to the left in their political tendencies.

I was thinking about it, and what I see is that leftists in general are quite educated. Virtually all academics and many professionals (albeit not business owners) are leftists, although many would not use that word. They know a lot of facts.

Yet as I see it, modern education is really not Liberal any more, in the sense that Scientism has coopted Rationalism, with the result that what is really taught is a uniform conformity to intellectual/knowledge Power Elites. Take global warming. We are expected to believe--because it comes from credentialed professionals--that global cooling is an outcome of global warming. Yet when I heat a pot of water, no cooling is generated thereby. Parts of the pot may heat faster--like the part directly over the burner--but it all evens out.

So who do I trust? The "experts", or my own common sense? If I am properly "educated", then I trust the experts.

This leads to a situation in which the educated are in possession of vast numbers of data points. Ask them about Vitamin E or the benefits of vegetarianism, or how CO2 acts as a Greenhouse Gas, and they are all over it.

What they don't do is offer up narratives that rely firmly upon principles. For example, it can easily be shown that the net effect of their prescriptions for poverty actually increase poverty. If there were a principle in place, such as "we need to see to the care, feeding and shelter of the less fortunate among us", then one could make a simple appeal to efficacy. That doesn't happen. They just repeat themselves. They don't adapt. They only adapt when someone TELLS them to adapt.

This is a cultural problem of the first order. We tend to think that if we were smarter the world would be just a bit better, but in my view the world should be RADICALLY different, and we have only just begun to plumb the depths of our collective stupidity.

End note: "tri-via" comes from the Latin word denoting the intersection of three roads. I looked it up, and thought I'd share it. Medieval educational curriculums were also called the Trivium, and consisted in three subjects, which I don't have time to look up. I think they were Astronony, Rhetoric, and Math, but could be wrong.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lady Gaga

I was thinking about Lady Gaga for some reason this morning. I had seen her "Fame Monster" cover the other day, with the mascara that looks like she had been crying. In effect, it looked to me like an invitation to consume her pain. She called her audience "little monsters" once, and I think the reason is that what seems to sell for her is a more or less overt masochism. "When it comes to love, it ain't fun if there isn't a gun". Something close to that.

Unless I miss my guess, I suspect she has fantasies about committing suicide on stage. Who is she? Is she who she used to be--uncertain of herself, craving the approval of others--or this stage persona, this monster she has created? Should she love the people who have granted her fame and fortune, at the cost of what seems to be her soul? Who crave her public displays of more or less self inflicted grief and longing?

Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name we get "masochism", had a thing for women in furs. One could perhaps generalize and say he had a thing for women dressed extravagantly. I think Lady Gaga qualifies.

What I will say is that there is in my opinion real beauty in her, that is plainly expressed in at least the song "Poker Face". That song derives it's somewhat cruel power from the contrast between her potential for beauty--when she lets her voice go--and the continual return to a compulsive masochism.

What I would like to see is her either reinvent this Lady Gaga persona--which is likely impossible--or give it up, and write songs that make her happy. They are in her. I can feel it. At this point, she's made enough money. If she wants to really not care what people think, that would be the route to take.

I'm not sure why I think about her. I think there is something in her that is common to many of us. That is perhaps part of the reason why she is so popular.

How many of us, I wonder, erect public faces to hide private griefs or aggressions? How many of us are who we appear to be?

As I think I have said before, the process of personal growth, of Goodness, is in my view the progressive reduction in the number of our personalities until we are perfectly congruent in our thoughts/emotions, words, and actions.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A place of stillness

It seems to me to be emotionally healthy we need to balance activity with stillness. You have to take chances, do work, get bumped around, and generally mix it up in the world. Then you also have to have time "off" to learn from your mistakes, process things emotionally, and recalibrate/recreate yourself, such that the newer you is better equipped.

On a very deep level, I am not sure that process is as simple in our world as it used to be. One must always be careful, though, about romanticizing the world of yesteryear--we did after all have separate drinking fountains in the South for black people just 50 or so years ago. Go back another twenty, and Europeans were killing one another in great numbers, and samurai swords were getting used in decapitation contests.

Let me put it this way: we exist in a surge of energy, change, emotion and constant activity. We "recreate" with TV and movies and media, among other things. It is a nearly ubiquitous pattern among most Americans to work all day, get dinner, then sit down in front of the TV.

It seems to me you optimally will have a contrast between the change that is a part of life, and other parts of your life that stay the same, that are constant. Things like the Bible, and Shakespeare, that go back at least far beyond the memory of anyone living. The content of this constancy will vary from society to society, and of course the interpretation of those constant themes will vary, but such changes are quite slow, usually, taking centuries.

Stable social narratives are calming. They are a place of rest, so to speak, in that they do not need to be reinvented. Individuals, in all times and places, will need to reinvent themselves vis a vis the social narratives which define their culture: change is inevitable, and will either be somewhat conscious, and somewhat positive, or somewhat unconscious, and either positive or negative.

Yet, what is the backdrop against which we reinvent ourselves? What stable social narratives do we have? The Socialists among us--who are Nihilists in fact if not self understanding--do everything they can to undermine all stable stories, like those of the Bible, patriotism, traditional social forms, and individual autonomy. For these things they want to substitute an as-yet uncreated social order, one which I frankly cannot imagine. Science is not morality. Consciousness will always precede the supposedly empirical conclusions of the post-moralists.

The question I am asking, in effect, is: where do we rest? Upon what can we rely? This is the malady of our modern age. It cannot just be my problem. This is the problem of the goths, and emo's, and punk rockers, and even the hippies. We see one youth culture after another, each more dysfunctional than the last, all of whom fail to advance our understandings, since they start from the standpoint that silence and stillness are impossible, and all cultural claims are negotiable.

OF COURSE they are negotiable--manifestly the Earth is home to vast amounts of diversity--but can we not let them be until we come up with something better? Can we not slow the destructive energy until we can engage our creative energy?

Destruction is the life of death. It is the energy of a failed effort at individuation. This is what we confront.

I once dreamed of Lucifer. He was very bright, very shiny, so much so that you could barely see him. Yet upon close observation, he was composed of dead bodies, all tangled together. He was Death, disguised as light.

These are a few thoughts on a Tuesday morning. By the way, were you aware that Tuesday, in its end root, means "Day of Mars"? Did you know that Wednesday comes from Woden's Day, Woden being the god of war also (cognate with Odin), and that some branches of the Vikings practiced human sacrifice in his honor, hanging victims from trees?

As I thought about it, that Joseph of Arimethea tree that was cut down in Britain was almost certainly a sacred tree in the Scandinavian faith that was Christianized. Christmas was a conscious co-opting of Saturnalia, and the tree in the home in winter was Druidic.

I look at these early missionaries, salespeople for a faith, making concessions to close the deal. Sure, you can keep your tree: we'll just rename it.

I am religious, but it seems to me true religion is a precious flower that blooms briefly in all too few places. The odor remains for some time, then eventually becomes corrupt. I am not at all certain that what Christ taught is what has been passed down to us. I do not think he had symbolic cannibalism in mind when he conducted the Last Supper, complete with cups of blood.

My thinking on this is evolving. I'll have a post on that topic before long.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Death Panels



There are a variety of stories on this. Republicans are in some respects going too far with it, although in important ways they are quite right to be angry.

What is being offered is counseling, in effect, to encourage old people to not eat up a huge amount of resources on treatments that will only add a few months to their lives. I don't have the time to look the number up, but some enormous percentage of our healthcare expenses are consumed in the last six months of life. It's in the 25-50% range.

Think of the thousands it costs daily for Intensive Care, for various chemotherapy treatments, for respirators, for taking a dozen pills a day that each cost $20.

On the one hand, the people who provide these things have an enormous FINANCIAL incentive to continue the status quo, in which the actual costs of things are invisible to the people using them, and their families. This allows, at least potentially, huge profits to be made. Government can always be abused, since it is a system of allocation by fiat, and not by free market decision making.

At the same time, how do we reconcile the fact that we all die, with the ability we now have to prolong life for some period of time?

Ultimately, any system of medical care will have to ration it somehow. We cannot afford to spend, say, a million dollars a day for six months for every American. There has to be a point where enough is enough, and we just accept the inevitability of death. Religion--which the Socialists regularly do everything within their power to undermine and destroy--helps with this.

The question is who makes that decision. What the Democrats have done sneakily here is basically create a sales pitch in which the PATIENT is convinced of the need to end their own lives. This is not a death panel. The death panel will necessarily follow any government run healthcare system, but that is not what this is.

The significance of this story is simply that the slow erosion is patently already happening, in which Obamacare is slowly moulded in the darkness into something that is closer to the Socialists hearts desire. They didn't feel the need to read the bill since they felt certain they could change it in the 5 years or so they gave themselves into something more congenial to their ideology.

This is the part we need to worry about. This is a process which is anti-democratic, as seen in the patent efforts of the supporters of this change to keep it secret. This is just the first of what have been planned as many steps. In itself, I don't find this provision that objectionable. I find the PROCESS, however, HIGHLY objectionable.

Mediation

Identity is something that will always be in flux. Personality is a chaotic system whose parameters are defined by what we choose to pay attention to, and in particular the principles by means of which we live our lives. These principles can be religious. They can be conformity--either to concrete local demands made on you, such as in traditional societies where every last part of your behavior is known to all; or to generalized themes articulated in the mass media, and as embodied in a fluid way by members of your chosen social system.

In many respects, how we view ourselves is the result of a negotiation, a mediation, between our chosen ideals, and our actual behavior. As I see it, this is an active process, and almost the relationship of one person to another. It is like there are people out there giving you advice, which you can follow, reject, or adopt partially.

Existentially, it seems to me we "are" simultaneously the negotiator, and all the components which are making claims on our attention and following behavior.

In the end, all human behavior depends on identity. All science, all politics, and all economics depends on it.

When people look to the Founding Fathers, what we see is adherence to a political system. But that political system--Liberalism--depends in turn on personal, individual identities that are not thereby CREATED by it. By and large, our Founders saw their identities as arising from either their Christianity, or their membership in the Masons. Liberalism is a political system within which moral narratives operate, and consists as a political doctrine upon the epistemological doctrine that no final general moral truth is possible, but that many truths can lead to desirable results.

These are a few thoughts. Do with them what you will.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Native Americans

There can be no doubt that continental America is an Empire in which the conquered peoples have been marginalized and--to a lesser extent--assimilated. The population density of the Indians even prior to the plagues that beset them--and which have every appearance of being simply epidemic reactions to diseases to which they had no antigens, and nowhere the result of official policy, despite much propaganda to the contrary--were nothing remotely like Europe.

We conquered them. We marched them into camps. Many died. The remainder were left to live, more or less in peace.

One thing we never did is enslave them. This fact became clear to me in listening to a history of the Vikings. It was not known to me--and likely not well known generally--that the wealth upon which the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden eventually came to be founded was in large measure the product of slaving. Throughout Viking history, human captives taken in raids were one of their primary commodities. They took many Irish, who were often--like West Africans--only too eager to capture and hand their rivals over.

They took so many Slavs that that is where we get the name "slave" from. They would come into a village, kill anyone who resisted, and take everyone--men, women, and children, provided they were healthy--and sell them to merchants who would trade them on down-river, usually to the Islamic world.

And when one studies world history, it is a litany of atrocities. It is no exaggeration to say that Britain and the United States, as Christian nations, are the first ones to develop a principled basis by means of which to object to what had been going on for all of human history. The Chinese kept slaves. The Greeks kept slaves. The slavery of the Jews in Egypt is part of their foundational narrative, that they remember ritually every year. The Romans kept slaves. And to the point here, the American Indians also kept slaves. The pattern was the same: you raid a neighboring village, and carry off the women you want, and the children to be raised in your way, and to do your work.

When looking at history, there is little use hand-wringing, and judging people by our own standards. What we need to track is the genesis and evolution of ideals, and then figure out how we can best improve upon and better implement those ideals in the modern world. Flogging yourself does no good for anyone but you: the benefit to you is you free yourself thereby from the responsibility of living in the present, and making adult decisions in what will always be a fluid and ambiguous world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Biological Supremicism

There are those for whom certainty is more important than clarity. Sometimes, I think the best minds just have to admit on a seemingly on-going basis "we don't know". This doesn't sit well with some.

As one specific example--the one that prompted this post--people in the field of evolutionary biology want to reduce all human behavior to artifacts of our evolutionary history. It is logical enough: we are machines, programmed by our DNA, which itself arose as a complex system in response to the adaptive needs of millions of years of periodic scarcity and competition for survival among numerous organisms.

They can categorize observable human behavior, and work backwards to figure out what need each type of behavior may have met on some distant, dark, foggy shore. It all seems so clear. They can derive altruism as a derivation of the group instinct; Love as an extension both of the group instinct and the sexual urge; etc. (Note: these may not be the precise cases presented; what matters, obviously, is the intellectual framework within which it happens.)

Yet, what about this categorizing behavior itself? Can we not point to an evolutionary urge to avoid ambiguity? Can we not posit a coercive urge deriving from our social history to manufacture consent by any means possible? Can we not, in short, deconstruct the evolutionary deconstruction process as one example of itself, and thus flawed instrinsically and at root as a "truth" system"?

What comes first, matter or consciousness? We can't know, but phenomenologically it is quite clearly consciousness. We don't know what we don't know, so we can't speak to possible experiences which do not include our conscious presence, in some form.

Further, our best theories of the nature of the universe tell us that consciousness precedes the formation of matter. This was the conclusion von Neumann--who wrote the "Grundlage", literally the book on the topic of quantum physics--reached.

Ideas obviously compete, and the best ones rise to the top, but only in conditions of open competition. And I don't think we have had open competition in the biological sciences in some time.

That makes what passes for science nowadays much closer to the bloody and zero sum rivalries of chimp colonies, not homo sapiens. It is retrogressive.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Homo Media

I believe I invented this term. As I understand it, "media" is a term taken directly from Latin, and is the plural of "medium". We don't think about it, but the term media itself conveys a sense of transmission, of centrality, of connecting one thing, person or idea with another. Chalk drawings can be an artistic medium. A highway can be a transportational medium. We use the term medium for people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead.

Our Media, then, understood collectively, can be understood as mediating the world for us. The world in all its naked glory is out there somewhere, and what we get to see is some small portion of it, as selected for importance, and as sculpted via the direct perceivers. Not everything that could be news becomes news. Not everything that becomes news happened the way it is reported. Something happens somewhere, it enters a tube, then it hits us.

The first point in this regard I will make is that self evidently our own personal experiences--what we see of the physical world, what we observe as the behavior of matter, and social institutions, and human psychology etc--are unmediated, at least in principle. Yet paradoxically they can become mediated, if rather than trust our own eyes or intuition, we instead process things which have actually happened to us by our internalized understanding of what is POSSIBLE.

Common sense, you see, is in my view common. We are more or less born with it, and add to every time we stub our toe, or unintentionally offend someone, or otherwise have an unpleasant bump with "the world".

This is one point. The more important point I wanted to make, and the reason for the neologism (other than my fondness for them) is a perception I had the other day.

I went to see "Voyage of the Dawn Treader". As always when I go to the movie theater, I was struck by the largeness of everything, and the loudness of everything. I was struck by how our lives are pervaded--filled, centrally--with media. We watch TV as children. We watch TV as adolescents and adults. Our first experience with "sex" is almost certainly via the computer or DVD. We take our iPods everywhere. We listen to music in cars. Many people fall asleep watching TV. Between the internet and TV, most people consume media for probably a third of their lives. I'm not talking waking life: I literally think 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, and 8 hours of internet/TV is not too far off. Obviously, most people surf the internet even while at work.

Always, always, always, we have imaginary figures in front of us. We have movie actors who seem brave and noble--or villainous and interesting, or sexy, or mercurial, or ideosyncratic, or whatever floats our particular boat--who are in front of us all the time. All the time. All the time. In supermarket checkout lanes. On TV. In newspapers.

In the movie theater, I was looking at some young men I would call freaks. They were fat, pale, and unhealthy looking. And I know they spent a lot of time watching movies, and probably playing immersive video games. Many kids nowadays spend so much time consuming media, that they never develop proper social skills. They are like bread that is half baked. They are morally retarded in important ways. You know the people of whom I speak. You see them. They are nice enough, but you always know there is something going on in their heads that is not of this world.

They are not full members of our social order. Yet who can say anymore who IS of our social order? Who are we? Media--in the middle--has taken up all the reference points we used to have. The Bible? Gone for all but those who go to church, which in this country at any rate is still quite a few people, which is encouraging in a way.

It seems to me that where genuine community could stand, in all too many cases there is an array of vivid and unforgettable images burned. It is clear from evidence that exposure to violent media mutes natural empathy and directly supports cynicism and--presumably following--depression.

Can we not say that in many cases where the possibility for the expression of affection and loyalty and goodwill may have happened in another time, now we have this sort of childlike, imbecilic, pseudoconnection, more afraid than open, more symptomatic of a childlike emotional sensitivity, and lack of capacity for mature connection with others?

It seems that way to me. We have created a new type of human being, unlike anything seen before. I literally think our interactions with media, with images of death and love and novelty, are rewiring our physical brains in ways that no one has yet fully grasped or investigated.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Communism and Nationalism

Nationalism has often served the cause of Communism; Communism has never served the cause of nationalism, to my awareness. You are either a Communist or a nationalist. You cannot be both.

A good example is Ho Chi Minh, which of course was the name he adopted when he became a Communist in the early 1920's/late 19-teens.

Stupid people sometimes argue that he had to compromise with the Soviets/Chinese, after the Americans let him down. The reality is that he joined the Communist International in the early 20's, and spent the decade trying to further the Communist cause in Asia. He spent most of the 30's in the Soviet Union with Stalin, and he had dozens of political rivals executed in the 1940's. In the 1950's, when he got control of North Vietnam, he had at least 10,000 people executed as "bourgeoisie". His close followers, in their memoirs, are very clear that he never deviated from his desire to implement Communism in both North and South Vietnam. He pretended temporarily to put Communism aside, but several hundred people knew then, and wrote later, that that was a ruse.

It makes me angry that people would argue even for a moment that he was ever anything but a red fascist. It is not possible to be well meaning and make this argument. It is not possible to be diligent and make this mistake. I conclude that those who do make this argument are themselves fascist apologists.

I will add that there are many ways for elites to take power.

Communism can use the hatred of foreign imperialism to hand power to a fascist elite.

Socialists can use the hatred of the "rich" to hand power to a fascist elite.

Environmentalists can use the fear of environmental disaster to hand power to a fascist elite.

Militarists can use the rage and energy of war to hand power to a fascist elite.

America, by design, discourages the formation of elites. We distrust them culturally, and our system of government--when operated properly, as it has not been for some years--makes it hard for any one group to gain too much power by any means. This is all too the good, since history is replete with examples of those who can taking what they want.

I'll have more to say about Vietnam after a while, but the net is that is now nothing more than the same corrupt, nepotistic regime it was before, except that the elite has more power than it did under Diem or Thieu. Things are much worse, which was an utterly predictable outcome.

The more I live, the more I hate intellectuals. They have caused so much unnecessary pain, and they never accept responsibility.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tax cuts for the rich are tax cuts for the poor

Here is a lot of useful information.

What you will note is that in 2008 some $1 trillion was paid in income taxes. Of this, the top 1% (some 1.5 million tax returns) paid nearly $400 billion, and the bottom 50% (nearly 70 million tax returns) paid not quite $30 billion.

The top 5% paid 60% of the income taxes.

Self evidently, our tax system is progressive. Self evidently, the rich pay most of the taxes. I get sick and tired of the demogoguing on this issue by stupid socialists. You know what happens when you radically increase the taxes on the top income brackets? Do you? You do know it has been tried, correct?

What happens is they start hiding income, move it to another country, or move it to non-tax revenue producing assets, like tax exempt bonds.

Back in the 20's self made millionaire Andrew Mellon said that 25% was about the most you could realistically expect to get sustainably, but if that was all you asked, most rich people would willingly pay it, as that was less exhausting than trying to hide or move their income.

Consider this: By 1926 65% of the income tax revenue came from incomes $300,000 and higher, when five years prior, less than 20% did. During this same period, the overall tax burden on those that earned less than $10,000 dropped from $155 million to $32.5 million.

What are we to make of this? To my mind, the self evident conclusion is that low rates at the top of the income tax bracket is, paradoxically, conducive to TAX CUTS for the poorest Americans.

Fact one: our government needs revenue.

Fact two: when top income tax rates are too high, the taxes don't get paid. This is not a question of morality, but empirical fact.

Fact three: if the money doesn't come from the rich, and the government insists on spending the same amount of money, then logically it comes from everyone else.

Conclusion: if we want to decrease the tax burden on the economically less well-off, we need to avoid punitive taxation of the wealthy. 25% continues to seem like a good number.

I will add that socialism is a poorly considered moral creed consisting in resentment and aggression towards the rich. Liberalism--my creed--consists in actually caring about the poor.

Anyone who thinks Obama cares about the poor is smoking the good stuff. None of these socialists do. They like feeling high and mighty, and they like throwing their weight around. If you want to see economic ruination, though, just go look and see where they have been.

I offer Detroit and Washington, D.C. as Exhibits A and B.

I offer Britain as Exhibit C, and Greece as Exhibit D.

I offer China as Exhibit E (no national healthcare, by the way), and Cuba as Exhibit F.

History is irrefutable. Socialism is not a historical or economic doctrine. It is the creed of petulant and self-important fools, with neither common sense nor common decency.

To psychologize is to degrade

Is "possessed of a sociopathic, aggressive personality disorder" the same as saying "evil"? Is it more descriptive? Does it contain more information?

No, I don't think it does. Where psychology wants to tame the wild social world by labeling it, I want to PARTICIPATE in it--not stand outside it--by interacting with it.

Maybe evil people have certain genes. Maybe they have suffered certain head traumas (as have many serial killers). Maybe they had lousy childhoods.

Yet in the end they still CHOOSE to do what they do. Cruel people choose not only to enjoy cruelty, but to consciously engage in it. They don't fight it.

Implicit within psychological narratives--their own propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding--is a certain givenness, a certain fatalism.

Within moral narratives, there is the space for choice, and action. This creates more room for movement, and movement is necessary for change.

We have to judge ourselves. This can include forgoing judgement for numbness, but out it will, sooner or later. Moralism is the process of reconciling our self image with our decision patterns. Psychologism, without moralism, is the process of rationalizing what already is.

These are some broad thoughts I will expand on later.

Edit: I have too much else floating around my brain. I want simply to add: where is the concept of Goodness in psychology? In what would it consist? Altruism? What are the categories from which it is built, if not moral categories?

In my view, psychology--a true psychology, of the sort James tried to build (in my understanding)--is necessarily moral first, and descriptive secondarily. I won't expand on that for now.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monuments

I was thinking about monuments. What are our monuments to, in Washington? We have the Washington monument, dedicated to one of the most scrupulous and talented leaders the world has ever known. We quite easily could have been ruled by a dictator.

The Lincoln Memorial remembers, too, one of the most talented and principled leaders any nation has ever known. He was a passionate abolitionist, but considered the principles of our Constitution and the necessity of preserving the Union to be paramount. He negotiated as well as was possible the most terrible time our nation has ever known. One can question his wisdom, but not his humanity and deep-seated desire to do what was right.

The Vietnam and Korean War memorials remember wars we fought overseas for other nations, to protect their freedom, and to position the powers of democracy favorable relative to the Communist authoritarians who wanted to end freedom on the planet Earth.

World War 2 memorial remembers another war we fought overseas, which resulted in the liberation of large sections of East Asia, the protection of Australia and New Zealand, and the liberation of Europe. Other people started the War. We finished it.

Jefferson Memorial. He was a complicated man, but no one can doubt that even though he may have been weak as an individual-really, a man of his times and his place--that he articulated some of the most noble ideals ever uttered by anyone.

Contrast this with the Arc De Triomphe. It remembers a dictator who made war on Europe for over a decade, killing millions. He was the heir to a revolution in which they tried to kill religion, and succeeded in murdering ten's of thousands of people solely based on accidents of birth, political misfortune, and chance.

The Eiffel Tower was erected on the 100th anniversay of that same revolution, which created the template for Communist totalitarianism.

If you look at Rome, you see everywhere symbols of either Catholic tyranny, or Roman tyranny. The Coliseum saw the public murder of many people. St. Peter's has presided over the execution of many heretics.

Look at Greece. The Athenians were imperialists. They conquered large sections of the Mediterrean, including parts of Turkey, Sicily and other places. The Parthenon itself, as I recall, was built in a time of war with somebody. Might have been the Peloponnesian War.

I don't have the time and patience to be exhaustive, but will say simply that almost all nations commemorate empires. The Kremlin. Tiananmen Square. Angkor Wat.

The people we commemorate were decent human beings. The wars we have fought have by and large been for other nations. The Spanish-American War was fought in no small measure because of the repressions of the Spanish.

We have not been saints, by any means, but I do see a sincere effort to remember times of genuine generosity and nobility of spirit. Our best is better than the best of most other nations in history.

Bon Mot

Yes, I know these are self labelled, but it's my blog, right?

"If you never try, you fail seldom, but succeed never."

I came up with that in response to a post on a board in a business where I was working that said: "Fail often and succeed sooner", which I liked. Under that, it said something like "if you don't do your best, you shortchange others; and if they don't do their best they shortchange you." That wasn't it, but that was the sentiment.

While doing my work, I got to thinking about the Greeks. What is their equivalent? "Do as little as possible, and have as much fun as you can every day?" "Soak everybody else". "Screw work". Whether expressed or not verbally, that is the sentiment they have expressed politically, as have many other nations in Europe, who cannot even be bothered to reproduce to continue the viability of their nations. Everything, they seem to believe, stops with them. Hard to worry about your grandchildren if you don't ever have any children.

Americans work hard. No one can deny us that. We work as hard as the Japanese or Chinese. I know plenty of people who work 60 hour weeks. I've done it myself many, many times, and more.

People who work hard will always do well, especially if they also work smart. So much of the world wants to take a two hour nap every day and leave at 5pm, and still live as well as people who take 30 minutes for lunch and work until 8pm. That is patent injustice. Reward the workers, and ignore those who don't work. That is a viable motto for continued prosperity.

Napoleon versus Hitler

Why is there no Hitlerplatz in Berlin? Why is there no monument (I assume) to the rise of the National Socialist Party? Simple: they are understood to have been moral monstrosities, unworthy of commemoration by sober, well meaning people.

Yet what is the Arc de Triomphe? It is a commemoration of what we in modern terms would term fascist wars of aggression, in which millions of innocent people died.

Napoleon used his wars in no small measure to fill a depleted treasury. He encouraged his men to very literally rape and pillage. They would burst into a home in a conquered nation, shoot the men, rape the women, and carry them with them on the campaign, until they got tired of them, and left them to starve. No doubt many were killed. Certainly, Napoleon didn't care.

And yet this monstrosity, and the Terror which proceded, is fundamental to modern French culture. It is no wonder they cultivate so assiduously the inability to think, which I would term "unilateral intellectual disarmament": it is necessary to continue to believe that Hitler and Napoleon were different at all.

Yet, Hitler had "scientific" views, based on Darwinian notions of the survival of the fittest, which Napoleon did not have. But who could argue that their fundamental self-seeking and need for blood and conquest were any different?

So much of history is bullshit. The same people who continue to see Napoleon as somehow great continue to see our successful efforts to bring peace to a continent-- then support it globally--as somehow iniquitous.

If you think about it, the Germans were the very last ones to wage wars of aggression on their neighbors. Yet, those are the only ones we remember.

Why do they speak French in France? Because of us.

The foundational moral problem with the French is they have a shithole at the very center of the city, and they light it up with spotlights every night, as if millions of uselessly dead corpses and countless ruined, miserable lives was somehow a success, and that more of the same would be anything but a waste of human life and energy.

And the stink radiates. One can only hope reason descends for the first time on the City of Night some day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Conquering Resentment

Here is one exercise I came up with: consciously visualize greater success for people of whom you are jealous. Generalize it to everyone, but in detail. Think of specific people, and pray for them (or wish them well, in whatever manner is consistent with your own ideas on reality).

For me, sometimes, I wish I were a big wheel. I wish I had the M.D., the house, the car, the beautiful wife, and the 2.2 beaming, successful kids to sit around the Christmas tree with and sip some fine wine that I can afford because, hell, I'm a doctor.

This is nice enough, and someday something close to it may come to pass, but the simple reality is that I am who I am mainly because of decisions I've made or not made, and in a very small part because of the luck (good and bad) that happens to all of us.

I sometimes comfort myself with the patent fact that many "rich" people aren't happy. A brother of a friend used to make $5 million or more every year. Now he complains that it's less than a million. He has to sell one of his $5 million homes. His wife is fat, and he is in a bad mood most of the time. He drinks a LOT.

Or take the patent fact that a lot of bed hopping happens in a lot of ritzier neighborhoods (hell, everywhere). There are a lot of unhappy marriages, broken homes, and traumatized kids. Part of the price of large success is very hard work, which often leads to alienation from your family.

So one can do that analysis. I have done it. But what are you really doing? Bringing them down to your level. Well, I have this problem and that, but so do they, so they are just as unhappy as I am. As gratifying as this may be, it is not actually satisfying. It's a form of Schadenfreude, which is just an amelioration of misery, not a positive good.

Sunlight is infinite (pedants let that go), and so is our ability to accomodate ourselves happily through creation with the outward circumstances of our lives. Plainly, some lives would be virtually impossible to live happily--say that of a poor, hungry, abused woman--but you can always live more happily if you choose to seek it. As I believe Abraham Lincoln put it "most men are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

And this starts with being supportive of the happiness of others.

So find that guy with the Porsche and hot girlfriend, or that woman with a great man, unlimited allowance and beautiful kids (or fantastic career, take your pick), and imagine them being happier.

Say the man is overworked. Imagine/pray for him to have more energy, a more positive attitude, and for the relationship he has with his family to strengthen. See them all smiling and being happy. See him getting promoted. See him having a wonderful vacation skiing with his wife and kids. See them getting old gracefully together.

Imagine that woman finding the perfect outfit, and absolutely beaming when she gets to wear it out. Be happy for her, ESPECIALLY if you don't like her and are jealous. [Note: I am indulging in some stereotypes. Like most stereotypes, this one has some validity, in my observation]. Imagine her children getting awards and being successful. Imagine her dealing well with the daily stresses of home life. Imagine her, too, growing old happily with her man, who dotes on her and is perfectly faithful.

Or imagine that independent strong woman you always wanted to be rising to be CEO or Partner, or whatever the pinnacle of her career might be. Imagine her finding a man who is willing to share all that with her--if that's what she wants, and I think most women do. Imagine her taking daring, exciting vacations all around the world, having a ball volunteering in Africa, or South America, windsurfing, sunbathing. Imagine her growing old gracefully, and contented with the outcome of her life.

It seems to me as you go through this process, you create more space for yourself. You don't have to play defense.

I think quite often when we are jealous of others, absent a strongly competitive spirit, we unconsciously try less hard. You think, "they are successful because they are like THAT". I didn't get that. I'm not like that. My parents/school/life never taught me that.

In other words, in the process of justifying your own relatively lesser success, you create a self fulfilling prophecy, in which you try less hard because of some supposed ontological, innate disposition you don't have, rather than because you simply have not made a decision to succeed.

And in visualizing the success of others, you create a template for yourself. Why not want a world in which everyone is happy and thriving? As I have said before, if things get too easy, we can always create problems for ourselves.

As things stand, though, I see kids emulating vampires and zombies, not creatures of light. Something is very messed up in our society, and I think it is what I have called at times our "Resentment Transmutation Mechanism", aka "Meaning System".

This is the reason you are happy when odds say you should be sad. It is the reason you succeed when odds say you should fail. It's the sun and the rain, and the fertile earch in which you plant your seeds to grow.

That's what I am trying to create here, for both you and me: a better way to live.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Affection

I have a quote on my refrigerator that I (obviously) like: "Happiness come more from loving than being loved; and often when our affection seems wounded, it is only our vanity bleeding. To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again--this is the brave and happy life." J.E. Buchrose. I have no idea who that is. It was in one of my planners, and I cut it out.

This seems true to me. I think all of us have this well of enthusiasm and affection in us, which wants to get out. Given that we all have it, all of us would be giving to each other all the time, if there were no blocks to it. And yet manifestly we live in a world where indifference to others is common, and cruelty not as uncommon as we would like it to be, and apparent fascination with sadism growing.

I have commented on this often, but the destruction of our shared culture has been proceeding apace for some time: through violent media (which reduce interpersonal trust, and foster cynicism and even depression); less face time with one due another due to the alternative of the virtual presence of other virtual human beings; and attacks by socialists on all subjects of sentimental attachment, like "God" (however we individually conceive of him/her/it), patriotism, our history, our identity, marriage itself, and even shared rituals like Christmas.

Home is where we come from. Home is where you leave from. Home is the energy from which you create yourself, and explode into the world.

What if you have no home, in the most general possible use of the word? What if you inherit no creed? What if you reject the teachings of your parents and community? What if you reject your history, and your traditions, and your rituals? What if nobody ever even tries to teach any of these things to you, and just lets the TV be your parent and guardian, as happens often enough?

You never know who you are, and you never know who other people are. This makes the process of community building much, much more difficult. If you look at many inner cities, there functionally IS no community. That is the role that gangs play, and a vitally useful social role this no doubt is for many confused kids.

But even in the suburbs, who are you? You exist in an air conditioned home, with plenty of food (much of it processed beyond recognition), and shop and strip malls. Maybe you go to Abercrombie and Fitch, and for a time think sex is going to solve all your existential problems. Then it doesn't. To the extent it was what you hoped it would be, it is so through the eyes of your jealous friends (in most cases: no doubt "true love" continues to occur). If you're a guy, you get your rocks off, then she suddenly seems less interesting. If you're a girl, you're hoping to get affection and esteem by giving yourself up, but you are almost always disappointed, and in many cases destined for future cynicism.

These are obviously recurring themes for me. Yet I think they are recurring themes for radicals too, who reject the banality they have known for a political zero-sum racket which on some level they KNOW will lead to general suffering, even for them.

You have to have a reason to suffer. Love is as good a one as you can find, but historically this has often been achieved through rigid social codes.

Think about this, though: is an Untouchable at the bottom of the Hindu caste system worse off than a person who regularly contemplates suicide because life has no meaning for them? The children of wealth and privilege kill themselves regularly.

No doubt the life of what Gandhi called "Harijans" were (and are, if they still exist, as they likely do in muted form in rural India) difficult, but most of the misery that matters happens between your ears.

In my view, the person who is racked with confusion and self pity is worse off than a person who knows who they "are", and what his or her role is in the world.

To be clear, I am not advocating a return to feudal hierarchies. We have evolved, in my view, past the need for such things, if we will just rationally take stock in what we have.

We have the ability to create ourselves. So does everyone else. And if the most important source of happiness is loving, then freedom gives us the greatest capacity for choosing our own passions.

As I see it, we don't just love people. We can love activities, or ideas, or places. The more places you can direct your love innocently, the happier you will be.

I don't think it is overstating the case to say that some people are married to their careers. If it is something they genuinely love, then it satisfies the need in them to give generously and spontaneously.

So often we think we need to get love to give love. Mathematically, if we have a Keynesian style Demand failure--if the loving process doesn't get started properly, or declines--then we are stuck with a world full of selfish, unloving, and unloved people. That is stupid. And it gets the causation error backwards in my view.

The need to love is primary, but we have somehow convinced ourselves that the need to BE loved is primary. This is a beautiful setup for the generalized pity party that characterizes so much of our nation and wider world today.

It need not be so.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Self pity and pain

I would differentiate the two. If you are not happy, it is not necessarily the case that you are feeling sorry for yourself. When you take emotional risks, and lose, there are consequences. Maybe the great can handle such things quickly and efficiently, but I think most normal people--everyone I know--has to go through a period of mourning/suffering, and it is not always possible to fully recover from a trust that has been deeply betrayed.

Just as some physical wounds leave scars that never fully disappear--and some that never fully stop hurting--so too does emotional trauma leave a mark. The mark is left in the patterns of emotional life: how trusting you are, how open, how enthusiastic, how willing to take risks. You have new decisions to make, and you change from one set of default assumptions to another.

Within my own world view, this does not become a sin until you start to become angry at other people for your condition. At that point, however, pain becomes self pity, and self pity is the foundation of resentment, which leads to chronic anger, hate, isolation, then aggression, and following rationalization.

We live in a culture of resentment, and that is why we see large skulls on large swathes of our popular culture, from t-shirts, to boots, to hats, to book covers. It is part of the reason why the horror section is so full in your local Blockbuster.

America has always been a nation whose people were inventing and reinventing their common culture, in response to constant change. Yet, historically we had at least a common appeal to Christianity, which itself--in direct and unmistakeable contradistinction to the can(n)ons of Socialism--gave voice to sentiments such as forgiveness, love and faith, and which countered the natural human urge to resent others. This appeal has been under attack for some time, and the doctrine with which we are supposed to replace it is one of constant anger.

You cannot build a nation worth living in from that basis.

Pump and dump

I was thinking about a creative use of the Fed this morning. Not sure if I came up with this term--it seems too obvious not to have been thought of by someone--but I can't consciously trace where I may have read it.

In the 20's, Wall Street was largely unregulated. Groups of super-rich could and would, as a matter of historical record (I saw this on the History Channel, so it must be true), get together and pick a stock, any stock. They would buy up large amounts of it. The fundamentals didn't really matter, although good lies are always more plausible than bad ones. They would literally pay someone at the New York Times or whatever other rags there were back then to start writing positive stories about that stock, such that excitement was generated. Other people would start buying it, so the price went up. At a certain point, they would send in their Sell notices, and pocket in some cases millions over the course of weeks. Obviously, you can't do it weekly, or people wise up, but this was definitely something that happened more than once.

Now, let's involve the Fed in this. I own a very nice top hat, gloves, tuxedo, have a chauffeur, a valet, and smoke expensive cigars. I instruct my bank to buy up a bunch of U.S. Treasury bonds at prevailing prices.

As it so happens, I also sit on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Frankly, this could be in the 20's, or it could be today.

I decide that the economy--which is to say the same thing as "me"--would benefit from a healthy infusion of cash. So I vote for the Fed to buy up a bunch of my Treasury securities. This is new money. When I bought my Treasury Notes, that money went to the Federal government, and was promptly spent, entering the wider economy. That money is gone. So the money now coming from the Fed is money from that magical checkbook they have.

I now have a pile of cash with which to inflate things. I focus on a range of stocks, to make what is happening less obvious. But the net is that I buy up a lot of stock, and in so doing inflate the prices. This creates upward motion which, given human psychology, most notably a need to not miss out on a "sure" thing, feeds on itself, up to a point. Given enough money, you can "day trade" in a quite secure manner, by being the one who--by and large--dictates the value of the stocks. Again, there is no fundamental reason this could not be happening today.

At a certain point, you have made enough for now, so you put your Fed hat back on, and buy the Treasury stocks back. You take that cash out of the system, which is deflationary. To be clear, you pay the Fed cash for the Treasury notes it holds. That money is then extinguished.

Stock prices then fall to the extent to which they were inflated, but--again given human psychology--will tend to fall farther than equilibrium. What does this do? It creates sales. You have excess money left over from your stock speculation, so you use that to buy up banks and industries.

If you don't get overly greedy, if you are sufficiently patient, you can do this over and over forever. I believe there may well be trillionaires out there.

I am still evaluating the situation, but it is hard not to believe this is basically what happened in the leadup to the Great Depression. Clearly there was inflation; clearly the Fed was ivolved; and clearly the main players got out before the Crash.

Another way of framing Keynesism

Maxim One: When Aggregate demand falls, stimulate debt.

Maxim Two: When this doesn't work, expand government.

Maxim Three: When you control all aspects of the private economy, you control the polity, and all the people in it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deus Ex Machina

It has long been my view that most contemporary American movies teach some silly things about life. Particularly, virtually every action movie--and a not inconsiderable number of other types of films, including dramas and comedies--will have a plotline which goes something like: bad guy does something bad, good guy appears and has small success, setback, another success, setback, apparently large success, huge problem--everyone tied up, with the villain ready to do whatever bad thing he was going to do--then POOF, a miracle.

In Jonah Hex, there they are tied up on the boat, and she gets loose, and they somehow have no guards watching them. It reminds you of the scene in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil's son is telling him just to shoot Austin, or at least watch the seabass with lasers kill him, but he refuses, and of course Powers escapes, as of course did James Bond.

Harry Potter makes a silly error, jumping into a frozen lake by himself. Ron appears from nowhere, to save him. They get themselves incarcerated, then POOF--literally--Dobbie appears.

The subtext of this theme, repeated ad nauseum, is that no matter how bad the spot you get yourself into, somehow, something will happen. This does happen in the real world, but it is not a plan, and it is not common. A homicide cop once told me that most of the time the person who looks like they did it, did it. And most of the time what ought to happen--given a set of social, economic, and political circumstances--does. Unless those with principles have spent a long time and lot of effort sculpting things their way, things won't go their way.

All nations end. This is a historical fact. At some point--2 years or a 1,000 or 10,000 years from now--America will be a largely forgotten memory. The human race itself may be gone.

So in looking at the future, we need to remember it is not a question of if, but when. And given that, we need to not foolishly place our faith in some savior to appear from nowhere, but in prior proper planning combined with energetic execution.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Open Market operations

I need to do some thinking out loud. The following may be a bit stream of consciousness, but will hopefully be useful.

The Fed in theory can only buy outright US Treasury Notes, and post-1980, foreign bonds, or bonds backed by foreign governments, which is a large grey area, which patently includes foreign currency like the euro--a unit of value backed by the EU--and seemingly investments in the IMF and World Bank.

Now, that last is an interesting area. Neither actually reports to a government. It is basically a bankers club which was birthed with taxpayer money, and gone on its merry way. But patently we pay into the IMF. We Americans are paying for a large share of the EU bailouts, via the IMF.

How does the purchase of Treasury Notes create money, though? Say I am a bank. I buy $10 worth of Treasury bonds. That $10 goes to the government, and right back out into circulation via government spending. The Federal Government is a voracious creature, which can easily suck up and spend every dollar given it. That $10 existed when I spent it, in exchange for a security that will pay me over time some amount of interest.

Yet when the Fed buys the Treasury note (the precise term may be bond, but basically we are talking about a piece of paper stipulating a claim on future revenue of the United States govt, which is to say future taxation) it creates another $10. Thus now $20 are in circulation. This is how Open Market Operations create inflation.

But the Fed also seems able to abuse at will the Discount Window. They can apparently decide to extend the term of the loans at will. They did this in 2008 and 2009, and are probably doing it today. They created something called the Term Auction Facility, by means of which they can offer 1 to 3 month loans, seemingly to anyone, and certainly including foreign banks. Since such loans would be renewable, this is a de facto ability to "lend"--which is to say create--any amount of money and give it to anyone. I have missed this point up to now. I can now see no limits on their ability to create money and disburse it to anyone.

This is particularly bad since they can collaterize such loans, which is to say stake a claim on a car, house, company, or nation, perhaps via the IMF, perhaps directly. And if they "repossess", say, a bank, what happens? Who actually gets it?

Who, really, IS the Federal Reserve? They have their own buildings, but they are "owned" by member banks. If the Fed makes a loan to some obscure bank in, say, Asia, and the bank folds, do they get a claim on the assets of that bank? Its remaining loan portfolio? Does that go to a member bank, or does the Fed go into the business of owning foreclosed homes and office buildings? These are interesting questions, for which I have no answer.

And when the Fed buys up Treasury Notes, they buy them from anyone. They may well be buying up Chinese held Treasury notes. The Chinese government will then have put money into circulation here via our government spending, but will keep the money the Fed gives it, to be reinvested in China. We may, in fact, be helping the Chinese reduce their stake in US bonds. We don't know. Bernanke announced the bond purchases, but how will we really know where the money goes?

The metaphor of the sun

Are we at the dawn or dusk of our civilization? I was asking myself that question, and realized that in a thousand minds, we might find a thousand conceptions. For some, we living in the dark, waiting for dawn. For some, it high noon. For many, we are in decline, and the sun is going down.

As I thought about it, though, I decided that the "sun" in our imagination moves spaspodically, in quantum leaps that correspond to paradigmatic revisions. Was Louis the Quatorze (I think that is right) not the "Sun King"? Yet did not the idea enter the French consciousness that they were living in darkness, and needed the "dawn" of revolution? (Note: not all revolutionaries were lunatics or criminals: the moderates got killed by the radicals, in a pattern which has since repeated many times.)

And if we use the metaphor of a cycle of darkness and light, has there not always been some sun rising when some other sun had set? As the Western Roman Empire was becoming moribund, and evolving into the universal "Catholic" Church, was not Islam expanding?

And it's a funny thought to think, but Muslims were likely much physically cleaner than their Christian counterparts, who had no equivalent in their Bible for the Koranic "Cleanliness is next to godliness." If I'm not mistaken, bathing was considered unhealthy for much of the Middle Ages, likely in part due to the prevalance of water contamination.

What I am trying to do with this Goodness idea, is set the sun back to dawn; to set our perceptual filters to the idea that whatever our progress to date, we can do infinitely better in the future. We are not at the end of a civilization, but contemplating the creation of the first truly just universal order this benighted planet has ever seen.

America was clearly conceived as a Christian nation, within which the tolerance of Christian charity would be practiced. Yet I would like to see us evolve past this. I have significant problems with received Christian doctrine.

For example, why would a just God require killing in his honor? Why would we need to ritually slaughter animals, as the Jews did? Tenfold: why would we need to ritually slaughter a human being?

Theologically, if one accepts the doctrine of free will, then it would follow logically that those who wrote the Bible were acting as individual, fallible human beings, and as such likely screwed up the actual message of Jesus, to a greater or lesser extent. Add to this the power aspirations of the Catholic Church, and you have a powerful incentive both for suppressing non-conforming views (with violence, as happened often), and for supporting views which likewise support your position of authority.

As far as Islam, the core, necessary contention is that God is one, and not many. I am quite willing to accept that, but not that God has a name or gender. God is what God is (this is, I think, close to the meaning of Yahweh), and our task is to see this force for ourselves, and bring it to earth, and use it for Good.

Thus, what I would like to see in the day we begin after we renounce all remaining vestiges of darkness--embodied most fully at the moment in the spirit of political totalitarianism, and the docrines which derive this idea--is a wedding of sincere goodwill, and open use of science for human improvement. Science is and always will be subordinate to creative, directing spirits. It cannot solve problems of meaning for us. Yet it can, in my view, bring the realm of God closer to Earth, by helping us understand how we are all connected, and what happens to us when the forms we use on Earth stop working, and our consciousness moves on.

God, in my view, is composed of two parts, which I have called (after the Chinese) chi and li. God is the matter/energy "stuff" of which the universe is composed. God is also the possibility of form. In our "chi" self, we are the same as God. We are composed of light. In our "li" self, we are unique. As I envision the matter, God does not "create" form, per se, so much as create a sort of sketchpad that retains shapes over time. God is mold with memory, perhaps.

Some passing thoughts. Hope they help someone.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The lone crusader

Watched "Jonah Hex" tonight. I had in mind something easy, which was accomplished. Got me thinking about the stereotypical cowboy, taking on the world on his own. Obviously, this isn't how things actually get done, in general, in the real world. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard: they work in groups. CIA, DIA, FBI, DHS, LEO's: groups.

Yet this lone standout, this Gary Cooper in "High Noon" idea, has merit.

Ponder this: what if all 300 million or so Americans (whatever we are up to) thought independently? What if every man, woman and child in this country had an opinion on everything, which they were willing to share with the world, and expose to critical and positive scrutiny? Would this not be positive?

When selecting a decision path, people choose from available options. Regretably often, they choose from what they perceive as the middle of available options.

What if we were all truly individualists? This doesn't imply selfishness, or ignoring social problems: on the contrary, individualism is a mindset in which any and all ideas are given a hearing, if there is a CHANCE that they might solve a problem which needs solving.

I see this stupid idea all the time, that individualism means selfishness. Here's a newsflash for the dumb people of the world: Mother Teresa was an individualist. So was Gandhi. So was Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr. As far as that goes, so were Karl Marx and Lenin, even though they would not have used those words.

If you are perceiving as a sovereign intellect, you are an individualists. Conformity generates the repetition of ideas, but not the useful multiplication of ideas.

Clear enough? Now go generate some ideas of your own, dammit. Post them somewhere. Defend them. Learn something. I do this all the time.

I have never been happy in places where people agree with me. I like disagreement. I just got kicked off the Daily Kos, and can't muster the time to deal with Media Matters. As far as that goes, I can't even reliably post my ideas on supposedly conservative websites. Mildly frustrating, but I have outlets like this one.

If I reach a point where everybody hates me, though, I know I will have succeeded. That's a tough nut to crack.

Wish me luck.

Editorial comment: I've been known to drink a bit of whiskey from time to time. This post was influenced by it. I won't take the time to rub out the rough spots, but figured I'd add that by way of clarification.

Justice and Resentment

From hate, hate. From love, love, indifference, and hate. One allows no possibility of a good outcome; the second, some possibility.

Socialism, at root, is a moral claim: that material goods are the only thing that matters in this world, and that their equal distribution is the foundational essence of any morality. Implicitly it is the claim that resentment of material or political inequality is an insuperable barrier to happiness.

From this, it is not derived the poor must be made wealthy, but rather that the wealthy must be destroyed. The foundational stance, quite obviously, is not a love of the poor and downtrodden, but an abusive and flagrant hatred of the rich. Socialism is not and never has been about helping people, but rather about punishing people.

This is shown clearly in the fact that their policies invariably result in general increases in poverty and economic stagnation. Conversely, free markets breed wealth. These facts are beyond dispute.

Socialism also results in GREATER political inequality, since the "Salariat" class (Keynes' term, seen quite clearly in the policies of Obama in greatly expanding the pay and number of Federal employees in a time of economic downturn) brooks no opposition. They define themselves as right, and dissension as therefore intrinsically malevolent.

Let us take, though, an ordinary example. Someone kills or hurts a loved one, and is never punished. Given the season, let's look at "It's a Wonderful Life". For those brought up in the current era, watching TV throughout the 70's and 80's, you end that movie with profound discomfort at the fact that Potter's crime is never detected and punished. Saturday Night Live actually did a skit once, pointing this out.

Is it not very easy for us to forget the joy with which Capra ended the original movie, and transition seamlessly to anger and violence? Read the transcript and imagine the scene. Does that not better fit the sensibilities of our age?

Why is this? Is it not in part that enormous sections of our movie output--which is to say in large measure our de facto shared culture (you will be far more likely to get people to recite the final scene of "Play Misty for me" than scripture or Shakespeare)--are related to crime and revenge? You have the nasty bad person, who does something nasty nastily near the beginning, after which you spend the rest of the movie mowing through the seconary people--normally getting the number two person first--and finally the nasty person dies nastily, with justice.

What does this teach us about living with happiness? Nothing. What does it teach us about managing resentment? Use violence, if your cause is just (and are not all of our pet causes just in our rendering?)

Phrased another, way: INDULGE in your resentment. What was it our President taught people as a community "organizer"? What was he organizing? Directed resentment. He fired the flames of self pity and entitlement, then set groups of people loose in a given direction.

And it may be that some of his causes were in fact just. It may have been that there were correctible systemic injustices. But what are the long term effects of this sort of policy? The atrophy of innocence. The weakening of bonds of shared respect and loyalty. The elevation of social and political--and eventually physical--violence, to serve any end any person declares just for any reason.

I was a "victim" of the minutest of injustices the other day. I was doing work on a crowded jobsite, and needed to get my ladder at a specific spot for a moment. The owner, his wife, and (inappriately for a job site) his daughter were standing there, talking with the foreman. I asked them politely to move, and they ignored me, even though they plainly heard me. Subtext: I am a peon, they are important, and whatever it is I need to do can wait until the King and Queen are done with what they are doing. I only needed, actually, the wife to move something like one foot. I managed to squeeze in there, but she didn't budge one inch, apparently out of principle.

I vacillated between indifference and anger, and found indifference the vastly more noble emotion. It was also much more comfortable and conducive with my own happiness.

On the one hand, if you never stand up for yourself, you will get walked over. At the same time, I think that we need all to understand that petty affronts to our self importance are painful--to us--and incompatible with lasting, deep affection for others, and our own happiness.

It sounds saccarine, but is nonetheless true for it, that George Bailey's LIFE was much richer in every way than Potter's. And it was richer for his lack of standing, daily resentment. Potter in effect killed his father. Yet the Bailey's also created a lot of happiness and hope, too, that would have died (this is, after all, the point of the movie) had they not hung in there.

And I personally do believe in an after-life. I will say, though, that we should not concern ourselves even there with the punishment of malefactors. It really doesn't matter. What matters is that good people get access to virtually unlimited happiness.

In a deep sense, "justice", so called, only feeds our sense of self importance. Self importance locks us in a cage of permanent shadow. You need justice for social reasons--to maintain the peace--but you do not need it for personal reasons.

Love and joy constitute our real selves, and need to be pursued primarily, if not exclusively.