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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cheaters

So Gary and I have been cheating on you all by having an intelligent conversation behind your backs. We're sorry. Here's what I've got thus far...

Nathan - As for technology, I think I'm a little jaded by my youth in that I've only really seen the Internet explosion, home PCs were somewhat common for most of my youth and while I didn't get my own until I bought one in high school, my family had one since I was a wee little lad. Heading into the future though, I don't know how anyone couldn't be excited about things to come. With the advances in nano-technology and flash storage, we're entering a whole new realm of computing, we're going to see a lot of exciting things, very soon.

I've actually never thought of myself as being dragged down by the machine, because it's typically those systems that help me think outside of the box, or however you want to look at it. I've known for sometime that ideas and theories can only carry you so far. I've always been a world-view kind of guy though, always looking and trying to understand everything that's around me and how it all interacts, that's probably one of the elements that draws me to TW.

Gary - I have found that having a world-view is very inadequate to explain ones’ opinions – it does not allow one to have an imagination & to think outside of the box – for example, my world- view used to be that of a socialist – I ended up ignoring it after a while, as I found that it did not reflect my true opinions, and no amount of flag waving could make up for that.

One of the most important of my opinions is that I believe in a social elite, however, by very definition, socialism disregards that, and seeks to rid society of the social √©lite. (Or the ‘bourgeoisie’). I think when it comes to this kind of thing (world –views), I am also influenced by a passage from a Haruki Murakami book, Kafka on the shore.

(I am sorry, but I have been waiting to bounce this passage off of someone, but no one has ever shown any interest – so you are going to be the unwilling victim of my digression!! =D )

[quote] “that’s it,” Oshima say. He taps his temple with the rubber end of the pencil. “But there’s one thing I want you to remember, Kafka. Those are precisely the kind of people who murdered Miss Saeki’s’ childhood sweetheart [murdered by a student union in their ‘revolution’] . Narrow mind devoid of imagination. Intolerance theories cut off from reality, empty terminology usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear & loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and wrong. Individual errors in judgement can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change the form and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here”.

Oshima points at the stacks [of books] with the tip of his pencil. What he really means, of course, is the entire library.

“I wish I could just laugh off people like that, but I can’t.”[/quote]

I interpret what you said in your last mail ( [quote] I've always been a world-view kind of guy though, always looking and trying to understand everything that's around me and how it all interacts, that's probably one of the elements that draws me to TW.[/quote]) as on of those people that’ll probably agree with what I say here – what’s your opinion??

Nathan - As far as that passage goes, please, I'm sure I'll be dropping quotes on you eventually, so hammer away at me as much as you please. I did enjoy the passage though and I do indeed agree with what it's saying, for the most part. Systems need to be fluid and thoughts malleable as we live in an ever evolving world and what worked yesterday, probably won't work tomorrow...the whole theory of entropy, etc...

However, I do somewhat disagree with your socialist aspect. I'm actually an objectivist, to some degree...altered to fit my own life and situation, but the philosophy more or less, is the same. While I agree that the trouble with inheritance and simplicity of life for those in the social elite versus those in the gutter is quite drastic and gives an unfair advantage to those who start out ahead, in an ideal society - hard work would be paid off appropriately. That is my biggest qualm with socialism, that one is rewarded the same for giving 100% and giving 10%. I hate to say it but it's just human nature to take what they can get and give nothing more if they don't have to.

Probably the two most influential things in my personal philosophy was my childhood psychologist and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." As I already mentioned, I'm an objectivist to a degree, which is where AS comes in, but I think it was my psychologist who set me down that path with a very simple metaphor - "Why does a father run into a burning building to save his son?" "Because the pain and guilt of losing his son would hurt much more than any fire could do to him" - it was that statement that made me realize, everyone is self-serving, to some degree. Every action can be traced to some self benefiting result, whether it be conscious, or not. I don't know if that makes sense, I still haven't really been able to articulate my actual philosophy into words, but I'm getting closer it seems.

Gary - As I said before, I am most defiantly not a Socialist – but I disagree with what you say – Marx actually commented that one should be rewarded proportional to the amount of work done. I am not exactly sure how, but that was the upshot of the very same discussion in my politics class once.

I read a bit about the book on Wikipedia, and it seems to me that Rand was just trying to justify Western Capitalism & individualism… Perhaps this book should be added to my reading list. =)

Quick digression – you had a childhood psychologist?? If you don’t mind me asking – why?? (Just ignore this bit if you don’t want to answer ^^ )

I don’t like the idea that all action is motivated by self interest. For example – why does a father run into a burning building to save his son?? Answer – because he loves him & does not want to see him hurt.

I give you that there are simply selfish actions, like if I take my sisters sweets without telling her, for example. But, it’s all in moderation – if one is too concerned about oneself, then one is selfish; however if one cares too little about oneself, then one is selfless, which is a vice as well.

If you’d like me to dig out my philosophy teachers’ theory of action, I’ll send it over for you to have a look at.

Nathan - Remind me later in Weekend Philosophers to bring up the benefits of a global currency. Also, I was wondering if it would be alright with you if I took our ongoing conversation regarding societal policies, and edited into straight conversation form and posted it on WP, hoping to strum up some dialog that way. I understand most people don’t have the hour or so it takes to write up my ridiculous posts, but I’m trying to encourage people to write a little bit, at least on a somewhat regular basis, if nothing else.

I’ve heard good things regarding Chekov, although my own personal reading hasn’t taken me that direction as of yet. Right now I’m drifting towards the utopian writings, like Paradise Lost, and such. I’ve always been interested in the concept of a Utopia, not as an actual goal to aim for, but the fatal flaws of attempting to develop a perfect system. I enjoy discovering the cracks in a societies veneer…somewhat justifies the corruption and weaknesses I note in our own government systems.

When speaking specifically of socialism, I’m not speaking directly of Marx’s theory, per se, as in theory – it’s an excellent work of art. However, the implementation of it is, and has been, difficult at best. China gets away with it through a Big Brother-esque military system keeping their people in line and that’s the only reason they have a thriving communist economy. Most everything is somewhat fictionalized, at least to my understanding, and how can man be as productive as to his potential when he doesn’t even know what’s real or not. Rand does indeed encourage a western capitalist system – she grew up in communist Russia before fleeing to the US, and that has obviously greatly influenced her. She encourages a system that more or less, has never existed in that there would be no government influence whatsoever. While I disagree slightly with this aspect, as we cannot allow monopolies to go around and the place thus some regulation is required, however – as of right now, the government in all parts of the world have too many fingers in the economy, and this only leads to further forms of corruption. This is in stark contradiction with Rand’s concept in which hard work and innovated business practices lead to economic success whereas mooching off others or looting the latest trends, will eventually lead to failure. Rand’s other well known novel, “The Fountainhead” is a brilliant piece of work in its own right, focusing on the power of the individual, and the potential of man as a whole – it’s really more person based rather than society, like “Atlas Shrugged.”

As for the argument as to the motives behind anybody’s actions, it’s an impossible argument one way or another – there are always two sides to the coin, one can say the father is risking his life for personal gain (or avoidance of personal loss) and another could argue just as strongly that he is risking his life for another whom he loves. However, because it’s impossible to have any insight as to what motivates this action, we’ll never know. In all honesty, do we know why we do most things we do? Do we know our own true motivations? How much of it is subconsciously influenced in ways we can’t even comprehend at this point? Rand promoted “rational selfishness” which was more based – not on whims, like stealing candy, but rather on well thought out and executed plans. Basically, she’s asking us to not be guided by God or society, but by our own internal compass.

Gary - A global currency… hmmm. I reckon that the economics behind that would be really complicated… sure would make things easier though. The only example I can think of is the Euro, introduced back in the day in the EU (we didn’t join in though, *insert bitching about British mentality of being an island, here*) the countries with strong currencies such as Germany & France lost out ( I am not too sure of the economics behind it) where as it was much in the benefit of countries like Italy, who had a weak currency. What I am saying is, is that at the moment Britons do very well, when we buy online from other countries – see previous example for details – I sometimes make a point of buying books from the US, because the exchange rate makes it stupidly cheap for me… I am not sure if I would like to give that up.

It’s interesting to hear your taste in literature is more for the utopian. I figure that some of the best art is set in these, and in dystopias. I am still finding my taste in Literature at the moment –it is mostly inspired by role models I have. I don’t think I’ll know exactly what I like until a couple of years worth of reading down the line. After all, literature is not like music – it takes longer, and is more expensive to get hold of. That and, one needs a certain amount of cultural capital in order to hear of it – kind of like Classical music – one needs someone to tell you about it, as it is not in the mainstream of everyday life. In conclusion, I guess one has to look for art that is good, not wait passively for it to come to you on the back of a massive corporate campaign, or hear of it on TV, when watching something that has nothing to do with Art.

The trouble I have always found (prepare yourself for a socialist paragraph) is that parents never have time to sit down and play with their kids – like board games. When both the parents have to go out & work full time to pay the bills, it’s not as if they can come home and spend time with the children. Even if they do have the evening free, all they want to do is flop down on the sofa and watch TV. In this, I reckon that you were very luckily to spend time with your family as a child playing board games – that’s what I really like about the US, is that people have a good attitude toward the family – I kind of got that vibe from Boogieman and other southerners that were in our tribe in RIP. In Britain, not much emphasis is put on bringing up children – probably another ailment of an increasingly secular society.

I have to say that personally I have a very low regard for the virulent, unscrupulous, and sometimes violent multinational companies that seek to force their ‘freedom’ upon us. This links into my hatred of ‘free’ markets, contractualist ethics, and rampant individualism. =)

In this, I have little or no sympathy for western capitalism and democracy, depending on my mood.

I’ll explain my point of view of what the government should be, which may help to explain my view. I regard the government as a doctor, sent in to cure society’s illnesses. There is no place for ‘managerial’ government, where the government seeks to administrate the markets, and to solve disputes, making sure that all stick to a social contract. My ideal government would be in the business of leadership, giving society a series of projects that all aspire to achieve – and it’s not to ban smoking in public places!! (Done a couple of years ago here). The Atlee government of 1945-49 is a good example of the kind of government that should be in power. Pity they got voted out by a selfish and ignorant British public. The government should also be a cultural elite, not the richest candidate.

As for individualism as a theory, I believe it’s inherently flawed. It believes that all have free will, and are able to float about with nothing but self interest, determining their action. Its ignores the important point that humans are not individuals, but are social beings – they live in groups, they always have, and always will. Humans are like ants – one is absolutely useless, but taken as a whole, are a strong being. Humans are not like cats, which are indeed creatures that relay on themselves, and only on themselves. In this, it can be said that humans that are selfish are dysfunctional humans – for they are not contributing anything to the group, and thus everyone, including themselves, will suffer. (The prisoners dilemma is a great example of how being selfish will catch you out. )

So now you know my opinion on current society – I hope I am not too muddled on it.

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So that's where that stands, I am yet to reply as I am forming my rebuttal. For anyone wondering - this is exactly how I foresee conversations going here, as time rolls on. So there you have the set up - take it from there, and I'll try to narrate this conversation once Gary loses Internet (we are going to use snail mail).

Cheers.

1 comment:

Michael M said...

Nathan, I stumbled onto your discussion and could not part without offering a few corrections that might help you two understand Rand better:

Gary said:
I read a bit about the book on Wikipedia, and it seems to me that Rand was just trying to justify Western Capitalism & individualism… "

Rand's commitment to radical capitalism was not the base of her philosophy. It was a consequence of her commitment to reason versus mysticism that required an ethics of rational egoism, that required a politics free from coercion so men could exercise their rational faculty and act according to it without interference. Objectivism is a systematic philosophy no part of which can be understood without understanding the entire hierarchy of ideas the fundament of which is an existence independent of our minds.

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Both of you are struggling with pinning down "selfishness", so:

Rand's ethics is grounded on the fact of our being living entities whose most fundamental purpose is to live -- to survive and flourish as what we are (in accordance with our nature). That means that in all of the choices of the actions that constitute living, we must evaluate them in respect to their potential contribution to or denigration of our life. If our life is to be our standard of value, then the simple unavoidable ethical mandate is: never give up a higher value in exchange for a lower value. That is the meaning of egoism and selfishness *in principle*, and there is no human choice to which that principle cannot be applied. Consequently, the rational definition of our own nature, and the value of everything that concerns it is a crucial prerequisite task of life.

Note that if the son was a chronically immoral person whose life was an endless series of crimes, drugs, and rejection of all the parents had tried to do to help him, the risk to the father's life could look very different. The person who believed in free will and individual responsibility would have to asses the dangers of entering that building very carefully before going in. The person who, like Gary, does not believe in free will, or who believes "blood is thicker than water", or we are "social beings" has to throw himself into the flames come what may.

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Nathan, you said: While I disagree slightly with this aspect, as we cannot allow monopolies to go around and the place thus some regulation is required,..."

There are only three ways a monopoly can exist. 1) By government coercion with the threats and/or use of physical force. 2) By private threats and/or use of same. 3) By the choice of the customers who prefer the products of one company over all other offerings.

Rand's politics is a radical capitalism (meaning radically different from contemporary capitalism) that has only one fundamental principle: no human may initiate the use of physical force to gain, withhold, or destroy a value owned by another human. This principle applies to everyone, including the government. The government becomes the only agent of force and is constituted with checks and balances and specific mandates to guarantee that it may only use physical force defensively to prevent, stop, and punish the initiation of force for gain.

The only way a company or an individual could aggregate power in a laissez-faire system would be if the government would cease requiring all transactions to be consensual and would use or condone the use of physical force to effect them, in which case the system would no longer be laissez-faire and most certainly not a result of Rand's politics. It would be the government that victimizes you today in the UK and US.

Also be aware of this: There is no such thing as "economic coercion". "Economic" refers to the production and exchange of values (scarce resources). "Coercion" refers to the use of physical force. An exchange of values effected by the use or threat of physical force cannot be "economic" unless you are willing to include extortion, theft, slavery and fraud as normal categories of economic activity instead of considering them disruptions thereof.

So the task of a moral government is to prevent monopolies that arise by methods 1) and 2) above, and to protect monopolies that arise by method 3).

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Gary said: "As for individualism as a theory, I believe it’s inherently flawed. It believes that all have free will,.."

This is a self invalidating statement. Without free will, you cannot claim an objective validity to any remark you make ever. How are you or we to know that the idea you are spouting is not just the result of some automatic impulse of unknown cause?