Monday, June 24, 2013

The Ironies of Political and Economic Freedoms

Democracy and capitalism are both about freedom, right? In a democracy, the majority controls its government by electing or casting out the politicians with its votes, while in a capitalistic economy, people are free to buy and sell almost whatever they like. So you’d expect a modern, free-thinking society to be both democratic and capitalistic. And yet it turns out that these two systems foster very different kinds of freedom, and liberals and conservatives are divided in their defenses of them.

The conflict between democracy and capitalism is well-known. In a democracy, everyone has only one vote per election. This way of establishing a government is inspired by the Enlightenment ideal that people who control themselves by thinking rationally thereby earn for themselves equal rights. The Scientific Revolution gave rise to the classic liberal idea of freedom, which is the idea of autonomy: in so far as people are self-aware and rational, we liberate ourselves from certain natural forces, controlling our emotions and instincts and thus choosing how we want to act. That freedom gives all people equal dignity and the same human rights. That’s why in a democracy every rational person deserves a vote, but only one vote per election. Instead of needing a monarch or an upper class of elites to dictate how lower classes should live, rational people are all sovereign over themselves and so they can and should govern themselves through their elected representatives.

Although the modern philosophical roots of democracy are secular and largely science-inspired, the assumption being that democracy and science are both progressive, democratic egalitarianism hearkens back to the ancient religious dream of a supernatural kingdom of God. For example, Jesus is said to have used shocking hyperbole to reverse expectations, proclaiming that the first would be last and the last would be first, that the poor will inherit the earth. The point was that despite manifest natural inequalities between social classes, races, and genders, supernatural forces would reshape everything on Judgment Day and everyone with religious faith would be welcome in the new order that would reflect spiritual truths rather than natural illusions. Although some would go to heaven and others to hell, this premodern worldview assumes that everyone is equal in their freedom to choose either path or else in their inability to save themselves. Modernists naturalized those religious ideals, replacing faith with reason, supernatural spirit with rational self-control, and God’s sovereignty with democracy. God apparently wasn’t returning to Earth so fast, so we’d have to build utopia by ourselves. Thus, science-centered rationalism, democratic self-governance, and equal rights were the modern reboots of ideologies deriving from the spiritual revolutionaries of the Axial Age.

Capitalism, however, is a very different animal. In so far as buyers and sellers are free to conduct business in a so-called free market, they’re free to participate in a race, as it were, in which natural inequalities are allowed to play themselves out and to dictate the winners and losers. Instead of everyone being given the same constant stream of funds, to suit their spiritual equality, money is unequally distributed and allowed to accumulate or to be squandered as people see fit, because money is private property. Thus, a rich person and a poor person have very different economic powers in an unregulated market even though politically and legally the two may be equal.

Whereas democracy is a modern religious institution, complete with forgotten, stale Enlightenment myths about the dignity we deserve because of our rationality and freewill, capitalism is a modern variation on the natural theme of wild animals’ struggle to survive. In the wild you find variation, which is to say inequality. To be sure, there are many similarities between species because of their common evolutionary origin, but living things have endured for millions of years because they’ve adapted to different environments, a process fuelled by genetic mutation which creates the variety of body types, from insects to reptiles to mammals. Whereas reason and democracy replace the supernatural guarantors of a perfectly fair society, money takes on the role of the genes in the wild free-for-all of the unregulated market. Just as the genes are mostly preserved from one generation to the next, bestowing unequal powers on each lineage and on weaker or stronger members of groups or species, so too wealth is inherited and concentrated, empowering some a lot more than others. Just as genes are instrumental in producing claws, fangs, wings, fins, fur, and most other biological traits, money allows you to buy clothes, weapons, vehicles, houses, artworks, and anything else that can be produced and sold. So an elephant can crush an ant and a plutocrat can dispose of a pauper.

The freedom that’s crucial to a free market isn’t an attribute of the buyers or the sellers; what’s free, rather, is the environment in its filtering of the fit and the unfit inhabitants. The marketplace as a whole is free from government interference, so that the race can be allowed to play out and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are revealed and rewarded or punished, depending on whether the person wins or loses money. Far from being initially free, the runners inherit their skills and weaknesses as well as their vastly different amounts of private property. As the race develops, weaker or less lucky runners who become impoverished are further disempowered, because they’re met with fewer economic opportunities. By contrast, the winners of the race in a free market become free in something like the classic liberal sense: the rich are economically independent, godlike sovereigns, although whether they also have rational self-control is irrelevant, by the limited economic measure, since the liberators here are just success in the natural competition and the resulting empowerment by accumulated wealth.

Current, postmodern liberalism is a democratic ideology, while conservatism is a capitalistic one. With perfect irony, then, the so-called godless liberal espouses modern versions of ancient spiritual ideals, whereas the allegedly God-intoxicated conservative is a social Darwinian. The liberal believes in social progress, that is, in a transformation of the natural order, in a subduing of natural forces and in the creation of societies that better reflect our equal inner worth as elevated beings. For centuries, explicitly religious institutions ran on theistic myths to keep people’s spirits up after the fall of Rome, the Dark Age in Europe, the Black Death, the religious wars, and the corruption of the Catholic Church. Afterward, modern societies emerged which were scientistic in that they upheld progress in science and technology as the model for personal and social improvement. Just as Reason could discover how nature works and how to exploit natural processes, so too Reason could learn the secrets of human nature, thus setting us on the most realistic, efficient path to achieving our goals. But this transition from the premodern period to the modern one exhibited mainly a change of method, not of ideals. Modern thinkers reworked the ancient religious ideals even as they discredited the na├»ve myths that encouraged people to pursue them.

Many economic conservatives are also socially conservative, or at least they must pretend to be so, because they have religious commitments. The result is a hodgepodge of faith-based rhetoric about our supernatural destiny that’s belied by the conservative’s war against the liberal’s efforts to mitigate natural inequalities. A conservative can read what the Bible says about miracles and the equal dignity of souls, and yet cry out against any attempt to curb the economic processes by which a society with a free market rigidifies into a dominance hierarchy, reflecting the triumph of impersonal natural law. Some conservatives try to reconcile their otherworldly ideals with their Darwinian practices, by imagining that natural laws are God’s commandments. In light of the Scientific Revolution, though, which taught us the difference between natural and social laws, this planting of God’s flag in the amoral wilderness is as grotesque as the ancient astronaut theory of religion, according to which the mythical gods were alien beings and their miracles were just displays of advanced technology. In either case, the point is well and truly missed.  

Another attempt to escape the irony, or at least to muddy the waters, goes by the name of “neoliberalism.” The neoliberal defends capitalism at the cost of democracy, thus joining the conservative in her fatalistic submission to the evolutionary norm. But the neoliberal also resorts to hyperrational mathematics to sell her archaic faith in social progress. Friedrich Hayek, for example, says that because we’re necessarily ignorant of how an economy works in all its complexity, we shouldn’t try to impose a centralized form of government but should trust in a natural process of trial and error, namely in the competition of ideas in a free market. The assumption here is that natural evolution progresses, because it’s a learning process.

Not so, though, since there’s no mind around long enough to learn from the whole evolution of life, which is to say that evolution happens for no one’s benefit. Thus, as you might expect, a free market naturally degenerates into a dominance hierarchy ruled by monopolists who gobble up competitors and so stifle the market’s creativity. But the unpleasant facts of wild competition, including the fact of the average person’s irrationality, as shown by cognitive scientists, are obscured by the neoliberal’s highly abstract mathematical models that are precisely as otherworldly as ancient religious myths about God’s supernatural kingdom. Instead of an immaterial spirit, you have Homo economicus, the idealized economic agent whose thinking is perfectly consistent and amoral, and instead of heaven you have a self-regulating market, none of which can exist in the real world.

The ironies here are abundant, but irony seldom benefits us. Liberals have been punished for their uninspired appropriation of premodern ideals; after all, modern myths have proven unable to enchant for long, and so liberals have sunk into a postmodern swamp of nihilism, relativism, and hedonism. And religious conservatives, who betray their ideals by advocating for a society that reduces people to beasts, can only watch as the science that explains evolution also renders the premodern faiths obsolete.


  1. (Another real world disconnect warning, dear Mr. Cain.)

    There are no markets without governments. In order for capital to exist (or currency, coinage, or even rudimentary conceptions of property), governments have to be established, which create edifices of rules, and enforce those rules. Some transactions are formally allowed, while others are formally disallowed; some are privately allowed to a limited subset of people.

    To draw yet another time on one of your favored analogies, you're within the matrix again: the "free market" is an illusion, just like the world of humans in the Blade universe. The free market exists because, and only because, governments have monopolized the public use of force. The market:

    1) Requires taxable registration of all major goods;

    2) Controls all means of exchange so that they may be subject to tax;

    3) Disallows the sale of most goods and services;

    4) Disallows the use of force to acquire goods or services, except for government agents;

    5) Mandates the funding of numerous forms of insurance;

    6) Mandates the funding of contract courts and the associated pomp and circumstance that legitimize large business transactions and punish small ones;

    7) Mandates the funding of legislative and executive bodies and the associated pomp and circumstance that legitimize large business transactions and punish small ones;

    8) Mandates the funding of military and police forces to maintain all of the above (overlaps with insurance).

    Most of the conclusions you have drawn within the fantasy of "market" and "democracy" are correct inside that fantasy. However, pulling back the lens reveals that the entities you are dealing with--be they free market evolution or free market democracy--are not the pure, pristine creatures you make them out to be, but rather our own magnificent fantasies of how fair and just our plutocrats are.

    Essentially, you're theorycrafting; you're discussing what policies a gaming company should adopt as part of the next patch for its MMO: policies that really matter, but only as long as you're playing the game.

    1. I appreciate the warning, High Arka, but I'm not sure what you're taking me to task for. Are you saying I buy into the libertarian view that government isn't needed to regulate a capitalistic economy? I say regarding neoliberalism, that a self-regulating market can't exist in reality.

      My point is that the conservative's ideal of freedom is modeled on the proto-Darwinian view of the evolutionary struggle between and within species, which view has always been with us, because we too have laboured under dominance hierarchies throughout recorded history. And what amuses me is the irony that conservatives are usually thought to be especially religious, whereas it's the liberal's modernism that borrows so heavily from the ancient theist's dreams of our spiritual, supernatural equality. I like the sort of irony that covers everyone's face in humble pie.

    2. You have stressed repeatedly that a free market is akin to a race, albeit a race where some people get to start farther ahead or behind, depending on their forebears.

      "The freedom that’s crucial to a free market isn’t an attribute of the buyers or the sellers; what’s free, rather, is the environment in its filtering of the fit and the unfit inhabitants."

      I'm delighted to see you do this, because you have so clearly and honestly expressed the rationale behind the Anglo-American colonial period of history we're living in. 1880s: Stronger nations enslave darkies because darkies are stupid and backward, while white men are strong and enlightened; Celtic six-year-olds work in factories because the poor need discipline and guidance. 2000s: Diverse, educated nations provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to uneducated, poorer nations, because the poorer nations are hapless and backward.

      (It's especially delightful because you've linked "the free market" to Market-Style Evolution--as you necessarily must.)

      Discussing whether a "self"-regulating market can exist would get into semantics. For the purposes of this discussion, what's important to understand is that markets exist only because of governments. Markets are creatures of states, made possible by legal codes defining property, rulers, subjects, and permissible transactions. Markets are never "free." The question to ask about markets is not how "free" they are, but what they accomplish, and whom they serve.

      The problem with your analysis is that, although you accept that markets can have weighted variables (people who start out with more money), you imply that at some level, they are free--at some level, a poor person could come up with a bright enough idea to sell a product that would make her richer than a foolish rich person, who would correspondingly lose his money.

      That's the error. What you're missing is, as in democracy, that the institutions created by elites--"states" or "markets"--exist solely to serve their creators. If any fairness occurs within them, it is accidental, and of no substantial impact. The legal structures that permit and prohibit actions within the marketplace are constantly adjusted to prevent competition and ensure certain winners and losers. The executive structures that exclusively license force to control markets are constantly adjusted to prevent competition and ensure certain winners and losers. The financial structures that mandate their own narrow conduit coding are constantly adjusted to prevent competition and ensure certain winners and losers.

      Like the "random" evolution you have accepted, the random nature of markets is an illusion created by those who have the most to benefit (only seemingly, and only in the short term, but that's a separate argument) from pretending that the creation of plutocracy is a natural, free, un-planned consequence of the way the world works.

      Within the fantasy-land of free markets, what you're saying about stereotypical conservatives and liberals is correct. Those conservatives and liberals would agree neither with you nor with me, which is its own slice of amusing. You would be inside the Matrix, trying to convince a small group of people that they should take guitar lessons, while I'm outside the Matrix, trying to convince even more people that it's worth it to throw off the machines and live in the desert of the real.

    3. I understand your point that it benefits the conservative elites to lie about the sort of society they want: they've been corrupted by their power and thus prefer crony capitalism to a more anarchical marketplace even though they pretend their preferred economy is meritocratic and unregulated by the government.

      But notice that conservatives don't say publicly that they want a social Darwinian society. (This is why Rand Paul--who's not even religious--got into trouble in a debate when he was pressured to admit that he would "let her die," meaning a sick woman who can't pay for health care.) If they're social conservatives as well, they don't say that because that sort of naturalism conflicts with their religion. But moreover, natural selection is much more like crony capitalism than like the meritocratic, free market that conservatives do fantasize about. In evolution, our skills and advantages are mostly genetic and the environment dictates the rules that favour some (alphas and betas) more than others (e.g. omegas). Genetic mutation is random, but natural selection isn't so. That's why dominance hierarchies (social patterns that signal unequal power distributions) form in nature.

      If anything, conservatives compare the "free market" to a Hollywood Wild West gun fight where the playing field is fair: two gun fighters square off at noon, with the sun above them so the sun isn't in anyone's eyes, and they both fire on a count of ten. This is like a medieval jousting match which again is supposed to be fair. Those matches are highly artificial rather than natural. In nature, predators hunt at night and kill the weak and the lame, taking advantage of genetically-determined power inequalities.

      So when conservatives say they want a so-called free market, what they actually want, or what their statements and actions entail that they want, isn't a fair, meritocratic and anarchical race. Instead, they want crony capitalism, which is, as you say, supported by the government that's been captured by lobbyists, that betrays its stated principles via the revolving door to the private sector, and that's also comparable to the natural struggle for survival in the wild in the ways I've indicated. For example, the genes make for an unfair race with unequal starting positions and the environmental rules/resource scarcities inevitably reinforce power inequalities and form dominance hierarchies (monopolies, plutocracies, kleptocracies, etc).

      As for what you say about the matrix, I've just sent Scott Bakker a reply to his "Necessary Magic" response to my article on scientism and BBT. In my response I talk a lot about the matrix and the desert of the real. But I wonder, if you're outside the matrix, what makes reality a desert, for you? I thought your view of nature was aligned with the Gaia theory or was at least more optimistic than mine.

    4. (You should recognize the quote from dear Mr. Fishburne. This one used the metaphor in hopes of delighting you. :))

      More later.

    5. Predators hunt at night, kill the weak and lame, yeah. The error an observer in this time could make is to conclude that the current "winners" are akin to a sleek, muscular lioness running down an aging gazelle. The winners in our society right now are not the healthiest or strongest individuals.

      ...buuuuut, that's okay, because things are modern, right?

      However, the winners in our society are not the most intelligent. They're not the most informed. They're not the most insightful, creative, artistic, witty, or knowledgeable. They don't understand the technology that they control (through layers and layers of underlings), and they don't even, to a large extent, understand the social structures that they control (again, through layers and layers of underlings).

      If you believe in Market-Style Evolution, the superior individuals now are not superior, physically or mentally. To use a really easy example, George W. Bush. Or Paris Hilton, if you prefer.

      So, what's going on? We're in what you might call a regressive stage right now, where bad things happen as part of laying the groundwork for good things. Take the dinosaurs as an example. The dinosaurs died when shallow seas receded worldwide, as the Earth reduced sloughs and exposed more dry land to provide for increased mammalian and land-based plant life. Dinosaurs shifted to other types, leaving behind carcasses that became oil, thereby driving fossil fuel technology under human industrialism. "Bad" for the dinosaurs, from a certain point of view.

      Then, consider Bill Clinton: he is a vile, terrible tyrant; he is a megalomaniac and mass murderer, who lied, slaughtered thousands of people in Serbia, and deliberately poisoned countless children in Eastern Europe with depleted uranium.

      A few thousand years from now, silicants will use the irradiated leavings as a fuel source. Wonderful things will be produced.

      Does that mean that Bill Clinton is good? No. He's evil. He's horrid. He is a despicable murderer.

      However, even his own attempt at wretched disharmony was a failure. His awful work at ending lives was turned, by Earth, into goodness and opportunity (erk, sorry--will be turned). But Bill was still an awful murder, and his evil should be condemned.

      This one recognizes the many bad things that have happened/are happening. At the same time, this one recognizes that these things are part of a process of improvement, whereby light is refined into more advanced forms of awareness.

      This process could happen faster, though. It could be more pleasant. It doesn't need to include so much suffering in these stages. Instead of DU-bombing Serbia, we could develop solar tension arrays in space, or just light tension "plants" on Earth, that would offer the same fuel to later silicates without us having to waste several centuries on massacring. If these idiots would stop their pitiful attempts at killing all of us off, things could get even better even faster, and there wouldn't be so many child deaths along the way.

      The problem is, again, this difficulty so many people are having with their early consciousness. Helping them see that death is as healthy and normal as going to the bathroom (rather than holding it in until you hurt), and that the approach of winter does not mean everything will be sad and frozen forever, is part of the process of advancing all this.

    6. Well, I agree that the elites become incompetent as they're corrupted by power and when the democratic checks on their work are removed. Chris Hayes explains how this works in Twilight of the Elites. The root problem is economic inequality, which I think of in biological terms, as a dominance hierarchy.

      Calling Bill Clinton a tyrant cheapens the word "tyrant," I think. He didn't start the civil war in Yugoslavia, and the indigenous people were perfectly capable of committing wartime atrocities by themselves, which they did. Are you opposed to humanitarian interventions in general (on pacifist grounds) or do you deny that the NATO bombing was such an intervention?

      I have a hard time seeing organic evolution as a teleological or a normative process. Improvement for whom, the planet, the last species left standing?

    7. Benjamin: I, too, am struggling with Arka's concepts here. She seems to imply that there is some sort of purpose to what are in reality random things. Especially given that, for example, a large asteroid could wipe everything out in a moment.

    8. Benjamin, there's a difference between "incompetent" and how I'm characterizing elites. Many elites certainly are competent at deceiving the masses, for example. Even someone of as low relative intelligence as George W. Bush was able to affect a cowboy persona that tricked tens of millions of people.

      What may be causing us to aim by each other here is the focus of competence. Being competent at tricking people into hurting themselves, for example, is different than being fast, agile, or strong. You are equating the parasitic (negative) ability of elites to feed off of human labor with the altruistic (positive) ability of sub-Saharan African wildlife to develop a rich ecosystem.

      It seems that a hunting lioness is "winning," for example--and she is, if she catches a crippled gazelle. Similarly, it may seem that Bill Gates is "winning" by immiserating millions of people in order to adjust the theoretical value of his holdings. However, the lioness is beautiful, strong, healthy, and contributing to a future of interdependent speciation, while Gates is ugly, weak, decaying, and attempting to destroy his species' habitat.

      During this period of technological infancy, it can seem like the "winners" are at the top of a hierarchy similar to that of lioness eating gazelle. It's completely different, though. To see the same sort of exploitative "hierarchy" out there is to erroneously, self-ishly liken the massive history of the Earth system to the brief, dark fantasy of some of the individuals living during this particular phase of conscious humanity.

    9. Brian, if we accept on faith that things are random, you are correct. That's why Big Bangs, comet strikes, invisible hands, cataclysms, and other paeans to randomness are such important components of our current science: because they reinforce the idea that the world is without purpose, and necessitate gloomy conclusions.

      The improvement that the verse demonstrates is the increased presence and refinement of electromagnetic forms (see e.g. Lightform Evolution). From our own self-interested standpoint now, that means higher stages of consciousness and what we might call more "profound" emotions.

      Benjamin, given the black prison population of the United States, the purging of the welfare rolls, the Defense of Marriage Act he signed into law, and the crushing of Central America via NAFTA, Clinton was a tyrant and executioner even without bombing Belgrade every time a fellatic news report was released. One could easily make the point that decades of NATO and CIA policy did as much to cause the "civil war" (snicker snicker) in Yugoslavia as any other factor, but even so, there was no justification for killing so many children, and giving so many other ones terminal cancers.

    10. But what if the world's "purpose" is malign?

      : You had me take off my cross because it offended...

      Prospero: It offended no one. My Master and his followers look about with open eyes. No, it simply appeared to me to be discourteous... to wear the symbol of a deity long dead.
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      Prospero: Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existance. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.

      Francesca: But you need no doors to find God. If you believe...

      Prospero: Believe? If you believe you are gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.

      Francesca: There is also love and life and hope.

      Prospero: Very little hope I assure you. No. If a god of love and life ever did exist... he is long since dead. Someone... something, rules in his place.

      The dying in screaming pain antelope caught by that glorious predator is not made too much better by the great "purpose" you see. As with Yahweh, I am not made any less "gloomy" by the idea that such suffering exists for some transcendent purpose. Better to accept the randomness of existence.

    11. (I'm delighted to see you cite those two. =])

      What if the world's purpose is malign? Then fight it. Resist it. You have the freedom to.

      The pains of the world can only be justified if they were chosen by those who endure them; if those who experience the pain were themselves responsible for it. It would not fairly be anyone else's province, even a creator, to condemn just a single antelope to such consumption. It has to be the antelope's decision, in some capacity, to be fair.

      Which is why, just here, nothing looks like our decision. We can have responsibility for the bad we actually do here, but not, it appears, for the bad unfairly done to us.

      Ergo you're correct: the world is malign if we had no part in it. If nothing exists but what is here, the world's purpose would be malign. That is why evidence of progression and purpose is hopeful.

      Babies may be cranky, hungry, and afraid during and after birth. Is that malign? In early written history, when chiefs began the centuries-long process of taking birth away from women, their scribes wrote of the great sin and horror of femininity and birth. Calm, relaxed, communal water-birthing became more isolated and land-based; Eve was cursed for the sins of humanity; gradually, doctors and hospitals and drugs replaced midwives, and stirrups replaced beds.

      So very many of the justifications we look to as proof of the world's evils are created by sick lords in order to make the world appear evil. Take plagues, for example--the Red Death. Why did so many societies develop these terrible poxes?

      Great plagues are always caused by nobles. After nobles centralized their power, and broke hunting wildlife into domestication within fortress-cities, they went a step further: they began restricting slaves'/peasants' living space, forcing the peons to live with their animals, or even bring the animals inside their houses for warmth.

      In these incubators, surrounded by filth, with unhealthy animals and humans living together, hybrid diseases were birthed. The great poxes, like "mad cow" and "avian flu" today, arose from antilife attempts to eliminate the lives and freedom of lesser beings. That is why, for example, aboriginal Americans did not suffer the massive epidemics that Europeans did, until the Europeans brought them over. It was the attempt at disharmony; at proto-industrialism; at de-humanization, that resulted in blowback. A geostigma will be sent to restore order in each case.

      Are we, then, vessels of Earth or verse? Interchangeable pawns? Yes, but by choice. You can argue about the morality of the "choice" part, but it would be more fruitful to begin by seeing the patterns that indicate we are part of a system with strong tendencies toward what an idealist would call "progress," so that we can then move onto discussing whether or not it's good progress or bad.

    12. High Arka, One of the problems with optimistic or pessimistic evolutionary predictions is that they're just-so stories. They're untestable and they can be imagined to explain anything in biology. I agree that human predators are different from those in other species, but I don't think the difference between pro-Life and anti-Life suffices to explain that difference. For one thing, natural selection means that lions defend their genes against those of other species. I know that species are interconnected and lions don't commit genocide, but the reason they don't is that they don't know how to do so. They're built by their genes to hunt in their limited ways. We know better, we're more aware of what's going on, we have more self-control (thanks to language, abstract thinking, etc) and so we can be corrupted more than other species. That's why we're much more deadly and our predators can be downright evil.

      Moreover, the environment itself isn't simply pro-life. The environment test the fitness of genes, and perfects the design of species, by killing off all of the unfit creatures. That's why death is so crucial to natural selection. You can say that death is just a part of life, but still there's some equivocation involved in saying that evolution is pro-life, when that process requires so much death (almost all species ever evolved are now extinct).

      Species that can't cope in a changing environment are extinguished. Our intelligence and lucky mutations, such as our opposable thumbs, make us very flexible, but our traits may also have negative side-effects, such as their potential for corrupting us or for cursing us with knowledge of our existential predicament, requiring our many means of psychological escape.

    13. Regarding your later comment, High Arka, about plagues and progress, who is the beneficiary of progress? Cui bono? as lawyers say. Will there be a last species standing? Would the extinction of all prior species have been the means of producing that final species, so that there would be a means-end relationship here? Does each fit species benefit from progress by being allowed to temporarily flourish before they're wiped out? Does the spirit of the Earth benefit from the evolution of life? The point is, doesn't progress require a beneficiary? Progress, from whose perspective?

    14. High Arka: To be honest, I see your arguments as at heart identical to those of fundamentalist Young Earth Creationists. A lot of straw man arguments in which you attempt to (rather rigidly and narrowly) define what "evolution" is. You just switch "Yahweh" with "Gaia" or some vaguely defined entity or force or...what.....? Benjamin's comment at 10:11 on June 29 is a propos.

      More seriously...while Benjamin speaks of the horror of a universe which does not care, I honestly find the arguments that "God" or "Gaia" gives the universe purpose more horrific. Because the universe is NOT friendly for life, I see no evidence of "progress". Suffering is endemic.

      Some well-meaning goofball in the emergency room insisted this weekend that we all "Pray in Jesus Name" for a friend who had been taken in because of bad bicycle crash. What a horrific concept, to me. If this "Jesus" is so wonderful (and all seeing and all powerful) why did he allow the crash to occur?

      I like the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge, a flawed, even evil and sadistic entity whose flawed material creation reflects His nature. Makes far more sense than the sophistocated sophistry of Christian apologetics w/r/t the Question of Evil. :(

    15. We don't need to personify "purpose"; if I tell you that letting go of a rubber ball will result in the ball falling, it's not because I'm sentimental about the relationship between the ball and the basketball court. Instead, I've noticed that balls inside a planet's gravitational field tend to be attracted to that planet.

      "Attraction" can be read emotionally (i.e., "The ball loves the planet! Haha!") or dispassionately (i.e., "The planet's gravity pulled the ball to it. Yawn.").

      When we're considering lightforms, their "purpose" need be no more benign (or malignant, if you prefer) than the ball's "purpose" in falling to the floor. It's not so much a purpose as it is the way light works: light arranges itself into structures that produce more light.

      Under Market-Style Natural Selection, genes mutate "randomly," right? Is there a purpose in that? No, according to pop-biologists: genes just mutate. If you can conceptualize Market-Style without believing in a God (or Gaia, or any other name you like) who causes those random mutations, then you can conceptualize also other ways of considering the world, in which things happen but there is not a purpose.

      Gravitation and Hugging.

  2. Outside premodern hunting and gathering societies, Arka, doesn't everyone play the game? Even if not by choice, as the Matrix is ever-expanding.

  3. "Everyone" doesn't, and most of the X billion people alive don't. Most 18-65 year olds in post-industrial western nations do, if that's what you mean (even though most of them don't like/prefer it).

    I like what you did there with "premodern," too--the implication that writing, as a form of power, corrupts societies and results in their downfall. Man is inherently sinful, therefore the more power he gets, the more sinful he will be--and the more painful a damnation he shall deserve. Ergo there can be no good modern societies, because the trans-oral power to record history and transfer knowledge is a power that corrupts, resulting in worsened social relations.

    The implied challenge is this:

    "Oh, you don't like it? Well, then why don't you go live in a CAVE, in AFGHANISTAN?!"

    ...because there is no rational, workable way to improve things. You choose between flush toilets and fascist imperial states, or squatting in the woods and harmonious jungle-tribes.

    The lie of the current rulers: that technology is sinful and can only be possessed by those who suffer for it. That the world stands against us.

  4. Well, your answer includes things I did not really mean to say...but that is OK.

    "Everyone" doesn't. OK. I am definitely being limited in my world view here. So, you are right.

    "pre-modern" means only that. Most hunting and gathering cultures which represented the vast majority of human history occurred in "pre-modern" eras.

    As for "squatting in the cave", that is probably a better life than living in a teaming and crowded slum of 600,000 people with no plumbing and sewers running in the unpaved streets, no?

    Anarcho-primitivists would argue that the move to agriculture and urban living was not a net benefit for most people outside the elite, except for the mere fact of reproduction for the sake of reproduction sake.

    I did not include in my conception writing per se. not sure how to respond to that.

    I am skeptical that "mod cons" can be provided outside a State system of some kind. Maybe we can EVOLVE this in some way, but has it ever happened in the real desert in which you live?

    1. /hug

      Let's agree that, roughly, "pre-history" will be the time before we think of writing as having existed, and "pre-modern" will be the time before writing was widespread (e.g., not limited to a few lords/monks).

      Squatting in the cave would be better, in many ways, but it wouldn't be as good as living in High Arka (or any other utopian future you'd prefer).

      Being that we're not limited by [what we're told happened in] our past unless we want to be, we can do better, and we can do better using some manner of arrangement which could be likened to a State. This one isn't an anarchist.

  5. I don't know if you said this in another post or not, but, specifically, how do you define capitalism?

    1. I don't define the word, but I come closest to explaining how I think of the fundamentals and necessary transitions of this economy in "Untangling Liberalism and Libertarianism" and in "Conservatism: Myth-Making for Oligarchy."

      I'd accept the standard economic definition, given in Wikipedia, for example: "Capitalism is an economic system in which capital assets are privately owned...goods and services are produced for profit in a market economy...and the parties to a transaction nominally determine the prices at which assets, goods, and services are exchanged."

      But I don't think an economic definition takes us far enough, because economics is a pseudoscience and the math and economic ideals ignore the natural facts of power and dominance hierarchies. Thus, the important point for me is that capitalism represents a shift in power from the political class to private or "special" interests (merchants, unions, financial industry, etc). For reasons recognized by Veblen, with his Darwinian perspective, the underlying difference between, say, socialism and capitalism is that the former implements Darwinian principles in a political context whereas the latter does so in an economic one. Either way, the Iron Law of Oligarchy is a chief governing principle. The technicalities of how price is set and so forth are smokescreens having to do with the means of establishing those biological norms.

      So the economics definition doesn't interest me as much as the big picture in which capitalistic economies tend to become free from government control, as the power is shifted so that one kind of oligarchy (dominance hierarchy) can form rather than another.

    2. Ok, tell me this then. What distinguishes a public good from a private good? If one person claims ownership of something and most of society recognizes that ownership as legitimate, I think we both agree that that would be private ownership. But when does a good become public? When two people own it? When half the population holds all the shares? All the population in an arbitrary geographic region? It seems that one must choose either that all people in the world own a good or only individuals own goods, because if you believe that the people in an arbitrary region (i.e. a country, city, etc) can own a good collectively, then this would mean that, since an individual is 100% or the majority of the population in an arbitrary region, then he/she could said to have public ownership of that good and private ownership at the same time. So it seems that you must choose between either private ownership (could be manifested as a group holding shares) or global public ownership. Global public ownership is so clearly ridiculous that I shouldn't have to explain why, so all that's left is private ownership. Am I missing anything?

    3. Well, as far as I can see, the notion of individual ownership is as ridiculous as that of the collective kind. The notion of ownership, of a special right to use something, is another of those smokescreens. Locke's theory of ownership is sort of amusing: we come to own something if we mix our labour with it, as though we were those blobs from the classic horror movies and whatever we absorb we conquer. The whole vocabulary of rights is Cartesian and thus archaic.

      The reason I don't steal isn't because I respect people's rights or I believe that intelligent animals can really own part of nature even though the animals will pass away and the inanimate stuff couldn't care less either way; rather, it's because (1) I don't want to be punished by the government and (2) I'm not an asshole.

      Some of the libertarians I speak with like to come up with a priori arguments for the free market, as though the best social structure were a matter of pure logic. But whatever myths we tell ourselves to rationalize how we live, broader natural principles will assert themselves and degrade that way of life. I like to talk about three such interdependent principles: the Iron Law of Oligarchy, the Dominance Hierarchy, and Lord Acton's principle that power corrupts. I think those principles explain how much of society really works.

      The legal and moral stuff about ownership and rights is a rationalization of power dynamics. There are no natural rights (although I suspect some aesthetic properties are objective) and artificial rights are ideas that occur in narratives (fictions/myths).