It is not freedom, but coherence, that we seek. I do not mind my role, if you can convince me that it matters.
Nietzsche said that we feel guilty because we killed God. We feel this same guilt today over the killing of Nature, which gave us our earliest gods. The guilt is expressed in hand-wringing over climate change, the polar bears, meat-eating, and so on. We feel the profoundest self-loathing in the creeping realization that all life on earth has become servilely dependent upon us. The beasts stripped of their nobility and humiliated in parks, or as the subjects of conservation efforts.
Maybe the birth of the gods itself was an expression of this guilt. The Bering Straiters knew what they had wrought when they wiped out the mammoths. The islanders the elephant birds.
The Economics of Civilization
I sometimes hear that new buildings no longer are made with beautiful decoration because decoration is expensive, as if in the past somehow builders were richer, and could afford such things. Of course, it’s not about price, but taste. Civilization is a good, and you generally have to pay for goods. If you’re not willing to pay, then you aren’t interested.
I do not know which is more telling of American decline, the fact that China is willing to invest in bridges, while we are not, or that, rather than marvel and praise, we comfort ourselves with the notion that only a third are really being used, and all the building could lead to a financial crisis. The books in the dark ages were balanced. Indeed, there were none.
The opposition Labour Party is riven by its own divisions. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tends to be skeptical toward Britain’s global role.
The transatlantic left’s isolationism is a huge problem. And uncharacteristic. But that’s what happens when you make everything a matter of principle.
The complex feelings of lawyers and humanist scholars with respect to quantitative subjects, and particularly the quantifization of the social sciences, ought to give them greater empathy for the illiterate and uneducated. The humanist scholar is to the scientist as the illiterate are to the literate.
The illiterate view books with distrust, for books are used to undermine their most heartfelt positions in ways against which they are unable to mount a defense. But this is precisely how the lawyer feels when her nuanced doctrinal argument is demolished by a mathematical model of the economy that shows that regardless of the substance of the legal rule, the same economic outcome will obtain.
“It’s just mathematical mumbo jumbo,” says the lawyer. “These economists don’t know how things work in the real world.” But what the lawyer cannot do is to beat the economist at her own game. She can’t show that the economic model cannot withstand close scrutiny; all she can do is try to delegitimize the entire method. But the illiterate levy the same charge on the literate: “it’s just book learning,” they say. They cannot defend themselves in writing; but they can try to delegitimize writing itself.
It is particularly bitter for the humanists that they have been socialized to occupy the power position. For millennia, since the invention of writing, they have been the ones who use their learning to lord it over others. But now these merely-literates, these innumerates, must know what it means to be crushed by ideas. A very bitter position indeed.
I do not mean to say that the mathematicians have any better claim on the truth. But if the humanists think the mathematicians don’t, then it should perhaps worry the humanists to think that maybe they don’t either, in relation to the illiterate. Or maybe we are marching forward, after all, from one stage of intellectual progress to the next!
When optimization arrives, either others will optimize against you or you will optimize against others. Business against you or you against business. There will be either corporate planning or central planning.
The Trappings of Wealth
Really rich people have more money than they can consume. Why is it valuable? Investment power. The ability to implement “private” policy. Suppose we think it’s good for the political system to have a group of private parties who can do that. Why do we choose them by the luck of the draw in business? Why not have a lottery every ten years and give a trillion dollars to ten lucky winners? Or elect ten people every ten years, or thirty years, give them the money, and tell them to spend it? Why not choose them a better way?
How interesting that these thoughts have raised Unger’s rotating capital fund (pages 35-36) out of the ocean trenches of my memory!
When other stars were reached, their civilizations were found to be in various stages of partial industrialization, at levels roughly comparable to those enjoyed on earth in the 18th century. Further examination revealed that this had been brought about in all cases by government fiat. It was for this reason that the stars had failed to respond for so long to our calls.
It is a great provincialism of life in the developed world that we assume that technological progress is unstoppable. Indeed, it is almost a nightmare, in that we see ourselves soon as either becoming something else, infinite-lived, technologically enhanced, engineered creatures, or dead by environmental disaster. In point of fact, one of the great successes of government in the 20th century was its perfection, proved in the blood of millions, of totalitarian governments capable of eliminating all technological progress, all dissent in favor of technology and growth. However horrible the methods of these governments, one must marvel at their ability to stamp out what in freer places seems a tectonic motion toward continual development.
These totalitarian governments failed, and continue to fail, only by the intervention of outside elements. If a totalitarian form were ever to seize control of the earth entire, progress might be stamped out forever, and humanity frozen in its present form.
Our goal should be a mindful technological progress, one that we understand to be under our own control, leading us to a place that we actually desire, or nowhere, if we wish nowhere to go.
Umbrellas in the Zone of Rain
People with umbrellas open before or after the rain.