You think you have made a discovery and are filled with joy.  Later, you discover that you were wrong, but the mistake eventually leads to a genuine insight, accompanied not so much by euphoria as satisfaction.  Confidence seems to hold these steps together.  Believing you have discovered gives you the mental power for actual discovery.  A species of fake-it-till-you-make-it.


The Confidence of Metaphor

Metaphor lives in film today more than in literature.  Father Berrigan writes that he and his brother

stand like the fences
of abandoned farms.

Like it.  Why didn’t he just write a poem about the fences of abandoned farms?

Because he feared that no one would get it.

It is much easier to imagine a filmmaker showing an old fence. No voice-over, no “like.” Just a juxtaposition, perhaps, with a photo of an old fighter. I think of the rats on the London bridge overlooking Parliament in the original House of Cards.  No one needs to tell you that politicians are like rats.

The culture is educated in the visual, and gets it.  You can speak to it in film in a way ten thousand times more sophisticated than the way you may in poetry.


Flattening is the Point

Akira Kurosawa placed his cameras as far as possible from the action in Ran, using zoom lenses to capture it, creating the illusion of a two dimensional world.

I sometimes thought that perspective and the illusion of three dimensionality make Western painting superior to all other painting.  But that is crass.

Three dimensionality is our everyday! The greatness of painting is its flattening. Chinese painters understood that. Herein the corruption of film in relation to painting, too.




Group Games

Leaders are rarely purely interested in the good of the group.  So leaders do not respond predictably to incentives aimed at groups.  It seems odd, therefore, that Schelling thought that hurting civilians might change the minds of leaders. Worry instead about the incentives of leaders.

Backwardness of law

Outside the Law

This demonstrates for me everything about economists that makes them superior to lawyers. The myopia of the lawyer and the breadth of vision of the economist.

Yes, it is possible for institutions not to follow the law. It is possible for laws to be written to be broken. You might think it would take a poet to realize that; or perhaps a lawyer, that great cross-examiner of witnesses, before an economist. What do technocrats know about the complexities of behavior, about dissembling and treachery?

But in the event it is the economists who present as ten times more humanist than the lawyers and shrewder judges of the soul. And it is the lawyers who present as robotic and shallow in their judgements. But how can this not be the case? The lawyers are invested in the power of the text. And not even a metaphorical text, like priests, but a literal text! They are invested in literalism, shallowness, and superficiality. Without it they have no claim to value and no professional respect.

So they will look at you and say, without the slightest irony, that if you read the text carefully the Fed had the power to bail out Lehman Brothers. As if, as if, as if what the text says has any first order relevance in determining what happens in the world.  As between the devotees of the written rules and the devotees of the unwritten rules, I choose the latter.


Adverse Selection in Insurance

Saying that adverse selection in insurance is a problem to be eliminated because it frustrates marginal cost pricing is like saying that R&D fixed costs leading to innovation and product improvement are a problem to be eliminated because they frustrate marginal cost pricing.



Don’t disdain those passed,
Thou no diff’rence from them hast;
Don’t admire the past.

Meta World

A Philosophy of War

Ask yourself: if all the military power in the world were controlled by a just ruler, how would it be deployed?

Support deployments of force whenever they coincide with the virtuous plan and oppose deployments of force whenever they fail to coincide with the virtuous plan.

So, for example, if a just ruler in charge of the world’s military power, including the U.S. army, would send in the U.S. army to save Syria, then you must advocate the sending in of the U.S. army to save Syria.

Objection: but you can’t trust the Americans to do the right thing once they’re involved!  Reply: according to my rule, you should advocate the sending in of the Americans to do the right thing.  If you don’t think they’ll do the right thing (in the sense that they’ll do what a virtuous ruler would do), then you shouldn’t advocate sending them in.  My rule is fine with that.

The rule is intended as a refutation of blanket rejectionists of all American military involvement in anything under all circumstances.  Suppose that you think that the U.S. government never ever means well toward anyone.  But suppose that it looks like, due to incompetence or luck, the U.S. government is about to engage in a military intervention that is precisely what justice calls for.  The fact that the U.S. government is behind it shouldn’t matter a lick.  You should support the intervention.  But only, of course, so long as it fully complies with the virtuous plan.

This might be an argument for the American intervention in Libya in 2011.

You might, of course, conclude that a just ruler would never use military force.  But once you pause to consider how the angels of justice would bear arms, it starts to become a lot easier to imagine just conflicts.  It seems more likely to me that you might conclude that there are plenty of just deployments of force, but no real military can ever be trusted to execute any of them, inadvertently or not.

Now, the rise of the war machines might make a difference to you, however, because with time one assumes that it will be possible to exert the finest control over their behavior.

Still, whoever is running them will have to want the right behaviors.


Poetry and Unfamiliar Language

Poetry is neither word painting nor the use of unfamiliar locutions for their own sake.  It is the charming and precise conveyance of ideas.  That poetry may use words in unfamiliar ways happens because poetry sometimes deals in ideas that have never been put to words before.


Poetry and Science

Poetry is the art of recognizing peculiar structures in nature.  You don’t understand the structure, you just recognize it.  Some people spy out the four leaf clover; you, poet, spy out the four leaf relationship, the four leaf justification.

It is very difficult to do this.  Years later a scientist may come to describe and understand the relationship; when this happens, it is appropriate for the scientist to quote the poem at the beginning of her article on the subject.


In Paradise Regained, Milton writes:

Upon my head, long the decrees of Heav’n
Delay, for longest time to him is short

I : 55-56.

He’s captured the notion of the immeasurability of time.  When Kant comes to describe this in Critique of Pure Reason, it would be appropriate for him to quote those lines.