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Archive for September, 2009

In this photo supplied by Petra Diamonds CEO Johan Dippenaar, ...

“In this photo supplied by Petra Diamonds, CEO Johan Dippenaar holds the 507.55 carat white diamond recovered at the Cullinan Diamond Mine, South Africa, on Sept. 24, 2009. Petra Diamonds Ltd. says a diamond the size of a chicken egg has been found at South Africa’s Cullinan mine. The diamond may be among the world’s top 20 high-quality gems. It was discovered Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 at the mine northeast of Pretoria, South Africa. ” (AP Photo/Petra Diamonds)

So the last post on private property was written from the perspective of an economist with social sensbilities, and as such remained ‘scientific’–i.e., it focused on the system as a whole, and looked at its benefits–and reminded us why, in reality, it’s better to keep the present system (while attempting to find realistic ways to tweak it for the better), despite its obvious moral flaws (which we should always keep in mind–to avoid becoming complacent).  But that line of argumentation is not fully satisfying, since the artistic part of me, the emotional part which judges things from the gut, can’t help but remember, when one looks back on all the abuses that this system has caused throughout history up to the present day, that in general the system is still very very wrong.  So, despite all that I said last time, we should never forget that, for most of history, the system of private property has been very abusive and exploitative, and that this continues very much in the present day – if for no other reason than the average person in the US finds their job to be more or less oppressive.  Why can’t we work fewer hours?  Have more flexibility in our schedule?  Work less monotonous jobs?  Be less afraid of our bosses?  All of these things are determined by a number of factors (including what we will put up with), but it can all be boiled down to private property. (more…)

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Why don’t you have a right to be the next customer? Seriously, though?  Did most of this company’s customers personally do anything that should earn them the right to buy a $15m yacht?  Of course not!  (But it’s also true that most of us wouldn’t deserve to have such a thing, since we’re on average still too banal and base to be able, not only to appreciate it, but also to act as a responsible steward for such an amazing piece of property.  The challenge then becomes:  how do we create a society where as many people as possible are worthy of such stewardship?)

The questions posed above (especially in the title) are ones that a lot more people should be asking.  One hears plenty about socialism, which would guarantee basic rights (to healthcare, housing, etc), to everyone, and one reads idealistic philosophers who would abolish private property, and thus create a ‘classless society,’ (a potential solution which doesn’t seem to be practiceable).  But why not turn the normal socialist outlook on its head, and ask:  Is it possible for everyone not just to have basic rights, and to live in a dreary apartment flat, but, instead, to envision (which is the first step towards creating, as any business person will tell you) a society in which everyone was actually well to do?

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We would be so happy you and me / No one there to tell us what to do
(Taken from: 
http://users.nsula.edu/sinclaird/utopia.jpg)

“…But as a matter of fact, my dear More, to tell you what I really think, as long as you have private property, and as long as cash money is the measure of all things, it is really not possible for a nation to be governed justly or happily.  For justice cannot exist where all the best things in life are held by the worst citizens; nor can anyone be happy where property is limited to a few, since those few are always uneasy and the many are utterly wretched.”  –Sir Thomas More, Utopia, 1515.  (Norton ed., 1975, p.30).

Do we agree with More’s assessment given above?  Is democracy compatible with private property?  Social science has come a long way since 1515 — how would like-minded people frame More’s criticism given the state of knowledge today?  Today, as in More’s day, many people will scoff or even become angry at the suggestion that the system of private property, as it currently functions, might be less than ideal.  Certainly they would chafe at the suggestion that this ‘system’ could be, or even should be, changed.  But why does this topic arouse such particular anger in the US today?   (more…)

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That is to ask, in a post-God world (or rather, in a world where it is no longer scientifically tenable to believe in an active deity who cares about individuals), what are we doing here?  Should we ignore the question of the purupose of humanity?  That’s what 20th-century existentialism would have us do.  Is this fulfilling, useful, good, or in any way worthwhile to ignore this question?  I argue not, becuase if we the philosophers and humanists abdicate our responsibility to set collective goals, then by default other institutions will set these goals:  and we’ve seen what this means in recent decades:  the multinationals will use their advertising might to mould us as a species into, both ideal consumers, and ideal, mindless, drone workers.  And so, it’s high time that we as humanists, who put the value of the individual mind, the human gestalt, and human dignity above any one of our physical functions (as workers, consumers, etc), begin to reclaim, and redefine the moral ground.  If we provide a sensible vision of what our species should be doing, people will recognize the inherent rationality of our position, and they will gladly welcome us into the role that was abdicated by Joyce, Camus, Sartre, and co. (more…)

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 So, in Holland, one of the main types of building which one finds in the historic town centers, which is different from average run-of-the-mill town houses, is the town hall.  These are usually the flashiest buildings in town, usually flashier by far than the churches, which are generally quite stolid and depressing dark-brick edificies, done in a particularly plain form of late gothic, and almost entirley lacking in humanizing detail.  The town halls, by comparison, are not so large as to be above human scale, but are certainly large enough to come across as grand.  And here, it seems, no expense was spared, and, the detailing was astonishing.  And most of these were begun in about the sixteenth century, in a flambouyant civic late gothic.

  Gouda Town Hall
One gets statues, dormers galore, gold-leaf enfoiled pinnacles, elaborate ironwork, etc.  One could easily come to the conclusion that these buildings were what contemporaries thought was most worthy of their attention; this also has a lot to do with the fact that, in the late middle ages, the Dutch cities were generally too poor to build large churches, and brick was far too expensive in this swampy, muddy part of the world, while bricks could be made on the spot, and were cheap and abundant.  By the time that the cities of Holland got rich enough to be able to afford grandiose churches, they had adopted Calvinism and other forms of protestantism, which were inherently opposed to the notion of richly ornamented churches, as a result of their opposition to the emphasis on ceremony and excessive ornamentation which was favoured by the Catholics.  Thus, the Dutch built oppressively boring churches; and instead they put all of their architectural energies into their town halls.
 

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In my recent post “What is the ideal population of the Earth?” (https://triviumquadrivium.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/what-is-the-ideal-population-of-the-earth/), I noted that I am not really keen on the idea of ‘downsizing my personal environmental footprint,’ in part because I feel that everyone on earth has a right to about as much land and space as someone living in North America in the 1950s had.  Is that too much to ask?  On an overpopulated world, however, it’s far too much to ask, because, with overpopulation, land becomes accordingly very expensive–de facto, land ownership is becoming more and more out of reach for most people, even in the first world.   (more…)

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Sometimes, a comparison between philosophers and ninjas is not entirely out of order.  I mean, we tend to think of aristotle as a balding, not-too-skinny guy whose principal exercise consisted of hoisting a crater of wine several times per evening, or huffing and puffing his way up the acropolis.  Actually, like most greek citizens of his day, he was trained as a youth in hardcore athletics and military exercise, so that he could probably kick any modern day philosopher’s arse.  That might be part of why the Greeks made such good philosophers.  The whole point of being a ninja, in some ways, is to use your wisdom to solve problems, rather than brute force.  Wisdom, that is, which extends to the body, and asserts a mastery over the physical environment because the body and the wisdom become attuned to such a fine degree.  (more…)

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