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Archive for the ‘An ideal environment’ Category

Dear Readers,

Indeed trivium has been mute for a while, only stopping by to approve comments (which are always welcome), and to post a few links here and there.

This is because he has been entirely whorled up in the process of securing tenure, or something like it.  This has been good for his academic writing, but his extracurricular writing has been on hiatus… since those energies have generally been taking up by teaching, and by learning yet another language.  I realize that I started this blog during a hiatus in my teaching, and that indeed teaching has taken up some of those same energies that gets me fired up to write here on the Platonist.  I think that much good work has been done, and indeed the readership here is growing significantly every month it seems, so I want to keep the site up, and current, and let everyone know that we’re still here, and planning on maintaining and furthering the ideals set out here.

That being said, I think that the social movement that is and probably will for the forseeable future remain closest to my heart is the notion of founding the Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  I like the fact that the title sounds corporate, and financial.  The point is to get the attention of those who work in those worlds, to let them know that we can speak the same language, and use the same equations, and yet begin and end with a radically different ‘product,’ i.e., an economics which is about the enrichment of the average individual, rather than an economics which is about the enrichment of the nation, the corporation, or the wealthy few (who are so often in conservative think-tanks equated with the best, the most energetic, the most innovative, the hardest working, etc., even though most of them began with signficiantly greater access to wealth, education, and/or intellectual gifts than most of us.

I have been talking about something like the ICFE for a long time.  I am not even sure what form it will take.  I would like to apply for funds to open a center.  I would love to organize the publication of a newsletter, and perhaps turn the Platonist into a hub for the ICFE, or create a new website.  This will require some time and energy on my part which right now is hardly able to be forthcoming:  society has made it so difficult for us to obtain secure jobs, compared with a generation ago, that we have less and less time to pursue those interests which might actually change the world for the better… of course, the powers that be don’t tend to mind this state of affairs, really, either.

So:  let’s call this a foundation.  It is founded.  As of right now, it exists.  The ICFE.  The Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  What are our goals?

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So here’s a little insight that one can only get from living in Europe after having lived in the US/Canada, which is this:  In the US/Canada, you have much more house per family; I’ve seen the statistics; it’s roughly double the square footage on average in the US.

This has a number of hidden effects that I don’t think that many economists plug into their primary equations.  In Holland, the houses are really small indeed, almost everyone lives without appreciable yards.  We stayed in the townhouse of this wealthy yuppie couple with a baby, and they had literally no garage, and one single storage closet.  The dude’s only tool area was one single toolbox stored in the cupboard where the brooms and cleaning stuff were stuffed.

So the point is that this dude cannot de facto be in the market for lots of dudely stuff, such as wheelbarrows, lumber, metal poles, chainsaws, giant tool benches, riding mowers, and a whole host of other things which for decades every middle-class American male took for granted as being part of his lifestyle.  Just think of all the things which the average American consumer buys  to fill up their garage space, their toolsheds, etc.  All of these things there is a huge market for in the U.S., and this in turn stimulates the economy.

In Europe, they literally do not  have space for more than a few smallish carpets, a few lamps, one or two framed pictures,  etc., and so there is little market for this, meaning that buying things, even for an uppery middle-class couple, is a relatively rare event.  Because normal household goods are de facto luxury items,  every single household thing is ridiculously expensive.  This is why anywhere outside of Ikea, (more…)

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So it’s an ongoing project here at the Platonist, to come up with the ground rules for what would ideally become a book, setting out a Grand Unified Theory (if we may), of how to create an ideal economy, politics, and society.  This is essentially an update of Plato’s Republic, moving beyond earlier utopian or dystopian literature and taking into account what we’ve learned in the last few decades, since advances in the social sciences have been tremendous, and very inspiring if you know where to look.  This is especially true  in our advances in the theory of egalitarianism, and the discursive elements of this, since Foucault.  And of course our ‘system’ has to move beyond being a system, since one thing we’ve learned is that imposing systems doesn’t at all work.  What we would suggest in this rewriting of the Republic, would be a series of concrete policies that would be designed to maximize happiness, through existing democratic and legal institutions, and maximize opportunity, for those who would want it, without imposing anything on anyone (since this would never be better than our current system–freedom is key).  In essence, we’d be continuing the current and ongoing explorations in the social sciences, whose goal, we would argue, is to find ways to help us to live better.  To explain what has worked, and why, and what hasn’t, and why, with the aim of furnishing us with wisdom to make the right choices, ones that are of course naturally obvious.  For example, it’s quite obvious now that democracy works better than any true monarchy or one-man rule, for a whole host of reasons.  This was not so obvious 300 years ago.  This is the sort of thing, only using newer discoveries, that we are aiming to highlight here.  Economics, in particular, is a rich field for this, since  the marxist-capitalist conflict of the 20th century arguably blinded most economic thinkers by turning them into partisans, instead of scientists.  Economics has been dominated too much by polemics, and not enough with the business of maximizing happiness and opportunity.  It is still in the hands of the anti-marxist, pro plutocratic elite, and we need to reclaim economics from them –  – real economics, scientific university economics.  The book ‘prosperity without growth’ is part of this new trend.  It is happening.

At any rate, one of the fundamental stumbling blocks to any would-be set of principles for improving the way things work (since surely there are quite a few problems we have yet to address as well as we could if only we worked it through) is the fact that we’re still pretty much hardwired for hierarchy as I have said in another post – i.e., we still carry strong tendencies to act according to pack and troop principles, which got us through our millions of years living as beasts.  These instincts aren’t however often so great for creating an egalitarian, maximum-opportunity society.  Psychologists and anthropologists have now identified a lot of these, but let’s spell them out here, so that we can get them out in the open, and grapple with them as we discuss and shape our economic and political wish list.

1)  The desire to be cool.  This used to be called ‘honor.’   It’s probably our first instinct, once we move beyond toddlerhood, and stays with us until senility.  You want to have the people immediately around you like you, and act positively towards you.  This is because in primate troop society, this meant you were  ‘alpha.’  Everyone fawns over you, does stuff for you, laughs at your jokes.  This translates into personal power.  The Fonz snaps his fingers, and people do stuff for him.  (Jeff Winger in “Community” being an updated version of the same).

2)  The desire to be sexy.   (more…)

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Research is now finally beginning to confirm what some of us have known since teenagerhood:  some people have an innate proclivity to go to bed late and get up late, while others are programmed to go to bed early and get up early.  One can see the evolutionary advantages to a given tribe if you have people of both types on hand:  this way, you always have someone on watch.  They say that the ‘owls’ (those who incline to stay up late and get up late) are programmed for their afternoon ‘nap’ about 2pm, while the doves are programmed to have theirs about 12:30 or 1 on average.

Speaking as a certifiable owl, one of the most horrible things about almost every job is that it forces you to get up far too early.   It has gotten a bit easier for me as I have gotten older and have required less sleep:  as a late teen (when most people require their peak amounts of sleep at up to 9 or even 10 hours) it was absolutely brutal to get up for high school, which the administrators had perversely set up so that it began earliest, while elementary school began latest.   Thus high school started at 7:20, meaning we all got up at 5am!!!, while elementary school didn’t start until 9.  I have also seen studies saying that they should reverse this order:  elementary kids tend to get up early (which I also did:  I was up at 5 and 6 when I was 6-10 years old), while high school kids really want, naturally, to stay up late and get up late (this whether you are a dove or owl – you still have tendencies to do more sleeping in and staying up at that point).

Even though I need a bit less sleep now (8 hours to be fully functional, rather than 9 as a teen), the hours that almost every job forces you to get up at are entirely inhumane.  It should definitely go into the global declaration of human rights that people have a right to enough sleep, and therefore the right not to get up at 4:30 if they want to.  These days, however, it seems that insanely early waking hours are almost entirely unavoidable. (more…)

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So I was bumming around the LSE bookstore a few weeks back, and found Tim Jackson’s “Propserity without Growth:  Economics for a Finite Planet”  sitting front and centre as a “staff pick featured read.”

And I thought, thank gravy that someone in the establishment is actually beginning to talk about the relationship between population and economics in a way counter to the prevailing wisdom.  As Tim succinctly explains in the first chapter of his book, the current economic model is fundamentally grounded upon one basic mantra, which is that population growth is essential to economic growth.   Economists assume that as population grows, the economy will grow slightly faster, increasing per capita wealth, and thereby making everyone richer.  As Tim points out, however, we’re rapidly coming up against the limits that our planet’s quite finite resources can possibly tolerate, in terms of food growable, food fishable, biological sustainability, waste disposal, not to mention the still not at all solveable fuel shortage problem, and the global warming problem that the oil industry has so successfully spread misinformation about.  I’ve already talked about this stuff in my post “what is the ideal population of the earth.” (more…)

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So I guess it was J. M. Keynes who said “In the long term, we’ll all dead.”  Fair enough.  But what about our society, our species, and our planet (or even–despite Keynes– us, once we figure out how to stop ageing)?  I’ve already written a post about what our goals should be as a species, over, say the next few hundred years.  But what if we move beyond this timeframe?  I find it’s always good to give you some perspective.  And it helps us to answer, in a more serious fashion, that high-school and comic-strip metaphysics question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’  One can actually be more precise than one might think, nowadays.

When I was a kid, I was a big astronomy buff.  I memorized most of the constellations and their brightest stars; I remember standing out on frigid, crystal-clear winter evenings and checking out Aldabaran in Taurus, the Pleides, Betelgeuse the red giant  in Orion, and Rigel, the ginormous blue star at the other end of Orion.   I subscribed to Astronomy magazine, saved my allowance and bought an 8″-wide  mini ‘light bucket’ dobsonian telescope, which was very economically priced by the way, and when it arrived, it turned out that it was made of a big tube of cardboard, painted red.  That was a bit of a disappointment, but the thing was still so big, that it was magical.  On summer evenings, my best friend and I, and maybe a parent or two, would sit on our back porch in the dark; we had an unobstructed south view, and we were on a bit of a hill, so we could clearly see Scorpio crawling along the southern horizon; the sinisterly red Antares is truly wicked in the context of the scorpion, and is perhaps my favourite star.  Although Vega in Lyra is also a favourite.  With my telescope, I remember checking out the globular cluster near Antares; my favourite was M13 in Hercules.  They still looked incredibly faint and patchy through the lens, and my parents would never have chipped in to buy a camera and tracking apparatus to take photos, but it was magical nonetheless.  At first I wanted to be an astronomer, until I realized that they have to be total math whizzes, and basically just spend their entire time looking at and analyzing data streams.  It seemed unbelievably sterile and tedious to me as a late teen, and so I went for the arts and language instead.  And the really interesting stuff, theoretical physics and cosmology require a math ability that I might have had, but I jumped off the math train in middle school, and once you’re off for a year or two, you can never catch back up.  At any rate, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve really enjoyed the stars on a summer’s evening.  Many years of living in urban apartments have driven a wedge between me and the sky, even though now we finally have the possibility of enjoying it again from our back porch.  (more…)

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In the Matrix, we get glimpses of people who have been turned into fuel sources for an ambiguous controlling elite (of robots); this is just one example of a ‘cell-people’ theme that runs through a lot of Sci-Fi.  Another obvious example is the Borg, where individuals have become entirely subsumed into the ‘collective’ and basically serve as worker drones for a hive mind.  There are other variations where people are simply raised for food.  The main recurring elements in this genre are that people have almost no space in which to move or exercise independent action (because they docilely inhabit tiny cells), and are essentially kept alive for the purposes of others.

The reason why this type of story has resonance, is because it calls to mind some salient truths about the present, and also provides a warning about various metaphorical futures for humanity.  In this post I would like to point out that the world is actually heading in this direction, in a much more real sense than is usually perceived.

There has always been slavery; (more…)

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