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Archive for the ‘An ideal society’ Category

Hi!  It’s me, Trivium, posting for the first time in a long while.  I tried doing the song lyrics analysis thing here last year for a while and it was fun, but I know that mostly why people still come here is for the trenchant, often economical analysis of various topics that matter.

I’ve been wanting to do something on this for a while, since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded a year or two ago, but well, a) it seems like blogs have moved on a bit, and are now a bit 2008, and b) time, time time, which they are attempting to squeeze out of even professors now more than ever.  I am resisting, but one can only resist one’s employer so much and still stay in the good books.  Basically as my professional life has taken off, it’s meant so much less mental energy for blog posts.  Today in fact, I should be organizing a conference and writing the intro to my latest edited volume, but…

So here’s a topic which interests me, the long-term economic historian, so much.  And where I think I have a genuinely useful voice to add to the din, and perhaps help people to get over their own bigotry and prejudices, and get more into actually solving today’s most serious problems.

Ok, so the world has gone a bit crazy over ‘identity politics’ in the last year or so.  This is a natural development of what has been going on in intellectual circles since about 1990, and in some ways, decades before that.  It is the trend where identifiable minorities become the darling hero of progressives.  So basically for progressives the more minority you are, the better.  So if you’re gay, great:  if you’re a gay pirate, better, if you’re a substance-abusing, sadomasochistic, gay pirate, even better~!  I know a professor who got a coveted tenure job writing about these:  no joke.  And in progressive circles, i.e., around liberal arts departments, one can hardly get a job now unless one is a minority, or ‘at least’ a woman:  a recent university of chicago ad said:  we want 3 things from candidates:  a list of publications, a list of teaching qualifications, and a statement of how you have contributed to campus diversity in the past.  Wow.  And yet, they tell you if you ask, that there is no ‘bias’ towards minority or women candidates.  In fact, while women and minority progressives harp on about how they can’t get equal pay etc., in academia, the pendulum has demonstrably turned against white male new hires, at least.  I know the old boy network is still white male, in many cases, but for new hires, you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle if you’re a white dude, who happens still to be the majority of applicants in topics like say, European philosophy.  But if you’re black and do European history or literature, you have 10 job offers in one year, while if you’re white with a much better CV of publications, you have 1 offer in 10 years if you’re lucky.  Now I exaggerate a bit, but I’ve been around and seen a lot, and this is the clear trend in academic hires.

Fine.  My point is that the conservative movement does have a bit of real ammunition, when they argue that things have moved perhaps a bit towards the hysterical regarding ‘the nightmare it is to be black in America today’ as a recent slate article about a movie about black people put it.  It assumes that at every moment, to be black in the US right now is to inhabit a special type of torture.  And I’ve been following the police brutality thing:  I am the very first to admit please note, that there are massive problems with police racism and that US cops in general are way way too aggressive:  (a lot of this has to do with the fact that guns are legal and so they are always facing death:  this might get people more on edge.) (more…)

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It’s suddenly all so clear…

‘Open access’ — this strange idea which sounds so innocuous, or so empowering even, and which has been propagated by certain powers that be so that suddenly gullible academics everywhere are talking about it as though this is an inevitable development– is doublespeak.  It pretends to ”open access” to science publications… to whom?  To a ‘larger public.’  (How many members of the public need access to highly technical/specialized knowledge at this level?)   But it’s actually a move by savvy players to create a ‘knoweledge aristocracy’.  Or, if you like, it is a deliberate use of the language of the free market, by a group of power players who are attempting to mask a monopolistic power grab (This is a favorite tactic of marketers working for large, monopolistic companies).

To explain, some background.

So a U Kansas distinguished professor (A. Townsend Peterson) writes in the Huffington post about the ‘good and the bad’ of open access journals.

The bad:  an obviously flawed article was sent to 304 open access journals by the journal Science, and it was accepted by over half of them.  So duh, this reveals that a lot of open-access journals are for-profit scams.  This seems screamingly obvious.

The good:  A. T. P. then tells us that ”the serious open access journals are very likely an important part of the future of academic publishing, so we should nurture them.”  His direct quote is this:

“These journals likely represent an important element in the future of academic publishing, so we should do our best to protect them and nurture them, while discouraging the predatory and shoddy editorial practices on the part of some. After all, let’s keep our eye on the prize: an open, inclusive, and effective system of scientific communication.”

Who paid A.T.P. to suggest that ‘we should protect and nurture them?’  For goodness sake, shouldn’t we be nurturing, say, our young faculty members?  The future generation of scientists?  How often do senior professors publicly say that?  But back to the main point.  Do we really need these OA journals that are so in need of nurturing?

First of all, some people seem to forget that what makes good science prestigious, is that it is reviewed by top peers, at top journals.  The whole function of journals is to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and provide us with the wheat.  If we wanted the chaff, we could just do a google search!  And no real science would get done – every tom, dick, and henrietta could voice their opinion, and with no editorial function, no one could tell the noise from the music.   (more…)

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* “Evil” being shorthand for a combination of:  Irrational/Anti-scientific/Angry/Selfish/Cynical/and/or Bigoted.

Now we know that the South has some good qualities; politeness, manners, duty, fairness; I was born there and half my family is from there, so I’m not just “whistling Dixie” with this post.  It is meant to be a serious beginning of a scientific inquiry into the following conundrum:

When one looks at all of the societies in the ‘developed’ world, the US South stands out for routinely electing politicians who are, for lack of a better set of words:  dumb jerks.  Angry, selfish, brutal, cynical, short-sighted, anti-environmental, anti-empathetic, bigoted, irrational, anti-scientific, even anti-economic stability.  Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin (an honorary member, since it’s southerners who respond to her brand of politics, mostly).

Why, alone in the developed world, does the US South do this?  Here’s a short list of probable causes, which it will be remembered, in any social system contribute varying percentages of causality:

1.  Slavery.  People who moved to the US South originally, knew that it was a slave area.   (more…)

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That is the question, isn’t it?

It’s a pretty fundamental one.  If you answer no to that one, the rest of your flow chart doesn’t mean much.  At least, not in any way that us alive in this cosmos can register.

Do I believe in an afterlife?  I strongly suspect that there are links with our cosmos/universe that we don’t entirely get.  Does that mean that our souls continue on in a recognizable form, that we ourselves recognize, after death?  I would really like to think so, although of course it seems pretty far fetched at first.  There are some reasons to believe that the universe is not randomly created–intelligent design people aren’t entirely evidenceless; and that leads me to hope that, somehow, our universe is a birthing place for new ‘gods’, that is, souls/creatures which eventually have an existence/life beyond our universe; or which can travel through it and spacetime.  If there is a god/gods, then they obviously want us to do things mostly ourselves.  But we’ve said this a bit before.  And I would go so far as to say that the theologians at work today have come up with some pretty interesting stories, which do engender hope; I am talking partly about John Polkinghorne, and Alister McGrath, and Thomas Torrence.  These latter make a case for a specifically Christian theology, but again, this need not be incompatible with other theologies entirely.

Of course, our current state of scientific knowledge would tell us that indeed life is meaningless; we are manifestations of DNA wanting to reproduce ourselves; we have no more purpose than cancer cells, which mindlessly propagate (and then die) as long as we are in a situation where we are not annihilated entirely.

And so many intelligent people have been, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, quite cynical as to the ‘meaning of life.’ They point to the billions on the planet, the existence of toil, suffering, filth, pain, loneliness, debility, ageing, corruption, cruelty in the lives of so many.  The internet is full of people copulating; cities are full of horrible buildings; television and movies are full of gore and torture.  Freud was right:  we are bestial, murderous animals.

So why bother?  If we’re, as a doctor friend pointed out, about 15 cents worth of chemicals, why do it?

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Because the wealthy have been in power since the beginning of civilization, they have been very keen to stigmatize poverty as an evil to be cured, but never wealth.

In the Enlightenment, people began to realize that wealth, like poverty, was an evil to be cured; Marx and Engels took over this banner, and unfortunately all talk of being against extreme wealth ended up being powerfully associated with Marxism/Communism/Socialism.

But, now, we’re finally moving into a post-Marxist society, where we can once again, after 100 years or more of Marxism/Communism, begin to talk about extreme wealth, or more specifically extreme disparities of wealth, as a social evil which should ideally be cured.

Note there is also a distinction between theory and practice:  de facto, democracies tolerate extreme wealth only because we have not yet come up with a social system which can create wealth for the many which does not also have the (unfortunate) side effect of creating extreme wealth for a few.  Really, if we could create a society with more equality, democracies would do that, because the many will inherently be jealous of the few, if they realized that there was no good reason to have wealth.  As it is, even the most learned economists realize that we need extreme wealth in order to have entrepreneurialism, innovation, incentives, etc, and that our economy can’t do well without these things.  So there is no push, at the pundit and elite level, to do away with extreme wealth, even in France, which is one of the more anti-wealth societies yet created.  (more…)

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Oh dear.  So now we know where the new star trek writers are coming from.  They are arrogant Ayn Randianists, who think that because they have somehow worked their way through a particular power channel in hollywood, that they are better than the rest of us mere mortals.

http://www.salon.com/2013/09/07/star_trek_writer_abuses_fans_tells_them_to_fck_off_partner/

Robert (Bob) Orci, a screenwriter who also co-penned the terrible vileness that was ‘transformers,’ was picked to do the Star Treks, by JJ Abrams.  The first movie killed vulcan (the iealism, the philosphy of Star Trek, which is why the platonist is a trekkie), as we have written about in an earlier review.

Then, the fan base, quite reasonably pens the following article, saying how to fix the new franchise (after it began ok (say some… not me)… and now, has gotten far worse (say all).

http://trekmovie.com/2013/09/01/star-trek-is-broken-here-are-ideas-on-how-to-fix-it/

To this, Bob Orci, with his millions of dollars, simply can’t handle the criticism.

1)  He says he is a George W Bush fan.

2)  He says ‘he is the decider.’  and “That’s why I get to write the movies,” because I’m better than you.

(a commenter pointed out that, in fact, he gets to write movies precisely because Hollywood wants bland pablum, and he can deliver, because he is lacking true insight, intelligence, wisdom, or most importantly, idealism.)

3)  The main trait he shares with George W, is that he absolutely is incapable of handling criticism from his “lessers,” because he knows, at heart, that he is a fraud.

4)  JJ Abrams has said that he didn’t like the original star trek because he thought it was ‘too philosophical.’  I.e., too idealistic.

5)  Star Trek and Star Wars both have huge fan bases, because they are idealistic.

6)  JJ, and his corporate masters, are right now, engaged in cutting the heart out of both Star Trek, and Star Wars.

7)  We must rebel:  we will not be cowed by a few rich assholes with connections.  Idealism will out:  our mythologies will not be ruined by corporate takeovers.

8)  Just like D&D did with Pathfinder, we will find ways around the corporate, cynical, arrogant, juvenile, puerile, Ayn Randian: I am better than you because I am rich, attitude which now characterizes so much of the American ruling elite.

9)  The arrogant will fall.

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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?

(more…)

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