Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Agonal Truth of Plotted Literature

"Art tells the truth in the general form of a lie." -- Nietzsche.

Along Nietzschean lines, truth comes out in the agon -- the struggle -- between two arguers. Plotted literature uncovers truth precisely because it presents the agon between the antAGONist and protAGONist. Truth does not lie with the hero-protagonist, but in the struggle the hero-protagonist has with the antagonist. This is how art tells the truth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Disequilibrium Economics

When you have agents engaged in multiple interactions over space and time, you get a strong dynamic nonlinear, non-equilibrium process, which results in structures and patterns, also known as self-organization. This arises entirely from interactions internal to the system. If we then cause the system to change due to external inputs, we get turbulence in the system, making the system even more nonlinear, throwing it into a far-from-equilibrium state. It is when it is in the far-from-equilibrium state that it is most creative. If the economy is a spontaneous order, it is a self-organizing system/process. And if it is a self-organizing process, it is a non-equilibrium process. And if it is a creative process, it is likely to be in a far-from-equilibrium state (and if it is a dynamic, self-organizing process with external inputs, it is likely to be in a far-from-equilibrium state).

Of course, neoclassical economics is based on the idea of equilibrium. However, I have noticed that the following result in disequilibria:

entrepreneurship involving new ideas/products
different cultures and subcultures

Now, since these are features of any real economy, and each causes diseqeuilibria, piling diseqeuilibria on disequilibria, does it make any sense to discuss equilibria? It is argued that it is a "useful fiction," but one does have to wonder how useful it really is, if it creates a consistently false picture of the economy. Worse, it creates "ideal conditions" which are unachievable, creating the fiction that there is such a thing as "market failures." Market failures are impossible except in the utopia of neoclassical equilibrium theory. That makes it a theory failure.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fraser and Libertarianism.

It turns out that the connection between J.T. Fraser and libertarianism was closer than I thought. Though Fred Turner and I are both libertarians, I know that not everyone who loved Fraser's ideas were, and Fraser himself never gave a clue as to what his politics were in anything I read of his (probably for the best in the grand scheme of things).

J.T. Fraser and David Nolan, RIP

Saturday, November 20th was a sad day for me ideologically. David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party, and J.T. Fraser, philosopher of time, both died. No doubt there would be libertarian ideas out there without the LP, but the LP helps give libertarianism some political definition. I was introduced to Fraser in my Ph.D. program, through Alexander Argyros (later my dissertation chair). His ideas have been central to my thinking across the board.

Now, it may not seem likely that the two are connected, but for me they are necessarily so. I believe the world is self-organized from the bottom-up, with new emergent levels of complexity (Fraser's umwelts), and that top-down imposed order is unnatural. Taken to its logical conclusion in economics, society, culture, and government, that naturally lead me to libertarianism. Of course, I discovered libertarianism before I discovered Fraser, but Fraser's ideas really provided me with a full structural world view, showing me how it all tied together.

Overall, my debt to Nolan is fairly indirect. I came to libertarianism through my Introduction to Philosophy class with Ronald Nash, which led me to read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand -- and eventually to the Austrian economists. My debt to Fraser, though, is far more direct.

Ten years ago I went to UT-Dallas to work on my Ph.D. I signed up for a class on Existentialism with Alex Argyros. I loved him and the class so much I took him again for Foundationalism and Antifoundationalism. It was there where I first read J.T. Fraser -- Time, Conflict, and Human Values -- and Fred Turner (who I also met that semester, of course). I had an undergraduate degree in recombinant gene technology with a minor in chemistry, I had been reading about quantum physics and chaos theory and dissipative structures and complex systems on my own, I had just finished a M.A. degree in English, and I was starting my Ph.D. in the humanities. Though I believed that they should all fit together, Fraser's work showed me how they all fit together. I went from a vague postmodernist, multidisciplinary thinker to an integrationist interdisciplinary thinker through Fraser's work (both directly and indirectly, through Alex's book "A Blessed Rage for Order" and Turner's "The Culture of Hope"). I am now a structuralist thinker -- and the structure is Fraser's umwelt theory. It is behind all of my scholarly work, whether directly stated or not. Fraser is omnipresent in my dissertation, "Evolutionary Aesthetics," and I went to my first ISST conference in Cambridge just to meet Fraser (since I had not submitted anything, and thus was not presenting anything). He was a good and generous man, excited at meeting a budding new scholar interested in his ideas. He was equally generous when I attended my next ISST conference, at which I presented, in Monterey Bay. I was sad that I could not afford to go to the ISST conference in Coasta Rica -- and I am now even sadder I could not attend.

Inspired by Fraser, and seeing how his work fit beautifully into the work of psychologist Clare Graves, I wrote my own book: Diaphysics. He continues to inform my thinking, even as I have moved into doing more scholarly work influenced by Austrian economics (a tradition in which time is central -- making it potentially rich soil for Fraser's ideas). My intellectual debt to Fraser is profound (my pantheon of influences: Fraser, Fred Turner, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Clare Graves, Hayek, Milan Kundera). One of the greatest thinkers certainly of the 20th century has passed from us. He will be sorely missed.

Some of Fraser's work:

Time, Conflict and Human Values

The Voices of Time

Of Time, Passion, and Knowledge

Time: The Familiar Stranger

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Validity of Abstract Terms

I have gotten into an argument here about the validity of using the term "wealth." Rodger Mitchell argues that "wealth" is a meaningless term. I argue that economics is the science of wealth creation. If true, this means we need to define wealth. But is that really possible?

Consider the following:

Biology is the science of life.

Aesthetics is the science of beauty.

Natural law is the science of justice.

Psychology is the science of the mind.

Now, define life. Define beauty. Define justice. Define mind.

Is it a coincidence that all our specialized areas of study are of terms we cannot fully define? Is it not then the definition of folly to argue that we should abandon the terms? Or is the point of the science to try to define the terms?

My Little Node in the World Wide Web

The rotating globe at the bottom of my page is a lot of fun to watch. I get to see where my readers live -- and they are from all over the globe: Australia/New Zealand, Asia, Europe, and North America. I have an idea of who some of the people may be, and some are a complete mystery to me. However, I have noticed that there are two major places where I have not had a single hit: Africa and South America! The Middle East is also noticeably unlit with red dots. Some interesting patterns are definitely emerging.

After checking my stats, I noticed one hit from Turkey, and two from Brazil, so the Middle East and South America are now included.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writing for the Social Sciences

I have been reading complaints by law and economics professors about students' inability to write. They are right, of course, to complain, because schools have for the most part abandoned everything necessary to teach students how to write. Students don't have to learn grammar or logic. The only thing they have to learn is how to "express themselves," for which no judgement can be made. In college they get "rhetoric", but it is a pale version of Aristotle's ideal (it more resembles what Plato complained about).

So what to do? I suggested that if the social sciences (broadly defined) wanted to teach their students how to write, they needed to have their own writing classes. No doubt this would cause s turf war with the English department, but one has to decide if the battle is worth it. While I would most certainly love to work and teach in an English department, I would also like to say that if anyone is bold enough to have a writing professor in, say, their economics department, I would be more than happy to teach such a set of classes -- especially if I could design the class and set up the requirements. First, the department would have to require my class for this to work at all. Second, I would require grammar and logic as prerequesites. If poetry writing classes all taught formalist poetry, I would even require that (being, in my opinion, the best way to introduce structural rhetoric -- the rest of rhetoric I would introduce in my class). In my writing class I would discuss both reading strategies (hermeneutics) and department-level vocabulary, discussing the ambuguities in the terminology used. Much can be made of the fact that many of the words used by economists can also be used in ethics and in psychology, for example.

These are a few ideas. If anyone wanted to set up such a class within their department, I would love to jump on board and really create a writing program that works.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Digital Humanities

Here is an interesting article on the digital humanities. I would like to welcome them to work I was doing 6-7 years ago for my dissertation. I wish I could have followed up on it. My most recent work, on the spontaneous orders of the arts, is quite amenable to this kind of methodology. Maybe as the rest of the humanities catch up with my methodology, I will be able to get a job.

Revising Poetry

To be a poet of any worth whatsoever, you have to revise, revise, revise. Rare is it that the first things that come out are gems. Let me give some personal examples.

One summer I wrote a sonnet a day without really understanding the form. I have been revising those poems for a while, and while I am finding that some revisions hold the sonnet form, others result in new forms. Consider the following original (sonnet) and revision (villanelle):

Lost Time

We waste time and we spend it – what’s it cost?
We pass the time and fill the time, there’s no
Lack of excuses for all the time lost
(Even as Proust searched for it we all know
It can never be recovered again) –
What we never seem to want to renew
Among all the filler and endless din
Is to make up for all the time that flew
From tree to tree until we could not see
Where all the time had gone. Do we have time
Enough for love? – or is it on the sea,
Caught up in its rhythm, or in this rhyme?
Despite the time we’ve spent together, I
Wonder where the time’s gone, and wonder why?

Lost Time

We waste time, spend time, fill and pass the time
We’re trapped in all its waves and ebbs and flows –
We’re caught up in its rhythms and its rhyme.

We treat time like it doesn’t cost a dime
When we’re in debt to it. Lord only knows
We waste time, spend time, fill and pass the time.

Our minds and bodies are set to its chime,
Connected more to poetry than prose:
We’re caught up in its rhythms and its rhyme.

We think we can control it, then we mime
All that has come before: it’s all a pose –
We waste time, spend time, fill and pass the time.

When will we learn to use it as a prime
And natural source of life, which always shows
We’re caught up in its rhythms and its rhyme.

We’re monkeys in the tree of time and climb
The limbs, the places where each of us grows.
We waste time, spend time, fill and pass the time –
We’re caught up in its rhythms and its rhyme.

Now, I'm not saying that the villanelle is a great poem, but I think we can agree that it's better than the sonnet from which it was derived. Such a drastic revision makes this a new draft, so it probably has to undergo some more revision (and suggestions are, of course, welcomed), but I think I'm moving in the right direction with this particular poem.

With my sonnet "Wedded" I transformed the poem from a sonnet into a blank verse poem with a rhyming couplet at the end. Here is the sonnet:


In an old white Dutch Masters cigar box
Lies what looks like a Bible, tiny, white,
Pink silk flowers and a gold cross that locks
Away a secret that slips out, a sight
I had not seen, but heard about, a ring
Not a ring – a tab from an old pop can,
The tab my dad gave my mom, that would bring
Them together in marriage, and began
The life that ended in her too-early
Death by cancer, asbestos brought to her
On clothes by her husband unknowingly
From his work. Still, I know that she’d prefer
To have lived this same life over again,
Beginning with this little tab of tin.

Here is the revised poem:

The Engagement Ring

Although my parents never smoked cigars
Or even cigarettes, I have their white
Dutch Masters cigar box, and wonder what
It holds. I lift the lid and look inside –
I find a small white Bible there with pink
Silk flowers and a golden cross that locks
Away a secret. This false Bible is
A box that holds a metal object I
Had never seen, but heard about, a ring
That’s not a ring – a pull tab from an old
Pop can, that tab my dad gave to my mom
When he asked her to marry him. She slipped
It on and told him yes and cut him on
The thumb with it when she gave him a kiss.
This tab brought them together for a life
That ended in her early death by cancer,
Asbestos brought to her as dust by her
Beloved on his clothes unknowingly
From work, destroying her through her weak lungs.
But still, I know that she’d prefer to live
The life she did with this same death again
Beginning with this little tab of tin.

But not all my sonnets have changed form. Take the following sonnet:

Why Bother

Words fall silent on those you love the most,
Those who don’t are the most attentive.
At home you’re ignored or seen to just boast
About all you know. There’s no incentive
To share knowledge or wisdom, it will go
Unheard by those you most wanted to hear
Everything you had to say. And now so
Much harm falls upon those you hold so dear.
What should you expect? For Jesus himself
Said a prophet is not without honor
Save in his own country – full of the wealth
Of knowledge of you, even the horror
That you could possibly have within you
A wisdom they don’t, a knowledge that’s new.

Which I have revised into the following sonnet:

The Prophet at Home

The prophet’s words cannot be heard by those
Who love him most and know him growing up.
At home, they think you only boast – who knows
You as they do? They ask, “Who is this pup?”
Why share with them the wisdom you have gained?
It goes unheard, all that you wished to share –
Their inattentive ears have only pained
Their lives – but also you, because you care.
But those who do not know you are attentive
To what you have to say, and take the most
Of all your wisdom. They have an incentive
To listen – growing, they don’t think you boast.
For Jesus too said that a prophet’s not
Without his honor save with his own lot.

This revision has the sonnet's dialectical development, and resolution in the ending couplet. The subject suggested the retention of the sonnet form in this case, and I abided by that content-form connection. In the two above cases, there were elements in the original poems that suggested different forms, and I listened to them. In the case of the villanelle, though, I did have the form in mind and searched through the poems I had printed out to revise to see if any could fit the form.

What does all of this suggest about form and content? The two are undoubtedly connected, but which comes first? Is it always one, or the other? I am certain others have written poems in one form and then revised into another. Does the presence of the former form get remain somehow present, though transformed into a new form?

Of course, any suggestions regarding revisions are more than welcome!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Late Weekend Nights at the Hotel

The prostitutes all come, but do not rhyme --
They go upstairs for a short time and climb
Into the warmth with bare legs, wooly boots,
A standard mini skirt, and silver roots.
Such models of efficiency I see
Them each return and leave so rapidly
You'd think they're paid by piecework rather than
The hour (no doubt they are, paid man by man).
They never speak -- they have a job to do --
Indeed, they do, the faster ones. And through
The night their sisters come and disappear --
But they are paid with whiskey shots and beer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Earth Below

Go to the very bottom of the page and you will see the earth and the location of everyone who, from the time I post this on, has been to this site.