Monday, April 30, 2012

Power is Addictive

The Daily Mail reports that political power is literally addicting:
‎Cocaine works in a similar way, which can have varied effects from increasing alertness, confidence, energy, feelings of well-being and euphoria, but also anxiety, paranoia and restlessness.

Power has almost identical effects to cocaine and too much of it can produce too much dopamine leading to more negative effects such as arrogance and impatience.
Power also makes one more aggressive and sexually active (sex scandals, anyone?). But look at this list. Do we really want people in power who are anxious and paranoid? But, as it turns out, getting political power is what makes you anxious and paranoid. If you are confident to the point of arrogance and paranoid, that seems the perfect cocktail for centralizing power. It is perhaps no wonder people with power try to centralize it around them.

Only by decentralizing power, distributing it as widely as possible, can we overcome these deeply primitive drives. If you want to know what politicians are really like, learn about primate dominance behaviors. Power is primitive, it is atavistic. Politics is the least human(e) form of organization.


When talking about kinds of love, we are familiar with eros, philia, and agape. But it turns out there is also storge. This is defined as "the love of a parent toward a child," but has become in social psychology "the form of love between friends." If storge is familial love and friendship, this frees up philia for object-love (which would include such objects as sophos) and agape for the more inclusive "love of mankind." It would also draw attention to the relationship between friends and family. Still, the fact of overlap shows how complex these different kinds of love are, even in a language like Greek, that has four terms for it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What We Love and What We Do

I have been thinking more lately on something I posted not long ago on the different kinds of human interactions. I want to expand on what I said there, looking at how these kinds of interactions are related to different kinds of love.

Our social interactions begin at home. We find in the home eros, or sexual love, on which our sexual relationships are founded. I eros my wife. For the rest of the family, there is agape, or familial (brotherly) love, on which our relationships with those we are related to are based. I agape my children. And if we consider friendships as an extension of family, we can then include philia. Philia, however, is also used for the love of things, ideas, etc. "Philosophy" is of course the "love of wisdom," and "philanthropy" is the "love of mankind."

Within the home we find all of the aforeblogged interactions. We gift each other, we engage in any number of exchanges/barters, we sacrifice for each other, and there is even some level of politics at play. Thus we find the gift economy, the political economy, the market economy, and the divine economy all at work in the household -- something which should not be surprising, given "economics" means "rule of the household."

Of course, we are talking about the strongest of our strong bonds in the household. In our extended societies most of our bonds are weak bonds -- some downright ephemeral. Each of the aforementioned economies have developed into their own spontaneous orders, with their own kinds of philia.

Love of mankind give us our gift economies. That love of mankind can be direct, in philanthropy, or indirect, in philosophy, science, the arts, or literature. These economies are based on the development of reputation.

Love of God gives us our divine economies.

And then there are two varieties of love of self:

1.) Love of power gives us our political economies.

2.) Love of gain gives us our market economies.

There are of course moral and immoral versions of each of these. Take the market economy. We get the word "market" and "merchant" from the Roman god Mercury, who was the god of merchants, but also of thieves. Both are certainly ways of improving one's material conditions, even if one is based on force and is zero-sum and the other is based on mutual benefit and is positive-sum. The more theft-like one's exchange interaction, the less moral that behavior is. And it does not matter if you rob the person yourself or have a third party do it for you.

One can do this with each of these. Lying about your accomplishments to gain reputation is how one is unethical in the gift economy (to a degree, this is turning love of others into love of self, which is what makes it unethical, not being in the right economy). Centralized power is less ethical than decentralized power. Sacrificing others is less ethical than sacrificing self. There are of course degrees between these extremes. Further, it seems to me that when we confuse these orders and the actions appropriate to them, we may in fact be acting unethically. Perhaps that is too far -- but it is something that needs to be thought through. As, I would argue, is true of all of the above.

Finally, if the flipside of love is hate, and our inherited tribalism causes us to see an enemy when we have love of one's own, what does this say about people's attitudes toward those orders with which they do not self-identify?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anti-Ritual Collectivism

It occurs to me that one of the main features of collectivism is that it is anti-ritual. Collectivism is to be differentiated from social individualism by the fact that social animals are simultaneously distinct individuals and engage in interactions with members of their same species, usually those closely related to them. Lobe-finned fish are social individuals; schooling fish like herring are collectivist in nature. The former recognize territory; the latter have no territory. The evolution of territorialism resulted in the evolution of ritual such that territory could be protected while, at the same time, mating could occur. Herring do not engage in rituals -- they merely spawn en masse.

The mating ritual, stemming from the evolution of territory/property, eventually evolved into other interaction rituals, including politics, religion, science, market exchange, etc. Among our rituals are those that can include or exclude others from our group. A notable one is the ritual we engage in so we can kill another human being because they, themselves, engaged in a crime so bad we want them to be removed from our society. There are certainly pro-life, moral, and sociological arguments to be made against capital punishment, but I do have to wonder how many collectivists are against it simply because one has to engage in a ritual for capital punishment to take place.

Please note the list I gave above. Collectivists are typically anti-religion, anti-market, anti-property (the foundation of all rituals), and even anti-politics insofar as they would typically prefer an apolitical ruler/central planner. They typically present their anti-ritual stance as stemming from their rationalism -- however, this rationalism is of the Continental/Cartesian variety rather than the Scottish Enlightenment version. It is perhaps not surprising that the Scottish version of rationality is both not anti-ritual and social individualistic. Collectivists are still pro-science only because science is perceived to be anti-ritual -- so the ignorance of its fundamental ritualistic nature protects it. For now.

We can see, then, that to the extent that lobe-finned fishes evolved from schooling fish, collectivism is more primitive than social individualism. Thus collectivists are hyper-atavists. As is anti-ritualism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Intellectual Ritual

Randall Collins applies his idea of interaction rituals specifically to intellectuals. He is of course focusing on philosophers in his work, but the fact of the matter is that this description is equally applicable whether the intellectuals are philosophers, historians, scientists, or artists. In each case, social interactions are vital, and can make the difference between being a major intellectual and a minor one.

This, then, is the intellectual ritual. Intellectuals gather, focus their attention for a time on one of their members, who delivers a sustained discourse. That discourse itself builds on elements from the past, affirming and continuing or negating. Old sacred objects, previously charged up, are recharged with attention, or degraded from their sacredness and expelled from the life of the community; new candidate sacred objects are offered for sanctification. By reference to texts past and texts future, the intellectual community keeps up the consciousness of its projects, transcending all particular occasions on which they were enacted. Hence the peculiar guiding sacred object---truth, wisdom, sometimes also the activity of seeking or research---as both eternal and embodied in the flow of time. (29)
In a real sense intellectuals have taken over the role once exclusively held by priests. The above is certainly what priests of all religions have done and do. The fact that we do these things in different institutions doesn't make a difference. In fact, Collins makes the point that

The entire macro-social structure, of non-intellectuals as well, is anchored on ritual interactions. What we call structure is a shorthand way of describing repetitive patterns, encounters that people keep coming back to, a recycling of rituals. This larger structure has the feel of externality; it seems thing-like, compulsory, resistant to change. This sense of constraint arises in part because the major institutions as repetitive networks are based on their distinctive IRs, which have generated emotional commitments to their identifying symbols. (29-30)
In other words, institutions matter. They are places where we engage in particular rituals relevant to the creation and participation in particular social orders. Imagine the power of combining the understanding of rituals with institutional analysis and with spontaneous order theory.

This also creates a particular understanding of the individual who is both an individual and a participant in the social order (similar to Hayek's discussion of the individualism of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers):

As individuals move through this grid of encounters, they generate their own histories of ritual participation. We may call this an interaction ritual chain. Each person acquires a personal repertoire of symbols loaded with membership significance. Depending on the degree of cosmopolitanism and social density of the group situations to which they have been exposed, they will have a symbolic repertoire of varying degrees of abstraction and reification, of different generalized and particularized contents. This constitutes their cultural capital." (29)
We are our interaction ritual chains. And participation in the intellectual rituals within intellectual institutions is what makes one an intellectual.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interaction Rituals

Sociology studies the social interactions of humans (which may be the same as saying sociology studies humans). Sociology is typically understood to be its own area of study, but I am increasingly convinced that sociology ought to be understood to be a metadiscipline that covers disciplines such as economics, the sociology of science, the sociology of artistic production, etc. Another way of looking at it, sociology should be understood to cover the market economy, the gift economies, the political economy, and the divine economy, as well as the interactions of those economies. As such, sociology is the study of spontaneous orders. Or should be.

I believe this is how Randall Collins understands sociology. In The Sociology of Philosophies, Collins points out that when two or more people interact, they engage in what are called "interaction rituals." He points out that

The following are the ingredients of any interaction ritual:

1. a group of at least two people is physically assembled;

2. they focus attention on the same object or action, and each becomes aware that the other is maintaining this focus;

3. they share a common mood or emotion.

4. The mutual focus of attention and the shared mood cumulatively intensify...[until]...participants are temporarily united in a shared reality, and experience a boundary or membrane between that situation and whoever is outside it.

5. As a result, the participants feel they are members of a group, with moral obligations to one another. Their relationship becomes symbolized by whatever they focused on during their ritual interaction.

6. Individuals who participate in IRs are filled with emotional energy, in proportion to the intensity of the interaction. Durkheim called this energy "moral force"

These encounters produce an ongoing flow of social motivations, as people come away from each situation with a store of charged symbols (which can be called cultural capital, or CC), and with emotional energies. Persons are attracted to those situations in which they can make the best use of their previously acquired cultural capital and symbolic resources to focus discursive action and thereby generate further solidarity. Individual lives are chains of interaction rituals; the meshing of these chains constitutes everything that is social structure in all its myriad shapes. (22-24)
If each spontaneous order has its own interaction rituals -- as one would expect to be the case if there are different kinds of human interactions -- then one would expect, from Collins' description of IR participants as creating solidarity with others in that group, meaning there is also a sense of exclusion of those not doing so, that our tribalistic instincts will kick in. In other words, those who think of themselves as being in the political economy will have an inclusive attitude toward others in the political economy and an exclusive attitude toward others in the other economies. More, they will seek to bring everyone else into their tribe, whose rituals make sense to them (whereas the rituals of the other "tribes" make no sense and, thus, must be wrong -- even morally wrong).

Consider the implications of this. Those familiar with the rituals of the market economy will want to try to impose them on, say, the political economy. Such people would talk about making the government more efficient or even profitable. Those familiar with the rituals of the gift economy will want to try to make the government act more like philanthropies, helping the poor, supporting the arts and sciences, etc. Those familiar with the rituals of the divine economy will want to try to make the government more theocratic and will use rhetoric like "sacrifice." Equally, those familiar with the interaction rituals of the political economy will want to replace the rituals of the other economies with its own, such as replacing true philanthropy with government subsidy programs.

I think we can now make sense of much of what takes place in society. We can both understand what is going on within a given spontaneous order, why people prefer one spontaneous order over another, and the problems that arise when we try to impose the interaction rituals appropriate to one order on another. We need to understand better the different kinds of interaction rituals and how they give rise to their different spontaneous orders as people engage in interaction chains. This should be the primary job of anyone working in the social sciences.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Illegal Home-Made Food

When I was growing up, my elementary school used to hold various fund raisers. People would bring home baked goods to sell. My mom would make cookies and fudge -- her two most popular treats. Especially her fudge and her chocolate chip cookies.

It would also be common for people to bring home canned green beans, corn, and other vegetables for special school events, to be cooked and served.

All of this is now illegal.

Was it done for the stated excuse, health concerns?

Of course not.

It was done because corporations pushed for that legislation, so that people would have to buy store-bought vegetables and baked goods.

Big government and big business are two sides of the same coin.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Food Subsidies Make Us Ill

When I gave up grains for Lent, I began to feel much better. I no longer felt bloated, my late-night acid reflux went away, my morning nausea went away. Naturally, come Easter, I ate a pizza. All of those symptoms returned. With a vengeance.

I suspected I was allergic to wheat. It turns out I was right. More specifically, I am allergic to gluten. I have all the symptoms of standard gluten allergy. For someone who loves pasta, this is about as bad as news can get.

It turns out that at least 6% of the population is allergic to wheat. Perhaps more, since I was never diagnosed. It turns out that wheat causes all sorts of digestive problems in laboratory rats, and it may be that practically everyone is negatively affected by wheat. If you have digestive problems, I recommend giving up wheat for a while to find out if that's the problem.

My natural tendency is to think about any social implications of things like this. Like the fact that the U.S. government subsidizing corn-based ethanol drove up corn prices, causing Mexicans to switch from corn to wheat tortillas, causing increased obesity in Mexico.

Corn subsidies have also driven the use of high fructose corn syrup, which is 55% fructose (vs. 50-50 for regular sucrose, or table sugar). High amounts of sugar is bad enough for us (and tends to cover the taste of food rather than emphasize it), but fructose does not trigger the "full" response of your stomach. Thus, you are more likely to ingest more calories for anything with high fructose corn syrup than products with regular sugar.

Sugar subsidies also drive down the price of sugar, making it more readily available for addition to foods to make them more calorie-rich. The result is more type-2 diabetes, which I am sure is under-reported, and thus poorer health.

The pattern of agricultural subsidies in the U.S. creates overly sweet, low-nutrition, weak-tasting food. Europe too subsidizes agriculture, but their patterns of subsidies is different. The French are more likely to subsidize champagne grape farmers in order to maintain the French reputation for producing champagne than to subsidize mega-agribusiness -- though they are equally guilty of this. Subsidies more often than not create bad food that create poor health.

But don't worry about that, the same government that created the bad food that contributed to your bad health are trying to provide your health care now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Epidemics and Economies -- Network Theory, Constructal Theory, and Spontaneous Order Theory

Epidemiology studies the way diseases spread. Insofar as this spread can be understood through scale-free network theory and, thus, through constructal theory, there is really not much difference among understanding the spread of disease and the spread of ideas, whether technological, scientific, or artistic, and the spread of goods through an economy.

The flows of diseases, ideas, good, traffic, money, immigrants, etc. are all described using constructal theory, which underlies network theory. All give rise to the same network structures, with power law distributions. If you understand the structure of flows, you can understand much in the social sciences, psychology, the biological sciences, and even the physical sciences. Diseases, ideas, goods, etc. all do in fact flow like rivers. The fact that they are rivers layers on top of rivers does not mean the basic structures differ -- the only difference is in the complexity created from the overlaps and nested hierarchies. Yes, it matters which kinds of networks one is looking at, be it hierarchical or scale-free (all the ones mentioned above are scale-free), but many of the principles are the same.

Hierarchical networks are embedded in the scale-free networks, and have to be understood as such. If you mistake a scale-free network for a hierarchical network, you can make errors in judgement that can in fact kill people. If you understand the economy as being a hierarchical network rather than a scale-free network, you will make the mistake of thinking central planning (as one finds in firms) for an economy possible. Can one plan an epidemic? Of course not. But the same thing that will stop an epidemic will collapse an economy -- destruction of the most-connected nodes (in the case of an epidemic, targeting the most connected nodes/people with medicine to stop the spread). The person who understands spontaneous orders understands epidemics as well.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Egalitarian Psychology and Society

I have had several discussions of late on the egalitarian level of Gravesean psychology. In the past I have talked about Gravesean psychology from a political perspective, particularly focusing on the evolution toward bleeding-heart libertarianism, but there seems to be considerable confusion when it comes to the relations among the dominant political views, particularly within the egalitarian level.

The Renaissance gave rise to the Enlightenment and, thus, to Modernism (the Entrepreneurial level of Gravesean psychology). The Enlightenment was itself divided into two camps, which one could very loosely divide into "left" and "right." The "left" -- which did in fact evolve into the egalitarian left -- was represented by the continental thinkers, like Descartes and Voltaire. They believed in constructivist rationalism -- they believed that they could reconstruct the world into something more rational. To us, they would be considered quite libertarian overall, however. We would also consider the "right" to be quite libertarian -- and not the least reason being that it includes such people as the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers (Locke, Adam Smith, Hume, etc.) and Burke (more typically viewed as "conservative"). However, they differ in their view of reason and society. They believed that reason was not the end-all-be-all, that emotions underlay them. Further, they did not believe that one could rationally construct a society; rather, society evolved organically. It was, to use Hayek's term, a spontaneous order that slowly evolved in relation to tradition. Darwin was influenced by this tradition, and it underlies his theory of natural selection.

There was a reaction to the Age of Reason, and that was Romanticism. Out of Romanticism, particularly philosophical Romanticism, we get postmodernism. Both are part of egalitarian psychology. Rousseau is the foundational thinker, and we are still reaping the consequences of his ideas on education and society. For Rousseau, man was good, but was corrupted by society. Hegel viewed human relations as a master-slave dialectic and, thus, as power relations. He viewed Romanticism and the State as where all the world was evolving. Marx disagreed that the State was the end-point, but otherwise agreed with Rousseau and Hegel -- proposing a post-state communist utopia that would shed the shackles of society. The dialectic would conclude with the slaves (the proletariat) overthrowing the masters (the bourgeoisie), thus power and mastery over themselves. Communist anarchy would work because, after all, men were good, just corrupted by society (and property). This is the direct path toward what we understand as leftism.

Nietzsche reacted against these ideas, but did so within that world view (at least for a while), even pointing out that he himself was a Romantic. He thus came up with a right-wing version of Romantic/egalitarian thinking. Existentialism developed out of Nietzsche's ideas -- both those they understood (more or less, pre-Zarathustra), and a version of those they misunderstood (from Zarathustra, on). With Heidegger, we get an explicitly right-wing version of the egalitarian world view, which gets developed more by Leo Strauss and by others of the postmodern right into neoconservatism. Like the left, neoconservatives are concerned primarily with democracy and the spread of democracy. Their almost exclusively political concerns (and view of everything through a political lens) derives from the fact that postmodernists view everything as power relations.

What we typically understand as postmodern philosophy -- which is really only the final stage of postmodern/egalitarian psychology -- developed out of the synthesis of both left and right egalitarianism. Contemporary progressivism and neoconservatism both come out of this perspective. Indeed, one sees very little difference between the two world views, regardless of the sound and fury signifying nothing coming out of both camps about the other. If Obama were a Republican, would any of the neoconservatives complain about a single thing he has done? If Bush 43 were a Democrat, would any of the postmodern progressives have complained about anything he did (expanding Medicare to include medication, No Child Left Behind, etc.)? Both sides see democratic government as a force for good, as being good in and of itself. Anything wanted by a democratic government is thus good -- thus the complaints from right and left about an "unelected judiciary" deciding whether or not a given piece of legislation is Constitutional. If the people/representatives decide to do something, it is legal in this view. What matters is who has the most power.

I suppose the average person would see my description as being negative, but I have in fact only described the psychosocial situation. From left to right, communism, socialism, the welfare state, and neoconservatism are all potential directions egalitarian psychology can go. All evolved out of the constructivist rationalism of continental Enlightenment thinkers. To a certain degree, contemporary libertarianism is the version of egalitarian psychology which evolved out of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, particularly among the anarcho-capitalists. What matters is if one is fundamentally at an egalitarian level of psychology -- regardless of how one thinks egalitarianism can come about (socialism, welfare, or free markets). However, given that the egalitarian level is simultaneously radically individualistic and collectivist (rather than seeing humans as social individuals, which is a completely different way of understanding humans) simultaneously, we should not be surprised if we find few true libertarians (and no classical liberals, who are at the Enlightenment/Entrepreneurial level of psychology) at this level.

What we would expect to see, then, is social evolution into experiments in society -- communism, socialism, progressivism, welfare statism -- i.e., discontinuous change being pushed constantly. We would expect a society that pushes change for the sake of change, a constant overturning, identity politics emerging out of a concern for expressing one's authentic self, and a desire to expand social democracy throughout the world -- where democracy is determined less by the structure of the government than by the outcomes. We should not be surprised if this sounds like contemporary Europe and the direction in which the United States is heading.

Monday, April 02, 2012


I have been invited to review the idea of Pragmatarianism. What is pragmatarianism? It is a tax idea, that people should be able to direct their taxes to whatever government programs they want. That way, taxes are less forced on us, and we have at least the appearance of voluntarism.

Let us assume for a moment the legitimacy of taxation as currently practiced. Under pragmatarianism, I could donate all my money to, say, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Certainly this would force people to literally put their money where their mouths are. Those who think the NEH and/or NEA should receive greater funding would be able to direct their money to those programs. Other than expose the rank hypocrisy of most NEA supporters (who want to spend YOUR money, not THEIR money), would this in fact increase NEA funding? How many people do in fact want to support the NEA?

I have heard about this idea before. I have heard it argued that military spending would go down, suggesting we would defund future wars, but I find that improbable. A significant portion (about 1/3) of the population is conservative and, thus, pro-military. These people are more likely to support the military with their tax dollars, at the expense of welfare. But don't worry, because another third of the population is liberal, and would direct their money to welfare programs. One has to wonder what difference any of this would make. Perhaps the individual taxpayer feels better about where their money is going, but I also see how this can result in much deeper divisions in the country, where people become resentful that their neighbors are not supporting their pet projects.

Also, consider the potential for corruption. An agriculture company receiving subsidies would of course want to support the Ag Dept so that much of the taxes they donated would return back to them. Of course, only corporations could do this, so they would be able to reduce their tax burden considerably through such methods. Further, one could imagine corporations approaching wealthy people, paying them to donate their tax dollars to the departments that hand out their subsidies. The net effect of something like this would be to effectively reduce the taxes of the wealthiest people. The poor and middle class would not be approaches simply because there are so many with so little.

A better approach would be to have a program like pragmatarianism, except private donations are 100% tax deductible. This would effectively privatize most government activities, and it is well established that the private sector does better with money than does the government. This would have the effect of reducing the size of government not just because it is starved of money, but because its duties have in fact been privatized. This would be a pragmatarianism I could sign up with wholeheartedly.