Saturday, August 29, 2009


I tend to go through cycles. While I maintain a continuous interest in a wide variety of fields, maintain strong opinions about politics and political economy, and maintain a strong interest in literature and beauty, the fact of the matter is, I often find myself waxing and waning in my interests.

For example, right now, I am feeling sort of fatalistic when it comes to politics. Obama has surrounded himself with advisors who are avowed Marxists, the Democrats are determined to shove a health care plan designed to drive the entire system toward socialized medicine which, of course, will work in this country when it has worked no place else on earth, and the Republicans are a complete joke, refusing to even try to actually reverse anything. The Libertarians are never going to get anywhere, because although half of those in the movement are sensible and are libertarians due to their understanding of economics, the other half are in the movement because they're paranoid conspiracy theorists. That latter group give libertarians and libertarianism a bad name, and make us all look ridiculous. Worse, they detract from the message of those who actually do find the government doing something terrible, because people just assume that it's all part and parcel of the conspiracy theory bull.

I need to be spending more time on the conference paper I have to write for the Fund for Spontaneous Orders. But I also started teaching composition at two community colleges. I am loving the one because we are teaching writing through reading literature. The other is an introductory writing class whose structure allows me a bit of freedom regarding what to teach and assign. These two classes are already starting to take up a great deal of time. ALl the more reason to hurry up with the conference paper, before I run out of time to work on it. I need to do this because I know what has happened in the past when I have had to work like this: all scholarly work and creative work end up going out the window. I run out of time. I find it very difficult to find the time to 1) prepare for classes and grade papers, 2) read and write scholarly work, 3) read and write creative work, and 4) spend time with my family (very soon to grow by one). Since I cannot sacrifice 1, and I won't sacrifice 4, that leaves 2 and 3 to suffer. And I can feel the scholarly interests waning as well. All the more reason to get that conference paper done soon.

At the same time, I can feel the creative part in my waxing. Perhaps it is because I am reading and discussing literature for 3 of my classes at one college. Perhaps it is because I am going to have a stage reading of my play "K(no)w" very soon. Perhaps it is because I have to have a 20 minute play for the DFW Playwright's Alliance meeting at the end of September (i.e., I'll need me one of those plot things soon). In any case, I feel some writing coming on (wrote a poem recently, in fact). Will I have the time? There's nothing worse than a round of creativity coming on with no outlet.

Is it odd that when I become fatalistic toward politics that my creativity rises? And when the creativity tapers off, it may be replaced by a rash of reading or a renewed interest in politics. I seem to cycle in many ways, over months or weeks or even days. Perhaps another round of plays will trickle up from my brain's maze.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Everyone should come see a stage reading of my play "K(no)w". It will be at the Dallas Hub Theater, where my play "Almost Ithaciad" was performed last spring for Cyberfest. "K(no)w" will be staged on Sept. 8 at 7:30. If all goes well, and there is a good audience response, the play might get an actual performance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beauty Isn't Sexual

Does our sense of beauty come from sexual selection? That is the standard evolutionary psychologists' view. But a study of how women perceive beauty in men's faces suggests otherwise.. It seems that there are two ways of judging beauty: sexually, and aesthetically. And they are located in two different parts of the brain. One part analyzes the face for evidence of health -- what will provide good genes for good babies. The other looks at the face as a whole, seeing the parts in an integrated, holistic fashion. The variety within any given face must have unity. The authors say they don't know how much culture plays into these decisions of attractiveness. May I recommend they read some of the latest work on beauty?

I just count myself lucky my wife finds bulldogs, shih tzus, and pugs beautiful.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaser from K(no)w

From my play K(no)w:

An empty stage lit by a pale red light.

Scene 1 – Enter FATHER FISCHER.


If time is real, then God’s illusion, but
If God is real, then time’s illusion. What
Is an illusion, then? Or am I wrong
In my conclusions? Sing the holy song
Of God, or nature’s song? Why do I feel
That I must choose? Why can’t they both be real?

[Enter CHRONOS as a demon.]


You don’t need God. Just look around. You see
The evidence – it’s truth can set you free.
Self-organizing systems now explain
The universe, so you would be insane
To keep believing in a God who made
The universe. His memory should fade.


I don’t believe that’s true. The universe
Was made by God so He could then disburse
His love to beings who could choose to love
Him back. He then descended as the dove
Of Christ to show that love to everyone.
His love was manifest within His Son.


The universe was made for love? You must
Be kidding me. It’s strife, you speck of dust,
That runs the universe, for without strife
You have a universe that’s bare of life.
The same is true of time, my foolish friend –
Without it everything you see would end.
So if you must insist that God’s not real
If time exists, then enter in the wheel
Of time and life and give up your illusions.


I’m not convinced by visions or delusions.


Then you’re cut off from true religion’s sight,
For vision is what lets in every light.


Now hold on, you’re confusing me. You said
That God’s not real, but then you’ve gone ahead
And said that true religious sight is found
In visions and delusions. I am bound
To reason, that’s the logos – John one, one.


Perhaps you need to go and read John Donne.
There you will learn that logos is far more
Complex – that God’s an information store
Beyond Cartesian reason. You will find
A truer understanding of God’s mind
If you break all your binary exclusions
And come to dialectical conclusions.


So you admit that God is real! I have
You now. Besides, with God, I have a salve
For all your stings, you scorpion. Your tail
Can lash out all it wants, but it will fail
To strike me. Do your best. I stand here, shod
With armor that was given me by God.


Don’t shut your mind to truth, my friend. You must
Be open to the truth. God doesn’t trust
The kind of man who shuts his eyes to how
He made the world. Believe in lies, you bow
To Satan, even if you think you stand
For God. Keep eyes on Him, but feet on land.


I do not understand why you would tell
These things to me. Aren’t you from Satan’s Hell?


You do not think that I’d betray my kin
If I could get in Heaven once again?


Is that what this is all about? You think
By helping me that God will let you drink
Out of the pool of goodness that is Him?


My friend, I used to be a cherubim –
A joyful time once with my God. I fell,
Revolting, but I no longer rebel.
I want to be a part of God again.
Do you think God would ever let me in?


Our God forgives. If you’re sincere, I’m sure
That God will show his love to you. Be pure
In your intention, be a solid rod
Of good, and you will stand again with God.


In truth, I am a pair of serpents on [Lights change to gold.]
A rod, a caduceus, bringing dawn
And knowledge to the world. I’m living Time,
The universe’s rhythms and its rhyme.
And God’s the one who sent me down to you
To test you to make sure that you are true
To what is true, to understand the mess
You’ve made in thought – for God’s all timefulness.
There is no conflict between God and me,
For time is what make you and God both free.
So embrace time and do not ever fear it,
For I am part of God, the Holy Spirit.

[FATHER FISCHER falls to the ground and bows to him. Lights go down. Exit FISCHER and CHRONOS/HOLY SPIRIT.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fractal Nietzsche

I discovered an interesting blog by political scientist Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism. There he has been talking a lot about Nietzsche. Reading his posting on Nietzsche and Darwin, I think he makes a mistake in regards to the will to power. It is related to the idea of the eternal return, which Arnhart doesn't even mention.

When Nietzsche thought of the eternal return, he wanted to study physics. Lou Salome suggested he investigate it metaphorically. The result was Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He continued to think of it poetically.

I am convinced that NIetzsche was beginning to understand systems, and was developing a poetic version of systems theory. Specifically, he was beginning to understand the fractal geometry of the universe, and the strange attractors underlying everything. A strange attractor has the property of not being there, yet simultaneously having the ability to attract a system into creating an image of its becoming around it. This is perhaps what Nietzsche could mean when he says “There stands the boat – over there is perhaps the way to the great Nothingness. But who wants to step into this ‘perhaps’?” (TSZ, 224). If we extrapolate the idea of strange attractors up the umwelts from our understanding of them as working on the eotemporal level, we can see it acting to help create the biological forms and, if we extrapolate it up to the noetic level, helping to create ideas, concepts, goals, and values. We can now see something like the Lorenz attractor with apparent opposites. If we see one strange attractor as “good” and the other as “evil” (or pick any pair of opposites Nietzsche or Heraclitus affirm as constituting the world, through their agon – the Lorenz attractor makes an image of this very agon), what we see is that there is no pure good or evil, since the strange attractors are in one sense not there, though they do have an effect. Nonetheless, these strange attractors create a system of morals which pull our actions toward either the “good” or “evil” attractors – it is this system which can be said to be beyond good and evil, and is a more accurate vision of morals than are the strange attractors themselves, since the attractors are in a real sense not there, though they do affect everything. We can never be good or evil, since neither good nor evil have Being – we can only become better or worse in our actions. Or, as Ludwig von Mises says “The act of choosing is always a decision among various opportunities open to the choosing individual. Man never chooses between virtue and vice, but only between two modes of actions which we call from an adopted point of view virtuous or vicious” (45). The very choices of an individual are a complex dynamic system, making all of our actions, in this sense, beyond good and evil. This is, of course, a highly simplified metaphor. The “good” attractor is likely itself a set of agonal games set in opposition to the threat of destruction – to evil. The “good” attractor is a much more interesting attractor than is the “evil” attractor, though it seems this attractor is necessary for the “good” attractor to exist at all.

One could perhaps object that I have merely replaced the metaphor of the eternal return with another metaphor, the fractal. I do not deny that I am doing precisely that. The history of philosophy is a record of changing metaphors to fit philosophy to contemporary thought. The reason I am doing it in this particular case is because the metaphor of the fractal has the benefit of coming with a clear visual image which can help us understand the meaning of the metaphor. Also, it seems to me that any time one is using almost identical language to describe two seemingly different things, then those two things are probably the same thing. I have already given a few examples of places where Nietzsche seems to be using the same language to describe eternal return as I have for fractals, but are these the only ones?

Fractals show, as Nietzsche puts it, “what was and is repeated into all eternity” (BGE, 56). The repetition of the images act as a sort of “selective principle” (WP, 1058), which could help us “judge value.” What is selected? There appears to be a selection for dynamic systems with emergent properties creating greater complexity. We should judge such dynamic complex systems, and the creation of more complex systems, as valuable since they repeat regardless of scale. What Nietzsche says about how to endure eternal recurrence shows several other attributes of fractal geometry: “No longer joy in certainty but in uncertainty,” since one is uncertain which image one will encounter as one magnifies the fractal border; “no longer “cause and effect” but the continually creative.” The strange attractor does not have “cause and effect,” though the system is “continually creative”; “no longer will to preservation but to power” (WP 1059), since the image is always changing, meaning it is not preserved, though it has the power – in the strange attractors – to change; and “abolition of “knowledge-in-itself” (WP 1060). One can only see the effects of a strange attractor, one cannot know the true nature of any strange attractor, since they are all absent centers to the systems (which require time to exist) they create. In WP 1066, Nietzsche gives an excellent definition of a strange attractor: “the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force.” The world is not the Mandelbrot set, but a series of nested hierarchies like it, creating the grand system of multiple attractors we call the world, pulled into form by these “centers of force” – centers of force Nietzsche calls in WP 1067 the Will to Power. Further, Nietzsche connects the will to power to life in the same way as Stuart Kauffman connects strange attractors to life. “Life simply is will to power” (Nietzsche, BGE 259) There is a similarity too between the connection of entropy and dissipative structures to Nietzsche’s idea of discharge of strength and life: “Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and more frequent results” (BGE 13). Thus, Nietzsche asks us to suppose

we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will—namely, of the will to power, as my proposition has it; suppose all organic functions could be traced back to this will to power and one could also find in it the solution of the problem of procreation and nourishment—it is one problem—then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally as—will to power. The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its “intelligible character”—it would be “will to power” and nothing else.— (BGE 36)

If we can connect the idea of the will to power to the idea of strange attractors and thus to dissipative structures, we can see Nietzsche arguing here – as I am arguing in this work – that everything in the universe can be understood through chaos theory and as dissipative structures. Nietzsche connects the will to power to life overall, but he also points out that the philosophers’ “will to truth is—will to power” (BGE 211). There is a connection between truth and power. Earlier, Nietzsche also said that “With the selective knowledge drive beauty again emerges as power” (PT, 26). With the connections I have made between strange attractors and both truth and beauty, the will to power could be seen as Nietzsche’s term for the world’s strange attractors – meaning the will to power is physics, not metaphysics (in the Kantian sense), as Nietzsche insists in WP 462 when he says the eternal return is the naturalization of metaphysics and religion. It can also be seen as the “will to beauty,” meaning, if the Will to Power is Nietzsche’s term for strange attractors, and strange attractors create complex fractal systems, then beauty comes from creating or seeing/hearing/etc. complex fractal systems. In light of this we can also now see what Nietzsche meant when he says in WP 522:

“Truth” is . . . not something there, that might be found or discovered – but something that must be created and that gives a name to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end – introducing truth, as a processus in infinitum, an active determining – not a becoming-conscious of something that is in itself firm and determined.

In WP 1067, Nietzsche describes the world again in terms that sound like he is talking about fractal geometry when he says the world is one that

does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself . . . not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many . . . out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex . . . eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying.

In other words, the world is a dissipative structure, a fractal. And – “at the same time one any many” – beautiful, as the Will to Power is the Will to Beauty.

WP 1066 gives us this other aspect of chaos theory – Prigogine’s dissipative structures, which show how form develops out of formlessness – or form creates itself through formlessness. The “eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying,” the self-organized dissipative structures. Previous theories of entropy (what Nietzsche calls “the mechanistic theory”) said the world was irrevocably running down, prompting Nietzsche to say that if “the mechanistic theory cannot avoid the consequences . . . of leading to a final state, then the mechanistic theory stands refuted” (WP 1066). Prigogine’s dissipative structures solve this problem. In them we see, in Nietzsche’s formulation, that “The world exists; it is not something that passes away. Or rather: it becomes, it passes away, but it has never begun to become and never ceased from passing away – it maintains itself in both. – It lives on itself: its excrements are its food.” Entropy gives order, which itself dissipates, increasing entropy. The excrement of dissipative structures is entropy – and entropy is their food. The dissipative structure – and the fractal – both show “that everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being” (WP 617) – in both, the world of being exists through becoming. Formlessness gives itself form through constant change. This image recurs in TSZ: “And as the world once dispersed for him, so it comes back to him again, as the evolution of good through evil, as the evolution of design from chance” (88). From what we have seen above, this means the evolution of permanence or being through transience or becoming – the very definition of a dissipative structure, which can generate spontaneous order from disorder. Fraser notes in TOC that “self-similarity signifies the presence of a pattern of behavior or structure which retains its identity in a world of pure becoming; it represents the birth of permanence from pure change” (7) and that “beneath all natural phenomena lurks chaos into which all processes and structures may collapse at any time and out of which, under certain conditions, different permanent structures and processes may arise” (9). The metaphors continue to match.

The affirmation of all – everything good and bad, everything great and small – is another important part of the eternal return, as we see in “the Heaviest Burden.” In GS, Nietzsche says “What I do or do not do now is as important for everything that is yet to come as is the greatest event of the past: in this tremendous perspective of effectiveness all actions appear equally great or small” (233). This is known in chaos theory as The Butterfly Effect. Newtonian physics says small causes have small effects, and large causes have large effects. Chaos theory shows that small causes – like a butterfly flapping its wings, which barely perturbs the air – can have large effects – like a hurricane – over time. Nietzsche came upon this aspect of chaos theory too in his opposition to Newtonian linear cause and effect.

“The two most extreme modes of thought – the mechanistic and the Platonic – are reconciled in the eternal recurrence” (WP 1061). This note is what showed me that the eternal return could be visualized with the images of contemporary chaos theory. The mechanical world alone is insufficient for Nietzsche, since “an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world” (GS, 373) – it is without ambiguity, which Nietzsche says gives the world meaning. There must be some disorder for the order to be meaningful. This coincides well with contemporary information theory, which shows that one must have noise (ambiguity) if one is to communicate information. Without noise, one cannot have information – meaning. The mechanistic view shows us a world that will get more disordered over time – it is belief in creationless destruction. But this, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, appears, as Dauer points out, to contradict the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transformed. In Dauer’s words, it shows “the inevitable recurrence of natural phenomena” (90), which she argues Nietzsche was attempting to reconcile with the eternal return. When Nietzsche points out that “The principle of the conservation of energy inevitably involves eternal recurrence” (WP 1063), we can see, as Dauer says, that he “is roughly correct from the point of view of physics” (90). At least, physics as it was known at the time Nietzsche was writing. In addition to the view of the world the physics of the time promoted, Nietzsche had a problem with the Platonic view, which he saw as metaphysical, with its Forms. One could see the Platonic (especially Platonic Christianity) as the opposite of the entropic – as belief in destructionless creation. For Nietzsche, both views lead to nihilism, the mechanistic because it shows the world as meaningless, the Platonic because Nietzsche sees nihilism coming out of seeking meaning in the meaningless and realizing one has, by doing so, wasted a lot of time and strength on something false (WP,12) – such as Plato’s Forms and other metaphysical systems (12,13). By reconciling these in eternal recurrence, we get a mechanical world with meaning – meaning derived from the will to power/strange attractors, which one could easily mistake for Platonic Forms (or a noumenal world or a Schopenhauerian Will), since, like the Forms, the world gets its form (in Nietzsche’s words, “image” – which are the only things which exist) from them. We get a world where some things have meaning, but where everything does not have to be meaningful. And we also get Nietzsche’s cycle of destruction and creation. Here we see the dissipative structure – the fractal – the eternal return.

But we are still left with a question. How can a fractal-image of creation be the heaviest burden? The answer lies in the fact that this view shows us we can never reach the truth – we can only try (the trying-to-say of the creator). The “truth” is the strange attractor, the absent center that attracts, yet is not there. It is a burden because it shows the futility of all searching after truth. It is a burden because it shows we must do it anyway (in the trying-to-say of the creator). We now know we must search after truth, knowing there is no truth to find, that there is only the search, the system of searching, pulled into form by the strange attractor of “truth.” This is the burden and the tragedy of the idea, particularly as one important aspect of tragedy is that those who speak do not themselves truly understand what they are saying. In other words, the very act of trying-to-say is tragic – meaning the creator’s life is tragic. “The search for truth appears to be a wild-goose chase, as indeed it is. There are no fixtures in nature, wrote Emerson. ‘In nature every moment is new . . . the coming only is sacred . . .’” (Fraser TCHV, 72). The fractal-image of truth shows how right Fraser is. Truth is exactly as Emerson, Nietzsche, and Fraser say it is – unattainable. With Nietzsche’s eternal return and fractal images, we can see precisely why and how this is the case.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Laws of the Spontaneous Orders

It seems to me that those who study a subject should be primarily interested in determining what the laws underlying the object of study are. The proper work of a physicist is to discover the laws of physics. The proper work of a chemist is to discover the laws of chemistry. The proper work of a biologist is to discover the laws of biology.

This is equally true of the humane sciences -- and of the humanities. The proper work of an economist should be to discover the laws of economics. How many, though, in fact do that, rather than trying to impose their own ideologies on the science? The same could be said of social scientists, political scientists, etc. They need to focus on IS and keep the SHOULDS out of it. Biologists find it ridiculous when someone brings "should" into biology in the form of intelligent design or creationism, but nobody seems to find it ridiculous when economists do the same. The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises observed that,

"The laws of the universe about which physics, biology, and praxeology [the study of human action] provide knowledge are independent of the human will, they are primary ontological facts rigidly restricting man's power to act.
Only the insane venture to disregard physical and biological laws. But it is quite common to disdain praxeological laws. Rulers do not like to admit that their power is restricted by any laws other than those of physics and biology. They never ascribe their failures and frustrations to the violation of economic law" (Human Action, 755-56).

This is no doubt because few economists are in fact trying to even understand economic law. They are instead trying to find out how they can manipulate this or that element of the economy. The result is dismal failure. Worse, they even use the wrong methodology -- mathematics. Math is great for simple systems, like physical systems, but almost useless for complex systems like economies. Some statistics is no doubt useful, but even statistics can be misleading -- and often are. What Hayek warned us about scientism is doubly true of mathematics: it provides a false view of reality when it comes to complex systems. True, there have been impressive advancements in complex systems mathematics, but even with those, we only ever get grossly over-simplified models that bear almost no relation to reality. If we treat the models as conceptual starting-off points, then they are useful. But when we use them as too many who use math do and assume that the math is a precise description of a precise reality, rather than a precise approximation of reality (something John Pierce, in "An Introduction to Information Theory," warned against). That mathematicization of the field of economics is what in no small part led to this current depression, the same way scientism led to the Great Depression and the various failed experiments in socialism.

In the end, we necessarily come to know about the laws of economics using methods appropriate to its level of complexity. The same is true of any of the social/humane sciences, as well as of the humanities. And we need to learn what these laws are so that we are not forever falling into error. The knowledge of such laws may not ever tell us what we should or should not do (that is the realm of moral laws), but they can tell us what is and is not possible. However, as Mises observes:

"Despots and democratic majorities are drunk with power. They must reluctantly admit that they are subject to the laws of nature. But they reject the very notion of economic law. Are they not the supreme legislators?… In fact, economic history is a long record of government policies that failed because they were designed with a bold disregard for the laws of economics.
It is impossible to understand the history of economic thought if one does not pay attention to the fact that economics as such is a challenge to the conceit of those in power. An economist can never be a favorite of autocrats and demagogues. With them he is always the mischief-maker.…
In the face of all this frenzied agitation, it is expedient to establish the fact that the starting point of all praxeological and economic reasoning, the category of human action, is proof against any criticisms and objections.… From the unshakable foundation of the category of human action praxeology and economics proceed step by step by means of discursive reasoning. Precisely defining assumptions and conditions, they construct a system of concepts and draw all the inferences implied by logically unassailable ratiocination" (Human Action, 67).

And anyone who knows the history of Leftist thinking knows that they have even tried to deny the validity of biology for human behavior. So they don't even have to "reluctantly" admit to being subject to the laws of human nature, having denied such laws exist. But what else is the role of the human sciences and the humanities but to find out what those laws are, and what the laws of the spontaneous orders to which we give rise are? Or to what laws give rise to spontaneous orders in the first place are?

This then opens up an interesting question: what theories are truly valid for what spontaneous orders? And what do we mean by "valid"? I mean by valid, what theories deal with the nature of the spontaneous order they are theories of qua spontaneous order? Theories give rise to immanent criticism of the spontaneous order. Keynes and Mises provide different theories of economics, meaning they are trying to figure out what IS the case. One theory is right, the other is wrong, but both are proper to analyzing economics as such. Marx, on the other hand, by his own admission, does not provide a theory valid to analyzing economics. When he admits that he's not interested in what is, but in what should be, he admits to being an ethicist, with a theory applicable to the ethical spontaneous order, and not an economist.

Let me put this in another way. Literature has many theories literary analysts can use. Some, such as Aristotle's theory, New Criticism, Structuralism, and Poststructuralism, are all theories of literature qua literature. Others, however, are imported theories. Marxism, feminism, and queer theory are all ethical theories used to analyze the content of works of literature. None of these can be used to determine whether or not a work of literature is a great work of literature qua literature -- but the first set of theories can be. The first set help us to understand how a work of literature comes to mean, how it provides information to the reader/listener/viewer. The second set only tell us things about the content, about how characters interact, what the author may have meant or intended (or meant despite his intentions). If we try to say one of these other theories is in fact the true theory of literature, we are trying to impose another rationality, another theory applicable outside the spontaneous order, to that particular order. That would be like saying, for a work to be literature, it must be feminist. Though there are no doubt some out there who would like that, we should all recognize that this is a ridiculous requirement. Yet, we make the same claim for other spontaneous orders -- the economy being a favorite. Outside theories might help us understand the specific content of a given work, but they cannot be used to understand the spontaneous order of literature qua literature. When we do, the result too often sounds conspiratorial in a rather grandiose, irrational sense.

THere is much work to be done, across the several spontaneous orders, if we are to find the laws of those orders. The good news is that they will all be there to be discovered, for they do no change. Different sets of rules make for different kinds of orders -- and that fact alone should make us excited for the possibilities.

Imitation, Social Bonding, Culture

The very way our children learn from us -- and, thus, learn best from us -- has been shown to -promote social bonding. More, such imitation seems to be central to the creation of larger groups, of the extended order we now live in. Such imitation is necessary for people of different cultures to get along. Thus, artists who use ideas and concepts from other cultures are not "appropriating" -- a term created by multiculturalists whose theories are atavistic in nature, wishing to keep us separate from each other just as much as do racial purists -- those ideas and concepts. Rather, such artists are working to create bridges between cultures, to bring us all together. Thus, are we learning from each other.

This is two lessons for educators.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Stupid Ad

Today I heard an advertisement on the radio that I at first thought was an anti-health insurance ad, promoting the government plan. It made health insurance companies out to not cover anything, and there was a family expressing horror at the bill they had received, wondering what use health insurance even was.

It turned out to be a health insurance ad. The ad of course claimed that their insurance would never do that, etc.

It seems to me that if the health insurance companies are advertising this way against each other, we shouldn't be surprised at the public's attitude toward them. Such ads undermine the very industry, and make the argument for government-run insurance. In the short term, such a company will get more customers -- in the long run, they will end up with none, and their industry made illegal except through government. A pretty stupid approach, if you ask me. Imagine if car companies had done something similar. We'd have the government making the argument that cars should be provided only through government. Of course, the government practically figured out how to do that anyway . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Words Literally Make You React

Here is an interesting article for the language artists. It seems that, "language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic." Words induce physical reactions. Now there is something to think about the next poem or short story or play you (or I) write.

Friday, August 14, 2009

How Does One Make a Living While Becoming an Expert?

It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. That's the new common knowledge. Let's accept that. At 10,000 hours, that is a full time job (8 hours), taking weekends off and a two week vacation, for five years. Or a part time job for 10.

Contrary to romantic versions of expertise, it's not genius, but hard work (this is something I have talked about before). Genius doesn't hurt, of course, but in many cases, one can learn to become a genius -- on the other hand, many a genius is lazy and will do nothing.

If there is no modern day Beethoven, could it be that few if any people have the 10,000 hours necessary? Why not? In the day of patronage, wealth equalled time equalled 10,000 hours to become a genius. In the present day, you have to already prove yourself a success to get any funding from anyone. At the same time, nobody in their right mind would find anyone coming along, claiming to be an artist, as that would encourage people who don't want to work to cheat and take advantage of such a system to continue to avoid work for a while.

It seems, though, that some sort of system could be set up to make it so that creativity is given a space to develop -- so that we could develop artists, writers, and philosophers who are truly experts. RIght now, people have to pay for the privilege to develop expertise (we pay to go to graduate school). So, again, wealth is the answer. But wouldn't it be more efficient, and develop more and better experts, if we paid people to become such experts? If becoming an expert, and maintaining that expertise were their full time job? Certainly willingness to pay demonstrates one's genuine desire to become an expert, but wouldn't a willingness to practice for 8 hours every day for five years also demonstrate that?

This seems to be an intractable problem. Who would be willing to pay people to do such things? What would be the selection criteria? What jobs, other than academia, would they be able to do? Couldn't there be a followup to the full time job of becoming an expert in maintaining one's expertise and contributing creatively? How would success be measured? Could they have secretaries to send out their works to make sure they are in galleries, having their plays performed, having their stories and poems published, etc.?

In other words, how can artists and philosophers make a living doing what they ought to be doing -- creating -- without having to rely on academia, where they have to teach, etc.? We can't pretend that artists, etc. don't have to eat and have a place to live, and take care of their families. They need the freedom to learn to do the work, then to do it, and also the money to live. How do we solve this problem?

Anyone who answers, "The government could/should do it" isn't taking this problem seriously, and is merely being intellectually lazy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Education, Capitalism, and Excellence

Today at Starbucks, my friend Bill Rough asserted that colleges were dumbing down because of capitalism -- because capitalism drives everything down to the lowest common denominator. My gut reaction was, of course, "No it doesn't." But we didn't have time to hash this out, as my wife, daughter, and I were leaving.

The first point I would make in response is that to argue that the market drives things down to the lowest common denominator is to argue that things become less valuable in the market. We know, in fact, that value increases through trade. If it did not, a trade would not occur. So on this point the statement makes no sense.

The second point is that only if only the "market winners" are what survive, while all other competitors die off, could it be possible for the lowest common denominator to dominate. But this is not true. What i just described would be more accurately termed as a "democratic economy." In a market economy, one has a wide variety of choices --some better than others. Not only that, but not just the most popular survive. There are markets in rare tastes -- sometimes you have to pay a lot for them, and sometimes you do not. Think of music, where a C.D. for a popular band costs the same as a band almost nobody listens to. With MP3's, those marginal bands are even more likely to get their music out there. As the market has expanded -- using new innovations in technology -- more and more marginal bands are able to get their music out their to fans, no matter how few those fans may be. Thus, it actually becomes more likely that excellence will have a chance to survive, even if it only survives as a marginal taste. In a democratic economy, only the most popular would survive. More, in a truly democratic economy, you would have to please 50%+1, meaning you would get a drive down in quality, as such products would have to please almost everyone somehow to "win." So in a market economy, there is certainly room for excellence -- at the very least as a minority taste. Someone will always be willing to cater to whatever tastes are out there, including the taste for excellence.

This then raises the question of what he said about colleges. Is it the market that has driven out excellence in the push to get more and more students through the doors? Not necessarily. One should in fact expect there to be a mixture of colleges, with a mixture of goals and reputations -- if there is truly a free market in education. For those who value excellence, and are thus willing to pay for it, one would expect there to exist colleges advertising that they will deliver excellence in education. Others, while certainly not advertising that they aren't excellent, will advertise rather that they provide different kinds of educational services. They can use terms like "student focused" or "learning what you want to learn" as codewords to let the consumer know that not much will be expected from them academically. They will provide job training -- which is fine, and what many people both need and want. More, places will hire based on their needs -- meaning, if they need someone who received an excellent education, they will hire from those colleges proven to excel in excellence. If they need someone with a certain kind of job training, they will hire from colleges which provide those educations.

The fact that this seems not to be happening -- the fact that there is rather a drive to the bottom in higher education across the board -- suggests, then, that something else is going on. I have already indicated what this could be in my comparison of the outcome of a democratic economy vs. a market economy. The colleges are all becoming democratized. The problem with this is that it results in the same education for everyone, regardless of need or ability. There are many things which have contributed to this, including affirmative action (which has outlived both its usefulness and its mandate), the dominance of egalitarian ideologies at all levels in our universities, and a fetishization of higher education by those same egalitarians, who in fact look down on those without college degrees and see physical labor as shameful. These same people then blame capitalism for the dumbing down of education. These are the people I heard this from before I heard Bill repeat it (and I'm guessing he heard it from some of the same people as I have).

So the bottom line is this: the dumbing down of education cannot be blamed on the free market system, precisely because the free market would never create such a situation across the board, as we see happening. Rather, it is the dominance of egalitarian ideologies in our educational system at all levels that is driving education down to the lowest common denominator. (Re)Read Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron for one of the best examples of this phenomenon in literature.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Rule of Law

We need to start talking more about getting a law passed -- even a Constitutional Amendment -- establishing in clear language that each government of the United States must abide by rule of law. That is, all laws must apply equally to the lawmaker as it does to the people.

What is rule of law, or isonomy? " The main point is that, in the use of its coercive powers, the discretion of the authorities should be so strictly bound by laws laid down beforehand that the individual can foresee with fair certainty how these powers will be used in particular instances; and that the laws themselves are truly general and create no privileges for class or person because they are made in view of their long-run effects and therefore in necessary ignorance of who will be the particular individuals who will be benefited or harmed by them. That the law should be an instrument to be used by the individuals for their ends and not an instrument used upon the people by the legislators is the ultimate meaning of the Rule of Law."

Demosthenes commended a law introduced by an Athenian under which "it should not be lawful to propose a law affecting any one individual, unless the same applied to all Athenians, as every citizen has an equal share in civil rights, so everybody should have an equal share in the laws."

What laws would or could remain on the books if rule of law truly were part of the law? Would anyone in Congress support this health care bill?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Instinct, Spontaneous Order, Reason

Here is a report about how population density was responsible for the big bang in human culture during the Pleistocene. For human culture to spread, there has to be a certain population density. Of course, this is what you would expect from the theory of self-organizing complex systems. The theory of society as a spontaneous order, then, finds even more evidence if this theory about population density is true. And if new levels of density result in new levels of complexity, the theory of spiral dynamics has some evidence supporting it. Couldn't this, then, be the emergence of the tribalist level of complexity?

In all, it seems that at very low population densities, we live primarily via instincts. There is limited culture, as we see in chimpanzees, but it is indeed limited. Once population densities real a certain level, spontaneous social orders emerge. This then drives the emergence rational thought -- which means that rational thought is rational only within a certain spontaneous social order. Scientific rationality would then be different from economic rationality, which would be different from artistic rationality, which would then be different from moral rationality, which would then be different from linguistic rationality, which would then be different from legal rationality, etc. How much do or would each of these overlap? It's hard to say. We have seen that scientific rationality -- scientism -- is highly inappropriate in the legal, economic, and artist realms. Could you imagine a science driven entirely by artistic rationality? Or law? Yet there are those who think it appropriate to impose scientific or legal rationality on the arts.

What, then, are we to make of all these rationalities? Each is a way of critiquing their own spontaneous orders. Each is a critical rationality. They all resemble each other -- there is a family resemblance of rationalities, or else we could not call them all "rationalities" -- but they are not all the same reason, either.

Out of instincts, then, come our various social spontaneous orders. Out of those orders we get our various rationalities. As the spontaneous orders evolve, so do our reasons. Do we thus become "more" rational? Or does rationality evolve, become different? Is it possible for these rationalities to interact, to create their own spontaneous order of reason? What kind of mind would that take place in? Or is it, too, social?

There has recently been a lot of work on the instinctual aspects of human life. Marc Hauser has done "The Moral Animal," in which he talks about morals as instincts. The Darwinian art and literature theorists, ranging from Frederick Turner to Dennis Dutton and Ellen Dissanayake, discuss the artistic instincts. But what about morals as a spontaneous order, as Hayek discusses? And what about the arts as spontaneous orders? On this foundation of instincts and spontaneous order, and their interactions, we can only then discuss moral reasoning or artistic reasoning. WHo is doing this work, making these connections? It seems there is a lot of work to be done.

Friday, August 07, 2009


I had written my piece on food insurance months ago, but hadn't done anything with it. But after reading this on single-payer groceries, I just had to go ahead and post my own. If you're not timely, the zeitgeist will get you every time.

Food Insurance

Suppose there were food insurance. Rather than everyone paying for food with their own money, people would pay a certain fee to their insurance company every month, and in return the insurance company would pay for all your groceries. Sound like a good idea? Perhaps, but what do you suppose would happen if we had this kind of food insurance?

One thing you would expect would be an increase in consumption of food in general, with a more specific increase in more expensive foods. Who can afford a Kobe porterhouse steak with white truffles and saffron La Bonnotte potatoes and Almas Iranian caviar on the side, a Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blanc to wash it down with, and a Chocopologie by Knipschildt and Kopi Luwak coffee for dessert? But if you’re paying the same whether you get this or a hamburger with fries and a soft drink, why not give the steak dinner a try? As more expensive foodstuffs become popular, cheaper food will become repackaged and given higher prices. Which would you pay more for? A can of green beans or a can of hand-picked, hand-selected haricots verts? The French word for “green beans” just makes you want to spend a few dollars more on it, doesn’t it? Thus, consumers will drive up the overall cost of food. Indeed, it is the consumer who is always responsible for upward pressure on prices. This is kept in check by the fact that consumers have to spend their own, limited funds. Remove that check, and the check on prices will be removed as well.

Naturally, farmers will begin to make huge profits from this increased demand. There will be an expansion of the agricultural sector. More exotic foods will be introduced, and well-known food will, again, be repackaged and sold as more exotic to compete. As demagogues are always on the lookout for situations to exploit, farmers would then be cast as villains unfairly profiting off of the consumer. People do have to eat, after all. How can one profit off of something people need to survive? One could expect several decades of demand that the government do something about food prices.

In the meantime, insurance companies will begin trying to figure out how to cut costs. Premiums will go up, making it harder for poorer people to afford food insurance. The government will likely step in to offer FoodCare and FoodAid for the elderly and the poor. Grocery stores will build up huge bureaucracies to deal with the private and government insurance, driving up prices even more to cover those employees’ wages. Both private and government insurance will try rationing, negotiating prices with stores, and dictating what stores consumers can go to and what those consumers can buy. Demagogues will start complaining about the insurance companies, how they are charging high premiums but not allowing consumers to get what they want.

Eventually, people will begin to think that it’s just awful that anyone has to pay for their own groceries. Stores won’t show prices, and store managers will even act offended if you ask the price of something. As people pay more to the insurance companies but get less than they had been getting (but still far more than before they had insurance, though people will have forgotten what it was like before insurance – such is human memory), they will demand that someone do something about it. And someone will. Regulations on agriculture, grocery stores, and insurance companies will increase – typically exacerbating problems in such a way that the companies can be blamed for the problems to justify more control over these industries – until finally socialized food will be proposed.

And we know what happened when food production and distribution was socialized: long food lines to get your limited rations of limited choices. When there’s even food available, that is.

Now change “food” into “health care,” “grocery stores” into “hospitals,” and “farms” into “pharmaceutical companies.” Now you know why the health care industry is in the situation it is in, and why we have moved more and more toward a socialized health care system in this country. Worse, we know exactly what that will bring us as well. How, then, are we nonetheless moving in that direction?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Why I Am a Protester

The Democrats are out complaining about the protesters, accusing us of all sorts of things. Well, let me tell you why I'm a protester. I protest anyone who wishes to make this country like the rest of the world -- the kind of place people are desperately running from, coming here. If we go the way of the rest of the world, where will they go? Where will we go? For those who love liberty, where will we go? For those who do not want government controlling any part of our lives, where will we go? Am I part of an unruly mob? Don't make me be. Am I a hired hand for some special interest group? How dare those who have historically done the hiring accuse me of that! I am an American, and I protest because I love this country, because I love liberty, because I do not want this country to become what the rest of the world is. I protest because I am an American.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pete Session's Town Hall Meeting

Well, I just got back from the town hall meeting with Pete Sessions. He first called on women over 65, then men over 65. After allowing about 6 men over 65 take up about an hour of the meeting (he went on and on about being polite, but didn't mention anything about politely keeping your questions short so more people can ask questions), I was about 3 people behind the last person he let speak, so I didn't get to ask my question publicly. But I did ask him privately.

"Considering the fact that the Republicans have never abolished a single social program, what can we expect to happen the next time Republicans have power if this monstrosity of a health insurance bill passes?"

He first objected that the Republicans have never been in power. I pointed out that they ruled Washington for 6 years. He then said they didn't have 60 people in the Senate, and that they has in fact passed welfare reform. I observed that reform wasn't abolition, and that my wife observed that the reform did little else than create more corruption among the recipients. He hemmed and hawed, as politicians tend to do. I pointed out that I don't want a conservatism that conserves the status quo and that I wanted a conservatism that got rid of the 90% of the government that was illegal according to the Constitution.

And that's when he ignored me.

I suppose he was thinking "Oh, he's one of those." Yes, I'm one of those. First question: is the law even Constitutional? Past that, we can discuss issues of economics, costs, etc. But at the least, let's start with a law's legality. Why aren't the Republicans talking about this? Why are they afraid to attack this law on Constitutional grounds?

Self-Organizing at the Town Hall Meetings

The latest mantra out of the White House and the MSM is that the protests breaking out at all the town hall meetings across the country appear to be orchestrated and manufactured. Considering the fact that the MSM immediately began parroting the White House position, it should be clear who is being orchestrated.

But the fact that they believe this to be the case belies their world views. Obama was a "community organizer," meaning he went out and purposefully orchestrated protests, etc. Obama does not think that people can get together for a common cause without there being someone there to organize them in a direct fashion. In other words, he does not understand that people can self-organize from the bottom up -- which is what grassroots organizations are. Obama believes that organization comes from an organizer. Like him. This is why he sincerely believed he was qualified to be President because he was a community organizer. To him, the United States is merely a larger community to organize. He believes that, without him, nothing would or could happen. Believing this, he cannot imagine that people could possibly organize without direction at town hall meetings to protest the Democrats' health care plan.

Well, I have bad news for him. Tonight I will be attending a town hall meeting, and nobody is organizing me or coordinating my actions with others, or giving me talking points. I have my own question to ask, you may rest assured.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How the Free Market Makes Us Act Ethically

Over on EconLog, Bryan Caplan has an interesting article on Insurance, Reputation, and Kristallnacht. The gist of the story is this: after Kristallnacht, it was discovered that the affected Jews had insurance with Aryian-owned insurance companies. When the German government offered to let them get out of their contracts, the owners refused -- and even went so far as to threaten to fight the Nazi government on the issue. Why did they do this? Certainly not because they loved or even like the Jews. Hardly. No, they insisted on living up to their contracts because it would hurt them economically if they didn't. Here is a case where people who would have otherwise acted immorally were strongly encouraged by the free market to nonetheless act ethically. It's an amazing episode, if you think about it. Certainly, I have always been of the opinion that the markets do in fact have this effect on people, but here is a specific historical episode where it occurred. Of course, the Nazi government figured out a way to screw the Jews out of the money anyway, but the insurance companies would have nothing to do with doing it themselves, directly. It took government intervention for racism to be enforced, despite the influence of the free market.

Here, though, is a horrifying thought: what do you suppose people would do now if the same situation were to arise? It seems that more and more, people are determined to lay off the blame on someone else. Can't get a job? Blame your school. Can't get an A? Blame your teacher. If our government told CEOs to do something, and that they wouldn't have to shoulder the blame, that the government would do so, how many would insist on nonetheless being responsible to their customers?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Truth: Fact and Aletheia

Reading these last two posts of mine, it's amazing how truly, deeply different a poetic understanding and a scholarly understanding of the "playful child voice" we use with those we love are. Yet, both are true. One is simply fact, the other is aletheia.

A Lifetime

The sunlight softly shined in through
The breakfast window pane. The sliced
Half grapefruit glistened in the light.
And he began to drink the iced
But barely cold tomato juice.
And he began to tell his wife
The story once again, the same
Of many stories of his life
That she had heard over the years
But ten or twenty, fifty times
Or more, and yet she never tired
Of hearing what he said, like rhymes
That we have heard and want to hear
Again, the voice delivering
It being his. The stories told
Repeatedly, cold shivering
Whenever he began to tell
Of when he fell into the lake,
And when she told that funny tale,
He’d still begin to laugh and shake
Between them, all the stories known,
And still they tell them once again –
And sometimes slip into a high
And playful child voice. The sin
Would be to interrupt the tale
Once told, these stories told in dull
Late morning sunlight, its soft glare
Reflected off the cereal
In milk. The lives lived once again,
Again in each of their love’s ears
Without a fear of boredom through
The days or months or even years.
And so she told her story too,
A story she forgot she told,
A story that he knew she had
Told ten or fifty times, so old
That he had memorized the tales
She told before on other days,
And over morning milk, or nights
As they would fall into the daze
Of sleep, both happy just to hear
The voices they’d remember, fill
In all the coming years when they
Both knew and feared the air’d be still.

Love and Neoteny

There is a connection between neoteny -- the retention of infant traits in adults -- and adult human love. The most obvious evidence for the connection between an adult’s love for its infant and the transfer of such feelings to adults is our use of baby-talk with those whom we love. The infant’s love for its mother would have resulted in neotenous males continuing to feel love toward females, and would have resulted in a feedback loop in females, strengthening female love-bonds. This would explain our need for touching and cuddling with those we love, a holdover from the infant ape’s need for touch and cuddling (as the famous baby monkey - cloth “mother” without food vs. wire “mother” with food experiment showed). Nietzsche also understood this connection, before the evolutionary evidence we have now existed: “The instincts of morality: maternal love – gradually turning into love in general. Sexual love likewise. I recognize transferences everywhere” (PT, 6).

The extension of the infant-mother bond to adults would create a greater tendency to create pair bonds in a species formerly polygamous, as this love-bond was created between adults. At the same time, our polygamous nature would still be there, an inheritance from our ape ancestors, driving us toward mild polygamy, though with an increasing drive toward monogamy, especially as notions of justice among men (an extension of the love–social-bond) and equality between men and women (another form of the notion of justice) developed and expanded. This expansion of the infant-mother bond into adulthood would also suggest Freud was tapping into something deep and fundamental in his Oedipus complex, though it is clear now that this is overridden by the Westermarck effect, already weakly expressed in chimpanzees, which creates a deep, gut-felt repulsion for having sex with those one was raised with from infancy. This would have resulted in more outbreeding, meaning fewer birth defects, and the behavior being passed on to more offspring. This would have counteracted the confusion created by the infant-mother bond becoming associated with sex in adults – though not perfectly, as the continued problem of incest shows. This neotenous retention of the love bond between infant and mother and its application to a sexually mature adult would explain both the sexual selection for youthful traits, driving neoteny, and the existence of pedophilia.

A pedophile is one whose brain has applied the infant-parent-sex bond to individuals who look even more like infants. This is a prime example of why we should not make the mistake of associating the “natural” with the good, Rousseau as does. Neoteny explains pedophilia – it does not excuse it. While tragedy shows us what happens when we attempt to push ourselves beyond our physis-bound natures, morality is how we keep in check the overextension of elements of our nature. We live in a delicate balance between the two. The overapplication of the connection between infant-mother love and adult sex results in pedophilia. The underapplication of it results in loveless sex, often resulting in children abandoned by their fathers. Each is immoral. The median application of such behaviors creates stronger social bonds within a community of adults, and the creation of children loved by fathers and mothers. The first is perversion, the second is antisocial. Between the two is the kind of love that creates strong families and strong communities, as that love is extended to more and more people.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Book Release Party

Today we are having a party celebrating the release of my book, Diaphysics. Haven't bought your copy yet? Well, get to Amazon right now and buy a copy!