Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shelley, Spontaneous Order, and Beauty

Rereading Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, I noticed in the first stanza that Shelley seems to be describing a spontaneous order:

The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats through unseen among us, -- visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower, --
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,
It visits with inconstant glance
Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening, --
Like clouds in starlight widely spread, --
Like memory of music fled, --
Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.

This certainly sounds like Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand," or Hayek's Spontaneous Order. Most striking is that Shelley connects this to beauty:

Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form, -- where art thou gone?

In connection to this, I would direct you to my posting where I connect beauty and spontaneous order.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the poet who said that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" in his A Defense of Poetry should have had this insight.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Performed Being

An old article by Frederick Turner, but well worth reading, over at the Oral Tradition Journal: Performed Being: Word Art as a Human Inheritance.

Mating Ritual

The sun shined sliver from its gold-orange
Sphere, breaking through the trees as to avenge

The makers of Stonehenge, tied to the sun
And sun-made oaks, in cloaks that hands had spun,

Ensuring purity with their pure hands,
Hands pure from human blood as the demands

Of deity are met, to find the one
That does not rhyme a match -- or is there none? --

A match that doesn't match and therefore makes
A more engaging mate, until it takes

Its final line of light below the lip
Of land and light releases its last grip.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Sad Day for Liberty

On a day like today, when liberty has been gagged, bound, beaten, raped, and shot by our Congress, I find it very hard to care about political matters, deciding that it doesn't really matter: as Thoreau said, voting for (or even supporting) the right is doing nothing for it.

What can I do but sit around and wait for the inevitable collapse of all our institutions? Shall I, like Sartre, just sit around and write my plays and philosophy, ignoring the occupation of my country by those whose intent is nothing but evil? And, like Sartre, do I really have a choice? What other can I really do but try to create works that may be able to persuade people to support what is right and just and good?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is Congress and the Fed Merely Bad, or Actually Evil?

A few things occur to me in regards to the upcoming health insurance bill vote and, in fact, any legislation involving economic matters.

We know central planning does not work. That was proven theoretically by Mises and Hayek, and proven historically in the collapse of communism. So why do we have central banks invoved in the central planning of money and interest rates?

We know interventionism does not work. Mises in particular proved it does not have the desired effects, and Hayek proved that we cannot have the knowledge necessary to know how to regulate anything to get the desired outcomes. Mises' praxeology in fact shows that if we understand human action, we can prove that most things our governments will do in regulating the economy will have negative repurcusions.

We know Keyneseanism doesn't work. Wasn't the 1970's stagflation enough? Especially the collapse of African and Central and South American economies?

Both history and a proper understanding of our evolved human nature, including human action properly understood, prove the supriority of the free market as an economic system when it comes to wealth creation for all people, providing maximum liberty for everyone, and protection of people's lives and property over every other system.

The above being demonstrated and demonstrable facts, why do we have a Congress doing what it is doing in the economy, and in health insurance in particular? And why do we have a Fed? And, having a Fed, why does it continue to do the very things that caused the economic collapse in the first place?

A good person is someone who knows what the good is and does it.
A bad person is someone who does not know what the good is and therefore does not do what is good out of ignorance.
An evil person knows what the good is and chooses to do what is bad anyway.

If our members of Congress who support this health care bill, bailouts, various economic interventions, etc. do so out of ignorance, they are unqualified to hold office and should resign immediately. The same is true of thoese in the Federal Reserve in regards to their actions.

If our members of Congress who support this health care bill, bailouts, various economic interventions, etc. do so knowing what the good is and choose to do these things anyway, they prove themselves to be evil. The same is true of those in the Federal Reserve in regards to their actions. It is doubtful that evil people will resign. What, then, is the proper way to deal with evil?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ronald Nash

Morality of the Market from FEE on Vimeo.

Ronald Nash on the relationship among the free market economy, Christianity, and ethics. There is no end to my debt to Ronald Nash, who died several years ago. I took Intro. to Philosophy with Nash at Western Ky Univ. the last semester he was there, before he retired. He introduced me to both philosophy and to free market economic thinking. Because of him I became a libertarian, fell in love with philosophy and economics, turned away from molecular biology and toward creative writing and literature, and now have a M.A. in English and a Ph.D. in the Humanities.

"An Immorality" by Ezra Pound

An Immorality

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

When considering the meaning behind this poem by Ezra Pound, we must first consider the fact that the title is "An Immorality." And, if we are not to ascribe the ideas of the poem to the author himself, we have two narrators (one of which is the author,if we do ascribe one level of the ideas to the author). The first narrator is the one who titles the work "An Immorality." If this is the title, then it follows that what follows it is considered by that narrator to be "immoral." Thus, singing a song of "love and idleness" is, to this narrator, immoral. But who is doing the singing? That would, of course, be the second narrator, whose ideas the first narrator considers to be immoral. Clearly the second narrator sees love and idleness to be the highest things in life:

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

He is a man who simply wants love and peace (he does NOT want to do high deeds in Hungary). But the first narrator calls this "an immorality." What is immoral about such liberal sentiments? That they are liberal sentiments? If this is an immorality, then the opposite must be morality: action and war.

Next, we must also consider the date of its publication, in 1912, in Ripostes. What was happening around the time Pound likely wrote this poem -- around 1910-11 -- in Hungary? And why are we to contrast it with "love and idleness"?

To begin with, my own quick survey of Hungarian history around this time period uncovered nothing much worth noting. With one exception: serious tension with the Jews living there. Of particular note, one of the main controversies surrounding the Jews involved the issue of language. Whether the Jews learned the Hungarian langauge Magyar or not, they managed to anger somebody living in Hungary. What "high deeds" might Pound have in mind in Hungary? This may be a hint at Pound's antisemitism. Indeed, the implicit identity of action and war with morality in this poem points early on to Pounds incipient fascism -- and certainly to his antiliberalism. Indeed, Ludwig von Mises, in his 1927 book "Liberalism", points to a certain breed of antiliberal thinker who "believe it is through war and war alone that mankind is able to make progress" and that "Man degenerates in time of peace. Only war awakens in him slumbering talents and powers and imbues him with sublime ideals. If war were to be abolished, mankind would decay into indolence and stagnation" (5). Certainly if this is true of war, then a love of peace and idleness is immoral. Who would support stagnation, degeneration, burying our talents and powers and ideals, and indolence (idleness)? This too was an idea later promoted by the fascists, including the Italian Futurists.

One might find here an implicit criticism of a particular theory of culture as well. Pound's mention of "idleness" suggests Thorsten Veblen's thesis in "The Theory of the Leisure Class," published in 1899, where Veblen suggests that only with the emergence of a "leisure class" could artistic culture emerge. But he also argued that this same class held power through coersion and maintaining a monopoly on warfare. For Veblen, idleness is necessary in order to have an artistic culture at all. Did Pound know Veblen's work when he wrote "An Immorality"? Well, he certainly knew it when he wrote his pro-fascist diatribe Jefferson and/or Mussolini. Both were antiliberal, though certainly in different ways, and Pound may have by this point found some things in common with Veblen's ideas. Of course, I do not know for certain that Pound had read Veblen by this point, so both men's antiliberalism may have merely resulted in parallel conclusions -- it would be up to a far more serious Pound scholar than myself to answer the question of what Pound had read by around 1910.

It seems then that the title of the poem acts as a critique of what follows in the body of the poem. If we just take the body of the poem, it seems like a lovely little romantic poem extolling love and idleness. But if we take the title into consideration, we have to understand that the first narrator -- the one giving the title -- sees what follows as immoral. As such, we can see in it the narrator's (Pound's, most likely) antiliberalism.

I suppose that it's not much of an interpretation to find fascism in Pound's work, but what if, in fact, that is all there really is in this poem?

Monday, March 15, 2010

On The Twilight of the Elites

In Time magazine, Christopher Hayes argues that it is The Twilight of the Elites. Not surprisingly, he simultaneously gets things exactly right and completely wrong.

He is right that we are facing an institutional crisis. We are facing crises in our universities, our governments, our megacorporations, our government-run schools, our banks, the Federal Reserve, etc. But what do all of these institutions have in common?

Here is where Hayes fails. He fails to recognize that each of these institutions are planned, "rationally" constructed instutitions. None of them emerged spontaneously as a part of human action, but not of human design. Each of these are designed down to the last detail -- yes, even the megacorporations and banks, which are increasingly centralized, cartelized, and given increasing protection by government. They are all designed -- and run -- from the top-down, with little if any real feedback from the bottom-up. Thus, they are unnatural organizations, both in their organization and in their structures. The government solution to the problems it has caused is to keep doing all the things that caused the problems in the first place -- just harder, faster, more. And the people may not be able to understand it in such a way as to be able to articulate what they understand to be the problem -- but they do understand that more of the same thing is hardly the solution. Only the elites think it is.

Hayes' solution is to include astroturf organizers in these institutions. But that's more of the same. I hate to say it, but the only real solution is going to be the complete collapse of many of our institutions, so that natural ones can arise in their places. Others, such as the Federal Reserve, being purely destructive institutions, should go the way of the dodo.

I have been witnessing the destruction of many of our institutions at the very hands of the elites in charge for a while now. I've seen it coming because I am in the humanities, and the postmodernist elites in the humanities have been actively trying to destroy their own fields. Stanley Fish and others argue that there is no value to what they do, though Fish does observe that the humanities professors he knows are hardly the paragons of the virtues they are supposed to study. This is much like the stupidity of CEOs who fail dismally at being greedy because they follow a corrupt path that leads to their losing everything. We see the same pattern right now with the Democrats in Congress, who are determined to pass a bill that is so unpopular that Massachusetts elected a Republican Senator and there looks to be little hope the Democrats will hold onto power in either house of Congress. The Democrats are so power-hungry and certain of their superiority that they are pushing through something that is going to make them lose power. Regardless of your position on health insurance reform, you have to admit that this is bizarre behavior for elected officials. But this is what happens with constructivist elites in power.

And that is the bottom line: the elites in power in all of these failing institutions are constructivists. They believe they know enough to construct society -- ignoring Hayek's repeated proofs to the contrary. We cannot ever have enough knowledge or information to construct society -- or even the major institutions of society. Those who think otherwise -- which are those that have taken over our institutions -- destroy everything through their ignorance of their ignorance and necessarily uninformed actions.

We like to think that our elites, being so educated, will know enough to be able to run things well. But as Socrates discovered for himself -- and which we desperately need to rediscover today -- is that wisdom is knowing what (and that) you do not know. Wise elites know they do not know enough to run your life. Wise elites will be busy trying to understand the world, to try to help people to make good decisions on their own, for themselves and those closest to them, rather than trying to run the world. They cannot know enough to do so. The world runs itself. And it runs itself most effectively and efficiently if allowed to do so without interruption and interference by those who know nothing and whose arrogance leads them inevitably into corruption.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Robert Frost on How We Make Decisions -- The Road Not Taken

Rereading Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," I noticed something particularly interesting about the poem, which is that Frost seemed to have anticipated what we have since learned about how humans actually make decisions, and the relationship between the stories we tell ourselves about our decisions that in fact come after those decisions and what we decide.

People often misinterpret the poem as being about regretting not having taken the other path, or as being about being brave enough to have taken the "road less traveled by." But Frost himself often commented that people didn't really understand the poem. Let us take a look at the poem, and analyze it stanza by stanza:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Here the narator is faced with a decision and, to try to make that decision, he looks as far into the future as possible, trying to calculate the consequences of that decision. But it is in the next stanza where Frost presents us with his insight into the after-the-fact justification of our decisions research into human decision-making (and morals, for that matter) tell us to be what really happens when we make a decision (including a moral action, with justification afterwards).

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

Here the narrator has clearly made a snap decision to take the other path. We see an immediate justification of the decision: "Because it was grassy and wanted wear," implying that the decision was based on his wanting to take the path fewer people had taken. However, note that in the last line he withdraws that claim by stating that, in all honesty, both paths were worn "really about the same." The narrator doesn't want to admit to himself that his choice was apparently quite arbitrary. Thus, he tells himself a story: that he was chosing a path fewer people had taken. But that is just a story. The truth is that both paths were identical in wear, meaning the same number of people had passed down both paths. The justification for the decision was thus made after the fact, after the narrator had already decided which path to take. We don't like to think there is no reason why we took any given action, so we rationalize -- we create a reason why we took it, placing that reasoning before the decision rather than after, when the reasoning actually took place. The narrator thus tells himself a story of his decision, created after the fact.

We see in the next stanza a continuation of the observation that both paths were (un)trodden equally:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

He even tells himself that he will come back to walk the other one, and then is honest with himself yet again, saying that he doubted he ever would. This then leads us to the final stanza, where he imagines himself in the future:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Here he admits that in the future he will stick to his story he told himself about why he made the decision he made: that it was becasue it was the road less traveled by. Indeed, he will in the future only remember the decision this way: that it was a conscious decision to take a road less traveled by, rather than a gut decision he rationalized after the fact. That is the story of his life he tells himself, and it is the one that he tells because it is the most satisfying (thus the sigh of satisfaction). This observation is quite Nietzschean (Nietzsche observed that we are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and, thus, we can edit them as well). More, it is in agreement with what neuopsychologists agree to be how we actually make decisions -- and what we do after we make those decisions. They also have shown that when we make a snap decision, we are typically more satisfied with that decision than we are with one where we have done a lot of research beforehand. Even if we do research afterwards on the choices we had. Thus, the narrator of the poem is satisfied with his decision -- precisely because it was a snap decision that was rationalized afterwards rather than a reasoned-out decision. What is most amazing is that Frost understood our decision-making processes better than any psychologist for 80 years after the poem was written.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ae Freislighe for My Love

My love for you ever grows –
A flower beautiful
In the garden never knows
How it is so plentiful.

My life is a paradise
Since I fell in love with you –
I will always bear a price
Unless I make our myth true.

I’m on a tall garden post,
A coiling snake, my dry glove
Slaking off – please pardon most
Metaphors for my love.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interest Rates Redux

In two separate posts here and here, I talked about the role of artificially low interest rates on the current financial crisis. Here is a working paper by economist John P. Taylor that makes the same argument. Of course, I was only making the same argument as Hayek, whose ideas on interest rates were fairly typical of the other Austrian economists. What? The Austrian economists are right yet again?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Evolutionary Review

Here's some very exciting news. Joseph Carroll and Alice Andrews are the editors of a new scholarly journal, The Evolutionary Review. The editorial board is a who's who of some of the most important thinkers in evolutionary approaches to the arts and humanities. I'm very excites about it, and I just ordered it, so I can't wait for my first issue.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Re-reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T.S. Eliot for a class I'm teaching, I suddenly realized that every analysis I have read of this poem is completely wrong. Most analyses read the poem as Prufrock being uncertain of himself. Others have seen it as Prufrock preparing for a wedding. Neither of these are true. J. Alfred Prufrock is busy trying to seduce a woman of high society, trying to get her to have sex with him. This makes sense if we understand the poem mostly as a series of responses to the woman in question, whose responses are absent in the poem. In a few locations, we have some action, and in others, Prufrock's thoughts. If we add the seduced woman's responses, we can see that Prufrock is in fact a rather clever man, sure of himself and his ability to seduce this woman.

The poem begins with a quote from Dante's Inferno:

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti

These lines are from a sufferer in Hell, who is saying to the narrator of the Inferno, "If I thought I was talking to someone who might return to earth, this flame would cease; but if what I have heard is true, no one does return; therefore, I can speak to you without fear of infamy."

In the context of the poem, we can imagine Prufrock quoting this to the woman he is trying to seduce. If so, he is telling the woman that because he is talking to her his flame won't cease -- the flame of lust, in this case. Further, he is telling her that he feels like he can tell her what he is going to tell her -- that he wants to have sex with her -- without fear of her telling anyone. This becomes clear over the course of the poem. More, this establishes that Prufrock is an educated man, seeing that he can quote Dante from memory to the woman. More, it shows that she is an educated, high society woman, because she can understand it in Italian. This establishes what is then necessary for a proper seduction to occur. One must be indirect:

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

Here Prufrock (in)directly proposes what he has in mind. Of course, he says it in such a way that it is suggested rather than stated outright. What are you going to do at a "one-night cheap hotel" that would cause your night to be restless? Already, we have a response from her after the ". . ." Here he has been interrupted by her. His repsonse tells us what she asked, which is, "What is it?" He calls her out on her coyness and then is more direct: "Let us go and make our visit."

The couplet that follows is action that interrupts their conversation:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

This shows that they are in a house where some sort of social function is going on. He stops speaking as the women come into the room and leave. The conversation is about Michelangelo, suggesting their education and being members of high society. We then get a description of what it is like outside. This is, after all, turn of the 20th century London, an industrial town. Outside is yellow smog. Soot falls from the sky:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

It is the kind of environment a society woman might object to going out into, perhaps using the excuse that "but will we have enough time to get there and back?":

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Thus does Prufrock answer her objection. Before either can go on, they are interrupted once again:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

He then continues on with his argument against their not having enough time:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”—
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Here he has moved on to argue that if they spend too much time on the question, she will begin to wonder if she dare do this thing. But Prufrock argues that he's getting too old to waste time (thus, the thinning hair and thinning body). It is here where it is believed that Prufrock is wondering if HE should dare disturb the universe. But look at the structure of the sentence. He is telling her that waiting will make it so that there will be time for her to question, "Do I dare?" He interrupts this thought with the description of him getting old, then returns to finish the question he is afraid she will ask "Do I dare / Disturb the universe?" But of course, by pointing this out, he is pointing out the absurdity of the question "Do I dare?" He expands "Do I dare go have sex with Mr. Prufrock?" to "Do I dare disturb the universe?" to convince her that such an action as having sex will do nothing of the sort. He ends by pointing out that any decision she makes she may want to revise and reverse in the next, so she may as well stick to a decision that she will likely change her mind about later anyway. He then goes on to argue that he knows all about being cautious and changing one's mind:

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And where has being cautious gotten him? He leaves that as a rhetorical question. Then he asks himself (we know there is a change because of the indentation) how he should presume, which is defined here as "to act or proceed with unwarrantable or impertinent boldness." The fact that the word "presume" is used certainly undermines those interpretations that see Prufrock as indecisive. Rather, he sees himself as proceeding at this point with "impertinent boldness." So how shall he presume? Well, first he argues that she shouldn't be concerned about potential gossip, because he has experience gossip before:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

He argues that gossip shouldn't prevent him -- and, by extension, her -- from doing what they want to do. He goes further, answering her apparent concern at her inexperience by pointing out that he is quite experienced, has felt the embrace of other women:

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

And he is back again, asking how he should presume, and now, how he should truly begin the seduction. And so, he begins:

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

Here he further argues his experience at this, suggesting that he can make it a success. He then interrupts himself with a self-congratulating thought:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Here he compares himself to a crab. Crabs walk sideways, of course. He is not taking a direct approach, but approaching things from the side, like a crab. After congratulating himself on his approach, he continues his arugment to her. He first argues that she will feel incredibly relaxed afterwards, but then it seems obvious that he has seen fear on her face or that she has expressed fear about going through with this:

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

He tries to comfort her by pointing out that he, too, has been afraid. But he returns to the issue of time passing and being wasted. He has even seen death, and was afraid. Of course, compared to death, what fear can you have of allowing yourself to be seduced? Here she seems to bring up the issue of others gossiping about them, and he answers:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

He argues here that if people gossip, just smile at them, ignore it. Or, if they continue, brag about it: "I am Lazarus," and "I shall tell you all." The result, he argues, is that those who had been gossiping will in fact be jealous, that they will lie down at night and complain about the fact that they had not had her experience. He then goes on to argue that she most definitely won't regret her decision of going to bed with him:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

He here in fact argues that it would be worth it to have the affair just to make those gossiping women jealous. She next apparently argues that he is a too-important person for her to get involved with, so he responds that he is anything but:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

As she continues to resist, he brings up his age again, and the loss of time:

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

He is portraying himself as a fool again, as a middle-classed man dressing like the young people. Is the woman he is addressing closer to his age, and would thus be horrified at the thought of this gentleman dressing like a youth to try to seduce the young?

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

Again, references to youth and risk. He is asking her not to make him take risks at his age. This is a continuation of the seduction. Does she want to put him in the position of looking like a fool, trying to seduce younger women? He tries to evoke sympathy:

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Indeed, he is aware of the young ladies, with their seductive voices. He has seen them, too:

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

But then, alas! it is too late:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

They spent too much time talking, too much time talking about things like the sea and mermaids. Now human voices -- the women speaking of Michaelangelo? -- have interrupted them permanently. They are drowned by those voices, as are their plans. They will no longer be able to sneak off together. It is too late.

This makes the poem very much in the tradition of Donne's The Flea and Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. Once we recognize that there is an absent voice, we see that this is a poem of seduction, well within the tradition of poems of seduction. A more ambiguous poem, needless to say, than the other two -- precisely because of the absent answers of the missing mistress -- but a poem of seduction by a man who is very confident of himself. And it is this latter insight that overturns most interpretations of the poem.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Missing Goddess

In Athens, land of Athena, I see
The most beautiful goddess is not here –
The one I worship – sacred Anna – know
I will return to you, don’t ever fear.

My Aphrodite, you no longer live
In Greece – how were you reborn in Texas?
Yet your features are just as delicate
And lovely as this ancient Grecian lass.

The Muses, all nine, are now turned to one –
Embodied every one in you – you bring
Inspiration to my thoughts – I create
Everything for you, every song I sing.

You pluck the feathers of all the sirens,
They cannot lure me the way that you do –
Nothing can lure me from the course I’ve set,
To ensure that I will return to you.

Yes, I am your Odysseus – I will
Return to you – I’ll fight off all monsters
And giants – none but you shall ever do –
I’ll return home, defeat all imposters.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Justice and Dehumanizing People

A proposed definition of justice: the equal treatment of fellow human beings.

Another way of putting it: do unto other human beings as you would have them do unto you as a fellow human being.

If justice is indeed equal treatment, then equal outcomes are impossible. To get equal outcomes, you have to have unequal treatment of people. Thus, equal outcome, by the above definition of justice, is unjust.

A government that does anything to promote equality of outcome, including redistribution, is unjust.

Anyone who treats one member of their own society -- that is, those who are considered to be human -- differently than they treat another member acts unjustly. This does not mean that we do not take into consideration people's differences. Quite the contrary. But taking people's differences into consideration doesn't mean you don't treat everyone as a human being.

This is the soul of ethics. In fact, I would argue that any individual cannot treat unethically anyone they see as a fellow human being. The first step in treating someone unethically is to dehumanize them.

For example, murder. To murder is to kill a fellow human being. Traditionally, only those who are a member of your tribe or society are considered to be fellow human beings. As we have globalized, many of us have extended who we consider to be fellow human beings to include everyone. To the extent we do that, we become more ethical.

So how do we make sense of murder? Well, it depends on if you see it from the point of view of the killer or of the society the killer is a member of.

A sociopath doesn't see anyone as being a fellow human being.

If you catch your spouse cheating on you, in that momeny you no longer see that person as a fellow human being -- and the law typically reflects that (you have to kill them in the moment for it to not be 1st degree murder because any time to reflect and plan makes it first degree murder).

The mugger sees you as a mark, not a fellow human being.

The assassin sees you as a job, not a fellow human being.

More, societies have typically had rituals that allow us to remove people from their societies, allowing those societies to kill them.

Thus, it is allowable to kill people in war, because when war is declared, one ritualistically separates out the people one is as war with from yourself and the rest of the world. Things like the Geneva Convention nevertheless ensure we try to keep most of the people in the country we are at war with considered fellow human beings. That is why murder, rape, and theft are much less common in war now than it has been in the past (where it was expected).

Further, we can make sense of human sacrafice because a religious ritual is performed to first remove the person from the society so they can legitimately be killed.

Finally, we can make sense of capital punishment here as well if we consider the trial as a ritual to remove the offender from society so that the person can be legitimately killed.

Now, one may in fact disagree that these rituals actually perform these functions. That is what is really at stake in the opposition to capital punishment, for example. But it helps to know what you are really against: the performance of a ritual to dehumanize a fellow human being.

One can apply this to theft, rape, or lying as well. Well, the latter is a bit more complex than that, as it oftentimes requires that you deeply understand the one you are lying to as a fellow human being to lie to them. The issue with lying may lie more in why one is lying.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

On How to Be a Man: A Poem

Son, stand and be a man, responsible
And virtuous and kind. You will not find
A man of worth who’s listless, cold, and cruel,
Who lives a life reptilian, not of mind.

Don’t live an anesthetic life; embrace
The senses, beauty of the world and life
And art; reject the bodiless and soulless,
The hatred of the world in strifeless strife.

A man of action is a man of words;
A man of words will always listen well;
The poetry of thought will see its source
To train you so that you can always tell

The wisest way to walk, traverse the waves,
And fly on falcon wings when you are sure
Your feathers formed, both soft and firm, for both
Are needed if life you will endure.

A man of wisdom is a man of worlds –
The worlds of simplest physics, chemistry –
The complex worlds of life, emergent systems –
All; cultures, art, and true economy.

A healthy man is one of healthy loves
And life; a life of beauty unifies
Diversity, transforms each soul it meets
To light, gives feathered wings so each one flies.

The opposite of manliness is not
The feminine. The feminine is truly
The complement of manliness. The boy,
So irresponsible, unkempt, unruly,

Is the true opposite of manliness.
Embrace the fullness of both sides of life,
The feminine and masculine, and you
Will have the truest virtue, not one rife

With hardness when you really need to show
You flow and bend and, flowing, show your strength,
Nor softness when you must stand firm and show
That you won’t always bend to any length.

Yes, son, to be a man you have to stand
For right and virtue, knowing when to bend
With strength and knowing when to love. Be true
And good, a soul of beauty to the end.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Tale of Two Inflations

The one thing Keyneseanism is devastatingly, destructively wrong about -- and the thing Keyneseans seem to promote the most -- is inflation. Keynes believed that inflation causes a strong economy, but the fact is that a strong economy causes inflation. And it matters quite a bit which one is true.

1. Natural Inflation

Let us say that we have an economy with 10 objects (X) and 10 objects (Y) in it, that both were in equal demand, and $200 was all the money in the economy. That would make each object worth $10. Now let us say that the consumers in the economy wanted more of X. Competition among consumers would drive up the price of X relative to Y, which would go down in price. Thus, we would see inflation for X. Businesses would then produce more X, redirecting resources and labor toward producing what consumers want. More business would come in to produce more X as well. This would then drive down the price of X. With the same amount of money in the economy and more objects, prices would drop over the long term. Further, we would have more people working, and they would also demand more product, which would drive up prices, leading to a virtuous circle of price increase/decrease that ultimately leads to lower prices for many products. In other words, we would have natural deflation for certain products. Of course, we see exactly that with new technology. Those buying something the first year it comes out pay much more than those in subsequent years, especially if the product is popular.

2. Artificial Inflation

Let us return to our artificial economy of 10 X, 10 Y and $200, with X and Y worth $10 each. Now let us double the money supply by, say, printing it. Now we have 10 X, 10 Y and $400, with X and Y worth $20 each. Companies do not know where the price increases are coming from, and most companies would interpret any price increase as consumer competition for their products, meaning they need to produce more. Established companies would probably notice that their inventory hasn't gone down, but others would see the high prices and definitely interpret that as a signal that they should enter the market to produce more of that object. Thus, there would be money and labor directed toward the production of both X and Y, when there has been no increase in demand for either one. Inventories of X and Y would increase and increase -- especially as the higher prices disocuraged people from buying as much as they had in the past. After a while, companies, faced with large inventories, would stop production. That would mean they would need to lay off people. Now people aren't working, prices are dropping because companies are trying to get rid of inventories (thus, 50% and more off sales), and the economy has entered a recession caused by the economic bubble created by inflation.

3. And Then There Is Interest Rates

I have already discussed the problems created by interest rate manipulation by the Fed. In sum, low interest rates tell (encourage) people to take more risks; high interest rates tell (encourage) people to take fewer risks. When money is cheap, people are more willing to take financial risks. When money is expensive, people are less willing to do so. Further, low interest rates discourage people from putting money into savings accounts. Money in savings accounts is money the bank now has to loan out. High interest rates encourage people to put money into savings accounts. Now, if you have low interest rates, you will have fewer people saving money at the same time you will have more people borrowing. Both savers and borrowers have an effect on interest rates in a natural economy. But when the Federal Reserve artificially drives down interest rates, you have banks lending more money than they have (after all, you also have the Fed guaranteeing the bank's holdings, providing even more incentive for the banks to take risks). A crisis is bound to occur.

4. The Marriage of Artificially Low Interest Rates and Artificial Inflation

To "combat" the current economic downturn, the Fed has printed more money and is continuing to keep interest rates artificially low. (I do not argue the Fed should push interest rates up or reduce the money supply, as those will also have devastating effects on the economy.) Any guesses as to what is bound to happen? If this recession isn't going to take us down, the next one the Fed is creating most definitely will.