Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Equilibrium or Creativity in the Spontaneous Orders

In The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, Randall Collins argues the following:
  • Paradoxical tensions drive creativity.
  • It was the emergence of scientific technology that resulted in rapid-discovery science.
  • Mathematics was rejuvenated when it came into contact with philosophy (Newton/Leibniz and Frege/Boole/Russell/Whitehead).
  • Philosophy is rejuvenated whenever there is either a change in institutions or it comes into contact with another social order (math, see above; literature, with the French Existentialists and Postmodernists).
With the exception of the point regarding new institutions, each of the last three are in fact specific examples of the first point. Collins discusses the first point in regards to philosophical positions and individuals arguing them, but any time a large enough number from one spontaneous order decide to work in another, creative tensions arise. The natural response of those in the order being entered is to become defensive and to accuse the other of intellectual colonialism -- but this, too, is often a creative response in the end.

We can see this in other orders as well. It was changes in banking that drove the catallaxy of the Medieval economy into becoming mercantilist. It was the combination of technology with the catallaxy that resulted in capitalism and the emergence of the rapid-growth economy (paralleling rapid-discovery science). The three orders interact to keep each other from equilibrating and, thus, ceasing to be creative and wealth-creating. The flat economic growth that lasted to the Renaissance is a perfect example of the catallaxy at equilibrium. The paradoxical tensions the changes in monetary institutions and the emergence of rapid technological innovation provided to the catallaxy threw it into a far-from-equilibrium state, making it more creative and wealth-producing than it had ever been.

How does this happen? As a social system settles down into equilibrium, fewer and fewer opportunities become available (or obvious). Entrepreneurs need gaps to fill, and if everyone is already coordinating perfectly, there is nothing left to do. New products, new institutions, new ways of doing things all create gaps for entrepreneurs to fill. The width of the gap is the amount of profit that can be realized -- and profit is of course payment for fulfilling others' needs and wants. The same is true in any of the intellectual orders. A mathematician can show a philosopher or a social scientist or a natural scientist a gap that nobody may have been able to see, because everyone was settled down into a comfortable equilibrium. Once people realize there is in fact a gap, people begin working to fill it. This disequilibrates the system, creating more gaps -- until there is a creative far-from-equilibrium state.

We also see that the disruption leading to creativity works both ways. New scientific technology drove science, which drove technological innovation. New practical technology drove catallactic growth, which drove technological innovation. New ideas in science and philosophy drove artistic/literary creativity in the 20th century, while those artistic/literary innovations in turn drove creativity in philosophy, giving rise to postmodernism, and the sciences, helping contribute to the emergence of complexity science and chaos theory. This is what happens when two spontaneous orders, each trying to reach an equilibrium if left to their own devices, come into contact with each other. The ecotone is where creativity is driven to exponential heights.

This would suggest that equilibrium models of social processes are helpful, but limited. We have to understand what happens when multiple orders come into contact with each other. At the same time, it shows the danger of equilibrium modellers thinking their models are what the process ought to look like. This can lead to recommendations of how to "fix" the process, to bring it back to equilibrium. However, if we want creative social processes, the last thing we want are for them to be in equilibrium. The desire for social equilibrium is a conservative desire -- a desire which does have it's place in helping to maintain stability, but only insofar as life improvement is not stifled.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Moral Order

From the first two lines of this article:
Ethics consists of the discipline of identifying, defining, and practicing a code of universal principles that makes individual human happiness possible. Politics consists of the discipline of identifying, defining, and practicing a code of universal principles that makes collective human happiness possible.

The first are developed in the spontaneous orders of philosophy, religion, and the arts and literature. The latter are developed in the spontaneous orders of the social sciences, the political economy, and philanthropy. These two groups are the six spontaneous orders which constitute the moral order.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Minimum Wage Suppresses Wages

The minimum wage depresses wages.

This counterintuitive conclusion actually makes sense if you think through things using economic reasoning. One of the consequences of the minimum wage is to create unemployment, particularly among unskilled workers. This creates a pool of unemployed workers who are all competing with each other for the minimum wage, driving wages toward the minimum. Of course, these same workers often cannot get those jobs because of their lack of skills, and they cannot gain skills without a job -- a vicious circle they cannot get out of without spending their own money to go to school to get the credentials which act as a key to employment. Given that unemployed people likely do not have money for school, they have to get student loans, putting them in debt from the get-go. Any wages they may get will have loan payments subtracted from them. The net result may be a real income at or below the minimum wage.

A wage of $7.25 (the current minimum wage) gets you $1160 before taxes. The average student loan payment per month is about $250. One would have to make $8.80/hr to match the minimum wage with that loan payment. One would hope one would make much more than that -- but the point is that if people could gain skills through working, they could end up with the same wages and no debt to speak of.

In fact, without a minimum wage, unskilled workers could get hired at a rate that made it worth training them (which is not costless for the business), with the result that they would no longer be unskilled workers (even so-called dead-end jobs give you skills you need to hold down any job whatsoever, something many unskilled workers do not have, and quite frankly will not necessarily gain in school). As workers gained skills, they would bid up wages. Competition among businesses for workers drives up wages; competition among workers drives down wages. When you create a floor for wages, you create people who would rather work for little than for nothing at all. It is the same logic that results in mandatory insurance driving up insurance prices. Businesses competing with zero must have low prices; businesses competing with a wage of zero do not have to bid up wages. The minimum wage creates a zero wage that would not exist in a free market

So that is two ways in which the minimum wage suppresses wages -- directly and indirectly. And that leaves out the fact that it drives up the prices of goods and services (increase costs, and you increase prices) for everyone (including those you have made unemployed through your minimum wages) and protects big businesses from competition against upstarts -- especially those mom-and-pop stores the left love to wax romantic over.

So if you want to keep wages low, create a large pool of unemployed, keep large numbers of people unskilled, put a lot of people into debt, impoverish society as a whole, increase prices, and protect bug business from competition against small upstarts, then minimum wage laws are the laws you ought to support.

Paradox Drives Social Complexity

The long-term tendency of an active intellectual community is to raise the level of abstraction and reflexivity. (Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies, 787)
This is particularly true in philosophy, mathematics, and the social sciences -- with the danger of this tendency coming from the latter more than the other two, since too often people have tried to apply their wild abstractions back into the real world, primarily through the (in my model) adjacent political economy. Yet, at the same time, the more autonomous an order becomes -- meaning, the more abstract and reflexive it becomes -- the more it contributes to society as a whole (to civil society) as I, working off of Russell Berman's ideas, argued in The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts" (see bottom pg. 3, top pg 4), with the conclusion that "The more alienated literature becomes from society, the more it contributes to society" (4). This of course describes the most concrete of the pure wisdom trinity of spontaneous orders. It is equally true of religion and philosophy, though going back to concretes can be seen to happen repeatedly -- particularly in religions -- under threats. Threats would likely push art into more concrete expression as well, given the inherent concreteness of art works' contents.
What causes the abstraction-reflexivity sequence? Durkheim theorized that a trend toward abstractness and universalism takes place in the collective consciousness as the social division of labor increases. As evidence he cites trends in religion and law In isolated tribal societies, religious symbols are concrete and specific; rules are reified and their violations expiated by punitive ritual. As societies grow, more stratified, organizationally and economically differentiated, the spiritual entities of religion become less localized, expanding in their scope, and eventually leaving the concrete worldly level entirely for a transcendental realm. Still further on this continuum, the "modernism" of Durkheim's day regarded God as a symbol of the universal moral order, and explained the anthropomorphic traits of earlier belief as reification, mistaking a symbol for a concrete entity. (Collins, 790)
Collins then observes that the above describes social evolution of belief over long periods of time (I would argue it describes the evolution of belief in such a way that it maps very well onto a Spiral Dynamics explanation), but that intellectual evolution is much more insulated from society as a whole, creating the conditions for more rapid development.

But what drives abstraction and reflexivity?
Once the argumentative community is constituted, causal dynamics within each sequence work much the same way: oppositions splitting the network within each generation, together the the periodic overcoming of those oppositions on a new level of abstraction. (Collins, 801)
Collins is arguing that what drives creativity in an intellectual community is paradoxical oppositions which, when they become overwhelming, result in the emergence of new, more complex (more abstract) ideas. It is this process which J.T. Fraser argues drives the emergence of complexity in the universe, from pure energy to quantum physics to chemistry/macrophysics to biology to psychology, to social processes. It is this process which Clare Graves argues drives the emergence of complexity in human pyschological and social orders, from chimpanzee-like social structures to tribes to heroic/empires to authoritative to enlightenment to postmodern to integrative to holistic. It is this which, I argue in Diaphysics, in which I combine Graves and Fraser, drives all complexity. Collins demonstrates that this complexifying process is at work in our intellectual communities (which are kinds of spontaneous orders) is driven by the same emergent-paradox-driving-new-emergent-complexity cycle.

Overall, Collins demonstrates that when the philosophical order is most isolated from the other orders, it tends to fall into a stable equilibrium -- known in philosophy as "scholasticism." Collins calls this "the "normal science" of philosophy," arguing that "Scholasticism is the baselines of intellectual life" (799) -- the superstars we all remember are few and far between, kept in check by the law of small numbers. More than that, Collins demonstrates repeatedly that the superstars are those who come into contact with another spontaneous order or orders (be it religion, science, mathematics, the social sciences, the arts, etc) -- which is unsurprising given the fact that each spontaneous order on its own will settle down into equilibrium, while far-from-equilibrium states, or creative states, come about from such overlaps. Technology pushes the catallaxy into a state of constant creativity and wealth-creation. The catallaxy in turn drives continued technological innovation (certainly at the speed at which we have seen such creativity in the last century). All of this comes about from the introduction of paradoxes to the order.

If our social systems at their most creative are driven by the emergence of paradoxes, which in turn drive the emergence of more complex levels, and this is a reflection of how more complex processes emerge in the universe as a whole, then it behooves us to do our best to emulate the universe's processes rather than fighting against them. We need to come to understand these processes and the kinds of networks that drive them and emerge from them. The more creative our social processes, the more complex they become, which means we become wealthier and create more knowledge over time. This is hardly without its dangers. Not all complexity is an improvement. There are such things as perverse orders. And the purifying tendencies of these orders can create sociopathic organizations and outcomes (though, as I observed above in relation to literature, the more sociopathic, the more social contribution it may make). But overall, if we go with the natural flows and processes of emergence and complexity in the universe, the better off we will be both socially and psychologically.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Energizing Creative Outbursts in the Spontaneous Orders

To better understand civil society as a whole, it is necessary to break it down into its constituent economies and spontaneous orders. This allows us to understand each of the orders on their own terms -- simplifying clarifies. However, there is always a danger in doing this in the possibility of overspecialization putting blinders on the researchers and thus failing to understand the complexities of overlaps and interactions among the different orders and economies.

We can see this quite clearly in economics, where economists consider technological innovation to be an "external shock." To the extent that economists only ever study the catallaxy, they are right. But the market economy includes market technologies, money and finance, and technological innovation. Those three spontaneous orders interact to create the market economy as a whole. All of this is missed by the economists studying the catallaxy, the finance and monetary economists studying money and finance, and the sociologists of technology (who are scant few in number compared to those studying the other two orders in the market economy) studying technological innovation. But it seems these three groups never speak to each other.

A result of this is most of those who study the catallaxy do not understand the role money and technology play in their chosen fields of study. This, despite the fact that Schumpeter argued for the inclusion of technology in understanding the market economy.

Another result is the predominance of equilibrium models to study these different orders. An equilibrium model might make sense if the spontaneous order being studied is in pure isolation, but the minute another order comes in contact with it, the steady-state equilibrium system is thrown into a far-from-equilibrium state. (And I am making a generous assumption, given the fact that I do not believe that equilibrium is necessarily the best way to understand any order, given the presence of bipolar feedback in every self-organizing process.)

Certain institutions can act as stabilizing elements in a spontaneous order, providing a predominantly negative feedback environment that will drive the system toward equilibrium. The German-style university system may be precisely such an institution. Indeed, once the initial rounds of creativity which emerged from the university reforms settled down, we have seen what can only be described as a very stable realm of philosophy in the United States, Britain, and Germany for many long decades. The exception has been France, where the German university system was never adopted. The result is that philosophy and literature have overlapped more:

The bases and products of philosophy and of literature have usually been distinct. The networks of these two kinds of intellectuals have touched on occasion; a very small number of individuals have overlapped both networks and produced memorable work in both genres. Most have been successful in only one attention space or the other; nevertheless, something is transmitted structurally, for where the networks of philosophers and literary practitioners have connected, the result has been to energize outbursts of creativity in either field. (Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies, 755)
 The "something" being transmitted structurally is the far-from-equilibrium state that comes about from two orders coming into contact with each other. Each order has a disequilibrating effect on the other orders, resulting in creative bipolar feedback. The French Existentialist and postmodernist movements are great examples of this sort of thing, since the main players in each were either hybrid writers themselves (Sartre wrote plays, fiction, and poetry as well as philosophy) or were heavily influenced by literature if they were philosophers or philosophy if they were literary writers.

Collins also points out that when philosophers primarily write for a writer's market rather than within universities, they become more political. Part of this is from the demands of the writer's marketplace. Universities promote high levels of abstraction in philosophy, but the popular reading public will not put up with it. Thus philosophers writing for more popular readers tend to deal with more pedestrian topics, like politics. This is why the Existentialists and postmodernists have typically been more radical in their politics than even university political philosophers like Habermas. We can also perhaps begin to see why French philosophy has found a home in American English literature departments (rather than our philosophy departments).

Given all of this, we should expect to see, as universities undergo reform in response to the internet and online universities, a new round of creativity in philosophy (and other fields dominated by the German university system). We should also expect, however, considerable resistance from those who are comfortably entrenched in that system and prefer the stability and predictability of a philosophical system at equilibrium. But this, too, will contribute to creativity, as conservative retrenching has always done in the past.

In the end, there is a role for those who study each of the spontaneous orders in isolation -- but we have to be aware of the dangers, too, of doing so. Economists can mistakenly believe the market economy as a whole is properly studied as a steady-state equilibrium system, meaning they have to consider money to be neutral and technology to be an external shock, when in fact insofar as they are studying the catallaxy in combination with money/finance and technological innovations, what they are studying is a far-from-equilibrium process in which money is non-neutral and technological innovation is an inseparable part of the system. The catallaxy is not the market economy -- it is but a part of it, even if an important part. But it is almost exclusively the catallaxy economists study, and it is almost exclusively the catallaxy economists consider to be the market economy. And even then, it is rarely a catallaxy that takes place in time and space.

The same dangers can come from studying any of the orders in isolation from the others. Yet, this is a danger well worth risking in order to gain understanding of each. The disciplinary scholars are responsible for understanding their own realms; the interdisciplinary scholars are responsible for making the connections among them. More than that, there are dangers of only working within a given order, ignoring the presence of the rest. The artist, writer, philosopher working in isolation is producing work that can only be appreciated by those who also work primarily in those orders -- thus we get art about art, literature about literature, and philosophy about philosophy -- a kind of sociopathy only appreciated by those who also work in those orders, even as those who live more healthy lives, in multiple orders and, thus, in civil society, create works that matter to the rest of civil society.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Want a More Dehumanizing Government? Give It More Power

Power makes people dehumanize others. Which is why power needs to be distributed as much as possible. Which is what spontaneous orders do. If you want to make your government dehumanize you, concentrate more and more power in an ever-more-central government. We will leave aside the fact that such a government will then, in turn, attract more and more sociopaths to it as well.

The Spontaneous Order of Mathematics

I have argued that mathematics is its own spontaneous order, the most abstract spontaneous order of the "practical knowledge" set, which includes the physical sciences and the technologies that have been invented to do science, with the latter two being mixed (abstract and concrete) and concrete, respectively. But math has not always been that way. And math has not always been a spontaneous order.

In fact, as Randall Collins points out,
In the 1700s the field [of mathematics] consisted mostly of analysis, exploring the branches of Leibnizian calculus and their applications in physical science. By around 1780, the belief had become widespread among leading mathematicians that  mathematics had exhausted itself, that there was little left to discover. (697)
Note that this describes a mathematics that is firmly rooted in the physical sciences. It is not its own order. The only mathematics being investigated is math relevant to rapid-discovery science. But then,
Unexpectedly, the following century was the most flamboyant in the history of the field, proliferating new areas and opening the realms of abstract higher mathematics.

The sudden expansion of creativity arose from shifts in the social bases of mathematics. Competition for recognition increased with a large expansion in the numbers of mathematicians. The older bases for full-time professional mathematicians had consisted of the official academies of sciences, notably Paris, along with Berlin, St. Petersburg, and a few others. [...] The [German] university reform extended to mathematics the emphasis on innovative research, as well as giving a distinctive slant toward pure knowledge apart from practical application. The process of disciplinary differentiation split math from physics and astronomy, encouraging the tendency to abstraction. (697)
This is pretty much how I describe how literature and the arts emerged into their own spontaneous orders from religion. With Modernist art and literature, we end up with extremely reflexive, highly abstract works of art and literature. This is a natural consequence of spontaneous orders. We end up with science about science, technology about technology, art about art, business about business within the market economy -- and math about math. This is a necessary consequence of the emergence of differentiated spontaneous orders, even if those orders continue to influence each other in their overlapping ecotones.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why Aren't Chimpanzees Wealthy?

Why are humans wealthy, but chimpanzees are not? Both engage in trade. Both are tool makers and tool users. Yes, there is a difference in quality and quantity, but one would surely think this similarity to humans would make chimpanzees wealthier than, say, lions, but they're not.

I recently commented on the fact that in social mammals, the entrepreneurs are the subordinates. So entrepreneurship is found in all social mammals -- which does not explain why humans are wealthy. But my musings on the issue do suggest a reason.

In all social mammals, including humans, the dominant alphas can take anything they want any time they want to do anything they want with what they take. Thus, value flows to them. And it flows to them by those alphas breaking network bonds.

Self-organizing networks can only become so complex if the bonds that make up the network are being broken all the time. Value is not increased by trade because most interactions involve value being directed to the alpha, who uses what he or she gets to improve their social position, including rewarding cronies.

In order for these networks to become more complex, you have to weaken the position of the alpha. And this is what we see in humans -- specifically, we see it happening in humans in the last few hundred years. This has allowed our trade networks to create wealth and to complexify over time. Spontaneous orders require equality among participants, freedom of entry and exit, and the rule that you get to keep what you traded. These are the rules of a social species in which the submissives have come to dominate socially.

Redistributionist schemes are thus, to a certain degree, atavistic in nature. They go back to the idea that there should be an alpha who should distribute the goods of the social group as he or she sees fit. Both it and self-organizing, increasingly complex networks are natural. But only one results in human levels of wealth. The other brings us back to the conditions of our ape ancestors.

Hard Cases Make For Bad Laws -- The Case of William Stanley Jevons

William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) is, if you are an economist, a well-known economist; if you are a mathematician, he is a well-known mathematician; if you are a philosopher, he is a well-known philosopher; if you are a computer scientist, he, being the inventor of the Logic Piano, is a well-known early computer scientist. In my model of the relations among the spontaneous orders,this places him simultaneously in the spontaneous orders of the social sciences, math, philosophy, and technology for math and science.

Of course, people can be interested in multiple disciplines, but with Jevons, these are all intimately related to each other. Jevons was a mathematizer of logic and an inventor of a piece of technology that would allow him to mechanically do logical transformations. More, he was part of the British mathematical and logical reformers that included people like Babbage, De Morgan, Cayley, and Boole, among others, and which led to Whitehead and Russell.

Much early British economics has been done primarily by philosophers: Locke, Hume, Smith, Ricardo, and J.S. Mill, to name a few. As a philosopher, Jevons certainly falls into this tradition.

This mixture in Britain had long-term consequences, because, "When the British universities reformed in the 1860's, economics now became academic, meshing with the nearest adjacent disciplines, thus intersecting with both philosophy and mathematics" (Randall Collins, 708). And Jevons, "who developed the marginal utility theory in 1871 to displace the dominant labor theory of value" (708-9) and who "colonized the field [of economics] for mathematical methods" (709), fit right into this intersection.

But this doesn't address the issue of why the mathematicians were philosophers (and, with Whitehead and Russel, the philosophers were mathematicians) and the philosophers were economists. Yet if we take a look at my model of spontaneous orders, we can see that all three areas -- math, philosophy, and the social sciences -- are all abstract orders. It should not surprise us that those attracted to one abstract order should be attracted to other orders as well -- or that they would attempt to "colonize" the other fields. And it happened not just with math doing the colonizing, as it was philosophy which colonized math first by introducing logic to math (with math returning the favor and introducing math to logic).

Thus, Jevons' work in the spontaneous orders in which he participated makes sense. While (apparently) staying out of money/finance (while nevertheless doing social science work about it in his Money and the Mechanism of Exchange (1875) and Methods of Social Reform and Investigations in Currency and Finance), Jevons worked in both realms of Abstract Wisdom and one of the two realms of Abstract Knowledge (again, doing social science work about the second). Further, he worked in all three orders of Pure Knowledge -- I already mentioned his being a famous mathematician as well as the inventor of the Logic Piano, but less well known was his work as an assayist (a kind of chemist) when he was a young man. Thus we can see him working along the lines of both Practical Knowledge and the Abstract, which intersect at Math.

Jevons seems to be a hard case, but in fact he helps demonstrate quite well the relations among the spontaneous orders as I have categorized them. We can see the logic of his movements, and the reasons he would have brought math to both philosophy and economics (and the reasons he would have made those choices). We can see, too, why there has been a historical relation among philosophers and economists as well as, later, among philosophers and mathematicians. The fact that all three areas are areas of Abstraction means it is easy to justify bringing those methods over into each other. More, the particularity of knowledge compared to the holism of wisdom makes it more likely that math will be transported into the social sciences and philosophy than the other way around (while philosophical logic did contribute to math, math has contributed far more to logic in return).

The case of Jevons might make us think the spontaneous order divisions I have proposed are nonsense, or that they are somehow artificial since we cannot actually disentangle them from each other and from civil society as a whole. I would argue they are no more artificial divisions than is isolating out the circulatory system from the rest of the body is artificial. There is in fact a circulatory system that does certain things only it does, even as it is vital for the rest of the body. And if we have a problem with it, we would want to go to a cardiologist, not a general practitioner. A focus on the whole only, ignoring the parts, makes for bad medicine and bad medical decisions. The same is true of focusing on civil society as a whole and ignoring the real divisions within it. We cannot understand Jevons as a whole person without understanding all the orders. But as mathematicians or computer technologists or economists or philosophers, we neither want nor need to understand Jevons the whole person. We want and need to understand his contributions to those areas. The fact that he had overlapping interests is no argument against this working in a variety of orders.

Thus we can see that though the orders are separate, they do also overlap and influence each other. But there is also a logic to the movements of people participating in those orders, as the case of Jevons (but hardly only Jevons) demonstrates. Further, we can also make sense of the methodological battle taking place in economics between the neoclassical economists (as started by Jevons and Walras) and the Austrian school (as started by Menger), as the neoclassical economists are more enamored of math, while the Austrian school is more enamored of philosophy. As complexity makes more and more inroads into economics and the other social sciences, we will soon discover that both schools of economics are right. But mathematical complexity makes for a very different kind of economics than that of neoclassical economics. Thus, it is the full complexity synthesis -- synthesizing mathematical and philosophical economics -- for which we are waiting.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The German University System and the Universal Emergence of Idealist Philosophy

Chapter 12 of Randall Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies is a veritable case study in the degree to which institutions matter. The title of the chapter is "Intellectuals Take Control of Their Bases: The German University Revolution," and it covers what happened to philosophy not only in Germany after their university reforms in the late 1700s, but also the practically identical patterns that emerged in every country that in turn adopted the German university system.

Almost immediately after the university reforms that gave rise to the university system as we now know it, German philosophy made a turn toward Idealism. Collins argues that Idealism is a halfway house from religious dominance to complete secularization within the university philosophical faculty. However, as we will see, Idealism may in fact be a consequence of the German university system itself.

Scandinavia adopted the German system in the early 1800's, and immediately underwent an Idealist revolution in philosophy.

England adopted the German system in 1872 -- and Idealism arose in England.

The United States adopted the German system in the 1870s and 1880s, and Idealism arose in the United States (with pragmatism as a halfway house between religion and Idealism, as one would expect in a country as religious as the United States).

As Italy adopted the German system, first in the north, then in the south, Italy developed its own idealist philosophical movement (interestingly, Collins notes that Idealism stayed around longer in Italy than in other places because Fascism was essentially Idealism in politics).

Now, one could simply say that this is a consequence not just of institutions, but of culture, since these were all Western European cultures (ignoring the fact that grouping these together under "Western culture" is a kind of idealistic kitsch) -- except Collins points out that the Japanese too adopted the German system (in the 1870s-1890s), and Japanese philosophy almost immediately became Idealist. And more fascinating still, Idealism in Japan raised up Buddhism in order to have a system to act as a halfway house to secularism. Why?
The Shinto cult promoted at the national level was too particularistic and too artificial a construction to serve as a rationalized philosophy; on the other side, Neo-Confucianism, dominant in the elite schools during the Tokugamwa, was already substantially secularized. Buddhist philosophy made an unexpected comeback because it could most easily take the form of a religion of reason. (686)
The Japanese experience more than the rest demonstrates that it was the institution of the German university system that resulted in the emergence of philosophical Idealism more than anything else. After all, Japan was a completely different culture. And more than that, the philosophers in the new universities actually revitalized Buddhism in Japan just to have "a religion of reason" with which to work our their Idealist philosophy. To switch metaphors, the Japanese actually built the Buddhist island to make an Idealist bridge from it to secularism. If this does not point to the fact that it was the institution which was responsible for the kind of philosophy which emerged, I don't know what does.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Subordinate Apes and Entrepreneurship

In a real sense, entrepreneurs are society's guinea pigs. They face higher risks than the rest of us, and are more likely to fail than succeed at whatever it is they are trying. The entrepreneur may be an artist as much as the potential business person. The risk are big, but when there is a payoff, those risks prove to be worth the risks.

Humans are social mammals, and looking at what takes place in other social species is often quite instructive. As it turns out, in other social species, it is the subordinate animals which act as the guinea pigs, taking the most risks for their social groups, while the dominant (alpha) animals hang back to see how everything turns out.

This sounds exactly like what happens in an economy like ours. The entrepreneur starts off life as a subordinate -- low in the social hierarchy. They take risks, and sometimes they succeed. As their businesses become more successful, they gain dominance, become alphas themselves, and want fewer risks -- thus, they invite regulations into their industries in order to reduce competition from others and, thus, their own risks. The regulators -- people in government who are alpha primates almost by definition -- themselves are risk-adverse, and have set up a system that prevents them from experiencing too much risk.

What we then see is risk-adverse alpha primates both looking down on the risk-taking subordinates for being subordinates, and relying on those risk-taking subordinates for the success of the social group. Does  this not describe the seemingly contradictory attitudes of many anti-market people in government? Obama fits this about as beautifully as one could want. He clearly looks down on risk-takers (who we now know to be perceived by him as subordinates, who of course should be looked down on), but realizes too that he needs them for the protection of his social group.

The free market, then, is the direct promoter of the subordinate human. The entrepreneur is the subordinate taking the risks of society, and sometimes benefiting from that risk to such a degree that (s)he becomes a dominant member of society. Spontaneous orders emerge when the subordinate humans come to socially dominate. Attempts to impose hierarchical network structures are attempts by alpha humans to reassert their dominance. Given the dominance of the subordinates, the alpha humans resort to pro-subordinate rhetoric to maintain their power. It is unlikely we will ever see an end to this struggle. In fact, since one cannot have subordinates without alphas, the elimination of the alphas would result in the elimination of entrepreneurship as well. Those paradoxical tensions must exist to drive social complexity. Which means the struggle for liberty will never end.