Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beautiful City

I have a new piece at The Freeman on The Beautiful City. It is the paradoxes, the creative tensions within the city that make it vibrant, that make it beautiful.

I have in the past discussed the connection between beauty and spontaneous orders; one could see this piece as a special case of a general conclusion.

Update: The piece has been linked at Cafe Hayek, one of my regular blogs I read.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pharmacy on a Bicycle

The product of my consulting for the Bush Center, Pharmacy on a Bicycle: Innovative Solutions to Global Health and Poverty is now available. You can see my acknowledgement on pg. x of the Introduction. It was released early -- which made it right in time for the grand opening of the Bush Library at Southern Methodist University.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Self-Determination Theory

From a libertarian perspective, there is probably few psychosocial theories more promising than self-determination theory

Self-determination theory (SDT) posits that all human beings share a basic and universal psycho- logical need for autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1985a, 2000, 2002, 2008). In this framework, autonomy is defined as a subjective experience, characterized by feeling free and by endorsing one’s actions. In particular, the experience of autonomy is characterized by feeling free of interpersonal coercion. In accord with SDT, when people feel more autonomous, they experience greater psychological and physical well-being, they are happier and healthier. However, to the degree that satisfaction of the need for autonomy is thwarted, research findings indicate that people suffer both psychological and physically.
 In this particular paper, the authors point out that this theory helps explain the fact that when humans feel coerced, they tend to act in a less civilized manner. In other words, the more government tries to control people, the less civilized they behave. A few implications:

1) An uncivilized act gives rise to control, which gives rise to more uncivilized acts, which gives rise to more control, etc.

2) The control of people inherent in socialism makes people less civilized.

 Of course, much of this is a matter of perception. If people don't feel controlled, they continue to behave in a civilized manner. But if one does feel like one's life is being controlled -- no matter what is doing the controlling, whether it be internal to the person or external to the person -- the response is to violently rebel. For those familiar with the existentialists' view of rebellion, this should sound familiar. 

In many ways, much of what this paper says is no surprise to your typical libertarian. It merely confirms what libertarians have intuited. However, it is good to have a specific theory explaining those intuitions. Government actions, according to this theory, are a positive harm precisely because government actions are necessarily coercive. There are no doubt other implications for a variety of human interactions and  especially management practices within organizations.

Interactive Ritual Chains

On his blog Abandoned Footnotes, Xavier Marquez does an excellent, thoughtful review of Randall Collins' Interactive Ritual Chains. Between this review and the fact that I am thoroughly impressed by Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies, I am clearly going to have to tackle pretty much everything Collins has written. I think the idea of interactive ritual chains is very important, and given Marquez's tentative development of the idea into politics suggests the fruitfulness of this idea. I will particularly note that the first paragraph of his point 1 could almost describe chimpanzee social structures around the dominant male. Political ritual chains of this sort are indeed deep in our evolved psychologies. Now, while his point 1 does explain the emergence of organizational network structures, much of the rest is suggestive of how social self-organization can take place, from spontaneous orders to swarms. I think Austrian school economists could benefit a great deal from bringing in Collins' theories.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Devil Speaks What Can't Be Spoken

I have started reading Mikhail Bolgakov's The Master and Margarita -- a Soviet-era Faust story. I have only read Chapter 1, but it's already extremely interesting. In it, an editor, Berlioz, and a poet, Bezdomny (the poet's pseudonym, which is itself telling, since he is writing for an approved literary journal) are discussing the non-existence of Jesus when the Devil appears. The chapter is full of interesting things, but the thing I want to bring out in particular would seem to have nothing to do with theology, even if it starts off with a theological point-- a point made immediately after a discussion of the weaknesses of the rational proofs of God's existence.

The Devil/unknown man/stranger asks: "But this is the question that disturbs me---if there is no God, then who, one wonders, rules the life of man and keeps the world in order?"

'Man rules himself,' said Bezdomny angrily in answer to such an obviously absurd question.

'I beg your pardon,' retorted the stranger quietly, 'but to rule one must have a precise plan worked out for some reasonable period ahead. Allow me to enquire how man can control his own affairs when he is not only incapable of compiling a plan for some laughably short term, such as, say, a thousand years, but cannot even predict what will happen to him tomorrow?'

'In fact,' here the stranger turned to Berlioz, 'imagine what would happen if you, for instance, were to start organizing others and yourself, and you developed a taste for it---then suddenly you got . . . he, he . . .' at this the foreigner smiled sweetly, as though the thought of a heart attack gave him pleasure. . . . 'Yes, a heart attack,' he repeated the word sonorously, grinning like a cat, 'and that's the end of you as an organizer! No one's fate except your own interests you any longer. Your relations start lying to you. Sensing that something is amiss you rush to a specialist, then to a charlatan, and even perhaps to a fortune-teller. Each of them is as useless as the other, as you know perfectly well. And it all ends in tragedy: the man who thought he was in charge is suddenly reduced to lying prone and motionless in a wooden box and his fellow men, realising that there is no more sense to be had of him, incinerate him.

'Sometimes it can be even worse: a man decides to go to Kislovodsk,'---here the stranger stared at Berlioz---'a trivial matter you may think, but he cannot because for no good reason he suddenly jumps up and falls under a tram! You're not going to tell me that he arranged to do that himself? Wouldn't it be nearer the truth to say that someone quite different was directing his fate?'
In this seeming theological discussion of whether or not man is the master of his own fate -- or if it is rather God directing all -- we have the Devil arguing against the very possibility of economic planning. Note that the Devil specifically uses the terms "plan" and "organizer" -- the very things socialists believed, at the time (1938), were possible. Note too that the argument isn't about whether any particular person can rule him/herself, but rather whether or not man, as a collective, can rule, plan, and organize himself.

But the Devil points out something: in order to plan such that man rules man, man would have to be able to predict with perfect precision everything that will happen, including accidents. Mere accidents throw off the plan, meaning man cannot rule.

More than that, he points out that for all of the rhetoric about organizing for the collective good, all the altruistic organizer has to have happen is a heart attack for him to suddenly become quite concerned about his own personal well-being and to then ignore all of his efforts for his fellow man. More, under stress, the Devil points out that man will not only make rational choices -- the doctor -- but will even make increasingly irrational choices in order to save his own life. Thus, man is not ruled by reason alone -- nor will he ever be. And no man will work for man as a collective when his own individual life is at stake. The fact of self-preservation belies the dream of self-sacrifice for the collective --or of the possibility of the pure rule of reason.

One can imagine the publishing atmosphere in the Soviet Union in 1938, when this novel was finished. Bulgakov had been publishing (not without controversy) for years, and he no doubt expected this novel to be published as well. He thus puts all approved and appropriate views into the mouths of Berlioz and Bezdomny, while criticizing the very foundations on which Soviet rule was made though the mouth of the Devil. The Devil, of course, is the most evil of all evil; the Devil doesn't even exist, and is proof of the irrationality of man the Soviet Man was overcoming. To put these ideas into the mouth of the Devil was, therefore, safe. One could criticize the ideas on which Soviet central planning was based so long as that criticism was out of the mouth of an irrationally-based, nonexistent metaphor for evil. And more, the Devil is the adversary of God -- and if the Adversary is enunciating anti-communist ideas, does that not make him the adversary of the communists? -- and does that not suggest Communism has replaced/become God?

Ah, the wonders of literature! The wonders of metaphor -- compact or extended! One can say so much, and say so many dangerous things, and pretend innocence of it all. Especially in satire. Just give the Devil the words, and you can communicate them with plausible deniability. If you see the Devil appear in a work of literature, be on the lookout for him to speak what cannot be spoken.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sociological Eye

I love the fact that on the same day that I finished Randall Collins' The Sociology of Philosophies, I discovered Collins has a blog. A new period reading for me (given how rarely he posts), it seems.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Scientists and Engineers Need Literature

I have a new article at The Pope Center: Scientists and Engineers Need Literature. There are those who think the arts need no justification. Part of this is due to Kant's idea of art for art's sake. Since the rest of the world apparently disagrees -- especially those paying for higher education -- it is vital we investigate all of the reasons why we need the arts. Especially stories. We spend a lot of time and energy on stories -- telling stories, listening to or watching stories -- so there must be an adaptive reason to do so. We spend most of our waking hours involved with stories, and it makes no sense that we would do so if there was not a powerful adaptive reason to do so. That is what we need to investigate.