Sunday, July 28, 2013

Virtue and/as the Golden Mean

The more philosophy I read, the more I find virtue described as a golden mean -- or moderate position -- between two vices. Lao Tzu does so in the Tao Te Ching. Aristotle does so in the Nichmachean ethics. And Francist Bacon in his Novum Organum repeats Aristotle's views, as does Nietzsche in The Twilight of the Idols.

Aristotle argues that virtues are means between two vices -- extremes at either end. Cowardice (extreme caution) and rashness (extreme lack of caution) are vices, with courage being the virtuous mean. Murder (purposeful killing of a fellow human being) and refusing to even defend oneself and one's family are vices, with self-defense (or the willingness to engage in self-defense) being the virtuous mean.

Bacon argues that those who overspecialize and with their hammer treat all things as nails are one extreme, while those who are too broadly interdisciplinary but only have a shallow knowledge are another extreme, with both depth and breadth being the mean (one thinks of F.A. Hayek's observation that economists ought to be interdisciplinarians -- they should have a deep knowledge of something, in this case economics, and a broad knowledge of other things, so their economics isn't stupid). Bacon also observes that "There are found in some minds given to an extreme admiration of antiquity, others to an extreme love and appetite for novelty; but few so duly tempered that they can hold the mean, neither carping at what has been well laid down by the ancients, nor despising what is well introduced by the moderns." (I think, again, of Hayek and his advocating of evolutionary traditionalism -- or, spontaneous order.)

Nietzsche argues that the two extremes are giving in to the passions and negation of the passions. Always giving in to sex is rape, but pure negation denies a real aspect of human life and thus a rejection of life; the mean is what Nietzsche calls the spiritualization of the passions -- in the case of sex, love and marriage. One can either be a glutton or fast to death, or find the spiritualization of eating and eat enough for one's constitution and enjoy eating, to boot. With his idea of spiritualization, we see a mechanism for turning the vice of excess into the golden mean virtue.

Sadly, many who claim to have been influenced by Nietzsche have managed to fail to notice is advocacy for the mean as virtue -- even though he ended his career with this idea, above, and began his career with the argument that the highest form of art was tragedy, which was the mean of the extremes of Apollonian and Dionysian drives and art. It would not be a bad idea for us to return to the insights of Lao Tzu, Aristotle, Bacon, and Nietzsche.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Creative Intelligence and Being an Artist

In Creative Intelligence, Bruce Nussbaum lays out what he calls the five competencies of creative intelligence:

1. Knowledge Mining
2. Framing
3. Playing
5. Pivoting

The last one is the movement from creating to making, which emphasizes the fact that having a great idea isn't enough. You have to follow up on that great idea and actually make something.

All of these are features of every great artist who has ever existed. Great poets have read the great poets, and even memorized many of their poems. All artists engage in framing. Art is play (a nonserious thing done seriously). And the artist has to move from conception to making, and actually make the work.

One could make the argument that every team whose purpose is to be creative really needs a poet, a playwright, a painter, a sculptor, a musician, etc. on their team to keep the team thinking as truly creative people think, and to keep the moving on to turning the ideas into things.

I will note in particular that Nussbaum's "framing" is something people involved in theater ought to find of interest. Nussbaum says there are three kinds of framing:

1. Narrative Framing, or "how we interpret the world" (35)
2. Engagement Framing, or "how we interact with each other" (35)
3. What-If Framing, or "how we imagine the unthinkable to innovate beyond our wildest dreams" (35)

The first, Narrative Framing, should be of obvious interest to people involved in theater. However, plays are staged, and thus, how people interact with each other is also vitally important. How many playwrights leave those decisions to the director and/or actors? How much could/should playwrights think about their Engagement Framing? And finally, one of the primary roles of any artist, playwright included, is the creation of What-If scenarios. What else is narrative art but What-If scenarios, designed to teach us how to behave (or not behave) in a variety of situations (Engagements).

In a sense, these are all things every artist understands -- but it is sometimes beneficial to have such things made explicit, to think about what it is we are really doing as artists.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Time and Austrian Economics

One of the distinguishing features of the Austrian school of economics is that it takes time seriously. Much mainstream economics could be described as taking place on an atemporal pin-tip. Because Austrian economists view the economy as an unfolding process, time is necessarily central to their theorizing. 

Since time is such an important element to any economic theory that views the economy as an unfolding process, we have to face the question, “What is time”? The person who has perhaps investigated this idea the fullest is Julius T. Fraser, whose theory that as the universe becomes more complex, those new entities experience time in new ways, is also a theory of the emergence of freedom.

J.T. Fraser argued in books like Time: The Familiar Stranger and Time, Conflict, and Human Values that time is experienced by different levels of complexity in different ways, and that those complex levels emerged from previous levels. That experience, he termed umwelts. He posited that there are six umwelts: atemporal, prototemporal, eotemporal, biotemporal, nootemporal, and sociotemporal. Each of the later, more complex experiences of time also contain the less complex experiences. But let us look at each.

Atemporal – The time experience of the pure, chaotic energy at the moment of the Big Bang (or inside a black hole) is that of no time passing, or atemporality.

Prototemporal – This is the probabilistic, fragmented time experience of the particle-waves of quantum physics.

Eotemporality – This is the deterministic time experience of macro-objects, the physicists’ time “t”.  Events at this level are countable and orderable, but have no preferred time direction.

Biotemporality – Living organisms have a past, present, and future in a way nonliving things do not. At this level, life-serving goals and intentions emerge. This is, of course, the beginning of a time experience which makes the most sense to us, as living things.

Nootemporality – Humans have much longer temporal horizons than do other living things. As mature adults, we are aware not just of our own births and imminent deaths, but of a time before we existed, and of a future in which we will no longer exist. Here our intentionality is aimed at concrete and symbolic goals.

Sociotemporality – Fraser points out that this level is mostly theoretical, and difficult to distinguish from the nootemporal, since it is, after all, made up of humans. It is hard to theorize because we are viewing it from the inside. With nootemporality, we can understand it through introspection. The other four, we can understand through scientific research. But the patterns of society, and the temporal experience of society, cannot be so thoroughly understood as the rest. The best we can do is understand it as any particular culture’s collective understanding of the nature of time.

Each of the above levels of time experience also represents the emergence of a new physical level of reality, each exponentially more complex than the level before. The first thing we should note is that the scientific view of time is primarily that of eotemporality, or Newtonian time. It is unfortunately applied to the biological, human, and social sciences as well. But we should be able to see that we have fundamentally different processes at each of these levels – fundamentally different processes that need to be understood on their own terms, using methods appropriate to those levels of complexity. 

But there are issues that concern libertarians that go beyond appropriate scientific methods. With Fraser’s model, we can see, too, how freedom unfolds in the universe. New levels emerge from the bottom-up, as elements of that lower level interact, creating new rules of interaction, that become solidified at the next level. As rules emerge from these bottom-up interactions, a new, freer level emerges. The universe becomes more complex – and more free – over time, self-organizing and emerging into freer and freer entities. And this freedom emerges in no small part because more and more time can be experienced. 

With each new level of complexity, the constituent parts are organized both by their interactions and by the emergent new order. Interacting biochemicals give rise to the living cell which in turn orders those biochemicals; interacting neurons give rise to the mind which in turn orders those neurons; interacting people give rise to social orders such as cultures, economies, governments, money, technological innovation, etc. which in turn order those people. New rules emerge at each new level; the most successful rules survive and are passed on. And those rules that provide the most freedom are the ones that have always survived. Thus, the universe has become freer over time. 

We can see, then, that the universe has self-organized from the bottom-up, with the chaos of pure energy giving rise to the probabilistic experience of particle-waves giving rise to the deterministic experience of chemistry and macrophysical objects giving rise to the life-serving goals and intentions of life itself giving rise to the concrete and symbolic goals of humans giving rise to social temporal experience. Although there is a certain amount of fee-through of time experience – given that we humans experience chaos, probability, determinism, and life-serving goals as well as concrete and symbolic goals – if one were to try to impose a less complex level of time experience on a more complex level, you would destroy that more complex level, while if one were to try to impose a more complex level of time experience on a less complex level, you would crush that less complex level. To reduce a living thing to eotemporality, you have to kill it. If you reduce sociotemporality to human concrete and symbolic goals, you will kill that society. 

This latter has, of course, been covered extensively by the Austrian economists in their ongoing fights against central planning. You cannot give society – including the economy – a goal. Doing so reduces that society’s or spontaneous order’s complexity, causing it to collapse. We humans are goal-oriented, but that does not mean spontaneous orders are or should be. With Fraser’s model of the temporal experiences of new levels of complex processes, we can see why. More, with Fraser’s model, we can see that the natural tendency of the universe is to, through bottom-up emergent processes, become freer over time. Libertarians can take great comfort in the fact that, in a real sense, cosmological history is on our side.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What It Is That I Do (as an interdisciplinarian)

As an interdisciplinarian, I reject reductionist world views. I  reject 19th century scientism (the attempt to reduce everything to simple physics), postmodernist reduction of everything to power, the tendency (left and right) to reduce everything to politics and government, the tendency of too many libertarians to reduce everything to market interactions, reduction of everything to psychology, to language, to religion, to philosophy, to aesthetics, etc. This tendency toward reductionism on the part of, perhaps, most people, makes these people tend to accuse everyone of reductionism if they have the audacity to argue from a different perspective from that person.

The world is made up of a variety of spontaneous orders, and thus of a variety of ways of understanding human social interactions (there being different kinds, they should be understood differently). There is reductionist science and emergentist science -- each requires different ways of understanding, and when the emergentist science reaches the level of human psychology and social interactions, the differences are so wide that the equation of the social sciences with the physical sciences almost appears bizarre. The physical sciences require knowledge; the social sciences require understanding. Knowledge and understanding are quite different things. The social sciences thus come much closer to philosophy and literary theory than the kinds of things we find in the physical sciences -- even as the physical sciences are finally starting to produce theories, such as the constructal law and self-organizing complexity and strange attractors and network theory, that are increasingly applicable to the social science. Still, these theories of emergent complexity require more understanding than simple knowledge.

If there are a variety of spontaneous orders in which we necessarily interact -- math, the physical sciences, technology, money/finance, the economy, the social sciences, democratic government (or the non-spontaneous order versions of government), philanthropy, philosophy, religion, and the arts -- there are a variety of ways of understanding the world, all of which are right and all of which are wrong. They are right, when taken together with the rest; they are wrong when used as the only lens through which to interpret the world. Of course, reductionism is simple and easy; understanding our complex social reality as a set of interacting spontaneous orders and organizations is, well, complex and difficult. It is far easier to be a reductionist of some kind than to even acknowledge the true complexity of the world.

Of course, those of us who are interdisciplinarians have to live with the fact that we are going to be misunderstood by the reductionists, who are always going to accuse us of reductionism when we provide evidence from an other other than the one they most prefer. The libertarian reductionist of all to market economics is going to look on me with distrust when I suggest there are political economies and gift economies as well as market economies. The postmodernist power reductionist who politicizes everything (in the worst sense of the term) can make no sense of my objection that not everything is power. They are also not too keen on scientific explanations. And the scientific reductionists, who reduce everything to math and physics, don't really think emergentist science is in fact real science. And philosophers, who are the ultimate in pursuing understanding, are the most stringent in rejecting knowledge-based science. Sadly, they equally misunderstand the social sciences, which are forms of understanding and, thus, more similar to philosophy than to the physical sciences.

All of this makes one-on-one conservations difficult for an interdisciplinarian. We are going to draw on evidence and understanding from a variety of disciplines and areas of life, and those who view things through one or even a few narrow perspectives are always going to object to those outside their perspectives and accuse the interdisciplinarian of having a narrow perspective when they do not, just because they offer arguments from outside the reductionists' perspective. The interdisciplinarian does somewhat better in writing, where they can bring scientific knowledge and philosophical understanding and mathematical idealism and real world evidence and artistic presentation together into a single work more easily. This, however, does not prevent some people from objecting that they simply don't know what it is that you do.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Criticisms of Libertarianism

If the powers-that-be feel the need to attack you, that's probably a good thing. After all, they will only attack you if they think you are strong enough to challenge them. This bodes well for libertarianism as a movement.

Of course, there are going to be criticisms that range from ridiculous smear pieces long on accusations and short on direct proof to more legitimate criticisms, as outlined by Jacob Levy. Yes, there are subsets of stupid ideas in libertarianism, broadly understood. There are Confederate apologists and conspiracy theorists, but probably no more than one would find among conservatives or leftists, respectively (they seem larger in such a small movement).

To my mind, you cannot be a libertarian and believe in either the rightness of the Confederacy or conspiracy theories. The former accepts the equation between oppression and agricultural socialism, and liberalism -- as though those can ever be reconciled. The latter accepts that order is created by powerful elites (in this they agree with the socialists), only they don't want the socialists' order. I say this latter is un-libertarian because libertarianism argues that social order emerges naturally from human social interactions. To argue otherwise is un-libertarian, un-liberal.

There also seems to be a notion that libertarianism has only been around since the early 1970s. In the contemporary American parlance, this is technically true. This is what allows people like the one I linked to in the first link to claim that if Rothbard was a racist, and Rothbard helped found libertarianism, therefore libertarianism was founded by a racists and, thus, in racist ideas. I don't want to get into whether or not "Rothbard was a racist" is in fact a truth statement; rather, I want to get into the foundations of libertarianism. While it is true that one can point to a literal date for the foundation of the Libertarian Party and, thus, make an argument that this is the foundation for libertarianism, doing so ignores the fact that libertarianism has its true foundations in classical liberalism -- in the ideas of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, et al. Classical liberalism generally opposed aristocratic government and supported democratic self-governance, opposed government interference in people's lives, including the economy, and supported the liberation of women, slaves, and other oppressed peoples. This carried over into the foundations of libertarianism, because in a real sense, libertarianism is a postmodern continuation of classical liberalism (this fact may in fact be the problem with it).

Let me make it clear what it is libertarians support.

Libertarians support the free movement of people -- we do not think people should be condemned by the accident of their birth to economic destitution and oppression. Thus, libertarians support open borders and free immigration. It should be difficult to argue that this is a racist policy. It is support for immigration restrictions which is racist and unjust.

Libertarians support drug legalization and ending the War on Drugs. Given that the War on Drugs grossly disproportionately targets minorities (despite the fact that whites are no less likely to use them), libertarians are supporting a policy that will overwhelmingly benefit those minorities being targeted by our legal system. It is support for the War on Drugs which is racist and unjust.

Libertarians support equality under the law and the rule of law. Special privileges for any group is a violation of both of these and leads to group conflict. Favoring one group over another is unjust. And if the groups are racial groups, it's racist; if the groups are men and women, it's sexist; if the groups are one economic group or another, it's cronyist. In all cases, we see collectivism at work. Racism and sexism are forms of collectivism, and libertarianism opposes collectivism. Libertarians think each person should be judged on their own merits.

Libertarians support eliminating the minimum wage, an idea originally developed by progressives because it would result in the unemployment of minorities. It continues to disproportionately affect minorities and teens. One result is that teens have a harder time finding employment, leaving them bored. Bored teenagers is a recipe for trouble.

The progressives may have abandoned the racist reasons progressives originally gave for their social policies, including support for the minimum wage, but they have not given up the social policies whose original intentions were to harm racial minorities and others progressives considered to be "undesirable" (eugenics was also a progressivist idea, and was only abandoned after their policy was adopted by Hitler, who demonstrated to the world what the eugenicists really wanted). It should be obvious to everyone that the libertarian opposition to government interference in people's lives would extend to racial, gender, and reproductive choices. There is nothing more un-libertarian than eugenics. Indeed, the early progressives' support for eugenics was an integral part of their opposition to classical liberalism in general, and free markets in particular.

I would also like to address the absurd dualism proposed by opponents of classical liberalism/libertarianism -- individualism vs. collectivism. Opponents of liberalism argue that if you support individualism, you oppose all forms of social living. This is reasonable if the only choices are individualism or collectivism. But this is simply not true. Yet, this is perhaps where a real division occurs between classical liberals and libertarians. Classical liberals reject the radical individualism that leads to collectivism of Rousseau and the progressives and postmodernists whose ideas derive from his. However, the libertarians are in fact rational constructivists, just like the progressives and neoconservatives. Rational constructivism can in fact lead one to support for free markets (Ayn Rand), fascism (Heidegger), or communism (Saretre). However, Hayek demonstrated the weakness of this position for classical liberalism. The strain of classical liberalism that emerged from the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers sees people as social individuals -- we are always already a social species, and our individualism emerges out of our social interactions.

Classical liberals believe humans are social mammals and that collectivism in fact undermines society in all its aspects. Where classical liberals support the peaceful co-existence of the economy, democratic self-governance, religion, science, technological innovation, the arts, philosophy, philanthropy, etc., both neoconservatives and progressives seek to reduce all social interactions to the solitary collectivism of government control. All of the different orders listed are to be subsumed into the government -- with some of those orders utterly destroyed if necessary (i.e., the anti-religious tendency in progressivism or the anti-science tendency in neoconservatism -- and progressivism, when the science is inconvenient to their ideology). Too many libertarians, following this logic, tend to subsume everything into the market economy. They tend equally toward reductionism, only into the market order rather than the democratic one.

If we return to the issue of the Confederacy, we can see the problems with libertarians supporting it if we take a Gravesean view. The southern states were not liberal, but rather were aristocratic in nature. Thus their recreation of serfdom in slavery. This would put their psychosocial level as authoritative (4th level, or blue, for those who know the patterns), whereas classical liberalism would be 5th level (orange), and libertarianism/progressivism/neoconservatism/Existentialism/postmodernism would be egalitarian (6th level, green). I have argued before that the integrationist (2nd tier, 1st level; yellow) level is where you find bleeding heart libertarianism.

To return to the topic at hand, the aristocratic (and, thus, anti-liberal) south took on liberal rhetoric in order to try to make a case for their position (much the same way the progressives, to mask their support for racist policies, adopted the term "liberal" and much liberal rhetoric). Some of the collectivist arguments of the authoritative level are in fact attractive to those in the egalitarian level (thus, much neoconservative thought), and this is true of the postmodernist libertarians as well (the postmodernist element of libertarianism is why they have a tendency toward conspiracy theories, vs. classical liberals and bleeding heart libertarians, who reject such notions). This is no doubt why we can find supporters for neo-Confederacy ideas within libertarian circles.

This hardly means that, because one can find a few kooks in a movement that everyone in the movement are kooks. I mean, communists and socialists have hardly considered Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al as black stains on their ideas and movement. They even proudly wear shirts with the image of a sociopathic mass murderer and racist -- Che Guevara -- without a second thought. This is not a defense of our kooks; rather, it is to point out the utter hypocrisy of libertarianism's leftist opponents. Libertarians would do well to reject the kooks. I myself reject the idea of a "big tent" if by "big tent" that means welcoming apologists for the Confederacy and conspiracy theorists. Those people should not be welcome. Those people harm the movement and prevent it from being taken seriously by many more people. I would like to argue that those people aren't even libertarians. In the case of Confederacy apologists, I would argue they are not. Sadly, the conspiracy theorists -- a group we share with the postmodern left and neoconservatism -- are, as least in the postmodernist sense, libertarians. But they are not classical liberals -- nor bleeding heart libertarians. If I am any of the above, I would consider myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Or, perhaps, more complex than that -- a complexity realist.