Friday, October 31, 2014

Social Justice and Collective Guilt

F.A. Hayek once argued that "social justice" was a nonsense term and that he couldn't find anyone who could define it. Yet, the term has managed to stick with us over the decades. Where does it come from? What does it mean?

Social justice makes sense in light of the emergence of collective guilt as a social regulator and a certain idea of privilege associated with it. The dynamics is as follows:
Group A is privileged relative to Group B
The world is a zero sum game
Therefore, what Group A has was necessarily taken from Group B
Therefore, Group A should feel guilty about their privilege
And, equally, therefore, Group B deserves social justice from Group A
The idea of social justice necessarily emerges out of the emergence of collective guilt as a social regulator. It is no coincidence that the idea of social justice was developed by Marxist Catholic theologians. It is a different kind of thing from what one typically associates with "justice" when it is associated with either guilt cultures or responsibility cultures. These tend to be more individualistic in nature, even if there can be a collective component to some notions of justice within guilt culture.

The difference is that in guilt cultures, "our" group is just, but your group that threatens our law/principles is necessarily unjust. Keep in mind that the Inquisition was a court system designed to hand out justice. Within responsibility cultures, justice is always necessarily individualistic. You are responsible for your actions; others are not responsible for who you are and what you do; justice is thus related to your actions and your actions alone.

With the idea of collective guilt, you can actually make the argument that your own group is guilty and that therefore justice is owed other groups. It is still group-think and fundamentally tribalistic, but what is gone is the idea that one's own tribe is necessarily and by definition good while others' are bad. By breaking down the us-good/you-bad dichotomy (or, all too often, reversing it), one can develop the idea that other groups are being treated unfairly as groups by other groups as groups. Those groups which are being treated unjustly need some sort of reparation for the injustices they have suffered, while those engaging in the injustices ought to feel guilty, as a group, about those injustices.

But how does a group perpetuate injustice against another group? Through institutions. Now, it is certainly true that there are institutions within pretty much any given society/culture which privilege one group over another. Often by design (Jim Crow laws, minimum wages, anti-drug laws, etc.). While many who promote social justice argue in favor of redistribution, another option is institutional reform and/or the creation of new institutions. There is certainly something to be said about the kinds of criticism which arise out of the idea of social justice. This is why there are even libertarian arguments for social justice. But of course, the solutions are typically going to be different in nature.

Thus we can see that social justice is in fact a coherent idea. One just have to understand it in relation to the right social regulator. As a part of collective guilt culture, it makes perfect sense, even if it appears to be utter nonsense to responsibility cultures, guilt cultures, or shame cultures. Naturally, for those who are regulated by naturalistic principles, social justice is hardly nonsense, even if it is something which, through institutional reform, we can hope to move well beyond.

Racine's Phedre, the Law, and Liberty

This week we have been discussing Racine's Phedre, comparing it, of course, to Seneca's and Euripides' plays on the same myth.

In Euripides' play, Phaedra feels guilt, then shame at confessing her guilt, leading her to commit suicide and write a letter accusing Hippolytus of raping her in order to ensure her children won't be shamed by her actions. Shame is social, and it affects one's family.

In Seneca's play, Phaedra feels guilt, then takes responsibility for her feelings, leading her to telling Hippolytus how she feels. His answer to her angers her, she falsely accuses him of rape, and Hippolytus dies. She feels such guilt that she commits suicide.

In each of these cases, there is a retreat to an earlier social regulator, which results in Phaedra's suicide. Euripides' Phaedra is in a shame culture, but feels guilt; when she retreats to shame, she commits suicide and makes her false accusation. Seneca's Phaedra is in a guilt culture; her attempt to avoid responsibility results in her false accusation, and her overwhelming guilt causes her to commit suicide.

In Racine's play, Phedre feels guilt under the the law of Theseus. Indeed, the law of Theseus also prevents Hippolytus from acting on his own feelings toward Aricia (a love interest introduced by Racine). The law makes each feel guilty about who they love. When it is reported that Theseus is dead, the law is lifted, and Phedre and Hippolytus each pursue their interests. While Racine claimed that he gave Hippolytus a love interest to make him more flawed in relation to the law, I think most people would have been happy for Hippolytus to be free to pursue his love, especially given that she is clearly in love with him as well. Phedre is still in a problematic position in going after Hippolytus, but she is freer to do so given she is no longer his step-mother, given Theseus' death. Regardless, the removal of the law frees people, and they are willing to become the causes of their actions, following on their desires, making them responsible agents. However, Theseus is not dead, and his return brings back the law. Because of the return of the law (and the guilt that comes with it), Hippolyus is killed and Phedre commits suicide.

Here we have a situation in which the social regulator -- the law -- is removed in a quite literal way. With its removal, guilt disappears. With its return, guilt returns as well. The retreat to the older social regulator -- from responsibility for one's own actions to guilt in the face of the law -- triggers the tragic outcomes.

The variations on the Phaedra/Hippoytus myth are very revealing in regards to the nature of our social regulators. But while Senea's and Racine's version deal with the transition from guilt to responsibility culture, it is Racine's version that best demonstrates how this occurs.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Creative Genius is Crazy-Smart

Why aren't you a creative genius? Is it because you're not smart enough? Probably not. Perhaps you're not crazy enough. Probably not. Perhaps the problem is that you're neither smart nor crazy enough.

According to Dean Simonton, "The most important process underlying strokes of creative genius is cognitive disinhibition—the tendency to pay attention to things that normally should be ignored or filtered out by attention because they appear irrelevant." But that's hardly enough. This describes the mentally ill as well. What differentiates the inability of the mentally ill to filter out things from creative people is that the latter also have high I.Q.s that allow them to filter the world in a more conscious way.

Indeed, little things I see, little things I hear spin out into stories and poems all the time. A fragment of conversation, an odd thing noticed out of the corner of my eye, random things which pop up in my mind, into my consciousness. I have to consciously filter out these things. Things others, apparently, filter out unconsciously.

This lack of filter means I am bombarded by sensory information and mental concepts. I can get easily distracted by them. They keep my attention. I could be mistaken for having ADD, but perhaps that's not a mistake. Perhaps ADD is a manifestation of cognitive disinhibition -- perhaps enough to create an attention deficit, but not enough to make mental illness. Again, intelligence makes the difference. Intelligence is the filtering device, what turns the noticed things into something new. The instinctive filterer is replaced by a more conscious one. But that means one has to learn how to do it.

How does one create the discipline necessary to turn one's cognitive disinhibition into creative genius? Intelligence is not enough, though it is a necessary element. What is needed is the right environment, one which praises and values creativity. Not in an abstract way, but directly, to you, in your life. Parents telling you that your picture you drew is awesome. Teachers praising your art work and writing skills. Encouragement is positive feedback, driving you to want to turn all those little details you've noticed into something new for others to see. This encouragement can turn internal, acting as a self-selector, a way of concentrating those noticed bits and pieces into creative works.

The difference between madness and creative genius can often be the difference in environment, in the encouragement of others. A support network can make you become your best; the lack of one can drive you mad. The example of John Nash is apt: he was at his most creative and least mad when he had a supportive network.

Does our current culture support the creative genius? Or does it drive them underground, into the shadows, attempt to medicate them all away? Such people are disruptors of the status quo, keep the world off kilter, challenge preconceptions. Conformists cultures such as ours (being a collective guilt culture, our culture is doubly conformist) despise disruptors, challengers, creative geniuses. This is why the genius is in retreat. It is culturally rejected, denied and medicated away when possible. But without it, society will meet with stagnation, merely maintain without creating nearly as much value and wealth in the world as it would with them. Only if a creative genius happens to have the right family support can he or she develop and create. But our institutions increasingly do not support such people. In fact, too often, they actively discriminate against them. Because they do, there is less value, less wealth, less beauty in the world than there could be. All exchanged for the sake of the kind of comfort one can only have in an impossibly unchanging world.

Mercy, Not Justice

Isaiah Berlin identifies in his piece on the role of ideas in the mass atrocities committed through the 20th century guilt and collective guilt cultures as the perpetuators of those atrocities:
The root conviction which underlies this [that creating the ideal society is worth killing people] is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.
We see this in any society in which some external Law develops against which one must compare oneself. Individually, this results in the development of guilt (Medieval Christian Europe, Islam, the Roman Republic/Empire under Roman Law). Socially, this can and too often does lead to atrocities designed to protect the Law (the Inquisition, Islamic terrorism, crucifying rebels and campaigns against philosophers and Christians).

But in collective guilt cultures, the scale of the atrocities can increase exponentially, because the scale of actions condemned is much greater. In guilt cultures, so long as you abide by the rules of the external Law, you can pretty much do whatever else you want to do. That Law actually covered and covers far less than one might realize. In fact, anyone could come under the law, so in many ways it was more inclusive than is the Law that creates collective guilt. After all, one is guilty for being rich from market activities (in the case of Marxists), the member of a particular ethnic group (the Jews in the case of national socialist Germany), etc. We can perhaps count ourselves lucky that as collective guilt culture emerged in the capitalist West in the past several decades that it has had so many "guilty" -- men, those of European descent, the rich (but only if the rich own private businesses), etc. -- that it becomes increasingly difficult to commit mass murder against them. But that still does not mean that pernicious ideas aren't behind the Law underlying collective guilt culture.

As Berlin points out, the Law of guilt and collective guilt cultures are incompatible with people pursuing their own goals: "The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other." The discoveries made in the pursuit of knowledge makes some people uncomfortable. "Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation." New things disrupt perfection.

But most importantly, the Law of both guilt and collective guilt cultures cannot tolerate mercy, for mercy means allowing those who are harming society to "get away with it." If one's view of justice requires society to match some ideal, mercy allows imperfection in. We cannot allow imperfection in, thus justice turns unmerciful. When that happens, the only solution is to introduce stricter and stricter laws and punishments. Even three strikes and you're out can become too lenient. Perfect organization of society cannot tolerate difference.

But self-organizing network processes not only can, but are most complex and robust when heterogeneous. But such processes are, fundamentally, anarchic. Rules emerge naturally through the interactions people have with others, so the world is certainly knowable and (humanly) predictable, even while also being fundamentally uncertain. But that just makes it a more natural process. Utopia is truly and always nowhere. Attempts to create it will always result in that utopia being built on a foundation of corpses.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Notes on Plato's Phaedrus as Comic Inversion of Euripides' Hippolytus

Plato's Phaedrus was written to be a comic-philosophical inversion of Euripides' Hippolytus.

Hippolytus begins with speeches about love -- with the main emphasis being that love is madness and madness is bad, therefore love is bad. The nurse provides a minority view that love is rational and therefore good.

Phaedrus begins with speeches about love -- with the main emphasis being that love is madness and madness is good, therefore love is good. Lysias provides a minority view that favoring the nonlover is rational and that this is therefore good.

Hippolytus ends with a discussion of the relationship among writing, speaking, and truth, with Theseus making his decision on his belief that what is written down must be true.

Phaedrus ends with a discussion of the relationship among writing, speaking, and truth, with Socrates arguing that you learn more truth from dialogue than writing because you cannot have the writer there to question -- an observation which one can take back to Hippolytus to see Theseus' error more clearly (though the audience does know why he is wrong).

Phaedrus has the same relationship to Lysias as Hippoytus has to Artemis. Phaedrus loves the one who wrote a speech criticizing love and favoring the nonlover; Hippolytus loves a virgin goddess, with whom he can never consummate that love. This is one of those inversions because Lysias wants to have sex with the nonlover, while Artemis refuses to have sex with the lover.

On the other hand, Lysias, as a writer, is the mirror of Phaedra herself. Neither are available to be questioned about what they wrote.  Lysias thus is Phaedra/Artemis; the attainable mad lover/unattainable non-lover; this thus exposes Lysias for what he truly is (the wily character of Socrates' first speech "against" love).

The above two points also makes it clear that Phaedrus is Hippolytus, not Phaedra, as one would expect. In a certain sense Lysias, in his ideas of the rationality of the nonlover, is also an inverse of the Nurse, with her ideas of the rationality of love, and Socrates plays the anti-Phaedra/Hippolytus/Chorus in his affirmation of love as madness and madness as good.

Euripides' portrayal of Aphrodite is a decidedly negative one; she comes off as petty, spiteful, vengeful, and cruel. This, in combination with what Phaedra and Hippolytus say about Aphrodite/love and with the fact that Phaedra's love for Hippolytus results in both her and Hippolytus' deaths, portrays love in a negative light.

After Socrates gives his speech in which a character argues that the nonlover is to be preferred over the lover, he expresses concern that Aphrodite will punish him for speaking ill of her (which is what she says she is punishing Hippolytus over). He also observes that Aphrodite, being a goddess, cannot be bad in any way (contradicting Euripides' portrayal of her). Socrates then gives his speech arguing love is good (thus enacting what Hippolytus should have done to make the play un-tragic).

Socrates further argues that just because love is madness, that does not mean that love is bad; there are, after all, other forms of madness which are recognized as good, including the madness of the Muses -- who would have been understood as influencing Euripides. Since Euripides is a poet, he is made mad by the Muses; it is thus ironic that he is portraying love as bad because it is a kind of madness.

If Plato's dialogue is a philosophical response to Euripides' play, then when Socrates says that his first speech and his second speech are the same speech, one can also understand this to mean that the dialogue and the play are "the same speech," but at different levels of understanding (with the poets being 4th from the bottom and philosophers being at the top, as per his ranking in the dialogue). Plato could thus be arguing that Euripides' understanding of love is accurate to his level of understanding, but that Plato's work demonstrates an understanding of love that is the most accurate a human can attain.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Will Never "Give Back" to My Community (but I Will Give)

There are few concepts I dislike more than "giving back." I dislike it because underlying it is a false premise and it is undermines the very virtue of giving.

This is a term that has bothered me for a while, but a recent report on local news about a woman who volunteered at the children's hospital really drove it home for me when the reporter described what she was doing as "giving back." 

First, the false premise. If I am "giving back" that means that I have more than I should. When I give a cashier $20 for something that costs $17.70, the cashier will be giving back $2.30 in change. The cashier, momentarily, has more money than (s)he should, which is why the money is given back. The idea of "giving back" to the community thus implies that the one giving back has taken more than he or she should have. This would properly describe a thief making reparations, but it should not describe acts of generosity. One only gives back under the conditions of a zero sum game. The thief thus properly is giving back if he has to give back what he took. For the same reason, politicians can be properly understood to be giving back if any money ever leaves their hands. They are playing a zero sum game, so they necessarily are giving back if they donate money to anyone.

But people participating in the private sector, in the profit-making economy, are playing a positive sum game. That means they are creating wealth and value in the world. Others benefit as much -- often more -- than they do from their activities. So when a person starts a business in a community, that person is benefiting that community, creating value in that community and creating wealth for that community. Having taken nothing, that person has nothing whatsoever to give back.

The absurdity of the concept of "giving back" is demonstrated quite strongly with the woman volunteering at the children's hospital. For her to give back, she had to have taken something from the children to give back. This woman has taken nothing; she has done nothing but give.

And that leads me to my second point. When you say that woman is "giving back," you are making her generosity less virtuous. You are saying the recipients deserve specifically her time and money. She owes it to those children to volunteer to try to make their lives better, more fun. Her generosity comes from her not owing anyone anything, but choosing to give anyway.

A business owner who opens a business in a community is thus benefiting that community by his mere presence in that community. He is providing jobs and goods and/or services, creating value and creating wealth. The community is already better off because of what he is doing as a business owner. He has taken from no one to get what he has gotten; what he has gotten is a poor reflection of the value he created, value he necessarily shared in creating through voluntary trades with others. He does not owe the community anything. He provided goods and/or services that community needed; he provided jobs that community needed. The community in turn rewarded him, making him wealthy enough to have enough excess that he is capable, if he wants, to be philanthropic.

If we consider the fact that no market exchange can or will happen unless both people are better off -- unless more value is created -- it makes sense to understand that excess value each gives the other as a gift as well. The business owner has been giving to the community by simply having a successful business. The community members have been giving to the business owner because he offers them the gifts of increased value.

So the business owner does not give back when he is generous. He is giving. Anyone who gives to others, whether they are a business owner or a current or former employee, is giving, is being generous, because they have participated in a positive sum game, and from the benefit they have given, give more from the benefit they have received.

And that is why I consider the term "giving back" as a way of saying "giving" not just objectionable, but downright odious.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Where Have All the Geniuses (and Heroes, Saints, etc.) Gone?

A brilliant article at The Nautilus declares that the genius is dead.The premise is wrong, but the content of the article is, for the most part, right. The cult of genius as a dominant cultural force is dead, of course, but the cult of genius as a remnant cultural force is not.

The author himself demonstrates how this is true in his observation that the genius replaced the saint. But why did the genius replace the saint? And why didn't the genius actually replace the saint (we still have people who believe in saints, after all)?

The idea of genius is a product of a particular psychosocial level of complexity. In the same way that the level that gave us guilt as a driving social regulator gave us the saint, the level that gives us responsibility as a driving social regulator also gave us the genius as the exemplar of what it means to be human. This being the case, one would expect to see different exemplars at each level of psychosocial complexity. And we do.

The tribal level gives us Caregivers.
Shame cultures give us Heroes.
Guilt cultures give us Saints.
Responsibility cultures give us Geniuses.
Collective Guilt cultures give us something tantamount to Secular Saints.

Given that the above have all given us not just particular psychologies, but fully developed societies as well, the exemplars are easy to identify. But we should see a pattern here. Caregivers, Saints, and Secular Saints are similar types; so, too, are Heroes and Geniuses. We would expect, then a Naturalistic Principles culture to give rise to something similar to a Hero or Genius (given people at this level tend to be interdisciplinary, perhaps a Universal Genius?), and a Global Contextualism culture to give rise to something similar to a Caregiver/Saint (perhaps a Global Caregiver?).

So the genius has not gone away. (S)He has just been joined and superseded by the Collective Guilt culture and their pantheon of secular saints who fight for social justice. In fact, the "democratization" of "genius" is part and parcel of this psychosocial level, and how it dissipates the idea of genius. But those whose lives are regulated by Responsibility will of course continue to believe in the Genius, just like those in the Guilt cultures still believe in Saints and those in Shame cultures still believe in Heroes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Privilege and Collective Guilt

There is nothing like trying to engage someone whose morals are guided by collective guilt to really bring out the main features of that particular social regulator.

One of the main elements of collective guilt is that it is completely unprincipled. It is anti-foundational to the extreme, not even finding a foundation in our evolved psychologies (which they ultimately deny to even exist). Being unprincipled, such people do not engage in arguments, but rather move the goalposts around to make sure that you, their opponent, are in whatever is an oppressive, "privileged" group relative to themselves. Then they don't have to actually take your arguments seriously. You are just a mouthpiece for privilege and oppression.

This tactic goes back to the foundational philosophers of collective guilt -- Rousseau and Marx. Rousseau divided us into civilized (corrupt) and noble savage (uncorrupt). Marx of course divided us into bourgeoisie (corrupt) and proletariat (uncorrupt). If you could not see the truth of Rousseau's philosophy, it was because civilization had corrupted you. If you could not see the truth of Marx's philosophy, it was because you were bourgeoisie or were pacified by the opiate of religion. Of course, with Marx we also get the idea of a privileged class, and the egalitarian psychology has really run with that one of late.

What this has eventually turned into is the pantheon of privileged/unprivileged categories: bourgeoisie/proletariat, white/minority, men/women, 1%/99%, straight/GLBT, etc. Attempts to break down these categories are seen as the privileged attempting to enforce their privilege. Rather, inverting the categories is what's important. The "discovery" of "The White Racial Slur We've All Been Looking For" is prime evidence of this. It's less important to get people to stop using racial slurs than it is to find one for the privileged. This allows one to invert the categories, to declare what was "inferior" as "superior," and vice versa.

Except, we still end up with the idea that there is inferior and superior. We still end up with the idea of privilege. Rather than privileging the unprivileged, and vice versa, shouldn't we be trying to undermine the idea of privilege itself? To declare that you are not privileged simply because of your group membership, nor unprivileged (or underprivileged) because of some other group membership?

And consider the complete mess this makes of things? Am I privileged? I have a Ph.D. (privileged) and I'm "white" (privileged) and I'm male (privileged) and I'm heterosexual (privileged). But I was raised working class (unprivileged), I'm a member of the 99% (unprivileged) and I have Asperger's (unprivileged). And I have extreme minority political and social viewpoints (unprivileged). Also, my support for women's rights, gay rights, the elimination of political privileges for the wealthy, etc. should also make me an honorary member of the unprivileged. Except that my extreme minority political viewpoints -- not being postmodern leftist -- preclude that. Thus, I get accused of speaking from a position of privilege. Which would be a huge surprise to pretty much everyone who actually knows me.

My rejection of this perspective lies neither in thinking that there is no such thing as privilege, nor in declaring that white, heterosexual males are themselves a victim class -- victimized by postmodern leftist ideology, the dominant ideology of the day. Classifying white, heterosexual males as victims is absurd on the face of it. Thinking of them as a coherent group is also absurd, though. Many are privileged -- and many are privileged precisely because they are wealthy, white, and male. But many other people are privileged for a variety of other reasons. Is the President of the United States not privileged because he's not white? Give me a break! Declaring the most powerful man in the world a victim is absurdity upon absurdity.

What we need to realize is that privileges are primarily granted and reinforced by our political institutions. And by many of our social institutions, whose structures are intimately influenced by our political institutions. The bureaucratization of our institutions is downright harmful to many people -- especially those of us on the autism spectrum, who find active discrimination against us by those institutions. We do horribly in situations calling for endless meetings and communal gatherings, wanting rather to just be left alone to work. Outside of Silicon Valley, there are few employment opportunities in which work is actually placed above socializing. These are social institutions that privilege neurotypicals over those on the autism spectrum. I have experienced it repeatedly. In this particular case, it is not necessarily direct government influence (direct granting of privilege to particular individuals or groups), but influence on the structures of other institutions in the creation of more, larger bureaucracies.

The problem ultimately lies in people treating others as members of groups rather than as individuals. I find it hard to believe that reinforcing group-based thinking is the way to get out of group-based thinking; it is as absurd as thinking that finding a racial slur for privileged whites is the solution to eliminating racism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A New Dionysia? Could a Play Contest Transform Cultures?

Many inner city cultures continue to be shame cultures. We see this in the demand that one be "respected" whether or not one has in fact acted in a respectable manner. The problems with having a large shame subculture in a more complex culture involve such things as discounting education and a kind of rebelliousness that leads to criminality. This is less of a problem if one enters into the shame culture as a young teenager and exist it in one's later teens than if one never exits the shame culture at all.

Of course, one cannot force others to emerge into a more complex psychosocial level. But that doesn't mean that there cannot be institutions which can move things along.

The Great Dionysia of Athens might act as a model for such an institution. This play competition was a product of the Greek shame culture, and was also at the same time an institution of the transition from the shame culture into the guilt culture. A new Great Dionysia as a model for an inner city community project would make use of the positive aspects of the kinds of psychologies that create the shame culture, while hopefully moving people out of shame and into guilt as a social regulator.

One of the main features of the Great Dionysia was that it was a competition. This taps into the competitive aspect of this psychological level. A New Dionysia would thus have to be set up as a set of competitions wherein the audience votes and prizes are given.

We could even set the festival up as the Great Dionysia was set up. There could be a day of songs and poetry -- sort of a combination of poetry-slam, singing and rap contest. Then there could be a day (or two or three) of serious plays, with the hope that shame-to-guilt culture tragedies would be written. Finally, there would be a day of comedies in which local leaders were made fun of by the plays (similar to Aristophanes' plays). This would allow for a combination of artistic expression and cultural/political criticism that was typical of the Great Dionysia and which helped drive cultural evolution in Athens.

The New Dionysia would also need to be set up financially in a similar way as the Great Dionysia. The entire thing could be funded by various nonprofits, but it is also important that there be patrons of the artists themselves. There would need to be a selection process to select the slate of plays, songs, raps, and poems, and it would have to be early enough in the year that the playwrights could get the actors they needed and have time to practice. This could end up being a community project, with many people involved in creating sets and costumes. It could thus make our inner city communities more like communities, which would only benefit those communities, since a community of people who see themselves as a community don't put up with crime, etc.

Now, all we need are New Dionysias to pop up around the country in our cities. Who wants to get started?

The Phaedra of Shame to Guilt, the Phaedras of Guilt to Responsibility

There are many historical examples one can give of cultures dominated by any given social regulator. Tribes are regulated by familial/tribal disappointment. Ancient Greece was of course a shame culture. The Roman Empire was a guilt culture (as is Jewish culture and Islamic culture). The Modernist West was a responsibility culture. The Postmodern West is a collective guilt culture.

We get the emergence of a shame culture when there are too many people around to be regulated by family alone. When your social networks become too big because you are living in city-states, friends, colleagues, and important strangers' opinions of you begin to matter. Perhaps not coincidentally, these cultures also tend to be polytheistic (this may involve literal, identifiable religions, but it may also involve various "idols" such as we see in teen culture). The problem with historical polytheism is that there are conflicting values in the different gods. This means one cannot always know what the gods want, meaning you cannot rely on them as a guide to action. Social life is thus the most important social regulator. In literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey portray shame cultures at their strongest. 

In Athens during the tragic age, it seems the Greeks were starting to move into a guilt culture. Euripides' Hippolytus investigates this transition. Phaedra is feeling guilty about her feelings for her stepson, Hippolytus. However, she is feeling shame in equal measure. The problem is that you only feel shame if people know what you have done or how you feel. All you have to do is behave yourself or make sure nobody knows, and you won't feel shame. However, guilt compels you to confess your sins. Thus, after Phaedra is compelled by guilt to confess her feelings to her nurse, she immediately feels shame because the nurse knows. The nurse, being firmly embedded in the shame culture, thinks that if Phaedra has told her about her feelings, that she must not be ashamed of those feelings (perhaps thinking Phaedra's insistence on her shame is a show), so she promptly tells Hippolytus. Phaedra commits suicide precisely in order to avoid the shame she fears will arise from her nurse's actions. Had Phaedra felt only shame, she would have never told the nurse; had she only felt guilt, she would have told the nurse, but she would not have been compelled to kill herself. It is the combination of shame and guilt present in Phaedra that creates the situation where she thinks the only bearable way out is suicide and her damning letter.

There were many things happening in Athens that may have been pushing it toward becoming a guilt culture. The tragedies were being performed at the Great Dionysia; Dionysus may have begun to emerge as a monotheistic god (given the fact that Dionysus had pretty much all of the traits of all of the other gods, such a transition to Dionysus would make sense). Plato was also active in the proliferation of philosophy at the time, which in many ways sought to provide an external set of principles by which all people could live (a necessary condition for feeling guilt). The Athenian democracy itself may have provided those external principles, in much the same way as Roman Law provided the external principles of the Roman Republic/Empire. Virgil's Aeneid portrays the Romans as a guilt culture from their founding.

In Rome during the age of Seneca, Rome was going through a transition from a guilt culture to a responsibility culture through the influence of Stoicism. Stoicism may not have quite reached the average Roman citizen, but it was spreading through the upper classes, even reaching an emperor -- Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism in many ways challenged the authority of Roman Law, since man's reason and nature's laws are believed to be supreme -- meaning each could be used to challenge the law and, thus, the foundation of the Roman guilt culture itself. It is likely this challenge to the authority of the law that kept Seneca in trouble with the ruling authorities, even if Nero's decision to have Seneca commit suicide was likely idiosyncratic.

It is probably no coincidence that Seneca seemed to have written his tragedies while in exile. That was a clear indication his world view was in conflict with the majority culture. Investigating this conflict in the ways social regulations come into conflict is the theme of the Phaedra/Hippolytus myth, so it is also no surprise Seneca wrote a Phaedra play. But because Seneca was writing about the transition from guilt to responsibility rather than from shame to guilt, the story could not maintain its complete structure. Phaedra kills herself much later in Seneca's version than in Euripides' precisely because the conjunction of guilt and responsibility cannot take place until after Hippolytus' death. Phaedra has to feel guilty about Hippolytus' death, and she has to take responsibility for her false accusation before she can have the impetus to commit suicide.

Of course, the Stoic-driven responsibility culture did not manage to fully emerge and take over because of the spread of Christianity. Christianity, with its external principles rooted in God's law, was of course a guilt culture. The Catholic Church developed several institutions that feed into and fostered that guilt culture -- the most obvious being confession. The need to confess was given an institution within the church itself. The exemplary literary work of the Christian guilt culture is of course Dante's Divine Comedy. It is no coincidence that Dante has himself led through Hell and Purgatory by Virgil, the author of another epic poem rooted in guilt culture.

It is also no coincidence that when Europe exited guilt culture and entered responsibility culture, reason and natural law, that Seneca and the other Stoics were rediscovered and influenced the emergent culture and literature. Seneca's tragedies influenced both Shakespeare and Racine, even if it was only the latter who wrote a Phaedra for the times.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Global Contextualism as a Social Regulator

The most recent social regulator is what I'm going to call "global contextualism." It is part of the holistic (turquoise) psychological level in the Gravesean model. It builds on naturalistic principles, adding to this internal regulator an external aspect -- the global network and the local contexts are taken into consideration alongside (as variations on) naturalistic principles. Naturalistic principles see the unity under the variety of human cultural expressions; global contextualism sees the variety which emerges from those universals and the networks of people and the long-tern consequences of various actions within those varying contexts.

The global contextualist sees the big picture, over space and time, taking into consideration all the network effects (including butterfly effects). This may appear to be "unprincipled," but it still has naturalistic principles underlying it. And, practitioners having second tier psychologies, lower levels are not rejected, but fully integrated. They also can resolve some of the paradoxes that emerge in naturalistic principles.

Let us take, for example, the moral issue of whether or not one should cheat on one's wife.

The tribalist would argue against disappointing one's family. But of course, this would vary based on cultural norms. One may not disappoint one's family if one has lovers.

Those who feel shame would only worry about whether or not they would get caught.

Those who feel guilt wouldn't cheat if the external principles included fidelity to one's spouse.

Those who feel responsibility wouldn't cheat so long as they could continue to live up to their responsibilities toward their spouses. That responsibility may include fidelity itself, but it may not.

Those who feel collective guilt may see cheating as disrespecting the spouse as a man or woman, though if something were arranged between the two beforehand, such that there were no disrespect of the spouse as a member of the opposite sex, that would be fine.

For those who feel naturalistic principles, there are natural tendencies toward loyalty, and one understands that cheating leads to lack of trust, which reduces the spousal bonds. However, there is also understood to be a tendency to be mildly polyandrous; meaning, a spouse and a lover.Relying on internal information is not enough to necessarily tip the scales one way or another, though other values will certainly come into play in making the decision.

The global contextualists consider all pathways before them and decide based on that. It is unlikely that cheating would result in a pathway that would benefit oneself, one's spouse, the potential lover, whatever if any children are involved, social relations, familial relations, etc. This external network information helps one to tip the scales toward loyalty rather than mildly polyandrous tendencies.

Of course, as noted above in the discussion of naturalistic principles, other values necessarily come into play, so things are hardly so clear-cut as laid out above. And of course, it should also be clear from the discussion above that things are hardly clear-cut at any of the levels themselves. The nature of one's culture matters (and the nature of one's spouse). What changes is how one considers what actions to take.

Of course, while global contextualism is the latest to emerge, it's hardly the endpoint. Whatever emerges next will require investigation once it emerges. But we can only investigate that which already exists.

On Familial Disappointment as Social Regulator

The earliest social regulator -- found in tribes, and founding all of our social regulations -- is familial disappointment, which is extended to the extended family of the tribe as a whole (and relegated, in larger, more complex societies, to the household). Rituals are also adopted to aid in social regulation, since rituals allow people to enter and exit private and/or sacred spaces. The regularities of rituals allow social regulation by helping people understand what they need to do when. However, even with this, the rituals do not in and of themselves punish you for violating them. That falls to one's relatives.

We see direct familial interactions regulating social behaviors in the social mammals as a whole, but with humans we get the added element of disappointment. Disappointment requires language to clearly communicate it. The last thing most people want to do is disappoint their parents or other family members. That extends to one's spouse when one marries.

When a society (or a person) enters into shame as the primary regulator, though, familial disappointment fades fast. In the U.S., people tend to enter into shame as social regulator when they are 12 or 13. Have you ever met a 12 or 13 year old American who cared about whether or not he or she was disappointing his or her parents? Of course not. But they were concerned with what their friends thought. When they emerge into guilt and then responsibility, etc., they often loosen up on familial disappointment as a regulator (even if they do tend to more strongly reject the level they just emerged out of -- those who enter into guilt thus reject shame; those who enter into responsibility reject guilt; those who enter into collective guilt reject responsibility -- though this latter one, being egalitarian, also tends to reject all others in equal measure).

We would thus expect shame cultures to be more abusive toward family members, particularly spouses. And while we would not expect those regulated by collective guilt to be explicitly abusive, we would expect a weakening of family structures and perhaps an increase in divorce as a result. Those who feel guilt and responsibility are more likely to return to feeling familial regulations more strongly, so we would expect to see support for "family values" and stronger family structures in general.

We can thus see that these levels are not necessarily clear-cut and explicit. New levels contain the levels below -- those feelings don't go away once they emerge, though they may be suppressed to varying degrees. Healthy families likely have strong familial regulations in place, even if different members are at different psychological levels and thus use different social regulators.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bureaucracy Spreads Ebola

The reports of what was happening at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas by the nurse's union highlight the dangers of the bureaucratic mindset. The bureaucratic mindset is that of egalitarian (green) psychology. Which means that nobody was making a decision, because nobody wanted to be held responsible for what might happen. I promise you that while Duncan was surrounded by other patients, there was a nice, long, pointless meeting taking place to decide what ought to be done.

Nice, long, pointless meetings is the main feature of egalitarian social interactions. The meetings are found in our schools, in our governments, in our corporations, and in our hospitals. In our schools, they only waste teachers' time and make teachers' jobs impossible and work to ensure our students get the worst education possible. In our governments, they only waste tax money and ensure nothing gets done until and unless everyone is on board (including the corporations attending). In our corporations, they only waste time and money and make businesses less efficient and their products more expensive.

But when this happens in our health care system, illness spreads and people die.

And that is what we are seeing here in Dallas. The disastrous bureaucratic mindset will actually kill people when it comes to health care. It is one thing for it to interfere with things like preventative care or seeing patients who later, quietly, die. It is quite another for it to cause an epidemic.

Had there been someone in that hospital who took responsibility for what was going on, Duncan would probably still be alive, and the two people who contracted Ebola would have likely never done so. Instead, when one person did in fact try to take responsibility, "A nursing supervisor faced resistance from hospital authorities when the supervisor demanded that Duncan be moved to an isolation unit."

The issue is that the majority egalitarian psychologies in charge at the hospital see those who express responsibility as morally inferior and, therefore, someone it is okay to ignore. The facts of the matter don't matter, only that the right person with the right attitude is making the suggestion. But in a psychological level that rejects responsibility (because it is the level immediately below that level) and opts rather for collective guilt, the recommendations of someone preaching responsibility are specifically going to be ignored.

The nursing supervisor was not speaking the right language to the hospital authorities. That is why Duncan died, and that is why two more people have Ebola here in Dallas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seneca's Phaedra as Transition from Guilt to Responsibility Culture

Writers are attracted to some stories over others because of the kinds of things those stories highlight. An example of this is the myth of Hippolytus and Phaedra, which investigates the issue of transitioning from one kind of social regulation to another.

Euripides' version of the story is a tragedy that takes place in the transition from shame culture to guilt culture, and it highlights the danger of this transition in the actions of Phaedra. In The Phaedra Syndrome: Of Shame and Guilt in Drama, Albert Gerard argues that the modern sense of guilt was "clearly beyond the reach of Euripides' Phaidra," since "This sense of guilt has two components: remorse and atonement" (34). While it is clear that Phaedra feels remorse for her feelings toward Hippolytus, it is hardly atonement which drives her self-punishment.

If we consider the fact that guilt is internal and that it compels one to want to confess one's sins (internal desires are also sins with guilt, while with shame, only actions are sins), we can see why the transition is particularly dangerous. In the play, Phaedra feels guilt for desiring her step-son, Hippolytus. This guilt compels her to confess to her Nurse and the chorus, and her nurse in turn tells Hippolytus. Her feelings being exposed, Phaedra's feelings of shame compel her to commit suicide. With either guilt or shame, Phaedra would have been fine. With guilt alone, she wouldn't have felt the shame that would have driven her to commit suicide, and with shame alone, she wouldn't have told the nurse, and her failure to act would have resulted in a failure to feel shame. It was the combination of the two that was fatal.

While Euripides' Phaedra is driven by guilt to confess to the Nurse and chorus, then driven by shame to commit suicide after the confession exposes her shameful feelings, Seneca "Makes his Phaedra responsible for whatever she says and does."
By transferring to her some of the Greek Nurse's flashes of cynical insight and pragmatic advice he enhances the audience's perception of her unwavering awareness of right and wrong: she embarks on her evil course of action in full knowledge that she is violating the rational-ethical principles that should govern human conduct. (Gerard, 27-28)
It is on rational-ethical principles which the very idea of responsibility is founded. So if the Nurse is trying to push Phaedra toward rational-ethics, she is trying to push her toward responsibility. This is thus a tragedy dealing with the transition from guilt to responsibility -- which probably explains the strong interest in Seneca's work during the Renaissance transition from a guilt culture to a responsibility culture. Seneca's Phaedra thus moves from guilt to responsibility. She recognizes her own responsibility for Hippolytus' death, and it is this recognition of responsibility that causes her to commit suicide as punishment to herself for her sin. 

Seneca's Phaedra is safe from outward punishment, but not from "the built-in sanction, the voice of conscience, the inner sense of guilt in a soul tormented by the gnawing awareness of her own crime" (35). That is, she has clearly gotten away with everything such that nobody is going to punish her for what she's done or felt. Were this a shame culture in Seneca's version, Phaedra would have never committed suicide after Hippolytus' death. This is why she has to commit suicide in Euripides' version before Hippolytus' death. Yet, with guilt, Phaedra has not done anything before Hippolytus' death that would warrant her own death.

Gerard argues that
The suicide of Euripides' Phaidra was a clear example of shame-culture behaviour: her sole concern was to preserve her reputation. The suicide of Seneca's Phaedra is an early example of guilt-culture behaviour: repentance is the gist of her final rhesis, atonement is the purpose of her ultimate action. (35)
and that
The tragedy of Seneca's Phaedra signals the triumph of a guilt ethic based on the primacy of reason and the inner sanctions of conscience just as the tragedy of Euripides' Phaidra had illustrated the failure of a shame ethic based on the primacy of reputation and the outward sanctions of society. (37)
Except Gerard is not quite right, as we have seen. Gerard is confusing guilt and responsibility, which are two different social regulators. More, it is the transition between the two that drives Phaedra's decision in each case. Euripides' Phaedra slipped back into shame from guilt, and that slippage resulted in her committing suicide. Seneca's Phaedra is on the transition between guilt and responsibility. She is encouraged by the Nurse to take responsibility for her actions, and the combination of guilt-driven conscience and reason-driven responsibility is what drove Phaedra to commit suicide after she caused Hippolytus' death. The recognition that she was the responsible cause of the bad action is what makes it clear that this is a factor.

We can thus see that Seneca's Phaedra is a proper tragedy insofar as it is driven by the transition from one form of social regulation to another; it is their co-dominance which drives each Phaedra's suicide. Without the transition, there would be no tragedy, since there would be no internal conflict making living impossible.

Of course, historically, the budding responsibility culture surrounding Stoicism retreats in the face of emergent Christianity. It will be over 1000 years before the responsibility culture returns, with the European Renaissance. With it will return the influence of Seneca and the return of tragedy in Shakespeare and Racine. It is perhaps no coincidence that it is during this time that we get a new version of Phaedra, from Racine.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Collective Guilt

Guilt is a form of social regulation in which one is internally regulated in relation to external principles -- more often than not, religious principles. This is beyond being concerned with what others think, as one sees with shame. Religious principles transcend the merely human, while shame is deeply embedded in the human. Responsibility, which follows guilt, is equally deeply embedded in the human. As Kimura observes, "Responsibility is the individual’s ability to respond to any situation in life as the cause, not as the victim, of the situation." That is, the human being is the cause of the situation that that human being is in and is the cause of that individual's future. Shame, guilt, and responsibility are "conservative" forms of social regulation.

The social regulator that emerges after responsibility is collective guilt. It is the common trope of the progressive left. While traditional guilt requires an external source of principles that acts to unify the group into a collective (think of Catholic Medieval Europe), collective guilt is collective first and foremost. People are placed into groups, and the situation of those groups are compared. If there is a group who is doing better than some other group, and we combine it with the assumption that the world is a zero sum game (an evolved psychological trait it takes effort to overcome), the result is the conclusion that that inequality came about due to exploitation from the group which is doing better relative to everyone else.

Thus, men should feel guilty relative to women; whites should feel guilty relative to other racial/ethnic groups; the rich should feel guilty relative to the middle class and poor (and the middle class should feel guilty relative to the poor); etc. Those who are working to rectify these disparities are exempt from collective guilt and are made saints. Thus the feminist logic that a government almost entirely controlled by men can and ought to take care of women; thus the African-American progressives' logic that a government almost entirely controlled by whites can and ought to take care of African-Americans; thus the egalitarians' logic that a government entirely controlled by rich people ought to be given more power to redistribute wealth.

A major difference between traditional guilt and collective guilt is that principles are not involved in the latter. There is a rejection of natural laws, whether those natural laws come from a theological source or from a natural source. Human beings have no nature, there are no cultural universals, and social orders have no rules. The result is unprincipled guilt -- a sense of guilt with no foundation in anything other than a sense that, because you or others are doing better than others, you ought to feel bad. But why ought you to feel bad? It is the feeling -- the only "principle" left in your repertoire -- that the world is a zero sum game, meaning your advantage is necessarily as the expense of others. But this notion that the world is a zero sum game is a primitive evolved trait. It is ironic that those who call themselves "progressives" are basing almost all of their ideas on a very primitive part of their evolved psychology. Of course, progressives would equally deny that this is a factor, since they deny human nature.

If the world is a zero sum game, the only fair outcome is equal distribution of resources. This idea is the closest thing to a principle one comes to with the egalitarian psychology. But while I demonstrated the foundation of this principle, egalitarian logic dictates that egalitarianism is itself less a principle than an ideal goal. Using this logic, the progressive can argue that they are future-focused (progressive) rather than foundational (and, therefore, "conservative"). Thus the source of their antifoundational arguments.

Out of this idea of collective guilt, we can also begin to understand politically correct thinking. Political correctness is based entirely on collective guilt. Certain groups can say and do things other groups cannot. Political correctness is designed to reform the group by making it impossible for members of that group to say and do certain things. Only those who need to feel guilt need to be reformed.

With traditional guilt, it is important that one protect one's external principles from competitors. This is why we get things like the Inquisition and religious radicalism. Given that the nature of guilt -- even collective guilt -- requires something external to feel guilty about violating, it makes sense to want to protect that external source. It is, after all, what makes you and others virtuous and thus works to create community. Anything that threatens that threatens the very structure of the community. This is why Islamic radicals hate Christians and Jews and why Medieval Christians hated Jews and Muslims. And it is why progressives sincerely see conservatives as evil villains. It's not enough that they be wrong; no, they have to be a poison to society itself. At its most extreme you get the purges of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. We continue to hear people argue that these are extreme examples, and in no way indicate what the "moderates" of these world views believe, while at the same time we hear a discomforting silence from these moderates when these outcomes do in fact emerge. Idealists driven by guilt -- collective or traditional -- are among the most dangerous people on earth.

Of course, we must keep in mind that while collective guilt emerges as a social regulator, that does not mean that people do not still feel a sense of responsibility, traditional guilt, shame, or familial bonds. Collective guilt is built on top of these. Further, a society in which collective guilt has emerges as the dominant form of social regulation will still have people in it who are socially regulated by responsibility, traditional guilt, shame, and familial bonds. This is bound to create social conflicts among these different groups with different dominate social regulators. For those who feel collective guilt is insufficient as a social regulator -- because of the inherent paradoxes of this world view, or because they learn some evolutionary psychology and/or basic economics, for example -- naturalistic principles emerge.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

On Naturalistic Principles

Intregrationist thinkers are principled thinkers. More, their moral system and social regulation is built on naturalistic principles rather than on guilt,shame, or responsibility. But this means we have to have some sort of understanding of what we mean when we talk about principles.

Principles are rules that provide the foundation for a system, which in the case of psychological and social systems includes systems of beliefs and moral systems. These rules are the discovered rules of nature, including human nature and society. Of course, this requires a recognition that nature has rules, that there is such a thing as human nature for which we can discover and apply the rules, and that social systems themselves have rules which can also be discovered and applied.Out of this, one develops the concept of naturalistic principles.

Given this definition of naturalistic principles, we can see that my book, Diaphysics, is an integrationist work, insofar as what I do in it is investigate the rules of nature, human nature, and society. For various reasons I mostly hint at the latter while focusing mostly on the former. But I have had several readers make the connection.

Of course, if one does not believe there is such a thing as human nature or social laws, then one cannot be a principled thinker. One necessarily rejects principles to the degree one rejects human universals. Egalitarian thinkers are deeply unprincipled in their morals, relying on collective guilt to regulate their behaviors. This explains their combination of permissiveness and political correctness.

The recognition that there moral rules that apply to all human beings equally everywhere at all times and is a quality of the species itself is necessary before principled ethics can emerge.

Of course, the idea of principles has been around for a long time; however, those principles have been "conservative" principles, or religion-based principles. Such people do believe that there are moral rules that apply to all human beings equally everywhere at all times, but they believe those principles come from God. One is not socially regulated by those principles, but rather feel guilt at violating God's principles. There is thus an internal regulator against violating external principles.

Naturalistic principles are different. With naturalistic principles, you realize that the principles driving your moral decisions are internal -- deeply internal -- having been created through the process of evolution. You fulfill those principles because you realize those principles are, in fact, a part of you. One does not feel guilt for violating those principles, because they are not external to oneself. However, one equally does not want to violate those principles precisely because they are a part of you.

Here the dictum to "know yourself" means you have to come to a fuller understanding of the nature of human universals, the natural of our evolved moral rules, and the rules that govern our social interactions. One's principles improve upon learning things like evolutionary psychology, evolutionary morals, economics, sociology, etc. Especially if one learns those fields with the aim at learning about the rules of human nature and human social orders. It is certainly possible to have naive naturalistic principles; that would mean that you are generally ignorant of the research explicating the naturalistic rules of human morality and our social rules. But one becomes even more principled if one does take it upon oneself to learn the laws of economics and other spontaneous social orders, for example.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Responsibility and Other Social Regulators

Over the past month or so, I have written several posts on social regulation, mostly discussing guilt and shame, including transitions from shame to guilt cultures, but also bringing up the fact that, from a Gravesean perspective, there are many more social regulators, including things like the idea of responsibility and adhering to principles.

This suggests that I ought to spend some time discussing these other forms of social regulation which have emerged over time, both psychologically and socially. Fortunately, Yasuhiko Genku Kimura has already done the work for me on responsibility. I couldn't have stated it better or more clearly.

That leaves me with discussing familial disappointment and rituals as social regulators (tribal), collective guilt (egalitarian), naturalistic principles (integrative), and the kind of globalized contextual regulation we find in holistic psychologies, since I have already discussed shame and guilt, and Kimura has done an excellent job with responsibility.

So stay tuned. And do keep in mind that as new social regulators are added, the old ones don't exactly go away -- any more than do other aspects of one's emergent, increasingly complex psychologies. But that integration is itself another posting entirely.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ideas or Beauty

I'm one of those few people who actually alternates between ideas and aesthetics. About half the time I am writing scholarly articles; the other half, I am writing poems and plays. Given my publications and discussions on social media, one might assume a preference for ideas over aesthetics; yet, when given the opportunity to teach on any topic I wanted for the composition course at SMU, I chose to teach variations on the myth of Hippolytus and Phaedra this semester, and on the nature of beauty next semester.

Admittedly, the discussions of Hippolytus and Phaedra have given rise to discussions about shame and guilt, both in class and here, on this blog, but the focus in class has mostly been on the interactions of the myth with the different cultures in which they were written and performed. Yes, when we discuss Seneca's version of Phaedra, we will discuss Stoicism, but in the end, we will be discussing an aesthetic representation of that general philosophy.

These musings have been prompted by an essay by Terry Teachout in which he observes that, "To be an aesthete in an idea-driven age is to run the risk of being dismissed as irrelevant by those who prefer ideas to beauty." Indeed, I strongly relate to that observation. I expressed this frustration in a poem, meaning that for too many people, I wasted my time, since nobody's going to read the poem, while if I had written it in a blog post or essay, it would have been read. Ironically, though it would have been read, it likely would have been just as ignored as the poem.

Of course, just because something is written as a poem or a play (or a short story or a novel), that does not mean that aesthetics has triumphed. There are plenty of creative works out there intended to model an idea. But when this happens, all too often the complexity of the world -- a complexity which gives the world beauty, and which in turn gives beautiful works of art their own beauty -- is sacrificed for the simplicity of ideas. If a work of art is intended to demonstrate the truth of socialism, Marxism, Keynesianism, Monetarism, or Austrian economics, that work will fail as art. Yes, even if one uses what I consider the view of the economy that best encompasses the economy's complexity, the work will fail unless it serves beauty first and foremost. Only if and when it encompasses beauty will it most accurately describe the world in its full complexity.

One could of course ask, "Well, what, then, is beauty?" But to do so would be to start on the path of ideas. I could talk about Francis Hutcheson's definition of beauty as unity in variety and variety in unity and move on from there. Or I could do a dialogue like Plato's dialogues and have a group of people discussing beauty, allowing people to develop their own ideas on beauty, to see those ideas emerge, to have beauty itself demonstrated in the work itself. But even then, it is beauty discussed as an idea, even if the dialogue form and the language itself could move one beyond beauty as idea.

Or I could write a poem or two. (Of course, those poems both discuss the idea of beauty and demonstrate it, whereas most of the rest of my poems only demonstrate beauty -- when they do in fact demonstrate beauty, of course. But will you read them without links?)