Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ostrom Commons vs. the Smithian Market

Can a well-regulated commons as described by Elinor Ostrom replace the market? The problem is one of scale. A well-regulated commons only works if you literally know everyone participating in the commons. It cannot really work with strangers, and that's where the market shines.

More, for the commons to work, you have to have some sort of enforceable punishment. In the market, if you don't like what you're being offered, you can withdraw participation. Those are two quite different proposals, although market withdrawal is too often mistaken for punishment. Any harm from withdrawal is coincidental to the withdrawal, while punishment is direct harm in response to a perceived harm.

Those who think that such regulated commons are superior to the markets seem to "miss" on some psychological level the kinds of social interactions one finds in a family or a tribe. What they are also missing is the fact that, as observed above, well-regulated commons don't scale as well as markets. This doesn't mean that there is a place for such commons. There clearly is any time there is difficulty in establishing property rights (like wild animals that have a bad habit of moving from one area to another). So while a well regulated commons is a great development in response to some very specific property rights issues, it cannot replace the market---any more than the market can replace the coordination problems solved by the Ostrom Commons.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Variations on Beauty, Virtue, Truth, and the Just

"Virtue aims at the beautiful" -- Aristotle
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" -- Keats
Justice is fairness, and the fair is the beautiful -- Elaine Scarry

Virtue is right action at the right time in the right portions.
Right portion is the golden mean.
The golden mean ratio is beautiful.
Right action aims at the beautiful.
Right action is always healthy and creates health and healthy growth.
Right action is beautiful action.

Healthy growth results in beauty. Healthy growth is beautiful.

Poetry is an imitation of an action. -- Aristotle
Poetry that is the imitation of a right action at the right time in the right portion is beautiful.
Poetry that is in the right portions is beautiful
Poetry that is beautiful is true.

Monday, December 12, 2016

We Must All Do More as a Society

"We must all do more as a society."

We have all heard that statement before, but what on earth could it possibly mean?

First of all, a "society" simply cannot "do" anything at all. It is incapable of action. Society is a complex network, a human environment that is a result of human (inter)action that in turn creates the conditions for further human actions. It makes as much sense to say that a society ought to do something as it does to say that the tundra ought to do something.

We typically hear this statement when the person really means, "The government needs to do more." More what? More of whatever that person's pet project for humanity is, of course. Of course, "the government" is really just a set of institutions equally incapable of action. It is necessarily people--in each case--who will be doing the acting. In the case of someone working in and for the government, that person has the ability to use the threat of force to accomplish his or her goals. And yes, any time someone uses the word "must," they mean "or else."

A good, a virtuous person should completely rephrase this to read, "Each of us ought to do X so that we can accomplish Y." This allows the action to be voluntary, it puts it in properly moral language (the moral "ought" rather than the forced "must"), and it allows each person to judge the efficacy of the proposed solution and the desirability of the goal itself.

I would propose that the kind of people who make statements like "We must all do more as a society" are in fact completely uninterested in letting anyone make those kinds of judgments. They are so certain of their rightness that they believe that everyone else ought to be bent to their will. But are they in fact so certain? If they were in fact certain, wouldn't they trust that the truth, beauty, and justice of their proposal would carry the day over time? Is it insecurity about one's own moral judgments, or is it impatience (an unwillingness for it to happen "over time")? Vice simply piles on vice, it seems.

While each individual society does in fact have an effect on the choices and actions of its members, it is still only the members themselves who can act, who can do anything. And as they act, they change the society, the environment in which they act. But in the end, only individuals act. And if you want to change something about society, don't ask for it to do something it simply cannot ever do; rather, persuade each of the members of that society to act, to change that society.

And never, ever confuse the government with society--that's much like mistaking the eyebrows for the head.

Comparing Yourself to Others Is a Source of Suffering

What happens when you compare yourself to others?

There are a number of responses:
  1. Envy
  2. Lust 
  3. Pride
  4. Greed
Four of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each creates suffering.

The 10 Commandment tell you not to covet your neighbor's wife nor to covet your neighbors things. You would of course not covet those things if you were not comparing your lot with theirs.

Envy comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel like you are coming up short. You think your suffering will be assuaged if you bring the person down to your level.

Lust comes about when you are sexually attracted to someone you should not be sexually attracted to. You are comparing yourself with and without that person. Comparing yourself with your future self can also create suffering.

Pride comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel pleasure that you are better off than them.

Greed comes about when you compare your lot to another's and feel like you are coming up short. You think your suffering will be assuaged if you bring yourself up to that person's level.

Each of these sins, then, comes about from comparing yourself to others.

None of these sins could take place if people did not want to mimic others. Humans are natural mimics. The overwhelming majority of things you do are simply because you mimic everyone else around you. But what happens if you find you cannot mimic everyone else? Envy, lust, pride, or greed, depending on your own situation and your own feelings.

One could also include a kind of shame, which would be the flip side of pride, where you feel ashamed that you are better off. Due to greed, we don't want to give up our own wealth, so we promulgate envy to try to shame others into giving up their wealth, or to get others (government) to simply take others' money to try to ensure everyone is the same--sameness, egalitarianism, is an extreme version of the kind of mimesis about which I am speaking.

All of these things are sources of suffering.

We need to avoid comparing ourselves to everyone else. We need to accept that our learning is overwhelmingly mimetic in nature, but that does not mean we have to compare ourselves to others. We can accept without envy, accept without greed, accept without lust, and accept without pride. And we can give without invoking any of these things, either.

We should fill our cups to overflowing, and pour ourselves out to the benefit of all, but without ego to the extent we can do so. Our actions will then be beautiful. Our actions will then be creative. This is what happens when a person is creative. They are in the flow state, which is always without ego, which is always focused on the task. The flow state is always a happy state.

When you compare yourself to others, you are sinning. You are destroying yourself and you are seeking to destroy others. Sin is always destructive, and destruction is the opposite of creation, wealth, virtue, truth, and beauty.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Jobs are Relationships, Not Objects

This is absolutely true. More, this is something feminists have been correctly arguing regarding the marriage relationship between men and women. We do hear the phrase "He took my wife" when another man "steals away" another man's wife. Here we are treating the woman as an object that can be taken away. But what is being taken away is a relationship -- which in fact cannot be "taken," since a relationship isn't an object.

A feminist would rightly observe that the phrase "took my wife" objectifies the woman in question, turns her into an object rather than a fellow human being with whom we have a particular relationship. When the relationship is severed, the woman in question is no longer a "wife," so when a woman severs her relationship with her husband to be with another man, she is no longer a wife for another man to take.

Feminists complain that such phrases as "take her as your wife" or "took my wife" or "stole my wife" are indications of patriarchy, but in fact, as we see with the phrase "took my job," this kind of objectification of relationships is not uncommon. Since a job is a relationship similar to that of a wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc., any objections to the objectification of women in their relationships to men should apply equally to other kinds of relationships, including jobs.

So the feminists are probably not right that these phrases are an indication of patriarchy, but they are certainly not wrong in the implied critique of objectifying relationships.

In other words, Patrick Peterson provided us with a feminist critique of the phrase "take your job" that, quite frankly, could use considerably more unpacking. Especially since if we understand that jobs are relationships, the idea of someone taking it away loses its bite and we have to reconsider what it means for a job to be "taken" or "lost." Are there new ways of phrasing these things such that they reflect the fact of their being relationships rather than objects? There certainly needs to be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Who You Know, Care, Respect, and Spontaneous Orders

"People are libertarian towards those they care about and respect. They are paternalistic toward those they care about but do not respect. They are authoritarian toward those they neither care about nor respect." -- unknown

"People are unbridled free marketers towards people they don't know (foreigners just need more money and skills!). They're crony capitalist/economic regionalist/nationalist towards those who live or work in their communities (inducements are fine if it means helping my group or the groups closest to me!) . And they're socialists towards their family, themselves, or other loved ones (please save us!)." -- Kyle Trowbridge, Facebook post

I think both of these statements are generally correct. What, then, do we make of the fact that they seem to contradict each other?

I would argue that the first set of statements is true for weak bonds, and the second set of statements is true for strong bonds.

Strong bonds are the kinds of social bonds we find in families, small organizations, and tribes. They are the social bonds with which we are most familiar and, for evolutionary reasons, most comfortable.

Weak bonds are the kinds of social bonds we have had to evolve as we started to live in larger groups, most notably and particularly, in cities. The Great Society is impossible without them. Spontaneous orders are pretty much constituted of weak bonds, even if they are populated by strong-bond groups. Cities, communities, counties, states, and nations are all weak-bond groups.

Note that Trowbridge's formula goes from weak bonds (people they don't know) to stronger bonds (communities) to the strongest bonds (family, et al). The weak bonds strongly suggest free markets. The first quote, though, applies to philanthropic feelings. You can apply each of them to each of Trowbridge's categories:

Care about + respect + don't know = free markets
Care about + do not respect + don't know = welfare state
Don't care about + don't respect + don't know = authoritarian state

Care about + respect + communitarian feelings = cronyism
Care about + do not respect + communitarian feelings = welfare state
Don't care about + don't respect + communitarian feelings = communism

Care about + respect + family = authoritative parenting
Care about + do not respect + family = authoritarian parenting
Don't care about + do not respect + family = abusive parenting

The latter triad leaves out "permissive parenting," which may suggest some missing element in each. I invite people to make suggestions.

Alienation and Contempt

I just finished a short book titled "The Hatred of Poetry" in which the author, Ben Lerner, a poet himself, makes the argument that people hate poetry because 1) they think that just because they are a language-using human, they ought to be poets themselves, and 2) actual poetry fails to live up to our ideal of Poetry.

While my gut reaction was that this was utter nonsense, I came to realize that there are a few other fields in which this is true as well, not the least being economics. Everyone thinks they ought to be able to make pronouncements about economist just because they are human beings, and actual economics fails to live up to our ideal of Economics. As a result, most people hate economics and economists.

I would add to this psychology, sociology, and political science.

At the same time, there are a number of areas where people don't make this same mistake: math, physics, chemistry, biology, and even many of the other arts, including sculpture and painting (though some of the postmodern works have people saying, "I could have done that" or "My three year old could have done that"), music and acting are typically things we don't think we can do without some degree of expertise.

Why is it that people who don't read poetry and don't like poetry feel a need to express an opinion about poetry when those same people wouldn't do the same thing about recent publications in mathematics? It seems that there are a set of things people do that others seem to hold in contempt because they fancy themselves able to do them and another set of things people seem to admire (or at least not hold in contempt) simply because they know they couldn't possibly do them.

The reason people don't like poetry may have something to do with the fact that everyone thinks they can do it, and that bumps up against what actual poets are doing. Much like economists--everyone thinks they understand the economy, and they get mad when an economist comes along and tells them they're wrong about how they think the economy works. There is a disconnect between what the person thinks they can do and what the experts in fact do. 

Why, then, do people who hate poetry love songs? After all, isn't a song really just a poem? Of course. But songs are more directly tied into music, and only rarely are songs constructed such that they are as complex as many poems often are. More, they are heard rather than read, and reading is a difficult cognitive process which we can only do because the brain itself reconstructs itself--certain parts of itself already designed for other things--in order to be able to read. Then what is read has to be passed through this section of the brain before it is sent to the language portions of the brain. The musical element poetry (when present) is suppressed relative to songs, so poems are neither really read nor sung while at the same time, both read and sung. 

We can look at this in another way, by comparing Shakespeare read and Shakespeare viewed/heard. The same people who find Shakespeare "boring" when they read him are excited watching a play (or film). The same things that bore them when they read Shakespeare move them to fear or laughter or tears when they watch the play performed and hear the words spoken. Why is it boring when read and not boring when viewed (ignoring those who still find it boring when viewed, since other issues may be at play there--I am only interested in the disconnect between the attitudes of reading vs. hearing/viewing). This would point to my suggestion that, in the case of poetry, part of the disconnect comes about from the fact that poems are read, which makes them, in many ways, more complicated. 

The fact that poems are read rather than heard also invites contemplation and analysis. One can look at the words and think about their varied meanings. This further complicates one's relationship with poems. The more you interact with a poem, the less likely it seems you are able to write one. Yet, you are still convinced that you ought to be able to write a poem. It's all just language, after all, and you are a language-using species. And if poetry is a "higher" form of language, and language makes us human, then poets are a "higher" form of human. And who doesn't want to be a higher form of human?

The same belief doesn't apply to painters. We may be impressed with the work of a painter, but we don't think the person a "higher" form of human. We consider them to just be an artist expressing themselves. The fact is that poets are the same. Poets are just artists expressing themselves. Language is their medium, but that fact doesn't necessarily make them a higher form of human in the least. 

Lerner suggests that these attitudes are a consequence of Plato's attitude toward poets. The Greeks considered poets to be inspired by the Muses, meaning they were conduits for the gods. They were chosen by the gods. Meaning they were special. We in the West still have that attitude toward poets, even if it has evolved in different ways.  But do other cultures hold this view? Are their attitudes toward poets more like our attitudes toward painters and mathematicians? 

I would argue, then, that people tend to express contempt toward those things which they think ought to be easy, but which "experts" in the field keep demonstrating to be complex. They have respect for difficult things they think are difficult, and they likely don't think much at all about those things that they think are easy that are in fact easy (for pretty much everyone), or at least easy to understand. You might not be able to play the guitar, but rock music seems easy to understand. Jazz, on the other hand, is more difficult to understand, and as a result many people don't seem to much care for it (part of this may also be simple familiarity--as we learn to hear something, we grow to like it). 

Overall, I don't think that having or lacking interest in any of these particular things is what's at play here. There are sets of knowledge/skills we seem to respect and others which we do not. A person may not be able to do math, and may not personally like doing math, but still hold a great mathematician in high esteem. They're not going to engage in the math nor make the mistake of having an opinion about the math being done that they cannot do. As a result, they simply respect the mathematicians who can do those things. But when you have a person who is not an economist and is generally ignorant of economics, that doesn't mean they won't have an opinion about economics. The same person who lacks interest in learning math and economics will refrain from having an opinion about math and give their opinion about economics. 

So it seems that interest isn't really what's at play. Again, I think it's precisely the disconnect between apparent simplicity and the real complexity that creates this contempt toward poetry, economics, sociology, and psychology, among other things. I know I don't know anything about how to repair a car, so I respect auto mechanics. For the longest time I thought I could write and understand poems when I really couldn't. Thus, I started out with a hatred of poetry and a degree of contempt for poets--which has changed as I have slowly learned to understand poems and how to write them. I suppose I lost my hatred of poetry because I never really bought into the idea that there was this unattainable ideal of Poetry which can never be realized by any real poem. 

The less disconnect, the less alienation one feels, the less hatred one feels. There's probably something to consider in regards to things well beyond poetry.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nietzsche, Socrates, Interpretation, and Arrogance

There are two phenomena that I have discovered result in gross misunderstandings. Actually, I didn't discover them. Rather, they were discovered by Socrates and Nietzsche.

Nietzsche observed that nobody actually reads what is written but, rather, read what they bring to what is written. The reader thus projects their own ideology, own world view, own hangups, own ways of doing things, own self-loathings onto the writer. The writer in many ways cannot help the person's misinterpretations, and the writer can only anticipate them to a certain degree. In online discussions, where the discussions are in fact written, the same problems arise. Worse, it seems that you can clarify all you want, and the reader will continue to insist on their interpretation of things.

The more abstract the thinking, the more this is a problem. This is in no small part because abstractions can have wildly different forms in the minds of different people. Plato's Socrates discovers this over and over and over again when he tries to learn what abstract ideas like "justice" or "piety" mean, for examples. Each person doesn't even really know what those terms mean within their own heads, and discussion tends to go around in circles. More, it's not uncommon to use metaphors to try to explain things. And that opens up an entirely new can of worms.

I cannot tell you how many times I have used a metaphor and been accused of "changing the subject." This either suggests that a great many people don't understand metaphors or the nature of metaphors, or it suggests that derailing conversations through purposeful obtuseness is a common tactic. I Oftentimes wonder if the latter isn't the case when not just this phenomenon, but ignoring clarifications over and over and over occur. But perhaps all of these things are simply variations on the phenomenon of reading what you can only see.

The other phenomenon is what ultimately got Socrates killed, and that is the phenomenon of people accusing you of arrogance when you are insisting that something cannot be known to the degree people seem to think it can be known. Socrates was going around proving judges don't understand the nature of justice, while I keep running into this phenomenon when it comes to government regulations and central planning. Somehow saying that we could not possibly know enough to engage in central planning, or even to create regulations with known outcomes, make you arrogant and not the person who claims such knowledge to be possible (and which presumably they have).

This accusation of arrogance can come about either from those who don't like that you are saying they cannot possibly know what they claim to know, or it can come about from those who project their own issues onto what you are saying. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the accusation of arrogance when I have argued that it's okay that the vast majority of people aren't interested in things like higher education, philosophy, poetry, reading, etc. Somehow acknowledging that there are esoteric areas which interest but a few is arrogant, no matter what your attitude toward those who aren't interested in such things.

And let's face it, interest in things like, say, philosophy, tends to strongly correlate with both high IQ and a strong desire to learn (whether that desire to learn is realized through formal education or not). Also, things like philosophy or poetry tend to be interests you have to develop over time, through education. I hated poetry for many more years than I have enjoyed it. And it took probably a decade of actually writing poems before I started to like poems. (That sounds weird, but based on Ben Lerner's book "The Hatred of Poetry," it's not as uncommon as one might think.) Let's admit that it takes a pretty strange person to purposefully choose to do something they don't like over and over until they like it. Most people aren't that strange.

Why should I be accused of arrogance because I like poetry? Or because I make the factual observation that poetry is complex and difficult, and that most people don't want to engage in cognitively difficult things, and that that might contribute to understanding the lack of interest in poetry? Yes, varying interests matter. Yes, there are other cognitively difficult things some people are willing to engage in who would not be willing to engage in poetry. Tastes differ. There's nothing wrong with that in the least. But the fact of the matter is that when it comes to cognitively difficult things, IQ matters a great deal, and the overwhelming majority of people simply do not have the IQ required to engage in cognitively difficult activities. That these same people seem perfectly happy in their lives, going to work and socializing and watching T.V. doesn't bother me in the least. I don't understand why it bothers so many people that it doesn't bother me. And I don't know why the people it bothers in turn accuse me of arrogance for thinking everyone is okay in having different interests.

Which is more elitist? To say that college isn't and shouldn't be for everyone, or to insist that your life and work have no value unless you to go college? Somehow, those who think the latter are the ones accusing the former of arrogance and elitism. But it is the latter who think that their life choices are the only ones of value. And it is they, then, who are the truly arrogant.

To some degree, we may have discovered that Nietzsche's and Socrates' observations/experiences are not really all that dissimilar. Whether it's literal reading, or the more metaphorical reading of a situation, we all tend to bring ourselves into the reading. And when someone disagrees with us, we tend not to change our minds, but rather to accuse the other of arrogance. Perhaps I am doing it too, but surely the term "arrogance" has some sort of meaning. Surely the arrogant are those who think only their lifestyle and life choices are worthy of living. And further, if it means the defense of pluralism in cognition, education, and interests and the observation that there are things that we cannot ever know with such certainty as to be able to make accurate predictions, or even accurate pattern predictions is arrogance, then the word is truly devoid of meaning.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sounds, Words, Meaning, Poetry

How many positive words can you make that begin with the letter N?


How many negative words can you make that begin with the letter N?


It seems there are many more negative words beginning with the word N than positive ones. More, notice how your mouth and nose move to shape the words.

"Neighbor" makes your mouth spread out into a smile.

"Nice" opens your mouth.

"No" first opens, then closes your mouth.

Never, negative, nought, ne'er-do-well, nihilism -- all cause you to crinkle your nose in the same way you would crinkle your nose in disgust.

It's been fashionable for over 100 years to say with Saussure that language is arbitrary. However, linguists are discovering that our words are less arbitrary than they seem.

Great poets build poems from sounds, and from the sounds build ever-increasing complexity of meaning. Those who fail to do this have never been, cannot be, and never will be the great poets. The sounds are meaningful in a pre-linguistic way on which our language was built. 

Cronyism Creates Illiteracy in Our Schools

My wife just started reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, a book which I was already interested in reading, but am even more so after my wife read some of the introduction to me.

For example, Miller points out that, "The only groups served by current trends to produce endless programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests." She further says she she believes
this corporate machinery of scripted programs, comprehension worksheets (reproducibles, handouts, printables, whatever you want to call them), computer-based incentive packages, and test-practice curricula facilitate a solid bottom line for the companies that sell them. these programs may deceive schools into believing that they are using every available resource to teach reading, but ultimately, they are doomed to fail because they overlook what is most important. (3)
Here she is, without doubt, completely correct. Except for one thing. The programs aren't deceiving anybody. The schools benefit from perpetuating student illiteracy every bit as much as do the corporations selling these useless products. Indeed, only if student illiteracy is perpetuated can these corporations sell more of their products. So their products prevent students from learning how to read so they can sell more of their products. The politicians who pass education legislation and administrators in the school districts who adopt these programs benefit from the cronyist relationship with the companies. Everyone is benefiting except the students.

And I see the results. I am teaching 4th and 5th grade social studies, and I have been told that many of my students cannot read. Most of the rest are nowhere near grade level. This past summer, when I handed out books for my students to read, I was told by my mentor to take them back up because if the students were engaged in independent reading, they weren't "engaged." The cult of "engagement," a weasel-word if I ever heard one, is perhaps the single main reason students don't learn anything at all. Student engagement means the students are doing busy work, but not really learning how to do much of anything, like read.

We should be appalled that there is a government-corporate cronyist relationship built on and feeding off of keeping students below reading level if not outright illiterate just so politicians, administrators, and corporations can make millions if not billions of dollars. We do not need anything the "education" businesses are selling. We just need books.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Ancient Natural Classicism in Theatre

If you are a playwright or in theater in any capacity at all, you really need to know your theatre history. This short history of ancient theatre is a great little start.

One of the main aspects of theatre we forget but which is still in some real sense a fundamental aspect of theatre is its origins in shamanism. Theatre is about appeasing the spirits and pleasing the gods -- and when it gets away from that, it loses its way. Theatre is "with the divine through elaborate rituals. The fact that shamanism foreshadows theatre is evident in the existence of theatrical elements that are present in a shamanistic ritual. These include song, dance, music, characterization, hypnotism, illusion, clowning, and ventriloquism." Certainly older forms including things like chanting, music, and dance. Oral storytelling was certainly included.

In many ways theatre has moved farther and farther away from every one of these elements. While there's not a lot of song and dance in Shakespeare, this poetic language in fact keeps it well in place (and the regular rhythms of iambic pentameter brings it close to chant). Clowning is certainly not uncommon in Shakespeare, and his works of illusion are truly hypnotic, as their continued popularity proves.

At the same time,  one has to wonder what would happen if these elements were more explicitly introduced. We're talking going beyond musical theatre to something older, more ancient, more fundamental to who we are as human beings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ego and Teaching the Humanities

Is it possible to teach literature without getting one's own ego involved? That is essentially what Joseph Pearce accuses professors of literature -- indeed, humanities professors in general -- of doing in his article "What Has Become of the Liberal Arts?" in The Freeman. And I think that boils down to the complaint almost everyone not involved in teaching the humanities (and many of us with degrees in the humanities) has against how the humanities are taught.

It is of course hard to get one's own ego out of the work one does. This is true even of physicists, who more often than not give up on their pet theories only after their deaths. But while science may progress one funeral at a time, the humanities hardly let death kill off a theory.

Of course, the best science teachers keep their own egos out of what they teach to the greatest degree possible. But it seems that as we move more and more toward more complex sciences and on into the humanities, ego becomes an increasingly central part of what is taught to students and how it's taught. There are far too many in the social sciences who are going to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a good theory. And the humanities don't even have to worry about facts. A few accusations go a long way toward molding minds' opinions about the value of a large number of works.

There are of course a few who do try to bring in some facts in the study of literature -- Jonathan Gottschall, Joseph Carroll, Lisa Zunshine, Frederick Turner, et al -- but they are too often marginalized and outright ignored. Of course part of the problem is that the science they bring to bear is typically some sort of preferred social science and/or psychological theory to which the postmodernists provide as answer their own preferred social sciences and/or psychological theories. Of course, one could argue that the preferred theories of the postmodern humanities professors -- Marxism, Freudianism, etc. -- are by and large discredited within their respective fields (of economics and psychology, in the specific cases given) or by the evidence of history itself (in the case of Marx), but the postmodernists have an out in that they can simply claim that humans are blank slates, that truth is relative, etc.

Unfortunately, the solution may not necessarily be to try to remove one's ego from what one teaches. For example, I once set up an online undergraduate ethics class. The textbook presents a variety of theories of ethics, as well it should. But it occurred to me that if I were to teach that class by simply presenting the theories, my students would come away thinking that ethics was relative. I would have to present to them my own ideas on ethics, which involves a more pluralistic approach (the theories are all right in the right contexts) rooted in an evolved morality. In doing so, I can hardly be said to be unbiased in my presentation. But in this case, if I am unbiased, my students will more likely to walk away postmodern relativists than if I present my own ideas as part of the class.

It may be that we cannot argue against the inclusion of the professors' egos in teaching the humanities. Or even the social sciences. What we only ever end up doing is arguing for our own preference. Which itself is a bit of a postmodern conclusion, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A 21st Century Education? Or a 19th Century Prussian Education?

It occurs to me that my current job should be mostly superfluous.

One occasionally hears the rhetoric that children ought to receive a 21st century education. Which makes me wonder why they're receiving a 19th century Prussian education on test-steroids. That's anything but a 21st century education.

If we wanted to give students a truly 21st century education, we would be doing this. Each and every student should walk in and pick up their iPad or equivalent and start using a set of computer programs designed to teach them to read, write, do math, learn science, learn social studies, etc. Each child would work at his or her own pace, and they could help each other.

The teachers in such a situation would be little more than facilitators. If there were students who couldn't get along for some reason, they could easily be moved, since there's no particular reason any child would have to be in any particular room for any of this to happen. The teachers would go around and make sure that the students were doing the work that was on the iPads, but if the iPads were properly programmed, even that wouldn't really be all that necessary.

The evidence of such programs around the world is very promising. These approaches have mostly been tried in developing countries, but U.S. education is often little better than most developing countries' educational systems anyway. But the origin of innovations shouldn't matter in the least. If something is working to educate children in one place in the world, it will work anywhere else, because human beings are fundamentally the same. We mostly all learn the same, think the same, etc. Those of us who are exceptions also, as it turns out, learn best using computer programs (people like me are almost certainly the ones who programmed them in the first place anyway).

Let's face it. The U.S. is nowhere near a 21st century educational system. It isn't in the interest of any education bureaucrat to make it one. But it most certainly is in their interest to make teaching more and more and more and more and more difficult so they are ensured jobs. Which is precisely why education is currently a bureaucratic nightmare driven by testing rather than places of learning. Places of learning don't need bureaucrats. And a truly 21st century place of learning doesn't need people like me, either.

But I'll take the pay all the same.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Review of Part of Gene Callahan's Review

In The Review of Austrian Economics Gene Callahan reviews Austrian Economics Perspectives on Individualism and Society: Moving Beyond Methodological Individualism, Guinevere Nell, ed., in which I have a chapter "On the Varieties of Spontaneous Orders." Callahan singles out several essays to complement and criticize, and mine is one he criticizes.

Now, I am hardly above criticism. I could have perhaps defined culture better than I did (though I may have used the definition I did for a purpose), and I perhaps could have been a little more precise here and there, but what he defines as a "vacuous platitude" is really no more vacuous than the one he replaces it with. More, he takes the sentence out of context, failing to mention why I may have said what I said in that particular location in that essay and emphasized that particular point rather than the opposite point. In other words, yes, there is little doubt that there are plenty of things in other cultures which we could and should criticize. But equally, the mere fact that there is something in another culture which is different from our culture or how we do things in our culture, that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. Which is the point. Difference may be good, may be bad, and may be neutral. Given that there are still those who think difference is bad, or that reversing the West is Good and the Other is Bad to the West is Bad and the Other is Good as the postmodernists have done strongly suggests that this point still needs to be made.

Callahan also seems to think that whatever the Pope thinks or historians think negates some of my arguments, as though either are infallible on these issues. There is in fact strong evidence that technological innovations drove scientific discoveries. Yes, there was a change in ideas, but the ideas actually followed the desire to do science unmolested, and the science was driven by technology. Improvements in lenses resulted in better telescopes which resulted in changes in ideas or in the adoption of certain older ideas over other older ideas. I will take his criticism about my statements about religion being concerned about the "world of abstraction" as being a case of less than precise language. However, let us look at the statement in context:
Among the wisdom orders, philosophy should be considered the most abstract, dealing as it does in ideas – often with little or no concern for the real world. Religion, on the other hand, is deeply concerned with the real world, and the ramifications of what we do in this world for the world of abstraction (however conceived). Art and literature (see Camplin 2010 on the arts and literature as spontaneous orders), on the other hand, always deal with the physical world, either directly in the use of physical objects, or indirectly in having concrete referents (the worst thing you can do in fiction or poetry is to be completely abstract – you are no longer creating literature, but rather philosophy, when you are). We of course see any number of overlaps among these orders. Consider all of the religious art, music, poetry, etc. Consider the philosophers who were also religious figures and leaders. Indeed, one of the most productive times in French literature and philosophy was when philosophy and literature overlapped during the Existentialist period. But note that for this to occur, each order must exist as a spontaneous order and be free to interact; when the Soviet Union attempted to impose the philosophy of historical materialism onto literature, the result was bland, identical Soviet Realism.
 In the essay I had delineated several kinds of spontaneous orders and classified them. I argued that there were spontaneous orders that dealt with abstractions, those that dealt with the real world, and those that dealt with a mixture of the two. I argued, for example, that mathematical discovery was in the realm of pure abstraction, technological innovation was in the realm of pure concreteness, and that the natural sciences took place in the realm of concreteness and abstraction. In this paragraph, I made the argument that there were three spontaneous orders we could consider to be "wisdom orders," and which included philosophy in the realm of pure abstraction, the arts and literature in the realm of pure concreteness, and religion in both realms, concerned with real-world realizations of certain kinds of abstractions. Given that his example was a mathematical example, and I had already discussed the mathematical order as a realm of a certain kind of abstraction, one can either conclude that he was either purposefully choosing to misunderstand what I was saying or he has some difficulty with textual analysis and understanding. Each sentence must be taken within the context of not only its own paragraph, but the section in which it's embedded and the chapter, in this case, in which it was found. My statement is very confusing when taken out of context as it was, and it may still be somewhat less clear than it ought to be, but it's not as confusing as he makes it out to be when we place it in its proper context.

We can truly see how petty and purposefully obtuse Callahan is being when he makes the comment that cosmologists are trying to understand the entire universe "which includes us." First, he is about as completely wrong as humanly possible, and he knows it. Cosmologists are interested in studying the movements of planets, stars, galaxies, and other interstellar and intergalactic phenomena. They are not at all interested in parliamentary procedures. And he knows damn well they're not. They are in fact interested in a set of very simple phenomena which follow relatively simple laws. What they study is at a very low level of complexity. Which hardly makes what they study any less difficult.

As a summary of "kinds of spontaneous orders," I had intended to spur people to think about the complexity of our societies and to thus encourage people to start thinking about studying those different kinds of social orders. This includes democracy, which I did not create an argument for being a spontaneous order precisely because, as I note, diZerega has already done so. Surely references to others' work precludes a lengthy argument when the purpose of the paper is in part to summarize a variety of spontaneous orders. If he wanted a lengthy argument for the proposition that democracy is a spontaneous order, he can by all means to read the works to which I referred.

Finally, to return to the beginning of his criticisms of my chapter, I will note that he completely missed the point of my discussion of heterogeneous vs. homogeneous cultures. What he completely fails to mention in the criticism is that I was making a point about the importance diversity when we have the same institutions. He leaves out that important distinction I make, which is really a distinction made by the paper I cite. Again, it was not my job in this paper to completely reiterate others' arguments in the papers I cite, but to pull out certain points relevant to my argument, which is that heterogeneity of spontaneous orders creates a healthier civil society than one would have in civil society in which a single order dominated and that institutions matter when it comes to the overall health of cultures and civil society and the interactions among all the spontaneous orders. But again, he has to take my comment completely out of context to make the point he does.

Certainly Callahan is not the only person guilty of completely misunderstanding (or misrepresenting, if we want to be less generous) what he reads by taking something completely out of context. It seems to be a common sin by altogether too many readers. It is as though each sentence being read is completely disconnected from every other sentence in the work in question. There is a certain strain of postmodern deconstruction in which decontextualization is emphasized. Thus, we have "the death of the author" and dissociation of texts from their cultural contexts. Somehow this trend has extended itself not just to decontextualizing texts from their authors and cultures, but decontextualizing the very sentences within a given text. That is the only way I can understand the criticisms of people like Callahan while still having the generosity of assuming that they are completely well-meaning in their reviews and criticisms.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Apocalypse by Frederick Turner

The SciFi epic poet (and new formalist/expansive poet and universal genius), Frederick Turner, has a new epic poem: Apocalypse. It's being serialized for free. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Hear the Screams of the Butterfly

My novella Hear the Screams of the Butterfly has been published by Transcendent Zero Press and can be purchased at Amazon and here.

Read an interview of me in which I discuss the novella here.

Be sure to go buy your copy now! It makes a great birthday or Christmas gift!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

For the longest time we have sought to ensure greater tolerance for our fellow human beings. We are told we should tolerate other races, other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, other ways of living and of thinking. And this was important once upon a time (and still is for some people), when the knee-jerk response to difference was to burn the person at the stake. When that's the natural response, then getting people to simply be willing to tolerate other people's existence is a move in the right direction.

But we should not be satisfied with tolerance.

I don't want to be tolerated. To be tolerated means to be put up with. You live over there and let me pretend you don't exist.

I want to be accepted. I want "be yourself" to be meant literally, and when I am myself, that self is appreciated. I want to be enjoyed and loved and I want people to be excited by my presence.

And so do you.

My parents always tolerated the things I (and my brother) wanted to do. They tolerated my interests, but never really encouraged any of them (and discouraged others, such as music). They tolerated my choice of what to major in in college (recombinant gene technology) when they really thought I ought to major in pre-med or pre-law to become a doctor or a lawyer. They were hardly supportive of my deciding to get a Master's in English, and even when I graduated with my Ph.D. in the humanities, my father asked me if I regretted not finishing my Master's in biology (by then he had come around to majoring in biology).

I did the things I did despite the direct lack of support. They never stood in my way, but my parents never quite supported me, either.

I get the same thing with everyone's attitude toward autism, though to be honest, it's only just barely tolerated at all. And nobody wants to understand it, let along appreciate it.

I've had a few along the way who did encourage me. Those were the people who made the difference. There was a biology/chemistry teacher in high school and a biology teacher at the Governor's Scholars Program I did one summer who both encouraged my interests in genetics. There was a poet at WKU who encouraged my poetry. I was eventually encouraged (after some pretty harsh criticism) in my fiction writing at USM. And I was encouraged in my scholarly work at UTD by my dissertation committee. I was encouraged by a theater owner when it came to my plays (too bad the theater went out of business before we could stage my first full length play). This summer my wife has been incredibly encouraging as I have had to go through six weeks of training, which included 5 weeks of  teaching summer school.

Each gave me the strength to go on.

That's the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Those who accept actively participate in our success through encouragement to be who we are. Those who tolerate simply get out of the way. Sometimes that's necessary, but isn't it much better to have a helping hand through life? It's it better to have people love you for who you deeply, truly are?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fiction for Empathy in Bibliotherapy

It's wonderful to see there are people out there making a living and a career out of the very insights and understandings of literature as developing empathy I've been developing for several years now. I've written about these things here and here and here And now it's even made it to CNN.

The flight from fiction in our culture means reduced empathy creation. Yes, certain movies and even TV shows can contribute to empathy-creation, but I think that books allow us to more deeply investigate and understand the complex motives of people, and thus learn to understand and therefore empathize with them.

What we need is the kind of bibliotherapy being practiced in the CNN article. We need to read fiction that deals with different races, men and women, different sexual orientations and genders, different cultures, and different socioeconomic levels. In doing so, we would stop discriminating against people just because they are members of different groups.

We shouldn't hate people because they are black or white, men or women, gay or straight, rich or poor, etc., etc., etc. The socialists are just as evil for hating a group of people because of their socioeconomic status as are the racists for hating a group of people because of their race. Literature allows us to understand different groups through examples of particular individuals we get to know well, and thus literature breaks down collectivist (and therefore evil) ways of thinking.

The above statement seems to contradict some of what I say here. Indeed, certain kinds of empathizing do in fact make us more tribalist/collectivist in our thinking. But there is something else at work when we learn to empathize with other groups, and other groups, and other groups. If our empathy breaks down the Us-Them, Self-Other dichotomy, then empathy contributes to moral growth. If it only reinforces group cohesiveness such that there is necessarily a hated other against which one compares one's group, then empathy contributes to moral decay.

Literature can thus contribute to virtue-creating empathy if we are open to reading works presenting and representing peoples from other cultures, etc. This can and should be done in our classrooms. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that any work by someone from another culture, etc. than our own is worth reading. The works have to be complex, high-value literary works, regardless of who wrote them where or when. After all, boring garbage is hardly going to create any sort of empathy for anyone.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

My Name's Blurryface -- a cultural-textual analysis

For those who don't keep up with contemporary music, the band Twenty One Pilots has a song titled "Stressed Out" that is well worth analyzing and understanding.

Here are the lyrics:
I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn't have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
We're stressed out

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one

It’d be to my brother, 'cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter

My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"


We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we'd fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they're laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"


Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"

The song, overall, is not simply about adults missing the simplicity of childhood; no, it's more about adults missing their childhood dreams of adulthood. This is emphasized in the repeated refrain:
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money"
 The dream of being an astronaut is much like, say, my dream of being a fiction writer I have had since I was at least 12, when I penned (literally) my first novel manuscript. I abandoned the idea to major in something sensible in college (recombinant gene technology), only to return to it my senior year and truly follow it after dropping out of my Master's program in molecular biology. Yet, after graduating with my Ph.D. in the humanities from UTD (which I attended for the creative writing program), I was faced with the reality of student loans.

Indeed, the song mentions student loans:
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter
 Little did we know that by going to college to achieve our dreams, we would rack up so many student loans that we would have to settle for some job well outside our dreams just to pay off the loans. The songwriter recognizes the trap that's been set, the (inadvertent) lies we've been told about adulthood. We were told that student loans were an investment in our future, yet what they in fact turn into is a weight that discourages us from taking risks and living our dreams. With debt, we are too afraid to live the dream life we imagined for ourselves, instead settling for a safe corporate reality to pay off those debts. And after so many years doing just that, how many of us just settle in and continue that life, even after those loans are paid off? How many end up with credit card debt, car payments, and mortgages to replace them? Debt piles up, we get safe jobs with safe incomes to pay those debts, and we never live those dreams.

That is, fundamentally, what the song is about.

 We can see this even in the opening lyrics:
I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn't have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think
 Modernism was founded on the cult of the new. We are told even now that everything has to be original. It's one of the lies we're told, and the songwriter calls us out on it. Our brains are structures to only like certain sounds, chords, etc. We are restricted in our vocabularies, and people prefer rhymes in their songs (though the violation in that very line is an ironic reference to the fact that rhyming is a convention that has in fact been violated in popular songs just as it has been in much poetry).

Why does he care? Well. caring what other people think is human all too human. As children we don't care what too many people think---our parents, primarily, but certainly not too many others--but as adults, we care more and more about what more and more people think of us. We care what our neighbors think of us, what our co-workers think of us, certainly what our bosses think of us. As he points out, it matters for success. If he came up with sounds no one's ever heard, chords in a new order, and unrhymed songs, how popular  would the band be?

Indeed, we are bolder when we are younger. We take more risks. We become less risky as we get older. Our fears and insecurities multiply. We find ourselves responsible to more and more people (those to whom we owe debts, which only multiply as we get older, and include far more than the lending companies).

What does this do to us?
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
My name's Blurryface and I care what you think
What is a "Blurryface"? A face that's out of focus and becomes indistinguishable from other faces. That is, a Blurryface is someone who is perfectly interchangeable with just about anyone else. Those who care what others think and live their lives according to what others think. Those who live their lives in response to all of those people who say "Wake up, you need to make money!" Your dreams must die, you have to wake up and be responsible and live the corporate/bureaucratic reality. You cannot be what you once dreamed, whether it be an astronaut or an artist. Because those aren't responsible aspirations.

The rest of the song emphasizes this "going back in time" to the dreams of childhood. There was a safety there, of course, but there was also a realm of possibilities that we seem to go out of our ways to destroy. Perhaps it's a romanticization of the Modernist period (and the Romantic period before that) where artists seemed able to live their dreams, but at the same time, there were people clearly doing that, where it's less clear that those possibilities are as available now as then.

The songwriter here has thus identified a pervasive feeling in our culture. Many of us feel that there is something not quite right. And Twenty One Pilots has given that feeling a voice. Growing up, we were told many things that have turned out to not be true. They were perhaps believed by our parents and the other adults who sold those things to us, but the fact of the matter is that perhaps most of us are terribly disappointed that the reality has completely failed to live up to the hype. There are those who will use facts to point out that we are living in the best of times materially, but we simply cannot dismiss the pervasive feeling that something's just not quite right.

And what happens when an entire culture feels this level of discontent? Can that culture long survive?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Complexity Theory and the Study of History: Overproduction of Elites, Food Shortages, and Power Laws

I have written quite a bit about cliodynamics, the scientific approach to studying history, in the past. Peter Turchin has done quite a bit of work in this area, writing most recently about the inevitable collapse of the European Union.

Turchin's overall thesis is that an overproduction of elites results in inequalities that lead to the collapse of empires. And, as Egypt suggests, not just empires. However, one of the leading complexity theorists, Yaneer Bar-Yam, has developed a complexity model that suggests societal collapse comes about due to food prices increasing. More, network theory predicts power law distributions of revolutions/political collapse.

These are not necessarily conflicting views. Certainly the argument that there is a power law distribution of historical events like revolutions could easily complement the models of Turchin's and Bar-Yam's. It is also not impossible that the same dynamics that result in food prices increasing could result in the overproduction of elites and inequalities to increase.

Bar-Yam's thesis is particularly interesting, though one does wish he understood economics a bit better, especially around "speculation," which actually helps to smooth out prices and make them less volatile. At the same time he's right about the complete idiocy behind turning food directly into fuel, which unnecessarily drives up food prices, especially around anything involving corn (not just for direct consumption, but as feed for chickens, pigs, and cows, driving up meat prices). And he leaves out various farm subsidies, which politicians argue keeps prices down, but which in fact drive prices up (when New Zealand eliminated its subsidies for sheep farmers, wool and mutton prices dropped even as farmer incomes increased).

It would be interesting to map the food price-driven patterns of unrest with Turchin's patterns to see what overlaps there are and to see if one could find similar causes resulting in these two effects. I also don't know that Turchin has looked for power law distributions, but he certainly should. I would certainly be surprised if Bar-Yam's version didn't result in power law distributions. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My New Journey

I've begun a new journey, and while I'm on that journey I will be absent from the internet in many ways, including from posting on this blog, my other blogs, and Facebook.

I'm currently getting the training required to get alternative certification to teach elementary special education in Dallas ISD. Now you may wonder why it is that I'm not getting it in English. The reasons are many, and involve such things as DISD isn't offering this program I'm in for English teachers, because they don't have a shortage of English teachers, and my own personal arrogance surrounding my refusal to get certified in anything in which I have a Ph.D. because that requirement is incredibly insulting and ridiculous and is the most egregious example of protectionism imaginable.

The reason I chose elementary special education is itself multifaceted. Part of the reason involves my having an autistic child. Part of it involves my brother having dyslexia. Part of it involves my experiences as a substitute teacher taking special education assignments. I took high school and middle school assignments and saw that many of those students had not received the help they needed to mainstream them early on. I saw some overlooked entirely. At the same time, I enjoyed working with the elementary SpEd kids, and I seemed able to reach them. All of those contributed to this decision.

So I'm spending the summer getting alternative certification. I'll spend a year as an "intern," and after that I'll be hired full time.

So the next year promises to be busy. And something has to go.

Economics will be going. Indeed, pretty much all of my scholarly work, including book reviews. I've enjoyed doing those things, but they have not otherwise benefited me. They brought me nothing but personal satisfaction. And that doesn't pay the bills.

Poetry and plays will be the primary focus. They also bring me personal satisfaction, but poems are less burdensome, and the plays are the reason I will be doing everything I can over the next several years to save up to get and run a theatre. (Donations and volunteers are welcome!)

And of course I'll continue learning about autism and posting on it. After all, it will benefit me in my job and in my home life and on my blog. And you never know---one of these days someone may want to hear what I have to say on the topic. My expertise is, after all, both personal and professional, both subjective and objective.

And politics sucks. All it does is divide everyone. That's its great evil. Of course, sometimes we have to differentiate ourselves from injustice, and that too requires politics. There are some people and some things from whom we should divide ourselves. But I'm going through a phase of relative indifference to everyone arguing about which sinking ship to jump onto.

I'm going to focus on beauty, family, and money. That is, things of value.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Life of Unity -- Reflections on Obsessions and Personal Life

Starting in 1971 (the year I was born), my maternal grandfather, Virgil Inman, started keeping a diary/journal. On my trip to South Bend, my grandmother gave me 1971-1976 (those she had read) for me to transcribe and edit and try to one day get published.

My grandparents were avid birders, and my grandfather's diary seems to be almost entirely about birding. We see lists of birds he saw on this or that birding trip. The most mentions of people involve those who were birding with him, talked to him about birds, and/or were members of the Audubon Society. There are few mentions of his family, and the day of my birth results in a brief mention of that event before he starts writing about birds.

In many ways this and my other blogs are my own diaries/journals, and in many ways I have done exactly what my grandfather did in his. Just search this blog for Anna, Melina, Daniel, and Dylan, and see how relatively few hits you get compared to Nietzsche, Shakespeare, poetry, or spontaneous orders. My obsessions are what I write about much more than anything personal. And if you do search for my family members' names, you will find that much of the time I am writing about some topic in which I use them as an example.

I'm not sure how interested anyone would be in reading about more personal things. I don't know how interested anyone is in reading this blog at all. Its topics evolve, change, jump around, and will continue to do so, I'm sure. I've decided to focus more on theatre, on playwriting, and as a result, I'm sure what I write about here will reflect that change.

I have also written before about how I am my interests, meaning if you have been following this blog, if you have been reading what I have been writing, you have about as intimate an understanding of me as possible.With most people you can disentangle the different parts of their world; with me, you mostly cannot. There are a few exceptions--too much of my employment, for example--but I don't typically write about work. I would if my work and my employment ever managed to overlap. Which is the goal, of course. Because unless and until they do, I will remain unfulfilled in life.

For many a job is a way to make money and life is almost completely fulfilled through relationships with others. My personal relationships are few, and mostly involve my wife and children, who do in fact fulfill pretty much any and all of my needs when it comes to personal relationships. But my wife understands the degree to which my identity is tied in with the writing/work I do. Still, they are prioritized over that work, as evidenced by the fact that I spend time with them when I should be working, and by the fact that I will be starting training for a job I'm taking just to have an income.

Still, I want to live a more fulfilling life. And that's why I have decided to concentrate more on being a playwright and on doing what I need to do to run my own theatre to perform my plays (following a strong tradition of poets/playwrights over the past several centuries) so I can at last concentrate on the writing/work I think is truly most important for me to do. Perhaps I can even get the theatre to a place where we can be a theatre family, so to speak. Complete unity of everything important in my life. That is the ultimate goal.

I'm sure my grandfather would have loved to have such unity as well. For his job he worked with computers. But there's no mention of that in what I've read of the diary so far. And I've only ever heard brief mention of the work he did to make a living over the decades. But there was never any question about the birds. I imagine he would have loved to have been an ornithologist so his life could have achieved unity. I'm too much like him for him not to have wanted the same thing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Journey

This past week and a half, I took a trip to South Bend, IN to visit my grandmother. We actually stayed with my Great Aunt Mercedes in Coloma, MI, and drove back and forth. That gave us several trips through rural west Michigan, including a day trip to St. Joseph/Benton Harbor to see Lake Michigan. The downtown area of Benton Harbor is very rough-looking, but the lake shore of both cities is being developed with museums and other arts venues to attract visitors. Another day several us went to Shipshewana to visit Amish country to eat and shop.

My great aunt lives in a farm house with 19 acres left of what was once a pretty big farm where they used to raise apples and cherries and raised various vegetables. She still raises some vegetables, and she has a small strawberry patch the children picked. Melina, Daniel, and Dylan all had a great time, and they all said they would love to live out there.

Among visiting with family and friends I haven't seen in a while and being out in the country and seeing Shipshewana, where we saw a store for sale for less than our house is worth, and the lake front of St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, I came to realize something that has been simmering under the surface for a while now: I'm absolutely miserable living in Richardson. What I find miserable is this suburban pseudo-existence of just barely getting by doing nothing I want to do, always busy and getting nothing done. I'm neither relaxed nor accomplished. In the country one can relax; in the city, you are surrounded by action. But the suburbs have the absolute worst of both worlds. It's neither relaxing nor is it close to anything at all, meaning you have to get in your car to do anything.

Add to this the fact that I'm getting ready to get alternative certification to teach elementary education special ed in Dallas ISD. This is certainly something I can do, but it's not what I'm supposed to be doing.

And that's what I've come to realize this past week. What it is I'm supposed to be doing. It's not teaching, that's to be sure. No, what I'm supposed to be doing is running a theater so that I can perform my plays. I would love to do it in a small town like St. Joseph or Benton Harbor, which attracts just enough people from places like Chicago and South Bend that it could be successful and get a reputation. And the towns are the right size to have things to do and have shopping close by and still have some easy living.

So that's the goal. I'll have to teach for a little while, but the goal is to own and run a theater somewhere. I need to write plays and direct my plays and provide myself with a real purpose. I appreciate the attempts people have made at helping me do just that with scholarly work on economics and higher education. I've learned a lot doing those things. But they are not what I'm meant to be doing. I'm a writer. I'm a play writer. It's time I took my life into my own hands and made that reality into something.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Why Has Community in America Collapsed?

I recently saw a TED Talk in which the person was talking about the seeming rise in DTSD among soldiers. He noted that there are fewer soldiers than in past wars, that the experiences are far less traumatic than in past wars, but that PTSD is much higher now than previously.

What is going on? The speaker suggested that what was happening was that soldiers who had formed close social bonds with their comrades came home to a society that is radically fragmented. They moved from a tribal situation to a radically individuated situation, and that it was that which was traumatic.

I think he's mostly right.

American society is deeply fragmented. I'm not just talking about the increasingly deep divisions among political views, though that's certainly a contributor (and a consequence). I'm not just talking about the increasingly deep divisions among racial and ethnic groups, though that's certainly a contributor as well.

I'm talking about individuals becoming increasingly alienated from each other. We not only do not rely on each other, we are actively discouraged from doing so. We are encouraged to mind our own business--and we then in turn empower government to do all the minding we used to do in our neighborhoods. We even tell our children to mind their own business, as though their friends and families and neighborhoods aren't their business. If other people aren't our business, what is?

There is a certain libertarian thread that emphasizes exactly this kind of minding one's own business that is very common and popular. We are told not to judge anyone for anything they do--and while this has of course resulted in growing acceptance of a variety of lifestyles and ways of being human, cultures and cultural practices, etc., it has also meant not seeking out commonalities and not creating communities. You cannot have a community of people who mind their own business. If you want to destroy a family, have the parents insist the children should mind their own business, and have those parents insist their spouses mind their own business. The fact is that family members ought to be one's business. We ought to be concerned with the way people behave. That shows we care about them.

The irony of this libertarian emphasis on minding one's own business is that in creating more radically individuated and thus isolated people, the social fabric disintegrates, leaving a space for governments to come in as the solution. We need social bonds and to work together, and if those natural bonds disintegrate, governments will offer ways to force those bonds, or the social outcomes those old bonds once made. Neighbor pressure to keep your property looking nice has been replaced with local government passing ordinances to keep your property looking nice, with professional busybodies to enforce them by driving around and looking at everyone's property. The problem with the government solution is that, even with local government, there is a lack of local and tacit knowledge. One's neighbors, when one is close to one's neighbors, knows more about your situation than does some bureaucrat. The bureaucrat doesn't even care about your situation--they just care about being obeyed no matter what. The neighbor knows what your situation is, and adjusts their expectations (and complaints and pressure) accordingly.

This attitude of minding one's own business extends even to our institutions that have historically provided the kinds of social bonds that create community. For example, my wife and I have grown completely frustrated with the church we have been attending because, though we have tried to be involved through such things as having Melina in the children's choir, we have felt almost completely unwelcomed there. Not in an active way, but rather just completely ignored by everyone. It's as though they could care less whether we were there or not. Another example would be our local schools, where we send our children without really ever getting to know the teachers or fellow students, let alone fellow parents. Once the centers of our communities, our schools have become yet another institution of practically faceless, impersonal bureaucrats who seem annoyed more than anything if anyone wants to help or contribute in any real way.

Zoning laws separate neighborhoods from any sort of social meeting places. I have to get in my car to go shopping. If I want to hang out at a cafe, I have to get in my car and go there. And the people there won't be the people from my neighborhood. Even if I get to know a few people at the local Starbucks, I won't know them outside of Starbucks. I won't know where they live. I certainly won't be invited over to their homes. With mixed neighborhoods, where there are local cafes and stores where you see the people from your neighborhood all the time, you get to know people and as a result, you end up looking out for each other more. Zoning thus keeps neighborhoods from becoming true communities by isolating various aspects of our lives from each other.
Licensing also contributes to this problem. It' worse than ridiculous that you have to get a license to hold a yard sale or for your children to have a lemonade stand. These are among the opportunities lost to connect with your neighbors and transform them into communities. Local businesses are less likely to crop up as a result as well. So not only is are community bonds suppressed, but community economies are depressed.

The problem is that there are inevitably anti-social people who don't want any of these things taking place in their neighborhoods. But why should only the anti-social elements of society get what they want? Just because they are going to complain about what's going on, while nobody's going to complain about what's NOT going on? This is a problem of the "seen" taking precedence over the "unseen" that all too often plagues the insights of economics and sociology. We are trading the "tyranny" of community for the tyranny of government, persuasion for force. It's a pretty stupid trade.

The real problem is that when people come to understand that there is something missing in their lives, they then look to government to fix those things when the source seems to come from the outside. We are missing something in our societies, and we then ask the government to provide all the things strong communities once provided. The problem is that when governments do things, they tend to crowd out private solutions. And that undermines the creation of strong communities even more. Licensing and zoning are the consequences of anti-social complainers, and they work to make us all more anti-social and isolated.

The fact is that humans are naturally social, naturally community-minded, naturally compassionate. If we find a group of people not behaving that way, behaving rather more selfishly and anti-socially, we need to ask what is happening in their societies, in their institutions, in their governance that is causing people to behave this way. What is actively encouraging them to behave in ways that are, quite frankly, unnatural? We love to blame "capitalism," but we have had capitalism far longer than this situation. Further, the system we haven't isn't even free market capitalism anyway, but is rather extremely regulated capitalism. Those regulations, as we have seen, have more than just economic consequences, as bad as those are. They have social consequences as well.

We all know there is something deeply wrong with American society. What is wrong is that we have been actively replacing community with government. We are regulating ourselves into isolation. Natural connections are replaced with government regulated interactions. Yes, my traveling several miles to sit at a cafe is a government regulated interaction precisely because I cannot sit at a cafe anywhere near where I live. My having to get in my car to grab a few avocados for dinner rather than walking to the neighborhood fruit stand is a government regulated interaction. We do not even recognize we are being controlled and being separated from each other, but we are. The consequence is more and more government regulations to try to make up for the losses caused by government regulations, causing more and more separation.

The increase in PTSD among returning soldiers is the canary in the coal mine. How many must stop singing before we get the message?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reality and Liberalism and Ideology Opposed Together

In Aristotle's formulation, virtue aims at the beautiful. The archer must aim high to hit the target because of the effects of gravity. One could put this another way. The political reformer must aim high to hit the target because of the effects of reality. One can never escape the effects of gravity/reality.

The reality is that humans are a complex social species prone to hierarchical organization. We see it taking place when we freely associate with each other to form clubs, businesses, or other kinds of organizations. A leader typically emerges, and the leader is replaced by other leaders. If that's what happens when we freely associate with each other, we cannot expect any less from our political institutions and from governments in general.

There are many other realities about human beings we have to take into consideration. That we prefer to live in social groups of around 150 people -- the famous Dunbar number. That we are a species of social mammal, meaning we are territorial (again, up to 150 people -- meaning we are property-owning in small groups from 1 to 150). It also means that we have alphas, betas, etc. down to omegas. That's how we organize. It's how we relate to each other. We even seem to need scapegoats to stabilize society. Religion contributes to social stability. As do many other institutions that are uniquely human.

Those institutions evolve. As do our cultures. We are traditional, and traditions change, but change slowly. That allows for social stability. Change too fast or don't change at all, and the society collapses.

Humans trade. Of course, there has to be privately owned property in order for there to be trade. Trade allows for the increase in wealth because when two people trade, they are necessarily better off. Trade also allows for specialization, meaning people become more effective and efficient at the work they do. Which further contributes to the increase in wealth. People are also innovative. Innovations of all sort contribute to wealth creation as well, and the more people there are, the more innovations there can be, and the more wealth can be created for everyone.

As a species of social mammal, we, again, have alphas. That means leaders. So long as we remain a species of social mammal, we will have leaders. They will typically force themselves into the leadership position, because nature is hardly democratic. Elections are how humans solved that problem in the best way possible. 

There are many ideal worlds one can imagine. Imagination seems endless. We can imagine ideal communism, ideal socialism, ideal theocracies, ideal monarchies, and ideal anarchies.

Virtuous political economy will mean aiming at the beautiful. Ideals are always beautiful.

However, we make a mistake when we try to actually realize our ideals. We should not mistake the beautiful for the virtuous. Otherwise, we aim too high, and we miss the target.

However, accepting reality means missing the target as well. We aim too low. Things do not remain as they are, but rather degrade. Society falls apart.

In the ideal, mass murder almost inevitably takes place because nobody can possibly match the ideal. In the real, social disintegration almost inevitably takes place because stagnation is death.

Knowing the real, we have to aim for the ideal. But the real must remain to root us. We are always dealing with real humans as they really are. Those humans can change, but they are limited in how much and how fast.

An anarchy is an ideal. We should aim for it. Given that most of our interactions are in fact anarchic in the sense of not needing government to take place, we should do our best to try to make our societies as anarchic as possible. But if and when we find a place where expanding anarchy there makes life worse, we have found the limits. And there is power in limits. We mustn't forget that. Failing to achieve the ideal doesn't mean we have failed. Ignoring those limits does. Finding the limits of our ideals means we have succeeded.

Of course, there are some ideals that can only remain in Cloudcuckooland because they do not match reality at all. Still, there may be elements that are desirable. We can perhaps agree that various inequalities ought to be eliminated without  agreeing on how to achieve equality. At the same time, we have to face certain realities. Network effects can create natural inequalities despite everything we do. And we will often find that the more equally we treat eat other, the stronger the network effects. Another way to say this, is you can have equality under the law or equality of outcomes, but not both.

Another way to understand this is through the idea of criticality. Society should be neither perfectly ordered and unchanging nor perfectly disordered. It needs to be both at the same time. Also, we should reject both reality and idealism/ideology, and embrace the critical space between the two, the most complex, creative space that results in networks and systems with emergent properties. The world view that seems to create this is liberalism, which both seeks to transform reality while rejecting ideology. Liberalism is not an ideology, but rather a world view, an attitude toward the world, especially the social world.

Of course, criticality is part of reality as well. So we never actually get out of reality. But let's face it, there are better realities than others. What we need is the freedom to find those realities and work to realize them. And that means rejecting both the advocates of reality and of ideology, while giving them space to work.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Do You Do With Rules?

Are you a nihilist? Are you a trickster god?

You're probably neither one.

You either play by the given rules or rebel against the rules. Both acknowledge the power and legitimacy of the rules. Both work to reinforce and strengthen all the rules.

But suppose you come to understand that all the rules could have been other than they are. Yes, all of them. And may yet be. Some rules have great duration--the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, in decreasing duration--even the evolved psychology of humans has great duration, such that we work best in certain social rules that themselves could have been other than they are, but now must be as they are, given our evolved psychologies. And some rules could still be other than they are. See the varieties of languages, foods, poetries in all our varied cultures. Rules that could be otherwise, and have once been.

How, then, do you respond?

Despair? Contempt of the rules? That's nihilism.

Joy? Appreciation of what the rules can do even while knowing they can change? Then you're a trickster god.

We know the nihilists. Sad-sack, pathetic whiners who bomb to bomb, destroy to destroy, despair because nothing matters or has meaning.

But you don't know the trickster gods. Challenging the rules because they're rules, using them when they're useful, ignoring them when they're not, building new things, dancing our of love of life, joyful in meaning-creation and making-matter.

The nihilist is serious and appreciates nothing.

The trickster god appreciates everything and is serious about nothing.

The trickster is bound to ridicule the binds you place upon yourself. The trickster is bound to ridicule you if you seek to tighten all the binds of others. He ridicules your cruelty and misanthropy.

He laughs at autocrats and nihilists alike.

He laughs because he knows you could be free.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Colonizing by Church and State

In Spiral Dynamics, communitarian and individualist stages alternate. The state we are in, the egalitarian stage, is communitarian and the community feeling is created almost entirely by government. The communitarian stage that preceded it was the authoritarian stage, and the community feeling in it is created almost entirely by (typically monotheistic) religion. Between was classical liberalism, an individualistic stage.

In an essay I posted on Medium, I point out that we see alternations between the colonization of spontaneous orders by a single order (itself dominated by a single hierarchical organization) and the separation of the spontaneous orders. The Catholic church dominated all the spontaneous orders in the Medieval period, then the arts, the sciences, morality, philosophy, and even the religious order itself was separated off from it. Over the past century, governments have been colonizing those orders. Now that they have been as colonized as possible, they are being released yet again.

But this was the short version.