chewybrian wrote: ↑
December 26th, 2018, 6:37 am
ktz wrote: ↑
December 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm
I also find this idea somewhat compelling but fear that this comes with the downside of reinforcing the infrastructure that seeks to compel our slavery to convenience and other Pyrrhic desires.
I'm not sure this is where you were going, but I would be interested in others' opinions on our car culture. I think we are hurting ourselves in the end by subsidizing travel by car, rather than paying by the mile. Gas might need to be $10 a gallon or more to pay as we go, but remember that we have to pay the price either way. With our current methods of payment, everyone faces a false decision when they choose to drive or not, so they make poor decisions in terms of economics. We locate our homes many miles from work and shopping, build big box stores and expect everyone to drive across town for every little thing. We don't have useful public transportation or pedestrian or cycling access to most places. And, our health is suffering because driving has become the only practical option in many cases. If we had paid the real cost as we drove, people would have made many different decisions, and our country would probably look a lot different right now.
Yes, these phenomena that you are making reference to, urban sprawl and the well-executed regulatory capture by the oil industry, are great examples of self-imposed slavery I'm talking about here. Donald Knuth has a quip about it in the context of programming -- "Premature optimization is the root of all evil", and I think American car culture, post-GM streetcar conspiracy, definitely fits the bill there.
If you are interested in this topic of urban sprawl in particular, I might point you in the direction of Jane Jacobs's seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which, although I had no particular interest in urban planning beforehand, I found to be full of interesting cross-disciplinary insights, including how cars, and the parking and highway infrastructure they require, can ultimately be toxic to the cultural experience of a city.
I frequently lean on this concept of the tyranny of convenience
to explain a lot of diverse undesirable phenomena and misallocations of resources in my current worldview. The original topics I hand in mind when I mentioned the idea were anti-neoliberal rants about the IMF's usury, as well as the reliance on cheap overseas labor that continues to cripple western manufacturing infrastructure, and then also things related to the advertising industrial complex, like that of Google and Facebook, where it turns out that if we allow ourselves to be captured by the convenience of these "free" services, we ultimately pay the price ten-fold in our empowerment of sketchy data brokers and tracking companies that exploit us and profit off our loss of privacy, with weird and unpredictable consequences like the proliferation of Russian propaganda bots running rampant.
Wouldn't we benefit if our decisions were aligned with economic reality, instead of fooling ourselves into thinking we are getting a free ride?
It's nice to be able to talk about collective alignment with economic reality with the benefit of hindsight, but in practice, one significant systemic problem is that every individual actor is making an essentially rational decision at the game theoretic level. It makes game theoretic sense for the individual to drive to the big box store sale across town -- gas is cheap, but even if it wasn't they have inelastic demands that have to get met one way or the other. And on the political level, well just look at what happened to poor Jimmy Carter when he tried to do the right thing and begin the transition to clean energy via the OPEC embargo -- the resulting hiked gas prices and stagflation torpedoed his approval rating and reduced his legacy to a one term presidency and some pardons for the Reaganite felons involved in the whole Iran-Contra debacle. In light of that, each politician that we can demonize for corruption is nevertheless acting rationally, taking their kickbacks from the oil companies as they can get them and not risking the wrath of the shortsighted public, who only cares about how much it's going to cost them to drive to that big box store across town, day after day.
So, alignment with economic reality has a certain baseline education as a prerequisite, which is a challenge enough, but even beyond that it requires individual and government actors to make short-term sacrifices or take political risks, and those actions, simply put, are really hard to do. They require a collective JFK-style buy-in that just isn't supported by the individualist culture we have established at this point in time -- just look at the avian individual who provoked me into making this thread if you want an example of that. Freeriding is easy and profitable in the short term -- if you're someone living without the qualms imposed by pesky morals and ethics, why do anything else if you don't have to?
The late Karl Polanyi, sort of a Van Gogh among post-Marxist thinkers in that his work was not appreciated during his lifetime, I think makes a good point about this topic in his book The Great Transformation when he gets into some of the limitations of self-regulating markets. One problem he describes is that when the market needs to correct itself in a way that requires a negative outcome, like increased unemployment or inflation -- the cost is borne disproportionately by the poor, which creates a moral hazard for the policy makers that are often bourgeois enough to reap all the benefits but remain untouched by the consequences of their actions when the time comes to pay the piper. In the car culture example, I imagine the oil barons know they will be long dead by the time the climate consequences come around, and why should they care what alleged challenges their grandchildren will have to face when there is so much damn money to be made? And those most affected by the misalignment with economic reality in many cases have the least power to challenge the injustice of the costs they bear.
I'm probably getting a bit too political here, but I think my position is basically summarized in the book The Big Short, when Wall Street analyst Steve Eisman talks about an epiphany he had -- 'When you’re a conservative Republican, you never think people are making money by ripping other people off,” he said. His mind was now fully open to the possibility. “I now realized there was an entire industry, called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off.'
ktz wrote: ↑
December 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm
I would hope that we could continue to shift the core mindset around money away from "What can I get for my dollar?" to "Who does my dollar empower with each purchase?
Continue? It's way too easy for folks to sort the entire world by price and take the cheapest. It takes a lot more work to find out why it is the cheapest, and to consider the impacts of your decisions on others. Cognitive dissonance seems to be lacking, and I don't know how we restore it.
This is true -- certainly we are a long way from serious, well-organized usage of the technique right now, but I use the word continue because I at least see a semblance of awareness of the power of boycotts and other techniques to exert moral pressure within a capitalist framework in the post-civil rights world. The loss of the Alien Tort statute
that human rights advocates were using to pressure corporations for complicity in human rights abuses is a pretty unfortunate development in my opinion -- the Radiolab sister podcast, More Perfect, did a nice piece on this called Enemy of Mankind
. Randomly you see collective twitter outrage being able to exert pressure on corporations, although this technique seems to be in a pretty adolescent state of development, as it seems to be equally likely to get James Gunn getting fired off his movie or Kevin Hart fired from the Oscars as it is to cut into the profits of Chick Fil-A's anti-LGBTQ management. But you're right, muckraking journalism is a dying breed so it becomes harder and harder to find out the dirty laundry of Nike's sweatshops, Coca Cola's Colombian murders, or Singapore's palm oil deforestation.
Overall, I agree with you in that this approach definitely faces significant challenges, and in fact I saw an interesting position
on capitalism a few years back by NYU professor Vivek Chibber where he talks about how capitalism manages to survive despite how it "digs its own grave" by creating a proletariat vulnerable to exploitation and prone to social unrest: because the challenge of organizing effective collective action is so great that it frequently becomes easier to resign oneself to the coercive mechanisms of capitalism than to try and effectively fight the rent-seeking bourgeois for labor rights. Still, I remain optimistic -- light-speed communication technologies are still in their adolescence, and even if the demonstrations in Belarus, Ukraine, Greece, as well as the Arab Spring beginning with the Tahrir Square protests were ultimately debatable in what they accomplished the end result, they definitely show some initial promise for the power of collective action in a modern context.
The direction in intellectual history since the Enlightenment has been to grant to science the authority to
pronounce what is real, true, objective, and rational, while relegating ethics and religion to the realm of
subjective opinion and nonrational experience.
Once this definition of knowledge is conceded, then any position that appears to be backed by science
will ultimately triumph in the public square over any position that appears based on ethics or religion.
I think we threw the baby out with the bathwater. We find less need for religion, yet there is no less need for ethics or morality. Since most of my reading has been from the ancients or the enlightenment, I was shocked to arrive here and find most people wanting to discuss epistemology and have little regard for worries about virtue. They are facing off with the final boss without passing through level one (which is not to say that getting your morals in place is easy).
Right, and I'd go even further and make the case that with so many billions more people on the planet, the stakes have only gotten higher, and as technology develops each individual becomes more and more empowered to make a difference for good or for ill. Sometimes I get this pang of regret that Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans ultimately lost the battle for states rights and the power of small communities -- the insane risks and unstoppable inertia posed by the centralization of power is one of the things I'm most afraid of in the modern world. I mean, seriously, what sense does it make that rogue traders betting pension funds on Americans paying back their sub-prime mortgages could end up causing an economic calamity of global proportions back in 2008?
ktz wrote: ↑
December 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm
They have adopted their own positions as fact, and conflicting positions as simply the product of a misguided set subjective values.
This is the way of politics, but not the way of philosophy. It is very frustrating to see this tactic here, and a bit ironic when people do this because they think their position has the stamp of approval of science or logic. It's easy to stack the logic onto an assumption and forget that the trail of logic began with an assumption that was unproven.
Right... the impossibility of getting the individual to see the shadows of their cave is really a bit frustrating... my encounters with specific individuals on this forum readily come to mind here. We can call it out as we see it, but it certainly evokes the sense of pushing a large boulder up a hill.
ktz wrote: ↑
December 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm
I also admire stoicism for how easily it lends itself to conversion to actionable heuristics, which I think is an important component for a set of guiding principles.
It is a philosophy of action: study-learn-practice.
Just curious -- is this a canonical approach from one of the stoics themselves, or is this something you have developed in your own praxis?
ktz wrote: ↑
December 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm
How does a stoic defend himself from the madness of the masses?
If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, so as to wish to please anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything with being a philosopher; and, if you wish to be thought so likewise by anyone, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you...
When any person harms you, or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."...
The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person, is, that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is, that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself. The marks of a proficient are, that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one, says nothing concerning himself as being anybody, or knowing anything: when he is, in any instance, hindered or restrained, he accuses himself; and, if he is praised, he secretly laughs at the person who praises him; and, if he is censured, he makes no defense...
If anyone tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, don't make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: " He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these."
The opinions and actions of others are external and therefore outside your control. As such, you must be indifferent to them, so they do not affect your happiness. Your impact on society should come mostly by example, but not by preaching. If you have provided your neighbors or your country with a good and productive citizen, you have done your part, and the rest is up to someone else. After all, a lot of stoicism is about not trying to work above our pay grade, where you might fail in the job you are attempting, and also fail to provide society with the benefit of the 'lower' job you could have done well. Work within yourself, and you will be both happier and more productive.
Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money, or a friend of fidelity and honor? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends on me, will be unassisted. Here again, what assistance is this you mean? "It will not have porticoes nor baths of your providing." And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, or a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another citizen of honor and fidelity, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it. "What place, then, say you, will I hold in the state?" Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your fidelity and honor. But if, by desiring to be useful to that, you lose these, of what use can you be to your country when you are become faithless and void of shame.
(Unattributed quotes are from the Enchiridion of Epictetus)
This is sensible, and matches my intuition -- you have my gratitude once again for the insight. This forum has felt like a bit of a timesink to me overall, but I think the benefit of the stoic tradition that you have offered through your guidance
in the other thread as well as this one, if I can eventually put it into effective practice, will have made the time spent here worth the trouble. I certainly hope I can develop into one of these friends of fidelity and honor that y'all are talking about here, faithless and void of shame.
You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.