Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Problem (or why I changed perspective)

An internet acquaintance, and warrior for the cause of honest money, asked me, upon reading of my new blog, where I was going with it as the theme seemed so different from my earlier musings. In a sense the change of perspective was a long time coming, but there was a particular event that put all the pieces in place.

Earlier this year I listened in to a conversation my wife was having with a friend. It was a fairly typical conversation between two mothers with young children, sharing their joys and gripes with the world. My ears pricked up when I heard the friend start complaining about the high prices of food, fuel (this was in February so heating oil was on people's minds), gas, medical care, etc. In previous conversations over dinner I had expressed my economic views, perhaps too strongly, as will be seen later, so I took the complaints as my cue to enter.

To my surprise, as I entered the room, my wife's friend, after exchanging pleasantries, asked me if I still thought the economy was going to deteriorate. At first I didn't know how to respond, "hadn't they just been discussing the deterioration?," I thought to myself. Perhaps she means to ask if I think the current situation is going to get worse, was the next thought. I told her that my views hadn't changed which brought a bemused look to her face. "Look at the stock market and read the paper, " she responded, " can't you see that the economy is doing well?" I left with a parting, "perhaps you are right," and went to my office to think.

This woman had run a successful bakery in the Bronx and is married to an attorney who works for NY State, by which I mean to suggest that she would easily pass a vocabulary test which included the term "economy". Yet, she failed to connect the phenomena which concerned her with the term in our conversation. Perhaps, I thought, I had expressed my economic views too strongly which can lead people to refute the message as a defensive gesture or perhaps she fears a "weak economy" and thus will torture the language to hide that possibility from her conscious mind.

The more I thought about the exchange, the more my world view started to shift and the more I realized that economics was not the problem, human awareness and faith, or the lack thereof, was. As Bertrand Russell put it in his Analysis of Mind, one expresses understanding of the phrase, "there is a car coming" not by defining the terms or using it correctly in a paragraph, but by stopping and looking up to see if you need to get out of the way. Defining and using terms and phrases correctly merely denotes that one might understand what to do IF they were willing to see them as true. The problem then is not that there isn't sufficient information, or persuasive arguments concerning the, in my view, coming demise of American economic hegemony, the problem is that sometimes people won't lend credence to the view, even when faced with proof an undecided reasonable person would likely accept.

Whenever I start thinking about "the truth" the wisdom of William James is sure to pop into my mind within moments. Here it is again, I thought, more supporting evidence that, as per James' Pragmatism; "truth" is a quality people ascribe to certain propositions because it seems "good", a sense which can be engendered by the simple desire to "go with the flow", and once considered true for an extended length of time gains a hold in the mind making rejection more and more difficult, but fortunately, not impossible. This is to distinguish between what any individual might consider to be true (by which I mean act as if it were true, even though on some level, perhaps late at night when one is alone with their thoughts, one might be "aware" of the truth, it doesn't serve as a basis for action) and what is, in fact, true, or as the Neoplatonists might put it, part of the Nous or divine mind. In other words, a person can firmly believe something to be true when it is not and worse, might on some level believe something to be true but act as if it wasn't ( or vice versa). Plato put forward his metaphor of the cave and Christian Theology refers to the notion of God revealing things to man, both conceptions touching on the crux of this post, i.e. how people ascribe truth to a view.

Certain ideas are tough to shake, such as the notion, once the zenith of empire has passed, of cultural superiority. That quip from Aristotle, "the gods too are fond of a joke," comes to mind when I think of how deleterious it is for the people in a culture to think it superior (thus not needing to be changed) and how advantageous for the people in a culture to be skeptical of its superiority (thus worthy of being changed). The problem isn't economic, it is psychological. Pavlov is ringing the bell but not providing food and some of us are still salivating.

Stated explicitly, my arrogant dreams of awakening sleeping minds to the coming danger has given way to a more humble desire to blog a bit for like minds. Cultures rise and fall to their own rhythms which need not be the driving force for individuals, if one can think amidst the din of the many. I can't out-shout the din, and I don't think I need to. Change will come when the time is ripe. Meanwhile I'm just going to whisper to the few. while I enjoy the ride.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Confusion by Corporation

Corporation n.

1. A body that is granted a charter recognizing it as a separate legal entity having its own rights, privileges, and liabilities distinct from those of its members.

2. Such a body created for purposes of government. Also called body corporate.

3. A group of people combined into or acting as one body.

Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, in the course of a formal judicial utterance, thus defined the term corporation: "A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs, and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with qualities and capacities, that corporations were invented, and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being."

The other day I was reading Stephen Roach's economic analysis and I came across a conceptualization I have often used myself, the shorthand notation of conflating a country's policy makers with the country itself; China understands that a 2% currency adjustment is only a down-payment on a much larger revaluation. In modern times the habit seems to be that one thinks of a corporation within the confines of finance but countries and even the institutions of religion are corporations, like the Vatican. In each case, if you think about it for a second, after reading the above definitions, you might come to the conclusion that these things really don't exist. There is no such thing as China, although there is a civilization of people living in the country so named. Perhaps John Lennon captured the notion best when he sang, I don't believe in the Beatles, I just believe in me.

I sometimes think of corporations as if they were magical objects in Greek Myths, e.g. the "cap of darkness" and "magic wallet" in the Perseus tale, or perhaps a bit more fitting, the One Ring of Tolkein, which convey special powers to those who "posses" them. As a child I sometimes dreamed of finding such objects myself, but with the benefit of a few decades hindsight it is probably a good thing that a child never have such power. Stripped of their office, George Bush and Tony Blair, to pick two corporate heads at random, are just men. However, by virtue of people's belief in the corporation, in these cases, the US and UK governments, they assume great power-power that can and is being used. To better illustrate, consider that 2000 years ago, Rome held a similar place in the minds of men, but now is just a city. In a sense, a good portion of the history of man lies in the quest to create, destroy and possess the corporations of the day.

I noted that I too had often used similar terminology in speaking or writing of nations or companies. It's a linguistic form with which people are familiar. When Roach writes the China understands, readers don't wonder what he means, but I think they should. China doesn't understand anything, although its leaders, I imagine, have fairly detailed world views, they understand many things. I would also imagine that there are differences of opinion among the leaders, just as there are differences of opinion among policy makers here in the US. Usually those differing views are submerged behind the facade of a single body speaking with one voice, particularly when economic times are good. It is when times turn from good to less so that the strains in maintaining the corporation come to the fore, like a Rain God who isn't bringing rain. Under those conditions the people behind the scenes become more obvious, as I imagine will be happening more and more over the next few years.

The thing to which I wish to draw your attention is this, if you wish to avoid confusion, always remember that corporate decision are at best simply human decisions, and in my view, given the dynamics of collective decision making and urge among corporate insiders to maintain and expand corporate power, sometimes less than human.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

helpful addendum (maybe) on the occult

One of the helpful thoughts I recall when I get depressed by all the bullsh*t being fed to the unsuspecting is the wonderful way the mind works, or perhaps more accurately stated, the wonderful way the mind can work. According to certain theories of cognition the mind is like a computer of sorts, taking in perceptions and storing them using some filtering mechanism. Thus, or so many public relations people hope, once one impresses a view on a mind it is there to stay. Yet, people can change the way they think and do, sometimes easily and sometimes not until pressure, in some form, is applied.

The process I described in yesterday's post of learning a more accurate definition of a word and then allowing that more accurate definition to be reflected in a new world view is just such a cleansing process. Regardless, or so I believe, of the amount of crap one has internalized over the years, certain experiences which lead to changed thinking can in turn inspire changed world views. Having a child, losing a job, witnessing the effects of war on a friend of family member among other experiences can have a profound effect on one's world view. Heck, if the dude who came up with the idea of "Freedom Fries" can change his mind on war, anything is possible, yes?

At least I find the thought comforting in the dark of the night when I worry about the effects of the ruling party's policies.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Worshipping the Occult

oc·cult adj.
  1. Of, relating to, or dealing with supernatural influences, agencies, or phenomena.
  2. Beyond the realm of human comprehension; inscrutable.
  3. Available only to the initiate; secret: occult lore.
  4. Hidden from view; concealed
Call me kooky (or call me Ishmael, if you are a fan of Melville) but on occasion I like to run down the etymology of a word to get a better sense of its meaning. Just the other day I found that the root of occult, which evoked images of The Omen in my little noggin, is occulere: to hide, make secret or cover over. In other words, those who, like myself a few days ago, thought of secret occult rituals were wasting precious time in redundency, and confusing themselves to boot. It doesn't matter what else you are doing, Dude, I thought, just by being secretive, it becomes occult.

A ha, I thought, (really) perhaps there is some truth to the notion that some portion of Anglo-American society and by virtue thereof, some portion of the elite, worships the occult. They obviously think the best results (for whom being the open question) occur when true aims are hidden and the means used are obscured.

I don't intend this to be a partisan post, the problem transcends the bicameral system. Look at it this way, long gone are the days when economic policy wasn't occult (read Secrets of the Temple again only this time think about it.) If that doesn't jog your thinking, do you really believe the economic data from Washington, do you Remember the Maine!, do you believe that rebels in Iraq are in their "last throes", or even that US armed forces went to war in Iraq to eliminate WMD? How much oil do we have left anyway?

I have these flashes a few times a week when some word I have used in the past becomes more clearly defined in my mind. Sometimes the change in my thinking is trivial (ah, HOT means don't touch) and sometimes it is more profound (wow, that is part of what you are referring to when you say, God). I thought initially that the change in my thinking from the clarification of the term "occult" would be a trivial one but last night I started thinking about all the warnings in history and literature about the occult- warnings from people who understood the original meaning of the term, by the way.

Maybe there is a bit of virtue to being overt; saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Maybe the penalties for worshipping the occult, either in one's own life or by following those who do, are substantial, and by virtue of the practice, hidden from view. Remember, just because you don't have a pentagram (or is that Pentagon) inscribed on your floor, doesn't mean it isn't occult.

Maybe Dharma would be easy to find, if we would just stop hiding it from ourselves.

Wow, this is too heavy for a hot day, time to turn up the tunes...see you later (not if I see you first sayeth the peanut gallery). Here comes the Steely Dan now (click me)

In the beginning

A dude sat down at his computer and started typing with the Dead's "Eyes of the World" playing in the background. Cicero was right, the dude thought, when he wrote, "Omnium rerum principia parva sunt" or "stuff is small in the beginning." Yep, small indeed, not a drop of Dharma yet....but stay tuned, I'm sure you've read the theory that a billion monkeys plunking on a keyboard would eventually write Shakespeare and I'm not aiming that high, which should be blindingly apparent to any who note the casual shift from third to first person (or the run on sentence, I just couldn't stop myself) . Perhaps the shift from "him" to "me" symbolizes my decision to "jump into" this new persona , either that or I can't write worth a lick. As Fox News puts it, "we report, you decide."