Monday, January 02, 2006


I do most of my writing, typing actually (I tend to contemplate the ideas and formulate the articulation lying in bed at night, driving without music and walking by myself) in my barn/office a very short walk from my home. After publishing yesterday's piece I didn't even make it into the house without the urge to edit hitting home. "Dude," I said to myself (talking to one's self seems to me an occupational habit of philosophers) "you too played at being an expert in the 90s. Had you risen to Bandow's stature would you have turned down the money?" I thought of a few instances which suggested no, but then many others which suggested otherwise. I wouldn't do it now, but I think differently about money and words now than I did then. In general I took money more seriously than words, a view that doesn't fit comfortably in my mind any longer.

1600 years or so ago, in a book which inspired this post, a man recalled his own episodes of linguistic a$-kissing for money.

I recall from the incident of the day on which I was preparing to recite a panegyric on the emperor. In it I was to deliver many a lie, and the lying was to be applauded by those who knew I was lying. My heart was agitated with this sense of guilt and it seethed with the fever of my uneasiness. For, while walking along one of the streets of Milan, I saw a poor beggar--with what I believe was a full belly--joking and hilarious. And I sighed and spoke to the friends around me of the many sorrows that flowed from our madness, because in spite of all our exertions--such as those I was then laboring in, dragging the burden of my unhappiness under the spur of ambition, and, by dragging it, increasing it at the same time--still and all we aimed only to attain that very happiness which this beggar had reached before us; and there was a grim chance that we should never attain it! Augustine of Hippo Confessions Book 6 Ch. VI

Like Augustine the African, I too played the game and wondered, at rare intervals, why. But mostly I just played the game. My critique is not meant to be from on high but from the trenches-been there, done that (whew!, glad I escaped). I understand the drive if I don't now agree with it.

I've been on TV and spoken at conferences around the world and as I recall my talks much of what I said seems to me now silly rhetorical nonsense packaged with enough of the received dogma to fool others whose studies were of equal depth as my own (lots of those) although at the time I was sure it was quite clever, though crafty seems more apt. In other words, the first person I fooled was myself. Looking back, I assume I was picked to stand as "expert" because of my ignorance, ambition and skill as rhetor. Ironically, I feel far more qualified to speak on economics now yet have almost no desire. I guess there is a difference between wanting to be thought of as someone who knows and actually learning.

As I was writing, almost as soon as I finished my last post, I felt the urge to edit but didn't, deciding instead to post a follow-up confession. I then watched a bit of TV and was almost embarrassed to recall myself doing what I was seeing on the tube. Ah, to be on TV. To have one's opinion begged. To laugh overloud at the host's jokes in order to be called on again, only to prove the wisdom of Mark Twain: it is better to remain silent and have people suspect you are a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt. Ah the human condition, better learn to love it, because leaving it is so terminal.

In the end I share Augustine's sense that if I could come to see how silly I was (and may still be, I'll let you know in a decade, if I'm still kicking around) there is always hope for the world.