how not to complain about capitalism

In his analysis of the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, Max Weber documented their conflict by quoting John Wesley writing in 1786:

I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

By analogy, it is hard to see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true socialism to continue long. For such revival must necessarily depend upon both industry and frugality, and these cannot thrive in the face of ubiquitous temptations to squander capital. But as capital dwindles, so will industry. Accordingly, any social arrangement that undermines returns on capital, would undermine the basis of its industry. Continue reading how not to complain about capitalism

nobels in waiting

«Между жизнью и колбасой мы выбираем жизнь.» —Владимир Путин, 29.08.2008, 22:34

“But after all the Politburo could speak through the high-strung entrails: and now it did stand to his hand, incontrovertible and plain, inspired, the birches clashing and murmuring, lissome and lugubrious and patriotic and all in favor, and he could face them, thinking, Not could. Will. I want to. So it is the red meat after all, no matter how tough. Because if memory exists outside of the flesh it won’t be memory because it won’t know what it remembers so when she became not then half of memory became not and if I become not then all of remembering will cease to be.—Yes, he thought, between grief and nothing I will take grief. And bracing himself against the podium, he announced, between life and sausage, we will take life.

—Vladimir Putin channelling William Faulkner, 29 August 2008, 10:34 p.m. Moscow time

saddam redux

“We had a choice here,” Saakashvili said. “We could turn this country into Chechnya — we had enough people and equipment to do that — or we had to do nothing and stay a modern European country.”

He added: “Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden.”

gans festschrift

In celebration of Eric Gans’ 67th birthday, I am calling for submissions to a Festschrift in his honor. I am also seeking anonymous referees. As the editor, I promise to have it published by this date in 2011. My theme is “Rigor in the Humanities”. All contributions shall be refereed to the standard of passing Alan Sokal’s chuckle test. All interested parties should contact me by email or phone: 323-363-1860.


Nick Bostrom is the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, who bills himself as “philosopher, polymath, leading transhumanist thinker and spokesperson”. In a recent publication, he popularizes the Great Filter of Robin Hanson. It is a response to the Fermi paradox, anticipated in a more lyrical vein by Blaise Pascal in his famous confession of fear elicited by the eternal silence of infinite space: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.” (Pensées, Brunschvicg 206, Lafuma 201) While working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Enrico Fermi transmuted religious fear into scientific exasperation, exclaiming: “Where is everybody?” More pedantically, modern followers of Pascal point out the conflict between the vastness of the universe leading to the expectation of a plurality of intelligent life, and the lack of its manifestation, let alone its presence, in our purlieu. Hanson enumerates plausible candidates for groups of hard trial-and-error biological steps: one hard step at the beginning leading to life, then zero to eight steps leading to complexity, then two to three steps leading to sex, then a double step to society, then a single step to cradle, and then perhaps a final step to language. Overall, this breakdown adds up to seven to nine hard steps. All of these steps lie in our past. Any one of them may have constituted a real hurdle. Unless we already overcame all of such hurdles, it is likely that another catastrophic obstacle will arise in our path to debar us from interstellar colonization. Conversely, every instance of past or present life found to be lacking in our extraterrestrial peregrinations, would yield an encouragement to persevere on our path to planetary conquest. Or so thinks Bostrom, oblivious of the greater American wisdom, “that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” Thus our most responsible choice in this matter would put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of SETI.

Here is a brief for Rummy’s assumption of responsibility for the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. As a consequence of the Copernican principle, the place of man in the universe can not be unique. Accordingly, the universe must contain a multitude of minds with similar capabilities, and nothing could foreclose the emergence and development of superhuman minds elsewhere in it. Let us conjecturally identify the carriers of the most advanced class of intelligence with God, allowing for the possibility of plural divine minds. In other words, on the mediocrity principle, the human mind is most likely to occupy a statistically average place in the intellectual range that extends from prions to gods. Reformulating the simulation argument also due to Bostrom, we arrive at the following options, of which at least one must be realized in reality:

  1. the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a divine stage;
  2. any divine civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of autocratic simulations of their evolutionary history or its possible but unactualized variations;
  3. human minds are almost certainly beholden to divine providence and depend utterly upon its autocracy.

The first option conflicts with the principle of plenitude, which asserts that in the long run, everything that can happen, will happen. The second option is rendered unlikely by meddlesome traits universally observed among eggheads. The last remaining option is occasionalism, which postulates continuous supernatural intervention in all human actions. The apparent lack of such intervention yields a real conundrum. One way to resolve it is through postulating a motive for supernatural meddlers to abscond. Along these lines, John A. Ball, a radio astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, proposed that Earth was a zoo and that extraterrestrials were its keepers, observing its inhabitants. In his article published in 1973 in Icarus, an international journal for solar system studies, Ball pointed out: “The perfect zoo (or wilderness area or sanctuary) would be one in which the fauna do not interact with, and are unaware of, their zoo-keepers.” Yet thirty-five years later, the “zoo hypothesis” continues to receive a short shrift from scientists. It stands to their reason that any sensible space aliens would commence their contact with mankind with a formal connection with political, economic, and intellectual elite. Since no such contact has been experienced by our betters, it follows that space aliens are not in attendance around these parts.

A more credulous, and canonically more credible scientist is José Gabriel Funes, who replaced the opponent of “intelligent design” theory George Coyne, as the director of the Vatican Observatory. Recently Funes has gone on official Vatican record (English translation here) with speculations that alien life forms could very well exist and even remain free from Original Sin. A logical extension of this thought, identifying guilt-free aliens with our angelic zookeepers, would afford a Catholic resolution for our conundrum.

Cross-posted to [info]larvatus и [info]philosophy.

three cheers for w.!

Kenneth T. Walsh muses on the stakes in this year’s presidential campaign, reminding his readers of Lincoln’s popularity in the North plummeting as a result of the Civil War at first going very badly for the Union.

He was derided as a despot, a dictator, an incompetent, and worse. At the same time, he was blamed for the many failures on the battlefield and for the horrendous casualties, posted day after day in town after town across the land. He changed generals when they lost big battles or when they didn’t follow up on their limited successes, but for the early years the conflict seemed hopeless.

Even as the perspective informed by Lincoln’s success at preserving the Union imposes itself on recent conflicts in Chechnya, Kosovo, and South Ossetia, American hagiography stands unmitigated:

In the end, Lincoln’s profound legacy was created and propelled by two elections—the one in 1860, which triggered the war, and the election of 1864, which enabled Lincoln to win it. Historian Henry Adams once wrote that a president “resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek.” Lincoln understood this to his core. Added historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: “The Constitution offers every president a helm, but the course and the port constitute the first requirement for presidential greatness. Great presidents possess, or are possessed by, a vision of an ideal America. Their passion is to make sure the ship of state sails on the right course.” Defining that vision and setting that course are what Lincoln’s presidency was all about.

Meanwhile, Edward Luttwak promulgates an encomium to George W Bush’s foreign policy in a parallel to Harry Truman’s legacy. As Truman with his shambolic policies in China and Korea, so Bush with his stumbles in Iraq; but as Truman with his strategy of containing the Soviet empire bequeathing a legacy of its “almost peaceful disintegration”, so Bush with confining jihadism to Iraq and the border zones of Pakistan, denuclearizing Libya and Syria, and precipitating the demolition of nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.

All that remains to ensure W.’s third term is for Oliver Stone to chime in.

thorstein veblen on the propaganda of the faith

Official Seal of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Writers who discuss these matters have not directed attention to the Propaganda of the Faith as an object-lesson in sales-publicity, its theory and practice, its ways and means, its benefits and its possibilities of gain. Yet it is altogether the most notable enterprise of the kind. The Propaganda of the Faith is quite the largest, oldest, most magnificent, most unabashed, and most lucrative enterprise in sales-publicity in all Christendom. Much is to be learned from it as regards media and suitable methods of approach, as well as due perseverance, tact, and effrontery. Continue reading thorstein veblen on the propaganda of the faith

norsk bonde, yiddishe kopf

Thorstein Veblen
The Intellectual Pre-eminence of Jews in Modern Europe

Edwin B. Child, Thorstein Veblen, 1934, Yale University Art Gallery

Among all the clamorous projects of national self-determination which surround the return of peace, the proposal of the Zionists is notable for sobriety, good will, and a poise of self-assurance. More confidently and perspicuously than all the others, the Zionists propose a rehabilitation of their national integrity under a régime of live and let live, “with charity for all, with malice toward none.” Yet it is always a project for withdrawal upon themselves, a scheme of national demarcation between Jew and gentile; indeed, it is a scheme of territorial demarcation and national frontiers of the conventional sort, within which Jews and Jewish traits, traditions, and aspirations are to find scope and breathing space for a home-bred culture and a free unfolding of all that is best and most characteristic in the endowment of the race. There runs through it all a dominant bias of isolation and inbreeding, and a confident persuasion that this isolation and inbreeding will bring great and good results for all concerned. The Zionists aspire to bring to full fruition all that massive endowment of spiritual and intellectual capacities of which their people have given evidence throughout their troubled history, and not least during these concluding centuries of their exile.
    The whole project has an idyllic and engaging air. And any disinterested bystander will be greatly moved to wish them godspeed. Continue reading norsk bonde, yiddishe kopf