Wednesday, 1 December 2010

That Is So Retro

For all of my life I have been accused of being a man out of time.  I used to believe that, but then I grew up, and I no longer hold to that notion.  Sure, I have certain dated preferences and styles, but I am a man of my age for better or worse.  You see, I am a Modern.  I’m not a post-modern or a pre-modern.   My time is now.
There are those who long for another time.  Not just another time or by-gone era, rather a by-gone age -- the most horrific, vile, and terrible age in human history known as the Middle-Ages.  You might ask why anyone would long for such a thing.  I have a theory about that.
The human being’s primary survival skill is reason.  But unlike other creatures we have to learn our skill with each generation.  Reason is not given to us by nature as tooth and claw is given to the wilder inhabitants of this planet.  The capacity for rational thought is not a lump sum, but rather comes in degrees.  Those of high degrees we might call enlightened, while those of low degrees we call savages.    The savage believes his rituals make the sun rise while the enlightened plot the planets’ course in the heavens.
Savagery comes natural to us humans.  Enlightenment takes work.  So despite reason being our natural survival skill, it is in the nature of man to be savage.  Without constant vigilance we will tumble from the heights of the Modern and into the abyss of the Pre-modern.
What makes a civilization enlightened or savage is really just a question of numbers.  The more enlightened people there are, the higher these Atlas’s can hold civilization aloft, the fewer the number, the less enlightenment.  A group of ignorant savages can easily burn the one rational man at the stake.  A certain ratio needs to be maintained.
It bothers me that one of the definitions for Romantic is an idealistic disconnection from reality.  Romanticism is more of a hyper-reality, or even a glorification of reality.  But I must admit, in many ways this definition is a fair cop.  In their pastiche of the Middle-Ages they rightly extolled the virtues imposed on their literary nobles, but wrongly ignored the peasants and their relationship to the nobles.
There are a few key aspects of feudal life worth noting here.  There is the source of political power, the role of the peasants, and the idea of the good king or noble.
So how did you become king?  You were either given it by your father or you took it from someone else.  What did you take?  The kingship, yes, but more importantly you took the land.  The king was the great landlord.  He owned everything.  From the land comes the most valuable commodity in the world – food.  Whoever could feed the most thugs got to be king.
There is one undeniable fact about land.  It is finite.  Property ownership can be a zero sum game.  If one guy owns all the land, then there is no more land to be owned.  Therefore the king or his agents, thugs, nobles, or whatever you choose to call them, made the rules.  From this wealth, the sole ownership of property and the production from it, the king wielded political power enforced by the hired swords he fed.
This political and economic monopoly was maintained by laws that forbade nobles from selling or giving away their lands.  Everything went to the eldest son.  This kept the nobles, as king’s agents, in control of the land and prevented any upstart peasants from competing with them.
As for the peasants, they were not slaves.  They were something worse.  It is in a master’s self interests to keep his slave healthy and working.  It’s like caring for your car.  The feudal master had no such compulsion.  The serf was neither free nor a slave.  He was just part of the land.  They did not even have the right to be property.  If they did not produce for the nobility, they died.  Simple as that.  The king had his thugs, but they lived far away.  The immediate threat was the local noble.  So the peasant came to love the distant king and hate the local law enforcer.
Finally, what made a good king?  He was the one who used his wealth and power to benefit the lives of his people.  He was a sort of father figure who provided protection for his people, law, order, and supported good causes.
Let’s be honest here.  The Middle-Ages was a nightmare age.  The institutional of feudalism should be hated with the same fervour as we despise slavery.  It was an age of the savage warlord kings and nobles and the ignorant peasant.
From this dark period came the great rebirth and upon that beginning came the Enlightenment.  Both of these ages form the foundation of the Modern and with modernity came a new way of seeing things.  Adam Smith demonstrated that wealth is found in production and trading in goods and services and not the land.  With the rise of the middle-class, wealth and political power was redistributed.  No longer does wealth automatically confer political power.  The individual became free to make his own choices for good or ill and reap what he has sown with full responsibility for both.  Private property came to be seen as not simply land but also goods, in other words, capital.
Understanding these natural systems requires reason.  Just as the sun appears to revolve around the Earth, but does not, so too did the Enlightenment lift the veil of perception to show the truth behind economic, political, and social forces.  But this lantern is not self-sustaining.  It must be preserved, tended to, and maintained.  Otherwise it will fade and the darkness will return.
So let’s take another look at feudalism.  All property belongs to the king.  Technically, this is still the case in the United Kingdom.  Does the monarch rule these lands?  Yes, but the responsibility has been transferred to Parliament.
So when a Socialist or Communist tells you that all property is theft, they are on the one hand acknowledging the medieval notion that all property belongs to the king because he or his ancestors  took it.  But then these socialists advocate surrendering that “stolen” property to the state, which they call “the people”, but it is actually the political powers and therefore just another form of king.  
This is justified in a social democracy because the leader is elected for a set term, so unlike the king it is not actually his land, it belong to his title.  When the people of Britain go to the ballot box, they are voting for whoever the political parties choose to put forward as their candidate for their area.  Whichever party gets the most seats in Parliament gets to rule the country and the leader of the party, chosen by the party, gets to be prime minister.  Does that sound like “the people” to you or just another band of ruling thugs?
Socialism and central planning advocates the reunification of wealth and political power which was a key feature of feudal society.  Today, wealth and political power are not the same.  Recent history is filled with examples of men who tried to convert wealth into political power but failed.  Whereas men of modest economic means were still able to increase the political power they possessed.
An interesting phenomenon we see operating particularly in America is Corporatism, or Crony Capitalism.   This is where large corporations use their wealth to form a cabal with the political leaders.  Again we see the merger of wealth and political power.   This alliance serves two purposes for the corporation, one is as a means to by-pass government regulation and the other is to decrease competition.  In some instances there is a by-product, which is increased revenue from high priced goods and services due to legislated price fixing.
The primary purpose of business is to increase revenue, which it accomplishes by trading goods and/or services in free voluntary exchange for money.  This is not the same as political motivations.  Some psychological studies have found that politicians are driven by ego and narcissism.  History and experience seems to bear this out.  It was by playing on the egos of the aristocracy that the medieval merchants bought their freedom and contributed to the end of feudalism, and likewise today do businesses manipulate the egos of politicians, though not necessarily in the cause of freedom.
If you see land as wealth, then you see the zero sum game expressed by socialist, but that is medieval thinking.  Wealth is production, therefore it is expandable.  There is always more.  One man getting richer does not mean someone else is getting poorer.
Just as the medieval nobles kept a monopoly on the land and therefore the production and therefore the wealth, so too does government maintain monopolies in areas of education and some aspects of transportation.  In a Socialist system, the government monopolizes what V.I. Lenin called the commanding heights of industry.  This represents a complete control over production.  Where does this power go to?  To the state and by state I mean the people in the political ruling class.
As for the peasant, their place was to produce or die.  Our situation is not so harsh.  However, what do you call a system in which the average worker surrenders three to four month’s labour and production to the State?  According to various groups, such as The Taxpayer’s Alliance, this is the current state of affairs.  There are the obvious taxes, such as income, property, and sales taxes, but there are hidden taxes as well.
When a business is taxed, this tax is figured into the operating costs of the business and passed on to consumers in the form of higher priced goods and services.  The same holds true for increased costs due to government regulations.  Then there is inflation.  When the government prints money or lowers interest rates this increases the money supply which eventually increases the cost the goods and services.  The money in your pocket is now devalued.  It is an invisible tax.  The US dollar has lost over 90% of its value over nearly 100 years.  Prior to 1912 it lost almost none.  I wonder how much of their production the serfs were allowed to keep.
We also see the idea of the good king being transferred to good government.  A good government is viewed as one that provides services to the people paid for from government coffers without any consideration as to where that money came from.  At least the good king was throwing his own gold coins at the peasant’s feet.
What we are seeing today is people advocating a return to feudalism.  They debate topics with points that are perfectly applicable to a simple, savage, medieval worldview.  For them it is as if the Modern world never came into existence.  They lack the most basic understanding of modern political, economic, and social thought.  And yet they claim the moral high ground while calling for a state worse than slavery.
But this is not the only area of life where we see this.   Doctor Patrick Moore is one of the founders of Greenpeace.  Originally, the organisation was more concerned with conservation than environmentalism.  He tells the story of how he came to leave the very organisation he co-founded.  Members wanted to start a campaign to ban chlorine.  As a scientist, Moore’s only response was that you cannot ban an element, it’s an idiotic notion.
We see in our civilization the ever increasing rise in this pre-modern mindset.  People favour superstition to science, wish-fulfilment to economics, collectivism to individualism and serfdom to freedom.
One of the greatest frustrations I face in my day job is this peasant mentality.  For those of us in the West, we are thousands of years removed from the Stone Age.  So for us it is distant history.  But among us are an increasing number of individuals who are but a stone’s throw of a generation or two from it.  They never inherited the lantern of enlightenment or learned to make one themselves, but simply stood in its glow.  Then there are those who are inheritors, but have rejected it as something beyond their ability to understand and look to others to take care of them.  I actually had someone once say to me, “I’m not a reader” as if literacy was a lifestyle choice.
There are plenty of nice middle-class words for it.  Call it a return to nature, alternative medicine, New Age religion, neo-tribalism, even multiculturalism.  On the political front we can call it socialism or central planning.  However, if you look at these concepts point for point what we find is the call for a return to the nightmare of the Middle Ages, a time before industrialisation, modern medicine, modern scientific understanding, freedom, and individualism.  A time when the people judged good government according to the quality and quantity of hand-outs they received.
My dear reader, take a moment and get some perspective here.  Look through the veneer of our modern world.  If I was to write a story in which a character visits an astrologer to discuss her romantic prospects and then goes to the local wise woman to purchase herbs, would you know if my story in set in 1010 or 2010?
Then there is this incident last year in Detroit, Michigan where thousands of people queued-up to get what they thought was a share of the US stimulus money.  Here is a transcript from local news reporter, Ken Rogulski’s story.

ROGULSKI: Why are you here?

WOMAN #1: To get some money.

ROGULSKI: What kind of money?

WOMAN #1: Obama money.

ROGULSKI: Where's it coming from?

WOMAN #1: Obama.

ROGULSKI: And where did Obama get it?

WOMAN #1: I don't know, his stash. I don't know. (laughter) I don't know where he got it from, but he givin' it to us, to help us.

WOMAN #2: And we love him.

WOMAN #1: We love him. That's why we voted for him!

WOMEN: (chanting) Obama! Obama! Obama! (laughing)


ROGULSKI:  Did you get an application to fill out yet?

WOMAN:  I sure did.  And I filled it out, and I am waiting to see what the results are going to be.

ROGULSKI:  Will you know today how much money you're getting?

WOMAN:  No, I won't, but I'm waiting for a phone call.

ROGULSKI:  Where's the money coming from?

WOMAN:  I believe it's coming from the City of Detroit or the state.

ROGULSKI:  Where did they get it from?

WOMAN:  Some funds that was forgiven (sic) by Obama.

ROGULSKI:  And where did Obama get the funds?

WOMAN:  Obama getting the funds from... Ummm, I have no idea, to tell you the truth.  He's the president.

ROGULSKI:  In downtown Detroit, Ken Rogulski, WJR News.
They are like peasant waiting for the king to throw coins at their feet, but these coins are not the President’s personal stash.  These are taxes taken from ordinary, hard working citizens by force, and yet the complexity of this issue is beyond the ability of these peasants to understand.
I use the word peasant quite a bit here and I realised that I have yet to define exactly what I mean by that.  Psychologists have classified what they call the slave mind or slave mentality.  It is a state when the person becomes completely incapable of thinking or acting for themselves.  The peasant mind is similar. 
With freedom comes responsibility and consequence.  Your first responsibility is to yourself, then to those directly connected to you, and then those indirectly connected to you.  So you might say, first yourself, then family and friends, and then community, state, nation, and humanity.  This requires a certain level of reason and imagination to understand how all of this fits together.  The peasant lacks this level of abstract thought.
The peasant is not a slave, but neither is he entirely free.  He is simply part of the system.  A nameless, faceless, part of the collective described in political rhetoric as “the poor”, “the exploited”, or “the people”.  In lighter times he is driven by the pursuit of immediate pleasures and in darker times he is driven by fear and paranoia and never truly comprehending where all this comes from.  It’s like when a child asks a parent “why is the sky blue” and the parent answers, “Because God made it that way.”
One of humanity’s greatest leaps forward was when he realised that the plants he found to eat and the animals he found to kill for food were not just there.  They came from someplace.  And the conditions that created them could be understood and reproduced.  The result was agriculture.
The Enlightenment and the Romantic era that followed it were periods where we came to understand every aspect of human existence and then use that knowledge to our advantage.   No avenue of investigation or exploration was deemed beyond human comprehension.  This is the Modern world.  A world guided by reason and not emotion, superstition, and ignorance.
I have often suggested that mankind is at a critical junction in its history.  We are facing either a new age of enlightenment or a return to the Dark Ages, a new techno-feudalism.  There are three key moments in history that brought us out of the Middle-Ages, into the Romantic Era, and established The Modern.  These are Capitalism, Republicanism, and the Reformation.  Capitalism empowered the individual and created wealth, Republicanism freed the individual from oppressive government and the tyranny of the mob, and the Reformation encouraged people to interpret the world for themselves.  Yes, originally the Reformation said people could interpret the Bible for themselves, but this evolved beyond simply interpreting scripture.
Today, the free market is rejected for social planning, the republican form of government is brushed aside in the name of social democracy, and we look to the mass media to interpret the world for us.  We see the amalgamation of wealth and the force of government in Corporatism.  And the academics have perched themselves in their ivory towers like medieval scholars whispering in the kings ear’s, telling him what is best for the ignorant masses.
There is one more key element.  In the broadest and most general of terms we might say that the ages of Western Civilization could be labelled either Platonic or Aristotelian.  Plato’s philosophy fit nicely into the medieval worldview, but it was Aristotle’s that brought us out of it.  Plato is an idealist looking at an ideal reality of which ours is simply a reflection.  In that it amounts to a rejection of reality.  Aristotle was more practical.  His view looks at the world as it is.  Plato is about ideology over reality and Aristotle is about the underlying principles that govern reality.  The current zeitgeist is far more Platonic than Aristotelian. 
Here is an example of what I am writing about.  I have had a few friends who have taken Media Studies courses.  Some friends went to college and others to the more prestigious university.  Those in college learned media theory and analysis.  However, the courses taught in the university covered why there are not enough black lesbians in film.  The college taught principles (Aristotle) while the university taught ideology (Plato).  It’s obvious which course is more valuable in the job market.
The Medieval worldview adopted a Christian ideology with plenty of add-ons, such as the divine right of kings and the social hierarchy.  Anyone who deviated from this approved ideology was burned at the stake or worse.  Today, we call this political correctness.  It includes environmentalism, cultural relativism, internationalism, and socialism.  Anyone who disagrees is branded a global warming denier, a racist, a right-wing extremist, or an evil capitalist.  The more outspoken are slandered and misrepresented across the media and metaphorically burned in effigy.
Peasants like ideology, be it Christianity, or Marxism, or any other kind of -ism.  Ideology gives you a nice neat little package that you do not have to think too hard about once you’ve got the basics and if you follow the rules you’ll be socially acceptable.
Principles are in some ways easier in that there are certain fixed premises.  Where it gets difficult is in the application.  It is for each person to apply these principles in each circumstance regardless of how they feel about the issue.  This requires a higher degree of imagination, reason, and self-restraint.  These qualities are not generally found among the peasantry.
As you can tell from this and previous writings, I am very anti-socialist.  Every Saturday in city centre a group of socialist gather to spread their ideology.  I disagree with them, I am outraged by them, I see them as immoral.  And yet, I believe in freedom of speech.  So I grit my teeth, hold my tongue, and endure.
I have witness this exact same group of socialists form a mob and shout down those with whom they disagree until the police had to escort the two outnumbered men to safety.  The socialists then returned to their camp.  I saw one with a self-righteous smirk on his face as though he had accomplished same great moral deed.  There is no discussion, no debate, no mutual respect, and no acknowledgement of rights; there is only the force of the mob.  This is the medieval mindset where only force prevails.
Each society, each culture, each civilization gets the government that they deserve.  People who refuse to think for themselves become peasants, those who refuse to act for themselves become slaves, those who refuse to stand-up to tyranny deserve oppression.  If a new techno-feudalism is upon us and we are witnessing the end of Modern civilization, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Evil Days

Perhaps like many people I have struggled with ethics, the questions of right and wrong.  Unfortunately, this debate has been dominated by religions and idealistic political groups.  All that has been accomplished is a muddying of the waters.
Two concepts cleared the waters for me.  One is that ethics is simply a question of right action.  What actions will lead to a prosperous and happy life?  Good actions bring benefit and wrong actions bring destruction.  Admittedly, this is a simplistic version, but it captures the basic idea.  Good intentions can bring bad results and bad intentions can sometimes bring positive unintended consequences.
The second concept was recognising a connection between Natural Rights, Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and traditional moral teachings from many different cultures.  For example, when the 10 Commandments says, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” or “Thou Shalt Not Covet” what it is saying is that we must respect the property rights of others.  Likewise, “Thou Shalt Not Murder” is saying to respect your fellow man’s right to life.
If we respect the Natural Rights of others, then we find that we are on a pretty solid moral path.  I will add to this the implied right to protect your rights.  This keeps the villains at bay and the tyrants in check.
In philosophy, the branches of Ethics and Politics interconnect to form a cluster.  Ethics concerns itself with the actions of the individual and politics with the actions of the group, and more precisely the actions of those who presume to lead the group.
I am inspired to write this because I see the rise of evil.  This is the worst kind of evil.  It is not the Disney villain wringing his hands at his glorious evil.  It is the idealistic do-gooders with the best intentions at heart embarked on activities that violate the Natural Rights of others and is therefore evil.  For them the ends justify the means, so they will engage in evil actions with good intentions in hopes of a positive outcome. 
When the Socialists demand government money to help the poor, it sounds so noble.  When they speak out against the wealthy, it sounds so revolutionary.  It is the voice of the common man against the exploitation by the rich.
Let’s take this apart.  Where does government get this money?  It comes from taxation.  If you choose not to pay your taxes, then you go to jail.  This practice is commonly called theft, the taking of another person’s property by force or the threat of force.  So what the Socialists are calling for is for the government to steal more money. 
Of course they claim that they only want the money to be stolen from the rich, because they can afford it.  Who determines what constitutes rich?  At present, the average Briton works nearly four months of the year solely for the government.  There is a word for this too.  It called indentured servitude and it is a form of slavery.  So it is not just the rich who are being taxed.
They demand that we tax businesses.  When a business is taxed it figures the loss into its operating costs.  This is then passed onto the consumer of whatever goods or services the company provides.  Larger companies and corporations are able to spread the costs, but small businesses go under.
The Socialists demand an increase of the minimum wage.  This too is born by the businesses.  Again the large companies spread the cost and the small ones hire less people.  The unemployed who are willing to work for less than minimum wage cannot be hired and remain wards of the state.
Society can be divided into two factions.  There are the private employees who work to provide goods and services and thus increase the nation’s wealth.  Then there are those who produce nothing, but survive only by the production of the private workers.  This groups ranges from politicians, to bureaucrats, to public service providers, to welfare recipients, and to some students.  These are the groups with vested interests in socialist policies because this is where they get their money.  One group funds the other.
The relationship between the socialist and capitalist aspects of a mixed economy is like the blood farms in vampire films, like Blade 2.  If the humans become too conscious they might rebel, but if they are not conscious enough they are dead and therefore of no use. 
Many of these public employees may work very hard in difficult and demanding jobs.  Some have very important jobs, such as the police or teachers.  However, ultimately they do not contribute anything to the wealth and prosperity of the nation.  When their pay is taxed it is merely going back into the same pool from which it came.  Likewise, when they spend their earnings it is simply returning money into the private pool that it was taken from initially by the State.  In a socialist state, money is not made; it is simply moved around.
This is a medieval worldview that money is finite dating back to the false notion that wealth and political power was based on land ownership.  If someone has a lot of money, then someone else must be poorer for it.  This is a completely false notion.  It’s the economic equivalent of believing that the sun revolves around the earth.  Money is a symbolic representation of human production and trade and can therefore be increased and created.  The answer to poverty is not the redistribution of wealth (theft) but an increase in production and trade.  This is accomplished through less socialist policies and programs and not more.
There are many individuals dependent upon socialist policies, however when we look at the big picture we see that socialism makes people poorer.  Look at the socialist nations in Africa.  Over 500 billion US dollars have been given to African states to alleviate poverty, but they are poorer now than before.  On a more local level, it is estimated that one in five Scots are deemed unemployable due to lacking the most basic skills sets, such as literacy, numeracy, and social skills.  This is the result of three generations of government dependency.
For a libertarian, this state of affairs is evil enough.  However, it is not enough for the Socialist protestors.  They want more power to be given to the State.  Make no mistake.  These people are not revolutionaries fighting for the oppressed people.  They want the government to have more power and all the money.  Their only complaints are that the government is not authoritarian enough and that they want to control that power as they see fit.
Socialists have always targeted the underdogs as allies.  This is for the simple reason that there are a large number of them and they are easily seduced into biting the hand that feeds them in the name of a free hand out gathered and distributed by the government at the taxpayer’s expense.
So let’s talk about exploitation for a moment.  How is the worker exploited?  He sells his time, energy, and skill to an employer for an agreed upon price.  It is a voluntary trade for mutual benefit.  And yet, the socialists claim that he is exploited.  For me exploitation is being forced to surrender a percentage of my income in order to avoid incarceration.   For me exploitation is government regulation over every aspect of my life.  You smoke, so we’ll tax that.  You drive too much, so we’ll tax that.  You drink too much, so we’ll tax that.  You’re fat, so we’ll tax that.  Feeling exploited yet?
People tolerate the present state exploitation because the current level is within their comfort zone.  But with each passing generation people become more and more acclimatised to even greater levels of government control.  This they accept as just the way the world is.  But it wasn’t always like this.  Of course people learn that in school.  They are taught how bad things were before the State took control of their lives.  This they learn courtesy of the free education from state schools and the state approved curriculum.
And what are they learning in schools?  For one there is multiculturalism which is the idea that there is no Truth, only perspectives.  It’s an aspect of “post-modernity”.  So you may choose to believe in evolution or creation.  It does not matter.  If there is no Truth, then there is no morality.  Truth is the measurement by which we choose a course of action towards positive results, which is morality.  But without Truth, then there is no guiding star.  So how do we determine morality?  It is not determined by Truth, but by authority.  This is right and this is wrong because the State says so, because my religion says so, because the mass media says so, because the pop-majority says so, because my favourite musician or actor says so.
There was a spirit of a different age that faced the challenges of life as a matter of personal responsibility.   If you saw something that bothered you then you took responsibility and did something.  You donated time or money to a charity or in cases of foreign affairs some people formed militias and literally went to fight for the cause that they believed in.  Concerning social ills people sought to educate each other.  Check out this list of London charities in 1917,
Today, everything is done through the government.  Yes, there are charities but not at the same level as in the above list.  Taking action these days means utilizing the force of government.  Demand taxes on fatty foods, demand smoking bans, demand more money to welfare programs, force people by law to behave a certain way towards each other, demand your government act a certain way in foreign policy or in foreign wars.
There have always been people who wanted to shape the world in their image.  This can be modest, such as commanding a household, or megalomaniacal, such as controlling a country.  Traditionally, this was accomplished by creating mass influence.  Today, all you need is government on your side.  The force inherent in government allows you to make others act as you and your allies see fit.  This avenue is pursued by business, special interest groups, and political organisation.  They by-pass public debate and go straight to making orders which are justified later.
There was a time when giving a man a hand-out was considered to be an insult.  It implied that he was incapable of personal responsibility.  It was a mark against his dignity. Today, the hand-out is considered by many to be a right.  The technical definition of the word “pauper” is someone who exists by the charity of others.
Beneath the rhetoric and handy slogans of the socialist activists is a dark heart advocating slavery and paupery for all.  They make promises of a better life for the people against the rich, but all that they accomplish in the long run is destruction.  What good can be achieved by preaching covetousness, theft, and the instigation or threat of government force?  I have not even touched on the promotion of discord turning class against class, race against race, and gender against gender all in the name of equality of outcome rather than the more proper equality of opportunity.
There is another evil in the world and I will admit that I am not as outspoken about it as perhaps I should be.  I am of the belief that for the Romantic the purpose of life is to enjoy it.  Happiness and pleasure are worthwhile pursuits.  However, I advocate what I call Rational Hedonism. 
This model is taken from the writings of Epicurus, the first philosopher to seriously look at the idea of happiness.  He wrote that pleasure that brings pleasure is to be embraced.  Pleasure that brings pain is to be avoided.  Pleasure that defers a greater pleasure is to be avoided.  Any finally, pain that brings a greater pleasure is to be embraced.  He also wrote that the three ingredients of happiness are friends, freedom, and contemplation.
Adam Smith wrote, “A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible.”  If a person feels that the path to independence and a greater pleasure is blocked to him, then he will only due what is necessary to service his immediate desires.  Today, we call this consumerism.
"The nation that has no higher god than pleasure, or even dollars or calico, must needs be in a poor way. It were better to revert to Homer's gods than be devoted to these; for the heathen deities at least imaged human virtues, and were something to look up to." --Samuel Smiles
The idea of consumerism ties into my ideas earlier on socialism.  Remember the vampire keeping the human barely alive?  The trick is keeping the human occupied with bread and circuses.  As long as the majority of people retain enough of their wealth to consume then they will not questions their state.
I have written in the past of my frustration in discussing political philosophy and ethics with people whose primary goals are consumption.  They could care less, but by God they have an opinion.  They proceed to defend the status quo and regurgitate the party line like automatons.  The end result is usually irreparable damage to any relationship that there may have been.
I often sound off against the government, but the fact is I do not blame politicians, for me to do so would be as foolish as criticising a lion for eating meat or a businessman for trying to make a profit.  Historically and presently, politicians enjoy the pretence of virtue and affect a caring image, but the truth is that he is an opportunist.  He will move with popular opinion.  We all get the government that we deserve.
The evil days can be blamed on social conditioning from schools and mass media, but at the end of the day it is a pill we have chosen to swallow.  The evil is not in some distant capital.  It is in your community, in your neighbour, and quite possibly in you.
I’ll finish with this.  I was always of the belief that what made man unique among the creatures of the Earth was his faculty of reason.  I have written on the subject in the past arguing that man is first an animal that reason over the notion that man is a creature that feels.  I have since learned of another faculty, perhaps the faculty that ties both reason and feeling together.
According to Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiment what makes humans unique is our imagination.  We use imagination in conjunction with reason to create invention and we use imagination in conjunction with emotion to produce sympathy.
Through imagination we hypothesize how the world works.  Through imagination we can walk in another man’s shoes.  We use our imagination to share the pains, joys, and victories of our fellow humans, be they real, distant, or fictional.   I have been convinced that all that makes mankind special and unique is this faculty of imagination.  It makes us human.
Bearing this in mind, Smith had a few things to say about true believers – the ideologues.  These are the people who believe in the ideal system.  Today we call them the social planners or central planners.  They are also the supposed revolutionaries who belief that if only society would accept the tenets of their belief system the world would be an ideal place.  I simply call them socialists, but that phrase is limiting.  It equally applies to those who place their ideology before the people they purport to care about.
From a certain spirit of system, however, from a certain love of art and contrivance, we sometimes seem to value the means more than the end, and to be eager to promote the happiness of our fellow-creatures, rather from a view to perfect and improve a certain beautiful and orderly system, than from any immediate sense or feeling of what they either suffer or enjoy.
The man of system…is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it… He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.
intoxicated with the imaginary beauty of the ideal system, of which they have no experience, but which has been represented to them in all the most dazzling colours in which the eloquence of their leaders could paint it. Those leaders themselves, though they originally may have meant nothing but their own aggrandizement, become, many of them, in time the dupes of their own sophistry.
The beauty of Adam Smith’s works, to which I will add the Romantic philosophy of Classical Liberal thought, is that it is not based on ideology but on principles.  The difference between the two is that an ideology provides one with a cold and unimaginative blueprint very specific in its structure.  Principles are not so much an elaborate painting, but rather a connect the dots leaving each of us to paint our own picture through our imagination, reason, and emotion.  This allows the people to fit the structure and not impose the structure on the people.   For me, this is the moral path and not the vain preachings of a religious or political ideologue.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Great Disconnect

The word philosophy means “love of wisdom”.  In other words, it expresses itself as a desire to understand how the world works.  People tend to forget that the purpose of this study is so that we can apply our conclusions towards leading happy and fulfilled lives.

The first two branches of philosophy establish the groundwork.  Metaphysics describes the nature of reality and Epistemology demonstrates how we know this to be true.  These two branches are interconnected to form a cluster.

The second two branches apply those conclusions.  Ethics tells us the best way to live happy and productive lives and Politics tells us the best way to manage the group towards that same purpose.  Since the group is a collection of individuals, then both Ethics and Politics are also connected to each other to form a second cluster that is completely dependent on the first.

Therefore the first four branches of philosophy must be consistent with each other with no contradiction.  It is like a clockwork machine with all the individual cogs and springs working together to make the whole work.

So the first four branches all fit together into a neat, interconnected package and can be tested against reality by being put into practice.  But what about the fifth and final branch of philosophy?  This is Aesthetics, the realm of human creation and feeling.

On the surface, the question of Aesthetics is “What is Beauty?” but on a deeper level it concerns itself with all human creation.  Here’s a small list to name just a few: art, architecture, drama, dance, painting, sculpture, design, ornamentation, writing, music, film, fashion, home décor, cosmetology, and computer graphics.

I once sat in a room with two PhD students doing papers in philosophy.  I asked them a question that had been bugging me for years.  “Why do people like what they like?”  I thought the question was fairly straightforward.  But they did not understand it, no matter how much I elaborated or rephrased.  It was years later that I discovered that there was an entire branch of philosophy concerned with this question – Aesthetics.

The ignorance of these philosophy students regarding Aesthetics illustrates what I call The Great Disconnect, the separation of Aesthetics from the other branches of philosophy and therefore from Reality itself.  What you believe philosophically is seen to have no connection to your tastes and your preferences in the art you choose to consume.  This also demonstrates a disconnect from the mind and the heart, as the first four branches are primary rational while Aesthetics is primarily emotional.

Once the philosophy is taken from the art, the art loses its meaning.  If the primary cluster of Metaphysics and Epistemology defines reality, and the secondary cluster of Ethics and Politics defines Action in that Reality, then the role of Aesthetics is to give meaning, heart, soul, or whatever words you choose, to the philosophy.  When people claim a life without meaning, it is because of The Great Disconnect.

I was recently re-watching the film Equilibrium which takes place in a post-war Orwellian society in which feeling emotion is illegal and by extension so are all forms of art because they evoke feeling.  What this film is saying is that art is about feeling.  Now we may feel passionate about wisdom and be lovers of it, but philosophy is not inherently emotional.  Rather, emotion can serve to cloud rational judgement with preferences and prejudices.

Where Aesthetic fits into with the other four branches of philosophy is that it communicates a sort of summary of the conclusions but with an added emotional element.  A belief is a thought imbued with emotion, so in this sense Aesthetics is the injection of emotion into the thoughts presented by the other branches.

This may not be readily apparent when looking at the Mona Lisa or listening to Wagner.  This is because artists do not usually create with a conscious message in mind, unless he or she is preaching.  The artist usually begins with an idea ultimately derived from their personal worldview, or philosophy, which is then manifested in their art.

Once upon a time there were a group of people known as critics and what they did was examine a piece of art to unfold its hidden meanings and messages and thus add an extra dimension to it.  Since the artist may not have been unaware of any deeper unconscious influences, he might be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by what the critic discovered.

Unfortunately, the role of critic has devolved into two groups.  There is the academic prone to all sorts of fanciful nonsense derived from what he wants to find in the art and uses the art to justify his own philosophy.  Then there is the pop-critic with his thumbs up or down. Even the word “critic” now has a negative connotation as one who demeans rather than as one who enlightens.

The demise of the traditional critic essentially severed the first four branches from the fifth thus taking any meaning from the art.  Today art interpretation is seen as highly subjective and any attempt to impose meaning is viewed as rude. 

Art is now whatever you want it to mean.  This is an entirely false premise since if something can mean anything then it means nothing.  Meaning enriches definition, so there can be no meaning without definition.

All art has two key aspects; the style which has to do with execution (call this the emotional aspect) and theme, this is the philosophy or message being conveyed by the art.  The critic would be able to discuss both the message and the execution of the art and reveal it to the public who may or may not perceive it readily.

An excellent example of this is the film Avatar.  It is a spectacular film.  The imagery, effects, and execution are stunning.  Thus it excels in terms of style.  But few critics stood-up against the theme of the film.  What Cameron created was an allegorical denunciation of capitalism through a misrepresentation of it and the history the film presumes to parallel.  One might go so far as to call the theme hateful.

And yet the real life equivalents to the villains portrayed in the film (or at least their inheritors) stood in the aisles applauding it.  After all, it’s just a film.  Art means nothing apart from how it makes you feel.  This is another symptom of the disconnection of Aesthetics from the other branches.

The problem here is that Aesthetics is part of philosophy and ignoring that connection does not alter the axiom.  It does not change reality.

Consider the costume designer working on a film.  Their job is to convey through the art of fashion the character of the character that they are dressing. The set designer plays a similar role by dressing a character’s space to tell the audience something about the character.  Both the costume designer and the film goer send and receive these communications.  They can read the art and get the meaning conveyed.

However, if I were to judge someone in real life according to the messages transmitted by their personal aesthetics, I would be seen as being presumptive. How dare I assume that the person wearing the cross is a Christian or that the boy in the Che Guevara shirt is a Communist? If I expected someone to behave according to the philosophy inherent in their aesthetic choices, or image, I might be seen as being dictatorial.  Who am I to confer my assumed meaning to their personal choices?

And yet, advertisers look to attach philosophical meanings to their products.  I remember as a boy seeing an ad for Levi’s 501 jeans that promoted individuality.  Even then it struck me foolish to brand the ubiquitous denim as a sign of individuality.  Or running shoes can be associated with freedom.  The list can go on and on.  Advertisers are not merely selling a product; they are selling a concept that they associate with their products through the art forms utilized in their advertisements.  Strange that people accept that connection between Aesthetics and the other branches when spoon fed to them by advertisers or in the context of art, but not when they are held accountable for their aesthetic choices in their daily lives.

In Aesthetics, there is the concept of the idiom, a particular style of expression.  These idioms can be derived from a particular culture, for example the Japanese style, or a particular time period, like Victoriana or 1960’s style, or genre fiction, like Goth or Steampunk.  Some styles have become so entrenched in the popular imagination as to become idioms, like the English Chap or the 80’s businessman in the Patrick Bateman/Gordon Gecko mode.

Idioms communicate a universally agreed upon meaning.  The Sixties was seen as a turbulent period of social change, and yet the Sixties idiom convey fun and freedom.  The English Chap conveys propriety, the Eighties businessman represents greed (for right or wrong), and Goth is associated with melancholy, for a few more examples.

Sometimes people choose to live a particularly idiomatic lifestyle, such as Goths for example.  The ideal is a thoroughly saturated existence.  Goth clothes, Goth decor, Goth music, Goth books, and Goth partners.  Feel free to replace the word Goth with any number of other idioms.

One the one hand such an idiomatic lifestyle is to be applauded for its purity, but on the other hand it may be condemned for its purity.  In art we look for saturation, but in life saturation demonstrates a single faceted existence.  It is this saturation that leads to accusations of pretentiousness because it is so unnatural.

Modern existence presents us with a vast array of cultural expressions and to discount all of them save one seems abnormal.  That said; my particular Romantic idiom would look bizarre dancing to House Music.  It’s disjointed and out of place.  So people tend to pick and choose depending on the situation.  They may dress mainstream or fashionable in some contexts and idiomatic in others.  This is deemed normal.  And yet to me this self-diversification always felt lacking integrity – integration.  The true force of integration is the philosophy of the person employing the signs that constitute the expression.

When artists, costumers, decorators, advertisers, and even window dressers employ Aesthetics they are very aware of what they wish to communicate.  The study of this is called Semiotics – the study of signs.  A sign has a distinctive history and cultural meaning.  An idiom is essentially a set of signs. 

The Nineteenth century American essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “Fashion is only the attempt to realise art in living forms and social intercourse.”  He identified fashion as the link between art and life.

By this statement, Oliver Wendell Holmes sees fashion is the bridge linking art and life.  This suggests a logical connection between philosophy (in the form of the artist’s worldview), to Art (as an expression of this worldview), and then to fashion (as the means of expressing this worldview).  Collectively these expressions signify an individual’s particular style of living – that is his life-style.  Just as the artist’s style is born of his worldview, so too is the individual’s lifestyle born of his worldview, which brings the model full circle back to the philosophy.

However, to what extent can we say that people employ Aesthetics in their daily life?  I’m writing not simply of Aesthetics as it pertains within itself, but also Aesthetics as an expression of the other four branches of philosophy.  I would say by and large it would be little to not at all – at least not on a conscious level.  This is where the connection between idioms and reality falls on its face.  When aesthetics ceases to be a conscious act and becomes a mass consumption habit. 

The contribution of the Romantic as a movement or school of art was the introduction of individual emotion and this was most apparent in the concept of the sublime.  The goal of the artist became to evoke powerful emotions, sometimes conflicting extreme emotions, in the viewer or reader.

On the surface this seems to contradict the idea of having a philosophical core.  It seems to suggest that how you feel is more important that what you think.  However, emotions are a response to values and values are born of philosophy.

For example, Gothic literature sought to elicit the emotion of fear as an extreme emotion.  Fear is the imagined loss of a value.  In the stories, the greatest threats to the protagonists were the loss of life followed by the loss of sanity, the capacity to reason.  Therefore we might argue that Goth promotes the value of reason, for it is through reason that the supernatural evil is defeated or the mystery solved.  Thus the emotional aesthetics and the philosophy are connected.

Fear is one of the four cardinal emotions and is sister to Sorrow – the actual loss of a value.  Fear is an imagined loss and sorrow is an actual loss.  For most of its history, the Gothic idiom was dominated by the Byronic type in that is emphasised what Nietzsche might call “the will to power”.  Although Gothic imagery evoked fear, there was an elemental desire to ascend to that power we feared.

Over the past thirty years the focus of the Gothic idiom has shifted from the Byronic will to power to a form typified by Edgar Allan Poe depicted as fear and sorrow.  Poe suffered traumatic losses in his life and this actual loss of a value was expressed in his works.  Modern Goth cannot begin to understand that level of loss, but it can imagine it, hence the emphasis on fear, an imagined loss.  There is not the Byronic will to overcome and be one with that which we fear, but to succumb and revel in it.  Goth is the oldest idiomatic subculture in the world, and yet it is the least influential and most misunderstood, despite the fact that the philosophical message inherent in the idiom is the will the power.

The stereotypical Goth girl is quiet, shy, and introverted.  This is not to say that all Goths are.  Over the past fifteen years we have seen the Goth scene mutate due to cross-pollination with heavy metal, punk, and fetish and a healthy dose of mainstream media attention.  The result is a gothic variation of those other idioms, but lacking the philosophical foundation of either the Byronic or the Poeic variety inherent in Goth.

All art is communication and all communication starts with something to communicate.  This is an idea, a philosophy, a worldview.  The art is a natural manifestation of the philosophy.  It is philosophy brought to life.

I remember reading that people asked David Hodges to explain his song My Immortal (performed by Evanescence).  They wanted to know the actual story behind the song.  He answered that there was none.  He just made it up.   It is the stock and trade of artists to write love songs and poems for nonexistent people or even for people that they do not even know because they are paid to create.

This story illustrates how Aesthetics operates today.  Just as you can have a great love song without love, so too can people partake of wonderful art and modes of expression without it being rooted in the inherent philosophy, without it being that natural manifestation.  Non-Christians can wear crosses because they like it and people can wear Ché Guevara t-shirts just because they are popular.  You can have art without meaning just as you can have non-dairy ice cream.

A popular insult when I was growing-up in Los Angeles was to call someone a poseur, non-dairy ice cream pretending to be ice cream.  It is the assumption of an image, style, or idiom but lacking the philosophical foundations.  We also had what we called “Betties in Black”.  These were the weekend Goths who gothed-up to go clubbing but they were mainstream during the week.  At the club, all these poseurs would gather together in their clique and be Goths without the slightest inkling that there was more to it.  They were all happy in their ignorance and there was no Idiom Standards Division there to hand out citations.

Imagine if the most important thing a new Christian did was buy their cross.  Silly notion isn’t it.  No, to be a Christians you must study the Bible, pray, and be in communion with other Christians.  You have to learn the philosophy first and the Aesthetics comes later.

I first became aware of Congressman Ron Paul about five years ago.  His name kept popping-up on forums and I decided to investigate.  I found a lengthy speech he gave in Congress against Neo-Conservatives.  The focus of the speech was refuting the philosophical foundations of the ideology.  I later saw something similar in his speech against the Iraq War.  His approach was a breath of fresh air.

Why is philosophy important?  Because it is the foundation of all human existence.  Just as Ron Paul recognised the need to look at the philosophical foundations of the Neo-Cons, so too do we as a society need to stop looking at the surface.  Be that the surface of our own characters, the surface of others, the surface of our societies, our civilizations, and our art.

What is the meaning of Life?  It is the meaning you give it.  Life can be as vain or as profound as you choose to make it.  You can choose to be a poseur if you like and suck all the meaning from the world leaving it devoid of colour.  Or you can deny the Great Disconnect and reunite the broken shards of philosophy.  The result may not be a happy life, but it will be fuller, richer, and well...meaningful.

Friday, 22 October 2010


It’s been said that one should never start an article quoting someone else. The reasoning being that you arte telling the reader that someone else can say it better than you.  So here I am opening with the trailer for a video game.  I wonder what that says about me.  In this instance I want to write about the concepts presented here by the creators of Fable 3.

What I look for in a video game is multi-level story telling.  On the one hand there is the combat and action.  Call this the first level.  The higher levels are revealed in the storyline and even more so in those games that take action and consequence into consideration, such as the Fable series.  Apparently the theme in this new game is revolution.  I’ll admit that it sends a chill through my spine.  I love the rhetoric of revolution.  However, an important point is made by Peter Molyneux, “to be a rebel; deciding what is just and unjust.   This brings us to the very core of the concept of revolution.

I watched a video on Youtube covering the recent protests in Britain to cuts in federal spending and public services.  The poster wrote this, “

The British public are starting to show the government exactly what they think of the recent public cuts to pay for the banking crisis that was engineered by the very same corrupt bankers.  The time for sitting doing nothing is over. A tyrannical government will slowly push things through, step by step, and judge whether the people will take it or not. Up till now, us British have sat and taken it like bitches, but no more! no more!  stand up and fight for your freedom, because if you are not willing to fight for it, you hardly deserve it in the 1st place”

So here we have an example of revolutionary rhetoric.  There is talk of tyranny, corruption, freedom, and the importance of the people to rise up and fight.  The question here is what are they fighting for?  What is their idea of just?  Where is their moral compass set?  That is the question that every revolutionary, and every revolution, must answer.

The answers we seek are to be found in philosophy.  Step One:  What is Reality?  Step Two:  Prove it.  Step Three:  Determine an individual course of action accordingly.  Step 4:  Determine a group course of action.  Or to rephrase those steps:  Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, and Politics.

When we say that an individual or group activity is immoral, what we are saying is that these actions are not consistent with the requirements of reality in order to prosper.  The great lie is to determine morality not according to the dictates of Reality, but according to how we feel.  How we feel things should be.  What we feel is right.  What we have been socially conditioned to see as the correct course of action.

The Declaration of Independence is a philosophical document in which Thomas Jefferson makes his case for the moral rightness of the American War of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jefferson then assures the reader that they do not embark upon this course of action lightly and points out that they have attempted to have there grievances redressed to no avail.  He then lists specific violations of their rights and concludes with the absolution of ties with the United Kingdom.

The central premise here is that the purpose of government is to protect the Natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  The original concept in John Locke is life, liberty, and property.  Jefferson is making a statement on the nature of reality.  Unfortunately, he did not feel the need to make an argument defending his position as he considered this concept to be “self-evident”, and it is.

You have a right to exists simply by virtue of your birth.  You have a right to think and act as you see fit simply by virtue of possessing consciousness.  You have a right to property.  You used your time, energy, and skill to produce which you traded for property. Like your life and your liberty, this is yours.  I will also add that liberty and property are essential to human existence.  This is self-evident.

There is another moral point of view dating from the beginning of time.  In many tribal cultures the chief, king, or leader was seen as a father figure who takes care of his children.  In Scotland, the word clan means children.  The people were the “children” of the chief.  As such he had a moral responsibility to care for his people. To deny that or to take for himself or distribute to his friends was seen as immoral.  If the people suffered, it was because the king was immoral.  In modern times, this translates into the belief that the purpose of government is to provide for the people as needed.  This is called central economic planning, or Socialism.

So here is the moral dilemma.  One the one hand, humans possess individual consciousness and from this comes the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.  However, humans are also social creatures who work best in a state of cooperation.  These human groups are usually led by a leader who administers the resources and activities of the group.

The modern political spectrum takes both these views into account.  On the Left extreme we have 100% government control over society and the economy.  Ideally, the benevolent chief pools the resources of the group and redistributes it according to need for the benefit of all his children.  On the Right extreme we have 0% government control over society and the economy.  Ideally, individuals act in their rational self-interest to create a spontaneous order, by positive actions rewarded by positive consequences and negative actions rewarded with negative consequences,  and the people will provide for each other.  Today, the people on the Left are referred to as Collectivists and those on the Right as Individualists.

Let’s look at the situation in Britain.  Prior to roughly 1800, the United Kingdom was largely Collectivist.  The ruling aristocracy governed either benevolently or not, depending.  During the Nineteenth Century, the UK was Individualistic.  After roughly 1900 the UK swung back to Collectivism.  Therefore, the vast majority in Britain believe the purpose of government is to benevolently provide services to the public, such as education, health care, and benefits for the needy.  In philosophical terms, this a metaphysical statement on the nature of reality.  If this statement is true, then the moral rectitude of a government is judged by how well it serves its purpose as provider.

Now here is the problem.  It has been predicted that the UK national debt will exceed 100% of GDP by 2012.  At present 65% of the government income goes to health, education, welfare, and pensions.  The current total expenditure is 45% of the GDP.  The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total production of the people within the United Kingdom – it is the nation’s wealth; the accumulation of every individual person’s work day.  Well, not every person.  In June 2005, 20.4% of the UK workforce was employed in the public sector.  These people do not contribute to the GDP; they take from it.

Individual producers create wealth (increased GDP) through the non-coercive trade in goods or services.  A percentage of the wealth produced is then taken by coercion by the government (pay your taxes or go to jail).  This wealth is then used to pay government salaries, expenditures, public works, defence, government services, and welfare. 

So society is broken-up into two segments.  The producers who create wealth and the public employees and the underclass who take wealth.  Government workers have jobs in the sense that they are paid for services rendered, however they are not being paid a share of wealth created, as in private business, rather in wealth taken from private business.  When a public employee or government beneficiary spends money, he or she is not contributing to the wealth of the nation through trade; they are simply moving money around. 

As government expenditure grows, private business has to produce more just to keep up.  If the prediction that the UK national debt will exceed 100% of GDP by 2012 is correct, this means that all wealth created by private individuals will be needed to pay for the debts incurred by government in its effort to take care of people.  Imagine every one of your pay cheques being taken by government and a share given back to you to keep you alive.  This will not happen.  But such a scenario is commonly called slavery.  Is this moral?

In the language of Revolution, we all agree in freedom, power to the people, morality, justice, fairness, and standing against tyranny.  But what those things mean is wholly dependent on your worldview and the morality that stems from it.  Each individual must decide for themselves what they believe to be true and moral, and then be able to rationally defend that position.  “Because the Bible says so” does not count.

Do you have a moral and civic duty to pay your taxes for the benefit of all, or do you view this as the theft of your honest earnings under the threat of force to take your property?  Is tyranny the government in league with greedy businessmen or in the unaccountable bureaucrat writing the regulations that control your life? Or perhaps both.  Does government have a moral obligation to provide services at the expense of individual property rights, or are property rights inalienable.  Does “power to the people” mean regular elections of government representatives or government leaving the individual alone to make their own decisions?  Is fairness the “social justice” of taking money from a producer and giving it to a non or less successful producer or is it each individual benefiting from the fruits of their labour?

In The Revelation of St John the Divine 3:16, Jesus said, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth”.  When it comes to morality there are always the lukewarm people, also called moderates.  They believe that the moral purpose of government is to take care of people AND protect individual rights.  These are the people who in opinion polls and elections say that they want more government services AND lower taxes.  The problem of course being that in order for government to provide these services they have to violate your property rights.  So they justify it by saying the government can steal a little money provided its not too much and the cause is good, such as teachers and nurses salaries.  This is the refuge for the unprincipled and the opportunist.

So what is your Revolution? What is your moral stance?  These are the questions every person must ask themselves.  When you look at the world do you see a world out of control tumbling into darkness or do you want to bring about the dawning of a new age of enlightenment?  The world of fiction is so much more simple.  There is the evil tyrant and the people looking for a leader to take them into liberty.  But that is not the way of things.

The enemies take many forms and some honestly believe that they are on the side of angels, just as you believe yourself to be.  I think Socialism is evil incarnate.  Why? Because the right to Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness is a sacred and essentially to human prosperity.  I believe in Freedom.  I am an Individualist.  No man has claim upon my soul and I have no claim on another's.  Socialism claims the moral high ground.  They seek to provide for the poor and disadvantaged, provide free healthcare, education, and housing through the power of a benevolent government that puts people first.  It sounds so noble.  And though its goals are noble the means are not.  Their goals are barely, if ever, achieved and the unintended consequences create unprecedented social chaos.  Then when we look at the history of socialism in the 20th century we see nothing but pain, suffering, and disaster.  How can we call this moral?

Of course they would call me evil in return with a long list of perceived free market evils.  Many of which I have heard are misrepresentations.  The plain and simple fact is that I cannot take a self-professed revolutionary seriously when the revolution that they are promoting is a more intense form of what we already have.  And yet they are there and they are active.

So if, like me, the notions of revolutions give you a chill and make you want to take to the barricade singing anthems, then take a moment to ask yourself some moral questions first.  Is your cause truly just or are you justifying.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

It’s Different for Girls

There’s a story of a man who went for a walk and found a frozen snake. He took his new friend home and thawed it out by the fire. The newly revived serpent promptly bit his rescuer. When the man protested this cruel thank you, the snake replied, “but it’s my nature.” In other words, when assessing something, or someone, it is important to be mindful of its nature.

I’ll take a moment to enlighten any new readers to my notion of Romanticism as essentially the philosophy of the individual most clearly manifested in the zeitgeist of the 19th Century in Britain and America.

One aspect of the Romantic is the pursuit of individual greatness (or at least efficacy); however the individual may choose to define that. They say that without ugliness there can be no beauty. Likewise, there can be no individual greatness in a purely egalitarian society. Nor can there be individual greatness if the powers that be conspire to thwart or oppress opportunity.

The problem is that where there are winners; there are losers. If little Johnny is picked last in baseball, then chances are he sucks. He may excel at maths, but when it comes to baseball he’s shit, no matter how many participation awards he receives.

So Johnny has a few options open. He can work hard to become a better baseball player. He can get all insecure about it. Or he can focus on what he does well. Even in that he can despise those who are good at baseball, or he can accept his failings, accept his abilities, and be a cheerleader.

Science is not my strong suit. But I will watch science documentaries. Read a science article in the paper. And I will shout hooray for some great discovery or invention. I accept my failings and choose to be a cheerleader. I have other things that I do much better and I prefer to focus on those things for my sense of efficacy.

But what if we lived in a world that demanded that everyone play baseball? Not only play baseball, but also be good at it. If someone like Johnny (or me for that matter) is rubbish at the game, we all pretend that he’s capable. If someone dare speak the truth, then we all demean them for their prejudice.

We do not exactly live in that world. Every individual is an individual, and these individuals choose their own operating spheres that suit their talents, their temperaments, and their general nature. Most of these associations are chosen, but there is one that is not. The groups formed by Nature that we call male and female.

The predominant Nineteenth Century view, that which I call Romantic, was that men and women were possessed of different natures simply by virtue of their genders. Men occupied sphere’s suited to their natures and women to theirs.

Some women came to object to the spheres that they were relegated to and demanded equality of opportunity. This is completely in keeping with the Romantic. However as the Twentieth Century rolled along a new ideological force came into being known as Feminism which stands contrary to the Romantic by denying the differences in the fundamental nature between the sexes.

To continue the baseball analogy, let’s say that men were all good at baseball and women were all good at sewing. A few women preferred baseball and were quite good at it. These women fought for the right to play baseball and won but the vast majority of women could not care less.

Then one day a group of women decided all women should play baseball. They fought against this idea of separate natures and different spheres. They convinced the powers that be everyone should play baseball equally. Men were forced to accept women on their teams and boys were not taught how to play the game.

Now the vast majority of women wanted to go back to sewing, but all the sewing kits were gone since everyone had to play baseball. So they snuck their kits out into the field inside their mits and sewed instead of paying attention to the game. They struggled to have it all by sewing and playing baseball at the same time. As a consequence some women really sucked at baseball, but God save any man who dared say so. That would be sexist, cruel, and mean. No matter that it’s true.

Equality was no longer based on the evidence of performance but rather the acceptance of the premise that a woman was capable of any sphere once dominated by men whether or not that respect was earned. Equality was measured by equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. As a consequence, just about everyone sucked at baseball equally, especially after women insisted on changing the rules because there was not enough sewing in the game.

Here is an example from my life. I once worked with a young girl just out of university. Her degree was in history, a favourite topic of mine, but she showed no interest in discussing it. While I spent my breaks reading philosophy and history; she spent hers reading fashion and gossip magazines and her nights-out partying. There is nothing wrong with that.

Then one day I made a point on a historical topic, as I tend to do rather than discuss more mundane topics, and on this particular occasion she chose to argue against me. I made several points to support my thesis and she made none, and yet refused to concede. In frustration I finally said, “While I’m studying history you are reading fashion magazines.” Suddenly, the women in the room all turned on me.

There are many women in the world in the academic field of history. There are many women in the world who study and enjoy history as a hobby. However, there is not a multi-billion dollar, century old publication industry supported by these women. According to the market, a majority of women are more interested in celebrity gossip and fashion than in history. And yet I am deemed a sexist for making this observation.

A similar situation occurred at the last British General Election. The gossip girls whose brains go all foggy when the topic of politics comes up suddenly have strong political opinions that I am expected to take seriously. To do otherwise would be deemed insulting, rude, and sexist. I prefer to see it as the height of arrogance to demand a seat without doing the work necessary to warrant a seat at the big boys table.

I have far more respect for woman who earned that seat and even for some bimbo who confesses her ignorance and apathy before going shopping than the woman who sews all the time and then demands respect when one day she decides to play baseball.

I can think of two films where I left the cinema thinking how great the story was only to overhear two girls leaving the same showing talking about how cute the leading man was. How can I possibly take someone seriously if their tastes are so shallow?

I have been in four major relationships in my life, and of those two of the girls were obsessed with celebrity. One had a half-naked poster of Peter Murphy on our wall and the other had photo clippings of her latest obsessions. I accepted this because I did not want to appear insecure, however I doubt either would have such reservations if I stuck some leggy model on the wall.

The other day I met a woman who had a picture of Edward Cullen from Twilight on her phone. Of course her husband accepted it just as I had with my ex’s. I have no doubt that society would not be so forgiving were he the one with some young starlet on his phone.

Celebrity idealisation and worship is accepted for women. The problem here is that for women the feelings evoked are in tune with female sexuality. The male equivalent would be something far more sexually overt, like porn.

In those ancient forgotten days before internet young men had to drum up the courage to enter the sex shop to buy porn or to ask the man (or sometimes woman) behind the convenience store counter for a Playboy or Penthouse. It was generally assumed that he was not buying it for the articles. Likewise, most of the strip clubs that I have visited were populated by lonely, single men and only very rarely by Bacchalian revellers.

Think of this poor sod. He’s shelling out cash for this woman to turn him on with empty promises then he leaves with only his unfulfilled lusts and an empty wallet. Who is taking advantage of whom?

Should his secret lifestyle become known, he was seen as being a deviant of some kind. Or worse he was accused of objectifying women. This is not so much the case these days due to the plethora of internet porn, but still there is a certain stigma there.

For men this type of sexual stimulation is usually a private and hidden thing, but for women it is public. Do not tell me that those hysterical teenage girls screaming for Elvis, The Beatles, The Who, Duran Duran, etc., etc, were not having a sexual experience. Women fainted for Hitler for Christ sake. If God were a woman, the criteria for getting into heaven would depend on how cute She found you, or more precisely, how you made her feel.

What I am presenting here is just the tip of the iceberg of historical and experiential evidence that can be presented to support the theory that women on the whole are psychologically hardwired toward celebrity worship, gossip, and fashion.

All of these things are deemed superficial by society as a whole. So, like my former co-worker, women want to be respected for their minds, their opinions, and general character and yet not do the work required for that level of respect. If a man were to say to a woman, “That’s nothing to worry your pretty little head about” or “Be quiet, men are talking” he would be seen as being a sexist pig. So he indulges her and her opinions. Once given that inch she takes a mile.

I am of course making broad generalizations here, but the exceptions do not invalidate the rule. The key exception is what I call the Athenian Woman. There will be more on her later.

Contrary to popular belief, the Victorian male was not as secure in his manhood as popular misconception would lead one to believe. The following is an excerpt from a review of Jack Donovan’s book, Androphilia written by Derek Hawthorne that demonstrates the struggle for every man throughout time.

A first step to understanding what he is talking about is to recognize that masculinity is an ideal, and a virtue. Men strive to cultivate masculinity in themselves, and they admire it in other men. Further, masculinity is something that has to be achieved. Better yet, it has to be won. Femininity, on the other hand, is quite different. Femininity is essentially a state of being that simply comes with being female; it is not an accomplishment. Women are, but men must become. If femininity has anything to do with achievement, the achievement usually consists in artifice: dressing in a certain manner, putting on makeup, learning how to be coy, etc. Femininity is almost exclusively bound up with being attractive to men. If a man’s “masculinity” consisted in dressing butch and not shaving, he would be laughed at; his “masculinity” would be essentially effeminate. (Such is the masculinity, for example, of gay “bears” and “leatherman.”) Similarly, if a man’s “masculinity” consists entirely in pursuing women and making himself attractive to them, he is scorned by other men. (Ironically, such “gigolos” are often far more effeminate mama’s boys than many homosexuals.) No, true masculinity is achieved by accomplishing something difficult in the world: by fighting, building something, discovering something, winning a contest, setting a record, etc. In order for it to count, a man has to overcome things like fear and opposition. He has to exhibit such virtues as bravery, perseverance, commitment, consistency, integrity, and, often, loyalty. Masculinity is inextricably tied to virtue (which is no surprise — given that the root vir-, from which we also get “virile,” means “man”). A woman can be petty, fickle, dishonest, fearful, inconstant, weak, and unserious — and still be thought of as 100% feminine.

A woman can also be the butchest nun, women’s lacrosse coach, or dominatrix on the planet and never be in any danger of someone thinking she’s “not a real woman.” With men, it’s completely different. As the example of homosexuals illustrates, it is quite possible to have a y chromosome and be branded “not a real man.” Masculinity, again, is an ideal that men are constantly striving to realize. The flip side of this is that they live in constant fear of some kind of failure that might rob them of masculinity in their eyes or the eyes of others. They must “live up” to the title of “man.” Contrary to the views of modern psychologists and feminists, this does not indicate a “problem” with men that they must somehow try to overcome. If men did not feel driven to make their mark on the world and prove themselves worthy of being called men, there would be no science, no philosophy, no art, no music, no technology, no exploration.

“But there would also be no war, no conflict, no competition!” feminists and male geldings will shriek in response. They’re right: there would be none of these things. And the world would be colorless and unutterably boring.

As Camille Paglia famously said, “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” She also said “There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper.” What this really means is that given the nature of men, we can’t have Mozart without Jack the Ripper. So be it.

I included this here because not only does this illustrate to struggles of men to be men, but also because it segues into the role of women to men. One of the principle casualties of Feminism is the masculine ideal that men inherently aspire towards. The result is a Western world half-populated by “boys in men’s bodies”.

As the famous line from The Crow says, “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children”. For women to be superior to men you must prevent the boys from becoming men, thus woman will always be his “God”. He will pander to her whims and endeavour to please her. I see this in its most obvious and glaring form on Facebook with the plethora of orbiters and white knights kissing-up to every woman on his friends list. One girl whines and ten boys comfort her with a virtual hankie.

This stands in complete contradiction to the Athenian Women that I mentioned earlier. When we look at Greek mythology we see the goddess Athena aiding or mentoring numerous heroes including: Asclepius, Bellerophon, Hercules (Herakles/Heracles), Odysseus, Perseus, and Theseus. Her job seems to be turning men into heroes, which can be read as turning boys into men.

Athena was one of the boys. I discovered an article entitled, “Athena – A Goddess for Men” which says it all. I often describe her as the one woman on the all-male board of directors who all the men respect as an equal.

The Athenian woman is a woman who has earned her position and the respect of the men around her. She has played by Men’s rules and proven herself by her own merits without any special allowances for her gender. Likewise, she is harsh to any aspiring women. In writing this, the image of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind as an example of the Athenian woman. Lucky for Andy that Miranda did not turn her into a spider or a gorgon.

The Athenian Woman is the woman who is a great baseball player and any man who did not pick her first for his team is an idiot.

To carry this analogy even further, we might also find the Heran Woman, who enjoys cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children, provided her husband remains faithful of course. Or the Aphroditian Woman, the fickle one who reads the fashion mags and falls for all the pretty boys who are all looks and attitude but no substance (see Paris, aka Orlando Bloom in the recent film).

One might even read the story of the Judgement of Paris as Everyman’s judgement. Do you choose the beautiful and seductive Aphroditian Woman, the dutiful and dependable Heran Woman, or the Athenian Woman. I’m not sure if this analogy works, but my thoughts drift to the film How To Marry A Millionaire with Betty Grable as the Aphroditian, Marilyn Monroe as the Heran, and Lauren Bacall as the Athenian.

I believe the two archetypes of Aphrodite and Hera represent the vast majority of women. I’m reminded of the American man’s choice between Ginger and Mary Anne from Gilligan’s Island. For my British readers, in the television series, Ginger was the hot, sexy Marilyn Monroe type while Mary Anne was the sweet country girl always making coconut cream pies.

And yet we are expected to respect all women as being Athenian. Likewise thanks to the modern two income households women are expected to be Athenian, whether they like it or not and whether they are capable or not.

Here is one final note on the Athenian Woman. Some have suggested that she is so rare that she may not even be real. I can list many examples of the Athenian Woman, but alas all are in fiction. Think of Lara Croft. She has many Athenian qualities and men adore her, but how many real life Lara’s are there?

Of course there is a little of Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite in all women, but I’d wager one goddess, or others, takes precedent. I believe that most of humanity can be aligned to some Olympian archetype. We already acknowledge the Apollonian, Dionysian, and Arian in men, so why not the women? Perhaps there is also some Artesian tomboy with a penchant for bow hunting or a Demetrian farmer’s wife.

The biggest issue that I have with Feminism, which I might call the fundamental premise, is its rejection of the notion of differing male and female natures, except when it suits some diatribe on female superiority.

On the surface, it appears that Feminists want all women to be Athenian, succeeding in a man’s world. There are a few problems here. First off, very few women are natural Athenians. This requires the Feminist to decry the behaviour of women who want to be housewives or focus on their appearance, and those who do are forced to apologise because they feel that they should be Athenian and feel insulted when they are reminded that they are not.

Second, a true Athenian aligns with the men and does not play the gender card when it suits her. She loves men for being men and has no desire to retard their development. So sorry feminist, Athena’s not for you.

Finally, she succeeds without any special treatment on account of her sex. The world of men is about competition. This can take the form of playful insults, healthy completion, or all out war. Through competition the best rise to the top. If a woman wants to play that game, she has to be prepared for the bumps and bruises that go with it. She can’t go off whining, complaining, or crying. She’s got to take it like a man. “There’s no crying in baseball”.

There is a danger in trying to pigeon hole individuals, but by the same token it is even more dangerous to deny the nature of a thing. You cannot pretend that a snake is not a snake and expects it not to bite you after you have showed it kindness.

Due to biology, psychology, evolution, and sociology men and women are possessed of different natures. No crusading Feminist, or legislation, or self-perception, or wishful thinking will change this.

There is a theory of attraction that says that we are drawn to the opposite sex because they are opposite. Perhaps this is the key in my personal mistakes. I was raised to favour an androgynous middle ground of feminized men and masculine women.

I suppose my strong suit is my intelligence and I naturally open every conversation with that. I suppose on some level I may even use it to impress a girl. One girl I pulled later confessed that she only agreed to our first date because I apparently have a “nice ass” and could have cared less about my philosophies at the time. Other women mistook my interest as a desire for friendship because I treated her as a friend and not as a sexual interest.

So here’s me assuming my value came from my intellect, which may work in the competitive world of men, but woman have different standards. They look for different things. It has taken me forty years to finally shed my feminist programming. I was always taught that man and women were the same and I clung to this notion despite all the evidence and experience to the contrary. I’m stubborn that way. Now I finally partially understand that it really is different for girls.