• Shortcuts : 'n' next unread feed - 'p' previous unread feed • Styles : 1 2

» Publishers, Monetize your RSS feeds with FeedShow:  More infos  (Show/Hide Ads)


Date: Sunday, 27 Jul 2014 13:30
Jerry Coyne collects the sharp critiques (Maggie Clark's is especially perspicacious) of Michael Robbins' latest excrescence on the atheist/religious debate. (Coyne also makes a good case that Robbins is a whiny little crybaby who will neither stand behind his opinions nor shut up about them).

Robbins is at least obliquely correct: the project of every human being, individually and collectively, is to figure out how to live. But, contra Robbins, this is not a specifically religious project; it is a universal project, undertaken by everyone, religious and non-religious alike. Religion is just one specific approach among many to this problem. I am always irritated when religious people implicitly or explicitly claim that figuring out how to live (or any other common human endeavor) "obviously" and automatically requires reference to the divine or the transcendent. On this account, anyone who rejects the divine or the transcendent is therefore not trying to figure out how to live. But this claim is nonsense.

Every atheist, just like everyone else, is trying to figure out "a particular way of life, practices oriented toward a conception of how one should live." And, of course, we do not object to religious people figuring out their own practices and conceptions per se. No atheist (that I know of) ever says that we should not try to figure out how to live. (If you can find an example, point me to it, so I can give the jerk a piece of my mind.)

I might (or might not) be nice if everyone could figure out their own ways of life with absolute autonomy. Regardless of what might be desirable, human beings cannot have absolute autonomy. We live in a highly interdependent society. Figuring out how to live is as much a social project as an individual project. All religions are social in this regard: religious people want to persuade others that their specific way of life, their practices, their "conception of how one should live," is better. For long periods of time, religious people considered their ways of life so much better, and the alternatives so much worse, that violence was necessary to force people to live their way. Although it might be the "last resort of the incompetent," there's nothing wrong with violence per se; assuming that violence was necessary, for example, to end slavery in the United States, I find such violence justified. And of course we routinely legitimize the use of violence to prevent (proactively or retroactively) murder, rape, assault, etc.

But it's important to actually get it right, to really know what better and worse ways of living actually are. And fundamentally, atheists are part of the social process of figuring out these better and worse ways of living. We think we have a

Atheists tend to focus on religion-as-truth rather than religion-as-a-way-of-life because the notion of the truth of religion is central to the religious project of figuring out how to live. It must be true that God exists, and it must be true that God wants people to live a certain way. Without these claims, the project of how to live collapses as a specifically religious project; at best, it becomes the "Church of God Who Makes No Difference."* And it is precisely these claims that "evangelical" atheists seek to undermine: it is not true that any God exists; there is no divine plan for how we should live. We have to figure it out for ourselves. And in fact we all, religious people included, are figuring it out for ourselves; religious people just use what we atheists see as a weird, delusional, and deeply flawed method of doing so.

*Egan, Greg, Permutation City, and if you want to claim that God makes no difference, you're just as much an atheist as I am.

I think it's really not fundamentally important, for example, that everyone understand and believe evolution. Sure, it's not that hard to grasp the basics (much easier than quantum mechanics), and it should be a part of everyone's basic education, but, frankly, society would not collapse if evolution wasn't part of general knowledge. Of course, atheists do criticize all aspects of religion, but many atheists specialize in creation/evolution. Some specialize because they think evolution by itself really is fundamentally important. Many, myself included, also oppose creationism because it is authoritarianism at its worst: the authority to decree objective truth. I think, however, that the truth of evolution is important precisely because it undermines the truth claims of many religious people. Without creation or theistic "evolution", human beings are no longer exceptional, no longer metaphysically special. We are just another mammalian species with relatively big brains and opposable thumbs. And, whether we like it or not, it's true that we're just another kind of animal. This truth undermines many (perhaps not all) people's religious beliefs: how they live depends on human beings being not only metaphysically but physically special. There's no other reason so many religious people fight evolution and not quantum mechanics, especially when the latter is far more subversive to our intuition.

I want to make a few side points.

First, Nick Spencer (whom Robbins quotes in his review) is mostly correct: "[M]odern atheism was primarily a political and social cause, its development in Europe having rather more to do with the (ab)use of theologically legitimized political authority than it does with developments in science or philosophy." The point that Spencer misses is that politics, science, and philosophy are not separable; they are all in dialectical relationships with each other. It is precisely claims about science and philosophy that not only legitimize theological authority, but also encourage its abuse; to undermine that authority requires that we undermine the scientific and philosophical claims that legitimize theological authority.

Second, I want to talk briefly again about the existential angst atheists are supposed to feel. Robbins quotes Nietzsche, but his quotations are unhelpful, and I'm not a scholar of Nietzsche to have a firm enough grasp on just what he says, much less what he means. Perhaps he's just noting the immense social consequences of atheism in his own religion-drenched world. But I would more-or-less admit that, as Robbins quotes Nietzsche, we are left "with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become." I honestly don't understand why Nietzsche's idea is such an emotionally big deal. It's either true or false that the universe has meaning; the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that the universe is meaningless, and I don't see anything to be gained by pretending that it is meaningful, however desperately I might prefer meaning. But I just don't care that the universe is meaningless. I'm still alive, I still enjoy life, and that I myself have to choose how to live, without any divine guidance, doesn't bother me in the least. It is perhaps noteworthy that I was raised to respect only justice, never authority, so I'm unconcerned by the lack of a divine authority to guide my choices. I've never heard any good reason that I should care, that an infinity of meaninglessness should scare me. It seems like the most egregious narcissism and infantilism to pretend the universe exists for oneself, and dread the loss of meaning like children dread separation from their parents.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "bad philosophy, religion"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Sunday, 27 Jul 2014 07:45
Oy vey, Robbins is terrifyingly inept. Responding to critics, he states:
The point is simply that a morality predicated on Enlightenment rationalism retains its Christian foundations, at the expense of coherence. Therefore the moral codes we retain after the death of God are grounded in nothing, a point the Neo-Darwinians underscore every time they trumpet that article of faith, the “morality gene.” It is not enough to argue that we can simply ground our morals in ourselves, in our conceptions of the good (for one thing, it is self-evident that we don’t agree about what these conceptions should consist in).

That religious people of the past were often quite as murderous and duplicitous as we is beside the point, properly understood. We are talking about the loss of a coherent worldview, about grounds, not about practices. Anyone interested in the history of the shaping power of mental conceptions should understand why such a loss is a problem.
This is bullshit on several counts.

First, it is just calumny to claim that "Neo-Darwinians . . . trumpet that article of faith, the 'morality gene.'" This statement is a pure straw man. There's no "morality gene," and the genetic basis for morality is hardly an article of faith. Morality has a genetic basis in the same sense that everything has some sort of genetic basis: morality happens in our brains, which obviously have a genetic basis. We have, for example, mirror neurons, which seem like a possible cognitive basis for empathy; these neurons have a genetic basis (which is almost certainly not a single gene). Simply dismissing opposing ideas as ridiculous is egregious intellectual dishonesty.

Second, the idea that "Enlightenment rationalism retains its Christian foundations" is at best controversial. It is, of course, true that Enlightenment rationalism (as well as modern welfare ethics) has an historical/genetic* relation to Christianity, just as Christianity has a historical/genetic relation to Roman paganism, which has a historical/genetic relationship to Greek paganism (and rationalism), and so on, probably back before the invention of language; chimpanzees seem to have a kind of morality without even a proper (Turing-complete) language.

*Not in the biological but the philosophical sense.

While a lot of the early Enlightenment thinkers retained belief in God, the whole point of the enterprise was to decouple morality, law, politics, economics, etc. from Church authority. But without Church authority, God lacks an authoritative voice. Once you undermine Church authority, you undermine any divine foundation for anything. For one thing, it is self-evident that we don't agree about what our conceptions of God should consist in. Indeed, the foundation of religious morality is not God, but the Church.

It is moronic to claim, "It is not enough to argue that we can simply ground our morals in ourselves, in our conceptions of the good (for one thing, it is self-evident that we don’t agree about what these conceptions should consist in)." Yes, we disagree, but has Robbins not noticed that human beings are clever and creative about developing methods of coming to agreement: e.g. argument, negotiation, persuasion, diplomacy, and sometimes force?

I suspect Robbins holds the all-to-common fallacy: morality is that which (among other things) is grounded in the transcendent; if something is not grounded in the transcendent, whatever it might be, it is therefore not morality. But of course there is no need to add the transcendent as an analytical component of morality. But of course we need not ground morality in the transcendent: we can in fact ground morality in human preference, utilitarianism, welfare, empathy and sympathy, pragmatism, natural intuition, categorical imperatives, or in any number of reasonable, natural bases.

Third, there is considerable controversy about what constitutes a ground of anything, whether we really need a ground, and whether a ground is even possible. Anti-foundationalism, for example, claims that grounds are impossible. The ground of logical deduction, for example, consists of premises, but what is the ground of the premises? It can't be deduction, but if it's something else, why not go directly to that, instead of using premises. Taking a different tack, dialectical materialism renounces the concept of ground: everything changes everything else; there is no philosophical starting place.

And finally, just because an intellectually dishonest doofus thinks that we have just abandoned grounding, or even that grounding is intellectually important, doesn't make it so. And grounding not really that important. "That's just the way things are" is a perfectly good, and perfectly trivial, ground.

ETA: Robbins argument fails on a more basic level. I don't think he's correct, but let's suppose arguendo he is correct: lacking "theistic belief" (whatever that is), our present ideas about morality become in some sense "incoherent." the incoherence of present ideas about morality would not by itself justify theistic belief: it could be the case that our ideas about morality are just hopelessly confused. If so, it would be rational to provisionally adopt historical morality out of pure expediency while we worked on a more coherent account. Even if theistic belief really could make our present ideas about morality coherent (which it cannot), theistic belief would still need an independent justification.

Robbins goes on to write, "New Atheists . . . wrote books that purport to challenge theistic belief as such. They therefore have a responsibility to address the best cases for God, not the dullest." First, we're not challenging "theistic belief as such," because that term is too broad and ambiguous to have any useful meaning. We're challenging certain kinds of theistic belief. Second, we have a responsibility to address the cases for God that are actually used. ETA:Furthermore, we have a responsibility to address the kinds of theistic belief that are most problematic; Robbins' beliefs, besides motivating an insufferable smugness, are not as socially or politically problematic as "fundamentalism"; besides, every competent economist and businessperson will tell you to go after the low-hanging fruit first.

Finally, the arguments that are actually used, mostly the Aquinian arguments, really are the best; the rest are inferior, and many just vacuous bafflegab. (I'm amused that Robbins considers Aquinas to be a dullard.) Robbins offers what he presumably considers a good, non-dull argument for God (without God, we have no grounding for morality), which I just challenged (and disposed of) a few paragraphs above. I am not the first.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "bad philosophy, religion"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Saturday, 26 Jul 2014 14:50
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "humor, satire"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Saturday, 26 Jul 2014 13:24
I wrote a longer post, but it boils down to this: shorter Michael Robbins: Assuming atheists are idiots, those atheists are really idiots, amirite!?
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "bad philosophy, egregious stupidity, rel..."
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Saturday, 12 Jul 2014 06:45
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "links"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Friday, 04 Jul 2014 08:15
The argument that employers such as Hobby Lobby have a right to refuse to pay for birth control seems nonsensical on its face.

My employer pays for everything* I buy. They pay my rent, my food, my car, my beer, my movie tickets. All of this money comes from my paycheck. Traditionally, we hold that although my employer pays for everything I buy, they have no standing whatsoever to tell me how to spend it. We could, of course, make a different social decision about that, but if a principle of law is to keep things consistent, then the obvious answer is that the employer is paying employees in money, and employers cannot dictate what employees do with that money, whether the money is paid directly to the employees or passed through directly as premiums to an insurance company.

*Or would if I still worked a straight job.

Just that companies are mandated to buy insurance does not change anything. Companies have a lot of coercive mandates regarding my paycheck. They have to pay me the minimum wage, they have to pay me for all my time, they have to pay me on time, they have to pay social security taxes (mine and theirs) and unemployment insurance premiums, etc.

The whole point of paying employees in money instead of in kind is precisely to place the decision about what to consume in the hands of the employees. If we are consistent on the principle of payment in money, then we either say that employers have no say on how employees spend their pay, or employers have say over everything employees buy with their pay.

Of course, the consistency the Supreme Court is actually employing is that conservative employers have say over how female employees manage their sexuality. Women (especially women workers) are, of course, inferior, and women's sexuality is evil (unless they're having sex to pop out Republican babies and no orgasms please). It is of the highest social necessity that someone regulate women's sexuality; if we let government do it, we might end up with something (ugh!) democratic. It's much better to place this regulation in the hands of corporations; the owners of land and capital have been explicitly and intentionally insulated from democracy since the founding of the republic.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "egregious stupidity, feminism, law"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Wednesday, 02 Jul 2014 07:17
"Fundamentalism" and its derivatives are perhaps the least useful words when discussing religion. Atheists do not object to fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam primarily because they're fundamentalist; we object primarily to Christianity and Islam. Fundamentalism in this context usually just means more Christian or more Muslim, i.e. more bad; similarly, moderate Christianity or moderate Islam usually just means less bad, which better than more bad, but still bad. The problem in the world we New Atheists struggle against is not "fundamentalism"; we struggle against religion.

(More precisely, New Atheists struggle against a specific kind of religion. Human language is somewhat fluid, and people attach words to concepts willy-nilly, without philosophical precision; the word, "religion," is no exception. We are, on the whole, pretty clear about what kind of religion we object to: the idea that God exists, imposes moral duties, obligations and prohibitions, on human behavior. Given that a metric assload of people actually use "religion" to mean just this idea, our use of "religion" to denote the exact same idea does not seem at all confusing or ambiguous.)

I don't even know what "fundamentalism" really means. It has an ostensive definition: when attached to Christianity, "fundamentalism" just means all the things that that Christians use to distinguish self-described "fundamentalists" from "non-fundamentalists." (Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for Islam.) As a New Atheist, I am not particularly interested in theological disputes. Analytically, though, fundamentalism is used in three main ways, to denote the idea that someone believes:
  1. X is true and worthy of promulgation
  2. Some text should be taken literally
  3. X is inerrant

I am a fundamentalist in all three senses. I believe that communism, atheism, evolution, anthropogenic climate change, are all true and worthy of promulgation. I might change my mind that one or another were true, but today I think they're true, and worthy of promulgation. Everyone does this. I do not object because Christians believe something is true; I object because they believe Christianity is true. I believe that my textbooks should be taken literally, not metaphorically. When my economics textbook describes a relationship between the quantity of hats demanded and produced and the price of a hat, I believe they are talking literally about actual hats, actual dollar bills (or euros, etc.), actual factories, and actual people buying and wearing hats. Again, I don't object to Biblical literalist taking something literally, I object that they are taking the Bible literally.

The third meaning is a little more subtle. I believe the data are inerrant, but I want to be very careful about what I mean here by "inerrant." Inerrant does not mean veridical. Inerrant means that if the data appear contradictory, I must repair the contradiction by altering my belief about something other than the data. For example, if I am weighing bricks, and I my scale reports the weight of a brick as 1012 kg, then I have a contradiction between my experience of putting the brick on the scale and the scale. I cannot resolve this contradiction by denying the data: I cannot deny that I lifted the brick, and I cannot deny that the scale reported 1012 kg. I must resolve the contradiction by changing my beliefs not about the data but about the world. Perhaps I performed the measurement incorrectly. Perhaps the scale has changed so that it is no longer measuring weight or reporting the measurement in the same way it was a moment ago. There are, of course, a lot of elaborate ways scientists use to resolve contradictions in the data, but the one way that is absolutely forbidden is to say that because the data contradicts my ideas about the world, the data does not exist or should not be taken literally. (I cannot, for example, say that the scale is measuring the brick's happiness.)

In a deep sense, I mean exactly by the inerrancy of the data what Biblical literalists mean by the inerrancy of the Bible. They do not mean that if there is an apparent contradiction in the Bible, that the proposition is both true and false. Instead, they believe that they must add an interpretation that resolves the contradiction. Similarly, when the data from the double slit experiment contradicted data from our ordinary experience of of rigid objects, we had to add quantum theory to our interpreation of the world to save the data. No matter what our a priori ideas about the world happen to be, if the data contradict those ideas, it is the ideas that must change, not the data.

The change in focus of anti-atheist polemic* from religion to "fundamentalism" — when it is not just outrageous lies and (thanks, Dr. Coyne!), and Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning is a flat-out liar) — seems at best confused and at worst intentionally misleading. We object to "fundamentalism" only to the extent that "fundamentalist" something-bad is usually worse than "moderate" something-bad. That something bad is, in the sense noted above, religion.

*I do not object to polemic per se. Obviously, I believe that specifically anti-atheist polemic is incorrect.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "philosophy, religion"
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 05:41
The Chicken Game (a.k.a. hawk/dove or snowdrift) is a particular game theoretic payoff matrix:

Cooperate Defect
Cooperate (4,4) (5,2)
Defect(2,5) (1,1)

If player 1 chooses to cooperate, player 2 should defect, and vice versa. However, if player 1 chooses to defect, player 2 should cooperate, and vice versa. So there's no dominant strategy.

In the dialectic between capitalists and workers, for capitalists, "Cooperate" means paying high wages; "Defect" means paying low wages; similarly, for workers, "Cooperate" means working hard, "Defect" means slacking off. If both defect, if capitalists pay low wages and workers slack off, then the workers will starve (because they don't have enough money to buy food), and civilization will collapse. Contrawise, if both cooperate, there is a higher overall payoff (4+4=8) than if one cooperates and the other defects (5+2=7). However, because the individual payoff is better, there is an incentive for one player to defect if the other cooperates. In essence, whoever gets to defect "first" (or most credibly) will win; there's no incentive (as there is in the Prisoner's Dilemma) for one player to defect if the other has already defected.

Thus we can create the political economy payoff matrix:
Capital
LaborHigh Wages Low Wages
Work Hard Erehwon Capitalism
Slack OffSocialism Disaster

Let me be blunt: workers are no more altruistic than capitalists. If high wages are more or less guaranteed, workers will consume more leisure — leisure is a normal good, n'est pas? Economically, the effect of laissez faire capitalism is to make sure the workers consume as little leisure as possible. And, economically, the effect of socialism (the first stage of communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as distinct from welfare-state capitalism) is that workers will consume more leisure: they will, as compared to capitalism, slack off.

(It may be more socially efficient under capitalism to have workers work harder than is strictly economically efficient; we don't want the workers to get the idea that they deserve leisure. And it is arguable that many of the problems of Communism of the Parties (USSR/PRC) was caused by their attempt (probably necessary to resist the capitalist West's unapologetic desire to annihilate communism and commit genocide against the USSR and PRC) to "square the circle" and try to get both hard work and high wages.)

The project of socialists and communists, therefore, should not be to argue that socialism and communism will get us to some sort of utopia where and the workers get paid well and everyone works as hard as they do under capitalism. That's an economic contradiction. Instead, we should valorize leisure.

One theme of capitalism is to valorize hard work. Most of our common phrases for hard work — initiative, can-do spirit, commitment — are positive. Most of our common phrases for leisure — slacking, laziness, goofing off — are negative. They may be vices we indulge ourselves in, but they are vices nonetheless. But why should this be so? Why should hard work be good for its own sake? Some goals require hard work instrumentally (I work harder as a student than I ever did as a middle-class professional, for a third the pay) but why should goals that require hard work be considered better just because they require hard work? Why is the Dude a bum just because he works only enough to live and indulge his relatively inexpensive passion for bowling? (The Big Lebowski works only because it subverts the preexisting trope of hard work and wealth good/laziness and poverty bad; the film would make no sense under communism. In contrast, Downton Abbey is sterile and boring because it fails to subvert the trope.)

Valorization of anything is only partly a project to convince people to value it. Valorization is more importantly a social construct to justify the punishment and coercion of those who do not valorize it. If hard work is a value, then those who do not work hard are "vicious"* and deserve to suffer. (Similarly, sobriety is a virtue; those who are not sober deserve to suffer just because they are not sober.) Hence the major argument and justification for capitalism's tendency to keep wages low is that low wages promote the virtue of hard work. If the working class received higher wages, they would not work as hard (at least not for long), and would therefore descend into the vice and decadence of lazy, unproductive activity. The capitalists are just virtuously trying to save the working class from their own vice! How can we not give such a project our most enthusiastic applause? And how can we not condemn (true) socialism as inherently and ineluctably vicious?

*virtue : virtuous :: vice : vicious

I say fuck hard work.

Not only should hard work not be a virtue, it should be something of a vice. If you want to indulge yourself in the vice of hard work, well, you're an adult and can do as you please, but don't act like you're any more proud of your hard work than you are of any of your other vices. We want a society where it's good that people have a lot of leisure.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "communism and socialism, game theory, po..."
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 05:26
A commenter has asked me why we study microeconomics and macroeconomics* separately. It's necessary but not sufficient to simply say that microeconomics is the study of households, and firms**, and macroeconomics is the study of the national economy as a whole. After all, while physicists do specialize, we don't have "microphysics" and "macrophysics" as separate disciplines, even though physicists study everything from quarks to planets to galaxy clusters to the whole universe. It's all just physics.

*There are actually three levels of economics: micro, macro, and international economics.

**Households and firms usually are not internally organized by markets, although there are many economists who use economic techniques to study intra-household and intra-firm behavior.


Economics is different because economics is more complex (has more independent "moving parts") than physics, and has more feedback mechanisms. Specifically, although they are connected, there are features about the economy as a whole (macro) that have such a radically different character than features about the economy of individuals (micro) that we must think about them in radically different ways. A more apt analogy is the difference between biology (the study of individual species and organisms) and ecology (how organisms interact). Obviously, ecology is intimately linked to the biology of the species, and in some sense emerges from that biology, but the conceptual tools are very different between the two fields.

Economics in general is the study of trade-offs. When someone has to give something up to get something else, economists spring into action! The fundamental difference, therefore, between micro and macro is what is being traded off, and how those trade-offs are measured and conceptualized. Fundamentally, microeconomics is about relations between actors in a national economy, but there is nothing for a national economy to be relative to. (Again, international economics complicates this framework a bit, but by and large, most large national economies such as the United States can be treated as closed systems with a small correction for net imports and exports.)

The biggest difference is flow. Micro is linear: a household or a firm has an income on one side and an expenditure on the other side, with stuff coming in or out in the opposite direction. In contrast, macro is circular: money circulates between households and firms, with labor and stuff circulating in the opposite direction.

Another difference is money. A household or firm can run out of money; the national economy cannot run out of money. While some individual household or firm might not have money (savings or income), and is therefore limited in what they can consume, the money is always somewhere in the national economy. In micro we study how households and firms allocate their money, how they make choices constrained by the money that they have (savings) and that they expect (income). In macro, however, because the money is always somewhere, and the total amount of money is (more-or-less) constant, so we don't conceptualize trade-offs as being constrained by money. Instead, macroeconomics is concerned with the total real productivity and consumption of the economy. Indeed, there is presently a debate between classical/neoclassical macroeconomists, who think that money doesn't matter at all (it's just a lubricant; you have to have some, but adding extra lubricant won't make your engine any more powerful), Keynesians (classical, neo- and paleo-), who think that money does matter (prices not as much), and monetarists, who also think that money and prices matter, but in a different way than Keynesians. In contrast, there are exactly zero microeconomists who think that the money a household or firm has doesn't matter.

Similarly, individual households want to accumulate money. They want to optimize their money income and/or their profit. In macro, however, we can't make a profit; profit is always relative; the net profit for the economy as a whole is exactly equal (as a boring accounting identity) to whatever new money we have put into the system in one way or another, i.e. mining gold and silver or printing dollar bills.

Another difference is what is being traded off. In micro, we trade off between production or consumption of different items. I can buy better food, or I can pay more in rent. I can choose between oranges and apples. A household can work more or have more leisure. A firm can produce more or fewer oranges or apples, and it can choose between more capital (machines) or more labor. In macro, however, all there is is one big lump of everything; generally, we don't worry about the trade-off between everything and nothing (nobody wants nothing). Instead, the big trade-off is between consumption, producing stuff we'll use today, and investment, producing stuff that will produce stuff we'll use tomorrow. In macro, we also think about trade-offs between the the large-scale entities in an economy: all households (and sometimes all working households vs. all investing households), all private productive firms, all financial firms, and, of course, the government.

There is also a controversy in macro as to whether the economy as a whole can fail even if all the parts are working correctly. Classical and neoclassical economists say that if all the parts (households and firms) are working, then the whole economy is working by definition; if you don't like how the whole economy is working, then one or more of the parts are failing. For example, the classical economists attribute the Great Depression (and the current Lesser Depression) to a combination of malinvestment (we built too many factories to make stuff people didn't want), structural unemployment (workers didn't have the skills that firms wanted), irrationality (workers refusing to accept lower money wages even though prices had fallen, so their real wage had increased), and government misregulation (in the extreme, some assert that all government regulation except enforcing contracts is misregulation). Monetarists lean towards the classical view in this regard: they attribute problems in the whole economy to failures of the banking system or government regulation of the banking system. In A Monetary History of the United States, Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz make a compelling case that errors by the Federal Reserve in regulating and supporting the private banking system at least deepened and may have caused the Great Depression. In contrast, Keynesians assert that all the parts of the economy can be working correctly in micro terms, but the economy as a whole can still fail, measured by cyclical or involuntary unemployment.

Again, in contrast, there are exactly zero microeconomists who claim that all the parts of a firm can be working correctly, it has sufficient capital and labor in the optimal proportion, it has a market for its correctly-priced product, and its workforce and administration are competent, and yet the firm can be unprofitable.

So, basically, the individual household and firm are conceptually very different from all the households and firms in a national economy. Therefore, we divide up economics into micro and macro.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "economics, Introduction to Macroeconomic..."
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Date: Sunday, 01 Jun 2014 04:47
Yes, you "should"* do what you love, as your career and your profession. True, not everyone gets to do what they love, but that is a social failure, not a personal one. Marx's chief complaint against capitalism is that even when it's working "perfectly," it alienates workers from both the product and from the process of production. Both the product and the work are no longer valuable in their own right; they are just an instrument for the capitalist to accumulate more money, and for the worker to earn wages to consume. A communist society, as Marx declares in Gotha, can occur only after, among other things, "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want." The problem is not that the workers' sacrifice is not sufficiently rewarded, the problem is the sacrifice itself. Instead, We should strive for a society where everyone can do what they love. In the meantime, those who are privileged enough to actually be able to do what they love have no cause to feel guilty or ashamed for just doing so.

If you'll forgive using normative language to talk about just doing what you want.

Doing what you love is a positive privilege: it is something that everyone should have, but only a few actually do have. It is not a negative privilege: it is not something, such as the ability to break the law with impunity that no one should have but some do, such as the ability to break the law with impunity. Similarly it is not, at least in the ideal case, something, such as "leadership," that if a few have it, others are necessarily excluded. Doing what you love is like being able to go almost anywhere without fear: as a white man, I have this privilege; women and people of color do not. The way to correct this privilege is not to force everyone to live in fear, but to eliminate the fear that those without the privilege have to live with. The cure for any positive privilege is not to condemn the privilege, but to extend it to everyone.

Positive privilege becomes problematic when people attach other attitudes to it. I have been able to do what I love my whole life, and I have mostly been relatively well-paid for doing so. But I have not had this privilege because I am extraordinary or in any way better than anyone else; I was just lucky. My privilege is not evidence of my innate superiority, either of ability or character. I was born white, male, American; I was well-fed, well-educated, and socialized with middle-class manners; I had a talent and love for a field, computer programming, that for a long time was highly in demand.

Not everyone agrees. In In In the Name of Love, Miya Tokumitsu believes that doing what you love is selfish and exploitative. But Tokumitsu is long on condemnation and short on quality analysis. For example, she holds up Steve Jobs as an epitome of doing what you love. She quotes Jobs' 2005 Stanford graduation speech:
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
According to Tokumitsu, this quotation indicates that Jobs was "portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love," which "elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories." But there's a lot of distance between Jobs' words and Tokumitsu's interpretation. Maybe other evidence shows that Jobs really does, as Tokumitsu puts it, violently erase the contributions of thousands of engineers, designers, and factory workers to making Jobs' love a reality, but there's no evidence that Jobs doing what he loved, or framing his own work as a labor of love, is the cause of that violent erasure.

Tokumitsu also assumes that only the elite's "creative, intellectual, socially prestigious" work can possibly be lovable. All else is "repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished." But this characterization only betrays Tokumitsu's ivory tower elitism. (Tokumitsu holds a Ph.D. in art history, but I'm unable to determine his or her own job; dollars to donuts it's neither repetitive nor unintellectual.) There's no intrinsic reason that any human labor must be repetitive or unintellectual, nor any intrinsic reason why creative, intellectual work should be valued more than any other: the "antithesis between mental and physical labor" (Gotha) is not, according to Marx, intrinsic, but an artifact of capitalism. I know construction workers who love construction, plumbers who love plumbing; I can even imagine factory work, properly constructed, can be rewarding and fulfilling. Perhaps there are some jobs that are unlovable (cleaning other people's toilets comes to mind), but those jobs should not be glorified; they should either be done by machines, shared democratically rather than economically, or at least paid extremely well. I would happily be a janitor for $100,000 per year, and I would clean toilets with love.

In A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’, Gordon Marino offers an explicitly Kantian critique. According to Marino, doing what we love is only one dimension in our thinking on our choice of work. Marino references Martin Luther King's metaphor of length, breadth and depth: our own desires, service to the community, and service to the "transcendent." It would be a mistake, argues Marino, to accept as "faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do [emphasis added]." But Marino's analysis doesn't work. First, "service to the community" is neither opposite nor orthogonal but part of doing what you love. We are inherently social; we are not social because of some external moral norm. I presently work as a writing tutor not because I love reading the work of unskilled writers, but because I love helping hundreds of writers every year become more skilled, more sophisticated, and more expressive. What I love is service to the community. And (with apologies to Dr. King) the notion of service to the "transcendent" is nonsensical. The only coherent, existent thing that can demand "obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires" is the ruling class du jour.

Yes, it is possible to trivialize and coopt "do what you love." Capitalism is notable for trivializing and coopting everything. But just because capitalism has trivialized and coopted marriage and family, as Marx and Engels observe in the Communist Manifesto, does not mean that we should stop partnering and having children. It is notable that both Tokumitsu and Marino do not offer any evidence that popular culture actually trivializes the idea of doing what you love: it is the concept itself they charge is trivial hedonism.

But it is a mistake to interpret "do what you love" as mere hedonism, as just the expression of "likes and disklikes." The ethos is do what you love (and love what you do), not do what you like. To love something is to dedicate everything you have and more to it, and to do so because you want to. And love is to cherish everything, not just the pleasant bits. To love something requires the highest discipline. Love requires sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice of the lower to the higher. But it is your own higher and lower, not the judgment of some self-styled philosophical or theological authority.

Marino interprets (fairly, I think) Tokumitsu's essay as saying that "the 'do what you love' ethos . . . degrades work that is not done from love." But it's true: work, indeed anything, not done from love really is degrading. No, we should not ignore or erase those who cannot do what they love, but neither should we glorify doing what you hate. That some must do what they hate should shock our conscience, should arouse our righteous indignation. Yes, we must sometimes do things because they must be done, however much we may hate it, but that is a problem to be solved, not a condition to be excused, much less glorified. Whether man or nature enslaves you, to dedicate anything, much less everything, to what you hate is slavery.

We need to build a society where everyone can do what they love, a society where labor is "life's prime want." As much as capitalism tries to trivialize it, "do what you love" is fundamentally subversive, even revolutionary. It is the antithesis of Christian slave morality, work for God (i.e. His representatives in the ruling class); it is the antithesis of work to live. It is the highest ideal and the liberation of all humanity.
Author: "Larry, The Barefoot Bum (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "bad philosophy, culture, ethics, philoso..."
Send by mail Print  Save  Delicious 
Next page
» You can also retrieve older items : Read
» © All content and copyrights belong to their respective authors.«
» © FeedShow - Online RSS Feeds Reader