Philosophy

Here is the pdf link, every now and then I feel I should put up an “oldie but goodie.”  This is one of the essays that has influenced my thought the most, noting that Fischer had his own language and could be quite opaque.  Here is the abstract of his 17 pp. essay:

The effects of noise on the world, and on our views of the world, are profound.  Noise in the sense of a large number of small events is often a causal factor much more powerful than a small number of large events can be.  Noise makes trading in financial markets possible, and thus allows us to observe prices for financial assets.  Noise causes markets to be somewhat inefficient, but often prevents us from taking advantage of inefficiencies.  Noise in the form of uncertainty about future tastes and technology by sector causes business cycles, and makes them highly resistant to improvement through government intervention.  Noise in the form of expectations that need not follow rational rules causes inflation to be what it is, at least in the absence of a gold standard or fixed exchange rates.  Noise in the form of uncertainty about what relative prices would be with other exchange rates makes us think incorrectly that changes in exchange rates or inflation rates cause changes in trade or investment flows or economic activity.  Most generally, noise makes it very difficult to test either practical or academic theories about the way that financial or economic markets work.  We are forced to act largely in the dark.

Both of Black’s books are worth studying, as well as the Perry Mehrling biography of Black.

*Incontinence of the Void*

by on September 9, 2017 at 12:51 am in Books, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the new, forthcoming Žižek book, here is one brief excerpt:

Peter Sloterdijk endorses Badiou’s thesis, from his Le siecle, that the defining feature of the twentieth century was “the passion for the real,” the gravitational pull toward the real basis of our lives (economic base, libido, will, etc.).  What we witness is the reversal of the traditional relation between public theology and occult materialism preached in elite circles — today, materialism is public while gnostic theology grows in the underground…Passion for the Real is not just a realist-cynical stance of reducing ideological chimeras to their “actual base” (“it’s all really about the economy, power, sex”), it is also sustained by a messianic logic of extermination: the cobweb of (religious, moral, etc.) illusions has to be ruthlessly erased, and it has to be done now.  The twentieth century was a time of extremis, of passage a’ l’acte, not of hope for some future.  Sloterdijk, of course, for this very reason sees the twentieth century as the age of extremism and ethical catastrophes, from Nazism to Stalinism.

I have several other of his books in my pile to read; this latest one focuses much of its energy on Lacan and also the Slovenian theorist Alenka Zupančič.  It turns out Žižek also is a big fan of Liu Cixin and The Three-Body Problem.

That is the topic of my latest column from Bloomberg, here is one excerpt:

If you could directly alter your kids’ genetic profile, what would you want? It’s hard to know how the social debate would turn out after years of back and forth, but I was dismayed to read one recent research paper by psychologists Rachel M. Latham and Sophie von Stumm. The descriptive title of that work, based on survey evidence, is “Mothers want extraversion over conscientiousness or intelligence for their children.” Upon reflection, maybe that isn’t so surprising, because parents presumably want children who are fun to spend time with.

Would a more extroverted human race be desirable, all things considered? I genuinely don’t know, but at the very least I am concerned. The current mix of human personalities and institutions is a delicate balance which, for all of its flaws, has allowed society to survive and progress. I’m not looking to make a big roll of the dice on this one.

It’s also not difficult to imagine parents wanting children who are relatively well-behaved. The same research paper found that mothers, after extroversion, preferred the trait of “agreeableness” in their children, again over both intelligence and conscientiousness.

I was struck by a recent Chinese report that some parents are asking for children who are able to drink socially, for business purposes, and thus trying to avoid some genes that make it difficult to process alcohol. Caveat emptor.

Best sentence: “I don’t trust people to take so much control over the future of human nature.”

These aspects raise an uncomfortable possibility for libertarians: is there a sort of law of conservation of coercion in well-functioning societies? A community with a minimal state can only function if it is thick enough and homogeneous enough to enforce sanctions for antisocial behavior that are almost state-like in their severity, and, furthermore, can make them stick. Freeing individuals from their smothering parochialisms will lead to a compensating increase in the scope and reach of the state as people search for a new solution to social dilemmas formerly handled via informal means. Conversely, attempts to suddenly curtail state power may lead to chaos in the intervening period when social institutions have not yet reasserted themselves. Principled libertarians might still have good reasons to prefer the non-state forms of compulsion—among them the arguments from public choice economics and a federalist preference for decisions being made at the lowest feasible level, where actors are most likely to have relevant information. But “increased freedom” may not be one of them.

Here is more:

Kuznicki thinks the engineering mindset in political theory is an antidote to what he sees as a philosophical tradition of abstract theorizing that puts the state on a pedestal and makes it into an almost metaphysical nexus of the human condition. But as I look around, much of the vapid theorizing seems to be in favor of liberalism writ large, while the best current example of a state built on hard-nosed pragmatism is Singapore. Kuznicki himself is a representative of a currently fashionable sort of cosmopolitan libertarianism that has never existed in governmental form, and which I suspect is the least likely form of government ever to exist. What if a practical politics that took account of human frailty implied a world formed from a combination of cosmopolitan but illiberal city-states, unified but homogeneous nation-states, and sprawling empires that vacillate between centrifugal and centripetal tendencies? In fact, this is the world that has existed for most of recorded history. Perhaps the real ideological blinders are those which tell us that we have transcended this condition and can replace it with something else.

That is from William Wilson in American Affairs, hat tip goes to Garett Jones and Rogue WPA Staff.  Here is Jason Kuznicki’s new book, which I have not yet seen.

Let’s start with the distiction between people and their ideas and also their behavior.  We might condemn the ideas of a person without condeming the person himself.  Of course, if the ideas are very, very bad, sometimes we condemn the person too.

We seem to mind less when the bad ideas come from another time and space altogether.  For instance, hardly anyone seems to mind if a Mexican migrant has incorrect and deeply offensive views on the Oapan-Sam Miguel land disputes.  Those beliefs, even if they sanction violence against innocents for the purposes of land grabs, don’t impinge much on current American status competitions.  Similary, I don’t see that many objections to intellectual “monuments” erected in favor of classical Athens, in spite of the significant role of slavery in that society.  The pro-Athenian faction isn’t going to command any electoral votes the next cycle.  Was Joan of Arc problematic?

How many people object if a high percentage of the best jobs for Indian-Americans go to members of higher castes?  Does anyone push for affirmative action within the Indian-American community?  Not that I am aware of.  Those status contests aren’t salient for most of us.

I see many people who have behaved very badly — and here I mean legally convicted criminals — but where the prevailing “mood affiliation” among American liberal intellectuals is to favor their rehabilitation.  For instance, if a company does not ask job applicants if they have criminal records, this is considered to be good, and maybe it is.  For one thing, many of those criminals are the products of bad circumstances and we may have various (true) theories that help to excuse their behavior.  So we don’t go to the nth degree to shame and disgrace those ex-criminals, even if they have been convicted of prior violent activities.

How are we then to feel about contemporary neo-Nazis?  Most of them have not been convicted of anything at all.  Yet right now we are going to great lengths to shame and disgrace them.  We regard them as on a lower moral rung than the convicted criminals.  But is wishing for violence that much worse than having committed it yourself?

Or sometimes those two qualities go together.  If you are a neo-Nazi and you have committed a violent act, like the guy who drove that car into the crowd, it seems OK to put your photo on the internet in any kind of stereotypically despised, lookist, “white filth” portrayal that is possible, with maximum scorn and contempt.  Should we cover a prisoner on Death Row the same way?  What about someone who has been judged mentally ill?  What if in the meantime we simply do not know?

There may be a good utilitarian reason for the distinctions we draw, namely that we wish to discourage neo-Nazi behavior, and the behavior of potential copycats, for future-oriented reasons.   (Is that shaming even the most effective way to do so?  We don’t seem to obsess over shame threats for convicted criminals, to keep them — and others — on “the right track.”).  Perhaps shaming and disgracing them is necessary because they hold very bad ideologies, and perhaps potentially contagious ideologies, ideologies that most violent criminals do not seem to promulgate.

Maybe this utilitarian view is correct, namely that the shaming of an individual should depend on social context and political impact, and not just on the prior behavior of that individual.  But then notice what we are doing, we are moving away from moral individualism ourselves, and treating the shamed person as a means in the Kantian sense.  I even feel that such shaming makes me a slight bit like them, in a way I wish to avoid.

Do I have the option of just feeling sorry for the neo-Nazis, and at the same time dreading their possible social impact, in the way one might dread and hate a tornado?  But not shaming or scolding them?

Or should I feel bad about benefiting from the shaming activities of others, and being a kind of free-riding Kantian moral purist?

What if deterrence is not your actual goal with the shaming, but rather you are shaming for the purposes of motivating your own “troops”?

Another group being shamed over the course of the last week has been the misogynistic EJMR posters.  But I am curious as to the implicit theories held by the shamers here.  Why do those men write such nasty things?  Is it all just bad socialization, or might some of them them have a genetic inclination toward such behavior?  But once we consider the latter, we seem dangerously into the kind of stereotyping we were objecting to just a moment ago, when we sought to shame them.

What if sexual bullying lies deep in male DNA?  Not for everyone of course, but for some people.  And those same people may well have grown up in disadvantageous circumstances, surrounded by the wrong kinds of nerds, and then they ended up sad and broken on EJMR, for lack of having had the right role models.

Overall I am not impressed by how most of you are writing and thinking about these issues.  I wish to shame you a bit.  Everyone wishes to shame someone.  For me it’s you — sorry!

Chris Blattman tweets:

Is there a modern day Fanon or Memmi writing about dvpt & globalizn as they wrote about colonialization? Doesn’t only have to be leftist.

Hardi and Negri come up in the mentions, but I am underwhelmed.  There is the alt right, mostly on the internet rather than in books of note.  To whatever extent they are objectionable, keep in mind Fanon was a Marxist, and in any case agreement is not the metric here.

I also nominate Alexander Dugin.  There is plenty in Islamic theology too, and the environmental movement would be yet another direction.

On the academic and also more liberal side, there is Joe Stiglitz and Dani Rodrik.  Is Roberto Unger going too far back?  Three-quarters of the Bengali intelligentsia?  Arundhati Roy?  Or maybe you think Naomi Klein is not serious enough, but the lower quality of at least some of these answers is itself data.  Does the writer have to be from a developing nation?

Frank Fukuyama would be a subtle answer, as would be “the government of China.”  I am reluctant to categorize Slavoj Žižek, but he is not irrelevant for this question by any means.

And let’s not restrict ourselves to non-fiction.  How about Roberto Bolaño’s 2666?  Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of SinNeill Blomkamp?  Michel Houllebecq of course.

What do you all think? I know I am missing a great deal.  That said, if you look for a very direct parallel and just google “leading Algerian intellectuals,” little of relevance comes up, focus maybe there on rai music and theology.

I would stress that the nature of intellectual fame has changed, and if there are few exact parallels to Fanon it is for that reason.  I do not think there is a more general vacuum in this area of inquiry.

That is the new and interesting book by Rachel Sherman, consisting primarily of field work and interviews with the very well-off.  Here is one bit:

…they described their desires and needs as basic and their spending as disciplined and family-oriented.  They asserted that they “could live without” their advantages if they had to, denying that they were dependent on their comfortable lifestyles.  They distanced themselves from the negative images of consumption often associated with the wealthy, such as ostentation, materialism, and excess — all markers of moral unworthiness.  These interpretations allowed them to believe that they deserved what they had and at the same time to cast themselves as “normal” people rather than “rich” ones.

…for my respondents to be a “good person” was not to be entitled.

The rich themselves seem to be fond of the distinction between “the deserving rich,” and “the undeserving rich.”

You can pre-order here.  Here is the book’s home page.

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with her.  On the off chance you don’t already know, here is a brief Wikipedia summary of her work:

Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science and humor.[1] As of 2016, she has published seven books,: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) (published in some markets as Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife), Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008), Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010), My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013), and Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (2016).

But there is much more to her than that.  Here is the full Wikipedia page.  Here is her own home page.

So what should I ask?  I thank you in advance for your inspiration.

Where to even begin enumerating the wealth of fruitful work — some of it highly critical — that continues to emerge from real engagement with Freud’s ideas? Consider Marina Warner’s musings on Freud’s mediation of Eastern and Western cultural tropes told through the story of his Oriental carpet-draped couch; Rubén Gallo’s panoramic exploration of the reception of Freud’s work in Mexico and the reciprocal influence of Mexican culture on Freud; and the rich medley of sociopolitical critiques grounded in Lacan’s reinterpretation of Freud’s thought.

The idea that large parts of our mental life remain obscure or even entirely mysterious to us; that we benefit from attending to the influence of these depths upon our surface selves, our behaviors, language, dreams and fantasies; that we can sometimes be consumed by our childhood familial roles and even find ourselves re-enacting them as adults; that our sexuality might be as ambiguous and multifaceted as our compendious emotional beings and individual histories — these core conceits, in the forms they circulate among us, are indebted to Freud’s writings. Now that we’ve effectively expelled Freud from the therapeutic clinic, have we become less neurotic? With that baneful “illusion” gone, and with all our psychopharmaceuticals and empirically grounded cognitive therapy techniques firmly in place, can we assert that we’ve advanced toward some more rational state of mental health than that enjoyed by our forebears in the heyday of analysis? Indeed, with a commander in chief who often seems to act entirely out of the depths of a dark unconscious, we might all do better to read more, not less, of Freud.

That is from an excellent NYT book review by George Prochnik.

Here is the transcript and audio (no video).

We discuss what makes Florida special, why business writing is so terrible, Eddie Murphy, whether social conservatives can be funny (in public), the weirdness of Peter Pan, how he is so productive, playing guitar with Roger McGuinn, DT, the future of comedy, and much much more.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If I look at old slapstick, it doesn’t seem funny at all. Intuitively, you would think slapstick, being only physical, would have a much longer half-life. What I find funny is very culturally specific references. Now, am I strange?

BARRY: Well, not about slapstick. When I was a little guy, I maybe thought that the Three Stooges were kind of funny but that stopped a long time ago. Some physical humor is still funny to me. Abbott and Costello were pretty physical, but they were funny without being slapstick. Just hitting each other in the nose and going, “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk” never struck me as funny at all. I have forgotten the second part of your question.

On different comedians and what’s not funny anymore

COWEN: You mentioned Abbott and Costello. If you’re willing, I’ll talk about a few comedians, or mention a few, and you can tell me what you found funny with them, didn’t find funny.

Let’s start with Abbott and Costello. Favorite of my father. I’ve watched almost all the movies. As I kid, I didn’t find them funny, but I actually started to find them funny in retrospect after having watched a bit of Seinfeld and Larry David. What’s your take on Abbott and Costello?

BARRY: Yeah, I can see the connection there. It more relies on you letting it — the humor — slowly develop and the characters themselves being the humor without coming right out and saying what’s funny about it: The one who never understands what’s going on, the one who’s always losing his patience with the other one. The first, maybe, three or four times, it’s just mildly amusing. But after a while, when you see it coming, that becomes very funny to you.

It’s very rare to find that kind of patience in humor anymore. I don’t think the audience is as generous as it used to be, allowing humor to build the way it did in an Abbott and Costello sketch.

COWEN: And is Abbott or Costello funnier to you? Abbott being the straight man.

BARRY: Yeah, I think Abbott is funnier.

COWEN: I think he’s much funnier.

Most of all, I was impressed by Dave Barry as a managerial force for his own career.  Again, here is the link.

Here is the piece (pdf), here is the broader symposium, with other notable contributors, including Bill Easterly, Charles Kenny, and Brandon Fuller.  Here is one excerpt from my essay:

…we should keep in mind the strictures of Dani Rodrik that every country, or sometimes every region, is different. Nonetheless this reorientation of measures of progress would have some implications for policy analysis. In particular, high levels of inequality, inequality of opportunity, and relative income mobility would not be seen as problems per se.

Furthermore, the frequent appearance of those concepts in political and also scholarly rhetoric would be seen as misleading and a distraction. The focus instead would be on expanding the absolute size of opportunities for the poor. To make this more concrete, consider a policy change which benefitted both the rich and the poor. Many of the equality metrics would have to struggle with such a policy, which might increase inequality in some manner, whereas the approach recommended in this paper could endorse it wholeheartedly.

It is interesting to note the recent visit of Thomas Piketty to South Africa. He called for a national minimum wage, greater worker participation in company boards, and land reform. Those are all attempts to provide equalizing measures across one dimension or another. Although some parts of those ideas may have merit, they do not seem overall focused on incentivizing wealth creation and opportunity. Piketty even stated: “I think it’s fair to say that black economic empowerment strategies, which were mostly based on voluntary market transactions […] were not that successful in spreading wealth.” It perhaps would have been more appropriate to note South Africa remains a highly regulated, highly legally privileged, and indeed mercantilist economy; the country ranked only number 72 on the 2015 Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. So perhaps empowerment based on voluntary market transactions has not yet really been tried.

The absolute opportunities approach also suggests a different emphasis for a topic such as land reform. Many arguments for land reform focus on the difference in the land holdings between the rich and the poor, yet perhaps those are not the relevant numbers. A better focus would be the following question: “by how much would receiving more land elevate the opportunities of the poor?” If indeed the answer to that question is optimistic, the case for land reform will be stronger.

Do read the whole thing.

*For They Know Not What They Do*

by on August 11, 2017 at 2:30 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

…the Party needs “dissidents”, for this that it needs “Goldstein”: it cannot express its truth in the first person — even in the “innermost circle” it can never come to a point at which “the Party knows how matters actually stand”, at which it would recognize the tautological truth that the aim of its power it just power itself — so it can achieve it only as a construction imputed to someone else.  The circle of totalitarian ideology is thus never closed — it necessarily contains what Edgar Allan Poe would call its “imp of perversity” compelling it to confess the truth about itself.

That is from Slavoj Žižek”s book, the subtitle being Enjoyment as a Political Factor, one of his best, intermittently lucid and sometimes brilliant, most of all on Hegel.   Žižek also reminded me of an old Christopher Hitchens quotation: “mass delusion is the only thing that keeps a people sane.”

Here is the podcast and partial transcript.  Russ describes it as follows:

Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and the co-host of the blog Marginal Revolution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Stubborn Attachments, his book-length treatment of how to think about public policy. Cowen argues that economic growth–properly defined–is the moral key to maintaining civilization and promoting human well-being. Along the way, the conversation also deals with inequality, environmental issues, and education.

Self-recommending!

That is Dave Rubin the comedian.  It is thirty minutes long, no transcript or video, audio only right here.  We covered comedy and political correctness, which jokes should not be told, the economics of comedy, comedy in Israel and Saudi Arabia, comedy on campus, George Carlin, and the most underrated Star Wars installment, among other topics.  Here is one excerpt:

Cowen: How much do you think comedy is what’s sometimes called ‘a winner take all’ market? So another way to phrase the question is 20 years from now do you think there will be more or fewer professional comedians? You might say, for instance, “Well, you’re on YouTube, you’re real ly funny, I don’t need to go to a comedy club.” There’s this fellow in South Korea, Robert Kelly, he did an interview, he was trying not to be funny doing the interview, his two kids ran into the room, his wife pulled the kids back, it created a viral video, one of the funnier things I saw all year.

Rubin: Yeah.

Cowen: Maybe not a funny guy, he was trying to keep it serious, so it was hilarious, and I can find those through my filters, through Twitter, through search. What’s the role of a professional comedian when an amateur’s best moment from a guy who isn’t even funny goes so viral?

Rubin: Well, the role is always there because the commentary on society is always gonna be there, so the moments like… Of course, I saw that video and it’s hilarious and it’s in the moment and it’s a beautiful thing. By the way, there was an outrage to that, because a lot of people were saying that the woman who came in was his nanny because I think she was Asian but it was actually his wife so then that created… So even that, just a pure moment of something hilarious happening became part of the outrage machine too. But the role for the critic of society, it’ll always be there, but it’s just not gonna to come from the clubs anymore, I think. I think that unfortunately… Comedy in its rawest form of standing in front of a group of people with a microphone and connecting to them that way, it’s as beautiful as it gets, there’s nothing in between you and the audience. It’s like painting, if you were a great painter and every stroke you had to go, “Was that okay? Was that okay?” Well, that would make you kinda crazy as a painter, but in stand up up you have to do it that way, every line you have to make sure is funny. I have not been funny here today at all, maybe we have to do something else.

Cowen: There’s less live music in New York City today than in the 1970s, is there less live comedy?

I enjoyed doing the interview very much.

No, it’s not Michael Oakeshott:

At the London Review Bookshop, John Clegg reports a fondness for philosophers. “Our most-stolen authors, in order, are Baudrillard, Freud, Nietzsche, Graham Greene, Lacan, Camus, and whoever puts together the Wisden Almanack. The appetite for Greene (which seems to have died down a little now) was particularly surprising, but I suppose they identify with Pinkie,” said Clegg.

“We caught a gent last Christmas with £400-worth of stolen books in his trousers and elsewhere. We grabbed all of the bags back, but he returned about half an hour later to reclaim a half-bottle of whisky and his dream journal, which had been at the bottom of one of the bags of stolen books. As we showed him the door he told us: ‘I hope you’ll consider this in the Žižekian spirit, as a radical reappropriation of knowledge.’”

Daunt says that the kleptomaniacal customers in Waterstones have always had a penchant for Kierkegaard, à la Renton in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. “You slightly wonder when it’s always books by the likes of Sartre and Kierkegaard – there must be an awful lot of people working their minds out so much that they don’t have any money,” says Daunt. “Whenever I’d go past Kierkegaard I’d make sure they and Wittgenstein were all there, but often the odd one or two would be gone and it always made me smile.”

Here is the full story.