Friday, September 27, 2013

Praxeology and Identity

Konrad Graf released a fresh article on nature of praxeology recently, and if you've taken any interest in what praxeology is, you should read it. It works as a solid introduction into this little corner of ideas, providing a helpful dose of clarity.

The first thing to notice is how individualistic such thought is. Graf clearly lives on an individualist plane, which is obvious even before he actually states it mid-way through the piece, and turns the thing into a stump speech for libertarianism. Like many others, Graf is a pure autonomy lover who reviles force. It's very simple: Pushing people to do things they don't want to do is bad because you're pushing people to do things they don't want to do, which is bad. Libertarians assume that society has no greater good than individual liberty. The reason they do that is, of course, because they have generally accepted that any "greater goal" is chimerical, an excuse for authoritarian behavior and nothing more. To use the old, repugnant terminology split, these are people interested in negative freedom, not positive freedom.

At the end of the day, this is a perspective that says Nozick was wrong, and man really does want to get his own Experience Machine, provided that machine knows enough to give us the occasional ego-boosting challenge as well as pure bliss.

If this doesn't pass the sniff test for you, then join the club.

It's not wrong, per se; I wouldn't be interested in praxeology if it was. Naturally, people want to be in control, setting their own goals and driving towards those goals at their own pace, seeking a sense of "flow" which lives between frustrated overwork and bored underwork. But there has to be an out for the unexplained, non-solipsistic elements of life, and Graf provides it, saying,
Even for goals that had originated elsewhere, say, in the person’s organizational leadership or as a client request, flow effects could still be found if the person proactively invested themselves in such goals, “made them their own,” as opposed to acquiescing.
God, I hope so. If we can't jump in to a necessary task with an understanding of their value, and find ways to own this work that we don't necessarily choose, then just about any group-based activity will never cause anything but misery. No matter your political inclinations, this would be a problem; it can hurt private business and family as much as government.

But Graf insists that the problem is muted, because people make goals which are decided outside themselves to be their own. They get invested in the decisions of others. They give themselves the impression that whatever the group is making them do is what they want to do. So... why? And how?

Well, because people identify with the groups they are a part of. They trust the people in them, including, dare I say it, authority figures. Their values are in line, as the shared inputs of culture, including symbolism and expectations, come into play. Some of this identity relies on individual, utilitarian thinking, like the decision to join a company just to make money. But in cultural terms, the people you grew up around will affect, not just your happiness within the context of your value system, but your value system itself. You pick up what is good and worth pursuing from the reinforcing experiences of your life, which are largely cultural. The saying goes, "you can take the farmer out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the farmer."

This matters for a couple of reasons. First, you have to understand the nature of praxeology; what's basically being said is that you can best understand people by their actions, which indicate their preferences, rather than trying to do what the West has been doing with philosophy and psychology since Socrates: trying to understand what is "truly" rational and inform people of it. A sensible, level-headed person can easily look at this and come to the rather striking conclusion that praxeology really is self-evident and that academia is trying to fit round pegs into square holes in a manner similar to what religion does. Academic philosophy is seeking "truth" in values for the sake of making human affairs work better, which comes down to message discipline as to what constitutes truth. Praxeology is seeking to understand, and understand alone, no normative judgment. This is economics at its essence; if there's a way to understand values in an objective sense, then this is it.

And this is also what I like about praxeology. By looking at rationality this way, the "rationalist" model of Western thought gives way to different interpretations of what is rational, inherently subjective interpretations that do not point towards any deeper truth that can lead to a utopia. Praxeological rationality can be culturally variable, and in fact it must be culturally variable, given that value is individually variable and yet will be more closely shared by people with similar life experiences.

Graf makes praxeology out to be a new way of thinking, but it isn't quite so dramatic. Really, it's merely subjectivism in values put into practice; if you can believe that all preferences are subjective and there is no "right" way to evaluate existence, then you understand praxeology. There's nothing new in saying that you can figure people out better by their actions than by anything else. But the importance of identity needs more elaboration, because as it stands, not enough people are paying attention to it.

The Economy as Replacement for Faith

Understanding the importance of this perspective might be difficult, so try to imagine this:

A large, wealthy secular country communicates with, and trades with, an economically weaker but strident Muslim country. Over time, the relationship results in the Muslim people seeing a degradation in the adherence to their own ways and a move towards Western individualism, as Western ideas - which serve the interests of the individual - get adopted by people who would rather avoid the strictures of their native culture. Is this bad? Well, if you're a Westerner, you probably won't think so, as these changes will be along the lines of appealing to your values. They're becoming more like you. If you're a traditional Muslim, then your culture is dying. It's an overtaking, a destructive attack on the identity of your people. That your people, as individuals, are choosing it would probably look more like fast-talking salesmen bribing people with easy answers than "progress".

And that's exactly what it is. Western secular ideas, democratically reliant on popularity among individuals, must sell well first and foremost, so ideas that are "happier" and give the sense of liberation gain big traction here as a matter of systematic bias. We prefer the short-term pleasure over the long-term investment that requires present sacrifice. Religion, it must be noted, could easily be viewed as a mechanism for convincing a people to place the long-run view, longer than the course of their own individual lives, over the short-run view. It's certainly not always successful, but the metaphysical basis gives an ace card to the leadership who wants and needs serious discipline and commitment from the populace.

Look at market economics long enough, and it becomes quite clear that market economies are replacements for other forces which, in the past, organized society. Religious faith or force give way to simple, broadly effective material bribery, easy to quantify and arrange through property rights, albeit capriciously granted property rights with no real legitimacy outside of democratic fiat.

In spite of Graf's heavy-handed defense of said property rights, it's easy to see what he calls "individualism" in the sense he describes it as being a preference, just like the Muslim preference, for how society organizes itself, nothing more. If this is the case, then praxeology is not so much the answer to why property rights = good, so much as a systematic way of thinking that clarifies the problem of their legitimacy. And the problem is that until one single ideology comes to dominate the world without question, conflict is inevitable, so there will always be those who dislike the current state of affairs.

That's even more true if, like me, you assume hierarchy to be inevitable and equality to be ridiculous. Say what you want about the rigors and inequalities of Islam, but religion blunts this problem in cultures where metaphysics can grant legitimacy to authority; it addresses the reality that the preferences of some will have to give way to the preferences of others. Even within a culture, some will have more power than others and some will be pissed off about it, and diminishing this as jealousy changes nothing if you admit that the inevitable interdependency that results in market societies grants undue leverage to those with certain skills or types of property.

Graf briefly spoke of "timescale", an important concept here. Western culture looks incredibly decadent because it lacks the justification necessary to convince people to work for the future on a long timeline. You won't find people who will come out and say that they don't care about society beyond the length of their own lifespan, but in a culture with no conception of God, where people increasingly aren't having children and are studiously avoiding any talk about unsustainable environmental practices and unsustainable entitlement programs and generally stupid finance, how can you avoid coming to the conclusion that they really don't give a shit?

Praxeology can tell us what people value, and then you can say, for reasons of blunt humanism, that people should have opportunity to pursue it. But to state the blindingly obvious, not everyone can have what they want at the same time, even in shallow material terms. All these philosophies and ideologies and moral concepts and systems of authority and structure did not develop in a world where they had no value. They are not parasitic memes. They are core to a society's identity, and we need them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Frustration and Negative Freedom

I can be pissed off all I want to.

I know that gay marriage is going to be passed. The change represents another step in the process of downgrading commitments from critical cultural institutions into the emotional bouquet of flowers to be tossed after they wilt, but no matter. This has been a long time coming, going back to at least the advent of birth control and more likely to the 1940's, the start of the quiet sexual revolution that came into full view in the 60's. That's what people want. They want their connections to one another to be intense and infinitely blessed by others. Then they get tired of those particular organs and move on, sex made cheap despite our professed desire for commitment. It doesn't directly affect me.

I can go on about the value of organized religion to society, regardless of the existence of deities, but there's no point. This generation is deeply hostile to religion, regardless of its big-picture positives. They blame normal human conflicts of interest and normal human prejudices on religion, and think themselves above such things, no matter how obviously absurd that is. But as religious society sees its sense of identity vilified anew every time it turns on the television or reads a mainstream news article, the continued loathing for anything representing the old continues apace, masquerading as logical humanist concern for the species and attracting more attention from those seeking any reason to dismiss social arrangements and strictures, so they can live for their own desires.

I can say whatever I want about the inconsistencies, incompetence, or hypocrisies of democracy, feminism, egalitarianism, institutional media and education, and any other subject I want. I can blah blah blah forever, and it doesn't matter. This, evidently, is important, that I have this "right" to bitch.

Some of the reason for this perception of importance is the influence of a guy named Isaiah Berlin. I've read plenty of his ideas, and it seems as if I should like this man. His comprehension of language is rooted in Wittgenstein's ideas. He plays with the concept of supervenience. He traces ideas historically. Right up my alley. But Isaiah Berlin pushed the establishment of the concept of negative liberty, which screwed up too much shit. You know negative freedom:

Today, negative freedom IS freedom to most people.

Berlin knew that values clash but still thought that values pluralism was possible, which is the most hopelessly misguided opinion one can possibly have about the nature of values. Hope. Hope was his problem. He must have never really lost a fight. You can't believe in the potential of values pluralism if you've seen your own culture's future falling apart.

Of course, the idea is attractive. We can minimize conflict by creating a situation where people can value whatever they want to value, think how they want to think, where tolerance is itself the goal. But for a variety of reasons, such an existence is unsatisfying.

The most obvious is this: after you've said that people cannot tell one another what to think and believe, you start to understand how and why people come to think and believe as they think and believe. So what is a condition where ideas can float around without direct command or regulation from a higher authority? You know what this is called: a market. Ideas move on a market, attention is the currency, and like in a market, there are winners and losers. Ideas live and die, and in adopting some over others, we determine the market power of ideas and shape the future.

We don't like to think of ourselves as dictating the future from where we are. The value of freedom has roots in Judeo-Christian ethics; we aren't supposed to control people, only "let their better natures run free". But that idea only has power today because our forefathers believed in it, which goes to show, there's no substitute for success. If you realize this, and if you realize that your identity is bound to your values , and your values are losing ground, the frustration can be extreme. You're watching the legacy that makes you who you are die slowly.

This isn't Hegelian, there is no thesis-antithesis-synthesis bullshit going on here; there is only one worldview versus another, and time favoring one side. No compromise is ever equal; negotiation is biased in favor of power. What would they take from my worldview to incorporate into theirs, anyway? Anything relevant would contradict the opposing perspective. That's why it's opposing.

My view is one of the individual being small in comparison to the larger institutions of human society, of people throwing themselves into interdependencies without the modern capriciousness that makes everything short-term self-interest. Calling gay people's relationships "marriage" undermines this, as the purpose of marriage that actually gives sensible cause to two people being bound together forever - children - makes no sense in this context. It furthers the perception of marriage as some sort of step towards self-actualization and happiness, which changes expectations in a bad way for the future of the institution. With religion, it's more of the same. Despite the numbers, with about 80% of America claiming to be Christian, this country is not religious at all. We promote a perspective of people subscribing to a religion because they feel like it, not because it's a necessary social institution that allows for a unified view of moral expectations and accountability. Anyone who still sees religion in the latter context is hardly one of the majority; they are more likely considered fundamentalists and get a chuckle from normal people. Religion is not taken seriously here.

If you subscribe to negative freedom as valuable in its own right, then this shouldn't matter. I can believe what I want, so what does it matter if other people do the same and we don't agree?

It matters. When the law is a product of democratic popularity contests, and image is manipulated by the media, you will realize eventually that negative freedom empowers the ideas that sell the best to the least rigorous and respectable minds and that the entire system tends to fall to the level of the lowest common denominator. Just because I can do what I want as an individual, that this principle is protected for me by society, doesn't mean that I have a society. It's extremely alienating to live among people who don't share your values.

I know why Judeo-Christian morality is popular in the marketplace of ideas, because I know what it's like to hate those with power. Being powerless is fucking enraging, and it's enraging because your mortality is bound to your identity, not simply your corporeal self. You will die as an individual, and you can accept that reality on some level. But it's different to know that you and what you stood for will be forgotten.

For those playing the home game, I hope you're enjoying your frustration as much as I'm enjoying mine. There's nothing to really DO about it: you can yell and scream, throw punches at a punching bag, get drunk, get high, or if you're really into it, protest the best way we know how: Facebook posts. Why not? Even if you decided it was important enough to start a fucking revolution, you always have that knowledge in your rational mind that you're being stupid and, at the end of the day, your voice is just a single blip on the public relations radar. Eventually, your rational mind will re-acquaint you with what matters. It will remind you that you have very, very little control over your world, and that you are subject to others, many others, who don't agree, making decisions on the basis of what can be sold to the lowest common denominator.

You, in other words, are irrelevant.

If you really care about something, if you feel that you should be able to identify with your society and shit has gone horribly wrong and you have the drive to try and change it, this irrelevancy is the worst possible experience you can have. It eats you from the inside, kicks you in the balls on occasion, strips the meaning from your life like the skin flayed from Saint Bartholomew. It is hell. But you have to deal with it.

So what you do is, you internalize it. All the physical exertions to "get it out of your system" end up only fatiguing you until you no longer care, a temporary condition. Fatigue is merely a drug, creating temporary respite, like a dose of Zoloft; in a sense, every human being dies from an overdose.

Isaiah Berlin recognized lots of the problems with freedom and merely wanted a conversation along honest terms. Were it not for his damned hope, he might have figured out that this was impossible; someone, somewhere, is always on the losing end of cultural change and in a sense, there is always some type of violence done in the victories. For people who recognize how identity works, success is not a matter of internal perceptions; it's a matter of real, tangible gains. Not making them constitutes real failure, no matter the personal element of the experience.

Has every minority in history dealt with this? Probably; one side or the other has to learn to bite their tongue, and I've never said it was easy or that minorities have had an easy road. But the recasting of the problem along the line of people just making their choices in a world made right by negative freedom pisses me off more than anything. I've dealt with the consequences of conflict before, both on the winning and losing side, and the worst times are when you are lied to. I'd love an honest fight, where the conflict could be exposed instead of manipulated, where the soldiers can salute each other on the battlefield at the end of the day. But I won't get it.

Update, 16 Aug 2015: I come back to this post regularly, and the underlying feels always remain valid. That lowest common denominator keeps running the show. The pretty lies pour into the general consciousness without hesitation. The hell of having a strong identity continues to burn hotter. I keep looking for "drugs" that dull such pains and find nothing; trust me, don't start a business, thinking that such small enhancements in control and authority will help you find satisfaction. There is no escaping it. I've come to despise the perspective of negative freedom, even more than this article shows. It's practically a guarantee of intellectual shallowness and the worst kind of individualistic selfishness. 
It's not like I was wrong about the trends. Gay marriage has been approved by the Supreme Court. A recent poll has the number of self-professed Christians in America declining hard from 80% to just over 70%. And the arguments supporting it are sophomoric trash. I can't find a way to despise it any less, no matter how normal it gets.
I would love to wake up to all this being a bad dream, this deep hostility I have to the cultural status quo. But I wrote this almost two years ago, and it's stunning how little things have changed. I think I'm going to hold this perspective for the rest of my life. If I ever have children, I'll be sorely tempted to tell them to avoid unvarnished truth and pursue ideas that make them feel good, especially if the child is a girl. No one will call them on it. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Egalitarian Angst

Optimism is cowardice.               -Oswald Spengler

Wealth inequality is at a high point in contemporary times, with people's perceptions of wealth distribution completely out of step with reality.
Of course, this would not have been possible if it weren't for creditors suckering people into making terrible decisions with debt. All we want is to be debt free!
It's college's fault, amirite?
When it comes to earning money and not just having it, people are pissed about their jobs for a variety of reasons:
Record numbers of people are dissatisfied with their job.
Fast food workers don't think they're earning enough.
Working in America just sucks.
We can help you define exactly why your job sucks. Take all those shitty, whiny excuses and make them sound less pathetic with this handy guide to excuses that sound sophisticated and legitimate.
Lots of this would be much better if employers would just do nice things, like double people's wages. Would you like to know more?

From what I can tell, you would like to know that this is the fault of those terrible people in the 1%, and that as a matter of basic justice, you and The Peoplez should have more of the wealth.

Okay, let's talk about that for a second. Because I have precisely zero sympathy for any of this, and the information constantly being presented on this subject just annoys the living hell out of me.

What This Actually Means

Do you know what most of these figures mean?

It sounds straightforward. It means that 1% of the population has 40% of the wealth, and therefore, 40% of the stuff, and because of that inequality, they have the power. 

This is only sort of true... if you're really materialistic about what power means. Actually, even then, it isn't that true. They're just statistics, and the tales of GDP figures are hopelessly skewed by Fed policy.

The figures belie the reality that money is cheap, so the figures are inflated at the top as we shovel newly-printed money into the bond market, trying to keep interest rates low and create investment and jobs. The figures belie that the technology has made most labor worthless and cheapened everything to the point that we simply don't need any more of anything. The figures belie that production is already being carried out with such intensity through the global economy that resource depletion is becoming a problem and we're leaving piles of garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of a flyover state.

What the figures mean is that the rich are playing a game of asset exchange that involves evaluation and risk, with the vast majority of those assets in their possession being investment goods that produce what normal people in this country buy. This means farmland, industrial equipment, research facilities, and of course, truckloads of stocks, bonds, ETF's, futures, and all the ownership on paper that does not translate into direct control but shows confidence or a lack of confidence in the future earnings of certain fields, gauged by econometric analysis. 

Most people can't even pronounce this.

The figures do not mean that the rich are taking food out of your mouth and keeping you from buying a new TV, which is what most people care about. The wealth of the rich is in assets, and those assets hardly change the material quality of life for the rich at all. Yes, they have 300 times the wealth that the average American does, on paper. Assuming you're employed, you drive an air-conditioned car to work where you do things that are a pain in the ass, you eat three meals a day, sleep on a mattress, use a functional computer on the same internet everyone else uses, and your TV is maybe 42". These figures do not mean that the rich are arriving at work in cars over 300 times nicer than yours, that they eat 900 meals per day, that they sleep on a bed of nude supermodels, play on a secret model of Cray supercomputer connected to the SuperNet, and that they watch TV on a surface the size of a city block. 

When it comes to consumer goods that actually mean something to quality of life, the distribution is just fine. In fact, it's ridiculously cushy. Money is power in the economy, and the rich are doing what they're supposed to do with power: investing it for the sake of expanding it. 

How do people get their hands on these goods without jobs? Well, we create pointless, white-collar busywork for lots of them, but for the rest, we give them credit cards. The placement of the dollar as the world's reserve currency is probably the only thing keeping other, more fiscally disciplined countries from abandoning us.

We're doing everything we can for people without simply giving up on individual accountability. Bailing out the banks was not done because corruption; it was done precisely because allowing them to fail would have crushed the job market. People trusted the investors stupidly and without due diligence, and because of it, we needed them far more than they needed us at crunch time. You can say that society owes people opportunity all you want, but opportunity runs on a sliding scale, with hopeless at the bottom and guaranteed success at the top. How much more can we do for you without taking every ounce of consequential risk away?

I just read a Popular Science print article with a millennial kid complaining that the cars offered today aren't good enough, because they destroy the planet, cost too much, and don't drive themselves.

Even if cars weren't the most recycled products on Earth, with radical improvements in fuel efficiency and emissions over the last forty years while rising only marginally in price, this kid is bitching because he has to drive a car. People who lost their virginity in a Model T are still alive, but the modern car just isn't fucking good enough!

If the wealth in this country were redistributed tomorrow in the way the inequality video showed, the result would be that, instead of people having a materially better quality of life, they would have, at best, a few minutes of relaxing knowing that their bills-and-mortgage woes were over. Those debts they rang up without having a dependable way to pay them off would be handled. For a while. Then they would try to spend the money. Then we would witness the biggest explosion of inflation in the history of man. Redistributing several trillion dollars doesn't mean that several trillion dollars worth of goods suddenly comes into existence. It means that the prices for everything balloon up as all these people with more dollars try to use them to buy the exact same number of goods that were in existence. Any stimulus effect would take time to increase production, and would be complicated by having to draw labor from a populace that thinks it is far more wealthy than it was and far less willing - for now - to accept jobs featuring unpleasant labor.

If the people who agree with those egalitarian sentiments think that this wealth distribution should stay more equal, and not revert back to inequality because of people's bad decisions, then they are precisely arguing that individuals should not be accountable for their economic actions, and that those in charge owe them help unconditionally.

You do want socialism. 

Cue the bitching about people getting paid fairly for their work.

Work and Play

There is one simple message that the modern labor economy is telling you: we don't need you anymore.

Not even close. The technology is such that a small number of people can feed, clothe, and house you, even hooking you up with cellphones and Nikes, without your input. They just have no reason to do so, no input that justifies provisioning the hoard, as there is no return exchange. 

This doesn't apply to everyone, of course. Engineers still command an income, as that job is necessary and damned difficult to do well. Maths are involved. No surplus of engineers in this world.

But everyone else, you're just lucky to have a job at all. McDonald's workers, baristas, retailers and shelf stockers, all of them, lucky. Striking doesn't matter. Anyone with an IQ over room temperature can do your job, so you can be replaced too easily to have the slightest leverage. Why empathize with them when there are millions who would do the work if given the chance?

If this were a cohesive and exclusive society with a labor shortage, where individuals were expected to uphold arrangements and it was well-acknowledged that people needed each other's efforts, then the question of appropriate pay would have some philosophical punch to it. But it isn't. It's extremely one-sided to expect the rich to ignore the benefits of globalized labor and new technology while normal people take advantage of the benefits of globalized production. The Peoplez do not work together to boycott or buy American, any more than they get together to assure their products are safe, ethically manufactured, or environmentally conscious. They want government to provide that service for them, in the name of justice. There's no discipline, only entitlement. They want to be served.

Employers should respect you? Why? You don't respect them, and their position in the world should command far, far more respect than yours. The only way you can say otherwise is to say that the system, intrinsically, is unjust and illegitimate.

But no one's saying capitalism is inherently unjust, right?

Yeah. You are. When you say that you want these little minor increases in pay, this marginal increase that shouldn't affect the competitive bottom line of the company, do you really think you're going to be happy there, at that ratio of corporate earnings to wages, for the rest of time? 

I'd be disappointed if that were the case. I'd prefer to think that somewhere along the line, there was a strategy for empowerment a little more sophisticated than just guilt-tripping those mean people in the suits and making them look bad by going on TV, all to get a 5% raise and that alone. The slippery slope is a classic maneuver of progressives; a little now, reset the expectations higher, then repeat and the expectations can go higher still. Some people in America likely consider the granting of mandatory wage hikes to be the economic equivalent of given up the Sudetenland. 

There are at least two fallacies that need to be addressed. One is from the inequality video, and it concerns itself with socialism not working "because people need an incentive to work hard". Then it places getting rich as the incentive, so some inequality would still be fine. In doing so, poverty seems to be eliminated.

No humanist wants to hear this, but the functional incentive of capitalism isn't for everyone to get rich. Everyone, even Republicans, knows this. The incentive is not extraordinary success; it's avoiding failure. If there is no risk of destitution and helplessness, where the individual finds himself or herself completely at the mercy of those who have not failed, then there is no motivation to work jobs you don't want but the market demands. The wild success of capitalism is not its strength. The risk of failure is its strength.

Dreams motivate children... until the next reality show comes on TV. Fear motivates adults.

The second, related fallacy is that increasing wages will increase productivity by increasing motivation. Just like the "getting rich" motivation doesn't work, this one doesn't either, not without other people getting comparatively less. 

Economically, the "efficiency wage" results in greater productivity. But it's not like it creates this productivity by simply filling the worker with good feelings. It creates this motivation by giving people something to lose. There has to be a willingness and explicit authority to fire people for this to work. The fashionable talk about how a comfortable lifestyle makes workers better rested or something, leading to efficiency, is filled with bad premises. In a culture where judgment hardly exists, people work as hard as they need to. If you pair either good or bad wages with an excessively secure job, then the productivity will not be exceptional, as everyone who has ever worked for the government knows. Unions will argue about this until you point them towards Detroit in the mid-1970's, when they'll get distracted by having to make excuses.

That entire discussion relies on high wages relative to the norm. You boost everyone's wages to the norm, granting a temporary stimulus, and also creating a new norm. Costco workers appreciate their wages now, but if Wendy's workers made the same wage, then would they still think their pay exceptional? Of course not. New gripes would be just around the corner, the perception of good treatment will be dulled by everyone else getting the same treatment. 

I'm probably not supposed to talk about that, because realism is too negative. People don't want reality. And God help us, this country is a democracy.

Some people argue that we should have more time off, but I'm quite sure that the majority of Americans don't care about that, and that's why they don't complain much about it. Family is dying, culture is dying, TV programming sucks. Why would you want to go home? At least at work, you're making money while you're miserable.

Fact of life: you're going to have to do what society values, not what you want to do. Jobs that are interesting and fun, or really important, are jobs that a lot of people want and therefore, you'd have to compete for one of them. This will not change because you believe you have a right to a certain form of work on the grounds of finding happiness. The economy doesn't exist to provide you with satisfying work.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: no one owes you shit. Everyone in America, liberals and libertarians alike, blames today's problems on corruption at the top, but it's not at the top. It's at the bottom.

Relativity and Wealth

Am I being too hard on The Peoplez? Too negative? Not selling myself well?

Well, here's an Asian baby with a puppy to make you feel happy for a second:

All better? No? Whatever. 

Try to understand: I'm a historian. History.

My knowledge of how people lived up until the last couple hundred years in terms of material welfare makes what we see now an epic, orgasmic paradise that NONE of us deserves. For most of the history of Western civilization, average people never bathed, had no health care or education, were lucky to eat meat once a week, would not have understood the modern concept of entertainment, walked everywhere because they couldn't afford a horse, had a fireplace instead of HVAC in the thatch-roof house they shared with the livestock, and still gave thanks to a supposedly-loving God every day simply because they were alive.

If one of the founding fathers were brought to the modern day from 1783 and given a chance to walk around and meet people from all walks of life for a couple of weeks, then told that the quality of life people were leading wasn't good enough because paper assets were inequitably distributed among individuals and customer service jobs aren't good enough, then my guess is, he would laugh in your face. Then he would borrow ten dollars to go down to Golden Corral and stuff himself full of endless food, turning a loving gaze towards the chocolate fountain. He might lament the lack of spirituality and civic virtue, but the idea of people need more stuff or people have to work too hard would be idiotic to him.

Oh, but that's the wrong attitude! Things should always get perpetually better!

Fuck off. 

The modern generation, by its own standards of morality, is so totally inferior that I simply can't relate to them or respect what they have to say. The standards can only get so low, the restrictions so loose, before it's time to stop boosting the kids' self-esteem. 

Given that such large numbers of people have abandoned family organization, organized religion, community obligation, any sort of duty felt towards, or discipline in service of, a higher good than their own selective sense of personal empathy, I think this world is far, far too good for you. You have so much that better people missed out on, and you can't stop bitching about it. No one looks at themselves as spoiled or materialistic, but they are. They've just become excessively good liars.

What's the point of all the wealth, of the release from cultural restraint, when people aren't grateful for it?

We've become a society with nothing more than utility maximization for a sense of purpose. Happiness, and only happiness in its most shallow and consumerist form, is all that this culture can legimitize as a goal. But happiness cannot be had as a direct matter except by the people who really know themselves well, and the people who know themselves well are the ones who have experienced real struggle and pressure. Life can be, and is, too easy. Many people know this in theory, but can't grasp it. You can mouth the words, but not embrace the suck.

A culture with a legitimate hierarchy and identity would not require people to soul-search every time they make a life decision. People from that kind of culture would know that redemption will not be found in personal choice, but in something considered sacred that the individual makes himself subservient to. It's legacy that drives, that gives value and satisfaction, and if the only legacy you can imagine is to make life a little more comfortable for others before you up and die, then you're legitimately fucked. Oswald Spengler envisioned societies as organisms with shared values, visions, goals, purposes, an identifying art that characterized their worldview. According to him, a young culture creates, lives with purpose, and wanes when the creative drive runs out. Thus it passes through the old age of "civilization" and dies.

Spengler's name is still known, but his theses have never been considered academically legitimate. Some of the fathers of the "open society" concept so beloved now thought his work to be "pointless", which says much about how strong the addiction to optimism can be in liberal cultures. But good intellectuals - ones which can systematize and deconstruct with equal dexterity, like Wittgenstein and Baudrillard - often seem to be pessimists. You don't need to be particularly creative to look at American culture today and see Roman decadence in our frivolousness, our disdain for family, or materialism, our loathing of the past and of social order that in any way constrains the individual. This is the kind of society that uses terms like justice, equality, and liberty as an excuse to democratically demand more for people who do nothing of value. It never seems to occur to most people that the individual might be radically overrated, especially to himself.

The desperation to save capitalism is higher here in this country than anywhere else for a reason; that's who we are. That's all we are. There's nothing more to us than consumers with too much empathy. There's no sense talking about the problem as if there's a solution. Any serious change would require fundamentally changing our cultural character in a way that the average person takes on more responsibility, not less. As a matter of principle, we won't stand for it. Spengler was right, if a little early; stick a fork in the West.

It's done.