Saturday, November 16, 2013

Two behavioral principles overlooked by free-market apologists


1. Establishing/Motivating Operations- EOs are antecedent factors which alter the value dynamic in behavior. For example, a starving man may kill for bread, not because he is less moral than the workaday man who buys it with paper, but because the EO of deprivation has extremely inflated the value of food to him at that moment. (for more, see the work of Jack Michael).

and a related one

2. Non-Contingent Reinforcement- NCR expands upon the principle of behavior that states that behaviors which are unlikely to manifest can be made more likely (reinforced) if followed by consequences that are enjoyed by the person/animal. For example, I can increase the likelihood of my wife making me coffee in the morning if I sincerely thank her after and engage her in meaningful conversation before I trot off to work. NCR uses this same principle in an effort to decrease the functionality of unwanted or destructive behavior. For example, if my infant is crying a lot for milk and my wife responds with feeding, we are reinforcing the behavior of crying. He gets what he wants when he cries. Thus, if we establish a schedule for feeding (based on time and not contingent on behavior), we decrease the deprivation/hunger which in many cases manifested the crying behavior, while also destroying the contingency which will reinforce crying in the future. He no longer gets what he wants when he cries; he gets fed regularly, and so crying may no longer have any function.

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This is important because free-market apologists want to believe that voluntary exchange in the free market is a win-win. Yet, the market isn't free, not now, and maybe not ever. There is an accumulated effect of inequality that has created massive EOs of deprivation for many people, and which has the effect of skewing the value dynamic in the exchange of goods. This is why free-market apologists sound so calloused when they say that so-and-so is a victim of their own choices. They pretend that there is such a thing as free-will, which in this sense is libertarian and able to resist the effects of EOs.

Nobody is so free, and thus, there will never be a free market as envisioned.

The Zeitgeist Movement and Project Venus (two interesting examples of a structural resource-based answer to capitalism) both rely upon the copious exercise of non-contingent reinforcement to reduce psycho-social stress (and all detrimental EOs) and make exchange increasingly free. They must reinvent the state to do so, but at least they aren't engaging in fantasy like the free-market apologists.

I like to think of a future where we are all engaged in managing our leisure, and where all exchanges are exchanges of gifts.

To waste your time watching two windbags dance around this issue, enjoy the following video:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Deities

What I'm about to say is a recurring theme for me and my "work" (read: sporadic blogging).

When we say that God is love, we are being ambiguous.

God is an eternal being, and all of our words struggle and fail to attribute anything to this being.

When we say that God is love, we have options:

1. We could mean that God [an unknown/unrevealed being] is defined by love [a known quality].

or

2. We could mean that God [a known/revealed being] defines love [a quality we thought we knew until the revelation of God shattered our pre/misconceptions].

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In the first option, God is in the dock and we are affirming him when we name him a lover.

In the second option, the idea of love is in the dock and God disconfirms our concept when he names himself a lover.

You see, God isn't loving in the way that we idealize love. That God is love demands that we define the meaning of love by reference to him (and not to our experiences/opinions).

Is Jesus any help to us here? I think not. If anything, Jesus only confirms the alien nature of love.

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In my opinion, #1 is the dogmatism that dogs all those who constantly bark about dogmatism.

There is no balance to be found between human concepts of love and the name that God gives to himself. He didn't reveal himself as a lover so that we could control him through our ideology of what it must mean to be loving (according to us). No, he named himself a lover to save us from our caricatures.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reformation Schizophrenia


I have two minds about the Reformation, especially when we are differentiating between what is called the Magisterial and Radical reformations. I love parts of the Magisterials, and on the other hand I love significant parts of the Radicals. Here's how I break it down:

Reformation AnalysisHuman Action (Ethics)Divine Action (Soteriology/Theodicy)
RadicalRadical ReformersMagisterial Reformers
ProgressiveMagisterial ReformersRadical Reformers

I love the radical theology proper of the Magisterials, and conversely cannot really abide the synergistic anthropomorphized weak God of the Radicals (Anabaptists really since they're the only sect that had a developed theology). I love the radical human ethics of the Radicals, and conversely cannot abide the syncretistic imperialism of the Magisterials (Lutherans or Calvinists).

I want to find a practical and ideologically coherent way of synthesizing the radical parts of both movements, a Christian ethic that is radical BECAUSE of its radical theology proper.

Two questions: 

1. Do you think this possible?

2. If possible, is it wise? Are there good reasons why things must be this way?

Bonus:

3. Is it stupid to rashly conclude that this is the problem with modernism and post-modernism?

Friday, September 13, 2013

On Inoculation

This is a rant post because I saw two stupid things on the internet today. One was an article about measles. Apparently there will be a jump in instances of measles this year to match mid-90s levels in the US, and apparently this is caused by those who do not vaccinate their children. The other was a comment on a blog in which the commenter said public intellectuals should be licensed just like brain surgeons and architects.

The logic is the same: inoculate/control/safety.

But, of course there is a cost to inoculation. First, there is the danger brought by the inoculating agent. Second, there is the danger posed by necessity. Vaccines, for instance, have inherent dangers which only pale at the level of public health (and only in the short term). On the individual level, it is almost always more dangerous to expose oneself to the vaccine (the problem is that we cannot control if/when we might be exposed to measles, for instance). Also, when you inoculate an immune system, you circumvent the normal function and adaptation of that immune system. A human race constantly inoculated will become increasingly vulnerable to disease in the absence of the vaccines that are propping them up. Thus, vaccines become necessary. It would almost certainly be better to adapt, especially when those who know know that measles is only the tip of the pathogen iceberg. We would be stupid to think that we can inoculate ourselves against the world, that we can increase our chances of survival if we weaken our immune system.

I suppose that covers my opinion on vaccinations. I get a lot of flack for that opinion, but I haven't really heard any good reasons to the contrary. Similarly, my commenter friend seems to think that we should inoculate ourselves against people who, thinking publicly, are unlicensed and spread viral ideas. His solution is to have institutional inoculating agents that control the spread of noxious thought.

The same problem persists here too. The mind becomes dull because it is only served approved thoughts. You don't have to judge what you're told, because the experts have already approved it all. Just consume, consume. Mindlessly, consume.

This, of course, creates necessity. If we lose our experts, what happens then? What happens when we let them wipe our asses and we forget how?

The world I believe in, that I desire to live in and for my children to inherit, is a world of sharp objects, noxious substances, and stupid ideas (there are also soft things, sweet things, and beautiful ideas, but that's not the point). I don't make my house completely safe for my toddler, not only because it's impossible to do so, but also because he must learn to navigate, to think, to have common sense. Some things we avoid, but somewhere a line must be drawn (and we ought to draw it individually as households). There will come a time when I stop wiping his ass, too. If the experts really love us, they too, will be in the business of making us think for ourselves, of diminishing the difference between "them" and "us". They won't secure their role through the logic of perpetual inoculation, that is, if they love us.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Only Ten Theses in Response to a Friend

1. A course of study should have a purpose intrinsic to that course of study, ie. should be undertaken for its own sake. One should not get a PhD just so that one can speak into special societies. To do so only degrades the area of study. (The opposite of this principle is exemplified by 'teachers colleges' and 'leadership' programs, which have no content but merely teach teaching.)

2. An argument or idea ought not be judged as "2 bit" because it does not carry the authentication that only a PhD can grant. Such types of guarantees of quality are only popular because we are so alienated from each other and ourselves that we can no longer discern if an argument is sound or judge the author on our own.

3. We are taught (in school) that we can only learn in schools.

4. We are told (by members of professional guilds) that we should only consume media vetted by professional guilds.

5. We (the masses) are conditioned to think, in various institutions, that institutions are fountains of power, when, on the contrary, institutions rely on the masses to grant them power.

6. Every week, I see another post/share on social media extolling the value of degrees in the humanities, which I assume were all posted/shared by a person with/pursuing a degree in the humanities. Such posts only reveal the time that persons with humanities degrees spend writing and sharing posts which extol the value of their (apparently devalued) degrees.

7. When people say "I am called by God to academia", they should know that they sound like people who might say that they are "called" to be president or to play professional sports. It is possible to serve academics without being an academic; it may even be easier that way. The story of Joseph is not about you.

8. People who get PhD's (in the humanities) now are entering a market that is already in decline and becoming vampiric. The stakeholders must sell the stock to the younger generation in order to secure their jobs/incomes. This behavior started to stink when I was in school, and I can only imagine that it is really reeking now. What lies are those getting PhD's currently willing to tell impressionable freshmen in order to get them to change their majors to philosophy? Do we just assume that everyone is going to have to pursue a graduate degree and that their undergraduate major no longer matters professionally? Do we overlook the rather obvious conflict of interest that betrays the altruism of such humanitarianism (pun intended)?

9. That you are paying for the privilege of reading a book does not make a book more readily read. That you are paying someone to read your reflections on said book does not, of itself, make your work better. I didn't pay you to read this, after all, and I still have no guarantees that you're going to make me a better thinker. Would this change if I paid you; if I introduced money into it? The values of the university are contingent. We must examine whether or not there is an "if" from which the "then" follows, and only upon that basis can we say that a PhD is not just so much pissing in the wind. You can pay a rock for water, but that doesn't make it a fountain.

10. A true teacher needs no accreditation (indeed, he will get none). His lessons are always rigorous, and his tuition is always free (which is to say, he does not gather power but makes his way by empowering the powerless, making him less than useless to the powers).

(if you desire context: http://matthewgrantmcdaniel.com/2013/09/12/thursday-theses-on-platforms-and-phds/)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Relevant Excerpt; A Guiding Axiom; A Definition of Freedom

From "Property, Patriotism, and National Defense" by Wendell Berry (1984)

"The absurdity of the argument [that a nation should purchase at an exorbitant price and then rely upon a form of defense inescapably fatal to itself, ie. nuclear weapons] lies in a little-noted law of the nature of technology--that, past a certain power and scale, we do not dictate our terms to the tools we use; rather, the tools dictate their terms to us. Past a certain power and scale, we may choose the means but not the ends. We may choose nuclear weaponry as a form of defense, but that is the last of our "free choices" with regard to nuclear weaponry. By that choice we largely abandon ourselves to terms and results dictated by the nature of nuclear weapons. To take up weapons has, of course, always been a limiting choice, but never has the choice been made by so few with such fatal implications for so many and so much. Once we have chosen to rely on such weapons, the only free choice we have left is to change our minds, to choose not to rely on them. "Good" or "humane" choices short of that choice involve a logic that is merely pitiful."
Home Economics, p. 99

Sobering words as we walk of the cliff of necessity, comfortably numb.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Peace Requires Limitation


Economical, ecological, and wise: Peace means limitation.

What does it mean to be human? What is a good life? The pagan answer is freedom. The Christian answer is peace. Man cannot be free from limits, and it is a fool's errand to attempt to gain such freedom. The wise answer to life's aim is peace, and this peace has as many facets as a diamond. Any peaceful life must be economical, ecological, and wise.

It may not be possible to create economies which are completely self-sustaining; which establish peace through systematic isolation. Indeed, it is certainly impossible to do so, since all human economies and ecologies depend upon constant material and energy inputs from the earth and the sun. The material cycle can come very close to being closed. The energy cycle cannot. Thus, peace within the energy cycle is achieved when the cycle attunes it's need for input to that which the sun regularly provides, so that given the sun, the system is energy stable and does not require mining energy from other systems. This is what it means to live wisely, economically, ecologically.

In addition to these limits, there is a hard limit to population. Many would like to deny this, but end up only admitting that there is a limit but that we aren't approaching it yet. Perhaps, perhaps not. This limit is assumed in the limit on the energy cycle. Manifest destiny does not or can not assume that the west coast will never appear and that settlers can keep consuming the frontier forever. This also is foolish thinking.

Also, there is a moral limit. Men do not naturally desire wisdom, but scorn it. Men desire freedom...autonomy, and not peace and economy. Let us not forget that the call to peaceable economics is the call to having Godly households. There is no such thing as a bachelor economy.

Just as plants need the input of the Sun, so men need the input of God.

Only God can make a peaceable Kingdom; may His servants be obedient and ready.