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Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Just a random thought this morning: history has progressed to this point, and seen several revolutions in the formal arrangements that govern societies.

Since pre-history, people lived in chaotic tribal groups, often warring with their neighbors.  Power and leadership coalesced around the warlord.  Eventually warlords ceded some power to a King, who could ensure a peace over a broader territory.  Kings eventually gave way to classically liberal regimes, like Napoleon or the English Parliment.  At the close of the 1800’s Europe, and soon the world, was ruled by a sense of tribal-nationalism, centered around the idea of a unified volk, or common people. (more…)

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As a philosophy major, I’m prone to indulge silly questions from time to time.  From the previously mentioned, and excellent Bourgeois Virtues, I got my mind tangled up with this question:  Is the redistributive state inherently amoral, as it violates Kant’s second categorical imperative to never treat people as means?  Quoting Feser’s On Nozick:

Respecting another’s self-ownership . . . [reflects] one’s recognition that that other person does not exist for you. . . . the socialist or liberal egalitarian . . . rather than the Nozickian libertarian . . . is . . . more plausibly accused of ‘selfishness.’

If you’re interested in a brief synopsis of the book, check this out.

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Reading List

Quick suggestions of things I’ve read recently, am reading, or want to read:

The Bourgeois Virtues – Dierdre McCloskey Professor McCloskey makes the argument that commercial society, and the resultant exponential and unprecedented skyrocketing quality of life post-1800, came about not because of technological changes but because the ethical nature of capitalism.  I got to see her speak about the book before I picked it up, I’m very interested in delving deeper into the thesis.

The Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett Sir Pratchett is possibly the world’s best living writer.  If you’ve never picked up this series, I strongly suggest you do.  My favorite are, in no particular order, Small Gods, Night Watch, Interesting Times, and Men At Arms, but there’s really not a bad one in the bunch.

Mencken’s America – H.L. Mencken One of America’s all time great critics and champions.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera This book drives me insane.  It’s beautifully written, tragically sad, and fundamentally misguided.  Picking up on the philosophical tradition of the French existentialists, Kundera argues that the non-existence of God would render life a meaningless and possibly macabre charade, that being would be unbearably pointless, and each life effervescently inconsequential.

But that conclusion fails to follow through from the argument.  If there is no absolute ‘good’ or ‘bad’, than all that does exist is the complex relationship among each person and their network of connections.  These relative connections, then, are the only source of meaning in an existential wasteland.  I find it an interesting conjunction with Austrian economic theory, in that subjective value is the only reality.

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I Almost Want to Read This

Maaaaaybe?

So Ralph Nader wrote a book.  A book about Warren Buffett and Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue and George Soros and a Parrot.  And it’s a novel.  Color me fascinated.

From the Journal’s review of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us:

In Mr. Nader’s tale, billionaire investor Warren Buffett is so dismayed by the ineffectual and chaotic government reaction to Hurricane Katrina that he hatches a plan to “redirect” American society. He summons a brace of moguls—Ted Turner, Barry Diller, Ross Perot and George Soros, among others—to a secret Maui location, along with such celebrities as Bill Cosby, Yoko Ono and Warren Beatty. As they confer together, they find that they all—surprise! —agree that Something Must Be Done.

The news media soon dub this cabal, in one of Mr. Nader’s typically tin-eared phrases, “the Meliorists.” The “something” that they all agree must be done involves, naturally, increasing regulation, raising taxes and punishing heartless multinational corporations. It’s easy, apparently, once you’ve made a billion dollars in international business and finance, to denounce international business and finance.

But the Meliorists realize that before any real reform can take place they must first win over America. They have to wake up the country. And that process fills the first 200 pages—out of a total of 700 (I mentioned that, right?)—of this very long, very odd, very Nader book.

Here, for instance, is an actual passage from “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!”: “As promised, Ted Turner and Phil Donahue had put their heads together to brainstorm about a mascot for the group’s efforts. Ted’s thoughts naturally ran along avian lines, and it wasn’t long before they hit on the idea of a parrot. . . . Patriotic Polly hit the airwaves in fifteen-second spots shown on thousands of stations, and it was an immediate smash.”

Remember the plot device in movies where someone proposes a hare-brained scheme and someone else says “that’s just crazy enough to work”?  Well this is like that… except crazier, and not workable.

My main issue is with the idea that American society can be “directed”. Recently, a Venezuelan government official argued that America was morally bankrupt because Family Guy aired an episode about Brian and Stewie smoking pot.

“We can observe how [the U.S. government] promotes and incites the population to consume that drug there,” said Tarek El Aissaimi, Venezuela’s Interior Minister. “There’s no subliminal message. It’s an animated cartoon where you can observe perfectly how they promote consumption and moreover they foster the legalization of marijuana.”

We all know that’s ridiculous.  “Directing” America is almost impossible.  You couldn’t even argue that Seth MacFarlane and the rest of the Family Guy staff are leaders on pot reform; they’re responding to a vigorous social movement to legalize the drug that is bigger than one person, or one tv show.

Our society, such as it is, is an incredibly diverse mixture of aims and ambitions, and its wonderful complexity and innovative nature is due to the fact that we don’t have ‘directors’ like Nader wants, and certainly wants to be.

So in summary, if I were on a desert island, I might have the time to plow through this screed, but in this life I won’t read it.  I have too much on my plate, directing my own life down another path.

(Side note: GIS for “scary clown” is pretty redundant.)

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There’s an interesting post from The Next Right discussing the schism between “realist” and “idealist” conservatives. It’s intriguing, but I’m not sure it’s productive.

There will always be a tension between ideas and practice. I’m not convinced that we should encourage ‘resolving’ that tension one way or the other. Ideology informs practice, and practice, to a large extent, validates ideas. It makes sense to view the massive rejection of big-government conservatism with that in mind. Neo-conservatism was divorced from traditionally conservative ideals, and the practice was soundly and rightly defeated at the ballot box.

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