"Wherefore We must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that We may point out...as they really are, men who are badly disguised." Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why do lions eat zebras?

This comes up from time to time. A member of the mainstream press will notice that economic systems are a lot like biology. The two share similarities like high and self-organizing complexity. The reporter tries to extrapolate certain lessons for our current economic predicament, such as:

"The growth of modern finance seems to have violated the principle of hierarchical structures, and with gusto....We have created a vast web of interconnections with extreme complexity but little organization. And this does appear to have made the system less resilient."

But consistently they miss the boat. The writer realizes that "unlike organisms, of course, financial systems haven’t undergone evolutionary competition from which only the fit have emerged. We have little reason to expect that what exists would be anything like optimal, or even reasonable." But his solutions offer up more of the same: "To counter these developments, we could try to manage the way lending occurs -- control the amount of leverage used... so as to prevent dangerous contagion. More boldly, we might try to set up constraints on the very concentration of our networks, on who is linked with whom and how strongly."

Is the African savanna well regulated because a committee of lions have decided to arbitrarily place certain restrictions on the existence of other species, or simply because lions have a particular nature suited for their environment? Let's look at that another way: do lions eat zebras because they've figured out it's for the good of the environment or because they taste good?

Certainly lions do not have to sit around and decide that out of all of their potential functions, the best use of their skills is zebra consumption. Unlike humans, lions automatically conform to their nature. It is clear that lions have evolved in such a way that zebra consumption is an inherent part of their nature. Any human who witnessed a lion using its sharp claw to cut down the tall savanna grass, harvesting it and rolling it into a bail for later consumption would find themselves rightfully in a state of curious shock.

Yet it is likely that the very same human, like the author of the Bloomberg article referenced above, would find no surprise at all in allowing politicians to draw up further regulations governing the financial industry arbitrarily, forestalling any kind of natural path towards resolving our economic conundrum. Like the lions whose freedom to eat zebras to their heart's content tends toward equilibrium on the savanna, allowing people the freedom to trade without restriction will allow the "evolutionary competition from which only...fit [institutions] emerge" that is necessary to have a robust, fully-functioning financial system.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

So Far From Normal

Americans have deviated so far from anything even remotely consisting of normalcy, it is hard to see what the natural course of things might actually look like.

Now, one might argue that by virtue of the fact that history has evolved as it has into present conditions, present conditions are somehow 'normal,' organic,' or 'natural.' But this ignores that if the present is 'normal' then any number of other infinitely imaginable 'presents,' resulting from slight differences made in past choices by human beings with free will were possible insofar as those choices would have altered the course of history and that if such different choices had been made the resulting present would have an equal claim to being 'normal.' This is fair enough, it is retorted, but there is a reason choices were made as they were, and this gives our particular version of the present preeminence over the other non-existent 'presents.' After all, human beings are merely reacting to certain predetermined physical conditions. While it may appear that human beings have free will, these reactions are inherently contained within a human being himself and thus the reaction a human being will give - although perhaps concretely unknowable by any other human being - is nevertheless predetermined by the arrangement of the consequences of physical laws as embodied in a given human being. Fair enough as well, I say, but let us consider that how a human being reacts - that is, how his brain is organized in relation to and therefore how he processes his surroundings - is determined by what he believes. There is an underlying thought framework that if altered can change how a human being reacts to the world. The human brain as it were is reprogrammable, if the consciousness is willing to reprogram, and neuroscience bares this out.

If man can change his mind, there is a different world to be had. That is an entire revolution contained within one sentence. And in this statement we see the dialectical resolution of the free-will/determinism debate: The very fact that certain choices resulted in our existing present admits that different choices would have given a different present. If we assume the causality inherent in a theory of total determinism - that things arranged as they are must lead to our current predicament -we must also assume that causes arranged differently will tend to render different results. While past choices are fixed, future choices remain unmade. Since human beings can recognize the consequences of determinism and causality, we can recognize - still in fitting with the ultimate validity of determinism - that certain choices lead to certain results. With this recognition - itself a result of the truth of determinism - future choices can be altered in an effort to change the likely result. The minds of human beings can change perfectly in keeping with determinism, and suddenly we see the validity of the aforementioned other infinitely imaginable 'presents' as perfectly potentially realizable futures.

These is in a sense no 'natural' state at all, as the present is fully dependent upon human action. It is in a sense in all ways artificial.

But in this last statement we go too far. For physical laws operating outside those determining human consciousness are still ultimately in play, and to an extent not similar to that of the human brain, unalterable. Human beings, while given a great deal of leeway in our high capacity of adaptability, must in one respect or another conform to those physical processes going on around them. Jumping off a cliff to one's death, or traveling to a planet with no oxygen source will quickly lead you to realize this. Humans as a species must ultimately conform to our surroundings, as those who totally flaunt the physical laws will be negated. If all human beings chose to flaunt these laws, our species would be negated.

Human beings can also conform to the physical laws to a greater extent or to a lesser extent as we choose. A rock star can live large and die young. He can die at thirty from a drug overdose, and even after much casual sex with many women using prophylactics, leave no one to evidence the species going forward. On the other hand, someone choosing a more healthy lifestyle, may live to 90, living to see his 25 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. The future of the human race as a whole is merely the product of all of these greater or lesser choices made by individual human beings.

While there may always be a degree of unsustainability in certain members of the human race - they are predisposed to the rock star's life - it does not seem too far-fetched to venture a guess that when an entire culture embraces this more futile life-style, there are adverse cultural forces in play. The ideas a culture instills into the minds of its adherents have a definite impact of the course of history. As mentioned earlier, these ideas can change.

All of this is a means by which to say that cultures can be more in line with the natural path of things, or cultures can flaunt these natural laws. The modern West finds in it's unsustainable debt, penchant for socialism and embrace of the culture of death three markers of a culture not in conformity with natural law.

There are inherent limits to what natural resources are available and exponential growth in debt tends to flaunt this limit. When one of the chief modes of subsistence becomes what you can take from other people in the form of socialism, the natural reinforcement mechanism to production of mutually beneficial trade breaks down, and the implicit benefit of social cooperation goes away: those who produce have less incentive to do so, and all are further impoverished. This  can lead to a death spiral of even greater looting of the productive classes. Also, a society more focused on how to avoid leaving a posterity at all and simultaneously using posterity's resources an an earlier date through debt to be paid later, than supporting and nurturing posterity is flaunting the natural law. In the long run, these tendencies it may be seen do not correspond with the tendencies of the forces of the physical world operating outside modern Western culture.

The West is in conflict with nature. But this can change.

Why aren't you as rich as you should be? 

What are the normal relations between the sexes?