Wednesday, December 02, 2020

America - Some things that should not have been forgotten are being lost

It's a dangerous thing that Economics is being taken as a substitute for Philosophy today, in part because it hides from popular awareness things that should not be forgotten, substituting things that seem shiny and pleasing on the surface, absent mindedly putting into other's hands the power to deeply affect your ability to live your life, posing real dangers to society and to our having lives worth living. The last post began to dip a toe beneath the surface of the reflecting pool of economic appearances, peaking at the most obvious issues that can be seen laying just below those words that sound so good, such as Tucker Carlson's monolog from earlier last year. This time we'll poke a little bit deeper and see what populist assertions such as his are made of and how much weight they can bear.

Forgotten or not we're always being tested
Understandably, the populist minded become irritated when Leftists, Libertarians, and Conservatives, pontificate about those 'Economics Realities' which they are expected to kowtow to, but while the populist rails at the problems which such short sighted policies usher in, they are content to remain on the surface of appearances where it's easy to view causes, effects, and corrections, through one conveniently narrow economic lens or another, without ever questioning what economics itself rests upon. But however much they'd all like to ignore it, Economics does rest upon something else, it is not a stand-alone system of ideas, and whether that something it stands upon is bedrock, or mud, they willfully don't know... and they seem to like it that way. Personally, I prefer to see what they prefer to ignore.

A good spot to begin seeing what it is that they prefer to ignore, is where they make a feint towards the philosophical high ground, as Carlson did several times in his monologue, such as in this:
"...At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be too. The country will remain. What kind of country will it be then? How do we want our grandchildren to live? These are the only questions that matter."
Taking those as the only issues that matter, stated in that way makes it seem as if they do matter to him, but he doesn't examine them as if they do, he simply states it, and states it with no more depth to the opinion than the emotional angst of the moment; it's difficult to see them leading listeners anywhere other than a continuation of the endless series of partisan policy fights that makeup the eternal whirlpool of the Now which we've been trapped in and at each other's throats over, for a hundred years now. The way out of that pool, out of that endless loop, begins with taking a deeper look into the themes of what he says "matters", and noting that these matters weren't spontaneously generated in the storm of the latest news cycle. They developed, they grew, and they have their roots in those very philosophic issues which the Economically minded in general, and the Economic Populists in particular, don't bother to give any serious thought to. What I mean by that is that if any would step outside the economic self-service booth, they'd see a larger view of what he said, rests upon:
  • "...The country will remain" - that is Metaphysics: what is, and the identity it is, as.
  • "What kind of country will it be then?" that is Epistemology - how do you know what you do, or can't, know, and how to verify it
  • "How do we want our grandchildren to live?" that is Ethics, what is Right and Wrong
  • "These are the only questions that matter" concerns Political Philosophy, which is (or should be) concerned with wielding power Ethically, constrained within a rigorous Epistemology, and anchored in the Metaphysically real - but if that is not thought of first, then there can be no limits put upon what must be limited, for freedom to ring.
These issues which are 'all that matters', are so storm tossed today, because Leftists, Libertarians, Populists and Conservatives are so fixated upon the shallow economic appearances, that they pay no attention to their roots, they've no idea what soil they do or don't have to anchor in, or what acts as nourishment or poison to them. It doesn't take that much consideration to look past the level of appearances, to see the nature of what Tucker himself just said was 'all that matters', so why ignore them? Shouldn't they be attended to? If they truly do matter, should we be making careless demands for exercising political power in their direction? If these are the only things that do matter, then oughtn't you damn well better think carefully about them? People like Carlson want to express their feelings of angst about these matters which they say truly matter, but it sure seems as if the truth is that they can't be bothered to actively think about what they supposedly care so much about?

Is that the case?

Yes and no. One consequence of substituting Economics for Philosophy, is that there's nothing in your thinking that is going to alert you that you should be more careful and deliberate in your thinking on some subjects, instead, you're going to be blissfully satisfied with quibbling over partisan policy issues, blissfully unaware that your careless ignorance of what lurks beneath those issues is putting those things that you say 'really matter!', in serious jeopardy. Tell me, do you have a favorite movie series? Batman? The Lord of the Rings? The Avengers or Star Wars? What would you think of the person who saw only the last of any of those movies, and then felt confident in telling you what was and wasn't worthwhile in that or any of the preceding movies (which they hadn't seen)? That is what taking Economics as being the starting point of thinking on such matters, amounts to. The fact is that neither Carlson nor any other human being can avoid dealing in philosophic fundamentals - the only thing they can do, to avoid the appearance of contradicting themselves upon those realities, is to speak as if those more fundamental 'matters' don't exist, and as much as possible avoid learning too much about them to begin with. Consciously or unconsciously, populists and the other economically minded, keep themselves at a safe distance from such matters through their well practiced techniques, Leftists say 'no one can know for sure', Libertarians say it all begins not with ideas but with action, Conservative's say that others know (knew) and you must follow, while Populists, and not a few Conservatives, give a disdainful sniff & a smirk and shoo such thoughts away with a curt 'philosophy is elitist'.

Well perhaps it is elitist.

But they are the very same 'elitist concerns' which our Founding Fathers began the American Revolution over; not 'Taxes', as populists, elitists, leftists and libertarians would have you think, but over the deeper philosophical concerns for what rightly constitutes political representation, which is what they expressed with "No taxation without representation!". What had begun to be grasped in our Founder's era, on both sides of the Atlantic, was a growing awareness that the larger timeless philosophical concerns, were what formed the deeper roots of everyone's day to day concerns, choices, and actions, that people made in their daily lives, which was responsible for producing that degree of prosperity which their society did, or didn't, achieve. Adam Smith's "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" (a work which makes zero mention of 'Capitalism', that moniker/epithet had to wait 50 years for Karl Marx to bestow it upon a bizarrely willing West), which was first published in that same revolutionary year of 1776, was the first expression of the philosophical realities behind the appearances of what, prior to that era, people had been content to assume that they knew all that they needed to know about. The awareness that appearances aren't enough, is what led to establishing the field of study which was just called 'Political Economy', and which we more misleadingly refer to today, as just 'Economics'.

Our modern society, and populists in particular, are eager to pluck the economic fruits grown from those deeper concerns, while ignoring the soil which is required for them to grow in, but boy oh boy do they ever so eagerly use and abuse that ground in their desire to begin 'taking action!' on those same issues. But it is only after passing through the layered ideas of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and into ethic's subset of political philosophy, and only if done without disabling contradictions, rejecting the illusory freedoms of ignorance and falsehood in favor of the constraints inherent in conforming to what is true, do you get to political philosophy's subset of Economics. Only then can you enjoy real liberty, and its self-evident truths. But instead of seeing Economics as the result of prior philosophy, modern Economics is taken as a starting point, and more often than not today, it will be used as a platform to subvert and corrupt those ideas that brought economics into being in the first place - a violent flip which is possible only because the basic rules of philosophy were ignored to begin with. Those economic policies which attack private property, for instance, are the philosophical equivalent of sawing off the intellectual branch that you are sitting on; endorsing them implicitly cuts you off from engaging with those ideas, without their ever having been raised or examined in your own mind.

How well do you think that's going to turn out? To act on good intentions without regard for what is good, and what is required to be good? How well can that work out? Again - look around you at the world today.

Worse still, the populists entire approach to answering those issues and the means of critiquing them, as Carlson does when he condemns 'the religion of economics', is rooted in the worldview and purview of the very worst of modern Economics. His every substantial question or point, is positioned within an Economic point of view, even his displeasures with economics, such as this:
"...The answer used to be obvious: the overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true?"
Is it still true? If you think it ever was true, it's because you're thinking from within the confines of a modern economic box, and I'd suggest first asking if it should ever be true, but... those weren't the questions that Tucker wanted to pursue, and ignoring philosophy was his means of passively not pursuing them. Begging the question of whether that ever was, or should be true, he simply assumes it is and goes on to state that:
"...Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot...."
That at least is true. But it's also true that anyone who believes that, and yet looks for solutions to that problem in exclusively economic terms and policies to impose them in a thoroughly tail wagging the dog manner, are not only flirting with that very same idiot, but are doing so with a slobbering lip-lock of a truly gross public display of affection.

Even many of the good points he makes in one phrase, he takes away in the next, probably because his points have no deeper ground than the shifting sands of popular public opinion, to sink their philosophic roots down into. For instance - Carlson makes a very good point with this,
"One of the biggest lies our leaders tell is that you can separate economics from everything else that matters. Economics is a topic for public debate. ...
... They don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function. Somehow they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy, or for that matter, the country’s ability to pay its bills. As far as they’re concerned, these are two totally separate categories. "
It is a lie that economics can somehow be separated from everything else that matters - that is the very point that I am making here. But he doesn't seem to understand why that is, and it isn't consistent with what he believes, as is apparent only a few paragraphs further on, when he says:
"Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster."
Now ask yourself: doesn't treating economics as a staple gun, or a toaster, mean treating economics as a discrete, modular unit, and so imply that it is a mere bit of disposable chattel that is separable from everything else that matters? So 'market capitalism' is just one brand of tool that can be replaced by another brand of tool? Excuse me Tucker, but you just said "One of the biggest lies our leaders tell is that you can separate economics from everything else that matters."? The real problem here, is that he, and they, think of economic policy as dis-integrated choices, matters of preference and convenience, which you, the person living in 'their' economy, have no real right to choose to engage in. That is exactly what comes from thinking of Economics as a first level cause, rather than as a downstream result of higher level philosophical principles, causes, and effects of living in reality.
"... You’d have to be a fool to worship it."
You would. And a bigger fool to think that you can pick and choose and alter or discard one feature or another, as if it has no relation to everything else that is true and matters in our lives (which is the aim of the pitifully poor philosophy of Pragmatism, more on that in the next post). What is betrayed by the populist 'economic man' such as Carlson, as he voices concern that "...they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy...", is the idea that the economy isn't something that results from their living their lives, but that the economy is a tool to 'fix' how people like Tucker think that they should be living their lives. To say that this is a case of the 'tail wagging the dog', is putting it in a far better light than it deserves.

Had he had a more pointed concern with the legitimate basis and limited actions that our political 'leaders' can rightly use to exert political power over us, then he might be able to offer actual solutions to them. Instead, Carlson seems to buy into all of the marketing materials of what is a fundamentally anti-American ideology, lamenting only that they are being exercised in ways he doesn't like - but make no mistake, exercising them, the notion of Govt having that power over other people's lives, that is A-Ok with Tucker Carlson in particular, and with populists and other economically minded folks in general.

Of course he wouldn't agree with it being stated that way, and I've no doubt that he does not intend it in that way, but this is the problem, that the words he uses cast deep shadows, and those shadows which when backed by political power, become conveniently dark enough to swallow everyone's good intentions whole. Such shadows encourage and invite the actions of those who do see things in that way which he does not intend, and so 'conservatives' like Tucker Carlson, time and time again, find their own words being used against anything they might do to stop it.

He asks a good question with this:
"What will it take to get a country like that?"
For one thing, it will require our becoming a people once again, who understand what a life worth living is, and that it is not defined or subordinated to economic policies, and will have to understand what political requirements and limitations are required to be in place to support that, and the proper, very limited role, that govt plays in that.

All of this brings to mind a quote from the Lord of the Rings,
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.”
Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings
Whether or not we remember or forget what was needed for America to come into being, we are always and at all times being tested as to whether or not America will remain, and whether it will remain America, or succumb to the lure of power. We cannot gain or regain the benefits of being Americans, without first being Americans in some more meaningful way than having a checkmark on your birth certificate. A nation founded upon ideas, cannot survive its people forgetting what those ideas were or meant, or the foundations which they stand upon.

I've gone into what those ideas are, plenty of times before. The next post will dive a little deeper into what it is which those ideas that are being forgotten, rest upon.

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