Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
'til the force comes through ---
lines joint in faint discord
and the stormwatch brews
- Jethro Tull (Dun Ringill)
Occasionally I get caught up in thinking about the ongoing Depression 2.0. Given the magnitude of how this may well play out, all else can seem trivial. Today I have the luxury of philosophizing about ethical strategies for eating meat; in a few years obtaining any food at any price might be my overwhelming concern.
I believe the primary root cause of this crisis is the Federal Reserve System of money and banking that was created in order to serve government spending and banking profits. The nature of centralized fractional reserve banking is that boom and bust cycles are an inevitability as well as massive inflation (see here for full size):
This graph shows a roughly exponential increase in the supply of money. The funny thing about exponential functions is that they all look alike as long as you adjust the scale on the horizontal axis. Also, you can zoom in on the graph a bit and things look relatively stable: just a year-over-year increase of a few percent. But zoom out a bit, and it looks like a near-vertical spike. With that in mind and given the exponential nature of this graph, you could argue that we have been in hyperinflation since the last vestiges of the metal standard were removed in 1971!
I believe we are entering the end-game of this system. The system has seen a series of crises over the years. With each crisis, the government can respond by letting the system (or part of the system) fail and letting market forces realign resources, or by bailing out the system. With each bailout, the economy becomes more centralized and the potential for a larger crisis down the road becomes increased. Murray Rothbard presciently saw one scenario for how the system could fail:
At some point in the possibly near future, perhaps in the next recession and the next spate of bad bank loans, it might dawn upon the public that 1.5 percent is not very safe either, and that no such level can guard against the irresistible holocaust of the bank run. At that point, ignoring the usual mendacious assurances and soothing-syrup of the Establishment, the commercial banks might be plunged into their ultimate crisis. The United States authorities would then be faced with two stark choices. One would be to allow the entire banking system to collapse, along with virtually all the deposits and depositors in that system. Since, given the mind-set of American politicians, and their evident philosophy of "too big to fail," it is certain that they would be forced to embrace the second alternative: massive, hyper-inflationary printing of enough cash to pay off all the bank liabilities. The redeposit of such cash in the banking system would bring about an immediate runaway inflation and a massive flight from the dollar.
Such a future scenario, once seemingly unthinkable, is now definitely on the horizon. Perhaps realization of this plight will lead to increased interest, not only in gold, but also in a 100 percent banking system grounded upon a revalued gold stock.
Here's the kicker: the scenario above occurred last year! The great housing bubble of the last decade fueled the spate of bad loans, and last Fall the entire financial system was on the brink of default and utter collapse. The bailout is the spike on the right of the graph above. That plot just shows currency in circulation. Here is the plot when you include money stock held in banks (see here for full size):
So given the above, why haven't we seen runaway hyper-inflation and the complete destruction of the dollar? What Rothbard didn't foresee was the new "tools" the Fed is using, and in particular the fact that the Federal Reserve is paying interest on this money and as a result it is not being lent out as Rothbard expected it would be.
Nevertheless, the solution to one crisis sows the seeds for the next crisis. Will the next one be "the big one" that results in the final death spiral of the dollar? Maybe, but probably not. While history will judge the fall of America as happening practically overnight, in real-time it takes years, not days. However, I do expect that the time between crises will continue to decrease while their potential for total systemic failure increases until we see the complete destruction of the dollar. I used to think this would occur "some time in my lifetime" but not until 2030 or so. I now expect this will play out within the next five to ten years.
Here's what to expect:
- Total collapse of Social Security and government entitlement programs
- Destruction of the dollar, including all savings held in dollars
- The end of cheap imports, especially from China
- Governments worldwide to either default or engage in currency destruction
- Massive unemployment
- Civil unrest
The America of yesterday is gone forever. What will be in its place? The optimistic scenario is the collapse of the federal government, re-emergence of commodity money, and decentralized political systems. The pessimistic scenario is a totalitarian state with a new fiat currency, diversionary wars, and bread lines.
For now, I'll store a few acorns for the coming winter and continue the stormwatch.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
It is saddening to think of a parent sexually abusing his children. The weakness and vulnerability of a child relative to his or her parent makes such sexual abuse particularly egregious and sad, and I agree that people who are close to the situation have a responsibility to address it as best they can.
However, I do not agree that addressing the situation necessarily means reporting the abuser to the government. Once reported to the government, the abuser will be submitted to a court and law enforcement system. This system is one in which the Amish refuse to participate in as judgers or law enforcers. Why should the Amish willingly turn people over into a system they refuse, on moral grounds, to participate in?
Before you ever call the police to report a law-breaker, you ought to think about the consequences of that call. By inviting the government to resolve the situation, you become partially responsible for its actions. The government does not operate through persuasion but through force. If the use of force in that situation is not one you would morally accept, then you ought not to invoke the government.
Even if you do accept the use of force in a situation, you ought to be careful when invoking the government. For example, I would not argue if you believe that a man who sexually abuses his children should likely face a harsher response than shunning. But yet you do not control the government, and its law enforcers or judges might not act as you would expect or wish. Are you prepared for the government law enforcers to escalate the situation and use lethal force if challenged? Are you prepared for a man to be locked in a cage for an indefinite amount of time? Are you prepared for the government to break up a family? These are all possibilities when you invite the government into a situation.
Sad, unexpected events may occur when you choose to escalate a situation with force through the government. Think very carefully before you do so, as you become morally complicit in how the government resolves the situation.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The illusion of separateness arises from an abstraction that is made of the world that is useful for some purposes but should not be mistaken as the complete reality. This abstraction is that the world is comprised of completely separate objects (of which each person is one), and that they can only relate to each other through external, physical means. This abstraction seems to make a lot of sense to our experience. We look around us and see other objects, each with attributes. Meanwhile, the success of the physical sciences seems to confirm this view of reality.
However, while the abstraction of separateness works well in some areas, it fails in others. It cannot account for consciousness or even experience. It provides no guidance on moral questions and has nothing to say about the meaning of existence. These shortcomings are fine as long as we understand that the abstraction of separateness is useful for some things but not others. It's good at predicting where a ball I throw will land; it's not so good at answering why I should act well toward other people. It is when this abstraction is mistaken for a complete description of reality that we succumb to the illusion of separateness.
Given this illusion, there would seem to be no meaning to existence possible. Experience and consciousness remain mysteries, or even explained away as illusions themselves. The only justifications found for moral action are empty, utilitarian ones.
The illusion of separateness even affects many people who are religious. But for them, the idea of a God must be that of an external Being, and usually one that relates to them in an authoritarian manner, providing external rewards and punishments for good or bad behavior.
What sort of purpose in life can there be if the illusion of separateness is true?
An alternative exists to the illusion of separateness. It is to understand that the elements of reality are not vacuous things but rather lively experiences. Furthermore, each experience is a process of being influenced by other experiences, actualizing (i.e. combining these influences with an element of self-determination), and then subsequently becoming an influence in other experiences. However, one can think of the nature of this influence as actually becoming a part of, or ingression.
This shift in understanding of the world enables one to see past the illusion of separateness. The world is seen not as a pile of dead objects but as a rich web of experiences. Each experience ingresses upon all others in varying ways but also retains a degree of self-identity and self-determination.
There are many ways to describe this insight, that reality is defined by life that is all united in some way. Some people describe it by saying that we are all part of God. Others describe it by saying that the spirit of God is in everything. Some people may even discard the concept of God altogether and describe it in yet other terms (perhaps focusing on the Now, or present moment). And yet other people may just feel the truth of this insight without trying to formulate it in words.
The power of this insight with respect to moral and spiritual questions is two-fold. First, it washes away the misleading illusions that would obscure answers, or even the possibility of answers, to these questions. Secondly, this insight helps reveal the answers, but not by providing logical axioms to derive subsequent truth in words, but instead by pointing at the experience we all have that must ultimately serve as the basis of that truth. It is in that transcendent experience that we must ultimately find these answers.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
The result is that few people make any connection between the purchase of a small cutlet at the store and the ethical questions surrounding the process of how that cutlet came to be. It is similar to how few people make any connection between their support of government and the evil that results from government.
I am not a vegetarian, and I am not going to ask you to become one. I would ask only that you consider this question, of what processes and practices you support through your purchases. Have you been to a production farm or at least seen documentation of one? Are the practices performed there ones you agree with and would be (morally) willing to perform yourself?
When I ask these questions of myself, I find that I would not be morally willing to treat animals the way they are treated at production farms. If I would not treat them that way, why should I pay others to do so? The evil that results is the same, whether I do it myself or support others in doing so.
As a result, I have begun eating less meat. I used to eat a sandwich with cold cuts in it every day for lunch, but a month ago I switched to a lettuce / tomato /mayonaisse sandwich, with a side of cashew nuts. I've found this lunch to be not only guilt-free, but also tastier, more healthful, and it leaves me feeling physically better in the afternoon than those slabs of salami and turkey did.
I still eat some meat. When we buy it, I am encouraging my household to purchase it from Whole Foods. Eventually I would like to buy it more directly from farms so I can point out into a field and tell my sons: that is where our food comes from, and this is how it comes to our plates.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
You can probably relate to the experience above. If it's not someone tailgating you, it's someone cutting you off, or not properly yielding to you, or perhaps not letting you merge. There are lots of opportunities to feel wronged and aggrieved on the road.
For me, these situations would induce a rush of negative feelings and sometimes even lead to dangerous retaliatory actions. Eventually I knew I had to re-evaluate my approach to driving. I had to reject the negative feelings and their justifications. Further, I realized that some of the same feelings and rationalizations that fed my responses were the same ones that lead people to justify the evil of government. In particular, there were three psychological obstacles I had to overcome before I could "let go" of road justice and instead adopt road pacifism:
1. Desire for revenge
This was the most base response of mine; the desire to pay back evil with more evil. If another driver caused me anxiety or stress, I wanted to inflict that same suffering back onto him. But the primary effect of this desire was to cause more suffering for myself! If I did not act upon my desire and instead let the other driver "get away" with it, then I would stew in loathing and frustration. But acting upon my desire would only serve to escalate the situation and perhaps even endanger myself and others.
I realized my responses were unhealthy and harmful after one incident where I tailgated a car that had just been tailgating me. I was glad to be causing the driver anxiety and stress, just as he had caused me the same a few minutes before. Now he was in the same situation I had been in, only the situation was escalated with more tension. His response was to hit his brakes, and I almost bumped into him. After counting my blessings that no accident had occurred, I understood that my desires for revenge on the road only caused suffering.
2. Justification of punishment
The desire for revenge was an emotional response to situations on the roads where I felt wronged, and it was the strongest influence that I had to overcome on my way to a more peaceful driving practice. But there is also a more intellectual counterpart to the base desire for revenge, and that is the justification of punishment. That is, once I could suppress the emotional response that I knew was unhealthy, I was still left with the thought that enforcement of rules and punishment were necessary. After all, there have to be some rules to dictate how to behave on the road, and we all had to follow them.
But this line of thinking can only lead to support of institutionalized violence. Once you start drawing arbitrary lines to justify force, you immediately justify an imaginary government that enforces your lines. And so even if I had no desire to personally "get back" at a driver, I nevertheless would approve of (and hope for) a policeman punishing him accordingly. If there was no policeman around, I took some solace in the fact that eventually he would be pulled over for a similar infraction and be punished.
It did not take me long to realize the great contradiction in my position, which was that the people who were the worst drivers on the road, who caused me more anxiety and stress than anyone else, were the police themselves!
Aside from the issue that no one can police the police, there are lots of problems with the intellectual justification of punishment. I will highlight one here that is especially relevant to driving. This is that this justification anesthetizes one to the pain caused to others. Whereas the desire for revenge makes one wish to cause pain to someone else, the justification of punishment makes one unsympathetic to pain caused to others. It was, after all, "what they deserved." Ultimately, this coldness and lack of compassion struck me as potentially more dangerous than the desire for revenge.
3. Thinking in terms of external rewards or punishment
Even after intellectually accepting that the desire for revenge only caused suffering, and that I could not justify punishment, there was one niggling issue that prevented me from accepting road pacifism. This was the more existential moral quandary of why we should do good for others instead of evil. Or more relevantly with respect to driving: why not drive like a jerk if it gets you what you want? Shouldn't there be some ill consequences for driving like a jerk?
But these questions rely on a sort of materialist way of thinking, where we think of good and evil as external things that happen to us. If we see someone drive like a jerk and get away with it, we think that something good happened to him because he met his goals without any ill effects to him. It's similar to that old childish question: why do bad things happen to good people?
I believe that the solution to these questions is to recognize that ultimately doing good can only be its own reward; doing evil its own punishment. Even if an evil-doer seems to live a plentiful life and reach his apparent goals, he has chosen the wrong goals and at the very least missed an opportunity to live a more fulfilling and happy life. Happiness can be obtained by anyone and has to do not with external wealth or conditions but with how one chooses to live.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
What “I am” depends largely on who is asking me and the context of the conversation. Sometimes I am an anarchist, sometimes a pacifist, sometimes a libertarian, and sometimes a Tolstoyan Christian. Sometimes I am even a Ron Paul Republican. These may seem highly disparate labels, but I hope there is one common thread in each: advocacy of peace and non-violence; opposition to war and government.
The exact term I use in any particular conversation would depend on the topic and who I am talking to. To most pro-government people debating national policy, Ron Paul’s position of ending foreign wars and dismantling most of the federal government might as well be one of an anarchist, so there is no point in bringing up subtleties of position at the risk of visceral reactions. On the other hand, a debate among libertarians would tend to focus on what laws are just or what the maximum scope of government should be, and then there may be more to gain from distinguishing between a libertarian and an anarchist. In general, if I want to effectively communicate my attachment to non-violence, I must put it forward in a position that meets people where they are. The important seed to plant in all cases is this: perhaps I should not seek to solve problems through use of force.
The label that jumps right to this conclusion is “pacifist”. Unfortunately, this label may be even more loaded than “anarchist”. It seems that “pacifist” is used almost overwhelmingly as a pejorative term, when one wants to accuse another of appeasing some evil-doer. Another problem I have with the term is that for most people it emphasizes the least important positions or scale of positions. On one hand, mention of being a pacifist seems to invite a cascade of what-would-you-do questions, like: what if someone attacks you? Or: what if someone is raping your wife? On the other hand, some people don’t interpret pacifism on such a personal level but instead on the opposite scale of human interaction, government relations. To them, pacifism means nothing more than the foreign policy of Switzerland. Their challenges would be more like: what about Hitler?
Labels are abstractions, and as a result they must leave out details and can never be perfect. Given the challenges of the term, however, I still suppose “pacifist” to be the best abstraction of my beliefs. This term means for me a radically different approach to moral and ethical issues than is otherwise common, even by most anarchists and libertarians. It seems to me that the misguided approach is to seek to divide all possible actions into hard categories: “good” or “bad” for moral questions, and “proper” or “improper” for ethical questions. We try to derive the “just” outcome for any scenario, as if any interaction can be approached dispassionately and judged according to some objective laws that have been formerly derived.
I disagree with this approach. I believe the alternative approach, embodied by pacifism, is this:
Do not seek justice but rather love and compassion.
This statement forms the core of my beliefs, though I would not be so attached to these particular words or sequence thereof to say it is the best statement or not open to semantic quibbling (as all statements must be).
I also do not wish to make this statement some sort of axiom from which to derive correct actions or subsequent moral laws. That would be to miss the point entirely, which is to say that the whole approach of deriving just laws is flawed and that instead we might rely on more spiritual, personal, and religious guidance in deciding what we are to do.
The desire to replace justice with love means that one builds voluntary relationships based on cooperation and mutual benefit, rather than relationships based on coercion and force. It means that one tries to serve others without demanding anything in return and without ever feeling that one is owed anything. It means that one does not seek to build great material wealth, and that one should not prepare to violently defend the wealth one possesses.
The desire to replace justice with love also means rejecting, through non-cooperation and non-violent resistance, all human institutions of government and law that enforce their decrees through violence. It means rejecting any institution that would systematize the use of force.
In any case, this is what being a pacifist means to me and are some of the ideals I strive toward.
I am far from perfect with practicing pacifism. I become angry and have bad thoughts. I pay an uncomfortable amount of tax money to governments. I can wish ill upon my enemies. I am sure there are situations where I might be moved to act violently. However, I view practicing pacifism as a process of self-improvement. For me, this requires constant meditation and self-awareness. I might not always know the way, but sometimes I at least see the next step.