Thursday, June 30, 2005

Can you tell me how to get...?

Good post up at Catallarchy on the CPB funding cuts (which, of course, didn't happen at all).

At least the Children's Television Workshop is vilifying Robin Hood, a literary figure that is worse than most of today's politicians. It is amazing to me that people still tell their children about Robin Hood as if his character were some great martyr; let it be known that if ever I have children (rather unlikely as it is), they will not hear the story of Robin Hood from me.

Gay, eh?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Thankful

As much as I like to complain about America, especially in the wake of Kelo and Raich, I wanted to point this out, as it makes one truly grateful to live in a (relatively) free nation.

Meta-

As I'm sure you can tell, I've been more than just a little infatuated with the prefix "meta-" as of late. Metaesthetics, metarational, all of my recent ponderings have been of the metavariety.

The prefix itself is of such a higher level of thinking that it is difficult to conceptualize. Meta means, in essence, a step back; meta is a further level of abstraction above whatever you attach the prefix to. As Ayn Rand says, it is only rational beings that can analyze and abstract from the concrete, so thus only the super rational would be able to conceptualize that which is meta, right?

While I find all things meta to be supremely interesting, it also seems that metaphilosophy (and by this I mean philosophy of the meta variety, not a meta abstraction on philosophy) is simply a way of philosophically splitting hairs, or abstracting things ad absurdum. Why take things beyond the first level of abstraction, as this level is hard enough to deal with?

That being said, I also wonder about a further level of abstraction. Is there such thing as metameta-? Could we do a study of metametaesthetics, for instance? Furthermore, when we do start to study metametaphilosophy, is there any point to it anymore?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Publication VI

Another letter to the editor from yours truly, check it out here. This one's about debt relief and free trade. Scroll down a bit, it is titled "to help poor nations of the world, America must liberalize trade."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

If it sounds like a duck...

Gah.
[Tip o' the hat to Marginal Revolution]
Local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community, justices said.
Does this sound frighteningly like soviet Russia to anyone else?

To contrast, here is a short excerpt from Ayn Rand's The Objectivist Ethics. Italics are hers, bolding is mine:
The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence -- to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit of his own happiness. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Talkin' 'bout my Metaration

A few months ago I was talking to a philosophy professor about how we could sum up my generation, including, primarily, the 20-30-something set. His opinion was that my generation was one of detached cynicism, that my generation was all about bitterness and ridicule. I agree with him.

As evidence, I submit Seinfeld, perhaps the most popular comedy to ever exist. The whole premise of Seinfeld, the very point of the show, is that there is no existential meaning in the social conventions we create for ourselves. Seinfeld, and the generation it represents, is all about partaking in the conventions of our grandparents, the Leave it to Beaver style living, and continually mock it the entire time.

Remember the one where Jerry and Elaine's friends have the baby who is breathtakingly ugly? People everywhere are asked how beautiful they think a baby is, and no one ever bothers to say that a baby is not, in fact, as beautiful as everyone says it is. Indeed, Jerry and Elaine pacify the doting parents, and then discuss, behind closed doors, how silly it is that they have to say that the baby is beautiful, even when it isn't.

Or what about Jerry's parents? The perfect cliche: Florida dwelling, jumpsuit wearing, consistently arguing Jewish old people who can't leave Jerry alone. This isn't a representation of oldness; it is an ironic cliche, a joke about how all old people are the same, and a way for us to enter into that cliche, yet mock it at the same time.

The whole Seinfeldian style of stand-up is the perfect example of this phenomenon. "What's the deal with airplane peanuts?" He asks. "Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?" Seinfeld points out the absurdity of things that happen in everyday life and mocks the social conventions that have become ingrained in society. Still, Seinfeld participates in these rituals with the same amount of effort as anyone else, he simply is irreverent to the purpose of them. If the airplane peanuts really were so absurd, why would he continue to eat them?

The trendiest comedies of our generation have all been this way: the Simpsons, Family Guy, and Futurama all hit this same vein, in their own unique ways. The newish show Desperate Housewives is all about people stuck in social roles, but flaunting their irreverence towards them. Even movies targeted towards the younger set have started to find this detachment; did anyone see Garden State?

The existential meaning of these formally crucially important social constructs has been lost, yet our society demands that we stick to convention. In a world where we have to keep performing meaningless tasks, what else can we do besides point out the absurdity of it?

Taking a step back, realizing what happens behind our social constructs, living detached from a world that we are constantly acting in, these are things that define our generation. This step back, this active detachment, can only be described as one thing: meta.

If our parents' generation was generation-X or generation-Y, then we must be part of the Metaration. Our youth lead lives of quiet absurdity, and absurdity that they fully understand and embrace. My generation is a generation of existentialists who don't know that they are existentialists, a generation of mice fully cognizant of their cage.

I submit my third new word of the week, along with my new coinages desolance and metaesthetics, and the new word is Metaration. The definition?

Metaration: the generation of people born between approximately 1970 and 1990 who continue to act according to the commonly accepted social constructs yet who realize the futility and meaninglessness of these constructs. People of the metaration live slightly detached from life, yet continue to act in it as normal.

Monday, June 20, 2005

More Aid

A nice commentary at Cato on the whole aid thing. Check it here.

Metaesthetics

Philosophers are used to hearing words like metaphysics, meta-ethics, and even sometimes words like meta-epistemology or metalogic. One that you don't hear very often, though, is meta-aesthetics, or metaesthetics (depending on how much you like hyphens). If those other branches of philosophy can be divided between their meta- branches and their nonmeta- parts, we should be able to apply the same principle to aesthetics, right?

I realize, in thinking about what exactly metaesthetics means, that aesthetics itself encompasses that which the meta- prefix hopes to capture. It is like the study of metaphilosophy, whose ideas are continued within the meaning of the word philosophy itself. If we are going to be specific enough in fields such as ethics as to make separate names for it, then we might as well in the study of aesthetics as well.

Metaesthetics is that branch of aesthetics which seeks to understand the nature of aesthetics evaluations.

In ethics, we have normative ethics and meta-ethics. Normative ethics asks such questions as "what actions are right or wrong" whereas meta-ethics asks questions like "what does one mean when one says 'right or wrong'?"

Like ethics, metaesthetics differentiates itself from a categorical aesthetics by asking about the nature of the philosophy we use when making aesthetical judgments. Where aesthetics asks "which of these things before me are beautiful," metaesthetics asks "what is the nature of beauty." Aesthetics is the inquiry into what things are art, whereas metaesthetics seeks to define art in a level of abstraction beyond the concretes of particular works of are.

This is all very different from meta-art, which would be art that depicts the nature of art. Take, for example, Neil Stephenson's naming the hero in his book Snow Crash Hiro Protagonist, and you see what meta-art aims to create. In the realm of music, see also my upcoming meta-choral piece for mixed chorus (still as yet to be written).

Am I being to picky and particular about this naming thing? Does metaesthetics belong within the larger term of aesthetics? Am I simply splitting hairs here, or is this a valid term?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Words

I believe that in the past two days I've coined two different, perfectly viable words. The first is one that I'm sure has probably already been coined, but I've had surprisingly little luck in finding it. Metaesthetics is my new word, and I'm sure you can guess its meaning. In fact, I plan to post more on it in the coming week. A Google search reveals a few articles that reference an essay with a title of that name which is no longer available on the internet.

My other new word is desolance, a noun form of the adjective desolate. It is essentially the same word as desolateness, but it makes more sense.

Can anyone find any instance of either of these words? Am I the new Shakespeare?

Mike Mentzer

A recent Google search lead me to, perhaps, the greatest integration of philosophy, particularly Objectivist philosophy, that I've ever seen. On the Mike Mentzer Heavy Duty site, nominally about bodybuilding, one finds this essay which uses as Randian interpretation of aesthetics to justify why a painting of two people embracing should depict them as bodybuilders.

Furthermore, there is this essay, on Randian heroism. Some choice cuts:
What is it that unites Achilles, Cyrano, Isaac Newton, John Galt and Ayn Rand? What is it that differentiates them from: both the folks next door, and from Iago, Ellsworth Toohey, Adolf Hitler, Hilary Clinton?
Yes, you caught that right, he did just lump Hilary in with all those folks.
In my judgment, Ayn Rand is one of the greatest heroes in the history of mankind.
I'm not saying he's wrong here, but what exactly is his Ph.D. in, and why is he writing for a bodybuilder's website?
The hero is one who holds rational values and fights for them, if necessary, against every conceivable form of opposition.
This is, again, is not necessarily wrong, but perhaps a little unclear. Must one fight? In We The Living, for example (which I'm just getting around to reading this summer), is Andrei more the hero for fighting for life from within the Communist regime, or is Kira for not fighting at all, but rather "living"?
Heroism requires value conflict.

But Kira faces value conflict, she simply ignores it for the sake of living her own life.

And you thought bodybuilders were just mindless metal movers.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Relief

Foreign aid is a problem that is increasingly troublesome to the industrialized world. On the one hand, we feel as if we have some sort of brotherly obligation to help them out in their time of need, and yet we still continue to take their payments for debts incurred years ago. This isn't a bad thing, but when was the last time you heard a friend who you owed money to telling you "sure, I'll give you some money to help you out, but you still gotta pay me back."

Of course, Johan Norberg does tell us that foreign countries pull in twice as much in aid as they must pay out. This aid must, then, not be reaching areas where it helps, or it is not being used effectively were it does.

Last year the United States spent over $300 million just to staff the centers for aid distribution (reported by the Anchorage Daily News, article offline). That's $300 million in purely administrative costs, and that's only the cost to meet their staffing needs. I realize, of course, that $300 million is a relatively small chunk of the total aid we're paying out over there, yet the number itself is pretty staggering.

It is clear that for all our aid countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not developed at all. This isn't just a matter of limited development, this is a matter of NO development.

I'm generally ignorant as to why this is, but I can take a few guesses: tyrannical governments, corrupt aid distributors, and disorganized populaces. The first seems to be historically true; most of the aid racked up by African countries was accrued under a tyrant who spent money like it was going out of style before being knocked out of office, leaving impoverished and economically depressed nations.

When we're looking at debt relief and foreign aid, we have to be cognizant of what our actions say, as well as what changes they will effect. For instance, canceling debt tells African countries, and even the world at large, that one doesn't have to pay off on debts and that contracts are just silly words on paper. Increasing aid dollars to African countries tells Africa that we will continue to give money to an ineffective cause, simply because the cause is still "worthy." Cutting subsidies, while the right thing to do, will give the immediate result of showing the world that America doesn't care about foreign problems, as purchasing power will decrease and revenue from exports will plummet, putting Africa into even more trouble.

It is a sticky situation, and one that cannot be remedied easily. My first inclination is to simply say that we should forgive all debt, throw one massive hunk of cash at Africa, and then never attempt to help them again (excepting, of course, private charity). Then, I realize the that largely ineffectual governments of these African nations will probably do little to utilize the money wisely, and will eventually become poor again, without recourse to US loans, and will seek loans elsewhere. Problem not solved.

Second thought suggests that perhaps we could forgive most of their debt, say 75%, and continue to send aid money over, while resolving to never loan again. Still, this doesn't solve any problem, as the aid will not be spent where it makes a difference.

The problem, it seems, stems not from the amount of aid that we are or are not sending to Africa, but rather how it gets used (or not used). The only way for foreign aid to make any difference in sub-Saharan Africa is for the money to be put to use where it helps to develop the country, to industrialize it, to educate it. The best way I see to effect this change, is to put a non-tyrannical government in place, to install a democracy. And then I remember Iraq, and I'm instantly soured against it. Invading an African country with the hope of sowing the seeks of democracy is, as history has told us, a very bad idea.

Then we're stuck. We can't just cancel debt, and our aid dollars aren't helping. We can't just invade and take over, but without a better government in place nothing is going to help at all. The only solace I have is that I'm over here in beautiful rich America, and not over there.

My solution? Put Bill Clinton in charge, who seems to be making huge strides in organizing the Southeast Asian Tsunami relief effort.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

For Your Reading Pleasure

In looking at the debt relief issue, there are a few excellent resources to consult before making any strong opinions. Johan Norberg was the first person who got me thinking about debt relief when reading In Defense of Global Capitalism.

I've been against debt relief ever since I understood the meaning of the term. Ideologically, it is wrong and unjust that someone who is entitled something would not get it. Jonathan Dingel's post on the subject, though, got me thinking less dogmatically and opened my eyes to the greater issues at hand.

In regards to the current situation, Randall McElroy at Catallarchy states an excellent opinion on the issue, one that is almost in line with my own opinion. Dingel also has some thoughts on it.

An extended look at the issue from yours truly is forthcoming, so stay tuned.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Council Question

Today I was discussing the upcoming G8 summit with a friend, and we couldn't for the life of us, remember all 8 countries in the association. We started with the 5 permanent UN security council countries: US, UK, France, China, and Russia. Then we added Germany and Japan. Then we were stumped.

She suggested Italy. Another friend suggested Canada. A third suggested India. We laughed at the India suggestion, but I still couldn't remember.

Now, doing a quick Wikipedia lookup on the subject, I find that the G8 is made of US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada, and Italy. This, of course, was a bit surprising to me.

Maybe I've been living in a cave, but why is China not part of the G8? Is it because they are such commie jack-asses to the world? Is it simply because we don't like them? Aren't they a huge global powerhouse? Has no one invited them, or do they simply reject invitations?

I understand that China is still developing in many ways, but then, so is Russia. I also understand how reticent the G8 would be to let a communist regime into the party, but isn't it a little rude to throw a party and not invite that one foreign kid who believes something that nobody else as the party believes, just because he is different?

A little more research taught me that China, along with Brazil, India, and South Africa, sometimes meets with the G8 (thus, G8+4) to discuss economic issues. What? How did China get grouped in with those countries?

A quick google revealed even more information. The G8 is apparently a little wary of China's currency in relation to theirs, at least enough so that they won't talk about it. Also, a finance minister has been invited by the UK, and plans to attend the summit. Lastly, I found an interesting commentary on why China should join the G8 here.

I feel a little silly that I just assumed China was part of the G8, but I certainly have learned something about international politics in the process. I just assumed, I think, that since they were on the UN security council that they must be part of the G8, and obviously, I was wrong. I feel almost humbled, but not quite.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Happiness and Equality

Will Wilkinson has another insightful post about happiness, equality, and the "libertarian regime." When it comes to egalitarianism, the conclusion that we inevitably reach is the anti-thesis of every sappy elementary school poster; if we're all made equal, then we are no different from one another, we are not unique or special. Not that we're really that special in the first place anyway, of course.

The more important consideration in egalitarianism is the fact that, when made equal, people become interchangeable. If one person dies, then we simply replace another, who is equal, in their stead. There is no importance in individuality, and people are simply subject to the whims of a government that can't tell any difference between them.

Will's bigger point is that even a libertarian regime doesn't have to create happiness, which is a rather self evident point, or at least should be. No single government, person, or regime can or will make someone happy. Rather, one makes oneself happy, and it is the libertarian regime that allows the most freedom to be able to do just that. When governmental restrictions are lifted and individual liberties are returned, people are able to pursue happiness. The constitution doesn't say anything about America making people happy, rather, it opens America up as a land where people can pursue happiness.

No governmental system, neither egalitarianism nor libertarianism, will make American people happy. Rather, American people make themselves happy, and the government provides an arena for that happiness.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Raich

The blogosphere has said all that needs to be said about Raich, and I can hardly add anything interesting. Still there are two things that you must read.

First, Radley Balko has an exhortation to people with publishing power everywhere here, encouraging people to make our stagnant politicians see what it is that their constituents actually want.

Then, for a good laugh, visit here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bach to the Future

Did anyone else hear about this?

In Douglas Adams' book Dirk Gently's Holsitic Detective Agency he rationalizes Bach's massive output by attributing the music to an advanced alien music making device that is brought back in time to 1685. I think that this can't be too far off. How on earth could one man create so much music of such high quality? So much music, in fact, that we haven't even found it all yet?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Charity

Americans came under fire, both from foreign governments as well as left leaning citizens, shortly after the Southeast Asian Tsunami last year, and now the question raises itself again in our actions on African aid. Doug Allen at Catallarchy examines some of the real issues at hand here.

The question that dissenters need to be asking is not why the U.S. government gives so little, but rather why individual Americans give so little (in fact, of course, neither the government nor individual's contributions can be described as little; rather, the U.S. gives quite a bit). If foreign countries "need" aid, then it doesn't fall to a government to extort the funds out of its people; people in America are able to decide how much aid is needed themselves. Federal charity is always extortion and theft, and should not be tolerated.

Wegman's

This reads like an Ayn Rand novel, complete with the thriving entrepreneur and the evil, coercive government bad guys. The end, though, provides a ray of hope in that if Wegmans isn't getting federal go-ahead to build where they are wanted, at least they are forcing every other store to raise their standards.

People frequently question how, in an unregulated economy, businesses will be stopped from forming monopolies or oligopolies. While this case study isn't an exact response, it does at least show that people are willing to go out of their way for a better product sold at a lower cost.

Lastly, when is Wegman's coming to the west coast?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sex Minded

Reading this post at first almost made me think he was writing something against gay-rights, but the point David Velleman eventually makes is both tolerant and intelligent. It reminds me a lot of a note in the appendix to Robert Wright's book The Moral Animal, a question on whether evolutionary psychology validates homosexuality as a "moral" lifestyle.

Both Velleman and Wright, as well as myself, assert that homosexuality is no more dictated by our genes as is our taste in music, but that this neither makes homosexuality moral nor immoral. As Wright points out, if those things that were "natural" from an evolutionary standpoint were always moral, then things like infanticide, adultery, and some murder would be moral. Rather, morality, especially in the realm of sexuality, is a topic not so easily answered, and certainly not one that could be mandated firmly by some scientific studies.

As Velleman says, it is unlikely that we will ever get people, especially right-wing America, to stop moralizing sexual orientation. We can, though, attempt to make people realize that it is not their business; not any more than taste in music or business transactions are some third party's concern. Science isn't going to save gay rights, personal freedoms and individual liberties are.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Vain

Glen Whitman at Agoraphilia writes here on the debate that ensnares my mind every time I hear Carly Simon. Will Wilkinson is on it too, although I don't think his post is nearly as enlightening as Glen's.

Whitman is right, the phrase is obviously paradoxical, as if the target of the song does, in fact, think the song is about him, than he isn't actually vain, as the song is really just about him. Glen's solution is that the you is a broader "you," the plural "you" (note: if the song were in most other languages, French for instance, we wouldn't have to question what "you" really means). It is true that Simon has indicated that it doesn't have to be about one person in particular,
although she has been appropriately vague in any situation.

Of course, Dick Ebersol paid 50,000 dollars to hear who it was that the song was about, and I'm sure he would be very unhappy with his purchase if she were to tell him "it is about a lot of people." Not only that, but Simon has told her fans that the name of the person has an E, A and an R, which of course isn't much help, but at least implies that it is a single person. All of this invalidates Glen's theory.

If the song is, in fact, about a single person then Simon is either a paradoxical person (say it ain't so!) or she is using a definition of vain that we've not recognized yet. My mother, for instance, seems untroubled by the contradiction in the song, as she says that the target of the song is vain regardless of if the song is about him or not. Vanity, as she sees it, is an objective quality that the subject of the song embodies, and the song is simply describing this attribute.

Given this interpretation, the subject of the song is not so vain because he thinks the song is about him; rather because he is vain, and due to his vanity there is a high probability that he thinks the song is about him. Then again, my mother is convinced that the song is about Warren Beatty, so maybe her theory isn't totally water-tight.

The bigger question at hand here is this: why on earth is the libertarian blogsphere so concerned with a 30 year old song?

Children

In the increasingly unlikely situation that I ever have children, this is the book I will read to them every night before they go to sleep. Anyone want to buy it for me?

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the heads up.