Can a Fair Society Be Interesting Enough to Justify?

I’d like to comment on a blog I read almost every day: from RanPrieur.com on income inequality and politics—

January 25.

…I don’t want everyone to have equal wealth. The world is more interesting if some people live in mansions while other people live in shacks — as long as the people in mansions have no more real power, and the people in shacks don’t have to obey the holders of money to be permitted to live.

If you’re a gamer, you’re familiar with subgames or minigames. You can go into the shooting gallery in Zelda, or the casino in Grand Theft Auto, and have some fun getting money to buy some perks in the outside world, but you can’t get any really important powers, because then the minigame would take over the main game. Our society is a bad game because the money-based minigames have taken it over. Financial investment is a minigame that has gone so far out of balance that the best players think they’re playing the Big Game, that they’re at the heart of the creation of value.

Now we’re getting into metaphysics, because what is the big game anyway? If the world is intrinsically meaningless, then we can just declare that financial investment is the whole meaning of life. Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” and there are different interpretations, where “camel” means rope, or “the eye of a needle” was a narrow city gate, or Jesus was a mushroom. In any case, the idea is that life does have an intrinsic meaning, and wealth makes us bigger in a way that blocks us from finding it. I would say poverty is even worse, if lack of money forces you to think about money all the time. To sense deeper values, we need to clear our minds of money, and we can redesign society to make this easier.

My favorite utopian economy is Rick Webb’s interpretation of Star Trek. Of course we don’t have fabricators, but we can get close to that culture with two reforms that are physically and economically possible right now (but not yet politically). One is to take money out of politics, and the other is an unconditional basic income.

 

I like Ran Prieur’s writing a lot, and I understand the points he’s making here, which I think are solid even though I don’t totally agree with all of them. In particular, I would like some clarification (from anybody) on the idea of “getting money out of politics,” because from what I can tell money is politics, i.e. politics is the justification for power via wealth concentration (read into “wealth” anything from money—real or not—to wheat to potable water, etc.). You could hypothetically make it so that political campaigns are completely funded by the tax payers, but it wouldn’t take long for people with a lot of land, wheat, water, etc. to figure out ways around pesky election cycles (they’ve had generations of practice). I guess I fail to envision how someone living in a mansion, i.e. taking up more space and resources on a finite planet than someone in a shack, could ever not be wielding more power, categorically.

Plus, who is the government? It’s supposed to be comprised of a cross-section of society but everyone knows it’s an insular, elite group—groomed effectively from birth (or before it) to be stakeholders in an ever tightening circle. How do you undo that with a mechanism as toothless as voting?

An unconditional basic income would go a long way to making our society more livable, but even that doesn’t address the power that comes from owning institutions, or, say, owning the water under someone’s property. With a basic income, less people would have to work long hours to pay their bills and service their debts, etc., but again, corporations will find a way around that, like they always have with every other roadblock they’ve ever encountered. In short, our degradation and ultimate collapse will have been brought about because corporations are too good at what they do, and there’s no way to stop them.

Quote

“Ask a nurse who saved, like, three lives today what her salary is and then go ask the guy who made Candy Crush Saga what he got paid for it. …Candy Crush Saga was valorized at over $7 billion. According to that same market, a human life is only valorized at $129,000. Meaning Candy Crush Saga is worth more to society than the combined value of 54,264 human lives.”  – Holly Wood, from Paul Graham Is Still Asking to Be Eaten

Reading Nietzsche: Reading Camus

“He said of himself that he was the first complete nihilist in Europe,” Camus wrote about Nietzsche in The Rebel, adding: “Not by choice, but by condition, and because he was too great to refuse the heritage of his time.” Camus explains:

The “can one live as rebel?” became with him “can one live believing in nothing?” His reply is affirmative. Yes, if one creates a system out of absence of faith, if one accepts the final consequences of nihilism, and if, on emerging into the desert and putting one’s confidence in what is going to come, one feels, with the same primitive instinct, both pain and joy.

That quote could easily, and eloquently, be the “about” section of this blog. Here’s an equally eloquent summary, again from The Rebel:

From the moment that man submits God to moral judgment, he kills Him in his own heart. And then what is the basis of morality? God is denied in the name of justice, but can the idea of justice be understood without the idea of God? At this point are we not in the realm of absurdity? Absurdity is the concept that Nietzsche meets face to face. In order to be able to dismiss it, he pushes it to extremes: morality is the ultimate aspect of God, which must be destroyed before reconstruction can begin. Then God no longer exists and is no longer responsible for our exiatence; man must resolve to act, in order to exist.

The first sentence of that section brings up a point I hadn’t previously considered: that even attempting to know god’s intentions—and then to scrutinize them and apply them to future action—necessarily negates god as a supreme anything. What kind of diety with any power to speak of needs to be, well, spoken of—let alone endlessly discussed?

And Yet…

There’s apparently a new collection of Christopher Hitchens essays out (most likely the last we’ll ever see), and here’s a review of it in The Guardian by Terry Eagleton. The review ends up being more about Hitchens than the essays, noting that “Christopher Hitchens was the ultimate champagne socialist, though as his career progressed the champagne gradually took over from the socialism.” Other pretty fair points are taken, although I did enjoyed this line most: “As a militant atheist, he once remarked that the only reason he would make a deathbed conversion was so that there would be one Christian less in the world.”

I think all writers write as if they are another writer, at least occasionally but more-so when first starting out; I admit to very much wanting to write like Hitch, but then soon realizing that A.) it’s futile because it comes from a biography I can never understand, and B.) political theatre is way less interesting than other topics. So I moved away from a more argumentative style (and stopped consulting the OED as much), and started writing about connections between myself and the larger culture—and between that culture and the ecosystems its rapidly exhausting.

But many of us owe a real debt to Hitchens, and I still remain one of his defenders and fans, even given his support of the global imperial project that I find to be just as anti-life as he thought religion was. (To be clear: I, too, think religion is, at heart, a hatred of life—a refusal to accept life.) I certainly wish he would’ve criticized military intervention as much as he criticized just about everything else. But I am still thankful for all of his appearances on Fox News.

 

 

On the Two Political Tribes Available in Mainstream America

I am not a liberal, as they are just as oblivious to oligarchy—not to mention the ongoing ecological collapse—as conservatives. And the new liberalism is rife with postmodernist, circular nonsense. No time for that. But I will say that liberals mostly try to understand conservatives’ arguments, while conservatives make no such effort, not even as a token gesture. I saw a meme going around that said something to the effect of “neither side is stupid,” as a plea for understanding and civility between Democrats and Republicans. Sorry, but one side is attempting to use facts (which usually aren’t true, hence “attempting”) while the other side proudly rejects facts as a basis for argument, remaining steadfastly ignorant of basic reasoning. I’ll let you guess which side is which. There can be no common ground between such fundamentally opposed schemata: one being mendacious, the other being willfully numb to reality, and both being ultimately insidious. But just because two sides are in opposition, that doesn’t mean the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Sometimes one side is just wrong. And sometimes both sides are wrong.