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The Divine Violence of Terror?

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Slavoj Zizek is “the most dangerous philosopher in the West”. And for good reason – his arguments endorse and promote “emancipatory violence”.  Thankfully, his prolific writings have not changed the traditional morality of Western philosophy, which eschews violence as a solution to social problems.  Zizek believes that this is a point in human history where the masses awaken to their status as brutalized and degraded.  People should embrace “revolutionary-democratic terror”.  Zizek criticizes our political economy as oppressive and advocates “divine terror” because true liberation cannot be achieved without wanton violence, in his view.

 

While his conclusions are horrific, Zizek’s work is valuable in that it probes into the bowels of current discontent, anger and angst. He sees capitalism as a religious ideology (allowing no other alternative) that has reached a crises stage and is now collapsing.  Capitalism has veered away from its original moral roots to a dark culture of envy, greed and ugly modern consumerism.

 

Instead of killing people and confiscating their property, I think the ultimate resolution will not be violence but rather a gradual return to the spiritual, moral roots of capitalism. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) by sociologist Max Weber lays out the good, moral foundational ethos of capitalism, which is why it is so successful.  These moral underpinnings (bourgeois values) are still embraced by many of us.  The spirit of capitalism is not greed and consumption but rather the creation of wealth and order, increased productivity and the best use of resources.  Capitalism was born of religious faith, in Weber’s view, because some people developed an ethic that gives true meaning to their work.

 

This ethic includes a love of hard work for its own sake, orderliness, punctuality, honesty and a hatred of wasting time. Viewing our work as a “calling” (see my 4/11/17 post) results in the self-limitation of consumption and an ascetic compulsion to save.  We value personal discipline, gratitude and a sense being fortunate stewards of wealth, morality and knowledge – entrusted to preserve them for the future generations.  Many elite thinkers don’t see it that way.  They dissect and bitterly criticize a naturally successful economic system.  Next week, we examine why so many public intellectuals scornfully look the gift horse of capitalism straight in the mouth.

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Knowledge Expedition

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Psychiatrist Scott Alexander’s Blog Slate Star Codex is a portal to his energetic mind where he takes readers on fascinating expeditions, as he makes his way through new or unexplored ideas himself.  He recently reviewed Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).  I’ve noted that book here before because of the relevance of Piketty’s ideas to wealth defense. Dr. Alexander’s work is much broader in scope, detailed, cited, adventurous, and perhaps somewhat radical, than what we do here (short weekly reports assuring readers that there are very few “idea threats” to their family’s wealth).

 

Leftist thinkers promote envy and resentment of the successful (or the lucky). Their ideas attack the legitimacy of how much capital certain targeted people control.  My post ‘What We Deserve’ (8/8/17) is an example of defending how resources are allocated – meritocracy is a good thing both morally and economically. Alexander defends meritocracy against writers who attack it.

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/24/targeting-meritocracy/

 

But some attacks against the wealthy don’t question meritocracy, rather they point to rent seeking as the culpable phenomenon.  “Rent Seeking” is increasing one’s share of wealth without creating new wealth – gaming the system – enrichment without reciprocating any benefits to society.  Rent seeking is a loaded term because it is used and abused to make political arguments.  The term rentier capitalism is pure Marxism; a belief that humans should not monopolize access to property.  But that’s what property is – the ability to deploy assets as you wish – text book law school definition of property. As Felix S. Cohen taught us in 1954, all private property (X) comes with a label attached to it:

Note:  To the World

Keep off X unless you have my permission, which I may grant or withhold.

Signed:  Private Citizen

Endorsed:  The State

 

Some want to pit the idle rich against everyone who is productive. And Scott Alexander uses the phrase “Hereditary Rent Seeking”.  Wealth acquired through lawful inheritance is not rent-seeking.  Wealth acquired through the coercive power of the State, in contrast – political wealth re-distribution – is rent-seeking.  Piketty and many others don’t see it that way because they have different moral values.

 

We embark not only on intellectual expeditions but also on moral expeditions to the outer reaches of what is right and wrong. Next week, we walk the caves of ice with a philosopher who believes violence (against person and property) is moral because our economic system is oppressive and unjust.  Moral and intellectual training requires relentless effort – focusing a wandering attention again and again on our War Chest dojo of disciplined virtue and understanding. (read Scott Alexander’s 7/5/18 post on rationality as a martial art craft 😊)

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Let Freedom Ring

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Tomorrow we celebrate Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence. Happy Birthday to America.  The Declaration and The Constitution are vital, treasured legal documents giving us indisputable rights to life, liberty, private property and the freedom to pursue happiness as we choose.  The biggest threat to freedom is intrusive Government.  But we are fortunate to enjoy the legal protection afforded to each successive generation by the brilliant form of Government the founders of our nation established.

 

The petty, uniformed vitriol of public policy debates these days masks the remarkable effectiveness of our system of social organization. The standard of living for all Americans has never been better from a historical standpoint. And our legal and economic systems are firing on all cylinders to keep us safe from mob rule mentality, progressive idiocy and State repression.

 

Recent Supreme Court decisions not only fortified our First Amendment right to free speech, they affirmed and amplified our right to be free from Government-compelled speech. Americans cannot be forced to fund or express ideas to which they strongly object.  The underlying subject matter does not matter, whether it’s gay rights, abortion or labor unions – activists cannot force anyone to violate his conscious in order to advance an ideology, no matter how ‘righteous’ the issue is claimed to be.  David French articulates it nicely:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/janus-case-free-speech-wins-supreme-court-again/

 

Our moral compass is tuned to the right vs. wrong polarity of the U.S. founding legal documents and the values undergirding them (as originally intended – not made up as you go). Enjoy your rights and freedom – Happy 4th of July from the Estate Planning War Chest!

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If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

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When a college professor ventures out into the real world and encounters a successful person, they are sometimes asked, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” The classic professorial response is “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”  You can almost hear the condescension in the arrogant academic’s retort.

 

The most successful people are almost never the most intelligent or talented, they are simply the luckiest. Wealth distribution follows a well-studied pattern called the 80:20 rule.  20% of the people own 80% of the wealth.  It’s a natural function called power law or the law of the vital few or the Pareto Principal.  We delved into that here on 8/14/17 – War Chest Weapon (wealth inequality is natural), on 8/22/17 Peas in a Pod (it’s immoral and impractical to try and force wealth equality), and on 8/29/17 – Language and Power (all competitive endeavors have a highly skewed distribution favoring the successful).

 

The distribution of intelligence, human skill and effort is normal (a bell curve).  But the “distribution” (a misleading word because it connotes a purposefully planned array, it’s not, it’s a natural phenomenon) of societal wealth is a power distribution.  The status quo of Mother Nature is our most powerful War Chest defensive weapon.  Those in academia cannot force a square peg into a round hole.  Reality is reality.  The idealized world of egalitarians is a fantasy; just a remote threat to the well-being of the wealthy.  Here’s an interesting article contrasting the normal distribution of intelligence, talent and work ethic against the power distribution of wealth and luck:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610395/if-youre-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich-turns-out-its-just-chance/

 

A favorable position produces further gains and strengthens advantages. Fighting that reality will always be a losing battle.   If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?  The answer professor is:  I’d rather be rich and lucky than smart and I’m smart enough to realize that.

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By Dint of Will

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Researching and writing a consistent, substantive blog is an enjoyably arduous, self-educational process (so is intense physical training and musical performance). Jonah Goldberg writes “if you have all the answers before you start – as so many writers think they do – you aren’t writing seriously.  You’re propagandizing”.

 

The conclusion of Goldberg’s new book, Suicide of the West (2018), strikes a nice chord with me.  He uses the poetry of C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) to make the vital point that it is both ideas and morality that form the essence of our War Chest.  “Chest” in C.S. Lewis’ poetic work The Abolition of Man (1943) is the “indispensable liaison officer between cerebral man and visceral man.  It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man:  for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by appetite, mere animal.” Chest is where “reason and passion merge to form decency, civility, probity and honor”.

 

No one has all the answers. It is only by developing and refining individual reason and passion that we pursue the never ending quest towards excellence and virtue.  Ignore the smug conceit of writers who think they have all the answers because it’s “The State” that guides humanity.  Statists (who don’t go by that name preferring instead “progressive” or “liberal” [philosophical  Marxists in denial of that fact] view a powerfully intrusive State as the manifestation of the “general will”, which is vastly superior to that of our own will.  Statist ideas are enemies kept at bay with a strong, constantly fortified individual will.

 

One of my favorite quotes – (illuminating the mechanism of self-actualizing both intellect and morality) is from William James (1842-1910), Principles of Psychology (1890):

Attention can be wandering and unfixed. It is probable that genius tends actually to prevent a man from acquiring habits of voluntary attention, and that moderate intellectual endowments are the soil in which we may best expect, here as elsewhere, the virtues of the will, strictly so called, to thrive.  But, whether the attention comes by grace of genius or by dint of will, the longer one does attend to a topic the more mastery of it one has.  And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character and will.

 

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) gave us a great way to imagine the relationship between will and intellect: For what bridle and bit are to an unmanageable horse, the intellect is for the will of man; by this bridle it must be controlled by means of instruction, exhortation and culture. Passion and intellect must be exquisitely balanced.

Imagine a horse drawn war chariot navigating through brutal Roman combat. The power and vigor of the horses symbolize passion, which is just as important to battle success as the chariot driver, who would be quickly defeated without them.

… back at it next week.

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They Keep Trying

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Leftist public intellectuals have been soundly defeated in the idea wars, but they keep trying to break through the ideological walls constraining their influence. The motivation of these thinkers is a desire for power, to have authority over others, to control the terms of the debate so that only THEY determine what is morally and intellectually legitimate.  It’s a power struggle.  Jonah Goldberg points out that every society has a “priestly” class that defines the scope of right thinking and action.  That role was played by actual priests in antiquity.  Our modern clerisy is increasingly found among a self-anointed class of academics, activists, writers and artists (filmmakers are the worst) who claim a monopoly on virtue.  They get to decide what is right or wrong, not you.

 

They keep trying, with some success among the uneducated, apathetic, gullible masses. The popularity of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders and the surprising number of foolish millennials buying into socialism is cringe worthy. However, anyone truly aware of economic and political history can see that peddlers of these concepts are merely rehashing old bad ideas that were exposed as wrong many years ago.  Socialism is still socialism even if you dress it up and call it by different names.  That’s how socialism manifests – through propaganda.  And Leftist propaganda is becoming more apparent for what it is as history unfolds and reflects back on itself.

 

Robert Kuttner’s new book Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018) is interesting.  Kuttner’s arguments rely heavily on the ideas of Karl Polanyi (1886-1964). Polanyi’s “masterwork” (as Kutnner calls it) is The Great Transformation (1944), published in the same year as F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, as an alternative to free-market economics. [We carefully walked through every chapter of Hayek’s book here from 11/30/16-1/31/17.] Polanyi is the patron saint for bitter critics of “neoliberal” (traditional free market based) economic thought.  Guys like Kuttner, Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Reich have a deep antipathy for loosely regulated free markets and continue to publically argue vehemently and persistently for more and more Government control of the economy.  They are wrong.  As I often say in an exaggerated southern Missouri accent…. Government don’t work good.

 

Hayek taught us that social freedom can only come about through economic freedom. Polanyi and Kuttner believe that Government can protect personal freedom in a centrally planned economy.  History has shown this view to be naïve, ineffective and eventually…..genocidal.

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Noble Savage?

Savage

The wrong-headed, immoral nature in the thinking of progressive ingrates today can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).   He was a horrible human, who abandoned all five of his children he had from a relationship with an illiterate maidservant, and infected humanity with the concept of “the noble savage”.  The term is an oxymoron; it doesn’t make sense – nobility and savagery are polar opposites.

 

But the evil genius Rousseau injected his thought poison by arguing that humans, in their natural state, are selfless, peaceable, and untroubled – greed, anxiety and violence are all just the products of civilization. Rousseau’s philosophy and the philosophy of many he heavily influenced was weaponized by resentful academics who feel that the rules of the economic game are rigged in favor of the powerful – nothing more than a system of exploitive capitalism, white privilege and hetero-patriarchy oppression.

 

The thought war between the ideas of John Locke (1632-1704), among others, and Rousseau protégés has been raging for centuries. Jonah Goldberg explains it in Chapter 5 of his book Suicide of the West (2018) “The Eternal Battle” and Yuval Levin’s book The Great Debate (2013) uses the notion as a launching point to contrast the views of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine – See my 12/12/17 post ‘Crawling Up from Barbarism’.  Progressives want to tear down and strip away culture because they hate and resent the successful, while those that oppose them are generally grateful that humanity has and continues to become less savage and violent as history and culture evolve.

 

The idea of justice or morality can be difficult to articulate, or understand and may be radically different among thinkers. Maybe justice is simply the absence of injustice?  We can probably find more agreement on injustice because it generates moral outrage.  Everyone is entitled to their own views.  Leftist immorality stems from it being forcibly imposed on those who disagree with the idea that ‘the collective’ (whatever that is?) is more important than the individual.  Free market capitalism is moral because it’s based on the premise that we all own ourselves.  I am my own private property and you are yours.  Walter E. Williams (George Mason Univ.) writes:  “Murder, rape, theft and the initiation of violence are immoral because they violate self-ownership. Similarly, the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another person, for any reason, is immoral because it violates self-ownership.”

 

My family and clients are fortunate and grateful. We will continue to barricade our blessings to protect them from those that seek to confiscate our capital for the “betterment” of society.  We treasure life, liberty and private property rights and shall vigorously defend them with the philosophical ammunition loaded into our Estate Planning War Chest weekly.

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