Identity

identity

Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Identity – The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) is insightful.  He teaches us that human identity is rooted in the “third part of the soul”.  The first part is desire or preferences; the second is the calculating rational maximizer.  The third part was described in Plato’s Republic (381 B.C.) with the Greek word Thymos or spirit – the human need for self-respect, dignity and moral discipline.

 

Fukuyama’s ideas are compelling because they are based on great, proven historical thinkers instead of the contrived, clouded thinking of today’s “intellectuals”. Martin Luther, Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hegel, among many others, figured out an awful lot about the human condition that modern thinkers simply discard.  The sweeping arrogance and willful ignorance of some writers today is mind blowing.

 

Fukuyama tours the development of humanity’s search for our inner selves, first from religious thinkers, and then via Rousseau’s secularized inner identity. Rousseau was a bad guy, ultimately wrong about a lot, but he did probe very deeply into the relationship between individual humans and society.  He provided a launching pad for thinkers like Adam Smith, the founder of modern capitalism.

 

Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) argued for the importance of the division of labor and free markets.  Before that, in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) he laid out the profound connection between economic interests and social status/personal well-being (identity – i.e…..who we really are).  Fukuyama’s book makes a vital point that the causality between ideas and material conditions goes both ways.

 

Was the Great Enrichment driven by ideas or material conditions? Karl Marx, et al, argues that modern ideas were derivative of material conditions (wide spread discontent, oppression and exploitation).  Max Weber and Deidre McClosky argue the reverse; that the spirit or moral roots of capitalism started with ideas, which then lead to great wealth (we saw that here on 7/16/18).  It goes both ways. Ideas (bourgeois values and work ethic) shaped the material world and then the material world created conditions for the spread of material resource power, which we can pack into our War Chests.  Let’s wade a little deeper into the thoughts of Francis Fukuyama next week.

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New Year – Same Justice

NewYear2019

Having revealed the skeletal structure of the 3 Great Untruths embraced by our social institutions, Lukianoff and Haidt next flesh out how the Untruths infect our culture and hurt so many. Chapters 6-11 of The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) sets forth 6 “explanatory threads” that probe into the current malfunctioning discontent in America:

  1. The Polarization Cycle
  2. Anxiety and Depression
  3. Paranoid Parenting
  4. The Decline of Play
  5. The Bureaucracy of Safetyism
  6. The Quest for Justice.

 

That last one, justice, is of particular relevance to what we do here (explore the intellectual and moral philosophy of private wealth acquisition, preservation and transfer).  The authors open Chapter 11 with a nice quote about justice:

“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought”.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971)

 

Rawls was wrong about economic justice overall (as I explained here on 10/31/17) but that quote reminds me of something that most important abstract notions (like justice, truth, happiness, wealth, knowledge and power) all have in common. They are not fixed – they vary over time, place and circumstance.  Now I don’t mean the “everything’s relative” incoherent nonsense of progressive thought; rather, important abstract concepts can only be understood in the context of our personal values/morals – which are much more fixed and stable.  They are only modified to address radically changed circumstances.

 

For example, I read a December 2007 article in Philosophy Now about Captain America and the ethics of whether it would be morally right to bio-engineer super-soldiers. The answer – only if we were faced with a supremely grave existential threat (like a world war with an evil dictator seeking to dominate humanity).  Justice, which the authors break down into distributive justice and procedural justice, requires equal opportunity – NOT equal outcomes; unless the world turns upside down.

 

As we enter the New Year, justice, in our current geopolitical economic environment, precludes the mass confiscation and redistribution of wealth….for now.  Let’s set our goals and priorities for 2019 with the comfort of knowing that the State (or the Collective, whatever you call it) cannot forcibly impose its values onto our family based on some egghead’s idea of justice.  Happy New Year from The Estate Planning War Chest.

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Good vs. Evil Dualism

Christmas

Chapter 3 of Lukianoff and Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) gives us the third Great Untruth:  The Untruth of Us versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People.  It is perhaps the most sinister untruth because ethical dualism (imputing evil entirely to one group of people, while denying one’s own capacity for evil) is polarizing, destructive and just plain wrong.

 

Humans have evolved extremely tribal behavioral, rhetorical and cognitive tendencies.   And our political economy reflects that – with shocking intensity these days.  The authors point out two types of identity politics.  Common-humanity identity politics, which is ennobling; and common-enemy identity politics, which is moral warfare for power (us vs. them).

 

There’s a lot of high- brow intellectual theorizing on campuses today that frames the world in dimensions of oppression and power relationships. Intersectionality, Marxism and the ideas of Herbert Marcuse attempt to justify physical and economic violence against a targeted group of humans cast as evil oppressors, simply because they are, for example, successful, healthy, white heterosexual males.  The basis for doing this seems to be an attempt to “even the score” or make up for past bad treatment towards minorities or others who are deemed oppressed by academia.   But two wrongs don’t make a right and at its core, attacking groups based on their physical attributes is immoral, no matter how clever the means used by intellectuals to rationalize it.

 

Politics is the “systematic organization of hatred”. Well, this holiday season, maybe there could be just a little less hate from everyone.  Christmas is a time of hope, joy and good will…haters everywhere have the capacity to change.  Rocky Balboa lights the way as we recall his speech following the big boxing match in the movie Rocky IV.  He was booed and jeered by a hostile Russian crowd and after a long epic battle; he addresses the audience, having won them over with his tenacity in the ring against a bigger stronger opponent (read this in the voice of Sylvester Stallone):

I came here tonight…                 and I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve seen a lot of people hating me…                 and I didn’t know…

what to feel about that, so…                 I guess I didn’t like you much either.

During this fight…                 I seen a lot of changing:            the way you felt about me

and the way I felt about you.                 In here…              there were two guys guys…

killing each other.                 But I guess that’s better than million.

What I’m trying to say is…                 if I can change…          and you can change…

everybody can change!             I just want to say one thing to my  kid…

who should be home sleeping.

Merry Christmas, kid!                I love you

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Emotional Reasoning

Cry, baby... Grungy female portrait for your design

Boethius introduces us to “Lady Philosophy” in The Consolation of Philosophy (524).  He wrote it while awaiting execution in a Roman jail.  Lady Philosophy (Boethius talking to himself) helps him realize that nothing is miserable, unless you make it so, and nothing brings happiness, unless you let it.  Lukianoff and Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) second Great Untruth is emotional reasoning.  Passionate feelings are compelling but they often distort reality and impede cognition.  They list 9 cognitive distortions in Chapter 2 (pg. 38) that we would all do well to avoid.

 

The fallacy of emotional reasoning leads to emotional arguments. People who disagree with the cogency of the ideas in Lukianoff and Haidt’s book make up in intensity for what the lack in coherence.  Emotional arguments – repeated loud and often can still be wrong, biased, misguided and uninformed, notwithstanding the ferocity of the arguer. Even really smart people make these emotional arguments – they have to be smart in order to contrive a position that gives leftist ideology a modicum of moral sense (so as not to be so embarrassingly, obviously wrong). Extreme progressivism (Marxism, etc.) is incoherent – it is patently pathetic even as some scream at the top of their lungs that it is not.

 

You don’t get to tell us what our values and priorities in life should be – they are ours and we will not allow others to impose their values on to us. Its fine to have alternative values and worldviews, to which I and others can disagree, but not when those mistaken ideas produce policies that hurt people and schemes of taxation that confiscate our private wealth for re-distribution to whomever bureaucrats deem worthy. Next week, we move on to the third Great Untruth that casts me and many of my clients as evil; not for anything we’ve done or for what we think but simply because we belong to a demographic group that must be blamed, vilified and attacked. Fortunately, we are shielded by the capital in our Estate Planning War Chest.

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Antifragile

MuscleFire

Nassim Taleb taught us in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2014) how vital understanding the concept of antifragile is to human flourishing. Things that are fragile break easily under pressure, stress or trauma.  Things that are durable resist being broken down by stressors.  Things that are antifragile are beyond durable; they actually improve when subjected to stress.  All complex adaptive systems, including the human mind and body, are antifragile.

 

The societal folly that Lukianoff and Haidt point out in their new book, The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) is that academia has embraced the opposite of antifragile (the first Great Untruth of fragility), by implementing overprotective policies, which have the opposite of their intended effects.  They hurt, degrade and devalue people instead of protecting them.

 

Chapter 1 of their book uses the example peanut allergies. Overprotective schools banned all peanut products in the 1990’s, which then caused a surge in deadly allergic responses because kids were no longer exposed to peanuts.  Studies later proved that regular exposure to peanut-containing products from infancy will elicit an immune response instead of an allergic reaction.  This is just one example of the harm caused by the Untruth of fragility.

 

The recent coddling, overprotective nonsense at colleges (safe spaces, micro aggressions, trigger warnings and speaker shout downs) is weakening the minds of young people. Walter E. Williams recently wondered why so many millennials embrace brutal, murderous regimes founded on socialism.  He asks are they miseducated or stupid?  It’s both.  They are being made stupid.

 

Wind extinguishes a candle but energizes a fire. We are not candles and academia should not try and turn students into candles.  You want to be the fire and wish for the wind – not weak, overprotected, snowflake flickering candles.  Our Estate Planning War Chest is an antifragile raging fire of awareness.  Next week, we move on to the second Great Untruth.

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Deflecting Leftist Losers

Loser

I enjoyed Lukianoff and Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) because it makes intuitively reasonable arguments, cites plenty of authority (we lawyers love citing precedent and other authority) and is written by left leaning scholars who are honest about reality (imagine that).

 

The book’s title is a nod to Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987).  That and this recent book are gripping because we explore similar ideas here every week. And Lukianoff and Haidt often reference the same important authors that I do [e.g. the Stoics, de Tocqueville, Francis Fukuyama, Nassim Taleb, Steven Pinker, etc.] and we all saw the ridiculously chilling accusations of racism against two law professors for espousing our family values – I wrote about that here on 5/29/18.

 

The book’s reception among other writers was an amusingly ferocious splash of opinion – it struck a raw nerve. For example, read Conor Friedersdorf’s  review of Moira Weigel’s review of the book:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/coddling-american-mind-and-its-discontents/572965/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/20/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind-review

Yikes! I was going to write a review of a review of a book review but let’s just tear into the substance of this important new work.The authors set forth 3 Great Untruths as the source of a lot of pain, misery and problems:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

 

Leftist losers think life is about convincing others that current wealth owners should be attacked because they are evil; their assets confiscated and passed out to those deemed more worthy. They’ve embraced at least the 2nd and 3rd Untruths.  Full scale wealth redistribution is irrational and immoral, as we’ve seen here week after week; the arguments for it are flimsy and disingenuous.

 

Commentators should engage directly if they want to fight instead of dancing around the ring dodging opponents. Changing the terms of the debate or the meaning of words or using “Idioms of Non-Argument” (as Friedersdorf terms it – seriously, go read his article!) are feeble attempts to win a debate from fearful losers.  Intellectual fear, emotional reasoning and cowardly attacks against our position have no place in the Estate Planning War Chest.  Next week, we delve again into the notion of antifragile (I first discussed that here on 3/1/16).

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Preference vs. Mistake

MistakeErase

There is an enormous difference between a public policy preference/opinion, which is starkly contrasted against – a mistake/error/bad idea/faulty assumption.  A lot of recent public discourse is just bad, mistaken ideas dressed up as policy preferences, when in fact, they are erroneous, irrational, justifications for ideologically driven agendas.  For example, socialism; it’s an intellectually and morally flawed concept – however, historical fact doesn’t seem to stop people from advancing that miserably ruinous, murderous mistaken idea.

Ricardo Hausmann puts it this way:

Suppose two people hold different opinions about a policy issue. Is it possible to say that one is right and the other wrong, or do they just have different preferences? After all, what is the difference between an odd preference and a mistake?  

A preference influences a choice that is expected to deliver the goal the chooser wants to achieve. A mistake is a choice based on a wrong belief about how the world works, so that the outcome is not what the chooser expected. Unfortunately, this may be a costly way to learn. It also may be inconclusive, because it is always possible to attribute the mistake’s bad consequences to other factors.

A recent book brilliantly highlights current grave public policy mistakes.   The Coddling of the American Mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018) by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.  The authors write that their book is about wisdom…. and it’s opposite.  They expose 3 Great Untruths.  There are many untruths – but to be classified as a GREAT Untruth, an idea must meet 3 criteria:

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom
  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being
  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it

Next week, we embark on a War Chest journey through 3 Great Untruths being widely spread and mistakenly embraced by dumbasses in academia, media and government – really bad ideas that are hurting children and damaging the fabric of our culture.

 

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