Ex nihilo – the pervasive fallacy

This is a sketch of what might become a chapter in a so far unwritten book. It lacks some details and certain parts need to be elaborated further. It also needs historical references and a further explanation of what “ex nihilo” leads to philosophically. Also, I might include something about Darwinism that will make most people go completely bonkers. Hopefully the reader will apologize for the incomplete state which this is presented in, it was written from beginning to end during a late evening session. The final edition, if any such ever appears, will likely be three times as long, peppered with footnotes and edited about a gazillion times. Still, the general idea is hopefully obvious even in this rather mediocre presentation.

The wikipedia entry of transhumanism might be a helpful introduction, found here.

The most prevasive fallacy in modern times is that of ex nihilo – the creation of something out of nothing. It has lead to innumerable conclusions of how the world is constituted, ranging from the astro-physical “Big Bang” to political theories completely void of connection with mankinds biological, psychological and spiritual nature. It was present in utopian marxism, and is likewise present in high-tech transhumanism. It is the idea of unlimited transcendance – where the boundaries of the Universe stop existing and mankind is free to re-constitute nature according to his own wishes. It is man, wanting to be God, over and over again.

Let us begin with what we know, and move towards what we cannot know. We know that cause and effect exists – it is the framework through which we interpret all sensory input. Trying to deny it leads to complete chaos. Seeing the world through the lense of cause-and-effect enables us to draw conclusions, and see reality and history as a long series of state-changes of the Universe. This is, without a doubt, the only way we CAN see the Universe, since we are in it and constantly moving through Time. We cannot recreate the moment before present, nor can we visit the future before it actually occurs. We are thus limited to re-constructing the past, and predicting the future by applying patterns taught to us by logic and empirical observation.

The problem of the creation of the world, or the creation of the Universe, has existed as long as mankind has had the capacity to consider it. Due to the lack of observations, it took a mythological character during most of our past – we created stories from what we knew, namely human life, and projected these into the skies to make sense of why and how we came to exist. As we learned physics, we have created detailed equations and mathematical systems to describe how certain attributes of our existence – heat, mass, density etc. – have changed during billions of years to lead to where we are now. By attempting to roll this equation backwards, scientists came up with the Big Bang, and then ran straight into the proverbial wall. Currently, the arguments are based around what happend at the nth microsecond after “Big Bang”. We have long ago passed the point where we had to dissolve all the rules that lead us to come up with “Big Bang”. At the beginning of the Universe, according to current theories, matter was packed up far denser than it can actually be packed up. As far as I know, this also goes for black holes, which are a physical paradox that exists merely because our observations demand that they do.
The problem is still there – even if they mapped every single particle at the beginning of the Universe, we would be faced with the question “…and before that”? The problem is that people are trying to know things that cannot be known. The “Big Bang” is simply saying that at one point, there was nothing (represented by everything being condensed to a space so small it doesn’t exist) and suddenly there was something. Without God, or any force we deem able to create “ex nihilo”, this cannot happen. There is no explanation we can make of how the Universe came to be within the rules of this Universe. And this will be my main argument in this essay – that if we wan’t to believe in “ex nihilo” creation, we might as well call it God (which humanity always have) and accept that it is beyond our ability to understand how it happens.

Moving to the world of politics, the “ex nihilo”-fallacy has long been alive and well. People who have no understanding of economics think that they can simply conjure up “policy” that will create things that were not there before. Wealth, happiness and even correct opinions will appear simply because politicians and policy-makers pronounce it. Progressive attempts to create a “better society” and sometimes even “a better mankind” are doomed to fail unless one specifies exactly where this change will come from, and what mechanisms will make it happen. This rarely bothers democratic politicians, who think that a sufficient amount of public funds, slogans and bureucratic machinery will simply make anything happen.

The first communists believed that if communism was just implemented, manna would rain from the skies and a new, better man would appear. This was eventually seen as such an embarrasment that communism would have died if Marx hadn’t resurrected it as “scientific communism” with his exploitation theory. The first communist may have been forgiven for what was basically a post-millenialist viewpoint, where the second coming of Christ would occur if only everyone implemented communism, but Marx’s scientific communism did in no way get around the “ex nihilo” problem. The difference was that Marx didn’t think that God had anything to do with it. The theoretical flaw in Marxian communism is that even if we were to believe that the whole concept of the revolution of the proletariat was somehow workable (and morally justifiable), Marx never did, or could, specify how the dictatorship of the proletariat would eventually dissolve itself and eternal peace would ensue. Thus, his “scientific socialism” wasn’t very scientific at all, rather a fairly thin theology which was promoted by an economic theory (refuted almost immediately) posing as science. Ex nihilo at work.

We could argue along the same lines for the whole concept of modern democracy, going back all the way to the French revolution, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. I want to focus instead on the latest, and perhaps most ambitious attempt to create an “ex nihilo” theology, which aims to avoid any inclusion of God, and instead continue the tradition of trying to explain how nature can actually make something be created out of nothing, and how we can bring about the conditions for it. I am talking about trans-humanism. Before that, however, since I intend to prove why trans-humanism suffers from the exact same problem as any other utopian scheme, and that barring the intervention of God it cannot be, I need to make a short excursion into logic.

Imagine creating a complete map of the entire Universe, that was so detailed it described every aspect of everything. Such a map cannot ever be created, for the simple reason that it’s creation would require at least the same amount of matter as exists in the universe. You would need two Universes, where the one was an exact copy (or at least a logical representation of) the other Universe. Since the map is included in the concept of “everything”, however, this cannot be done. We can of course make approximate maps of the Universe, since we leave out most of the details. A map of the world then becomes a simplified, and knowingly incomplete view of the Universe. We can formulate this in terms of information as well – any representation of the Universe must contain at least the same amount of information as the Universe itself. We cannot “compress” the Universe into a map that is smaller than the Universe without losing information.

In exactly the same way, we cannot have full knowledge of something as complex as our brain. We can know a lot about our brain – what it is made of, how different parts connect, approximately how electricity travels – but we cannot have complete knowledge of it. To understand something that has the complexity of our brain, we need something more complex than our brain. Why do I say “more complex” and not just “at least as complex”? It has to do with the problem of “overhead”. Unless you are going to represent something in the exact same form that it appears, there needs to be a mechanism for translating it (meaning the mechanism of translating the biochemistry of our brain into “thoughts”), and this adds another layer of complexity. Thus, to fully understand how our brain works, we need something larger than our brain.

This might all seem like nonsense, but the main argument of the transhumanists is that we will one day create a machine that is smarter than us, meaning we will create something more complex than our brain. I contend that we cannot do that, simply because we cannot understand something that complex. The transhumanists often make the mistake of confusing complexity with speed of processing. A modern computer isn’t anywhere close to as “intelligent” as a human being, and making it a billion times faster will not help. The problem is not in how many instructions a micro-processor can process per second, since computers beat us at math almost from the outset. The problem is that we cannot create a set of instructions for a computer that is complex enough to allow it to “learn” (meaning process data in this context) to an extent that we cannot. The “intelligence” of computers is still just a derived product from our own intelligence. We can make computers imitate human behaviour, but the patterns they use cannot be more complex than any pattern we can think of.

That is not to say that the classical apocalyptic scenario cannot be created. It is fully possible to create a set of machines that would control air-craft and fly around the world, mindlessly killing people according to some pre-programmed instruction set of what was “right” and “wrong”. We could automate military equipment and end up having to find ways to “fight it” since the programs didn’t behave the way we expected. But this is not the topic we are discussing, what we are discussing is rather if we can make computers that are more “intelligent” than us, who will then make further computers that are even more intelligent, until we reach the eschatological singularity. And my conclusion is that due to the problem of complexity, we cannot do this without falling into the “ex nihilo” fallacy once again. Unless aided by God in creating these machines, we cannot make them smarter, or even as smart as ourselves. They will continue to be a derived product of our intellect, perhaps billions of times faster when it comes to processing times, but ultimately unable to create anything but at best derived copies of themselves that are even less “intelligent”.

There will be no exponential development of the “intelligence” of machines, and thus there will be no singularity, and no technological eschaton. God, and only God can create ex nihilo, and we should be thankful for it. It gives us the opportunity both to be thankful for the remarkable gift we have been given in the form of life and the opportunity to experience this world, and also to focus not on trying to escape these earthly bonds but rather to live as good and well as we can during the limited time we are here. While others desperately seek salvation through technologicy, I will try to find mine through living my life humbly, and seeking truth by the words of God, Our Creator.

Dear Mr Albert Jay Nock

Dear Mr Albert Jay Nock,

I do apologize for addressing you in this fashion, I understand that it may feel somewhat strange, firstly because we have never met and secondly because you have been dead for more then half a century. Despite this, I feel that the only way to make an honest approach is in the form of a letter, so here goes.

I have been busying myself with reading a few collections of your writings, brought back to life by the marvellous Mises Institute[1]. It is with great delight that I have read both “On Doing the Right Thing”, “Snoring as a Fine Art” and now finally your “Memoirs of a Superfluous Man” . I have left a collection of writings from the Freeman which I will dedicate my time to shortly.

The problem with all this is of course not that your writing isn’t great, because it is. It has benefitted me greatly to read of a time when things were not like, well, they are now. Because you see, you were all to good at predicting the future I’m afraid. You wrote in your memoirs :

(…) I count myself lucky beyond expression to have lived through the last sixty years rather than the next sixty.

As I write this seventy years later, I can only conclude that you cannot reasonably have understood how right you were to utter those words. You see, all you saw in the future has come to pass, and beyond that an additional lot I hardly feel like speaking of. As far as culture goes, the steepness of the descent has been quite marvellous. Matter-of-factly, there isn’t much culture left to go around. While you lived in the remnants of the old culture, those after you lived in the remnants of the remnants, and I’m afraid I will spend most of my days in the remnants of the remnants of the remnants. Its quite a thin soup at this point, if you know what I mean.

Yet the word Remnant, and your writings around it ; I refer specifically to Isiahs Job ; has given those few of us who still have some grasp of what you meant something unvaluable. There are, after all, a few of us. They are hard to find, and in the “modern world” there is so much noise that it’s a bloody miracle we aren’t all permanently sent to an insane asylum before the age of thirty. Still, there are one or two people who can still appreciate the larger things in life. But its a damn lonely existence as far as conversation and deeper meaning goes, I will tell you that.

I would also like to express my gratitute for you clearing up the question about when the world did turn on its head. As many of my generation, I initially thought it was in the late 1960’s (neither you nor I have lived to see those times, and we should probably be happy for it), after continuing my search I tried to pin it down to somewhere between 1914 and 1930, and finally I realized that it had to be just before the turn of the last century. Your assessment that it was around 1870 that the world finally started to succumb completely to “economism” finally made the picture clear to me. Despite being an ardent defender of free markets and that thing we never get which marxists scorn as “capitalism”, I very much despise “economism”, or “consumerism” as we call it these days. I have increasingly realized that with consumption of material wealth as your only goal, modern society is what you get.

I intuitively felt that this must have been an unfortunate result of the industrial revolution – perhaps it could have been avoided if the State had not been what it is, but as you know (and I as well after reading your works), Epsteans Law very much precludes the possibility that the State could be anything else. Perhaps someone might at some point manage to abolish it temporarily, but even so I fear it may always come back to haunt us. The industrial revolution gave the state a potentially new raison d’etre : to secure the material wealth of the citizens. Nevermind that the increasing material wealth had nothing to do with the State to begin with, but creating a popular religion of consumerism or “economism” seems to have led to it’s grip on the Occident strengthening significantly. As for the cultural reasons that the tendency for statism and consumerism have constantly grown the last 140 years, I will have to return with a theory of that in a decade or two – I fear my education in that respect is quite insufficient. I simply am not l’arned enough.

As a last expression of my gratitude, I promise I will in the future continously use the phrase “Gott soll hüten” as often is applicable, if nothing else simply because it’s a splendid way to show that not only do people not know greek nor latin, they can’t even speak two words of German. Unless, possibly, if they are German, although the rest of the world still desperately wants them to speak English and still harbor collective paranoia against a nation that lost two world wars. No, you probably did pass on rather timely, considering how ridiculous modernity has become.

My sincere gratitude for making your thoughts available to coming generations through your writings. Some of us feel most blessed to have made your acquaintance, even if only through your texts. I shall hope to see you in person in half a century or so.

Best Regards,

// A dedicated reader

[1] The Mises Institute was created almost forty years after your passing in honour of the late, great Ludwig von Mises, the economist. You are nowadays considered part of the “Old Right”, with the New Right consisting of a strange soup of ex-communists, post-millenial christians and the regular political profiteers. Despite being temporarily forgotten, your career may be headed for a small upswing currently. I am not sure if this is in any way relevant news to you at this point, but there it is.

The Mises Institutes Albert Jay Nock Archive is available at : http://mises.org/literature/author/731/Albert-Jay-Nock. .

Karl Marx and the close of his system

As an intellectual exercise, it is often quite beneficial to revisit criticisms of old defunct ideas and systems of thought. Often, you find a suspicious type of reasoning occuring over and over again, and the system generally dies when either the internal incoherencies or a lack of connection to reality becomes so glaringly obvious that no self-respecting intellectual can stand to defend it.

It was therefore with great joy that I set out to read how economic marxism died (the marxist political circus is of course still alive and well). It was mainly done by one man – Eugene von Böhm-Bawerk, who was the second generation of the Austrian Schoold of economics. In a clear and concise response, first in Capital and Interest, and later as the third version of Das Kapital arrived, in “Karl Marx and the Close of his System”. In my edition of the latter, Rudolf Hilferdings response to Böhm-Bawerk is included but I wont mention it much because it is, frankly, unreadable.

Before setting out to do this, however, I decided to read “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It is a short text, about 30 pages, which tries to lay out the general world-view and way forward for international communism. What I find interesting is that the criticism levelled against “Capitalists” and capitalism in general is not that unlike the criticism that we generally find against the “financial class”[1] these days. The second interesting thing is that it gives an insight into what must have been rapidly changing condition as a traditional, agrarian society started its transformation into a modern, industrial society. Marx talks about the “constant revolutionizing of the modes of production” and claims that the bourguasie is dependant on it to keep oppressing the workers. This is, like much else written by Marx, the natural consequence of his basic ideas of history. And as we’ll see, his basic idea of history is the basis of his basis idea of economics as well.

For those that are not already acquainted with the idea of marxian economics, the basic foundation is the labour theory of value. This theory was NOT Marx’s to begin with, rather it emanated from classical economics, foremost Adam Smith and Ricardo. The theory states, simply, that the reason for different prices is the fact that it takes different amounts of labour time to produce different goods. This theory was soon found to be inconsistent with reality, but until the “marginal revolution” and the emergence of the Austrian school of economics, no one could come up with anything better. According to Austrian economics, prices are not due to labour time invested in creating a certain good (although labour costs are of course a part of the final production cost), rather subjective valuations of different goods decide at which prices goods have a market and therefore at which price goods will sell. If no one is willing to buy a car for more than $5000, then no car will be sold for a price over $5000, regardless of what time it took to create its parts and assemble it[2].

Marx took the labour theory of value, and applied it to create his “exploitation theory”. If prices are decided by labour time invested in creating goods, Marx argued, than any money earned by anyone except the worker must therefore be money taken away from the worker, since he did the work that created the good. Or, in short, anyone who has savings and puts capital to use for productive purposes should expect no return on his investment what-so-ever, because this will constitute stealing from his workers. Capital should only be allowed to yield money necessary to replace said capital (in the form of machinery, etc.) when it wears out.

Böhm-Bawerk attacks this thinking not from the way we would today (us having the benefit of living in times when subjective valuation is a generally accepted theory and people understanding the need for capital investment). Instead, the main point of criticism from Böhm-Bawerk against the economics of Marx is that there is no way to square the labour theory of value with the fact that rates of profit tend to equalize across industries. Mathematically, this creates an impossible situation because if labour time and not capital invested is what decides the value and therefore the exchange price for a good, then two goods with the exact same amount of labour time but different amounts of capital invested in the production should have the exact same price. This is unfortunately not the case.

This fact was acknowledged by Marx, with a promise to resolve the problem it in the third, final version of Das Kapital. As Böhm-Bawerk notes, it was a long wait for nothing since the problem was unsolvable. Marx ends up referring to vague notions of prices fluctuating around “average profitability” and the “total surplus value” of production being divided across industries without ever mentioning how this comes to be. Böhm-Bawerk hits the nail on the head when he notes that clearly, Marx couldn’t have been unaware that his theory was inconsistent if he had not been driven by a preconceived notion of the exploitation of workers by capitalists, and therefore constructed his version of the labour theory of value strictly to fit this worldview.

Like mentioned, my version is the Ludwig von Mises Institute 2007 version, which is a faximile copy of the 1949 american version. The introduction is written by a “Paul M. Sweezy” who was a Marxian economist. In it, he tries to argue that while Böhm-Bawerks criticism is a good work, there is another point of view as given by Rudolf Hilferding and later marxist economists. This perspective, consists of two things – muddling of words and meanings, and attempts to project aggregated sums on individual economic relations. I’ve had people tell me “Well, Hilferding destroyed Böhm-Bawerks arguments ….”. The only thing Hilferding managed to destroy was proper use of logic and language. If anyone is interested, I recommend you attempt to read it yourself. It reminds me of another famous economist, who made a sport out of writing unreadable garbage, and unfortunately had a giant influence on 20th century economics.

As an interesting side-note, Hilferding was finance minister of Germany during the 1923 hyperinflation.

“Karl Marx and the Close of his System” can be read as a pdf on mises.org, or bought in paperback. Current price is a mere $14.

[1] Criticism which I, despite being for free markets and capitalism generally agree with, on the basis that the “financial class” is a group that lives not off any sort of valuable exchange, but rather from state benefits and inflation arbitrage.

[2] This is of course a horrible simplification, but should suffice to explain the general idea

The Whig Interpretation of History, by Herbert Butterfield

(Amazon : The Whig Interpretation of History (1931))

The Whig interpretation of history is the theory that we are always progressing towards more liberty and enlightenment. At the period where this particular interpretation of history was at its peak – during the first half of the 19th century – it may indeed have seemed like this was the case. As Herbert Butterfield very thoroughly describes, the Whig theory of history consists of projecting the present upon the past, and thereby making an interpretation of history that fits into the present mindset and way of thinking. This serves to explain why “progress” became the framing of so much thought during the 19th and early 20th century, because (material) progress had actually started accelerating without historians (nor anyone else) having a proper understanding of why.

The dangers of the Whig theory of history are quite obvious, and have at this point quite clearly been demonstrated. If “progress” becomes a goal in itself, politics and thereafter history will start becoming unhinged and progress at the whims of an increasing number of factions in society, leaving us with a ship that is losing track of where it has been, where it is, and where it is going. With no anchor or even any specified direction – the movement of a progressive society will turn ever more towards the primitive and basic instincts of men.

The Whigs eventually turned into liberals. The liberals, in turn, eventually came to join ranks with socialists, since their common enemy was Tories, the Old World and tradition. While one shouldn’t romanticize too much about the “Old Way”, since it inevitably turns into projection of present worries onto an idealized past (a sort of reverse, pessimistic Whig interpretation of history, where we are progressing from better to worse), one should not make the mistake of ignoring the fact that the West has driven quite far off course, especially during the last 50 years. Can this be traced to Whig history, and especially the idea of progress?

What we can say is this : An idea of continuing progress and an ever-increasing focus on individual liberties and enlightenment is always at risk of leading to movements of self-appointed, self-rightous ideologues who claim that they can guide progress and indeed that it is our moral duty to do so. It will make its followers identify as “enlightened” and anyone who disagrees with any particular way forward quickly becomes an “enemy of progress”. Likewise, individual liberties were founded in religious liberties, meaning everyones right to the faith and the ways of worship that they preferred. Individual liberties were promoted to make sure people were free to strive for that which was right, good, and true. In the latter half of the 20th century, more and more movements started demanding individual liberty to pursue things that were wrong, bad and false. And by all means, they should be allowed to do so, but it is important to understand that the idea of continuing progress and especially “enlightenment”, which is to say the idea that people today are more enlightened than people of yesteryear, is the fundament of all leftist, nihilist movements of post-modernity. There is nothing wrong with enlightenment – but by construing the past as an inevitable movement from un-enlightenment and oppression towards enlightenment and liberty, we open up for a situation where any idea that is new must therefore be right due to it being “more enlightened”.

(The Mises Institute  :The Progressive Theory of History, by Murray Rothbard. Audio of the same here.)

Murray Rothbard was also a critique of Whig history, despite being deeply steeped in classical liberalism. This didn’t stop him from understanding that history has not been simply a movement towards enlightenment and liberty. And it is very important to remember that there have been large steps backwards at times. The 20th century has mostly been one giant step backwards for the West[1]. There are areas where this isn’t true, foremost technology, but the general understanding of liberty has deteriorated and been replaced with a general understanding of the goodness of egalitarian democracy. Egalitarian democracy can temporarily pose as a guardian of liberty, but will in the end turn into a vehicle of tyrranical government. Thus, the eventual fall of Western democracy will again prove the Whig Interpretation of History to have been wrong.

The main takeaway from “The Whig Interpretation of History” is indeed the main argument Butterfield puts forth, namely that history isn’t that simple. We cannot project our current worldview on history and thereby claim that “History teaches….”. History is what it is, and while it is important to learn from it, we cannot approach it with pre-conceptions of what we are supposed to learn. In the final chapter, Buttefield brings up Lord Acton as the ultimate Whig historian, and criticizes the way Acton makes the morality of history an aspect more important than interpreting and explaining. As someone who has just started to delve into the works of Acton, I found this quite interesting. In the end, it is a complicated question. While the only reason to read history is to learn, and not learn dates rather learn things about humanity, we inevitably end up in the situation where we must try and construct a moral view of history. But just like Butterfield claims : having a morality at beforehand and imprinting it on history before listening to what history has to say will result in nothing more than projecting an already existing worldview on history.

And the mistakes of the Whig historians may have caused much more harm than we care to imagine.

[1] During his famous speech to the John Randolph Club, Rothbard proposed to “repeal the entire twentieth century”. http://students.uis.edu/araut01s/rothbard-speech-strategy-for-the-right.html

The global potemkin village that they call “free markets”

Admittedly, the loudmouthed guerilla finance outlet ZeroHedge requires a fairly strong stomach, and sometimes give the distinct feeling that the echo chamber is not abolished, just very much larger than in the general media space. But they do publish interesting news for anyone who is apt at navigating between the finance-speak and the vaguely revolutionary tendencies constantly present either in the articles or in the crude (but often hilarious) comments section. Today, they featured a nice link to something that is not very much spoken of (outside ZeroHedge and other alternative press outlets) but is going to be one of the main pillars, and perhaps also destroyers, of the status quo.

The globalized financial system and the pretension of a “free market” is nothing but a Potemkin village. This becomes fairly obvious when your read the news that the Irish are busy creating just that – a Potemkin facade – for the coming G8 meeting (ZeroHedge : Irelands Big Lie – The Real Potemkin Village). If you think you read that wrong, read again. In a nation of what used to be known as the Western World, they are creating fake storefronts and washing the buildings of bankrupted business so that the global leaders should not have to see what is really happening to the population. When the devil holding the purse-strings is coming to inspect his domain, you better clean up if you are going to have any chance of lightening the burdens of international debt slavery.

I don’t think many people have missed it, but in case you have, here is a short walkthrough of recent events. Banks went bankrupt which bankrupted goverments, except Greece where both government and banks were already bankrupt. In the case of the Irish government, they went bankrupt in order to save mostly foreign lenders and depositors, on orders from Brussels. The political puppets in Ireland (political affiliation irrelevant) thereby sold the future of their constituency into debt slavery to a gang of unelected Brussels bureucrats. This is what “globalism” is all about – a powergame to increase the influence of politicians, and decrease that of the rest of the population.

As an ardent believer in a free market, not from a dogmatic belief that the accumulation of capital and increasing production of consumption goods is something inherently moral [1], rather because associated with human liberty is the right to not being stopped from performing volountary economic transactions – I find the whole thing quite depressing. While the Soviet Union and other assorted communist experiments have shown that centralized economic planning does not work [2], the general conclusion seems to be that free markets work, as long as they are regulated. The conclusion is false. The correct conclusion should be : Free markets DO NOT work under democracy, due to the inherent development towards overregulation, corruption of the financial sector, and politicizing of the production of economic goods. Therefore, the somewhat strange conclusion becomes that under democracy, free markets will inevitably become un-free markets and in themselves become a tool of state oppression of the population. What started as an economic system for the benefit of the large masses becomes an economic system for the promotion of the wealth of a small financial elite.

The potemkin analogy does not stop with the cleaning of storefronts to avoid sore eyes among politicians, however. We all know that politicians only care about how things seem, and not how they are. The larger problem is that this is transfused into the general culture, leading to a situation where the general concept of “value” becomes not “something that is valued”, rather something that is “given a value by its price”. Thus, we live to show ourselves and others that our lives “have value”, and are desperate to cover up the fact that this isn’t really the case.

During a specific period in ancient Rome, it became wildly popular for rich citizens to buy slaves only to set them free, because this gave a scent of moral highstanding and being a socially upright individual. The authorities did what they always do, of course. They decided that this act of benevolance was a threat to the general economy and legislated a maximum number of slaves that anyone was allowed to set free. In our day, I am ashamed to say, I believe the opposite thing to the moral reaction of the Roman upper class could very well occur. The way our culture is heading, children will soon be reared not because their parents wish for them or care for them, rather because a bureucrat has demanded that citizens do their duty to sustain the gross domestic product of the nation (or the world) . When the government demands your firstborn for the “common good of the community” [3], people will soon think it only natural to oblige. If one wanted to be particularly crude, the current immigration policies in the West easily be construed to fulfill the specific target of keeping GDP high enough to not cause embarrasment to the ruling class. That, and the necessity of finding new entrants into those global ponzi-schemes that they call retirement systems, of course.

Where does this leave us, is a question that is particularly fit to begin a summation with. It leaves us in a situation where the political system finds it best to promote any economic system that fulfills the perpetual goal of “economic growth”. This growth is not in what we generally refer to as “welfare”, rather it is a growth in aggregate numbers over economic transactions and all that is “consumed”. To achieve this goal, we increasingly have to give up all things that cannot be measured, and we are encouraged to adapt a “potemkin lifestyle”, where we use consumer products and brands to give ourselves meaning in a world with less and less time to actually do meaningful things. Traditional values and a firm belief in individual rectitude has been replaced with a push towards tribal communities held together by artificial values promoted and propagandized by a mix of notionally private mega-corporations and centralized political bureucracies. The main question is what happens the day that our cultural decay breaks through into economic life, and we are left trying to patch together a system on the basis of hedonism, narcissism and vanity. In the end, perhaps the complete collapse of our pretension of “free markets” is what is necessary to stop our cultural decline before we end up back in the stone ages. A population drowned in material wealth, but void of moral and respect for individual sovereignty can probably only be saved by poverty. So be it, and let it happen sooner rather than later.

[1] In the case of regions still stricken by poverty, I believe that capitalism is inherently moral because of its power to save people from starvation, disease and early death.

[2] Not that it was necessary since Ludwig von Mises proved on strictly a-priori economic grounds in “Economic calculation in the socialist common-wealth” (available at mises.org) that the centrally planned economy was doomed.

[3] Whenever any politician uses the term “common good”, it should always be contextualized as the “common good for the political class”. Politicians do not care for commoners as anything but sources of power.

The Face of God

In 2010, the University of St:Andrews in Scotland invited Roger Scruton to hold a series of lectures, on the topic “The Face of God”. Throughout these lectures, Scruton explains how our concepts of “I”, “You” and the question “Why” by their existence implicates something more than just a material existence. He discusses how the human face conveys a subject, and not merely and object, and what we might learn from not only human faces, but art, architecture, the face of the Earth, to finally he attempts at saying something about the Face of God.

This lecture series is a remarkable experience for someone looking for answers regarding our metaphysical existence. The answers given are indicative, and supported by reason. The listener (at least, this listener) gets a distinct feeling that Mr. Scruton has spent most of his life considering these questions, and that he may in fact be one of the few people alive who may speak of them with some weight behind his words. It is not a series of theological lectures, rather philosophical and metaphysical. It consists not of a preaching for the gospel, rather of a philosophical underpinning of the concept of ourselves as subjective beings, of God as a person which we may try to understand on at least a philosophical level.

The second-to-last lecture has a way of filling you with dread, once we realize how empty and void of spiritual meaning the modern world has become. The lack of beauty, purpose and meaning is suddenly understood as standing in direct relation to our abandonment of anything higher than our egoes and immediate cravings and desires. We have abandoned not only God, but any concept of anything beyond our material existence. And with that, we may have slowly started to lose our humanity.

I strongly recommend going through the entire series, even if it takes almost a full day. I am now listening to it for a second time and will return to it again in the future. All of it can be found here :

University of St:Andrews Gifford Lectures  : Listen to the 2010 lectures-