Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Pope Smokes Dope

The title of this essay has nothing to do with it. I just remembered that T-shirt inspired by Dabid Peel's song. David Peel was a muse for the Yippie and hippie movements, so I guess thematically, they share the same cluelessness that the current crop of Ron-Paul-style libertarians do.

In the third season of the show Breaking Bad, there is a brief exchange between the characters Walter White and Gale Boetticher, where Walter asks (since Gale is an above average person who could have had a promising career in academia as a chemist, but lacked the impulse control to tolerate the bullshit) how Gale ended up cooking meth. Walt asks, basically, gesturing around the meth lab, "Why here?" And Gale's response is (paraphrased from memory):

"Well, I'm a libertarian. People are going to get what they want. At least with me, they get what they pay for. No adulterations. No toxins".

Ignore, if you will, the basic lunacy of this statement. That Gale is manufacturing toxin-free poison, and that Gale feels that there should be no restraints (barring the standard libertarian bullshit about harm, which clearly is a relative thing), let's concentrate on the libertarian fallacy of appeal to reason. 

This is a one of many classic examples of what is wrong with libertarianism: the substitution of rationalization for reason.  Libertarians ignore the irrationality of their premises, and rely solely upon the supposed soundness of a logical argument. But anyone who studies logic knows that logic is merely a tool, one that can produce completely wrong results with completely watertight syllogisms, and even the most rational premises (even in mathematical proofs) are founded upon at least twenty irrational assumptions. The primary irrational assumption is what I call Platonic Derangement Syndrome; the idea that perfect worlds that perfect ideas inhabit actually exist. "Real" free markets would operate perfectly, perfectly efficient, perfectly rational. "Real" communism would be perfectly equitable. Here's the deal. The real world is as real as it gets. "Real" free markets, and "real" communism, operating in the real world, favor the  most reprehensible behaviors imaginable.

Take Ayn Rand's Objectivism, which purports to be some kind of philosophy (um, yeah, if it's the horse-shit kind). Ayn Rand was clearly a fundamentally vicious, petty, small-minded, infantile thinker, and it shows in her writings. Take her boringly awful and fucked-up manifesto Atlas Shrugged, for example. It's basically a teenage revenge masturbation fantasy riddled with inconsistency and unintentional ironies. Did I say teenage? Try infantile, as in the Gault's Gulch "You'll be sorry when I'm gone" suicide/parental-murder injustice fantasy variation of A Christmas Story's Soap Poisoning scene:

Rand relied upon the supposed consistency of her logical constructions to identify faulty premises. Rand clearly never heard of Kurt Gödel. Among his many contributions, Gödel developed a theorem that stated that any sufficiently complex system of logical statements will either be incomplete - or -inconsistent. Incomplete, in the sense that there could statements which were true or false within the system but which could not be proven (or disproven) true or false. Inconsistent in that the system contained statements which were contradictory, thus rendering the system utter bullshit.  Either way, Rand's Objectivism (with its sadly and pathetically crafted Three Axioms) falls short of being considered anything worthwhile. 

Regardless, libertarianism - Randian or otherwise - is symptomatic of a fundamentally deep-seated viciousness that has been incorporated into a set of moralities little seen outside of the Western Enlightenment world. And small wonder, given that - even with the supposed rationality of the Enlightenment - American behaviors are founded upon the most brutish and vile barbarisms extant throughout the species. Not that this is new or unique to Western civilization (I've a sneaking suspicion there is a genocidal tale to be told about the Neolithic Han Chinese). We Westerners don't have a monopoly on behaving badly, but we do have a thriving franchise going.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I'm thinking about debt lately. What is debt? What is money? I read a book last year that attempted to answer those questions. Now, I'm reading another book with a bit more of an American flair. I'll do a book report on it later, but if interested, check out:  A Nation of Deadbeats. (Short review so far? This is the people's version of debt, ala Howard Zinn). 

So, monies, debt, what is all that? Simple. Debt, like Soylent Green, is people. More specifically, debt and monies are people's toil, or the promise of future toil, or the reward of past toil, or the faith in the promise of either future or past or current toil (which is another way looking at symbolic transference). Things that we think of as commodities, like gold, timber, oil, coal, etc. are all a product of toil. More specifically, labor combined with ingenuity, but let's just call the combined spectrum of muscle and brain work as "toil". 

Gold, at one time, was pure lumps you just picked up off the ground or out of river beds. Eventually the lumps ran out and more effort was required to find gold. Introduce toil into the equation. Some forms of mining pull out ores that are not pure gold, but contain it. Introduce more toil. Same with coal. Same with oil. As the easy sources disappear, more toil is required. More ingenuity. More effort. More waste. Resources are not exhausted, they merely become more dear (and unfortunately for our species, or any intelligent species, despite all the peak-this or peak-that talk, we've plenty of resources left to exploit, and our living conditions and survival as a species are the limiting factor - not hazards to the planet or resources scarcity). 

So, if you look a map of ancient Rome and you wonder about the geopolitical boundaries, you really, to get the real picture, need a series of resource maps, for geology, ecology, trade routes, etc. Logistics and human trafficking is what it is all about, babies. Question: what was the oil of ancient Rome? Answer: Grain.

Question: What is the oil of the modern world? Answer: Still grain. Why? Well, because despite the fact that we may have built up what some call an extended phenotype of technology, driven in one form or another by fossil carbon and oxygen, despite the fact that so many laborious tasks have been commodified and automated and robot-assisted, despite the fact that automation and a great deal of skills and thinking have been commodified and robotized, and the mental effort involved in that commodified as well, the fact of the matter is it all still runs right back to toil - labor and ingenuity on the part of these self-replicating, generally intelligent heuristic robots we call humans.

I remember reading a book by David Gerrold called The World Of Star Trek. And the book was mainly about the Star Trek folk canon and mythology, but there was also an interesting bit in there about world building. The way I remember it was, Gerrold asked the question "What was going on behind the Enterprise?" And before you could answer, he said, let me re-pose the question, "Pretend the Enterprise is a 747. What exactly is behind that 747?" And for the first time, I actually thought about the web of technology, of systems thinking, of adult stuff actually, the whole wellhead-to-pump-nozzle-and-all-ancillary-supports graph network of thinking and doing that busy little creatures engage in. 

A 747 is made of aluminum and steel, and uses jet fuel, and lands and takes off at an airport, and has a flight crew and attendants, and meal and drinks for the passengers, and luggage handlers, and flight controllers. And that aluminum has to be dug up out of the ground, and smelted and fabricated into an airframe. And the same with steel. And the flight crew needs to be trained. And the food and drink needs to be grown and processed. And before you know it, more than half the world has gone into something involving that 747. And that half the world is people, people that need shit too, and you end up with the other half of the world getting involved as well.

And in all that vast and intricate network that has slowly been assembling itself, slowly been growing and getting more complex since the Neolithic Revolution, the question then becomes, not what are your freedoms, but "Where does your freedom end and mine begin?"


  1. Any of our freedoms end precisely where others can effectively compel/control our behavior.

    To the extent that you can elude, violate, and subvert controls imposed from without, you are free.

    Though I find waterheads, crackheads, and others addicted to induced dopamine saturation quite pathetic, I'm not seeing the contradiction or problem with Gale's assertion that he's helping folks get what they want?

    Furthermore, as those running the dominant system of controls, i.e., the global religion with maximum compulsory capability (banksters) double-down on their austerity measures, it seems to me that the only free men will be those maximally capable of eluding, violating, and subverting the human livestock management.

    I believe I'll throw my lot in with the libertarian chemists, biologists, mycologists, and other off-grid outlaws....,

    1. then, according to the Breaking Bad formula, you should expect the inevitable bullet to the face. The contradiction is, Gale has rationalized his part in the manufacture of poisons by providing the best and purest poisons. Unless you think speed can provide some means of optimizing or maximizing personal freedoms? I don't see it. I see that type of addiction as a method of enslavement, wholly endorsed by your bankster types, and I do have a big problem with it. I, for one, would have no problem putting a bullet in Gale's or Walter's face, and lose not a wink of sleep over the action.

      Let's be clear. Breaking Bad is a fictional analogy, and an enjoyable one where we get to root for monsters. But the fact remains, in my polite society at least, that those characters are utter scumbags, no different form child molesters or white collar cirminals, who absolutely deserve a bullet in the face. Yes, even nice guys like Gale who can pretend they cause no harm through their actions, but instead provide some kind of valuable service (kind of like how the militaries on both sides of WWII provided such a pharmaceutical service to their fighting boys and girls, and made the work of assembly-line drudge work seem utterly fascinating).

    2. In other words, given the connectivities in modern say society, your Ron Paul types, the "libertarian chemists... and other off-grid outlaws" are the most in-denial, clueless pawns of all.

    3. I'll never forget the casual disdain for the value of the lives of their clientele expressed to me by the first teenaged gang bangers I met in the late 80's in Wichita. This depiction was not that far-fetched

      I keep hearing about these connectivities John, and the public good, and a whole bunch of other happy-making admonishments about the moral obligation to share chairs on the deck of the titanic. But I ain't feelin it yet.

      What I'm feeling instead is that when TSHTF, there will be those with guns, and those without them and bullets in face will become very commonplace.

      (kind of like how the militaries on both sides of WWII provided such a pharmaceutical service to their fighting boys and girls, and made the work of assembly-line drudge work seem utterly fascinating).

      This little nugget here is worth a meditation of its very own. Compulsory control of "medications" is indeed a bellweather for larger and more pressing control issues in the realm of large-scale human livestock management.

  2. Further meditations on toil and grain...., please excuse the intermediary, at least it points to the rigorous underlying source.

    1. Pity it had to come from Friedman, but Eee-yup. Does anyone seriously think the Arab Spring was the result of social media, as all the tawt-I-taw-a-puddy-tat-tweeters tell us?