This article called Hegel on Wall Street describes two characters: the knight of virtue and the self-interested banker. They both exist in the world, but their existence is rendered illusory, naive, fantastical by their respective inability to engage the reality of the world and thereby gain traction for purposefulness. Both characters are, without effective engagement, rendered silly, useless players on a stage we are all watching crumble before us.
I don’t want to watch it just collapse, do you? The solution, for those few of us looking for one, says Hegel, is for each player to reengage in the world which neither, robed in his respective ideology and illusion, wants to do. The Knight of illusion must understand how the world and its institutions work, and the banker must look for significance beyond self-actualization. Regulation rights the banker from profit-taking to wealth creation, which is in the interest of the world.
Hegel’s emphatic but paradoxical way of stating this is to say that if the free market individualist acts “in [his] own self-interest, [he] simply does not know what [he] is doing, and if [he] affirms that all men act in their own self-interest, [he] merely asserts that all men are not really aware of what acting really amounts to.”
The knight of virtue thinks we are intrinsically good and that acting in the nasty, individualist, market world requires the sacrifice of natural goodness; the banker believes that only raw self-interest, the profit motive, ever leads to successful actions.
Both are wrong because, finally, it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world. What makes the propounding of virtue illusory — just so much rhetoric — is that there is no world, no interlocking set of practices into which its actions could fit and have traction: propounding peace and love without practical or institutional engagement is delusion, not virtue. Conversely, what makes self-interested individuality effective is not its self-interested motives, but that there is an elaborate system of practices that supports, empowers, and gives enduring significance to the banker’s actions.
Hence the banker must have a world-interest as the counterpart to his self-interest or his actions would become as illusory as those of the knight of virtue.
What market regulations should prohibit are practices in which profit-taking can routinely occur without wealth creation; wealth creation is the world-interest that makes bankers’ self-interest possible. Arguments that market discipline, the discipline of self-interest, should allow Wall Street to remain self-regulating only reveal that Wall Street, as Hegel would say, “simply does not know what it is doing.”
regulation is the force of reason needed to undo the concoctions of fantasy.
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: america, hypocrisy, Matt Zoller Seitz, scapegoat
Sometimes I’ve wondered – like right now – what is the endgame of the pursuit of happiness. It’s qualifiably different in different decades / ages. For instance, the 1950s coming up roses are different than the 60s peace and punk which are different than the 80s glam and greed etc. Today it’s greed on steroids, exponential me: depressing. The point is, you can interpret the pursuit of happiness cynically or optimistically depending on who you are and what decade you’re in. Furthermore, the interpretation can be corporate, it can take over the whole place.
Matt Zoller Seitz in his essay the Hangover says we’re scolds. He excoriates – really he does, read the article – our hypocritical tendency to scapegoat some difficult personalities among us, while mysteriously coddling others with parallel foibles. How does an entire culture become an obnoxious scold? Could it be at least partially an unfettered pursuit of happiness? Do we need to re-fetter?
What is the connection between p of h and a culture of scolds? The pursuit, taken to it’s logical, and maybe a little extreme conclusion, can be a pretty singular and isolating pursuit. All bets off but one: me. Eventually when we’re at an advanced stage of backed into a corner casting around for more personal happiness, alone, we begin to see other people as getting in the way, with fear, as competition. A scold comes from an position of self righteousness.
Let’s face it, we are scolds. We think we’re better, that our way of life is the only way, we’re not just quick to demonize and scapegoat, we’ve made it a way of life. There is, however, a way of escape: by opposable thought, a commitment to gray areas, to nuance, to counterpoint. We can start to accept that a great artist, as an example, can be creative and destructive in the same life, at the same time.
From the article:
Americans are the most irritating of hypocrites: binary-minded, easily distracted scolds. We have trouble holding opposing thoughts in our heads at the same time, and we stay furious only until the next outrage pops up in the media cycle. We have staunch positions on what constitutes right and proper behavior, but only for certain people — the people whose behavior we happen to consider beyond the pale, for whatever subjective reason — and we reserve the right give a pass to whoever we like, whenever we please, and to come up with pretzel-logic rationalizations justifying our inconsistency. And we’ve got no problem taking a nuanced view of morally challenged artists as long as they’re not raising hell in the present day.
The Hangover 2’s” Mel Gibson hypocrisy, Matt Zoller Seitz, Salon.com
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: family, friends, Joan Bakewell, life, work
Here’s a description of a fulfilling work (and living) from someone who made self aware and intelligent decisions early in life and went on to reap the benefits: focus on life (rather than just career); match what’s out there with what’s in you; surround yourself with family and pleasure, and friends, colleagues, acquaintances; pursue work that includes challenge, pacing, intellectual engagement and a worthy goal. It’s a still point idea in a landscape of ideas that is trecherous, acquisitive and maybe a little hollow.
By now I was beginning to formulate what exactly I wanted from life. Not from a job or even a career. But from life itself. And I discovered that the ingredients actually lay all around. They just needed to be combined in the right formula to meet my own temperament and abilities. They are not obscure and elusive. They are the very things most of us want: a happy family life focused around good relationships; congenial surroundings both at home and at work, that make life pleasant. I am not talking some ambitious make-over nonsense here. Think instead of being able to watch a particular tree round the seasons, coming into bud, flowering, turning to golden leaf and then fronting the winter with stark, dramatic branches. That seems to be a good ambition to have. Then there are friendships; bosom pals for intimacies and advice; working colleagues for sustaining each other with laughter and encouragement; acquaintances met at odd moments, introduced by others, casual encountered at the school gate. All these friendships settle and regroup over the years, some coming to the fore, others lapsing with time. Yes, the encouragement of friendship seems a worthwhile way of spending time. Finally there is the work itself. My own needs are for a variety of tasks within and possibly at the limit of my capabilities, periods of heavy effort interspersed with more reflective times; intellectual engagement with ideas, and a sense of something worthwhile being achieved.
On Not Having A Career, BY JOAN BAKEWELL, the Idler
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: creativity, John Cage, peter greenaway
John Cage suggested that if you introduce more than twenty percent of innovation into any artwork, you immediately lose 80 percent of your audience. He suggested this might remain the case for a subsequent fifteen years. He was being optimistic. We have to travel slowly, since I want to continue making movies. They’re expensive. I don’t know why they have to be so expensive, but that’s the way things are. They’re also complex collaborations. I can’t make movies on my own. I think we have to travel at a certain pace, to accommodate the introduction of radicalism or exploratory ideas embracing both old and new technologies.
Peter Greenaway, by Lawrence Chua, BOMB 60/Summer 1997
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: love, prison, solitary confinement, supermax
Some people are flinty — I’ll include myself here — have trouble with easy relations with others. Who knows why? Perhaps it’s a combination of personality and social conditioning. Below is an account of an experiment with monkeys that goes horribly wrong, followed by a discussion of the wrongness of putting people in solitary confinement. In both cases, solitary leads to an inability to cope effectively and naturally in human relations.
There must be a scale, degrees of confinement to which people are subjected in their lives. At one end, minor instances of being left out — in school yard play, and adult social relations — in an otherwise connected, healthy life. And at the extreme end, surely the worst is being locked in an American Supermax cell. The time away, with only yourself, only your own mind against which to sharpen your thought, waxing and waning surety and doubt, your inability to corroborate, negotiate, discuss, advise, reason, reaffirm, learn to love, reset, come back, open to, fall into, and finally to love. Which says nothing of the need to touch, sleep against, caress, hold.
Isolation is the ultimate betrayal in human relations. You’re not human like us, we say when we isolate others. Even violent prisoners. And then when they finally get out, they’ve been so deprived of human qualities of life that we don’t recognize their alien, harsh, survivalist behavior: a cruel self fulfilling prophesy. Ironically, we turn them into people we can’t be with and then let them out to be with us.
From Hell Hole, by Atul Gawande:
We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people. Children provide the clearest demonstration of this fact, although it was slow to be accepted. Well into the nineteen-fifties, psychologists were encouraging parents to give children less attention and affection, in order to encourage independence. Then Harry Harlow, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, produced a series of influential studies involving baby rhesus monkeys. He happened upon the findings in the mid-fifties, when he decided to save money for his primate-research laboratory by breeding his own lab monkeys instead of importing them from India. Because he didn’t know how to raise infant monkeys, he cared for them the way hospitals of the era cared for human infants—in nurseries, with plenty of food, warm blankets, some toys, and in isolation from other infants to prevent the spread of infection. The monkeys grew up sturdy, disease-free, and larger than those from the wild. Yet they were also profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.
According to the Navy P.O.W. researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied. Resistance was often their sole means of maintaining a sense of purpose, and so their sanity. Yet resistance is precisely what we wish to destroy in our supermax prisoners. As Haney observed in a review of research findings, prisoners in solitary confinement must be able to withstand the experience in order to be allowed to return to the highly social world of mainline prison or free society. Perversely, then, the prisoners who can’t handle profound isolation are the ones who are forced to remain in it. “And those who have adapted,” Haney writes, “are prime candidates for release to a social world to which they may be incapable of ever fully readjusting.”
The other option would have been to title this Remembrance of Lost Beans. In a bar last week – someone asked what some sugary micro beer they had on tap was like and he got a taste and a remembrance of beers past. We tried to pin point the exact date when the American palate revolted against those tasteless bland watery ales of yesteryear. I was surprised when the barflys agreed – awfully quickly – that it was Sierra Nevada in the early 1990s – I can’t remember the date. Apparently in America it was a watershed year, a gastro epiphany, a bridge we will never return across.
The week before I was in another bar and asked for a pilsner or a lager because I thought something light would be nice on a really hot night like that one. I needled the bartender a bit when she told me, as I suspected, they had neither. Yes, it’s their winter menu, she agreed it wasn’t ideal considering the weather.
This is the problem of the aspiring middle class. When they’ve had tinned meat and jello salads and aspix for a generation, the next will want garnishes on their garnish. More flavour! Better presentation! Uber chefs! Micro one-offs! I suppose it’s nice to want nice things. Take care in not losing the beautiful and the simple in the rush to replace the old with the new. Like a light beer in the dog days of summer.
Here’s the same argument from Richard Rodriguez who describes a family staple and tradition, his father’s Mexican beans. The evolving food culture of cities is good, he says, but simple foods have the power to evoke memories of our past lives:
A childhood, happy or unhappy, is constructed on an assumption that things will always be as they are—the stuffing of the Christmas turkey will be the same as “always,” as last year. Family food is ritual, a binding spell. It is prayer, it is magic, it is superstition, it is tyranny. I would have noticed the refried beans only if they’d not been there.
I was too happy a child to wonder if my father’s tragic youth had instilled in him a yearning for the repetition his children yearned to escape. Only now do I wonder how my father’s work—eight hours of molars and bicuspids, long metal shelves lined with the mockery of false teeth—revolted or sweetened his appetite as he stood at the stove, the masher in his hand, dutiful priest, disappointed romantic. Disappointment! And now, that his son should write his eulogy as refried beans. My father was a brilliant man.
I have lived many years in San Francisco, where restaurant reviews are read religiously. The appetite for the new, the next, the best is a commendable cosmopolitanism, I suppose. But it was only because Marcel Proust’s petite madeleine was unremarkable, because it tasted like every other madeleine, that it had the potency to recover the past.