coromandal


wise or unwise
November 28, 2015, 12:44 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

It’s not that the mob or the everymen who collectively make up a citizenry are right and wise, it’s that, by ensuring they decide by their vote who will lead and by what policy, the law will prevail and arbitrary measures will not.  It is the awkwardness of the process that protects us from the vagaries of concentrated power.

A democrat need not believe that the majority will always decide wisely; what he  must believe is that the decision of the majority, whether wise or unwise, must be accepted until such time as the majority decides otherwise. And this he believes not from any mystic conception of the wisdom of the plain man, but as the best practical device for putting the reign of law in place of the reign of arbitrary force.

Bertrand Russell, Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind, Unpopular Essays



rational pursuit of maximum value
November 16, 2014, 2:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,
Naples, Italy | A Couple CooksIn civilizations gone by merchants never occupied the top rung of the social ladder.  Plato’s republic, the ancient castes of India, Renaissance Italy: they were always several steps down. But, somehow, we know better and have them ensconced – or more likely they have themselves ensconced – right at the top.

I used to teach at a university which installed as its dean the ex ceo of Jiffy Lube, his administrative and money skills no doubt outweighing his academic credentials at the selection interviews.

So what do we get when we put businessmen and economists at the top of our institutions, like government and universities? The accepted argument is solvency and profit, but are there other dividends?

Here’s a portion of an essay by a Harvard law student. He describes courses in which ‘feasibility’ and ‘efficiency’ are the central, generative ideas, and ‘justice’ – which one would believe to be central to the study of the law – tertiary.

Feasibility and efficiency are the lingua franca of the economist / businessman counting and distributing his beans: what are they doing in courses in the law at America’s best school?

The Johnny-come-lately nineteenth century science, economics, has come a long way and occupies a position of extreme privilege. It’s illegitimate. The study of law should be the study of law. When it’s whored out to business it stops defining, protecting and facilitating justice. It leads to self interest and self destruction.

Here is Ted Hamilton:

A year ago, I imagined — as most people probably do — that the initial year of legal studies would put a heavy emphasis on the good. I anticipated lots of lofty vocabulary about justice and rights and freedom. Attorneys may not have the cleanest reputations, but it seems fitting that an introduction to the life of the law would aim high, if only as an idealistic and rhetorical reprieve before the realities of the job market set in. But while there’s certainly some discussion of liberty and righteousness in the halls of our law schools, there’s not quite as much of it as you might think. The path to the bar is not paved with sentimental cobblestones of the Good and the Right. It’s much more pragmatic than that.

In fact, the most repeated word in my first year law curriculum was not justice, or liberty or order.

It was efficiency. Continue reading



despised people

There’s guilt and innocence, and then there’s despised.  The idea that we limit ourselves, in our emotions and thoughts, to the first two is maybe a little naive.

The law claims we do; that we are dispassionate and reasonable.  It says that crimes are committed, that enforcement brings perpetrators to the courts by whose honored mechanisms evidence is weighed and judgments meted.  That everything from the slash of the blade to the clang of the door that shuts out the condemned, is analyzed, vetted, debated and safely concluded.  The claim is not that the system is perfect but that, even in its imperfections, the broader aims of Justice ultimately prevail and social order is reestablished.

But there are cracks in the stones at the very base of the institution of law:  we don’t confine ourselves to guilt and innocence; we do despise.   Continue reading



taxonomy of strangers


(-, bacon, ernst)

Here is Plato’s description of stranger types that come to our cities, some like birds, some on narrowly defined missions. The first kind of stranger is one that stays all summer.  The second comes for a shorter period to become enlightened by way of Muses.  The third comes with public business.  And the fourth comes on a special, rather vague assignment to look at richness and rarity in the visited city.

Plato was a rule guy and there are a bunch of mildly ridiculous ones in here if you have the patience to mine for them.  For him the minimum standard is justice; his version of hospitality is guarded and prescribed.  He sounds like a fear-monger.  Surely this is the standard for our own immigration rulebooks.

Now there are four kinds of strangers, of whom we must make some mention – the first is he who comes and stays throughout the summer; this class are like birds of passage, taking wing in pursuit of commerce, and flying over the sea to other cities, while the season lasts; he shall be received in market-places and harbours and public buildings, near the city but outside, by those magistrates who are appointed to superintend these matters; and they shall take care that a stranger, whoever he be, duly receives justice; but he shall not be allowed to make any innovation. They shall hold the intercourse with him which is necessary, and this shall be as little as possible. The second kind is just a spectator who comes to see with his eyes and hear with his ears the festivals of the Muses; such ought to have entertainment provided them at the temples by hospitable persons, and the priests and ministers of the temples should see and attend to them. But they should not remain more than a reasonable time; let them see and hear that for the sake of which they came, and then go away, neither having suffered nor done any harm. The priests shall be their judges, if any of them receive or do any wrong up to the sum of fifty drachmae, but if any greater charge be brought, in such cases the suit shall come before the wardens of the agora. The third kind of stranger is he who comes on some public business from another land, and is to be received with public honours. He is to be received only by the generals and commanders of horse and foot, and the host by whom he is entertained, in conjunction with the Prytanes, shall have the sole charge of what concerns him. There is a fourth class of persons answering to our spectators, who come from another land to look at ours. In the first place, such visits will be rare, and the visitor should be at least fifty years of age; he may possibly be wanting to see something that is rich and rare in other states, or himself to show something in like manner to another city. Let such an one, then, go unbidden to the doors of the wise and rich, being one of them himself: let him go, for example, to the house of the superintendent of education, confident that he is a fitting guest of such a host, or let him go to the house of some of those who have gained the prize of virtue and hold discourse with them, both learning from them, and also teaching them; and when he has seen and heard all, he shall depart, as a friend taking leave of friends, and be honoured by them with gifts and suitable tributes of respect. These are the customs, according to which our city should receive all strangers of either sex who come from other countries, and should send forth her own citizens, showing respect to Zeus, the God of hospitality, not forbidding strangers at meals and sacrifices, as is the manner which prevails among the children of the Nile, nor driving them away by savage proclamations.”

– Plato. Jowett, Benjamin, translator. Laws. 348BC. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release date March 1999, Online. 16 April 2007



half century merry-go-round
April 1, 2008, 8:26 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is an excerpt from Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City.  A story in a story about being nomadic, but in the city instead of the desert, and presumeably with more red tape, and with taxis instead of camels.  I guess there are differences, but really the fundamentals are the same:  necessity and property owners are my overlords; I must pare down my dependence on things and be careful to not invest emotionally in people that I soon may have to leave.  Material property and the world are as insubstantial as the time between moves, and the idea of home.

The Rent Act leads to peculiar constructions of “home,” unique to Bombay.  Each April 1, a parade of taxis and tempos will take the residents of the F.D. Petit Parsi Sanitarium at Kemps Corner to the Bhabha Sanitarium at Bandra.  Four months later, they will all move to the Jehangir Bagh Sanitarium in Juhu.  Four months after that, they will all come back to the Kemps Corner.  The mass migrations back and forth to the same place, often the same room, happen because the Parsi Panchayat, which owns the sanatoria, knows that tenants who are allowed to stay on become de facto owners.  So they keep their tenants constantly on the move, even as they provide them shelter.  Some of the families have been doing this merry-go-round for over half a century.  Every time they move, they must reapply, coming up with a health certificate, to prove they need the salubrious quarters of a sanatorium.  They are allowed to keep their bags and some furniture – but not a refrigerator.  Installing a fridge is claiming home, so the residents must subsist on powdered milk.

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City