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Deconstructing Myths of America: Matt Taibbi & RFK Jr. on the mind-warping power of Ayn Rand’s mythology

10:59 am in Uncategorized by knowbuddhau

Matt Taibbi and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently summarized the mythos of Wall Street types. Taibbi’s analysis is nearly perfect, except that he falls prey to the fashion of dressing up our psyches in outdated APA-style vestments. The word for the function he describes is "mythos."Ayn Rand is credited with being the queen of the myth of self-interest as the highest social good. Her tome, Atlas Shrugged, is the bible of Gordon Gecko-type greedheads. Ellis Weiner calls it a "deeply adolescent piece of science fiction." It’s the myth that shapes the cosmos of Wall Street in the minds of bankers even before they act in it.

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Excerpted from AlterNet:
Matt Taibbi and RFK Jr. on Obama’s Sellout to Wall Street
part 2, c.3:40-end.

Matt Taibbi and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Go Left TV. January 11, 2010.

RFK Jr.: What’s your opinion of recent developments around Goldman Sachs: the apology they issued, the $500 million that they contributed to charity; I think was largely a result of your article.

Matt Taibbi: Well, I think it was interesting, because, before I wrote my piece, and before you know Jeff Hogan from New York Magazine wrote a piece about them, suddenly there was all this media attention on them this summer.

[…]

So Goldman is clearly feeling some heat in the public relations arena, but what’s interesting about it is how tone deaf they’ve been. You know, these comments from Lloyd Blankfein that they’re doing god’s work, and that other guy in England who said that Jesus would’ve approved of their, you know, the bonuses and all that stuff. I think it just shows that these guys are really tone deaf, because, at some level, they really believe in that sort of Ayn Rand philosophy, that self-interest is ultimately sort of beneficial for all of society. I think they have to believe that in order to do the stuff they do, and it’s interesting, when they try to explain themselves, it’s just hitting the ear so terribly wrong>/b>. And it’s even kind of entertaining, I think, to watch.

RFK Jr.: It’s Gordon Gecko stuff.

[Laughs.] Matt Taibbi: Exactly!

RFK Jr.: But there are—yeah, “greed is good.” But Goldman has been more in the Democratic camp than in the Republican camp, I would say—

Matt Taibbi: Oh yeah, absolutely.

[…]

In my experience, most of these guys genuinely believe that what they’re doing is justified. And they’ve been raised in an environment that’s extremely narrow, and they’re around the same kinds of—of y’know the same socioeconomic class all the time and they’re not exposed to the real world out there, and so they kind of pursue what they do as just sort of, making money , harvesting fish like a fisherman would from the ocean. They don’t really see that the money they’re making is coming from somebody else, and so they genuinely don’t understand why everybody is so upset that they’re making money in the way that they are, they seem to think that, you know, why are people so, you know, angry that we’re so good at what we do. And I think it’s because they’ve never really seen that there are consequences to their actions, and you know it’s probably a psychological protective mechanism that they all have. I don’t think that they’re cynics, I don’t think that they’re doing this because they get off on robbing people, I just think that they’re kind of blind.

That’s it right there, the cosmogenetic power of our beliefs to create our cosmos prior to our acting in it.

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Ellis Weiner’s review of Atlas Shrugged is the best I’ve found.

Excerpted from
On Atlas Shrugged as a guide to our times
Ellis Weiner, The Huffington Post January 12, 2009

In short, Atlas Shrugged is one of the worst books ever written–and, in the words of Gore Vidal, "nearly perfect in its immorality." Still, Moore proudly notes that "…as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated ‘Atlas’ as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible."

[...]

In the novel, stick-figure industrialists and businessmen find their noble, courageous, avowedly "selfish" efforts stymied and undone by stick-figure cowards, weaklings, and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Piece by piece, in Rand’s depiction of governmental overreach, capitalism is dismantled.

[...]

What, here, is being "parodied"? Not American society, either today or in 1957; not the ways in which government and legislation interacts with capitalism; and not even any reasonable depiction of the left. In fact, what’s being parodied (if that’s the word) is the Soviet Union, from which Rand (nee Alice Rosenbaum) emigrated when she was 21. Yes, in her magnum opus, her "moral defense of capitalism," Ayn Rand dresses the U.S. in Soviet drag, and then watches in triumph as her soap opera heroes beat it up.

That’s some blatant myth-making.

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Jim Hightower busted our lords of FIRE as cultists back in 2008.

Excerpted from
The five most wanted men from Wall Street to Washington
Jim Hightower, The Hightower Lowdown
November, 2008

Why was Greenspan so insistent on no regulation? Because he is the hardest of hardcore laissez-faire ideologues, holding a blazing disdain for government. An avowed worshiper of libertarian novelist Ayn Rand, he views public oversight of business as an evil force that deters the creativity of smart elites. He is so psyched by his religious-like faith in the "free market" that he fervently believes in what he considers to be the innate good will and moral superiority of investors and bankers. He asserts that these self-interested individuals can simply be trusted to do the right thing, and that government should not second-guess their decisions.

Even the faith of snake handlers is not as devout as Greenspan’s. Unfortunately, however, he was able to hitch our nation’s economic well-being to his own absurdist ideological fancy. The guy who was lionized as the smartest, most- stable economic thinker in the land essentially turns out to have been a quasi-religious nut.

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Here’s Greenspan’s famous admission of a flaw in his model of reality, that’s all, that brought about the economic collapse.

Excerpted from
Greenspan Admits ‘Flaw’ to Congress, Predicts More Economic Problems
PBS Newshour
October 23, 2008

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — "I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked." That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

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That right there is the power of myth. It shapes the cosmos we believe ourselves to be acting in, even before we act in it.

If you ask me, most often, we use "ideology" when we mean "mythology." Greenspan’s flaw isn’t of trivial consequence, it isn’t a simple matter of cold, rational, academic opinion, it’s in the visceral feeling of the way we are being in the world.

Greenspan’s flaw of mythic proportions is what ails us today, not the position or stature of our modern moai. Exposing his mythology, exposing the fundamental flaws in his beliefs about the cosmos and our proper role in it, is necessary, of course.

As Taibbi and Kennedy do in their interview, exposing the myths of our present lords of FIRE (Robert Rubin and his crew) is even more pressing.

Deconstructing Myths of America: Naomi Klein rips the mask off of the Heritage Foundation’s myth-making regarding Haiti

10:21 am in Uncategorized by knowbuddhau

There they go again. The think-tankers at the Heritage Foundation, who make the myths that make way for the battle tanks, are already salivating at the chance to jack Haiti to hell and back all over again. How? With their new and improved weapons of disaster capitalism. If you’re going to jack a nation, first you gotta make some myths.

Naomi Klein Issues Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert: Stop Them Before They Shock Again Democracy Now! Thursday January 14, 2010

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As we all know, most Sith mind tricks don’t work on Jedi. Just so, dissent is kryptonite to wannabe war gods, the think-tankers who are paid by the makers of battle tanks to make up the myths that jack us to hell.

For more on the aversion of myth-makers to truth, we turn to this TDS Ed Helms segment, Cheney Health Scare, from January 9, 2006.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Cheney Health Scare
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Deconstructing Myths of America: Paul Jay & James Crotty examine the myth-making that creates “false values” and “structural blackmail”

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by knowbuddhau

In an interview titled Exec compensation: "Heads I win tails you lose", The Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay and University of Massachusetts-Amherst Professor James Crotty get to the the heart of the cause of the recent financial collapse by examining not just the data points of executive compensation, but far more importantly, the mythology that makes us believe that the prophets of profit are our proper modern gods.

The transcription is my own. TRNN typically posts full transcripts within a few days.

PAUL JAY: Well let’s go back to the first question about the board—the relationship of the board of directors to the management.

In many companies, I would think most companies, outside share-holders appoint the board, and more often than not, even thought the CEO might own a lot of shares, it’s not the norm that the CEO and senior management actually control the board, share-holders do. In this situation, you take Goldman Sachs and the other big players, is it a case of senior management also owned most of the shares?

JAMES CROTTY: No, I don’t think that’s the issue. It’s just that the senior management, when the companies are doing well, have lots of power, and the share-holders , the representatives of share-holders, during the periods the financial system is doing well, are also doing well. So nobody complains about this.

If you held a share of Goldman Sachs, and you bought it in 1994 or 1995, by the time you got to 2000, you’d made tremendous capital gains, by the time you get to 2007 you’d made additional capital gains, this is also true of the other large companies. So during the expansion, normally, in the financial markets, the share-holders, including the institutional share-holders are quite happy with performance. They’re being told by everyone—the financial press, the government, economists—that this is a very safe situation, economists generally said, during the period of the bubble, from the mid-1990s to 2007—that this was all based on efficient financial markets, and these were long-term profits, and everybody was safe, they were told that by the Fed, they were told that by Bernanke, they were told that by Timothy Geithner, they were told that by Lawrence Summers. I mention all those people because they’re important in Obama’s administration. And so uh they were making enormous capital gains.

PAUL JAY: So in 2004, when they significantly raised the amount of leverage these banks could use, which increases their risk, everyone says, it’s ok, the government—the Fed is saying it’s ok, the government is saying it’s ok, and we’re in good hands and we’re making so much money who cares?

JAMES CROTTY: Right. And economists said it was ok. You can’t leave economists out of this. I mean basically, they were a lot of people who had a self-interest in seeing that this didn’t stop, and continuing the deregulation process, that was ongoing for a long time, but also everyone could legitimately say, that economists tell us that this is the right thing to do. That we should lightly regulate financial markets, that financial markets are efficient, that they price risk correctly. And um in the new system of the recent period where banks didn’t hold risky loans, they shipped them out to capital markets, that capital markets priced everything right.

PAUL JAY: OK, so, I’m a pension fund, I’m making lots of money; I’m a share-holder in Goldman Sachs, I’m making lots of money, what do I care what the executive compensation is if that’s if—if I’m doin’ fine, why does it matter?

JAMES CROTTY: I think that they didn’t care–

PAUL JAY: –But why should anyone care?

JAMES CROTTY: They should care because over this period of time the financial system got into an absolutely unsustainable condition, in which there was massive risk, there was massive leverage, we were in a situation where if anything went wrong in the system—if interests rates went up or housing prices didn’t continue to go up, or profits went down, or there were bankruptcies, the system was so leveraged and so stretched and so fragile because of the risk-taking that was done by the financial rain-makers, in order to pursue profits and revenues and therefore bonuses, that the system was ready to completely fall, if anything went wrong. As soon as housing prices stopped going up so rapidly, and eventually turned around, everything did start to go wrong, and we had a financial collapse that was spectacular.

And if governments around the world hadn’t intervened massively with billions and billions and trillions and trillions of dollars, to save the system, we would have had a complete financial meltdown and a new global depression, that’s the problem.

[...]

But again, it’s not just them, it’s the whole context of the conventional wisdom, supported by economists and propaganda from financial institutions, that if you let the financial markets alone, they will provide the services that will enrich everyone and make the economy work very well so that any reasonable person should support deregulation.

Anyone who wasn’t—who didn’t drink the kool-aid on this and was simply observing from outside would see that this happens over and over again, it’s happened over and over again for hundreds of years: if you deregulate financial markets, the markets eventually bubble, they bubble so large that at some point the can’t sustain themselves then they crash, then the question is, what do you do about it? Do you regulate them so they won’t do this, or do you rescue them and run the scenario all over again?

PAUL JAY: Well, it’s an interesting situation, where the Emperor can come out and someone can finally say, you have no clothes, but it hardly matters because the government brings you a bathrobe pretty quickly.

[...]

JAMES CROTTY: These guys make enormous amounts of money, they have enormous incentives to take risks, to increase leverage, to get their firms in trouble because when the trouble comes they still get big bonuses, and then the government bails them out.

PAUL JAY: Why is none of this considered criminal?

JAMES CROTTY: Well, it’s interesting, there are a lot of criminal activities which go on but no one is really prosecuting that, you know William Black, who’s written a lot about that, but mostly because the same people who are creating these what are fundamentally economic crimes are also the people whose influence writes the legislation which decriminalizes everything. If you don’t have regulations and you don’t have laws that restrict what you do, and you can get the Congress and the Administration to do that, then you’re not committing legal crimes, you’re just committing moral crimes.

PAUL JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the concept of “false value,” and how these executives created this essential mythology of profits to increase their bonuses and how that helped lead to the collapse.

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Am I the only one who hears in this an echo of John Perkins describing the work of EHMs on Democracy Now! (June 5, 2007)?

AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, talk about your transformation. You were making a lot of money. You were traveling the world. You were in a position where you were meeting presidents and prime ministers of countries, bringing them to their knees. What made you change, and then, ultimately, the decision to write about it?

JOHN PERKINS: You know, Amy, when I first got started—I grew up—three, four hundred years of Yankee Calvinism—in New Hampshire and Vermont, with very strong moral principles, came from a pretty conservative Republican family. And all during the ten years that I was an economic hit man, from ‘71 to ’81, I was pretty young, but it bothered my conscience. And yet, everybody was telling me I was doing the right thing. Like you said, presidents of countries, the president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, patted me on the back. And I was asked to lecture at Harvard and many other places about what I was doing. And what I was doing was not illegal—should be, but it isn’t.

[...]

And then suddenly, I realized that this plantation had been built on the bones of thousands of slaves. And then I realized that the whole hemisphere had been built on the bones of millions of the slaves. And I got very angry and sad. And then, it suddenly struck me that I was continuing that same process and that I was a slaver, that I was making the same thing happen in a slightly—in a different way, more subtle way, but just as bad in terms of its outcome. And at that point, I made the decision I would never do it again. And I went back to Boston a couple of days later and quit.

And that in turn reminds me of Marcy Wheeler’s admirable elucidation of neo-feudalism. How have Perkinsian economic hit men created a secret global empire? By jacking us with the myth that they have the power to create everlasting profits, benefiting everyone, as long as we serfs and peons stay down on the feudum and let the lords of FIRE play MOTU.

Deconstructing Myths of America: Are we self-directed beings, or other-directed machines?

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by knowbuddhau

When, in the 17th-century, scientists abandoned the idea of a cosmic engineer, they nevertheless kept "his" construct. But if the cosmos, our very source, is a fully-automatic mechanism, then so, too, are we.

Is that true? Are we really mindless, soulless Newtonian automata? Or are we self-directed, self-aware organic beings?

I for one reject the myth of myself as a mechanism, the behavior of which ever and always is determined by outside forces.

My favorite source for lessons in comparative mythology is Alan Watts. The philosophies of Asia, most notably Zen Buddhism, inspired many of the poets and artists of the Sixties. Alan Watts was preeminent among Anglo-American Zen Buddhists.

Today, some of his words are dated. And I could do without the overtly patriarchal lexicon. Even so, Alan Watts brought to our American awareness many of the lessons of Buddhism that went on to inspire the Sixties. Facing climate change and economic collapse, we’re in need of at least a radical reassessment and revisioning of our purposes and goals as human beings.

So I had planned on writing something about his comparisons, between Judeo-Christian and Hindu myths, when I watched a new video on The Real News Network this morning. Paul Jay and Roger Hickey end up speaking in the just the same metaphor I wanted to write about. I love it when that happens!

First, an excerpt from the Alan Watts lecture, Images of Man 1&2.. Then, an excerpt from a very unusual February, 2001 op-ed in The New York Times by the late biologists, Stephen Jay Gould.

Then finally, after all that background, The Real News Network segment titled, The Deficit Commission.

I’m pressed fro time, so I’ll come back and edit this later.

Without further ado, then, here’s Alan Watts.

I want to start by giving what may be, to many of you, a new definition of the word ‘myth.’ As normally used, the word myth means an idle tale, a fable, a falsehood, or an idea that’s out of date; something untrue. But there is another, older, stricter use of the word myth, whereby it doesn’t mean something untrue, but it means an image in terms of which people make sense of life and the world.

Supposing, for example, that you don’t understand the technicalities of electricity, and somebody wants to explain them to you; he wants to explain about the flow of currents. Well, to do that, he compares electricity with water, and because you understand water you get some idea about the behavior of electricity. Or if an astronomer wants to explain to you what he means by ‘expanding space,’ he’ll use the metaphor of a balloon—a black balloon with white spots on it. The white spots represent the galaxies; then, if you blow up the balloon, they all get further away from each other at the same speed as the balloon blows up.

In neither case are we saying that electricity is water or that the universe a balloon, with white spots on it. We’re saying it’s something like it. And so, in the same way, the human being has always used images to represent his deepest ideas of how the universe works, and what man’s place in it is. And tonight I’m going to discuss two of the greatest myths, in this sense of the word, which have influenced mankind’s thinking.

First of all, the myth of the universe as an artifact; as something made, as a carpenter makes tables, chairs, and houses; or as a potter makes pots; or as a sculptor makes figurines.

And on the other hand, the image of the world as a drama, in which all the things in the world are not made, but acted, in the same way as a player acts parts.

For these are the two great images which govern, respectively, the religions of the West, descending from Hebraism—that is to say, Hebraism itself, Christianity, and Islam; and on the other hand, the myth which governs those religions which have had their origin in India, most particularly Hinduism itself and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism.

And I want to make it perfectly plain, before I go any further, that in talking about these two great religious traditions, in terms of images, I’m talking about the way they express themselves at a rather popular level. Sophisticated Christians, and sophisticated Hindus think beyond images. For example, a Christian may think of God as the Father, but a sophisticated and educated Christian does not imagine that God is a cosmic male parent, with a white beard, sitting on a golden throne above the stars. Nor does a Hindu imagine literally that God is the super-showman, the Big Actor. These images are what it is like, not what it is.

And perhaps, when I get through with discussing them, we’ll be able to ask the question as to whether any of these images still make sense to us in this twentieth century, when we have a view of the world so powerfully shaped by Western science.

Now let me begin, then, with a few things about the image of the world, and thus, the image of man, as it comes to us from the Hebrew bible. . . .

4:48

It says, in the book of Genesis, that the Lord God created man out of the dust of the Earth, as if he had made, of Adam, a clay figurine. And then he blew the breath of life into its nostrils, and the figurine became alive, and it’s said that the figurine was made in the image of God. For God who is conceived in this particular image as personal, as a living, intelligent spirit, creates in man something like that. But you must note very definitely that this is a creation, as the potter makes a pot out of clay. For the creature that the Lord God has made is not God; the creature is something less than God. Something like God, but not God. And you will see some very interesting consequences follow from this idea of the world as an artifact.

What follows from it is that the whole universe is seen as a marvelous technical accomplishment. And if is made, there must be an explanation of how it is made, and the whole history of Western thought has, in many ways, been an attempt to discover how the Creator did it. What were the principles? what were the laws laid down? what, in other words, was the blueprint that underlies this creation? And this image has, therefore, persisted throughout Western history, and continues on into a time when very many people do not believe in Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam. They are, you might say, agnostics, or atheists, but they still carry on something of this idea, of the world as an artifact.

If you are a Christian or a Jew, you believe the world is the artifact, the creation, of the intelligent spirit called God. But if, in this culture, you are an atheist or an agnostic, you believe that the world is an automatic machine without a creator; something which made itself.

We might say, then, that our original model of the universe was the Ceramic Model. And the Bible is full of references to God as the potter who makes the world out of obedient clay. But when Western thinkers, in the eighteenth century, began to drop the idea of a personal god, they kept the idea of the artifact, and so we could say that after the Ceramic Model of the universe we got the Fully Automatic Model. And still, you see, underlying our way of thinking of things is the question, how are they put together? And if you want to find out, one of the obvious ways to proceed is to take them to pieces. Everybody knows that if you want to find out how something is made, you unscrew the parts and see what is the secret inside the box.

And so, Western science, in its beginnings, took everything apart: it took animals apart; it took flowers apart; it took rocks apart; and then, when they got it reduced to its tiniest pieces, they tried to find methods of taking those apart too, so that we could eventually discover what the smallest small things were so we would know what building blocks the Creator or the Fully Automatic Model used in order to put it all together, hoping that that would lead us to an understanding of how life works.

Man, himself, was looked upon, in all this, as a creation; something made. Only, there were some difficulties with this because, if you believe in the world in accordance with the Fully Automatic Model, you’ve really got to admit that man, too, is fully automatic. In other words, he’s a machine rather than a person. Man is something, in other words, that says—that doffs its hat to you, and says, How do you do? I’m a person, I am alive, I’m sensible, I talk, I have feelings. But you wonder, do you really, or are you just an automaton? Am I real, or am I just an automaton?

10:01
The general result of that image of Western man hasn’t been quite that. What it’s come down to, under the dispensation of the Fully Automatic Model is this: we are living beings; we’re very sensitive; and inside the human skin, by an extraordinary fluke of nature, there has arisen something called reason. And there have also arisen values, such as love. But this was a fluke. Because it happened inside a fully automatic universe which is stupid, because it’s merely automatic. You won’t, in other words, find anything really intelligent outside human skins. And therefore, if that is so, the only thing that people can do, if they want to maintain Reason and Love in this universe is to fight nature, and beat the stupid external world into submission to the human will. And so the War Against Nature is the great project, thus far, of Western technology.

Because you see, each one of us, because we inherit, from thousands of years of history, a view of man as something made and almost a sort of breath breathed into a pot of clay or an image of clay, a kind of—each one feels himself as a sort of globule of consciousness or mind, living inside a vehicle called ‘my body,’ and since the world outside that body is stupid, we feel estranged from the world. When we find out how enormous the universe is, that makes us, as individuals, feel extremely unimportant and rather lonely. Because, you see, we consider ourselves—our basic image of ourselves is of a soul, or an ego, or a mind, all by itself in its little house looking out at a world that is strange and that is not me.

I am, therefore, a brief interval of consciousness between the darkness and the darkness. And that isn’t too happy. I would like to believe that it was more than that. If I could—so many of us say, If I could only still believe that there is an intelligent and eternal god in whose eyes I am important and who has the power to enable me to live forever, that would be very nice. But, for many people, that’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to believe.

Now, I want to contrast this image of the world with another, what I call the Dramatic Image, as distinct from the Image of the Potter, or the Ceramic Image. And this will be the presiding image of Hinduism.

Their idea is this: that god didn’t make the world, like a technologist; but he acted it. That is to say, every person, and every thing, for that matter: every tree, every flower, every animal, every star, every rock, every grain of dust, is a role or part which the godhead is playing.

You must understand, of course, that the Hindu image of god is a little bit different from the Jewish, the Christian, and the Islamic.

When I was a boy, a little boy, I used to ask my mother interminable questions. And when she got sick of it, she said, ‘My dear, there are some things in this life that we’re just not meant to know. Well, I said, will we ever know? She said, Yes, if you die and then go to heaven, God will explain it all. And so I used to hope, on wet afternoons in Heaven, we would all be able to round the throne of grace, and say to the Lord, ‘Why did you do this;’ and ‘Why did you do that?’ and he would explain. Every child in the West asks his mother, how was I made? And nobody knows, but they hope that somebody does and that’ll be god and he’ll be able to explain.

Likewise, if anybody gets mentally deranged, and claims to be god, we humor such people by saying—by by asking them all sorts of technical questions: How did you make the world in six days? or, If your god, how come you can’t change this plate into a rabbit?

But that is because, in our popular image of god, god is the supreme technocrat. He knows all the answers, he understands everything and could tell you all about it. But the Hindus don’t think of god that way. If you ask the Hindu god, how did you create the human body? He’ll say, ‘Look, I know how I did it, but it can’t be explained in words, because words are too clumsy. In words, I have to talk about things slowly, I have to string them out, because words run in a line. And lines add up to books and books add up to libraries. And if I explain to you how I created the human body, it would all eternity for me to tell you. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to understand things in words in order to make them happen.’

Nor do you. You don’t have to understand, in words, how you breathe, you just breathe. You don’t have to understand, in words, how to grow your hair, how to shape your bones, how to make your eyes blue or brown, you just do it. And somebody who does understand to some extent, maybe a physiologist, he can’t do it any better than you can.

So that, you see, is the Hindu idea of divine omnipotence. And that is why their images of the gods very often have many arms. You’ll often see the god Shiva with ten arms, or the Buddhist Avalokitesvara with one thousand arms. And that is because their image of the divine is a sort of centipede A centipede can move a hundred legs without having to think about it. So Shiva can move ten arms very dexterously, without having to think about it. And you know what happened to the centipede when it stopped to think how to move a hundred legs: it got all balled up.

So in this way, Hindus don’t think of god as being a technician in the sense of having a verbal or technical understanding of how the world is created. It’s done in a simpler way, just like that, only if we had to describe this simple way in words, in would be very complicated, but god, in their idea, doesn’t need to do so.

But the remarkable difference is that the Hindu doesn’t see any fundamental division between god and the world. The world is god at play. The world is god acting. Now, how could you possibly arrive at such an idea? Very simply, when he tries to think why there is a world at all, because, if you think about it, it is extraordinarily odd that there is anything. It would’ve been much simpler, and required much less energy, for there to have been nothing. But here it is, and why?

Well, what would you do if you were god? Or let me put it in a simpler way. Supposing that every night you could dream any dream that you wanted to dream: what would you do?

Now for the relevant passage from Stephen Jay Gould’s unprecedented NYT op-ed. He had only once before interrupted his planned lecture for a breaking news event, this time for the news that the human genome has far fewer constituents than the reductive approach had imagined necessary to account for all our complexity.

The implications of this finding cascade across several realms. The commercial effects will be obvious, as so much biotechnology, including the rush to patent genes, has assumed the old view that "fixing" an aberrant gene would cure a specific human ailment. The social meaning may finally liberate us from the simplistic and harmful idea, false for many other reasons as well, that each aspect of our being, either physical or behavioral, may be ascribed to the action of a particular gene "for" the trait in question.

But the deepest ramifications will be scientific or philosophical in the largest sense. From its late 17th century inception in modern form, science has strongly privileged the reductionist mode of thought that breaks overt complexity into constituent parts and then tries to explain the totality by the properties of these parts and simple interactions fully predictable from the parts. ("Analysis" literally means to dissolve into basic parts). The reductionist method works triumphantly for simple systems — predicting eclipses or the motion of planets (but not the histories of their complex surfaces), for example. But once again — and when will we ever learn? — we fell victim to hubris, as we imagined that, in discovering how to unlock some systems, we had found the key for the conquest of all natural phenomena. Will Parsifal ever learn that only humility (and a plurality of strategies for explanation) can locate the Holy Grail?

The collapse of the doctrine of one gene for one protein, and one direction of causal flow from basic codes to elaborate totality, marks the failure of reductionism for the complex system that we call biology — and for two major reasons.

First, the key to complexity is not more genes, but more combinations and interactions generated by fewer units of code — and many of these interactions (as emergent properties, to use the technical jargon) must be explained at the level of their appearance, for they cannot be predicted from the separate underlying parts alone. So organisms must be explained as organisms, and not as a summation of genes.

Second, the unique contingencies of history, not the laws of physics, set many properties of complex biological systems. Our 30,000 genes make up only 1 percent or so of our total genome. The rest — including bacterial immigrants and other pieces that can replicate and move — originate more as accidents of history than as predictable necessities of physical laws. Moreover, these noncoding regions, disrespectfully called "junk DNA," also build a pool of potential for future use that, more than any other factor, may establish any lineage’s capacity for further evolutionary increase in complexity.

The deflation of hubris is blessedly positive, not cynically disabling. . . .

Last but not least, here’s TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay interviewing Roger Hickey, head of Campaign for America’s Future.

I can’t get the player to embed, so here’s the transcript of the relevant portion. Note the terms in which Hickey describes the Republican efforts.

JAY: And so the point of this legislation is on the campaign trail they’ll be able to say, "Well, we had a vote on this, up or down, and my opponent here voted not to cut." They just want to make—it’s essentially a kind of propaganda event, isn’t it?

HICKEY: Yeah. They really don’t have yet a plan to cut the deficit. They have a plan to create a structure that will eventually cut the deficit. And they will use the fact that people vote against this commission in political ads next time around. The other thing is that they’re attaching this legislation to the debt-limit legislation that the Congress has to pass in order to finance the government. So it’s a game of chicken. They’re trying to say: we are going to hold up the entire finances of the federal government of the United States unless you empower this commission to go forward. Frankly, I think they’re not going to get their way. I think both the leaders of the Senate, and especially Nancy Pelosi, don’t want to see this happening. I think that we’ve organized about 40 national organizations to protest this and to give a backbone to the Democrats in the Congress to resist it. And I’m hopeful that we can not only prevent it from happening but use it as an educational vehicle to show people, look, there’s alternative ways to go about cutting the deficit besides slashing peoples’ Medicare and Social Security benefits.

JAY: Well, it might be fun, actually, to pull a Republican tactic and say, okay, we’ll support this, ’cause I can’t believe they actually want it. They only want to be able to say they tried to pass this. But there’s too much boondoggle going on amongst Republicans and conservative Democrats. They might lose some of their own little favorite programs if people could just go up or down.

HICKEY: Yeah. I think these Republicans are so ideologically right-wing right now that this would be a very, very dangerous sort of robotic automatic mechanism that would be on its own track, with its own dynamism, that it could come back to the Congress, and then members would actually vote for it.

JAY: Well, we’ve seen how well that works in places, states like California.

HICKEY: Yeah. Well, they didn’t try this particular maneuver, but they—.

JAY: No, but something like it, where you have these sort of automatic confines about what can be done in terms of revenue and cuts.

HICKEY: And the point of all this is they don’t want to talk about a government that actually works. They want to talk about a government that’s the enemy and needs to be drastically slashed. These are the same people who wanted to privatize the Social Security system. These are the same people who have been really complaining about the fact that the US has a fairly basic social contract with seniors for some time. I personally don’t want to see Social Security benefits cut any more than they are currently, the level that they’re at right now. I don’t want to see Medicare cut in terms of benefits that people receive. I want to see Medicare reorganized so that the health-care system works in a more efficient way. These guys want to cut, and they don’t believe in raising taxes, even on the wealthy, to finance affirmative government. So it’s a very important ideological battle that we’re going to have to wage and win, reaching out to the American people and showing them how dangerous it is to put government on automatic. Conservative policies, if they were in effect right now, would have thrown this economy into a Great Depression. And you want to have the flexibility to spend money when you need to, as well as the long-term strategy of investing in the future.

JAY: I don’t think you understand. If the Republicans are in power, then it’s okay to [inaudible] There was no problem with that after 9/11. There was no problem with that during last fall when Bush was [inaudible]

HICKEY: There’s no doubt that the Republicans became just opponents of doing anything about the deficit while they were in power, that’s right, first with their tax cuts and then with their wars. So you’re absolutely right. In fact, their supply-side ideology said that deficits were not a problem. Now that they’re facing Obama in power, they’re using the deficit as a weapon against him.

JAY: The problem’s going to be we’ll see where Obama is on this, because I don’t think that’s entirely clear. It wasn’t long after he got elected he met with a bunch of conservative columnists—David Brooks and Krauthammer, George Will—and they asked him: what are you going to do about entitlement programs once you have to start dealing with the deficit after all this stimulus spending? And he apparently told them all entitlement programs will be on the table. But I guess that’s a battle we’ll have to see soon.

HICKEY: Yes. And as I say, there’s a big difference between reorganizing Medicare, which he’s trying to do through the health reform, and slashing Medicare or privatizing Social Security, which is what the conservatives want. So it’ll be a test. Democrats do have to show the American public that economic growth and smart investments will bring down deficits and not burden their children with unsustainable debt. But we can do that without these crazy automatic slashing machines.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

HICKEY: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

See the common ground covered by all three sources? We’re not mechanisms, we’re organisms who believe ourselves to be fully-automatic mechanisms. Weird. No wonder we’re so effed in the head.

I’ll be back to edit later.

Deconstructing Myths of America: busting the myth of war-spending as the best way out of a depression

9:57 am in Uncategorized by knowbuddhau

Does America have a state religion? Yes, and faith in kinetic force, as measured in dollars, is at the heart of it.

That’s why we spend money on war like drunken pharaohs outfitting pyramids for the afterlife, and next to nothing on "promoting the general welfare."

If this money [spent on war in Iraq alone] could have been spent on education instead, it could have bought four-year college scholarships for 325,624 Oklahoma students-not bad considering less than 45,000 students graduated from an Oklahoma high school this year.

Nationally, the figures are just as distressing; here’s what the money spent on Iraq could have provided in the U.S.:

* 21,510,598 full four-year scholarships to public universities
* 7,689,734 new public school teachers
* 58,770,981 chances for children to attend head-start

The money could have purchased health insurance policies for 265,701,285 uninsured people or housing for 3,995,293 homeless families.
*Editor’s note: This amount was precise at the moment of writing [July 16, 2007], but as the war is costing us an additional $186,000 per minute (every minute of every day), the true cost of the war is constantly increasing and therefore impossible to pinpoint.

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