Sic et Non

Uncertainty, perplexity, ambivalence. I'm pretty sure this is where it's at.

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How do the powerful get the idea that they ‘deserve’ more? Lessons from the… laboratory

“Arbitrary distributions of roles and wealth are not only sustainable in competitive environments but, indeed, they are unavoidable until and unless there are political interventions to keep them in check.”

Yanis Varoufakis

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 1.56.20 PM The ‘haves’ of the world are always convinced that they deserve their wealth. That their gargantuan income reflects their ingenuity, ‘human capital’, the risks they (or their parents) took, their work ethic, their acumen, their application, their good luck even. The economists (especially members of the so-called Chicago School. e.g. Gary Becker) aid and abet the self-serving beliefs of the powerful by arguing that arbitrary discrimination in the distribution of wealth and social roles cannot survive for long the pressures of competition (i.e. that, sooner or later, people will be rewarded in proportion to their contribution to society). Most of the rest of us suspect that this is plainly false. That the distribution of power and wealth can be, and usually is, highly arbitrary and independent of ‘marginal productivity’, ‘risk taking’ or, indeed, any personal characteristic of those who rise to the top. In this post I present a body of…

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Religion as Poetry

There must have been a time when human beings sang songs and only believed in the omnipotence of the images that haunted their dreams and populated their stories, leaping into the world of appearances as things-in-themselves.
There must have been a time when God was dead and his children didn’t know.
There must have been a time when suffering was taken for granted and there were no words for happiness, atonement, grace.

Then, someone said, “let there be surplus” and there was surplus. And the world became too complicated to be ruled by stories and songs and things-in-themselves, and it was clear that accounting and logistics would have to be invented. “Cui bono?”, naturally followed.  And the people looked around them and saw that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong and someone said, “yes, but the race is to the swiftest and the battle to the strongest” and so the superlative came to being. And from there it was a very small step to the Superlative Being.

One might imagine that by that time the songs would have ceased and the stories wound up, but Cui Bono wasn’t such an imbecile and decided to use some of the surplus to hire those with the sweetest voices and those with the wildest dreams to be Guardians of the Peace (this was before Babel and nobody knew what that last word meant, but it didn’t matter). Thus, Poetry was pirated by Religion. Nobody lived happily ever after, but quite a few people at least had peace of mind, as that new mental state came to be called which was free of the turmoil of perplexity and haunting dreams and, well, death-in-itself.

Now, poets will procure inspiration wherever they may find it, and so deities proliferated. But in a certain corner of the earth, a little obscure corner where surplus could hardly be created and resources were scarce, it appeared that pooling would be a better idea than diversifying, and that pooling they tentatively called Yahweh. Later, a generic name was adopted, the Lord, which was not patented and so came to be used as a blanket designation for all sorts of beings that secured the surplus and oversaw its distribution. Poems were of course composed for the Lord, and stories and songs, some of them quite lengthy.  But in all of them the same figures paraded, the same shadows from those haunted dreams, dressed up in the new clothes of faith and devotion.

Humans must have sang songs since the beginning of time. They will continue to do so when religion has found its proper place in the Annals of World Literature.

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