Invisible Theft

I had a thought. I’m not really sure which category I should place this post in, but as I don’t have an “Economics” category, I’m stuck putting it in my “Politics” category. Basically, I want to say that, for the most part, I am a capitalist. Capitalism has its faults and weaknesses, but I believe it has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system out there. Is it perfect? No. But I think it is the best economic system our species has developed to date.

That said, I think it is worthwhile to point out … limitations or errors or weaknesses inherent in the system. Back in college I had a friend who was a dedicated socialist. One day, we were just talking and he said something like, “Locke gives you the ‘Labor Theory of Value’ and he takes it away, just like that. And I can show you where, too.” That’s when the light bulb went off for me. As a philosophy major I never studied economics, so the term ‘value’ had a different meaning for me. But after a moment’s reflection, it became apparent to me that my friend wasn’t referring to anyone’s hierarchy of goods or anything like that; instead, he was focused on money. Basically, he was saying that money is backed-up by labor. Money is labor, and labor is money. Or so my friend might say. I don’t think I necessarily agree with that in its entirety for a number of reasons, but it is worth reflecting on at least for a few moments. I call it the socialist point.

Basically (remember: I am not an economist, so I could be flubbing this point entirely), the socialist believes that the real currency that runs our economy is labor. The money you are paid for when you work is meant to compensate you for that labor. Hence, money represents labor. And that does seem to have some merit. After all, it would be exceptionally difficult for the economy to run without any labor. Without labor, nothing is done, and ultimately, everyone starves.

Once you make that connection, the socialist’s problem with capitalism should be easy to recognize. Pick the CEO of any major company. He is paid far, far more than any person in the lower ranks; yet, if you remove the labor from the company, the company ceases to exist: It cannot exist without labor. The socialist says that the company produces only what its labor force produces. Hence, its labor force is responsible for all of the company’s profit. Yet, it is the CEO who reaps the greatest reward.

How is that possible? The simple answer is that the CEO has power. The rank-and-file do not. The CEO benefits from a better strategic position in the company than does the average laborer. As a result, he can fire laborers who complain and there is little the laborers can do about it. So, the CEO—who seeks his own self-interest first—earns a big salary because the laborers produce a valuable product that earns a substantial amount of money. From that money, the salary of the CEO and the laborers is taken, and excess profit is put back into the company or maybe paid out to shareholders (who contribute nothing to the actual product of the company—their only value is that they provide monetary fertilizer to fuel company growth from time to time). The socialist is basically saying that the laborers are directly responsible for the profit the company makes, and yet, they never see a dime of it. Their labor has been stolen to produce it. Since, labor does not constitute a visible thing, such a theft is an invisible one. The labor/money taken from the worker is never seen.

So, the socialist feels fully justified in using the government to “steal” the money back from the wealthy.

I’m not sure I wrote that clearly enough, but I think it encapsulates a critical component of socialist thinking. For myself, I think socialists win a point, but not the argument. There are a number of counter-points to be made, none of which I have space for. Things like money shouldn’t represent labor, but rather accomplishment (I think—and only in a macro-economic sense). Intelligent decision making should be rewarded. Freedom should be promoted. And individual choices have consequences. And I’m sure there are many, many more, but, like I said, I don’t have space for them all.

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How Do You Get To Heaven? By Your Own Actions or By The Will of God

How does one get to Heaven? Can your actions influence such an event? Or is the end result totally dependent upon the “Will of God.” I’ve read numerous times in numerous Christian books that it is not our actions that get us to Heaven. Only the “Will of God” will land us in the eternal realms of paradise. And that has always been a sticking point for me. I have a number of difficulties with traditional Christianity, but this is one of the bigger ones. It is almost like what we do in life doesn’t matter, according to traditional Christianity.

I remember hearing once (I think it was on EWTN) that living a good life was a necessary condition for entrance into Heaven, but not a sufficient one. Necessary and sufficient: those are the key words, philosophically speaking. Fortunately, I studied philosophy and mathematics in college, both of which used the terms “necessary and sufficient” as they are used here. And I thought it would be pretty simple to explain, but I just spent thirty minutes trying to explain it here on my blog and wound up deleting everything to spare you the confusion. Dear Lord, I hate brain rot.

Anyhoo, back to Heaven. Upon reflection, I don’t think the issue about Heaven is really a big deal. Will you get to Heaven, if you live a good life? I’m inclined to think the answer to that question is “Yes, you will.” Yet, does God have the final say? Again, I’m inclined to think that yes, He does. The way I see it, it’s up to God to decide who gets to Heaven and who doesn’t. However, the reasons God uses to determine this involves how you lived your life. I suppose it’s possible for someone to live a good life and have God decide not to let them in, but if that happens, I’m sure God has a pretty good reason, although what it may be is far beyond me.

Cultures are Not Equal

What is a culture? A collection of beliefs, rituals, institutions, and more that define a people’s character. That’s my answer. And I think it’s reasonably accurate. It is an obvious fact that different people have different cultures. The modern Left has embraced the notion of cultural relativism and posits the notion that all cultures are equal. The culture of the United States, which for many years incorporated the notion of exceptionalism, is no better or worse than the culture of communist China. That’s what they say. And I completely disagree.

And it’s relatively easy to show I’m right. First, just open the door to all cultures of all times and places. Then start making comparisons. Some things are sure to stick out quite profoundly and settle the question.

For example, human sacrifice has existed in the past. All those cultures that practiced human sacrifice are inferior to those that did not. I win. End of story.

To go further, cultures that practice suicide bombing are inferior to those that do not. Cultures that gather undesirables of any sort and put them in a gas chamber are inferior to those that do not. Etc….

Is any culture perfect? No. But some are better than others. It is probably impossible to do an exhaustive comparison between any two cultures, at least for the average individual. But we can make some general points and even some more specific points. I know it may come as a surprise to some people on the Left, but the culture of Nazi Germany was inferior to the culture of the U.S.A. in the 1940’s or today. We have our faults, but we also have our virtues. And it seems lately that the Left has made a habit of overlooking our virtues. What virtues? How about: 1) Consent of the governed; 2) Freedom of expression, religion, and press; and 3) Tolerance of dissidents.  There are more, of course (see the Bill of Rights), but those are probably some of the most important. If you compare us to perfection, we will always fall short. But if you compare us to what else is out there, I think we will hold up well (unless you are talking about pop culture and the over-sexualization of our society—like I said we have our faults).

Cultures change and evolve through time. Perhaps in the future we will change to a better culture; or, perhaps we will slide down the scale and become worse. The point is just to not throw out the scale. We are competing with other nations in terms of culture. It is worth remembering that.

What are some bad cultural influences? Much like virtues, these are large in number and will likely vary from individual to individual. For myself, I’d say: abortion, celebration of sexual barbarism (also known as male adolescence—I know I’ve been there), practice of racism, atheism (or lack of awe), paintings by left-handed artists, and denial of simple mathematical truths. Also, (and this is a big one … perhaps the biggest one) denial of the existence of truth. (And yes, the left-handed artists crack is a joke.)

Have a nice day!

Precedence and the Limits of Human Knowledge

It is commonly said (here in the U.S.A.) that “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” To which I say, “Hah, I disagree and I will prove you wrong.” Once upon a time, the Law was limited to pretty much the Constitution and whatever ordinances and statutes the States might dream up. Then along came Darwin and evolution, and the character of U.S. Law began to change. We introduced the notion of precedence, where decisions of prior judges in prior cases could be used to decide future cases. American Law was seen as an evolving, growing body of knowledge.

I may have made this point before in another post but I will repeat it here again because it is so important: the number of laws in the United States has now exceeded the mental capacity of its citizens to retain them. Isn’t that a problem? The U.S. Tax Code is at least 70,000 pages long. It’s filled with all sorts of loop holes and exceptions so that big corporations can save money by employing reams of tax attorneys and accountants. However, this, unfortunately, leaves the average taxpayer in the dust. We have to hire our own tax accountants to wend their way through the tax code on our behalf to make sure we only pay the taxes we have to and no more. But the tax code is just one part of the U.S. Law. Congress passes (I think) a couple hundred laws a year and the various departments responsible for regulation pass thousands of regulations every year. Clearly, no single human being has the mental capacity to keep up with all these laws. As a result, anyone could be breaking any number of laws at any time without realizing it. And you are going to tell me, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse?”

I have never studied Law, and I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect the same problem is happening in the legal code due to precedence. We just can’t let old decisions remain old decisions. Future lawyers quote old decisions all the time, but I suspect it is getting more and more difficult for these lawyers to remain abreast of all the decisions that have been made in the law courts. When will we realize that we need a new paradigm?

How do we fix the problem?

Well, we could probably start by passing a law saying that for every law passed, two laws must be repealed. And the same goes for regulations. As for the courts, I’m kind of partial to the notion that every case settled in court should be done so without recourse to prior cases. Get rid of precedence entirely. I trust the judgment of twelve individuals unhindered by excessive precedence; they should be able to make a fair decision and we won’t have to gum up the works with all the excessive laws. At least, that’s my theory: get rid of precedence and let the juries do what they were supposed to do.

It might work. It’s a radical change; so, perhaps we should try it in just one county of one state for a while before adopting it, but I’m confident it will work (actually, after rereading this, I’m no longer quite so sure). Eventually, we won’t have any choice in the matter, because something is going to give: we simply have far too many laws. And that will not do.

Logic And Causality

My philosophy brain went to rot years ago, but once upon a time I understood that logic and causality are NOT the same thing. Logic is a discipline of reasoning. It is the foundation of mathematics. It consists largely of deductive reasoning: if-then statements, etc… Causality is, well, a feature of nature. It is a connection between two events in reality. A spark causes a bit of sulfur to burst into flame. As far as I can tell, what usually happens in science and non-philosophical reasoning is that we take a causal relationship and kind of map it onto a logical one. Usually, the causal relationship is transformed into a logical one. Let’s return to the spark and sulfur example. Through experimentation we discover said causal relationship and claim that the spark causes the sulfur to burn. Logically, that breaks down to a two premise argument (followed by a conclusion), something like:

 

If you have a spark, this sulfur will burn;

We have a spark;

Therefore, this sulfur burns.

 

Or something like that. As a general rule, the causal relationship maps to the logical relationship of implication. A causes B becomes A implies B. Logically, if you have A, then B necessarily follows. It’s that necessary part that causes issues. It is my belief that causality is never a necessary relationship (and Quantum Mechanics might agree with me, if I knew enough about it). In logic, the implication relationship is necessary. It NEVER fails. In nature, are we ever really sure that even our most presumed causal connections are necessary? I think most philosophers would say no. And most scientists would ignore them and go about building marvels that suit us fine.

To look at this differently, the logic relationship deals with the meaning of the words or concepts involved. The causal relationship deals with some kind of connection between two events in the real world… I think. Like I said my philosophy brain has gone to rot.

The upshot of all this is that logic connections and causal connections are two different animals. This is usually most apparent when one looks at what is possible and what is impossible according to each. In logic, a contradiction is impossible, but that’s about it: You can’t have a Euclidean round square. In causality, I think contradictions are also impossible, or, at least, we want them to be—otherwise everything falls apart, even though the behavior of photons and subatomic particles might be threatening to the Law of Non-contradiction. I’m not sure: Remember, I only know a few spattering tidbits about Quantum Mechanics—anyway, the more important point is that there are more impossible things in causality than just contradictions (actually, rereading this, I’m not sure of this; it may be that everything in causal analysis is set up to “echo” logical analysis such that events that contradict well-established “Laws” are deemed impossible). Like, ignoring the Law of Gravity is supposed to be impossible. Not so, in logic. The test in logic, as far as I know, is basically imagination. If you can think it, it is logically possible. Not so with causality. A three-headed pink unicorn is logically possible, but, probably, causally impossible. Another, perhaps more certain example, and this may seem strange to some, the claim that “Socrates can jump unassisted to the moon,” is logically possible, but, most probably, causally impossible.

So, why have logic or study it?

I think I answered that already: logic is the basis of mathematics and without mathematics you really can’t do causal analysis (science). Further, if you are looking for certainty in anything, you are going to have to tread through logical analysis. I know I’m not omniscient; beyond that, I’m not certain about much. Anyway, I think I’ve babbled enough.

God Does Not Talk to Me (Usually)

If a prophet is someone who clearly and distinctly hears the voice of God in his head or his heart, I am NOT a prophet. As a general rule, I do NOT hear the voice of God most of the time. I’ve experienced “currents” of thought in my head that seemed to suggest a certain phrase or conclusion, but usually not something decisive and final. With one exception.

There was that one time—which I mentioned in a previous blog post—where God (or what I assume was God) said to me in my mind “Hi, Matt.” As I discussed previously, that was pretty much exactly what I needed to hear at the time and it kind of knocked me out of a dangerous downward psychological spiral. Still, there is a part of me that isn’t sure; I worry that it wasn’t God, but Satan in disguise.

Anyhoo. Why am I bringing this up? Well, for one, I think I’m the antichrist. Although I try to be a good antichrist, I don’t want to mislead people accidentally. After all, if I am the antichrist, I might be kind of sort of special or, rather, unusual. And if I am special/unusual, I might have some kind of access to the Almighty. Well, to make things clear: I don’t. It would be cool if God or Jesus talked to me on a regular basis, but neither one does. Like I said, I heard “God’s” voice once in my head. Jesus’ voice, I’ve heard a couple times—sometimes in my head, and once or twice as a locution into my heart.

Then there’s Satan. I’ve heard him in my head a number of times. In fact, I had a lengthy back and forth conversation with him which consisted largely of me saying, “Satan, I am telling you the truth: You are not God,” and him replying like a stubborn, overgrown child, “Yes, I am.” He even sounded like a baby in my head. And we went back and forth repeating ourselves.

Anyway, my point is this: you probably shouldn’t listen to me. Don’t take me too seriously. I am NOT infallible; I am a sinner like everyone else; I just had a close encounter with Satan one day long ago. I’m trying to make the most of a bad hand, but only God knows if I will accomplish anything of import, or if my life will simply be wasted by my madness.

Talking Versus Penance

In prior blog entries, I’ve made a big deal about talking. The importance and significance of talking, reaching out and exposing your vulnerable heart to another soul. I believe, at some point, I mentioned that I thought talking was one of the crucial tenets of Jesus of Nazareth’s philosophy. I got this from the scene in the Gospels where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and says, “I am only doing this so that you will trust in me.” (emphasis mine) Basically, Jesus is saying that the miracle isn’t as important as getting the apostles to open up and talk to him.

Anyway, having mulled this over for a considerable amount of time, I wonder if there was something I missed. Was Jesus’ message simply for us to trust one another enough to talk to each other, or was there something more? For the longest time growing up, I believed Jesus was all about forgiveness. Hence, it seemed clear to me that sin existed because forgiveness logically implies that one has done something wrong. But did Jesus really believe that? At one point in my “spiritual journey,” I remember reading the new testament where Jesus said, “They (the Pharisees and priests of the Temple) were wrong about sin.” He went further and said, “Now I tell you, you are free.” At the time, it seemed to me that Jesus was saying that sin doesn’t really exist. You are free to do what you want, answerable to no one. Or something to that extent. I still struggle with this. And as I do so, my philosopher’s mind is always throwing up counterexamples. Surely, Jesus doesn’t mean we are free to kill, rape, and plunder? Does he? I don’t know. That seems hard to swallow.

Jesus seemed to integrate forgiveness inseparably into his preaching. But I read somewhere that rabbis of his time period were well known to give two types of messages: one for public consumption; and one for his inner circle. So, I am struck by the possibility that Jesus’ public teaching may have stressed forgiveness to serve some undisclosed end, but his more critical teaching was one which stressed talking things through and abandoning the notion of the sin so one can live in freedom. But I’m the antichrist. Surely, if sin exists it is in the devil’s interest to convince me that it doesn’t and to spread that message around. Great.

Anyhoo, I’m stuck. What is the significance of forgiveness and repentance compared to talking? As a Catholic, I am familiar with the Catholic Confessional where all three are present. We talk to the priest, and that is a cathartic release of psychological pressure and stress. But the priest also claims to offer forgiveness to the contrite of heart.

Hmmm. Even as I write these words, I seem to be closing in on an answer for myself. I think I’m going to say that forgiveness is valuable above and beyond merely talking. Talking is great (I know because I’m terrible at it), but being forgiven for wrongdoing is even better. Since it is better, rolling it in to the Confessional adds value to that sacrament. Of course, the person who goes to Confession can’t prove that God actually forgives them, but if it turns out to be a fiction, it is a pleasant one. And if it is the truth, it makes the sacrament of Confession that much more valuable.