Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Watched over by machines of loving grace

A friend asked me to check out this (hour long) video about Ayn Rand, computers, and the financial system:

(sorry for the lack of embed, but gay ass Blogger only supports Youtube videos that way)

It just so happened that I was in the mood for something to sink my teeth into over dinner, so I checked it out.  It was entertaining and interesting, and definitely not something that could be responded to on a Facebook wall--and indeed the subject matter fits into the recently expanded format of this blog.

It's a little bit unclear, in the end, exactly what they are trying to say.  The video ends with a dark implication that the finance industry, having taken over the government in the nineties (a claim made earlier in the film), is still running the show even after the 2008 financial crisis.  To which my response is:

Oh.  My.  God.  You.  Must.  Be.  Shitting.  Me. :-)

I mean, the finance industry has been running Washington way longer than that!

I went and did a little research on Wikipedia and found several Treasury secretaries who had a background in finance, especially starting in the 20th century.  For example, Andrew Mellon (namesake of Carnegie-Mellon university) back in 1921.  Or this fellow Franklin MacVeagh (1909) whom I had never heard of before today.   Or if not finance directly you have many businessmen like Joseph Barr.

In other words, those of us doing software QA for a living don't normally get picked to be Treasury secretary.  And indeed, shouldn't the Treasury Secretary like, really understand all that stuff?

It's really just a part of the bigger pattern of life in that rich folks can easily accumulate power and have influence over the affairs of a country.  It's perfectly natural.  After all, put yourself in their position.  You have several billion dollars in the bank.  You don't like something that is going on politically in your country.  Or you feel like the government is costing you (or about to cost you) a bunch of money.  What do you do?  Do you sit at home, mourning your powerlessness?  Hell fuckin no, you put your money to work and obtain influence to try and effect change that you want to see.

Hell, in ancient Rome, rich folks actually paid for public works like aqueducts and stadiums themselves--in fact few public works were paid for by the government.  Providing a chunk of the city with clean drinking water is a great way to make yourself popular, for example, and enhance your prestige and power in the halls of power.

Of course, we don't see Bill Gates offering to re-pave highway 59--but then again he is trying to cure Malaria in Africa.

Nothing ever changes.

So, you know.  No news there.  I do think it's obvious that the finance industry has got a little too much clout at the moment, but the forces of light are pushing back with Dodd-Frank, for example, which I can assure you is greatly irritating them.  I personally do feel that those of us without power need to have credible advocates in Congress, which is why I voted both Green and Libertarian in the last election, and frankly I lean Democrat when there is no other choice.  But I don't have a problem with business having a seat at the table either, as they are the engine of our society.  I just don't think they need any help from me!

So, in the video they make a big deal that Joseph Stiglitz didn't have access to President Clinton.  I see a common fallacy here that if the President had only known, he could have waved a magic wand and changed things.  Speaking of Clinton, this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by him, paraphrased, which was that when he came into office the one thing that surprised him most was that no one did what he told them to.  It seems that a President has actually surprisingly little power to change the inertia of government bureaucrats protected by civil service laws, hundreds of thousands of people in large organizations used to doing things a certain way, and of course that pesky Congress.

Moving on.  The video also talks about Ayn Rand, her followers, and their effect on the current situation.  This is obviously important, as many people in power these days do claim Rand as their inspiration.  If you are masochistic enough to read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have talked about her more than once.  In short, I have read and liked Ayn Rand--I even think she has some extremely worthwhile things to say.

For example, one thing you never hear in the media--because it's way too abstract--is Rand's emphasis on philosophy.  Not her philosophy, but philosophy itself.  She says that if you don't have a philosophy, from what do you derive your value system?  And if you don't have values, how do you make any decision whatsoever?  To my mind, that is the most essential point of her philosophy--have a fucking philosophy.  Think about what you do.  Have reasons for the things you do, and for the things you think.  I think this is an excellent point.

She is also very much anti-Christian, or at least anti-Christian values.  In Atlas Shrugged in particular, she demonstrates how some people use other people to get things from them, using emotion, altruistic philosophy, and even family ties as blackmail.  I agree with her about this, too.

But she's most famous, of course, for exalting people of ability.  And I think this is great, too.  But it is also, in my opinion, where she stumbles.

Look, there's one thing you need to understand about Ayn Rand.  It's very simple.

Bitch was crazy.


I mean, you only have to watch an interview of her to feel it coming off the tv screen.  The crazy.  This woman was a miserable person.

In the video they talk about how she "rationally" convinced a married friend of hers, while she was married, that the "rational" thing for them to do was to have an affair.  Her former lover testified that she seriously believed that everything she did was rational.

What you need to understand, in my opinion, is that there is rather a lot of psychological science proving, quite clearly, that humans are not rational most of the time.  I could come up with literally hundreds of psychology experiments that I studied in school if I had time, but Google will not let you down.  Humans are animals, they have animal instincts that work extremely well at keeping us alive in the jungle.  What they don't do so well is guide us through the modern world.  I personally believe this is the root cause of most of the human-caused evil in the world--lack of rationality.  (I believe this can be improved dramatically with good education, but probably not completely).

Look, life is complicated.  There is a lot of shit to know and think about.  Anyone who thinks he is the master of it is self deluded.

At the beginning of the video you are shown a number of silicon valley entrepreneurs announcing that they are Randian heroes.  Listening to them and watching them, don't you kind of feel like they can't be?

As Obama was misquoted during the campaign--you didn't do that.  You did not auto-create yourself, and auto-educate yourself all on your own with no help from anyone.  You needed the society around you to buy your fucking products, after all.  Not to mention the roads, police and court system protection, and other educated people to work for you, since you literally cannot do it all by yourself.

I'm not even saying these guys aren't brilliant entrepreneurs, and possibly even great credits to themselves, their families, and society.  And I even agree with Rand that, generally speaking, we need to stay out of productive people's way and let them do their thing.  I'm just saying that expecting them to produce everything that humans need is madness.  Have you ever met one of these guys?  "Englightened" is not a word I would use to describe them.  "Acquisitive" is.

For example, many "self-made" men also have a way of treating their employees like crap.

In Atlas Shrugged, the hero guys treat certain employees with a lot of respect, because they have that mutual respect thing going on.  But if you look at an example like Papa John's pizza, it is obvious that there any respect has to be a one way upstream sort of deal.

All I'm claiming is that many people who are very very good at making money are not actually good and doing and making stuff.  They are generally just kickass salesmen--see Ellison, Larry.

In short, Rand was an idealist, and like all idealists who have ever tried to perpetrate their ideal onto reality, it backfires in unexpected ways because they don't understand their own idea's limitations and flaws.

So in the real world you have the case of the Randian financiers in Washington using the government to bail out Thailand and Korea, supposedly, just so they could get their own money out of those countries.

Ayn Rand would have those people executed.  You may recall that Dagny Taggart's dad once almost killed a government man who offered him government money.  No.  She wouldn't like that.

Hypocrisy is certainly the name of the game, here.  These guys claim Rand as their inspiration, but they use her to justify their government looting behavior.

Oh my, they've certainly gotten their information about her from YouTube, and not actually read her work.

So yeah, that's bad.   But personally, I don't care what kind of philosophy is spewed by someone who is looting, and whether they are being hypocritical or not--they're just criminals, even if they're likely to get away with it.

But you know, in the end, I think my point is that it is just not worth getting your panties in a wad about stuff like this.

Today I took the day off, and it was a beautiful day outside.  I got up and "worked out" (a two mile walk around my neighborhood), cleaned up and had lunch with a friend.  I came home and walked up to Starbucks and got a coffee and a cookie and enjoyed the nice weather, watching the people going about their business out there in the world.  It was very pleasant.

Ultimately,that is that kind of thing that life is all about.  One person can only do so much.  You can write a blog and try to influence people to support the expansion of fair use in copyright to include all non-commercial use, for example.  I certainly encourage that.  You can sit around with your friends and bitch about politics and stuff, as long as it's fun.  But one person's power is very limited--even if he or she is wealthy.

Look at the last election--billions were spent by billionaires, and half of them still lost.

So you do what you can. But I think it's far easier--and more interesting--to simply accept that there's going to be a certain amount of bullshit in human affairs.  People are going to lie, cheat, and steal, bribe and corrupt.  They are also going to be virtuous, honest, and value integrity.  More often than either they are just confused and kinda stupid. It's this mix of reactions that I think makes society interesting and entertaining.

Sure, it's possible the Earth will be swallowed by a black hole because Obama got re-elected and computers aren't as smart as some think they are and Wall Street is running wild and the Chinese are experimenting with antiprotons.  And if so, well, we'll all go down together.

But I doubt it.  Probably the future will lie somewhere in between "global holocaust" and "nirvana".   I'm just going to do my small part where I see the opportunity, and try to enjoy myself the rest of the time.

Anybody got any weed?

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