Albert Einstein supposedly said, “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not convinced about the universe.”
It is irrelevant if he said it or not; it’s true; and as a synonym for “stupidity,” we could use “greed.”
Economics is really interesting as a context for examining human behaviour.
Every economic system that we have devised deals with the same fundamental issue; the world (and the universe?) is a finite place, as opposed to human stupidity/greed. It is theoretically possible, and generally the case that our greed surpasses our opportunities to satisfy it.
Simple barter stopped working when supplies of things to be bartered ran out. Mercantilism stopped working because it is based on arithmetic, rather than geometric, progressions.
A greedy person just can’t get rich enough trading actual things.
Enter modern finance.
We can’t make the resources, energy and markets infinite; one can only extract so much raw materials before they are irretrievably depleted. At a certain point, you end up having to consume >1x energy to extract 1x energy. Once everyone with the money to buy a refrigerator does so, markets are exhausted.
But modern financial wizardry can make money abstract, and therefore infinite. Remember, we have an infinite number of 1’s and 0’s at our disposal.
So, now we have found a way to make money infinite, the problem is that if money is abstract and infinite, then it becomes worthless.
It has to be made artificially scarce so that it can retain its value.
So we tied it to debt, in a Zero-sum relationship. For every unit of money, there has to be the same unit of debt. Both numbers can be infinite, but they have to total zero or the scarcity, and therefore the value, is lost.
This worked really well for a long time, but from the very start some people saw the flaw in the reasoning and were able to predict how it would all fall apart. We call them “Marxists,” and we don’t listen to them because they’re no fun at parties.
Marxists were appalling social observers, terrible judges of human nature and dreadful bore’s, but they did discover the flaw in the capitalist financial system.
I believe, and many will agree, that our financial system is on the verge of collapse. It’s impossible to say exactly when that will happen, but it’s fast approaching.
The moment of collapse comes when a critical mass of people have an “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment and realize that the whole system is bullshit. That sentiment is growing and intensifying, but how far it has to go before it overwhelms people’s normalcy bias is anyone’s guess.
We’ve gotten to the stage in the financial crisis where actual productive endeavours are far less profitable than abstract manipulations. That’s why wages are declining and unemployment growing. That’s why the price of luxuries and trinkets falls while the cost of things we actually need rise.
So how does this happen?
We’re not really trading tangible things; we’re trading coupons tied, loosely, to the notional future value of those commodities. The price of those coupons turns out to have a lot more to do with the price of money lent at interest to fuel the extraction industries.
The price of oil tells us almost nothing about oil in today’s modern finance capital marketplace. It tells us a lot about the value of money. And the value of money is plummeting, as more and more people figure out that the supply is infinite, and the debt it’s tied to is also infinite and fictional and will never be repaid because it can’t be.
And the debt can’t be repaid because it’s gotten to be so huge no amount of productive endeavour can raise enough money to repay the debt.
The only question now is how long will it still go on, and what increasingly desperate measures will we turn to in order to keep up the charade?
At some point, one day nobody shows up. And that’s when it’s over.
When that happens, I have no idea. But when the whole system is based on pretence, and there is no real anchor to value, eventually people will stop playing.
Their greed will no longer be satisfied by participation.
We’re getting close…..
Consumerism, insatiable greed for waste
Depression like so many other (so called) psychomental (my word) troubles (ADHD, Autism, etc.) is a product of our modern lifestyle; created by the physical and perceptional “base-line “for “normal“ behavior.
The physical world we have created and within which the incidence of psychomental troubles is most rapidly rising is the densely populated city. It is a totally unnatural environment made of concrete, steel, glass and asphalt. It compels us to breathe hydrocarbon polluted air, eat nutritionally harmful or vacuous food (check any fast food menu or supermarket tomato or strawberry for details), and drink plasticized bottled water. I will not go into the subject of the plethora of chemicals we plaster onto our bodies in the name of beauty?
We have created no less than 900 new-to-nature chemicals, thought of as hormone interrupters; I leave you to imagine the effect that that has on our poorly equipped bodies and minds.
Generally, nature is absent from our daily life. We and nature are strangers, distant relatives, and therefore we have become estranged from an important and deep aspect of our own natures. We do not, in a personal sense, understand nature as Thoreau came to, when he was at Walden Pond (recommended reading: Life in the woods by Henry Thoreau but please do not label me a modern Transcendentalist – an American aberration)
We are ignorant to the slowly changing rhythms of nature, through the seasons, and year after year. We can only see time passing in the faces of our loved ones, or the mirror, but we do not experience the naturalness of the passage of time via a changing, slowly morphing landscape around us. We have lost the mirroring experience which the natural world provides us around the experience of time, the naturalness of it, as we might experience, if we lived connected to nature. And so we are left with an experiential void which is filled by a tremendous existential aloneness and anxiety about the strangeness of death, which seems quite disconnected from our lives, and therefore fails to inform our lives with meaning and value. We are no longer chaperoned through the stages of our lives by nature. And so we cling to youth, attempting to freeze time.
In the purely physical universe, where there is no inherent meaning, and no dialogue with nature, we seek solace in the physical. We buy what we don't need, because it is supposed to make us feel or look good or safer. In the process, we become alienated from our families and from ourselves.
Furthermore, as a culture, western society has lost its center, and has become disoriented, and without a higher purpose. The capitalistic ethos seems to have replaced a constitutional, higher purpose or imperative. Value and values have dissolved into a sludge of wherewithal, celebrity and virtual reality.
Social and cultural destruction is very real, yet we, as individuals, as political parties, as families and, communities, are willingly unconscious of the clear evidence that our current approach to human existence is failing.
The definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result) can certainly be applied to Western civilization.
And so, to come back to the point at hand - if one is living in a fundamentally imbalanced and insane culture, is it surprising that greater and greater numbers of individuals are presenting with psychomental troubles?
It seems that on a collective level, higher numbers of psychomentals and non-functioning individuals are already causing a negative feedback loop to the growth of the culture, via excessive health care costs, comorbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and reduced viability of the individual, the family unit and therefore the community - all known sequelae of psychomental troubles.
If we can learn about and understand the links between the brain and the immune system, and between diet and mood, must we not wonder about the links between the culture and individual behavior, between the stresses of Western psychology and the craving for something to satisfy the inner emptiness? Is there not then a link between this craving, and the purchase of material goods (and the attendant stresses of paying for them), just as there is between the intake of sweets and the subsequent inflammatory response?
Ultimately, reduction of the incidence and prevalence of psychomental troubles on the public health scale will not come from pharmacology, individual psychotherapy, or from snake oil. It will come from a re-connection of the individual with the larger whole of the family, the community, a purposeful culture, and a dialogue with nature and meaning. This will require a rebalancing of the male-dominated, individualistic, domination oriented culture (in which reason and logic are the only way of knowing) with the feminine, wholistic, interactive and participatory approach to life. We, as human beings need a balance of both to thrive. Socioeconomic and political efforts to incorporate such an integrated view of ourselves, the world and our futures are the therapy which this culture requires, if we are to stem the rising tide of psychomental troubles.
In the many older cultures (e.g., Chinese, Indian), the collective community is responsible for the well-being and good behavior of the individual. So too, must the larger Western society and culture be held accountable for its role in the mental health and wellbeing of individuals.
unnatural state of mind provoked by acquiescence
Conscience Does Not Explain Morality
Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason…while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual affected by one’s decision
It is my opinion that morality as interpreted by the general public happens to be a conscience-centric one, focusing on self-regulatory behaviours (i.e. what you, personally, ought to do).
To most people it certainly feels like we don’t do certain things because they feel morally wrong, so understanding morality through conscience is something that intrigues me.
With all due respect to all of you morality bashers, you seem to have based your analysis of morality on entirely the wrong concept.
Understanding conscience can help understand morality, and no account of morality would be complete without explaining conscience.
There is a fundamental difference between moral conscience and preferences which are basically just 'moral rules' that are a hangover from the 'teachings' of the established religions.
This is the key distinction, then: moral conscience (regulating one’s own behaviour) does not appear to straightforwardly explain moral condemnation (regulating the behaviour of others). Despite this, almost every expressed moral rule or law involves punishing others for how they behave – at least implicitly. While the specifics of what gets punished and how much punishment is warranted vary to some degree from individual to individual, the general form of moral rules does not.
While we cannot necessarily learn much about moral condemnation via moral conscience, the reverse is not true: we can understand moral conscience quite well through moral condemnation. Provided that there are groups of people who will tend to punish for you for doing something, this provides ample motivation to avoid engaging in that act, even if you otherwise highly desire to do so.
Our moral conscience represents the fear of the cost of transgressing our moral code for fear of punishment. To the extent that morally undesirable behaviors tend to be condemned and punished, we ought to be expected to have a cognitive system to represent that fact.
To me that all seems a bit perverse. After all, many simply experience the sensation that an act is morally wrong or not and don’t necessarily think about their actions in terms of the likelihood and severity of punishment (some do think such things some of the time, but that’s typically not what appears to be responsible for the feeling of “that’s morally wrong”. People think things are morally wrong regardless of whether one is caught doing it).
That all may be true enough, but I am trying to understand why some experience those feelings of moral wrongness and not to just note that we do experience them and that they seem to have some effect on our behavior.
While our behavior might be proximately motivated by those feelings of moral wrongness, those feelings came to exist because they were useful in guiding out behavior in the face of punishment.
That does raise a rather important question, though: why do we still feel certain acts are immoral even when the probability of detection or punishment are rather close to zero?
There are two ways of answering that question, neither of which is mutually exclusive with the other. The first is that the cognitive systems which compute things like the probability of being detected and estimate the likely punishment that will ensue are always working under conditions of uncertainty. Because of this uncertainty, it is inevitable that the system will, on occasion, make mistakes: sometimes one could get away without repercussions when behaving immorally, and one would be better off if they took those chances than if they did not. One also needs to consider the reverse error as well, though: if you assess that you will not be caught or punished when you actually will, you would have been better off not behaving immorally. Provided the costs of punishment are sufficiently high it might pay in some situations to still avoid behaving in morally unacceptable ways even when you’re almost positive you could get away with it.
The point here is that it doesn’t just matter if you’re right or wrong about whether you’re likely to be punished: the costs to making each mistake need to be factored into the cognitive equation as well, and those costs are often asymmetric.
The second way of approaching that question is to suggest that the conscience system is just one cognitive system among many, and these systems don’t always need to agree with one another. That is, a conscience system might still represent an act as morally unacceptable while other systems (those designed to get certain benefits and assess costs) might output an incompatible behavioral choice. To the extent that these systems are independent, then, it is possible for each to hold opposing representations about what to do at the same time.
So, having mastered the morality equation in so far as it explains the behavioral aspect, I am still wrestling with my conscience.