Is the Free-market Self-regulating?

If you live in the American South, like I do, you will notice that there are few claims around here held as dearly (and uncritically) as the proclaimed ideal of the self-regulatory nature of the free-market.  And, as we enter an election year, the truth of this particular economic gospel is starting to be preached from all corners below the Mason-Dixon Line.  These days I consider myself to be largely apolitical.  I have certain opinions, as they regard to specific issues, which can individually carry political implications (or not).  But I do not try to make my opinions fit into a greater political narrative, and often, I find myself with one camp on one matter, and with the other camp on another.  Thus, my reasons for calling into question the veracity of laissez-faire style free-market economics is not based on a political ideology, but the fact that its supporters consider their personal preferences to be beyond reproach and absolute.

Roughly speaking, the free-market is a market system where prices are determined by supply and demand.  A free-market economy is an economy where all aspects of business are unregulated by any factors other than the market participants (ideally this means no government oversight, either placing restrictions on, or giving favor to, businesses).  When it comes to the Western world, the free-market serves a vital function in the operation of our economies, because it is the primary plane of operation we have erected by which to carry out commerce.  The problem I have with the arguments made by advocates of a complete laissez-faire free-market economy, is that they totally neglect the fact that the free-market does not exist independent of us; it is not a natural phenomenon, it came about through the direct, personal involvement of individuals. It operates through the direct, personal involvement of individuals.  So, in what way does it make sense to say that the system is (or, ideally, needs to be) self-regulating?

This is the primary problem with free-market fundamentalism in a nutshell; the idea that the free-market is some sort of self-correcting, self-sustaining, omniscient force, always able to yield the most egalitarian and utilitarian result.  Many laissez-faire advocates will no doubt object to this generalization, but in reality it is a very apt synopsis of how their ideas come across to outside observers.  If you are convinced that no sort of outside regulation (especially a governmental one), should be permitted to oversee and remedy the workings/progress/abuses of businesses, then you are by default claiming that the businesses, themselves, will always be capable of supervising themselves, as no doubt abuses and corruptions will occasionally occur (and then some).  Here, I have to applaud laissez-faire advocates for the amount of trust they place in faceless conglomerates, while at the same time dismissing the intentions of faceless federal agencies.  But one cannot help but point out the lapse in logic.

To claim that federal regulation can only mess-up the market, and then point to examples of government corruption as evidence for one’s claim, but then further on hold that any corruption seen on the side of private corporations is simply part of the self-regulating process, is a fallacious argument of special pleading.  In the current economic model we reside in, to entirely detach the government from the workings of businesses does not just remove a thorn out of the paw of CEO’s, or limit their money-making capacity, it also removes the provision of the health standard for our foods (which did not exist in the late 19th/early 20th century, nor was it much of a concern for the food conglomerates of the time), and prevent the import of potentially harmful material to enter the country (imagine if during the Chinese Lead Toys Scare, we decided that only the Chinese Company’s own regulators, who allowed the tainted product to enter the market to begin with, can do the proper investigations).  Of course, the government bureaucrats are shady, and constantly on the lookout for profit and self-promotion, but to pretend that business bureaucrats are any more trustworthy–especially when dealing with things that would decide their overall revenue–is plain delusional.  Remember how hard the auto industry fought in the 1960s against fixing a few measly safety hazards in their cars, even though the expense was negligible in light of their yearly intake on the market.  Luckily, they lost that battle, but it wasn’t because the omniscient guidance of the free-market led them to make the right decision.

Fundamentally, what needs to be understood is that the free-market does not have a mind, and it is not alive; it is a man-made system, limited by our capabilities, and directed by our faults.  And within the scope of the laissez-faire mindset, its capacity to correct the shady activities of corporate interests relies entirely on the self-interested corporations themselves.

Now, let me clear up a mistake often made by the political Left when discussing this issue; namely, the false assertion that corporations are evil in some way.  This is not true, corporations are not evil, nor are the people who make up their boards.  Corporations are for-profit institution, by which I mean that they are outlets which provide a service for the sake of gaining a profit.  This is not evil, but it is not—in any way—an ingredient of something that is concerned with promoting the well-being of the individual’s liberties.

Despite what laissez-faire advocates want to claim, there is no history of a business independently implementing much needed regulatory policies on itself, without external pressure.  No tycoon took a stroll through his factory, only to be struck by the urge to extend a reasonable minimum wage to his workers.  At no point did a business take a stand to condemn the use of child labor as a legitimate means to carry on its enterprise before child labor laws were passed.  All of this was brought about through outside pressure; either workers petitioning to local and federal agents, or the federal government itself clamping down on social inequalities in the work place (as slow to the draw as it might have been).  Because that’s what the whole point of a government is, to prove a service and look out for the interests of its citizens, not the corporations.  Too often it fails miserably in this department, but to suggest that the solution to the problem is to completely remove all third-party oversight from the equation is plainly unfounded.

A conglomerate exists to make a profit, if it can cut corners to increase profit, it will.  If it can ignore precautions to maximize revenue–even if it’s only in the short-term with detrimental effects likely to happen as a direct result–it will.  Again, this is not a condemnation; I also believe that for opponents of laissez-faire economics to say that such a thing is evil, while regulatory measures are innately good, would be equally simplistic and stupid.  My argument is about efficiency, and the fact that the laissez-faire stance that the free-market will always find a way to work out its problems by itself has no barring in reality, and seems to rely mainly on the frustration people have towards the incompetency of their government.  All of this is understandable, but what justification lies there in the presupposition that free-market participants will be more efficient in fostering a healthy economy for the rest of us?  Pointing to the inaptitude of one side, does not garner points for yours.

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as Allegory to the Terrors of the French Revolution

Although it came to serve as a hallmark for the advent of the Gothic literary genre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cannot be separated from its origins in the Romantic tradition.  The Romantic movement in literature (circa 1800-1840) was a reaction to the perceived mechanical, stoic approach to viewing the natural world through the logic of Enlightenment rationalism.  The aim of the Romantics was to introduce the value of the emotional experience in human expression, especially in its relation towards physical reality.  Arguably, it’s historical infusion in English literature can be traced directly to the artistic response to the Reign of Terror (1793-94) which arose out of–and in many ways defined the popular image of–the French Revolution.

The poetry of William Blake and William Wordsworth, which exalts the aesthetic beauty of nature over its rudimentary empirical observations, set the tone for much of the later Romantics who followed.  Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley’s husband, was another key figure in the Romantic movement, who heralded the naturalistic worldview, without making reference to the lifeless trappings of cold rationalism.  This is the environment Shelley was surrounded by as she penned her novel in 1818.  Despite often being overlooked as a mere accomplice to Percy’s more provocative work and demeanor, it was Shelley who expressed most poignantly the Romantic horror towards the Revolutionary elements that sparked the literary appeal for a greater appreciation for the aesthetics.

In the novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein is a passionate man, enamored by the creative possibilities offered by scientific thought and rigor:

None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.  In other studies you go so far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is food for discovery and wonder (Chapter 4, page 49).

He is the quintessential child of the Enlightenment, not content with merely contributing to the understanding of life, but seeking to challenge the conventions that have traditionally constituted the definition of life itself:

Whence, I asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?  It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice and carelessness did not restrain our inquiries (page 50).

In this pursuit he labors, and theorizes, and experiments, until his desire for reanimating life in the lifeless is actualized.  The philosophical origins of the French Revolution followed a similar intellectual path.  The Enlightenment writings of Voltaire, Diderot, Paine, and Locke (amongst numerous others), too, sought to instill the spark of life in a lifeless body; the lifeless body being the decaying corpse of the common populace, whose dire condition was sustained through the traditional conventions that maintained its own authority by reducing the worth of the powerless to little more than a living death.  Like the feverish thrill of excitement that accompanied Dr. Frankenstein’s climactic success in creating life, the uprising of the lower caste of society against the social order that governed them–most vividly symbolized by the popular storming of the Bastille in 1789–served as a reinvigorated yelp of life echoing the labors of the minds that planted the seeds of its ascent; or, as articulated in Dr. Frankenstein, “After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” (page 51).

Within the context of Shelley’s narrative, Dr. Frankenstein isn’t a malicious figure.  Indeed, he is a rather sympathetic character, whose intellectual feats and desire to push the frontiers of knowledge are quite admirable; even benign.  However, the man allows his zeal to take control of his reason, causing him to lose track of the reality he is bringing about before him:

But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the results (page 51).

The excitement of the event blinded the young scientist from contemplating either the means by which he was arriving at his desired results, or the possible consequences that these results would bring to fruition.  Thus, upon reaching the final hour of his work, Dr. Frankenstein at last stood back to observe and reflect on his creation, only to gasp in horror at what he had brought about into the world:

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form?  His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful.  Beautiful!  Great God! / I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. / I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (Chapter 5, page 56).

Unable to deal with the reality of his creation, Dr. Frankenstein abandons it in disgust and fear.  Forcing the creature to venture into the world without order or guidance to nurture his maturity.

One can imagine the philosophical architects of the French Revolution having a similar reaction to the Reign of Terror that arose out of the hopeful revolt in 1789.  The events that disposed of the royal ruling order of France were instigated by the widespread uprising of the exploited masses against the forces that sought to keep them in chains.  It was seen as the will of the people at long last triumphing over the tyranny of their rulers.  Oppression and persecution at the hands of the monarchy was at an end, and the calendar could be set back to Year One, to symbolize the dawning of a hopeful new era of liberty and justice.  Unfortunately, the hope for change proved short-lived, as the concept of liberty and justice, rather than being put to practice, became mere cult devotions in the new regime, which swiftly began to denounce all who failed to properly adhere to the new revolutionary system as heretics to both.  Therefore, like Frankenstein’s creature, the Revolutionary model was arguably created with the most virtues of intentions, assembling together the most intellectually viable parts and ideals available.  Yet, outside of the containment of philosophical musings, where hypothetical entities and situations obey the whim of the ponderer, this idealistic goal turned into a nightmare.  Or, more astutely, once “rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (page 57).

Frankenstein’s creation begins life innocently, but the grotesque circumstances of his existence fuel within him an unyielding destitute and hate.  At first, he wants to uphold the greater aspects of the human spirit (and contribute to it positively, if possible), but his abandonment by his creator, and the scorn leveled at him for his monstrous appearance, causes him to become evermore vengeful and destructive:  “Shall I not then hate them who abhor me?  I will keep no terms with my enemies.  I am miserable and they shall share my wretchedness” (Chapter 10, page 96).  His creation came about through the feverish frenzy of a strained mind, and his continued presence, incapable of assimilating with his greater surroundings, must therefore be justified by virtue of force and, if need be, destruction.   Particularly towards the person that gave him life and subsequently wishes to deprive him of it.  Similarly, the Revolutionaries who spearheaded the rise of the new order, and had zealously advocated the use of terror as an instrument against all possible dissenters, began to see their creation turn against them, as even the most powerful of them were duly marched to the blade of the guillotine.  Signifying how, in the end, the Terror ultimately managed to subdue even its own makers, who failed (or refused) to restrain it when they still held the power to do so.  This shift in control between creator and creation is a sentiment best captured when Frankenstein is confronted by his creature’s haunting words against him, “Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you.  You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!” (Chapter 20, page 160).

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley gives a body to the monstrous history that spurred the Romantic literary tradition she was an immutable figure in.  However, in doing so, she also diverting from the standard premise promoted by her Romantic counterparts, by emphasizing on the fact that while man’s creative nature and passions can bring about unspeakably valuable works of creation and wonder, allowed to go unrestrained, this same nature can bring about monstrous consequences; for both the innocent and guilty alike.  No matter how well-intentioned the initial motivations may be.

Bibliography

Shelley, Mary.  Frankenstein; Or The Modern Prometheus, (Signet Classics:  New York), 1818.  1983 reprint.

The Faux Wisdom of the Recluse

There is a common perception that, in my opinion, has hitherto escaped nearly all scrutiny.  By which I mean to say, it is a sentiment that remains unchallenged even by those who do not see fit to practice its perceived wisdom.  The perception I’m talking about is the notion that solitude yields enlightenment.  That the act of being cut off from social interactions somehow grants a person the ability to tap into a great depth of intellectual growth, which remain elusive to her/his more sociable counterparts.

The idea is that one’s withdrawal from societal obligations and distractions allows the individual to better reflect inward.  To become truly introspective about one’s inner self, and by extension be able to eventually apply this self-conscious awareness outward, towards understanding the world that surrounds the individual (and defines her/him).  When mused over in such mindful diction the whole idea of the enlightened recluse becomes very persuasive.  Especially for those of us who spent most of our available free time in self-imposed solitude; it gives us the warrant to excuse our shyness away as an example of robust intellectual discipline, instead of just plain social awkwardness.

People seem to have a high regard for those who decide to cut themselves off from the mundane worries of modern life.  Few people speak ill of the person who wandered up to a mountain top to “find himself”, or secluded him/herself to a monastic life or nunnery.  Even if they disagree with the wisdom that will result from such actions, people as a whole still find such decisions to be oddly admirable.  But my question is, what great enlightened wisdom has actually resulted from such dire life decisions?  What mountain top yogi has actually stumbled upon a paradigm changing revelation that has added to the resource of human knowledge about the world/life/existence in general?  People have for centuries now been secluding themselves in the woods, lived as spiritual recluses, and yet never could figure out what are considered to be the most basic of facts to any child nowadays.  Facts like that the earth revolves around the sun.  Or that disease is caused by germs.  Discoveries like these weren’t made by the lone individual, spending all of his time in complete seclusion from the world, they were made through a trans-generational exchanging and modifying of preceding ideas.  Even when it comes to knowledge about the inner dimensions of the human identity, solitary methods alone can leave things wanting.

The only mind any single individual has unrestricted access to is her/his own.  Thus the tendency to subconsciously apply our subjective experiences to others is a powerful temptation for most of us.  Yet, it’s a temptation many of us will refrain from doing, because our observations of the people and things that surround us demonstrates to us how our personal thinking is not to be taken at face value; we must verify it with the experiences of others and the consistencies of physical reality.  But how does one do that in complete seclusion from others?  In a life where the only source is either one’s own mind, or mind’s that already agree with one’s own, how can observations and musings about reality be fully trusted?  Better yet, why should such a method of attaining truth be admired as anything other than a foolproof way of avoiding having one’s views about reality rigorously challenged?

The idea that the loner is free of the emotional baggage the rest of the world carries, and can therefore engage in a more rational inner dialogue, is nonsensical, since if one is left with nothing but one’s own consciousness to contemplate reality, what else but one’s emotions will be dictating the introspective discourse?  And I say all of this knowing full well that I have spent an innumerable amount of my time on this blog arguing for the need for individuals to become more introspective about their values and desires.  But it needs to be understood that all the introspective philosophizing in the world will prove futile, if it is devoid of a relentless pursuit to measure one’s findings against verifiable data that has been attained independent of one’s subjective experiences.

I am a man who spends most of his time alone, in my house.  The time I spent at work, my conversations are usually brief and rarely dwell into personal matters.  I have to physically force myself to interact with others on anything more than a casually superficial level, hence I would love nothing more than to say that all one needs to do is to shut oneself away in silent thought to attain a greater understanding of the world.  But to embrace this view would be to fall in the trap of accepting a self-serving answer, simply because it would mean less effort on my part.  Knowledge and values gained through blind seclusion are little different from knowledge and values gained through group conformity; both are bound to be self-delusional.  Thus, rather than view the monk as a man who needs to be intellectually admired, I view him as a man who needs to be intellectually challenged–for it may be the only chance he’ll get to experience it in any thought provoking way.

The Flaw With Personal Experience and Self-authority

It is a mainstay of social decorum to treat an individual’s personal experiences on any given issue as valid contributions to a topic.  Often, it’s quite common to observe two people arguing fiercely about a controversial topic, only to have it end with one of them bringing up the fact that s/he has been in a similar situation to the one being discussed, therefore her/his opinion on the subject has more value than the person who lacks any such personal experience.  And, usually, even if the other person doesn’t outright accept this reasoning, s/he will still yield some level of authority on the subject to the experienced individual.  This is a trend in casual discourse that annoys me to no end.

Now, allow me to clarify my discontent with anecdotal testimony by preemptively refuting my own subjective experiences.  Occasionally, a debate pops up about the issue of whether or not a terminally ill patient has the right to end her/his life, if they so choose.  For the sake of argument, let us suppose that I am passionately in favor of one side of this issue over another that I engage in regular arguments with people about it.  Let’s further suppose that in the middle of the discussion, I make the claim that I must have a great grasp of this issue because eight years ago my father died after several months of suffering due to a terminal illness.  What have I just done?  I have attempted to gain some level of authority on a subject strictly on the bases of an anecdotal experience I have had.  The problem here isn’t that I tied my personal experience into my argument, rather it’s that I am attempting to assert my rightness on the topic over my opponent strictly on account of having had this personal experience.  A line of reasoning that often goes completely unchallenged, even by the person in the discussion who is being silenced by this appeal to self-authority.  However, reasonably speaking, I would argue that having a personal experience makes one less likely to objectively examine a topic, on account that that you have a greater emotional investment in the outcome of the issue; in other words, it’s harder to be objective when you are the subject.

Again, please do not misunderstand me.  I am not objecting to people using their subjective experiences to motivate their engagement of any particular topic.  Nor do I object to referencing one’s personal experiences to add context to an issue being discussed.  The problem is the presupposition many of us accept that because I may have had a personal experience, and you have not, I am inherently more likely to be right on the topic, and have to shut up and listen to my great “anecdotal” wisdom.  This is wrong, in my view.  It’s not just wrong, it’s absurd.  Yes, experience adds perspective.  But it does not bestow infallibility.  If this were true, then only those who have gone to war should be allowed to comment on war; only those who are involved in the political process should be allowed to comment on politics; only those who have committed a crime (or have had a crime committed against them) should be allowed to comment on crimes; etc, etc, etc.

Personally, my experience is that it’s rarely the case that any one person is completely right on any one issue (though, at times, it does happen–depending on the issue).  If you happen to be more informed (thereby, more right) than the arguments you present in favor of your position will be apparent to the casual observers, without needing to pull on their heartstrings.  To attempt to persuade/silence another person by appealing to your own authority is not just wrong, but a potential discredit to the very position you are championing.  But that’s just my subjective objection on the matter.

Electoral Amnesia

Politically Active Citizen A:  “You know, I’m sick and tired of all these politicians just lying to us to get elected.  And then when they get into office they completely ignore the campaign promises they made.  The whole political establishment seems to be set up against the interest of the common citizen.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “Totally, no matter where you stand on politics, we can all agree that the politicians we have in charge now are awful at serving the interests of the people.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “I agree.  Something must be done to bring about true reform in the political system, to let these politicians know we don’t approve of what they’re doing to our country.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “The problem is that people aren’t doing their part as responsible citizens.  Last election cycle I led a petition that registered millions of new voters to take part in the political process.  I figured that the real problem was apathy on the part of the citizens, and if more people go out to vote political corruption would be eliminated or lessened…somehow.  So we all voted in record numbers, but it didn’t really bring about any vital reform in the government.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “That’s very discouraging.  Maybe this year will be different.”

Politically Active Citizen B:  “It will be, as long as even more people vote.  The only way to defeat a corrupt government is for people to fervently partake in the very process that continuous to validate its existence.”

Politically Active Citizen A: “I’ll start an online petition through Facebook immediately.  I just need a catchy name and logo–maybe a chant or two–this will show them we’re serious.”

My Rendered Counsel 

I have two basic sets of questions to the politically active:

1.  If all these politicians are indifferent about passing legislation to serve the interests of all of you who are already active in voicing your grievances with the government (the people whose political participation they depend on for their continued employment), how exactly will adding more voters (with varying degrees of understanding of political issues) into the mix help reform the situation?  What’s to guarantee that the addition of more average citizens will not be equally ignored in a political process where the size of a contributor’s financial donations ensure greater attention from prospective policymakers?  Also, within a larger group of people, the emergence of dissenting opinions is almost always a given.  So, how will you prevent people from being swayed to vote against their own interest (i.e. your interest) by these sneaky politicians?  Moreover, how do you know you aren’t one of those people yourself?

2.  As hinted in number 1, in a democratic system, the political establishment is sanctioned by citizen participation (in theory).  If people are voting (and, yes, the electors in the electoral college count as legitimate representatives of the people under current law), and the candidate with the most votes wins, then the political order is validated by virtue of the popularly agreed upon system.  So, if you agree with this fundamental aspect of the system, and you have hope in the positive efficacy of this system–and going by the fact that you actively partake in the process that sustains the system (i.e. voting), and encourage others to do so as well–in what way have you not, at least passively, consented to the workings of the current political establishment?  To put it more cryptically, if you disapprove of the game, why are you still playing along with the rules?

My honest goal here is not to discourage people from voting.  (What sort of silly goal would that be?)  My intent is to let those of you who have a tendency to get overly enthusiastic about your political participation understand that the reasons your non-active cohabitants in this country choose to abstain from the election process altogether are, at times, a bit deeper than the convenient apathy/ignorance explanation some of you are eager to attribute to them.  And if you truly want to persuade them to see (what you believe to be) the error of their ways, you might want to avoid sounding preachy about your own convictions.  Because to the unconverted, any preacher’s words will be about as convincing to listen to as static noise.  Just some food for thought, for the next time some political activist wants to put his or her self-righteous flyer in my hands without warning.

The Canard of Potential

It often seems that there are some people who no matter how hard their life gets, no matter how much they are repeatedly exploited by the entities that surround them, never fail to keep moving forward through their suffering and humiliation; focusing on nothing else but a private conviction that somehow future circumstances will provide the means by which they will escape their lowly situation.

It is popularly referred to as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit to always advance forward against the hostile odds of life.  And many individuals proudly carry the torments of their life’s struggles as badges of honor.  However, despite the endless amount of cheer and hoot about how such determination is always deserving of the utmost praise from all factors of society, it can’t go without notice that those who cheer and hoot the loudest about the great virtuousness of the lowly man are almost always those who stand well above his “noble” rank.  To put it in another way: it seems very strange to me how it’s those who wield the most power and influence, in (at least) the public sphere of the sociopolitical scene, who are the most vocal about their sympathies for all those in society who are by default the most powerless.  I would think that if the status of the impoverished and voiceless was so admirable to the socially affluent, the latter would be doing more to bring themselves to the former’s virtuous level.

The rhetoric of elected officials is easy to understand in this matter; they need to get elected, to get elected they need votes from the electorate, the people are the electorate, hence the politician will praise the virtue of the common people from dawn ’till dusk (except those people who lie outside of his/her political base of course , they can thoroughly go to hell for all anyone cares).  But it isn’t just politicians who follow this “virtue of the lowly” narrative, it is just about every information source operating.  And the one thing that is constantly being reiterated is how those who may be at the bottom now need not worry, because as long as they work, and sweat, and struggle, they will eventually have the opportunity to escape their status–they have potential.  They have the potential to do better, to become more, to achieve something, to be masters of their own destiny.  And those for whom the message is meant to resonate with the most, those who wish for more in life because they honestly do not possess the means by which to live comfortably, will embrace the validity of their yet untapped potential.  “I may be at the bottom now, but eventually I will get my due,” is the popular sentiment of the potential-laden man.

About a century and a half ago, when the southern portion of the United States briefly seceded from the Union in order to form the Confederate States of America, many (if not most) of the white residents living in the new territory gladly signed up to fight for the cause of the Confederacy against those pesky Yankees.  What was the cause?–The right to own and keep the country’s black population as slaves.  At this point I’m imagining a crowd of my southerners screaming in anger, “No!  No!  No!  It was not about slavery, it was all about state sovereignty.  They were fighting against the intruding Federal government, trying to control the South’s economy and way of life.”  Indeed, they were fighting for state sovereignty and states rights.  Unfortunately, the primary right our southern states wanted to retain full sovereignty over was the right to keep black people as property, hence it is fair to say that the economic system they wanted to protect was one that rested on the enslavement of other human beings.  (Which is why every one of the individual Confederate State constitutions explicitly mention the right to retain slavery as a valid form of commerce.)  However, it needs to be remembered that a great deal of the fighting population of the Confederate Army were non-slave owning white men, who were too impoverished to ever be able to set foot in the hallowed farming grounds of the pseudo-aristocratic plantation owner who benefited most from the South’s peculiar institution.

Which ought to leave one wondering, why did so many men readily die for a system that offered them no direct benefits?  The simple answer is that our forebears were racist fools, who no matter how illiterate, unwashed, ignorant, and economically broken they were kept by the system they so cherished, they could not let go of the deluded idea that all of these negatives were unimportant as long as they could lay claim to the coveted price of being called white.  For as long as they had that, they still had potential for more.  The fact that this potential had no chance of being realized, that by all accounts they–and their direct descendents–have always and will always die just as illiterate, unwashed, ignorant, and broken as they had lived, makes no difference in the great scheme of such a mindset.  Because the power of potential is not to lift one’s physical self from the obstacles in one’s depressing environment, but to lift one’s spirit and numb the physical body from the pangs of life’s depressing obstacles–that is to say, it holds no real powers at all.

The individual’s hope in her/his potential is the greatest placebo a mind can fall prey to.  Rather than motivating a person to reach higher, and strive for better, it makes her/him content with the lowly position s/he is inhabiting now, on the indolent basis that “my time will come eventually, after all, I have the potential to do better.”  It makes one cope with personal setbacks and failures, and even nourishes a certain level of pride in both, spiritually feeding on the mock appreciation heralded at the paupers’ “noble suffering” by the physically well-fed princes.  All the while life goes by, as we sit back daydreaming about alternate existences we could have pursued but didn’t, and never will.  If I could think of one sentiment to erase out of the human consciousness it would be our liege to the hope of potential.

Technology and Human Dependency

It is at times said–by people eager to have things to say–that modern society is too dependent on technology.  Personally, I consider this to be a prime example of a nonsensical statement.  For what is modern society, but its technological advancements?  The progress of technology is the characteristic by which we define modern society from archaic civilizations.  So, how on earth does it make sense to speak as if our priced modernity could have existed independent of our technological dependency?

A more pointed (and coherent) question would be to ask, has the technology we depend on to function in modern society surpassed our intellectual comprehension of it?  The answer to that is undoubtedly, yes.  In the past, technological machinery was simple (i.e. wheelbarrow, pulley crane, water wheel, etc.), and easily replicable by the common observer.  Today, the technology we use on a daily basis is well beyond our comprehension.  How exactly does the wi-fi on my laptop work in correlation to my internet service? Hell, if I know.  I just know how to log on to my screen name, and let the machine do the work from there.  I’ll be damned if I was ever asked to replicate the phenomenon from scratch, even if I was given an unlimited amount of resources to do it with.  Same goes for my cell phone, and various other appliances I depend on to function in modern society.  I understand there are individuals who actually do understand all of the basic components, and indeed can create the whole machinery from naught, but that doesn’t change the fact that the population at large cannot.  Most of us simply push button on/off on appliance XYZ, and don’t give the rest of it much thought.  Not necessarily because we’re too lazy to look up each individual component that goes into creating the machinery, but because the knowledge that goes into it is too far out of our intellectual depth for us to ever be able to truly grasp it.

Although technology is guaranteed to become even more complex as it progresses, human intelligence (as a collective) may very likely remain unchanged due to there being no real environmental pressure for us to understand the mechanism behind a piece of technology, beyond its practical utility to serve our needs.  So, what are we to make of this?  I can see both negative and positive points people might raise, but none of that really matters to me.  All I know is that humanity is at a developmental point where to speak of social modernity, absent of technological dependency, is an impossibility.  If human society continues to progress, so will technology, and both will do so entirely with complete dependence on the other.