Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Of Growth, Debt, Interest and Abundance

“Creating money on the basis of debt, therefore, makes the economy fundamentally unstable. The system is always balanced on a knife-edge. If bank customers borrow too little, the economy moves into recession and, unless corrective action is taken, [...snip...] the positive feedbacks just discussed (such as people’s natural reluctance to borrow and spend) will kick in and produce a catastrophic depression.” “The Ecology of Money”, Douthwaite, p23.

“Another fundamental problem with the debt method of creating money is that, because interest has to be paid on almost all of it, the economy must grow continuously if it is not to collapse.” Ibid, p24.

“Continuous economic growth is impossible in a finite world. True, some people believe that growth can be made environmentally harmless (‘angelized’ to use Herman Daly’s term) by being stripped of its energy and natural resource content, [...snip...]. But this is a pipe dream. The energy and resource content of many activities can certainly be reduced so that we can do more of them without increasing our environmental impact, but that impact cannot be reduced to nothing.” Ibid, p25.


Why is growth good? Why is decline bad? Surely neither is good or bad. However, debt-money + interest = dependency on non-stop growth. Perpetual growth, as we understand it through orthodox economics, is mathematically necessitated by interest. And while this mad pursuit does indeed inspire innovation, it does so blindly, rapaciously, and is wrongly reliant on an unprovable Invisible Hand which either does not exist as conceived, or is inherently ‘co-optable,’ that is, not at all out of the reach of those who benefit greatly from manipulating it, which Adam Smith himself knew. Hence the usury model turns out to be unfair to a degree which would shame Mother Nature, famed for her inherent ‘unfairness.’
 
Economic growth of the interest-debt-money variety does not yield a sustainable relationship with the environment, finds decline to be bad, is systemically incapable of non-linear thinking, entrenches insoluble and gaping societal divisions, and prioritizes money-making above all other activities. All this encourages stifling corruption, corruption aimed both at milking and sustaining the status quo. Usury money is inescapably, mathematically the money of scarcity. A system built around the deep assumptions of scarcity necessarily encourages hoarding and fear regardless of the abundance of nature. The interest-debt-money system is a double-looped positive feedback loop (see hastily sketched graphic below), whose effects are the slow but accelerating destruction of those ecosystems which act as fuel for the process of non-stop growth. It is a fire burning itself out, its flames and heat are money and economic growth, its fuel is natural, cultural and spiritual resource. Therefore, only resource exhaustion, or, far less likely, a conscious decision, can stop it.



On the other hand, even before money and interest, there was human population growth. David Montgomery explores, on p30 of “Dirt, the Erosion of Civilizations”, competing theories of the advent of farming: oasis theory and cultural evolution theory, but is dissatisfied with both. He posits instead the idea that human population growth led to a need to get more food from settled land than jungle and wild can provide untended. Were homo sapiens sapiens not so inventive, our numbers would have stabilized. But our ancestors came up with farming, completely unaware of its long term effects.

“For over 99 percent of the last two million years, our ancestors lived off the land in small, mobile groups. While certain foods were likely to be in short supply at times, it appears that some food was available virtually all the time. Typically, hunting and gathering societies considered food to belong to all, readily shared what food they had, and did not store or hoard—egalitarian behavior indicating that shortages were rare. If more food was needed, more was found. There was plenty of time to look. Anthropologists generally contend that most hunting and gathering societies had relatively large amounts of leisure time, a problem few of us are plagued with today.” “Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations”, Montgomery, 2007, p47.

 
Farming is hard work, radically alters one’s relationship to the land, and is uncertain in outcome – whereas hunter gathering is based on trust in nature's bounty, and 'day to day' rather than planing for the future – so needs to have been a forced decision. It must therefore have been a problem of increasing scarcity, or diminishing abundance, that forced humanity’s hand. The hunter gatherer pattern was to split a tribe that had become too big for its environment, and send one half in search of new, happy hunting-gathering grounds. Eventually this pattern hit a wall, especially when we consider glaciation and desertification over the relevant period. So Montgomery suggests food shortage forced an adaptation, forced humanity from the Eden of abundance/hunter gathering into the back-breaking world of farming and scarcity, ownership and competition, and everything else that has arisen as a consequence of that.

As time went on, the skills of hunter gathering were lost as more and more wild land was domesticated. Humanity became increasingly dependent on farming. We got better and better at it (shortsightedness to one side), and have over the millennia populated every corner of the planet with our progeny, though at great cost. Nevertheless, we are now at the curious point where scarcity-based progress is delivering a new abundance, albeit against a background of serious scarcity of fossil fuels inhibiting the perverse over-consumption we promote in the interests of economic growth. New technologies like the Internet, automation, hydroponics and permaculture tease us with abundance, whisper of a new egalitarian/high-tech combination, while the institutions we have built up over the millennia, along with our deeply held cultural expectations, ‘wisdoms,’ fears and convictions, combine to prevent us from recognizing the deeper opportunity our gifts have yielded. We can no longer carry on along the path of blind consumption-driven growth and embrace the new egalitarianism and abundance our best technologies offer us. Depletion of water, soil, ecosystems, oil, climate etc., in the interests of profit, mean we must stop growing as we have done, stop lauding growth as evidence of our superiority over, and dominance of nature (as if such a perception could ever make sense), and begin a new growth paradigm; growth of health, literacy, trust, wisdom, and so on.
 
It is not a return to primitivism I promote. While hunter gatherers were indeed embedded in nature far more than are we, they did not have sufficient global/universal awareness to expand their circles of reciprocity across the planet, let alone to other tribes – there were of course wars and other brutalities even in Eden. But time and technological developments have brought us to exactly that point, the point at which we are beginning to imagine humanity as one group. Ideas of transcending petty tribalism and the nation state are taken more and more seriously:
 
“Leaders of the world’s principal economies – both advanced and emerging – will need to reform co-operatively and deeply if the world economy is not to suffer further earthquakes in years ahead.” Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 14.07.10 [My emphasis. Hat tip Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism.]

 
A return to a co-operative, symbiotic way of life – hinted at by open-source software, Google, YouTube, permaculture etc. – one which includes as much of the universe as we can manage, is called for. This requires a totally new economics, one not attached to growth, and therefore with new ideas on both debt and interest.

So, on to my thoughts on debt and why we might do without interest. I’m coming to think of debt simply as ‘an owing.’ For example, if a friend does me a favour, I owe him one. I am in debt to him, perhaps not explicitly, and certainly not in a ledger, but in some important way. If he does me many favours and I never return them, the friendship will break down. The owing becomes too great, too one-sided. I suffer the loss from my life of the presence of a kind and generous soul, he is rid of a selfish bum who was no real friend. And note there is neither need nor room for interest, nor for a standardized accountancy, nor is any entrenched and calcifying social division possible.
 
Another example. If, as is currently possible with permaculture techniques, I set up for myself a jungle-garden – a self-sustaining ecosystem providing fruit and vegetables as jungles do, but in a garden format – and take from it the food I need to survive in robust health, do I go into debt to the jungle-garden? Does it keep score? Well, only if my taking from it is large enough to upset its ability to self-sustain. Then ‘debt’ in this example could be thought of as tipping a system into collapse. If that point is not reached, ‘taking’ is simply part of the process, the cycle of growth and decay. (I am not expert on jungle-gardens, and imagine input/tending is necessary, but the basic principle I briefly lay out here is sound. Humans had this relationship with the abundance of nature for tens of thousands of years, many still do. Did/do they know food debt? Perhaps in the form of gratitude.) Again, no interest needed, no accumulation makes sense, no scarcity or growth sought.
 
More fundamentally, is breathing monitored? Should we count breaths? For many reasons the idea is laughable. There is a co-operation, a symbiosis between oxygen-inhaling, carbon dioxide-exhaling species and their oxygen-exhaling, carbon dioxide-inhaling counterparts, that requires no accounting. To talk of debt and interest in this sphere is silly. Nature manages fine without it. It self-organizes.
 
With these three simple examples I want to point out that debt has different connotations in different contexts, plays different roles. Elsewhere in nature, food becomes waste becomes food. The process is cyclical. There is no waste systemically speaking. This is of course nothing new, and yet we so often fail to think these things through at the cultural level. Money-debt, as monitored and described by double entry bookkeeping, is linear, not cyclical. A bank loans money into existence and records the transaction as a debt/credit ‘zero’ on its books. When the last payment on the principle is made, the credit/debt entry disappears, and the bank keeps the interest. ‘Out there’ the borrower has competed for that money from the economy – which might have ‘grown’ as a consequence of this competing – by turning some raw resources into money. This ‘victory’ is matched by a corresponding scarcity in the overall money supply, though the bank experiences an increase in its reserves and can lend more. More loans are created, more resources turned into money, more scarcity, more competition, more debt, in a linear expansion onwards and upwards until collapse.

Should we cut profit-making from money-creation? Re-imagine government as the symbolic or institutional embodiment of the abundance of nature, as a jungle-garden-friend, birthed by The People, tended by The People? If not, why not? Why, as in accountancy, should a government go into debt simply for providing a medium of exchange in sufficient quantity to enable sustainable economic life? Surely only if we see money as a store of value. But money is not a store of value; you can’t eat it, drink it, or do anything with it unless all else is functioning well. Money is an abstraction or a representation of the relative value of other things. With this in mind, how can we believe we go into debt just by drawing pictures in the form of money to denote, for the use of exchange, the value of the economy generally? The economy is not made of money, economic activity is assisted by it. 
 
To carry on along MMT lines: if the money ‘printed’ or spent into existence by government enters an economic sphere built on trust and abundance at its very core, why should we need the accountancy practice of registering that spending as the ‘debt’ half of a double bookkeeping entry? Keeping track of things would require some sort of accountancy, but perhaps a new sort. In the absence of scarcity at the paradigm level, in the absence of the need for unending growth, in the absence then too of having to exchange 40+ hours labour a week to produce junk just so we can buy the things we need to live (plus more and more junk), surely the scary notion of a government printing money ‘like there’s no tomorrow’ fades to absurdity. It is the pervasive and penetrating fear of want and scarcity that forces us to think this way, to save for a rainy day, to see value magically stored in money, to compete with the other guy, to win, to accumulate, etc. This profound misperception is where the problem lies. Failing to recognise this misperception blinds us to viable, but radically different alternatives.
 
Instinctively we know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Hence, we should not print money, or somehow spend money into existence without it costing something. Interest is both the cost of money (for borrowing) and the reward for the risk of lending it to someone. This argument makes total sense. But, implicit in it, as I point out above, is the assumption that money stores value. It does not. Real value lies in healthy soil, clean air and water, low crime rates, a relevant education and much else besides. It takes work and wisdom to create/sustain these things. If money is needed to lubricate the processes of creating/sustaining real wealth and lasting health (personally I suspect not), then so be it. But let it be a money that does so, not one that can only ‘work’ in conditions of perpetual growth, and that is created as debt.
 
I imagine debt making sense in some form (perhaps as commitment or dedication) for some areas of human existence, though not for all, perhaps making sense for some money types, though not for all, but usury making no sense anywhere. We believe usury to be essential if we are happy to pursue perpetual economic growth at any cost. When we begin questioning the validity of that model, the health and wisdom of that desire, usury makes less and less sense, until it appears we don’t need it at all. There need be no hoarding, no accumulating ‘wealth’, no pensions, no retirement, we can do with less human law and lawyers, less labour and more work, more community, open and curiosity-led education, no nation states but a rich variety of cultures bleeding into each other geographically, intellectually, artistically. We can create a very different world indeed, a progression from where we are now to something new. Perhaps the new way I imagine might be thought of as the end of elitism, as a New Egalitarianism. We have everything we need to begin this journey but the will to start.

15 comments:

Debra said...

Well, Toby, you are a true monotheist, nonetheless...
Some remarks...
WHO says there is no such thing as a free lunch ?
That there IS such a thing as a free lunch was the point of my post on grace.
The system only works when there IS such a thing as a free lunch, otherwise... well, what happens is what is currently happening.
For money to mean, there have to be things that money WON'T buy. That's my credo. Call it distinctive opposition, like in linguistics. The system is a whole, but what APPEARS to be outside the system is in fact, WITHIN it in order for the system (the social order) to work smoothly, shall we say.
I agree about interest. Over there in the SuddenDebt jungle I have been harping on about interest. It is the worm in the fruit that started us out on the road where we are now.
But if you take a careful look at your orthodox economic paradigm, you will recognize that it is a translation, in another language, of our ancestors' RELIGIOUS beliefs.
Exponential ECONOMIC growth on this earth as a supreme good is equivalent to Biblical BENEDICTION, you know the... "be fruitful and multiply" (which can be understood in a variety of ways...).
I think that our essentially monotheistic culture HAS to have unlimited growth.
Now the catch is... if you don't have unlimited SPIRITUAL growth, for example, you're going to have to find some other world to deploy that unlimited growth in.
See what I mean ?
See how William says it.
In my next comment.

Debra said...

"Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth
Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay ?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend ?
Shall worms, th'inheritors of this excess
Eat up thy charge ? Is this thy body's end ?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss
And let that pine to aggravate thy store
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men.
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then."

Pretty cool huh ?
There you have a concise condemnation of the consumer society in 1600 or so.
Sound familiar ?
I don't agree with what you say about debt, and feeling obliged.
Feeling like you owe one is a big invitation to GUILT, and guilt is how the social body keeps us in line.
It is not necessarily a bad thing to be kept in line, but remember that the social body does NOTHING in moderation, so guilt is used to keep you WAY IN LINE. Like Procrustes bed, for example.
i don't want to be kept in line that way, thank you.
I can figure out when I need to responsible on my little own lonesome, and don't need busybodies to tell me.

Toby said...

Thousands of millions say there is no such thing as a free lunch, and I disagree with them, in a certain context. The free lunch thing was meant as part of a neoliberal/neoconservative/whatever, well-known, oft-heard argument I (obviously?) disagree with. The free lunch notion is argued for in the text in my short analysis of debt itself; the jungle-garden, breathing etc.

Did I write badly, or did you read too hastily?

On the other hand, there is always energy exchange, so 'free' is not truly possible in the sense of energy coming from absolutely nowhere (as far as I can tell), but in the dynamic and ever changing flow of the web of life lunches can be pretty free. Free enough to not be so presbyterian about it!

And I'm not a monotheist, not in the traditional sense anyway. I'm more of an animist, or Meister Eckhart-ist, or some new belief there is no word for. I try not to label myself on this point. There is too much I don't know. And I like it that way! (Don't label me.)

Absolutely agree about the 'dominion over the beasts' roots (and deeper still back to farming too) of our hope/expectation of never ending growth, expansion, etc. And yes, interest yokes us to perpetual growth, which is the main point of the article. And yes, it's time to switch growth from the material/profane/money world to the spiritual, wisdom, community, society side of life. That's the terminus we're at, and the transition is proving very disruptive indeed. Most people seem not to want to even consider the connotations.

Ah me.

Toby said...

Wonderful stuff from the bard. I've never read that particular sonnet, so thanks for that. But I wouldn't call what is described in the sonnet as consumerism, which is a very deliberate engine for a particular type of economic growth. Shakespeare appears to be pointing out the shortsightedness of vanity, of focussing on the purely material as a way of demonstrating to the 'world out there' that one is 'successful.' Consumerism has its roots in this folly, but so do other things.

What's wrong with obligation? Life is a gift we did not 'earn,' gifts are everywhere in nature, from one sphere to the other, from one species to the other, and within species too. The flow of exchange is how the whole thing works. Everything I've read on gift giving includes obligation and ties, the social binds that emerge as gift exchange carries on. There is no such thing as independence, as I've argued elsewhere. Social relations, friendships, family relationships all involve give and take, or gift giving and receiving. Part of that is an owing, necessarily. My argument is that this need not be recorded in a ledger, it sorts itself out. The whole thing self-organizes in the end. That's how hunter gatherer, and many other social groupings, keep themselves cohesive, via gift exchange and deep interdependencies.

Again, did I write badly, or did you read hastily?

Of course, a gift is given without expectation of return, otherwise it is not a gift, but that does not mean it does not bind us. Or that it should not. It might not bind, and that is a necessary part of giving, but it can and most often does.

And if you take too much such that the source of the gift suffers, why shouldn't you feel guilty? If you feel no empathy, no sense of obligation, no gratitude, you're probably a sociopath. The current, overly ordered, overly fearful, overly greedy system is sociopathic. I want less of that, far less, not more.

Guilt is probably, in the context of what I'm discussion with you here, an ignored/unexamined excess of unmet gratitude.

Debra said...

You're right, I have a tendancy to read too fast. Particularly blog posts. They are probably MADE to be read fast, no ?? That is the way the Internet system is pushing things. Instant understanding, 0 ambiguity, etc.
On the giving/owing...
I just finished writing a post for my loony friends on Simone Bitton's film about Rachel Corrie. Remember her ?
Rachel Corrie is about UNRESERVED, TOTAL GIVING. Like... sacrifice.
I am very ambivalent about sacrifice. As a day to day way of doing things, and living life, sacrifice is deathly, BUT... from time to time, in exceptional circumstances, like what happened in Rachel Corrie's case, sacrifice helps to push the ante up to a critical point.
Where would the world be without its martyrs, Toby ?? For good AND evil, I should say.
It worked that way for... Jesus Christ, whose story was heard in a different way BECAUSE he sacrificed himself.
And it certainly is working that way for Rachel Corrie, because SHE is also perceived in a very special way because of HER sacrifice.
There is nothing you can do to repay sacrifice. That's... the point of sacrifice anyway. It is a particular form of grace.
Guilt is a very complicated phenomenon. It CAN be "useful", I think, but most of the time it is NOT useful, because we manage to wriggle out of what makes it useful in very devious (but unconscious) ways. We get around it.
On the "free" lunch issue, and the energy paradigm, what I question is our unquestioning willingness to BELIEVE that EVERYTHING must work the way the energy paradigm does. That is a rather totalitarian belief system, isn't it ? Why must our beliefs ALWAYS be totalitarian, and totalizing ? Why won't we admit that there MIGHT be things that don't work along this paradigm that we obviously find it VITAL to believe in ?
While I can believe that our symbolic systems are very deterministic, there MIGHT be domains which are NOT as deterministic as they are. No ?

Debra said...

Some comments on the religious context.
One of the Bible's key stories is found in Genesis. It is the story of Cain and Abel.
Cain is a farmer. And Abel is a nomad...
Two conflicting lifestyles, and relationships to the earth clash in the Cain/Abel incident. And.. God SEEMS to have favored Abel over Cain (yes, well, God didn't have to be egalitarian or fair. God was... God, after all...)
Home is a very different thing when you're a nomad, that's for sure...
On the egalitarian supranational dream, I summon Paul of Tarsis to the bar : "In Christ there is no east or west, in him no north or south, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth".
Best to know where the egalitarian dream COMES FROM, don't you agree ?
I'm not really sure that it is possible to generalize about the ecological REASONS that our ancestors took up farming. After all... hanging around in ONE place has definite advantages for developing culture, I think you will agree. At one point in time, maybe all of a sudden THE TIME WAS RIPE for this new idea of hanging around in one place. For CERTAIN groups, at least.
The Hopi in southwestern U.S. were ALWAYS farmers, and they lived in small cities.
Once again, I think that diversity is important to the human species, and that SOME people were interested in DEFINING themselves through a DIFFERENT relationship to the land than through the hunter/gatherer one. Historically, if one can talk of history without a written base for culture.
On the interest question, I refer you back to my dear William, in "The Merchant of Venice", in the scene between Antonio and Shylock where the latter advances his reasons for justifying interest. I think that you will find it... interesting, and stimulating. It is early on in the play.
Shylock tries to found interest on the biblical story of Jacob and Laban (yes, well, authority was Biblical at the time), and he tries to tie it in with Nature too...

Toby said...

You are a strange one (but then, we all are).

A question: what is freedom?

Another one: what is independence?

And: why must some total 'truth' be bad?

Actually, the questions just keep on coming...

Are you torn between the juicy, sensuous, sticky embrace of Mother Earth, and the free, unbounded, no-rules, Zeus-like eternal conquesting of the sky god? To me you seem to be so, a little like the various, yet joined, cultures of the world.

The interest thing is rooted in the old world of natural growth. Money ought to reflect the fact that cattle and crops can grow, so the ancient argument. But, as soon as money is neither crops, nor cattle, nor soil, but inorganic metal or promises to pay, interest becomes something else, loses its connection with nature. Money only has to sit there, do nothing, take in no food, expel no waste, and it grows. It's freaky. There is nothing else like that elsewhere in nature (not that I can think of). And the greed/ambition which would have its reward for loaning out or storing money in an account arises out of a failure to notice that money does NOT store value and that growth is an organic process requiring work of some kind. We cannot be 'free' of this 'totalitarian' truth. If you don't put in the effort, you'll not get any juicy results.

There is therefore truth to the 'no free lunch' truism, but it is, as ever, complex, and is not sufficient to fully justify our presbyterian/Victorian attitudes to thrift, austerity, gifts and so on. Nature provides, but lying around for a lifetime being fed and tended is not going to be a good life, if you follow me. You've got to put in the effort.

Free will is doing gladly that which one must do.

Debra said...

But I keep coming back to how we DEFINE the words that we exchange as... FREELY as we don't freely exchange money... (well, most of the time). "Talk is cheap", as the saying goes.
What about the lilies of the valley paradigm ? "They toil not, neither do they sow", or something along those lines. Like... the ducks I talk about.
In order for the word "work" to mean there has to be "not work". That is just another way of talking about idolatry. In the same way as it is not a good thing (in my book...) to idolize money, by making IT the measure of all things, it is not good to idolize work by making IT the measure of all things.
That is a very Protestant idea, as I have already said. (not just Protestant, but related to and supported by Protestantism).
Installing ANY ONE THING as the measure of ALL things is idolatry.
And the Jews were SO savvy on the idolatry question that they forbid people to SPEAK the name of God, to write it. They did EVERYTHING possible to set up a DIFFERENT POLE from money, and the material world to protect their people from idolatry, which leads to the breakdown of our symbolic systems. The idolatry question (another way of talking about totalitarianism also) is a very very tricky one, like the God question.
In the same way as when you throw God out the door, he comes back in through the window, well, when you throw idolatry out the door IT comes back through the window too.
At a certain point in Western Civilization, I fear that our blanket rejection of Christian values (because of the Church's corruption and its subservience to temporal political power) threw us into the arms of idolatrous practice, and ways of looking at the world in REACTION. And this rejection encouraged and hastened the desecularization of our (Western) world.
What better way of demarking oneself from an ideology than by embracing THE OPPOSITE of its values ?...
Ask Adolf. That was HIS point of view...
I'm going to do a post one of these times on WHY the structure of monotheism, which celebrates the sacredness of the UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL (guaranteed by the UNIQUE, ONE God) secretes its opposite : totalitarian thought. It is logical, but not immediately evident.
The problem, Toby, lies in the word "one"....
That's why I keep harping on diversity.

Debra said...

I have spent many years trying to conciliate the masculine and feminine sides of my nature.
I have an extremely analytic mind, that has served me well, but analytic thought is not particularly... SPONTANEOUS shall we say, so it can get in the way.
As Sophocles reminded us in "Oedipus Rex".
Barzun mentions that the analytic mind is incredibly self conscious. Good observation.
Remember Goethe ? Self consciousness is not ALWAYS a good thing.
What is freedom ? The capacity of determining WHAT, in a GIVEN context (and the context is always given...) action is possible in order to fully maintain one's subjectivity. Like Jesus on the cross who says "Father forgive them for they know not what they do". In a situation where he was as close to being a victim as they come, he turned it around. When you forgiver your torturer, you bottom out torture, and FREE yourself from the subjective ENSLAVEMENT that torture is designed to produce. You may die in the process, but you will die FREE. (You can debate the value of freedom, why not ?)
That's being free. Acting WITHIN certain GIVEN limits.
And in my book, freedom is associated with an aristocratic way of living in the world.
An aristocrat is NOT somebody who has tons of money, or knowledge, or whatever. It's somebody who has learned to be free in the way that I just defined it.
Independance ? That word, in my book is a PERVERSION (turned upside down, perversion) of freedom. It's a way of understanding freedom that tends to lead us to idolizing autonomy.
But, mea culpa, I haven't checked out my etymologies. That would be a good starting place.
If you read Jacques Barzun, you will notice that he too, is interested in the history of our words, when they appeared, in what context.
I checked out "The Ascent of Humanity" over amazon.com. Hell, it's an EXPENSIVE BOOK... I'm going to have to wait for the fall to see if I can afford it. ;-) Plus, I'm still plowing through Jacques.

Toby said...

Just quickly on 'work'. The lilies of the valley work by photosynthesis and drawing nutrients from the soil etc., as a person lying around works by breathing etc. But that does not mean work is the measure of all things. Saying accomplishment in the human sphere requires effort somewhere along the line does not make an idol of work, not necessarily anyway. First one has to make an idol of accomplishment. And there I am very much with you; no idols. Everything is best. Diversity is the spice of life.

I agree with you on freedom and independence.

I've ordered the Barzun, but have to wait until end of august for family to bring it from England. The seller would not send to Germany.

Eisenstein's work is worth it though. ;-)

Debra said...

I browsed through some of the reader's reviews on Eisenstein. What I immediately noticed is that this book has not been taken seriously by the chiantific community which idolizes... analytic thinking and the chiantific method...
Why not ? It is extremely LOGICAL that Eisenstein SEEMS to have escaped this attention. He would probably be accused of being pseudo scientific, right ?
(But I agree, a few reviews on amazon is not a good enough sampler to make an informed judgment.)
On the subject of separation...
This ties into what you were writing on the individual, that got so many hackles up.
The scientific method and the form of consciousness that arises from it go together with 1) analytic thought 2) self consciousness 3) the consciousness of self as SEPARATE and distinct.
Ironically enough, I have been saying for a while that we seem to be a big school of fish.
But... we don't NOTICE how much we are a school of fish because of all the ideological PREJUDICE about autonomy, independance, blablablablabla.
And I will definitely have to write that post about how the EXTREME of self consciousness (individiual atomisation) automatically calls for THE OPPOSITE EXTREME which we have given the name "the masses" to...
I don't know how this works, really. I am still thinking about it.
Plans for this summer : reread Freud's article about antonyms in his collected papers. Freud was an incredibly curious, touche à tout thinker. Good job.
That sucks that the booksellers won't send to Germany. Why is that ? I can get almost anything in France...

Debra said...

I agree with what you say about work.
The problem is the distinction that we have set up about what qualifies as "work" for money and what doesn't, and how we organize the social body around these distinctions.
For example... when I go downstairs and play the piano, I am DEFINITELY working... It takes intense concentration and day to day discipline to play the piano well. And I instinctively wanted our kids to do music so they could learn what work and discipline REALLY are. Ahem... mass education will NOT teach you these things...
If you work at your instrument, IT will REWARD you for your work. (Not your teacher...) You get better all the time. You can TELL that you get better too. It's not like... doing that essay on poetry and getting an abstract grade for it. Working on your musical instrument you don't need SOMEBODY ELSE in order to grade you on your progress. To a certain extent you DO need somebody else in order to learn, of course. (Although there always have been self taught musicians...) But you learn best in a PARTENERSHIP, and not in a hierarchical setup, I think.
Motivation is a big part of the deal, of course.
You're cheating, Toby. (lol)
The lilies of the valley are doing photosynthesis the way that you are breathing, or digesting your food. Is THAT work ??
Maybe. Maybe not.
Lots of questions, huh ?
I like what I said in one of my last comments.
The INCREDIBLE PERVERSION is saying that we have to EARN A LIVING.
Beurk, beurk, beurk.
Life is grace, Toby. We SHOULDN'T have to EARN it.

Debra said...

Mea culpa. I read you too fast on the lilies of the valley. I have a hole in my head anyway. I have a hard time retaining all you say when I start commenting.
We could explore that... along the lines of the school of fish...
Verbal diarrhea and the bank bailout..

Toby said...

Eisenstein's work can't be taken seriously by the mainstream scientific (you meant scientific, right?) community, but as you say, that is hardly surprising. As Bernard Lietaer is on the fringe though knows what he's talking about, so are people like Eisenstein and Fresco, and they will all be ignored/ridiculed until such time as the paradigm embraces what they are saying. Their problem is that they prescribe alternative paths that are anathema to the status quo, that would literally be the death of the status quo. But that's not to say none of them is beyond reproach, but so what. Hewing new ways forward out of the old is mistake-prone, riddled with guess work, and people prefer the devil they know. It was ever thus...

(The Barzun book is second hand, and the seller won't mail out of England. It's no big deal.)

Debra said...

Yeah, Toby, I say "chiantific" in French because "chiant" means shitty, among other things.
That's my little neologism for French people.
It doesn't really translate though...
The paradigm is already shifting. It has been for a while.
The school of fish is busy changing direction before WE figure out what it is doing, that's for sure. Most of us, that is.