Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Reading from the Archives

Mmm… coffee
Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1930
“Then I need say no more,” said Celeborn. “But do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”

— J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

Periodically, O Dearly Beloved, I take a leisurely stroll through the carefully stacked and organized pixels of my back catalogue, clicking from link to link in a solipsistic journey of rediscovery. Occasionally such wanderings illuminate a consistent intellectual preoccupation of mine, which the bored and underemployed among you might find provocative or merely amusing to waste your time with on a leisurely Fall Sunday morning.

Today’s theme, I suppose, could be described as the necessity for us, as both individuals and as members of society, to accept our fate, to acknowledge the limits of our agency and the extent of our ignorance, and to accept our mutual entanglement with the fortunes of our fellow human beings. In other words, perhaps: Humility.

I like these pieces of mine, even though (or perhaps perversely because) they have not been among my most popular. I hope you find something to enjoy or even make you think. Cheers.

All Together Now – Steve Randy Waldman has said opacity is integral to modern finance. I argue that opacity—and the information asymmetry which it reveals and which creates it—is an emergent feature of all sorts of social functions in complex societies, including finance. Information asymmetry and its associated rents are a convenience tax which members of a society implicitly accept when they agree to the division of labor necessary in complex social communities. Accordingly, I do not believe they can be made to disappear anytime soon.

Punished by Fate – C.J.F. Dillow despairs of the common man’s understanding of chance, declaring it irrational. In contrast, I believe folk notions of justice and fairness incorporate a very sophisticated understanding of our exposure to fate—good, bad, and indifferent luck—and rest upon a communitarian ethics of sharing such undeserved gifts and punishments. Rather than being evidence of ignorance, irrationality, or undeserved entitlement, the average person’s sense of fairness is a very sensible collectivist approach to the problem of just deserts in an uncaring universe.

Occupy Galt’s Gulch – Continuing with the theme of communitarian ethics, Jim Manzi points out that “winners [in society] require shared resources produced by the losers.” I explore some of the implications of this notion in the context of just deserts for self-styled übermenschen who rely on the resources of society, the labors of their fellow citizens, and the uncontrollable vicissitudes of chance to create the conditions for their success, as filtered through the particular lens of American culture and society.

To Whom It May Concern – Drilling deeper into the notion of individual success, I explain the exposure an aspirant in my industry has to luck, both good and bad, and some of the ways of coping with it. I suppose one could call this approach fatalism.

It’s All How You Look at It – Wisdom is good, but it is no comfort. And there is no shortcut to it; no box of Wisdom waiting for you at the local WalMart. You must earn it yourself, with no guarantees that it will make any difference. Sorry.

Prolegomena to Any Future Life – So what are you waiting for? Why are you reading this? You must change your life. Get to it.

Happy Sunday.

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