Climate ChangePhilosophySocial Issues

No Time for Utopia

Most political thought is “ideal theory”: its arguments are based on an idealized world in which important aspects of reality are abstracted away. Abstraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the contrary, it is often necessary in science – but it isn’t self-evident that the results of abstractions and idealizations are (always) applicable to the real world, and if theory doesn’t descend from the ideal world to reality it turns into an intellectual game without practical relevance; or worse, as the case of neoclassical economics illustrates. In that case abstraction and idealization resulted in a “theory” that explains nothing,...
Philosophy

Dao and Second-Order Consequentialism

After king You of Zhou fell in love with Bao Si he exiled his wife, Queen Shen. The disgraced Shen family retaliated in 771 BCE by attacking and killing king You. The Zhou dynasty never recovered – although nominally it remained in power for another five centuries, this period was characterized by failing authority and nearly continuous war. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also the most fruitful period in the intellectual history of China and is commonly recognized as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy. Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and many other of China’s most famous philosophers lived...
Economics

Rent, Debt, and Power

In 2009 Rolling Stone published an article by Matt Taibbi about Goldman Sachs. Taibbi writes: “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The statement is rather unfair to vampire squids, but aside from that detail the characterization is quite appropriate and, moreover, equally applicable to the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector as a whole. In Killing the Host, Michael Hudson describes the FIRE sector as parasitic. He writes that “instead of creating a mutually beneficial symbiosis with...
Social Issues

Death, Masculinity, and Hegemony

“At the center of the symbolic order is the abhorrence of death,” writes Odile Strik in the conclusion of her short essay The Symbolic Order of Life and Manhood. The “symbolic order” of the title connects death and masculinity, and (supposedly) structures the way most people understand reality. The essay is terse and almost poetic, and only presents a rough sketch of this symbolic order, but it deals with a number of important themes – such as masculinity, life and death, and cultural hegemony – and it deserves credit for bringing those themes together. This article is a (long) commentary...
Climate Change

Fictionalism – or: Vaihinger, Scheffler, and Kübler-Ross at the End of the World

In 1911 the now almost forgotten German philosopher Hans Vaihinger published Die Philosophie des Als Ob (The Philosophy of ‘As if’) in which he argued for something approaching global fictionalism. In the preface to the second English edition of his book he wrote: The principle of Fictionalism . . . is as follows: “An idea whose theoretical untruth or incorrectness, and therewith its falsity, is admitted, is not for that reason practically valueless and useless; for such an idea, in spite of its theoretical nullity may have great practical importance.” Fictionalism is the view that claims in some area of...
Social Issues

You Are a Zombie

For reasons that are somewhat mysterious to me, zombie movies remain fairly popular. There has been a notable change in the genre, however. A few decades ago, zombie movies were probably best classified as a sub-genre of horror, while nowadays they seem to be a variety of disaster movie – particularly, a variety of end-of-the-world disaster movie. Picking up on this subtle, but telling genre shift, Brad Evans and Henry Giroux write in Disposable Futures, a book on the role of (depictions of) violence in contemporary society, that the zombie figure “speaks to a future in which survival fully colonizes...
Economics

A Toy Model of Production Costs and Supply

In Economics as Malignant Make Believe I showed that the derivation of the supply curve in mainstream (neoclassical) economics is nonsense because production costs are nothing like they are assumed to be. This made me wonder, however, what would happen if you’d use a more realistic model of production costs – What would production and supply look like then? This isn’t that hard to model, so I built a simulation model on a free afternoon. In the following, I will first explain the model and after that I will discuss the results of running the model at different settings as...
Philosophy

Skepticism, Pragmatism, and Zebras

In 1970 Fred Dretske published a paper about a fairly technical issue in epistemology, In that paper he gave a “silly example” (his words) to illustrate some point about skepticism. Imagine that you take your kid to the zoo to see the zebras. Now, how do you know that the animals you are looking at are zebras? Dretske points out that most of us wouldn’t hesitate to say that those animals are zebras: We know what zebras look like, and, besides, this is the city zoo and the animals are in a pen clearly marked “Zebras.” Yet, something’s being a...
Social Issues

On “Populism”

A decade ago or so, a “populist” was someone who appealed to the supposed reactionary underbelly of the common folk to win votes and/or influence. “Populists” were usually found on the right of the political spectrum, often even the extreme right. But things have changed and nowadays so-called “populist” movements and parties are often better described as leftist than as right wing (or as mixtures of left-wing and right-wing views). “Populism” and “populist” are usually terms of abuse: they express disapproval and disdain. What provokes this disapproval and disdain is that the alleged populist(s) crosses the boundaries of acceptable political...
PhilosophySocial Issues

The (Self-) Corruption of Critique

This is a lightly edited excerpt from my book/pamphlet The Hegemony of Psychopathy. * * * Hegemony is the spread of ideas (such as values and beliefs) that support and maintain the socio-political status quo. Alternative sources of ideas can (at least in principle) undermine hegemony, but if hegemony is effective, then alternative ideas are often not taken seriously, or may even undermine themselves. If hegemony is effective, then the belief that there is no alternative becomes common sense, turning proposed alternatives (i.e. alternatives for common sense) into obvious non-sense. This is how hegemony undermines critique: by making it “irrational.”...
Economics

Economics and Psychopathy

This is a lightly edited excerpt from my book/pamphlet The Hegemony of Psychopathy. * * * The reorientation of political ambitions after the Second World War from power and territory to wealth changed the relation between economics and the ruling elite. The “science” of economics, which already had been more influential and prestigious than any of the other social sciences, now gained an effective monopoly as the official supplier of government plans and policies, putting it in the center of power, and changing its status and what was (and is) expected of it. For one thing, politics demand(ed) “closure” —...
PhilosophySocial Issues

The Hegemony of Psychopathy (Excerpt)

This is an edited collection of excerpts from my book/pamphlet The Hegemony of Psychopathy that was just published. (It can be purchased in paperback or downloaded for free in PDF format at the publisher’s website.) * * * The Holocaust has received surprisingly little attention from social and political philosophers. This is surprising because the scale and extent of the atrocities involved in the Holocaust should be impossible to ignore. If we humans can do that, then that makes a difference — or should make a difference — for our beliefs about the ideal society, for example. At the very...