Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Money Can't Buy, entry 1

     Sandel points out that instead of producing real public debate about the role of markets in society, the financial crisis produced the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street Protests, largely aimed at the bailout(which was necessary to avoid a depression).   Note that the Occupy Wall Street movement made for good presentations of unshaven, smelly teenagers that served the interests of the right while the Tea Party gained just enough strength in congress to threaten even the pro-industry 'Obamacare' package, much less a more reasonable single-payer system. To borrow a phrase from Vonnegut, 'so it goes'.  Chomsky et al would probably argue that the reason there was no coverage of substantive debate of the place of markets is that media corporations, which rely upon advertising, themselves depend upon the expansion of markets into more and more sections of our lives.  Thus, no real debate about limiting the reach of markets can reach into the mass media.  I suppose they would have a point if they made such an argument.
     Sandel makes the following regarding the lack of substantive debate about markets(rather long, I know):

     "The moral vacancy of contemporary politics has a number of sources.  One is the attempt to banish notions of the good life from public discourse.  In hopes of avoiding sectarian strife, we often insist that citizens leave their moral and spiritual convictions behind when they enter the public square.  But despite its good intention, the reluctance to admit arguments about the good life into politics prepared the way for market triumphalism and for the continuing hold of market reasoning.
     In its own way, market reasoning also empties public life of moral argument.  Part of the appeal of markets is that they don't pass judgment on the preferences they satisfy."
With this as his opening, Sandel launches into case-by-case studies of when money can be used for certain services, presumably he then outlines some of the goods and bads of each type of arrangement.

     Now it's time for a  confession and certain self-disappointment.  In my own attempt to avoid rancor with friends I, almost all the time, allow what I consider ill-informed or unthought through positions elucidated by my more right-leaning acquaintances go without objection, often perhaps leading the other person to think I agree with them.  My question is, do I start speaking out in informal contexts or do I let others' obnoxious comments go? 


Friday, December 28, 2012

What Money Can't Buy, Michael Sandel

     OK, well, I got distracted and read through a really nice book called Symmetry and the Standard Model, which is one of the best books I've seen introducing QFT etc...  But I decided I'm too lazy to do a lot of math typesetting on this blog, so I'm going to start this book by Michael Sandel.  Sandel is a philosophy prof at Harvard.  He is very open and accessible.  He puts a premium on public discussion.  Some lectures of his at Harvard on Ethics are available free online.  This book is once again an easy read.  So, rather than do a lot of fancy mathy stuff I'm going to start the Sandel book.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

One more comment on Foner and Lincoln

Just to note, unless you think I'm being too hard on Lincoln, he did tell his supporters to go to another antislavery candidate in the 1850s to ensure an antislavery candidate won eventhough it cost him that election.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Foner on Lincoln and Slavery

     The second book on Lincoln is bringing into reality a little bit more.  As a young lawyer he defended a slaveowner against the suit of one of his slaves claiming they should be freed.  As Foner said, there's no excuse for this.  Foner's approach has so far been balanced.  Lincoln's maturation seems to occur in fits and starts, with occasional steps back.  He seemed to be enamored of new industrialization, PROGRESS, etc.. that swept across America at this time.  This led him to think in terms of city-dwelling and market places rather than the farm. 

It is also implied that his internal convictions were occasionally at odds with his ambition and sometimes he chose his ambition.  This last point is an interesting one to consider.  Could a more devoted abolitionist have been elected President in 1860?  If so, could they have held the border states in the Union, including Missouri, Kentucky(which were crucial waterway states obviously), and/or Maryland, which surrounds D.C.?  If not, would there now be an independant confederacy?  Question to ponder: "was Lincoln's own inconsistency part of what made him a success, where a more consistent President would have ended up losing the war, or not ending slavery?"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts after reading my first Lincoln biography

     So I just finished reading a 678 page biography of Lincoln by White.  I'm starting a book by Foner on Lincoln and Slavery.  When I started the book I had the usual questions about Lincoln and Slavery and the causes of the Civil War etc...  I still have some of those questions because I don't like to take one writer's word for things.  I know these are still sensitive issues, but I think I should air my thoughts as I go along.

1.  White is a huge Abraham Lincoln admirer.  Before reading this biography I started, but didn't finish, a huge biography of Hitler.  The author of the Hitler biography went out of his way to attribute mental illnesses and serious character flaws to Hitler.  Well, one can understand this.  I got to the point in the Hitler biography where he had basically taken over the Nazi party and then I gave up reading.  Frankly, reading a biography of Hitler is not a positive experience.  It was educational, but trying.  Lincoln's biographer, on the other hand, couldn't say enough good things about the man.  So good is Lincoln I began to question the objectivity of the account.  Really, he was THAT good?

2. Here are some things I've gleaned from my reading so far.  Lincoln, very much unlike Hitler, by the way, seemed to possess natural empathy for other people and animals.  This much I think is clear.  He was not a naturally agressive man.  He also seemed uninfluenced by romanticism consciously when it came to decision making.  He seemed more an offspring of the Enlightenment.  The God he refers to would have been familiar to Thomas Jefferson, with the possible exception that Lincoln emphasized God's working out his will in history more than your usual Deist does.  This is particularly evident in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

3. Lincoln also had the ability to learn from experience.  That is, he was not so attached to some abstract ideology that he denied the reality before him.  He was decidedly not an ends justify the means type.  He was affected by suffering, including that of his enemies.

4. Now, before you go around saying I worship Lincoln, let's get down to where the rubber hits the road.  I find it difficult to believe that there wasn't a racist bone in his body.  On a number of occasions he recommended that African Americans colonize another country rather than remain in the USA.  He even proposed this to a black delegation at the white house -- they rejected the idea. 

5.  On the other hand, I suspect his views matured all the way up to the time of his death.  His interaction with Frederick Douglass after the Second Inaugural Address suggests this.

But, hopefully I will gain more insight into him through some of these other books.