Tag Archives: God

Intellectual stupidity a practice common to both Economists and Politicians

Intellectual stupidity is not a concept that is to be found in book on either the subject of economics and politics. This is a concept that was created by Robert Musil. He distinguishes between two types of stupidity, natural and intellectual. The first is the one due to physiological factors, it occurs when an individual lacks the mental capacity for higher order thinking. Although he would be criticised today for his use of this offensive word, he can be justified when its contrasted with intellectual stupidity. A term Hannah Arendt had in mind when she criticised evil as personified by Adolf Eichmann as banal. This was a man who lacked intellectual curiosity, he was unable to empathise with the millions of victims of the holocaust. He thought the was a good man because he made the trains to the death camps run on time. The fact that these trains took millions to their deaths was no significance to him. Their deaths were somebody else’s responsibility. He was in his mind a good administrator not an essential player in the holocaust.

Politics and economics practitioners are blighted with a similar failing. Milton Friedman was guilty of this failing. When Milton Friedman was told that the Chilean government when introducing the free market reforms he advocated were imprisoning, torturing and killing opponents of these reforms, he said it was a price worth paying. Just as with Adolf Eichmann his vision all that mattered was the introduction the Chicago School of Economic management to human societies. Human rights was for him just a matter of secondary concern. Recent political history has been dominated by such practitioners of intellectual stupidity.

In Britain such stupidity has been demonstrated by successive governments in there implementation of the free market economy. They see there role as being facilitators of a Hayekian free market system. When ever such reforms produce failures such as the collapse of Carillon, a company to which many government sources had been outsourced; it was a consequence of poor management with the company. Never was the policy of privatisation of government services considered to be a flawed concept. The ‘Economist’ magazine while exposing the failures of Carillon’s management mounted a strong defence of the outsourcing of government services. Now two other outsourcing giants Capita and Interserve are in trouble. Yet our government remains committed to outsourcing as a policy practice. This is demonstrates intellectual stupidity, as government ministers cannot contemplate any alternative policies or thinking.

Intellectually stupid politicians are always trying to second guess their civil servants. Rather than seeing them as experienced administrators who can offer them practical and useful advice on policy matters; they are seen conspirators who are trying to obstruct their policies. The traditional civil service practice of providing the minister with a series of policy alternatives from which to choose is seen as a threat to the integrity of government policy making. Just recently a senior politician who studied history at University decided that economists at the Treasury were conspiring to undermine Brexit, by producing erroneous data on the consequences of leaving the EU. This politician who has only a brief acquaintance with the subject of economics, claimed he could see not just errors but treachery in the work of these Treasury economists. This failure to accept any alternative view of events to the individual’s own is typical of the intellectually stupid thinker.

Why is intellectual stupidity the default mode of thinking of our politicians?

Perhaps part of the explanation lies in the books they read. Friedrich Hayek’s book ‘The Road to Serfdom’ can be read in a few hours, possibly on a wet afternoon, when there is nothing else to do. In this short book he claims to offer the solution to our contemporary malaise. There is no end to these books that claim to have the answer. Another such is Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Unchained’, yet another writer who claims to provide the solution to our current malaise. What these books encourage in their readers is a cult like belief, that they alone have the exclusive possession of the truth. The blinkered mindset of an ‘Moonie’, Jehovah’s Witness or Scientologist, is mirrored in the thinking of so many of our leading politicians. The lack of curiosity about alternative thinking is characteristic of the intellectually stupid.

These politicians have also been to the elite universities and this has given them an intellectual arrogance. They after a short period at university just ‘know’. One exemplar of this type is the politician who is an English graduate who decided that he did not need any advice from experts in their field (educationalists and economists), as he had acquired sufficient understanding ‘to know’. He as with so many of his colleagues ‘knows’ any further knowledge would be superfluous to the task in hand. These politicians can be best described as ‘generic’ politicians, as such they believe that they have already possess all the skills and knowledge necessary for the most demanding of political positions.

This lack of intelligent curiosity is demonstrated in these three remarks made by politicians about food banks in the U.K. The first said that increase in food bank use food was because people were attracted there by the free food on offer. Another said increased food bank use was a good thing, as it had shown that his government was more effective than the former at publicising this service. The last said people go to food banks for many reasons. What none of these politicians could say that people on low incomes were reduced to such desperate straits, that they were forced to go to food banks to get the food they needed for themselves and there families. Just as Adolf Eichmann could not bring himself to admit the his trains were taking the Jews to there death, so these conservative politicians cannot admit that there policies are creating such widespread impoverishment that thousands are now forced to go to food banks in order to survive.

This callousness is not the consequence of intellectual dishonesty, but a thinking that prevents thinking of either the Jews or the less well off, as people of any consequence. They are demonised either as a threat to the well being of the German people or a threat to the well being of the British economy and society. The political philosophy of both Adolf Eichmann and contemporary conservatives treats certain groups of people as inferior beings who lack the rights accorded humanity in general. A world view best summed up by the Nazi official who called Jews vermin.

What Robert Musil writes about intellectual stupidity is very similar to the thinking of Augustine on evil. He describes evil as a not knowing of God. People who don’t know God commit what we term bad acts. Augustine as a Neo-Platonist also equated God with Good, so people who did not choose to know God could not know good. The intellectually stupid chose not to know the evil of their actions and as such are unable to know good. These intellectually stupid would be the people who Augustine’s would accuse of doing evil acts.

Advertisements

A God for an Economist

Whenever I confess my belief in a God my friends are incredulous. They cannot understand how a person who they consider an intelligent rational thinker can believe in such a superstition. What makes my position seem even more ludicrous is that I am a negative theologian, that is I believe that God in his essence is unknowable. Bertrand Russell pointed out that is illogical to believe in something or someone that is unknowable as a knowledge of such a being is impossible, it’s a logical contradiction. How could you know if you did not know? However I want to turn these arguments on their head. As an economist I talk about the economy but I as with my thousands of fellow economists don’t really know what the economy is in its essence. I can talk about markets, the balance of payments but they are only certain highly visible parts of the economy. Classical economists and those of a Neo-Liberal persuasion will claim that the economy consists of a number of inter related markets. The falsity of this claim is demonstrated by this simple truth, if economists understood the true nature of the economy they would have at their disposal all the tools necessary to manage and control the economy. Economic crises would disappear instead of occurring at regular intervals and the economy would be on continuous trajectory of growth. The welfare of all would be maximised. History demonstrates the fallibility of economists, all to often they get it wrong. It should not be forgotten that when the financial crisis struck in 2008, the majority of economists were caught by surprise. Only a small minority expected a crisis, but they were a small disregarded and isolated minority.

I do then believe in the existence of two entities neither of which I can really know in essence. It can be argued that while I may not understand the real nature of the economy, I am every day affected by the reality of it, it is not something that I cannot ignore, it is just there. The economy generates the tax revenues from which my pension is funded, everyday I participate in this self same economy that has the shops and chains of distribution from which I buy the essentials and good things that make my life bearable. One such good thing is the cappuccino that I buy daily at my local Salumeria. Similarly nobody would deny that they are affected by the good and bad actions of others. What hurts most, being betrayed by a friend or being unable to buy the latest IPhone through lack of funds? We all participate daily in a network of relationships whose nature determines our sense of well being. However whether they are defined as spiteful, hurtful, mean, bad or evil actions, the consequences of such actions can be devastating for the victim, more so than any economic loss. Similarly friendly, helpful, kind or good actions can transform the life of the beneficiary of such actions.

Fiction provides the classic example of a life transforming good action. The Priest in ‘Les Miserables’ who forgives Jean Valjean for his theft of the church’s candle sticks. If he had not forgiven him, Jean Valjean would have been sent back to the prison galleys where he would have lived out a short and wretched life. Human relationships can be explained or described in many terms, but all too often they are permeated with a sense of good and bad. Theologians such as myself identify that sense of good with God.

There is a tradition of Christian Neo-Platonism that goes back to St.Augustine, a tradition to which I belong that identifies God with the Good. Identifying God with the good, transforms God into a solely moral entity, an identification which I find sufficient. God as the Good, that is the source of that sense of goodness that informs all moral actions. Constantly we speak of good actions that is actions which have in common that thing which we call good. Yet this good is indefinable except through descriptions of good actions. It is this indefinable essence that theologians such as myself call God.

Describing good as a moral sense derived from God is a pre modern concept, but one that is given a contemporary guise by the theologian Caputo. God he sees as a weak God in the sense that his is a God of moral sensibilities not power. This weak God exists outside human society but is constantly pushing in and that pushing in takes the form of a pushing in of moral sensibilities. Sensibilities which mankind is free to accept or reject. Given that all accept that good in its essence is indefinable I see this explanation of the origin of good as the most acceptable. Neither Caputo or I know God but we both know God as this moral sense or good itself. This to me is the most acceptable explanation of the existence of that moral sense known as the good. This understanding of good and the nature of God is a myth in the Platonic sense. It is a truth than can only be spoken of in terms of a myth, the myth of a weak but moral God, exist beyond but in constant contact with human society. Framing truths in mythological terms does not make them less true. Some truths because of their nature cannot be explained in other than the language of religious mythology.

There is a simple story that explains my reasoning. Heidegger was one the greatest 20th century German philosophers, the one who subjected the nature of being (humanity) to forensic scrutiny, yet he almost completely lacked any moral sense. When Hitler came to power he became an enthusiast for the Nazis. He refused to help his Jewish lover Hannah Arendt, he in fact abandoned her to her fate. Fortunately she was able to escape to the USA, but with no help from Heidegger. This supreme rationalist thinker eagerly participated in all the intellectual nonsense propagated by the Nazi regime. He believed that the of the philosophy of ‘sturm und drang’ captured the essence of the Germanic nation. A man who never understood why after the Second World War that is was right that he should be excluded from teaching in German universities. In contrast to him there was the lesser philosopher the catholic Jaspers, who opposed the Nazis and had to flee to Switzerland. What cannot be denied is that Jaspers moral sense was greater than Heidegger’s, although he was the inferior thinker. Jaspers had far more of the nature of goodness about him than did Heidegger. Hannah Arendt later described Heidegger as a man devoid of any moral sense. Perhaps because Jaspers knew that myth was a valid means of demonstrating truth, that he was able to comprehend the true meaning of the Christian myths and resist the evil of Nazism. An understanding denied to a purely rational thinker such as Heidegger.

At the end of his life Heidegger began to turn away from rationalism and began to look for truth as expressed in poetry. He found truth in the poetry of Rilke and Holderlin that was absent from his great work of philosophy ‘Being and Time’. This new searching for truth found him attending Sunday Mass at his local Catholic Church.

If I give an identity to good surely it is necessary to give an identity to evil, a theology such as mine requires a devil as the personification of evil. Admitting the existence of the devil would take my theology back to the Middle Ages. Fortunately Augustine provides an answer as to why there is evil in the world without needing to reference a devil. Evil acts according to Augustine are undertaken by those who do not know good or God. Rather than evil being a thing it is a not knowing, a not knowing God. Men with no moral reference points commit bad acts, because they have no knowledge of good. Knowing good means more than just knowing the word, it a knowing that penetrates the very fibre of existence. It’s a knowing that involves changing one’s persona according to the strictures of good or God. As Plato said once you know good you will not wish to do evil. The most extreme practice for the knowing of good was that undertaken by the hermits such as St. Anthony who spent a lifetime as a hermit living in exile in the desert struggling to know God or good. However Kierkegaard provides a more achievable alternative, he recognises the frailty of human nature. A Christian life for Kierkegaard is one of slipping in and out of that ecstatic knowing if God (good), it is impossible he says to constantly be know good, as we are all moral backsliders. In Augustine’s word we are the ‘not so good, saints but our actions are influenced by our understanding of the good.

The problem with theology as with philosophy is that once one starts to unpick the ideas that make up the content of the subject, the investigation into their significance and meaning can be endless. Rather than undertake such an investigation I prefer to state that this theologian and economist finds it sufficient to identify God with that moral sense we know as good. Other understandings of God are unnecessary, God might be a creator God, the Triune God (the one in three God) or the God that brings the world to an end at the end of days, but they are all irrelevant to how I act. They are questions that I don’t need answering. To put it in the language of the past I am an adept in two separate spheres of knowledge the non rational knowing of God and the rational understanding of economy. As with Jaspers I subordinate the knowledge of the second to the first, as moral sensibility must always take precedence over and inform my rational thinking. Never unlike many current economists and politicians could I subscribe to Says Law which states that in any recession unemployment and falling wages must be allowed to continue until the wages of the unemployed as so low that they price themselves back into employment. The misery that is consequent on adopting this policy disqualifies it as a viable policy option. How can it be right in a rich country such as Britain to have children going hungry and living in squalor? Yet our political class practises a more sophisticated version of Says law under the cover of globalisation, which states that to keep people in work in face of competition abroad it is necessary to reduce incomes to the lowest level to retain employment in this country. There are many alternative policies which could be adopted with better outcomes for all but which are never considered.

The New Secular God, the Market. (The abuses associated with state religions)

20131128-163747.jpg

Contrary to what is popularly supposed, the UK is still religious society. There has been a decline in the religion of hope, the Christian religion, but this has been offset by the rise of a new secular religion. Mistakenly religious belief is confused with a belief in a message of salvation, what Hick calls the universal salvic, ignoring the fact that for most of human history religious belief has encompassed the most inhuman of beliefs. The Gods of classical Greece and Rome had little concern for the welfare of mankind. They even provoked wars, one example being the Trojan war, which was a war by human proxies for the Gods. Central American religions prior to the Conquistadors were barbaric, involving mass human sacrifice. Even the religion of compassion, Christianity has its dark side. Thousands were killed in the wars to suppress heresy. There is persisting in our society a much darker religion, a religion of state. Varro an observer of classical Rome describes this religion most eloquently. He described how the aristocratic Senate manipulated the people’s belief in the Gods to protect their interests. Rome was riven by social conflict driven by the rise of the slave economy which impoverished the plebeian classes. Whenever discontent threatened to take on a threatening aspect the Senators would manufacture threatening supernatural happenings, stories of storms damaging temples, pigs being born with two heads etc. This cowed a superstitious populace and made it easier to manage and suppress this discontent.

What has changed in Britain is not state religion, but it’s it form. It has lost its supernatural guise and has been reborn as a secular religion, Neo-Liberalism. In its essential nature it remains unchanged, whereas once the church sanctified the social hierarchy, no it is a belief in the free market with its philosophy of winners and losers. Ayn Rand prophet of Neo-Liberalism describes the billionaires as the saviours of mankind and writes lovingly of the famine that kills thousands of the useless poor. Unfortunately the governing classes has always used this brutal religion of state to maintain their position. All too often in the past this dark religion of state surfaced within the Christian religion of compassion and distorted its meaning and used the church as an accessory in its brutal hold on power.

Neo-Liberalism I believe but the latest in the long line of state religions, which I intend to demonstrate by showing the similarities between our new state religion and those of the past. One characteristic of our inherited Abrahamic religions, is that they centre on an all powerful supreme deity. It is from this supreme deity that all existence stems. Similarly Neo-Liberalism centres on a powerful deity, that is the ‘market’ which determines the nature of the existence of all that live in society by shaping their social world. Perhaps a minor deity in comparison to the all powerful God; but our secular God has some God like characteristics. Power over the the lives of humankind for example, not the power of life and death, but the power to determine life style and life chances. To deny the existence and power of the market is futile, as is the denial of God’s existence is too any Christian. Those societies that denied the power of the market are doomed to failure, as the market will inevitably triumph over any alternative social forms. This is demonstrated by the collapse of the communist societies of Eastern Europe. Neo-Liberalism even has an eschatology, but it is not an end of days eschatology that turns earth into a heavenly paradise, but one in which market forces ultimately create the materialistic earthly paradise. A paradise that maximises people’s welfare by maximising wealth creation through the process of the free market. People in this new earthly paradise will have wealth undreamt of by their predecessors, it will be the land of plenty.

To the true believer the market is the fount of all truth and the truths are those of the market. For the Christian their life’s goal is to live a life in imitation of Jesus for the free marketer, it is to remake society in the image of the free market. Over the past thirty year’s governments have tried to remake the public sector in the image of the free market. There is not one sector of government that has been unaffected by out sourcing to the private sector. Even the most technologically advanced and critical sectors of government have been hived off to the private sector. Weapon’s development to Quintec, nuclear power to French and Chinese contractors and increasingly health care to Spire and other private sector suppliers. What ever may have been the consequences outsourcing of government services, the true believers in free enterprise (our political leaders and their followers) are blind to its failings. Quintec produced an infantry rifle that constantly jammed when used in action, threatening the lives of our soldiers. Chinese construction companies have a very mixed reputation, threatening a disastrous leak of radio activity; yet the government is content to see such a dangerous technology in the hands of companies with poor safety records. Again the American health providers have a mixed record, one of the largest is fighting fraud accusations in its homeland. Perhaps the best comparison is with the American religious fundamentalists who have created a theme part in which mankind is showing peaceably interacting with the dinosaurs, despite all the scientific evidence that shows that mankind lived millions of years after the dinosaurs. Free market fundamentalists believe in the virtues of the free market despite mounting evidence that demonstrates the contrary.

When the Christian Roman Empire and Church centred on Constantinople were establishing themselves it was recognised that there would be resistance to its rule. Persecution was the only way to establish unity of practice and belief. Not only pagans but Christian’s with non conformist views were persecuted. One of the great Saints of the Orthodox Church had his tongue pulled out of his mouth by the church authorities, as it was the best way to silence his critical voice. Free marketers in the contemporary society recognised that dissenting voices had to be silenced. The weapon’s of choice have been unemployment and impoverishment. In the universities alternatives to free market have been removed from the curriculum, economists had a choice either lose their job or cease to teach the alternatives to free market market economics and keep their job.

Some of the darkest days of the church have been mirrored in the changes that have taken place in the public sector. In 16th century Italy the Inquisition was unleashed on Italy by the Pope to ensure compliance with the official truths. Even great churchmen such as Cardinal Pole were not safe from the Inquisition. He had to constantly keep on the move to keep one step ahead of the church’s inquisitors. The story of Galileo Galilee being forced to recant his views on to be nature of the universe is all too well known. Today the government employs a variety of inspection services to ensure compliance with the official doctrines. Rather than the stake, non compliance can now result in unemployment and impoverishment. Whistle blowers in the public sector inevitably lose their jobs and their income. Government has learnt that fear is the best means of ensuring compliance with its doctrines.

Turning around the ship of state was surprisingly easy as preferment in the public sector went to true believers only. From the Heads of the Civil Service to the senior managers in the Health and Education Services all have been exponents of the true religion. How much of the publicised failures in the health service have been due to over eager exponents of the free market forcing changes inimical to patient care under the guise of market efficiencies.

Usually Neo-Liberalism is described as an ideology of capitalism, but that is to misunderstand the nature of the beast. The fervour and unshakeable belief of the true believers makes it a religion. It’s a faith not subject to rational argument, no matter how many times the intended free market reforms fail. Neo-Liberal philosophers and prophets have converted the governing classes of the West to this philosophy. The conversion has been so complete that it is now ingrained as the accepted truth within Britain’s political, economic and social elites. There is no brutality that Neo-Liberalism cannot justify, whether it’s the mass unemployment and impoverishment of Europe’s youth or the cruel tortures of Pinochet’s death camps. Tinkering with the social and economic structures imposed by Neo-Liberalism to ameliorate the abuses of the system, will have little effect. What is needed the expunging of this ‘bad faith’ from the public soul, anything less is pointless.

20131129-123542.jpg

20131129-123646.jpg