Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Error on Contest Information

I made an error in my email address on the poetry contest. It should have been:

Since it is likely others have tried and failed with that email address, I am extending the contest until Saturday, July 9 (just to make it the end of the week).

The Religious Origins of the Artistic Order

I am presently reading Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (H.T. Lowe-Porter, tr.). It is, of course, fantastic. It is the story, as told by a friend, of a composer of genius who purposefully contracts syphilis. The composer, whose name is Adrian Leverkuhn, first went to college to study theology, then changed over to music. As the narrator studies philology, the two end up having philosophical discussions about the nature of art. Of particular interest for those interested in spontaneous orders is pg. 59, where the narrator paraphrases Adrian's idea that

the separation of art from the liturgical whole, its liberation and elevation into the individual and culturally self-purposive, had laden it with an irrelevant solemnity, an absolute seriousness, a pathos of suffering, . . . which did not need to be its abiding destiny, its permanent intellectual constitution.
Of particular note here is the observation that there was a "separation of art from the liturgical whole" that resulted in "its liberation and elevation into the individual and culturally self-purposive." The separation out of the various social spontaneous orders from "the liturgical whole" that constituted life in Europe through the Middle Ages, beginning in the Renaissance, gave us the Modern Era. The Church had been the center of political power, economic power, artistic inspiration and support, law, morality, etc. After the Renaissance, we saw these things separated out from the Church -- including its monopoly on religion so that in some places, like England and the U.S., there are examples of religion as a spontaneous order -- such that we had/have/could have what F. A. Hayek termed the Great Society, which constitutes that society which has each of these realms separated out as much as possible into their own spontaneous orders.

Art in particular was inseparable from religion until the Renaissance. There were period when this was, perhaps, not the case, such as in Roman times, but certainly in ancient Greece and Medieval Europe -- and in most cultures -- the arts are inseparable from religion. What happens if and when it does separate itself out, become its own spontaneous order? As Mann observes through Adrian, it becomes individualistic and "culturally self-purposive." It becomes increasingly subjective (which Adrian later equates with freedom (190)) and self-referential. Mann, through Adrian, argues that the religious origins of the arts were or are still affecting the content of the arts, which is hardly necessary for it if it is in fact liberated from religion (this hearkens back and is not unrelated to Nietzsche's observations that most atheists were in fact still Christians insofar as they continued to abide by Christian morality even as they gave up on believing in the actual existence of God -- that if they were true unbelievers, they would jettison the whole deal and engage in a revaluation of all values).

It may still be the case that the arts are not entirely liberated from their origins in religion. But is it possible for them to be? Is it possible for the different spontaneous orders to ever be completely separated out from each other? To what degrees must they necessarily hearken back to their foundations? Or intermingle with each other?

For myself, I am finding much liberation in producing plays that abide by strict form and bring religion back into the content, structure, and world view. But that observation is fertile grounds for another posting at a later date on the dialectic of freedom.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Today is My Birthday

Happy Birthday to Me! :-)

Free day! Discuss what you want!

And as a present for me, get 5 of your friends to come read the blog!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why the Silence?

If regular readers are wondering why I have been increasingly spotty on my postings, it is because I have becoming increasingly busy with looking a job and with working on several projects with August deadlines, and I am working on a play. Much of my reading has involved non-Austrian economists, and so there has been little in that realm to transform into literary insights. I hope I can get back to Austrian economics and literature soon. Of course, since several upcoming projects do involve Austrian economist and literature, I will no doubt have much more to discuss here soon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Literature Enriches More Than Just Our Lives

Literature causes people to become richer and happier. This, at least, is the logical conclusion one would make by combining the insights made by Russell Berman (as I describe in my paper) that literature individuates people and the insights consolidated by Robin Hanson that individualism makes people richer and happier.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Epistemology, Tragedy, and Economic Theory

What epistemology is proper for understanding literature? Empiricism says that we gain knowledge through the senses. This is true, to an extent, but it's not absolutely true. Literature is a great example of how this could not possibly be true in all or even most cases. Where does the knowledge created by literature come from? And what does it speak to us? As with praxeology, it is founded in a prioristic knowledge. How can we know the internal workings of characters? From empirical observation? Of course not. It comes from how we interpret our observations, and we base our interpretations on our own a prioristic knowledge. Thus literature is an example of a priorism -- one may even say it is the most obvious art of a prioristic knowledge (with the visual arts as the art of empricism, perhaps).

Perhaps it would be more accurate to argue that music is the art of pure a priorism, visual arts the arts of empiricism, and literature -- particularly plays and opera -- as balanced between the two. If this sounds remarkably like Nietzsche's theory of tragedy, perhaps that should not be surprising.

What might this insight say about epistemology? Or about the proper balance in economics? Consider that music is considered in Medieval education as the practice of mathematics, while architecture (which we can consider representative of all visual art) is the practice of geometry. Contemporary economics, including economic geometry/spatial economics is dominated by this branch -- the quadrivium. Austrian economics is dominated rather by the trivium, by grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Thus the language arts can be seen to be both between pure a prioristic knowledge and empiricism and as separated from these two math-based epistemologies. It seems that those who can combine them will create the highest form of economics. It seems that Nietzsche's insights into what creates tragedy, for him the highest form of literature, is equally applicable to understanding what will make for the best form of economics as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Morgan Alexander Brown Reviews Terry Eagleton's Latest Book

Morgan Alexander Brown, a part-time instructor in English at Georgia Highlands College and a Ph.D. student in literary studies at Georgia State University, has published a fine review of Terry Eagleton's Latest book, Why Marx was Right. The review, which appears in Libertarian Papers, opens with this:

IN THE PREFACE TO HIS NEW BOOK, Why Marx Was Right, University of Lancaster professor of literature and literary critic Terry Eagleton sums up his latest
approach to Marxian apologetics in a bout of wishful thinking: “What if all the most familiar objections to Marx’s work are mistaken?” Selecting ten popular objections to Marxism nearly at random, Eagleton attempts to convert the unbelievers in ten separate chapters, presented “in no particular order of importance” (x). Though he aims the latter part of his argument at the egalitarian literati of postmodern academia (codename: The Jacobin Book Club), Eagleton stresses that “Marx had a passionate faith in the individual and a deep suspicion of abstract dogma” (238). With a plainness in prose that is a refreshing break from Fredric Jameson’s jargon-filled tomes, Eagleton sits down to examine the failures of socialist states, the inevitability of totalitarianism in centrally-planned economies, and the West’s rejection of Bolshevik terrorism, tackling the difficult task ahead of him with a newfound sense of Marxian individualism. Yet any reader who is even half-competent in economics will marvel at Eagleton’s failure to triumph in any one of his endeavors. What should have been a series of entertaining and challenging essays on contemporary Marxist theory collapses into a soggy and moist sentimentalism, reared upon the shakiest of romantic foundations.
I recommend this review, which, I think, is spot on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Far From Equilibrium Author

an equilibrium situation is one in which individual plans are fully coordinated. Each plan can be successfully executed. Means are exactly matched to ends. (Peter Lewin, Capital In Disequilibrium)

If this is the definition of equilibrium (which he derives from Hayek's definition), then I have never once found myself in a situation one could define as equilibrium. Nor has any artist. What writer could honestly say that any work of art they set out to write was exactly as they planned it? Even before the editor got ahold of it? If there was ever any feedback from anyone at any time, one's plans changed. I one was interrupted while writing, one's plans changed.

Add let us get back to the issue of an editor. The editor has one thing in mind, the author another. How likely is it that their individual plans will ever become fully coordinated? Or will they match up well enough to go ahead and publish at some point (hopefully)?

And what about the audience? If there is no coordination, the work fails. But if we are talking about a play, the playwright can respond by changing the play. The playwright might deviate away from his own plans for the piece in order to make it more successful. Is this a true coordination of plans?

The fact is that disequilibrium is what we more often see. More, we see a far from equilibrium situation -- which is where creativity necessarily takes place.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Henry Hazlitt, Literary Critic

A shorter version of Allen Mendenhall's article Henry Hazlitt, Literary Critic can now be found at He makes an interesting proposition: fusing Hazlitt's literary theory with his economics. Who wants to get started on that project?


If the systemic resource of the scientific order is recognition and reputation, the democratic order is votes and the market order is money, then what is the systemic resource of the literary order?

If the market serves exchange values and certain kinds of cooperation, the scientific order serves truth as correspondence, and the democratic order serves justice and public values, then what are the values of the literary order?

What is the equivalent to democratic free speech and voting, market free exchange and competition, and scientific measurement and prediction for literary production?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Some Ideas for Possible Research Projects

Josh McCabe has an interesting post in which he asks Do Economists Take Institutions Seriously? Yet, that is not what I want to concentrate on from the piece. I rather want to focus on another element he argues economists take even less seriously than institutions: "ideas, norms, and culture." One of the few people he identifies as taking seriously the issue of culture is Douglas North:

Although we tend to focus on the formal rules that structure our lives, North agues that they make up a very small portion compared to informal norms, conventions, and moral constraints. Culture, as conceptualized by North, “provides a language-based conceptual framework for encoding and interpreting the information that the senses are presenting to the brain… In the short run, culture defines the way individuals process and utilize information and hence may affect the way informal constraints get specified. Conventions are culture specific, as indeed are norms. However, norms pose some still unexplained problems. What is it that makes norms evolve or disappear – for example, dueling as a solution to gentlemanly differences? (North 1990: 37, 42-43).” In other words, economists still know very little about cultural evolution or change.

McCabe argues that while economists have done a great deal of work on institutions, culture and ideas as important factors in economic decision making by people is largely neglected. This would suggest these two elements are wide-open areas of investigation.

More, these two areas are not unrelated. The ideas held by people are influenced by their culture or subculture. (Of course, ideas may lead some people into particular subcultures.)

McCabe quotes Vernon Smith on the importance of culture and ideas:

Smith (2003), following Hayek, makes a distinction between constructivist and ecological rationality. Acording to Smith (2003: 468) “constructivism uses reason to deliberately create rules of action, and create human socioeconomic institutions that yield outcomes deemed preferable, given particular circumstances, to those produced by alternative arrangements.” Ecological rationality, on the other hand, “uses reason – rational reconstruction – to examine the behavior of individuals based on their experience and folk knowledge, who are ‘naïve’ in their ability to apply constructivist tools to the decisions they make; to understand the emergent order in human cultures; to discover the possible intelligence embodied in the rules, norms, and institutions of our cultural and biological heritage that are created from human interactions but not by deliberate human design. People follow rules without being able to articulate them, but they can be discovered (Smith 2003: 470).”

These are all important aspects to take into consideration.

Another person he discusses who takes culture seriously, though, is

Chamlee-Wright (2010) [who] utilizes a framework she calls cultural economy. Cultural economy weaves Austrian economics and new institutional economics together with cultural sociology and network analysis. She finds that New Orleans residents are able to rely on community narratives as a tool for action in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when government rules were uncertain or shifting. For Chamlee-Wright, it is very much a story of spontaneous order.

Those familiar with her work know that culture is central to it. She is one of the few who takes such things seriously. However, she is far from the only one. In fact, the most recent work of Deirdre McCloskey is precisely centered on the cultural elements that made capitalism possible.

So there is some work being done. But it is all very recent work, meaning there is a lot of room for a great deal more work to be done. More, a great deal of work needs to be done on the impact of ideas on economic activity. How does folk economics vs. an economic education impact economic actions? What about other ideas, such as belief in God, or gods, or lack of belief? What about ideas from literature? Philosophers? Defunct economists? How do ideas affect how people engage in their subjective rankings?

Themes of Liberty in Battlestar Galactica

Jeanne Hoffman interviews George Mason law professor Ilya Somin about themes of liberty in the TV series Battlestar Galactica.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tragic View of Life

The Wall Street Journal Online has the latest on David Mamet's political coming-out. This is an appropriate metaphor, as it seems that Mamet did not actually convert, but realized that what he said his politics were was completely different from what is politics in fact were.

Of course, what is of interest to us here is not Mamet's politics per se, but the foundation on which he says his politics is based: the tragic world view.

The tragic world view is central to dramatic writing.

"That's the essence of drama," Mr. Mamet says. "Anyone can write: And then we realized that Lithuanians are people too and we're all happier now. Who cares?" Tragedy is devastating, he says, precisely because it's about "people trying to do the best they can and ending up destroying each other.

"So it wasn't a great shift to adopt the tragic view, and it's much healthier," he says. "Rather than saying, as the liberals do, 'Everything's always wrong, there's nothing that's not wrong, there's something bad bad bad—there's a bad thing in the world and it's probably called the Jews,'" he says sardonically. "And if it's not called the Jews for the moment, it's their fiendish slave second-hand smoke. Or transfats. Or global warming. Or the Y2K. Or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. And something must be done!'"

It's the last part—the temptation to believe that everything can be fixed—that Mr. Mamet thinks is the fatal error.

Mamet no doubt points to why so much art today is bad and boring. If you do not have the tragic view of life, you can write neither tragedies nor comedies (correctly described by Carol Burnett as "tragedy, plus time"). There is no drama without a problem -- and the drama is likely to be boring if it is easily solved. Why? For one, it's completely unrealistic.

Look at some of Shakespeare's comedies. They typically end in marriage. Yet, you are left with some uneasiness. Are these matches really going to work out over the long haul? Probably not. The problems are temporarily resolved, but you know that there are deeper problems that cannot help but emerge. Othello could have been a great comedy if Shakespeare had concentrated on the lead up to the marriage -- and stopped precisely at the marriage. Rather, we got what happened afterward.

In the tragic world view you understand that you cannot know what the results of your actions will be. There are unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences. Great drama investigates these very things. Othello is swayed only because of the chance dropping of his wife's handkerchief. A seeming small thing that has great significance with the right(wrong) words. And yet there are those who do not understand this, who think that their intentions are all that matter, damn the consequences. Or, they do not see or understand that there can be any consequences other than those they intended. It is naivete combined with willful blindness -- they are naive to believe it, and willfully blind to the consequences of their actions.

Is it any wonder, then, that the further left a person turns, the more ill-humored they become? Janeane Garafalo used to be one of my favorite comediennes. Now she's about as unfunny as one can imagine. On the other hand, Chris Rock, who many imagine must be a political liberal, in fact embodies this tragic world view. In this sense, Rock is deeply "conservative" (really, classically liberal, as conservatives don't really embody the tragic world view, but believe with the right policies we can all be made good -- just in a different way than the left). He will be funny only so long as he continues to have the tragic view of life.

All of the great artists have the tragic view of life. They must if they are going to produce anything worth reading, hearing, and/or viewing. In the end, the only thing that matters for an artist is, as Mamet says, "is can you put the asses in the seats and can you keep the asses in the seats. That's not me, that's Aristotle. I've forgotten the Greek for it." The first step in doing this is by embracing the tragic view of life. It is the driving force behind economic growth, it is the driving force behind human action, it is the driving force behind all great art.