Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why don't art history books include propaganda art?

I heard this question posed today by a university professor as if it was profound. I don't find it so.

My niece makes glitter and glue paintings in her pre-school which have huge significance to her mother, my sister.

Her glitter paintings won't appear in art books for the same reason propaganda art doesn't. It's crappy art. In the case of my niece, it has significance because of the mother-child relationship. In the case of propaganda art, it has significance because so many people are caught up in the mass delusion the art supports, whether it be Aryan purity, the creation of a workers' paradise, making the world safe for democracy, hope and change, freeing the Cuban slaves, or whatever the slogan of the day.

Once the bubble bursts on the collectivist madness, we are left with crappy art plus a feeling of embarrassment on the part of whoever awoke from the mass delusion.

Why is it crappy?

Propaganda art doesn't (and can't) reflect the richness and complexity of the human experience. It looks at the world through a straw and sacrifices everything that makes us human in a vain, perverted attempt to constrain human activity and imagination for any one of the many false collectivist gods.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Economics in Children's Literature

Motoko Rich has noticed that economics can be found in children's literature. From some of the examples given, this seems a place ripe for good economic criticism. One should probably not be surprised that most writers promulgate folk economics in a variety of forms (most not being economists, economics being a difficult, complex, specialized field of knowledge that too many economists themselves don't understand that well), but it should nonetheless be pointed out that this is where many children will get their first lessons in economics, and will thus have their folk economics reinforced.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Narrative Make Us

Robert James Bidinotto has an excellent post on the relationship between narrative and one's world view that I think is quite insightful. Children do absorb their world in a quite direct fashion -- due to the presence of such high numbers of mirror neurons in the human brain. Further, it is similar to the anthropological/evolutionary psychological theory of narrative as providing a stage for alternative scenarios to be tested out in a safe play space. If we read stories that comfort us into believing that a certain world view is in fact possible, then we will be comfortable allowing or even directly working to create that world. I agree with Bidinotto that stories are central to the way we think and to our world views. We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves as well, so stories are central to our very identity. What does this have to do with Austrian economics? Well, Bidinotto is an Objectivist, as he makes abundantly clear in his post, and Rand made it clear that Mises was the economist she considered most accurate. Also, the points Bidinotto raises also raises questions for fiction and poetry writers influenced by the Austrian school regarding what we should be doing, and the importance of it. Of course, the most important thing is to be good and interesting, or else the world view we want to communicate to others will not be so communicated.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Googling Facebook -- A Novel

I am writing a novel -- an online novel -- Googling Facebook. A spontaneous order novel? Or, at least, the appearance of one? Feedback will make it the former rather than the latter (hint-hint!)

(BTW, one of the characters is an economics major interested in the Austrian-school.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spontaneous Order Art

I am currently reading The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose. In it he describes an online game associated with the opening of the film AI. In it he describes how Jordan Weisman and Elan Lee of 42 Entertainment developed and ran the game. However, there is something of interest to Austrian school economists:

When he and Lee were planning the game, Weisman had argued that no puzzle would be too hard, no clue too obscure, because with so many people collaborating online, the players would have access to any conceivable skill that would be needed to solve it. Where he erred was in not following that argument to its logical conclusion.

"Not only do they have every skill set on the planet," he told me, "but they have unlimited resources, unlimited time, and unlimited money. Not only can they solve anything -- they can solve anything instantly. He had dubbed his game The Beast because originally it had 666 items of content -- Web pages to pore over, obscure puzzles to decipher. These were supposed to keep the players busy for three months; instead, the players burned through them in a single day.

Talk about a demonstration of spontaneous order!

It seems that this element of the internet has yet to be truly taken advantage of. Imagine a business offering to pay people whatever percentage of a solution they contribute. What possibilities are there for not just games, but for interactive works of literature? Might there emerge a real spontaneous order form of literature? Would it be participatory? Involve multiple authors and editors (could one imagine a wikinovel?)? Multi-genre? All of the above? May the spontaneous order of the internet and of the world wide web give rise to a real spontaneous order art form that was impossible before their arrival?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Habermas' Spontaneous Orders of the Arts

In "Modernity -- An Incomplete Project," published in The Anti-Aesthetic (Hal Faster, ed.), Jurgen Habermas describes a sociology of artistic production that has a strong resemblance to the spontaneous orders of the arts I describe.

For example, he points out that Max Weber (a favorite of Austrian economists), "characterized cultural modernity as the separation of the substantive reason expressed in religion and metaphysics into three autonomous spheres. They are: science, morality and art. These came to be differentiated because the unified worldivews of religion and metaphysics" (8). One could also argue that economics is yet another sphere that also separated out around this time, first giving rise to mercantilism (which is what religious economics first becomes when liberated), then to capitalism. Each of these in Weber's list have "specific aspects of validity: truth, normative rightness, authenticity and beauty" (8). Out of these drives come their spontaneous orders, and out of these spontaneous orders come immanent criticism, typically associated with the emergence of certain professionals. These spontaneous orders attempt to answer "questions of knowledge, or of justice and morality, or of taste. Scientific discourse, theories of morality, jurisprudence, and the production and criticism of art could in turn be institutionalized" and experts in each area could emerge, meaning "There appear the structures of cognitive-instrumental, of moral-practical and of aesthetic-expressive rationality, each of these under the control of specialists who seem more adept at being logical in these particular ways than other people are" (8), creating distance between experts, and between experts and the public. The former could be bridged by interdisciplinary scholars; the latter could be bridged by public intellectuals -- meaning we would have to have a few around (rather than demagogues posing as such). Ultimately, Habermas argues that Enlightenment modernity consists in efforts "to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their inner logic" (8), which is part of the very description of what a spontaneous order is. However, this is a project that fails or succeeds based on the approach one uses -- constructivism fails; gradualist spontaneous orders with immanent criticism succeed.

Most impressive is Habermas' description of the emergence of the full spontaneous orders of the arts. Habermas gives a precise description of the process of the emergence of the spontaneous orders of the arts and its consequences in creating ever-greater value subjectivity and specialization:

Greatly oversimplifying, I would say that in the history of modern art one can detect a trend towards ever greater autonomy in the definition and practice of art. The category of "beauty" and the domain of beautiful objects were first constituted in the Renaissance. In the course of the 18th century, literature, the fine arts and music were institutionalized as activities independent from sacred and courtly life. Finally, around the middle of the 19th century an aestheticist conception of art emerged, which encouraged the artist to produce his work according to the distinct consciousness of art for art's sake. The autonomy of the aesthetic sphere could then become a deliberate project: the talented artist could lend authentic experience to those experiences he had in encountering his own decentered subjectivity, detached from the constraints of routinized cognition and everyday action. (9)


This modernist transformation was all the more painfully realized, the more art alienated itself from life and withdrew into the untouchableness of complete autonomy. Out of such emotional currents finally gathered those explosive energies which unloaded in the surrealist attempt to blow up the autarkical sphere of art and to force a reconciliation of art and life. (10)

Habermas here should have said "ironic attempt," as there are few movements more autarkical and less connected to "real life" than surrealism, as Habermas himself argues:

These experiments have served to bring back to life, and to illuminate all the more glaringly, exactly those structures of art which they were meant to dissolve. They gave a new legitimacy, as ends in themselves, to appearance as the medium of fiction, to the transcendence of the artwork over society, to the concentrated and planned character of artistic production as well as to the special cognitive status of judgments of taste. (10)

In other words, their very attempt to overthrow the result of there being a spontaneous order of the arts only worked to reinforce its internal logic. The same is true of postmodernist works.

In the end, Habermas argues that the project of modernism "aims at a differentiated relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis that still depends on vital heritages, but would be impoverished through mere traditionalism" (13). While this is about as good a description of spontaneous order as Hayek described it as one could want, Habermas nevertheless manages to fail to see that free market economies are but another example of the very kinds of spontaneous orders he had been describing. This is, sadly, to be expected from even the best of Europe's intellectuals.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Better Metaphors

Max Borders has a fantastic piece on metaphors for the economy. Naturally, metaphors are of great interest to us literary types. For example, he points out that

A much more accurate metaphor for the economy is an ecosystem. We are simultaneously independent and interdependent. We can no more fix an economy than we can fix a rainforest or a coral reef. At best, we can leave it alone. Such is not the faith of a "market fundamentalist," but the implication of a tradition informed by evolutionary thinking, the science of complexity and self-organizing systems.

This is something with which I certainly agree, and have argued elsewhere.