The Coming Collapse of the House of Cards: Tech, Education, Health

I just read the article titled Disruptions: With No Revenue, an Illusion of Value that discusses the overvaluation of tech companies. 

This article is so intuitive, yet so refreshing. It’s incredible that people aren’t discussing another eminent collapse.

Let’s talk about money and value.

Money represents a denominated value; it represents purchasing power. What does it mean to be worth something? It must possess utility, and that utility must be great enough, must possess enough value, that you would be willing to trade something else you value equally for it.  But what if the value of what money is representing is actually valueless?  What happens when the value attached to the dollar don’t reflect the value attached to the object? What happens when the dollar is worth significantly more than the object? You simply won’t exchange your money for the object, and suddenly it’s value decreases and disappears.

What if someone told you that a company was worth a billion dollars, but you actually believed it was worth nothing? I think of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Groupon. How do these companies generate revenues?  How much value are people willing to give up to use these services?

The problem is speculative valuation. The question of whether these tech companies will actually deliver the advertising dollars is still out. A valuation is only as good as its assumptions. Valuations based on discounted cash flows rest on some limited tentative assumptions, specifically: basing projections that the past will be like the future, variable discretionary capital expenditures, as well as the uncertainty of discount rates and growth rates. What if the market suddenly decides that companies like Instagram are no longer “cool” and stop using the product? What’s going to happen to that billion dollar valuation?

The tech industry is experiencing a speculative bubble, similar to the one witnessed preceding the real estate bust and the resulting financial crisis. What is the real value of information technology? I know it increases efficiency, it provides us with superficial pleasure as we peruse the internet, look at Facebook pictures, and the like, but what happens when we no longer derive value from these things? What happens when suddenly Instagram is no longer cool? The value will disappear along with everyone’s money.

I also believe that the education system, specifically higher education, is experiencing a boom and will eventually bust. What is the real value of going to college? You accrue massive debt that you can’t ever escape, your income is increased marginally, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job. What happens when people simply decide that the price tag isn’t worth it, they don’t want the loans, they don’t think college is worth it? The value disappears.

What other industries are suddenly thriving? Health care? Is health care an over valued industry?

As this article mentions, and I believe and have said for a long time, that our economy’s worth is built on distorted valuations. The financial industry is over 21% of our economy. That’s right: twenty-one percent. What value are they actually producing? Financialization leads to decreased real asset investment, so I argue they produce no value. Instead, financialization increases speculation, risky investment, decreases private savings, and increases debt, among other things.

Our economy is a house of cards. Where is the real value?  What things possess real utility? When shit hits the fan and people have no more money, no more surplus income, no more savings: what will they be spending their money on? What good or services will people include to satisfy their necessary consumption for sustenance?  Will people prefer to spend their money on services or goods? I suspect real-asset goods. Is technology a good or service? It is intellectual capital, but does it possess any tangible value? No.  If people are broke, you think they’ll spend money to use Instagram? I bet not. And what if Instagram decided to use advertising? And what if those people are so broke that they don’t buy what they advertiser is offering? Why would a company advertise with Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook, or similar companies?

Service industries are the result of past increases in productivity that lead to equal distributions of rising income which created a larger middle class; this middle class created a demand for services that were previously only available to the upper class; but as income distribution widens and wealth accumulates at the top while everyone else gets poorer, people will not be able to afford services. They won’t spend money on luxury goods. They won’t go out for dinner as much anymore.

But this will only occur when people can no longer borrow on credit. At present, debt is solely responsible for our sustained domestic demand and aggregate output over the years. Financial liberalization (cheaper borrowing through regulation) has allowed consumption to remain relatively stable as real wages stagnanted and inflation rose.

Only when lenders can no longer extend credit will our country experience massive stagflation (high inflation, high unemployment), eventually leading to a massive economic collapse.  We may be witnessing the beginning of such a stagflationary period.

How can someone prepare for a bubble collapse? Where should they invest their money? Commodities? How can someone bet against the market? Which goods will be in higher demand as incomes continue to drop and inequality worsens?

I’ll be posting a massive paper on inequality within the next few days and I’ll elaborate in depth on how  inefficiencies within various channels lead to economic inequalities that reduce socioeconomic equity and decrease economic growth.

Thoughts on Society and Mental Disorders

What is mental disease? When we see someone who is mentally unwell, do we immediately recognize their dysfunction? Do they recognize their dysfunction? Do we appeal to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders?

I don’t believe in mental disease, per say. That may raise a lot of eyebrows, but I’m looking to transcend the conventional wisdom (in truth, wisdom is common knowledge that has grown uncommon, so the idea of conventional wisdom leaves me skeptical). I’d like to take a broader, grander view of things. I don’t believe in mental disease for the same reason I don’t believe in, say, God. Both are manufactured, their cause and effects, by society.

Let me elaborate.

Everything we know about anything we have inherited from nature and our social culture. I would argue that, given the social forces of cultural influence, as well as an absent relationship with nature, people know more about societal values, its fabricated and historical values, than the absolute values discovered within nature and in themselves.

All perceptions are biased. The loss of ego is the loss of values, the loss of perspective, the loss of an etiology that structures significance and meaning.

What is mental disease? I believe mental illness is manufactured by society: civilization is a disease. I’m not the first to propose such a caustic claim, just one to reemphasize the fact. Socrates, Diogenes, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Freud, and many many others pointed out civilization’s detrimental assault on man’s psyche.

I posit that mental illness arises due to the oppression of an individual’s self. The self, or perhaps you could say the ego, is the seat of consciousness that structures experience in a meaningful way. It regulates its point of view as the subjective in which the objective web of the world is woven around. In order to operate functionally and efficiently, the self needs to be strong and healthy. I would argue that the self develops as the world around it affirms its nature. In this way society, our family and peers, dictate who we are, they literally dictate who our self is through their perception of and reaction to what they believe they see us to be. Think Bourdieu’s habitus.

Mental illness is the result of an unhealthy self. It is a self that cannot effectively structure experience around its “self” in a meaningful way. It therefore cannot coin meaningful associations with the phenomenal objects constituting experience, whether these objects are other subjects (people) or simply “things” incorporated into our environment.

Man is a social creature. He has evolved to such a degree that relationships with other subjects are integral to his conscious life experience, and the propensity for these relationships has found a way to forge endless webs of relationships with experience itself. The conscious experience is simply not a conditioned response. It is a relationship with a reality embedded with a key feature, that of change. Hence the continual need to communicate with the external world in order to adjust and adapt.

I believe that mental illness is a byproduct of a societal forces being impressed on the self, our reflective consciousness, by undermining the personal experience of the self, by forcing it to contort to unnatural expectations and artificial values that are incongruent with our first hand experience.

Is mental illness genetic? I believe there are aspects of mental illness that are. But what is mental illness? A behavior that deviates from the norm? An unconventional disposition that leaves you feeling unusually more or less than your fellow man, to such a degree that is unnatural, or abnormal? Is it a disease to feel too much? or too little? Society would have us believe so.

Could it be that, without an integrating support system provided by institutions like family or community, society’s abstract value’s literally destroy the self, leaving us incapable of making sense of the world, leaving our mood to vacillate uncontrollably, and forcing the self to assign values to unusual features of experience?

We look at mental disease, observe it through imaging technology, through scans and sensors, and denote a marked difference for the “normal” control group (however, whatever that “normal” actually is is beyond me). So, yes, there is something going on here. But what is the disease? It is purely psychological, purely a phenomenal product of a mind that has grown maladapted to its world. What caused this maladaption? Is it genetic? I’m skeptical. Genome research is showing that while our genetics play a tremendous role in our development, it is our environment that expresses these genes as a means for our organism to adapt to environmental demands. So that while we might observe the manifestation of behaviors and locate a physiological origin, I would argue that this observation is simply an effect, a symptom, of external demands, of environmental stimuli or trauma.

When we find ourselves bleeding, we do not simply say that the body is the cause. We ask ourselves what caused the gash, and index some sharp object we may have encountered. In the same way, when we observe a set of unusual behaviors, we do not say the mind is the cause. We look for some proper cause, some first cause that preceded the manifestation of the psychological symptoms.

We do not need prescription drugs to alleviate our bizarre reactions to an even bizarrer culture. We need support and discourse, love and kindness. More importantly, we need recognition. We need a world that acknowledges the self for something more than it believes it is, more than it was told. This is where love comes in, the all important quality that instantiates the ultimate relation between man and his world.

Most mental illness occurs on the fringes of society. Celebrities are not immune, for they occupy a space that is so elevated above the common psyche, even they have trouble seeing their self at such altitudes. This incongruence yields a break down. The homeless? Did they develop their mental malaise before or after their predicament? Did they come from a loving, supportive home with healthy relationships that respected and valued one another for who they were? Or did they become maladapted after the fact?

The abused, the downtrodden, the castaways, the  people who come from broken families, that come from families with broken values: these are the people who experience “mental illness”. The people who cannot properly develop a self because they have no functional or loving relationships to reaffirm the worth of their self. As a result they cannot adequately integrate their subjective self with the objective world. It becomes a problematic endeavor, especially when challenge and obstacles arise. The lack of self produces a lack of will power, a lack of authenticity that asserts an individuated self.

The self is a disposition that orients the external world in a way that elicits a given response, a mood, that produces a consciousness that gives rise to thoughts.

Society has grown to its vast proportions due to a division of labor. Men are no longer reliant on the whole of their organism to achieve balance with their world, to sustain their life. They are required narrow physical or mental aptitudes that serve a circumscribed function within a greater organizational structure. The division of labor creates casts and forces man into those casts, requiring him to subjugate what other feelings, or thoughts, or talents, or skills, or passions he might possess. We are assigned a job and stamped with a title. Just like that we have grown inward. To define is to confine, and no other place will you fine both of these than in an ornate industrial system like the one we call home.

Those with mental illness, I am sure, developed in an environment that was oppressive, that dictated the value of a self that was less than the value they perceived themselves to possess. It is not simply being oppressive, for discipline is a form of oppression that encourages growth towards very specific ends. In the case of discipline, the individual believes in their value, in the possibility of attaining the end, and exists in an environment that expects or supports the achievement of that end.

The oppressive environments I’m referring to are those where relationships exist only to diminish your value, and perhaps elevate theirs at your expense. It is a form of judging that sentences you with a self valued next to nothing you can comprehend through personal experience. Perhaps this arises because the environment is abusive. Perhaps the environment refuses to acknowledge that person’s self, and therefore provides no context in which to integrate into.

I would argue that those people without a web of relationships with others that orient themselves around the subject as an appreciable aspect of their experience cannot create meaningful sense from their world. That is, their lack of significance within a web of relationships, within system of interpersonal references, leaves them dispossessed of a structured order of experience. In a word, they have no subjective self because they exists in a world that refuses to affirm it. Without a self, without a reflective consciousness that constitutes a subjective individual, there can be no relationship with the world. Every relationship begins with the subjective, ends with the objective. The more developed the subjective, the more relationships can be developed among and between the objective world, whether they are other beings or things.

Culture manufactures mental illness. When discussing mental illness, what matters is our values and the lack of authentic communication about things that matter. No where else in the world do you find the level of mental illness exhibited here in the US. Mental illness is due to a culture that capitalizes off of solving people’s problems, whether they are real or perceived. The only problems people have is relationship problems. “People” are not the problem. Their brains are not the problem. It is a world, a culture, a society, that has forgot how to engage in mutually beneficial relationships, meaningful relationships that are reciprocal, that engage each other with equal vested interest. Instead we have a society of exploitation, of one sided dialog, of oppression. This has lead to minds that do not possess a clear idea of what it means to have original feelings, or novel thoughts: authentic experience.

There is an absence of authenticity, of autonomy, because no one possesses an actual self. Their self has been imposed on them, sold to them, by culture, through the mass media, the proliferation of icons, the repetition of signs and symbols that impress and embed themselves into our psyche, our self; and all the responses accompanying that self are acquired from outside of itself, in the world, the same place that sold them the idea that they were an individual self.

Imagine the mind like a plant. Imagine that food was the soil, and that sunlight was our sensory stimulation. In order to grow, we need to find the most sunlight. Now imagine that above our plant a disk has been placed to block the sunshine. The plant would naturally grow out and around this disk. Imagine a cylinder has been placed around the plant on all sides, with only a small opening at the top. The plant could not grow out, so it would grow up until it pierces the hole, then grow out wide (perhaps this analogy resembles the saying: if you want to make the rules, you must first play by the rules).

My point is this: society is the shade, the disks, the blockades that shade the sunshine, the stimulation afforded to our minds. It imposes artificial restraints on our potential and capabilities, on our value and possibilities. As a result, the mind, just like the plant, may grow weak and whither, or develop in a erratic way, or be forced to grow in an unnatural way.

Perhaps this is simply survival of the fittest. Perhaps exploitation is a fundamental inescapable feature. But I insist that equality and collaboration yield the greatest, most universal perspective and utility. This has been demonstrated time and time again when people are seen as equal. But maybe the system of collaboration is imperfect and everyone cannot be included due to the size? I would say that this system should be trimmed, that any system that too large to accommodate equal individuals is inefficient and ineffective.

Or perhaps I’m being too creative with my criticisms.

Education and Genius: Boredom and Learning

If you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself struck with boredom, chances are it is not a failure on your part, not a result of your mere laziness. I would bet that the failure rests with the person your speaking to, your interlocutor. I’m under the opinion that there no boring ideas. Just boring people.

After all, we’re sensual creatures. We thrive on stimulation. Nearly all of communication is nonverbal (Knapp). Sight and sound comprise 94% of our sensory inputs, 84% and 11% respectively. The American educator Marva Collins said that “The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe that at the heart of this contagion is a resonating passion, an enthusiasm that generates a visceral reaction, a mutually shared connection with another person.

Regarding education, why do we find that the responsibility for learning and adequate understanding rests with the student? Assuming that students have a vested interest in gaining knowledge of the material, why would we dismiss them as merely lazy or unmotivated when they find it unbearably difficult to fight through boredom and apprehend a classroom lecture?

When a student enters a classroom prepared to learn new material, they begin without a context. Even when reading the text is a prerequisite to coming to class, there is still an absence of ultimate relevant context: why should a student be expected to understand the relevancy and relationships within the context being presented? They shouldn’t. But this is the prevailing attitude maintained by formal education.

The result of an attitude insisting that the better part of learning rests in the hands of the student rather than with the teacher is a system of education where disengaged teachers instruct and lecture to students who are discouraged to engage in critical, mutually beneficial dialog, but sit as semi-passive observers to be inculcated with remote, vague ideas devoid of a context that is immediately relevant to the schema they bring with them to the classroom.

What kind of thinking does this promote? I would bet that the direct manifest of this classroom emphasis produces analytic, auditory-sequential thinking. This type of thinking is rote, routine, automatic, and poor in relevant context necessary for robust comprehension. Outside of what meaning is directly issued by the dictated insistence of the educator, there is no meaning. As a result students know all the words to all the questions, but they fail to ever develop a comprehensive semantic web that poises all the questions, and therefore lack the capacity to critically inquire, to ask original questions, for themselves. The contrary of analytic, auditory-sequential thinking is nonsequential, visuo-spatial thinking characteristic of geometric visions of reality.

I recommend reading Two Ways of Knowing for a preliminary elaboration on the virtues of auditory-sequential learning (left brain hemisphere) versus visuo-spatial learning (right brain hemisphere). To briefly note, highly gifted individuals utilized visuo-spatial thinking, exhibiting greater brain activity in the right brain hemisphere. But allow me to continue this line of thought a little further down. (Also another interesting article on Temporary and Spatial Processing)

Wonder. This word encompasses the attitude of children— model geniuses in their own right. They are absorbed with curiosity, captured with wonder, and intensely interested in the prismatic, multifaceted world around them. Children learn at exponential rates, partly due to their physiological development, but even more importantly, due their excitement for discovering novel experiences and the process of knitting new understandings regarding how these experiences work.

But what happens to that childlike wonder? Where does it go in age? In the past psychologists speculated that the brain is programmed for critical periods of development that allows for exceedingly fast neural growth in childhood that eventually tapers off with age. They posited that brain plasticity and cognitive fluidity wanes as knowledge becomes more crystallized with age. Due to recent research dispelling notions that brain plasticity declines and ceases with the onset of adulthood, and due to my own experience with learning, I do not embrace this paradigm.

Instead I would like to introduce a paradigm that explains how sparkling wonder for the world fades as individuals become more enculturated, as their questions about the world are met with more of the same answers, the same flat predictable responses. The corollary? They grow more desensitized, their brain is starved of stimulation, and their minds slowly harden and calcify into a crystallized understanding of the same old  phenomenon they find themselves routinely bombarded with.

In effect, the loss of childlike wonder, the lack of curiosity for the world and all its treasured enthusiasms for understanding, is a result of mental oppression. Sounds harsh, right? While this may sound like an overt plot by big brother, I assure you it is not. Rather it is the natural progression of culture.

Allow me to digress momentarily and introduce my thoughts on the sociological philosophies of Bourdieu and Althusser.

Bourdieu discusses the phenomenal progression of enculturation that begins before we are born, beginning with a room and crib and name and clothes assigned to us by our parents. As we emerge from the womb and into this world with an open mind, tabula rasa, we adopt the world that has been carved out for us. Aside from the aforementioned articles, our parents may even have an idea of what kind of person we’ll be, what personality and character they believe we should possess, what religion we’ll practice, and maybe even what job they envision us to have one day, perhaps as a doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur.  As we grow older, we learn the various cultural conventions that should govern our behavior appropriately within the context of our given family practices, within school, within church, or within the public domain, such as how to think, how to speak, how to act. We are corrected whenever we venture outside the realms of customary convention, such as when we use foul language in certain public settings, and are reprimanded and corrected, otherwise censured.

This external censure slowly becomes adopted and internalized by individuals until they no longer need external ques for regulating inappropriate and appropriate behavior. In a sense, we learn to censure ourselves. We learn the act (or art) of self- censorship. The proper behaviors we adopt are cultural capital endemic to the social or cultural context in which we find ourselves most exposed to and influenced by.

Bourdieu describes this as the habitus, or the set of socially learned dispositions, skills and ways of acting that operate unconsciously without our awareness. When we do become aware of this habitus, it is often when we find ourselves in a foreign or unknown context that allows us to recognize the incongruencies in behavior, say when a well groomed wealthy elite finds herself at a barbecue in the deep south.

I apologize for the digression but the point I’m making is all important, so allow me to state it plainly: the education system of today fosters a habitus that discourages self-guided open-ended critical inquiry in favor of directed, closed, routine memorization. I am speaking in absolute abstracts, of course, but if you take time to draw parallels to your experiences with formal education I am sure your true conclusions will be the same as mine. The reason why this is the case falls with the aim of education: to produce a work force proficient at undertaking assigned orders, finding answers to given questions, and completing a set of tasks dolled out by superiors. If you look at the hierarchical structure of the classroom as a training ground for the hierarchical structure of the workplace, this doesn’t seem like such a preposterous explanation of education’s existing state.

The individuals proposing and influencing education policies, the wealthy elite, can only think in terms of their own self-guided interests. What benefit would it serve them to have a free thinking, critically minded, independently motivated work force? While I would argue that it would do our nation a great service in terms of creation, innovation, and invention, from an executive’s perspective I can’t see how that’s the most desirable employee. On the contrary, they want workers who work quietly and do the exact job they are given. More precisely: to passively accept what they are told and perform accordingly to expectations.

But in my opinion that’s an outdated paradigm organizational and labor systems. Societies are organisms, like cells or animals, where every part of the whole is as important and valuable as the next for operating at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. To deny the capacity to openly challenge and critically think about work processes is a form of self-sabotage. Fortunately there are organizations such as Google and 3M that employ the practice of critical and creative thought in their workplace.

But again, I digress. And allow me to clarify a point: I am not diminishing the role of intelligence in formal education and the work place either. In fact, it is the only facet or trait of an individual of any worth in contemporary education. What is intelligence? Does it differ from problem solving? Let’s explore these questions.

In the mainstream sense, intelligence is the ability to arrive at correct answers. Sounds good enough. In Greek, intelligence translates as intelligere which means to “select among” from inter meaning “among” and legere meaning “to gather”. More precisely, intelligence is a convergent style of reasoning that utilized deduction to arrive at conclusions. It is analytic and sequential. Does it differ from problem solving? Not if the problem is defined among a given set of premises or facts.

But what if a problem exists as open, without any apparent premises or facts with which to reason from? What if the questions are not given? This is where the utility of intelligence breaks down and an indication that some other important element necessary for problem solving begins gaining apparency.

Allow me to cite Leonardo de Vinci’s response when asked of the secret of his creative genius: saper vedere. In Latin this translates as “to know how to see.” From this brief phrase we can draw some tentative conclusions about what he might have meant, namely that creative genius, or rather problem solving, is the ability to formulate a novel perspective, an original point of view, that rearranges and reprioritizes the saliency and valuations of phenomenon, of facts, within the context of a given problem. This is where visuo-spatial thinking is paramount.

It would seem that the ability to gain the proper perspective necessary for solving open-ended problems rests with the ability to think divergently through a visuo-spatial context of thought. That is, to diversify and differentiate different modes of thought, perhaps through analogy or metaphor, in order to gain an alternative and, ideally, an original point of view.

So I must ask: What type of thinking does our contemporary formal education system encourage? One that deviates from the “norm”? One that tests various processes of reasoning through problems? One that explores alternative solutions to a given problem? Or how about the most striking question of all: Does contemporary education encourage independent thought or novel perspective in the classroom?

If I were to generalize all my experiences in education, and even defer to the data regarding increases in standardized testing, my answer to all these questions would be a resounding no.  Is more standardization, more conformity and uniform perspective the answer? No and no again.

What we need are better teachers who are more adequately equipped to facilitate open discussion and lead critical thinking. In addition, we could do away with rigid, inflexible curriculum’s and standardized tests, as well as the stifling behavioral expectations of structured class settings. We also need to toss out this notion that intelligence— the ability to utilize deductive reasoning to converge at correct answers from a set of given premises— is not the only measure of value, and that other critical thinking skills— such as those that produce an ability to transcend bias, create new perspective, and generate novel questions and original solutions— are being totally overlooked and underutilized.

Thoughts: Novelty, Education, Society, Theory

I could write for days on end with all that’s been on my mind. But I guess I’ll just dump some random thoughts circulating about at the moment. I apologize if my line of thought appears a bit erratic and nonlinear.

Recent research regarding the genetic basis for novelty seeking behaviors in honey bees parallels that of humans. ADHD is characterized as a novelty seeking behavior, one that thrives off of new stimulation, hence the title Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These genes are hardwired to the benefit of the group to seek new enterprises, to explore and discover new directions for growth.

Society is a historical phenomenon, a developmental product of inherited traditions to preserve functional behavioral aspects for survival. Pure theory disregards the empirical element to any social science. The biggest culprit in perpetuating opaque theories in the social sciences is Economics.

I will state that pure theory of any kind breeds a certain phenomenon of necessity by reducing evolving organic elements into statical-atomistic parts, consequently quelling any perspective that accommodates for change. Theory requires assigned values in order to quantify and logically justify its conclusions. Indoctrination is the method that achieves this end.

So long as economics is a practical exercise whose applications deal with and affect the organism of society, it should have no business perpetuating pure theory over historical-empirical observations, which is science. Psuedo-science is pure theory. Recall the utility of metaphysical speculations rooted in pure machinations melded from minds rooted in supernatural causation, totally detached from the socio-material world. Perspective, or rather the amalgam of perspective, is paramount to achieving accurate explanations. Think on the process of peer review.

Necessity breeds slavery, i.e. denies man. The phonomenon of Necessity is a testament, not to its excellence, but its power [sic Ellul]. Necessity is convergent. Possibility is divergent, as is potentiality. Equilibrium is convergent. Evolution is divergent. Preservation is convergent. Adaptation is divergent.

A college degree, and contemporary formal education, is tantamount to receiving confirmation through the Christian church. I reject the value of indoctrination in both.

Have we witnessed a surge towards the value of divergent thinking or convergent? Does our education system reflect valuations of standardization or differentiation? Has standardized testing, formality, rigid class structure increased or decreased? What is our fate?

You cannot stand within and move without: escape bias by escaping context. Transcend perspective by losing it.

That I know myself to be a common man makes me uncommon. Recall the maxim of Thales: “Know thyself.” Recall the wisest tenant of Socrates: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.”

Many know the words, few know the meaning. For that we can praise propaganda’s subversive process of inculcation perpetuated by the forceful effect of formal education: memorization, recitation, regurgitation, repeat. Where is Comprehension? Where is dialog? Propaganda ceases where dialog begins.

Economics is a social science. Society is a historical phenomenon. History is an empirical development. Why are we perpetuating pure theory over empirical practice? Let us cultivate the value of individual consciousness, each man’s theory of mind, and marry it with the prevailing practices to yield a praxis of reflection and action that prizes the individual’s contribution to the well being of the social context in which he is situated. To deny the value of a single perspective is to sabotage evolution’s law of accounting for every variable to render a more perfect adaptability.

Where you look determines what you see. Look farther, look wider, look deeper.

“Men must talk about themselves until they know themselves.” Journal reflections. Engage in dialogue. Objectify the subjective; discover its fruits and failings. Dialogue, so long as it is an honest portrayal of your current convictions, destroys propaganda, dispels ignorance, and produces a finer eye with which to feed the mind.

Recent science has reaffirmed the powers of LSD as a means of disrupting habits of thought. This bodes well for the prospect of freeing the mind of man, i.e. addiction, but poorly for a politik aiming to strengthen its control through conformity.

Mental diseases, as diagnosed by contemporary medical criteria, and most notably depression, bipolar, and anxiety, have been associated with great genius and leadership in every domain of society. Contrary to popular belief, recent science has discovered that depression is due to a hyper activity in the brain that leads to potential paralyzation of thought, hence the symptoms of rumination, chronic worry, listlessness and the like.

ADHD is also characterized by hyperactive brain activity. Individuals with ADHD are in upwards of 2.7 times more likely to simultaneously have depression (Other notable correlations include bipolar disorder, anxiety, and oppositional defiance disorder. See herehere, here, here, here, and here)

Individuals with mild depression, as opposed to those with major depression, are more skeptical and therefore rational than those without the diagnoses. (Listen to this presentation on Optimism Bias)

I posit that the same reason people retain a optimism bias, despite being confronted with contradictory facts, is the same reason people exist in a state of denial. (See here)

“[Michael Shermer’s] latest book, ‘The Believing Brain’, is a fascinating synthesis of 30 years of research on the subject. Shermer’s conclusion, about our belief-forming machinery, is disturbing. Most beliefs are not formed by carefully evaluating the evidence in favor or against a particular claim. Instead, they are snap decisions made for psychological, emotional and social reasons in the context of an environment created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. Only after the belief is formed, do people try to rationalize it and subconsciously seek out confirmatory evidence which, upon finding, reinforces the belief in a positive feedback loop.”

I can appreciate the evolutionary utility of bias as a means of maintaining inherited beliefs and preserving the status quo, but one needs to dwell on the implications of how this bias can be exploited, specifically by propaganda.

That leads me to another issue that I’ve been giving plenty of thought: the social construction of reality. What got me started thinking on this topic was my development economics course (which I despise due to the highfalutin exaggerations regarding its ability to actually explain economic development). The only piece of information I found valuable at all was the only piece of information it absolvedly claimed to be the single dictator for a society’s developmental economic success: institutions. This struck me as acutely profound, and odd since it was a mere footnote amongst an oceanic backdrop of theoretical constructions and descriptive statistics.

Since then I began to explore the weight of this idea that institutions are the sole determinate of economic development and success. I began asking myself ‘What are these institutions?’, ‘Why are they so important for economic development?’, ‘What makes one institution better than another?’, ‘How are these institutions created and sustained?’, and many others.

Because of this prick to my curiosity, and because of a massive paper I’m developing for a Macroeconomic policy class, I picked up my old History of Economic Thought book and reread about fifty percent of it, trying to uncover a scintilla of insight into what the history of economic thought may have said about this idea of institutions, and I was more than rewarded for these efforts. In addition to accruing a renewed interest in classical economists such as Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, my eyes were once again opened to the oft-misinterpreted and misaligned message of Marx, and futhermore I discovered just the veins of thought that satisfied by curiosities most exactly: Historical Economics and Institutional Economics. Wow.

Due to my interest in evolutionary economics and political economy I previously read books by Galbraith, Schumpeter, Marshall, Boulding and others but I was totally ignorant to the extent at which these involved socio-economics, specifically institutional economics. Moreover, meta-connections between economics, politics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, and evolution were made abundantly clear.

My philosophically minded interest in gaining traction in these seemingly disparately domains to gain a broader, fuller, and more comprehensive understanding of the world in which I am situated lead me to my original fascination with power, which I gratuitously thank Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Thucydides for instilling within me. Specifically, power as the mechanism for all change: be it in the reality of the natural world or in the phenomenon of the conscious mind. The impetus of power occupies the seat governing change in every domain, from physics and math, to politics and business, and all the cultural manifestations in between, from science to religion. The force and intensity of power can be traced to both intentional and accidental confluences.

At the time I had this revelation in the power of institutions, I just so happened to be reading Veblen Thorstein’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. I picked up his book due to my growing fascination with domestic and current account imbalances (debt) and the wealth disparities they create. Thorstein Veblen just so happened to be not only an economist and sociologists, but one of the original proponents of institutional economics.

Other factors that influenced this fascination was my study of Greek civilization. Being a professed model for American Democracy, I felt compelled to investigate the various factors involved in the production of Greek culture. Greek religion appeared as a marvelous area of study due to my corrected ignorance of its role in shaping the nomos or conventions governing social affairs, rather than solely providing a metaphysical comfort like modern Christianity seeks to accomplish.

In addition, I coincidentally read Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion for a humanities class in Crisis and Creativity. This sealed the connection between the role of institutions in shaping mass culture and individual psychology.

From here I began studying sociology more intensely.

I’m nearly finished reading Berger and Luckmann’s seminal work, The Social Construction of Reality, on the formation of social knowledge, which they declare dictates our conception of reality more generally. It’s a fascinating read that I recommend everyone pick up. I don’t have time to elaborate on my revelations, insights and comments at the moment. Another time.

Berger’s reading elevated by insight into the mechanisms that create the social consciousness and the social knowledge that accompanies it. As a result of that reading I also began looking into the various apparatuses within society that perpetuate social knowledge. I purchased the book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes by Ellul and this has further reinforced by understanding of the mechanisms driving social behavior.

An interesting, but not surprising, study reveals that “Large numbers of authors of DSM psychiatry ‘bible’ have ties to the drugs industry.” (See here) This reaffirms my conviction that psychiatry is a purely cultural phenomenon. And culture, as I have mentioned, is a product proportional to the authority and power bestowed by institutions within society. While the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a large institution with vested authority, it is dwarfed in power by the profit motives of the Pharmaceutical industry.

And what dictates the extent of profit motives for big pharma? My thoughts turn immediately to the legal and political realm governed by lawmakers in congress as well as the upholders of that law in the judicial branch and the enforcers in the executive branch.

What motivates these political individuals? The preservation of their power or, at the very least and being most charitable, the preservation of the power of their ideas about the way things ought to be, specifically their values, which are at base purely subjective constructs that reflect a means of preserving their ego.

I could go on but I have other work to due.

Last thoughts. I’m looking forward to reading Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War as well as Althusser’s Philosophy, Lenin, and other essays. I need to finish reading Das Capital by Marx, something I began reading with great enthusiasm a month or two ago but got distracted with all these new insights.

Other author’s also on my reading list are Max Weber, Kahneman and Tversky, Mitchell Waldrop, Alfred Schutz, Karl Mannheim, Alfred Weber, Max Scheler, Colin Camerer, and Tacitus.

I’ll dump more thoughts later.

Myopic Zeal

To the Zealots:
— which may include the Religious, Pious, Orthodox, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Dogmatic, Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, Sectarian and the like–

I don’t identify with a single myopic vein of thought, and any hopes of converting me into the herd would not only be regressive and detrimental to a healthy flourishing mind seeking wisdom, it would be futile.

I do love you, and I love that you always think of me and share these little bits of biblical joy you come across, but I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for understanding. So while these may contain little nuggets of biblical wisdom and feel good rhetoric, they will not be an end for me. As an evolving creature it is my duty to adopt all the wisdom of the world so that I may adapt to and overcome challenge and flux and obstacles most appropriately.

Contrary to religious ideology, understanding the human condition is the beginning of all wisdom. But this requires that we consult not only external sources, but explore our internal sources as well. In Greek culture religion was not an individual journey nor a spiritual encounter but a collective enterprise to create a uniformity of experience via the dissemination of a consistent historical narrative which detailed social values and collective moral agreement. The gods of the pantheon were not seen as real or existing, but only as anthropomorphic representations which preserved aspects of the human condition; that is, they were the idealized values and virtues incarnated into typological beings and symbolic situations (myths, fables, parables) that could communicate and explain the world to each generation in society through oral or written language.

The preservation of this culture and its order was predicated on a cultures ability to retain this language, which they called nomos. In Greek nomos means “law” and refers to the structural ordering of experience, specifically relating to daily living and normative activities. Religion was simply an institutional vehicle that served as a way of preserving and perpetuating nomos, or social order and law. The nomos provided explanations and resolutions in the face of anomos, or chaos, conflict and turmoil. The individual appealed to this collective social law for explaining and handling problems arising in their conscious experience that was outside their ability to resolve themselves. In this way individuals sought the advice of the priests or prophets who knew the oral or written tradition exquisitely and offered their personal or propaedeutic interpretations– interpretations that would be absorbed into the tradition for later consultation, much like a contemporary judge’s ruling becomes canonical common law.

Language is all important. The limits of your language dictate the limits of your world.

Man is not made in the image of god: God is made in the image of man. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and the word was god.” (John 1:1) Interestingly, ‘word’ here is Gk. logos derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *leg- meaning “to collect, bind, gather”. The word ‘religion’ is a combination of the words re- “again” + lego “choose, gather” or “I go over or go through again in reading, speech, thought, read, relate or recite again, revise, recount”. In this way we see the intimate connection between repetition in binding words to the mind in order to create a consistent world view, a structured ordering of experience. Religion is the institution charged with the preservation and diffusion of a language via enculturation. Throughout history religious institutions have been replaced by various community organizations and governing bodies, most notably Academic institutions that actively inquire about the world with a more precise and thoughtful methodology.

On an interesting side note, the first institution of higher learning, Plato’s Academy, was established in the olive gardens on the temple grounds of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It is no coincidence that the first school of philosophy– the love of wisdom– and the first institution of higher learning (beyond the gymnasium) was affiliated with the cult of Athena. The Academy derives its name from the legendary Greek Attic hero Akadamos who defected to the aid of the Tyndarid’s Castor and Pollux when they invaded Attica to liberate their sister Helen. As a result, the Lacedaemonians devoted a plane of land in homage to Akadamos planted with Olive trees in the spot where he revealed to the Divine twins where Thesus had hidden Helen of Troy. This plot of land was located just outside the walls of Athens and was later the site where Athena’s temple stood throughout the Bronze Age.

Through this brief sketch I hope it becomes obvious of the potential trappings of cultural institutions like religion. As their perfunctory duty to society, they seek to preserve the status quo, to present man to himself through a slanted portrait of the past. In a “stable” society the only people who can offer legitimate interpretations are those in positions of authority, i.e. priests, professors, professionals, politicians or any other title. Every so often a prophet arises from the herd and expresses the collective opinion in a fell swoop of the pen or brush or voice. These are the artists, the leaders, the creators, the visionaries– all subversive forces of established authority, all necessary agents of evolution and change. These are the disestablishmentarianists, the revolutionaries, the rebels, the terrorists. They are impelled to express the change they see around them, to lead the blind into the light. They are called by nature to tip the scales in favor of progress, despite the howls from stagnating pools of thought and undeterred by the biting guilt of defection, of desecrating antiquated tradition and custom.

The Greeks maintained that the past contained the understanding necessary for adapting to the present. What is important is that, like the Greeks, we view our culture as an instrument of understanding and ordering experience and maintain a tolerance and openness to other cultures and veins of thought. All language, all culture, all knowledge aims at providing explanatory power and utility for navigating through the world. To remain prejudice is to retain a myopic view of the world, deficient in variegated color and devoid of curvaceous depth, and we rob ourselves of another instrument for charting our world.

Sincerely Yours,


Transcendent Kurzweil

“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
―Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Raymond Kurzweil is an author, inventor, entrepreneur, futurist, and the founder of Singularity University, as well as the prophetic figure who preaches the salvation of technology through singularity, where technology explodes at an exponential rate and mind and machine become an indistinguishable unity. He is also the creative protagonist in the film Transcendent Man which documents the personality of one of histories most sophisticated minds.

From an early age Kurzweil was a precocious youth who undertook projects inventing various machines and contraptions with whatever he could pull together. His father was a hardworking, financially strapped composer who actively supported and encouraged his son’s creative pursuits in every way he could. At seventeen Ray built a computer that composed music and in 1965 he gained his first national exposure when he was invited on a CBS game show to showcase his invention. Shortly thereafter he invented a computer that matched and selected colleges that were best suited for a student given their academic data and preferences. Upon graduation he attended MIT, studying Computer Science and Literature, and went on to start several companies during his undergraduate years that would produce original breakthroughs in flat-bed scanning and electronic acoustic synthesizing technology.

Kurzweil pioneered many advancements in the areas of computing technology, specifically in the areas of transcription software, optical character recognition, music machines and synthesizers, and artificial intelligence. He is the award winning author of many books on trans-humanism, singularity, and artificial intelligence. As a futurist he has developed a cult following due to his uncanny ability to predict historical events and technological advancements to the year, forecasting the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and foretelling the date of technological breakthroughs, such as when a computer would beat a human grand chess master, or describe the Internet phenomena and its explosive social integration many years and decades beforehand. This ability served to strengthen his persona as a clairvoyant leader of a technological future growing increasingly uncertain.

A recent prediction of Kurzweil that is slowly unfolding into fruition is the human synthesis of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics into everyday living. He asserts that we will eventually merge man and machine, technology and thought, so as to enhance our capabilities and intelligence. Ultimately Ray Kurzweil has a not so hidden motive behind all his work and theories. His aim, he says, is to transcend death, to live forever. According to him this will be achieved in our lifetime in the very near future. Eventually, when singularity is reached and technological breakthrough arrives at an event horizon of infinite upward intelligent potential, artificial intelligence will allow us the capability of beating the odds of death. Even more incredible is that Kurzweil believes we’ll even be able to resurrect the dead through the information contained in memories and data. Many contend that he’s a crackpot, or that even if his singularity prediction is true, artificial intelligence, being infinitely intelligent, would usurp power and control and dominate mankind, similar to the way humans deal with insects, in what contemporary AI researches deem as the Artilect war, or artificial intellect war.

What is initially curious about Ray’s obsession with transcending death is compounded to just plain weird when he begins speaking about his father who unexpectedly died from a heart attack. It seems that Ray’s fascination with conquering death and resurrecting the dead originates out of the painful loss he suffered when his father passed away. Since then he has collected and stored, some may say horded, every scribble, bill, and manuscript left by his father with the professed hope of digitizing it one day in order to reanimate his father.

Notions like this are certainly wild. Just as wild as his daily regimen of 200 supplement pills that he consumes to “reprogram the biochemistry” of his body in order to reverse the effects of aging and grow young again. Despite his quirky eccentricity, his advancements have allowed the blind to listen to visual text, libraries to digitally transcribe and immortalize volumes of text, musicians to create music and synthesize acoustics, in addition to founding dozens of multimillion dollar companies from technology to health and wellness. His achievements and ideas have gained him worldwide notoriety and recognition, winning dozens of honoree doctorates and awards, most notably the National Medal of Technology, the highest medal awarded by the president, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His acclaim and contributions are undisputed. Even his ability for predictions, of which 89 out of 108 came true, serve to bolster his credibility and make even his wildest ideas appear taste worthy.

To understand and tolerate his futuristic and often fantastical visions of the coming world, you must gain a glimpse into his inner mind and how he thinks. To begin, Ray Kurzweil is a mathematical prodigy by most accounts, giving him a rare ability to calculate complex abstractions, conceiving and building technology in his mind before it is even feasible of producing that vision into reality. Many of Ray’s current technologies were produced this way, far in advance, long before the technology was invented. He describes his creative process as dreaming himself years into the future, imagining himself interacting with the technology, describing its use and functions to an audience at a conference, detailing all the problems they must have solved and hurdles they must have overcome to produce it, eventually working back until the entire piece of technology has been reverse engineered in his mind. He recalls that when he sets out to create or invent he allows himself to fantasize or dream about it and that he’ll frame the problem in his mind before he sleeps and will frequently wake up with the solution in mind. He stresses that it is a process however, not simply a light bulb flicking on, and requires actively seeking the solution in mind.

Kurzweil points out that the nature of his creative work in the realm of technology doesn’t provide him so much opportunity for solitary creativity. Because technology is often the synthesis of many specialized disciplines, ranging from linguistics to mechanical engineering to computers, he is required to facilitate creative collaboration among groups of specialists despite their disparate vocabularies in order to accomplish a common, creative task. While flow can be a challenge to achieve for individuals, he says it poses an even greater difficulty for groups managing different perspectives and values. However, ensuring that everyone is equally invested and on the same page with mutual interest, collaboration yields a diversity of perspective and greater magnitude of thought, yielding invaluable results.

True to his American values, Kurzweil believes that the US is a leader because of its ability to see new frontiers, reward risk and generate new knowledge which, given the emergence of the information age, he says is becoming the new capital currency. Risk is a necessary component of success. For Ray, failure is apart of risk, but failure is simply success deferred.

While Kurzweil and his ideas have been warmly received by the public, in large thanks to his life changing technologies and paradigm shifting predictions, he is not without critics. Despite his large, almost cult following of technologists and scientists, many skeptics believe his predictive powers are over inflated, that anyone could equally observe the basis for his predictions provided they had access to the same technological information being developed at the time of his claims, while others posit that, given the observed trajectory of past trends, such predictions were bound to occur and not so much a surprise as many people would believe. Rather than debating whether the event of singularity will occur, most critics challenge the date Kirzweil believes it will take place, as well as the nature and magnitude of the “event horizon”. More numerous are those that challenge his ideas regarding transcending death via the integration of man and machine. Many highly regarded contemporaries draw a line in the proverbial sand and fault Kurzweil for over reaching his domain of expertise into the realm of biology where they say he has little understanding of the delicate balance of biological organisms designed over millions of years by the hand of evolution. Whatever the criticisms may be, Kurzweil has produced an indelible mark on science and progress with his technology from which everyone has directly or indirectly benefited, and his appreciation is continually recognized year after year.

The narrative of Kurzweil being portrayed in Transcendent Man communicates a misunderstood genius who carries with him the suffering of paternal loss as a haunting reminder of his own frailty and death. It paints his character as one of wild optimism and hope that technology, with the aid of his hand, will deliver him from this suffering by simultaneously preventing his death and finally resurrecting the memory of his father. His work appears to revolve almost exclusively around integrating his envisioned prosthetic technologies seamlessly into the human life as a means of overcoming physical constraint or existential finitude.

When viewed in this light, his creative activities and life accomplishments, while awe inspiring, seem to be vain desperate attempts to manipulate the hand of god and alter fate. Interspersed between his articulate monologues, fervent speeches, and the various technologies of his being surveyed there remains a portrait of a hollow man emptied of heart, preoccupied with the past, longing for his father, and pining for the future of technology to arrive before death does. His crisis is internal but always subsuming beneath his genial intimations. His father’s death acts as a reminder of his frailty and forces the confrontation of his metaphysical identity in the face of annihilation. In an act of defiance, Kurzweil renounces both in a creative expression of vision and technology that wills the formation of a new identity, free from death, and a new world, free from loss. In this way we can see how his creative pursuits manifest this struggle to establish a new nomos in which he is the author and architect who writes the rules of fate.

Oppression: Education and Femininity

A recent study was published and reviewed in the NYT that detailed growing pressures in education and its affect on well-being.

A particular passage stood out in the essay:

Professor Sax has explored the role of the faculty in college students’ emotional health, and found that interactions with faculty members were particularly salient for women. Negative interactions had a greater impact on their mental health.“Women’s sense of emotional well-being was more closely tied to how they felt the faculty treated them,” she said. “It wasn’t so much the level of contact as whether they felt they were being taken seriously by the professor. If not, it was more detrimental to women than to men.”

She added: “And while men who challenged their professor’s ideas in class had a decline in stress, for women it was associated with a decline in well-being.”

I don’t want to extrapolate, but I saw a connection regarding education, gender and the suppression of the critical consciousness.

Continue reading “Oppression: Education and Femininity”