The K-9 Philosophical Method

March 19, 2017

I have never been a huge fan of the plagiarist Adam Smith but, truth be told, he had a method. With the passing of years, the use of the social and historical dimensions in economic thought buried political economy (a real discipline) and created the Frankenstein of economics (a sham). Abstract, deductive, reductionist, based on erroneous assumptions, and dangerously dependent on methodological individualism, the lie of economics as a science is perhaps the greatest disservice humanity has done to itself together with dropping atomic bombs and American Idol.

 

This soap opera with devastating real world consequences, truth be told, makes us feel nostalgic for everything that occurred before the marginalist revolution. Because, let's not kid each other, these morons are out for blood, armed with an ideological agenda and a weaponized lie. Pure descriptive discipline my ass and, to be honest, that mumbo jumbo of utility is shallow, perverse and unworthy of a so-called science. What the hell determines what is valuable, after all? Therefore, I've decided to pee on the leg of everything, rid myself from the usual qualms which encircle our species, and put forward a canine theory of human life. Your best friend, not content with pulling you out of fires, warning you when there's a predator approaching, and licking your hands when you're a depressed mess, will not try to wake you the fuck up. Who's a good boy?

 

So, first of all, let me deliver you some news. My beef is not with economics per se. It is with the materialistic view that contends that all there is can be measured because only the objective world exist, and, as a consequence, humans too can be measured. In order to do so, the rich and complex social world and its constitutive parts have been simplified as if it was a Nintendo™ game. The consequences, mind you, have been devastating. In the aggregate, this appears to be the most prosperous and peaceful era in the history of mankind. That is, in absolute terms. So, where does the anger, depression, turmoil and frustration come from? Well, that's because the aggregate is bullshit. In a country of two, where one has €1 million and the other €0, the country still has, in absolute terms, a wealth of €1 million. The Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of the variation of values, more famously used to analyze income inequality, has explained of lately much of the rage we see in the news and around us. It is not about material wealth but about the perception of blatant disparity between those who have and those who don't. This is relevant because, first, it demonstrates that this unprecedented age of peace and wealth is bollocks; and, second, because it starts to explain how crucial it is the perception of the being towards the objective and social world around it.

 

Let me show you some really dope stuff.

 

 

This, my friend, is the dog's bollocks. Here you can see the Being in all its glory, peeled off and ready for you to take a bite. Thanks to Heidegger we have a framework to attempt the understanding of experience as a whole. Let's start from outside, alrighty? Outside the green arrows is everything we don't know. It is a place of wonders but also frightening monsters lurking in the darkness. Just like it happens to us, dogs, whatever is outside of our knowledge both attracts and repels. Sure, we want to go and sniff it, but truth be told we are certain that it has squirrels, grumpy grandpas with canes, and the veterinarian. If we inch a bit towards the center, we have the natural, objective world, which is constantly in flux and it is both the source and taker of life. This is where gravity and stuff like that lives. It is the space of biology, chemistry, and physics, i.e. the realm which is given and is the source of the original imagery of inquire. Sure, it can give us apples and fresh air and water, but it also kills us, whether by shaking the earth or by the mere passing of time because, not to scare you but it must be told: we all die, humans and dogs alike. The two most outstanding themes at this level, at least for my taste, are: first, that it "gives" us, living beings, the basic information coded into us. It is because of millions of years existing in this realm that our bodies and minds are shaped the way they are. Do not let social "scientists", those snake oil peddlers, tell you the bullshit that humans are born like a blank slate and everything is a social construct. A fucking lion trying to eat the great, great, great, great, great, great grandad of my human companion is not a social construct. It is a fact. And it has to do with certain type of predispositions he has coded into him, whether he knows it or not. There is a reason why he walks tall on two feet, fears the darkness, and sees in color --and I do not. If we're going to play scientists, then let's do it right. Repeat after me: biology is not a social construct. The other theme, second, is that humans have been trying to reign over the confines of the natural world for as long as they've been able to organize, and while back in the day such an attitude took harmless forms, such as building a bridge or domesticating my great, great, great, great, great, great grandad, today it is more akin to playing with fire. You name it: genetic alteration, anti-aging technology, gender reassignment, etc.  All in all, this category of Being (what Heidegger calls vorhandensein) is inhabited by the objective, person-independent, causally interacting subjects of natural scientific inquiry. What happens with it now that humanity is tinkering with it? Well, that's a good PhD dissertation subject for you, man.

 

For now, let's go back to the aforementioned image. The other category of Being (zuhandensein as Heidegger put it) is what you can observe "inside" the vorhandensein. It is the world of things that have been assigned human values and significance. In a way, it is an intersubjective world. Can you touch the law? Can you smell the church? Can you listen to the State? These things are real insofar as they are experiences of the world which are negotiated between the self and others, coming to being by virtue of a combination of conscious agreement and the corporeity of consciousness itself by means of the intentionality of the body. Humans are necessarily social and capable of ineffable goodness, o.k.? However, they are also rabidly irrational and aggressive, capable of the most evil things. In order to satisfy their need for goodness and socialization, while shackling up the most perverse aspects of their nature, their minds have create a narrative in which a hierarchy allows them to develop while tyrannizing them. Pathological, isn't it? As the conscious experience is bound to the body (sorry monsieur Merleau-Ponty!) the intersubjective world is a mixture of the humans' conscious body/experience, the representations of the nature around them, and the embedded software they come with fresh out of the factory. Remember how we said earlier that the blank slate mumbo jumbo is, well, mumbo jumbo? Well, that in itself comes into play when building the intersubjective world. That is, my friends, what is called (i) social conventions and, in their interaction with the vorhandensein, narratives emerge pregnant with meaning and taking shape both as (ii) moral and (iii) technical norms. Remember, humans are normative animals, stubbornly walking the thin line between chaos and order. Moreover, they are finite, and they've been negotiating for thousands, if not millions of years, the heavy burden of knowing that they will perish while contemplating the infinite. Kind of like being very hungry and just chewing gum while watching a lavish but untouchable banquet of the juiciest meats and cheeses.

 

So, how do we know about those social conventions, moral norms, and technical boundaries? Well, you do. The same things you'd be frowned upon for doing today are reflected in oral then written stories which have been around for thousands of years. And same goes for moral norms. Last, regarding technical boundaries, I am sure you know that you shouldn't touch with your bare hands that flame, right? But I digress. While oral traditions have been passed from one generation to another for millennia and very few were written down, we can speculate that what we have written down used to be an oral story. Let's take the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest literary work. From tablet one you can already see that the oppression of the people of Uruk is in the form of the prima note right held by Gilgamesh, and that Enkidu, the primitive man, commences his taming through lovemaking with a prostitute. As a (now) civilized human, Enkidu tries to stop Gilgamesh from shagging a bride, and they fight, but in their mutual recognition of strength they become friends. By tablet four of the Epic, you have the elders of Uruk giving life advice to Gilgamesh before he starts his journey with Enkidu to slay a beast, which is capable of lying, and such behavior enrages Enkidu. As with other primates, humans form dominance hierarchies and such hierarchies manifest themselves through narratives which contain both the social conventions and the morals agreed upon by the members of the group. This phenomenon gives way to a whole intersubjective world, so interwoven with the natural world around it, that with the passing of years those narratives distill into something sacred and, eventually, are codified into laws. Not everything is worthy of law, mind you, though the genesis of the hierarchies formed are the result of the members' input as to how much tyranny they're willing to tolerate in exchange for having a safe spot in which they can develop more or less meaningfully until the time of death.

 

This brings me in full circle to the beginning of this diatribe. Economics is merely a symptom. The real disease is to assign quasi-religious faith in the neutral and amoral study of the objective world, even to the point of hubris, i.e. believing that there is a single explanation for everything, that it is measurable, and that if we reduce the complex phenomena of Being to some numbers then it will all be clear. This obsession with single causes is pathological. Whenever the human condition is at stake, it is ludicrous to believe that a method which asks "how things are" will answer the question of "how should I act". The realm of morality is complex, treacherous, and operates at many levels, on of which is, for sure, the objective, natural world. Realizing, though empirical methods, that water is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, is not the same as determining if employing a shady character in charge of the oil spillage valve is morally reprehensible, or if shagging the neighbor's wife is kosher or not, or if everybody has a right to participate in the political life of a community.

 

Oh, yes, and by the way, the method of Smith was (1) to abstract and isolate social motivations and processes, then (2) to examine the connections between the parts, followed by (3) establishing principles via induction via generalization of observed relationships to all similar phenomena, and, finally, to (4) deduct, i.e. infer from general principles in order to form a system, theorize, and explain the effects of the principles on social institutions.

 

Way better than mere deduction or induction, uh?

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