The Real Meaning of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand

Modern economists would attribute pretty much any market function to the mystical “invisible hand” that Adam Smith wrote about. In fact it’s been argued that the core message of Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” was the argument about the invisible hand of the free market. Being the bad business student that I am, I decided to actually read Adam Smith instead of just worship him.

The term “invisible hand” only appears once in the entire “Wealth of Nations” and only three times in all of Smith’s writing. The next use we’ll look at it comes in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” and the third time, curiously enough, in an essay about the history of astronomy. I’ll analyze all three uses to find some coherent meaning to the phrase. Read More »

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What Is To Be Done? A Message to the Left

I imagined the mood of the American people this morning to be like a bad hangover where none of us were quite sure what we did last night. Instead I hardly remember ever seeing this much optimism and triumph in people’s faces. It could be short-lived, or could be a prolonged sense of victory. But the important thing now is that all people, specifically the left, stay vigilant.

The republicans control both the house and the senate (albeit by a small margin) and the presidency. Trump is in position to manipulate a reactionary judge into the supreme court, raping the American people for decades. The question now is, what is to be done?

The first thing to do is to organize. The left has been in pieces for decades and this is the best chance to finally unify. Many people were content with the idea of a Clinton presidency merely to avoid a Trump regime, but that has all changed now. If Clinton had won I expected no real movement to spawn simply because there would be a universal feeling of dodging a bullet. But there can now be a shared feeling of anger. Anger towards Trump and anger towards the reactionaries that elected him, a feeling that could be shared by all on the left. But the danger here is to rebel through the establishment, meaning we cannot just hope for a new progressive hero to come from the democrats. If nothing else this election the democrats have proved they are unwilling to change when they need it most. The mistreatment and abuse of the Sanders campaign have shown that the DNC and the RNC alike must burn, this is what they asked for.

Why can we not accept the democrats anymore? Regardless if Bernie could have beaten Trump or not, the DNC manipulated the race and chose one of the most hated politicians in the country as their leader. Whether they were fully aware of it or not, they chose Trump instead of Bernie. They were unwilling to change. It is foolish to think that real change, the change we desperately need, can come from a party that is part of the problem. They are not the lesser of two evils, they are just evil nonetheless.

When we organize, what exactly do we need? Many will already call for grassroots action to help facilitate change but there are serious limitations to this approach. The absolute ideal is for top-to-bottom change. Grassroots action can be useful for specific issues, such as protesting the DAPL or for higher wages, but it cannot bring the systematic change that is needed. If we wish to truly change the political, economic, and social corruption that we face, we need first focus on the broadest issues that we can. Mass civil disobedience is now needed, not a passive resentment.

Part of the outrage last night was that Clinton did not speak at 2:00 am, that she waited until morning to give her speech. I hoped with all my heart that she would not concede, but of course that never happens. Previously I had little respect for Clinton but that would have changed immensely if she had just stood up for herself. But she’s spineless. She stood on stage and told millions of people that we’re “Stronger together” and that she accepted a Trump presidency. What would have happened if she did not?

First of all she would have jump-started the wave of protests that are sure to come. Her defiance would have meant everything, but instead she chose to crawl away in passivity. She gave the message that we should merely accept our position and try to make the best we can, but this is folly. The true message, the message they don’t want you to hear, is that you can reject this altogether, that you can revolt. This is not the time to work with our enemies. Don’t accept the decaying image of our country they want to push, we can still change it.

Organizing is crucial to the rebuilding of the left, but it is not the only factor. The second step is to learn. If we want to build a movement we must have the philosophical, political, and economic foundation firmly set if we are to avoid the mistakes made by leftists of the 20th century. We must read, learn, and know as much as we can to fight against the demoralizing propaganda and deliberate misinformation that will be shoved down our throats. We must no longer be subjects to the misinformed elite, they have shown with all fervor they cannot help the country any more than they can help themselves.

We cannot be afraid to express our opinions just because we are in the minority. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned being in the South, with my views being largely in the minority of my peers it’s clear their own beliefs can be without foundation and based on faith. The ruling elite, the ruling elite, cannot justify itself. It cannot stand up to scrutiny and that’s why an open discussion about the greatest issues we face are often suppressed. To quote Martin Luther King Jr:

You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.

This gets to the heart of the issue, if you question one aspect of the ruling ideology you must question the entire thing, and that is exactly what they don’t want you to do. People can be fight ferociously if the values they’ve been told they believe in all their lives are put into question.

In 1943 Jean Paul Sartre wrote “If war breaks out, it is in my image, it is my war and I deserve it” and this can be true of today as well. This fate is our fate and we deserve, we all could have done more to prevent it. But the important thing now is to change the future, the future that we believe we deserve we can have if we just fight for it. Unification of the left is our only hope at this point as the wave of reactionaries continues to grow throughout the world. We are in uncertain times and we must fight to keep our hopes and dreams alive.

What Does it Mean to be American?

With the presidential election seeping into every normal day-to-day conversation, the idea of ‘American’ is tossed around as a given. The candidates appeal to the fact that they stand for American values, which is supposed to somehow be a persuading argument. But as with most things the term ‘American’ is so ambiguous that it requires further analysis into its true meaning.

The first source in understanding the question better was to read other essays that people had written on the subject, and to be quite honest I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed research more. The answers that people give to the question stated above range from humorous to infuriating. For instance one of my favorites comes from the always fair and scholarly New York Times. Mr. Damien Cave writes that after completing his travels he feels that: Read More »

Art as a Form of Escape

The classic problem of people hiding from their lives and retreating to art has fundamentally changed within the last few years. The typical portrayal was some slightly disillusioned child preferring to read their stories or paint a picture than go to class. This concept is littered throughout popular literature and film, but hardly ever captures the real situation that we are facing. I don’t think any reasonable person would object to a child that wants to spend the majority of their time reading or painting, mostly because we think of this as classical art. The major art forms we see today are radically different and therefore require a different analysis.

To any common observer there are two depictions of modern art. There is the contemporary abstract form of art that we all love making jokes about, where there is always some deep meaning to jumbled up colors and tin sculptures that nobody understands, and there is the online culture of art production. The latter is the more baffling, because it is a phenomenon that is almost entirely unique to online culture but has been seeping into the public frame lately. Read More »

Colin Kaepernick and Civil Protest

By now most everyone has heard of the events surrounding Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his refusal to stand during the national anthem played at football games. It began with him simply sitting on the bench and evolving him to take a knee during the anthem, almost as a gesture of respect. Nobody was surprised really at the outrage voiced by many Americans. Although, nobody actually questioned the reasons behind their outrage, because when it comes to our patriotism, their outrage is always taken as a given.

Shortly after, Kaepernick clarified his position:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Obviously this concept is not new, it derives from the greatly respectable idea of civil disobedience. Along with the negative reaction came the reinforcement from people supporting Kaepernick, including a slew of different athletes and other figures such as the #VeteransForKaepernick. For anyone interested, there’s a handy complete timeline of the Kaepernick protests outlining everyone who has protested in his example.

colin-kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.

Many of the most common arguments against Kaepernick’s form of protest is that is disrespectful. We can take the example of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. In an interview Brees said that, while he agrees that Kaepernick has the right to protest, “there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.” Brees went on to say that the American flag “represents the very freedom that Colin Kaepernick gets the opportunity to exercise by speaking out his opinion in a peaceful manner about that issue.”

I could spend all day dissecting this very argument, but what core message really means is “Fall in line.” For anyone that doesn’t believe this just read more into what they are really saying. I could translate that entire statement above into this “You have the right to protest, but don’t change anything.” The argument commonly made about having the right to protest is enough evidence of how much freedom you have is bogus. We have the right as human beings to protest, but we have the privilege  to protest as granted by the state, in this case represented by the American flag.

It is for this exact reason that I don’t accept President Obama’s support for Colin Kaepernick. Because while Obama did support the right to protest, he just recently added :

I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing… I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot. One of thing I saw about American democracy is that it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got.

Again, this can directly be translated into “You have the right to protest, but don’t change anything.”

With how quickly information moves these days many people reasonably suspected that this issue had already passed along, yet there are recent developments in the story worth discussing. First off being the fact that Kaepernick reportedly received death threats over the incident, and his remarks on the presidential candidates.

The death threats, just as Kaepernick acknowledged, proved his point. When your nationalistic pride is so intense that you cannot tolerate dissent you’ve lost your true sense of humanity. Many people will argue “He’s being insensitive to people who’ve lost loved ones in the armed forces.” But I would argue that those people don’t understand the point of all this. What good is defending a country if that country is intolerable? And if that’s not the reason to send death threats, is there any true reason besides blatant dogmatism?

As for his comments on the first presidential debate, I still don’t see why people get upset over these things. The statement was “Both are proven liars and it almost seems like they’re trying to debate who’s less racist.” And again, people don’t like dissent. It’s not that he’s simply disapproving of one candidate, it’s that he’s against both. To a degree the public can accept if people endorse the opposite candidate, but going with neither must seem truly anti-American to them. The first headline regarding this issue read “Colin Kaepernick in danger of losing support after comments on presidential candidates” and it truly is a shame.

The true point of all this being the power of civil disobedience. Such a simple demonstration of disobeying caused such a simultaneous uproar and yet many people follow in his example. With the current sharp rise of nationalism it’s useful to remember the basic methods of protest and analyze them so that they may be rendered most effective.

 

Dehumanization

It’s an amazing thing to be able to witness the base anger and resentment towards each other that people carry  today. It appears society is getting so bitter that we can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, and for many people they will hardly admit that the other person is truly a human.

This seems to happen most in modern industrialized countries. Take a look at the average minimum wage worker. Typically a bored teenager, working for extra money or to save for school, and they face a constant stream of upset customers. Now, the business tries their best to get the worker to be enthusiastic and kind to the customers, regardless if the worker truly cares or not. The moment the person allows this to happen, his identity is that of the worker, and not the human being he actually is. The best example of this is Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of ‘Bad Faith’. He gives the example of the waiter that moves with too much precision and acts all too “waiterly” in a sense putting his role of a waiter before his role as a human being. Sartre would say that this man was in bad faith because he deceived himself about who he actually was.Read More »

Boredom

It turns out that with Summer here and the hot sun, the dangers of boredom is a very real threat. What is it about boredom that makes someone want to gnash their teeth and smash their head up and down? This feeling comes naturally when there is nothing particularly interesting to do, or when there is no will to get up and do them.

One trait of boredom is that the person is very aware of their own boredom, making the whole situation worse. For instance it’s one thing to lay on the couch all day, but it’s another to lay there and constantly complain how boring it is. It’s almost as if that constant reminder that you’re bored just perpetuates it. So the obvious solution here would be to get up and do anything, really anything to get your mind off the nothing. In fact that’s what many people suggest, citing how beautiful of a day it is or how many things there are to do around. The likelihood of any of those curing your boredom may vary, depending on their excitement and personal interest it has.

But perhaps boredom may actually be somewhat beneficial. It plays a very odd role in our day to day lives, from being minimal some days or devoting an entire day to boredom on other occasions. For instance boredom can cause someone to be ‘begrudgingly productive’ by doing tasks just avoid the boredom, and this in many ways is the only way I personally function. For others it causes them to lash out and seek some sort of excitement, many times without an end. In his book “The Conquest of Happiness” the mathematician Bertrand Russell devotes an entire chapter to the relationship of boredom and excitement, writing that:

The desire for excitement is very deep-seated in human beings, especially in males. I suppose that in the hunting stage it was more easily gratified than it has been since. The chase was exciting, war was exciting, courtship was exciting. A savage will manage to commit adultery with a woman while her husband is asleep beside her, knowing that it is instant death if the husband wakes. This situation, I imagine, is not boring.

In this attempt at being witty a good point arises, mainly that our domesticated and increasingly restrained way of life doesn’t leave as many chances for a base excitement. I’m not saying that we should try to imitate a hunter-gatherer type lifestyle, but it’s important to consider how the average human day has evolved over time. So that for the majority of human history, much more time was devoted in a single day to working, getting food, taking care of a family, ect. That’s not to say boredom always springs out of unused time, because often times we find great excitement in being completely unproductive. But perhaps our ancestors weren’t as bored as we are.

But regardless, this is mostly just speculation. I doubt that anytime soon we’re going to see a comprehensive scientific survey of boredom, and in many ways we don’t need it. Anyways I’ll keep these thoughts short so it’s not so dull, and as many probably guessed, these thoughts are a product of being ‘begrudgingly productive’.