Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graphictruth makes the front page of Forbes.com

There it is, at the bottom, with it's Graphictruth style titling, my post about the significance of The Pickens Plan and the economic foolishness of staying wedded to a petroleum economy.

This isn't actually the first time Forbe's scrapers have found one of my stories, it's merely the first time it struck me how significant it is. Consider the odds, under ordinary circumstances, of anyone who would read Forbes magazine stumbling across anything I'd ever write.

Now, it's still up to me to "make the sale," to have a story that is significant and worth reading that's actually relevant to the keywords that Forbes seeks out. As it happens, the piece I wrote is relevant - and written from a perspective that I hope appeals to a broad spectrum of people that are genuinely Conservative in their approach to life and economics.

And it points out that the world wide web is a broad net that is the ultimate antitude to "common wisdoms" that can exist only when we religiously avoid exposure to ideas of unapproved origins. I assure you, no social conservative nor Neoconservative would approve of me in any sense I have the slightest ability to change.

There are many principles of genuine Conservatism that I strongly adhere to; prudence, fiscal conservatism and a well-developed sense that stench and smoke points to waste that is polluting the commons - waste which could be transformed into wealth by someone with the wit to do so, instead of corrupting some pliable elected idiot to permit the waste to continue.

Don't tell me it's "the smell of money" or that it's ok because it's "always been that way." It ain't, neither one.

Real conservatives are not wedded to the status quo when it's a mere historical hiccup, dating as it does from the acendency of Thatcherism and Reaganomics or even the Industrial Revolution; real conservatism is about the conservation of real wealth, things, ideals and structures of provable and enduring value on all levels, from the entirely personal to the global, by means of robust, traditional wisdom that has been proven over long stretches of history with wide variations of circumstance.

Furthermore, ever time new understandings evolve from application of wisdom to reality, the practical Conservative adds to the body of wisdom, while the ideologue contrives elaborate excuses for failure in practice.

Why? Well, Society and culture is built upon ideas and ideals that once were seen to be astonishing, radical, offensive - things that very much argued against the common wisdom of the day and have yet come to be understood to be expressing some aspect of fundamental, practical truth. John Donne was speaking such a visceral truth to entrenched powers when he wrote this immortal poem, capturing in very few words the importance of a wider vision of wealth in context.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
The true Conservative does not oppose liberalism, or even radicalism. The true Conservative applauds them - from a prudent distance. The difference was summed up for me today on Mythbusters, when Adam observed to Jaime: "You know the difference between us and 14 year old pyromaniacs?" To answer that, he raps upon the acrylic blast shield, one which was probably over engineered by a factor of ten.

It is important to realize that the Neoconservatives and Social Conservatives are not new, not at all conservative and have very little faith in society. Worst of all, they prefer faith in their theories to the degree that they try them out without any sensible precautions in place.

Well, to quote a practical conservative rhetorical axiom - "And How's That Workin' Out For You?"

Let's look at that.

A culture that has a large number of very rich people may yet be steeped in intellectual, spiritual and even literal poverty, and in that context, money does not actually translate into genuine wealth.

That is to say, the sort of place where the most visible form of status is the ability to expend resources in service to the end of keeping other ring-tailed sonsofbitches like yourself taking it away from you is not wealthy or much of a society, not if you cannot translate cash into comfort and personal security at a reasonable rate of exchange.

Consider what sort of practical, personal liberties even the richest person has in countries with greater divides between rich and poor in nations like, oh, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Consider the practical risks and rewards of being of the "privileged" class in Mexico and Central America, where some significant proportion of your assets must be diverted toward not being kidnapped or murdered. Consider the consequential issues of living in nations where every interaction with a government official - from the highest to the lowest - must be lubricated with a bribe. Consider the practical difficulties in getting anything done in nations where even building codes are regarded as optional, because all laws are seen by the average persons as existing primarily as a means of extortion, and not there to promote an inherent good - like not taking a sledge-hammer to a load-bearing wall.

It is certainly an indicator of status to be in a position to afford a combat-trained driver capable of taking you safely from A to B in your electrified armored and flame-thrower equipped SUV. It definitely is a "shiny thing" - until you realize the implications of being told by your insurance agent that you absolutely MUST have such a thing and use it faithfully in order for them to insure your life and safety at all. In this light, consider that gout was also once an indicator of social status.

Meditate upon that thought for a moment. If you don't come out with a prolonged mental expletive, I'll be stunned.

Now consider all the very smart and skilled people involved in various aspects of security and personal protection that could be doing something else that actually contributed to the economy in a positive sense, and you start realizing that not only is that tax on wealth very high indeed, it's also regressive as all hell. It manages to penalize poverty and poor people (after all, they are the most likely to want to steal your stuff) even more than it taxes wealth. We see a very high costs arising when large segments of society cannot afford to rationally trust one another.

When one factors in the consequential stress and limitations on liberty with the direct out of pocket costs, they amount to extraordinarily high taxes on wealth.

Frankly, one wonders how many people capable of generating large piles of wealth choose to use that skill to the end of relocating themselves and their families elsewhere. When even the dirt-poor are bailing on your society, trying to find some place, any place where they can have some hope of building real, generational wealth - clearly there is a need to address the real issues, for ordinarily, people will put up with adverse circumstances rather than rupture the bonds of family and place.

While these societies and governments are arguably much to blame for many of the structural and social problems that lead to these issues and unarguably responsible for the situation by definition, the Neoconservative movement, which has gained control of the banking and finance system for the world has acted in ways that have made the situation very much worse. They have done this as a matter of ideological policy that, in order to exist at all, must absolutely discount the significance of human suffering, or at least see it as a measure of some perverted success. Consider how much suffering has been inflicted in the name of this vision upon the world in just the last eight years.

I think of this as wrong - actually, I prefer the term "evil" when the attitude is expressed by one individual in regard to another. But that is an moral and ethical opinion - and we need not consider that when we have far too many stinking piles of effect that point straight back to that ideology as causative agent.

Neoconservatism has severely undermined the social structures that make it generally unacceptable to shoot people and take their stuff, and have done it with very little distance between cause and effect in a very short period of historical time. If it's acceptable to shoot people and take their stuff, the advantage of shooting rich people becomes obvious. They have better stuff and more of it. If they won't tell you where their stuff is - you can crush the testicles of their firstborn in order to change their minds. The precedent has been set. The example has been made and said to be good.

If it is acceptable in the name of an abstract good, such as patriotism or National Security, it's surely acceptable if you, personally, are hungry and unable to feed your own children.

History is littered with the remains of those who governed by such example. They do make interesting history, but as any historian will tell you, the less interesting history there is, the better off people were at the time.

The key to opening a new chapter of history is contained in the negative example of Mexico City, the positive and venerable advice of John Donne and the happy accident in which Forbes's algorithm stumbled across my own iconoclastic view of energy policy.

I'm not claiming any particularly original vision or revolutionary philosophy. On the contrary. I do tend to find things in diverse-seeming places and assemble them in unusual ways - an artifact of unusual brain wiring that, along with the fallout of somewhat-well-meaning abuse intended to turn me into a "productive citizen" would under ordinary circumstances make what I thought about anything irrelevant to anyone who matters.

And yet, through no fault or virtue of my own - there is what I wrote on Forbes.com. Not because of who I am, but because of what I know and what I said. Something that was considered to have a high probability of relevance to anyone interested in investing in petroleum infrastructure.

Now, here's the profit to me that someone takes those ideas and sees a path to a large personal fortune they can found a dynasty upon. If they do it in a way that advantages the other ideas in there, MY idea of wealth is advanced.

But that's beside the interesting point. The interesting point is that the conventional wisdom - as expressed by Neocons and Social Conservatives - is at variance with actual wisdom. I'm not claiming a great deal of personal wisdom, though I hope I'm doing a workmanlike job of expressing it. My only claim to fame in this regard is being widely read and having been exposed to the writing of people considered to be wise over a far wider span of time than is common.

You may attach significant blame for my contrian predilections to the Jesuits who endured me during Ninth Grade, where I infamously applied Occam's Razor to the doctrine of the Virgin birth, exactly as I was taught by the man who had taught me to use Occam's Razor - and who was trying to teach me the foundation of this great mystery of faith.

"Surely, Fr. Kieran," I said, "there must be a more plausible explanation?"

It is somewhat disturbing that I got an A in both courses. And a recruitment offer.

I was gifted during that year with a fine appreciation for the practical value of a faith that is unashamed of ruthless contact with reality and which celebrates many extremely practical outcomes over a long period of time - and which also is willing to embrace and record an equally long litany of error, so that those errors may inform both faith and reason.

We cannot afford to tolerate leaders who hold other people in contempt, that see humanity in general as irredeemably evil, in need of harsh punishments and severe restrictions upon their choices and liberties.

I state that not merely from a position grounded in ethics, but from a deeply practical point of view. Real wealth seems to explode when placed in the presence of practical and economic freedom. Wherever and whenever the heavy hand of social conservatives is lifted, by whatever means, civilizations grow, become more civilized, advance rapidly and make great piles of stuff worth having and remarkable public places people wish to be. Why is this true?

Well, at bottom, it's an extraordinary simple insight, one I would think would be far more obvious to far more people. Civilization and all the things that make it possible - government, the money supply, various churches, charities associations and groups - are all trust networks, and they all work in much the same way. What they do is make it more possible for people to engage in economic and social transactions by reducing the risk of having trusted unwisely.

The foundational assumption of Social Conservatism in Western culture, and it's intellectual fathers; Augustine, Calvin and the Apostle Paul, is that nobody can be trusted without the direct intervention of Authority operating with the direct and unquestionable mandate of God.

We have spent the last thirty years or so in which that view of human nature has become increasingly dominant, in no small part to the rise of the Evangelical and Reconstructionist brands of "Christianity."

It has reached the point where people are being educated in business and law with that as a foundational premise - that really, nobody cannot be trusted, that all persons are inherently corrupt without direct and ongoing spiritual intervention of the specific brand one is currently addicted to.

The ONLY way in which this assumption about the inherent corrupt nature of humanity could possibly work is if we could develop an infallible, objective test for the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" and some objective theory as to how that changes the human dynamic. In the absence of such a test, the advantage always goes to the best liar in the room. Consider how many people still consider George Bush to be a "good Christian," in the very teeth of the Blindingly Obvious.

Matthew 7:18-20 (New International Version)

18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

It's difficult for me to understand how common sense that blatant has to be accorded divine inerrance to be taken seriously. It's even more astonishment that, when given that level of "pay attention, this is God talking" how little practical application we see it being given by so-called Christians.

It's not difficult to see how human nature works in this environment. Rather than advantaging the most honest person, it leverages the sociopath, for the absolutely most reliable path to power is the willingness to say, Trust Me, since I'm blessed by Authority to be an Exception to this flaw. Oh, and, since you are inherently corrupt, you must of course distrust your gut when it tells you to distrust me.

This circularity of unreasoning conformity to an authority that accepts it's own untrustworthy nature as inherent to it's own core ideology is best visualized by walking into the bathroom and flushing the toilet. If you like, you can empty your wallet into the bowl first to underline the profit you may expect from participating in that system without absolute control over it. You will be exploited to the exact degree that you rely on this counterfeit trust network. What point is there in participating in a trust network that cannot be trusted?

Any economic or social philosophy that would argue that paying higher taxes in exchange for smaller personal and social benefits is obvious lunacy. This is, nonetheless, exactly the effective outcome of NeoConservative economic philosopy. The proof is in the pudding, as it were.

There can only be a very few Pat Robinsons and Bernie Maddoffs, and the social conservatism of each relys far more upon the philosophy of P.T. Barnum than Jesus of Nazereth.

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