February 01, 2013

Delusion of rational choice or Deleuzian solutions

It is important to reflect on Sri Aurobindo, who once said referring to the average politician, “He does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him as well as a great deal of mental incompetence and moral conventionality, timidity and pretence.’’
Great jurist Nani Palkhivala in his book Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled says, “At present the main infirmity of democracy is that the only job for which one needs no training or qualification whatsoever is the job of governing and legislating. Election mostly throws either mediocrity or extremism into power”. Well said.

Sri Aurobindo is one of them who saw through the veil. He wrote, “The affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence  can have no base  unless we recognize not only  eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves  constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.” (The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1990). In other words, what is important is how one looks at it.

Adam Smith’s advocacy of the philosophy of Natural Liberty was quite different from laissez-faire (words he never mentioned). Natural Liberty, as expressed by Smith, equalised the rights of all participants in commercial society, employers, labourers and consumers.  This does not prevent modern economists from associating laissez-faire with Adam Smith’s name, a habit that goes right back to the early 19th century and continues into the 21st. Many, I find, conflate laissez-faire to mean both freedom for employers and governments.  The lobbying of government is big business and by big business in many countries
Rand’s assertion that her “moral theory of self-interest is derived from man’ s nature as a rational being and end in himself” sits comfortably with neo-classical theories of ‘rational’ beings (who ‘Max U’ in everything).  That belief in rational Homo economicus is unfounded.   Humans are capable of reasoning (not the same as having a common rational faculty) because their individual ability to reason is not the same as all of us arriving at the same answers or choices. Jails are full of the victims of their own ‘rational’ choices given their desperate or opportunistic circumstances and many more prisons would be required if judicial processes were applied for the rational choices of those in government who intentionally or unintentionally inflict misery on their innocent victims. Our behaviour in different circumstances may be considered individually to be reasoned, given our individual perceptions of specific situations, but there is no reason to believe our individual actions from our perceptions of the circumstances are subject to a universal rationality.  Humans in human societies are not like that.  We do not all rationally act in accordance with some theory of rational choice.
It is in this area that I parted company with Ludwig von Mises in his 1966  “Human Action: a treatise on economics” – a very large tome I read some years back – in which he derives everything that follows in his book from a rigorous logic of the consequences of proposition. 
I prefer Smith’s approach of studying what happened since some humans left the forest and then as a minority, at first, moved to shepherding and farming.  Another minority  (“at last”) moved from country life to live in towns, inevitably and indubitably, creating (“at last”) commercial society that first processed food and raw materials from the country in traded exchange for processed food and later in exchange for manufactured goods. It was that historical development of traded exchange that laid the basis for the creation of capital that led to commercial development.  Those that remained in the forest, or in shepherding or farming, mostly remained there for millennia.  There is nothing ordained about what humans do, nor is there a particular direction by which they pass their lifetimes, as their archaeological remains testify.
Smith did not require the conversion of everybody to new morality or to a universal conformity to logic.  In fact he wrote of humans as they were.  He made no predictions about the future  (except about the future of the former British colonies in North America becoming the wealthiest economy in the world by around 1875).  Instead he studied the past to understand within the limitations of knowledge the present; we might be better doing the same.  

On money and macro, I am more persuaded by Friedman, Irving Fisher, early Keynes, David Hume, and Scott Sumner, among others. 

First I would like to say how grateful I am for the opportunity to respond to these comments about The Hermetic Deleuze.  Those of us who are able to write academic books, and there are many of you following this blog who write those books, know that it is, in the end, a solitary and even an isolating affair, and that even with publication the chances that one’s work will be noticed or responded to are slim.  In this age of increasing destitution and de-investment in higher education, blogs like this one are becoming more and more important as places for those of us compelled by these thoughts can meet and take our chances together.  Each of the writers who have agreed to respond to my book are people whose work I deeply admire, and the opportunity to continue to think with them, and with those of you who read and respond to that thinking, is an extraordinary occasion in my life. 
To speak of the occasion, as Dan does in his beautiful and deeply thought piece, I want to affirm, first of all, that absolutely, there is a connection between reading and ritual, reading and mantra.  There is an occasionalism to reading… So what interested me, the more I read Deleuze, were his attention to various procedures, from the modernist work of art to the psychedelic experiment, that seemed to have a common goal of “absolute immanence.” … I have very little interest in championing Deleuzian “solutions” to contemporary “problems,” any more than I have in inviting people to fold their contemporary desires for life back into some perennial or archaic hermeticism.  Everything remains to be reinvented.  I am much more interested in how Deleuze’s problems are still our problems, and how yes, I think that there are hints and rumors of future possible “solutions” to those problems, but perhaps the problems have already become unrecognizable, on strictly Deleuzian “terms.”  But if one looks at his own “metaphilosophical” comments, I think he would agree that such a situation defines philosophy, as such.

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