Monday, November 16, 2009

New Blog

I am now blogging at Unconstrained Optimism with some of my classmates. I will likely still update this for non-vaguely Econ related things, when I have time to think of non-Econ related things...

Monday, August 3, 2009


One thing that I think has always bothered me about Christian theology is the concept of Original Sin.

By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin". As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence"). Catechism of the Catholic Church, 416-418

The thought that one person, thousands of years ago, defying God resulting in the punishment of all, throws off my Internal Sense of Justice. Of course, my research (wikipedia) leads me to the Book of Dicipline of the Methodist Church, which says:

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

At least this doesn't carry with it the insinuation that one need not do evil to be a sinner; rather, it states humans are naturally inclined towards evil due to their nature. Perhaps this is true - there has been enough evil in the world to justify this hypothesis. Surely Wesley would believe that while people may be inherently evil, by following God/Jesus they're set right. (Methodism also doesn't hold Predestination, another concept which throws off my ISJ).

I think I've stated this before, but I just don't think that people are inherently evil. Perhaps this is why I have such a problem with this.

Maybe more thoughts later.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Okay, I think I just have to say it: I'm not a big fan of the TV series Dollhouse. Joss Wheadon is usually great, as Dr. Horrible and Firefly can attest (and I think I could even watch and enjoy Buffy).

But not Dollhouse. I think a large part of it is the lack of characters that I'm able to care about. As the concept of 'Dollhouse' is unambiguously disgusting and evil, I have a hard time caring about any of its employees as characters - Topher and Dewitt especially. The 'actives' have ceased being people, so it's hard to really care about them. Maybe if Caroline, Echo's original self, were more compelling then I would at least be able to root for her being reinstated.

Ballard, the FBI agent, isn't very sympathetic either, and is rather obsessive; not necessarily because he sees the dollhouse as evil, but just because he seems the obsessive-type person, who is out for his ego as much as justice. I liked Mellie, but she was then revealed to be an active, as did Dr. Saunders.

Which, I guess leaves Boyd, Echo's handler. I guess what I don't find believable is his willingness to work for the Dollhouse while retaining his moral reservations about the place. He doesn't seem like the type of person who would otherwise be starving on the street, so his willing to do something he sees as immoral doesn't speak well to him.

On top of the lack of characters to care about, I don't really feel the need to know what happens. The show is unfolding rather nicely, and might have made a nice movie, but it's not the type of thing that I will devote much time thinking about the mystery of what happens, like I would have in LOST before I gave up on that.

I'll finish out the first season, but I probably won't watch any more beyond that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts on the correlation between being a Good Economist and a Good Person

I've just started reading Deirdre McCloskey's book, sent to me in my intro packet to the Mercatus Center, How to Be Human*: *Though an Economist. So far, I've been loving it. She believes in Economics as a social science, rather than the illegitimate stepchild of Mathematics. As I've said before, Economics is the study of human behavior, albeit not a fully inclusive study. Which is why it has always bothered me that there isn't more interaction between Economics and the other social sciences. I think the disconnect is there for a couple reasons. First, the type of person who goes into Sociology, History, etc, and the type of person who goes into Economics, at least traditionally and in general, are two very different types of people, who don't communicate with each other very well. Secondly, Economics really wants to be a Physical Science, rather than a Social one. Much of Economics uses statistical significance as truth, and Economic data as the experimental data of a physicist.

Anyways, I think that was a tangent off of a tangent that distracted me from my original tangent. In one of her essays she denounces the usual words that Economists use to describe other Economists; 'smart' and 'nice,' instead preferring 'good' as in, Good Economist and Good Person. She points out that the two are not perfectly, if at all, correlated.

I can accept that it's easy for a scientist working in the 'hard sciences' to have no correlation between their success in their field and their success as a Human Being. If something is objectively provable (ie, based in mathematics), then all you need is to be smart. But in the Social Sciences, I would argue, there should be a much bigger correlation. Any Social Science, not being based on mathematics, has to be built on an underlying philosophy. And in a 'you shall know them by the fruit they bear' way, I believe that people's success as Human Beings (ie, being a Good Person), is reliant on their underlying philosophy. Which is why I don't find it absurd when Ayn Rand portrays the only happy people in her books as the people with fully constructed philosophies (and in her works, of course, they're all objectivists). If someone is a good Social Scientist, then they should also have a good underlying philosophy, and the same with their being a Good Person.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel

I have just started the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. In the book he is trying to come up with the explanation of why the societies that dominate the world today do so.

A couple of quick comments -

He seems to be convinced that the world of 1500, and those in power then, directly resulted in today's power structure. I'm not convinced - first, because I think he underestimates the Middle East and Northern Africa circa 1500; by his logic, they should be in much better shape than they are. I also think he overestimates the Japan of 1500.

"Progress," in the Modern sense of political and technological power, seems to me to be directly related to one thing (maybe more, but I'm just noting one) - Openness. Intellectual curiosity, maybe, or just maybe the willingness to look for what works best and use it. Rome rose to power by absorbing other cultures - the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, etc, and then stagnated. Once they became too powerful, they stopped absorbing other ideas, cultures, technologies, and just started trying to spread what they had, making copies of Roman society in Spain and in the Near East.

Europe was consistently invaded - 'opened,' especially from the East. The Golden Horde left its mark on Europe, and prevented it from being a single contained entity.

China was the most powerful civilization, probably, at 1500. It was around this time (it may have been even earlier) that they decided they wanted no part of the West, scuttled their merchant and exploratory fleets, and did their best to remain Pure. Japan did the same thing. Like Rome, they looked only to within for progress, and slowed. Instead of trying to expand themselves and make other peoples copies of themselves, they wanted just to make sure they remained fully them. They stagnated.

Later, once Japan opened, Japan quickly grew to match Western powers in Guns and Steel, and technology. The societies that flourished continued to be more open - Europe, and later to a greater extent, America. Now, I'm not delusional, and I know that these places weren't necessarily happy about having other people join them, but they still integrated other things into them.

So, it seems that the worst thing a society can do it think that it has reached its potential, and adopt a closed mind to other ideas and technologies.

Late night rant brought to you by Benedryl

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thesis: Ayn Rand, Post-Modern Heroine part I

I recently received a copy of The Gonzaga Historian, Gonzaga's (hopefully) biannual history journal. Included in it is my senior thesis in history, titled "Ayn Rand: Post-Modern Heroine" subtitled "Rescuing modernity from itself." I reread it over the past couple of days, and found that I still like it, for the most part. I'll cut-and-paste it over the next couple of days, and then comment on what I wrote. Comments from the peanut gallery are more than welcome!

Part I, Introduction

Ayn Rand is one of the most polarizing figures in the 20th century, in any discipline. Many hated her for a particular aspect of her or her philosophy; her unwavering belief in Capitalism, her atheism, her individualism, her feminism (or lack thereof), or her uncompromising and combative personality. Ayn Rand, who was strongly and fundamentally a moral absolutist, was painted by Whittaker Chambers in a National Review article as a moral relativist: “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’”[1] He also denounced her for her strict materialism; but her condemnation of materialism was loud and clear in Atlas Shrugged. While Whittaker Chambers was a Quaker and had legitimate reasons to dislike the book, he clearly had not read it. Accusations such as these plague Rand and prevent her acceptance into academic canon; the literary establishment considers her a philosopher, and the philosophy establishment considers her a novelist. While Rand cared little about academia’s evasion of her, her work merits inclusion within today’s discourse.

Ayn Rand was born Alyssa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Czarist Russia, in 1905. Her parents were relatively successful small business-entrepreneurs, who lost everything when the Soviets took over. Even before this event, Rand was fiercely individualist and anti-collectivist. She escaped to the United States in 1926 and never returned to the USSR. Though her philosophy is unique, she did not formulate it in a vacuum; she is part of a greater reclamation of premodern ethical and philosophical foundations, and while she admires the material gains which society has made, she loathes modern philosophers. A truly complete analysis of her work requires that the context of her philosophy be examined, her relation to the modern, the postmodern, and the critics of both. The modernism-postmodernism divide shows that a philosophical critique like Ayn Rand’s was inevitable and necessary.

[1] Whittaker Chambers, “Big Sister is Watching You,” National Review, December 28, 1957.


Whittaker Chambers's article is linked here. Just to note again, there are a lot of things not to like about Ayn Rand's philosophy, and a lot of things not to like about Atlas Shrugged, but in the article Chambers sounds like he heard about the book second-hand and didn't bother to read it himself. He is correct in that Atlas Shrugged reads like a "War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness" but that's really the point of the book, and of her entire view on how fiction should read. She's a Romantic - she wants to create the best of all possible people who embody all of her virtues. The characters do struggle with real life issues, it's not like her protagonists are all supermen (of course, their struggles generally come from their interaction with the antagonists, or from them not embracing completely what Rand views as virtue). But not a small amount of fiction is based on a good vs an evil, so it's silly to criticize her for that. He also criticizes her for being 'eugenic,' since all of her characters are good-looking. Not only that, he later goes on to call her both Nieztchien and Marxist.

So if all you knew of Rand was Chambers's book review of Atlas Shrugged, you would get the impression that she was a Materialist, Nihilist Statist. Which is about as far from the truth as you can get.

I'm not sure how much I like this as an introduction; it does start off introducing Rand, which is good, but I'm not sure that this was the right point to include Chambers's dissent, before expounding her philosophy more. On the other hand, it kind of transitions into my next section, which is all about defining the Modern and Postmodern.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thoughts from the last post

First off, I'm still not convinced that the Ontological argument for God's existence has any value. If we're claiming that God is the perfect entity in all respects, we must presuppose that there exists an objective perfection. The way most people argue for objective values is through God, therefore we would have to define perfection as determined by God, who determines perfection. Basically:
"Perfection is that which is Godly"
"God is that which is Perfect"
In a vacuum, I don't have any problem with either of those claims; I just have a problem with using them to prove the existence of God. Otherwise, what we determine as perfect is subjective, and the claim that existence is a necessary component of perfection isn't necessarily true.

Another thought on the Teleological argument, which I think Vlach mentions - it assumes that the world is so complex that it must have been created and designed. God, in creating the universe, must also be complex. By the same argument, then, God must also be created. and whatever created God must have been created, etc.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

4 Arguments for God's Existence


1: Cosmological Argument
 "The cosmological argument for God’s existence goes like this: The world could not exist on its own so there must have been a first cause that brought it into being. This first cause is God. Or put another way, the universe could not just exist on its own—someone or something must have made it. This cause of the universe is God."

If you assume a first cause, then the concept of God or a creator isn't very farfetched. My worldview is one that Vlach (the author of the article) mentions that can contradict this: that matter is eternal. If we assume an expanding universe, then we can hypothesize an origin - the Big Bang, for instance. I also believe that the universe is expanding continuously slower, due to the forces of gravity. Eventually, this will result in the expanding coming to a stop - and eventually the universe will contract, and eventually all matter will be pulled into a single point - from which, due to all the energy of all matter coming together at the same point, could result in another 'big bang.' 

In a nutshell, this is why I, personally, reject the cosmological argument - because the universe need not originate from anywhere or anything, if it is eternal.

2: Teleological argument
"The teleological argument is also known as “the argument from design” (The Greek word “telos” means “purpose” or “design.”). The argument goes like this: The universe evidences great complexity or design; thus, it must have been designed by a great Designer or God.

The argument from design can be likened to a watch. A watch is obviously made by a watchmaker. The world, which is much more complex than a watch, must also have been designed by a great Designer or Divine Watchmaker (God).

In sum, the teleological argument asserts that the universe evidences too much complexity to be the product of random chance. We know that the celestial bodies move with perfect accuracy in their orbits. Our bodies, too, are incredibly complex. According to the teleological argument, there’s just no way all this complexity could “just happen.” God must have created it all."

I just simply don't believe that the universe is so complex that it must have been created.

3: Ontological Argument

"The third argument for God’s existence is the ontological argument. This argument is unlike the cosmological and teleological arguments in that it does not argue from evidence in the natural world. Thus, it is not a “cause and effect” argument.

The ontological argument can be stated in this way: “God is the greatest being imaginable. One of the aspects of perfection or greatness is existence. Thus, God exists.” Or put another way—“The fact that God can be conceived means that he must exist.”

This argument for God’s existence was developed by the twelfth century theologian and philosopher, Anselm. It is based on Anselm’s declaration that God is “that which nothing greater can be conceived.”"

This is the weakest argument of the four, by far, because it just begs the question: If something can be conceived, it must not necessarily exist. If you imagine perfection, and one of the aspects of perfection is existence, the leap between imagining perfection and stating that perfection exists is very unreasonable.

4: Moral Law Argument

"Another argument for the existence of God is the moral law argument. It goes like this: Without God morality would be impossible. There must be a Lawgiver (God) who originates and stands by moral law. A universal moral law cannot exist accidentally. There must be a basis behind it—God.

According to this view, every person is born with an inherent understanding of right and wrong. Everyone, for instance, understands that killing an innocent person is wrong. Everyone understands that helping a drowning person is right. Where did this internal understanding of right and wrong come from? According to adherents of the moral law argument, this understanding comes from God. He put it into the hearts of every person."

Vlach goes on to mention that there are two reactions to this - relatavism, or that objective good/evil does not exist, and that if God is all good, then why would there be evil in the world?

Of course, then, there is Rand's argument, that there does exist an objective good/evil inherent in human nature, but it is not from any external means. She claims that good is that which enables humans to flourish, and it is not relative from culture to culture or person to person. As Drew mentioned to me once, it seems that there must have been a "fall" at some point, for if everyone, acting in their own rational self interest was creating the best possible society, why would anyone act against this?

Still, to me, this argument seems to carry the most water, but the argument "Objective good/evil therefore God" hasn't won me over yet.

Vlach ends, most helpfully, with:

"It should be noted that most Christian theologians and philosophers believe that God never intended for his existence to be something that could be proven with 100% certainty. They point out that faith is an important component in understanding God and his existence."


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some Quizzes


Belief O-Matic

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (95%)
3. Liberal Quakers (80%)
4. Nontheist (77%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (74%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (70%)
7. Neo-Pagan (70%)
8. Reform Judaism (57%)
9. New Age (52%)
10. Orthodox Quaker (44%)
11. Mahayana Buddhism (44%)
12. Scientology (44%)
13. Taoism (44%)
14. Sikhism (40%)
15. New Thought (40%)
16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (38%)
17. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (35%)
18. Seventh Day Adventist (33%)
19. Baha'i Faith (32%)
20. Hinduism (32%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (32%)
22. Jainism (30%)
23. Islam (29%)
24. Orthodox Judaism (29%)
25. Jehovah's Witness (25%)
26. Eastern Orthodox (23%)
27. Roman Catholic (23%)

And of course, The Political Compass. I've been taking it since high school. I've moved from about 0, -2 to 8, -5.5.

Actually, from my livejournal:
11 July 2003
Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: 4.25
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -2.67

19 April 2003
Economic Left/Right: -2.38
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -3.13

Apparently sometime between April-July 2003 I took a hard right.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I need to start updating this thing again. I have found myself with an abundance of time recently, which I really do enjoy, and am hopefully putting to good use. I recently read In Milton Lumky Territory, a non-sf novel by Philip K Dick, and have started to read Specters of Marx, by Derrida. I am six pages in, and I already know that I will probably need a translator. On the second page, he goes into a bracketed side thought. The close bracket for this thought is on page seven. Linearity of thought is not something that Derrida is capable of. 

I have a couple of things I want to write on, but I don't think I am going to flesh them out just yet. 

1) The identity of the 2000's. We seem to so easily identify things; movies, songs, from earlier decades and date them. The 70's are unmistakable, as are the 80's. The 90's a bit less so, but especially early on, it's hard not to mistake a 90's-ness. But of the 2000's? 

Maybe the identities of each decade were labled after the fact, with history hiding a diverse reality for simplicity's sake. Maybe people collectively remember a certain number of defining characteristics in order to identify with one another.

It's possible that culture has become less centralized, and the 2000's will be harder to define than previous decades. It's also possible that I'm missing the forest for the trees, and my only visions of previous decades are drawn out and labled for me. 

2) I also need to do more reflecting on religion. I'm sure that this will consist of more than one post. 

3) Come this fall, I will be a Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. I shall do some reading on some of their papers and add thoughts, perhaps?