On Boredom and the Arts

I believe that artistic production, including literary production, is a spontaneous order. That means artistic production is an epistemic ecosystem–it creates knowledge. Artists all attempt to solve artistic/aesthetic problems within the artistic ecosystem and create artistic knowledge as a consequence. The one objection–which isn’t a small objection–is what regulates this process?

In the system of trade–properly called the catallaxy, but more commonly mis-labeled the economy (which is a complex system that includes the spontaneous orders of money and technological innovation)–it is profit and loss that (primarily) regulates the order. It is reputation which regulates the scientific order. In technology, it’s simply “does it work?” But what may it be in the arts?

I want to suggest that it’s a combination of boredom and interest. “Boredom” is one of the self-correcting aspects of the artistic order. Enough people get bored, and nobody listens/reads/views the work any more. A work that continues to stimulate people to producing more work–that maintains “interest”–continues to be heard/read/viewed.

Of course, this regulatory process is a slower one than you find happening in the catallaxy, technology, or even the sciences. But speed is no objection. Scientific ideas can lie untapped for decades or longer. Reputations of long-dead scientists can rise and fall. The fact that a poet may have little influence on several generations of poets, then be re-discovered and influence later poets doesn’t mean the process isn’t a spontaneous order.

In fact, we would expect a power law of influence/boredom if it is a spontaneous order. We would expect a few poets to have longevity, or even to be rediscovered long after they were seemingly forgotten, while we would expect the overwhelming majority of poets to be mostly unread in the lifetimes of the poets and for pretty much the entirety of the time anyone anywhere will read poetry. And there will be a medium number of poets with a moderate amount of influence. It’s entirely possible for a poet to have immediate influence and no long-term influence, except through the influence they had on the more important poets they influenced.

The fact is that most art produced by most artists is boring. Most works are uninteresting, uninspired, and uninspiring. They don’t help us see things in a new way or remind of of aspects of being we have forgotten and keep forgetting (Kundera). Or, they may help us see something in a new way that then becomes so widely adopted and “obvious” that the work becomes cliched after the fact and people lose interest. I would think, as an artist, there would have to be fewer worse fates than that–to show the world something that’s so obvious once you’ve shown it to them that its truth is from that point obvious and your work becomes kitsch.

Regardless, such is the rise and fall of artistic influence, of the discovery and promulgation of artistic problems and solutions. No matter what the reason, the worst sin you can commit as an artist is to be boring. Whether or not your work remains boring, though, only time will tell. The same is true of interest–if you create it, you’re golden, while if you lose it, you’re lost. And how do you create interest? By solving artistic problems–and in solving them, creating new ones.

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Against All Hate

Behold, the vicious misanthrope,
The hater of the differences in skin,
The hater of the differences in kin,
The hater of what others would believe,
The hater who would hate without reprieve.

Behold, the vicious misanthrope,
The hater of the greatness man achieves–
When faced with man-made beauty only grieves–
The hater of the makers and the wealthy,
Who’s only happy when you are unhealthy.

Behold, the vicious misanthrope,
Who sees man as a plague upon the earth,
Denying humans have inherent worth,
Repulsed at all mankind has built–
Who wants us to dissolve in shame and guilt.

The ones who want us full of guilt and shame,
Inventing reasons humans are to blame–
From poverty to wealth and exploitation
To laziness, defenders of the nation–
This is the vicious misanthrope.

The nihilist denying life has meaning,
That value, values are a lie–those leaning
On nothing for support would dare deny
All beauty, justice, truth–say they’re a lie–
This is the vicious misanthrope.

You lovers of mankind, the rich and poor,
The individual–open the door
Of greatness, creativity and life–
Deny life’s haters, creators of all strife–
Oppose the vicious misanthrope!

The Economic Pie Metaphor

Too many people think of the economy as being a pie. If the economy is a pie, then the socialists are right that it is unfair that the rich have more, because they had to take it from someone else. This would mean that every economic transaction would result in one person being better off, the other person being worse off. But the pie metaphor is simply incorrect. Economies grow, and it is the element of growth that is completely ignored in the pie metaphor.

In a true economic exchange, party A has something of value (object 1) to party B. Now, if party B wants to get object 1 from party A, they have to offer something to party A that is more valuable to party A than object 1 is to them. Naturally, party B will choose something that is also of less value to him than is object 1. As a result, party A will get something of more value to him than was object 1, and party B will get object 1, which he considered to be more valuable than what he exchanged for it. This economic exchange boils down to : “If you do something good for me, I’ll do something good for you.” Both parties are better off after the exchange. Wealthy people in a free market are wealthy precisely because they engage in more of these exchanges than do other people. They dedicate more of their time to making economic exchanges.

One problem I oftentimes see when people make anti-economic arguments is an objection to certain kinds of exchange. There is the assumption that they know more than the two engaging in the economic exchange what has what value. The assumption is that things have an inherent value, making economic exchanges absurd. This would mean that you are either exchanging things of equal value, in which case nobody is better or worse off, or something of high value is exchanged for something of low value, in which case someone is better off. The assumption here, then, is that the rich are good at tricking people into exchanging something of high value for something of low value. But things do not have inherent values — we give things value. And it is arrogant of someone to decide that they know better if something is of value to you or not. Such people are elitists — those who favor free markets are in this case the true egalitarian thinkers.

The pie metaphor implies another kind of exchange: “Unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you.” This is the kind of exchange government engage in — and those who support government intervention do recognize this, only they assume that all exchanges are like the government’s form of exchange. The presumption then is that since all exchanges are of this sort, we might as well put the government in charge of them. This kind of exchange has the effect of enforcing the pie metaphor, since inevitably one is exchanging something of more value for something of less — this results in “negative growth”. If we balance out growth with negative growth, we end up with a non-growing economy, and then we do indeed have a pie that gets divided up.

Fortunately the U.S. economy is not quite in that situation. Thus, the rich get richer by making everyone else better off as well. A free market economy is not a pie–it is not a zero sum game–rather, it is a positive sum game. That’s the only way we could have created the incredible amount of wealth we see in the world out of a world where aboject poverty dominated almost all of human history.

A Few Observations on Oil and Alcohol

Basic economics shows that we will never run out of oil. As we use up the supply of oil, the price will go up. This will make it more economical to locate and drill harder-to-reach reserves. Higher oil prices will also result in the creation of alternatives, as it will be worth looking for and developing those alternatives. Over longer periods of time, as oil gets used up and the price of oil goes up in response to supply, less oil will be used, and more alternatives will be created, until we are completely converted to the alternatives — sometime before we ever use up all the oil. There will eventually be a price where nobody cares to get any of the oil, and what is left will stay there. Thus, we will never, ever run out of oil. It’s basic economic principles. There will be alternatives.

The car, for example, is an alternative to the horse. A plane is an alternative to either one. A computer is an alternative to the abacus, to pen and paper, etc. During the bronze age, who would have thought of iron as an alternative? The microwave is an alternative to fire. Petroleum, when whale oil became expensive due to a shortage of whales, became an alternative. Some of these pre-existed. Some were invented later.

An alternative in the economic sense is not necessarily something that replaces another object exactly. When we run out of oil, it will become more economically feasible to come up with alternatives — many of which, like so many things in the past — haven’t even been thought of yet.

I have no doubt that it will happen, because it has always happened. Always.

Now one may object that all the alternatives to oil have, so far, been inferior. But just because they have been inferior so far, that doesn’t mean they will continue to be. Many falsely assume that the price of oil will remain constant, meaning people will continue to use it as the same rate, until it runs out, and that nobody will have any incentive to find alternatives. But, again, as the price of oil goes up as supply goes down, it will be economically viable to find better alternatives. What we are getting now is government-subsidized alternatives — so we shouldn’t be surprised at what we are getting. Things will change when market pressures create an actual demand for real alternatives. These new ways of doing things won’t be done with government — unless there is the coincidence of creating a bomb whose power source can also be used for energy production (i.e., nuclear power). I’d rather the market find a solution than to have the government bomb its way into one.

And this brings me to government-subsidized alcohol. Is it really a good idea to turn our food into fuel? That just seems like a bad substitute right on the face of it. One could argue that it’s also a bad idea to wash cars, since that uses up water we could be drinking, but we need to beware of false analogies. There is much, much, much more water than there is corn. If we wash our cars, it doesn’t raise the price of water enough not to drink it. But the rise in the price of corn that has already occurred has resulted in problems in Mexico with availability of corn for tortillas, driving up the price of a main staple there — among some of the poorest people. Further, it has driven up the price of meat, because corn is a food for chicken, pigs, and cows. When the price of feed goes up, the price of meat goes up. This, again, hurts the poor far more than any other group.

So, again, it is incredibly stupid to use food to fuel. And it hurt the poor. But that just means that ethanol is just another thing liberals have latched on to that causes harm to the poor. When your every economic policy harms the poor, one begins to wonder why you want so bad to make their lives worse.

The Global Social Network

The human brain has a network structure that is both local and global. There are small, local modules that perform certain functions, and they are typically close to other modules that support those functions. But there are also huge neurons known as giant fusiform cells that allow for global connectivity across the brain. Giant fusiform cells are only found in the apes, and they are found in the largest number in humans. This combination of local and global that reaches a high degree of complexity in humans is what allows for the high intelligence of apes in general, and humans in particular.

There have been moves across the world–most notably, the EU–to create more globalized, more centralized political structures. Roger Scruton argues that we shouldn’t do away with the nation-state so easily, and he argues that it’s the highly-globally-connected wealthy elites who are pushing for things like the EU and even more global governance. At the same time we are seeing a push for a stronger EU, we are also seeing a pushback with the Brexit vote last year, and also more and more desire for local political control, especially in Spain and the U.K. With many of the independence movements, though, there is a simultaneous desire to remain part of the EU.

We can understand this by thinking about the network structure of the human brain. The global elites who are more comfortable with each other than with their countrymen are the equivalent of the giant fusiform cells. The problem arises when they think the world ought to be just like them. But that’s not the reality among human beings. A brain of only giant fusiform cells wouldn’t be a healthy, productive, or likely living brain. Most people are, like most brain cells, part of a local, specialized area. They have their own local culture, religious beliefs, and industries, among other things. And they persist in the face of global culture.

The point is that those who wish to have a more globally connected world are right, and those who wish to maintain their local cultures and mores are right. We need to be both more local and more global–and have many areas of unity in between. We need a global civilization where the Scots can be Scottish, the Welsh can be Welsh, the English can be English, and they can all be British; where the British can be British, the French can be French, the Spanish can be Spanish, and they and the rest of Europe can also be Europeans. And all regions can have a weak connection through the UN. We need strong local cultures as well as natural classical artists with global reach. We need all of this simultaneously. The more the globe evolves to match the network structure of the human brain, the healthier humanity as a whole will be.