I've been thinking a lot about why we think what we think.
That is, the origin of the ideas we have, particularly in areas of politics and economics.
I know that personally my knowledge on a topic, be it history (contemporary or otherwise) or philosophy, is limited to what I read or hear from other people. I could of course reach the same epiphanies and enlightenment organically and independent of those popularized for promoting such ideas. But one can't expand one's understanding of ideas or politics without reading the thoughts of others and determining, through reason, whether they possess merit.
You can either read the history and books, philosophers, pundits -- great thinkers in general -- to acquire an understanding of things. Or you you can sell yourself to the modern media, which is much more vested in fueling the short-attention span and uncomprehensive "gotcha gaffes" reporting which ignore the most important aspect of objective information: CONTEXT!
Without a knowledge of history and civilization, without a proper reading of the accounts through literature of different times and different societies in different places on earth, you can't truly claim to understand human behavior. Instead they appeal to the most simplistic of human characteristics: our state of enslavement by emotion. The enlightened men were so convinced that we would be guided by rationality that emotion and psychology was in fact neglected. As Walter Lippmann critiqued in Public Opinion, men are controlled by emotion, not by rationality.
My guiding philosophy in life in general has been in the spirit of the enlightenment, which spawned the American revolution and modern democracy. But until recently I haven't really spent a long time digging into why we think what we think. Who came up with the first ideas, who developed upon previous ones, why have to discounted certain ideas and promoted others?
I've been reading a lot of work by Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Christopher Hitchens, Philip Bobbitt, Hannah Arendt, Corey Robin. Deep thinkers, all. A range of opinions across history and observations of our modern system and how we have gotten here.
I've developed a strong appreciation for a proper grounding in history. As human behavior in society, in life, in the world is repetitive. Ethical dilemmas of the past repeat today, in differing material forms, but with the same grounded principles at play.
The importance of literature also hits hard, to have a proper frame of reference. It seems necessary to read Orwell, Wells, even Salinger, Harper Lee. It is here that we can get a deep perspective on issues affecting our society, and can then use reason to justify an ethical high ground. The beauty of fictional writing is that it can help us separate our natural bias of interpreting reality by creating a hypothetical that we can all chime in on.
And I've even re-read some literature and philosophical work from some of the "original" thinkers from the Age of Reason: Shopenhauer, Mill, Kant, Nietzche. It has been quite a wild ride since we realized god was dead. We've had centuries to define ourselves outside of such a blind darkening of rationality.
The Catholic church looks like a bunch of children playing make believe the way they declare miracles and saints and this infallibility of the pope (purposely not capitalized). There's really a spectrum of possibilities in the state of mind of Catholics and particularly the people in power in the church:
1) They believe their own scam and have become so indoctrinated into it by the romanticism of the history that the church has been apart of, they're simply too invested in it to turn back.
2) They are self-aware that it is all playing make believe and that their faith is truly a fraud. In light of the revelations across history, the chances of the Christians being right is rather low and it seems irrational to continue such a fraudulent heritage when the Catholic Church has been caught in such deeply immoral behavior and even, as Christopher Hitchens exposed of Mother Theresa. And Mother Theresa in the end had written letters clearly demonstrating that she had lost her faith and in fact had no faith, yet the institution of the church continued to use her as a public relations tool.
3) They are mentally ill. This is a different state of class than the first possibility because this is not the fault of the individual per se. If they are so mentally ill and anti-social that they are unable to acknowledge the reality of our modern secular world civilization, and are in fact living a total delusion that is not properly labelled as merely a belief system.
It's not to say I agree with Hitchens on everything. His suspicion of radical Islam is noted, and I have reservations about the political power and social ill of their patriarchal unenlightened societies that follow such an ideology.
But in terms of his general dismissal of religious individuals, as people who are just not intelligent enough to "find the way", I am more on the side of Chris Hedges. He has the honor of being one of the few people I've ever witness defeat Hitchens in a debate. His analysis of the political and social phenomena surrounding the right-wing tea party movement is far more reasonable than Hitchen's more unsympathic tone. Maybe it's my education and profession that leaves me biased in how I view social and political problems within only the realm of economic problems, but I'm comfortable with this, because I truly believe that economic freedom leads to personal fulfilment which almost always leads to enlightenment.
Outside of the modern philosophers and thinkers, there's also the pundit class. The bloggers are worth watching to at least get the 24-hour news cycle. For this Twitter is great. It's quite amazing that we can be a click away from a discussion with a journalist, author, politician, or any public figure out there. Hell, Neil Barofsky even tweeted me back! I remember when my grandma used to brag about getting a letter back from Barbara Bush after she wrote the White House about broccoli, and my generation will be bragging to our kids and grandkids about getting retweeted by a famous public figure.
Twitter is great, it's passive, it can be controlled. You aren't held to responding right away, it's curt, you can sort of choose when to end a discussion whenever you want. This is far superior to Facebook, which I disabled years ago, around the time I started on Twitter. It's quite disconcerting, this loss of privacy one gets from Facebook by unveiling so much if you're to be part of the "lay it all out there" virtual-reality life.
I remember when I first signed up for Facebook, this was back when you had to have an @.edu email address, and it had to be from a school that wasn't, ahem, shit-tier.
Those days were better, when it was just a college hangout essentially. Then they expanded the .edu emails accepted to basically all universities, then to all individuals, then before you knew it your grandmother and whole family were on it. Keeping track of what you share and censoring yourself because your "friends" have now become work colleagues and family? No thanks. Facebook was supposed to be where you could be a little more free.
Then of course people would just add "friends" of people they didn't even know. Oh, i saw you at a party once, ADD you're now my friend. I was equally guilty of this. Until my friend's list swelled to 500 and I was getting berated for not "liking" someone's wall post. No more. No thanks. If there's an event or a party, then I'll hear about it from other channels. I don't need to use Facebook to RSVP to any conferences, meetings, or other events. So it's gone. Unnecessary. It's evolution ejected me.
But Twitter has really become a respectable way to create your own little passive connected facebook-style network. It's the height of peer review. The credible people follow credible people. The nutters stay with the nutters.
I don't know what role cable news is going to be playing in the new media paradigm. My judgment is that if public figures are appearing on it and going on the record, then it's still important. I've been derided by friends for paying attention to the Sunday talk shows. But if you're going to have a proper well-grounded reasonable opinion on certain public officials, rather than relying on broad generalizations of the party or ideology they subscribe to, then you must read what they write, listen to what they say, and pick apart hteir reasoning personally.
It's just like the neo-liberal colleagues at other universities while in grad school. How can you call yourself an economist if you haven't read Marx? How can you seriously claim to be an intellectual if you're merely using as a premise that Marxist theory is universally wrong? Sure, if we look at history in the past century there's clearly a tendency for Marxist theory to inspire violent totalitarian figures, but the same could be said of Capitlism! There's merit to free enterprise and markets, just as there is to Marx's critique of capitalism and labor theory of value. Observing the modern market state, as Philip Bobbitt calls it, it's clear that labor is being marginalized.
Just like Carl Menger, the man who enumerated and detailed marginal utility theory, is credited as being the founder of Austrian theory. Sure the Austrians are goldbugging nutbags who reject empiricism in favor of intellectual masturbation, but that doesn't mean there isn't insight to be had from at least exploring their reasoning and crediting them with advances in the field.
My accumulated unread books on philosophy (political or otherwise), history, ethics, society scare me. Sometimes i catch myself referencing an idea from a book that I didn't fully read. Does that make me a pseudo-intellectual? Maybe. At least I'm a step above the Breitbart-commenting indoctrinated talk-radio zombies who regurgitate rhetoric that has been repeated through the airwaves.
I was watching Bill Maher from Friday and he showed Pelosi's daughter's videos of teabaggers screaming about how we need to cut government spending, but then they don't know why or what they want to cut.
It's amazing that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the plutocrats of the Republican party managed to get Romney, an American oligarch, to become the nominee while a flock of working class teabaggers were screaming about how the government is the problem. Wall Street excesses in the aftermath of Reagan's and Clinton's disgraceful deregulations (sidenote: Clinton's presidency was absolutely terrible. I must write a long critique of his policies, as there were failures across the board) are somehow the government's problem?
And now that the government has been spending to prop up the economy since the 2008 crash, as a result debt is higher, and now the working class teabaggers are using new talking points to blame the government, saying the problems with the economy are from government spending and the national debt!
It's really hallucinating just how easily the aristocrats have manipulated people into diverting their anger at economic marginalization toward the federal government rather than the banksters who created the mess and infiltrated government to create the deregulatory environment.
If anything, they should be trying to strengthen government, support integrity and ethics and ending the poison of money in policy which is destroying morality and creating a nihilistic oligarchical hell. But instead, they want the government to hand more power over to the private sector. They don't know why, they just will spew buzzwords like "free market" and "capitalism" and "tyranny" and "Marxist dictatorship". The Pete Petersons and the Kochses must be sitting back and laughing at how easily they've whipped up the working class dopes into praising the very culprit of our modern destruction of the middle class. Instead of attacking the banksters and holding Wall Street accountable and using government to end what Dean Baker calls the "Conservative Nanny State" they want the taxes of rich people and corporations lowered, and for government to stop helping the economy while it's down.
It's mindnumbing really. The dilemmas we observe in policy are almost exact replicas of what we can observe in ancient Greek and Roman texts. Only in literature can we appreciate just how predictable these situations are, and to really understand the motives of those promoting each agenda.
I wish there was more time in the day so I could read twice as many books a I have been, but alas, work calls. I'm not truly a free man if I am working unwillingly to support my knowledge habit, but it's a reality I've accepted. It costs money to breathe, to sleep, to live, to eat. Nobody owns anything, it's all just being rented. The imagery of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Cien Anos de Solidad, with the mysterious Macondo, life coming and going, and ultimately ending. It keeps me grounded, and what used to consume my mind with greed is now replaced by a curiosity and a desire to understand.