Friday, March 12, 2004

[Still ruff draft]

Title: I Hear Joan Didion is Single

Chapter One.
At what point in history did the realist observation that people are greedy become transmogrified into the idealist notions of academic economics? I'm going to reread the beginning of Rawls tonight in the bathtub, just to find the sentence where the just is transformed [By what magic?] from the object of a collective search, into the mechanical byproduct of self-interest. Is there no contradiction? I've argued enough that the foundation of law, as of religion, is not morality but structured argument. But law is not designed as a function of daily life; on the contrary it's designed to resolve exceptions to it.
Economics, as theory, is daily life, or rather is prescribed [not described, that would be too Marxist] as determining it.

Imagine that if I am interested in the just, my self-interest must be superseded by my desire to discover if that interest corresponds to what is just. But I'm no saint, so let's assume that I, like everyone, else face a conflict. But if this conflict is a given, is it necessary or advisable that I be labeled as having no interest outside self interest? In a court of law, we give defendants the right to argue this way, even giving them certain advantages. The justice system is in a sense a machine, a formal system, that produces approximations, all instances spiraling around an untouched and untouchable nucleus of 'absolute' justice. Our system demands that the state give us the adversarial option if we request it. Market theory demands that we be offered nothing else. The market demands that we behave in an adversarial manner in every aspect of our lives. Justice, moreover, is thought to be an argument concerning the rights and responsibilities of the individual in relation to the state, while the market is seen as an argument of one individual with another with the state as an arbiter (if that is even to to be admitted.)
Why the distinction?

Can this measurement of man by his lowest common denominator even be considered "humanist"? When did self-interest become seen not only an inevitable aspect of daily life, but as moral in itself, or rather, as manifested in each of two opposed actors, as the fuel for a "moral machine?" And is this simplistic understanding of human behavior not strangely similar to another, appearing at about the same time, arguing that self-interest is, in fact, neither moral nor inevitable? Did one absurdity produce the other, or are they just products of the same desire? Which, if either, is more modern?
The authors of the logical machines of both technocratic economic theory and analytic philosophy seem intent on removing sophistication - judgment- from consideration either as a means, or my own preference obviously, as an end.
All the same I really can't escape thinking of the awful title of Alex Cockburn's The Golden Age is in Us. What book is there on market theory, utopian or otherwise, that can't be placed by its side? Are these my choices: bloodless mechanism, romantic mechanism. or bloodless moralism? Bloody moralism I shouldn't have to mention, but I'll add it anyway.

The financial analysts I know are as philosophically abstract about capitalism as trial lawyers are about law. They may be barbaric, but they're smart. And they win because they understand the details that mechanistic philosophies can't contain. There may not be 35 Inuit words for snow, but nobody will ever fully translate Mallarmé or Pushkin.
The paradox of anthropology.
I've begun to think that at least these days stockbrokers are more humanist in their attitudes than academics.
And I don't know any sophisticated leftists.

Where to add this? From the land of the philosophers comes a request to dumb down the language.

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