Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Gagdad Bob has written an excellent review of Matt Ridley's book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. In the review Bob states that Ridley:

...posits a theory for why things are always getting so much better. While the arrow of progress goes up and down over the short term, if you take a longer view -- decades instead of years, centuries instead of decades -- the differences are dramatic; they are not just linear, but exponential.

At least if you begin with the proper boundary conditions. It took mankind thousands of years to discover these boundary conditions, which is why it took until three hundred years ago for things to really take off. World GDP per capita was essentially stagnant for 1700 years before there was a sudden breakthrough several hundred years ago.

But all along, there have been forces opposed to the very conditions that make progress possible....
Human progress, Ridley notes (and Bob expands), "...cannot simply have been because human beings have a bigger brain than most other animals, for no matter how large the brain, it will come up against an evolutionary wall if it isn't an open system that exchanges information and emotion with others.

Nor can it have been a result of language, which was surely a necessary but not sufficient condition for our post-biological evolution (i.e., even Islamists and trolls have language).

As Ridley writes, "It was not something that that happened within a brain. It was something that happened between brains"

I suggest you read the entire post. It got me to thinking about the concept of "between brains" and what that might mean, and that got me thinking about ethics.

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with how humans determine a course of action. One aspect of ethics is politics, which is more specifically concerned with proper way that humans interact with each other--or, ethics applied to a group of people. Without ethics, humans would not be able to pursue goals with any degree of success; or to rationally organize goals so that they reflect our most important values. Without a moral politics, i.e., one that bans coercion, individuals could not interact in productive ways within a society.

I mention ethics and politics as a prelude to discussing what it was in human history that led to an exponential growth of human progress over the last 300 + years. Bob goes on to note:
[Ridley's]premise and... conclusion are quite simple: that progress is a function of exchange, not just physical trade and barter, but the exchange and "mating" of ideas. This is what lifts man above biology in a way that no other animal has achieved. Biology has transcended itself in man, but only through very specific conditions.[emphasis mine]

Those specific conditions are societies that facilitate the non-coercive interaction of individuals so that they are able to exchange ideas, goods, services to mutual benefit.

From a paper delivered by Ayn Rand in 1961 at a symposium titled "Ethics in our Time" at the University of Wisconsin, there is a relevant passage on this idea:
The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.

A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange—an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment
. A trader does not expect to be paid for his defaults, only for his achievements. He does not switch to others the burden of his failures, and he does not mortgage his life into bondage to the failures of others.[emphasis mine]

Rand advocates a rational ethics, and it is this ethical stance which I believe is the cornerstone of human progress. When humans became traders; when the free and uncoerced exchange of goods and ideas began to be practiced, it unleashed an avalance of human progress. This ethical stance happens to be the cornerstone of an economic system we now refer to as capitalism. It is the ethical stance that the founding Fathers, who deliberately encoded "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" into our national reality.

To the extent that the trader mentality existed in various geographical pockets around the world prior to the founding of America, human progress was enabled and flourished. With the founding of America, it was given another tremendous boost. In fact, as I have written many times before on this blog, capitalism is both the cure for poverty and for human misery; because it codifies how humans should interact with each other; i.e., in a rational, mutually beneficial exchange of goods, ideas, and services.

This ethical stance--as exemplified in the capitalist economic system--has been under intense assault in the last year by Democrats and their left wing base. They would like you to believe that it is capitalism which caused the economic meltdown that we have been witnessing over the last few years and which does not seem to be going away despite the trillion of $$ debt incurred by Congress in a histrionic attempt to abolish cause and effect and ignore the reality of their own culpability.

This economic meltdown is indisputably a man-caused disaster and it continues to take place right before our eyes. And, by now it should be apparent to most about who and what is to blame.

If you go back to the Meltdown's beginnings at the end of the last century as Classical Values did a while back, you can only come to one conclusion: that the whole financial mess proves capitalism doesn't work....when it is controlled by government. Another name for this is "crony capitalism", but I prefer to call it by its alternate name: Facism

[From Mirriam-Webster, Fascism is a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.]

The left would definitely like to blame this global economic meltdown on capitalism, because they desire to gain full control over the means of production in the mistaken (and evil) belief that what is in their brain is best for everyone else. But, what caused the economic meltdown was the collusion of Congressional and Indusry leaders possessing a deeply unethical, irrational, and essentially looter mentality.

This Congressional-Industrial Complex where the know-it-all, do-gooder elitist leaders in Congress (a toxic mixture of "selfless" and "selfish" narcissists) conspired and colluded with the money-grubbing elitist leaders (selfish narcissists) in the business world to deviate from and otherwise ignore the fundamental laws of supply and demand, in order to enrich themselves while sanctimoniously insisting it was for the benefit of the disadvantaged and the country; and to pretend that they could manipulate the market indefinitely without any adverse consequences.

But one cannot ignore reality for very long without having to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, we are all of us dealing with (and going to be dealing with for some time) the consequences of their behavior. Because, when the exchange of ideas or information or goods or services is hijacked by brains whose only goal is to loot those who are productive in order to give to those who are not (and let there be no doubt--THIS IS COERCION); then progress inevitably comes to a screeching, grinding halt. In some cases, it even reverses itself. You might even say that the current administration is building a bridge to the 20th (or perhaps even the 19th) century. Much the same way that the Islamists wish to build a bridge to the Middle Ages. Both are marching backwards and are anti-human; anti-human progress.

Right now in the news we have excellent examples of what I mean by "sociopathic selflessness" (Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and many others) and "sociopathic selfishness" (the Bernie Madoff-type CEO's and governing boards of looted companies that should be allowed to fail and their executives prosecuted). Often, malignant narcissists combine the qualities of both types, vascillating between the grandiosity characteristic of the malignantly selfish and the compassionate do-gooder of the malignantly selfless.

In "The Narcissistic Synthesis", I proposed that the optimal synthesis of the two opposing ethical imperatives of the developing self--the Grandiose Self (GS) and the Idealized Object (IO) -- was Individualism, or as it is sometimes called, "Enlightened Self-Interest". The two ethical imperatives that derive from the GS and IO, and which form the dialectic are in the table below in red and blue:

Now, getting back to the discussion of ethics and politics (human interaction "between brains" so to speak) and the question of what constitutes ethical (good) human behavior; as well as unethical (bad) human behavior.

Through ethics, we are able to develop our values and take action in the real world to pursue those values. The study of ethics answers such questions as: "Should I only pursue my own happiness?" or "Should I sacrifice myself for the greater good of others?"

These two questions are at the heart of the narcissistic dialectic in the area of ethics, and they appear to be completely the opposite of each other. But somehow, a healthy individual must find a way to creatively synthesize an effective and life-affirming value system from both sides of that ethical dialectic.

It is not an exaggeration to say that most of human history has been a battle between forces which advocate one or the other of these two absolute ethical imperatives. The self-GS says unequivocally that I should always pursue my own happiness, regardless of its impact on others; while the self-IO demands that I always sacrifice myself for others and/or the "greater good"; or, that an individual's happiness is nothing compared to the happiness of others.

Individuals, as they go through life, often run head-on into this seeming dilemma; and if they do not find a way to resolve it within their psychological self they will forever bounce back and forth between what I have termed "sociopathic selfishness" and "sociopathic selflessness".

It is my contention that the adoption of either of the extreme ethical systems derived from the developing self will inevitably leads to disastrous consequences for both for the individual and for society, and is the cause of most human suffering. Both extremes represent a form of malignant narcissism with which our world is plagued.

The unopposed Grandiose Self gives rise to tyrants big and small; to megalomaniacal dictators and dictator wannabees; to unbelievable corporate greed and plundering; and to the typical criminal sociopath in all his/her glory. The damage that such individuals do in individual relationships, in business, in politics and in all spheres of human behavior, is well documented and appreciated in the world. Most children are abjured repeatedly never, never to be "selfish". To always consider others. Laws are set up to protect people from victimization at the hands of these unrestrained grandiose monsters, unable to see other people as distinct individuals separate from their own self. These "others" exist only as the means to achieving their own desires.

But far more menacing to humanity is the unrestrained IO, which has unlimited potential to cause human misery and death; and whose destructiveness we have seen dominate the 20th century. The countless dead bodies that are the direct result of this form of malignant narcissism are quickly forgotten because they died as some nations, religions, ideologies attempted to implement their IDEAL in the real world.

This second type of evil is more subtle, and it derives from the ethics of the IO side of the self. The IO also does not see other people as distinct individuals with needs and desires of their own, but only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL; or as pawns for the wishes of a deified GS. People with this narcissistic defect completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to the service of their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy, self-esteem, and life. These mindlessly malignant "do-gooders" -- like our Nobel Laureate mentioned at the start of this article-- do far more harm than good and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of an IDEAL or GOD.

The malignant and sociopathic potential of both the GS and IO are inherent in the human species. They are flip sides of the same human coin, you see. One side cannot exist without the other. Either a way is found to synthesize the two, or an individual will forever flip-flop between them--coldly and viciously tyrannical toward all humans in pursuit of his own desires on the one hand; and on the other, coldly and viciously determined no matter what the cost in human lives and suffereing to implement his IDEAL in all human society.

We are always warned about the individual narcissitic sociopaths; but most people don't appreciate the sociopathic qualities of groups, religions, nations, and ideologies that demand all individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the latest utopian ideal or some blood-thirsty god.

In our modern world, the Islamic Jihadists have perfected this ethical demand; and the suicide-bomber is the ultimate expression of their ethics. (see the post "Union With An Evil God" and "Narcissistic Rage and Awe" for more on this).

But they are not alone in their disregard and contempt for the individual, who they see as only existing to serve the IDEAL, or to bring about the utopia/paradise/caliphate/[insert fantasy delusion here].

Extremes of both the political left and the political right are also dominated by the malignant narcissism of the GS and the IO.

If we go back to our understanding of healthy narcissistic development, we appreciate that the GS and the IO in adults is a result of the failure of narcissistic synthesis. The developmental process that should lead to a healthy self is broken; or fractured; or poisoned....

So, how does the self, torn between these two potentially malignant outcomes resolve the conflicting ethical imperatives and come out whole and fully integrated?

The solution lies not in a compromise between the two extremes, but in a synthesis that creates a new and wholly unexpected perspective for the self. It is a synthesis that rejects the pathology of either extreme and recognizes that the individual self has worth; that the needs and desires of the Individual self are worth pursuing for their own sake; and that because of the affiliative nature of human beings that an individual can value another individual or individuals enough to sacrifice himself for that other person or persons when it is rational and necessary to do so.

One might say that true "selflessness" actually requires a healthy and whole self; and that contrary to common wisdom, when a psychologically mature individual chooses to sacrifice himself for someone or something, it simultaneously reflects a situation of true "selfishness" as well.

Further reading on this can be found in the following posts, if you're interested:

Narcissism & Society Parts I-III
The Narcissistic Dialectic
The Narcissistic Synthesis

Of course, malignant narcissists of both stripes will always exist in any society whether it is a democratic capitalist society or a collectivist centralized economy.

To the degree that the "selfless" do-gooder type has significant to unlimited political power to manipulate the market or economy for their "compassionate" and glorious utopian fantasies (and along the way, of course, to personally enrich themselves) then they become a real danger to the entire society. This type of malignant narcissist is the hallmark of the socialist/communist/collectivist society, and theoretically has less room to indulge their grandiose selves in a democracy. But not always, as the citizens of the U.S. have come to appreciate.

As for the money-grubbing CEO's who want a piece of the government (i.e., YOUR) money without having to bother to produce anything--laws always exist in free societies to prosecute them for the kind of fraud they perpetrate. Generally, those CEO's whose bad management and collusion with the above political narcissists are not rewarded with bailouts in free and rationally ethical societies. No person or company is "too big" to fail. The ripple effects of the failure may be severe, but by allowing them to suffer the consequences of their idiocy, a free society will be taking out insurance against the bad behavior that led to it (i.e., they will encourage its extinction). "Madoffs" are not only found in capitalistic societies; they are part and parcel of the collectivist ones, too. But in the collectivist societies, they can make their best killings since they have the protection and encouragement of the political powers-that-be (who often are handsomely rewarded for that protection etc.). In the capitalistic societies, with a rule of law, the Madoffs eventually are exposed and go to jail.

The free market is simply not capable of screwing up the entire economy without the devoted and unethical assistance from unrestrained and malignant politicians colluding with unethical and malignant businessmen, both of whom are insulated (for a while, at least) from the rule of law and from reality.

And, as Thomas Sowell explains, America is in decline because we've abandoned our fundamental values....

There is no doubt in my mind that the key "boundary conditions" that have enabled the incredible advances in human progress around the world which have decreased both human misery and poverty everywhere is due to the adherence to a rational ethical system that allowed individuals to interact in a socially productive and mutually beneficial manner--"between brains" so to speak; without the use of brute force and government coercion.

Those boundary conditions are being systematically and deliberately dismantled and replaced by a medieval, irrational and unethical system, that depends primarily on force, involuntary servitude, and the submission of the individual to the will of the State.


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