Fragilistas

“he defaults to thinking that what he doesn’t see is not there, or what he does not understand does not exist. At the core, he tends to mistake the unknown for the nonexistent.

The fragilista falls for the Soviet-Harvard delustion, the (unscientific) overestimation of the reach of scientific knowledge. Because of such delusion, he is what is called a naive rationalist, a rationalizer, or sometimes just a rationalist, in the sense that he believes that the reasons behind things are automatically accessible to him. And let us not confuse rationalizing with rational– the two are almost always exact opposites. Outside of physics, and generally in complex domains, the reasons behind things have had a tendency to make themselves less obvious to us, and even less to the fragilista. This property of natural things not to advertise themselves in a user’s manual is, alas, not much of a hindrance: some fragilistas will get together to write the user’s manual themselves, thanks to their definition of “science.”

So thanks to the fragilista, modern culture has been increasingly building blindness tot he mysterious, the impenetrable, what Nietzsche called the Dionysian, in life.

Or to translate Nietzsche into the less poetic but no less insightful Brooklyn vernacular, this is what our character Fat Tony calls a “sucker game.”

In short, the fragilista (medical, economic, social planning) is one who makes you engage in policies and actions, all artificial, in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible.”

p. 9-10

Neomania

“Now for reasons that have to do with the increase of the artificial, the move away from ancestral and natural models, and the loss in robustness owing to complications in the design of everything, the role of Black Swans is increasing. Further, we are victims to a new disease, called in this book neomania, that makes us build Black Swan-vulnerable systems– “progress.””

The Soviet-Harvard Delusion

“And such antifragility-at-the-cost-of-fragility-of-others is hidden– given the blindness to antifragility by the Soviet-Harvard intellectual circles, this asymmetry is rarely identified and never taught. Further, as we discovered during the financial crisis that started in 2008, these blowup risks-to-others are easily concealed owing to the growing complexity of modern institutions and political affairs. While in the past people of rank or status were those and only those who took risks, who had the downside for their actions, and heroes were those who did so for the sake of others, today the exact reverse is taking place. We are witnessing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureaucrats, bankers, Davos-attending members of the I.A.N.D. (International Association of Name Droppers), and academics with too much power and no real downside and/or accountability. They game the system while citizens pay the price.

At no point in history have so many non-risk-takers, that is, those with no personal exposure, exerted so much control.”
p. 6-7

Peaks of power

The Holy Land
The Bosphorus
Rome
Gibraltar
Belgium
Moscow
I-95
The Persian Gulf
India
Beijing
Japan

Antitheses

Protestant Reformation in the 1500s
English Civil War in the 1640s
American Revolution in the 1780s
French Revolution in 1790s
Napoleon through the 18teens

Marx is writing in the 1840s

Barbarian Law Codes

After the breakdown of the Roman Empire, Germanic peoples and then later tons of other people “from Russia to Ireland” created very extensive law codes detailing the proper compensation for all kinds of wrongs, in minute detail. Like for stealing sheep of various ages and genders or for losing a hand vs finger vs various fingernails.

“Compensation in the Welsh laws is reckoned primarily in cattle and in the Irish ones in cattle or bondmaids, with considerable use of precious metals in both. In the Germanic codes it is mainly in precious metal… in the russian codes it was silver and furs”

Graeber: it’s difficult “to imagine how a system of precise equivalences– one young healthy milk cow is equivalent to exactly thirty-six chickens– could arise from most forms of gift exchange. If Henry gives Joshua a pig and feels he has received an inadequate counter-gift, he might mock Joshua as a cheapskate, but he would have little occasion to come up with a mathematical formula for precisely how cheap he feels Joshua has been. On the other hand, if Joshua’s pig just destroyed Henry’s garden, and especially, if that led to a fight in which Henry lost a toe, and Henry’s family is now hauling Joshua up in front of the village assembly– this is precisely the context where people are most likely to become petty and legalistic and express outrage if they feel they have received one groat less than was their rightful due.”

“Say the fine is in marten pelts but the culprit’s clan doesn’t have any martens. How many squirrel skins will do? or pieces of silver jewelry?”

Since these cultures were in the post-roman age, they converted everything through roman money. Lots of things were listed in these codes which weren’t really for sale on the open market at the time. So their price relationship wasn’t being determined by some sort of market equilibrium. It was just about using money as a pass-through for all these goods that might need to be equivalitized. This does seem to be a pretty decent approximation of the barter system economists imagine, even though its history and purpose is wildly different.

pg 60-62

From Primordial Debt to real debt

How do we get from the debt we owe the cosmos creating us to actual debts between people? By creating a system to calculate the specific debts we owe society through fines, fees, penalties, and debts to specific individuals. All the people “to whom we stand in a relation of ‘sin’ or ‘guilt'”.

Related note that I’m sticking in here: cattle is so often used as a currency by early societies because it was the most common sacrifice to the gods.

There’s lots of anthropological data on how stateless societies’ economies worked, but economists don’t like it because they used currency more for arranging relationships between people than they did for buying and selling things. Mostly they were used to “arrange marriages and settle disputes, particularly those arising from murders or personal injury.”

The phrase “to pay” comes from a word for “to pacify, appease”, meaning it’s about making up for something that pissed someone off. “To express just how badly you feel about having just killed his brother in a drunken brawl, and how much you would really like to avoid this becoming the basis for an ongoing blood-feud.”

pg 59-60

Primordial-debt Theory

“The core argument is that any attempt to separate monetary policy from social policy is ultimately wrong. Primordial-debt theorists insist that these have always been the same thing. Governments use taxes to create money, and they are able to do so because they have become the guardians of the debt that all citizens have to one another. This debt is the essence of society itself. It exists long before money and markets, and money and markets themselves are simply ways of chopping pieces of it up.”

-At first debt was expressed by religion, not states. See the Sanskrit religious literature like the Vedas and Brahmanas. Earliest Vedic poems from like 1500-1200 BC are very concerned with debt, which is “treated as synonymous with guilt and sin.”

-In very early texts, “Debt seems to stand in for a broader sense of inner suffering, from which one begs the gods… for release.”

-The Brahmanas started weaving together a more comprehensive philosophy in which human existence itself is a debt to the gods. “A man, being born, is a debt; by his own self he is born to Death, and only when he sacrifices does he redeem himself from death.”

-Leads to the question, “If our lives are on loan, who would actually wish to repay such a debt? To live in debt is to be guilty, incomplete. But completion can only mean annihilation.” So the tribute of ritual sacrifice is like an interest payment, and the sacrificer’s life is the principal.

-Two famous passages in the Brahmanas: “We are born as a debt not just to the gods, to be repaid in sacrifice, but also to the Sages who created the Vedic learning to begin with, which we must repay through study; to our ancestors, who we must repay by having children; and finally, to humanity as a whole, to be repaid by offering hospitality to strangers.”

-Primordial-debt theory say these ideas aren’t peculiar to “a certain intellectual tradition of early Iron Age ritual specialists in the Gange valley, but that they are essential to the very nature and history of human thought.”

-Sovereign powers’ legitimacy comes from their representation of the entire cosmos, and so they invented money as a way of settling debts. So instead of owing the unpayable debt of your life to death, now you have money that you can use to settle more manageable debts. That currency is put into circulation, and then you have to repay it in taxes, and that is a much more reasonable ask than “You owe your life to the God of Death.”

-“The primordial debt is that owed by the living to the continuity and durability of the society that secures their individual existence.”

“Really tired of people characterizing criticism as attacks”

Really tired of people characterizing criticism as attacks. It’s not an attack to accurately describe that Musk is exploiting his workers.

Actually, I can think of a good example of an attack if Musk is wondering.

In 1916, workers in Everett, Washington were facing the worst of a serious economic depression. Sick and tired of low wages, terrible working conditions, a lack of work and manager apathy, the workers started to strike. The Industrial Workers of the world (IWW) came to Everett to support the workers in collectively bargaining for better jobs. The workers faced serious attacks in the local press, threats of retribution, threats of violence, and were “smeared” as anarchists and communists by the manager class and pro-business forced.

Upon arriving, IWW organizers were targeted by local pro-business vigilantes who beat them with axe handles in an attempt to drive them out of town.

It was on November the 5th of 1916 that several hundred local IWW members had a march for workers rights that went from downtown Seattle to the docks, singing the now famous labor song “Hold the Fort” in support of solidarity for better wages and working conditions. The pro-business forces in town had arranged for there to be armed good squads on the dock to meet with the labor demonstrators. More than 200 showed up, with the explicit support of the pro-business country sheriff. The goon squad opened fire on the peaceful union demonstrators, only a few of whom were armed for self-defense. By the time the shooting stopped, two of the goons had died (being accidentally shot in the backs by other goons) and the IWW listed 5 dead with 27 wounded. 74 IWW members were arrested and charged with the murder of the 2 goons. Thankfully, all were acquitted and released.

That. That right there is what an attack looks like. An attack comes from those with power against those without power. An attack is about control through fear, intimidation, and violence. Attacks are why those without power are forced to use the only advantage they have, sheer numbers through organization, to try and defend themselves.

Really, I’m very tired of people characterizing criticisms as attacks. We all know what attacks look like, and they usually come from people like Musk with unbelievable wealth and power who are looking to protect said wealth and power.

via this comment

Armies and Early Currency

Markets did spring up around ancient armies. See Kautilya’s Arthasastra, Sassanian “circle of sovereignty,” Chinese “Discourses on Salt and Iron”, they show “that most ancient rulers spent a great deal of their time thinking about the relation between mines, soldiers, taxes, and food. Generally they realize creating markets help not just feed soldiers but also helped them get a lot of other stuff out of their people too.

They used to need royal estates or workshops to produce things, or to “requisition” it directly from workers. But now they can just use markets to incentivize production of what they needed.

pg 50