Friday, April 27, 2012

Between Theory And Fear

George Soros

Suffering the tortures of hell learning is impossible.

George Soros has set up "open society" institutions to study the failure of economic thinking. The institutions have succeeded only in demonstrating their failure, he said this afternoon at the CEU in Budapest, but not in discovering what to do about it. The source of the problem, he explained, is relying too much on theory, on knowledge: we don't look at how acting in accord with our theories changes the world, because we expect the world to conform to our theories. We need to understand that no single theory is enough because our action is constantly changing the world. So I said to him after his talk:
- You have divided human activity in two parts, both economic: theory, and manipulation. Theory doesn't work, leads to crashes. And manipulation of markets is based on crowd behavior, on everyone holding to the same theory and reaching the same conclusion that now is the time to be afraid or not to be. But since ancient Greece the parts to human activity have been divided into not two, but three: you have left out practical action. Practical action is tied to no theory. It seeks to understand, for the sake of avoiding it, the theory based manipulation of fearful following and leading on of each other. Practical action seeks to discover what makes learning easier. It's purpose is outside of itself, in the part of life where we find beauty, what makes life good. Why not establish institutions that study how economic relations are practical: what forms of cooperation lead to a life of learning and freedom from manipulation, and which don't. And study how to make the transition from the present institutions based entirely on greed and fear to the kind we need to have. Do you understand?
- I have studied maximization of happiness.
- No, that is not what I mean, that is only counting the results of manipulated fear based behaviors in the theoretically defined world of the marketplace. We need to study how to cooperate, study what forms of cooperation help us learn to make our lives better.
Let's go, says George Soros' assistant, urging him as she has been doing for the last few minutes as we talked. OK, I say, I tried. You remember me, right? Yes, he nods his head. The day before the friendly university guards stationed at the door had seen him leave the building just ahead of me. They insisted I take fate in my own hands and run after him. For what? Ask him for a job. I did it! Practical necessity: I needed to get out of this hell of Budapest, this place putting pressure on me not to learn. People say it is difficult to diagnose the political problems of our times, but I don't see the difficulty. An open society with unhappy people is a closed society.

We're together in this hell trapped between theory and fear.