Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Property, Greed, And The Bible

I. Property


- You think things are bad? Yesterday Los Angeles' District Attorney explained that the police are arresting and jailing sixty mentally unstable people a day, fifteen thousand a year, on the basis of a suspicion they might possibly become violent and break a law. If they complain, as they do, that they didn't do anything, and resist arrest, that is a crime and their stay in jail will then be even longer than the not unusual six months for those jailed for the possibility they will commit a crime. The District Attorney said this obviously was a bad situation.
- Did she say what should be done?
- Present politics made action difficult, as she said we all were aware, but she was in the process of setting up a commission of law enforcement and mental health professionals and community representatives to study the problem and work towards a solution.
- Talk and do nothing, then fall silent and do nothing when attention is distracted by new problems. The old trick. What do you think should be done?
- As the D.A. said, politics does not work any more, at least doesn't work for good.
- What does it work for?
- Property. The more property, the more influence.
- Then we have to change that, but like everyone else I talk to I don't see how. How did we get into this position?
- Our way of thinking about property has painted ourselves into a corner of speechlessness. We can't say politicians are bad to work against the interest of the public they are supposed to serve. Property does not have good or bad, except in the basic sense of it being bad to take away someone's property by force. We can't explain why inequality of wealth is bad. All we can do is express our wonder that it is the fact, that people with the political power of democratic institutions to prevent such a situation from arising or continuing are unable to exercise that power.
- But why are they unable?
- Because they are unable to tell each other that other things in life are more important than property. We cooperate only to maintain the institutions of police that protect against any fundamental change in property relations. We justify our cooperation at work and in private life in the same way, as means to the end of acquiring and holding onto more property. Our institutions function to serve property and only property. We can't complain about politicians not working for us. They are protecting their property. We can't say that is wrong. We feel certain more property ought to come our way, but can't say why. We feel certain we ought to have the power to get more property, but don't understand why apparently we don't.
- We can't say more property coming our way is better, only that it is better for us, and there are more of us. We can threaten violent rebellion.
- As people are doing, or at least beginning to hint at. If you can't explain the problem there is no alternative to violence.
- So how do we explain the problem?
- Cooperation can serve property, or property serve cooperation. We have a choice.
- How would property serve cooperation?
- By providing basic independence of a kind that allows creative cooperation. Property allows for the physical and mental independence necessary in turn for political cooperation. Individual property, become the basis of our cooperation where now it is an unacknowledged product of cooperation, could be even more fundamental than at present. As human beings we are shocked to hear our institutions in a single city are jailing fifteen thousand of the most vulnerable of us because they might one day become violent, but so long as we cooperate only to protect property we must accept this outcome. We see each other as means to the end of acquiring property. We don't listen to each other, except on the subject of how we can cooperate better to get more property. In a sense, we only listen to property. We say our property "expresses" our relation to other people, our power among them. At least we do in societies where cooperation is directed exclusively in support of our property. When property is made the support of cooperation, however, what do we call that?
- What?
- Tell me what you think: When something we have is made to be seen and mean something to others, don't we give it name art? Don't we call it art when we tell a story, make a picture, build a temple, express a model of cooperation? Can't we then talk with each other about different political arrangements, different arts of politics that could determine the outcome, the art as it were, we individually create out of our property?
- Each contributing their own vision and art? You ask too much of everyday men and women.
- We're looking for the open door, the way out of the political impasse. When we cooperate only to protect property we can't challenge the failed institutions that are the result. When we understand that the institutions are the result of one way of involving property in our lives, and that there is another, we might be able to make a change.


- Old stories, old books, hide buried treasure, treasure buried under layers of substituting stories. I think if we look we can easily find a story to illustrate what we've been talking about.
- Which story is that?
- In the Hebrew bible, Genesis: the so-called "Binding Of Isaac".
- God tells Abraham to get his son Isaac ready for sacrifice. With knife in his hand Abraham is stopped by god's angel, who tells him in god's name he was being tested; seeing a goat pass by, Abraham then sacrifices the goat in place of his son. One of the most famous stories in the world. Usually thought to mean that we should have faith in god no matter what happens and all will turn out for the best. You have another idea, of course. Tell me.
- We said cooperation between people in our present lives is limited to protecting property, in the present distribution, and that the alternative was property used creatively to establish new forms of cooperation. New forms of cooperation always change existing property distributions. If we don't want slavery, people treated as property, or don't want property to be hoarded unused, we are a threat to present property distribution, we are a threat to supporters of community for the sake of property. With me?
- Yes. If we think community is something more than protection of property we are a threat to those who think that's all community is.
- In the Hebrew bible, the Jews are chosen by god as a people who are going to be given the new rules. The old rules were cooperation for the sake of protecting property, the new rules are property for the sake of cooperation. Practicing the new rules among people used to practicing the old rules is dangerous.
- People will try to stop you.
- You might have to risk what is most important to you, a father might have to sacrifice his son.
- Abraham gets himself ready to sacrifice Isaac.
- Yes. And then what happens? He is let off at the last minute, and he goes ahead and makes a sacrifice of a passing goat, a trivial sacrifice.
- Which is an individual's sacrifice of property for the sake of cooperation.
- The individual has to risk everything to make the attempt, but if he gets away with it, gives up only what is unimportant, a passing goat, to make what is important, a good community.

Further Reading:
Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
Hilaire Belloc's "The Servile State"

II. Greed


Sexual experience can be everything, while it lasts. Being at home with someone also can be everything. Home is a place you go back to, but sexual experience is something done, not a place where things are done. Many different kinds of things can be done at home, but sexuality is always only one kind of thing, a thing of the body. Sexuality fits completely into life at home, but a home is not to be found in sexuality. Without a home, the everything of the experience doesn't last.

Now sexuality can have another kind of a home. Not a private home, the place of love, where the everything of love is there to replenish sexuality, but a public home, the lived in sum total of all social relations in the world, where sexuality is kept alive not by love, but by being associated with first one role, then another, then another...

Sexuality is one kind of desire: desire for bodies. We also have desire for things. The desire can be normal, for things to be used in, to find their place at the home, or can be for things found in public life. This abnormal desire for things, wanting more than fits complete in private life, we call greed.

Greed, like abnormal sexuality, is desire for what is a product of public life: social role, or things associated with social role. Desire becomes public when it cannot find its place in private life. Greed, like abnormal sexuality, doesn't express an individual's character, rather it expresses the opposite, that an individual has lost his character to public life.

Economic and social theories that assume desire pervades public life, once put into practice, produce what they assume; the market economy, invading private life, produces the behavior of unlimited desire the theory depends on.

Market economics does not, as sometimes claimed, produce a natural, beneficent order out of the inherent vice of greed, but first produces greed then institutionalizes it, like pornography produces out of an infinite number of combinations of social roles the unbounded desire that is satisfied by prostitution.


- Well?
- Confusing. I like it better when we talk.
- I'll read you something more, and then we'll talk.
- Ok.
- Both speakers are economists, the first, Friedman, the second Stigler:
- I'm a teacher, and believe people do some things because they are ignorant.
- And I am a scientist, an economics scientist, and believe people do what they do because they are wise.
- We both admire markets but you think they've already worked.
- And why not? People are self interested. They vote their pocket books.That's enough to make markets work. People bought the tariffs. Tariffs must be what they want.
- Friedman the proponent of the Free Market. Stigler, Nobel prize winner for his economics of information? Is this real or did you make it up?
- Real. Those are the guys. Friedman thinks tariffs reduce market efficiency. Stigler doesn't want to know, he won't interfere with a good thing. For him the market is smarter than any of us. Paraphrasing Dr Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, he says the market is the best of all possible worlds. Everyone gets to choose what he wants.
- Didn't they know we might want to choose other things than economic things? Personal things not consistent with economic?
- Like what?
- Like not perverting my desire in greed and abnormal sexuality! When did the conversation take place?
- In the 60s. To answer you other question, No, they didn't know. Economic life for them had absorbed the elements of personal life so that satisfying economic demands was satisfying personal demands.
- But only those sort of personal demands that fit into economic life, greed and abnormal sexuality.
- The fit between greed and market economics is perfect. With each new conquest attention moves on to the next person or product; once the glory of the seduction or social status given by the object is obtained the object itself is neglected. This indifference to the person or thing consumed is exactly expressed in the market exchange, where the buyer wants the lowest price and the seller the highest. They deal with each other as enemies, complete the transaction, move on their way to the next exchange.
- That's what you mean by saying the market to its proponents includes the personal? This similarity in form between economic and sexual transactions?
- Yes.
- How did we end up with the free market when even its masters are willing to admit that what they mean by efficiency is an economy running like a fine machine, not one necessarily providing efficiently most good things of life to most people?
- We became greedy and this economic system is made to order for the greedy.
- What made us greedy?
- We forgot how to love.

III. Abel Is More Able

- It's quiet tonight. Am I right that something is happening? Some big change?
- What do you mean?
- Is the city finally going to take the Citadel back from the family? What really happened with the last family that had the place? What did they do? Really do?
- Sold drugs, ran prostitutes.
- And the boss was murdered, you told me.
- In the disco.
- What does the present "family" do?
- It's in the energy business.
- And you say they "control" the territory of the Citadel without a contract with the government, the city, which owns the land and buildings?
- Yes. Just like the other family.
- How?
- Can't explain.
- Influence? Bribery?
- Can't explain.
- This "family" holds the territory, operates their "energy business" from here. But no one from the energy business world seems to be around.
- That's correct.
- I am the only guest of the hotel.
- Usually.
- There was a taxi business when I first came here, a long time ago.
- The city shut them down.
- Why?
- Can't explain.
- Influence failed?
- My boss always fails.
- But they are still here, in control of the Citadel.
- They built a terrace in the courtyard - you can see it over there, the wood floorboards are rotting away - but the city forbid them to use it.
- Why?
- They say diplomats from nearby embassies complained about noise.
- Failure of influence again. And the new radio station here? What's that for?
- It costs them a lot. They have no advertising and 16 employees.
- And can't get a permit from the city. I've been following the drama. The police come, demand you stop broadcasting, you go off the air, then go on again immediately after the police leave. Then again. Then again. Then the police come, break down the door of the equipment room and carry out the transmitter in their arms. Then you set up broadcasting outside the city limits, still without a permit. Anything I left out?
- No. Sometimes I think this place is an insane asylum.
- Because all you guys here smoke and cough and smoke and cough, because one of you complains operatically non-stop and the other swears non-stop, because you yourself say you can't stop talking with people you don't like? Because the computer programmer in the corner room smokes so much that when he comes out into the lobby he leaves a scent trail in the air, who's a kind of walking ashtray? What about me? How do I fit in?
- You're crazy too.
- To be staying here.
- Yes. No one understands you. I try to protect you, tell everyone you're from a rich family, are here until the estate is settled.
- Sounds good
- I thought so.
- Might even have a little truth to it. Did I ever tell you the story of the fake and real Rolex I bought at a pawn shop in Atlantic City when I was visiting my mother there?
- I don't remember.
- The story goes like this. Dozens of casinos send send their losers out into the street where dozens of pawn shops buy their jewelry so they can go back to the casinos and lose more money. One afternoon I thought to visit the shops and look at their watches. At the first I came to there was a Rolex copy in the window. The Russian immigrant working there placed it on the counter and opened its back to show me the movement. He'd been tricked into buying this watch, he explained. The movement looked real, he'd never seen a fake movement before. How much did he want for the watch? 200 dollars. Take 150? Yes.
- You bought the watch?
- Yes. When I came next time to Budapest I sold it to another watch dealer for 600 dollars.
- How?
- The movement was real.
- And you knew it.
- And the pawn shop didn't. Real movement in fake watch.
- Great story.
- It is what I like to think life is like at the Citadel. We've got the "family" parading around, visiting the radio station that isn't a business, the hotel where I am usually the only guest, you guys working here smoking yourselves to death out of nothing else to do, I'm here seeing this because I make it look like a hotel and in my isolated life other people don't hear about it from me and show up asking to stay. It's all fake, but it is a real castle, it is the best place in Budapest, you and me are really here despite the fakery going on around us.
- Very poetic. Everyone is miserable here.
- Last night I was writing about Cain and Abel.
- From the Bible?
- Yes. Should I tell you what I wrote?
- How long will it take?
- One minute. Two, maximum.
- Ok.
- I'll be fast, fast. Here goes. Pay attention.
- Ha.
- The first humans were educated by God: they broke his rules, went adventuring, had children, created lives for themselves. The first human educated by humans killed his brother.
- Cain killed Abel.
- Yes. God's education was in breaking rules. Human education is about keeping rules. Cain was a farmer. He stayed put. He followed rules of when and what and where to plant. When he looked at the land he was reminded of which of his rules to apply.

When God did not accept his sacrifice Cain responded to God as he responded when a rule no longer applied because of change of weather: he simplified, uprooted the unrewarding rule from his world. There was a rule, "Sacrifice to God / You'll be rewarded by his love" yet it was applied to his brother, not to him, to him no love was delivered. But if killed his brother whose sacrifice has been accepted the field would be cleared of all sacrifice, nothing of the kind grow there. Cain weeded Abel from his field.

As a shepherd Abel adapted rules to the terrain his herd wandered over. The land did not remind him of any set rule. Rules remained contingent. The story of Cain and Abel is about a battle between two ways of of applying rules, destructive and creative.
- You've written this down?
- Sure, not that anyone reads anything.
- Doesn't matter.
- Yes, that's the point I want to make. Write the truth in the midst of all the fakery, you're Abel living in Cain's world. You are the only guest of the "family" hotel at the Citadel. Down in the city when I tell people about where I stay I use the Italian word for family, "mafia". I hope they don't mind.
- Nobody is interested in you.
- I'm real taken as fake, safe so long as no one sees the reality and tries to profit by it.
- What good are you to anyone?
- Well, what good was it to Cain killing his brother? It was a symbolic act. And as we see at the Citadel the whole place is functioning as a symbol of the family's power, doing nothing else in fact. I am here only so long as there is no symbolic benefit in throwing me out. I am waiting for that time to come. It will, won't it?
- Yes. You know this place.
- 17 years since the first time I stayed here.
- Time have changed.
- The world is at war, economic, social war. Cain is out to eradicate Abel, out to weed him from his field. But, you know, history has moved on. Abel is more able.
- Abel is more able. I like that.
- Abel knows better, he can put into words just how the world is a war between those educated by man and those educated by god. He knows all the words thrown about around him are fakery, are all lies, gangsters' symbols of power. Education by man begins with killing a man, but proclaims itself to be education by god. It all about following rules and goes by the name of fundamentalism.

But education by God is something small and on the human scale, is the rule breaking and wandering life and goes by the name "humanism". God made humans, but humans make each other something else, something much worse, something fake, something oversimplified, something "fundamental".
- It's been much more than one minute.
- My words wandered to a field where other rules apply.

Further Reading:
Eve In The Garden Of Eden