After Postmodernism: Epistemological Ecosystems

The economy is an epistemological ecosystem. It is not the only one, but the kind of knowledge created through the unimpeded price system makes it a very efficient and effective one. Some epistemological ecosystems–such as art, literature, philanthropy, philosophy, and others–suffer from the ambiguities inherent in reputation as the primary medium of value-exchange. Science works better than these with its peer review, but is still not quite as efficient and effective as is money-mediated trade. Technological innovation participates in the economy precisely because its winners and losers are chosen through the price mechanism. That fact also makes technological innovation effective, efficient, and wealth-producing.

All of these are knowledge-producing activities. To refuse to trade therefore means one is purposefully trying to remain ignorant, and to make sure that others too remain ignorant. Reducing trade–whether through trade barriers, wage and/or price controls, taxes, and so on–increases ignorance. We cannot know what would be the best use of raw materials, capital, capital goods, or human capital any time prices are distorted. Price distortions not only include the list above, but also include subsidies, regulations, and monetary inflation/deflation (real inflation/deflation, on the other hand, communicated information more accurately).

Insofar as postmodernism is a kind of radically skeptical epistemology, denying the existence of an objective reality (or at least an objective social reality), insisting that all knowledge is merely constructed and can therefore be deconstructed, denying any sort of human nature, and therefore that knowledge itself is impossible, we can see that postmodernism is an active denial of the very existence of epistemological ecosystems. It is not that it’s not true that there is an element of knowledge-production (or else how could one even have an epistemological ecosystem), but rather that for there to be an ecosystem of any sort, there has to be foundational organisms to interact with each other and co-evolve. The ecological equivalent would be for postmodernists to deny the existence of organisms or species because there is evolution.

If knowledge-production is in one sense impossible, and in another sense nothing but imposition of power/power-relations (another postmodern claim), then any sort of structure is as valid as any other sort of structure. What matters, if knowledge is nothing more than the imposition of the powerful on the non-powerful, is who has power. We can begin to understand pretty much every postmodernist position from that perspective.

If free markets are simply ways business people create power relations that benefit themselves at the expense of others, and business people are bad (for some reason or other that seems to involve “greed”–never mind that postmodernists are also supposed to be radically skeptical of moral “facts” as well, meaning we could just say “greed is good” and accept that for just as much or little reason as anything else), then we need a system that benefits some other group of people instead. The most popular are the victim classes–which seems to somehow include something like 90% of the world’s population–as those who somehow properly deserve the reins of power. It all thus becomes a bunch of arbitrary choices being made by self-appointed secular saints who are all somehow right-thinking, even though if they were consistent with their own postmodern epistemology, there could not be any such thing as right-thinking.

If knowledge truly were power, I’d be President now and not Donald Trump. Those who hold power in our governments around the world are the surest falsification of postmodern epistemology possible. But postmodernism means never having to say you’re wrong.

The understanding that there are in fact epistemological ecosystems helps us retain the insights of postmodernism while evolving well beyond their nihilistic conclusions. It’s not a choice between structuralism and poststructualism, but both simultaneously. It’s not a choice between The Truth and radical skepticism, but rather truth as a strange attractor, with truth statements coming closer or moving a bit away, but always circling, circling–and often generating more truth attractors. This is how all ecosystems–natural or epistemological–exist over space and time. Yes, we create knowledge, but that doesn’t mean the knowledge we create isn’t true. Yes, there is socially constructed knowledge–which makes that knowledge useful rather than denying its existence–but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts in the world which we must live with, by, in, and through.

What comes after postmodernism? It’s already been around for a while. Epistemological ecosystems is what comes after postmodernism. Given that people like Hayek and Michael Polanyi developed this idea, it’s a bit ironic that the postmodernists were already behind the times when they came up with their ideas, since their replacement was already being developed before they even came on the scene.

Suggested Reading:

Michael Polanyi:

Personal Knowledge

The Art of Knowing

Knowing and Being


The Tacit Dimension

The Logic of Liberty

F. A. Hayek:

Individualism and Economic Order

Law, Liberty, and Legislation

The Fatal Conceit

It’s the Small Things

David McElroy has an interesting piece in which he laments the decline of general competence. As he points out, we are seeing this more and more. Being concerned about people misspelling words may seem a bit much, but what happens when even highly educated people are often misspelling words? What happens when school teachers and administrators misspell words or make errors such as using “could of”?

While there is a degree of carelessness and, worse, not caring, there is also a strong degree of miseducation and, even worse again, false confidence. Everyone thinks they can write and don’t need an editor. Except that, no one can write and literally everyone needs an editor–especially if you’re a regular writer (it’s simple math: the more you write, the more errors you’ll make; it’s also psychological: the more you write, the more confident you are, and the less likely you are to catch your own errors). Excellence matters, and it is precisely excellence which it being put aside throughout our culture.

The biggest problem is precisely the problem of false confidence. And it extends well beyond writing. While I have had former students insist they were good writers because their teachers loved their writing and told them they were good (I always told those students they should go back and sue those teachers), we see people insisting on competence in teaching when they have only graduated a year ago, we see people insisting they know how to fix the economy when they haven’t had a single course on economics, and we see people having opinions about cosmology and biology when they don’t know the first thing about either. In the U.S., math competency is among the lowest in the developed world, and math confidence is the highest.

But these are hardly the only small things. Etiquette is long gone. And so are manners. People are rude, they won’t hold open doors for you, they consider everyone an inconvenience–one could go one an done (and I invite you to include examples in the comments). It seems a small thing, but etiquette is the foundation of ethics. They show what kind of character you have. If morals are the rules that help us live together in social groups, then etiquette is the foundation of morals. Every time you’re rude or call someone a name or bully someone because of their world view, politics, religion, lifestyle, whatever else you want to think of that makes people different from you, then you are acting unethically. Each violation of etiquette is a violation of ethics.

So I think David McElroy is on to something in his pointing out the little things. The little things are the foundations of the big things. Chip away at a dam long enough, and it will break and release the flood waters.

Government and Power Laws

The United States government was created out of a brilliant compromise. The founders took advantage of factions in and among the states, and used them to create a (mostly)  stable, peaceful system. The small states were concerned that the larger states, with larger populations, would take advantage of the smaller states –- so a Senate was created, wherein minorities had complete equality with majorities. The larger states, however, justly thought that majorities should rule in a democracy –- so a House of Representatives that represented population percentages was created. The electoral college –- a brilliant development that is poorly understood or appreciated –- was created to ensure that, with the election of Senators, the states would be the ones represented (we made a grave error in allowing for the direct election of Senators in the early part of the 20th Century, as it made the Federal government less federal, and more national), and with the election of the President, the smaller states would again be more fairly represented. The tenth amendment to the Constitution also made it clear that any powers not given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution would fall to the states and to the individual citizens, respectively.

The government of the United States was further divided up among the states, which were to have more effect on the lives of the citizens than the federal government. The benefit of having stronger state governments was that each state could set up its own rules, and the citizens of that state could then choose to live in the state that most suited them. The states were further divided up into counties, and into town and city governments. There was a hierarchy of political power, with those governments closest to the people having the most power, and those farthest away having the least. Those with the most power would be the individuals, and whatever organizations they volunteered to join. The founding fathers of the United States stumbled upon the concept of power laws centuries before they were formulated in contemporary chaos theory.

What are power laws? Imagine that you are piling up sand one grain at a time. With the addition of each grain, there will be some stability, but quite often there will be avalanches. The vast majority of avalanches will be small ones –- one-grain avalanches. Many will be just a few grains. There will be fewer small avalanches, fewer still medium-sized avalanches, and only very rarely will there be very large ones, with an entire side of the sand pile collapsing.

As it turns out, there are many things which obey power laws –- all of them systems of some sort. Extinctions follow power laws –- there are many single-species extinctions, a few extinctions that take out several interrelated species, fewer that take out many species, and the rarest of all: mass extinctions. The same is true if we look at the economy. We have many small businesses, fewer medium-sized businesses, and fewest megacorporations. The lifetimes of corporations in an economy also follow power laws: many last only a short time, some last decades, very few last generations.

The United States government too was set up to follow power laws. The individuals have the most power, and have the most effect on their own lives; families too have power, but less overall than individuals (though they affect the place and position of those individuals); voluntary organizations, such as churches, have less power and effect; city governments have less still; county governments even less; state governments less than even county governments; and finally, the federal government was designed to have the least effect of all, with the Senate and the House of Representatives designed to be fighting all the time with each other, so they could not get much done (during the Presidency of George W. Bush, they were getting along altogether too well –- though we got a glimpse of the founders’ intentions when Presidents Clinton and Obama had to govern with a Republican Congress, during which time, very little was accomplished, and we also incidentally had some of the strongest economic growth in American history).

So it seems the government of the United States of America was set up according to the laws that govern nature –- particularly the growth of complex systems in nature. That is the very reason of its success. So why is it that, when the United States goes about helping countries set up new governments, that we do not encourage them to have a system similar to our own government?

Take the situation in Iraq. And let’s ignore for a moment whether or not the U.S. should have been there or engaged in nation-building in the first place. Given that nation-building was going to take place, it could have been a perfect place for an American-style government. There are several factions we wanted to get along. These sections –- the Kurds, the Arab Sunnis, and the Shi’ites –- could have been  divided up into equal sections –- perhaps five each. These would then be different-sized states, which could elect two senators each. That way they would have thirty senators, and each of the groups would have equal representation, without any group having more power than the other. The minorities would be protected. However, we don’t want a tyranny of the minority any more than we want a tyranny of the majority (the danger inherent in true democracies). So those states would also be subdivided according to population –- so that there would be a House of Representatives. This would allow for majority representation. Thus, there would be two houses of Congress, designed to protect the majority from the minority, and the minority from the majority. If we did this, we could have an executive branch similar to ours, wherein the President has very little actual power, and also a strong judicial branch to balance them all out. Further, each group would also get autonomy within their states, which should have more power overall than the federal government.

The key is to take advantage of the factions in the country, so that they work together to make the country safe and strong. And each state could set itself up slightly differently from the other states. Shi’ites who wanted stronger religious influence on them from government could live in the state that set itself up that way. Shi’ites who were more liberal, could live in the more liberal state. And the Sunnis and the Shi’ites could live in peace, separately together, as would the Arabs and the Kurds. This system would have worked best precisely because it takes advantage of factions. Parliamentary systems rely too much on coalition-building, and as such cannot work as well in a situation such as we find in Iraq. As we have mostly discovered.

There is another place that could take advantage of such a form of government, and it is Afghanistan. In fact, in any country in the world where there are battling factions, this form of government would work best. It would work best because it is precisely the form of government that most accurately matches the way the world itself works, the way nature solves internal tensions — according to power laws. Thus, it is in fact the most natural form of government. So why do we not encourage other governments to set up governments similar to ours? Perhaps we have been reading too many philosophers in the Franco-German tradition, and have forgotten about the Scottish philosophers, who our founding fathers were reading.

We should be reading less Marx, Heidegger, and Derrida, and reading more Locke, Hume, and Adam Smith. The former seek to make everyone the same; the latter realize we are not all the same, and seek to take advantage of that to create better forms of government. The former think if we can just get everyone to love one another in brotherhood, everything will be fine; the latter realize you can’t get everyone to love one another, but you can set up a system wherein those factions learn to get along, because it is to the advantage of each individual to do so. And now we not only have Locke, Hume, and Adam Smith, but we also have the new science of chaos theory and power laws to back them up.

The U.S. has weakened as it has moved away from the natural system set up by our founding fathers. Power has centralized more and more in Washington — and this was aided in no small part by the direct election of Senators (which distributed power down from the states). It is no coincidence that as power was distributed down that it was also distributed up, creating an increasingly dualistic form of government rather than a complex one. This dualism has resulted in an increasingly dualistic politics, with ever-deepening divisions — not of ideology, but simply of tribal loyalties, since there is practically no difference between Republicans and Democrats in what they actually do when in power. This is deeply destabilizing. And we are starting to reap the consequences.

Illiberal Education in Our Universities

The people complaining about the illiberal tactics of the postmodern opponents of learning anything at all about Western civilization are no longer just the conservatives. Some on the left are finally joining in. It turns out left-wing professors who happen to think there is in fact something valuable to be learned from Western ideas, art, and literature don’t like having their voices excluded, either. As well they shouldn’t.

Postmodernism has been fundamentally illiberal from the beginning. It is, after all, a synthesis of two illiberal ideologies: Marxism and fascism. It fuses Marxists like Marcuse and the Marxist Frankfurt School with the Nazi philosopher Heidegger and those he influenced. We should thus not be surprised that the end-result of postmodern ideology (vs. postmodern ideas, some of which are in fact valid) are illiberal attempts to shut down speakers with whom one doesn’t agree and opposing freedom of speech.

Worse, many go so far as to say that speech is violence. The problem of course is that equating speech and violence makes real violence acceptable. If someone is violent against you, you can defend yourself with defensive violence or get the police to engage in retaliatory violence on your behalf. In other words, equating speech with violence justifies attacking people just for speaking, or sending the police in to shoot them because you disagree with what that person has to say. This is the very foundation of dictatorship.

Our universities are guilty of creating citizens ready for dictatorship—not just ready, but demanding such actions from the administrations of the universities and, eventually, of the government itself. It’s a long, complex history, but it may not surprise people to learn that its roots, like Marxism and National Socialism, are to be found in Germany. The U.S. has adopted German/Prussian educational structures, and those structures are the roots of many of  our problems. Institutions matter, and if we’re going to change our culture to overcome the problems beginning to arise in our, we’re going to have to change many of those institutions. Our education, k-12 and the university system, is at the core of what needs to fundamentally change.

If there’s any good news, it’s that many more outlets and ideologies are fighting against the rise of postmodern illiberalism and recognizing the poison that is postmodern ideology on our campuses. But I promise you, the fight has just begun. And unfortunately, there are other illiberal elements arising to fight postmodern leftism. The alt.right, for example, is proof that the enemy of your enemy can definitely be your enemy. Fighting fire with fire will burn the entire forest down.

The Ruiners of Mankind

“all the means by which one has so far attempted to make mankind moral were through and through immoral.” — Nietzsche, TI

In The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche warned us against the “improvers of mankind,” that such people never in fact sought to improve a thing, but rather sought to weaken mankind. Why weaken mankind? Because, fundamentally, the “improvers of mankind” hate all of mankind. If they didn’t why would they want to “improve” us?

The racists on the Right want to “improve” us through breeding. They imagine that it is their race which is the superior one which ought to be selected for, but if we are to be honest, this is really an argument for incest, ultimately. The Hapsburgs thought themselves too elite to marry outside their own family–the result being disfigurement and genetic disease. Purebred dogs are much more prone to health issues, while mutts are typically healthier and better-tempered. Those who would prefer one group of humans to another think mankind would be thus improved by breeding more of the preferred group over the unpreferred group(s)—if you think this in any way, shape, or form, you’re a racist (whether you’re on the Left or Right).

The postmodern multiculturalist Leftist version is the position that European culture is the bane of the world, and it needs to be completely destroyed in favor literally all other cultures. Of course, inverting the Right-wing racist position isn’t any sort of actual improvement on anything, since it’s really the same thing. Declaring one race superior to another, regardless of what race is considered inferior, is racist, just like declaring men superior to women or women superior to men is sexist.

Indeed, if you would “improve” women by making them more like men, you are sexist. And if you would “improve” men by making them more like women, you are sexist. Do you want to “improve” homosexuals by making them heterosexual? You’re homophobic.

But do we then need people to “improve” the racists, sexists, and homophobes? Those improvers—those who would impose such improvement on everyone—are little better in their bigotry against people as they are. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to improve mankind? Absolutely. Does that mean mankind cannot improve? Absolutely not. While those who tried to push acceptance of homosexuality primarily put homophobes on the defensive and retrenched their positions, T.V. shows like Ellen and Will & Grace actually caused people’s minds to change and, as a result, the American culture to change. Attempts at shaming people failed and backfired, while artistic representations, fun and entertaining popular stories, succeeded.

We do not need improvers of mankind. We do not need socialists, we do not need fascists, we do not need racists, and we do not need sexists out there trying to improve us. They each and every one want to reform us, improve us, change us because they hate us—they hate human beings as such, qua human beings. They hate human beings for being human. Why should we listen to such people? Would you take advice from someone who hated you?

Should Art Be About Beauty, or Identity?

Sohrab Ahmari has a piece in the Wall Street Journal Titled “Remember When Art Was Supposed to Be Beautiful?” that addresses the current situation in art–I would even go so far as to call it a crisis in art. Ahmari actually only hints at what is going on in contemporary art in the West when he first discusses the role the oppressive regime of Iran played in what was allowed to be portrayed in art and then discusses the high degree to which contemporary art only ever deals with identity politics.

Abmari is suggesting a connection between totalitarian thinking and the current avant-garde obsession with identity politics. Totalitarian regimes, especially theocracies, tend to demand the art being produced reflect the identity of that regime–and only that regime. The same is true of identity politics-driven avant-garde art in the West. The difference is that in the West the artists have voluntarily chosen within the artistic orders to accept a fundamentally totalitarian world view and impose it on themselves. Totday’s totalitarians are much more clever than the old-school totalitarians: they have managed to figure out how to get people to impose it on themselves.

Ahmari isn’t the only one to note this. I reviewed a book, After the Avant-Gardes, where this connection between totalitarian thinking and the avant-garde is also investigated. This mentality goes beyond my observation that the avant-garde is very much “normal art” now and isn’t remotely avant-garde–if the “avant-garde” is indeed supposed to be what is out ahead of everything else. It’s not, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Worse, the avant-garde is thoroughly institutionalized in our universities, and even receives the overwhelming amount of government art funds. If avant-garde art is in fact founded in a totalitarian mindset, we should not be surprised to find it supported by the government.

Art is supposed to be about beauty. It can even be a critique of current standards of beauty within the art world, but it is supposed to be about beauty. Beauty expands our worlds and our world views; identity politics restricts them and tribalizes us. The ugly identity politics of the left has now been matched with the uglier identity politics of the alt.right–and it seems a very unfortunate arms-race is in the works, with tribalist attitudes being met with even more tribalist attitudes. This is the inevitable result of identity politics of any sort.

Does art reflect the world or does the world reflect art? Inevitably, the answer to that question is, “yes.” There is a degree to which our art has been reflecting the world as viewed by the artists, but that art has in turn been affecting the way others view the world. Only the artists can fix things, but that will mean a complete wiping away of the current dominant paradigm in the arts. The solution is to return art to beauty, not to answer identity politics with more identity politics.

Mathematics as Non-Transcendental Knowledge

When people want to defend a transcendental world view (particularly against science), they often bring up mathematics.

“How can you scientifically prove that two plus two equals four?” they ask.

Since you cannot, mathematics must be transcendentally true. However, this shows a misunderstanding of how one can use science to understand aspects of philosophy. Using the scientific method is not the only to prove something is factual (“true” in Nietzsche’s “uninteresting” sense in his “Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”). If we can show it is natural for the brain to process the world in such a way that we can make statements such as 2+2=4, then we have a science-based (though not “proven” scientifically per se) explanation for math, meaning we do not need a transcendental explanation for it. A science-based epistemology will do just fine.

Math is the abstract expression of relationships in nature. Words are sounds representing conceptual categories, which are derived by observing many objects and placing those objects with certain similarities into categories. Take the Bactrian camel. We categorize camels as either Bactrians or Dromedaries, because the Bactrians have two humps, and the dromedaries have one. All the Bactrian camels more closely resemble each other than any one resembles a dromedary, or any other animal, for that
matter. So we categorize two-humped camels as Bactrian. But are Bactrians in fact identical? No, each one is different—we erase the differences so we do not have to create a different category for each individual object in the world, which would be very cumbersome (this, despite the fact that we do oftentimes give an individual its own category, as when we name our pet dogs and cats, because we become so familiar with them that they become more individuated in our eyes). Our brains, to be more efficient, conceptualize. If brains did not do that, the owner of the brain would not recognize that the cat that ate a member of the group was similar enough to the approaching cat that it would be prudent to try to escape. This is why and how vervet monkeys can have a different call meaning 1) big cat, 2) eagle, and 3) snake, which each result in different responses.

The same is true of the one who needs to eat: one must be able to recognize what is not-food and what is food. To eat, one cannot have to relearn this information each time. Life was much simpler for one-celled predators: eat anything that moves (or, more accurately, whatever binds to the outside of the cell, meaning there is a kind of conceptualization even at the chemical level in the surface proteins). Those who could not make these judgements about the world and create concepts such as these would have died either from eating something poisonous or from being eaten. Any animal that could not make proper judgments regarding the reality of the world they were in would not have been able to survive. Those who were better able to make those judgements would be able to survive even better. I give as evidence a human population of over 7.5 billion people at present.

Due to the complexity of our brains and our use of language, humans are able to create more conceptual categories than any other animal. Further, those categories can overlap, and they can exist in nested hierarchies. The Bactrian camel is simultaneously a camel, in the camel family (which includes the humpless llama and its relatives in South America), an herbivore, a mammal, a vertebrate, an animal, and alive. Thus a Bactrian camel shares similarities with other herbivores—elephants, rabbits, buffalo, manatees, etc.—in that they all only eat vegetation. We call it a mammal because it has hair, is warm-blooded, and feeds its young milk, just like platypuses, whales, koalas, and leopards. It is a vertebrate because it has a backbone and an internalized skeleton, like fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with math.

“Two” is a conceptual category. It is necessary to keep track of group members (we are a social species after all), and to make proper divisions in a group (as chimpanzees share meat from a kill). It would also be useful information to share if one is hunting or gathering. “Yes, there are two of them. We need more hunters.” “Two” is a conceptual category in the same way as “Bactrian camel” is. If we have two humps on two different camels on two mountains with two rivers flowing from the two mountains, then the relationship among humps, camels, mountains, and rivers is “twoness”—a conceptual category we designate by using the word “two”. Once we eliminate all the differences among these examples, the only commonality they have are number. The sound “two” may be an arbitrarily chosen sound to represent this concept, but the concept, and the fact that a word exists to represent it, are not arbitrary. Number is a high-order abstract concept.

The rest of the equation is relationships. Relationships are inherent in nature. Math describes nature so well because all of nature is relationships, each object has and is in a relationship with other objects (objects here including pure, substanceless energy). “Equals” is such a relationship. If there are a number of objects that we call (in English) “two”, and we have another number of similar objects that we would also call “two” due to the number of objects being equivalent, then we have a number of objects that we designate in our language as “four”. If “four” represents this many objects: * * * * , and two represents this many objects: * * , and 2=2, then 2+2=4. A transcendental explanation is not needed in the least. All we need is a proper understanding of how concepts are formed in the brain, and we can learn that through cognitive psychology, which is science. Thus, while science cannot prove using the scientific method that 2+2=4, while 2+2 cannot equal 5, and never can as long as we use the language and notation as we presently do, I have shown that a proper understanding of science can help us use philosophy to understand the source of mathematical statements as non-transcendental.

Further reading: Diaphysics

Mutual Benefit or Power?

“The desire for an increase of wealth can be satisfied through exchange, which is the only method possible in a capitalist economy, or by violence and petition as in a militarist society, where the strong acquire by force, the weak by petitioning.” – Ludwig von Mises

These are the two choices. Each can gain through mutual exchange of value for value, or the powerful can gain through force. People seem to prefer the latter over the former. Why? Because we evolved to understand the world as a zero sum game. That is, in order for one to gain, that means another loses. Those who hate the rich think they only way they could have gained that much is by taking from others, making them poor.

But that’s not at all what happens. At least, not in a market economy.

In a market economy, mutual exchange means that both parties gain from the exchange. That is, it’s a positive sum game. The economy grows with every mutual exchange. The poor are better off by exchanging something they value less for something they value more. And the difference between the rich and the poor is simply that the rich engage in more mutual exchanges than do the middle class, who engage in more mutual exchanges than the poor. Of course, another difference–and this is a major difference–is that the rich and the middle class also save and invest their money. The more you can delay spending, the more money you are bound to have.

Saving is dangerous when the society is dominated by zero sum games–when the powerful prey on the weak, and the weak are left to beg. If you save in such a society, the powerful can come along and simply take what you’ve saved. So what do you do with your money? You spend it on experiences (parties with your friends and families), clothes, hair and nails, and anything you can show off but won’t really miss if someone steals it (cheap and flashy, and nothing sentimental). If you see these kinds of behaviors, that means the people are in a society where they are prey to the powerful. That society may be local or it may be an entire country–what matters is the people are trapped there.

We are increasingly a begging society. We beg for some of our taxes back. We beg the insurance companies to cover us. We beg the government for welfare, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on. Businesses beg the government for more regulations to kill off their competition, for licensing to prevent new competition, and for subsidies. The only time we’re not begging is when we’re shopping at the store. Then we are on an equal footing  because each party wants to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange where both parties increase the value of what they have when they engage in the exchange.

In nature, there are systems that degrade and fall apart, and there are systems that grow, that become more than the sum of their parts. We can have a power-based entropic system, or we can have a complexity-based emergent system of growth and increasing wealth. Nature provides us with two options.

You have to ask yourself: what kind of society do you really want?

Do you want a society where the powerful prey on the weak, where the gang with the most guns get to dictate what you have and where you live and what business you can do, where you have to pay protection to ensure that something bad doesn’t happen to all your nice stuff? Whether it’s an inner city gang, the mafia, or a democratically elected government, there are altogether too many institutions out there engaged in this kind of predator-prey, master-slave relationship.

Or do you want a society where people engage in mutual exchange, where both parties are better off for the exchange? Where people engage in voluntary interactions, seeing who they want to see, doing whatever is peaceful, creating things of value to others? Whether it’s a business, working artists and writers, or scientists and inventors, there are altogether too few institutions out there engaged in this kind of mutually beneficial, voluntary relationships. There are many, but not enough–they are being replaced more and more with the predatory powerful.

The more predatory power-based people and institutions we have, the worse off we are. We become poorer, less trusting, more entrenched, more envious, more angry, more stressed and anxious. Do you feel these things in our societies today? The more power-based people and institutions we have, the more powerless we all feel. What you are feeling right now, that something is not quite right in society any more, is precisely this feeling of powerlessness.

But you don’t have to feel that way. It’s time to take the power back.

Immanent Criticism and the Artistic Orders

The relationship between works of art and criticism evolved over time, eventually becoming a spontaneous order. In the oral tradition, the poet would have had immediate audience feedback, to which he would have adjusted his performance. The critic was the audience. In many cases, they directly participated in the performance. When the arts became increasingly specialized, a full-fledged spontaneous order emerged. Outside of buying and selling, the readers/viewers/listeners ceased being critics—precisely because there was little face-to-face feedback. The artists were freed to be more adventurous, and the professional critic arose to explain to everyone—reader/viewer/listener and artist alike—what it was they were encountering.

In this way, criticism provides feedback—criticism is imminent criticism when it arises out of the spontaneous order of the arts and is addressing the order itself. For example, Reader Response criticism of particular works is not necessarily immanent criticism unless it affects (or is intended to affect) the rules of the literary spontaneous order. A literary analysis that helps you understand a work better isn’t necessarily part of immanent criticism, especially if it only helps you understand the meanings, symbols, etc. Art criticism is imminent criticism if it address the rules of the order, which can be addressed in critiquing the rules of a given work. Thus, reader response, canon criticism, cultural criticism, etc. that take on the system as a whole, or at least consider individual works as parts within that whole, represent imminent criticism, while critical stances that deal with individual works might more aptly be included within the spontaneous order itself.And some works of literary analysis of course do both.

If we were to place this kind of criticism within the spontaneous order, then metacriticism would be included in the realm of imminent criticism. For example, one might consider Frederick Turner’s The Culture of Hope, Beauty, and Natural Classicism immanent criticism of the literary order itself, but essays and collections that deal with specific works, like Literature and the Economics of Liberty, Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox, eds., as being within the spontaneous order itself (although the introductory essay by Cantor would more properly be considered immanent criticism).

Thus literary analysis can perform two roles: that of helping readers to simply understand the given work or works, or addressing and challenging the actual rules of the order itself, helping the system itself evolve. Either way, literary and art theory is properly understood to be part of the literary and artistic orders, either as aids to the reader/viewer/listener to better adapt them to the works within the order, or to encourage further evolution within the order itself.

Only if it is coming from the inside, though, is the criticism considered to be immanent criticism. Criticisms from the outside, having nothing to do with the structures of the works themselves, but rather with issues outside the consideration of art qua art, are not part of immanent criticism, but rather belong to other orders. An objection emerging from the political order or the moral order are really quite beside the point when it comes to the rules of art per se. Such criticism can certainly have an effect on the works—certainly censorship can affect these orders rather deeply—and we cannot deny that each spontaneous order overlaps and each affects the other in important ways we will investigate on this blog, but what they will not be is immanent criticism.