Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Self-Interest and Altruism

My dissertation is about the different views of economists regarding economic inequality. My motivation for this is my underlying interest in understanding how the laws of economics and the creation of Zion can both be satisfied.

I am reading a book that was strongly recommended by an economist I know. It is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. So far, it's underwhelming. Browne argues for an Ayn-Rand-like, balls-to-the-wall self-interest. However, he also recognizes that I might define my self-interest as being tied to the benefit of others. So he says I shouldn't sacrifice for my kids if I feel like there's some moral code that requires me to do so, but it's fine to sacrifice for my kids if I do it because I like my kids.

Adam Smith argues in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that affection is habitual sympathy, and the reason we have limitations on our altruism is because we have limitations on our time, so we can't sympathize with everyone enough to treat everyone with perfect egalitarianism. Perfect sympathy for all others would require immortality. This could be the connection that would explain why William Godwin claimed in the first edition of Political Justice that achieving perfect sympathy for others would lead to immortality.

Given that Zion requires we have "no poor among [us]," but our mortality creates limits to our altruism, how can mortal people create Zion? I am wondering about an idea of webs of affinity; I have some people with whom I would share gladly, and they have others with whom they would share gladly. I am not motivated to share with some rando, but I share with my friends, who share with their friends, who end up sharing with someone that I would consider to be just some rando. As long as we have some people with whom we are egalitarian, the differing circles of society would eventually equilibrate material possessions.

Browne, though, writes, "No one's self-interest is enhanced by the continual relaying of gifts from one person to another to another" (p. 50). Thus, he argues, if everyone were selfless, we would just shuttle gifts around endlessly, which he says is illogical, so we should let our selfishness flag fly, so to speak. But just because no one person benefits from a multi-stage transaction doesn't mean that each bilateral portion of the multi-stage transaction isn't beneficial to the two parties involved. I believe Browne is being inconsistent in recognizing that I want to share with people about whom I care, but that selflessness requires I lower myself below others, so a selfless society turns into everyone playing hot potato with material wealth. I believe equality would be an equilibrium in such a selfless world.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ten Weeks

Starting today, for the next ten weeks, I'm going to be working intensely on my dissertation. Trying to align the rest of my life with this goal means that I will not blog non-dissertation things as much over this period. However, I will blog the work I'm creating, because, according to Fundamental Truth of Life #8, embarrassment is the mortification of pride.

Along the lines of "I sure hope God likes enchiladas," I sure hope you like analysis of differing theories of welfare, because (for the next ten weeks) that's what you're getting.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Great Moments in Cub Scout Planning

Our ten-year-old son, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, had to plan a Cub Scout meeting with one of his peers. Jerome called him on the telephone. The other boy kept suggesting that he could bring pancakes and everyone could eat them. Jerome kept pointing out that the meeting would start at 6:30, after all the boys had already eaten supper. The other boy then changed his idea to waffles. Jerome had the same objection. Finally, the other boy said, "I'll just make some breakfast food and we can eat breakfast for dinner."

Last night, we showed up for the meeting. The other boy came in with a bottle of vegetable oil and a carton of eggs. "I'm going to teach everyone how to fry an egg," he announced. This was not what had been discussed in the planning phone call. And, what's more, it's against church policy to cook food in the church, and it requires a frying pan, which he didn't bring.

He also brought his Nerf gun, even though they had decided the activity would be dodge ball.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I Get Around to It

Joseph Smith said that his take-away from the lost manuscript incident was the lesson, "When the Lord commands, do it." I agree, but I need a ridiculous amount of time to get myself there. Imagine a group of boys who are going to jump off a bridge into a river. I'm the boy who ends up alone on the bridge, talking himself into it, trying the patience of his friends, before scooting to the edge, then lowering himself, then accidentally losing his grip and falling off. Hurray, I did it (technically). (Really, though, if I were in that actual scenario, I wouldn't jump--Fundamental Truth of Life #4: "If something is stressing you out, stop doing it." Jumping off stuff into water stresses me out, so I've stopped doing it.)

Anyway, in 2015 I had the thought that I should read the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series as my morning scripture reading. There were twelve past volumes at the time, and I figured I'd read one each month, then read the 13th one over the course of the year as we used it as the lesson manual. Easy.

Four years later, I am about to finish the project.

  1. Joseph Smith: 26 July 2015
  2. Brigham Young: 14 October 2015
  3. John Taylor: 20 November 2015
  4. Wilford Woodruff: 22 December 2015
  5. Lorenzo Snow: 21 February 2016
  6. Joseph F. Smith: 2 December 2016
  7. Heber J. Grant: 30 March 2017
  8. George Albert Smith: 16 June 2017
  9. David O. McKay: 18 March 2018
  10. Joseph Fielding Smith: 26 June 2018
  11. Harold B. Lee: 11 September 2018
  12. Spencer W. Kimball:
  13. Ezra Taft Benson:
  14. Howard W. Hunter: 11 December 2016
  15. Gordon B. Hinckley: 13 March 2018

In my defense, I also read Doctrine and Covenants twice during this period. But still. I take so long to do the things I'm supposed to do that, when I get done, everyone looks at each other and asks, "Is it even appropriate that we praise this effort?"

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Savage Gets Shot By a Hotel Manager in This Edition

My daughter joined a book club this school year. It's run by humorless cranks. Their first book was Fahrenheit 451 and their second book is Brave New World. My wife is guessing that their selection for next month will be Nineteen Eighty-Four. It seems like the type of book club that Ayn Rand would have joined when she was 16.

My wife wants to read the books with my daughter so they can discuss them, because it seems that the book club's discussions are dominated by a small number of members. But my wife made a vow, after teaching Brave New World in her student-teaching days, to never read that book again. So now I get to read Brave New World with my daughter.

I bought a copy at the library book sale last month (mainly to tease my wife with a marginally-free* book), so we got another one from the library. Then we had to decide which one each of us got. The one cover has marching mannequins on it. The other has a collection of gears that are celebrating with wild abandon. Since partying gears are more fun, my daughter got that one.

But now I can't stop associating the book with the Sam Cooke song "Having a Party." Which makes Brave New World way more fun than it actually is.

* = it was a flat fee for a bag of books, so the marginal cost of any one book that would still fit in the original bag was zero. Free books!

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Three Dreams from Friday Morning

Here are the last three dreams I had Friday morning.

FIRST: I was looking for andouille sausage in a grocery store. I was going to cut it up and put it in some Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

SECOND: Instead of waking up to go running, I planned how I would park far away from my office at work and count the walking to and from my car as exercise.

THIRD: I was taking a bubble bath with about a dozen hot ladies. Everyone was having a good time, but I was thinking, "I guess I can't really say I'm having 'virtue garnish [my] thoughts unceasingly.'"

Usually, when I can remember a dream, I ask myself, "What does it mean?" And usually, when I ask that, I can come up with a plausible explanation. But I'm not sure I want to know meaning of any of these dreams.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Everyone at Walmart is an Adlerian

In Kishimi and Koga's Courage to be Disliked, We find the following exchange.

PHILOSOPHER: [...] In light of what we have discussed until now, the conclusion we reach regarding "What is freedom?" should be clear.

YOUTH: What is it?

PHILOSOPHER: In short, that "freedom is being disliked by other people." [p. 144]

The lady from the daytime-TV talk show who basks in her own crapulence* as the studio audience boos? She has a Ph.D. in Adlerian psychology.

Not really. Philosopher clarifies on the next page:

YOUTH: Be disliked by other people--is that what you are saying?

PHILOSOPHER: What I am saying is, don't be afraid of being disliked.

YOUTH: But that's--

PHILOSOPHER: I am not telling you to go so far as to live in such a way that you will be disliked, and I am not saying engage in wrongdoing. Please do not misunderstand that. [p. 145]

* = add this pair to my recent grammar post: crapulence (noun) and crapulent (adjective).

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Anthrotheism in Japanese Literature

Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga's book The Courage to Be Disliked takes the form of a dialogue between a young person ("Youth") and a "Philosopher." According to my reading, Youth is a proxy for most modern behaviors and thoughts, while Philosopher is a prescription for Adlerian psychology as a response to our present collective psychosis.

At one point, Youth takes a page straight from the arguments I've made about what I call anthrotheism.

That is why I am looking for recognition from others. You were talking about God earlier, and if we were still living in an era when God was something people believed in, I supposed that "God is watching" might serve as a criterion for self-discipline. If one were recognized by God, maybe one didn't need recognition from others. But that era ended a long time ago. And, in that case, one has no choice but to discipline oneself on the basis that other people are watching. To aspire to be recognized by others and live an honest life. Other people's eyes are my guide. [p. 139, emphasis added]
This is why I have to turn the back window of my car into a mobile shrine to everyone I've ever known who has died, or why Orlando has a "President Barack Obama Parkway" instead of just an Obama Parkway: the recognition I used to receive from God now must come from all of humanity.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Stop Digging the Hole

My last three classes of the day are back-to-back-to-back, so I'm kind of a jerk about savoring my breaks between them. Especially the last one, since it's 15 minutes long, not just 10.

Yesterday, during my last break of the day, I was sitting on a bench outside, reading a novel. A student from my previous class sat down beside me. Just a few minutes before, I had had to wake him up in class. Normally I adhere to a strict "let sleeping students lie" policy, but he was sitting front and center, and had splayed himself like an overly-dramatic car-crash victim. I said, "If you're going to sleep in front, you've got to be a little more subtle than that."

So I guess he thought he was in my doghouse. Which he wasn't; you get in my doghouse by being a jerk or by cheating, not by doing something I wish I could be doing. Anyway, he sat down and decided to chat. He said, "A professor told me once that it's always a good thing to talk to a professor outside of class."

I felt like drawing his attention to this important correlary: unless said professor is reading. In that case, a friendly nod is more than enough.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Proposed Campaign Slogan

I think the Trump reelection campaign should use the slogan, "It wasn't as bad as you thought it would be." Because that's just about the only positive spin they can put on this administration.

Trump-supporter reader: "How DARE you?! Drain the swamp! Lock her up! Build the wall!" Yeah, and which of those three have happened?