Thursday, June 20, 2013

BOOK NOTE: Freeman magazine and spirituality

•A utilitarian and a Unitarian walk into a bar – at least, that’s how many of my evenings begin lately, and tonight the bar/performance space in question is the Waltz-Astoria (close to the Astoria/Ditmars Blvd. N/Q stop), where Vito Racanelli will be one of the readers (join us, if you like).  Among other things, Vito has written about being a kid in Italy at a time of terrorist attacks. 

The show may be interrupted by cell phones, unless the Waltz-Astoria (and other venues) adopt this new phone-use-preventing beer glass (h/t Justin Shubow).  But I’m sure I’d enjoy it anyway – and perhaps use the evening to recruit a feminist to argue the “nurture” side of the debate I’ll moderate on July 9 about whether gender roles are mostly a product of nature or not (or YOU could volunteer – let me know).

•Tonight and July 9 will presumably be more highbrow than my other main cultural plans for the summer, starting with seeing the monsters-vs.-robots movie Pacific Rim in mid-July (having just seen – and greatly enjoyed – both Man of Steel and World War Z, it’ll be like I’m seeing the apocalypse canceled three times in a row).

That outing will probably be followed by seeing three, count ’em three, comic book-based movies in a row: RED 2 (with sexy gun-toting Helen Mirren), Wolverine, and Kick-Ass 2.

•Back on a more brainy note: in addition to recruiting the aforementioned feminist, I should recruit a libertarian to argue the merits of recently-troubled e-currency Bitcoin (on August 12), alongside left-wing Bitcoin enthusiast Sander Hicks, against two appropriate Bitcoin-detractors.  

Someone along the lines of (busy) Jeffrey Tucker would be great.  He wrote a basic intro to Bitcoin for the Freeman (magazine of the Foundation for Economic Education), with other recent issues tackling important freedom-related topics such as education and anarchism.  I love the Freeman so much I left a copy on the magazine rack at the Brown Bookstore last month, right near a copy of Lacanian Ink and admittedly obscuring a copy of Brooklyn’s own n+1. 

Always subverting, always educating. 

•One curious thing about Freeman is that, in a libertarian movement overwhelmingly focused on earthly matters like government spending cuts and deregulation (my two favorite things), the magazine has occasionally over the decades touched on spiritual matters. 

It’s subtle and unlikely to offend even the most gung-ho of atheists, but Freeman has long augmented its Rand and Jefferson quotes with the occasional Bible quote, and not in an argument-from-authority way, either. 

Nor even a conventionally-Christian way: Foundation for Economic Education founder Leonard Read apparently was a devotee of meditation.  Brian Doherty has chronicled how mid-century LSD culture likely influenced Read’s all-things-are-connected approach to meditation, which in turn likely influenced his famous unplanned-connections-in-the-marketplace essay “I, Pencil,” which in turn influenced the rhetoric of pro-market economist Milton Friedman.

So maybe everything is connected, from acid-droppers to Ronald Reagan (on that note, maybe we should pause to watch this real footage of a 1950s housewife on LSD).

•It’s sort of fitting, then, that still-new Freeman editor Max Borders (the friend whose book Superwealth I blogged about last time) has written about libertarianism needing a dose of “mysticism,” by which he means a frank admission that since we (more than other political factions) admit we cannot predict or plan what innovations the future will bring, we ought to approach the unfolding process of civilization with a  fair amount of wonder, humility, and hope.  (Complex systems are often unpredictable, as has been noted repeatedly during my blog’s “Month of Systems.”)

Truth be told, I had something similar in mind when I jokingly distributed flyers for a “Church of the Spontaneous Order” two decades ago at the Mises
Institute seminar where I first met Jeffrey Tucker (not to mention Murray Rothbard). 

•A far-more-serious version of approximately that view was described by Zachary Caceres in a recent Freeman cover article – making it ironic that (I confess) Caceres is virtually the only person I’ve ever unfriended on Facebook (though I’m sure he’s a great guy). 

When he’s not arguing that the continual evolution of systems of spontaneous order in the universe is a bit like a “spiritual awakening” (which is a fine attitude as long as one means it largely metaphorically and not as an excuse to go all fuzzy-headed when intellectual integrity is needed), and not running admirable projects to create deregulated “charter cities” in the developing world, he’s also – not wholly coincidentally – arguing, as one wing of the libertarian movement tends to, for adopting organic agriculture. 

This wing tends to hate (and fear) biotech and agro-business as much as any green lefties do, they just spend more time pointing to government subsidies and patents as the clinching evidence such things are evil (even though virtually everything in this world is shaped by government subsidies and patents or copyrights, and selective outrage is very dangerous). 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t unfriend people for disagreeing with me (I like debates and would have to unfriend the whole world if I ditched everyone who disagreed with me, especially in New York City).  But there is also a tendency among the holistic/organic types to respond to argument and disagreement and (always vital!) skepticism with hippie sorrow and lamentations that you are harshing their mellow.  I have navigated – and will continue to navigate – enough strong and divisive arguments not to want to waste too much time being told that, say, those who see organic as unscientific, Luddite bunk are being hostile, close-minded, or needlessly aggressive. 

Argue with me all you like and remain my friend – but, by contrast, start to cry or plead sorrow, pain, and confusion if someone objects strongly to your views, and it’s best we (peacefully) go our separate ways (may you flourish among gentler, non-combative souls – me, I’m going to see Wolverine, as noted earlier). 

•But I am really not a dogmatic fellow, nor even one who likes to fight. 

Much as I love technology, for instance, I realize (now more than ever) that we may stand poised at this very moment between a glorious, cybernetic, transhumanist Singularity (as Ray Kurzweil, now a Google consultant, suggests with more establishment cred than ever) and, well, a Dark Singularity that looks almost the same but is literally run by killer spy-robots from the NSA.  Maybe Luddism will turn out to be necessary for survival.

•And, hey, despite my not believing, for instance, that we’ve got any evidence at all of extraterrestrials, I think it’s neat that a special effects man I greatly admire, Douglas Trumbull, is trying to definitively photograph UFOs now, with what seems a very healthy, skeptical-scientific attitude toward the effort.

And biased as the late psychiatrist John Mack was toward belief in UFOs (causing him to ask leading questions of patients about them), I’ve been saying for a while that even just as a psychological phenomenon, it’s creepy and interesting that, for example, over sixty schoolchildren in Zimbabwe in 1994 suddenly ran indoors saying they’d seen a strange ship land and small humanoids emerge, then told Mack the same – and stuck to their story when reinterviewed as young adults a decade and a half later.

Their ages varied and many of them seemed too old at the time to be easily duped by mere make-believe, especially so quickly.  Hours and hours of boring-yet-unsettling footage of them being interviewed as kids and later as adults exists online, but here’s a three-minute montage of a few 1994 interviews, which hardly does the strange incident justice but saves you a lot of time. 

(This Ariel School incident would be my pick if I were asked to point to One Case That Might Leave Even a Skeptic Thinking That If the World Isn’t Extremely Weird, at the Very Least the Human Mind Adopts Weird Beliefs Far Faster and More Convincingly Than We’d Imagined – though there’s also some very odd NASA footage of stuff floating around up there, you know.  All that abduction-by-greys stuff is not where the action – if any – is, if you ask me.)

Skepticism goes as well with agnosticism as with atheism, so to speak – and one just wouldn’t want to be taken off-guard if something really strange were to happen one day.

•I remain skeptical, but out of deference to my religious-traditionalist, Unitarian, UFO-watching, or otherwise paranormally-inclined friends, I have promised a punk-turned-hippie I know (who once gave me a first edition first printing copy of The Fountainhead she didn’t even want) that I’ll read the pro-mysticism book Eye to Eye by Ken Wilber (I’d reached the end of my to-read pile for the first time since high school anyway – perhaps by cosmic design, though probably not). 

I’ll soon see how the other half thinks, apparently.  Hey, beats celebrating with some buncha neo-pagans in the woods for summer solstice tomorrow, as narrow-minded as that may sound.  

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