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Archive for the tag “capitalism”

On reading books you hate

Have you ever read a book you hate, right through, from beginning to end?

A waste of time, you may think. Toss it, before you waste any more time.

But this article explains why it is important to read books that you hate.

Why You Should Read Books You Hate – The New York Times:

Defensiveness makes you a better reader, a closer, more skeptical reader: a critic. Arguing with the author in your head forces you to gather opposing evidence. You may find yourself turning to other texts with determination, stowing away facts, fighting against the book at hand. You may find yourself developing a point of view.

But how do you know you’re going to hate a book before you’ve read it?

The first book I read that I was pretty sure I was going to hate was Atlas shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I had seen the book in a bookshop when I was a student in Pietermaritzburg, in about 1964. I picked it up and looked at the blurb — something about a man who had said he would stop the motor of the world, and did. I put it back on the shelf. Then, after a political meeting or demonstration of some sort, I was chatting to a fellow student who despised such things. I think it was a protest against the Bantu Laws Amendment Act, which would make life harder for black South Africans than it already was. He was doing a BSc in Zoology, and was into survival of the fittest and extended it to social Darwinism. He spoke about the philosophy of Ayn Rand, which sounded pretty unattractive to me.

A few years later, about 1970,  a work colleague was reading Atlas shrugged, and kept saying what a good book it was. So when he had finished it, I borrowed it, and after reading a couple of hundred pages told him that I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like their lifestyle, I didn’t like their values, I didn’t like the style. He said, Ah, but it’s not about the quality of the writing, the thing that’s so good is the philosophy. I didn’t like the philosophy either, but I kept on reading, right to the end. That was partly because I knew that if I criticised it without having read it, he would dismiss my criticisms as mere ignorance.

The bloke who lent it to me was the third Ayn Rand fan I had met, and I thought that if this philosophy can get such a grip on people’s minds, I’d better find out more about it, so I went out and bought a book of essays by Ayn Rand and her associates, called Capitalism: the unknown ideal, in which she tried to do for capitalism what Marx and Engels had tried to do for socialism — turn it into a religion. And, far more than Marxian socialism, Ayn Rand’s capitalism was diametrically opposed to everything in the Christian faith. And the Neoliberalism that has dominated the world since about 1980 is largely a diluted form of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Being a sucker for punishment, I even read another novel by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, and a biography of her written by one of her disciples. The author of the article on reading books you hate apparently began with The Fountainhead, and his comments on that are worth reading too. Why You Should Read Books You Hate – The New York Times:

My taste for hate reading began with “The Fountainhead,” which I opened in a state of complete ignorance as bonus material for a college class on 20th-century architecture. I knew nothing of Ayn Rand or of objectivism. I thought it was a book about building things. I even showed it off to a French friend, an architect and a die-hard socialist, thinking he’d be impressed.

“How could you bring that into our house?” he asked in disgust. “But it’s about architecture,” I replied weakly. Or was it? Within pages, I found myself suffering at the hands of its tyrannical egomaniac of a protagonist, Howard Roark, forever plunging a fist into soil and holding forth. The lead female character, Dominique, who naturally took second place to the godlike Roark, kept striding across rooms in long, column-like gowns.

Still, I persisted. A hundred pages later, I was more of a French socialist than I’d ever been before or since. I finished every wretched page of “The Fountainhead” in alternating states of fury and despair, and when it was finally over, I tried to leave the vague echo of Dominique, stomping around in her evening gowns, behind. What stuck was the abiding knowledge that I was not, nor would I ever be, a libertarian.

Another book that I read, and also hated, was Interview with the Vampire by Ann Rice. At the time lots of people were discussing it online, and I thought I’d better read it just so I could know what they were talking about. I hated it even more than Ayn Rand’s books, and had to force myself to keep reading to the end. Yet another was The Da Vinci Code, though in that case I had already read the book on which the plot was based.

So yes, I think it is good sometimes to read books that you hate. It’s not a waste of time, and can give you a better idea of why you like the books you do.

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Atlas shrugged

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read this more than 40 years ago, at the urging of someone in our newspaper office, so I’m not really in a position to write a review, but someone asked why I gave it one star, so I’ll try to remember what I did think!

I’d heard Ayn Rand extolled before, by people whose views I didn’t admire, and so I wasn’t too keen to read a book by her. But since my colleague nagged me, and lent me the book so I didn’t have to buy it, I started reading it, and found it rather boring. I told him so, and he said, “It’s not the story, it’s the philosophy.” And I said that I found the philosophy rather repulsive, so if the story was boring, there wasn’t much left.

I did, however, lash out on a book of essays, with the title “Capitalism, the unknown ideal”, which laid the philosophy bare, and made it clear that Ayn Rand was trying to do for capitalism what Karl Marx tried to do for socialism — give it an ideology. And both were atheists. But Karl Marx’s version retained a vestige of Christian values, diluted and degutted, perhaps, but still discernable; Ayn Rand’s had none.

So evil philosophy and crummy story — one star.

View all my reviews

And I’ll add something here, which I did not include in my “review” on Good Reads, but perhaps can be said, since this isn’t really a book review. I found trying to discuss things with Ayn Rand fans was a bit like trying to discuss things with Scientologists. Their minds seemed to be stuck in an ideological groove.

I first encountered the Scientologists in 1961. Someone from our church youth group had seen an advertisement in the newspaper for free IQ and personality tests, and so some of us went along for a lark. We arrived at the two white-painted victorian houses in Joubert Park, Johannesburg, just across the road from the railway line, that proclaimed themselves to be the headquaters (in South Africa), of the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI).

They gave us the two tests, IQ and personality, which were pretty standard psychological tests. They said we could come back the next week to hear the results.

The next week we went back for the results, which they explained, and then came the sales talk. We could take their Peronal Efficiency Course, which lasted a week and only cost R2.00. They guaranteed that it would improve our IQs and personalities. But that’s when we started to argue. They were quite patient with us, a bunch of stroppy and argumentative teenagers. One of the values they said we were low on was “havingness”. Whether correctly or incorrectly, we interpreted that as acquisitiveness, and said that we were quite happy for it to be low. Having it too high would go against our Christian values.

They assured us that Scientology wasn’t against any religion, and all religions were welcome (that was before they reinvented themselves as “the Church of Scientology” about 8 years later — in 1961 they presented themselves as the lowest cost mental health treatment on earth). But the spirit of “havingness” that they urged on us seemed a bit too much like plain old greed, as espoused by London’s mayor Boris Johnson:

Boris Johnson has launched a bold bid to claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher by declaring that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

And that, too, seems to be what is espoused by the followers of Ayn Rand that I met a couple of years later. I don’t think the ideologies of Scientology and Objectivism are exactly the same, but there seemed to be something of a similar spirit in the followers of each, and I was rather repelled by it.

How you too can participate in the financial crisis

About 15 (or was it 25?) years ago many building societies conned their members into agreeing to them turning themselves into banks. Was this the law of unintended consequences in action? Oh the joys of capitalism!

Bishop Alan’s Blog: HBOS: Personalised Credit Crunch:

Welcome to the share offer that enables you to have your very own credit crunch at home this Christmas. As a student I earned some holiday money and put it in the building society. Then the building society became a bank and my shares were converted into, er, more shares… Imagine my joy, then to be sent an “important document” this morning that “required my immediate attention.” It’s my opportunity to bail the bank out by taking them up on a very special offer — They are willing to flog me 261 shares, as a special favour, at only 113.6 pence a share. Here comes fate, tapping me on the shoulder, offering me a career as a major capitalist, and all for only £296-49! Deep Joy!

The benefits of privatisation

Since the Reagan/Thatcher era of the 1980s many formerly public services have been privatised, and according to the “free enterprise” ideologists such a change must be welcomed as entirely beneficial. They would prefer that one didn’t look at the drawbacks of unregulated free enterprise.

Why does the Mafia get involved in hauling garbage? – Slate Magazine:

Organized crime appears to have a hand in trash collection all over the world, from Naples to Tony Soprano’s northern New Jersey. Why are gangsters always hauling garbage?

It’s Mob Economics 101: Find a business that’s easy to enter and lucrative to control. Criminal organizations make lots of money from drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeit goods, but creating a monopoly on garbage collection is attractive because the business itself is legal, and public contracts return big profits.

Something similar seems to have happened to things like public transport, for example (dare one say it?) the taxi “industry” in South Africa.

Where child sacrifice is a business

A few years ago there was quite a lot of publicity in the media about allegations of “ritual abuse”, especially of children, and the general conclusion seemed to be that this was an urban legend cooked up by religious crazies, and that had been completely debunked. Nevertheless there have continued to be reports of ritual murder in various parts of the world.

Now (hat tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: In Defense of Witch Trials) it seems that they are focusing on Uganda: BBC News – Where child sacrifice is a business:

The villages and farming communities that surround Uganda’s capital, Kampala, are gripped by fear.

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The report, however, is slightly misleading, with its mention of “witchdoctors”.

Witchdoctors are those whose job is to counter witchcraft, not to practise it.

Witchdoctors who engage in such activities are like policemen who take part in bank robberies and vehicle hijackings — they find it more lucrative to practise crime than to catch criminals. We should be careful not to give the impression that those are part of the job description.

I would also take issue with The Pittsford Perrennialist on the question of witch trials. The witch trials of the Great European Witchhunt were largely based on false accusations, made for the same reasons as those engagecd in child sacrifice in Uganda and other places today — greed and covetousness. The accused were accused of Satanism, but the accusers were actually far more satanic, because the main characteristic of the satan in Christian theology is the making of false accusations.

For more on witch trials, witch hunts and witchcraft accusations, see my article on Christian Responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery.

In addition to revelations about child sacrifice in Uganda, there is also the news that the US is now sending troops to Uganda. Perhaps it has something to do with allAfrica.com: Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins:

The revelations come shortly after an aerial survey report confirmed that Uganda is endowed with copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold as well as platinum.

There is anticipation for Foreign Direct Investment in the mineral exploration sector in the Great Lakes region as China looks for raw materials to oil its growing economy.

China’s entry into Africa is seen as catalyst for renewed interest in Africa by the European Union and US to undermine China’s emerging influence due its non-political interference policy on investments in Africa and the potential for monopoly access to energy and mineral resources.

Another hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Another War?.

Carpenter’s Shoes: Fun with Technorati

I’ve just visited Technorati for the second time this month. and that’s probably also for the second time this year.

This time it was the result of reading Carpenter’s Shoes: Fun with Technorati

Technorati provide blog ranking stats (www.technorati.com) It’s a bit of a mission to find out the rankings of the South African religion blogs that I am interested in, but there are a few that I check once in a blue moon. Blog rankings are based on what Technorati calls authority.

My previous visit to Technorati this month was because I got an email asking me to take part in a survey on the state of the blogosphere. Though the survey wasn’t very satisfactory, if you are a blogger it might well be worth taking part in it, as the more who do so, the better the picture it will give of the state of the blogosphere, despite its flaws.

But Jenny Hillebrand’s post on Carpenter’s Shoes got me thinking about why I only visit Technorati once or twice a year, if that. A few years ago I used to visit the site three or four times a week.

What has changed?

Well the Technorati site has changed.

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be “Technorati tags”, and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I’d look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I’d link to them.

Now, however, you can’t find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can’t search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

What is going on here?

I suspect that Technorati was started by a bunch of bloggers who enjoyed blogging and tried to produce a tool that would be useful to bloggers and that bloggers would like. And it grew a bit beyond their capacity and they needed a bit of capital injection to keep it going and growing.

But capital injection also means that the marketing people come in and have more say, and in their philosophy giving bloggers what they are looking for is no good at all. What is important is to steer bloggers towards the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for us.

So they modify it, and tell you:

Welcome to the
new Technorati.com

The blogosphere evolves and so do we.

And that means they make it harder to find what you are looking for, and easier to find the stuff that brings in the most advertising revenue for them. And finding what you are looking for, as Jenny says, is “a bit of a mission.”

And that is why I now visit Technorati only once or twice a year, instead of three or four times a week.

Who won the Cold War?

Who won the Cold War? In a book I read recently, Book review: A history of the English-speaking peoples | Khanya the author was in no doubt that Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan “won” the Cold War, but the author’s worldview was utterly anachonistic, and can only be described as neojingoism.

Clarissa takes a somewhat different view of it in Clarissa’s Blog: Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part I:

Nothing annoys me more than hearing people discuss completely in earnest whether the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by Ronald Reagan or by somebody else. Such discussions make just as much sense as trying to figure out whether world peace was achieved by this or some other politician. ‘Well, there is no world peace,’ you’d say. Right you are. And there was no collapse of the Soviet Union. Not in any meaningful sense, that is. As to the end of the Cold War, if you seriously think it’s over, you need to stop spending so much time listening to the American media and turn to some external sources of information every once in a while. The winner of the Cold War is yet to be decided but I somehow doubt that you can win any war by pretending it isn’t taking place.

I think her whole article is worth reading, though I disagree with the premiss that the Cold War is continuing.

To that extent I agree with the late Samuel Huntington, who said that the Cold War was primarily a clash of ideologies, while what we are seeing in the post-Cold War world is a clash of civilizations.

One of the relics of the Cold War is the term “Third World”, which still seems to persist, though its meaning seems to have changed, or rather dissipated. The “three worlds” view of geopolitics was composed of

  • First World: the capitalist world
  • Second World: the communist world
  • Third World: the non-aligned states

The Third World was founded by India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia was the only Third-World state in Europe, and, in a sense, its disintegration, like that of the Soviet Union, marks the end of the Cold War.

If the Cold War was a war of ideologies, as Huntington says, then one could say that Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher “won” the Cold War, because their brand of free marketism is the dominant religion in the world today. That is where Huntington got it wrong; he posits Western Christianity as the religion of Western Civilization. It isn’t. Free Marketism is.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Bolshevik rule in Russia is a somewhat different matter. By Brezhnev’s time, if not before, faith in communism had grown cold. The leaders of the ruling Communist Party uttered all the old slogans, but the conviction had gone out of them. All that was left was a clinging to power, and, as Clarissa points out, the most powerful men in Russia today resemble nothing so much as the Vicar of Bray.

The end (of the recession) is not in sight

The end of the global recession is not in sight, and seems to be perpetually receding. It seems that we are still on the road to a full-scale depression, thanks to “casino capitalism”.

Merkel Reaches Her Overdraft Limit: Greek Bailout Could Push German Debt Through the Roof – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International:

The end of the spiral of debts is nowhere in sight. It just continues to grow — and soon it will grow further if Germany provides €8.4 billion ($11 billion) in financial aid to Greece. Initially, that assistance will only come in the form of credit guarantees from the federal budget for state development bank KfW, which will then provide the money in the form of loans to Greece. So they aren’t technically debts. But what happens if cash-strapped Greece is unable to pay back its loan? Then Germany’s deficit would grow in real terms by several billion.

While free-marketeers prescribe “hair of the dog that bit you”, others take a different view: Pension Pulse: Beyond the Greek Crisis: Will Capitalism Survive?:

It is clear to me that pensions and the global economy have succumbed to Casino Capitalism – a form of capitalism which benefits the financial and corporate oligarchs, leaving the rest of the population behind. Greece is the birthplace of democracy, will it also be the birthplace of a new form of capitalism?

Some commentators seem to be moving into conspiracy theory territory, though some might attribute this to the law of unintended consequences: First of May 2010: Organize and Fight Against Capitalist Exploitation! | Mostly Water:

Information indicates that the US and UK finance capital are using speculation in other countries’ economies as a weapon against competitors. Various Anglo-American financiers [intended] that a diversionary attack on the euro, starting with some of the weaker Mediterranean or Southern European economies, would be an ideal means of relieving pressure on the battered US greenback which was at a record low in November 2009.

At the time as the EU was launching its Lisbon Treaty in December 2009 there were speculative assaults or bear raids against Greek and Spanish government bonds as well as the euro itself, accompanied by a press campaign targeting the so called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Both the Greek and Spanish Prime Ministers reacted against these speculative attacks.

And an apparently capitalist-favouring source makes a perceptive comment: The Greek Tragedy Unfolds – Walter Russell Mead’s Blog – The American Interest:

For many Greeks, capitalism still feels wrong. The substitution of market forces for traditional social relations undermines aspects of Greek life that are very dear to many people; the inequality that so often results from capitalism offends deeply held social ideas about fairness. More, since the rising powers whose policies and interventions have done so much to shape Greek history have been capitalist, Greeks associate institutions like the IMF and the ECB (European Central Bank) with foreign meddling and unjust usurpation. And the successful capitalist countries (and the foreign multinational corporations who come with it) have never scrupled to press their advantages in less developed or weaker countries like Greece.

I wonder if those social ideas about fairness ultimately spring from Orthodox theology, and church fathers like St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great who suggest that goods that we own in excess of our needs are stolen from the poor.

PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation

Pam BC has just started an interesting series of posts on Christianity and economics. I’ve read the first two, and it looks very promising indeed. PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation:

I’m going to try a thought-experiment here. I want to think about what an economy run on Christian principles might look like. And this is quite literally a ‘thought experiment’. At the moment, I have no idea of what I intend to write in the future, but I want simply to think out loud, building on ideas step by step.

So here are some initial thoughts for a foundation:

1) Christian thinking on economics should begin with Christian and biblical principles, not with economic principles.

2) That being said, it seems to me that a good principle for a Christian thought experiment on our economic life would be: honor God and love your neighbor. (There are actually a number of principles that the bible expresses on economic life that a lot of us might not like; forbidding the giving or receiving of debt is one of these.)

3) As I think and write, I will try to separate ‘What works’ from ‘What should be’. I will recognize that ‘What should be’ doesn’t always work well. In separating the two principles, I intend to avoid what seems to me to be a usual problem in Christian economic thinking: ‘That operational method doesn’t work, therefore it is unjust’.

That is a very good start, and I recommend that people who are interested in the topic read the whole series.

If one is really going to discuss such things properly, however, blog comments are rather inadequate. It is the kind of thing worth discussing in the Christianity and society forum.

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And you can see my take on it at Notes from underground: The Invisible Hand.

The weird world of Twitter followers

Today I got a message: Business World (Business_World1) is now following your tweets on Twitter. As if that were not enough I have been informed that Funglia Koeswanto (Love_mny) and entrepreneur (entrepreneur336) are now following my tweets on Twitter.

I wonder what interest such people can possibly have in what I am doing right now, since if I see keywords like “entrepreneurship”, “marketing” or “business” associated with blogs or other on line stuff I avoid them if at all possible. Those words trigger great aversion in me, and I know that blogs etc described by such keywords are unlikely to be of interest to me. So why do people like this want to follow me on Twitter?

It’s weird.

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