Daily Archives: November 21, 2008

The problem of reification

I am a very muddled thinker, though sometimes I am proud of this because I see and have seen so much logical ratiocination lead to bloody awful or stupid conclusions. I took issue with Calvinists long ago because they argued with splendid logic from trashy premises to outrageous conclusions, and still do. I could say much the same of quite a bit that passes for theology, systematic or otherwise. Much the same colours my view of Marxism, and I suspect TehMarket religion is little better. So I read with interest, and a certain satisfaction, OF GENITAL THIEVES: The exploration of economic irrationality by Adrian Kreye.

It was one of those watershed moments in science at which you would like to have been present. Last summer in Sonoma, three generations behavioral economists convened at a Master Class run by the Edge Foundation

If you are interested in getting your head around the current global economic meltdown, read through the transcript of this master class once more this autumn. You may not find direct answers, but you will certainly find elements of an explanation.

That said, one should not place too much hope in a young science. The larger the number of people who cause an error on a vast if not global scale, the more difficult it is to find conclusive explanatory models. The larger the error, the more surreal the attempted explanation will be. In West Africa, for example, at the beginning of the nineties, a regional recession triggered a wave of superstition. In countries like the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Senegal, the myth of the "voleurs du sexe" made the rounds. Black magicians, according to popular belief, robbed innocent men of their genitals, by chanting magic spells while shaking the hands of their victims. None of these cases of course were ever proven. However, the deadly side effect of the superstition were massive witch-hunts with angry mobs chasing alleged genital thieves across town, finally stoning them to death.

Some psychiatrists in Senegal found a perfectly sound explanation for this phenomenon. The reason for the recession had been a devaluation of the West African Francs, the regional currency strongly dependent on the French Francs and the goodwill of the Banque de France.

Most people of West Africa might have encountered hardship at one point or the other. But in most cases the underlying causes had been clear–drought, floods, or wars. An economic austerity measure such as the government mandated devaluation of a currency caused widespread confusion. The superstition engendered by this economic confusion could be explained in very simple psychological terms: Because the breadwinners had been de-empowered, i.e. emasculated, their angst turned into fears of castration that were taken out on alleged genital thieves who in turn were punished by lynching.

The West African genital thieves craze illustrates perfectly the discrepancy between belief and knowledge in economics. The rationale of Homo economicus remains a presupposition. Who hasn’t observed how hysterically the market has reacted in recent months, who it lost its sanity a long time ago?…

Until research in this field becomes more advanced, there will be widespread searches for culprits. But the economy wants to be a system characterized by market forces devoid of human actors to whom such anachronisms as guilt or failure could be attributed. Economics tends to fend off such inquiries or tries to deflect them. The head of the Deutsche Bank Josef Ackermann for example, in a speech he gave on the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility last June in Frankfurt, was already quite sure who the culprits are. "On the one hand, constant negative headlines in the media about companies and managers are not directly responsible confidence in the economy and to encourage managers. On the other hand, more importantly, in the face of increasing competition due to globalization, more and more people fear or have experienced failure." From this you could conclude that the genital thieves and their pursuers are themselves the culprits of the crisis—and not the product.

But I have warned you before to ignore anything I say about Economics. 😉


Compare and contrast what I have put out in a speculative way above with someone who does know what he is talking about, Jon Taplin: Faith and The Future.

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Posted by on November 21, 2008 in awful warnings, challenge, globalisation/corporations, personal, weirdness


I have been checking “The Howard Years” site

There is a lot appearing there, including transcripts. Episode One is, of course, the only one so far, but I welcome the opportunity to reflect on what was presented without distractions. One might also reflect on the role of the presenter, which does seem to be largely narrative, and how the excerpts from interviews are juxtaposed and framed.

Here is a sequence which stayed in my mind after the episode had ended, partly because it evoked a number of memories.

PAULINE HANSON, INDEPENDENT MP: I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Of course I will be called racist, but if I can invite who I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.

(End of Excerpt)

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: Now you’ve got to remember that Hanson had been sacked by us as a candidate, so when I heard these comments I thought to myself well that’s why she was sacked.

(Excerpt continued)

PAULINE HANSON, INDEPENDENT MP: Wake up Australia, before it’s too late.

(End of Excerpt)

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, LIBERAL MP 1993-2008: It was just a diatribe of bitterness and hatred and factually incorrect statements that I knew were ones that had to be countered and, ah and countered very quickly.

FRAN KELLY: But John Howard remained silent.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: My view however was that a full frontal attack from the Prime Minister only elevated it.

FRAN KELLY: Twelve days after Pauline Hanson gave her maiden speech, the Prime Minister made a speech of his own to the Queensland Liberal Party.

(Excerpt of footage of John Howard’s speech to Queensland Liberal Party, 22 September 1996)

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: One of the great changes that has come over Australia in the last six months is that people do feel able to speak a little more freely and a little more openly about what they feel. In a sense the pall of censorship on certain issues has been lifted.

(End of Excerpt)

FRAN KELLY: Those already suspicious of John Howard’s views on race believed he’d given Pauline Hanson the Prime Ministerial stamp of approval.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: In Queensland to talk about lifting the pall of censorship when Hanson was the person that was actually on fire, in my view was to give the wrong speech, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and it showed an, an ambivalence that he always had in relation to the views of Pauline Hanson.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: And I did make some remarks about a pall of censorship being lifted and those remarks were not designed to give a green light to Pauline Hanson or indeed anybody else, but they were a statement of what I believe.

JOHN FAHEY, FINANCE MINISTER 1996-2001: The Prime Minister ah, and I might add the Treasurer throughout all of that stood steadfast in the view that if you ignored her, she would lose oxygen and ultimately wither.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER 1996-2007: Sure, ignore her if that’s going to put out the flame. But after the flames burned brightly you’ve got to actually take the issue on and I think we should have taken the issue on earlier.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard’s Cabinet colleagues broke rank and condemned Pauline Hanson.

The Prime Minister would not tolerate public dissent.

AMANDA VANSTONE, EMPLOYMENT MINISTER 1996-1997: I remember one occasion when there was something in the paper that I’d, reporting what I’d said about Pauline Hanson and I got a call from the Prime Minister, quite near Question Time.

I had the phone out here and could still hear clearly what he was saying. He was clearly agitated and tense and angry.

(Excerpt of footage of Alexander Downer speech, 6 November 1996)

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: We must absolutely reject old-fashioned, racist, elitist attitudes.

(End of Excerpt)

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: I made a speech attacking Pauline Hanson pretty vehemently. And I think I’m right in saying this, in nearly 12 years as the Foreign Minister I think it’s pretty much the only time he’s rung me to chastise me.

But he wasn’t too impressed with it because he said well you know it’s just going to leave me out there and people are going to say, "Well you know, the media are going to say, well Downer’s doing the right thing, why doesn’t Howard?".

I can assure Alexander Downer that it wasn’t only the media saying that. Many of us were. I for one…

Meanwhile we have seen nothing so far of the Great Robot or The Living Dead or The Cadaver. But his characteristic tone has been captured in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald report on the ending of the special orders against Guantanamo alumnus David Hicks.

The former attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, told the Herald he believed the US process had been too slow but Hicks had been treated fairly.

"His position is no different to any other person," Mr Ruddock said. "The law has operated as I believe it was intended."

Asked how he felt about Mr Hicks’s impending freedom, he said: "I don’t comment on my personal emotions in relation to these matters."

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Posted by on November 21, 2008 in Australia, History, John Howard, TV