Each of us tries to deliver themselves from the misery of this world.

We attempt that at the intersection of three realities.

The ‘hard’, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘socially constructed’.

The ‘hard’ one is what Marx called ‘the objective reality’. Whatever exists outside our individual minds. Whatever doesn’t need any confirmation from any of us.
For instance, a rock can very well lay on the bottom of the sea without any conscious agent being aware of its existence. No one might ever become aware of its existence but that actually doesn’t matter. Same thing goes for a man made piece of furniture. The original craftsman might die, the owner also,  and the ‘thing’ might be forgotten in a warehouse – or attic – without its existence, ‘in the hard reality’, being jeopardized in any way.

The ‘virtual’ one is whatever each of us makes of what happens around them. It consists of three, separate yet interdependent, ‘ingredients’. The ‘perceived’ realities, the ‘intended’ realities and the ‘engines’ that make all of them possible – our conscious selves.
I’m speaking of ‘realities’ because each of us is different from all others – hence ‘sees’ slightly differently from all others, cannot inhabit the same place in space – hence ‘sees’ the world from a slightly different perspective, doesn’t have the same goals – hence entertains different intentions.

The ‘socially constructed one’ comprises the aggregate consequences of our efforts. Intended and unintended. Known to us and unknown by us.  Belonging both to the physical and metaphysical realms. As in both the Egyptian pyramids and language being parts of the socially constructed reality.

Please note that the first and third ones are ‘objective’ in Marx’s terms while the second in purely subjective.
It is also worth noting that the ‘hard’ reality is not immune to our efforts and that the ‘socially constructed one’ becomes ‘harder’ with the passage of time. The pyramids dotting the banks of the Nile constitute a very good example of our ability to change the ‘hard’ reality while the Catholic Church – one institution among many – is a good example of a metaphysical construct resilient enough to survive for two millennia.

Another very interesting ‘social construction’ is the concept of liberty.

I find it very interesting because it is simultaneously ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, ‘natural’ as well as ‘man-made’.
It is objective in the sense that it continues to exist no matter how many individuals subject themselves to abject spiritual slavery.
It is subjective in the sense that each of us understands freedom in their own way.
It is ‘man made’ in the sense that we have coined the concept and minted the words used to describe it.
Yet it is ‘natural’ since we all are made of flesh and blood and need to breath in order to stay alive. And yes, it is us who have invented the dog-collar and the leash we use to restrain the liberty of our dogs. Exactly because it is natural for them to try to be as free as possible.

Since this is but a blog post I’ll fast forward to what I had in mind for today.

The free market.

Which is, evidently, a socially constructed institution.
Supposedly, a place which miraculously transforms “private vices” into “publick benefits“.

Well, I’m afraid that those who have convinced themselves that ‘greed is good’ have understood nothing of Bernard Mandeville’s stark warning.

A market may be fueled by ‘greed’, or even by (evil)’vices’, but it is the freedom of those who partake in that market which keeps everything in check.

The communist centrally planned economies were also fueled by individual lust for power. They failed simply because no small group of people is smart enough to master such complicated matters nor humble enough to see/accept its limitations.

The very same lack of freedom has produced the financial crises of 2008.

‘Greed is good’ is nothing but a rationalization of the current obsession with monetary rewards over the very shortest time frame coupled with a blatant disregard for the longer term consequences of our actions.

And as any drug addict can confirm – whenever they are not ‘feeling high’, entertaining any obsession means loosing one’s freedom.

In reality, actually free markets are fueled by trust, not by greed.
And (self)governed by the fact that each participant is free to define/pursue its own interest and react to anything that is happening inside the market’.
Unfortunately, current markets are no longer free. Not that much because of governmental intervention but mainly because too many of the participants are blindly chasing the same narrowly defined ‘interest’.

“But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Smith’s words could not have been any clearer. Each of the participants to the free market wants something different from the market and each of the participants trusts the others to provide those different somethings – as long as the buyers can satisfy the sellers, of course. Nobody gets robbed while everybody gets whatever specific things they had come for.
In modern terms this would have been described as an ‘everybody wins’ situation.

Compare this with the contemporary mantra.
‘Profit maximization’.
Everybody chasing the proverbial ‘fast buck’
‘Enjoy the moment’ & ‘forget about tomorrow’.

And we continue to kid ourselves about the ‘freedom’ of our markets…

Even funnier is how we have twisted Mandeville’s warning to fit our own narrative.

“Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradise …
The bees, however, are not satisfied to have their viciousness mixed with their prosperity. All the cheats and hypocrites declaim about the state of their country’s morals and pray the gods for honesty. This raises the indignation of Jove, who unexpectedly grants the hive its wish.
BUT, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
How vast and sudden was th’ Alteration!
As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content, the Bane of Industry,
Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek nor covet more.

In this way, through the loss of their vices, the hive at the same time lost all its greatness.

Now comes the moral:
THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an Honest Hive.
T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniencies,
Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.

Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
While we the Benefits receive. …
So Vice is beneficial found,
When it’s by Justice lopt and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
As Hunger is to make ’em eat.

Apparently, Mandeville’s verses do not make much sense.
Why would a hive which had successfully purged itself off all vices find itself in a far worse situation after the cleansing?

Let’s first try to understand what those vices were.

Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity …
Thus every Part was full of Vice

Let me remind you of the fact that Mandeville had lived, and written, during the same period when the Puritans were trying to impose their strict moral code on the rest of the British society. And for the Puritans any attempt, made by ‘millions’, to supply ‘each other’s lust and vanity’ (a.k.a. various personal needs and fancies) was ‘vicious’ in itself.

The point of the whole thing being that it was not the absence of vices which had brought down the hive but the obtuse single-mindedness with which the vices had been banned. A line of thought very much the same with Durkheim’s ‘normality of crime‘.

And not very much different from our current obsession with (short time) profit!

 

 

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