I hate books; t…

I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In the internet age, I find this quote by the famous French philosopher to be quite relevant.

Since we now have access to a huge portion of accumulated human knowledge through Wikipedia and news websites, people have a tendency to act like experts on topics they’ve only recently heard about. Go to any discussion forum, dating back to the days of Usenet, and you’ll see people critiquing academic subjects as if they just defended their dissertation on the matter.

And perhaps it’s worse than it was in Rousseau’s time. Most nonfiction books go through several revisions and a fact-check, the process of drafting and finishing a work can take years. Wikipedia crowdsources the editing process, but many topics don’t have enough interested parties to improve quality. And often when you stumble upon a topic, there’s currently an editing dispute going on between users. Or a disorganized article is being completely retooled to make it readable. It would be like reading a book in which half the pages had yet to be edited.

This isn’t to be crotchety and rail against knowledge. I’m a total information junkie and  enjoy having random facts at hand for each conversation I have. But it is to say that a small amount of reading does not an expert make. The internet is littered with laymen offering medical advice, legal advice, and public policy advice. This can be dangerous, and we should not think that the internet had made us master of all things.

The long run is…

The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. -John Maynard Keynes

Economics is sometimes thought to be a science that can predict the future. Certain inputs, certain past trends, they come together to crystallize and make the future known.

Yet, the idea of a long run is silly. In time our lives will change and exist in a new set of conditions. But this is not really the ‘long run’ because the long run implies stability and predictability. In reality, we live in a succession of short-runs where things can change quite a bit.

The long run is the economic equivalent of settling down in life. It assumes that individuals will stop all this nonsense and behave rationally. And perhaps an individual could choose that path. But society is the life of the party, and having too much fun to slip into this “long run.”

After the game,…

After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box. -Italian proverb

This is perhaps my favorite quote. It has a depth of meaning and summarizes some key parts of humans and society.

Several thoughts emerge from this proverb. An obvious one is that death is the grand equalizer. We do not get to take our status to the afterlife, like the Pharaohs; in contrast, the material goods we accumulate no longer matter, and thus all men die a pauper.

Another metaphor is the game itself. When pieces are placed on certain squares and rules are agreed upon, pieces gain power that they do not have prior and will not have afterwards. I see this as representing the artificial nature of life. The pawn will be less powerful than the queen, not because of merit, but because of initial status. Though chess speaks of a feudal society, it is easy to figure out who the kings, the rooks, and the pawns are in the modern era. The piece you are is a product of birth.

Now this has become less relevant in post-feudal societies, as social mobility does indeed happen. The inflexibility of the social fabric, however, remains.

Chess is also a game of inevitability. Pieces will be captured and removed, tactics will be employed, and the game will be won, lost, or drawn. When the game ends, no matter what, all distinctions end. Pieces are valued through a social agreement on what chess is and what it is not. Whether captured or remaining at the end, all things become equal once again.

If one is to perhaps over-interpret the quote (which I totally like to do), it is not just about class. Chess is a game of opposite colors; these colors are vitally important during the game. Afterwards, black and white pieces end up in the same box as well.

This proverb strikes me because it establishes a deep equality among humans. Politics, religion, sport, and the media all create distinctions and divide power in particular ways. But the power one wields is a product of social agreement (or forced acceptance) does not end forever.

The Game of Thrones television series has popularized many aspects of the book series, in particular a phrase that is very important to a select group of people. Spoken in an important but dead language, “valar morghulis means All men must die. No matter what, all beings must accept this.

I said then, and I say now…

I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Labor activist and Socialist Party politician Eugene V. Debs, on his sentencing for sedition, for speaking out against the United States’ involvement in World War I.

I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Labor activist and Socialist Party politician Eugene V. Debs, on his sentencing for sedition, for speaking out against the United States’ involvement in World War I.