Beeple

Hardly a day goes by without the catalogue of social media’s harms expanding. Our smartphones are bridgeheads from which apps like Instagram undermine our self-esteem, attention span, sleep, mental health, and relationships.

One relationship social media has improved for me, is my relationship with art. Instagram has made it incredibly easy to discover art. Some friends have gone beyond discovery, and started to participate as customers as well; buying art directly from artists or small galleries has never been easier.

Which leads me to the artist Beeple, who I discovered today and could not resist sharing. His artwork is weird, irreverent, shocking, and profane. I love it. You can see an example to the left, but please go on over to his Instagram for thousands more. In a testament to the view that creativity is a numbers name, he has been creating a new image everyday for over 5000 days (you do the math).

His digital art has sold for millions through a new application of the Blockchain. You can buy something here for far less.

Check out his site here, and a write-up in Esquire here.

Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the heads up.

Selected quotations

I have been re-reading Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian and wanted to share a few passages which stayed with me

On racism

It especially annoys me when racists are accused of ‘discrmination.’ The ability to discriminate is a precious faculty; by judging all members of one ‘race’ to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination

On the open conflict of ideas and principles

Conflict may be painful, but the painless solution does not exist in any case and the pursuit of it leads to the painful outcome of mindlessness and pointlessness; the apotheosis of the ostrich.

Contrast this to the unashamed recommendations of the mindless that are offered to us every day. In place of honest disputation we are offered platitudes about “healing.” The idea of “unity” is granted huge privileges over any notion of “division” or, worse, “divisiveness.” I cringe every time I hear denunciations of “the politics of division” – as if politics was not division by definition.

He quotes Eugene Debs, addressing socialist voters in the 1912 election campaign:

he would not lead them into a Promised Land even if he could, because if they were trusting enough to be led in, they would be trusting enough to be led out again.

The life of Eugene Debs, a unionist and socialist activist who was imprisoned for denouncing American participation in World War 1, is worth examining. I have just bought this biography of the man.

On finding science in the most unusual places

There was an Anti-Vax march in Sydney over the weekend. A family friend on Facebook spoke at the rally and shared the video in a post:

Notice what he emphasizes: experimental vaccines, a rushed regulatory process.

Then, from a recording of his speech:

“I challenge Prime Minister Scott Morrison to prove to the world that I am – being over 70 – vulnerable. I’m not vulnerable! I look after myself!”

“Many of the people I talk to tell me I don’t believe in science. That is rubbish. I am an absolute stalwart for science. I love science. I just don’t love scientists. I trust science, I trust it, I just don’t trust many scientists.”

He never explains how he can trust science, but not those who produce it, nor where he finds all the science he allegedly loves. Someone in the crowd clarified matters by yelling “fuck science.”

It is easy to feel demoralized listening to him. Thousands of people in one of the wealthiest, most educated countries on earth came to hear him speak. To overturn two hundred years of medical research, he came armed with sayings from Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson – presumably not realizing Jefferson was an untrustworthy scientist.

Yet, this man, a man with no interest in any science which contradicts him, still finds it necessary to speak the language of scientists; he might profane the vocabulary, but he uses it nonetheless. We are spared references to god, scriptural revelation, or prophecy, and get instead proof, process, and rushed experiments – regardless of how disingenuously they are meant. The Scientific Revolution has come so far that even its opponents are forced to use its vocabulary, and accept its process, even if only in lip service. Our species’ long battle against the forces of ignorance and darkness is far from over, but at least we have them playing by our rules.

Still, there is a legacy he shares with his pre-scientific forefathers: the absence of doubt. Where the greatest minds of the human race are unsure, this man is convicted. Convicted with the kind of arrogance only faith can provide.


A similar point I made several months ago.

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No end in sight for the debate over inflation

The debate over the Biden’s administrations proposed stimulus I discussed a few weeks ago is still going. If you wanted to keep up to date, here are some useful links:

The debate still hinges around three technical questions:

  • How large is the output gap? This is the gap between what an economy can theoretically produce, and what it is producing today. Think of the gap as representing idle factories or unemployed workers. The larger the gap, the more stimulus can be applied before you hit ‘supply limits,’ and cause inflation.
  • How effective will the stimulus be? Stimulus does not automatically create the demand which fills the output gap. Instead of buying a new TV, people might save the money they receive, or use it to pay down debts. Those who are concerned expect most of the stimulus to be spent, those who are more sanguine, the opposite.
  • How will inflation behave if it arrives? Both camps agree there is likely to be some inflation, but they disagree over how it will evolve. Those in favour of the stimulus as it stands expect inflation to steadily increase, perhaps even to 2% or 3%. They see this as a good thing, given inflation has been below target for almost a decade. There is little risk of it getting out of control because the Fed can always raise rates in the last instance.

    Pessimists are concerned that if inflation starts growing, it could quickly get out of control. Instead of growing to 2% or 3% and stabilising, expectations might change, causing inflation to continue higher. If the Fed has to react by rapidly raising rates, it could have negative consequences for the financial sector and the wider economy.

This says nothing about the politics around the stimulus. Biden does not want to run the risk of delivering an underpowered stimulus as Obama did after the GFC.


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What do jobless men do all day?

From a new study in the AEI by Nicholas Eberstadt and Evan Abramsky: “What do prime-age ‘NILF’ men do all day?” (thanks to Marginal Revolution)

Some excerpts:

And

And

And

And

A few quick thoughts:

We don’t know why these men are not in the labour force. Does an absence of paid work/income support cause screen time and anomie, or is there a third (and fourth and fifth) factor at work here.

Is this the way things are or the way things must be? Where the paper sees anomie and alienation naturally following from the absence of work, I see it as contingent. We live in a society which extols paid work and demonises the unemployed. Should we be surprised that those who inhabit such a stigmatised rung of society are not a garden bed for the flowering of the human spirit?

A towering infrastructure of education, encouragement, and coercion has been required for people to accept that they must organise their identity and time around the eight hours a day, forty hours a week, they spend in contractual labour. Were we to reach a point where that became economically superfluous, we would need to develop a new infrastructure to encourage and educate people to live as they chose.

Why should we police what people do with their own time? I know many professionals who spend their weekends wedged between a bottle and a baggie who will tell you that the working poor must be kept in place lest they do the same. If you believe in human freedom and human creative potential, you should want to limit unnecessary restrictions on it. When the economy reaches a point where it becomes unnecessary to compel the population into paid work each day, we should cease to do so for the same reason we no longer compel people to serve in the armed forces. If they choose to drink all day, and despite fair and accessible options otherwise, that is truly what they wish to do, I have no issue with it. Freedom-loving conservatives quickly become paternalistic statists at the prospect of more leisure for the masses.

The moralisation of work: We are constantly told about the dignity of labour, usually by those who work for high pay in air conditioned offices. I fail to see what is dignified about being compelled to spend the majority of your day doing something you would rather not, in conditions you would prefer be different, with people you sometimes dislike. I can say it no better than Bertrand Russell: “The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.”

The only reason to compel paid labour is that our collective economic prosperity requires it; the health of the tribe requires that we devote some portion of our time to the modern equivalent of hunting deer or harvesting wheat. Should a day arrive where robots can take our place in the fields, we should consign paid work to the dustbin of history as fast as we possibly can.

Competing visions of the future: Arguments in the vein of, “if we give people X (a good thing), they’ll just do Y (a bad thing), because they’re too uneducated / lazy / ignorant / selfish / unprepared, have been deployed against every social reform from the right-to-vote to the 8-hour work week. Those who use them are pessimistic about human potential, or our ability to realise it. I remain an optimist in both respects. I aspire to a world where people’s decisions about how they spend their time, and exercise their creative energy were not overly constrained by the need to feed, cloth, and house themselves. A world where that is possible will take some building, but as Oscar Wilde said, a map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at.


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A budget for giving

At lunch with a friend yesterday, they mentioned how they set aside a portion of money each week to spend on other people. It’s part of their standard budget, just another category alongside rent, groceries, or entertainment.

What does he spend it on? Anything from buying a coffee for someone at work, to treating friends to dinner at a nice restaurant. One week he might buy a small gift for a friend.

I suspect for some, the thought of formalising giving into something so austere as a budget seems mechanical and forced, contrary to the spirit in which giving should take place. As someone for whom spontaneous giving does not come as naturally as I might like, this practice is a way to build the character I aspire to.

I think it is a virtuous practice, and hope you all find it as helpful as I have.