Reading the debate between Vox and R. Scott Bakker over at his blog made me think on certain broad themes, but trying to engage with these arguments also means that I approach them with a blank state and the simplicity it carries with it. So I’m sure my views will be extremely simplistic, but will also very clearly show a basic structure, maybe.

When I started reading Ayn Rand (it was a year or two ago) I approached with a similar blank state, even if my political view are the polar opposite of hers. And so despite these ideological differences I thought that her ideas were extremely powerful and moving. I thought they were valid. But at the same time I had the impression that she completely avoided certain GLARINGLY OBVIOUS objections. That she completely avoided them, dealing with themes in her books through the use of dialogue and conveniently making communists into straw men. It’s too easy to champion one own’s idea against straw men. So it’s not that I see Ayn Rand’s ideas as completely invalid, but it seemed that she completely ignored and carefully avoided certain points.

My basic objection to her ideas is that there are many practical cases in which personal gain simply contrasts with the prosperity of a community. It simply happens in the real world and we have plenty of examples in modern capitalism. You can exploit and pollute a territory, achieve a huge economical wealth because of it, as long you don’t get caught. Or, in general, your personal short-term wealth won’t correspond to the long-term wealth of a community. A cynical entrepreneur will find plenty of ways to get richer while exploiting others. You can get richer, wealthier, as long you are able to dodge the consequences, some of these even irreparable. If your moral judgement is based on your personal happiness and nothing else, then it means that your short life span is a factor. That you simply won’t care about what happens next. So this ideal that personal wealth coincides with the communal wealth is factually wrong. That’s why we have governments and rules, so that we can drive the process in ways that won’t create those contrasts. Essentially, we need other, wider systems that keep the power in check. That keep verifying and set rules that are created for the benefit of the collectivity. Without this “scaffolding” Capitalism is an utter disaster, it’s just a system that legitimates oppression and exploitation. A self-validating system.

But a similar patten can be applied to Communism. In this I agree with Scott Bakker. When we think about politics we think how the world should be. So we come up with a picture, and that picture will correspond to our political “beliefs”. But this poses the world as it should be versus the world as it is. If you apply the Communist system to today’s world you obtain a disaster. Because the world doesn’t conform to your utopian, ideal vision.

As in the system of Kabbalah, we live in a “coarse” world. Consider it as a metaphor. The world begins with the emanation of light from god. This light is absolutely pure, and that’s our origin, where we were whole with the god and formed the single body of Adam Kadmon. Then, through the various sephirots the reality is created, moving down like a ladder, and every step makes this light get more coarse, less pure. Down to the world of Malkuth/Assiah that should define the real world, dividing it from the spiritual one. Reality, the tangible one, is the lowest level. Extremely impure. Essentially, the Kabbalistic system is like a huge laundry. Your mortal life, in the way you know it (from being born to death, with everything between), defines your duty. Suffering and desire are the mechanics that, more or less willingly, ultimately push you that way. Your duty is to “cleanse” the little quota of “egoism” you carry with yourself. The purpose is to clean yourself, the world as direct consequence, and climb back the ladder/light to the upper worlds.

Kabbalah defines Communism as an ideal system, and I have a similar view (as I say, Kabbalah is interesting even if you aren’t going to believe in it). Communism is like a destination. You just can’t apply the Communist system in our world, right now. It would fail because we “expect” people to behave in a way that is not realistic. That belong to an ideal way, instead of a REAL way. We’re still in that “coarse” world. We are forced by reality to consider the world the way it is, and not the way we want it to be. You can’t treat politics as wish fulfillment.

You can set an ideal, and then strive for it. The danger is about giving legitimacy to the system itself (as Capitalism wants to be), because value-making has to stay within what’s human. It’s interesting to consider that Kabbalah, while endorsing a Communist society, doesn’t want to establish a New World Order. It deems this purpose as pointless and misleading. What Kabbalah tries to address and “correct” is the single human being, or better, it’s a spiritual, self process. Kabbalah never tells you how the world around you should be, or how it should be reshaped. Believing that change on the world can ONLY happen through that personal, internal correction.

It seems that modern Kabbalists receive with a particular enthusiasm theories about Chaos and the Butterfly effect (which is actually quite coherent with Kabbalistic mythology, since they believe we’re still connected in the body of Adam Kadmon, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore).


  1. 2. Things.

    1. on TPB you seem to be implying that something that is counter-intuitive has merit because it is counter-intuitive. I will only say this seems a weird stance.

    2. Your critique of Ayn Rand may be fair but your claims against capitalism are grounded in the very thing you are complaining about. You seem to not like capitalism so rather than offer real critiques you regurgitate popular group think that is easily debunked.

    For starters you are conflating wealth with money. Wealth is a measure of hapiness. I’m wealthier because I don’t work 80 hour weeks than I would be with the extra bits of paper I would get for doing so.

    The cynical business person that wants to be happy may still donate money to charity and do other community improving things because he wants people to like him.

    If a person owns land then he has incentives not to pollute it. If a persons land is polluted by third parties then they have committed a criminal act and should be forced to pay for the damage.

    Anyway rather than tackle the arguments of a novelist why not try to tackle capitalisms strongest arguments. Sure you can poke holes in Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olberman’s claims. Can you poke holes in Smith, Hayek, Friedman?

    • I may have given the idea that “counterintuitive” = “good”, but it’s not what I think. In the case of Bakker’s theory on consciousness it’s the theory to be counterintuitive, so saying it doesn’t “feel” or “seem” right is not a valid objection.

      The theory itself says consciousness doesn’t see things right, so it’s the perception itself to be modified. Accordingly, it’s as if Bakker theorized that intuition is unreliable.

      But this doesn’t automatically make a counterintuitive idea a good one. If intuition is unreliable, this fact doesn’t make counter-intuition more reliable on its own. So, less merit on intuition doesn’t increase merit in counter-intuition.

      About the rest, wealth can mean many different things. One use isn’t more correct than another and it depends on context.

      The cynical business man doesn’t act according to what you tell him. Your description of a possible case doesn’t cover all cases, and is not a canon. The way you describe him is not even so “cynical”. And more, “charity” intended like that can cover the personal need of the wealthy man (makes him feel like he’s a good man) BUT CERTAINLY doesn’t cover the needs of all other people in a situation of discomfort that REALLY need help.

      Charity is, at best, a band-aid. Not only charity isn’t a “feature” of capitalism (it’s actually part of the “scaffolding”), but it can’t counterbalance the damages that capitalism imparts on the community. It doesn’t compensate those damages. It’s a feel-good device for those who don’t need its services.

      A person who owns land has interest to not pollute it as long he does LIVE there. The first thing that money enables you to do is to go live wherever you want. You don’t have to live in a house next to a nuclear plant. Capitalism, in fact, enables the capitalist to detach himself from the situation that his subordinates work in. A healthy capitalism would be a society where you SHARE a community and live within it, eat the same things of everyone else, going to the same hospitals, subject to the same justice system, so the capitalist interest is to have a good environment around himself. But capitalism as we know it is made to completely change and REMOVE the capitalist from the community. Rich men live in their own privileged environments, AWAY from common problems and common people. Away from the filth they create. Capitalism, in fact, relies completely on the existence of two groups, where one can be exploited so that the other can prosper (for whatever “legitimation” is created).

      That’s why “equality” isn’t a property of capitalism.

      And I’m not interested in economic theory, so I can’t address Smith, Hayek, Friedman or whoever. I made clear in the title that mine is a simplistic view. Not a totalitarian one.

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