The most chilling aspect of Max Weber’s analysis of industrialization is the revelation (obvious once noted) that it began with an empirical failure of classical economics. Specifically, when industrialists tried to increase the supply of labor with higher wages, the increased demand — rather than stimulating supply — depressed it. Workers preferred to keep their incomes stable and work less as wages rose. Correcting this design flaw in human nature, required — on Weber’s account — a sort of divine intervention. Specifically, Protestantism tied work, whatever its worldly incentives, to eternal salvation. Which begs the question: To what extent are…


“Railroad crossing” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

I first came across the work of Frédéric Bastiat in Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, a readable survey of the major economic thinkers, in which Bastiat plays a minor role. I was attracted by Bastiat’s deft use of the reductio ad absurdum, as in his story of a hypothetical “negative railroad,” which is (de)constructed by a series of limitations meant to stimulate trade, but which wind up destroying it instead. It goes like this:

I have said that as long as one has regard, as unfortunately happens, only to the interest of the producer, it is impossible to avoid running…


Our current situation lives up to a word that had lost all meaning.

“Expectation” (1935) by Richard Oelze

Not since irony has a concept been as abused in popular usage as surrealism. Once a calculated attempt to escape the logic that produced the mechanized horrors of a world war, “surreal” now roughly means “strange.” Typically it is used to describe what it feels like to be on television.

In part, this is a measure of the movement’s popular success. Through figures like Salvador Dali, surrealism became a brand — like Warhol’s pop art — that came to mean simply “out of the ordinary.” When the…


From Kant to the coronavirus, the noumenon finds a way.

Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) gingerly approaches “the real” in True Detective, Season 1.

As an overconfident undergraduate dedicated to Sartre and relativism — as I still largely am, with important modifications — I once challenged a pragmatic philosophy professor how we could ever know what was really real.

“Reality objects,” he said. “Reality pushes back.”

Reality has been pushing back, hard, on a lot of our assumptions and institutions as the coronavirus pandemic seeps into daily life. While the ultimate effects on the U.S. population remain to be seen — they look worse by the day — the effects on our post-truth regime…


Notes on the intersection of anti-art and eternity.

A still from Isidore Isou’s Venom and Eternity (1951).

The ideas flooded in on the train today. If my prayers seem to go unanswered each night on my way home, they are occasionally answered in these early morning floods, when everything seems possible.

I was thinking about how quickly we forget that everything failed on November 8, 2016. Politics. The media. Big data. The public. The failure was so large that we have trouble getting our heads around it — like 9/11 — and the result is that we’ve tried to make rafts out of the wreckage, to rebuild on the…


An excerpt from the Miami University (of Ohio) Alumni Magazine (of Paul Ryan).

I want to thank Andrew and James for allowing me to contribute to Paul Ryan magazine although I know it’s not because I’m such a talented writer or because my pitch was so good. I know I am here for one reason and one reason only.

I went to college with Paul Ryan. Or so he claims.

I graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1991, joining a list of illustrious alumni that includes Tucker Carlson prototype P.J. …


What can hold America together?

Rev. William Barber joined assembled clergy at New York’s City Hall yesterday.

How can America function again? How will we ever get beyond this impasse that divides us?

Hegel’s key insight, in a previous era fraught with doubt about the function of the state, was that laws were not enough. Like the properties of the object of perception, people with no internal connection cannot form a whole. They fly apart into the void. Citizens must also have a set of shared assumptions, an ethos, if you will. Hegel calls this Sittlichkeit, usually translated as “ethical order,” though it is useful to think of these as norms —…


Farmers counters GEICO with “moose realism.”

A new commercial from Farmers Insurance features “moose as such.”

I walked into the living room last week and caught the end of a new commercial. Brilliant, I thought. Based on the presence of an RV and … a moose, I thought the clever minds at GEICO had freed Jeff the Moose (whose Nietzschean predicament I previously analyzed) from his existential prison as mere representation. So I was stunned to realize that this was not a continuation of the GEICO campaign, but a new installment in Farmers Insurance’s “Hall of Claims” series. Here is the spot:

This raises a few questions. First, how…


How to think the unthinkable.

Truth is like the eye of a hurricane. I mean this as an analogy not a simile. My intention isn’t lyrical, but technical. Like the eye of a hurricane, truth does not exist in a positive sense. The eye is an effect of forces around it rather than a thing-in-itself, though its wall appears to be completely present, if not super-material — harder than the hardest things.

A hurricane is only wind, nothingness, but it can flatten your house.

The first stage of philosophy is realism with regard to truth. The truth is out there…

Miles Gloriosus

Just another boastful soldier.

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