Saturday, October 09, 2004

On One Hand; On The Other Hand; On The Other Hand... or Why Truth Doesn't Always Matter

I've covered a few of the basics: truth, meaning, perception, and language. Not bad for the first week.

While some (much?) of the prior ramblings might be too esoteric for many people, it is important (to me) that an attempt be made to set the ground rules. We may or may not have similar experiences and perceptions of our existence and, therefore, may or may not mean the same thing when we make a statement purporting to accurately communicate something.

Can a Yanomami indian communicate (language differences aside) with a Polish mathematician in any meaningful way? They are products of such vastly different environments, experiences, and perceptions of the world. Well, yes, technically they can communicate and even learn from each other. But human history has shown that it is more likely that people are slow to learn from each other and quick to become "territorial" in their behavior and beliefs. What we don't understand, we don't accept. Or, worse, what we don't understand, we attack.

One might argue that attacking what we don't understand is simply a "survival mechanism"; a necessity during mankind's violent history. The flip side of that argument is that our violent history is caused by that "survival mechanism". As you might have read in the link above, for the "primitive" Yanomami tribes, violence is common... 1/4 of the men will die from violence.... They get along nicely with close neighbors, but fight the ones farther away. That happens despite sharing an environment and culture. They are "not us."

This territorial imperative seems to be part of our DNA. Without sufficient resources to nourish and sustain ourselves, our DNA will perish. Thus, while we, as a species, have gradually taken command of our immediate environment, we have yet to come to grips with the basic drive to stake out our territory... the major force behind all of man's conflicts. This imperative doesn't ask about "truth", it only demands our devotion. One could argue that Mars, the god of War, is still the greatest of the gods. We have been bred to be Mars' soldiers; it is our nature.

Whoa! That's a bit harsh, isn't it. Well, yes, warfare is territoriality taken to its extreme. Humans do cooperate, but cooperation becomes more difficult as the scale increases. We form "coalitions" and "alliances" where we perceive advantages or benefits. But the basic drive to acquire and maintain our own territory remains strong. It is "my car" or "my house" or "my wife" or "my school" or "my town" or "my country". "They" want what is "mine".

Now mankind has recognized that constant warfare is really not too beneficial, so we set up mechanisms to deal with the territorial imperative before it becomes extreme action. We organize into groups and interact with other groups in proscibed ways to avoid destructive interaction. Hence, laws, customs, conventions, and Friday night football games. Well, think about it!

6 or 7 billion people trying to respond to their own territorial imperative. Ain't gonna work without some way to avoid physical violence at every turn. So, we establish the "rules of the game" and keep a strong military force to make sure the rules are followed. But that 17 lb. dog chasing the 75 lb. dog out of the yard is still part of our DNA... and it doesn't really consider the "truth" of its foolishness in challenging a much larger and stronger animal.

So, what am I saying here? Simple. Truth is a construct, an abstraction, that we want to find, but often ignore. We fail to look deeply enough into our own nature to see what colors our perspective red when the truth may only be revealed in white light. We believe that if we are "logical" enough, we can get to the truth, but logic has its limitations (see my previous discussion).

Then perhaps we need to take a different tack. You remember the Polish mathematician I mentioned? He is a product of his environment... or rather of how his environment has been reformed. His mathematics may be valid, but his perspective on the world... and his behavior... would be greatly affected if he were suddenly transplanted into the reality of the Yanomami. Two Jaguars plus two Anacondas equal 4... what? Potential killers? The point is that the reality of the Amazon is different than the reality of Poland. Yes, guns work in both places. But fire ants are not an issue in Poland. What is relevant frames what is "true"? No, it's just that some "truths" might be irrelevant.

Were the Goths invaders of the Roman Empire or were they subjugated people who rebelled against the Empire? Were the Crusades "holy wars" or simply excuses to expand power and territory? Was the "100 Years' War" the fault of the French or the fault of the English? Was Christopher Columbus a great explorer or a flim-flam man? Was Thomas Jefferson a noble leader or an abusive human? Was communism an effort to share the wealth or an effort to gain unbridled power? Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of war?

The answers are: Yes!

Territoriality, relevance, contradiction... the stuff of life! Truth: somewhere out there... maybe.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)