Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Quotable: Plato

"The price good men pay for indifference to
public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
- Plato


Thai said...

Wonderful blog, Kudos!

Was there anything in particular you were referring to when you shared Plato today?

I only ask because your blog's opening comment: "... I now find myself questioning whether my early career..." implies to me that your Plato reference may have something to do with a sense of guilt over having watched credit expand for years without objection.

IF I am reading you correctly, don't beat yourself up. For while I accept some truth in Plato's view, it is also absolutely fundamentally wrong.

--"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards".

Soren Kierkegaard
Danish philosopher
(1813 - 1855)



kilgores said...

As a former student of philosophy and an unabashed Platonist, I applaud this magnificent quotation, and offer another from the British statesman, Edmund Burke:

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

-Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770)


armchair said...

Indifference. What an apt description of a major cause of the current perils! Indifference is enabled and/or fueled by Randism and Foucaultism too.

Randism says government is a hindrance and certainly could never have a beneficial role in regulation. An adherent would think it is fine that they are getting rid of Glass-Steagall or rewriting bankruptcy laws for credit card companies. Let the banks write whatever mortgage terms they please without any government nannies worrying them.

Foucaultism says that winners get to make all of the rules. An adherent would think they had better just sign up with a crappy mortgage, because that is what the winners are offering and that is all you're going to get. No need to read the boilerplate contract terms, because there is nothing that can be done about it anyway.

Jesse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.


Jesse said...

Most US Companies Pay No Income Tax


Thai said...

Jesse, your first quote is well said. Your second is just plane silly.

Let's assume it is completely true... so what?

Last time I checked: rocks, stones, trees, birds, waterfalls AND PAPER don't pay taxes in most countries (inlcuding America) either. At least in America, they arn't really considered part of the fractal collective we call society/country in the same way we consider human beings as belonging to the collective.

Last time I checked, US companies are nothing but fractal networks of people. But the companies these people work for are themselves are nothing but 'pieces of paper'.

If you ask any of these Americans who works for these US company: "do you pay taxes?" I bet they will say "yes". But if you don't believe me, you can check for yourself-- go ask one.

So whether US companies 'pay' or 'do not pay' taxes doesn't cause me to 'loose trust' in the US system one bit-- if that is where you are going with this comment.

But... if your country has been able to figure out a way to tax rocks, trees, birds, waterfalls AND paper, please share it with us Americans. The fractal network of human beings I work with in US companies probably wouldn't mind those inanimate (well not birds) 'freeloaders' paying more in taxes.

Who knows, maybe we'll even give them the right to vote if they do???

I'll have to think on this one a while


jp said...

Thai said:

"Last time I checked, US companies are nothing but fractal networks of people. But the companies these people work for are themselves are nothing but 'pieces of paper'."

I must say that I never liked the idea of corporations having personhood in the legal system.

Jesse said...

I am struggling significantly with the points that Thai makes since they don't seem to line up with anything that I've said.

Coporations are not paper, they are legal entities with rights to buy, sell, acquire capital, and litigate and generate and distribute income. They have many rights under law that an individual would have. To say they are just a fractal collection of individuals is just plain silly, since they are incorporated under law with binding obligations and privileges unto themselves.

Whether or not one decides to tax, and how, is one thing. However, we have a certain system in the US, and its been changing, shifting a significant amount of the tax burden to the lower and middle classes, increasing the disparity of wealth distribution significantly.

That was the point. Taxing rocks and trees and paper is besides the point.

One can do away with all corporate taxes, but then presumably that would be a consicous decision with provisions made to capture sufficient revenue to offset it, or decrease spending to offset it. But the changes are being made in a somewhat stealthy manner, with some obviously alarming results.

Jesse said...

It might also be worth considering that a company is often merely a proxy for a relatively small group of individuals, especially considering the small companies which the article cites, and the extremely hierarchical corporations where the pay and high level decision making are relatively concentrated.

But again, this is all besides the point of what had been said, and Thai might read it over again, and consider the quote from Mussolini that "corporatism is fascism.'

Perhaps if you reread the essay and article closely you may discern the meaning.

Thai said...


go ahead, converse with paper if you will. Treat it as you equal if you want. I am sure that at some cosmic level you are probably just as correct in doing so as I am in rejecting this.

You and I have different boundaries regarding the network we see as 'kin'.

That you see self similarities between corporations and fascism does not 'shake my faith' in my fellow men in the least... And FYI, besides the fact that it is a boundary issue, whether paper is the same thing as a human being is an entirely different boundary issue than the one you initially raised.

The self similar nature of things (information) does not change a boundary issue in the least.

Paper is outide my boundary of 'kin'. If it is part of yours, go ahead, do or communicate however/whatever you will with it.

Then again, since you seem to be afraid of the self similar nature of things, are you aware that at a basic level, the definition of schizophrenia is a boundary issues that are 'WAY' beyond the norm one operates in.

I wonder who is 'norm' here? Paper or human are equal in a 'kin' boundary?

This manipulation of information is not shaking my faith in my fellow 'good (wo)men' one bit. It is not shaking my faith in Americans (who seem to be a popular whipping boy of late). It is not shaking my faith in my fellow Americans who work for US companies, it is not shaking my faith for my fellow Americans who work for small US companies.

(I will not eat them in a box, I will not eat them with a fox, I will not eat them here or there, I will not eat them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am) ;-)

It is just a boundary issue. You chose yours, I will chose mine. But I suspect many 'good people' won't 'follow' you on this one. But then again, what do I know...

Jesse said...

'Corporatism' is not considering corporations to be the equal of individual, or even mere pieces of paper.

It is considering the corporation to be their superior, for the state to be superior to the individual.

And ironically enough you've proven Plato correct.

Thai said...

Jesse said "And ironically enough you've proven Plato correct"

I am not sure irony is the word I would chose (but if it works for you, go ahead). If you re-read my very first comment: "... while I accept some truth in Plato's view..."

I am comfortable with what I have said.

Is your problem with paradox? For it is what it is...


OkieLawyer said...


I think you may be taking this whole "fractal" issue too far.

You have said yourself "risk remains constant." But is it better to shift that risk onto workers (and away from the directors and owners of the corporation, aka the shareholders)? In my "frame of reference" (Justice), it is proper to have the risk borne by those who undertook it -- not those who are supposed to be shielded from it to some extent.

The corporate entity has grown into a form of business structure that usually is more desirable than a partnership due to the limitation of liability. However, if we are to grant legal protections from liability, then there should be some "cooperation" from those corporations in terms of obligations to the community that accords them protection. Namely, those corporations should have to contribute monetarily to the common defense and upkeep of those bodies which provide them their necessary benefits.

The point Jesse (and now I) want to make is that they are all take and no give. They are not "cooperating" with the body that provides them with all of their profits. Court systems cost money to run and they provide a structure that protects them from liability. The military and police provides them with protection from hostile governmental and criminal threats. As such, they should have to contribute to the cost of their upkeep. Those costs should not be shouldered purely by their customers. Sure, having everyone else pay for their protection increases their profit margin; but at what cost to "cooperation?"

jp said...

It is my impression that the underlying impulse of corporations these days is to make a much profit as possible.

Ideally (from a corporate perspective), all risk is moved outside of the corporate form and onto society at large.

Ideally (from a corporate perspective), no taxes are paid, rather subsidies are provided to the corporate form.

Thai said...

Okie! :-)

If building all that process increases your 'trust' in the system, go ahead-"just do it"!

AND another way of looking at corporatism or facism or stateism is that they are really attempted 'shields' created by a few 'bad players' and their ideologies.

Another way to fix the problem besides making all that process is to just get rid of the bad players. It ges you to the same place in the end.

There are many ways to skin this cat.

More layers of 'process' does not eliminate an underlying moral hazard issue. Since I now seem to be 'proving' Plato, wasn't it Plato who first asked "who will watch the watchers"?

If all that process gives you more 'faith' in the system, do it. I am not criticizing your illusions, I certainly have my own... well I guess using the word 'silly' is a form of criticism. Jesse, I certainly didn't mean to seem 'harsh' if that was your take away.

The problem is not solved either way.

JP-- you hit the nail on the head. The only thing is you are describing one side of the coin.

Jesse said...

JP nicely summarizes what I was saying. Thank you for putting it simply and in a concentrated manner.

Okie is right as well. The processes exist as do laws, to govern behaviour. We do not need more laws, we need to enforce those we have. That is the problem, because the system is been weakened if not co-opted.

Thai, have a good day mate.

Jesse said...

Alas, I have to add that JP is only describing a particular manifestation of corporations, called 'corporatism,' which is a reflection of the relationship of the rights of the individual to the power of the state.

Corporate entity is a tool, a structure. How it is used is another matter, good or ill, productive or destructive, short term or long term.

Danny said...

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.

-Plato, Laws

Pancho "El Villan" said...

Here's another quote:

"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." :)

Ernie Hemingway

Sur ce:...¡salud!

kilgores said...

@ danny 15 August 2008 11:04

>Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.

True enough. I always advise my clients that contracts are for honest people who wish to avoid future misunderstandings about their agreements so that they may remain friends. Crooks will sign anything. Think about the Hitler-Chamberlain peace pact at Munich in 1938: just a piece of paper...


Thai said...

Kilgores, I like the way you said that.

Jesse is right, at some level my 'comfort zone' lies within the Platonic point of view (though I do also tend to see the truth of alternate beliefs)

I tend to think in terms of very clear boundaries.

We are saying the same thing.


Jesse said...

Good people do not need to be locked out of other people's houses, and thieves will always seek to find a way around the most secure provisions.

This does not mean that we ought to throw open our doors in despair. There is a broad gray area between the most honest person and the most talented thief.

This is where justice and the vigilant enforcement of law enter the picture.

"The price good men pay for indifference (in general) to
public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. (the unscrupulous few)" Plato QED

Thai said...

This is a metaphysical blog indeed!

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works ye mighty and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Jesse, you are correct in pointing out the fundamental law of 'the conservation of risk'.

But by this very law- your grey zone solution is no 'superior' to one which is 'black and white'. Both are equally 'elegant' so to speak, both are equally flawed.

If you have to fill up a system consisting of three buckets with '100 units of risk', do you want to do it:

80/10/10 or 99/.9/.1 ?

Evolutionary sytems will (almost) always 'pierce the boundary' you create in the end
(except for the incredibly unlikely time they do not). Evolutionary systems will ultimately 'humble' any system for the 'bubbles' it its owners ignored... Or at least so says all of Chaos theory.

So you can spend your money/time/resources trying to minimize the risk a thief will steal from you by building a 'super' boundary to protect that which you hold precious. But when you do, you will (in all likelihood) also come to a place where you feel 'secure' in what you have made. And when you do, you might eventually 'let your guard down' and a 'Black Swan' thief will either breach the barriers of the system you built, or simply recognized a flaw you always failed to recognize.

And when you do get robbed under this approach(Oh Ozymandias), not only will you get robbed, but you will also lose all the time/energy/resources you spent on your great defenses. All will become a great 'waste of energy'.


You can spend no time or energy defending your system, and at leastwhen you do get robbed you won't lose the defense costs (have you ever wondered what a sloth's 'evolutionary' strategy is?
Look it up if you don't know) ;-)

Or you can do any 'permutation' of the two extremes.

The outcome is still 'likely' to be same in the end.

Nearly infinite risk is just the price of life. You and I will 'pay it' (extremely unfairly I might add) one way or another.

It is what it is

Thai said...

Oh, I just noticed a paragraph was somehow deleted (I must have done it when I was spell checking-- a near pointless endeavor for me, so misearble is my success).

I completely agree with your enforcement; it is time we go after the 'bad men'. Enough is enough.