As much fun as it is to distill Den Beste’s mountains of drivel into a single sentence with exactly the same meaning, as I did in my previous entry, I think I might give his latest mega-rant a slightly fuller treatment this time. I actually agree with a lot of the article’s second half, dealing with the general worthlessness of deconstructionist lit-crit nonsense and its practitioners, but who really didn’t know those folks were idiots? Hardly any even on the so-called left think any better of such obvious mental masturbation than SDB does. The only interesting thing about SDB’s analysis is that by focusing so much on their abuse of words and looking down his nose across the entire techie/fuzzy divide he does exactly what they do. It’s pretty amusing to go back and read his stuff, once you realize that what he is indulging in is itself a form of lit-crit. My interest in the article, however, has more to do with the first half, specifically this section:

quoting Robert Nozick:

Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution “to each according to his merit or value.” Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is.



back to SDB:

As the section I’ve highlighted above shows, they hate capitalism because it’s inherently utilitarian, and inherently populist.

Ummm, no. Utiliarianism is “the greatest good for the greatest number” as the basis for individual decisions, and capitalism is based on a very different basis for those decisions. The real problem is with the paragraph from Nozick, which SDB tacitly accepts but which also nicely illustrates one of the essential fallacies of laissez-faire capitalism: that any quantity too small to be measurable can be treated as zero, and that any sum of such quantities is likewise zero. Now, we all know that’s false. There’s a whole field of mathematics (calculus) to deal with the fact that it’s false. Nonetheless, that’s the way laissez-faire capitalists think. If you help one person make a million dollars at the expense of a million people, you can charge that one person tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. If you help a million people make (or save) a dollar apiece, you can’t charge any of them anything. You’ll be lucky if even a tenth of them recognize that you helped them. Similarly, if you dump a ton of garbage on one person’s lawn they can sue you. Spread that ton across every lawn in the country, though, and no single one of them will become motivated enough to do anything about it. If you slice something thin enough nobody thinks it matters, but when you add all the slices together it might be a pretty big hunk of salami.

How does this get us to the resentment of liberal intellectuals? It’s not envy. It’s that same perfectionism, that same insistence on intellectual rigor, that SDB claims is the exclusive domain of techies. The intellectuals know the Salami Fallacy. What bothers them is that people are buying into such an obvious lie, basing an entire moral and economic system on it. Their situation is made even worse by the fact that their contributions are not intended to be direct. They’re trying to improve the whole system, not tweak some part of it. As an engineer SDB should know that sometimes the problem is in the system rather than its components, but he’s apparently been away from real work so long that he’s forgotten. If you build in dependencies between components so that they all topple together like dominoes, you can’t always solve the problem by building a better domino. Sometimes the solution is to arrange the components into a properly redundant system so that system failure is the logical AND of component failure instead of the logical OR. (I’ll be writing an article about these two types of systems some time soon.) Their role is that of supporting cast. A good supporting cast can make the lead actor look good, but capitalism based on the Salami Fallacy only rewards the actor. It’s a form of altruism that rat-eat-rat capitalism doesn’t even recognize. There are other forms of capitalism where these small costs do get accounted for and added up correctly, but that’s only in the real world and not the one SDB inhabits. In SDB’s world it’s not merit but hunger for the limelight that must be rewarded – a predictable attitude for one whose insecurity far exceeds their merit and who takes credit for former coworkers’ contributions. In that other light of truth, though, it’s just another rationalization for selfishness.