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12. The Anatomy of Contradictory Ideas, from Alternative Economics 101 -Tax Your Imagination

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Wisdom Conflicts by Steve Consilvio

There are very clear differences between vice and virtue, so why is there so much confusion? Comparative analysis can help us to understand the nature of dissonance and the failures of society. The problems are internally paired opposites before they are triangulated. In the religion empire we have immoral moralists or immoral morality. In the political empire we have authoritarian liberty or authoritarian libertarians. In the economic empire we have destructive production or destructive producers. Using these terms, we should be able to evaluate any topic that arises, and test every idea for both internal and connective consistency. The same as math, virtue and vice both balance. Virtue: Morality = Liberty = Production. Vice: Immorality = Authoritarianism = Destruction. In a mathematical equation, there are infinite number of incorrect answers. If we want a correct answer, then we need to work for it logically and consistently. Any one of the three virtues can be substituted with a non-virtue.

Ideas, emotions and action need to be in harmony for virtue to come to life. All opinions are not equal. Some are informed and some are misinformed. An opinion that is true is a fact, an opinion that is false is a claim. We need to separate the facts from the claims. Theories of cause and effect need to be tested. For example, "Inflation is not caused by supply and demand, it is caused by the application of percentages." I consider this statement regarding inflation to be a fact, but many others likely view it as either a new opinion or a false claim.

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Finding Balance

Any fact can be rejected by anyone. This book calls into question well-known economic "facts.' New facts are no more absolute than the discarded facts. We are all our own judge of the evidence. Consensus is an invalid criteria for establishing truth. The laws of mathematics are not subject to consensus and neither are the truths about virtue. The challenge is not to get everyone to agree, or to follow; the challenge is to get everyone to understand yet continue to question and analyze. We must leave enough doubt that we can continuously improve our virtue, but not so much that we exit the path. We need to check the math, and not blindly follow procedures to confirm our bias. The procedures, the expectations and the math can all be wrong, but we can easily convince ourselves that we are in "the best of all possible worlds' while things are collapsing all around us. We need to be content without being complacent, confident without being condescending, curious without being incongruous.

We are all born ignorant. Getting a child to obey and believe is easy, but society moves forward based on the ability of the adults to improve. Deep thinking does not require a college degree, it only requires effort and doubt. We are all students and teachers of one another. Our collective problems are caused by our collective lack of understanding of virtue. A person who is forced to obey can not teach anything except to obey or rebel. It is impossible for a coward to teach courage, except as a negative example. A person who is forced to starve is forced to learn greed. Many of the richest people today were once among the poorest people. A person who understands virtue can spread virtue. It is virtue that sustains our humanity. With virtue, the ends and the means are in harmony. That is the balance that we all need. Doubt is required for questioning to exist. Indifference and complacency are as destructive to virtue as error. The child must grow into a fully functioning mature adult, not just be a cog in the wheels of an empire. Virtue is something that must be right and widespread for a society to advance.

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The person at the center of the model is trying to grow, survive, understand and thrive. They are surrounded by many voices and organizations and culturally accepted bodies of knowledge with contradictory messages. Since we are all individuals, and involved with all three organization types, there are two types of dissonance we experience: personal and organizational. 

The organizational hypocrisy has a clear distributive paradox. For a religion to promise salvation, it must also establish the damned. Morality needs immorality to define itself. Similarly, for a government to guarantee liberty it must impose restrictions using force. For a business to provide wealth it must consume resources of land and labor. Organizational dissonance can be an internal opposite, or formed by its indifference to whichever realm it fails to overlap. Similarly, personal hypocrisy occurs when we make a wrong or false judgment about other individuals or groups. All comparative analysis is a double-edged sword, which is why self-doubt must play as large a role as doubting others. A world divided into villains and heroes is like an acid. As it pours out of the container, it burns everything it touches.

Money and the zero-sum game

Organizational hypocrisy is at the heart of the transactional nature of the monetary system. Everyone's gain can be someone else's expense, whether it is salvation, freedom or prosperity. It is not a zero-sum game in the traditional sense, but one of inner group and outer non-group. The same as numbers, the only limit of either virtue or prejudice is the imagination of the optimist and pessimist. We can build more schools or more prisons, have more hunger or more equality, create more waste or more wealth.

All organizations use money for their own benefit, even if the organization nominally exists for the benefit of all. No organization can exist without revenue. In this way, revenue has become everyone's top priority, rather than virtue upon which they were founded. That is the deeper meaning of you cannot serve two masters. Money is the object that we think we understand. In fact, money is make-believe, whereas virtues are real. The ends and the means are in conflict.

Being miserly about money is to be like Ebenezer Scrooge. His Quality of Life was lost for an inanimate object. He was materially rich, but spiritually bankrupt, having destroyed all his social connections. Many organizations and individuals suffer the same self-inflicted wounds. They follow an endless quest for more revenue, as the richness in life fades away. 

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The trap that Scrooge fell into was partly a result of the structure of society. The future becomes something to be feared. In the absence of commonwealth, it is every man and organization for himself or itself. Once conditioned to take to survive, there is no conditioning to ever stop taking. Employees, vendors, citizens and customers are all something to be relentlessly squeezed and exploited. Whether it is political power or material wealth, there is no state of contentment. With inflation constantly nipping at our heels, one seeks to be rich as a means of maintaining order. Hoarding wealth and perpetual growth becomes the goal to avoid future financial stress.  

Individuals slow down because of age and eventually pass away. Organizations, in contrast, do not age. Nor do not grow wise. Oftentimes, an individual with a conscience within an organization is forced out in favor of the more ruthless. Revenue rules. Organizations have the ability to improve or destroy the quality of life, both for themselves and those around them. The more consistently virtuous we are in all our roles, the happier everyone will be.

Hypocrisy and Internal Division

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Steve grew up in a family business, was a history major in college, and has owned a small business for 25 years. Practical experience (mistakes) have led him to recognize that political rhetoric and educated analysis often falls short of reality. (more...)

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