Everything To Lose

I still can’t decide whether the current coronavirus (CV) scare is a false alarm or not. I have the feeling that, but for the draconian Chinese lockdowns and the deserted streets, this epidemic would have passed largely unreported. There are flu epidemics every year. What’s so special about this one?

On board the Diamond Princess, there have been 632 cases of CV, and 2 deaths, both in 80-year-olds. Is there really anything at all remarkable about that?

I was hearing yesterday that some people think that CV is an escaped bioweapon, and that explains the Chinese response.

Whichever way, it looks like we’re in for a global pandemic, as there are now rapidly growing outbreaks in South Korea, Japan, and Italy. Yesterday the Italian government declared a state of emergency. Most likely the rest of the world will soon follow.

But maybe not. The virus looks like it may be temperature-dependent, for it has spread north from China into a northern hemisphere winter season, and has hardly spread at all into the southern hemisphere summer season. And since the northern hemisphere winter is about to give way to spring and summer, we may well see the epidemic peter out over the next month or so. And it will prove once again to have indeed been another false alarm.

We live in a time of permanent false alarm. There’s a false alarm about tobacco smoke. And a false alarm about climate change. And now very likely we’re seeing yet another false alarm being played out with CV. And there are false alarms about any number of other things.

But even if it proves not to be a medical emergency, it rather looks as if the overreaction by all concerned may result in a deep economic slump, as entire industries close down, so that there will soon be shortages of a wide range of goods, and rising prices.

Why is everyone so alarmed all the time? The world is in a pretty good state right now, and has been for the past 75 years. But perhaps that’s precisely why there is such anxiety: things are all so good that it’s too good to be true, and something is bound to go wrong sooner or later.

We’re living in a golden age. We’re living in an age of accelerating technological innovation and mounting prosperity, unprecedented in human history. In my own lifetime we’ve seen men walking on the Moon. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll see them walking on Mars pretty soon as well. And I’m surrounded by devices that were more or less inconceivable in my childhood: TVs, computers, mobile phones. We ought to be celebrating it all, but instead we’ve got Greta Thunberg. We’re getting more and more anxious and frightened about more or less everything.

Perhaps it’s simply that the more you have, the more you have to lose. And if you’re Michael Bloomberg you’ve got $62 billion to lose, and you’re terrified about absolutely everything, because you’ve got everything to lose. And you’re not only terrified about absolutely everything, but you think that everybody else should be as worried as you are, and you’re going to make damn sure they start worrying, by making your own terror into the law of the land. That’s what he did as mayor of New York City with his smoking ban: he made New Yorkers worry about tobacco smoke in ways they never had before. And that’s what he’d do as President of the United States, which office he’s now running for.

And perhaps it explains why his rival, Bernie Sanders, is an equally anxious socialist. For he’s a multi-millionaire too, if not yet a multi-billionaire like Bloomberg.

In fact it maybe explains why so many rich people are socialists. They’ve all got a lot to lose, and they’re all beset with deep anxiety about losing it all, and want to construct a social order where nobody will ever lose out.

In fact maybe it even explains the rise of socialism over the past few hundred years: as living standards rose, more and more people had more and more to lose, and they more and more wanted to live in a safer and more secure world.

The converse condition, of course, is one of having nothing to lose. And if you’ve got nothing to lose, you’re not going to be worried about losing it. And so you’ll live a carefree life. And perhaps even one in which you’re simply glad to be alive, and will be thankful every day for it. If you expect every day to be your last, every new day is going to look like a bonus.

And, who knows, the current emerging global CV pandemic may yet prove to be as terrible as the Plague or the Black Death, and so may well be one in which people will expect every day to be their last, and will be delighted to live to see a few more new days.

About Frank Davis

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22 Responses to Everything To Lose

  1. smokingscot says:

    It has moved into Iran because there’s a lot of traffic as China doesn’t comply with the American boycott. I mention this only because it’ll very quickly spread to Afghanistan and possibly parts of Pakistan and India – and the greatest risk is their medical infrastructure, that in places is non existent.

    Again they’re all pretty cold at the moment, though the whole area will get staggeringly hot within a month.

    Big scare a couple of days back when Lebanon identified two suspects. On closer examination it was just a common cold.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Big scare a couple of days back when Lebanon identified two suspects. On closer examination it was just a common cold.
      There is one case in Lebanon, a pilgrim to Qom.

  2. beobrigitte says:

    I have the feeling that, but for the draconian Chinese lockdowns and the deserted streets, this epidemic would have passed largely unreported.
    The WHO would have liked that.
    I’m not sure if the Chinese measures taken are sufficient enough to stop the spread but for days now the daily number of infections have gone down. People need to be informed of what self isolation consists of and do it.

    But maybe not. The virus looks like it may be temperature-dependent, for it has spread north from China into a northern hemisphere winter season, and has hardly spread at all into the southern hemisphere summer season.
    Unfortunately this is not the case.

    But even if it proves not to be a medical emergency, it rather looks as if the overreaction by all concerned
    Every year there are a lot of novel viruses. Why we don’t hear about them is that they do not affect us. If this new SARS-CoV-2 does not have the added twist of ADE (antibody-dependent-enhancement) we will only have a new kind of pneumonia-flu.

    may result in a deep economic slump, as entire industries close down, so that there will soon be shortages of a wide range of goods, and rising prices.
    There already are shortages of e.g. face masks etc. etc. But the first price rise we will see is tobacco in about 6 weeks time.

    South Korea = 602 (+166 cases so far today), Japan = 146 (+12 cases so far today) and Italy = 134 (+55 cases so far today) can hardly be called poor, third world countries.
    We, who mistrust everyone and everything, now have an European example to observe. The Italians most certainly are not messing around!
    https://cfrankdavis.wordpress.com/2020/02/11/how-to-prevent-coronavirus-start-smoking/#comment-194416

    Politics? As far as I can see there is NO politician anywhere doing anything FOR US SMOKERS.

  3. beobrigitte says:

    ASH et al do not waste time with their lowest of the low activities!!
    February 2020 most certainly is a busy month!!!
    https://ash.org.uk/category/media-and-news/ash-daily-news/
    ASH Daily News for 14 February 2020
    UK Smokers at increased risk of coronavirus complications, leading experts warn Cigarette prices have risen following standardised packaging, despite tobacco industry claims Illegal tobacco worth £100,000 seized from Dudley house Link of the week Smoking cessation 1: interventions to support attempts at quitting UK Smokers at increased risk of coronavirus complications, leading experts warn […]

    ASH refers to this article:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-dangerous-smokers/
    Does this ring a bell by any chance?
    Some researchers say it could be down to what WHO describes as women’s “inherent biological advantage”. However, it could be down to lifestyle factors, particularly smoking.

    The most up-to-date figures from the WHO show that 52.1 per cent of Chinese men smoke, compared to just 2.7 per cent of women. In the UK 16.5 per cent of men smoke, compared to 13 per cent of women.

    Yep. And as long as the women (smoker or non-smoker) have not entered menopause they have an advantage to men – OESTROGEN.
    I am observing Italy closely right now.
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/501615/italy-smokers-by-age-and-gender/
    Here is it a different case and so far the female deaths are post-menopausal women.

    Also, another question: what was the ratio of smoking/non-smoking passengers on the Diamond Princess?

  4. beobrigitte says:

    Frank, I’ve done it again…. Black hole….

  5. jaxthefirst says:

    I’ve often wondered whether all these hysterical crises are precisely because the world is, generally speaking, a pretty good place for most people to live right now. I think that people tend to judge how big their “problems” are depending on how easy (or hard) their lives actually are. So, for a ludicrously wealthy person living a very cushy, easy Western lifestyle things like not being able to get the latest new car or the latest new iphone or managing to get away for three holidays in a year will seem like massive problems, whereas those of us living a more ordinary lifestyle won’t really see them as pressing problems at all. Middle-income folks might see things like being a bit short of cash for luxuries, or having a bit too much debt as problems and we’ll see the problems that rich people have as rather silly things to worry about. Similarly, people who are genuinely very hard up will worry about getting food on the table and paying the heating bills as their biggest priority, and the worries that middle-income people have will be seen by them as a bit over-indulgent – the kind of problems that they might somewhat sarcastically say are “nice problems to have.”

    And I think that this operates in a group context, too. Those of us living in peaceful societies, with no worries about food supplies, or clean water, or good sanitation, or access to healthcare will escalate what are, in the greater scheme of things, non-problems (like cigarette smoke, or plastic bags, or dog poo on footpaths) into “urgent” problems that need to be “dealt with” by the authorities, when in actual fact they aren’t really problems at all. At best, they’re irritants for some people. But they’re not real problems. Real problems are what people are facing in war-torn or drought-stricken areas where there’s a very real risk that you might get shot or blown up at any moment, or that there simply won’t be enough food to go around at all – whether you can afford it or not. I doubt that there are many members of the general population in a war zone who give a moment’s thought as to whether or not the authorities should ban other people from smoking cigarettes, or eating sweeties, or using stuff made out of plastic. They’ve got much more important things to worry about – like simply staying alive from day to day. I’d be very surprised in anyone in an undeveloped, drought-stricken country has given a moment’s thought to CV over the last few months, and they probably won’t bother over the coming months, either.

    I sometimes wonder whether people actually need to have something to worry about – some sort of weird attraction to hurt, or a need to have something to “challenge” them … or something – and that’s why, when there really isn’t anything to worry about, people invent things instead.

    • waltc says:

      Last paragraph: well observed. I’d add “need to have something to worry about” that distracts them from what they’re REALLY worried about (which might be something as vague and ubiquitous as “the human condition” or simply the shaky state of their own egos). If you substitute secondhand smoke or climate or a virus for your real fears and anxieties, there’s the illusion that there’s something you can actually do about it–make the world smoke-free, carbon-free, plastic-free, sterile and now you’ve got a Cause to which you can divert the energy of your angst.

    • beobrigitte says:

      It seems to be human nature: if people have no problems they create some. And yes, the problems people invent range from plain idiotic to, when the masses are getting uncomfortably scared, outright dangerous.

      I’d be very surprised in anyone in an undeveloped, drought-stricken country has given a moment’s thought to CV over the last few months, and they probably won’t bother over the coming months, either.
      Lets hope they don’t have to. Bird Emu policy isn’t the answer, either, you know. We here are very much aware of the best funded department of any NHS institution: Infection Control. Why? Just to name the one we all know about: MRSA (Methicillin-resistent Staphylococcus Aureus – a bacteria not a virus!) has been with us for quite some time.
      Nature is not static.

      Have you not wondered why the anti-smokers right now are particularly active? Even the WHO cannot stop itself from tweeting about NCDs “killing” 7 out of 10 people. My projection for British smokers are tobacco price rises over the next couple of years or so, accompanied with more outdoor bans to match Australia and New Zealand.
      And, if I am wrong I will happily take every (well, almost) insult ladled out.

      Now, back to Italy, checking out the claim they have just run out of test kits in the Lombardy.

  6. beobrigitte says:

    I think I better make this my last comment – I seem to have taken over Frank’s blog.

    36 countries are by now affected and we’ll have to see what the WHO will state today.
    It is getting increasingly more difficult to get past the WHO controlled internet but those who speak more than 1 language might manage to get at least some impartial information – that if the tin foil hat comes off or the heads are pulled out the sand.
    I’m sorry for being so blunt.

  7. Pingback: Protected Smokers | Frank Davis

  8. beobrigitte says:

    I think I better make this my last comment
    It would have been if I hadn’t just seen some MASSIVE changes (and taken screen shots!)
    Now I am just waiting to see what will happen. Data error? Or not?

    This thing is getting more interesting by the day!

    • beobrigitte says:

      All sorted again. Back to normal. (Whatever this glitch was)

      I did find something interesting, though:

      02:15 PM
      Big jump in virus cases in Italy’s north despite lockdowns

      01:31 PM
      COVID-19 remains an international emergency; over 79000 affected globally
      The World Health Organization (WHO) no longer has a process for declaring a pandemic, but the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak remains an international emergency, a spokesman said on Monday. The Geneva-based agency, which declared the H1N1 swine flu outbreak a pandemic in 2009, declared the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China in December a public health emergency of International concern, known as a PHEIC, on Jan. 30.
      (bold my emphasis)
      https://i.pinimg.com/originals/33/74/77/3374771eee6174f786308d226fefc74b.jpg

      • beobrigitte says:

        Apart from the Worldometer site, the Hopkins site, too, is experiencing problems today.
        (I’d love to blame the anti-smokers but it makes more sense to just wait and see what happens).

        France just pledged 100 million Euro to the WHO, so I expect all the anti-smoker nonsense and “NCDs kill 7 out of 10 people” to appear again.

        By now I highly recommend the by now totally defunct WHO to be dissolved and it’s spending of our money to be traced. Then I would like to hand over to the “tinfoilers”. If they can produce actual figures and proof I change my mind.

  9. beobrigitte says:

    Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
    @DrTedros
    I met & updated
    @BrunoRguezP
    , Foreign Minister 🇨🇺, on the #COVID19 situation. I commended their strong commitment to #HealthForAll, which also makes #Cuba better prepared for any possible onset of #coronavirus.

    Smoking ban in Cuba coming on. And, of course Cuba will fund it.
    So much for the ongoing pandemic, WHO????

    This organisation needs to be dispersed of asap. Money for nothing. And then comes the tedious job: tracking back it’s spending!

  10. beobrigitte says:

    Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
    @DrTedros
    ·
    1h
    Today’s situation report on #COVID19 highlights:

    – 🇰🇼 reported cases in the past 24 hours
    – how stigmatization can contribute to ongoing virus transmission

    – 🇰🇼 reported cases in the past 24 hours. REALLY?

  11. beobrigitte says:

    Last comment for now. Promise:

    The icing of the cake: The WHO being weeks behind Chris Martenson:
    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/who-coronavirus-pandemic-feb-24/
    WHO: Now is the time to prepare. We’re in a phase of preparedness for a potential pandemic.

    WHO, weeks behind, needs even more cash to invent more NCD scares. So far I do not detect ADE (the signs of I expect) for now. It’s too early for that, anyway.

    Folks, relax. I have a rough idea where the last 4 diagnosed cases were taken to. One is pretty close to me. I can assure you I live my life as usual. I have been out today and will be out tomorrow.
    That is not the point. My point is the WHO completely mishandling the case for it’s own benefit. China? WHO gives a shit! There is worse hidden in this taxpayers organisation.

    I must read “The fourth turning”.

  12. Fumo ergo sum says:

    “We’re living in a golden age. We’re living in an age of accelerating technological innovation and mounting prosperity, unprecedented in human history. In my own lifetime we’ve seen men walking on the Moon. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll see them walking on Mars pretty soon as well. And I’m surrounded by devices that were more or less inconceivable in my childhood: TVs, computers, mobile phones. We ought to be celebrating it all, but instead we’ve got Greta Thunberg. We’re getting more and more anxious and frightened about more or less everything.”

    –> Or perhaps we are rather living in a golden cage, don’t we? Whereas we are indeed living in an age of unprecedented wealth and prosperity, this prosperity comes at the price of a loss of fundamental civil liberties as well as the rise of the authoritarian bully state. I think this emergence has to do with a conceptual conflation concerning the role of technological innovations. Technological innovations – whether it be telescopes, steam engines, power plants or cell phones – have one core feature in common, which is that they possess instrumental value. Something has instrumental value to someone when it enables that person to pursue a further higher end. An obvious example of something that solely has instrumental value would be money: money makes it possible for someone to buy goods and commodities. Apart from its purchasing power, money has no intrinsic or final end value at all: it would be just a pile of colorful printed paper or scrap metal. The valuableness of an object having instrumental value could be assessed according to its efficacy to foster further higher-order goods. Think again of money: the better it succeeds in fulfilling its function as a means of exchange (for instance, by being recognized by other merchants as money, by being less prone to sudden inflation, etc.), the more efficacious it will be judged as something bearing instrumental value.

    Now I think that all technological innovations of the past millennia, as long as man has already been wandering on earth, possess this intricate mean-end relationship. It is nevertheless sometimes often difficult to conceptually distinguish goods having instrumental value from the final goods they eventually foster. An example where this distinction may be easily made is that of a hammer. The ‘tool’ itself is quite distinct from the end-result for which the tool was needed, such as the painting attached to the wall afterwards. But now consider something very familiar to us: a cigarette. Does a cigarette possess instrumental value? I do think so, because the function it is meant to fulfill is the generation of enjoyment, which is a final end in itself. However, there cannot be any enjoyment apart from the act of enjoying it (through smoking the cigarette). The enjoyment actually perishes once the cigarette perishes with it. In cases such as smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of wine or eating a tasty meal it would be simply ridiculous even to try to drive a wedge between mean and end, since both actually collide.

    Recognizing which things could be used as a mean to pursue further ends, or to make the pursuit of higher ends more efficacious, is an act of human rationality. Goods and values are not attached to things like a list of nutrients is attached to a cereal box. It takes an extensive time of learning, experiencing and making oneself acquainted with the world before something ultimately turns into a good possessing value. For example, in a preindustrial society, a large thick layer of black stuff covering the fields must have been judged to be of no value at all – or even to have a negative value, if it forms an impediment to use that field to grow crops or to have one’s cattle grazing on it. Until someone discovers that that black dirty mud could actually be transformed in something else, such as plastics, or even converted into fuel such as gasoline. The dirty black mud suddenly turns into something of tremendous value, namely oil. Whereas the thick layer of black mud has the natural properties of potentially turning into something valuable (the chemical structure of ‘oil’ has had always been the same for several of thousands if not billions of years), it is only human reason that can convert those natural properties into axiological ones – that is, properties bearing values. Whereas reasonableness is a common characteristic of the class of human persons, it is nevertheless unevenly distributed among its individual members. As a result, reason makes itself only manifest in individual persons. There is no metaphysically necessary reason to assume that reason belongs to an entity beyond mankind, unfolding and developing itself through history in some sort of Hegelian “world spirit”. So the conceptual scheme I am endorsing involves a triangular relation between (a) human persons, (b) objects and their natural properties and (c) value-judgements pertaining to these objects. It is through these value-judgements that ‘objects’ turn into goods (or into ‘commodities’, if you prefer a term borrowed from economics) Hence, value – whether it be instrumental or final end value – remains immanent to the practices and judgements that individual, overall rational persons carry out with respect to the world surrounding them.

    This of course relies on a teleological notion of man who is able to pursue his plans through setting definite goals, and who is therefore endowed with the necessary amount of practical wisdom to structure his life. However, this teleological notion of man came to be jettisoned at the dawn of modernity by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes and Francis Bacon. Instead of conceiving of man as directed toward a final goal, man’s finality came to be defined in terms of the several parts that originally merely contributed to that final end. That is, man’s quest to conquer nature came to be regarded as an end in itself. The price man had to pay to start this Icarian flight, was of course his abandonment of his own reason and free will, or at least the ancient conceptions regarding man’s substantial qualities he had always held dear. However: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” (cf. Francis Bacon). So man had to do away with his fundamental liberty and rationality in order to surrender himself to the caprices of nature.

    The ramifications of how man related himself to the world around him were of course tremendous – if not devastating. The goods that were considered to possess mere (yet nevertheless important!) instrumental value now, all the sudden, became the final ends in themselves. But one could actually only conceive of these goods as final ends if one detaches them from the underlying intentional and axiological structure that makes these things ‘goods’ in the first place – as I already sketched above. Suddenly turning means into ends involves a very wicked way of thinking. Clever marketeers were and still are good in fooling their customers into believing that the things they launch into the market are the ends in themselves, whereas they are actually mere means: we are supposed to believe that we cannot live a life fulfilled without the latest car, the newest television or the most recent iPhone in our possession. Now, I do not claim that these things won’t have a certain instrumental value, as I asserted at the beginning, but I deny that a life following the rhetoric of corporate marketeers would be very meaningful or fulfilling.

    But those strategically minded marketeers aren’t the world’s greatest enemies – any healthy corporation would like to have the greatest share of the global market, isn’t it? At least, the rhetoric of crafty marketeers and cunning tradesmen can still be defied even though it often requires a critical stance. I therefore definitely do not endorse the widespread criticism popular among fellow philosophers that capitalism is the worst threat to humanity. It is the state. It is regarded as a basic feature of the modern (post-Westphalian) state that it is supposed to remain neutral with regard to the plurality of activities, lifestyles, world views and so on that shape the fundamental life structure of its citizens. Conceived as a stronghold of classical (Lockean) liberalism to prevent an all-powerful state from encroaching upon the private lives of its subjects, state neutrality was initially meant as a philosophically noble idea. Sadly, as is often the case with noble ideas, it lacked the required inner coherence to prevent it for degrading into an ideological prerequisite of the nanny-cum-bully-cum-tyrant state that we witness today. The problem is that neutrality presupposes that one recognizes the very thing toward which one remains neutral as something (potentially) non-neutral. For instance, I could remain neutral toward the proposition that it is raining in Andalusia at this moment, for example, because I lack the evidence to make a correct judgement about it. However, in saying that I won’t make a judgement concerning the posited state of affairs, I effectively DO recognize the proposition “that it is raining in Andalusia at this moment on the 28th of February 2020 at 7 pm” as syntactically and semantically meaningful and to which I could, potentially, assign a truth value. Similarly with judgements involving value statements. I could for instance refrain from making any judgement whether taking drugs or attending a church ceremony is something good or bad. Good or bad for what and for whom? However, I could definitely presuppose that, potentially, a value pro or contra could eventually be assigned to the statement under consideration.

    The problem with the modern state and the politics that ensued from it, is the modern politician – unlike the marketeer – does not recognize any value statements, whether they be ‘potentially’ valid or not; valid or not at least for someone. He sees any value judgement as something merely subjective and non-cognitive, and he is therefore not able to recognize anything that could be a bearer of value. If someone were to tell this politician that this or that is valuable to him, it can mean at best that it is useful to that person (and therefore the object of an aggregate demand curve). This value blindness actually renders he modern politician completely incapable of recognizing that some things and activities are not only useful, but of intrinsic value to other persons. Since value neutrality actually results in an all-compassing form of value blindness, there is nothing that could prevent the state from encroaching upon other people’s lives, pleasures and leisurely activities. In the modern political and moral worldview, there is no such thing as values. So there could be a fortiori nothing to be encroaching upon…

    That the modern worldview not only presupposes but also engenders a dehumanizing, purely instrumental policy is an inconvenient yet painful truth. I already mentioned Francis Bacon’s infamous quote that ‘nature to be commanded must be obeyed’. Indeed, modern politics is built on the idea that the modern sciences are a role model to design a new moral order. That is, how awkward it may sound, a moral order without values. Recall the distinction I emphasized between instrumental and final or higher end values. Whereas modernity would in a first move dissolve the distinction between the two concepts, it would ultimately abandon any talk about value whatsoever. In doing so, it would also abandon any meaningful talk about human behaviour, agency and volition. And it would also fail to recognize that the objects to which acting persons attach (instrumental) value are actually intentional objects, that is, objects that fulfill a certain function within a human person’s life plan. Stripped from its meaningful and social context, the intentional object becomes a mere thing – like a stone, a meteor or a chemical particle – whereas on the subject-side, the agent becomes a ‘thinking machine’ not wholly unlike a computer, solipsistically calculating inferences from the symbolic input it receives.

    Unlike intentional objects, which can only be understood from a first person’s point of view through acts of valuation and meaning-intention, (physical) things can only become acquainted with from a third person’s standpoint through the effects they cause. Indeed, instead of intentionality, (efficient) causality now became the dominant paradigm in order to explain the effects that those things provoke. Now, the problem with explaining things causally is that everything that could act as a cause for something to happen is itself also an effect of an anterior cause. For instance, the wind that causes a sandstorm in the desert is itself caused e.g. by differences in air pressure in the atmosphere in conjunction with the Coriolis force. Natural science often makes abstraction of these anterior causes, because it would otherwise not be able to explain the most relevant causes that are the immediate proxy to explain the phenomenon that the natural scientist was investigating. It would be perfectly possible to formulate a theory about the workings of the oceans without mentioning anything about the earth’s magnetic field, even though without that magnetic field, there probably won’t have been any oceans left on earth to start with. By contrast, making abstraction of anterior causes for things that were formerly intentional objects is rather awkward, because the intentional action simply IS the immediate cause of the phenomenon that must be explained. Leaving intentionality outside the scope of explanation makes the explanation itself incomplete, and at times even straightforwardly awkward or mysterious. Whereas a natural explanation such as ‘the wind causes the sandstorm’ would be informative and complete, the explanation that ‘the movements of the brush cause the painting’ would seem rather odd – as if the brush moves itself out of nothing?

    Explaining formerly intentional phenomena in purely causal terms is therefore a tricky business. For if the real cause, which is always an act of agency, is left out or minimized; the way in which things cause certain phenomena to occur becomes all the sudden something spooky, as if there is a ghost behind the phenomenon that cannot be seen. And ghosts are of course very threatening and menacing, because their behaviour cannot be explained nor predicted (neither in purely causal, nor in intentional agency-terms). It is precisely the reason why most people shiver and tremble when watching a horror movie involving haunted ghostly places.

    Think for instance about the following popular alleged truisms of contemporary science and politics: “Guns kill!”, “Cigarettes kill!” or “Meat destroys the ecosystem!” What these aphorisms conceal is that there is always at least one person ‘behind’ those things who conceives of these objects as something valuable. There won’t be a gun without a shooter, nor a cigarette without a smoker or a beefsteak without a meat aficionado. These objects don’t shoot, smoke or grill ‘out of themselves’. But modern politics does try to abandon any talk about what is valuable. So it must forge a wedge between the agent and his intentional object, and conceive of the object as a mere thing. A thing that, as we have just seen, behaves rather mysteriously and may become an imminent threat once the view on its immediate cause is cast aside. Indeed: guns, tobacco, drugs, sugar, meat,… all kill – ‘out of nothing’ – so their potential cause to provoke harm and terror must be counteracted upon by exerting a counteraction, equal in force. The imminent threat of the pistol or the cigarette could then only be neutralized by using brute force, channeled through legislation, regulation, taxes and/or straightforward banning the threatening thing. The attentive reader may indeed observe that this is a moral-political pendant of Newton’s third law of motion which states that if one object A exerts a force on another object B, then B simultaneously exerts a force on A. It is, after all, supposed that ‘forces’ do not have volitions or intentions, so that the state could allegedly remain “neutral” to what it is supposed to regulate.

    This explains for instance – but I think that Frank already explained this elsewhere on this blog – why a no smoking sign displays just a barred cigarette but not a barred smoker, which is a human person. It is after all just the “thing” – the cigarette – that must be neutralized. Even though this means, by implication, that the smoker himself has been neutralized as well. And by the way, it does not limit itself to cigarettes and smokers. The twisted worldview of the prohibitionists makes itself manifest in almost of those prohibition signs. ‘No cycling allowed’ is usually depicted as a barred bicycle, but not a barred cyclist; ‘No eating allowed’ as a barred sandwich and/or soda can; and so on and so forth. “Things” do not have volitions or intentions – let alone ‘rights’. They are just there to be manipulated and mastered.

    And this explains why we have evil entities such as the World Health Organization and Greta Thunberg and Michael Bloomberg and other fear mongers. They do not conceive of objects such as hamburgers, cigarettes, guns, cars or even entire factories as objects that could be brought under the supervision of a rational agent who, despite being fallible, must nevertheless always be assumed to act responsibly and knowledgeable. These are just things that could inflict the most horrible things through the causal powers they unleash on the world. Not much unlike abandoned land mines that could explode at any moment. Corollary, the once rational agent has been declared virtually dead as well. Instead of being the person whose actions needed to be understood, he all the sudden became the patient who needs to be cured. Because nature that must be commanded must be… obeyed!

    The alert reader may now point toward a serious flaw in the justification of modern state politics. If the state is supposed to put forward merely value-neutral policies since it refrains from making substantive value judgements, then how can it justify its policies that effectively DO alter people’s preferences, intentions and life plans? There are two options. Either it cannot justify its policies, in which case so-called Western liberal democracies are, from a normative point if view, actually on a par with the most brutish and horrid totalitarian regimes. They, too, cannot and often need not justify themselves. Or the liberal state can justify its policies. In that case, however, it has to relinquish its value neutrality for the plain reason that asserting that the state will pursue a policy of value neutrality already presupposes a value judgement that value neutrality is a good in itself. But then the state cannot simply remain value neutral. In short, the liberal, neutral state already presupposes something that is not neutral in itself. But I will not dwell on this any further. Just search for “Böckenförde dilemma” in Google in order to find out what I mean here.

    My apologies for the very lengthy post. But it is Saturday night only once a week, after all. And since I do not go out on Saturday night (nor on any other day in the week) thanks to the smoking ban, I am glad that I can spend my time writing for a generous and thankful readership… :-)

    • Frank Davis says:

      I got as far as this bit:

      Something has instrumental value to someone when it enables that person to pursue a further higher end. An obvious example of something that solely has instrumental value would be money: money makes it possible for someone to buy goods and commodities. Apart from its purchasing power, money has no intrinsic or final end value at all: it would be just a pile of colorful printed paper or scrap metal.

      The instrumental value of a hammer is that it allows nails to be driven quickly into wood. The instrumental value of an axe or a saw is that it allows wood to be quickly cut up. The instrumental value of a car is that it allows you to travel quickly from one place to another. The instrumental value of a telephone is that it allows people to quickly speak to each other.

      In my view, the instrumental value of most useful tools is that they save time doing something, and so allow other things to be done. Money is also a useful tool, because it permits all sort of different tools to be traded. When I buy a hammer from you, I am buying the idle time I estimate it will provide for me, and the price I will pay will be the cost to myself in idle time as work. The value of a tool is some amount of idle time. And the price is some other amount of idle time. If something is worth buying, it will be because its value exceeds its price, and the buyer will profit from the transaction. And usually the seller will profit as well, because the price of the tool will exceed the cost in idle time spent making it.

      Even colourful printed paper has value: it can be burned or written on. And even scrap metal has value: it can be heated and hammered into some useful tool (gold is particularly useful in this respect)

      Not all goods save time doing something. Sitting in a pub drinking beer and smoking cigarettes is something that people enjoy doing for its own sake. That is its intrinsic or final value. It doesn’t save any time. Instead, it consumes time.

      This connects to my blog post today. All the people who are staying home during the coronavirus epidemic will be unable to buy goods with intrinsic or final value (drinks in pubs, meals in restaurants, tickets to football games, etc) and will instead have a lot of idle time on their hands. And this idle time would have been bought with useful tools like houses and freezers and cookers and electric lights, which they will carry on buying. The economy will have become one in which only useful tools with instrumental value will be exchanged, and in which no goods with intrinsic or final value are exchanged. But I like idle time for its own sake. I think idle time has its own intrinsic value. It is time in which I can do whatever I like.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Further on:

      Goods and values are not attached to things like a list of nutrients is attached to a cereal box.

      Sometimes they are attached. The value of the cereal in the box is the energy stored in the cereal, which translates to work. If a the cereal contains 1000 kJ of energy, and I expend 100 J/s (Watts) doing nothing, then the cereal will keep me alive for 10,000 seconds or 167 minutes.

      If I enjoy eating the cereal, there’ll be the bonus that it won’t seem like work to eat it.

    • Frank Davis says:

      The goods that were considered to possess mere (yet nevertheless important!) instrumental value now, all the sudden, became the final ends in themselves.

      So you buy a car because you like driving cars, not because it will take you quickly from one place to another, which is its instrumental value.

      But equally you might replace the intrinsic value of something with its instrumental value. So antismokers dismiss the intrinsic value of smoking, as something pleasurable in itself, and only point out the (imagined) instrumental effect: It’s killing you.

      This value blindness actually renders he modern politician completely incapable of recognizing that some things and activities are not only useful, but of intrinsic value to other persons. Since value neutrality actually results in an all-compassing form of value blindness, there is nothing that could prevent the state from encroaching upon other people’s lives, pleasures and leisurely activities.

      Recall the distinction I emphasized between instrumental and final or higher end values. Whereas modernity would in a first move dissolve the distinction between the two concepts, it would ultimately abandon any talk about value whatsoever.

      Perhaps what happens is that instrumental values and intrinsic values come into conflict, and negate each other, leaving no values at all. If I eat food both for its instrumental value – it keeps me alive — and its intrinsic value – I enjoy eating it -, the two value systems conflict with each other. I’m doing something for two very different (and perhaps even opposed) reasons. And when they come into conflict they become confused. And what becomes confused becomes meaningless. And so values become meaningless.

      My apologies for the very lengthy post.

      It took a long time, but I enjoyed reading it, although I didn’t quite understand some of it.

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