Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Too Scream

Ideas are expressed in words. Humans have the capacity for language. They also seem to have the capacity to take their words too seriously. This constitutes a basic mistake and it is a way of going overboard ---- and is not a good way of engaging in the intellectuals' task.

There is intellectual activity going on, no doubt, in the academic setting, or elsewhere. But much of the intellectual activity that this intellectual sees seems to proceed on the mistaken premise under discussion that I am calling that of mistaking ideas with things. And that is a mistake. Here I am trying to describe how the scholar examines his own and others' words as if they were things when they are just words. The words bear some relation to things, but words are not things, and thereby the scholar deprives them (K. Barad would say this as well) of their materiality. I am trying to indicate how the poor scholar makes the mistake of believing words to be something more. When we treat words this way we commit a fundamental error. We make language too important.

And, so, this is what I think. THis is what I think when I read the literature and I encounter work by an institutional economist, by which I mean an economist who is writing from the standpoint of himself as a member of a particular economic school, the institutional school, and he is comparing his own school, the institutional school of economic thought, with the neo-classical school, the Austrian school, the Marxist school... It tells that the institutional school comes out best. "My words won!" Wowee zowee! So what?!

This is a stand-alone article in an economics journal, by which I mean that the fact (that his words won) is supposed to mean something in itself, unconnected to anything else.

The problem I see is that reality never comes into it --- why? --- because the words block the reality. This seems to be because the author mistakes his words for reality --- for being more than words.

Let us take an example: feeding a hungry person. Let us take this not as idea but thing. We have the power to do so. It seems easy enough. There is no reason to think a person should be interested in a word (or a school of economic thought) per se. Feeding a hungry person can be taken as a tangible reality. We do not have to philosophize about the concept. The words "feeding a hungry person" firstly strike us tangibly, meaning we go straight to the essence of the matter. Secondarily, we could analyze the grammar or philosophize on the words, but that is not what we do firstly. This is good and proper. As a thing, it does not matter what we call it. It does not matter what we think about it. Nor is there an issue as to whether we think about it or we do not. Something real happens when we eat. If I succeed in feeding someone, this is more than the comparison of ideas, e.g. the institutional idea to the neo-Classical idea. A person got fed. And that's different from comparing one word --"neo-Classical" --to another, which I suspect is all that that text amounts to; the scholar that I encounter above seemed to believe that words that label economic schools really mean something. There is no indication in the text itself (the article under discussion) that the name of a school of economic thought means anything more than the theoretical content of the school (the point being that the two need to be distinguished. I could also reverse the phrasing, if you wish, in that sentence with "name" and "content" reversed linguistically. It makes no difference to me, but that might help you the reader.) This is why such an article is poor.
Feeding a person seems more real when it goes beyond mere thinking about doing so. To eat is more than a post-modern act of "interrogating" food. I like the post-modernists, but it is a thing that has to be handled with a certain amount of care. (Something a writer named "Pollan" recently did is something like this. His interrogation of food is the hot new book: "In Defense of Food") Even without any ideas at all about food ----if we eat it, it provides the same benefit. (Which is what Pollan's book is actually about so, OK, he's not all bad.)
What we find the academics doing, and here I am especially concerned with their misconstrual ((the spell-checker wants me to say "misconstruction," but based on the content of this essay, would I want to take the word offered by the spell-checker?)) of "social science," which happens in the area of economics (I wonder if social science a thing or a label?) is digging deeply or puttering about too deeply into the mere consideration of concepts. I am just saying that it seems particularly pernicious in economics.
There are particular ways it occurs in economics, by which I both mean the conceptual practice of economic and the tangible, material reality of human social and economics systems themselves: it is difficult to separate these two. So, in conclusion, my view is that the economists (and other social science practitioners) are being too easily satisfied by the way they are continuously considerating concepts. This is not something real but this is what weak academics will do. No doubt. When the ideas take over, and we make too much of words the result is weak and fake.

What are these people who write these economics book trying to do?, I wonder to myself. I have a right to wonder. I am too an economist in the guise of a private scholar. I work in the area of economics. Would you have guessed? But it's true --- and I too scream.
"Economics" means how much of one thing and how much of another. They seem to think of the abstract question: if resources are scarce, who gets them? Let me guess. Maybe it is the cleverest scholar?

OK. I'm sorry. I apologize.

really; England is a very cruel world with people continually poking at one, from what I hear. Somehow I think so, and I can quite imagine Mr. Gregory Hodgson, as I recall his apellation, going into "institutional economics" as the only rational thing to do in his country. And in the stupid English soccer matches, racist boors scream too.

(ref. Hodgson, Journal of International Political Economy. I believe that was it. He's the editor of something else, some other journal, but this article was not in the journal he actually edits. Clever!)

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