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Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Let’s start with things that we investigate and wonder whether they have meaning. For instance, if you look at this word

Смысл

and if you cannot read Cyrillic, never mind Russian, you would conclude that it has no meaning to you (the word is the translation of “meaning”). But at the same time, you might well surmise that these signs have meaning for someone other than yourself, because you know how to read.

Then there are emojis:

😊

😅

😂

🤪

The meanings here seem pretty obvious. In fact, these little symbols are universally understood: they start with a smile, breaking into laughter, laughing to tears, and then mugging a lunatic smile. …

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Pontius Pilate made a seemingly contemporary statement almost 2,000 years ago, according to the Gospel of John. “What is truth?” is his retort to Jesus’ claim that he came as a witness to the truth. It is a world-weary, cynical reply, from a man who had been assigned the worst posting in the Roman Empire. Whereas it is not clear why Pilate was not in the good graces of the emperor, Tiberius, it would not be very long after that he ordered Pilate to go either into exile or commit suicide. The Roman Empire did not give pensions to failures.

Today the notion of truth is itself mocked. You have your truth, and I have mine, and it doesn’t matter if these “truths” contradict each other. Only those facts that can be empirically proven are allowed to be called truth, and even scientific truth has come under attack as being as much a “social construct” as other truth claims. …

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Photo by Hannah Wright on Unsplash

First, what it’s not. In his last book, the late author Tom Wolfe, known for his iconoclastic journalism in works such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, took on language. In The Kingdom of Speech,[1] Wolfe skewered Charles Darwin for plagiarizing the theory of evolution from Alfred Wallace. He also pointed out that Darwin never showed that human language evolved from anything else — birdsongs, mother’s coos, animal grunts, and so on — though he desperately wanted to. No one has credibly argued for an evolutionary origin, since, as well.

Having done in Darwin, Wolfe then trained his sights on Noah Chomsky, who almost single-handedly invented the discipline of linguistics with theories of a “ language organ” somewhere in the brain that picks up on a “universal grammar” enabling us all to learn to speak a particular language. Using sources including a personal interview, he showed that Chomsky himself no longer believed in the ideas that made him famous. The great linguist now admits ignorance as to the evolutionary origin of language.[2] …

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Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

OK, I am assuming now that Joe Biden will on January 20 be sworn in as the next President of the United States of America. If it is Donald Trump, then what I say here will still be necessary to save the world’s oldest democracy.

Biden received the most votes in US history. But he did not do better than Hillary Clinton in 2016. She was ahead of Trump by 3 million votes, which means that Trump did much better in 2020 than in 2016. Those who hoped for a “blue wave” are disappointed, but they should have been more realistic: the country is deeply divided. People tend to only talk to other like-minded folks, which isn’t unusual, of course. …

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photo Pierre Whalon

Part The Last:

This series started with the fact of huge income inequality, with only 28 people holding the same amount of wealth as half of humanity, each of these wealthiest of the wealthy owning as much wealth as some 119,642 857 people. Furthermore, the processes that enabled such outrageous fortunes to develop are closely tied to the rapidly-degrading climate of planet Earth. Besides that, this inequality stokes wild political instabilities. Finally, the financial system that promotes profits from rents over production is destined to crash.

Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures, but you wouldn’t want to live in a world after both climate and economic disasters. …

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thanks to Phil McShane

Part 4: the rise of Spud Island

If you have read this far, thank you, Gentle Reader! If not, Part 1 outlined income inequality as a huge danger to the human species; Part 2 focused upon the inadequacy of current economic theories to address this reality, or even to predict booms and busts; Part 3 introduced the “new political economy” of Bernard Lonergan as a truly scientific approach.

Specifically, he paid attention to a fundamental aspect of every human economy, whether hunter-gatherers or our own: there are always two economies, not one, in play. The one we all participate in is the basic economy of selling and buying goods and services. The second distinct economy is the producing of those goods and services; Lonergan calls this one the “surplus economy”. Since mainstream economists rarely pay attention to this fact — so obvious as to go unnoticed? — they usually cannot account for the total reality of any economy. …

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photo Pierre Whalon; Haiti, March 2010

Part 3

In Part 1, I described the current staggering growth of income inequality,[1] and how the forces creating it are also endangering the climate of our island home. Part 2 discussed the failures of economic theories to guide leaders and the rest of us in making not only overall policies but even decisions each of us needs to make financially.

In this Part 3, I will introduce one little-known theory, that of Bernard Lonergan, who proposes a real science of economics, which, he argues, must incorporate a moral perspective if it is to be at maximum efficiency.

“Bernard J.F. Lonergan is considered by many intellectuals to be the finest philosophic thinker of the 20th century.” — Time Magazine, April 20, 1970. …

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photo Pierre Whalon

Part 2

In Part 1, I described the unstinting growth of income inequality, its injustice and contribution to climate threats. Is there a economic theory that can offer real, practical advice to leaders and other people to make a definitive difference, both financially in terms of lifting people out of poverty and in terms of climate change?

There are arguments that economics is purely mechanistic, and moral considerations do not enter, indeed, should not enter into the conduct of business. Milton Friedman posited that the only purpose of any business is to maximize its profits, for example. Moral considerations are mere “ethical customs.” …

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Can an artificial intelligence really think?

On the old Dragnet television program, which aired in the United States from 1951 to 1959, the protagonist, Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, always says to women witnesses to crime, “Just the facts, ma’am.” This exhortation is to distinguish between what they actually observed and what they thought or felt about it.[1] The “facts” are basically what they saw.

First off, we believe in facts that others have handed on to us, often without ways of directly verifying the data. Indeed, it would be impossible to live if we always had to verify every single fact in order to think. …

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photo Pierre Whalon

Part 1

“The 1%” is a shorthand designation that points to the vast disparity in levels of income in America and other developed countries. The World Economic Forum, in its annual Global Risks report for the 2014 conference in Davos, Switzerland[1], called inequality the greatest immediate threat to the world, not only economically, but also politically.[2]

That was then. This year’s report focused on the rapidly deteriorating environment. It lists “severe threats to our climate, along with ‘economic confrontations’ and ‘domestic political polarization’” as major risks. …

About

Pierre Whalon

Bishop in charge, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, 2001–2019. French-American. Musician, composer, author, happily married. www.pierrewhalon.info

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