A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

2 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. I am re-posting this item here. It fits the definition for a Sandpit post.

    The foundational ontological issue in economics (or rather political economy) is the issue of the interaction of the formal with the real, or to put it in standard economic parlance, the interaction of what can be prescribed (the prescriptive) with what can only be described (the objectively real). Superimposed on this issue are the issues of social power, the main modern forms being capital, violence and moral suasion in the form of ethics or moral philosophy.

    We have to examine our social ontology which is in whole or main part prescribed as legal laws, regulations, customs and precedents and extensively “programmed” (by enculturation and education) into humans as social agents by the methods of humanly developed formal systems utilizing language, logic, quantification, communication and behavioral control techniques. These are backed by physical punishment and reward systems of which we can see numerous examples in every facet of society. Next we have to examine how social ontology as a system relates to and interacts with objectively real material existence; the cosmos of stuff with objects, processes and fields which we can only describe and hopefully find fundamental hard science laws for (including of course the biosphere of stuff and other organisms, in which biosphere we find ourselves and live.)

    It is this interaction of the real with the formal and the formal with real in an iterative complex system manner which we need to study. These interactions occur for humans in a socioeconomy via and through the humans themselves as agents who are both external materials/energies/fields manipulators (via the body as servo and tools and machines as extensions) and also logical formal system manipulators (via the brain and computers as extensions for formal system brain-initiated actions). We need a comprehensive complex systems theory of these interactions. In other words, we need a theory of the interaction of social ontology with the ontology of the objectively real. It is only in discovering fundamental laws (if possible) or tendencies of this combined interaction arena, that we can move towards a science of the real-formal systems aspect of political economy. In its full aspect, political economy will always involve both power, as both ontologically physical power and ontologically social power, and “ethics” or moral philosophy (moral power as suasion). These further arenas of social power and moral philosophy do not seem at all amenable to scientising, at least not in toto, and there are plenty of warning signs that we should not attempt to scientise them. The outcomes of social darwinism and eugenics are two clear examples of those warning signs. The outcomes of propertarianism are another clear warning sign.

    This leaves the unification of the fundamental interactions of the formal and the real as the field that political economy ontology (and indeed all social sciences ontology) ought to attempt to enter and analyze; even develop from scratchif need be. How does the formal interact with the real? That is a very intriguing question. Pragmatically, we see it when human agents using formal systems employ these formal systems to deduce, plan or propose real actions to affect real systems. I will give a simple example. We use plans to build houses. At least, architects, designer,s builders and ambitious home handymen do. The house plan is a formalization based essentially on euclidean geometry and certain measures which we can find in the SI (International System of Units); particularly the meter and the kilogram but also other units and their derivatives if any formal engineering is required.

    My point here is that certain plans (prescriptions) can be translated into real constructions and certain plans cannot. The plans which can be translated into real constructions obey certain rules. In essential ways. The plans must be homomorphically congruent (following the correspondence theory of truth ) with real possibilities and only real possibilities which are inherent in objective, material reality. If the plans are not congruent in that essential way, then the planned structure cannot be built at all or will fail catastrophically immediately or eventually (as opposed to slow attrition or entropic failures which are both acceptable in realistic or pragmatic terms and inevitable in this cosmos).

    A key problem arises in economics (political economy) when prescriptive rules are adhered to ideologically rather than realistically. The key prescriptive rules of capitalism (unsustainable capitalism we might add as we are contemporaneously in the fraught process of discovering that this is the only kind of capitalism possible) center around the current prescriptions for property, markets and money-finance. These prescriptions “sum” to a formal system that has “formal emergent” qualities which eventually cause the real economy to approach the asymptote of the possible in the real world; and then both the real economy and the formal-financial economy break down. Such blindly ideological prescriptions assume that the impossible is possible and will and do take the real system to its asymptotic limits. I used the term “formal emergent” in scare quotes. This is because “formal emergent” is somewhat of an oxymoron. Something that is “formally emergent” in an axiomatic-prescriptive system (like that of capitalist property, markets and money-finance operations) is, strictly speaking, a theorem derivable from the prescriptive axioms which define the fundamentals of the system.

    However, difficulties in prediction arise from the limits not being near (initially) and the limits being in the real system, not in the formal system. When the real system (the finite biosphere) begins to show serious indications that endless growth in “value” and “wealth” in capitalism is not possible then the formal system and the real system will have diverged too far apart for the fictions (social-fictive quantities ike money and beliefs (faith in capitalism) to be maintained. Those are the points where we get economic crises, social crises, wars and now ecological and climate system crises. Thus, the deduction must be that a formal system which seeks to manage the real must be constructed to conform homomorphically and in emergent possibilities with the characteristics (particularly complexity and asymptotic limit characteristics) of the real system. It ought also conform to our ethical system(s) which in turn ought not (and cannot) fail to conform to the real either. However, diametrically opposite ethics may both conform to the real in many cases so ethics are not easily deduced from “is” arguments as opposed to “ought” arguments. For example, not stealing and stealing, are both to considerable extents possible in a real system plus a social system with a superimposed “don’t steal” rule.

    The method (in the social sciences and political economy) must be to subject all social and economic prescriptions (prescriptions being unavoidable for coordinated, cooperative, social and civilizational living) to two tests. The first is the physical reality test. The second is the ethical test (according variously to deontological and consequentualist ethics decided upon democratically). This is an argument essentially to abolish economic ideology if that goal could ever be attained or at least to demote such ideology to a minor place in our values and calculations.

    The physical reality test and even the social ontology ethical test are not and will not be simple. Evolution and emergence (in both physical reality and social reality) will continue to cause and ensure such difficulties. But surely we can avoid gross errors like ever-rising inequality and impending ecological catastrophe, if we act in time and it is not already too late.

    Our current problem is the high level of quasi-religious and ideological faith in capitalism as a system fit and able to endlessly deliver growth and goods and somehow save the environment at the same time , even if that be by geo-engineering. This faith will soon be shattered and the world will then be home to 7.9 billion very angry and dissatisfied people. The task now is to prepare the next system theoretically and in a manner which understands formal systems, real systems and their interactions in a fully scientific manner. The key will be to test every prescription both theoretically and in practice with a method (methodology) which applies formal prescriptions to real systems and tests whether the real system refutes the formal prescription. I have not developed this method even theoretically yet and I don’t know if I can. But in principle it can be done and it needs to be developed. The theoretical and empirical work of the Capital as Power theorists points the way in many respects. I approach the problem from a more philosophical and ontological angle. But CasP ontology is sound. I can’t find a problem with their ontology when I consider it philosophically and they have plenty of empirical evidence for the validity of their approach.

    I referred earlier to the need to consider power (especially as social power in general, suasion and violence, and capital as power in particular). If I wrote anything about capital as power here I would just be imperfectly paraphrasing the CasP theorists. I recommend people go to the source. Suffice it to say that the CasP theorists conclusively demonstrate that money does not measure value in any way and certainly cannot measure value in any real dimension. Capital instantiates power. This gets us back to the fact that political economy is about power. It is about forms of social power in the first instance. Sometimes, forms of social power must conform to the laws of real power in material reality. Other times they must conform merely to belief in socially shared fictions, like the fiction that money measures value. There are other forms of social power of course. Moral power (as moral suasion at least) is one form. But money, and capital, have as Marx predicted become very socially powerful and subsumed many other values under the cash nexus. This can’t last as it inevitably runs foul of the reality nexus i.e. the biosphere.

    That’s enough for a blog post today. This post really belongs in a Sandpit of course but I wanted to get it written and placed here at least.

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