July 21, 2007


For first time visitors, it is the policy of this blog to deal with fairly serious issues during the week. Mostly.

Weekends, however, are reserved for the contributions of various talking animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we once again welcome Ferdinand the Love Peacock who periodically writes an advice column for the romantically challenged.

It is our hope that features such as these will promote greater (bio) diversity of opinions and a deeper appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


Dear Ferdinand,

I've been involved in a long, sort of joking, sort of flirting relationship with someone at work. How can I tell when it starts getting serious? When should I make a move?


Puzzled in Parkersburg

Dear Puzzled,

I am sorry, but your question no longer interests me. Do as you think fit.

I am sick of love. Since springtime, I have been a veritable acolyte of Aphrodite, an accomplished initiate in the mysteries of amorousity. But look at me now--my feathers have started falling out. I'm tired of shaking them. Display has no more delights for me.

I have decided to pledge myself to celibacy and embrace Lady Chastity. I will live henceforth as a monastic.

At least until next spring...

Ferdinand the Love Peacock


July 20, 2007


Caption: These guys have figured it out. Why can't we?

Is there any chance that the human race might eventually get its act together? That's the question this week on Goat Rope.

According to 18th century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, we may just have a chance. He thought that the craftiness of Nature (or what Hegel called "the cunning of Reason") could make use of even our nasty side to get us there. That's the subject of his 1784 essay, Idea for a Universal History With a Cosmopolitan Purpose.

If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

To briefly recap, he thought our "unsociable socialness" compelled humans both to live together and to constantly struggle to outdo each other. This competition and antagonism forced us to develop our potential. And, while individual human lives are short, the life of humanity is long, so the gains in culture, knowledge, science, etc. build up over time.

Over time, people are or will be gradually compelled to arrive at some kind of social order which balances the striving of individuals with the need for social order. That means a free society based on the rule of law.

Of course, one major problem is that even if people reach that level within a given country, different countries treat each other like "barbarians" in a state of nature (an international Wild Wild West, if you will).

He believed that the same process would repeat itself on a larger scale between nations:

The same unsociability which drives man to this causes any single commonwealth to stand in unrestricted freedom in relation to others; consequently, each of them must expect from another precisely the evil which oppressed the individuals and forced them to enter into a lawful civic state. The friction among men, the inevitable antagonism, which is a mark of even the largest societies and political bodies, is used by Nature as a means to establish a condition of quiet and security.

In other words, after lots of wars, international crises, suffering, etc,

Nature forces them to make at first inadequate and tentative attempts; finally, after devastations, revolutions, and even complete exhaustion, she brings them to that which reason could have told them at the beginning and with far less sad experience, to wit, to step from the lawless condition of savages into a league of nations. In a league of nations, even the smallest state could expect security and justice, not from its own power and by its own decrees, but only from this great league of nations...

He was basically an optimist, at least in the long term. This long view of history "gives hope finally that after many reformative revolutions, a universal cosmopolitan condition, which Nature has as her ultimate purpose, will come into being as the womb wherein all the original capacities of the human race can develop."

Of course, Kant lived before weapons of mass destruction (the real ones) and ecological collapse. I'd say we're in a race between Nature's cunning and humanity's self-destructiveness and the odds are even at best...which means we've got our work cut out for us.

Before we dismiss this view as a naive view of progress, some people today have explored similar themes and possibilities, including Robert Wright, author of Nonzero.

Game theory also explores how cooperation can emerge among self interested parties over time.For more, see an earlier Goat Rope series on the work of Robert Axelrod (if you go there, start at the bottom and scroll up).

On the level of popular culture, the emergence of cooperation and culture out of lawlessness was also the main theme of the HBO series "Deadwood." (Why did they cancel that, anyway?)

EVIL MONSTER RATS, ANYONE? The Russians have bred some in case you're looking.

EDUCATED AND UNINSURED. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows that a growing number of entry level jobs for college graduates lack employer-provided health care.

SPEAKING OF THE UNINSURED, a Senate panel including all Democrats and a majority of Republicans yesterday recommended expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program. WV's Senator Jay Rockefeller has played a key role in this. The measure now faces a veto threat from President Bush.

According to the NY Times, Rockefeller described the attitude of Bush and DHHS secretary Michael O. Leavitt to the bill as “pretty belligerent” in criticizing the bill.

But Mr. Rockefeller said, “It’s not clear to me that the president has any intention of vetoing this,” because the political consequences of such an action could be disastrous.

“There are very few symbols as powerful as kids,” Mr. Rockefeller said.


July 19, 2007


Caption: Cats have very few social problems (as long as there's a feather to play with.

Welcome to Immanual Kant Week at Goat Rope. All posts this week are devoted to the ideas of that very influential 18th century Prussian philosopher.

In particular, the focus is on Kant's philosophy of history and on the question of whether there's any hope of humanity getting its act together before it's too late. As mentioned previously, this was the subject of his essay Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose.

As mentioned yesterday, Kant believed that humanity's nasty and antagonistic traits were necessary for us to develop our potentialities:

The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a free universal civic society which administers law fairly for all.

The highest purpose of Nature, which is the development of all the capacities which can be achieved by mankind, is attainable only in society, and more specifically in the society with the greatest freedom. Such a society is one in which there is mutual opposition among the members, together with the most exact definition of freedom and fixing of its limits so that it may be consistent with the freedom of others. Nature demands that humankind should itself achieve this goal like all its other destined goals.

That is to say, over time, we are driven by our "unsocial sociability" to develop a social order based on both freedom and rule of law. It's our homework assignment from Mother Nature:

Thus a society in which freedom under external laws is associated in the highest degree with irresistible power, i.e., a perfectly just civic constitution, is the highest problem Nature assigns to the human race; for Nature can achieve her other purposes for mankind only upon the solution and completion of this assignment. Need forces men, so enamored otherwise of their boundless freedom, into this state of constraint. They are forced to it by the greatest of all needs, a need they themselves occasion inasmuch as their passions keep them from living long together in wild freedom. Once in such a preserve as a civic union, these same passions subsequently do the most good.

And we owe it all to our nastiness:

All culture, art which adorns mankind, and the finest social order are fruits of unsociableness, which forces itself to discipline itself and so, by a contrived art, to develop the natural seeds to perfection.

The major remaining problem is that once people in a given country arrive at a rational social order that balances freedom and justice, the law of the jungle prevails between countries.

SPEAKING OF LAW AND JUSTICE, Massey Energy took another hit yesterday:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Failing to perform a pre-shift examination at a West Virginia coal mine is going to cost a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary $50,000.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. fined Richmond, Va.-based Massey's White Buck Coal Co. that amount Wednesday for a misdemeanor charge of willfully violating a mandatory safety standard. White Buck had pleaded guilty to the charge, which involved failing to perform a pre-shift examination at the Grassy Creek No. 1 mine in Nicholas County five years ago.

According to the report, two employees who agreed to testify were fined for misdemeanors.

The company also faces a shareholder lawsuit, potentially $2.4 billion in fines for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, and an ongoing criminal probe of a fatal fire at a Logan County mine in January 2006.

CRIMES AGAINST NATURE? On a related note, here's a Gazette item by Ken Ward about Robert Kennedy Jr.'s visit to WV, where he discussed mountaintop removal mining as a "crime against nature."

GROWING PAINS. Those who think economic growth is all you need should check out Business Week's special report on China, which for years has been the fastest growing economy in the world. The article cites the growing ecological crisis, product safety problems, and other social stresses and recommends, among other things, more and better regulation and investments in the social safety net.

SHAME ON GOOGLE. El Cabrero is a big fan/addict of Google products so it was really disappointing to see that this hugely successful company take advantage of an Appalachian part of North Carolina with high unemployment by sucking up subsidies. Business Week reports that the town of Lenoir, Caldwell County, and the state of North Carolina coughed up $211.7 million to land a computer center. This low road approach has highly profitable companies pitting different locations against each other in a bidding war to see which will pay the most to impoverish the public at private expense.

Uhhh...whatever happened to the market? This is another case of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor. And, for the record, this is one area where El Cabrero is with the Unleashing Capitalism crew.

One group that has done a great job at exposing the subsidies racket is GoodJobsFirst.


July 17, 2007


Caption: Can we come out ahead?

Is there any hope for the human race? Will we ever semi get our act together before we spoil the world? The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant thought we just might have a chance.

That's the subject of his essay, Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose, which is the guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope.

If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

One easy objection to the idea of hope and progress is the nasty side of human nature. Kant knew about that as well as anybody. In fact, he thought some of our nasty traits over time could make us nicer. Let's look at the argument.

Kant's Fourth Thesis in the essay says that

The means employed by Nature to bring about the development of all the capacities of men is their antagonism in society, so far as this is, in the end, the cause of a lawful order among men.

He calls this tendency "the unsocial sociability of men," which means both the human need for society and the need for individual distinction and competition for goodies, glory, esteem, etc....

This opposition it is which awakens all his powers, brings him to conquer his inclination to laziness and, propelled by vainglory, lust for power, and avarice, to achieve a rank among his fellows whom he cannot tolerate but from whom he cannot withdraw. Thus are taken the first true steps from barbarism to culture, which consists in the social worth of man; thence gradually develop all talents, and taste is refined; through continued enlightenment the beginnings are laid for a way of thought which can in time convert the coarse, natural disposition for moral discrimination into definite practical principles, and thereby change a society of men driven together by their natural feelings into a moral whole.

In other word, out of antagonism eventually develops sleeping human potential, including the potential for justice and mercy.

Thanks be to Nature, then, for the incompatibility, for the heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and to rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, undeveloped. Man wishes concord; but Nature knows better what is good for the race; she wills discord. He wishes to live comfortably and pleasantly; Nature wills that he should be plunged from sloth and passive contentment into labor and trouble, in order that he may find means of extricating himself from them...

One might protest to Nature that this is a pretty steep price to pay, but we weren't asked our opinions.

Next time: from competition to cooperation.

SHAKEUP AT MASSEY? Can anyone read these tea leaves?

One of Massey Energy Co.'s top executives has quit the troubled Richmond, Va.-based coal company.

H. Drexel Short resigned abruptly last Thursday, Massey said in a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today. Longtime executive Mark A. Clemens to Drexel's old post of senior vice president of group operations, according to the filing.

Massey offered no explanation for Short's departure, though a separate news release thanked him for his many years of employment.

Short has been with the company since 1981 and is the third high-ranking executive to leave the company this summer. Massey is awash in lawsuits over its safety and environmental practices these days.

HEALTH CARE WOES. Here's a good one by Paul Krugman on the current state of U.S. health care. I love the lead:

Being without health insurance is no big deal. Just ask President Bush. “I mean, people have access to health care in America,” he said last week. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

That oughta take care of it. Mission accomplished!


July 16, 2007


Welcome to Immanuel Kant Week at Goat Rope. All posts this week will relate somehow to the Prussian philosopher who lived between 1724 and 1804 (and will include snarky comments about current events). If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

Kant is probably best known for his works on the theory of knowledge and morality, but he had some fascinating things to say about other stuff too. This week, El Cabrero is particularly interested in his philosophy of history as outlined in the amazingly readable (for him) essay, Idea for a Universal History With a Cosmopolitan Purpose.

When you look back at the history of humanity and look out at current events, things can seem pretty bleak, especially if things keep rolling along their merry way. But Kant, child (and father) of the Enlightenment that he was, thought something else--and something better--was possible:

if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.

It's a lot harder to believe in historical progress in the 21st century than it was in the 18th, but Kant wasn't as naive as he seems. The basic idea behind the essay seems to be that nature or God or the Tao has so endowed the human race that our very nastiness will, over time, compel us to get our act together.

Individuals, and even whole peoples think little on this. Each, according to his own inclination, follows his own purpose, often in opposition to others; yet each individual and people, as if following some guiding thread, go toward a natural but to each of them an unknown goal; all work toward furthering it, even if they would set little store by it if they did know it.

Here's how his argument starts. While human lives considered individually are pretty short, the life of the human race is pretty long. At least it wasn't over at the time of this writing. The talents and gains made by individuals and groups accrue over time to humanity itself.

Nature has further constructed us in such a way that we are not perfectly adapted to the world but have to work at it:

Man...was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather he should bring forth everything out of his own resources. Securing his food, shelter, safety and defense (for which Nature gave him neither the horns of the bull, nor the claws of the lion, nor the fangs of the dog, but hands only), all amusement which can make life pleasant, insight and intelligence, finally even goodness of heart--all this should be wholly his own work...it seems not to have concerned Nature that he should live well, but only that he should work himself upward so as to make himself, through his own actions, worthy of life and of well-being.

Next time: nastiness as the road to niceness...

COAL MINE SAFETY. J. Davitt McAteer, currently of Wheeling Jesuit University and former head of the federal mine safety agency MSHA as well as special advisor to Governor Manchin in the wake of the 2006 mine disasters in West Virginia, gave a speech this weekend at a gathering of the American Friends Service Committee in Charleston. Here's the transcript of the coverage by West Virginia Public Radio.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS ON THE MARCH. El Cabrero is still reeling from the fact that anthropology has become a practical college major. Now the military is a major customer. Here's the latest.

ARREST THAT SQUIRREL! No, I did not make this one up:

Bushy-tailed squirrels may look innocuous, but according to a report coming out of Iran, over a dozen of the furry critters were detained near the country's border on suspicion of espionage. That's right, the rodents are alleged to have have been rigged with high-tech spying equipment (or so say the news reports picking up on this story):...

I've noticed recently that squirrel activity has spiked at Goat Rope Farm. Hmmmm...



Caption: Lily is completely Kantian

This is official Immanuel Kant Week on Goat Rope. El Cabrero has long been a fan of this somewhat obscure Prussian philosopher who lived between 1724 and 1804. He was famous for his contributions to moral philosophy, enlightened political theory, and epistemology or the theory of knowledge.

He didn't get out much, being pretty much a fixture of Konigsberg, where he lived a life of such regularity that it was said you could set your watch by the time of his daily walks.

Although I can't claim to have made it all the way through his major work, The Critique of Pure Reason, I'm pretty convinced by its main argument. Basically, it's this: we don't see the world as it is but as we are. The mind is not a passive blank slate or tabula rasa on which sensory experience makes its mark.

Instead, it actively organizes our perceptions into mental categories like space, time or causality. Although our knowledge can be fairly secure within that sphere, we can really only know the world of phenomena or appearances, not the numina or things in themselves.

He also believed that we couldn't know metaphysical things like whether God or immortality exist through pure reason alone, since we could make equally convincing arguments on both sides of any issue. He postulated that such beliefs could be inferred instead through practical reason such as the moral sense.

The part of Kant that I'm going to brood about this week is his philosophy of history and human destiny, which he lays out in a pretty clear (for him) essay called "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View."

About which more next time.

LABOR RALLY IN HUNTINGTON, WV. I didn't make it to this one, but it sounds like fun. Hundreds of union members rallied in Huntington Saturday against so-called "right to work" (for less) legislation. The rally was called when state Republicans announced that a speaker from the National Right to Work Committee would speak there July 14. The speaking engagement was cancelled but the rally proceeded.

Labor organizers stressed that the target was right to work (for less) rather than the party itself.

Recently the issue, long dormant here, was raised again with the favorable publicity in the right wing press given to the book Unleashing Capitalism, which among other things supports right to work (for less), opposes minimum wage, and is opposed on principle to government regulation of things like worker and coal mine safety.

If the right wing wants to stir up a hornet's nest trying to make this happen, an event that seems unlikely now, this could be fun.

ANYTIME. This is old news by now (from Saturday), but for what it's worth, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said U.S. troops could leave that country "anytime they want."

LAST WEEK I WANTED A GIANT SLOTH BUT THIS WEEK, it's a wooly mammoth. They found one in Siberia that's pretty fresh and we're getting close to being able to do that stuff now...