Charlie's Blog: SOC 3



I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.

This is Kierkegaard's famous "double regret." It is the acknowledgement that each choice comes with a drawback and consequent regret. For instance, one cannot become a Marine and also a Navy SEAL without leaving the Corps and joining the Navy. The program only takes Navy personnel. If you become a Marine, you forfeit becoming a SEAL. If you join the Navy, you might become a SEAL, but you could have at least been a Marine if you fail to make it to or through BUD/S.

The double regret thing also applies to getting married. There are benefits to both married life and single life. When you are single, you are free to do many things with your life because your choice only impacts you. When you are married, your choices must be cleared with your spouse. Conversely, when you are single, no one has your back, and you are alone in the world. When you are married, you are not alone.

I have no regrets about being married, and it remains as the best thing that has ever happened to me. But I have to confess that I married late in life. I lived as a bachelor for many years, but this has had the benefit of extinguishing any regrets I might have had about leaving the single life. I really love my wife, and I think people notice this. She is my world. But I also know that my deep love for her comes from the two solid decades of loneliness and frustration that I had before I met her. Contemplating single life again leaves me with a fierce stabbing pain in my being. I would really hate to go back there again.

You will have regret in life. That is Kierkegaard's point. I think a firm belief in Providence is an antidote to this. You have to believe and trust that your life has turned out and will turn out exactly as God has planned for you. The only real regret we should have is offending God and falling into sin. Beyond that, we should put regrets out of our mind. The only permanent regrets are the eternal ones.

Back on the temporal plane, I am experiencing the double regret of leaving Twitter. When I am on Twitter, I regret the time that it eats. When I am off Twitter, I regret not having the options that service provided. One of those options was being able to share links to things I found interesting and important. I can't read anything or watch anything without feeling the urge to tweet it. This is when I relapse back into Twitter addiction. In times like these, it helps to recall and remember why you made the decisions you made.

I have left Twitter because of the time and resources it sucks out of my life. I am tired of the short span my attention has become. I think social media is a vast waste of time and life. Of course, I have some of the same regrets about blogging. Double regret!

One of the things I have noticed is the rise of the cross-platform internet entrepreneur/guru. I will give an example--Rich Roll. This guy has books, a blog, a podcast, a YouTube channel, and social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. He also sells products in his online store. Then, there is Taylor Marshall who basically does the same thing except Taylor promotes Catholicism and meat instead of Zen meditation and veganism. Then, there is Alex Jones who has the same thing going on with a show, a podcast, a YouTube channel, social media accounts, and an online store. There should be a word for what these guys do, but I don't know what that word would be. I will have to dream one up.

My temptation is to follow their example. Instead of fighting it, I should embrace all of it--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a smartphone, and on and on. But I have misgivings about it all. It all seems like a funnel for egocentrism, vanity, and a slew of vices. But is that really the case with these guys?

I don't see Rich Roll as narcissistic but very humble. The guy is very candid about being a former substance abuser and doing a stint in rehab. I can say the same for Taylor and Alex. The temptation is to see these guys in the same vein as some ego driven celebrity. But this is not accurate. The only similarity is that these guys produce media which makes them sorta famous. They are really entrepreneurs which makes them more like the local guy who opens a bike shop or restaurant. Entrepreneurs tend to be humble and self-effacing because they must subordinate themselves to serving customer needs.

Much of what these guys offers is free of charge. When they do make money, it comes from selling a product or service that renders value to their customers. They do not solicit donations or masquerade as charities. They also live in service to a message and a cause. For Rich Roll, it is primarily about living a plant powered lifestyle. For Taylor Marshall, it is about Catholicism. For Alex Jones, it is turning back the evil machinations of the globalists and the New World Order!

This is the world of internet entrepreneurship. It is content creation, cross platform self-promotion, and selling products. Let's call it what it is. It is capitalism. This begs a question that nags at me repeatedly. Is capitalism antithetical to Christianity? Is it wrong to advertise, promote, and sell things? Is it wrong to advertise, promote, or sell yourself?

My answers to these questions are elemental. You can promote yourself as long as you are humble about it and don't tell lies about yourself. That seems like a weird contradiction, but we know it as truth in advertising. When you apply for a job, you shouldn't pad your resume. You should be plain about your work history and skills. Likewise, companies selling products shouldn't make fabulous claims about their products. Finally, they should deliver value for the dollar.

I see two flavors of capitalism. The first is the dishonest shysty kind where you trick people into giving you money. I think of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. The other is the honest businessman. I would like to cite an example, but I can't. The one that springs readily to mind would be Yvon Chouinard with Patagonia, but his hippie enviro green thing makes him a weird example. His mission has been more about saving the planet than rendering value to the customer. This isn't a bad thing because he isn't ripping anyone off in the process. But his uniqueness makes him a bad model for the local plumber running his business.

My thing is that my readings on distributism have made me turn a critical eye towards capitalism. I watch today as so much corruption is perpetrated by people who claim to be capitalists. But other capitalists would call these people "crony capitalists." They are at pains to make a distinction between different flavors of capitalism. For instance, the hardware store owner, the strip club owner, and the drug dealer are all capitalists, yet they are hardly the same.

One thing Catholicism rejects is a capitalism divorced from Christian values. This means you can't open a strip club. You can't cheat workers out of a fair wage. You can't sell shoddy products and lackluster services to your customers. And I would go on to say that you can't be involved in the business of usury. Basically, in all economic exchanges, you can't leave your customers or employees worse off instead of better off.

The problem I see is capitalism divorced from Christian values. And, how did this come about? I can name the culprits--Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. The thing these three all have in common is that they are Jewish. Now, I am not an antisemite, but I do think being excluded from Christian society has a tendency to shape your worldview in a non-Christian way. I would lump Hayek in with these people, but his viewpoints differ from these three. This comes from Hayek's Roman Catholic upbringing. Hayek was an agnostic and did not practice Catholicism. But being Catholic will color your perspective on things. The economics of Hayek has a different flavor to it. But that will be saved for some future discussion.

Rand, Mises, and Friedman were at pains to defend a values free capitalism. This is why these three are darlings of the libertarian movement. These three were not in agreement on many things such as central banking. But they did advocate an agnostic or atheistic capitalism. What is the difference? The best example I can give is the bartender. The libertarian bartender keeps pouring the drinks as long as the patron can keep paying. The patron's liver and means to get home are his own problems. The Christian bartender cuts off the patron at some point even though the patron still has money for drinks. The Christian bartender has a moral obligation to not cause harm to his patron or be a means of harm.

The criticism of the Christian bartender is that he won't be in business for very long if he cuts off drunks. You can see where Christian values can make for bad business. The Christian landlord cannot rent to cohabiting couples or gay couples. The Christian bookshop can't sell D.H. Lawrence books. The Christian businessman who pays a fair wage can't compete with the shyster who pays an unfair wage.

The Jewish issue comes from the fact that Jews in foreign cultures felt little to no moral obligation to Christian customers especially when those Christian customers felt little to no moral obligations to those Jews. The result is the Jewish stereotype where Jews are hyperdefensive about not getting screwed over in a deal while also being very willing to screw over someone in a deal. Being pushed around in life will make you like that.

These issues are the main themes in The Merchant of Venice. People criticize Merchant for being antisemitic, yet these critics overlook the sympathetic portrayal of Shylock as an oppressed minority. The play is complicated in its plot, but the conflict is between a Catholic view of things and the Jewish view of things. Shylock rejects the Christian ethic in his dealings. He lends at usury, has no mercy when the deal goes sour, and pursues revenge even when that revenge will be to his financial detriment. It is a deep play and well worth reading.

Rand, Mises, and Friedman tend towards the Shylock view of things. They are at pains to defend the morality of "free market capitalism." The free market is inherently moral in their estimation of things, and the only immoral thing is to interfere in these free exchanges. Consequently, this is why free market proponents tend to despise charity and turn a blind eye to externalities like pollution and waste. The other funny thing is that these free market capitalists are very bad capitalists. None of them made a red cent beyond their books.

Ben and Jerry

Another funny thing is the irony of left wing hippie types that are successful businessmen. The conventional wisdom is that these pot smoking commies should be awful at business. Yet, their insistence on not polluting, paying fair wages, and rendering value to customers has not hurt them at all. To be honest, the only successful libertarian entrepreneur I can think of is John Mackey of Whole Foods Market who extols free market capitalism but makes his money off the Ben and Jerry crowd.

The reason I find these hippie capitalists so interesting is that they show that capitalism can succeed while wedded to values that seem downright anticapitalistic. I believe it is possible to run a business according to Christian principles and succeed. Of course, if the government shuts you down, that is another story. But in a free market, people would rather deal with Ben and Jerry instead of Shylock. Exchange is dependent upon mutual benefit and trust. This is basically what the guys at Acton are about. Markets should be guided by Judeo-Christian values.

The Distributists view things differently from the Actonites. They are adept when it comes to Catholic Social Teaching but clueless when it comes to economics. They make their best arguments as critics of free market capitalism, but they look stupid when they offer their own solutions which involves the heavy hand of government which looks very much like socialism which is also condemned in Catholic Social Teaching.

My view is that the Catholic view on economics is at a crossroads similar to the one the Church found itself in when Aristotle was reintroduced to the West. Prior to this, Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine had adapted Plato to Christian thinking. When Aristotle reappeared, his writings were condemned as antithetical to Catholicism and the Christian faith. That was when St. Thomas Aquinas took Aristotle and ran with it in a way that was profound and still impacts us today. My personal belief is that Aquinas is the greatest philosopher that ever lived. But he couldn't have done it without Aristotle.

I think the Distributists are like those old Platonists/Augustinians while the Actonites are like the readers of Aristotle who think there is value in the writings of free market thinkers. The Catholic world needs an economic Aquinas to settle the issue. I can't wait that long, so I will work to be that Aquinas. I am not an economist by training, so I will probably fail. But I have grown weary of the conflict.

The Aristotle of free market economics would most certainly have to be Ludwig von Mises. I have read a great deal of economics, and I think the Austrians get it more right than any other school. Like Aquinas who read Aristotle, my task will be to learn everything that Mises and the Austrians taught. Then, I will have to reconcile this with what the Catholic Church teaches. That will be a monumental undertaking.

I am at the point where I reject distributism. I don't reject all of it anymore than Aristotle rejected everything his teacher Plato taught. But it is deficient. Their main argument is that economics should not be divorced from Christian values, and I agree. But they make no sensible arguments for how economics can be wedded to Christian values. The problems with critics is that they can tear down with little effort, but they can never construct anything to replace what was torn down. As for the Actonites, they believe in wedding Christianity and capitalism, but they are merely shacked up at the moment living in sin.