Saturday, 25 March 2017

Talal Asad & Christ as a suicide bomber

Talal Asad, an American Anthropologist has written a book about suicide bombing not because he condones it or because he had nothing better to do but because something impressed him. What precisely? Was it something that would impress anybody else? Let us find out.

Talal says-
'I am simply impressed by the fact that modern states are able to destroy and disrupt life more easily and on a much grander scale than ever before and that terrorists cannot reach this capability.
    All states that currently exist are modern. Some are destroying and disrupting life more easily and on a grander scale than ever before. Why? Because they were too backward or lacked sovereignty in the past and thus their ability to work mischief was curtailed. There is no advanced country, previously sovereign, which is 'destroying and disrupting life' on a larger scale than it did in the past. Is America nuking any more Nagasakis? Are the Germans carrying out more Holocausts? Does Russia still boast Gulags? Do the Chinese still have manufactured famines? No, no, no and no.
    Syria and Libya and Yemen and so on- no doubt- are witnessing the destruction and disruption of life on a grander scale than ever before. But actual terrorists are on the ground in these countries helping to bring this about. These terrorists have shown that they have the capability to destroy and disrupt life as ruthlessly as minions of the state apparatus. ISIS is a terrorist outfit. It created a far more repressive and ruthless state apparatus than anything seen previously. It has destroyed and disrupted life more easily and on a grander scale than established nation states which is why, uniquely, it is now being attacked by many of them who are otherwise mutually antagonistic.
   Why is Talal impressed that advanced countries are killing less than they did in the past despite possessing better technology to do so? Does he not understand that advanced countries have sophisticated economies which can dispense with coercion? Oh. I see. He's an Anthropologist. He really does not understand Economics. Well, there's nothing we can do about that.

 What about the next thing that strikes Talal? 

'I am also struck by the ingenuity with which so many politicians, public intellectuals, and journalists provide moral justifications for killing and demeaning other human beings.
Everybody knows that politicians, public intellectuals and journalists are sociopaths. That's what they do for a living. They talk shite. Why is Talal struck by their ingenuity? They don't make ingenuous arguments. They write and talk worthless shit. Did Talal's Dad not talk worthless shit? Was no worthless shit talked in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or New York or anywhere else he grew up? 

What seems to matter is not the killing and dehumanization as such but how one kills and with what motive. People at all times have, of course, justified the killing of so-called enemies and others they deem not deserving to live. The only difference is that today liberals who engage in this justification think they are different because morally advanced.
Urm... It is part of the Islamic Credo for Muslims to think they are morally advanced with respect to 'Jahil' pagans. Muslim politicians, public intellectuals and journalists have always justified the killing of 'so-called enemies and others they deem not deserving to live'- including Jews like Talal's father's people.
   What's so special if people calling themselves 'Liberals' rather than 'Muslims' but who follow disreputable professions, such as that of the politician, public intellectual or journalist, talk equally worthless shite?
   Why does Talal find this striking? 
That very thought has social implications, and it is therefore that thought that makes a real difference. There are people living in ISIS territory who have the thought 'we, who don't kill and extort and enslave, are morally advanced compared to this bunch of terrorist nut-jobs ruling over us'. What 'real difference' does having this thought make? Does it provide these people with a countervailing power against the Caliphate? Does it make them bullet-proof? Everybody has the thought, 'I am morally superior to the guy who is cutting my throat so as to rob me or enslave my family'. Such thoughts don't make 'a real difference'. What does make a difference, is the ability to organise and fight back. Liberal thought begins from the notion that everyone has the absolute right to defend himself but this right has no remedy unless there is a vinculum juris, a bond of law, such that a Social Contract obtains. in the full knowledge that the idea of defense is subject to considerable interpretation of a legal nature, in line with Contractarian jurisprudence so that (for example) liberation from the oppressor in Iraq becomes part of defense for both the American occupier and the insurgency.
   The American occupier in Iraq? Oh. Talal wrote this in 2007. But when the Iraqis asked the Americans to leave, in a legal fashion, the Americans left. In any case, Congress had been pushing for withdrawal in 2007 itself and withdrawal began at the end of that year and was completed by 2011. 
Many liberals also believe that people have a moral obligation to attack evil, either in order to redeem themselves or to redeem others who cannot do so for themselves.
   Liberals don't believe a moral obligation trumps the rule of law when it comes to a collective action of an offensive kind. No Liberal says, 'we must defy our own laws in order to attack and kill such and such group of people.' A Liberal may say that morality prevents one complying with an unjust law. A Liberal might even grant that a group of people have the right to defend themselves against being suborned for a military purpose under a legal regime that is in conflict with natural law or some deontic code. What a Liberal can't do is find a justification for an illegal war without ceasing to be a Liberal.
The notion of evil is not conceived of as a principle essential to the world—as in Manichaean and Zoroastrian teaching—but as a dynamic principle that opposes divine will and is therefore eliminable.
   Zorastrian teaching is not 'resist not evil'. It is 'combat it with all your might'.
 Consequently, it is resistance to that will that defines evil, and all virtuous men are urged to overcome it at any cost. (According to Christian belief, Christ triumphed over evil, God reconciled the world to himself, by the crucifixion.)
   Yet Christ said 'Resist not Evil'. He did not say go blow yourself up so as to kill a bunch of infidels. Neither did John Stuart Mill. 
 Fighting evil is, of course, an old justification, but it often finds new formulations today. I do not mean by this that today’s modern world is, as many hold, simply an unfolding of Christianity. In my view there are continuities and also crucial ruptures between secular modernity and its past.
   Oh dear. First Talal focuses on the Liberals. Then, he thinks Liberals are actually Christians and that Christianity arises out of the moral equivalent of a suicide bombing. Christian civilization, the gift of life for humanity is possible only through a suicidal death; redemption is dependent on cruelty or at least on the sin of disregarding human life
   In other words, Christ causes Satan to enter Judas so as to arrange his own Crucifixion and, though he himself rises in 3 days, some stigma of guilt is supposed to attach to all humanity. Thus, Christ is a suicide bomber who, though killing only himself, stains all in the vicinity with gore. 
   Talal is the son of an Austrian Jewish convert to Islam. His father's people were accused by the Catholics of being 'Deicides'- though Jesus rose in 3 days and did so much in the next 40 that if all his doings were written down in books the world would not be big enough to contain them all. 
   Talal is quite justified in getting in this dig at Catholic imbecility. However, it is an imbecility the Catholics have repented of. Christianity has changed. It is genuinely less shite than it once was. So is Liberalism. So is Capitalism. So are most things in countries which 'destroy and disrupt life' a lot less now than was their wont. Why? Well, one reason is that Economics- Game Theory- has advanced while Asad's subject, Anthropology, has succumbed to senile dementia.

   Suicide bombings represented a 'small, cheap, out of control' aysmmetric warfare strategy. Game Theory explains how the thing can be countered. It is no longer a mysterium fascinosum but a case of silly buggers being silly buggers. Not horror but the demand for better targeted surveillance and border controls is our reaction to this nuisance. We have a 'bourgeois strategy' and it will prevail in this 'Hawk Dove game' because it is incentive compatible. Thus, no Hegelian struggle for recognition can arise. Talk of ipseity and alterity can go fuck itself. Of course, the silly buggers are welcome to blow each other up back where they came from and sure, we'll get in on the action with drone strikes coz drones are cool and once that technology is perfected it's going to improve our E-commerce experience.
   What of the Anthropologists? Is there anything we need to be doing about them? Nope. They can go on returning to whatever worthless question got them gassing on in the first place. Pay no attention. Their subject is as exploded as Alchemy.
   Witness Talal-
This returns me to the question with which I began: Why do Westerners express horror at suicide terrorism—what is so special about it? In trying to answer it, I offered several reasons, each of which points to identity being destroyed, a process felt more acutely by Europeans when they learn that Europeans have been killed by non-Europeans—because that is where they have learned to invest an aspect of their identity as humans.
   Cool! Talal gets that Europeans don't want non-Europeans to come along and kill them. That's pretty high level thinking for an Anthropologist.   
Let me spell these reasons out briefly. First, an unexpected suicide is always shocking, especially so when it also occurs in public and when it involves the shattering of other human bodies and their belongings, a sudden disruption of the patterns of everyday life, a violence in which death is unregulated by the nation-state.
   Right! Coz if the nation-state regulated suicide-bombing- for e.g. if those nutters had to queue up at the DMV for a license before they blew themselves up- then we wouldn't feel any horror at all when they get up to their ghastly monkey tricks.
Warfare, of course, is an even greater violation of civilian “innocence,” but representations have sedimented in us so as to see that in principle war is legitimate even when civilians are killed—that in principle deaths in war (however horrible) are necessary for the defense of our form of life.
   Germany thought defence of its 'form of life' involved invading Poland and France. It discovered this was a stupid thing to do. It doesn't do it now. Instead, advanced countries trade with each other and make complex economic deals so as to raise their living standards. Economics, not Anthropology, has been found useful in this regard. That is why an Economics degree is worth something. An Anthropology degree means you have shit for brains.
Here, the language of “civilization” and “barbarism” comes readily to hand rather than the more superficial “clash of civilizations.”
   Wrong! The only meaningful language that comes readily to hand in such circumstances is 'Fuck them motherfucking fuckers!'
 The second reason is that since crime and punishment, loss and restitution, are impossible to separate and since that separation is essential to the functioning of modern law on which liberal identities—and freedoms—depend, deaths in suicide operations are especially intolerable.
   Rubbish! Remember Lockerbie? Gaddaffi had to shell out plenty of moolah for that. Last year Congress overrode Obama's veto on 9/11 victims' right to sue the Saudis. They launched a case 4 days ago. Expect more such suits under the JASTA act. The Law- and Liberalism is based on the Law- has no difficulty at all in separating 'crime and punishment, loss and restitution' in such cases. Anthropology may have a difficulty but then Anthropology is a shit subject.
 Third, there are the tensions that hold modern subjectivity together: between individual self-assertion and collective obedience to the law, between reverence for human life and its legitimate destruction, between the promise of immortality through political community and the inexorability of decay and death in individual life.
  No such tensions exist. If they did, Economics would know about it. 'Immortality through political community' is an availability cascade only in exploded Academic disciplines- like Anthropology. Alchemy too spoke of immortality gained by some equally imaginary means. Talal Asad proves his subject is just as worthless.
These tensions are necessary to the liberal democratic state, the sovereign representative of a social body, but they threaten to break down completely when a sudden suicide operation takes place publicly and when its politics is seen not to spell redemption but mutual disaster.
   Which is why the US collapsed after 9/11 and the UK after 7/7 and India after the Mumbai attacks. What? They didn't collapse at all? Oh. In that case Talal is just talking shite.
Finally, I suggest the possibility that a highly emotional thought imposes itself on secular witnesses belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition: the thought that the meaning of life is, as Kafka put it, death and only death. That catastrophic and brutal death can be, as the Crucifixion taught believing Christians, an occasion of love for all the dead.
   WTF? The Crucifixion teaches Christians that they too will be resurrected as Christ was resurrected. It is not the case that the dead stay dead. No reparative love or act of placatory homage is required from Christians to the great horde of the dead lurking in another realm. There may be some pre-Christian traditions which have been interpreted in this way by Anthropologists- but then Anthropology is now known to be utter shite.
This is impossible on the occasion of a suicide bombing because there is no redemption there—none for the perpetrator, none for the victims, and none for those who witness or contemplate the event.
  The same could be said for any terrible accident- a plane that crashes, a ferry that sinks, a lorry whose brakes fail and which ploughs through a crowd. What is different about an intentional act- like a suicide bombing- is that we can punish those who facilitated or had knowledge of the crime. Failure to retaliate is known, for Game Theoretic reasons, to be a dominated strategy.
In the suicide bomber’s act, perhaps what horrifies is not just dying and killing (or killing by dying) but the violent appearance of something that is normally disregarded in secular modernity: the limitless pursuit of freedom, the illusion of an uncoerced interiority that can withstand the force of institutional disciplines.
   'Uncoerced interiority' is not an illusion. It is the bedrock of the Folk Theorem of Repeated Games. It is the reason Economics is respected- it shows it can solve problems- while Anthropology is considered a worthless pile of shite.
Liberalism, of course, disapproves of the violent exercise of freedom outside the frame of law.
But the law itself is founded by and continuously depends on coercive violence.
  The rule of Law demands a monopoly of Legitimate coercion. But the legitimating process does not involve any violence at all. Trial by combat is not a feature of Liberal jurisprudence. 
If modern war seeks to found or to defend a free political community with its own law, can one say that suicide terrorism (like a suicidal nuclear strike) belongs in this sense to liberalism?
   War can't have its own law. Potential adversaries can agree to rules of War and Game Theory can help ensure these agreements are incentive compatible. So the answer to Talal's question is 'No. You are talking shite. Please stop.'
The question may, I think, be more significant than our comforting attempts at distinguishing the good conscience of just warriors from the evil acts of terrorists.
   A question may be significant if it is framed in an alethic discipline- like Econ. When Anthropologists like Talal ask the same question, it can have no significance coz their discipline is shite.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Derrett's Blemmya in India

Maudgalyayana was a leading disciple of the Buddha who used his supernatural powers to visit various tormented souls in the after-life to explain to them how they came to suffer such terrible afflictions. Gaining this knowledge, these souls were put on the path to Liberation.

In the East, this sage is the exemplar of filial piety. He offered up the fruit of his own good deeds to save his mother

In ancient India, there was a story about a creature without a head, whose eyes were in its breast, which had long arms which it used to grab people and stuff them into its mouth which was also its belly. The demon Kabandha in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is a creature of this type. The name derives from 'kavanda' meaning trunk of the body.

The Sage Maudgalyayana meets a horrific creature of this description in the Hell dimension. Its name is Haarika (the grabber). The Sage puts it on the path to salvation by explaining that it is being punished for having been a heartless killer in Rajgir.

No doubt, there is more to this story than may appear. Perhaps it condemns capital punishment. Maybe it illustrates some subtle aspect of esoteric psychology or soteriology. What this story does not do, however, is support the notion that Buddhist texts derive from a Western source and, moreover, that mention of this kabandha demon is proof that 'African Blemmya' existed in India and had some connection with Buddhism.

Yet this is precisely the assertion of one J.D.M Derett- an emeritus professor of Oriental Law- in a 2002 article archived here. 

What is going on here? Does the learned Professor not get that kabandha monsters don't exist? They can't come from Africa to India because Africa never had them in the first place.

It does make sense to picture the Executioner- or indeed the sort of Society which thinks Executioners are necessary- as a sort of kabandha monster ceaselessly grabbing victims for its belly which is also its mouth.
It does not make sense to say that the Buddha was wrong to castigate a bunch of headless pirates from Africa as being equivalent to Indian public executioners because no extant Greek or Latin source mentions this acephalous race as having discharged any such function.
There were no headless pirates in Africa. Those Greek or Latin sources which suggest otherwise are not alethic. They are fanciful.  Blemmyae don't exist. They never did.

It might appear that I am needlessly holding up to ridicule an elderly scholar's one folly. Indeed, Wikipedia describes this final article of the Professor's as his 'Waterloo'. The truth, however, is American Indologists have gone much further down this particular Bedlam path than our British savant. Their entire methodology has been to take fantasy for fact in order to construct a historicist hermeneutic with current political implications. By contrast, is there not a touch of wry humour, but also Swedenborgian pathos, in the manner in which our learned barrister ends his essay?

Scholarship is not a safe vessel for crossing the ocean of Samsara.
Derrett could see this as he slipped towards the antarabhava.
But then, he was a law-minded man.
Pollock and Doniger and Witzel will be vouchsafed no such saving vision.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Lukacs & Atilla

If we compare Lukacs with a 'proletarian' poet like Attila Jozsef, we have to acknowledge that a statue of the former expresses nothing save the manner in which books diminish men, whereas the sitting statue of the latter kindles a quite different and comradely feeling in us.
There will always be pompous hacks and spiteful jobbiks. The poet from the streets- now matter how wretched his life- is safe from them and makes us safe from them because his work is ambrosial. The critic, waxing philosophical, but trades in municipal hemlock.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Bohm's Krishna

(attribution- By Krzysztof Mizera, changed by Chagler and MathKnight - Based on File:Rozeta Paryż notre-dame chalger.jpg, GFDL,

Saqi, I complain not because my every wine is now thus corked
But because you & the grape must so have talked
That Kurukshetra's pilot wave is its own colloidal suspension
Karma's pigéage à pied but Kamakshi's complexion.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Zero-knowledge proofs and the Gita's Indecision theory

This post is a response to a paper by H.J Wiese entitled 'A Decision Theorist's Bhagvad Gita' which seeks to show that the 'Rational Shortlist method' is consistent with the 'svadharmic' (deontic) message of the Gita.
There is some literature (e.g. here) seeking to apply a rational-choice hermeneutic to ancient or medieval texts. In general, these attempts fail. They show rational choice theory to be foolish and its practitioners to be philistines.
Wiese says ' Árjuna asks Krishna for help in his decision of whether to fight or not. Broadly speaking, Árjuna prefers consequentialist arguments while Krishna stresses the warrior’s svadharma.' In other words, Arjuna does not want to fight because the outcome will cause him grief. Krishna replies that he will suffer grief through loss of reputation as a warrior if he does not fight and the woeful outcome will happen anyway. Thus, since Arjuna can't get his preferred option- viz. no big slaughter- he should content himself with maintaining his martial reputation and developing equanimity regarding the inevitable bloodbath and the intense guilt and psychic distress it will cause him.

If Wiese is right, Hinduism is an evil religion. Its teaching is- you may as well pretend to believe you have a duty to do bad things because God exists and the bad things will happen anyway because God wants bad things to happen. By pretending to believe you had to do those bad things you will get a good reputation of a certain sort and moreover be considered a God fearing man. This rule applies even if, or indeed applies more strongly if, God does not exist.

Compare this to Pascal's wager- 'You may as well believe (not pretend to believe) in God, absent any direct proof, because if you do so you may attain Heaven whereas if you don't believe in God you may be condemned to Hell.'

This is a cynical argument but at least it involves genuine belief which is the seed of Faith which by itself may change your inward ethos. In other words the struggle to believe may have some positive 'spiritual' value.
In economic interactions we often trust the other party if our loss will be small and this is socially helpful. However, if the loss could be large, we may equally desist from trusting the other. Suppose the other genuinely means to stick to the terms of the agreement but can't afford to prove this without incurring risk of substantial loss. Then a 'zero knowledge proof'- i.e. one such that neither side gets any strategic information but is able to verify that the transaction is likely to be completed satisfactorily- is useful.
In Theology, too, we may wish to stipulate that there is a sort of Divine knowledge beyond mortal ken whose existence can nevertheless be verified without humans gaining any access to 'forbidden knowledge' or god-like powers. Theism, as opposed to a Soteriology based on Theosis, requires this. In general this is a good thing because Religion does offer some benefits to Society provided random nutjobs don't get to claim Divine or Prophetic powers.
A Political Science which is based on the notion of Checks and Balances, too, might wish to stipulate that Judicial deliberative processes follow a different logic and observe different protocols from those used by the Legislative or Executive branch such that though results are verifiable, they can't be systematically predicted, reverse engineered or otherwise gamed.
Hermeneutics itself, as Blaise Pascal pointed out, requires some similar informationally parsimonious verification protocols because 'Languages are ciphers in which letters are not changed into letters, but words into words, so that an unknown language can be deciphered.'
In all these cases, it is sufficient to affirm the findings of Computational Complexity theory and to use things like zero-knowledge proofs so as to, on the one hand affirm the univocity of information, while, on the other, guarding the integrity of plural autopoietic systems which nevertheless can interact in a regret minimizing way.

One alternative, for deontology, is to consider the meaning of an imperative statement as arising out of its conceptual tie to action. Alan Gibbard may be cited as an example of this sort of 'semantic normativity'. But this approach soon slides into Dialethia or ontological mystagogy.

For Christianity, sincere belief in a Credo is necessary and perhaps this makes 'semantic normativity' salient. For Hinduism, however, whereas Faith (shradda or eusebia) may matter, Belief (as opposed to legal or ritualistic knowledge) does not. Why? Perhaps it is because Hinduism has no historical origin and was not seen as something one needed to convert to.
Purva Mimamsa ritualism made no requirement re. the beliefs of the officiants because to do so would be detrimental to public confidence in Vedic rituals. Similarly the Christian Church has a complex metaphysical reason why an ordained Priest who has lost his faith can still discharge ritual functions in a proper manner. However, the faithless Priest's soul would still be in danger. In Hinduism, by contrast, though improper Belief might have indirect karmic consequence, only intentional actions had salience.

Thus, apropos of Wiese's analysis of the Gita, Arjuna would have attained the same final state had he only pretended to believe that God had given him a particular, unpleasant, duty. Indeed, since God's activities are themselves described as 'lila' - i.e. a play- pretence could be a mark of superior ontological status.
True, Krishna gives Arjuna a direct proof of the existence of God so there is no need for any pretence. Yet, Arjuna could have chosen to witness a 'virtual' theophany indistinguishable from the real thing. Why does he not do so? The answer is that he loves Krishna as his Lord and Saviour but loves him in a humble way. He wants only what Krishna wants for him.

This is not H.J. Wiese's view. For him, the Gita is about a 'hard-choice' situation- one where, even if one has complete preferences, it is difficult to decide how to act. It is because preferences are inadequate to motivate actions that Krishna produces 'reasons' to persuade Arjuna to fulfil his supposed Warrior 'svadharma'.
Isaac Levi, who introduced this notion of 'hard choice' moral dilemmas, had previously attempted to recast scientific enquiry itself in terms of a certain sort of axiomatic decision theory. However, he had not considered that formally determinate Bayesian probability functions can be defined in terms of complexity classes such that Newcombe type problems or one's involving Turing type Oracles become ubiquitous.
Still, it is worthwhile to observe that Levi, in line with the Pragmatic tradition, sees categorical reason as informing ampliative induction such that actions undertaken under conditions of moral uncertainty escape suspicion of akrasia. After all, as Krishna points out, not acting too is an action.

The problem with this view is that it assumes categorical reasons can have low Kolmogorov complexity while consistently verifying specific actions as correct in a noisy, uncertain, or impredicative environment. Such a view is naive. Now it may be that P really equals NP or that some Quantum computer oracle has an easily implementable inference engine analogue. But we don't know this will ever be the case and certainly it would be foolish it to assume any such thing now.

Yet this is what Harald Wiese is doing in his paper. The conclusion he comes to is that 'Action non contextuality' is defeated by Krishna's theory that actions with the same consequences differ based on the deontic rule applicable to the agent. Since, in Hinduism, no svadharma deontic prescription carries a confessional entailment, the message of the Gita is-  it does not matter whether you believe your Sociologically determined 'duty' is ordained by God or not. All that matters is that you act as if you do have this belief  because what matters is your reputation, or chance of gaining Heaven, not your inward ethos. In other words, according to this view, the Gita, and Hinduism by extension, affirm ethical heteronomy.

It seems this German economist- not a philologist- has found a novel way to carry forward his country's grand tradition of distorting and rendering hateful even the most sublime of Hindu texts!
However, Wiese is merely following in the footsteps of Amartya Sen- so it is not German Indology but an ignorant or obsolete type of Choice theory, linked to Sen, which is to blame.

In what follows, I will argue that Wiese is making the following, explicit or implicit, assumptions which are unwarranted by the text and this vitiates his argument. However, in the process, a new hermeneutic horizon is opened.

I believe Wiese, for the purpose of his paper, implicitly assumes
1) Uncertainty. Minimally it must be the case that at least one future state of the world becomes uncertain because of Arjuna's 'vishada' (mental anguish or abulia which may cause indecision or inaction)
Otherwise, decision theory has no purchase. We are in a pure occassionalist universe and Arjuna and Krishna are like clockwork mechanisms. This is certainly one way the Gita can be interpreted.

Is such an interpretation well founded? Firstly we must recognise that both Arjuna and Krishna have some unusual informational endowments- the latter not just being omniscient but also the final, and perhaps the efficient, cause of all things.
Thanks to a Gandharva's gift of chaksuchi vidya, Arjuna  possesses the boon that whatever he wishes to see will be shown to him in the manner he would choose. However, he never formally accepted the gift, nor ever consciously relied upon it. However, the Gandharva did not take the gift back either. Thus the boon exists as svatva property of an asvamika (lit. without a lord) kind.  When Arjuna develops 'vishada', his mind becomes deranged and his volition is weakened. He is not in possession of himself- i.e. he is asvamika. Thus the Gandharva's boon which continued to exist as asvamika svatva (unvested property) now vests in him by reason of this 'vishada'. It therefore follows that his vision of the devastation caused by the War is alethic. If it wasn't, Krishna could persuade him to fight by pointing out the extreme improbability of the Pandavas prevailing over the Kauravas- two of whose leading warriors could only die by their own wish.

Interestingly, the Gandharva's boon gave Arjuna a vision which, despite all appearances to the contrary, is precisely the one he would have chosen for himself because, in an unforseeable manner, it enables him to gain the beatific vision.

Notice, if Arjuna wishes to have a dispassionate view of how all things are connected, he can gain this thanks to his supernatural boon. However, in that case, he would know that Karna is his true eldest brother, in which case there would be no occasion for War. However, Karna does not want this outcome and since Arjuna is an obedient younger brother and wishes to remain so, his boon excludes his envisioning this truth.

Normally, when a supernatural boon is given to a hero or a ascetic, there is a karmic price to be paid because of some subsequent act of hubris or ripening of hamartia. Even Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, in Tolkein's masterpiece, feel the urge to put on the Ring of Power. However, in the Mahabharata, Arjuna feels no similar temptation to accept or use the Gandharva's gift. This did not mean it disappeared. Rather it remained asvamika svatva- a property not conveyanced for karmic purposes- till Arjuna himself became asvamika and gained the beatific vision of his true Swami- Lord Krishna, which, indeed, is the goal of svadharma because all egotistic karma, all will-to-power, is burnt up.

I think it is worthwhile to reiterate this point from the Game Theoretic point of view. Thanks to the 'asvamika svatva' nature of the Gandharva's boon,  informationally speaking, there is an asymmetry between Krishna & Arjuna only at the level of intentionality- which is why, perhaps, a 'screening equilibrium' breaks down and Theophany occurs. What I mean is, ordinarily a person who signals authoritative knowledge in a subject is taken at his word- 'screening' has done its job- but in the Gita something different happens. The Lord- who is actually part and parcel of Divine Revelation- nevertheless has to go beyond what is prescribed and grant his theophany so as to dispel the doubt, or indecision, of his devotee. Why should this be so? The answer, I believe, is that ordinary Hindus-stupid people like me- who enjoyed hearing the Mahabharata were easily able to see that there was no actual informational asymmetry between Krishna and Arjuna. However, the scholars- being stupider than ordinary Hindus like me- were bound not to notice this key fact and this continuing joke against the pedants was too good to spoil.

Suppose this were not the case. Suppose the Hindus believed Arjuna had no special supernatural gift which could operate when his volition was weakened by 'vishada'. In that case, the Gita only provides evidence that no argument based on Spiritual Science or Revelation can overcome indecision. Only Theophany- i.e. something miraculous- can counter the 'Agrippa's trilemma' Pyrhho learned in Punjab. If Hindus held this view, why would they consider the Gita an orthodox text?

I believe, in accordance with the terms of the Gandharva's boon, Arjuna, if he chose, could 'see' every single episode of the Gita even if it did not actually come to pass. He could gain the vision of Krishna's theophany ('vishvarupa') by his wish alone. However, since he is a sincere devotee of the Lord, his wish is that Krishna should only reveal himself by his own uncoerced or otherwise solicited wish & volition. This type of impredicativity requires increased indeterminacy in its I-Thou dialogic.  It is also a feature of highly wrought romantic poetry of a baroque or 'riti' type. The intensely passionate devotional love poetry which is feature of Vaishnavite Bhakti Religion owes its sublimity to a self-abnegation in Love which never ceases to act in accordance with the wishes of the occluded Deity. Since this is also a feature of the higher, self sacrificing, types of Love which enrich our personal lives and our most significant nurturing relationships, the message of the Gita is, in fact, univocal. It does not matter if we are seeking to do the best thing for a child or a parent or a friend without imposing upon them in any way, or if we are seeking to serve the Lord of Creation for no higher reward than that of performing that service in a selfless manner.

The dramatic tension in the Gita arises from the cognitive dissonance we experience when seeking to picture Krishna as impassable or dispassionate in himself and thus unswayed by the desire to satisfy even his most beloved devotee's desire. Yet, when we act out of self-less love to another, some similar impassability or dispassion is required of us. Thus a mother may have to send her child away from herself to save its life and, afterwards, may have to dissimulate her true feelings for the child, appearing to perform some other sort of duty, in order to continue to protect it.

In the Gita, Krishna has taken on a particular duty- viz. that of the 'Suta' (charioteer or bard), which incidentally is the caste duty of Karna (because he has not admitted his true Kshatriya birth as the eldest of the Pandavas)- and is bound to do this duty to the best of his ability. Since part of the Suta's job is to keep up the fighting spirit of the warrior mounted upon the battle car, Krishna- it seems- is obliged to do his best- using hilariously self-defeating arguments (which, however, like Socrates's arguments for immortality in the Phaedo, may be viewed as an Ariadne's thread supplied by a Divine intelligence) - to overcome Arjuna's vishada, till finally, in desperation, he has to disclose his 'Cosmic form' so as to achieve his aim by 'shock & awe'.

A common trope in folk tales is that of the supernatural being who has taken on the appearance of a mortal. The hero may be able to trick such a being into revealing its true form with beneficial results or, conversely, may do so by some inadvertent action with tragic consequences. In this case, Arjuna's true 'svadharma' is that of the devotee of the Lord. He wishes for what the Lord wishes and, because Philosophy turns out to be worthless- at least to those with a supernatural boon who can gain substantive knowledge of all things- the Lord voluntarily vouchsafes that highest good- viz. the beatific vision- which the devotee could not ask for himself by reason of wishing to be nothing more than a devotee.

What I want to draw attention to is the scandal that arises where a superior being is tricked, or accidentally 'hacked', into disclosing secret information. For Brahmanism, there was the nightmare that an improper disposal of all the materials of the sacred Yagnya sacrifice, or else the unsuspected existence of some crevice or hole into which sacred information could escape or be concealed, would result in the rebirth of officiants as 'Brahmarakshasas' (Brahmin demons). Such Brahmins- from whom, as if to disprove Lamarck's theory, I am descended, required a 'zero knowledge proof' that they had escaped this fate. The Gita supplies this proof. God himself states that, by means beyond mortal ken, He has taken on the karmic burden of any inadvertent sin in any intentional action. Thus a priest can continue to perform his ancestral duties. He is not required to attain omniscience- for example, by following one of the heterodox sects- in order to be sure that no inadvertent damage occurred when he officiated at a ceremony.

It is not the case that the Gita reveals an algorithmic, or even non deterministic method by which God can be tricked, or 'brute force hacked', into revealing what is beyond mortal ken. This is because, under the appearance of natural language 'dialogue' what is actually happening is an internal 'dialogic' between Krishna and the Veda. This 'dialogic' is very subtle- for dharma is subtle- and, fortunately, since my own svadharma is that of a drunken helot, I need only concern myself with it for the purpose of exciting ridicule and contempt on the part of savants & the unco guid.

In order to baffle predators and parasites, all autopoeitic systems, Biological or Economic, have a tropism towards 'zero knowledge' protocols which impose a cost but are regret minimizing. This relates the subject to problems in Decision theory involving

2) Action noncontexuality (i.e. if two actions produce the same outcome, they should be treated as identical) and Outcome Separability (viz. the notion that the contribution that an outcome in one state of the world makes towards the overall value of an option is independent of what other outcomes the option might result in).

Here 'regret minimizing' behaviour is clearly 'rational' yet yields paradoxes. Theologically, the door is opened to either Stoic ataraxia and belief in 'natural law' which undermines social cohesion and collective thymos- more particularly for military or chrematistic civic purposes- or else we may have fatalistic occasionalism and mystagogy of the 'Oriental' sort.

Hiese's account of the Gita implicitly assumes that problems like Uncertainty, Action Noncontexuality and Outcome Separability obtain- which is why a suitably constrained Decision Theory has purchase. However, in that case, the message of the Gita is that some decisions should not be made- more particularly ones involving violence- absent a miraculous event or directive of a supernatural sort. This however is at variance with how the Gita has been understood and interpreted for thousands of years.

Indeed, if informational asymmetry between Human and the Divine had not been abolished by a specific supernatural boon given only for this very dramatic purpose, the Gita could not 'mean what it says'.  If the Hindus had a Church which declared itself 'the bride of Krishna' and declared its pontiff the sole arbiter on what Krishna desired his devotees to do, then- yes- the Gita could have a certain sort of prescriptive force, in resolving doubts as to one's true duty, but only for votaries of that particular Church. Yet, in modern times we find great Scientists and Mathematicians- like Andrei Weil who took a life-endangering decision under its influence- displaying a fascination with the Gita.

The Gita is a Theistic text. Yet, it has a Universal character and has prompted ethical reflection of a sublime nature amongst people with no reason to like or admire the Hindus.

Taken at face value, it is a 'self-defeating' philosophy propping up some essentially evil elite cultus which flourished at a remote time in a currently very backward part of the world. This, certainly, is Amartya Sen's view and it would be a reasonable one but for the fact that it ignores an important plot twist- one which endows the Gita with dramatic, not dogmatic, content.

Arjuna's 'chakshuchi vidya' had begun to operate due to his volitional deficit of 'vishada', abulia, such that no Uncertainty obtained and only his own preferences and intentions had salience. If he can foresee the outcome of the War, what else can he not envision? Why should he not choose to learn the hidden connection between all things so as to make and implement a Plan which is optimal for himself? The answer is that he genuinely wants to obey his eldest brother. He just does not know that it is Karna and that Karna wants to meet him in battle. Krishna has a Plan based on his omniscience but it is one we humans find terrible. Which Hindu has not wept at the death of the valiant Ghatotkacha? If this is Cosmic Justice let the Gods keep it for themselves. If such is the ultimate Reality- let us confess, we humans can't bear too much of it.

Since Krishna's 'vishvarupa'- his theophany- being a revelation of his true greatness, is also an act of 'Social suicide' as the Mahabharata later discloses- i.e. Arjuna's theistic Newcomb problem turns out to be Divinity's Kavka's toxin!- it follows that it is a 'costly signal' establishing a separating equilibrium. Notice that Arjuna, if he wishes, could get the vishvarupa without Krishna having to disclose it- i.e. there was a potential pooling equilibrium, but Arjuna's own preferences or autonomously determined 'nature' (this is the true meaning of 'svadharma') prevented its fruition.

 However, a co-operative game should be parsimonious of costly signals which is why Screening mechanisms have salience.  But this raises the puzzle as to why more rather than less indeterminacy can be a good Decision theoretic outcome. Surely, some sort of constrained optimisation, or even a satisfying heuristic is better? One reason that occurs to me is that induced indeterminacy rules out a rational choice militating for arbitrage between coordination and discoordination games - i.e. 'moral' or other privileged 'market makers' are known to be a priori pathological.

 No doubt, the Gita contains plenty of 'cheap talk', which is fine if there is an alethic Aumann signaller and a Muth rational, Hannan consistent, correlated equilibrium- e.g if there is a 'Smriti' text which is common knowledge and which prescribes duties and defines entitlements in a robust and incentive compatible way. However, the Gita itself undermines any such notion through high comedy. Thus a hopelessly miscegenated Pandav is lectured about 'purity of the race'! Moreover, the family tradition of the entire clan was for the legitimate heir to cede the crown to one with a lower claim to it. One can multiply such instances endlessly - indeed the sublimity of the Gita arises only out of the fractal ironies and corresponding hermeneutic 'apoorva' ever renewed novelties and enchantments embedded in its every shloka.

There certainly is Decision theory in the Mahabharata- the Just King has to learn Statistical Game Theory to overcome his 'vishada' because he is a Principal (though, only by delegation) not an Agent- but the Gita, being concerned with Agents not Principals, has an 'indecision' theory- a bracketing or epoche- such that an indeterminate costly signal is elicited and a separating equilibrium is established on the basis of a 'zero knowledge proof'.

If restated Decision Theoretically, the Gita would yield only impossibility results which are themselves meaningful only in terms of the theory of Computational Complexity.

Because of the implicit assumptions, unwarranted by the text, which I have listed above, Wiese is obliged to end his paper by endorsing Sen's view of the Gita's message, viz. “one must take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions and choices, and that this responsibility cannot be obliterated by any pointer to a consequence-independent duty or obligation.”

The problem here is that we may have good reasons to impose a 'zero knowledge proof' on a separating equilibrium. Thus if 'responsibility' continues to exist (i.e. it describes a relation than can be subject to Szpilrajn extension) even after we have cut ourselves off from anything more than bare verification, deliberation is vitiated. On one horn of the dilemma, in order to make 'responsibility' effable and deliberative, we have to adopt dialethia- e.g. by adopting P=NP as an axiom- or else 'responsibility' is ineffable and inaccessible to deliberative processes.

The Gita shows that if zero-knowledge proofs are desirable or necessary, then 'indecision' widens the space, till it is larger than the world, between the two horns of this dilemma.

What does this mean in practice? Well, in my view, this means tolerance of separate 'Dialogics'- more particularly those with the appearance of a Red Queen race- as opposed to the demand for a transparent univocity so as to stride quickly to 'optimal' substantive solutions.

To take an example, let us suppose we have an independent Judiciary which follows its own 'artificial reason' based on stare decisis. At the same time, let us suppose we have a free Market system continually adapting to new Technology, new Social configurations, new trading opportunities etc. It would be natural for entrepreneurs to fear that the Law is not adapting quickly enough. The people could be mobilised against the Judges- because legal language and Jurisprudential considerations are difficult to understand- and so the independence of the Judiciary could be endangered. One solution is 'transparency' and more 'oversight' etc. However, there is a risk that if the Judiciary lays bare every detail of its working- it would make it more easy for it to be 'gamed'. In other words, opacity too has an advantage.

In practice, Judges have found a way to signal an understanding of rapidly evolving market conditions but have done so couched in their own specialised terminology. This means that Economists are no longer crude Benthamites. They are respectful of the separate 'artificial reason' or 'dialogic' of the Judiciary. This, of course, involves no 'zero knowledge proofs' at all and perhaps I would be well advised to drop the comparison. Still, it seems to me, that Indian Economists have repented their Benthamite, or Marxist, demand for a 'committed Judiciary' because 'indecision' in this respect has proved to have advantages. The Judge should do his duty and the Legislator his duty. It is not the case that we are required to impose an immediate univocity between them. There is an advantage in being aware of a problem but not acting decisively.

Currently, there is some Institutional panic about zero-knowledge proofs in digital communications, E commerce etc. I personally, by reason of my advanced age and declining mental powers, may be inclined to endorse this panic. After all, when I was young, the assumption we made in Economics was that all relevant information could be aggregated in a substantive manner. Every Enterprise had books which we could seize and examine. How can we be sure our fundamental theorems in Welfare Economics will still have salience where an increasing amount of relevant information is completely private? There is a result from Chichilnisky & Heard which induces optimism in this regard. However, it is the Gita which can give us the moral courage to resist panicked reactions on the part of political leaders who want to appear 'decisive.'

Monday, 6 March 2017

Nouriel Roubini- discovers a 'temporary but persistent' effect. Wow!

Amartya Sen is no longer the stupidest Econ Professor in the World. That title belongs to Nourinal Roubini who has discovered that a thing can be 'temporary but persistent'. This deserves a Nobel prize.

Nourinal, a modest man, buried his discovery in the following article for Project Syndicate. (My remarks are in bold) 

America’s Bad Border Tax-
The United States may be about to implement a border adjustment tax.  Or it may not. The Republican Party, now in control of the legislative and executive branches, views a BAT – which would effectively subsidize US exporters, by giving them tax breaks, while penalizing US companies that import goods – as an important element of corporate-tax reform. Really? Is the Republican party a monolithic party with an univocal view on BAT? Brady & Ryan- and most House Republicans may be on side, but there are a lot of skeptics. They claim that it would improve the US trade balance, while boosting domestic production, investment, and employment. They are wrong. The claim is a positive one. We can have a discussion about its truth-makers. We can't say the claim is wrong for any a priori reason unless, of course, we believe that something can be 'temporary but persistent' in which case we can believe anything at all by the logical principle ex falso quodlibet- from a false premise anything at all can be deduced.

The truth is that the Republicans’ plan is highly problematic. Along with other proposed reforms, the BAT would turn the US corporate income tax into a tax on corporate cash flow (with border adjustment), implying far-reaching consequences for US companies’ competitiveness and profitability. A BAT is like an exogenous shock. There is a one-off shakeout and then improved competitiveness all round- provided drivers for autonomous growth continue to operate. Since the US is technologically advanced and has such localised drivers, a shakeout is a good thing. Profitability is a separate matter. The alternative to BAT is not the status quo (otherwise Trump wouldn't be in the White House) but 'voluntary quotas' and other non Tariff barriers which create rents and do harm competitiveness and, long term, profitability, output, and employment as well.
Some sectors or firms – especially those that rely heavily on imports, such as US retailers – would face sharp increases in their tax liabilities; in some cases, these increases would be even greater than their pre-tax profits. Yes. There will be a shakeout of firms that are poorly managed and can't climb the value chain. That's a good thing. It frees up resources. Meanwhile, sectors or firms that export, like those in manufacturing, would enjoy significant reductions in their tax burden. Only if there is no equal and opposite dollar appreciation. Is that what you are assuming Nourinal? Or are you just taking the piss? This divergence seems both unwarranted and unfair. Urm... the warrant is provided by a Democratic process. We may feel the outcome of a Democratic process is unfair but there is a Democratic way in which we can reverse that outcome. 

The BAT would have other distributional implications, too. Studies indicate that it may hit consumers among the bottom 10% of income earners hardest. Any change in economic policy, or endogenous shock, can be shown to affect the bottom tenth the worst according to some metric because  that is where elasticities are lowest. But the bottom tenth changes in composition all the time. If the effect of BAT & subsequent retaliation is to decrease Capital mobility and Technology offshoring then some people in the bottom tenth will be better able to climb out of poverty. Of course, they will be replaced by others less elastic in their behaviour by reason of some vulnerability we can and should separately address.  There is no knockdown distributional or a priori normative argument here. Yet it has been promoted as a way to offset the corporate-tax cuts that Republicans are also pushing – cuts that would ultimately benefit those at the top of the income distribution. Once again Nourinal is fallaciously assuming that the composition of the top percentile won't change. It will. Those whose wealth is generated by US workers gain at the expense of those who are off-shoring jobs. The point about BAT is that it can reduce Corporate rent-seeking. That's why Trump was sceptical about it.
 Alan Auerbach- educated at Yale and Harvard and now a Prof at Berkeley (that's right, he's a pinko pointyhead who advised Kerry in 2004)- is the big brain behind BAT. This is his policy paper for the Centre for American Progress. Not exactly a shil for the Koch Bros, right? But Nourinal isn't gonna acknowledge this. He writes as though this whole thing has been cooked up by them nasty One percenters.

Making matters worse, the BAT would not actually protect US firms from foreign competition. So it won't reduce competitiveness? Good to know. Economic theory suggests that, in principle, a BAT could push up the value of the dollar by as much as the tax, thereby nullifying its effects on the relative competitiveness of imports and exports. Cool! In that case, Nourinal, you were wrong to say that exporters would gain an 'unwarranted and unfair' advantage over importers.

Moreover, the balance-sheet effects of dollar appreciation would be large. Because most foreign assets held by US investors are denominated in a foreign currency, the value of those assets could be reduced by several trillion dollars, in total. Cool! Since US investments abroad are more productive than foreign investments in the US, the net wealth effect boosts US aggregate demand while incentivizing better global portfolio choice by US investors. Win Win! Meanwhile, the highly indebted emerging economies would face ballooning dollar liabilities, which could cause financial distress and even crises. Highly indebted emerging economies have structural problems which should be treated with a separate package of policy instruments. Tinbergen's rule applies. This isn't an argument against BAT, it is one for effective Overseas Aid policies.
Even if the US dollar appreciated less than the BAT, the pass-through from the tax on imports to domestic prices would imply a temporary but persistent rise in the inflation rate. Wow! Economists didn't know something could be both temporary and persistent! This discovery deserves a Nobel Prize! Perhaps what Nourinal means is 'There will be a one off price shock and then later on, as a result of retaliation, a secular cost push trend which persists.' But that's not what he said. Why? Nourinal is just taking the piss. Some studies suggest that, in the BAT’s first year, the new tax could push up US inflation by 1%, or even more. So nobody will notice. The US Federal Reserve may respond to such an increase by hiking its policy rate, a move that would ultimately lead to a rise in long-term interest rates and place further upward pressure on the dollar’s exchange rate. Long term interest rates should be higher. A sharp shakeout, due to dollar overshooting, is a good thing. Nourinal is aware that this talk of a one off one percent price shock aint scaring nobody. It really does not matter and the dynamic benefits are considerable.

Yet another problem with the BAT is that it would create massive disruptions in the global supply chains that the US corporate sector has built over the last few decades. Again, a good thing. Supply chains need to be disrupted so new Technology take-up is incentivized. The alternative is rent-seeking non-tariff barriers which have dynamic costs. By undermining companies’ capacity to maximize the efficiency of labor and capital allocation – the driving motivation behind offshoring – the BAT would produce large welfare costs for the US and the global economy. Exogenous shocks build, not undermine, capacity to efficiently allocate resources. No shocks- or shocks fully compensated by rent-seeking- undermine the entrepreneurial skill-set involved in 'creative destruction. That's not a good thing. Why have a market if we deny ourselves the 'autonomous growth' type dynamic benefits associated with entrepreneurial culture? 
Rent-seeking behaviour results in 'dead-weight' welfare losses. Auerbach designed BAT so as to eliminate that type of 'excess burden'.
The final major problem with the BAT is that it violates World Trade Organization rules, which allow border adjustment only on indirect taxation, such as value-added tax, not on direct taxes, like those levied on corporate income. Given this, the WTO would probably rule the BAT illegal. In that case, the US could face retaliatory measures worth up to $400 billion per year if it didn’t repeal the tax. That would deal a serious blow to US and global GDP growth. Retaliation is a given. But, the world has changed. Europe will sooner or later realise that it can't do fiscal harmonization based monetary union- BAT based subsidiarity is the way to go. Smaller countries have to go in for Industrial policy- they have to shield 'autonomous growth' type niche industries from exchange rate overshooting.
China will see that claw-back on Intellectual Property helps it with its own capital flight and corruption problem.  There is a different path out of US 'exorbitant privilege' and China appears cohesive enough to commit to it over the course of this year. Mexico and Canada, too, may find that they retain gravity model absolute advantage while gaining 'autonomous growth' type benefits for dynamic socio-political elements within their polities. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Kishan's earrings in Kamakshi's eyes.

                                                                                             Robert Lowell.

Love made Lyric my business tho' in but Bigger Business is there now Romance
 & if their hearts get attacked Golfing, Brokers are caddied by Bagger Vance.
While who thread Kaalratri's labyrinth- thy Dharma Karna!- as charioteer or as bard
Die beached like Arion's Dolphin, tho' dismount be not hard.

Prince! Kunti quakes till Kurukshetra's ear-born Sun dims to surmise
 Which be Kishan's earrings, which Kamakshi's eyes