Fandom, the Ship of Theseus, and Corporate Culture

When Lebron James went from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, it was widely noted that he left for a better chance at winning a championship. He grew up outside of Cleveland but it was understandable that he left, and it didn’t hurt his personal brand significantly. It diminished the Cleveland Cavaliers’ brand because they were missing a star athlete, but when he left the organization did not cease being the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There is a thought experiment in philosophy that is used to examine Platonic and Aristotleian concepts of ideas. If, over the course of time, every plank of a ship is replaced, what makes it the same ship as when it started? The same can be said of any professional sports team. A general answer to that question is memory is the determinant of the maintenance of identity. Certainly the athletes of a team identify with the goals of the team as they play for them, but a stronger determinant of team identity is the excitement of the fans. Fans stay in one place more and offer a stronger sense of location and history for teams and help differentiate them from one another. But the thing outside of this that often separates one team from another is its ownership and organizational culture and structure. When fans are rooting for a team because of the venerated genius of their system, organization, or technique (think Bill Belichick) they are rooting for a corporate culture. Teams are now even praised for their skill in navigating the marketplace, as in “Moneyball.”

Is there any deeper expression of American capitalism than the fact that fans are bonded to teams and creating their identities by rooting for the efficiency of their corporate structures? It is a tribute to the importance that we pay to organizational success and to the rise of computer-based analysis.

What does Freedom mean to me? Lots of guns.

The implementation of law allowing for the concealed carry of weapons on University campuses in Texas on August 1st is a perfect example of the increasingly distorted concept of “freedom” in the United States. The backers of the law tout the Second Amendment right to bear arms as being instrumental to the American concept of Liberty, and view an assault on the Second Amendment as an attack on the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution as a whole. This ideological concept of radical Liberty, including the right to bear arms in an academic setting, reveals itself to be problematic when put into practice. The response of Universities in Texas and of law enforcement to this new freedom has been to increase surveillance in order to better protect students and academicians. Not only does this express the inherent danger of increasing access to concealed weaponry, it undermines another, more universal aspect of human liberty: freedom from the threat of government intrusion and surveillance.

What is under threat is not American freedom and liberty, it is a clear presentation of what those concepts mean. If freedom is defined as protecting only the rights enshrined in the Constitution, and those rights are strictly defended against any rational restrictions, then we have, in fact, narrowed our definitions of liberty and freedom. Guns are not a terribly important part of personal freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from unfair coercion and surveillance by the government are all much more vital to our current system of governance than the unrestricted right to access firearms. These rights are not defended nearly as vociferously as gun rights in most public forums. The myriad opportunities and social safeguards provided by a liberal economic system and an independent judiciary are also keys to personal freedom in the United States. Focusing on such a limited form of freedom elevates it to a more prestigious position than it deserves, and obscures the fact that the benefits it provided to the populace in respect to the government were neutralized by the establishment of 1) a standing army, and 2) modern industrial techniques. The rights to freedom and privacy have not been made moot by changes in technology or institutional structures. If Americans wish to maintain their freedom from government interference it would be better for the citizenry to not make the Second Amendment the priority above all other rights.

Why Obama should be more like Ronald Reagan

Initiative is a paramount theme in the operational philosophy of warfare. The ability of an actor to impose their will on their opponent, to choose a time and place of conflict and place pressure on an opponent’s weakness is a valuable strategic advantage. The United States, while avoiding wasteful and costly foreign entanglements, has ceded strategic initiative in a variety of global affairs, but particularly in Iraq and Syria.

In the midst of America’s steep decline in its ability to project power globally at the end of the 1970’s, Ronald Reagan started a “crusade” against the Soviet Union. Confronting the “Evil Empire” directly with increased military spending (preying of their weak economy) and fighting proxy wars against them helped to destroy the Soviet system. There were, as there always are, unintended consequences and blowback that came to the fore only after the loftier goal had been achieved. Notably, and regrettably, the funding and supplying of radical Islamists would come to haunt the United States. There was also the diminished respect for many peoples of the world after the United States supported oppressive dictatorships in the name of anti-Communism and the dangerously increased tensions with the Soviet Union that could have led to a nuclear war. The aggressiveness and assertiveness, paid for with deficit spending, gave the United States the strategic initiative and allowed for American-advantaged negotiations to take place between the superpowers.

The disaster in Syria and Iraq is the result of many historical failures and murderous groups attempting to hold or seize power. It is also a vortex dragging in major world powers with the pull of the global disasters of social collapse and terrorism fears. In addition to the global problems, there are complex regional rivalries that have combined to make the countries (perhaps former countries) of Iraq and Syria bloody battlegrounds for proxy wars.

Many pundits have argued aggressively for US intervention or applauded the Obama Administration for its restraint in not fighting unwinnable wars. In many ways the President is an impossible bind when confronting the disasters in the Middle East. For the US, the prospect of a complete power vacuum in Iraq and Syria is untenable while at the same time reacting in a mild, or very targeted manner is not effective in the long term.

Admitting the fact that there is already a humanitarian disaster, and that the United States has partnered with dubious, and indeed, criminal, allies – the US has little to lose by facing its geo-strategic enemies with greater force and resolve. Bombing the Assad regime directly in Syria and arming our chosen militias with greater technical abilities would send a strong message to Russia and deter the Putin regime from greater aggression or, if it were strongly opposed, would spread Russia’s military thin. In a broader view it would allow the United States to dictate terms of peace and influence the rivalries between Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

The enemies of the United States are emboldened, but weak. A strong show of force and resolve would likely strengthen the United State’s ability to conduct diplomatic enterprises effectively. The value of initiative is known, the disaster in the Middle East is already manifest, and long term consequences are unknowable for the greater part. It behooves the United States to control what it can, and for the Obama Administration to act more like the Reagan Administration.

Dostoyevsky and Internet Outrage

Dostoyevsky’s novella “The Double” and several of his short stories examine a narcissistic and shame-based personality schema that is still in evidence, maybe even in increasing prominence, in the modern world as much as in the mid-1800’s. The rigid social structures and bureaucracies of Imperial Russia have been replaced by the strict impression management of social media, but the emotions remain the same. Shame is the emotion of social failure, and a relentless self-obsession that relies on examination of others fuels that core emotion. Shame is to be guarded against at all cost, people must succeed, especially in relation to others, while also concealing themselves from negative exposure.

The end of “The Double” exposes the narrator to his tremendous social failure, but it is also a failure related to his sense of enititlement. This type of emotional transaction, the transmission of outrage from the observer to the subject, where it’s transformed into shame, is the basic emotional currency of the Internet. Emotion is an easily received thrill. Just as the youngest generation is increasingly seeking “experiences” over material goods, so are we all seeking emotional highs and lows through media. The problem with this is that it undermines reason and sustained action. Interacting with other people this way is a precursor for nihilism, and phenomena like the popularity of Donald Trump can be directly tied to this social disease of sensation seeking.