Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Intensification + peaking (full PR mode!)

Last time I talked about programming I was in the middle of the accumulation mesocycle, wondering if I would go through a traditional intensification one, and then do a traditional taper before taking maxes again (and pretty sure I would get an improvement of 15-20 kg in my powerlifting total), or I'd adjust to an almost forced week out (travel to see family around Xmas) and go for those PR's right off the bat after accumulation, with minimal intensification and almost no taper.

Turns out I'm already doing the latter. Last week I did a single microcycle of 3's (so that's all the intensification I'm getting) of which I'm pretty proud, specially if I compare it with what I was doing (and struggling with) in April this same year (feels like a million years ago, but actually it's only 8 months):

                                 April 2014                                     December 2014
Bench Press              2 x 3 x 95 kg                                 6 + 5 x 3 x 105 kg
Squat                        5 x 3 x 132.5 kg                            8 + 6 x 3 x 145 kg
Deadlift                     2 x 2 x 175 kg                               3 x 200 kg (although this one almost kills me)

So I'm pretty confident I'm quite stronger now than I was back then, so although it may have been nice to milk the intensification phase for one or two weeks more, I started peaking right away, with a session of singles in each main lift, seeing again a nice improvement in the weights used since March (I didn't do a week of singles in April, but jumped right into the fake meet to make the date coincident with Spain's powerlifting Championship):

                                March 2014                                     December 2014
Bench Press              3 x 1 x 105 kg                               6 x 1 x 115 kg
Squat                        7 x 1 x 142.5 kg                            6 x 1 x 155 kg
Deadlift                     2 x 1 x 190 kg                               (*)

(*) Haven't yet trained the DL for singles, planning to do it later today, but I do not think I'll go for a high number of relatively intense singles (my original planning was doing 4-5 singles w 205 or 200, depending on how it felt), as my lower back got really trashed last session, when I barely got the triple w 200, and I still don't feel it has fully recovered (it still aches most of the day, and is pretty stiff when I wake up in the morning), so I'm planning on doing some lighter speed deads, focusing on flawless technique, applying as much force as possible to the bar, accelerating it crazily, keeping very short resting periods and moving a reasonable weight (most likely 150 kg would do the trick, around 65% of the 220 I've set my sights on for the next max session). I'll probably do 'em E1/2MOT1/2M (every half minute on the half minute), which really doesn't allow for much recovery, and after the first five minutes is extremely demanding, both from a strength (its devastating for the grip and the erectors, but in the end just everything feels demolished: quads, hammies, glutes, lats...) and from an endurance perspective, trying to get to 20 reps in 10 minutes.

If after that I still can breathe, I may try some really heavy rack pulls, to gain some extra confidence, and no more heavy training until the 30th of 31st, when I'll take maxes and see how productive the year has been strength wise (and use the input to plan 2015 accordingly). I'll keep everybody posted.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The problems with a Universal Basic Income

In my previous post I settled upon the idea that the key element to dismantle the undesirable features of our (late) digital capitalism was instituting a state sanctioned revenue stream that would allow people to live free of the need to work, as proposed by the likes of Philppe Van Parijs. I have the gut feeling that just enabling a significant amount of the population to live, and live decently, without working (of course we are talking a life relatively free of luxuries, but well stuffed with the real necessities of life: clothing, food, shelter and some entertainment) may have dramatic consequences in everybody, substantially hollowing the system's core claim that life requires the continuous and unabashed pursuit of ever greater levels of production. Just having enough people leaving contented, meaningful lives without participating in "the rat race" and sacrificing 100% of their time to "keep up with the Joneses" would significantly ease the lives of those more inclined to compete and accumulate, as the level of consumption required to stand above the masses would substantially drop, and driving a Porsche to a 40,000 square feet McMansion while sporting an Armani suit and a Rolex watch to meet there a trophy wife that cheats on him and a couple mentored and tutored and helicopter parented (by salaried surrogates) offspring he barely knows may seem less of an achievement to brag about when other people can boast of getting by just fine without a) having to kiss any ass at all and b) having tons of spare time to devote to other pursuits, some of which may look more worthy of admiration the moment they are not tainted by the stigma of not paying enough for a living.

But of course I still have to refine that gut feeling and establish more firmly the relation between paying everybody the equivalent of a living wage and getting rid of the crazy drive to accumulate more wealth than your neighbor. That is work for another post, but before getting there I want to examine some common objections I've read, heard or thought myself about such an schema. In no particular order:

  • It would be inflationary (so the money the state distributed would in the end loose all its value, and people receiving it would end up as poor as before, and as in need of an additional source of revenue through work): it stands to reason that if the state decides to conjure a vast amount of money out of thin air to distribute equally between the population, and spends it on top of everything that it is actually spending (we will see that it would mean increasing its disbursements between 60% and 80%) with no equivalent increase in its receipts, all that additional money chasing the same amount of material goods would have a highly inflationary effect. We will be analyzing where the money may come from (either at the end of this post or on a separate one), but we can state that the way we see a UBI working, it should not suppose an additional burden on the state, it would essentially replace current expenditures, not add to them, so its inflationary effect would be null (another issue is to what extent, in a situation of liquidity trap, some moderate inflation, now and in the foreseeable future, would be a good thing for the economy... my own opinion is that to a great extent, but that is small potatoes compared with the possibility of changing the dominant reason and the whole socioeconomic system, so I won't pursue it further)

  • It would dis incentivize work: and that is supposed to be an objection? I am more than willing to agree that a society that pays all its citizens to do nothing (or does not link that payment to them doing something) will probably produce less than one which forces them to produce or else. My contention is that we are collectively producing much more than we a) need to live decent, meaningful, flourishing lives b) can afford if we want to leave to our descendants a planet as full of possibilities for their own flourishing as we enjoyed and c) maximizes each individual utility function. Only the third one requires some explanation, but it has been shown time and again that people enjoys more having more free time against having more income, having more social relations than having more recognition at work, and having a more pristine environment than having a bigger home or a bigger car... but to enable each individual to enjoy those "higher", more pleasurable goods they have to be saved from their own greed and need to flaunt their possession of markers of social status bigger and bolder that their immediate neighbor's... It made (limited) sense to force everybody to produce more when capitalism was born, in an environment of inter societal competition when letting the society beyond yours produce more in aggregate would translate sooner rather than later in military defeat, humiliation and a substantial lowering of your standard of living, being confined to the periphery or semi-periphery of the single world-system that was being formed (as Wallerstein analysis show). Even when the competition between capitalism and communism was at its full it could be (partly) defended, as communist societies who lost that material production race can attest, being forced to join the world-system in most unfavourable terms of which most still have not recovered. But now? what's the price of producing less (in aggregate) than your neighbor? a potential depreciation of your currency and some inflation if you want to import goods from him (assuming there still are different currencies, and we may have hit upon the root cause of Europe's integration woes, which will require a deeper look in a separate post)? big deal, you always can import less of his stuff, or substitute for it with local production.

  • It is morally wrong to pay people to do nothing with what is taken from hardworking citizens, it distributes resources that have been created with the effort of some individuals to the "undeserving poor" (well, and to the supposedly deserving rich): Desert is one of those things that seem to be very much in the eye of the beholder, as this line of critique is most likely to come from the ranks of the right, which typically see no problem in the system being highly slanted in favor of the already rich. In times of new rentiers ("trustafarians", hedge fund managers and their descendants, untalented start-up "entrepreneurs" whose sole merit was being in the right place at the right time, entertainers and athletes... the list goes on and on) it takes galls to make that claim, and it normally just denotes a subtler (and older) complain: if we gave money to the lower classes it will become awfully expensive to entice them to serve us! so this objection reveals more about those who voice it than about the system towards which it is directed. Indeed it would likely make domestic service dearer, by providing a plus of dignity to those that nowadays are forced to perform it, as they would have the choice to stay at home playing Call of Duty or watching Reality TV rather than going to the upper class mansions to clean their WC's and do their laundry, but I honestly can't see how that is a social evil

  • It is demeaning to people to give them handouts, it will rob their lives of meaning and purpose: not to be mistaken with the previous argument, this one opposes UBI on the grounds that it is bad for the receivers, not for the ones that will, regardless of it, keep on working and toiling and thus generating the wealth to be distributed. I confess that I am somewhat (surprisingly) partial to this line of reasoning, as indeed the main problem of humankind, since at least the XVIIIth Century, is to find meaning, not to find what to eat, or what to wear, or where to sleep (not that the last three have been universally solved, but for the vast majority they have, indeed), and in a scenario of growing secularization work has become the ultimate source of meaning, of social identity and of relationship building for many, if not most... However, we have to keep things in perspective here, and not forget who the main beneficiaries are likely to be, and how meaningful and fulfilling the jobs they are performing today are. I'm not proposing a Basic Income to improve the lot of University Professors, Middle Managers in large corporations, Management Consultants, Web Designers, Screenwriters, Orchestra Conductors and whatnot, most of whom would continue doing the work they like/ love regardless of any financial help from the state, albeit may be at a less frantic pace. We have to think about janitors, fast food chain employees, supermarket clerks, warehouse operators, bricklayers... Its not like the job they are doing (and that they would have the chance of keep on doing, only without having to compete for them with a hundred candidates as little qualified and as desperate as themselves, being thus able to negotiate in better terms) is that great, or that the alternative (being paid approximately the same, but without the drudgery) may be that condescending... Nothing that gives them additional freedom, additional choices and the possibility to develop additional capabilities can be
  • It is too expensive, we just can't afford it: I started thinking it would be easier to come up with the savings in all the rest of the services the government currently provides as to rob this particular argument of its strength (we are after all a very rich society -this applies to all first world economies, roughly Western Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand-), but when I started looking at the numbers they did look daunting, and even made me think there is some merit to it. As this post is already too long I'll just leave it at that, and defer to my next one the calculation of how much implementing a UBI society-wide would cost, and where the money would come from. The take away points I'll leave you with are a) it can be done (the state is collecting, and already spending, more than enough to pay everybody a living wage) b) it requires a major rethinking of how a modern state operates (forsaking traditional ways of distributing money back to society, specially the money coveted by powerful interest groups, so it is both more democratic and more likely to be bitterly opposed by those groups) c) it can cover the basic necessities of life, but not many luxuries (so any accusation that it may corrupt the moral fibre of society turning every citizen in a decadent slob is probably overblown), so I guess most people would still choose to pursue some occupation that would bring in additional income (which is a good thing, as somebody has to keep paying the taxes that in the end fund the whole schema) and d) it has the potential to reverse current demographic trends, turning offspring back to assets and a way to a better, fuller life (not net liabilities, as they seem to be now for most)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What should be done (IV)

Back in July (in this post and this one) I was wondering how one should live in a system like ours, late capitalism (or, as I called it there, "digital capitalism"), which I considered unfair, corrupted and non conductive to human flourishing and the development of the higher good (whatever that may be, to condemn our social organization requires just that we agree producing as many material goods as possible is not it). Before finding out, I felt I had to identify what were the distinguishing features of said system (which you can find here), and the "moral valence" of each of those features, assuming the ones morally deemed more corrupting would need to be changed.

There were three features I left unanalysed then, and which I'm not going to cover as they are "dependent variables" (the degree of technological progress, which thanks to automation, cheap and abundant energy and ubiquitous communication allow for the satisfaction of everybody's basic needs without anybody having to work much for it; globalization in terms dictated by big corporations, that is, enabling the almost free flow of merchandise and capital; and the rise of information and digitization of every conceivable experience, with marginal cost of that information approaching zero) that have attained a life of their own, and their reversal would require enormous societal costs (may be a bit less so for the second one -corporate-led globalization- I may revisit that one further down the road).

The conclusion of that study was that two features stood up as the more morally problematic: the fact that in all times capitalism has succeeded by forcing everybody in society to contribute as much as they could to the production of material goods (that's almost it's definition, specially according to Graeber Debt: the first 5000 years summary in Wikipedia) and the main mechanism it developed to enforce that compulsion, the labor market (the form that compulsion takes is by making it more or less explicitly mandatory to sell one's time in exchange for a salary -or a number of clients' revenue streams if you choose the route of self-employment, under the guise of an apparently free agreement whose negotiating terms that are designed to be abusively favourable to the employer/ client). The other mechanism it had developed (commodity production) was bad insofar as it was a paradigmatic behavior of the warped priorities identified in the first point (material production maximization), was most likely to disappear, and was not to be mistaken with the labour market asymmetries (I mentioned that considering work as a commodity was one of Marx main conceptual errors in a work richly plagued by them... the problem with learning your politics from a journo).

So, if those are the really big problems of our current socioeconomic system, what has to be done starts to become a bit more clear: the only acceptable course for a man is try to change that system so it a) does not force everybody to devote all of their energy to produce material goods (to earn more money and possess more wealth, but only wealth that can be measured in monetary terms and thus exchanged for money), which in turn requires that b) people are set free from the need to sell their time in a labour market which they approach in a situation of utter helplessness (as, if they do not play by the rules, they would be left dispossessed, entirely outside of the social hierarchy and even under the risk of starvation -if not literal, in terms of prestige, access to health care, etc.-)

Before looking in more detail how those pursuits (or pursuit, as you can not eliminate one without seriously weakening the other) may look like in practice, it may be worthwhile to review the revolutionary movements of the past 250 years, and under what premises they tried to change society, as we may learn something from their struggle (and their in the end entirely unsatisfactory results). Applying our framework it is immediately evident that they focused on the wrong features of the system, targeting private property (protected by stable laws) and money (a social technology for keeping track of debts regardless of social background or group belonging) as the sources of inequality of their time, when both are relatively old concepts, and thus capitalism is in no way dependant on them (money was discovered in Lydia about 600 BC, and has been around since then, and private property securely protected by law may be even more ancient, almost coeval with writing, 3000 years BC). Indeed, the societies built on those premises (no money and no private property, at least regarding the "means of production") did not escape from the need to produce as many material goods as possible (and not being able to produce as many as their competitor is what made them for in the end), only with the wrong set of incentives (trying to do it by coercion enforced by a bureaucratic elite proved to be less efficient than making each man his own foreman, or his own taskmaster, as capitalism succeeded in doing).

As it happens, we do not need to get overly creative to see how the two main undesirable features of late capitalism can be overcome, as the idea that can end them has already been around for some time. If you can guarantee people that they can subsist comfortably without having to work, keeping a modest amount of thingies in the process, you suddenly weaken both the impetus to overproduce that is damaging so much the environment (as now we force people to produce even if there is no demand, and even less need, for their product) and the asymmetry that forces them to undersell their time in conditions they find barely preferable to full slavery. There has been a (quite modest and muted so far) claim for that kind of guarantee going on for a few years, under the name Basic Income (BI), or Universal Basic Income (UBI) to differentiate it from other claims more limited in scope that propose paying only certain segments of the population (unemployed, or employed but below certain salary threshold). I will be talking in another post about how it may look like, where the money would come from, and give consideration to some traditional arguments for and against it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hammering the iron while it is still hot

This past Saturday I set a new PR in the Bench Press, after breaking my prev one little more than a week ago. After a hasty warm up I did 100 for a triple, 110 for a double (probably a new 2RM), 120 for a single, and seeing it went up pretty solidly (no loss of speed of the bar around mid lift) loaded the bar w 125 and started visualizing the lift.

I used to be somewaht sceptical of the use of those "cheap" mental tricks, but as I grow more experienced I've come to realize the iron game is a highly mental activity. When you fail a lift and let the bar go down it is never (never that I've seen in myself, at least) a "real" muscular failure (well, maybe for very high rep ranges, with a comparatively low percentage of 1RM), but a ceasing & desisting of the will to continue exerting herself to keep the muscle pushing. You let the bar go "in your head" before the muscles let go physically (I know this dualistic language would be highly suspect in the philosophy of mind circles that have become overwhelmingly dominant, but I'm tending more and more towards a kind of neo cartesianim whose full explanation would take me far, far away from the original intent of this post). So anything that helps the mind complete the exercise, and thus keep on truckin' (sending orders, firing neurons or whatever non-mentalistic language you deem to prefer) 'til the deed is done is not to be taken lightly.

So I visualized the lift, and focused more intently, and visualized some more: the feeling of the knurled bar in my hands, the slight strain in my right pec and front delt while lowering it, the slight pressure in my chest when it touches there, the reversal of direction, and how most likely it would deccelerate at about 3-4 inches from lockout, and how I would struggle, and tense the glutes more and use the legs to push the chest higher and get some additional leg drive whilst keeping the butt firmly planted in the bench...

But of course there comes a time when you have to stop playing mind games and go for the real shit. So I set up (my routine, or rather ritual is: first plant feet firmly on ground, slightly behind knees, then tense glutes to nail 'em to the bench, then arch hard the back, then retract the scapulas and finally align the wrists under the bar and, after a big breath, start pushing), unracked authoritatively, got some additional air in for extra stability in the belly, and started lowering the bar...

It came down very controlled (a mixed blessing, it gives you confidence that you can reverse direction at any moment, but it tires the pecs and front delts more than just letting it come crashing to the chest), slightly touched right at the lower end of the sternum, and up it went. In all the months this year that I haven't trained the bench press at all (the majority of them) I must have changed the strength balance between the different parts of my upper body, as a year ago I usually stalled a couple of inches above the chest, and now I start struggling when the bar is much higher (that means stronger pecs, which is somewhat surprising, as I never train 'em directly, except may be with weighted dips). This time was no different, and it was when 2/3's of the lift were already done that I found myself in trouble, as the bar was almost stopping, and I noticed I had driven it too far backwards (as it noisily hit the lower part of the j-hook in the rack). I was not to be defeated so far into the push, so I regained my bearings, braced some more, pushed with the legs, drove the back of the head harder in the bench, clenched my teeth and slowly and agonically drove the bar all the way to a successful lockout.

Then to round out the session I did 5 triples with 105, every two minutes on the minute (so really minimal rest), which after the 125 felt pretty easy (maybe with the exception of the last rep of the last set, which was quite a struggle again). So I did for triples what at the beginning of the year (last time I trained BP consistently) I could only do for singles. Definitely much stronger in this lift, which, due to my comparatively long arms has been the bane of my lifting existence.

Now I'm doubting if it would be better to have an additional training session with triples before one based on singles and then going for a final max, or just singles, rest and max attempt... the 125 felt much more limit than the 122,5 of the previous week (duh!), and I have the feeling that there is not much more than I can milk out of this cycle, so I'll probably go for a new max ASAP, and then start with some added volume again, from a foundation set comparatively higher than where it was five weeks ago.

Friday, December 12, 2014

About the decrease in the rate of technological progress

When I reviewed "The second machine age" I thought the idea of a decceleration in the rate of technological progress was a minority one, held by few people outside of Tyler Cowen, Robert Gordon and myself. But lately I'm finding more and more instances of scientists, engineers and science journalists piling on. Latest two are Of flying cars and the declining rate of profit, from the always thought-provoking Dave Graeber (although he has less to say about the rate of profit than the whimsy title suggests) and The Golden Quarter by Michael Hanlon. The alst one is specailly interesting, as it extends the landscape of stagnation to medicine, a field I'm not very familar with and where I couldn't be so sure there was not at least a simmer of progress (although I was well aware the average life expectancy was not progressing that much in most places -where nota ctually regressing, like in Russia), specially if you discount the effect of the society-wide decision to stop poisoning ourselves with tobacco smoke.

I have to thank a quite surprising source for both links: both were suggested by the guys at Repulsive right wing claptrap (not the real name, poor guys), which I read because you have to a) be familar with what the proverbial other side of the aisle thinks (not that I'm particularly "this" side of any aisle) and b) I'm of the opinion we should all force ourselves outside our little bubble and have a healthy daily dose of exposure to ideas as different from our own as possible. Regardless of why I read them, it surprised me that they are so consistently linking progressive sites, although it makes more sense on reflection (denunciation of progress, or of lack thereof, has always been a mainstay of conservative thinking).

It is also interesting to note the common diagnostic of both authors as to the root cause of the (quite abrupt, altough most popular opinion still doesn't seem to have caught up with it, as Brinjolfsson and MacAffee illustrate) loss of steam of the technological juggernaut set in motion in the XVIIIth Century: they both maintain that it is the current form of capitalism. Graeber insists more in how, when it has to choose between its own preservation and any possible improvement to make it more humane, or more inclusive, it has opted for the former (which, as far as analysis go, is afflicted from what I denounced in this post: Some problems with typical leftist critique of our current system, as "the system" is not really choosing anything at all, and what would make for a more interesting analysis is why some people with enough influence are making those decisions, and how those individual decisions are steering society in that direction). Hanlon focuses more on how the aversion to risk and the orientation towards short-term profit maximization (which in the realm of consumer products directs research energies towards thingies that are similar enough to what is already in the amrket with a closer enough obsolescence date), paired with misguided subsidies and academia (the almost universally despised peer reviewed publications also decried by Graeber) have derailed the march towards the possibilities dreamed of by our forefathers.

Which ties nicely with my concerns, which I started drafting in a series of old posts ("What should be done", in June and July 2014), about which of the defining features of modern day capitalism should be replaced, and which ones could be left if we wanted to build a better society. The betterment I had in mind then was the reduction of inequality, the ensurance of a minimum of maetrial well being and security for all and the possibility of leading fullfiling lifes, which require a certain freedom from all encompassing toil (specially in deadening jobs). But it seems that such a good society should very well be more open to innovation and neccessarily more conductive to the old idea of accelerated progress, as there are a number of problems with today's organization (resource depletion, demographic collapse, loss of biodiversity, climate change) that seem to require for their resolution of technological capabilities we still do not have, and that would never came too soon...

So time to get back to think on how we should change current society (the current "system", however much I'm getting to dislike the term), taking this into account now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Are we entering a new feudal age?

I have been thinking a lot about the surviving feudal features of our current socioeconomic system (as part of my research into what makes "capitalism" capitalist, exactly) for the last couple of years, and have had some (eventually nasty) discussions in some forums where people post easy epithets without knowing much what they mean...

However, last Friday I stumbled upon this post: Feudalism in corporate governance that I found better argued that the usual rants about the subject (which tend to be a way of disparaging modern capitalism, or its likely evolution, accusing it of something not very precise that just smells like old and stuffed and really uncool), and made me want to systematize a bit my own thoughts on the subject.

First, lets start by what most of the people I've read seem to think this new feudalism means. In most cases, it is a denunciation of the growing inequalities we are witnessing, that make them think that if current trends continue we will soon be living in a society of serfs (i.e. very poor people, with just enough to get by and no formally recognized rights) surrounding a minuscule elite of superrich (the equivalent of the feudal lords of yore) unbounded by laws or statutes, as their vast wealth would enable them to do basically what they please, without any fear of the consequences. Under that scenario, the modern nation-state that emerged in the XVIIth Century would finally crumble, unable to compete with the likely private armies of those plutocrats after being gradually deprived of resources by the emptying of its traditional, middle-class based revenue source, a process we havebeen witnessing for some time now, and which will only acelerate with the retirement of the boomer generation. An extreme illustration of the kind of society we may be heading to is depicted in the comic Lazarus

As the first post I referenced points out, feudalism is indeed a response to the lack of power of the central authority (that's why it appears after the crumbling of the Roman empire), in which the peasants (albeit unwillingly) renounced to some of their freedoms (like, in the end, the freedom of abandoning the land, or the freedom to work in whatever they pleased, or not to work at all) in exchange for protection, and the lords (originally local chiefs marked by their fighting prowess) aquired an enhanced status, and control over the meager surplus produced by the peasants. That control required they had the equivalent of today's legislative and judiciary powers (to command, enact and arbiter in case of dispute, in a fragmented monopoly of violence).

So we have today a situation with some analogies, as the international system based on nation states as main actors, on which the powers "to command, enact and arbiter" are invested (and thus who can wield the monopoly of violence) seems to be if not crumbling, at least weakening, thanks to the technological advances that have reduced the cost of transport and communications almost to zero (at least for merchandise), and made the enforcement of national borders more and more problematic, as any first world country bordering with a second or third world one (with the exception of Japan) can attest. So an evolution towards a social order in which people gravitates towards alternative sources of authority may not be so much off the mark (specially if the hollowing of the state championed by certain sectors of the right continues apace). And the foundation of that authority maynot be the capacity to exert force (or the holding of a monopoly over violence, which may even be outsourced or privatized, as some anarchocapitalists dream) but the command of vast sources of information (the most advanced of the three sources of power identified by now infamous futurist Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave)... or the command of vast sums of capital, if there is still a social structure where capital is scarce and recognized as valuable.

Indeed, to some extent, as the original post I linked suggests, feudalism has very much survived in the heart of the modern corporation. Where once land was the main source of value, and possession of the land was the paramount sign of power, and the authorization to work the land was the only way to subsist for most people, today capital is the main source of value, possession of capital (and the ability to display that possession) is the highest mark of social status, and authorization to use that capital (to produce wealth for others, in exchange for a salary) is the only way to subsist (more so in those countries where the "social safety net" is weaker). I would add one additional parallelism: Max Weber, one of the fathers of modern sociology, spoke  in his magisterial Economy and Society of charismatic power (invested in an individual) as opposed to bureaucratic power (invested in a position with fixed duties and responsibilities documented in some written form) as a sign of archaic societies. Well, anybody that has worked in a big enough corporation, specially in "modern" ones (in the IT sector) can immediately recognize the preeminence of charismatic power in it, and the subsequent building of cliques, fiefs, and tribes around the main executives, along with other signals of highly personalized hierarchies, as paradigmatically shown by the cult of the "rock star" CEO (and CFO, and COO, and so on in a fractal structure of imitation of the upper echelons at lower and lower levels). So the shift towards more informal, more "flexible", flatter, less defined (less bureaucratic) organizations is a change towards more charismatic (more feudal) forms of control and command...

So I tend to agree that we are seeing a reinforcement of the more feudalistic tendencies within our societies, specially within the economic realm, a reinforcement that is only lacking the formal recognition of separate legal statutes for the lords (the owners of enough capital) and the rest, making de iure what already exists de facto. It will be interesting to watch, as it will require a new legitimizing metanarrative similar in scope and strength to the Christian view that legitimized the three orders of medieval society. Can the scientific/ materialist worldview that is closer today to be a coherent metanarrative play that role? it's difficult to say, and I would expect it to be replaced by something new, more metaphysical and more accomodating of the differences between the different classes. But wait and see, as I have few doubts about its eventual rise.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Just for fun... a little Bench Press PR!

Today I broke my all time PR in the bench press with a nifty 122,5 kg (previous one, set on January this same year, was 120 kg, and I have failed twice at 125 since then, first in my fake meet on April, and more recently in the powerlifting seminar I attended four weeks ago).

Not that I can proudly point out what a beast I am, as it is not such a big weight, but going beyond 120 had been a really sought after target of mine, and it seems it has taken me forever to reach it! I find it remarkable, also, that I have done it in the midst of an accumulation cycle, and after a year of almost no bench pressing, in which I just kept frequent dipping (both weighted and unweighted) to avoid loosing pressing power in pecs & tris. The next two weeks are for intensification (triples and singles), and I won't likely go above 120 again until new year's eve (or my birthday, depending on how I feel after lunch with the family and driving 460 km from Campoamor), limiting myself to some submaximal work.

However, after today's little feat I'm confident I'll be good to go for 127,5, and maybe even 130, which would be a truly significant milestone, as that's the goal I set for this 2014 exactly a year ago, and it would be the first time I meet my BP programming yearly goal. But let's not sell the bear's pelt before we have actually hunted the bear down

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Back to Freud - Gasp!

Decided to give a final push to my dissertation, which I want to have pre-finished by the end of the year, which means I have essentially to finish  Part II (of III), dealing with the influence on the dominant reason (of his time, and to some extent even more of ours) of the father of psychoanalysis. To be able to do that I have to finish reading the part of his works I still hadn't processed that I considered important: "Group Psyschology and the Ego", "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality", The published letters (mostly to Fliess, including the "Project for a Scientific Psychology") and the main Case Stories (Dora, Rat man, Wolf man and Little Hans). A truly dreadful prospect, as I feel more and more repelled by the man and his thoughts, and I have come to believe that in his system, as another psychologist said of Von Hartman's The Philosophy of the Unconscious, "in it what is new is not true, and what (little) is true is not new".

So just to let of a little steam already in the middle of such Psychoanalytic smorgasbord, I'm going to briefly list some things that tick me off in the illustrious doctor's ramblings, in no particular order:

  • the "homunculism", and explanatory vacuousness of his theory of mind. Identifyng a "preconscious" and "unconscious" instances of the mind (first topology) that act as repositories of desires and drives that ultimately explain our actions doesn't explain that much. Even less do identifying more abstruse (or outrageous, depending on point of view) instances, like ego, superego and id (second topology). Each one of those instances act for all practical purposes like a little person (the homunculus) which remains as unexplained as the big one that they reside? in. Take hysterical symptoms (forgetting for a moment that hysteria is a make believe nervous illness that has disappeared from the DSM -if it ever was there- making one wonder what it is that was wrong with the poor souls that visited the good doctor in search of treatment). According to Freud, the superego's cruelty towards the Id (where impulses originate, regardless of how sociably acceptable they may be) causes repression (blocks most of the desires it harbors from consciousness, so they can not freely bind to their objects. or "cathect" and so they create an increase of libidinal energy that is darkly perceived as a source of displeasure. But that repression is not always fully successful, and the violence done towards the Id in repressing its wishes and impulses may manifest itself as the aforementioned symptoms (seizures, constipation, compulsive behavior, nervous coughing, fever, almost anything could be a neurotic or hysterical symptom for Freud). But what causes the superego to be cruel, or more or less cruel, or what causes the Id to harbor its desires more or less violently is not just left unexplained, but is conceptually unexplainable using that contorted framework (should we assume the superego has its own internal organization, formed by a super-superego, a super-Id and a super-ego? ooops, infinite regression, as homunculus based explanations are wont to cause) 
  • The ubiquity of homosexual tendencies (or as he termed them, inversions). Freud would have us believe that homosexual behavior is caused by childhood trauma that aborted the normal development of sexuality beyond the anal stage, or by a too loving mother that fed the child narcissistic impulses making him substitute her image for his own in his ego ideal, so future love objects would be copied for the ones the ego assumed she would choose (men). As almost anything could cause a trauma, specially give the tumultuous view of the child's psyche he believed in (see next point), it is no wonder he identified homosexuality as pervasively surrounding him, from friends to patients (and partly in himself, as freely attested in his letters to Fliess)...
  • The entirely delirious belief in an "adult" form of infantile sexuality. Where to start with this one? according to the good doctor, children from age two to five have a "polimorphously perverse" sexual life, full of masturbation, exploration of other children genitalia and (admitttedly in some more infrequent cases) full blown sexual intercourse with other children their age. The simple and affectionate act of brestfeeding was undoubtedly sexual (he describes it twice, in the New introductory lectures and in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in those terms, stating that "anybody who sees a child a few months old falling asleep, his cheeks flush and beatifically smiling, after suckling can recognize the pradigmatic attitude of post coital satisfaction"). He was so sure of having witnessed those unmistakably sexual behaviors himself (and he believed to such an extent the descriptions of similar behaviour in his friends' and patients' children) that he accused everybody who questioned them of bad faith, insufficient scientific spirit, being overtaken by the weight of unfounded tradition and outdated morals and other vitriolic niceties. Of coure, everybody knows full well when they first actually masturbated, already in puberty, but the doctor theorized that there is a (so convenient) veil of forgetfulness that shields of our memories previous to the onet of the latency period at age five... well, I have had three sons myself, and seen the development of a few more boys and girls (sons of friends, nieces and nephews) and I can pretty confidently state that Freud's observations are the biggest load of crap I've ever read. Regarding breastfeeding, he either never actually witnessed it (quite the most propable option in the prudish Vienna of late XIX Century, where women of some class never breastfed themselves, hiring a wet nurse for that), or he projected his own sick attitude towards the feminine bosom, as the attitude fo the little ones is as different from a horny adult as can be imagined... It is interesting to note that one of Freud's pupils, confidante, late nurse (and I can not avoid the suspicion that eventual lover), her own daughter Anna, specialized and gained recognition in child psychology. I can not but wonder (and have to research) if she kept her father's totally crazy and empirically unsupportable ideas, or if she quietly rejected them after seeing first hand (she started her career as a techer) how off base they were
  • The continuous, self-serving disqualification of anybody critical of his ideas. This is all too human, but the tone resorts systematically to the ad hominem attack. Whoever disagrees with him is unintelligent, hasn't bothered to read his arguments, is uninformed, is in the grip of oudated ideas and received opinions, is an enemy of the enlightenment, an unthinking traditionalist, unscientific, an enemy of progress... it is funny to read in parallel the works of Freud and another great polemicist and master of the invective against his critics, Karl Marx, to find the many parallels and common expressions they both use to denigrate and belittle any non-sycophantic acolyte. Marx has a few additional tropes we do not find in reud (tellingly, bourgeois, with or without being prefixed by "petty", as I have found Freud was a prototypical one, and most likely proud of being so). Closer to our own times, it also reminds me of Cosmides and Toobey attacking anybody (but specially Butler, in such a venomous and merciless way one can only assume they would have made Freud proud) that does not accept the perspicuity and validity of evolutionary psychology...
  • The tireless appellation to the (supposedly) scientific nature of psychoanalysis, and the endless circularity of the ideas associated with the movement. It is difficult to find a page in some of his writings without reading "psychoanalysis has proven that..." or "psychoanalysis clearly tells us that..." but of course, psychoanalysis is a sondly scientific theory because all of those things that it proves and tells us rotundly and without a hint of doubt correspond with reality. Only no, they don´t... the list of unprovable and unfalsifiable items would be too long to enumerate (Oedipues complex? please!), and the only reason I can see it has not been done earlier is because of the circular nature of most of its constructions. Take the example of dreams: Dreams are wish fulfillments. If what happens in a dream in under no guise or circumstance desired by the dreamer it is because a) it is a repressed desire (pretty circular, uh? if everything in a dream is a wish just by the fact of being there, no shit sherlock that all the content of dreams turns out to be the fulfillment of wishes) b) it is prooof that the dreamer is a masochist, and thus really desires what she apparently dreads or c) is caused by a deeper desire to prove the anlyst wrong (which of course has the effect of making him never wrong).  Its the same with infantile sexuality, with the reappearance of the suppressed in neurotic behavior, with the reduction of any impulse to the love or the death instincts (eros and thanatos)...
So, given I found the style of Freud's writings stilted adn pretentious, and its content highly unpalatable, why on earth am I writing my dissertation on them?

A darn tough question, that will most likely require a separate post, as this one is already too long