George Soros on the Way Forward
November 21, 2009 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Soros lectures
You can slog through the video, but I preferred the transcripts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

+ to me, it started off rather abstract* (admittedly on his part) and slow (covered ground; note soros tag) and doesn't really get interesting until 3 -- "The event that forced me to thoroughly reconsider the concept of open society was the re-election of President Bush..." [altho he can get a bit arrogant ("even I, who discovered—or invented—reflexivity, failed to recognize...")] -- and gets better from there... so i'd skip to that if you're so inclined :P

kinda previously...

and btw, as a bonus, also see...
- Why Do We Hate?
- What Makes a Nation Rich?
- How Much Is Enough?
- What the U.S. Long Bond Market Is Telling Us (cf.)
- The G20 in 2050 (viz.)
- Rare earth: The New Great Game [1,2,3,4,5,6]

*in fleshing out his concept of reflexivity he goes thru (among other things and in other words) descriptive vs. prescriptive (or normative) theories, instrumental rationality and empiricism, false thinking and truthiness, the law of unintended consequences, &c. so if you're into that sort of stuff... have at it!
posted by kliuless (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Plone Conference was in Budapest the week of those lectures and Open Society Institute was a sponsor of the conference. Several people took off from the conference to go see lecture number three and came back rather amazed that Soros was so naive. The consensus was, well, he lived under Hitler. then under Stalin, so maybe he should be forgiven for believing the US is a democracy. But still, naive.
posted by 3.2.3 at 8:53 PM on November 21, 2009

I only skimmed over the transcripts but in response to what you're saying 3.2.3, my eye was drawn to this paragraph:
This line of enquiry provided me with a clue to the question: what is wrong with America? People are not particularly concerned with the pursuit of truth. They have been conditioned by ever more sophisticated techniques of manipulation to the point where they do not mind being deceived; indeed, they seem to positively invite it.
posted by XMLicious at 9:15 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The consensus was, well, he lived under Hitler. then under Stalin, so maybe he should be forgiven for believing the US is a democracy.

Wow, many people would choose words other than "forgiven" and "believing" in that sentence.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:33 PM on November 21, 2009

3.2.3 - can you expand on that at little? (genuinely curious, not snarky)
posted by Auden at 12:07 AM on November 22, 2009

Gross capitalist asshole has the money to buy enough platforms to promulgate broadly whatever silly idea pops into his head because he pillaged the economy of the United Kingdom. Film at eleven.
posted by koeselitz at 1:26 AM on November 22, 2009

Call me naive like billionaire George Soros but I too find the American military industrial illusion of democracy preferable to both Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia.
posted by Damienmce at 1:28 AM on November 22, 2009

Oh, and "The Open Society and its Enemies" is, bar none, the most trivially ridiculous philosophical text I've ever read. The volume that treats Plato's Republic alone is so inane as to provoke wild laughter amidst any group of reasonably sane first-year philosophy students. Karl Popper is a doofus. I'd call it the most transparently ridiculous version of positivism I've ever seen, but that would be an insult even to Auguste Comte; its chief virtue is that the bitter irony of being ideologically bombastic in an attempt to refute ideological bombastic-ness is sometimes somewhat amusing.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 AM on November 22, 2009

me: “Oh, and "The Open Society and its Enemies" is, bar none, the most trivially ridiculous philosophical text I've ever read.”

Whoops, spoke too soon. My hat is off, Mr. Soros: you win the prize with this muddled, ridiculous essay.
posted by koeselitz at 1:41 AM on November 22, 2009

They say nothing ever changes –
Which is certainly true of the ‘Poly-ocracy.’
The sweetest sound [he] had ever heard
Was the whinging and crying due to the recession.
In fact, if you get up pretty close enough
[He has] a
The Fall

posted by koeselitz at 3:05 AM on November 22, 2009

Sorry, kliuless – I understand that this stuff can seem very interesting, and there is some intriguing material in your other links, but this George Soros essay is unconscionably muddled. Soros clearly knows very, very little about politics and even less about philosophy. I've known a few 'money people' – investment bankers, et cetera – and while they're usually very nice and well-meaning people, this is the sort of stuff they start producing after they're done with the arduous and difficult years involved with being a financial success, precisely because they don't know what to do with themselves otherwise. Soros all but admits this:
After a successful run as a hedge fund manager I went through a kind of mid-life crisis. I was approaching fifty. My hedge fund had grown to $100 million of which about $40 million belonged to me personally. I felt that I had made more than enough money for myself and my family and running a hedge fund was extremely stressful and depleting. What would make it worthwhile to continue?
Personally, I enjoy leisure time – or I could say that I'm lazy – but it seems as though financial people, being accustomed to 14-hour days and constant drives toward success, just cannot simply stop and go fishing. This is in stark contrast to an interesting allusion Soros makes to his father early in the piece:
He had lived through the Russian Revolution and that was the formative experience of his life. Until then he had been an ambitious young man...

My father came home a changed man. His experiences during the Russian Revolution profoundly affected him. He lost his ambition and wanted nothing more from life than to enjoy it. He imparted to his children values that were very different from those of the milieu in which we lived. He had no desire to amass wealth or become socially prominent. On the contrary, he worked only as much as was necessary to make ends meet.
It would be adding too much to the text to say that Soros views the death of his father's ambition with disapprobation, but he hardly seems to approve of it, not least considering the fact that George Soros has spent his life in utter contradiction the the notion of living life as it comes. However, I see this new attitude of his father's as being more than a little admirable. To each his own, I guess.

The point is that Soros may feel a strong drive to fulfill the philosophical dreams of his youth, but he has no grounds to write all this stuff. Though he seems to think himself careful and contemplative – perhaps mistaking his own plodding paragraph structure for measured consideration – he is in fact completely reckless with things which require a good deal more treatment than he seems to feel is necessary. He's clearly Popper's student in this; Popper thought it was a great idea to wade in and deliver a long discourse which treated ancient and modern philosophies in the context of a rushed, hastily-conceived political statement; but politics, hardly to mention ancient and modern philosophies, demands more than that, and simply throwing epistemology, "The Open Society," and a dozen other handy and attractive ideas together in whatever way seems to fit isn't careful scholarship.

In the same way, though he seems to have complete faith in himself on this point, George Soros the mighty is simply not capable of answering all the questions in existence about the direction philosophy has taken over the last two thousand years, the current state of the financial markets, the best form of government, and the problems in human society in a handy seven-part Financial Times special. I'm sorry; he just can't do it. I don't think anybody can. In particular, the second section in the third part, "Open Society" (just after the asterisk divider) is one of the most rushed, hazy, vague, and in many ways flat-out wrong descriptions of "the Enlightenment" that I've ever read. We're talking about three hundred years of history here, covering the lives of millions upon millions (probably billions, I can't be arsed to do the math) of people – and he's trying to deal with it in six or seven very brief paragraphs? I know history requires some elision, but this is supposed to be a consideration especially of the philosophical underpinnings of the era, and as such should at least mention who on earth he's referring to. As it is – and this is my next point – I can't think of anyone to whom his criticisms of "the Enlightenment" actually pertain; that is, where he's not just hazy and vague, Soros is dead wrong. I won't spend too much time covering all the ways he's wrong, but I'd like to mention briefly that every single one of the realizations which he so proudly declares he's discovered about political philosophy - the 'problem of manipulation' or the 'theory of reflexivity' - can be found in much more mature form in Machiavelli and Hobbes, who came in history just before the enlightenment.

One should also note that Soros is no economic philosophy whiz. His two-sentence dismissal of Marx in the fourth part is frankly scandalous; both because Soros seems to think that it makes perfect sense that he can state the fatal flaw in Marx in so brief a statement, and because Marx, who was wrong enough to cause untold disaster in this past century, deserves more, in fact requires more. I have a feeling Soros has not even read Marx; but maybe having lived through the failure of his policies is supposed to be enough. Either way, if we really want to learn a lesson from history, we ought to do it in a more careful way.
posted by koeselitz at 4:07 AM on November 22, 2009

The thing that makes me mad about George Soros is that he's apparently paying everyone to be liberal (since everyone would rationally be conservative otherwise HAMBURGER), but I haven't gotten one damn check in the mail.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:03 AM on November 22, 2009

Koeselitz, with all this ad hominem stuff, I expect these are the rantings of a 3rd rate perfesser at a 3rd rate university. Saying Soros can't talk about philosophy (and you are scandalized) because he's a "money person" rather than a tenured professional is just silly. Address his points.
posted by temporicide at 7:48 AM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

in 4. Capitalism versus Open Society, there's also:
The trouble is that special interests also seek to disguise themselves as protectors of the public interest and it takes a discerning eye to discriminate between the genuine and the phony, especially as both sides are forced to resort to similar methods of persuasion. In the absence of objective criteria, one can only reach a judgment by a process of trial and error. People of good intentions engaged on one side of the debate often find it difficult to believe that there are people on the other side with equally good intentions. The best way to find out is by taking their claims at face value and engaging them on the substance of their argument. This has the beneficial effect of giving the cognitive function precedence in the political debate. Only if they fail to respond in kind should they be dismissed and subsequently ignored. There are people like that in every country; unfortunately in the United States they are not ignored. They have become very influential. Whether the electorate also refuses to be influenced by people who try to manipulate them with total disregard for the truth is the test that every open society has to pass to remain open. Given the success of Orwellian propaganda, America is not doing well in this regard.
...which i would not consider naive :P

he has no grounds to write all this stuff

speaking of being "dismissed and subsequently ignored," i don't think soros can be so easily -- because he's a billionaire, fancies himself a philosopher, likes popper,* gets the enlightenment wrong, is long-winded and yet too brief -- because the substance of his argument still stands (imo ;) obviously this can be debated, and to his credit he invites it!

so, to me, soros explained his main points pretty clearly:
  1. reflexivity, or whatever you want to call it (self-fulfilling prophecies, the oedipus effect), should be treated as more than curiosities in the humanities/social sciences because they are (in fact!) a distinguishing feature that sets them apart from the physical sciences; how people think (and who thinks it**) delimits their social reality, kinda like sapir-whorf for thought.
  2. reflexivity can lead to 'fertile fallacies' of which he identifies the enlightenment fallacy -- the application of our understanding of nature to human affairs -- and, perhaps more (de)pressingly, the post-modern fallacy, which "denied the existence of an objective reality that could be discovered by reason; instead it saw reality as a collection of often contradictory narratives."
now i can see how these two propositions can elicit a collective 'duh' among the audience; isn't he just stating the obvious or following the well-trod (poorly), dressed up in terminology and the accoutrements of (paid for) academia? sure! i (myself ;) was rolling my eyes at the cognitive and the manipulative (or participatory) functions of his conceptual framework...

and yet, despite all the eliding and pondering rhetoric, from his propositions i think he correctly identifies and analyses the big problems of politics and economics today, namely regulatory capture and market fundamentalism, which have allowed special interests to take precedence over and dominate not only the public's interest (and social reality) but increasingly (and more alarmingly) imperiling our physical reality as well, both of which of course threaten 'open society' also.

so like whatever, that's nothing new too -- one needn't contort themselves thru explanatory factors like reflexivity and fertile fallacies to come to such conclusions -- people will believe anything and some people have no scruples; fine, same as it ever was (altho i, for one, appreciate the attempt at exhaustive cohesion ;) and you're still not convinced soros brings anything to the table. however, (at least in soros' mind!) such comprehension does yield a plausible way forward that i think rests on some fairly solid foundations that, agree or disagree, cannot be conveniently dispatched.***

*i spelled it pooper at first; is it me? also it's my understanding that popper's philosophy of science is widely accepted among the scientific community. prove me wrong!

**whereby, among heterogeneous groups, you may then get palin derangement syndrome or clash with those-who-adore-twilight :P

***cf. my defense of kevin kelly :P which is weaker!?
posted by kliuless at 8:42 AM on November 22, 2009

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