Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More thoughts on the Enron scandal and Post Modern Philosophy

In a previous post (Meaning of the Enron Collapse), I commented on how there was a fundamental disconnect between Enron's goals and society's goals.

In this short post, I want to leave some open questions to ponder, and then discuss a post I found today on Enron and post-modern philosophy.

When is “gaming the system” beneficial to the overall economy?

When is “gaming the system” harmful to the overall economy?

When is “greed” good? And when is it bad?

Is an asset-lite business the only way to achieve the highest rate of return on investment?

I really started thinking about these questions while reading a blog (Master Resource) that deals with questions about energy, economics & occasionally philosophy. One of their posts is about the idea: was Enron the first postmodern company?

   In the post (Postmodernism Philosophy), the author suggests that Enron is a perfect example of postmodern philosophy gone bad, where "Image is everything!"
The executives at Enron believed that if they could tell a good story, then everything else would fall in place. To them, there were no laws of physics, and everything was possible as long as you believed it, and could convince other people it was true.
I once had a room-mate who held a similar philosophy of life. He told me once that there are two types of people: those who create the world, and those who follow those who create the world. (Karl Rove says BS like this also.) My room-mate was a big fan of the philosopher Leo Strauss, which really annoyed me because Leo Strauss believed that 1) philosophy teaches you that there is no moral foundation to life, 2) since ordinary people need meaning, politicians should lie to the public and profess believe in God when they really don't, and 3) philosophers need to write in abstract language so that ordinary people don't find out that life has no meaning.

I think that Leo Strauss and his philosophy of life is complete BS!    1) There is nothing in philosophy which says that there is no meaning for life. The goal of philosophy is to figure out what the goal of life is, and to continuously adjust our understanding of the goal as new evidence is found in the real world;    2) Politicians don't need to lie to us, we are all grown ups;    3) Everybody is a philosopher, some of us are just more vocal than others. Everybody holds their own philosophy of life, and most of us actively question and adjust our philosophies of life every day. All you need to do to remind yourself that life has meaning is to listen to a few lectures or interviews with Joseph Campbell. Or listen to some Beethoven. These are the easiest way to remind yourself that life has meaning, and that it might be possible to reconcile science and religion.

Part of the goal of this blog is to disprove and to point out the absurdity of postmodern philosophy (as well as a few other philosophies), which can be summarized as "The philosophical essence of the postmodern, or anti-Enlightenment, outlook is that there exists no external reality to which our beliefs should conform. On the contrary, say postmodernists, the nature of reality simply is what people believe and say it is.   ...  The goal is to construct a shared narrative that supports the group’s desires and activities. So long as that is achieved, no “external reality” is going to come along to correct or punish them." (Roger Donway)

As related to Enron executive Andy Fastow, Roger Donway writes in The Collapse of a Postmodern Corporation 
"In February 2001, Fastow went to New York to offer representatives of the bond-rating agencies some arguments that would lead them to raise their evaluation of Enron’s bonds. There is nothing unusual in that. The evaluation given to a company’s bonds determines the interest rate the company must pay when it borrows money. That, in turn, determines how much a company can borrow.
On this particular occasion, however, the agencies’ representatives said that the facts Fastow presented did not justify a change. Fastow’s response? If the agencies changed Enron’s ratings, Enron would be able to strengthen its finances, which would justify the higher rating. In short: if everyone would agree on a narrative that was supportive of Enron, reality would snap into line. The agency representatives laughed."
If you're interested in overcoming the post-modern philosophy of "Image is Everything," just read of few of my posts, listen to Beethoven or watch some Joseph Campbell videos. There's nothing like having a meaning in life (to expand life on this and other planets) to overpower relativism's and post-modern's lack of moral values. There's no way to fight the Karl Rove's or the Andy Fastow's or the Leo Strauss's or the Vinod Khosla's unless we are willing to agree to shared moral values and shared goals for life. Ultimately, the only way to rise above the hype of businessman, politicians, religious leaders, etc...  is to ask yourself the questions:  is this good for life? And is this in accord with that force that drives life? Then, the question might be asked: Who can harm or who can damage that force that drives life?

No amount of hype can get you around the laws of physics. If you don't consume exergy, you die, regardless of whether you believe else wise. But that force that drives life does not die (until perhaps the universe reaches equilibrium.) There is a real world with real laws of physics and a real goal to life: to expand and grow. It doesn't matter how much hype you sell, there's only one way to grow and expand society, and that's developing technology with positive unsubsidized rates of return on investment. Those who generate positive, unsubsidized rates of return on investment (when including effects of pollution) are living the good and virtuous life! A good and a virtuous society is a growing society. And those things that help society and life grow are good, right, and in tune with the force that drives life (i.e. gradients in exergy for systems far-from-equilibrium). While it seems possible to live your life not in accord with the force that drives life, it does not appear to me that anybody can harm that force that drives life, and that gives me comfort to know.

As Socrates would say, "Only you can harm your soul."  I would respond, "Nothing can harm the force that drives life."


  1. If you're interested in reading more about our Post Modernist President, read Peggy Noonan's opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on Oct 1-2, 2011 (weekend edition.)
    She quotes President Obama, "The irony is, the reason I was in this office is because I told a story to the American people." But, he confesses, "that narrative thread we just lost." He continues, "What the president can do, that nobody else can do, is tell a story to the American people" (about where we are as a nation and should be.)

    There appears to be a compete disconnect between our politicians and reality (and this holds for some of the major CEOs as well.)

    Senator Obama's 2008 presidential campaign did have a fairy tale quality to it. The fairy tale quality was the fact that it had nothing to do with the concept of hard work. It was about everything except growing our economy through hard work and return on investment.

    But then after the 2008 election, the fairy tale was confronted with the real world, which has a real economic crisis, a real debt crisis, and a real growth crisis. No story can pull you out of a economic crisis. You can't spend your way out of an economic crisis. Government spending on welfare and pet projects (or war) can't grow the economy.

    The only way to grow an economy out of an economic crisis is to do some combination of: a) reduce consumption of luxury items (i.e. items that do not have a positive return on work invested) and/or b) finding new energy sources that have really high rates of return on work invested.

    That's it. It's pretty simple. The hard part is risking your capital into what you think will be the next big energy source of the future. (or the next big breakthrough in medicine, communication, computation, or education.)

    Are you willing to risk your own money to make it grow when there's a chance that it could lose value?
    I hope that you are willing to take the risk, but choose wisely!

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