Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

What Is the Goal of Business?

The primary goal of any business, is to stay in business.

You need to bring in more money than you spend in order to stay in business (though, strictly speaking, you can stay in business by bringing in exactly as much as you spend).

In order to bring in any money at all, you need to sell a product or provide a service that other humans can afford and are willing, even eager, to pay for.

The individuals who start, own, or purchase businesses will have idiosyncratic goals that may or may not include perpetuating said businesses as businesses.

A society is not a business, nor is a government, but the goal of any society, or any particular governmental configuration, is to perpetuate itself as well.

To the extent that businesses rely on internal—sometimes consciously devised—cultural norms in order to teach and encourage the behaviors that will contribute to their perpetuation, they resemble societies (or sub-societies).

The means by way of which a society, or a government, perpetuates itself are not the same means by way of which a business perpetuates itself.

In general, I am glad that businesses do not possess tax authority or control armies, though they do gain access to these means through direct support of government officials and influence over governmental policies.

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In General

All generalizations are either false or tautologous.

The goal of science is to create new generalizations.

The goal of philosophy is to demonstrate that said generalizations are either false or tautologous.


What Is the Meaning of This!

The meaning of an action or event is never immanent to it. Instead, it resides in what happens next.

Of course, the meaning of “what happens next” in turn depends on what happens after that.

As Jonathan Culler apparently said, “Meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless.”

Why We Do the Things We Do

People often do this or that, not because they want to do this or that, but because they want to be the kind of person who does this or that.

No Reason to Stop

Standing on the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Friday night at 1:30ish, watching undergraduates stagger around aimlessly and shout at/to each other, I turned to my friend saying, “I’m gonna call it a night, even though, frankly, there’s really no reason to stop.”

“Now you see how I’m living,” he replied.

Just a moment before he had remarked, “Alcohol is a god to them.”

But earlier still in the evening he had said, “Love doesn’t tell; it asks.”

Occupy Wall Street: An Infantile Disorder?

I read this New York Times article about the demands, or lack thereof, of the Occupy Wall Street movement and it reminded me of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

If I remember correctly, Lenin’s pamphlet was aimed at German radicals like Rosa Luxemburg and basically said that radicalism that preached “no compromise,” and which rejected all “parliamentary forms of struggle,” was doomed to failure.

When I read statements like, “Demands are disempowering since they require someone else to respond,” and ““The process is the message,” I can’t help but have similar feelings.

Believe me, I’ve long had a soft spot for radicalism, and my years immersed in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics certainly succeeded in making me skeptical of quick solutions and easy answers, especially when offered up by established parties invested in the status quo.

I also see in Occupy Wall Street an echo of Marcuse’s Great Refusal—a heroic, if somewhat empty, rejection of the present “situation” which one could see as a necessary, negative step towards creating a newer, better situation.

Nevertheless, I’m not filled with hope or optimism when I consider what I’m hearing about this stuff. Why not? Because Occupy Wall Street, aside from lacking demands, also seems to lack any coordinated mass militancy that could actually pose a threat to the 1%.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are symbolic, aspirational. These folks are not actually occupying Wall Street, after all. They don’t control the area as true occupiers would. Nor do they have the power, yet, to do anything radically disruptive such as call a General Strike (maybe it would take things really getting to Grecian levels for that to happen).

And not to put too fine a point on it, here’s another way to think about it.

A liberal friend of mine on Facebook wrote something like, “Yay! Now we have our own Tea Party Movement!”

I asked, “Do they have guns? Because the other Tea Party does.”

If Zucotti Park were the site of an armed encampment, this would look like a real occupation. Since it’s not, it looks like an expression of anger and frustration that generates more light than heat.

Focus Means Saying “No”

Back in August I became conscious of this fellow, Derek Sivers, who created CD Baby (later selling it for $22 million and giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education). If you poke around his blog, you’ll quickly find this post on saying “No.”

Well, technically, it’s about simplifying your life by deciding what you should do—go out with friends, take a job, live someplace, etc.— based on whether or not you say “Hell yeah!” to the opportunity or idea. If you don’t, Sivers suggests, you should say, “No.”

While I’ve never been able to apply ideas like this to my own life with any rigor, I have always admired the urge to do so because that urge is based on following one’s heart, passionately engaging with life, and not settling for anything but the best.

(Perhaps my lack of rigor has something to do with my ambivalence about the “seize the day” approach in general. I mean, do we really need the best? Always? Ever? Does the world really just consist of “The Best,” and “The Rest”? If something isn’t the best, does that make it worthless? What drives us to find the world perpetually wanting? Etc.)

I was reminded of Sivers’ ethos when I recently came across this video of Steve Jobs from 1997, in which he defends decisions to kill certain projects when he returned to Apple: Read the rest of this entry »

The Dialectic of Job Creation

Scott Brown was asked recently to comment on Elizabeth Warren and he, predictably, refused. He said that he wasn’t going to weigh in on the field of Democratic candidates for the senate seat he now holds but, as a way of obliquely criticizing Warren, he also said that he wasn’t going to “beat up on job creators” either.

Brown was, of course, referring to Warren’s recent comments, construed by the Right as “a class warfare rant,” on taxation and the rich, but he was also simply demonstrating party discipline. Just as every Republican mechanically refers to “Obama’s job-killing healthcare plan,” thus replacing rational dispute about the pro’s and con’s of this latest attempt to address real problems with partisan nay-saying boiled down to a knee-jerk epithet, they are now responding to any discussion of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as an attack (“warfare”) on “job creators.”

While I find the equation of “the rich” and “job creators” problematic on many levels, the level I would like to focus on is that of the dialectic. Dialectical thinking, on which Elizabeth Warren relies in the comments under discussion, means putting things in context, focusing on complexity, and striving to understand how elements of any system influence and mutually define one another.

Consider the question, “Who creates jobs?” You could say, along with the Republicans (and devotees of Ayn Rand), that people who build companies create jobs. The logic behind this is not complicated: Companies can be seen as “a bunch of jobs,” so if you create a company, you have created jobs. QED.

But how do you “build a company”? Read the rest of this entry »

Review and Rehearsal

Several years ago I read J. Allan Hobson’s The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness and though I found the book somewhat frustrating, as I wrote in this review, I did learn a thing or two from it.

First of all, I learned a little about the neurochemical states that mark the transition from waking consciousness to sleeping and then dreaming consciousness. (The book is mainly an exercise in mapping the neurochemical footprint of alcohol and various drugs to various aspects of these states.)

Second of all, I learned that relatively little scientific research has focused on exactly what goes on in our heads while we are awake. One attempt at this that Hobson describes involved hooking subjects up to an electric pulse generator and, whenever the subject felt a pulse, he or she would write down what was going on in his or her head at the time.

Perusing the data thus collected, Hobson (or someone very much like him) concluded that most of waking consciousness consists of two activities: Review and Rehearsal. On the one hand, we are reviewing past events. On the other, we are rehearsing what we will say or do in future circumstances (I’m assuming that certain categories of fantasy would fit into this latter category).

So, what are you doing right now? Reviewing? or Rehearsing?

Elizabeth Warren, Class Warfare, and the Nature of Wealth

Elizabeth Warren has been enjoying a kind of viral popularity on Facebook due to some statements she made, apparently as part of her stump speech, which can be summed up with these words, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”

Warren lays out the basic rational for taxation by pointing out that wealth is a social good. In order to make money, there has to be a monetary system in place; there have to be laws governing commerce and courts able to enforce such laws; there needs to be infrastructure allowing for the free distribution of goods and the free movement of the populace; there has to be an army providing for the common defense. Etc.

Long story short, if you are going to make money by pursuing free enterprise, you need to pay the government for services rendered.

Seen from this perspective, taxes are just a rational exchange between entrepreneurs and the civil authorities: I’ll pay you to keep the system running smoothly, and you’ll allow me to do my entrepreneurial thing.

The problem arises, of course, when you get into the nitty-gritty of how much exactly the one should pay the other.

Read the rest of this entry »