The Dead Philosopher Society

The sequester has struck. The politicians came upon the can they had kicked down the road in 2011. Rather than kick it again, Congress decided to ignore it.

And nobody really gave a damn. The Dow rose 35 points on Friday, the first day of the sequester. Gold kept bouncing around, with no clear direction. Stocks remain very near an all-time high… gold seems fairly priced, neither too high nor too low.

In the early part of the 20th century you could buy a new Buick for about 25 ounces of gold. In the early part of the 21st century, the price of the new Buick Enclave is about $40,000…or about 25 ounces of gold.

On Friday, we left Florida and headed down to the tropics. We’ve been coming here for nearly 20 years. Each time we come, it seems less wild…less forbidding. Now, there are so many gringos in this part of the world, we feel at home. For example, we used to walk on the beach alone. Now, we come upon neighbours. And surfers. And people taking vacations.

The community here is an accidental success.

‘Why do you say ‘accidental’? You should take credit,’ said a friend. ‘Didn’t you design it?’

No. We did not. We made plans. We had ideas. We set up programmes. But the actual community got ahead of us. It went in directions we hadn’t planned…and became something we hadn’t imagined. Our plans were for something much more modest.

Almost 20 years ago, we came for our first visit. At the time, there was nothing…except a pad of concrete.

‘What’s this,’ we asked the former owner.

‘Oh… it’s where our house was…it got washed away by a tidal wave.’


We are only here for a few days. But it takes only a few hours to settle into a delicious rhythm. We rise at 6am. We, husband and wife, put on bathing suits and take a few steps down to the beach. Our morning walk will take us from one end of Iguana Beach to the other end…and back, with a brief swim before going back up the stairs to our house.

When we first got here, there was one house on the beach and it was a caretaker’s shack. He lived in a paradise, with a beautiful horseshoe beach all to himself. He had two dogs on the porch and a pig under the steps. He ate rice, beans, and pork, supplemented by lobsters and fish he took from the ocean in front of him. Did he pass his days dreaming of moving to Managua or Miami? We don’t know.

The walk up and down the beach takes about an hour in total. By then, Tere, our housekeeper, has prepared an elaborate breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit, toast and fried banana.

After breakfast, we sit on the veranda with our laptop computer and write, gazing from time to time out to the sun-sparkled Pacific Ocean.

What’s not to like?

We are at an age when we are free to come and go as we please. The children all have their own programmes. We can work from almost anywhere. But with each day that passes behind us, there is one fewer ahead. We have to figure out how to use it wisely. So why not spend more days in the caretaker’s paradise?

‘Take it easy. You should learn to play golf…and bridge,’ say friends.

‘But we have no interest in golf or bridge,’ we reply.

‘Well, you have to do something with your time,’ comes the answer.

‘We must be doing something with our time now,’ we counter.

‘Yes, but you’re not going to live forever. You’re almost 65. Don’t you want to slow down… retire? Enjoy yourself? Maybe spend more time in Florida?’

‘No…’ is our answer. We’re too busy to play golf or bridge. Besides, we don’t think we’d like being dead that much.

We’ve been sitting on the veranda trying to figure out how the world works…Here, for the benefit of dear readers, we will take a stab at explaining it.

‘We never know what we are talking about,’ cautioned Karl Popper. He had a point.

But Wittgenstein had an answer for him: ‘then, shut up’… or words to that effect.

Silence isn’t much fun. Instead, we reach…we stretch…we strain to understand things we can never really hope to understand at all. The truth is unknowable. It is too big…involving a connection between all things animate and inanimate from the beginning of time to the universe’s very last breath. The best we can do is to try to catch tiny glimpses of things that are true enough. For us. For now.

And what we see is a very different world from the one Aristotle thought he saw. He saw a small world where everyone could be equally informed by the ‘sound of the herald’s voice’.

Since everyone had access to the same set of facts and shared the same interests, more or less, in the health, prosperity and safety of the community of which they were all part, they could all sit down together and make plans – guided, perhaps, by a ‘philosopher king’.

Aristotle did not seem to notice that rational goal-setting and problem solving, using ‘Aristotelian logic’, was not at all what had brought the community together in the first place, or which gave it its physical, cultural, or governmental characteristics.

Never, on the African savannah where humans allegedly were bred from monkey stock, did they sit down together and design the Greek city state.

Instead, that arose by a process better described by Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. It was a process of evolution… a process of trial and error, in which countless trials and innumerable errors, by millions of poor lonely souls and small hapless groups, each trying to better its position, brought mankind to its current condition.

Aristotle was completely wrong about how human communities got where they were and how they moved forward. But he was not wrong about the power of the human intellect. It was capable of both prodigious feats of rational problem-solving…and of appalling and costly disasters.

More to come…


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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