“Human Action” Helps Us Understand Mrs. Rice’s Instagram, and Obama’s Iraq Speech

 

File:Human Action scholars edition brown cover.jpg

How can these seemingly unrelated stories have anything in common? They are not related in any way, unless you understand the concept of human action as explained by Ludwig von Mises in his tome “Human Action: A Treatise On Economics”. Human action has nothing to do with the psychological reasons or the internal forces that result in a particular action. Trying to figure out these reasons would be guesses by anyone who is not a psychiatrist, and educated guesses by professional psychiatrists. Human action is purposeful behavior and as such can be meaningfully interpreted. The end man seeks with his action is his motive for acting. Why he is motivated to attain this end has nothing to do with human action. Human action doesn’t care about the psychological reason compelling a person to act, it only cares about the action itself. When a person acts he is not simply giving preference among many alternatives, he is displaying what he prefers at that particular moment.

In summary. A person purposefully acts using available means, to reach a particular end, an end which he thinks will bring about a more satisfactory state of affairs than the state of affairs that existed before he decided to act. A person makes a particular choice,  between many competing ends, at a particular time. His choice reveals his most valued end that particular moment. The correctness or incorrectness of the action chosen will be revealed at some point in the future.

Now lets analyze these two stories.

RAY AND JANAY RICE

Ray Rice hit and knocked out his then fiancée Janay Palmer in February of 2014. On March 27th a grand jury indicted Ray Rice on aggravated assault charges, and dropped simple assault charges on Janay Palmer. On March 28th Rice and Palmer were married. On May 1st Rice rejected a plea deal and applies for pretrial intervention program which accepted him allowing him to avoid a trial. Rice is suspended in July for the first two games of the year. The video of Rice punching his then fiancée surfaces on September 8th, and later that day the Ravens terminate his contract, worth $4 million this year, and the NFL  suspends him indefinitely.

Everyone from reporters, commentators, spokesmen for women’s groups, politicians, et al, have an opinion on why she would marry the guy who knocked her out. Here is how human action helps us understand this. It doesn’t matter what motivated her to marry him. Her choice reveals that she thinks being married to him is a better state of affairs than not being married to him. Trying to figure out why, assumes a level of knowledge that no one, outside of Ray and Janay, has access to. The correctness of her action will be revealed at some point in the future. The statement in her instagram message (here), “…THIS IS OUR LIFE!”, means butt out it is none of your business.

One more comment. What is the preferred end, the Ravens, the NFL, reporters, commentators, spokesman for women’s groups, and politicians think they will achieve by the actions they have taken in this case? No matter what the preferred end is, they obviously think the actions they have taken will bring about a better state of affairs, for themselves.

OBAMA’S IRAQ SPEECH

Lets start with a little background. In 08 the President campaigned  on getting out of Iraq. After he got elected he set a date for withdrawal which allowed the enemy to lay low and rearm. He withdraws our troops without leaving enough of them to keep the enemy in check and help support the new Government.

If there is one thing we can be 99% sure of concerning every politician its this: the end sought in every action is to gain political power, especially when these actions happen closer to an election. This is why in the last few weeks, the President has talked about corporations using “unpatriotic tax loopholes” to pay less in taxes, and why the minimum wage should be raised. The speech about Iraq is purposeful action taken for the achievement of an end that will be preferable to the present state of affairs. Now here is the 64,000 dollar question: is this preferable state of affairs to make the Iraq situation stable, or is it to help the Presidents political situation before the November elections? Either way we will know the answer to this question at some point in the future.

The biggest difference in these two cases is, 1) In the Rice situation, Ray and Janay suffer the consequences of their actions. 2) In the Iraq situation, all of us will suffer the consequences of the actions of the President. So why are more people talking about the situation that doesn’t affect them, instead of talking about the one that does affect them?

 

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2 Comments on ““Human Action” Helps Us Understand Mrs. Rice’s Instagram, and Obama’s Iraq Speech”


  1. Here’s my answer: To most voters and media viewers, world affairs and global economics are a distant and abstract murmur. Human interest stories reported by media mouths whose best interests are served by sensationalism are made to seem more crucial to the lives of the LIVAs (low information voters of America). You don’t see National Review for sale in the typical grocery checkout aisle…instead you see The National Inquirer.

    I agree with your point that the degree of interest in those two news stories is inverted from what you’d expect if everyone was evaluating them using rational self interest. It reminds me of a parable written by Adam Smith in his 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments:

    “Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would react upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would, too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquility as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he would snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren….”

    I think you and I have stumbled upon an interesting relationship between Smith’s and von Mises’ observations. It is due to the drastic technological changes in the world between their lifetimes. Today, global communication, global travel, and the global economy have shrunk the world by a factor of 1000. In other words, compared to Adam Smith’s time, distant events now impact an individual’s life as if that distant place were 1000 times closer. (Of course, I’m talking about individuals that live in fully-modern 1st-world countries.) Nevertheless, Smith’s observation about the average human’s fixation on himself and his immediate surroundings is still true. The dangerous aspects of modern globalism SHOULD make 1st-world citizens think otherwise, but most of them don’t.

    What are your thoughts?

    – Jeff


    • Jeff, thanks for the comment.

      I loved when you said the National Inquirer was on sale at the typical grocery check out aisle. I wish most LIVAs got their information from the National Inquirer instead of the main stream media propaganda outlets, they would be much more informed.

      Social media has given us a false sense of importance that we didn’t have 20+ years ago. The fact that I have my own blog makes me guilty of this to some degree. What makes me think people would want to read what I write???

      Social media can become a cyber version of mob rule. Unfortunately it is being used to drive issues that aren’t anybodies business, instead of being used to keep politicians and bureaucrats in line. Politicians and bureaucrats can wield power against us, the NFL and Ray Rice can’t.

      austrianaddict


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