Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Richistans

The development in theoretical particle physics and related fields during last three decades (which reduced them to calculation of black hole entropy and lanscapeology) has amazing parallels with that in the society plagued by the market economy. I am not an economist but the following analysis of the situation, which is my own inaccurate articulation for an analysis of a book by Nobelist Paul Krugman that I heard in radio, looks to me rather convincing - not because I would have formal education in this field - but on basis of my personal experiences about parallel developments in Finland.

The analog of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type personality splitting at the level of society is the basic characteristic of the syndrome. In US Mr. Hydes form now a state within the state: "Richistan". The habitants of Richistan are billionaires who have almost completely isolated themselves from the rest of the community ('-stan'!). They have their own health care, they fly with their private jet planes, they live inside electrical fences and have practically no social contacts with ordinary people,... These people firmly believe that they belong to a kind of new species and that standard ethics and ordinary moral rules do not apply to them. Richistan is of course not a paradise. Basic needs are more than satisfied but this is not enough. To preserve you social status you must buy now and then a new private jet plane and the length of the private yacht has bee steadily inceasing (if I remember correctly the minimum length of the yacht is around 200 meters now)! And family can have its own Paris Hilton.

The middle class has been going down during these years although national income has been steadily increasing: the recent sad state of health care in US is one consequence of this. A considerable part of the money has gone to Richistan (a lot of money has of course been burned (almost literally) in Iraq and elsewhere).

In media the recent market implosion is seen as the outcome of an irresponsible lending of money. Why this irrational behavior? Middle class must also live somewhere. To buy an apartment you need money. When you do not have the money you must loan it. There is thus demand for loans and demand generates supply. One quick way to become an inhabitant of Richistan has been irresponsible lending of money without bail. Investment bank has been second quick way to fortune.

Another outcome is the recent state of society which could be characterized as an internal war. Sudden bursts of extreme violence express the deep hatred induced by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome at the level of the society. In US mass murders in schools have ceased to be a big news long ago. Even in Finland, previously one of the scandinavian well-fare societies, they have ceased to be a big news. Two mass murders have taken place within less than a year in finnish schools. Something totally unimaginable for two decades ago. It is certainly not an accident that the young mass murderers are children of the great economic depression during nineties in Finland, which at worst led to a temporary closing of schools. I remember quite well what it was to suddenly realize that civilized society had become a jungle: you could not trust anyone and personal survival had become the basic goal. Also the academic world transformed in similar manner and for me as an academic dissident this meant a final loss of academic human rights in Finland. What could be called a professional murder did not stimulate any reactions in my colleagues. This perhaps gives some taste about what is waiting for us unless we cannot get rid of Richistans.

In theoretical physics super string hegemony became the Richistan after 1984. By reading physics blogs (say that of Lubos Motl) one begins to get grasp about the Super Man like self image held by the representatives of this elite. There is a merciless fight to become a citizen of Richistan also in theoretical physics. Among other things the citizenship makes possible to eliminate competitors as crackpots, and this possibility is used without hesitation as the recent comments in the N-Category Cafe - to mention just one example - so clearly demonstrate. Also the recent posting by Tommaso Dorigo tells about the war like state between competing experimental groups. Competition for genuine contributions has transformed to a war for funding and scientists in the old-fashioned sense of the word enjoy the status of a village fool.

In theoretical physics the counterpart of the market implosion is the recent dead end in theoretical particle physics and cosmology. The crisis of course affects also experimental particle physics and less directly many other fields. The censorship performed very effectively by the Richistanians of theoretical physics has made impossible the communication of new ideas and theories and the situation continues as such since the elite receiving the funding also decides about the funding to high extent.

The situation in world economy now is very similar to that before great economical depression in US during thirties. New Deal resolved the situation then. I believe that something similar is unavoidable also now since the money pumped to the national economies flows to the local Richistans and does not help at all. Could we dream about a New Deal also in theoretical particle physics?

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