Casey on Karma Metaphysics for Life
by Louis James, Editor, International
by Doug Casey:
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Senior Metals Investment Strategist
Hola Doug, what's on your mind this week?
I got a letter from a reader in India Shanmuganathan asking
some very interesting questions regarding my views on karma feel
like talking philosophy? It will make us feel like we're back in
a college dorm room, enveloped in a haze of alcohol and smoke
at least in my case.
I didn't smoke even back then, but I did my fair share of drinking
in college. There are stories
At any rate, sure, I'm game. You
often say you're a solipsist, but never go into it and that has
to be related. Now is as good a time as any to get metaphysical.
It is. But let's start with a definition, as always. My Webster's
The force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism
to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to
determine the nature of the person's next existence.
Clear as mud.
Must be written by a professor. My translation into English would
be: In Buddhism and Hinduism, the ethics of one's actions are believed
to shape one's next life, after you are reincarnated.
But I like
to look at it in a less religion-specific way. I see it as a general
"what goes around comes around" principle. Put simply: causes have
effects. You reap what you sow. If you do things that harm other
people, there will tend to be a certain kind of reaction, and you
probably won't like it. In this sense, yes, I do believe in karma.
But that leads to a bigger question: whether we are reincarnated.
Which is to say, what is the nature of reality itself? Are you just
a biomechanical body? Does that body have a "soul," as the Christians
believe? Or are you actually a spiritual entity that is just temporarily
inhabiting a body which is different.
Okay, but before we tease that apart, can you tell those among our
readers who may not know what a solipsist is?
There are many versions just as there are many notions of karma
but the basic idea is that you create your own reality. The most
extreme version of this is that all of reality is just a figment
of your imagination. It's all in your head.
If it's all in your head, where is your head? It must exist, and
therefore there must be a reality of some kind in which it exists,
or even the illusion you may be imagining doesn't happen.
I wouldn't go quite that far. If pushed, I would say that reality
is like a common construct of almost everyone's imagination. I control
my own reality, as you control yours. Outside there are seven billion
other humans; I'm not about to deny their existence.
Aw, you're spoiling the fun, Doug! If our world is not all just
a figment of your imagination, I can't blame Obama, Bush, the Clintons,
and all the horrors around the world on your perverse imagination.
[Laughs] Well, that relates to why I'm currently working on a sextet
of novels a series, each stranger than the last, which will explore
the nature of reality on this obscure little ball of rock by reforming
the reputations of six unjustly besmirched, politically incorrect
occupations. As Will Rogers correctly said, "It's not what people
don't know that's the problem. It's what people think they know
that just ain't so."
But seriously, this doesn't help me, Doug. Reality must still have
external existence to the collective imagination exist for the
same reason an individual head must exist for the mind it contains
to imagine anything.
If you're actually a spiritual entity, then "you" don't need your
brain or your body they're just tools for dealing with the world
of matter, energy, space, and time. This is what people mean when
they say they get out of their bodies. As you know, I'll entertain
almost any concept about almost anything. I've talked with a number
of people personally who seemed absolutely sane and sincere
who claim to have done that. And, like most of us, I've read third-party
accounts of OBEs (Out of Body Experiences). Regrettably, I haven't
had one. Nor have I seen a real Indian rope trick. The whole area
is overrun with charlatans and psychos. So I'm highly skeptical.
But I do cotton to the concept of mind over matter. Therefore I
keep an open mind on the nature of reality.
It's a paradox
to me that religionists of all stripes believe in the magic recounted
in their holy books (virgin births, transubstantiation, teleportation,
miracles of a thousand kinds) and they aren't willing to discuss
these things as other than dogma. At a minimum, I find it makes
for an entertaining conversation.
though, the nature of reality is very uncertain even among or
especially among theoretical physicists. As anyone familiar with
modern physics knows, what feels like solid matter to us is really
mostly clouds of electrons surrounding nuclear particles that are
themselves clouds of quarks and other smaller particles
quantum mechanics seems to suggest these things may or may not even
exist until we look for them.
At heart, everything is a distribution of probabilities the universe
Something like that. It's been said that any sufficiently advanced
technology is indistinguishable from magic. So for all we know,
we could be living in The Matrix. I'm urgently looking for the red
[Chuckles] Have you read Neal Stephenson's Anathem?
It's his best book, in my opinion. In it, he looks into these issues
in a most clear, insightful, and humorous way.
No, I'm sorry to say. Stephenson's a genius, and I like all his
that I have read.
But let's not
get distracted. The point is that the many-worlds interpretation
of quantum mechanics and the possibility of communication between
alternative realities gives us a plausible explanation for many
things some people might regard as supernatural.
it might even be possible that Napoleon Hill was literally right,
and that our thoughts affect the world around us. We can think positively
about wealth and grow richer. Some people believe that if they want
something they only need "manifest" it. Personally, I'm all for
keeping a positive, happy thought, but since we live in the material
world, it's also very helpful to employ things like diligence, persistence,
intelligence, and a whole bunch of other virtues to make sure the
And we can't afford the luxury of a negative thought. I do agree
with Hill, but Doug, I always understood that to be a psychological
phenomenon. When you're depressed and anxious, it shows; people
can see it, and most don't want to be around such people. The negativity
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a very vicious cycle. Conversely,
when people project optimism, strength, and ability, most people
respond to that positively even if it isn't true, as politicians
illustrate every day. This is quite different from our thoughts
operating on a quantum level and somehow altering reality from the
subatomic level on up
Yes and no. When I imagine a red cat in my mind and have him move
around as I wish, does he exist? I'd say yes, on some level, even
though he has no mass, and I can locate him anywhere in space I
wish. I lift a book with my hand, I move all the atoms in it, all
the particles and waves that comprise it, and it interacts differently
with the universe, via light, gravity, and no one knows how many
Okay, but when I drop that very heavy book of medieval metaphysics
on my foot, cause has effect, and I feel the unpleasant effect shortly.
That's quite different from wishing I'd get a million dollars in
the mail and the thoughts in my mind somehow reorganizing the particles
and waves that make up the world around me so that the mail man
arrives with a dishwasher-sized box full of $100 bills.
Is it? I'm not denying the laws of physics. The clouds of almost-emptiness
that we think of as our bodies interact with the equally almost-empty
space around us in ways that no one fully understands. When you
drop that book, you create the future moment in which it hits your
foot. We all create reality as we go and who can really say how
deep that process reaches?
But we don't
have to argue about that; we agree wishing is not a very effective
way to influence the world around us. Taking action tends to be
much more effective. Whether that's in the apparently solid world
of the proteins and other chemicals that make up your body and mind
or something deeper, the outcome is the same. And the idea of karma
encourages people to take responsible and constructive actions.
I'm all for things that encourage people to take responsibility
for their actions.
This reminds me of something my old man once said. I've said it
before, but it strikes me as being profound enough to bear repetition.
I was about 20 years old, and I'd asked him some sort of cosmic
question. His answer was: "It's all a matter of economics." Some
months later, I asked him another cosmic question, and he said:
"It's all a matter of psychology." I've thought about these answers
often over the years, and it seems to me that they are absolutely
correct. Almost everything in the material universe boils down to
economics, and almost everything in the non-material world what
you might call the spiritual universe is a matter of psychology.
Think about it. It'll grow on you. The essential point for now is
that I do believe in cause and effect more specifically, that
actions have consequences. If you look at that from an ethical perspective,
that's really what karma is all about. In point of fact, all
causes have effects, all actions have consequences,
and no one can ever escape those consequences not for long.
Karma is cosmic payback, via psychology and economics?
Yes. Simply put, karma means things can and will come back to bite
you, so you're well advised to anticipate the consequences and be
prepared to accept them.
I would agree with that
and I'm not a solipsist. This is why I'm
not afraid that real freedom will lead to chaos in society. Success
in a free society requires responsibility. This is an inescapable
fact that manifests itself in the myriad self-regulating features
of the market and a "market" is really nothing more than a kind
of mass psychology. Your father's second, and perhaps deeper, answer.
Okay then, let's look at Shanmuganathan's questions. He asks:
do we explain the crooks and evil guys having a jolly good life
on the planet? Why does karma not do its
Well, I suspect
that if we could explore and understand the inner psychology of
such people, we'd find that they are not actually having a very
good life, even if they appear to be. A good case can be made that
criminals, even if they have genius IQs, are actually stupid if
we use my preferred definition of the word: showing an unwitting
tendency to self-destruction.
look at the apparent success of criminals, they only look at their
material possessions. But that's very shortsighted, even though
possessions are important. They fall into the realm of "have." Things
you have aren't part of you; they can be lost or taken away. More
important is the realm of "do." Things that you do are indicators
of who you really are. But most important is the realm of "be."
Things that you are represent your essence.
My view is
that a wise and ethical person concentrates on "beingness." If you
get that right, you're capable of doing. And the doing results in
having. The reality of the average person you see at Walmart in
Friday videos seems to begin and end with "having."
to focus largely on having, less on doing, and not at all on being.
Especially as life goes on, I believe that takes a toll on them.
Their being starts to resemble The
Picture of Dorian Gray.
I don't doubt that a guy like Muammar Gaddafi was far from being
a truly happy man, long before he came to his grisly death.
Right and he's by no means alone, and certainly far from the worst.
It's a sign of how degraded the average human is that they apotheosize
criminals people like Mao and Stalin still have gigantic fan clubs.
Almost all professional politicians are of that type although
very rarely on their scale.
Do you suppose Gaddafi had an official food-taster?
I'm sure all those guys do, including the president of the US; they
know that many, many people want them dead. Of course there are
a few real bad apples out there who are enjoying a very good life
at the present. It's just a matter of statistics. There's nothing
about karma that says everyone gets their just deserts immediately.
As in economics, the immediate and direct effects are easy to see;
the indirect and delayed effects are often both more subtle and
more important. It certainly appeals to many people's sense of justice,
including my own, to think that people always get what they deserve.
If you actually are a spiritual entity, you can't escape your fate
by dropping your current body. The Hindus who originated the idea
of karma definitely believe in reincarnation.
As we've touched
on many times, I don't believe in any of the doctrines of the world's
major religions gods, goddesses, heaven, hell, etc.
but I am inclined to believe that living beings inhabit physical
bodies for a time but have a separate existence. I have absolutely
no proof for that. It's based on intuition, not hard data.
That's unusually candid for a believer, Doug. But come on, you never
believe anything just because you'd like it to be so you scorn
investors who make that mistake. You must have had some experiences
that convince you this is possible
I hate to be characterized as a believer, since I'm a professional
skeptic. That said, I've had several relevant experiences, actually,
that are completely inexplicable but very real. But they occurred
in my mind, as opposed to the material world. Many, many other people
have as well. I'm not talking about experiences induced by drugs,
alcohol, or the like.
Sure, but I've never heard a story that couldn't be logically explained
head trauma, anoxia, hypothermia
Understood. The mind is very good at tricking a person; David Copperfield,
Penn and Teller, Chris Angel, and others are masters at it. Sure,
so it's likely pointless to debate what happens after death. Although,
as you know, I don't like to argue or debate anything it's much
more productive, as well as pleasant, to have an open-minded discussion,
to see if one can learn something at least about one's self or
others, if not about physical reality.
For now, I'll
add that just because, waaaay out on the edge of the bell curve,
there are some people who do bad things and "get away" with it,
that doesn't change the fact that for most people, most of the time,
the consequences of truly evil actions are real, serious, and usually
not long delayed. It's why ethics
is so important, however underrated.
Cosmic just deserts with a quantum cherry on top. Whether as a matter
of economics or psychology, the odds are the same; being nice beats
being naughty, and being creative beats being destructive. Spiritualism
Well said. One thing I like about this perspective is that karma
isn't a god, and doesn't require any consciousness godly or otherwise
to operate. It's just the way the universe works. The laws of
physics, economics, and karma have a life of their own. And that
gets to Shanmuganathan's second question:
does karma affect the well-meaning but idiotic economists? The best
example is India's Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh an economist
by profession. Very honest and simple guy, but completely idiotic
when it comes to economic policies wherein a nation of a billion
people are forced into poverty because of his ideas. How should
karma treat such people?"
may have different views, but in my view, karma is not a conscious
process; it's an aspect of the nature of our universe. Statistically,
there are outliers that seem to flaunt karma, but that doesn't mean
karma isn't working it's just the law of large numbers. If you
do a lot of bad things, you increase the number of shots people
take at you. Sure, it's possible to dodge all the bullets, but that's
not a great business plan. The Bible was quite incorrect to say
that the bread goes not to the wise, nor the race to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong. Damon Runyon had a much better grip
on reality and karma when he pointed out, "Maybe but that's not
the way to bet."
Ah Ecclesiastes. It's the way to play the odds.
The universe itself is based on probabilities. So there is no sense
saying karma "should" do something. As a speculator, as an investor,
and as a gambler
I wear each hat at different times I base my life on assessing
odds. My perception and belief is that acting responsibly acting
as though payback is coming, one way or another leads to a better
life in this life. And it's the only thing that can help the next
one, if there is one, after you discard this body.
This is why
I believe in what you might call basic virtues: productivity, prudence,
patience, persistence we're big on the letter P around here, like
Ps [laughs] plus a bunch of others like fortitude, honesty,
gratitude, courage. Not so big on faith, hope, and charity
which are typically vices. I believe these virtues are their own
rewards. Maybe that's what karma is: the aspect of the universe
that rewards virtues and punishes vices.
I thought you didn't believe in vice
[Chuckles] Well, as always, we have to be careful to use words accurately,
to forestall misunderstanding. As I just pointed out, conventional
religious virtues are typically vices, but most things people think
are vices (like smoking, gambling, drinking, swearing all
things fun) are usually no more than diverting foibles. But
there certainly are some anti-virtues: larceny, brutality, dissipation
of wealth, willful stupidity, cruelty. At any rate, karma is just
another way of saying that these things have negative consequences,
just as virtues are their own reward.
I'm still thinking
about all of this just as people before me have for thousands
of years. It's easier to ask these questions than to answer them,
as you know. What do you think?
Me? These are "Conversations with Casey," not "Conversations with
Wolf" people want to know what you think.
Maybe, maybe not. After all, in Plato's dialogues, I thought that
had to say was just as interesting as what Socrates had to say
Socrates just had a better PR agent in the form of Plato.
I've always been more in the Aristotelian camp
I've no use for Plato's world of ideal forms. Like Bud Conrad, I'm
an empiricist; I want to know what the data show. And in 47 years
of life, I have never experienced or seen any data that makes me
believe in anything supernatural.
Now, you might
say that your individual life force, your essence, your soul, or
whatever you want to call it, inhabiting a particular body for a
given time is not supernatural, but just a non-matter aspect of
nature. Fine, but I've never seen any evidence of that, either.
All the evidence
I have seen tells me that life is nothing more than a self-sustaining
chemical process. So is sentience and even sapience. Like a fire,
my life will last as long as I can find fuel, not get clogged up
with ash and soot, etc. And when I go out, nothing will be left
but decay and a little fading heat. That and my intellectual legacy,
which too will likely fade, though I hope it lasts longer than it
takes my body to cool to ambient temperature.
Mind you, I
don't declare that what you believe is untrue only that I see
no evidence for it.
So, not wanting
to count on evil deeds being punished in the next life, I'm very
keen on just deserts in this life. This is part of why I'm so keen
on self-defense and resisting crime especially crimes by those
in uniform. If I had Bruce Wayne's net worth, I would definitely
have the same vigilante streak in me. Don Quixote is my hero.
[Laughs] A rational analysis, as I'd expect from a guy who makes
his living digging the truth out of corporate executives, and sometimes
the ground itself. I can't argue with what you say apart from
the fact I don't argue if only because you're quite correct: there
is no hard proof for these things. But even though I do believe
karma generally gets things done, it certainly doesn't mean you
have to rely on it. I'm reminded of the famous poster with two buzzards
sitting on a tree in the desert. The one says to the other: "Patience,
my ass. I'm going to kill something."
But back to
Shanmuganathan's second question. If it's true that we construct
and control our own realities, I doubt that most supposedly well-intentioned
idiots really are that well intentioned. There are no accidents.
That's why I tend to be rather suspicious of people who are accident-prone.
I'm serious. People who create "accidental" train wrecks via misguided
public policy are not in the same class as people who routinely
stub their toes and drop glasses, but in both cases, their actions
tell you something about them. Didn't Jesus say: "By their fruit
shall you know them"?
I agree about political apparatchiks. The entire class of people
in public policy who are sincerely well intentioned may be limited
to one man: Ron Paul. But even if it's a bit larger, I'm sure most
political entrepreneurs are at the very least manipulators who want
to try to force others to do as they think best. But I suspect most
are outright criminals sociopaths,
as you say using the most leverage they can get for their
predations. The existence of Santa Claus seems more probable to
me than the existence of a misguided plunderer or economy-smasher.
I agree, of course. And, regarding the "well intentioned," even
or indeed, especially the worst criminals don't think they're
doing anything wrong. Hitler really thought he was a hero for trying
to eradicate the Jews. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Caesar, Alexander
all of history's most famous mass murderers all sincerely believed
they were doing good. It's one sign of a sociopath. There's a lot
of truth to the saying that the road to hell is paved with good
And like you,
I'm all in favor of "helping" those who commit misdeeds meet the
consequences of their actions sooner, rather than later. But I do
believe that even if we don't, karma will catch up with them sooner
or later. Either way, if you act in ways that draw "bad karma" to
you, you face increased odds of both immediate and direct retribution
as well as long-term settling of the books.
you believe you are a spiritual being clothed in your current human
form only temporarily or a complex piece of meat that will go out
of existence like your fire, cultivating good karma is a great guide
for personal ethics.
It fits perfectly with what you've said should be the only law needed:
do as thou wilt, but be prepared to face the consequences.
That's not an accident either.
But if the odds dictate the same behavior, whether or not karma
exists, what use is the concept?
Well, I believe karma exists, whether you believe it or not. [Chuckles]
Or whether you exist or not. Let's just say that it's a way of thinking
about these things that can help people live better lives and enjoy
Fair enough. I don't see any direct investment implications.
No; I'd say there are life implications.
Okay, then thanks for an unusual and stimulating conversation.
My pleasure, as always.
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