Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

How CONservative Subhumans Think: Apr 21, 2014

April 21, 2014 64 comments

Regular readers of my blog know that I have never seen CONservatives as anything other as subhumans who will willingly slave away to enrich their real exploiters. Rarely does a day go by when I do not come across one more example of why people of the CONservative mindset are subhuman tools. The remainder of this post is based upon one recent, and very clear instance, of why CONservatives are subhumans.

Edit: Here is a more recent post that explains the gist of my argument.

It all started with a recent article in Washington Post about the effect of rising university tutions on the ability to students to feed themselves- More college students battle hunger as education and living costs rise

When Paul Vaughn, an economics major, was in his third year at George Mason University, he decided to save money by moving off campus. He figured that skipping the basic campus meal plan, which costs $1,575 for 10 meals a week each semester, and buying his own food would make life easier. But he had trouble affording the $50 a week he had budgeted for food and ended up having to get two jobs to pay for it. “Almost as bad as the hunger itself is the stress that you’re going to be hungry,” said Vaughn, 22, now in his fifth year at GMU. “I spend more time thinking ‘How am I going to make some money so I can go eat?’ and I focus on that when I should be doing homework or studying for a test.”

To make a long story short, the above linked article talks about how rising tuition costs and decreasing (or harder to obtain) student financial aid causes food insecurity for university students who do not come from well-to-do backgrounds. As many of you might also be aware of, university tuition fees in the USA have consistently grown at rates far higher than gross inflation, wage growth or even health care for the last thirty years. It is noteworthy that this rise in fees has not translated into wage increases for the tenured university faculty or support staff. Indeed, universities are now heavily dependent on temporary sessional instructors who get paid only a fraction of what the shrinking tenured faculty makes. FYI- all of that extra income from ever-increasing tution fees is mostly spent on “wealth” management for the university, sports teams and athletic facilities, salaries for a greatly expanded administrative staff and other stuff that has no positive effect on the quality of teaching.

So what aspect of this article ticked me off. Well.. it was not so much the article, as some of the comments that made me write this post. Here are a few of the more typical examples.

ChrisMallory 4/15/2014 8:48 AM MDT
Have these special snowflakes never heard of Ramen noodles? Get them on sale at 10 packs for a dollar and eat like a king.

joepah 4/11/2014 12:28 PM MDT [Edited]
You can buy a 50 lb sack of rice for $25 and a 5 quart bottle of veg oil for $10. 25 lbs dried black bean $23. 1 lb salt $1. Not the most exciting food but provides all the fat and carbos to keep you going. Flour lard and veggies can be cheap. Give me $100 at month and I can feed a college student, IF they are willing to learn to cook.

ceemanjo 4/10/2014 6:48 PM MDT
I was hungry every night my first year of graduate school, lost fifteen pounds and I wasn’t fat to start with. After a while, I learned that you can live off potatoes and beans. It is truly amazing how little you can spend on food. Do you want to live like that your whole life? No. But it doesn’t hurt for a few years. I look back with some fondness to my struggling student days. I think we should lighten up about this. It is actually a good thing for college kids to be hungry sometimes, good learning experience. A good inexpensive college dish is ramen with cabbage and carrots. You can fill your stomach for less than a dollar. Ramen isn’t much good for you but it fills you up and the cabbage and carrots are. Potatoes are cheap.

Terrence Lorelei 4/10/2014 4:47 PM MDT
Well, something tells me that Mommy and Daddy (or, Mommy and Mommy) won’t really let their little darlings starve. Also, the ridiculous arguments about following the models of some silly Euro-weenie nation simply do not hold water; a nation of 330 MILLION in a free-enterprise system cannot be compared to a mini-nation of 10 million socialists, all living just above the poverty line due to government confiscation of most of their paychecks. But then again, the spoiled American under-25 crowd simply will never understand that they are NOT owed anything until they earn it.

CivilUser 4/10/2014 12:20 PM MDT
What happened to Ramen Noodles? They still sell those dont they? Thats what got me through school. That and a used rice cooker that always had rice cooking. Meal plans at my school were for the kids who had parents with money.

While comments such as the ones highlighted above are now becoming the minority opinion, they were until very recently the majority opinion. But why? It should be obvious to all but the brain-damaged that there are no real constraints in providing every single person on this planet more than enough to eat. The technology and resources to do so have existed for a few decades now. Nor is money a real issue, partly because it is not real to begin with and can be produced in unlimited amounts at a touch of a button. Furthermore, the USA spends infinitely more money on far more dubious causes such as “stealth” aircraft that cannot fly in the rain, nation “building” in the middle-east and spying on its loyal “citizens” (subjects).

It is clear that food insecurity in university students is not due to a real lack of food, money or social utility. It is about creating artificial scarcity.

But why? What is the rationality behind creating artificial scarcity? Well.. while there is no rationality behind creating artificial scarcity, there is certainly a logic- a CONservative one. As I have said before, CONservatives are almost exclusively motivated by making the lives of someone else, usually less fortunate than them, miserable. They are, as a group, incapable of relating to other humans and indeed any other life forms in any other way. CONservatives have no real interest, or belief, in concepts such as personal responsibility, frugality, utility, or honesty. Indeed, they only invoke such concepts to try to shame and handicap naive people. CONservatives are just a bunch of pathetic parasites who were not lucky or smart enough to make it into the big leagues. They spend the rest of their pathetic lives trying to win small personal victories by trying to screw over other people. The only real and lasting solution to this problem involves the sudden disappearance of all CONservatives and their progeny.

What do you think? Comments?

Profit, unlike Gain, is a Measure of Theft from the System

March 24, 2014 7 comments

The idea that profit-driven capitalism is the only system capable of delivering sustained improvement in living standards is a deeply cherished belief of many Americans, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Some of you might even argue that the dissolution of the Soviet Union is definitive evidence of that ‘there is not other way’. Of course, doing so would require us to ignore that state communism did take Russia from a chaotic 19th century society to a superpower within 30 years, inspite of the massive damages inflicted by Stalin’s paranoia and WW2.

We would also have to ignore that the massive and unprecedented increase in the standard of living in the USA from the mid-1930s to mid-1980s was largely financed by direct and indirect government spending. Imagine an American middle-class without the New Deal, WW2-related spending, GI Bill, Space Race and all other Cold War related spending. But this is not a post about which flavor of capitalism is better than which flavor of state communism. Instead I will try to show how one of the fundamental proxy measures of success in capitalism (and state communism) eventually up destroying them.

I am certainly not the first to point out that monetary profit is fundamentally a measure of theft from other people or groups. However unlike many others, I am more interested in its downstream and knockon effects than the morality and mindset of those who benefit from it. There is also the interesting issue of why capitalism seems to “work” as long as it is kept under control, but becomes destructive to almost everybody once it is unregulated. In my opinion, all of this comes down to difference between profit and gain.

Some of you will counter by saying that “but aren’t profit and gain two words for the same thing”. Well.. not quite and let me explain. We use the word profit to denote a situation where one party benefits at the expense of another party. It is fundamentally impossible for all the parties involved in a profitable transaction to gain from it and is therefore a zero-sum interaction. Now contrast that an interaction where some parties gain more than others but pretty much everybody gets a pretty good and fair deal. Still confused? Let us look at some examples.

Consider the case of a generic multinational corporation which has managed to increase its reported profit by off-shoring its manufacturing base to a low-income country. So who are the winners and losers in this type of scenario? The biggest winners in this scenario are almost always the top-level management, large stockholders and those involved in the financial (and other) intermediation necessary to make it happen. Minor winners include the poorly paid workers in the low-income countries now working at a slightly better paying job and the consumers who benefit from a slightly cheaper product. So who are the big losers in this transaction? Well.. everybody else- starting from the unemployed workers to local business who depended on those workers and the local governments who depended on tax revenue from those workers, business and the corporation.

Now consider the case of a company, business or an institution developing a new way to fulfill some human need or desire. How many people were negatively affected by the development of computer technology? What about antibiotic drugs? What about better automobiles or airplanes? What about effective vaccines for diseases like polio? In each of the above examples, pretty much everybody benefited (or gained) far more than they lost. Moreover each of these products increased the size of the economy without a significant increase in income inequality. That is the important, and crucial difference, between profit and gain. You might also notice that my description of gain is pretty close to most peoples mental image of functional capitalism.

So why is gain-based capitalism in full retreat and why has its profit-based form taken over?

It comes down to concentration of power in the hands of a few large players or oligopolization. Capitalism, or indeed any other system, works best when there are many and almost equally capable competing players in the system. That is also why capitalism seems to function pretty well when a new area opens up for business. But sooner or later you will end up with a handful of major players who will dominate the new area.

But why would narrowing the list of players favor profit over gain. Well.. once again there are many interrelated reasons but they all arise from one characteristic common to all large human organisations- who runs them. The higher levels of large and established organisations are almost always dominated by sociopaths who have learned to climb the pyramid by stepping on others. These climbers often have no understanding of what it takes to make the enterprises they are leading function properly, nor are they interested in making them function properly.

The mindset of these sociopaths is dominated by two interlinked desires. Firstly, they want to subjugate and impoverish everyone else. Secondly, they want to do so while basking in material comfort. They have no interest, desire or even the mental ability to be anything else. These billionaires, “business leaders”, CEOs, board members, banksters, head honchos etc are functionally identical to parasites or viruses in that they both lack a purpose for existence and an internal ability to restrain themselves. They survive and thrive by exploiting the structure of the system and eluding systemic attempts to destroy them. But why are they so interested in generating more profit and suppressing gain? The answer to that question lies in what happens to monetary profit once it is generated.

Monetary profit, unlike gain, is almost never reinvested back into the system. In other words, all money made as profit exits the functional economy and impoverishes everybody else.

Only sovereign governments can replenish this supply of money. It is therefore not surprising that billionaires and other rich people spend lots of their time making sure that the government does not replenish this supply or that they get most of that replenishment. It is not about more money for them, as much as it is about less money for everybody else. Of course, it certainly helps that they have a whole bunch of morons to do their dirty work.

What do you think? Comments?

Film Remakes, Sequels, Prequels and the True Nature of Capitalism

March 1, 2014 8 comments

Have you ever wondered why mainstream movie-making in the last twenty years has gravitated towards remakes, sequels and prequels of previously successful movies? Why do movie studios keep on making newer version of old hits? What is purpose of making progressively inferior sequels or prequels of questionable quality? Now there are some who would say that all literature, theater and cinema is derivative (cleverly plagiarized and recycled) and there is some truth to that. But that is not what I am talking about. Let me explain my point with a few examples.

The original Star Wars and lords of the rings franchises are indeed clever rehashes of epics centered around reluctant hero trope. Furthermore, such epic stories are found across diverse cultures and eras. However reading the Odyssey, Scandinavian sagas or even the much earlier Epic of Gilgamesh does not diminish the enjoyment of watching the original star wars films or the LOTR trilogy because while they all have the same basic story structure, each one takes great effort to create and populate its own unique and self-consistent universe. Similarly modern superhero characters have more than a passing resemblance to the trans-human/semi-divine characters that populate ancient myths and stories. Yet once again, the creators of most modern superhero characters took considerable effort to make them and the worlds they inhabit as unique and richly detailed as possible.

Now contrast this level of creativity and effort to that seen (or not seen) in the Star Wars and LOTR “prequels”. Or take movie remakes- Why do most modern movie remakes and sequels suck so badly? Compare the original Robocop movie to its recent remake. Or compare the remake of Total recall to its far more innovative original version. This is not to say that every remake, prequel or sequel sucks. There are examples where the reboot was as good or better than the original such as Scarface (1983 vs 1932) or the Mummy (1999 vs 1932). Note that both examples of successful remakes mentioned in the previous sentence were quite different from the original versions. Having said that movies in which the remake, sequel or prequel are better than the original are exceptions and not the rule.

But why is that so and what does it have to do with the true nature of capitalism?

The short answer to that question is as follows- trying to relentlessly increase and optimize monetary profits from any new source of income will always kill the proverbial golden egg laying goose. The somewhat longer answer to that question requires us to first take an honest look at what capitalism (or any other materialism based -ism) is really about.

In the preceding paragraph, I hinted that the tendency of capitalism to kill golden egg laying geese is shared by other material-based ideologies (such as state communism). But why would that be so? Aren’t materialism based ideologies more “scientific” and therefore superior to other ways of looking at the world? Well.. it depends and here is why.

Materialism based (reductionist) models work best when the systems are small in size, fundamental in nature and/or tractable. So materialism based models are perfect for doing things such as predicting the motion of planets, understanding the physical nature of matter, launching artificial satellites, synthesizing some new chemical compound or designing a new engine or vehicle. Their predictive value starts to decrease as the systems become more complex or chaotic- yet they are still quite useful for understanding phenomena as diverse as biological evolution, speciation or weather systems. Reductionist models however reach the end of their usefulness when we enter the realms of complex, fundamentally unstable and adaptive systems such as human societies.

Models based in reductionism work well only as long as the fundamental components of the system and interactions between are constant, predictable and measurable. We simply cannot do that with human societies of even basic complexity. This is where reductionist thinkers make two fundamental errors.

Firstly, they try to use an external and artificial standard unit (money) to keep track of exchanges in the system. While the amounts of money exchanged might initially have some correlation to the actual value of most interactions in the system- it always reaches a point where the amounts exchanged between components in the system has little (or no) correlation to the actual value of the interactions. However the quantity and flow of money in the system are now increasingly seen as the only legitimate measure of value of anything or any person in the system. Money becomes a proxy measure for something it can no longer be accurately used to measure.

The triumph of money as the only way to measure the worth of anything results in the second type of reductionist error. The quest for more money results in the ever-increasing use of reductionist models (and thinking) to optimize interactions and actions. It is this mindset that leads to mediocre, insipid or just plain shitty movie remakes, sequels and prequels- while simultaneously starving truly innovative ideas and concepts. The people who make decisions about movie funding therefore have little interest in the quality or craft of the final product. They are principally motivated by the predicted monetary returns on their ill-gained money.

That is why capitalism, communism and all other reductionist -isms, which use artificial gameable proxy units, to model the real world ultimately end up destroying the very things that make their existence possible.

What do you think? Comments?

Capitalism Cannot Function Without an Endless Supply of New Suckers

October 31, 2013 48 comments

Have you ever wondered if capitalism could become a victim of its own “success” in ways other those put forth by Marx over a century ago. While it is certainly possible that the effects of declining profits and progressive impoverishment of the majority will derail capitalism in a world where there is not much left to plunder or conquer in an economically viable manner, there is an alternative (and possibly synergistic) pathway for things to fall apart.

The reason you have probably never heard of this ‘other’ pathway is because the conditions that made its existence possible are relatively new. Even today- most economic thought, literature and analysis is the product of people mired in the mindset of previous eras. It also helps that doing so keeps the rich patrons of these sophists (economists and intellectuals) happy and thereby ensures a steady stream of table scraps.

So how did I stumble across this pathway? Well.. it comes down to an extension of one of my observations about human beings. We are often told by “intellectuals” that human beings do things because they are naturally competitive. But how many people would jump through all the hoops and cripple themselves in ways that are considered “normal” in developed societies if they were really doing it for themselves?

What kind of moron would slave away for a house in the suburbs where he would be subject to the simultaneous tyranny of his aging hateful wife and municipal zoning guidelines? What kind of idiot slaves away to live his life surrounded by superficial and scheming people at work (colleagues) and home (neighbors)? What idiot would slave away in occupations that involved high stress or high levels of insecurity? What moron would enter vocations with decade long education and internship requirements but not much in terms of job security?

It is clear that the mindset, worldview and behaviors of the average blue- or white-collar person in all developed countries are blatantly irrational. So why do they persist, or more accurately- why was that behavior so prevalent in the past?

In one of my previous posts, I had put forth the idea that civilization as we know it is a ponzi scheme. I chose that particular term since it best describes the overall structure, mode of functioning and life-cycle of civilization. But it also describes how they grow and become bigger. Civilizations, like ponzi schemes, require a continuous influx of new naive members to scam, exploit, enslave and sacrifice. But why? Well for one you have to pay off the higher ranking (but non-apex) members in the scheme. But there is another reason especially relevant to the fate of capitalism in developed countries with low rates of fertility.

A significant minority of people who cannot move up the pyramid will eventually understand the true nature of the system, even if that realization occurs at a subconscious level.

Civilization always results in a significant minority of its members becoming cynical, disloyal and self-serving once they wise up. There is therefore a constant and unrelenting need for more naive suckers to replace and possibly help eliminate those who have wised up. Finding such new suckers was very easy in the pre-contraception era when the average women has more than two kids who lived to adulthood. But barely or below replacement fertility makes that much harder and hence we had immigration for decades. But today even countries like Mexico and India, not to mention China, have fertility rates that are close to or below replacement.

But what does any of this have to do with an alternate pathway for the demise of capitalism?

The answer to that question lies in the high level of similarity between civilization and capitalism in one area – producing cynical burnouts with nothing left to lose. However capitalist societies are also far more efficient at producing such individuals as they burn the inter-personal goodwill and institutional loyalty of their lower ranking members at far higher rates and levels than their pre-capitalist counterparts. Furthermore, the continuous and ultimately counterproductive competitions that characterize such societies are unsustainable in the absence of high level of growth and some wealth redistribution. The high ambient instability of careers in such societies, even those which involve a lot of personal investment and sacrifice, do not make things any better.

Many societies with these features attempt to stabilize themselves through social welfare programs and regulations to improve career/lifestyle stability. While such measures can be partially effective in the short to medium term, they fail in the long-term for reasons linked to human greed and short-sightedness. Moreover they do not produce fewer cynical burnouts- only slightly less bitter ones. There is a reason why even countries as ordered, stable and affluent as Switzerland, Germany and Japan are not full of highly motivated and enthusiastic people.

Now some of you will say.. but what about the USA? isn’t it an exception to the pattern of capitalistic societies having a significant number of burnt out and cynical people? and isn’t the per woman fertility slightly above replacement or something like that? Well.. let us go through each point.

Firstly the USA is not an exception to the pattern of capitalistic societies having a significant number of burnt out and cynical people. It was just a late comer to that club for reasons I shall explain in a moment. As I have previously said, ponzi schemes can grow and appear stable as long as they can afford to pay off the higher ranking (but non-apex) members in the scheme. So things looked great as long as those born between 1930 and 1945 were getting excellent jobs and enjoying the fruits of rapid and fairly egalitarian post-WW2 expansion. They started dimming a bit when those born between 1945 to 1961 started their working lives but things still looked good and the overall system had enough inertia to keep the real party going into the 1990s. The fall of the USSR, opening of low wage countries like China and India, low interest rates on credit and the housing bubble helped the USA stretch it into the mid-2000s.

But the real cracks were visible as early as the mid-1980s. It was the beginning of an era where wages of average people stopped keeping pace with productivity or inflation. It was also the beginning of a breakdown in the implicit social contract that had existed in the USA since 1933. Lifetime job and stable careers slowly became a thing of the past, as did the formal and informal social welfare system. While this trend initially affected only the blue-collar workers, by the early-1990s even white-collar workers started feeling its effects. While the tech boom in the later half of 1990s and housing bubble in the first half of the 2000s masked the decline somewhat, it was obvious to many that something fundamental about the system had changed.

But which age group is most observant about such subtle but fundamental shifts? Is it the people who grew up before the 1980s and 1990s or those who were born and grew up in those decades? My point is that the mindset, worldview and behavior of those in their 20s and 30s today is a far better indicator of where things will go. So what do we see in that group?

Do we see tons of optimism in that age group? How many of them believe in a stable livelihood or the possibility of lifelong relationships? How many of them have kids, let alone one or two kids? How many will eventually have more than two kids? How many of them trust institutions? How many of them believe in a bright future filled with endless opportunities for growth? How many of them are crushed under student debt and working part-time jobs that don’t require degrees? How many want to move to faraway cities? and if not, why not? and most importantly- are things getting better or worse?

My point is that people in that age group have, throughout the developed world, become cynical burnouts. Even more importantly- the system has far less leverage over them than their parents generation.

Now there are many minor yet highly publicized reasons for this lack of leverage, from the growth of the internet, game consoles and smartphones etc. But the two major reasons are seldom mentioned so let me do that for you. First.. you cannot threaten what does not obviously exist (their children) or things whose existence is a matter of blind faith (secure livelihoods, meaningful relationships). The threat of sudden job loss, intermittent poverty and a generally uncaring and cruel society cannot extract enthusiastic compliance from somebody who sees that as inevitable even if they play by the rules. You cannot threaten a long-term homeless guy with lifelong poverty, especially if he knows that his compliance does not guarantee you will honor your end of the deal.

Secondly- social pressures don’t mean a lot in societies where almost every relationship is superficial, adversarial or mercenary in nature. This is especially so in an era where less fucked-up alternatives are readily available. People are no longer restricted to interacting with those in their immediate physical vicinity and now often prefer those who are not. Who wants to hang around people they don’t trust, despise or don’t care about.

But what this have to with capitalism, especially its american incarnation? Let me put it this way.. capitalism requires the majority to work hard and sacrifice for the enrichment of a small minority. However getting the majority to keep on playing this rigged game requires a decent chance of mediocre rewards (real or imagined), skin in the game (future of their children, family, friends) and social reinforcement. Without them- even the best lies, propaganda and marketing become useless rather quickly.

In the past capitalism could get around such problems by tapping into the then almost limitless supply of naive young suckers and desperate wannabe-american immigrants. However we no longer have a surplus of naive suckers or desperate immigrants who want to be american- and that is not going to change anytime in the near future.

What do you think? Comments?

The Unflattering Reason Behind Extreme Accumulation of Money : 1

October 26, 2013 21 comments

More than a few of my previous posts have centered on, or around, an odd but rarely asked, question.

“What is the point of accumulating money beyond the ability to spend it?”

Now, stupid sophists defending the status quo might say that its is impossible to determine what is enough. Curiously these sophists are seldom well off, let alone truly rich, making their defense of the status quo a bit odd. Perhaps they believe that their incessant barking on behalf of the rich might get them get a few more table crumbs or leftovers. But who knows..

Anyway, back to the question at hand. I have previously written that the reasons for accumulating money beyond the point of usability cannot be rational. But what if they are still logical. Confused? Let me explain. An action can be simultaneously logical and irrational, because logic is a mechanistic process in which the inputs don’t have to be factual or real.

For example, burning women accused of having sex with the devil requires that particular entity to exist in the first place and is therefore irrational. However it can be perfectly logical if you were one of those perpetually fearful and greedy semi-retards who believed in the existence of the devil, especially one interested in having sex with human females.

Coming back to our era, a closer look at much of what we think is ‘normal’ and ‘right’ just does hold up to rational scrutiny. Many of my previous posts are about the sheer irrationality underlying a wide variety of systems- from the basic structure of “civilized” society, the bizarre illusion of money, the worthlessness of supposedly important inter-personal relationships to the futility of loyalty to institutions that demand it. To put it another way- most conventional expectations, norms, rules and behaviors are not rational. But what if they are still logical? and more importantly- what does that say about the real nature of the human mind?

One of the main feature of conventional models for the human mind, be they religious, secular or “scientific”, is the assumption that human beings are intrinsically good, rational, caring or at least capable of all those things. Even religious models that portray human as sinful and fallen, or whatever their secular equivalent are, allow for the possibility of being saved, lifted or “enlightened”.

But what if that is not the case? Could it be the vast majority of humans, including the supposedly smart ones, are fundamentally incapable of being rational.

This question is best answered by looking at the entirety of available evidence (aka historical evidence from multiple sources) factoring in the inevitable underlying contexts and biases. Throughout most of the last 5,000 odd years (aka the age of civilization) the general standard of human living was very low and even the very rich were an infection, poisoning or puncture wound away from death. To make things easy and clear, let us temporarily ignore the actions and behavior of insecure and desperate people under constant stress or duress.

We will therefore, for the time being, willingly ignore most of human history- even though it strongly suggests humans are highly irrational.

Let us focus on societies where a combination of resources and technology make it possible to deliver a very high quality of life to all their members. In case you are wondering, I am talking about the situation in developed countries after WW2- especially after the early 1960s. Studying such societies allows us to eliminate the role of scarcity on human behavior or the ability to reason.

Does the functioning of these societies suggest that humans are capable of rational behavior when not under any real resource constraints?

The answer to this question is complicated. From the end of WW2 to the late 1970s, the socioeconomic changes in these countries suggested that human beings might be capable of rationality- at least under certain conditions. Those times were characterized by very significant technological progress and considerable improvement in the living standards of the median person in those societies. This era was also characterized by fairly low income inequality and a realistic chance to improve ones position in society. It was as if after millennia of screwing around without anything to show for it, human societies had finally found the ability and institutional structures to provide a safe, stable and reasonably good existence for almost all of its members.

But there have been many changes since the late-1970s and almost all of them have taken those developed societies increasingly further away their early post-WW2 vision. But why? It is very clear that we do not lack the technology, resources, productivity or ability to extend the general socioeconomic improvements that occurred within the first three decades after WW2. But every single developed society has abandoned the path of improving the lives of its median, let alone its poorer, members.

How can we account for the rise of neo-liberalistive/neo-conservative (neo-feudal) ideologies throughout developed countries since the early 1980s?

There are those who see this is the result of clever propaganda, institutional capture or mass media-driven brainwashing. While this line of thought might sound appealing to those who see average humans as fundamentally good and therefore gullible victims, there are reasons to believe that it is not the case. You might have noticed that a lot of the ideas recycled by neo-conservatives or neo-liberals, from “personal responsibility” to “work ethic”, are actually old lies and fairy tales.

So what makes people want to believe in obvious lies such as “work ethic”, “meritocracy”, “invisible hand of market”, “creative destruction” and “personal discipline” while discarding other equally old and popular lies about the role of divine entities in human affairs.

Are people really that stupid, unobservant and innumerate? Then there is the troubling question of why the middle class is so eager to believe in the lies, scams and bait-and switches which trick, hurt and abuse them the most. Surely, they are not that retarded or unobservant. I also don’t believe that this behavior is due to learned helplessness. A rational person who understood his lack of control over events would not strive for the benefit of those who were abusing him.

Could it be that most people believe in or play along with norms, rules and paradigms that are against their rational interests because it provides surreptitious satisfaction of much deeper urges in their minds?

In a couple of my previous posts (Link 1 and Link 2) I had suggested that hoarding money beyond ones ability to spend it was irrational as it offered no real objective benefits to the hoarder. But what if hoarding money was about depriving others of resources, security and happiness rather than improving your own existence. Furthermore, what if the behavior of the rich is merely an exaggeration of how most humans relate to each other.

Have you considered the possibility that the primary intention behind almost all “normal” human interpersonal interaction is to somehow con, swindle, abuse, hurt, maim or kill the other party?

In upcoming parts of this series, of which there will be many, I shall demonstrate how my model of the human mind is a far better fit for available evidence on human behavior in a variety of situations.

What do you think? Comments?

The Connection Between “Crime” and Hope

June 19, 2013 6 comments

The consistent and simultaneous fall in violent ‘crime’ rates for the USA, and pretty much every other developed country, over the last 20 years has baffled many ‘experts’. They have offered a multitude of often conflicting explanations for this phenomena ranging from a reduction in childhood exposure to lead, an older population, better policing, legalized abortion to longer prison sentences. But there are two major problems with almost all of their explanations.

1. They assume that A leads to B. For example- Low ‘IQ’ = more ‘criminal’ behavior or longer prison sentences = fewer ‘felons’ on the street.

2. More importantly, they assume that ‘crime’ is not a manifestation of something far more deep-seated.

Let us start by trying to define what ‘crime’ is, and is not. What make something a crime, anyway? Is it the net negative effect of an action or behavior or is it something else. I have partially answered that particular question in one of my older posts- How Laws and Legalism Destroy Societies, but let me summarize it thus:

All ‘crimes’ are defined by laws, rules and regulations rather than by their actual impact on society.

Here are a few examples. Consider prostitution, which at its core is an exchange of sex for money. Why is it illegal in some countries such as the USA? Is the exchange of sex for money in prostitution fundamentally different from a similar exchange occurring in the course of a marriage, cohabitational relationship or during the creation of a pornographic film? Or take drugs like marijuana or opiates.. isn’t all the criminality associated with them due to the fact that they are illegal in the first place rather than their effect on human behavior? What about the onerous rules and regulations associated with living in gated communities? Do they serve any purpose other than mollifying the egos of a few prissy bitches with control issues? What about laws and rules used by monopolies to extract rent or hinder competition? You get the general idea..

Which brings me to another point I made in that post

Laws are made by those with power for maintaining and extending their parasitic behaviors.

All ‘crimes’ should therefore be seen as attempts by the less-powerful to do what the more-powerful are already doing. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples: The system labels you as a ‘murderer’ if you kill another human being, but it is OK if you are a cop- even if you killed the ‘wrong’ person. Similarly, a death caused by a negligent or greedy doctor will almost never result in prosecution, but try doing that if you don’t have an ‘official’ medical license. Or consider how easy it is for a business to declare bankruptcy and stiff its creditors as compared to doing the same via personal bankruptcy.

Which brings us to one of the more peculiar question about the motivations behind committing ‘crimes: What combination of factors, circumstances and conditions makes the risk of getting caught worth the potential payoff?

A few of you might say that people who commit ‘crimes’ do so because they cannot accurately assess the risks because of their supposedly low ‘IQ’, poor future time-orientation or some other assorted bullshit reason. I think otherwise because the very fact that laws, rules, regulations, penalties and prisons have been unable to stop ‘crime’ suggest that there is something else driving the need to do what they do.

I believe that all ‘crime’ is driven by the HOPE for a better future.

People sell sex and drugs because they want to have more money and a better life tomorrow. Organised crime exists because its members can reasonably expect more income and a better lifestyle in the future. Also note that ‘criminals’ always try to maximize their life-expectancy and profit rather than go all out nihilistic and watch the world burn. Even revolutions require a significant degree of belief in a better future, and this is why people revolt on the streets in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt but not the USA, Germany or Canada.

I therefore see ‘crime’ as an expression of hope in the future of that society.

‘Crime’ rates in the USA were high during the 1960s-1980s because those who committed ‘crimes’ had high hopes of a better future. Similarly the high rates of ‘crimes’ in South- and Central- American countries should be seen as an expression of faith in the future viability of those societies. It is also no accident that low-crime societies like Japan, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden etc are also full of people who have no hope for a better future. If you don’t believe me, just look at their fertility rates. How else do you explain the decision of so many people who live comfortable and relatively safe lives in paternalistic societies to not have kids?

They have already figured out (at some level) that their rigid and formulaic societies do not offer a realistic chance for a better future. However they are also not opting for suicide without a pretty good reason. So they just go through the motions of being alive in a somewhat detached manner, if only to keep up the appearance of systemic vitality and purpose.

We also cannot forget the role of modern-medical technology, especially contraception, in enabling this to occur on a scale unthinkable in any previous era. In those eras, surplus fertility would have quickly provided new suckers to replace the disenchanted and world-weary. However, that is not the case today and not just in the more affluent countries. Even the less affluent ones such as India, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil have fertility rates that are near, at or below replacement levels. We just don’t have that seemingly infinite supply of new suckers anymore.

What do you think? Comments?

Were Genocidal Tyrants Especially Evil?

May 9, 2013 14 comments

One of the peculiarities of living in a secular era is that our conceptualization of “good” and “bad” is now almost exclusively based in the behaviors and actions of other human beings- rather than stories and myths about gods, spirits or demons. The flip side of this change is that our understanding of “good” and “evil” is now linked to the identities of other human beings- who are as mortal as you or me. Today the image of evil is associated with people like Hitler, Stalin, Mengele, Pol Pot, Slave Traders, white people with southern accents wearing white hoods.. actually pretty much every conservative white person with a southern accent. But some manifestations of secular “evil” are more interesting than others and one category in particular elicits far more interest and curiosity than the rest.

Genocidal tyrants or rulers such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao are the most well-known, interesting and studied forms of secular “evil”. They have reached that hallowed spot because of the sheer scale and number of deaths due to their actions and decisions. They are the secular equivalent of ‘The Devil’ or ‘Satan’. It also helps that we have a lot of archival film footage and photographs which document (often in great detail) their lives, speeches, public appearances and the effect of their decisions and actions. Compare that to the very inadequate and fragmentary description of ‘Satan’ in Judeo-Christian literature. It also does not help that religious literature documents that ‘God’ killed many more people than ‘Satan’.

As many of you know, I do not believe in any explanation of “evil” based on it being somehow beyond the range of normal human behavior. In my opinion, labeling anything as “good” or “evil” says more about your viewpoint than the action, event or behavior. For example: Would the Jewish holocaust have been seen as evil, or even criminal, if the Nazis had won WW2? And was it really more evil than the genocide of a million something Armenians by Turks prior to WW1, or the slightly earlier genocide of tens of millions of black people in Belgian Congo? Or what about the tens of millions of Chinese who died in Japanese-occupied parts of China in the 1930s and 1940s? Then there is the issue about what happened to millions of indigenous people in the Americas after 1492, or the fate of slaves imported from Africa.

It appears that popular definitions of “good” and “evil” are based on subjective criteria such as race, money, skin color of the victims and presence or lack of photographic evidence of the events.

While a certain percentage of the population can handle the idea that “good” and “evil” are subjective, almost nobody wants to talk, let alone think, about the next logical question. If “evil” is subjective, is it also possible to label “good” or “neutral” as “evil”? What if people who are widely seen as “evil” not really that “evil”? This question has a peculiar connection to the issue of whether genocidal tyrants are “evil” because you can classify them into two groups based on their motivations.

The first groups contains those who did it to make themselves richer, more powerful, improving the lives of their kids, relatives, clans etc. The vast majority of tyrants fall into this category and pretty much every Arab Dictator, Mongol Warlord, Spanish Ruler of some new world colony, South and Central American Despot and many of the “beloved” presidents in American history fall into that category- as do people like Winston Churchill. The common thread that runs through all these leaders is they used their position almost exclusively for personal profit.

In contrast to the first group, the second contains far fewer individuals. However these people had a far greater impact on history (both in absolute terms and number of people killed) than almost anyone from the first group. Let us start with Hitler.. Can you really say that his actions or decisions were predominantly driven by the personal profit motive? Did any members of his family make out like bandits under his leadership? Was the guy living in 5 different palaces and constructing 10 more like some Arab Despot? Was all the money and gold seized from the conquered people going towards his clothes, residences or lavish party budget? I am not saying that he did not live well, but it is very clear that he did not spend on himself at anywhere near the level he could have.

Or take Stalin.. Given the absolute degree of his power, isn’t it a little odd that he did not live like the Tsars before him? Pretty much every Russian sovereign before him had lived in an extremely ostentatious fashion and it is unlikely that people would have noticed or spoken up even if he done so. Also note that he grew up in poverty and had every reason to go bling-crazy after he consolidated his power. But he did not.. I am not implying that he did not live well, but they guy was clearly not after money, ‘bling’ or comfort. Even his kids did not get any plum posts nor did they become super rich- and the same goes for his relatives. The guy was far more interested in seeing which factory did not meet its production quota than an endless supply of hot hookers and booze? Why?

My explanation for the somewhat odd behavior of a few but important such as Hitler and Stalin goes something like this- They were in it for the power and fulfillment of their vision. Personal profit was probably an afterthought- at best. The genocides they perpetrated were driven by ideology rather than any personal profit motive. While that does not immediately make their actions acceptable- it puts them in a very different category from those perpetrated by typical Arab, Mongol, White Hispanic, Black or WASP despot.

It also explains why their genocides ended up with such high body counts. People who kill for personal profit typically kill the bare minimum necessary for obtaining whatever they want- respect, money, women etc. But those who do it for implementing their personal ideology or vision will not be content until they have removed every single person who stands in the way of their ideological utopia. You might have noticed that both Hitler and Stalin were into heavily invested in destroying the previous order because they hated it with a passion. They wanted to get rid of anyone who represented the old power structures and institutions. This is very different from your typical despot, populist or not, who merely seeks to install himself and his family/friends at the top of the old structures and institutions.

What I am trying to say is that ideologically driven tyrants are not doing it for financial gain or personal comfort. They are therefore not “evil” in the same way as the far more common type of tyrant. Infact it could be argued that their actions, whether they ultimately failed or not, did result in a better world. Let us face it, the 20th century was so productive largely because of the direct and indirect actions of people like Hitler and Stalin.

What do you think? Comments?

Large Corporations: Image Vs Reality

May 6, 2013 11 comments

Many readers might have noticed that depictions of people and institutions in popular culture are often at odds with reality. In previous eras, the gap between fictional images and reality was less glaring, because people had access to only one or two sources of information, often under the control of elites. Furthermore the communitarian nature of living in those eras made it difficult to hold opinions and ideas that were at odds with the “majority” even if the consensus was stupid, irrational and suicidal. The spread of ubiquitous communication technologies, such as the internet, and very high levels of social atomization has irreversibly changed that situation. Hence the gap between fiction and reality is now wider and far more obvious.

For example- It is now common knowledge that both sides in the American Civil War were almost equally racist and believers in some kind of mythical white racial supremacy. Likewise, many now know that those who founded the American Republic did so to enrich themselves, rather than start some noble experiment in democracy. Another example is the now widespread understanding that the ‘New Deal’ and other populist sops from the FDR era were driven by political, rather than humanitarian, considerations. However these now common, if somewhat alternative views, are still rarely depicted in mass media which tries to unsuccessfully reinforce the old myths.

One of the widely promoted dissonance in popular culture and media concerns the large gap between the image of various institutions and measurable reality. TV shows are full of noble cops, smart detectives, thoughtful judges, competent and selfless physicians, teachers who care about their students when even a cursory observation of real life suggests that the converse is true. TV and Films (henceforth referred to as ‘Hollywood’) even promote the idea that intelligence agencies are full of competent, motivated and enthusiastic people possessing tons of ‘super-secret’ and useful technologies with an almost omnipotent control over events when events in real life have repeatedly shown that to be wishful thinking.

Let us now explore the dissonance between the media-driven image of large corporations and compare that to observable reality.

The story-lines of many popular films from the last 30-odd years such as Blade Runner, Alien and its sequels, Prometheus, Gattaca, Terminator and its sequels, Robocop and its sequels, Resident Evil and its sequels, Total Recall, Watchmen, The Island, V for Vendetta and many more revolve around or involve large corporations. These large corporations are depicted as being greedy, amoral, omnipotent, led by competent people and based on long-term plans and strategies. But how much of that is reflective of reality?

While there is no argument about corporations being supremely greedy and amoral; the remaining attributes are some combination of mythology, paid propaganda and wishful thinking.

Ask yourself.. Do you see much evidence that corporations led by competent, disciplined, creative and intelligent people? Do they act as if they are led by people with any of those qualities? Do their changing fortunes reflect that? Why do most large corporations cease to exist for a decade or two? Why is the downfall of large corporations usually due to obvious mistakes? Why are these deadly and obvious mistakes rarely fixed in a competent manner? Why do plans to fix obvious mistakes frequently cause larger mistakes? Does the observed behavior and life cycle of large corporations resemble an intelligent entity or a pretty stupid but greedy parasite?

Then there is the issue of large corporate projecting an image of omnipotence and efficiency. Is that really so? Are large corporations capable of anything approaching omnipotence? Are corporations capable of stable governance on the size- and time- scale associated with governments? Can they exist without a friendly government that will help them socialize losses and privatize profits? Do large corporations actually have realistic long-term plans or strategies? Do they have realistic ability to implement them on their own?

Large corporations talk a lot about meritocracy, but does the preponderance of evidence suggest that to be the case? Do you see evidence of corporations promoting competent or intelligent people? Why is promotion inside corporations so dependent on your social network and milieu than any demonstrated ability? Why are the upper ranks of corporations always made up of bullshitters, scammers, sociopaths and other assorted conmen who are good at networking, playing the system or just being lucky? Why are the top executives and decision-makers in corporations almost always clueless about the business models of the enterprises they run? Why do those in top corporate management positions jump ship so frequently, usually after collecting massive bonuses not linked to the long-term fate or outlook of the corporations they head? And why does paying these people tens to hundreds of millions in bonuses for their expertise in making corporations run better in the long-term always achieve the opposite?

Talking about innovation and incentives to innovate.. Why are large corporations so bad at innovating even though they spend so much money, manpower, time and powerpoint shows to make themselves more ‘innovative’? Corporations claim to have ‘superior’ leadership, corporate structure and in-house ‘geniuses’- yet they require so a lot of publicly funded assistance from governments. Why do large corporations require so many tax breaks, direct payouts, protectionist laws and tariffs and sweet-heart deals to even approach profitability? Why do the long-term plans and visions concocted by the best and brightest almost always fail? Can corporations actually put together, let alone implement, any long-term strategy? And yet after all this publicly funded assistance they still fail, implode, run aground, require government bailouts or help with remarkable frequency and regularity. How come?

Why do those who talk about rugged individualism, free enterprise, capitalism, personal responsibility and ‘going galt’ expect to be nursed, coddled and treated like severely sick, retarded or spastic kids? Why do the proud ‘producers’ behave like pathetic ‘moochers’ they claim to detest?

Which brings us back to the main question posed in this post- Why is the Hollywood image of large corporations so incongruous with reality? And why has the degree of dissonance increased over time? In my opinion, the mass media image of large corporations is based in a myth that those in power desperately want others to believe. The media image of corporations is best understood as propaganda and disinformation. It is an attempt to make the masses believe that the current system is “natural”, meritocratic, omnipotent and capable of defending itself. In a way, the media image of corporations is similar to the propaganda pumped out in totalitarian regimes which extols the virtues and greatly exaggerates the power of ruling party, coalition or oligarchic families.

The reality is rather different and rapidly becoming apparent. It is now obvious to a growing number of people that large corporations are pretty much the opposite of what they claim to be. Their apparent successes in the past are increasingly seen as some combination of scam, luck and parasitism. I however do not expect the Hollywood image of corporations to reflect this rapidly growing awareness. It is likely that they will, if anything, double down and amp up the propaganda- because dying parasites have no other option.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Continued Worship of Brain Damaged Morons

May 2, 2013 11 comments

In the past, I have written about the arbitrariness of social definitions for what constitutes sane and insane behavior. I have also pointed out that behavior and attitudes considered insane today were once seen as hallmarks of sanity, and vice-versa.

To put it succinctly, definitions of sanity and insanity other than those associated with easily measurable physical or biochemical brain damage are almost entirely subjective.

But it gets worse.. Throughout human history, most so-called “normal” people have actually followed, revered and worshiped people who likely had measurable brain damage. Don’t believe me? OK, let us take a cynical and critical look at the founders, prophets and saints of almost all traditional religions. Have you ever noticed that a lot of their so-called revelations, visitations by non-human deities, mystical or cosmic experiences and voices in their heads have a lot more in common with the symptoms of serious brain disorders such as schizophrenia, temporal lobe seizure, assorted brain tumors, episodes of hypomania and even the effects of hallucinogenic drugs than anything remotely paranormal.

I would go so far as to say that all traditional religions are largely based on creative interpretations of the rantings and ravings of a few people, who were lucky to have the right amount and type of brain damage at the right time. A person who seriously believes in any religion, especially of the traditional ‘revealed’ variety, is therefore basing his or her life and worldview on the selectively edited experiences of a few brain-damaged people. Given the role and importance of traditional religions in shaping human history, customs and behavior- it is fair to say that the world we live in today was largely shaped by the minds of brain-damaged people. Maybe that is why all civilizations, past and present, are so bizarre, irrational, dystopic and generally fucked up.

But it does not end there.. In the last 200 years, we started replacing traditional religions with secular ones such as capitalism, communism, randism, consumerism, neo-liberalism etc. While these newer religions might appear to be different from each other, they do have a few peculiar common characteristics. One of them is their obsession with money.

All secular religions are really about the “right” way to create, distribute and circulate money.

While they all try to cloak the true nature of their obsession through the use of rhetoric, philosophy, logic and reason- it is easy to see through their smokescreen by posing one simple question.

Does the ideology in question mean anything in a world without money?

The idea of a world without money might seem odd, most transactions in human history and prehistory did not involve the exchange of money. Even after the concept of money was invented, most people did not use it as they had little or no money to exchange for goods or services. Yet for some peculiar reason, the world did not stop nor did humans go extinct. Money as we know and use it today came into being in the post-renaissance world, especially the last 200 years.

Now, some of can grasp the idea that all forms of money are notional and therefore not real. The ability to create, lend, spend and transfer money is therefore based on the ability of institutions to enforce rules and regulations which favor a few people over everyone else. Money appears to be real only because almost everybody is a willing participant in the mass delusion.

But what does all of this have to do with worshiping and revering brain-damaged people?

The answer lies in how we perceive, rate and treat other people. In most parts of the world, the behavior and attitudes of people towards others are largely based upon how much money one participant in the interaction estimates the other one has or can demonstrate possession of via some proxy display.

Therefore almost everyone wants to have as much money as they get their hands on, preferably by depriving everyone else of it.

This zero-sum behavior might sound irrational to some since the utility of money is directly proportional to the level of function (or dysfunction) in that society. That is why even a dollar millionaire in India has to put up with inconveniences which somebody with a decent job in a developed country would never have to. Similarly, rich people in many western countries can go about their lives without worrying about kidnappings and the level of violence routinely seen in South and Central American countries. But why is that so? Why are most developed countries reasonably safe, functional and relatively nice places to live in? and were they always like that?

The answers to these questions lie in numerous large changes to the social, economic and legal structures of these societies within the last 100-odd years. Prior to that, the quality of life in these countries was pretty low and comparable to what is seen in many parts of the ‘third world’. Most rivers and lakes in developed countries were once toxic open sewers, epidemics of infectious diseases were common, malnutrition was rife, high level of day-to-day violence and brutality were seen as normal and the rich also suffered the consequences of living in such dysfunctional societies. Then a lot of events (various labor movements, communist revolutions, WW1, WW2) happened and forced the rich in developed countries to accept a more equal distribution of wealth. This trend went on until the late 1970s when an extended period of peace let the old ways and ideas creep back into societies. Popularly called neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism, it is really a form of neo-feudalism.. one with far fewer downsides and many more upsides to an increasingly international class of moneyed people.

But what does any of this have to do with people still worshiping and revering brain-damaged morons?

The answer to that question requires us to understand an important but often ignored shift in the nature of religiosity in developed countries. Most of the populace no longer believes in traditional religions, especially the ones who claim to be pious. However the desire to believe in scams.. I mean religions has not changed and most people now believe in one or more of the many secular religions such as free-market capitalism, libertarianism, feminism etc. But as I said a few paragraphs ago, all secular religions are really about to who gets to control creation, distribution and circulation of money. It is therefore fair to say that most people are actually worshiping various socio-economic models, none of which have much to do with reality. And all this to get some sort of secular salvation.

Which finally brings us to what the past 1,100 words were leading up to..

Are the founders of secular religions any less brain-damaged than those who founded the older ones? Is somebody who claims to perceive the ‘invisible hand of free market’ any less delusional or sophistic than the guy who heard an ‘angel speaking from within a burning bush’? Is the concept of ‘homo economicus’ any more real than ‘original sin’? Is somebody who believes in making money at all costs that different from some guy who wants to save the souls of heathens or convert infidels at any cost? Is a priest who justified the rants of a greedy sociopath that different from an academic who shills for some ideology.. any ideology that will pay him enough to afford a comfortable life? Are people who are willing to destroy the lives of thousands and millions so that they can have a couple of billion dollar really alright in the head?

And what about all those morons who worship, revere, follow and obey banksters, managers, businessmen and other rich people who just got lucky? and why do these morons listen to the priests.. I mean academics who are slavish turd polishers? Believing in models of the world that clearly diverge from observable reality is always a bad idea and it never ends well, yet most people don’t seem to care. But why?

What do you think? Comments?

Religious Radicalization as a Response to Socio-Economic Dysfunction

April 28, 2013 7 comments

I was originally going to post this article a few days ago. However my desire to be reasonably sure about what I am about to say made me procrastinate till the general direction of information was more supportive of my hypothesis.

A lot of people are wondering if the Boston marathon bombers were driven by religious beliefs. While there is no doubt that their actions were influenced by a certain set and interpretation of religious beliefs, that angle does not explain how they became radicalized and extra-religious in the first place.

As we all know, both were Chechens who were born and partly grew up (especially the older brother) in an era when the outside world was especially unstable and hostile from their viewpoint. Having said that, they did not come from a family that was especially poor or religious nor had they lost any close relatives in the conflict. Their father and uncle appear to be reasonably well-educated and secular, if somewhat shady, people. If you look at older pictures of that family, they just don’t give off the ‘we are so religious’ aura.

So what happened? How does a guy who was into sports, clothes, cars, babes and making lots of money become a religious radical? Why does a guy who was looking forward to getting american citizenship and perhaps a spot on the american olympic boxing team as late as 2009 decide that bombing the Boston Marathon was his purpose in life? and what about his younger brother? How does a reasonably popular stoner who made extra cash by selling pot and involvement in car theft rackets decide that joining his older brother in waging “holy war” against the country he grew up in was a good idea?

The conventional explanations for this turn of events range from something about hot-blooded Chechens, some mysterious radicalizing preacher, the internet, a conspiracy to advance public acceptance for militarization of american police forces and a host of other explanations that you can find on the intertubes. But what if we are missing a far more obvious and straightforward explanation for their religious radicalization?

Is religious radicalization, especially of the Islamic variety, a consequence of systemic socio-economic dysfunction?

It is hard to ignore that the increasing religiosity and radicalization of the Tsarnaev brothers, and their mother, has a pretty strong correlation with their declining fortunes and hope for a better future in the USA. Tamerlan, the older of the two brothers, was not an especially religious Muslim or even a traditional Chechen in his late teens and early 20s. He moved out of his parents house, was chasing chicks in nightclubs, living with pretty attractive women, was perhaps involved in pot-grow operations and trained for MMA competitions. He did not exhibit any strong interest in spreading the word of Islam beyond trying to convert his pretty fit girlfriends.

The younger brother, Dzhokhar, was even less of a religious guy. The interviews of people who used to hang out with him suggest that he was pretty much your basic stoner who sold extra weed on the side. There is very little in his background or known tastes in lifestyle, music, media or women to suggest that he was a religiously observant person. If anything, he comes across as the small-time drug dealer/ entrepreneur type rather somebody who believed in 72 virgins.

I believe that the roots of their radicalization lie in the changing nature of american society. For many decades, but especially between the 1950s to mid-1990s, USA was the best place to immigrate- legally or “illegally”. There used to be lots of real opportunities for immigrants to make it big, or failing that- at least lead a pretty comfy and prosperous middle-class lifestyle. Even poor and ‘less-educated’ immigrants had a pretty decent chance of making it into the middle-class. However things started to change for the worse in the late 1990s. It became harder and harder for both “native-born” and immigrant americans to remain in the middle-class, let alone climb into it.

We can come up all sorts of explanations for what drove this change, but the net effect has been that a rapidly increasing number of americans (especially among younger age groups) do not believe that the system will treat them fairly. They routinely see connected ivy-league educated sociopaths make mistakes and still collect their millions and billions, while competent and loyal people like them get screwed over. While this double standard has always been a feature of american society, the system had kept it from becoming the dominating feature of american society for many decades. I believe that the collapse of the soviet union in the late 1980s-early 1990s unleashed the full greed of the ‘elites’ resulting in the openly and highly dysfunctional society we live in today.

While CONservative morons might not see anything wrong with this change, almost everyone with more than half a brain understands (at some level) that the current socio-economic system is highly dysfunctional. All stable and functional societies remain so only as long as most people living in them believe that the system is largely fair, reasonable and worth their while. People will either withdraw from or stop co-operating with systems that are seen as dishonest, abusive or non worth their while.

It is very likely that the Tsarnaev family immigrated to the USA in the early 2000s under the impression that they would be afforded the same opportunities as people like them used to as late as the early 1990s. But a lot changed between the early-1990s and the early-2000s. Many of the paths and opportunities that would have allowed them to move into the middle-class or beyond simply did not exist. The father was reduced from a stable legal job in a ministry to fixing cars as an unlicensed mechanic. The mother went from a homemaker to somebody hustling for small jobs. While these trials and tribulations might initially have been dismissed as temporary, they soon realized that was not the case.

It certainly did not help that Tamerlan’s promising boxing/MMA career started to unravel for reasons that were unfair and beyond his control. The younger brother, Dzhokhar, while clearly not stupid was just not an academic. He, like his older brother, preferred a life with booze, drugs and babes- and who can blame them. Which rational person would prefer to live like an under-sexed dweeb for the ‘chance’ of higher future earnings in a society with an obviously broken contract.

To make a long story short- the rather shitty experience of the Tsarnaev family in the USA, as individuals and as a group, was very likely what drove Tamerlan and Dzhokhar on a path of self-directed religious radicalization. In a way, they are far more like James Holmes (Aurora Theater Massacre)and Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Shooter) than somebody who was indoctrinated from birth to fight some religious war. Also note that Holmes and Lanza came from highly secular backgrounds and therefore found secular justifications for their actions (mental illness, autism/nihilism). The Tsarnaev brothers justified their actions through religious beliefs mainly because they were more familiar with religion than fashionable psychiatric mumbo-jumbo.

What do you think? Comments?

MGTOW in Low-Fertility Societies

April 14, 2013 31 comments

Some of you might be aware of a phenomena known as MGTOW in which men slowly disconnect from society and have no intention or desire to fulfill traditional social roles or expectations. While the initial reasons behind this shift in developed countries might have been the loss of manufacturing jobs during the late-1980s coupled with the social and legal effects of feminism- that is no longer the case. MGTOW has often been characterized as ‘losers’ trying to justify their relative poverty and social ostracism. While I am not denying that the initial wave of MGTOWs might have done so out of necessity, it is clear that the ones who are going in that general direction now are a rather different and far more numerous group.

But before we go there, lets us quickly talk about why the impact of MGTOW was rather limited through most of human history and pre-history. As I have said before, societies where the average woman could expect more than three of her kids to reach adulthood functioned under a very different dynamic from those where women has replacement to sub-replacement fertility. Under the zero-sum conditions and mentalities that have characterized humans throughout their history, extra kids were just more fodder for the machine. High fertility rates ensured an endless supply of morons to scam, abuse, work to death and generally try to cover systemic mistakes. In such societies, a man who went MGTOW was not particularly missed and often quickly forgotten as the other human apes went about living their sad, shitty and meaningless lives. That plus the low-level of social organisation and technology meant that going MGTOW had almost no deleterious effects on wider society.

Things fundamentally changed once the average number of kids per woman dropped first below three and then under two. But why? What does sub-replacement fertility do to a society as far as it ability to function under the old scheme is concerned? The answer lies in the rapidly growing divergence between old assumptions and reality. Under the old assumptions (also known as culture and tradition) young people were disposable widgets who could be used, abused, scammed and exploited to levels that are fundamentally incompatible with civil society. The so-called ‘losers’ could be rapidly replaced with fresh and naive morons so that the cycle could on and on- with periodic disruptions such as war and pandemics.

But as the industrial revolution spread and changed societies all over the world, the underlying assumptions started changing. Initially there was a population explosion as technology increased the number of kids who would survive to adulthood. However within a generation of two, most people caught on to the changes and started having fewer and fewer kids. This reduction in fertility is now global and even ‘extra-religious’ middle-eastern countries have rates below three- something that would be unthinkable even two decades ago.

But what does all of this have to do with MGTOW? How do men slowly dropping out of society and traditional expectations affect the system at large?

The answer lies in understanding the principal delusions and main belief under which all societies operate. All societies are based around the idea that world around them is in some sort of stable and ‘natural’ equilibrium that is very hard to disrupt. While most people can accept the idea that a comet hitting earth or something along those lines will change their ‘reality’ forever, they are largely and willfully blind to less dramatic and slower changes in the conditions which make their ‘reality’ appear stable. The vast majority of people, especially those who grew up in a previous era, believe that the world never really changed since their teens and twenties. In their mind the world of today is different from the one they grew up in largely because of better gadgets, pills, cars and some superficial social changes.

Consequently, patterns of social organization and functioning are still based on assumptions that may have been true 60 or even 40 years ago. But what did society look like four or six decades ago? The average fertility for one was still comfortably above replacement as were lifetime jobs and expectations of socio-economic progress for all. A lot of how society operates today is still based on the continued validity of these assumptions. The older morons still believe that most people will still marry, have kids, live in suburban houses and endure long commutes to their meaningless jobs by cars. While that assumption had some validity as long as the last surplus generation with some hope, aka Baby Boomers, were heavily represented in the working age group- that is no longer the case.

However a significant part of the economy is also dependent on these assumptions holding true- or at least not changing too quickly. Entire sectors of the economy such as the education, housing, financial planning etc are completely dependent on the status quo as are many not-so-obvious ones such as tax revenue estimates, electoral politics and many others that appear unconnected (physician remuneration) but are not. Even assumptions about how people will work or not work, behave or not behave, think or not think are based on the old models being true. Which brings us to one of main, if not the main, assumption underlying belief in continuity of the status quo.

All developed, and almost all developing, societies are grounded in the continuity of a very specific male mindset. It is best described as a scenario where the vast majority of guys will slave away, sacrifice and generally endure abuse for a reasonable chance at getting some mediocre pussy, some respect and children. While that scenario played out very well in the age before effective contraception, feminism, unstable jobs and social atomization- that is no longer the case. The average woman thinks she is too good for the average guy and can even profit from such behavior. While men from older generations still believe in the validity of the older ways, the younger ones clearly do not and hence are far less likely to be married or in LTRs. It is hard to believe something if you can see evidence to the contrary at every turn and almost none to support it.

Today the majority of men disengaging from society are young, well-educated and aware of their odds. They are not 50-something guys ruined by their divorce after decades of believing the lies that society told them. Nor are the younger bunch disengaging from society to live a hermit-like existence. They are still connected to society to some extent, but they are certainly not engaged with it. They are very distrustful of the system and don’t care about its future. They are best seen as cynical and informed opportunists who are acting in their own self-interest.

But how will this change affect society? Will women beg men to take them back to an earlier time? Will society recognize the folly of its ways? In my opinion neither women nor society will move in a direction as large groups of people are fundamentally incapable of non-viral behavior. They will always try to optimize for the short-term even if doing so was almost certain to cause long-term problems.

So how does widespread MGTOW among the younger generation enter into this equation? and how does it affect the possible outcomes?

To understand this, you have to look at how entities faced with declining long-term prospects shore up their short-term. The usual and almost certain response involves more extensive rent-seeking and exploitation in the short-term. It is therefore not surprising that school systems want more money, universities keep on raising their tution costs, cars and houses become more expensive, physicians and hospitals demand more money etc. They do so even when it is very obvious that those paying for it are increasingly unable to do so. But the belief in, and addiction to, growth is so entrenched that they would rather eat their seed corn than try to fix the problem.

There are, of course, longer-term limits to such behaviors based in reality rather than perception. Eating your seed corn, cannibalizing your future and crapping on your future supporters works only as there is an adequate supply of fresh suckers to replace the dead, burnt out and cynical ones. But is that a realistic option in a world with low-fertility rates? Modes of behavior that work when the average woman had over three kids who made it to adulthood just don’t work in a world where the average woman has less than two kids.. period. Even computerization and extensive automation do not solve the problems as machines do not consume or circulate money.

To summarize, MGTOW among the younger generation of men will destabilize the current system by inducing it to react in a way that increases its short-term gains while simultaneously destroying its longer-term viability.

What do you think? Comments?

Understanding the Delusion of Institutional Competence

March 25, 2013 4 comments

One of the most peculiar beliefs exhibited by human beings, especially when acting in large groups, goes something like this..

“Institutions that appear to be big, powerful or long-lived are especially competent and capable at what they claim to be doing.”

But is that true? Are such ‘successful and persistent’ institutions really competent and capable, or are other factors at work? What makes some institutions bigger, more powerful and long-lived than others? I am trying to compare and contrast what can be observed in the real world to what many people (even the ‘smart’ ones) apparently believe. So let us begin by asking a few simple and related questions- Do institutions, successful or unsuccessful, really give a shit about so-called ‘sacred’ concepts like meritocracy? Do they actually hire and promote the most competent and visionary? How do they become successful, bigger and long-lived?

I have noticed that most human beings desperately want to believe that we live in a ‘just world, because the alternative to that simple-minded belief is pretty depressing. But the universe we live in is not bounded by our models about its functioning. Therefore most people have to regularly perform extensive and often unconscious revisions to the narratives they want to believe. Almost nobody wants to admit that they made incorrect, hasty or bad decisions. Even fewer want to admit that they were short-sighted, greedy, stupid, cowardly, arrogant or driven by the decisions of people around them. It is psychologically much easier to be wrong like almost everybody else that right like the heretic who thinks differently.

Of course, being wrong like everybody else has never been particularly desirable or profitable. The quality of human existence throughout most of history and pre-history was so poor precisely because people preferred to be wrong and stupid like everybody else.However, people tend to have a short and selective memory about that sort of stuff. I would go so far as to say that we celebrate the bad decisions, simple mindedness, deprivations, stupidity and shortsightedness of yesteryears under the guise of tradition.

So what does all of this have to do with belief in institutional competence?

The answer lies in how people explain the surrounding world to themselves. If you believe in a ‘just world’ driven by meritocracy and existing for a higher purpose, you might also believe that apparent success in that world is due to real or intrinsic superiority and competence.

For example- The longevity of the Catholic or Orthodox Churches could then be interpreted as a sign of the intrinsic superiority, competence and timelessness rather than luck, chance and the result of human stupidity and credulousness. Similarly the dominance of Microsoft in certain sectors of the software market could pass as a sign of intrinsic competence and guile rather than a series of lucky breaks and mistakes by potential and often superior competitors.

Another example is the supposed superiority of the american socio-political system and ideologies. It is easier for most people to believe the ideologies and behaviors which supposedly make it so, are superior as long as the system can deliver some token and highly publicized signs of its ability. But as we have seen in the last decade, but especially in the last 5 years, it is increasingly obvious that the whole system and ideologies underlying the facade were rotten, defective and full of lies and fake promises.

Sooner or later, all human institutions run out of the ability to repair cracks in the facade and put on impressive-looking shows to distract the willingly gullible majority. However most people will never lose their belief in institutions till they literally collapse in front of their eyes, and even then a few will never accept that they were willing participants in their own deception. Why wake up from a dream that almost everybody around you also seems to enjoy? But a dream is just that- a dream.

What do you think? Comments?

Factors Underlying the Worldwide Decline in East-Asian Fertility

March 17, 2013 12 comments

Some of you might have recently heard that the Chinese government in considering changes to its one child policy. While many see this as a reasonable attempt to reverse the demographic decline, a few commentators have expressed doubts about whether such a change would have any effect on the willingness of the Chinese to have more children. They point out that ethnically and culturally similar neighboring countries have fertility very similar to those in China, even though they lack an official one-child policy. If anything, China has a slightly higher fertility rate (1.6) than more affluent east-asian countries such as South Korea (1.2), Japan (1.4) and Taiwan (1.1). Even many culturally similar but not that affluent countries in the region have pretty low fertility rates; Vietnam (1.8), Thailand (1.6). Only the war-ravaged, poor or extra-religious countries (Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Malaysia) in East-Asia have fertility rates above 2.

So what is going on? Why do so many east-Asian countries have such low fertility-rates in the modern era? Was it always so? When did it start to change and why?

Conventional explanations for this phenomena have tried to spin this low fertility rate as evidence of East-Asian intelligence, thoughtfulness, conscientiousness or degree of investment in their offspring. There is however a very big problem with any such “positive” explanations for this precipitous drop in fertility in that region. For almost all of recorded history, fertility rates in East Asia were freakishly high. Furthermore the general living conditions, levels of over-crowding, frequency of food shortages and mortality from infectious diseases etc were much bigger problems in the past than they are today.

Any hypothesis based on the idea that East-Asians are devoted parents would have a hard time explaining why so many of them are having no children or just one token child. But aren’t we all told that East-Asian parents are very devoted to the welfare of their kids and deeply involved in the lives- maybe a bit too deeply? Why would a socio-cultural-ethnic grouping with such a strong tradition of having children and raising them “properly” stop having them at the very time in human history when doing so has become very easy and safe?

Even more curious than the low-fertility rates of East-Asians in modern times is a look at what factors are associated with having the least number of kids. Other than higher levels of education, it is wealth and status that are associated with few or no kids. While this correlation has been previously observed in other developed countries, it is especially striking in East-Asian countries where the combination of a first-world lifestyle and high levels of education almost always translate into one or no kids. So what else can explain the precipitous drop in fertility rates in East-Asia in the last 60-70 years? Why haven’t the rates stabilized or recovered to levels of around 2- even in countries which have enjoyed reasonable economic stability? Why are economic incentives so ineffective at getting them to have more kids?

There is another way to look at this issue. However taking that route involves killing many ideological ‘holy’ cows and beliefs about what human beings are and are not.

Most of us want to believe that human beings are fundamentally intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable, capable of objective thought and largely rational in their actions. However a brief reading of human history or even short interactions with a few people around you will show that it is not the case. I could write entire books on why the self-image of human beings is so at odds with reality, but that is something for another day. For the purpose of this post, let us concentrate on the effects of such self-delusion on humans and the societies they live in.

While most human beings want to have children of their own, the mix of reasons and beliefs that drive them to have kids is sensitive to their circumstances and true motivations. People who used to live as hunter-gatherers or in small agriculture-based communities wanted kids for company, help, status and future care. Since accumulation of money was either absent or irrelevant in such communities, their motivations for having and caring for kids were not tainted by such extraneous considerations.

“Civilization” changed that.. Large scale agriculture, even in the pre-industrial era, created highly hierarchical societies which depended on a constant supply of naive and disposable workers who could be conned into working hard with the promise of a better future. While slaves and indentured laborers were one option, having more children was a much better option. It is not an exaggeration to say that people who belong to long-lived civilizations are far more likely to see other humans, but especially their own kids, as the principal means of improve their monetary and social status regardless of the cost of such behavior on their kids.

A lot of the ‘peculiarities’ in East-Asian parenting styles make sense if you are willing to consider the possibility that the relationship between parents and their children in those cultures is far closer to an employer and their employees.

The ‘tough love’, striving for higher productivity and ‘quantifiable’ achievement at all costs, enforced conformity and obedience, unspoken rules and protocols in everyday behavior that seem to characterize relationships between East-Asian parents and their children are exactly the things you expect in work relationships. This commercialization of the parent-child relationship is however not without its drawbacks and problems. For one, it creates damaged and very unhappy human beings who require constant threats and external pressures to behave “properly”.

The system worked for as long as it did because of the lack of effective contraception. The introduction and spread of effective contraception made it easier for unhappy and dysfunctional people to avoid having children. Also women can now make decent money by working and can thus achieve all of their material goals without the inconvenience of having kids. Since East-Asians, more than any other group, have seen kids principally as a means to attain their own material goals- it stands to reason that they would have far fewer kids if other (and easier) avenues to reach those goals were available.

What do you think? Comments?

Solutions That Sound Like Common Sense Are Usually Disingenuous: 1

January 3, 2013 11 comments

Vocal believers in many peculiar ideologies such as CONservatism, LIEbertarianism and LIEbralism like to believe, or at least pretend, that they have optimal solutions to a host of problems and non-problems facing society. While these ‘solutions’ frequently sound reasonable, feasible and at least superficially rational- they are either unimplementable or attempts to do so end up causing far more harm than good.

So why do solutions based on ‘common sense’, ‘experience, ‘rationality’ or other authoritative sounding words fail so badly? Why are so many of these solutions unimplementable?

Some of you might say that human beings themselves are the source of their own suffering. Entire religions and similar belief systems have been built around the general idea that human beings are somehow ‘born in sin’ or not evolved enough. However these belief systems have not made things any better and frequently end up screwing things even more. So what is happening? How can every attempt to fix things fail or make it worse?

I believe that the most important and widespread problem underlying all attempts to improve humanity is based in the highly subjective nature of human self-image. The vast majority of human beings desperately want to believe that they are right, good, justified, moral, chosen or deserving inspite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The Spanish Conquistadors actually believed that killing and enslaving mesoamericans was the christian thing to do- in addition to being a highly profitable way to make a living off stolen gold. The various muslims invaders of North India actually believed that killing and enslaving infidels was their religious duty- in addition to being very profitable. The southern whites who used black slave labor to build their fortunes actually believed that they were good christian people engaged in a morally correct behavior. The guys who ran concentration camps and gulags actually believed that they were good workers and many of them took great pride in their efficiency at killing Jews and political prisoners. I am sure that many american soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan also believed that they were doing the right thing- even if the evidence around them did not support their beliefs.

The sad fact is that most human beings cannot face the reality of who they really are. They are either unwilling, or unable, to look at the world around them in an objective manner. In that respect, children are far more realistic and objective and we try hard to make them lose the ability or courage to keep on being objective or realistic. Humans are therefore not inherently irrational, subjective or delusional. It takes many years and a lot or practice to become an ‘adult’. Now I am not saying that human beings are inherently ‘good’ by any objective or subjective measure. Indeed, what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is too often a very subjective judgement. My claim, instead, is that most human beings are not inherently fucked up in the head and are capable of a basic level of objective thinking.

The real question then is: Why do people believe in things and concepts that just don’t add up? How can being a member of religions that promises enlightenment and peace translate into committing theft and genocide? How can being a good worker for an organisation translate into pride in killing other human beings? Even scientists who consider themselves as the paragons of objectivity believe in things such as dark matter, dark energy and anthropogenic global warming.

The answer to these questions is deeply linked to the original question posed in this post, namely why solutions based on ‘common sense’, ‘experience, ‘rationality’ or other authoritative sounding words fail so badly?

Let us, for a minute, consider the possibility that human beings are rather different from what we want to believe about ourselves. I have partially tackled these issues in a couple of my recent posts (Cults, Religions and Ideologies Merely Unmask Human Nature and Cults, Religions, Ideologies and Willful Self-Delusion). The gist of those posts was that the behavior of human beings is functionally closer to mindless, poisonous and invasive weeds than sentient apes. It is just that humans ego is unwilling to accept its quantifiable self-image. Belief in religions, secular ideologies and institutions are merely complex justifications and self-rationalizations for acting in a manner that is contrary to the idealized self-image.

Believers are faithful, followers are unquestioning and zealots are zealous because they have invested much more than simple faith in their worldviews. In many cases, their whole self-image and self-worth is linked to, and dependent upon, continued belief in whatever fairy tale they choose to believe in.

But what does belief in adult fairy tales have to do with real world problems and our inability to solve them? Why is the ability to believe in bullshit so detrimental to human happiness? What is the connection between a malformed mental model of the external world and an inability to solve problems or practical importance.

It comes to two interlocking problems- willful blindness in some areas complemented by ‘seeing things’ in other areas.

Let us look at the second problem first.. People often go into hysterics about things that don’t really matter. I see these as made up ‘problems’ which don’t really exist.

For example- many people express outrage at other people using recreational drugs or having some forms of consensual sex because they are concerned about “public morality” and “want to protect the children”. It it really your problem if some other people prefer opioids, stimulants or marijuana over alcohol or tobacco? Isn’t the criminality and high cost of “illegal” drugs predominantly because they are “illegal”?. You could easily churn out high-quality morphine, methamphetamine and high-grade marijuana at a 10-20 cents per adult dose and still make a profit- if they were legal. Instead we spend tens of billions of dollars per year to fight the failed ‘War on Drugs’, not to mentioned the tens of billions more to incarcerate and punish millions of predominantly non-white “offenders”. In the USA, alcoholism is a disease while “illegal” drug use is a moral failure.

Similarly the USA spends tens of billions trying to control prostitution which, as many of you know, is the most honest and equal male-female relationship out there. However we do count alimony, child-support payments or buying bigger homes etc for wives as payment for sex- though I cannot see any other justification for those money transfers and transactions. Let us face it- prostitution compares rather favorably with marriage and even long-term relationships in the amount of great sex per unit of money spent on obtaining it. Yet people never tire of coming up with newer solutions to the non-problems of “illegal drug use” and “prostitution”.

Here is the thing.. you can only solve a problem if it is real. Trying to classify a non-problem as a problem and then trying to solve it will always make things worse than before for almost every person in that society other than the scumbags who profit from such ‘holy’ crusades.

On the other end of the spectrum, people ignore very real, highly visible and serious problems by claiming that they don’t really exist. We ignore youth unemployment and underemployment by believing that the problem will just go way if we ignore it- inspite of the fact that we no longer live in a high-fertility world. People keep on telling themselves that the ‘problems are temporary’, the ‘young have a poor wok ethic’, ‘life is unfair’ etc without factoring in that we have run out of the constant supply of naive youngsters to screw over. We try to solve these problems by kicking the can down the road, asking everyone to take loads of debt to go to university, talking about a ‘bright’ future etc when almost anyone can see that things are in a death spiral.

In future parts of this series, I will write more about how the bizarre tendency to convert non-problems into problems while ignoring real ones defines human beings as a species.

What do you think? Comments?

Inspite of its Cheerleaders, the American Healthcare System is Crap

January 1, 2013 3 comments

As many of you know, the last 4 years have seen a lot of breathless talk about the effects of ‘ObamaCare’ (RomneyCare) on the future of the ‘best health care system’ in the world. This post, however, is not about my views on the supposed ‘perils’ of ‘socializing the medical system’. Instead I will focus on the myth that the USA has the ‘best health care system’ in the world.

Let us start by asking ourselves- What do people mean when they say that the USA has the ‘best health care system in the world’? What are the criteria for making that statement? What sort of data is used to support the statement? How do the ‘true believers’ in that worldview treat doubters and critics? Who do they blame when available data does not support their worldview?

In my opinion, non-proprietary measures of overall life expectancy are the most objective proxies for comparing multiple healthcare systems. Readers are welcome to suggest other “more realistic or logical” criteria for judging the effectiveness of a healthcare system. In any case, the USA lags behind all other developed countries by all commonly used measure of longevity (average life expectancy, median life expectancy, post-65 life expectancy)- often by more than 2 or 3 years.

There are those who blame the ‘high’ percentage of black people in the USA (10-13% ?) on its less than stellar performance on various measures of longevity. These morons want to believe that blacks are genetically ‘meant’ to die an earlier age. However the statistics from other affluent western countries with a worthwhile black population (especially of Caribbean descent) suggest otherwise. For example- Blacks of Caribbean descent in the UK live longer than indigenous whites matched by income and education. While they may suffer from a different mix of disease conditions, it is clear that blacks have no genetic predication to die earlier than whites. I should also point out that Hispanics who outnumber blacks in the USA are known to live even longer than measurably more affluent american whites.

Another series of ‘explanations’ for the dismal performance of the american healthcare system is based on the solipsistic belief that ‘all those other people are lying’ and ‘only we are telling the truth’. This takes the form of outright lies and a few half-truths about how those ‘other’ countries define and report statistics about live births, incidence of various diseases and causes of death. While explanations based on intentional fudging of statistical data by other countries would be believable if only a few countries consistently outperformed the USA on any measure of longevity- that is not the case. Every developed country and most moderately well-off countries routinely surpass the USA on almost all of those measures. Furthermore the differences in definitions of live births are too small to have any worthwhile (more than a 2-3 week) effect on various statistical measures of longevity.

I also find it hard to believe that white Americans are the most honest and objective people in the world’ for reasons that are only too obvious.

Then there are those who like you to believe that the cost of healthcare in the USA is higher because ‘We spend so much money on developing new drugs and technology to extend human life’. Apart from the bizarre hubris inherent in this line of defense, the statement is factually incorrect- at least as far as developing drugs or technology that actually cure diseases or extend human life.

Let us consider the facts. The biggest improvements in life expectancy are non-medical in nature. The provision of clean drinking water, safe and adequate amounts of food, proper sewage treatment and disposal, public health measures to contain infectious diseases, vaccines for some common and particularly deadly diseases caused the bulk of the increase in life expectancy during the last 150 odd years. We can also add the improvements in workplace safety, cleaner births and abandonment of older dangerous medical interventions (inorganic mercury, inorganic arsenic, lead based medicines and primitive surgery) to the list of non-medical interventions that improved life expectancy. Many western countries had already passed the 60 year mark for average life expectancy in the 1930s before the ‘drug’ or ‘technology’ revolution began in earnest.

Talking about drugs.. anti-microbial drugs, especially anti-bacterial drugs, are the most important class of drugs as far as extending human life expectancy is concerned. It is fair to say that they have extended human life expectancy by somewhere between 10 and 15 years. However almost all of them were introduced between 1930 and the mid-1960s. Moreover their discovery and development was usually heavily supported by government programs such as those run by the american government during and immediately after WW2. Pharma companies merely profited from the fruits of programs run and supported by the government- especially the american government.

Based on the returns for investment, the government support of discovery and development of anti-microbial (and anti-cancer) drugs during the first two decades after WW2 was among the most profitable use of taxpayer money- as far as the taxpayers are concerned. Which brings us to all those other wonderful drugs discovered between the mid-1930s and early-1990s. Contrary to what many of you think, the first of almost every single class of new drugs discovered in that era were discovered in European countries or labs of american companies based in European countries. I can provide you a fairly detailed list of this claim- if you are interested.

The sad truth is that the american research system (academic and industrial) has always been rather inadequate at producing truly innovative drugs. They are however very good at projecting the image of competence and innovation- something that greedy and mediocre minds excel. They are also pretty good at stealing credit for a discovery or developing a slightly better copycat version of an innovation.

But what about all that impressive looking technology which is much more visible in american hospitals. Doesn’t that count for anything? The short answer is that beyond a certain level- diagnostic and intervational technology do not improve global patient outcomes. While they may keep a slowly dying 90-something alive for a few weeks longer, the cost and bullshit associated with expensive technology based systems decreases the availability and quality of care for everyone else. More perversely, they often cause more harm by making questionable medical intervention profitable and more common. Many technologies for catching cancers in their early stages often encourage further diagnostic tests and treatments that do not improve overall life expectancy, while simultaneously causing adverse effects of their own.

It really comes down to the fundamental lie that underlies much of the problems seen in american society today- appearances matter more than reality. The appearance of education, the appearance of reputation, the appearance of action, the appearance of competence and the external appearance and trappings of technology and ‘science’ matter more than the reality.

What do you think? Comments?


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