Archive for the ‘Philosophy sans Sophistry’ Category

Thomas Hobbes was a House Slave, Not a Great Philosopher

April 12, 2014 6 comments

The name of a 16th century “philosopher” known as Thomas Hobbes frequently pops up in discussions on a range of topics ranging from the best type of governance to whether a state is necessary for reasonably stable societies to exist. He is best known for writing a book known as Leviathan in which he argues for of a system in which a very small group of “special” people have a monopoly on violence. In his opinion only such a system could guarantee social stability and economic prosperity.One of his most famous quotes is about the state of human society without a top-down repressive regime.

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

So why am I choosing him as the target of this post? Well.. there are two reasons. Firstly, he is a good example of the prototypical academic who will suck cock and write pretty lies for his paymasters. Secondly, his reputation needs to be demolished to the point where nobody wants to remember him, quote him or even try to recycle any of his ideas.

Many of you might wonder how something like this can be done. Wouldn’t irreversibly tarnishing the image of a long dead, semi-famous, white intellectual be hard. My answer is- not really. Think of all the famous white people who stood behind the idea of eugenics in the early 20th century. How many can you name or, more importantly even want to remember? Similarly the memories of even more famous people like Hitler, who was once widely admired in pre-WW2 UK and USA, are now irreversibly associated with evil. To put it another way, engineering large changes in the public images of famous (or semi-famous) people is actually quite easy.

Moving back to the topic at hand, let us start by looking at his early life and see if it provides any obvious clues as to why Hobbes became a servile cocksucker for the elites of his era.

Born prematurely when his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada, Hobbes later reported that “my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear.” His childhood is almost a complete blank, and his mother’s name is unknown. His father, also named Thomas, was the vicar of Charlton and Westport. Thomas Hobbes Sr. had an older brother, Francis Hobbes, who was a wealthy merchant with no family of his own. Thomas Hobbes, the younger, had one brother Edmund who was about two years older than he. Thomas Sr. abandoned his wife, two sons and a daughter, leaving them in the care of his brother, Francis, when he was forced to flee to London after being involved in a fight with a clergyman outside his own church. Hobbes was educated at Westport church from the age of four, passed to the Malmesbury school and then to a private school kept by a young man named Robert Latimer, a graduate of the University of Oxford. Hobbes was a good pupil, and around 1603 he went up to Magdalen Hall, which is most closely related to Hertford College, Oxford.

Hobbes was not born into a rich family and his early life was somewhat precarious. However, like many of the middle and upper-middle class of today, he had access to centers of credentialism and sophistry aka universities. It is therefore very likely that Hobbes always saw the attainment of elite-approved credentials and subservience to their power as the only realistic way to maintain a somewhat nice and stable lifestyle.

Everything that Hobbes ever said, wrote or argued about must therefore be seen through the lens of his own timid, conformist and sophistic persona. To put it another way, he was an enthusiastic mercenary for anybody who held out the promise of a bit more money, social status and a nice sinecure.

Now let us move on to a critical analysis of the validity of his writings. But before we do that, let me quickly talk about why destroying his reputation is necessary- even 300 years after his death. The arguments put forth in the writings of Hobbes are one of the foundations of modern CONservativism and many other -isms. They, in both their original as well as recycled forms, have been used to justify a variety of socio-economic systems that have brought nothing but impoverishment, extreme misery, starvation and disease to the vast majority of people while greatly enriching a few lucky sociopaths.

One the central arguments in his writings is the idea that all people are highly immoral and only an absolute monopoly of violent force in the hands of a few chosen ones can keep society stable. In some respects his ideas are remarkably similar to those used to justify Chinese-style Legalism. But are most people highly immoral and does monopolizing violent force in the hands of a chosen few really improve the living standards of most people in that society?

While I am certainly not a believer in the myth of noble savages, there is a large body of evidence that hunter-gatherers living in non-precarious environments were not especially avaricious, inhospitable or murderous. Indeed, the lack of centralized authority in such systems makes peaceful inter-group cooperation, diplomacy and exchanges more necessary than it would otherwise be. So the idea that most people will trick, steal from and murder each other without someone in charge is a sophistic lie, projection of the thinker’s own mindset or likely both.

And this brings us to the second part of that particular argument- namely that giving the monopoly of violence to a few “especially suitable” people will make somehow society more stable and better. But how can we decide who is suitable to wield such power and how do we know they are competent? Is there any evidence that supposedly “legitimate” kings are any more competent that those who became kings through less “legitimate” means? How can we define the competence to “rule” when most societies with kings or their secular equivalents (dictators and leaders of one-party systems) are really bad places to be born, or live, in- at least for the vast majority of people?

I am sure that most of you are aware that the material living standards of “civilized” people have been consistently and significantly lower than their hunter-gatherer counterparts except for the last 100-odd years. Moreover the general rise of living standards over the last hundred years are linked to the rise of technology and simultaneous decline of outright autocracy.

The two central foundations of Hobbes worldview therefore have no basis in reality. They do however tell us a lot about his worldview and those of his paymasters.

But why would Hobbes spend so much time and effort on creating this myth? There are those who would like to believe that his worldview was simply a product of the environment he grew up in. I am not so sure and here is why. His early life history suggests that Hobbes had no useful skills beyond learning, conforming and pleasing his superiors. It is also obvious that he always wanted a comfortable and stable lifestyle. So how does a reasonably clever and timid man make a stable and comfortable living in the pre-industrial era?

Obtaining royal (or elite patronage) was the only realistic and feasible occupational choice for a person of Hobbes ability, temperament and desires. In other words, he had to choice to suck elite cock and live reasonably well or not do so and live like an average (poor) person.

Now.. I am not criticizing his decision to suck elite cock to make a stable, decent and trouble-free living. Pretty much anybody in his situation would have done the same. My real problem with Hobbes is that his works are still seen as serious and objective philosophical insights rather than as literary blowjobs to his masters. Doing so is the equivalent of using the collected reminiscences of a house slave as a defense and justification for the institution of slavery.

Hobbes was essentially a clever house slave who got better food, clothing and living quarters because of his ability to flatter his master, justify his brutality and constantly tell him how all those other “lazy and evil” slaves would be lost without the “benevolent guidance” of his master.

What do you think? Comments?

The Generic 21st Century Mass Media Ad

April 9, 2014 1 comment

Here is an amazing spoof of your generic mass media ad on YouTube. Seldom have I seen a spoof capture the essence of its target so perfectly. It also shows the very american emptiness, superficial cheerfulness, misdirection, other assorted lies and pretty presentation that attempts to hide the banality of evil.

What do you think? Comments?

Brendan Eich Got What He Deserved

April 5, 2014 13 comments

I am sure that most of you heard about how Brendan Eich had to resign as the CEO of Mozilla because of a thousand dollar donation to supporters of an anti-gay constitutional amendment aka Prop 8 in California. Some in the “mainstream” media and reactionary blogosphere see his forced resignation as a symptom of political correctness run amok. I see it very differently.

In my opinion, Brendan Eich got what he deserved.

First, let us be clear about what Proposition 8 (2008) was really about. It was about denying the right of adult persons to marry somebody of the same sex AND effectively nullifying all the gay marriages that had occurred in California since June 16, 2008. Prop 8 was about denying basic civil rights to a category of people in the 21st century based on one popular interpretation of a committee-approved compilation of a set of books allegedly written by some guys 2-3 centuries prior to that meeting and containing what some believe to be factually accurate accounts of the life and times of a reformist Rabbi who supposedly lived in 1st century Judea.

Prop 8 was about treating someone as a second- or third-class human based on one particular interpretation of an adult fairy tale.

Now some of you might say- but isn’t democracy about the opinions of the numerical majority. Well.. if we had used majority opinion to guide the creation and implementation of laws and rules, slavery would still be legal in the USA. Laws and rules in modern nation states are about keeping society functional and preventing tyranny of the majority or powerful minority. They are not supposed to stroke the egos of zealots who believe in their special connection to imaginary sky-dudes or the voices in their heads. Laws and rules are about maintaining a degree of fairness and rationality in society, or at least the illusion of their existence.

And there is one more little known, but important, fact about this particular case. People inside and outside Mozilla knew that Eich had donated money to support Prop 8 since 2012. So his resignation in 2014 was not the result of somebody leaking a closely guarded secret or a hatchet job by “gay activists”. His views on gay marriage and gays in general became relevant only after he became CEO and, therefore, the public face of Mozilla.

The combination of enhanced public visibility and additional administrative power made people take a second (and much longer) look at his personal views and convictions.

Some CONservatives say that his forced resignation is a sign of the decline of power of the 1st amendment to protect free speech. Oddly, these same people have no issues with corporations firing employees for publicly expressing their desire to form worker unions. CONservatives also believe that unlimited and secret financial contributions to political parties is an expression of free speech rather than open subversion of the democratic process. They also have no problems with the government violating the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th amendments as long as those affected are either non-white or poor whites.

Brendan Eich, like all CONservatives, wanted to deny legal equality to a subgroup of people based on his personal religious beliefs. He just chose the wrong group and wrong time in history to get away with it and consequently got thrown under the metaphorical bus.

What do you think? Comments?

The Inner World of Massey Sahibs: 2

April 3, 2014 3 comments

In my previous post in this series, I had said:

The massey sahib mindset is not restricted to Indians and milder forms of this mindset are actually quite common in many developed countries- especially in people of the upper-middle class persuasion.

I shall now explain what was implied in that statement. But before we go further, let me clarify something. While you can readily find critiques of the Indian mindset and behavior patterns on the intertubes, or in “real” life, almost all of those making them share one common delusion- namely, that the pathology they are talking about is somehow uniquely Indian. However that is not true and every pathology you can see in Indians is also present in other racial and ethnic groups- albeit with different external manifestations. The converse is also true and I have no illusions about the inherent “goodness” of Indians. However a lot of people are unable (or unwilling) to see things for what they really are.

Here are a few brief examples to illustrate that point. We associate genocide with the regimes of people like Hitler and Stalin, when the biggest (number, percentage and impact) genocides in human history were committed by the Spanish in South and Central America and the Anglos in North America. Similarly the Irish Famine (which was actually a genocide) was no different in relative size and scope from what occurred in Ukraine under Stalin. Then there is the issue of the late Victorian holocausts. Did I mention Slavery, Jim Crow and the Ongoing War on Drugs?

The idea that one group of human beings is “better” than others is therefore extremely delusional and not supported by even a cursory reading of historical evidence.

But what does this insight have to do with the subject of this post? Well.. a lot! Massey sahibs and their white counterparts (upper-middle class types) clearly have the resources and mental apparatus to read and understand history. They also have the mental ability to understand how the world around them works, so far as to realize that many of the people who employ them are mentally inferior to them and highly dependent on their abilities. Yet the majority of Massey sahibs and upper-middle class whites are happy to be house slaves and mercenaries for their “masters”.

But why? Why would any half-intelligent person enthusiastically slave away for less competent idiots- who in many cases gained wealth by an accident of birth?

Conventional explanations for this phenomena range from the fear of losing what little they already posses to competition from other brown-nosers. While such “common sense” explanations might sound rational at first glance, they are just clever ways to avoid the central question- Why would a smart person enthusiastically slave for somebody who could throw them on the street on a whim?

Here is my theory- It is really about what their jobs and vocations allow them to do or get away with.

The job functions of Massey sahibs and upper-middle class types almost always involve abusing, exploiting and impoverishing the masses on behalf of their “masters”. They are in it for the power to abuse, exploit and degrade other human beings. Employment by a rich person to do so allows them to indulge their deepest and darkest desires while being able to maintain a ‘normal’ self-image. They have no interest in the truth, reality or anything else that could spoil the party. They choose to believe what they believe because it allows them to go home after a long day of fucking over other people and still feel ‘normal’. Some even fantasize that such displays of loyalty to their “masters” might one day make them more equal to their “masters”. In many respects, this mindset is not too different from the one exhibited by working class whites.

What do you think? Comments?

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

March 24, 2014 4 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?

The Inner World of Massey Sahibs : An Introduction

March 19, 2014 9 comments

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the questionable treatment of an Indian diplomat in the USA with special reference to the public reaction of certain people of Indian descent to that event. In that post, I also talked a bit about concepts such as ‘gungadin’ and ‘sepoy’- and the key difference between them. This post goes into a bit more depth on the phenomena of ‘gungadins’ and one of its more common subtypes – the ‘massey sahib’.

But before we go further, let us quickly define both concepts and highlight the slight (but important) differences between them. A ‘gungadin’ is somebody who is servile to anyone with a white skin under the expectation that doing so will somehow get him a vaguely promised reward or acceptance as an equal in the distant future. A ‘massey sahib’ is basically similar to a ‘gungadin’, but has a few extra distinguishing characteristics. For one, a ‘massey sahib’ fancies himself as white-’lite’ and will go to considerable and often comical lengths to demonstrate his white cultural credentials. Secondly, a ‘massey sahib’ is almost always fairly well-educated and well read, but is unable or unwilling to think critically. He will always support the view of “famous” white men even if they themselves make a 180 turn away from their old views.

So why do whites like to keep ‘massey sahibs’ around- at least until they become too inconvenient? It comes down to the utility of ‘massey sahibs’ as tools. In case you are still wondering about my choice of the name for this class of “individuals”, here is the wiki link: Massey Sahib

Set in pre-independence India, Massey sahib is an Indian who converts to Christianity for the sole purpose of becoming white-’lite’. To that end, he works hard to do fulfill the ambition of his white boss even if that means breaking the laws he is supposed to uphold. The white boss knows about his double dealings but ignores them in a manner that affords him (but not Massey) plausible deniability. Towards the end of the story, the scams are exposed and Massey becomes the scapegoat and is cast aside by his white boss who acts surprised and disappointed. The effects of the investigation disrupt Massey’s life and lead him to kill another Indian in a fit of rage. This only worsens Masseys situation and inspite of the advice of his now ex- white boss, he chooses not to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter since he expects his white boss and white “friends” to magically intervene and set him free. I guess you can figure out how the story ends.

So what does this story have to do with people of Indian descent who live, or were born, in western countries today? Well.. a significant number and percentage of Indians, especially those who came to north america before the mid 1990s, are (for all practical purposes) ‘massey sahibs’. Now some of you might try to defend them by saying that they became ‘massey sahibs’ for purely economic reasons- but I disagree.

People who crawl and grovel when you ask them to bend a little are motivated by far more than simple economic calculations. This is doubly true when they did not have to bend in the first place.

Let me show you what I am talking about with a real-life example of one. I found this interview on the ‘Chemical and Engineering News’ website – Link. Excerpts from this interview will be quoted to illustrate my points.

First the extended title..

Sunil Kumar, Chemical Industry Medalist, Chemistry and opportunity in the U.S. aided his climb from poverty to executive suite

Altruistic white man gave poverty-stricken brown guy a chance out of the goodness of his heart. *sarcasm*

Although trained as a mechanical engineer, Kumar found that he liked the products of chemistry and had a knack for translating them into marketing successes. That talent, over the course of a 41-year career, helped India-born Kumar rise from near penniless immigrant to the U.S. to high-level executive at the tire maker Firestone (and later Bridgestone), the roofing supplier GAF, and ISP.

This is a repetition of the point made in the extended title, but with more biographical details.

Kumar, 64, continues his love affair with chemistry today through Wembly Enterprises, a family investment vehicle that acquires chemistry-based businesses. His is a rags-to-riches story that could only have happened in America.

Actually that is not true for reasons we will get into in a moment, but why let facts get in the way of feel good propaganda.

He headed for the U.S. right after graduating from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), in Madras, with a degree in mechanical engineering. “In the early 1970s, India was a bad place to be,” Kumar recalls. “There was not much encouragement for private enterprise, and most people got jobs with government entities. That was not my cup of tea at all.”

So let us be clear about one thing. This guy was educated at a pretty elite institution in India and was certainly not from some poverty-stricken or uneducated family. While it is true that India in the 1970s was not a great place for anybody with ambition, the idea that he would have lived in poverty if he had not moved to the USA is false.

Kumar was then and still is a passionate admirer of what he calls “the American civilization.” He defines that civilization as a place where government mostly works and people who work hard can do well.

In the 1970s and perhaps the 1980s, the USA was still a reasonably meritocratic place- especially if you were not Black or Mexican. But that still true? In the 1970s the USA also had far fewer people (by number and percentage) in jail than the USSR (Russia)- but is that still true? Things change..

But the more important question is- Did he have to profess that belief to succeed in a meritocracy? A system that is highly meritocratic would not require you to be a congenital brown noser- which he clearly is, and we will see more evidence of that in a moment.

He secured a spot in the M.B.A. program at the University of Louisiana, Monroe. Key to his decision to go there was the financial support he got from the university. “Graduate assistantships are typical in science but rare in business school. They made an exception for me; it was the break I needed,” Kumar says. Separately, he snagged a job at the 7-Eleven near the campus to earn the money he needed to repay his father for the plane ticket. Working at 7-Eleven taught him how to relate to people. The blue-collar workers who came into the store “were fabulous, down-to-earth people with no pretensions,” Kumar recalls. Working at the store also taught him that management systems often function better in the U.S. than in India. “At the store, there was a system for inventory, pricing, and handling customers. The reason 7-Eleven worked well is that it had a way to get products and customers in and out.”

Isn’t it odd that a guy whose entire existence in India revolved around getting away from the teeming brown masses was so willing to kiss the average white guys ass? Why? More importantly, how many of his current acquaintances are blue-collar white guys? Guess how that changed.. But the best part is towards the end of that interview piece.

Although India also offers better business opportunities than when he left it, they still can’t compare with the opportunities available in the U.S., Kumar maintains. He spends part of his time as an adviser to the Indian energy and chemical giant Reliance Industries, providing advice on elastomers plants now under construction in India.

Fair enough.. he prefers to live in the USA where he spent most of his life.

And although India graduates large numbers of engineers, most, Kumar contends, aren’t well-trained. “There must be something wrong when a country that graduates 300,000 engineers per year gets no Nobel Prizes, gets few patents, and has only a $1.8 trillion economy,” Kumar says. He sees no need for the U.S. to churn out engineers to better compete with India. Although the U.S. can always stand to improve its educational system, Kumar says, the country already “has more than enough brilliant scientists, inventors, and chemists.”

Now wait a minute.. if Indian engineers and chemists are not well trained or incompetent – what about him? I mean.. the interview does state that he came from India. Was he somehow special or is he seeing himself as white-’lite’? And if the american system has always been good at producing enough brilliant scientists, inventors, and chemists- why did they want him in the first place? Something does not add up. But we still have not reached the best bit of his brown nosing.

He also continues to be a huge believer in America. “I wouldn’t say that a person born in America is superior to a person not born in America. God creates everyone equal,” Kumar says. But a person who is born in the U.S., or grows up, lives, and works in the country, “becomes superior after a number of years because America’s system is exceptional.” As Kumar sees it, America “is a new civilization, and it is more than just immigrants coming here and finding jobs.” The country, he declares, “creates spectacular successes.”

Here is my problem with this shill. Does his mental model hold true if you are an enterprising Black, Mexican or even a working class white guy? While the last class did somewhat OK will the mid-1980s, their fortunes have progressively deteriorated to the point where they are not much better than the other two? So what changed and why?

While the american system does manage to make its 1% (or more precisely its 0.1%) richer with every passing day, it has clearly failed the other 99%. Sunil Kumar’s strategy for success is based on kissing the behind of every rich white guy he came across and then slaving away for them, in exchange for a few bones and being treated as white-’lite’ until he becomes inconvenient for his white superiors. He went so far only because the real decline of american chemical manufacturing started towards the end of his corporate career allowing him to escape with a measure of dignity and money. His early career shift into the management side of that sector also partially protected him from career ending job loss.

In the upcoming part of this series, I will try to explore the mindset and world view that creates massey sahibs. As you will see, the massey sahib mindset is not restricted to Indians and milder forms of this mindset are actually quite common in many developed countries- especially in people of the upper-middle class persuasion.

What do you think? Comments?

Southern Working Class Whites and the Real “Problem” with Kansas

March 5, 2014 35 comments

One idea that has gained popularity among american intellectuals of the liberal persuasion within the last 10-15 years goes something like this:

The dominance of conservatives politicians in southern (and some non-southern flyover) states is due to their success at conning working class whites into voting against their own economic interest.

To put it another way, liberals believe that working class whites are decent human beings who are repeatedly tricked into voting against their best economic interests. This belief is the basis of books such as What’s the Matter with Kansas?. Many liberals believe that the white working class of southern (and some flyover) states left democrats because the later became too “culturally distant” and have not been able to provide enough decent jobs in those states. But do those explanations stand up to rational scrutiny? Or is there another far more obvious, but unmentionable, reason behind the rightward shifts in southern states?

Let us first examine the soundness of cultural explanations for the ascendancy of conservatives in the post-1980 (actually post-1968) south. The conventional explanations for this phenomena invoke public reactions to a series of socio-legal changes that occurred between 1955-1980. These include civil rights legislation, legalized abortion, sexual revolution and mass entry of women in the work force. Liberals want to believe that these changes somehow alienated a majority of “good” Americans living in those states.

While I do agree that these changes were large and controversial, it is worth noting that the end results of their implementation has been fairly uniform across the USA. The percentages and incidences of single motherhood in Kansas or Alabama are not that different those in Washington or Oregon. Similarly the percentages of blacks who vote in southern states today are not much different from those who live in the much less shitty coastal ones. Nor are fat white working class women in Alabama or Mississippi any less sexually promiscuous than their counterparts in Massachusetts or Maine. My point is- the progressive socio-legal changes which started in the 1960s have been far more uniform in their effect across the USA than most people realize or want to believe.

The idea that working class whites in the south are trying to preserve the old ways does not hold water simply because those ways no longer exist, except perhaps in the fringes, of those societies.

So why do these morons keep on voting people who promise to brings back things that are dead and beyond any hope of resurrection? Let us consider another angle, namely that the rightward drift of the south is a reaction to the loss of traditional blue-collar jobs. While there is some validity to the idea that people who lose their previously stable and well-paying livelihoods might turn to anti-establishment ideologies, it does not two aspects of the rightward movements of southern states. Firstly- why don’t north-eastern and mid-western states, who also lost a lot of blue-collar jobs, elect the same kind of people as those below the Mason-Dixon line? Secondly- why do southerners keep on electing politicians who actively undermine their economic interests?

Therefore the argument that southern working class whites drifted to right-wing politicians because of economic neglect by more left-wing ones also does not hold much water, unless we assume they are mentally retarded.

While it is certainly plausible that southern working-class whites are intellectually inferior to their counterparts in other parts of the country, it is also highly unlikely that most are mentally retarded. And this brings me to the history of their voting patterns- specifically how they switched their voting patterns after 1968. As many of you know, prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the democratic party had no problem getting the votes of working-class whites in southern states. Of course, that was also the era when the Democrats (and not the Republicans) were the party of American Apartheid. The passage of the Civil Rights Act under LBJ changed that forever and permanently antagonized the southern white working-class voter.

But why would simply giving equal rights to blacks cause such a large negative reaction among working-class whites in the south?

It is not as if equality is a finite resource whose distribution makes it scarcer. So what is going on? Why would legal remedies to end racial discrimination evoke such strong reactions among southern working-class whites? Is there a better explanation this seemingly irrational behavior.

Well.. there is, but that explanation requires the observer to abandon certain preconceptions about what working-class whites are and are not. Too often, polite public discourse tries to portray working-class whites as honest and decent human beings who just happen to be gullible enough to fall for racist demagogues. But what if that is not true? What if opportunist politicians are merely saying out what their constituents really believe? What if the identity and self-image of those subhumans is principally based on the constant abuse of blacks and the zeros-um exploitation of each other? What if all of the attempts by those subhumans to justify conservative beliefs through selective readings of religious scriptures are based on their true desires? What if all of their pathetic attempts to fellate the rich, even if they crap on them, are based in their world view?

My point is that the behavior of southern working-class whites is far easier to understand (and model) if we assume that it is the external manifestations of their mental world.

And this brings us to the question about how to fix that problem. The conventional liberal view is that more education and exposure to a more cosmopolitan world will somehow make those subhumans less so. However many real world indices suggest that education or exposure to a better way does not make them less subhuman. There is however another path to achieve a final and lasting solution to this problem, especially if we are willing to consider the possibility that these subhumans (or their progeny) are functionally incapable of ever being human.

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?

Why the Snowden Leaks Matter: Evidence vs Assumptions

February 21, 2014 5 comments

It has been over 7 months since the first excerpts from the Snowden document haul were published in the some mainstream media outlets. Since then, many document excerpts and summaries detailing the tools, capacity and ambition of the NSA (and its collaborators) have been published. As some of you may also know, all of the leaks published to date account for less than 2-3% of what Snowden gave to Greenwald and others- which themselves are a subset of all the documents he took with him in the first place.

So far the reaction from the majority of mainstream media outlets has ranged from condemnation to deliberate ignorance and dismissiveness. While this course of action might have been effective at suppressing information about those leaks in the pre-internet world, we live in a very connected world where non-mainstream media is now far more influential than its mainstream counterpart. But do these leaks matter? and will they have any long-term effects on public policy and perhaps more importantly the perception of people about their governments?

One of the favorite technique of mainstream media ‘journalists’ to try and minimize the impact of each new leak involves saying- “But we already knew that.” But is that really true? To put it another way- is hard and objective evidence about the existence of something really the same as speculative assumptions about its existence? Let us look at a few examples in recent history to try and answer that question.

Let us start by comparing the impact of genocides committed under Hitler to the one(s) committed under Stalin. Why do we hear so much about the former while the later is comparatively obscure, even though more people died in the later. Some say that the notoriety of genocide(s) under Hitler is linked to the fact that Jews were disproportionately represented in the body count- and there is some truth to that statement. However the religious and ethnic identity of the victims is secondary to the main reason we know so much the Nazi genocide.

It comes down to how well each one was documented.

The Holocaust was very well documented- both by its perpetrators and those who eventually stopped it. We have hundreds of thousands of graphic photographs, thousands of hours of movie footage, extensive document archives and a mountain of eyewitness testimony about what really happened during the Holocaust. The same is not true about the genocide(s) under Stalin. While we do have some documents, photographs and eye witness testimony about the events that occurred during those genocides- the total amount of such evidence is a very small fraction of what we have about the Holocaust.

The lack of extensive evidence makes the genocide(s) under Stalin feel substantially less “real” than the very well documented Holocaust- even though more people died in the former.

The “realness” of something we do not have personal knowledge or experience about is directly proportional to the amount of available first, and third, party evidence. This is also why the Armenian Genocide, Japanese war crimes and Mao’s great famine are not as well known as they otherwise would have been.

My point is that definitive evidence of something matters far more than vague assumptions about its existence, especially when such knowledge or information guides an appropriate response.

What do you think? Comments?

Why has Social Pressure not Increased Fertility Rates in Asian Countries?

February 12, 2014 20 comments

Few will dispute the idea that Asian societies and cultures have always used high levels of social pressure to sustain themselves even if doing so resulted in high levels of poverty, unhappiness, misery and early death for most of their members. Before we go further, let me remind you that I am not claiming other cultures and civilizations were (or are) significantly better in that respect. Indeed, I have noted in numerous previous posts that all cultures, nations and civilizations are ponzi schemes. Having said that, it is rather obvious that east-asian cultures are (and always have been) especially good at being ponzi schemes.

Between their worship of, and deference to, “tradition” and a profound unwillingness to change unless such change is forced upon them- it is clear that those cultures are interested in perpetuating bad dynamic equilibriums rather than move to better ones. Yet for thousands of years they were able to sustain this self-inflicted hell largely because of high rates of fertility (aka disposable suckers). And once again, non-asian cultures and societies were not much better in that regard.

A lot have changed in the last hundred, and especially the last sixty, years. For one, we have seen voluntary global reductions in fertility rates to the extent that many countries now have barely replacement to below replacement rates of fertility. While the growth and spread of education, mores and technology had their role in this change, we have still largely ignored one of the most important questions surrounding this change. Why are so many people not interested in having kids at all or just having one or two? I believe that the answer lies in the fact that human existence under the prevailing socio-economic systems is (and always has been) highly dystopic. But that is a topic for another post or discussion.

There is however a related question that is fairly specific to east-asian cultures and countries. As I have said before- the ponzi scheme of “civilization” requires a naive and youth heavy demographic profile to persist for extended periods of time. This is especially true of the societies that systemically enforce cultural autism to survive. Now factor in the effect of a sharp reduction in the number of naive suckers caused by a serious and persistent global decline in rates of east-asian fertility. How would systems whose very existence depended on a constant and large supply of naive suckers react to a serious shortfall in fuel?

Let me pose that question in another way- Why are asian societies and cultures who are so good at enforcing self-destructive behavior among their members through social pressure unable to make them provide more fuel.. I mean kids.. for the ponzi scheme? Why is social pressure to enforce self-destructive behavior incapable of making them breed more?

There are those who will say that the large and sustained decline in east-asian fertility is a logical response to overcrowding or poverty. Some will say that it has to do with living in high stress societies which may be partially true. But none of that stopped them from having tons of kids in previous eras, did it? So why now? What changed? Some readers might say that westernization or feminism has made women less willing to have kids and there is something to that argument. However the fertility rates in east-asian countries are low even in those countries where women are not expected to work after marriage- such as Japan.

So what is going on? Why are countries with huge levels of social group-think and pressure unable to make their subjects.. I mean members.. have more kids? Why can’t societies who can browbeat their members in doing anything else not make them have more kids? It is certainly not for lack of trying.

What do you think? Comments?

Two Proxies for Determining the Actual Level of Knowledge

February 9, 2014 3 comments

We have all seen and heard tons of “experts” engage in public demonstrations of their supposed deep understanding about some area of knowledge. We have also seen many examples where the subsequent course of events have clearly demonstrated that they were wrong. Indeed, many “experts” try to normalize their past blunders by claiming that making mistakes is the only way science and knowledge can progress. While that may be partially true, these “experts” almost always forget that concept when criticizing the ideas of those who are not part of their social circle, academic “pedigree” or skin color. My point is that any person who is called, or considered to be, an “expert” is almost always a con-artist who has been especially successful in evading scrutiny.

But that leaves us with a peculiar problem. How do we separate quality knowledge from speculation, lies and bullshit. This is especially problematic as many “experts” hide their incompetence behind degrees from supposedly “prestigious” institutions, social positions, supposed hyper-specialization, arcane language and sophistry. So how do we know who is lying and how much? Well, I have given this issue some thought and come up with two easy to use, fast and highly accurate proxies to help you cut through the web of lies, sophistry, deceit and bullshit.

Proxy 1: The number of plausible theories about something is inversely proportional to the actual understanding about that thing or phenomena.

Prior to the microbial theory of infectious diseases, people believed that such illnesses were caused by everything from divine wrath, evil spirits, bad karma, poisonous air to laziness and insolence. It did not help that all of those theories did sound equally plausible as none of them was capable of explaining observable reality. Contrast that situation to the present day, when pretty much everybody understands that infectious diseases are caused by microbes. Moreover, the association between a particular type of pathogenic microorganism and an illness can always be verified by a variety of experimental techniques that stand up to scrutiny.

The same cannot however be said about many chronic non-infectious diseases. It is therefore no surprise that “experts” routinely come up with new, recycled and mutually contradictory theories about the etiology of diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Coronary Artery Disease. Even worse, the most widespread theories about the etiology of such diseases do not stand up to reality. For example- of all the cholesterol lowering medications approved to date, only the ‘statins’ demonstrate decent (but not great) efficacy at lowering mortality and morbidity from Coronary Artery Disease. Then there is the issue of why no approved drug for Type 2 diabetes has any significant positive effect on the excess risk of Myocardial Infarctions (heart attacks)- which is the single biggest cause of premature death in people with that disease.

And this brings us to the second proxy for determining the actual level of knowledge about a thing, phenomena or process.

Proxy 2: A good understanding of a thing, phenomena or process will quickly leads to multiple, robust and viable strategies for utilizing that knowledge.

Today new cars are not hard to design, build or repair because the principles and factors that govern their performance have been understood for over a century. Similarly complex new airlines can be designed and partially tested on computers because we have very good mathematical models and a solid theoretical understanding of the engineering (and other) principles behind each and every part that is used to build them. Nor are we surprised when companies like Intel or Samsung can keep on building every smaller, faster and better CPUs for personal computers and smartphones. The same is true about large-scale and important chemical process for synthesizing compounds like ammonia or plastics and polymers. Similarly even complex and finicky chemical process such as fractionating various varieties of crude oil have been mastered to the point where the biggest challenges with building new refineries are related to environmental concerns.

Now compare this level of competence and confidence to the hype surrounding high-efficiency “organic” solar cells, exotic “high-capacity” rechargeable batteries, controlled and energy positive nuclear fusion or new therapies based on human genomics. Or take all those breathless reports about exciting cancer therapies. Have there really been any new “paradigm-changing” shifts in that area of medicine for the last thirty years? Look at the survival rates for all types of cancers. Sure things are better than they were thirty years ago- but most of the changes have come from non-invasive diagnostic methods, less-horrible surgical interventions and more thoughtful use of older drug in combination.

In summary, the two best proxies for determining the actual level of knowledge come down to how well we can explain observable reality and use that knowledge for our benefit. Anything else is lies, scams and sophistry.

What do you think? Comments?

How the Institutions of an Established Ideology Speed Up its Demise

January 27, 2014 7 comments

An accelerating loss of trust in the objectivity and competence of secular and credentialed “experts” is one of the defining features of our age. People, especially those with more than a basic level of education, have increasingly stopped believing in the competence and abilities of these so-called “experts” like they used to in the “good old days”. While the ivy-league and ox-bridge educated priest-charlatans of today would want you to believe that this is somehow a bad thing, a look at the real world strongly suggests otherwise.

The last decade has seen numerous high-visibility examples of “experts” from various fields dispensing advice that was either plain wrong, maliciously incorrect or as a way to cover up their lack of real understanding of the problems. These high-visibility examples have occurred in areas as diverse as medical research and economics, demonstrating that the problem of experts who are either wrong, lying or misleading is not confined to a few fields. However the visible decay in public trust of experts seen in the last ten years is only a continuation of a trend that started a couple of decades before.

Why did people start losing their trust in secular experts?

To better understand how secular elitist charlatans started losing their authority, let us take a look at an earlier but similar process that led to the loss of traditional religious authority. Though some of you might find it hard to believe it, religion was once the preeminent source of social authority. Most people in the past actually lived their lives according to some interpretation of a series of supposedly divine revelation received by some guy they never met. They did so inspite of any objective evidence that it made their lives safer, better or even more tolerable. While the reasons they did that are interesting in their own right, the more relevant question is- Why did traditional religious authority experience such a steep decline in last one hundred years after reigning supreme for the previous few thousand years?

In my opinion, it comes down to two things. Firstly, traditional regions could not compete with the material goodies delivered by secular ideologies. Praying to some dude who supposedly died for your “sins (whatever than means) does not deliver well heated houses, surplus food, better public health or radio and TV. It is therefore not surprising that “experts” associated with traditional religious ideologies were increasingly seen as obsolete and impotent, especially in comparison to their secular counterparts. But loss of relevance, by itself, was not the death-blow for the authority of traditional religious experts. It was another set of issues that truly sealed their fate and I believe that those same issues are responsible for the ongoing authority loss of secular experts.

But what are ideologies, anyway?

Well.. all ideologies are confidence scams based on creating and propagating simplified and somewhat plausible models of reality for the sole purpose of enriching a few at the cost of many. The creators, propagators and beneficiaries of ideologies have no clue about reality- nor do they have any interest in trying to find out more. They simply use the desire of others to understand reality to enrich themselves, not unlike parasites that use the life force of the host to benefit themselves- often to the detriment of the host. All ideologies are spread and kept alive through misrepresentations, exaggerations, outright lies, sophistry and manipulating others with the main purpose of extracting unearned compensation. Ideologies can however keep on going as long as they are not seriously challenged and there is a new supply of suckers (high birth and death rate).

What causes older ideologies to falter, fail and eventually vanish?

It comes down to actively, though unintentionally, repelling believers through repeated failed attempts at asserting control over the narrative. Let me explain this in a bit more detail. All successful new ideologies (cons), start out with enough doctrinal and ideological flexibility to successfully navigate the environment in which they were created. However their end game, building centralized extractive institutions, require doctrinal and ideological rigidity. Therefore ideological frameworks that started out as fairly flexible and open will transform into inflexible and closed institutions that maintain their power via fear, treachery and attempts at brain-washing. However doing so has little to no effect on the physical world. This leads to an increasing gap between the real world and the distorted model used by believers of an ideology, such that it is very obvious that the ideology is incorrect.

How do the defenders of a faith react to this increase in public dissatisfaction?

The short answer is that they double down, stick to their dogma even harder and defend it even more vociferously. The somewhat longer answer requires us to first understand who these defenders of the faith are and are not. Contrary to what many of you might believe- the biggest beneficiaries of any large scam are seldom its biggest public defenders or champions. Instead the defenders of faith, aka the priest-charlatan “expert” types, typically come from a less affluent (but still comfortable) strata of society. Most of them are smart, but insecure, social climbers who hope to use their public displays of loyalty to the elite as an entrance into that layer of society. Of course, they almost never succeed doing so but that topic belongs to a different discussion.

Getting back to our discussion- How do the reactions of institutional priest-charlatans end up killing the ideology that gives them legitimacy? It comes down to how they react to a progressively stream of bad news. Smart con-artists can usually cut their loss and move on to reinvent themselves. However, priest-charlatans, are not that clever. Moreover many have spent years and decades of their lives defending that ideology in the naive hope that it would facilitate their entry into the elite class.

Hence they stick to their guns and start mounting highly visible and vociferous defenses of their lost cause. Every small attack on them ends up being magnified, largely due to their increasingly desperate and ineffectual responses. Their institutions become increasingly intolerant of those members who display even moderate tendencies towards dissent or reform, and thus lose the very people who could have saved them from irrelevance through change or reform.

This is not to say that the reform and dissent angle is totally ignored by priest-charlatans. Indeed, they love to create and publicize non-functional versions of both in order to fool people. However the fakeness of official attempts at dissent and reform quickly become obvious and resulting in a further loss of image for the priest-charlatans. The downward spiral keeps on going until a competing ideology successfully displaces it from its position or the society it operates in becomes too dysfunctional to support the physical and human infrastructure necessary to keep it going. Secular ideologies displacing religious ones in the early 20th century was an example of the first scenario, the slow motion falling-apart we are witnessing is an example of the second.

What do you think? Comments?

Ice Age Sized Holes in the Case for Anthropogenic Climate Change

January 24, 2014 12 comments

The belief that human activities, especially of the type seen in industrial and post-industrial societies, are somehow responsible for “global climate change” previously known as “global warming” is an established article of faith among a significant percentage of the population in many countries. Hardly a day goes by without an article in some news outlet, mainstream or otherwise, proclaiming the discovery of yet another piece of evidence for anthropocentric climate change. While the intensity of the rhetoric has diminished somewhat since its last peak in 2006-2008, it is clear that the number of hardcore believers has not diminished.

While I am certainly not the first one to point it out- a lot of the rhetoric and beliefs associated the anthropogenic climate change believers are strikingly similar to traditional guilt-based religions such as Catholicism. Many aspects of this new belief system such as appeals to the authority of “approved” experts, secret knowledge that can only be understood by the initiated, persecution of dissenters or “climate change deniers”, constant talk about the dark and malevolent forces that want to make true believers stray from the righteous path are essentially identical to those seen in other traditional religious and secular belief systems.

However this post is not about how the environmental movement is a secular version of Catholicism- which it is. Instead, I am going to point out one obvious, but seldom discussed, problem with the idea that current levels of human activity are causing significant climate change.

What was responsible for the last few ice ages and the interglacial periods in between them?

As some of you might already know, the last 3 million years have witnessed a series of glacial events separated by interglacial events collectively known as Quaternary glaciation or Pleistocene glaciation. During this time period continental glaciers were repeatedly able to push to (and sometimes below) 40 degrees longitude in many parts of the world, including north america.

In addition, a zone of permafrost stretched southward from the edge of the glacial sheet, a few hundred kilometres in North America, and several hundred in Eurasia. Each glacial advance tied up huge volumes of water in continental ice sheets 1,500 to 3,000 metres (4,900–9,800 ft) thick, resulting in temporary sea level drops of 100 metres (300 ft) or more over the entire surface of the Earth. The effects of glaciation were global. Antarctica was ice-bound throughout the Pleistocene as well as the preceding Pliocene. The Andes were covered in the south by the Patagonian ice cap. There were glaciers in New Zealand and Tasmania. The current decaying glaciers of Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the Ruwenzori Range in east and central Africa were larger. Glaciers existed in the mountains of Ethiopia and to the west in the Atlas mountains.

But what does any of this have to do with anthropogenic climate change? Aren’t ice ages and interglacial periods a ‘natural’ phenomena? Didn’t most of them occur before anatomically modern humans evolved?

Well of course they are a ‘natural’ phenomena and that is precisely the problem. It also does not help that industrial civilization, did not exist during any of the ice ages or interglacial periods- other than the interglacial we are currently living in and which started about about 12-15k years ago. So what caused such large and relatively abrupt (on a geological time scale) changes in the earths climate? How do you go from an extended interglacial period of many tens of thousands of years to a fairly sustained glacial period of many tens of thousands of years and then back to another interglacial period?

What factors drove these massive global climate changes and more importantly- are those factors still relevant and active?

You might have heard about the Milankovitch cycles, but even they don’t fully explain the phenomena of Quaternary glaciation. There is also the issue of the various ice ages starting and ending at slightly different times in different parts of the world. For example- the second last glaciation cycle in N. America, the Illinoian (191-130 k years ago), does not run parallel to its equivalent in the British Isles, known as the Wolstonian (325k-130k years ago). While the last ice age started and ended at somewhat similar times throughout the world, it had its own warmer and colder periods- and this was likely the case for the earlier ones too. My point is that even climatic events as large and prolonged as global ice ages do not display high levels of uniformity, stability or predictability.

And this brings us to the fundamental problem with modeling any large, complex, poorly understood and adaptive system. How can you model the primary and secondary effects of slight changes to one parameter (a slight increase in atmospheric CO2 effects) when the dynamics of the underlying system components are poorly understood. Let me explain that with a simpler analogy. Can you confidently measure the effects of drinking an extra cup of tea or coffee per day on a large population, if you did not first have a good understanding of human physiology, society and lifestyles. And would an extra cup of tea or coffee per day have a statistically significant effect that could stand above the noise and fluctuations in the collected data?

So how can you confidently calculate the effect of small changes in one minor parameter on a semi-predictable and ever-changing baseline that is capable of far bigger variations than your cherished effect? To put it another way- can you really measure an effect if the baseline variations are much larger than the said effect?

What do you think? Comments?

Special People Are Not Special, Irreplaceable or Even Competent

January 14, 2014 19 comments

One of the more peculiar aspects of modern financial capitalism is its effect on the price of art. Today, it is not unheard for a painting by an artist who died a century ago to fetch many millions of dollars. While the effect of financial capitalism on art prices raises many questions, one of them is often ignored or seldom asked.

How can the works of a person who lived, and died, in near poverty many decades ago command millions of dollars today?

Proponents and supporters of capitalism, including its more virulent financial strain, never tire of telling others that capitalism rewards innovation and hard work. They also like to tell others that capitalism is a meritocracy or supports a system based in merit. But how do those belief interact with the prices for art by long dead artists?

Let us start by trying to first ask ourselves why artists like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pollock and Klimt never made a lot of money off their paintings when they were alive. I am not implying that all of them died in poverty or madness. But it is quite obvious that creators of art pieces that fetch over 100 million dollars in auctions today lived rather modestly or close to poverty.

The supporters of capitalism preach that the free market pays each person according to their worth. So how can the artwork of somebody who lived in near poverty like Van Gogh command over a hundred million dollars today. Why did he not receive a fraction of that sum (even inflation adjusted) in his lifetime? Why was his art unappreciated in his own time? Were the capitalist of that era unable to see the true value of his paintings? Also, capitalism believes that all people are principally motivated by the amount of money made during their lifetime. So how does paying over a hundred million dollars for artpieces many decades after the death of their impoverished creators encourage people to create great art?

But we are still not talking about the real elephant in the room. Why are the paintings of Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pollock and Klimt so expensive? What is the source of their value? Do they confer any superhuman power on its owners? Does owning them confer immortality? Do they even add 2 inches to the length of the owners penis? Can any the owners of these 100 million dollar-plus paintings even appreciate art? And what about paintings by contemporaries of these now-famous artists. How many of them fetch that sort of money? and why not? Were all their contemporaries unskilled or incompetent hacks?

Then there is the issue of art fakes. Why is an almost perfect copy of an multi-million artpiece by a skilled chinese artist worth close to nothing when compared to the original? Does the fact that the original was painted by van Gogh or Pollock imbue it with magical properties or a divine aura? and did Jackson Pollock even paint? And how come all these paintings never appreciate much as long as its creators are alive? My point is that the cost of a painting has no correlation to the skill, insight or creativity of the artist who created it.

So what peculiar rationale underlies the valuation of artwork?

Before we answer that question, let us look at a similar problem in the world of entertainment- specifically the money and fame achieved by a few actors, sportsmen, singers and other celebrities. Why do certain actors command millions of dollars while others who are equally good-looking and talented languish as extras for the rest of their lives? Why did some get the lucky breaks or roles that lead them to stardom? Was it competence or just dumb luck?

Why does somebody who plays in the NBA make so much more than an equally talented athlete in something like say high jumping? And what about those guys who for some reason or another just missed getting drafted by some NBA team? Were they really that untalented or just unlucky? Why do certain sports, such as cycling or golf, now attract much more money than they did a few decades ago? Why does cycling quickly through rural France entitle you to almost 100 million dollars over a decade? Or why does playing golf well let you make over 500 million dollars?

How does any of that benefit society? What about famous singers? Why are mediocre and manufactured singers like Katy Perry or Britney Spears in the same income range as far more talented ones like the late Freddy Mercury or even someone like Eminem? How do people like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian make millions off being famous for inserting empty wine bottles in their vagina and having rough sex with a black athlete respectively?

Clearly there is a massive disconnect between the value of what these so-called “special” people provide and their remuneration. What are we paying them for anyway? and who is really paying them and why?

But is this disconnect restricted to art and entertainment, or is it more pervasive? How do CEOs and the senior management of corporations make millions regardless of whether the company they are supposed to run well is making a profit or loss? Do they even understand the products or services provided by the corporations they benefit from? Or take professors and senior faculty at the supposedly prestigious ivy-league universities. How come massive increases in funding to these elites since the 1980s by depriving others of it has not yielded any real breakthroughs.

Sure.. we get lots of irreproducible research, exaggerated press releases, colorful brochures and magazines, polished presentations- but where are the breakthroughs. What about all those new generations of antibiotics, new drugs to treat common types of cancers with minimal side-effects, batteries with very high power densities they keep on promising? What about controlled energy-positive nuclear fusion? Where is all the stuff they have kept on promising for the last 30 years?

What about all the promises made by politicians? Did Bush43 fulfill any of the promises made to the idiots who voted him in twice? What about all the talk about hope and change by Obama? Would Clinton be seen differently if he had not been accidental beneficiary of a freak combination of geopolitical, economic and technological windfalls? Would we worse of if we elected chimpanzees and dogs to political office? Then there is the issue of bankers and other people involved in the higher echelons of the financial sector. Who gets those jobs and how? What do they do anyway? How hard is it to make lots of money when you make it irrespective of whether your clients lose or make money?

Here is my take on all of this.. Human societies (whether they are feudal, capitalistic or communist) are basically giant stagnant ponds that support the growth of liars, fakers, con-artists and other assorted parasites. Special people are just those parasites who got especially lucky and successful by scamming, manipulating and extorting others and hiding from the consequences- not unlike many parasitic protozoa and worms. However this problem cannot be fixed, at least not easily, since the very existence of large stagnant ponds creates opportunities for parasites to evolve and perfect their craft. One of only two ways to fix this problem to any significant extent involves changing the very nature of human societies, either by force or accident. Another way, is to permanently drain the stagnant ponds, even if doing so kills everything else in it.

What do you think? Comments?

You are the Most Important Person in the Universe

January 10, 2014 11 comments

Here is a thought experiment to help you rethink your long-held beliefs about the nature of reality and purpose of life.

Would the death of every human on this planet within two months of your death matter to you?

I am certainly not the first person to ask such a question or try to answer it. However, I am probably one of the very few who is trying to do so without the pretense of authority, certainty, metaphysics, rhetoric, sophism, solipsism or appeals to tradition. As you will see, even attempting to answer this question honestly will help you see the world around you in a very different light.

To better understand the issues posed in the main question, let us divide it into two parts.

Question 1: Who or what is “you”? and perhaps more importantly- who or what is not “you”?

Question 2: Does the existence of a large system matter without a sentient observer?

Let us try to answer the first question by first scrutinizing popular ideas about what the self is made up of. As many of you might already know, most traditional religious belief systems believe that the self is made up of a mysterious substance known as the “soul”. A few traditional religious belief systems (some interpretations of Buddhism) take a different approach by trying to deny the existence of the self by calling it an illusion using sophistic arguments.

Most modern secular belief systems, on the other hand, largely agree that whatever is commonly understood as the self resides in the brain. But they can’t seem to agree on what it is actually made up of beyond some hand-waving about neuronal networks, prior experiences, memories etc.

While we cannot be certain about the real nature of “you” or self, it appears to be linked to certain patterns of brain activity that can be modified and affected by past experiences. Additional requirement for the self to exist include a critical level of system-wide brain activity integration and ability to process feedback from interactions with the environment.

Here is an allegory that might help you understand my view on this issue. You are probably aware that computers loaded with the same operating system and containing the same chipsets almost always end up as very different machines after a year or two of active use. But why? Well.. it comes down to what happens to a given computer once a person starts using it. Every new action by the user (from data storage and creation, software installations and upgrades to hardware upgrades) will continuously alter the “personality”, “appearance” and “behavior” of a given machine such that two computers from the same batch will almost never be identical to each other after as little as a few weeks of use.

Each machine will develop its own unique “persona” which is a summation of data on the hard drives, data loaded into the RAM upon bootup (and during normal usage) plus the behavior of the operating system in combination with all other software on that particular machine. While you can clone and transfer the contents of the hard drive to another machine, you can almost never recreate the same user experience or persona on another machine- even on one with identical hardware.

The self is a lot like the unique user experience, behavior and abilities of a computer that has been used for a few months.

But why do we spend so much effort trying to define the self? Don’t other life-forms on earth (from bacteria to plants and other animals) go on living, reproducing and evolving without displaying any strong evidence for having selves or the biological hardware to host them? Why do humans care about something that is nothing more than an ephemeral phenomena dependent on information exchange among the underlying biological hardware components?

It comes down to how humans interact with the world around them.

All organisms on earth, except humans and perhaps apes and dolphins, act via reflex or instinct. This is not to say that they cannot think or solve problems logically. But they do so without a detailed mental model of the world around them. Humans, on the other hand, interact with the external world based on their internal mental model of it. They will do so even if the internal world model is obviously faulty- which is why we have cults, religions and ideologies.

But what does any of this have to do with each self being the most important person in the universe?

To answer this question, let us conduct another series of thought experiments. Imagine that there is a rock, with a mass of a few tons, floating somewhere in intergalactic space. Now imagine that this rock is in a region of space that is especially empty and essentially free of any electromagnetic radiation or gravitational fields. How would an observer know about the existence of something that does not interact with the rest of the universe in any measurable way. Something that does not interact with the rest of the universe does not exist even if it exists.

Now turn this idea around and ask yourself- If the ephemeral self ceases to exist, does the continued existence of rest of the universe matter even if it continues to exist? Let us take that question even further and ask ourselves whether the existence of a universe without sentient entities (biological or otherwise) matter even if said universe lasted forever. Without an observer capable of building a mental model of the universe, isn’t the existence of that physical system immaterial.

The point I am trying to make is that the self of a person, aka the “you” in you, is the most important part of a person.

However it is also the most perishable part of a person in addition to being not cloneable. Your genetic legacy is not “you” and neither are your relatives or members of any group that you supposedly belong to. Their continued survival is relevant only as far as enabling or facilitating the survival of your own self. There is therefore no reason to give a fuck about the continued survival of anyone else, especially if doing so would impair the survival of your self. Similarly there is no point in being concerned about how others might remember you after your death.

It is about being realistic about the nature of the self and the rest of the universe.

What do you think? Comments?


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