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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
As some of you might have heard by now, an Indian diplomat was recently arrested on charges of visa fraud and lying about payments to her housekeeper. While there are many newsworthy aspects of this case including how it is being handled and reported in both countries, the current post will focus on something that is being ignored by the mainstream media in both countries.
The public response of many in the indian-american community (1st and 2nd generation) to this case has exposed their almost comic willingness to support and justify anything that comes out of the mouth of a white person in a suit. Who knew there were so many brown house n***ers, gungadins and sepoys?
Note: Gungadins and sepoys are similar but not identical to house slaves. 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 sepoy on the other hand is just a mercenary who will abuse people who look like him to get paid by somebody with a white skin. The biggest gungadin (or more likely a sepoy) in this case might be the DA, Preet Bharara, himself. However we shall ignore him for the rest of this post and concentrate on some of the recent articles and opinion pieces posted by people of Indian descent in supposedly “respectable” western newspapers.
Exhibit # 1. Arresting the Indian diplomat was just. She isn’t the victim, her maid is by a bow-tie wearing coolie known as Ritwik Deo
Yet here’s the point most in India are missing: Khobragade isn’t the victim here, her maid is. Not one Indian politician, not one Indian media station highlighted the real story about paying your domestic help a mere $3.31 an hour (in a country where the minimum wage is $7.25 and the diplomat stated on official documents that she would pay the maid about $9.75 an hour).
What about the condition and pay of domestic help for consular staff of certain middle-eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia? Is he seriously trying to imply that the consulates and embassies of all other countries treat their domestic help any better? What about all those rich people in the UK or USA who routinely use illegal and underpaid nannies? Why are they not being prosecuted? What about all those upper middle-class professionals in California who employ “illegal” central american nannies and house help? Moving on..
Exhibit # 2. Having a Servant Is Not a Right by another coolie known as Ananya Bhattacharya.
Notwithstanding legitimate Indian concerns about whether American marshals used correct protocol in the way they treated a diplomat, the truth is that India is party to an exploitative system that needs to be scrutinized.
But what about scrutinizing all those white american families using “illegal” mexican labor and nannies? What about investigating the rich white people in NYC who do the same thing. Isn’t it odd that this coolie is also fixated on the behaviors of a visible minority while overlooking those very same behaviors in the majority. Is she seriously suggesting that the 10-20 million “illegal” mexican immigrants in the USA today are treated as well as whites? Is she suggesting that a country acquired by genocide and built upon the labor of slaves and exploited immigrants has any moral standing to lecture others about paying their maids?
Exhibit # 3. Why India is upset about Devyani Khobragade, and why it’s wrong by yet another coolie known as Swati Sharma.
India’s reaction is disappointing. The anti-corruption party in India is gaining incredible momentum — the party even unseated the ruling Congress party in the country’s capital, which was a huge victory. So why are Indians rallying for a privileged treatment of a diplomat? Why shouldn’t she be treated as a common criminal? In India, someone with power would rarely be apprehended for paying a servant a low wage. Actually, it’s laughable to think such a charge would even take place. But there was hope that a movement against corruption would change things.
Has even one major member of the Bush43 administration whose lie-based invasion of Iraq actions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis been prosecuted? Why not? Have any of the major players responsible for the 2008 economic crisis been jailed? Why not? How many bigwigs at large pharma companies have been jailed for the sale of useless, toxic and or sub-standard drugs in the USA? Why not.. especially since many of these frauds caused a lot of unnecessary deaths? Vioxx anyone? Remember that fungus-tainted steroid injection scandal that killed over 50 people a year or two ago? A country that has no appetite to prosecute, let alone jail, its rich and powerful has no business telling others to do so.
Do these house slaves, gungadins and sepoys still live in a world where people in other countries are not aware of ground realities in the USA? I guess they either do believe that or are cynical enough to pretend that it is so for their older white employers.
What do you think? Comments?
In a previous post on this topic, I had written about how the current anti-vaccination movement was one of the many negative outcomes of profit-driven medicine. Today I will talk about another factor behind the increasing reluctance of parents to trust “credentialed experts” or the “healthcare” system.
While almost all vaccines in current usage are remarkably safe, we have to acknowledge that they do cause severe adverse reactions or fatalities in a very small percentage of recipients. The actual numbers and percentages for such serious or fatal adverse reactions vary from one vaccine to another. For example- pertussis vaccines, even the acellular ones, do carry a higher risk of severe adverse reactions than those against diphtheria and tetanus. Similarly, live-virus based polio vaccines do rarely cause cases of polio through spontaneous mutation of the vaccine virus into its disease-causing sibling. While these outcomes are extremely rare (less than 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million) they do make the news. But they are, by themselves, not enough to make most people question the general safety of vaccines.
Moderately-serious adverse reactions do however pose a much bigger PR problem- largely because they are not that rare. They are also responsible for the bulk of vaccine-related events serious enough to require medical intervention. While almost never fatal, such adverse reactions often lead to a few days of hospitalization. They also create fearful and anxious parents who , unlike in previous eras, almost always have only one or two children. Moreover the reported incidence of such adverse reactions has gone up in the last 2-3 decades, perhaps mirroring a similar rise in rates of asthma and other mild auto-immune conditions (eczema, atophy etc) in children. To make matters even worse, these moderately-severe adverse reactions are often not vaccine specific
So how do physicians, the medical establishment and society deal with those negatively impacted by such occurrences?
The simple answer is – none of the above mentioned groups really care about those affected inspite of their loud public gestures and proclamations to the contrary.
Face it.. the majority of those who enter medical school do so for the money and prestige. They see patients as nothing more than opportunities to make more money. This is especially true in countries where physicians are highly compensated. Why would a person with a license to print a nice income stream care about those who suffered as a result of their actions? In any case, it is easier (and more profitable) to hide behind ass-covering peers, professional organisations and “official” guidelines than admit their role in causing harm- even if it was accidental.
This sophistic and adversarial mindset is even more obvious in the medical establishment. They are almost completely unwilling to accept the validity of any viewpoint, assessment or hypothesis which would contradict their official beliefs. As far as they are concerned, the universe exist to prove the validity of their beliefs- inspite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They also have a strong obsession with maintaining a public facade of consensus, unity and competence. In their mind, any criticisms of their beliefs IS heresy. They would rather blame harmed or dead people than admit their mistake or lack of knowledge- even if it was unintentional.
Society at large is no better. While it pays lip service to the idea of helping those in need or down on their luck- it almost never does so. Instead it channels its resources to those who already have more than they can possibly consume. It worships and adores those who steal from others. Society blames victims for their fate. It tries to minimize or mock the reality of their suffering and then try to exploit them even more. Now, we can label this behavior as “human nature” but let us be honest about what it really is- sociopathy. The behaviors and actions of impersonal and atomized human societies are identical to those typically ascribed to sociopaths.
And this brings us to one of the core beliefs driving modern opposition to vaccinations.
Would you trust somebody who has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to lie, break promises, cut corners, screw over other vulnerable people and put their economic gains over the lives of people who trusted them? Seriously.. would you?
If you would not trust such a person, why would you trust members of a profession that is more about making money and soothing their egos than helping the people they are supposed to help? Would you trust a group whose behavior and actions had more in common with a religious order than anything approaching reason? Lastly.. given what we routinely see around us in contemporary atomized societies – would you trust society?
What do you think? Comments?
Growing up, I was always a bit different.. OK.. a lot different. Most of it came down to how I perceived, or mentally modeled, the world around me. This alternate model the world in turn affected how I saw the actions and behaviors of other people around me.
Case in point- As a child, I was unable to understand why most people had such strong, yet almost always unreciprocated, obsessions about celebrities. I also found it odd that most people were so enthusiastic about belonging to groups or institutions that either did not care about them or cynically used them as slaves or worse. Similarly the ability of ideologies (religious and secular) to repeatedly attract millions or billions of faithful followers without delivering on their promises in an objectively verifiable manner made me question the ability of most people to think rationally.
In contrast to that, I never cared much about what people who were not helpful to me thought about me. I was also unable to obsess about the lives of sport-stars, musicians, actors or other “famous” people. I never felt the need to ‘truly’ belong to any groups or institutions. I just could not commit myself to any cause or ideology. That is not to say I was ignorant or oblivious of the world around me. I was very well-informed about what others thought about me and had a better understanding of current affairs, trivia and ideologies than pretty much anyone around me. Nor was I oblivious to the supposed benefits of group or institutional membership.
Yet I was unable to care about any of that stuff beyond the level necessary to be appear normal.
Some might see this as lack of drive, motivation, positive-thinking or any of the other fairy tales most people keep telling themselves. I, however, saw things differently. From my viewpoint, people who exhibited “mainstream” behavior were the real suckers and morons. But how did I come to this conclusion? and why did I reach it at a much younger age than most who eventually get there?
Well.. It comes to careful observations.
I realized early on, by looking at the lives of people around me, that being kind and helpful to people was almost never rewarded- especially on a quid-pro-quo basis. Now one can certainly extend this observation and decide to become ‘extra’ evil and manipulative, but maintaining minimal and very conditional connections to others is a far more effective and practical response to living in a generally unreciprocative world. Face it.. we live in societies where even ‘close’ relatives and friends are unlikely to help you in any substantial way. So what is the point of caring about, assisting or even spending time with them? Do you really think people spend all that time on FB, Twitter or watching TV because they are somehow magically addictive?
I simply understood this fact much earlier than most. It also helps to be born in an age where technology finally made it possible to reduce personal contact with useless or malevolent people without becoming too lonely.
Then there is the issue of how most people spend lots of time following the lives of “celebrities” or trying to somehow get into their inner circles. Even as a child, I could never understand why so many people worshiped movie stars or sportsmen. What is the point of caring so much about people you will almost never meet, let alone reciprocate it? But where does one draw the line between enjoying the performance of an actor or musician and going into the hero-worship or obsession mode? In my opinion, something like say.. trying to find more information or material by some performer on IMDB or YouTube, is about personal entertainment. However buying a product or service because some celebrity endorsed it or wearing a jersey to express support for some sports team clearly crosses the line into unrequited hero-worship.
My cynicism about group and institutional membership was also based on what I saw as a child. It was obvious to me, even then, that most members of groups or institutions never benefited from their commitment, effort or sacrifices for the “greater good” of those groups or institutions. In almost every single case, a small percentage of people at the top of those groupings took away almost all of the gains obtained through the hard work and sacrifices of their rank-and-file members. We can see this dynamic all around us in groups and institutions as diverse as non-profit organisations, small businesses, large corporations and universities to the armed forces of modern nation states. I would go so far as to say that the “normal” mode of operation for pretty much every single type human grouping or institution is identical to a ponzi scheme.
Let us now move on to the topic of religions, ideologies and other belief system. Once again, I was never able to understand how anybody could believe in something as ridiculous as a god that cared about human beings. I mean.. look around you. Do you see any evidence of a trans-human entity or entities that gives a damn about human, animal or any other kind of suffering or pain? Does believing in god improve the materiel quality of your life? Does it feed the hungry? Does it cure the sick? Does it make you a “better” human being? Does it address or correct obvious injustice? I could go on.. but you get the point- belief in god or gods does not achieve anything for true believers. It can however provide a cushy livelihood for priests and provide a justification for looting those who believe in other invisible sky-dudes or dudettes.
Secular religions, such as capitalism, provide another and more modern example of this phenomena. Why are those who slave for, yet never benefit from, capitalism its most ardent and vocal supporters? Why are people getting ass-fucked by the invisible hand of the “free market” often its biggest cheerleaders? Why are all those white knights who support feminism and defend the honor of women not getting laid? Conversely, why are those who support a return to traditional masculine values so eager for female approval, even if comes from a chubby and mentally unstable groupie?
So.. did you notice a common theme running through all of the examples mentioned in this post?
OK.. let me spell it out. In every single example, the majority of people seem to enthusiastically keep on doing something they “know” will benefit them- inspite of a wealth of evidence and repeated reminders that it won’t or is incapable of doing so. So what drives the majority to people to keep on doing something that does not work or cannot deliver on its promise? Are they all suffering from permanent brain damage? Or is something else behind this odd pattern of behavior?
I believe that the answer to this apparent paradox lies in understanding the nature of loyalty and its linkage to the human urge to hurt others even when doing so is not profitable.
I shall explore this issue in an upcoming post.
What do you think? Comments?
This post continues from the previous one in this series and exposes the very deep roots of human self-delusion about their real motivations. Let us start with a very topical example. We are now nearing the “official” start of the holiday season. It is therefore almost certain that you will encounter multiple requests to donate to some charity, food-bank or some organisation that claims to help the less fortunate. Some of you might even give some money or resources to such outfits, if only to make yourself feel “better”.
But have you ever wondered why charity is necessary in this day and age?
While that might sound like an odd question to many, it is probably one of the most important rational question people never ask themselves. Charity makes sense if we lived in an era of real scarcity or resource limitations. But do we live in such an era? Look around you.. Are we constrained by technology or resources in our ability to produce, store and distribute enough food? What about houses or automobiles? What about computers and other gadgets? What about medicines?
The resources and technology to provide a very good lifestyle to every single person on this earth have been around for the last 4-5 decades.
Why do we still have public drives to fill food-banks with semi-toxic crap that nobody wants to eat? Why do department stores sponsor food-bank drives yet routinely throw away much more food of far better quality? Would it not be more rational to just give away good food to those who cannot afford it? How does giving away food that will never be sold affect the profitability of the corporations that run department stores? It is not like we live in times where every woman had 8-9 kids. So what is going on?
A partial answer to this question can be found in understanding the true implications of a news item that recently garnered some attention on the intertubes. You might have read that Walmart was soliciting donations to a foodbank intended to feed its own employees. The slightly neglected part of this news story is that they were soliciting these donations from their own employees. Yes.. you heard that right! Walmart was trying to get its own slightly better-paid employees feed its not-so-well paid employees.
But why can’t Walmart pay its employees well enough to shop at their own stores? It is not as if they are running that corporation at a loss. Nor are the multi-billion dollar fortunes of “Walmart Heirs” in any imminent danger of diminishing. I should also add that their stock is not generally bought or held with expectations of high growth. And where does all that money they don’t pay their employees end up anyway? It is clearly not being recirculated in the general economy and is therefore a net loss to the system.
Walmart is clearly not behaving like the rational profit- and future- obsessed entity that shills.. I mean “economists”.. claim it (and other corporations) are. It is maximizing its very short-term gains through deception and manipulation even if doing so destroys its future customer base.
My point is that the operational model of Walmart, and every other corporation and most businesses, is almost identical to those of cancer cells and viruses. Yet they pretend to be the very embodiment of normality. But why, for whom and to what end? The first part of that question, the ‘why’, is the easiest to answer. They behave the way they do to keep on doing what they are doing- from parasitizing society to avoiding detection and removal. The answer to the next part, the ‘for whom’, is slightly less obvious. While the continued existence of corporations such as Walmart clearly benefits their major shareholders, being rich beyond a certain level lacks positive utility.. To put it another way- being a billionaire cannot make you incredibly handsome, wildly desirable by women (or men), ageless or immortal. And this brings us to the third part of that question- to what end?
Towards the end of my previous post in this series, I made two claims.
1] Human beings are predisposed to hurt others even if doing so is not profitable in anything but the short-term.
2] This predisposition is somehow connected to the human ability for self-delusion about their real intentions.
Let us try to explain the behavior of corporations and businesses, especially their owners and employees, through the viewpoints of these two claims.
How would you go about abusing, impoverishing and damaging others while still maintaining the self-delusion of being a decent, caring and honest human being. Well.. there are two ways. You could start an organisation that purports to provide a useful or important social service while consciously (or subconsciously) structuring it to achieve the opposite. Alternatively you could join an organisation that purports to provide a useful or important social service while consciously (or subconsciously) working to achieve the opposite while ignoring or denying the obvious. To put it another way- you could either become a leader, capitalist, owner.. or the enthusiastic follower, worker or drone. The later routes are easier and offer more plausible deniability.
My point is that pretty much all of what you consider as normal, from business models and corporate hierarchies to institutional structures, exist for the sole purpose of abusing, impoverishing, damaging and killing other people. Any real reform of these institutions, structures and hierarchies would remove their very purpose for existence and popularity.
In the next part of this series, I will explore the origins of the human urge to hurt others even when doing so is not profitable.
What do you think? Comments?
Towards the end of my previous post in this series, I had suggested that most human behavior and almost everything created by it (groups, societies and institutions) were driven by an irrational and overwhelming sadism despite of all claims to the contrary.
Have you considered the possibility that the primary intent behind almost all “normal” human interpersonal interaction is to somehow con, swindle, abuse, hurt, maim or kill the other party?
Now some of you might say.. “That is such a stupid idea. Why would people, especially the ‘smart ones’, devote their lives to screwing each other over than rein in their worse impulses and reach some sort of detente – if only to make their own lives better.” My answer to that question is- aren’t you assuming that humans are rational and logical rather than irrational and logical? There is a lot of evidence (link 1, link 2) that people will actively ignore opportunities to vastly improve their lives if doing so requires them to lighten up on screwing other people. This irrational sadism pervades all aspects of human interactions from those between parents and their kids, two (or more) long-term sexual partners, the smallest social group to the largest human organisations and societies.
It is as if all “normal” interactions between two or more humans were designed to deceive and screw over the more vulnerable and naive party or parties.
To be clear- I am not claiming that every single human being is like that. But it is very clear that most people are like that and have always been so. But why is it so? Well.. the full answer to the ‘why’ will take a couple of more posts because humans lie to themselves the most. We can however start down that path by going through a few examples of human behavior that are considered normal but are blatantly irrational. As I will show you in this and the next few posts in the series, a lot of human behavior is not what it seems to be.
Example 1: We have all read hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and comments about the unrealistic standards and qualifications demanded of men by average women. But why are average women so demanding in the first place? Why can’t they be more realistic about their expectations? The conventional answers to that question involve some version of hand waving about fragile egos, rank status, evolutionary psychology, cost of sperm versus egg and other assorted bullshit. But are any of them true? If any of them were true, how do you explain the fact that women become more bitchy, demanding and demeaning as they lose their looks through aging and having kids? Shouldn’t relative stability and/or a decrease in their market value make them less bitchy, demanding and demeaning? What does a woman in a financially secure situation and functional relationship with a guy really gain from being an abusive, insufferable and duplicitous cunt? and why is this behavior so universal?
A possible answer to that question can be found by looking at the effects of her behavior on those negatively impacted by it- specifically those who treat her well. But why would a person expend so much effort on screwing over their closest and most useful human contacts while simultaneously sucking up to people who detest them. As I will explain later on in this post, and series, understanding the reason underlying this behavior requires us to abandon a lot of what most people believe about human beings. Moving on.. here is another example.
Example 2: Have you ever noticed that devout followers of all religions and ideologies are very enthusiastic about spreading their version of the “good word”. But what is the point in getting more converts and believers of one particular collection of fairy tales. Why believe in a god if such an entity will not intervene on your behalf at a statistically significant level. Throughout human history- the lives of average people were almost equally miserable once you adjust for temporary booms caused by benefiting from genocides, conquests and other forms of looting of other groups. No divine entity has ever intervened to save people from famine, epidemics, conquests or genocides. Neither has such an entity ever helped people who were in physical or psychological pain.
Yet there is no shortage of people who desperately want to believe in some type of god and anything that even vaguely resembles religious doctrine. But why? One answer to that question can be obtained by observing what the most overtly faithful members of a religion focus on. Have you noticed that devout Christians talk a lot about the supposed inhumanity of abortion while ignoring or trivializing the quality of life of kids after they born. Such people also spend an inordinate amount of time trying to censor and interfere with the sexual lives of other people. But why? What do they gain from it? Or what about devout Muslims who get upset about alleged misrepresentations of their belief system by ‘infidels’ while ignoring the very real abuses, extreme inequality and poverty in countries where the sharia is enforced as law? Why are they so eager to fight for the cause of a religion that in many cases cannot even provide them a semi-decently compensated livelihood or sexual partner of the opposite sex? Could it be that all this religious or ideological zealotry is a cover for facilitating and normalizing the abuse of even weaker members of your own group. And this brings my next example.
Example 3: Academics and “credentialed” professionals provide yet another example of this almost universal human urge to hurt others for reasons that are clearly not rational. Academics talk a lot about fairness, humanitarianism, merit, personal and scientific integrity. But how do they treat their graduate students and post-doctoral fellows? When is the last time you saw an academic trying to raise the salary of people who work under them? How many care about the future prospects of those who slave away for them? Why not? Credentialed professionals such as physicians provide yet another example of this issue. How many physicians are interested in at least trying to give their patients the most optimal treatments for their ailments. Now compare that to the number who will prescribe newer drugs regardless of their efficacy, treat ailments to maximize their income or minimize their work. It is rather obvious that a majority of physicians perceive their patients as money-making annoyances and most would kill their patients if the financial incentive to do so was greater than not killing them.
So what are the common themes running through all these examples?
Well.. in all of the above stated examples, “conventional” or “normal” behavior patterns are clearly the less profitable ones in all time frames except possibly the very short-term. Also, so-called “smarts” do not have any measurable effect on this intrinsic sadism as a barely literate bible- or koran- thumping zealot is as likely to engage in it as the supposedly “smart” and secular academic or physician. The sex of the person also appears to have no significant influence on the willingness to engage in irrational sadistic behavior.
We are left with the disquieting possibility that there is something fundamental about human beings that predisposes most of them to hurt others even if when it is not profitable for them.
So what drives most people to consistently act in this manner under a variety of circumstances? Instinct alone cannot explain such complex and persistent behavior patterns in self-aware creatures with a rudimentary ability to reason. I believe that the answer lies in the human predisposition for self-delusion and will explain it in the next part of this series.
What do you think? Comments?
Here is a two part documentary on the effects of emasculation in developed countries. I am not sure if some of you have already the documentary, but do watch it if you have not already done so.
and here is part II
What do you think? 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?