It is no secret that my views on human beings as a species have been pretty negative for a long time. I have also made it clear, on at least one previous occasion, that my views are not the result of disappointment and therefore are not typically misanthropic. I tend to see things as they are, rather than as they are supposed or expected to be. As regular readers also know, more than a few of my previous posts have been about the apparent inconsistencies in widely held views about the human mind and observed human behaviors. In a few of those posts, I have explicitly suggested that most human beings are largely driven by the desire to cheat, screw over, damage, hurt and kill others- even if does not confer any measurable advantage to them. While I have my own theories on what drives this almost uniquely human urge, the current post will talk about another aspect of this phenomena- its ubiquity. I will also talk a bit about why this urge will almost inevitably result in human extinction.
Let us start with a recent news-piece about how officials in the Pyrenees are considering how to curb the sexual appetite of Pyros the bear to give his rivals a chance to mate. This news-piece also reminded me of another similar one from a few months ago- Danish zoo that killed Marius the giraffe puts down four lions. While reading both of them makes you wonder about the world view and belief systems of the “officials” in question, almost nobody seems to be asking the most important question- How is interference in the lives of wild animals based on questionable beliefs rational? As you will soon see, the generalized form of this question is intimately connected to what I am going to talk about in the rest of this post.
But before we go any further, let us first be clear about my views on the treatment of animals. While I am against cruelty towards animals, I am not against eating meat or killing animals that are (directly or indirectly) dangerous to human beings. Though I am against the horrible conditions prevalent in the factory farming of animals- especially in north america, I am not against the concept of raising and killing animals for food, as long as it is done in a way that causes minimal pain and suffering to the animals in question. Nor am I against the hunting animals, as long as it is for obtaining food or protecting oneself.
And this brings me to another facet of the problematic relationship between humans and other animals. Large-scale trophy hunting of animals, especially large mammals, was once a very popular pursuit. It reached its peak in the 1840-1914 time period and was responsible for the near extinction of many large mammalian species. Curiously, neither food nor security was the main reason behind such large-scale trophy hunting. So what was it about? Some might say that hunting large animals is about displaying masculine prowess. While that was partially true in the era before long-ranged rifled guns became commonplace, it is really hard to argue that the ability to safely kill an animal from 200 meters with an accurate rifle is somehow linked to masculine prowess. The same questions could also be asked about commercial whaling or clubbing seals by the tens of thousands for fur. So what was all this large-scale animal killing really about? Could it be the act of killing others for no rational reason is more pleasurable than is commonly understood?
Let us now turn our attention to pets. Why do humans have pets? Why do people constantly try to anthropomorphize their pets? Now some of you might say that most humans do infact care about other animals, especially those species that are kept as pets. But is that really true? If that were true why do humans kill so many of the pet animals who cannot find a human owner? Is mass killing of animal pets that cannot find human owners really about their welfare, or is it about something else? And why do humans spend that much time, money and effort to castrate pets, feed them, anthropomorphize them and then try to make them live like humans than the animals they are? On a related note, why were circus acts with animals once so popular? What is the entertainment value of watching lions, tiger and elephants jump through hoops or sit on tables? Why do people go to see animal trick shows at places like Sea World? What about zoos? What pleasure do humans derive from creating subservient animals and then observing their subservience?
Moving on to how human beings behave towards each other.. Why was overt slavery so common in previous eras, even if the slave-owners could not make a worthwhile financial profit from the labors of their slaves? Why go through the trouble of obtaining and abusing people as slaves when the same amount of work could be willingly and enthusiastically done by economically marginalized members of your own group. Why use slaves when there was no shortage of poor and desperate people? Why did rich people of previous eras prefer to have slaves over poorly paid employees? What was the real distinction between slaves and poor people? Does this have anything to do with how humans interact with animals? Could it be that human enjoy having , using, abusing others as slaves rather than taking the most rational way out and hiring people to do a given job?
Then there is the question of money, or more specifically why some people accumulate money beyond any practical ability to spend ever spend it. In a previous series of posts, I had put forth the idea that a few people accumulate money to impoverish everyone else than make their own lives better. Do you really think billionaires want to uplift social morality, educational standards or support LIEbertarian policies because they want to help their “fellow” human beings? Maybe making lost of money is not about showing others that you are better than them. Maybe it is really about willful destruction of the lives of people they do not even know in person. Or consider all institutional and corporate hierarchies. What if they are really about abusing and screwing other others rather than anything related to the supposed function of those institutions? What if bureaucracy is not really about making institutions work, but creating the groundwork for finding creative ways to fuck over other people- especially those you don’t even know. And why are priests of all religions more concerned with disrupting the sexual lives of others than their so-called “god” or public welfare?
The way women see, interact with and behave towards men is another example of this pattern. Why are so many fat white suburban women concerned about prostitution? Why do they want men to jump through all sorts of hoops for a slim chance of having sex with mediocre women? Why are they so concerned about misogyny? Why do ugly middle-aged hags want to be told that they are beautiful? Why complain about guys who treat them well? Why are most divorces initiated by middle-aged women past their physical prime? Why look down on male sexual desire while building your lifestyle on it? I could go on and on, but my point is that the attitude of women towards men is substantially more adversarial than can be explained via anything that even remotely resembles simple competition. It is a much better fit for something that I like to call- maliciousness for its own sake.
Many readers might have, by now, recognized a common thread running through all the above-mentioned examples of human behavior. They all clearly a demonstrate a deep-seated and widespread human tendency to be deceitful, cruel, abusive and murderous for reasons that have almost nothing to with material or monetary gain. It is as if most human beings are actively driven a unscratchable itch to hurt, abuse, enslave and kill others even if they stand to gain very little from it. Human beings as a species will spend their own time, effort and resources to hurt other living creatures just for the joy of doing so.
But why is any of this important? Haven’t human beings being like this for thousands of years? Well.. the simple answer is technology. Previously this particular human tendency was completely contained by technological limitations. People with pre-industrial and early-industrial age technology simply could not do much damage beyond their immediate vicinity. Even large-scale wars, genocides and conquests were moderated by the hard technological limitations. But that is no longer so.. and the (recognized or unrecognized) ability to fuck up the world of humans is real. I also believe that such an event is far more likely to occur as a series of unintentional coincidences, and reactions to them, than anything that is deliberately engineered. This behavioral tendency is also going to be the reason why humans (in their current form) will never become a space-faring species. Travelling between stars, you see, requires energy sources and technologies that would would let a single person kill every other human on the planet. You can be very sure that the development of such technology will result in the extinction of human beings before it is used to make a single starship.
What do you think? Comments?
Almost two weeks have passed since the Isla Vista Killings, and it seems that the “popular” views about Elliot Rodger fall into two distinct, but not mutualy exclusive, categories. Some say he was misogynist, an issue which I have previously written about, and then are others who say that he was mentally ill.
But was he mentally ill?
Here is the short version of my answer- Elliot Rodger was not mentally ill, by any honest and rational definition of the concept of mental illness. Some of you might say.. “but how can you be so sure, you are not a medical board certified psychiatrist”. To this my answer is- maybe the problem begins with using medical board certified psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness.
Before we go into that issue- let us first define the concept of illness, as applicable to any type of illness or disease. What do we really mean when we use words like ‘illness’ or ‘disease’? And what does being ‘healthy’ imply? If you think hard enough about it, ‘health’ or ‘illness’ are about optimal functioning of one of more organ systems in the body. They are about how all parts of the body are behaving, not what caused that condition. Let me explain that point a bit further, since it has relevance to the Elliot Roger saga.
Accidentally burning yourself while cooking or breaking a bone while playing sports is not a disease or illness- even though the result of those physical insults can be treated as such. Similarly you can get a fever in response to some viral infection, bacterial infection or even a non-infectious cause such as some types of lymphomas. On the other hand, even a so-called ‘natural’ phenomena like growing old (senescence) can be classified as a disease, rather than something that is actually natural like growing up (maturation). My point is that diseases and illness are best defined as a fairly continuous, if sometimes slow, self-sustained downward spiral of organ and body function.
But what is the relevance of any of this to defining mental illness or diseases. Well.. it has to so with what can be considered a mental illness and what cannot. For example- hearing disembodied voices that tell you to kill others or consistently experiencing visual hallucinations is not compatible with normal brain function. Nor is obsessive compulsive behavior that the person implicitly recognizes as irrational. On the other hand- feeling very sad after the death of your child or being depressed in the aftermath of a large adverse life event or after being diagnosed with a terminal illness is, for the lack of a better term, normal or physiological. Similarly being sexually attracted to others of your own sex (homosexuality) is not a mental illness- even though it was considered as such by psychiatry until the 1970s.
When we start talking about Elliot Rodger and mental illness, it is necessary to first determine if his worldview was grounded in measurable reality and whether his shyness was a response to that reality.
Based on his manifesto and YouTube videos, it is clear that Elliot saw himself as a victim of the circumstances of his birth. To be more precise, he thought that his social life would have much better if he was white and had richer parents. I , for one, think that he was absolutely correct about both those factors. It does not take a genius to figure out being a white male (as opposed to a half-asian one) and/or being richer in the very affluent parts of coastal south California would have made him far more socially acceptable and desirable. Heck, even being a black or hispanic male is better than being an asian or half-asian male in SoCal- as far as social desirability is concerned. Now this is almost totally about popular perception rather than objective reality, but people (including girls) make their decisions based on popular perceptions- not objective reality. His assessment of his situation, and predicament, was therefore quite accurate.
Elliot also wrote a lot about being ignored, bullied and put down as a kid- both in school and at home. His behavioral problems started after his still married parents moved to California and got divorced within a couple of years. It is also important to note that the peculiar post-divorce custodial arrangements, his father’s remarriage, his father’s busy schedule, his stepmother’s contempt and his mother losing interest in him after the divorce were not conducive to feeling loved, wanted or secure. While his parents did make sure that he had a financially comfortable lifestyle and upbringing- it is clear that they had both abandoned him. The bully-based culture of the american school system did not make things any better and may have directly contributed to his extreme shyness and aversion towards interacting with new people. In other words, his insecurity and shyness were largely a rational response to his experiences, surroundings and condition.
Similarly, neither his manifesto or YouTube videos show any sign of irrational thinking or grandiose expectations. His manifesto in particular is very well written, factually accurate and accurately captures what he was feeling. Nor were the expectations or desires expressed in it or the videos odd. It seems that he wanted one, or at the most a few serial girlfriends, who were pretty and loved him. He was not asking for sex with hundreds or thousands of women, nor did he see himself as a guy who could get all the pussy he wanted. His wants and desires were, if anything, pretty standard for a guy in his age-group.
Now some of you might say- “but, but.. didn’t the doctor prescribe him some anti-psychotic drug which he did not take”. Well.. if you use that logic, then you also have to believe that all those anti-depressants prescribed to people with mild reactive depression, Ritalin to boys with “ADHD”, and anti-psychotics prescribed to people with PTSD and atypical depression-like symptoms are based in evidence-based medicine. Here is a hint- they are not! It is about physicians trying to show that they are doing something- even if that something is useless or actively harmful.
In my opinion, blaming Elliot Roger’s murder spree on misogyny or mental illness are excuses for people to avoid talking about the real social issues that led him to do what he ultimately did. In an earlier era, we would have blamed his actions on witchcraft, wizardry or devil worship.
What do you think? Comments?
One of the important, though largely ignored, changes in the last thirty years involves the increasing degree to which societies have begun conflating credentials with actual ability and competence. This trend is now at all levels of society from who gets hired and promoted at some mediocre corporation to who can run for elected office such as the presidency.
Here is a recent example: Can I get a job at SpaceX after graduating from a low-ranked engineering program? I have quoted the most important and relevant parts below.
I ran recruiting at SpaceX for almost 6 years; everything about how they recruit is part of the footprint myself and my team created – so hopefully you’ll find this input helpful, though it will only magnify the challenge that lies before you. SpaceX aggressively pursues top collegiate talent; but because the hiring bar (mandate per Elon) is top 1% of the human population – we focus on top ranked engineering programs because their strict acceptance requirements are a good prefilter and remove 90% of the bell curve, thereby automatically bringing us to about top 10% of the college population; making our haystack much smaller and thus easier to find the proverbial needles.
The rest of that answer is full of the usual crap that almost all of you must have encountered in any basic interaction with HR personal in pretty much every single corporation. FYI- this particular piece caught my attention because I know a thing or two about rocket engine and launcher technology etc.
Here is what you should know: Modern rocket engine and launcher technology was mostly developed and perfected between 1939 and late-1970s. There has been no breakthrough in the area of chemical rocket engine (fuel or mechanics) in the last forty years. SpaceX is basically trying to build what both the Russians and the Americans perfected over four decades ago. The business model of SpaceX can be best summarized as building relatively inexpensive medium-large LOX-kerosene fueled rocket launchers and accessories in the USA.
The funny wrinkle in their vision of low-cost rocketry is that the ESA, RFSA and the CNSA already offer dollars-per-kg rates that are comparable to those promised by SpaceX.
I should also point out that ESA, the RFSA and its soviet-era predecessor, the CNSA and ISRO were able to develop to develop all that technology and hardware without hiring ivy-league graduates. There is also the troublesome question of why would you want to hire so called “top level” talent to copy 40-year old technology. Well.. actually that is not quite true. SpaceX currently does not even have the technology found in older russian LOX/Kerosene engines such as the RD-180, which itself is a half-sized version the 1970s-era RD-170.
So what is going on? Why can’t SpaceX achieve what the Russians did without much fanfare (and electronic computers) four decades ago? Is it the lack of resources? Is it the lack of government help- both technical and financial? Or is it a basic conflict between their corporate ideology and reality? In my opinion, the problem is largely due to the unbridgeable gap between corporate thinking and reality. Let me explain..
American corporations have for the last few decades been increasingly run by managers, lawyers and other assorted CONartists. The people who make decisions, policy and control money in american corporations have therefore little or no understanding of either the underlying technologies or what it takes to makes things work in the real world. They are mentally incapable of grasping the world that lies beyond PowerPoint presentations, Excel sheets, frequent meetings, committees and subcommittees, buzzwords and endless political scheming.
But what does any of this have to do with the inability of american companies to even properly copy 40-year old technology?
Well.. it comes down to who they hire. People who do not understand the technology behind the products made by the corporations they lead try to cover up their ignorance by going for impressive sounding names, brands and ideas. They therefore hire people who graduated from institution with impressive sounding names and believe that doing so will magically result in some new product or breakthrough. So, why does it not work like that? Why are the graduates of ivy-league and other “prestigious” institutions almost always inferior to their more “common” counterparts at actual innovation or even just getting things done?
Let me answer that question by posing another question- Who is admitted into “prestigious” educational institutions and on what criteria? Here is my answer.. Such institutions admit people who are 1] good at taking tests 2] good at self promotion and 3] good at social interactions. Do you see the problem? Well, if you did not.. here it is.
“Prestigious” universities discriminate against those with technical ability and competence.
Therefore the graduates of such institutions tend to be less than competent and yet simultaneously full of belief in their innate superiority. It does not help that the “prestige” of their institutions allows them to shift blame for their incompetence onto the people who work for them. They are mostly driven by fads, trends, buzzwords and delusions of grandeur rather than anything approximating reality. The end result of hiring a lot of such people is that your research and development programs don’t progress as expected and you cannot even replicate what the soviet space program achieved four decades ago.
But none of this matters to the people in charge of companies like SpaceX, because breaking out their familiar thinking patterns would shatter the fragile (yet internally self-consistent) bubble of lies they inhabit- and nobody wants to rock the boat.
What do you think? Comments?
Regular readers of my blog know that I have never seen CONservatives as anything other as subhumans who will willingly slave away to enrich their real exploiters. Rarely does a day go by when I do not come across one more example of why people of the CONservative mindset are subhuman tools. The remainder of this post is based upon one recent, and very clear instance, of why CONservatives are subhumans.
Edit: Here is a more recent post that explains the gist of my argument.
It all started with a recent article in Washington Post about the effect of rising university tutions on the ability to students to feed themselves- More college students battle hunger as education and living costs rise
When Paul Vaughn, an economics major, was in his third year at George Mason University, he decided to save money by moving off campus. He figured that skipping the basic campus meal plan, which costs $1,575 for 10 meals a week each semester, and buying his own food would make life easier. But he had trouble affording the $50 a week he had budgeted for food and ended up having to get two jobs to pay for it. “Almost as bad as the hunger itself is the stress that you’re going to be hungry,” said Vaughn, 22, now in his fifth year at GMU. “I spend more time thinking ‘How am I going to make some money so I can go eat?’ and I focus on that when I should be doing homework or studying for a test.”
To make a long story short, the above linked article talks about how rising tuition costs and decreasing (or harder to obtain) student financial aid causes food insecurity for university students who do not come from well-to-do backgrounds. As many of you might also be aware of, university tuition fees in the USA have consistently grown at rates far higher than gross inflation, wage growth or even health care for the last thirty years. It is noteworthy that this rise in fees has not translated into wage increases for the tenured university faculty or support staff. Indeed, universities are now heavily dependent on temporary sessional instructors who get paid only a fraction of what the shrinking tenured faculty makes. FYI- all of that extra income from ever-increasing tution fees is mostly spent on “wealth” management for the university, sports teams and athletic facilities, salaries for a greatly expanded administrative staff and other stuff that has no positive effect on the quality of teaching.
So what aspect of this article ticked me off. Well.. it was not so much the article, as some of the comments that made me write this post. Here are a few of the more typical examples.
ChrisMallory 4/15/2014 8:48 AM MDT
Have these special snowflakes never heard of Ramen noodles? Get them on sale at 10 packs for a dollar and eat like a king.
joepah 4/11/2014 12:28 PM MDT [Edited]
You can buy a 50 lb sack of rice for $25 and a 5 quart bottle of veg oil for $10. 25 lbs dried black bean $23. 1 lb salt $1. Not the most exciting food but provides all the fat and carbos to keep you going. Flour lard and veggies can be cheap. Give me $100 at month and I can feed a college student, IF they are willing to learn to cook.
ceemanjo 4/10/2014 6:48 PM MDT
I was hungry every night my first year of graduate school, lost fifteen pounds and I wasn’t fat to start with. After a while, I learned that you can live off potatoes and beans. It is truly amazing how little you can spend on food. Do you want to live like that your whole life? No. But it doesn’t hurt for a few years. I look back with some fondness to my struggling student days. I think we should lighten up about this. It is actually a good thing for college kids to be hungry sometimes, good learning experience. A good inexpensive college dish is ramen with cabbage and carrots. You can fill your stomach for less than a dollar. Ramen isn’t much good for you but it fills you up and the cabbage and carrots are. Potatoes are cheap.
Terrence Lorelei 4/10/2014 4:47 PM MDT
Well, something tells me that Mommy and Daddy (or, Mommy and Mommy) won’t really let their little darlings starve. Also, the ridiculous arguments about following the models of some silly Euro-weenie nation simply do not hold water; a nation of 330 MILLION in a free-enterprise system cannot be compared to a mini-nation of 10 million socialists, all living just above the poverty line due to government confiscation of most of their paychecks. But then again, the spoiled American under-25 crowd simply will never understand that they are NOT owed anything until they earn it.
CivilUser 4/10/2014 12:20 PM MDT
What happened to Ramen Noodles? They still sell those dont they? Thats what got me through school. That and a used rice cooker that always had rice cooking. Meal plans at my school were for the kids who had parents with money.
While comments such as the ones highlighted above are now becoming the minority opinion, they were until very recently the majority opinion. But why? It should be obvious to all but the brain-damaged that there are no real constraints in providing every single person on this planet more than enough to eat. The technology and resources to do so have existed for a few decades now. Nor is money a real issue, partly because it is not real to begin with and can be produced in unlimited amounts at a touch of a button. Furthermore, the USA spends infinitely more money on far more dubious causes such as “stealth” aircraft that cannot fly in the rain, nation “building” in the middle-east and spying on its loyal “citizens” (subjects).
It is clear that food insecurity in university students is not due to a real lack of food, money or social utility. It is about creating artificial scarcity.
But why? What is the rationality behind creating artificial scarcity? Well.. while there is no rationality behind creating artificial scarcity, there is certainly a logic- a CONservative one. As I have said before, CONservatives are almost exclusively motivated by making the lives of someone else, usually less fortunate than them, miserable. They are, as a group, incapable of relating to other humans and indeed any other life forms in any other way. CONservatives have no real interest, or belief, in concepts such as personal responsibility, frugality, utility, or honesty. Indeed, they only invoke such concepts to try to shame and handicap naive people. CONservatives are just a bunch of pathetic parasites who were not lucky or smart enough to make it into the big leagues. They spend the rest of their pathetic lives trying to win small personal victories by trying to screw over other people. The only real and lasting solution to this problem involves the sudden disappearance of all CONservatives and their progeny.
What do you think? Comments?
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 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?
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?
Many of my recent posts have been a bit too abstract, and therefore I am going to write one about something a bit more frivolous and contemporary. As most of you must have heard for a few months, Jimmy Fallon is going to replace Jay Leno as the host of ‘The Tonight Show‘ in the later half of February 2014. As most of you also know, this is not the first time NBC tried to replace Jay Leno as the host of that late night variety entertainment program.
I predict that this attempt to replace Jay Leno will also fail in stabilizing, let alone increasing, the viewership of that show over more than a few months.
But before telling you my hypothesis about why Jimmy Fallon will not succeed, let us take a quick look at the mindset behind this decision. The upper executive ranks of NBC, like almost every other large corporation in the western world, are populated by a very specific subcategory of people. They are, by and large, people who got into their current positions via some combination of luck, connections and bull-shitting. The vast majority of senior executives in large corporations have no interest or stake in the future of the institutions they control beyond the next quarterly financial report.
These executives will always receive excellent compensation- whether the corporation they run succeeds or fails. Nor is their incompetence a barrier to a similar or better job at another large corporation. They will also never enjoy the public recognition and popularity of the actors and other celebrities who are the public face of their corporation. The confluence of these conditions ensures that most of their professional decisions are rooted in personal likes, dislikes, fashions, power plays and other petty considerations typically associated with the inter-personal behavior of adolescent girls.
So what does any of this mean for the decision to get a new host for a late-night TV program?
Well.. it comes down to their justification for that action. The official version of the story is that Jay Leno’s tenure as the host of that show was just not giving them the kind of ratings they had once hoped for. They were also “concerned” that the median age of the average regular viewer of that show was in the mid- to late- 50s. But can either issue be fixed by replacing him with Jimmy Fallon or anybody else?
Let me ask you a simple question- When was the last time you sat through the majority, let alone an entire episode, of a late night talk show on one of the big networks? I have not done that in almost ten years and I can bet that many of you are in the same boat. The growing popularity of programs on non-basic cable channels, the astronomical increase of searchable media on the internet, YouTube and its clones, NetFlix and other subscription services, mobile internet devices and social media platforms have pulled (and fragmented) the 40- and under crowd away from traditional TV programming. Consequently the only people regularly watching traditional TV programming are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Changing the host of a late night show to someone who is younger, “hipper” or more “web-savvy” does not address the fundamental limitations and handicaps of network TV programming. The big networks simply cannot keep up with their much faster and nimbler competitors in the great race for an ever-increasing number of eyeballs. This is not to say that network TV will die out anytime soon, but it is obvious that they will have to cater to an increasingly older and slowly shrinking audience. And this brings me to the main reason why Fallon will not be a successful replacement for Leno as the new host of ‘The Tonight Show’.
Jimmy Fallon simply has the wrong demographic and stylistic profile for most regular viewers of that show.
Jay Leno, at 63, is in the middle of the demographic that regularly watches his show. He is very relateable to most of his audience at multiple levels- from his physical appearance, comedic style, world view to the content of his program. Jimmy Fallon, at 39, is a full generation younger than Leno and has to try hard to be someone he is clearly not- and it shows!
A secondary factor working against Fallon is the strong desire of NBC to attract a younger crowd. I can bet that this desire will somehow translate into some focus-group and consultant driven alterations to the show format that will alienate the core viewership while failing to attract enough younger replacements- resulting in yet more of the same till the downward cycle eventually killing the show. Meanwhile the executives who made these disastrous decisions will have moved on to another corporation where they will do more of the same.
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?
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?