Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Economics’ Category

Factors Underlying the Worldwide Decline in East-Asian Fertility

March 17, 2013 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Comments?

What RooshV Does Not Understand About Human Organizations

March 9, 2013 6 comments

I recently saw a post by RooshV in which he wrote about how communication technology based surveillance, data mining etc would somehow create a revolution- and disintegration- proof conformist society, rather like a lite version of 1984. As it turns out, I had considered these issues and written about them in some of my older posts.

My overall conclusion was that attempting to pull of such a thing with any degree of sincerity would mark the end of viable society. Note my choice of words- ‘viable’ not ‘optimal’, ‘functional’ or ‘dysfunctional’.

Let us begin by looking at the topic through the prism of history. The idea of creating conformist societies in which everyone spied on each other and snitched for an extra helping of food or other favors has been tried since the beginning of ‘civilization’. So how have these past attempts fared? Have they delivered stability or have their leaders (or elites) been able to retain power over any significant length of time?

The simple answer to the above stated questions is that any serious attempt to pull of such things almost inevitably causes the destruction of that system- typically after 1 generation of economic stasis. If you could engineer social and regime stability through repression, snitching and surveillance- the USSR would still be a viable entity and East Germany with its extensive snitch-based spy apparatus would still be around. China would not have to spend all those resources trying to patrol the internet within its borders nor would North Korea be so concerned about keeping up its ‘image’ with the home audience.

But have you wondered why oppression-based societies wither, fail and come apart? They certainly do not have to worry about the opinions or ideas of heretics and they can use any combination of hard and soft force to put down internal dissent and rebellion. They can even control news about important event and restrict what people can say in the public and often in the private. So why do they progressively become more fragile and dysfunctional?

The answer to that question is not found in the goodness of the human soul (if something like that even exists) or the human need for freedom. The increasing levels of fragility, dysfunction and ultimate failure of all oppression-based regimes are largely due to a set of factors and dynamics that escapes paid ‘intellectual’ shills.. I mean ‘famous’ thinkers and ‘great’ philosophers.

Oppression-based societies fail because of the nature, staffing, growth and evolution of organisations which implement those policies. These issues (or systemic defects) are fundamentally uncorrectable because they are part and parcel of the structure, functioning and evolution of any hierarchical organisation. I should add that human attitudes and tendencies also contribute to the trajectory, stages and end results of societal failure in oppression-based societies.

The first clue to what can go wrong in oppression-based societies comes from understanding the actual working dynamics of mature information gathering and intelligence services. Irrespective of the degree of automation and computerization used for intelligence gathering or processing, these organisations are shaped by the limitations of those who work for them and fund them.

So what kind of person ends up working for such organisations?

Contrary to what most of you think- almost no person employed by these organisations is a genius, a creative thinker or even highly motivated. The stifling bureaucracy, political intrigue, pettiness and hierarchy inherent within such organisations does a very good of excluding the truly intelligent, competent and capable. The average ‘successful’ employee in these organisations is therefore almost always a moderately clever but supremely mediocre and risk-averse person whose sole purpose in life is to get a steady pay, obtain a few promotions and then retire with a nice pension. They have no real motivation to do, or even think about, anything beyond what is necessary to achieve their personal goals.

Even the adventurous and enthusiastic ones quickly realize that it is easier, safer and much more profitable to sit in an air-conditioned office in some government building than stick to their youthful dreams of adventure and fame.The upper levels are no better and usually staffed by people with considerable expertise in self-promotion, back-stabbing and saving their own asses. While they try to convey an image of competence, reach and omnipotence; it is rather clear that they are anything but what they claim to be.

It is also important to understand that large organisations are hostile and impersonal environments in which careers are linked to largely worthless and frequently counterproductive metrics of performance. The success or failure of people in organisations depends on their ability to game metrics or create new ones to justify their job or acquire more power and resources. Since we still pay people to be busy or at least appear so, the ‘successful’ ones try their best to do so- even if that causes more problems than it solves. It is therefore no wonder that people who are paid to solve problems create more of them and increase the cost of solving them. The people paid to suppress dissent and monitor others therefore have a lot of incentives to create or imagine more problems than try to do their job.

So what happens when deteriorating external conditions make those who fund such organisations put their foot down and make them actually do what they claim to be able to do?

The short answer is that it exposes their incompetence and inability to perform their jobs, but the longer answer is far more interesting and revealing. It begins with understanding why the rulers or elite in any society would want to increase oppression inspite of the well-known risks of doing that to their own futures. Elites demand more oppression at home when they sense that they cannot maintain their current or expected lifestyles and positions through ‘normal’ levels of exploitation. This usually occurs after the existing socio-economic paradigm has started to fail in a visible manner, often for reasons beyond human control. The first instinctive response to reductions in economic rent and wealth transfer is simply ramping up plain oppression and propaganda and try to make everybody else work harder for less. The ‘simple intensification’ approach will however quickly reach a plateau necessitating the next step- namely extensive and systemic repression. However doing so starts a chain of events which ultimately causes that society to come apart.

It starts with an expansion of intelligence gathering, interpretation and law enforcement capabilities which in turn requires the recruitment of more personnel to work in those organisations. While filling these positions is usually easy, especially in times of general economic stasis and decline, increased recruitment in these areas creates a few problems. Firstly, it is necessary to create a constant stream of more work to justify the continued existence of these new positions. Therefore these agencies become increasingly obsessed with seeing and creating problems where none exist. Secondly, the extra powers and perks given those who work in these organisations become addictive and often result in more power grabs and abuses. These changes are not ignored by the rest of society and the organisations which benefit from them are increasingly seen as vile, extortive, corrupt, incompetent and harmful- even by those who used to support them.

The rapid loss of public trust and respect is however not a concern for these organisations as they simply don’t care about the opinions of ‘other’ people. Moreover, there is no shortage of people who want to work for them, due in large part to the generally bleak prospects of employment outside the “spying-law-order” complex. The continued increase in employment in this sector does however worsen the general social dysfunction and loss of trust in the overall system mentioned in the previous paragraph. At this stage, the routine operations of these organisations starts to adversely affect the normal functioning of other institutions and organisations which are critical to the viability of that society.

Eventually this dysfunction results in an abrupt and unpredictable (but inevitable) cascading failure of the core networks, facilities and institutions which keep that society viable. It certainly does not help that almost none in such a society has any desire or interest in resurrecting the previous status quo. While large and hierarchical organisations are very capable of exploiting orderly societies, they are unable to do so once those societies lose order for more than a few months.

What do you think? Comments?

Societies, not Individuals, are Mentally Ill

February 17, 2013 17 comments

The huge increase in diagnosed psychiatric illnesses since WW2, but especially during the last 30-40 years, has been one of defining characteristics of our era. The “conventional wisdom” of “experts” attributes this increase in diagnosed mental illness to advances in the field of psychiatry, better access to medical care and advances in drug therapy of mental illnesses.

But is that really the case? What if the very nature and structure of contemporary societies is not quite right? What if the rules, expectations and mores of societies and the institutions within them are bizarre, sociopathic and irrational?

Let me start by talking about one of the more sensational categories of “crime” in our era- spree or mass shootings. We can certainly pretend that such crimes are the result of evil and mentally sick people having ‘assault’ rifles and ‘semi-auto’ handguns. Many morons seem to think that guns (especially the ‘scary’ looking ones) have powers similar to the one ring of Sauron in LOTR. But if that were the case why didn’t we see spree shootings in previous eras? How many of the returning and war-scarred veterans of WW1, WW2, Korea or even Vietnam went about shooting up movie theaters or 1st grade classes? How many went to a university and killed over 30 people with handguns alone? So what changed? Why didn’t any of them go Holmes, Lanza or Cho? what about going Breivik?

How do smart men from very middle-class backgrounds with no worthwhile criminal record end up killing with more enthusiasm, planning, skill and ruthlessness than trained killers?

The conventional explanation by “experts” is that all of these spree shooters were mentally ill. They blame everything from adolescence-onset schizophrenia to autism and major depressive illnesses to ‘explain’ these occurrences. What is a few more epicycles between fellow Ptolemians? But why didn’t we have such events in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or even the early 1980s? Those decades had more young adults as well as much higher rates of ‘crime’ and murder. Surely there must have been equivalents of Homes, Lanza, Cho and Breivik in those years.. but for some odd reason spree shootings of the type that occur nowadays were almost unheard of? So what changed? What are spree shooters mad about anyway? Isn’t it odd that they kill people based on the symbolism and social connections rather than personal grudges?

We have also seen a huge rise in the number of children, especially boys, diagnosed with various mental illnesses and behavioral conditions such as ADHD. But is that increase based on any real change in human biology within 30 years? How much of this increase in diagnosed mental illnesses and conditions in children driven by profit and changing artificial definitions of “normal” behavior. What is ‘normal’ behavior anyway? How much of what was once considered ‘normal’ childhood behavior has been deemed “un-normal” by committees of ‘experts’, administrators, legislators and ‘concerned citizens’? and to what end? Does it help those displaying “un-normal” behavior or improve their lives? Does society at large benefit from the ‘treatment’ of “un-normal” behavior? If neither the “affected” persons or general society benefit from ‘classification’ and ‘treatment’- who does?

The rise in the rates of diagnosed depressive illnesses is another intriguing part of our era. While the diagnosed rates of other major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, mania or bipolar disorders have also increased over the last 60-70 years, the increase in diagnosis for depression has been nothing short of phenomenal. While the availability of reasonably safe (but not that efficacious) drugs has made treating depression very profitable, there is more to the story than a simple profit motive. What makes so many people, especially women, seek medical attention for depression? There is more to this increase than profit, fashion or attention-seeking behavior. Most people who end up taking anti-depressants don’t just go out and get them to party.

So what is happening? Is there something increasingly wrong with human mind? Or is contemporary ‘society’ mentally ill?

I tend to favor the later explanation as there is considerable historical evidence that human ‘societies’ are more likely to be weird, unhinged and deranged. Societies through the ages have encouraged its members to believe in all sorts of crap from omnipresent anthropomorphic gods and divine revelations to the infallibility of the marketplace. We have religions based on the stated beliefs of people who claim to have heard the word of ‘gods’ and ‘angels’ or felt their presence. Societies encourage and support religious rituals which look awfully similar to obsessive-compulsive disorders. Belief in witchcraft, black magic, spells and curses has been rather universal throughout human cultures. Societies have fought long and vicious wars, enslaved or killed millions of other people or repeatedly shot themselves in the foot because of beliefs that are indistinguishable from the manifestations of serious mental illness.

Maybe the problem with contemporary society and its institutions is that they are almost totally divorced from what human beings really are and what we truly desire. While our standards of material living are better than any other time in human history, the same cannot be said about the rules, expectations and mores of societies and the institutions within them. They enforce scarcity of resources and opportunities even though technology has ushered in an era of plenty. They try hard to degrade, humiliate and screw over an ever-increasing number and percentage of people- even though there is no rational reason to do so. They try to destroy and cripple the personal lives and relationships of those who would have otherwise supported the system- once again, for reasons that are not rational. They try to destroy the lives of an ever-increasing number of people over utterly trivial and farcical reasons- even though they don’t stand to gain from such actions.

The funny thing is that, after doing all of the above, contemporary society and its institutions expect people to happily and willingly go along with the increasingly bizarre and irrational demands placed upon them by sociopathic morons. They believe that the choice and information matrix of people today is the same as it was 30-40 years ago. They seem to believe in their ability to keep on dishing ever-increasing amounts of the same shit forever and without consequences.

Maybe it is contemporary society and its ‘trusted’ institutions, not individuals, that are mentally ill.

What do you think? Comments?

The Similarities Between Corporate Drones and Biological Viruses

February 15, 2013 12 comments

I have previously written about how present-day corporate drones are rather similar to those employed by the Third Reich. Let us take that idea one step forward and ask ourselves..

What class of biological organisms do corporate drones most resemble?

Some of you might say that corporate drones resemble classical multi- or uni- cellular parasites, that is not quite correct. Every species of parasitic worms, flukes and protozoas evolved from organisms that were not parasitic and have many cousin species that are either free-living, commensal or symbiotic. They themselves got into the ‘parasite’ lifestyle because a series of events based in probability (mutations) and chance (opportunity). Their parasitism is therefore a side-effect of evolution and not the defining characteristic of their biological potential. Even every species of pathogenic bacteria have dozens if not hundreds of harmless cousin species who mind their own business.

One class of organisms, however, came into being (and have remained) obligate parasites. Viruses, of all types, are incapable of reproducing without misusing the biochemical machinery of a host cell- be it a bacteria or a human.

The obligatory parasitic nature of viruses is also the defining characteristic of their biological and evolutionary potential.

While all biological organisms want to reproduce themselves, viruses alone exist for the sole purpose of reproduction. Viruses cannot be anything other than or beyond viruses. They are fundamentally incapable of a free- living, commensal or symbiotic existence. Viruses cannot evolve into anything beyond another strain or species of viruses, unlike cell-based organisms which can and do evolve into something beyond their current selves.

Consequently viruses have no true utility to the rest of biological life on earth. Can you think of a single cellular species that would miss their existence? Would the process of biological evolution on earth be crippled if every single virus on earth just disappeared? Viruses exist because they can, not because they must or should. Do humans miss the disappearance of the smallpox virus or the polio virus? Do cattle miss the rinderpest virus?

Unlike all other type of biological lifeforms, the continued existence of all viral types and species is a net negative.

Now let us turn our attention to corporate drones. What are their defining features? How are they different and distinct from other human beings? Are corporate drones really human beings?

The most obvious and distinguishing feature of corporate drones is their willingness and efficiency in carrying out tasks without regard to the outcome or utility. They either lack the ability to comprehend the consequences of their actions or seem to willfully ignore them. The sole purpose of their existence seems to be having kids with a similar mentality. They do not have aspirations beyond survival and promotion in the group they supposedly ‘belong’ to. Nor do they exhibit the type of spontaneous intellectual curiosity and imagination characteristic of even the most ‘primitive’ human beings.

Though similar to sociopaths in many respects, they lack the superficial charm, exciting lives and intellectual abilities that characterize sociopaths – especially the successful ones. Corporate drones are blander than bland. Their personal lives are so predictable and mundane that calling them ‘beige’ is an insult to that color. They are almost never involved in making, building or creating anything that is necessary, useful or innovative. They are also never involved in any innovative activity- be it social, cultural or intellectual. They even lack the position and guile to steal from others like the rich.

Their lack of intelligence, talent, creativity and lack of human decency does not however translate into unemployment. Indeed, the converse is true as they are favored henchmen for high-flying sociopaths. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every single person in middle to upper management, administration, human resources, accounting etc in private corporations or public organisations is a corporate drone. So are lawyers, law enforcement and a significant number of people in the educational and medical professions. They are the people who make it possible for the rich and powerful to be overtly sociopathic and screw over the rest of society. They man (and increasingly woman) the systems that make oppressive, dystopic and plain fucked-up societies possible. Hitler, Stalin or Mao would have been nothing without these creatures, nor would your favorite ‘self-made’ and ‘honest’ billionaire be what they are without them.

It is important to realize that their continued existence is not beneficial to anybody except their own viral selves. Corporate drones also lack the ability to change significantly or evolve beyond their pathetic, bland and toxic selves. They only persist because their kids reach reproductive age and have more kids- thereby perpetuating these human equivalents of biological viruses. But just like viruses, they can be made extinct.

What do you think? Comments?

So Why Aren’t the Rich and Well-Off Having Lots of Children?

January 30, 2013 34 comments

Throughout human history people have consistently tried to create ‘intellectual’ frameworks to justify their delusional and solipsistic beliefs. People seem to create and believe in such mental frameworks even when they damage, hurt and kill them. Religions, both traditional and secular, fall into that category as do all schools of philosophy and economics. Today I am going to talk about one of the more contemporary and more ‘secular’ sounding ‘intellectual’ framework used to explain the world- evolutionary psychology.

Before we go further, let us be clear about one thing. Evolution in all its forms (micro-, macro- as well as speciation) is very real and measurable. While we can certainly argue about the contribution of each sub-form of evolution to the overall process or its ability to arrive at ‘perfect’ solutions, the existence of the evolutionary process is not in question.

I however take an exception with using the idea of evolution, or a particular interpretation thereof, to justify delusional and solipsistic beliefs. Such perverse interpretations of the evolutionary process are especially common among greedy and subhuman who profess right-wing ideologies. Evolution inspired solipsistic beliefs such as the ‘survival of the fittest’ and eugenics have a long and close connection with who truly deserve a final solution. One of the more popular ‘intellectual’ justifications for ill-gotten wealth, prestige and power is that people who have them are somehow more superior, smarter or otherwise genetically better than those who were less lucky. I have attacked this idea at multiple levels in many of my previous articles and this is another one in that chain. So let us talk about evolutionary psychology especially as it concerns the mechanism through which these supposedly ‘superior’ genes spread and increase in populations- a kind of genetic Calvinism.

Given that the number of fertile progeny who reach reproductive age are the fundamental measure of success in biological evolution, let us look at the situation in contemporary societies. What are the defining characteristics of those who are having many kids today? and what about those who have fewer nor none?

If we ignore societies in the midst of civil wars or underdeveloped countries with poor life expectancy and high infant mortality, two trends dominate the demography of most contemporary societies. One- the majority of human beings live in countries where the median life expectancy is over 70 years. Two- the fertility rate in almost all countries, even those where woman had 7-9 kids barely a generation ago, is less than 3 kids per woman. However not every fertile woman in those countries have 2 or 3 kids, since an increasing number have one or none.

Some of you might see this change as merely a temporary blip in the great ‘celestial’ pattern. However an objective look at the evidence suggests otherwise. For one, there were never 7 billion plus humans alive on earth at once in an era where the whole world just happened to highly interconnected by trade and information and simultaneously technologically capable. To put it another way, we have never been here before. Contrast this to all the fiefdoms, kingdoms and empires of old which had considerable similarity to each other- even into the middle of the industrial revolution.

So, who is having more kids today? and who is having less on none? and why are they behaving that way? For starters the fertility rates among the ‘rich’ and ‘well-off’ are very low. Sure, you can find the occasional religious type who has many kids and grandkids or some attention-whore adopting kids from poverty-stricken countries. But they are just that.. the minority. The majority of people who had the (ill-gotten) financial resources to have as many kids as they wanted to are just not having them! In contrast to that, people with limited financial resources are still having kids. Why is that so?

Why aren’t the rich and well-off having lots of children?

The very low fertility of the rich and well-off is certainly not due to their altruism, decency or concern for the future of humanity. Indeed these people are some of the slimiest and most narcissistic sociopaths that have ever walked the face of the earth. Their obsession with making more money, gaining more status and abusing their power is in a class by itself. Given that CONservatives and LIEbertarians consider such people as the peak of human evolution, shouldn’t they be spreading their ‘awesome’ genes left and right? But are they? and why not?

Why does a mediocre black rapper have more kids than a well off surgeon or high-flying corporate lawyer? What about professors and scientists? How many kids does Bill Gates have? What about the guys who started Google? What about other billionaires? What about the bankers on wall street who spend every waking second thinking of new ways to fleece and fuck over humanity? Isn’t it odd that those with the resources to have tons of kids are either not interested in having them or end up with 1 or 2 kids after multiple rounds of fertility treatments? Are these people not able to comprehend evolution or the reality of their eventual mortality? What is going on?

Contrast this to the fecundity of even mediocre athletes, musicians, C-list celebrities or even your local drug dealer. Why do women want to have the kids of such men rather than educated professionals or filthy rich plutocrats? Surely, women are not dumb enough to overlook that having the kids of guys with money is a great way to live well. But women are increasingly choosing to be single mothers or have the kids of hot and popular guys while sticking some dweeby rich or well-off guy with the bill.

Why aren’t ‘high IQ’ and ‘noble ancestry’ genes making women wet and horny?

Some of you might blame ‘feminism’, ‘contraception’ and the ‘modern welfare state’ for this outcome. But are they really the major culprits behind the inability of rich and well-off men to make women wet? Would women get turned on by these guys if the situation was different? Were they ever turned on by such men?

Could it be that humans prefer to have sex and kids with other human beings rather than things that look and sometimes behave like humans?

What do you think? Comments?

Toxic Societies Will Always Shrink, Shrivel and Die Out

January 24, 2013 28 comments

One of the main set of problems which occupies the minds of, and causes frequent hand-wringing among, people in ‘developed’ countries goes something like this..

Why do ‘affluent’ and ‘developed’ societies shrink in numbers? Why is the fertility rate in ‘developed’ countries functionally sub-replacement? Why do financial incentives to have more kids not work? Why does increased levels of ‘wealth’ translate into people having far fewer or no kids?

There are those who believe that these behavioral changes are linked to people becoming more materialistic, secular and hedonistic. Others suggest that people are not having kids due to concern for the environment or other altruistic sounding reasons. Another group blames it on the cost of raising children and sees not having kids as a rational response to destruction of living standards due to following the cult of neo-liberalism.

But are any of these reasons real, large or widespread enough to account for what we see all over the world? While I do not deny that economic calculations and realities have an impact on fertility rates, they are at best a partial explanation. Countries with relatively stable living standards and decent prospects such as Germany, Sweden or Austria are not much better off that countries with decent but stagnant economies such as Japan or Italy. Furthermore, economically depressed countries such as Greece have very similar fertility rates to still booming countries such as South Korea or Taiwan. Culture can also be excluded from the list of major factors affecting fertility since Japanese culture has very little in common with any of the Italian sub-cultures which in turn has little in common with Swedish culture.

So how can we explain this drop in fertility to sub-replacement levels across a number of cultures and societies? While we could say that sub-replacement fertility in any given culture is due to its own unique set of circumstances and reasons, there are two problems with that type of explanation. Firstly, sub-replacement fertility can occur rather quickly (within a generation) in countries or regions that once had very high levels of fertility such as Mexico, Brazil, Iran and South India. Basic cultural assumptions and mindsets simply cannot change that fast, even if they really wanted to. Secondly, it is hard to ignore that the patterns of fertility change and their linkage to educational levels and occupational status is eerily similar across various countries and cultures.

So let me suggest another way of looking at this issue.

Have you ever though about what motivates most people to work towards a better future? Is it the threat of bad consequences or a reasonable chance at happiness? Unless you are a CONservative, LIEbertarian or otherwise delusional, it is obvious that it is the desire for happiness that drives people to work towards a better future. Sure, you can make most people work like slaves for a generation or two, but then things stop working and society slowly but surely comes apart. You simply cannot get people to care about the future through overt or covert force.

Could it be that the structure of social structure and organization in ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ countries make people feel unhappy.

Here is a question- When is the last time you felt happy and optimistic about the future for more than a few hours? I am not asking you about the last time you acted as if you felt like that, but rather when you actually felt like that. So why is it so hard for people to feel happy in societies that are by measures very safe, secure and easy places to live in? Hardly anyone starves in developed countries (except maybe certain parts of the USA), goes with reasonably decent medical care (again.. expect parts of the USA) or lives very precariously (once again.. except the USA).

So why do high levels of personal security and relative affluence not translate into happiness?

There are those CONservative morons and LIEbertarian subhumans who say that people are desensitized to happiness by having all their basic physical needs met and only people who don’t have stuff can appreciate getting stuff. However I have yet to see CONservatives or LIEbertarians who want to willingly become poor so that they can happiness over every small gain in their life. Clearly these scumbags are preaching something they don’t believe in, let alone practice. Let us now consider an explanation that most people find too embarrassing and unpleasant to think about, let alone admit.

Maybe ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ societies are built on and enforce rules, mores and behaviors that are for the lack of a better word- unnatural.

To be clear- I am not talking about ‘naturalness’ or ‘unnaturalness’ based on whether hunter-gatherers did it or not. Nor am I defining ‘naturalness’ based on any continuity with older cultural traditions. My definitions of both are based upon whether the rules, mores and behaviors in any given society are in direct conflict with what human beings really are- irrespective of race, culture, level of technology or any similar externality.

Almost every single human being desires certain things and experiences beyond immediate survival and safety. We desire human company, sex with other people, entertainment and doing other things to feel more happier. A person who cannot indulge in these activities is an incomplete and unhappy person at best, regardless of how safe and affluent the rest of their existence may be. Did you notice a common thread that runs through all of the things I just described? They require people to think, choose and act on their own.

Therefore any society that tries to suppress human agency will be filled with people who are perpetually unhappy, regardless of how comfortable and materially well provided they are.

All ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ societies, without exception, are constantly involved in trying to suppress and subvert the human agency of people who live in them. While the precise mix of reasons behind doing that varies from one society to the other, the end results are rather similar and people just end up disconnecting from that society to the maximum extent possible. While most of them will go on living and pretending to be ‘normal’, deep down they just don’t care. In that respect people who live in rule and protocol-based societies from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden are very similar to those in Japan, Korea and Singapore or anglo- countries such as the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.

Suppressing and destroying human agency under the guise of ‘tradition’, ‘efficiency’, ‘conformity’ or ‘competition’ results in a system where almost nobody is happy or invested in the future viability of the system. People in such societies then try to act ‘normal’ when it is plainly obvious that their actions lead to rather abnormal outcomes.

You might have seen rich childless professionals striving to buy the biggest houses in the most expensive neighborhoods even though neither they nor anybody they care about or know can enjoy the fruits of their labors. Then there are people who attend multiple social events every week, routinely talk to hundreds of ‘friends’ and actively participate in society yet are incapable of basic trust in the person they live with- let alone those they call their ‘friends’. You also might have seen people who commute to work for almost 2 hours a day in large and expensive cars and SUVs just so they can live in a neighborhood filled with people who do the same. What about the physician or surgeon who makes half a million dollar an year only to spend most of their waking hours working and trying to extract more money from patients and insurance companies. Or the lawyers who spends the best decades of their lives trying to maximize their billable hours rather than enjoying life?

And what about the elaborate and worthless scams of European and East-Asian social etiquette. Do they make people happy or achieve anything worthwhile? Do they create societies that make people want to contribute to them? Is living you entire life as a passive-aggressive german (or canuck), an autistic swede, a deceptively rude french, a hatefully polite japanese or an insecure self-hating but obedient korean worth it? Even societies that are less socially rigid such as the USA are full of people who are openly phony and willing to stab their nearest and ‘dearest’ for small and temporary gains. These toxic and dysfunctional societies survived for a longish time only because they had a supply of new and naive suckers. Modern and effective methods of contraception put an end to that mode of survival and expansion.

We are therefore now observing and experiencing what should have occurred a long time ago- namely the shrinkage, shriveling and death of toxic societies.

what do you think? comments?

Would You Use A Doomsday Device?

January 17, 2013 33 comments

I often ask hypothetical, and semi-hypothetical, questions to make people see familiar situations from a new viewpoint. The question posed in this post is meant to help you see the true nature of an individuals connection to the rest of humanity. So here is goes..

Would you use a Doomsday Device (DD) if you had exclusive access to one?

Let us first consider the most important issue surrounding the use of such a device, namely that it will kill every human being on earth including the one who used it. There will be no human survivors left to enjoy any excess of material goods after the event nor will it be possible to rebuild human civilization in any shape of form. It will mark the end of humans as a species and nobody will care, remember or commemorate your achievement.

So, would you still use it? or would you use the threat of the device to achieve personal fame, power, wealth or some ‘higher’ goal such as changing human nature for the better?

While I don’t claim to know, with a high degree of certainty, what you guys would do- I have a strong suspicion that most would try to use the threat of such a device as leverage to achieve personal goals. In short, I doubt it will be deliberately used as most humans are too interested in continuing their pathetic existence on earth.

I, however, would use it without hesitation and here is why..

1] My views on humanity have changed over the years. There was a time when I would have entertained the hope that humans beings might voluntarily change for the better. It has however become increasingly clear to me that human beings are incapable of voluntarily changing even when doing so is highly beneficial to them. Most people seem to prefer plodding around in shit-filled pits rather than try to get out of them. They don’t even want to acknowledge the mere possibility of anything existing beyond their shit-filled pits.

While you can change group behaviors through fear, such changes will be temporary. They will likely disappear once the threat is gone or people find a way or ideology to continue living in their shit-filled pits. Furthermore, since humans beings are mortal even exclusive possession and access to the DD for the rest of your life would at best improve things for 3-6 decades after which things might start to fall back to previous state of affairs. Then there are more mundane problems such as maintaining exclusive control and access to the DD or monitoring the progress and effects of your reforms.

2] You could always use your exclusive access to the DD to obtain personal fame, power, wealth and get everything else that accompanies them. However that is a very mediocre use of such a capability. Warlords, kings, emperors and dictators throughout human history have obtained all of the above through some combination of dumb luck, extreme sociopathy or accident of birth. Even people like Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan can get almost all of that through little more than behaving like unstable and depraved attention-whores. Threatening to use a DD to attain public fame, make tons of money and fuck lots of hot groupies is a lot like hunting mice using a guided missile- certainly feasible but a massive overkill.

Moreover, maintaining exclusive control and access to the DD will (once again) occupy a considerable percentage of your time and mental efforts. Your situation under these circumstances would be rather similar to that of Gollum in LOTR, where his overwhelming desire to keep physical possession of the ‘one ring’ twists him into someone who cannot enjoy the true power of the ring. In my opinion, using a DD to get fame, power, wealth and sex is more trouble than it is worth.

Another possibility involves destroying the DD to prevent anyone else from using it. However anything that can be created once can also be created again. There is also nothing to stop the next person who gains control of such a device from either using or threatening the rest of humanity with it.

So far I have tried to show you why not using the DD or destroying it is less than optimal. So let us consider the ‘unthinkable’ option- using it.The principal objection to using the DD is that it would kill all humans including the person who activated it. But is death avoidable or optional in the first place? Even agelessness does not confer true immortality.

The real questions surrounding death therefore are ‘when’ and ‘how’. Linked to these two questions is another issue- namely the quality of life.

The answers to these questions depend upon on the amount of suffering and pain involved in living or dying. For example most people would prefer to die in their sleep or through some other relatively quick and painless means. Almost nobody wants to slowly die from painful terminal cancer or some other disease that leaves them invalid or bedridden. Similarly few people in good health and in a stable socio-economic situation are interested in dying. It is really about taking the path of least pain and suffering as far as the individual is concerned.

But does the survival of human beings as a species after your death matter?

The answer to that question lies in the nature of the relationship between the individual and society he or she lives in. Scenarios where the relationship between the individual and society are symbiotic and mutually beneficial do not typically cause a dying individual to wish for the death of the society he or she lives in. However the same is not true in scenarios where society is either uncaring, abusive or exploitative towards the individual. Individuals in such societies have either no interest in what happens to everyone else after their death or they actively wish for their destruction.

As I have said in many of my previous posts- it is painfully obvious to a large and rapidly increasing minority of people that we live in a society that is uncaring, abusive and downright exploitative. Now factor in the very high levels of social atomization, frequent betrayals in close relationships and fewer people having any kids. It does not take a genius to figure out that a significant minority of people today have little to no interest (or hope) in the continuation of humans as a species.

I therefore believe that the chances of a DD being used are much higher than most people are willing to themselves believe. Another factor that makes this scenario more probable is that throughout human history people lacked the technological means or opportunity to kill everyone else along with them. Today, that is no longer the case and such an outcome is within the realms of both technology and possibility. It is therefore really a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

What do you think? Comments?

Solutions That Sound Like Common Sense Are Usually Disingenuous: 1

January 3, 2013 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Comments?

Inspite of its Cheerleaders, the American Healthcare System is Crap

January 1, 2013 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Comments?

What the Mental Image of ‘God’ says about the Human Mind

December 4, 2012 6 comments

As many of you know, my model of the human mind and psyche is based on a rather negative view of human beings. There are those who consider my views to be excessively pessimistic, but the course of events usually vindicates my model. With this in mind, let me tackle something that is rarely talked about in ‘polite’ circles.

What does the mental image of ‘god/s’ say about the human mind- especially as to how humans really perceive, think and feel about the world around them.

While I am an atheist, of the agnostic variety, my knowledge about various religions and religious-type belief systems is almost always superior to those who claim to practice them. With this in mind, here are some of my observations about commonalities of all belief systems based in blind and unquestioning faith.

Religions and similar belief systems are disturbingly similar- irrespective of the era of their origin or ethnicity of the people who practice them. There is not much difference between believing in faiths based on a burning bush, Kolob, Gaia or the invisible hand of the market. In each case, the ‘faithful’ are believing in something that is based on hearsay rather than something which can be measured or quantified. Belief in “credentialed experts”, “upstanding members of society” or the integrity of any profession is also a religion unless the belief can be objectively measured and quantified. Even believing in something like the social contract becomes a religious belief- if you cannot see it in action. We can therefore say that uncritical and unquestioning belief in anything is a religion, especially if people are unwilling or unable to test its authenticity.

But what about the ‘god’ or ‘gods’ that form an important part of the base narrative of all religions? What does their image, as portrayed by those belief system, say about us?

Look at the creation myths of any religion. Most of them go something like this- ‘X’ decided to create the universe and he/she/they did it through some anthropomorphic process. Even those religious faiths which accept the possibility that the universe might have just come into being spend inordinate amounts of time explaining why or how ‘god/s’ shaped things after creation. Here is my question- If you were an all-powerful and immortal being, would you really create anything at all? But lets say you did- Why create one particular version if you can create all possible versions?

In my opinion, the involvement of ‘god/s’ in creation myths is driven by a human desire to justify the existence of the physical reality they inhabit. The rationality of any given explanation is largely irrelevant to its purpose. Which brings us to the next question- Why do humans require justification for the existence of something that can be measured and quantified? How many of you have seen ‘god/s’ and how many of you can see the sun and moon? Do you require faith to believe that fire is hot or ice is cold? So why are humans obsessed with having a firm set of beliefs about how the universe came into being, or who controls it? The lives of humans are rather mundane and pathetic compared to what exist beyond our immediate surroundings- even on earth. People are born, they ‘live’ and they die- just like every other living organism. So why make up outrageous tales about how the universe was created? What is the advantage in claiming that you know the creator/s or his/her/their will? Would you disbelief in any creation story destabilize the universe? Why defend your version of the tall tale against a competing tall tale?

It comes down to celebrity name dropping and elevating your status through such an association.

Believing in any creation myth is no different from saying that you are childhood friends with a famous or powerful person. The best part of this particular scam is that nobody can verify if your famous or powerful buddy actually exists- and you can keep on pulling the scam on gullible rubes until you start doubting your own story. Belief in invisible but powerful buddies is however just the beginning of an elaborate shakedown scam, as you will soon see.

One of the other hallmarks of religions is that those believe in them anoint themselves as the ‘chosen people’. Throughout history- everybody from Hawaiian Islanders, Arabs, Jews, Western Europeans to Indians and the Han Chinese have believed that they alone were the ‘chosen people’. But what is the whole point of believing that you are among the ‘chosen ones’ if you are not better off than ‘infidels’ who believe in another god who has apparently told them that they (not your group) are the chosen people. It seems very fundamentally irrational- doesn’t it? especially given that your all-powerful but suspiciously absent pal cannot beat up the other one’s all-powerful pal. Why would grown adults believe in such utter and obvious crap?

It comes down to creating a justification for scam, theft, treachery, rape and murder.

The easiest way to get more of any physical good is to take it from someone else. But doing that to other individuals in your group might cause a lot of problems. They might stop cooperating with you and even kill you in an unguarded moment. However doing that to people outside your group is relatively much easier to get away with. Plus other members will often join in and assist your ‘actions’. Who does not want a share of the loot- even if it is unfairly distributed? Belief in a different invisible all-powerful celebrity is just an excuse to do what you really want to do in the first place. It is therefore no coincidence that the ‘god/s’ in almost all mythological narratives are portrayed as doing thing that are arbitrary, obviously cruel, grossly unethical and sometimes just plain bizarre. Contradictions in religious texts or narratives should therefore be seen as the result of appending the older fairy tale to justify a new type of crime. Apparently rewriting old narratives to make all stories coherent and tie up the loose ends is really hard.

The image of ‘god/s’ in each religious belief systems is therefore really a projection of the deepest desires of those who profess faith in that particular system.

Will write more about this topic in a future post. What do you think? Comments?

The Basis of Legitimacy in Modern Democracies

November 6, 2012 5 comments

As many of you know, the quadrennial election for the presidency of the USA is on the 6th of November this year. The cynics may rightly point out that the results of this election are largely symbolic, given that both the republican as well as the democratic candidates are beholden to corporations and the super-rich. It is also hard to dispute that both are empty suits who make good props for staged photo-ops while they are not acting on the behalf of the interests who funded their electoral campaigns. But this post is not about whether Obama and Romney are the handmaidens of plutocrats. It is about something else which the conduct of these elections could alter forever. Let me explain..

A disputed election resulting in a Romney-Ryan “win” would fatally undermine any belief in the legitimacy of the electoral process and the “system”.

Now some of you might say that the USA has a long and glorious history of electoral fraud and voter suppression- and that is true. Accounts of outright fraud, ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and suppression have been documented since the dawn of elections (including presidential elections) in the USA. However there are reasons why we cannot use the past as a guide to our future. Here is why-

1. The role, involvement and public expectations from elected officials have changed a lot over the years, especially the last 60-70 years. Electoral scandals from the beginning of the republic to the early 1900s had little effect on the real world as the government was mainly concerned with doing things like fighting a few foreign wars, invading brown/yellow countries and finishing the genocide of native americans. Elections mainly decided who got to steal public money and distribute it to their friends.

Contrast that situation to today when the results of elections determine things like healthcare premiums, laws on taxation, unemployment benefits, educational choices, upkeep of infrastructure, social security checks and a host of other things that have a direct and very significant impact on the average person. Many more people stand to gain or lose based on the results of elections than was the case 200, 150 or even 50 years ago.

2. The proliferation of media, especially the non-controlled type, has a huge impact on how people perceive the world around them. For most of the history of the USA as a republic, the speed and bandwidth of communication was very low and tightly controlled. You had to be someone ‘big’ to control the publication of book and newspapers or radio and TV broadcasts. The vast majority of americans had a very narrow choice of sources of information and channels for public discourse right into the 1980s. The web revolution of the late 1990s has upended that though the older generations are still overtly influenced by traditional media.

It was easy to suppress, minimize or spin away scandals in an era where average people had access to two newspapers, three magazines, four radio stations and three TV channels. It is no longer feasible to suppress damaging information or remove it from the circulation and efforts to do that have the opposite effect on that story. Moreover storing such information and sharing it is far easier than in the past as is the speed of its dispersal. Today it is very easy to find documents and audio or video clips that can permanently damage the image of any politician.

3. The demographic profile of the USA has changed such that the older generation is far whiter than the younger generations who increasingly make up the demographic in and under the working age-group. It does not take a genius to figure out that the attitudes, needs (real or imagined) and perceptions of these self-defined groups are at odds with each other. Old and rapidly decaying whites want to maintain a system that keeps them in “power” but still receive all the goodies from the work of people who don’t look like them. Given that we don’t in the age of slavery anymore, that might be impossible to achieve.

Non-whites in the USA have never seen whites as honest and altruistic human beings- to put it mildly. While they may have kept their opinions to themselves in the past, the leverage that whites used to have is now either gone or on its last arthritic legs. However as the republican parties attempts to suppress non-white voting show, they still believe that they can get away with it and live happily ever after. Then again, it is hard to treat self-delusion.

We also cannot forget the effects of Bush-Vs-Gore in the 2000 election.

Many conservatives think that they can get away with bullshit and scams because of the results of that election. However things have changed during those 12 years. Firstly, the USA is no longer an optimistic country with a booming economy and relatively widespread prosperity as was the case in 1999-2000. At that time, people thought that an uncharismatic guy who seemed very distant (Gore) was not much better of a choice than a Texass blowhard who looked personable (Bush). People did not want to rock the otherwise comfortable boat of the system because they thought the choice was between two otherwise unremarkable people.

While that did appear to be initially true, we saw a rather different side of Bush and his puppet masters after September 2001. Between the bizarro invasion of Iraq, the fueling of the real-estate bubble, enhanced outsourcing of jobs to China, the aftermath of Katrina, the inability to find ‘that’ guy in Afghanistan. Consequently far fewer people now believe that both parties or candidates are “equally bad”. It did not help that the Democratic challenger in the 2004 election, John Kerry, was a disaster and his VP ticket was an obvious conman. In an odd way, Mitt Romney is the republican version of John Kerry.

It is also important to realize that the spread of the internet and social media since 2000 makes any significant suggestion of electoral fraud hard to remove from the public consciousness of people- especially the younger and increasingly less whiter generation. To put it another way, a potential Romney-Ryan presidency is illegitimate even before the votes have been tallied. Now there are countries that have ‘pretend’ elections- like Egypt under Hosni Mubarak until a year ago or Mexico until the mid-1990s. But the results of these elections were widely understood to be scams and the population sees such leaders and the system as illegitimate. We all know how things work, or don’t work, in those countries. We also know how unstable/insecure those places are.

The real question is- Do you want to live in a system where the leaders and the system have no popular legitimacy and it is every man/ woman for himself/herself trying to scam and screw over everyone else?

What do you think? Comments?

Circular Reasoning and Nostalgia in the CONservative Mind

October 30, 2012 23 comments

One of the more peculiar fetishes of the CONservative mind is it obsession with the world as it used to be. Somehow they believe that things, institutions and mores are good simply because they have ‘stood the test of time’. As some of you might realize, this is a form of circular reasoning whereby people justify something they want based on the belief that it used to always exist.

It is as if the prior existence of something, however undesirable, legitimizes its existence in the CONservative mind.

These disingenuous morons are however oddly selective about labeling something as good based on its prior existence. So according to them rule by assorted kings, nobility and hereditary elite is fine but living in cities without a functional sewage system is not. Given that the rise of greedy assholes and the poor sewage disposal are both consequences of urbanization and agriculture, why celebrate one but reform the other? Surely the best way to enjoy the former is to live in an era where half-starving people crap/piss everywhere and bathe once a month (or less).

But why stop there.. what about trying people for witchcraft and killing them? Since accusations of malicious witchcraft have been a part of human society for a few thousand years and across lines of race or religion, bringing back public trials for witchcraft should provide entertainment while maintaining a long-beloved tradition. Witch trials just fits in so well with slavery and indentured labor- practices which the USA is returning to anyway. While we are at it- What about rehabilitating Pederasty a most beloved institution of the greco-roman world which is supposed to the fountainhead of western ‘civilization’. Why let Afghan warlords have all the fun?

Then there is the issue of religion based wars. What was so wrong about crusades, jihads and other assorted religion-based wars? Since killing people because they believe in the ‘wrong’ voice in your head was OK for most of the last few thousand years, what is wrong in bringing such things back. We cannot forget mass murder based on race or ethnicity.. wasn’t that stuff very popular right into the last century. Or what about stealing land from other people? For all the talk of “property rights” and “western civilization” it is hard to imagine the world of today without the genocide of indigenous populations in the Americas and Australia.

What do you think? Comments?

What Drove the NYC Nanny to Kill?

October 27, 2012 27 comments

I often analyze contemporary events from view points that don’t ignore the obvious, but largely unsaid, factors contributing to said event. As many of you have heard by now, a nanny stabbed two kids of her employer to death before trying to commit suicide. A number of media outlets are trying to demonize the nanny and try to convince you that killing the children of a rich white couple was an especially inhumane. But is that really the case?

Let us first summarize what we know about the ‘killer nanny’ at this time. Firstly, she (Yoselyn Ortega) was originally from the Dominican republic but had lived in the USA for over a decade. It is interesting to note that Yoselyn had worked for the Krim family for over two years and they had no real issues with her until she killed their two kids. To me, this suggests that the nanny was not intrinsically evil or diabolical. We then have to ask the next question- What drives a 50 year old woman who had worked in child care for many years to stab to death the very kids she was supposed to care for?

One of the first clues about what drove her actions comes from reading between the lines of an article about whether financial problems contributed to the murders.

A source told the Post that “Ortega, a Dominican who has been an US citizen for 10 years, complained of money troubles, and her employers, Marina and Kevin Krim, had given her more hours of work. They even hooked her up with a family they knew for a baby-sitting job on the side — but the family turned her down after an interview because she was, ‘a little too grumpy,’ a law-enforcement source said.”

I cannot but help wonder why her employers were so unwilling to give her enough money to live a half-decent life in NYC. What is the harm in paying your employees enough to live a decent life?

However, the person Ortega was renting the apartment from returned and kicked her and her son out, sending them to live with her sister. The Times adds, “Twice, Ms. Ortega asked Ms. Lajara to pray that a woman would pay her for makeup she had given her to sell. The amount, Ms. Lajara said, was about $100, and it was important to her… Ana Bonet, 40, a neighbor, said that besides her nanny job, Ms. Ortega sold inexpensive jewelry and makeup to neighbors. Others said she also earned money by cooking rice and chicken dishes for parties.”

So, she was not paid enough to be able to afford renting an apartment with her presumably adult son. She (and her son) ended up moving in with her sister inspite of caring for the kids of people who had thousands of times more money than her. Her financial situation was so tight that she was concerned about making 100$ more from selling makeup. Did I mention that she also worked catering gigs.

What type of society pays people so badly that even a hard-working person with multiple jobs can barely make ends meet? Does such a society even deserve to exist?

How would you feel if you were struggling for a couple of hundred bucks while the rich assholes who employed you to take care of their kids did precious little to help you. Words of sympathy don’t pay bills or the rent. Does a society which pretends to care about you while screwing you at every turn deserve to exist? How long will people take such abuse before making their tormentors hurt?

Now there are those of you who might agree with me about the systemic mistreatment part but say that killing her employers kids was still not the right thing to do. In my opinion the killing of her employers kids was the most rational response because only something as irreversible as the death of their own children can hurt people to the same extent as a life time of systemic socio-economic abuse. In any case, these kids would have grown up to be consummate parasitic plutocrats just like their parents. We don’t mourn the death of baby parasites, just because they are not adults.

I see her actions as far more rational than most people who keep up taking such abuse without striking back at their oppressors. What is the point in taking abuse if you have no better future to look forward to? What is the point in letting assholes live just because they are well dressed whites? What is the point in letting life long anger and depression at your mistreatment only hurt you?

If systemic abuse, deprivation and depression are the rewards of playing by the rules- why not share these rewards with others? If fucking someone over for years builds the characters of poor people, won’t it do the same for rich people?

What do you think? Comments?

Making Humans Disappear: 2

October 23, 2012 7 comments

In my previous post in this series, I had mentioned that the next one would be about how the rise of ‘free agents’. Now most of you might be wondering- “how can individuals get anything done?”

Throughout history, humans have primarily relied on collective actions to get things done. Even today most of you think that any ‘real’ change will require mass demonstrations, occupy type protests, wars or revolutions. I however think that we have reached a point where asynchronous individual actions are far more disruptive to the system than collective actions. But that is not my only objection to collective action being an effective agent of change.

The real problem with using collective action to achieve anything is that most human beings are dishonest cowards who will delude themselves into believing that are otherwise.

You might have noticed that mass movements, protests, wars and revolutions often replace one group of assholes with a marginally better versions of them. It is as if mass actions, for all the sacrifices of their members, fall far short of their goals. Conventional explanations for this phenomena talk about betrayal of the cause etc.. conveniently forgetting that all people who want to be leaders are remarkably alike.

You cannot replace one defective structure with another one based on the same basic plan and expect change.

Any real change requires destroying the defective structure without building a replacement. However most people will not do that because they are afraid of an uncertain future and will always choose a recycled shitty world over one that truly breaks from the past. But why do people choose a guaranteed shitty existence over a reasonable chance of change and/or nonexistence? Some of you might say that people are afraid of death, but that is only a partial explanation at best. Pretty much every human understands that they and their creations are mortal and perishable. Furthermore, we have no shortage of people who will indulge in activities and enter professions with a realistic chance of premature death.

So what has stops most people from destroying the system that makes their lives miserable?

To understand what I am going to talk about next, you have to start looking at human history and societies as a real outsider- almost an extraterrestrial alien. One of the most well-known, but often ignored, aspect of human beings is that they are social animals who require others of their kind to exist for reasons beyond basic needs. A lot of the stupid, bizarre and self-destructive behavior of humans only makes sense if you factor in the need to belong to a group.

But is this need to belong to a group independent of the result of previous efforts to do so?

Will you keep on going back to the same people who exploited your desire to belong? While people might continue trying to play nice with shitheads upto a point, everybody has a breaking point beyond which they have no interest in belonging to that group. It does not help that modern neo-liberal societies continuously try to abuse the desire to belong for short-term profits. Today belonging to almost any group or participating in any social institution is an act of stupidity as you will lose far more than you get from such interactions. You might have noticed that almost everything from marrying, buying and living in your own house, working hard to move up in life or belonging to any ‘real life’ social group is a big fucking waste of time with negative gains for the individuals who indulge in such activities.

We live in a ‘stranger’ society where everybody pretends to be friendly but is secretly to stab each other in the back- and we all know it. Social atomization is a rational response to living in a world where even your own kith and kin are almost guaranteed to betray you for negligible gains. We have reached a point where there is no reason for individuals to care about the effect of their actions on other people around them. Throughout most of history, people stopped acting out on their innermost desires for vengeance due to their concern about how society might perceive them. While that was rational in eras where at least a few people cared about you and would stand behind you, that is no longer the case.

The hope that restraint would be rewarded in this life, or the mythical next, is gone.

I would recommend that you read a series of articles (13 to date) tagged Hello from the Underclass at about the personal stories of unemployed people in the USA. While that site is famous for tabloid type news and stories, this series about the chronically unemployed is probably one of the better attempts at serious journalism. One of the unspoken but recurring themes in the series is that many people never expected to end up like that or be treated by society and society as worthless pariahs. Almost all of these people are articulated, educated, with decent incomes and lifestyles for many years to decades and still ended up as virtual untouchables with no hope for the future.

A couple of years of chronic instability and utter neglect/abuse from people and institutions they believed in made them see the world in a very different light.

While such chronic instability and material deprivation is not new, its combination with an absence of a social support network is unprecedented. Furthermore, people are not capable of normalizing their condition by believing in the old bullshit.. I mean religion. It certainly does not help that a low birth rate greatly reduces the number of new suckers to use, abuse and exploit. Consequently a rapidly increasing number of people have become ‘free agents’ in that they have no loyalty, obligations or consideration for anybody but themselves. Periodic and recurring stints of unemployment and social ostracization only reinforce this realization.

So why do I find ‘free agents’ so interesting?

Well.. for one they are a rapidly increasing minority in modern societies. However my interest in them is linked to how they act under stress. Historically, societies could defend themselves against disgruntled but still ‘attached agents’ through a variety of means from fake hope to lying and treachery. However the information revolution has made many of these means obsolete as it is much easier for people to see that most humans beings are crap and hope is largely a scam. Social atomization has done the rest by ensuring that people who hate society and humanity in general can do so and easily reach extremely high levels of misanthropy.

To put it another way, we now live in a world with a rapidly increasing minority of people who are highly misanthropic, extremely cynical and devoid of expectations for a better future.

It does not take a genius to figure out that such people might be interested in ways to ‘repay society’ for all the things it had done for them. Given the numbers involved and the organization of modern societies, even a small number of people who ‘repay society’ will destabilize the system- even if such repayments are asynchronous.

But how can asynchronous behaviors by a few individuals destabilize large systems? The answer to that question lies in understanding how the response of society to such behaviors greatly amplifies the effect of the primary events and will be the subject of the next part of this series.

What do you think? Comments?

Effects of Social Atomization on the So-Called “Elites”

October 11, 2012 12 comments

My previous posts on social atomization focus on its large-scale effects on society. But what about the so-called “elites”? Are they not adversely affected by social atomization? Or does it benefit them to the detriment of others?

I believe that the so-called “elites” do suffer the consequences of social atomization, in more ways than one. However their position in society allows them to temporarily insulate themselves from its worse effects- without changing the final outcome.

Let me start by pointing out two odd and interlinked features of present-day “elites” all around the world. Unlike their predecessors throughout recorded human history, they have very few kids and they work even when doing so is not essential and damaging to their ability to enjoy life. The kings, emperors, warlords, high priests, landowners and rich merchants of previous eras used their ill-gotten resources to eat, drink, fornicate and party till they dropped. Today their equivalents go to great lengths to keep on “working hard” and generally act and look like faceless rich drones. Most of the “elites” today are involved in shitty low-sex marriages and generally under the thumb of one or a series of aging miserable cunts who drain their money and sap their happiness. Few of them have more than a kid or two, who generally turns out to be mediocre at best.

So how do you explain people worth billions of dollars living such pathetic lives, when they have the resources to do have much better lives?

The sophists among you might claim that they choose this pathetic lifestyle because it is morally superior, indicative of ‘high IQ’ or long-term priorities. However “elites” throughout human history have always been opportunistic sociopaths who got lucky, and the same is true today. Nor is it due to the present being a “meritocracy” since merit plays a minor role in determining your “place” in society. Furthermore, humans beings don’t live forever so anything that occurs after your death is inconsequential. In my opinion, the progressively odd behavior of “elites” over the last 200 years cannot be explained by invoking conventional explanations such as the ones given above.

I believe that the direct and indirect effects of social atomization are behind the increasingly peculiar behavior and lifestyle choices of the so-called “elites”.

So how did I come up with this explanation? What drove me to associate social atomization with anhedonic behavior? The answer lies in first being honest about what motivates people as opposed to what makes them happy. While we like to believe that the same factors which motivate people also make them happy- that is often not the case. Fear of status loss, fear of material loss, desire to dominate and hurt others are often the strongest motivators. However going down that road takes you away from any chance at achieving any worthwhile degree of happiness or satisfaction with your life. Some morons might see happiness and satisfaction as the desires of an “inferior” and “unambitious” mind, yet they cannot explain the self-utility of a “hard workers” effort after his death.

Any conscious action which lacks self-utility is well.. stupid. If it does not make you happier, “better off” or keep you alive till the next realistic chance at escape- why are you doing it?

Which brings us the question of why “elites” live increasingly pleasure-less lives. To understand the reasons behind this change one has to first appreciate how “elites” become “elites”. In the past, people became “elites” because they were born to the right parents at the right time. They justified their position in society by claiming that they descended from gods or were chosen by gods- and used religion and greedy priests to support their claims. Those who challenged them were usually murdered- though sometimes the challengers murdered the previous “elites” and replaced them. To put it another way, their position in society could not survive even a marginally literate populace with a basic level of critical thinking. Which is why the enlightenment and the effects of the industrial revolution made it hard for the old “elites” to remain relevant, let alone command power or respect. They were ultimately replaced by the new “elites” who justified their position in society by claiming “merit”. While there was some truth to that claim, it did not justify the level of social inequality that exists and used to exist. However there was another little noticed side effect of this shift- loss of social cohesion among the “elite”.

Throughout history “elites” have defended their power through collusion with people related to them. Doing so was very easy in previous eras when you could fill all the important posts in your fiefdom with your progeny and relatives. But it is much harder to pull that off today because intense competition and the lack of good extended family protection means that conventional nepotism will almost certainly cause loss of status, money and dimunition of the ability to dominate/hurt others.

Today people have to work hard or put up a convincing appearance of hard work to justify their “elite” status- even if doing so is a losing proposition at multiple levels.

Therefore they cannot do stuff that would actually make them happy. Nor can they allow other “elites”, with whom they don’t share any deep personal bond, to do something that would make them happy. The “elites” now have more in common with a bunch of brain-damaged dogs who hate each other and are constantly fighting each other in a conflict that no one can win. Yet, they would rather prefer to keep on fighting over who is top dog than come to some form of agreement and live in relative peace and enjoy life- because nobody can trust nobody else. Even the “elites” are too atomized to act as a coherent entity.

Consequently they spend all their waking hours on posturing and fighting an unending war, rather than enjoying a relaxing and luxurious life. It does not take a genius to figure out why such people also have few, or often no, kids. On the bright side, social atomization has finally made the lives of the “elites” almost as miserable as the people they dominate and abuse every single day.

What do you think? Comments?


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