Archive for January 23, 2010

Dystopia: 01

January 23, 2010 8 comments

Brutality, misery, poverty and deprivation have been common throughout human history. However truly dystopian societies have been rather rare, and indeed may have never existed till the last century. Dystopian societies are only possible once basic human needs are met.

I believe that we have been living in a dystopian society for some time. Let me explain..

We do not lack the basic necessities of life, which are now more inexpensive (and plentiful) than at any previous time in human history. But we now have other, largely self-made, problems that have rarely existed before.

1. No sense of belonging: We live in a system where people move their residences many times over their lives. Though some people can handle it better than others, the question remains: what does it achieve, other than constant dislocation? While it is fun to travel and live in different cities, and try them, should you not be able to live in a place you like and do something you like? Is that not what most humans really want?

We chide the third reich and communist countries for forcibly relocating people, when we do the same through transient jobs. I personally do not see the difference between relocating people through force or penury. Play Half Life 2, and you will get my drift.

2. Lack of stable relationships or personal friendships: One of the reasons that I spend so much time on the web, is the lack of strong personal relationships in my life. I bet that many of you are no different. The real question is, why? While the lack of a sense of belonging is one reason, there are many other reasons.

We live in an adversarial society, where people will screw you over for reasons that defy imagination. Let me enumerate: You could be screwed over by some acquaintance for inconsequential rewards. You could do everything right, but someone you love might decide that she wants to pursue a new career. People whom you trusted might betray you for very small rewards. The irony is: These rewards are so small compared to what they already have, that their actions defy rational explanation. It is much easier to understand a poor person trying to get ahead or stay alive, but what about people who already have a decent lifestyle. The result is that people cannot trust each other enough to truly connect.

The internet has been a mixed bag in this respect. It has hastened the process of devaluing personal relationships, but it has also opened new doors to communicate with others who you would otherwise never connect with.

3. Lack of Faith in Institutions: People born after 1970 are universally cynical, but why is it so? Maybe it is because they saw every institution that their parents believed in fail. From lifetime jobs, to average marriages, to religion, secular religions.. they have all failed us! There is nothing to believe in or trust based on authority. Even secular religions from environmentalism, financialism, credentialism to popular concepts such as meritocracy, positive thinking, optimism have failed us in ways we could not have even expected. This process is ongoing.. and will end in a world where we nobody believes anything that comes out the mouth of an “expert”.

4. Fragmentation: There are not many events, situations or situations that repeatedly bring us together in person. There are no strongly defined concepts or ideals that unite us. We get our news and views from diverse sources. There is no shared sense of community.

I see this as both bad and good, as it opens possibilities for ‘outliers’ like me to be what I want to be, rather than submit to a mainstream. Therefore my opinion about this one is mixed.

5. Lack of a Defined Life Cycle: We no longer get married in our 20s, pump out 3 kids by 30 and work ourself to death in boring jobs. A 41 year old is as likely to use the latest technology as a 31 year old or an 18 year old. I see this as marginally positive, because while it disrupts our conventional models of what people should do (life stages), it also opens opportunities that most of us never would otherwise have had.

With cheap medicines, even a 70 year old can bone an 18 year old (berlusconi). We age much better than previous generations, and though we are getting fatter- we are also less likely to get heart disease in the first place. I will tackle the effects of technology on aging in another series of posts. It certainly helps that most jobs are not physically demanding than before.

I am calling these changes as dystopic not because they are universally negative. Indeed, many of them are full of great promise and potential. The real issue is that we must adapt our culture and thinking patterns so that these opportunities make people happier, not more miserable and mean.

Demography is a Bitch: 02

January 23, 2010 2 comments

In the first part of this series I had referred to universality of the demographic changes (but how the west is much worser off than others). I had also talked about the loss of a established life cycle model causing additional complications. I was initially going to write a much more neutral and objective second part, but I have decided to fry some groups for my amusement. Therefore I will talk about how ape mind derived attitudes prevent idiots from adapting to the changing world. So let us start of by defining an idiot.

Most of you would consider an person of sub-average cleverness as an idiot. I would point out that it the clever and delusional moron who is truly an idiot. The dull person is aware of his/her limitations in a way that so called ‘high-IQ’ morons never are. IQ measures how well you can jump through hoops, not whether you can understand why they exist.

I like to think of such people as show dogs that could never last in the wild, and as you know the performance of show dogs can improve with good training. This is a subject of future posts, but it has a very important link to the main subject of this post, namely the effect of technology and demographic changes on human beings.

The real problems arise from feedback loops. Let me explain:

1. Birthrates of around 2 are perfectly acceptable as long as infant mortality is very low and people are feeling secure about their future.

2. However a flat demographic profile ensures that the +65 year olds will ultimately make a significant percentage of the population (say around 20%).

3. Increases in life expectancy have largely been due to inexpensive interventions and drugs. Expensive interventions add very little to life expectancy.

4. Any attempt to systematically reduce life expectancy will create dissent and widespread bad faith causing a collapse of the current system.

5. The current system is much more complex than we realize and depends on the good faith of most participants. Attempts to unravel it will cause problems beyond anyones wildest guess.

6. However our system is also based on high personal consumption which is paid by money paid through jobs (or credit).

7. The global spread and growth of technology has made many previously untouchable jobs redundant. More will follow.

8. So how does a system that relies on consumption to circulate money, work if participants have no jobs (and therefore no money).

9. All retirement plans are based on the assumption of sub 2% inflation and over 8% growth over decades. How does that work out?

10. Assuming you could goose up the stock market with scams, the major problem still remains. What happens when people (or pensions plans) start cashing out? Who is going to buy those shares? What about bonds? Who will buy long-term debt if the issuer cannot grow over more than a couple of years?

11. If the +65 consume much less than they used to (no money), they will set of another deflationary spiral that will take down more jobs.

12. Powerful and useless groups like banksters, managers, lawyers, the medical profession and entrenched public unions are trying their best to maintain status quo. They want to ignore the fact that our current situation and directions are untenable, over time periods of even 5-10 years.

13. The fundamental assumption for investing any money in the real world is that it will grow, but how can it grow over any prolonged period if the system itself is shrinking and deleveraging?

So what will it be?