Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Economics’ Category

On the Peculiarity of Human Reverence for People, Groups and Ideologies

November 30, 2013 22 comments

Growing up, I was always a bit different.. OK.. a lot different. Most of it came down to how I perceived, or mentally modeled, the world around me. This alternate model the world in turn affected how I saw the actions and behaviors of other people around me.

Case in point- As a child, I was unable to understand why most people had such strong, yet almost always unreciprocated, obsessions about celebrities. I also found it odd that most people were so enthusiastic about belonging to groups or institutions that either did not care about them or cynically used them as slaves or worse. Similarly the ability of ideologies (religious and secular) to repeatedly attract millions or billions of faithful followers without delivering on their promises in an objectively verifiable manner made me question the ability of most people to think rationally.

In contrast to that, I never cared much about what people who were not helpful to me thought about me. I was also unable to obsess about the lives of sport-stars, musicians, actors or other “famous” people. I never felt the need to ‘truly’ belong to any groups or institutions. I just could not commit myself to any cause or ideology. That is not to say I was ignorant or oblivious of the world around me. I was very well-informed about what others thought about me and had a better understanding of current affairs, trivia and ideologies than pretty much anyone around me. Nor was I oblivious to the supposed benefits of group or institutional membership.

Yet I was unable to care about any of that stuff beyond the level necessary to be appear normal.

Some might see this as lack of drive, motivation, positive-thinking or any of the other fairy tales most people keep telling themselves. I, however, saw things differently. From my viewpoint, people who exhibited “mainstream” behavior were the real suckers and morons. But how did I come to this conclusion? and why did I reach it at a much younger age than most who eventually get there?

Well.. It comes to careful observations.

I realized early on, by looking at the lives of people around me, that being kind and helpful to people was almost never rewarded- especially on a quid-pro-quo basis. Now one can certainly extend this observation and decide to become ‘extra’ evil and manipulative, but maintaining minimal and very conditional connections to others is a far more effective and practical response to living in a generally unreciprocative world. Face it.. we live in societies where even ‘close’ relatives and friends are unlikely to help you in any substantial way. So what is the point of caring about, assisting or even spending time with them? Do you really think people spend all that time on FB, Twitter or watching TV because they are somehow magically addictive?

I simply understood this fact much earlier than most. It also helps to be born in an age where technology finally made it possible to reduce personal contact with useless or malevolent people without becoming too lonely.

Then there is the issue of how most people spend lots of time following the lives of “celebrities” or trying to somehow get into their inner circles. Even as a child, I could never understand why so many people worshiped movie stars or sportsmen. What is the point of caring so much about people you will almost never meet, let alone reciprocate it? But where does one draw the line between enjoying the performance of an actor or musician and going into the hero-worship or obsession mode? In my opinion, something like say.. trying to find more information or material by some performer on IMDB or YouTube, is about personal entertainment. However buying a product or service because some celebrity endorsed it or wearing a jersey to express support for some sports team clearly crosses the line into unrequited hero-worship.

My cynicism about group and institutional membership was also based on what I saw as a child. It was obvious to me, even then, that most members of groups or institutions never benefited from their commitment, effort or sacrifices for the “greater good” of those groups or institutions. In almost every single case, a small percentage of people at the top of those groupings took away almost all of the gains obtained through the hard work and sacrifices of their rank-and-file members. We can see this dynamic all around us in groups and institutions as diverse as non-profit organisations, small businesses, large corporations and universities to the armed forces of modern nation states. I would go so far as to say that the “normal” mode of operation for pretty much every single type human grouping or institution is identical to a ponzi scheme.

Let us now move on to the topic of religions, ideologies and other belief system. Once again, I was never able to understand how anybody could believe in something as ridiculous as a god that cared about human beings. I mean.. look around you. Do you see any evidence of a trans-human entity or entities that gives a damn about human, animal or any other kind of suffering or pain? Does believing in god improve the materiel quality of your life? Does it feed the hungry? Does it cure the sick? Does it make you a “better” human being? Does it address or correct obvious injustice? I could go on.. but you get the point- belief in god or gods does not achieve anything for true believers. It can however provide a cushy livelihood for priests and provide a justification for looting those who believe in other invisible sky-dudes or dudettes.

Secular religions, such as capitalism, provide another and more modern example of this phenomena. Why are those who slave for, yet never benefit from, capitalism its most ardent and vocal supporters? Why are people getting ass-fucked by the invisible hand of the “free market” often its biggest cheerleaders? Why are all those white knights who support feminism and defend the honor of women not getting laid? Conversely, why are those who support a return to traditional masculine values so eager for female approval, even if comes from a chubby and mentally unstable groupie?

So.. did you notice a common theme running through all of the examples mentioned in this post?

OK.. let me spell it out. In every single example, the majority of people seem to enthusiastically keep on doing something they “know” will benefit them- inspite of a wealth of evidence and repeated reminders that it won’t or is incapable of doing so. So what drives the majority to people to keep on doing something that does not work or cannot deliver on its promise? Are they all suffering from permanent brain damage? Or is something else behind this odd pattern of behavior?

I believe that the answer to this apparent paradox lies in understanding the nature of loyalty and its linkage to the human urge to hurt others even when doing so is not profitable.

I shall explore this issue in an upcoming post.

What do you think? Comments?

The Unflattering Reason Behind Extreme Accumulation of Money : 1

October 26, 2013 23 comments

More than a few of my previous posts have centered on, or around, an odd but rarely asked, question.

“What is the point of accumulating money beyond the ability to spend it?”

Now, stupid sophists defending the status quo might say that its is impossible to determine what is enough. Curiously these sophists are seldom well off, let alone truly rich, making their defense of the status quo a bit odd. Perhaps they believe that their incessant barking on behalf of the rich might get them get a few more table crumbs or leftovers. But who knows..

Anyway, back to the question at hand. I have previously written that the reasons for accumulating money beyond the point of usability cannot be rational. But what if they are still logical. Confused? Let me explain. An action can be simultaneously logical and irrational, because logic is a mechanistic process in which the inputs don’t have to be factual or real.

For example, burning women accused of having sex with the devil requires that particular entity to exist in the first place and is therefore irrational. However it can be perfectly logical if you were one of those perpetually fearful and greedy semi-retards who believed in the existence of the devil, especially one interested in having sex with human females.

Coming back to our era, a closer look at much of what we think is ‘normal’ and ‘right’ just does hold up to rational scrutiny. Many of my previous posts are about the sheer irrationality underlying a wide variety of systems- from the basic structure of “civilized” society, the bizarre illusion of money, the worthlessness of supposedly important inter-personal relationships to the futility of loyalty to institutions that demand it. To put it another way- most conventional expectations, norms, rules and behaviors are not rational. But what if they are still logical? and more importantly- what does that say about the real nature of the human mind?

One of the main feature of conventional models for the human mind, be they religious, secular or “scientific”, is the assumption that human beings are intrinsically good, rational, caring or at least capable of all those things. Even religious models that portray human as sinful and fallen, or whatever their secular equivalent are, allow for the possibility of being saved, lifted or “enlightened”.

But what if that is not the case? Could it be the vast majority of humans, including the supposedly smart ones, are fundamentally incapable of being rational.

This question is best answered by looking at the entirety of available evidence (aka historical evidence from multiple sources) factoring in the inevitable underlying contexts and biases. Throughout most of the last 5,000 odd years (aka the age of civilization) the general standard of human living was very low and even the very rich were an infection, poisoning or puncture wound away from death. To make things easy and clear, let us temporarily ignore the actions and behavior of insecure and desperate people under constant stress or duress.

We will therefore, for the time being, willingly ignore most of human history- even though it strongly suggests humans are highly irrational.

Let us focus on societies where a combination of resources and technology make it possible to deliver a very high quality of life to all their members. In case you are wondering, I am talking about the situation in developed countries after WW2- especially after the early 1960s. Studying such societies allows us to eliminate the role of scarcity on human behavior or the ability to reason.

Does the functioning of these societies suggest that humans are capable of rational behavior when not under any real resource constraints?

The answer to this question is complicated. From the end of WW2 to the late 1970s, the socioeconomic changes in these countries suggested that human beings might be capable of rationality- at least under certain conditions. Those times were characterized by very significant technological progress and considerable improvement in the living standards of the median person in those societies. This era was also characterized by fairly low income inequality and a realistic chance to improve ones position in society. It was as if after millennia of screwing around without anything to show for it, human societies had finally found the ability and institutional structures to provide a safe, stable and reasonably good existence for almost all of its members.

But there have been many changes since the late-1970s and almost all of them have taken those developed societies increasingly further away their early post-WW2 vision. But why? It is very clear that we do not lack the technology, resources, productivity or ability to extend the general socioeconomic improvements that occurred within the first three decades after WW2. But every single developed society has abandoned the path of improving the lives of its median, let alone its poorer, members.

How can we account for the rise of neo-liberalistive/neo-conservative (neo-feudal) ideologies throughout developed countries since the early 1980s?

There are those who see this is the result of clever propaganda, institutional capture or mass media-driven brainwashing. While this line of thought might sound appealing to those who see average humans as fundamentally good and therefore gullible victims, there are reasons to believe that it is not the case. You might have noticed that a lot of the ideas recycled by neo-conservatives or neo-liberals, from “personal responsibility” to “work ethic”, are actually old lies and fairy tales.

So what makes people want to believe in obvious lies such as “work ethic”, “meritocracy”, “invisible hand of market”, “creative destruction” and “personal discipline” while discarding other equally old and popular lies about the role of divine entities in human affairs.

Are people really that stupid, unobservant and innumerate? Then there is the troubling question of why the middle class is so eager to believe in the lies, scams and bait-and switches which trick, hurt and abuse them the most. Surely, they are not that retarded or unobservant. I also don’t believe that this behavior is due to learned helplessness. A rational person who understood his lack of control over events would not strive for the benefit of those who were abusing him.

Could it be that most people believe in or play along with norms, rules and paradigms that are against their rational interests because it provides surreptitious satisfaction of much deeper urges in their minds?

In a couple of my previous posts (Link 1 and Link 2) I had suggested that hoarding money beyond ones ability to spend it was irrational as it offered no real objective benefits to the hoarder. But what if hoarding money was about depriving others of resources, security and happiness rather than improving your own existence. Furthermore, what if the behavior of the rich is merely an exaggeration of how most humans relate to each other.

Have you considered the possibility that the primary intention behind almost all “normal” human interpersonal interaction is to somehow con, swindle, abuse, hurt, maim or kill the other party?

In upcoming parts of this series, of which there will be many, I shall demonstrate how my model of the human mind is a far better fit for available evidence on human behavior in a variety of situations.

What do you think? Comments?

Eliminating Vectors is More Important than Eradicating Pathogens: 2

September 8, 2013 13 comments

Continuing onward from the previous part of this series, let me describe the long process via which I reached the conclusion that human vectors are far more problematic than pathogenic humans. Part of this journey has been described in one of my older articles, Nazis as Corporate Drones, in which I proposed that the mindset of loyal Nazis was remarkably similar to the ideal american corporate drone. But why? Why do some people make loyal Nazis or good corporate drones, while many others just don’t fit in such institutions or care about their assigned tasks. A glimpse into what makes loyal Nazis and corporate drones can be found later on in the same article and I quote..

It does not take a genius to figure out that moderately ambitious personalities with little ability for independent thought, but just enough brain-power to carry the task they have been assigned, will flourish in such institutions.

It is however clear that being an average, mediocre and conformist simpleton is only part of what makes a loyal Nazi or corporate drone. If that was not so, almost any guy on the street could be molded into a mindless loyal Nazi or corporate drone. But that is not the case and history shows that most people make incompetent Nazis or corporate drones. That is not to say they are stupid. Indeed, those who do it inefficiently understand the nature of the job much better than those who do it efficiently.

So what are the extra conditions, predispositions and circumstances necessary to create loyal Nazis or corporate drones?

Interviews of those who committed genocide in the name of the Third Reich are a good place to start. I have read many transcripts and seen many interviews of such people and here are some of my observations. The vast majority of those who participated in such activities appear very normal, even ‘extra-normal’, on multiple levels. Almost all of them had families, wives, children and dogs. You can see photographs of them enjoying picnics, fishing, beach holidays, family functions during the same time they were killing thousands of unarmed people in their day jobs. They do not appear to have any conventional mental illness nor do they display any real remorse, guilt or conscience for what they were doing. They seemed to more concerned about their promotions, living quarters and family lives.

Now some of you might say that they were just trying to make the best of what was at hand. Maybe they were trying to protect their minds from the realities of what they were doing. I could buy that argument but for one very glaring problem- they were very enthusiastic, motivated and diligent at performing their ‘daytime’ jobs. Many had great pride at their efficiency at doing what they did. That is most unlike a person forced to kill someone else to stay alive. And one more thing- the behavior, attitudes, mindset and worldview of the average loyal Nazi was very reminiscent of the average faithful Mormon, something we will revisit later on in this series.

It is especially fascinating to see that the moderate intelligence, blind obedience to large institutions, child-like faith in authority, clean-cut lifestyle, strong family ties and extreme conformism was especially prevalent in loyal Nazis as it is in american corporate drones and faithful mormons. But was that just a simple coincidence or does it point to something else? What about other genocides during the 20th century? Were the perpetrators mentally similar to the loyal Nazis or corporate drones?

To answer that question, let us look at the other great genocide of the 1930s-1940s aka Japanese rule in China. While the Japanese killed more Chinese than the Nazis killed Jews, it is not as well documented as the later one. To complicate matters further, most Japanese still do not accept that what they did was wrong and veterans of that era are very reluctant to talk about their actions. However even a basic understanding of Japanese history and society would suggest that Japanese are not especially violent in Japan. Indeed, it is and has been a remarkably safe place as long as stable governance exists. So what accounts for the most peculiar Japanese behavior in China during the 1930s-1940s?

Here is my theory.. the average Japanese had all the features of a loyal Nazi. Everything from the moderate intelligence, blind obedience to large institutions, child-like faith in authority, clean-cut lifestyle, strong family ties and extreme conformism was even more prevalent in Japanese society than WW2-era German society. Curiously, they also make excellent corporate drones. Coincidence? I think not! The same is also true for the loyal british bureaucrats and soldiers who slaved away and committed various genocides for the empire. They were all cut from the same metaphoric cloth.

In the next part I shall explore how all of this fits into the world of today.

What do you think? Comments?

Eliminating Vectors is More Important than Eradicating Pathogens: 1

September 7, 2013 14 comments

The transmission of infectious diseases from one host to another can occur in a number of ways. Some involve direct physical contact between the two hosts or their bodily secretions and excretions, others involve an inanimate intermediary such as water, food or soil. A small but significant number of pathogens utilize a temporary host, often of a different species from their main host, to jump from one host to the other.

Temporary or secondary hosts that facilitate the transmission of a pathogen are known as vectors.

Most of you are aware that certain genera of mosquitoes transmit malaria and a number of other viruses and parasites. Fleas transmit diseases such as plague and epidemic typhus. Houseflies facilitate the spread of many pathogens that causes gastrointestinal illnesses and ticks transmit the bacterial species that cause lyme disease among many others. I could go on, but this post is about the dynamics of human societies, not medical microbiology.

In the past, I have often compared the true elite (the 0.1 or 0.01%) to mindless pathogens whose purpose for existence seems to center around stealing from and damaging their hosts, regardless of the long-term consequences. But how do they do that, given their rather small numbers both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the total population? Did any genocidal tyrant ever personally kill even a tiny fraction of the people who died under their rule? How many Jews did Hitler kill with his own hands? what about Stalin? How many people did Stalin kill with his own hands? How many Indians did Churchill personally kill? In all of the above cases, and every other instance of genocide, those who gave the orders were almost never involved in carrying them out.

The same is true for leaders who order their nations into war, CEOs who fire thousands of people, bankers who steal trillions from millions.

The success of such ‘endeavors’ depended around their ability to commandeer the temporary loyalty of a minority of the population who carry out their orders and wishes. Without these people, or should we say.. vectors, the malicious wishes and desires of the elite would be little more than pipe-dreams. They would have no ability to influence anything beyond their immediate environment and even then they would probably be quickly killed off by the first few people they tried to harm or steal from.

The elite in every social system are therefore completely dependent upon the continued existence of a much larger number, though still a minority, of vectors to carry out their malicious designs. I should also point out that exterminating one group of elites often results in another bunch filling their spots and continuing the malicious behavior, if in a somewhat different direction.

Exterminating vectors and their progeny is the only foolproof way of destroying elites.

But who are these vectors in human societies? How can you identify them? How did they arise in the first place? What motivates them? What is going on inside their little heads? What is their survival strategy? How do you break them? How do you destroy them? How do you prevent their reemergence?

Vectors in human society can be identified by the nature of their jobs, their level of enthusiasm for their vocations and the underlying motivation for doing whatever they do. Vectors work in jobs, occupations and vocations that directly (or indirectly) serve the elites, implement their dystopic visions, enforce their ideas and collect rent for them. Vectors are also distinguishable from other non-elites by an unusually high degree of enthusiasm towards their often openly dystopic and inhumane vocations. Many of them are true believers in the inherent goodness of whatever they do and believe that the elites really embody virtues. Almost every single vector sees himself (or herself) as morally superior to the people they are robbing, abusing and killing.

One of the most peculiar and distinguishing feature of vectors is their high levels of devotion to their own family and children. All vectors are great “family” men and women. They invest a lot of themselves in the upbringing of their progeny. As you will see later on, this presents a particularly interesting and exploitable vulnerability.

In the next part of this series, I shall list the most commonly encountered vector subtypes, what they do, why they do it and what motivates them.

What do you think? Comments?

How Pleasing Others Progressively Lost its Value

August 8, 2013 20 comments

More than a few of my previous posts have explored the idea that “real life” relationships and friendships have now become useless or net negatives. I should also add that relationships at work, where an increasing number of people hang out to escape from their family and friends, are even more dysfunctional. This lack of functional and trustworthy relationships in all spheres of life is probably the major reason why people in ALL developed countries are clockwork oranges, though it is more plainly obvious in some countries (USA, Canada) than others (Germany, Japan).

But this post is not about how bad things are right now or will become in the near future. Instead, it will focus on how the current state of affairs became the norm.

Most popular theories of alienation revolve around the primary and secondary effects of money, capitalism, industrialization, post-industrialization or scientific progress on human society. In my opinion, the real cause of alienation runs much deeper than socio-economic developments in the last two centuries. Having said that, many aspects of ‘modern civilization’ have certainly made things worse. But what is this underlying problem I keep referring to? Why is it so hard, and perhaps impossible, to fix? And does it have any impact on what humans can evolve into or whether they have a future?

In it most basic form, the underlying problem is a fundamental contradiction that occurs in any group of self-aware biological individuals and can be summarized as-

Individual success in any group requires the individual to cheat, exploit, abuse and impoverish other members in that group. However the individual also simultaneously requires the trust, faith and active cooperation of those other members to survive and succeed. Conversely the group always benefits by exploiting its most vulnerable and naive members. However it also requires the trust, faith and active cooperation of those very same members to keep the gravy train rolling.

This fundamental contradiction is not a serious problem in primates and was largely a non-issue for humans as long as they lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers. In those settings, immediate feedback from the group and individuals prevented both from becoming especially abusive. Sure.. somebody could still become big chief, have more fancy headgear and a few more hoes. But there were real limits to what an individual could get away with in such groups. On the other side of this equation, the group itself could not neglect and abuse its most naive members as that was the quickest way to lose willing members.

The emergence of ‘civilization’ and therefore much larger groups disrupted the old pseudo-equilibrium by making it easier for the weaseliest individuals to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions. This is not to say that all consequences for bad behavior disappeared and a significant minority of lords, rulers, kings and emperors did not die of natural causes. The lack of technology also limited long-term damage of such one-sided excesses and the high-fertility rates prevalent in those eras helped repair any serious damage to the system.

This new pseudo-equilibrium kept on playing itself, over and over again, for the next few thousand years. People kept on fighting largely useless wars, new prophets routinely offered alternate pathways to “salvation”, empires rose and fell, people kept on building palaces for evil and dead people, famine and epidemics killed large percentages of the population etc. But nothing really changed and the average person was as poor, miserable and insecure at the beginning of the classical civilization model (~ 3000 BC?) as towards its end (1800 AD?). To put it another way..

Most of recorded history is a glamorized account of jumping from one garbage pile into another.

But what does any of this have to do with why pleasing other people progressively lost its value? How does the course of ‘civilization’ reduce the value and utility of interpersonal relationships. And why does industrialization and its sequelae speed up that transition? To answer this question let us look at how living in increasingly larger societies transforms the nature, direction and utility of the ‘individual-group’ dynamic for the median person. But before we go there, let me ask you a related question.

Is human behavior mostly driven by what people truly believe in or what they can get away with?

If you look around with an objective mind, it is clear that most human behavior is driven by what people can get away with. The majority of people do not possess independent core beliefs strong enough to influence their actions. They just make up or copy the lies, delusions and justifications necessary to push on with their mindless agendas. Most people, including the so-called clever ‘high IQ”ones, are really no better than monkeys, dogs or viruses.

Which brings us to the real reason humans want to please other humans. It is about really about trying to ensure reciprocity. The core idea is that if you are nice to other people, a significant percentage of them might be nice to you or at least not become your adversaries. This strategy works very well in small to medium-sized communities where people know each other over long periods of time. But it also requires most important decisions to be made at the level of that community. Any serious break in the feedback cycle which allows weasels to slip away or non-local entities having a big say in important local decisions undermines the integrity of the system and that is why ‘civilization’ was the original cause of alienation.

But pre-industrial era civilizations were quite provincial. It was still pretty hard to pull of very large scams and escape to another continent or shield yourself with lawyers and contracts. Moreover the basic family, extended family and community networks were reasonably strong if somewhat frayed. Those networks gradually changed over the course of the industrial revolution and society became increasingly atomized, impersonal and dependent on relatively autonomous institutions.

Now there is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these changes at the theoretical level. Their real life implementation is however rather problematic and destabilizing. For one, they require you to make the assumption that almost all people are basically decent and thoughtful human beings. As I said at near the beginning of this post, external and systemic constraints are the most reliable check on the opportunistic and myopic tendencies of humans- both as individuals and groups. Removing those constraints allows the most greedy, deceptive and murderous individuals to succeed and shape the institutions of that particular society.The success of the worst also encourages imitators and fence-sitters to jump in the fray thereby speeding the race to the bottom. Note that all of this occurs without any of traditional safety nets and feedback loops that characterized previous eras. This is the stage where a society tries to compensate for the loss in social cohesion by passing an every increasing number of laws, rules and regulations. It also tries to create new communal identities centered around flags, movies and sport teams.

In the end, almost nobody can trust anyone else. Even parents and children see each other as adversaries to be conned, exploited and scammed for the most trivial of gains. People start assigning precise monetary values to every basic human interaction and need. Almost everybody is willing to back stab their friends for the equivalent of a 20$ bill. Yet almost every member of such unstable and fragile societies try very hard to appear polite, decent and honest. They are almost obsessed with portraying themselves as civic-minded, law-abiding and thoughtful. It ultimately degenerates into a competition where people try to make and model the most ‘realistic’ mask of normality to cover the ugly reality beneath the mask.

You can either join in this mask making competition or you can admit the unpleasant reality to yourself. The first choice is easy because it is socially acceptable. The second requires you to be fairly misanthropic. Then again, what is the point of pleasing systemically dishonest people who do not care, or have any stake, in your well-being?

What do you think? Comments?

Snowden Has Become “Anti-Citizen One”

July 6, 2013 8 comments

The latest development in the Edward Snowden saga is that three countries in south america have offered him political asylum. There is of course the question of how he will get there, but the very clever trick pulled by Russia and Bolivia earlier this week has made it very hard for the USA and other “western democracies” to stop him.

Some morons are already yammering about how the CIA might try to target him in South America, how “those” countries are shit-holes or wondering about what he will do for the next few decades. I have one quick answer to that.. Bradley Manning. The fate of Bradley Manning and other recent whistle-blowers who did not (or were not able to) escape the USA after leaking evidence of systematic wrongdoing is enough to convince any sane person that Snowden did the most rational thing. In any case, why should he care about the opinions of people who have no interest in actually helping him? Would you bother pleasing people who wanted to see you suffer?

Others have said something about how he has broken the “law”, how he should trust the american “legal” system or martyr himself like MLK. My suggestion is.. you go first. If you believe in the whole “nation of laws” and “fairness of legal systems” bullshit.. you are either retarded, brainwashed or just playing dumb. Furthermore, why should anyone martyr themselves for a bunch of retarded assholes? Has he not already sacrificed enough? What kind of moron will accept daily humiliations from the bully and yet question the methods of someone who is standing against the bully?

There is however an interesting, if little noticed, parallel of this story with events in a video game series – Half Life 2. The main protagonist in that game series and the prequel (Half-Life) is a physicist known as Dr. Gordon Freeman. As you can see below that character has more than a passing resemblance to Edward Snowden, something that has been previously noted on other blogs.


But the parallels between Snowden and Freeman run even deeper. The Freeman character just like Snowden did not start out as a person out to bring down the system. Infact the first few minutes of ‘Half Life’ shows him to be an otherwise unremarkable scientist at a secret government facility. He becomes what he ends up becoming the main character largely because of a combination of circumstances and events beyond his control, or G-man puts it at the beginning of ‘Half Life 2’- “the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.”

I find it fascinating that the society in ‘Half Life 2’ has more than a few parallels with the USA today, or more precisely where it is heading. It is a society where a few alien overlords and their immediate human collaborators (the ‘Combine’) enjoy unimaginable luxury and power. It is also a society where the rest of the population live on daily food doles in dilapidated buildings and constant surveillance. The only real jobs are in the police and security apparatus who have monthly quotas for beating, torture, harassment, SWAT-style raids and all the other spectacle accompanying such a system. Did I mention ubiquitous propaganda, surveillance drones and killer drones. In this dystopic society ‘well-behaved’ subjects are known as ‘citizens’ and those who rebel and join the underground are considered to be ‘anti-citizens’.

Anticitizen is a term used by the Combine to designate a person as a threat to their control. The Combine use the term ‘anti citizen’ because the behavior of Anticitizens is the opposite of that of citizens (or at least, the Combine’s definition of a citizen as a person under their rule who does not resist them). Each Anticitizen is given a number representing how dangerous they are to the Combine, and ranked in descending order.

As the story progresses in ‘Half Life 2’ Gordon Freeman ends up becoming “Anticitizen One” or the living being who poses the most danger to the Combine. But what danger does a physicist running around in high-tech hazard suit with a crowbar and a few other weapons pose to the Combine? What damage could he possibly do? His only allies in the beginning are a bunch of people in the underground, a few friendly aliens and the mysterious G-man. In contrast the Combine has all the military resources and equipment that you could want.

The answer to that question becomes clearer you play ‘Half Life 2’. To make a long story short, he becomes a symbol of the non-omnipotence of the Combine. The very fact that he manages to stay alive, out of the Combine’s clutches and keeps on damaging the system in increasingly public ways makes it increasingly harder for the Combine to keep the subdued rabble under control. His continued existence makes it increasingly harder for the Combine to make their ‘subjects’ keep on being good compliant slaves.. I mean ‘citizens’. The ‘subjects’ already know that they don’t have much left to lose and now they have an example of somebody who is defying the system and staying alive.

If you have followed the current events and read a few of my previous posts on Snowden, you know what I am talking about. The brouhaha over Snowden is more about what he represents than what he has leaked or will leak in the future. It is more about the damage to their image of omnipotence than about specific names, facts or figures. And that is why Snowden has effectively become “Anti-Citizen One”.

What do you think? Comments?

The Connection Between “Crime” and Hope

June 19, 2013 9 comments

The consistent and simultaneous fall in violent ‘crime’ rates for the USA, and pretty much every other developed country, over the last 20 years has baffled many ‘experts’. They have offered a multitude of often conflicting explanations for this phenomena ranging from a reduction in childhood exposure to lead, an older population, better policing, legalized abortion to longer prison sentences. But there are two major problems with almost all of their explanations.

1. They assume that A leads to B. For example- Low ‘IQ’ = more ‘criminal’ behavior or longer prison sentences = fewer ‘felons’ on the street.

2. More importantly, they assume that ‘crime’ is not a manifestation of something far more deep-seated.

Let us start by trying to define what ‘crime’ is, and is not. What make something a crime, anyway? Is it the net negative effect of an action or behavior or is it something else. I have partially answered that particular question in one of my older posts- How Laws and Legalism Destroy Societies, but let me summarize it thus:

All ‘crimes’ are defined by laws, rules and regulations rather than by their actual impact on society.

Here are a few examples. Consider prostitution, which at its core is an exchange of sex for money. Why is it illegal in some countries such as the USA? Is the exchange of sex for money in prostitution fundamentally different from a similar exchange occurring in the course of a marriage, cohabitational relationship or during the creation of a pornographic film? Or take drugs like marijuana or opiates.. isn’t all the criminality associated with them due to the fact that they are illegal in the first place rather than their effect on human behavior? What about the onerous rules and regulations associated with living in gated communities? Do they serve any purpose other than mollifying the egos of a few prissy bitches with control issues? What about laws and rules used by monopolies to extract rent or hinder competition? You get the general idea..

Which brings me to another point I made in that post

Laws are made by those with power for maintaining and extending their parasitic behaviors.

All ‘crimes’ should therefore be seen as attempts by the less-powerful to do what the more-powerful are already doing. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples: The system labels you as a ‘murderer’ if you kill another human being, but it is OK if you are a cop- even if you killed the ‘wrong’ person. Similarly, a death caused by a negligent or greedy doctor will almost never result in prosecution, but try doing that if you don’t have an ‘official’ medical license. Or consider how easy it is for a business to declare bankruptcy and stiff its creditors as compared to doing the same via personal bankruptcy.

Which brings us to one of the more peculiar question about the motivations behind committing ‘crimes: What combination of factors, circumstances and conditions makes the risk of getting caught worth the potential payoff?

A few of you might say that people who commit ‘crimes’ do so because they cannot accurately assess the risks because of their supposedly low ‘IQ’, poor future time-orientation or some other assorted bullshit reason. I think otherwise because the very fact that laws, rules, regulations, penalties and prisons have been unable to stop ‘crime’ suggest that there is something else driving the need to do what they do.

I believe that all ‘crime’ is driven by the HOPE for a better future.

People sell sex and drugs because they want to have more money and a better life tomorrow. Organised crime exists because its members can reasonably expect more income and a better lifestyle in the future. Also note that ‘criminals’ always try to maximize their life-expectancy and profit rather than go all out nihilistic and watch the world burn. Even revolutions require a significant degree of belief in a better future, and this is why people revolt on the streets in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt but not the USA, Germany or Canada.

I therefore see ‘crime’ as an expression of hope in the future of that society.

‘Crime’ rates in the USA were high during the 1960s-1980s because those who committed ‘crimes’ had high hopes of a better future. Similarly the high rates of ‘crimes’ in South- and Central- American countries should be seen as an expression of faith in the future viability of those societies. It is also no accident that low-crime societies like Japan, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden etc are also full of people who have no hope for a better future. If you don’t believe me, just look at their fertility rates. How else do you explain the decision of so many people who live comfortable and relatively safe lives in paternalistic societies to not have kids?

They have already figured out (at some level) that their rigid and formulaic societies do not offer a realistic chance for a better future. However they are also not opting for suicide without a pretty good reason. So they just go through the motions of being alive in a somewhat detached manner, if only to keep up the appearance of systemic vitality and purpose.

We also cannot forget the role of modern-medical technology, especially contraception, in enabling this to occur on a scale unthinkable in any previous era. In those eras, surplus fertility would have quickly provided new suckers to replace the disenchanted and world-weary. However, that is not the case today and not just in the more affluent countries. Even the less affluent ones such as India, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil have fertility rates that are near, at or below replacement levels. We just don’t have that seemingly infinite supply of new suckers anymore.

What do you think? Comments?