Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ Category

Capitalism   Leave a comment

The basic mythos of capitalism is that it is a form of morally acceptable elitism because it’s meritocratic.

The reality is that it is not particularly meritocratic, and as such the elitism it generates it’s not, in fact, particularly moral by any popular ethical standard.  Here’s why: capital means money that is not doing anything in particular at the moment.   The standard explanation is that the capitalist gives up his money into the creation of a factory or a new business, and he is paid more than he put into pay him for the service risking his capital.  The more the capitalist is willing to risk, the more he can get back.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that risk has both likelihood and magnitude, and both aspects matter.  Let’s say you have a disease and your doctor offers you two treatments. Treatment 1 has a 10% risk of failure.  Treatment 2 has 1% risk of failure.  If you only look at likelihood then obviously you take treatment 2.  But what about magnitude?  Let’s say that the magnitude of failure in treatment 1 is losing a finger, and the magnitude of failure in treatment 2 is death.  Now, which one do you want?  Comparisons of this type are not nearly as unusual as you might think, and are, in fact, why nuclear power vs other forms is a contentious issue.   The risk of catastrophic failure might only be 0.001%, but the magnitude (increased mortality over decades and/or centuries, mass relocation, hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land unfit for human habitation, etc.) makes one pause.

The first reason that capital is not particularly meritocratic is that the capitalists magnitude of risk is virtually nonexistent.  Magnitude is an objective, not subjective measure.  Human want may be an endless well, but human physical and social needs are actually fairly small in number, well defined, and well understood.   More is only better up to a point, and we can clearly graph out a curve of more everything, more space, more money, more electricity, more food, more medicine, etc. for a whole society and we can see where the curve starts to flatten out. For sake of convenience, I will us the US number:  about 40,000 USD for the median family.  You can certainly have more, but that is the point where the curve of more increasing quality of life by objective measures starts to flatten out noticeably.

Until a capitalist is risking his ability to pull in $40K a year, he has virtually no risk whatsoever.  The difference between going from point A to point B in Bentley versus a Chevy exists only in the mind of the driver, as transport rather than status symbols, both cars do exactly the same thing.   If a capitalist has a nest egg capable of providing a family income of $40k a year, every need he and his family has can been afforded without ever working a day.  On average a large fund can payout 5% and still leave a lot behind to grow for next year.  A million dollars may not be what it used to be, but it still affords everything a person actually needs on interest alone.  So what if you have 10 million dollars?  You can “risk” 9 million dollars.  I say risk in irony/scare quotes because you aren’t actually risking anything thing.   In in the real, functional terms human need, the elite risk nothing.  Of course, the more elite you are, the more ridiculous it becomes.  Bill Gates was once valued at 50 Billion dollars.  Remember it takes about assets of a million year to have a risk free/work free lifestyle.  He could invest 99.99998% of income before he was under any functional risk whatsoever.   (Where as a Wal-Mart employee making $30,000 risks virtually everything to switch jobs.  Their home, their nutriton, their health care.  Everything.)

The second reason is that Bill Gates not withstanding, most people don’t become millionaires from their work.  They inherit it. Since ability to tolerate risk is the ability to generate new wealth, they acquire the ability to make more money not by work, but by being born into a rich family.  Acquiring the ability to advance in society by birth rather than hard work is only meritocratic if you believe in the divine right of kings.

The third reason is that outside economic textbooks, very little investing is actually done by individual investors.  The bulk of investing is done by institutions. Savings bonds might pay only few percent, but 10 million dollar blocks of treasury bills (the lowest risk investment on the planet earth) often pay around 10%…or 2%-4% than the 100 year average of the stock market, so the risk is actually very minimal to those who can afford the highest risk.

The forth reason is that hard work alone gets you nothing.  If hard work generated wealth, than pre-civil war slaves should have been the wealthiest Americans there ever were.  Another logical point would be if that hard work generated wealth, then the least hardworking should be the poorest…yet because of the first three reasons, the rich get richer even if they do nothing.  In fact, since spending is “doing something” the will get richer much faster if they do nothing.

The fifth reason expands on the fourth.  You have to work at what society rewards, not just work hard.  Like the slaves in the fourth example, brain surgeons don’t make 1/1000th the income of bank CEOs because there is a law that says they must, but because there is no law that says they mustn’t.  A further point on this is that fact that some of the things society needs most, teachers for instance, are some of the lowest paid employees on earth.

All this enforces a single point: capitalism, as practiced, isn’t about meritocracy; its about elitism.  There is actually a pretty simply mathematical explanation for this. Remember that because of his imaginary risk the capitalist must make a return on his money, called profit.  The cost breakdown of every product must look like this: material cost + labor cost + profit.   Let us say the material cost is basically the same worldwide.  While shipment costs and refinement costs can create minor variances in material cost, they don’t matter as much as you think.  The transport costs in any given market will be virtually identical, and refinement cost reductions are do to two major issues: intelectual property and scalability.  Intelectual property will be shared within 7 years for patents and 70 years for software, so those costs tend to stabilize.  If scalability is a large issue then rapidly 1-3 producers will own the entire market, the cost between them will be identical.  That means the only two costs we have to worry about are labor cost and profit, but the important point it leads us to is that product cost must always be greater than labor costs that went into it, the “+profit” aspect.    That means that, all other things being equal, people who make a product cannot afford it.  

It only appears capitalism works because economies of scale work, and the factories produce vastly more than the market that produced it can bear.  This why capitalist must open up new markets constantly, and is the explanation of both imperialism and consumerism but also issues like urban sprawl and planned obsolescence.

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Posted April 18, 2012 by israelkwalker in Philosophy, Politics, Skepticism, Uncategorized

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Survivalists and preppers are nuts.   6 comments

As I’ve said many times before, I grew up in a cult like environment, though not a cult. One of the things my parents got really excited about was the end of the civilization. I think within their peer group of religious fundamentalists this was totally normal, so it’s not like they were bizarely fixated on it, with in that group.  It’s just that group was (and I’m sure still is) bizarely fixated on it.  I think it adds a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness to your childhood/adolesence when your big concern in choosing a girlfriend is someone who is really pumped about living in a crawlspace with your family while you wait for the radioactively of the fallout to decline to safe levels.  In short, my parents were a little…um…touched.  On of the interesting things that has happened recently is that being a bat shit insane survivalist has gone mainstream.  There’s even a show about it.  These otherwise normal people buying pellets of freeze dried food so when the “big one goes” they will be living it up in MRE luxury. It makes me laugh, honestly.  Societies don’t fall apart on their own.  They fall apart when the social and physical infrastructure that hold them up rots out.  You have these people who think they will be fine in the total collapse of society because they have an AR-15, a 1000 rounds of ammo, and a 55 gallon drum of cracked wheat, but it just ain’t so.

Under normal circumstances if you use lethal force, the strong arm of society comes in and applies due process.  Unless you want to go jail for murder for the rest of your life, you’d best call the cops after you shoot a thief, even better before you shoot him.  Even under circumstances where the society is near breaking point, police still make an effort to investigate homicide, and you can be certain that Billy Badass’s mom or brother or girlfriend knew he was going out to your place, and will send the cops out there when he doesn’t come back.  If Billy is crow’s food, or burried in a shallow grave, you are going to jail for a long time IF society is functioning well.  If its not, you might just be shot there for “resisting arrest”.  Remember? Society is failing?  The cops are being given more latitude to keep the peace.

“No, man! I don’t mean like society is failing. I mean it’s totally destroyed! No cops. No phones. Nothing!”  So their idea is, society fails to point where you can just use lethal force with impunity, law of the jungle, everyman for himself.  Here’s why that A-15 and barrel of wheat are going to amount to jack squat.  Because if the law of the jungle is really in effect, there are people who can exploit that much more effectively than the average gun savvy home owner.  Like the police, who are already armed to the teeth, wearing body armor, and trained to work together.  Or the military, whose first action will be to sieze fuel stores and make sure that they control who has the capacity to project force using mobile infantry and who doesn’t.  Tell my how that AR-15 works against an enemy who has air superiority.  Oh…also both those groups will have the support of the locals because people crave legitimacy and authority MORE, not less, when times are bad. It gives them a sense of order.

If you really want to survive doomsday show up at city council meetings and have a good middle of the road, pro-everybody, pro-community attitude, and volunteer for every police related volunteer function available.  Power keeps power.  Always. The people in charge, and the people legally allowed to utilize force will have it the best.  If your mayor likes you and the cops like you…you will be the first one to get stuff and the last to have stuff taken away.  Read history if you don’t believe me. This survivalism stuff is self-congratulatory BS for grownups who want to live in an adolescent fantasy world: “I don’t need you!  I DON’T NEED ANYBODY!  I’m going to run away with my friends and we’re going to be HAPPY. I’ll show you! I’ll show EVERYBODY!”

All that said, preppers and survivalists are onto at least one truth: the world changes in unexpected ways, and preparation can help ease the transition.  So my wife and I have developed a simple principal to be as prepared as possible without becoming wack-jobs: joy.  When survival preparation adds to our self-worth and joy we do it. When it doesn’t, we don’t.  Fuel supplies can be erratic at random times, and fireplaces are beautiful.  So we want a fireplace.  Electricity can save lives, but solar is insanely expensive, so we’re just powering a small freezer with solar.  Home made food is delicious, and food supplies can be erratic, so we will have a garden, and some ducks.  Above all, no one survives or thrives alone, so we are going cultivate relationships with people.

I think that might be what survivalist get wrong, above all.  They draw back and hide in the hills, because they think that’s safer.  But it’s not.  Community is an evolutionary development.  At it’s most basic, human survival is calorie problem.  Calorie output is required to cause calorie input.  The input must excede the output, or you starve to death.  Community was adopted as a strategy before humans existed because it works.  Communities generate more calories while expending less to do so, than the same number of individuals collectively.  If they didn’t, societies that embraced community would die out from the evolutionary pressure of societies that didn’t.  The ultimate survival tool is a community.  People who pull away from that increase their risk, not decrease it.

The poster child strikes back   Leave a comment

Today I read this blog Survival Sex, by Holly P.

This part really resonated with me

This is the kind of thing that I’m reluctant to talk about, because I worry that it hurts my credibility as a sex-positive person and especially as a BDSM-positive person.  It fits too neatly into a narrative of “she’s fucked up and that’s why she does freaky shit.” I don’t think that’s true–I was freaky before this, I know freaky people who weren’t abused and abused people who aren’t freaky–and I also don’t think I should care so long as my freakiness isn’t hurting me now.

But I’m wary of the “damaged goods” pity-smear, of being reduced to my traumas, and sometimes it silences me.  I don’t want to make this blog into a narrative of “ex-child-prostitute/emotional abuse survivor/sexual assault survivor has promiscuous and painful sex!”  Every part of that is technically true but it’s not my story.

And this just hits me like a truck.  Why do we do this? By we I don’t mean homo sapiens, though at some level it probably is true for all people, I mean “us”.  I’m not sure how to precisely spell out what the rules are to belong to this group, I only that I know I am in it.  I know we all do this.  I know we are all terrified of being the poster child for atheism/feminism/polyamory/alternate sexuality etc., not so much because of our shitty childhoods but because of how we fear others will respond to them.  Here’s some identifiers I find that ties this little group together:

Identifier 1:

Bad childhood.

Holly’s was awful.  I was never exposed to abuse even remotely like what she talks about.  My parents were not particularly physically abusive (to me), they weren’t even, per say, emotionally abusive.  I will stress here, as I always try to do when I talk about this, that they did their absolute best.  It’s just their best was subtly destructive, like corrosion.  Religion brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others.  In my parents it brought out both.  I think Christianity served as a moderater and brake to some of their more intense craziness, but at the same time modern Christian teachings like a “personal relationship with Christ” and “end times” got all mixed up with their own delusions of grandeur and paranoia to make my childhood a terrifying and insecure place.  Teaching an 8 year old how to kill people with a garrote or that police and psychologists (the two kinds of people who can help you)  are part of a demonic new world order hell bent on controlling your mind or sending you off to the gulag is simply not OK.  (Note: I love and respect my parents. They really tried. They just fucked up on that one.)

Identifier 2

Wickedly smart.

Holly got her bachelors degree at 19.  I’m not that smart, or at least not in that way, but I keep getting smarter. As I get better I can put less and less of my energy into dealing with my emotional problems, and I get smarter.  I wonder if I had started therapy at at say, 9 and antidepressants around 20 or so where I could have gone with my life.  My ACT score was high enough to get me into MIT, but I never applied, because I knew I’d have an emotional break down sometime in the first year. (I was right, too.)

Identifier 3

Sexual different

It’s like we just can’t be hetero normal.  The sexuality of this group, whatever this group is, tends strongly towards polyamory and polysexuality with a dash of S&M thrown in.  Whatever kink there is, we have it.  Now, there are hetero normal people in this group, but they tend to be the exotic other in these circles.  I’m not sure if openness attracts weirdos or if weirdos attract openness.  For this reason there is a strong approval of feminism, and affirmation of homosexuality, transgender, etc.

Identifier  4

Religiously different

Our religion tends towards two extremes: relativist pantheism and militant atheism.  If you think about it there is very little functional difference between between saying there is a little bit of god everywhere or there is no god anywhere, because in either case, no one thing, person, or idea, is more or less sacred in comparison to any other thing, person, or idea.

Identifier 5

Freakishly high need and ability for communication.  This is acquired because being really smart means being really alone until you learn communicate with people who aren’t as smart as you.

This is my theory:

Intelligence is largely inherited, so a smart adult was a smart child. The great story of civilization is largely one of mass delusion.  Highly intelligent abused children have to confront the bullshit of society’s delusion at an earlier age than most people. In fact, some people never confront those delusions.  They pat themselves on the back for catching delusions that are engineered badly on-purpose so they can feel good about catching them, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and never move on to the 300 level courses, like theism, American exceptionalism, and gender binary.   We, whoever we are, have the intelligence to see the strings that hold the puppets up, and the intelligence to think “Well if that treasured belief is a lie, what about X, Y, and Z?”.  That’s how we end up as feminist, atheist, polysexual, polyamorous, folk.  And we have to communicate with others about it, because we have a huge need for communication, hence…we seem to have more community with our fellows than other hobbists (like say, model train builders) seem to have with theirs.  This why so many conferences and blogs.

None of this answers the question of “Why are we so afraid to be the poster children of the movements that give our lives so much meaning?”  I don’t know.

A perspective on disability   Leave a comment

A story

So, I have a disability:  I can’t run 60 mph, and snow and rain slows me down even further, but luckily I have really great piece of adaptive hardware (A Volvo V70) that allows me to have a normal life.  Of course, since I can’t afford one of the better power chairs (Like a Ford Expedition or a M1 Abrams tank), I’m almost totally dependent on the government to provide me an infrastructure that my mostly-smooth-surface Volvo can handle.   Again, fortunately for me, there is a fantastic infrastructure available.  I can use my adaptive device almost everywhere.  There’s hundreds of thousands of miles of paved trails that are designated for people who share this disability.  In fact, normal people, without the same adaptive equipment aren’t even allowed to use OUR infrastructure so there is more room for us, and the unique needs of our power chairs.

Yesterday it snowed, and the city didn’t clear the hill by my house, making it a slippery, icy mess.  All my similarly disabled friends were infuriated by how we were following our civic duty and paying taxes, but the city wasn’t following it’s civic duty and maintaining the infrastructure that allows all of us disabled people to use the different parts of the city.  This is fairly rare.  Usually the city really takes us into consideration with everything it does.  It never builds a park unless we can get to it, and it regularly improves the infrastructure so that I and all my disabled friends to get to more places.  A lot of people have a similar disability, in that they can’t carry up to 40 tons of cargo.  Almost identical infrastructure is needed for their adaptive equipment (Peterbuilts and Macs and such), and every effort is made to make sure they can get to all the stores around town.  For them we make paths a little wider, a little stronger, and parking a little bigger.  For both groups, service centers and refueling centers for our adaptive devices are among the commonest of all businesses.  Truly, we live in a great world for disabled people.

A truth

A disability is a limitation, and a car really does correct your limitations.  You can’t run 60 mph, and you can’t carry hundreds of pounds of stuff.  A car really is an adaptive device that lets you do those things.  Without roads, your car is useless.  You are 100% dependent on the government to provide an infrastructure that makes it possible to use your adaptive device.  I have never heard anyone complain about everyone’s taxes going to build an infrastructure for this particular disability.  If a bridge is needed to cross a tiny creek that separates two business districts, no one even ponders telling car owners to buck up, no one ponders telling the business owners to build it themselves, and no one bulks at putting the infrastructure costs of their adaptive equipment on society.

A question 

Why do people think it’s right to build a publicly supported infrastructure for their inability to be a car, but wrong to build a publicly supported infrastructure for other’s inability to walk?

Existential nihilist relationship primer.   Leave a comment

So, I wanted to write about depression today.

I’ve said before that I struggle with depression.  I realized recently how weird of a phrase that is.  Depression for me is a minor disability.  Struggle sounds so temporary, so transient.  When you hike up a mountain, the steepest part is “a struggle”, the rest is just the hike.  Depression is more like missing a foot.  A lot of things you can do just like everyone else, but then randomly, you find some new thing you can’t do.  Further, I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone say “I struggle with cancer.”  or “I struggle with angina”.   You just have it, or you don’t. (Though people might say they struggled. Past tense.  Again, pointing to the transient nature of the experience.)

So, I’m going to stop saying I struggle with depression.  I don’t struggle with it.  Sometimes as a symptom of depression I struggle get out of bed. I struggle to love people well.  I struggle with a lot of things, but I don’t struggle with depression.  I just have it.  I struggle with the symptoms.

The other thought I wanted to say, is accepting the OKness of relationships ending.

All relationships will end. That’s not pessimism, it is reality.

(1.) Only part of relationship is with a person.  Part of it, maybe even most of it, is with your perception of the person.  Frequently relationships end because the perception and the person are just to far apart.  Because your vision of the future relationship was based on the perception, when the perception is proven wrong, sometimes you don’t want the new vision.

(2.) Even if you perceive the person perfectly, or perfectly enough, they might not perceive you as well.

(3.) Even if you both perceive one another perfectly, or perfectly enough, people change.

Your youness is the result of chemicals interacting.  Some of those chemicals are inherent to you, like your DNA.  Others are unique to your experiences (memories are coded as chemicals, or chemical changes).  Others are totally situational, for instance you might be very tired, or very high.  We all want to pick the “me” we like best and call that one real, but that’s magical thinking.  The fact is, low-blood-sugar-cranky you, giggly drunk you, darkly depressed you, head-over-heals-in-love you, jamming out to the car radio you, and many others are all equally the the real you.  There is no good reason to chose one and say “that’s the real me”.  The reason most of us do it is because we want to claim the parts of ourselves we find the most noble, and divorce ourselves from the parts we find the most ugly.

Where do those lost fragments of self go?  That’s a subject for another time.  But my point is here, because the list of our experiences is always growing, and the chemicals in us are always changing, we change.  If two people change the terms of the relationship they used to have, ends, because its about different people now.  Some relationships, like my marriage, terms are renegotiated constantly so that the relationship continues to keep up with us. This creates the illusion that the relationship continues, but the reality is, it does not. Long term relationships are series of beginning and dying relationships.

People change, even if they regret it, or wish not too.  That which is seen cannot be unseen, and you will change as a result of your experiences. If the chemicals didn’t change, there would be no memories.

(4.) People die.

All the time.  Billions of them.  You will die. Everyone you love will die. Everyone you hate will die.  Entropy means the tendency of a system to decrease in order/non homogeny.  Life is not immune to entropy.  Entropy happens to you all the time, but the pieces of you that don’t work are replaced constantly.  Eventually, the pieces which replace them cannot keep up.  Disorder increases faster than it can be repaired….the vast symphony of chemicals that makes you different than your weight in badgers or butterflies will play it’s last chord and everything that makes you, you…will stop.  Then, very soon after, everything that makes you, you, a badger, or a butterfly will stop, and you will be base constituents: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen.  Everything that lives dies.  People die. You-ness stops.

Not persuing a relationship for fear of ending is stupid.  Relationships end.

Further, your emotional response to relationships ending will follow a bell curve. Not can.  Not might. Will.

Most of your relationships will end averagely…which is to say “badly”.  Psychologists find that relationships ending is a huge stress factor for people.  Badly is in irony quotes because if it is average it’s not really bad.  Bad would be deviating significantly from average in one direction, good would be deviating significantly in the other direction.   A better word than badly would be painfully, since pain in this case is average.  Most relationships will end in the region of the bell curve near the center: heartbreak.  You will have a few relationships that end with significant deviation from bell curve center.  A few of these will be painless, perhaps even pleasant.  You will have a corresponding number that will really cause long term psychological harm , perhaps even death. (Dying of broken heart is a real phenomenon.)

Since all relationships end, and virtually all will end in normal statistical scatter around heartbreak, it would be stupid to avoid them.  To say “I should avoid relationships because they hurt” makes about as much sense as saying “I should avoid food because  I will poop.”  Avoiding a behavior that is fundamentally required for human life because you don’t find the outcome as pleasant as the behavior is just…mind bogglingly stupid.

 

Shit Christians Say to Atheists   Leave a comment

This isn’t what I was going to post to day…but…man do I get this.

 

Posted January 17, 2012 by israelkwalker in Atheism, Christianity, Religion, Skepticism

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