Saturday, March 28, 2015

At last! No more Atlas!

Let's conclude this series about sci fi films that exaggerate human error, in order to make a polemical point. 

Exaggeration-of-error was understandable in the otherwise wonderful movie, Avatar. (Though it still should have been done even-better.)  Now let's sweep all the way to the opposite end of the quality spectrum -- from the sublime to the absurd.

== Okay, we had to == 

It was required and behooved. I had no choice. We rented… and watched… Who is John Galt? Part III of ATLAS SHRUGGED.

Oh, oh my, how did they manage?  This episode was spectacularly worse than the other two, proving that there are no limits to execrable. 

Oh sure, I took into account that this was the portion of the book wherein Ayn Rand launches into a 60 page speech, one that has helped lure two generations of angry, young-white underachievers away from any sensible (Smithian) version of libertarianism – (based on flat-open-fair creative competition and rooted in actual human nature) - toward a life hating rant-fest of ingrate solipsism.

In fact, though, the movie version of John Galt’s speech was the best part of this awful trudge, wherein dialogue, acting and even the sets sank below minimum standards for a high school film project. Distilled to a few minutes, at least the speech had a decent stab at doing what Vonnegut aimed for in the vastly more intelligent and effective libertarian-satire tale "Harrison Bergeron." 

Indeed, if we ever did make a society as deliberately debased and wretched as the strawman People's Republic of America portrayed in Rand's book and film, well, I might have said a few of the same things Galt growled, in this hyper digested version.

But that's the point, eh? As I said, in my earlier essay about Atlas Shrugged (one that's more carefully parsed and analytical, revealing parallels between Rand and her mentor, Karl Marx), the strawman notion that Ayn Rand and her followers erect in their minds – an oligarchic-socialist cesspool that punishes every innovator and steals everything from creators - is hallucinatory, bearing only slivers of glancing overlap with the USA of her time...

...and even less with today's era of Elon Musk and Google and Richard Branson and Whole Foods and Uber and university-spinoff startups and privately-invented self-driving cars.

Never once do Randians address the question: "compared to what?" Across 6000 years of awful rule by feudal lord-cheaters, can they point to a society that was friendlier to inventive entrepreneurs than this one? Or a society that ever engendered so many libertarians?  Oh, I am all for enhancing some pro-liberty-and-competitive-ingenuity trends. But to assume that this narrow renaissance should be hated, when the alternative attractor state of feudal repression looms from all sides? Oy, silly guys.

But I've shown all that, already.  Moreover, in the case of A.S. Part III, there's much worse – so much worse - than just piling up resentment based on (mostly) delusional grievances.

== Do these folks even pay attention? ==

For example, the makers of this film don’t even try to soft-pedal the volcanically blatant evil of Rand's top hero - John Galt - who demands that the outer civilization "get out of my way," and stop aggressing his ubermensch Nietzchean demigods... while he’s hypocritically cheating and aggressing like mad! Committing nearly all of the deadly destruction in the story, blowing up critical infrastructure, consigning millions to starvation and darkness with acts of sabotage on a scale that would make Al Qaeda and every terrorist group in history envious. All of them, combined.

Note, this isn’t soft-pedaled or disguised, but avowed openly, in the movie's very first scene! The elite of Galt’s Gulch cannot win on their virtues, so they murderously cheat.

(Indeed, if you know a thing about iron cantilever construction, the Taggert Bridge could have fallen - in the time allotted - in no other way.)

Then there is the blatant way that Ayn Rand imitates -- in the Passion of The Galt -- the dramatic arc of Jesus, from his betrayal by an apostle, to the Temptation, to the Torment and Crucifixion... followed by a kind of resurrection. Hey, copy and crib from the best.  That's what she did with Marx.

I just had to smile when the director and producer of this film version went out of their way to include a minor, one page scene from the book, during Dagny's tour of Galt's Gulch, when she speaks to a lower-caste baker woman who happens to have... (shudder)... procreated!  The only character to have or even mention children in Ayn Rand's entire, vast canon -- indeed across all of her works about the "life-oriented philosophy." 

I had to wonder, was this obscure scene included because for years I've rubbed Randian noses in the utterly impotent sterility of their uber-demigod role models? Several dozen archetype "ideal humans." Not one of whom, at any point or at any level, engages in the most basic human activity: bearing and raising children. 

Not even the somewhat admirable - or at least respect-worthy - architect, Howard Roark, from The Fountainhead, can spare a glance toward the future. How very un-darwinian, for social darwinists.

(Research call: can anyone cite a previous Rand critic who pointed this out? It is so glaring, there has to be! I just want to know.)

== Rise of the looter-manipulators ==

Oh, ironies abound! Like the cameo appearances of Sean Hannity and Glen Beck in this spew. Part and parcel of the central Fox narrative – they admit that libertarians have every reason to be disgusted with the Republican Party, which has never, ever, ever done a single thing to help small business, or innovators, or flat-open-fair capitalism.

But… but Goppers say libertarian-sounding things! And doesn’t that matter far more than substance or statistics or other sciencey things like facts? Or actual, actual outcomes?  So come on home, every election (you fools)! And ignore the plain truth: that markets and innovation, productivity and small business, deregulation and every other thing that libertarians should care about actually do far, far better under democrats. 

Indeed, democrats have deregulated ten times as many industries as republicans have ever even tried to do.

Such facts would matter to a Smithian libertarian, who might have the guts to face information-contrary-to-narrative. But Randians? They want the world of feudal oligarchs that Fox is striving to bring back. (Come on guys, admit it.)

== The core question ==

Oh, but here's the crux, guys.

Why have you not already built Galt's Gulch? 

Seriously, it’s been ages.  Republicans spent 6 years (2001-2007) controlling every branch of government including the courts, and have had a pretty strong lock since, especially in half the states, where the Randian rhetoric has risen ever-stronger. But... well... do you see any pro-competition measures from them?

All right, forget the GOP – they are in the pockets of oligarchic “looters” who Rand portrays as vastly worse than mere unionized-socialists. (Though you will always, always, always trudge back to vote republican, won’t you, dope?) 

No, even if you toss aside the undead were-elephant, we are left demanding of you why you haven’t built your paradise already, the way Ayn Rand's heroic John Galt insisted you should?  By yourselves?

There are plenty of places, all over the U.S., where some money and a bunch of inventive uber-guys could take over a county and start running it according to Randian principles. Maybe not quite as “liberated” as Galt’s Gulch - perhaps having to obey eco-laws, for example, and paying taxes (big deal), but still pretty far along the spectrum!  (Heck, wasn’t there an idea, years back, for libertarians to move to New Hampshire and take over? Idaho would seem a better bet, though….)

Seasteading Institute
Even more so in some capital-hungry small nation. I could name a dozen where, backed by real investment, a colony could set up to start doing what they please, unfettered by all those compromises made by the People’s Republic of America. So why haven’t you put your money and effort where your mouth is?

Only Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman and a few of their pals have done this with some tepid sincerity, slipping a tiny sliver of actual money into Seasteading, sketching grand images of what it might look like, if someone else were to create new principalities with sovereign rights somewhere out on the open ocean.  I offered some advice as to how to do it right… advice that was not appreciated, even though it was sincere and practical and covered bases that any non-hallucinatory seasteading project would have to, if it meant business. 

But never mind, I re-cycled the ideas and showed the way-to-do-it in Existence. Indeed, the only places where Randians have actually stood up to emulate Galt and openly out-compete those dreary mixed-economy compromisers are... in fiction.

== Which is beside the point ==

What is the point?

If fact, I do agree with these fellows on one crucial matter. The Randians are right to fear a particular failure mode: that “looters” – mostly established oligarchs but also socialists – might wreck the flat-open-fair civilization that brings creative miracles into the world, through the marvelous fecundity of flat-open-fair competition. 

Neither oligarchs nor socialists like competition (though the former lie, and claim that they do.) So yes, that kind of enemy is worth guarding against!  Indeed, that is one set of directions where-from a collapse of our enlightenment revolution might come.  

What they neglect is to notice there are others, indeed a myriad ways that cheaters could ruin our brilliant oasis in the bleak horror of human history. 

Others are right, too, in their own fixated notions of where Big Brother might come from! Our renaissance could fall to religious zealots, faceless corporations, manipulative media, dogmatic movements, Crichtonian science-gone-mad scenarios, Matrix-style machine gods… or ingrate-solipsist demigods who rationalize that sabotaging civilization is the best option, practically and morally.

If only we weren’t so all-fired eager to declare "only my side’s enemies are dangerous!" In fact, you paranoids out there… you’re all partly right!  And, by dismissing the notion that your own side’s elites might also be dangerous, you are also insanely wrong.

Me? I find appealing the much more nuanced and generous libertarianism of Adam Smith, who liberals and more subtle libertarians should both embrace for his incrementalist care to nurture the best of competition, while evading the relentless cheating that ruined competition for 60 centuries.

But this here screed of mine started out about an awful, awful movie, based on a tedious, life-hating book, written by a hysterical Russian émigré and acolyte of Karl Marx. And despite this cult’s rare glimmers of on-target criticism, its potential to change a damned thing was cauterized, long ago, by fanatic over-simplification.

Except perhaps for Peter Thiel, the correlation of Randianism with impotent under-achievement is just too blatant for us to ignore any longer, or to take seriously the preachings of its maniacal guru.


49 comments:

Alfred Differ said...

Like marijuana use does for many of us, certain philosophies are effective cures for the kind of behaviors that lead to accomplishments.

These memes should be listed as diseases.

---
Chaos was Randian in nature. Hmm.

Daniel Duffy said...

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs." - John Rogers

Daniel Duffy said...

Libertarianism, like atheism, is the province of angry, adolescent, emotionally stunted, nerdy, white boys -and the occasional older (but still white male) mentor who never grew out of their obsessions.

Nobody else is foolish enough to join them in these beliefs.

Laurent Weppe said...

"the strawman notion that Ayn Rand and her followers erect in their minds – an oligarchic-socialist cesspool that punishes every innovator and steals everything from creators - is hallucinatory, bearing only slivers of glancing overlap with the USA of her time..."

But it bears a lot more with her native Russia, and I don't mean Soviet Russia: I mean: Czarist Russia, the decadent cesspool of aristocratic parasitism whose collapse she lamented because her middle-class family had it better than peasants under the Czar before getting swept away alongside the lords when the Romanov dynasty inevitably fell.

***

"How very un-darwinian, for social darwinists."

Social darwinism is un-darwinian by design: Darwin published the Origins of Species in 1859: the seminal book of the ideology which became known as social darwinism -Social Statics- was published in 1851: eight years prior: "Social Darwinism" is little more than the product of selfish socialites' desire to make their narcissistic haughtiness and class contempt appear rational, and they eventually chose this moniker because it sounded sciencey.

***

"Why have you not already built Galt's Gulch?"

Oh but they did build it: it's called Dubai.
(And unsurprisingly, it looks like an unsustainable theme park dependent on the über-rich's willingness to keep subsidizing it)

***

"Neither oligarchs nor socialists like competition"

As a matter of fact, social-democrats (who happen to be, you know, socialists: look up Jaurès and Blum and Delors and Jospin to cite only people among my compatriots) do like competition: the difference being that they know that without heavy regulations capitalism will soon devolve back into an oligarchic system controlled by inbred freeloaders and never shied away from saying so (and as a result are equally hated by right-wingers who want to bring back the feudal system and the far-left who accuse them of being the bourgeoisie's lackeys.)

NoOne said...

The idea that Adam Smith was anti-oligarchy is not shared by many smart economics types that I've spoken to recently. This could be a case of David reading into Adam Smith what he wants to see. For more, please see David Friedman's old critique.

Randall Winn said...

There may always be a market for entertainers who sing the praises of their masters, especially if they can get the working class to sing along.

But I'm not sure whether I'm referring to Randians or Soviets.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

First of all, when did part two come out? I totally missed any mention of it.

Second, in fairness to Ms Rand, I thought the novel did extol America as the greatest bastion of the things she valued as good. The plot had the country slowly slipping toward People's Statehood, which is why quality was beginning to suffer, but the theme was more about how America should resist such a slide, not a critique of America per se.

Not having seen the films, I can't speak to how differently they treat the subject.

Finally, I presume this post will garner hundreds of responses, as your Ayn Rand/Libertarian oriented posts are wont to do.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Note, this isn’t soft-pedaled or disguised, but avowed openly, in the movie's very first scene! The elite of Galt’s Gulch cannot win on their virtues, so they murderously cheat.

(Indeed, if you know a thing about iron cantilever construction, the Taggert Bridge could have fallen - in the time allotted - in no other way.)


Hmmm, again, I haven't seen the film. In the book, it was the goat-killing force field that destroyed the Taggart Bridge. And in the book, the falling apart of infrastructure was not sabotage per se. Rather, the "makers" removed themselves from society, which demonstrated that society really was resting on their (the makers') shoulders all along. Sounds as if the movie took things to a different level.


I had to wonder, was this obscure scene included because for years I've rubbed Randian noses in the utterly impotent sterility of their uber-demigod role models? Several dozen archetype "ideal humans." Not one of whom, at any point or at any level, engages in the most basic human activity: bearing and raising children.
...
(Research call: can anyone cite a previous Rand critic who pointed this out? It is so glaring, there has to be! I just want to know.)


To me, the lack of child-rearing is even more glaring in contrast with the hyper-sexualization of her protagonists. They're driven like Greek gods to copulate, but to no biological purpose.

Mind you, I sort of see why she goes that way, and my reasoning is different from yours. While I concede that you have a good point about not wanting to show her heroes favoring their progeny by cheating, I see a simpler reason than that for avoiding the subject. She's essentially writing adolescent adventure fiction, which is all about heroes who are not tied down by mundane responsibilities like our boring parents have. Also, since adolescent adventure heroes don't tend to grow old or die, succession isn't a big concern. Once John Galt achieves his rightful place, presumably he will reign for a thousand years. :)

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Libertarianism, like atheism, is the province of angry, adolescent, emotionally stunted, nerdy, white boys -and the occasional older (but still white male) mentor who never grew out of their obsessions.


Not sure how atheism fits in there. Comics-author Dave Sim insists that atheism is caused by feminism (but then, he insists that any bad thing is caused by feminism).

When I was younger, I perceived libertarianism to be a kind of codifying of the 1960s "Do your own thing, man" mentality--that behavior should not be regulated or criminalized unless it came into conflict with the rights of others. And to that extent, I was all for it.

Somehow, Libertarianism now seems to mean that behavior should not be regulated or criminalized even when it tramples the rights of others. Instead of enshrining personal freedom with a government designed to protect that freedom, Libertarians want a situation in which we are all subject to the whims of the most powerful individuals, with no recourse to preserve our rights.

Which, to quote 1984 out of context, "...is not the same thing. In fact, it's the opposite thing."

Jumper said...

Once, Rand's straw-man portrayal of the evil and venal socialists/bureaucrats angered me. Now, I see it as comedy. The send-up is so extreme, it is impressive. And she said things that needed saying. Obviously what she did not say is that such horrible ethics also exist in any bureaucracy, not just a socialistic one, and it includes bureaucracies such as Republican elites. Such luminaries as George Will, Fox News, Charles Krauthammer,
Ted Cruz, Bob Dole - well, the list goes on, but each ethical horror can be seen in each, a perfect mirror reflection of the venality Rand ascribed to the collectivists only.

David Brin said...

What is "Smithian"?

Daniel Duffy, I strive relentlessly to PARSE the difference between the Randian solipsism cult that has hijacked libertarianism… and the libertarianism of Adam Smith and Robert Heinlein, that is perfectly compatible with liberalism as a friendly competitor.

Because that saner version of libertarianism is all about maximizing the great, creative power of competition, which has already delivered spectacular miracles of wealth and enlightenment, via competitive markets, democracy, science, courts and sports — our great, competitive arenas. And a Smithian knows, from 6000 years of history, these arenas cannot function without intense regulation, to prevent the recurrence of CHEATING.

Wealth is a great creativity and competition inventive. But like all good things — oxygen, water, food — it becomes toxic when concentrated, when it enables cheating. Preventing the old feudal pattern from re-asserting, whether by noble castes of via cabals of conniving golf buddies, is one legitimate role of government intervention. Hence, a Smithian is all for anti-trust laws that break-up monopolies and duopolies and tri-opolies that constrain competition. They don’t mind inheritance taxes that force the sons of the rich to earn their own fortunes.

A second kind of government activity that is warily-guardedly acceptable to a Smithian-Heinleinian-Hayekian libertarian is “public investments” that have (and achieve) two particular traits.

1) Does the program serve to increase to total number of skilled, savvy, confident competitors in the market place of goods, services, ideas and solutions?

Both Smith and Hayek emphasize that small groups can be delusional and should not control economies. But masses of bickering-striving, intelligent and knowing citizens can often balance out and make right decisions, in positive sum ways.

2) Have we tried to stimulate market forces to supply these same services, allowing the state-centered solutions to be supplemented or gradually wither away?

By those standards, mass public education, public health, infrastructure, universities and R&D are all justifiable — indeed they HAVE spectacularly served the fecund, market economy.

Does this mean Smithians agree with liberals on all things? Absolutely not. #2 above means a Smithian will - for example - favor charter school experiments (that enforce high standards). They would demand ease in firing bad teachers. They would despise the GOP’s Medicare Part D, that forbade the government from negotiating better prices for prescription drugs. They would encourage the trend toward private courts for adjudication of private disputes.

Oh, there’d be yelling and tough negotiations… and Heinleinians would be unlikely to back boondoggles like sports stadiums and operas and artist subsidies and PBS. Yes to free day care. No to some political correctness rules.

Smithian libertarians are very very different from Randians! But it all derives from one thing. Smithians desire competition-that-works. And that is therefor flat-open-fair, with the maximum number of empowered and ready participants at relatively equal starting blocks. They oppose true leftists, who want to equalize OUTCOMES… and they despise Randians, whose solipsism abandons all pretense of flat-open-fair competition, in favor of feudal-oligarchic rule by self-described demigods.

The final group, liberals, will argue with Smithians all day and into the night, over HOW to engender the maximum number of skilled, savvy competitors. They will even claim they are trying to maximize the number of skilled, savvy "consumer-citizens" rather than "competitors." BFD. Both are heirs of Smith and Heinlein and our revolutionary approach to unleashing human potential.

David Brin said...

Laurent, as usual, you make very savvy comments… but with faults. I liked all you said. But you left out (1) that the communists in Russia copied every noxious aspect of Czarist rule. And (2) it is legitimate to suggest that Euro-socialism may have erred too far in several socialist directions.

Good point about Dubai!

NoOne… David Friedman is a deeply fanatical and dishonest intellectual. His interpretations of Adam Smith are absolutely stunning in their degree of twisted rationalization.

David Brin said...

Yeah I had heard of this. An attempt to build Galt's Gulch in Chile
Ayn Rand's Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm

http://gawker.com/ayn-rands-capitalist-paradise-is-now-a-greedy-land-grab-1627574870

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi NoOne

Why don't you read Smith's books?
They are available free on Gutenberg and they are not very long

Granted his style is "old fashioned" and a bit unfamiliar but he does write clearly and it's easy to understand where he is coming from

Go direct to the source rather than second hand interpretation


Duncan Cairncross said...

Dubai as Galt's Gulch...

I'm not sure I see that
Galt's Gulch was intended to be an almost independent entity

Dubai is anything but independent!
Almost nothing that is used in Dubai is made there

Randall Winn said...

Political philosophies such as libertarianism ... or for that matter, communism ... could easily be modeled in online worlds today. Most such games have a vaguely anarchic character about them anyway; a Galt's Gulch mod to World of Warcraft might test the concept that an untrammeled aristocracy of wizards would lead to universal prosperity.

//*David Friedman is ...*//

I believe that I knew Mr. Friedman in younger days, when he was a leading light of the Society for Creative Anachronism: witty, charming when he wished to be, capable of eloquence and well respected within his sphere of art - to be sure, a very small sphere indeed.

I have no idea whether Brin or Friedman is "correct" about Adam Smith (the Adam Smith that *I* care about is a member of Congress) but I was saddened that his response to being contradicted was rage rather than curiosity. This is the internet; it is no longer possible to browbeat students into agreement. I'm not sure that he, as the child of a leading servant to the Aristocracy, is dishonest so much as afraid of being wrong.

David Brin said...

All you have to do re Adam Smith is look at the system he lived-in and complained about! Were creative people oppressed by communist commissars? By socialist labor unions? Um?

His society had emerged... ever so slightly... from utter feudalism. The resulting burgeoning of wealth via competition impressed him... as did the staggering degree to which feudal privilege still crushed nascent competition 90% as much as it had for 6000 years.

Jeez who could he possibly have complained about EXCEPT the cheating lords? The imposed monopolies and trade mercantilism? Who the %$$#! did the American founders rebel against?

Yes, by all means read Smith! But all you need is ANY knowledge of the context to know who he denounced as the inherent destroyers of competitive enterprise.

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: This here white boy knows a number of women who are atheists, but recognizes that us white boys have more gumption when it comes time to tell people to stick it in their ear when they try to scare us with stories of eternal torment.

Seriously though, we won't eat your babies. You probably know more of us than you realize. Behave yourself with respect to Matthew 5:16 and you probably won't notice us. Misbehave with respect to Matthew 5:11 and you will.

Alfred Differ said...

Many people have second or third hand information regarding Adam Smith and think he stood for something quite opposite compared to what folks who read his work directly believe.

It is important to remember that he worked as a professor of moral philosopher when he wrote the two big books. If you take the time to read them, it is also important to realize that the Wealth of Nations can be viewed as an expansion on a particular point made in Theory of Moral Sentiments. They fit together and later edits of TMS contained adjustments from what he learned writing TWoN.

For a modern entry point, one can read Russ Roberts recent book or listen to Roberts as he began to learn more about Smith in his EconTalk podcasts (6 of them) from a few years ago.

http://www.amazon.com/Adam-Smith-Change-Your-Life/dp/1591846846

http://www.econlib.org/cgi-bin/fullsearch.pl?query=theory+of+moral+sentiment&andor=and&sel=32&x=0&y=0

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

Galt's Gulch was intended to be an almost independent entity


Was it? In the actual book, I thought it was more like a summer home. No one seemed to live there exclusively.

But since it's been portrayed that way after the fact, let's go with "independent entity". Well, it's pretty easy to set up such a self-supporting utopia, provided you've managed to stumble across a secluded and unclaimed piece of real estate that just happens to sit upon huge reserves of gold, oil, and metal ore as well as plenty of land ripe for farming and gardening. Oh, and also geography that is perfect for defensibility. Yeah, if you start with all that, plus the right mix of people, none of which are out to take advantage of (or cheat) the others, then maybe such a thing could actually work.

My planet is called Earth, though. :) (Sorry, the one guy who would get that is not very likely reading this blog).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

"Well, it's pretty easy to set up such a self-supporting utopia, provided you've managed to stumble across a secluded and unclaimed piece of real estate that just happens to sit upon huge reserves of gold, oil, and metal ore as well as plenty of land ripe for farming and gardening. Oh, and also geography that is perfect for defensibility."

IMHO it would be incredibly DIFFICULT to set up such a thing even given the conditions above

You would need the resources of an actual country to even begin to be "self supporting"
Most of the gadgets that we enjoy are the result of manufacturing networks that spread across most of the world
How many different materials are there in the device you are using now?
Where did they all come from?
Then how many different materials are there in the various machines that made the parts?

Even a "Victorian" paradise would require a massive infrastructure to make the steel and brass and rubber it used

Alfred Differ said...

@David: Some of us are wary of using the 'libertarian' label because of Rand, but you have to look at Rothbard too to see the full picture. I'm allied with the Libertarian Party, but I tend to self identify as a classical liberal due to the nuttiness you point out... and more. In other stuff you've written, you've advocated for joining a different party from the one that holds closest to what you want in order to sway it and disarm some of it's radicals. I didn't do it quite the way you suggested, but that's the general idea.

Also, where do you get the 6000 year number? Recorded history? I suspect you can go deeper than that now with the genetics research being done to figure out how humans migrated across the world. For example, something weird happened 8000 years ago and lasted a few thousand years. It reduced the reproductive success rate of most men to near zero... and then it stopped. Odd. I suspect you have a narrative or two that would fit the evidence.

http://www.psmag.com/nature-and-technology/17-to-1-reproductive-success

http://genome.cshlp.org/content/early/2015/03/13/gr.186684.114

Alfred Differ said...

Independent Entities run afoul of the 'How to make a pencil' problem. Our modern toys require large markets to replace. They require a planetary civilization in the sense V Vinge described with his traders and their ramscoops... at least until we get past the singularity. 8)

heh. Definitely a planet called Earth.

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

"Well, it's pretty easy to set up such a self-supporting utopia, provided you've managed to stumble across a secluded and unclaimed piece of real estate that just happens to sit upon huge reserves of gold, oil, and metal ore as well as plenty of land ripe for farming and gardening. Oh, and also geography that is perfect for defensibility."

IMHO it would be incredibly DIFFICULT to set up such a thing even given the conditions above.


We're both really saying the same thing. I was being snarky about the fortuitousness of the particular geography that Midas Mulligan just happened to stumble across at the right time. It works fine as a fantasy about what reclusive industrialists might achieve in seclusion, but fails as a blueprint for a larger society in that it suffers from the fallacy mentioned in a recent Dilbert, "Do you mean that everyone can beat the market average by all reading the same advice?"

Nonetheless, my point was that only given that particular set of circumstances could a Galt's Gulch have a chance at success. You're pointing out that it would have a hard time even so, which doesn't negate the point that it would be even less likely to succeed without all that.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

Your fortuitous link to your older seasteading column reminded me of this passage from Earth that I had posted in that column's comments section. As the talks in Iran and opposition thereto proceed, the passage seems more precient than ever:


Who are they," Manella demanded. "Who the hell are you talking about, woman!"

Another shrug. "Do names matter? Picture all the powerful cabals of egotists cluttering the world at the turn of the century. Call them old or new money ... or red cadres ... or dukes and lordships. Historians know they all spent more time conniving with each other than waging their supposedly high-minded ideological struggles.

"The smart ones saw Brazzaville coming and prepared. They saw to it that all the reasonable Helvetian and Cayman ministers were assassinated or drugged and that every attempt at compromise, even surrender, was rejected."

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Laurent, who wrote Social Statistics back in 1851? The name is tickling my neurons, but I can't remember it, and a google quickie didn't jog the memory. It wasn't Spencer, was it? That would have been an early work for him. I started teaching evolution last week and took a little time to explain the oxymoronic nature of social darwinism. I once had a discussion with the author of a major high school biology textbook in which I suggested he bring up Spencer in future editions, as most of what people think they know about evolution really comes from Spencer's deliberate distortion of the concept.

I haven't been able to keep up with the conversation for some time - I had a close encounter of the Escheria coli kind recently, which put me way behind at work.

Randall Winn said...

Instead of waiting for some virtuous gazillionaire to build Galt's Gulch, we could rate the various settlements in American history on the GG scale (0.0 = tyrannous hellhole to 1.0= Galt Heaven).

Then we could study how relatively wide-open towns such as pre-Civil War Seattle (where government basically settled property disputes and not much else) eventually turned into statist enclaves leading to such dismal failures as Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft. What would be the point of building GG if in a generation it was just going to turn into Seattle?

--
When I read of Galt's Gulch in my adolescence, I had already had enough experience gardening to suspect that the Atlasses were going to have a problem acquiring nutrition - farming is hard work! I now realize that they were probably atomic-powered, which explains why they didn't need food crops or children.
--
It has often been said that socialism would work perfectly if it didn't have to be run by human beings. The same may be said of libertarianism. Seattle's history has hilarious examples of freewheeling captains of industry, such as Henry Yesler, who built very valuable enterprises and justly earned a place in history, but also wreaked such harm through their greed (nearly bankrupting Seattle - twice!) that everyone might have been better off if he had shrugged and "Gone Galt", or just gone. I would imagine other settlements would have similar tales - people being people everywhere.

Laurent Weppe said...

@ Paul Shen-Brown

Yeah, it was Herbert Spencer.

sociotard said...

I'll admit to being amused at the more current authors of libertarian fantasy at Big Head Press, which I got linked to from here, I think.

Like the Probability Broach. Featured is an alternate history where property rights are paramount. The point of divergence was George Washington getting impeached for putting down the whiskey rebellion.

I kind of want to read "a drug war carol", but its not available online. The concept just sounds funny.

sociotard said...

Check that, Washington was executed for bleeding everyone dry with Hamilton's taxes. criminey.

Daniel Duffy said...

Randall - "It has often been said that socialism would work perfectly if it didn't have to be run by human beings. The same may be said of libertarianism."

The big mistake made by socialists is assuming that humans are basically good.

The big mistake made by libertarians is assuming that people are basically rational.

Neither could be further from the truth.

Daniel Duffy said...

Given ever increasing levels of urbanization, the future of libertarianism is not very bright. Libertarianism is not physically possible in high population density urban areas.

Because Libertarianism is a luxury of living in low population density areas where government is not necessary. In high population density areas large government and its impact on life is necessary and inevitable simply to allow people to live.

In the country you can use a septic field. In the city you have to have a sewer system and centralized waste water treatment facilities.

In the country you can have your own personal well. In the city you have to have a water department and associated infrastructure.

In the country, you can have volunteer firemen. In the city you have to have a large well equipped fire department.

In the country you can have an elected sheriff. In the city you have to have a large police department and associated bureaucracy.

In the country you could burn your trash. In the city you need a waste management department and heavily regulated landfills.

Etc....

Daniel Duffy said...

(cont.)

These city/country differences define America. There are really two American economies and they are the real reason we have our infamous Red/Blue divide. Notice that I did not use the word “State”.

There are no Red or Blue states.

There are only Red rural areas and Blue urban areas. So northern Michigan (the home of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVie) is just as Red as deepest Alabama. And cities like Houston and Austin are Blue urban islands in a vast sea of Red rural counties.

Red America is a resource based economy (oil, coal, agriculture, ranching, mining). Its an economy that is based on wealth extracted from the ground - a “dirt” economy. These are economic activities that physically can only be performed in rural areas. These activities always degrade the environment. A highly skilled and educated work force is not necessary for a dirt economy to function. Since it is a commodity driven economy, what matters to investors is cheap labor, not skilled labor. Red areas dependent on the dirt economy are by nature low population density areas. Such communities tend to be isolated, backwards, fearful of change, fearful of differences – i.e. conservative.

OTOH Blue America has a knowledge based economy (communications, high tech, software, biotech, genetics, renewable energy). Its an economy that is based on wealth extracted from the human mind - a “brain” economy. These are economic activities that are best performed in urban areas. These activities enhance or preserve the environment. A highly skilled and educated work force is absolutely necessary for a brain economy to function. Since it is a quality and innovation driven economy, what matters to investors is skilled labor, not cheap labor. Blue areas dependent on the brain economy are by nature high population density areas. Such communities tend to be cosmopolitan, progressive, eager to change, embracing differences – i.e. liberal.

So what happens when Blue America no longer needs Red America for food because vertical farms dot urban areas providing all the food a major city needs (without the need for insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, soil, or massive quantities of fertilizer and water – even using sewage instead)? What happens when Blue America no long needs vast amounts of electricity from coal because of advanced photovoltaic systems covering the surfaces of sky scrapers?

Red America dies.

Its already happening in coal country, where I do most of my work. From western PA, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas to Kansas – I've seen these dead and dying communities up close as eh coal industry dies (the biggest new environmental market segment is what to do with coal ash from closed facilities, abandoned mines, and shut down power plants).

Coal is dead or dying and it is leaving behind abandoned towns and a dysfunctional “white ghetto” stretching across Appalachia with the exact same cultural pathologies found in “black ghettos” like Detroit:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/367903/white-ghetto-kevin-d-williamson

And Red America will continue to depopulate, a trend that has been happening since the 1980s:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/06/slow-death-in-the-great-plains/376882/

The political ramifications are obvious. The GOP will cling to power in the House at least (they will lose the Senate in 2016, almost a sure thing) by means of crooked gerrymandering schemes and racist voter ID laws. But there will come a tipping point (2024?) where that whole structure comes crashing down.

Laurent Weppe said...

"But you left out (1) that the communists in Russia copied every noxious aspect of Czarist rule. And (2) it is legitimate to suggest that Euro-socialism may have erred too far in several socialist directions."

(1) Of course they did! Lenin's Great Plan was to replace the old corrupt aristocracy with a new, ideologically homogenous benevolent intelligentsia. Even if all bolsheviks had been sincere idealists (which was far from being the case), they would have been at most a couple of decades away from devolving into another aristocracy, and that's precisely why the schism between european social-democrats and communists happened right after the russian revolution. That ship sailed away nearly a century ago.

But your post was about Ayn Rand's "magnum opus", and the thing about Rand is that despised the Soviets because her family had it better during the previous regime: her opposition was never at its core moral or ideological: she lamented her loss of material comfort: Here lies the origin and core of her vile "Me-First-Fuck-Everyone-Else" doctrine.

(2) As for the European Left, I (and some others) already pointed out that Europe's problems do not stem from its socialist wing: european Socialists are a minority: only 10 out of 28 countries, and only one major member state -France- have socialist heads of government, and even if you add the far-left and ecologists to the social democrats, they have only 293 deputies in the 766 member strong Union's Parliament (and even if you were to squint your eyes and imagine add Verhofstadt's centrists, who virtually always ally with right-wing parties at the local and national level to an hypothetical -and practically unfeasible- coalition, it would still have a minority of seats).
Europe is currently ruled by right-wing, rhetorically pro-business, austerity-fetichizing parties which in many sectors are behaving like the GOP (there's been much less science denial and ethno-religious supremacism so far, but even this is fading away as "moderate" european right-wingers increasingly often try to mimic the far-right demagoguery in the vain hope of "reconquering" far-right voters) and advocating (and often imposing: they are the dominant political faction here) similar policies (that is: lots of deregulation for the finance sector, gifts to rich heirs disguised as "incentives for entrepreneurs" and dismantling the social safety net because "sacrifices have to be made" -by the plebs, of course-): the EU being a multinational polity whose member states enjoy enormous levels of autonomy compared to the much more centralized USA as so far prevented it from suffering from the same kind of meticulous campaign of oligarchic sabotage, but that's where the current dominant political faction is pushing toward.

Randall Winn said...

@Daniel Duffy
//*The big mistake made by libertarians is assuming that people are basically rational.*//

Indeed. Try as they might, the Koch brothers can never get Rosebud back.

Are they irrational? There is, after all, a point after which the pursuit of further billions is simply flaunting your dick - but what if that is what matters to you, and bugger the future after you are dead?

One may criticize the way that Bill Gates became hugely wealthy, but what he is doing with his wealth is admirable. I consider him more rational than the Kochs, but part of that may be that our values about the future more closely align.

Perhaps "rational" in this context should include the realization that so long we are all mortal, our value function must include our environmental legacy.

Marino said...

I agree wholeheartedly with mr. Weppe on EU.
On Adam Smith (odd, as I'm a former card carrying Italian Communist, the far left variety first and the softer kind later saying this) it's perfectly true that his magnum opus isn't Wealth of nations, but Theory of moral sentiments.
Where basically he assumes that market, as a subset of all kinds of exchange between humans, relies on what he iirc called "compassion" and we would call "empathy", understanding the needs of the others, putting in his/her shoes, so something very different from the bogus "Social Darwinism market as jungle" theory. Probably I've just less trust than Mr. Brin on the fact that free and competitive capitalism has in itself the antibodies to defeat the drift toward oligarchy.
Sometimes it looks like the free and open, competitive market capitalism becomes like the victims of the mutating parasite in DeL Toro's The Strain...

Marino

David Brin said...

Thanks you Daniel & Laurent for good inputs.

Laurent you leave out the fact that the Fait Accompli baseline of social contract in most of europe is still very socialistic, whatever the current political distribution. Indeed, that current distribution is probably a reaction to paternalistic excesses.

Also, the reverse colonization on Europe from the Muslim countries is inevitably having effects.

Marino, I relentlessly state that all competitive arenas need relentless regulation in order to prevent inevitable cheating. Markets and democracy are especially endangered by cheating, which then DESTROYS competition, as it did in all feudal societies.

David Brin said...

Thanks you Daniel & Laurent for good inputs.

Laurent you leave out the fact that the Fait Accompli baseline of social contract in most of europe is still very socialistic, whatever the current political distribution. Indeed, that current distribution is probably a reaction to paternalistic excesses.

Also, the reverse colonization on Europe from the Muslim countries is inevitably having effects.

Marino, I relentlessly state that all competitive arenas need relentless regulation in order to prevent inevitable cheating. Markets and democracy are especially endangered by cheating, which then DESTROYS competition, as it did in all feudal societies.

Gator said...

Apparently the three Atlas Shrugged movies cost about $35M together to make; each succeeding one having half the budget of the previous.

To date the three movies have taken in about $9M in box office and DVD sales. The last in particular has not topped $1M.

There's something ironic in there I'm sure. :)

David Brin said...

Gator that's lovely. Of course, I musta given them a dollah with my Netflix rentals. But it wasn't outta my pocket. She'd a been proud a me.

Andy said...

@Daniel Duffy - great analysis of the Red/Blue divide!

David Brin said...

onward

Prakash said...

You guys should visit India. Indian government bureaucracy is so perverse it'll make you yearn for the niceness of Ayn Rand Villains.

reason said...

David,
isn't the key point, and one that perhaps you don't emphasize enough, is that competition is a GAME. Winning the competition is not the point. The point is that the game encourages good SOCIAL outcomes. (G)Libertarians always think they are making MORAL arguments, and those moral arguments start from methodological individualism. Social outcomes are beside the point to them. Given that difference in approach, I can't really see how the two sides can communicate at all.

reason said...

It sort of reminds me in point in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That apparently small differences, when you pick at them, can expose a vast unbridgeable divide. A bit like convergent evolution, I suppose.

reason said...

Prakash,
is that relevant? I don't think anybody here thinks that we need is as simple as more or less government, what we need is better government.

Anonymous said...

(Research call: can anyone cite a previous Rand critic who pointed this out? It is so glaring, there has to be! I just want to know.)

I am not sure if a professional critic ever brought up the topic of (the lack of) children in Rand's fiction (and non-fiction), but then how much professional criticism have her books received?

But I recall coming across a similar argument many years ago in an Amazon review, possibly this one:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R3VLUNUW1XGGQF/ref=cm_cr_pr_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0451191145

A lot of the reviews at Amazon of Rand's books (and of books on her) present compelling critiques and make for amusing reading. However, while I am no Randian, I still think they miss their target. The reason is that, as a self-declared "Romantic Realist", Rand is not beholden to anything like Tolstoyan realism or Zolaesque naturalism. She claimed her model was instead Victor Hugo. Here she is on Les Misérables:

You may read any number of more "realistic" accounts of the French Revolution, but Hugo's is the one you will remember. He is not a reporter of the momentary, but an artist who projects the essential and fundamental. He is not a statistician of gutter trivia, but a Romanticist who presents life "as it might be and ought to be." He is the worshipper and the superlative portrayer of man's greatness.

What we need is less carping over Rand's failures at what we think she should be doing (realism, modern literary values of complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, and so on) and more analysis of how she falls short of Hugo or the principles she appreciates in his work.

Paul Smith said...

Check out http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/02/
It looks like we're in for for a rough ride.

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