Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why are "new economy" moguls mostly optimists?

Are people in the New Economy – especially tech billionaires – different from their Old Economy peers? I have long maintained that the Silicon Valley types retain a sense of loyalty to the “diamond shaped” society that engendered them, and to the middle class engineers and others whose skill made them rich. This is in sharp contrast to those who got wealthy from resource extraction, finance-parasitism and inheritance, who tend toward colluding together in hope of restoring society to its more accustomed shape – a feudal pyramid of owner-privilege.  As evidence for this difference, many tech moguls have signed the Gates-Buffett pledge to donate half their wealth to good causes. Another? Most of them are (or sympathize with) democrats.  

But in fact, the situation is complex.  As this article -- Silicon Valley Represents an Entirely New Political Category -- shows, these men and women of the New Economy – including those who are less than zillionaires – retain some strong libertarian leanings.  They want capitalism to be open and competitive and fair… but they want capitalism. They tend to be “collectivist” in the sense that they stroingly believe in a commons where all children get fed, and educated, with free health care… but they expect the resulting, confident adults to need and want to strive. Government has a major, desireable role in all of this. But its preferred function is to level the starting blocks, not the finish line.

Gregory Ferenstein writes, “I found that the philosophy of Silicon Valley is radical idealism. Founders describe themselves as optimists, first and foremost.”  And… “This idealism is not rhetorical fluff; it’s founded on two deep-seated assumptions about the world: change is inherently progressive and there are no conflicts between major groups in society.”

The author then cites Elon Musk: “If we’re all in a ship together and the ship has some holes in it, and we’re sort of bailing water out of it, and we have a great design for a bucket, then even if we’re bailing out way better than everyone else, we should probably still share the bucket design.”

This view is refreshing… and jibes well with the underlying notions of science fiction.  That change is inevitable, but exploring it together, openly – mixing competition that is fair with cooperation that is real and far-seeing – can take us forward to better days. 

Of course there are optimists and then hyper optimists, as Peter Diamandis shows in his book Abundance.   If he's right (and many indications are there) then we are on our way to Tomorrowland.  Then Star Trek. But only after finishing our passage through this adolescent purgatory, solving problems ambitiously and scientifically and with good will.

== Global Trends  ==

New projections from the UN suggest that, in a few decades, we could secure a stable global population. “To be clear, the forecasts do not show an imminent end to population growth – far from it. The global population has the momentum of an elephant on an ice rink. The U.N.’s medium-variant projection shows a rise to 9.7 billion people in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100.”

The plunge in childbearing is startling. Eighty-three countries containing 46 per cent of the world’s population – including every single country in Europe – now have fertility below replacement rate of about 2.1 births per woman. Another 46 per cent live in countries where the birth rate has fallen sharply. In 48 countries the population will decline between now and 2050. That leaves just 9 per cent of the world’s population, almost all in Africa, living in nations with pre-industrial fertility rates of five or six children per woman. But even in Africa fertility is starting to dip.

200 Years that Changed the World: A classic animation showing how life expectancy and wealth have varied in a wide sampling of nations, across the last 200 years.  See China “bounce” during the 1840s T’ai Ping Rebellion and points scatter during the two world wars, then a more recent acceleration as much of the world catches up – at last – with the West.  

== and more ==

Kiosks!  I think the trend is seriously under-rated. The company that runs Redbox and Coin-Star is now putting out ECO-ATM which will pay cash for your old cell phone, while ensuring it is either refurbished or recycled.  Does it seem archaic? After all, who will be renting DVD disks in ten years?  Oh, the business will have to be agile. But picture a 3D printing kiosk that’s much more capable than the little unit in your garage.  Look up the piece you need and zap an order to the nearest kiosk, retrieving it far faster than any drone will bring it to you…. 

Developing skills to manage the future: A new game in development attempts to utilize all the fun world-building tools and capabilities that kids find so attractive in Minecraft, but with an added layer of natural beauty and much better eco-economics.  In ECO, players choose whether to run their civilization democratically or feudally and so on and get to compare results. Players use ever-changing data about the ecosystem to make wise economic and social choices. Develop too fast or in a wastrel way and you will rapidly deplete your resources. 

Foiling threats: The raging wildfires out west have led to a trend… wrapping cabins in aluminum foil. 

Changing attitudes... An interesting article shows that thousands of locales in the U.S. still have place-names that are racist or otherwise offensive by modern and evolving standards.  Most must have been offensive - deliberately so - in their own time and context… though some may have been genuine homages. No matter.  Standards do evolve and we should use names to suit our needs and times. And our time needs to to care. 

And yet divides remain: John Oliver does a terrifically incisive – and hilarious – job exploring the vast disparity in Sex Education across the U.S.

One of the world's great animators makes the transition from paper to virtual reality...

Yogi Berra died at age 90: Yogi was far, far wiser than that awful, nasty little oven mitt, Yoda!


Robert said...

While we don't yet have human clinical trial evidence on the effectiveness of a recent potential drug that could help retard the effects of aging, I have to say if it IS accurate... then it would help eliminate a potential problem that comes with aging populaces - caring for the elderly. Even if it doesn't extend our age past 90, if all it does is provide people with a HEALTHY 90 where they are still active and don't need nursing homes and the like until the last year or two of life? Then you would see possible labor shortages dry up as people could and probably would work 'til their late 70s.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

on Yogi Berra...

My favorite of the many quotes attributed to him (which might actually be apocryphal) goes: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."

sociotard said...

recut spock quotes autotuned into a fun song

Tom Crowl said...

I honestly wish I knew how to be a techno-optimist. I mean that seriously. I take no joy in seeing the dark side... but nor can I keep my eyes closed to what I see.

This isn't because I think Silicon Valley billionaires are evil... nor is it because I doubt that technology really could create a better world for all or even a near paradise right here on earth.

Perhaps the two factors that make me most pessimistic are these:

1. It takes fewer and fewer people to create significant destruction to a complex interdependent civilization.

2. Disparities in wealth and power... (and most especially a failure to develop the necessary global "Enlightenment" mentality which is difficult to build and maintain even under the best conditions) are not being addressed anywhere nearly fast enough to counteract the forces of discontent which will drive disruptive forces willing to implement that significant destruction.

A simple example: While we freak out about a few terrorists with semi-automatic weapons (as perhaps we should)... what happens when one or two discontented idiots decide to play with building and releasing gene drives geared to the human genome... let alone what else may accidentally result even with the well intentioned in this area.

Please, I don't want to be a tin hat gadfly... I just don't think optimism is going to be enough... nor are amazing and wonderful technologies especially when only a small number of people may take advantage of them initially.

But you may say... such innovations will quickly spread beyond the few! Maybe. But I'm just not sure there's sufficient time.

I believe this step in the Drake equation is a very narrow funnel... and only those life forms... if any... that manage to balance technological evolution with social/cultural evolution... either accidentally or intentionally... will make it through.

We're on the wrong track.

P.S. While its dangerous to generalize... the elitest model for building a secular world via trade interdependence and a single global currency has some good elements but has been fatally mishandled primarily because of cronyism, financial/monetary corruption and a failure to broadly share its benefits. (I'm sorry Mr. Gates... cheap phones doesn't make up for diminishing wages and having your home stolen.)

David Brin said...

TC I do recommend you read ABUNDANCE and also THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, by Pinker. They do not claim we have no challenges, only that we are up to the task.

Tom Crowl said...

I'll give it a shot and hope for the best!

Jumper said...

I think the differences you refer to, David, are based on belief or not in collective action. There are plenty of people who won't vote, for example, because they think they count too little. On the opposite side, there are plenty who litter, because that little scrap makes no difference: just look at the messy street. Wall Street traders who edge towards the dark side tell themselves everyone does it; get mine.

locumranch said...

I'd be more impressed by this new breed of Billionaire Philanthropists if their charitable trusts contained actual resources (potable water, food, blankets, vaccines, fossil fuels, uranium, copper, etc) instead of billions & billions of unsecured paper promissory notes, stock certificates & IOUs which may (and most likely will) be subject to sudden & catastrophic currency devaluation and are not to be confused with any real durable wealth.

Then, there are the Zuckerberg billionaires who have (cynically?) 'promised' to donate "99%" of their Facebook billions (someday) in exchange for Tax-Exempt Status starting right now. That conditional promise, plus one current US dollar, would be worth almost 14 cents back in 1967. Whoopie!!

"The future ain’t what it used to be", said Yogi Berra and, boy, he weren't kidding.


Jumper said...

Well, it beats spending their money on science denial. You may be surprised that most people here are perfectly capable of noting the tax advantages of currently legal tax shelters, and adjust our perceptions already as cynicism requires automatically. Duh.

Paul SB said...

Tom Crowl,

Keep in mind what is called "Negativity Bias." Humans tend to focus much more on the negative than the positive, by around 3x. It's a survival instinct in bad times, though it can have very negative consequences in good times. It's much easier to be cynical because we have cynical instincts, instincts that are made to focus our minds on problems we need to deal with. But we also have those big frontal lobes. If we know it is a misplaced instinct, we can tell ourselves not to listen.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you've a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.

Of course, that was kind of a propaganda tune, wasn't it?

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

Sounds like Tom needs someone to cheer him up. How about this?

Optimism won't be enough and we optimists know that. Fortunately for the world we can't convince everyone to see it as we do. Humans are a varied lot. We have this pesky habit of considering every possible viewpoint in aggregate as if we were a large quantum computer working a search algorithm for a path to the future. Survivors express viable paths.

reason said...

As to the title - because they took a gamble and were successful - duh?

Anonymous said...

While a certain degree of unsinkable optimism is doubtless required to keep a company--or ship--moving at ever increasing speeds through history--or the Atlantic--and while a hypothetical allegiance to a diamond age may be all well and good, the distinct lack of a mention of the hollowing of the middle class here is quite notable. And what ever happened to those Atlantic speed records? By boat, or by plane? What became of them? Ditto for any claimed progress by Internet, or wherever the weather-cock of progress might point to-day, the same limits and diminishing returns that halted the Atlantic speed races must also apply to the resource-hungry Internet. How much Carbon is that bitcoin mining chewing through?

Now, while bailing out a boat that has holes in it may appeal to some, others might stop, step back and ask--why does the boat have holes? Consider: is car-sitting really all that necessary? How much does it cost? Do include the roads, and consider this vast public infrastructure versus the private tax receipts available to maintain it. With these findings in mind, would a switch back to a traditional city design that minimizes or eliminates car sitting make more sense? Change, after all, is inevitable, and does not always move in some singular direction.

raito said...

There's probably a few reasons why the new guys think differently. Here's the ones I can think of off the top of my head:

They grew up when society had a diamond shape, for the most part. And naturally, they'd want to keep the environment they were successful in. In that, they're no more different than their robber baron peers. But that doesn't explain optimism.

Henry Ford had at least a glimpse of it when he stated that he wanted his employees to be able to afford his products, even if it was only the pragmatic view that if everyone's a serf, who can you sell to (or through to)?

They deal more directly with the average joe, at least business-wise. Looking at wikipedia's list of robber barons, it sure looks like most of them were not involved in the retail side of anything. It appears that most of them were involved in either raw materials production, transportation, or finance. And not in ways where they dealt with the general public, but with other businesses, governments, etc. The new guys seem to produce stuff that the average person uses. This doesn't much explain the Waltons, though.

It may also be that what they made their money on making a bigger pie (even if a lot of it is just numbers).

Or it may be that technological change now comes a lot more rapidly. The Industrial Revolution changed a lot of things, but most of the methods that came with it haven't really been supplanted (if you want to make a million of something, the cheapest way to do it is still using methods founded in the late 1800's). Electronic technological obsolescence runs at a much faster rate. If you're not looking forward, you have no choice but to fall behind. And if looking forward is depressing, why keep trying?

Maybe part of the difference is that the new guys' spheres overlap a lot more than the robber barons' did. The robber baron's cooperated, to be sure, but only by each keeping to his own industry. Today, the industries' boundaries are less rigid. And maybe they see that some cooperation gets them more, even if the other guy also gets more (the very definition of positive-sum).

As for kiosks, I think the lesson may be that convenience trumps a lot of considerations, and that the convenience of ordering from home and waiting for delivery only goes so far. People live in the physical world, and they have to be someplace all the time. We're not yet in the world of Asimov's 'It's Such a Beautiful Day'. I wonder if a case could be made for a small office where people can actually come for various sorts of technical support/customer service? Where the office owner contracted with diverse companies to do such service? Sometimes, only actual human interaction will do.

Watching Glen Keane draw was fun. But his results wouldn't have been as good if he wasn't able to actually draw. What that means to me is that he's a master. His skill doesn't depend on medium. I've seen time and again someone who has skill in a particular medium not able to apply those skills elsewhere. And that's not mastery.

And yes, Yogi is preferable to Yoda.

locumranch said...

Success generates optimism but optimism does not necessarily generate success; the tendency to argue otherwise reveals delusional thinking & a rejection of conditional logic; and,the act of arguing otherwise betrays a 'survivor bias' that excludes failed optimists from anecdote.

It is a given that David Brin is a successful writer whose writing career started in modest circumstances, yet it would be insane to argue that all writers who start in modest circumstances must necessarily become as successful as David Brin.

Likewise, it is a given that all Lottery Winners once purchased lottery tickets, but it does NOT follow that all lottery tickets purchased are winners.

Just as 90% of Start-Up Companies FAIL, it is more likely that optimism predisposes individuals to FAILURE rather than success. This is especially true in medicine where pessimism (aka 'the expectation of worst possible outcome') precipitates the most successful treatment plans AND optimism (wishful thinking; complacency) leads to tragedy.

Maybe this is also why our civilisation seems to be circling the toilet in accordance with the cyclic history model: Our forefather's pessimism, brutality & puritanism precipitated societal success; societal success led to optimism, self-delusion & complacency; and misplaced optimism leads invariably to tragedy, failure & collapse.

So, let's celebrate those plunging global birth rates some more.*


* May I recommend 'Children of Men' for your viewing pleasure?

TheMdaLibrarian said...

Locum, sometimes you can be a real Debbie Downer. How many times did Edison strike out with the light bulb before developing a filament that would work (let's not get into the argument that he stole key ideas from others). Maybe it wasn't just optimism, but stubbornness and persistence that gave him the edge, but you have to be willing to keep trying, even in the face of disappointment.

For something a little more fun in the medical department, how about this: 3D printing company produces prosthetic limbs for children in a variety of surfaces. One young man got his new bionic hand special delivery. (Sorry I don't remember if someone posted this before)

Tom Crowl said...

One can assume that a hunter-gatherer group contained both optimists AND pessimists... characteristics arising out of genetics and/or experience.

The optimist might say "Let's GO!!! We can catch and kill that mastodon!" And this may lead to more food and surer survival.

Meanwhile the pessimist says "Hold on... I think there might be a sabre tooth tiger in that bush on your flank! Forget the mastodon!"

With any given hunt one or the other might be right... and I suspect the best survival is achieved by a group with a mixture of both optimists AND pessimists.

They each need the other.

Whereas both an "all" pessimist group and an "all" optimist group are likely to fail.

Is it possible that civilizations fail because of too much of either?

i.e. an oblivious elite insulated from the burden of those below? or on the other hand a disillusioned population without faith that change will come?

These two poles are not unseen conditions... and mixing them together is... and has been... explosive.

It is only by carefully keeping the cool optimism-at-the-top stirred with the dissatisfied heat-from-the-bottom that we can our porridge "just warm enough".

A One Click, Low Threshold Contribution Capability: Why It's Necessary for Advocacy

David Brin said...

Cyclic history models aren't just wrong, they are demonstrable drivel, stunningly and hilariously wrong, without any examples to point to. Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE and the works of Toynbee do point to failure modes that doomed prior civilizations and calcified leadership castes certainly played a role. But the "cyclical twaddle is malarkey.

Yes, anonymous, the middle class is hollowing. That is THE core project of Rupert Murdoch and the neo-feudalists. So? Our parents in the Greatest Generation stopped just such an attempted putsch. They defeated depression and Hitler and Stalin and took us to the moon and created that vast middle class... and their favorite living person was Franklin, Delano Roosevelt.

Anonymous said...

The Techie billionaire class is psychologically motivated by success, the extraction/finance billionaires are more motivated by wealth. For a tech billionaire to get richer, more people need to buy their tech. Classic Demand-side economics. Wealth obsession, however, is no really about the number of zeros in your bank account, but the relative difference between you and the population average. Zuckerberg or Gates might give up half their billions knowing the eventual payoff of increased wealth for the masses knowing they could always get richer. On the other side, the Koch's and Saudi princes of the world would burn half their cash in a heartbeat if it somehow bankrupted everyone else, because those who have inherited wealth would almost always prefer to be big fish in small ponds. And many of these men have had so much wealth from such a young age that they have become addicted to a number of unsavory pastimes. If the techno-optimists get their way and everyone becomes post-Singularity "billionaires" then who will the degenerate heirs and heiresses be able to victimize? If everyone has a camera, how long can their skeletons remain closeted?


LarryHart said...


If the techno-optimists get their way and everyone becomes post-Singularity "billionaires" then who will the degenerate heirs and heiresses be able to victimize?

I think we had this discussion here before--how can "pursuit of happiness" be a self-evident right if Person A's happiness is directly proportional to how much unhappiness he can cause for Person B? As a society, do we pick a side and determine to protect one of them at the expense of the other? If so, which do you choose to protect? If not, then isn't not choosing a side a choice as well?

Me personally, I want government to protect predat-ees from predators, even if that makes the predators unhappy. But I'm not sure I could defend that as a self-evident good. Modern day Republicans seem to believe the exact opposite--that the self evident truth is that the happiness of predators is to be guaranteed.

Jumper said...

That 90% fail rate of business is a pessimist's myth. Just another made-up factoid so nihilists can chortle.
However, one true thing is that everyone dies. So what's the point? Right?

David Brin said...

LarryHartMuch of liberalism can be defended in terms of AdamSmithian pragmatism. Hayek - beloved economist of the right - inconveniently said that the number of deciders and market participants who are knowledgeable and empowered actors should be maximized in order for markets to function. How can that happen unless all children are fed, clothed, educated and given opportunities and tools to be knowledgeable and empowered actors?

That side of liberalism... equalizing the starting blocks... demands also that the children of the rich have their immense advantages limited below some threshold that we do not yet know, but that certainly will be far lower than the Kochs and Waltons desire. Low enough that small cabals of colluding heirs cannot unduly influence politics or markets. e.g. cheating.

The side of liberalism that I call "leftist" that wants to meddle further and affect OUTCOMES of economics has a harder job of justification. Now you must show outcome metrics that merit such intervention strongly. e.g. the greater good of reducing use of carbon fuels and/or subsidizing a space launch industry until it can be self-supporting from customers.

And so we have a sliding scale of liberal interventions that are no-brainers (except in the vexing details of HOW to make sure each child is fed/educated etc)... through those that can be justified after due-diligence... to those that try to make up for past injustices (okay, but when is enough?)... to those that are pushy, domineering excuses for sanctimonious finger-wagging and competition-stifling stupidity - and yes, the Randians are right that it happens. Just not 1% as often as they think.


Now it happens that the most pragmatically justifiable interventions also -- in modern eyes -- seem the most blatantly moral and 'good'! Help all children! Duh? But it is in the sweet spot, where the pragmatic and moral so perfectly overlap that you know you have found something fundamental.

Likewise, ending 6000 years of prejudice against races and genders is not just 'good' but justifiable as ending an age-old travesty of wasting talent.

Treebeard said...

I don't see how a Star Trek or Heinlein future is in the cards; a Matrix or Skynet future seems much closer to where the vectors are pointing. How many people outside a small technocratic elite are optimistic about a civilization that is promising to automate their jobs out of existence, surveil them ever more minutely, and create some kind of PC/police/nanny state to ensure they don't threaten the machine or hurt anyone, including themselves?

I think this is where the Enlightenment ethos just fails. The desire to subject the entire world to human reason leads to its own kind of stifling and oppressive society. Wasn't this the lesson of the Soviet Union? Reconnection to wild nature, the unknown, the unfair and the irrational is how we renew ourselves. But where will we find it, if the planet is turned into a gilded cage by our our friends at Facebook, Google, etc.?

Paul SB said...

Tom, I like your pessimism/optimism balance idea. Societies of all kinds are interdependencies between very different sorts of people. Those fools who curse diversity are clueless how much their existence depends on it. However (I have a couple /howevers/ here), the literature on negativity bias is pretty solid. It's not that we are all natural pessimists, we average to 3x more motivated by fear of loss than by desire for gain, so something like 3 times as many of our prehistoric ancestors would have been hiding from the sabertooths as chasing those mastodon (ah, I remember those days! Roast mammoth cooked badly over a spit, 1/3rd of my band dying of hypothermia) The other /however/ boils down to the false dichotomy. Even people who proudly self-identify as optimists or pessimists aren't really either. It's a gradation, and it's situational. I see students every day about whom I am very optimistic, and others who I think should crawl back under the rock from which they came. I'm optimistic about technological progress, but sometimes it seems like socially we aren't getting any better (though the statistics don't bear that impression out). So the optimism/pessimism thing is more useful thought of as fluid rather than categorical.

Tom Crowl said...

I don't agree with all below. (I believe entrepreneurship should be rewarded, reasonable IP protection is necessary.. but at the same time so is a much more progressive income tax system and limits on wealth/power concentration)

And this guy's even more pessimistic than I am.. but it ought to push a few buttons and provoke some thought.

Pirate Bay Founder: ‘I Have Given Up’

Its worth reading to hear a bit about Silicon Valley pessimism...

(a warning about the tiger behind the bush?)

Tom Crowl said...

Following up on Paul SB...

I agree re optimism/pessimism being at least partially situational and a gradation...

and re "sometimes it seems like socially we aren't getting any better (though the statistics don't bear that impression out)"

I actually think we are making progress on a social/cultural level globally! I just am skeptical that it'll be fast enough to counteract the equation I mentioned: i.e. it takes fewer and fewer to do more and more damage.

And its not all progress... I mean it would be hard to argue that the Enlightenment has moved forward even in this country... read the polls.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there are more people taking the Bible literally now than there were a few decades ago in this country. (statistics anyone?)

I figure we're still a few centuries away from any kind of global cultural sanity... but only a decade or two away from technologies that really DO bring us to a level where a few people in a high school bio lab or at a computer terminal can create chaos well beyond what we've seen to this point.

I believe ICT (Information and Communication Technology) combined with increasing technological vulnerability creates a "justice imperative" (whether the disgruntled's complaint is objectively valid or not its the subjective perception of justice which is determinant)... that we haven't seen before and are not equipped to deal with at the speed with which it may hit us.

P.S. I don't go around depressed about this all the time... just sometime. But I think these are objective truths about the global technical/cultural situation which don't get sufficient attention as a general condition rather than simply a series of crises to be dealt with piecemeal.

Tom Crowl said...

P.S. David, Just got Abundance on my kindle and one chapter in. So good.

David Brin said...

ero summers and grouches who proclaim that prescriptive, top-down command hierarchies, like feudalism, oligarchy and Soviet communism, bear any resemblance to the Enlightenment Experiment, are fools who ironically pay the EE a compliment by accepting its core values. They assert a good society should not bully and oppress... then claim that the EE does that.

It doesn't. It is the first human society ever that does not. Its core values are to find residual oppressions and conformities and end them. Diversity is extolled and individuality and the process that made this happen is not prescriptive preaching but the method that Lenin and the others specifically banned and that Rupert Murdoch is trying to quash.

Flat-open-fair-accountable competition.

Imperfectly implemented? Sure. But it is evidence that we are getting close, when we see the stunning state of panic among the EE's enemies. Murdoch, his Saudi co-owners of Fox. The communist mercantilists. The macho-propeled terrorists. They all know the end game. When enough women on the planet are empowered, they will choose nothing else... no other form of governance than the EE. And so will all the confident or high IQ males.

And now I have found a sliver of agreement with locumranch. Such a society will at least somewhat be "feminized." Huzzah for that. So long as women like us when we pump our muscles and get a little rascally and heroic and ingenious and competitive and fun.

locumranch said...

That's what 'Optimism' does for you, Jumper:
It turns you into a low-down dirty Failure DENIER and you forget that failure is a GOOD thing that allows you to start over (begin again) by ringing out the old & bringing in the new, so much so that to deny the historical life cycle is to engage in cultural necrophilia.

Cultures should die so they can learn to rise higher; we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves up; and, if we refuse to 'Fail Fast, Fail Often', then we also refuse to succeed (which is worse, in many ways, than frequent failure).

Since the idea of 'outcome' is perspective-based, can someone please explain to David that the "equalizing the starting blocks" (creating a fair, equal & level playing field) is the same as trying to "affect OUTCOMES"? Or, doesn't all that equality creation count as the outcome, result or consequence of a creative act?

Duncan Cairncross said...

David Said
"The side of liberalism that I call "leftist" that wants to meddle further and affect OUTCOMES of economics has a harder job of justification."

OK I will bite

The problem with the current level of inequality of outcome is that it is too great for the optimum operation of our society
For thousands of generation we were hunter/gatherers and we have a built in resistance to too great an inequality
Modern tests with one party having $100 and having to give some of it to somebody else or else both parties losing show that if the first guy is perceived as "too greedy" then the second guy refuses and they both lose the money

So when some people are thought to be too greedy other people cooperate less well

As an example

I spent most of my working career “Improving Productivity”
After 7 years as a Quality Manager at the Darlington Engine Plant increasing our output from 80 engines/day to 240 engines/day without spending any significant capital I was seconded to the USA as part of “Advanced Manufacturing”
I became an “Tech Specialist” – to be rude a “Corporate Seagull”
(flies over squawks about a lot makes a mess on the floor and flies away)

I found that what I had to do was talk to the engineers and workers at a plant,
find out what they wanted to do
Do a little filtering and write up a proposal
(Which was pretty similar to what I had been doing at Darlington)
I would also add any other good ideas that I had seen or heard about at any of the other plants
Then use my “Corporate Status” to push it through their management and help them implement it
I think I had about a 40% success rate – the other 60% I just could not get past management
But that saved millions

This was where the productivity improvements came from – the work force
I don’t believe I ever saw anything useful coming from the very top ranks of management

So – most of the productivity came from the 99%
We did get some gains from capital – not as much as you would think

When I look at the disconnect between wages and productivity over the last 40 years I see two things
(1) It’s unfair – the reward is not going to those who created it
(2) From a “market” point of view it’s stupid – if you don’t reward behaviour –
and especially if people see their ideas benefiting others
you reduce that behaviour – simple as that
How much higher would that productivity curve have gone if we had been rewarding that behavior?

The "winner takes all" model is actively slowing society down

I agree that "Equality of Opportunity" is very important
BUT there is an optimum amount of "Inequality of Outcome" and we are currently far away from that point

Paul451 said...

"That 90% fail rate of business is a pessimist's myth."

And Locumranch has been told that every time he's repeated the same myth.

Doesn't make a difference. It should be true, therefore it's the same as true. Showing that it's not true has no effect, simply doesn't exist. It's not that he doesn't believe what you show him, I suspect he can't even remember the previous times.


‡ Shane, S. Startup Failure Rates – The Real Numbers, 2008. Headd, B. Redefining Business Success: Distinguishing Between Closure and Failure, 2002. Phillips & Kirchhoff. Small Business: Critical Perspectives 1989. About half of all new small businesses (ie, excluding large businesses spinning off divisions) are still operating after 5 years, and about a third will still be operating after a decade. Of those that end, most a sold as going concerns, or close without debt to the owner. Only a third actually fail.]

David Brin said...

"Cultures fall so they can rise higher." A religious fanatic! There is not evidence for such a cycle, ever ever ever or ever.



Show me a collapsed culture that um... then rose up and went to the moon? Wrote Beethoven symphonies? Solved riddles of the universe? Developed science fiction? Tell it to the Mayans and Aztecs and Carthaginians and Assyrians and Indus Civilization and ten thousand other tribes whose collapse did not lead to leaping higher. Jibbering capering utter drivel.

Go read COLLAPSE. It is dour and gloomy and dyspeptic. You'd like it for all those traits. Except for one. It isn't crazy.

Jumper said...

Thank you, Paul 451. How is it you and I know how to find real data, and some people post links to hand wavy bullshit?

Tom Crowl said...

Silicon Valley utopia ain’t gonna happen

The innovation I advocate could easily be accused of negatives this article discusses as well as being capable of being misused in dangerous or foolish ways. I'm not blind.

But the overall point... that ICT and the net in general is a double edged sword I don't believe gets enough attention from Valley optimists.

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

When I look at the disconnect between wages and productivity over the last 40 years I see two things
(1) It’s unfair – the reward is not going to those who created it
(2) From a “market” point of view it’s stupid – if you don’t reward behaviour –
and especially if people see their ideas benefiting others
you reduce that behaviour – simple as that

I began working in the tech field in the 1980s. It seems to me that within my working lifetime, the corporate strategy regarding IT infrastructure has devolved. Or else my perception was always inaccurate. But it seemes to me that, back then, the strategy was to make your best people happy to be working for you, so that they are incentivized to make your business run well. The more recent paradigm seems to assume that your employees are going to be disgruntled, and so the strategy is to clamp down as hard as possible on their ability to do you harm.

Paul SB said...

I have said before, and it probably bears repeating, that the idea of ‘feminization’ is utter drivel. However, it is drivel that is very easy to fall for and difficult to refute without some specific education. It’s akin to the “Bell Curve” controversy back in the 90s, where huge numbers of Wall Street investors loved a book that confirmed their own prejudices, huge numbers of people were morally outraged by it, but it took a scientist with very specific training in statistical methods and research design (Stephen Jay Gould) to definitively refute it.

IfI am reading this correctly, there are 3 major issues that need to be dealt with here: ethnocentrism, dichotomous thinking and self-interest.

1. Ethnocentrism (Anth 101) – all humans are ethnocentric. Our cultures mold our patterns of thought in very specific ways. Culturally inherited patterns of thought seem perfectly natural and normal and “right” to those who share that culture, but seem alien, bizarre and “wrong” to members of other cultures. This much is natural and, to a certain extent, excusable because it comes so naturally to us. Even ethnographers who have spent decades surrounded by cultures different from their own still find themselves tripping over differences in perspective, because cultural patterns are burned into our neural pathways at very young ages. Anthropologists use the term /naturalization/ to refer to that tendency for people to assume that the ways of their culture are “natural” – meaning either biologically necessary and/or supernaturally ordained. However, the more you learn about other cultures, the clearer it becomes that these cultural patterns are the results of specific histories and contain many arbitrary elements. Reasonable people conclude that cultural patterns are rarely universal and “natural” if ever. Unthinking, reactionary xenophobes conclude that all cultures that are in any way different from their own are wrong, stupid and evil.

Note, however, that ethnocentrism is not really a dichotomy. People who live in more cosmopolitan societies and rub shoulders with members of different cultures are generally less ethnocentric than people who live in more homogeneous settings. Experience teaches people in cosmopolitan societies that differences in thought patterns do not necessarily devalue different thinkers. Most of the trouble then becomes a matter of awareness. Also, it is probably not fruitful to treat ethnocentrism as an insult to hurl at people, since we are all inevitably ethnocentric to some degree. But ethnocentrism is a valid criticism of many arguments.

Paul SB said...

2. Dichotomous Thinking (Anth 215) – This gets back to the False Dichotomy fallacy. The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his 1955 book “Tristes Tropiques” noted that his own culture’s tendency to reduce complicated situations to simple dichotomies was shared by the tropical cultures he was studying. He was convinced that this tendency to reduce all complexity into sets of simple opposites is probably a universal human trait. Loci’s assertion, a couple threads back, that sex and gender are indisputable biological facts, is an argument that appears superficially valid to many people in our culture. In a sense, the argument is half right, well, more like 49% right, given hermaphrodite morphologies. 1 in 2000 humans are born with both sets of sex organs, and if you look at the medical literature, you will find that there are a number of different morphologies, and, more important where behavior is concerned, endocrinologies. So we have to deal with the existence of a third sex for which our culture has no defined gender role, and perhaps more than 3 given that there are multiple forms of hermaphrodite. Now in prehistoric times 1 in 2000 was rare enough among people whose social groups rarely reached 2000 individuals to be dismissed as flukes or “freaks of nature.” With several billion people (not to mention the phenomenon in other animal species) it’s a little harder to dismiss them entirely. But because our cultures thinks of sex as a dichotomy, we do anyway.

However, that is only half of it, because sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex is biological, but gender is how a culture assigns social roles to people based on biological sex. Think about what it means when you ‘engender’ something? I copied the definitions of a few words from

Sex: either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated with reference to the reproductive functions.

Gender: either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behavior: the feminine gender.
Compare sex (def 1).

Engender: to produce, cause, or give rise to:

Note the progression. Sex is about a biological function, gender is about cultural roles, and engender is to assign attributions to something. Our culture has naturalized our own gender roles as biological, and no doubt every other culture out there has done something similar, though different cultures see gender differently. If you talk about a “third gender” most people, including most students in anthropology classes, immediately think of homosexuality (though you would think that would lead to four genders, rather than three). The professors, however, usually start talking about berdaches. The name comes from the French for a male homosexual, though in many cases the people French missionaries and trappers in North America called berdaches were not having sex with their husbands but with their husband’s other wives. Berdaches, or “male wives” were people who were not comfortable with being a hunter or warrior, but were valued for their upper torso strength in performing household chores like tanning and gathering firewood. Many cultures around the world have more than two genders. Beyond this, however, is the fact that our stereotypes about what constitutes appropriate behavior based on biological sex is not universally shared by different cultures, even if we are limiting ourselves to a dichotomous thinking. Loci in a way gave tacit admission to this when he asserted that there is an Eastern and Western model of masculinity, which was ironic both in his ethnocentrism and in the fact that he was doing exactly what he claimed the Eastern model he denigrates does. Arguments about “feminization” or “masculinization” of society are invalidated not just by their ethnocentrism, though. It is pretty clear that our own conceptions of gender roles are evolving and changing, not some grandiose universals. Otherwise there would be no need for his gender shaming efforts.

Paul SB said...

3. Self Interest (Anth 245) – And that brings us to the Cui Bono fallacy. Today human males average 20% greater muscle mass than human females. This fact makes it very easy for males to bully females and force their will on them. Since this 20% average is across the species, it should not surprise anyone that most cultures engender dominating roles to the male sex. However, these are not prehistoric times, and today intelligence is more important than brute strength, especially in economic terms. However, there are conservative elements in every society that resist changes, especially changes that work against their own personal interests. A few threads ago I mentioned a group of people called Promise Keepers, who make a good example. They are a quasi-religious movement that was started by a college football coach, who believe that God promised men that they would have submissive women for their use. In many respects they are an American version of the Taliban. And to put it bluntly, they really only want one thing. They want vulva, not really women, because women talk and have thoughts. And they want that vulva delivered to them. They do not want to compete in an open market for mates. They do not want to have to convince a women to mate with them. They feel that they are entitled (one of them once joked that when they take over this will be their first entitlement reform. The other guy in the room gave him a dirty look at first, but chuckled anyway), that vulva free for the taking is their God-given right and that they be respected for it, not treated like the self-serving troglodytes they are. In fact, they think that their “manly virtues” makes them superior to all those “girly men” they have to compete with. And while they may only number in the thousands, there are millions of American men (and some women, too) who agree with their basic premises.

So in conclusion (I feel like I’m writing a term paper), that whole idea of “feminization” – whether you denigrate it or value it – is ethnocentric bullshit that can’t even account for the natural variation within our own culture, much less qualify as universals of the human species. Since the arguments are based on ideas embedded deeply in our own culture, even superficial agreement with them can be easily turned to persuade the less educated. Hollywood has done more than enough damage as it is.

Douglas Fenton said...

PEW just published a report titled “The American Middle Class is Losing Ground: No Longer the Majority and Falling Behind Financially”. It is very detailed and shows that since 1971 the Middle Class have been losing under both Republican and Democrat administrations. I urge you to read it since it contains a wealth of information for discussion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us a way to reverse the trend so I guess that is up to us to find.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Larry Hart spake:

I began working in the tech field in the 1980s. It seems to me that within my working lifetime, the corporate strategy regarding IT infrastructure has devolved. Or else my perception was always inaccurate. But it seemes to me that, back then, the strategy was to make your best people happy to be working for you, so that they are incentivized to make your business run well. The more recent paradigm seems to assume that your employees are going to be disgruntled, and so the strategy is to clamp down as hard as possible on their ability to do you harm.

You're not wrong, bu it's not specific to IT. Starting in the late '70s and blossoming in the '80s was the theory of shareholder value, stating that expenses that could not be *actuarially demonstrated* as improving the bottom line ought to be eliminated. Most of the intangible perks of skilled labor fell into this category, as did most community support efforts. Ostensibly this was a response to the harder economic times of the '70s, but it was quickly seized upon by those who favored a more pyramidal and less diamond-shaped society.

While quickly recognized as a new attitude, most Republicans did not immediately recognize how dangerous this paradigm shift was because it seemed (to them) just a more aggressive and responsive form of capitalism, which needed a jolt after the scandal-ridden "national malaise". But with the new paradigm came an attitude of contempt for non-shareholders, which quickly became contempt for all except the financial-services upper class. This was one of the factors that opened the GOP to the cynical-manipulative strategy of jam-tomorrow social wedge issues -- of which the Tea Party and the Donald are the logical outcomes.

Some corporations have resisted the trend. Google and Disney are two that come to mind as places that actually care about your career and aren't out to sabotage you for their own self-defense. But it's rare (and typically found only in high-profit shops).

locumranch said...

Start-ups, historical cycles & feminisation ... Where to begin?

First, it behooves us to recognise that Jumper & I are talking cross-purposes as he is talking about 'Small Business' while I am talking about 'Start-up' companies (subtype 'technical') and, since these are non-identical subjects, this allows me to accurately claim that "90% of (technical) Start-ups fail" & it allows Jumper to support his thesis any which way because 'small business' is a poorly defined term that includes BIG corporations like McDonald's, Toyota & Mercedes-Benz, self-employed (sole proprietor) professionals like David & I, and everything in between, of which only about 'half' fail in 5 years.

Second, PSB does something very similar. He uses poorly defined & recently redefined terms to argue any which way, applies logical fallacy in copious fashion, and often contradicts himself in the same sentence, arguing variously that 'sex' and 'gender' (1) simultaneously equal and do NOT equal orientations, roles & biological classes, (2) simultaneously represent cultural bias, choice & genetic predisposition depending on context, (3) are proven non-dichotomous & therefore false by the 'rare exception' (hermaphrodite) fallacy and (4) are evil because 'sexism', 'racism' & 'ethnocentricity'.

And, third, David offers me perhaps the easiest 'cyclic history' challenge in known to man: "Show me a collapsed culture that um... then rose up and went to the moon?", the reply being entirely obvious to all concerned:

This supposedly non-existent culture started as an entirely dependent imperial colony, only to collapse & reform as a viable colony that exported timber & furs, only to collapse & reform as an economically-independent agrarian culture, only to revolt, collapse & reform as a politically & economically-independent nation, only to revolt, collapse & reform as an industrialised nation, only to spread west, collapse & reform as a nation continent, only to collapse & reform as an urbanised global super power that "rose up and went to the moon", and is now in the process of a slow-motion collapse following the loss of its space program (1).

And, of course, we can't forget the other hemisphere where yet another culture started from equally humble agrarian roots, fought off an invading horde, collapsed & reformed as a monarchy, revolted, collapsed & reformed as a people's republic and, following another attempted invasion, collapsed & reformed as a tyrannical global super power that "rose up and went to the moon", then collapsed, balkanised & reformed but still kept its space program!!(2)

Kids today: They are so ignorant of history that they appear doomed to repeat it.

(1) USA
(2) USSR

locumranch said...

Ever heard of Troy? Thought by many to be collapsed, destroyed & entirely lost to history?

It's called "The Aeneid”, by Virgil. It is the story of an exiled Trojan prince, who founds the first settlement in Italy after the destruction of Troy by the Greeks in the 12th century BC. It is the story of the earliest days of Rome, a national epic honoring Rome and prophesying the rise of the Roman Empire.

You'd like it for these traits: It is optimistic & uplifting. Except for two. It isn't crazy & it supports the cyclic history model.

Where's Rome now? For those of you who believe it's 'all gone & lost to history' (even though its legacy lives on), you should check out the architecture in Washington D.C. You do remember Washington, don't you? Or is that lost to history, too?

Perhaps shortly?


David Brin said...

Paul, it’s not that urban-educated-cosmopolitan people are less ethnocentric. It is that their HORIZONS of inclusion now extend much farther, their definition of “fellow tribesman.” But they may experience the same dread of those beyond the new horizon. Today, that horizon is represented by the hollywood boundaries between “good” and “invader-killer” aliens.

I agree with much that you say. Though I believe the “promise keepers” also rationalize that they are demanding that males keep their basic promises to women and children, to guard, protect, shelter and feed them. Of course that justifies demanding submission.

locum’s attempt at counter-examples… did even one of you deem them to have even glancing pertinence? If you define America overcoming challenge after challenge as it having “collapsed and recovered” then you are a truly weird user of “words.”

Citing the Aeneid as a “historical document” made me chuckle and think of Galaxy Quest.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, you are right that the horizons of inclusion tend to grow in more cosmopolitan societies, but doesn't that in and of itself suggest less ethnocentrism? If your society is fairly homogeneous, you have little to compare and contrast your ideas with, because everyone around shares the same assumptions. In a more cosmopolitan society, you are surrounded by people who have different ideas, different priorities and different assumptions, you have a context in which to broaden not just your definition of "us" but your actual ideas, priorities and assumptions. I know people who refuse to eat anything that strays from the middle-American diet of steak and potatoes, and think that anyone who does so should be excluded from the human species. Others not only try a variety of cuisines, but sample different philosophies and worldviews as well. There was a time (before my time) when it was quite popular in the West to emulate Eastern spiritualities, though the people doing this interpreted Hindu and Buddhist beliefs in very Western terms. Still, this is quite a bit better than the more narrowly ethnocentric who would condemn followers of Hinduism or Buddhism to Hell and would prefer for them to be sent there as quickly as possible. Familiarity, at least for some, breeds content. When you see that your foreign immigrant neighbors have different perspectives but they don't threaten you, dump their garbage on your lawn eat your dog, then you might be open to conversation, and conversation can lead to understanding - the opposite of ethnocentrism.

As far as loci's latest, is anyone surprised? You've commented a couple times lately that he hasn't been straw-manning your arguments as much lately, but he is still straw-manning everyone else. His accusation of solipsism on Jumper's part was quite weak and sophomoric, and to claim that an explication of a complex subject is necessarily self-contradictory either demonstrates incomprehension or deliberate distortion. I am more inclined to suspect the later, given his track record, though his suggestion that any time a society has faced and overcome a crisis represents a collapse - well, does that suggest stupidity to you or deliberate manipulation?

Paul451 said...

"this allows me to accurately claim that "90% of (technical) Start-ups fail" "

No, you're still full of shit.

Even the categories of industries with the highest rates of closure still have 1/3 to 1/4 operating after 5 years. That includes IT start-ups. (And restaurants, which is where the bogus "90%" claim actually first started, btw.)

And again, "closure" does not mean "failure", it simply means they are not operating. Most will have merely been sold or merged, or closed without debt when the owners moved on.

Your figure has nothing behind it. It's not even a distortion of real data. It's a pure invention, by people writing articles titled "why 90% of new businesses fail in their first year". Or restaurants or startups or IT or small businesses, depending on the author's target demographic. And "first year", or three years, or five, or an indeterminate period. (And what does that mean? "90% of businesses fail in their first century"? 'kay...)

It's click-bait. You clicked, and now you 'bate.

Tom Crowl said...

I'd like to make a point about "Horizons of Inclusion"...

And that is this:

Such an expansion is greatly beneficial and has been vital to building civil society. I'm all for it!

But it does NOT by itself address the Altruism Dilemma... which involves the important distinction between biological and intellectual altruism. (and its implications operate in very subtle ways)

We're they completely overlapping which is impossible for reasons mentioned in the post below we might see some different conditions. A couple of examples:

The wealth gap would be much narrower...

"Black Lives Matter" would not have become an issue because both law and the public would have long ago realized the hypocrisy of the imbalances in arrest, sentencing and the general treatment of minorities by institutions of power.

Trump would not have enthralled audiences of poor whites (and others) who've been ignored for decades by both Republicans and Democrats (and both Parties will tell you their greatest interest is building and expanding the middle but have miserably failed at this while somehow enriching themselves.)

Self Interest vs Altruism: Problems in Scaling the Decision Process

Compensation and the Social Network

Systems of Representative Government are inadvertently intended to address this... but are imperfect. The only question is how perfect do they have to be to survive?

locumranch said...

Ever since 'biological altruism' was unmasked as genetic selfishness, social altruism is a big steaming crock, representing (at best) an ill-defined 'give & take' as described by Social Exchange Theory.

But really now:

If the US Civil War (brother killing brother, resulting in a country torn in twain, millions dying from lead & disease, and the total collapse & abject destruction of Southern Culture, followed by federal Reconstruction) does NOT count as cyclic 'collapse & reform', then collapse & failure must surely represent philosophical impossibilities on our one-way progressive rocket trip to the Stars.

And, if 'closure does not mean failure' because 'failure doesn't mean failure', then it must follow that failure represents the philosophical impossibility mentioned above.

PSB: Too easy

Perhaps I did go too far to suggest that the 'Aeneid' may represent a (distorted) historical document. Who was this Heinrich Schliemann person anyway to use the 'Iliad' to locate the "remains of a great citadel that existed on the Western shore of Asia Minor, the traditional location of Troy, which appeared to be overrun in a great war around the year 1250 B.C.E., a time which is compatible with the traditional story of the Trojan War" ? Such logic also explains why so many progressives appear to assume that the US Constitution is a 'work of fiction'.

Jumper said...

Here by contrast is someone who can change his position as circumstances require:

David Brin said...

This time I won't even bother. It's like he's making up new linguistics on the fly.

David Brin said...

Want to see some tasty conspiracy theory mania? This stunning concoction of utter malarkey is from a fellow who calls himself an activist against “near-term extinction through geo-engineering.” He has either crafted himself – or else credited gullibly – one of the dumbest Black Helicopter spews I have seen in years… that hundreds of skilled scientists, engineers and civil servants are filling the skies with polymer threads coated with organic compounds, to be inhaled by “all living creatures” including their fellow citizens. All as part of an effort to create an atmospheric shield against solar radiation.

Put aside that the “interview” is written in the baldly stilted style of a villain’s monologue from a very cheap James Bond ripoff. Or that almost every technical or scientific remark is actually wrong, sometimes hilariously so. The real response to all such Black Helicopter theories that involve the US federal government is… Edward Snowden.

If Snowden was willing to blow the whistle on programs that were – in fact – legal at the time … (his revelations caused us to revise and make some of them illegal)… and that had not tangibly harmed a single citizen (yet)… then how many other civil servants and scientists would balk over a loony, hair-brained program to fill the skies with nasty polymer threads?

Sure, I’ve drawn attention to this bozo’s spectacularly stupid site. But in so doing I hope I’ve spread a notion about how to judge whether a conspiracy theory is even remotely plausible… or just plain dumb.

Tony Fisk said...

Ever since 'biological altruism' was unmasked as genetic selfishness, social altruism is a big steaming crock, representing (at best) an ill-defined 'give & take' as described by Social Exchange Theory.

There is no such thing as bleeding heart liberalism (aka 'society'). It is known.

I suggest Loco re-acquaints himself with altruism in 'selfish gene' theory.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase Ben Franklin on #COP21:

"Well Doctor, what did they agree to?"

"One point five degrees, if they can keep it."

Jon S. said...

I'm just amazed that anyone's still reading locum's freshmanic (they don't even rise to the level of sophomoric) rants. I hit the name, I skip to the next name, because in my experience he has never contributed anything of value to any discussion.

Paul SB said...

This is slightly off topic, but I was trawling through Science Daily looking for articles on muscle atrophy and came across this little one on cooperation and punishing cheaters - among bacteria. Apparently the pattern goes way back.

Catfish N. Cod said...

To put it in modern terms: the Iliad is a quasi-historical drama based on Troy and probably on the actual Trojan War.

The Aeneid is one of the most successful and popular pieces of fanfic ever created, partly due to being a fully funded piece of government propaganda.

Paul SB said...

Jon S.,

I would agree with you, and I often skip his rants, too. However, what comes out of his keyboard is very familiar from my hometown, and even many people I know in purportedly liberal Southern California where I now live. I know there are huge numbers of people who are persuaded by this sort of drivel, and by the kind of childish posturing he uses (and I have plenty of Freshmen who are more grown up). I have argued before that the best strategy might be to just ignore him. But then, when a person disseminates widely-held misconceptions, is it wise to ignore them? The readers of this forum are probably smarter than average. It has been true for more than half a century that science fiction readers average higher IQ's than afficionados of other fiction genres. But familiarity with physics, chemistry and engineering does little to help a reader distinguish wheat from chaff where it comes to arguments over human nature. Since there is an actual science of human nature, one that I am somewhat familiar with, sometimes I feel like this is a thing I should be doing. It's like what I said earlier about the old Bel Curve controversy. Hernstein & Murray had Ph.D's attached to their names and a huge book full of statistics to convince people that their bullshit was true, and a lot of people were persuaded because it sounded scientific to their untrained ears. It took an expert in the very statistical techniques they were misusing to expose the fraud.

Paul SB said...

Douglas, thanks for the article! It's pretty sobering stuff, isn't it? One of the campus aides was talking about hearing it on the news Friday. None of it surprises me, though. people have been looking at this trend for awhile, but when PEW sounds an alarm, more people listen. I have said for a very long time that neither of the 2 main US political parties has answers. One, however, seems to be doing much more harm than good, while the other just can't seem to come up with any way to fix our problems. It's much easier to break something than to build or fix it.

I had a strange thought a couple weeks ago. I wonder if maybe we could use something akin to the old Roman office of Tribune. They were elected officials who served for only one year, and they had some broad veto powers over the Senate if they felt that the Senate's actions would harm the common people. I know our senators are elected and Roman senators were chosen from the Patrician class, but it seems like America's political class is much less open and much more like an aristocracy than it was intended to be. I still think having a multiplicity of parties would help slow these trends or even reverse them. Too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people, and that power has too broad influence over the economy.

Robert said...

All conspiracy theories are stupid. Except for the ones you believe are true, naturally enough.

No one is above conspiracy theory thought. Not even our esteemed author/blogger here.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I wonder if maybe we could use something akin to the old Roman office of Tribune. They were elected officials who served for only one year, and they had some broad veto powers over the Senate if they felt that the Senate's actions would harm the common people.

To misquote Ronald Reagen, veto power isn't the solution to our problem, it is the problem.

Decentralization of power makes it difficult for one subgroup to ram its agenda through, but it makes it easier for any one subgroup to obstruct. The Republicans have caught on to this, and are making use of it to an absurd extreme.

In the current environment, I'm not sure that empowering more hostage-takers would be a good way to go.

David Brin said...

Rob H I have shown my very clear criteria for vetting conspiracy theories. Indeed, there are some that I firmly believe to be true. Those that are logical, with strong evidence and that fit the motives, means and opportunity of very highly-placed men whose history shows a willingness to conspire? Why not?

But there are major sniff tests. And the Henchman Test is very strong, when it comes to conspiracies in the democratic West. Snowden has shown us where the boundaries are, where civil servants are willing to blab, even at personal risk. And that boundary is way way way way way lower than blowing up giant buildings and spewing toxins into the sky.