Friday, December 23, 2016

The ultimate answer to “government is useless”

The following ran as a special report in the January 2016 newsletter of Mark Anderson’s Strategic News Service. I post it now, as the right's hate-all-government narrative hits hysteric-histrionic levels. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, recently selected as Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget, posted “Do we really need government-funded research at all?” Which makes this an existential threat to your lives, and mine.


Does government-funded science play a role in stimulating innovation?

By David Brin

The hypnotic incantation that all-government-is-evil-all-the-time would have bemused and appalled our parents in the Greatest Generation – those who persevered to overcome the Depression and Hitler, then contained Stalinism, went to the moon, developed successful companies and built a mighty middle class, all with powerful unions and at high tax rates. 

The mixed society that they built emphasized a wide stance, pragmatically stirring private enterprise with targeted collective actions, funded by a consensus negotiation process called politics. The resulting civilization has been more successful – by orders of magnitude – than any other. Than any combination of others.

So why do we hear an endlessly-repeated nostrum that this wide-stance, mixed approach is all wrong? That mantra is pushed so relentlessly by right-wing media -- as well as some on the left -- that it came as no surprise when a recent Pew Poll showed distrust of government among Americans at an all-time high. 

This general loathing collapses when citizens are asked which specific parts of government they’d shut down. It turns out that most of them like specific things their taxes pay for.

In a sense, this isn’t new. For a century and a half, followers of Karl Marx demanded that we amputate society’s right arm of market-competitive enterprise and rely only on socialist guided-allocation for economic control. 

Meanwhile, Ayn Rand’s ilk led a throng of those proclaiming we must lop off our left arm – forswearing any coordinated projects that look beyond the typical five year (nowadays more like one-year) commercial investment horizon. 

Any sensible person would respond: “Hey I need both arms, so bugger off!  Now let’s keep examining what each arm is good at, revising our knowledge of what each shouldn’t do.”

Does that sound too practical and moderate for this era? Our parents thought they had dealt with all this, proving decisively that calm negotiation, compromise and pragmatic mixed-solutions work best.  They would be stunned to see that fanatical would-be amputators are back, in force, ranting nonsense.

Take for example Matt Ridley’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, deriding government supported science as useless and counter-productive— a stance dear to WSJ’s owner, Rupert Murdoch. Ridley’s core question - recently reiterated more concisely by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump's nominee as director of the Office of Management and Budget - is “Do we really need government-funded research at all?” 

Ridley asserts that the forward march of technological innovation and discovery is fore-ordained, as if by natural law. That competitive markets will allocate funds to develop new products with vastly greater efficiency than government bureaucrats picking winners and losers. And that research without a clear, near-future economic return is both futile and unnecessary. 
        
 == The driver of innovation is… ==

Former Microsoft CTO and IP Impressario Nathan Myhrvold has written a powerful rebuttal to Ridley’s murdochian call for amputation. Says Myhrvold: “It’s natural for writers to want to come out with a contrarian piece that reverses all conventional wisdom, but it tends to work out better if the evidence one quotes is factually true. Alas Ridley’s evidence isn’t – his examples are all, so far as I can tell, either completely wrong, or at best selectively quoted. I also think his logic is wrong, and to be honest I don’t think much of the ideology that drives his argument either.”  Nathan’s rebuttal can be found here, along with links to the original, and Ridley’s response.

Myhrvold does a good job tearing holes in Ridley’s assertion that patents and other IP do nothing to stimulate innovation and economic development. (Full disclosure: Nathan is more self-interested in fierce IP protection than I - a patent and copyright holder - am.) Only, in his refutation of Ridley, even he does not go far enough or present a wide enough perspective. 

Myhrvold fails, for example, to put all of this into the context of 6000 years of human history.  So let me try.

During most of that time, independent innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset the stable hierarchy. Moreover, innovators felt a strong incentive to keep any discoveries secret, lest competitors steal their advantage. As a result, many brilliant inventions were lost when the discoverers died. Examples abound, from Heron’s steam engines and Baghdad Batteries to Antikythera-style mechanical calculators and Damascus steel -- from clear glass lenses to obstetric forceps – all lost for millennia before being rediscovered after much unnecessary pain. 

In his monograph: "Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive," William J. Baumol tells a story widely repeated among classical sources like Pliny and Petronius, of an inventor who presented the secret of unbreakable glass to Emperor Tiberius, only to receive death, instead of a reward, because the invention was viewed as destabilizing... a tale reset in China by Ray Bradbury in "The Flying Machine." Baumol cites earlier words by M. Finley:

"Technological progress, economic growth, productivity, even efficiency have not been significant goals since the beginning of time. So long as an acceptable life style could be maintained, however that was defined {by the ruling castes}, other values held the stage."

Those "other values" were critiqued by Adam Smith when he castigated the way oligarchs would rig markets to reward rent-seeking, noble privilege, monopolies, cartels or (in Baumol's more modern analysis) state corporations or organized crime. With rare exception, all such parasitical activities were more privileged than competitive innovation.

Staring across that vast wasteland of sixty feudal and futile centuries — comparing them to our own dazzling levels of inventive success, especially since World War II — slams a steep burden of proof upon someone like Ridley, who asserts we are the ones doing something wrong. Or that innovation zooms ahead as if by natural law.

== We are different. And different is difficult. ==

In fact, though well-nurtured and tended competitive markets are remarkably fecund, they are anything but “natural.” Show us historical examples! Kings, lords, priests and other cheaters always — always — warped and crushed market competition, far more than our modern, enlightenment states do. Indeed, Adam Smith’s call for a more “liberal” form of capitalism offered little ire toward socialists. His liberal approach calls on the state to counter-balance oligarchy, in order to keep capitalism flat-open-fair. 

Our maligned democratic states — while imperfect and always in need of fine tuning — engendered revolutions in mass education, infrastructure and reliable law that unleashed creative millions, maximizing the raw number of eager competitors — exactly the great ingredient that Friedrich Hayek recommended and that Adam Smith prescribed for a healthy, competitive market economy.  

To be clear, those who rail against 200,000 civil servants – closely watched, compartmentalized and accountable – “picking winners and losers” have a reasonable complaint! We are well-served by libertarians who point at this or that meddlesome excess. But not when their counter-prescription is handing over the same power to a far smaller cabal of 5,000 secretive and unaccountable members of a closed and incestuous oligarchic-CEO caste. Smith and Hayek both had harsh words for that ancient and utterly bankrupt approach.

(Question: who actually de-regulates, when appropriate? Democrats banished the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) when they were captured. AT&T was broken up, and the Internet was unleashed by Al Gore’s legislation. Add in Bill Clinton’s deregulation of GPS and Obama's declaration that citizens may record police... and one has to ask a simple question. Does anti-regulatory polemic matter more… or effective action? Despite their railings, 'conservatives' never deliver deregulation, except in two particular industries - finance and resource extraction - with historic results. Please name another example.)

Yes, history does offer us a few, rare examples in the past, when innovation flourished, leading to spectacular returns.  In most such cases, state investment and focused R&D played a major role: from the great Chinese fleets of Admiral Cheng He, to impressive maritime research centers established by Prince Henry the Navigator that made little Portugal a giant on the world stage. Likewise, tiny Holland became a global leader, stimulated by its free-city universities. England advanced tech rapidly with endowed scientific chairs, state subsidies and prizes. 

Those rare examples stand out from the general, dreary morass of feudal history. But none of them compare to the exponential growth unleashed by late-20th Century America’s synergy of government, enterprise and unleashed individual competitiveness, the very thing that all those kings and priests and lords used to crush, on sight. One result was the first society ever in the shape of a diamond, instead of the classic, feudal pyramid of privilege – a diamond whose vast and healthy and well-educated middle class has proved to be the generator of nearly all of our great accomplishments.

It is this historical perspective that seems so lacking in today’s shallow political and philosophical debates. It reveals that the agenda of folks like Matt Ridley, Mick Mulvaney, or Rupert Murdoch is not what they claim -- to release us from thralldom to shortsighted, oppressive civil servants and snooty scientist-boffins. 

Their aim is to discredit all of the modern expert castes that we have established, who serve to counterbalance (as Adam Smith prescribed) the feudal pyramids under which our ancestors sweltered in constraint. Their aim is a return to those ancient, horrid ways.

==  Before our very eyes ==

I believe one of our problems is that the Rooseveltean reforms – which historians credit with saving western capitalism by vesting the working class with a large stake, something Marx never expected – were too successful, in a way. So successful that the very idea of class war seems not even to occur to American boomers. This despite the fact that class conflict was rampant across almost every other nation and time.  But as boomers age-out is that grand time of naïve expectation over?

Forbes recently announced that just 62 ultra-rich individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Five years ago, it took 388 rich guys to achieve that status. (See: The 500 Richest Individuals in 2015 and commentary.)  Which raises the question, where the heck does this rising, proto-feudal oligarchy think it will all lead? 

To a restoration of humanity’s normal, aristocratic pyramid of power, with them staying on top? 

Or to radicalization, as a billion members of the hard-pressed but highly skilled and tech-empowered middle class rediscover class struggle?

== We've been here before ==

The last time this happened, in the 1930s, lordly owner castes in Germany, Japan, Britain and the U.S. used mass media they owned to stir populist rightwing movements that might help suppress activity on the left. Not one of these efforts succeeded. In Germany and Japan, the monsters they created rose up and took over, leading to immense pain for all and eventual loss of most of that oligarchic wealth.

In Britain and the U.S., 1930s reactionary fomenters dragged us very close to the same path… till moderate reformers did what Marx deemed impossible – adjusted the wealth imbalance and reduced cheating advantages so that a rational and flat-open-fair capitalism would be moderated by rules and investments to stimulate a burgeoning middle class, without even slightly damaging the Smithian incentives to get rich through delivery of innovative goods and services.  

That brilliant, positive-sum moderation led to the middle class booms of the 50s and 60s and – as I cannot repeat too often - it also feature big majorities in our parents’ Greatest Generation adoring one living human above all others: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

(Pose the question to your "make America Great again" neighbors: "When was America great?" Then remind them who the GGs loved.)

Some billionaires aren’t shortsighted fools, ignorant of the lessons of history. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many tech moguls want wealth disparities brought down through reasonable, negotiated Rooseveltean-style reform that will still leave them standing as very, very wealthy men. Heck, even Glenn Beck can see where it all leads, declaring (in effect) "OMG what have I done?"

The smart ones know where current trends will otherwise lead. To revolution and confiscation. Picture the probabilities, when the world’s poorest realize they could double their net wealth, just by transferring title from 50 men. In that case, amid a standoff between fifty oligarchs and three billion poor, it is the skilled middle and upper-middle classes who’ll be the ones deciding civilization’s course. And who do you think those billion tech-savvy professionals – so derided and maligned by murdochian propaganda -- will side with, when push comes to shove?

== Back to innovation ==

Oh, for an easy-quick and devastating answer to the “hate-all-government” hypnosis! How I'd love to see a second "National Debt Clock" showing where the U.S. deficit would be now, if we (citizens) had charged just a 5% royalty on the fruits of U.S. federal research. We'd be in the black! How effective such a “clock” would be. We deserve such a tasty piece of counter propaganda. (See: Eight Causes of the Deficit Fiscal Cliff.) 

Closer to the point, consider this core question: how have we Americans been able to afford the endless trade deficits that propel world development? (And make no mistake; 2/3 of the planet developed - sending their kids to school - in one way only: by selling Americans trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed.) 

How did we afford this flood of stimulating red ink for 70 years?

Simple. Science and technology.  Each decade since the 1940s saw new, U.S.-led advances that engendered enough wealth to let us pay for all the stuff pouring out of Asian factories, giving poor workers jobs and hope.  Our trick was to keep the wonders coming -- jet planes, rockets, satellites, electronics & transistors & lasers, telecom, pharmaceuticals... and the Internet.

Crucially, the world needs America to keep buying, so that factories can hum and workers send their kids to school, so those kids can then demand labor and environmental laws and all that.  The job of George Marshall’s brilliant trade-policy plan is only half finished. Crucially, the world cannot afford for the U.S. consumer to become too poor to buy crap.

Which means we must protect the goose that lays golden eggs – our brilliant inventiveness. Our ability to keep benefiting from enlightenment methods that stimulate creativity. And that will not happen if the fruits of creativity are immediately stolen.  There is a bargain implicit in today’s rising world.  Let America benefit from innovation, and we’ll buy whatever you produce. 

Foreign leaders who ignore that bargain, seeking to eat the goose, as well as its eggs, only prove their own short-sighted foolishness… like our home-grown fools who rail against all government investment and research.

It is time to have another look at the most successful social compact ever created – the Rooseveltean deal made by the Greatest Generation, which we then amended and improved by reducing race and gender injustice and discovering the importance of planetary care. 

Throw in a vibrantly confident wave of tech-savvy youth, and that is how we can all move forward. Away from dismal feudalism.  Toward (maybe) something like Star Trek.

115 comments:

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion: (From the tail end of the last thread)

I do indeed mean the full set from Aquinas, though I might not agree with him on their actual definitions. The bourgeoisie sees courage, justice, and faith a little different than he did.

Tax evasion need not violate Justice if the evader disagrees with society about what services government should offer. Many libertarians take exactly this position.

Tax evasion can been see as an act of prudence if the evader thinks the money will be wasted on bridges to nowhere. People who take this position can be found well beyond the libertarian political border.

Tax evasion can be seen as an act of temperance too if one intends to deprive an overzealous autocrat of funds for military conquest. Know any libertarians who take this position? I do.

I’ve known tax evaders who demonstrate an impressive lack of courage in their unwillingness to fight for their opinions, but I’ve also met the guy who has the current US record for biggest convicted tax cheat. I don’t think anyone has topped him yet, and he was anything but a coward. He may be cowed now, but I doubt he is convinced he lacked this virtue.

Tax evasion can also be seen as an act of faith (now into Aquinas territory) if one recognizes the act as a defense of a transcendent. Faith in the form of Identity involves acts that preserve what we are and some tax evaders are doing exactly that when they argue that America is a Republic and not an Empire.

I could go on with Love and Hope, but I think I’ll stop here and let you swing back at me. What I’m trying to point out with these alternatives is that you may be guilty of starting off with a distinct lack of respect for an entire group of people because of what you think of some of them. I won’t try to paint some of the monsters you know as virtuous because I’m sure upon meeting them, I’d agree with you. The group that complains about how taxation legislation is enacted and enforced, though, is larger than the monsters.

TCB said...

If I had a time machine, I wouldn't necessarily go back and kill Hitler. I might kidnap FDR and get him some 21st Century health care so he could live another couple of years and push through his "Second Bill of Rights" which might have made it politically impossible for the conservative lunatics to get where they are now. (Among other things, it would have undoubtedly included Canadian-style single-payer health care).

Can you even imagine how great that would be?

Thom Hartmann on FDR's Second Bill of Rights.

donzelion said...

An excellent piece, Dr. Brin. If I might offer a suggestion, this sentence could be improved and rendered more accurate -

"During most of that time, innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset the stable hierarchy."

-by inserting the word 'independent' before the word innovation.

Kings, lords, and priests often loved 'innovation' by their 'pet scientists' - so long as they retained control over the work product. They suppressed innovation only when it threatened them. That empowered oligarchy, because the oligarchs would be the only force with access to science.

Of course, inserting the word 'independent' there raises a question: how do we ensure 'independent' science? Libertarians often believe that government grants - to scientists or anyone else - will erode independence, and/or result in squandered resources. But it is through the alchemy of community interactions that the discoveries of geniuses can result in the innovations enjoyed by the mass. Such interactions require government to catalyze.

Dwight Williams said...

Sharing this on the National Capital FreeNet's Speakers' Corner discussion group in Ottawa, Canada, Dr. Brin. And on my Livejournal blog. Elsewhere, as I think to do so.

Alfred Differ said...

Ridley makes an argument that should give you pause. I’m not suggesting you swallow it, but I do think you should take great care in parsing it because I think there is value in part of it. (I haven’t read the WSJ article yet. I’ll do that from home over the weekend. I suspect I know the rough shape of it from Ridley’s books, though, and I have a couple of them on my shelf.)

Arguing that technology evolution has a momentum of its own is sloppy thinking in my opinion, but if one tries to clean up the definitions and arguments, there are useful things to learn in doing so. For example, few make the distinction between science and technology, but Ridley does. In the books, he usually argues that technology is out in front of science in most ways. Most innovation in technology does NOT come from science. He argues it is the other way around and there is a lot of economic historical evidence supporting his point. Still, technology is not a live thing that evolves. It is the people creating the innovations who evolve their knowledge and market tactics. The sloppy version can be translated to address real people doing real things. When one does, one rarely finds scientists doing basic research. One finds people being people in a culture that rewards innovators with dignity and an oxytocin boost while mostly letting them be to try their idea in a market that might eat them alive.

Ridley’s arguments are not being made in a vacuum, but the rigorous versions correctly pointing to real people doing real things are mostly in the books and papers he cites in his books. Where he makes his biggest error, in my opinion, is in trying to connect it all and assign value to basic research. It is a silly approach at best and reminds me of people who try to assign value to things based on the labor required to make them. Folly. Basic research is what it is as a form of curiosity. It is a statement of faith and hope by some who are interested in the prosperity of our civilization. Some even go so far as to say it is an act of worship. Try assigning value to worship and it should be obvious how silly this is.

Ridley is quite enamored with evolutionary processes that create most everything he cares about in his life. Read his books and you’ll see someone amazed at how complexity emerges from simplicity. Read them carefully and you’ll see the form of worship he understands. His opposition isn’t so much to government as it is to people who think they are smart enough to design complexity of surpassing beauty. Such people are his opponents. I understand that.

Alfred Differ said...

donzelion:Such interactions require government to catalyze.

Hmm. I might quibble with you on 'require.'

My suspicion is that government is only one of the catalysts and not even the most commonly used one.

Randall Winn said...

A 5% (or even a 0.05%) licensing fee on federal research, going forward, might be a good idea. I don't think it has a chance in heck of being put into place but I'd love to see the arguments against it - just to see who is really interested in curbing the deficit and who is willing to let the Free Market Work Its Magic - because without a licensing fee, government is giving an unearned advantage to its customers over those who patronize private-sector basic researchers.

@Alfred - from last post, I don't wanna argue about Russia national character [I was married to one for only 5 years; they seemed much like other people: utterly convinced of their national superiority and the worldwide conspiracy against them, prone to showy displays of national pride, unhesitating in hurting their land to gain personal advantage. As I said, much like other people.]
I just find interesting that the objective fact that humanity's geoengineering climate change is to Russia's long term economic advantage - regardless of no matter how much they might worry about Invaders From The Arctic (a worry I have never once heard articulated) - is a pretty important and underrealized aspect of our greatest long-term crisis.

I respect Emperor Putin enough to assume he has thought about this, and yet he is no greenie.

donzelion said...

Alfred: "What I’m trying to point out with these alternatives is that you may be guilty of starting off with a distinct lack of respect for an entire group of people because of what you think of some of them."

I tend to respect people, but not always politics or policies. Some people cannot make that distinction, and believe they are disrespected unless they are agreed with at all times. I am glad you are not such a person.

You did invite consideration of the Aquinas line - hardly the most conducive foundation for libertarian notions. If one severs the 'cardinal virtues' from the system that renders them 'cardinal' and defines them as 'virtuous' - what is left?

(1) "Tax evasion need not violate Justice if the evader disagrees with society about what services government should offer." Aquinas had no concept that government 'rules by consent' - Hobbes, Locke, et. al. offered these contractarian notions much later fully recognizing they were breaching the Thomistic tradition that "God must be obeyed; government is imposed by God; therefore government must be obeyed." A tax evader can make the argument you indicate - but not consistently with a Thomistic tradition about justice.

(2) Every tax evader who cites 'prudence' as a motive, but manifests 'miserliness' (by hoarding their wealth), is a hypocrite in the Aquinas system. The proof is the use to which the resources they withhold from the government are then put - if they fear their taxes would build bridges to nowhere, did they build bridges to 'somewhere'? If not, then the claim of 'prudence' is a hypocritical lie. It merits no respect whatsoever.

(3) "Tax evasion can be seen as an act of temperance too if one intends to deprive an overzealous autocrat of funds for military conquest." Civil disobedience is not 'temperance' - not in a Thomistic tradition. Those who engage in it (Thoreau) are either hypocrites, or they must adopt a new code (as Thoreau went on to do - and which many ethically consistent libertarians also follow).

(4) 'Fortitude' is a better translation than 'courage' of the cardinal virtue Thomas contemplated, since 'courage' often means 'bravery under threat' - manifesting circumstantially - while virtues are supposed to be persistent traits. The biggest 'tax cheat' of all time might show impressive personal bravery, but he lacked fortitude - he never fought for his beliefs effectively on the appropriate field, so he was forced to defend himself in court - or he did fight, lost, and defied the judgment of God (we're still talking Aquinas here) - and so he fought a (losing) battle elsewhere. We can acknowledge and even respect the bravery of the misguided - the little dog that picks a fight with a big dog - but it is not virtuous.

I'll leave the graces for elsewhere; more spiritual than political, they're not as applicable as the cardinal virtues.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Dr. Brin: I'm sure you know well your fellow Southern Californian sci-fi author, Dr. Jerry Pournelle. Though we both would disagree with his old-style paleoconservatism, he does have a sharp and strategic mind (even now). Over thirty years ago he promulgated the "Strategy of Technology": that sufficiently high levels of innovation would be a sufficient means to defeat the Soviet Union, because the economic necessity to catch-up in the absence of sufficient innovative capability of their own would eventually destroy them. The point was that it didn't matter if Soviet spies stole our technology, because by the time they reverse-engineered it, we'd have something three times better.

It occurs to me that your point on our longstanding trade deficits (a positive-sum point rarely made to the American people, and lost on the Don) could be considered "The Trade Strategy of Technology". It didn't matter that wealth flowed outward in trade, as long as wealth was created faster than it was bled through innovation.

All well and good until we started failing to distribute that wealth, either through education and job-training -- or wages and benefits -- or co-ownership -- or distributionist government policies. And now, now we have a problem, because people see their wealth flowing out and the new wealth being hoarded. Not good.

Anonymous said...

Yet more flailing on the fuedalist strawman, check, simplistic binaries galore, check, endless regurgitation of the same old, same old, check, pleas for broke consumers to go even more broke consuming ever even more, check. The conversion of the biosphere into a car-strewn hell: not exactly Star Trek, that.

donzelion said...

Alfred: re science, and our host's post, and my statement about it -

"Such interactions require government to catalyze."

Strictly speaking, a catalyst is seldom 'necessary' for a chemical reaction to occur; chemical reactions take place all the time without any catalyst in play. They just do it slowly. Too slowly, for life to exist.

Catalysts aren't 'required' - except to meet human needs today, the sorts of needs that make life itself possible. ;-)

Jumper said...

"pleas for broke consumers to go even more broke consuming ever even more"

You never did that, David. I vote to delete such stuff.

Alfred Differ said...

@Randall: I should be careful to point out that individuals of different cultures CAN be much alike. Russian culture has a long history, though, of dealing with their inherently defenseless position. The culture we are forming in the US has no such memory. The native cultures we've displaced understand some of the Russian character, but this is not as well documented as European history.

You won't hear of an arctic threat because the arctic is currently a barrier. Only geopolitical types would consider it in a future world where the ice melts. They will also think about the threats on other borders when fresh water supplies vanish. China and South Asia are effectively geopolitical islands, but the Volga is a natural path northward for anyone who can get there. The Caucasus can be bypassed much like the Carpathians by properly motivated people. Ice melt threatens population stability all around the world, but Russian leadership would have to be insane to think they could survive it better than the US.

Paul SB said...

Alfred & Randall,

This might be totally irrelevant to what you are discussing, but for future reference, since this comes up at times on this forum...

If you are comparing any two cultures, or trying to do it thoughtfully, anyway, you have to be sure you are not making apple/orange comparisons. Now this is just a general comment and not meant to discourage you, because in this case you are comparing two apples here. At the most fundamental level, The US and the Russian Federation are both nation states, and there will be a whole lot of fundamental similarities because there are a whole lot of things every nation state needs to operate. Thus Randall's comments about the Russian former spouse. Russia is a far older culture, to be sure, and they have their own particular history, which differs from the US, but in most important ways they are the same.

When I was an undergrad taking my first anthropology classes, I was constantly hearing and reading about "Western Culture" and how you cannot judge other societies based on Western social standards. I assumed, as did most of my fellow students, that the "opposite" of Western Culture must refer somehow to Eastern Culture, by which most mean East Asia. But I had taken a few Asian history classes, and soon realized that the differences between East and West that people seemed to make such a big deal about were, in fact, small potatoes (if you don't mind the mixed metaphors) compared to human societies that exist at radically different scales. East and West are more like comparing Braeburn with Fuji apples. Societies that live at such different scales have very different characteristics and needs than nation states. Thus comparing either the US or Russia to, for instance, Kamekameha's Hawai'i (before Western contact) or pre-contact Kwakiutl, both of which were chiefdoms, would be an apple/orange comparison. Trying that with people like the Plains Indians or Great Lakes natives (as our Iroquois aficionado does, which is why his rants are so meaningless) is an apple/banana comparison, and making a comparison with the smallest-scale societies that represented human existence for most of the 200,000 years before the rise of feudal despotism is more like an apple/mogongo nut comparison.

This is important in terms of getting at just what human nature is about, and how it is expressed differently at very different scales - and also how our current scale leads to some pretty dire pathologies.

Alfred Differ said...

You did invite consideration of the Aquinas line - hardly the most conducive foundation for libertarian notions. If one severs the 'cardinal virtues' from the system that renders them 'cardinal' and defines them as 'virtuous' - what is left?

I like bring Aquinas into the argument because he helps point out the changes we've made since his time. The simplest example is that I'm not using 'cardinal' in the red hatted sense, but more in the compass sense. Cardinal directions. A better example, though, is that our modern bourgeois virtues stand without the Transcendent Aquinas believed motivated it all. The bourgeois virtues are close to Aquinas, but many parts are revalued. If one does not account for that, one isn't going to understand the actual virtue system in use by liberals.

You are right about the difficulty of rendering Libertarian philosophy through Aquinas, but I'm more interested in connecting them to the actual system in use. Libertarians violate the modern system in important ways that leave their opponents frothing angry, but without a good way to describe why they are angry. They don't oppose it completely, though.

1) Aquinas had no room for rule by consent, but the liberals who emerged from England and Scotland did AND it was a matter of Justice for them. The meaning of Justice began to change in the lowlands in the mid-16th century and spread to England in the next century when they decided to go Dutch. A modern tax evader from a liberal democracy probably isn't using the definition Aquinas described, hmm? By the bourgeois definition, his action can be just if enough perceive government as unjustly coercive. Things usually don't change at this level, but during the early enlightenment era, they did and we should use the correct perspective when interpreting libertarians.
2) Indeed an evader citing prudence could be a hypocrite. Considering how lowly Prudence was placed by every social class above Peasants, this should be no surprise. Prudence was a peasant virtue and a rich evader was no peasant. Arguing that a man objecting to bridges to nowhere should build bridges to somewhere, though, misses the definition of prudence used by the bourgeoisie. Waste Not is the point. Charity belongs to another dimension among the virtues.
3) As you recognize, one must see the new system to correctly interpret libertarians. What I'm pointing out is that the difference between systems isn't huge and it predates libertarians. Look to the Dutch and their rebellion against the Hapsburgs to see where I'm looking.
4) The tax cheat I know did indeed fight and lost, but his approach struck me as a foregone conclusion. It reminded me too much of aristocratic courage in battle, so while I don't consider him a coward, I don't give him high marks in this social dimension. I'm not fond of fortitude as Aquinas described it, though. I'm a modern liberal and use the newer version.

The other three (Love, Faith, and Hope) I am inclined to lump in among the virtues because I'm not a believer. I recognize they are more transcendent than the original four and many enlightenment era liberals tried to avoid mentioning them at all. Adam Smith dodged Faith and Hope and only spoke of a portion of Love in the Moral Sentiments book. I think it is important to include them all, though. Failing to look for them and how they are expressed by a group will lead to comprehension errors that could have been avoided. Many do this with libertarians who are equally guilty of committing it in reverse.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Point well taken. A while back, I put forward a large sweeping story here that broke the best practice rule you just described and you took me to task for it then. You were polite enough, but I remembered it well enough to stall the book I was writing while I rethought things. I have to ditch a number of pages, but your insight will lead to them being replaced with a point that re-enforces my larger theme better.

David Brin said...

Alfred, Heinlein oft said “I don’t consider smuggling a crime.” Indeed, one can make civil disobedience arguments often. But when those arguments are self-serving, then a burden of proof falls upon those who claim that our political systems created an unjust law. A burden that can be met! As when laws against crack - the form of cocaine preferred by minorities, got far harsher penalties than for the powder used by whites. The differences in incarceration were obscene and (too gradually) led to reform.

Sorry though. I am not very sympathetic to tax evasion. We get so vastly much more than we ever pay for. What is vile is taxation without fair representation. And the portion of the american character that was royalist in the 1770s and confederate in the 1860s and Trumpist today fights to ensure that a majority of Americans are not represented.

Alas, Ridley is a fool, Alfred. The mysticism that self-interested capitalists will invest in R&D to the same degree that government does is absurd, even in Silicon Valley. Supply Side was based upon Ridley’s premise and it has been proved wrong.

Catfish, yes, Jerry Pournelle is a real mix of outrageous and often very sharp. But the argument to win the Cold War by leaving the USSR in a cloud of creative dust was made by Edward Teller, who wanted almost nothing kept secret. I choke over having a Hungarian madman as a hero… but he is one of mine. And almost no one in history has been proved more right.

I see we have an anonymous simpleton who could not parse more than a sentence into this essay, so yowls at the piece of clay (or his body) that is in his hand.

No Jumper. I have had a very loose policy here, in one of the best and smartest comment communities (and oldest) anywhere on the web. Let him yowl.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: I think you've placed the burden of proof correctly on those of us who argue legislation created through the agreed upon process is unjust. It certainly is a burden that can be met, though we will need a little help from those to whom we explain. Many are inclined to a knee-jerk response to our 'crime' that blocks their ears and makes a fuzz of their minds. I consider tax evasion one of the stupider ways to fight back, but I get why some do it on matters of principle. I'll occasionally make their case for them if I don't think they are trying to be freeloaders.

Regarding Ridley... Heh. I don't expect you'll ever like him or take the time to read him in depth. You have better things to do. That's why you have a community, though. Some of us have read him and are interested enough to follow his references and see why he thinks as he does. His blind faith in markets is touching, but I view it as a replacement for his lack of faith in other areas. I share that lack of faith, but I recognize a therapeutic when I see it. You used to rail against FIBM and GAR some time back, so I see your complaint.

Still... he has a useful point if he could write it in a more Hayekian style by actually pointing to the people doing what he says is happening. There IS good reason to be optimistic about 'technology evolution', but none to believe it is a natural progression. McCloskey pointed out an error of that particular blind faith. Our enlightenment is fragile not to the forces in play among the oligarchs, but to the ignorance of people who must grant dignity to the smartypants who risk much to make the world incrementally better.

McCloskey explains Ridley's point better, but you won't have time to deal with almost 2000 pages of her material. I did. It is an interesting perspective.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

"A while back, I put forward a large sweeping story here that broke the best practice rule you just described and you took me to task for it then. You were polite enough, but I remembered it well enough to stall the book I was writing while I rethought things. I have to ditch a number of pages, but your insight will lead to them being replaced with a point that re-enforces my larger theme better."
- Well, then I did my good deed, performed a useful service. My brain released a little oxytocin to reward me with a feeling of comfort. My wife would say I chalked up some good karma, but I have no proof of that bit. This social animal is glad to be of service!

donzelion said...

Alfred: When's the last time I had a discussion about Aquinas? Oh yeah, back in law school. It's been a while. LOL.

"Libertarians violate the modern system in important ways that leave their opponents frothing angry..."
Some do, some do not. Rand certainly does violence to the notions of civilized society. But she's silly.

"I like bring Aquinas into the argument because he helps point out the changes we've made since his time."
Well, if you're referring to the cardinal virtues BUT rejecting the definitions of cardinal virtues, we'll need some new definitions to understand what you mean...and this can be harder than most realize.

"By the bourgeois definition, his action can be just if enough perceive government as unjustly coercive." This isn't a definition at all: the 'justice' of a thing is not determined by the injustice of another thing, a variation on 'it is just to oppose injustice' - A = opposing not A.

"Waste not is the point [of prudence]."
A similar problem as above: who defines 'waste'? Liberality, as classically understood, meant knowing the distinction between 'miserliness' and 'squandering.' While many would like to remove the 'miserliness' component as a problem, doing so converts a 'virtue' into an endorsement for hoarding - "whoever obtains the most gold is the most virtuous." That may fly in some 'Christian' sects and strands, but is hardly a coherent definition.

"I'm not fond of fortitude as Aquinas described it, though. I'm a modern liberal and use the newer version."
Which newer version? There are many. How can we know which one is a 'cardinal virtue' - pointing to a better path?

But this whole line of thought follows from your question: "which cardinal virtues are violated by tax evasion" - and the answer is,
(1) If you accept the definitions of cardinal virtues as originally offered, then all of them are violated by tax evasion.
(2) If you reject the definitions of cardinal virtues as originally offered, then we cannot know which are violated by tax evasion and which are not without offering new definitions.

And that is enough of an answer, for now.

donzelion said...

And returning to this discussion -

"There IS good reason to be optimistic about 'technology evolution', but none to believe it is a natural progression."

On the contrary: so long as humans naturally (a) use tools, (b) learn, and (c) pass on their learning about tools - 'technology evolution' will take place 'naturally' among humans. It's just that it will do so slowly, with discoveries and evolutionary steps requiring centuries - as it always had before governments catalyzed the process. ;-)

TCB said...

I never buy drugs from strange (possibly Tagalog) spammers on the internet, but how can I resist when they have such enchanting names?

Jumper said...

You guys would be more fruitful arguing the existence of private property rather than the ethics of tax evasion. Every rational person knows private property is a strange religion, yet most including myself want to maintain that belief system.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

I noticed this little line here:

"McCloskey pointed out an error of that particular blind faith. Our enlightenment is fragile not to the forces in play among the oligarchs, but to the ignorance of people who must grant dignity to the smartypants who risk much to make the world incrementally better."

But ignorance is not a natural state so much as a product of that play among oligarchs. The oligarchs influence or control most of the media (if you want to sound Marxian, you could say "the means of mental production") and have power over the education of the citizenry. It is in their (short-term, and thereby short-sighted) interest to keep the citizenry ignorant and to atrophy or redirect their critical thinking skills through propaganda and the application of memes that are anti-democratic. Squashing critical thinking skills with SofA, ludicrous conspiracy theories and trial by innuendo (e.g. the Birther Movement) makes people easier to manipulate for political purposes. A better educated populace would not be much tempted by the likes and lies of Donald Grope, but you have only to read the self-delusions of our pseudo-Nietzhean twig or the deliberate obfuscations of our faux rancher, both of which are quite common (maybe less so in California, or in the circles in which some of us swim) to see that the oligarchs' methods are working - for them but against both our nation and human civilization. I can't speak to what is happening in other nations, as I have not spent enough time in any to get to know the people, but recent events in Europe suggest that its the Same Shit, Different Continent. The tinfoil hat weirdoes are just extreme outliers produced but the oligarchs' endless bullshit campaigns (remember Mel Brooks passing through the Roman Senate in "History of the World" - to pass himself off as one of them he changed into their clothes [including an accurate rendition of the purple toga] and just said "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit" as he quickly walked through?).

Ignorance is manufactured. It is a deliberate manipulation. Think about all those coal miners who voted for Grope. They fell for the bullshit that they were losing their jobs and their way of life (a way of life that usually ends gasping for breath through silicosis-riddled lungs) because of the Evil Government. It is pretty obvious that those coal miners are losing their jobs to competition from a newer technology (hydraulic fracturing), a direct consequence of the Capitalism they have been taught to worship, and likely only intervention by the government could have saved their jobs, at least temporarily. So they voted for exactly the kind of oligarch who couldn't care less if they live or die, falling for SofA propaganda.

Ignorance is a tool of oligarchy.

Anonymous said...

Paul SB

"Ignorance is a tool of oligarchy."

So is cynicism.

Deuxglass said...

Merry Christmas to you all!

Paul SB said...

Anonymous, whoever you are, you are absolutely right on this one.

Slim Moldie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slim Moldie said...

On cynicism vs Cynicism.

A reminder that language is a battleground...

David Brin said...

And love is a battlefield...!

Slim Moldie said...

Word on the street is that Pat Benatar's team gave "Love is a non-zero-sum game" some serious consideration before settling for "battlefield."

LarryHart said...

TCB:

If I had a time machine, I wouldn't necessarily go back and kill Hitler.


If such a time machine were possible, it would not be conceivable to change history once and be done with it. The entire time-stream would be replete with do-overs. Dave Sim (of comic book fame) once said of F Scott Fitzgerald that had word processors existed in Scott's day, Scott would never have progressed beyond continual re-writes of the first ten pages of his first novel, "This Side of Paradise". I imagine real life being like that if backwards time travel were possible.

But that's not what prompted my response.

Do you remember way back during the Republican primaries when each of the 17 candidates was tripping all over each other to assert that they'd kill baby Hitler if they had the chance? I wish someone in the press had had the balls to ask the obvious follow-up question: whether they'd have aborted fetus Hitler if given the opportunity, and if not, why it would be important to let the baby be born live before killing it.

But even that is not what prompted my response.

I wanted to wonder aloud whether those Republicans who are so anti-Hitler that they'd be willing to kill a baby would have been in favor of the less violent expedient of time-traveling to 1932 and simply acting to prevent his election. And if so, why they didn't take the real life opportunity to do the equivalent in 2016.

Jumper said...

Kidnap baby Hitler and leave him on a church doorstep in Indiana. He'd grow up a Hoosier. Problem solved.

Twominds said...

@Paul SB 7:26AM:

recent events in Europe suggest that its the Same Shit, Different Continent
It is, with differences. Less 'attack science' but more, maybe much more 'own people first'.
Achieved in at least some countries without the equivalent of FoxNews. The Netherlands don't have that, and do have a lively and effective extreme right wing scene. The same for Germany, but with more resistance against it. About France I don't know how the media are. In the UK the tabloids are deeply entrenched and scream against anything unbritish.
Unease about the European Union is feeding and amplifiying it.
@Anonymous 8:25 AM:
Cynicism is a large part of what happens in Europe. An immediate and reflexive distrust of any info that doesn't fit with the narrative these people tell themselves.
And the few I talke about these issues are completely convinced that they came to their insights themselves, independently.

I had something more to say about this, a conclusion or a glimmer of new thought, but it has escaped me. Too late at night for constructive thought.

David Brin said...

Woman I know pointed out an interesting hypocrisy: that those who would proclaim that human life begins at conception rage against morning-after pills - the simplest form of abortion... yet say nothing about fertilization clinics that create scores of fertilized embryos for every successful birth. Many are flushed. Some are "stored" without any chance of ever being implanted and eventually flushed. Why no outrage?

Poor women need abortions; rich women use in vitro fertility clinics. But it's likely even simpler than that. The abortion frenzy serves a political purpose, as a way to take the uber moral high-ground, based on a single, grand declaration. For all of his other, beaded, bearded, socialist hippie values, Jesus would have to be a republican based on the one, simple issue of saving babies. This is not a stance that can bear much scrutiny. So never scrutinize.

Twominds said...

A propos of nothing: I found this on the webs some days ago, following some links. As this is the last moment I can post this without it being 'mustard after the meal', I'm not waiting for a post that's a better fit.

From John Pavlovitz, a How the Trump stole America, blog post from a couple of weeks ago.

I've read other parodies on the elections, but this one is hilaric and well written.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Twominds said...

I'm going to leave the text here too, it's too good to leave it behind a measly link.

John Pavlovitz:
In a land where the states are united, they claim,
in a sky-scraping tower adorned with his name,
lived a terrible, horrible, devious chump,
the bright orange miscreant known as the Trump.

This Trump he was mean, such a mean little man,
with the tiniest heart and two tinier hands,
and a thin set of lips etched in permanent curl,
and a sneer and a scowl and contempt for the world.

He looked down from his perch and he grinned ear to ear,
and he thought, “I could steal the election this year!
It’d be rather simple, it’s so easily won,
I’ll just make them believe that their best days are done!
Yes, I’ll make them believe that it’s all gone to Hell,
and I’ll be Jerk Messiah and their souls they will sell.

And I’ll use lots of words disconnected from truth,
but I’ll say them with style so they won’t ask for proof.
I’ll speak random platitudes, phrases, and such,
They’re so raised on fake news that it won’t matter much!
They won’t question the how to, the what, why, or when,
I will make their America great once again!”

The Trump told them to fear, they should fear he would say,
“They’ve all come for your jobs, they’ll all take them away.
You should fear every Muslim and Mexican too,
every brown, black, and tan one, everyone who votes blue.”

And he fooled all the Christians, he fooled them indeed,
He just trotted out Jesus, that’s all Jesus folk need.
And celebrity preachers they crowned him as king,
Tripping over themselves just to kiss the Trump’s ring.

And he spoke only lies just as if they were true,
Until they believed all of those lies were true too.
He repeated and Tweeted, he blustered and spit,
And he mislead and fibbed—and he just made up sh*t.

And the media laughed but they printed each line,
thinking “He’ll never win, in the end we’ll be fine.”
So they chased every headline, bold typed every claim,
‘Till the fake news and real news they looked just the same.

And the scared folk who listened, they devoured each word,
Yes, they ate it all up every word that they heard,
petrified that their freedom was under attack,
trusting Trump he would take their America back.
from the gays and from ISIS, he’d take it all back,
Take it back from the Democrats, fat cats, and blacks.
And so hook, line, and sinker they all took the bait,
all his lies about making America great.

Now the Pantsuited One she was smart and prepared,
she was brilliant and steady but none of them cared,
no they cared not to see all the work that she’d done,
or the fact that the Trump had not yet done thing one.
They could only shout “Emails!”, yes “Emails!” they’d shout,
because Fox News had told them—and Fox News had clout.
And the Pantsuited One she was slandered no end,
and a lie became truth she could never defend.
And the Trump watched it all go according to plan—
a strong woman eclipsed by an insecure man.

cont...

Twominds said...


And November the 8th arrived, finally it came,
like a slow-moving storm but it came just the same.
And Tuesday became Wednesday as those days will do,
And the night turned to morning and the nightmare came true,
With millions of non-voters still in their beds,
Yes, the Trump he had done it, just like he had said.

And the Trumpers they trumped, how they trumped when he won,
All the racists and bigots; deplorable ones,
they crawled out from the woodwork, came out to raise Hell,
they came out to be hateful and hurtful as well.
With slurs and with road signs, with spray paint and Tweets,
with death threats to neighbors and taunts on the street.
And the grossest of grossness they hurled on their peers,
while the Trump he said zilch—for the first time in years.

But he Tweeted at Hamilton, he Tweeted the Times,
And he trolled Alec Baldwin a few hundred times,
and he pouted a pout like a petulant kid,
thinking this is what Presidents actually did,
thinking he could still be a perpetual jerk,
terrified to learn he had to actually work,
work for every American, not just for a few,
not just for the white ones—there was much more to do.
He now worked for the Muslims and Mexicans too,
for the brown, black, and tan ones, and the ones who vote blue.
They were all now his bosses, now they all had a say,
and those nasty pantsuited ones were here to stay.
And the Trump he soon realized that he didn’t win,
He had gotten the thing—and the thing now had him.

And it turned out the Trump was a little too late,
for America was already more than quite great,
not because of the sameness, the opposite’s true,
It’s greatness far more than just red, white, and blue,
It’s straight, gay, and female—it’s Gentile and Jew,
It’s Transgender and Christian and Atheist too.
It’s Asians, Caucasians of every kind,
The disabled and abled, the deaf and the blind,
It’s immigrants, Muslims, and brave refugees,
It’s Liberals with bleeding hearts fixed to their sleeves.
And we are all staying, we’re staying right here,
and we’ll be the great bane of the Trump for four years.
And we’ll be twice as loud as the loudness of hate,
be the greatness that makes our America great.
And the Trump’s loudest boasts they won’t ever obscure,
over two million more of us—voted for her.

Paul SB said...

On last week's episode of Cynic vs. Cynic, the White Cynic was carefully laying a Suspicion of Authority Trap, with Tax Evasion Stakes at the bottom of the Outrage Pit, but the Black Cynic rolled in a simple Conspiracy Theory Bomb, blasting the White Cynic all the way into the Tinfoil Hat Brigade's territory.

Merry Christmas, everyone, if you are Christmas celebrating types, or Christ Mass celebrating types, and if you are None of the Above, have a nice day anyway!

oilskeptic said...

As a child, I dreamed of a Star Trek future. As an adult, I realize a Dune future is much more likely. Worldwide, democracies are voting for tyrants. I have talked with Trump supporters who do not seem like they are crazy, racists, or fascists, but I can not persuade them what danger Trump can cause. People just believe that he can shake up the political order. I fear he could cause World War 3 or Civil War 2. I do not believe any of his good qualities can help us. I just hope that his duplicity, laziness, and stupidity can restrict the harm he can cause. Perhaps his early impeachment could help us.

David Brin said...

DT's early impeachment is Rupert Murdoch's dream, as Mike Pence is highly controllable.

Jumper said...

Merry Christmas to all you Santa Claus's out there. And all you Sanity Clauses too.

greg byshenk said...

Two quick notes on the Russia comments from the previous section.

Although it's still too early to tell for sure, it seems that the "demographic collapse" in Russia may have been reversed. Yes, birth rates and population did plummet following the collapse of the USSR, but in the past five years or so both have been climbing again.

As for the issue of the defense of the European plain, one thing that might actually work to address Russian fears is a generation or two without someone invading (or at least threatening) Russia over that plain. After all, the central North American plain is also pretty much indefensible, yet few Canadians lie awake at night worrying about invasion, even though their neighbor is vastly more powerful than they.

Anonymous said...

Russian plane goes down on X-Mas day. 2 Ambassadors dead.

RT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3e7tT3mh2A&t=81s

AMTV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhdnkDrOkTQ&t=0s

LarryHart said...

@Twominds,

Thanks for the Trump/Christmas thing. I'd like to think the ending is plausible--to me, it kinda invokes the ominous yet slenderly-hopeful ending of the Charlie Chaplin movie "The Great Dictator", which IIRC came out during some of the darkest days of the war without a happy ending in sight.

I'm only sorry the author wasn't able to incorporate a version of the line:

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville, they say
That the Trumpster's small hands grew three sizes that day.


As I'm not sure how often I'll be on-line today, let me wish everyone a Merry Christmas, from a Jewish boy who nonetheless has a soft spot for the holiday. No War On Christmas from here.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Indeed, happy holidays to all, no matter what you are celebrating this season.

Anonymous said...

Remember, it was a Republican that said this.

MIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyBNmecVtdU

David Brin said...

ANonymous guys. I do not go to web sites rec'd by anonymouses.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I checked it out, and it was a video of Eisenhower's address that warns about the military/industrial complex. Ironic, since the Republican Party has mostly been in the pocket of the military/industrial complex since then.

Anonymous dude - if you are going g to post a link, write a little more description of what it is, otherwise few will trust it or want tot are the time to look at it.

Paul SB said...

A couple months back, someone here suggested I take my kids to see "Kuba and the Two Strings" as well as insisting that the latest Star Trek movie was much better than the previous two J.J. Abrahms atrocities. Unfortunately, I can't remember who it was, but whoever you are, Thanks! I finally got a chance to rent both of them, and both were as good as you said. I'm glad that the Star Trek movie was much more in the spirit of the show we grew up with. And Kuba, while it looked like pretty typical kids' adventure fare, was easily worth for the ending! (Not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the ending not at all the predictable action movie ending at all. I think Dr. Brin would approve.)

David Brin said...

The "military industrial complex" is the very least of our worries. It consists of engineering types and retired officers who all -- even when swayed by self-interest or conservative values -- can tall when insanity threatens everything civilization stands for and when facts and science become evil.

Liberals need to update and move on. There are much worse powers behind this mess.

LarryHart said...

Whoever it was who recommended the graphic novel "Saga" (and apologies for not remembering who you were)...

Thanks for the best Christmas present this year. I was able to find six trade paperbacks at my library, and now my teenaged daughter and I are both hooked. It's nice to have something in our lives we can both be enthusiast about, as we are with "Hamilton".

Twominds said...

Anonymous 8:22 AM:
The entire Alexandrov Ensemble too.

2016 can stop its war on culture now! How many singers, actors and musicians?

LarryHart: glad you liked Pavlovitz' parody. It was a bit wall-of-text here, wasn't it?
Thanks for the Christmas wish. First day of Christmas is over here, and I'm awake at 5 o'clock in the morning. I ate way too much of my own Christmas dinner, and now I pay the price.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to everyone.

The MIC's danger was the profit motive -- something that had haunted the West since the Second World War. Eisenhower still had not fully internalized that the atomic bomb and industrial outputs made war for profit obsolete, though not war profiteering. The MIC can cause parastism and inefficiency, and can bleed a nation or a military dry; it will not spur a war for pure wealth, though it can lower the bar for a war pursued for other reasons.

@Greg: the problem with your thesis is this: if there are no invaders on the North European Plain, Russian leaders will assume them. If there are no threats to the North European Plain, Russian leaders will imagine them. If there are no reasons to think the neighbors are hostile, Russian leaders will poke and prod and attempt domination out of their own insecurity until the neighbors *are* hostile. You are assuming that a paranoid groupthink mentality will recognize reality; such is not the case. The end goal of NATO expansion was Russian membership, but the Russians could not handle the concept of an alliance where they were not the dominating center.

The end goal of the Eurasian project is to convert the European Union, along with as much of Western and Central Asia as possible, into an autocratic-nationalist-traditionalist Eurasian Union centered on Russia. That it is completely-impractical-bordering-on-insane does not change the fact that it's the only psychologically comforting solution that the underlying worldview of the Russian leadership can tolerate. Just as transnational progressivism is the only solution the Eurocracy can allow themselves to imagine; just as universal democracy is the only solution that the American Establishment can allow themselves to imagine.

John Sears said...

A timely article from today's BBC, which lists the advances that led to the iPhone and how government research enabled all of them: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38320198

Cesar A. Santos said...

"Greatest generation that stopped Hitler"

I think it was the Soviets that defeated the Nazis and not the Western Allies.

Without the Soviets throwing their soldiers like ants to the Nazi killing machine and spanning its works with their blood and guts on the east, things in the west would have been much, much harder.

Evil against Evil but...

greg byshenk said...

@Catfish N. Cod, the problem with your response is that it comes down to nothing other than an article of faith. Further, even if we were to assume that "Russian leaders" are "a paranoid groupthink"ing monolith (which both common sense and history indicates is almost certainly false), one must bear in mind that it is a great deal easier to sell a story (to the Russian population, for example) if the available evidence actually supports it.

TCB said...

@ Cesar, there is a well-known saying that the Nazis were defeated by British intelligence, American steel and Russian blood.

What that refers to is: the Brits ran the best spy operations, and did things like break the German Enigma code, turn most of the German agents in England to feed Hitler bad info, and send Christopher Lee to stab everybody.

The United States turned its vast (and undamaged) industrial base to supply arms and material and food to the British, the Russians, and anybody else who would point them at the Germans.

And then, of course, the Soviets, as you say. Although they were on the wrong side from September 1939 until June 1941, and possibly could have stayed that way if Hitler hadn't needed oil from beyond the Caucasus.

Paul SB said...

In other words, it took all of those - a whole lot of nations working together. Remember when they used the term "cowboy diplomacy" for the Shrub's foreign policy? If President Grope live sup to his reputation, it's going to get worse.

John,

Good article, and actually relevant to the subject of this thread! I reposted it on my Facebook, for whatever its worth. With all the holiday pictures going up, I suspect people will just think I'm bah-humbugging it.

Ioan said...

I know this is off topic, but it's a curiosity for me.

I know the range of how Mexicans are viewed in the US. However, I wonder how they are viewed in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and Canada?

John Sears said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Just to see what I could come up with, I put together in my mind a solar powered deep freezer which would keep food frozen at night even if people were opening and closing it a lot, or on days with very poor sun. The trick I thought of was using a few gallons of frozen brine, stashed in the bottom of the freezer. Depending on the salt concentration you can make a brine which will freeze or thaw a few degrees below 0 F (-18 C) and that would keep the temp at that low level until all the ice melted. Ordinary ice would only keep it at 0C or 32 F.

An unbreakable container, please, that won't rupture from expansion! About 10 liters would do.

The rest is off-the-shelf stuff: DC chest freezers sold already. I'd want a big one.
http://www.backwoodssolar.com/sundanzer-8cf-chest-freezer

LarryHart said...

Ioan:

I know the range of how Mexicans are viewed in the US. However, I wonder how they are viewed in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and Canada?


Strangely enough, the novel I happen to be reading now is called "Ship of Fools", and concerns a 1931 ocean voyage on a German ship from Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany. The plurality of the characters are German, but there are also Mexicans, Cubans, Americans, Swiss, and of course, Jews in the mix. The Germans especially seem to have tried their hand at fortune-building in Mexico during the 1920s, and are now returning to the Fatherland. I'm not very familiar with the history of the inter-war years, but I'm gathering that Mexico was a place that encouraged German entrepreneurship at that time.

The book is not conducive to looking up parts that I already read, but at one point, someone throws out a line about how Mexicans "hate the Americans, the British, admire the French, and love the Germans." The German characters on the ship love to indulge in that line.

I know that doesn't really address your question, but I thought it was a notable bit of synchronicity. As to what you actually asked, I'd suspect that how Mexicans are viewed in Europe might have to be broken down into Spain and everywhere else.


LarryHart said...

in that quote above, I can't really remember what phrase preceded "the British". It was something mildly insulting, but not as bad as "hate".

Randall Winn said...

As to Russia: for all the discussion of cultural differences between Them and Us, the material fact remains that Emperor Putin seems completely unconcerned about the Arctic becoming navigable and the tundra becoming farmland.

Perhaps from our "Western" POV he "should" be concerned about hungry hoards marching north, but does he really seem too dainty to solve such problems with force? The occasional terrorist attack only solidifies his rule, and outside of Europe what neighbors except China could take a steppe into Russia? Is it really likely that his new BFF in the White House will supply a hoarde of Kazakhi or whatever with Stingers?

Perhaps I misjudge the man; he may be as much of a patriot as Donald J. Trump. But pondering hypotheticals is something SF fans do: if an alternate Earth Russia were geoengineering a Russia-centric planet, what would they do differently?

Randall Winn said...

As for Trump's impeachment: it seems to me that buying off House Republicans would be pretty easy for any President nominally of their party. If they didn't impeach Obama, why would they impeach Trump - merely because he violated the Emoluments Clause?

Don't get me wrong: Trump promises to commit High Crimes And Misdeameanors every day and, bad as Pence would be on policy, at least he is emotionally stable enough that we wouldn't have to worry about The Bomb. It's just that I invest few hopes on any House or Senate seatwarmers risking being primaried by fans of the world's most successful insult comic.

TheMadLibrarian said...

LarryHart, I had to dig around to find my copy of Warren Ellis' comic book series Transmetropolitan that a friend had burned onto CD several years ago, only to realize none of my current computers have CD readers any more (D'oh!) Therefore, I'm picking up the run secondhand; it's extremely topical these days, if somewhat over the top in some areas. Spider Jerusalem would be rubbing his hands (or possibly his crotch) in glee (or disgust) at the juicy opportunity the Rage Mango provides for invective and satire.

Anonymous said...

Brin: "ANonymous guys. I do not go to web sites rec'd by anonymouses."

I have no interest in getting killed by Hillary---> +100 #bodycount


9/11: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=972ETepp4GI

Your government is capable of anything. Things might clear up after Trump gets in office. I'm not a big Trump fan, but he's still better than the lunatic that's in office.

Jumper said...

Only idiots argue politics via freakin' YouTube videos.

LarryHart said...

Randall Winn:

If they didn't impeach Obama, why would they impeach Trump - merely because he violated the Emoluments Clause?


Well, I share your view that a Republican congress won't impeach Trump for technical violations of any kind. He'd have to do something really scary to the establishment before they'll take that step. Something along the lines of that Monty Python sketch about Dinsdale Piranha:


In a fit of pique, he napalmed Chelsea.
Even the police had to stand up and take notice.


But in answer to your particular question, they didn't impeach President Obama because there weren't enough Republican senators to convict.

David Brin said...

Cesar Santos, have you ever seen the lists of how much aid the Soviets got from the west? Do the Russian soldiers who had zero choice but to hurl themselves in human waves at Zhukov’s command deserve more credit than the British and American volunteer sailors who ran the gauntlet over Norway to Murmansk under fire from the air, land and underwater in frail tubs filled with high explosives that could spill them into icewater at any moment?

Whole Russian divisions marched barefoot and unarmed to Murmansk, or to the Siberian railheads or into the Zagros mountains to meet endless convoys of trucks unloaded in Iran. And those divisions turned around, fully equipped and mechanized and armed to the teeth, for Zhukov to spend.
--

Thanks Anonymous, for illustrating the Idiocracy principle and why today's GOP-confederacy-treason has driven off every scientist, teacher, statistician, economist and every single other profession that actually knows stuff and how to tell facts and evidence from made-up stories.

David Burns said...

Donald Trump now has a large influence over the future of scientific research. Is this a good thing?

Jeff B. said...

Catfish:
if there are no invaders on the North European Plain, Russian leaders will assume them. If there are no threats to the North European Plain, Russian leaders will imagine them. If there are no reasons to think the neighbors are hostile, Russian leaders will poke and prod and attempt domination out of their own insecurity until the neighbors *are* hostile. You are assuming that a paranoid groupthink mentality will recognize reality; such is not the case.

This, definitely this.

Greg Byshenk,

even if we were to assume that "Russian leaders" are "a paranoid groupthink"ing monolith (which both common sense and history indicates is almost certainly false), one must bear in mind that it is a great deal easier to sell a story (to the Russian population, for example) if the available evidence actually supports it.

"Paranoid groupthink" can be interpreted as the default orientation of the Russian leadership caste- the military, security services, and "elected" government officials. It does in fact exist, and has existed at least since the time of Lenin. It's a shorthand for a series of well-documented assumptions about their nation and its place in the world:
- despite the end of the Cold War, the West is deliberately antagonistic to their existence and their "greatness"
- this Western antagonism was the direct cause of the USSR
- this antagonism was responsible for the chaos in which they foundered after the Communist overthrow
- this antagonism is "proven" by the continued attempts by the West to "encircle" them with hostile states: the expansion of NATO the paramount example, but also meddling is places like the Ukraine and Georgia.
- the only way to guarantee Russian security is the a.) weaken its enemies in the west by sowing chaos and confusion, and b.) to undermine those governments on its borders so that they fall under Moskva's influence, and are neutered as threats.

I can't go as far as Catfish in supporting the idea that Putin again seeks hegemony, only security. But Putin's view is inherently flawed in that it is based in outmoded, centuries-old assumptions on political motivations. That the West no longer seeks physical dominion over Mother Russia should be patently obvious, but it's not to them- they still see the ghosts of the Teutonic Knights, Napoleon, and Hitler looming.

And in a Potiempkin-democracy, it's easy to use the latent fear (and inferiority-complex) embedded in Russian culture to drum up rabid nationalistic support, and anger at the West, as Putin has done.

Paul451 said...

Jumper,
"Kidnap baby Hitler and leave him on a church doorstep in Indiana. He'd grow up a Hoosier. Problem solved."

Kidnap baby Hitler and arrange for him to be adopted by a nice Jewish couple in NY?

But I'd want to make sure I had the ability to undo my change. Germany was inherently unstable, something was going to break. What if removing Hitler allows the rise of a competent military commander? What if it led to an alliance (before being betrayed) of the workers parties with the German Communists instead of an alliance (before being betrayed) with the fascists, with the Communists taking over Germany, leading a stronger alliance with Russia (and hence not only no second front, but a protected resource supply chain at their backs), and greater sympathy for the Cause amongst the working class in France and Britain.

Hitler was bad, but under Hitler, they lost.

(Indeed, you might save more lives if you killed (or relocated the baby of) Lenin. And certainly Stalin. Or perhaps Marx and Engels. Prevent the second revolution in Russia, avoid the pogroms/gulags/etc.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul 451

Or a competent communist leader in a modern state could lead to an actual communist state (as opposed to the "Czarist" Russian state)
And after mostly bloodless revolutions in the UK and USA we would be 50+ years further down towards the Star Trek post scarcity economy

Or if Napoleon had not invaded Russia we could be 100 years closer!

As far as preventing the "second revolution" is concerned trimming the Czarist tree a few generations earlier could have worked but by the time that the Czars fell it was simply too late for a soft landing - there was too much pent up hate

Paul451 said...

Alfred,
"Tax evasion need not violate Justice if the evader disagrees with society about what services government should offer.
Tax evasion can been see as an act of prudence if the evader thinks the money will be wasted on bridges to nowhere."


The mechanism for opposing bad government in a democracy is clearly laid out. Allowing those who can afford to arrange their affairs to avoid both tax and tax enforcement, and only them, to treat taxation as voluntary is clearly not Just or Prudent for the rest of society. Particularly, if the "bridge to nowhere" turns out to be an economic boon, the tax avoider is about to profit from the wider social gain while still avoiding the cost. That allows them to profit without risk.

This is why I object to coaching issues in moralistic terms, it's too easy to manipulate the argument in whatever serves your own purposes.

Moreso, whenever people elevate a specific Moral Definition to the level of Capitalisation, it usually ends Badly for Everyone Else.

Morality/Virtue is not some external, perfect, Platonic ideal. It's a mushy ball of genetics, upbringing and experience that can't be pinned down the way you (and Aquinas) want.

That's why I prefer a more utilitarian (but not Utilitarian) measure. Does X get us closer or further from the sort of society I want to live in? Tax evasion isn't Moral or Immoral, Just or Injust, it's just in general a pretty ineffective way to fund the sort of society I want to live in.

Paul451 said...

Duncan,
Re: Russian revolutions.

It's been too long since I learned Russian history. Third revolution is what I meant. Although without the shit-stirring of the Bolsheviks, I wonder if the Duma would have so ineffective between 1905 and 1917.

But this gets back to my point that the whole "kill Hitler" fantasy ignores that Hitler was merely a product of his era, not some Mule outlier.

(As does Turtledove in his Joe Steel alt.hist for Stalin.)

Paul451 said...

Me,
"to manipulate the argument in whatever serves your own purposes."

I assume there was meant to be a "way" in there somewhere.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I finally got a chance to relay to my wife your oxytocin observation story as a student teacher and then ask her if her development class taught that lesson. She said they did, but not in terms of drug symptoms. They taught it in terms of a 'need for attention' and the long-term, only partially reversible affects of early deprivation. Her text was quite specific about the consequences of treating children the way we do some adults. She accepted the theory taught to her, so naming oxytocin just gives her the physiological cause that she probably won't pursue. She is aiming for special education where the student-teacher ratio tends to be lower and already knew the power that paying attention gave her in managing behaviors.

I also relayed the 'anthropology student' observation part of the story. On that she was animated. Her instructors are quite determined to have their students observing without being involved while they learn. Just a few seconds of watching one teacher mishandle one event that blew out of control in the next five minutes turned into quite a few pages for one class. What she learned in a few seconds observing probably can't be taught any other way. Obviously, they don't teach the technique as anthropology, but what she described sounds of it sounds like it.

Next semester she starts part-time student teaching. She wanted high school and they gave her elementary. Heh. She will be challenged.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Hitler was bad, but under Hitler, they lost.


Yes, one can go nuts figuring out the unintended consequences of changing history. Just look at the unintended consequences of history as it unfolds the first time.

The Republican Supreme Court intervened to give us President Bush (W), but also thereby prevented Joe Lieberman from running next as a sitting vice-president. Also, without the blowback against W, we'd almost certainly not have elected a one-term senator with black skin and a Muslim name to the presidency. And then furthermore, without President Obama and the subsequent tea-party and birther movements, we almost certainly would not be anticipating a Trump presidency outside of stand-up comedy routines.

My head hurts thinking about such things.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: The point with bringing Aquinas into the picture and then altering definitions is that I'm not the one altering them nor is any other libertarian. The bourgeoisie among the 16th century Dutch started the effort and then the English copied them in most ways except for mercantalism's details. They tried that too, but didn't have enough control over everyone to make it stick.

Holding both systems up side-by-side is worth the effort because the people who have prospered from the Enlightenment are the people who mostly made the switch. 'The West' is a clade best defined by this revaluation.

You are right that I haven't defined the bourgeois versions of the pagan virtues. I know when I'm violating them or taking them to excess at the expense of others, but lacking the schooling in ethics theory, the best I could do until recently was answer Yes or No or Mu when asked to compare certain behaviors against my understanding of our emergent system. The first person I've read who changed that for me is McCloskey. In the first of her three volume set, she compares both systems side by side. I doubt she have much good to say about most tax evaders, but she would be able to establish how the libertarians think about it and then likely shred their positions. 8)

For example, I am sure she would argue against miserliness being prudence. She went on at length about how the Dutch viewed prudence as practical wisdom and how people with more Germanic languages had difficulty translating it properly and winding up with 'foresight' as their best match. Etymology played a big role in her explanations. The behavior of a miser isn't that of practical wisdom.

She might also point out that tax evaders aren't necessarily misers. There are a range of motivations with only some of them leading to vice. The biggest tax cheat I know wasn't sitting on his horde of gold. He was doing something that to me qualified as both courageous and hopeful.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion:...so long as humans naturally (a) use tools, (b) learn, and (c) pass on their learning about tools - 'technology evolution' will take place 'naturally' among humans. It's just that it will do so slowly, with discoveries and evolutionary steps requiring centuries - as it always had before governments catalyzed the process.

Oh Goodness. 8)

Do you understand the role of an anticatalyst? How about the inhibitors in a nuclear reactor?

I'd argue that what we are doing now is pretty natural and that we've squashed two major inhibitors. We have an oddly naked singularity here. History shows, though, that those inhibitors are a more natural from of governance that dresses innovation than the progressive belief in government as a catalyst. That we've managed to make government a catalyst in some ways should be listed among the miracles witnessed on Earth. I'm impressed and would like for it to continue, but I don't see it the same way as some progressives.

In our ignorance, we might put one inhibitor (Our inclination to vilify smartypants) back which would enable the second's return. We only take centuries (millennia I argue) to grow when both inhibitors are 'naturally' in place.

Anonymous said...

Blogger David Burns said...
Donald Trump now has a large influence over the future of scientific research. Is this a good thing?

A: Science is not the answer. The world is coming to an end.

PEAKOIL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYb73iiTBEA

David Brin said...

Napoleon's Russian invasion was just bizarre and weird. The Czar was already afraid of him. N could have demanded freedom for Poland and Finland and in exchange offered to attack Turkey through Serbia while Russia took Crimer and together they wrested Co Constantiople.

- no snow
- instantly weaken Russia in Europe and get devotion from Poles & Jews
- divert Russians to their ancient dream
- be seen by all as the champion of christendom.
- retake Egypt and Suez the land way, safe from the British Navy.
- in 2016 everyone speaks French.

TCB said...

Dr. Brin, I don't recall the details but I've read a bit on Napoleon... by 1812 he'd already beat Russian armies once or twice as they formed part of alliances against him, and his career as 'great conqueror' can also be seen as a series of attempts to hold together the French Republic against monarchist foes in the Continent, in Britain and in the Vendome (i.e. basically Normandy) too among old Royalists. Every time he pushed back one threat, another popped up again. He never personally led his troops in Spain, always being busy elsewhere, and Spain proved a quagmire.

I get the impression he ended up thinking he had to defang Russia once and for all. Didn't work, of course, and from then on he was undermanned and on the run.

... I always thought Napoleon's most amazing error was not being interested in steamboats but apparently the technology was not good enough yet anyway.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Ignorance is manufactured. It is a deliberate manipulation.

One of the terrible consequences of accepting a social model that has powerful people and institutions that can shape our minds is we become more inclined to see real people behind every action we oppose. It might be related to our ancient inclination toward animism, I suppose. If I sneeze, some demi-god has it out for me, right? Every social error is caused. Obviously this is an extreme position on a scale. On the other end we would find people blind to these people even if there were solid proof of them causing our ills. No sane person occupies either end, but there is probably a reasonable spread if we could think of a way to measure ourselves along this dimension.

I sincerely doubt most ignorance is manufactured. I sincerely doubt the powerful are that powerful or even that smart. I suspect ignorance is more of an emergent process which the powerful might be able to seed and poke, but no more. I've known people who wanted to remain ignorant of certain knowledge and they are generally good enough to make that happen. I've known people who wanted very much to prevent others from knowing things and they weren't so good at it. I've known rich and poor people who wanted to shape opinion, but only some of them are good at it. Most are miserably bad at it.

So No. Ignorance probably isn't manufactured. When it appears that is so, I'm more inclined to believe it appears so ex post facto. Show me these people who are so smart as to manufacture ignorance among us and I'll show you a story manufactured to fit the evidence after it is revealed.

I'll admit I am potentially far to the side on the scale I described above where the blind can be found. My revulsion for animism is strong. My skepticism that demi-gods of intelligence walk among us is profound. David has named a few who seem to believe they are, but his own community undermines most of his evidence in a way that leaves my skepticism unpunctured.

Alfred Differ said...

French troops on the coast of the Black Sea at the mouth of the Danube heading for Constantinople could just as easily head around the north coast and then up the Dnieper and across to the Volga. French access to either river while being supplied along a land route protected from the Russians by the Carpathians would likely have spelled doom for Russia.

I doubt the Czar would have wanted the French to own the Danube. I think the smarter French play was to prop up the Ottomans to keep the British busy (they had a fleet on the Marmara!) while the French relieved the pressure on the Ottomans in the North. I'm convinced the correct way to attack Moscow is from the south where warmer weather and food can be found.

It was all such a mess during that era, though, that it is hard to know which group would conclude a secret treaty with another.


I'm a big fan of the game called Diplomacy. Whether it is any good at predicting WWI era political possibilities, it does teach the French player to secure their backside before messing with Russia or Turkey. Getting the Ottomans fighting the British in the Med is well worth any effort by France. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@greg byshenk:...a generation or two without someone invading (or at least threatening) Russia over that plain. After all, the central North American plain is also pretty much indefensible, yet few Canadians lie awake at night worrying about invasion, even though their neighbor is vastly more powerful than they.

It would help them a lot if they could refrain from scaring those who might invade them too. That is part of their historical cycle, though. Fear lies at the root of it. Invasion can be stopped by controlling those who might invade, but if control slips, one has made the angry nation who might actually do the deed.

Our friends to the north know we don't need to invade... now. That need vanished after the British largely left them defenseless in the early 19th century. Once it was clear their defender preferred peace with us, the geopolitical game was over and our focus turned westward until our internal division ignited.

In a geopolitical sense, the existence of a border isn't enough to cause battle. There must be unresolved reasons for conflict. The non-existence of Germany before its unification in the 19th century helped ensure a giant buffer zone across the norther plains of Europe. Unification of Germany disrupted everything. It was very, very foolish of the neighboring monarchs to let that happen beginning as part of the resolution of Napoleon's wars. Whole buffer states vanished off the map. Dumb from a royalist's perspective.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding Tim Harford's list, you have to be careful with US contributions. When the US government funds projects after WWII, it becomes difficult to distinguish Government, Corporate, and University motivations. Each member of the triad does what it does, but together they are a force for innovation never seen on the planet before. When they act together, it is a mistake to argue one is more responsible than the others for a particular change especially after a generation of unexpected interactions among the innovations, people, and the institutions in which they are all involved. If Apple's Steve Jobs doesn't get credit for the iPhone, neither does Uncle Sam. If he does, so does Uncle Sam and everyone else involved.

Great Care should be taken with making these distinctions when anyone from The West is involved. With the way globalization is racing along, we should probably extend that to anyone who voluntarily participates in our markets, but I'm wary of including nation-states playing the old mercantile game.

donzelion said...

Alfred/Greg: I'm chuckling, ducking into conversations and ducking back out for family matters and work, BUT...

"Our friends to the north know we don't need to invade... now. That need vanished after the British largely left them defenseless in the early 19th century."

I keep raising the War of 1812 as the death knell of the idiotic notion of the 'citizen soldier' in America. The Canadians wiped out several U.S. army forces in three separate invasions, each a complete disaster. We got beaten so badly each time we've never wanted to indulge in a rematch. (At least, not until shifting from irregular militias to a professional, national military force).

"In a geopolitical sense, the existence of a border isn't enough to cause battle. There must be unresolved reasons for conflict."
Typically: (1) 'Aggressor' believes it will gain more by attacking than it will lose (e.g., the Americans, when invading Canada, initially believed it would be a cake walk), and (2) 'Aggressor' is divided internally and the side favoring war believes that by gaining more than is lost, it will also gain primacy over Doves.

Even before German unification, Prussia and Austria were very respectable powers nobody tangled with except Napoleon. But really, the age-old calculus was always in play: less 'buffer zone' and more 'do we get more than we pay for the benefit of calling some of those plots ours? do we get more for that than we do building a ship that can also protect trade routes?" Capitalism changed the war calculation immensely, making it far more lucrative (and even possible) to obtain wealth and glory in the factory rather than on the battlefield.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. As I recall, there was an 1812 era invasion northward that led to some burning which provoked an understandable response and counter-burning. You have to look at how the war was resolved, though, to see the geopolitical point. We'd proven we could be beaten AND proven that the British were pre-occupied with the French.

Attacking Canada was stupid except as an expression in opposition to the British. After the way the war resolved it was apparent they had better things to concern them, thus the motivation for sending forces northward evaporated on our side. Canadian understanding that they would stand against us without much help ended motivations from the other side. With no conflicts unresolved, that was that.

We got our butts kicked in the 1812 war. Only a fool would have invited British or French attention after that for quite a while. In terms of growth, though, only Mexico had a chance of competing with us for North America. Canada was not a threat after 1814.

(I am going to paste a paraphrasing of McCloskey's material on revaluation of Prudence tonight. Might be late.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

To Alfred's comments about "demi-gods of intelligence"
I agree entirely!
Intelligence is a biological property like height - and as such will have a truncated skew normal distribution
Just as there are no 12ft tall men there are no "demi-gods of intelligence"

Jumper said...

The government develops the caravel:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Henry_the_Navigator

Twominds said...

@ Paul SB 7:26 AM and Alfred Differ 8:48 PM
On whether ignorance is manufactured: just now I stumbled on The man who studies the spread of ignorance on BBC.com.
I found it interesting but too short.

Now I'm thinking about the book Merchants of Doubt. Has anyone here read it and is it worthwhile? As I can spend only so much on books, I don't want to buy randomly, or only on the recommendation of the sellers.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Responses...
@Greg: You're right, the Russian upper class loses people to sanity all the time. The critical point is that the 'paranoid groupthink' clique never lost control of the security apparatus, and as the 1990's economic collapse unfolded, this power was used to gradually thin the ranks of everyone who wasn't paranoid... everything from corruption prosecutions to targeted assassination was fair game, since by paranoid perception the existence of the Russian State was at stake. Until Putin, one of their own, was installed as President and the 'correct' (paranoid) worldview was restored to full power in the Kremlin.

@danzelion: The Continental militia was a horrible ragtag operation from the start, and only the combined efforts of Washington, Hamilton, Lafayette, von Steuben, and the French made them into anything but a guerilla outfit. Guerilla outfits are actually pretty good at resisting distant central authority; anything else, not so much.

Which is why the "citizen-soldier" militia eventually became the semiprofessional National Guard.

@Alfred:
(1) What good did having minor German buffer states do? Without some organizing principle of spheres of influence, and the maniacal chaos that the inheritance rules promulgated, they seemed to spark wars as often as prevent them. Perhaps a better solution would have been zones clearly designated as Prussian, Austria, French, and Hanoverian/British, along the lines of the later Allied Occupation Zones. Otherwise I do not see what the point of keeping that cesspool bubbling was. The main effect of the 19th century was the switch from Austrian/Habsburg to Prussian/Hohenstaufen control; and the Prussians proved able to actually organize Germany as the Austrians could not.

(2) Could you elaborate on how Canada ceased to be an expansion "threat" after 1814? I am guessing you mean "to the Old Northwest / present-day Midwest" but I don't quite get where you are going with that.

(3) Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Some parts of the right-wing stew animating Trumpism were designed by various actors (the conservative think tanks, the Religious Right) but others evolved on their own and still others were emergent phenomena from much older things such as the now-defunct Lost Cause conspiracy.

Smurphs said...

Alfred Differ said...

I sincerely doubt most ignorance is manufactured. I sincerely doubt the powerful are that powerful or even that smart. I suspect ignorance is more of an emergent process which the powerful might be able to seed and poke, but no more.

I, too, try to avoid see the bogeyman behind every development I don't like, but ...

Lately, in both Kansas and North Carolina, public education has been gutted. While the people who performed this cutting claimed it was for monetary reasons, their other policies, re: budgeting, has proved this to be a smokescreen.

IN THIS INSTANCE (I make no broader claim), ignorance is being deliberately manufactured and will cause us misery for decades to come.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brin,

The God of Technology is over. Time to face REALITY.

John Michael Greer (The ArchDruid): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY8Vb3SBa9U

Jeff B. said...

Technology is dead! All hail the new pantheon: Ignorance, Superstition, Fear, War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death! All Hail!

(And the lamentations of their women, etc.)

Jeff B. said...

Smurphs,

Not sure if this was posted here earlier, but to your point about KS and NC,

http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article122593759.html

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project
.

But, I do doubt NC's educational gutting has had long enough to have an effect. All these drastic changes have been enacted by existing political leadership, so is more effect than cause.

Flypusher said...

When I think about what alarms me the most about this incoming travesty of an administration, I find it's a tie between the potential devastation of our scientific research and all the bigotry/xenophobia this thoughtless man-child has so carelessly stirred up. My impression is that Trump is personally indifferent on race; he's demonstrated that he's an equal opportunity asshole to anybody. But the bigots give him the worship he craves, so he eggs them on. He also looks to totally thoughtless on science, but most the people with his ear are actively hostile. The next few years are going to be rough.

greg byshenk said...

JeffB wrote:
"Paranoid groupthink" can be interpreted as the default orientation of the Russian leadership caste- the military, security services, and "elected" government officials. It does in fact exist, and has existed at least since the time of Lenin. It's a shorthand for a series of well-documented assumptions about their nation and its place in the world:
- despite the end of the Cold War, the West is deliberately antagonistic to their existence and their "greatness"
- this Western antagonism was the direct cause of the USSR
- this antagonism was responsible for the chaos in which they foundered after the Communist overthrow
- this antagonism is "proven" by the continued attempts by the West to "encircle" them with hostile states: the expansion of NATO the paramount example, but also meddling is places like the Ukraine and Georgia.


All well and good, but what is interesting is that they are all (at least arguably) correct conclusions.
- Western antagonism was at least a cause of the USSR, in the form of both WWI and the attempts by the Central Powers to destabilize Russia.
- To be fair, my guess here is that what you meant to write was "...direct cause of the end of the USSR." But even here, various government types from the West have themselves argued that they helped end the USSR (the argument about the acceleration of the arms race, for example).
- There is an argument to be made for stupidity rather than malice, but Russians could hardly be blamed for concluding that the actions of the West in "helping" the economy after 1989 were antagonistic.
- The West, particularly in the form of the USA has been antagonistic to any independent (ie: not subservient to the USA) actions by Russia. I'm sure I'm not the only one who recalls all of the hand-wringing in the English language media about the danger of Germany getting close to Russia under Schroeder.
- The meddling and support of anti-Russian groups in former Soviet republics is well documented. (To be sure, a lot of the leadership in 1989 was corrupt, but it seems that the West is willing to forgive corruption as long as groups/parties are anti-Russian.)

Thus, the conclusion:
- the only way to guarantee Russian security is the a.) weaken its enemies in the west by sowing chaos and confusion, and b.) to undermine those governments on its borders so that they fall under Moskva's influence, and are neutered as threats.

May not be the only reasonable one, but it isn't a crazy one. Indeed, if one accepts that the "enemies in the west" have been attempting to "sow[] chaos and confusion" in order "to undermine" Russia -- something which is arguable, but certainly a not unreasonable thing to believe, then such seems a reasonable conclusion.

When I write this, let me be clear that I am no fan of Putin's Russia, but I do find the Anglophone press to be a bit one-sided on the subject. I have the sense that Americans think that when the US meddles, it does so for "truth, justice, and the American way", and so to be celebrated, but when Russia does, it does so for "pravda, spravedlivost', and mother Russia", which is completely different and therefore worthy of condemnation.

greg byshenk said...

And another very quick comment.

Twominds wrote:
FoxNews. The Netherlands don't have that, and do have a lively and effective extreme right wing scene.

We don't have Fox News, but we do have Geen Stijl and De Telegraaf, which carry out some of the same functions.

Paul451 said...

The idiots from METI are back in the news for some reason:

http://phys.org/news/2016-12-scientists-worlds.html

Paul SB said...

Twominds,

I haven’t read “The Merchants of Doubt” myself. Time to read has gone beyond precious resource to rarely attainable dream in my life (a good argument for getting the hell out of my current profession). You are right that the article on Agnotology was short, but did you try googling it? I got over 32K hits, including some books. This stuff seems like it would be right up Dr. Brin’s alley, since it is the kind of stuff he has been talking about at least as long as I have been here. The nice thing is that it gives us a vocabulary to use.

https://www.amazon.com/Agnotology-Unmaking-Ignorance-Robert-Proctor/dp/0804759014/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482856871&sr=8-1&keywords=agnotology+the+making+and+unmaking+of+ignorance

and

https://www.amazon.com/Miseducation-History-Ignorance-Making-America-Abroad/dp/1421419327/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482856871&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=agnotology+the+making+and+unmaking+of+ignorance

The first is listed as a textbook, which I find really interesting, while the second dates to this year. Maybe Agnotology will become a recognized sub-discipline. As a former archaeologist, I can imagine it would be extremely difficult to find evidence for, but as a historian it could lead in some very fruitful directions. In all the thunder and does of life in the Big Civilization, examining how disinformation is used to economic, political and religious ends would make for a really useful perspective – specially after this latest election!

During the election, huge numbers of people bought the BS that Clinton would repeal the Second Amendment. This is why Donald Grope loves uneducated people so much. People who flunked out of high school civics obviously don’t know that a president cannot arbitrarily repeal an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I just heard a program on the radio yesterday where they brought together 4 Grope supporters with 4 Clinton supporters to presumably hash things out. The first Grope supporter started out by claiming that under Grope there will be law and order, and if someone hurts him that person will be arrested. But under Clinton that won’t happen. Seriously? Like the president is going to call local police departments all over the nation and order them to stop doing their jobs? Sorry, the president can’t do that. But that level of ignorance is exactly what Grope and his benefactors promoted, not just played on, to win the election. Yes, ignorance is manufactured. It is a tool for manipulating people.

Paul SB said...

No, Alfred, you don’t need to be a demi-god to spread disinformation and cloud the picture, creating ignorance. True, many people will seek better information, but many people won’t – and at times it will be enough to vote kleptocrats into office based on lies, false promises, fake news, childish innuendoes and thinly-veiled threats. Recent events bear this out.

I think one problem is that you, like a lot of people, see things in terms of ideals. Yes, you can hunt down information and get at least some truth, where the information is available, but many people do not have the time, do not have the access, do not have the inclination. When looking at people it helps to look at them not in terms of what they could do. As Stephen Jay Gould once wrote, there are 3 horses you never bet one, the ones named Woulda, Shoulda and Coulda. Instead, look at actual behavior, and examine that bell curve. How many civilizations in human history collapsed because their populations exceeded the ability of their territories to produce the resources those populations needed? Nearly all of them. Sure, they coulda invented things to increase their resource extraction and/or production. Sure, undecided U.S. voters could have checked the facts on how much Donald Grope was lying vs. Hillary Clinton, but not many did. Much easier to just repeat the simple slogan “Liar, liar, pantsuit on fire!” Think less like your Sunday School teacher and more like the CDC.

matthew said...

@ anon - if you think that this group is ripe for the archdruid's propaganda then I have a bridge to sell you.

Of course misinformation is deliberate. Anyone that argues otherwise is most likely a willing participant, spreading counter-intelligence-propaganda, or a naive waif. Other than dogmeat (the ent) I see no waifs here.

Twominds said...

@greg byshenk 12:32 PM
Are you Dutch too? The Telegraaf doesn't come close at all, but GeenStijl, well they do have a nasty habit of trying to provoke. They tried it to me too once, long ago.
I'd say their danger lies more in their comment community, egging each other on.

Paul SB 1:28 PM
Thanks for the answer and the links. I didn't google the word, for one reason or another it sounded too 'made-up' for me to think it would be used elsewhere. Assumptions, dangerous beasts...

I wouldn't know how to use archaeology in this case, but then I used to do digs and that keeps your eyes firmly on the material side of the past, and on the small piece that you're doing at that moment. But even a long-term archaeological overview of how a culture changed, will show you what happened, and sometimes why, but mostly not what motivated the people to that change instead of another. For that you need other sources, if they're available.

Agree that it could be very useful if a new historical discipline could shed some light on ignorance as a tool.

Let's hope reCaptcha plays nice this time and my reply comes through. My last, at greg only, got stuck when I did get the images, but not the possibility to click on them.

David Brin said...

Catfish it goes the other way too. The USSR had two major achilles' heels. (1) Level;s of paranoia, while deeply embedded in Russian character - and now surging-enflamed, under Putin - were nevertheless much higher when the tiller was held by men who had actually experienced war and invasion. That started to change during the 1980s.

2) Incompetence. Their system could build dams. But kept running into limits where stupid but polemical men were promoted over competent ones. Gorbachev used this against itself. Every time a major disaster happened:

- KAL 800
- Matthias Rust flies a Cessna from Berlin and lands on Red Square
- Chernobyl
and many others... each gave Gorby an excuse to fire a thousand dogmatic-incompetent cretins. And even after many years doing this, he barely succeeded. Same deal can happen in reverse. Witness Erdogan firing everyone competent from the Turkish government and military.

Smurphs said...

Jeff B., nice timing. I saw that article on NC democracy between writing my post and reading yours.

As far as, But, I do doubt NC's educational gutting has had long enough to have an effect. All these drastic changes have been enacted by existing political leadership, so is more effect than cause.

I agree in the case of NC education funding, there has not been time for serious effects. Maybe the incoming NC government can correct some of it, maybe not. The Party that did the damage will still control the Legislature, irregardless of last week's coup d'etat.

But Kansas? This has been going on for almost SIX years. That's an entire high school class, hell, it's an entire Elementary school class. Like I said, the damage will be with us for decades to come.

Flypusher said...

"I agree in the case of NC education funding, there has not been time for serious effects. Maybe the incoming NC government can correct some of it, maybe not. The Party that did the damage will still control the Legislature, irregardless of last week's coup d'etat.

But Kansas? This has been going on for almost SIX years. That's an entire high school class, hell, it's an entire Elementary school class. Like I said, the damage will be with us for decades to come."
=================

In the case of NC, how much would the research triangle region put the brakes on dumbing down the schools? Highly skilled people want their children to have quality education. I don't know the specifics of NC school funding, so I'm curious here.

As for Kansas, the brain drain is probably already a negative feedback loop to the point of no return, at least for the medium term future.

Anonymous said...

Satanic Cult Operating out of the white House!

https://voat.co/v/pizzagate/1519703

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Tim H. said...

That can't be true! Trump hasn't been inaugurated yet, and Pence hasn't had time to draw pentagrams...

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