Saturday, April 01, 2017

Marching for Science... and then some tech marvels

My science postings used to be free of politics -- and this one will be, in a bit. But how can they be detached, when the central political issue of our time is whether evidence, fact-based argument and truth discovery can survive? I know that on Earth Day (named after my novel, I presume) April 22, I'll join my fellow scientists in the street. 

See more information about the March for Science, as well as satellite marches held around the world. Scientists will speak out and hold events to explain their research to the public. 

Though let me be clear. I also think that marching and protests are secondary. At a moment in history when all fact-professions are under attack, no less than survival is at stake. Marches and protests are like pushing back in a Sumo match. You might gain inches, but what's needed is judo.


How do people comprehend (and trust) science? It's complicated. A recent study has found that people place more confidence in the claims of a popular science article than they do in the claims of an academic article written for experts. They seem to be dissuaded by the academic papers' in-depth discussions of negative results, margins of error, and alternate explanations -- rather than the concise certainties of popularized articles.

 "This emboldens people to reject the ideas of experts who they see as superfluous to their understanding of an idea (which they have already grasped)," writes Scotty Hendricks in Big Think.

== The war is now explicit ==


Through resignations, firings and almost zero replacements, the Trump Administration has all but wiped out the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, sending it down the path of extinction that — in 1995 — swallowed the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, when Newt Gingrich ruled OTA to be irreparably “partisan.” (As - apparently - are 'facts.') Now members of Mr. Trump’s transition team  have called for getting rid of OSTP, altogether. 

Mr. Trump, says an anonymous official, is still reviewing candidates to be his chief science adviser and he “considers the science and technology office important.” Ah but the two leading candidates for White House Science Advisor - Princeton's William Happer and Yale's David Gelernter - are notorious climate change denialists who regularly express contempt for their scientific peers on abstract and cultural grounds. (I'll be posting about the latter fellow, soon.)

Trump isn’t interested in science and that scientific matters are a low priority at the White House,” said Vinton G. Cerf, a computer scientist, vice president of Google and one of the chief architects of the internet.  Indeed, not one person still working in the science and technology office regularly participates in Mr. Trump’s daily briefings, as they did for President Barack Obama, who more than doubled the OSTP staff, to 130, and moved the office into a building on the White House grounds. (Where I spoke - twice - in 2016 about "big perspectives on threats to civilization."

Obama turned to the science office during crises like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa; the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, Japan; and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The staff of the science office developed the White House’s recommendations for regulation of commercial drones and driverless cars at the Transportation Department. Last year, the staff produced an attention-grabbing report that raised concerns about the threat that robots posed to employment and that advocated retraining Americans for higher-skilled jobs. (I participated in an OSTP campaign to get computer programming back into the schools.) The staff also put on the annual White House science fair.

Only now... let's go back to pointing out just how marvelous it is to be a member of a bold, open-minded and scientific civilization. 

== Marvels of research ==

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed the first stable semi-synthetic organism — a bacterium with two new synthetic bases (called X and Y) added to the four natural bases (A, T, C, and G) that every living organism possesses. Adding two more letters to expand the genetic alphabet can be used to make novel proteins.

Moreover, they found a clever way to ensure that these experimental organisms won't escape the lab. Researchers engineered them to react to a genetic sequence that doesn’t have X and Y as a foreign invader (an immune response).  So any new cell that dropped X and Y would be marked for destruction.  That enabled their semisynthetic organism to keep X and Y in its genome after dividing 60 times, leading the researchers to believe it can hold on to the new base pair indefinitely.

Helping to feed the world? Agronomists have developed a new species: a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass - Salish Blue - that's like wheat but grows back year after year, allowing farmers to plow much less and reduce erosion. This holy grail now seems within reach.

An exciting and way overdue international consortium has been formed to develop vaccines much faster. A coalition of governments and charities has committed $460 million to speed up vaccine development for Mers, Lassa fever and Nipah virus. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) aims to have two new experimental vaccines ready for each disease within five years.

The recent discovery of metallic hydrogen could revolutionize many things, especially spaceflight.  

Theoretically predicted a few years ago, ‘time crystals’ are a notion – a new state of matter - that have a structure that repeats in time, not just in space. A time crystal will keep oscillating in its ground state without expending or needing energy, like current in a superfluid. And two teams claim to have made them. “While we're waiting for the papers to be published, we need to be skeptical about the two claims. But the fact that two separate teams have used the same blueprint to make time crystals out of vastly different systems is promising.  

== Scientific nature? ==

According to Bruno Lemaitre, an immunologist at the EPFL research institute in Switzerland, science is filled with “narcissists.” Having read the article, I must respond that this is stunning malarkey and part of the right’s intensely bitter War on Science. And indeed, their war on every single knowledge procession that deals in fact, verification and proof. 

Are there narcissistic scientists? Plenty! They are human and I have known doozies! But scientists are also (in my opinion) the most independent-minded and competitive humans our species ever produced, going at each other with knives of experimentation and scalpels of disproof. All of it moderated by rules of grownup behavior that make us seem all friendly and polite.


No, what the Cultists of the far-far-left and today’s entire right — two wings of a monstrous anti-modernism — share is their desperate need to discredit every profession that does the unforgivable… shines light upon delusion. Science, journalism, teaching, economics, civil servants, medicine… and now the intelligence and military officer corps.
The enemies of maturity and truth use anecdotes to displace statistics. They concoct stories to counter facts. They proclaim — as did the priests and kings of old — “there is no fact! There is only whose voice is loudest!”  Or the best subsidized by today's popes and medicis -- the oligarchy.

== Tech Marvels ==

Oh but we do persevere!  For example, engineers have developed a prototype 3D bioprinter that can create totally functional human skin

Other researchers have pioneered how to regrow bone and the interlaced blood system. 

Several international student hyperloop teams came to SpaceX to compete by hurling their vehicles down the 2nd biggest vacuum chamber in the world.  

Researchers have produced a LED pixel out of nanorods capable of both emitting and detecting light. These nanorods manage to both detect and emit light. Envision Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) technology.  Screens will be able to watch you without a camera and screens could talk to each other.  And yes, we need to talk about this. Openly. Watch the video.

See these amazing photos of one of Greenland’s towns, in an article about the wrangling over the opening of a rare earth elements mine.


70 comments:

Rik Smoody said...

Oh Brilliant naming, calling the synthetic base pair X & Y. It sure is a good thing X & Y haven't been used for anything else related to genetics. 8-(

Zepp Jamieson said...

I know it's early days, but the Hyperloop competition didn't exactly awe. 94 kph isn't exactly screamin', and the MIT video showed a bumpy, noisy ride.
Greenlanders will be wise to defer foreign investment; in twenty years they'll have triple the arable land, vast reserves of untapped mineral reserves, and a much stronger bargaining position. They've always struck me as sensible and sober people; I hope that holds them in good stead. They tend to be fierce environmentalist, too, the people of the North. The law on Svarbald Island is that if you die there, even if you were born there, your carcass goes to the mainland for burial; they don't want contamination of their soil with corpses.
Metallic hydrogen sounds like a holy grail, but is it scalable, or will it remain a lab curiosity?

Taz Mack said...

It seems incredible that evidence-based decisions are now under threat from narrow-minded "politicians" who would much prefer to pander to the populist viewpoints of the "reality" TV consuming generation. It appears what we need to do is rebrand science as magic and call scientists and researchers Wizards in order to catch the attention of the current generation of voters.If we can pull this off without ending up burnt at the stake then maybe the world still has a chance of not descending into another dark age of ignorance.

Hyperion said...

David, Brewster Rocket has been listening to you:

http://www.gocomics.com/brewsterrockit/2017/04/02

LarryHart said...

Taz Mack:

It appears what we need to do is rebrand science as magic and call scientists and researchers Wizards in order to catch the attention of the current generation of voters.If we can pull this off without ending up burnt at the stake then maybe the world still has a chance of not descending into another dark age of ignorance.


That sounds a lot like the first adventure in Asimov's "Foundation".

David Brin said...

Taz Mack. Depending how you look at it, half of your nation DOES want science. Or else nearly all of your nation - the "Union" wants science, but our capital and seats of power have been seized by plantation lords and their voodoo entranced confederate troops.

locumranch said...


There is no such thing as 'Anti-Science'. The Fact-Based Knowledge Castes are under attack because of their attempts to exercise authoritative command & legislate Social Policies as this is neither their role nor purview.

Scientists exist to ascertain & promulgate fact. Once discovered and disseminated, these facts are no longer subject to scientific control, management or oversight.

After Julius Oppenheimer, the physicist credited with both the discovery of & the failed attempt to ban the Atomic Bomb, we'll call this sad state of political powerlessness the 'Oppenheimer Effect':

(1) The FACT that excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity does NOT give anyone (Bloomberg or Nutritional Scientist) the authority to restrict the consumption of candy, soft drinks or sugary snacks;

(2) The FACT that human-mediated CO2 production correlates with Climate Change does NOT entitle Climate Scientist & Environmentalist to the right to determine international energy policy; and

(3) The FACT that the spread of HIV can be greatly reduced with safe sex guidelines & condom use does NOT empower Physician & Social Worker to force others to practice Safe Sex.


With all of David's bluster & teeth-gnashing, you'd think that Scientific Acumen gives the average pencil-necked Scientist the MAGIC POWER to transform himself into Political Authority like a 1980's He-Man & the Masters of the Universe cartoon:

'I am Adam, Prince of ACADEMIA and defender of the secrets of Castle SCIENCE. This is Cringer, my fearless co-author. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic DIPLOMA and said "By the powers of SCIENCE, I have the POWER to set Social Policy"'.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeA7a0uS3A

As mentioned above, "Obama turned to the science office during crises like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa; the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, Japan; and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010", and accomplished shit-all NOTHING as the Ebola outbreak resolved under medieval quarantine, Fukushima is still toxic & the Deepwater Horizon gushed for months & months.

Social Policy ain't Science.

Pretty cool, though, the creation of STABLE synthetic DNA bases; they've been working on perennial wheat since the 1940's; and Metallic Hydrogen was a plot device in a bad Netflix Space Nazi film called 'Iron Sky', I think.


Best

Anonymous said...

Iron Sky wasn't a Netflix movie. You may have seen it there, but Netflix didn't make it.

Iron Sky is a dark science fiction comedy directed by Timo Vuorensola and will feature musical score composed by Laibach. The film is produced by Blind Spot Pictures and Energia Productions in Finland, and co-produced by 27 Films in Germany and New Holland Pictures in Australia. Principal photography took place in Germany in November-December 2010 and in Australia in January-February 2011.

Iron Sky premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and opens in theaters in April 2012 with Finland opening on 4th of April and Germany on the 5th of April. Other countries will follow soon after.


https://web.archive.org/web/20120719223715/http://www.ironsky.net/site/film/about/

LarryHart said...

The insufferable fool:

There is no such thing as 'Anti-Science'. The Fact-Based Knowledge Castes are under attack because of their attempts to exercise authoritative command & legislate Social Policies as this is neither their role nor purview.

Scientists exist to ascertain & promulgate fact. Once discovered and disseminated, these facts are no longer subject to scientific control, management or oversight.


No, you idiot, scientists are under attack because the facts they prove out are inconvenient to the Republican notion of what the world should be like (yes, "should"). Rather than admit they were factually wrong about anything, Republicans go "do-do-do-do I'm not listening!" and then use their political power to silence any assertion of facts which do not fit plausible as elements of the story they want to believe.

Forbidding NASA from looking earthward. North Carolina legislating that forecasts of rising floodwaters cannot take into account anything other than historic data. The federal government forbidden from even collecting statisics related to gun violence. How is any of this a case of scientists attempting to overreach their authority. Sounds to me like a clear case of authority overreaching their control over the nature of reality, as if killing the messenger disproves the message. I can only hope your Red-State masters take note of your messages some day and find them disturbing. Then you may finally get what you deserve.

Have a nice day.

LarryHart said...

Anonymous:

Iron Sky wasn't a Netflix movie. You may have seen it there, but Netflix didn't make it.


Of all the fallacies, misunderstandings, and outright libel that locumranch produces around here, you choose that one to call out? :)

Smurphs said...

Dear Loco:

I propose henceforth all contagious illnesses be treated with Mercury. It was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's good enough for you. Right?

Science, who needs it. We know everything already!

David Brin said...

Yep, pretty cool locum, except not a single thing that you asserted is true. And most of them are so wrong they are clinical symptoms of raving delusion. But we know you depend upon your magical incantations. Black is white! Yippppppeeeeee!

I may be mostly offline for a while. Lots of travel... But have fun guys. I'll keep posting. You guys keep up the discussions.

Oh, any of you live in the LA area? Get together with PaulSB. He could use a night out.

Thrive all...

TCB said...

How about this:

The FACT that our economy is based on enforceable contracts, deeds of ownership, and other symbolic messages on paper or electronic media does not give oligarchs limitless property rights to enslave the mass of humanity, despoil the planet, subvert democracy, start wars for profit, hide stolen wealth, or otherwise fuck up the greater good for the sake of their own sensory stimulation or ego-wank addictive behaviors.

Tony Fisk said...

Science and Seance: one of these words has no place in policy formulation. Choose.

Do you really want to see legislature decreeing that pi = 22/7 introducing again?

Role of Science is to investigate and advise. Those who currently rule do not wish them to do either. This suggests it is the rulers who are not fit for purpose. It does not suggest that scientists are incapable of governing.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm not sure about that X Y base requirement as it explained. It seems to me that any iyx-Life bacteria breaking out will try cutting a swathe through things without X Y bases (ie life life).

A sort of genetic jihad.

(unless the iyx-life doesn't have the capacity to create X Y bases itself?)

David Brin said...

Tony! You are back! I got a message that our predictions wiki needs activity or they will dump it! Come in here and tell all how to update predictions?

About to board a plane. Thrive all.

Tony Fisk said...

It's a periodic reminder to access the site to keep the memory from being reclaimed (which I've done)
Bon voyage.

donzelion said...

Locum does have one point that is reasonable - mere knowledge gives no one authority to impose a policy upon another. I wasn't aware that anyone anywhere had argued for sapiocracy, least of all our host.

The knowledge castes are not under attack "because of their attempts to exercise authoritative command & legislate Social Policies" - but for exercising their own independent agency, a freedom of speech and thought that were they a bit less politically correct, Locum would enthusiastically endorse. They are being muzzled. By design.

Why? A certain party seeks to monopolize and control the use of knowledge for its own benefit.

Today's real estate tycoons and financial traders are PERFECTLY HAPPY with science - provided they benefit from it more than their rivals. They love knowing which plots of land are most likely to flood in the next 20 years - they can insure against it, shift the cost through guarantees and tax write-offs to society itself, and laugh as structures collapse while they grow richer. They love AI: they program it more voraciously than any other industry. They love sugar, they love drugs designed to counter the effects of excess sugar - they love the utter control they obtain from commercializing science for their own benefit.

What they oppose is not 'science per se' - but freedom of scientists to speak for themselves, share and build their knowledge as they see fit. They hate journalists, except for THEIR journalists. They hate lawyers, except for THEIR lawyers. They hate scientists, except for THEIR scientists.

One hopes, the days of feudal lords with their pet scientific wizards - who bedazzled guests along with soothsayers, acrobats, and various other entertainments - will not return. The Ivory Tower is stronger than a thousand tank divisions: it unlocks the atom, the electron, the gene - not by marching in the streets, but by disciplined, focus effort to build up the pool of knowledge and to do so freely, autonomously - not as puppets and pets of the wealthy.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: Dude, I'm practically your neighbor! Just got back from enjoying the California Poppy Reserve and springtime in Santa Barbara, but hit me up some time this week and lets commiserate.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Locum does have one point that is reasonable - mere knowledge gives no one authority to impose a policy upon another. I wasn't aware that anyone anywhere had argued for sapiocracy, least of all our host.


That's the thing. It's not that everything he says is wrong. He'll assert something that is true--even tautological--as if it's some great mystery that has never before been considered, but then act as if this assertion implies something else that it does not in fact imply.

Hey, even #SoCalledPresident says some things that are true. "The election will be rigged!" and "We are led by some very stupid people" come to mind.

LarryHart said...

Another true statement out of the mouth of Trump, although I'm paraphrasing: "No one who is under FBI investigation should be allowed to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court."

raito said...

Interesting bit on those nanorods. That's similar to an idea I've been kicking about for the last decade or so on LED manufacture, though mine was strictly engineering and didn't use quantum dots, just current processes to grow nanotubes as part of the process to get greater power/lumen density in LEDs. I only briefly considered it as a display tech, because I couldn't figure out how to do color with that process (couldn't selectively etch fine enough). Nanotech wasn't really present when I was in school, so I may have to do some digging to see whether the article's assertion that the rods and shell prevent electrons/holes from going the wrong direction is really anything other than normal diode operation. And note that pretty much ANY LED can also be used as a detector, but has to be in a circuit that allows it. And I'm pretty sure it can't do both at the same time.

David Brin said...

There is no motive, means or opportunity for scientists to form an oppressive cabal.

No motive - they thrive on competition and toppling established memes, and only agree on a central model when that model works so well that it only needs tweaking. They are intensely competitive and impossible to herd with anything but facts.

No means - OMG what kind of an idiot would imagine that a MILLION scientists could organize such a cabal? And in secret? Imbeciles.

Opportunity? Ditto.

By comparison, a cabal of less than 5000 golf buddy members of a narrow caste of CEOs, wall street parasites and resource extraction cheaters CAN conspire in secret, as they have done in every single human generation across time, without a single exception. They have the means and plenty of opportunity.

What's more, we NOW they are doing it! It's no longer even secret Though many details still are.

But confeds like locum cannot look at their gods , their shining-deities, their plantation lords. Those lords command: "Hate those fact-folks who stand in our way! The only impediments to our absolute power!"

And the confeds obey. Yessss Marse Robert! Yes Marse Koch! Heil..."

From Heathrow

Paul451 said...

From the main article:
"Moreover, they found a clever way to ensure that these experimental organisms won't escape the lab. Researchers engineered them to react to a genetic sequence that doesn't have X and Y as a foreign invader (an immune response). So any new cell that dropped X and Y would be marked for destruction."

Errr, have these guys not ever watched a SF-horror movie?

In order to try to prevent it from spreading, we've engineered it to consider us it's biological enemy. Great. Thanks.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Poor deluded locum, and all those like him who see advocacy as tyranny.

"(1) The FACT that excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity does NOT give anyone (Bloomberg or Nutritional Scientist) the authority to restrict the consumption of candy, soft drinks or sugary snacks;"

Perhaps not; and in any case, like any drug, ban attempts will only result in a black market. But sin taxes have been permissible since before the formation of the Republic; and 'twould be better for those to be integrated with the health-care system, as surcharges dedicated to funding the subsidies to the insurance companies and/or government healthcare operations. People and companies (which are people and software organized into operational entities) are and should be free to make their own choices on food and health... as long as they are not thereby placing burdens on the rest of us. Let those who smoke help pay for lung cancer treatment; let those who overindulge help pay for diabetes treatment.

"(2) The FACT that human-mediated CO2 production correlates with Climate Change does NOT entitle Climate Scientist & Environmentalist to the right to determine international energy policy;"

And do they? Is there some council somewhere with the ability to order such policy changes, or to punish those who choose to act otherwise?

You know full well there is not. There are only those who actively push the message, to work PERSUASION and WARNING upon the rest of us. Even now the Paris Accords are voluntary & will be enforced by sovereign wills of states, either upon themselves or with each other. And the means by which the voluntary pledges are enforced is also left up to each sovereign state, again as it should be.

What we have instead are a cabal of crybabies upset that THEIR voices are weaker & more constrained despite having some members with vast wealth, power, and privilege. And many members who do not! My heart goes out to all these one-industry fossil fuel towns whose economies are being destroyed by cruel capitalism & harsh necessity. Life can suck, sometimes. I support any and all efforts to mitigate: to move in other industries, to retrain, to subsidize, to neighborly assist. And I understand that they are upset despite all this, that nothing can 100% replace what they are losing. But I will not sell out my grandchildrens' birthrights to give them a few more years of comfort and illusion in a changing world.

Those who merely mourn distant sunk costs and the loss of their rentier income I weep for not a bit. Take your losses and reinvest; there's gold in them thar solar panels and windmills.

Catfish N. Cod said...

"(3) The FACT that the spread of HIV can be greatly reduced with safe sex guidelines & condom use does NOT empower Physician & Social Worker to force others to practice Safe Sex."

As if that were possible! Do you work with such clinics? Surely if you do, you know that such cannot be done even if that were preferable (i.e., as if patient autonomy were not a thing to respect). One can only inform and admonish: persuasion and evidence, logical and emotional appeals, incentives. Trying to legislate such or enforce it by violent means would be a violation of medical canon as well as civil rights, and an abomination in political terms. It would also backfire and fail.

I do see some Hard Leftists who would love to use the force of the State or even of Social Peer Pressure and Banishment to enforce Strict Rules upon us For Our Own Good. As a liberaltarian I oppose such and stand with those who rail against it. But nearly all conservatives shoot themselves in the foot when they seek my support on such matters, for they invariably

(1: Conservatives) Have their own (usually historically or scripturally derived) code they would simply substitute in place, or else
(2: Libertarians as well) Insist on lumping all Liberals, including classical, social-democratic, and neo-liberal, into the same authoritarian-socialist hamper as their chosen few bete-noires. It takes groupthink and more squinting than a brigade of Englishmen in the African sun to think that the actions of radical Greens in Massachusetts and California represents the same desires as a meat-and-potatoes union man of New Jersey or a race-relations advocate in Alabama.

Social Policy ain't Science.

But Social Policy without Science is like a blind woman without her cane, reduced to working on sound and memory and limited feel, needlessly handicapped. Whether she prefers it that way or not does not change the fact that others WITH canes will be able to walk laps around her.

And when others call out to her where the obstacles are, and how to avoid them, she chooses to resent them. How dare they tell her what to do! Even though no one is forcing her to listen or to do anything.

LarryHart said...

Catfish N. Cod:

My heart goes out to all these one-industry fossil fuel towns whose economies are being destroyed by cruel capitalism & harsh necessity. Life can suck, sometimes.


Yes, agreed. But then my heart comes back a bit when those unfortunate victims of cruel capitalism vote for more cruel capitalists as some sort of antidote to their troubles. The idea that Republicans will give up a cent of profit to keep your job viable is absurd.

donzelion said...

Catfish: Perhaps most confederate soldiers perceived themselves as 'resisting Yankee oppression' - rather than fighting for 'the right of his landlord to own slaves.' By that measure, Locum probably doesn't perceive himself to be defending the rights of masters to assert mastery over him...

"[Scientists lack] the authority to restrict the consumption of candy, soft drinks or sugary snacks..."

Um, who made corn syrup into the sweetener of choice in America? Who made it possible for them to grow that corn now? Farmers certainly have no problem with science that enhances their yields. They like THEIR scientists - and are neutral as to the others.

But the marketeers abhor 'sin taxes' and any other attempt to impair the value of the commodities they market. They accrue the bulk of the profits, and from that profit, they can dispatch teams of politicians and provocateurs to warn farmers that 'those scientists threaten you by destroying the value of your crop! They're trying to tax sweeteners!' (Support my candidate, and I may knock a few points off your debt...)

The problem with the 'progressive-libertarian' approach - put the costs upon those who incur them through 'sin taxes' is a political one, not a philosophical or conceptual one. When a smoker can't afford cancer treatment, he will immediately 'socialize' his debt - maxing his credit cards and then running into personal bankruptcy (the largest cause of personal bankruptcy has for decades been health issues) - basically shifting the costs back onto health providers or society as a whole.

Public health experts, economists, others will look at 'sin taxes' as a reasonable mechanism for reducing the 'cost-shifting' by certain sinners. Against them, the profiteers deploy hordes of agents and provocateurs to change the terms of debate - 'It's about FREEDOM! Political correctness is a national security threat! The [Insert one: Jews/Catholics/Blacks/Latinos/Muslims/Liberals] are destroying your jobs! Benghazi!'

donzelion said...

Catfish: "My heart goes out to all these one-industry fossil fuel towns whose economies are being destroyed by cruel capitalism & harsh necessity."

My heart goes out to the people working in those fossil fuel towns, even as I tear my hair out over how their loyalties get parsed and divided, pitting them against themselves. The guy who owns that coal mine is going to declare bankruptcy tomorrow, just as soon as he starts having to pay pensions or health costs for his workers. Then, after he abandons them and starts up in another town - giving people who are struggling a few jobs - he will abandon them in turn once there's nothing left to extract from them or their land.

This person - a serial traitor who abandons them the second they cease to be lucrative - is deemed a 'hero' and job-creator. They fall to his games, again and again - the appearance that this person has money is seductive, esp. for those who are most desperate - whereas all those 'do-gooders' have little to offer...except truth. Which is infuriating.

The doctor who advocates for 'safe sex' - because it's smarter than getting HIV/AIDS - becomes the 'iron-fisted technocrat' who 'forces' people to have 'safe sex' - a hilarious, ironic, silly fantasy - becomes more threatening than the guy who profits from the hospitals, and the drugs, and the real estate fire sales from victims who lose everything. Meanwhile, the guy who earns the profits blithely hires a team of cheerleaders to warn you how 'those do-gooders are destroying your freedom!' - laughing all the way to the bank.

Paul SB said...

Okay, I just can't keep away from this place, but because of time constraints I am trying to limit myself to an hour a day.

Donzelion,
I would love to get together with you, but we tried meeting for frozen yogurt a couple times last year with no luck. A lot of my evenings are eaten up by other commitments, but weekends might be possible. I take my son to the gym on Sundays around 1:00, but other times I might be able to swing.

As to our little locum, I would like to point the structure of his claims because it is a standard indoctrination tactic. He claimed one actual fact to be fact in his numbered sequence, but then added his own opinions with those facts, to make it appear that his own opinions are "no duhs" that automatically follow from the actual facts. I've heard church leaders directly teach this tactic to their door-knocking minions, as well as the tactic he used last thread in which he was trying to claim that facts are actually subjective. If he can get anyone to buy into that, then he can claim that his alternative facts are as good as - then progressively assert that they are better than - real facts produced by honest attempts to understand the natural world. Once again, it's a standard church tactic. Somewhere I have a book on brainwashing techniques which I got as part of my research for a story I was writing, but I haven't seen it in years or I would recommend it. Back again tomorrow, if I can resist the temptation.

Oh, and Zepp & Dr. Brin, that's awfully sweet of you, my electronic friends (friends?)

David Brin said...

"(2) The FACT that human-mediated CO2 production correlates with Climate Change does NOT entitle Climate Scientist & Environmentalist to the right to determine international energy policy;"

And who gives any public official - sworn to serve us and our children - the right to utterly ignore experts when erecting public policy over a matter that could be existentially dangerous? Not just to ignore all experts.... all of them... but to qyash them, repress them and to suppress the instruments and research that could erase all doubt?

Gawd what lunacy.

from Glasgow

Jumper said...

I am still libertarian enough to point out we probably ought to get rid of the sugar subsidy before we tax sugar. Although the pure ironic spectacle of both paying to make more of it and then taxing it as a bad thing, is sort of like a perfect flower.

LarryHart said...

Jumper,

I realize I'm a minority position, but I don't think we should "tax ... as a bad thing." We can tax things that impose a financial cost on society in order to pay for that cost. We can tax things simply as a way of paying for society, independent of "good" or "bad". We can criminalize ... "as a bad thing", but that's a different thing; in fact the opposite thing.

Tax policy should be driven by economics, not by morality. I mean, a sales tax is not meant to punish sales.

Alfred Differ said...

LarryHart,

I mean, a sales tax is not meant to punish sales.

Yah... until it is clear that it IS our intent. Look at what we've done to cigarette taxes here in CA for an example.

Jumper has a valid point whether it is libertarian or not. It makes no sense to subsidize a commodity we consume in such quantities that we are hurting ourselves. We already tax it in one way or another, but ending the subsidy might produce better price results than raising the tax higher.

The old sugar subsidy is a protectionist measure and THAT should get the attention of a libertarian. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch,

Yah. Warnings against paternalism.


Scientists exist to ascertain & promulgate fact. Once discovered and disseminated, these facts are no longer subject to scientific control, management or oversight.


Yah. Sorta. Scientists are people too, so don't be shocked when we react to others telling us why we exist and what the limits are upon us. Beyond that, I'm inclined to agree with one important exception.

As people, we are moral agents and required to act in the presence of danger. Failure to warn and to make an effort to protect others from a known danger is a moral failure. Rail all you want against paternalism, but you won't get far if you ask us to abandon our duties as moral agents.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

"I mean, a sales tax is not meant to punish sales."

Yah... until it is clear that it IS our intent. Look at what we've done to cigarette taxes here in CA for an example.


I know that "sin taxes" are sold as a kind of punishment, and I'm against them for that reason. I was talking about just plain sales tax, as in the 5% or whatever that you pay on anything you buy at the store (depending on locality, of course). It's a way of allocating funds to run the government, not a punishment for buying stuff. Same with property tax. Much as we hate it, it's a means of allocating funds to run the government, not a punishment for buying a house.

I was saying all taxes should be like that.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: Well, the plan at this point is to move down to Anaheim in a month or two, but no urgency on that, so we'll probably have some weekends we can set something up. Just not this weekend - off to hear Morissey.

As for Locum's neutered 'indoctrination tactic' - the interesting part is how readily this could be reversed. The sort of judo is NOT 'speak nicely and flatter' - but strike in an unexpected manner. Asked directly, Locum might find it offensive that scientists speaking their minds freely would be muzzled by gag rules and bullies on his own side. He has trouble perceiving the bullies in his tent (after all, they flash a lot of ads and hire a lot of provocateurs to give warnings about the dangers of not being able to use the n-word publicly and similar 'oppression'). But I have to believe there's some core of decency beneath the deliberately asinine commentary.

"If he can get anyone to buy into that..."
Here? LOL, well, maybe the Ent....but that's not exactly a duo that converses amicably, nor a cabal that inspires fear. (But what if they get Car Sitter on their side... ;-) If only the real world threats were just as perilous...

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "Tax policy should be driven by economics, not by morality. I mean, a sales tax is not meant to punish sales."

Ah, but it always has been driven by morality...the belief that one should pay one's debts, and that society should likewise do so is ultimately a moral imperative.

Stripped of moralistic reasoning, pseudo-economics takes hold (i.e., "Social security is going bankrupt!" - a line that ultimately has been asserted since 1935 - and which obscures the fact that social security is a moral commitment to care for elderly, sick, and others).

Strong economics is crucial to 'wise policy' - but authentic, shared morality is even more crucial to making it endure. Otherwise, voodoo takes hold (under Reagan), or 'christianized voodoo' (under Bush Jr.), or unfettered hypocrisy (under most Republicans, who hate every debt save what they themselves incur).

The mere fact that one side thinks it has monopolized morality does not make it so.

locumranch said...


"The mere fact that one side thinks it has monopolized morality does not make it so" [Donzelion].

By asserting that 'scientists are under attack because the facts they prove out are inconvenient to the Republican notion of what the world should be like (yes, "should")', LarryH correctly identifies the nature of this disagreement by pointing his index finger at the conservative moral hypocrisy of how the world 'should', 'ought' and is 'supposed to' be, while ignoring the other three metaphorical fingers that point backwards towards his own progressive moral hypocrisy of how the world 'should', 'ought' and is 'supposed to' be, leaving us with a dueling moral hypocrisy situation in which inconvenient facts are willfully ignored by all political factions.

Which do you judge more morally offensive? The conservative position that denies factual occurrences (including a 'change of climate') which 'should', 'ought' & are 'supposed to' not-happen according to their own unrealistic moral agenda, or the progressive position which promotes an unrealistic moral agenda of 'should', 'ought' & are 'supposed to' happen that denies factual occurrences (including a 'change of climate'), wherein the conservative faction desires the world which has passed but 'should' still be & the progressive faction desires the world that has never existed but 'should' be.

Screw them both for moral self-delusion.

IF any discrete Fact (IE. excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity; human-mediated CO2 production correlates with Climate Change; the spread of HIV can be greatly reduced with safe sex condom use; etc), THEN it does not follow that any particular subjective moral response (action; conclusion) 'should', 'ought' & is 'supposed to' occur, or not.

Should, Ought & Supposed To are Not-Facts but expressions of Wishes & Desire; Facts are 'a posteriori' circumstance; and 'a posteriori' circumstances speak for themselves (res ipsa loquitur), existing regardless of that which is believed to be either moral or desired.


Best
____
Like a simple-minded lunatic, David argues that public officials, sworn to serve us and our children, should do whatever they believe is SUBJECTIVELY necessary to 'serve', even if it means on-demand feticide, dosing them with dangerous psychotropics (Ritalin), subjecting them to rote indoctrination (education), sending them to die overseas (conscription) & imprisoning up to 10% of the total male population (rehabilitation). He forgets that 'To Serve Man' is a cookbook, dammit -- a cookbook -- while Pol Pot, some say, was a dedicated pro-choice moral agent who advocated post-birth abortion.

David Brin said...

"Which do you judge more morally offensive?"

Both of course. Only the first exists and to a staggering degree. The second is a mad up delusion.

But desiring to solve blatant problems, wastes, and cars heading toward cliffs? That is called sapience.

Paul451 said...

LarryHart,
"I know that "sin taxes" are sold as a kind of punishment, and I'm against them for that reason. [...] just plain sales tax, [...] It's a way of allocating funds to run the government, not a punishment for buying stuff. [...] I was saying all taxes should be like that."

Taxes change the price-signal for behaviour. They will always have an effect on society. Pretending that they don't, or shouldn't, leaves you vulnerable to those who work against for narrow interests, for example pushing regressive taxes (like sales tax) over wealth-taxes (like capital gains), by arguing that regressive taxes are "flat" and therefore "fairer".

Likewise:

Donzellion,
Re: Morality and taxes

I don't think it's about morality, although it's often phrased as such. I consider it simply pragmatism, driven by a desire to live in a society that has certain traits. Some people justify those traits on "moral" grounds, but IMO, morality can be used to justify any argument. (**)

A) Wealthy has a natural tendency to accumulate.

B) Social and financial inequality beyond a certain level create a society that I don't like.

Therefore C) In order to create a society I do like, I need a system that counters the natural tendency of wealth accumulation.

A) Reducing the fitness of a major part of my society to compete, reduces the competitive health of my society as a whole.

B) Poverty denies the ability of a major part of society to compete.

Therefore C) In order to create a society I like, I need a system that counters the competitive disadvantage of poverty.

Etc etc.

** (In contrast to the claims of religion, there's no anchor to morality. It's just rhetoric used to manipulate emotional triggers. For example, humans (& apes, monkeys, dogs) have an innate belief in "fairness". We will reject a situation, even at our own cost, if we consider it "unfair". How easy is it to manipulate what is "fair", then. You work hard for your money, and don't want other people leaching off that. Therefore why shouldn't Mr Billionaire keep what he "earns"? You want to provide for your kids and don't want them cast to the wolves when you die. Therefore why shouldn't Billionaire Jr inherit billions in addition to his existing advantages of health/education and social connections and influence? Etc.)

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

LarryHart: "Tax policy should be driven by economics, not by morality. I mean, a sales tax is not meant to punish sales."

Ah, but it always has been driven by morality...the belief that one should pay one's debts, and that society should likewise do so is ultimately a moral imperative.


Yes, but you're avoiding the sense of what I was saying. My point is that I believe that in a free society, government's power to tax should be used to pay for government services, not as a back-door penal code. If society has a good reason to ban certain activities, it should do so through criminal and civil law, not through tax policy. They are two very different realms (although not quite "the opposite thing" in this case).

It's dangerous for government to plant in the citizens' minds the idea that taxation is a penalty for doing bad things. This leads to the now-widespread meme that progressive taxation is meant to punish success, or that parking meters are meant to punish driving.

Look at it this way: when you shop for groceries, you don't feel that the store is penalizing you by making you pay for them. Likewise, if you took the groceries out of the store but refused to pay, you wouldn't get far with an argument that you have a right to keep "your own money". In my mind, taxes should work like that, and when we blur the lines between taxation and the penal code, we forget the connection between taxes and services.

I'm not denying that there is a moral element to the admonition to pay for what you get. I'm arguing that taxes should not be used to enforce moral compliance with other, unrelated issues. And if that's not the libertarian position on taxation, it should be.

I also realize that the train left the station long ago, but I believe that has caused much unnecessary confusion and misery.




LarryHart said...

donzelion:

"If he can get anyone to buy into that..."
Here? LOL, well, maybe the Ent....but that's not exactly a duo that converses amicably, nor a cabal that inspires fear. (But what if they get Car Sitter on their side... ;-) If only the real world threats were just as perilous...


You mean if the real world were like superhero comic books, where the same cliched supervillains keep reappearing over and over again, and never really die, even after numerous mine cave-ins, explosions, of falls off of cliffs?

:)

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

LarryH correctly identifies the nature of this disagreement by pointing his index finger at the conservative moral hypocrisy of how the world 'should', 'ought' and is 'supposed to' be, while ignoring the other three metaphorical fingers that point backwards towards his own progressive moral hypocrisy of how the world 'should', 'ought' and is 'supposed to' be,


Actually, I've only got one metaphorical finger extended at the moment, and you can probably guess which one, and at whom it is directed.

Paul SB said...

Notice how our little loci is using the exact same tactics again. And sure, he's not persuading anyone who contributes here regularly, but who knows how many thousands of "lurkers" might read his drivel and be taken in by it's pseudo logic? When you live in a society of just a few hundred people, peer pressure rules, but in a society of billions, it's all about mass-media propaganda. That means a lot of rhetorical devices, brainwashing techniques, fallacious arguments and outright fabrications (canard being one our buddy is particularly susceptible to).

A note on "sin taxes" - from what I have read, it's a little more complicated than we are portraying it here. I have always understood the term to flow from the idea of the Pigovian Tax (named for Arthur Pigou who introduced the idea in the 1920s). The idea is not to punish anyone, but to tax goods that have negative consequences on society, to offset those costs. Thus taxes on alcohol or cigarettes are not meant to punish anyone, but to pay for the medical costs and other damages (like damage to vehicles & transportation caused by drunk drivers). We are looking at staggering costs from both of these "sins" (funny how the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about cigarettes - I wonder why?) not just in terms of medical procedures & rising health care costs, but in preventable deaths which, for the economists out there, means lost productivity & high-velocity monetary circulation - to say nothing of the useless carnage. On my way to work every morning I drive by a little roadside shrine attached to a telephone pole. Whoever made it is maintaining it, updating the offerings for every holiday. For several weeks they had a plush Mario strapped to the pole, so chances are the victim was a kid. I have only once been to a funeral where parents were burying their own child, and it was not pretty.The idea that these taxes are meant to punish people is nothing more than right-wing anti-tax propaganda. The technique is to create a linguistic guilt by association. If they can assert that this kind of tax is baaaaaaad, then our more sheep-like citizens can easily be convinced that all taxes are baaaaaaad.

Paul SB said...

Con.t

And that brings up morality and those 'shoulds' and 'ought to's.' Paul451 (good to read you, it seems like it's been awhile), your footnote is pretty sound. When I was getting my M.A. in anthro, I noticed an interesting tendency. Those professors who were strongly religious insisted that there is a universal moral code, while those who were less dogmatic (not a one was atheist, contra the stereotype) pointed out that there are few, if any such human universals, and were able to give concrete examples, like the Yanomano Indians of South America who don't regard a murderer as immoral, but do regard a stingy person as immoral. Argument by assertion vs. argument with evidence - I know which one persuades me...

However, the 'wealth has a tendency to accumulate' needs a little more examination. This is mostly an artifact of civilization (and chiefdoms, as Timothy Earle would argue) rather than a human universal. Look at it as a historical progression. As soon as we had nations with inherited power, wealth began to follow that pattern of accumulation, though actual feudalism replaced wealth with vassalage (human capital) as its focus for a time. And wealth and other forms of power have most definitely been accumulating in the hands of the few ever since. When people begin to find themselves with more money than most people, they usually fall into that pattern of unending competition Thorstein Veblen called Conspicuous Consumption (most people would recognize this by the common phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." There's an interesting etiology here. It is very much like gambling addiction disorder, which activates the same brain structures (ventral striatum and dorso-lateral pfc) that are involved in other addictive behaviors (including sugar, btw). Gambling addiction wasn't added to the DSM until 1980, even though we have seen it in action for literally thousands of years, and it is considered a sin by a number of religions. As our technology has allowed us to peer inside the human brain, more and more behaviors that were considered sinful are being found to be mental disorders. Of course, the conservative mind wants to stick to comfortable old conceptions and ignore facts that deprive them of the pleasure of pointing fingers, blaming and shaming and then punishing. The facts are showing that blame and punishment only makes the situation worse, while treatment often makes it better.

What seems to be happening with the very wealthy is that the trap of conspicuous consumption turns into an addictive feedback loop. Veblen was right about the behavior he saw in the wealthy - that their "need" for ever more wealth is an insatiable compulsion, but he lived long before we had the neuroimaging and neurochemistry we have today. Eventually the DSM might include something like Wealth Addiction Disorder. The fact that wealthy people tend to act like total bastards (and not just behind the wheel) is a good indicator, because this is pretty much what you get with cocaine or heroin addicts when they are feeling compelled to "get their hit." Billionaires are pathological - as should be obvious from the behavior of a certain president who is famous for firing and groping.

And as to little locum's argument about moral relativity, Dr. Brin said all that was necessary there.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

Next weekend at that same yogurt place? Just name a time and I'll see if I can squeeze it in.

matthew said...

More politics, sorry.

Article purports to be about watching for a Reichstag fire, but is really a good primer on what we know about Putin coming to power and his interactions with the West.


http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fascism/2017/04/preparing_for_an_american_reichstag_fire_how_modern_authoritarians_consolidate.html

Some detail here I had not heard asserted before.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

A note on "sin taxes" - from what I have read, it's a little more complicated than we are portraying it here. I have always understood the term to flow from the idea of the Pigovian Tax (named for Arthur Pigou who introduced the idea in the 1920s). The idea is not to punish anyone, but to tax goods that have negative consequences on society, to offset those costs. Thus taxes on alcohol or cigarettes are not meant to punish anyone, but to pay for the medical costs and other damages (like damage to vehicles & transportation caused by drunk drivers).


And I already said I'm fine with taxing things which impose costs on society in order to offset those costs.

But the phrase "sin tax" sounds more like a penalty imposed for doing something bad, even though that thing is not prohibited by law. That's what I was railing against.

And even more so, railing against confusing the concepts of taxation and punishment in the minds of the citizenry.

David L. Craig said...

C. S. Lewis argued for universal morality in Mere Christianity but I do not consider his argument conclusive and certainly many others render the same verdict. Morality can only be absolute for someone if their worldview accommodates a basis for such. Minus that revelation, reason demands relative morality--people do what they judge to be the "right" thing to do and nobody can prove them wrong or misguided. Society can effect various consequences for their behaviors, however (as can vigilantes reacting according to their consciences, often running afoul of society in the process). A society that represses sincere convictions that are harmless to society is on a self-destructive path.

LarryHart said...

@David L Craig,

I think C.S. Lewis would take issue with you and me about what constitutes "harmless to society". There's the rub.

I was part of a loooooooong discussion of this topic on the old "Cerebus" forum. Basically, it seems to me that assertions of universal morality run into semantic problems. One can argue that murder is universally regarded as wrong, but then that just begs the question of which types of killing actually count as "murder". I think symbolic analysis of the assertion "Murder is always wrong" would boil down to "Killing someone when doing so is wrong is always wrong." It's not false, but it doesn't really provide useful information.

David L. Craig said...

LarryHart observerd:
"[...]but it doesn't really provide useful information."

I agree. Jesus indicated murder is an amplification of hatred while refuting the concept of hating one's enemies (including warfare?). Perhaps the distinction lies in defending one's family from such behaviors vis-à-vis merely one's self. Most societies support the self-defense justification, as is pragmatic. It comes down to who started it, I guess.

So much of Scripture is based upon common understandings within the contemporary culture, of which there was no considered need to mention in the text, that are uncommon in our era. For instance in his letter to the Roman gentile believers, Paul states starting in verse 1:18 that the existence of God is self-evident and all are accountable for what they do with that knowledge. There is no support provided for maintaining that position. Could it be related to the possibility the Roman Empire held extreme prejudice toward those professing atheism (according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_atheism)? Passages like this make rightly understanding Scripture high-order scholarly exercise.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: next weekend (the 8th-9th), I'll be in Anaheim and the OC for a music fest. Perhaps the weekend after? LOL, let's double check and confirm WHICH yogurt place this time... ;-)

donzelion said...

Locum: an old philosophical debate, separating 'is' from 'ought' is a cherished, if somewhat problematic proposition. However, in the world of politics, "should" is very much a fact (as in most of the realm of action) - science informs the "how" part of "should" quite effectively (significantly more so than, say, ignorance).

You do have "a priori" and "a posteriori" mixed up: a posteriori 'facts' do not speak for themselves, and cannot do so, but are contingent on other facts. In traditional parlance, "all bachelors are unmarried" is an a priori truth, "Mr. X is unmarried" is an a posteriori statement whose truth value cannot be known without reference to additional evidence. Science is inherently an a posteriori process - involving the links between different facts. While Kant believed he had linked the two together (and most of modern psychology, as well as a large number of other sciences owe him an enormous debt), I'm not convinced of his success.

"Which do you judge more morally offensive?"
The one that tolerates hypocrisy, which itself is mostly intolerable because it is based on anti-philosophical commitments and self-contradictions. If society agrees that "we must regulate pollution to preserve public health" - and if a scientist demonstrates that certain gases in certain quantities are more likely than not to threaten public health, then the logically consistent approach is to address the problem - not to denounce the scientist.

In general though, the conservative position requires two orders of 'self-delusion': a commitment to a "world that never was" and a commitment to "changing this world into a new form." A progressive position only requires one order of 'self-delusion' - "this is how the world should be." Neither is actually 'deluded' by seeking to alter a current state into something else - every human, simply by breathing, is inherently altering the current state of the world, and figuring out what changes we 'ought' to make is hardly a wasted effort.




donzelion said...

Paul451: "I don't think it's about morality, although it's often phrased as such. I consider it simply pragmatism..."

-which is itself a quite well-established form of morality. ;-)

Moral reasoning can indeed apply to any argument, but filtered through a political community - a civil community committed to reason? Some arguments prevail while others do not.

That said, I'm not convinced of your first premise - "A) Wealth has a natural tendency to accumulate." Or at least, not of your use of the word 'natural' - there's no gravity applicable to wealth. What is common is power correlating with wealth - and the two reinforcing each other. But that's neither here nor there - the methodology you propose is inherently a moral one, and it's appropriate to recognize both the moral commitments (competition is good) and the pragmatic corollaries (poverty should be mitigated).

"[Morality is] just rhetoric used to manipulate emotional triggers."
Ah, there we disagree completely. There is a school of moral reasoning that posits that morality is nothing but emotional triggers (Whitehead, I believe), but the problem is that the linkages to action are much more problematic to resolve.

"You work hard for your money, and don't want other people leaching off that. Therefore why shouldn't Mr Billionaire keep what he "earns"?"
Often because he never 'earned' it - he frequently 'stole' it. Sometimes, 'theft' takes very complex forms, which society needs years (decades) to realize constitute a certain form of theft. In 1817, forming a series of monopolistic trusts that drove competitors out of the market was not 'theft' - in 1917 it was. In 1917, overstating the possible value of an asset and then selling it was seldom 'theft' - in 2017, it often is.

"why shouldn't Billionaire Jr inherit billions in addition to his existing advantages of health/education and social connections and influence?"
Typically because when Billionaire Jr's inheritance is income, it should be treated and taxed like any other form of income. To me, there is nothing 'special' about income derived from inheritance, rendering it 'sacred' and meriting special protection. But Mr. Billionaire, in damning the 'death tax' - seeks to argue that there is indeed something uniquely special about inheritance, that should be protected. He seeks 'special treatment' to preserve what was 'his' - even though when the time comes that inheritance starts to matter, it will not be 'his' at all, and his own dead hands should not dictate our own world's course.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "My point is that I believe that in a free society, government's power to tax should be used to pay for government services, not as a back-door penal code."

I think I took your point, but am also being perhaps a bit more cynical. To a tax-payer, taxes may often be regarded as a 'back-door penal code' - when they have to pay them. Or as a debt to society. Or any number of other perceptions, which will vary in time.

There are many instances where taxing a vice is more efficient than banning that vice - e.g., taxing alcohol was far better than prohibition. Tax can be used as an incentive, to limit an unwanted behavior and address costs of that behavior, and usually, carefully managing incentives gets more 'bang-for-the-buck' than than outright bans.

"It's dangerous for government to plant in the citizens' minds the idea that taxation is a penalty for doing bad things."
Agreed. This is a reason to limit the scope of incentives and reliance on 'sin taxes.' BUT the idea that tax is punitive will be planted in citizen's minds by other citizens who will oppose whatever tax is imposed with whatever arguments they can muster, whether that's during the Whiskey Rebellion, or a Norquistian 'starve-the-beast' revolt.

"I'm arguing that taxes should not be used to enforce moral compliance with other, unrelated issues."
You're right though: the train left the station as soon as people created a train (and a track, and a station). Once we live in a shared society, many 'unrelated issues' become connected, often through unexpected links. The average shopkeeper in Arkansas has no sense whatsoever of the money he spends bombing Syria, paying for sewage in South Carolina, or building a highway in South Dakota - so if his shop is compelled to extract a cigarette tax, he might feel 'miserable' at the lost customers. But while he might feel confusion and misery, he might also feel pride and purpose from participating in that society and doing his part honorably. Or any number of other feelings...

locumranch said...


As far as Dr. Brin, LarryH & PaulSB are concerned, they have made the narcissistic tendencies of their moral relativism very clear by clarifying how their moral code is all about their subjective likes, dislikes & desires. For it is not the metaphorical 'car speeding toward a cliff' that demands their moral intervention, but whether or not that particular 'car speeding toward a cliff' suits their specific likes, dislikes or desires.

Certain 'speeding cars' should, ought to & must be stopped, they argue, as in the case of the religious right, hate speech, CO2-mediated climate change & income inequality but, for all other of their preferred 'speeding cars' (as in the case of creeping collectivism, political correctness, contract invalidation & social 'progress'), then it's the Thelma & Louise style pedal-to-the-metal as they rush willy-nilly towards the futurological cliff of No Return with a triumphant Yee-Haw.

Donzelion, at least, seems to recognise that moral relativism (revisionism) is an extremely bad idea from a contractual perspective, for without the secular, divine and/or absolute rule-based moral imperative of inflexible LAW, there can be neither social contract nor collective action, and the 'centre cannot hold'.

Yet, this exactly what even our most well-intentioned moral relativists propose when they demand that certain 'undesired' trends be stopped at all cost (as in the case of 'climate change'), while other potentially disastrous trends that they favour (social contract invalidation) be allowed to continue without restriction, correction or abatement.

It is the same thing, not the opposite thing, when other more conservative moral relativists (who habour different likes, dislikes & desires) decide to oppose such progressive narcissists with a near-identical Yee-Haw.

In fact, it's the very same thing.


Best
_____
Actually, Donzelion, "all bachelors are unmarried" is a tautological truth (rather than a pre-factual 'a priori' one) because the bachelor is DEFINED as synonymous with his 'unmarried' status. An 'a priori' argument would be "all unmarrieds are bachelors", only to proven false after-the-fact (in 'a posteriori' fashion) by the argument that "all unmarried women are not bachelors".

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "The idea that these taxes are meant to punish people is nothing more than right-wing anti-tax propaganda."

Right there with you, buddy. But not here -
"The fact that wealthy people tend to act like total bastards (and not just behind the wheel) is a good indicator, because this is pretty much what you get with cocaine or heroin addicts when they are feeling compelled to "get their hit." Billionaires are pathological - as should be obvious from the behavior of a certain president who is famous for firing and groping."

I don't know of any evidence that shows a strong correlation between wealth and jerky behavior. I do know that many of us act like jerks from time to time, and that when billionaires do so, it's much more likely to affect many other people. I also know that quite few billionaires earned their billions from 'skill' - most did so through gambles that paid out handsomely, and were only risks that became possible because they lived in a society that rendered it possible. I've heard many wealthy labeled as 'narcissists' - but by that token, perhaps most of humanity falls into that classification as well.

The way I look at it - if a billionaire or a pauper drives a car recklessly down the freeway, they put other human being's lives and livelihoods at risk. But a billionaire might hire a thousand drivers and incentivize recklessness in them all AND a billionaire would be much harder to stop through standard measures (he'll have far better lawyers on hand) - where a pauper is only a threat to that circle of people who come near him. Left unchecked, many behaviors become habits - and the habits of entitlement can be intensely destructive.

donzelion said...

Locum: "all bachelors are unmarried" is a tautological truth"
Indeed, it is a tautology. It is also a classical a priori statement of fact. Indeed, it is the classical definition of a priori reasoning, cited by too many philosophy textbooks and philosophers who make the precise point I was making.

An 'a priori' argument would be "all unmarrieds are bachelors"
Um, no, that would be an equivalence fallacy. Also a very standard textbook illustration.

"moral relativism (revisionism) is an extremely bad idea from a contractual perspective"
Yes, it is a bad idea, but no, I do not accuse anyone here of moral relativism. It's a bad idea from a philosophical perspective - pure moral relativism is the pathway toward cynicism. Most of the folks here object not to 'morality' but to 'moralizing' - aka hypocrisy. A social contract, however, does not require "secular, divine and/or absolute rule-based moral imperative' - it requires, at most, human perception interacting with other perceptions. The 'center can hold' so long as identity in some form persists in the face of uncertainty.

LarryHart said...

David L. Craig:

Jesus indicated murder is an amplification of hatred while refuting the concept of hating one's enemies (including warfare?).


I think this concept really depends on what is meant by "one's enemies". I don't think Jesus really meant that you should love the man who has an ax in one hand and an uzi in the other and is running toward you firing away with intent. I think he meant something more like "Treat a German as you would any human being, even though you are French." In other words, love (or "don't hate") a stranger until he gives you cause otherwise, irrespective of whether he belongs to an enemy tribe.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

There are many instances where taxing a vice is more efficient than banning that vice - e.g., taxing alcohol was far better than prohibition. Tax can be used as an incentive, to limit an unwanted behavior and address costs of that behavior, and usually, carefully managing incentives gets more 'bang-for-the-buck' than than outright bans.


I think it works best if the tax is a way of cost-shifting the externalities of the vice back upon the users and off of society at large, as opposed to the tax itself being an arbitrarily-large penalty inflicted on the users.

That notwithstanding, I see nothing wrong with taxing a vice as a means of revenue collection precisely because people are willing to pay more for their vices than they are for just plain stuff. If we taxed Viagra as much as cigarettes and alcohol, for example, men would still pay the tax in order to get the benefit and (up to a certain point) do so gladly. In fact, I think part of the way a sin tax "works" is that by paying the tax, people feel absolved of the sinfulness of the particular sin they are paying for. It's why state lotteries are so much more popular than taxes are--because the taxpayer gets something in return. Something immediate, I mean--not just boring old government services.

Back in college, when I perceived that I was wasting way too much money on video games, I imposed a "tax" scheme upon myself that for every quarter I put into a video machine, I had to put an additional quarter aside into a fund that was not to be used until my next Spring Break vacation. It didn't stop me from playing video games, but it served the multiple purposes of:

1) Not fearing I was throwing away all of my free cash that I would want later
2) Actually saving for vacation
3) Slowing down video game playing without entirely curtailing it
4) MOST IMPORTANT: Forcing myself to weigh the cost/benefit of spending each quarter

The intent was not to punish myself for game playing, but to keep it from ruining the rest of my life. In that sense, it was a rousing success. It also made it easier to save for vacation than it would have been if I simply tried to force myself not to spend money. There was an immediate payoff for each quarter saved because it was also paying for a video game.

I'm rambling now, but somewhere in there is my ideal of how taxation should work. :)

Jumper said...

On the Eric Prince of Blackwater meeting the Russians, and also Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of Trump, what do every last one of them have in common? A desire for a world where whatever repressive national governments do, the international sphere is a wild-west where hiding plutocratic wealth remains possible. In a world where no more Panama Papers get released, or rather where the people of the world are in a position where they are unable to do anything about the huge offshore stashes.

LarryHart said...

locumranch blathers:

As far as Dr. Brin, LarryH & PaulSB are concerned, they have made the narcissistic tendencies of their moral relativism very clear by clarifying how their moral code is all about their subjective likes, dislikes & desires. For it is not the metaphorical 'car speeding toward a cliff' that demands their moral intervention, but whether or not that particular 'car speeding toward a cliff' suits their specific likes, dislikes or desires.

Certain 'speeding cars' should, ought to & must be stopped, they argue, as in the case of the religious right, hate speech, CO2-mediated climate change & income inequality but, for all other of their preferred 'speeding cars' (as in the case of creeping collectivism, political correctness, contract invalidation & social 'progress'), then it's the Thelma & Louise style pedal-to-the-metal as they rush willy-nilly towards the futurological cliff of No Return with a triumphant Yee-Haw.


I have never shouted Yee-Haw in my life. That aside, when have I ever championed--or even favored--(enforced) political correctness or contract invalidation? I was against Harvard firing Larry Summers back when you were in knee pants, and if my side had won that argument, he wouldn't have had a different job and destroyed our economy in 2008. I'm fine with letting Milo Crapopolis speak and make a fool out of himself, unlike those left-wing radicals at CPAC and Breitbart who aren't. And contract invalidation? I'm the one calling out Donald Trump for that very crime, whereas you presumably think it "makes him smart."

So I'll ask you again to kindly stop slandering me in public.

A.F. Rey said...

I think this concept really depends on what is meant by "one's enemies". I don't think Jesus really meant that you should love the man who has an ax in one hand and an uzi in the other and is running toward you firing away with intent. I think he meant something more like "Treat a German as you would any human being, even though you are French." In other words, love (or "don't hate") a stranger until he gives you cause otherwise, irrespective of whether he belongs to an enemy tribe.

Actually, he kinda did.

As the Good Book says, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

I think what it comes down to is what was meant by "love."

Loving someone doesn't mean you allow them to do evil. But it does mean you try not to do evil to them. You wouldn't let your small child kill an animal for fun, but neither would you kill him as punishment. You do what's best for him and everyone around.

So loving a man with an axe and an uzi means you wouldn't automatically try to kill him, but stop him without killing him (and preferably without hurting him). If possible. And make sure he didn't do it again.

But, of course, it all has to do with how one interprets the words. And as we have seen, in religion, there are interpretations as varied as there are sects...

David L. Craig said...

I see A. F. Rey has already made answer for me. Thank you for weighing in, Sir.

Has anybody in these parts made their laborious way through any or (gulp!) all these philosophical proofs (much overlap) conveniently gathered at the following link? http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/GODIS.htm

Paul451 said...

Donzellion,
"That said, I'm not convinced of your first premise - "A) Wealth has a natural tendency to accumulate.""

Unstated: "...in the time in which I live." I don't speak to its deeper historical truth.

"and it's appropriate to recognize both the moral commitments (competition is good) and the pragmatic corollaries (poverty should be mitigated)."

I don't consider competition to be "good" from a moral perspective. I only consider competition good to the extent that it achieves the goal I want. Short of, or beyond that, it has no fundamental moral value.

Increasing the talent pool appears to produce a better society, the more shallow the pool, the weaker is society. Therefore I would like the talent pool broadened. It does appeal to my sense of "fairness", but given the number of people who have denounced such expansion of opportunity through history because it upset the "natural order", I can see that morality itself (or my sense of "fairness") is a poor guide.

Me: "I consider it simply pragmatism..."
Thee: "which is itself a quite well-established form of morality."

I meant pragmatism in the narrow colloquial rather than metaphysical sense.

"Often because he never 'earned' it - he frequently 'stole' it."

Defining his actions as theft is morally satisfying, but I would tax the most perfect example of a self-made, bootstrap-lifting genius if it reduced the accumulation of wealth.

[and we've moved on.]

LarryHart said...

Yeah, Dr Brin apparently can't always post down here while travelling, so we have to post our own...

onward!


onward!

...for him.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi donzelion
"I don't know of any evidence that shows a strong correlation between wealth and jerky behavior

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/psychology-of-wealth_n_4531905.html
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/
https://www.wired.com/2012/02/income-and-ethics/

There you go!

Apparently it is well known

شركة تنظيف منازل0550171619 ضي الرحمن said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zepp Jamieson said...

We're getting spam in Arabic now? You know, Doctor Brin, I don't think those annoying captchas work worth a damn.