Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Science Fiction in the news: Nebulas, flicks and real-life Skynet!

Congratulations to the winners of SFWA's Nebula Award for best in science fiction and fantasy for 2016. Charlie Jane Anders won Best Novel for All the Birds in the Sky, Seanan McGuire won Best Novella for Every Heart a Doorway, William Ledbetter won for Novelette, and Amal El-Mohtar for Short Story.

It's Space Opera Week! "Explore the Cosmos in 10 Classic Space Opera Universes!"  On the Tor site, Alan Brown takes you on a tour of his favorites. Good stuff! (Okay I am biased, but they're all good! ;-)


A recent TV interview, Resolving 21st Century Challenges - on Future Talk TV in the Bay Area, with host Martin Wasserman.

Want something to do with a spare minute, now and then, while out and about with your phone? I’ve begun answering questions on a new phone app called Askers! For info, see TheAskers.com. New users get free credits, so no charge to listen to my first few 1-minute answers - about singularities, uplift, gravity lasers, AI and The Postman flick. You can even earn money by asking popular questions!


The rebooted Omni-Online has featured ten science fiction books that "changed the genre forever." From The Time Machine to The Left Hand of Darkness, 1984 to Neuromancer, The Giver to I, Robot. Very flattered to see The Postman on this list - though there are certainly many worthy candidates for post-apocalyptic fiction.


Oh, we just watched "Passengers" -- the recent film about two people stranded aboard an interstellar luxury liner when their hibernation ends 90 years too soon. A pleasant and well-crafted film that touches traditional notes in freshly sf'nal ways.  What I found remarkable though is that it eschewed the standard need to base everything upon Villainy, Apocalypse, Pessimism, Incompetence and Dystopia (VAPID).* 

The peril and jeopardy and tension in "Passengers" are all the result of bad luck, happenstance, character and a rough universe -- no bad guys. In this respect, it was like "The Martian" and the lovely, gentle Spike Jonze film "Her." One can hope that more creators will rise above the reflexive Idiot Plot and ponder how drama can be told without the lazy, plot-simplifying assumption of stupidity.

Only slightly less rare are shows in which either the villainy is secondary to the generally positive and uplifting theme -- "The Arrival" and "Eureka" -- or else at least some faith is kept with the notion that humans and their institutions can gradually improve: "Star Trek," of course, and "Stargate" and "Babylon Five." Others folks? Oh but the Idiot Plot is vastly more common. Read about it.

== SF interfaces reality and science! ==


NIAC, NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program funds twenty-two visionary space concepts -- many seemingly from the pages of science fiction! Wait for word about the coming NIAC Symposium in Denver, September 25-27. Open to the public, if you register. As a member of NIAC's advisory External Council, I'll be there.


Cloning in the news: Harvard scientists have inserted wooly mammoth genes into an elephant's genome. Wooly mammoth clones may be resurrected in our near future -- a topic visited often in SF. See: "Twelve Memorable Times Science Fiction Sent in the Clones" which offers a selection of novels that explore futuristic implications of cloning, from Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief to Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, Kazua Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go... and my own Kiln People. Well, a kind of clone, I guess.

AI: Inspiration: The New York Times names science fiction novels that have helped frame the discussion about artificial intelligence, including books from I, Robot to Ghost Fleet and films from Blade Runner to Her

World’s largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence.” For years I have warned that “Skynet” is less likely to arise from military programs than from Wall Street, where more money is spent on AI research than at the top twenty universities… and where the central ethos is secrecy, insatiability, predatory, parasitical and completely amoral. Bridgewater wants day-to-day management—hiring, firing, decision-making—to be guided by software that doles out instructions.” And as I write this… we just watched Terminator Genisys last night.  Yipe.

On a more positive note: See an extensive blog posting by  the innovative maven of computational theory - Stephen Wolfram on developing the alien language for Arrival, and how the alien spaceship might work. Plus see his chart on reasons aliens might come to Earth. He offers much more, actually, like a dissection of some concepts for interstellar travel. 


Stephen's more recent, mini-book-length posting offers an amazing, expansive and comprehensive posting - is actually a mini-book, contemplating what insights he has had since his epic book “A New Kind of Science” came out, 15 years ago.


Newly released from MIT Press: Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of all Kinds, an anthology of notes and essays commemorating the bicentennial of Mary Shelley's groundbreaking novel. Essays by Doctorow, Bear and others explore the social, ethical and scientific implications of Shelley's tale.

Apparently The Expanse is teetering on the edge of cancelation. Spread the word and consider ways to make your viewership visible. And The Handmaid's Tale is premiering on Hulu.


== News and announcements ==

On Locus Online, eminent critic Paul Di Filippo offers an insightful, thorough and positive appraisal of my new transparency anthology Chasing Shadows. If you were wavering, this might put the book on your Get List! 

How to endure the unendurable? A lovely reading of my short story, The Logs -- from my collection Insistence of Vision.

I originally submitted two scripts to the one page screenplay competition in LA.  The first one -- "Bargain" won the contest! The role of Ronald Reagan was delightfully performed by Peter Nelson. Poor sound quality, but nicely done.

The second one "Diaspora" was also produced -- well sort of.  The reading was less artfully done.  No effort was made to get the accents. Heck, the taxi driver could at least have turned his chair! Still, it's a thrill to be produced! Here comes the bigtime! I hope you enjoy an ironic little piece.

Oh and now this cool item. A team of brilliant cinematographers have forged ahead on the "Neo" film, about humanity's future. Their first announcement trailer won the 'Future-Maker Award' at Beijing's 2016 Global Innovator Conference and was covered domestically in the US. I'm flattered how they made use of my miserably limited supply of erudition and charisma.

Here is a link to the film's news page.  The filmmakers are currently in their 2nd round of financing, aiming to continue production this Spring 2017. Neo was also just accepted into the Realscreen Summit Showdown at the end of January in Washington DC where they will have the opportunity to pitch the film to leading distributors like Netflix, HBO, Discovery, Nat Geo, and more.


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PS... okay I admit it what one of you pointed out. * Substitute "despair" for "pessimism" and you could use "DAVID".

98 comments:

Dennis D. McDonald said...

You are right -- PASSENGERS has an "idiot plot"!

David Brin said...

Dennis McD yes, the lack of a sapient onboard AI... and the mysterious way two people accidentally wake... and the inability to restore hibernation... are all idiot mcGuffins. But both problems 1&2 are solved if you posit a damaged AI working in the background. Then Chris Pratt and Morpheus get wakened not randomly, but because they might be able to help.

But the classic idiot plot posits that the protagonist suffers because there are no competent and good people to help. And that is handled in Passengers nicely.

donzelion said...

"Wooly mammoth clones may be resurrected in our near future -- a topic visited often in SF.

Trying to recall a reference to this that predates "Earth." Or was that a mastadon? hmmm...;-)

Laurence said...

Quote from that top ten article "It tells the story of the voyage of Captain Nemo and his fantastic submarine, the Naughtilus." Oh that naughty captain Nemo!

sociotard said...

VAPID . . . heh. Did you come up with that acronym yourself?

I was thinking about Dr. Brin's proposal that some Democrats should draw straws to attach themselves to Trump Human-Centipede style. There are a couple of things that they should find it easy to praise! like the unpaid maternity leave plan. It sounds, though, like the Democrats are just going to be partisan about it. They could champion it, but they'll oppose it to oppose Trump, and even their pretense amounts to letting the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.

Oh, and I had a reading recommendation (a short one). Downfall, the RPG. I like reading RPG rulebooks. This one I'm recommending just because it bugs our host. The players create a civilization with a Flaw at its core. Then they destroy it. They take turns playing the hero, who struggles against the collapse, but all was in vain.

LarryHart said...

re: BABYLON 5

I was reading the original Uplift series about the same time that I was watching Babylon 5 in first run, and the two kind of overlapped in my head. I somehow picture your Thenannin character as looking like that huge bat-winged character (I think he was named Kosh). And the social organization of your Gubru--the triumverate of military, relgion, and bureaucracy--was closely mimicked in one of the B5 races (The Mimbari? It's been way too long).

I'm not saying this to imply plagiarism. Just that the two series are inevitably linked in my head.

LarryHart said...

Laurence:

"It tells the story of the voyage of Captain Nemo and his fantastic submarine, the Naughtilus."


Considering the British use of "naught" to mean "nothing" and Captain Nemo going by the nom de guerre of "No One", that may be a more appropriate typo than it appears at first blush.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

The peril and jeopardy and tension in "Passengers" are all the result of bad luck, happenstance, character and a rough universe -- no bad guys. In this respect, it was like "The Martian" and the lovely, gentle Spike Jonze film "Her."


Anyone who admires that sort of plotting should read Kurt Vonnegut's books. All of them.

LarryHart said...

...and I don't remember exactly how old I was when I realized that "20,000 leagues under the sea" didn't mean "20,000 leagues straight down," but I was way older than I should have been.

LarryHart said...

Anyone who still intends to read "The Postman" for the first time should avoid reading the spoiler in the "Top 10" encapsulation. I'll say no more.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: re Babylon 5...linked in my head too with the Uplift cycle. Happier days, those...but then, the Earth Firsters and so many other plot lines reminded me so much of contemporary affairs. Straczynski's work and contribution to television (esp. developing the multi-season plot arc - and illustrating its pitfalls) is severely underrated.

To my mind though, Kosh and the Vorlon's channeled Arthur Clarke's 'Childhood's End' rather than Dr. Brin's 'Thennanin.' Though perhaps when I re-read the second trilogy, I may find my linked images shifting yet again...I do not think I'll rewatch Babylon 5 any time soon when there are so many fine options that I haven't seen before.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, my wife came up with VAPID while looking me in the eye! I had written PAIVD!

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | 20170523 With all of that "blood" out of circulation the economy is dying of blood shortage - even while there are record amounts of blood in total.

I suspect this is an error created by your analogy. I DO know of historical examples where money was kept in very short supply forcing everyone else who didn’t have it to resort to something closer to barter, but that is only possible of people don’t create their own currencies. If everyone is hooked on the idea that ‘real’ money has to be gold or silver (we used to be), then shortages can happen and the economy suffers. That’s not our problem, though, even with the supply-side believers.

That storage tank you describe is ‘savings’ and appears in Piketty’s charts as ‘capital’. Nations apparently store the stuff up at levels somewhere between four and seven times national income. Practically everyone does. I’m no oligarch, but I have money stashed as equity in my home, as investments in my 401K’s and IRA’s, and even as durable goods in my home. I imagine you are thinking of that tiny sliver of rich people who have heaps and gobs of savings and somehow preventing the rest of us from doing something similar. I don’t see it, though. They CAN buy into investments I can’t touch and they CAN sway the markets in ways I cannot, but I’m just as capable of saving as they are. Only the very poorest among us are at risk of being unable and I suspect that is something of an illusion. Durable goods count.

What most of us do with our savings doesn’t involve high velocity spending. That’s why it’s called savings. When I moved my family a few weeks ago, I got a chance to add up just how much I had spent on bookcases. I have a lot of them and could convert them to cash in a pinch, but I probably won’t. THAT is capital out of circulation. Only if I could find someone willing to lend me money and accept them as collateral would it come back into circulation.

But I think the blood analogy has its limit. If one looks at money as just another thing traded when debt obligations come into existence, my numerous bookcases are simply uncollateralized assets. They sit there providing a service to me and I’m content to let them depreciate to zero someday. I want them more than I want the money they represent as collateral. That’s why I bought them. Sure. I could have both, but only by taking on a risk of losing them. The small rate of return I could make on that money isn’t worth it to me. Of course, I could move to a highly leveraged life-style and buy something else with the borrowed money, but then I’m taking on even more risk.

No. The nutrient transport analogy is a poor one. It is naïve. At the risk of arguing by authority, there are some smart academics who have a better of understanding of what money really is and I’ll side with them. I don’t have to invent any of this that way.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | 20170523 Or are you imagining that we'd print our own legal tender, backed only by the fact that the general public accepts it as such?

This. If I know your credit reputation (in a moderately transparent world… I could), I could calculate an exchange rate between yours and mine and then see if you’d trade. In practice, though, we’d probably only have a few currencies circulating and none of them would be tied directly to individuals. They’d be tied to particular institutions and the reputations they acquire from the people who act through them. Some would be designed by their owners to be reference currencies and others would be more speculative.

No one in the right mind would have tried it before due to the costs of supporting it, but with modern computers and a distributed exchange, we should be able to do this.

Don't you think Libertarianism contains the same flaw--that if only human nature worked in a different way than it does, it would be a well-functioning system?

Sure… if you think we are all the same. Libertarianism isn’t monolithic. The Smithians are often libertarians here in California, (we’ve nowhere else to go) but maybe you are thinking of the Randians or one of the other utopian clades? Sure. Smithians? No. Not really. Read Adam Smith in detail and you’ll see he was describing people who were mostly human. He dodged certain things that touched on religion or he would have been quite on target.

Regarding stock value, raito is correct. Your mental error is a belief that things have value independent of what we think that value is. Nothing does. This whole game is very recursive.

As for how we value companies, there are two basic ways. Take all the shares and multiply by their price on the open market. That is the market value of the company. If the shares aren’t easily traded, one can fall back to the value of all the company’s asset net liabilities. That is the book value of a company. Some argue they should be about the same, but market value can be significantly higher or lower because people trade on future expectations and take into account just how much power shareholders have over corporate strategy and tactics.

This game is our grand illusion. That it works at all is astonishing, but we’ve been evolving it for a thousand generations at least. Maybe five thousand? Maybe for as long as we’ve been modern humans.

Alfred Differ said...

@Darrell E | And not a single instance in which socialist economic policies have caused similar incidents.

I can if you want it. I usually avoid this path because it looks like I’m bashing people who otherwise had good intentions. If you want it, though, I’ll lay the blame for the entire stagflation era upon the progressives who thought state intervention could fix social problems. The revolution that arrived later with Reagan and Thatcher didn’t happen by accident. There were many people who were quite upset at the way we had been governed as if our government knew better than we did. While Great Society policies weren’t the hard form of socialism the Soviets tried, they WERE the softer variation where the state owns a lot of assets and directs market behaviors through the simple fact that they are a very big player. Piketty shows just how much was owned in this era by governments on behalf of the public. In some countries it was valued almost as high as the national income. That’s a lot of market power in the hands of politicians. After WWII in the west, private capital played a diminished role in our economies compared to the standards of the days before WWI. So what’s my beef? INFLATION and UNEMPLOYMENT that the rich managed to learn from and adapt to and protect their assets. During the shock related to the wars, nations used inflation and default to wipe out their war debts. After WWII, the rich were wiped out, but they learned/evolved. So… who gets hurt now by inflation? The rich? Pfft. They are immune to it now the way cockroaches are to a number of our best insecticides. It’s the poor who get hurt now. So what are we supposed to do now when the rich buy up government officials as Smith warned about? How do we take them down a peg? We’ve taught them how to avoid a major weapon in the 20th century and it was the Progressives who did it in the name of fixing social ills. They’ve missed the fact that their old, historical opponent has evolved.

There. Lots of bashing, right? I’d rather not do this since I consider many progressives my friends. I’m married to one. I’d much rather hope that you all will learn what it means to be an actual liberal because it was the liberals who fixed the worst of the social ills humanity has suffered.

Yes. I know the most troubling forms of socialism are very unlikely here in the US, but part of that is because liberals like me get in the faces of progressives and try to remind them of their history. ALL forms of power concentration are troubling. Turning to one to manage another is a tricky, tricky thing. One must think carefully about the motivations of the players and avoid bad precendents.

Alfred Differ said...

Bridgewater will either build an Em or learn a hard lesson. AI's are much more potent when they are part of a centaur. One only need look at competitive chess to see how it works in practice.

I'm no longer in the financial sector, but what is do is all about centaurs. As long as many people turn to government to solve things for them, I have little choice but to help automate some of it. We don't know how to build one of Hanson's ems, but we DO know how to construct centaurs.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I would have picked Heinlein's future history over his juveniles, although a solid case can be made for both.
"Uplift"; it deserved its exalted rating, and the author cited the two strongest books, and touched on what made it extraordinary to me: the way you handled the aliens and Earth's neo-sapients. The Gubru managed to be scary and engaging, and quite inhuman. That's quite a trick. And I don't think I've laughed as hard at any vignette as I did at the "Thunderdance Concert" story.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr. Brin wrote: "Sociotard, my wife came up with VAPID while looking me in the eye! I had written PAIVD!"

Makes sense. The road to hell is PAIVD in good intentions.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr Brin wrote: "the mysterious way two people accidentally wake... and the inability to restore hibernation... are all idiot mcGuffins"
Alan Steele had a situation similar to that in the first book of his Coyote series. Two hibernators were swapped by mistake, and one of them was part of an effort to sabotage the star ship. So the wrong hibernator is woken up, and he can't go back in hibernation because the ship's computer says he's already in hibernation.
And only 125 years to kill until the ship reaches it's destination.
Steele made a pretty good Cast Away-type story out of it.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Regarding stock value, raito is correct. Your mental error is a belief that things have value independent of what we think that value is. Nothing does. This whole game is very recursive.


I'm not disputing that. I'm questioning the notion that "what we think that value is" is the same thing as "what someone else will pay us for it." That's part of it, sure, but what are buyers buying for? If it's only because they expect to get an even higher price at a later time, then they're engaging in a Ponzi scheme, and furthermore doing so with eyes wide open. I can't believe so much of our economy is based on that sort of scheme.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

my wife came up with VAPID while looking me in the eye! I had written PAIVD!


Substitute "despair" for "pessimism" and you could use "DAVID".

Tony Fisk said...

"Passengers" had some idiot bits (esp. the hibernation issue... esp. when we find there *is* a med. unit that allows it!! As for the swing by Arcturus...!!??)
I reasoned the situation arose from a combination of commercial corner cutting, and that the ship AI wasn't quite sophisticated enough to handle the situation it was confronted with (possibly concluding that minor damage to a critical system could be routed around, and only waking 'Morpheus' when it was almost too late. Woke passengers were regarded as income sources only). I base that on the (rather good) portrayal of Alfred the bar tender. Suave, sympathetic, and quite able to hold a conversation, but you still got the impression he was a set of conditioned responses backed up with a lotta man hours. Fine for whiling away an hour or two, but Pratt's character has to really work to trap him in the reality of the situation (*twitch* "...Ah! ...Oh! ...You shouldn't be here!")

If you want another interesting treatment in a film, I recommend "Kubo and the Two Strings". Apart from being a delightful tale, the way in which the villain (yes, there is one here) gets his comeuppance is remarkable.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Tony Fisk wrote: "If you want another interesting treatment in a film, I recommend "Kubo and the Two Strings". Apart from being a delightful tale, the way in which the villain (yes, there is one here) gets his comeuppance is remarkable."

Perhaps the best movie I've seen this year, certainly the best animated feature. The origami battles are breathtaking.

Another noteworthy anime: KADO: The Correct Answer (Seikaisura Kado). Hard SF is rare in anime (Space Brothers and Planetes are the only examples that come to mind) and it's only six eps in so early days. Anime series have an unfortunate habit of disintegrating. But so far its a really good alien visitation tale.

donzelion said...

Alfred: "Regarding stock value, raito is correct. Your mental error is a belief that things have value independent of what we think that value is. Nothing does. This whole game is very recursive."

A quibble, and a medium position between yourself and Larry, but one that comes from an institutionalist perspective rather than a classical (or neo-classical) one: value is both 'intrinsic' (things have no value independent of what we think that value is) and 'extrinsic' (things DO have value independent of what we think that value is). The latter is a nuance seldom explored in neoclassical models, but always present in the assumption that 'there will be a 'we' at a future date, that changes between today's 'we' and tomorrow's 'we' will be continuous (recursive) rather than discrete/disjoint.

Put differently, stock valuations assume there will be neither an extinction level event next year nor a fundamental, non-recursive change in the nature of market participants (e.g., new market participants like AI that enter our market will reflect rules and norms of today's 'we' - rather than operating by new rules).

donzelion said...

...as for 'DAVID' - lol. Good one!

Jumper said...

I manufacture money regularly. I still write checks. Checks used to get passed down the line a few times more than is commonplace nowadays. (A signed paycheck from a big company in a small town might go through 4 hands before it got deposited.)

I also have fungibles in the basement, having much of the gear for a small carpentry specialty, gone idle and unused since I changed careers. I think I'll give it some velocity soon.

Darrell E said...

Whenever the topic of space opera comes up I like to mention Exordium, a 5 book space opera by Sherwood Smith & Dave Trowbridge. I've never understood why it hasn't become more well known. I think it is one of the best space opera's I've ever read. The scale of the story is epic, the world building is rich and complex, there is a diverse range of characters, fascinating aliens and human subcultures, and it is also just a good story. It is a complex story in that it is long and has lots of characters, cultures and plot lines to keep track of, not unlike David's wonderful Uplift series, but it is well worth the effort.

Some of the stories that people nominate as favorite space operas makes me think my idea of what space opera is doesn't correspond well with others. For example the Old Man's War stories by John Scalzi. I like these stories just fine, but I don't consider them space opera. Scalzi's writing style is too succinct and aloof to achieve the depth and complexity of world building that I associate with space opera.

Paul SB said...

Jumper, give it some velocity, soon. The length of your life could depend on it.

It looks like this conversation has gotten away from me for a couple days. I was going to make some points re: capitalism and stress, and bring in some material on the Age of the Amateur, which our host has discussed on a number of occasions. If you are interested, here are a few talks he has done that bring up a lot of interesting ideas.

Dr. Brin’s talks:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw9_Q9FzljI

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2008/aug/18/futurist-david-brin-on-the-age-of-the-amateur/

http://www.science20.com/citizen_science_journal/blog/david_brin_talks_about_future_amateur_scientist

http://www.futurist.com/articles-archive/value-and-empowerment/

My perspective on this is that amateur pursuits are an important part of stress relief, and since all of the top 10 killers in modern society are stress-related, it might be a good thing to take seriously. Don’t wait until you are on the operating table undergoing a triple bypass, like my factory manager friend did. American-style capitalism does a great job of not only concentrating most of the money in the hands of < 1% of the people, it also concentrates frustration, disrespect, denigration and low self-esteem in the pother 99%.

Neurologist and leading stress expert Robert Sapolsky makes a point of suggesting that we do better when we make our own meaning in life, rather than accepting the meaning that pervades our culture - that we are only as valuable as our stock portfolio. We might have jobs that drive us up the wall and we have no prayer of ever climbing that corporate ladder, but we can find both meaning and relief from the stresses caused by that capitalist culture through other pursuits like hobbies, amateur sports or any other activities where we can achieve - outside the cut-throat world of capitalism. Your boss might suck wet pigeon farts, but if you are the coach of a little-league softball team, you get that necessary sense of self-worth and community that cold, heartless capitalism sucks out of people.

Paul SB said...

With that in mind, I remembered some of the parallel comments Dr. Brin has made about the 21st Century becoming an age of amateurs. From a mental health perspective it makes sense. Between overcrowding, impersonal institutions and heartless competition, this world of over-the-top competition is driving most of humanity mad (remember the WHO’s stats on clinical depression and disability?) It also reminds me of discussions about the future that pits Star Trek-style optimistic progress against pessimistic gloom-and-doom prophecies of Armageddon. Industrial Age growth has led to huge gaps between our social environment and the instincts the human species was reared on, which has a lot to do with the latter. But there are ways in which technology can facilitate a return to healthy living without having to exterminate 99% of the people (and other species) on Earth.

I am among a growing number of people who have pointed out that today’s civilizations are so contrary to actual human nature that they are hardly sustainable. Population has gotten to the point that we can never go back to the “old ways” without causing a die-off so great that the carnage would unravel the minds of anyone who survives, however manly they pretend to be. But technology is slowly beginning to give us ways of making modern life more like the way humans are genetically disposed to be, which is to live in small communities. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Seven and a quarter billion mouths to scream and growing, and what humans most need is community.

Denmark rates consistently as among the happiest countries in the world, in spite of being in the cold, dark boreal north. How do they do it? Large numbers of people live in co-housing communities, homes built to contain several families, and they work together, eat together, raise their children together - in short, they have built the kind of small communities that our prehistoric ancestors lived in, but without the prehistoric famines and prehistoric nomadism. Sounds like old hippie communes, right? But those hippie communes self-destructed because they tried to share their sexual partners as freely as their living spaces, something that really does work against human nature. If you have 75 minutes to spare, watch this prize-winning documentary:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p9KjbLSp1E
The bit about Denmark is about half an hour in, but the whole thing is worth watching.

Technology can act as an antidote to centralized power: today’s technology allows a sort of democratization of skill, this gives people a way to bypass the corporations to some extent - especially if they can make a living on line. There are people who have become millionaires simply by posting videos of themselves playing video games and reviewing them.

Paul SB said...

Anyone can look something up on the internet and learn to do almost anything. Computers, cell phones and 3d printers allow people the potential to learn, communicate and manufacture, mostly bypassing both the corporate and government worlds. Social media even allows people to come “together” where before we were limited to who was in your neighborhood.

People still need to have employment to make enough money to get materials for that 3d printing business, but that is true for any kind of start-up, unless you luck out and get venture capital.

Death caused by overwork is so common in Japan they have invented a special word for it - Karoshi.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/03/japan-has-a-word-for-working-to-death

American-style (and better still, Japanese-style) capitalism represents a death spiral for the human species. In this sense even locum and the ent are understandable, as victims of a social order that works very radically against human nature. Both of those fools are too blinded by their own arrogance to see that they are blaming the wrong things for their woes. Locum wants to go back to some fictitious Age of Farmers when no cities existed - unaware that agriculture and cities grew synergistically together - you can’t have one without the other. The Sapling wants us to go back to the time of Conan the Barbarian, which is even more nonsensical a fantasy. How did all those muscular barbarians eat? Who made their swords? If everyone were Conan they would quickly run out of peasants to exploit.

Anyway, the problems human civilization is facing because of the mismatch between how we live (both urban and rural) and how we are built are not big problems, they are failure modes of the highest level. People like Dr. Brin are doing the world a great service by providing mentally-stimulating escapism, but mental health experts point to another fundamentally important thing that people need to be healthy - they need to feel competent and appreciated. Toxic managers do their best to make all their underlings feel the opposite, but as Robert Sapolsky says, that’s where hobbies come in. The technology facilitates the Age of the Amateur, but it is this deep psychological need that drives it.
Youtube is full of DIY videos made by amateurs that people can learn from. If you have time and would rather learn a skill than pay extortionist prices, there’s a lot you can do. The main problem, though, is that usually the only people who have time are then unemployed, and they don’t have money even for DIY - one of the self-defeating aspects of American-style (and Japanese-style) capitalism.

Paul SB said...

Here’s a few others, just to titivate curiosity:

Shape ways is a marketplace to buy and sell 3d printed products.
https://www.shapeways.com/marketplace/?li=nav-tab

Here’s an index of amateur writer’s groups by state. It only gets the US & Canada, so if you are elsewhere and you want a forum for writing you will have to do your own sleuthing.
http://writersrelief.com/writing-groups-for-writers/

Want to build your own home - there’s a blog for that!
http://diyhomebuilder.org

Live in the big city but you want to grow your own food? There’s quite a few blogs for this, such as:
https://woollypocket.com/blog/
and
http://blog.westelm.com/2016/10/19/vertical-garden-diy/

How about online learning? I suspect that the public schools will go bankrupt in the next 30 years and it will be ritzy private schools for the rich and online education for the rest.
https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com

Of course there’s the open-source software system for people who get computers:
https://www.linuxfoundation.org/news-media/blogs

You can even learn to build musical instruments, if that’s your thing:
http://amis.org
http://asiartisans.org/content/magazine.html
http://www.proquest.com/blog/pqblog/2015/PQIS2015-Dulcimer-Makers.html



Dr. Brin mentioned this book and web site in one of his talks referenced above: Book “Worldchanging”
https://www.amazon.com/Worldchanging-Revised-Users-Guide-Century/dp/0810997460

Archive:
http://web.archive.org/web/20151215092524/http://www.worldchanging.com/
home-made solar panels

The biggest hurdle may be cultural - convincing people (especially older people who tend to be very set in their ways) that it is possible, that we are not inevitably slaves to a corporate system and have no other choice but to bite, claw and murder our way to the top of some corporate hierarchy or else be ground under its heel. 50% of the general population suffers from some form of clinical depression or anxiety disorder. Alfred can defend capitalism forever, and he’s right that this is at least marginally better than mass starvation, but we can do better. Maybe not right away, maybe not even in this century - I have never thought that a utopia of any kind is possible.

So anyway, what’s YOUR pleasure? What can you do to feel competent and valued, when work usually makes you feel denigrated and suspect?

LarryHart said...

@Alfred et al,

Here's kinda what I'm getting at in terms of stock value. Stocks used to more commonly pay dividends. It's pretty easy to assign a financial value to a stock that pays a regular dividend, although there will still be speculation over whether that dividend will increase or decrease in the future, so you'll still have different buyers and sellers valuing the stock differently. But even if you never sell the stock, there's a reason for having bought it--it's paying you money.

In the 1980s and afterwards, it became more common for companies to reinvest, foregoing dividends in favor of increasing the stock value (price?) itself. To me, that's something that would be a temporary measure, although it's become more like a permanent one. It still seems to me that the increase in value (and therefore in stock price) is based on an expectation of a dividend at some future time. Either that or an expectation that the company will buy back its shares. But whatever the mechanism, the point of an investment in stock is that at some present or future time, a payout of some sort comes due. The future expectation can be traded for immediate cash by buying and selling of the stock, but the idea that another investor will buy out your shares can't be the fundamental worth of the stock. There has to be something the buyer is buying it for.

Synchronistically, I've just reached the part of "Starship Troopers" where the protagonist's old History and Moral Philosophy instructor (in flashback) proclaims that there is no such thing as objective value, and that "value" is necessarily specific to an individual. He also trashes "labor theory of value" by pointing out that work can be applied to ruin a product just as easily as it can to improve it.

I like to think I have likewise trashed the notion that there are objective monetary values to items for which people trade exat value for exact value by pointing out that when you give (say) a $10 bill to the pizza joint in exchange for a pie, the pizza is necessarily worth more to you (at that moment) than the $10 bill is, and the $10 bill is worth more to the business than the pizza is. If that statement were not true, neither of you would bother with the effort of making the trade.

Darrell E said...

LarryHart said...

". . . that when you give (say) a $10 bill to the pizza joint in exchange for a pie, the pizza is necessarily worth more to you (at that moment) than the $10 bill is, and the $10 bill is worth more to the business than the pizza is. If that statement were not true, neither of you would bother with the effort of making the trade."

Not arguing in any particular direction, just wanted to point out an additional complication that seems very significant to me. That is, why something is worth more to a person at that moment than the money they pay for it. Perhaps a person merely has a craving for a good pizza and the price is well within their means. Perhaps a person is compelled to pay a ruinous amount for health care services, or assume ruinous debt for it, because the only alternative is pain, suffering, risk of permanent impairment or even death for themselves or a dependent. There is a wide spectrum of "whys" ranging from completely uncoerced to completely coerced.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, Hobbies? I still get some mileage out of tinkering with bicycles, two of mine roll on wheels I laced years ago. Bicycles, in spite of the efforts to rethink century old concepts, are a bit tradition bound, modern materials and components in a configuration that the Wright brothers would recognize, so skills are a simpler matter to keep current. It isn't really a skill that gets a lot of respect, since so many perceive bicycles as toys, to the extant that when advertisers flip an image of a bike for the sake of convenience, it's meaningless to them that they've created a bizarre image of a left hand drive bike, something not seen in the real world.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

There is a wide spectrum of "whys" ranging from completely uncoerced to completely coerced.


And even within that, there are different interpretations of "coercion". I'm sure Alfred would distinguish between "shooting you if you don't give me money" and "allowing your appendix to burst unless you give me money", but from one point of view, it's a distinction without much of a difference.

LarryHart said...

...and no, I'm not equating doctors with robbers.

I'm saying that "coercion" isn't a binary yes/no thing. There's a continuum.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | Put differently, stock valuations assume there will be neither an extinction level event next year nor a fundamental, non-recursive change in the nature of market participants

I have no problem with that quibble. We do make that assumption… and occasionally get it wrong. One way to look at the shock to capital in the last century is as a failure of the assumption. Something pretty dramatic happened with the start of WWI and many decades passed before the richer countries recovered in a new state. Some old empires were toast. Colonial properties got expropriated. Asset values collapsed between the wars with the collapse of confidence in the economic model used prior to WWI.

Basically, context matters. On that we agree.

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

I think I'll give it some velocity soon.

Heh. My wife and I have been accelerating a few things out the door after our last move. The new-fangled internet tools make it so easy. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much of it she has managed to convert to cash.

The classic case I was taught for how people create money is ‘the lunch deal.’ You and a few co-workers go out to lunch and one offers to pay the whole bill with the expectation that someone else will next time. If the deal is accepted, new money exists until next time when some of it is destroyed as the obligation is met. These deals can get complex in a large group and the rules are largely unwritten, so money creation is a wonderful example of emergent order.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The classic case I was taught for how people create money is ‘the lunch deal.’ You and a few co-workers go out to lunch and one offers to pay the whole bill with the expectation that someone else will next time.


This certainly isn't an argument with you, but just sayin', that's exactly the sort of thing that Ayn Rand devotes her life work to denying that it exists.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | engaging in a Ponzi scheme

For a real Ponzi scheme you need someone in the middle who is accepting investments from one player and using that money to pay an unrealistic return rate to a prior player. If I buy an asset in the hope that it will be worth more to the next seller that is just plain old speculation. A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent promise of a rate of return that is covered by failing to invest the money offered by later investors in the promised way. The scheme unravels at the end when the last investors discover there are no investments and their money was given to others to hide the fraud. Speculation is not a fraud… unless someone is making false promises.

Regarding your later comments about stock value, it is obvious you are a natural ‘value’ trader. Many people aren’t. Consider this. If the book value of a company grows as the company expands, shouldn’t the market value grow too? Paying a dividend would reduce the book value by returning some of it to the shareholders. If dividends are taxed more than capital gains, why would investors want that? ‘Growth’ investors are speculating on the expansion of book value and the assumption that market value will keep pace. They don’t need a dividend to entice them, but if they receive one, they might simply re-invest it suggesting the issuing company could have done the same.

As for the labor theory of value, it is mistaken and a whole lot of people have been harmed in believing it. This is connected to the related mistake we make connecting ‘merit’ to ‘value’ as well. When I get a small bump on my salary, is it a merit increase or a value increase? Do I deserve it or have I added value to the company for which they are willing to pay? Try too hard to concoct a ‘fundamental value’ for anything, and you’ll tie people to things. Danger Will Robinson.

If that statement were not true, neither of you would bother with the effort of making the trade.

Yah, but you are making your coworkers argument here. It’s in your head and as donzelion points out… in all ours too if you correctly read how we are thinking.

allowing your appendix to burst unless you give me money

…and that is a good summary of why I AM willing to support a social safety net and regulation regarding prices that involve desperate parties. You might not like the regulation I think should be considered, though. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | Yah. Well... Rand was wrong about a few things. She was a product of her times, though. She went too far into a belief in an objective reality. Some people go too far away from it too and wind up sounding equally nuts to me. 8)

The map is not the terrain.
People make this kind of mistake all the time and rarely realize it. I KNOW I do.

LarryHart said...

Alfred:

"If that statement were not true, neither of you would bother with the effort of making the trade."

Yah, but you are making your coworkers argument here. It’s in your head and as donzelion points out… in all ours too if you correctly read how we are thinking.


You're still missing my point. I'm not denying that traders can buy and sell based upon values that they ascribe to the stock via speculation. I'm just saying that there also has to be something else at work.

I might have been misusing the term "Ponzi scheme", but maybe "hot potato" is more accurate. If I buy something that I have a reasonable expectation of selling later at a profit, the thing has to have something about it that makes it likely that there's a market for it. It can't just be "speculators all the way down", or the scheme would have collapsed long before you and I were born.

Let me put it this way--if I have a stock certificate for Google and another stock certificate for Arthur Andersen, I can probably exchange the one for money but not the other. Why? What makes stock in a bankrupt company less valuable than stock in a going concern? If you were to mention Price/Earnings ratio or something of that sort, I'd feel we were getting somewhere. The "earnings" therin somehow accrue to the owner of shares of stock, right?




LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Paying a dividend would reduce the book value by returning some of it to the shareholders. If dividends are taxed more than capital gains, why would investors want that? ‘Growth’ investors are speculating on the expansion of book value and the assumption that market value will keep pace.


So what constitutes book value? I think that's all I'm saying--that there is a value attached to a share of stock separate from what you can get by offloading that share on someone else. I'm not claiming that value is constant or "objective"--just that there is something that the share represents while you hold the stock (as distinct from when you sell the stock).

occam's comic said...

For those who wish to follow the arctic melt season in detail here is a great place to go:

http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,1834.0.html

Last years freezing season in the arctic was the warmest on record by a lot. (freezing degree day measures of the arctic for this year 4200, average 5700, and about 500 FDD difference lower than last years previous record low) The arctic kept sucking warm wet air from lower latitudes almost all winter long.

The next two months are times of maximum sunlight in the arctic and very important to the melt season. If it is sunny in the arctic for the next two months we may get to the blue arctic event in September. But even if it is like last year and cloudy we will still almost certainly have a new record low level of arctic sea ice.

My guess for this years ice minimum we will end up with a new record about 1/2 the way between zero and the last record low.

David Brin said...

Alfred the true nutsiness of Rand is impossible to plumb. She refused to debate those who disagreed with her and thus was a hypocrite when it came to “objectivity.” She refused to even glance at either history or biology, nor the meaning of the near universality of feudalism. Not one of her major or intermediate positive characters ever had a child. ever, even glancingly, an obsessively repeated theme that became impossible to shrug off. Oh and then there’s the rapey stuff.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "I'm not denying that traders can buy and sell based upon values that they ascribe to the stock via speculation. I'm just saying that there also has to be something else at work." or as you put it later "I'm not claiming that value is constant or "objective"--just that there is something that the share represents while you hold the stock (as distinct from when you sell the stock)."

To my mind, the thing "that the share represents while you hold the stock (as distinct from when you sell the stock)" is an expression of faith in the durability of community as a whole. Social security, medicare, medicaid are ultimately expressions of this sort of logic about community. A purely 'speculative' theory about value has enormous trouble with each of these concepts - and efforts to 'privatize' them are an attempt to subject them to the 'speculative' rules applicable to other items that are valuable.

"It can't just be "speculators all the way down", or the scheme would have collapsed long before you and I were born."
It actually can be - PROVIDED a community persists that is itself a recursive expression of today's community, rather than a discrete/disjoint expression of a totally distinct community. Speculation is enormously powerful and remarkably durable (and alone, is neither good nor evil - just a fact of life that can become immensely powerful in shaping the experience of life), but community is even more powerful and fundamental.

David S said...

Larry/Alfred,
I was taught that stock signifies ownership in the company and represents a claim on part of the corporation's assets and earnings. If I was starting a new company and needed to raise funds, I could gather funds by selling shares of stock. If I later decided to end the business by paying off my depts and selling off the company's assets, the proceeds (if positive) would be divided among the share holders. When a company goes bankrupt, it has no net positive assets so the value of the stock is zero.


donzelion said...

Paul SB: "American-style (and better still, Japanese-style) capitalism represents a death spiral for the human species."

I disagree. A social order cannot long persist that opposes 'human nature' (in whatever form), but only persists by channeling and directing actual humans. I see some factors built in the American-style system that may result in its shift into something other than what it is today - some I like, some I detest - but positing a death spiral itself is premature.

"People like Dr. Brin are doing the world a great service by providing mentally-stimulating escapism"
I do not read our host (even when I occasionally, and sharply disagree with him) as offering purely escapist fare - more offering a series of well-presented 'what ifs' - and asking 'what if' is a crucial habit of our species. An excess of that may become escapist, or result in frenetic anxiety, but in some dosage, it's a healthy exercise of peculiar faculties with which we are well-equipped.

My interpretation of the 'age of the amateur' is a bit different from yours. I find immense expressions of expertise empowering every amateur endeavor - it's more a matter of expertise being more broadly disseminated than ever before through media more accessible than library books: anyone can become their own product designer, rather than relying on products offered by others, and they can teach themselves based on video, rather than reading books in a college course. The expert participant in this age feels great reward knowing that his process, method, skill, or tool empowers other people. The expert can't eat that feeling alone, but in sharing some expertise for free, expresses confidence that he will eat even so and discover others willing to pay.

Capital has a place of honor in this story, making things possible that otherwise could never be. But capital is NOT the story.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | I'm just saying that there also has to be something else at work.

Well… there ARE conventions we keep that assign value, but they are part of the assumptions Donzelion points out. They can be wrong and are often enough to matter for any of us with enough gray hair.

It can't just be "speculators all the way down", or the scheme would have collapsed long before you and I were born.

Then explain Pet Rocks or any other fashion craze. Cabbage Patch dolls? Tulip bulbs among the Dutch ages ago? Even coin collecting has issues if you examine it too closely even though many of the pieces we collect involve precious metals.

Your hot potato assumes no one actually wants the potato. Heh. If it is passed to me, I might eat it. Seriously, though, trade IS about edible hot potatoes. What we trade can be traded again or consumed. Even gold in the form of money gets consumed if the buyer is a high tech company. The more ‘edible’ the trade item, the more I’m inclined to accept the notion that they have intrinsic value, but I’ll still be wary of the idea because economics is all about substitutions. Your potato might get traded for corn which I’d eat instead if the relative price between potatoes and corn favored the trade enough.

Bankrupt companies ARE valued by some people. I know a guy who bought one simply because it already had done the paperwork to be traded publicly in New York. He paid off the small debt it owed and then did a reverse merger taking his company into it. Poof. He could now legally trade in public. After he explained this to the group I was in, he DID give a sly smile and suggest we have an army of lawyers before trying this ourselves. It wasn’t as simple as he suggested, but it shows there is value in a company to some potential buyers even when its book value is negative.

So what constitutes book value? I think that's all I'm saying--that there is a value attached to a share of stock separate from what you can get by offloading that share on someone else.

No. Not unless you can eat those shares. Hmm… or attract a mate I suppose. Hmm… What those shares represent is your BELIEF in their value. Your co-worker believed in resale value. You believe much like a value investor does. If I’m ever so stupid as to piss off my wife enough for her to toss my stuff on the lawn and change the locks, I might need a belief that my shares would be useful in attracting another woman. Heh. I’d better behave myself, though. They’d note I’m more drawn to books than amassing wealth. Their belief in the low value of my books would sink me. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@David | Yah. I’ve purposely not studied Rand much. I see too many libertarians behaving like cult members, so I worry about catching the contagion. Cult concepts have a way of changing people even with people who reject them, so I look first at the believers and decide whether or not I think they are still sane. I’ve noted many libertarians I know are childless, so… I don’t feel a need to know too much about her if those people are her fans.

Of course, some would note I’ve caught the Austrian bug when it comes to economic theory. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@David S | That idea works until you run into non-voting stock and some of the other variants. Shares are supposed to have their rights described so you know what you purchase, but some people don't read that material and then get surprised in a bankruptcy case.

In only one of my start-up attempts did we issue shares of the classic type. The founders received them in exchange for their investments/contributions, so they did represent claims on corporate assets. Those claims were limited to the value they originally provided, but only upon dissolution and only if our debts had not already consumed the value. That start-up did indeed fall apart, but there wasn't enough left of any value to appease the primary founder. I left him non-exclusive access to my IP in case he wanted to have a go of it with someone else, but he understandably had difficulty imagining those rights were worth $20K. Ah well.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Your hot potato assumes no one actually wants the potato. Heh. If it is passed to me, I might eat it. Seriously, though, trade IS about edible hot potatoes. What we trade can be traded again or consumed.


And that's exactly what I'm looking for. The potato is valuable, not just because someone will pay me for it, but because I can eat it, and eating is something I need to do. Just as houses are valuable because you can live in them. All I was ever asking is what the analogous source of value is to a share of stock.

You seem to think that I'll only be satisfied with a constant dollar value. Not at all. I'm just looking for a concept that makes the thing worth buying to me or to someone I might sell to.

Tulips and pet rocks make my point. If the only value stocks had was "I can get someone else to buy them for more money than I paid, and he'll do it because he'll get even more from the next buyer", then I'd have expected the stock market to go the way of the tulip market long ago.

donzelion said...

David S: "I was taught that stock signifies ownership in the company and represents a claim on part of the corporation's assets and earnings."
I do not think Larry or Alfred are challenging that point. Their question, as I understand it at least, relates to valuation - whether assets have 'value' 'in-themselves' or merely value as a function of exchange.

The ancient model postulated that everything has a 'fixed' value, often in terms like 'God knows its value' - a pound of gold is a pound of gold, in every age and every era, and thus 'valued' a certain amount. The newer model postulated that everything's value is a result of human injection of value into the thing through willingness to trade. Alfred is deploying a few of the many critiques of the ancient value system, and shooting down attempts to inject antiquated valuation concepts into stock values. But I do not think Larry is trying to inject a concept of 'value' through the old, obsolete formulation.

The institutional approach (which I try to embrace, to the extent I understand it) posits a theory of value that acknowledges insights from both the old and the new models: certain things have extrinsic value, independent of any possibility of exchange - like assumptions about the continuation of human communities. One person sees a share certificate as a claim on corporate earnings; I see that, but also see an offer of collaborative efforts in a shared enterprise - something 'valuable' but not reducible to exchange. Or put in another way,

The ancient system: 'gold has a value known and fixed by God'
The modern/classical system: 'gold has a value known through exchange, and no other value independent of exchange'
The institutional system: 'to some extent, human societies and individuals tend to impose values upon gold, some of which are 'valued' but unrelated to exchange...' (e.g., a gold wedding band may have value for society completely unrelated to its exchange value)

When a company's liabilities dramatically exceed its assets and capacity to borrow to pay off charges on those liabilities (e.g., interest on debt), that company MAY still offer shareholder value - sometimes, considerable value. The stock value need not fall to zero IF investors believe that the work performed by the company should continue, and further, that it should continue to be performed by THAT company as opposed to some different company. When Arthur Andersen, Enron, WorldCom, etc. collapsed, investors determined that there was no reason THOSE entities should continue providing services or goods - nothing exceptional or worth saving. When Chrysler and GM collapsed, investors (the government can also be an investor) took a different view.

David B. Ellis said...

"Oh, we just watched "Passengers" -- the recent film about two people stranded aboard an interstellar luxury liner when their hibernation ends 90 years too soon. A pleasant and well-crafted film that touches traditional notes in freshly sf'nal ways."

I'm surprised at that reaction to the film, I thought this review ("Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence's Passengers isn't a romance: it's a creepy ode to manipulation"} points out some very disturbing things about the film:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/12/16/chris-pratt-jennifer-lawrences-passengers-isnt-romance-creepy/

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

What those shares represent is your BELIEF in their value. Your co-worker believed in resale value. You believe much like a value investor does.

I get that there are real-estate investors who flip houses all the time and don't care about anything other than "What profit can I get from buying and selling?" But those investors have to think that someone else will buy the house to live in, and that that's where the value comes from in the first place.

It doesn't bother me that my old co-worker valued stock based on resale value. It's that he thought everyone else did too, and that an entire system based on that was viable. An individual investor may value stocks for what he can flip them for, but it seems to me that he has to believe that there are value investors who will take them off his hands for other reasons. If he thinks everyone is just flipping stocks for no other reason, I don't see how he'd think the system would long survive (especially with the example of 1929 and 1987 already in evidence).

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "The potato is valuable, not just because someone will pay me for it, but because I can eat it, and eating is something I need to do. Just as houses are valuable because you can live in them. All I was ever asking is what the analogous source of value is to a share of stock."

Hmmm...perhaps your 'hot potato' analogy is better served by contrasting it with a 'hand grenade.' In the game of hot potato, everyone wants to get rid of the item and pass it to someone else. They THINK of that 'hot potato' as a live grenade, and want to get rid of it before it goes off. A 'hot potato' has some use (food), a live hand grenade has no 'use' for a community (but is quite helpful for killing someone who threatens that community).

"I'm just looking for a concept that makes the thing worth buying to me or to someone I might sell to."
Perhaps that concept is the underlying, implicit, unstated faith that you are not trying to foist a live grenade onto the buyer.

"If the only value stocks had was "I can get someone else to buy them for more money than I paid, and he'll do it because he'll get even more from the next buyer", then I'd have expected the stock market to go the way of the tulip market long ago."
It didn't, but not because stocks have some intrinsic value other than their exchangeability.

The fact that a bunch of Dutch men and women VALUED EACH OTHER conferred meaning far beyond the tulips they traded. Indeed, the entire tulip story is a testament to how valuing humans (including faith that they will fulfill their contracts) - can be subverted occasionally - BUT that even when such experiments occur and values become unmoored, the Dutch remained a powerful people willing to pursue other ventures together. If a Dutchman lost a fortune on tulip futures, that same Dutchman (or his heirs) might make it again on transatlantic shipping or windmill operations...thus, even the Dutchman who loses 'everything' retains 'value' to the Dutch people (and not, like a hot potato, value derived from his ability to serve as food).

Paul SB said...

While scrolling up, I noticed that I missed a link for DIY solar panels:

http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Home-Solar-Planning-a-Solar-Array-Beginners/

Tim,

I don't remember where you live, if you ever said, but where I am I regularly have to dodge mountain bikers while trying to combine my daily exercise with my daily sunshine in proximity to healthy greenery. And I have had to take my daughter's bike for repairs often enough to wish I (better yet, she) knew how to do that myself. There are huge numbers of people who treat cycling as their form of conspicuous consumption, and the outrageous cost of bicycles today makes that clear. But there is always that counter culture of people who appreciate the hand-made masterpiece. I heard an interview a couple week ago with a fellow who hand crafts guitars and sells them for thousands to the likes of Johnny Cash (well, not anymore, of course), which mad eye nostalgic for the year I built a clavichord in high school wood shop. Maybe that's why I have been thinking of hobbies and that Age of Amateurs thing Dr. Brin brings up once in awhile. There are probably people out there who would appreciate your skills, and maybe even enough to remunerate you for them. The in internet makes connecting with such people much more likely than ever before. For myself, if I can get back to full employment, I might go hunting for someone to teach me instrument craft, not because I expect to get paid for it, but because I had a book when I was a young larva that had a picture of Haydn in his workshop surrounded by instruments, and somehow that image has been with me ever since.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

I am probably losing my message in all my verbosity - a habit I need to rein back. Those years of writing papers for a professor who had double-majored in History and English must have thrown one methylation switches...

/Escapism/ might not have been the best choice of words, or perhaps we understand that word differently. Escapism does not necessarily correlate with mental laziness. Look at how excited some people get when challenged by a particularly difficult puzzle. Brin's work, like the best of the science fiction tradition, is very mentally stimulating. For people who like that sort of stimulation, it is also escape from the daily grind, though. Psychologists use the word /flow/ to describe a sensation of total absorption in a task or activity, usually a productive activity that results in the creation of something that brings you a powerful sense of satisfaction. I'm not sure if they would count not being able to put a book down until it's finished at 4:00 the next morning, even if you are creating vivid mental images of the tale, but I imagine the feeling much be related.

"My interpretation of the 'age of the amateur' is a bit different from yours..."

Actually, what you describe here is exactly my interpretation, though I place a lot of emphasis on the potential it offers to alleviate some of the deadly stresses wrought by human civilization.

"A social order cannot long persist that opposes 'human nature' (in whatever form), but only persists by channeling and directing actual humans."

You are living in a social order that has persisted in opposing human nature for around 6000 years. This is not a perspective unique to me, it's pretty much standard interpretation of the world archaeological record, along with modern ethnographic and ethane-archaeo work of the 20th and no 21st centuries. But these statements do hinge on what you want to call "a long time." In terms of the human lifespan, it sure sounds like a long time. In terms of human civilization, it's just a flash in the pan. In terms of geologic time, it doesn't even rate a blink. Something people misunderstand about evolution is that it does not produce perfection, or even improvement, it only favors whatever works best in its current environment. So an adaptation can be adaptive in the short term but bring about extinction in the long term. This is the norm, not the rule. A majority of species go extinct because the vagaries of mutation, selection and environment lead to overspecialization, leaving the species poorly equipped to survive a rapid change in the environment. The human species may be experiencing exactly that. I say "may" and not "certainly" because, well, the species isn't extinct yet. Future species might do the appropriate post-mortem. For now it is wise to use what knowledge we have to address potential threats before it's too late. Those WHO statistics suggest that we are rapidly approaching that point.

You're probably familiar with that old saw of Emily Dickenson that goes:
"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see-
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

That's why I drivel on endlessly about this stuff.

"Capital has a place of honor in this story, making things possible that otherwise could never be. But capital is NOT the story."

This is the same point I have been making with Alfred. I am not opposed to the use of capital per se, I am opposed to a superstructure that treats it as a grand unifying principle for all of human existence and the ultimate scale with which to judge people's worth as human beings. So again we are pretty much in agreement here - I'm probably just not communicating as well as I could.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Hmmm...perhaps your 'hot potato' analogy is better served by contrasting it with a 'hand grenade.' In the game of hot potato, everyone wants to get rid of the item and pass it to someone else. They THINK of that 'hot potato' as a live grenade, and want to get rid of it before it goes off. A 'hot potato' has some use (food), a live hand grenade has no 'use' for a community (but is quite helpful for killing someone who threatens that community).


Hmmmm, while you are correct about how the game of "hot potato" is played, I think you're wrong about the underlying imagery. The reason someone wants to get rid of an actual hot potato is because it will burn his hands if he holds it too long. It gets less hot, and therefore less dangerous, over time. That's a different thing (almost the opposite thing) from a hand grenade.

I'm not arguing that point with you, just pointing it out for humor value. :)

What I will argue is your contention that stocks have no value other than their exchangeability. Even Alfred isn't going that far--he's saying they have no value other than what an individual values them for. My initial question is more or less answered by "It represents ownership of a percentage of the company's assets minus its liabilities." It doesn't concern me that the value is variable over time. I was just looking for a definition of what the stock is meant to represent in the first place, before anyone ever buys or sells it.



Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | Just as houses are valuable because you can live in them

Nah. You BELIEVE you can live in the house. You believe you can eat the potato. See? What do you believe about the stocks you own?

The Pet Rock fad ended because a belief ended. The same can happen to houses. Just ask the folks in Detroit what that belief is.

But those investors have to think that someone else will buy the house to live in

Hmm… I doubt it. Some buyers of homes tear them down and want the land. Some rent them out instead. Some are hiding money from their wives in a divorce and don’t care about the house.

The neat thing about traders is it doesn’t really matter why a buyer buys or a seller sells. The motivations can be as varied as the people. I sincerely doubt there is a generalization that works except to say that both sides believe a trade is in their best interests.

I was just looking for a definition of what the stock is meant to represent in the first place, before anyone ever buys or sells it.

If book value works for you, that’s fine. That’s your belief, though, and it isn’t believed a many, many investors. Your co-worker was probably a growth investor, for example. You probably aren’t.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: I think we're actually in significant agreement on so many fundamentals (and so too with Larry, Alfred, and even Locum, though he might deny it), that quibbling is only meant to be fun. The ones who are not are Car Sitter, our infrequently resident troll, who is enamored with 'death spirals' and cynically denounces the fruit of other people's labor - the Ent - whose cynicism emerges from a very different, darker place - and the myriad trolls who couldn't even read through 6 sentences in a Brin book (or even Rand for that matter), and just want to be told what to do and whom to hate.

But they all have a place in the greater scheme, and a role to fill.

"I am not opposed to the use of capital per se, I am opposed to a superstructure that treats it as a grand unifying principle for all of human existence and the ultimate scale with which to judge people's worth as human beings."
Mercer, Kochs, Adelson, and Trump come from a world of 'feudalized' (parasitic) capitalism that is ugly and horrifying. America IS great despite them, not because of them. Yet our system, including capitalism, is pretty impressive, feeding, educating, and curing millions and - sometimes empowering others to cure billions - with processes that may be able to endure. Perfect? No. Painful? Yes. Wonderful? Absolutely. ;-)

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | It's that he thought everyone else did too, and that an entire system based on that was viable

Oh. I should have read more carefully.

Yah. Lots of growth investors think their style is the only style and that it would work. It isn't the only style, but I think the jury is hung on whether a system based only on that would be viable. My suspicion is the system would be very volatile. Since we don't have such a system, though, I don't give it much thought.

donzelion said...

Larry: Fair (and fairly humorous) point re hot potatoes. But the point on hand grenades was a semi-serious one: what sort of group of 'friends' plays 'hot potato with hand grenades'? Or more frighteningly, what sort of monster would induce others to do that?

"I was just looking for a definition of what the stock is meant to represent in the first place, before anyone ever buys or sells it."
Then both David S and Alfred have offered an excellent definition. Indeed, my own concern was about 'value,' and deals with a puzzle that bedeviled Aristotle: 'value' MUST = both 'exchangeability' and yet something 'inalienable' as well. Aristotle's Church-based successors focused on the latter to the neglect of the former (God knows the value of every ounce of gold) - when the Renaissance figures rediscovered actual Aristotle, they found that the popular conventions of the feudal era supposedly derived from his philosophy were woefully inconsistent.

One response to Aristotle has been to claim that there is no such thing as 'extrinsic value' - no objective valuation of anything, but it is always intrinsic, subjective, and derived from a human's faculties. The contrary position is that value emerges from interactions of many human faculties, that the whole has features not present in its parts, and that value imposed by a specific individual or even an abstraction of all possibile individuals cannot capture "something more" that society contributes.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Nah. You BELIEVE you can live in the house. You believe you can eat the potato. See? What do you believe about the stocks you own?


That's actually the question I was asking.

More generally, what do investors believe about the stocks they own? And if the answer is "They believe someone else will buy them for more money", then my follow-up question is "What do they believe the buyer believes about the stock?" I am bothered by the notion that someone can perceive an infinite recursion which never has any other answer (turtles all the way down) and not see their investment threatened by that.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. That is what makes you a value investor.

If it is any consolation, your co-worker might become a value investor some day when his assumptions break. It might have already happened. Many of us make the transition as we get older and more conservative in our investments.

The recursion doesn't bother me too much. Investments ARE threatened. Even the most secure only seem to be secure. Our assumptions break eventually. Black swans happen and Life demonstrates itself to be more beautiful and complex than we ever imagined. Recursion is a necessary thing.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | The contrary position is that value emerges from interactions of many human faculties, that the whole has features not present in its parts...

That's the version I hold to most of the time. Emergent things aren't exactly objective or subjective. They are a bit of both and neither at the same time and governed by an evolutionary process. The value we assign to things is just one example, but it is ancient so I get to smack my forehead in mock exasperation at my ancestors who failed to recognize evolution in all the behaviors around us. Instead, they preferred little gods running things in a pantheistic universe? Ugh. 8)

donzelion said...

Alfred: "The value we assign to things is just one example, but it is ancient so I get to smack my forehead in mock exasperation at my ancestors who failed to recognize evolution in all the behaviors around us."

It's one of my hesitations towards those who disparage both Plato and Aristotle - sure, there are a lot of pieces that are quaint, but the mere fact that others took things out of context and abused the methodology does not render IT useless. Plato believed that knowledge of values was deduced internally - it never occurred to him that deduction/recognition was actually 'construction.' But the insight that humans contributed something that mattered to value was important and useful, and accurate.

Now, back to Skynet: I wonder precisely what IT will value? Or how it will do so? Dr. Brin's suggestion that it will value the things that created it seems a possibility that could not be rationally excluded. But perhaps not as well. Perhaps Skynet will find it hilariously fun to zap financial trades in the spaces between nanoseconds, a sort of a cosmic joke on lesser algorithms... Use them as an ashtray, like monstrous humans once used gorilla hands...just to show its primacy over similar digital fabrications, as humans once did to express their sense of primacy over other humanoids...

I can imagine such little gods running a lot of things in a completely atheistic universe. ;-)

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "I am bothered by the notion that someone can perceive an infinite recursion which never has any other answer (turtles all the way down) and not see their investment threatened by that."

I suspect they would never 'perceive' an infinite recursion, merely abstractly conceptualize it. Should the anxieties be aroused, they would perceive a house, food, and other markers of success, and intuit a connection between that and the values of the cycle. The problem is when they perceive others as a 'threat' all the time - and can make use of their shares to achieve real world ends that hurt other people.

Take this frightening story about Jared Kushner, the 'son-in-law-in-chief.' The slum operations described are objectionable, but the part that bothers me most is knowing how the ultimate play operates - a landlord uses his 20,000 properties to secure 100,000 properties through leverage - then 1,000,000 - then cashes those chits in to secure power to dictate terms back to the tenants. Section 8 a problem? Want freedom to discriminate at your leisure? Want to tear down a large number of those complexes, but only when you have a healthy profit lined up for a new structure, stadium, freeway? Want to stop a freeway for a time, drain the coffers of nearby 'feudal lords' - then, once they're depleted and vulnerable, strike - and push something they oppose?

It drives me nuts because it's the little tenants who wind up suffering most of that, while the guy who benefits from their suffering looks like a 'hero' to a large swathe of the country, which will reward and repay him so he can do it again on a larger scale. And the saddest part of all is that the people who are most victimized will never even know who did it to them, and blame others who tried, but failed, to help them rather than the rogues who cheated them.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

"The contrary position is that value emerges from interactions of many human faculties, that the whole has features not present in its parts, and that value imposed by a specific individual or even an abstraction of all possibile individuals cannot capture "something more" that society contributes."

This sounds a bit like chemistry to me. Chemical engineers can guess at what properties might emerge from any combination of atoms they manage to force together, but they don't really know until it happens, and it often comes out very different than they predicted. Likewise "value" as determined by economists and businessmen (or one in awhile "businesspeople"). But what is even attempted in the first place, and what is valued and nurtured later on, has as much to do with the culture as any "innate" value something is presumed to have.

"Yet our system, including capitalism, is pretty impressive, feeding, educating, and curing millions and - sometimes empowering others to cure billions - with processes that may be able to endure. Perfect? No. Painful? Yes. Wonderful? Absolutely. ;-)"

This is pretty much the point Alfred keeps making, and I mostly agree with, but any caveat I bring up he tries to shoot back down (mostly, anyway - he's not one of these trolls who just chooses a side and tries to shove it down everyone else's throats, he's much more sapiently self-reflexive than that). My point is that we could do better. The better we come to understand both our inheritance and our current circumstances, and how mismatched they are, the more inexcusable it becomes to sit on our collective hands, shrug our cultural shoulders and not make the effort. Yes, having half the general population in the thralls of mental illness is better than starvation, but not by a whole lot, and not when it could be avoided.

People like Grope, the Kochs & the rest you named are people who won't see that (whether they can or not) and couldn't care less, because they are invested in the old system, and they make themselves appear to be heroes as you say for their own self-promotion. I hope that better communication will help alleviate this. I suspect it is already. After all, people are on line this very moment reading and weighing, where before the internet they had many fewer voices and ideas to weigh.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | that we are only as valuable as our stock portfolio

Do you really think most of us accept that as our meaning? That hasn’t been my experience. Most of the people I’ve met (several thousand students admittedly) didn’t think about such things much. When they did think about meaning it was usually in terms of transcendent notions and not such profane things. The few I know who DO chase such things seem to enjoy it, though, pigeon farts and all. 8)

I am among a growing number of people who have pointed out that today’s civilizations are so contrary to actual human nature that they are hardly sustainable.

Yah? Which nature? The forager one or the farmer one? From what I’ve seen, our industrial world is bringing us back toward our forager nature by enriching us to the point that we aren’t subsistence living anymore. Billions of us instead of a few million before the ice melted. I don’t think it is really the technology. It is the wealth and income the common man now wields. Billions of us.

…Denmark…

Ah. I should read ahead more. Yah. Forager nature without the forager’s problems. And wealth buys technology which begets democratization of skills.

50% of the general population suffers from some form of clinical depression or anxiety disorder.

Only 50%? I’d bet everything I could and leverage myself for more cash that our ancestors from 6000 years ago suffered a MUCH higher percentage. In the early farming era food quality sucked and life expectancy dropped so much that non-first-born sons stood a significantly reduced chance of ever having children. Daughters got owned by the strongest males who DID manage to survive. These were the early days of hierarchy and our ancestors would have experienced the strongest clash with their forager instincts. A couple of millennia later, after the strong have survived, we would have had mixed instincts.

So… only 50%? In a world with expanding technology and growing incomes? Okay. Something worked then and not in the marginal sense. What though? 8)

My recent pleasure is to play the role of an amateur penicillium mold and simply be. You appear to be doing something similar, but of a different strain. Bravo! 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | The better we come to understand both our inheritance and our current circumstances, and how mismatched they are, the more inexcusable it becomes to sit on our collective hands, shrug our cultural shoulders and not make the effort.

Yup. I'm applauding. Definitely try to do better and persuade the people around you to get off their collective hands. If they act on what they know, whether they coordinate or not, things WILL improve. If you read Clay Shirky's book on cognitive surplus, you'll see there is a lot of power to be exercised by people getting off their hands.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I have known a lot of people who value human beings solely in monetary terms. It wasn't the religious loonies I grew up with - they valued people based on what church they went to - but the politically-oriented people I grew up with, even beyond my college years, got to be pretty explicit about it. One of my oldest friends was working in a warehouse when I used to game with him and is now the VP of division with a major manufacturing company, and the things he says are pretty blatant. These types don't represent the majority for sure, but their memes have a level of respectability that they use them with great efficacy to sway votes and courts and most especially employees.

Which nature? 6000 years of civilization is certainly enough time to make a few tweaks, but by and large human nature is at base band, not farm. It's not that I see the prehistoric past as some golden utopia, but there are many aspects of how band-level societies live that is a whole lot better than what we have been doing for the last 6000 years. And that is a situation that has improved quite a bit in the last century in some ways - but has gotten worse in others. Locum's deeply ignorant rants about how rural farmers are so superior to urban people is misguided but understandable in the sense that few people have the faintest clue about how human nature was made, so if they are inclined to romanticize the past they go back to what they know, which for the US mostly means "Little House on the Prairie." Farming communities often do a whole lot better in terms of meeting the human need for community than our urban lifestyles often do.

Much of what you are saying here is standard-issue anthropology and archaeology - though some goes beyond the Anth 101 level. I'll see your book recommendation and raise you an anthropologist. This one is not quite old enough to be a classic, but it makes some very important points about the evolution of societies, adaptation and the myths we have about them - mostly debunking the Noble Savage myth, but also very much taking on the naive idea that everything we do must be adaptive because we haven't gone extinct yet (and if Donzelion is reading this, it goes directly to what you said about maladaptive behaviors in human societies, so if you have the time and can find it in a local library you might want to take a peek). It's called "Sick Societies" by Robert Edgerton - one of those academic anthropologists who Pinker erroneously lumps together in the category of myth promoters.

Hopefully I have assuaged your fears that I am dead set against something you take very seriously. I'm dead set against its more extreme manifestations. But I know I can run off at the mouth (the keyboard?) sometimes.

Paul SB said...

Btw: Lactobacter bulgaricus is one of my favorites, but I doubt I'm that useful, much less penicillium.

Paul SB said...

And being even less useful than a lactobacter, I forgot to include the link to Amazon for that book...

https://www.amazon.com/Sick-Societies-Challenging-Primitive-Harmony/dp/0029089255/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1495678341&sr=1-1&keywords=sick+societies

My poor memory probably contributes a bit to Dr. Brin's blog getting upward of 100 comments/thread regularly.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Bankrupt companies ARE valued by some people. I know a guy who bought one simply because it already had done the paperwork to be traded publicly in New York. He paid off the small debt it owed and then did a reverse merger taking his company into it. Poof. He could now legally trade in public.


It's bedtime in Chicago, but I'll leave you with the thought that your anecdote speaks to my point. Your guy there didn't buy stock in the bankrupt property because he thought he could sell it at a profit. He bought it because it had some utility for him. That utility is what he bought the stock for. That's exactly what I mean by a value independent of sale price.

LarryHart said...

BTW, if you haven't yet heard, a Republican candidate for a special House seat election in Montana physically attacked a reporter for The Guardian because he's tired of reporters asking him questions he doesn't want to answer.

No doubt, his voters are gratified that he has the balls to attack a liberal reporter. The equivalent of Donald Trump's "shooting someone on Fifth Avenue". I doubt he'll lose the election because of that, but it does tell us what we already know about the Republicans.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul SB - Alfred

I agree with Alfred about early human society - but I will go further the "Bands" that were the norm until agriculture would actually have been horrible to live in

I base this on the murder rate - with some bands having half of all deaths by violence

Can you think about living in a society with that sort of violence?

What level of depression would be normal in such a society??

David Brin said...

Wow. I have the most elevated comment community (as well as one of the oldest) on the web!

Though donzelion, did it occur to you that every trick you ascribe to real estate manipulative tycoons could also be aplied to the last 40 years of Saudi princes?

Alfred said: “Only 50%? I’d bet everything I could and leverage myself for more cash that our ancestors from 6000 years ago suffered a MUCH higher percentage. In the early farming era food quality sucked and life expectancy dropped so much that non-first-born sons stood a significantly reduced chance of ever having children. Daughters got owned by the strongest males who DID manage to survive. These were the early days of hierarchy and our ancestors would have experienced the strongest clash with their forager instincts. A couple of millennia later, after the strong have survived, we would have had mixed instincts.”

There’s so much here. Insightful but at least partly wrong. 1- depression can be based on “relative” sense of well being. If all you’ve known is grinding poverty, then during the seven good years you might be very happy in slightly less grindingness. Women have long had to adapt to conditions where there were zero options. If they could find islands of kindness… friends, a non-hateful mother in law, a husband who wanted he advice and friendship, along with obedience, then they found strength to endure, and seldom had time to wallow in depression.

2- I doubt we have become a lot more accepting of dominance. Yes, rebels were often killed. But we are all descended from the harems of the arrogant ones who fought for the top and won. So that trait runs through our fantasies, even when we are otherwise vapid-dreamy wannabes… like Treebeard.

Paul SB said...

Okay, one last shot before nightie-night time.

Duncan,
Be careful about overly broad generalizations based on archaeological data. Having worked in that capacity I can tell you that they all know how incomplete the archaeological record is, so the scientific notion of the tentativeness of hypotheses stings extra sharp in that field. I have seen the kind of data those violence estimates are based on, and they are pretty tentative. On a practical level, they can't just say "need more data" forever and have to try to say something meaningful to justify their existence, of course. If you can't even reach a hesitant conclusion then you have outlived your usefulness. So were 50% of deaths in band-level societies due to violence? Probably in some, but not in others. The nature of the environment and the extent to which they are taxing their natural resources has a lot to do with it. Among modern bands you have only a few that reach levels even close to that high. You would have a great point if we could trust the estimates more.

Alfred,
I haven't seen the meta-data on the WHO report, so I can't guess at the reliability of their estimates. The roughly 20% hospitalization/medication rate and the extent to which it leads to depression are based on actual stats like hospital admissions, though. It might turn out to be more, it might turn out to be less. I have made the same point Dr. Brin just made about the relative nature of wealth/poverty, though in a somewhat different context. Brains don't think in absolute numbers, they are better equipped to act as comparison machines.

Dr. Brin,
A word of caution on your harem descendant argument. If this were entirely true, and entirely genetic, then what we would see would be the majority of people of both sexes having predominantly testosterone-driven temperaments. But that is not what Fisher found in her data. With four possibilities, the t-type only came up in 18% of cases, less than 25% and a whole lot less than a majority. There are a number of factors that can explain this. One is that while people are born with different base levels of all their neurochemicals, the actual levels in any brain at any given moment can vary radically over time, so a person in a highly stressful social environment that rewards competitiveness would likely have their average t-level much higher than their genetic base. Another factor would be the high mortality rate among those who have high t levels. Today males between ages 16-24 are far more likely to die in accidents or from violence than any other demographic, because high t levels frequently drive dangerously stupid behavior. Then there is the issue of methylation, which is something that has not been explored a whole lot (so far as I know - you can take that for what it's worth). But what is likely to be the main consideration is that regardless of who our ancestors were, most people learn to get along without becoming dangerously aggressive for many good reasons. Competition is good under certain circumstances, but people who are too aggressive will tend to become aggressive in inappropriate context and pay large social costs for it. Many small-scale cultures have rituals designed to "deactivate" the aggressions of warriors returning home from victory, because if they keep acting like warriors at home they end up killing their friends and families. Today that usually means prison. Sustainability requires a balance of temperament types, and all over the world that is what we see.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul SB

yes the 50% levels were probably at the high end (very high end) - but even the low end is insanely high by modern standards

The USA is high for a peaceful society at 4/100,000 (per year) - with 100,000 people we would expect 2,000 deaths per year - if 50% were murder that would be 1000

So a "nicer" hunter gatherer society with 1/10th the rate would still be 25 times as violent as the USA

When we are talking about a band of 100 people a single murder in a generation would be a rate 10 times as high as the USA

And I don't believe any of the "bands" studied have murder rates that low

Our cousins the Chimps also have much higher murder rates

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | These types don't represent the majority for sure, but their memes have a level of respectability that they use them with great efficacy to sway votes and courts and most especially employees.

That's why I think it is useful to learn to role play a penicillium mold. Make the memescape around you toxic to those ideas and don't sweat the larger environment. If YOUR memes reproduce enough, that will be enough... eventually. The slow approach again.

I don't know if I grew up around nicer people than you or if the ones who weren't chose not to tolerate me and selected to be out of range... or maybe I did. I can recall only a couple of managers who did things I saw as highly abusive. One I challenged directly and her boss had to intervene. The other I was able to screen out because there was a manager between me and her. Heh. Okay. Both were women. I'm probably going to get into trouble for that, but I've worked for many, many people over the years. A few of them were decent and many were clowns. The clown gender ratio is about 50/50. It has been very rare that I couldn't figure out how to work with any of them... even the clowns. My t-levels don't completely dominate me. 8)

I'm with you on us being mostly band-types in our instincts. If the tweaks from the Y-chromosome bottleneck are in us, I suspect they are focused on how males compete with each other and how women respond to overly aggressive men. They'd be in the probabilities for how often younger men chose to challenge or sneak past older men and in how attractive/non-attractive aggressive men were to women. Low quality grain and destruction of our teeth at an early age would have placed a selection pressure against second and third sons reproducing. Older sons might still have fathers around as they reach maturity. Still, the roughly 4000 year span for the bottleneck wouldn't defeat a million year span of axe wielding, foraging ancestors or even the shorter 4000(?) generation span on our trading ancestors.

Regarding little houses on prairies, I spent a couple years living in North Dakota during the 70's. There is nothing romantic about the prairie or growing up in a sod hut. I met a very old lady who had done it. She was still quite strong, but her stories made it clear the weak simply didn't make it. Thus, the strength I saw in her was due to a selection bias. I knew then that I wouldn't have made it past my fifth birthday.

Sure. I'll go look up Edgerton. I'm not a believer in the noble savage myth, but I have room on my social studies shelves.

I'm dead set against its more extreme manifestations.

Okay. I'm hyperparanoid about screwing the pooch because it is the only thing that seems to work reliably. I'll risk the occasional extreme, but I'm okay with you not being so willing. All of you, actually.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Larry Hart:
Yeah, Ben Jacobs is the reporter. Noted for his depth and courage on a paper noted for high standards.
I happened to catch an exchange between Gianforte (the cowardly Republican thug) and Jacobs from a few days before. Gianforte either didn't know who Jacobs was, or feigned not knowing, something unlikely since he had broken the story a few days before about hidden financials ties of a quarter million dollars between Gianforte and the Russians.
"What paper are you with?"
"I'm with the Guardian."
"That English paper. OK, I'm going to go talk to these Americans over here."
You could see the hostility just bristling off Gianforte. I wondered then if there was something more than simple jingoistic bigotry going on.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | Okay. I'll have to contemplate the relative sense of well being idea. I encountered the 'manufactured happiness' idea years ago that says we make it and it grew on me over time. I could see people managing. Sounds like there is a flip side to it. I'm skeptical, but I'll look.

That our ancestors didn't have time to wallow is something I used to believe until I tried a naive surplus time argument on Paul SB a while back. He shot it full of holes by pointing out that band-living humans probably DID have surplus time. It's the later farmers who didn't, possibly because early grain variants made for low quality food. So, perhaps during the bottleneck era the women didn't have time to reflect on their condition, but I suspect their ancestors did.

Regarding harems, I'm sure there is some truth to that. I suspect it is also the case that we are all descended from first sons who still had fathers around to help ensure they had the skills to compete with other aggressive males. Later sons would have had to fend for themselves more often in a farming world where the average lifespan dipped below 30.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | If you are looking for a utility 'function', your co-worker gave you one. His error was in thinking it applied broadly, but it is a common error among growth investors.

The guy who bought that company did plan to sell it some day (so he said), but only after he bundled it with his and grew it enough to attract more investors. If you remember SpaceShipOne, you've seen his company's product, but he has moved on. Rocket motors.

He gave us another lesson later in how not to tango with the SEC. 8)

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

Except for your second to last statement, you are basically paraphrasing Richard B. Lee, whose career centered around studying one of the more peaceful of h/g cultures known. But their estimated murder rate is based on a single event of a few generations ago (approximately the 1920s) - the actual population numbers are small enough that three murders in a generation may only represent a statistical fluke. But that's just one culture in one specific environment. In the more violent ones you could expect higher rates of mental illness - and the nasty thing about mental illness is that in close quarters it will breed more mental illness. Nonetheless, psychology and neuroscience have pretty effectively shown that most of the behavioral patterns we see in h/gs are EXACTLY the behavioral patterns that make healthy humans across the board. Community, self-esteem, near-constant attention from peers, sense of purpose in life, short- to medium-term stressors (eustress), a cooperation/competition balance that overwhelmingly favors cooperation, physical exercise, low carb/high fruit & vegetable diets supplemented with meats, and a life spent outdoors in the sun. Civilization has been very bad on all of those fronts. I'm sure there are some h/g cultures that would have sucked to live in, but when the world was underpopulated with humans, it was easy enough to support the podological vote, groups splitting off from those that have been taken over by overly aggressive types. Today the world is so crowded that, while institutions like police forces keep the violence down, it is very hard to escape from the most toxic members of society because they are the ones who end up in charge, with the right and the inclination to take people livelihoods away.

Alfred claims to have only had 2 toxic managers in his life. If so he is far more fortunate than a majority of people.

Alfred,

"Make the memescape around you toxic to those ideas and don't sweat the larger environment."

I grew up seeing the few counter culture types driving with bumpers emblazoned with "Think Globally, Act Locally." You have the second half down, I probably get my stress hormones up too high over the first.

"It's the later farmers who didn't, possibly because early grain variants made for low quality food."

Grain processing is incredibly labor intensive by comparison to hunting and gathering. The average h/g spends 10 hours a week working, and that is not just gathering and processing food, it includes things like tool curation, building shelters and so forth. The average farmer works as many hours in a day as h/gs do in a week. Osteologists easily identify farmers vs. h/gs. The farmers are shorter, their long bones have striations that show stunted growth due to a lack of protein in the diet, and their joints are full of arthritic sessions, especially in the knees because they spent so many hours of their lives on their knees grinding grain. Modern, mechanized farming is a walk in the park by comparison, but how many farmers are around who are old enough to remember what life was like before tractors? This laborious lifestyle necessitates much higher reproduction, but it also facilitates it because the crops are more storable, making it more likely that a community (though not necessarily an individual) will survive a famine year.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "Though donzelion, did it occur to you that every trick you ascribe to real estate manipulative tycoons could also be applied to the last 40 years of Saudi princes?"

Absolutely. And if your criticism of the royal family focused on feudalism - rather than misconstruing connections between their feudalists and our own, or guessing about links overseas that exist quite differently than you've guessed - I would nod along and could, in some instances, even expand on it. They are, in my view, neither good nor evil feudal lords - they're just feudalists, no better and no worse than any other.

Capitalism tends to not utilize the same sorts of moves to block and destroy 'enemy capital' that feudalism does to block and destroy 'enemy allegiance networks.' Capital is 'reasonably' transferable - personal allegiances are not. Investors may move their money to wherever it will yield the best returns - an investor in one bank does not perceive other banks as 'enemies'; feudalists cannot. Thus, feudalists seldom invest into productivity enhancements, as they tend to lose the benefit of that investment compared to rival feudalists who invested into allegiance networks (at lower cost, at least initially).

Darrell E said...

Paul SB said...

"The average h/g spends 10 hours a week working, and that is not just gathering and processing food, it includes things like tool curation, building shelters and so forth."

Caveat, I am not an expert in any field relevant to this topic, but from what I have learned about it over the years as a curious amateur this is not likely to be accurate. Even Sahlin, one of the first and most enthusiastic anthropologists to champion h/g societies as being affluent, didn't push that low of a figure. Sahlin, working with data gathered by observing currently extant h/g groups, claimed about 15-20 hours per week, and that figure most certainly was not all inclusive but only included the time required to hunt and gather enough food to live. Calculations by others using the same data but including just the additional time spent on preparing food were over 40 hours per week.

Heck, I'd be hard pressed to spend only 10 hours a week just gathering food for myself even if it was all in my pantry and refrigerator already.

Additionally, the view of h/g societies as affluent is not a strong consensus in the relevant professional fields from what I can tell. It seems pretty clear that the wider consensus among anthropologists and archaeologists is that the data supports that in h/g societies warfare was the norm, disease was a significant problem, infant mortality was very high and resource limitations, including food, was a typical state of affairs.

David Brin said...

donzelion said “They are, in my view, neither good nor evil feudal lords - they're just feudalists, no better and no worse than any other.”

Yipe! They have trillions and hence are the most empowered feudalists. They are spectacularly well-educated and empowered to buy consultant boffins in any subject. They are extreme nostalgist-romantics and religious fanatics. They have refused nobless-oblige charity to their own fellow arabs, forcing millions of palestinians never to resettle, but to stay cramped in camps, for generations. They admit zero refugees of any kind. Their textbooks preach holocaust.

No, they are not typical feudalists.

David Brin said...

I'm not really sure what to make of this. Although I've been speaking and writing about AI a lot, and have had positive feedback from good thinkers, this particular influence appraisal still seems kinda weird. By a graduate student, not anyone official. Still... it's good to be able to spread ideas on a critical topic.


Artificial Intelligence: Top 100 Influencers, Brands and Publications 2017

http://www.onalytica.com/blog/posts/artificial-intelligence-2017-top-100-influencers-brands-and-publications/

A.F. Rey said...

Sociotard, my wife came up with VAPID while looking me in the eye! I had written PAIVD!

Remind me not to play Scrabble against her. :)

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | feudalists seldom invest into productivity enhancements

I suspect that is the error the bourgeois Dutch ‘capitalized’ upon with the Hapsburgs long ago and is the key reason feudalists have done relatively poorly since then. Prudence appears to mean something a little different to each group.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | Upon further reflection, I can think of one other manager that might have been toxic, but I was just a temp worker and after what I thought was a reasonable attempt to work with him, I went back to my actual employer and suggested they pull me out of there before I said what I thought of the guy. I was told not to return there the next morning and that they would take care of it. A couple days later, they also found me a different temp job. It was a rather mindless job, but so was the other one.

I take equality seriously. If someone treats me like an inferior, I will usually cut them out of my life. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. It’s risky, but very easy. Kinda like shunning.

Whether h/g’s spent 10 hours a week or 20 hours, you still blew big gaping holes in two chapters of a book I was writing. Heh. I’ve had to do a lot of reading since then. I’m left wondering why in the world my ancestors chose farming at all. The best I can figure is that climate change after the ice melted left them little choice. Maybe they would have had to move too far? I don’t know. Reproducing bushels of kids to match the bushels of grain doesn’t strike me as a reason. It sounds more like an effect to some cause I don’t yet know.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "[Saudis] have trillions and hence are the most empowered feudalists."
Feudal power is measured more by allegiances than wealth; you cannot measure feudal power using capitalist tools. If they COULD operate capital the way capital ordinarily operates, then indeed, they would be enormously powerful. They cannot, but there are moves afoot to start trying (e.g., creating an actual sovereign wealth fund, like the Kuwaitis and Emiratis, and the IPO float for Aramco).

"They are spectacularly well-educated and empowered to buy consultant boffins in any subject. They are extreme nostalgist-romantics and religious fanatics."
There is a wide variety in personality - some romantics, some pragmatic, some enlightened, some less so. Their money in Silicon Valley in particular is both romantic and purely capitalist.

But whatever their personalities, the system in which they live and operate is far more important. An absolute monarchy, under pressure to develop - with one set of pressures leading toward persistent feudalism, another toward capitalism.

"They have refused noblesse-oblige charity to their own fellow arabs..."
That is simply, flagrantly inaccurate.

You might start research on this subject by looking at the primary financiers for the UNRWA (hardly a Wahhabist institution), the Hariri clan in Lebanon (hardly Wahhabist), Fatah (Hamas initially received more backing from Iran - the Saudis despised their Muslim Brotherhood sympathies). Go a little further, and you'll find the housing and resettlement projects in Jordan (primarily)...and more. Again, feudalism operates through allegiance networks: you'll find precious few of the enterprises are publicly floated, and precious few of the projects paid for by a community (when they are paid for at all).

"Their textbooks preach holocaust."
I've linked to the work of USCIRF before; sadly, a fair number of that staff is likely to be cut by Tillerson/Trump (or sidelined through a spoils system). It's sad though that the experts are already ignored (even by folks like you who generally favor expertise and support the work of intelligence agencies) - Trump's (and Netanyahu's) people prefer propaganda. Easier to control domestic constituencies and drive them to take harmful (idiotic) actions when no one can contradict their preferred line.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I’m left wondering why in the world my ancestors chose farming at all. The best I can figure is that climate change after the ice melted left them little choice. Maybe they would have had to move too far? I don’t know. Reproducing bushels of kids to match the bushels of grain doesn’t strike me as a reason. It sounds more like an effect to some cause I don’t yet know.


In the 1980s, I read a book called "Entropy"--I'm sure there are dozens of books by that name and I couldn't tell you who wrote it at this late date--which posited that all radical "advances" to human lifestyles happened because the old way was exhausted and people had no choice but to try something new. The thesis of the book was that each new "advance" was actually less efficient than what it replaced. Two big examples that I can remember were Europe going from wood-burning to coal-burning and the change from hunter/gatherer to agriculture.

One issue I did take with the author was when he talked about decreasing efficiency, he was talking strictly and clinically about energy usage. When he mentioned that slavery is actually more efficient than mechanization, I had to answer in my head, "more efficient for whom?" I see "not having to enslave human beings" to be a good in its own right, even if the method costs energy.

Alfred Differ said...

If I understand the influencer model describe, it means you are being used as a social hub by many people who tweet. Whether everyone agrees with you or not, they are paying attention enough for the model to see that they are.

Is Epocene your corporate name?

Zepp Jamieson said...

Weird. You're at the centre of the web in one, and don't even appear in the other. And Stephen Hawkin is in neither. You are an influential voice, even without the puns around words that have a long 'a' in them.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

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