Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Does philanthropy play a role in making bright futures?


Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the big picture. Like "what will it take to create a civilization that's truly worthy of the name? One that might be much better than ours, because we planted seeds to make it so?"  

It can happen! Every single day, more than 200,000 human beings exit grinding poverty and another 200,000 or so depart mere poverty and enter something that could be called "lower middle class," with electricity, potable water, a safe roof and kids in school. That's every day, so clearly some combination of efforts by entrepreneurs, governments and donors can work... just not fast enough. There's always a desperate need to speed things up.

Yesterday I had lunch with Keith Kegley, who has helped develop Social Venture Partners into a dynamo in the philanthropic world, by guiding groups, NGOs, and individuals to invest in ongoing enterprises that do good -- many of them while at least breaking even, or perhaps making enough money to plow back into more positive sum activities.  SVP has 3000+ partners, from Boston to Bangalore.  Great, world-changing work, Keith.

I've been writing about philanthropy for twenty years. The most important pair of concepts I've pushed deal with two ends of the giving spectrum... 

   ...how to convince zillionaires to get more involved... 

   ...and how each middle class citizen can maximize impact to help save the world, according to her or his own, quirky standards. A method that's inexpensive and so easy it might even be called lazy, but that lets you check off boxes -- "I want someone to deal with that... and that" -- so each year you can confirm: "I'm one of the good people, not part of the problem."

We'll return to both of those concepts in a bit. But first...

== (Almost) the world's most successful entrepreneur weighs in ==

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos stirred a lot of discussion with his tweeted request for ideas/suggestions for how to do well-targeted philanthropy.  A great question! Here's my tweet response: 

"Jeff, years ago we spoke of getting ALL zillionaires to do this. e.g. via a catalog of pre-vetted projects."

Here's a more extended answer that I sent by email:

Jeff, you may recall how once, over dinner, we discussed my paper about a core problem (and solution) for philanthropy. 

- Host a series of fascinating meetings, asking top visionaries and practical solvers to create a list of projects needed by the world and by people -- a catalog that's pre-vetted for plausibility.

- That catalog would make a great book, inspiring folks to look at ambitious projects. (Some with long range profit potential.)

- The meetings, arguments and vetting could make a great TV series! That, by itself, might do good, even when a project is rejected.

- If just two or three other well-off families were inspired to take on a catalogued project, the multiplier effect could be huge.

I'll discuss this "EON" concept a little more, below. But first, some illustrations of how seriously some folks take the need to prod at the definitions of "giving."

== Philanthropic Innovation ==


Michael J. Totten and Brian C. Anderson discuss the rising homelessness facing Portland, Oregon. Within their dialogue they discuss Dignity Village, an informal homeless “city” democratically organized by residents and privately maintained. Over time, the village evolved from a typical homeless camp to a neighborhood of tiny homes. The village prohibits drug use and self-regulates its membership while requiring no tax-payer funds.


Along similar lines, Nolan Gray elevates our view of trailer parks by highlighting how they represent one of the last market-based, low-income housing solutions. Moreover, Gray explains, these neighborhoods bear aspects of traditional urban design as well as a blend of individual choice and private governance. While not failing to recognize their inherent challenges, Gray brings the virtues of spontaneous community order into focus.

These articles, published by my friends at the Philanthropic Enterprise, represent the last, fading glimmers of grownup, generously positive-thinking conservatism, extolling the benefits of self-organizing communities that do not wait for largesse from cumbersome governments.  

By the way, that spirit is also expressed by author Brenda Cooper in her story “Streetlife in the Emerald City,” in our recent anthology, Chasing Shadows.

Alas, it will be more plausible to listen to the well-meaning Philanthropic Enterprise folks when we finally hear them admit: 

Yes, 90% of the U.S. right has gone stark, jabbering, treasonously insane and this resurgent confederacy must be defeated. But, while we join all decent Americans in thwarting the fox-feudalist lunacy, we’ll also nurse the embers of a decent, not-socialist tomorrow.”

(Okay, I won't insist on exactly those words. How about just: "Supply side never worked. And Rupert Murdoch has deeply harmed American conservatism. And let's oppose feudalism as vigorously as we oppose Big Brother government."  I'll settle for that.)


But let's get back to the big picture. Is the world improvable by human intervention? 

== Perspective ==


Nostalgia is a condition that all humans produce, often evoking either pain or pleasure, or both. 

It can also be one of the “addictive mental states” that I’ve written about, which trigger chemical releases that become compulsory.  

Not all addictive mental states are unwholesome! We are addicts to our kids, love, friendship and the exercise of profound skill.  Others, like sanctimony and rage, can be as driving and as destructive as heroin. See: Indignation, addiction and hope: Does it help to be 'mad as hell?'

Nostalgia's debilitating effects are more subtle than rage-addiction. But it can be almost as deeply harmful, undermining our confidence that problems can be solved with goodwill, pragmatism, negotiation and belied that our parents and grandparents weren't fools. They believed in us and we can prove them to have been right.

Ah, but there's another mental disease. One that is closely related to nostalgia.


== Romantics could be the death of us ==

People keep asking me why -- given that the most noxiously dangerous madness is currently on the political right -- I keep reminding folks to also keep a way eye on the far-left. The reason is simple. 

Romanticism should stick to novels, poems and movies. In politics it turns deadly and generally does evil.

Take just one trait that nearly all zero-sum, romantic-transcendentalist-dogmatists share. That trait is TELEOLOGY. A tendency to assume that history has a predictable pattern that it is destined to follow. (Bear in mind, below, that I actually quite despise the so-called "left-right political axis" -- a metaphor that is lobotomizing, dumb, inaccurate and misleading; but we must use it because so many romantics self-define that way.)

Simplistically-speaking: leftists tend to believe that history has a direction, toward upward progress that's unstoppable. They almost never contemplate the implications, but they do believe in upward teleology.

Rightists tend to glom onto different versions of teleology -- generally "cyclical history."  They often declare that civilization is fated to rise and fall, going back well before Oswald Spengler's infamously stupid screed "The Decline of the West," and Hitler's loony Horbigger Cult of cyclical falling moons and so on. See also the dumb and easily-refuted "Tytler Calumny" that rightists use to slander democracy. And the more recent alluring incantation called the "Fourth Turning."

It doesn't matter that professional historians, statisticians and others who actually seek such patterns never, ever find them. Both teleologies are purely incantations, designed to flatter the believer's biases.  

The leftist gets to murmur: "we shall overcome, no matter how many troops the Czar has!"

The rightist gets to mutter: "No matter how much so-called "progress" you bastard reformers make, it will inevitably get trashed and go to hell!"

Different dreams but the same romantic-teleological twaddle.

How does this relate to philanthropy?

Because generosity to the poor -- or the planet -- has grown up a bit and become fixed on outcomes rather than the old emphasis -- benefiting the soul of the giver. Both romantic mythologies -- focused on either inevitability or futility -- stab at the thing that is making all the difference in the world: pragmatically vigorous reform. Negotiated and practical action. Vigorously confident belief in both a commons and entrepreneurship. 

Awareness that the odds have always been stacked against this enlightenment renaissance. But determination to make a whole new path for history, despite the impediments of romantic fools.

-----------------

== Related Miscellany ==

Clear-eyed examination of the guilty past can find both cause for reflective regret and also surprising glimpses of decency, as people adapt to change. This moving little piece tells one such tale.

Vaclav Vincalek has an interesting series of podcasts on information, data, programming and such.

All right, one admits to mixed feelings about this video, combining admiration with outrage. With appreciation of precocious competence!  

54 comments:

LarryHart said...

Alaistair Morely in the previous post:

To our American friends; Happy Independence Day, from Great Britain.

It didn't turn out too badly, in the end.


I often thought that WWII was when Britain's investment in North America paid off with interest.

No hard feelings, I hope.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Jumper what Athenian rebuttal is that? I cannot find that Snopes refuted the Tytler thing explicitly.

Jumper said...

"Thanks for the refresh of the Tytler calumny." That part's true! Yes, I erred. The Snopes coverage is still handy. Just not further

Mark said...

I have a lot of self-described Leftist friends on-line and I doubt a single one of them would agree with the idea that things are guaranteed to get better. Sure, Marx himself thought that way and perhaps Leftists used to think that way, but if so, the post-Reagan era knocked that belief out of them completely. Do you honestly still find people who believe that beyond the ones who are still optimistic?

locumranch said...


Optimism is a delusion.

Philanthropy has a sordid history, being the 'go to' excuse for every ethnocentric empire builder, conqueror & slaver who sets out to 'improve', 'uplift' and 'civilise' the inferior races for THEIR OWN GOOD. From the sheer brutality of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo, Stalin's Gulags & KR's Killing Fields to the petty 'do-goodism' of the 18th Amendment, the 'War on Drugs' & Diversity INC, the Philanthropic Excuse has been used to justify many of the criminal actions & atrocities* committed in the name of Progress.

'Those poor Aboriginals (choose one) are no better than animals,' says the Do-Gooder, 'Let's show them proper etiquette, teach them to be ashamed of their naughty bits, force them to wear city clothes, relocate them, make them to labour for wages (on our behalf) & send their children away to Aboriginal Boarding schools for reeducation, all for THEIR OWN GOOD, in order to remake them into awkward imitations of their (cough cough) benefactors & social betters.

Likewise, the parallels between David's Uplift series & Well's 'Island of Dr. Moreau' are striking as (1) both assume that humans are superior to animals, (2) both attempt to remake the inferior animal into imitation humans, (3) both use science to achieve these ends, (4) both enact arbitrary rules to force 'improvement' upon the designated inferior, (5) both correct savagery (and/or inhuman error) at an arbitrary 'House of Pain', and (6) both insist that the abuses inflicted upon these animals are for THEIR OWN GOOD.

How can this NOT end well for all concerned? After all, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has a 'vested interest' in supporting strong labour laws, local industries and Mom & Pop brick-n-mortar stores; Homelessness people want to branded with blue identity tattoos (or chipped like livestock), herded into self-contained 'Dignity Villages' & 'deloused' for THEIR OWN GOOD (the homeless 'Final Solution', no doubt); and Nolan Gray elevates our view of trailer parks so the disposable poor will realise how gosh-darned 'lucky' & 'progressive' they are to live in cheap substandard mandatory housing. NOT !!!!!

(cont)

locumranch said...

From the last thread:

I can excuse Catfish's misspelling of the germanic term 'esel' & the frenchified 'peine', but I cannot excuse his progressive arrogance. I did not 'vote' for him; he is not my king; I am under no obligation to validate his benevolent intentions; I do not exist to serve his collective; and he is no position to reallocate my individual labours (as he sees fit) for the benefit of some greater good. 'For MY OWN GOOD', he says he acts, claiming to act philanthropically on my behalf!! (Please re-read first paragraph on philanthropy above)

Lastly, as commanded, this 'Esel' again rebukes Larry_H for his 'The Dead Zone' presidential assassination jest, a laugh-riot that, as hilarious as referring to Obama as 'Strange Fruit' or Johnny Depp's recent validation of John Wilkes Booth. Almost as funny-sad as his superficial knowledge of history:

For when they (The British) came for the American colonists, the American colonists shot them. The French revolutionaries created a bloody 'Reign of Terror' after they came for the Bastille prisoners; the British slaughtered untold millions when they came for India (until they were driven out by Hindus & Muslims intent on slaughtering each other); NATO came for the Warsaw Pact with a nuclear arms race that led to economic collapse; and the Black South Africans have all but cleansed the few remaining whites.

The 'horrors of freedom' are that Freedom** is always written in blood.


Best
______
* Funny how you can't have an 'atrocity' without a 'city'.
**There is no Tytler calumny here, just horticulture, as the Tree of Liberty requires periodic watering with the blood of scoundrels & patriots.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
As a "Lefty" I do think that our overall progress has been "upwards" and that I would bet that it will continue to move upwards (with the odd "Trump/Bump on the way") but I would NOT say that it is inevitable!
And I will continue to do anything that I can to keep us moving upwards

Looking backwards -
Economically we are not as far ahead as I had expected us to be by now, the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal nonsense has cost us a few decades
But in every other way we are doing at least as well if not a LOT better than I expected

The whole knowledge economy
The Fall of the USSR
"The Better Angels of our Nature"
The "Population Explosion" turning into a dud
The continued existence of Whales

Overall I think we are significantly beating even an optimistic view from the 60's and 70's




Jumper said...

Doomerism is the vice of zero-sum thinking, and has infected the left as well. By considering doom inevitable they make amelioration less and less possible. More expensive. It seems to also make it easier for those psychotic types who desire catastrophe to blend in. I would out them whenever possible.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Lastly, as commanded, this 'Esel' again rebukes Larry_H for his 'The Dead Zone' presidential assassination jest,


Jesus H Christ! My reference to "The Dead Zone" was to warn someone who was hinky about a Dominionist in the White House to perhaps avoid a movie in which a presidential candidate is revealed as a Dominionist who dreams of starting a nuclear exchange in order to end civilization. I wasn't even thinking about the fact that that presidential candidate was (unsuccessfully) shot at. And even if I was, my particular comment would not have made sense in that context.

Do you even take personal history and reputation into account when you interpret and judge people's comments? /rhetorical

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

I do not exist to serve his collective; and he is no position to reallocate my individual labours (as he sees fit) for the benefit of some greater good...


What kind of strange conservative argument are you making here? That a coal miner has a God-given right to mine coal whether or not any employer finds it worth paying for that service? Are you asserting that society owes said coal miner a purple wage in place of his trade being worth something to an employer? If so, then welcome to the Democratic Party. But somehow, I don't think that's your point. I honestly don't see what is, though, other than a reflexive tantrum against anything a liberal says.

LarryHart said...

From today's www.electoral-vote.com :


There have been rumors that Donald Trump will visit the U.K. on his trip to Europe when he goes to France to celebrate Bastille Day.


I wonder if Trump understands that Bastille Day celebrates the fall of the Bastille, not the institution of the prison itself.

David Brin said...

LH---- he's not even making any actual arguments, anymore. He's just reflexively taking positive things and yowling that they are identical to the negative things that they are meant to oppose. It's a reflex, like tickling the legs of a dead frog.

Oh, yelling "That thing is its opposite!" can be true maybe 0.01% of the time and worth remarking! But poor locum has turned it into a catechism. A schoolyard putz yelling "spaz!" at everyone and everything. ah ... well.

Twominds said...

Dr. Brin:

with electricity, potable water, a safe roof and kids in school.

This describes my brothers´ in-laws´ situation, they´re a black South African family. Still, I wouldn´t call them "lower middle class", but "poor".

I think in a definiton of lower middle class something else should be present: reasonable economic security, in that either a job would be more or less secure, or that it would be not too much of a struggle to go from job to job. If one mishap would set a family back for decades, I wouldn´t call their situation lower middle class.

LarryHart said...

@Twominds,

Your condition for "middle class" also applies to the health care debate. When Republicans talk about people being happy with their current coverage, they're not taking into account the fact that most of that coverage is tied to a particular job, and is in danger of disappearing in an instant. The benefit of Obamacare (or a possible replacement like Single Payer) is not just in the coverage it provides at the moment, but in the fact that coverage is available when you lose a job, and that you are free to change jobs without losing health coverage. That's a benefit most people don't seem to notice until they're bitten.

Twominds said...

@Larry Hart

Yes, that too. I didn´t think about that because here health care coverage isn´t connected directly to your job. The employer can offer a collective insurance that´s better than the market, or pay for part of it. But you don´t depend on your job for coverage.

Many American poor people do have electricity, potable water, a safe roof and kids in school but aren´t in lower middle class. The more I think about it, the more central `a measure of security´ seems to be a necessary part of the definition.

Twominds said...

Missing colon.

It should be: The more I think about it, the more central `a measure of security´ seems to be: a necessary part of the definition.

Tim Wolter said...

Twominds

The phrase "missing colon" should probably not be used in a discussion on healthcare!

LarryH

I try to follow the doings of Illinois budgetary matters but the smoke is dense and the mirrors numerous. What's really going on?

Tim

Catfish N. Cod said...

@LarryH: I would love to understand more as well. I comprehend that the disaster is due to impasse between the Democratic leg and the Republican governor, and that the pensions and tax systems were mismanaged for a long time previous, but still. They're in a lot worse shape than any neighbors, or comparable states like New York or Massachusetts. What gives?

@all: I address the comparison of the Uplift-verse to "The Island of Doctor Moreau" with actual relish, as it is an apropos and worthy discussion. There are a variety of moral positions apparent in the Upliftverse, with humanity presented as a generally positive but not perfect practitioner of the art of Uplift. The question of imprinting the nature of the patron upon the client is treated as a highly serious matter! Humans try hard *not* to do so at the same rate that Galactics do. Indeed a number of the "villain" races are shown to be at least as abusive, if not more, than Dr. Moreau to his 'patients' -- turning clients into living tools with barely any self-identity or ability; or enslaving their minds to an ideology... that the patrons were likely themselves enslaved to, by their patrons. Humans are horrified and grant clients rights and responsibilities far beyond most clans' actions, but even then some criticism is given by the Chimps and Dolphins, and by some humans, who mourn every bit of individual racial character lost even when it's brutally necessary. [Dolphins may be gorgeous poets and crackerjack navigators, but it's a matter of racial survival as well as practical law that the race be capable of independent starflight.... even if they lose 10% of that precious natural talent as a result.]

Meanwhile, locum is like the Dwarves in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle: literally sitting in Paradise, they insist on such stubborn independence that they collectively hallucinate the miserable stable environment they expect. Presented with flowers, they smell stable litter. They can have joy for the low, low price of an open mind. But a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and they are unwilling to risk the tiniest bit of theirs for anything. Not only that, but anything bad at all is someone else's fault: all while they extol an inward-looking 'community responsibility ethic', to wit, "The Dwarves are for the Dwarves".

I cannot be locum's friend or neighbor. All I can do is defend myself when he takes up arms to slay the demons in his head. If he insists on an identity as an 'Esel', then may he be Puzzle, and find redemption in release from illusion.

Alfred Differ said...

After my surgery last February, I’ve decided to stop using colons for punctuation wherever possible. I’m more into semi-colons now. I broke the news of what I had to do to some of my co-workers this way.
: ---> ;

On a more serious note, though, I think it is a mistake to think of the middle class as economically secure. They are some of the most consistent worriers in history. Aristocrats have little to worry about economically if their income from capital is larger than an average wage. Peasants have little to worry about because there isn’t much they can do about their plight anyway and have few targets for their worry. It is the bourgeoisie that has just enough income to have stuff and not enough income from capital to ensure their base needs. The middle class is food-secure. Sure. They are often roof-secure too. Anyone who worries about their ability to work to earn the income they need for all that, though, isn’t economically secure. They have stuff and they know they could lose it rapidly.

I think a better measure of where we are is to be found relative to the subsistence income of $3/day in modern dollars. A person can survive on that and the vast majority of humanity did just that. Adjust for inflation and do the basket-of-goodies index thing and one can apply it through history as an order-of-magnitude measure of progress. If you earn near that level, you’ll live like most of us lived. If you earn about double or triple that, you’ll live like the average man who lived near the heart of an ancient empire. If you earn about 100x that, you’ll live like an average American if our products can be found in your market.

LarryHart said...

Tim Wolter:

I try to follow the doings of Illinois budgetary matters but the smoke is dense and the mirrors numerous. What's really going on?


Well, if you mean what's going on behind the scenes--who is pulling what strings--I don't have a clue.

I haven't heard any news of the budget today. Up until now, what has happened is that the Illinois House passed a budget that raises taxes back almost to what they were before Rauner (4.95% as opposed to 5%) and finances the state for the first time three years. I'm not entirely clear what that means, but I think it prevents the state from being totally relegated to junk-bond status, although doesn't solve the problem of already-accumulated debt. Because of an already-passed May 31 deadline, the bill required a supermajority to pass, and some Republicans did get on board.

Then, the state Senate passed it with a similar supermajority for the same reason.

Governor Rauner, as expected, vetoed the bill, as he has always insisted that he won't sign a budget that doesn't include non-budget items such as term limits and union-busting. But for the legislature to override the veto, they only need the same supermajority that already passed the bill. The question is how much arm-twisting Rauner can do to prevent that. But my guess is that no one wants to be the one responsible for junk-bond status, and that Rauner vetoed it just so he can claim the tax increase isn't his and that he kept his promise.

The Senate already overrode the veto, so now it's up to the House to do the same (I might have that backwards, but I don't think so).

Me personally, I always thought that the tax rate would have to go back up to 5% and budgeted accordingly, so I'm cool with that. I could say more about what I expect and hope for the future, but I don't think that's what your asking.

Hope that helps.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

After my surgery last February, I’ve decided to stop using colons for punctuation wherever possible.


I sure wouldn't want to punctuate my colon.

Catfish N. Cod:

would love to understand more as well. I comprehend that the disaster is due to impasse between the Democratic leg and the Republican governor, and that the pensions and tax systems were mismanaged for a long time previous, but still. They're in a lot worse shape than any neighbors, or comparable states like New York or Massachusetts. What gives?


I don't know all the specifics of how Illinois compares to other states. What I do know is that pension obligations are somewhat set in Constitutional stone, so the legislature can't just cut pension payments, but that the pensions themselves have been grossly underfunded for years if not decades. This is the doing of both Republican and Democratic administrations. Illinois had a $12 Billion surplus shortly before the turn of the century, and the Republican governor spent it all and more on a roads project. Democrat Blagojevich didn't change those prolifigate ways, as he seemed to think his road to job security was to never raise taxes, despite the budget shortfall.

It may surprise non-Illinoisans to know that we're only solidly blue in presidential races. Most governors since 1978 have been Republicans, and in the 80s and 90s, the state Senate was often in Republican hands. For two of those years, even the House was Republican, and the famous Mike Madigan was reduced to minority leader. But, Illinois corrpution is less about party as it is about job security for all of the power-brokers.

Twominds said...

@Tim Wolters

:-)

Was that a funny coincidence in English, or a mistake? I have the gut feeling it was not a real language fail, was it?

@Alfred Differ

The middle class are worriers, sure enough. And with reason, these last decades. Still, they need several mishaps to get a yearslong setback, not just one, like my brothers´ South African inlaws. I said: reasonable economic security, not perfect economic security.

And, you´re using an absolute definition of poverty, I used (implicitly) a relative one. My brothers´ inlaws are not in danger of hunger, still, their lack of income makes participation in the society difficult. They can´t live up to their potential.

I think absolute poverty needs relief first, but the second kind must not be ignored.

All in all, my first post was a small spotlight on Dr. Brins definiton of lower middle class. I thought that needed some addition.

Jumper said...

Sure the poor are lesser victims: they don't have as much wealth to defend. It's the rich who under the real strain. I pity them the most.

LarryHart said...

Jumper,

I hope I'm not presumptuous in taking your comment on pitying the poor as sarcasm. But on my old "Cerebus" board, one right-wing Ayn Rand lover used to argue just that with a straight face. That having nothing to lose, the poor are under much less stress than the rich.

Jumper said...

Yeah, put out the ol' sarcasm meter on that one. I have noticed a lot of people who almost take it that far. In fact, I like to see if I can prompt them to actually say it out loud, preferably in a crowded room that goes silent immediately upon hearing that particular thought. If I hear calls of agreement, I know I'm in the wrong room! Or employed as a server in a Mitt Romney get-together...

donzelion said...

In defense of romanticism...

"Romanticism should stick to novels, poems and movies. In politics it turns deadly and generally does evil."

Thomas Jefferson was most prominently a 'romantic,' as his 'Notes on Virginia' and a certain other declaration clearly attest. Adams and Franklin were enlightenment figures driven by principled pragmatism; Washington a bit of a cipher.

It takes all kinds to make a movement work, and both work in varying degrees within our own reasoning.

Behind both great evil and great good, a mixture of romantic and pragmatic ('enlightenment') logic operates: indeed, behind our own minds themselves, there are strands of each at work. Likening 'romanticism' to 'evil' is like consigning 'sexuality' to 'base mores' - simply archaic. The most vicious instincts of 'romanticism' manifests in genocide; the most vicious 'pragmatism' in slavery (esp. of the feudal sort - the most enduring and pernicious structure throughout recorded history). The the fact that both have had vile outcomes does not render either good or evil in itself - just suspect.

"That trait is TELEOLOGY. A tendency to assume that history has a predictable pattern that it is destined to follow."
Teleology is a tendency to assume an 'underlying purpose' behind observable phenomena. Some might specify that those purposes result in a pattern, but their approaches result in a cipher, telling more about the person perceiving the pattern than about the world itself. Some people have abusive purposes, and because abuse can be quite lucrative, it sometimes sets up feedback loops of expanded abuse. But that does not render 'purposive' thinking itself venal, and both romantics and pragmatics have means of challenging the feedback loop that drives abuse.

Paul SB said...

RE: who has more stress, anyone care for an order of science with their opinions? The idea that people of high SES suffer from stress disorders was based on a very flawed study done in the 50’s which spawned the myth of “Executive Stress Syndrone.” They selected only the most high-strung subjects to play executive role, but corporate executives love this b/c it seems to justify their outrageous paychecks. This is from Robert Sapolsky’s new book: (NB: sorry about the colon – as far as I know I don’t have a problem with these, I have other issues than punctuation.)

“An extensive literature shows that a sense of control and predictability reduces stress. Yet monkey research conducted by Joseph Brady in 1958 produced a different view. Half the animals could press a bar to delay shocks (“executive” monkeys); the passive other half received shocks whenever the executive did. And the executive monkeys, with their control and predictability, were more likely to ulcerate. This birthed the “executive stress syndrome” – those on top are burdened with the stressors of control, leadership and responsibility.

Executive stress syndrome became a meme. But a huge problem was that the monkeys were not randomly assigned to be “executives” and “non-executives.” Instead, those that pressed the bar soonest in pilot studies were made executives. Such monkeys were shown to be more emotionally reactive, so Brady had inadvertently stacked the executive side with ulcer-prone neurotics.

So much for the ulcerating executives; contemporary studies show that the worst stress-related health occurs in middle management, with its killer combo of high work demands but little autonomy – responsibility without control.” (Sapolsky 2017, p.436)

(Just as an aside, the book that Dr. Brin referenced a few months ago, called “Born Anxious” makes the same point, and gives school teachers as an example of middle management.)

If we extend this metaphorically, you might conclude that the middle class must have the highest stress, but this is not what the Whitehall Study found. Across the board, the lower your SES, the higher your chances of having a stress-related disease and dying an early death.

donzelion said...

Alfred: About class and 'worrying,' I'll have to disagree. The middle class - as the class that works to provide for itself - worries about whether they will realize the fruit of their labors. No member of the middle class is a serious, direct threat to the income of other members merely from pursuing their middle class ends. Their main worry is whether their work will be fruitful and provide for them - it is self directed, rather than outward directed.

The poor and the rich worry about each other and their opposite class. Oligarchs fear both the machinations of other aristocrats and the possibility of peasant pitchforks. In their world, the risk of another oligarch is measurable and real, and the incentives to carry out threats to confiscate another's capital or the benefits thereof are persistent and recurrent. The poorest likewise must worry that other peasants will outcompete them somehow to obtain basic necessities - or that aristocrats will extort or block the delivery of necessities in order to attain some greater power. Each group's worries are directed at 'others' over which they have no (minimal) control, but who either incentivized to cause harm but seldom capable of it without crossing codes of conduct (peasants), or are NOT incentivized to cause harm but often all-too-capable of it (oligarchs).

One element of the bourgeois renaissance was the (relatively) sudden recognition by the upper, middle, and lower classes of the possibility of changing status from one to the other in positive manners. When the middle came to view the poor not as a 'problem' but a potential 'opportunity,' things like public education, public infrastructure, public goods - became desirable and worthy investments. Even if the investors themselves received little direct benefit from combating the ignorance of others, the indirect benefits of curing certain problems spilled over broadly.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

On romanticism, I agree with your view that there are positives and negatives, and that it takes all kinds. The dichotomy between pragmatic and romantic is a bot like that between logic and emotion. Logic can tell you how to get what you want, but it can't tell you what to want in the first place. That's the realm of emotion. Likewise pragmatism can tell you how to accomplish some objective, but not what that objective should be. The role for romanticism is equally true of those who wish to merely preserve the status quo or "return" us to some mythical golden age. It is their romantic vision that guides their choice of objective.

Helen Fisher brought up Washington in her discussions of the four temperament types. She has him as a serotonin type, a person who was ordered and mannered, an excellent manager and deeply driven by the needs and expectations of the community, a real "live to serve" type.

David Brin said...

I have always assumed that "Lower Middle Class" implies a precarious hold on things.

Notice we don't finely parse the poor and the rich, the same way. Just above the upper-middle class would be the lower-upper class, who have several homes and a boat, but no "ranch" and have to rent the party yacht.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: re romanticism, methinks our host (who is, after all, a novelist, among many other things) doth protest too much. Certain romanticisms have fueled intensely harmful movements. Others stopped intensely harmful movements. Can we really say that 'environmentalism' is a pragmatic creature, when the rank and file membership is overwhelmingly 'romantic' in their inclinations?

"Logic can tell you how to get what you want, but it can't tell you what to want in the first place."
Perhaps logic can help set priorities - but it has never driven people to achieve those priorities. The executory functions in the brain appear to be discrete from the motivational drive systems, creating an age old problem another Paul once described as "I know the good I wish to do, but do not do it..." though more modern theorists use different terms to capture the same phenomenon.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "I have always assumed that "Lower Middle Class" implies a precarious hold on things."

Fair enough, so long as the 'lower' middle class is conceptually distinct from the 'poor' in that their prospects are driven by their ability to work themselves into a better position. As externalities grow more important in the risks they can afford to take, their class interests distinguish themselves:

Lower middle class is often skeptical of public schools and higher education for perfectly valid reasons. All higher ed is NOT created equal. $150k spent by a rich or upper middle class family to attend a 'rich' private school yields a completely different outcomes from $100k invested into a lower middle class child attending a 'routine' state school - even as the relative financial hardship inflicted by the investment is totally distinct.

Upper middle class has a viable possibility of transitioning from work income to other income streams whenever possible: 1 or 2 opportunities may come their way that actually pay out handsomely. Lower middle class has little such possibility: just keeping what they earned through their work is difficult enough, as is keeping a job in the first place. They feel pressure and fear that the upper middle doesn't - but it's ill-defined fear, easily exploited and redirected (will the Chinese or robots destroy my job? is there some authority that will work against me? those damn taxes...and I don't see any benefits for my hard earned dollars going to them insiders...).

It's proper to segment them, because their position leads to reliably conflicting views about public good. Why should the cities get XXX benefit (roads, meds, schools, etc.), while rural communities get nothing? Answers that spending ### dollars to benefit 'as many people as possible' or to 'get the most bang for the buck' will tend to leave them in the lurch. They will appear 'irrational' ('romantic?') - but only because their situation is distinct.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Oligarchs fear both the machinations of other aristocrats and the possibility of peasant pitchforks. In their world, the risk of another oligarch is measurable and real, and the incentives to carry out threats to confiscate another's capital or the benefits thereof are persistent and recurrent.


That's what happened in the 1907 novel The Iron Hand. The protagonist's father-in-law had his house and stocks usurped, not by pitchfork-wielding peasants, but by his fellow oligarchs who didn't agree with his politics.

The Kingpin likewise took everything from Daredevil in the "Born Again" story arc by Frank Miller back before Miller went insane.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin: I know RawStory is a somewhat dubious source, but I thought you would be tickled pink to read this:
http://www.rawstory.com/2017/07/trumpian-bravado-isnt-how-we-conduct-ourselves-democratic-military-vets-enlist-in-congressional-races/

LarryHart said...

That was The Iron Heel

Stupid fingers!

David Brin said...

This is wrong: “$150k spent by a rich or upper middle class family to attend a 'rich' private school yields a completely different outcomes from $100k invested into a lower middle class child attending a 'routine' state school - even as the relative financial hardship inflicted by the investment is totally distinct.”

The poor kid comes out (if a useful major) with her opportunities greatly magnified. The rich kid already had contacts and advantages which are maybe tripled, and probably not more, by an Ivy League degree.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

The rich kids $150k "investment" trebles his already million dollar advantage to 3 million

Whereas the poor kids $100k investment gives an infinite increase from zero to 500k

But while the ratio is much higher for the poor kid the actual return from the money invested is much greater for the rich kid

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: “$150k spent by a rich or upper middle class family to attend a 'rich' private school yields a completely different outcomes from $100k invested into a lower middle class child attending a 'routine' state school"

By 'routine state school' let me equivocate: the UC system is hardly 'routine,' and tuition at a CSU school are still under $6k/yr. Building up a $100k debt load is a bit less likely in California, so the cost/benefit calculus favors education far more than in other states, where costs are much higher.

Still, for anyone not majoring in a STEM field with a high probability of an income over $80k after graduation, college is no longer the path toward 'safe' middle class lifestyle, so much as a possible escape from 'unsafe' non-degree options available primarily through a social network ($100k spent on school might be better spent expanding the family business, among other investments). To a family in the lower middle class, a tradition 4-year school is a 'fairly good' gamble; for someone in the upper middle class it's a 'sure bet.' Hence, very different views about higher ed, and very different views about investment options in general, which are not entirely a product of romantic anti-scientific/elitist prejudices, or the psychic pain of watching the kids leave town.

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Jumper said...

One thing I find appealing about veterans in government is that they know learning is lifelong. Training doesn't stop.

Jumper said...

On walkie talkie apps, there's this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zello
Apparently they've figured out the level of trusted status required to enable functionality already. And apparently this works over several platforms.

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

"The executory functions in the brain appear to be discrete from the motivational drive systems, creating an age old problem another Paul once described as "I know the good I wish to do, but do not do it..." though more modern theorists use different terms to capture the same phenomenon."

While what you said here sounds right and is the predominant view, it turns out to be more complicated, and I have to admit that I have been saying the same thing for years. But more recently learned that it's more subtle. There is a section of the cortex that connects the limbic system to the frontal lobes called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, and it turns out that growth and maturity has more to do with growing myelin there than in the lobes themselves. Signals travel in both directions through this region, so the more logical executive structure influences the emotional, motivational structures and vice versa. Then, in the frontal lobes themselves, there are two particularly important bits that deal with working memory, one above the other. The Dorsolateral PreFrontal Cortex (dlPFC) and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC). The dlPFC is the more pragmatic part, controlling impulses and thinking about how to do things, while the vmPFC keeps the emotional content right there in the forefront of your mind. There have been many imaging experiments where you get one lighting up more than the other, but generally these two regions work hand-in-hand. These facts are why Sapolsky describes those logical front lobes as an outpost of the limbic system. Logic and emotional are far more intertwined than the Ancient Greeks would have us believe.

It is without doubt that nothing is better than to study the illustrious dead, but why not also some time live with the living?”
- Franz Liszt
Science, like tradition, is something to be built upon. The same goes for music. Who could debate the wisdom of old Uncle Franz?

Erin Schram said...

I was once middle class yet living from paycheck to paycheck. Sending my children through college had consumed my savings and left me in debt. Medical bills added to the debt. Then things went downhill. My employer fired me for being sick. Yet I had a few frayed safety nets, and some of them worked.

One--I received unemployment compensation for six months, and a cashout of my unused vacation time (my supervisor had restricted my use of sick and vacation leave while she evaluated my performance). The money ran out, but it gave me time. Two--I had skills in demand. Alas, finding a new job failed. Three--my firing was illegal. I proved that and gained a settlement. Four--my wife and I owned our house and could sell it and move in with friends if all else failed. We did that anyway and it worked out. We housemates work well together. Five--if I could hold out three years to age 56, I could retire with penalties. Actually, an obscure rule, Discontinued Service Retirement, let me retire immediately without penalties.

My lawyer pointed out that most people did not know their rights and employers take advantage of that. I was able to read the laws and understand them even before I hired the lawyer. I tend to not worry, because I have repeatedly found solutions to similar, though more minor, problems in the past. I think that is the advantage of the middle class. We are in the habit of looking for solutions, unlike the poor whose solutions have been snatched away from them in oppression and exploitation.

Jumper said,
One thing I find appealing about veterans in government is that they know learning is lifelong. Training doesn't stop.

Not even in retirement. I attend the graduate seminars in statistics at nearby Cornell University because I am not ready to give up on my field.

In the article, David Brin said,
Simplistically-speaking: leftists tend to believe that history has a direction, toward upward progress that's unstoppable.

I optimistically think that working to improve our civilization will make life better. However, it is not guaranteed. I like the Extra History videos on YouTube, and they recently started a series on the collapse of the Fertile Cresent civilizations in the Bronze Age, "The Bronze Age Collapse - I: Before the Storm - Extra History" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkMP328eU5Q).

LarryHart said...

Eric Schram:

...if I could hold out three years to age 56, I could retire with penalties. Actually, an obscure rule, Discontinued Service Retirement, let me retire immediately without penalties.


Hey, I lost my job at 56, and while I finally found a new one, it's temporary with limited benefits.

If you're willing to share, I'd be interested in more details about what you mentioned just there.

raito said...

I currently work for a company founded by an Ivy League professor (and based out of an Ivy League town). Consequently, many of my co-workers are Ivy League graduates. Many/most of them aren't upper class.

On the other hand, the few I've known from truly upper-class families never seemed to make anything from those 'contacts'.

But where are these class divisions in respect to household income? In theory, my family is in the upper 6% or so. But we don't have several houses and never rent yachts, so we couldn't possibly be in the lower upper class.

Duncan Cairncross makes a good point, though. At my poorest, I had 50 cents (2 bus rides to job interviews) to my name, and was eating by helping out at a food pantry. In terms of multiplication of existing wealth, I'm far more successful than POTUS. But I'm not sure that the old saw about the first million being the hardest is correct. Especially now that a million isn't what it once was.

In any case, I attribute any success I have had to having midwestern middle class values. Had I NOT believed that I could succeed, and that hard work and common sense (of which I have a limited supply) would be the path, I probably wouldn't be where I am. In those values, having money or not is not a part of your identity -- it's just the current circumstances.

Marino said...

"Simplistically-speaking: leftists tend to believe that history has a direction, toward upward progress that's unstoppable."

Being a leftist, I have to disagree. "Upward unstoppable progress" is more something like the Whig interpretation of history. Marx wrote that class struggle (in itself a long historical process, not a sudden eruption of people with pitchforks) may end in a revolution changing the mode of production OR in the "common ruin of both classes". Think at all the dystopian literature, beginning with London's The iron Heel. And given that a possible "failure mode of capitalism" may be nuclear war or environmental catastrophe, I suppose no one has still that naive faith in linear progress. Nuclear war was really a scary threat for at least the Euro Left.

Oddly enough, both the Chinese and some US leaders believed in surviving a nuclear war. The Chinese because of their simple, commune-based economy, deemed capable to soak up huge losses, and the US... A-America and B-America studies by Rand Corporation. Distributed industry along small and middle sized US towns deemed able to survive and rebuild even after the loss of the major metroplexes.

To be honest, that point by dr. Brin sounds a lot like what in Italian newspeak is dubbed "cerchiobottismo", more or less : "but_also_the_other_side_is_bad-ism" (as in "Berlusconi is a bad politician BUT the Left also..." been there, seen that)

And, of course, I dont' believe in the odd lack of historical depth in the Right theories about societal decay and eternal return. More or less, the failure mode of ancient Rome (as seen from peplum movies?) irregardless of technology and societal changes. Think Tytler and the "panem et circenses" meme resurfacing in settings like Haven's Dolists in Honorverse. With no attempt to question those assumptions, too.



Catfish N. Cod said...

Update: according to the NYT, we are up to twenty Democratic officer candidates.

Erin Schram said...

LarryHart asked,
If you're willing to share, I'd be interested in more details about what you mentioned just there.

Discontinued Service Retirement applies only to employees of the U.S. government, so I don't know if it will help you. If a federal employee involuntarily loses his or her job with at least 20 years of service and 50 years of age, that employee can retire without penalty. This is not available to employees terminated for misconduct, but is available to employees terminated for poor performance. Full bureacratic details are at https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/csrsfers-handbook/c044.pdf but an easy-to-read article is at http://retirement.federaltimes.com/2010/09/06/understanding-discontinued-service-retirement/

If the Trump adminstration lays off many federal employees, Discontinued Service Retirement could rescue some from disaster.

raito said,
In theory, my family is in the upper 6% or so. But we don't have several houses and never rent yachts, so we couldn't possibly be in the lower upper class.

My parents owned two houses: their original starter home in the suburbs of Detroit and a cottage on Lake Huron that they built themselves as a weekend hobby. And they had a 22-foot motorboat. I thought of us as upper middle class, because my father was an engineering management at Chrysler Corporation. I moved downward financially since I went to work for a university and then the federal government. My daughters are probably lower middle class: one works the help desk at a cable company and the other works an information desk at a national park. But they are happy (except for medical depression). My elder daughter has pointed out that she would be less happy if aid from her parents had not helped her through some rough spots.

Alfred Differ said...

Twominds | they need several mishaps to get a yearslong setback

Hmm… not really. One good medical mishap will do it. If the breadwinner is involved in a car accident and suffers a head injury, the whole family is in trouble. In many places where two strong incomes are needed to manage the costs of living, chances are doubled. The ‘middle class’ isn’t vulnerable to certain risks, but they can’t afford to be complacent. The difference between them and the poor usually hangs on their ability to earn income from their labor. While the poor do that too, you are right to point out that the middle class finds it easier to participate in social institutions.

I use an absolute measure, though, because of the fuzzy meaning behind ‘middle class’. You can see the blur all through this thread. While a relative measure is important to maintain, we must have an absolute one available to ensure we know when we are winning. With a relative measure, we can know where to direct our social safety net. With an absolute measure, we can know whether policies are succeeding. For example, there aren’t all that many peasants left on Earth. As a percentage of humanity, they’ve been converted to the bourgeoisie as a labor supply and as potential customers. Even the aristocracy has been partially converted as only a portion of their sons stand to inherit much while the others are benefiting from the growth of average life expectancy.

If one is going to draw a line between middle and upper classes, though, I use one that works in a relative sense, but it can be measured in an absolute sense. At present, I work and collect a wage. I also own capital in the form of property, investments, and durable goods. If I can stop laboring and earn enough income from my capital to cover that loss, I’m in the upper class. If not, then I am not. For example, $2.5M in capital earning 4%/year brings in $100K per year. A person earning $100K/year with that much capital might choose to exit the labor market and let their capital work for them. They might also stay in and choose to add to their capital. This is the cut-off I use because such a person isn’t vulnerable to income shocks the way someone with less capital is. This cut-off is useful in another way too. It shows what rich people can buy that the middle class cannot. Time.

Alfred Differ said...

Donzelion | No member of the middle class is a serious, direct threat to the income of other members merely from pursuing their middle class ends.

Heh. Tell that to union members who can’t maintain a picket line. Tell it to wage earners who recognize their sector is being ‘creatively destroyed’. Many innovators emerge from the middle class, so this threat isn’t just from above.

This isn’t a contest, though. What I was looking at was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The poorest among us have big worries, but not numerous ones as they haven’t secured the lowest needs. The riches among us have big worries, but not numerous ones for a different reason. The bourgeoisie are in a special niche where their basic needs are often covered, so their worries proliferate among all the secondary concerns. Will I have enough savings to ensure my daughter gets a higher education? My neighbor down the block is a deadbeat, failed on his mortgage, and now his house is in foreclosure. What can I do to protect the property value on my house that I want to sell? There are a whole slew of ‘first world’ problems like these the poorest wouldn’t recognize as legit and the richest wouldn’t consider at all.

Zepp Jamieson said...

From today's Guardian:
Mars covered in toxic chemicals that can wipe out living organisms, tests reveal

Discovery has major implications for hunt for alien life on the red planet as it means any evidence is likely to be buried deep underground

Perchorates. Narsty, narsty stuff.

David Brin said...

raito; 94th percentile is definitely upper-middle, not lower-upper. Your self-made success is what the liberals… NOT the entire-right or the far-left… stand for.

LarryHart and Erin S, hang in there and thrive! And fight for a civilization that has safety nets and laws.

Turns out I’ll be on a couple of panels July 22 in Las Vegas at Freedom Fest! The big Libertarian Congress! Sure, I’ll be ministering to them, doing my bit for the minuscule Smith-Heinlein-Gates-Buffett wing of the movement, against the oligarchs who have bought it up, almost wholesale. I will remind anyone who listens that belief in COMPETITION is at odds with and contravened by fealty to unlimited PROPERTY.

I make few converts during these forays. But I deem it worthwhile, because these libertarians are persnickety SciFi readers! And they like ACTUAL argument, aimed at learning something. Why… oh, why… do you think I keep getting invited back?

Oh, we’ll attend a show of Penn & Teller, too,

Marino, your reflexes betray you. I make very clear that the Entire-right is today’s existential threat and that the few crazies on the far-left are (as-yet) not dangerous. But you might be dangerous, in your reflex to shrug off how inherently ugly the worst dogmatists of that side have been, historically. And how they might be, yet again.

David Brin said...

onward?

Onward?