Wednesday, March 07, 2007



1) I have been kos-posting some items that first appeared here, in hope that some memes might spread beyond this brilliant but rather inbred little group. Mostly I’ve been serializing my “Suggestions to the New Congress.” Alas, these postings appear to merely blip over there. Taking center stage? The usual tired ideas and same-old rants. The dems may be our only hope, but do not count on them for anything remotely resembling imagination or boldness.

2) While the (unambiguously-blatant) real winners of the last six years -- Iran and Saudi Arabia -- met last week in a summit conference to forge closer Sunni-Shia cooperation at the top levels (they don’t give a hoot about the continuing ethnic slaughter lower down, which - in fact - suits their purposes just fine)...

...a blue ribbon panel has reported about the state of readiness of the US National Guard and Reserves. The finding? “They are at their lowest level of readiness in decades,” said Arnold Punaro of SAIC and chairman of the Commission on the National Guard & Reserves. The fact that readiness has not been made issue #1 by the Democratic Party suggests that something is very wrong over there. Perhaps stupidity is contagious.

3) Want yet another example? Democrats have been writhing, trying to come up with a strong way to oppose the insane Iraq War without getting tarred by get-out-now specifics that make them seem eager to “cut and run” -- abandoning everything that we’ve already poured a trillion dollars and thousands of lives into achieving. Just because we can now recognize the Iraq Incursion for what it was - an almost perfectly-planned way to demolish Pax Americana, by destroying our alliances, our popularity, our readiness, our budget and our national cohesion - that does not require that we automatically cry out to “immediately withdraw,” abandoning those Iraqis who we’ve made dependent upon us, leaving Iran and its ally with total victory.

Why should we do the mad goppers the favor of letting THEIR horror be OUR political millstone?

There is another way. The Ideal Solution to America’s Iraq War Mess.

Ready? Here it is.

Declare that it is time for America’s wealthiest citizens to do what they always used to do, whenever the nation was in crisis. It is time for them to step forward and help pay for a war that is fought by other peoples’ children.

There is a high-octane publicity mill and incendiary propaganda machine, ready to pounce on any talk of a tax boost for the rich, so the slogans would have to be tested before focus groups, refined beforehand. It must be couched in strictly patriotic, war-fighting terms. Nothing even remotely “socialist” or interpretable as “class warfare” or “the politics of envy.”

Nevertheless, once the message is properly tuned, the logic would be simply inescapable. Other generations of the super-wealthy put their nation first. From the Revolution and the Civil War, all the way through to World War Two and beyond.

Yes, it appears that today’s rich - or at least the right wing of the aristocracy - is made of shallower stuff. This generation cares only about their tax cuts, justifying them as “good” when times are lean AND good when times are fat. Just the right thing during surpluses AND deficits, prosperity AND recession, war AND peace. It is an elaborate edifice of rationalization concocted over decades by well-paid intellectual shills.

Nevertheless, supply side rationalizations evaporate in the face of simple patriotism. It is time to turn their “either you are with us or against us” notions around, and into their faces. We can answer a tower of sophistry with one simple statement.

“You are supposedly the smartest people in America. Well, right now, we need more than just your money, but also your focus, creativity and undivided attention.

“Yes, America needs you to pitch in with cash right now, in order to stop bleeding future generations for this administration’s outrageous mistakes. But what we really need is for your attention to be focused on this problem -- on either winning this war or solving the problem by helping innovate an exit strategy.

“Either way, one thing is clear. You cannot treat our nation’s struggle as a little sepoy tussle, irrelevant to the voluptuous pleasures of the aristocracy. Nothing will focus your vaunted attention on helping to solve this mess better than a surtax on the rich, one that will last until all war costs are paid for... and then terminate the moment that is done.

“It is as simple as that. Apply your genius to fixing this war, so we can all move forward together into a future of market-generated splendor, achieving our nation’s urgent goals, restoring peace, prosperity and fiscal prudence while moving back to the natural benefit of peacetime -- (long the principal reason why conservatives disliked “foreign adventures”) -- low taxes.

That is the meme, the idea, that I’d like to offer to the Democratic Party. Instead of letting yourself get trapped into “setting a date for withdrawal.” Simply say “As long as we are in that quagmire, let’s gather our resources as if we really were at war. And let’s get the attention of our aristocracy focused on solving the problem.”

Finally, turning around and making a leftward blast for the sake of evenhandedness and credibility, a correspondent wrote in to me with this item:

Today I was reading an obit about Arthur Schlesinger and found this quote that seems to fit: "The left-wing critique of the Kennedy administration," he wrote at the time, was "a new expression of the old complaint by those who find satisfaction in large gestures of rejection against those who find satisfaction in small measures of improvement." In other words - the myriads of small improvements incredibly make the whole thing go round.

Next time: some more non-political, science and engineering items.


CJ-in-Weld said...

It shouldn't be too hard for them, right? Of "lives", "fortunes", and "sacred honor", you are only asking for one, maybe two out of three....

TheRadicalModerate said...

David, you want to be really careful about what you wish for.

I can think of an excellent way to end this war, at least long-term: Total surveillance.

Black-sky reconnaisance over a war zone, with enough hierarchically-structured pattern recognition processing to make command and control manageable. See an armed combatant? Drop a bullet on him. Not a hellfire missile--a bullet.

Sprinkle a town with little bitty wide-angle cameras in a sensor network. While we're at it, make 'em mobile and put chemical sniffers on 'em. Find an IED factory? Send in the troops to take it out.

How far are we away from this? Ten years? Maybe less--those "best minds in the country" are every bit as patriotic as you are--your rhetoric aside--and they want to see this thing ended just as much as you. How long before you get vision-optimized DSPs and the algorithms to run them? The digital video market is exploding--everybody and their brother is scrambling to come up with the killer video codec. You don't think that work isn't gonna spill over into more, shall we say, semantic processing?

OK, we're all safe now!! Good thing we made the investment! But I sure hope somebody's figured out the reciprocal transparency issue before somebody starts flying Predators over LA.


I'm sure I'll regret this next part once I calm down. Please understand that I wouldn't even bother with the Kos crowd, but I have huge respect for some (>50%) of the ideas that show up on these pages.

Surtax? Sure--if you want to earmark it for the military and DHS and put a sunset on it, I'll pay for a while. A real sunset, not some slippery slope "look how much good we can do with all that money if we only weren't fighting this useless war and it obviously didn't hurt those mean rich people very much to cough it up" sunset.

Where are you going to draw the line, incidentally? Top quintile? 5%? 1%? Full disclosure: I'm a member of at least two of the above. Here's a handy visual aid to assist with your engineering.

It's not that I don't trust the Democrats with my money; I don't trust anybody with my money. Governments are stupid--they're not people. But I especially don't trust class warfare bromides like the one you just dropped, especially when you should know better.


David Brin said...

Class warfare? Crap. Every human generation has witnessed cheating by aristocrats. That is THE thing that Adam Smith railed against, calling it the principal enemy of freedom and markets.

I am not responsible for today's most monstrous libertarian stupidity, a failure to recognize that "government" is a buggaboo. That bureaucrats never did a scintilla's worth of the damage to markets that was done in almost every civilization by aristocratic cheaters and "cronies of the king."

Face that one absolute fact. Adam Smith didn't give a flying rat's patootie about socialists, who were generally flkakey and futile... except during a brief Leninist spasm when the top rank of socialists simply became yet another self-serving clan of...

...aristocrats. Duh. Precisely the same pattern, over again.

I mean yipes. You worry about new lords of government surveilling us, then yell in pain about returning to some of the methods that PREVENTED power abuse in our recent past. That gave us BOTH the most vibrant markets and the flattest social order AND the most transparent government the world ever saw, during the 2nd half of the 20th Century. All three of those traits are fading, as the old crony system re-establishes, yet you are repeating Heritage Foundation mantras about "my money."

When YOUR money came about as a direct result of a myriad social investments by a civilization that pays 70% of your costs by maintaining infrastructure and schooled workers and research and protects your money and privileges in a zillion ways that you never even imagine repaying, but instead assume as your god-given right, then we are talking rationalization and bS, just like the patricians of Rome and cronies of King Charles.

Listen to their rationalizations. They are, at root, the same. I deserve to keep my slaves and or royal monopolies and/or.... because they are MINE!

I am a pragmatist. The America of Eisenhower and Johnson etc achieved a balance never before seen. And they did it with some "FDR" methods that the rights hates with the same loathing that a spoiled brat preserves for green beans and other vegetables. Crap.

I will NOT stand by while new feudal lords spout claptrap about "my money" while making their kids dukes who will own MY kids. If they will cooperate in maintaining a vibrant, socially mobile and creative civilization, I will be happy to protect a decent share of their riches, even some of the unearned part.

But if they truly plan on becoming lords, they had better look at history and see what happens when lords make the people mad... then howl about "my money."

Anonymous said...

On occasion when I have suggested that the Democratic party take a heroic, principled stand on something that they will take crap for I have been chastised for disingeniously setting them up to fail. Dr. Brin would never stoop to such tricks, I am sure!
OK, I too would be willing to pay increased taxes if it were for sure dedicated to the right cause. Now, define how much more taxes, what income level pays them, and how the money will be spent.
In terms of fairness I can't fault the notion. Might I make so bold as to tie it to an idea that has also surfaced here? Add a surtax on all imported oil, with the revenues to be directed to alternative energy research. Sure, it will nick the middle and lower classes too, but we are all in this together.
Oh, and those upper income Democrats? No exclusion from the surtax just because you don't like it.

TheRadicalModerate said...

David, let me summarize:

1) When I admit that I would in fact be willing to pay more during a time of crisis but am deeply suspicious of such a surtax becoming permanent, you implicitly acknowledge that such permanence is only proper.

2) You apparently think that "government" consists of a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats and that the system dynamics of how decisions are made consist only of the actions of such swell fellows, if only we'd keep the money out of the hands of those darned "aristocrats." In other words, you think government (like soylent green) is people rather than it being composed of people. The distinction is crucial, just like consciousness isn't a bunch of neurons.

3) I know you're trying to make some point with, "You worry about new lords of government surveilling us, then yell in pain about returning to some of the methods that PREVENTED power abuse in our recent past..." but I'm missing it. Do you mean, "if rich guys would just pay more, we'd be able to curb governmental power abuses"? Or is it, "If we'd just be more proactive and try some nice technocratically-driven administration--just a few programs here and there, mind you!--the so-called Pax Americana would be restored"?

4) My money isn't really my money, because it derives from the common weal, and is therefore subject to appropriation in ever-larger amounts due to the debt owed to me by history. Just curious: Is there a statute of limitations on this responsibility? Is there at least a limitation of liability?

5) My children are on their way to becoming "feudal lords." This will no doubt bemuse my son, who may or may not be reactivated after leaving the army last year. (Full disclosure: he did not see combat--yet. Also, I did not serve. Are there some patriotism offsets I can buy to render myself virtuous in your eyes?)

Pay for the war? No problem. Decent amortization terms would be nice. Oh, if you could stick us with maybe not the whole bill, but maybe a little bit more than the 40% that the top 5% currently pay, that would be nice, too.

As for my creativity, it's going into the communications architectures that I design. I hope it finds its way into the war effort somehow but I may just have to settle for being productive. As for my focus and undivided attention, I'll just have to let my words, here and in the past, speak for themselves.

David, I truly believe that you are intellectually looking for a balance here, but you are displaying almost the whole menagerie of loony-left accusations in this post, including the class-warfare ones that are completely corrosive to any sort of rational discourse. No doubt you will be tempted to lump this response into the "irrational" category--I hope not.

RandomSequence said...


You go too far with "Adam Smith didn't give a flying rat's patootie about socialists, who were generally flakey and futile."

First, many of the socialist saw themselves as inheritors of Adam Smith's critique of the aristocracy - they were advancing his ideas, not retarding them. Even today Chomsky litters his arguments with support from Smith.

Second, who do you think powered the political changes in the US and Europe over the last two centuries? It wasn't the moderates. It was the socialists who fought aristocracy in Germany. It was the anarchists who fought for the 40 hour work week in the US. It was that "flakey" left that organized FDR's programs, shot at the Nazi's in France worried that the Germans would come after their families, ambushed the Fascists in Yugoslavia - the entire partisan movement that distracted and slowed down the Nazi war machine was socialist. In England, pretty much all the social changes they've seen over the last century came out of the Fabians; they just got rid of hereditary peers in the last couple of years. Equality for women was once a flakey leftist idea (can't remember right now the female writer from the French Revolution who put most of that plan together back in the 1790's...)

The future ideas are always going to come out of the fringe. So will a whole bunch of crap ideas of course. But without that flakey left, it would still be 1535. The center just takes the ideas from the left, slows them down, winnows and moderates, but almost no ideas come out of the center - more ideas come out of the flakey right or left in 5 minutes than in a century of the establishment.

I understand the practical politics of dissin' the left as proof of bona fides, but it's just not a tenable position that they've had little effect. That's equivalent to saying that ideas have no power - Stalin's question about how many tank divisions does the pope have comes to mind.

It seems pretty clear that for the last 500 years, ideas initially come out of science and technology. They get masticated by philosophers who wrap them up in pretty names. Then leftist politicians turn these ideas into programs. They inevitably fail initially, and the worst proposals disappear. Then the moderates get into the act, once the center has been shifted. But when dark days come, don't hope for the moderates to save you - it's going to be the first three classes that actually begin to act.

RandomSequence said...


I'm sure everyone is trying to engage in rational discourse here. But calling class warfare rhetoric irrational doesn't help the cause. Of course there's class warfare - the loonies are the one's who claim that it's the only conflict out there, but it's equally looney to say that it doesn't exist. The facts of history support culture wars, race wars, nationalist wars, religious wars and class wars. As soon as you get some distinct interests, you get war in some sense.

You've stated that you're in the top 5%. That is obviously going to shape your votes on capital gains taxations - I think there's ample evidence that you're a bright guy, and would have socked a good portion of that money away in investments that are separate from you're main labor. That is not to say that you don't have rational, unself-interested reasons for you're opinions. It's not an exclusive proposition.

You actually posit that very same idea for bureaucrats:You apparently think that "government" consists of a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats and that the system dynamics of how decisions are made consist only of the actions of such swell fellows, if only we'd keep the money out of the hands of those darned "aristocrats." In other words, you think government (like soylent green) is people rather than it being composed of people. The distinction is crucial, just like consciousness isn't a bunch of neurons.
Why wouldn't the same be true for the top 1% and the top 5%?

A negotiated compromise is possible as soon as the religious warfare aspects are separated from the class warfare aspects. That's what screwing up the country severely - a sub class of the top 1% has allied itself with fundamentalist religion, which is a completely unnatural and dangerous fit. As soon as those two split, a compromise can be made, as has been done before, between the poor, the technocrats, and the owners, and we can get on with the business of business. But as long as a significant portion of the party of business is getting itself confused with a religious party, where going to have a confusion of priorities and stupid negotiation that constantly work at cross-purposes. We're just going to get demagoguery - and that is deadly dangerous.

RandomSequence said...

Oh by the way, before anyone accuses me of ignoring business in my little rant about the natural progression of knowledge, business usually comes out of that technocratic layer, once the ideas move from pure research into applications. But they don't usually move those ideas into social form, which I was talking about. It's engineers who become businessmen that built the power infrastructure; but it was socialists who funded it out into every corner of the country (remember the TVA?), spreading that gift away from Chicago and New York into a national revolution, and helping build business along the way. Two hands, one process.

TheRadicalModerate said...


I'm not denying the existence of class warfare. I am suggesting that all arguments couched in those terms are sure losers. Politics is the balancing of interests. Any assertion that the other side's interests are invalid, unjustified, or evil isn't gonna move the ball forward. (Oh, dear! Two football metaphors in the same week!)

As for the top 1% being religious zealots, you're going to have to find an awful lot of evidence to back that one up. Personally, I will not rest until you have all been forcibly converted to the Church of the Pervasive Self-Organizing Force...

Signing off for the night--I have to perform my pre-bedtime ritual of rolling around in negotiable currencies. The hundred dollar bills are quite comfortable, but the Krugerrands have sharp edges and sometimes find their way into unfortunate areas.

RandomSequence said...


I wasn't saying that the top 1% are religious zealots; if they were, then it would be a natural fit. They're not, but they've made a bad strategic alliance. As an extreme example, the top 1% in Germany got in bed with the Nazi. It was a stupid, short-sighted move that got their industrial base smashed (and which the top 1% in Germany remember very clearly to this day); they did it to fight off the reds, rather than negotiating them like they did after the war. It's one of the reasons the Bushites look so incompetent; they're trying to ride two horses going in opposite directions.

You're right that demonizing your opponent is a sure way to throw off dialogue - isn't that one of the tactical problems with the Bushites? On the other hand, to have good negotiations, you have to fairly openly recognize the parties and their interests. The top 1% isn't going to just go away - even bloody revolutions just revolve the door. But there is a conflict between the top 1%, the technocrats, and labor. It's part of the puzzle that people often just dismiss with "class warfare" and reuse to discuss.

People working in factories have some interests in common with the stockholders, and they also have interests in conflict - that's trivial. And we should talk about it openly at some level if a compromise is going to be made. Sometimes the rhetoric is going to go over the top, but there is a truth that if the technocrats don't pull on the leash from time to time of big capital, they'll get run over and the system will fail, just like we saw in reverse in the Russian Revolution, where the technocrats got their hands on everything, and ran roughshod over labor and capital.

Some class warfare discussion is appropriate. If the system is going to function, labor is going to have to use the reigns of government to some extent against the top 1%; the technocrats need to reassert themselves as well. Some redistribution should be negotiable, and not automatically dismissed, as long as its reasonable, which should be the subject under negotiation. If we get some balance, the system should smooth out again. That's what happened in the thirties and forties when the system was a mess, and it worked out fairly well for the country over the succeeding decades.

Anonymous said...

A definition of "Class Warfare": What happens when the lower classes start shooting BACK.

Don Quijote said...

What class warfare?

U.S. economy leaving record numbers in severe poverty

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

Study: Uninsured kids fare worse at hospitals

Families USA findings for uninsured kids admitted to hospitals:

•Those with general injuries were more likely to die in 26 of 29 states studied. They were 44% less likely to go into rehabilitation.

•Those with traumatic brain injuries were 32% less likely to receive aggressive treatment known as intracranial pressure monitoring. On average, they were discharged after five days, rather than eight days for insured patients.

•Those with appendicitis were 18% less likely to get a more expensive laparoscopic appendectomy.

•Those with middle-ear infections were 57% less likely to get ear tubes surgically inserted.

Official count: 754,000 believed homeless in U.S.

The nation has three-quarters of a million homeless people, filling emergency shelters through the year and spilling into special seasonal shelters in the coldest months, the government said today.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated there were 754,000 homeless people in 2005, including those living in shelters, transitional housing and on the street. That's about 300,000 more people than available beds in shelters and transitional housing.

I can think of an excellent way to end this war, at least long-term: Total surveillance.

Black-sky reconnaisance over a war zone, with enough hierarchically-structured pattern recognition processing to make command and control manageable. See an armed combatant? Drop a bullet on him. Not a hellfire missile--a bullet.

Sprinkle a town with little bitty wide-angle cameras in a sensor network. While we're at it, make 'em mobile and put chemical sniffers on 'em. Find an IED factory? Send in the troops to take it out.

Sounds like a plan! We are going to need all that good technology we can get our hands on to keep those Americans that are homeless, have nothing and are going to die young from stupid preventable diseases from starting and winning a new class war.

Declare that it is time for America’s wealthiest citizens to do what they always used to do, whenever the nation was in crisis.

Continue a long tradition of find new and interesting ways to make more money out of the war...

Anonymous said...

Don't any of these commenters realize that your suggestions boil down to a simple phrase, known to anyone who has ever played poker?

You're telling the GOP to "Put your money where your mouth is."

Good advice for everyone!

Anonymous said...

With regard to rising above the fray at dailykos, I wouldn't lose heart and I wouldn't blame it on any blind ideological adherence. Hell, I didn't get my first recommended diary until just yesterday and I've been posting there intermittently for the last THREE YEARS. In order to gain any wider audience over there, it depends upon a lot of factors: time of post, breaking stories, etc.

I'm one of the people who suggested that you begin cross-posting over there, largely because of your wonderful arguments and positions on transparency, criticism and accountability. I believe that your arguments are especially relevant to the ongoing FISA/NSA wiretapping scandal, among other abuses that arise from a lack of transparency.

If you aren't already, keep an eye on Glenn Greenwald's blog over at Salon, and I'd highly recommend you read through his book How Would a Patriot Act?. I've long believed that your prescriptions for transparency would be well supported by the legal arguments he posits on his blog and in this book.

I keep meaning to write a substantive post on this subject--cross-referencing Greenwald's book and The Transparent Society, but alas I so rarely find the time to write anything more than a few paragraphs long.

sociotard said...

So I have a question for David.

Are these suggestions for a new congress actual bills that have been sent to congress? I ask because I read them, and they don't have the level of detail and style of language I've seen in real bills. They're just . . . suggestions. Blurbs.

I mean, are real bills that you've sent to a few congressmen and which you hope they will put in the hopper?

What I'm asking is, what would you like us to with this list?

RandomSequence said...


That fits with a comment I once heard out of an anthropologist, who was a bit of a universalist and specialized in Niugini. He felt that the problem with his compatriots (Americans) was a lack of an adulthood ritual. We never have a specific event that tells us "Now, the world is in your hands - be responsible." It's spread out over driver's licenses, age of voting, age of drinking, first lay, and so on, making it easy to emotionally avoid accepting adulthood.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Popculture is characterised by childishness, which includes the loss of the ability to use words or concepts effectively.

To paraphrase everybody's favorite ex-SecDef, "You go to the debate with the language you have, not the language you wish you had." When I say "class warfare," you know what I mean, even if you disagree with its implications. When you say "feudal lord," I know what you mean, even if I disagree with its implications. Sounds like grounds for a reasonable debate. But let's see if we can work around your objections, shall we?

Let's assume that I am a greedy bastard. If you tell me, "Greedy Bastard, you supported this war and now it is in your best interest to fund it to avoid national ruin," I will grudgingly agree that you're right and then ask you a series of questions: What do you think a reasonable amortization period for the borrowing incurred by the war is? If the burden of this is to fall on me even more disproportionately than it already does, how disporportional should the burden actually be? Once we have settled on the disproportionality, how shall we maximize the revenue you collect from me and the other greedy bastards? Does your version of the Laffer curve have a hump off to the right or does it look more like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant, as we greedy bastards like to assert?

We can have lots of debate over these questions in perfectly good faith and probably reach a real consensus.

If, on the other hand, you tell me, "Greedy Bastard, it is your duty to fund, disproportionately and in perpetuity, a wide variety of things to improve our lives, because I am of limited means and you are a Greedy Bastard," I will not initially agree with you, grudgingly or otherwise. Furthermore, I will ask you a different set of questions: Will these things actually improve our lives? If I fund them, will it make you less resentful of me? (I don't know why I'll ask this question because, after all, I'm a greedy bastard.) Who do you propose to decide which things will be funded and which ones ignored? (Hint: somebody had better be saying no to a whole bunch of them.) Finally, I will again ask you the same set of annoying Laffer curve questions I asked of your first assertion.

These are also perfectly debatable questions. But you'll have a hell of a lot harder time convincing me in this debate.

Is this sufficiently non-popculture?

David Brin said...

Alas, while we all like him, RM has (sorry fellah) engaged in rampant sophistry. It is accomplished by taking the most absurd possible interpretation of each of my paragraphs an then treating that interpretation as a strawman.

Example: “When I admit that I would in fact be willing to pay more during a time of crisis but am deeply suspicious of such a surtax becoming permanent, you implicitly acknowledge that such permanence is only proper.”

What utter hooey! My article itself stated that the war tax would be temporary. Indeed, it would only have devastating political effectiveness if it were explicityly limited to paying off this monstrous crime against America.

Likewise “You apparently think that "government" consists of a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats and that the system dynamics of how decisions are made consist only of the actions of such swell fellows, if only we'd keep the money out of the hands of those darned "aristocrats."

Whaaaaaa? The fundamental lesson of the Lockean enlightenment is to trust NO accumulations of power. Suspicion of authority (SOA) is preached in every film and tale and song but its power is eviscerated when ideologues, like libertarians and rightists and leftists focus on ONE KIND of authoritarian while ignoring their own pals.

I hollered at lefties for ignoring (somewhat) the fact the Reagan was right that the USSR was an “evil empire.” And I holler at silly libertarians for ignoring that 99% of past free markets were destroyed by aristos... who are doing it to us yet again.

Pax Americana is being torn to shreds in very direct ways, right now, as we speak. I do not need to wave my arms in support of bureaucrats to entrust them with saving it. All we need is to STOP THE CRIMINAL GANGS who are deliberately destroying it as we speak. And yes, government bureaucrats like SEC investigators and unleashed FBI agents and un-FIRED federal prosecutors can be a big part of that.

In fact, I call for a surtax only on the top 1% or even half of that. The logic is that their brilliance and inherent policy influence will get them busy solving problems.

Today in one op-ed, I saw____ say this is not a war of America vs foes in Iraq. “It is the US Arm and 150,000 American families at war,” while the rest of us twiddle thumbs. The rich who have undue influence should be using it to solve this.

As for “my money” there is a philosophical level that underpins the difference between us and I concede that fact. I despise all Platonic “essences” like “my money”. I am a Lockean pragmatist and if I thought that giving up all my money would result in a better pragmatic outcome of diverse and vigorously competitive, joy-filled creative civilization, I would happily try some other model. It happens that Adam Smith had it right and money-lubricated markets incentivize creativity and robust production better than any other method, and hence I am all in favor of people getting rich by producing goods and services. Fine. Me too! Yum.

But Purist, platonist cries of “my money” lead in only one ultimate direction. “I have a right to manipulate markets with my money power, in secret, manipulate law, manipulate bureaucrats, manipulate markets, manipulate the state to assume costs while privatizing profits, and ensure that my children will inherit power over YOUR children whithout EVER having themselves delivered a good or a service.”

Do not even try to pretend that is not where “My Money!” eventually leads... because that is where it always has. And that is where it is headed right now.

Random, just because that loon, Chomsky, occasionally cites Adam Smith, that does not make me wrong to do so. Loons can be right in screaming at their enemies, even when they themselves are dingbats.

But I appreciate both of you. It came out perfect. One bright objector from the right and one from the left.

Sociotard, my “suggestions” are just suggestions. Staffers can parse laws. I am late writing my next novel. I had hoped that offering some blatant win-win-win ideas would attract attention.

RandomSequence said...


I was not objecting to your citing of Adam Smith; I was objecting to the fact that you place him in opposition to Adam Smith. The reality is far more complex - I suspect that you know that.

It's also a bit simplistic to call Chomsky a loon. On the one hand, he developed the theory of generative grammer that underlies everything from linguistic to high-level neurology to computer science. Anyone who hasn't read him is ill-educated, IMHO.

On the other hand, he has a very radical political approach, some of it descending into ranting. I expect that, like with most figures of that type, some of it will migrate to the center, and most of it will be forgotten. But we need "looniness" like that. He did a lot in the 80's to point out the nature of media conglomerations and self-censorship in media that has already become common sense among many on both the left and the right. On the other hand, he dismisses government in all its forms too lightly as simply an agglomeration of self-interest. And his take on Israel/Palestine seems more, ahem, tactical than an actual analysis.

Anonymous said...

How about a more targeted tax raise: tax OPEC oil? That way we target the rich that are actually benefiting from our interventions: the Arab rich.

Let those who drive SUVs and fly private jets (including Al Gore) pay the cost of keeping the Persian Gulf open, along with the cost of preventing Muslim radicals from using those oil revenues to wipe out Israel.

TheRadicalModerate said...

David, I may have fallen into an historical lacuna and can't get up, but I'd appreciate it if you'd cite a few "past free markets that were destroyed by aristos." Seems to me there are lots of examples of sort-of free markets that were set up by aristos as elaborate racketeering schemes. Those same folks often discovered, to their dismay, that the slippery little buggers kept morphing out of their control. I'm having a hard time thinking of a case where a truly robust free market devolved back the other way. I'll stand by that statement even for 1870-1945 Germany which wasn't a robust market to begin with, then got smashed flat in 1918, allowing vultures to pick the carcass with, uh, admittedly unpleasant consequences.

You've completely lost me on "my money" and Platonism. Money's the most pragmatic thing in the world. It's just a way to keep score so economic systems know how to optimize for value.

Does money convey power? Of course--if it didn't, there'd be no mechanism for capital formation. Can it convey unlimited power? You'd better hope not, because the tail on the power law distribution only gets longer as the economy gets bigger, and the chances of re-engineering that distribution are about the same as those of setting pi equal to 3.0 and successfully building an automobile.

But free markets are robust and tend to protect themselves from limitless manipulation. That's why we've evolved all these byzantine laws. (Note that "byzantine" is a natural consequence of anything "evolved," and not a bad thing.)

So, with that, let me invert your summary screed:

I have a right to accumulate and wield money power as I see fit, in the open, subject to an extremely limited amount of privacy. I have a right to advocate, in the open, self-interested changes in law. Everybody else has the right to watch me like a hawk and use every legal means available, also in the open, to make common cause against me to prevent me from achieving my goals.

Where we're going to have the problem is whether "every legal means available" includes the right to make common cause to confiscate enough of my wealth to check my power.

So here's a random idea, not even proposed for ironic or rhetorical purposes: How 'bout anti-trust for households? We just put a cap at, say, $10 billion in household net worth. If you exceed that, you have to divest. Do you think it solves the problem? Do you think you can make it work? I suspect the answer to both questions is "no." (For example: I think Nauru would suddenly discover it had lots of multi-billionaires applying for citizenship.)

TheRadicalModerate said...


Your Chomsky argument reminds me of a common technique used to attempt global optimization in multi-variable random-walk systems. You inject a certain amount of noise into the system to force it out of local maxima. For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you don't want to get stuck on a small peak below the summit just because every direction is currently "down."

Political and economic systems are just these kinds of hill-climbing systems. Chomsky, or Ann Coulter, or Michael Moore, or Rush Limbaugh are excellent sources of noise. Almost all of the ideas are full-blown batshit crazy, but they definitely blow the system out of its current state by a bit.

In many noise-injection systems, you can use techniques like simulated annealing to slowly reduce the amount of noise and converge on an optimal solution. This obviously doesn't work so well for dynamic systems.

So, some questions: Is the noise helpful in dynamic economic or political systems? How much noise is too much? Too little? Is it helpful to occaisionally taper down the amount of noise to let the system settle out a bit? Are there better analogues for how noise is injected in political and economic systems?

RandomSequence said...


The problem is that they are dynamical systems. Simulated annealing, in my experience, are used for systems like neural nets which are not dynamical systems. Like an engineering prof of mine said, "Neural nets, those things aren't like brains - they're dead!" We should look at the dynamics of organisms for inspiration, rather than equilibrium systems.

I think the analyses shouldn't be in terms of noise, per se. But the class of noise. So, we can probably handle quite a bit of libertarian or anarchist analyses without upsetting the system; they just add to the search space. But Ann Coulter, for example, is just a bomb thrower - in old fashioned terms, those types inflame the passions and not the intellect. In more new-fangled terms, the latter don't act like mutant variants, but like infections or parasites.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Note that noise injection also works for dynamic systems (although I agree that simulated annealing per se isn't a good model unless there are meta-static points in the system--one of my questions). Don't know if you saw the vibrating shoe work from a couple of years ago--although this is not a hill-climbing app.

I'm going to assert that the class of noise--rhetorical bomb-throwing or genuinely good/bad ideas--doesn't matter a whit, just as long as it changes the position in state space. The trick is to move the proper distance in the space. Too small and it's useless. Too large and--well, those are called "paradigm shifts," and they come in good and bad flavors.

Don Quijote said...

So here's a random idea, not even proposed for ironic or rhetorical purposes: How 'bout anti-trust for households? We just put a cap at, say, $10 billion in household net worth. If you exceed that, you have to divest. Do you think it solves the problem? Do you think you can make it work? I suspect the answer to both questions is "no." (For example: I think Nauru would suddenly discover it had lots of multi-billionaires applying for citizenship.)

Make it $1 Billion in household net worth and if they want to renounce their US citizenship to save a few bucks, they are free to do so, just understand that they should be made persona non grata, never able to set foot on US Territory for as long as they live not even to catch a connecting flight between Europe and Japan and if found on US Territory sent to the big house for ten years before being sent back to whatever country was foolish enough to grant them citizenship.

Unknown said...

Hey, there are Dept. of Justice guidelines for presidential pardons!

Who knew?

Some relevant bits:

Section 1-2.112 Standards for Considering Pardon Petitions

The Department's regulations require a petitioner to wait a period of at least five years after conviction or release from confinement (whichever is later) before filing a pardon application


1. Post-conviction conduct, character, and reputation.

2. Seriousness and relative recentness of the offense.

When an offense is very serious ... , a suitable length of time should have elapsed in order to avoid denigrating the seriousness of the offense.

3. Acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement.

4. Need for relief.

5. Official recommendations and reports.

David Brin said...

RM, I am fighting for transparency first. If everybody on Earth knew what everybody else claimed to own, it would be a field day for lawyers... for a while... but both democracy and markets, the two most crucial arenas, would work far better. There would be lots of negotiation and bickering, once it was clear who owned what. But there is no philosophical leg for anyone to stand on, opposing this idea.

If you own something, you should be willing to assert it, and persuade your civilization to defend that ownership right. I figure just this would persuade a large proportion of the aristocracy to self divest of a fair number of “questionable” assets voluntarily, just to ensure that the masses don’t get mad and start muttering too unpleasantly.

The thing is that this one thing has to be done worldwide. It is the basis for the Helvetian War in Earth.

Moreover, there are some very bright aristos out there. Even on the reactionary side of things. Donald Trump once suggested that his entire class face a “once per lifetime tax of say a third of our assets,” or something close to that. Not an income taxe but a wealth tax... with a very firm guarantee that it only happens once.

You mention -Chomsky, or Ann Coulter, or Michael Moore, or Rush Limbaugh- and notice... all of them are prime examples of self-righteousness junkie dope fiends, according to my “letter on addiction” which I assume all here have read. This is an area where the left is little better than the right. The diff is that the SR junkies of the left don’t own a major political party, but must grind their teeth in rage while pragmatists run the DP. The opposite is true of the GOP, which is owned, operated and run entirely by its madmen.

Andrew thanks for the pardon application specifics. But, of course, that is for normal felons. Presidents have often sinply written free passes to folks outside these guidelines. I like what one of you said about the MAXIMUM Scooter sentence being till W’s last day in office.

TheRadicalModerate said...

David, I will gladly sit down and drink a big jug of Transparency Koolaid with you. Total agreement.

I suspect the property results would be a little less dramatic than you think domestically, but pretty gruesome internationally. I'd want to see a hell of a lot more established law before we tried that one. The unwinding of colonial territories didn't go so well for the people receiving the assets and I doubt claims between multinational corporations and the local claimants would go much better. Just look around at who's nationalizing things currently and you will get a pretty good picture of what to expect.

Hard to deny that the GOP is hung over from some pretty extreme stupid pills and has taken candy from some questionable strangers. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?) I'll go so far as to say that their enthrallment coefficient is maybe 65%, while the dems are at only 40%. Have to admit that Pelosi has acted mostly like a grownup so far, with a few inevitable exceptions. (Anybody who doesn't put Jane Harman in as chair on Intelligence is an idiot--or having enthrallment problems.) At the very least, Pelosi gets points for not actively seeking out a constitutional crisis on war powers. We'll see.

BTW, the thing that you ascribed to the Donald already exists: It's called inheritance taxes, an area where both parties are behaving equally stupidly, the GOP for being too greedy and the DP for denying that there are some gigantic policy holes that need redress.

Don Quijote said...

(Anybody who doesn't put Jane Harman in as chair on Intelligence is an idiot--or having enthrallment problems.)

Didn't Jane Harman despite being on the Intelligence Committee vote to give Shrub the authority to invade Iraq?

Just that shows either a total lack of judgment or a yellow streak a foot wide down her back (Not an uncommon trait amongst Democrats).

Josh Yelon said...

Daily Kos has a structural problem. It seems to affect really sharp, insightful writers the most. Here's Conceptual Guerilla commenting on the problem today:

I've considered an interesting experiment: stochastic diary recommendation. Basically, when a diary is first posted, it shows up on the recommended-diary list of 0.1% of the visitors. The more recommendations it gets, the more visitors see the diary on their recommended diary list.

The first advantage of this system would be that every diary would get at least a cursory examination. No longer would diaries slip off the diary list, unread by anyone. Effectively, by taking a not-yet-recommended diary and showing it on the recommended list of a small percentage of visitors, the system is assigning a task: "hey, you guys, read this and see if it's any good."

The system has a second advantage.
The current system is all-or-nothing: either you make it onto the recommended diary list, or you don't. This system is less black-and-white: everyone gets onto the recommended diary list of a couple dozen visitors, but the size of that audience increases in proportion to the quality of your writing.

RandomSequence said...


Your self-righteousness dope fiend analysis is a bit shallow. Coulter, Limbaugh and Moore are classic narcissist - they get high on themselves. For folks of their generation, you can tell a narcissist by sight: the men are obese, the women rail thin. They are self-absorbed people, who are more or less cynical, basically acting as propagandists, who may believe some or none of what they spew. Limbaugh is the very prototype of the Goebbel's type cynical propagandist. I doubt that self-righteousness is his driving force.

On the other hand, Chomsky is a completely different type - he's bent on forming the ideology for some kind of anarchist revolution. His desire is power, and matches up better with folks like Kissinger (probably has some similar psychology, since both are Jewish boys growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust) or Buckley (on some kind of WASP, I rule by divine right, program). Unlike Kissinger who is an avowed Stalinist (read "Diplomacy"), Chomsky's plans don't involve immediate gratification; the man is a certifiable genius (He once gave on CSPAN a July 4th analysis of the constitution and, without notes, went 7 levels deep in his argument), so he's on a long-term plan to transform the planet. Call Chomsky a megalomaniac - he's more Napoleon than Tokyo Rose.

In between these folks is what would probably best fit self-righteousness junkies - folks like Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich. They're neither low-level employees doing what it takes to pay the mortgage, nor the hidden hands developing the master plans. They are narcissistic and control-freaks. They combine a practical cynicism that exempts them from their own rules, while really believing that those rules apply to the hoi polloi. Those are the alpha types that you're pointing at, the kind of folks that can make it into the whitehouse.

Coulter et. al., are parasites while Chomsky et. al., are the kind of folks who make the big plans. The Clintons and Gingrich's are the actual implementors, and if those last folks are insane we are in trouble.

RandomSequence said...


The problem is that markets and societies are not just dynamic - they're active. For example, take a dog: I can kick it to perturb it. The response is in no way proportional to the perturbation, because the dog is itself actively searching the social space, well beyond my perturbation of the dog.

Another example: an ecosystem. I can perturb it by introducing a foreign species. The response to the species is not a simple equilibration of the ecosystem - the rest of the elements are actively adapting, changing the search space itself.

So Ann Coulter and her ilk are not equivalent to, say William F. Buckley. Both perturb the system, but the former are corrosive, leading to a simplification of the ecosystem and undermining it's ability to adapt, while the latter is (sometimes) adding options for action (for good or bad).

Anonymous said...

Your self-righteousness dope fiend analysis is a bit shallow. Coulter, Limbaugh and Moore are classic narcissist - they get high on themselves. For folks of their generation, you can tell a narcissist by sight: the men are obese, the women rail thin.

From my theatre days, I can greatly attest to this one. In my experience, performance delivers a high just as nice (or nicer in some cases) than the self-righteous euphoria. It starts as an enjoyment of the effort (ramping up, just wait-til-they-see-this kind of thing), and the attention of course is nice as well. It is also hard to find a drug that is as good as applause.

At first, one may do performance because they enjoy the material and want to share it. But, the experience of being on the big stage can be a pretty strong lure. This can lead to attention-whoring like Coulter, who may (hopefully) have finally crossed the border from shocking to disgusting.

Patrick said...

I keep kicking myself for not monitoring these boards closely. I'm always behind the discussion.

Your point, that the government is composed of people rather than being people, is unfortunate. While it may be that governments behave differently than a simple collection of individuals, this is no justification for any action in the role of government. After WW2 it was decided that "I was just following orders" was not acceptable. Each bureaucrat is personally responsible for the actions he takes in office, even the ones that are his job.

David - I agree. It may be because I am young and relatively asset free, but I have always felt that the problem with "my money" was in the word "my". It may be that I will accumulate wealth, but I hope to never develop an attachment to it. Money has no meaning except as a medium of exchange and out of circulation is meaningless. [BTW,I read some of the R.H. you suggested, and I am reminded of the scene from Time Enough for Love when Lazarus Long burns money to demonstrate this point.]

Random - "Anyone who hasn't read him is ill-educated" I consider myself reasonably well educated for my age, I have 3 degrees, But I never had to read any Chomsky.

Random and RM - On the topic of optimization. A good organic metaphor is the distribution of genes in a population. In times where selective pressure is weak, species tend to diversify. Often times this is 'downhill' but the diversification is sometimes beneficial.
An example: Heterozygous Sickle Cell Anemia is only mildly detrimental during normal times. But during a malaria outbreak it is strongly beneficial as it conveys immunity.
Optimization in politics is similarly dynamic, and perhaps a way to achieve it would be to similarly stress the system.
But remember that the point of freedom is not to determine some optimum behavior. Individuals like Coulter are (oddly) the goal of political freedom, not merely an optimizing element. Our goal shouldn't be to eliminate them, just not to let them have so much influence.

RandomSequence said...


May I assume that none of your degrees was in linguistics, psychology, anthropology, computer science, engineering, sociology or political science?

No, you're right, a lot of well-educated people haven't even heard of Chomsky, which surprises me, since I run into his work in so many fields - it's usually funny, because the politicals are usually completely unaware of his science work and visa-versa.

But really Intro to Linguistics 101, he's there. Compiler theory: he's there. Linguistic & bio anthropology: there too. Intro to psychology: also there. Political science of the US (not intro): you'll see him. Even in marketing he shows up, analyzing media & self-censorship. Neuroscience? His organ of language appears.

He's been pretty influential, and a tangential knowledge of his scientific work is essential if you work in anything that touches linguistics or human nature.

Patrick said...

Random -

No you are right, I was only formally educated for evolutionary biology, the philosophy of morality, and a law degree. Which is odd because I am a self taught webmaster, and hang out with anthropologists.

Can you [or anyone else] suggest some scholarly works (a-political) that would give me a basic grounding in his theories? And maybe a short book on his political opinions. All I know about him is his reputation and his wikipedia entry.

Side note, the one time I heard Chomsky, on NPR, he seemed at best an average public speaker. Was this a fair estimate, or was I being overly critical of a singular bad performance.

RandomSequence said...


No, he's a pretty crappy public speaker. His rhetoric is completely uninspiring, and he doesn't want to improve it, I don't believe. But when he's on, his logic gets nasty; his style is to make his arguments deeper than most people's stacks, with hook after hook - If he had a sense of humor, he'd be a great comedian. The complexity of argument is one of the reasons some people hate him, and some worship him - if you can't get your stack that deep, it either sounds like gibberish or Revelation from Genius, both of which are of course complete nonsense.

I googled him at mit: His (scientific) reference list is at For an intro in a textbook, index Generative Grammar.

It's mostly work about recursive grammars with flights into the constraints they place on neurobiology. Some folks hate it, but its definitely required reading for linguistics - you can't ignore his work in that field whatever school you belong to without getting called on in it by reviewers.

On his political views, I don't know if he's written a summary. He generally writes unbelievably cynical analyses of government institutions, media, business, and political parties. He seems to see himself as a kind of Bakunin, who hates the Bolsheviks as much as state capitalism. There's excerpts of his stuff on

It's actually kind of funny how sharp the line is between those who have heard him and not. I once walked into a neuroscience course where one of the students had brought him up in an argument over the representation of language in the brain; the rest of the class not only hadn't heard of him, but they were accusing that student of inventing him out of whole cloth. So they asked me to settle the bet when I walked in - the sheepish look on their faces when I said that he is actually one of the most referenced authors in the world was priceless.

TunnelVision said...

A very interesting discussion indeed. Thanks
"Class Warfare":
I am really surprised that it is being still fashionable.
Can any body clarify what classes of people were prosecuted in so called socialist heavens? Former East Germany, few years after the fall of the infamous Berlin wall presented a depressing low human spirits and gloomy environment. At a supposedly great personal risk, I asked probing questions about leftist experiment. The interpreter was furious and warned of strong verbal and physical reactions from the tormented former leftists. They were bitter critics of the suppressive ideology and its brutal administrators. Same race, culture and natural resources, but there was fundamental difference in human spirits and environment devastated by micro management of individuals and the society as whole.

reason said...

a couple of comebacks on things you said earlier.

You've completely lost me on "my money" and Platonism.

By Platonism, I think David is referring to the implied Property Rights Fundamentalism lurking in the background there. Do you employ a private army, police force or legal system? No? Then you are relying on the protection of your property given by the aparatus of state and the agreement of the mass of the population that lies behind it. If people start starving then that implicit might suddenly become very explicit.

It's just a way to keep score so economic systems know how to optimize for value.

I remember someone explaining that once as why the rich are different. For the majority of people it is means of survival. Read
for an interesting take on this. (I don't agree with everything he writes by the way - but his view that even the rich benefit from tax and spread bears taking seriously).

But free markets are robust and tend to protect themselves from limitless manipulation. That's why we've evolved all these byzantine laws. (Note that "byzantine" is a natural consequence of anything "evolved," and not a bad thing.)

But the market didn't evolve these laws, democratic governments did. And many of these laws are under attack in the US.

reason said...

tunnel vision...
Are you a troll? Your comment doesn't pass to the discussion at hand.

Anonymous said...

About the Daily Kos site, Dr. Brin remarked:

"I have been kos-posting some items that first appeared here, in hope that some memes might spread beyond this brilliant but rather inbred little group. Mostly I’ve been serializing my `Suggestions to the New Congress.' Alas, these postings appear to merely blip over there. Taking center stage? The usual tired ideas and same-old rants."

Permit me to demur. The people at Daily Kos have several new ideas -- though they might not be the ideas Dr. Brin proposes. The first new idea involves using the internet to directly promote and fund Democratic candidates. This truly is new. Howard Dean was the first to make use of the net as a grassroots, but the Kos people are taking it to a whole new level. Remember, too, that 2004 was only 3 years ago. Prior to 2004, the idea of bypassing traditional funding methods (lobbyists, giant corporations, special interest group PACs) wasn't even on the radar scope.

The second new idea the Kos people are fanatical about involves wresting control of Democratic campaigns away from inside-the-Beltway professional campaign operatives. This is also a new idea. The conventional wisdom today is that big national campaigns are too money-intensive and too vital to be left to amateurs. The Kos people are making a radical proposal -- in effect, they're suggesting a Wikipedia-style emergent system for organizing and managing campaigns, rather than the top-down 1950s-CEO-style campaign management done today. The people at Kos have done a lot of work on this. They've produced candidates and capamigns and even some outstanding campaign ads by anonymous schmucks from the grassroots, people from nowhere with nothing but Macromedia Flash and some free time.

So it seems inaccurate as well as unfair to decry the people at Kos as vomiting out the "usual tired ideas and same-old rants."

This gets us into an uncomfortable area. Dr. Brin enjoys the luxury of not having to get results 6 months from now in the real world. He can sit back and type on a computer keyboard, and as long as his screeds sell in the bookstores, he's fine. Out here in the real world, the people at Kos don't need new ideas...they need to win the next primary 6 months from now.

Out in the real world, it isn't necessarily true that whatever is newest works best. Out in the real world, it's also not the case that we can get anything accomplished by dismissing with contempt a whole range of suggestions, as Dr. Brin so often does, usually adding a remark to the effect that "we must not go backwards" (why not, if it's the most efficient solution? Must we use motorized cybernetic forks? Why not just ordinary forks? Are we so gullible that anything sufficiently new will sucker us into abandoning efficiency and workability for novelty?) or "that's just nostalgia" (the false dichotomy: we must fly around with jet packs and live on food pills and clothe ourselves in H.G. Wells lexan sandals...OR return to the caves and abandon fire) or "that's just hand-waving." (Everything which is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal article is essentially a form of hand-waving, Dr. Brin. You, as a scientist, ought to know that.) Out in the real world, groups of people who want to accomplish something usually have to compromise. That often means going backward and wallowing in nostalgia and doing lots of hand-waving. How do we reconcile winner-take-all free market capitalism with the equality of every human being? Lots 'n lots of hand-waving.

The uncomfortable area here boils down to some of the pathologies and dysfunctions of modernism. One of the most extreme pathologies of modernism is what J. J. Nattiez called "neopathy" -- the delusion that whatever is new is better, and whatever is newest is best.

Examples of neopathy abound. Tablet computers. Compared to a pad of paper and a pencil, they're still pathetically ineffective. (Various folks will deny this, to no avail. Pen computing has yet to catch on, handwriting recognition is still abysmal, there's still no standard format for including drawn bitmatted graphics with digital text and transferring the files to other platforms, and all the denials in the world can't erase these documented facts.) Another spectacular example of neopathy is electronic voting. It's buggy. It's unnecessarily complex. It doesn't work. Just go back to paper. We here in Oregon use paper ballots and we have had no problems with vote counts. None. Zero. Here's THE case where going forward is a bad idea and going backward makes the most sense.

That's not to say that we must always go backward, or even much of the time. Generally speaking, we'll probably find it most efficient to move forward to new technologies and new social modalities, and that's where Dr. Brin shines. But not always. The professionalization of both police work and education has been an unmitigated disaster, and despite Dr. Brin's false antinomy ("we must either have corrupt Tammany Hall-style uneducated cops, or today's professionalized phoneys who rig ths crime statistics at the politicians' orders and ride around in air-conditioned patrol cars without ever getting to know the citizens whose neighborhoods they patrol, leading to flourishing crime and constant tragic shootings because the cops today just don't know the good guys from the bad guys on sight...because the cops never patrol the beat and get to know the citizens.")

There's a big huge unexplored middle in between the phoney antipodal extremes Dr. Brin portrays. It's not nostalgia to say cops need to get back to walking the beat and getting to know the citizens. The more police hide behind computers and statistics and rule-crazy legalisms, the more Amadou Diallo shootings we get and more drug dealers run amok because the cops care more about rip-and-run minor drug busts to up their stats than attacking the heart of the drug problem.

Likewise, there's a vast middle gray area between rote memorization in classrooms and the mindless teach-to-the-test statistic-oriented mania that's destroying schools today.

Lastly, there's Dr. Brin's constant enshrinement of the Enlightenment as a social and political ideal. I'm not sure how much history he recalls, but the Enlightment led directly to the Terror in post-revolutionary France. Rationlity led to insane terror and mass murder because once we divorce political ideology from emotion, then even the best and most decent human being can stand condemned for violating the iron dictates of ideology, and once that happens, Madame LaFarge must be served. And the crowning irony is that the master architect of the Terror himself, Robsepierre, soon enough found himself led to the guillotine -- for sentiment had no place in the brave new world of the Enlightenment. By logical degrees the Enlightenment led to the valuation of reason over sentiment, and the valuation of reason over sentiment led to the dissection of human motives under the merciless glare of pure logic, and the dictates of custom and history and biology soon enough fell away, and logical step by inexorably logic step, children found themselves denouncing their parents as ideologically impure...and so the Soviet mass murders and purges and the horrible failed attempt to create "the new Soviet Man" arose directly (and logically) from the Enlightenment. For once emotion becomes delvalued, the sanctity of human life and prohibitions against torture and patricide and child murder must necessarily fall, since they owe their primacy solely to messy emotion. If torturing one child will improve society, logically, ought we not to do it? If torturing a hundred children will improve the world, logically, why not do it? If torturing and murdering a billion children will lead to a paradise on earth we can demonstrate with impeccable logic, then logically, we are obliged to pour acid on a billion kids' eyeballs. Such is the Enlightenment carried to its logical endpoint. Few have noted that the unspeakable horror of WW I gas warfare represents the logical outcome of Jeremy Bentham's Hedonic Calculus. (For if we can end the war and save millions of lives by drowning a few thousand soldiers in their own corroded lung alveoli courtesy of mustard gas, are we not logically obliged to do so?)

If humans are fundamentally rational, than behavior is choice, and can be controlled by behaviorist conditioning. This makes any depravity not just possible in the name of a sufficiently idyllic ideology, but desirable and beautiful. Alas, controlling human behavior with behaviorism as B. F. Skinner proposed in his sinister book "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" doesn't work, as we know, because the premise is false. Humans are not fundamentally rational...and a good thing too, for no hard-nosed rationalist would ever marry or have kids or leave an inheritance.

The Enlightenment's strong point was its emphasis on reason. The Enlightenment's weak underbelly remains its insistence that humans are primarily rational animals, acting out of rational motives, and almost limitlessly malleable by behaviorist manipulation.

History as well as science show us this just isn't so. Good Old-Fashioned AI has failed because efforts to model human thought as logic always fall apart -- that isn't the way human thought operates. Cutting-edge AI researchers today recognize that human thought is primarily based on emotion. Dr. Brin will of course try to ridicule this or dimiss ut as backsliding or despair, but it's neither -- it's just a fact. People don't get married or have children or educate their kids or choose a profession based on reason. They do almost everything they do in life because of deep emotions. The Enlightenment ignores this basic reality at its peril. Run to its ultima thule, the Enlightenment attitude leads us to ask, "Why should parents raise children?" And why indeed, from a purely rational viewpoint? What does a child produce that can possibly pay for a parent's food and board? Logically, therefore, we ought to send children out as streetwalkers to pay for their own room and board as soon as they can walk. Likewise, we should not logically permit people to choose their own professions, but determine their careers by means of standardized tests. And so on.
It takes little thought to realize that a purely rational approach to society leads to the most monstrously inhuman world imaginable.

Voltaire, the great foe of Enlightenment logicians, used to quip that "Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence." Time and again we've seen that experts have taken every possible factor into account, only to be proven dead wrong. Logic and reason, while necessary, are not sufficient as a basis for society. This is why I (and everyone else with common sense and a knowledge of history) gets very nervous when anyone starts enthusing about Enlightenment values the way Dr. Brin does. It seems incredibly foolhardly to constantly harp on the alleged importance of focusing on the principles of the Enlightenment as the foundation of Western society. Personally, I think it would be a disaster to try to make the Enlightenement the foundation of Western culture. As Neal Stephenson remarked in "In the Beginning was the Command Line":

"The 19th century showed what happened when society followed the dictates of intellectuals to their logical conclusion. The world turned into a bloody abbatoir."

The Enlightenment isn't an adequate basis for society. And it can't be. For my money, the Renaissance makes a much better foundation because the Renaissance was far more well-rounded -- with the Enlightenment you veer too easily into left-brain control-freak behaviorist ideological hyper-rationalism that ends up with efforts to create The New Modernist Man and gives us Pruitt-Igoe housing complexes, Le Courbusier's hideous unlivable dystopian cities seemingly built for giant-sized ants, and the fanatical monomania we see all around us today for reducing everyone and everything to numbers. If you want to see the crazy end-point of turning everyone into a number, it's the no-fly list. Once you get the wrong terrorist "risk number," you can never get away from it...and there's no sensible reason why anyone gets on! Total logic leads by sensible and reasonable degrees to an endpoint which is complete madness. That's always what happens when you follow logic to its uttermost conclusion.

The irony of hyper-rationalism, of course, is that it winds up in total insanity. Following Jeremy Betham's Enlightenment-era Hedonic Calculus and suchlike irrational rationalisms leads us directly to a crazy Aldous Huxley style police state in which it becomes necessary to kill the children (by Ritalin overmedication) in order to save them, to surveil people into s state of madness in order to protect them, to measure them so minutely (and in so many meaningless ways) that they go nuts in order to help them, to give people so many capitalist free market choices that they break down and experience "option paralysis" and become unable to function.

Taking any given era in Western history as the putative foundation of Western culture bodes both ill and good -- the Renaissance abounded with mindless superstition, a Grand Inquisition, and scheming princelings as well as great artists and poets and scientists like Kepler and Galileo.

The Enlightenment broke the political power of the church and gave us the concept of inalienable human rights along with a functional model for representative democracy and modern capital markets -- but it also gave us modern poltical ideology, the start of modern propagada, guerilla warfare, political genocide, political purges, and mass terror as a method of controlling populations.

The Romantic era gave us a view into our subconscious motives and a valuable return to the Dionysian wellspring of right-brain creativity...but the Romantic period also drowned in wild sexual and political excess, a return of monarchism, the madness of unbridled nationalism, and a crazy tendency to place emotion above reason as a motive force in human affairs.

And so it goes. Each era had its advantages and drawbacks. The Enlightment gave us many valuable innovations, but it sounds like a disastrously ill-founded idea to make the Enlightenment the end-all and be-all of our social or political thought. In many ways, sad to say, the current disaster in Iraq represents the apotheosis of Enlightenment values. Moreover, if we follow Enlightenment values to the letter, we must stay in Iraq, and we must continue to kill and kill and kill and kill and kill, and we must destroy and burn, and we must reduce the entire country to rubble...all in order to save it and free its people.

Consider: the Enlightenment teaches us that all people have inalienable human rights. Therefore we must invade to crush the dictator Saddam. Logically, the Iraqi people should rise up, form a rational government, and govern themselves with stately common sense and peerless reason. Instead, when the Iraqi people prove all too human and start murdering one another because old tribal feuds boil up and long-repressed (since the Balfour Declaration in 1918) nationalisms erupt, what's our reponse as rational people? We must stay and try to gets all the sides to reason with one another. This only serves to exacerbate the torture and murder, as each side uses our presence as a cover to abduct children and use power drills on them, to burn and bomb, to murder and be murdered.
And rationally, we must continue to stay -- we must continue to kill, we must at the end be left standing in a mountain of corpses amid a heap of burning rubble.

This is where excessive rationality leads. It's irrational to give up and walk away. It violates common sense to say, "We can't do anything more, the Iraqis will have to kill each other until they tired of killing and then maybe, generations from now, they put their country back together again." It makes no sense to say that. Logically, there's always another reasonable move we can make, another logical proposal we can offer the various sides in Iraq.

But in the end, experience teaches us that people just aren't logical. After a certain point, you just have to let people act irrationally. (This will of course be decried as "uncaring" and "contemptuous" and "backward -looking," instead of realistic and steeped in the humility of history and experience.) When your wife starts screaming hysterically and throwing dishes on the floor, at a certain point you just have to let her get it out her system. When your kid dyes his hair green and starts attending goth raves, you can try grounding him and you can try persuading him with logic and you can try punishing him...but in the end you just have to let him grow out of it. Iraq is a fake country confected by politicians at the Versailles peace confrence by drawing wacky lines on a map, and today's Iraq collapse is the irrational result of those 3 tribal cultures spinning centrifugally out of control. It's not logical for 3 tribal groups to inisit on maintaining their identities through a period of 85 years, and it's not rational for these three tribal groups to murder one another with insensate savagery, but it's very human. And thus inevitable.

This will of course be falsely characterized as "hand-waving" or "nostalgia" or "a trip back to the past." In reality, it's the recognition that human beings are more than the couple of cubic centimeters of frontal cortex behind their foreheads. Even the most rigorous mathematician never dedicated her book on integral equations to an equation -- she typically dedicates it to her husband, or her mentor, or her best friend. Why? Because people are fundamentally driven by emotion. Failure to recognize that leads us to Soviet gulags that don't create a paradise on earth and high SAT scores that don't produce people able to read or write on graduation from college and impressive-looking credentials that cover up people completely unable to do the Condoleeza Rice.

Dismiss the people at Kos all you like, but they have to live in the real world. If their combative pro-active candidate doesn't win that crucial Decmoratic primary 6 months from now, we get 4 more years of creationism and global warming denial and government funding of museums showing Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs to church on Sunday and pre-emptive wars based on lies and fought by dirt-poor American kids in foreign hellholes. New ideas often have value, and logic and common sense and skeptical critical thinking often prove crucial. But novelty != utility in the real world. A proposal like "put a new surtax on the rich until America leaves Iraq" would merely give the Ann Coulters of the world a wonderful opportunity to caricature Demos as "tax-the-rich class-warriors AS WELL AS gutless cowards who want to cut and run!" Out in the real world, such proposals wouldn't travel six inches. Politics is emotion, not reason, and a tax-the-rich scheme welded to the ass of every mutilated American soldier hobbling in retreat from Iraq would set every American voter's reptilian hindbrain afire with fight-of-flight frenzy against the Democrats and give the Repubs another 4 years of power. That's not pretty, but it's the way the real world works.

Reason and common sense are important. When you apply logic and common sense and skeptical critical thinking to your spouse, however, you find it's darn hard to come up with hard forensic evidence that your spouse loves you. And guess what?
We ignore that fact and go on with our lives.

I suspect the group here on this website tends to be inbred because not that many folks will buy the Enlightenment fantasy that resolving arguments as Leibniz suggested by saying "Gentlemen, let us calculate," or using triangulation-style Clintonian "we're above the petty division of right vs left, we're now beyond that into modern vs. regressive" verbal calisthenics as a campaign platform, makes a credible model for modern society.

reason said...

Anonymous (why?)...
I'm sure Dr. Brin will defend himself from your impassioned straw man attack.

Your VERY LONG post was certainly not short on emotion, but was it useful? To me I just read cynicism. Criticism is a valuable thing, but it should be constructive - what exactly do you want to suggest?

As to the idea that pure reason is the what Dr. Brin is about, you haven't been paying attention. Let me give you a hint. There are no imperitives in logic. We need both reason AND emotion, reason to see choices clearly and emotion to make decisions based on that clear vision, and what we as emotional beings value. It is when we start to see through a mist of emotion, and decide rationally (on the basis of blurred images) that we get into trouble.

RandomSequence said...


I think you miss the major breakthrough of the 20th century in logic that brings us past the nightmare side of the enlightenment. The Enlightenment posited that there was a single, ultimate rational system or logic; an absolute logic that we must approach. That was the source of the nightmare, and led to the counter nightmare of romanticism.

What we have learned in the last century is that there is no ultimate logic - there are many logics, that we must pick and choose from, as appropriate to the circumstances. That reality is not essentially euclidean or riemann, but we pick and choose the one that fits the current facts - that best approaches our current knowledge of reality under certain conditions.

Unfortunately, this leads to the aberration of post-modernism, where it is then advanced that all systems are incommensurable and "valid." That is nonsense - some systems are better than others under certain conditions. If we can organize philosophically and culturally our best knowledge at this point, a better future might be possible.

For example, in the current cultural mindset, you can be capitalist or socialist - one must be true and the other false. In the postmodern view, each one is just a justification for one power hierarchy or other. But, there's another view - each is appropriate for different system. Each captures certain features of reality, and can be used in conjunction to solve problems as appropriate. And furthermore, better systems that are neither can probably built with a bit of sweat today.

Yes, I knew, heresy! We want an ultimate final truth, not just practical engineering solutions...

TunnelVision said...

It is a small take on “Class Warfare” mind set.
Human behavior is organic and hence complex.

RandomSequence said...


That is exactly why class warfare is still relevant - human nature is complex. The problem is when everything is reduced to class warfare - that's just plain stupid, just as stupid as dismissing class warfare altogether.

TunnelVision said...


“Class Warfare”
Class conflict is a term long-used mostly by socialists, Marxists, and anarchists, to describe social conflicts between two or more classes in society, and the injustices they perceive, such as gaining profit from actions they deem "non-productive" or "non-labor" e.g. the granting of permission to use the means of production (e.g. a capitalist being paid for investing or for allowing the use of land or a building such as a hotel)
Marxists and many anarchists define a 'class' by its relationship to the 'means of production'-such as factories, land, and machinery. Non Marxists non-anarchists usually define classes by the type of employment (such as manufacturing/blue collar, white collar, or management), or by income.
In the classical Marxist and anarchist view, capitalism consists of 2 basic social classes: those who sell their labor for survival (the proletariat) and those who own the means of production (the bourgeoisie). Anarchist analysis also distinguishes a third techno-managerial class. In non-Marxist non-anarchist theory, there are usually deemed to be three or four classes: Working (blue collar or manual laborers), Middle (those who work in a non manual profession such as teaching, computing, or management), and upper (the rich, or those whose career is highly specialized and requires great education, such as stock brokers, politicians, judges etc). Sometimes a forth class is added: The 'Underclass' or Lumpenproletariat - those who are unemployed, living on state benefits, or engage in 'blue collar' crime such as burglary, mugging, or drug dealing.
Class conflict is supposed to be both the friction that accompanies social relationships between members or groups of different social classes and the underlying tensions or antagonisms which exist in society due to conflicting interests that arise from different social positions. Class conflict is thought to play a pivotal role in history of class societies (such as capitalism and feudalism) by Marxists and anarchists who refer to its overt manifestations as class war, a struggle which today, in their view, is fought most relentlessly and secretly by the capitalist class.
Class conflict can take many different shapes, for example direct violence such as wars fought for resources and cheap labor, policemen beating poor blacks or the workers who try to democratically run their workplaces and economy; indirect violence such as deaths from poverty, starvation or unsafe working conditions; coercion, such as the threat of losing a job or pulling a much needed investment, or ideology, e.g. trying to convince people that the power should be in the hands of the working class or the capitalist class, or instilling passivity and consumerism with advertising
It can be open, as with a business lockout aimed at destroying a labor union, or it can be hidden, as with an informal slowdown in production that protests low wages or an excessively fast or dangerous work process.
What have we learned by the concepts of “Class” and “Class Warefare”?
Isn’t it has been used as a political tool to connect with poor and dispossessed to get votes and ultimately the coveted power and then keep those poor eternally poor?
Look at the fate and actions of the so called socialist/leftist/communists countries, what has happened there?

The Internet first made class distinctions invisible, providing for all kinds of social upward mobility.

The Internet evolved in a democratic, competitive society not in the class driven, communist societies.
They would have never allowed it at all.
Still China put enormous restrictions on Internet access by Chinese residents.

reason said...

Your net name is appropriate. You seem to be a nice self-parody. Just what was David writing about multiple political dimensions now...?