Friday, December 19, 2014

Resilience and Reliability - keys to tomorrow

Whenever I go talk to corporations, agencies or public groups about the future, one word I emphasize is "resilience." Try as you might, to predict the future and anticipate threats -- neutralizing enemies and preparing your professional responders -- sooner or later some surprise is going to hit, hard.  And when anticipation fails, resilience is our 'other thing.'  Our ability as individuals, families, communities to pull together and maintain islands of civilization -- till the islands can swiftly knit back together again.

That's the theme underlying The Postman, which was my answer to all the gleeful, Mad Max type celebrations of apocalypse. It's why I have pushed peer-to-peer text passing for our cell phones, and other simple reforms that could make a vast difference in our empowerment as citizens, to hang on, till help arrives.  Or to be the help for those across the valley, or the nation, or world.

 ==  Resilience on our rooftops and in our pockets ==

Why Elon Musk's Batteries Scare the Hell out of the Electric Company: “(Elon) Musk’s giant battery factory may soon become an existential threat to the 100-year-old utility business model. Beyond electric cars, the facility will also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power." writes Mark Chediak in Bloomberg Business.

Musk's SolarCity Corp is already delivering solar panels and batteries to power California homes, schools, government agencies and companies including Wal-Mart, eBay and HP. Tesla plans to allow owners to swap old battery packs for new, with the old ones then being ideal to place in solar powered homes, helping them to get off the grid.

One thing I mentioned to Elon… and to sober-minded worriers in Washington: Currently a million homes in the U.S. with solar on their roofs will shut down if there is a power blackout. Instead of being islands of power for their neighborhoods, they are just another problem in an emergency.  

This is intolerable! Picture the increased resilience that we might gain, as a civilization, if those million homes could power just one plug in the kitchen, even during outages.  Enough to preserve much of the neighborhood’s perishable food and medicines like insulin, and to run re-chargers by-day, even if it shuts down at night.

This is a problem that’s a matter of national security… like making sure our cell phones have a backup, peer-to-peer text passing capability, if the networks go down.  I have only been preaching about this resilience issue for 30 years.  Maybe Elon will solve it because no one in D.C. seems to have a clue what really matters.

Want a hint of who has been blocking all this?  “The mortal threat to entrenched interests that ever cheaper on-site renewables pose” comes from systems that include storage, said Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass, Colorado-based energy consultant. “That is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide.” And “In Germany, the rapid rise of tax-subsidized clean energy has undermined wholesale prices and decimated the profitability of coal and natural gas plants.”

Ah... yes,  I know some of you (dinosaurs) keep claiming nothing will change! Coal is forever! Fortunately, world changers like Elon are more important than cultish dinosaurs.

Are there other resilience techs that can make a huge difference? Tons!  And some have been reported here, like new systems for water desalination or purification. And local, self-made internet systems.  And the Maker movement, which is restoring can-do competence to new generations.  This should be a priority for our concerned leaders...

... and we citizens should insist.

==  Problems in our roots ==

Very interesting: Sex, Status, and Reproductive Success in the Contemporary United States. Contrary to the anthropological mythology that’s widely spread around, it appears that: 

(1) hunter gatherer (hg) and other low-technology societies have had inter-personal violence rates easily as great as contemporary city populations.  

(2) Those hg and low-tech societies had social stratification, hierarchy and dominance interactions that were statistically similar to modern societies, only without those modern societies’ accountability amelioration systems.  And (3) across the spectrum – even leading to today - high status males appear to both get more sex and reproduce more.

The last seems surprising, in the context of modern, urban society. But we should not be shocked.  This study teases apart high status from high education levels, in which there does seem to be a penalty, the higher you go! What is sad is that the sharpest effect appears to be on women with graduate degrees, whose repro success is severely diminished below less educated women.

 “…for men, intelligence works at cross purposes with income. For men, income increases both potential and achieved fertility, while intelligence decreases potential and achieved fertility for both men and women.”

We cannot get better if we romanticize olden times, or refuse to take into account our biological background.  We can and must choose to be better than our past, baseline modus operandi!  We can transcend best and improve if we admit the baseline was… and remains lurking… and deal with it.

==  Science Miscellany! ==

A clever notion for cooling our cities while side-stepping the greenhouse effect: “There's a kind of heat window in the atmosphere that no naturally occurring substance, trace gas or otherwise, can block.” So?  Use radiative rooftop cooling that emits in these wavelengths that bypass those absorbed by Methane and other greenhouse gases.  I am dubious in the short term.  Still, a “cool” concept!

A startup with $143 million in funding aims to create “a sentient distributed artificial intelligence that sounds like a nice-guy version of Skynet from the cinema flick Terminator.”  One step beyond neural networks? I have my own opinions on what might bring AI of various kinds and threat/opportunity levels.

What are the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” - to hold up against the Pyramids and Great Lighthouse, of old?  Slate’s compilation ignores feats of architecture in favor of unseen miracles that allow people more leverage and power in life… like the vast network of undersea fiber-optic cables that give us instant connection across the globe, and the air traffic control systems that have quietly allowed us to stack incoming and outgoing flights at busy airports, like boxes on a conveyor belt. Drinking water systems… you get the idea… the things we take for granted.

Catch this: a new gear transmission mechanism with no touching parts, based on magnetic forces that prevent friction and wear and make lubrication unnecessary.  “The design uses a magnetic gear reducer, that is, a mechanism that transforms speed from an input axle to another in an output axle (as in a bicycle chain mechanism or the gearbox of an automobile). But unlike a conventional gear reducer, this transmission is produced without contact between the pieces thanks to the use of magnetism.”

Cool and beautiful art forms take shape when top quality single malt whiskey dries in the bottom of a shot glass.  See it scientifically explained.


Jumper said...

The amazing magnetic drive seems to be an AC motor to me, and I don't quite see how it is better than that plus a SCR motor controller. Affordable magnetic bearings would be a different story.

Night time clear-sky heat radiation has interested me for a while, learning that if Egyptians had thought to set out shallow clay pans of water nights, radiation plus evaporation could have made ice for their beer.
Most of my ideas for geothermal energy are centered around heating buildings, but with deep wells, horizontal drilling (and fracking) plus a heat sink (night sky) power generation becomes possible, to provide power when the sun doesn't shine. (These would not be hydrocarbon wells, just recirculating brine coming to the surface at 400 F., ~200 C.

Also I wonder if new batteries can beat the cost of a photovoltaics-created mega icecube in a basement tank for nighttime AC in the tropics or South when cloud cover keeps in the muggy daytime heat and it doesn't radiate as it does in clear desert sky.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I found the first and last sections of this post interesting, but I'm afraid I have a couple quibbles with the middle section. The paper on fertility, while it looks very interesting, has some serious issues. One, that was pointed out earlier, is its reliance on self-reported data, which has all sorts of pitfalls. This was pointed out in a previous discussion. Another issue I noticed is that the author seems to be equating fertility in absolute numbers of offspring with reproductive success. This simplistic approach is problematic when you take into account the K- vs. R- Strategy continuum, and it is especially problematic with humans, where "success" can mean many different things. Is a low-income person who has five offspring, three of whom are on welfare, one is in prison and the other was killed at a young age in gang-related violence more reproductively successful than a person who has a Ph.D with two children who are productive members of society? of course, in strictly genetic terms, we have to look not at their offspring, but at their grandchildren, to have a meaningful measure of reproductive success.

The other quibble comes from being the resident (though former) anthropologist here. You characterization of anthropology is based on the anthropology of half a century ago, when people like Margaret Mead and Marjorie Shostak made such sweeping generalizations - though even then there was Napoleon Chagnon with his "Fierce People" to counter some of this mythologizing. It is a bit like saying all psychologists talk about is sex. Even Freud wasn't as limited as popular culture made him out to be, and popular culture still mostly thinks of "primitive" people as nothing but cannibals and savages. The express purpose of ethnography is to reveal the diversity of human experience, not to create sweeping generalizations. I got my Masters 15 years ago and have been out of touch with the business, but even then the characterization of what anthropologists think and do was far from accurate or complete. Carole Crumley's concept of heterarchy has had a lot of influence on contemporary thought. In cases of hunter-gatherer social hierarchy, ethnographers have long noted that heirarchies exist among them, but that they are not permanent or inherited institutions. They are generally more flexible, situational, and based largely on peer interaction rather than institutionalized authority.

John's Secret Identity™ said...

We recently gave to GoodWill an old recumbant stationary exercise bike. I think its resistance setting worked along the same lines as the magnetic gear system mentioned here.

Unknown said...

Hi Paul Shen-Brown
Being a lay-person I find that most other lay-people seem to think primitive man was wiser and more noble than modern man. True people once thought cave-people were violent savages but then came Jean Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear" series and everyone now thinks neandertals and Cro-Magnons were better than we are. Well, maybe not everyone but a large swath of the population does believe this right along with crystal healing and left-brain-right-brain thinking. I encounter this all the time in conversations with ordinary regular people. I'd say this is the normal thinking for most Americans anyway. The public usually lags behind the big-brain types.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi sloth,

I didn't get the impression that Jean Auel was that well known anymore. The only people I ever run into who have even heard of her are radical feminists and "Goddess" people, most of whom are less educated than they think they are. Likewise the whole crystal healing thing was 1980s and mostly forgotten. But then, I'm a high school teacher, so most of the people I talk to these days are from a very different generation. You probably get out a lot more than I do. I have worked with quite a few Native Americans who have that myth that primitive people were much nicer people, and that fits well with that old Costner flick "Dances with Wolves." Still, 15 years ago when I was finishing up my thesis, no one was advocating for Rousseau. I'm not sure I qualify as a big brain type, but you are right about the public lagging behind. It's not entirely anyone's fault, though. How many people know the finer points of quantum physics? It's the job of specialists to develop this kind of special knowledge. But then, there is a need for those specialists to communicate what they have learned to the broader public - and I'm afraid the tribe of anthropology hasn't done too well here.

David Brin said...

Paul S-B good points. My game (with Steve Jackson) TRIBES only gives points to players whose offspring reach maturity, not just births.

John, I remain amazed that exercise machines still don’t use the energy to recharge batteries of power the gym!

David Brin said...

The CAPTCHA seems to have backed off a bit. Only now on my Mac I find I have to click on a window at least three times, in order to be sure the OS actually HAS planted me on the screen, in that program and then into the window. WHY???? Wasn't that clearly my intent with one click? Why such a change?

David Brin said...

Re THE INTERVIEW the LA Times tofay had a letter from a person in Redlands with an awesome suggestion. Release the flick along with the N Korean propaganda piece about NK launching a tornado of nukes that destroy the US! This would:

1- be "fair n' balanced" -- your dictator vs our entire population lost.

2- show "you started it."

3- actually gird western viewers with a sense that something really has to be done about these jerks. Like, maybe take somebody out -- (for dinner, of course.)

locumranch said...

What David calls 'resilience' amounts to little more than a withdrawal from the centralised interdependent social model (aka 'civilisation') wherein individuals (aka 'survivalists') minimise social interaction by residing within self-contained environments replete with hermetic power and entertainment systems which (btw) is the way our society has been heading since the advent of the home television console.

More and more, this withdrawal from society has become more pronounced, foistered in part by centralised (divide & conquer) social feminisation strategies, adversely effecting 'sex, status and reproductive success' in most first-world venues, leading to economic disengagement (especially among young men) and impending sociopolitical fracture, as evidenced by the growing MGTOW and herbivore movements.


Alex Tolley said...

Magnetic gears - I'm not clear how it can offer both high torque yet also allow overload recovery. Either it has high torque due to tight magnetic coupling, or it can release the coupling. Unless this is active, I see a contradiction. Obviously it has a role in space where lubrication is a problem. I'd like to see Earth bound apps too - will it work for jet engine turbines? What are the efficiencies and economics?

Distributed AI. Their approach use evolutionary algorithms for part of the learning - probably selecting which inputs are best and the network topology. This is computationally very intensive. I can see they are going to be early adopters of the newer neuromorphic chip servers that IBM and HP are looking to deliver in the next few years. Now let's see what individuals rather than companies can do with this ubiquitous intelligence. I'm hoping we see some really innovative ideas emerging, much like PCs opened up the range of software tools beyond any early ideas like keeping kitchen recipes, balancing check books and delivering the newspaper. We really need better ideas than smart refrigerators.

Battery power. One key thing we need to do is allow people to distribute that stored power in a neighborhood. Currently that is illegal. But clearly we could have neighborhood power redistribution that would make sense. Obviously renewables cannot provide 100% supply, so utilities will be backed into providing grid connection and backup power, probably at a high price. I suspect that this will drive other energy approaches, e.g. natural gas fuel cells in the home as alternatives to grid connection, where storage is easier either at the residence or the utility. Maybe PG&E just becomes Pacific Gas. What we need is a mix of energy systems that suit local conditions - e.g. solar dominance in the sun belt.

In a related area to energy, I am pleased to see a resurgence in water recycling in California as well as desalination.(Talk about necessity being the mother of invention.) Desalination is most expensive, but makes sense in coastal cities. Recycling, makes a lot of sense elsewhere, especially ag water. I love that San Diego can recycle black water to higher purity than municipal water at low coast - it just requires the public to get over the "yuck factor". In the long term, water recycling is going to be the solution. In the meantime, how do we recharge those rapidly declining aquifers that have made the southern central Valley towns reliant on imported drinking water?

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - you've seen Kim Jong Un denies it was the NK government that hacked the Sony servers and is asking for an investigation. Whatever happens, the US has proven very unresilient to attacks on business methods - i.e. risks of lawsuits if something happens in a theater as a result of showing the movie. So much easier and cheaper that suicidally flying planes into buildings. But now the next bunch of terrorists knows what to do, all in complete safety.

One can just imagine training that distributed AI to do the dirty work too. And then your Skynet is born.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - the poor babies. Actually having to compete in a more equal world with girls. The horror! Men have had the upper hand for so long that any reversing of that unfair balance is causing them problems. In the meantime in the real world, they still have most of the advantages, and in the US, misogynist legislators are trying to tip the balance back to woo the "angry white male" voter by "blaming" others - women, colored people, immigrants for their problems, much of which is due to increased inequality due to policies favoring the extremely wealthy (political donors).

When I see women and minorities occupying their 50% share of occupations, especially at the top, then I will agree that a level playing field has been reached. Until then my heart bleeds.

At the university where I teach, my classes are about 2/3rds women. And you what, the best and brightest, the most diligent and those most wanting to succeed are usually the women. More power to them.

Treebeard said...

Why is everyone assuming that North Korea was the culprit -- even suggesting that maybe we need to "take out" their leader?

See this article for an analysis of why this is probably an inside job:

Treebeard said...

Discussions of female equality assume that men and women are equal in all ways that matter, which is an article of the progressive faith, not supported by the facts. As Lawrence Summers pointed out (before being vilified and hounded by the Harvard apparatchiks), men are more likely to occupy the genetic extremes, of genius as well as depravity, which has significant consequences at the high end of the scale where people have the most impact. If the equality-mongers have their way, how long before even our PhD STEM programs are subject to quotas, and we find ourselves promoting mediocrities for political reasons, and great cost to our society.

But I agree that in the broad middle, women are fine; probably better suited for the modern white collar environment than men. Their mediocrity is an asset in mediocre environments, in other words, which is great if your goal is a mediocre society. Personally, I'm still waiting for the female Feynmans and Musks and Da Vincis to step forward; I'm sure they're out there, but they seem to be rarer than hen's teeth.

locumranch said...

No reason, no proof.

We are supposed to assume North Korea caused this terrorist hack so we will blame an 'outside agitator' rather than internal system issues, prompting Sony to avoid culpability by hiring Syrian President Assad's PR firm.

Poor Alex is so busy shaming that he misses the point of MGTOW, the point being that a significant and increasing population percentage is refusing to play our current version of the 'Civilisation Game', culminating in his shameless display of scapegoating, loser-blaming and zero sum thinking as he argues that female educational success can ONLY come with male disenfranchisement:

"Goddamn lousy males, subhumans, outsiders, immigrants, deviants, poor people and/or minorities [choose one], they wouldn't be such as pathetic failures if they would just MAN UP and COMPETE with their betters".

Time to overturn the checkerboard, it seems, when PC-social justice warriors like Alex resort to victim blaming.


Treebeard said...

Right locum, once the right person/meme/event/cultural movement comes along, we'll see an explosion of pent up male energy unleashed across our society. In Iraq, this produced ISIL; I'm not sure what form it will take here, but I see it as almost certain. At some point, men will use the ultimate veto power and stick, which is violence, to re-assert their natural dominance of society. Personally, I find this preferable to the spectacle of young men rotting away at computers, living some kind of larval, artificial existence in an increasingly feminized, mechanized and proscribed civilization. But I don't expect to get a lot of sympathy for this point of view among these nerds, who have been effectively emasculated by the SJW's, or were never particularly masculated in the first place.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Whatever happens, the US has proven very unresilient to attacks on business methods - i.e. risks of lawsuits if something happens in a theater as a result of showing the movie. So much easier and cheaper that suicidally flying planes into buildings. But now the next bunch of terrorists knows what to do, all in complete safety.

Everyone keeps talking as if the movie release was pulled because of the ability of NK to hack Sony's computers and do blackmail.

Wasn't it the threat to attack theaters showing the movie ("Remember the eleventh of September") that finally caused the movie to be pulled from release? And wasn't that threat completely independent of any computer hacking?

Both the hacking and the threat of violence at theaters are bad things, but aren't they separate bad things?

David Brin said...

Yipe! Sorry fellah. It don't wash. Sick wrath that is well-written is still sick wrath.

The western enlightenment, fathered by Ben Franklin and Adam Smith has a number of core principles. One of them is to engender maximum positive sum output from flat-fair-open competition. The best was to do that is to maximize the number of skilled, confident and capable competitors.

The best way to do that is to stop wasting talent. The biggest talent-waster -- that the US founders rebelled against in the 1770s - was inherited oligarchy. But they then proceeded to take on other wasters - like nationality of origin -- scots Irish & Germans, then others got included within the circle. Then ending slavery. Then womens' rights etc.

In order to get the benefit of ending talent waste, humans need mythology. "Everybody's equal" is the simplistic myth that allowed this process to push forward. Is it true? Of course not! Is it a better mythology than all the simplistic mythologies that came before? About inherent superiority - by birth - of noble sons? Or Anglos? Or White males?

YOU BET IT"S BETTER! It's vastly more accurate and better at ending the waste of talent.

Can "everybody's equal" get smarmy and pushy and even sometimes sick? Just read Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron." I myself loathe PC police who try to squelch any talk at all about differences... while touting the superiority of their client castes.

But PC that is moderate and temporary has its uses. And for white males to deny that there's still a huge advantage on their side and instead look for justifications for hatred?

Just sick.

Treebeard said...

My last comment touches on something that our host has opined about, which is Athens vs. Sparta. The problem with glorifying Athens and vilifying Sparta the way Dr. Brin does is that:

1) human beings have a lot of Spartan in us (though some more than others), and it needs to be fed for us to remain healthy.

2) Athens exalts its philosopher-nerds, but tends to treat its Spartan types as knuckle-draggers, who may be useful to defend the nerds against thugs and invaders, but otherwise need to shut up and know their place.

The thing that baffles me, in this "caste-inverted" society of ours, is what motivates our warriors. What glory is there in being a warrior for Athens?

This is the wisdom of Islamic civilization, and most traditional societies: they make an honored place for the Spartan. Whereas, in our Athenian society, the Spartans are increasingly vilified as some kind of evil oppressors. The question then becomes, can a civilization survive that deprecates its Spartans in this way? Ibn Khaldun thought not, and modeled history as cycles of barbarian tribal conquests and collapses into civilized decadence. I'd say we're pretty late into the last stage, awaiting the inevitable collapse and revitalization.

Acacia H. said...

You make the mistake of thinking that Athens was full of pencil-pushing philosophers and Sparta full of warrior-leaders. The truth is, Athens had plenty of warrior-types as part of its civilization. This is why Athens was not always subservient to Sparta, and why Sparta didn't just conquer Athens and show those "geeks" that might makes right.

And think of the legend of 300 - where 300 Spartans, with several thousand auxiliaries and slaves, failed to stop the Persians. Meanwhile, the Athens fleet managed to prevail against the Persian fleet. Eventually, it was Athens that defeated the Persian invaders, not Sparta. They did this not just through smarts, but through strength of arms.

Intelligence doesn't mean weakness. You can have someone who is quite intelligent and yet also physically able.

Rob H.

Treebeard said...

What do humans crave most? Social status. Is social status zero sum? Yes. Therefore, if someone else is winning, I'm losing. Therefore, in an unsettled society like this one, we're seeing massive battles over status, on all fronts. Indeed, we're opening new fronts in the status wars all the time. Only in Star Trek fantasy worlds, or static, non-"progressive" societies, do people no longer battle over status.

Paul451 said...

This might get lost in the Neo-Reo death spasm, but...

Your "6000 golf buddies" may be a smaller group than you think:

Paul451 said...


Much leg.

Such run.

Alex Tolley said...

@larryhart "Wasn't it the threat to attack theaters showing the movie that finally caused the movie to be pulled from release? "

I thought that was what I said. My understanding was that the theaters worried:

1. An attack threat would reduce attendance of all movies in the theater
2. If ignored, and an attack occurred, there would be lawsuits.

Therefore the minimal risk solution was to pull the movie.

@locum - you are saying that the anecdotal males in the story are "victims"? I call bo**ocks. They are whining about women refusing to "know their place". We saw exactly that earlier this year when that shooter on the university was upset that beautiful women wouldn't date him. An example of extreme privilege maybe, but that is what these men are claiming. "Rules have changed, so I won't compete/play". And like locum, they want to stop the game and go find something else to do. Boo hoo!

Larry Summers deserved to have his ass kicked over his statement about women. Completely unsupported. What is worse, there isn't even the least understanding that society tends to move in directions that support the characteristics its wants. So Sparta was dominated by male warriors. Suppose it was run by women who valued other traits - like bearing children. Then they could say, we all know that men are inferior at bearing children, so they can never have an important place in our society.

Cheer up lads. Those rich, intelligent women execs may want a trophy jock toyboy for a husband - as long as he knows his place. :)

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

@larryhart "Wasn't it the threat to attack theaters showing the movie that finally caused the movie to be pulled from release? "

I thought that was what I said. My understanding was that the theaters worried:

1. An attack threat would reduce attendance of all movies in the theater
2. If ignored, and an attack occurred, there would be lawsuits.

Therefore the minimal risk solution was to pull the movie

I'm not sure we're arguing with each other.

My point is that anyone on radio or tv who talks about this makes it sound as if the threats were made possible by the ability of the terrorists to hack Sony.

And it seems to me that the threats of physical violence are separate from the computer hacking, and could have just as easily been carried out even if no hacking had taken place.

Larry Summers deserved to have his ass kicked over his statement about women.

Here I will argue against.

I despise Larry Summers for his role in the economic meltdown, so I wish he had never lost his job at Harvard. As I recall the facts of the incident, he speculated about possible reasons for the observed fact that women tend to drop out of the sciences. And the mere question was enough to send some female student into hysterics. Kicking him out of Harvard was not a great argument for free speech or for free scientific investigation.

LarryHart said...


I am honestly curious what you are looking forward to in this world of "Revenge of the Nerds" from the perspective of the jocks that you imagine in our future when maleness runs rampant.

I mean, I have no idea what you look like or how good you are with weapons and such, so for all I know, you are capable of holding your own against those who want to take what you have, and of taking what you want from those who can't stop you. Even so, is that how you want to spend your days and nights?

I know I'd never survive in such a world, so I thank God I live in a first-world industrialized society instead. I think I agree with you and with locumranch that our civiilization has a lot wrong with it going on at the present time--that there are good reasons to want to upset the checkerboard. But to go back to a world of permanent bloody warfare? I don't see that as a step in the right direction.

I'm confused at your conflating paper-shuffling jobs with feminism. From all you say, you'd hate the pencil-pushing office jobs of the 1950s just as much as those of today, and that was a time dominated by the same white males who complain about "social justice" as an infringement on their rights today. So who would you have blamed for emasculating the office-working men of that era?

LarryHart said...


What do humans crave most? Social status.

That's a proven fact, is it?

Don't humans crave food, water, physical comforts, and sex pretty highly on the list.

Some argue that humans crave power most of all, and some that humans crave power only as a means to some of those other ends. The same is true of status. I'm not arguing that status isn't part of the mix of cravings, but some people would readily trade status for "cravings" as simple as "artistic freedom". Others would gladly live on a mountaintop or an island and never encounter another human being.

Point being, in a positive sum game, you can win your status wars and I can be left alone to enjoy things you don't care about in the first place and which cost you nothing. The idea that you have to make others miserable in order to be happy yourself seems insane to me. But the fact that your viewpoint obviously resonates with a non-zero percentage of the human population is disturbing.

Tim H. said...

Paul451, on the small circle of golf buddies, I would think that could amplify the destructiveness of misinformation and prejudices masquerading as knowledge to Soviet levels of calamity. Might explain why one can take cold war era political humor, replace "Soviet union" with "Random large corporate entity" and they're still funny.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

"Scientific" sexism, like "scientific" racism, is more s piece of scientism than actual, responsible science. Yes, the IQ score distributions are real, but the idea that IQ scores represent some real and permanent measure of intelligence was debunked decades ago. Likewise the common assumptions about what constitutes "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics are mostly cultural constructions, not biological inevitabilities. While sex is biological, gender is cultural. Here we are seeing the naturalistic fallacy in action, as well as the spotlight fallacy. For most, feminism only means equality. There are the extremists of the camp, but their voices have been fading since the 70's. Yet I still keep running into these sad, twisted extremists who read too many Conan the Barbarian books - playground bullies who object to any efforts to reign in their unchecked limbic systems.
Hardly mediocrity! I have had far more girls in 12 years of teaching who strive to be more than dumb jocks. For every boy who made the effort to mature their frontal lobes and use their heads for something more than a platform for attention-demanding mouths, I had at least three girls who showed ivy-league potential. It is their culture which cuts them off from excellence. There is no glorious past for throwbacks to pine for. In 4 million years the sexual dimorphism of the human species has consistently shrunk, so the place these troglodytes want to return to are a past in we averaged one third our current brain capacity.

locumranch said...

"The idea that IQ scores represent some real and permanent measure of intelligence was debunked decades ago" EXCEPT when you're defending the so-called Flynn Effect, marginalising male students as troglodytes and/or dismissing sex-linked 'gender differences' as mere cultural artifacts.

Masquerading as intellect, this type of repetitive tripe is PC sloganeering at best and misandry at worst. It also represents a shameless attempt to criminalise masculine behaviours and suppress the democratic process because "men, who are all potential rapists, cannot be trusted", so the gender police can build an obedient, passive and defenseless feminine utopia under the auspices of our corporate (?) overlords.

This is the hen-pecked husband trope written large: The poor guy; he is small, feminised and impotent; he squirms under the thumb of a domineering wife, very likely a Grande Dame, whose word is law, and he can only obey, with a meek and humble, "Yes, dear"; and we laugh at his misfortune and pity him very little.


David Brin said...

What utter bull! “Oh you nerdy intellectual types are SO mean to us Spartan knuckle draggers!” Listen to the WHINING! Dig it, fellah. You Sparta types tried to pound us flat on the playground*, till we made civilization better enough to make bullying go out of style. I wrote the Postman about guys like you. You had 6000 years to make feudalism work, and the statecraft SUCKED!

Dig this also. Sparta accomplished nothing. Not one of its victories measure up to Marathon or Palamis or Platea or Mycale, where Athenian citizen soldiers accomplished martial marvels worthy of legend and song. What have Sparta-lovers to point to? Freaking THERMOPYLAE??? Really? A pathetically mismanaged three day delay? Ooooh I am so impressed.

“What glory is there in being a warrior for Athens?”

Good lord what an utter ignoramus! The poet Aeschelus gave us stunning beauty, but his tombstone read “I was at Marathon.”

“in our Athenian society, the Spartans are increasingly vilified as some kind of evil oppressors.”

You truly are an ignorant person. See:

Larryhart do not bother with him. I have known countless “if only the strong could rule” types. Yearning to be the Top Dog in a dog-eat-dog world. In all but a few cases, their destiny would clearly be to be some Top Dog’s bitch or – far more likely –

-- kibble.

Our Athenian –style enlightenment gave you everything and all you are is a whining ingrate.

(* Even on the playground, I made bullies pay and then organized the victims)

locumranch said...

Let's put away this hoary old debate -- it's so easy to get distracted by our pet peeves -- and get back to the topic of resilience. Social resilience , by definition, implies pliability, plasticity, strength, toughness, adaptability, hardiness, independence, fortitude and self-containment wherein feudalism (as used here) lies at one end of the social spectrum, democracy near the center, and anarchy at the far end.

Feudalism, for all its faults, is by far the most stable, hardy and/or self-contained, representing an extended family unit (as it were) and, since it comes in many sizes, it lends itself best to decentralisation. Anarchy, representing a free-for-all where the strong prey on the weak, is the least stable social structure, if it can be said to be a social structure at all, and, as David points out, it tends to be short-lived as weaker members rapidly self-organise into crude feudal, gang-like or family units that are capable of dominating (and resisting) even the very strong. Democracy falls somewhere in between, being more stable than anarchy but less cohesive than feudalism, because it requires that its member units both be engaged and interdependent, otherwise it rapidly degenerates into either feudalism (marked by disengagement AND dependence) or anarchy (marked by both independence AND disengagement) which is why the Good Old USA has ceased to be a democracy (if Paul451's reference on corporate dominance, control & ownership can be believed), devolving into a corporate feudal structure (and/or oligarchy) in our lifetime.


Alex Tolley said...

@locum - your hyperbolic comments remind me of the bogus "war on Christmas". The facts are undeniable - women are paid less for the same work as men and experience the glass ceiling. In the home, even working women are expected to cook and clean. The default for child rearing is that the women gives up her career and stay home. The vast majority of feminists have been arguing for equality, not dominance. Then there are the usual stories of women being denied traditional male jobs that require physical strength..just because. And finally, although sexual harassment training is supposed to be two-way, in practice women are usually at the receiving end.

That some young men find that this undermines them is just whining. They don't have to MAN UP, they just need to learn that they don't get to be dominant. Is this really asking so much?

Finally we really need to put to rest the Victorian meme that women are inherently less intelligent, or have lower dispersion of IQs. In this Time article Why Women Finally Have Higher IQs than Men Flynn suggests that:

"One theory is that women have always been capable of scoring higher but, because of discriminatory gender socializing, never realized their own potential. Gender-based differences in education, upbringing and social roles have historically set the bar lower for women."

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - unfortunately history does not support your theory of feudalistic resilience. It may well be the social attractor, but the collapse of cultures and civilizations indicates that it isn't resilient or pliable. quite the reverse, the top-down nature of the structure is very much the command=and-control model that cannot deal well with complexity. Hence the need for everyone accepting their place to make this manageable by reducing options.

Churchill's famous "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." still stands, IMO, and he wasn't ignorant of history.

One major problem with feudalism, even the modern sort, is that position tends towards inheritance. Which means that those in such positions will be subject to the vagaries of the offspring. Thus with monarchies we get both strong and weak monarchs. In businesses, as Warren Buffett has quipped: A good business is one that can be run by fools, because eventually it will be.

Even if we banned inheritance and allowed a strict meritocracy only, allowing a very high GINI coefficient just means that a few people will be determining policies, which invariably will be supportive of their positions, not the population as a whole. We've seen the consequences of that - uncontrolled finance that cannot be effectively regulated. The Medicis would be proud.

The only way to countervail the concentration of power is democracy, however imperfect and subject to gaming. That is what allows pliability to allow a culture/civilization to adapt to changing conditions.

LarryHart said...


which is why the Good Old USA has ceased to be a democracy (if Paul451's reference on corporate dominance, control & ownership can be believed), devolving into a corporate feudal structure (and/or oligarchy) in our lifetime.

So you detest the corporate/oligarchial society of today enough to want to "upset the checkerboard", only to pine for feudalism, which you acknowledge is essentially the same thing?

I don't get it.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Here loci goes ASSuming again!
"EXCEPT when you're defending the so-called Flynn Effect,"
I never said a single word about the Flynn Effect. As an actual teacher in an actual public school I can say that this never comes up, and I deeply doubt more than a handful of my fellow teachers would agree with it. But when you are an extremist, accustomed to simply slapping labels on people instead of dealing with individuals, making huge ASSumptions is your modus operandi. Loci doesn't like the Flynn Effect, so he ASSumes I do, as does anyone else he ASSumes to be a "liberal." I’ve been accused of that by conservatives, and accused of being conservative by liberals, all my life.

“Masquerading as intellect, this type of repetitive tripe is PC sloganeering at best and misandry at worst. It also represents a shameless attempt to criminalise masculine behaviours and suppress the democratic process because "men, who are all potential rapists, cannot be trusted", so the gender police can build an obedient, passive and defenseless feminine utopia under the auspices of our corporate (?) overlords.”

Here again we have loci equating all feminists with the most extreme (Spotlight Fallacy) and ASSuming that any attempt to reach equality will lead to the enslaving or destruction of all things male (the Slippery Slope Fallacy). Of course, we could question his definition of masculinity here, as well as his motives. Is pointless violence and aggression for the sake of aggression masculine, or just a stereotype that some people insist on living by?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Economists have done experiments correlating testosterone levels with behavior, and found that high-t people (usually males, but not always), when they cannot force their will on others because human society has rules and enforcement, perceive nearly anything that does not favor themselves personally as unfair. In other words, they are big babies when they can’t get their way by being big bullies. National Geographic did a video called “The Testosterone Factor” in which they show one of these experiments. It used to be up on Youtube, but last I checked I could only find a Spanish translation. This matches well with what I saw playing cards and soccer and volleyball on a regular basis when I was an undergrad. Only the really aggressive players ever accused anyone else of cheating, while it was only those aggressive players who actually did cheat.

But high t levels do not automatically translate to mindless violence, wife beating and bullying. People can compete without being obnoxious about it, and compete with their heads instead of their biceps, as we see in any high-level chess tournament. One of the card games I used to play was called “Nuclear War,” a pastime which got me labeled conservative by liberals. In the game we destroyed each other’s nations with nuclear weapons, but the millions of dead were only pieces of paper.

And again:
“This is the hen-pecked husband trope written large: The poor guy; he is small, feminised and impotent; he squirms under the thumb of a domineering wife, very likely a Grande Dame, whose word is law, and he can only obey, with a meek and humble, "Yes, dear"; and we laugh at his misfortune and pity him very little.”

Here we see more stereotyped ASSumptions. Having a caring relationship with a spouse does not mean that one dominates the other (regardless of which one plays which role). Equality means equality, whether in a relationship or in citizenship. If a partnership is one sided, it is not a loving relationship. The bully mentality might make feudalism and wife beating appear to be stable relationships, but both feudal societies and abusive relationships tend to collapse.

Keep writing, loci, you are twisting your own rope.

Alex Tolley said...

OT. I was interested in this article that suggested that solar is cheaper than coal in Queensland Australia. If the article is correct that coal power station operators are now struggling, with all the advantages of solar improving, that is good news. It also makes a mockery of the prime minister's support of expanding coal production. What for?
We aren't there yet in California, but solar is clearly gaining ground and the newer, cheaper panels and/or higher efficiencies will continue to undermine existing fossil fuel stations.
Even without batteries, solar rooftop power should be running for the home during a power outage. That they apparently don't is appalling. How hard would it be to make the system work off-grid during the day at least? Cheap batter storage (and i like liquid flow batteries in this regard) seems like a no-brainer in the future. Hybrids and electric cars could certainly be the battery storage mechanism in some cases.

In a sense, PG&E is the corporate feudal lord, influencing legislation and manipulating the PUC. It controls permits and prevents any competition. It wants changes to reduce net metering. It certainly acts as a brake to reduce change and retain its monopoly position. How is that helping California to adapt to changes? Seems anti-resilient to me.

Alex Tolley said...

@ Paul Shen-Brown
On a related note to high testosterone action. It has been found that trading room errors are associated with high testosterone. To the point it was suggested that women would make better traders than men. Typically testosterone results in "doubling down", i.e. taking more risks with the same position in the hope of eventually being proven right. In my experience in such situations, if the bet eventually succeeds, these traders are seen as "gods" which no doubt reinforces the behavior next time, as well as influencing more timid traders to follow suit. I have little doubt that this is what happened with [in]famous traders like the "London Whale" who seriously damaged Morgan Chase.

One can probably map that sort of behavior to warrior castes as well, leading to all sorts of unnecessary carnage.

David Brin said...

I will grant our visitor one thing -- yes, it is very likely that time will verify what we all can clearly see, that the "dispersion" among males is wider than among females. Not only does it make sense for this to be so, darwinistically, but one can see it blatantly, in all directions.

So? We need to kind of ignore such things for a generation, because they are IRRELEVANT to the business at-hand, which is to stop the wastage of human talent. And talk about "bell curves" is all too often used by racists and sexists to continue wastage practices.

Generally, such rationalizers prove themselves to be stupid. Because even if one group has a systematically different bell curve than another, either in variation width or even in their respective peak-mean values, THAT IS IRRELEVANT to law, policy, fairness, or anything else of use. Because Law, justice and so on have nothing to do with the traits or curves of "groups."

The fundamental of modern justice is not that "all are equal" but rather that " no person should ever have membership of a group or caste used to limit her or his right to prove herself or himself an EXCEPTION."

Now that it's proved that women make just as good combat pilots as men, or intelligence officers or mechanics, drivers or field commanders, the issue is whether upper body strength - in which only an idiot would claim there's no difference - constitutes a reason to ban ALL women from infantry roles.

Instead, set standards of capability that are mission critical and wait for the inevitable arrival of some women who will be at the wing of that bell curve, and who will prove themselves to be those exceptions... like that tough gal in ALIENS. Woof.

Yes, this is a difficult distinction to make, to zero-sum thinkers. But most Americans instinctively understand it.

Treebeard said...

At the end of the day it’s a matter of taste; some prefer the Spartan ethos and aesthetic, others the Athenian. Our most deeply held values exist in our subconscious, and rational criticism of the sort you specialize in is just a way for nerds to confuse and manipulate their enemies.

In any case, your Athens seems headed for some kind of postmodern dystopia of barren, feminized pajama boys with their scrawny fingers on the controls of drones, obliterating Spartan men they’ll never meet face to face in a particularly sterile, cowardly, but effective way. This just isn’t a picture of the human future that inspires many of us, but you can create all sorts of clever arguments for why it’s better than anything that’s existed, it’s the only desirable future, everyone who disagrees with you would be dog food, etc.

How is this for a summary of Enlightenment civilization: Revenge of the nerds; Smart Nerd’s Burden to civilize the world by educating those who are smart enough to contribute, and conquering, enslaving or exterminating the rest. Except, as the bar gets ever higher for the people who can contribute, aren’t you worried that even the nerds will eventually fall into the latter class? How does technocracy not evolve toward extreme oligarchy, and then maybe Skynet?

P.S. In a resilient, decentralized society, how will the nerds impose themselves upon every community and prevent them from devolving back to tribal norms, as they’ve been able to do so effectively under the present techno-industrial system? Be careful what you wish for…

Treebeard said...

By the way, the reason I'm like this is probably physiological. I was a scrawny high IQ nerd until my early 20's, at which point I started taking testosterone, and it turned me into this. ;)

locumranch said...

Talk about ASSuming!

To start, I never said that I prefer feudalism to democracy, nor did I say that feudalism was better or 'best'. I only said that feudalism was the most resilient (hardy; adaptable; self-contained) of the three governmental forms listed; and, being an extension of the family unit, it is also the most likely default form when the others fail. Alex's comments about the subsequent corruptibility of feudalism (incompetence, selfishness, favoritism, etc) are therefore beside-the-point as they relate to feudal longevity, something that self-corrects when a leaner, meaner, hungrier and more competitive feudal government comes along to consume the less competent. I also pointed out that democracy is inherently unstable because it requires constant 'engagement' (buy-in) and ongoing mutual interdependency, collapsing under its inertia when either of these two preconditions is lacking. This also why the introduction of 'expertism' is such a slippery slope (insomuch that it is a form of classism, elitism or aristocracy) BECAUSE it reduces interdependency and limits engagement for a growing (always growing) inexpert class who, with less and less interdependent influence and social engagement, quickly devolve into a servant or serf class.

The same is true for educational and gender equality, topics which were quickly hijacked by a shrinking (and increasingly non-representative) pool of elite 'experts' who, by claiming to known more than (and represent the best interests of) an expanding pool of know-nothing serfs, have corrupted the quest for gender equality to their own selfish ends and transformed 'equality' into dominance and advantage. This is supported by Paul S_B who says (and I quote) People who 'cannot force their will on others (,) because human society has rules and enforcement, perceive nearly anything that does not favor themselves personally as unfair', which is exactly what the gender police does, redefining masculinity as a testosterone-based illness, force-feeding Ritalin to healthy male students so they will behave more like the feminine student ideal, all while justifying these actions on the basis of historical 'pay-back', like Alex, by arguing that men (esp white males, those ‘whining arrogant babies') deserve the criminalisation they've 'got coming’.


locumranch said...

I love Democracy -- I also love 'gender equality' for that matter -- which is why I INSIST on pointing out that the western social 'We' can lay claim to neither. Instead, we have an elite-run education system based on the sexist assumptions of Horace Mann (who argued that women, by virtue of being less aggressive, more suited for raising children, more passive, more easily led & more willing to work for a pittance, were therefore ‘More Moral than Men’). We also have an Elitist Government, controlled and owned outright by Elitist Corporations who elect and control Elitist Millionaires who attended exclusive Elite Universities, who now consider themselves EXPERTS in governance which means that they are increasingly unresponsive to the INEXPERT will of the governed.

And, finally, I need to point out that Law, Policy and Fairness has EVERYTHING to do with the traits or curves of groups because Law, Fairness and Moral Ought-To's should always be based on preexistent Social Norms, otherwise they criminalise the Golden Mean and represent a Tyranny of Unrealistic Ideals that retreat from the average, median or norm like the proverbial will'o wisp when chased, leading society into danger and despair.

The democratic 'we' should be very VERY afraid of increasing social disengagement, especially the growing problem of male disenfranchisement, because it is these boorishly masculine men who protect and defend every aspect of our enlightened existence, including the gender equality that allows western women to ‘roar’ without fear or retaliation, when these men (potential rapists all) have less skin-in-the game, fewer attachments and less social involvement with every passing day, the most likely endpoint being Total Disengagement rather than Revolution, meaning that no one will be there to help YOU when you call because you couldn’t be bothered to help your would-be rescuer when HE requested your assistance.


Alex Tolley said...

@DB " is very likely that time will verify what we all can clearly see, that the "dispersion" among males is wider than among females."

Why must this be so? This data suggests that dispersions are about the same:
Sex Differences in IQ

If Flynn is correct and that women are starting to exceed men in average IQ, he may be right that this is due to improving educational and work opportunities for women.

The differences however are marginal, and are about as important as phrenology in determining what roles each gender should play in society.

I suspect that women are over-represented in university because they no longer feel held back by social pressures and want to get their rewards by effort, rather than waiting for men to share theirs (which at least a fraction of the population is even pushing back against, not totally unlike their second and thir`d world counterparts).

David Brin said...

I devastated every single assertion by Treebeard, based on facts, so he continues to whine “b-b-but you’re not FAIR!” A pretty weird thing for a “spartan” to do.

I reiterate, your earlier missive showed utter ignorance of history. The Athenian amateur militias accomplished martial wonders that the Spartans could never dream of… and I will NOT let you change the subject. It is the core fact that demolishes your entire edifice.

The citizen soldiers of Washington’s Continental Army DEFEATED the most professional force on Earth. The citizen soldiers of the Union defeated the professionals of the Confederacy. The US Army of WWII was nearly all volunteers and draftees who crushed the seasoned and professional Wehrmacht. You are delusional, sir.

“your Athens seems headed for some kind of postmodern dystopia of barren, feminized pajama boys with their scrawny fingers on the controls of drones, obliterating Spartan men …”

Yes! We agree! It is absolutely true that it “seems” that way to you! How honest and brave of you to admit, openly, that you actually believe such stunning hallucinations to be true! Well, by admitting it, perhaps you are on the road to healing.

You DARE to compare levels of oppression and inequality? 6000 years of brutal feudalism in which “spartans” crushed human opportunity, so that their sons would inherit harems and get to bully everyone else. There was no capitalism then. No fair competition.

None of your whining will make us forget that. YOU GUYS HAD YOUR TURN in charge and you fucked up, every single generation.

You are an ignorant person. And thank heavens people who actually know a thing or two have a (slim) chance, these days.


Guys, note when locum is being cogent. He is right that feudalism is a much more stable attractor state than enlightenment. Our renaissance is a revolution. Metastable. It takes tending and is under threat by feudalists, as we speak.

Alex, anyone who uses a single survey to try to refute the blatantly and vastly wider dispersion among males… of every trait you could possibly think of … is ignoring the burden of proof of those who deny the obvious.

What I don't dig is why it is such a crucial lefty catechism to deny such an obvious human trait. Does it help women and girls to assert "we have as many raging-horrible rapist assholes as you do!"

Oh I meant to type “Salamis” not Palamis

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, if your Mac is still misbehaving, it sounds to me as if an application is using a lot of memory, web browsers with lots of open tabs are a prime suspect. Quickest way to spot such an app is to select "Force Quit" from the Apple menu, the problem child will be in red letters, or select "Activity Monitor" from utilities, and see what's using a lot of memory, if it's a web browser, you may only need to close some tabs to bring it back to responsiveness. Adding more RAM will allow you to have more things active before the system becomes sluggish, and it's the least expensive performance upgrade. BTW, a survivable holiday to you and yours, Tim H.

Jumper said...

Gawd, the one thing those whiners never did was a "man's job" and they're the ones crying about their lost masculinity. It's embarrassing to even witness.

Acacia H. said...

I think this comic here is quite succinct in expressing Dr. Brin's views about the pyramid structure of society... and also points out one of the underlying aspects behind it with the discussion about "battery" and "light bulb" people (in the preceding comic). It's true - we tend to view the visible inventor who makes the flashy product as worth emulating. We celebrate the Edisons of the word. But what about the people who create the infrastructure without which the "light bulbs" wouldn't function?

Those are ignored. Swept under the rug. Repressed. Discriminated against. Think of the slaves that drove the Southern economy - they were the batteries that the light bulbs of the Southern Aristocracy thrived upon. So too the workers at the factories that made millionaires.

Far too many have forgotten the lesson Ford taught us: by treating the "batteries" well, by ensuring they thrive, they in turn help the economy itself thrive further. It's not the billionaires that drive the economy or make jobs. It is the consumers which are made of the batteries that drive business itself that do. And by starving them, you starve the economy itself.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB uses a single survey to try to refute the blatantly and vastly wider dispersion among males… of every trait you could possibly think of … is ignoring the burden of proof of those who deny the obvious.

I had no intention of doing anything more than to address the IQ question. I didn't realize you had extended the dispersion question beyond IQ to other traits, as the argument was very much around earlier statements about Larry Summers/women having lower probabilities of IQs at the extremes, etc etc.

How one would judge sexual trait dispersion (genetic), as well as gender ones (cultural and genetic) in a comparable manner I don't know. It may seem obvious to you, but I would like to see a peer reviewed reference concerning this before I accept the statement as true.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, not only is it an embarrassment to witness, but they don't even seem to be capable of getting why the majority of men find them embarrassing. The arguments about all men being potential rapists is something that only comes from a tiny fringe of lunatics, but a fringe that gets attention in the media, because the media is comprised of businesses that make more money when they can shock people (spotlight fallacy, once again). Likewise the argument that "normal" male behavior is being medicated right and left comes from the opposite fringe. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a disorder, not normal male behavior. The fact that it happens to many more males than females, as is also the case with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, does not make it normal male behavior. Overmedication is a real problem, but it is not motivated by some imaginary "war on men." It is motivated by a healthcare system that is dominated by a multi-billion dollar pharmaceuticals industry that give kickbacks to doctors for prescribing their medicines. This is not misandry, it is pure, unadulterated capitalism. It is also an example of how talk radio rants and similar propaganda moves are used to bait and switch - a tactic which some have swallowed hook, line and sinker.

There was some very interesting stuff in Dr. Brin's original postings, easily worth discussing. It's too bad the conversation got hijacked by these throwbacks.

I have been to both Athens and Sparta, though only briefly. Millions of people visit Athens every year, but Sparta is just a small city of 4- and 5- story apartments. The only trace of a "glorious, manly" past were the remains of a marketplace that dated to Roman times. Athens brought the world a prototype for democracy, a way to evade the tyranny of strongman rule. Athens left monuments not only in marble on the hilltop, but in the minds of humanity for millennia to come. I have read Plutarch's "On Sparta" and I don't see the difference as mere aesthetics. An aesthetic of brutality leads to brutal actions. An aesthetic of respect for our differences leads to social and legal equality. As Robert rightly pointed out, the "batteries" of society and their consumption habits drive the economy. They need a modicum of respect for their individuality and humanity to operate, not to be forced into falsely dichotomous simple minded stereotypes that reduce huge numbers to servitude. How is the argument that this so-called "feminization" of society is robbing "real men" of their destiny any different from the arguments of the Old South's plantation aristocracy that freeing slaves robs the "white man" of his dignity?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Likewise the argument that "feminizing" America is disenfranchising the very people who defend our nation is a piece of hysterical nonsense. My father was a tech sergeant in the Air Force, I grew up in a city that is packed full of military bases and personnel (including the U.S. Air Force Academy) and I even worked with combat veterans on archaeological digs. In fact, the last dig I worked on had a crew chief who was on leave from Iraq, but wanted to keep his trowel in the ground rather than spending his leave with his hands on his playstation. The other crew chief at the time was a Muslim woman who was born and raised right here in the US. They made for very interesting, and entirely respectful, lunchtime conversation. I did know a few former Marines who subscribed to the Conan the Barbarian view of masculinity, but many of the military personnel I knew were proud to defend our more peaceful society against barbarians who blow up girls' schools. They would be - not so much horrified as disgusted by the idea that "real men" are as vile as the people they are fighting, nor would they be impressed by claims that being "masculine" means brutal domination.

There is another way to look at what it means to be a man than the useless "man of the house" vs. "henpecked girlyman" meme. Those of you who are familiar with Terry Pratchett might remember the end of the Wintersmith, in which Rob "manned up" and faced one of his greatest fears - learning to read. In a similar vein, muslims I have worked with describe the jihad as the war against oneself, one man against his inner, animal urges. This is the frontal lobes vs. the limbic system, and yes, it is just as much a struggle for women as men. Traditionally, though, state-level societies create rigid categories of citizens to better control them, and sex and age are the two categories that become codified the quickest. With children there is a clear reason. We are born with our limbic systems already myelinated - hooked up, if you will, but most people haven't fully hooked up their frontal lobes with myelinated pathways until their mid-twenties. But the differences between male and female brains are quite minimal, and mostly related to different emphases among sensory modalities, contrary to the stereotypes. There are, however, many books on the market that purport exaggerated "Mars vs. Venus" inevitabilities.

Tim H. said...

Rob H. I think the folks setting policy suffer from a morbid fear of inflation, because they, mostly, don't look stupid enough to not realize the economy works like a food chain. Like so, when the vegetation is in bad shape, herbivores are poor eating for predators. When the working class does well, they spend more at small business, who in turn support large business. So what we've got is like lions encouraging drought, great short term drama, grim long term prognosis.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Don't humans crave food, water, physical comforts, and sex pretty highly on the list."

That's the thing: access to material comforts is always linked to one's position in the social hierarchy, so the core question when asserting any given social organization is, as Paul Shen-Brown noted, how rigid said hierarchy is.

"The idea that you have to make others miserable in order to be happy yourself seems insane to me"

It's not insane is the amount of resources/work-hours needed to produce a satisfying level of material comfort is so high that only a minority can enjoy a comfortable life: while the majority break their backs toiling in the mud dor the entirety of their shortened miserable lives... which is pretty much the social model of a lot of agrarian civilizations, to the point were one may wonder if densely populated civilization is not inherently parasitic. (This blog's owner goes even farther, postulating that every form of human society outside of the post industrial revolution western hemisphere is fated to be ruled by brutish bullies because natural selection turned Man into a Tick to his Fellow Man)


"Yet I still keep running into these sad, twisted extremists who read too many Conan the Barbarian books - playground bullies who object to any efforts to reign in their unchecked limbic systems."

Even worse: Conan, at least the version imagined by Robert Howard, is most certainly not what the playgrounds bullies dream to become: he's not ruled by his limbic system: he's a deeply cynical man who after witnessing too much depravity from the decadent aristocrats he served under as a mercenary who hid it under pretenses of "civility", decided that being blunt and frank about his ambitions and appetites was a much more honorable path to follow, but he still obeys self-imposed rules and discipline which bound and keep him in check, something that would be bullycrats always lack.


"The citizen soldiers of Washington’s Continental Army DEFEATED the most professional force on Earth"

With the help of professional french soldiers and officers and gold (lots of gold). The british stranglehold over the american colonies would have crumbled eventually, but not that soon had another parasitic monarchy not decided to bankrupt itself to settle the score from the Seven Years War.

You're very welcome, by the way


"The only trace of a "glorious, manly" past were the remains of a marketplace that dated to Roman times"

To be fair, Athens had been reduced to a small village of a few hundreds inhabitants which was rebuilt from the ground up after Greece's independence.
Of course, the fact that the leaders of the newly independent Greece immediately decided to make the nearly completely deserted Athens their capital because the memory of Athenian democracy had lived on can be seen as a testament that the city's legacy lived on even as the buildings were deserted and left to crumble.

Jeff B. said...

Apologies if off topic, or if posted before, but since this might be of interest to our host: manta rays (Manta birostris) might be passing the mirror test:

The article's from 2012, but there was supposed to have been a major announcement recently.

Tacitus said...

Paul Shen-Brown
Where have you excavated?

David Brin said...

TimH my Mac problem is not speed. It is performing nicelky and I know how to use Activity Monitor. My problem is that PROCESSES have changed! Folders and ikons no longer stay where I put them on-screen. And when I move between open windows or documents on my two screens, I have to click THREE TIMES to be sure I wind up actually in the doc and ready to type, WTF? Three times? Apparently I must NOW clink once to change screens, once to enter a program and once to get into that actual doc.


Robert, I’m not so sure. If you create the widget that Ford needs, to make its cars sell well, supposedly you get paid well. I have many complaints - and my own patents languish, ignored. But there is a ripple effect.

Alex, it is sad that fourth wave feminists cling to the idea that they can only progress by adamantly refusing to use science to inspect sexual differences. A fifth wave will USE the science of those differences to benefit women and children, first by figuring out how to map the differences AMONG men.

Laurent I stood at the monument to Admiral deGrasses (at Grasse) and saluted! Merci, mos amis!”

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello Tacitus Deo,

My excavation work is not in any place anyone would have heard of. Most archaeology in America is fairly mundane, and attached to construction projects. Gone are the days of Schliemann and Evans when huge palaces and whole cities were dug at the whim of rich dilettantes. I wanted to dig Neolithic sites in the Cycladic Islands, but the Greek government, understandably, doesn't trust anybody with their ancient cultural heritage. I am, after all, just one of the hoi polloi, the unwashed masses. Sadly, though, the people they do trust are mostly the descendants of the same dilettantes who robbed them in past generations. My excavation experience is in the Great Plains, mainly Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, plus a couple years in Southern California. No palaces of kings and princes, but then, you can learn a lot about people by studying the people themselves rather than just focusing on the top of the hierarchy.

That dig I referred to was very near the LA airport, on a hill where a former bean field was about to be turned into a trio of multi-million dollar homes. We were literally working in front of the bulldozers, and the haste with which we were required to excavate was truly criminal. But it was during the Bush Administration, when laws that were seen as impediments to business were loosened. We found a small village around 4000 years old with an attached cemetery (which freaked out some of the construction people). The site actually turned out to be more interesting than anyone expected, because it turned out to be a manufacturing site for a poorly understood artifact type that has been found all over the region, from Yaqui territory in Northern Mexico to Kwakuilt country in Southern Canada. The artifacts, referred to as "cogwheels" or "cogstones" because of their morphology, seem to have been traded up the coast for centuries, but no one had ever found where they were being made. Too bad the site was bulldozed. If other villages of the time were making them, they would probably have been destroyed by urbanization in the 50's and 60's, and by Loyola Marymount University. Too bad the site was bulldozed.

I know it's not the stuff of legends, but it is what real, modern archaeology is like - and bears no resemblance whatsoever to a certain popularizer named Dr. Jones.

Dr. Brin, just to comment, the female half of the species will have to look into their own ranges of variation as well as the males if we, as a species, are going to progress on that front. But one of the sad aspects of "gender" as it is conceived is that it is a female issue and not a male concern. This meme is a huge disservice to both sexes.

matthew said...

I love the poetic turn of phrase from the abstract on the passive radiative material: "Further, the cold darkness of the Universe can be used as a renewable thermodynamic resource." I cannot remember another instance of phrase "the cold darkness of the Universe" being used in such a positive manner.

Absolute Zero. The ultimate garbage dump.

Who says engineers have no poetry in them?

Poetry aside, this is a kewl bunch of research. Nanophotaics, indeed.

David Brin said...

Paul S-B I have a theory about the Maya! I believe it will be found that they had wheels. Not just the little toys we’ve found, but real carts and such. There is a mythology that they did not exist… because they would have torn up the delicate-pristine roads that ran between Mayan cities. The exact same law existed in Tokugawa Japan! Okay, then carts weren’t allowed on the big roads or in the cities.

So? What about on farms, where carts would be hugely useful in farming! They were allowed in Japan and would have been in Maya-land. We don’t know of them because (1) wood decays and (2) all the archaeologists flock to uncover fancy cities, never rural life.

Paul451 said...

"The cold darkness of the Universe" isn't at absolute zero, but about 2.7K. Within the solar system is even hotter.

Tim H. said...

Dr, Brin, sorry, the issue sounded like a Mac about to crash. Lack the desk space to set up dual monitors, but this (sub)genius has one more idea, try a different mouse, any USB mouse will do, it may be a mechanical issue with your mouse, good luck, Tim H.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin,

I'm not an expert on the Maya, but they came up often enough. I had a class specifically in Mesoamerican archaeology, so the Maya were a pretty hot topic. As far as wheels go, there is little reason to doubt that they had them, but the Yucatan is a terrible place for preservation of organics.

When looking at the archaeology of anywhere, it is important to know the background of the archaeologists. A majority of archaeology in the New World has been subsumed under the auspices of anthropology in the past several decades. Anthropology is explicitly scientific in orientation, unlike history, art history and historical linguistics, the other disciplines that have tended to use archaeological methods. Frankly, these other disciplines have been pretty flakey in terms of going way beyond the data in their interpretations of past cultures. To make it worse, these disciplines tend to be dominated by our feudal lords, commanding their forces from their ivy league ivory towers.

Let me give you an example. I was sworn to secrecy on this one, so I can't name any names, as it could jeopardize the career of a coworker. This person was granted the privilege of being a lab monkey for the wife of a highly respected (and well connected) British archaeologist. They had excavated a Bronze Age site on Crete, and among the artifacts coming into the lab were scores of small pottery cups of a variety that had been known since the days of Sir Arthur Evans. However, most of these had been excavated a century ago, when we did not have useful techniques for residue analysis, so what these cups were used for was mostly conjecture. There were two competing hypotheses: some thought they were used as oil lamps, others thought they were wine cups. My coworker suggested to the Principle Investigator (the wife of Dr. High and Mighty) that they should not wash the cups, as they would have a unique opportunity to do a chemical analysis of the residues and settle the question once and for all. The PI ordered the lab crew to wash the cups and say nothing of it. My coworker did as she was ordered, and saw globs of oil rising to the surface of the wash bins the entire time. Later that year the PI published a paper of the use of those artifacts in ancient wine-drinking rituals of the ruling classes.

In scientific terms, this is a cardinal sin. Evidence was deliberately destroyed so a member of one social class can support an interpretation that favored her own social class. I couldn't say with certainty that this never happens in anthropological archaeology, but because anthropology is guided by scientific methods, it works as a scientific community, with all the checks and balances that entails. Fortunately most archaeology in the Americas today is done under the auspices of anthropology, though the Maya have always attracted more than its fair share of quacks. If you would like to read good, scientific archaeology, go to your university library and find the Society for American Archaeology Journal. I can't imagine that SDSU or La Jolla would not have it, as this is considered the gold standard in modern archaeology.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Needless to say, anthropologists are not usually drawn from the privileged classes (some are - Harvard has its department), and they are very interested in focusing on the common people. One problem, though, is that many have the attitude that they should focus their work on the earlier, smaller scale societies and ignore state-level societies, leaving anyone who built impressive architecture to the snobs. I have always thought this was a mistake. We can learn a lot about what makes humans tick from examining hunter/gatherer and tribe-level cultures, but most of the human race lives in nation states today. In some ways it would be more relevant to focus a deliberately scientific discipline on early civilizations in hopes of learning something about those dynamics that could be useful to us today.

But most of my coworkers just thought I wanted to go hang out on beautiful little tourist-trap islands, drinking ouzo and dancing on tabletops. I would say, 'you can't win them all!' but in this case I really couldn't win any of them. But I looked at archaeology departments in England and found that many of them were requiring anthropology classes among their course requirements, so there is some hope that change will come. I just hope that there is some data left in the ground for a future generation to discover.

David Brin said...

Paul S-B email me separately. About anthro!

Tacitus said...

Paul SB

Having wielded a trowel many a time, it appears we share some interests beyond SciFi.

But Tacitus Deo is a bit of an odd variant...


Tacitus said...

Oh, and I must second your observations on UK archeologists. They are hyper territorial regards their "turf".

Others do the heavy lifting, shifting the barrows and so forth. They will tell you what it all means.

Ever has it been thus. Ever shall it be so.

They are much like legacy media entities in some ways, not the least of which is withering contempt for amateur punditry!

Best wishes for Christmas, Saturnalia, Solstice, Hanukkah.


DP said...

Speaking of the apocalypse, you may enjoy this article on preppers:

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Tacitus, Deo is Greek for two. I like to mix it up a little (though I can't say I can speak any language well, I do know how to ask for the lav in Greek - oddly enough, their euphemism literally means "the place").

Alex Tolley said...

@ Paul Shen-Brown
My view of archaeologists and anthropologists is 180 degrees from yours.
My limited knowledge of archaeology goes back to my student days and friendships with archaeologist grad students in the UK, the odd paper I read and the occasional quality documentary. These experiences all confirm to me that archaeology as I have observed it is very much a a science now. The instance of data trashing that you referred to was egregious and would have resulted in dismissal from a science department5, but I have to wonder if it was a rare instance, like the recent stem cell debacle at the RIKEN Institute. Yes, the UK had its grand old men who were very influential, but archaeology has become increasingly science based. A notable recent example was the identification of the remains of Richard III which ultimately involved a number of disciplines. No data free explanations there.

Conversely my experience of anthropology is largely anecdotal attending a few lectures at a UC by a head of anthropology. My impression was that conjecture was heaped on conjecture based on very little evidence at all. Alternative explanations for the findings were just ignored in favor of the per theory. I got no sense whatsoever that that the conclusions were to be seriously tested. Unlike archaeology, I don't think I have ever seen an anthropology paper in a science journal.

Your dismissal of historians is also misplaced, IMO, as again this area has become increasingly science based as forensic evidence is increasingly being used. Historians now routinely verify provenance of documents by a variety of tests rather than relying on traditional methods. Historians also collect a lot of social data, and a cross discipline with economics has resulted in the very impressive popular book, "Capital in the 21st Century" by Thomas Piketty.

Anthropology may have come a long way since Mead, but is it really doing science, rather than the sort of scientism often practiced by sociologists?

Perhaps you can point me to a paper or two that you consider good anthropology, preferably one not behind a paywall, that would support your case.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi Alex,
I'm glad to hear that both archaeology and history are becoming more firmly base din science in the U.K. I was of the impression that things may have been going in that direction 15 years ago when I was dreaming of doing my PhD there (which would have required a bank job or two). Hopefully the generations of upper-crusty antiquarians will die out and be replaced with people who are more committed to evidence than propaganda. It's probably too late for my own dream career, though.

When I was doing my grad work in anthro, the field was in a bit of an epistemological rumpus, and had been for years. The old paradigm of Cultural Materialism, which was explicitly scientific, was being rejected by a new generation of "young turks" - much of which was careerism and the extreme end of which was completely nihilistic. Some of their criticisms were right on target and very much necessary, but the trend was to reject all vestiges of scientific discourse in favor of some pretty flakey fakery. Most of the people behind this came into their careers in the 80's. Late in the 90's I was seeing some signs that the new batch of students were rejecting the postmodern coupe and trying to create a paradigm that was positivist, but incorporated some of the more cogent criticisms of the older paradigms that had held sway through much of the 20th C. These more cogent criticisms had less to do with epistemology and more to do with the balance of explanatory power between infrastructure, structure and superstructure. It may be that the lecture you witnessed was a throwback to the postmodern moment, or maybe the pomos still hold some sway in the discipline. At the time I was in school, most of my professors had little patience with postmodernism, but it was a somewhat divided department.

Unfortunately I can't in good conscience give you any good articles to look up, as I have been away from the field for so long, all my references would be considered outdated. Since becoming a school teacher I have not had the time to keep up. Teaching is a 27 hour a day, 9 day a week job, and on top of that I have two children with ASD. Coming to this blog has been an attempt to find a little intellectual stimulation beyond the level of your typical 15 year-old (though I can say that much of what I find on the InterNet is at about that level).

One thing I hope you understand, though, is that in the US anthropology is not just cultural anthropology. Here anthropology has 4 subdisciplines: cultural, biological, linguistic and archaeological. Any decent program will require students to have some coursework in all 4 areas, while specializing in one. My specialization was archaeology, which I thought worked well having changed majors after 3 years in history, but I have some familiarity with the other 3 areas.

David Brin said...

wow interesting stuff.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Oh, Tacitus, in all my babbling I forgot to ask where you have shovel bummed. I was laid off right after 9/11, but was able to get a couple part-time digs for awhile, but not enough to raise a family on.

Tacitus said...

Paul SB

Every spring I spend a couple of marvelous weeks at Vindolanda along Hadrians Wall.

Good times.


Paul Shen-Brown said...

Very nice, Tacitus! That looks like a lot of fun. The picture of the crew points to one of the things I loved about archaeology: what other outdoor job can you find where the M/F ratio among the crew is usually 50/50? It's nice because I love being outdoors, but all-male crews tend to get raunchy and overly competitive. The conversation is usually so much better when you don't have half the males butting heads or sparring verbally.

Was the horse skull found as an IF, or was it articulated with more of the skeleton? If there were more bones, an osteologist would be able to identify cut marks from butchery, if they were eaten. I haven't had Roman history for a really long time, but I would imagine that cavalrymen would have a hard time eating their horses, regardless of the other odd critters they consumed. I don't remember ever seeing a reference to horses in sacrificial rituals, now that I think of it, so there may have been a taboo.

My old Marshalltown sings to me from its grave...

Jumper said...

I was lucky enough to take a course by Solon Kimball, who saw culture as the means of extracting energy from the environment, a pretty nuts-and-bolts approach which survives postmodern relativism. I changed majors when I later found my enthusiasm for classifications of hand axes became non-existent.

LarryHart said...

Laurent Weppe:

"Don't humans crave food, water, physical comforts, and sex pretty highly on the list."

That's the thing: access to material comforts is always linked to one's position in the social hierarchy, so the core question when asserting any given social organization is, as Paul Shen-Brown noted, how rigid said hierarchy is.

So to me, that's what is so great about living in a first-world, Enlightenment-enabled society, or Dr Brin's "diamond shape". While those who are driven to uber-perform can acquire all sorts of wealth and power and status for themselves, there's still plenty left to go around for the satiable among us to be...well, satiated.

What the Enlightenment apparently can't accomplish, more's the pity, is to satiate the truly pathologically-insatiable among us. Thus, as wealth multiplies exponentially, they still want it all. It's not enough that they and their descendents will live in comfort in perpetuity. They have to actively pursue acquiring more and more of the commons as private property, making the rest of us suffer at no appreciable additional benefit to themselves--unless the suffering of others is the benefit.

Tacitus said...


I am not going to be a downer on Christmas but it does strike me that the children of great affluence don't always live get "comfort in perpetuity".

They miss out on the satisfaction that comes from making their own way in the world. They seem, anecdotaly, to be more susceptible to things that give them artificial meaning...cults, substance abuse, superficial politics. And there are some very specific maladies of the affluent world. Try to explain eating disorders to an Ethiopian some time.

Nah, its best to teach them to live below their means, to work part time for their minor luxuries.

Kids heading home from various points of the compass. When they go off to college I give them two bits of paternal advice

-I have worked hard to put some money away for your education/future. Here it is. That's it, make it last.

-It is our expectation that any grandchildren of ours will be raised by two parents who are married to each other. Plan accordingly.



Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, you changed majors when you lost enthusiasm for cataloguing hand axes - totally understandable! Real archaeology is far more mundane than most people realize. It is, like any field science, about gathering data, in all its minutia. Not everybody can keep up their enthusiasm level. I got pretty bored with mountains of 1˚, 2˚ & 3˚ flakes.

For me the draw was being a part of discovery, trying to unlock some of what makes those crazy hominids tick. But you have to be working at a fairly high level - beyond just writing CRM reports, to get much sense of that. Now, as a school teacher, the best job satisfaction I get is finding that a handful of the 150+ 15 year-olds I have to talk to every day have come away with some better understanding of the world than the simpleminded stereotypes that substitute for thinking.

So what did you change major to? Hopefully something that is at least remunerative, something archaeology was not.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper They have to actively pursue acquiring more and more of the commons as private property, making the rest of us suffer at no appreciable additional benefit to themselves--unless the suffering of others is the benefit.

I think it has more to do with keeping score. I also don't think the rich even think about any suffering they cause - the "little people" just don't matter. Didn't servants once have to face the wall when the master or mistress passed so that their faces weren't seen and their presence ignored.

As for acquiring the commons, or public property, this is a problem. I see that NJ is about to allow privatization the municipal water supplies. Given how badly that worked out in the UK, I am astonished that the legislators can state with a straight face that privatization will improve the supply. Given the parlous state of California's water supply, one can only imagine what might have transpired if the Hunt brothers had managed to acquire ag water water supplies as they hoped back in the 1990's.

AFAICS the main problem today, as it was in the Gilded Age, is that legislators are beholden to the super rich and will not pass legislation to reign in their excesses. We could easily raise top rates of taxes, ban tax haven accounts, limit political contributions, etc etc. But we don't, or rather the legislators won't as they know where their bread is buttered. Lessig is basically correct - change political funding and a host of other problems can be solved.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Larry & Tacitus,

I suspect that the pathologically insatiable are just about inevitable. I came to that conclusion long before reading Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class" - though it's nice to have someone else backing you up. But I long ago noticed that the most greedy among us are usually not the poorest, but the richest. The more people have, the more they want. It doesn't turn into a self-perpetuating spiral for everyone, but a culture of classism makes it kind of inevitable that the richest among us will perpetuate the parasitic cycle of conspicuous consumption. The only thing I can think of that can counter that, short of pointlessly bloody revolution (and we saw what the French Revolution accomplished), is to shame them as publicly and consistently as possible. Counter their "superiority" memes by exposing their parasitical nature and displaying both honor and accomplishment among "the people." Maybe I'm just dreaming.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alex, what you said about the rich keeping score is exactly what Veblen was on about way back in 1899. If you are rich, there is always someone out there who is richer than you. If you are the richest man in town, everyone who is slightly less rich is actively trying to one up you. They are locked into a perpetual cycle, enforced by a culture of exploitation. They simply define a majority of the world's people as less than fully human so they can avoid any feelings of guilt.

I can't recommend reading Veblen lightly, as it is Victorian prose - not exactly light holiday reading. It's like reading Marx or Freud or Darwin, though the book is mercifully thin. If you are good with the Victorian prose, it's worth a read. But Jonathan Swift's "Castle Rackrent" is much funnier.

David Brin said...

Tacitus is this the site?

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

If you are rich, there is always someone out there who is richer than you. If you are the richest man in town, everyone who is slightly less rich is actively trying to one up you. They are locked into a perpetual cycle, enforced by a culture of exploitation.

That's how I know there are different kinds of people in the world. Because if it were me, I'd want to be the third or fourth richest guy in the world, and instead of gunning for the top spot, I'd want to keep it as quiet as possible so no one would be gunning for me.

I've heard it recently suggested that the system that pays CEOs tens of millions of dollars per year weeds out all but the sociopaths, because a normal person would quit after his first sixty-million dollar paycheck and just spend the rest of his life enjoying the proceeds. Only the insatiable continue working in a stressful job year after year to pull in more and more money. That's not an absolute truism--I'm sure Bill Gates works because he finds the work itself to be personally rewarding--but like any good story, it explains a lot.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

As for acquiring the commons, or public property, this is a problem. I see that NJ is about to allow privatization the municipal water supplies. Given how badly that worked out in the UK,

The Ayn Rand crowd likes to talk about the wealthy deserving all of their money without any obligation to the rest of society because, like Hank Rearden or Howard Roark, or real-life Bill Gates, they earn that wealth by actually producing something of value which would not have been available absent their brilliance and hard work.

So I like to point out the difference between those rare examples of true wealth-producers vs the much more common variety of wealthy who acquire wealth by legally claiming part of the commons as their own private property. The former actually do increase the total wealth of the system (positive sum game), while the latter get rich by sucking wealth from the rest of us (zero-sum game). Then there are the Mitt Romneys of the world who engage in the negative-sum game of getting paid to engage in destruction of wealth.

So you can't just talk about what "rich people" do or what "rich people" deserve, as if their wealth was all created equal.

LarryHart said...

For those who have seen me post this before and/or are already sick of it, nothing new to see here. But for those who have not, it's worth the read:

From Kurt Vonnegut's novel "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" published in 1964:

When the United States of America, which was meant to be a Utopia for all, was less than a century old, Noah Rosewater and a few men like him demonstrated the folly of the Founding Fathers in one respect: those sadly recent ancestors had not made it the law of the Utopia that the wealth of each citizen should be limited. This oversight was engendered by a weak-kneed sympathy for those who loved expensive things, and by the feeling that the continent was so vast and valuable, and the population so thin and enterprising, that no thief, no matter how fast he stole, could more than mildly inconvenience anyone.

Noah, and a few like him perceived that the continent was in fact finite, and that venal office-holders, legislators in particular, could be persuaded to toss great hunks of it up for grabs, and to toss them in such a way as to have them land where Noah and his kind were standing.

Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus, the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.

E. pluribis unum was surely an ironic motto to inscribe on the currency of this Utopia gone bust, for every grotesquely rich American represents property, privileges, and pleasures that have been deined the many. An even more instructive motto, in the light of history made by the Noah Rosewaters might be: Grab much too much, or you'll get nothing at all.

Tacitus said...


That is indeed the site. c'mon over and dig some year.