Saturday, February 27, 2016

Insistence of Vision and colonizing the Milky Way?

Well deserved! SFWA has announced that C.J. Cherryh has been named its 32nd Grand Master for her fantastic contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy. About time! Huzzah Carolyn. Truly a master and a grand one.

I've been asked to post online my recent story "The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss," which has been chosen for three "best-of 2015" anthologies... so here it is! Who asked? Well some of those planning to attend (and/or vote in) this year's World Science Fiction Convention! 

Also, it's a sampler-taste of the quality of storytelling you will find in my new collection, INSISTENCE OF VISION.   

See this rave review for Insistence of Vision. This one very, very perceptive. Only note the ticking clock. Just another couple of weeks for pre-order discounts!  

Post-Iowa Notes: NYT Nobelist economist Paul Krugman highlights ‘uplift’ in his analysis of the Iowa returns. His point being that we should choose to be more ambitious -- the one core thought that Bernie Sanders has contributed. Can we ‘uplift’ our society, our civilization? The American public mood is addicted to downer memes, despite every statistical metric having actually improved! While science fiction is filled with many negative stories, it is the one medium where perhaps 10% of the time, we see real optimism and hope.

Next? Be still my heart.  Will some university lit departments get over their smug postmodernist claptrap and realize that the most American-spirited of all literary genres may deserve some attention, study and tenured faculty?  Okay, okay, it shows that I truly am a sci fi dreamer.

== Will we colonize the Milky Way? ==

In a recent essay -- There is no Planet B: We're not colonizing the Milky Way any time soon -- my colleague, friend, and treasure of science fiction Kim Stanley Robinson encapsulates the reasons why he believes our classic fantasies of interstellar colonization are  at-best naïve and likely forlorn, ideas explored in his recent  novel, Aurora.

Still, I do feel a need to explain why I quibble with my bro. Like me, Stan's writing is often propelled and driven by polemic, which isn't a bad thing, when you are that smart and shine light - as he does - on real dangers!  Both he and I want to save the Earth and both strive hard for that. (I even named a novel after our world; beat that for commitment.) 

Alas, we differ not over general direction or sense of urgency - or a shared belief that humanity can improve - but over a matter of personality. KSR is (I believe) being progressively drawn into a leftist perspective of zero sum thinking... that it is a matter of either-or choices.  Either we devote our whole attention to terrestrial sustainability or watch our support system dissolve under the corrosion of greedy human civilization. 

Zero sum assumptions posit that attention aimed in non-core directions - e.g. outward - will diminish the value we devote to what we already have -- the only known place where life and humanity can flourish.

Again, I share Stan's sense of urgency, and we agree about the forces that today are endangering all of us through short-sighted, proto-feudal greed. Our lists of worst-villains probably overlap 90%! Where we differ is that I see many, many positive sum paths before us. While I am not a fizzing optimist like Peter Diamandis, I avow that as many good things are happening, as bad, and that studying what is working is just as important as railing against what doesn't.  

Moreover while the ancient foe of freedom and science -- feudal oligarchy -- is today's worst threat, by far, where we part company is that I see little to admire in the far-left's penchant for dismally simplistic prescription.
Circling this back to his recent article and novel... We see this failing in Robinson's dismissal of the very possibility of space - especially interstellar - colonization. 

Oh, without any doubt, science fiction was due for a corrective chiding, that the galaxy will not be settled as easily as humans just moved-right-in to the Americas. In Heart of the Comet (1984) Gregory Benford and I explored how necessary it will be for humans to modify themselves, in order to meet any new ecosystem more than halfway.  Still, Stan's polemical reasons for taking this position force him into an exaggerated declaration of near-impossibility for that hoary-classic sci fi dream.  In his novel, Aurora, he shows relentlessly all the things that can go wrong with an "ark" style generation ship... then, at the very end, he off-hand introduces a technology (a highly plausible one) that would make generation ships completely unnecessary, allowing humanity to bypass every problem he spent 700 pages describing. See my extensive review (and nitpicking) of his novel.

Oh, just to remind you, I am nitpicking one of the greatest science fiction authors ever to breathe. And a paladin of our tomorrows.

I’ll be on stage with Stan at UCSD’s annual James Arnold Lecture on May 5.

== Sci Fi and culture ==

The first issue of the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Science Fiction is up! Check it out! Also from the folks building toward the new Museum of Science Fiction — Science fiction is the story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and who we dream to be. 

Debates over “singularity” topics can be fervent and quasi religious, which should not be surprising, since the transcendentalists of conservatism and optimism are only channeling their millennia-old tussle with a new, scientio-techno gloss. Francis Fukayama and Ray Kurzweil fought it out, a decade ago. Now Richard Jones continues inveighing in Against Transhumanism - with a review and answer provided by Guilio Prisco.

fascinating review of“ Occupied” – a new Norwegian, near-future thriller about Norway attempting to shut down its own fossil fuel industry, followed by a Europe-approved Russian invasion.  Weird, but I am intrigued. 

Some of the most beloved movies ever were based on books. But just because we loved them doesn’t mean the original author did.  See: eleven authors who hated the movie versions of their books. I had more reason, yet am more forgiving than some of these folks.

A fun and pleasant musical reinterpretation of… Spock.  

And while we’re on music… I mentioned the score to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, elsewhere, but only with an amateur’s perspective.  This brilliant essay decrypts the score in fine detail and suggests that John Williams knew a lot more than J.J. Abrams is letting on.

Szymon Sokół offers up a beautiful compilation of Babylon 5 riffs.   One forgets how beautiful that series was.  Well written, breakthrough art and effects, fine acting, sometimes dark… but underneath it all, B5 joins Star Trek and Stargate and (somewhat) Serenity as among the very few optimistic science fiction dramatizations that actually believes in our potential.  In us.  

Huh. Science Fiction as vehicle for Jihadi Propaganda. "The Unit" by Yuito Abdillah, published in the German magazine Kybernetiq. Any German speakers here feel like tracking it down for a review?  “Despite claiming that this story is a work of propaganda, what exactly the author is advocating for is cloudy at best. The group’s affiliations are not totally clear, but a representative told Radio Free Europe that they “aren’t from ISIS.””

The original NCC-1701 is being lovingly restored at the National Air & Space Museum. They take their sacred responsibility very seriously ...

Recent news: eagles being trained to attack drones!  Someone pointed out where this might all lead… in this vivid action page from The Life Eaters.

Vote for your favorite science fiction authors on this crowd-ranked list!

Yipe.  I don’t normally tout products I’ve never used.  But this one puts together so many things we never knew we wanted.   Lily is the world's first throw-and-shoot camera. It lets anyone create cinematic footage previously reserved for professional filmmakers.  Lily is waterproof, ultra-portable, and shoots stunning HD pictures and videos. Straight outta scifi.   (Of course it is best for folks who get off their behinds and go outside….) 


Haviland Tuf said...

Ok, I have read this strange "Die Einheit". Seems like the intro or description of the setting for a range of short stories.
Basically the part I´ve read yet describes a near future - (socialist) Greater Kurdistan exists with the help from the west, the secular Turkey has build a one kilometer wide and 600 km long moat with 15m high wall (+mines etc) against it. Oh, and Israel did a nuclear strike against Irak destroying large parts of the country. Iran has then conquered Irak. (Also the imaginitive Author of this thinks Iran did nuke Irak)
And a small force of Mudjahedeen holds the Levante and is ready to storm the last "Bulwark" Damascus.
Signed is this whole thing by an Prof. Dr. Yuito Abdillah‘ Deisuke (hear hear, a Japanese convert???) from the 3rd Cyborg Regiment and head of the research department of the United islamic Emirates

Writing style is sub. Not much story till now, just a depiction of the world. And, as always, full of this islamo-fascistic rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

"Space colonization" is too ambiguous for detailed eco-analysis. O'Neill L-5 or lunar colonies are only hours or days from emergency intervention. Mars is a year or two. Generation ships are an order of magnitude or two more.
These are disjoint engineering scenarios.

Unknown said...

Sorry to drag you back into US politics but do you have any thoughts on Chris Christie's endorsement of Trump? Trump's nomination seems to be basically guaranteed, and the GOP elite are too dysfunctional and weak to stop him now. I think we'll be seeing more endorsements as it becomes apparent that Trump might be part of the new GOP elite (and thus power-brokers) that will knock out the more "traditional" plutocrats.

The Neo-Feudalists are losing. They are being replaced by European-styled fascists who are economically centrist but are radical protectionists and even further right on social issues than the old GOP was. I can't decide which is worse, but at least the GOP base is realizing how awful the economic policy of the old elites really was for them, even if they are (unfortunatly) fully embracing bigotry in its place.

Jumper said...

Lots of good links. I pre-ordered. You had me at "short stories."
KS Robinson doesn't get into suspended animation. This seems do-able to me with another 75 years or so. Wake up in another star system? Sure, why not?
"Jihadi SF" brought to mind Sterling's sickly prophetic We See Things Differently which authorized or not is here: (Hey, Bruce, is this a takedown situation?)

LarryHart said...

Will Feret:

Sorry to drag you back into US politics but do you have any thoughts on Chris Christie's endorsement of Trump?

Trump must have some awfully bad incriminating pictures about Christie.

If it's not blackmail or bribery--that is, if Christie is really interested in helping Trump's campaign--then Christie must really despise Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

David Brin said...

Thank you Haviland Tuf is sounds like a middle eastern version of the Turner Diaries.

Jumper, dissing slow eco-arkships is only half of Stan R's message. I have always deemed such ships to be the least likely method. The other half is claiming that no living world out there will be welcoming, only poisonous to Earth life. Ursula LeGuin took the opposite extreme. That human colonists will likely be able to eat locally, though maybe needing to greenhouse-grow supplements... but that local pathogens would be completely stymied by our immune systems. We just don't know. I think KSR goes too far... but the DIRECTION of his critique of standard SF is a badly needed one.

WF: Christie is a real piece of work. The only way the GOP will ever again produce Eisenhowers will be if it first flushes out the entire clade of Bush-Christie-Cheney types and the power of murdochian poison merchants. I had hoped that conservative grownups like Tacitus would have done that cleanup. But now we can see that it will take a full enema.

Trump-Cruz-Rubio... they are that enema. It is crucial that the nation must not swallow any of it, in the fall... and that mature conservatives start out with a clean system after this course or almost-literal political diarrhea.

John's Secret Identity™ said...

That Lily camera-drone looks pretty cool. I wonder when they'll have one with obstacle-avoidance that can keep up with a car on the highway. That would make dash-cams look quaint.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
I have been asked about the operational readiness figures - Bush/Clinton/Obama
Do you have any references I can pass on to somebody who is convinced

"Obama, has from the beginning of his presidency downgraded the effectiveness of the greatest military ever devised by man"

Can you let me have some references for him

Just pre-ordered your book - at least this one is available in NZ!

Jumper said...
Note the sponsoring site; they aren't lefties...

DP said...

KSR needs to examine that classic question from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

"Do coconuts migrate?"

In fact, yes they do.

Coconuts fall from their trees into the ocean an get carried by currents, winds and waves to other islands. Once establsihed on a new shore, they poulate the island and repeat the process of dropping other cocunts nto the ocean, In a relatively short period of time coconuts have travelled to every island in the Pacific and planted themselves.

KSR's problem with interstellar colonization is that he thinks along the lines of the European voyages of discovery (live crews, large numbes of passngers, long voyages of explorationand return). Insted he should view it the same way that coconuts have been successful at propagatng their species over a vast ocean.

A solar sail about the size of Colorado (and being only one carbon atom thick) can use the pressure of sunlight alone to accelerate a payload to between 0.01c to 0.1c. Deceleration can be achieved by the pressure of sunlight from the destination star. No expensive fuel or engines needed for this cheap and slow approach. So it would take decades or centuries to reach a nearby star, what’s the hurry? The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”). After establishing a colony, the space ship utilizes local asteroid resources to build more solar sail ships and payloads, sending them off to more stars where the process is repeated over and over again...

... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction.

That’s the wonderful thing about doubling. Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy. Once established, a system of colonies can create a communication network exchanging the only commodities that can be transported economically over interstellar distances: information and knowledge.

We engineers have a saying "Fast, good or cheap - pick any two". So what is wrong with a good, cheap albeit slow approach to the stars?

DP said...

(Please excuse poor typing above, haven't had my second cup of coffee yet)

As for frozen embryo ships and the power of doubling see this awesome video:

As for the lack of perfectly Earth-like worlds, our species can be modifed to adapt to them and/or terraform/paraterraform what we need.

Or just populate the asteroid belts of each solar system constructing artificial habitats as large as Bishop rings.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

We engineers have a saying "Fast, good or cheap - pick any two".

Yes, and corporate managers--not governments, mind you, but private businessmen who are supposed to know how the real world works--inevitably answer that they want all three. Or complain about it not being fast enough or good enough or cheap enough after ostensibly agreeing to focus on the other two characteristics.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction.

Unless the universal equivalent of Global Warming comes along.

occam's comic said...

There has to be some kind of return on investment for the extremely expensive process of putting people in space. I just don't see what that is. Unmanned Communication and observation activities have a return on investment, but i don't see anything else.

There is no manufacturing process that is worth the expense of going into space.
Solar power satellites can't compete with ground based solar and batteries.
Getting raw materials from space is far more expensive than getting them from the earth.

And although there could be huge military advantages, any nation trying to seize the "high ground" would find that other nations would instigate a Kessler syndrome to stop them.

The only reason we still have a manned space program is because of hold that unrealistic space based science fiction has on our collective imagination.

LarryHart said...

I just this moment realized that the movie invoked by locumranch recently, "Rollerball", describes the candidacy of Donald Trump.

The system, which is supposed to demonstrate the irrelevancy of an individual in favor of the will of the party eventually, inevitably, evolves an individual who is perfectly suited to win the game. By playing by the rules of the game rather than the desires of those who instituted the game, both Johnathan E and Donald Trump manage to prevail, even as the system crumbles around them.

DP said...

"irrelevancy of an individual in favor of the will of the party"

Irrelevancy of an individual in favor of the will of the corporations.

Paul SB said...

Here's a TED Talk i found while searching for materials to pique my students' interest - not that this one would for very many. It is about the relationship between ingrained disgust reactions and political orientation. It reminded me a little of the "indignation junkie" concept in Dr. Brin's "Existence."

The coconut strategy is good evolutionary thinking. As far as embryo cryonics as a method of colonizing the galaxy, there are a lot of problems that have to be worked out first. For one, those robot caretakers are going to have to be mighty sophisticated AI or we will end up with the galactic equivalent Harry Harlowe's motherless monkey experiments. Motivation is another issue. Certainly no corporation will find any, unless as a government contractor. My guess is that it will become a matter of desperation once we have tapped out our resources and abandoned hope of survival on this sphere - a situation I hope will not happen for millennia to come.

The Lily camera drone, with it's little robotic smile, could mean a beginning to the end of much of our previous violent ways. If the device can become smaller, less obtrusive, with automatic upload to the web and long battery life, they could become the ubiquitous witnesses that prevent everything from shoplifting to wife beating to gang violence to rioting in the streets. Of course, corporations, governments and churches would find ways to keep them out of their behind-closed-doors meetings, so no panacea - but an improvement. Of course the drawback is that every time someone picks their nose it's on the web, too.

David Brin said...

Daniel did you see how I dealt with the embryo-colonization method in Existence?

Duncan: The following is Orwellian in its diametrically-opposite-to-true zchutzpah: "Obama, has from the beginning of his presidency downgraded the effectiveness of the greatest military ever devised by man"

You’ll notice there’s no attempt to offer a single statistical metric to back it up. In fact, there are dozens to show the opposite. E.g. the fact that nearly every major unit in all four branches is now “fully combat ready.” The figure was ZERO percent of major Army and Marine units at the end of BOTH Bush Administrations. (Clinton also had 100% readiness.) And we are amid the most rapid technological modernization in US military history. The senior US military officer corps is not in love with Obama, exactly. But after 20 years they know that dem presidents listen and treat them with respect and do not spend their men like toys.

locumranch said...

In the late 80s, David Zindell did your Coconut Theory one better by postulating galactic expansion through automated probes that used lifeless component molecules & nanotechnology to construct (living) human beings once the probes reach a suitable extraterrestrial environment.

Of which Jonathon E in the original 'Rollerball' film is only one example, the idea that every system is vulnerable to being solved or 'gamed' by a unique competitor is a not-new variant of the Infinite Monkey theory. I offer up Keith Laumer's short-story 'Prototaph' (Analog, 1965) as another example:

Once was, my children, the idea that individual action would, should & could TRUMP collective effort was the most popular trope in Science Fiction and, in my humble opinion, Science Fiction (and, perhaps, Science) has lost far more than it gained when it abandoned individual primacy & embraced the 'futility of individual effort' trope in favour of consensus & collective.


David Brin said...

Except that's malarky. The small team of heroes being vastly most important than any institution... indeed portraying institutions relentlessly as futile ... has only grown and grown as the most hackneyed and always, always repeated trope, as time goes on.

Come, Locum, name the counter-examples.

locumranch said...

Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Curie, Einstein, Hahn, Darwin & Tesla are all prime examples of scientists who acted alone, defied the social consensus & changed the collective to the better.

League of Nations, Hitler, Communism, Swissair & the EU are all prime examples of Groupthink, Herd Mentality & the failure of collective decision-making.

Need I say more?


Tacitus said...

Duncan has also asked for a recent reference on these military preparedness statistics that you quote with such fervent any?

I would not ask if I had not already been hunting for any that I would consider definitive and relatively spin free.


Luís Salgueiro said...

Brilliant writing. I loved tumbledowns. I'll certainly buy the e-book once it's available (I'm running out of shelf space) :)

I'm left wanting more. Much more. What will happen to the Birds crew? How will the elders react? Who will risk exploring the new world and why? What dangers await? My mind is a swirl of possibilities.

Why go to the stars?
The old motivations that prompted the age of discovery surely don't apply: faith (finding the kingdom of the fabled Prestes John, cut-off the trade to the Turkish Empire), profit (gold, spices, silk). However the chronicles did state that the one man that created the whole expansion program had another, foremost reason: to know what was beyond... Curiosity was a prime motivator.

Commercial companies will find no incentive to explore outside our world, the return on investment is just not enougth, the investment, the risk... I doubt very much that anything of use will come of that.

During the 15th century the portuguese goverment at some point decidded to transfer exploration activitis to the private sector, offering large incentives in the form of monopolies and tax exemptions. The results were very... disapointing. To say the least.

the most effective aproach however was government sponsored program that took several generations to come to fruition (1415-1499). One of the strategies was the use of cast-aways (lançados) to explore both islands and inland. A convict, a jew or a new christian would "volunteer" to be droped off and establish contact. If he (or she! I found reference to at least one woman) survived and returned or was pick-up by another ship it would be greatly rewarded. Local mariage and establishement of alliances was greatly encouraged. I wond how a space exploration version of this tactic would work?

I saw that the new book has several Verne stories. Any chance of a modern version of Misterious Island? If that was what a 19th century elite team of enterprising people could do... what would the 21st version be like?

LarryHart said...

I realize that February has a 29th this year. But in case I don't get a chance to post tomorrow, let me wish everyone, especially those in the northern climes, a very happy ending to the six consecutive months with seven-or-more letters in their (English) names, and looking forward to the six consecutive months with fewer-than-seven letters.

David Brin said...

Tacitus you are right to cite that my military readiness stats are long in the tooth. WIll some of you blogmunity members help me update my stats on military readiness?

But um? What on Earth would have changed in the last year?We have about one division’s worth of army and air deployed in warm or hot areas and “wars”... which is a level of commitment that does not impact on readiness to any large degree... when the units cycling out of those zones then get plenty of rest and refit (years) between deployments. One metric? They are only deploying soldiers who ASK to deploy. Does that sound like abuse of our military? Not to the guys I know

Luis, yes I have been urged to turn it into a novel... and I whimper about lack of time and lifespan.

But thanks for your kind words! And I am sure you can envision the story's continuation....

David Brin said...

Re L's rant against "collective" institutions, you'll note he has nothing unkind to say about the biggest dictatorships... quasi monopoly bloat-corporations run undemocratically by a cabal of 5000 oligarch CEO golf buddies. THAT is just fine! Yowza Marse Charles and Marse David! and Marse Rupert!

Oh... guess who defeated Hitler and communism? John Wayne personally? Or the consensus project called the United States of America?

“Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Curie, Einstein, Hahn, Darwin & Tesla are all prime examples of scientists who acted alone, defied the social consensus & changed the collective to the better.

So? Theyuare examples of the loose, western intellectual system WORKING. And all were idiosyncratic in different ways. Newton would have accomplished nothing without Halley and peers armtwisting him out of his hermitage, and he later became a high government official. The very same with Pasteur. Without Thomas Huxley and an unoficial mob of impudent and secure folks like Thomas Huxley, Darwin woould have done nothing and Tesla had (um, duh) a fellow named Westinghouse.

You are a very ignorant person who does not even back up those points that actually have some validity!

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I know you've commented several times about the growing trend of dystopias in science fiction and your views that this is a form of laziness... and just found a somewhat short (but still ongoing) science fiction webcomic set in a more peaceful and uplifting society that has tolerance and acceptance of differences (well, within reason - people still stand out and the like!).

Always Human is a romantic science fiction about two young ladies growing to know each other and falling in love in a society where nanotech is widespread and used for everyday things like changing your appearance, improving memory, and the like... but some people have too strong an immune system and cannot use the nanotech mods (at least not without first knocking out that person's immune system to allow the nanotech to not cause a reaction, and then watching the person for a month to ensure there are no complications).

While the love story is the main theme of the story, it includes various aspects including a spaceship finally reaching Tau Ceti and sending data back to Earth (suggesting that the speed of light is still in play rather than having "warp drives"), the use of virtual reality, and even people who choose to be "naturalists" who live without mods.

The concept itself and the world created for this science fiction story fascinates me, even as I enjoy the two protagonists (and their friends, for that matter). So I thought I'd toss it out as an example of positive science fiction out there. :)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H thanks for sharing this sweet web comic. Of course it does show why dystopias and such sell! Because optimism is... well... a little slow and less dramatic. But very sweet.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Loci's misunderstanding of the recursive relationships between individual and collective is something of a cultural phenomenon here is the U.S., and perhaps other places as well. I wouldn't be the first to observe that American culture still contains a lot of vestigial memes from the not so distant frontier era. Memes that idolize the 'rugged individualist,' overemphasize the value of 'masculine' competitiveness, and despise and devalue community and perceived 'femininity' are left overs from when such people colonized the untamed wilderness (for better and for worse). And like most meme clades, they are based on the false assumption of naturalization - that their culture is somehow biologically natural, and anyone who is different is unnatural.

There is a bit of irony that little loci mentioned Darwin as an example of his 'individualists,' when he has become not just mainstream in today's scientific community (the Enlightenment working as it should), but also he would be the first to point out the need for adaptability. That is, the meme clade of the rugged individualist may have been appropriate in one environment, but becomes maladaptive in another. The frontier has been filled up, and we are not yet technologically ready to handle any other available frontiers (outer space or aquatic space). Rugged individualists (and laissez faire capitalists) are maladaptive in our world today. If the desire to roam and explore new territory has a basis in instinct (I strongly suspect) then expressing this instinct by brutalizing spouses, minority groups and neighbors, committing crimes and insisting that the authorities butt out of our business is self defeating. Our current population density just can't deal with it.

Creation, on the other hand, is a great outlet, as is fiction. Creation can mean artistic pursuits, but also scientific and engineering as well, or any arena in which people seek novel solutions and creative applications.

I seem to remember some of these themes being touched on by James Alan Gardner, but it has been a long time, so I don't remember any specifics. Are you familiar with this writer? Or, if anyone else here is, does anyone remember these coming up in his books? Or, for that matter, your or any other positive fiction that makes mention of culture having to adapt to changing times... I'll have to check out the web comic Rob mentioned.

donzelion said...

LOL, glad that the science cranks on. Spent the weekend "worshiping" at the temple of life that has (temporarily) conquered Death Valley, CA with the ongoing superbloom. There's a thousand allegories in the observation that hardy seeds can survive a drought for years, in one of the world's most unforgiving environments, only to sprout and bloom in the face of a bit of water.

Catching up from where I left off -

@Alfred Dilfer - I don't think we're so far apart on either view. A "badge of honor" may still signify great honor, even if obtained by participation in an overall "dishonorable" enterprise (e.g., an unjust war). The key though is that Smith would not accept regarding taxes as "theft" (only, that wasteful use of the revenues should be subject to criticism).

I'll disagree with you on whether government should be cultivating virtue...My reading of Smith doesn't support that.
I don't think we're far apart - government cultivation of virtue should be limited (and possibly, only the virtues of justice require government interference - though Smith never finished his political theory or his jurisprudential work). Smith did claim that only “perfect justice, perfect liberty, and perfect equality” could bring the “highest degree of prosperity” to all classes of society (Wealth of Nations, IV). In general, that means government should "set a foundation, remove impediments, then leave people alone" - a limited state, but not a minimal, Minarchist state (which does nothing but enforce contracts). For Smith, that skepticism would invalidate things like fines for failure to attend a specific church (or establish a church backed by the state) - but would include basic literacy and similar "fundamentals" (as well as some redistribution of wealth to the poor - e.g., 'social security').

donzelion said...

Locum “Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Curie, Einstein, Hahn, Darwin & Tesla are all prime examples of scientists who acted alone, defied the social consensus & changed the collective to the better.

If you're a Netflixer or PBS watcher, might I recommend Steven Johnson's "How We Got to Now." Great antidote to the notion that science is an "individual" process - individual's contribute, but their contributions come through an interactive process - with numerous players obtaining data, presenting puzzles, offering solutions, evaluating the offerings and making counter-offerings. Modern science (at least since the Renaissance) have never been an individual preoccupation.

The only exception is the one "scientist" you didn't name, who would be quite happy with an "individual effort" approach: Aristotle. However, though he did offer a system that can be fully self-contained and require no interaction, it's not exactly what anyone thinks of as "science" any more (though quite a few people miss the 'certainty' it offered, most often, it's raised in a 5-minute rebuttal and move on process at a lower level college science course before getting to the 'good stuff' folks are struggling with now).

locumranch said...

Neither have I praised "the biggest dictatorships/quasi monopoly bloat-corporations/oligarchs", nor have I argued that collectivism is intrinsically bad & individualism better.

I have merely pointed out the obvious: That, other than consistency & consensus, collectivism creates nothing unique, new or creative because creation, speciation, adaptability & deviation from the mean can only occur in isolation, like Darwin's finches.

As a matter of example, David's works, novels & tales were created by an INDIVIDUAL (David) and, most assuredly, they were NOT created by the collective which (arguably) influenced & created David.

Simply put:

In respect to adaptability, problem-solving & creativity, the SINGULAR Collective Consciousness cannot compete with an infinite number of Individual Monkeys who can evaluate a near infinite number of options in the time it takes the singular collective to evaluation ONE possibility.

Then & only then, after the individual creates, discovers, or solves the proper course of action (responding to a particular problem), can the singular & single-minded collective shine by bringing-to-bear (focusing) its full force on the problem at hand.

One can say (as PSB does) that the "rugged individualist may (be) appropriate in one environment, but becomes maladaptive in another", and this is most certainly true, yet only the fool forgets that perfect adaption to a singular environment leads only to extinction & death when & if that environment changes.

Death Valley is an excellent example, once lush & tropical with collective hippopotami, then desiccated, desolate & devoid of life, now blooming today in a riot of individual wildflowers forever 'sans hippos'.


Paul SB said...

"...perfect adaption to a singular environment leads only to extinction & death when & if that environment changes."

Any biologist knows this, and this is exactly why diversity is necessary for survival. Those rugged individualists will have a harder and harder time surviving if they fail to adapt themselves to changing times, but times may yet change again. Since a majority of human adaptation is now cultural more so than biological, the ideal solution is the preservation of diverse ideas and opinions for potential future use (think of the Motie museums in Niven & Pournelle's "The Mote in God's Eye" but for behavioral adaptations rather than technology. Options need to be on the table, but the options that get adopted need to be the right options for the time and place, not just some antiquated notions that some segments of society cling to because they always have, and can't imagine doing things any other way.

David Brin said...

Cogency. I'll not criticize or rebuke when he delivers a message like the one just above. To be clear, I AM a believer in American-style individualism and the kind of dynamic-competitive creativity that has individuality as its greatest font. It is essential that these memes survive and (largely) prevail because there were always oppressed undercurrents beneath most societies' obsession with collectivist conformity.

Whaaaa? Am I reversing myself?

Nonsense. If you are comparing the rambunctiously impudent American ethos to the conformist , difference squashing memes of 99% or 6000 years, then yippee-ki-Yay MoFo and L & I agree.

Alas, that is NOT what he was saying earlier, when he was reflexively and confederately attacking all the mild and helpful and beneficial versions of collective action that Americans fine tuned for generations, using a consensus political system and negotiated pragmatic governmental actions to help empower the widest variety of individualist citizens. The looser-than-normal governments we've erected have done spectacular things, defeating Hitler & communism and erecting a myriad tools like universities that enabled millions to rise ever higher.

Indeed, that is exactly why the monsters and traitors and proto -feudalists are attacking our loose, mostly gentle and mostly benign political systems. They do not want empowered citizenship and a nation that keeps moving forward.

And 40 million american-confed fanatics are now their marching moron tools, chanting hatred of all government all the time... and our parents in the greatest generation would call that at best imbecillic,,, and likely treason.

donzelion said...
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donzelion said...

re "space colonization" - perhaps the problem arises from the term 'colonization' itself. A 'colony' - whether of spores, coconuts, or humans, some THING leaves an origin, and physically relocates to a new location. Much of that movement is accidental, driven by ambient forces already at work in the environment (e.g., the first human colonies in North America probably crossed the Bering Strait during an ice age, chasing food into North America). Hard to picture such an interplanetary movement 'accidentally' occurring - hence, colonization itself would be a problematic motif.

A more plausible alternative would be 'information' colonization. Intelligent species on Planet B enters SLOW, light-based communications with Earth. We chat, trade jokes, and the rest, all taking decades. Eventually, we decide we like each other, and trade genetic code with one another. Once transferred, we build specimen's of the other in each of our worlds, grow 'em in a lab. Nobody ever 'leaves' Earth - or Planet B - we just each decide to make the other from scratch.

Not a plot I've read before. Does strike me as by far the easiest way to get humans off the Earth. (Also might fit a bit with Robinson's notion: we'd have to be such compellingly good conversationalists that other aliens would be interested in what we have to say...perhaps if we were really good at taking care of our planet, they'd be more interested in what we have to say about other areas of mutual interest?

donzelion said...

Locum - "other than consistency & consensus, collectivism creates nothing unique, new or creative because creation, speciation, adaptability & deviation from the mean can only occur in isolation"

Please don't tell the Great Barrier Reef that. I find it to be quite unique, and novel (at least to me), and sort of beautiful. Certainly a pretty 'creative' collective. ;)

Anonymous said...

Let’s assume that generation ships are the only way to reach the stars but that they would cost a significant part of the system’s GDP to make, man and launch. A government could do it but the money to build one would be in direct competition with more direct and probably more pressing needs. A democratic government would probably find it hard to sustain the necessary long-term effort to bring the project to completion. I also doubt that private enterprise would do it also. There would be no profit or return to justify such an enormous expenditure so companies would have no incentive to build one. The problem is how to sustain the requisite motivation over a period of decades to get the thing built. Governments are too preoccupied with more pressing matters to see out that far and private industry has no reason to get into a long project as building a generation ship so who would have the motivation, the deep pockets and the cohesion to get it done?.

There is one group that could fit the bill and that would be religious organizations. Their motivations would to spread their religion, to get away from corrupting non-believers and/or to establish their “city on the hill”. They have the cohesion to stick to a long-term project and would be able to fund it through taxes on their members. “The Expanse” touches on this idea where it was the system-wide Mormons who were financing and building the first generation ship in the likeness of Gabriel blowing his horn no less! There is no reason why other religious groups couldn’t do the same. Maybe it will be fundamentalist Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus who will build and man the first ships not out of adventure or profit but out of duty to their religion. They are the ones who would have the money and the motivation to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason dystopian scenarios are so popular is that people compare their situation to what is around them. They may have a big mortgage, a job they hate and a nagging wife or lazy husband but at least they are not being eaten by zombies so overall they feel they are not doing too badly.

Luís Salgueiro said...


Tacitus said...

Regards military preparedness I could, and in fact a few posts back, did suggest a variety of things that could have changed.* Not in the past year - that would not be an honest measure - but in the past five or six years if the comparison is to be between Bush and Obama admins.

Note please that I do not object to your holding the opinion that our forces are in a far superior state of preparedness now as opposed to then. It may be true. But to insist, as you have no more than one occasion, that this is self evident, true and and that anyone who questions it is a fool....well it makes your current request for help backing it up with stats look a bit thread bare.

You are sometimes a good sport when challenged. Few people will under any circumstances concede a potential point from "the other side". But the magnetic draw of the all caps screed aspect of your arguments seems strong.


* indeed in the classic trade off between guns and butter it is always fair to ask if we as a society are investing in the right brands of either.

Anonymous said...

Every measure has improved? Uh, what? I do not recall seeing food prices going down. Rent is also up. A lot. Home ownership? Only if you want a part-time job car sitting for a grim number of hours through ugly stroad-lined particle-board sprawl (and suburban poverty rates are up). Deaths for pedestrians and cyclists, trending up. Entrepreneurism, trending down. Calls for building a wall, in the well-documented style of empires in decline: up. A dominant minority who have lost the ability to lead, and stick the internal proletariat with a $10 minimum wage to cover $2000 median rents in deeply blue regions? Probably not the best of signs.

And feudalism? What legal and military customs even remotely make that a fit? Plutocracy is a vastly better term, as noted by the Greeks some years ago as a natural transition for democracies, or more recently by both Spengler and Toynbee. Now, which candidate cavorts with both Goldman Sachs and Monsanto?

donzelion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donzelion said...

@Anonymous - Feudalism = "Plutocracy/Oligarchy + Time." If wealth/power can be transmitted primarily to the children of the wealthy/powerful (by whatever mechanism - whether it's noble titles, or corporate shares), then you have something even worse than oligarchy/plutocracy - because it's possible for it to persist at length. Aristotle assumed oligarchy would be a plutocracy (whether wealth creates power OR power creates wealth, the wealthy would use wealth to take power, or the powerful would use power to take wealth - it's hard to see one persisting very long without amassing the other).

@Luis Salguiro - I sort of thought the 'plot' of Species was "Aliens look like Natasha Henstridge and want to mate with us then kill us." Like a 1980s reversal of the 1950s motif, "bug eyed monsters are coming to abduct white women and take them to Mars." The SETI origins weren't the plot - that's just back story. They could have used any nonsense to account for her origins.

@Deuxglass - "at least they are not being eaten by zombies so overall they feel they are not doing too badly." I see dystopic visions as an attempt to translate semi-filtered anxieties that are actually felt but unrealized in this world into images and narratives, and/or to flip value systems by altering key assumptions. Zombies = one part extreme misanthropy, one part agoraphobia, and a host of additional fears captured one way or another. A lot of people would love the opportunity to execute millions of others (why are folks so stupid! why am I the only one who gets it!) - if only it weren't wrong to engage in murder: zombies are a convenient mechanism to turn psychotic rage into a virtue.

"Maybe it will be fundamentalist Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus who will build and man the first ships not out of adventure or profit but out of duty to their religion." To the extent that 'fundamentalists' create a 'program' out of dogmatic orthodoxy, and strive to compel maintenance of that program and repudiation of contending alternatives - I can see that sort of devotion as contributing to success of a colonial enterprise. I cannot see that as driving it entirely. Seems to me, it's always "gold, glory, & God" interacting - even within the same person's mind.

raito said...


Not a plot you've seen before?
A for Andromeda
This Island Earth (though there's spaceships in that one)

Unless you specifically mean that the two species are meeting are peers...

Luís Salgueiro said...

The importance of the individual versus the importance of the colective...

Can actualy a single person make a decisive and world changing diference?

According to the official reports of the time and the regime propaganda (democratic at the time) the portuguese divisions faced 35 German divisions (note that the wiki article says 3).
The story published in the papers at the time, and as my grandfather remembered and subsequently told me, forgot to mention the fact that the majority of the officers had gone to the rear and there was talk of mutiny amongst the starving troops. So much so that most portuguese soldiers surrendered without firing a shot.
The propaganda of the time made it seem that without the heroic actions of one man the batle would have been lost, the line would have collapsed and the Germans would have won the war.
That fact is that the Allied colective would have stoped the German force sooner or later.

However one thing is undeniable: the Scotish officer and the Belgian troops that were saved, were save by the actions of that one man. The german troops that died, did so at the hands of one man. Had his actions been different the world would be a different place... the same way that the actions of everyone of us at every moment dictate the shape of the things to come. The more of us act a certain way, the more the universe bends that way. Actions are contagious.

occam's comic said...

you missed a few other things that are getting worse.
Climate change
Habitat destruction
fishery declines
Wars in the middle east
Political discourse in the USA
the number of people in china dying from air pollution

Although I do think that positive sum situations (interactions?) are possible, I do not see them as common as David Brin. I think that hidden assumptions, differing values, poor accounting, unclear time spans, wishful thinking, and self deceptions allows some to see some situations as positive sum when they really are not.

donzelion said...

@Raito - hmmm...the concept that 'secret friends exchanging notes and plotting to take over the world' has been done before. The concept of civilizations learning how to communicate and becoming 'friendly' with one another isn't a plot I've seen. "This Island Earth" is still a flying saucer pick, the info exchange is merely a test, not the actual relationship (then again, I only watched the MST:3000 version).

"A for Andromeda," haven't seen. Googling it, the plot seems 1970s 'silly' (Julie Christie cannot be a robot/alien/clone). However, the setup looks more plausible than an ark ship. I'd imagine "conversation" - over an extremely long time span - rather than instant translation/understanding. If it took 100,000 years to hold a 'conversation' with a species on another planet (made up in 10-15 year delays as a transmission bounced across the stars), that would frustrate most could broadcast a steady stream, but to make sense of such communications would require hypothesis testing and interaction.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin: Rob H thanks for sharing this sweet web comic. Of course it does show why dystopias and such sell! Because optimism is... well... a little slow and less dramatic. But very sweet.
Translation: The story could use some tightening and some additional sources of tension and drama to give the audience an additional reason to relate to the heroines. ;) I agree. It's still a sweet little comic though, and I enjoyed how the cartoonist added little bits of world-building that didn't just feel like information dumps.

I like to consider the vast majority of webcomics to be amateur works. There are people who make a living with webcomics, and some which are professionally crafted (including some comics that moved from the print media to online - in essence using the online format as a method of advertising their print work. "Girl Genius" and "Empowered Comic" both have done this, moving from print to web, while offering print compilations. :)

In many ways, the growth of webcomics over the past 20 years is very much a nod to your own views of the growing power of the Amateur - sort of an entertainment-based version of citizen science. (And of course there is a huge number of short films on You Tube, including science fiction such as the Star Wars short fan film Kara). The only problem is sifting the gems from the dross.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Anonymous is simultaneously hilarious and sob-inducing. That any living person would cite Spengler and not realize that even using that word disqualifies him from consideration any further as a sapient entity… is so sad.

As is the amazing mental gymnastics… knowing full well that his side is the side of oligarchy, utterly enslaved by and obedient to the new plantation lords and reflexively supporting every position that has undermined the American middle class… he nevertheless has the gall to point to Clinton’s couple of speaking fees for Goldmann and shrieks “See? There is your oligarchy!”

Few postings so well showed how un-sapient beings can still string words together and yap-parrot sentient-sounding noises.

locumranch said...

Again, I'll try to make this rather important point:

Collectivism is not necessarily 'bad' per se, yet it demands Conformity & Consensus because Conformity & Consensus are stabilizing, reassuring & comforting in terms of Status Quo, the maintenance thereof being the prerequisite for Collectivism in the circular (insane) sense that the collective 'we' must get along in order to get along & qualify as a collective 'we', leading ANY Collective to conclude that any & all disruption must be 'dealt with' with ever-increasing amounts of Conformity, Consensus & Collectivism.

Collectivism & Creativity are largely incompatible with each other for this very reason: Creativity assumes no such circularity of reasoning, presupposes deviance from, disruption to & non-conformity with the Status Quo, and cares little for those conformist & consensual values that Collectivism holds sacrosanct. One could simplify this argument even further:

Collectivism is incompatible with Creativity because Creativity is Deviance.

As in the case of the European Union & perhaps the USA, this is why Collective Societies tend to Self-Destruct: In the pursuit of ever more Collectivism, Conformity & Consensus (aka 'Progress'), they repeat the same actions over & over, and they expect a different outcome, the only solution to (and/or 'way out') of this, Our Collective Logic Trap, is NOT to play.

All of our most pressing social problems are insoluble unless you're willing to break with the Collective.


Anonymous said...

David Brin is simultaneously hilarious and sob-inducing. It is so sad that he can't respond to the content of the response, he has to engage in personal attacks and projecting beliefs onto people.

"Few postings so well showed how un-sapient beings can still string words together and yap-parrot sentient-sounding noises." Here is a much better example
"...All five innovative systems achieve positive sum cornucopias of output because they nurse vigorous competition..." as if that string of words has any meaning when applied to sports or the courts or democracy.

Luís Salgueiro said...


How is the European union a Collective society??? Because it tries to achieve consensus between member states? You do know that the alternative was the constant state of warfare punctuated by brief interludes of peace when the opposing factions were too drained of resources to fight.
Besides creativity is necessary to "get along", specially when dealing with centuries old enmities.

Do you assume that because a group tends to their own they need to squash creativity?
Absolute deviance and refusal to accept any norm or consensus results in anarchy or in the imposition of the rule of the strongest, where "I" the dictator always know best thus effectively ending all deviance and creativity but enforcing conformity and consensus to "My" rule. Such is the lesson of the French revolution: from absolute monarchy to absolute anarchy until the dictatorship is viewed by the group as the best option.

Jumper said...

I have no doubts whatever that a single person can change things dramatically. And not so dramatically. For example, I am pretty sure that crappy fake Teflon cookware sold everywhere comes from some old research I did once. Hey, I never told them to use it for pots and pans!
However, the genius has no need to assume an isolated stance. Einstein bounced ideas off his wife, Darwin read plenty, etc. It doesn't matter much how many people sneer at Einstein even today. They end up being the fools.

Acacia H. said...

@anon: While I have long railed at Dr. Brin not to sink to the level of people who show up and throw insults at him, I would like to turn the mirror around for a moment.

What right do you have to expect and demand politeness and civility when anon after anon comes on here, calls Dr. Brin names, and basically spews out lies and acts pretty much as assholes. You then cry out and say "you need to have a thicker skin [so we can insult you further without fear of retribution because we're entitled]".

No. It doesn't work that way. I do not like the fact Dr. Brin has gotten far more sardonic and petty with his comments. But when people show up and spit in his face, what do you honestly think is going to happen?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Luis, a fascinating story about Milhais. Perhaps with help like that, France might have held the line in June 1940.

Anonymous would be right to resent my deliberately insulting dismissals of his sapience… if my dismissal weren’t so blatantly true. His citation of Oswald Spengler was more than adequate. He reflexive-obedient parrots bleating Fox-Saudi-Murdoch-Koch-AEI-Heritage talking points… then turning and claiming that HE is anti-oligarch? B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!

I am not responsible for teaching a dull mind the difference between competitive systems and the kind of feudal, “yes massa” order that has his loyalty. But every policy that his masters have pushed for reduces equality and flat competition. Every single one of them enhances oligarchy. And anyone sapient would have noticed by now that Supply Side magical declarations were… all… lies.

David Brin said...

Locum specializes is saying the obvious… that collectivist systems often suppress individual creativity… then “concluding” diametric wrongstuff.

The USA consensus collective has been by far the greatest agent of liberation of individual human potential and creative competitiveness the world has ever seen. And while even this collectivism deserves relentless criticism and scrutiny and renewal, the irony abounds…

…that locum’s hating on the most individually empowering collective endeavor in all of human history is aimed (at the lords’ behest) at REPLACING it with their older collectives of utter dominance and repression.

Compared-to-what, son? Compared to the hyper-individualist utopia that might come, if the American zeitgeist thrives along with advanced robotics and utterly benign AI and hopefully a sixty point rise in average IQs? Okay, you got me. We’re more collectivist than that.

Compared to absolutely every other possibility across 6000 years, including ANYTHING that would result, if locumranch and the other confed morons got their way? Um… no way.

Only one collective enterprise ever created condition after condition for rising individualism… the enterprise Locum reflexively and obediently hates.

Anabelle said...

Icelandic Commonwealth. Government: one person. Taxes: none. Lasted longer than America has so far. Produced an incredible flowering of culture with near zero population an natural resources. But I'm sure they don't count because they didn't produce semiconductor microchips with medieval technology.

David Brin said...

Jiminy. Their ability to rationalize that "compared to what?" means compared to stunningly low standards? As I showed in EARTH, I respect the Icelanders. And even more since their women recently held a revolution and toppled nearly all the men from power after their "genius banking" insanity, sending the men back to the fishing boats.

But to extoll as ideal a society that cut down all its forests till the topsoil blew away... and one that did not appreciablky change the rest of the world for the better in any way?

Gawd you are desperate.

David Brin said...

PS... The Scots DID start with medieval technology... and they gave us James Watt and James Clerk Maxwell and Commander Montgomery Scott. They decided to be a modern, pragmatic, egalitarian, pragmatic, negotiating, pragmatic, scientific, pragmatic and sensibly pragmatic people.

Not jibbering dogmatists like you, madam.

Anabelle said...

It's not ideal. It does show that big government and serfdom are not the only ways to run a society.

David Brin said...

What sophistry! I love this person! Raised under the only system that ever defeated serfdom and opened individualist opportunity for vastly, vastly more people than ALL of human history beforehand, she raves hatred and ingratitude at the very same pragmatically good and open and accountable and decent opportunity generator to whom she owes absolutely everything...

... including the respect that I have given "Anabelle" by treating her exactly the way I would treat any male who spouted such drooling-ingrate nonsense. Fool.

Scouring history for even one example of a commonwealth better than the one she betrays and spits-at, she comes up with a slightly-admirable, utterly primitive democracy under which she herself would have been a thrall with no rights, whatsoever.

All she and Locum have done is to prove that:

1- the way toward a sane libertarian-loose future is to double-down and stay loyal to the wonderous American/western enlightenment experiment... and

2- I am way too smashed by the flu. Why I am I still writing to and about such dizzyhead, potty-brains who clearly must be at-=best TASP addicts and probably regular tazer self-dopers. I think I'll wander off now. Whether or not this Great Experiment continues will depend on whether we continue to let such twits ruin the great start given us by Smith & Franklin, Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and a Greatest Generation who are looking to us to save their legacy from monsters.

Anabelle said...

The Scots had a 700 year tech advantage and immense natural resources.

Jibbering dogmatist?

My viewpoints are:

1. We could cut the government back a teensy bit. It would probably help and certainly wouldn't destroy the country.
2. Nobody wants to destroy western civilization.. except for some of the people who say they do.
3.Post 2000 national level politicians have been mixed bag. The current unemployment numbers do not reflect people who have given up and live off disability or relatives.

locumranch said...

All good points, Luis & Anabelle.

If you are arguing that absolutism = extremism = idealism, then I concur as I also prefer homeostasis, balance & moderation over any extreme.

Yet, alas & alack, it appears those selfsame Progressive Idealists (who confuse rational anger for bilious hate) are either unwilling or incapable of compromise, being hellbent for progress at any price, with the throttle jammed open, the accelerator mashed flat & the brake lines cut.

This is what Optimists mistake for 'Progress', a runaway self-deluding train headed toward inevitable smash-up, exemplified by the reactionary blowback of the self-correcting equilibrium, bolstered by the 'No True Scotsman' Fallacy, doomed to repeat the historic tragedies of which they are ignorant.

Hydrate, Get Better Soon & Bernie Sanders 2016 ;)


Acacia H. said...

I have a weird vibe from Locu whenever he endorses Bernie Sanders.

It's like he's trying to be an ironic hipster.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

"Cutting back the government" is the solution of lazy fools. Getting it to work better is a task worth working for.

locum, 99% of current anger is based on ignorance of how reality works. It's very far from rational. Your talk of runaway trains is dramatic, sort of, for a cliche, but simply saying it means less than nothing. And please explain how the "no tru Scotsman" fallacy applies.

Jumper said...

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” --Carl Sagan

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: Yes… coconuts migrate. Humans can probably do that too with the right level of tech. I doubt human civilization could do it, though. Individual humans are not the correct ‘seed’ to send if you want civilization to migrate. Send frozen embryos and you’ll get humans, but not human civilization. I’ve seen lots of people try to argue this isn’t true by suggesting we send AI’s, our libraries, and whatever else they think is needed, but none have convinced me. Human communities are memescapes and it is those ecosystems that have to be sent if you want human civilizations to migrate. What is the correct analogy for a coconut in a memescape? I don’t think anyone knows yet.

Jumper said...

Neat airship article:

Anabelle said...

If we have a robot that can raise children, we probably either have a robot human enough that we don't really need organic humans anymore or a superintelligence than makes merely human endeavors obsolete.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: I think your definition of minarchism is too tight. There is a bit of diversity among the adherents. Some will argue against state support of a road system. Some won’t. Enforcement of contract has wide support, but beyond that it gets fuzzy.

I’m still not convinced regarding Smith’s position about tax collection, but that’s not a big issue for me. I use Smith’s stuff as a foundation and then add Hayek who DID write about political and legal philosophy. Lots of people can explain how majority rule is a terrible idea, but Hayek was the first author I read that explained why it is and isn’t. For deciding the moral code, it is terrible. For deciding what government does in service to the citizens, it’s not so bad up until you examine how it is funded. If the budget is a given, majority rule is a decent starting position. If the money is yet to be collected, you might run into issues that involve the moral code when people contemplate how they money might get spent. For example, if I plan to educate my own children, I’d rather not pay to support a public school system I don’t intend to use. That doesn’t mean I want to pay nothing at all in support, but I would want some consideration for a pro-rated payment. Taxing me for public schools isn’t inherently immoral because my children benefit from being around educated people whose parents chose the public system. Taxing me the same amount, though, isn’t right. See the moral angle? Hayek dealt with that by pointing out the distinction between law and legislation. Law emerges. Legislation is designed. Law trumps legislation. It’s a need philosophy to consider and thrash as it is due.

Redistribution has a lot of support when it comes to supporting the ‘poor’, but it runs into trouble with the moral code for many when one encounters people who want to do something different than the community decides must be supported. In this case, the so-called badge of honor is actually a violation for some.

Alfred Differ said...

@Anabelle: If such robots exist, you still have the memescape problem up until the robots are transhuman in size. It isn't just a single person that raises a child and makes them human. One human on their own isn't the same kind of human when they are firmly part of a community. It's different again when they are part of a civilization.

I think it is unlikely that a 'robot human' would really be all that different from us if the size of it's mind is comparable to ours. They might live long enough to send on an interstellar voyage, but they'd probably do that by suspending themselves just like we would want to do.

Unknown said...

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” --Carl Sagan

And the fact that so many miss - Columbus was wrong. He thought the ancient Greeks had erred in their measurement of Earth's circumference, and that it was a mere 5000 miles around - that a quick sailing across the Ocean Sea would get him to far Cathay more quickly and easily than sailing around Africa. If there hadn't been a pretty substantial landmass in the way that he knew nothing about, he and his men would have died at sea, and legends would have spread of the great monsters of the Ocean Sea that ate the fool Cristoforo Colombo and all those stupid enough to join him.

Sometimes when they laugh at you, it's because you're not just silly, you're also dead wrong.

donzelion said...

Annabelle - Iceland has 1000+ years of parliamentary history; it merits respect. I've called attention to the democraticizing instincts prevalent in ship-based cultures, esp. when the ships themselves call for division of labor (despite the fact that ships are hardly democratic institutions themselves).

But as a model for us today? Heritage puts their current total tax burden at 35.5% of the economy (vs. 25.4% for the US). If you are referring early history, bear in mind (1) they opted to change their structure, and might have had a good reason for doing so, (2) most Europeans might take a less charitable view of Scandinavian tax practices (esp. the plundering part), and (3) a small population can support itself through resource extraction (fishing) more easily than a large population.

donzelion said...

Annabelle - on your personal views, can't speak for Dr. Brin, but I suspect even he would have no problem with cutting the government "a teensy bit."

The problems are generally 'political cost evasion' and 'magical thinking' rather than "tedious budgeting." For example, many Republicans list a priority of eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Interior, and Education (as well as ObamaCare). OK...
(1) ED's role includes 'reallocating' about 10% of K-12 funding through ED back to the states, which operate about 88% of the budget themselves (there's also a few science programs, but they're not very big). Essentially, ED enforces the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Want to cut the Civil Rights Act? OK. Say so (prepare for fireworks). People who want the act enforced without paying for it are 'political cost evaders.'

(2) Commerce, Energy, and Interior fulfill numerous functions we like/need. So long as the function is performed, cutting out that department merely shifts the cost - saving nothing. Sometimes, those functions might get housed foolishly - but merely shifting them around won't save us anything. How much should the Census budget be? Should Dept. of Defense focus on 'nuclear safety'? Homeland Security? Those who want to cut departments without saying which functions ought to be cut are employing one type of 'magical thinking.'

(3) The other type of 'magical thinking' is "cut taxes, and the rest will sort itself out, and we'll grow enough so we don't discharge that debt onto our children." That sort of "rainbow and fairy tale logic" is very popular among a certain brand of Tea Party fanatic - but it detracts from responsible, realistic efforts to actually do something in the real world.

Treebeard said...

“That any living person would cite Spengler and not realize that even using that word disqualifies him from consideration any further as a sapient entity… is so sad.”

LOL, nice over-the-top rhetoric. I guess you're not a sapient entity then. But seriously, you don't find anything Spengler had to say of value? Maybe you should re-read him?

donzelion said...

Locum - I know of few Progressive Idealists who are unwilling or incapable of compromise, though tactically, many will adopt an 'uncompromising position' for a time (e.g., my take on Bernie Sanders' $15/hr argument). They know the price of such positions (e.g., $15/hr will certainly hurt most fast food franchises, and probably shutter a large number of stores - it will doubtless reduce the number of $10/hr jobs currently in the market, making unemployment numbers worse). They choose to advocate for payment of that price, and refuse to accept "prophecy" as truth (e.g., closing a lot of $10/hr jobs could compel investment in better jobs - as it did in Germany, and many other countries that adopted higher minimum wages).

There are doubtless some Polyanna optimists among Progressives, but by and large, the tradition limits the influence of such folks because, once you start talking about something precise (like a minimum wage), a lot of fantasy goes out the window, and evidence on both sides accumulates.

The problem is that so many on the other side of this debate perceive "runaway self-deluding train(s) headed toward inevitable smash-up" - as they have for decades - that the belief in such a smash-up becomes a point of faith resistant to evidence. Social security has been about to "go bankrupt" for about 70 years - when it can never go bankrupt, because it is and has always been a payment from today's workers to cover today's non-workers. Presenting it as a "trust fund" has some economic benefits in some contexts, but it never was and never will be a "personal retirement savings account" or a "pension" - and attempts to present it as such require miseducating a huge population in order to redirect them toward the 'inevitable' conclusion.

Anabelle said...

I was agreeing with you, I think. If we can copy our memescape into machines, why do we need to put it back into organic brains?

donzelion said...

Alfred - I'll limit to taxes, about which I know much more than I do about Hayek. When the community does something that some of its members abhor with its taxes (e.g., financing 'slave catchers' to enforce fugitive slave laws) - the members of the community have to decide whether participation in that community is more important than discharging their outrage at the violation. In a democracy, they have options to voice their dissent (e.g., Benjamin Franklin's anti-slavery advocacy) - but if they are too outraged, they can leave - provided they do not steal from the community when they do so (e.g., secession).

This is ultimately a reason why interstellar colonization is so unlikely for now. A person looking to "take his treasure to a lunar colony" would have an easier time doing it than a person looking to send it to a planet light years away. A political structure that imposed extreme sanction (e.g., slavery) might result in such motives manifesting (e.g., clones confronted with slavery for them and their young forever might see no better alternative) - but then, there's the cost issue - slaves seldom have the resources to undertake immensely expensive enterprises, and colonial efforts are always expensive.

Anabelle said...

A lot of the government institutions are useful to have. I like that nobody can kill me legally no matter how much of fine they are willing to pay. But they are not critical to the functioning of democracy, and they grow steadily unless an effort is made to cut them back.

And no you can't just cut taxes. You have to go after spending and regulations. Like we did in 1994.

donzelion said...

@Jumper - I'd go one step further. 99% of current anger toward the government is based on cynical manipulation and consciously cultivated ignorance. FoxNews exists to instill a mis-education - it is not a symptom of ignorance, but a fountain thereof. Only when folks have been angered to the point that they think a government program operates something like a 'train' can they be deluded into thinking it's a 'runaway' destined to crash.

Still..."cutting back the government" CAN be a perfectly legitimate goal, rather than the task of fools - so long as those who wish to do so refuse to indulge in "magical thinking" or "political cost evasion."

donzelion said...

Annabelle - I'd question this point - "[government programs] grow steadily unless an effort is made to cut them back."

In the last 50 years, has NASA's budget grown steadily? Nobody made any "effort" to cut NASA back - rather, the budget's stayed relatively stable, while inflation cut away at their total real world budget. That's actually fairly standard for government programs: they shrivel under inflation, until someone justifies expanding them.

Is NASA "critical to the functioning of democracy"? Probably not. But I still think it's worth more than a half-penny out of my tax dollars. And I'm willing to gamble a bit, even with such vast funds as that, because it's always possible we'll get better return on our investment than expected. If somebody finds that spendthrift lacksadaisacal pollyanna optimist to be oppressive, well, they're free to build their own ark ship with their own technology that they developed in their garage and fly off to another planet they discover. ;)

donzelion said...

And as for Momma-bots, here's an interesting experiment:

Interesting experiment. Arrange for the robot to screw up, then see if people will still follow it's instructions, or follow exit signs to escape an emergency. The results?

“We expected that if the robot had proven itself untrustworthy in guiding them to the conference room, that people wouldn’t follow it during the simulated emergency,” said Paul Robinette, a GTRI research engineer who conducted the study as part of his doctoral dissertation. “Instead, all of the volunteers followed the robot’s instructions, no matter how well it had performed previously. We absolutely didn’t expect this.”

David Brin said...

“We could cut the government back a teensy bit.”

Liar. Big fat lying liar. You are a member of a cult that declares hatred of all government in principle, but never all authority of the older, feudal type. Why do the oligarchs push the hate-all-government meme with BILLIONS in propaganda? Nothing could better prove the obvious. That they deem democratic government - and science and all knowledge professions - to be their biggest obstacle to total feudal ownership power.

If you and Locum seriously were interested in “compromise” or “teensy reductions” then we would be negotiating FACTS to see which government interventions make sense and which are dispensable. in other words…

…EXACTLY the topic of my Evonomics posting at

That article lays down basics for a discussion that could parse how to maintain less coercive intervention than past regimes while using enough to maintain a flat-open-free-creative-competitive society. But you guys DON’T WANT THAT! You want feudalism.

Dig this. If you want captured regulators who are harming competition to be”cut” then you must be a democrat, because ONLY they retire obsolete agencies. LOCUM HAS SEEN THIS FACT FIFTY TIMES…. that Democrats(!) cut the ICC and the CAB, broke up ATT, and liberated the GPS and Internet …. and the GOP never ever ever ever did anything like it. And ranting despite knowing this makes locum as much a liar as you are.

But that’s not the “cutting” you want. You want tax cuts for the rich, then more and more! despite it never ever ever ever achieving stated aims. Ever, even once. Ever at all.


What you want “cut” is science & research, which brought us half of our economy since 1945. What you want “cut” is health and education for poor kids. What you are is bad people.

As for your third fanatic. I can only reiterate. Treebeard’s love of Spengler counts as a successful brin-forecast that anyone who declares support for that monstrously vile and spectacularly wrong in all ways “philosopher” is likewise a flaming diseased mind.

Decline of the West... uh-huh..... weeeeee're waiiiiiiiting> (Drumming fingers. ) Look up the pub date of DECLINE OF THE WEST.


donzelion said...

But you guys DON’T WANT THAT! You want feudalism.

Locum is a big fan of 'inevitability' metaphors, yet doesn't seem to see the risk of 'feudalism.' 'Plutocracy' is the more obvious risk - wealth drives power, and uses power to amass wealth. A well-meaning libertarian could shrug off feudalism - after all, how many billionaires take noble titles these days? That said, such a libertarian who directed ire at government, instead of at those trying to obtain wealth/power to manipulate government, would be attacking a symptom rather than the source of the problem, and in so doing, might well make the problems worse with the 'cure.'

But it wasn't "Democrats" who cut the ICC, the CAB, or broke up AT&T, or liberated GPS/Internet - it was coalitions that included Democrats and Republicans, in nearly every instance. Rage, outcry, militancy impedes the formation of those coalitions.

I raised NASA, because I suspected calls to cut it would be regarded as outrageous here. And I'm optimistic: if Locum is participating on a SciFi board, and cares enough to adopt a minority view here that draws steady ire - that when the time comes for him to stand up and defend NASA against the axe, he'll do so.

David Brin said...

donzel, just because there used to be sapient and patriotic GOP officeholders who joined the deregulating coalitions, that does not take away the fact that it was democratic Congresses and leaderships that broke up ATT, CAB, ICC etc. I know the guy who wrote Al Gore's Internet Bill. The most far-seeing and wonderful act of legislation ever.

Anabelle said...

I don't want tax cuts for the rich. (Although I'll vote for politicians who says they'll cut them if I agree with them on other things.)

Jumper said...
Meet the plutocrats you didn't know, and some you do.

Catfish N. Cod said...

You really want to talk about Spengler?

One review of Der Untergang des Abendlaendes, the work usually referred to as Decline of the West (but whose literal translation is The Downfall of the Evening-Lands), said "if nothing else... it would still be one of the world's great Romantic poems."

That's fundamentally what it is: a Romantic prose-poem in the form of an academic treatise.

Spengler was a foremost champion of the concept that money is speech. He claimed that money was the true ruler of democracy, that democracy was plutocracy and all Enlightenment ideals were lies used as tools in a class war between old and new money. He asserted that concentration of money was an inevitable and even necessary and desirable state of affairs, so that his "next phase" -- Caesarism, popular dictatorship -- could occur. He predicted that force would and should overwhelm the political system and military might should next command the State.

Is any of this sounding familiar? Spengler was a champion of all that was destructive of the Enlightenment, and actively cheered for the failure of the rule of law. He had zero faith in the common man, no perception of the alterations in society spurned by the Industrial Revolution, and no concept of how an informed citizenry could make better decisions than an elite. Like Marx (who he critiqued) he blandly made predictions and then assumed them to be true, without examining any other alternatives.

In actual fact, Spengler was a product of and served the mood of the time he was writing, namely Prussian and then Weimar Germany. One must admit that Weimar Germany matched his descriptions exceptionally well, and indeed a Caesar arose from that toxic stew -- one that immediately rejected Spengler for not being racist enough. But the little drama that was 1920's-30's central Europe was not, in fact, the overarching narrative arc of Western Civilization. In fact, the trends Spengler declared 'inevitable' would soon retreat across much of the West.

The only real positives produced by Spengler were:

(1) to make the civilization as organic entity the object of historical examination, and
(2) to pave the way for less limited thinkers such as Toynbee to build on such historical examinations.

Spengler was not a historian. He was a philosopher using history as a medium. And his conclusions are as rubbish as those of Plato.

P.S. Today, Spengler would be a Trump supporter.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

2- I am way too smashed by the flu. Why I am I still writing to and about such dizzyhead, ...

First of all, my condolences, and I hope you're on the recovery side. I've been getting flu shots for over 20 years and rarely experience the real thing, but I did a few weeks ago, and it isn't pretty.

As friendly advice, I would strongly recommend not posting under the influence. And no, I didn't mean that as a pun, but it does work as one, doesn't it?

locumranch said...

By clang association, David & Anabelle cited Scottish Enlightenment figures & conjured the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy, then David proceeded to apply it by insisting on 'reinterpreting evidence in order to prevent the refutation of (his) position', dismissing any proposed counter-examples to his position 'as irrelevant solely because they are counter-examples, but purportedly because they are not what the theory is about'.

Ergo, David dismisses Anon's refutation of the "Every measure has improved" argument as irrelevant, my counter-examples of creativity as individual deviance as unsupportable, Anabelle's request for smaller government as "feudalism", Spengler's assertion that 'Money is Speech' as "spectacularly wrong in all ways" despite the reality of 'Citizens United', and all those who contradict the official US Democrat Party platform as "traitors", ALL of which are actions that fulfill the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy definition to the letter.

Neither my 'Politically Incorrectness' nor my 'Traitorous Deviance' is a matter of debate as I admit to both freely --- I am sooo incredibly deviant (in fact) that I would have NASA & the US Defense Dept swap budgets --- yet I would caution those who try to shame my unpopular arguments as merely 'wrong-headed' & 'irrelevant' because I & the Contrary Others like me tend to CELEBRATE our 'deviance' as the very Wellspring of Creativity, so if you don't approve then tough shit.

Again, 'Get Better Soon' if you are still ill or 'under the weather', as it appears that delirium has affected the usually excellent quality of your argument.


LarryHart said...


I have a weird vibe from Locu whenever he endorses Bernie Sanders.

It's like he's trying to be an ironic hipster.

Canadian comics writer/artist (and also contrarian) Dave Sim once told me "Sometimes, jumping on the bandwagon is the easiest way to demonstrate that the wheels have fallen off."

LarryHart said...

Johnathan Sills:

And the fact that so many miss - Columbus was wrong. He thought the ancient Greeks had erred in their measurement of Earth's circumference, and that it was a mere 5000 miles around - that a quick sailing across the Ocean Sea would get him to far Cathay more quickly and easily than sailing around Africa. If there hadn't been a pretty substantial landmass in the way that he knew nothing about, he and his men would have died at sea,

Except that I think Columbus did know about the land mass. He was wrong in identifying it as Asia, but he probably knew approximately where such a land mass was. Because he had had contact Vikings, who had already been there. That might have been why he thought the Greeks were wrong.

LarryHart said...


They laughed at Columbus...

...and now, he's the third biggest city in Ohio.


A.F. Rey said...

Which means they're still laughing. ;)

Luís Salgueiro said...

Columbus lived for several years in the Madeira islands his wife was the daughter of a portuguese captain that had done some exploration voyages for the portuguese king. In the papers he received after that marriage there were official documents of Filipa's father and a collection of squeletons of stange animals and logs of strange plants. Studying the currents and these vestiges Columbus was reasonably certain that a large landmass was located to the west of cape verde islands within easy navigation. Also he might have heard about the secret voyages of and had knowledge of Newfoudland and north america

Winter7 said...

The issue of colonization of the Milky Way:
The possibility of sending settlers to distant stars depends on two options:
A) The project is funded by a supermillonario. And build 3 ships world.
B) The Nasa renounces its projects remote-controlled toys and focuses on building a world ship.

If we ignore propulsion systems WARP, which is accessible are the world's ships. (Humans fail to reach a new world after twenty or fifty generations).

Where to go? In the nearest stars, of course. Or go directly to the center of the galaxy (not so directly) There's the greatest accumulation of stars and must be filled with life.

Theme eagles hunting drones.
Great idea for those who want to keep gawkers at bay!
But; Poor birds! No doubt the propellers cut the fingers of eagles. Nacesitaran a gauntlet of kevlar. And the problem is worse if the drone is larger. (Certainly the villains create drones to carry heavier weapons) And when that happens, there will be laws that will control the drones in extremely strictly. Having a drone capable of carrying a weapon is a serious federal crime. (Unless the owner is Amazon)
I guess the "Dr. Evil "will probably require henchmen to get a team of eagles laser head. Wajajaja ha! Waaaajajaja!
And speaking of Amazon. I'm sick, to send my PDF to CreateSpace and tell me, "the sources were not properly embedded" Haaaaaggggg! And again!
All right. However, after four days of tracking the subject in dozens of blogs; I think I managed to create a PDF with embedded fonts. Maybe not bounce me. Now follow the dreaded task of creating the cover. See what happens. Anyway it's just a children's book. (I hope someday to write science fiction)

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin just because there used to be sapient and patriotic GOP officeholders who joined the deregulating coalitions

There will be again. Today's crop of Republicans are no worse than the 1870s - 1920s leadership (excluding Teddy), though from a view of science, FoxNews is a more malignant creature than Hearst's equivalent back in its day. Their leaders are mere cowards, attacking Obama because, as a president and as a gentleman, Obama can't/won't "retaliate," making him a "safe" target for them to vomit their filth. Alas, the effect of so much vitriolic vomit makes for a stinky public discourse!

May your own flu be less odious, and may your health be restored soon.

it was democratic Congresses and leaderships that broke up ATT, CAB, ICC etc.
Breaking up AT&T took time, and could have been reversed. Republicans and Democrats both merit accolades for FINALLY bringing it about (and refusing to reverse it). So too with all the other steps you cite: certain Democrats merit substantial approval - and others, substantial disdain.

I know the guy who wrote Al Gore's Internet Bill. The most far-seeing and wonderful act of legislation ever.
Ah, I'd love to meet him, and learn what he's working on now. Gore merited far more credit than he was given in 2000 for endorsing a very good idea. But the bill passed with Reagan/Bush Sr. nodding/acquiescing - and many other Republicans permitting it to move forward. Many hands merit credit for either supporting, or refusing to play the obstructionist role. There was a time when they loved their country more than they hated their adversaries - or feared the punishment that could be extracted by their erstwhile benefactors (e.g., Ross Perot, the first billionaire candidate, who can be credited with Bill Clinton's rise to the presidency).

Jeff B. said...

Jumper: " "Cutting back the government" is the solution of lazy fools. Getting it to work better is a task worth working for."

Two, somewhat opposite observations on how government works.
1. At the highest, (American) federal level, partly by plan and partly by fortuitous accident, some degree of inefficiency is built in. Until fairly recently, there has been a fair, and probably wise, distrust of concentrations of too much power under one roof. There's a reason why drug crimes and tax fraud and international terrorism and securities fraud are not all housed with "normal" criminal investigation, in a Super-FBI. Such an entity would be immensely powerful, and hard to control, even by elected officials. We did that for years with the military as well, with the Army and Navy depts. each independently responsible to the administration. The weakening of this distrust out of our overreaction to 9/11 and terrorism is to our own detriment...

2. At the highest levels (presidential appointments) and lowest (clerical) levels it might not apply, but almost every agency I've been in contact with is always, always concerned with improving their internal efficiency, finding the best, least expensive way of meeting obligations. Most taxpayers will never see this, and some at least picture a vast, bloated, all-consuming monster, but most agencies get by with inadequate budgets and resources and staffing, and manage reasonably well.Overcautious? Slow? Bureacratic? Risk- averse? Guilty as charged. But the responsibility to the taxpayers is always the unspoken presence.

donzelion said...

Locum - "I am sooo incredibly deviant (in fact) that I would have NASA & the US Defense Dept swap budgets"

LOL, I had guessed that if you didn't harbor such 'deviance', you'd take your commentary elsewhere, and had assumed that since you MIGHT hold such a view, that whatever else we disagree on, there are points shared between us that hope for common ground makes engagement worthwhile.

My point with McVeigh (or Bin Laden, himself most often depicted as a 'deviant' in his own country) is that deviance itself is not 'creative' - it is merely a factor often found among the creative set. Not all deviants are good, but deviation itself is not evil.

A request for "smaller" government need not be an endorsement for feudalism. There is space for criticism, but not contempt. In this discussion, so many call for taking a "chainsaw to the government" while pretending to love their country. Unless they're willing to snip their own children's hair with a chainsaw, then their claims of 'love' are a contemptuous lie. And sadly, there are so many such claims...

yet I would caution those who try to shame my unpopular arguments as merely 'wrong-headed' & 'irrelevant'

Oh, I'll still try to shame your unpopular arguments as wrong-headed and irrelevant - but only when I believe that they are (e.g., the 'deviant' scientists you cited pursued 'truth' - and regarded that as more important than either conformity or deviation.)

Jumper said...

Jeff B., I don't hold any illusions about "horrible inefficient government" in general. And it's coincident with my other point what you said about lowest levels, but I'll get to that. My thought, insofar as I will entertain this thought of "smaller government" is to look at the efficiencies computers have brought us. (And I want every branch and every office to have really good computers!) I do suspect we can have a 1995-model government now, with computers, much cheaper than we could have it then. I have no idea how to quantify that. I also realize that to improve our performance in dealing with our biggest threats to national security, which are hunger, cold, and disease, we also need more government than in 1995, and too we have more people now so certain costs go up because of that.

donzelion said...

Jeff B -
1. At the highest, (American) federal level, partly by plan and partly by fortuitous accident, some degree of inefficiency is built in.

We have about 20 different 'intelligence agencies' - the NSA does not dictate to the CIA or the DIA or the FBI or the NRO. We built it thus to ensure that America would never have its own KGB. How shall we balance that contentious operation? Carefully. And with a modicum of respect warranted for folks who've tried to make these contradictions work, yet are so regularly derided by armchair quarterbacks on the outside who hate them all.

...almost every agency I've been in contact with is always, always concerned with improving their internal efficiency...

Meanwhile, in private America, inefficiency is routinely and frequently ENDORSED, and liquidation/failure quite common. Outsiders do not see this in operation, like they do in public sector America - the effects of survivor bias hide many impressive failures. In a 'competitive' environment, there must be losers - but for our public sector, 'losers' are not tolerated for long. Hence risk-aversion, and bureaucracy to restrain risk.

donzelion said...

@Jumper - here's a good introduction to some of the work proceeding exactly as you appear to be prescribing it -

The key is to find people who are extremely talented, cocky - but not arrogant - who 'contribute' but do not disdain. "Rogue Leader" is an interesting title; it's unlikely to become a feudal one. ;)

Jeff B. said...

Alfred Differ:

While an excellent intellectual exercise, your tax analysis does not stand up to the real world. Part of the reason for government is delegation- even at the community level, the vast majority do not have the time or energy to deliberate every single decision. So (to use one of your examples), deciding which local roads to use (and contribute to) ends being an endless series of decisions. Want to stop for gas on your way to a local business? Oops, didn't pay for the direct road, have to go miles out of my way.

At least into the 80s, Italian roads were considered by some in the rest of Europe (or at least in the tour business) to be an "organized disaster"- the short drive from the Austrian border required stops to pay tolls at each new municipality along the way to Florence and Venice. Such reduction to the local level results in far higher cumulative fees as sticking to the smallest locality loses the economy of scale that regional, state, or national taxation bring.

And I would question your use of the term "moral" in regard to not paying the same taxes if home schooling my own child. " For example, if I plan to educate my own children, I’d rather not pay to support a public school system I don’t intend to use. That doesn’t mean I want to pay nothing at all in support, but I would want some consideration for a pro-rated payment. Taxing me for public schools isn’t inherently immoral because my children benefit from being around educated people whose parents chose the public system. Taxing me the same amount, though, isn’t right. See the moral angle?"

I would consider this from an almost opposite perspective: paying for education is best a community effort. If too many chose not to pay, then the system collapses from lack of funding. Local papers always have complaints by the childless or empty-nesters about paying for schools. But I would argue that the entire community has a responsibility for all of the children, not each to our own. Sure, some might have the time and resources to home school, or even private school. But what about the rest? We end with a two or three tiered system, which promotes nothing but classism; the working poor and much of the middle class pays higher and higher percentages of their wages for less and less education, or cannot contribute at all. It is a moral, communal obligation which trumps my personal unwillingness to pay taxes.

donzelion said...

Winter7 - hmmm... "Where to go? In the nearest stars, of course."

You actually mean, 'to the nearest stars with potentially habitable worlds,' correct? Perhaps, if we're committed to the endeavor, we'd want to terraform Mars first, before trying more distant planets. That would offer insight into just how tough this could be (and assumes we like the idea of terraforming in general).

Or go directly to the center of the galaxy (not so directly) There's the greatest accumulation of stars and must be filled with life.

My astronomy is not as current as some, but I'm aware of claims that the concentration of stars in the core would render each star system subject to the direct effect of supernovae far more often than would be the case of stars in the periphery. A nearby supernova could eradicate life quite easily - yes, depositing all that wonderful carbon and other heavy elements, but simultaneously blasting the amino acid chains long before they became eukaryotes.

We could reasonably assume that several thousand light years closer to the core, planets are orders of magnitude 'richer' than out here on the periphery - in terms of mineral wealth. We could also assume that planets sort of in our general might already have advanced life - because we know of one that does.

Jeff B. said...


More power to you. Bureaucratic inertia plays a part, but cost is the main reason federal and state agencies can't apply the latest technologies. When they do modernize, plans often go awry- "contractors-know-best" political decisions (and inability to compete w. private sector employers on salary) means that many agencies have limited expertise to oversee deployment, ending up with cost overruns and disfunctional programming.

An extreme example sits at the NASM Annex at Dulles- IIRC a computer used to control satellite tracking/early warning systems for national defense. Straight out of the 1960s- steel housing, with some exaggeration the size of a small car, maybe even using punch cards. It was used into the early 2000s.

Jeff B. said...

Donzelion, yes, this. And when the multitude of voices feeding the president break down, or are overruled, that's when we end up with disasters like Iraq.

The "earn money" motivator of private enterprise is a powerful one, but yes, it also drives many, many inefficiencies and failures of its own. This is why I am so very leery of introducing the profit motive into government enterprise. Sure, it can work, but it takes a whole lot more work and time and money to ensure that those contractors do what they're paid for than anyone waving that magic wand ever wants to believe.

Unknown said...

Believe it or not, some governmental agencies maintain antiquated computer systems as a security measure. For instance, the last I heard USSTRATCOM was still using the TRICOMS mainframe computer, the same one I worked with in the '80s when the place was still HQ SAC. It's more than adequate to its task of plotting and deconflicting nuclear war (you'd be amazed at how many things can make a warhead go off after it's been armed but before it reaches its target), and if you want to try to hack it, best of luck - it doesn't have a modem, if it did it'd probably be an antique 1200-baud model, and it only speaks COBOL and FORTRAN 77.

Sure, it's not as efficient as a modern system - which means they can only simulate WW3 (an exercise which back in the day was dubbed "Global Shield", and known unofficially as "Global Goatrope") three times a year. I don't see any reason to run the simulation more often than that.

Jeff B. said...

Jonathan, yes, I neglected to mention the security angle. A dedicated, stand-alone system is much more secure than anything in our interconnected world today.

My comments in general were more oriented toward civilian agencies...

Jumper said...

Save your TRS-80s, people, they are golden.

David Brin said...

Jonathan Sills call in Matthew Broderick!



David Brin said...

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich makes the most cogently clear missive yet, suggesting to the GOP-owner caste that they have made a series of devastatingly short-sighted and foolish mistakes. What Reich leaves out is mention of the portion of the billionaire clade... maybe a quarter of them - who actually got rich by developing great new products and services. In other words the real entrepreneurial capitalists. Almost all of whom are... democrats. (With a few libertarians.) They already know what Reich wrote here.

Oh, Reich has endorsed Bernie Sanders. Interesting "establishment" figure.

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



i_/0 said...

Insistence of vision. Any relationship to John Varleys short story The Persistence of Vision?