Friday, April 28, 2017

India Rising! And our decline…

We’ll go all “good news, bad news” on you, today, contrasting one of the globe’s astonishing bright spots with the decline of the erstwhile Leader of the West/

But first: Have you been floundering to get a handle on this weird time we are in?  Lately there’s been a surge of interest in my “Horizons Model” to explain why our divides - especially in America, where market enterprise does better, under democrats - have less to do with any classic “left-right axis” than how far outward - in time and space - extend your horizons of worry, hope, and inclusion. 

Why do so many of our neighbors seem drenched in fear, and thus are prey to angst-propaganda? Why do other neighbors seem obsessed with rights extension and nothing else?

Have a look at my own incantation-explanation. And - whether or not it convinces - I promise more new concepts that make you go “huh!” than anything else you’ll read this month.  

== A new leader of the renaissance? ==

Sometimes – as forecast in Earth and The Transparent Society – positive trends can be rooted in sapient use of technology.  And this may be a big one.

According to investment maven Raoul Pal: India’s Project Aadhaar became the largest and most successful IT project ever undertaken in the world. As of 2016, 1.1 billion people (95% of the population) now have a digital proof of identity, including biometrics of fingerprints and retinal scans. The next phase was to get them into the banking system. The Government fostered the creation of eleven Payment Banks, which can hold money but don’t do any lending. To motivate people to open accounts, it offered free life insurance with them and linked bank accounts to social welfare benefits. Within three years more than 270 million bank accounts were opened and $10bn in deposits flooded in.

(Note, if we did this - or even just re-opened the Post Office Savings Account system with ATMs, poor Americans would overnight be richer, no longer having to use parasitical check-cashing services. Those who have opposed this in the U.S. are evil people. Period and full-stop.)

Pal continues: "The Aadhaar card holds another important benefit – people can use it to instantly open a mobile phone account. Mobile phone penetration exploded after Aadhaar and went from 40% of the population to 79% within a few years. Payments can now be made without banks, using mobile phones, fingerprints and an Aadhaar number. And with IndiaStack it is all cloud stored and secure."

Prime Minister Modi then risked his career on a sudden ban of the 100 rupee cash notes (with 1 month deposit deadline), which pushed the largely cash Indian economy into Aadhaar and undermined corruption and the black economy. To everyone’s surprise, it worked. (Russia is now the #1 cash economy. Guess why?)

I have two quibbles with this picture: First, India was not the first country to roll out such an integrated system for its citizens and economy.  Estonia was there earlier (see e-Estonia). I would wager that Estonian consultants played a big role in formulating Aadhaar.

Second and obviously, we are propelling toward systems that could be horribly abused by national elites who control the guts of such a system. Technologies like these are unrolling in China, with added layers like “social credit” that seem chilling. 

On the other hand, as the world’s biggest (and possibly now greatest and most genuine) democracy, India is positioning herself to be the leader of the “Western Enlightenment Experiment.”  Make that “Global Enlightenment Experiment,” and hurrah for our successor!  

With the USA floundering in mania, lunacy and phase 8 of its recurring Civil War, we had better hope that the seeds of liberty, science, accountability and grownup maturity that we spread will bear wondrous fruits of freedom and productivity and factual knowledge and adventure, in better soil. 

== Ah, La Belle France ==

It’s said that history repeats, as farce. 

We’ll know in a week whether Vladimir Putin will achieve his hat trick, getting another puppet into a western presidency.  

If so, then one of you who wrote in will be a prophet. "We might see a final confrontation -- with the US, Britain, France, and Russia lining up to impose fascism on the world... while Germany and Japan defend freedom."

And India, it seems.

Who wrote this simulation we're in?

== Alas, it couldn’t last for us ==

I’ve referred before to novels that foreshadowed a possible hot phase of the recurring American Civil War. Most phases have been tepid or cool, though the 1860s fever was near devastating, and some think that the current one (phase eight, by my reckoning) could go volcanic. This was portrayed – in retrospect – by my novel The Postman, which has been receiving a surge of attention lately, for its depiction of “holnists” whose rationalizations sound very much like Steve Bannon.

(Note that the rebooted Omni-Online has featured Ten science fiction books that "changed the genre forever." Very flattered to be included on this list - though not sure I deserve to be.)

One "new civil war" novel that I’ve touted is the recent Tears of Abraham, by Sean T. Smith, that takes you through a disturbingly hot and deadly struggle against ourselves. 

Another just hitting the shelves – that I haven’t yet read – is American War by Omar El Akkad - a dystopian novel about 'a Second American Civil War breaking out in 2074, after a presidential assassination, a virulent plague arising from a weaponized virus and a militantly divided North and South. A doomed country is beset by refugee camps, guerrilla raids and relentless violence.'  In other words, a triple whammy, like the one I look back on, in The Postman."

Also worrisome, given recent absolutely proven efforts by foreign powers to sabotage our democracy and economy, is The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl.  In fact, I deem no novel to be of more immediate pertinence to any member of our defense and intel communities.  Even the popular WWIII novel Ghost Fleet does not penetrate as deeply to reveal a nasty way the whole world might turn.

== You don’t think there are world leaders that crazy-fierce? ==

The brazen daytime slaying of a Russian politician outside a Ukrainian hotel this week brings to eight the number of high-profile Russians who have died over the past five months since the US presidential election on November 8,” reports CNN.  

Hey, fools who claim “we’re no better.” How about an actual tabulation-comparison of freedom and productivity and happiness and any other measure of humanity between America and Russia?  And yes, democracy and behavior in the world?

You: "we're all the same" jerks are really something. You dropped American Exceptionalism like a live grenade, when it inconveniently pointed at your Russian pals. Sure the U.S. has  done some bad things, that we ourselves usually uncover and criticize, in order to improve. We are doing that now. With your weird choice to lead us.

Oh but clarity can be found: "In a fiercely defiant statement, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, denied that any member of the White House staff has ever worked “in any way, shape, or form” for the benefit of the United States." (Okay, that’s a snork! But we’ll need laughs as we gird ourselves.)

== Want a clear view of the problem? ==

Last time I revealed eight underlying factors driving our current civil war. Some are deeply painful. A couple of them are even "our" fault.

A disturbing and credible description of the rock-ribbed obstinacy that underlies hard-shelled rural-white-christian-fundamentalist Red America.  It verifies what I’ve long suspected, that these neighbors and fellow citizens of ours will never admit that we are neighbors and fellow citizens. They passionately support the most opposite-to-Jesus person they could ever have found, for one reason – he galls and infuriates and hates the same smartypants types that they hate. And that's good enough to ignore everything else.

It is the same underlying – confederate – fever that has periodically tormented our national character since 1778.

This doesn’t mean we should stop empathizing! Indeed, as I described last time, one of those eight underlying reasons for civil war is deeply traumatizing -- the "theft" of our neighbors' children!

One can feel for the rural(ish) trauma that happens every June, when the local High School -- center of all life in most towns -- holds graduation. The teens who are the pride of the community hug and cry... whereupon the best and brightest then streak out of town as fast as their legs can carry them, heading toward the city strongholds of The Enemy. 

That implicit rebuke happens every single year and it must wear on the souls of those who stay behind, who thereupon create a mythology of the city-as-Mordor. A cesspit  of iniquity, lacking all the wholesomeness of small town America...

...despite the real truth about which America has higher rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, divorce, STDs, unwed mothers, dropouts, gambling, alcoholism... and if you leave out a few truly dismal cities, higher crime rates. See the New York Times bestseller, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.

The remainder of Blue America pays vastly more taxes, gets less back (yet whines far less) while Red America suckles net benefits, then bitches about taxes.

Oops!  Facts are inconvenient to the narrative .  And hence...

...fact-based thinking itself becomes the enemy.


Marino said...

I'm not very afraid for France, Le Pen could win if only most voters from radical Left and moderate Right vote for her at the runoff, but all the parties either have endorsed Macron or at least have adviced for abstension but against voting her. (OK, for someone from my political background it's a shame that the French radical Left is behaving in the worst way ever, estabilishing a moral equivalence between a democratic liberal and a fascist. Melenchon deserves a walk of shame worse than Cersei Lannister)

And...well, in Italy (and all over Europe) Post office saving accounts with ATMs still exist and thrive. Workers being paid by check, to be cashiered at expense and not at full value? it looks like stuff straight from "Sixteen Tons" and the company store...

LarryHart said...


Le Pen could win if only most voters from radical Left and moderate Right vote for her at the runoff, but all the parties either have endorsed Macron or at least have adviced for abstension but against voting her.

That's exactly how Trump won here. Enough people who didn't like him didn't vote for Hillary. Each protest vote was a "half game" for Trump in the sense that a baseball team gains a half-game on an opponent in the standings when that opponent loses, even if the team in question didn't play that day.

If every Jill Stein voter in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin had voted for Hillary, we'd have Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court by now and wouldn't be looking at a right-wing rout when Anthony Kennedy resigns. I wonder how many have voters' remorse, and how many think Hillary and a Democratic Senate would have been "just as bad".

Treebeard said...

You've added UK to the list of fascist Putin puppets now? Maybe we need a new version of Godwin's Law for people who blame Putin for everything happening in the world that they disapprove of.

India is an interesting place, but from what I saw when I was there, if you're hoping it's gonna become the new capital of the Western Enlightenment, you're gonna be waiting a LOOONG time (Brahma years, probably). Modhi comes from a pretty hard-line Hindu background, and Hindus aren't that keen on become culturally colonized by Anglos. Technology yes, culture, not so much. India, more than any place I've ever been to, is a place where Tradition still means something in people's lives. Your Enlightenment religion would deprecate and destroy their traditions, and they understand that.

David Brin said...

Jiminy! Treebeard was actually cogent, arguing several points in his neo-feudalist, hate-enlightenment stance, in the manner of a merely snarky teen instead of a troll. Throw attaboys, guys!

Catfish N. Cod said...

True facts, Dr. Brin -- I almost didn't recognize him.

The UK is not actually under Putin's fascist puppets; UKIP having done its job is currently effectively dormant. The Conservatives under May are rolling the dice that they can take advantage of Labour's fecklessness and the Lib Dem's chaos to gain a firmer mandate for Brexit. The real question is, how much is a sense of independence, local control of economic regulation and immigration, and embalming preservation of a snapshot of British identity (for British identity has changed more times than most lands) really worth to the English Tories? Is it worth, say, Scotland? Wales? The weight of the City of London? Britain's status as a regional power, never mind a world power? Their nuclear arsenal and Security Council seat?

If the UK isolates itself from Europe, and does not submit to Russia (I can't ever see that), then it must needs throw itself upon the rest of the Anglosphere. Without the position of Arbiter of Europe that it played for three centuries, with no Empire to draw upon, and with the financial power of the City fading... why, exactly, does London matter anymore?

As for India, despite its vast swathes of hidebound traditionalist villages, sunk in the depths of the ancient caste system and the aristocratic fever-dreams of the Aryan Brhamins, I have three letters for you: IIT. Of course the Indians don't want to be Anglos. They'll do it Bharat style, just as Japan did it Nihon style... but more smoothly so; the ancient Indo-European memes provide the glimmer of a context of kinship, and the Raj lasted sufficiently long that the Indians could take it and make it their own. They are like the representative lands of the West were in the 1700's -- still restricted by tradition, still tilted in favor of elites. For now.

But they have all the tools, and among the hundreds of millions who hunger for better, there are very many who will not fear to use them. And they'll win... because the methods work, and all the world knows it. And when India wins its place, it will have earned it on its own merits; the which will burn more brightly still in their hearts.

I have said it before and will say it again: India is the tortoise, China the hare. We all know who wins that race.

Jumper said...

Show this to a string theorist and they might furrow their eyebrows.

Treebeard said...

You guys have it all wrong. Brexit and the election of Trump have nothing to do with Putin. They were engineered by order of the Queen, to re-assert British sovereignty and bring a strong Anglophile into power in the US. Together, Trump and May will revitalize the Anglosphere, destroy the EU, contain China and emerge once again as the dominant empire on the planet. In time, the USA will be re-incorporated into the Empire and Americans will sing "God Save the Queen" proudly, knowing that they are bringing the light of civilization to the world.

The evidence is clear: Trump is a puppet of the Queen, who is conspiring to destroy the American Revolution and conquer the world.

David Brin said...

Hey Treebeard, you have Locumranch's problem. When you try hard to be either cogent of amusing, (1) you lack skill or practice and (2) we're so used to craziness that we're not really sure you're joking.

The Queen business was a centerpiece of the LaRouchite mania. Fess up, man. Were you one of those?

LarryHart said...

King George (in "Hamilton") :

What comes next?
You’ve been freed.
Do you know how hard it is to lead?

You’re on your own.
Awesome! Wow!
Do you have a clue what happens now?

Oceans rise.
Empires fall.
It’s much harder when it’s all your call.

All alone, across the sea.
When your people say they hate you,
Don’t come crawling back to me.

Tony Fisk said...

But, as we all know, Putin has the Queen exactly where he wants her: one false move and the corgis are casseroles in caviar.

Especially the one that attaches itself to his leg on state visits (I won't say how).

NoOne said...

Well, I have an Indian background (I grew up in India before coming to the US) and I feel David is in hype mode here.

1. India only has a "middle class" of around 200 million (out of 1.x billion). The GDP is only 2T. It is still an incredibly poor country.
2. The amount and extent of corruption is absolutely mind boggling. In fact, I ask people all the time now if they want the US to become a "pay to play" country like India since that's where we are headed if policy is continuously subverted or rewritten to favor aristocrats/oligarchs.
3. The manufacturing base in India is really tiny. I very much doubt that a country can just bypass the industrial area and go to the information age. As a consequence, there is NO infrastructure in the country.
4. All of the gains of the past thirty years have primarily help western India. Eastern India is in absolute shambles with no urbanization.

Despite this, I agree that India does seem to be moving forward. Modi comes from a dangerously reactionary party but so far has avoided becoming fascist. Affirmative action etc. have compensated a bit for the horrors of the caste system. And the trajectory seems upward - for now. It is still way too early to hype it as David does.

Paul SB said...


Agreed, though I'm not sure it is necessary for every nation to go through an industrial stage before moving into the information age. Infrastructure can be bought - on credit if necessary - it does not have to be locally manufactured. I'm guessing you might be familiar with V.S. Naipaul's old book, "India: A Wounded Civilization." It's out of date in today's world, but still had much good food for thought.

One advantage India has is that, unlike the US, it acknowledges its caste system, instead of glossing over it with lies about meritocracy. Because the nation has been having a conversation about this since Independence, they are more likely to take the problem seriously and work toward rectifying it (the "affirmative action" you mention), bringing an end to the kind of massive waste of human potential that all human civilizations have hobbled themselves with (and only some of us, in recent centuries, have come to recognize). It might take all of this century to accomplish, or maybe longer than that, but at least the conversation is there, not buried like it is here. Since I have never been there and only know Indian ex-pats in the US, I would have to ask you to what extent the old aristocracy (Brahmins and Kshatria - I'm probably not spelling that right, am I?) is resisting the rise of a modern middle class, and how much of the lower classes still buy into the old system.

Paul SB said...

Jumper said (in the previous post),
"Now you're straw-manning, Paul. I doubt you'd find that many people who "worship" Gordon Gecko-ism. They would throw a lot of caveats at you and probably re-invent government oversight in the process of replying. Just a poor copy they make up on the spot. :)”
To which I say, not exactly. I’m talking about something more subtle than any kind of labeled philosophy or social movement. I’m talking about enculturation and the ebb and flow of memes through the currents of a culture (if you don’t mind the fluid dynamics metaphor). No culture is ever uniform or monolithic. We are all infected with ideas that we are barely conscious of, if conscious at all. They form assumption sets that lead to the kind of more focused thoughts that earn labels, but the labels are surface features, like waves, while the barely-recognized memes are deep features, like enormous currents that distribute heat, nutrients and weather patterns around the globe.

If you bring these things to people’s attention, you might get them to rethink how they act and what they believe. It’s not about defeating capitalism, destroying markets or imposing some notion of angelic behavior on the world, it is simply the current round in the perennial war between those who think only in short-term, simplistic notions of self interest verses those who have a deeper wisdom about the nature of human life and what makes it livable (or if you want to put it in chemical - and really oversimplified - terms, it’s the never-ending war between testosterone and oxytocin).

Paul SB said...

And Donzelion said (also in the previous thread),
“Jumper - re PaulSB’s point - Actually, I think you would find many people - left or right - “worshipping” Gordon Geckoism - in a compartmentalized fraction of their life. I suspect that Paul’s point, “Competition becomes poison when it is treated as a religious tenet” - merits a corollary, since competition has a way of crowding out other aspects of life. which taken to extremes (whatever an extreme is in this context) can result in gross harms to self and others.”
To which I say: compartmentalization is a good observation here. We are all full of contradictions, which we justify by placing different memes into different relevance categories (our host’s idea of “horizons of inclusion” is a subset this phenomena). Think about what Dr. Brin has been saying about Fundies who voted for Trump. Could you find a person whose way of life is less like the Christ meme they claim to emulate? Possibly, but he’s a whole lot closer to Satan than just about any of our political choices (“I owe my soul to the Trumpany Store…”). It doesn’t matter to them, though, because he is playing the role of politician, not the role of minister. If a minister publicly spoke the way The Grope does, he would be driven out of the revival tent with torches and pitchforks. But Grope is acting as a politician, and the standards for politicians are different, so no problem. (I am using Goffman’s Dramaturgy approach here.) He is a horrible human being, but politicians aren’t expected to behave like ministers. There is a very low bar for politicians, unless you look at it in terms of the “strong father / manly man” high-t memes. In the role of political leader, being a thieving, lying, pushy high-pressure salesman makes him “tough” and “smart”. He’s a lying sack, but he’s our lying sack and he will lie and steal for us (yeah, uh huh! Interested in buying a bridge?). Never mind that old saw about not bearing false witness, or the one about adultery, forget the Seven Deadlies, they don’t apply here.

Your corollary is interesting, but “… has a way of …” is kind of non-specific. This is where the kind of stuff Tom Crowl was talking about matters. I could easily look at your corollary and say, “Yeah, what he said!” because it agrees with and expands on my own thoughts. But apart from getting a few ego points, that vague “… has a way of …” is the kind of generalization that can get you in trouble. Under what circumstances does competition crowd out other aspects of life, which aspects of life does it tend to crowd out, and does competition in any way enhance these or other aspects of life? These are the kind son questions, if taken seriously and explored in sufficient detail, lead to paradigm shifts. And that’s one of the reasons I love coming here. Amid all the poly-ticks and the extreme repetition of themes, once in awhile something comes along that really stimulates the neurons and shows the potential for discovering truly useful things.

NB: I’m not dismissing all politics. I get that the system is in bad need of repair, and the situation as it has been since at least 1980 is stuck in a see-saw stalemate that is doing more harm than good to human life. But as old Uncle Albert said, you cannot fix a problem with the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. We could use some fresh ideas, ideas that don’t come from conforming to one side of the problem or the other.

LarryHart said...


Just so you know, my brother is married to an Indian national, so I am somewhat familiar with some of what you describe.

Yes, it would seem India is a pretty strong example of a "pay to play" society, and I'm afraid we in America are already headed in that direction. The trend is to lower taxes, but services that we formerly took for granted now nickel-and-dime us, so no money is actually saved.

I also recognize your pseudonym as a reference to "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea".

David Brin said...

NoOne, believe me, from my own time in India I know that calamity looms on every horizon. But no nation is better positioned to transcend its own horrific handicaps. Cell phones have enabled 2 billion people aroun the world to get past any need for copper infrastructure on poles or underground. New manufacturing methods may make a lot of it local, bypassing other infrastructure. And there is a strong correlation between dynamism and speaking English, which ever more Indian citizens do.

David Brin said...

Oh, but what India needs is a strong culture of science fiction!

Lorraine said...

Are pay-to-play and Enlightenment things that work against each other?

Lloyd Flack said...

Yes. Under Enlightenment values a government is supposed to w9rk for the benefit of its citens not office holders.

Paul SB said...

The whole point of the Enlightenment is to bring freedom and human decency/dignity to all, not just the rich and powerful. It's ironic that the American right wing screams about freedom all the time, but they constantly work to create a class of billionaires who are doing their best to enslave the very people who vote for their interests. On a more superficial level, the left wing gives the appearance of restricting freedom when they attempt to restrict people from being complete bastards to one another over superficial characteristics like skin tone, sex or religion, in an effort to promote that human decency/dignity thing. But the left wing has traditionally always worked to promote more freedom, including the economic freedom that matters so much in a money-based economy. Many people today are not so sure they haven't sold out to the same billionaire business empires that the right wing more openly support, but if they have become liars, at least they are telling better lies than the right wing's kill-or-be-killed law of the jungle scatology.

So yes, pay-to-play is exactly the kind of corruption that the Enlightenment is against, and at least half of America's political establishment is for. If you have the time and can wade through archaic prose, you might read Voltaire - it was his writing that inspired America's Founding Fathers. The Enlightenment is what gave us people like Adam Smith and John Locke, and of course, the man who penned the Declaration of Independence - Thomas Jefferson. You might find fiction easier to start out with. His novel "Candide" is quite funny, and these days you don't even need to go to the book store and break out $5.99. I have seen it on line as a free pdf, assuming you don't mind the computer eye strain. I almost wish I could forget the story so I can read it again and laugh knowing the punch-lines already.

LarryHart said...


Are pay-to-play and Enlightenment things that work against each other?

It depends what is meant by that admittedly-broad term.

In discussing India, I meant the notion that in order to induce functionaries to do what is ostensibly their job, you have to slip them a bribe. That speaks to Lloyd Flack's response--that government functions become private property of the functionaries rather than services. This is blatant corruption, although sometimes so normalized that it seems routine.

Even without the outright bribery, what seems wrong about the above sentiment is the idea that government services are given in exchange for "What can you do for me?" as asked by the functionaries and officeholders. A more American example is Chris Christie using his office to punish mayors of his state who didn't endorse him in the governor's race. At the time of the Bridge scandal, it occurred to me to wonder what penalties a President Christie might inflict upon Illinois. An earlier example, Ronald Reagan slashing subsidies for college students because (paraphrasing) "Why should I make it easier for students to attend college where they're going to protest my policies?"

But the phrase"pay to play" might simply mean certain government services which impose user fees to support the service. You pay for license plates. You pay (in some locations) to drive on toll roads. That sort of thing. I read your question as to whether that sort of arrangement is compatible with Enlightenment values. My sense is that it depends on the nature of the need and the service. For things that you can make an informed cost/benefit decision as to whether to pay the fee or do without the service, I don't see a problem with user fees. For essential needs that are usually dealt with in crisis situations, I don't think the marketplace is a good model. In a dense-population urban setting, I believe police and fire protection (for example) should be tax-funded services which do not require shopping around or proof of payment at the time of need. The essence of the argument over health-care, for example, is which category it falls into (and that depends upon what type of "health care" one talks about).

My two cents, anyway.

Paul SB said...

Science fiction is about envisioning a future that is different from the lives we have been stuck in today. Therapists tell people who suffer from clinical depression that one of the most important things they can do is imagine a future that is better than the past they have lived, and they have specific techniques to help them do that - someone (Jumper, I think, but I could be wrong) linked to a TED Talk that goes into exactly that. It makes me wonder if being conservative is in and of itself a risk factor for clinical depression, since the entire focus of conservatism is to focus on the past and deny the possibility of a better future. Maybe that's why clinical depression is such a huge epidemic.

Sound slike science fiction can be a cure for a couple different things. That would make people who write it real heroes of mental health. Imagine that! Authors, like artists of many kinds, do what they do not to become millionaires (that doesn't happen very often) but to help make people happy. Remember the verse in "American Pie" that goes:

And I knew if I had my chance,
That I could make those people dance,
And maybe they'd be happy for awhile.

I have never met a musician who did not take joy in seeing the happiness they bring to their listeners - well, except for a heavy-metal guitarist I used to know. Those people get real conservative/paranoid. Same goes for all the visual artists I have known. I haven't met a lot of published authors, and most of them just wanted people to leave them alone and stop asking them to hook them up with someone who would publish their own scribblings, but they all got those satisfied-with-life looks whenever someone told them how much they loved reading their books. The old saying, "'Tis better to give than to receive" is held up by neuroscience. People who give get more oxytocin in their synapses than people who are given to, and oxytocin release is about as close to an objective measure of happiness as we'll ever get. So I agree with Dr. Brin that India - and probably all of us - needs some good old science fiction therapy. The readers develop hope for the future and a healthy, positive outlook (as long as they don't get bogged down in counter-productive dystopian stuff), while authors get their oxytocin fixes that make them feel like they are living meaningful lives - meaning being another thing critical for good mental health. Of course, being a cog in some billionaire's money-making engine doesn't give people a lot of meaning...

One of the leading experts on oxytocin recommends that we all get 8 hugs a day. I can add a regular diet of non-dystopian science fiction to the prescription.

Paul SB said...


I don't think anyone uses "pay-to-play" in any other sense than as bribery. Fees for services like license plates are simply part of the cost of making society run, and the money is not going into the bank accounts of billionaires or even corrupt minor functionaries, but into the programs which create those services.

Your point about essential services brings up an interesting question of historical trajectory. What has been considered an essential service changes over time, with population density and technology. Police services have expanded over the centuries as the world has become a more crowded place. Businesses have a hard time staying in business if they are constantly being robbed. Fire services were pretty sporadic before The Great Fire of London demonstrated what happens to an economy when everything burns to the ground. As technology changes and we become more dependent on it, things like electricity, clean water and sanitation, central heat and A/C, and soon even internet connectivity, become more and more necessities of life that fall increasingly into the category of essential services Today most people get this, but we are still transitioning to getting that things like education and health care are also essential services. When education is too expensive for a majority of people, people can't make enough money to live well. They have to resort to crime to survive, and they can hardly buy the junk businesses want to sell them. Likewise, workers can hardly do their jobs when they are victims of epidemics, which makes it very hard for businesses to do business.

Today's plagues are more about chronic diseases than the communicable ones that have eaten away at civilizations for as long as we have been crowding into cities (the definition of civilization, in spite of what rural Reds think). Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and mental health issues have become the banes of our time. of course the first two usually kill people after they retire, so it doesn't affect business except to raise the cost of health care for everyone. The latter two often strike people in their prime working years, which not only burdens the health care system, it makes business less efficient. Could it be that the right-wingers who insist that everything be privatized so that only the rich business owners can afford adequate health care are shooting themselves in the foot? Could it be that these "cream of the crop, smartest guys in the room" are blinded by their arrogance into doing things that actually hurt their own bottom line? It's not like people who are spending every penny they have on rent and prescription medications are buying a lot of music downloads, movies or whatever else the business class is trying to foist on the drones beneath their heels. Maybe the rich would be richer if they funded free health care and higher education for the general public, so the general public can afford to buy what they have for sale.

Questions to contemplate.

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, my take on it is the 1% are indulging in a sort of economic cannibalism. I think they'd be richer if the lower quartiles were more prosperous, perhaps they're defining "Winning" as the defeat of others, which might've had some validity for neolithic hunter-gatherers, not so much in a massively interdependent global society.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Marino said...

"I'm not very afraid for France, Le Pen could win if only most voters from radical Left and moderate Right vote for her at the runoff, but all the parties either have endorsed Macron or at least have adviced for abstension but against voting her"

The French have an advantage in that they have been subjected to fascism in living memory, and have a history that gives them a collective memory of living under extreme and malignant regimes, both left and right. They understand the joy of revolution and the hideous consequences. If they vote for Le Pen, it will be a conscious decision to go mad, and they will do so with French elan. I don't think the French feel a need to do that just now.
One of the most frightening things about America is that they only have a dim understanding of communism, and no understanding at all of fascism. This isn't anything new: in 1935, Huey Long quipped that the way to bring fascism to America was to label it anti-fascism. Any American who opines that "businessmen should be running the country" is asserting the absolute core principle of fascism without even knowing it, and further isn't going to be aware that such a government, based as it is on preservation and profit of a segment of the population that feeds off the rest, is going to be secretive, authoritarian, and inevitably corrupt.
It makes Americans vulnerable. In a way that the French are not.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry Hart wrote: " many think Hillary and a Democratic Senate would have been 'just as bad'".

Answer: far too many. You have the purists who couldn't support Hillary because she was 1/3rd as bad as Trump. There were the leftists who didn't vote for Clinton because they are fed up with the shit sandwiches Democrats contemptuous serve, sneering that if they don't eat the shit sandwich, they will be republicanated. Some of them simply decided "fuck it, let it implode." I wasn't one of them, but I understand how they felt.
Then there's the Republicans who are too egotistical or stupid to admit voting for Trump was an incredibly idiotic move, and dress their mistake up with claims of false equivalence.
And finally, there's the stalking horse who figure this is a good way to keep Democrats divided.

So you've got four different blocs, all of whom have a reason (of varying validity) for saying Clinton is as bad or worse than Trump.

But no, the answer is that she wouldn't have been as bad as Trump. For starters, she's sane.

Paul SB said...

Tim H.,

You win! No really, just listen to how they talk (i.e. the Enron "smartest guys in the room") and who ends up majoring in business in colleges across the country (the smarter of the high school jocks and bullies, mostly). It's another case, like the diabetes epidemic, where listening to your instincts, instead of facts, dooms people to misery. Everyone who does the L to the forehead sign at another human being thinks they are feeling their own awesomeness, but are only contributing to a climate of hate and stress that will ultimately get them, too (how many times have I referred to the National Geo stress video here? It's worth an hour of your time. Sapolsky has some important things to say about wealth disparity, after they explain the Whitehall Study).


I think you are probably right about France, and Europe more generally. Any population will be a mixed bag, of course, but with people there who lived under genuine fascism and saw businesses profit from the forced labor of the concentration camps. Maybe in another generation or two, when the 20th Century disasters are just entries on history web sites and there is no one left who actually feels it they might return to fascism. In the meantime, most Americans are clueless and easily duped by the propaganda of economists and business people.

Have you heard of "car-hopping"? It's a new trend among young people today - they wander around the streets looking for cars that someone forgot to lock and steal them. But they aren't stealing them to sell to chop shops so they can buy drugs, they steal them so they can post pictures of themselves stealing cars in Instagram, and drive dangerously (160 mph on the freeway) to add to their bragging rights. Another case of thinking with instincts instead of with smarts. Talk about 'First-World Problems'!

Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin said: "Oh, but what India needs is a strong culture of science fiction!"

At the risk of sounding snarky and culturally insensitive, doesn't their religious lore fill that particular niche?

Zepp Jamieson said...

Paul SB wrote: "Have you heard of "car-hopping"? It's a new trend among young people today?"

Yes, but it's not new. I first heard about it in the fifties, and it probably predates that. Back then it was called "joyriding."

The first started using ignition keys and door locks in the twenties, so I'm guessing it actually dates back to then.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of assassinations Elon Musk would be high on the list. Take him out and the commercial space industry goes away. Or think of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc being taking out hacking in the late 70's.

Marshall Boice said...

I know this crap isn't new, but every time it does show up, it's like hearing it for the first time and chills me over and over.

David Brin said...

It’s long been my opinion that the enlightenment is not about freedom and fairness, per se. Rather, freedom and fairness are absolutely essential tools to get the real goal of the movement, and that is escape from the feudal attractor state, into a mode of life that works better for all. That is vastly more productive, calm, creative, happy and confidently expansive. Freedom and fairness aren’t just about niceness. Without them you repeat 6000 years of cheating and oppression, which destroy the outputs from flat-fair-open competition.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Paul SB wrote: "Have you heard of "car-hopping"? It's a new trend among young people today?"

Yes, but it's not new. I first heard about it in the fifties, and it probably predates that. Back then it was called "joyriding."

The first started using ignition keys and door locks in the twenties, so I'm guessing it actually dates back to then.

Interesting parallel to the advent of hacking and security for computers. It sounds as if, in the early days, it was safe enough to assume that only the rightful drivers of automobiles had the wherewithal to work one. Early joyriding then might be considered "car-hacking" in modern terms, with locks and keys the first analogous steps to computer security. And then the same arms-race was on.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Larry Hart wrote: " many think Hillary and a Democratic Senate would have been 'just as bad'".

Answer: far too many.

So you've got four different blocs, all of whom have a reason (of varying validity) for saying Clinton is as bad or worse than Trump.

I was talking specifically about how they feel now that we've seen 100 days of the alternative, not before the election. I know the Trump supporters haven't changed their minds, but the Bernie Bros and Jill Stein purists and such who were unhappy with Clinton for not being progressive enough. How many are at this moment still going, "Yeah, this guy sucks, but we sure dodged the bullet that could have been Hillary in the White House"?

For me, it's not even about Hillary herself. It's the Democratic Senate that would probably have come along with her. It's Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court, and an even more liberal judge to replace the next resignation. It's net-neutrality and climate accords and national parks and all the little things that Republicans are un-doing just because "What Would A Dick Do?" Oh, did I mention health care?

Do progressives who care about those issues and see what is happening now really think Hillary would have been just as bad? Seriously?

Tony Fisk said...


I'm no expert, and don't wish to belittle the problems India faces, but I think the country is well poised to skip the industrial age. It does have infrastructure (aka railway lines: good for transporting more than goods and people). What it may lack in regional areas is a power grid. That can be solved by roof top solar and community power grids.

As for corruption... well, I'll give a relevant example that's hot in Australia at present: Indian coal company Adani has been trying for years to develop a massive open cut coal mine in outback Queensland. The plan is to dig a 50km hole and ship the fly ash coal by train (built with Australian tax money) to its Point Abbott facility to be shipped through the GBR for Indian power plants to burn. Sounding good? Think 'Keystone'. The point is that the sound of greased palms sliding past each other on this one is audible from the ISS. However, neither the Australian community nor the Indian community want a bar of it, despite slick campaigns about jobs, and community benefits. Corruption isn't going to swing it.


Saw a very topical film last night: 'Denial' covers the libel case that Nazi apologist David Irving brought against Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt. Apart from being a gripping courtroom drama with some great performances, it highlights the need for an ice cold approach to forensic analysis. Worth remembering when you chafe at the lack of action over the outrages of the last 100 days. Not that the American Republic can afford to spend too much time.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry Hart wrote: "I was talking specifically about how they feel now that we've seen 100 days of the alternative"

So was I. There's been surprisingly little movement over the past 100 days; Trump's approval ratings are consistantly between 38-42%, and a recent poll indicated that 97% of Trump voters don't regret voting for him.
The rest of us already knew he was going to be a horror show, so we've no cause to change our opinions.

The "Hillary would have been as bad/worse" rationale is exactly that--a rationale.

LarryHart said...


My question isn't about Trump voters.

It's about those who stayed home or voted for a third party on the theory that helping Hillary win wasn't any better an outcome than helping Trump win--that if they didn't get Bernie or the Green Party or whatever, then it didn't matter which of the two major candidates won. Specifically the progressives who did so.

I wonder if they still think Hillary would have been just as bad as what we have now.

Tony Fisk said...

btw, thanks to all who responded to my CO2 quiz last week. You were on the right track when discussing the energy stored in the bonds, but didn't quite nail it. After all, the double bonds in CO2 aren't so different from those in O2. So why is trace level (~0.04% vs 29%) CO2 the greenhouse gas rather than O2?

The answer lies in the number of atoms in the molecule. Single atoms can recoil. Double atoms can spin and pulse. It takes three or more atoms to wobble, and that allows many photons to be absorbed (and re-emitted at random ie scattered)

Anyway, an analysis of the composition of dry air (by molar fraction) yields:
N2: 78%, O2: 21%, Ar: 0.93%, CO2: 0.04%*, Ne: 0.002%, He: 0.0005%, CH4: 0.0002%, Kr: 0.0001%, H2: 0.00005%, N2O: 0.00003%, Xe: 0.000009%, ...

Looking at that list for multi-atom molecules, we see that CH4 (methane) shares CO2's propensities, plus a pinch of N20. To quote Yoda, "There is another", that won't be listed in a dry measurement.

Water's a joker. It doesn't exist in a purely gaseous phase, but there's so much liquid water on the surface of the planet that water vapour does make up a significant part of non-dry air. It varies quite a bit with temperature (something we'll come back to) but ~2% is a reasonable figure; edging out Argon for third place.

This brings us to the next question: if we're worried about CO2, how come a greenhouse gas that's present in such high concentrations isn't causing 'yuge' amounts of greenhouse warming? Well... it is, or rather, it has.

A straightforward** calculation of the Earth's solar influx vs the blackbody radiative properties of a sphere will give you an equilibrium temperature of ~ -15C. This is compared with the observed average global temperature of 15-16C. Thirty degrees celsius is how much water vapour has warmed the Earth by. It could be even more if there were more water vapour in the air, but it is in broad equilibrium... until another source of warming allows more water vapour in the air.

It turns out that water vapour magnifies the warming effect of CO2 alone by 6 times.
This is why certain disingenious arguments say the current levels of CO2 could only warm Earth by 0.5 degree, rather than 3.

Here endeth the lecture.

* The source gives this as 0.035%, but things have changed since 1989. CO2 has gone up. Q: What has gone down in compensation?
** derivation is a bit heavy to non-math/physics wonks but, once that's done, the calculation is straightforward.

sociotard said...

I'm not sure, actually. The nomination to the supreme Court would be a big arrow to "Hillary Better", but she was such a hawk. Trump can be mollified with a few big (if ineffective) booms. I still think Hillary would have made bigger commitments.

Midboss57 said...

I think most of the "Hilary is just as bad" crowd operate under the boiling frog metaphor. Aka, to them, Hilary was more of the "slightly raise the temperature of the water and the frog won't notice but eventually die", whereas Trump was the ultimate "yank up the temperature to make the frog jump out".

While it can't be argued that his election was a big wake up call to the progressive side of things, the big question is "did we just accidentally kill the frog ?".

Paul SB said...

Tony Fisk,

The fact that water vapor is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 has been known for some time. Models of the evolution of Venus's atmosphere take into account the evaporation of Venusian oceans.

"It turns out that water vapour magnifies the warming effect of CO2 alone by 6 times."
- Back when Arnie was running for governor of California, he promised that he would build infrastructure to support fuel cell cars (hydrogen fuel stations), which to people who don't know the science sounds very environmentally friendly. It's a good thing that, like politicians generally, he didn't live up to that promise. Earth's atmosphere would fare better if we went for electric cars with PV charging stations for infrastructure. Unfortunately, since China has cornered the market on PV panels, chances are our political caste would see this as a bad thing. But then, slow extinction by ecological devastation would be worse than letting a few competitors get an advantage in the markets, right?

I found this interesting quote from Ursula LeGuin, apropos of market economies:

"Capitalism’s grow-or-die imperative stands radically at odds with ecology’s imperative of interdependence and limit. The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other; nor can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled hope to survive. Either we will establish an ecological society or society will go under for everyone, irrespective of his or her status."
Ursula K. Le Guin

I doubt that Grope Administration policies are going to get the frog to jump out of the pot. The problem is that, as wielder of the power, he has effectively placed a screen over the top of the pot so us frogs can't jump out. Jumping out of the pot - removing that screen - would require changing who has the power and what they do with it. Having a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist (a.k.a. crook) holding the reins of power is directly contradictory to human survival. Clinton probably would not make improvements in the direction of frog rescue fast enough, but at least it would have gotten better rather than worse.

David S said...

For me, the question isn't really if Trumps big booms have mollified Trump, the question is whether the the big booms have affected our rivals (Assad, Kim Jong-un, Khamenei, Putin) behavior in a positive direction. A hundred days isn't long enough to answer that question.

As for Hillary, sure she's a hawk. But she knows to try diplomacy first and understands that the world is complicated.

LarryHart said...


I think most of the "Hilary is just as bad" crowd operate under the boiling frog metaphor. Aka, to them, Hilary was more of the "slightly raise the temperature of the water and the frog won't notice but eventually die", whereas Trump was the ultimate "yank up the temperature to make the frog jump out".

While it can't be argued that his election was a big wake up call to the progressive side of things, the big question is "did we just accidentally kill the frog ?".

As someone who knew that killing the frog was a strong possibility, it is disheartening to see so much "Who could have guesses that this would happen?" from my own side of the aisle.

LarryHart said...


Trump can be mollified with a few big (if ineffective) booms. I still think Hillary would have made bigger commitments.

Two things.

First of all, where does the notion that Hillary is a war hawk come from? Is it mainly based on her "yes" vote for Gulf War II? Because, to me, that vote showed a different character flaw--that she went for (what she thought was) political expedience over principle. That war was presented (in the media) and largely perceived to be immensely popular--something that would be political suicide to oppose. Today's threats of wars are the opposite. Americans don't want to get involved in foreign wars in Syria, Iran, or North Korea. If Hillary were to exhibit the same character flaw that she did in 2003, she'd be against those wars. Maybe North Korea would be the exception because something might have to be done over there, but promoting such a war would require convincing the American people, not pandering to them.

Second, for all her actual or perceived hawkishness, Hillary knows how diplomacy and the military both work. If she got us into a war, it would be on purpose. Trump seems likely to start something horrible without even realizing he is doing it.

NoOne said...

Tony Fisk, Larry Hart and Paul SB,

One worry I have is the tendency of the West to either exoticize or outright condemn India. [Think Fukuyama said something like "No one understands India" to which I happily acquiesced :-)].

A possible model for India is that of a stratified onion peel civilization but with missing layers. So, you have cannibals, blood and kinship family units, ethnocentric tribes and information age world centric people living next to each other (but without killing each other for much of the time). Consequently, a Western Enlightenment for all will never happen in India but will happen for 300 million people/1.x billion. India will of course add spirituality to the mix which will create more confusion.

Indian SF is still nascent IMHO. "Zero g" by Srujan Joshi was OK but I don't know if the author is Indian or Indian-American. Haven't kept up though. Also, I don't think we want spirituality + SF mishmash fantasies since they'll end up like something Damon Lindelof wrote (sorry, lots of hatred there: Prometheus and Lost).

Religious identity plays the role of race in India. Affirmative action is based on minority religion/caste identity and creates social taboos very similar to discussions on race in the US. Modi's party has the equivalent of the alt-right in it and is incredibly dangerous if left unchecked. But, they have managed to not screw up terribly so far unlike Erdogan in Turkey (close parallel).

Absolutely loved 20,000 leagues under the sea as a kid! Hence Captain Nemo....

Midboss57 said...

Well, Hilary's reputation as a War Hawk also came from the fact that just about every warhawk personality/general/politician... was rather enthusiastic about her. Anyone remember Henry Kissinger's very ill advised open support to her ?

If he had really wanted to help Hillary, he would have kept quiet. In the eyes of a progressive, he's just short of a red lightsaber to claim the title of sith lord. The support of well known people can cause more harm than good if those people are unpopular enough. This is why I just wished Tony Blair would just shut up even when I agree with him because he's so toxic people will turn against whatever he happens to be supporting.

Paul SB said...


Most of what I know about India comes from Asia Civ classes I took nigh on 25 years ago, so I'm way out of date, here. Fascinating country, but then, as I matured and looked at culture from a more scientific perspective, I came to realize that you can find fascination anywhere you find humans. But I'm still not sure what to do with the species. Your description of the diversity of India is consistent with what I know of its history. But then, it's also a little like the Roman Empire, the Aztec Triple Alliance or any number of huge civilizations that have impacted the world in huge ways. It is always multicultural societies that break out of parochialism and become truly significant for the world (the Han are the only exception I can think of - everywhere else ethnic homogeneity has always made stagnant bit players on the world stage). So I can see India having it's day in the sun. We'll know it has happened when as many people in the West know Kalidasa as people in the East know Shakespeare.

As far as adopting and carrying the torch of the Enlightenment, it's possible, though it is also inevitable that they will adopt it on their own terms and interpret it in their own ways. I remember reading am essay in which Voltaire was pointing to the hypocrisy of seeing poor people publicly hanged for eating meat on Friday, because that meat was the only food they could get that day, while rich aristocrats and merchants could afford to eat all the fish they liked. India doesn't have that particularly tradition in its past, because it has its own traditional superstitions. So the specifics might seem very different, but the main issues are probably the same in broad outline. Disperse power so it is not monopolized by one class of people or another that can then exercise tyrannical powers on the rest. In Voltaire's France it was the aristocracy and the Church. In the US it is the robber barons of crony capitalism. India will have its own mix, and if it takes centuries, it will still be a meaningful change. Look how many people in the "Free West" are still trapped in the helplessness of poverty, and how many who still think that the mistakes of the past make a virtuous society. No such work is ever done.

Did you decide to go with No-one because too many people today only know the name /Nemo/ as a young, animated clownfish?

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

Those 3 items are also present, in different form, in Ringo's The Last Centurion. Though that seems to me to be mostly a political rant.


A few musicians I know despise their audiences. The majority of visual artists I know do it for themselves and don't really like people at all (mostly introverts). The published authors I know mostly want more publishing contracts and wouldn't mind more people asking them anything, but they aren't best sellers.

As for the Indian ex-pats of my acquaintance, all of them would readily acknowledge that the caste system is alive and well. Where they split is whether they thing it's a good thing or a bad thing. For example, I once worked with an Indian engineer whose decisions and actions only made sense if you considered that he thought himself on top of the caste system.

raito said...

Paul SB,

Since your last comment came in while I was authoring mine...

How homogeneous does a society have to be for you to call it so?

China has an awful lot of other ethnic groups. Some have even controlled the country from time to time. The Han are only about 90%. And the Chinese govt. recognizes 54 ethnicities.

Or, the flipside. How heterogeneous does a society have to be multicultural?

Paul SB said...


Perhaps you know more artists than I do. Visual artists have a reputation for being self-absorbed introverts, but even they are anxious to talk to people and share their art if you can talk to them without coming across as too judgmental. As far as the caste system goes, I have heard some news items that make it sound like it is alive and well - it will take more than fiat to wipe it away, to be sure. And I'm sure you can guess how I feel about it. The couple Indian ex-pats I know get rather uncomfortable when someone mentions the caste system, which I am sure is much like Arabic people here getting uncomfortable when you talk about jihad. And like Christians who don't stone people to death for eating pizza, they compartmentalize and read their traditions selectively.

As far as what mixture of ethnicities is necessary to get a society labeled /homogeneous/ or /multicultural/ - that's one of those definitional issues that can only be arbitrary, subjective and relative. Every nation, institution or scholar is likely to draw its own lines. 90% the same seems pretty homogeneous to me, even if they have several dozen tiny minority groups. Compare that to where I grew up - the Caucasian majority are about 62% of the US population and dwindling, which is very different from 90%. I had neighbors many years ago who were Uighur, and except for their religion they did not seem different from Han in terms of culture, so I am thinking that the extent of cultural homogeneity would be just as important a factor to consider.

Jon S. said...

Kissinger is indeed a Forceless Sith Lord. Knowing that, it seems not impossible (nor even highly improbable) to me that his seeming endorsement of Clinton was purposeful and deliberate - that he [i]knew[/i] his support would cost her progressive support, and did so with this goal in mind.

matthew said...

Having worked with musicians for most of my hobbiest-life (and a bit of career), I will disagree very stridently with raito regarding musicians who despise their audiences. The only people I worked with that had that sort of hatred for the audience were heavy metal cover bands. And not very many of those. Most musicians were there for the enjoyment of watching the audience react to what they were selling.

David Brin said...



raito said...


I believe I said a few, which was in response to PaulSB saying he knew only 1. And unlike both of you, the metal (especially the cover) guys loved their audiences. Most of my few were punkers. I've worked with many in a professional capacity, even though that was years ago.

I'm also finding it hard to see how you to disagree with the statement that I know a few who do. Because I do, and I doubt you know which ones they are.

Fortunately few. And even those guys didn't despise me. Of all the musicians I've had to work with, only 1 was a real problem for me, even if they were problems for others.

David Brin said...


matthew said...

Sorry, misunderstood your intent then, apologies and onward