Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Afficionado Part III - a stand apart excerpt from EXISTENCE

Concluding my "shut up and just play your guitar" moment... here's the concluding section of that stand-alone chapter from EXISTENCE that serves to begin the Uplift Saga!


AFICIONADO - part III

(See Part I here.)


(See Part II here.)


By David Brin

A stand-alone chapter from EXISTENCE  (2012)

 

That day passed, and then a tense night that he spent clutching a sleeping dolphin by moonlight, while clouds of phosphorescent plankton drifted by. Fortunately, the same selective-permeability technology that enabled his helmet to draw oxygen from the sea also provided a trickle of fresh water, filling a small reservoir near his cheek. I've got to buy stock in this company, he thought, making a checklist for when he was picked up tomorrow.

          Only pickup never came. The next morning and afternoon passed pretty much the same, without catching sight of land or boats. The world always felt so crowded, he thought. Now it seems endless and unexplored.
          Hacker started earning his meals by helping hold the fishing net when the group harvested dinner. The second night he felt more relaxed, dozing while the dolphins' clickety gossip seemed to flow up his jaw and into his dreams. On the third morning, and each of those that followed, he felt he understood just a bit more of their simple language.
          He lost track of how many days and nights passed. Slowly, Hacker stopped worrying about where the pickup boats could be. Angry thoughts about lawsuits and revenge rubbed away under relentless massaging by current and tide. Immersed in the dolphins' communal sound field, he began concerning himself instead with daily problems of the Tribe, like when two young males got into a fight, smacking each other with their beaks and flukes until adults had to forcibly separate them. Using both sign language and his growing vocabulary of click-code, Hacker learned that a female (whose complex name he shortened to "Chee-Chee") was in heat. The young brawlers held little hope of mating with her. Still, their nervous energy needed an outlet. At least no one had been seriously harmed.
          An oldtimer — Kray-Kray — shyly presented a pectoral fin to Hacker, who used his knife to dig out several wormlike parasites. "You should see a real doctor," he urged, as if one gave verbal advice to dolphins every day.
          Helpers go away, Kray-Kray tried to explain in click code. Fins need hands. Helper hands.
          It supported Hacker's theory that something had been done to these creatures. An alteration that had made them distinctly different than others of their species. But what? The mystery grew each time he witnessed some behavior that just couldn't be natural.
          Then, one day the whole Tribe grew excited, spraying nervous clicks everywhere. Soon Hacker saw they were approaching an undersea habitat dome hidden in a narrow canyon, near a coast where waves met shore.
          Shore.... The word tasted strange after all these days — weeks? — spent languidly swimming, listening, and learning to enjoy raw fish. Time had different properties down here. It felt odd to contemplate leaving this watery realm, returning where he clearly belonged — the surface world of air, earth, cities, machines, and nine billion humans, forced to inhale each others' humid breath everywhere they went.
          That's why we dive into our own worlds. Ten thousand hobbies. A million ways to be special, each person striving to be expert at some arcane art... like rocketing into space. Psychologists approved, saying that frenetic amateurism was a much healthier response than the most likely alternative — war. They called this the "Century of Aficionados," a time when governments and professional societies could not keep up with private expertise, which spread at lightning speed across the WorldNet. A renaissance, lacking only a clear sense of purpose.
          The prospect of soon rejoining that culture left Hacker pensive. What's the point of so much obsessive activity, unless it leads toward something worthwhile?
          The dolphins voiced a similar thought in their simple but expressive click-language.

# If you're good at diving — dive for fish! #
# If you have a fine voice — sing for others! #
# If you're great at leaping — bite the sun! #

          Hacker knew he should clamber up the nearby beach now to call his partners and brokers. Tell them he was alive. Get back to business. But instead he followed his new friends to the hidden habitat dome. Maybe I'll learn what's been done to them, and why.
          Swimming under and through a portal pool, he was surprised to find the place deserted. No humans anywhere. Finally, Hacker saw a hand-scrawled sign.

Project Uplift Suspended!
We ran out of cash. Court costs ate everything.
This structure is deeded to our finned friends.
Be nice to them.
May they someday join us as equals.

          There followed a WorldNet access number, verifying that the little dolphin clan actually owned this building, which they now used to store their nets, toys and a few tools. But Hacker knew from their plaintive calls the real reason they kept coming back. Each time they hoped to find that their "hand-friends" had returned.
          Unsteady on rubbery legs, he crept from the pool to look in various chambers. Laboratories, mostly. In one, he recognized a gene-splicing apparatus made by one of his own companies.
          Project Uplift? Oh yes. I remember hearing about this.
          It had been featured in the news, a year or two ago. Both professional and amateur media had swarmed over a small group of "kooks" whose aim was to alter several animal species, giving them human-level intelligence. Foes of all kinds had attacked the endeavor. Religions called it sacrilegious. Eco-enthusiasts decried meddling in Nature's wisdom. Tolerance-fetishists demanded that native dolphin "culture" be left alone, while others rifkined the proposal, predicting mutants would escape the labs to endanger humanity. One problem with diversity in an age of amateurs was that your hobby might attract ire from a myriad others, especially those whose particular passion was indignant disapproval, with a bent for litigation.
          This "Uplift Project" could not survive the rough-and-tumble battle that ensued. A great many modern endeavors didn't.
          Survival of the fittest, he mused. An enterprise this dramatic and controversial has to attract strong support, or it's doomed.
          He glanced back at the pool, where members of the Tribe had taken up a game of water polo, calling fouls and shouting at each other as they batted a ball from one goal to the next, keeping score with raucous sonar clicks.
          Hacker wondered. Would the "uplift" changes carry through from one generation to the next? Could this new genome spread among wild dolphins? If so, might the project have already succeeded beyond its founders' dreams, or its detractors' worst nightmare?
          What if the work resumed, finishing what got started here? Would it enrich our lives to argue philosophy with a dolphin? Or to collaborate with a smart chimp, at work or at play? If other species speak and start creating new things, will they be treated as equals — as co-members of our civilization — or as the next discriminated class?
          Some critics were probably right. For humans to attempt such a thing would be like an orphaned and abused teen trying to foster a wild baby. There were bound to be mistakes and tragedies along the way.
          Are we good enough? Wise enough? Do we deserve such power?
          It wasn't the sort question Hacker used to ask himself. He felt changed by his experience at sea. At the same time, he realized that just asking the question was part of the answer.
          Maybe it'll work both ways. They say you only grow while helping others.
          His father would have called that "romantic nonsense." And yet...
          Exploring one of the laboratories, Hacker found a cheap but working phone that someone had left behind — then had to work at a lab bench for an hour, modifying it to tap the sonic implant in his jaw. He was about to call his manager and broker — before they had a chance to declare him dead and start liquidating his empire. But then Hacker stopped.
          He paused, then keyed the code for his lawyer instead.
          At first Gloria Bickerton could not believe he survived. She wouldn't stop shouting with joy. I didn't know anyone liked me that much, he mused, carrying the phone back to the dome's atrium. He arrived in time to witness the water polo game conclude in a frothy finale.
          "Before you arrange a pickup, there's something I want you to do for me," he told Gloria, after she calmed down. Hacker gave her the WorldNet codes for the Uplift Project, and asked her to find out everything about it, including the current disposition of its assets and technology — and how to contact the experts whose work had been interrupted here.
          Gloria asked him why. He started to reply.
          "I think I've come up with a new..."
          Hacker stopped there, having almost said the word hobby. But suddenly he realized that he had never felt this way about anything before. Not even the exhilaration of rocketry. For the first time he burned with a real ambition. Something worth fighting for.
          In the pool, several members of the Tribe were now busy winding their precious net around the torso of the biggest male, preparing to go foraging again. Hacker overheard them gossiping as they worked, and chuckled when he understood one of their crude jokes. A good natured jibe at his expense.
          Well, a sense of humor is a good start. Our civilization could use more of that.
          "I think —" He resumed telling his lawyer.
          "I think I know what I want to do with my life."

THE END




So concludes this stand alone story from EXISTENCE. Also available here


See the vivid, 3-minute video trailer! (Images by Patrick Farley.)

 

95 comments:

Rob Bos said...

Hi,

Do you have a Mastodon presence? I'm looking for my favourite authors there, and you're a notably missing name!

Cheers.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

As I've said before, this story included in Existence is a kind of cool alternate beginning to dolphin uplift, even perhaps suggesting that we humans are on a trajectory to get there via many possible paths.

But please, don't twist yourself into knots trying to assert that the uplift universe of the civilization of the five galaxies somehow co-exists with the universe of "We've never met." In my opinion, that would be making lead out of gold and platinum.

David Brin said...

Rob I suppose I oughta do Mastadon.

LH but we HAVE 'never met.' I must reconcile that and it's one reason my writing is so slow on that.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

I must reconcile that and it's one reason my writing is so slow on that.


I was afraid of that.

Alfred Differ said...

Heaven Can Wait! That's it. My memory for movies and song lyrics is abysmal. I can see images in my mind's eye but often fail to recall the rest of it. I could see Warren Beaty and the wings associated with the movie poster, but then my memory wouldn't dredge up the rest. I'd blame the fact that I'm getting older, but I've NEVER been good at it. 8)

Anyway, the idea was to use the concept as a thought experiment for deciding how equal we are. If the list one makes for avoiding being screwed upon being reinserted is relatively short, that society is relatively equal. There will always be entries on the list for any one person, but correlations between people should be weaker. Only someone like Asimov's Mule or Le Guin's George Orr would be able to eliminate the list all together, but those folks lead (obviously) to an Unequal world. Them VS Us. You just wouldn't know you have certain preferences. They wouldn't come to mind.

"The Lathe of Heaven" is one of the books my mother tried to get me to read when I was young. She argued I needed science fiction & fantasy (like Bradbury) to go along with my obvious appetite for science fact. I didn't agree back then… but momma was right. Speculation skills must be practiced, but a mind incapable of fantasy isn't experiencing full humanity.

David Brin said...

The 70s PBS version of Lathe of Heaven was gorgeous. Much better than the later one.

Alfred Differ said...

matthew, (Sorry... missed you from the last post)

Admitting the system will be gamified, but that's still better than the current alternative is one of those either/or fallacies. I'll dismiss that as nothing more than you not being inclined to write the long-winded alternative that I'm sure you already know. You're a smart guy, so I'll just grant that you realize a gamified system MIGHT be worse than the current alternative. It all depends on the games created and how entrenched advocates become in their outcomes.

Imagine a policy suggestion that got support from progressives for one reason and support from conservatives for an entirely different one. Both would agree to increase the scope of government leaving the small classical liberal faction hugely outnumbered. This kind of agreement happens now and then, so don't brush it off. Even with the Hastert rule in place, it happens. (A recurring example involves the growth of our debt ceiling. Most conservatives only pretend they are against it. Treasury bonds are a market staple for the rentier class.)

I'm willing to negotiate changes that disrupt cheaters, but if you come to the table with a broad 'all billionaires are bad' attitude, I'd likely walk away or intentionally push to drive adoption of your ideas to be so slow you'd die of old age before seeing much. I happen to like you, but I think if you had your hands on the tiller, you'd sail us straight onto a reef and then blame everyone but yourself for our civilization cracking up. Must be those bad billionaires!

No doubt many of them ARE bad, but policy suggestions (especially tax ideas) CAN make things worse. Taxation simply moves the money creating vested interests elsewhere. When these interests are disconnected from market realities, we all suffer.

locumranch said...

It was the Grey Men that made the PBS version so glorious.


Afficionado Part III is a beautiful & well-written excerpt that answers a previously asked question:

What kind of propaganda is this?

This is an eloquently written Eugenics Argument, one that condones the construction of better lifeforms through the use of genetic modification & selective breeding, as proposed by the Nazi √úbermensch project and Margaret Sanger's mission statement for Planned Parenthood.

Remember how I quoted Mal from Serenity in the last thread?

As sure as I know anything, I know this: They will try again. Maybe on another world. Maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people better (and) I do not hold to that.

Well, I've had something of a change of heart in regard to Eugenics and the idea of creating & fathering a superior race has grown on me somewhat, as it would allow for the eradication of certain 'undesirable' characteristics from various gene lines.

Of course, that's a rather sticky wicket, is it not? The who, the how & the why behind the determination of the genetic & phenotypic characteristics that one would consider to be either desirable or undesirable. But, luckily, this is a decision that we can safely leave in the capable hands of a few good billionaires, a host of unelected bureaucrats & 'fact users' like me.

We could start by eliminating certain obvious genetic defects like deafness, mental illness, retardation & serious medical issues, since only wackos would object to that and, as we improve, we can correct other less pressing defects like sexuality, gender dysphoria, male pattern baldness, epidermal pigmentation & perhaps even political orientation, until we 'heal the world' and create a paradise for our increasingly perfect selves.

As for those rejects, defectives & conservatives who dare to oppose our gloriously progressive future, no worries, as some sort of humane & final 'Youth in Asia' solution will most likely present itself when the time comes.


Best
____

Now, if you'll excuse me, I plan to make like Lee Van Cleef and take a 'Sabatacal', as opposed to Pappenheimer's more porpoiseful 'aquatical'.

I've attached a link to an excellent Eugenics synopsis available thru the Stanford Encyclopedia (below). Happy arguing.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/eugenics/

Alfred Differ said...

I don't know whether to shudder or squeal at the modern CGI potential to render Lathe of Heaven for the current generation. 8)

SOOOO many parts of a movie have to be excellent for the whole thing to work! It's a wonder that it isn't all crap. [I spent a bit of time during the pandemic learning about writing screenplays and ran into the huge range of skills it takes to produce movies. I get the big budgets now.]

Tony Fisk said...

Alfred: momma was right. Speculation skills must be practiced, but a mind incapable of fantasy isn't experiencing full humanity.

"Imagination is the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape."
- T. Pratchett (via Death in 'Hogfather' and, yes, that should be capitalised)

Unknown said...

Alfred,

The movie (or, mo' better, miniseries) I want to see CGI'd is Zelazny's Amber Chronicles.

Also, it's not "all billionaires are bad"

It's "too much power in too few hands is bad for a democratic society" - or any society, really. Money is power, and attracts more money to itself, often through political funding of governmental changes making it easier for the rich to get richer and stay that way*. In my last years in the military I started running into people who wanted to restrict the vote to wealthy landowners, like the Founding Fathers intended - and these were not necessarily trust fund babies, they'd just spend too long staring at RWNJ websites and listening to Fox.

*sort of like black hole accretion, I guess

Pappenheimer

David Brin said...

Will any reformed version of capitalism be gamified with a result that the winner (some of them) will then try to use their won status to cheat? Nothing would be more human! And sure, we are witnessing that now. Only -

-1 - Name for me any nation and time when those on top didn't cheat far MORE than they have across each (esp the most recent) phase of the admittedly flawed American republic? Carumba. Those who 'replaced' competitive markets and adversarial accountability with benevolent socialism always wound up worse. Which was why Orwell - a lifelong Fabian Socialist - aimed most of his complaints at the hypocrisies that kept ruining the left.

-2 - If cheaters adapt, it means the previous generation's rule reforms worked, forcing the cheaters to innovate... behooving us to innovate, in turn. So? Meanewhile the fraction of children with full bellies and brains keeps rising. So who wins this race if we just keep doing the job?

-3 - cheaters find cheating more difficult to do under light! Hence GENERAL TRANSPARENCY -contrary to dismal assumption- will favor the masses more than elites. e.g. my usinversal Ownership Treaty would force oligarchs to at least obey each decade's laws, even if the laws are biased.

---
It is certainly legitimate to weigh the alternatives re Uplift - the high likelihood of mistakes and pain, even if done with best intentions. OTOH the 'eugenics slur is laughably dumb. And he knows it.

David Brin said...

Alas, my parents' generation - who actually actually READ Marx, were able to come up with innovations to cancel ol'Karl's beloved teleological scenario, by reforming class in America under FDR/Truman. An achievement the we then built upon with subsequent reforms that (too slowly!) broke (or at least diminished) one bad habit after another. Addictive human habits that ALL previous cultures (not just Europeans) clutched to their bosoms. In fact, we've been growing a bit wiser and more tolerant, grinding step by step till the job almost seems halfway done and the planet might (perhaps barely) be saved!

Alas, that campaign of justice and growth may never be completed, ironically, because almost no one alive today has actually read or understood Marx, and thus bastardized, crude 'versions' are flooding the globe, especially in reflexive response to the blatant, worldwide attempted oligarchic putsch. (Those scheming oligarchs, inheritance brats, casino moguls, "ex" commissars and murder princes - wallowing in flatterers and masturbatory prepper fantasies - are certainly no smarter! Do $billions actually LOBOTOMIZE folks? They seem to!)

While the Mad Right - waging open war against ALL fact-using professions - is clearly the main existential threat to our planet and children, that doesn't make our side's loudest voices automatically right about all things, especially their most sanctimoniously-shouted prescriptions. Proof of this can be seen in the pure fact that they NEVER HOLD CONFERENCES to actually argue out and criticize and improve those prescriptions! Too many clutch their beloved tactics with desperate sanctimony, instead of refining or replacing those that fail to help on the battlefield.

If they did - if they showed the guts to hold argumentative conferences to thrash out alternatives, before issuing grand proclamations - then we might have (for example) discussed FAR better innovative 'pronouns' that were developed across 50 years of sci fi thought experiments about expanded human sexuality, maybe picking one set an alternative to the spectacularly silly effort to bully everyone into using "they" in ways that only confuse and rankle the folks YOU need, badly, as allies in this struggle.

Now show me anyone who had the patience to parse the sentences above. If any of YOUR did, great. Now graduate to Marx and Adam Smith. To Eleanor Roosevelt and Paine and Popper and Hrdy and Morgan and Konner.

"It's easy to be right about what's wrong, while being wrong about what would be right." - Karl Popper.

David Brin said...

I wrote that aimed at another audience. I know many of YOU GUYS are able to read and parse complex sentences.

Unknown said...

"able to read and parse complex sentences."

Sorry, leave me out, late for my aquatical.

Pappenheimer

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin

I agree with your polite rant - except for the question of who to "blame"

The real heavy lifting that produced your "New Deal" was done in the 30's - the "people in charge" then would be in their 60's
So born in the 1870's

The "undoing" of the New Deal was in the 70's - that was our fathers generation

The "New Deal" was our grandfathers generation

The "Greatest Generation" was the one that undid the "New Deal"

Alan Brooks said...

Bones (from now on am going to refer to loc as that doc) is an Awful lot of fun. (“porpoiseful aquatical”) And it proves one thing Mr. Hooper, it proves you wealthy college boys don’t have the education to admit you’re wrong!
When working on farms, I thought much like Bones, from fear of being at the mercy of nature. The residents were convincing that them revenuers were out to get them. That city slickers we’re out to get them. Well-nigh everybody was out to get them.
But mostly there was fear of being in a bad accident. A farmer at the place next door got an arm pulled off and bled to death, quick-like. So we had an extra dose of Budweiser that night; I decided right then to go back to being a city slicker. “Coward”, they chortled.
But not everybody in the sticks was in such danger: the folks who run the shops and diners wasn’t. Except for maybe say chokin on a piece of cheese or somethin.

Though bio-engineering is risky, isn’t going the way we are, at the present, dangerous? There’s the rub. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t always work.

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer from the previous comments:

Your arguments re: Loc are pointless.


Heh. I know that. I gave up not reading his comments for Lent. Only about 30 days to go.


S/He is trolling you


Engaging in a bit of trolling yourself?

This may be heresy for a liberal, but I happen to think that using ambiguous pronouns for someone whom you know what their preference is is obnoxious in the same way that purposely mis-gendering is. In this case, by all means, have at it, but understand that that sort of thing causes some people to vote Republican.

And loc isn't so much trolling as sealioning,

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Will any reformed version of capitalism be gamified with a result that the winner (some of them) will then try to use their won status to cheat? Nothing would be more human! And sure, we are witnessing that now.


In sports, Alfred pointed out some ways in which winners can acquire more resources for the next round. But we don't let the winners re-write the rule book or appoint their own supporters as referees. In politics, we do the equivalent of exactly that. Thus, gerrymandered legislatures can decide to disenfranchise their opponents, or even override the results of future elections, while their allies on the supreme court lecture us that the solution is at the ballot box.



If cheaters adapt, it means the previous generation's rule reforms worked, forcing the cheaters to innovate... behooving us to innovate,


I never considered that--that the process of cheating and countermeasures is one of evolution, producing...?

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Do $billions actually LOBOTOMIZE folks? They seem to!


Maybe in the same way that loc insists comfort makes us weak.

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

The real heavy lifting that produced your "New Deal" was done in the 30's - the "people in charge" then would be in their 60's
...
The "Greatest Generation" was the one that undid the "New Deal"


You've made that point before, but I wonder. The Greatest Generation folk were not in positions of high office at the time, but they were the ones being politically active. Boomers were the ones driving political change with their activism in the 60s when they (we) were young and idealistic, also in the 80s and 90 when we turned into our parents, and still are now when we've become old and crotchety like Grandpa Simpson.

Tim H. said...

The conservative project reminds me Dave Berg (May light shine on his memory!) and his portrayal of the dog catching the car. only the damage will require rather more than a trip to the car wash.

Tim H. said...

Something interesting at crooked timber.org:

https://crookedtimber.org/2023/03/08/burning-men/

A powerful story based on the failure of many of us to even try to transcend their "Inner ape".

corinne said...

I enjoyed this - thanks for sharing! Had my sci-fi book club read Existence last year, will have to share it along =)

Unknown said...

Larry,

It's a fair cop. I have to own that I trolled.

Is there an appropriate penance?

Had to look up sealioning as I am not aware of all internet traditions. Yeah, pretty accurate.

If privation and hardship makes a society's members strong, then Sparta would have ruled all Greece. In fact, they never even ruled the entire Peloponnese. But they sure did love their own myth.

Pappenheimer

Larry Hart said...

Pappenheimer:

Is there an appropriate penance?


I don't know. I'm not Catholic. I only give up things for Lent as an endurance test.


Had to look up sealioning


I only learned what that was on this blog, several years ago. Sorry, I assume that everyone else is more intimate with internet culture than I am. Just like I assumed that everyone else was already aware of SNL's "David Pumpkins" before I was, but I ended up introducing it to everyone at work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rS00xWnqwvI

scidata said...

Re: sealioning
There is an effort afoot to blunt the tip of the Enlightenment spear using sealioning to distract people from their good work.

Alfred Differ said...

Tony Fisk,

Hogfather is my family's go-to Christmas movie. The story is fun to watch and the wizards do their cringe-worthy comedy right on schedule, but those all-caps lines at the end get me every time. Will the sun rise again? Heh.


Pappenheimer,

Amber stories should be well within reach nowadays.
How long before Disney buys them up to extend them? (Heh.)

too much power

I generally agree, but it's worth remembering one critical fact. There are very few peasants left in the world. The Great Enrichment hit almost everyone and is working its way down to the last 10% of humanity RIGHT NOW.

Back up several centuries and represent a peasant's real income with three copper coins. Most of those 'coins' would not actually exist because peasants traded tasks with each other in a way that wasn't always monetized. Husbands and wives rarely monetize what they do for each other either. IF it all had to be monetized, though, we represent it with three coins.

The average human alive today sees a daily real income about 16X larger. That's 48 coins. That's a conservative estimate that doesn't account much for quality improvements.

The average USian sees a daily real income around 100X larger. That's 300 coins. Daily. Same conservative estimate not accounting for quality. If we try to account for quality, it is somewhere between 300X and 1000X.

ALL arguments that money corrupts had better be phrased as 'relative income or wealth' or I immediately reject them. I'm not quite the average American, but I'm not far off in terms of salary. Compared to classical peasants, though, I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy and riches pour in ever stinkin' day.


Wealth is far more distributed than people realize. Including people like Piketty. Every one of us with an education has capital crammed into our heads. Arguments suggesting that can't be counted because it can't be sold fall flat with me. That capital alters your life options. Access to education is THE reason why there are so few peasants left on Earth.

———

…restrict the vote to wealthy landowners…

I've seen those arguments. The only one that made any sense to me was a restriction that ensured the franchise was held by people who were not beholden to anyone. That means people who are financially independent. You can work for someone else to acquire income, but if you HAVE to work… you aren't really independent enough to make good choices around protecting Liberty.

I get that argument, but it's way too late to advocate for it. Blood would gush down the streets if any significant effort was made in that direction. We are far more likely to survive as a civilization if we work (instead) on getting a larger fraction of us to be financially independent.

We lifted the peasantry.
Time to lift the petite bourgeoisie.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

ALL arguments that money corrupts had better be phrased as 'relative income or wealth' or I immediately reject them.


Money in and of itself doesn't corrupt. It corrupts the possessor when he is able to buy himself special privileges and exemptions from law and decorum. And it corrupts the recipient when the lure of money supersedes ethical or other practical considerations.

Larry Hart said...


The only one that made any sense to me was a restriction that ensured the franchise was held by people who were not beholden to anyone. That means people who are financially independent. You can work for someone else to acquire income, but if you HAVE to work… you aren't really independent enough to make good choices around protecting Liberty.


While I can see the point, I don't agree. I've heard the argument that workers are forced to vote the way their employers demand, but in my lifetime, I have yet to see a mechanism translating that into reality. And while the financially independent may be free to decide what is best for them, their class represents so little of the population that the suggestion represents a different sort of tyranny for most citizens, akin to the notion that American colonial interests were represented in Parliament by English lords, because the colonists were themselves English subjects. Or that decisions about commercial airline practices are best decided by those who are wealthy enough to fly in private jets.


Compared to classical peasants, though, I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy and riches pour in ever stinkin' day.


Here, I agree fully. And it helps when I'm in an "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do," mood (what my daughter calls "First world problems") to remember how most of humanity has lived through most of history.

I recently read an item--maybe it was here, I don't recall now--referring to 1690s France, and how despite the wealth of the kingdom, poor King Louis still had to deal with ice forming on the glassware at Versailles in the freezing weather. No amount of gold and jewels could keep a castle warm in that time and place.

A Nebraska native on the old Cerebus list liked to tell the story--I have no idea if it is apocryphal or not--that when statehood was coming for Nebraska, a commission of sorts toured different cities to decide where the capital would be located. One town, I don't recall which, apparently went to great lengths to preserve ice in caves since winter in order to present the travelling commission with a gift of ice cream--a luxury unheard of in summer. Supposedly, the commission rejected that city on the grounds that it would be an unethical quid-pro-quo for such an extravagant gift. Whereas, nowadays, I can get a double scoop at Baskin Robbins for less than two dollars and not even think twice about it.

Unknown said...

Alfred,

While I strongly agree that education is key to flattening a society, the sine qua non to the demise of peasantry...

rewrite...

the demise of the status of peasant for a bulk of humanity...

Is energy. Specifically, concentrated energy sources that supersede manual labor. Pretty sure Marx in right about this part at least.

I doubt we're really disagreeing about much. Just pointing out the basics.

Pappenheimer

Unknown said...

Larry,

Interesting point about ice cream - the ancient Roman and Persian elite didn't have to truck in ice from distant mountains, and figured out how to produce it nearby, without refrigeration. Still very labor-intensive, no ice cream for the commoners.

Pappenheimer

Oger said...

Re: Roman culinary habits:
What intrigued me that Romans made extensive use of garum, a spicy sauce of fermented fish. Sometimes, they drowned their meals in it to take away the original taste of their foods.
Like, Ketchup.
Rhyming History.

Unknown said...

Alfred,

Did a quick dive -

https://variety.com/2023/tv/news/stephen-colbert-chronicles-of-amber-tv-series-adaptation-1235492097/

"Stephen Colbert to Produce ‘Chronicles of Amber’ TV Series Adaptation" as of 1/17/23

Pappenheimer

P.S. Apparently Colbert is a giant nerd.



A.F. Rey said...

As a further aside, the screenplay the CIA actually used to rescue the hostages from Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crises was not titled "Argo" (as the movie says), but "The Lord of Light," which is the title of the first book of the Chronicles of Amber. :)

I wonder if Zelanzy ever knew?

Unknown said...

A.F.,

Gonna show my nerd cred here, but it's "9 Princes in Amber". "Lord of Light" might refer to a different Zelazny novel based on the Hindu mythos and a guy named Sam.

Pappenheimer

A.F. Rey said...

Darn, I could've sworn it was an Amber novel. :( At least it was by Zelanzy.

I guess I'll have to send back my nerd membership card. :(

Thanks for the correction, Pappenheimer.

matthew said...

Man, I miss Zelazny. What an incredible writer. Never met him but I had multiple mutual acquaintances. In addition to Amber and Lord of Light, he also gets a lot of the credit for what became cyberpunk with Damnation Alley.

Unknown said...

So do I. Was in Albuquerque (Kirtland AFB) when he died (he lived in Santa Fe) and when I heard about it I cursed myself for never having tried to meet him at a local event. Some of what he wrote now reads as dated or out of fashion, but when he was good he was very very good. And Amber is, as it should be, timeless.

Pappenheimer

matthew said...

Alfred says, "I happen to like you, but I think if you had your hands on the tiller, you'd sail us straight onto a reef and then blame everyone but yourself for our civilization cracking up."

I do agree with the first part here because I think anyONE with their hand on the tiller will sail us straight onto the reef. I also think that 5000 cheating, gamifying billionaires is a bad idea to have hands on the tiller, and that is where we are right now.

Go back to Dr. Brin's riff on competition / cooperation. Our markets need both things. Billionaire power to change the rules of the game to suit themselves is why markets must keep evolving in order to stay out of stagnation and hereditary rule. Toxic concentrations of power destroy opportunities, either through amassing wealth in the case of capitalism, or by commissar fiat in communism.

I'm open to other ideas than progressive taxation to blunt the power of billionaires. Commissars tend to die of sudden violence, for instance, as a braking mechanism. Dynastic dominant sports teams get broken up, or stars moved onto other teams. I'm sure even potlatch cultures had a mechanism to keep the same family from accelerating gift-giving.

If for libertarian reasons, you don't like progressive taxation, then, what do you suggest that would also work well? It looks to me like we are headed toward a lot of guillotine action to reduce the number of billionaires. I'd rather tax em than kill em all, though.

So, Alfred, what is your solution to the toxic concentration of power represented by 5000 billionaires? What is more humane and effective than simply making each subsequent billion harder to achieve?


matthew said...

Pappenheimer, you and I were in Albq at the same time. If you ran around in nerd circles back then chances are very good that we have met IRL.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred does not think that anybody should be steering

Because nobody knows exactly what will happen with each movement of the wheel

Personally I like the idea of some people "steering" --- WITH FEEDBACK!! so when it starts to go pear shaped we can correct thyings

Unknown said...

Duncan,

I've read that the phrase "go pear shaped" refers to the path of an aircraft trying to perform a loop without the pilot in full control. So, apropos.

Matthew,

Maybe. I was a young airperson at the time with wife and son, so churchmouse-level finances and didn't get out much. SCA and a few gaming sessions. I remember hearing that Stephen Donaldson had decided to pay for the local PBS station to continue running Dr. Who out of his own pocket.

Pappenheimer

Unknown said...

Going off to SCA fencing soon, so - returning to Amber, I read that Zelazny got some of his inspiration from medieval mystery plays where the same characters show up in different plays time and again - and then I found this from the same time period...

https://www.luc.edu/medieval/labyrinths/chartres.shtml

Pappenheimer

David Brin said...

Matthew can swerve and show real understanding: ‘Go back to Dr. Brin's riff on competition / cooperation. Our markets need both things. Billionaire power to change the rules of the game to suit themselves is why markets must keep evolving in order to stay out of stagnation and hereditary rule. Toxic concentrations of power destroy opportunities, either through amassing wealth in the case of capitalism, or by commissar fiat in communism.” And his understanding of the fierce competitiveness of potlatch societies,

Yes, it is the power to surround yourself with real or symbolic concubines, flatterers and even real reproductive success (tho how many are like Elon there? Not Kim Jong Un it seems) that propels cheaters… and even just the drive to win more.

Tim H. said...

https://www.npr.org/2023/03/09/1162113102/mitch-mcconnell-hospitalized-after-fall

First thought "Karma's a rich". Second thought "I'm sure The Frantics" didn't intend "Boot To The Head" to be taken so literally.

Alfred Differ said...

matthew,

You help us all make clear to those too new around here to know how we do this without descent into snarls. Finding where we DO have things in common is perfect. Thank you.

AnyONE with their hand on the tiller will sail us straight onto the reef. Indeed!
5000 cheating billionaires ruling the tiller is a bad idea. Indeed!

…and that is where we are right now.

Oops. No. That's where you all FEAR we are. I respectfully disagree, but I would be solidly on your side IF I agreed that is where we are.
I don't expect I'll convince we aren't there, but I think I CAN show why I'm more optimistic.

———

First up is the issue of how many there are and where they are.

The current number is about 3000. (Depends whose list you read.)
About 25% live in the US.
Almost as many live in China? Maybe. Might be only half as many. Depends how you count.
Germany and India come in ~5% each.
UK and Switzerland somewhere between 3-4% each.
Russia had around 3%, but the war is probably changing that.
Brazil and Canada come in above 2%, but not by much.
Everyone else has less.
Many have one or none.

But wealth can change rapidly among the richest if they are far from diversified. Musk is an example of such a person. Tesla has a bad day in the market and his total wealth oscillates with it. I'm not going to use this as an argument for counting or not counting people or creating relative measures. I'm doing it to accept your 5000 as a likely overestimate that isn't too far off to cause me to pick at nits.

What's most interesting about lists of billionaires is they show the "single hand on the tiller" effect in nations with very few billionaires. If I win a big lottery this year I might become a billionaire, but as a US resident my affect on the tiller will be muted by the hundreds of other billionaires who live here. I suppose I could move to Costa Rica like my brother-in-law has… but they have experience dealing with rich Americans who think they can take over. It's been tried and led to turmoil… which US corporations might find problematic. Or not.

In nations with few billionaires, I'd be most inclined to side with someone like you. However, those nations have so few because they matter so little in world markets.* That MIGHT be the result of the local billionaires, but it's more likely the result of a colonial history only recently shed.

What to do for the people in these nations? Help them to join the Enlightenment Civilization. Go AROUND their local billionaire who is hopelessly outmatched with the American People get the bit between their teeth.

——— (to be continued)

Alfred Differ said...

matthew, (continuing)

Second up, I'm not completely opposed to taxation. I get the Libertarian argument for how it is a form of theft, but I'm not going to fight a society over it since we are vastly outnumbered. I'd rather persuade you to use your purloined money wisely to lift people's awareness that they aren't powerless, drowning rats trapped in a rain barrel during a storm!

Consider a world where there are 5000 billionaires with roughly 1250 living in the US.
1. They are within our reach.
2. We vastly outnumber them in the markets.

Don't like what one of them does? Cut him off at the knees not by stealing his money but by altering the appeal his products and vision have. You already know how to do this and are actively campaigning against Musk. Though I think you are wrong about him in important ways, keep it up. That power of yours is effective AND doesn't steal his money only to put it in the hands of certain Congressional Vermin.

———

In summary, you can diminish the wealth of a billionaire that is 1) within your reach and 2) outnumbered by the market power of people like you.

(Don't tell me that doesn't work because I've seen first hand how it does.)

You and your friends are not powerless, drowning rats trapped in the barrel.
You do not need to descend to theft and hatred to attenuate the power of people you think are moral cheats.
But ultimately, don't ask me to accept an approach that smacks of "ends justify the means." They NEVER do.


* I know this statement fails in nations that are still effectively colonies. Puppet Republics aren't owned only by governments.

(hmmm. This footnote belongs on the post above I think.)

David Brin said...

Alfred & I usually agree. Not today, History shows how easy it is for oligarchs to forma a cabal, cheat together and then form an inherited artistocracy. And history shows how unutterably stoopid such ruling castes have generally been, surrounding themselves with "you're a genius!" flatterers... a recipe for hell, proved across 6000 years.

Competition must be regulated, ideally toward flatness/fairness and positive sum encouragement of daring, creative, productive ventures and some risk.

Such regulation can be LIGHTER is they operate in transparency, so that bad trends or deeds are quickly spotted by customers, shareholders, the public and market forces then do much of the correction without bureaucratic excess (which I am libertarian enough to admit happens!)

Ideal would be my Treaty for Universal Ownership Transparency - TUOT. The tax etc rules might still be unfair. but at least oligarchs would have to obey those rules.

And the one form of taxation that's absolutely vital for civilization is on inherited wealth. The scions did none of the things that earned (in a market) the wealth. Dad or Mom should get to know Junior will never starve or lack a bed. Okay, a bit more.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred
You say that you don't trust the billionaires to steer the ship (I don't either)

But when I suggest ANY change at all your response is to say NO! - no "tuning the engine" because we don't know exactly what will happen

We have to steer the ship or tune the engine when we can clearly see it going wrong!

And if we have to say "oops" and move the lever the other way - that's life

Alfred Differ said...

We aren't so far apart. I accept that some regulation is necessary if only to stop Matthew and friends from arbitrary execution by tumbrel. Seriously. I get that people cheat and don't mind regulating against KNOWN cheating methods.

A big part of why I want transparency, though, is I believe we advocates of the enlightenment are far more powerful than most understand. History is full of cheats arranging the rules so their sons rule, but now it also has exemplars for teaching how to beat these fools.

When it comes to inheritance taxes I have to partially part ways. I get the point, but I think that is an unwinnable fight for the foreseeable future. You'd be asking humans to be something other than humans. That's how big I think the fight is. You won't just get people opposing you. You'll get the usually apathetic/distracted middle protecting them.

I think the way out of this trap is to keep moving toward a world not driven by scarcity economics for the basic things we need to live. Drive away scarcity further and further up Maslow's pyramid of needs. Do that and I don't think there will be a need for the fight. (We are already moving in that direction.)

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

Your suggested changes when coupled with a belief that you are tuning anything is what provokes my response. I reject the notion that you are tuning... anything... because you can't possible know.

You BELIEVE you are tuning and engine-like thing, but that metaphor is dangerous. What you are doing is evolving an ecosystem and you really have no clue what will or won't work until long after you've twiddled a knob or killed a monster. Even then you still don't know much more than "I prefer this to that."

I'm not opposed to you trying to make things better, but be very careful about getting too many of us correlated with you. Ecosystem survival depends on diversity. In this case, we actually NEED the cheaters the same way mammals need parasites. Cheaters exploit. We adapt.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred
The larger and more diverse the ecosystem the better it can cope with change

To some extent the US states were expected to be individual "experiments" in societies - the problem (as you identify) is identifying "what is better"

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

You are assuming resiliency. I won't. Black Swans exist and we won't see them coming. (The development of photosynthesis almost killed off all life on Earth. More than once.)

What we need is anti-fragility. Enlightenment Civ is actually pretty good at that, but we need even-gooder. In that, a dash of humility helps.

------

Our Framers got exactly the experiments they hoped to create. Most of the 'law' affecting any single one of us (about 90%) is State Law. We fret and moan about what the feds do because they have so much more money, but the vast majority of the regulation that impacts us is much more local.

The experiment didn't turn out as some of them hoped, though. We developed factions because anarchy is inherently unstable in communities where humans can persuade each other. The only thing unpredictable about our factions is how large they get and they really should have known that. The fact that some of them pick up guns and shoot the others occasionally should surprise no one.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

And the one form of taxation that's absolutely vital for civilization is on inherited wealth. The scions did none of the things that earned (in a market) the wealth. Dad or Mom should get to know Junior will never starve or lack a bed. Okay, a bit more.


I can see both sides of this. Junior didn't earn his wealth, but Dad and Mon did, and they should get to do with it as they will, even if that means favoring offspring. While they are alive.

Maybe money should be treated as water was in the Fremen tribes. The body belongs to the individuals, but their water belongs to the tribe.

There is a practical justification for allowing some level of inheritance. If we don't, then the wealthy will have even more incentive to cheat and evade. If society allows them enough latitude to take care of their descendants, then maybe they'll agree with the rest of it.

reason said...

Larry Hart,
Nobody is talking about inheritance taxes being confiscatory. In Germany they tax inheritances (not estates) and you don't pay tax on the first 400,000. In the case of gifts the first 400,000 is also tax free - but it will reduce the tax free limit for inheritances (except the amount of reduction is reduced by 10% every year). Also the family home is tax free with a strange condition that the inheritor has to live in it for 10 years. That condition is just weird.

Larry Hart said...

I said:

Maybe money should be treated as water was in the Fremen tribes. The body belongs to the individuals, but their water belongs to the tribe.


If it wasn't clear, I meant after the wealth-earner has died.

Larry Hart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/10/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-iran-reestablish-ties.html

Saudi Arabia and Iran Agree to Re-establish Ties in Major Regional Shift


As my grandmother would say, "Is this good or bad for the Jews?"

scidata said...

I'm sometimes called a Pollyanna because I think cheaters can be turned. There's more wiggle room in a human mind than simple genetics or caste patterns allow. We're not bacteria.

matthew said...

Alfred says, "Ecosystem survival depends on diversity. In this case, we actually NEED the cheaters the same way mammals need parasites. Cheaters exploit. We adapt."
It might not surprise you to hear that I agree with you wholeheartedly here. I do not think we are anywhere near getting rid of cheaters, though, and I have great faith in the tendancy of humans to make more.

You also put a finger on where we disagree. I think oligarch billionaire wealth is a clear and present existential threat, at least to the concept of a free society. And, more and more plausibly an existential threat, period.

PS, Basing your argument on the number of billionaires per nation is a bad move, imo. Billionaires are seldom hemmed in by niceties such as their own citizenship. See: Russian oligarchs and ownership of English soccer teams for a good example. Another is the number of foreign donors to the GOP.

scidata said...

A lot of thought that's at least tangentially related to computational psychohistory can be found in the Digital Humanism project. Here's a (long) talk by Cory Doctorow this week about 'Shitification', his term for how social platforms destroyed the internet and are now sucking the life out of all of us (consumers, businesses, and creators). He advocates a sort of neo-Luddite movement in response.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eu1_sGedm4


Larry Hart said...

Pleasantly surprised to see that Animal House is currently available on Netflix, and it's not any kind of edited "safe" version. Not even a trigger warning at the start.

Maybe society isn't doomed after all.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

The body belongs to the individuals, but their water belongs to the tribe.

Ugh. No thanks. That's one of the things I strongly disliked about the Fremen. I get why Herbert wrote them that way, but I'm an individualist. The Fremen under such a rule were screwing themselves.

If we are going to steal inheritances, don't go half way. Own your ethical choice. Steal it or don't. Be a thief…or don't.

The obvious game parents would play in a 'full steal' world is to ensure they die with nothing that could possibly go through probate.

———

scidata,

We're not bacteria.

There is nothing Polyannish about it. Cheaters serve a legit role in our markets. It's an odd thing to actually see, but it works. Markets tend to put selfish purposes to work serving a broad community. Even in people we wouldn't say are overtly selfish, their personal motives wind up serving broader groups.

This is what the market 'engine' does. Unaligned selfish goals are coordinated and do actual work. There is an obvious thermodynamic analogy here for those who know how thermo works. It's astonishing (to me) how markets do this.

———

matthew,

It might not surprise you to hear that I agree with you wholeheartedly here.

Heh. I had my soapbox ready and an entire sermon prepared on the biological role played by vermin and the market analogy that uses Adam Smith's invisible hand properly. Ah well. Maybe some other day. 8)

It's not that we will run out of cheaters, though. We don't all agree on what constitutes cheating. When we get 90%+ agreeing to call a particular behavior a cheat, it's pretty easy to enforce rules against the cheaters. When support drops below 80%, though, it becomes damn difficult. The actual cheaters don't constitute 20%+, but they are often defended by that slice of society. Prohibition failed long before its repeal because the actual cheaters were defended by people who no longer supported it.

I hope it doesn't surprise you that I agree that oligarchs are a danger. I get how they cross borders with their money. OF COURSE they cross borders. A cheater looking to alter rules to favor their offspring isn't going to spend much in the corners of the world where they can do so easily. Most of their effort will be applied against rule systems where actual power resides. Still… they'll own their corners of the world before tackling ours.

Sure. They are dangerous, but so are you and your allies. Far more dangerous than you are admitting here. If you want to go after the oligarchs, I might lend my support. Just DON'T put your hand on the tiller. Use your market powers.

You and I might agree to go after particular rich guys using market powers, though we won't be 100% aligned. We likely won't agree on which way to sail the boat. You see… I want guys like you to be richer so you grok the real problem. It's not the money. It's what one believes can be done with it.

Der Oger said...

@reason:
Nobody is talking about inheritance taxes being confiscatory. In Germany they tax inheritances (not estates) and you don't pay tax on the first 400,000. In the case of gifts the first 400,000 is also tax free - but it will reduce the tax free limit for inheritances (except the amount of reduction is reduced by 10% every year). Also the family home is tax free with a strange condition that the inheritor has to live in it for 10 years. That condition is just weird.

I believe that regulation was made in part to spare the survivor of a couple the taxes, as they would most likely inhabit the estate after their husband's or wife's death.

scidata said...

Correction: Doctorow's term is 'enshittification'.

I was asked if the SELDON I project had any exposure to the Silicon Gulch Bank implosion. I answered no, the only exposure to the markets is the spot price of coffee.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"The body belongs to the individuals, but their water belongs to the tribe."

Ugh. No thanks. That's one of the things I strongly disliked about the Fremen. I get why Herbert wrote them that way, but I'm an individualist. The Fremen under such a rule were screwing themselves.

If we are going to steal inheritances, don't go half way. Own your ethical choice. Steal it or don't. Be a thief…or don't.


Why isn't someone who walls off something of the commons into their own private property "stealing" every bit as much as is the society that takes a portion of it back after the individual has no earthly use for it?

I understand the libertarian POV that everything either belongs to an individual or is up for grabs to an individual who claims it irrevocably. It forces me to point out the opposite view--that everything belonged to the commons until it was loaned to an individual who is able to add value to it. I'm ok with much of that added value accruing to the individual who developed it, but some is owed back as rent or taxes to the commons which loaned the property out and took the risk of losing all value altogether.

To me, the devil is in the details to work out what the percentage of tax/rent is fair. I'm not claiming 100%, but I won't let you (or Ayn Rand) get away with claiming 0% either. And calling it "stealing" is just incendiary. Does a landlord "steal" from his tenants? Does a bank "steal" the interest it demands for a loan? Does an author "steal" when he makes use of characters long in the public domain?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

This is what the market 'engine' does. Unaligned selfish goals are coordinated and do actual work. There is an obvious thermodynamic analogy here for those who know how thermo works. It's astonishing (to me) how markets do this.


You usually insist loudly that society has nothing in common with an engine. Aren't the people you argue with about that saying something very much like what I just quoted?

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

I believe that regulation was made in part to spare the survivor of a couple the taxes, as they would most likely inhabit the estate after their husband's or wife's death.


I don't know German law, but I'm old school enough to argue that a husband and wife own property in common (prenups duly noted as exceptions), and that a wife keeping the house after her husband passes away is not an inheritance--that is, it is not a transfer of wealth from one party to another--and so no taxation should be applied at that moment.

Larry Hart said...

scidata:

Doctorow's term is 'enshittification'.


You're getting into "inbreathiate" territory there.:)

matthew said...

Very pertinent to interests here:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/10/colorado-catholic-group-identify-priests-gay-apps

Two Catholic extremist groups spent $4mil to buy tracking data from brokers that showed members of the clergy using gay hookup sites. The data was then given to an association of US bishops.

Not mentioned in the article is the absence of regulation of data brokers selling app data that is presumed private.
Transparency for the rich but not the rest of us. Also, see Elon's jet bot tracker.

Same as it ever was.

Until we change it.

Unknown said...

Alfred,

Bloody well right the Fremen were not individualists. They lived / will live on a world that would kill individualists swiftly. It's a bit ironic that Earth's global civilization that has been built collectively - through codes of law that replaced the old blood feuds and systems of taxation and redistribution that diverted food to areas devastated by drought or other natural disaster - has allowed we humans the luxury to act like individualists.

Pappenheimer

Unknown said...

Of course, that same civilization gives me the retirement income to sit at my computer and snark at them, so I guess it's not all good.

Pappenheimer

David Brin said...


Interesting channel. This time about various kinds of Christian Churches : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDLpBOZQcaA

David Brin said...

‘The experiment didn't turn out as some of them hoped, though.’ Alas reds refuse to face the fact – and blues stupidly don’t point out – that red-run states except Utah average higher in every turpitude, including tax parasitism.

--
If you want ultimate libertarians, see my story MARS OPPOSITION

David Brin said...

THis absurd notion is - alas - exactly what Putin clearly wants to bring about. The most insane thing - just about - is thousands of "ex" commissars who grew up reciting paeans to Lenin now erecting statues and waving escutcheons of the Romanovs who Lenin slaughtered.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMj08bfbi-g

Alan Brooks said...

It did seem in Dec ‘91 that the dissolution of the Soviet Union heralded improvement. A real historian would know such was merely the start of an interregnum.
I waxed all squishy optimism to a German two years before the dissolution; he replied “so what? The Fall of the Vall means nothink”
He’d seen it all before.

Did you ever consider that George Will might be blackmailed? Ten days ago his
‘Biden and Schumer Lead the Progressive Charge Against Stock Buybacks’ was published (though I did not read it.)
Surely Will doesn’t want to lose too many readers, nor make too many enemies on the Right.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

Why isn't someone who walls off something of the commons…

That's not an unfair argument… if the property goes undeveloped. Once it is improved enough to support more people than it would in an undeveloped state I'm inclined to recognize a person's claim to ownership.

I'm not a big fan of the pure libertarian argument mostly because it can be described as you did without you being unfair. I don't think it is a good description, but it isn't unfair. I'd quibble about 'irrevocable' because we typically recognize ownership change brought about by a variety of events ranging from voluntary to involuntary. I'd also point out the huge difference between making a claim (to a right) and everyone else actually recognizing it. My property claims aren't worth squat if they aren't supported.

I think the alternative description you offer is a recipe for the return of kings. No ONE loans anything in the Commons. What actually happens is people recognize a claim… or don't. Once you get that loan belief in your head, you are vulnerable to someone standing up and offering to defend it… with force if necessary. Yada, yada, presto! You've started building a coercive force that was the likely seed behind every king who ever lived.

And calling it "stealing" is just incendiary.

Purposely so. The point we make should tip you off to how disturbed we are about what the rest of you do. I'm relatively calm and don't fully agree with most libertarians on taxation issues… but I see their point. I'm less calm about taxes levied against a problem that isn't going to be fixed by taxation. Y'all are fooling yourselves at best. At worst, you are engaging in 'feel good' behavior that actually feeds VAST sums of money to your policy adversaries. Remember… Your side loses elections occasionally.

As for your questions about what constitutes stealing I'll point out that I've never rented a place without signing a contract. I've never borrowed money without it being voluntary. I've also voluntarily paid my taxes… because the option involves a risk of losing everything and jail time. Do those sound the same to you?

———

You usually insist loudly that society has nothing in common with an engine.

I haven't changed here. I'm recognizing that it sure-as-heck looks like an engine. It isn't, though.

This is about the same mental error that Intelligent Design folks make when they fail to imagine how evolution has produced ratchets even though there are non-biological examples of state-change probability bias all around us.

Fit two pieces of wood together with screws. Cinch them down tight. Now vibrate the system for a long time. Unless you've taken other steps, the screws will fall out and the pieces will fall apart. Just wait long enough.

David Brin said...

"Did you ever consider that George Will might be blackmailed? "

Sure. though he's also desperate to keeping sitting at the cool kids' table and not get lumped with the 'nerds" they are planning to destroy.

Alfred Differ said...

Pappenheimer,

Earth's global civilization that has been built collectively...

Enlightenment Civ has been built by markets of various types on the graves of Princes and Priests. It is collective action designed and led by nobody*. We emerged.

Yah. The Fremen couldn't risk being individualists. They'd have been dead individualists. I live on a water planet, though. Closest I've come to that kind of aridity is NW Nevada. The relative humidity was typically below 2%, but if you were willing to dig a bit you found vast lakes of mud.


*Political representatives in our liberal democracies almost always follow where we are already going. Almost has to happen that way since many of us are literally unruly.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred
"Stealing"

Lets go to something non physical - an invention - a patent

I invented that!
But what I actually did was add an incredibly thin veneer of new ideas to the HUGE number of developments done by my predecessors

"My Invention" is useless without that massive structure

Growing food - again all farmers are using the fruits of other peoples labour over the last few thousand years

Writing a book
Needs all of the underpinnings of language and history

Digging a hole - the tools used all represent thousands of years of development

No matter what you do you are using the tools created over thousands of years

So how can you "OWN" the fruits of your labour or the part of the "commons" that you have (slightly) improved??

As far as "fair ownership" is concerned you can't own anything

So we (Society) permit you to "own" far far more than is "fair" - which I approve of as it makes the engine work better

My arguments about "ownership" and taxes are based on the pragmatic - WHAT will advance society and help people"

Talking about "ownership" and "stealing" is just WRONG

Alan Brooks said...

DB,
isn’t that a form of unspoken blackmail?; and possibly Will has voiced opinions in private that were rejected, with hints of threat.
Also he’ll be 82 soon and looking towards what might happen to his family when he’s gone. I grew up in a Cosa Nostra area; the “boys” in a friendly way would list the neighborhoods some of our relatives lived in. “We know a few of them, they’re nice people.”
They said they would give our brother a job transporting guns to DC.

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

You won't convince me of much with arguments that essentially say my contribution to change is a tiny one compared to all that I require to get there. THAT'S a given. I also think it is largely irrelevant.

I CAN own my contribution IF others tolerate my claim.
I CAN monopolize my contribution IF others defend it.

It doesn't matter how big or small it is.
What matters is what the rest of you are willing to do to incentivize me to:

A) Do it at all,
B) Speak openly of it so others can learn (easily) what I created.

You need both, so you need to consider what you'll tolerate from innovators. When it comes to getting people like me to innovate, you must be prepared to recognize our ownership claims. If you aren't you risk us doing the opposite of what you need.

a) Not doing it,
b) Doing it in the dark where you have to play negative sum games to get at it AND defend yourself from the consequences of our acts.

———

A society that does not recognize private ownership is not liberal. Such a society is not part of our Enlightenment Civilization.

Alan Brooks said...

...the two greatest things in life
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pAQXDstXAZQ

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred Differ,

I'm not going to pick your rebuttal apart piece by piece, because we're not as far apart as it sounds. I mostly push back when you seem to have gone just too far in the libertarian direction, and my replies are sometimes as intentionally incendiary as yours are, not because I'm actually arguing for the extreme opposite, but to see if there's a center we can find common ground in. I'll see your "taxation is theft" and raise with "property is theft", whereas I don't believe either of those as an absolute. I'm usually saying something like, "Well, this argument seems just as valid as the one you made."

A few specifics, though:

As for your questions about what constitutes stealing I'll point out that I've never rented a place without signing a contract. I've never borrowed money without it being voluntary. I've also voluntarily paid my taxes… because the option involves a risk of losing everything and jail time. Do those sound the same to you?


You've never rented a specific place without a contract, but unless you were willing to live homeless on the streets, I'll wager the alternative to failing to rent any place at all were at least as threatening as jail time. So you were free to choose among landlords, but (at the time) you couldn't do without had you disliked all of their conditions. How different is that from the notion that you pay your dues to live as part of this civilization or else go find another one you like better?


No ONE loans anything in the Commons. What actually happens is people recognize a claim… or don't. Once you get that loan belief in your head, you are vulnerable to someone standing up and offering to defend it… with force if necessary.


That was meant as an analogy rather than an exact description of how I think property works. The analogy is meant to explore just why the concept of private property makes sense at all. To me, it is because it incentivizes individuals to produce more value than would exist in a state of nature. Which is only a social good thing if some of that value remains in the commons, even as some of it must remain private for the incentive to work.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

*Political representatives in our liberal democracies almost always follow where we are already going. Almost has to happen that way since many of us are literally unruly.


That's a feature, not a bug. In theory at least, we elect representatives to advocate for what we want, not to tell us what to do. The voters who expect a democratically elected officeholder to enact his own agenda are closet authoritarians.

Der Oger said...

@ Alfred Differ:
A society that does not recognize private ownership is not liberal. Such a society is not part of our Enlightenment Civilization.

Oh.
Then let's talk about how our Enlightment Civilization reacts to property withhold, denied, tricked out of or just taken away from people with the "wrong" skin colour, love life or religious beliefs.

Just a quick self-test:
How would people react if, in your direct neighborhood, someone used his ways and means to acquire property to erect ...

a) A mass refugee housing center;
b) A nuclear waste storage facility;
c) A chemical industry plant;
d) A golf course (and thereby eradicating a sizable portion of pristine natural land);
e) A large scale social housing project;
f) An abortion clinic;
g) An LGBT center, especially one aiding youths and adolescents;
h) A sizable, visible mosque

One should investigate and do research on how fast online and RL mobs with torches and pitchforks form after the public announcements are made./sarc

But more seriously: Neither Capitalism, Gecko-Style, nor Socialism, Stalin-Style, are trademarks of a particularly enlighted society. I see it more in a society that cherishes compromises and tries to avoid the worst of both worlds.

@ Larry Hart:
I don't know German law, but I'm old school enough to argue that a husband and wife own property in common (prenups duly noted as exceptions), and that a wife keeping the house after her husband passes away is not an inheritance--that is, it is not a transfer of wealth from one party to another--and so no taxation should be applied at that moment.

No, as far as I understand it, everyone of the inheritors gains a tax-free amount of inheritance. Widowers and Widows just gain the largest amount (500.000€), children 400K, grandchildren and grandparents 200K, and everyone else 20K. Tax Rate is at 40%.

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

No, as far as I understand it, everyone of the inheritors gains a tax-free amount of inheritance. Widowers and Widows just gain the largest amount (500.000€),


I'm not arguing that you're wrong about the way the law works, especially in your country, but it does clash with my notion of what marriage actually is.

Do you know...if the wife dies first, does the surviving husband also pay inheritance taxes (above the initial amount)? Or is there a built-in presumption that the man is the true owner of the property while he lives?

Der Oger said...

Do you know...if the wife dies first, does the surviving husband also pay inheritance taxes (above the initial amount)? Or is there a built-in presumption that the man is the true owner of the property while he lives?

Just looked up the law, and, as long as the survivor lives in the property for at least ten years, it remains tax-free, as the user reason mentioned. If he moves away, he has to pay the tax (reduced by every additional year by 10%).

BTW, your inheritance also goes tax-free if you are happen to be a church or political party :-)

Larry Hart said...

Der Oger:

BTW, your inheritance also goes tax-free if you are happen to be a church or political party :-)


Before same-sex marriage was recognized in the US, I used to think gay couples should each incorporate themselves and then merge. Legally, it would accomplish the same thing as marriage. Almost, anyway.

matthew said...

I don't spend much time here rooting for those that I agree with (too much boosterism ruins a discussion), but Larry is on a roll here.
"You've never rented a specific place without a contract, but unless you were willing to live homeless on the streets, I'll wager the alternative to failing to rent any place at all were at least as threatening as jail time," Thanks Larry for that lovely bit of clarity.

matthew said...

Schadenfreude watching a bunch of libertarian techbros suddenly begging for government intervention in the Silicon Valley Bank collapse.

Peter Thiel played a large part in the collapse:
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/thiel-founders-fund-withdrew-millions-005223894.html

The pertinent question for criminal investigators, was the bank stock shorted before PT pulled his money out?

Alan Brooks said...

Problem is, as one of the ‘boys’—and not a ‘member’ (a ‘Big Boy’) but an employee—said:
“Snitches get their ass whupped.”
No ambiguity there. A whistleblower thinks twice before blowing a whistle.

David Brin said...

I am often non-ideological and driven by what has pragmatically worked at helping us escape 6000 years of repetitious horror.

One disaster mode has been regular mammalian male-reproductive strategy manifesting as inherited aristocracy and feudalism. DUh. And I am gonna err toward fighting that trap. Including the simplistic 'antidote' of allocative socialism... which ALWAYS becomes simply another way for bossy males to do the same thing.

(As opposed to consensus-legislated tax-supported uplifting of all children to become confident competitors and protecting the environment and comons... the Good Socialism.)

Another is evading the Secrecy trap that meant innovators would hide their discoveries or methods as the only way to benefit from them. Anyone howling at Patent law must offer an alternative way to encourage rapid sharing of discoveries. And yeah, as always happens, CURRENT patent law is now used by tricky lawyer-empowered cheaters! Every generation must adapt to the maneuvers of cheaters.

duncan cairncross said...

Patent Law

Giving the "inventor" a limited period "Monopoly" on the use of his idea

Worked very very well - but today its faltering

(1) It gets abused to slow innovation
(2) The rewards flow to wrong people - which does NOT provide an incentive for the creator

I like the "X Prize" idea - instead of a "Monopoly" award a substantial cash prize

The "Monopoly" pays for itself with the extra tax money from the invention
A series of "X Prizes" could do the same

David Brin said...

Duncan I agree that prizes do offer an alternative. Obama - stymied by a GOP Congress - ordered ALL federal agencies to set up prizes to address problems. I serve on the XPrize advisory council and for NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC)

Now

onward

onward