When A is not equal to A...

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

Ayn Rand famously said that "A=A" and nothing else. Orwell famously spent a couple hundred pages railing against "Doublethink," which is basically believing that A is not equal to A. Heinlein spends several books going on about utilitarianism, and value being related to use and nothing else, and there are no values beyond those, excepting the ones he capriciously throws in. He's the intellectual lightweight of the batch, though, so we can forgive him his inconsistencies. Kiri-Kin-Tha's First Law of Metaphysics states that "Nothing unreal exists."

All of this is well and good, insofar as it goes, and all of it is a logical extrapolation of the very same Enlightenment Era Thinking that created our own republic. And yet I think they're missing the point. Rand's ideal world seems every bit as abhorent to me as Huxley's brave new world. In fact, really, they're the same place if you think about it. Zamayatin's "We" is just as much a shadow play without shadows as Rand or Huxley, though his vision is Communist. The Federation's view of utopia is not a place I'd care to live, even though it's obviously pretty nice. In fact, all these places are pretty nice, but all of them have the same basic failing, I think, which is the same as Winston Smith's Oceania in 1984, despite the fact that that place is pretty nasty, and Rand, Heinlein, and the rest come up with places that aren't nasty. And yet they are.

What's the failing? That these aren't societies, they're machines, and there is no place for humanity in them.

We see this in the real world, too: ground-up rebuilds and social engineering projects large and small, utopian communes or megastates, or heavily-re-engineered socioeconomic projects. The 20th century was *the* time for chucking out the old and trying the new, and in general these went really badly: the USSR, the PRC (up until 1992 or so), the Nazis, Fascism in general, eugenics, genocide. Of course the failures tend to mask a slow, steady improvement in much of the world. Yeah, the USSR failed and killed about 30 million people in the process, but the fact is that life *has* in fact gotten steadily better for people in much of the world in that same period, and *much* of that is based on the same kinds of re-engineering principles, though generally instituted from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down.

The curious thing about it is, of course, that *all* of these projects *should* have worked. Everything works on paper, but when you put people in the mix, it all stops working. Why? Even if you use good people - many of the early Communists were actually genuinely good people - it still fails. Why? Why, more do the point, did the social engineering projects of the 18th century generally succeed? I speak of our own republic, and the French one. Granted, the triumph of enlightenment republicanism in France was bloodier, but they had a lot more baggage to overcome than we did. There are other examples.

Why did it work in the 18th century and to a lesser extent in the 19th, and why did this same process *stop* working and fail so disastrously in the 20th?

My hunch, again, is that the Founding Fathers weren't interested in a masterpiece society, they simply wanted something that worked better than what they had. They weren't interested in creating heaven on earth, and in fact ignored a lot of obvious problems that later on would cost lives, and yet, in general, the US is the most successful social engineering project in history. So why doesn't this scale up to the 20th century examples?

I suspect it's because they *Were* trying to create a heaven on earth. They wanted to make society completely equitable, they wanted to change human nature by changing our socioeconomic status, and ignored the fact that human nature is human nature because it's natural. Attempts to change it are unnatural, and hence probably prone to failure, or at least a lot of stress.

Part of human nature, I think, is that A is never equal to A. My kid gives me an apple. It's simply an apple, but it means more to me because my kid gave it to me, or perhaps less becuase your kid threw it at me. These are emotional values unrelated to its physical worth, or its market cost. An apple is never simply an apple once a person sees it. Attempts by Rand and third-rate Rand Drag Queens like Heinlein attempt to portray a society of absolute objective values, and ignore the fact that where you have people, you have emotions and biases and whatnot, and objectivity goes out the window. Sorry: human nature. We've spent a century proving that.

We have *reason* to allow us to work around this to some extent, but reason is no more reliable than human nature on occasion. The Killing Fields in Cambodia seemed reasonable. The Cultural Revolution in China. Madness, but, again, it worked on paper. Papers, that, in retrospect, read much like "Atlas Shrugged" and "For Us the Living."

Orwell never seemed to grasp the concept that "Doublethink" is the natural state of the human mind. We all believe mutually exclusive things all the time. We believe that our country is the greatest in the world, but we bitch and moan constantly about how it's going down the tubes. We believe in true love, but we know it's just a hormonal trick to get us to reproduce. We Believe we're the center of the universe, and ignore the seven billion other centers of the universe. We believe in God despite no proof that would stand up in any court in the world.

None of these are bad things, none of these make us weak, in fact I think they're what make us strong. We are of two minds, a rational one: the one that comes up with social engineering projects and splits the atom, and an irrational one: the mindless savage who can barely figure out which end of the stick to stab the tiger with (hint: the pointy one). The saint and the rapist: that's all of us at every moment of every day, at least in potential. Those are our extremes, those are the halves of our brain arguing it out, and us, we, ourselves, *WE* are the result of that conflict.

I am the result of the war between the better and worse angels of my nature. So are you. So is everyone. It is this conflict that is the nature of who we are, but it is also the nature of our self-awareness, it is consciousness itself.

again: we are aware - cogito ergo sum - *BECAUSE* of the conflict between our rational and irrational selves. Take the rational side away, and we're just an animal, a reflex machine. Take the irrational side away, and what are we? Spirits? Abstracted principles? Lotus eaters? I don't know, but whatever it is, it isn't human.

A is not equal to A, and attempts to make it so are attempts to do away with mankind.

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Comments

Interesting

SheldonCooper's picture

>>My kid gives me an apple. It's simply an apple, but it means more to me because my kid gave it to me, or perhaps less becuase your kid threw it at me.<<

I'm not a fan of philosophy, that's not secret. I'm mostly and A=A kind of guy, and most everything else is pretentious nonsense. Most, not all. However, you raise a good point here. Sometimes there really is a deeper meaning to some things, beyond face value. In both examples, the apple is not the same as the apple you would go buy for yourself because, dammit, you just felt like an apple. Yet, physically, all 3 are just apples. There is good, bad and indifferent ways of looking at or taking things, which does metaphysically change the physical object. You go from simple food, to a gift of love, to a symbol of anger, but the physical nature of the object remains the same. The pretentious stuff comes when someone tries so hard to inject a deeper meaning that you just look at the person, roll your eyes, and tell them to get a real job.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

Of two minds

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>Yet, physically, all 3 are just apples.<<

All things are both what they are, and what they mean. What they are is objective: an apple. What they mean is subjective, and depends on eleventy kerjillion factors, many of which are unique just to your own head. Yet both are equally important. "A=A" arguments basically attempt to rob things of their identity, or their meaning. But losing either makes the thing less than it was, pretty much to anyone looking at it.

It's this quest for meaning that drives much of our lives and self-image. Orwell never got this. Rand rejected it. Marx did, too (Which is interesting since Rand rejected Marx more or less by imitating him note-for-note on a lot of points). Heinlein occasionally seems to get this, but his own self-involvement generally resulted in him ignoring it, and pretending it didn't exist most of the time.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Man vs. The State

neorandomizer's picture

I have found that most 20th century social engineering tries to remove the human factor. They also tried to remove religion and replaced it with the morality of the state. This is why they fail the 18th century experiments like the USA are constructed knowing that man is a sinner and he is expected to act in that way. The state in America only manages laws not morality.

The USA is also constructed to hear both the mob (the house) and the elites (the senate) in its decision making process. We seem to be braking down now because the elites has taken over both halves of congress. (This is do to the injection of money into our politics). The imbalance because of the imperial presidency is a debatable factor in modern politics.

Unstable

Republibot 3.0's picture

Yeah, I think that's probably true. New systems designed around the idea that people are basically sinners, and recognizing that's unavoidable probably tend to be more pragmatic than ones based around some "perfectability of Humanity" Star Trekian hogwash.

Of course the success of the ground-up pragmatic systems gives a false reading, suggesting that since these systems are (on the whole) more rational than "The Divine Right of Kings," but not anywhere near entirely rational, this causes later generations to think "Well, obviously the irrational stuff ws the problem, so we can just get rid of all irrational stuff and everything will be even greater."

In actual fact, the irrational stuff is only part of the problems, and then only occasionally. It's not that priests are inherently bad, for instance, it's just that priests don't govern well, as they only have very specific interests. Thus, a priest is only as effective as the secular authority that holds him in check. I got that from a book on celtic history I'm reading right now....

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Groping in the dark

Mama Fisi's picture

For some reason, Robert Frost's famous line "Good fences make good neighbors" popped into my head while reading these comments.

People need boundaries. They're more content to function when they know the parameters. Just as a successful farmer maintains his fences around his livestock, so too do successful societies maintain the fences (i.e. laws) which govern the citizens.

Overly restrictive laws tend to create discontent and rebellion, while too-lenient or convoluted laws tend toward anarchy.

As a pack-derived being, we have a sense of hierarchy embedded in our brains, and so being able to find our place in our society, and stake out our territory, makes us comfortable. Some people's sense of "personal space" is different than others', so there's an avenue for conflict; but for the most part, we know what we want, and we're happy when we get it. (Remember the classic "American Dream" of a cozy cottage with a white picket fence?)

I'd say the 18th C. social engineering experiment in the US worked because we were mostly a nation of like-minded middle-class people who could agree on what we wanted--our cottages with that white picket fence. Not everyone agreed, of course, but there was enough of a consensus to make the arrangement fairly easy to manage.

In France, with its long aristocratic history and oppressed peasantry, the experiment nearly failed because the peasants had no experience at governing themselves, and the ones that did aspired to being aristocrats themselves. This is also what killed the Russian Revolution. I suppose the intervention of the Napoleanic Wars (and somewhat later, the Franco-Prussian War) helped get France past its devolution into an oppressive Imperialist state, whereas nobody tried to interfere with the Russians and so their system went from democracy to demagoguery in thirty seconds flat.

Democracy is, by definition, a government "by the people." It can only work when the people really want it to--not when it's dictated from the top down. This is why I'm really leery of trying to implant democracy in traditionally tribal areas, because they have no real concept of how the system is supposed to work. And when the people don't know how to govern themselves, they open the door for dictators to come in and tell them how they're going to live.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Addendum

Mama Fisi's picture

Rereading my post, I'm also wondering whether the lack of palaces in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution didn't contribute to the egalitarian sense among the colonists. In Europe there were always huge and lavish castles of the wealthy which inflamed class rivalry and jealousy. When America was being formed, we didn't have that sort of thing...we had a few stately homes, but mostly everybody had houses that were functional, and everybody had to work equally hard to make their way here.

Class rivalry didn't really get a toehold here until the era of the Robber Barons in the mid-to-late 1800's.

And class warfare is be a big part of the problem we're having today. Everyone aspires to be rich, but those that aren't are jealous of and hate those that are. So I'd say we're in a far more dangerous place today than we were 236 years ago.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Phony movements

neorandomizer's picture

>>And class warfare is be a big part of the problem we're having today. Everyone aspires to be rich, but those that aren't are jealous of and hate those that are. So I'd say we're in a far more dangerous place today than we were 236 years ago.<<

Class warfare is the traditional way to bring down a democracy. Notice that the people that fan the flames of this here are part of the so called 1%. The occupy Wall Street movement is as phony as a three dollar bill funded by the likes of George Soros.

Even Americans get it wrong

10000li's picture

Ah, democracy,” worst form of government except for all the others,” and all that. I’m a student of government, since one needs to understand one’s enemies. I’ve learned of many and lived in two other democracies: Germany and Singapore.
What I have decided based on my research is that, if our mythical “pack animal” heritage is going to be relied upon as a reference for how we should govern ourselves, we need to remember that the packs we used to run in were pretty small. There is a maximum limit of about 10 million citizens, beyond which it is nearly impossible to run a government in such a way that it serves the most people most of the time. When the US finally became a country, with the ratification of the USC, we got to experience the advantage of strong local governments, combined with the advantage of a unified front to face the world, in the form of our federal government. The Civil War and the New Deal were flash points in the conflict between the ideal of limited central government working with effective local government, and the opposite ideal of strang central government telling people how to live - which we have now courtesy of the Republicans and Democrats.

If I ever become effective as a public communicator and am able to convince more people of good ideas, I would show people that limiting the size of nations to about 10 million is the best way to go. Rather than gerrymandering districts to hope for some kind of representation for this group or that, countries should be willing to divide and divide as their populations increase. Look at it this way, in every State, you have a large group of people who feel like they are not represented in their State legislature. In Idaho, folks in the Panhandle feel like the Mormons down in the southern part of the State don’t really care about them. In Washington State, the farmers on the east side of the Cascades think the liberals in Seattle have way too much influence, and in California, no one outside of LA or SF feels like they have a voice in Sacramento (so named because someone confused Mentos with communion wafers).

What if Washington were divided at the Cascades into Pugetopolis and Columbia? What if California were divided into Mojave, LA-LA Land, Mega Valley and Shasteria? There are much smaller States and countries than these two that run very well, thank you. But big States, and big nations, have a lot of problems. Now, this is not to say that limiting a government’s demography to 10 million will necessarily improve Gross National Happiness, but it certainly will make it easier to do so. There are quite a few smaller democracies that have lots of problems. But when we look at countries that are run well, where the citizens generally report good feelings about how things are going, they are the smaller, politically neutral, well-educated democratic republics of Europe and Asia.

Again, it’s not a guarantee, but when you have only 10 million people who are expecting certain perks and benefits from government, and only 10 million over whom the government has to keep a watchful eye, it’s much easier for people to get what they need and for the government to keep the criminals in check. And more importantly, it’s much easier for people to know with whom they are dealing in the halls of government, in the marketplace and on the street.

What most people in America see as a bug – the fact that every State does not have exactly the same laws – I see as a feature. It gives us the opportunity to learn from the mistakes and good ideas of others. So long as there is free exchange of goods, services and ideas, and people retain the right to vote with their feet, we should be able to make a world of mini-utopias suitable for just about any benevolent disposition.

This is the goal of the libertarian movement: Freedom means different things to different people, so give us back our right to define it for ourselves.

Mythical?

Republibot 3.0's picture

>> if our mythical “pack animal” heritage is going to be relied upon as a reference for how we should govern ourselves, we need to remember that the packs we used to run in were pretty small.<<

Mythical?

Anyway, we're getting a bit away from my original point, which was that things aren't just what they are, but what they mean, and strictly utilitarian value/government systems basically don't work well because of that. ("Moscow does not believe in tears.") Conversely, the opposite generally doesn't work much better.

But leaving that aside, how's'bout this:

You have a republic. You need to be represented in your republic, but since there's 300 million people, realistically, any geographically based system is going to result in a city-vs-coutnry/panhandle-vs-the-rest-of-Idaho system. So rather than that, let's try a more individualized system:

You go through a list of Certified Public Representatives, divided up by party (And independent would be considered a party, too). It's got their names, their stated stances on the issues, and their voting histories. You select one that you like - Mr. John G. Jones, say - and you send him a signed, legal form stating that he is to be your representative for a period of one (1) year, enclosed please find my check for $10.

Mr. Jones then is your representative for that year, and he votes on your behalf in the federal government for the year. At the end of the year, you can look over his record and decide to let him rep you for another year, or you can switch to another representative. Mr. Jones would represent *you* (And the rest of his self-appointed constituency), regardless of your physical location.

Representatives could hold, let's say, between 100 and one million votes, no more, no less. When they vote, they vote with the full force of all the voters. Thus, if Mr. Jones is popular, his vote counts for a million. If Mr. Smith, who only managed to get his lodge brothers to support him, then his vote only counts for a hundred votes. So Jones easily outweighs Smith, but there's probably a lot of Smiths, or at least a few O'Neills with 100,000 voters under their belts, and they could easily wrestle a Jones down if they worked together. Keep the limit to a million per rep max so as to keep it fair.

Majority wins. Every viewpoint gets represented, the strangle-lock the parties have on office is eroded somewhat, and you're reasonably assured your rep will vote the way you want, based on his record, and his stance, and your ability to take your vote away from him if he pisses you off.

Representatives' operating expenses would be paid out of your $10 annual dues.

How's that?

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Interesting concept

Mama Fisi's picture

10000li, I understand your point, but I'm not sure how a country could divide to accomodate a burgeoning population. Most countries have finite borders and people tend to keep making more people, snd there are also areas where it's just not feasible to live. I certainly wouldn't want to be told that I had to ive on the sharp side of the Rocky Mountains, for example.

R3, your "pick yer own representative" concept sounds workable, but who chooses the representatives to start with? What safeguards would you suggest vbe put in place to keep only schysters from installing themselves?

Right now, our system of govenment chooses not so much the best man for the job, but the most popular man out of those who put themselves forward as candidates. The same way that Miss America isn't the loveliest and most talented young lady in the US, but the one out of the 50 who went through the pageant system and gets picked by the judges. The "best man" to be President may currently be a veterinarian in rural Arkansas or a hairdresser in Oregon, but we'll never know because they lack the initiative and the funding to try for the job.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die

10000li's picture

Mama Fisi,

It would work just like redistricting already works: Redraw the lines around the people to ensure the limit of 10 million. Negotiate the redrawing through representatives of the new mini-countries to achieve as much harmony as possible. The States already do that with voting precincts, per the US Constitution, when the population shifts so that the US House of Representatives maintains a semblance of proportional representation, except for one thing: The D’s and R’s don’t give a rat’s flying arse about how redistricting maintains harmony for the people in the precincts, they do it to try to ensure easy victories for their candidates.

**************
Here's how they do things in New Hampshire, per Wikipedia:

Legislative Branch

The legislature is called the General Court. It consists of the House of Representatives (400 members) and the Senate (24 members).

The General Court is the third-largest legislature in the English speaking world, behind only the British Parliament and the United States Congress, respectively; and the New Hampshire House of Representatives is the fourth-largest individual chamber (exceeded in number by the United States House of Representatives, the British House of Commons and the British House of Lords).[12] The legislature at one time grew to 443 members due to population growth, but a 1942 constitutional amendment set its size at from 375 through 400 members.[13] There is one Representative for about every 3,300 residents.[14] In order for the U.S. Congress to have the same representation, there would need to be approximately 93,000 Representatives.

The legislature apportions legislative seats based on the decennial U.S. Census. The problem of allocating 400 legislators to 259 municipalities and ensuring equal representation is solved with floterial districts. For example, a city due more than five representatives but not quite six might elect five representing the city itself, and one more in a floterial district that includes some neighboring towns.

State legislators are paid $200 for their two-year term, plus mileage, effectively making them volunteers. The only other benefits are free use of toll roads and of state-owned resorts. A 2007 survey found that nearly half the members of the House are retired, with an average age over 60.[15]
*******

R3 must have been reading The Probability Broach, because that’s almost the way the government works in that alternate reality. Except no one gets paid, and anyone can claim to represent anyone who will let them.

Redistricting

Mama Fisi's picture

That's all well and good, 10000li, but redistricting isn't making the borders of a new nation, which is what you had suggested. When the population shifts, the districts can be redrawn. And gerrymandered.

My home county just got redistricted out of its representative to the WV Legislature. They used inaccurate census data to divide the county up between three neighboring counties. The county brought a lawsuit against the legislature and lost.

I don't think that's very fair. Each county ought to get at least one seat in the State Legislature, or the more urban counties will be able to call all the shots.

Going back to your earlier statement, about a country dividing when it gets over a certain population level...realistically, how would that work? The country gets twice the number you said can be supported, and splits like an amoeba? And now when the two new countries get to that level, do they split in half? Or do the extra people get hived off in a little population bubble of their own? How would you ensure equitable access to transportation hubs, ports, and so forth?

I really don't see the idea as being at all workable.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

No, not really

10000li's picture

Mama Fisi,

Regarding your county losing its representation in your State legislature: This is the real-world problem I am trying to address in my "thought experiment." From Wikipedia [Source of All Knowledge, Amen], I see that WV has both a House and a Senate. Did you keep your Senator?

I haven't seen that the borders of a legislative district must coincide with those of a city or county, in any State. My legislative district covers part of my city in my county and part of another city in another county. Since most of the district covers the other city, not mine, it is those folks who choose the two House Reps, who have basically been there for life (only our Governor is term-limited).

****

Do I see my idea as realistic? No. But a world without war is not realistic, and we strive for it anyway.

But, for fun, I'd like to continue the "thought experiment," because what I'm trying to envision is what is required to have government really be the servant of the people.

In my plan, countries would split like amoebas, or even three countries would divide into four. The goal being to maintain the most effective level of representation and also to ensure efficient maintenance of the infrastructure.

An important side effect would be the end of nationalism. How would you treat those folks across the border if you were part of the same country just a year ago? In the case of three countries dividing into four: How would you treat those "ferriners" if you knew you'd be fellow countrymen in a year or two?

If people hating one another because of religious differences is BS (and you know I believe it is), then people hating one another just because each was born on a different side of, say, a River Big is even more BS. Of course, the more ethnically different the people on each side of that River Big (or River Grand, eh?), the more likely the people are to hate each other.

But what can we do to minimize these false divisions? Would redrawing national borders help? Maybe not, if we look at how things have gone in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, three places where outside invaders just carved up nations as they saw fit. In those places, forcing two or more ethnicities to share a country very often led to terrible atrocities.

I read an SF novel close to 30 years ago, and I think it wasn't even a new one, where the solution to racism and nationalism was to make people move to another city every year or so. People wore ID bracelets that tracked their location, and when their year in NYC was up, they'd be shipped off to Pretoria, then to Rio, then to Prague, etc. The protagonists went for a drive in the countryside, one day, and discovered small bands of people who had removed their ID bracelets and were living in the same place, year after year. The protagonists decided that maybe humanity had learned its lesson and that it was time for people to redevelop a sense of place. (If anyone else has read this novel and remembers the name and author, please let me know.)

So, after thinking it through, dividing and redividing countries probably wouldn't help. But we really need to figure out some way to make government better serve the people. We have 535 Reps and Senators for 313 million people. How could so few effectively provide the voice for so many?

The problem with our politics

neorandomizer's picture

The problem with our politics is not how the country is divided up but how outside money can overwhelm local activists. In low population states like Nevada (my adopted home) money from people like Soros can and does effect who runs for office and who wins. We saw this when Harry Reid was up for re-election the amount of money used to organize in the Las Vegas metropolitan area cost the GOP the election. (Sharron Angle won the rest of the state.

There is a limit to devolving power down to the local level when people from outside of a state are allowed to spend political money and the fact that the Federal Government has usurped much state power with no intention of returning said power no matter which party is in office warps our whole system.

Because of the imperial executive and an overreaching congress the power balance is out of whack. States need to demand there sovereign power back from the Federal government to began to return power to the people of the USA.

Territorialism

Mama Fisi's picture

Most folks have an instinct to protect their territory, regardless of whether their territory is an apartment or a ranch with ten thousand acres, a town or a nation. We don't even like it when people stand a little too close in a checkout line at the supermarket.

The folks who live in the under-represented rural areas resent the fact that the folks from the over-represented city areas get to dictate the policy for the entire state or the entire nation.

How can we solve the problem?

Ever hear of jury duty?

Instead of having people put themselves forward to run for public office, every person in the US has to serve a term as some sort of public servant. I'm not sure of the mechanics of it, but it would expose everybody to just what it takes to run a government, AND it would be "democracy" in the true sense of the word--a government by the people.

Not everybody is cut out for public office, you say? So true. And with over 300 million people in the country, there wouldn't be openings for everybody, so it stands to reason that not everybody would be called, just like jurors can be excused for medical reasons or because their business or family would suffer a hardship if they had to serve.

Some folks would be better at governance than others, obviously. Maybe the shining star on the County Comission would go on to try out for State Governor, and then the Governors would supply the Presidential candidate--these guys would have a lot of experience at running a government. You wouldn't get stuck with some charismatic guy whose best credential was that he could write a book.

AS for where the bureaucratic functionaries would come from--well, this same system would require people to serve time as pages, secretaries, and other "back-office" staff.

We've seen what happens when we let professional career politicians run things. Maybe it's time to try some amateurs.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Survival of the Fit Enough

R3,

I have heard biologists talk about natural selection not in terms of Survival of the Fittest, but being fit enough to create viable offspring. I've read Jared Diamond's discussion about how geography and climate helped shape societies in history, and I tend to agree with a lot of it: humans are products of their environment and their societies. We're complex beings, but the majority of people seek as much autonomy and security as they can, just like the infamous greed and fear displayed in stock markets. Thus, autonomy and security are sometimes mutually exclusive: wasn't it Ben Franklin who talked about those who would give up liberty for security?

Civilizations are like complex feedback mechanisms, and when they get out of balance with their environments, they collapse.
I have no doubt parts of US society, the Blackwaters of the world, will do okay guarding gated communites or even gated cities, as long as it works. I do hope, like Star Trek shows, that humans evolve beyond greed and fear, and apply much more reason and compassion. I'm not advocating laziness, just highly intelligent, technologically competent and moral communities.

What's ironic is that as AI develops, we are likely to program androids to be far more intelligent and moral than the average citizen, just because we'd never want to experience the cruelty ignorance or indifference, from our android companions, that people are sometimes capable of.

Thanks, R3, for this discussion.

Dean

Emotional Reason

I offer that our instincts (emotions) are a form of reason (a reaction) to the environment. It's just a hardwired response that we don't think consciously about. Think about the lights and indicators on electronic equipment - our emotions are like automatic indicators that at one point during our evolution, helped us communicate complex thoughts quickly (danger! prepare to fight! I'm happy!) even before we could verbalize them. Emotions rise out of a long chain of cause and effect, and reason allows us to step outside our emotions or irrational acts, and find the internal trigger for them.

Maybe a better term is emotional reaction, rather than just emotion, because these are habituated responses, not results of abstract reasoning (which can lead to delusion, too ... oh well ;)

Dean

Logically

nwkeys01's picture

The logical statement that A=A is a tautology. It must always be true. The problem is that Some Bs are A.

All As are As
but also that B (when B =/= ~A). Some Bs are also As.

I recently read through Atlas shrugged after checking it out a few days ago, and enjoyed it.
the idea behind it is very hard to refute but the thing doesn't seem to be a complete picture.

In the end the big picture of the book was that of a Romance novel.

Many ideals like socialism and communism fail because humanity is not perfect, and these expect humanity to be. Like the shadows on the wall of the cave, we can only replicate the shadowy form, not the ideal form.

Balance

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I have heard biologists talk about natural selection not in terms of Survival of the Fittest, but being fit enough to create viable offspring.<<

True. You want to invest just enough energy in having more survivability than your competition, but not so much energy that you end up with a weakness elsewhere. Thus, a slightly stronger pair of legs, or a slightly longer neck is an advantage, but MASSIVELY stronger arms may not be, because they require so much food to support them that you're perpetually malnourished and end up *less* survivable.

>>Thus, autonomy and security are sometimes mutually exclusive: wasn't it Ben Franklin who talked about those who would give up liberty for security?<<

Successful modern civilizations are a balancing act between "Liberty" and "Security." It's really easy for people on either side of the equation to argue you need one over the other, but the fact is the most unstable form of government is Anarchy (Total liberty), which won't survive the first tough guy who comes along with a big stick and says "Yo, give me that or I'll kill you." What most people don't realize, however, is that the balance point 'twixt the one and the other *isn't* a static thing. Societies are active, dynamic systems, continually reacting to internal and external influences, so the center of gravity between "Liberty" and "Security" in 1860 are gonna' be quite different than they were in 1960, and that, again, is going to be quite different from today.

>>I have no doubt parts of US society, the Blackwaters of the world, will do okay guarding gated communites or even gated cities, as long as it works.<<

The South has the largest fleets of heavily armed pickup trucks known in the history of human civilization. They'll do fine. New England, however, will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

>>I do hope, like Star Trek shows, that humans evolve beyond greed and fear, and apply much more reason and compassion.<<

Wait, wait, wait: why are Greed and Fear bad? Both serve pretty obvious biological needs, and they're directly related to the survivability of a species and/or a culture. For instance, the Roman Empire didn't last a thousand years because they lacked avarice and xenophobia. Instead, they took over the med, and when they collapsed (Through no fault of greed and fear), they left massive lingering momentos scattered over three continents, which, themselves became the seeds of new or revived civilizations. Some of our own civilization can trace its ideological and historical roots directly to the Romans, stupid, greedy miniskirt-wearing violent dumbasses that they were.

Conversely: the Celts has a very large, longer-lived civilization that peaked around 500 BC and survived for nearly another millennium. Caesar speaks of how spectacularly fearless they are, and their un-robbed burrial hoards of gold and stuff indicate they weren't particularly greedy, either. So what legacies have they left us?

Pretty much just that they weren't greedy or frightened, and that they thought knotwork patterns were pretty. We don't even know what they worshiped because they refused to write it down.

>>What's ironic is that as AI develops, we are likely to program androids to be far more intelligent and moral than the average citizen, just because we'd never want to experience the cruelty ignorance or indifference, from our android companions, that people are sometimes capable of.<<<

That is always a neat question: will the slave of tomorrow have a better owner than the master of yesterday? Odds are: no.

Thanks, R3, for this discussion.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Reflex Machines

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I offer that our instincts (emotions) are a form of reason (a reaction) to the environment.[...]Emotions rise out of a long chain of cause and effect, and reason allows us to step outside our emotions or irrational acts, and find the internal trigger for them.<<

I think instincts are more primal than emotions. Emotions are how we interpret some instincts after we've had them a few times. For instance, a loud bang scares us, and we get a pump of adrenaline and we jerk, and our heart beats like crazy and our eyes go wide and our pupils narrow to points and we get ready to run. That's a simple flight-or-fight response common to all mamals, however *we* call it fear (Eventually). Ferrets and dogs, however, simply react, and once they're out of danger, they forget about it. Or a baby gets hungry, so mom breastfeeds it. Holding the baby close and warm and feeding him or her causes the baby's body to release a lot of oxytossin (SP?) which makes the baby feel happy. That's "The Cuddle Chemical" and eventually, we come to associate that reflex with personal intimacy.

>>Maybe a better term is emotional reaction, rather than just emotion, because these are habituated responses, not results of abstract reasoning (which can lead to delusion, too ... oh well ;)<<

We can learn to stay these reflexes, or ignore them, but that takes effort, and it's not always worthwhile or even desirable. (Running from things that want to eat you is generally a good thing). The question of how much of what any person does is mere reflex, how much is conditioned reflex, how much is "All you," and how much is just you assuming *Everything* is all you is a massive debate that will never be resolved simply because it's like trying to see through a mirror by staring at it really hard.

Both Philip K. Dick and Nietzsche spent a lot of time trying to puzzle this one out, though, and came to the conclusion that we *may* simply be reflex machines. We - everyone - may simply be reacting to stuff set in motion randomly, and we have no choice in our reactions. What I find hopeful about both of them is that they both concluded that even if this is true, it doesn't *have* to be that way: we might be able to find a way out, or at least create narrow windows of free will.

Myself, I believe in free will, but figuring out where *I* start and my basic programming ends is obviously a pretty tough line to demarcate.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Tautology

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>The logical statement that A=A is a tautology. It must always be true.<<

YES! Thank you! She throws that out there like it's something profound, and as though it's something deeper than "Wherever you go, there you are" or "It is what it is," and we're supposed to just drop everything and accept it as brilliant.

>>The problem is that Some Bs are A.<<

The problem is that As didn't exist until some Phonecian dude (or chick) invented 'em, and therefore they have no intrinsic identity, apart from what we impart on them. In fact, not only is A often times not a, her use of it in a pseudomathematical formula "A=A" is kind of funny since, obviously, in that context "A" would have to be interpreted by any mathematician as a variable.

>>the idea behind it is very hard to refute but the thing doesn't seem to be a complete picture.<<

It's a strawman argument, and those are always hard to refute because they're deliberately misrepresentational and only give selected info. It's not a reasoned argument, it's a screed, and as with all screeds, ultimately rather arbitrary. There's lots of points in the book that we're just expected to accept on her say so, but there's never a solid argument given as to why. Why is a government science institute bad, for instance? Why must *Everything* be done by a Thomas Edison working on his own? Why must the geniuses all strike? Wouldn't it make far more sense - and be far easier - simply for them to gradually co-opt the government the way capitalists ALWAYS do, and then administer it for the greater good? Who the hell honestly believes a bunch of scientists and engineers have a monopoly on good government anyway? Why is a belief in the intangible inherently bad? Ok, she gives examples, but none of them are universal, they're specific, which argues that it's an idea that can be misued, but not that it is only capable of misuse. And what's up with all that rough sex?

>>Many ideals like socialism and communism fail because humanity is not perfect, and these expect humanity to be. Like the shadows on the wall of the cave, we can only replicate the shadowy form, not the ideal form.<<

Amen, brother.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Atlantis

nwkeys01's picture

I do like the general idea that it says to earn for yourself.
You can't go around being a parasite to other people. If you want something, earn it. Getting something unearned doesn't seem right.

What I saw the main thing is that people who hadn't earned it expected and demanded everything. Like a rich heir expected to be treated as better than the rest of the people.

I liked the example of a rental car costing 25 cents. And that something like copper mining, is made easier, then the price of copper then goes down. The book calls it a mutual trade and mutual agreement on price.

The book is more of a romance novel though somewhat...
The main character thinks she loves her job, she thinks she loves one person, Then she finds HIM. Much like Plato's cave, the first two weren't exactly the ideal form, they were shadows on the wall of the cave as she slowly rose to the surface.

The basest form of love is brute ownership of another person, practically slavery.

Is that saying that people are expected to be fair to one another?
Can a person care about a fellow person's well being though, without them not earning it? How does a person earn the care of another person?

I'm not saying socialism or communism is bad, they have given us great ideas of things even if these can't be taken to their ideal perfection. Everyone being able to have heath care... (is it a good one). Everyone able to have a education... (but is it a good one?).

A is imperatively defined as itself

nwkeys01's picture

>> In fact, not only is A often times not a, her use of it in a pseudomathematical formula "A=A" is kind of funny since, obviously, in that context "A" would have to be interpreted by any mathematician as a variable. <<

A can never be ~A.

The problem is what is the domain of the definition of A.
If A is easy to define as a proton.
A Proton is a Proton.

However if A is defined much more complex thing, such as THE UNIVERSE.
Maybe the definition of A is somewhat wrong.
What makes a rock a rock? A rock is A rock, but there are many different kinds of rocks.

Being pedantic

Mama Fisi's picture

The spelling--since you asked--is "oxytocin."

And I can sort of see how a government science institute can be bad, because then politics will dictate the experiments and research...just like it's doing now with climate change. A Thomas Edison working on his own is beholden to no one, and is encouraged to invent and experiment as much as possible to increase his wealth. (Although Edison was certainly not above politics; the affair of the DC vs AC controversy should illustrate this.) It's quite possible that, had Edison been working for the government, he would have been told what he could and could not do, and given a stack of regulations on how he could and could not do it.

(I once tried to get a government-backed loan to repair the fences on my property. In order to qualify for a 90% cost share--they would pay 90% of the project--I had to ALSO fence off all my ponds and streams, add waterlines and tanks fed by the electric pump in the house well, and fence off my woodlands. This was to be compliant with stream quality and anti-erosion legislation. It would have cost easily $15,000, and all I wanted was the wire to fix the old broken fences so my animals wouldn't escape. Which eventually cost me around $4,000 out of pocket. And I never did fence off the streams and stock ponds. That's what they're there for.)

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics
http://www.hirezfox.com/km/

Government Science

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>And I can sort of see how a government science institute can be bad, because then politics will dictate the experiments and research...just like it's doing now with climate change. A Thomas Edison working on his own is beholden to no one, and is encouraged to invent and experiment as much as possible to increase his wealth.<<

Basically the sense I get from it is that she was scientifically illiterate, or nearly so, and had bought into the myth of the "Solo Inventor" who manages to come up with something brilliant entirely on his own and changes the world. That's a powerful image, and it *does* happen, but it's the exception and not the rule. Edison had a staff of hundreds working for him. Doesn't diminish his accomplishments, but it's not like he was doing all this crap himself like a scientific Martha Stuart or anything. Steve Jobs *did* have five other guys he started out with, and their contributions were substantial. So she bought into this, mainly because it fit in with her own preconceived opinions of Rugged Individualism taken to near-sociopathic levels, and then it became circular specious reasoning: good things can only happen this way, and therefore the reason bad things happen is because people don't do things my way. Therefore no good can come of doing things the other way, even if, in fact, plenty of good has come from it, and I'm not gonna' pay attention to that.

The fact is: no solo inventor was ever gonna' go to the moon. No solo inventor was ever going to crack the atom, or built the atomic bomb, or build a supercollider. They're simply too big, too complex, too industrial. You can't tinker it together in your garage, you need an industrial-sized technological base to pull it off, and you need sums of money that only governments can afford.

I mean, take the atomic bomb: Cutting edge 1944 technology. Simple. You can get a rough outline of the plans in any good library, and if Scott's good with welding and stuff, I'd imagine he could probably build you a working model of the one we dropped on Hiroshima in a couple weeks. Less if things get slow down at the plant. But: simple as it is, you need a *LOT* of uranium, and a LOT of time and a LOT of people to process and prepare it, and a *LOT* of safety measures and a *LOT* of money to do that. Which is why there are only eight countries that have nuclear weapons. Everyone wants 'em, of course, but they're pricey to build, pricey to maintain. That's a lot of buck for a bang that you have no intention of ever using.

At this point in our history as a species, the easy stuff has mostly all been done. You're not going to have some random high school science teacher who figures out FTL in the shop class after hours.

Rand had no idea how science worked. That's the impression I take from it.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Probably Off Topic

SheldonCooper's picture

>>I do like the general idea that it says to earn for yourself.
You can't go around being a parasite to other people. If you want something, earn it. Getting something unearned doesn't seem right.<<

This is probably extremely off topic, but I'm gonna go with it anyway.

My wife and I just bought a house. Our first. Before that, we lived in an apartment, and quite happily, until our building was destroyed in a storm last summer (they still haven't re-opened that building for tennants yet). Anyway, our family grew and we were looking for a 3 bedroom as opposed to the 2 bedroom we had outgrown anyway. Rent is so expensive where we live. I honestly think we lived in the only affordable apartment building in the city. So anyway, I checked some home listings, crunched some numbers, and figured out that we could buy a home for cheaper than we could rent a bigger apartment (in fact, our mortgage, insurance, PMI and taxes included, is only a few bucks more a month than for our 2 bedroom apartment). So we had some work to do on our credit to get approved (and those who paid attention to my status updates the past 6 months know what a journey that was) but we did the work, got approved, emptied our savings for the down payment (our savings is restored now, though) and bought a home. We didn't ask anyone for anything, we did it all between the 2 of us. Most of our friends can't believe we did it, but really, it wasn't hard. Neither of us make much more than minimum wage (under $9/hour each), but we have more than enough to pay our bills and have a little fun on the side.

The point is, it isn't hard to earn for yourself. You don't need to have a great job (I'm a security guard, my wife works at McDonald's) you just need to work for what you want. The poor in this country need to understand, they don't have it all that rough in this country. Nine times out of ten, people who can't afford what they need are spending too much money on surplus luxuries or trying to live beyond their means. We don't do that, and we make it just fine. So yeah, earning your own keep isn't hard, but the government has convinced people that they can't do it so don't even try. I'm here to tell everyone, you CAN do it. All you hhave to do is want it, work for it and go get yours. No one is going to bring it to you. Nor should they.

End of pointless irrelevant speech.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

1957

nwkeys01's picture

You kinda have to give that it was written in 1957.

And it is still a prevalent concept in society.
"The Great Man Theory was a popular 19th century idea according to which history can be largely explained by the impact of "great men", or heroes: highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or Machiavellianism utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact."

It was a time of Albert Einstien etc.

In the end I saw the book as more of a romance novel with strong ties to a philosophy... but still a romance novel.

1967

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>You kinda have to give that it was written in 1957.<<

And it was probably set about a decade later. And yet her 1967 feels like 1929, doesn't it? I mean, just as 1984 is Orwell's transportation of 1948 (A terrible year to be British) into the future, so "Atlas" is basically a future that was already past. And she *completely* misses things that were already a massive feature in in daily life when the book was written. TV is more or less wholly absent in the book. They hit the market in 1948, and by '57 were rapidly becoming ubiquitous. There are no airlines in the book, just a few private planes. Trains? Trains are the big thing? Who freakin' writes a non-western about Trains in 1957? They were *ALREADY* failing, in favor of the Auto industry.

She says the Auto Industry fails due to government influence. What planet was she living on? The Government was going whole-hog to promote the auto industry, and the Aviation industry, both above traditional mass transit in 1957, giving *MAJOR* tax incentives and long-term low-interest loans.

Frankly, if there's an obvious industrial metaphor for American Individualism, it's the car. Sheesh. Woman didn't have a clue.

>>And it is still a prevalent concept in society.
"The Great Man Theory was a popular 19th century idea according to which history can be largely explained by the impact of "great men", or heroes: highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or Machiavellianism utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact."<<

"The Great Man" does exist. I can point to hundreds of examples in dozens of different fields. But Einstein was not a scientist - I don't think Rand even knew the difference - and he was largely theoretical at that. Relativity, when published, completely changed the world, *but* it had practically no math in it, and he was the first to admit that his own moment of inspiration came from the shoulders of the giants he was standing on. *AND* he was completely unable to appreciate or accept the genius of people who later stood on his own shoulders (He never accepted Quantum Mechanics, f'rinstance).

>>In the end I saw the book as more of a romance novel with strong ties to a philosophy... but still a romance novel.<<

Yeah, agreed. A romance set during the fall of Rome.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

The little Red hen

nwkeys01's picture

It also reminds me a bit of the Little Red Hen.

Just so happens to be TLRH is from Russia

and a modern version...
"Revisions of the story include a current political version, based on a Ronald Reagan monologue from 1976.[1] The farmer claims that the hen is being unfair if she does not share her bread with the other animals, and forces her to share her bread with those who would not work for it. This in turn removes the hen's incentive to work, resulting in poverty for the entire barnyard.[2]"

Atlas Shrugged in a nutshell.

Story-version: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1636638/posts

Robot Laws

Hi R3,

>>That is always a neat question: will the slave of tomorrow have a better owner than the master of yesterday? Odds are: no.<<

What if that master of tomorrow doesn't need to be a master? If the intelligence of one being were equal to one of today's industrial cities?

>>Wait, wait, wait: why are Greed and Fear bad?<<

Only other peoples' greed and fear, I mean Greed and Fear, because I could end up against that proverbial wall. Rifles?
Pick-up trucks? Texas here I come ...

About Star Trek ...

That's kind of a paradox for me, that even as we evolve in intelligence, and moral intelligence, the need for greed and fear will diminish, but so will the need for courage and love, no? My soft city life would have one of those Ancient Romans or Celts leaving me in the dust.

I would have liked the story better had Vercingetorix been a better general and won the battle at Alesia. There are things I like about Caesar, too: he cut through the BS in the Senate, honored his promises to his men, and fought with them, and invented our calendar (that part blew me away) - not to mention his romance with Cleopatra. How can I admire someone, in many ways, yet abhor the fact he incited war with the Gauls for political gain and may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths?

Still, when I look at history from my comfy chair, a big part of me wants Vercingetorix to win the Celt uprising against the Romans. Also Demosthenes against Phillip of Macedon:
"If thy strength had only been equal to thy purposes, Demosthenes, never would the Greeks have been ruled by a Macedonian Ares”

...

A History of Violence by Steve Pinker

Here's an interesting quote from
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html

"In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. "

Ah, the good ol' days. And I thought BSG Re-Imagined was a mind frak, now I know time travel is where it's at (if I could understand one of hundreds of French dialects at the time, that or Latin).

....

Lastly, I guess this subject of the future(sci-fi) and human nature matters so much to me personally, because on some level
I need that hope, it helps me cope, and encourages me not to mope, but try to be part of the change in the world, as someone mentioned.

Thanks for bloggin'

Dean