Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Obvious Things Part 2: Hats

I've encountered a -lot- of people who comment on the funny hats in religion.

Y'know the weird thing?  Nobody comments on the fact that hats play a role in -every- religion.  They also play huge roles in official government positions.

"Well, yeah," you might say, "they're part of the costume, part of the uniform; it helps define people's expectations of who you are and what you represent."

That's true, of course; that is part of the role of a hat.  But see, you're underestimating the cleverness of some people who lived a very long time ago.

Why, pray tell, are non-clergy men traditionally forbidden from wearing hats in religious gatherings - and why are women frequently permitted them?  Why are hats traditionally forbidden in schools, government buildings, and the home?  Why do clergical hats typically lack a brim?

Do you think your personality is different on a sunny versus a cloudy day?  Outdoors, versus indoors?

Hats - brimmed hats in particular - have a -huge- impact on your mood and personality.  I don't say this because I've read a study - I don't have to.  A hat doesn't just darken your face - it darkens your mood.  It makes you less empathetic, less vulnerable, more insular.  You know the person who refuses to ever take off their hat?  It's because removing it leaves them exposed and vulnerable; it's probably the only thing that lets them comfortably interact in public.

A brimmed hat can easily turn 10-20% of your field of vision into utter darkness.  What do you think that does to a police officer wearing a hat?

What do you think it's done to our society that hats have vanished from common dress over the past sixty years?

And trust me, this isn't a unique insight.  Social engineering can be as simple as popular figures no longer wearing a hat, setting fashion, and thus social, trends for decades to come.

Obvious Things Part 1: Social Freedoms and Class

This is the first part of a sequence I'll contribute to irregularly, discussing things most people grok without ever actually knowing.  Everything I intend to write in this sequence is something which is so obvious we never even notice it - although, trust me, many of our historical elites -have- noticed these things, which has granted them subtle power over our lives we never even notice.

Do you know the difference between our upper classes and our lower classes?  It's not, as one might immediately think, power, or money.  These things don't change your station in life.  Your station in life is determined by one thing and one thing only: The expectations of other people.  This is well-understood in the East, and formed the explicit principles by which Imperial China was governed, in the written teachings of Confucius, but here in the West we tend to try to ignore it.  We tend to see things like ritual suicide as honorable but ultimately barbaric practices, not seeing the way these practices tie into civilization itself.

Western media has increasingly tended to portray the enforcement of social rules as a bullying behavior, and we have in recent years begun to strongly discourage this enforcement.  I'm a staunch individualist - but I'm also a rationalist, and I recognize a self-destructive attitude when I see one.  I also recognize a particularly insidious form of social engineering - a re-stratification of society.  Because, you see, classes have always, and everywhere, been divided first and foremost by adherence to social law.  The upper classes have -far- more expectations heaped upon them; expectations of dress, behavior, accent and verbal tics, dinner manners, how to stand, how to walk, how to address people - the upper classes have etiquette drilled into them from birth.  You think this is an accident of fate?  More, you think it is an accident of fate that our upper classes are telling the lower classes that none of these things matter?

Clothing, to pick one example, is -always- a uniform.  It -always- tells other people who you are.  Who do you think gets the job in an interview - the lower-class person who shows up in jeans and a t-shirt because they think the people who insist that a suit and tie are important are just bullies, or the upper-class child who wears a suit and tie because they've been taught the important of a good uniform since birth?  It's not money, nor connections, that guide children from birth to remain in the social standing they began it in - it's knowledge, knowledge that is being carefully and deliberately sabotaged by those -claiming- to be standing up for the disadvantaged even as they make their disadvantage permanent.

The upper classes don't have more freedom - this is an illusion.  They have far, far less freedom, because while their station in life theoretically grants them greater privilege, they only enjoy that privilege so long as they do not actually exercise it.  Quite a lot like money, actually - the rich man is only rich so long as he doesn't spend his money, after all.

Li is the path to power.  Appear the fool, and be treated as one.  Appear to be a person to be taken seriously, however, and you will be.

Not that I advise anyone to pursue this course, any more than I would advise others to become misers so that they might become rich, and for precisely the same reasons.  However, while I would not advise miserliness, I -would- advise careful consideration of purchases and the establishment of a financial reserve - and likewise I would advise the careful evaluation of social expectations.

Bullies, as anybody who tries to teach social rules is now being labeled, are teachers of a lesson which needs teaching - gone are the days when "bully" referred to the teenager who picked on the elementary school student, now the "bully" is the teen who makes fun of the one teen who doesn't wear deodorant, or who dyes their hair an unnatural color.  The question, of course, is which social class is hosting the backlash against "bullies", and why.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Game Theory and Naivety

Game theory can teach some very curious lessons.

Perhaps the most important is that the obvious solution is frequently the wrong solution.  In order to create an environment where cooperation is possible, you have to create an environment where profitable defection isn't.

The naive solution is always "Let's cooperate".  In an environment of people who -always- cooperate, defecting is a -very- powerful tool, and very attractive.  "Always cooperate" as a strategy rewards defection.

In order to foster a truly cooperative environment, you have to be willing to defect, and most specifically against those who have first defected.

Naive anarchism or communism is the belief that "Let's just work together" is a viable strategy, that you can rely upon goodwill.  Even I'd defect in that system, if for no other reason than resentment of a system that doesn't punish defection.

We can't reward cooperation enough to make defection unattractive - we have finite resources, and defection is, in any system, the gaming of the system to get disproportionate reward.  The only real option is to make defection less attractive.

Government is one mechanism of punishing defection; it is a universal agent, with whom cooperation is paramount, and whose defection is lethal.  There's just one issue with the use of government in this manner: It permits a grander scale of defection, that of false accusation.  Government becomes the arbiter of grudge, rather than law.  Coyote Blog comments on one example.  It's hardly the only.

Belief in government as a reliable arbiter isn't -quite- as naive as "Let's just work together", but still makes the same mistake: Assuming cooperation and defection can be made infallible.  They can't.  That's the metagame.  Then there's the third level of naivety - the belief in a solution to this mess.  There is no end solution - whatever rules you use, there's a metagame that will defeat them.

The Cure...

...is surprisingly simple: It's a sledgehammer.

Our existing government is made up of masons; the legislative branch exists to build new walls, the Supreme Court -at best- exists to make sure the walls are in the right places, and the Executive branch mans the walls.

We need a branch whose purpose is to knock walls down.  Our government is fundamentally constructivist - it needs a deconstructivist element.  A branch devoted to knocking down the things the legislature builds.

The courts have kind-of sort-of fulfilled this role in the past, but only for the most egregious cases.  The legislative branch has this power, but rarely if ever uses it; they're elected to fix problems in society.  Knocking down parts of the government just makes it harder for them to do their job.

So break the legislative branch's powers up.  One branch to construct, one branch to destroy.  Hell, even give them the power to send the bills back to the legislation with notes on what needs to be adjusted and why - they can't propose new legislation, but they can remove legislation and suggest changes.

And give them a reason.  Put a cap on the total pages of law in the government.  Is a single person's life even long enough to -read- all the laws on the books right now, after all?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Politics Today...

...is largely the process of millionaires spending inordinate amounts of money in an attempt to convince people that -other- millionaires are spending inordinate amounts of money convincing them of things.

It's not even grounded to anything anymore; this is the postmodernist era of the political art, full of abstract pieces that don't mean anything but that's okay because the whole "meaning" concept is conceptually oppressive, man.

I've seen Democrats -literally argue to me- that Hobby Lobby only protested in the first place because they hate Obama because they're racists.  There are Republicans who -legitimately believe- this is all an attack on religion.  And six months from now the arguments will be completely different, based on completely different principles, and everybody will behave as if this is the way it's always been.

Which means, in a curious roundabout way, that politics is fundamentally about -fashion-.  Which shouldn't surprise me, but does anyways, and explains so very much about how society got to where it is.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


What makes theocracy dangerous?  What -is- theocracy, truly?

The word translates as "Rule by God."  This is a curious way for an atheist to refer to a religious government - what is a more accurate way of referring to a theocracy?

Well, there is a word.  Pistocracy.  "Rule by beliefs," or perhaps "Rule by believers."  Epistocracy, "Rule by knowledge", or, as David Estlund translates, "Rule by the knowers", is just pistocracy in which the pistocrats assume they're correct.

Pistocracy, as a concept, is much more broadly applicable than theocracy; it is not limited to those governments run on beliefs written in ancient books.  It describes any government which enforces a particular belief structure on its participants - these beliefs need not be religious.  They can be philosophic - the belief that the community must come before the individual, for example.

The elements which make theocracy dangerous make a pistocracy dangerous as well - you do not need god to have heretics.  Trotsky was a heretic of the Soviet pistocracy - an individual who shared the same basic beliefs but disagreed with the orthodox interpretation of those beliefs.

The danger in a pistocracy is -in- the orthodoxy, in established beliefs the challenging of which marks one as a heretic, an apostate, or a pagan.  (We have a word for pagans even in science, which should be better than that - crank, or crackpot.  "Denier" has become part of the parlance as well, at least in more politicized sciences.)

Beliefs aren't limited to beliefs about the world-as-it-is, either.  Beliefs include the world-as-it-should-be.  Every argument for free college education, for food stamps, for welfare in the general case - these are arguments for a pistocracy based around a set of beliefs about how the world operates, and how it should operate going forward.  No concern or consideration is given for those whose beliefs differ - indeed, those who believe differently become The Enemy.  Heartless, evil, cruel, selfish - whatever invectives can stick, to label the Unbeliever a heretic whose opinion is not worth hearing.

This is an elaborate work-up to a single point: A secular government isn't a free government.  It can still fight and suppress philosophies, and indeed ours does so, on a scale that puts many theocracies to shame.  We live under a government in which certain philosophies are, for all intents and purposes, illegal to practice.  Not that I'm fond of racists, but the machinery that exists to crush them isn't limited in the scope of its application, and there has been a slow creep in that application, to the point where, today, the government attempts to crush even philosophies as basic as that it's better if workers manage their own health insurance, rather than relying on their employer to pick appropriate insurance programs -for- them.

A Radical Departure... Marx, Part III

So, why did Marx's roadplan fail as miserably as it did?  What were his actual goals?

His actual goal was the elimination of class, and he spent a -lot- of time talking about "rentier" classes.  Libertarians, this should immediately call to mind a phrase we use quite frequently in regard to anti-free market behavior: Rent seeking.

I'll spare you the Socratic dialogue in which I try to make you come to the conclusion yourself: Marx apparently failed to recognize that rent is a fully generalized phenomenon.

Marx recognized land as a rental property.  Did he recognize that a bureaucratic job working for the central state-owned bank deciding who gets and doesn't get credit is a rental property as well?  That the people responsible for assigning transportation routes and communication lines had power over those who had to request things from them?

We can talk about Stalin and Lenin, but they aren't really the issue with Marxism; they demonstrate one potential way the implementation can go very, very wrong.  What they don't demonstrate is that the implementation Marx laid out is itself very, very wrong.

Government power is rental power.  A centralized credit agency is staffed by a rentier class by virtue of the fact that they staff a centralized credit agency.  What strangles Marxist states isn't just the dictators, it's the millions of petty bureaucrats who become the new bourgeois, the new rentier class - there's a reason bribery becomes standard in such societies, it's the best way the rentier class has of extracting rent for their rental property.

An incomplete list of rental properties:
Intellectual Property
Capital goods
Social connections
Social power
Gender in a genuinely sexist society
Occupational power/discretionary power

A rental property can be either stable or transitory, replicable or non-replicable, transferable or non-transferable.

Communism in its most extreme Harrison Bergeron implementation is the complete elimination of -all- forms of rent.  A more reasonable communism is just the minimization of certain kinds of rent - eliminating stable, non-replicable, transferable rental properties.  Land, (some) forms of intellectual property, occupational power, for the big three that share this deadly trio of properties.  The inclusion of capital goods is a mistake for precisely the same reason as the inclusion of education would be a mistake - it's a replicable rental property.  As long as replication isn't unduly constrained, at least.

Every implementation of Marx to date has -omitted- attention paid to occupational power, because Marx himself does little to address the potential harm, and has become overrun by bureaucrats.

But once we consider the deadly trio of properties - aren't these precisely the things libertarianism as a whole has been incapable of coming to conclusions on?  Intellectual property ownership of, for example, a book isn't a problem - you weren't going to write -that- book anyways, you were going to write a completely different one.  We'd need to fill the universe with nanobot authors before this actually started to become an issue.  However, owning -process- -is- a problem; there are a finite number of ways to feasibly manufacture penicillin.  Intellectual property laws have historically solved this dilemma by eliminating -stability- from this aspect of intellectual property; you have a finite amount of time to capitalize on your patent before it ceases to be functional.  (In today's society, that amount of time is probably too high, since a better something will probably come along long before the patent expires, but that's another discussion entirely.)  Modern society, however, has begun to -copyright-, rather than -patent-, process.  Witness the massive intellectual capital wars happening between major corporations right now.

I, on great consideration, define communism to be, quite simply, a special case of the general case of libertarianism.  (Yes, Marx hated libertarians, but libertarian in his day meant anarchist; anarchism now being considered one of -many- different ideologies in the very broad category we loosely refer to as "libertarian").  Existing implementations of communism were not in fact implementations of communism, but implementation of a deeply and fatally laid out -process- by which to -arrive- at communism, which ultimately exacerbated the very classist society they sought to eliminate.

Communism isn't incompatible with the free market.  The modern left isn't Left; they're the same bourgeois that they've always been, and their support of the already-shown-to-be-flawed Marxist -approach- to -arriving- at communism, combined with their opposition to libertarian philosophy more broadly, demonstrates their desire to perpetuate the classist society we live in.  (Not that this is unexpected from a group of people who generally take -pleasure- in being referred to as "elitist.")

The goal is the elimination of class.  This is not an inherently anti-libertarian concept; we take great issue with class, we just don't generally call it that.