The Nature of a Contradiction

Contradictions cannot exist in nature. But, unfortunately, they do. So do self-reinforcing cycles, unresolvable dilemmas, and the unique conundrum of perfect noise. For example, two men duel. They both die. Who won? Because it is a conflict, there must be a winner and a loser. An excellent example of perfect noise: there can be no choice between the two, for they are equally preferable. There is no strategy you can use to divine which of the two was the “winner.”

Now, most of you are probably saying “wait a second- they both lost!” Well, that is also a contradiction. In the strictest sense, in order to have a loser, there must also be a victor.  To claim that two of two agents “lost” is as ridiculous is to claim that they both were victorious. To elucidate further, let’s scale this up to a world war. Both sides lose ten million soldiers. Who won? Where there is no definite measure of victory or defeat, both sides will of course claim to have won (although, in all probability, the war would continue until one side had an incontrovertible measure of victory). But where such a measure is absent, and both sides lost equally, it is impossible to “prove” that one side was the victor over the other. It’s patently ridiculous for either side to claim that “we both won!” and such a statement would be construed as outrightly sadistic, and get that poor, insipid politician out of office faster than eating a baby at a state dinner. Though it might make more sentimental sense to claim that both sides “lost” in reality, both sides mean to say that the war was a tragedy for both sides, not that one side won. The point is subtle, but significant.

Now let’s take this perfect noise contradiction and apply it to the real world. You are made an offer by a casino to roll a die. It costs a dollar to play. If it’s a 6, you win $6. Anything else, and you’re out one dollar. Once again, in the strictest sense, there is no point in playing. Neither side is going to win anything, provided that the game is repeated to the point that statistics become important. You can only be a winner in the minute sense that you just won a single roll. This produces a contradiction. It is possible to, given a noninfinite number of rolls, to be winning in the grander sense in that you are above your starting quantity of money, and at the same time be losing five out of every six rolls you play.

My point here is that a contradiction cannot exist in nature. But that by no means precludes contradictions from existing within the human mind. The only way to find a contradiction in nature is from a position of limited information. But a human being can create a contradiction from out of the ether, as simply as 3 = 5. As far as the symbols are concerned, that is a perfectly acceptable arrangement of black scratchings on paper. Only when you start interpreting what the 3, the =, and the 5 mean does the contradiction emerge. In fact, human beings are wired right out of the box (a figure of speech… yeah…) with contradictions. For example, a special facility for learning coupled with a resistance to change. Competing thoughts and emotions are a fact of life for us. But unlike two forces acting upon an object, causing it to remain still, two equal mental forces acting upon a human must produce an action from out of a backdrop of perfect noise. This is the ultimate contradiction of humanity, and is something that should be thought on from time to time.

To provide the most salient example: one perfectly unshaped tabula-rasa human being, the only object in the entire universe, floating in the backdrop of infinite nothingness, would think. What they would think, on the other hand, is a fantastic mystery.

On Language

Language is the greatest example of how we have saddled ourselves with a ridiculous system which no rational entity could possibly concoct. English is by far the worst offender- and the poem The Chaos makes this point very well indeed on the counts of spelling. It’s incredibly irregular in pronunciation: with each letter having many potential ways to pronounce it, some vowels as many as 20. The methods of conjugation are random at best. See, seen, saw, but been, was, were? Go is to went as eat is to ate? Eaten? Eated? Every rule the language has is broken repeatedly. And then the lexical inventory is confusing and abstruse. Why does a ship carry a cargo, but a truck’s load is called a shipment? And even if you can get past all that, the language is often not particularly clear. Though some will say that ambiguity is what enabled Shakespeare to write such masterpieces, that’s a fairly weak reason to saddle everyone with a ridiculous mode of communication. In any case, all its eccentricities make the English language virtually impossible to learn. And once you have, you’re wasting a huge amount of brain hardware that might be better spent actually thinking. All natural languages are like this to some extent, but at least Romance languages have rigorous verb conjugations, and are mostly phonetic.

The solution is to design a better language. And the bar is not high. All that’s necessary is a language that is regular, and clear. An excellent endeavor to this effect is already created, check out Lojban. However, the possibilities for language are limitless. To give an example of the immense possibilities for language, check out Bogomol. But please ignore all the fluffy stuff about alien races. That’s just fiction the author wrote for fun. Unfortunately, creating languages has been associated with a special case of geekbrain syndrome involving orcs, elves, and fantasy worlds. So the practice of improving how we communicate, and even how we think has been ignored. Imagine a language precisely constructed to provide the fastest, most logical and accurate thought process possible. Imagine one that enables the most creative, associative, and innovative thought process at great speed. These would be wonderful tools to be applying all the time. Considering that you think more or less continuously for your entire life, a significant speed improvement (say, fifty times) yields fifty times more thought per person. Imagine the differences in society if 300 million Americans all did that.

Questioning the Internet

I love the internet. In fact, other than women, it is the closest I get to violating the dictate: “Allow nothing to cleave to you that is not your own, allow nothing to grow upon you that will give you agony when it is torn away.” Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just I will inevitably suffer from being too dependent on the Internet.

Anyway, despite my mild obsession, I frequently question the wisdom that went into its design. For example, why must all sites end in .com, .org, etc., etc.? Why can’t the suffix be used to derive further information about the nature of the site? For example, .p for a personal page, .b for a blog- this one might be zenstoic.b, .g for group, .c for community, .s for service, the list goes on. One major issue with this is that there are a colossal number of, let’s say four letter suffixes possible, and this would make web real estate comparatively valueless compared to the current system. Anybody who wanted one could claim a domain, and web tycoons would be unable to landgrab countless domains in an frenzied effort to make instant fortunes. Plus, it would make bundling related sites a great deal easier, and navigation between them would be far simpler as well. It makes sense that would be linked to zenstoic.comments and zenstoic.discussion. All that would be necessary is a conversion from the age-old method of how ISP’s resolve text URL’s into IP addresses.

Next thought; why not organize webspace? Currently, pretty much all websites have more or less the same “access universality.” That is to say, the web is flat. Nevertheless, some sites are more viewed than others as authorities, and there are leading figures such as Google. A more sensible web topography might be to group the academic sites together into a tightly knit web circle, and then the product sites, the service sites, the free community sites, open source software sites, etc. etc. If you want to explore one given sector of the web, you can do that. Then the mainstream corporate sites are lumped together into a “central” webspace based on the number of pageviews. This makes is possible to navigate among only the backwaters and find the real web as a network of individuals. For example, wikipedia qualifies as backwaters by this measure, but the Apple homepage does not. There’s the corporate sector, then there’s the community sector if you get my drift.

On Walking

How we walk is a perfect example of a system that nobody has thought to challenge. Why not? Because that’s how we’ve always done it. QED, the current method is the best possible. I’m going to prove that false, and selectively supply information culled from a third party source linked at the bottom of this post to provide a better method.

The basic problem with the current mode of locomotion is the reliance on the shoe. Though humans evolved to deal with the ground barefoot, it seems an obvious pain-reliever to put some protection underneath the sole. However, the natural human mode of walking is intended to deal with the ground by first “testing” the ground to see if it’s safe to tread there using the front of the foot. With shoes on, however, this test is discarded and we begin to walk with the heel. When you walk barefoot, your walking mode switches hugely. You start to walk with bent knees and relaxed calf and thigh muscles. The arch of the foot is used to effect to lift the back of the foot, and the toes are used to provide forward stability. Moreover, your center of gravity is shifted forwards. This is to greater effect when running, so you are in effect falling forward slightly to propel yourself forward.

Naturally, the foot is an excellent shock absorber when walking with the front of the foot, because the ankle converts the jarring upward shock into rotational force, which the heel and achilles tendon steady. When walking with the heel- Anthropik calls this “cow walking,” which I quite like- this jarring upward force is carried directly up through the heel, ankle, and leg. Apart from long-term health concerns, hip and back pain, and arthritis or osteoporosis of legs or hips, the major problem that this produces is is a greatly reduced ability to walk or run. Each leg has to move farther to place the heel vertically underneath the leg, and then the fact that it is vertical, with knees locked, causes the shock to extend all the way up the leg and to jar your internal organs. This tends to manifest itself as a stitch in the side, when the liver or kidneys are knocked around too much. Also, the natural tendency for right-handed people is to breathe in when the right foot hits the ground. This especially aggravates the shockwaves to the kidney since it faces heightened internal pressure from above as well, resulting in a stitch in the side after you’ve run hardly a mile. Shoeless societies such as the Kalahari Bushmen or Navajo indians appear to be impossibly good runners. Bushmen hunters run for days continuously to catch a gazelle- the creature collapses from exhaustion (four-legged runners may be faster, but when they run they constrict their lungs and can’t breathe as well). And Bushmen do this regularly, unlike marathon runners.

Humans are natural-born runners. We can run for longer than any other creature alive. Ostriches are exclaimed in National Geographic to be able to run at 40 mph for up to five hours. Humans can run at 10 mph for up to three days. Obviously, there is conditioning and fitness required on top of just being human, but those Kalahari Bushmen don’t lift weights or run around a track. They hunt a gazelle every few days just to eat.

More depth on the subject, including physiological deformity as a result of common walking practice, and seemingly extreme physical feats of shoeless runners dismissed as commonplace in shoeless societies such as the Native American Indians, can be found here.

On Pure Democracy

The only government which is not “evil,” or doesn’t produce trends to act in malign and ethically unsupportable ways, is pure democracy. The key word in this statement is “pure.” The only pure democracy in history that I know of is the ancient Greeks, most notably Athens. Pure democracy is where the only unit of power is the individual’s vote. There are no elections, there are no positions of power, and there is certainly no executive branch. There is also no legislative branch per se, except that the entire population is the legislative branch… And the judicial branch…

Anyway, it is in so many ways the perfect system. Unfortunately it has some very exacting prerequisites. The general population has to be well enmeshed, and able to connect with one another. They have to be willing to listen to those in a position to know, and ascertain the credibility of the speaker instead of taking their statements cold. A certain amount of independence and intelligence are demanded. But, most problematic, it has to be practical to obtain the opinions of so many. The only functional examples were small city-states of only a few thousand individuals.

In a large country with millions of people a pure democracy is to put it softly, impractical. However, why have a single state be the prime decision-making unit of the country? Since a direct pure democracy is impossible, perhaps an abstracted pure democracy could work. Possibility 1) Cut the country up into little pieces, each containing perhaps 3,000 individuals who are geographically close to one another. This community would convene on a regular basis to decide matters immediately within their jurisdiction by voting. Attendance would not be required, but if you wanted to get things done then speaking in front of the group would be the most direct and effective way to go about it. For matters of larger consequence, communities would send a single representative to an assembly of perhaps 3,000 representatives. It is important that these representatives are not elected to term, but simply chosen for the occasion. One person goes to one meeting, perhaps a different person to the next one. These form a few assemblies (the US has 300 million citizens, therefore about 33 assemblies with these numbers), and this is the highest level of government. To get something done at the national level, all the assemblies have to agree. As an aside, in the US it might be prudent to alter the numbers in such a way to produce 50 assemblies, one for each state, such as 3000 citizens per community and 2000 representatives per assembly as an approximation.

The other possibility is to utilize the full power of the internet to create a pure democracy. Though now that I mention it, that topic is fairly exhaustive. It deserves more thought, and should have a post of its own.

Home Hydroponics

Hydroponics should already have the power to change how we think about food. It it possible to grow your own food in a specialized cell. So why can’t we? Perhaps I’m speaking for myself here, but I would be well prepared to spend several thousand dollars to purchase an automated hydroponics unit capable of providing me food for the rest of my life at virtually no cost. Water, and some nutrient solutions every few months. And perhaps a sun lamp so it can receive energy at night- though I suspect that might be counterproductive. Of course, that implies that I wouldn’t have to pay any attention to it. I don’t want to suddenly become a farmer.

The implication is that for the rest of my life, food is no longer an expense unless I want to buy something I really like. If I spend $30 a day on food, that translates into $10,950 in food expenses in one year. Assuming that I could take care of all my nutrition and sustenance needs with hydroponics, I might spend just $5 a day on “food enhancement” such as the occasional steak or box of cookies. This would slash the cost of food down to $1,825 per year. That gives you an extra $9,000 to go do other things with. Every year.

This is obviously a huge business opportunity. Here are my personal criteria for a hydroponics unit that I would buy: 1) Automated. I want to pick what’s growing and then forget about it until I feel like eating it. 2) Independence. I want to be able to grow such that, if I wanted to, I would never have to go to a grocery store. This includes seed-sufficiency as well. Anything less means the product is deficient. And 3) Quality and flexibility. I want to be able to grow many different types of plants, and I don’t want them to be tasteless and pathetic astronaut-paste. It should taste good. And if I want to grow peppers, berries, leeks, whatever, that should be possible.

Now, this probably isn’t going to happen soon for a host of reasons. But none of them make sense in the Stoic understanding of the term. So where’s my personal microfarm?

Stateless Distributism and War

I have been reading quite a bit about distributism lately, and I must admit I have never seen so compelling a case for an economic philosophy. Normally, such as the argument for minimum wage, it’s a tough call because both sides have their merit. It becomes a matter of circumstance, and of people. Unquestionably, given a chance to build an economic system from the ground up, and throwing out the implicit value of tradition- “well, this is how we’ve always done it” and considering the tradition on its merit alone, there is no question that distributism is a superior system. Not only does it become possible to have generalized approximate equality, but it becomes possible to do it without a centralized agency. By nature, powerful governments are not merely ineffective, but flagrantly counterproductive. And they directly cause countless problems that the government is, by nature, unable to solve. The only non-evil government is the pure democracy. I emphasize the word pure, which has never existed since ancient Greece because in groups larger than several thousand the entire system becomes oppressively inefficient. The Internet might change that. In any case, distributism makes possible a pure democratic state (i.e. stateless state) with far greater economic power than the big government trailing corporations, where before the economic tout of governments and corporations made it impossible.

The point of a big government is to use its power to create equality. In truth, power is always used to the benefit of the holder. The system has worked approximately because the people control who is the holder, and it changes frequently. Its essential issue is that money is power, and billionaires have many, many votes, so what they say goes. In a distributist society, instead of direct manhandling of companies and individuals, the point becomes managing the standing wave of socioeconomic forces to produce a “perfect storm” of equality and economic success for all. And the brilliant thing about it is that no one agent has that power. Only the will of millions of individual agents acting at odds can produce such a system. Distributism is the application of self-organizing systems to sociopolitics.

However, it is not without its flaws. Fortunately, if you’re going to have flaws, they’re the flaws you want. While stateless distributist societies would be extremely disinclined to fight wars (advantage), they would also be extraordinarily bad at fighting wars and would present a wealthy and cultured; in a word, juicy, target for an enterprising invader. So the temptation to attack them would run high, and their ability to defend themselves would run low. Say what you will about governments, they do an excellent job managing colossal militaries of hundreds of thousands of individuals, millions in a large enough war. That’s because their position is akin to the cornered grizzly bear needing to retain its fighting skills when it finds another grizzly. Observing the state as an organism that seeks survival and self-perpetuation, its fighting capability seems to take the fore. By comparison, the distributist society takes on the aspect of a plant. It is perfectly capable of peaceful economic interaction and self-generation of wealth and energy, but it’s vulnerable to being eaten. There is no centralized agency large enough to coordinate a massive war effort, and the temporary creation of one sets a dangerous precedent which could endanger the entire distributist society.

I believe I have a solution. Knowing that the protection of the distributist society is a necessary evil, the military does not necessarily need to be centralized. The essence of distributism is to make the entire system self-organizing, and military systems can be constructed to be self-organizing as well. The system will be very different from anything currently in existence. For example, a distributist society will not be able to justify the kind of mind-bending military expense that a large corporate state can due to the invariably well-developed military industrial complex such a state will be dragging along. In the distributist society there will be no $400 million cruise missiles. In spite of everything, that puts the distributist society at a disadvantage with regard to materiel. But then, the American Revolutionaries in 1776 were at the ultimate materiel disadvantage. So were the Viet Cong and North Koreans. So maybe that doesn’t mean so much. Anyway, with these systemic notes in hand, I will outline the system I cooked up:

The basic unit of the war brain of the distributist society is the war share. Essentially the civilians purchase these to provide the stateless distributist equivalent to a defense budget. It is important to note that (competing!) war companies will blatantly be trying to sell these and, in effect, turn war into a product. If you didn’t know war is a product already, but the government is selling it to you instead of Johnson & Johnson, you need some serious enlightening. War is, was, and shall remain the most profitable business in history if you’re evil enough to try it. Now, there is an important distinction between two types of war shares. The first is the defensive war share, and the second is the offensive war share. The defensive variety can be seen more like a security fee to be used to defend in the event that someone should invade or otherwise directly threaten the society in question. Not overseas like Vietnam or some such nonsense, but directly and unequivocally attacking.

The offensive share is to initiate any military action anywhere other than in the society’s home territory, though it also contains a defensive share. Its funds can be used either to defend at home or to attack a specific enemy overseas. It should be extraordinarily difficult to start a war, but it should be possible. I point to World War II and the United States’ labored decision to enter it, in spite of the fact that it was an overseas war, and that the Axis had to be stopped. It is expected that, most of the time, the offensive shares for all countries will be burning at a low ebb. However, in the event that global circumstances provoke a consensus, the distributist society goes to war.

Both shares have some important distinguishing features. Firstly, if you buy them, you have to be willing to put your life on the line to back it up. Your probability of getting drafted is based directly from the quantity of war shares you purchased. If you really support a war, then you should be prepared to go fight it. And yes, you can be drafted, even though there is no centralized agency to do the drafting. Your Dispute Resolution Organization will see to it that you keep your word on the contract you signed when you bought that share. It is likely, however, that you will be able to opt out of your draft by paying a large fee and posting another draft probability, probably higher than the first one. Money is just as helpful as manpower, the DRO may prefer you to pay ten times your war share’s value than actually go participate. This is part of the reason why distributism is necessary for the stateless society to function: if the economic disparity was too great, the rich would take advantage of the poor, and not much is different than modern times. Only the methods change. Secondly, your war share includes a contractual obligation to continue to fund the war at a certain rate for a certain time interval, such as one month. However, at any time, you may withdraw your support for the war. Though you are obligated to pay for the rest of the month after that your contract is done.

The objective of this entire thought experiment was to somehow produce a distributist society that could protect itself, while eliminating all unnecessary aggression. The moral judgment of the individuals in the society is what determines the actions of the entire society. And when that moral judgment says “war!” there should be a systemic check on that, just to make sure. In this case, the raising of funds does not lend itself to instantaneous wars of whim, but it does lend itself to instantaneous defense of the territory itself.