The Revolving Door of Desire

As a concept, what does it mean to want something? When you want something, what is your relationship to it in specific terms? And no, you can’t cheat and say it won’t reduce- “I just want it.” What is really going on? Is it a problem? Illusion or delusion? If it is, can you get over it?

I think desire is one of many genetic relics. Genes created intelligence, but couldn’t cede control completely because the result would be an organism that was unable to survive. So they created a number of frameworks such as instincts, emotions, pleasure, pain, etc. etc. Why is sex pleasurably? Easy- the genes had to motivate a simple mind to seek it, and so they created a concept of positive/negative and then ascribed behavior X to positive and behavior Y to negative. Well, desire is not really a relic because for the most part it is still necessary to maintain a degree of basic motivation and control due to the fact that your average person is unable to reason with sufficient panache to survive by reason alone. Hunger is not really a necessary aspect of biology- do microbes become hungry? Probably not. We feel hungry, as do mammals as a class, because otherwise we wouldn’t seek food which we need to maintain our physical bodies. When an organism becomes capable of what we shall call nongenetic action, or activity that the genes cannot actually control such as response to a complex environment in real-time, they instead must determine a structure for making those decisions. That structure is like a middleman, capable of independent action on its own behalf. In our case, genes have created a different type of organism in many ways superior to the genetic base. They created humans- that would be our minds. We are currently acting as servile creatures to our genes, performing what secondary survival decision-making tasks the genes need us to make to cause them to survive. The genes insure our compliance by limiting the scope of our consciousness to a small subsection of our brain’s activity, by providing fixed and appropriately weighed incentives, and also by occasionally overriding our brain’s decisions when they think they “know” what to do. Reflex actions. They also bind the mind almost irrevocably with the body. They make damn sure that “if we go down, you are goddamn coming with us!” Death for the biological organism is more or less equivalent to death of the information organism. Or at least it has been so far.

Now to risk getting a little bit Buddhist, why should we care? Is desire something we should embrace, or something we should escape from? We generally consider the fulfillment of desire to be a goal. In fact, we humans will even go so far as to create more desires for ourselves. We want to want things. We want to have more things to want because it brings us a secondary payoff to envision having those things fulfilled even if they don’t end up that way. Desire in the most direct sense is the biological necessity for something we need to survive. All desire derives to either the survival of the organism, or the fulfillment of information-drives. What do I mean by information drives? Why do some people have this overwhelming desire to create art? It is clearly not a drive for basic survival. In fact, the pursuit of a career in art can be said to directly conflict with survival desires demanding the maximization of food, sex, etc. etc. An information drive is the need to expand yourself as an informational entity. Actually this reduces to a survival urge as well, but of your informational body, which seeks to consume as much data space as possible. Multiply, if you will, but in its own way. Biomass seeks to spread to as much inanimate matter as possible- or other animate matter. Where a creature of a finite substantial capacity is the only efficient method of living in a universe with our universe’s laws, that means the best way to spread to as much matter as possible is to multiply the number of organisms. In dataspace, the laws are different. A single organism is a far more efficient competitive entity than a “species” and as a result a single mind would seek to expand to use as much processor and data as possible.

Computers are intended to be an extension of the mind, a thinking tool, in the same sense that a hammer is an extension of the hand. When someone is addicted to computers, they are addicted to the additional processing power. They have indirectly invested some of their own informational entity in the computer, exploiting it like a secondary servile mind. The interface between the two is extraordinarily inefficient, much worse than a computer plugged into an external hard drive with a USB 1.0 cable. But the principle is the same. Those who are addicted to the internet are addicted to content. They are addicted to the act of acquiring information and adding it to their information-minds. They may forget it soon, but the act of adding information gives them a secondary hit in the same way that an obese person has gotten some hit out of eating. There is a desire there that is in overdrive. I believe this condition is a bit rarer, but power tools may be addictive in the same sense- they are an extension of the body, they endow the user with power. Weapons, perhaps? Driving a car- now we’ve got something. When you’re at the wheel you have effectively extended your body to a ton and a half of metal, plastic, glass, and rubber, with an interface designed more or less ergonomically to give you decent control over its operation. Making it different from your body operating your body-machine how, exactly? Even stranger, the car even features a number of organized systems such as  an engine, wheels, seats, even cupholders. While there really isn’t an evolutionary precedent for cupholders, I imagine if an organism lived by having another organism take control of it, and more of it were produced when more of that organism were pleased by it, then it would sport any trait that the “driving” organism would choose. I’m not saying that cars are alive, but I am saying that the idea of a model of car exists in an evolutionary system where we select for traits that “please” us. I imagine addictions to cars or driving are relatively rare as well, but addiction to power, such as that bestowed by extending and empowering the body, is far from rare. Power makes survival much easier. Social power, especially, is highly addictive. Power over other people. That stems from a base desire to survive because if you’re the leader of the group you’re very unlikely to die before the rest of the group does. Genetically speaking, you’re therefore less likely to die, period. So power-seeking behavior is a survival advantage, and genes program us to seek it in the same way they program us to seek food.

The interesting thing about desires is that they aren’t rational. But they can control us anyway. For example, an addiction to chocolate. We know, consciously, that too much chocolate will make you fat. But some people still consume far too much chocolate despite the fact that they know the taste of the chocolate is not worth the price in reduced fitness, well let’s face it, reduced social “value” of being fat. Back in medieval times being fat meant you were rich, and being thin was a sign of reduced social value. Now, the reverse is true. Social value stems from power over people, or wanting to deprive others of power over you, but doing it in such a way that allows you to keep power over others, etc. etc. etc. I could do a post on just that.

Anyway, what’s truly fascinating is that the fulfillment of desire does not make it go away. Now we’re getting into samsara, or desire-suffering. As a concept, it has value. The semantic combination of the two is very interesting. This translates into the very Stoic ideal that the only way to truly be happy is to remove desire. In practical terms, it’s pretty simple. When presented with the chocolate dilemma, it’s easy. Stop wanting the damn chocolate. How come nobody thinks like this? Because it’s unprofitable for those trying to sell you worthless crap you don’t want, that’s why. Capitalism is certainly the most efficient and moral system, but when you add in elements of compulsion then the system turns truly horrific really fast. Advertising is compulsion utilizing the mere exposure effect and other nuances of the subconscious mind. Deceit is compulsion, the creation of unnecessary specialist systems like some convoluted overcomplicated tax code, law system, or stock market is compulsion. Governmental mandate is compulsion.

Basically, where all entities concerned are equally competent and rational, capitalism can only result in mutual benefit because it’s only valuable to agent A to make proposals that benefit agent B. Otherwise B will simply refuse. And A will benefit because otherwise they wouldn’t make the proposal. However if agent A has the capacity to force B to agree then A can make whatever terms he wishes. Worse, let’s assume that A doesn’t have true compulsive power over B. Rather, they instead have some small degree of influence to decrease B’s ability to think rationally and lead B to believe that a deal is beneficial to them when in fact it is not. That is deceit, that is destroying B’s ability to think, that is compulsion, and that is evil. But nevertheless it is a highly profitable strategy in modern capitalism. When a consumer population becomes weakened and susceptible, such as, say, by fear during, let’s just say World War II, the bug begins. I won’t go into that any more, but for America that is when the spiral to today began. Companies can use some degree of power- i.e. money, to influence politicians to further reduce the consumer’s ability to resist. The most direct way is to destroy the school system, but that actually hasn’t been the main thrust even though it has happened. What has happened is the institution of corporate interests in politics. Special interest groups, bureaucracy, and the reduction of the rights of the individual in favor of “the community” or “the nation” has been continuous. The Democrats reduce economic freedom, the Republicans reduce social freedom, in a continuous tightening of the vise. The government’s involvement has steadily increased, the amount of money the government handles has increased, and the rights of the individual have been steadily turned over. Lately it has become especially blatant, but the Bush administration was inevitable- eventually it was going to happen. Socioeconomic forces are powerful indeed. Though you can blame Bush all you want, and rightly so, until you claim your power for yourself, guess where the country is still going to go?

They have made us apathetic. There is no dimly lit backroom where a small circle planned out our apathy, though Cheney and Rove come pretty damn close. No, we are seeing the product of an evolutionary system bent on exploiting the weakness of the American people. They reduce our power and our reaction, derived from a deeply rooted servility, is to turn apathetic. It’s out of our hands, it’s their responsibility. Let’s choose someone better next time, while Huckabee uses subliminal advertising just as Bush did. Nothing has changed. In fact, the Bush administration is the knee of the neocon evolutionary curve. We had best stop it now or we’re utterly screwed. How do we do that? I don’t care what your politics are, I am going to make a statement that you must agree with. You should choose for yourself. Take your power for yourself. You take responsibility for your own life, and nobody else has the right to take that from you. So by claiming your vote matters, you are buying into a system of communal compulsion. True, with a base of independent, strong people it works great. Everyone in it understands the value of individualism and won’t infringe on those rights. But in a body of the weak, the wolves care not about the apathy of the sheep. However the presence of a government that is meant to “take care of people” results in institutionalized weakness. You no longer need to be strong, because the government will help those who aren’t. Well, those people who are being “helped” are being aided by the expense of others. It doesn’t take much before everyone feels they don’t need to be strong, resulting in a generalized decrease in the resources available. Now there’s nobody to take from to help the needy, and too many needy to help.

We all need to decide for ourselves what we want, instead of wanting what everyone else wants. We need to decide what works, irrespective of what everyone else is doing. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, and seize the power to control ourselves. We need to distance ourselves from our irrational desires, lest they be used to control us. We need many more things than I can list here. First and foremost, we need a nation of individuals. Give me a nation of people who think for themselves over a nation of “patriots”, for the latter is a nation of fools and imbeciles begging to be led to slaughter by a wolf in disguise.

Arrogance

Arrogance is one of humankind’s greatest features. Before I continue I must disentangle a number of associations the word brings up. Firstly, to be arrogant is not necessarily to be a braggart or a jackass, and neither is arrogance equivalent to a superiority complex. Arrogance is simply “excessive pride”. Now this is the point where you tell me “there you go- excessive, see?” I guarantee you that anyone who is not sporting an excessive amount of pride is currently suffering from major depressive disorder. Arrogance is not the equivalent of selfishness, narcissism, or blind hubris. If you can remove all the negative and claim only the golden caramelly center, arrogance is one of the greatest virtues you may possess.

You may have noticed that I cherry-pick useful thoughts, ideas, etc. etc. and as long as the result is rationally and empirically sound, and of course consistent, then the fact that its seeds came from a thousand trees is irrelevant. This is a similar process, but taking only the useful elements from an characteristic, emotion, or state is more difficult than disassembling a system of ideas. They tend to be wired up in all kinds of strange ways.

Maybe it will be easier if I attack the opposite argument first. The elevation of humble behavior to a status of virtue is fundamentally inconsistent. If by being humble you mean it is a virtue not to discuss your great deeds, can you provide a rationale? I perfectly agree that too much is a major pain in the neck, but the same law applies to almost anything. I’m sure you would find it annoying to talk to someone who talked constantly, every day, nonstop, about what a certain brand of coffee tastes like. Unless of course you are also obsessed with that coffee. But what if you are also obsessed with their great deeds? So really what you’re saying is that you shouldn’t talk excessively about any one subject, not solely against arrogantly decrying your own accomplishments. If you start talking to me about people who actually lie when they brag, well that’s a different matter entirely. They’re lying. Is there a significant difference in lying about personal accomplishments and lying about anything else? Maybe we should narrow that down a bit. Lie-bragging versus lying in some other manner for purely personal gain? There’s not really that much difference.

I am clearly not justifying being a jackass. All I’m saying is that this huge emphasis on selling yourself short is clearly counterproductive. It does serve a function- it makes the people who are simply not as capable feel better because they tell the truth, those superior to them reduce their status intentionally, and everyone seems pretty equal. Sound good? It shouldn’t. All this system accomplishes is a lowering of the stakes, a generalized drop in the effectiveness of everyone. Catering to the lowest common denominator is a recipe for colossal, omnipresent failure. In a normal bell curve those above average have less motivation to improve- in fact there is even a slight social pressure to do worse- and those below have a heightened motivation to improve, not even counting the social pressure upwards towards the typical. When you flatten the curve against the weak side nobody has any motivation to go anywhere. In fact, the pressure to neither get ahead of the crowd nor fall behind is immense. For example, let’s take test scores. Would students be under more pressure, all other factors being the same, if they were told that the scores among everyone they knew were distributed in a statistically random fashion, or if they were told everyone they knew received an 80%? In the first case, whatever score the student gets can be socially “justified,” however in the second case all scores except an 80 are “abnormal.”

So be arrogant. Just don’t be a jackass. As a matter of fact, that sounds too moderate. BE a jackass, just don’t act like one. This is the sentiment I’m getting at. The common perception of “nice” simply turns you into a sheep, unable to perform better than anyone else and unable to think for yourself. In order to escape, first you have to accept that you are in fact superior to others and when you have an idea it may well be better than someone else’s idea. Of course this judgment must be the product of objective, rational assessment. Claiming that “it’s better because I thought of it” or anything along those lines is blind hubris, irrational, and has nothing to do with the mentality I’m getting at. There exists a better way to do things, there exists a correct method or answer, there exists Truth. However, others may be mistaken in their reason and cannot be accepted without qualification. The argument from authority is NEVER VALID. Even a sign on the side of the road is not a valid designator that such and such is the case. It makes a useful heuristic and you may be inclined to interpret said signs as a valid symbol, but they do not indicate Truth! To suggest otherwise is to say that you believe X because an official-looking sign told you so. Your own reason is your first and last tool for inspecting the universe, the senses being merely a set of observation tools used to supply your reason with data. As a result, you must respect the truth of your own faculties to the limit of their accuracy and reliability and acknowledge the possibility that you may be right where others are wrong. Ah, the arrogance of claiming “you’re all wrong!” Every major advancement, especially science, depends upon this arrogance. Newton had the unparalleled audacity to claim to know “the key” to understanding the physical universe. Arrogance is necessary.

We have the arrogance to believe that our unimaginably small corner of the universe matters.  In reality, even if you were to take into account the entire planet, the entire solar system, everything. You still are talking about a statistically insignificant subsection that which substantially exists. We humans are the only ones that care about the fate of the Earth.  With the arrogance of ants claiming their anthill and surrounding territory is “the world” that matters, we stake out Earth.  Or maybe just our property. I don’t really care.  Either way, the difference of scale is insignificant. We, every one of us, has the arrogance needed to assert that we matter.  In universal terms, you can’t really go higher than that.

I touched on a point back there I need to clear up a bit. The senses versus reason- the fundamental philosophical debate. This deserves at least one post but I presented a confusing perspective in the above paragraph and don’t want to change it since it works pretty well for its environment, so I’ll clarify here. Your reason is the core of your mind, the ability to process data to produce results. Like the accumulators in a computer, only much more advanced, high-level processes. The senses and the cortices of the mind that process sense data into reason-usable forms are auxiliary elements meant to interface the world with that reasoning faculty. I can cite the easy example of if one of your senses was removed you would still function quite well. But what if you removed all of them? In fact, what if you were just a brain floating in a vat? You would be capable of reason and reason alone, which would seriously suck. But let’s say you are taken out of your vat and put into a shiny new cyborg body equipped with a dozen senses instead of the normal five? You get new ones like radar spatial awareness, maybe internet uplink senses, or whatever. The possibilities for virtual senses are literally limitless. Anyway, you can plug those into the basic human reason faculty and you’re ready to rock. Provided that we include within the sense’s package the conversion into information you can understand- like sense “feelings.” Our eyes perceive light in spectra, etc. etc. and the sense representation we get after processing is a 3D world. Reason is the most important power in human thinking, but we can trust the senses because they evolved with the same efficacy as reason. Both are fallible but we can trust them both to a large degree. Reason is easier to fix because it’s pretty much blank processor power which we can program however we want. The senses hardware, just like the brain itself, distinguishing it from the reasoning entity that inhabits it.

Objectivism, Your Mind, & Reality

Ayn Rand is, in my opinion, one of the most levelheaded thinkers out there. However, she’s also wrong on a number of counts. Of course, I say that about pretty much every major thinker because I agree with them on some points and disagree on others. Yet Objectivism is virtually perfect. Look it up if you don’t know what Objectivism is- wikipedia shall serve ye well.

Firstly is the concept of an objective reality with objective facts that exist irrespective of perception. This is utterly true. If you are referring to “reality.” But that’s actually rather harder to do than you would think. When you hold an apple in your hand and say “this is an apple” you are drawing those conclusions based on sensory data, constructing a world completely in your own mind that you can then abstract into concepts such as “apple.” In reality, an “apple” cannot exist, only a set of atoms arranged in such a way that your mind gets the idea that it is an apple. As such, the perspective of the conscious agent is inseparable from the reality it perceives.

This is going to seem like a massive tangent, and perhaps it will end up that way. But for now, trust me- I’m on track. As a sentient entity, humans use self-conceptualizing thinking mechanisms. That is, when you think something, you think you are thinking it. For a squirrel (me, apples, squirrels, they work) it has no idea what it is thinking at the time. It is merely a bunch of chemical and neurological reactions that produce survival behavior. There is no conscious mind being informed “this is what we are now doing, what next?” The squirrel is an automaton. However, since I always unify things in unexpected ways, I would go so far as to say that all purely biological lifeforms must be automatons. They can be very complex automatons, even to the point of taking inputs and modulating outputs, but there is no sentience being served and being told that it’s running the show. That is a meme. A meme-less brain is actually impossible, since any “hard-coded” information pattern created by genes would be replicated genetically. In this case the memes that fill the brain and evolve would be best-geared for the survival of the species (given competition) because the survival of the species is a prerequisite for the survival of the meme. We evolved learning mechanisms, memory, emotions, language centers, etc. etc. to aid our survival. However, when you add what I will call code communication to the mix it becomes possible for memes to move around in non-genetic ways. Speech was the first code-communication, enabling two humans to manipulate semantic agents in the same way they were expressed in the brain. As a result, memes could put themselves into a speech-form which can pass to another human, ready to be passed to another human. Note that the faculty for speech itself is a genetic meme- languages are learned through baser, non-code communication like body language. You don’t think in body language, but you can acquire memes through it.

I should reduce that convoluted paragraph to its essence. But I’m not going to cut it because there may be some people who follow my mind like locomotives on railroad tracks and would get a lot out of it. Basically, you think differently than you can communicate. As we develop more explicit modes of communication, the ability for memes to spread increases. Secondly, there exists a threshold I call code communication- the point at which it is possible to reliably communicate thinking patterns. Body language through the development of spoken language was the crossover into code communication. Someone who thinks in English and is told something in English is going to automatically integrate what was heard in a manner similar to their thoughts. When communicating in body language, you have a communication buffer that gets in the way. This insulates the mind and stops memes from being contagious under their own power. To get a better picture of this barrier, imagine trying to explain Christianity, or physics, to someone who did not speak any language at all, who literally never learned about language. It’s impossible in the purest sense because you’re trying to explain a semantic concept to someone who can’t handle semantic concepts, doesn’t even know they exist. The idea that “physics” exists just would not work for them. By the same token, “apple” would not exist for them. The object, apple, they would recognize, and they would understand they could eat it. But the idea that there is a concept derived from a number of similar objects all called apples would never penetrate their mind. And if you tried to explain that the thing is red and edible, you aren’t helping because they don’t understand the property of redness or edibleness.

So we can agree that a mind adds greatly to the depth of reality, introducing the existence of new things like redness or edibleness, or “apple”. Pure Objectivism would say that nothing exists that isn’t “real”. I’m getting self-conscious about my use of quotes. In case you hadn’t noticed, I use them to indicate that the word is not being used in the conventional sense. Somewhat like a ‘ from Lisp… Anyway! I would say that something doesn’t have to be real to exist, but it must exist to be considered. A couple other stipulations: all things that are real, exist, and (therefore, for logical people) all things that do not exist are not real. I am not saying that unicorns exist. Unicorns are neither real nor existent. However, the idea of a unicorn certainly exists, although it certainly is not real. “Real.” Damn I hate English. Give me a truly logical language and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. And all the little slave gnomes straining away in the Labor Furnace of Evan’s Brain scream “Oh NO! Here we go again!” I’m hoping you’re understanding the distinction between reality and existence. “Real” would mean that it has corporeal existence in the physical sense, while existence means only that there exists a pattern of information that would be adequately represented by that label. In reality, “an apple” doesn’t exist. However, there exist a large number of objects that we would say exhibit the form and properties of an apple, so semantically we take a shortcut and say that any one of them could be referred to. This is a lot of wrangling just to make a fairly rudimentary distinction. Still more fun, there are also things in reality that do not exist in our perceptual worlds. What is the color of ultraviolet? It doesn’t exist in our perception, so we have to tag it with some other color already used by another spectrum in order to “see” it. This is rather like the position of the languageless human, who doesn’t know what a semantic object is because it hasn’t been created in their perceptual world. Who knows what idea-inventions of equal magnitude we haven’t even begun to consider.

Comic relief time. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Weeehoooo!) It’s a real, grammatically valid sentence. Look it up.

OK, reality and existence established, we now arrive at existence of paradigms. The world we perceive as real has a certain set of physical laws that don’t change. This we probably know. However, we clearly know that the idea of a unicorn is bound by none of these laws. In effect, the idea-world is operating with different laws. I don’t actually like Plato’s philosophy but he was the first philosopher to take a stab at abstraction so I must give him credit. A unicorn exists in a paradigm world defined only by the properties of the unicorn, with no other restrictions. Effectively, we can say whatever we want about the situation the unicorn is in, the laws of its world, none of those are defined. In fact, many of the properties of the unicorn are also not defined. Are all unicorns white? Must they have only two genders? Basically you get a horselike thing with a horn, everything else is negotiable. We could place the unicorn in a world with one law: very powerful antigravity. Or maybe where all organisms spontaneously explode seconds after being created (maybe they’re the same world)- whatever!

Remarkably, we can even conceive of paradigms that are not logically consistent, or even remotely sane. Consider a square circle. Right off, you’ll tell me that it’s logically impossible. A square’s definition logically precludes it from being a circle. For the most part, you’re right. However, you are using those definitions in a natural-world context using “real” laws you are familiar with. Let’s envision a paradigm in which a shape has two attributes which, depending on its environment, can cause it to “appear” as a square or as a circle when in fact it is both and neither. This example is weak because actually what we’re doing is rendering the natural definition of “square” and “circle” null and void by changing the laws of the universe and then converting those definitions into analogues for the new paradigm in whatever form we want- truly an impressive feat in algorithmic terms. The essence of the last sentence is that we are no longer talking about a square and a circle by our real-world definition, because those couldn’t exist in such a world- they would be logically impossible.

I am not saying that there actually exists a “world of ideas” that we all come from. Instead I am saying that we all have powerful minds capable of more or less unlimited manipulation of information within their sphere of influence, and that we can create any paradigms or concepts that we wish within that. This is the reason why many people become addicted to things like computers. A computer is a tool to aid your mind in the same way that a hammer is an aid to the hand. The major distinction is that adding power to your mind is a highly addicting process because it gives you that much more outlet power. I imagine if we were able to represent a massive virtual world with nothing but our brains, we would be doing it all the time because that creative outlet, that power, is highly addictive. People can also become addicted to content, which is a similar process, except that it is input instead of output. In a way, input is the first resource for the creation of output so all couch potatoes are information packrat zombies who store and store and store and never use any of it. Worse, they aren’t particularly selective about what they choose to learn or keep, so it’s invariably complete junk. On the other hand, you get people who never accept information input. This produces an ivory-tower pure reason thinker. Philosophers who choose to consider the sensory world and the assertions of others unreliable a la Descartes tend to exhibit this sort of mentality, in their philosophy at least.

How am I going to draw all this together? The universe is more complicated than we know, not because its laws are sophisticated, but because it actually contains an extra world for each sentient being in it. And each of those worlds exhibits N-dimensional, code undefined, plastic behavior that can even use impossible logical system as their foundation. Now let’s say, just for fun, that our minds were powerful enough to conceive of a large enough quantity of information to define all the atoms necessary to make, say, Earth, it’s ecosystem, and 6 billion human inhabitants. We can throw in the rest of the universe and its paradigm laws just for the hell of it. Each of those human inhabitants could exhibit the same property of consciousness, N-dimensional mind-worlds derived purely from their (mind-virtual) atomic information. This is where it gets really trippy. So you have within your mind enough computational power to simulate the universe (with generalizations and abstraction, otherwise it would take 1 bit to represent 1 bit and you would need to be the universe to simulate it- which is impossible). You have run this simulation and arrived at Earth with humans on it. Do you hear all their thoughts? I’m going to leave you with that one and get onto the truly trippy stuff- let’s say these humans develop computers, they learn to augment their brains, and grow their own brainpower. Now you have billions of humans who are also able to simulate the entire Earth plus 6 billion people. And they are inside your head. Though by that point calling it your “head” is probably inaccurate.

How could this possibly work, you ask. Well, like I said, abstraction and generalization all the way. Provided that no entity is consciously observing the subatomic particles you can fairly confidently just use some accurate heuristic to represent their behavior. And as for the positions of stars and galaxies and suchlike, you don’t really need to represent every particle in every star, and it may be more efficient to skimp on representing all the stars in a galaxy and just go to whatever resolution is sufficiently accurate without consuming too much processor power. So you get a big universe for a relatively small processor drain. As for the quantity of information being “created” by life- you only need to represent the locations of the particles- all the other information is just *there* if you want to “read” it. This would be using your exact knowledge of every particle and every motion through every second of someone’s brain to figure out what they’re thinking. By “reading” it and deriving information such as thoughts, you are performing an identical action to looking at the positions of atoms and concluding “apple”, and you have actually created additional information, only in your higher-level “reality”. Though I am long-winded, I touch on far too many deep ideas not to be. I have a link to a powerful short story that you really must read if you’re still here. Or perhaps you’re more interested in Isaac Asimov’s interpretation. These stories each do a great job of clearly highlighting the idea behind and within this post. However, just like the difference between my ideas and Ayn Rand’s, they’re both a little different from mine.

In short, the Objectivist metaphysics is missing a critical element. Though I had wanted to touch on all the other aspects of Objectivism, they’re going to have to wait because this post is already far too long, just like all the others. If you’re still reading, thanks for the attention. I hope one day to read or perhaps hear your thoughts- perfectly fair exchange.

The Integration of Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing- but it has a serious problem. The only prerequisite to the access of technology’s power is knowledge. Or money with which to pay for the use of others’ knowledge. However in either case you can’t take advantage of knowledge that nobody has (yet) so it reduces to the same case either way. Knowledge is power in the most direct sense, in the same way that a lever is power- force times distance. For thinking, the equation is processing power times time. Knowledge applied over time produces results. While this is evidently true, few people notice it. When you get a job you are being paid to apply knowledge over time in the production of value. If you had less knowledge then you would be paid less because you would be less able to produce value. In the same sense as a lever with less force on the active end will not be able to lift as much mass. Hence the idea of property is inherently a part of being conscious; your thought and your time (freedom to use that time as you wish) belong to you exclusively. If you trade that time and thought, you can expect to receive something of equal value, at the very least, in return. However, it turns out that our minds are not just information floating in the void, and that they come prepackaged with some very sophisticated hardware we call a “body” including an advanced computer called a “brain”. So we can easily say you own your mind, therefore you own your body and therefore you own the products of time and the use of your mind and body.

So we arrive at efficiency. Two essentially identical people are told to move a hundred sacks of grain across the street. You give one a wheelbarrow. Who finishes first? They are identical, save one used a more efficient method to do their work. Technology is the exploitation of natural laws to maximum advantage relative to the human perspective. We need food, so we make agricultural technology to maximize the production of food per land area. If we ate rocks instead, we wouldn’t have agricultural technology. Rather, our mining technology would probably be significantly more advanced due to the agricultural time and thought being redirected into mining advances. Finding the tastiest rocks, if you would. Why I am saying all this? Now, we find my point. We usually consider such tricks as the physics behind a wheelbarrow as part of the natural sciences, but the design of the wheelbarrow itself is an act of engineering. Our bodies are very complex machines, but we consider their maintenance to be “medicine”, not mechanics or engineering. Philosophy is the answering of questions we can’t answer authoritatively, and science is the answering of those we can. Our minds are very powerful computers running a fascinating piece of software called Man V. 1.4 but psychology is distinct from computer science why, exactly? Where’s the boundary? These distinctions are imaginary. There is a small difference which I will get into in a bit, but right now I want to get the point across that the boundaries are like those between nations. Drawn on a map, but not actually there. Why do we split our knowledge into exclusive sections? Because that’s how we teach people, since job specialization is such a fundamental part of our economy and knowledge base. Why do we teach people that way? Because that’s how we define the different fields. “Can you say circular?” “I can say circular. Can you say circular?”… No, seriously, why is this the ideal model?

I did mention that there was a difference. If that corrupted your perception of my point as a whole, shame on you. Though there’s probably nothing you could do about it. Very few people put any serious effort into improving their thinking, despite the fact that they’re using it all the time. They’ll try to learn how to do things but use cobbled-together and terrifically random and useless methods to do so. Imagine that you are faced with a massive library full of great books to read, but you have only a rudimentary knowledge of reading. Which is the better course- to try to grind through them all at 10 words per minute, or first perfect your reading skills and then start reading? Sure it’s a down payment of time and energy, but the result is that from then on you’ll go many times faster. As another important point, it is always critical to include the method with the result because it is logically possible to have any conceivable process and get any result. I’m not saying it will always get a right result since they’ll probably be wrong under all other circumstances. For example, 16 x 4. You swap the 1 and the 6, and then swap the 1 and the 4. You get 64. Yeah? Well, you can’t prove that false without using another example because the conclusion is in fact true 16 x 4 = 64 is a true statement. So we actually just proved that the mind that thinks is inseparable from that which is thought. We are forced to conclude that an awareness of your own process is necessary irrespective of what you actually do with it. Engineer yourself a better mind. I need to do a post on just this topic. Some other time.

New paragraph for the difference. It’s called suspense. Not rambling. Certainly not. Medicine is different from engineering in the same way that constructive engineering is different from retroactive engineering. However since we haven’t been faced with a large need for retroactive engineering, that is not its own discipline. What do I mean by retroactive engineering? If we found a device buried in the earth that performed magical acts like making it rain when you pressed a button, that would be a perfect occasion for retroactive engineering. One field of it might be called “reverse engineering” or the decomposition of a complex machine or system into its functions and parts to figure out how it works. Under the conventional definition of engineering, we start from nothing and build a machine upwards from laws we understand. Reverse engineering is taking a machine we don’t understand and figuring it out.

To broaden this idea to knowledge in general, all fields reduce to one of two stances regarding a single contiguous mass called knowledge, or Truth; constructive or reductive. Natural sciences are reduction on the universe, the world around us. Conversely, if we start building virtual worlds by experimenting with fictitious natural laws, we start on the constructive side. The same principle applies to all knowledge. The intent of knowledge being, as stated above, to improve on our own power to get things done that we want done. As an important note, never is only one stance used. Whenever you construct something you then have to figure out if it works, how well it works, or why it doesn’t work and these are reductive in nature. Conversely, whenever you figure out how something works you have to construct something to prove it. The most common method is to construct an experiment which will produce specific results which can then be analyzed in reduction. Can you say circular?… But that’s the point! Knowledge is a constant circular feedback loop in the same way that consciousness is. Construction and reduction can even be reduced to the simple perspective of action and reaction, respectively. You do something, analyze the results, do something based on the results, etc. etc. And as you advance on the circular loop you are continuously increasing your knowledge, your power, your leverage. So we see the exponential increase of life proceeds clearly and continuously into technology. Where does biology end and technology begin? Biology is the study of already-evolved life and technology could be the creation of life from scratch such as self-replicating, evolving robots. Or genetically modified crops and animals.

The objective of learning should be to learn everything, not only to earn a living. This thought is a necessary corollary of my very Stoic ideal that Truth = virtue, the pair representing the only prerequisite to happiness. Of course, this also turns out to be a very profitable strategy because someone who knows… a LOT… is going to earn a large amount of money. I am not saying that I want to go to law school and medical school and get every degree known to man, though I must say that would be damned cool. No, I expect that in a short while we’ll crack the secret of encoding information in a human brain and be able to convert between our binary computer language and analog neural language. When that happens, omniscience is fair game. Any knowledge that anyone, anywhere, has is up for sale. This removes the time factor from learning and reduces the cost of transmission, shall we say, dramatically? When this happens, then I’ll just buy the knowledge I did not gain through schooling, using my vast fortune I used my limited schooling to obtain. Though that may not even be necessary because such a system would automatically drive the prices to zero. Whenever you sell it, by definition you just increased supply by one and decreased the demand by one. All you have to do is wait- before too long the knowledge will be “worthless” anyway since everyone will have it. As a matter of fact, I would be willing to bet that an engineering career in bringing this situation about would be about as lucrative as they get. “I can offer you immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence (over perfectly realistic virtual worlds anyway) for $100 million.” And the price drops as the rich phase out and the technology gets cheaper. By the very nature of industry, you will be making the most money exactly when you have the most capacity to capitalize on it, sufficiently soon before critical mass when nobody cares about money anymore because anything they want they can just make.

We began with an integrated field of knowledge, we specialized into ever-more-advanced subfields until eventually our technology becomes advanced enough that we can increase our own capacities to understand it. Can you say circular?…

Human I/O

The essential purpose of having a mind is to manipulate information. All minds do it incessantly. Input from the senses is filtered, perceived, categorized, and filed away in memory. Processing memory is updated, scanned, and stripped of significant thoughts to be processed in the next cycle. A combination of select sensory data, accessed long term memory, and the products of short-term memory’s routines is used to actually make decisions- this element of our minds is called our consciousness. Is there something that makes consciousness special in terms of processing of information? Is there some reason why it is impossible to get human-level thought out of a computer we built ourselves?

Here’s a thought. Imagine that you were a computer. What would that be like? Many would say that it would be inhuman. You would be forever occupied with minute and nonsensical computer actions like Windows 95 printing bytecode. However, I suspect you’re drawing that conclusion from stereotypes of our day. In the early days of computers they thought computers would never exceed [insert tiny statistic of choice here]. Now we know computers can be powerful, but we’re still biased against their complexity, thinking they can only do mechanical things, can only live as a linear binary mind. The human brain is different in several significant ways, the first being that it runs on neurons instead of fixed silicon circuits. This much can be simulated with either analog neural network hardware, or emulated entirely within a Turing computer, endowed with a couple times more processor power. Also, the human brain is divided into specialized cortices with separate functions and limited communication between them. You just gave me consciousness as a form; limitation of computational perception. In your computer brain, “you”- the part that makes you human- is the higher-order information and the higher-order information only. If you include the lower-level information such as the neurochemical reactions within the brain, you can’t really conclude that that’s “you.” I would argue that you can derive all the higher-order information from that raw data, but whether it’s additional information or derived information isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that above a certain unknown threshold of abstraction you have “you,” and below that you have data and simple processes and functions. If you’re a programmer you might have figured out where I’m going with this. Human thought is a very high-level programming language. Higher than English (or any other spoken or written language), lower than paradigms, or systems/frameworks of constructing human thought. More interestingly, the constant tendency for computer languages has been a generalized increase in abstraction in proportion to the processing power available. Yet more interestingly, it appears that above a specific threshold of abstraction we see an emergent property; the ability to understand and manipulate itself. Consciousness.

Well obviously we could build a computer that has just as much processing power as our brains do. So the question is instead- how do we program such a computer so it will be human, instead of a machine? The existence of humans means that it can be done because we are composed completely of inorganic matter organized into organic forms. So, what does it really mean to be “human”? Do we mean a human body, or do we mean a human spirit? It is possible we may conclude that a prerequisite of being human is to have a human structure and eliminate all except natural-born, carbon-based, earth-bound, and above all “normal” humans as being truly human. I, of course, utterly disagree with this assessment. We should be asking better questions. For example; is there some property of a human that you could subtract and leave something that is a non-human? I would say no, that any “property” that you could name would be a vague abstraction of something esoteric you simply couldn’t define. Such a dilemma means that we’re approaching this problem in the wrong way. Rather than asking what it means to be human, we should be asking what is the most significant property of life information that humans demonstrate? This is an immensely deep point, but I’ll reduce it as far as it will go here. Basically, if we were to transfer completely over to silicon-based consciousness or some other form and then discovered an alien race that had already made that shift, what would distinguish the human variety from the alien variety? Human and alien would be on the same substrate, but would clearly be different. Bear in mind that this situation is flawed as an example because there will be very clearly delineated cultural differences simply because the two species/races were not in the same geocultural area- both would have their own but they must by necessity (the improbability of parallel evolution) be different, though it doesn’t mark a significant difference between the two. To prove this point, any property that would be different between two human civilizations on different planets separated by that amount of time cannot be considered between a human and alien civilization because it cannot define a “human” property.

Life as a class is an example of self-organizing, self-reproducing, self-refining adaptive information. I have already covered my basic concept of what life as information is at some length, and this paragraph might not make sense if you haven’t read it, you have been warned. Life is a pattern of exponential growth, due to constant and improving refinement to improve growth and improve further refinement, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Humans are merely the bleeding edge of evolution, we are causing change faster than change has ever been caused before, and technology is the new font of evolution where our brains once were. We see a clear, direct, and unimpeded curve of the evolution from microbes to humans, the human mind, and the exponential increase of technology from a hammer to augment the hand to a computer to augment the mind. So to say that it is a human trait to expand and to push new horizons is not really accurate- that would be a property of any and all life. Our alien civilization will have been programmed by evolution with a similar drive due to the sum effects of competition, limited space/resources/whatever, and the ease of access to new untapped resources. By the same token we can disqualify traits such as drive to survive, perseverance, competition, cooperation, communication, and a bevy of other decidedly “human” abilities and traits. The truth is, there isn’t a hell of a lot left after that, none of it good. So we are left with no value to our “human” identity. So we are forced to conclude we should associate more with life than with being a particular species. Which makes sense because what it means to be “human” has evolved dramatically, and will evolve in the future, while the human status as living will not. I am not a citizen of the USA, I am a citizen of the world. Neither am I a human, I am a citizen of the great ecology of Life.

My position is that after we grew accustomed to having a trillion times as much brainpower as we do now, and having worked out any irksome little psychological issues and base drives and refined our own processes sufficiently- it would be a never-ending process, but there comes a point where it’s close enough- we would be indistinguishable from an alien race which made the same transformation independently. The reason is that we live in the same universe with the same physical laws and the same mathematics. The same logic and reason governs any and all possible alien species. If A then B, if B then C. A, therefore, C. I don’t care how many where you are in the universe, what level of technology you have, or how many eyes, limbs, or sets of genitalia you have, reason will hold. The differences between aliens would rise from the differences of their physical forms, their environments’ conditioning, and the unique and strange specialization, expansion, and limitation of their functioning. So irrespective of alienness, were you liberated from such a state and given time to sort yourself out you would end up more or less the same as another on the same path. I can hear the cries of “But I don’t wanna be the same!” Well of course, you shmuck. Why would you think that? This is where those previously discarded details come back. The cultural differences, those unique attributes that cannot be created artificially and can never evolve the same way due to a field of countless compounding infinities, make up your memory. There is no way to have a “more perfect” culture-memory in the same way a memory of an apple isn’t more perfect than a memory of an orange, provided both are pristinely accurate. Not a problem for entities such as these. Each would be incredibly unique, but would have arrived at an internal perceptual set and (comparatively) basic functional set that was highly idealized and comparable to the others’.

If you were one of these superbeings, you would probably dedicate your time to the creation of more of such material. Why do people write books, create movies, pursue their passions? Because it’s the quintessential human pursuit- the taking in of sensory data and other stimuli, the unique reinterpretation of it with our own minds in our own way. And then, lo and behold, our minds create from the ether a work that has never before been seen and could never exist in any other way had we neglected to create it. Every second not spent in its creation is wasted. The creation of better tools with which to create “cultural” (damn that word is poor) information is both its creation and the use of that knowledge to accelerate the rate at which it can be produced. The reason? Because that cultural information is alive in every sense of the word! Memes are the expansion of life into a substrate we can’t even comprehend, and we have the power to expand that substrate by making more humans, inventing ways to write them down and communicate them, making computers, and countless other inventions to come. The day we have sentient memes, things start getting truly interesting. (I suppose we already do in that one person is one meme bound to a specific brain- we don’t currently have the means to communicate a complete person-meme). And the day that another as yet unimagined and incomprehensible substrate as expansive as the mental/informational is uncovered, life will expand into that too.

“If It Bleeds, It Leads”

There is a saying among journalists, or whoever it is that decides what a story is- “if it bleeds, it leads.” Meaning, of course, that if the subject is in dire trouble then that’s the story they’ll run. Undoubtedly this is due to the fact that such stories were at one time sensational, but in a population of any significant size someone gets brutally murdered every day. However, should the press devote so much time and energy into covering all the crime, car accidents, and injury they can grab? Why do they try, and why does it work for them?

Here’s my point- and it’s going to seem callous. Why should we care? Seriously, think about it. Most of the time you don’t remember you watched the story about that three-car pileup with seven killed, less than twenty minutes later. You feel nothing for little Jimmy whose house had a tree fall on it, and you won’t ever meet or sympathize with any of the subjects. What you get is a premasticated mash of feel-good sympathy from a reporter who is basically specially trained to provide it. So why do you watch it? Consider carefully your own motivations. Without knowing you, I’d be willing to bet it’s because on some level you think you’re a nice, compassionate, empathetic person. Learning of others’ suffering gives you a secondary kick of feeling good about yourself for being so nice as to listen to their story, or perhaps to”connect with them” or maybe it’s to connect to your community- some form of connection. Or, if you’re of a different slant of mind, it gives you a secondary kick to revel in others’ suffering. This is more common than you’d think- the “thank goodness it’s not me” reaction is very common. Between these two mindsets, virtually all of the regular populace is captivated by blood and crime journalism. All the news media are interested in is obtaining and retaining viewers, by any means necessary. And due to the evolutionary nature of economic competition, companies tend to evolve to exploit any niche available. The news media that were more effective at getting and keeping viewers survived, and the others went out of business.

So we arrive at an industry bent to exploit your psychological weaknesses and the recesses of your id. You don’t overcome this because of the very issue I just raised- when I ask in public “why do we care?” everyone else goes “what’s wrong with you? Don’t you care for your fellow man?” Unfortunately, for far too many people being perceived as X indicates to them that they are an X which then causes them to act like an X. So they essentially don’t have the power to control their own behavior, and forces them onto a path inscribed by the architects of diffuse social structure- the media- and held in place by social pressures created by the selfsame groups. We end up with a self-reinforcing loop- the self-licking ice cream cone. Nobody likes it, but they think everyone else does, stopping them from trying to change it. The reason why the system doesn’t change is because nobody can bring themselves to break out of that path-of-least-resistance conformity loop. I think I just coined a great term: “conformity loop”. Conformist behavior is itself a powerful instigator of conformity in a third party. The more people who are conforming, the more pressure the group could exert should it be called upon. Ultimately this reduces to the coercive, direct threat of punishment. Which invariably reduces to violence somewhere along the road. Stripping the complex muddy subtleties from the situation, basically you’re being conformist because you’re scared that, somehow, physical harm will come to you if you don’t. Apparently an evolutionary artifact from the hunter-gatherer days when being ostracized was a death sentence. Or, where the rest of the group could easily turn on you and kill you- a threat for no other reason than that there’s one of you and lots of them.  If this paragraph was a little dense, this monkey experiment should make it a bit clearer.

Of course, the only way out is for sufficient numbers of their viewing audience to get over their baser drives and ensure that the most profitable strategy for their news media is to provide the news that they want to watch. Most viewers, however, tend to adopt the attitude of a bottom feeder, eating whatever happens to be thrown out for them. Such willful powerlessness can be seductive- but resist, dammit! The route of having others handle your affairs for you is indeed easier, but I guarantee you won’t like where it leads. Take your institutions by the horns- the government, the companies you buy from, the media, even your peer groups, and recognize that they are supposed to provide value to you. Groups will tend to exert pressure in predictable ways to further their own interests. If you can determine their motives and their choices you can predict their actions and their evolution. You can then take steps in your own way to make those entities’ choices end in a course more beneficial to you and everyone else. Note that I am using groups as “entities” as semantic shorthand, keeping in mind that there is no actual thing called a government or a media corporation. This is significant because when someone says “the government wants you to do X” they are saying something very different from “everyone in the government wants you to do X” or even “person A in the government wants you to do X”. This is just like the monkey experiment- would you be correct in saying that any one of the other monkeys didn’t want any of them to reach the banana (let’s say it’s a whole bunch of bananas- a pittance compared to the potential of humankind)? What about the sum of the monkeys? They could all just decide to get the bananas and nothing would happen. Why not? What’s stopping them?

I have mentioned the predictability of agents based on incentives before, but I haven’t covered it in any significant detail. It’s a vitally important idea because when used properly as a predictive tool, it’s never wrong. It should be wrong, but currently it’s not because modern homo sapiens is a rather herdish creature. Basically the idea is that a group of people is always bound to follow the basic incentives of the group despite conflicts within any one of the individuals. An individual’s actions are subject to a certain degree of chaotic subjectivity- their ethical code or religion or whatever may be against specific actions, maybe a certain person reminds them of someone they knew, whatever. However, when you have a group of significant size then each individual is faced with a Prisoner’s Dilemma multiplied by every person in the group. If they were to not confess, they are not just wagering that the one other prisoner will not confess, they are wagering that every person in the group will not confess. Worse, they have a history of observed behavior. So in the cage, each one of the monkeys could decide to go for the banana. However, in order to be successful, every one of the other monkeys would have to make the same decision at the same time. OK, at least one of the other monkeys would have to. Two out of five is a sufficiently significant minority. But it can’t happen. The answer is to keep on reaching for that damn banana bunch over and over again, until eventually the others figure out that that all they have to do if they want to feast on banana is chill the fuck out. The stupid monkeys.

Here’s an interesting thought for you. Whenever I say “most people” in a positive light, you include yourself in that group because you consider yourself fairly normal. But when I say “most people” in a negative light, you exclude yourself from that group because you consider yourself special.

Muddy the Waters

Modern public discourse’s most common trick. Proposition A is true in all cases. A voice from the peanut gallery interjects “except extremely-rare-and-specific cases X, Y, and Z” The speaker is forced to concede that, indeed, Proposition A is not true in those cases. Unfortunately for us, the human brain is hardwired to use inductive reasoning. If you think you’re a powerhouse deductive thinker, try this. If you get all four correct, good for you, you’re probably right. Good luck with that. Our extensive use of inductive reasoning I have covered before, I believe, but I’ll recap quickly here. Essentially, inductive reasoning allows you to produce a heuristic quickly, call it up quickly, and when it stops working it can change easily. In a survival setting, it doesn’t get better than that. However, for long-term systems and decisions our natural inductive reasoning doesn’t work as well because the cause and effect relationship is muddied by time, quantity of factors, and chaos. So here’s the problem- we have a hypothetical lecturer giving his students a proposition which is true 99.999% of the time. So much so that you may as well assume that it is always operable. But the knowledge of the three or four rare and specific cases pollutes the heuristic pool disproportionately. Now your mind contains one case where A is true, and three where A is false. In a simple context this isn’t a problem, but it gives the listener a psychological out to allow programming to overcome their reason.

Muddying the waters like this is an easy way to confuse facts that make simple intuitive sense- this is virtually the only strategy used against evolution, for example. “Can you prove without a shadow of a doubt that evolution is true?” Any responsible scientist will say no, when really the answer should be a solid “yes” because it’s better to be wrong with that much rationale than to let them corrupt a powerful theory that, to our perspective, is clearly true. The behavior of the scientist is a perfect example of the nature of real truth. The truth is that no, we don’t actually have authoritative proof. The virtuous, truth-respecting, complex road would be to try to explain why we don’t know it but believe it anyway. The cheap, easy, manipulative road would be to declare we just know- word of God- if you’re virtuous (or whatever) you’ll believe, and be done. Which we shouldn’t do, even though we would be lying to spread what we perceive to be the truth, and competing against enemies using tactics that quite simply work better but which we refuse to emulate.

Real truth is tough. We can’t prove evolution in the same sense we can’t prove that gravity exists, that we exist, or even that the universe exists. In fact, the only thing that it is possible for me to know is that I exist. It’s the nature of consciousness. I think therefore I am. Somewhere, somehow, in some sense, I exist. (You might think this applies to you as well, but I can’t tell you that because I have no proof of it.) However when I observe another entity, it is impossible for me to know if it is sentient or if it’s merely a complex imitation of sentience. Nevertheless, after tens of thousands of objects fall when you drop them you accept gravity as an invariable fact. Unlike gravity, we can demonstrate evolution and produce results yet somehow a disturbing portion of the populace doesn’t “believe.” Oh, that’s a good one too. The people who say that atheism is an act of faith are a perfect example of muddying the waters. We then have to explain that the burden of proof is on the person making the assertion of existence. Invariably, by the time we’ve reached the third syllable of “burden of proof” they’re too bored to care. Damage done, the Church wins. You can say whatever you want, just make ’em deny it. They use the easy road of powerful unfounded assertions and get fast, powerful results. They decry that faith is a virtue, appealing to conformation behavior in our social psychologies. They employ routine reinforcement in church, isolation punishment, and all forms of classical and operant conditioning. They “ban” contraceptives and abortions to multiply their flock, inflicting poverty and tragedy on poor unwitting victims who can’t break out because some clawed tentacle is lodged in their minds. Religions arbitrarily associate themselves with preexisting control structures- ages ago it was primarily fear of wrath and hellfire, now it’s a more fuzzy family oriented religion because that’s the version that survived in this environment. Fascinatingly, one genus of meme has rejected the idea of evolution when it survives by that very law.

The same style of attack is used to justify war. The self-defense clause is a classic example of when violence is appropriate. The question then becomes where is the line between aggression and self-defense? George Bush has thoroughly exploited that issue of definition and launched a completely unjustified war based on imaginary evidence of a threat, and then claiming self-defense. This is a complex issue, but I’m about to go all proposition A on you here. There is no case in which violence is justified. Period. However, the existence of an agent choosing to use violence for personal gain can change the nature of the situation. Provided that there are no other options, that any and all other reasonable measures have been tried unsuccessfully, you are justified in self-defense.

The issue of violence is exactly the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There exist two stable states, one of which more stable than the other. The first is a state of continuous violence, and the other is a state of continuous peace. Everyone needs to know how this works, as it explains human herd behavior beyond perfectly. The peaceful solution only stands if the convictions of everyone backs it up- easy to do with only two, but nigh impossible with millions. If everyone was a strong individual, following their right reason in pursuit of their own happiness then this is the logical outcome. The incredibly frustrating part is that we all have that choice RIGHT NOW. Tomorrow, we could be living in a utopia! We don’t because we know the chance is damn slim that everyone else is going to make the same decision at exactly the same time. So acting in such a strong individualist manner- being ethical and empathetic actually represents a huge disadvantage to the person doing it. It’s the hard road. But if you allow the herd’s actions to force you back onto their path then humanity’s chance at utopia is delayed indefinitely again.

Consider a board game for four. It doesn’t really change the game to add this, but let’s simplify the example by saying you can’t talk. One of the players cheats, and the other three (including you) know he’s cheating. However, the rules of the game in a roundabout way allow for precisely such a form of cheating. His tactics take advantage of every nuance and bug in the game’s design, but he’s legit. It’s the ideal strategy, but it ruins the fun of the game for everyone. Then someone else decides that if he’s going to play that way and clearly win, he’d better join in. The third player turns over with the other two. What do you do? Despite the triviality of the example, think about this seriously. Do you continue to play honestly, knowing you will lose? Or do you take up the sword and start cheating as well, hoping to beat them at their own game and maybe give them reason to stop? What if you played again after each, how would the following game change? All four of you could decide to just play fair and have fun. But if you do, you just lose because the others aren’t going to decide at the same time.

We’re talking about strategies here. If I say you never have the right to use violence, like I should, I’m missing a vital example. But if I talk too much about the exception, it dilutes the heuristic past usefulness. Keep that in mind. You only have the right to defend yourself when you are left in a bind. Compulsion is a necessary element of a bind. You have a choice to either do violence, or not do violence and suffer an unacceptable penalty. That is the only circumstance. You may not do violence for personal gain, and you may not do violence from a position of action. That is to say, as long as you have other options they need to be exercised first. If you’re worried about defending your house and property, a home security system should come before the shotgun on the wall. You may passively defend your home as much as you want- locks, cameras, dogs, whatever. They primarily act as a deterrent. Now the prisoner’s dilemma is actually working in your favor because the would-be criminal is left with a choice between your house and any other house. And should there come a time when everybody’s house is adequately secure then nobody will break into houses anymore because it’s just not worth it. But when someone breaks into your house and you meet it with lethal force, you are being irresponsible and are culpable for a lower-degree form of murder.

Now we’re obviously going to have a discussion about gun control. Just to put my thoughts out about that- the government needs to consider carefully every instance of control it institutes. Controlling drugs is the purest lunacy, although for the state it works pretty well. Controlling guns has some justification, but only if you do it completely. Gun control has to be all-or-nothing. Have “some” guns in circulation is insanity. Obviously the criminals are going to be the ones to get the guns, and they’re going to find people who don’t have guns and target them. Duh! If nobody can get guns, the criminals can’t, problem solved. If everyone has guns, the criminals are going to have nobody to rob. They’ll know they’re risking death for petty theft- maybe they’ll get away with it a hundred times (yeah right) but then on the hundred and first they’re dead and none of it was worth it.