Choosing Happiness

Freedom is a kind of death.  This is a difficult concept.  Think about it, though, it’s in this post.

Choice is a difficult issue to talk about with philosophical, psychological, or scientific rigor.  Simply put, there are way too many possible choices for generalizations to cover them all.  I am the most ardent advocate of true freedom you will find, but actually, choice is not necessarily a desirable position. I have seen, generally, there are two breeds of choice drawn from two possible life situations, matching two possible conscious processes.  Constructive or reductive.  For choices, that is to say you will face either a constructive or a reductive choice.  Reductive choices are the bad ones- these are the choices of “OK, A or B.  Go.”  You have a finite number of options and it is the addition of an option that is notable.  Your field of choice is best defined by what you can choose.  By contrast, constructive choices are best represented by what you cannot choose.  Constructive choice: “What do you want to do?”  Reductive choice: “Would you like fries with that?”  The distinction is important because we tend not to think about our constructive choices, at all, ever.  A reductive choice, however, forces you to actually conceptualize that you have in fact got to make a choice.  If you’re faced with millions of these you are given the illusion of having a great deal of freedom, when in fact you’re essentially little more than a slave.  Reductive choices are subject to only two forces: personal economics and subjective value.  That is to say, if someone offered you $10 or $100, you’ll take the larger sum, of course.  If someone offered you an equivalent amount of chocolate or brussel sprouts, you probably prefer the chocolate because you think it tastes better, and will take that.  Yet if you don’t like chocolate or you’re a health nut, then perhaps the brussel sprouts give you a greater subjective value.

Constructive choices are not subject to the same personal economics plus subjective value analysis.  If you have a completely free day to do whatever you want, you might not necessarily do whatever you can to maximize your immediate payoff, or push your subjective value to the absolute limit.  I don’t think it’s even possible to rationally predict what a conscious entity of significant complexity will do in a situation of constructive choice.  What you can predict is what they won’t do.  Let’s say you walk into a massive grocery store and there’s a sign that says “you can buy anything in here, except this thing.”  Well we don’t know what the person is going to buy, but we can be sure they’re not going to take that option.  By the way, the reason why I call these choices constructive or reductive is that in a reductive choice you have a finite number of options and an indefinite/infinite number of non-options, or prohibited options, and in a constructive choice you have a finite number of non-options and an indefinite/infinite number of options.  It’s rather like the proposition of “innocent until proven guilty” is the constructive framing of prosecution, or the “legal until expressly prohibited” mentality.  We know we would be in trouble if our government began to mandate that all activity is illegal unless the government expressly allows it.  Nonetheless this exact same type of choice crops up everywhere, and everyone begins to think they are more free, when in reality their freedom is being systematically infringed upon by people who want you to choose to their advantage.  Don’t believe me?  McDonald’s or Burger King?  Christian, Jewish, Muslim?  15” or 17” laptop?  4% or 6% levy increase?  Democrat or Republican?  You get to pick!  Aren’t you powerful?  The easiest way to get someone to do what you want is to give them a reductive choice, and then restrict any unsatisfactory options until eventually they start choosing the one you want, ideally when they still have several options left other than the one they chose so they don’t feel manipulated.

True freedom consists entirely of constructive choices.  Of course in practical reality we will always have reductive choices, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  At any particular sandwich joint there will be a definite number of possible condiments.  How do we reconcile this with true freedom?  Easy.  In a much grander sense, you’re gifted with the inalienable freedom to restrict your own choices.  By walking up to that particular sandwich joint and agreeing to buy a sandwich, you chose to restrict the possible combinations of sandwich materiél to whatever was available right there.  You signed an implicit contract saying you were totally OK with the available condiment choices.  Nobody pointed a gun at your head and said “you, yes you, are going to buy a goddamn sandwich, right here, right now.  But, you are free to put whatever condiments you like on it from our generous selection.”  Even if it was a cheap and tasty sandwich with a diverse selection of toppings, I would still be extremely annoyed, to put it mildly.  Not to mention how those sandwiches, under that business model, won’t stay cheap and tasty for long.  However that is exactly what is happening today.  The government’s primary mode of, for want of a better word,  oppression, is to bait-and-switch your constructive choices for reductive ones and claim to have given you something.  The most obvious case is voting, “would you like the puppet on the left, or maybe the puppet on the right?”  Now, not all politicians are puppets, but there’s too much money and power sloshing around for rational idealists to stay that way for long.  But the other areas are no less significant, from taxes (you’re going to pay, but you have a say in where they’re spent), to public schools (you’re going to go, but you can pick your classes), to social security (you’re going to pay for it, but you don’t necessarily have to collect).  Unfortunately, most people are so used to having reductive choices that when they get the opportunity to be free, they reduce their situation to a reductive choice so they can psychologically deal with it.  Has it ever happened to you?  “What do you want to do?”  “I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”  “I don’t know.  Maybe we could X?”  “OK, sure.”

I’m not going to go too deep into this as a concept, but there’s a lot more to it.  Rather, I want to move onto the original intended topic of this post, with this new model in hand. Do we choose to be happy? Or, do choices make us happy?  My answer is no.  Ideally, choices don’t do anything for your level of happiness, because you’re faced with constructive choices.  Your actions can make you happy, but that’s totally different from the choice itself being the source of your happiness.  You might enjoy paintball, but you don’t wake up in the morning thinking “isn’t it great that in this life I have the option of choosing to play paintball?”  In fact, if you’re of that slant of mind, then having reduced choices might increase your happiness.  I’m not, but if you are then it does not mean there’s something wrong with you.  A choice is a stressor, in the purest terms.  Or perhaps an open door is not psychologically useful to you.  The most famous example of this is that ancient Chinese general, not sure of his name, who burned his ships so his troops would fight harder since they knew they wouldn’t go home unless they won.  Some types just want to be given a fixed situation, and they want to know what they need to do so they can just do it, and do it well.

Extraneous options are only appreciated by a rational agent with useful power to act.  If you’re in that position, however, then there is no such thing as a bad option.  Now, useful power to act is almost always derived from either property or skills, broadly speaking.  Information such as from book can be either, and a rational entity would have no problem reading any “controversial” work from Huck Finn to Mein Kampf, and derive whatever truth it can from either while avoiding being influenced by irrational or delusional ideas, and dealing with difficult issues and inappropriate material in a rational, mature way.  A hypothetical truly rational entity would have absolutely no issue with learning even usually “evil” skills such as how to hotwire cars, pick pockets, make bombs, whatever.  The reason for this is that even though those skills have a very low probability of ever being used in a rationalistic moral situation, they won’t be used until and unless they’re appropriate.  The same logic applies to everything- there’s no such thing as “bad property” as long as the holder is rational.  People accuse iPods of creating antisocial behavior in adolescents, and for the most part they’re right.  However, in their delusion, they then claim that the iPods are the problem, and not the rationality of the entity which owns them.  In the same manner you can’t say that any characteristic, part of the world, or your environment, is “bad.”  Unless you lack the rationality or the capacity to deal with it in a useful way, you can’t say that any aspect is somehow detrimental.  The internet is the perfect example.  It’s now a fact of life, and ingrained in our environment.  However there are people who think that we need to control what information is writable, or accessible, over the internet.  By doing so, by restricting your options, the agent doing the controlling is assuming that you, yes you, are too irrational and stupid to act in your own interest.  They are assuming that you will be adversely affected by whatever material they are suppressing in a manner which you cannot control.  They consider you a sheep that will eat whatever grass you randomly stumble across, and they need to make absolutely certain that it’s not poisonous, or even unpleasant for you to taste.  The way they do this is to restrict your choices, by impinging upon your freedom they can make sure that they can control you if you are actually rational, and if you aren’t then they are restructuring your environment to make sure that your fantasy world isn’t breached by reality.  You are the deer being protected from the T-Rexes, stopping you from evolving to fit actual objective reality.

So, do we choose to be happy?  No.  Is our happiness conditional on our surroundings, our property, or even our emotions?  We want to be free, but what are we really asking for when we ask for freedom?  We want to be faced with objective reality, our mettle against the tests of the world, discerning truth from our surroundings and acting upon it.  Rationality is pivotal towards being truly free.  But this I will tell you, rationality will not make you happy in and of itself.  As a matter of fact, rationality puts you in the hot seat, forces you to truly take responsibility and account for your own actions and forces you to compete in an evolutionary system.  Such competition is not fun!  I believe that we humans are imprinted in a very, very deep way about the horrors of being “in the wild,” of desperately scrabbling for food, avoiding predators, of freezing in the night and sweating from days of chasing our prey.  Short lives, uncertain prospects, a constant struggle.  Now, we wear clothes and live in secure homes with water, food, and shelter all conveniently packaged.  We can satisfy our desires for contact, sensory stimulation, and  self-actualization in zero-risk ways.  We visit nature reserves, go hunting and fishing, to even further reinforce our escape from and dominion over the uncaring and unforgiving Eden of Nature.  But it made us strong, and very, very smart.  That same fortitude is what is necessary to be rational in the modern world.  It’s so easy to just submerge in comforting delusions of consumerism, premasticated thought, and social nicety, but that way leads to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Every major state has fallen because their peoples have escaped from reality to the point that they can no longer sustain themselves in true competition, bringing the whole empire down.  They fell too far beneath the evolutionary system, to the point that those competing were unable to bail out those who weren’t, and the whole lot were selected out, as simple as that.

Choice will not make you happy.  Rationality will not make you happy.  What will make you happy, what ultimately will give you what you want, is the power to grasp what it is you want.  Free choice will let you search for it, and rationality, the struggle to keep up with the human evolutionary pressures derived from Truth, will give you the mettle to get it.  You need to seek it.  Seeking happiness is exactly what will make you happy.  And you’ll never get there.  It’s exactly like trying to keep up with the evolutionary system of objective reality and truth, only you’re trying to keep up with your own subjective reality instead.  Both are constantly changing and require constant attention.  You will never be finished.  So we arrive at the immortality of consciousness, the balance in biology of life and death extended into memetics.  Freedom is a kind of death.  Remember that.

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The Dramatic Trick of Equality

Equality sounds like such a fantastic concept.  It can readily be phrased in altruistic terms, and decrying generosity never seems like a malevolent tactic.  However, fundamentally, you can’t want everyone to be equal without tacitly accepting the presence of evil.  In this essay, and by essay I am using the word etymologically derived from “to try”- I’ll try to shed a little light on the most widespread perversion of absolute morality. I am talking about the first and foremost false argument from morality in modern society.

First of all, what exactly do I mean by equality?  I think the easiest way to outline equality is to represent its opposite- a situation where the few possess the vast majority of the resources, and the many are thereby deprived.  Sounds difficult to support, doesn’t it?  But what if I said that that particular phrasing is merely a trick to more or less force you into accepting the proposition.  Something like how you can ask someone if they’re “for world hunger” and if they say yes you cook them alive, and if they say no then you force them to donate massive amounts to charity.  It is possible, however, to dislike the fact that in the world’s poorest countries many people are starving to death while at the same time putting your money to better use.  And this is certainly not being hypocritical- as a matter of fact foreign aid is nothing more than a tool used by the greater nations to obliterate the economies of the less fortunate.  To support sending money and goods to poorer nations is to cause world hunger and poverty, in the most direct sense.  Sure, it seems illogical that by sending them food you are causing them to starve.  But consider for a moment if a bunch of aliens were to arrive in the United States and start dropping super high-tech cars, no charge, for anyone who wants one.  The American car companies would be livid, at least until they went broke.  In fact these hypothetical aliens wouldn’t even need to drop very many alien tech supercars to put impossible strain on the American car companies.  The same process would hold true with food, if the aliens were to provide some form of very desirable food commodity, free of charge- American farmers would be roasted alive.  The issue with that example is that such alien food would have to be in extremely high demand relative to current food products, which isn’t really possible in the food industry.

Now the issue with such discussion is that the last paragraph was an argument from effect.  They have their place, but arguments from morality are much more significant.  Fundamentally, an argument for equality needs to prove that everyone wants some x, and also that the redistribution of x is morally acceptable.  The most common equality argument is about economic inequality.  In such a case, the proponent makes the case that everyone wants money- which is for the most part valid- and that the redistribution of money is morally justified.  Their problem is that clearly this structure of argumentation doesn’t hold up to generalization.  For example, I propose that everyone should have an equal number of pet snakes.  Everyone wants snakes, and the redistribution of snakes is morally justified.  Clearly false.  OK, how about a more controversial example?  Everyone wants… women!  No, not going there, just joking.  A more realistic example: food.  Everyone wants food, and the redistribution of food is morally justified, therefore a third party should decide what food you get.  None of these arguments hold, but for some reason many people are willing to make an exception for money- even putting aside for the moment that “redistribution” as a concept is essentially never justified.  If it was voluntary then it would be called a “gift” and if it’s not voluntary then you’re using coercion backed by violence.

Equality contains within it the vampiric seeds of parasitism and violence.  In order to ensure equality, guess what you would have to do?  Worse, who says we all want the same thing?  In the above example, not everyone wants to own a pet snake.  If you want a pet snake then you can see to it yourself.  Creating a committee for the allocation of pet snakes is the absurdist end of the spectrum, and would clearly fail.  But why should other committees function any differently?  Basically the idea of a committee is that a central organizing party can distribute better than each individual’s own time and effort- which is of course nonsense.  If it were the case then such committees would appear everywhere, take over the stock market, and rule the world economy.  Which doesn’t happen precisely because the committee can’t outthink the market.  So those with a little power will do their damnedest to put more resources under the sway of a committee because then, to some extent, they control a few more resources.  So, basically, if you’re arguing for equality, you’re saying that a centralized agency is the best method of achieving equality because otherwise those who want more of any specific commodity, or for other reasons are better able to acquire certain commodities will end up with more of those commodities.  Naturally gifted artists will take up art, those who own profitable farming land inherited from their parents will use it for farming, and those who want pet snakes will be prepared to pay more for them than people who don’t.  But, because we must avoid the accumulation of too much artistic ability in any one person, or of too much production capacity in one property, or in too many pet snakes per household, we need committees X, Y, and Z.

So this brings us to power.  Power is not just desirable for equality by redistribution, it is fundamentally necessary.  If nobody has the power to actually redistribute resources, then it can’t happen.  And if everybody has the power to freely redistribute resources then a couple greedy people will simply take everything else for themselves to squabble over for all eternity.  So, says the pro-government debator, we must have some people with the power to redistribute resources, and some people who don’t.  This is a very key point.  So you’re saying that in order to produce equality of resources we have to produce a large disparity of power.  To me, that sounds just silly.  However there are many people who would just nod and go “yeah, that makes sense.”  Well, what exactly is power?  Power is the ability to get what you want despite resistance.  The more resistance you can overcome, the more power you have, by definition.  Now, note the critical second piece.  Power is the ability to get what you want despite resistance.  This is clearly a necessary component because otherwise the forces in question would simply be inexorable in one direction or the other.  And please don’t give me any of this crap about power gives you the power to get something you don’t want, because if you’re intentionally aiming for what you don’t want you are A) stupid, and B) getting what you were trying to get- which is what you wanted in the important sense.  Power therefore necessarily provides indirect control over anything which you might want- we can consider it like an even more universal form of currency because it necessarily includes whatever powers currency can bring, as well as others.  The power to make decisions affecting others provides a very special kind of resource- politicians enjoy this kind of power all the time- others will pay you to make decisions in their favor.  They will give you resources so that you will say a few words and endow them with even more resources taken from third parties.  By giving power to anyone, you break your original goal of equality in absolutely irrevocable terms.

So we could start a priori from the libertarian perspective, or we can follow through on the logic of equality until we reach the problem of the application of power.  This contradiction then leads us to conclude that the only true form of equality is where everyone has the same level of power- which necessarily precludes the existence of a government.  Or, you can say that it is justified to have a rich, powerful elite in the government, but then you’re contradicting your original argument for equality.  You can factor in whatever tricks you like about elections, but then you run into the problem that an election consumes resources- so campaign donations from the rich and from interested companies or special interest groups only gives them a fully sanctioned avenue to use political power.  You cannot escape the integral relationship between power and resources.  Power, that primal feeling of dominance, is corrupting because in evolutionary terms it’s incredibly advantageous to be corrupt as hell!  Using nothing but a word to get free resources?  We’re programmed to seek such a position, it’s so ingrained in us.  Not only that, but we’re programmed to enjoy it, and then we’re programmed to be corrupt.  Power is liquid resources in a way that money can only numerically imitate.  So it is absolutely impossible to mandate equality, and any attempt to convince you otherwise must quite obviously present itself to you as an attempt to convince you with empty, generous-sounding contradictions that appeal to your humanity so that they may take your money, and your freedom.

Random Numbers

The power of utter randomness. Given time, any and all processes and information can be duplicated exactly. However, the larger and more precise the process, the less probably the duplication will be. However, what if you consider a sequence where it isn’t random? What if you consider a sequence designed to efficiently produce a specific sequence in random fashion? Does this have broader implications for encryption, compression, or encoding? Does this mean that intellectual property is contradictory and unethical? Do random numbers have some critical functional significance for human intelligence, or the workings of the universe?

Randomness is perfect noise; chaos. Infinite randomness therefore includes all possible strings of information. All possible strings of information therefore includes all specific strings of information- movies, books, classified documents, you know whatever. As the categorical example goes: pi is normal. Therefore, everyone who converts pi to decimal or binary form has just infringed on every copyright that exists, has existed, and ever will exist simultaneously. You just pirated every state secret, every bit of juicy, dripping tabloid scum, and every grand work of art that will ever exist. True, we don’t know pi is normal but if the logic holds then any noise-generating algorithm will work just as well. Any process that is normal, or generates perfect noise, or can in any other fashion be used to reproduce copyrighted works, must be banned.

Of course this is bullshit. If you banned the creation of random numbers… I don’t even want to think about it. “Seven.”

“Why did you say seven?”

“I don’t know”

“Alright sonny, you’re coming with us. We’re going downtown.”

Theoretically, the more unlikely someone else is to duplicate a specific string of information then the more right the “creator” has to it. It’s extremely unlikely that a noise algorithm will reproduce, let’s say the movie I Am Legend, in a *timely* manner. However, a noise algorithm would reasonably quickly produce the ASCII code for the word “orange” or perhaps a short sentence. So you can’t copyright the word “orange” or the number 7, but you can copyright I Am Legend. Theoretically.

However, this model is fraught with issues. Firstly, does that mean that I have more right to my 1000-page book than I do to my 100-page book? A random number generator is exponentially less likely to produce a longer or more information-dense work. Does this mean that any work less than X bits in size is open source, but greater than X is closed-source?

Next let’s try the argument from economics. There exists a commodity that can be reproduced for no charge. What is the cost of this commodity? That’s a good question, yes indeed. If you’re the one selling it, obviously you’re looking for a reason to charge for it. Much of the time, even the most basic commodities have costs associated with them: the sale of water involves a physical commodity that had to either be pumped to your house, or bottled in a plant. A piece of paper had to be created from lumber, etc. etc. However, information can be duplicated for absolutely no charge. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of civilization. How do you teach a baby a language? You can hire a tutor, but then you’re not paying for the information, you’re paying for the tutor’s time. Now this is where things seem to get a little grey; what happens if you buy a book. You’re buying a bunch of paper with a cover, and some ink in interesting shapes on the pages. The book cost money to produce, undoubtedly. Here’s the crunch: some books, let’s say book A and book B are of equivalent page length, equivalent cost of physical production, and have the same quantity of information. This is not to say they have the same content; only that if you converted them into binary they could each be represented by the same amount of data. But somehow, one book sells better than the other. The people selling the book will clearly say, “look, look, everyone wants book A because the information in it is more valuable!” And then because book A sells more, the vendors will charge more for it; supply and demand. Seems logical, right?

The fact that A sells better than B does not indicate that information contained within A is intrinsically more valuable than B’s. It does not logically follow that information has fiscal value in consumer terms. What if B is written by a genius philosopher who will remain undiscovered until three hundred years after his death, and his book will be widely hailed as one of the greatest works of all time for enlightening humanity. As a case, that situation in no way conflicts with A selling better than B. As a matter of fact, I’d say the true geniuses are the ones so far ahead of their time that nobody in their time will buy their stuff. Works of quality are generally superseded by what is “popular”- this is an obvious, and also common sentiment.

The fact of the matter is that there is quite a lot less money to be made selling things like books and movies than the industry has been predicated upon. Another fact of the matter is that virtually all of that little money to be made, in a naturalistic system, would end up in the hands of the creator(s). Such industries are disgustingly contorted and inflated to maximize revenue. They have no qualms about hyping, sensationalizing, and swamping anything that they need to to maximize income.

For books, all the publisher is providing is the paper and printing services- but somehow they make all the money. The Book Industry Study Group says the book industry encompassed a net revenue of $34.59 billion in 2005, and will reach $40.4 billion by 2010. Para Publishing disagrees, saying the industry’s net revenue is $34.63 billion, and goes on to claim 2.3 billion books are sold each year. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but 2.3 billion books goes into $34.5 billion 15 times, so the average book cost $15. The printing cost for said book, shall we say, is not $15. It is, unsurprisingly, remarkably difficult to find good data on the cost of physically printing a commercially distributed book. But culling from a dozen independent print companies’ websites I’ve concluded it probably costs about $4 to $5 to print a $15 book. Printed in bulk, the price per unit must drop, hence the profitability of being a publisher. But the insane 3x to 4x price increase is justified only by conceptual wrangling.

For movies, the discrepancy is even worse. A modern movie is a multimillion dollar undertaking, funded by an elite core of wealthy, professional publishers. It just doesn’t cost that much to make a movie. What happened? The nature of a movie is that once created, it becomes profitable for each theater seat sold afterward, and for each disc sale. A theater seat is a fairly simple commercial exchange: you are paying for the use of the screen, and your seat. They can charge based on the number of people interested, at a slight but steady profit. Because of the nature of theater sales, a movie that goes box-office is going to get millions of viewers, and there are huge revenues to be made. This caused moviemakers to anticipate, enabling them to increase the cost of their movies thinking to make them better and win a bigger slice of that enormous theater-seat pie. Advertising is devastatingly effective at promoting movies in such an environment, and huge advertising budgets are a no-brainer. Pretty soon you see bad movies wasting millions, and people watching them anyway because they’re so heavily advertised and there are few truly great movies created anymore. A disc, too, is fairly simple. They made something that you want to own. However, in both cases “the movie” is adding some imaginary value. A DVD costs only cents to make, plus a few more cents of some disc burner’s activity. That’s all you’re paying for. Plus the box, the package, and the profit of the seller. However the enormous cost of producing the movie left a huge burden on the producer, on anyone the producer sells the rights to, and ultimately that price falls on the consumer. In order to justify their overcharging- which they can no longer stop by their own volition- they start pushing legislation around. At the end of the day, they’re selling you information. Information which they have to protect as an industry through legislative artifice to maintain their profit margins.

I could go on about the music industry, but that horse is dead. The RIAA was purporting an unstable market model from the beginning, and it was only a matter of time before someone figured that out and cut them out of the picture. Change is painful, both to individuals and to industries. Uncertainty clouds our judgment more than it should. With the advent of TiVo, companies started with that knee-jerk response of “how can we protect our ads?” before realizing that, you know, the old ad model was just dead. New systems with new possibilities opened up. Viral advertising over the internet, for example. Making ads entertaining to watch, so that consumers would actively seek them out. With the music industry, they just need to figure out that music costs nothing to distribute. In Rainbows demonstrated the new model, and that’s just how it’s got to be. In the music industry’s case, we’re proposing to the T-Rex that they should just lay down and die because the new, superior species is here, so of course they’re not going to. They’re going to fight to the last breath to keep that money rolling. But they’ll lose eventually. Whoever’s running the US government needs to figure that out and hasten their demise instead of making it a protracted and difficult death. I can conceive of few legislative insanities quite as insidious as using American taxpayers to burden American consumers. The problem with government is that impossible, insane things can be decreed, and cause countless cascading fantastic effects. Take a lesson from Mao Zedong and don’t decree that “steel production shall be tripled in five years”- it’ll be done in the technical sense, but every conceivable aspect of every facet of every nook and cranny of your country’s people, economy, and society will be destroyed to meet an imaginary technicality. Millions starved, technology was shot, and all the money evaporated.

Government can easily, in a breath, do that. It is critically important that we avoid that type of policy, and follow a rational, sensible, and flexible mode of thinking, particularly about such matters of import. We need to be a force for change, pressuring companies to continue to work for us, to press them to change with the times. It’s a war; they want to take advantage of us, and we want to take advantage of them. If all goes well, we’ll be evenly matched and meet in the middle, each getting a fair deal.

Value: What is Money, Anyway?

Money is an interesting abstraction because in and of itself it means nothing: it’s merely the representation of value based on faith. In fact, faith is the critical component of money, in that if everyone spontaneously lost faith in a specific currency, then the value of that currency drops to nothing, instantly. Where does this abstraction come from, and why can it persist in such a stable manner? What is the ethical utility of money, and how valuable is money anyway? What is the import of an economy? Do ethical laws apply to economic systems? What is the concept of money, after all?

Money is, simply put, liquid value. It is value that is not bound to a specific form, that may be freely assigned and distributed. Money is a carrot to motivate people to do productive work for others, knowing that they can in turn use the same money to motivate others to do the same for them. Money acts as a catalyst, enabling a self-organizing system of human effort to function where each person is trying to maximize their own value from a finite quantity of money. So, if a person who likes apples more than oranges is going to be charged $5 for either, they’ll take the apples. Also, the desire to acquire more money drives forward progress as the consumer backlog justifies increasing expense. What do I mean by that? A company selling a product for a small profit that millions of people buy has more money with which to provide more of that product. Overall, it’s an extremely elegant system, more or less an extension of the process of natural selection into terms useful for memes-with-hands. Or, intelligent entities capable of manipulating the world around them.

Now for the tough questions. What is the value of a human life, in monetary terms? Is it priceless, or completely without price? Or is there indeed a specific, perhaps flexible, though probably quite high, quantity of money which is “worth” one human life? To answer this question, I’m going to back up and start considering time. Let’s just say that there is a society that has invented a device, call it a radiation gun, that can subtract a very precise amount of time from someone’s lifespan. In this society, there are no diseases, etc. etc. that would end your life before your time is up, so people live for a pretty long time, let’s say 100 years. Now this radiation gun is completely painless, so they have concluded that its use is the only ethical form of punishment, compared to torture or imprisonment, for example. If someone would be jailed for five years they can just zap them for five instead. Therefore, a life sentence is equivalent to a death sentence (it just sounds so much nicer in real life). Presumably, with such a punishment everyone would be deterred from committing crimes considering that they would have value directly and unequivocally subtracted from their life. So a 100 year sentence is exactly the value of one human life. A murderer’s penalty, for example, is derived from the age of the person murdered. If you murder someone who is 50 years old, you’ve deprived them of 50 years, so the government deprives you of 50 years. The quantity of punishment relative to the 50 years of damage isn’t really relevant: the point is, there exists a “just” punishment for such a crime.

This is an interesting situation in and of itself, but I’m going to transform it into a money economy to keep on topic. So, an unfortunate side effect of this system is that people who are 99 years old can pretty much do whatever they want- the maximum punishment they can be dealt is 1 year. But now, lo and behold, they’ve invented an opposing radiation gun that extends the subject’s life a very precise amount of time.When you work, providing value to other people, they can extend your life based on the value you provided to them. Let’s say that you work as a politician, and you prevented a war, saving let’s say 1,000 lives of an average age of 50. In return for your efforts, you get 50,000 years of life in return. Basically, that gives you free license to kill 5,000 people and you’ll be back where you started, having a “net effect” of zero on the value present in the society. So the penalty is no longer truly just, because someone with 50,000 years of life has essentially nothing to lose. This is the analogue of having all punishments reduce to a simple fine, where there are millionaires in society.

Time and money are integrally related because time is the progenitor of value. Without time, there can be no value, good or bad. Without value, there can be no money. The problem with the current model behind value is that we’re dealing with money, time, and life like three separate and distinct substances. Those who say that theft of money is somehow more morally justifiable than theft of time are contradicting themselves. Let’s say that I bring my radiation gun back to the modern world and start zapping people with it, cutting their lifespans at my whim. Am I doing something fundamentally different than picking your pocket, if you were carrying everything of value to you? OK, what if I offer to increase your lifespan in return for money? How much do I charge, provided that I’m the only one with such a gun and it costs nothing to operate? Though these seem callous situations, the truth is that it’s a difficult issue to grapple with, so most people don’t try for fear of offending people’s sensibilities. I don’t care about your sensibilities, I care about humanity. So, despite the fact that you want to say “no, no, donate your magic radiation gun to charity and use it on everyone for free” you do have to face the thought experiment. How much is human time worth? And what is a life other than the sum total of someone’s human time? You’re willing to work for money, therefore your time has a monetary value. What is it?

A man walked up to a woman and asked her, “would you sleep with me for $1 billion?” The woman thought seriously about this for a second, figured he wasn’t that ugly, and said “Yes, I would sleep with you for $1 billion.” The man replied, “OK, would you sleep with me for $10?” The woman’s face turned red and she screamed “Of course not, what do you think I am, a whore?” The man said, “We’ve already established that, we’re just haggling over the price.”

So, for your day job, would you press a button over and over again, all day, every day, for $10 an hour? Probably not. $100 an hour? Most would. $1000? In an 8-hour work day that’s $8k a day, or $40k a five-day workweek. Times 52 weeks that’s $2,080,000. Over $2 million a year. Of course, I’d be a bit smarter and pay some schmuck $20 an hour to hit the button instead, but that’s just me. There exists some point at which you will accept the most boring job ever, where is it? Does it change the situation to get paid by button press? $1 per button press at 1 press per second is $60 per hour, and the harder you work the more you get paid. While we’re on buttons, how about this. What if you’re faced with a button, and you get paid $1000 for every time you hit it. However, there is also a one in a million chance that someone will die each time you hit the button. You’ll never know if someone actually died or not, but your expected value says you could hit that button 1 million times with reasonable certainty that you just killed someone (and pocketed $1 billion). One mind-trick you’ll need to mind regards the insignificance of very small probabilities. There is an illusion to thinking that because it’s a 1 in a million shot, you could hit the button a few times the event has an insignificant, or illusory zero, probability. Now, would you hit the button at $1 per hit, but certainly kill someone? Hopefully not. If so, let’s hope like hell you never work in a nuclear silo or a hobo with a bone to pick could bribe your sociopathic ass.

Now for the tough one. What if you are presented with a button that will give you $1,000, and the button is not labeled for the exact probability, but it does say that the likelihood is “very small” that someone will die. I am reluctant to add some sort of standard as to what “very small” means because then it’s easy- you just figure it’s as bad as it gets, but just to share my scale for what I think “very small” means, it means very, very unlikely, but not astronomically unlikely. Would you press the button for $1 million a hit?

Alright, so I think I have established the fact that life has a monetary value, and even though we can’t know precisely what it is, we can agree that it is very high. To provide a more fundy-friendly proof, aren’t there things a person would willingly give their life for? What if you offered someone the chance to give up their own life, offering them the chance to cause, as a direct result of their sacrifice, all the hungry and homeless children of the world to be fed, clothed, taken care of medically, etc. etc. If even that’s not enough, let’s say that there’s a universe full of people, trillions and trillions of people who you can save from suffering. There probably exists some number of people in some degree of suffering that you would be comfortable giving your life to stop. Sounds good, right?

I tricked you. You just made a human-life-to-monetary-value exchange. You just sacrificed a human life to accomplish something that could have been done with money exclusively, even if it took a trillion dollars. If you’re still not convinced that there exists some finite value to human life (so long as the life is of finite length, but that’s a different issue) then consider the alternative- you’re saying that your life is of infinite value. And presumably that everyone else’s life is infinitely valuable as well, otherwise you need to leave right now for a being a narcissistic, contradictory, braindead psycho. You can grab a beer with your sociopath pal who works in the missile silo. If that is your premise, then do you include animals in your definition? If “human life” is of infinite value, you must then define what exactly human life is, and where the cutoff between infinite value and non-infinite value lies. If you go so far as to say that all life is infinitely valuable, that each individual microbe is of infinite value, then macroscopic life as a whole is morally depraved. Our immune systems kill countless infinitely valuable microbes, just to sustain one creature’s life, and we may never be forgiven for our depravity because it is fundamental to our nature- we are colossal, fiendish, unstoppable microbe-killing machines. If you can accept that as a conclusion, congratulations! You are beyond help! You have transcended reality, and are destined to spend the rest of your days eking out a naked, parched and blistered desert living on shrooms and mud, but fortunately you will be so delusional by that point you’ll think you’re in Paradise.

Now that we’ve established that money–>value in the same way that time–>value and life–>value, we can move on. This post is getting lengthy so I’ll try to be quick. Basically, we have established that when you start dealing with large quantities of value the conventional models distinguishing different flavors of value don’t hold. However, we have not concluded that the fundamental laws of ethics do not hold for large quantities of value. At no point in this post am I claiming that, say, large oil companies are off the hook because they’re dealing with such a large amount of money. An economy, such as one of a large industrial nation, is a perfect case where we see a very large amount of value moving around on a daily basis. Now, is the disruption of an economy an ethically reprehensible act? Consider: we’ve established that a human life is worth a specific, very large amount of money. So isn’t the converse also true? That an astronomically large amount of money is equivalent to a human life?

I’m sensing that readers will be getting edgy again about this concept. It’s similar to the following case: you have to choose between a quadrillion people getting a dust speck in their eye, let’s say one second of moderate irritation, and one person being horribly tortured for fifty years. It seems like a tough question, but you need to join the crowd already building at the pub if you pick the dust motes. 1 quadrillion seconds is equivalent to 31 ,688, 764.6 years. That’s, I will rephrase, 31.69 million years. Now, that’s 633,775 times longer than the one man would be tortured- so the question is, is the torture more than 633,775 times worse than getting a dust speck in your eye (for each and every moment in the 50 years- we already allowed for time)? Probably not. That degree of difference is the difference between having your arm broken, and having your arm broken 633,775 times. That’s a massive difference. So let’s say a dollar buys a candy bar, which is the small amount of benefit- the dust mote. Is it better to buy a quadrillion candy bars for as many children, or to give life to one person who would otherwise die?

You will not find a stronger advocate for the individual than myself, but the ethical judgment of the individual should reflect the greater good. What do I mean by this? If I, as an individual, am called upon to decide: the quadrillion children’s candy bars, or the single person, I exercise my own ethical judgment and pick the children. There are many, many people who would like to trick you into thinking that the “greater good” implies doing what they tell you to, and that you should sacrifice so that everyone else might benefit. The truth is, when everyone sacrifices- usually in economic terms- everyone is worse off than before because everyone has sacrificed. That seems pretty obvious to me. However, when each individual is presented with a choice they find advantageous, and they take it, that’s to the benefit of one individual and therefore to the greater good in a small but oh-so-significant degree. I am now speaking of the meta-ethical level on top of an individual making ethical choices. Each person deciding on their own to subsume their own desires in the interest of the common good is an entirely different situation to where each is called upon to “sacrifice.” By definition, the greater good is the greatest good to the greatest number. Therefore, the greatest number should expect to see the greatest good if that is in fact the goal.

The illusion I am highlighting is this perception that “all of us are sacrificing for the greater good, but each of us is not in it.” This is the Democrat dark side in the same way that neoconservative fascism is the Republican dark side. We’re operating with a fundamentally polarized, false dichotomy. We’re missing something. That something is the simple fact that value is universal and that the only way anybody is going to see more of it is by going after it. Be an individual: be valuable, use rational ethics, and have the strength to follow them. You, yes you, are a part of that greatest number. You can expect to see that greatest good coming your way, but the only one who will guarantee it to you is yourself.

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.

Freedom and Equality; Choose One

It’s not a nice thought, it’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a simple fact that the ideals of freedom and those of equality cannot coexist without contradiction.  The easiest way to highlight this is to demonstrate that an ethical system derived from freedom is in large part the converse of a system defined by equality.  There are those who would condemn me for such a statement, mostly my fellow Americans who happen to be cursed with the fundy bug.  They are in the interesting position of being able to believe in a fantasy just because they want to.  Reality doesn’t work that way.

Here’s the pitch.  If you think freedom is important, you want to give as many people as many rights as possible. This means that different people in different circumstances are free to be different, free to act differently, free to do anything they might want to do from making a massive fortune to euthanasia. Equality, on the other hand, requires that you try to make those in “poorer” circumstances have better ones, and at the same time you reduce the desirability of the upper strata. I think everyone can agree with me on those two points, since it’s a matter of definition.

You just gave me the contradiction. Just to make this explanation a little clearer, I’ll focus strictly on economic equality for now.  In order to elevate the poor in a situation of limited resources it is necessary to take from those who have an abundance. If it’s voluntary, there is nothing wrong with this in any sense. However, if the person holding the resources doesn’t want to part with them then you are forced to violate their right to freedom and property in order to have equality.  And if you try to weasel out by thinking “OK, then we just have to make everyone want to help his fellow man” then you’re attempting thought control which, while brutally effective, is a huge violation of the victims’ freedom of thought. Yet, at the same time, if you allow anyone to do what they want they may choose to do self-destructive things like use drugs.  This can easily reduce them to a state of poverty. At the same time, freedom allows a lucky few and a competent few to become incredibly, disgustingly, wealthy. Not exactly equal.

This applies equally well to social inequality, racial inequality, or any other type as well.  In order to have an individual or group be placed in a superior position, someone else must be reduced through propaganda, laws, whatever. This next sentence will ignite a massive conflagration.  Don’t worry, it will make sense soon.  Unfortunately, freedom necessarily entails the freedom to be discriminatory.  This is the classic free speech argument.  Should people be allowed to publish hate material?  In order to have equality, you must infringe on freedom.  In order to have freedom, you sacrifice equality.

So I have defined the problem to satisfaction. However, I refuse to end there since by doing so I get nothing done. But I usually don’t make a distinction between critical elements like these- you could easily acknowledge the problem of freedom and equality but disagree with me over its significance and its solution. I’ll point out things like that one time and then take as given that my readers will see such things thereafter.

Anyway, on to the solution. I lied.  There is no direct logical contradiction. The contradiction arises from a misrepresentation of reality in our minds. Equality necessarily causes an infringement on freedom because enforced equality requires direct  and unilateral action. And just to cover my semantic bases, even if you try weaseling out with “what about unenforced equality?” then I fall on you like Neptune.  So basically you’re saying you can just declare “alright everyone, we are going to be equal.  Cool.  We are now equal.”  So basically you’re living in a fantasy world.  Anyway, back on track, since enforced equality by definition directly necessitates an immediate destruction of freedom, that won’t work.

Now regarding freedom the chain of events is not so simple. Sure it’s a pretty direct line from freedom to inequality. But when is inequality truly unequal? What if truly everything was equal, so everyone got exactly the same of everything. Where’s the line between where equality is good and where equality is bad? Whenever this sort of issue occurs, it means you’re missing some fundamental point. My thoughts on the matter run in my usual your-mind-is-flawed fashion. The condition that most people refer to as “inequality” is really a condition of insufficiency.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that anyone who cites inequality as a reason for redistribution is really operating from a position where they don’t think they have enough of whatever is considered unequal.  It’s a fact that after a certain threshold somewhere around solid “middle class”, having more money does not actually make you happier.  But if you’re poor, money means health, food, a place to stay, and a few luxuries. Freedom, on the other hand, is the power to control your own future, your own condition.  No matter your circumstances you are always free to control yourself, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to your body, your world, your property, or anything else that matters to you.  Freedom should always cover everything, but the argument of equality is quite alluring to many discontented people.

This idea that “more money is better” is very profitable for a capitalist society to foster because the more money you have, the more stuff you can buy.  But the vendors are the ones who are really lying- buying their stuff won’t make you happy.  Earning the money with which to buy their stuff won’t make you happy either- in fact it might be downright unpleasant.  It is your responsibility as an individual to control yourself, your future, and the pursuit of your own happiness. Take back your freedom, and use it to make yourself equal in the important senses of enjoyment, self-actualization, and happiness. Who cares if you can’t have a private jet?  You only want a private jet because society pressures you to. Disconnect and just stop wanting the jet- it’s far easier than breaking your back at the grindstone to earn something you don’t want, just so the man selling the jet makes a killing.

It is absolutely critical, however, that you treat this pursuit with utmost care. Control it yourself, and never, ever, allow someone else- even me, though I have your interests and the truth at heart- to dictate to you that poverty is a virtue.  Every fucking time that’s nothing but an excuse to rob you, and then delude you into thinking you’re contented despite the fact that you’re starving while your rulers feast on food you grew that they financed with the money they stole from you. Your lord and master bending you to task  out on the fief with hired whips.

Have you noticed a similarity with the capitalist example? In both cases you’re sacrificing yourself, your time, your energy, and then even your payment into the hands of those prepared to take it. The man selling the jet and the man ruling your fief are one and the same.  I name them the Elites, in contrast to Plato’s Remnant.  The battle between them in the world, and within each of us, is only human conflict of consequence. The conflict from which all others rise.  Power and virtue.  Sophists and Socrates.  To them, the truth is relative and malleable.  They are enlightened just enough to weave convincing lies, or to game the human system for personal gain. But they’re not enlightened enough to get past the drives that push the people they manipulate, and those are the drives they’re trying to satisfy.  Though they’re great at it, it doesn’t work because their method is flawed. You can never get rid of a drive by its satisfaction.  You’re just going to want more, and then you’re going to have more work to do when you have to backtrack.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t want anything- of course not.  However, I am saying that you should want what you want, instead of what someone else is trying to make you want. In all probability, that equates to each person reading this to discard more or less everything that they think they currently want and really think seriously about what they need to be happy. I doubt any of you will, but you have been informed and now it’s your call.  The problem of misinformation no longer applies to you- the gate is open and you have to choose: to leave, or to remain a sheep. It’s so much easier to just want what everyone else wants, to let the cheap charades of celebrities, advertisers, and politicians wash into comforting messages flush with significance.  But now, on some level, you’ll know they have an ulterior motive and are carefully crafting their messages to achieve exactly that effect knowing full well that nobody will take the hard road and think for themselves.  Freedom in individualism is the first step- we lost that somewhere.

I may also take flak for this, but I think it is vitally important to learn anything and everything available, especially from our mistakes.  The greater the mistake, the more vitally important it is for us to learn from it. Countless times in history our fellows have imprisoned and persecuted one another, from ancient times to right now, today, from the United States.  The Holocaust is the most-cited example. Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning presents a cutting history of it but more importantly it thoroughly demonstrates that the human spirit is indeed invincible when exercised. Despite the worst possible circumstances. Strength and honor.

“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.”  – Marcus Aurelius

The Annihilation of Culture

After reading Two Phrases That Destroyed American Culture over at Violent Acres, I am struck by just how far the destruction of culture has gone. Not just in the sense of the article, but more generally. The question is, what is culture? What do I mean when I say culture has been rooted out and eradicated?

Culture is not, and never will be, a property of a group. That is the fundamental issue at stake here. Culture is a property of an individual. The problem here is that the word has a different meaning when you say a person has culture versus when a group has culture. In America’s heyday, what virtues were espoused as important? What type of acts were elevated to grandeur? These ideas can be attributed to culture. However my point is that the group itself doesn’t actually possess culture because the group is nothing more than a large number of individuals which happen to hold similar values and ideas regarding such matters. This is usually because of close geographical proximity or other reasons which might cause them to interact more often than with some randomly selected person. So if you apply culture in a group sense, you end up with conformity = culture. When that starts happening, no “new culture” is created and the national pastime becomes the systematic eradication of whatever culture they might have.

OK, that was a pretty strong statement. And it’s true. A group can impress itself simultaneously on an unlimited number of people because each of those people has their own brain, and is fully equipped to impress upon themselves. When you have a group identity superseding the individuality of each person within a group, everything goes to hell. A generalized weakness sets in. No one person is able to sway the massive tide of group decision. I think that this exact mentality is the inevitable side effect of democracy, and is its fundamental flaw as a system of government. Masses of people doing things they don’t want to because they think everyone else in the mass wants them to when, at best, nobody cares. Voter apathy, a general sense of being out of control.

Culture lives in the soul of each individual. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The day that each individual surrenders their culture to a group, there is no culture left because then there’s nobody in the group holding their own, leaving the group barren, and everyone in it destitute. Pandering becomes rampant. The need to please others, the need to conform, becomes a basic drive. And when your self-worth is dependent upon others, everyone else has the power to destroy you with little or no effort. A million other issues stem from this. Socially, each person represents a threat to everyone else. We cut our interactions to the superficial only, chitchat, the weather, universally agreed-upon gossip, and other “sanctioned” topics. Essentially, this constitutes a total lack of social skills, yet they’re the ones we perceive as “social.” This lunacy about “personal space” becomes an issue. We avoid conflict like the plague and call it “getting along.” Bullshit- everyone is scared of getting slammed for rocking the boat. I can name at least a hundred symptoms that are equally serious. Seeking the path of least resistance becomes habitual. Not only is this a recipe for failure inducing either an inferiority complex or blind hubris in the face of failure, but lack of ability due to lack of trial, practice, or even effort leads to consistent failure and the short-circuiting of the basic feedback loop. A reduced tolerance for adversity elevates the desire for convenience and comfort to a need. We develop the concept of a “comfort zone”- There are some perfectly natural things that the average shmuck simply cannot make themselves do- craziness! The difficulties in our lives become magnified in perceived size by their scarcity- “stress” anyone? Every sentence I raise makes me want to pump a book just on that topic into your head, but I can only follow it with one more sentence, dammit! Now, compounding some of these issues together, knowing that they’re all compounded in all possible configurations just because they’re all in the mix, let’s mix total lack of social skills with stress. You get the perception that drama is a good thing because it indicates you have a social life. Fuck that! Next, what about comfort zone with a slice of hubris? You see confident people going about their business with a paper-thin but nevertheless effective veneer of authority who have absolutely no fucking clue, doing ridiculous things like “what, you don’t wear underwear covered in pear juice on your head?” and then “there’s something wrong with you.” Back to the basic attack, effective against the masses who are too dependent on approval to live. Interestingly, comments like that assume that the other person will be affected by such a remark, with accuracy I might add. And they are effective in the first place because everyone else is too stupid and cowed by a perceived group to stand up and go “you know what? Fuck you.”

How many people would think along the lines of the article Two Phrases? They’re the ones who don’t need approval. They’re the ones who know “the group” is a paper tiger- nobody is going to back up someone who says “what’s wrong with you” who isn’t themselves cowed in the same way, or trying to simper themselves up the imaginary ladder a bit. The annihilation of culture begins with the subjugation of the individual, with the slavery of independent people to the whim of an imaginary monster. An imaginary monster whose will is invariably interpreted by a select few. A select few who had the guts to stand up and grab that authority from the monster. The pattern has repeated countless times throughout history, from religion to the government to “the people.” I sense echoes of The Remnant in this behavior, and at the same time I see the shadow of The Elites. Virtue and power, respectively.