Friday, September 11, 2009

Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Ah, a professional saying their profession is the most noble. But when a philosopher says it, it's reliable. Right? Right?

Insert laughter here...

However, philosophy is the best trade for the dilettante. If you want to walk into any workplace and immediately have something worthwhile to say, first learn philosophy. Then you'll know better than to try it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Democratic Essence - Followup

As a followup. Also contain power from first principles.

I ask myself; what is the president of America doing that's useful? What could he be doing? I have one interesting answer, but setting that aside...

For the most part,* he's just a figurehead. I found a blog once which, among other useful things, discussed all the productive things G.W. Bush tried to do. They were all shot down, of course, president or no president. Most republican presidents are like this, while the democratic presidents know better than to try anything. (The dem faction has workarounds anyway.) So they're not actually doing anything.

*(Let's say 70-80%)

But, constructing an imaginary polity where da Prez actually had power, what could they be doing? It turns out this requires a rather large perturbation - it's not like the president can just draft a law and sign it in. But, even going through that, it looks like the best thing the president could do would be to leave well enough alone. The existing over-regulation has kind of taken on a life of its own and the economy has grown over it like a mold. Trying to fix it now is just likely to make a mess.

And, aside from the economy's inherent structural flaws, such as factional reserve, which can't be fixed by a president anyway, it works pretty well. It's not like it needs a whole lot of messing with.

So, answer: the president should basically be sitting on their thumbs. (Again, say 70-80%.)

That figurehead position is exactly what the president should be, and very likely where the head of any country with a functioning high-tech economy would be. Ultimately the function of a modern head of state is just a coordination point - because discipline beats numbers every time, to the point where it hardly matters what everyone is coordinating on.

Which makes the obsession with who gets to fill that spot ironic. King, priest, dictator, elected official, doesn't matter, because your options are; sit on your thumbs, or make things worse. (Hello, North Korea!) And while military culling has been suppressed recently, every real war is a pissing contest - the one with the bigger economy wins. For instance, imagine South Korea's backers decided tomorrow to let South Korea mobilize and reunite the peninsula - what, exactly, is Kim Jong Il supposed to do about it? Throw pitchforks at their jets? Modulo some nukes, here, of course...but I suspect the necessary artful diplomacy would have already neutralized even those. And without his own backers, KJ would never have gotten nukes in the first place.

To try to check this answer, I'm going to look at power from first principles.

A person has power when they can influence the actions of another. Hierarchies start to form economically, with some kind of contract exchanging benefits for servitude of some scope.
Consider a stone age tribe, with some kind of primitive economy, such as barter or simply communism. Also assume that for some reason, there's an opening for tribal elder.

Someone who knows where the mammoths roam exchanges his knowledge for extra pointy things from the spear-knapper and more money from the cockleshell guy. They all go out and down a mammoth, and the three enjoy delicious mammoth steak; everyone benefits. Eventually, a couple more of the tribe crave meaty mammoth, and trade extra clothes and roots.
Eventually, though, the everyone knows where the mammoths roam, because they've been on so many hunts; mammoth-guy isn't really contributing anymore. So, let's say at the next generation, the son of spear-knapper realizes that he really doesn't need the son of mammoth-guy. He tries to get son of shell-guy to break with him so they can go mammoth hunting with the dead weight of mammoth-guy, and thus the labour can get a 'fairer' share of the fruits.

It doesn't work. Shell-guy is all like, "But if I go with you, I'll lose the extra clothes and roots." The same goes for the others; they would lose out on shells and clothes, and roots and shells. Individually, each has a positive motive to stay in the agreement, and mammoth-guy can use his existing agreement-wealth against any dissenter. In the end, spear-guy probably has to give up more spear points just to keep access to the in-group.

Yes, it does seem that if the children of everyone but mammoth-guy all stand up together and cast off mammoth-guy, the only real downside is that if mammoth-guy wasn't retarded, he will have stockpiled a bunch of points and shells, and so they will temporarily lose a store of capital. But even with four people, the necessary coordination is nontrivial, not to mention that overturning the existing agreement means that all have an opportunity and motive to squabble for advantage in the new agreement.

With thousands of people, it effectively becomes impossible. Historical revolutions originate from competing leaders, not anything resembling class consciousness.

So, power from first principles; it can form noncoercively, but once formed, its main advantages are those of a coordination point - it preempts conflict and imparts coordination - while breaking it reopens the conflict and requires even more coordination. It has both a positive and negative feedback promoting stability.

Moreover, a good leader can use their economic clout to channel their followers to more productive pursuits. If son of mammoth-guy is canny, he will specialize in being more of a merchant; while he still goes on hunts, his main pursuit is trading his stockpiled wealth for positive-sum labours by his followers. Given enough time, son of mammoth guy will be able to buy the whole tribe, and, most likely, even the tribe next door.

(This probably never happened - humans prefer to build up economies to make armies, and then simply conquer the next tribe over. All the kingdoms and nations we are familiar with were united by conquest; as a result, it's absurd to be against modern conquest.)

The president, no matter who they are, is pretty much in the same boat - they can't truly offer anything much of value as a person, and are instead interchangeable. However, the existence of -some- president is of great value. And while it is true that being president is pretty swank, providing incentive for people to take the job, in a modern economy there's lots of opportunity for nearly equally swank jobs elsewhere.

And what about my point that, even more so than the tribal merchant-prince-elder, they should be sitting on their thumbs?
Beyond some critical point of wealth, mammoth-dude realizes that instead of waiting for spear-dude to rebel, he could simply pay off one faction to coerce even more extra payments from another. Ultimately this is shooting himself in the foot - the more negative sum games he plays, the more likely the next tribe over will build a better economy and simply trash his tribe one day. However, just like it's difficult for individual subjects to see that their long-term interest is probably served better by not following mammoth-dude, it is almost impossible (judging from history) for mammoth-dude to see past his own short term gain.

This is basically the only kind of game a president can play - take one faction (for example, the courts) and use it against another. They can't even merchant-prince the way mammoth-dude can, because there are literally thousands of people who know thousands more about how to make a buck, and they're already doing it.

Aside from the odd exception, there is only one thing a president need concern themselves with; making sure they aren't toppled, thus destroying the figurehead bonus.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

UR Commenty

Blogspot now hates long comments. This is actually a comment on UR. I suppose I should use more than comment-sophisticated formatting, but I won't. Lazy.

Hey... Finishing stuff you've started. Always worth points in my book.

Nifty, by the Greek Junta, I can just name myself Anarchist and call it a day.

"The envelope meaning the file. The junta kept records for hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens, who did anything to oppose their dictatorship."

A sign of weakness. When a child opposes me, I laugh and pat them on the head. It's cute, not threatening. It is an ideal target for patronizing behaviour.

"And what is true peace - but isichia, taxis kai asfalia?"

Of course it's better when you don't resist because you don't see a good reason to, rather than because they have a gun in your face.

For example: expulsion for long hair? Seriously? What, precisely, is that supposed to accomplish?

Political engineering is actually slightly harder than rocket science. This is simply because there are more components to deal with.

"Is it an aggressive act of defiance to refrain from voting - or does electoral participation constitute impermissible political intervention?"

Well, let me ask: have you stopped beating your wife? When only 'yes' and 'no' are permissible, and both are wrong, then you get to do whatever you want, and nobody can blame you for it.

Though more accurately... Voting isn't going to accomplish anything. The power structures are well insulated against that avenue, so it can't very well be interventionist to vote.

It makes for good blogging, but I think you'll have difficulty with this steel rule thing.

For example you can reduce to simply an acknowledgement of the facts; "Alrenous cannot influence USG. In other news, water wet." So why waste time trying?
Only I don't end up with existential difficulties regarding whether I should vote or not. I just note it makes me feel ill, and thus avoid it. Were it to become legally necessary - I understand Australia has done this - I would simply spoil my ballot.

While I'll need the other steps to fully put it in context, it also seems that the principle at hand either cannot be the steel rule or cannot be followed.

I disagree with basically everything USG does on a structural level - intellectually, this is phrased as 'opposing' it. Certainly, I'm not likely to act on it, because of the above fact, but it does put a certain tension into the idea of the steel rule.
Now the bit about not actually populating high office with yourself - that bit's interesting and deserves playing up.

Tut tut. I notice partway through there you drop the feminine pronoun. If you must insist on annoying a substantial part of your audience, at least be consistent about it. Personally, I approve - it shows an independent will. Ditto the mask thing. (I do nevertheless find both jarring.)

"It should be obvious that any responsible management will instantly shift USG to a posture of strict cultural neutrality, allowing both competing communities - Amerikaner and Brahmin - to live peacefully according to their own principles and preferences, and cleanly divesting both of their political aspirations."

The thing to do, which nobody seem to pick up on, is to prosecute crimes. If you murder someone, you get jail time or the ax. No, I don't care that it was a religious ritual. No, I don't care that you happen to have different skin colours and some attendant prejudice. "But we need to suppress cults!" ...or you could just prosecute fraud, and the cult ends up in jail regardless.

For another example, the Greek Junta. They can outlaw hippie symbols, like long hair...or they could just outlaw hippie actions, and a ton of people with long hair end up in jail regardless, but without wasting time on meaningless style choices.

Penultimately, it's pure hubris to assume you have any idea what the timeline of such action would be like. Seems to me like a popular get out of jail card - "Hey, this seems unlikely, so I'm going to say it'll take a long time!"
On the other hand someone probably needs to point out that Mencius is producing the plan so it can be debated and refined, not because he thinks he is actually getting it right on the first try.

So I clicked over to your progressive philosopher, to check out your modus operandi. At first I was glad that other people can work through this, because I definitely have no tolerance.

J. Holbo:
"And, by the by, I have not by word, implication or heavy hint accused McArdle of wanting poor people to die."

Let's test this assertion, shall we?

J. Holbo:
"Philosophically, there just isn't a case to be made against reform unless it's this simple one: if you don't have any money, you shouldn't be entitled to any medicine. McArdle is very indignant when people accuse her of indifference to the fate of the poor, but - honestly - if it isn't that, then it's nothing."


I wonder if Halbo is of the breed that believes his own lies, or not.

Two things of note. First, McArdle is also wrong, but at least she isn't deliberately using deceptive tactics.

Second, McArdle and Holbo think they're discussing philosophy, which is hilarious and a bit cute.

"It’s not enough to defend the principles of communism if what you get in practice is a nasty, murderous dictatorship every time."

Harbo responds:
"There is a big difference between the general consideration that something MAY go wrong and the knowledge that it WILL go wrong every time."

Hooray for tribalism. I can show how McArdle and Harbo are misrepresenting each other, but so what? Ultimately it misses the point, because recasting the entire thing as a tribal or sectarian spat immediately shows that it's exactly what they're doing. Slim to no philosophy will actually occur under those conditions. Ultimately, their positions are determined by in-groups, not thinking.

"Hee think you're thinking! So adorable. Look! Look at the little human! Okay, little human, say 'to each according to their needs.' Go on!"

This is what happens when you don't prioritize truth above everything else. It's nice that you're trying, but you won't actually get anywhere.

I don't, however, see the point of studying evil, in general. Study goodness, know goodness, and everything evil simply becomes obviously-so without any additional effort, whereas one can study evil all day without illuminating one iota of good.

Return to UR.