Review of “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist” by Walter A. Kaufmann

June 13, 2011

I’ve tried to read several of Nietzsche’s books several times and I’ve always felt unsatisfied. One could argue that Nietzsche is one of the best diagnosticians of problems of modern society, and yet his work has always been strangely inaccessible to me. My brother suggested that I read this book a long time ago, and the suggestion was very good.

Kaufmann begins his work by rehabilitating Nietzsche. His sister took control of his work when he had a mental breakdown and after he died. She essentially ruined his work. The story is familiar now, but this is so largely thanks to Kaufmann.

Kaufmann explains that Nietzsche wrote in aphorisms that the reader should think of as experiments. "Experimenting involves testing an answer by trying to live according to it." I think this style pretty much explains why I found Nietzsche’s actual writing – as opposed to writing about Nietzsche – so tough.

Nietzsche was critical of "philosophical systems" since such systems prevented philosophers from questioning their own premises:

A system must necessarily be based on premises that by its very nature it cannot question. This was one of Nietzsche’s objections, although he did not put the point this way himself. The systematic thinker starts with a number of primary assumptions from which he draws a net of inferences and thus deduces his system; but he cannot, from within his system, establish the truth of his premises. He takes them for granted, and even if they should seem "self-evident" to him, they may not seem so to others. They are in that sense arbitrary and reducible to the subjective make-up of the thinker.

If Kaufmann had a sentence to sum up Nietzsche’s philosophy, I think he’d pick this one: "The crown of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the dual vision of the overman and the eternal recurrence; its key conception is the will to power."
I’ll do my best to explain these and leave that as the review of the book. I’ll try to let Kaufmann and Nietzsche do most of the talking.

As to the eternal recurrence, which sits opposed to theories of progress:

Nietzsche explicitly disagrees with the optimism of the contemporary Hegelians and Darwinists. Empirical facts do not seem to him to warrant the belief that history is a story of progress, that ever greater values are developed, and that whatever is later in the evolutionary scale is also eo ipso more valuable. "The goal of humanity cannot lie in the end but only in its highest specimens." Perhaps there is no more basic statement of Nietzsche’s philosophy in all his writings than this sentence. Here is the most crucial point of his philosophy of history and theory of values–no less than the clue to his "aristocratic" ethics and his opposition to socialism and democracy.

. . .

what can an additional ten or twenty centuries bring to light that we could not find in contemplating Aeschylus and Heraclitus, Socrates and Jesus, Leonardo and Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Goethe, Caesar and Napoleon, or Plato and Spinoza?

The overman seems to follow:

No quantitative addition, either of more and more human beings or of more and more intelligence (which man is supposed to share with the chimpanzee, though he has more of it), can give man the unique dignity which the Western tradition has generally conceded him. What is worthless to start with, cannot acquire value by multiplication. If man’s value is zero, no addition of such zeros will ever lead to any value. A steady increase of intelligence through history, even if it could be demonstrated, would not change this picture. If man is to have any worth, there must be a "qualitative leap," to use Hegel’s apt expression.

. . .

He maintains in effect that the gulf separating Plato from the average man is greater than the cleft between the average man and a chimpanzee.

. . .

Most men are essentially animals, not basically different from chimpanzees-distinguished only by a potentiality that few of them realize: they can [Kaufmann goes to great lengths to stress that Nietzsche believes that anyone can], but rarely do, rise above the beasts.

To become an overman, a person must overcome himself, particularly his own fear and laziness:

Society and the State represent to his mind not the consummation of rationality and justice, of ethics and philosophy, but only the embodiment of mediocrity and the temptation that has to be overcome before the individual can come into his own.

Those who succeed – the overmen – are philosophers, artists and saints:

The Goethean man embodies the great contemplative type who is essentially unrevolutionary, even antirevolutionary. He is concerned with himself and would like to absorb in his soul all the riches of the world. Again, this picture of man "is misunderstood by the mass" who are simply unable to emulate Goethe.

. . .

Carlyle, as a historian, finds that great men make history, that society depends on hero worship, and that without heroes there can be only anarchy, which he abhors. For Nietzsche, the overman does not have instrumental value for the maintenance of society: he is valuable in himself because he embodies the state of being that has the only ultimate value there is; and society is censured insofar as it insists on conformity and impedes his development.

Kaufman does an admirable job trying to explain the will to power, but it’s still somewhat opaque to me after finishing the book.

The powerful, as Nietzsche points out expressly, have no need to prove their might either to themselves or to others by oppressing or hurting others; if they do hurt others, they do so incidentally in the process of using their power creatively; they hurt others "without thinking of it." Only the weak man "wishes to hurt and to see the signs of suffering."

. . .

Both impulse (passion) and reason (spirit) are manifestations of the will to power; and when reason overcomes the impulses, we cannot speak of a marriage of two diverse principles but only of the self-overcoming of the will to power. This one and only basic force has first manifested itself as impulse and then overcomes its own previous manifestation.

. . .

The will to power is, as it were, always at war with itself. The battle between reason and impulse is only one of countless skirmishes. All natural events, all history, and the development of every human being, consist in a series of such contests: all that exists strives to transcend itself and is thus engaged in a fight against itself. The acorn strives to become an oak tree, though this involves its ceasing to be an acorn and, to that extent, self-overcoming. Man desires to be perfect and to have complete mastery of himself, though this involves a measure of asceticism and self-denial, and thus a kind of self-overcoming that seems essentially moral.

. . .

All that is living is obeying . . . he who cannot obey himself is commanded . . . commanding is harder than obeying . . . Even when it [the living] commands itself: it must pay for its commanding. It must become the judge, the avenger, and the victim of its own law. . . . What persuades the living that it obeys, commands, and exercises obedience even when it commands [itself]? . . . the will to power.

. . .

Ultimate power consists in controlling, sublimating, and employing one’s impulses–not in considering them evil and fighting them.

. . .

[Nietzsche] has in mind the "fortunate accidents"–Socrates or Caesar, Leonardo or Goethe: men whose "power" gives them no advantage in any "struggle for existence"–men who, even if they outlive Mozart, Keats, or Shelley, either leave no children, or in any case no heirs. Yet these men represent the "power" for which all beings strive–for the basic drive, says Nietzsche, is not the will to preserve life but the will to power–and it should be clear how remote Nietzsche’s "power" is from Darwin’s "fitness."

Here are a couple more random quotes that I can’t bring myself to leave out:

"One thing is needful" namely, "that a human being attain satisfaction with himself," recreate himself, and become a "single one" by giving style to his character.
. . .

"Become who you are!"

Good advice indeed.

A couple times I found myself wondering if Kaufmann was too eager to turned Nietzsche into a politically correct philosopher. He should be given some latitude since he’s trying to rehabilitate Nietzsche’s character. Nevertheless, the guy was intentionally offensive and off-putting at times. If you can’t handle that, he wasn’t writing for you.

Review of “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis

June 13, 2011

You’ve got be really weird to think that everyone else is wrong and be willing to bet heavily on your thoughts. Lewis’s book follows several people who bet against the subprime mortgage bubble. Lots of people said they saw the apocalypse that was coming, but these people actually bet on it.

The people are Michael Burry, Steve Eisman and the three guys that ran Cornwall Capital.

One of the guys that ran Cornwall, "had bought a small farm in the country, north of San Francisco, in a remote place without road access, planted with fruit and vegetables sufficient to feed his family, on the off chance of the end of the world as we know it." Here’s another talking to his before the crisis:

"I said to my mother, ‘I think we might be facing something like the end of democratic capitalism,’" said Charlie. "She just said, ‘Oh, Charlie,’ and seriously suggested I go on lithium."

Here’s some on Eisman:

He’d go to meetings with Wall Street CEOs and ask them the most basic questions about their balance sheets. "They didn’t know," he said. "They didn’t know their own balance sheets." Once, he got himself invited to a meeting with the CEO of Bank of America, Ken Lewis. "I was sitting there listening to him. I had an epiphany. I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s dumb!’ A lightbulb went off. The guy running one of the biggest banks in the world is dumb!" They shorted Bank of America, along with UBS, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, and a few others. They weren’t allowed to short Morgan Stanley because they were owned by Morgan Stanley, but if they could have, they would have.

Burry is "a one-eyed money manager with Asperger’s syndrome."

In addition to chronicling the stories of these very interesting people, the book is probably the best complete explanation of what went wrong that I’ve read. It includes a (very short) bit on making loans to poor people, blaming the rating agencies, and all the other explanations you can think of. However, most of the blame is put on the fact that investment banking is conducted in a certain way, and once the investment banks turned into public companies, there was basically no restraint on their willingness to take risk. Here’s how Lewis sees the crisis:

The subprime mortgage market had experienced at least two distinct phases. The first, in which AIG had taken most of the risk of a market collapse, lasted until the end of 2005. When AIG abruptly changed its mind . . . The people who ran the CDO machine at the various firms had acquired too much authority. From the end of 2005 until the middle of 2007, Wall Street firms created somewhere between $200 and $400 billion in subprime-backed CDOs [and AIG was not on one side at this point]: No one was exactly sure how many there were. Call it $300 billion, of which roughly $240 billion would have been triple-A-rated and thus treated, for accounting purposes, as riskless, and therefore unnecessary to disclose. Much, if not all, of it was held off balance sheets.

This sort of thing would not have happened if the investment banks were betting their own money, but they weren’t and they still aren’t. As Lewis says, "[w]hat’s strange and complicated about it, however, is that pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich. . . . What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions–if they can get rich making dumb decisions? The incentives on Wall Street were all wrong; they’re still all wrong."

Nevertheless, the personalities were more interesting to me than the story. Burry found that, "he had been right, the world had been wrong, and the world hated him for it."

A free press is highly overrated

June 13, 2011

Someone emailed me this story.

Several reporters from the Chicago Tribune are asked about their paper’s coverage of the "street attacks" in Chicago. The street attacks involve mobs of black kids attacking white people. The paper doesn’t refer to the race of the people that make up the "youth mob." Specifically, the reporters are asked how they feel about this unofficial policy of not mentioning the race of the attackers, i.e. the actual story.

The first reporter says that race should be mentioned (in the actual article, he says that the media doesn’t know how to cover black-on-white crimes). The second says that she would not mention race. The third is apparently unable to discern any pattern in the attacks – hopefully the third person was immediately fired for being an idiot.

A free press is probably the most overrated institution in the world. How would the press function any differently if it were controlled by an actual arm of the government? Frankly, I think such a state would be better – at least then we would all know that the press was keeping certain stories from us.

Review of “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein

June 13, 2011

For some reason or another, I had never read this book. I can’t decide how to review it, since there’s already so much that’s been said about it. I think I’m just going to quote a couple passages and let my readers infer the rest.

Here’s a snippet from a classroom discussion (all the classroom discussions take place in a class called History and Moral Philosophy) on what happened to the US:

Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded the breakup of the North American republic, back in the XXth century. According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when such crimes as Dillinger’s [Dillinger murdered a young girl] were as common as dogfights. The Terror had not been just in North America — Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly before things went to pieces.

"Law-abiding people," Dubois had told us, "hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons . . . to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed. This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest people stayed clear of them after dark."

I had tried to imagine such things happening in our schools. I simply couldn’t. Nor in our parks. A park was a place for fun, not for getting hurt. As for getting killed in one — "Mr. Dubois, didn’t they have police? Or courts?"

"They had many more police than we have. And more courts. All overworked."

"I guess I don’t get it." If a boy in our city had done anything half that bad . . . well, he and his father would have been flogged side by side. But such things just didn’t happen.

Mr. Dubois then demanded of me, "Define a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ "

"Uh, one of those kids — the ones who used to beat up people."


"Huh? But the book said — "

"My apologies. Your textbook does so state. But calling a tail a leg does not make the name fit ‘Juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms, one which gives a clue to their problem and their failure to solve it. Have you ever raised a puppy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you housebreak him?"

"Err . . . yes, sir. Eventually." It was my slowness in this that caused my mother to rule that dogs must stay out of the house.

"Ah, yes. When your puppy made mistakes, were you angry?"

"What? Why, he didn’t know any better; he was just a puppy.

"What did you do?"

"Why, I scolded him and rubbed his nose in it and paddled him."

"Surely he could not understand your words?"

"No, but he could tell I was sore at him!"

"But you just said that you were not angry."

Mr. Dubois had an infuriating way of getting a person mixed up. "No, but I had to make him think I was. He had to learn, didn’t he?"

"Conceded. But, having made it clear to him that you disapproved, how could you be so cruel as to spank him as well? You said the poor beastie didn’t know that he was doing wrong. Yet you indicted pain. Justify yourself! Or are you a sadist?"

I didn’t then know what a sadist was — but I knew pups. "Mr. Dubois, you have to! You scold him so that he knows he’s in trouble, you rub his nose in it so that he will know what trouble you mean, you paddle him so that he darn well won’t do it again — and you have to do it right away! It doesn’t do a bit of good to punish him later; you’ll just confuse him. Even so, he won’t learn from one lesson, so you watch and catch him again and paddle him still harder. Pretty soon he learns. But it’s a waste of breath just to scold him." Then I added, "I guess you’ve never raised pups."

"Many. I’m raising a dachshund now — by your methods. Let’s get back to those juvenile criminals. The most vicious averaged somewhat younger than you here in this class . . . and they often started their lawless careers much younger. Let us never forget that puppy. These children were often caught; police arrested batches each day. Were they scolded? Yes, often scathingly. Were their noses rubbed in it? Rarely. News organs and officials usually kept their names secret — in many places the law so required for criminals under eighteen. Were they spanked? Indeed not! Many had never been spanked even as small children; there was a widespread belief that spanking, or any punishment involving pain, did a child permanent psychic damage."

(I had reflected that my father must never have heard of that theory.)

"Corporal punishment in schools was forbidden by law," he had gone on. "Flogging was lawful as sentence of court only in one small province, Delaware, and there only for a few crimes and was rarely invoked; it was regarded as ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ " Dubois had mused aloud, "I do not understand objections to ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment — and pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism? However, that period was loaded with pre-scientific pseudo-psychological nonsense.

"As for ‘unusual,’ punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose." He then pointed his stump at another boy. "What would happen if a puppy were spanked every hour?"

"Uh . . . probably drive him crazy!"

"Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything. How long has it been since the principal of this school last had to switch a pupil?"

"Uh, I’m not sure. About two years. The kid that swiped — "

"Never mind. Long enough. It means that such punishment is so unusual as to be significant, to deter, to instruct. Back to these young criminals — They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for a first offense, a warning — a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times before he was punished — and then it would be merely confinement, with others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even that mild punishment, be given probation — ‘paroled’ in the jargon of the times.

"This incredible sequence could go on for years while his crimes increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatever save rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his eighteenth birthday, this so-called ‘juvenile delinquent’ becomes an adult criminal — and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell awaiting execution for murder. You — "

He had singled me out again. "Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house . . . and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?"

"Why . . . that’s the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!"

"I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?"

"Uh . . . why, mine, I guess."

"Again I agree. But I’m not guessing."

"Mr. Dubois," a girl blurted out, "but why? Why didn’t they spank little kids when they needed it and use a good dose of the strap on any older ones who deserved it — the sort of lesson they wouldn’t forget! I mean ones who did things really bad. Why not?"

"I don’t know," he had answered grimly, "except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists.’ It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder — but that is unlikely; adults almost always act from conscious ‘highest motives’ no matter what their behavior."

"But — good heavens!" the girl answered. "I didn’t like being spanked any more than any kid does, but when I needed it, my mama delivered. The only time I ever got a switching in school I got another one when I got home and that was years and years ago. I don’t ever expect to be hauled up in front of a judge and sentenced to a flogging; you behave yourself and such things don’t happen. I don’t see anything wrong with our system; it’s a lot better than not being able to walk outdoors for fear of your life — why, that’s horrible!"

"I agree. Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning people did, contrasted with what they thought they were doing, goes very deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their motives) but their theory was wrong — half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral instinct."

"Sir? But I thought — But he does! I have."

"No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not — and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do."

"But the instinct to survive," he had gone on, "can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive — and nowhere else! — and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts."

"We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward the human race — we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing.

"These juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to ‘appeal to their better natures,’ to ‘reach them,’ to ‘spark their moral sense.’ Tosh! They had no ‘better natures’; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he did with pleasure and success must be ‘moral.’

"The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand — that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ "

"The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature."

Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. "Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?"

"Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed that great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called ‘natural human rights’ that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

"The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it."

Mr. Dubois then turned to me. "I told you that ‘juvenile delinquent’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Delinquent’ means ‘failing in duty.’ But duty is an adult virtue — indeed a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with. There never was, there cannot be a ‘juvenile delinquent.’ But for every juvenile criminal there are always one or more adult delinquents — people of mature years who either do not know their duty, or who, knowing it, fail."

"And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’ . . . and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure."

The another is from a classroom discussion on voting:

"Throughout history men have labored to place the sovereign franchise in hands that would guard it well and use it wisely, for the benefit of all. An early attempt was absolute monarchy, passionately defended as the ‘divine right of kings.’

"Sometimes attempts were made to select a wise monarch, rather man leave it up to God, as when the Swedes picked a Frenchman, General Bernadotte, to rule them. The objection to this is that the supply of Bernadottes is limited.

"Historic examples range from absolute monarch to utter anarch; mankind has tried thousands of ways and many more have been proposed, some weird in the extreme such as the antlike communism urged by Plato under the misleading title The Republic. But the intent has always been moralistic: to provide stable and benevolent government.

"All systems seek to achieve this by limiting franchise to those who are believed to have the wisdom to use it justly. I repeat ‘all systems’; even the so-called ‘unlimited democracies’ excluded from franchise not less than one quarter of their populations by age, birth, poll tax, criminal record, or other."

Major Reid smiled cynically. "I have never been able to see how a thirty-year old moron can vote more wisely than a fifteen-year-old genius . . . but that was the age of the ‘divine right of the common man.’ Never mind, they paid for their folly.

"The sovereign franchise has been bestowed by all sorts of rules — place of birth, family of birth, race, sex, property, education, age, religion, et cetera. All these systems worked and none of them well. All were regarded as tyrannical by many, all eventually collapsed or were overthrown.

"Now here are we with still another system . . . and our system works quite well [under this system, people vote when they finish voluntary military service]. Many complain but none rebel; personal freedom for all is greatest in history, laws are few, taxes are low, living standards are as high as productivity permits, crime is at its lowest ebb. Why? Not because our voters are smarter than other people; we’ve disposed of that argument. Mr. Tammany can you tell us why our system works better than any used by our ancestors?"

I don’t know where Clyde Tammany got his name; I’d take him for a Hindu. He answered, "Uh, I’d venture to guess that it’s because the electors are a small group who know that the decisions are up to them . . . so they study the issues."

"No guessing, please; this is exact science. And your guess is wrong. The ruling nobles of many another system were a small group fully aware of their grave power. Furthermore, our franchised citizens are not everywhere a small fraction; you know or should know that the percentage of citizens among adults ranges from over eighty per cent on Iskander to less than three per cent in some Terran nations yet government is much the same everywhere. Nor are the voters picked men; they bring no special wisdom, talent, or training to their sovereign tasks. So what difference is there between our voters and wielders of franchise in the past? We have had enough guesses; I’ll state the obvious: Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.

"And that is the one practical difference."

"He may fail in wisdom, he may lapse in civic virtue. But his average performance is enormously better than that of any other class of rulers in history."

Major Reid paused to touch the face of an old-fashioned watch, "reading" its hands. "The period is almost over and we have yet to determine the moral reason for our success in governing ourselves. Now continued success is never a matter of chance. Bear in mind that this is science, not wishful thinking; the universe is what it is, not what we want it to be. To vote is to wield authority; it is the supreme authority from which all other authority derives — such as mine to make your lives miserable once a day. Force, if you will! — the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax. Whether it is exerted by ten men or by ten billion, political authority is force."

"But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico."

He had picked one I could answer. "Responsibility, sir."

"Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal — else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority . . . other than through the tragic logic of history. The unique ‘poll tax’ that we must pay was unheard of. No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead — and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple."

"Superficially, our system is only slightly different; we have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service — nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable. Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility — we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life — and lose it, if need be — to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert. Yin and yang, perfect and equal."

The Major added, "Can anyone define why there has never been revolution against our system? Despite the fact that every government in history has had such? Despite the notorious fact that complaints are loud and unceasing?"

One of the older cadets took a crack at it. "Sir, revolution is impossible."

"Yes. But why?"

"Because revolution — armed uprising — requires not only dissatisfaction but aggressiveness. A revolutionist has to be willing to fight and die — or he’s just a parlor pink. If you separate out the aggressive ones and make them the sheep dogs, the sheep will never give you trouble."

"Nicely put! Analogy is always suspect, but that one is close to the facts. Bring me a mathematical proof tomorrow. Time for one more question — you ask it and I’ll answer. Anyone?"

"Uh, sir, why not go — well, go the limit? Require everyone to serve and let everybody vote?"

"Young man, can you restore my eyesight?"

"Sir? Why, no, sir!"

"You would find it much easier than to instill moral virtue — social responsibility — into a person who doesn’t have it, doesn’t want it, and resents having the burden thrust on him. This is why we make it so hard to enroll, so easy to resign. Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination — devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues — which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out."

Review of “Islands in the Net” by Bruce Sterling

June 13, 2011

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this book is that it was written in 1988. It’s vision of the future holds up remarkably well more than twenty years later.

I don’t really have anything interesting to say beyond what’s already been written.


June 13, 2011

There is one part of the Weiner story that has been overlooked thus far . . . the guy is a massive douche.

So far, it appears that he didn’t actually have any sexual contact with the women to whom he was sending suggestive (and totally gay) pictures of himself.

To be completely, painfully clear, this means that Weiner gets off on chatting with women on the internet and them sending these women pictures of himself.

That has to be the lamest fetish ever. He should be kicked out Congress just for getting off on something so lame.

Randoms of the weekend

June 13, 2011

Reason has a big feature on wrongful convictions. In related news, it looks like the sort of person that ends up in prison is better off there by all sorts of measures.

Science is the one area in which we should see progress, if we see it no where else. Oops and oops again.

The WSJ has an op-ed on New Jersey’s Supreme Court passing, what is effectively, an appropriations bill. "[T]he state high court ordered the state to spend an additional $500 million for 31 schools in some of the state’s worst districts." So much for limited government.

Here’s an entry for Alt Right’s "so this is how it ends" series. Seriously, watch the video.

White flight and the breakdown of the family.

The cheap chapulas taste bitter.

Chuck on policing:

It is much more preferable to have our safety come from the virtue of the citizenry. Self-policing through networks of shame, responsibility, and duty to community are preferred to the mercenary efforts of people who erect crappy imitations of the same virtues.

Unfortunately, "shame, responsibility, and duty to community" are out-dated concepts. Safety will have to be provided by an ever-larger state as a result.

The lost art of legislation:

Congress no longer “legislates” (that is, passes binding universal laws) in the way the Founders intended when they wrote the Constitution. Instead, Congress passes general statutes containing policy goals, but delegates the power to write the actual operating laws to executive branch administrators and independent agencies. In practical terms, this means that the executive branch and independent administrative agencies, rather than Congress, actually determine the details—the real law as it will operate on citizens.

The post goes on to argue that agencies legislation is arbitrary. I disagree. Agency legislation is highly predictable – agencies want more funding and they will craft the legislation in a way that will get them more.

China wants to start a special economic zone . . . in Idaho.

Married people tend to be better off than unmarried people, so Matthew Yglesias thinks we should tax married people more heavily. What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like you can get un-married or anything.

There’s been a lot written about why banks aren’t lending. I reviewed some loan files in my day, and I don’t see how it would be possible to make loans in today’s environment. Imagine trying to figure out what your healthcare and energy costs will be in 7 years.

What have stupid people done lately?

June 11, 2011

I can’t resist bringing up this topic again.

All the houses in my neighborhood are row houses. Virtually everyone has put up a privacy fence in their backyard (mostly this is because of stupid people, since tall fences keep out the sort of people prone to commit petty crimes, but I digress) and virtually all backyards end at an alley. This means that almost everyone in the neighborhood has a very tall gate in a very tall fence that opens onto an alley.

Someone, of presumably low IQ, has decided to take shits in the alley right outside of these gates so that if a person is not paying attention, they’ll step outside of their gate right into a steaming pile of human feces. The person taking the shits leaves toilet paper in a neat pile on top of the load.

There’s no chance that this person will be caught, though several blocks are considering buying their own cameras to record activity in the alley. Several other blocks already have purchased such cameras.

It’s come to this. It’s 2011 and we’re forced to buy video cameras to capture images of random people taking dumps outside our fences. Imagine having to tell Froude or Carlyle that, in the 21st Century, people in one of the wealthiest parts of one of the world’s wealthiest cities would wake up and have to clean human feces off of their back steps. Perhaps they wouldn’t be surprised . . .

Today’s challenge

June 11, 2011

Today’s challenge is to explain this chart.

It shows that the US economy takes longer to recover from spikes in unemployment in recent times. (It also shows that the current high level of unemployment is really a disaster).

I can only think of two ways to explain this.

The first explanation blames regulation. Under this version of the story, the US economy has become more highly regulated over time thereby slowing recovery.

The second explanation blames a combination of free trade and open immigration (via not enforcing immigration laws). Under this version of the story, the US has been importing lots of unskilled workers while simultaneously exporting lots of unskilled jobs. (This explanation is outside of the realm of possibility for mainstream economics since it assumes that some people are unskilled and therefore different from other people (gasp!) and it further assumes that free trade is not a free lunch (even cheap chalupas aren’t free)).

I can’t think of a progressive explanation for the chart that doesn’t rely on foot-stomping about rising-inequality that – nevertheless – doesn’t create a coherent narrative.

My guess is that both explanations are true. Unfortunately virtually no one would agree with both explanations. The paleo-libertarians are few in number, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.


June 9, 2011

Immigration in the old days.

Half Sigma has more on divorce rates and education/income, which backs up what I said the other day. I’m guessing the likelihood of divorce, if you marry a smart chick who’s not slutty (pre-marriage), is less than 10%.

The fundamental difference between progressivess and conservatives is that when progressives see "a problem" they think they understand the problem and can fix it. For example, here’s Matthew Yglesias concluding that a "gender pay gap" exists because a study that controlled for college majors has found that, within majors, women earn less right out of college. It’s time to confront the fact that women make different career choices than men (in this case, the progressive errs in identifying a problem). DC is filled with women who come here right after college and want to work for various non-profits. In the last month, three women in their mid-to-late-twenties have told me that they moved here to "work in sustainability." No man has ever said something that stupid to me.

Simon Rierdon: "there is only one country in the world that is keeping the status quo alive in the western hemisphere and that’s Germany."

When people elect shitty leaders why is the resultant crappy governance the fault of the leaders and not the people?

Prisons are apparently destroying the family. Because prisoners routinely come from such close-knit families and communities . . .

Andrew Sullivan temporarily stops blogging about the real mother of Trig Palin for long enough to blog that people should respect Weiner’s privacy. There really is no dumber species than the mainstream pundit.