To Be Ruled By Engineers

“Some of the sources of Chinese success and American decay are not entirely mysterious. As it happens, the typical professional background of a member of China’s political elite is engineering; they were taught to build things. Meanwhile, a remarkable fraction of America’s political leadership class attended law school, where they were trained to argue effectively and to manipulate. Thus, we should not be greatly surprised that while China’s leaders tend to build, America’s leaders seem to prefer endless manipulation, whether of words, money, or people.”
~ Ron Unz, China’s Rise, America’s Fall

This made me think of two things.

First, American poitics isn’t just dominated by lawyers and legal experts. It is also dominated by business managers.

The legal types are great at rhetoric and persuasion. They are the sophists of the modern age. They play at being statesmen, but law school doesn’t prepare them for what is needed to be statesmen. They are experts in legalese and so they create more of it, with bills so complex that even they can’t understand it all. Obfuscation is a large part of the game, clever minds trying to outwit other clever minds, and yet none of them as clever as they think they are. They get so lost in words and abstractions that they forget a democracy is supposed to be about the people.

The business types, however, have a different but equally problematic mindset. They see the government and the population as something to be managed. They are the technocrats who see themselves as a meritocratic plutocracy of pragmatic problem-solvers. They will get things done, democracy be damned, but they don’t actually know how to get things done because a democratic government is about as opposite as one can get from a for-profit corporation. The only way for them to succeed according to their skill set is to make government into an extension of business. That is how we ended up with what some call soft fascism, corporatism, or inverted totalitarianism.

These are the twin forces of bureaucracy. Neither type is trained for building things. They aren’t engineers. They don’t even have the training to deal with objective reality, as neither are they scientists. Far fewer have any kind of experience that would connect them to the larger world, especially to the lives and experience of most Americans.

They exist in a bubble. As I recall, in recent history, all presidents, vice presidents, and every major party candidate for those positions have come from one of two Ivy League schools, Harvard and Yale. Many of them belonged to the same fraternities and clubs, socialize among the same people at the same events, live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same churches, send their children to the same private schools, and get the basically same info from the same sources.

I’m not saying the Chinese political elite don’t also live in a bubble. But at least they have real world knowledge about building things. Is it any wonder that the American infrastructure is not being maintained and most definitely not being expanded? Americans once built great things. That is no longer the case.

I don’t see it as a mere coincidence that American mainstream society used to revere engineers and scientists. At one time, there was a great push to get American kids into these fields. The engineers and scientists were highly respected. They were the hereoes during an era when we were competing against first Nazi engineers and scientists and then later against Soviet engineers and scientists. With the ending of the Cold War, Americans have lost their edge and even China’s challenging our power has only been met with apathy and cynicism. Now Americans attack scientists as anti-American and, since the Space Race ended, don’t give much thought at all to engineers.

The Chinese aspire toward power and greatness. Whether or not they will succeed, that is their vision as a society, especially among the ruling elite. They do make major mistakes in thei engineering schemes, as they seek to socially engineer an entire society, but at least they are trying to improve themselves. We Americans, on the other hand, rest on our laurels. Too much success and power has made us lazy and self-satisfied.

The second thing I was reminded of is Rome. Americans inherited the European love of comparing themselves to Rome. The Roman Empire is the touchstone for Western Civilization. In that light, I offer the following:

“Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo.”
 ~ Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man

That quote touched upon something that come up in a recent conversation. I forget the context, but the point made was about the contrast between the early and late Roman Empire. Romans didn’t start out as a ruling elite operating a bureaucratic empire. What allowed them to become an empire in the first place was that they were great engineers. They built things better than other people did, from roads to aqueducts.

Importantly, Romans weren’t even the most innovative society. The Greeks produced greater thinkers. It was the Romans who were better at building armies and waging war, and hence they defeated the Greeks. But once victorious, Romans were only able to build their great society by borrowing from the great thinkers of other societies, such as the Greeks.

That resonates with today. Many Americans will say admit that the Chinese are smarter and maybe are better at building things. However, we are supposed to believe that America will always come out ahead because we are innovative. Chinese are better taught in terms of the rote memory that is necessary for science and engineering, but Americans have more patents and nobel prizes. Ignoring that much of America’s innovation comes from immigrants, I’m not sure innovation by itself will keep us on top, assuming we want to stay on top.

The ancient Greeks boasted of having had a great society. Without Hellenism, Rome as we know it wouldn’t be possible. Still, I doubt it comforted those defeated Greeks that at least their culture lived on in the Roman Empire. As the US declines, should Americans comfort themselves that American culture has left a permanent mark on the world.

There was something that once made this country unique.

“When Thomas Huxley, a famous British biologist, visited America in 1876, he asked, as the ship approached the New York harbor, what were the tower and the tall building with a cupola – then the city’s most conspicuous structures. When he was told that they were the Tribune newspaper and the Western Union Telegraph buildings, he replied, “Ah, that is interesting; that is American. In the Old World the first thing you see as you approach a great city are [church] steeples; here you see first, centers of intelligence.””
 ~ Andrew Friend, A Bell Curve, Kindle Location 763

Now, as we look at growing US cities, what are the buildings that dominate the skyline?

Here in my local community, the tallest or one of the tallest buildings in the downtown used to be for a tech industry company. However, the most recent tallest buildings built are high-rise apartment buildings for the super wealthy and they are smack dab in the center of town, dominating not just the skyline but also towering over the public space of the pedestrian mall (one part of the pedestrian mall has for all intents and purposes been made into the front yard for one of these high-rises). That symbolically shows who dominates and rules this town.

In other places, the tallest buildings are increasingly finance-oriented. Many have noted the increasing financializatioin of the US economy. It should, of course, be noted that this financialization is propped up by the US dollar which is in turn propped up by debt the US owes China.

The US once could have been compared to the Greek Alexandrian Empire, but now the closer comparison is the late Roman Empire. Signs of decline and decay are everywhere. Yet our military might remains immense. We could hobble along like this for a few more generations. Or we could choose to not repeat history and instead take a different path.

148 thoughts on “To Be Ruled By Engineers

  1. There is some degree of disconnect among the top Chinese leadership, but not nearly as bad as the US. The Communist children are called “little princelings” for a reason.

    But the overall direction seems to be something like what Unz has noted. Perhaps a few percentage points are skimmed off for corruption, but the majority of the money is being spent where it needs to go. Certainly the rise in well-being of the average person is quite noteworthy.

    I guess that’s the key difference. The US plutocrats see the role of society as enriching themselves. The Chinese at the moment somewhat do the same, but direct the overwhelming majority of their resources towards the betterment of their nation in the long run.

    That is not to say that there have been long-term questionable decisions. Environmental destruction I think will come to haunt China in the long run. Water shortages too might.

    The only area I disagree with is the effectiveness of the US military. I do not believe that it is all powerful force that it is being portrayed as. I follow military history and a few defense blogs pretty closely. Internally and in its weapons purchases – the rot is pretty deep let’s just say and it’s less about fighting power and more about enriching the defense industry.

    • I agree with your assessment. I also agree with what you say about the US military. I wouldn’t say that it is perfectly effective and certainly not all powerful. Even so, it is effective enough for the moment to keep many less powerful nations in line.

      But China’s military budget is supposed to overtake that of the US in the coming decade. And the Chinese are likely to spend their money more wisely on their military, as they don’t have the same kind of corporatist inverted totalitarianism that is largely ruled by a military-industrial complex.

      It is an intriguing situation. The Cold War was always portrayed as capitalism versus communism. It’s different now, though.

      Both the US and China are capitalist and their economies are intertwined. The distinction between the two countries is the kind of capitalism they have. China has a capitalist system that is heavily controlled by the government and hence kept in line with national interests. The US is the opposite with a government that is controlled by corporations and kept in line with corporate interests.

      The framework of the Cold War was of imperialism, and either way some form of imperialism would win. The US won which meant the imperialism that won was neoliberal globilization. Now capitalism is the framework, what gets taken for granted.

      Everyone assumes that some form of capitalism will inevitably win… but is it really the same scenario as the Cold War? Are China and the US the only competitors? What if all of capitalism as we know it fails in a mass collapse of the capitalist global order?

      The intertwining of the American and Chinese economies throws a wrench in the works. If either loses, they both will lose. That is entirely unlike the Cold War.

      If capitalism has become too entrenched and rigid, it won’t be able to deal with any major challenges that come from outside of the system. Capitalism, for example, has no answer for the very environmental problems it causes. It seems highly probable that capitalism is on a self-destructive path. Maybe there is no way for capitalism to win in the long run, no matter which country temporarily gains the upper hand.

      In this sense, the whole US versus China might be a distraction. It really doesn’t matter if China’s economy gets ahead of the ours. It won’t fundamentally change anything. It won’t solve any of the problems plaguing all of capitalism in all of its forms. In fact, China has bigger environmental problems than the US.

    • That article is appropriate. It is good to know that there are those in the MSM who are making these kinds of observations.

      The citizens and leaders of this country need to do some deep soul-searching. Our country was founded by scientists, experimenters, and inventors. That is what made this country great. Americans once embraced an attitude of innovation and intellectuality. Even working class blokes like Paine were the complete opposite of anti-intellectual.

      If right-wingers want to return to America’s past, they should first learn about that past. But that would require them to respect the knowledge of experts who study the past.

      • I am not so optimistic.

        It is important to note that the New York Times is generally one of the places where you can expect intelligent and at times, insightful articles (and the quality of comments in their comments sections is generally better than most other places on the web).

        I think that may be the reason why the political right hates that news organization so much. In practice, they are generally pro-establishment. They tend to self-censor when it comes to sensitive moments (very pro-Iraq war in 2003 for example and did not reveal all of the Snowden leaks) and promote “American exceptionalist ideas”, especially on their editorial boards. That said, they do have their moments when they ask the hard questions.

        I don’t expect to see many other places of similar quality, asking the hard questions. Certainly, we will not expect things from Fox News, the right wing media, which basically has nothing more productive to offer than to attack minorities, labor unions, and the left for problems.

        The real question is, how many others are going to ask the hard questions when their parent corporations benefit from the status quo?

        • Most likely it will be forced over time.

          Something like Occupy Wall Street, but the level of discontent will be higher as the inequality and other social problems grow.

    • My favorite part:

      “America has always had a critical thinking deficit, in that it has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is particularly perverse, maddening and contradictory, since America’s Founders were the most intellectual group that ever founded any nation we know of, and the desire to foster free and critical thinking, both in government and in the society at large, was one of their notable goals, as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment heritage on which America’s Founders depended.

      “This philosophy prized individual critical inquiry, as well as institutions-formal and informal-which enabled individual efforts to be joined together into a far more powerful whole. This outlook was crucially important to the creation of a new nation on a new hemisphere, confident enough to establish itself on a new political foundation with some ancient roots, but fashioned with its own original design. Mere imitation of the past was rejected as a guiding principal. So, too, was blind reliance on the fantasy of individual political genius. Instead, the spirit and process of critical inquiry was crucial to how the new nation was conceived.”

        • “Are you saying America suffers a combo of determinism and anti-intellectualism?”

          As a general question, I’m prone to answer yes. Yet it would be a qualified yes. The quote above supports being careful of generalizing too much.

          From the beginning of this country, there has always been an intellectual tradition that is quite powerful and influential. That intellectual tradition continues to this day.

          Anti-intellectualism seems so bad for the very reason that it is only one small part of the society. It is a loud reactionary part, but still just one small part. If this was a fully anti-intellectual society, it would be a moot point and no one would give it a second thought.

          America is a fundamentally intellectual society. At the same time, it is fundamentally populist and democratic. Those sometimes work together and sometimes not so much. Likewise, we are a society equal parts obsessed with a deterministic sense of destiny and an individualistic sense of freewill.

          We are a complex society because we are historically and demographically diverse. We don’t have any single culture and tradition. It is almost meaningless to speak of America as a single thing.

  2. It’s hard to say. But if China follows the trajectories of Japan and South Korea, then before the growth levels off, it could be much closer in living standards to the US … and its economy larger in size owing to numbers.

    OF course there is the environmental limits now that are the bottleneck. That and I think it’s important to remember that all might not be what it seems.

    Eamonn Fingleton in particular believes that the Japanese recession has been greatly exaggerated. Look at the growth in life expectancy and other metrics of living standards. Japan has done well – in fact better than the US during the time since its so called Lost Decades.

    I think the environmental bottlenecks though are the real ones. The whole system might come apart if that were to happen.

    • I did like Fingleton’s view. It is a bit convenient for Westerners to look at a country like Japan with only the most superficial of understanding. It comforts Americans in particular to think that, despite our decline, maybe the seeming progress in the East is nothing to worry about.

      I told my father about Fingleton’s view, but he wasn’t convinced. My father is an economics kinda guy and rather mainstream in his thinking. He isn’t used to taking an alternative perspective and looking deeper at social issues.

      The real threat that China poses for America is the fact that it represents an alternative form of capitalism. It proves that capitalism isn’t inherently democratic, as American propaganda has always claimed. This cuts to the heart of American imperialism.

      If spreading capitalism through military force does not lead to democracy, then the justification for US policy is without moral and pragmatic justification. And so, if capitalism never had anything to do with democracy in the first place and non-democratic capitalism is turning out to be quite successful in terms of power and profit, the American ruling elite are suddenly in a tough spot.

      China doesn’t fit into the framework of American propaganda. We have no ideological defenses against the Chinese system. That is how our economies became so intertwined. The idea was supposed to be that a country like China becoming capitalist would allow Western democratic and liberal values to influence them. But instead it has gone the other way around. The increasing globalization of capitalism has been the direct cause of the undermining of Western democracy and liberalism.

      It turns out that globalized capitalism is a greater threat to freedom and liberty than globalized communism ever was. It brings into question what freedom and liberty even mean, when they’ve become detached from any concept of social capital and the public good. It contradicts the American belief system that the authoritarian and paternalistic Chinese government (along with Japan’s more collectivist social structure) has been improving the lives of its citizens better than has US ‘democracy’.

      Maybe the US has had it wrong. Idealizing freedom and liberty, especially in its focus on mere economic terms, won’t lead to a morally and socially good society. It is the opposite. Increasing freedom and liberty are results, not causes, of a well functioning society that is progressing in a healthy and sustainable way.

      The challenge is that, at present, none of the wealthiest and most powerful countries are necessarily progressing in a healthy and sustainable way. However, some are being less unhealthy and less unsustainable than others.

      China is being environmentally destructive, but it also might be positioning itself and developing the social structures that will allow it to better deal with large-scale environmental problems in the long term. The Chinese are at least trying to plan for the future and the coming problems. Americans aren’t even interested in admitting to the problems, much less plan for dealing with them.

  3. I told my father about Fingleton’s view, but he wasn’t convinced. My father is an economics kinda guy and rather mainstream in his thinking. He isn’t used to taking an alternative perspective and looking deeper at social issues.

    He sees only what he wants to see. To him no doubt, it’s all about GDP growth.

    Anyways, here’s a rehash in case you’ve forgotten.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/the-true-story-of-japans-economic-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    The other is that the Japanese are deliberately hiding their massive trade surplus:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/eamonnfingleton/2014/04/20/whats-japans-guiltiest-secret-hint-its-not-the-comfort-women/

    Current life expectancy though:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/life-expectancy-in-canada-hits-80-for-men-84-for-women-1.2644355

    US for 2014 was about 79 years if I remember.

    China doesn’t fit into the framework of American propaganda. We have no ideological defenses against the Chinese system. That is how our economies became so intertwined. The idea was supposed to be that a country like China becoming capitalist would allow Western democratic and liberal values to influence them. But instead it has gone the other way around. The increasing globalization of capitalism has been the direct cause of the undermining of Western democracy and liberalism.

    The relative prosperity of the East Asian nations and the northern European social democracies does not fit into the framework.

    By their logic they ought to be collapsing under their crushing regulation but the exact opposite seems to be happening.

    It would suggest that the American framework is fundamentally flawed.

  4. Here in my local community, the tallest or one of the tallest buildings in the downtown used to be for a tech industry company. However, the most recent tallest buildings built are high-rise apartment buildings for the super wealthy and they are smack dab in the center of town, dominating not just the skyline but also towering over the public space of the pedestrian mall (one part of the pedestrian mall has for all intents and purposes been made into the front yard for one of these high-rises). That symbolically shows who dominates and rules this town.

    Elsewhere gated communities seem to dominate.

    It’s a sign of growing inequality and the lack of opportunities available for the average person.

    The reality is that democracy and capitalism are at odds with each other. Capitalism is at heart the concept of influence based on wealth. It seems like the capitalism side is winning and the democracy one losing.

    In other places, the tallest buildings are increasingly finance-oriented. Many have noted the increasing financializatioin of the US economy. It should, of course, be noted that this financialization is propped up by the US dollar which is in turn propped up by debt the US owes China.

    It probably is not a coincidence that the finance dominated buildings began to become more common as the other types, like manufacturing began their decline.

    • “The reality is that democracy and capitalism are at odds with each other. Capitalism is at heart the concept of influence based on wealth. It seems like the capitalism side is winning and the democracy one losing.”

      I suspect that is true. I’m open to someone proving that democracy and capitalism are compatible. But going by present reality, they sure do seem to be completely opposed.

      I also think that capitalism and free markets are opposed. As far as I can tell, capitalism inevitably leads to plutocracy… if left to its own devices. You can try to constrain capitalism through non-capitalist means so that it doesn’t destroy all of society, but that is a big gamble to take.

      It’s like training a tiger to let you put your head in its mouth. It’s not a wise thing to do.

      “It probably is not a coincidence that the finance dominated buildings began to become more common as the other types, like manufacturing began their decline.”

      Probably not. Another type of massive structure that has increased are mega-churches. It would be interesting to see the breakdown on the largest buildings in the country, who owns them, and what they are primarily used for.

    • I suspect that many of the mega churches are owned by some very wealthy people who are likely charlatans living in a manner that is totally at odds with the ideals of Christianity and wealth.

    • That would be a good place to start. But I was also wondering about the tallest buildings in towns in general, including small-to-mid-sized places. The tallest buildings in this town aren’t large buildings compared those in big cities, but they are massivee by local standards. How many small towns are left that still have a church as the largest building at the center of town?

    • Well you did ask for the tallest buildings, so I guess that is a good list.

      Hmm … as far as relative tallness, I’m not sue there’s an absolute scale there I’m afraid.

      But looking at the trend, let’s see:

      – The overwhelming majority are banks or financial buildings (even true in the Asian world)

      – High priced hotels

      – A few high end luxury apartments

      Probably a sign of the times.

      To be honest, I don’t think that the list would be different elsewhere for medium sized cities. Lots of big financial services companies will dominate.

      Small town America is in decline, possibly terminal decline.

    • It is a good list. I was just wondering more broadly. The tallest buildings would be in the big cities, but big cities aren’t the majority of cities. That said, maybe it is the same basic social and economic forces, no matter the size. As for small towns, they are probably irrelevant as most of them are doomed.

    • Again, I think it would be similar. Dominated by banks, rich hotels, and rich apartments again. Perhaps a few large corporations too would have their buildings in the tall buildings.

      It’s only when you get to small towns that churches and the like are the tallest buildings around.

      Now the interesting question is, what would an ideal society look like for its tall buildings?

  5. If this is anything to go by, engineer rule is probably less “bad” than an authoritarian society of bankers, lawyers, and business people, which is the direction the US is heading.

    • Many decent countries have established ruling elites. Switzerland, for example. The problem is a population doesn’t get to choose its ruling elites. If you your ruling elites are authoritarian sociopaths, paternalism isn’t going to work out so well.

  6. The real question becomes, does any nation really have “true” choice in choosing who rules their nation? I would argue that none really do.

    • Maybe not necessarily choice. A people can’t vote for the ruling elite they want. But a people can vote against the ruling elite they don’t want. It is called a revolution and for good measure the revolutionaries can kill the old ruling elite to make sure they don’t try to take back power.

      Of course, the new ruling elite might not be better. In that case, there can be another revolution. Just keep deposing and/or killing off ruling elites until the people get what they want. The threat of being violently taken out of power might at least keep the ruling elite from getting too full of themselves and too far out of control.

      The younger Jefferson thought regular revolutions would be the only way to maintain freedom. Maybe he had a good point.

  7. The problem is that revolutions are themselves quite destabilizing and that the very act of a revolution has the great danger of reducing living standards.

    • Revolutions also have the potential of increasing living standards. A revolution just means major change, not what kind of change or what it entails. There are even peaceful revolutions where the the police and military either join the revolution or refuse to suppress it. In that case, it is a relatively smooth political transitioon to a new social order. Anyway, my main point is that people forget the power of a collective vote of no confidence, which can get expressed in many ways.

      • That could just lead to revolution after revolution.

        Or a military coup as happened in many South American nations (sponsored in many cases by the US).

        I suppose that there is a chance of a step forward. It depends though.

      • Reform has failed. The alternative to revolution, whether violent or peaceful. is complicity with imperialism and authoritarianism.

        I’d prefer reform, but I don’t see it happening. People have been trying to reform the US for centuries and it is hard to call it a success. The US has become one of the most powerful and oppressive empires in world history.

        All the people killed and otherwise harmed by US economic policies and military/covert actions don’t likely care about either reform or revolution. They just want the bad men to stop doing bad things.

  8. Perhaps so.

    The problem at this point is that we are not dealing with say, scientists and engineers who will (although in a flawed manner) better society in the long run. We are dealing with bankers, lawyers, and businesspeople who feel no responsibility to society.

    The logical conclusion might be something akin to the French Revolution, but it could end like Rome did just as easily, only instead of being sacked by barbarians (geography and the threat of terrorism is grossly exaggerated), it will likely be economic collapse that causes the coup de grace.

    • My view is twofold. First, change is inevitable, but we have some influence on what kind of change. That leads to the second part.

      Revolution is always a choice made by those with power. It is the default option when reform is denied for too long. How revolution plays out also is largely the choice of those with power, whether they choose to allow a smooth peaceful transition or if they seek to further deny change.

      But the fact that they denied reform tends to mean they will attempt to deny revolution even more. So they further dig themselves into a hole that they can’t escape from.

      All societies either change and find effective ways of assimilating change or they become obsolete and doomed. It is all based on a series of choices.

    • That expressed my view as well. That made me happy to see someone say something like that. It seems that perspective has been ignored in recent history.

      We’ve become cycical and stopped dreaming about what is possible. Sure government is wasteful in a sense. Most investments in grand dreams go no where, but that few investments that do go somewhere could change all of society.

      If we live in fear of risk, the only thing we will gain is a worldview dominated by fear. We’ve become a nation of small-minded cowards.

      • I have a lot of reservations about scientific advancements, as do you seem to, as well. There’s a lot of ethical issues there… with no easy answers.

      • Sure. But at present we are on a road to self-destruction. We either change our ways and seek improvements or it could get very ugly. Not acting isn’t much of a choice. There are ethical issues to everything we do and everything we don’t do. No way around that.

    • That one was nice as well, although I didn’t agree with it as strongly. Some good observations along with some limits to his thinking.

      He states a few things with a bit too much certainty. As I see it, these changes are game-changers. Many old certainties will go out the window.

      The generational perspective is key. We haven’t seen much political change yet for a simple reason. The generations who have been impacted by these technologies from a young age haven’t yet fully entered politics (nor other positions of power and influence).

      Politics is often an effect rather than a cause. That is why politics can seem slow to change. The change is happening, but most of us aren’t paying attention to what is changing and what it means.

  9. I’m obviously not an expert. But as a geography fan and map buff, I am rather impressed with China’s growth. Specifically, on the HDI index. I’ve been following the maps for years and recently China finally entered the ‘high’ category on the human development index. Of course this index is not without it’s controversy, but for classification’s sake I’m intrigued by it. China does split it’s HDI by region, as well…

    When I flew to Shanghai last summer, I knew that I was seeing the privileged of China. During that time I knew China was classified as ‘medium’ HDI, even if Shanghai itself could be above that. I was surprised that Beijing was considered ‘more developed’ though. The atrocious air quality alone shows that HDI has it’s limits. I was surprised that Tianjin is the fifth most developed place in China and equivalent to Argentina as well. Granted, I’ve never been to Argentina. But Tianjin was very clearly a step down in ‘ glitz’ from Shanghai when I was there. It’s not third world by any stretch, though. To be honest I’ve never been anywhere less developed than urban China, so I’m a bit sheltered in that sense.

    Also, Russia despite being somewhat close to ‘very high’ categorization, is very clearly lower in living standards relative to the ‘first world’ western nations. A visit to the average Russian apartment (which actually reminds me of my grandma’s Tianjin apartment) and a walk on the streets shows it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Human_Development_Index

    China: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_administrative_divisions_by_Human_Development_Index

    • Anyway, what sticks out to me about the non-first world places I’ve been to (granted, not many countries at all. two) is the much bigger disparities in living standards region to region. Of course all countries have this but the disparity seems more dramatic in China compared to the USA, and the USA has some pretty fucked up disparities.

      • The US is more of a middling country. We don’t have the worst problems of the poorest and least developed countries. But we have way more problems than the other Western countries. The US has far fewer excuses than a country like China, as the US has been wealthy and powerful for a very long time and yet still has massive disparities.

    • A few weeks ago, I finished reading “Why the West Rules–For Now” by Ian Morris. He uses HDI in his analysis. His book is interesting for a number of reasons. His main focus is geography, but he puts all of history into that context. He offers some compelling explanations for why different regions develop the way they do. He foresees China most likely becoming dominant in the near future, probably sooner than later.

      • One thing that makes me uncomfortable at thought of a dominant China is the lack of democracy, and more importantly, the lack of free speech and freedom to criticize things. But of course, we in the free world have our own issues with that. I hope a future that is more embracing of enlightenment values rather than a more authoritarian one. Other than that, I have more or less neutral feelings.

      • The future of democracy isn’t entirely certain. I hope that globalization will force the issue of democracy in a larger way, as people worldwide realize that their fates are intertwined. A global pandemic or environmental catastrophe could waken people up to the fact that we all live together on a single planet. Or it could just lead to an even worse authoritarianism. Anything is possible.

      • One thing that sticks out to me for HDI, is how many fewer countries with a .9 development there are now compared to a few years ago. Many “first world” countries have slipped in HDI

  10. Society does seem to short-term and rise averse to a fault. That is the problem.

    Perhaps in some ways we do get the leaders we deserve.

    • Present American society does seem that way. But not all societies are that way. Even the US wasn’t always that way.

      I’d say we get leaders that no one asked for. The leaders didn’t need to ask for permission. They just took power because they could.

      There were those who tried to stop and thwart them. Thomas Paine was one such person, but power had been entrenched for so long at that point it was almost impossible to dislodge it.

      We still have a system of power that has a direct lineage going all the way back to aristocracy and monarchy. Most American presidents have family lines that go back to Old World aristocracy. And most American plutocrats have family lines that go back to Old world old wealth.

      This isn’t a new game, even if it is a new guise.

  11. No it is not a new game.

    it is merely the old game of trying to repackage the idea of building a feudal aristocracy. Agre had it right.

    http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html

    The problem is, what to do about it? In the short run, their self-inflicted problems will continue to worsen society.

    In the long run, either society survives and learns the hard way, or it will fall. As indicated, I fear this may be the answer to the Fermi Paradox.

    • Conservatism does seem to have a strange and often unconscious relationship to aristocracy. HBDers are a recent phenomenon of this. They seek to prove that everything is the way it is because of genetic determinism, and so everyone gets what they deserve. To justify their power and privilege, in the past people would speak of blood lines. Now they speak of genetics. It’s the claim that inheriting wealth and power is justified because a superior nature is also inherited. That aristocracy, even if called by another name.

  12. There does seem to be an in-built mentality of short-termism and anti-egalitarianism in American society.

    You tend to get articles like this one:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/the-danish-dont-have-the-secret-to-happiness/384930/

    My response:

    It would seem that modesty and realistic expectations are the key to happiness.

    I would argue that although the culture of egalitarianism does have its drawbacks, overall the net effect appears to lead to some of the highest standards of living on earth. A simple look at life expectancy, poverty rates, and various other social indicators tells the story.

    The Scandinavian nations (and Finland), along with arguably Japan (for which I note despite their economic stagnation, for which I think might be exaggerated, they enjoy a relatively high standard of living) are generally very collectivist, egalitarian societies. Sticking out like a sore thumb generally is discouraged very strongly in such societies.

    It does not appear that there is a tradeoff of economic growth vs egalitarianism either. If so, one would expect steeply unequal societies to grow much faster and enjoy better living conditions. Finally, it is looking like social mobility is highest in the Scandinavian nations.

    In fact, arguably having to worry about becoming complacent is in and of itself a sign of prosperity. Certainly, it is better than being arrogant (I actually think that this is a bigger problem in the US than in the Nordic nations). Likewise, dull lives means that there is no pressing need to worry about.

    Egalitarianism may not lead to heaven, but it will lead to an overall better society.

  13. What happens when automation leaves 25%, 35% of the workforce permanently out of work? We can’t keep pretending like the hallmark of a good person is devoting a massive chunk of their life to the grind at the pace that automation is overtaking everything – even the arts and services. Music generators can work in most fields, there’s the obvious manufacturing and fabrication, food services have been replaced with fabrication machines and vending machines, financial services have been replaced with a swarm of algorithms – the list goes on. To tie the fundamentals of life to a wage in an age where its simply not feasible to employ every single person is ludicrous and amounts to a death sentence or a life of criminal gain.

    • That will be the issue facing global society over the rest of this century. It already is a problem with mass unemployment in many countries. It will quickly get worse. There are only two options. Either large welfare states will become the norm or there will be revolutions that will force entirely new forms of social and economic order.

      • I can’t help but think that we are in the midst of another profound societal shift, similar to the enlightenment or the industrial revolution.

        This century, and the next, will witness profound changes, for sure.

      • That has been my thought lately. We are in the middle of, as you say, another profound societal shift. Whether or not it happens through overt revolution, the transformation will be equivalent to a revolution in its impact.

  14. Unless robots start killing humans as in the sci fi films, if you think about it, automation is more of an income distribution problem than a problem of unemployment.

    The gains could be shared relatively equally by most people if society wanted them to be.

      • Which society has unfortunately done.

        There’s definitely a mentality of “just world fallacy” that is incredibly strong in the US. Whether the cause is due to Calvinism, or something else; I do not know, but it is dangerous.

    • It already is an issue. But it is of course more complex than that video can explain in a few minutes. The worst health issues probably relate to chemicals and additives than specifically to diet. As for diet, there is constant new research being done and we still know too little. I think the greatest danger we face isn’t fat but sugar. I’m convinced that sugar is essentially a drug and highly addictive at that.

      • So I was thinking this, but I find or amusing that people will… Go “low fat” them dump the sugar on. I say so since most low fat products make up for it in… Sugar.

        America is a diverse place, but I can’t help but think that there’s something deeply problematic, and somewhat unique to us, about our relationship to food. It’s almost as if America has a collective eating disorder. Do you know what I mean?

        • I know from experience how hard it is to kick the sugar habit. I used to be a junk food junky. I lived off sugar like a hummingbird lives off nectar. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve smoked cigarettes some in my life and I know the addictive feel nicotine can lead to, but it doesn’t come close to the power of sugar.

          I have no doubt that America has a collective eating disorder. It is quite challenging to eat healthy in our society because everything is tailored to an unhealthy diet. If you stop at a gas station, it is nearly impossible to find genuinely healthy snacks. Many areas of the US are food deserts where people buy all of their food from places like gas stations.

          • Yeah, it’s pretty terrible. Considering the shitty quality of gas station products as well as the lack of healthy stuff.

            It’s more than just the unhealthy diet that gives me eating disorder impressions. It’s our downright unhealthy relationship with food.

            I do think America suffers an overstimulation of food.

        • I’ve come to rely on stevia. I also use honey a bit. I especially like to use raw honey. I no longer can handle the sugar intake that used to be normal for me. I don’t even enjoy syrupy sweet things anymore.

          • No one does “sweet” like Americans really. Or huge portion sizes, lol.

            Heck, comparing milk chocolate, slmething sweet. Am American Hershey bar is sickly sweet, while a run of the mill non-high end European bar is less sweet, but richer and way better frankly. I can’t even stomach the American version of Nutella.

          • To be fair, sugar, and it’s worse cousin HFCS, is literally hidden everywhere are foods you buy in America, even stuff you’d never expect of contain sugar. You really have to go higher end to avoid it, and even then. I do wonder if this contributes to our sugar addiction.

            I guess I’m a bit privileged in the sense that I’ve never stuggled with overweight-ness. I could say genetics play a case since I fit the stereotype of the smaller asian person, but I think a bigger thing is that I didn’t grow up on the standard American diet, for somewhat obvious reasons. I suppose never liking soda and few other popular foods played a part as well.

            For me the addicting thing isn’t sugar but fat. Mmmm. That Swiss chocolate bar isn’t as sweet as a Hershey bar but man, that fat content, the way it melts in your mouth… The butteriness. lol. Yummier to drown things in butter than Nutella :p

            Portion control is a weirdly American thing. My old neighbors at home were fat and I swear it’s was like their house was a pizza-delivery magnet. Never got how the fuck you could go through that many pizza boxes in such a short time. When I worked at McDonald’s, the amount of food some would order. Holy fucking shit.

          • If you drink tea, it’s also good to buy green tea from an asian place, if there is one near you. Have whole leaves in hot water. It’s a favorite of mine, plain hot green tea. Flavorings in tea are weird to me, lol

            Damn, I really am asian 😄

            Also, maybe it’s not healthier, but I like to substitute raw came sugar or coconut sugar in place of white processed sugar. Have you tried that?

          • I don’t tend to use sugar, even raw cane sugar. I’m not sure I’ve tried coconut sugar. I have tried different sweeteners over the years. I like stevia because it is natural and actually has no sugar. Plus, stevia supposedly helps keep balanced blood sugar levels. I just want the sweet taste without the blood sugar spike, but I don’t want to use artificial sweeteners. That leaves stevia as the only choice on the market, as far as I know.

      • Quality and processing is more an issue to me than “healthiness” itself. You know how recently mcdonalds is going under and basically gets a lot of shit? Most people yell at them supposedly because they are “unhealthy.” It’s disingenuous. Mcdonalds is just a scapegoat. The same people praise places just as unhealthy, but much higher quality (in n out, culvers, for example)

        It’s quality and processing that is disturbing to me. The ubiquity of “low fat” “diet version” “sugar free” and basically “healthy” versions of things disturbs me. It’s the lack of real food, frankly. I’m not really a health nut, though I care about decent quality and lower processing. For example, making mashed potatoes with real potatoes and butter, rather than from a box. Baking a cake with flour, sugar, etc instead of buying a pack of twinkies. The disturbing thing is that the less processed things are more expensive. A box of higher quality ice cream with fewer ingredients is more expensive than a box or low quality stuff filled with shit that reads more as a lab wxperiement than an ingredient list. I think our bigger food problem is the increased diet of processed foods more than the “healthiness.”

        The issue with McDonald’s isn’t that it’s unhealthy but that it’s utterly shitty quality, really.

        I think high fructose corn syrup is more disturbing that sugar. That shit should be illegal.

        Even among fresh produce, there is a huge quality difference between walmart, and say, whole foods. I used to think tomatoes were just supposed to be tasteless mush because that was what was availible in my hometown. I didn’t realize that a real tomato was nothing like that, that real tomatoes were crunchy, umami, and even very subtlety sweet. My parents as immigrants, always thought it was weird how bad American produce apparently was. How everything here was so sweet. Lol.

        My hometown did have a few other options besides walmart, including a supermarket that had a small “natural/organic” section in the back and slightly higher quality produce. But I’m sure, for many Americans, a place of walmarts quality may be their only option. I haven’t been to walmart in a while but in my memory there’s a pretty poor variety of foods including higher quality versions of stuff. Weird since a lot of supermarkets seem to be jumping on the current health craze to offer that organic gluten free section I mentioned, but not walmart.

        • The food deserts in cities are in issue, in addition to rural food deserts with maybe walmart and gas stations. Food deserts seem to afflict poorer places urban or rural. Which is why I don’t feel confortablec saying I’m lucky as a New Yorker with so many options because I know I’m in the privileged New York, as a dorm student in manhattan. The whole foods, trader joes, dean and delucas within walking distance aren’t a thing in brownsville or the south Bronx. And even with these places close by that don’t exist in my hometown, it’s not like I can afford to shop there regularly as a broke ass student. By the way, it seems ethnic food places tend to sell better quality foods than American gas stations and walmarts. Though this only seems to apply if the store is in an ethnic area.

        • “The disturbing thing is that the less processed things are more expensive.”

          This is partly because the government subsidizes unhealthy foods. For example, corn is heavily subsidized which makes corn syrup cheap (the costs are being externalized). So, corn syrup gets put into everything, even though it is extremely unhealthy. But big agriculture has such powerful influence that the subsidies can’t be changed. We should be subsidizing healthy foods, not unhealthy foods.

        • This is bigger than that I fear.

          In surveys, the largest reason why people ate junk food often said they did so out of convenience. That suggests that for many, money is less of a bottleneck than time.

        • I think you are right. Convenience is about time, but also about other things. We live in a stressed out society for all involved.

          The problem is twofold.

          There are those with plenty of employment who are working such long hours, often at multiple jobs and often with both spouses working, that they don’t have time to shop and cook. On the opposite end, there are those who are unemployed or underemployed who face a combination of challenges: living in food deserts, can’t afford fresh high quality ingredients, don’t have housing with full kitchens for cooking, etc.

          Both extremes become dependent on convenience foods for different reasons. Our entire society is designed around convenience. It’s not just that convenience foods are easier, but often cheaper as well. Many poor people live on Ramen noodles because they are the cheapest and easiest food around. Ramen noodles, however, are also extremely unhealthy.

          Part of the reason convenience foods have become so cheap is because they are subsidized. So many of the costs are being externalized onto the taxpayer, such as paying for farmers to grow corn which ends up in our food as corn syrup and such as paying for the public healthcare costs of this unhealthy American diet. Convenience foods are cheap to buy for the consumer, but the real costs for society are immense.

          • I do think there is a systemic problem with the American diet – namely that it now largely consists of processed foods with excessive added sugars and sodium that actually make us feel hungrier the more we eat it. Fat or not, these types of foods are bad for everyone. That being said, I don’t know why so-called “concerned” people don’t target the unhealthy ingredients in foods, and not just point out whether or not someone is fat.

          • We are a moralistic and judgmental society. We’d rather blame the individual for being fat. It is easier to think of health problems as a personal failure, instead of confronting the entire dysfunction of our society.

  15. I am forced to agree with you that sugar has become a dangerous drug for a large portion of the population.

    It is unfortunate that the conventional nutrition advice was so wrong about saturated fat. People inevitably substituted it with sugar.

    It is looking like fructose in particular is uniquely bad to the human body. It is responsible for the deadly visceral fat, and that is responsible for the negative consequences of obesity.

    • That is the problem with many diets. People seek to eliminate one unhealthy thing and just replace it with other unhealthy things. It isn’t just one thing. And few people even bother to think about all the chemicals and additives they ingest that studies have shown to relate to health problems, including weight gain.

      • “That is the problem with many diets. People seek to eliminate one unhealthy thing and just replace it with other unhealthy things.”

        This is why I avoid the “healthy” versions of packaged foods honestly. And he’s, the replacing of fat with sugar… That’s something I always found funny, and used as fodder for “Murica” jokes. A big problem with us is that we are a nation of fad and crash diets as well, rather than a place of healthy moderation in the first place.

        Be careful about syrups, HFCS is all over them.

        A big problem, is stopping the unhealthy cycle in the first place. Why are people getting so fat in the first place? This is why childhood obesity especially pisses me off.

      • I am in doubt about the idea that saturated fat is the great danger, and while I am against long-term ketogenic diets, a high fat diet seems like the way to go.

        On that note, I have been getting most of my food from the farmers market. I think that it is the best solution. There are also butchers near where I live, which presents another option.

        The issue that I see is that a disproportionately high amount of Americans focus on one thing, price. This is true for even many middle and upper middle class people who could afford better. Time as I have indicated above is another bottleneck.

        The problem of course is that people do not consider the long term costs. This is mostly an American thing. Amongst the Western nations, the French tend to be different, obsessing over quality of ingredients. An area well known for a certain ingredient or well known for its outstanding soil will command a price premium.

        I am not saying that the French are perfect, but their attitude towards food is better. Sadly I fear there has been some Americanisation.

        It is interesting that states like Iowa don’t push this idea hard as, having a good soil, it would gain disproportionately.

      • “I am in doubt about the idea that saturated fat is the great danger, and while I am against long-term ketogenic diets, a high fat diet seems like the way to go.”

        I don’t worry too much about fat by itself. I don’t generally avoid fat or seek it out. It isn’t a focus of how I try to improve my diet, other than increasing my omegas, partly for depression.

        “On that note, I have been getting most of my food from the farmers market. I think that it is the best solution. There are also butchers near where I live, which presents another option.”

        There are some farmers markets around here. I get a few things there. I like my local raw honey.

        “The issue that I see is that a disproportionately high amount of Americans focus on one thing, price. This is true for even many middle and upper middle class people who could afford better. Time as I have indicated above is another bottleneck.”

        That is good point. My parents are upper middle class. Even so, my mom who does the shopping still obsesses over price, sometimes over quality, although not always. My parents could afford all organic, free range, etc, but they don’t tend to buy that kind of stuff.

        “The problem of course is that people do not consider the long term costs. This is mostly an American thing. Amongst the Western nations, the French tend to be different, obsessing over quality of ingredients. An area well known for a certain ingredient or well known for its outstanding soil will command a price premium.”

        I’m not familiar with French attitudes toward diet. I’m not familiar with most other countries about this type of thing. It would be nice to see a detailed comparison.

        “I am not saying that the French are perfect, but their attitude towards food is better. Sadly I fear there has been some Americanisation.
        It is interesting that states like Iowa don’t push this idea hard as, having a good soil, it would gain disproportionately.”

        Yeah, if you could push the economic angle, it might be easier to get some people on board. Profit has a way of motivating shifts in opinon, especially among those in power.

  16. I wrote that, ” In many ways, they always were reactionary.” You asked me, “Can you elaborate on this? I always thought of boomers as spoiled kid—>hippie—>neocon” Let me put it into context.

    The Cold War was from 1947 to 1991. The Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Even the youngest of Boomers were well into adulthood by the time the Cold War ended. And the oldest Boomers were reaching middle age as the Cold War wound down. Childhood to adulthood, the Boomers formative experience of the world was framed by Cold War events and propaganda.

    The Cold War was where our present reactionary politics took form. And it was that Cold War worldview that entirely shaped the Boomer mentality. It was a reactionary time and it was hard for those who grew up in that to escape the pull of the reactionary mind.

    Even hippies were largely reacting to the world around them, fairly often with protests. But it wasn’t just hippies. The 1960s was the era of rising influence of the Young Republicans on college campuses that would form the vanguard for the Reagan Revolution. It was also when Ayn Rand’s Objectivism was, after much resistance, finally being accepted as part of mainstream conservative thought. Maybe even more important, this is the exact founding moment (1971) for the Libertarian Party.

    The hippie movement began in the early 1960s and continued into the 1970s, but it peaked between 1967 and 1969. These central few years was when occurred the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and some of the major anti-war protests. But the hippies were never as large of a movement as the mainstream media portrayed and still likes to portray. Most Boomers weren’t hippies. Most of the hippies were concentrated in a few liberal cities and on a few college campuses, largely on the West Coast.

    By the way, many of the leaders and inspirations for the hippies were of the Silent generation. So, there was a generational divide even within the hippie movement. The Silents haven’t been as known for their reactionary politics. They tend to be more moderate in their attitudes. It wasn’t so much the Silents that created a new era of combative politics. The Silents mostly grew up during a time of peace and stability, and also when immigration was low.

    My father is a young Silent and my mother is an older Boomer. They are both right on the cusp of the two generations. They were both born, raised, and educated in conservative Indiana. They almost entirely missed the hippie movement. When Nixon resigned, my father was in his early 30s and my mother was getting near to her 30s.

    My parents are typical conservatives of that era. Younger Silents like my father share with the Boomers the experience of spending basically the first part of his life in the Cold War, with only his infancy and toddlerhood prior to the official beginning of it. Both of my parents have some of the reactionary mindset that came to dominance during the Cold War.

    I wonder, though, if those Boomers that were born a little later might have been hit even harder by the paranoid dark days of the Cold War. With so many assassinations and political fiascoes, it was hard time for all Americans, especially for those younger Americans who never knew it any other way.

    There are many things that contributed to the reactionary worldview. It was during the Nixon administration that our present War On Drugs began, although there were some earlier origins with some more narrow drug prohibitions in the prior decades. The foundations for the reactionary worldview were definitely being set even before WWI, but for some reason it took the later changes to allow it to fully take hold. Maybe the world war era patriotism helped keep the reactionaries in check.

    Vietnam War was the first war that was so widely unpopular. It wasn’t just the hippies and college students who hated it. The weakest support for the Vietnam War was found in the working class communities in small towns and rual areas, because that is where so many of the soldiers came from, as working class people couldn’t get out of the draft through being in college. Also, what actually ground the war to a halt was all the sabotage and fragging committed by the soldiers in Vietnam, who did not want to be there fighting and risking their lives for a pointless and unpopular war.

    The mainstream media back then didn’t report on most of this. It still isn’t discussed much in the mainstream. The official story has always been it was all the fault of the hippies.

    But I do think the MSM got it right about the impact of the series of assassinations. Those assassinations warped the American mind probably more than anything else. There was no way the country would recover from all of that without any collective trauma. It wasn’t just some progressive and left-wing leaders that were assassinated, some of them by the US government (e.g., the targeted killings of Black Panthers). The very heart of the American left was ripped out and with it the American sense of hope and optimism. It was replaced with the phony smile of an actor, Reagan. Mourning in America.

    From a young GenX perspective, I have some sense of that era. I was born right in the middle of when everything turned dark and cynical, 1975. BTW 1974 was when the average wage began to stagnate and around when all the trends went into full gear leading to where we are now. I was barely touched by the Cold War and it hangs heavy over my mind. Older GenXers experienced even more fully and you do see more of the reactionary attitude from them. GenXers, after all, were the generation that gave the highest percentage of votes to Reagan.

    The difference with GenXers is that we only ever saw the dark side of the Cold War. We mostly missed out on the grand sense of promise that those like MLK and JFK gave voice to. I think this helped us not to fall too much into reactionary mode for we were less likely to romanticize the past.

    I don’t know if that answers your questions. I do see Boomers as being spoiled kids. But being spoiled isn’t in contradiction to being reactionary. Starting out life spoiled, adult life can only go down hill from there. GenXers, on the other hand, were the opposite of spoiled and so we had low expectations from the get go. It is hard to be fully reactionary when you don’t have high hopes out of life.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/cold-war-paranoia-and-oppression/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/vietnam-war-myths-memory-narrative-rhetoric-lies/

    • I went to public schools in several states. I don’t recall any of them having quality food. We Americans don’t do quality, at least not unless you’re wealthy. I’m sure well-funded private schools have high quality food. Maybe well-funded public schools in rich suburbs as well.

      Quality of food is rather important, effecting health and hence brain development. The crap they feed kids in US public schools cannot be good for much of anything other than ensuring kids aren’t severely malnutritioned. I guess offering some semblance of basic nutrition is better than nothing.

    • As I said, even upper middle class is not too keen on quality.

      This appears to be mostly an effect in the Anglo world though; elsewhere the attitude on food is quite different.

    • I’m wondering about schools for upper class children. Do most rich Americans eat and ensure their children eat healthy food? High quality food isn’t necessarily healthier. You could eat nothing but the highest quality of imported candy, but it’s still just crap.

  17. It is complicated.

    What i would consider healthier:

    – Food grown on high quality soil
    – Heritage crops and breeds of livestock (typically grown on high quality soil)
    – Grass fed meats

    The problem that I see is that such food has become increasingly unaffordable to the working class and the besieged middle class. But even those with the money choose not to buy such food.

    In many cases, such foods have higher micronutrient contents compared to the foods of the Green Revolution, where the focus has been above all else on yield and cost to grow.

  18. On food. Quotes from reddit

    “I want to address overeating and fat hate, and how they tie into one another. In a lot of the developed world, the average citizen is removed from the means of production and does not put a lot of thought into food as something that takes energy to produce, and that is essentially alive prior to harvesting. Having that cavalier mindset about food, especially to the degree that you would consume over 3X the regular amount, is a testament to both ignorance and privilege, and I think changing the way people approach food – as a fuel rather than a crutch – is quite necessary if we are to see a widespread acknowledgment of obesity objectively being harmful to society at large.”
    permalinksavegive gold
    [–]BlackMantecore 4 points 1 year ago
    This is why I hate it when people whine about
    how they want to eat meat but they don’t want to see the animal’s face. How dare you take that creature’s life without being enough of a grown up to face up to that death? The fact that it was a living breathing creature with emotions and needs moments ago, and now you are being sustained because of its death. If you can’t handle that well…I sure don’t respect you.

    Funny. But I’ve noticed that American supermarkets always “sanitize” their animal products. What I mean is, I’ve never seen a whole fish with its head, or a chicle with its head, etc. it’s always packaged into a sanitized way. Meanwhile when I’m at j-mart (Chinese supermarket chain in US) there’s an entire smelly aection of whole, likely just-killed fish resting on ice to be purchased. And all the chickens have their heads :/ I’ll admit my American squeamishness makes it so I never buy it, lol. I mean, many Americans fish and hunt food I know, but supermarkets don’t seem to like putting out whole animals or unsettling parts like heads.

    • I’m not sure what the weird issue Americans have with seeing the faces, heads, and other body parts of animals they eat. It is odd. I wonder how that started. It particularly seems odd considering that hunting is so popular in this country.

  19. I think the main reason why it’s hard to treat food addiction like other addictions is that, in a sense, we’re all addicted to food, ie., if you gave up eating, you would die eventually. Food is necessary for babies, children, adults, the elderly; it’s part of every culture; it’s a fixture of every celebration.
    Most recovering alcoholics aim never to touch a drop again; same goes for recovering cocaine, heroin and meth addicts. But food addicts? Even as they fight for their lives and try to battle their dangerous habits, they’ve still got to eat a “balanced diet.” Imagine telling an alcoholic that they’ve just got to learn to have a glass or two like a regular person– it’s almost cruel, right?

    • I see your point. But addiction isn’t just a personal issue. It is also a social problem. Environment contributes to any addictive behavior.

      I wrote about this recently:

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/to-put-the-rat-back-in-the-rat-park/

      It is about the failed War on Drugs, as discussed in Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. I’ve only read reviews of the book so far, but I plan on reading it.

      Two things caught my attention. Both are related.

      First, there is the rat research.

      Earlier research put a rat in a cage with two bottles, one filled with heroin or cocaine. The researchers found that the rat would keep taking the drug until it died.

      A later researcher thought that maybe if he were stuck isolated in a cage he’d want to die as well. So he decided to create the rat park which is a rat utopia where rats have all the activities, friends, nutrition, etc that they could ever desire. These happy satisfied rats in a well functioning rat society didn’t become addicted, much less follow that addiction into death.

      It turned out that the environment, not the individual, was the key component. It also showed that, even with physical addictions, there were many other powerful contributing factors. The rat park was, in human terms, what would be called social capital. However, different than rats we humans can choose to create our own environments however we desire, not being trapped in cages by evil overlord scientists.

      The second issue had to do with bonding.

      Some have theorized that addiction is an attachment disorder. When children fail to develop strong and healthy attachments to supportive caregivers, they never learn to internalize certain abilities. They lack the ability of emotional self-regulation and self-soothing.

      Lacking this, as adults they seek out external ways of emotional regulation and soothing. Instead of having health bonds to people, they get drawn into addictive behaviors. They are like the rats that get isolated in a cage. Similarly, they turn to self-destructive behaviors. They internalized, re-create, and express the dysfunction of the environment they found themselves in.

      This seems related to the links Chris offered:

      http://www.bcliving.ca/entertainment/the-french-attitude-to-food-part-1

      http://chriskresser.com/health-lessons-from-international-cuisines-france

      A significant part of what allows the French to be healthier isn’t so much what they eat but how they eat. For them, meals are more often social events. They are like the happy rats in the rat park. They are living and eating under unstressful conditions, unlike the typical American constantly rushing around and eating alone.

      We Americans live under the perfect conditions to create addiction.

      • Definitely. It’s something we need to address. But I’m not sure how. We’ve, especially women but increasingly men, gotten extremely hyper sensitive about our bodies and body image. It’s like we have both a collective eating disorder and collective body image disorder though the two often intertwine. I find most of the mainstream body image campaigns ineffective and misguided as well.

        I’ve seen some people say the solution to the obesity problem is to put women back on the kitchen. I think that’s an oversimplification.

      • We’ve been moving in the right direction, despite what many say.

        We are gaining knowledge and insight… about all aspects of human nature and society, about all aspects of human health and thriving. This new understanding takes time to develop and spread throughout society.

        For drug addiction, other countries have tried different approaches that have been far more successful (legalizing, decriminalizing, offering rehab, etc). The US method, on the other hand, has proven a failure. Even those in power will have to acknowledge this over time, as it becomes ever more clear. The demand by the public will grow.

        There are other books that are also pushing this new understanding and this emerging public opinion. One major example is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It has received a lot of attention and is awakening many Americans to the real problems we face.

        It may seem like nothing is changing, but it is. The world once went from horse-and-buggy to transcontinental airplane flights and rocket ships to the moon in a single lifetime. We should never forget that.

  20. I rolled my eyes so hard.

    Funny this parent can’t grasp the nuances of our relationship with the term. Dosent the fact that we want to think all kids are gifted imply that at se levels we want and value that trait? People wanting to be gifted, I fail how that is interpreted as people disdaining her kids. I fail to see how being jealous means they are looking down at “giftedness”

    http://www.giftedunschooling.com/not-all-children-are-gifted-stop-perpetuating-the-fallacy/

    • It baffles me how the adults so invested in the “gifted” sphere and meanings are so profoundly… Intellectually bankrupt. It’s ironic :/

      “Gifted” dosent seem to be a particularly appropriate term for her descriptions as well. The word is itself not value-neutral enough to be considered a reputsble label, in my opinion. I’m so confused. The way they describe gifted makes it seem like a mental disability with savant abilities. So “gifted” means the kid will never do well or fit into normal school and normal society, yet we are also supposed to assume that the gifted are the ones who going to be and currently are our normal society’s leaders and innovators?

      Wut.

      • Gotta question for you benjamin. Why do yu think, the way these parents describe their relationships to other parents and adults… Why do you think people hsu these parents so much?

        I gotta me honest with you. Based on these parents expressions online I’d probably avoid them too. Even if I have a kid like their kid.

        And lol. I don’t call athletes or artists gifted. If they are elite or extraordinary, I’d think they have slmething talent that gives them the extra oomph to tjeirvjard work and dedication. To be honest when I see people good at something I admire the dedication and interest to persue it, I’m not thinking about their giftedness. I’m a runner. There are lots of runners. We work really hard to improve. While there is some “talent” to achieve elite levels (a body optimally built for running, a efficient vo2 max) I’m not looking at an elite runner and thinking “gifted!!!” I’m admiring their passion and the dedication they give to carry out that passion. I think focusing on their gifted label demeans their hard work and dedication. They are people like you and I, born with a body suitable for running, who developed a passion and Incredible dedication. Am I demeaning them?

        • Also on admiring the athletically and artistically gifted… People are admiring the work that the athletes and artists produce. They aren’t admiring that the person was born “gifted” in those areas. I’m admiring Picasso’s artwork. I’m not admiring that he was born “gifted” in art. I’m enjoying Jamie Dwyer’s kickass field hockey shots. I’m not admiring that we was born with a body configuration that suits him well to field hockey. Similarly I’m admiring what Einstein came up with and produced. I’m not admiring that his brain was wired a certain way that made him gifted. Perhaps the different between the athletic/artistic kid and the intellectual kid is that the former produces tangible products we enjoy while the latter, if so gifted, is usually just intellectially adult while a kid? Most of these parents’ kids aren’t exactly doing anything tangible with their giftedness. The kid may read at a 12th grade level but what’s actually there for people to admire, what’s actually there that impacts the world? I’m glad he can go things that usually only adults do, but that’s it, isn’t it? It’s special because he’s young. Otherwise it’s pretty mundane and run of the mill. Your kid has 99 problems but he reads more than otjer kids? Basically, your kid is atypical and dosent fit into society and has 99 problems but he’s really high iq and shows it by doing thigs earlier than other kids? Great, I’m just not sure why I’m supposed to pedastalize that.

          On producing things, I follow the intel science thing and there’s cool teenagers doing cool stuff. I bet many dot Qualify as “gifted” in these parents eyes. They are the neurotypical, straight-a, public school, graduates at normal age, kids. They’re the kids that gifted teacjer called “bright, not gifted.” I’ve know several kids who’ve some cool ass innovating stuff and stuff tjat gets noticed by Intel and national history day and all that jazz. A lot wouldn’t qualify as “gifted” under these parents’ and gurus’ definitions. So I’m comfused.

    • “The way they describe gifted makes it seem like a mental disability with savant abilities. So “gifted” means the kid will never do well or fit into normal school and normal society, yet we are also supposed to assume that the gifted are the ones who going to be and currently are our normal society’s leaders and innovators?”

      It is rather hilarious, when you put it that way. They expect society to conform to the kids and their issues, instead of the kids conforming to society. Yet, as you say, they are somehow supposed to be the leaders and innovators of the society that they can’t fit into.

      I assume this is a worldview where these are supposed to be visionary children who will transform society to their supposed greatness (kinda like the Indigo children). The rest of us are just supposed to obey and serve them. We will collectively live vicariously through their superiority over us, treating them like semi-divine royalty, gifts from God.

      “Why do yu think, the way these parents describe their relationships to other parents and adults… Why do you think people hsu these parents so much?”

      Before I attempt to answer that question, what is “hsu”? I’m assuming that is a typo, correct? If so, what word did you mean?

      “Also on admiring the athletically and artistically gifted… People are admiring the work that the athletes and artists produce. They aren’t admiring that the person was born “gifted” in those areas.”

      That’s a good point. There doesn’t seem to be much point in admiring someone for unexpressed potential and unused talent. I might acknowledge that it exists, but then I’d also point out that most people are filled with immense potential and talent. That is just the normal human condition.

      “I’m glad he can go things that usually only adults do, but that’s it, isn’t it? It’s special because he’s young. Otherwise it’s pretty mundane and run of the mill.”

      Exactly! What is ‘gifted’ about doing normal human activities, just at a slightly younger age. Developing earlier doesn’t necessarily correspond to developing further, but it is being falsely assumed the former implies the latter.

      • Ahhh yes typo. I mean, why do u think these parents are so shunned by other parents like they say? Is it their problem or the “normal” parents problems? Also these parents complain that “normal” parents don’t shun parents of special ed or disabled kids, just “gifted” parents.

        When these parents mention having “gifted” kids. I’m sure of these parents said their kid was smart itau be different…. In terms of how people react and treat them?

      • “I mean, why do u think these parents are so shunned by other parents like they say? Is it their problem or the “normal” parents problems? Also these parents complain that “normal” parents don’t shun parents of special ed or disabled kids, just “gifted” parents.”

        I doubt they are any more shunned than comparable kids (special ed, disabled, or whatever). But obviously if their kids have massive psychological and social problems, they will be shunned like any other kids with massive psychological and social problems. It has nothing to do with any supposed giftedness.

        • Maybe. But it seems like these parents are shunned because their kid is “gifted.” Not high-achieving. They think that parents of disabled kids are get more sympathy. They also talk about how people assume their “gifted” kid was pushed. They are annoyed when the mention junior reading early and people ask them how they did it. (I didn’t do anything he’s just born that way!!!)

          So why do you think other parents shun them and think they are bragging when they aren’t??!!!111!!!11!!

        • I know what they think. I just don’t see any evidence that their thinking correlates to reality.

          Many disabilities cause all kinds of problems that lead to shunning. A learning disabled kid will look otherwise normal, but he won’t be normal and probably won’t be treated normally. Many disabled kids never even get diagnosed, and so get shunned by society and the education system. Mental illnesses are similar disabilities that often go undiagnosed, untreated, and shunned.

          I don’t accept the assumption that is being made, that their so-called gifted kids are being shunned to some abnormally extreme degree. I don’t accept that the psychological and social problems these kids face are any worse than so many other kids.

          Poor minority schools are full of kids that get shunned. Black kids feel so shunned that 50% of them drop out of school. Those self-righteous asshole gifted parents can cry all they want. I just don’t give a flying fuck. Most people in the world have far worse problems than worrying about bizarre labels of privilege like being gifted.

          I have empathy for the kids as I do for all kids. But I offer no sympathy to these arrogant parents. They can get back to the rest of us when they have real problems.

          • Do you think the term itself is the issue? I happen to think it’s inappropriate. It’s not particularly descriptive either. It’s too vague to have a real working definition.

            I think the term might induce shunning necauss it jas determinist and fatalist streaks as well. The re gifted already connotates a positive, and it connotates something unattainable and a product of dumb luck as well. Basically, this person has this positive trait and you will never have it.

            In addition, the underlying sentiment of them as the rightful alphas of the world. They have 99 problems because the world dosent conform to them. But when the world conforms to them they rise to their rightful alpha status as our leaders and innovators.

          • So basically, not only will you never have rgis due to to genetic lottery, you will also never be alpha because of this. Yes, people with this trait drop out of school and and vast majority become unremarkable, but that is because society has let them down and failed them. They are the potential and rightful alphas. The leaders visionaries and innovators. You’re an average joe cause you’re normal. They’re average joes cause the system failed them and didn’t accomadatiom their giftedness.

          • I’m not entirely indifferent or antagonistic toward these parents. It isn’t entirely their fault. They didn’t invent the label of giftedness. They could be seen as victims of a messed up society. I sometimes have empathy fatigue, but maybe I’ll offer them some pity.

            “Do you think the term itself is the issue? I happen to think it’s inappropriate. It’s not particularly descriptive either. It’s too vague to have a real working definition.”

            Yeah, the term is the part that irritates me. The parents only irritate me because they’ve embraced the term and the demented ideological worldview that it represents. It’s an ugly way of seeing the world and categorizing people. It’s verging on morally depraved, from my perspective, because of the cynicism that it entails.

            “I think the term might induce shunning necauss it jas determinist and fatalist streaks as well. The re gifted already connotates a positive, and it connotates something unattainable and a product of dumb luck as well. Basically, this person has this positive trait and you will never have it.”

            That is what seems cynical to me, the determinism and fatalism that can’t be separated from the label. It’s a negative worldview and so, to that extent, it should be unsurprising that many respond to it negatively. The kids aren’t being shunned in themselves, at least not any more than other kids with problems, but the label itself is not helping these kids. It’s a horrible thing to place upon a child, such a label with all that it means, a heavy and unnecessary burden.

            “In addition, the underlying sentiment of them as the rightful alphas of the world. They have 99 problems because the world dosent conform to them. But when the world conforms to them they rise to their rightful alpha status as our leaders and innovators.”

            It’s just stupid. I know why parents get caught up in it. Our society encourages it. This is the cheese in the rat race model of education.

          • “It’s just stupid. I know why parents get caught up in it. Our society encourages it. This is the cheese in the rat race model of education.”

            Except that they complain that their kids don’t fit into the school system and the rat race. Except… most people don’t, really. Even the ‘normal well-adjusted’ ones.

          • Well it’s complex. The ‘rat race’ is indirect. Directly, for them it’s a case of their kid being failed by the system, and that most of their kids drop out because of it. The indirect part is all the stuff you mentioned but they may not even realize. For all their ventures in the intellectually gifted spheres, these people have some remarkable blinders on. There is a strong sense of solipsism and lack of, I don’t know how to describe it. A lack of consideration and context for the larger world and where they are in relation to it. There is a sense of taking the world for granted in a sort of just-world fallacy where everything is right except for them. Do you think they realy think about the way the term itself impacts things or how their own views are shaped? Of course they won’t seriously think about the label or what anything means or other people. But it is ironic, I’ll say.

          • “Except that they complain that their kids don’t fit into the school system and the rat race. Except… most people don’t, really. Even the ‘normal well-adjusted’ ones.”

            No kid really fits into our school system. Kids are forced to conform to the system, instead of the other way around. I would argue that is what makes it a rat race.

            Despite their criticisms, these parents end up embracing the system. The gifted programs that they love and idealize so much are just as much as part of the system as anything else. These parents love the system. It’s just that they want the system to serve their children in a way that it doesn’t serve other children. They want the resources of the system to be fully focused on their children. They aren’t seeking to change the system itself.

            “Well it’s complex. The ‘rat race’ is indirect. Directly, for them it’s a case of their kid being failed by the system, and that most of their kids drop out because of it.”

            I looked at the data on gifted dropouts. I’d make a few points.

            First, the data is defining ‘gifted’ broadly. Many of these would not fit many of the exclusionary lists of ‘gifted’ traits. Some of the data was just looking at IQ.

            Second, the ‘gifted’ label has become conflated with problem behavior. Every parent of a child of reasonable intelligence with major problems wants to think their child is gifted. The data probably is just showing that kids with lots of problems tend to dropout. But what if these kids problems have nothing directly to do with the school system itself? If a kid has major psychiatric issues, a school can only do so much and maybe should only be expected to do so much.

            Third, even among these supposed ‘gifted’ kids, the data shows that most that dropout are still the poor and I suspect minorities. The gifted dropout rate doesn’t even come close to the overall dropout rates of poor kids and minority kids.

            If these self-identified gifted parents (mostly white and middle-to-upper class) are so concerned about dropouts, they should be even more concerned about the vast majority of non-gifted dropouts that the school system has failed (and the poor minority kids who never even get the opportunity to be labeled as gifted). On average, the school system serves and caters to these white middle-to-upper class gifted kids more than it does to any other group of kids.

            If the parents of these gifted kids aren’t concerned about these other kids, then they are hypocrites and assholes or else they are yet more clueless Americans. Either way, they are part of the problem. When they seek to reform the entire school system for all children in all schools, I’ll then and only then take them seriously.

            “The indirect part is all the stuff you mentioned but they may not even realize. For all their ventures in the intellectually gifted spheres, these people have some remarkable blinders on. There is a strong sense of solipsism and lack of, I don’t know how to describe it. A lack of consideration and context for the larger world and where they are in relation to it. There is a sense of taking the world for granted in a sort of just-world fallacy where everything is right except for them.”

            I understand. These parents aren’t all that different from most other clueless and ignorant Americans. The main difference is that they are disproportionately privileged. They can live in relative comfort while being clueless and ignorant. It’s like the academic with his kid. He, like most of these gifted parents, doesn’t have to face the difficulties that poor and minority parents (even of ‘normal’ children) deal with on a daily basis.

            “Do you think they realy think about the way the term itself impacts things or how their own views are shaped? Of course they won’t seriously think about the label or what anything means or other people. But it is ironic, I’ll say.”

            No, I don’t think they really think about it.

            They just want to ensure that their child gets the most resources and best opportunities possible within the system, not that all children get all of this as well. Their complaints about the system are disingenuous. They love the system. They identify with the system.

            These parents aren’t revolutionaries seeking to overturn the system and create a more just system in its place. The last thing in the world they want is a just system that treats all children equally and fairly. The present unequal and unfair system is perfectly fine for most of them, just as long as the playing field can be tilted in favor of their own children.

  21. By the way, on the South Korean education. But Korean schools are a bit like colleges. So on the “some kids can’t keep up and some are bored” Korean HS classes at least are lecture formats. You sit and take notes. Then there are breaks where the teachers spend time at their desks/cubicles/spaces which is all in one single large room. You can go and ask your teacher questions during this time. Corporal punishment is also legal. If you show up late to class (don’t) teachers often will lightly swat you on the hand.

    • The South Korean education system also fails a large part of their population. It is a highly stratified society. If you are part of the middle-to-upper class, it works in your favor. But for most everyone else, a society like that is not a nice place to live. Their inequality is high and growing worse. That doesn’t bode well for their future.

      The US struggles with inequality, but has the challenge that the education system still has to serve the poor. Also, in the US, local communities have a bit more influence over their schools than in most countries. The problem in poor communities is that influence doesn’t make up for all the vast disadvantages of poverty and the racism that often goes along with it. Poor schools serve poor children, and the teachers are poor as well.

    • The China is both more unstable than the US and with greater potential. As a rising global economy and superpower, China is less predictable. Economic issues tend to be temporary. The rich could just as quickly return as they are now leaving. In some ways, a large Chinese diaspora population could make China more powerful and influential, in the way that those of English ancestry living in so many countries has made UK so central for so many centuries. The US piggybacked on that power of a widely spread English language. I always look at the long term patterns.

    • China has nothing to do with socialism. I couldn’t say if China is better or worse off than the US in various ways. I see that country as an interesting experiment. They have much more long term planning. I sense that they are preparing for global problems, maybe even WWIII, in a way that the US isn’t. I bet they could rebuild their country more quickly after devastation than most countries could, quite likely more quickly than the US. That might be the most important factor over the next century or so.

    • I’d like to see the Lamorghini experiment done as an actual scientific study repeated in numerous countries. How many American women would get in a Lamborghini? It would probably depend on where the experiment was done, what kind of community or neighborhood.

      I see articles like that. I wonder how representative they are of the entire population. I don’t have enough sense of Chinese culture, demographics, and social complexities. One thing that I do know is that the gender disparity is immense. Women are highly sought after and so that gives them much power in who they choose. That would create an unusual dynamic that doesn’t exist in many societies.

      I probably should read at least one of Fingleton’s books. It isn’t the type of writing I normally read much of. But the premise is intriguing. It intuitively feels right. I’ve always suspected that capitalism isn’t as in line with democracy as the corporatist propagandists would like us to believe. Free trade apparently means trading our freedom for consumer goods and debt.

    • I have heard of the gender disparity in colleges. There has been a large increase in women attending college. This will in time lead to gender disparities in the respective fields that these women enter. There are many changes involved in this. Dr. Leonard Sax looked at it from a different angle in his book, Boys Adrift.

  22. Sorry about the comment spam, but the “man shortage is in the Western world”.

    China actually has a “Man oversupply” due to its one child policy and historically Asians valued boys more.

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