“just a means to that end”

Dirty Jobs and Macro Questions
by Patrick Watson, Mauldin Economics

“Serving others is always honorable work. Every major religion teaches this. If the work itself is honorable, why don’t we honor those who do it?”

That sounds nice. The only problem is it’s total bullshit. I doubt he wants an honest answer to his question.

Our society does not value serving others and never has. If you are working some crap job serving others, our society makes it very clear that you are a loser in the game of capitalism and Social Darwinism. This is supposedly a meritocracy and so those on the bottom of society are assumed to be those without merit. That is the entire justification for our society, the story we have to believe in to maintain the social order.

“Answer: Because we would rather spend our money in other ways. When we consumers take our demand signals elsewhere, the market efficiently reduces restaurant wages to match what we’ll pay. It’s the invisible hand at work.”

There is no invisible hand, as if divine intervention were determining the Elect. No more than there is a Santa Claus. If there is a hand manipulating the system, it is most definitely visible and all too human. Get up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and I guarantee you’ll see that it isn’t Santa who is stuffing money into the pockets of the plutocrats.

We don’t have a free market, as is obvious to anyone who pays attention. What we have is a corporatist system where big government colludes with and to some degree is controlled by big business. Some go so far as to call it inverted totalitarianism.

“Jobs don’t disappear because greedy capitalists replace people with robots. Businesses turn to robots because consumers want lower prices than can be achieved with human workers.

“The robots are just a means to that end.”

Yeah, well…

The feudal rights of the commons didn’t disappear because greedy aristocrats privatized and enclosed land by having replaced serfs with slaves. Plantations turned to slaves because consumers wanted lower prices than could be achieved with free citizens.

The slaves are just a means to that end.

Okay. So, I guess that means everything is perfectly fine and morally justified. Quit your complaining. It’s the invisible hand responding to market forces that stole your job. It’s no one’s fault that, as surplus labor, you are now a worthless human and a useless eater. Progress marches on, with or without you.

This attitude is strange. It’s a fatalism built on capitalist realism, which is no better than communist realism. The attitude is that we are helpless before forces greater than us. All we can hope to do is adapt to the inevitable. But if failing that, then we better get out of the way or else get run over as we deserve.

Oddly, after all the clueless blather, the author almost comes to a decent conclusion.

“I think our twisted ideas about money, work, and education are the real problems. They’re distorting supply and demand. The root causes aren’t so much economic as cultural and psychological.”

Sort of. The problem is that people like this author hold such ideas and will defend them, no matter the costs. He isn’t suggesting we fundamentally change our thinking, just maybe tinker a bit around the edges.

Otherwise, the system itself is just fine. The real problem is the people, which is to say all those poor people complaining. Sure, the root causes are cultural and psychological. I’d add that indeed they are also economic, as all of it is inseparable. Improving the bad attitudes of poor people isn’t going to solve the systemic failure.

“This year’s US election, contentious though it was, brought important issues to the surface. Ditto events around the world, like Brexit. The economy isn’t working like we think it should. People are tired of asking questions and getting no good answers.”

That is to put it lightly. Important issues were brought to the surface, in the way that magma is brought to the surface when a volcano erupts. Just wait until that volcano really blows its top, turns the sky black with smoke, blocks out the sun, covers the land in ash, and sends the population fleeing in all directions. Then questions and answers will be moot.

“I don’t have all the answers. I suspect no one person does. But the answers are out there, and we won’t find them unless we look for them.”

At least, he is admitting this much. After writing all that, he states he doesn’t actually have all the answers. Yet, as an economic analyst writing for a investment newsletter, it’s his job to have answers or else pretend he has answers. He belongs to the upper class intellectual elite who are supposed to be telling the rest of us losers what we should be doing.

“That awkward, uncomfortable search will be the global macro story in 2017 and probably beyond.”

Well, it will surely be continuing into the coming generations, assuming mass catastrophe and collapse doesn’t happen before then. What is up ahead on the road might not be a pothole to easily drive around. That very well might be a sinkhole that could swallow us whole. Society continues to move forward. Some think this means progress. But what are we moving towards?

Maybe we should slow down a bit and get our bearings.

Our Bleak Future: Robots and Mass Incarceration

My friend last night dropped me off a copy of Time magazine (September 9, 2013). There was an article he wanted me to read which I just now finished reading. It’s about robotics and human employment.

Winners and Losers in the New Robot Economy
by David Von Drehle

I wouldn’t highly recommend the article. The author doesn’t offer any deep insights. Still, it is always an interesting topic to think about. The article is worthwhile n terms of a conversation starter, and indeed conversation(s) needs to be started.

There is disagreement about how quickly this robotic revolution will transform society. I suspect it will happen sooner than most people realize. It has already begun, that is for sure. Robots taking over jobs here and there, doing minor functions that no one cares about. But so far it has been fairly isolated. At some point, though, all the pieces will come together and whole job sectors will disappear almost over night. It has been a gradual process, but the final result will feel like it came out of nowhere because the average person isn’t paying attention (neither are many above average people).

This really is an extension of deindustrialization which has been going on for a half century. Before that, industrialization had been an equivalent replacement for an agricultural society. As the article points out, half the population was employed in farming a little over a century ago. Most of those people moved to the cities and found factory jobs. That seemed like progress. But things have been quite different with deindustrialization for there has been fewer jobs created than destroyed.

This connects to my recent preoccupation with mass incarceration. Black communities have been hit hardest as blacks have been concentrated in the inner cities. Racist houing and home loan practices and sundown town policies forced blacks into the inner cities. Housing projects, highway bypasses, poverty, underfunded schools and general ghettoization (along with other aspects of structural racism) have trapped them there. And now they are less than desirable places to live. But that wasn’t always the case.

During the early 20th century, the inner cities were thriving communities. This is where many of the early factories were located and so blacks were highly employed. Deindustrialization, along with globalization, decimated these communities. In the 80s and 90s, much of the American population was doing great, but blacks were being hit by unemployment rates not seen by whites since probably the Great Depression. Most of the jobs left and with them the hope of escaping the inner city. Poor blacks became surplus humans. At least under slavery, they were necessary to the economy. Now they had become useless eaters, a problem to be solved or eliminated.

The War on Drug became the perfect solution and so it was purposely targeted at the victims of deindustrialization. Since we had no jobs to offer poor blacks in this brave new world of globalization, we decided to wharehouse them in prisons and housing projects or else concentrate them in isolated inner city ghettoes. That way at least they would be hidden from sight where the rest of us wouldn’t have to acknowledge this evidence of our society’s failure and dysfunction.

Whites who aren’t impoverished might ask, what does this have to do with me? Screw those losers in the game of life. It’s a jungle out there. Eat or be eaten. If you are useless to our society, then you should count yourself lucky to be imprisoned where we good taxpayers will pay for your room and board.

To this, I’d point out that poor blacks are the canary in the coal mine. What has been happening to them for a half century is now beginning to happen to the rest of us. We are all slowly but surely becoming less-than-useful, all of us accept the upper classes that is. This is why unemployment, poverty and economic inequality is growing and why socio-economic mobility is shrinking. The jobs are disappearing and we have no reason to expect them ever to return.

Do you really think it can’t happen to you?

Back when blacks had high employment, they had healthy and thriving communities. Their marriage rates were very high and their families were stable. They saw socio-economic mobility like never before seen for blacks in America. Economic inequality was decreasing for all Americans. It was what we once referred to as living the “American Dream”

Now, whites are starting to have worse marriage rates than blacks had back then. Also, consider the fact that blacks now with all the problems inflicted on them have a higher average IQ than whites had a half century ago, and presently the black/white IQ gap is quickly closing. Those low IQ whites of the oldest generation lived the American Dream, despite lacking much in the way of education or even formal training of any sort. In order to find work, all that was required was a willingness to work. That world is quickly disappearing for many Americans.

What makes those not a part of the upper class think they are somehow special, somehow exempt from the forces of brutal capitalism?

The future provides us with two basic options. We might all become part of the under-caste like poor blacks. In that case and if we are lucky, the majority of the population will be ghettoized and incarcerated. If we aren’t so lucky… well I don’t want to think about that. The only other option is a massive welfare state like portrayed in Star Trek, specifically Next Generation. In that show, all poverty and related problems have been solved. Anyone is free to do what they want without fear of homelessness, starvation and sickness. But everyone knows that isn’t the American way. We’d rather let people suffer and die than to create such a welfare state. So, I guess that means mass incarceration (or its equivalent) for us all will be on its way.

That is my happy thought for the day. You’re welcome!

Technology: Information, Imagination, and more

Technology, of course, is having a massive influence on society.  But it isn’t technology itself but what it makes possible.  Two aspects to this are information and imagination.  Human potential is increased and so are moral issues.

Individuals and groups have more information technology which offers more power.  The results of this are too numerous to list.  A simple example is how cellphones have given oppressed people a quick and easy way to organize.  A protest can form and disappear before the police even realize what is going on.  On the other hand, technology offers better ways for the government to control its citizens and propaganda is becoming more advanced.

On the level of imagination, it’s even more interesting to consider the consequences.  Television and movies have opened wide the gates of our collective imagination.  And other things (such as cameras, software, and websites like YouTube) have given an opportunity for average people to create and explore possibilites.

The problem is that the more people know and imagine the more they become dissatisfied and restless.  And our normal lives pale against the fantasies we obsess over, whether porn or pop stars or travelling.  And this is the moral issue.  In the past people repressed their imaginations.  Thinking about unnatural sexual acts?  Just repress it and say 100 Hail Marys.  That often works, but often doesn’t.  Even priests end up acting on some of those urges.  And repression works even less in a culture like ours where everything you can imagine satiates the media.

Right now, many governments are trying to figure this all out.  Violence and sex are legislated, but imagination is more difficult to legislate.  It only becomes an issue when someone’s imagination becomes a product, something to be shared.  There has been many cases in the past decade about animated porn and violence.  In the US, violent video games have been mostly winning this battle as some big cases have been thrown out of the court. 

Anime porn is an even thornier issue.  Art has often been held above the level of pop culture, but the distinction grows less with advancement of technology.  Is a picture of an underage nude person porn?  Does it matter the intentions of the photographer?  Is there such a thing as tasteful nudity?  Is the human body to be considered a respectable subject of art?  Is it simply a matter of age?  If so, what about a painting of a nude underage person?  Or what about anime?  How legal officials determine the legality of photographic or video porn is by determining the person’s age, but how does one determine the age of an animated figure?  An anime character isn’t real and so how does age of consent apply?  And who is the victim?  Is society as a whole a victim?

It’s well-known that a certain sector of Japanese culture is obsessed with images of young girls.  And this has gone beyond anime.  There has been computer programs created that portray a cute underage girl you can play with and give gifts to.  There have been robots created to look young.  Would sex with an android that looked like a child still be pedophilia?  These are real questions society will be struggling with very soon.

I have some interest in virtual worlds, but I’ve only been on a couple of them such as Second Life.  I’ve heard of another one called Red Light Center.  It’s designed so that people can use avatars to have sex with other people’s avatars.  I don’t know but something seems missing in the equation.  Having virtual sex with a stranger’s virtual self doesn’t overly appeal to me.  But the concept of it is fascinating. 

This type of thing is just the beginning.  Such technological imaginations are also used towards practical ends.  Architects, chemists, and doctors all use these technologies to portray information visually.  Also, if you consider what science has learned, it’s going to be a brave new world.  Science has researched about how the brain works and various techniques to read minds and alter functioning.  Scientists now understand how brainwashing works and much money has been put into light and sound machines that can have powerful effects on the brain.

On a really dark note, the development of robots and AI have been put to military use.  The US has thousands of unmanned robots operating overseas.  I read about a problem when something went wrong with one robot and it started targeting US soldiers.  Wars of the future will be technological.  Warfare is already happening on the internet.  I forget which country, but one of Russia’s neighbors had its whole internet system knocked out.  Fortunately, they were prepared for such an attack, but many countries such as the US supposedly aren’t prepared.

Coast to Coast AM with George Noory: some recent interesting shows

I listen to Coast to Coast quite often as I have a late night schedule. These two shows intrigued me. One is about the future of where humanity is heading and the other is about the world of humanity’s past. The following are the description of the shows from the Coast to Coast website. If you follow the links you’ll find more info.

Robots & Warfare

An expert in 21st century warfare, P.W. Singer discussed military robots and robotic systems, and the ramifications of their usage. Some examples in the battlefield include unmanned spy planes such as the Predator, which sends video and infrared data to human operators, and Packbots, small mobile robots (made by the company that manufactures the Roomba) that seek out and find IED bombs.

A military experiment demonstrated that when soldiers conducted war games with robots, the teams that had robots designed with personalities did better than the teams whose robots didn’t have personalities. Soldiers are starting to build bonds with their robots, and they’ve even taken risks to save them, Singer reported. Science-fiction has often accurately predicted changes in technology, and has served as a catalyst for robotic designers and the military, he commented.

The use of machinery to conduct our wars marks a big change in the way it’s been done for the last 5,000 years, he noted. Israel’s war with the Hezbollah in Lebanon was the first time that both sides used unmanned drones. Among the ethical questions Singer posed: Does robotic technology make it easier to go to war? Will soldiers controlling robots make decisions they wouldn’t if they were actually at the combat site?

Fossils & Folklore

Science historian Adrienne Mayor shared her research into how pre-scientific cultures understood the fossil record, and how their interpretation formed the basis of many ancient legends. According to Mayor, fossils were easily found in the ancient Greco-Roman world due to the region’s seismic activity, as well as erosion caused by thunderstorms and landslides. Mayor said the simple act of plowing a field could reveal fossilized remains, which would then be collected, measured, and put on display at a local Temple. Isolated bones from mastodons or giant rhinoceroses were often misidentified as monsters or heroes from myth, Mayor explained.

Native Americans had their own stories about creatures of legend. Mayor thinks Paleo-Indians may have encountered giants in certain areas of America. They likely lived alongside very large birds as well. As evidence, Mayor noted that a huge bird with a 15-ft wingspan, known as a Teratorn, co-existed with early humans in Africa. She also pointed to a petroglyph at Petrified Forest National Monument in Arizona that depicts a giant bird with a person in its beak.

Mayor spoke about Fifth century Greek historian Herodotus, who claimed to have been shown evidence of winged snakes in Egypt. Roman statesman Cicero also mentioned winged reptiles, she explained, as did a Medicine Man from the Crow Tribe, who told his granddaughter that he had found a flying lizard during a vision quest.

Mayor discussed giant sea creatures mentioned in the Bible and elsewhere in ancient literature (Pliny the Elder), as well as presented stories about UFOs in antiquity. In one such tale, natives in Ecuador and Peru showed Spanish explorers bones belonging to what they described as giant invaders from the sea. Mayor said the natives informed the explorers about a flash of fire from the heavens that destroyed the huge creatures and left only their charred remains behind. In an account from 74 BC, two warring armies witnessed a flaming object crash into their battlefield. The object was described as molten silver in color and shaped like a nose cone, Mayor said.