The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: March 2013

Why Hackers Get More Jail Time Than Rapists

Rapists uphold the social status quo.  Hackers, especially the idealistic ones, subvert it.  They are far, far more dangerous to important people (who have staff and bodyguards) than rapists are.

Go Zen: Drop Deserve and Take Responsibility

1) Almost everything you have more than someone else is because of where you were born, and who your parents were, including your genetic endowment and your life experiences.  Whether you believe in nature, nurture, or both, you don’t “deserve” squat.

2) Justification for having more than other people can, thus, only come down to whether having more means we will contribute more.  Will you use your more to make society better off? Do we want you doing MORE of what you’re doing?

3) Since we don’t deserve anything, “deserve” can’t be used to deny people what they need to live and be happy.

4) Lots of people are broken, and can’t do much that’s of use.  They don’t deserve that, they didn’t choose their genetics, their upraising, their parents.  Perhaps they shouldn’t have more than they need to live and be happy, but that’s only based on whether we want them to do more, it’s not based on anything else.

5) It is in no one’s interest to have unhappy, sick, broken, economic zombies.  Unhappy people suck to be around.  Sick and broken people can’t contribute as much, and unless we’re Nazis, and bearing in mind the whole “deserve” bit, we should, ethically support them.  And money spent contributes to the economy if it’s a billionaire spending it, a janitor, or someone without a job.  People chained by debt and low wages bring everyone down.

6) Until we get past the idea of “deserve” we won’t ever really fix our societies.  There is NO positive relationship between how much money people get and how they contribute.  A cursory look at the banking sector and CEOs should prove the point to anyone who isn’t paid not to understand.

We all want to believe we’re special.  Unique.  That what we have, we deserve.

We don’t, or not more than almost anyone else who isn’t a monster of some sort: someone who will keep murdering or raping or stealing if given more money. Like, say, the people who run the US and Britain, the people who run the banks, and the people in the Congo who we pay to rape and murder so we can have cheap electronic goods.


Our society runs on it, it’s mixed in with your phone, your oil, your car and far more besides.

Our societies aren’t made up of anyone but us, and we bear some responsibility for what they do. This is what’ll make readers mad, me saying that, me saying that you, we, are responsible.  We refuse to accept our responsibility. It’s all the fault of the politicians, the bankers, the military, the… someone else.  But not you, oh no, not you.  Not me.  Not us.

I’ll tell you this, if you don’t accept responsibility, you don’t accept that you have the power to make change. Slaves have virtually no responsibility.  Free people take responsibility.  Those who aren’t free take responsibility for revolution, or they are slaves.

The world doesn’t have to run on so much blood, so much rape, so much torture, so much murder, so much sickness.  It’s not necessary.

Or rather it’s not necessary if people are willing to live a different life than the suburban American life.  If they’re willing to imagine a different future.  But if what you want is a life where you live in your little suburban castle, driving your oil-mobile to your job, gazing at your lawn, eating factory food, then yeah, it’s necessary.  If you want to maintain the current Western, the current suburban lifestyle, then people have to die. They have to be raped.  They have to live sick.  That’s what is required to maintain your lifestyle.

It’d be one thing if it were impossible to live a good life except by murder and rape and environmental genocide.  But it’s not necessary.  Depression in America has increased 10 fold in the last hundred years.  Diabetes rates are through the roof.  Americans and westerners are fat and getting fatter.  Civil rights are being gutted, standards of living for each generation post-boomer are dropping. We’re not even living well off the blood we suck.

The rich and powerful don’t want change they can’t control, the middle class just want to live like their parents, but with smartphones.

And so people die and suffer.

Not because they deserve to, any more than we in the West deserve our lifestyle, a lifestyle created not by us but people long dead.  They die because they had the bad taste to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents.  They’re raped because they were born female in the Congo, or perhaps in some shitty little town where the sports team thinks rape is no big deal.  They suffer because they can’t afford medicine, or mosquito netting, or food which could be provided for an amount of money the first world wouldn’t even notice, food that rots in our silos.  They live lives of despair because we won’t move off petroleum, on to an energy source which allows everyone to contribute.

Deserve.  They don’t, and we don’t.

And until we get that, until we stop allowing CEOs to pay themselves millions, until we stop allowing people who lose their jobs to suffer, until we decide that every person on Earth must be given the chance to contribute, the chance to live: until we stop throwing away human lives like dross—well, until then, we’re going to slide down, and down and down.  We’re going to blow past 10 billion, and then we’re going to lose billions and many who don’t die will wish they had.  We’re going to have drought, famine, war, pestilence.  Mass rape as a weapon of terror.  And not just in the “developing” world, oh no, it’s going to come home to the first world.

So go zen: drop deserve, and take responsibility.

The life you save might be your own. Might not, too.  But it will be the life of someone you care about. Maybe your children, you friends, your family.  The people you claim to love.

Because if you won’t do right by everyone, you can’t do right by those close to you.

Overruling NYC’s Ban on Large Sodas

A judge has overruled this.  I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on the legality, what I will say is that in this case, I actually support Bloomberg.  High doses of sugar and fructose contribute to obesity and the diabetes epidemic: they kill a lot of people.  A lot more people than, say, marijuana.  There’s very little difference, in harm, between processed sugar/fructose in large doses and cigarettes.

You could, of course, also tax it into the ground.

I would also put limits on plate size in restaurants, and would tax fast food very heavily, along with increasing the minimum wage to at least $14/hour.  Get rid of ALL the corn subsidies and move them over to subsidizing small independently owned farms growing vegetables while taxing large corporate owned farms at higher rates (about half the remaining family owned farms in America went out of business during the last drought, I’m given to understand.)  All of those things would have significant beneficial health effects.  If you believe in markets (not free markets, there are no such things) you believe also that incentives have effects.  Change the incentives and you change the behaviour.

Oh, and tax the heck out of lawns, which do nothing but waste water, and make it legal everywhere (by making it a requirement for a federally conforming mortgage) to grow and sell vegetables at your home.

The Cassandra Complex

The prophet Cassandra was blessed with the ability to foretell the future: but cursed that no one would believe her.

Except that this is the way that prophecy works, if people believe a dire prophecy, it generally doesn’t come true.  My friend Stirling Newberry calls this a “self-unfullfilling prophecy”.

This relates also to the joke about nobodies, as in “nobody predicted the financial crash.”  Because if you predicted it, you’re a nobody.  So you have fools saying “it couldn’t have been predicted” when it very clearly was.  I even publicly predicted the exact month the stock market would crash, about a year in advance.  Every once in a while I get an email from someone who saved a lot of money by listening.

Well, ok, every once in a very long time.  Most people read it, shrugged, and didn’t do anything.

There are a lot of organizations you want run by pessimists (for example, nuclear reactors.)  The sort of people who have posters proclaiming “Murphy was an optimist” on their walls.  The sort of people who told the Japanese how to fix their reactors in the 80s, who had they been listened to, would have avoided an meltdown.

But the problem with such people is that they run themselves out of jobs.  They make prophecies, scare people, get the problems fixed, and so their prophecies don’t happen.  Absent major disasters for long enough, people become complacent and decide they don’t need to spend money, time and trouble on the warnings of fools whose prophecies never come true.  They look at all the money they can save, or make, by getting rid of regulations, gutting inspections and running without precautions, and they realize that that even if something bad happens, the odds of them being held accountable are infinitesimal.  After all, when the Japanese financial bubble burst, senior people committed suicide.

Did anyone responsible for the nuclear meltdown in Japan commit suicide?


They should have.  And I’m quite serious about that.

When accountability goes away, when the elites no longer believe they have a responsibility to anyone but themselves, and often not even that, your society is in for disaster after disaster.

And so, in the US, you have the Iraq war, Katrina, the great financial collapse, weather disaster after weather disaster without anything being done to protect against the next one. You have the near-absolute certainty of a billion or more incremental deaths from climate change, the near-certainty of drought in large parts of the world, the near-certainty of dust-bowls, and on and on.

And they yawn.  They laugh at the Cassandras.  Maybe they even know the Cassandras are right

The next age will take its prophets very seriously.  And they will  produce self-unfulfilling prophecies.  And so the cycle will go on.

Unless we learn how to break this, and many other cycles, we are doomed by the sad human fact that the vast majority of people don’t really learn from anyone’s experience but their own.  And one day it will catch  up to us, and it will push us to extinction, because we now have the means, and more than the means to destroy ourselves utterly.  If we do not grow up as a species, if we do not gain wisdom, we may not be long for this world.

Edit: changed wording on suicides to make clear that the people RESPONSIBLE did not commit suicide.

Rand Paul’s Filibuster

Rand Paul, if you haven’t seen the news, is filibustering Brennan’s CIA nomination in order to get clarification from the President that American citizens can’t be killed without due process in the United States.

I’m seeing a lot of “liberals” and “progressives” attacking Rand Paul.  Be clear, Rand Paul is a bad man.  But he is doing the right thing right now, and if you are attacking him at this moment, you are scum.  Also, be clear, that in terms of actual evil committed Rand Paul is not as evil as Barack Obama.  For one, he has not killed nearly as many children as Barack Obama.  He has not gone to war in violation of the constitution, as Obama has.  Perhaps, if given a chance, Rand Paul would be more evil than Barack Obama, but he is not more evil yet.

The right to a trial, in which you see the evidence against you and have the right to face your accusers (and don’t have evidence gained through torture) is one of the main reasons the American Revolution was fought.  Barack Obama and George Bush have destroyed America.  Something shambles on bearing the name, but the Bill of Rights is near dead and you have an elected dictator who arrogates to himself the right to kill anyone any time he wants.  He arrogates to himself the right of Kings.

So yeah, Rand Paul’s a bad man.  But he’s doing the right thing.  And I notice it isn’t, say, Bernie Sanders, “socialist” who is standing up for the right of Americans not to be killed out of hand by their own President.  Only one Democrat, Ron Wyden, has joined Paul.

The American Republic died when the Patriot Act and the AUMF were passed.  More acccurately perhaps, it died  on 9/11, when Americans decided to throw aside the Republic they had been given, trying to give up a little liberty for a little safety (and getting neither). The Republic had been shambling along, half dead for some time, mind you, but that was the end of it.  You still have elections, sure, but the President is Emperor and you are his subjects.  The real constituents are the very rich, and corporations, as was codified in Citizens United.

When Augustus took over, he became “first citizen”.  He kept the Senate around.  He just took away all their meaningful power.

So it goes.

The Keys to Prosperity

I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing a book on how to create prosperity.   Let’s run through the basics.

First, you have to produce enough.  Goods and services.  Everything from food and shelter, to music and philosophy.

Second, because prosperity means widespread affluence, you have to take what you produce and get it to everyone or as many people as possible.

Third, you have to be sure you’re producing the right stuff – food that makes people healthy, philosophy that doesn’t turn people evil, housing that keeps people healthy and in good social contact with each other, and producing in a way which doesn’t destroy the bases of prosperity, whether that’s the soil, water and climate you need to grow food, or the ethics which make prosperity possible.

The principles behind this aren’t that difficult, really.  Use the free market for what it’s good at (creating and distributing certain types of goods and services.)  Discourage rent-seeking.  Understand that how much money people get is largely unrelated to their contribution to society.  Remove bottlenecks to growth.  Don’t destroy your sinks (like carbon in the atmosphere), don’t overuse renewable resources, understand the obsolesence of non-renewable resources.  Keep the rich poor, so they don’t buy the political system, keep influentials independent as much as possible, keep the interests of the powerful alligned with the mass of society.  Don’t financialize.

Oh, to be sure, there are technical details, but the core is ethical.  The people who make up society must want to do the right thing, must believe in a particular conception of kindness and fairness.  It is not accident that after the Great Depression and WWII, when the majority of people in the West understood, deep in their bones, that life is unfair and that group effort is what makes nations great that the great general prosperity occured. It occured because the GI generation and the Lost Generation insisted on it, voted for it, worked for it.  It happened because they believed in general welfare, in looking after the least amongst them, and in the future, not the past.

Prosperity is ethical.  The ancient Greeks had a saying which ran as follows: “a society is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never rest.”

To repeat, don’t let any group get too powerful or rich, make the right stuff, then distribute it.  Sometimes the right stuff should be distributed by the free market (which is kept free by very strict government oversight), sometimes it is distributed by the government, sometimes it is provided by neither but by the social sector (parenting instead of daycare.)

Again, ethics are the most important part of prosperity, just as you can’t cheat an honest man, an ethical population will create prosperity.  As Machiavelli wrote, good laws will not save bad people, and good people can make bad laws work.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the United State, and its rampant contempt for its own Bill of Rights.

As soon as people become greedy, as soon as they want much more than their neighbour, prosperity will fade.  Contrary to the mantra of the greed is good free market fundamentalists, greed is only good in moderation, and a society with many billionaires cannot and will not stay prosperous.  Once we stop caring about the sick, the poor and the prisoners, once we become mean, self-interested and judgmental, we undermine the mass participation and the kindness which is required for prosperity.

The developed world will become prosperous again when societies pull together for the benefit of all, when greed is no longer glorified and barely tolerated, and when we decide to make the right stuff, the stuff that is good for us, instead of the stuff which we know is bad for us.  And we will find true prosperity when we commit to raising everyone in the world to prosperity.  Prosperity based on exclusion, whether that exclusion is based on where you were born, who your parents were, or what attributes you won in the genetic lottery, cannot and does not last.  If we want lasting prosperity, we must all come together, with apologies to Dumas, as one for all, and all for one.

The Sequester is a Good Thing

… because it’s about time people understood what government does.  This was agreed to by both parties, there are other options Obama could use to get out of it, he has chosen not to.

This is bipartisan, and Americans need to understand that.

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