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  • Archive for the 'Society' Category

    When Sleep the Sentinels

    Posted by David Foster on 13th June 2016 (All posts by )

    When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams.  Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.

    Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard.  Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble;  for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying.  You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…

    For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure.  And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking?  Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love.  But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more.  Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.

    –Antoine de St-Exupery,  Citadelle

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, Terrorism, USA | 12 Comments »

    A Fine Friday Miscellany

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Ah, the stupidities come so thick and fast of late. It’s like the rain here in Texas, which has been pouring down with such intensity over the last few days that all the usual low-water flood-danger locations have been – as any fool could easily predict – flooded and closed to vehicle traffic. It rained so hard on Thursday morning that for the first time in ages, we skipped walking the dogs. Looked out at the flooded street, the flooded front walkway, rain coming down sideways, and the sky so dark that it looked like twilight already; nope – not even the dogs were keen, especially Nemo the Terrier-God-Knows-What, who loathes and despises water with a wholly undoglike passion.

    But social and political stupidities – what a rich buffet was laid before us this week, even apart from the gross stupidity of deciding that the ostensible civil rights and good-will of what may be .03% of the general population – that miniscule transgender portion of it – supersedes the rights of women and girls in a public restroom/locker/changing room to be certain they are not being letched on by a perv who has twigged to the fact that if he only declares that he feels female on that particular day that no one will want to firmly escort his perverted ass out of said safe space. Yes, the Kennedy Administration vowed to put a man on the moon, the Obama Administration has put a man in the Ladies’ Room and damned if the pervy wretch isn’t insisting that he has a perfect right to be there. Progress, y’all. While the perv element may have witless friends in the form of various celebrities ostentatiously declaring that they won’t be performing in *insert the location here* because hate/failure-to-socially-advance/toleration-eleventy!! I am brought to wonder if their concerts were significantly less than sold-out, and this is a handy means of cancelling an event and putting a convenient cover over the economic failure of it all. And I am also reminded of the way that mobs came out to eat at Chick-fil-A, in response to an announced boycott because the gaystapo getting all (you should pardon the expression) butt-hurt over the Chick-Fil-A CEO mildly expressing personal support for traditional marriage.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Environment, Politics, Privacy, Society | 37 Comments »

    TechnoProletarians?

    Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Here’s a story about some Silicon Valley tech workers protesting outside a Hillary Clinton event co-hosted by a venture capitalist and George Clooney.  One might expect that these people are protesting Clinton because their political preferences lean toward the Libertarian or Conservative side.  But then, one would be wrong.

    They are mostly Sanders supporters.  And they feel oppressed by the industry that they are in, and especially by the VCs who fund the companies where they work. Here’s the complaint of a 26-year-old software engineer:

    “They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you. But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”

    “Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make,” said another guy, this one a PhD student at Berkeley.

    Now, one’s first instinct when reading this story–at least my first instinct–is to feel contempt for these whiners.  Most of them are far better off financially than the average American, even after adjusting for the extremely high costs of living in the Bay area.  And no one forced any of them to work at startups, where the pressures are well-known to be extreme.  They could have chosen IT jobs at banks or retailers or manufacturing companies or government agencies in any of a considerable number of cities.

    Looked at from a broader perspective, though, the story reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote almost 50 years ago:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Entrepreneurship, Management, Society, Tech, USA | 48 Comments »

    The New Bolsheviks

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 3rd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Progressive Totalitarianism

    In his book The Snapping of the American Mind, David Kupelian asks the following painful question that millions of Americans like myself have pondered for years and will ponder for some time to come as America slowly rips itself apart. Kupelian writes, “How could it be that hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and bled – and many died – on foreign shores to contain an evil and metastasizing ideology variously called communism, Marxism, socialism, collectivism, or statism, and yet now, just a few years later, we would gaze up at the pinnacle of power in our own country and behold leaders in thrall to essentially the same core ideology we fought and died to protect strangers from?”
     
    The answer to this is can be found within the culture itself and more specifically within America’s youth who have seemingly embraced the concept of socialism with little to no understanding of what socialism even is. Yet, like frogs slowly boiling to death in the cesspools that have become our college campuses, our nation’s youth collectively embrace the ideology that will destroy them while demanding that they be “protected” from opinions that run contrary to their beliefs.

    I have this issue with one of my daughters. She’s very sweet and very hard working, but like everyone who has lived she has struggled at times and dealt with situations that seemed completely unfair. She wonders why Bernie’s ideas won’t work. Why shouldn’t lots more thing be free for everyone? Why can’t that work? She received little or no history education in school, and obviously no economics. Of course, there are reasons for that. And what history they do hear is more likely to be Howard Zinn than Steven Ambrose. Without understanding the history of these movements, you cannot understand where all this leads. And they don’t recognize the road on which they are treading.

    Posted in Book Notes, Culture, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Society | 13 Comments »

    The Dangerous Green Agenda

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 2nd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Posted in Capitalism, Environment, Leftism, Politics, Society, Video | 7 Comments »

    Poukisa Mwen Te Ale An Ayiti

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 27th March 2016 (All posts by )

    After 240 years of relative quiescence, at 4:53 PM local time on Tuesday 12 January 2010 the Enriquillo fault system ruptured near 18°27’ N, 72°32’ W in an M 7.0 earthquake, followed by numerous aftershocks, mostly westward of the mainshock hypocenter. Institutional functionality, or the lack thereof, in Haiti prior to the earthquake was such that there was no local seismometer network in place, so nuances of slip in the 2010 earthquake involving several associated faults have had to be inferred from kinematic models.
    The Enriquillo fault itself forms the boundary between the Gonâve Microplate and the Caribbean Plate, but seismic activity along it is driven by collision with, and subduction of, the North American Plate. The entire fault system may have begun a new cycle of large earthquakes similar to those of the 18th century, in which case there will be several more such events with significant effects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic through, very roughly, 2080.
    Around half the entire US population donated money for Haitian earthquake relief in 2010. I may not have been among them, but as initially recounted in this forum in April of 2011, I was drawn into restoration work in a computer lab and fixed-wireless network in Petit-Goâve, and have subsequently assisted in similar efforts in Musac (Mizak), La Vallée-de-Jacmel. Paging through the visa section of my passport, I now find an astonishing number of red ENTRÉE and blue SORTIE stamps from the Ministere de l’Interieur et des Collectivites Territoriales / Direction de l’Immigration. My God, I’ve been down there 16 times. What was I thinking?
    Something like this …

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Latin America, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Religion, Society, Systems Analysis, USA | 4 Comments »

    Everything Old is New Again

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 20th March 2016 (All posts by )

    “There’s a difference between the West and the Non-West”

    Mr Hanson demonstrates not just what we owe to the Greeks, but how many of the issues they struggled with we still struggle with today: how to look at and understand the world, immigration and assimilation, voting rights, poverty and income equality, social justice, socialism and egalitarianism, and the role and rights of women in society.

    Just from the opening:

    “Places like India and China are becoming much more like us, if I can use that controversial term, than we are like them. And in our period here at home the irony of all this change, as it expands from the center, I think at the same time there’s never been a period in the West when people who are Western have so little confidence in what they have to offer the world. At the very time that India and China and South Korea and Latin America are embracing Western civilization, we in the West are questioning it. So much so that we created this alternative protocol called Multiculturalism. It sounds great, study all cultures. Two things to remember about it. The Greeks started Multiculturalism with people like Xenophon and Herodotus that were inquisitive and empirical, inductive in their interest in Persian and Egypt. And second, it doesn’t mean study all cultures, it means to advance them as equal to Western culture.  I have no problem with that except it’s intellectually dishonest.

    Because privately, we in the United States, and indeed in Europe as well, we live two lives. We profess a multicultural utopia, that all the world and the cultures and all the history are all of relatively equal merit, even though we see that China and India and all these countries are adopting business practices, language practices, transparencies like our own. But then we don’t live this multicultural dogma. If I can be very blunt and controversial, if we all want to travel and you have a choice between flying Nigerian Airlines and United, you’ll take United…If you want to say, you happen to be an atheist – God forbid – in this audience, but if you said ‘God is dead!’ you better do it in Salt Lake City – Mormon as it is! – than try to do it in Saudi Arabia where you’ll be executed.

    Is it because of race? No. Is it because of genes? No. It’s because of a particular culture, a particular way of looking at the world. What is that way of looking at the world? Primarily it’s empirical. That a person starts his existence without preconceptions. We inherited that from the Socratic tradition. We are not deductive, we don’t start with a premise and make the premise fit the examples. We look at the examples…and then we come up with conclusions about it. The scientific method.

    What else is this Western idea? It’s the idea that a person, an individual, has inalienable rights. We see that best epitomized in our own Constitution. But it goes back to Greece.”

    And I’ll conclude with a spoiler from his finish because I think it’s so profound. Describing the fall of Rome to a band of thugs after a much smaller Roman Republic had defeated much larger and more dangerous threats:

    “Fast forward to the 5th century AD, is this the Roman Republic, 1/4 of Italy? No. It now encompasses 70 million people, from Mesopotamia in the East to the Atlantic ocean in the West, to above Hadrian’s Wall in the North to the Sahara Desert in the South, one million square miles. And they’re attacked, not by a formidable power, the inheritor of classical military science like Hannibal, but a thug like Atilla with some Huns and Visigoths and Vandals. By any measure, the threat was nothing compared to the threat that Romans faced when it was much, much smaller. But why in the world could they not defend themselves….?

    The answer is…in 216 BC a Roman knew what it was to be a Roman. And they were under no illusions that they had to be perfect to be good. All they believed was they had an illustrious tradition that was better than alternative and could be better even more…In 450 AD I don’t think the average person who lived under the Roman Empire…knew what it was to be a Roman citizen, he did not believe that it was any better than the alternative. And when that happens in history, history is cruel, it gives nobody a pass. If you cease to believe that your country’s exceptional and has a noble tradition, and it is good without without being perfect, and it’s better than the alternative – If you cease to believe that! – there’s no reason for you to continue, and history says you won’t. And you don’t.”

    Can we learn and change course? Or are we doomed to travel that road once more?

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Deep Thoughts, History, Society, Video | 22 Comments »

    Quote of the Day 2

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Facebook:

    What we are seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.
     
    With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30y of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, microeconomic papers wrong 40% of the time, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating only 1/5th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers with a better track record than these policymaking goons.
     
    Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats wanting to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. I have shown that most of what Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types call “rational” or “irrational” comes from misunderstanding of probability theory.

    (Via Richard Fernandez.)

    Posted in Big Government, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Human Behavior, Politics, Society, Statistics, Tea Party | 5 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Charles Murray, quoting himself and Richard Herrnstein from The Bell Curve:

    In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.
     
    In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message [pp. 314-315].

    Posted in Culture, Human Behavior, Quotations, Science, Society, Statistics | 4 Comments »

    “50% of Canadians Live South of The Red Line”

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th March 2016 (All posts by )

    From the fascinating site Brilliant Maps.

    (Via Lex.)

    Posted in Anglosphere, Culture, Society, Statistics, Systems Analysis, USA | 14 Comments »

    On This Texas Independence Day

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 2nd March 2016 (All posts by )

    What I’m feeling for the GOP is a kind of disinterested sympathy, punctuated with schadenfreude, the disinterest arising from never having been a Republican, the sympathy from the GOP identification of a plurality of my close friends – uniformly horrified by what is happening – and the schadenfreude from the abrupt collapse of three-plus decades of pharisaical social conservatism. Turns out that eventually enough of the electorate whose resentment you’ve been stoking figures out that it’s a waste of time and fastens on to something else, something that matches their actual resentments a lot more closely. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Book Notes, Civil Society, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Elections, History, Human Behavior, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Trump, USA | 13 Comments »

    The Big Middle Finger

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Honestly, that is the only way that I can account for the out-of-completely-left field popularity of Donald Trump. He is not a notorious small-government libertarian like the Koch brothers, or has any previous political interests of any stripe to recommend him particularly; not even any detectable small-government, free-market and strict Constitutionalist Tea Party sympathies to recommend him.  If anything, he has always appeared to me as one of those big, vulgar crony-capitalist, unserious reality-TV personalities; the epitome of vulgar architectural bad taste and in blithely using his money and influence to cheerfully run over anyone who got in his way. His campaign at first seemed to be a particularly tasteless joke – a grab for publicity on the part of a flamboyant personality who never seemed to get enough of it, in a bad or a good way. So – all props for having the sheer brass neck to start playing the game, and playing it with calculated skill. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Society, Tea Party, USA | 38 Comments »

    Generations, Politics, and Culture

    Posted by David Foster on 1st February 2016 (All posts by )

    Here is an interesting piece with thoughts on  how generations look at the world differently.  Obviously there are tremendous differences in individual experiences within a generation…and I certainly don’t share the author’s apparent leftist worldview–but I do think it’s probably true that one generation tries to deal with, and sometimes even partly solves, one set of challenges, thereby setting up a different set of challenges for succeeding generations.

    Related thoughts from Hawaiian libertarian, who says that:

    Prior to the advent of mass mind control enabled by mass media technology, there was no real substantial differences between generations…at least not the sort that so thoroughly and contentiously divided us for the past century. Culture was far more static and slow changing, and influenced much more by religion and cultural traditions and norms. 

    I don’t think mind control is actually required, or even systematic propaganda:  improved communications and transportation will tend to create more coupling within a generation, and more differences between generations, even in the absence of any central orchestration of messages.

    Regarding generational perspectives in general and mating patterns in particular,  Vox Day says:

    (The Boomers)  tend to think of “change” as something that an individual does within the context of a permanent infrastructure. GenX, on the other hand, sees that there is no permanence to the infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is not only transforming, but is imposing its changes on the individual.

    The Millennial doesn’t even see the cultural infrastructure, and thereby doesn’t understand either the Boomer perspective or the GenX fury at the order and infrastructure they have lost.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Society, USA | 6 Comments »

    What Are Our Stories?

    Posted by David Foster on 21st January 2016 (All posts by )

    I’ve been reading The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.  The author remarks that, in the 19th century, the reading material in many American homes included Milton’s Paradise Lost.  We already knew that Shakespeare and the Bible were common reading in those days.

    The author notes (and this is unarguable, I think) that a society is largely characterized by the stories and myths that it shares.

    So my question for discussion is this…and I’m almost afraid to ask it…in American in 2016, what are our primary shared stories and myths?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 12 Comments »

    “Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Tillman on Lamya H: “Your complaint is that your psychology professor was too—fat? I am so sorry. I can see that that would ruin your freshman experience. You were expecting? Luke Skywalker during his youth? Princess Leia Organa during her Jabba the Hutt years?”

    From: Seth Barrett Tillman, Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior—responding to Lamya H.’s: A personal history of Islamophobia in America, Vox (January 15, 2016), http://ssrn.com/abstract=2719141.

    (Related post: “Dear Young Social Justice Warrior”.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Society | 4 Comments »

    Two Interesting Films

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 18th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Cloverfield

    It’s been said about Godzilla that it was Japan’s way of dealing with the B-29’s of the American Army Air Corp of WWII. A…monster…emerges from the ocean to the East, wreaking havoc and destruction on the cities and people of Japan. Nothing they could do seemed capable of stopping or even slowing the incredible assault. All was laid to waste before it. The movie was a means of dealing with the horrible memories of the bombings on another level, a symbolic level, easier to face that way. Dealing with it without dealing with it. A coping mechanism for the culture.

    Cloverfield may be the American equivalent. An apocalyptic horror film, it incorporates themes from Godzilla, Alien and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. It takes place in Manhattan and the movie begins in retrospect as video footage from a recovered camera, now in the archives of the DoD. The everyday friendships, lives and loves of a few young professionals unfolds into a nightmare of fear and panic as an enormous creature inflicts death and destruction on the city and everyone around them. Virtually the entire film is done in hand-held camera style as they sporadically document the chaos unfolding around them. It’s an incredibly effective technique and gives a feeling of reality to the film it otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s no doubt in my mind this is the filmmaker’s way of coping with 9/11.

    Here’s the first clip in a series of nine you can watch at Movieclips. The friends have just left a going away party and evacuated to the roof after what felt like an earthquake and power outage.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Morality and Philosphy, Society, Terrorism, Video, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading–Annotated Edition

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2016 (All posts by )

    The Diplomad observes that “‘Progressives’, of course, are greatly influenced by movies. In fact…the majority of what passes for “Progressive thought” is derived from the Hollywood version of history that they have running in an endless video loop in their heads. Listen to them talk about the economy, race relations, education, “gender equality,” US history, etc., and it all forms part of some giant Hollywood script.”  Indeed—shortly after 9/11, when the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted,  critics of the idea referred to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Hadn’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.

    This topic relates closely to my earlier post about metaphors, interfaces, and thought processes, in which I discuss the consequences of the “iconic” versus the “textual” modes of presenting information.

    David Warren writes about the conspiracy of German elites, in both media and government, to suppress knowledge of the New Year’s atrocities in Cologne and other cities.  Indeed, one might conclude that the whole idea of free speech hasn’t taken hold very well in Germany over the last 70 years, at least among the writing and political classes.  Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Germany: Mark Zuckerberg, the ringmaster of the Facebook circus, was apparently all too eager to co-conspire with Merkel to delete strong criticisms of her immigration policies.

    A society cannot thrive or even survive if its decision-making organs are disconnected from knowledge of what is actually happening, any more than your furnace can keep your house at the right temperature if the wires connecting it to the thermostat are cut.  In a democracy, the ultimate decision-making organ is supposed to be the people of the country.

    Don Sensing writes about totalism, and how it is reflected in the behavior of the Obama administration and the attitudes of the “progressive” Left.  He quotes Mussolini’s definition of Fascism:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, Germany, History, Islam, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 6 Comments »

    A Robotic Society

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 7th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Metropolis, 1927

    Robot, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1927

    Fifty years ago, if you were a company building automobiles or telecommunications equipment, you would have employed an assembly line full of workers. There also would have been people kitting parts, making inspections, doing tests, even running errands. If you operated a catalog company, you might have warehouse full of people loading and unloading goods, taking inventory, generating reports and packing and shipping goods. If you manufactured metal goods, you might employ several grades of craftsmen, from apprentice to master machinist, as well as cutters and welders, finish workers, inspectors, packers and shippers.

    Much less so today. Automobiles and electronics and every other sort of manufactured good are increasingly made on robotic lines. From painting to welding to complex assembly, robots are replacing people. Warehouses can run almost autonomously, with goods stored in a 3D grid that is accessed, inventoried and replenished by increasingly intelligent networks of machines and computers. Jeff Bezos would like to robotize even the delivery of those goods via autonomous drones. That seems entirely doable, though the thought of computer controlled helicopters moving through the skies upsets some people.

    Sixty six years ago, almost to the day, Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot was published. It was followed by four more novels over 30 years as well as 38 short stories in what became known as The Robot Series. In these books, Asimov explored all sorts of aspects of a robot populated world, including the dangers they might pose to people, problems with machines that think with digital logic, their inevitable evolution from simple mechanisms to organo-machines that were difficult to differentiate from human beings, except for their vastly superior intellectual capacity and increased lifespan, and some of the implications of that.

    In a society relieved of all sorts of menial labor and drudgery, Asimov envisioned something of a Golden Age of Man. Material goods would be so cheaply and easily made that no one would lack for any basic goods, and most people would enjoy a standard of living and a degree of leisure time available now to only the extremely wealthy. That’s a view with some precedent in how other technologies have improved our lot, so it’s one possible future.

    I find myself wondering, though. Suppose something like that were to come to pass. After all, we’re seeing signs of its development now. How does this future society actually work? How are people employed? What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines? We see this problem already, which tells us we’re farther along this road than maybe we realize. All the people that are not employed in Jeff Bezos’ warehouses or building electronics assemblies or automobiles, what do they do? In the past, when people were displaced from agriculture by machinery, they went to cities and were employed in large scale industrial and retail businesses. That is no longer the case. Not only have the manufacturing base dispersed across the globe chasing cheaper labor and fewer rules and regulations, even the human staffed retail store is increasingly in question as a viable model.

    This is all creative destruction in action, I know. And we can wave our hands and say, Well, people will adapt, they always have! Yes they will. But to what? Everyone can’t be – and doesn’t want to be – a robotics designer or research chemist or test technician in a robotics factory. Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs? Will the work week get reduced to 3 days on, 4 days off? I’m trying to imagine a world where the same or more people are available but less work needs to be done by them. And if the answer is more leisure time, is that necessarily a good thing? Do we get a Golden Age, or an Age of Sloth, where everyone gets crazier and more destructive in an attempt to amuse themselves. Who cares, eh? The robots will clean up the mess.

    And is a robotic recursion process possible, where robots set about designing and building better robots? If we assume cookbook engineering can be encoded into a machine brain, millions of possible combinations may be scanned and modeled and simulated for each mechanism and each circuit, always searching for an optimal solution. And as everyone from Asimov to Clarke have asked, when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what? Our society is the early stages of major, ground shifting changes. There’s a lot on the horizon we haven’t even begun to think about to the level necessary. And how do we stay up with these changes if our political class is intent on bankrupting us and destroying our civilization?

    Elon Musk compares AI efforts to ‘Summoning the Demon’
    BTW, this is a talk he gave at MIT, and is well worth watching in full.

    Walter Schulze-Mittendorff’s ‘Maschinenmensch’ simulacrum in crystal.
    I would love to own one these. The large cylindrical version.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Society, Tech | 26 Comments »

    Sign of the Times

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th December 2015 (All posts by )

    lost drone

    Posted in Photos, Society, Tech | 8 Comments »

    The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 6th December 2015 (All posts by )

    (originally posted in 2012–a rerun seems appropriate under current circumstances)

    I am continually amazed by the level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners.) This complex of negative emotions often greatly exceeds anything that these same people feel toward radical Islamists or dangerous rogue-state governments. I’m not a Christian myself, or really a religious person at all, but I’d think that one would be a lot more worried about people who want to cut your head off, blow you up, or at a bare minimum shut down your freedom of speech than about people who want to talk to you about Jesus (or Nascar!)

    It seems that there are quite a few people who vote Democratic, even when their domestic and foreign-policy views are not closely aligned with those of the Democratic Party, because they view the Republican Party and its candidates as being dominated by Christians and “rednecks.”

    What is the origin of this anti-Christian anti-“redneck” feeling? Some have suggested that it’s a matter of oikophobia…the aversion to the familiar, or “”the repudiation of inheritance and home,” as philosopher Roger Scruton uses the term. I think this is doubtless true in some cases: the kid who grew up in a rural Christian home and wants to make a clean break with his family heritage, or the individual who grew up in an oppressively-conformist Bible Belt community. But I think such cases represent a relatively small part of the category of people I’m talking about here. A fervently anti-Christian, anti-Southern individual who grew up in New York or Boston or San Francisco is unlikely to be motivated by oikophobia–indeed, far from being excessively familiar, Christians and Southern people are likely as exotic to him as the most remote tribes of New Guinea.
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    Posted in Christianity, Civil Society, Leftism, Society, USA | 33 Comments »

    Two Nations.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th November 2015 (All posts by )

    two nations

    We have now become two nations, divisible, without liberty and justice for all.

    As usual, I read another good Belmont Club post.

    I get discouraged about the future when I see the stupidity of the youngest generation in college. The left is worried that Republicans hold most state offices. Why has this happened ?

    That dominance — and what it means to the policy and political calculations and prospects for both parties at the national level — is the single most overlooked and underappreciated story line of President Obama’s time in office. Since 2009, Republicans have made massive and unprecedented gains at the state level, gains that played a central role in, among other things, handing control of the U.S. House back to the GOP in the 2010 election.

    It’s just inexplicable. Why would the country that elected Barack Obama twice choose Republicans for those offices closest to their own lives ?

    While the story at the national level suggests a Republican Party that is growing increasingly white, old and out of step with the country on social issues, the narrative at the local level is very different. Republicans are prospering at the state level in ways that suggest that the party’s messaging is far from broken.

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    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Culture, Elections, Politics, Society | 6 Comments »

    Lewis vs Haldane (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 6th November 2015 (All posts by )

    (I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)

    Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.

    Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series,  That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.

    A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.

    With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1) Money and Power.

    In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
    place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 18 Comments »

    The Ivy League and American Society

    Posted by David Foster on 5th November 2015 (All posts by )

    Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts

    I believe that excessive credentialism is definitely reducing social mobility and inhibiting the full use of America’s human talents…and that the excessive reverence paid to “elite” colleges is part of this problem.

    I’m reminded of something Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1969:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

    He continues:

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

    See also my 2011 post Drucker on Education, which includes additional excerpts from Professor Drucker on this topic.  Very well worth reading and contemplating.

    University Diaries also has a post and discussion thread on Glenn’s column.

     

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society, USA | 5 Comments »

    Organizational Culture, Improvisation, Success, and Failure

    Posted by David Foster on 24th October 2015 (All posts by )

    Maggie’s Farm reminds us that October 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.  (JMW Turner painting of the battle at the link)  I am reminded of a thoughtful document written in 1797 by a Spanish naval official, Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, on the general subject “why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?”  His thoughts were inspired by his observations while with the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent,  in a battle which was a significant defeat for Spain, and are relevant to a question which is very relevant to us today:  

    What attributes of an organization make it possible for that organization to accomplish its mission in an environment of uncertainty, rapid change, and high stress?

    Here are de Grandallana’s key points:

    An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.

    Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…

    Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.

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    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Society, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, making it an appropriate time to rerun this review, which I originally posted in February of this year)

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »