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Marx, Engels and the Squalidization Insufficiency March 5, 2014

Posted by olvidadorio in Economics.
1 comment so far

Marx and Engels are commonly ridiculed for predicting the proletarian uprising with “scientific certainty”. Both were convinced that capitalist exploitation would inevitably lead to further impoverishment of the working class, to ultimate squalor and that resistance would naturally arise: Capital’s scramble for profits and greater power would depress wages, in turn decreasing buying power, further exacerbating cost-cutting pressure on capitalists, etc… The cycle of the market would form a screw, digging deeper into its own demise.

Now let’s check history to see how well that went… Oops. Amongst the most common and obvious snides to be heaved at this prediction of proletarian uprising has been that it simply didn’t happen. Granted, it did not. Which, if you think like me begs the question: Why?

A commonly held belief is that consumption was so exorbitant that there was no chance for a downward spiral to develop. The industrial nations “opened up” ever new “markets” continuously (i.e. found a state or swaths of individuals willing and able to buy something new), to a point where demand for labor would continue to rise, allowing workers to negotiate for higher wages and ultimately more buying power (i.e. new markets), keeping the wheels of consumption and production in constant spin.

While this effect truly did occur (granted, with many hiccups and anomalies along the way) there is an underlying monstrous factor which mostly goes completely overlooked:
What Marx, Engels, as well as their critics failed to see (or foresee) was the sheer abundance of resources we found and were able to pull out of the earth, particularly using machines. With these means¬†only were we able to feed the endless gluttony of human consumption and do this magic thing called “opening up new markets”. Without the resources to build stuff, there’s not much of a market to open. Only because of the extraction of fossil coal, and later oil, we were able to expand industrialism’s productive fruits to larger and larger swaths of the world population, and most essentially: We were able to do so without any skin off the elite’s teeth. They could get rich, everyone could get rich… It was all the better and none the worse. (simplified)

It must however be noted that this effect is a gigantic historic anomaly: For the overwhelming majority of human existence (on the basis of which, naturally, Marx & Engels made their predictions, whether they believed so or not), resources were a zero-sum game. For higher-ranking individuals to get ahead, others must be reduced to squalor. This has been the case from Pharaonic times all the way to the modern-day garment factories of Bangladesh.

The modern-day globalized garment factory is a clear example that capitalism has no built-in compunction about continuing to treat humans like dirt, just the same as the system operates fine while turning paupers into consumers (and the other way around). Conversely, just as we can find pockets of the ancient economic zero-sum game extending into the upward growth-slope of early industrial capitalism (i.e. Bangladesh), we can also find it cropping up again within the economics of decay and late-stage capitalism.
Such is basically the profit-model of low-wage and no-wage enterprises like Wal-Mart (the poster-child bad boy) or Amazon (the slicker one): Destroy healthy-margin local business, suppress the class of people doing the actual work to significantly lower social status and wealth. This is acheived by exploiting modern means of communication and control, as well as a more orderly and uniform society with ever more complex schemes of regulations and legal pitfalls (favoring the large) to build bigger and more brittle control structures. Finally you skim off riches at the top of a much wider and shallower pool. The recipe is simple: lower margins off more items. This is a resource-poor, non-growth (at least in any valuable sense of the term), zero-sum profit model. It comes perhaps as no surprise that such a model arose just about in a time when the USA’s abundant mineral wealth began to wane.

To be clear, our marvellous historic anomaly of bountiful resources is ending as we speak. The world once again has become a zero-sum game — or is at least in the process of becoming such. Yes I know, it may not feel that way yet, but this is mainly because we’re just tearing through the remaining resources at a faster rate while simultaneously fine-tuning our processes so as to do the same with less. Nevertheless there will have to be an adjustment of our overall mentality to accommodate the reality of a bounded world. Furthermore I would posit that our economic world-view and economic theory will follow course. (I – for one – predict a resurgence of the ill-advisedly maligned physiocrats.)

Of course, none of this means there will be a proletarian uprising in western industrial nations of any sorts, but that’s another topic for another time (and perhaps not at all)…

As a final note: I do wonder to which extent one might apply Marx’s theory to present-day China. After all, it is an advancing industrial nation bumping up against resource constraints. — Hence it might not get to play the game that saved us western industrialites from squalidization.
I know that so far the Chinese economy has been able to play the expanding-markets and rising-pay game successfully. However, even after throwing the American consumer under the bus (with a little help of the US elite) and outsourcing much of their harsh working conditions to other countries (southern Asia, Africa), Chinese growth in terms of physical wealth to the masses will falter. What will happen then, once looming shortage in raw materials builds pressure to either taper off wage increases or speed up inflation? (This pressure arises since the elites will need to limit mass consumption if they want to maintain their accustomed level of access to capital returns and material goods. The peeling off of the US-American lower- and middle class is an example of this effect in slow-motion.)

All this depends on how long China can continue to ride the upward slope and build up a system-affine middle class. Once real difficulties kick in though, setting the stage with an external military threat might be a good option to provide a mental framework to the masses, in order to mediate as to why their lot is not improving. This is both expedient and natural, as there will be growing geopolitical rivalries involving China, shifting from the US to the rising Russian Federation.
However, even given this militaristic pressure-release valve, expect more cunning and ambitious elements within the Communist Party of China to start re-discovering their “red roots” (maybe in a form of palace revolt) in order to ride the rising tide of discontent.

Perhaps.ūüôā

Post China July 31, 2013

Posted by olvidadorio in Economics.
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I often enjoy reading dispatches by Stratfor, a Texan intelligence/analysis think-tank-for-hire. Most recently this opinion piece: The PC16: Identifying China’s Successors. Stratfor’s head, George Friedman speculates, which countries might at some point take on China’s role as cheap work-force manufacturing country. Their thesis: a ragtag group of up-and-coming developing countries from Tanzania to Peru will fill this role, with investments from small cut-throat margin manufacturers leading the way.

I agree with a lot of Friedman’s analysis. Case in point: One friend in China had lost his job in the US, when his employer closed its cap/headgear factory. He was offered to move to China to work as their representative with the manufacturing subcontractor there. Needless to say he took the job (and the raise). I was intrigued to hear that recently he was sent to Bangladesh to scout out new manufacturing locations. China is in fact getting too expensive for his industry to outsource to. He reported conditions in Bangladesh were rather atrocious, perhaps just right for business.

One aspect strikes me as amusing about Friedman’s message. He has been pooh-poohing China’s ascent for quite a while. Mainly its military rise to power, but in this case its economic strength. As an example for the economic rise and fall of China, Friedman points to Japan and Germany, both of which saw great economic growth in the mid 20th century by selling their cheap but disciplined workforce to the US-dominated world market.

Both are definitely interesting examples and have undergone a transition via initial industrial expansion to saturation. I may not be an expert on the country, but rumors of a Japanese economic crisis have been with me just about all my conscious life. Germany I know a bit better. I remember distinctly how the late 80ies and early 90ies were marked by a kind of crisis of self: It was a popular topic for political commentators to reflect on Germany’s slide from economic poster-child to merely normal, plagued economy. The word used was “musterknabe”, something between poster-child, first-in-class and teacher’s pet. I think this choice of words (maybe subconsciously) belies what truly was afoot: Germany, like Japan and later China has been toiling as industrial work-horse in the stable of the dollar-denominated world market, headmastered by the USA.

But this exactly has been and still is the collective myth in Germany: export is good. “Exportweltmeister” — “world champion of export” Germans like to call themselves and proudly pound their chest when the yearly numbers roll in. Indeed, producing such high-value output with a moderately sized and pricey workforce is something to be proud of. However, I do remember wondering as a child: but we work more than they do. Why is this good?

Indeed, why? No sane country would tolerate a long-standing trade surplus in industrial goods — effectively subjecting its workforce to serf-labor at the hands of other nations — unless it is either weak, or (someone) gets something significant in return. Usually we find a combination of both.

Mid 20th century Germany and Japan got the gift of having an industrial economy at all. If they didn’t play ball with the US no access to resources would have been had. You needed dollar-denominated investors in order to get dollar-denominated materials. See, the fact that the US can run up such an epic trade deficit tab does have something to do with the fact that there are US soldiers stationed all over the world, making sure that resource markets don’t get closed off and shipping lanes stay uninhibited for shipments to the free, brave and well-adjusted.

This is exactly the reason why it made sense for China to lease out its workforce. Now the Chinese elite is stuck with entanglement in the US system of trade — and higher aspirations. The difference between China and Japan/Germany is that the latter two did not have a military and geopolitical option. They were weak. They still are, to a certain extent. China was weak, but there are no obvious barriers to changing that, other than rubbing up against US hegemony, Russia and India. I don’t know about you, but once the resource stakes get higher later in this century, a bit of rubbing won’t hold hardly anybody back no more.

…Which is why Friedman has been harping on about China’s military underwhelm. To Stratfor and its whole ecosystem, US hegemony is axiomatic. In the very article I mentioned above, Friedman speaks of the natural cycle of rise and fall — for China and all other nations — not for the US.

No other world can be sold to their clients and this is what they do, it’s their job. They must explain the world intelligently, but through an amenable lens please. To us less interested in fantasy it can serve to bemuse: In Stratfor parlance, US weakening influence abroad is getting sold as “US losing interest in doing police work for others”. Since when does this make sense? Being police is being empire! Remove the policing and all you are left with is an encrusted exploitative trade balance which will, which must crumble.

This crumbling will be of interest — and I’m the last to predict that it will leave China and how it’s currently run unscathed. I don’t know how it will turn out. I have previously suggested one scenario. The issue with history is that scenarios that make sense don’t necessarily have to manage to come to pass. One central assumption of mine was that the Chinese elite values its investments, which are entangled in the US-controlled economy. — Controlling exchange from RMB to dollar being a big part of its mechanism for extracting wealth from its serf-people. How much do these elites care about their involvement with the US? I don’t know. There’s always more messed-up versions of devolving tensions between powers. I hope we don’t get those.

Germany has also been cut loose a bit from its waning big brother, Onkel Sam. Nevertheless, the power of myths prevails. Germans still believe in the redeeming value of an export-driven economy. I believe the EU has been one attempt to solve the tension between reality (of becoming a regional power) and the myth of export.

In fact, a clever friend of mine once pointed out that calling Germany an export nation is a bit of a scam. Most of its exports go to other EU member states, which, if things go one way, is much more of a domestic exchange than not. Taken as a whole, the EU trade balance has pretty much been straddling parity for the last ten years (with a recent uptick).

Remember the two reasons I gave, why a country would engage in big trade surplus arrangements? There were two options: (a) weakness (b) getting something else in return. The current spates around the Euro are exactly the second part of why export. Germany is trying to get something in return for those exports to its neighboring countries, namely to let German elites own and dominate their economies.

This strategy has so far not been particularly elegant. I wonder whether we’ll see some more old-fashioned military, geopolitical posturing on Germany’s part. Though something tells me it’s not their style. And Germany still is an occupied country. As for China, I see no such impediments, at all.

What I do see is many practical difficulties to China, Russia, India, Germany, Iran challenging US hegemony. If they are smart (and usually they are), expect a policy of nibbles all round. Bit by bit, calculated provocation, rock the boat until it creaks. In the end, we will see that the emperor has no clothes — and the waters of reality will rush in and engulf the far-flung shrouds of the US imperial system. It will be too ephemeral to withstand. With that, American Consumerism (TM) will no longer be. The US will turn on itself, either neglect the troops abroad or mostly bring them home.

Which is when everyone else gets to duke it out in their own back-yard. Stratfor, unfortunately, will find itself out of a job.

The Imperial Future of China and USA May 3, 2012

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth.
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For quite a while now, every now and then, I’ve asked myself in which way the decline of the US-American empire will play out, specifically vis-a-vis China’s rise to world power status. I now have an idea of what will happen, and it’s surprisingly peaceful actually (well, ¬†maybe not ‘peaceful’, but not via US-Chinese war)…

However, before we get into my idea, let’s briefly review the current state of geopolitics, from the perspective of the Formosa Strait:

The most important points of consideration and contention between the two powers include the fact that — geopolitically speaking — Taiwan basically is this huge US aircraft-carrier, moored just off the coast of the PR of China. It’s a military base that, in the end, China will not abide with any more than the USA was willing (during the cold war) to accept soviet missiles perched on the banks of Cuba, aiming at the southern United States.

Furthermore, the US consumer economy, together with its wealthy allies / imperial satellites, is using up world resources at a dizzying pace. China, a rapidly growing economy with the worlds largest population, is already hitting a resource ceiling. I expect that further down the road this inequality of distribution will be felt even more strongly, as reserves of key resources decline. However, breaking up the US ‘imperial wealth pump‘ is easier said than done; It is maintained by trade agreements and the US dollar as world reserve (and oil) currency, which in turn are upheld by the considerable US military presence and technological dominance around the globe. Not something that China can just get rid of on a whim.

China itself is heavily involved in this system of wealth-extraction, however not in a wholly subordinate position. To be sure, large parts of Chinese capital wealth are tied up with the US economy, and vice versa. China has also subjected large swaths of its productive workforce (which, to recall, it has in spades), to the task of satisfying the consumer needs of the (so far) US-dominated world economy. However, Chinese leadership has carefully extricated itself from any trade ties that would have made it a mere resource-exporting ‘developing’ nation.

China, by offering something it had in excess, its workforce, bought into the dollar-dominated system of resource distribution, attracted dollar-denominated investment and purchases, while tightly controlling foreign investment so as to ward off a buy-out. Thus the Chinese domestic market and infrastructure could be built and maintained with US-imperial resources. These resource, as stated previously, are largely decreasing, while the global economy is growing. You don’t have to be Einstein to arrive at the conclusion that problems will follow.

I tended to believe that the result of this would be war, and that this war would crystalize around Taiwan and the Strait of Formosa.

Going to war with the US before American power over the rest of the globe has waned would however not solve China’s resource problem. Instead, China would find itself cut off from the world market and pitted in a very deadly battle against the worlds most technologically sophisticated miltary. (Not to mention the nuclear weapons available.) So going to war with the US before its empire substantially crumbles seems rash. Hence China will continue to bide its time, and watch the US suck the world dry, while jostling for its own piece of the pie.

Once the world has been sucked dry and consumer economies across the globe come crashing down, war will come almost naturally. In this setting, I would predict the following:

  • The imperial system of the United States of America will collapse of its own accord, leaving a power-vacuum.
  • Central Europe and Russia will form a shaky block, dominated by resource-rich and underpopulated Russia.
  • ¬†China will align with the US (or rather, the US will align with China) in a Chinese-Russian struggle for power over the remaining resources in western and southern Asia, as well as Africa, which may end in war.
  • In this struggle Taiwan will be a minor gift, given among friends.

The ongoing mutual economic ties as well as the current power imbalance between China and US, as well as the upcoming power shifts to Central Eurasia all point in the above direction. Similarly to how the peripheral British Empire aligned itself with the rising power USA in order to battle Central European Germany, eastern China will accept the US as an ally in order to battle Central Eurasian Russia. However, in this analogy the roles are slightly mixed up, as the new empire will be the one under attack, with the old one more or less just handing over the reigns out of weariness.

Even more than the British Empire, the US has not been an empire that first and foremost subjects conquered people to its workforce, rather, it has been an empire that annexes oil-wells to its workforce of machines. This empire the US is losing due to the limits of Nature. The other parts of its empire, the global economic and military dominance, will slip slower and slighter than in overtly territorial empires. Due to its geographic position, the aging empire USA will be slightly harder to attack at home. Its outposts all over the world may be expelled here and there, but this will not threaten the territorial integrity of the core United States. Instead, the US will be a threat to itself by economic and political deterioration, while the consumer economy dries up and military expeditions limp from one boondoggle to the next.

China has already begun propping up the US economy to maintain its investment and keep the global system of resource extraction going. Already, in the outer reaches of the world economy, Chinese envoys have come to replace US¬†lieutenants¬†of world trade. While the US implodes — and in the end China wants this to happen — China would like this contraction to happen in a controlled manner, so it can grow into the resulting vacuum. This will not go smoothly and other contenders will arise in the transition, which the US-Chinese continuum will have to ward off, while battling an internal transition to a very different form of economy, other than industry and bountiful consumption.

My approach to operational transformation February 17, 2012

Posted by olvidadorio in Programming.
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I just published a project of mine: snucode, a collaborative real-time text editor with syntax highlighting. (Check out the source at github)

The whole approach is rather simple and vanilla, except for the method of operational transformation I chose to control concurrent edits to a file:

I assign a unique id and a floating point number between 0 and 1 to every character in a document, such that ordering the characters by those points yields the document in its original sequence.

Adding a new character between two others now simply amounts to inserting it somewhere between the neighbors’ respective positions.¬†In this manner no shifting indexes or clocks must be handled.

The problem that this helps solve is the following: One user (let’s call him Bert) is editing the file at index 23, whereas another user (Nancy) is editing around index 42. Bert hits a key, editing the document, and 30 miliseconds later Nancy hits the delete key, removing one character from the document. Both Bert and Nancy’s edits now reach the server. It now has to figure out which key Nancy actually deleted. Since Bert’s edit happened before Nancy’s the naive assumption would be that she actually deleted the character at (old index) 22, after having been shifted once over by Bert’s edit (which however hadn’t yet reached Nancy’s client). So in order to mitigate this situation the server need not only know the exact state of every client, it also constantly has to struggle with different connection speeds and the like to establish the correct sequence.

Using my technique, prioritizing edits is a non-issue, all edits are assumed as factual statements about a position, independently of the order in which they are submitted. The only pathological case appears if two users are concurrently editing the same spot (which is problematic anyway), this pathological case is mitigated by introducing some random jitter to submitted characters’ positions.

However, you may have already noticed that inserting characters in my fashion can suffer from an entirely different problem: Insufficient floating point precision. If I always insert my character in the exact middle between its two adjacents I get my very own uncomfortable version of Zeno’s paradox, with distance between values getting arbitrarily small rather quickly (0.5, 0.75, 0.875 …).

The first approach to mitigate this that I’ve implemented is to acknowledge the fact that text is usually typed from one direction to another (e.g. latin script from left to right). So I try to insert new characters closer to their left than their right neighbor (not smack-dab in the middle).

Another approach would be an unfortunately slightly more complex handoff-process in which all clients and the server agree on a point in the future, at which all clients concurrently create a new version of the ordering placements, according to a cannonical method (i.e. evenly distributed between 0 and 1). All edits that were performed before that point in time are included in that canonical re-scaling, all thereafter are inserted by the clients into the new order, according to the above method. Problems may arise in case some edits performed before that point arrive late, after re-assigning, which necessitates all clients to re-assign afresh for every late edit (and in the worst case re-assign places for consecutive edits).

I bet there’s a correct name for this technique of ordering concurrent inserts to a sorted collection, but I haven’t found it yet. I also haven’t seen anyone apply this technique to OT, but if you have, please let me know!

Imprecise programming: How to stop worrying and love the bug May 3, 2011

Posted by olvidadorio in Programming.
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A bug walks into a program…

…Nay, it rather puts on a suit, and becomes a program!

In this article I suggest a novel approach to programming that’s more like poetry and hopefully a lot less sucky… Caution, it’s a rough draft, but I’m quite keenly interested in making it intelligible, so if it isn’t please hit me. So here goes the story:

This afternoon, I was sitting on the loo, letting the usual trivialities flow through my mind; ¬†visual programming and such, the usual. One of my thoughts was: How cool would it be to have a user-interface that returns to the expressiveness of command line interfaces and the days of programming languages as operating system. That once again makes the average user an applied programmer as opposed to a mere button pusher along the lines of “select from this range of three fuckin’ fabrics”, nothing more than a ¬†consumer of pre-programmed options.

So while sitting there trying to figure out what that kind of user-interface might look like this idea for a new programming language paradigm (re-)struck. This paradigm kind of goes in the direction of natural language interfaces but might also be combined with some visual approach. But let’s try to put it together:

Poetic programming or the imprecise language

An interpreted¬†programming language that is not precise, where the interpreter doesn’t let you or make you fully¬†control, predict or understand the syntax or actual execution steps of your program. This language gives you the freedom to do “not all things considered” style programming¬†in exchange for giving up control¬†of well-defined execution behavior.¬†Essentially it treats your code not as a drab cookbook but as a deep and mysterious poem, full of unexplored subtleities.

..But you say: This is bullshit. I don’t care if it hurts! I wanna have control. Heaven forbid if things go horribly wrong?!

Well, then we need fault-tolerance built into the language. Because, coming to think of it, we need fault-tolerance anyway. We should constantly be monitoring and testing our applications’ behavior anyway. Because things are going to go wrong¬†anyway, anyhow, anywhere, at any time, and preferably while you’d rather be doing something else…

So a few fault-tolerance characteristics:

  • Undo everywhere. All actions are journaled and undoable if ever possible.
  • A limited and access-controlled set of non-undoable actions
  • Possibly “let-it-crash” supervision and process capsuling mechanisms as known from Erlang, Akka etc.
The Interpreter
The kind of language / environment I have in mind centers around a malleable, probablilistic and maybe example-based interpreter. But it’s not immediately a huge system that understands natural language. It’s my attempt at building something in-between. Here are some characteristics that I’d like to try out:
  • Context, context, context. The interpreter basically performs anaphora and general reference resolution on the tokens used in the programmer’s instructions. This may be an unsolved problem – in general and in natural language – but since we are creating an iterable artificial language from scratch, reference resolution might actually be tractable. I imagine a system in which various methods could be plugged in and refined bit by bit. Maybe one could even create a kind of economy/evolution, with selection criteria and feedback. But fundamentally this is a part where the language must be very malleable and customizable.
  • Side effects all over the place; While functional programming languages such as Haskell try to get rid of all side effects altogether in order to get safe programs, we take the opposite approach, put side-effects into everything. Let functions’ execution affect each other, this allows for context, more information, less work. And then make sure you can undo it when things go wrong.
  • Case-based programming. Have various views in which to do things, these actions are automatically journaled and can then be recalled using incomplete references.
(more…)

Why I’m kinda pro-nuclear April 25, 2011

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Economics.
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As Bill Gates succintly makes the case for, as a global society we’re running into an energy/fuel crunch at the same time as we’re heading into a global climate catastrophe. Ramifications are pretty harsh. In this environment the Fukushima reactor melted, Germany decided to take its nuklear plants off the grid and everybody else is pushing off construction of new ones. Pro-nuke flaks have been re-iterating¬†¬†this one chart which supposedly shows nuklear to be so un-deadly compared to other sources of energy ¬†while using the severly downplayed version of statistics on Chernobyl – no, I don’t believe only 40 people died as a result of that, inflating numbers for coal – anybody with a bad lung is ¬†eligible, and ignoring the perils of long-term storage of nuclear waste (who’s going to guarantee a stable political system 500 years from now). But exactly that concern about stability makes me support widespread nuclear research and deployment. I really don’t see any of the renewable/sun-based energy sources cutting their mustard; they just do not have the necessary energy density to power an industrial society. And to make things worse, all those new-fangled wind and solar farms can only be constructed so relatively cheaply using an industrial process that’s heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Even more general, all our transportation is reliant on fossil fuels and will become much more difficult and potentially inefficient when based on electricity (which we’d have to produce somehow, don’t ask me how).

So if we don’t build lots of nuklear power plants (preferrably of the breeder type and the like, otherwise peak Uranium bites us in the butt) we’re going to run into some serious power-shortage. And with it, shortage of eerything, very much so down to food. And if those kind of things happen, people will start wars. And if wars happen, nuklear plants will become much more of a target.

So building nuklear plants might make us safer from nuklear meltdown. Because they keep us fat and happy.

Options for the middle class May 20, 2010

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth, Economics.
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Even though I study Cognitive Science, oftentimes I introduce myself as a computer scientist – as that is what I am¬† effectively. So I told this guy, while waiting in line at a state office that I study Computer Science. And he said “Good, you know that’s where all the money is.” My reply was kind of “um, well who knows how long..”. Here’s why:

Every Google search supposedly uses as much energy as burning a light-bulb for one hour (it makes sense that Google is getting into the energy-supply business). Computing devices are really the tip of the iceberg of a vast and complex, resource-hungry non-locally maintainable industrial complex that is geared towards constant growth and development, always making this year’s second coming next year’s plastic crap.
I don’t think this’ll go on forever. No bets when things will change, but this world of ever-expanding mass-computing won’t go on they way it is today; I am unsure what its state will be at the end of the great energy-shrinkage that I expect, because there’s no good idea what this energy shrinkage will look like, specifically when it starts and how long it will take.

(more…)

The Case for Atheism May 20, 2010

Posted by olvidadorio in Me.
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Those who know me might find this post odd, as I usually defend myself from saying most anything definite on religion whatsoever, a la ‘How dare you call me an agnostic. I can’t tell whether I don’t know.’ Well, I don’t really break tradition in the end, but I just showcase an argument that I find compelling and at some level deeply culturally relevant.

The Good old epicurean argument slightly rephrased:

  • Is God willing to prevent suffering but not able?¬† Then he is not omnipotent.
  • Is he able but not willing?¬† Then he is malevolent!
  • Is he both able and willing? Then whence commeth suffering?
  • Is he neither able nor willing?¬† Then why call him God?

I guess a lot of religious people from our cultural setting will say that he is able and ‘kind of willing’, but that he prefers to give us our freedom so that we can show whether we love him out of our own free will. But what kind of self-serving approach is that, to put us through our misery only to see whether we’re ‘good’, whether we ‘love’ God? And if God is omnipotent, why can’t he make us be free, without suffering? All of this sounds to me more like a sadistic game than benevolence. But what if suffering is just an integral part of our existence? What if we can’t be ‘us’ if we do not suffer? What if our personality, our self essentially hinged on suffering? I personally could not agree more, the question however is how this plays out in the mainstream monotheistic religions; So the idea would basically be that for God to make us be us we would have to suffer. But this directly contradicts the idea of redemption and eternal glory. If the afterlife is – unlike in Greek mythology – more than just a pale aftershadow of this life, and instead a life of sufferingless bliss promised to the people of this world, then how in hell do we get there, being ourselves, assumed that suffering is an essential part of us? Now even out of this argument one could still weasel out by saying that it is essential to us to be part of a process, from suffering to non-suffering. Which is interesting and I currently have no retort to that. So in the end I guess it just doesn’t make sense to discuss religion. You believe it or not. For my own part, I disbelieve words. But religion isn’t just words. There’s a lot of BS.

But to make one thing perfectly clear, I despise most Atheism, with all its scientifico-centric rationalistic hogwash.

The revival of ruthless December 24, 2009

Posted by olvidadorio in Earth.
1 comment so far

Go and read Mark Lynas’s account “How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room” at the Guardian. (Thanks to Nic for the lead.)

To my Chinese friends, even though it may not help: please do not be offended. I’m taking your leadership as an example of a trend that has grown out of century long ruthless greed and disrespect for nature mostly on behalf of us of European heritage. It’s just in the context of this article on Copenhagen that I’m struck by the idea that the Chinese leadership’s behaviour exemplifies or foreshadows a grand comeback for worldwide ruthless leadership.

Back in the day when the Berlin Wall fell, everyone and their mother’s neighbor’s socks succumbed to the pleasant dirge of consumerist capitalism laced with cushy-feely big-media politics which was essentially one big circus of not losing image. And you lost¬† if you did stuff that looked bad, that was brutal and ruthless.

There’s something rutheless to any war, but even the Bush administration vs. the phantom of Islamic extremism, or Palestinians vs. Israelis were all wars drenched in fear-mongering or moral outrage. You couldn’t just do it because you can. We have these strange asymmetric wars, where asymmetry doesn’t mean anihilation of the other force, instead it means that wars get drawn out forever. E.g. the war in Afghanistan. Or consider how the way Cheney/Rumsfeld pulled off the invasion of Iraq is clearly different from Germany’s Blitzkrieg to gobble up Poland. Back then they just did it because they could. In the last Iraq war we had to lie and squirm our way into it like weasly maggots.
I say, all of this is coming to an end. Good old Obamination’ll be just another spike in direction of the media-moral complex before the US and with it global society and culture moves on to the next big thing: Good old ruthlessness. Already, if you compare Clinton’s wars (mostly Yugoslavia) to Bush you can see a trend. Resources will be scarce, memory of past atrocities gone stale, weapons lying around in heaps and piles…

But this post is not about war.. So what with China and Copenhagen?

Well, the writing on the wall is that climate change will happen. And also that going on polluting won’t help. Furthermore it’s the case that great parts of China already are suffering from pollution and will suffer severely when ocean levels rise. Then let’s assume the Chinese leadership is not stupid; What could be driving them to position themselves against helping the climate?

First of all they certainly know that their current power is based on galloping economic growth. Not only that, they furthermore are aware of the fact that natural catastrophe hardly ever hurts autocratic rulers. It’s more or less immediate and obviously anthropogenic economic downturn that does. So I guess they’re just playing to their own advantage, sacrificing their own costal population (plus the rest of the world then going to be living below sea-level, which is quite a lot).

Rather bad-ass but normal for politicians you think? But this is not where the ruthlessness ends. If you view the world as a block of wood, there’s not only geopolitics, there’s also geo-engineering. The Chinese elite (and their friends in power all over the world, i.e. Russia, US) might not be above a bit of tampering with (toxic) methods of artificial darkening and other weather-manipulation. Which brings us back to the supposition I made above: “Let’s assume the Chinese leadership is not stupid.” Well, if they believe they can tamper in a massive manner with a complex system such as our climate (which is already under severe stress) without running the risk of eradicating the very basic dynamics on which our supporting ecosystem runs — and with it human society — then they are, truly, stupid.

In response.. February 10, 2009

Posted by olvidadorio in Economics.
10 comments

.. to @jagalicious (and thank you for your input) :

if fed ties “printing money” to concrete assets cf. sweden 1990s. & pipes toward production, may avoid harsh too many $s chasing 2 few goods that is, avoid classic inflation.

Sweden 1990s definately looks like the type of intervention that I would prefer (basically nationalizing  banks).
Piping towards production would be a very, very good idea for the afore consumption-reliant states. But how? There would have to be quite a bit of investment (credit!), but with banks being nationalized they could be forced to extend credit!
An additional problem is that consumer demand is a lagging trend, that is, we won’t be seeing the real slouch until after a few months, exactly in time to dampen producer’s spirits who already have to deal with plummeting prices and overcapacity all over the world (wave to China). [Oh glumm, glummūüôā ]
It is not really clear whether the US would be able to actually retrieve the value put in to save the banks, as in the case of Sweden 1990s. If the current crisis is changing the global economy fundamentally, then less value will be retreivable. The intervention will have been much larger, also proportionally, after all this goes through, including the feds humungous swap-lines, as well as structural changes all around the world, Sweden was more-or-less an isolated case. But the model is well worth considering as far as I can tell.

so werg, will human nature change enough to invent a better model than money as a medium of exchange?

No, I really don’t believe that human nature will change any time soon (hey, by definition that won’t happen — and I’m convinced that evolution via selection is rather broken among us humans at the moment). The question would be whether the form of money we employ today is truly connected to human nature!
I don’t think so. Sure, the concrete form of coins or similar tokens of value has been around for quite a long time and in many cultures. It’s just dead useful, as long as you have a mercantile society! However, those tokens used to (have to) have society-independent (material- or production-) value! This is no longer the case. Ever since those italian merchants developed modern book-keeping we’ve been messing around with our underlying monetary system, changing it all the time. Nowadays it’s not about money — it’s all about credit! And I’m quite sure that our monetary system will continue to change!

Even though I can’t foretell in which direction, I know which direction I’d find interesting: Make banking and money-issuance a peer-to-peer process along the lines of ripple.

In our current system the role of the bank is more and more superfluous. Clearing is done electronically, there is no need for physical institutions. They aren’t absorbing risk as the should, they hand out credit which in the end needs to be guaranteed for by the whole society anyway. Hence credit procedures must be standardized which leaves little room for actual contribution. The whole sector of investment-banking has kind of bloated (though initially potentially useful system of distributing value to initiative).

Banks and credit-based money have for long been the social method to make people work, even if their work is not directly connected to satisfying basic needs, by giving them buying power via money. Of course all this is totally based on people’s confidence in the currency’s value. To maintain economic confidence in pieces of paper and numbers on hard-drives, such a system necessitates continuous growth and — almost all over the world — big government debt.

Personally I believe that a market-economic system less based on perpetual growth would be better. Changes in such directions need crises, though. Hence my heightened interest.ūüėČ

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