Thursday, May 17, 2007

Social Implications of technology

The filthy rich and their sellout lackeys would like us to believe the notion that technology, its forms and its uses, are inevitable and socially neutral. They will all roast in the deepest pits of hell for their filthy lies and we will certainly ignore anything they have to say. On the other hand, the notion that technology is inherently neutral but that its development and application are manipulated by the rich and powerful in order to dig in their razor claws into all walks of life is very widespread among the intelligentsia. Now, the fact that technology can be, and is, twisted by those in power in order to benefit themselves is very well documented. But, is technology inherently neutral?

As it turns out, technology is not inherently neutral. All technologies have certain affordances, certain features that cause them to enable certain usages better than others and, this is the key, these usages may be political in nature. So for example, the entirety of firearms technology is suited uniquely to murdering people. And just as the affordances of firearms technology make it inherently evil so too other affordances make certain technologies either inherently oppressive or inherently liberating. And while it is possible to force an oppressive technology to be neutral or to turn a tool of the rich and powerful into a tool of the masses, the inherent natures of the technologies remains unchanged.

With this in mind, we turn to the important question. What is it that makes a technology a tool of the rich and powerful? A technology is such if its cost is high. Conversely, a technology is a tool of the masses if its cost is low. The reason why this is so is simple. Because capitalism is dysfunctional, producers are perpetually at the mercy of customers unless truly extraordinary measures are taken by government to protect producers.

As a consequence, when the customers of any given technology are the poor, the titular owners of the technology are at the mercy of the poor even if they themselves are rich. This is so in the case of phone technology. The converse also holds true, as is demonstrated in the case of fashion designers, butlers and other servants.

Note that customers aren't the same as consumers. The consumers of newspapers are their readers (the poor), but their customers are advertisers (the rich).


Newspapers are tools of the rich and powerful because a daily costs $2-$3 x 365 days = $730-$1095 a year (the price of a daily covers but a fraction of its cost). That's the price of a computer nowadays, and a computer can easily last up to 3 years without becoming obsolete. For $2190-$3300, you'll get an excellent computer and between one and three years of broadband. In addition, computers get you much more information than a single daily, in an infinitely more accessible, convenient, and anonymous manner. So for the cost of a single daily, you get a networked computer that can also deliver music, movies, games and applications. The economics of newspapers simply do not make any sense, except of course as vehicles for state and elite propaganda. We would be talking about what people euphemistically label 'respected opinion' and 'advertising' respectively.

Robert McChesney explains that once newspapers were inexpensive and took on the heavily "biased" flavor that we see with today's blogs -- owners wore their biases on their sleeves. At some point, they became more expensive to create, and choice dwindled to the point where a city might have only a couple dailies. Since such bias stank when there was little competition, journalism schools were created where "professional journalism" was taught. This carried an ideological bias in favor of "official sources" like politicians and businessmen; and journalists would be accused of injecting bias whenever they attempted to provide context along with their reporting. (There do exist useful ideas from professional journalism, but it has very damaging effects which keep the press from fulfilling the role of effective watchdogs. Many have noted that democracy requires an effective watchdog press.)

Public transit is a tool of the masses because it costs between $1000-1500 a year, or $2 per hour, including subsidies and capital construction. In contrast, an automobile costs $5500-7000 a year in direct costs and a further $7700-10,000 in indirect costs. Now, the $2 per hour is probably only operating costs so with other costs that brings it up to $3-$4, but the per-hour costs of an automobile is $40 assuming an average speed of 33 mph. That makes car usage a cool 10x more expensive than mass transit which is itself a cool 10x more expensive than bicycling. And bicycling has the advantages of being much more available, more accessible and vastly healthier. This is exactly why automobiles are tools of the rich. Additionally, automobiles serve as an obscure and overcomplicated means for the rich to literally suck lifetime from the poor.


The internet itself is a powerful tool for organization, for CHEAP organization. The rich and the powerful have never had any trouble organizing themselves, all it requires is manpower & money. Well, there's no shortage of craven power worshippers and eager sellouts hypnotized by the lure of the filthy lucre. The number of people that obediently chant Heil Mein Fuhrer when Dubya commands "go forth and murder" is testimony to this. Cheap organization is something new. This has very important implications.

The most important consequence is that it is becoming impossible to marginalize a majority of the population by disorganizing them. So the traditional organs of the rich, the media, the management, and the sell-out unions, will become increasingly less effective, possibly disappearing entirely. Another consequence is that otherwise completely marginal groups can organize into small but effective groups. All the hoopla about the long tail of market distributionis about exactly this; organizing otherwise completely marginal groups.

We can also observe the Rupert Murdochs figuring out how to extend their media monopolies to the net.

Some argue the Murdochs fantasies' aren't the same thing as reality. There is a very long history of various agencies trying to push through totalitarian control of the internet, with consistent failures and equally consistent bewilderment among the totalitarians about why they are resisted.

Why Has Nuclear Power Not Liberated Us?

As people should know, nuclear energy is the most affordable of all energy sources. And at 5000 USD for a lifetimes' supply of electric power, it is indeed very cheap. Cheap enough to be a tool of liberation. So why has nuclear energy not liberated us?

Aha, it is because there is a complication due to the high upfront cost of nuclear power which makes it crucially dependent on financing. As it happens, there are various technologies available to provide financing. In order of increasing cost:

  1. Self-financing under a negative interest currency regime (declared illegal by the rich)
  2. Sovereign debt
  3. Capital markets
And capital markets are controlled by the rich so long as we have positive interest currency. So that is one reason why nuclear power isn't a tool for the poor despite being extremely cheap. Cheap enough that a large metropolis should be able to buy into it.

Another reason probably lies in the entrenched coal industries of many countries. The coal industry in Germany is powerful enough to have secured for itself billions in subsidies and license to construct coal power plants to replace the nuclear power plants Germany is planning to shut down. With this kind of power in the hands of the coal industry, it is difficult to believe they did not have a hand in the downfall of the would-be coal-killer.

Yet another reason seems to be that the internet is new. The cost of organizing a million people to finance the construction of a nuclear power plant is low enough with the internet. But such massive organizing has no precedent. And in any case, (the American people despise all things collective( future link). Also, positive interest currency strongly discourages self-financing by artificially making it more expensive.

On Technological Progress

Finally, note that technological progress per se is not a tool of liberation. A technology is a tool of liberation only when it becomes cheap enough to be used by everyone. But it's a tool of oppression when it becomes cheap enough (from infinity) to be used by the rich. So when technology first intrudes into a new sphere of human life (such as information processing or surveillance or military hardware) then it is oppressive. But there is reason to believe that (technological progress will make the price of all technologies fall down towards zero (future link).

Further examples


  1. cheapest
  2. expensive
  3. oppressive


  1. condoms: $0.50 to $1.00 each, for < $500 / year
  2. drugs: $2000 + doctors + reduced lifespan + intensive care + other social costs


  1. eradication
  2. pay the social costs


  1. prevention
  2. treatment

Long-distance passenger transport

  1. (trains(future link)
  2. planes

Long-distance cargo transport

  1. trains
  2. trucks


  1. machinina
  2. digital cameras & editing software
  3. video cameras
  4. film cameras

Electronic networking

  1. fiber
  2. wireless
  3. broadband
  4. satellite


  1. single-payer
  2. private companies (eg, HMOs)


  1. negative interest (illegal)
  2. positive interest


  1. worker self-management (Soviets, Syndicates, Shoras)
  2. white collar totalitarianism (Capitalism, Bolshevism)


  1. eradication
  2. class warfare

Economic inequality

  1. eradication
  2. class warfare (pigs and jarheads)

Economic development

  1. agrarian land reform
  2. Structural Adjustment Plan

Land allocation

  1. Community Land Trust: eliminates speculation, disinvestment and overinvestment
  2. private capitalist market: kicks out working blacks in favour of white yuppies who can plonk down a million dollars (5-10x) for a property

Knowledge Store

  1. the web
  2. libraries

Knowledge Distribution:

  1. electronic journals $5 per journal
  2. paper journals: $2000 per journal

Moral Philosophy

  1. Humanism
  2. Christianity
  3. Islam
  4. Hinduism
  5. Tribalism


  1. conservation
  2. shifting demand to off-peak hours
  3. nuclear, hydro
  4. wind
  5. oil, gas; the global warming costs of past usage may easily climb into the tens of trillion USD range
  6. coal


This essay first appeared:

  2. (contains further elaboration of this essay in the comments, especially with regards to killing technologies)

Will be followed by:

  1. Death of Capitalism
  2. the American people despise all things collective
  3. trains

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Coase's Theorem

I just read an elegant presentation of Coase's theorem. It's well-worth reading for what it says at face value but it's even more interesting for the implications it left dangling.

One of those implications is that economists don't distinguish between fundamentally different situations like who pays for pollution controls. So long as pollution controls are paid (or not paid) if it is "efficient" for them to be paid for, the question of who pays for them is considered irrelevant. This is not consistent with people's daily experience.

Indeed, the question of who pays for pollution controls goes back to the initial allocation of property rights. Imagine considering the initial allocation of an apple tree found in the wild to be "irrelevant". Doesn't quite work, does it? Far from disproving the importance of the definition of property rights, Coase's theorem only underscores its importance in pre-choosing winners and losers.

Of course, if one set of investments is going to be winners and another set is going to be losers, if the former are going to be vastly more profitable at the expense of the latter, then it's going to affect the outcome of future investments. The profitable business is going to have more money to reinvest with than the less profitable business. We know from the oil industry that in the real world, companies don't invest far out of their sector. A steel mill isn't going to buy up resorts. And why should it anyways when it is doing a most profitable business?

So the definition of property rights matters. But it's actually worse than this because it's impossible to predict all the ways in which technology and society will evolve in the future. Consequently, it's impossible to predict all of the property distinctions human beings will consider meaningful and important. Who could have known two centuries ago that privacy would be a luxury? Or that airspace would ever become important?

Since we can't define property rights a priori, and Coase's results demonstrate there is no algorithm to decide who is the victim in a situation, it follows that property rights are an AI-complete problem. Only an intelligent agent can determine who can more easily afford to bear the burden of resolving a conflict given the available technology. The neo-liberal agenda dies stillborn.

As if that weren't enough, there is the moral dimension to consider. Certain exchanges simply shouldn't be forced for entirely moral reasons. Organ exchange is a good case in point. Organs may be donated but selling them degrades the value of human beings, degrades the value of living in a society that permits such things. Economists would no doubt like to call this an externality, and in a sense it is, but it's one whose value is entirely unquantifiable.

So Coase's results are extremely interesting but if you want to get a neo-liberal argument out of them, don't even bother.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Americans vs Human Rights

Americans talk a lot about "rights" and how the USA is a "free" country. Of course this is completely absurd, but we will here plumb the depths of the absurdity.

What do people mean by rights? Well, everywhere in the world, everywhere worth living anyways, by 'rights' people mean human rights. And by human rights they mean something like what has been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So far so good.

Now what's interesting is that the UDHR has no resemblance whatsoever to the American Bill of Rights. And when presented with the UDHR, Americans will usually proclaim that these are not human rights. It is thus obvious that a mistranslation has occurred. Americans mistranslate human rights into their local concept of civil rights.

Natural Rights

It's important to appreciate that human rights are a 19th century invention. They were invented by the European communists and anarchists as part of their rejection of capitalism and private property. It is obvious that human rights are incompatible with the American religion of capitalism. But that's no problem to Americans.

It's not a problem because they can fall back on an obsolete 17th century theory of so-called "natural" rights. This theory has very distinctive features which mark it as fundamentally different from, and incompatible with, human rights theory. The key distinction is between so-called "positive" rights and "negative" rights. A distinction which Europeans, among other people who believe in human rights, almost universally consider to be incomprehensible gibberish.

It is known that there cannot be any meaningful distinction between "negative" rights and "positive" rights since the distinction is a mere linguistic trick. Most "negative" actions, even neglect, can be thought of as positive avoidance.

And in any case, there exist "positive" rights which must be fulfilled for the continuation of civilization. One of them is the right of an infant to be fed and attended to, including having eye-contact, without which the next generation would all grow to become psychopaths and civilization would instantly collapse.

But this shouldn't come as any kind of a surprise since the framework of "natural" rights is predicated on a state of savagery and not civilization. The wishes of wild men in a State of Nature defines "absolute" rights, and the wishes of government defines "civil" rights. The first is contrary to civilization, and the second is ... contrary to civilization.


But there is another ideology of rights common in the United States which denies all rights to human beings. All. Rights! This ideology is Propertarianism. Also known as Satanism since its adherents' ideology of egotism comes right out of the Satanic Bible. Also known as market fundamentalism since its adherents have an unvarnished adoration and worship of so-called "free" markets. Also known as right-libertarianism since its adherents have managed to steal and coopt the anti-capitalist label of 'libertarianism' from the anarcho-communists.

Propertarianism is an anti-human ideology. Literally anti-human since it assigns no rights whatsoever to human beings. In the Propertarian philosophy, all rights are assigned to property. This is why they talk of property rights. Human beings may or may not have property depending upon whether or not they are Owners. If they are Owners then they have the rights, property rights, which come with the property. If they are not Owners then they have nothing.

Propertarians claim that human beings have rights but what they mean is that human beings are objects which makes them property. Thus human beings have rights as property. Including the right to a master. Libertarians claim this master is by default "yourself". But only by default since you can always "freely" sell yourself to another. This is standard right-libertarian philosophy, followed by right-libertarians to greater or lesser extent.

Moreover, this doctrine of humans-as-property is made evident when it is contrasted against what the opinion of the rest of humanity. Because the rest of humanity rejects the notion that humans are objects that can be owned at all, even by "yourself". Not least because if you could own yourself then you could sell yourself (turn over possession of your body for another mind to run) except this is literally physically impossible, which reveals the notion as absurd nonsense.

It is clear that right-libertarian philosophy is organized around things, not around people. This is why there is no room for justice in right-libertarianism because things don't care about justice. What's more, the imposition of an owner onto every object is the manifestation of a psychological problem very similar to magical thinking. Because right-libertarians essentially personify objects. And correspondingly depersonalize human beings.

People in the Autistic spectrum seem to do that and it explains why right-libertarianism is so common among people with Asperger's syndrome. The originator of Thatcherism was an Asperger's sufferer.

[The reason magical thinkers and autistic people both support propertarianism are interestingly opposite. Magical thinkers support property rights because it simplifies abstract relations. There's no need to reason about human rights when you have property rights.

In contrast, autistic people support propertarianism because there's no need to synthesize messy human concepts. They're able to reduce all human-object relations down to 'is owner of'. Sure, they could reason about those concepts, but they can't create them in the first place.]

In any case, it is clear that right-libertarians must be mentally handicapped since their ideology has no connection with reality. There exist so many counter-examples of it that it is trivially disproved by looking around oneself. Right-libertarians would be easy to dismiss, to the psychiatric hospital, if it weren't for the vast reservoirs of magical thinkers who have lapped up portions of their ideology.

And now we have come full circle to Americans. Because Americans buy into the ideologies of Propertarianism and Natural Rights (and also Capitalism and Individualism) it is unavoidable that they are extremely hostile to Human Rights. And that is why the US government violates human rights on such a consistent and extreme basis. Because Americans. Hate. Human. Rights.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Atheism Is Not A Religion

Recently, some people have gone around claiming that Richard Dawkins is turning atheism into a religion. This is hardly a new attack since religionists have always been claiming that atheism is just another religion. Of course it is nonsense, but why is it nonsense?

We'll start by noting that every religion is an ideology, but that not every ideology is a religion. To be a religion, an ideology needs a power structure. There are plenty of atheist religions, including but not limited to: Leninism, Maoism, Fidelismo, Bushism, Statism, Objectivism, and Buddhism. Maoism in particular had a sufficiently strong personality worship to make it a cult. So did Objectivism. But atheism is not yet nor is it becoming a religion.

There's a bit more than that because otherwise the Boy Scouts would be a religion. There needs to be an element of adoration, veneration or worship tied up in the hierarchy. So that's what a religion is: the confluence of an ideology, a hierarchy and adoration.

Getting back to Dawkins, the atheism movement epitomized by Dawkins just doesn't have the power structure to be a religion. Dawkins doesn't have enough power among atheists and it is exceedingly unlikely that he could ever accumulate such power. To see why, ask yourself what privileges he has gained from this movement. Also ask who his subordinates in the movement are supposed to be.

And although Dawkins is doing all the right things to set himself up as a religious figure, this is an illusion. What he's actually doing is setting himself up as an authority on this one narrow subject. Meaning, he's playing the kind of power politics which is the lifeblood of any respected scientist. His behaviour is hardly unusual.


We've defined religion in a very particular way. What's important here is this is not "yet another" definition of religion. It's the correct definition of religion. And it's correct because it:

  1. includes all the things which are understood to be religions
  2. excludes all the things which are understood to not be religions
  3. creates a meaningful and significant distinction
  4. different from all other distinctions
  5. broadening the utility of language for communication, and
  6. provides insight into the phenomenon

Now, it might seem that Maoism is not commonly understood to be a religion, but things are a bit more complicated. In reality, most people aren't familiar enough with Maoism to be able to judge whether or not it is a religion. Furthermore, most political scientists do consider Maoism to be a religion. So there's more than enough reason to at least set it aside from the class of counter-examples. In the case of Bushism, it's a combination of Americans being too close, not intellectually honest enough, and of their not being familiar with Bushism per se.

When you examine all the things on which there is broad consensus that they are religions or not religions, defining a religion as a power structure wedded to an ideology makes a lot more sense. It then becomes obvious that the supernatural claptrap that comes with religion is incidental to it. This is an important and meaningful insight, well worth the price of using an unusual definition.


Of course, having defined atheism as an ideology, opens it to attack as an ideology. But this isn't much of a vulnerability. Consider the case of anarchism. Some anarchy-ists are very ideological about anarchism, and other anarchs are pragmatic to an extreme. Since pragmatism is an intrinsic part of the anarchist ideology, it becomes clear that anarchism is both an ideology and its own anti-ideology. A notion that will resonate with anyone who's studied physics.

Atheism is in the same camp. It is both an ideology and an anti-ideology. It is a distinctly anti-religious ideology. But it is also its own anti-ideology, contrary to the claims of agnostics and contrary to the claims of the enemies of scientific rationalism. Agnostics being intellectually dishonest and scientific rationalism being an anti-method. Both of which will be the topic of future blog entries.

On these grounds, it's clear that atheism is impervious to principled attack. Principled being the key word here since there's no lack of manpower among the ranks of the intellectually dishonest and the magical thinkers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Buy Slow, Not Organic!

One of the arguments pushed by organics people is that organic foods taste better. This is false and it neatly demonstrates their magical thinking. There are actually several important dimensions to food:
  1. whole foods rather than processed foods
  2. varied vs bland breeds
  3. local vs mass agriculture
  4. organic vs chemical agriculture
  5. PETA vs torture meat

Now, in case you didn't know, torture meat tastes better and PETA kills animals. So that's one argument against treating animals "humanely".

The other thing is that 'varied + local food' is called Slow Food. It's the biggest food movement there is, possibly bigger than organic. And unlike organic, it actually makes a taste difference. And the reason is very simple. If you buy locally then the fruits and vegetables are picked when they are riper. That makes them taste better.

Now, it happens that organic farms tend to be small. So if you buy organic food then you're very likely to get slow food. And that will make a taste difference. The important point is that this is a historical accident which is being reversed as giant mega-corporations buy into the organic label. So no, organic foods do not taste better. If you buy organic from a giant mega-corporation, and there are a few around now, the taste difference should go away.

Another example is organic milk which may have a longer expiration date because it is filtered to higher standards. Again, just an accident that has nothing to do with its being organic.

Being unable to make important abstract distinctions (eg, local vs organic) is a hallmark of the magical thinker.