Opir on Dark Essence radio #220: 21/2/2011

February 25, 2011 · Posted in Music · Comment 

 Our song "Ordain and Establish" was recently played on Dark Essence radio #220: 21/2/2011

A hidden reason for US anti-elitism/anti-intellectualism

February 21, 2011 · Posted in Policy, Religion and Belief, Science and technology, Theory · Comment 

 There are many obvious reasons for US anti-elitism/anti-intellectualism: religious/religion-influenced cultural beliefs, poor education, mass media failures, insular cultural groups that invent alternate explanations for things, and plain old ignorance. This article deals with Agnotology, or "culturally induced ignorance", which is important to understand (and deal with) in the context of this topic.

There is, however, another reason, which may be less obvious than the above. It applies to people who do, in fact, know better, but maintain laughable/ignorant/ridiculous positions about issues regardless. Let's call them "Future Policy Fearers." This brilliant comment on Less Wrong sums these people up perfectly (this particular example uses climate change/AGW, but it could be about Creationism/Evolution or a hundred other things):

"It becomes a signaling game, in which each choice of belief will be understood as exactly how you would communicate a particular choice of political move, and the costs of making the wrong political move feel very high. So the belief decisions and the political actions become tangled up.

Roughly, people have no way of saying:

'I believe that in terms of pure decision theory, the predicted AGW damage and costs of further investigation and costs of delay are high enough that mitigation attempts should start now. But I don't want to give up my {economic privileges / substantive national sovereignty / chance to get the standard of living of past carbon-emitting nations} without a fight, because I don't want groups in the future like {scientists / profit-hating hippie tree-huggers / freedom-hating U.N. environmental bureaucrats / greedy unfair first-world hypocrites} to think I'll just roll over when they try to impose concessions on me, in the name of premises that will feel psychologically as though they might just as well have been made up. In that future situation, it will be important for me to be able to credibly threaten outrage at being forced into such concessions. But as long as nobody else is going to take me for their fool, the sacrifices needed to prevent AGW are fine with me; we could start today.'

So instead, they say:

'I believe that the case for AGW isn't strong enough. I demand clearer proof.'

If it were possible to negotiate separately about AGW action and about precedents of policy concessions to e.g. scientists' claims, then you might see less decision-theoretic insanity around the AGW action question itself."

This group is just as important when dealing with perceived ignorance as those who are victims of Agnotology. Their actions and positions act as a proxy for a future power struggle, and should be understood as such.

Revolution U

February 21, 2011 · Posted in Politics, Theory · Comment 

 Revolution U is an excellent article charting the history of CANVAS, a non-violent revolution organization that has taught resistance and protest movements around the world how to apply the idea of "nonviolent conflict as a form of warfare." They've taught groups in Burma, Egypt, Zimbabwe and others how to use a variety of tactics to weaken, and ultimately overthrow, dictatorial regimes. Their work is very important, and I strongly recommend reading the article.

There are some problems, though.

First, there's the implication that non-violent resistance alone can work. I can't find a source for it at the moment, but there's an argument that basically says that non-violent resistance only works when there's the implied threat of violence behind it. The idea is that things like Gandhi's resistance movement only ultimately worked because there were potentially millions of people willing to do violence on his behalf. This fact remained unstated, but it was always there, silently confronting and confounding the British occupiers. Whether this is true or not is very difficult to say, but I don't think any discussion of non-violent resistance is complete without it.

Second, it's easy to imagine people here in the US attempting to apply these lessons to deal with our current problems. I think it would be extremely worthwhile for activists and organizers here to learn from CANVAS, but should do so knowing that we have a fundamentally different problem in this country. We don't have dictatorship or anything like it. We do have a serious issues with Corporatism and Crony Capitalism (our song "Moussolini's revenge" deals with this very issue) but to think that it is a "dictatorship" implies a fundamental misunderstanding of the things that prop up much of the current power structures. As described in our song "A Graveyard If Elephants" and books like "What's the matter with Kansas?", we have a population of people who continually vote against their own economic interests over social issues; because they've actually bought into an ideology that says that Negative Liberty is the only kind of Liberty, and that the means justify the ends (see "The Washington Consensus") - so even though these people are hurt by these policies, and they often know it, they continue to do it anyway because they actually believe it's justified with that conception of liberty. Here in the US, what we have is a bitter, slow motion civil war with divisions along many different lines. It's nothing like the simple and traditional oppressor/oppressed situation you see in many dictatorships.

Finally, I believe we need to think more about the imbalance between illiberal movements/regimes and liberal ones (in the classical sense.) Liberal regimes tend to only work where there is at least some level of broadly shared prosperity, even if it isn't all that much. Illiberal regimes, on the other hand, can survive (with a powerful enough system for keeping resistance in check) through both economic hardship and prosperity. This fundamental imbalance means that the scales are always tipped against liberalism, and its a constant fight to keep it in place. The only answer here is to improve and maintain living standards and prosperity. Will alone has not, and does not work.

Are we moving towards sideband/loss leader economies?

February 15, 2011 · Posted in Business · Comment 

With the upheavals in the music and news industries over the past few years has come a litany of complaints from many quarters about the inability to make a living off art or journalism. Then there are the counter-claims that things are being reshaped and that people need to find a new moneymaking model in these industries. Both of those arguments are true, IMO. It is harder to make money because the playing fields are flatter (the "music industry", outside of the very top where firms have a great deal of money to throw at lobbyists and DRM is as close to a Free Market that actually works the way its supposed to as could currently be envisioned - barriers to entry and exit are low, prices are near-zero, choice is mind-boggling, and there are no negative externalities to speak of) so there's huge amounts of competition and price drops. At the same time, those that do figure out working models stand to make a decent living. 

Now, I'd like to add a third argument into the mix: music, art, writing, (including journalism) and many other endeavors, etc. have become loss leaders of sort. You release music, write articles, take photos, report news and such to market yourself, and actually make money off something else. Bands sell T-shirts. Photographers teach classes. Writers act as cable TV pundits or do seminars. The idea of loss leaders is old, but the fact that it's becoming more common at the individual, rather than company level is new. It's understandable why this would bother some people; if you study, train, practice for something particular thing but it doesn't directly make you money, you may feel like you've wasted your time, been cheated, or just confused and angry that economies no longer work the way you thought they did (this may be particularly acute if you spend years listening to people who lived through the post WWII boom-times and actually believe that career advancement, seniority, etc. still works/exists the way it did back then.)

So we enter a world where many more people are "sideband" career people, and it's an understandably frustrating - it requires you to spend more time thinking about your career itself, about networking, about marketing oneself - skills that have very little to do with the skills you learned for your main endeavor. Regardless, it does seem to be the kind of world many people are in now.

Fixing US drug policy

February 13, 2011 · Posted in Policy, Politics · Comment 


Related song: "Earnestly Pursued Oblivion"

In order to fix drug policy, we need to think about the issue a completely different way. The main issue is the basic one of sovereignty of the self; the ability to do whatever you want with your own body without imposing costs on others. It's the very same idea underpinning the legalization of suicide. It's bigger than this, but that's for another post. The short version is that all laws should be guided, first and foremost, by the harm principle. 

Keep in mind the one thing that is paramount with applying the harm principle: /without imposing costs on others/.

So what we should do is make *smoking anything where others can inhale it without consent illegal* and legalize everything else-whether snorted, injected, swallowed or absorbed of all drugs. The only places you should be allowed to smoke are designated private smoking facilities with air filtration systems or your own home if you install an air filtration system yourself. I cannot refuse or consent to inhaling smoke (and where I live, it's a constant assault on your respiratory system. If the people using it ate, snorted, or injected it, there would be no problem). Otherwise, just legalize and regulate; you should have to go through a process to determine whether you're fit to use certain types of drugs, sign consent forms, and agree that any costs incurred due to potential addiction are your own and will not be borne by the state (including things like alcohol - nothing would be exempt from the basic health indemnification. Addiction programs would be covered, though.) If you agree, you're sold drugs by state-chartered companies that are tightly regulated, including pricing, to eliminate the black market. If you use them for medical purposes, you'd be able to bypass the process with a prescription (subject to the same regulations about methods of use.)

We should also deign to move hardcore addicts into treatment programs, or, in the case of those who are incorrigible, to long-term "use and protection" facilities. Finally, we should have designated locations with medical personnel, security, and addiction counselors where addicts could use drugs without fear of personal harm and without being public nuisances.

With a harm reduction-based system, the entire apparatus surrounding the drug war crumbles. The income of smugglers and dealers disappears. The need for most costly state organizations to fight it goes away. The violence largely disappears (what's the nominal level of violence surrounding nicotine and alcohol?) Regarding DEA funding. Under the system I outlined, this agency would actually get useful: to crack down on and prosecute black market (for those who want to go around the screening process) drug smugglers, importers/exporters, and sellers to the full extent of the law.

People are going to do drugs no matter what we do, so we should be talking about methods of use and harm reduction, not just "substances." Don't "legalize pot" or the like; protect sovereignty of the self, and reduce harm to individuals and society.

Universality and applicability

Is a full drug legalization policy feasible everywhere? In every country? I would have to give that an unqualified no. In order for a system like this to be feasible, many things are needed.

  • A working system of justice that is generally trusted by the populace.
  • A largely transparent system of governance.
  • A government, justice system, and law enforcement personnel that are perceived to be (and actually are) to be largely free of corruption.
  • A strong state that can actually enforce edicts against black market suppliers.
  • A strong state, stable state that would be difficult to overthrow.
  • A culture that accepts harm reduction, and does not simply regard using it as "defeat" or "moral midgetry"

Most developed countries fit, or could fit this bill. There are places, however, that are so plagued by corruption, are already so violent, are so unstable, or are already basically run by drug organizations that legalizing drugs would be like legalizing murder (many places in Central America fit this description.) It's already the rule, and would basically have no effect except to make these drug organizations laugh. In those places, some of which are bordering on failed states (or successful narco-states) cannot be fixed in this way. Those places need to re-establish order, trust, and strong states. They should not be thought of as drug wars, however. They should be thought of more like "reclamation missions." Criminal organizations have gotten so powerful, that they are often their own nations inside of existing states, and those states need to "reclaim" their territory and power from said organizations. Those situations are far beyond the drugs. They're fundamentally about power.

The future

Moving beyond today's current drug-related battles, we need to ask another question: why, in the face of so much effort to combat it, do so many people still want to use recreational drugs? 1) To escape crushing poverty, despair, depression. For these, only addressing the root causes are going to get us anywhere. Economic opportunities, physical security, better social safety nets, better mental health services, etc. 2) Pure enjoyment. For this, developing largely non-addictive, side-effect-free, cheap, legal alternatives to current recreational drugs. This could be anything from better drugs to computer-neural interfaces that allow more pleasurable/realistic experiences. 

Recent apperances

February 12, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

The political music blog "Giving Voice Workshops" has posted about our song "A Graveyard Of Elephants": http://goo.gl/6gDFN and our video for "A Graveyard Of Elephants" is now on the NME magazine site: http://goo.gl/rHcoo

Does everyone need a college degree?

February 2, 2011 · Posted in Economics, Politics, Theory · Comment 

Does everyone need a college degree? is a well-written article on a study of the US education system, and how badly broken it is. It touches on some things which have been floating around a while in the econo- and political blogs. It's worth a read, but I think that it misses a few bigger picture issues, many of which are related to race-to-the-bottom offshoring and, more importantly now, increasing automation:

  1. Helping people make the connection between higher education and "what they want to do in the future." What people "want to do" may be jobs that do not pay enough to support a living or have disappeared/are on the verge of disappearing. This is made worse by the fact that jobs that seem stable right now may be gone in just a few years. "Making the connection" to something that doesn't/won't exist isn't very useful. It's sometimes hard to predict what's going to be in demand next, but the whole "mess around for years, read the BLS site after they've figured out the next big thing 5 years after it actually starts, then race back to college and incur massive amounts of debt trying to catch up and by the time you're done the industry/job is gone" "system" is just not working.
  2. Job training for "middle skill" jobs has the same issue as the item above. Are these jobs really safe? Sure, they are hard to offshore, but they too can ultimately be automated, and even if they can't anytime soon, just how many electricians can a country support? This really needs to be thought through.
  3. Finally, what we really need is to do some more serious big thinking about more than "work", which is too narrow now. We need to figure how how we're going to "occupy" people in the transition from post-industrial/service/information technology society to a roboticized, post-scarcity, arts and leisure society. If handled poorly, "social unrest", mass protests, and outright violence may be become a regular part of the landscape, what with millions of always-idle, impoverished people just sitting on the sidelines, ignored. How long could this last? One hundred years, perhaps? That's a long time to have constant social upheaval.

Of course, this is all from the purely shorter-term economic cost-benefit perspective. A highly educated workforce is extremely valuable for both a properly functioning liberal democracy, and for an innovative society. With a universal, free, distance-learning focused higher education system, this calculus changes a great deal. We should strive for this.