15 July 2018

What I think is going on

There's a certain "what is going on?" feeling attached to watching a whole bunch of white supremacists advance politically, despite obvious present evidence that this is going to make everybody worse off economically.

I can't claim I think this is easy to explain -- it took me awhile to get what I think is a handle on it -- but it is explicable.

I think it's important to remember that white supremacy is a loot-sharing agreement, and that it is out of loot.  (Open-loop economic systems are a different problem and I should put that in a different post.)

Thing is, white supremacy has been out of loot for a long time; the fix, for the entire 20th century, has been to enforce relative status.  This isn't economically useful at all -- it's massively economically harmful! -- but it makes people feel better.

This gets presented as a narrative where there's a corrupt status-quo which seeks to prevent the white supremacists from feeling good, and a white-supremacist movement politican who will overturn the status quo; once that happens, the white supremacists can go back to feeling good.

The "feeling good" part rests on "I should have as much social status as I think I should have, or  else I will commit violence until I get it".  The violence is an inherent part of the feeling good; there is no amount of deference that will keep a white supremacist system from assaulting and murdering people, because the tangible proof that these things are permitted them is a required part of the feeling good.  (Fascism is not more complex than the assertion that white supremacy is the laudable norm.)

Under that overt position, there's a narrative that says "you work hard, and should get more benefit from your labour, but instead of doing what they should (and reinforcing your superior status), the mechanisms of colonization have been shifted from race to money so that you've been impoverished.  The mechanisms of colonization should be returned to their original purpose, as is the people's will!"

This is how the 2016 US election got framed; that the Democratic candidate was inherently at fault for advancing the view that the status quo requires the mechanisms of colonization to be about money, and that illegitimate means were used to keep the democratic candidate who recognized that this is the problem from getting the nomination.  This is not materially accurate; it's also about as white supremacist a narrative as could possibly be constructed.

Now, we know with enormous confidence that the way you have an increase in the general prosperity hasn't changed since cities were invented; if you are open, cosmopolitan, and support the rule of law without regard to wealth, class, race, creed, or origin, everyone is much better off.

The tricky cognitive leap is recognizing that this is not important.

What's important is how well a given system gets copies of itself into the future.[0]  That's it.  Material reality does not reliably intrude on political processes even in times of famine.  "But we would all be richer" does not matter.  "There would be less death and violence!" does not matter.[1]  This is the great and troubling insight from biology, and why I think the right hates evolution and wants to make sure it is never widely taught; pointing out that every question of social organization is a selection contest potentially removes the utility of their very successful approach of creating a moral tangle.  (The best lack all conviction because they've been suckered into an insoluble problem.)

(No, seriously.  Morals are feels driven by your early childhood norms.  Morals are not a basis for policy.)

Systems consist of stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Copied into the future is a constraint.  Not a feedback; how well the thing performs is not relevant very often.  (This is one of the common errors of 19th century social thought, that how well something performs matters.  Relative success at copying matters, but that is not even slightly the same thing as an absolute measure of material performance and it's surprisingly distant from a relative measure of material performance.)

If copying is a constraint, what you mostly get is what people understood when they were five.  (More or less; axiom formation.)  It has to be simple.  It tends to revert to the primate default.  The primate default is "I have status when I can hit who I want and take what I want and fuck who I want.  I want as much status as I can get."  The primate default isn't sufficient to support a neolithic village, never mind an industrial culture, but it will socially parasitize anything.

Something else from biology; you can't expect a stable system. You can't expect a meta-stable system.  Odds are, there just isn't one to be had.  How organisms behave is a function of environment, which includes the other organisms, which includes the other organisms of their species and their social system.  How it is advantageous to behave depends on what's currently the usual way to behave.

(So you can in fact expect a period of prosperity to get parasitized by opportunists seeking primate status, and there likely isn't an inherent structual means of preventing this.)

So the right, which is using (more or less), "we always win/we're the best", "anything I can take is mine forever", "you all do what I say", and "wealth is virtue", gets copies into the future readily.  It's simple; it gives social advantage; it appeals to long-established multi-generational norms; it provides a reasonable approximation of primate status.  It doesn't do this evenly and by an analysis of absolute advantage[2] it does it incomptently.

(Yes, really, incompetently.  Five generations is nothing. Fifty generations -- thereabouts of a thousand years -- isn't all that much.  Open-loop economies are certain to fail; it's the economy you've got when the loop is closed that matters.  It's hellish tough to get people to acknowledge that need to close the loop.  It costs them status, and we're machines for preferring death to loss of status.  Buggy, buggy primate wetware.)

So what's going on is a move to insist on the historical norm -- the violent status-enforcement of a post-loot white supremacy and the late-capitalist end-game of seeing who can have the largest pile of cash when the economy has ground to a halt -- in preference to acknowledging material circumstances, because the instant the material circumstances are acknowledged, the requirement for a different social order is inescapable.  Whatever it is, it won't be what has been.  The prospect of change on that scale locks people up with the primate wetware bug.

What could a functioning set of axioms be?

  1. You're not special.
  2. Gang up on problems; share risks, share benefits.
  3. Responsibility cannot be shared; assign it accurately.
  4. Does generally realizable access to choice increase in the future?  (if no, fix it.  fix it now, because it will never get easier.)
  5. Insisting you're special merits death.  Material actions are insisting.

It'll work, if we can get there.


[0] look at the intensity with which black or native leaders are killed as they emerge.  Look at the intensity with which any form of non-corporate collective organization is subsumed or destroyed.  This is why that's important; no new system is to be permitted to get copies of itself into the future.

[1] look at the difficulty getting existing power structures to recognize that making recreational drugs unlawful does not help the general prosperity.

[2] you can view the great conflicts of the 20th century as circumstantially compelled cases of having to prefer absolute measures of performance.  You can flail around a long way to find examples of that happening without the clear existential threats, too, and maybe start to conclude that the refusal to look at climate change has a slightly broader motivation than greed.

02 July 2018

Replace works. Fighting doesn't.

Economic change happens disruptively; someone comes up with something new and the incumbent can't get to the part of the choice space involved.  (If the incumbent CAN get to the choice space, you don't get disruption.  Compare who made internal combustion aircraft engines with who makes gas turbine aircraft engines.)

Social change happens through ethnogenesis; people re-define who they are, or what the label they have been using means.  Ethnogenesis has a history of presenting moral reasons which conceal the economic motivations.  (Moral reasoning doesn't scale; trying to do this at current populations scales had better use the economic motivations directly.)

So, what do we need?

  1. presumptive social incorporation; follow the rules and you're in.  
    • As a statistical expectation, no current population centre is going to be one in 2100.  Better make the assumption that people are going to move around a lot now, because you or your descendants will be refugees.
  2. Profit as a measure, not a motive.  
    • "Do people agree that this adds something to the world?"; profit as a measure, very useful.  
    • "Did I capture as much of other people's income stream as I possibly could?"  Profit as a motive; actively harmful because it destroys value and creates as system which functions to destroy value.
  3. Income and asset caps
    • you can come up with reasons why this is fair and just, but a working economy requires this.  That's why you need it.  Once you get "I want to protect my good luck/act of theft" as a constructive principle, you stop having a working economy to the extent that "defend the loot" motivation holds
  4. Closed-loop economy
    • it's a small world, and there are a lot of us.  Everything has to either rot or be recycled.
    • Open-loop -- dig it up, use it, throw it away -- has run out.  it's going to stop; much better if we do that on purpose.
This is a hard sell in a conquest-is-virtue culture.  It has to win the fight with that conquest-is-virtue culture, too.  And there are about a billion details.  But so far as I can tell, if we can get a strong majority to define themselves in these terms, there's a chance.

29 June 2018

Perspective is everything

Y'know, generally, when the mobbed-up US Supreme Court justice resigns, that's a good thing.

Political white supremacy in the Anglosphere presently rests on white women preferring to categorize themselves as white, rather than as women.  There's a demographic trend towards identifying as women rather than as white.  Going full-blown women-cattle-and-slaves while there's still a demographic window is not something that represents a position of strength.  (Nor is it something which acts to slow that demographic slide, AND it risks a major shift in the consensus of the matrons.)

The US hegemonic position arose from the Second World War combined with economic supremacy.  (Half the planetary GDP, because the rest of the planet had been burned down, fought over, and economically exhausted by war.) That's gone; Trump's going to have plenty of time to wreck something that was getting mighty tottery.[1]

The US Right is trying to recreate the Confederacy (nigh-certainly with overt slavery, no freedom of speech, and no civil rights including votes for women); this is driven by a great screaming howling whimpering emotional need rather than a careful economic analysis.  It has already done a great deal of damage -- straight up ethnic cleansing does great harm -- but the Confederacy was a low-information, low-control, and low-capability state.  It can't actually do much that requires widespread organization.  As a response to climate change, it is certain to fail.

The international-conspiracy aspects of the rise of fascism are the same desperate need to avoid negative change that usually drives fascism; "I am not getting the status I believe I deserve and I am resorting to violence until I get it".  If you're the leader of a petro-state, you desperately need to avoid change.  Only you can't.  And most of them can't retire, either.

Sometimes a former empire sits there and gnaws on its metaphorical toes for centuries, but that's not really an option this time.  The time of angry weather isn't going to allow a slow fade from former glories.

Most of these people are trying desperately to avoid having to admit they were wrong before they die.  They're not good people, they don't merit much sympathy, they're doing enormous harm, but fundamentally they're in the position of both trying to ignore reality and outstubborn their heirs.  It's not going to work.  The tactical problem is not to limit the damage as to make it not work as soon as possible.

[1] want some moral authority again?  pauperize an awful lot of republicans and get right out in front on decarbonization.  That'll work fine, and it's pretty obvious that will work fine.

20 June 2018

OODA, dammit

Habit is what you do when you have no time to think.  (Usually because it's what you would do anyway, but the stress version might just be because this is NOT what you usually do so your brain shorts out and provides an unconsidered behaviour.)

This is where the concept of "pressure" in a tactical situation comes from; you want to have the other side too busy to think, because if they're too busy to think, they're going to do something predictable, and if they're predictable you can plan and deploy a counter, sometimes before you start applying the pressure.

All this stuff about immigration?  Total bullshit.  Neither the president, nor Andrew Scheer, care about immigration.  They care about ethnic cleansing.  The tactical objective is to guarantee white supremacy[0] through a mix of deportation and vote suppression[1].  White supremacy is both a moral system and a loot-sharing mechanism.  Like any other such thing, it gets copies of itself into the future by convincing people that its rules benefit them, and like any other such system it's in competition with all the other possible systems to deliver material benefits.

(Note that the original conditions for white supremacy -- the great European colonial surge on the basis of sailcloth, flintlocks, cannon, and protestantism -- no longer apply, and the material benefits are now all marginal and structural; preferential hiring and wages and such.  Systems under that kind of stress generally become more extreme, to preserve the appearance of the conditions which created them and render them emotionally plausible.)

The current Western system is certain to collapse; climate change isn't going to leave anything standing.  This is not a distant concern.  (Scheer probably knows this.  Trump doesn't.)

So the strategic objective, the thing you do to establish your prefered social system, is what?  Well, presently, the American right are trying to legitimize chattel slavery and they're trying to legitimize genocide, because they've got a nightmare involving millions of Mexicans moving north to find some place they can survive the summer.  The best idea they've got is mass graves.  Pretty much pure Confederacy. (In oh so many ways.  Go read Grant's memoirs if you never have.  They're instructive.  And think about what it says about someone's competence if what they want is the Confederacy.)

Canada has three short-term structural problems -- our economy is too small for the amount of foreign capital trying to hide here; we've got a intractable structural political problem with getting off fossil carbon; wages have been too low for a generation -- and two massive long-term problems; agriculture is going to fail and none of our infrastructure is intended to function in the time of angry weather.

Our "immigration" problem, from the right, is being unable to complete the native genocide so it's harder than people would like to build pipelines and extract bitumen and create vast open-pit mines.  It's having too many people -- that is, visibly frequent -- who aren't easily sunburned, and it's having to acknowledge that the rules as we had them and mostly still have them presuppose a prescriptive culture norm which does not presently apply.  This aligns the Canadians who wish to see white supremacy continue (because they think it's right and they profit from it) with the American right, despite some significant cultural differences.  (Monarchy.  Different myths, notably the lack of a benevolent plantation owner.)

Our real immigration problem?  integrating incomers into the economy with full opportunity; there are very very good reasons why, when we're economically dependent on immigration, to want to get rid of white supremacy.  It makes the essential work of setting up a borders-of-propriety social system in which everyone willing to stay inside the social borders can have a full share something with a strong economic driver.  (Yes, this is hard; there's five thousand years of autocratic and aristocratic norms clogging up everybody's thinking.  Lester and Pierre could contemplate this because as individuals they didn't have meaningful personal insecurities about their competence; that didn't magically grant an understanding of how to do it, and the right hates it because it's an offense before god, pretty literally as they construct god.  It's hard work and we haven't done it especially well.)

When agriculture breaks, three things happen; food is short[2], so we're going to suddenly feel like fewer people is better, the existing economy craters past recovery, and Anglo NorAm starts to experience mass folk migrations.  (Who will likely still have access to motorized vehicles; "there are the first of a couple million dessicated Kansans at the Peace Bridge" values of folk migration.)

Traditional, Code-of-Hammurabi, aristocratic/imperial answer; kill or enslave.  If you lose the battle, settle them into presently unused farmland.

We're not going to be in a position to win the battle, and we're not going to have any farmland.  (We might have some intermittently productive pastoral grasslands.  Regular crops?  Not these thousand years.)

So we had better have a local food supply (no, I don't know what combination of greenhouses, vertical farming, and the unholy automated offspring of a grow op in a submarine is going to work, but if nothing works humans go extinct, so postulate some working approach), and we better have a local industrial base able to replicate the mechanism of that food supply in quantity at speed (with any luck we can do this fast enough that we don't get the folk migrations) without resort to fossil carbon, and we better have a deeply-ingrained habit of saying "you want to be Canadian? THESE ARE THE RULES" and then actually doing it, even though their deme has perverse personal customs like treating handegg, rather than hockey, as sacred rituals.  (I recommend to you all the custom of consider the hijab a variety of hat.)

If we want that for certain, we needed to be getting started around 1980.  If we want a shot at it, we need to get started now.

That's not saying we need to be oblivious to the tactical atrocities of the right; that's saying we need to emotionally accept that the options are mass death, probably to the point of human extinction (general agricultural failure is not something you can recover from afterwards) or a big conscious cultural shift into unknown territory so we can have the system that might work[3] in the no good, awful, wretched bad future we're getting.  And in which we're going to need an amazing amount of work done and a whole bunch of people to do it, because automation has very sharp limitations of known design.

We can get there; we can't get there with business as usual, this social hierarchy, or the rich staying rich.


[0] business-as-usual-to-sustain-prosperity, the Federal Liberal/Trudeau position, is a passive support of white supremacy and the ongoing passive genocide of First Nations.  It's preferable to active genocide but this should not be understood as a positive trait.

[1] Canada remains very, very white, and doesn't have much stress along this axis.  This should not be understood as evidence that we'd do better with it.

[2] lots and lots of people die; maybe everybody dies.  Maybe we get desperate warfare leading to the destruction of everything, or maybe we get people driving as far as they can looking for food.  Or maybe we managed to plan ahead and build enough alternative non-agricultural production.

[3] there can be no rich people in such a system; it might use market mechanisms, but the "I have a lot of money so I get what I want" version of a control system isn't effective and we're not going to have the margin to tolerate it.

19 June 2018

The purpose of a system is what it does

So what's Brexit going to do?

Looks like it's going to do two things inescapably; create great food insecurity, and gut The City of London as a world financial centre.

If I thought there was a cohesive English Landowners Party, I could think this was what they wanted; they can get a very cheap labour force out of people who would prefer not to starve, and they can get a permanent shift in the domestic balance of power in their favour.  It's an utter disaster on an international scale, but they might not care.  (Expecting ANY long term agricultural productivity in England as the climate shifts could be considered rather daft, but it'd be a highly plausible daft.)

So the current "what are they thinking?" resolves to Brexit starting to look like something that a bunch of white supremacists used Russian backing and dubious data expertise to enact, and the Landowner's Party grabbed it.  Whatever the cynical participants wanted to extort has gone by the wayside; this is now about bringing back forelock-tugging agrarianism on pain of death.  (Well, by means of death.)  And no one political can figure out how to say so at a profit, and no one political is going to do anything that doesn't profit them.  The opposition can't figure out how to think about the whole thing, because the idea of no more foreigners is just too attractive for words to too much of the electorate, who stop there.  There is no way to champion free movement and win an election.  (It's looking like you might not be able to say the Scots aren't foreign and win an election.)

Globally, converting the UK's not-quite-four-percent of the global economy into despairing noises won't be good.   By itself, not as large as 2008.  In combination with a collapse of the trade regime, though?  That could be pretty thorough.  Lose the trade regime and the ability to impose sanctions won't survive, which is something Russia would want.

Bicycles are light

You know how you can tell no one with any power really wants to solve the problem?

They won't spend money to see what works.

The easiest historical examples are naval propulsion advances where entire classes of battleship get built to test the operational effectiveness of a new kind of steam engine, but still.  "Does this work? let's find out, here's some budget" is the sure and reliable sign of a sincere desire to solve the problem.  No one in Canada with actual power wants to solve the safe bike travel problem.

The problem with city streets is the fixed width.  Much as I like the mental image, coming by with Really Large hydraulic jacks and pushing all the buildings further apart is not a practical approach.

Car Culture is not an engineering problem; it's a law enforcement problem and a politics problem.  (I have been to a public "talk about the bike lanes" meeting where someone spent forty minutes trying to get a city councillor to commit to increasing the free on-street parking on their adjacent-to-the-proposed-bike-lanes residential street.  They were passionate, committed, and overtly and explicitly of the view that anything involving bicycles was irrelevant, it doesn't matter if people interested in bicycles want to talk, here's a chance to get more parking, that's important and I pay taxes.  Nothing like an engineering problem.)

There is, however, an engineering solution for safe bike travel.

Modern construction methods make it very easy to show up, drill a hole, and drop a (remarkably strong) substantial steel pipe upright in the hole.  There's a lot of stuff under some downtown streets but there's pretty much zero chance a team of engineers can't figure out how and where to put the upright. Modern construction methods make it just as easy to get a lot of truss bridge sections to connect between the pipes that are now suddenly bridge pylons. (There are already mixed-use pathway bridges like this all over the place.)  If you happen to have light rail, you do this over the light rail and use the underside of the bridge sections to support the power wires.  You put a roof over the bridge sections; you put up big cable net guard rails with some spring to them.  You make the whole thing six metres or seven metres wide with a raised "dead" centre section between the lanes so people have some place to fix flats or just get out of the flow of traffic while they're trying to read a map or use their phone.  You pick the post heights to smooth out variation in the ground so there's a relatively continuous and slow change in elevation.  You put in elevated roundabouts over major intersections.  (Yes, really; you can even do a search for "elevated bicycle roundabout" and find examples of existing ones.)

You don't put pedestrians up there.  You might put off-to-the-side bits of path for downtown business that want to put a bicycle cafe on the second or third floor.  You might put in some elevators where there just isn't room for enough ramp.  The dead centre means you can nearly always put in one ramp; there are a lot of places you can put in on and off ramps, down to bits of park or public squares or anywhere you're not dropping the bikes straight into vehicle traffic or pedestrians.  Down into distinct protected bike lanes is fine, and you'd expect to do that out in the city periphery where you have enough width for bike lanes down at grade level.  (Though remember that elevated bike lanes are a solution for the "there are cars turning across my bike lane" problem, and it's fairly tough to make that go away when the roads and the bike routes are at the same grade level.)

While you're at it, you change the laws so building owners are required let bicycles inside; the single largest non-squashing barrier to bike commuting is a complete lack of safe storage.  Many office buildings have ferocious "no plebeian bicycles in the building" policies.  Those need to go.

So -- There's room to put in a LOT of this stuff.  (Every road with an LRT line, just for starters.) You want it to be extensive and continuous; you might want some of it to be fast and some of it to be scenic, but let's not worry about that until there's a lot installed.  It's not hard to imagine a few firms who specialize in assembling and maintaining elevated bike paths, and a resulting number of pretty decent construction and engineering jobs.  (It's not hard to imagine a city department that does this, either.) You design the elevated pathway to be bolt-together so when the day comes and you have to remove some because of major road work, you can come back and unbolt them and carry them away with the same machinery that put them up.  You get a tourist attraction.  You get a business sector where you manufacture prefab bridge sections, pylons, LRT wire hangers, battery-powered snow clearing and surface-cleaning machines, springy cable barrier nets, and so on.  You get an expansion in useful downtown restaurant, cafe, and tourist tchotchke retail space.  You do great things to the official livability index.

And, bicycles are light.  Really light.  Even packed in really tight, you're never going to go over a tonne per metre, counting both lanes (that's four hundred-kilo people per each 2m lane and two more hundred-kilo people in the centre section) and that's just not a challenging truss requirement.  You can likely do this in aluminium (won't rust) and you can order the stuff by the kilometre.

Yes, sure, you get some construction, but it's fast construction; someone is coming in with a drill and a crane for a few days to assemble prefab sections, it's not the deep-pit style of construction.  In terms of dollar per person kilometre of commute, it is WAY cheaper than pretty much everything else.  It gives you a place to stash a lot of cabling in an easy-access simple-maintenance location.  There's no inherent requirement to follow a road, so if you need to bridge a divided highway or a river or railroad, you're going to need some fancier pylons and a longer bridge section.  It gets the bike paths OFF the road.

Anyone in a position of power who actually wanted to solve the bike-safety problem would be trying this.

(The first place you do this in Toronto is Queen's Quay, Bathurst to Parliament.)

18 June 2018

The Utility of Protest

I think there's some serious cultural lag going on.

Protest is meant to signal lasting anger in the voting or labour populations; one will get you voted out of office, and the other will get you economic costs from strikes or other labour disruptions.  There was a period of time when these were important things.

Neither of those actually apply anymore.  Extra-legal vote manipulation is rife and has no real consequences.  (E.g., Stephen Harper's first majority; the conviction happens to a disposable minion, and none of the election results are questioned.  Or the election results in Ontario when a large fraction of the PC candidates are under investigation for extra-legal campaign practices.)  Election results are primarily driven by media brain-hacks in the month or two months prior to the election.  Getting voted out of office is much less of a risk (for many American politicians, no risk) than the system presumes that it is.

There's no meaningful labour movement.  (Canada still has unions.  No non-fringe figure is willing to get up and argue for collective anything, or that there are legitimate forms of social organization other than corporations.)  There's certainly no meaningful mechanism to impose economic costs on the right wing for doing extra-legal things.  (E.g, Galen Weston, and price fixing bread.)

(The only functioning-as-a-movement unions are police unions, who want no oversight and increasing spending and do not tolerate civil control of the police.  They're effectively the official armed wing of white supremacy as a movement.)

Economic actions such as boycotts don't work.  (Just try figuring out what you can eat that doesn't have give Galen Weston money somewhere in the supply chain.  They will stay rich much longer than you can stay hungry.)

So right now, the whole US Border thing; yes, it's an atrocity.  But the point to the atrocity is to consume the substance of everyone on the left; to cost them time and money and stomach lining, because all of those things are finite and in a long war of attrition (all politics is a long war of attrition) what happens is a function of who keeps the largest choice space through paying the least for what they must do.  This kind of behaviour is meant to collapse the choice space of those on the left and render them politically ineffective due to exhaustion.  (A reference from anti-submarine warfare; you generally do not know where the sub is.  You can figure out what box it's in, so you take steps to make sure it stays in that known volume and then, when that volume is small enough, you kill the box.  This is precisely the long-term approach from the would-be-aristocrats on the right.)

The question for protest is not how to get respect, how to get voices heard, not any of that; the question is how to make this kind of behaviour so unbearably expensive the right wing can't stand to do it.