06 June 2018

Taxes in the Time of Angry Weather

I find myself increasingly struck by how there's a party of lowering taxes, everywhere in the Anglosphere.

There's an angle where you can think of this in terms of race and class, and a lot of people have, and said important and sensible things about the rich generally trying to withdraw from society, but I want to raise a different point.

The half-jest is that the gods of civil engineering are drainage, drainage, and drainage.

Climate change -- the climate is surely changing, even if you cannot face facts about the cause, you're stuck with that, because it's measured -- means the drainage isn't right.  It rains more, it rains less; either way, either all the culverts need increasing or wells have to be drilled deeper and water conservation measures need to be installed.  The canals flood or sink until they can't be used.

Climate change means more, and worse, bad weather; a system with more energy in it has extreme weather events which are more destructive.  There's cleanup, and rebuilding.  There's design changes and new infrastructure.

This is going to go on, and on, and on; there is no time in which we can foresee the weather not being angry.  (Yes, yes, if we stop burning fossil carbon we stop the forcing, but for the next thousand years, we still get angry weather.)  Angry weather means increased taxes; all those culverts, and flood events, and people fleeing drought, and it goes on and on.  For there to be a party of lower taxes in this time claiming to be the party of hardheaded practicality is too bitter for a jest.

(You know what an emergency is?  That's when, no matter how rich you are, you're better off if the problem is addressed collectively.  "Climate emergency" is not a popular phrase, but it's not wrong.  No amount of private wealth suffices to maintain for yourself the benefits of civilization in the climate emergency.)

27 May 2018

Expectations for moral systems

One thing I think gets missed -- or maybe I am just being alien -- is that whiteness is a moral system.  It's not a material thing.  (Being easily sunburned is a material thing.  The idea that being easily sunburned puts you in a moral category where it's OK to loot, rape, and murder is NOT a material thing.)

Moral systems don't have a common anything as a means of comparison; there's no lurking equivalent of speed-of-light-in-a-vacuum or a-mole-of-C12-atoms to start a measurement system.  People seem to miss this, because "moral" (conforming to the precepts of the system) gets conflated with "right and proper" in some absolute sense.  (There's no absolute sense; getting the job is good for you and bad for everyone else who applied.  All these things are always relative.)

What moral systems do have is a centre; there's a pattern of behaviour where someone adhering to any particular moral system is least-stressed.

The thing about the "Southern Strategy" is that is amounts to "the Confederacy was good"; the moral system used by the Confederacy is a strong form of patriarchal white supremacy in which slavery is a positive good.  This doesn't have to have anything at all to do with material reality.  Once the moral system gets re-adopted, you get slavery.  (Private prisons, what's happening with ICE and separating families, the de-facto removal of anyone non-white from legal protections against violence by whites...)  The ICE reports are indicating something that is formally chattel slavery; they're selling kids.

Most of the response could be paraphrased as "don't they realize how bad that is?"

In the moral system they're using, it's a positive good. 

Trying to get someone to admit they're being bad for doing something they know, axiomatically, is absolutely necessary, right, good, and proper is a pointless waste of effort.  (Leaning really hard on a common universe of discourse in the education system and banning private education is NOT a waste of effort if you can do it.  Probably futile in the US because any white supremacy is necessarily really, really opposed to that.  Iffy in Ontario.)

Moral systems go away when they become unbearably economically expensive (which takes a couple-five generations and don't suppose you've got a good definition of "unbearably" on hand; "disadvantageous" won't do it) or when they're obliterated because all the adherents are dead.

If it becomes economically advantageous to be pro-slavery, well, the moral system involved will spread.

26 May 2018

Morals don't scale

This is likely one of those times when I'm not going to make sense, but here goes.

Morals are trained into you before the age of reason, aren't very tractable via reason, and are particular to your specifically; the circumstances of your upbringing, the specific biases of your caregivers, and the norms of your culture.

Because all that has to get copies of itself into the future, it will inevitably include some kind of "this is the best way to be"; people label that "good" and try to be that.

This... is a problem.

It's a problem in a bunch of ways.

For individuals, there's nothing about the whole process that requires good-as-morally-defined to be *possible*, or beneficial to you, or even not harmful to you.  Trying to be good can leave people with no way to imagine that they're allowed to exist because being good is impossible and they have to be good.  ("good people fix all the things", well, ok.  Where do the good people get consent to do the fixing?  Where do good people get the power to do the fixing, in all the possible sense of power?  See?  That awkward metaphorical clanging noise is the limits of the possible proving impermeable to an imagination of responsibility.)

For any kind of collective social interaction, there's no way to resolve a moral difference between distinct moral traditions.  This leads to coercion, violence, and efforts at extermination that people are just plain convinced are correct.  (Which inside the moral system they're using, *are* correct.  Nobody uses morals that haven't got passed down for generations, and that introduces a strong bias in favour of resorting to force.)

For public policy, morals are feels.  You can't make effective policy with feels because you're dealing with large numbers -- of people, things, and places -- and intuition fails at those scales.  Effective policy involves facts, whether or not one likes the facts.

Now, if you're in a stable situation -- you belong to a deme in a polity that's been there and been like that for generations -- morals can work effectively.  There are no new problems to solve, there are workarounds to the more awkward or expensive bits, and so on.  The difficult work of achieving agreement on new things isn't required and does not happen.  You're getting group cohesion for relatively cheap, and group cohesion is way, way more important than personal happiness in terms of copies-into-the-future and always has been.  Moral systems that make everyone in them miserable can persist indefinitely if the result is lots of group cohesion and successfully maintaining control of resources.

That "group cohesion" thing?  Pretty much all moral systems everywhere have an axiom that you can't change them; they're permanent, inviolable, and immutable.  Giving up your moral axioms is the worst possible thing you can ever do.

We're in the early stages of a comprehensive historical disjunction, against which the fall of the western Roman empire is as a minor change in tax regime.  We -- as a species, we -- very likely don't have the margin to get through this in the usual "someone wins" sort of way.  Switching off of agriculture isn't going to happen successfully at local scale.

Anybody who is any good at humaning care to suggest a fix for this?  I keep coming up with "militant tolerance" and going "I can imagine that, but it would never stay both".

21 May 2018

Lamentable simplicity

So over here, Charlie talks about the degree to which it looks like the oligarchy has decided genocide is the answer.

There's a bunch of ways Charlie is being wildly optimistic.

The entire point to an oligarchy is to stay on top of the local maximum; to be in control of, and disproportionately benefitting from, the production of surplus.  Whatever toolkit society has got, the oligarchy is deriving disproportionate benefit from it.  This is the thing at which they are skilled; finding some surplus and getting control of it.[1]

There is no way to keep your current oligarchical position in the way that family prominence has been handed down for centuries in various stable polities.  We are, sure as fate, sure as death, headed into an historical discontinuity.  We are in a major extinction event and it might well include us.  We cannot stay on this local maximum because it's going away.[2]

All of the material fixes involve the oligarchy giving up control of surplus to apply that surplus to building the alternative infrastructure necessary to keep having an industrial culture.  (No industrial culture runs us smack into circumstances where pre-industrial agriculture could support at most a billion people as the planetary population, and we've done a great deal of soil damage since.)

An oligarch can't do that.  If you're trying to come up with a scenario where that might happen, you're trying to imagine an outcome comparable to a strong majority -- a political landslide -- of men reading the health outcome statistics (which are incontrovertible) and getting themselves castrated.  Does that seem even a little plausible?  No?  So you (a non-oligarch) should be planning on the expectation that, in the end, the point to being an oligarch is having your bones on the very top of the pile.

So it's not so much a plan for genocide[3] as an inability to plan at all in a time when no plan looks a lot like extinction.

[1] This is why management is statistically incompetent at doing the thing and why productivity correlates with labour's ability to negotiate (aka walk away); the management skill set is about concentrating benefit from generated surplus, which is distinct from doing the thing.  Labour wants to do the thing better; management doesn't.  Doing the thing better dissipates surplus, which is (to an oligarch) wrong.

[2] it depends on stable agriculture.  The time of angry weather means we're not going to have that.

[3] there's no evidence that genocide is considered bad, or that domestic-animal level slavery would be considered bad, either.  Or that we're not actively getting both of those things.  It's more that these are emergent properties of the system, rather than the outcome of a conscious plan.

05 April 2018

The Human Dress now live everywhere

Or at least, everywhere I expect it.  (Anyone offering you a PDF version is at least one flavour of miscreant.)

Google Play

Book cover for The Human Dress by Graydon Saunders

19 February 2018

The Human Dress available on 2018-03-23

Not a Commonweal book!  (The Commonweal book, Under One Banner, is with the copy-editor.)

Currently available for pre-order on Google Play.

Book cover for The Human Dress by Graydon Saunders
It will be up via Draft2Digital's various channels, but I would like to give people on the quality reviewer list some chance to send me typos, first.

This isn't a Commonweal story.  This is something Past Me wrote, and referred to as The Doorstop.

It's been said that everyone of a certain age who winds up writing fantasy in English has a response to The Lord of the Rings in them.

This book is mine.

It's about grief, duty, and royalty as responses to violation of the natural order.  Also adversity, social change, terrible sartorial choices, and an obscure literary revenge on Thomas Hardy.

The acts of vengeance taking place in the text aren't obscure at all.  Some people make Adversity very, very sorry it ever said anything.  Gruesome and terrible things happen.

There were giants in the earth in those days.

16 February 2018

That whole gun thing

Everybody's talking about gun control as an issue again, without talking about the core problem. (In the US and Canada.)

Access to firearms is seen as a guarantee of a right to enforce patriarchal white supremacy through violence.  (This is not an enumerated right but it's absolutely trivial to make an historical case for it.)

You can sidetrack into the "you don't treat me the way I think I should be treated so you're all going to suffer" (personal, local implementations of the core social drive for fascism; this is also the thing that ties it into the strong correlation between domestic abusers and those who commit gun violence) wibbling, because the traditional "economic marginalization" solution to unwelcome attitudes doesn't work when everybody has been economically marginalized, but while that's definitely A problem it's not THIS problem.  (If unspoken core cultural precept was "live by the precepts of the Benedictine order", we'd definitely have problems but they wouldn't be shooting-up-schools-and-concerts problems.)

So all those folks coming up with desired gun control laws; that bit about "qualified instructor"?  That's only going to work if all the instructors are black women, who have an at-will, no-justification-required power to flunk people for attitude.

At a time when the cousins have a department of their federal government engaged in active ethnic cleansing going on and the changing climate's effects on food security are gaining scope.