23 December 2018

Worst Year Ever?

I've seen a few takes to that effect floating around already, that 2018 is the worst year ever and 2019 must be better.

This is the same mistake as thinking there can be meaningful tax cuts.

We're in for at least a century of everything about the climate getting worse; less food, more desert, less food, rising seas, less food, more displaced populations, and all the concomitant economic trouble that arises from unpredictability.  (Even leaving out the evil people, or the relentlessly fact-averse.)

2016 might well have been the last normal year.

There's a flailing moment of optimism where "well, we can react better", and yeah, we could.  We even may, but the stuff we'll have to react to gets worse from here. It's the time of angry weather and we're going to have to deal.

05 December 2018

Loot is not growth

This is one of those things that ought to be a tautology and yet falls prey to habits.

(Rather like "greed is a sin".)

Loot is what you get, and looting is what you do, when you take something by a means other than voluntary exchange on the basis of present or threatened force.  (The threat can be implicit.)  (If you're doing services rather than goods, that's slavery.)  (Theft is when you lack sufficient force and loot by sneaking.)

Let's also remember that any commodity has two relevant prices; the extraction price (what it cost you to get it), and the market price (what you can sell it for).  You can't get away from this just by installing a looting-normalizing legal framework.

So the present pass -- the historical disjunction of our days -- occurs because the extraction price for loot has surpassed the market price of loot.  The basis of the colonial expansion economy melts into air. [1]

So you see much panicked effort to create more pro-looting legal frameworks (various US states, Brexit, etc.) and you get the last couple generations' increase in inequality as former colonial powers start in with the internal colonization.  (And you get into "is excess rent extraction loot?" and I'll say "look at the question"; yes, of course it is.)

The fix is simple and obvious (and is not wrong!) -- stop looting.  We know that, because the things that aren't loot -- education, local focus of direct investment, research both abstract and practical -- all do generate growth.  (That is, you are passing a new increase in capability into the future in the expectation that it will persist because under fair and complete accounting, you've increased the supply of value.  (ratio of benefit to cost has increased.))  If the resources that go into enforcing the looting systems just went away, never mind were redirected, we'd all be better off.  (The simple example is Utah figuring out that giving the homeless housing is less expensive than anything else.)

"Populism" is an assertion that the looting economy should continue, and the designated classes of victim should be maintained as they were in former days.  That's all.  It's not complicated.  The fix is not pointing out that the people taking that position aren't being their best selves or demonstrating able cognition; the fix is to present a status-increasing alternative.

(It's not like we haven't got a bunch available.  We need new housing stock, new cities, new transportation infrastructure, new food production, there's almost infinite work to do.)

The requirement to get there -- a recognition by the wealthy and powerful that their wealth and power is not, and cannot be, the systemic purpose of a stable and prosperous society -- has been historically challenging.  I take a modicum of hope from recognizing that this particular miracle has happened before; that's what the British landed aristocracy did in accepting the industrial revolution as an alternative to Napoleon.

But only a modicum.  People are astonishingly good at concluding that the angry storm gods can't possibly be angry with them.

[1] much of this has to do with the availability of open-loop resources (iron, copper, etc.) but it's got to do with the relative ease of getting rents from technological upticks, too.  What you're seeing with the net is massive spending to get control of something that isn't profitable.  Waiting for the starving leviathan to die isn't a good time.  And what you're seeing with millenials is a willingness to crash the system by, in effect, eating the seed corn; subsequent rents depend on a certain minimum prosperity on the part of the general population.

12 November 2018

Creatures of the binge

So the carbon binge has two phases, coal and oil.  (Which is not to say we've stopped using coal, but to say we've stopped using it for maritime propulsion.  Strait control, commerce, control of trade, yargle yargle.)

The coal phase started sometime in the eighteenth century; if you want to stick it to the first run of the The Rocket or some other date, you can, but the core point here is that we're looking at a couple hundred years; eight generations.  Everyone alive in the North Atlantic economic network, that network, its culture and its institutions and its implementing mechanisms, are if not uniformly than universally creatures of the binge.

This is going to end.  How it ends is (somewhat, a little) optional.  That it shall end is in no way optional; we are in an historical lacuna.

We're not going to keep much of anything.  Keeping "reliable food" -- not the social reality of reliable food, already deeply frayed, but the material possibility of reliable food -- is going to be a lot of work.

In a lot of ways, the great political problem of our age is to get widespread acknowledgement that we're going to have to pick a future, and work for it.  We don't have the option of keeping anybody's status quo.  An awareness of this has leaked into everybody's understanding, but is not acknowledged; it's all still lurking in the land of unsaid things.

"My social status is unknown" is unbearable; note that nigh-all of the political movements doing destructive horrible things function to create social status out of nothing and to be highly reassuring about the fixed nature of the social status of the participants in the movement.

It'd be a thing to get a conscious effort going to produce a reliable source of post-Carbon-Binge social status that doesn't rest on oppression.

09 November 2018

Economic models

There's this stylized fact that the point of the economy is to increase the general prosperity.

Since that's obviously not the case -- the general prosperity is in the "prosperity decreasing" side of the post-1980 bimodal distribution -- it's reasonable to ask what is actually going on.

This tends to collapse into a mess as people start arguing esoterica, such as about how much market power labour has.  (This is about like arguing about how much market power farmers have; it's none, and it's obviously none because productivity has tripled since 1950 and farm income (in the family farm sense) is flat or declining in constant dollars.  You know there's no political power there when they can't keep that from happening to them.)

I think it's much much simpler in the general economic case.

You can increase prosperity through innovation; it takes less work per unit useful thing.  Incumbents hate this and try to prevent it. (If you're on top of the heap, any change is overwhelming likely to move you further down the heap.)  There's the recent example of the VLSI breakout, which no incumbent anticipated and which they're still struggling to get back into the can.  Plus, it's difficult.  Especially at the end of the logistic curve (which were are at for the current toolkit), innovation is a tough way to make money.

You can concentrate; if you can get control of more of the economy, you get richer.  Nothing has changed about how the economy runs, but your degree of oligarchical status increases.  "Concentration" was the post-1970 policy goal of the US and American oligarchies; the early-20th innovation set and the Hitler's War/Great Pacific War capability investment had about spooled out, you weren't going to get anything else with predictable results.  (and indeed VLSI did NOT have predictable results.)  There are some nastier looting variants on concentration -- I just want the money, not the business -- but it's all the same basic pattern of fewer and fewer sources of decision.  (Decision and control are not the same thing!)

BUT!, you can also loot the public purse.  This is what happened in post-Soviet Russia; if you can get control of the public infrastructure and public institutions, you can obtain a lot of money.  You can pretty readily find credible analysis suggesting Putin's cabal divied up the equivalent of a trillion-with-a-T USD.  This isn't graft; this is straight up long-term control of the power to tax and to legislate.  Quite literally "give me the money".

This is the model being pursued by Trump, by the US neo-conservatives generally, by Doug Ford, and by pretty much everybody coming into politics from organized crime.

No one else is currently advancing another model.  The US Democrats, Canadian (federal) Liberals or NDP, are the parties of the status quo, and this means they're the parties of (to various degrees of humane constraint) parties of economic concentration.  Conservatives have become the party of aristocracy, which is what you get when a small group controls the public sphere for their specific direct benefit.

To change this, it is necessary to create a widespread belief that the status quo cannot persist and that some specific achievable alternative is preferable.

30 October 2018

Present necessity

So, Canadian, so we start with "peace, order, and good government".

This is a problem, because a whole lot of people have widely divergent ideas about how to define those things.  ("A settler can shoot indigenous persons if upset with them" is still a legally-protected position in Canada, for example.)

There's also the problem that "permanent emergency" is usually thought of as a political device rather than a material condition. We're moving into circumstances in which it is our material condition.  (Temperature peaks several centuries from now.  Everything gets worse until after the temperature peak somewhere.)

So, problem zero; retain enough technological civilization to keep feeding ourselves AND get through the peak temperature period.  (Just like you have to eat every day, you can't go above 35 C wet-bulb for very long and live; the solution to these problems has to be continuous.)

As these things go, we haven't got much longer with stable agriculture; if we lose that, we're done.   You can't maintain civilization during a famine.  (Innumerable historical examples!)

But we also can't do anything effective towards the "local post-carbon toolkit" and "post-agricultural food supply" problems because most of the population is intensely committed to the status quo.

What does it take to get off the status quo?

  1. prosperity; 
    • in the time of angry weather, the existing housing stock is worthless.  The remnant middle class is defined by home ownership, and they vote.  Anything that acknowledges the worthlessness of the extant housing stock or the impracticality of the post-war suburban distribution pattern is a political non-starter.  So any political solution must involve a massive public home replacement program at guaranteed values.
    • wages are too low because of rent extraction and wealth concentration; the wealth concentration is a major source of political opposition to any change to the status quo of the role of society being to guarantee concentrations of wealth.  The way in which the infrastructure changeover is organized has to produce immediate, obvious increases in the material prosperity of pretty much everybody
    • you can use less energy if you're more efficient, but you can't generally get people to accept a lower standard of living.  Hot showers, good communications, soft beds, and a varied diet are absolute requirements of any intended social reorganization because everyone knows this isn't temporary.  This is the new pattern for civilization up to and past the temperature peak.
    • really large fractions of the population do not care about the future more than they care about not feeling that they have lost status right now.  A major sales effort will be required.
  2. accounting
    • capitalism works by keeping costs of the books to increase what can be considered profit.  (If you have to pay people what they want for their homes, that mine won't make money (or happen at all), et  multi cetera.)  It turns out this is how you get most of our current problems. 
    • You can keep a market economy but you have to do the accounting accurately.  General-case emissions taxes would be a good start.  (All emissions, not just carbon.) Otherwise, the system is missing feedbacks and inevitably becomes destructive.
    • the human trick is ganging up on problems; we're darn near eusocial.  Current capitalist orthodoxy insists on individuals or corporations.  We're going to need more, and flexibly arrived at, patterns of collective organization.  Which means we're going to have to forbid the "protect wealth concentration" version, which is the social equivalent of a destructive invasive like phragmites or kudzu.
    • some model for ecological services that prices them accurately (that is, these things are expensive; killing soil by paving it should ALSO be expensive)
  3. technology
    • we've got (nigh) all the pieces
    • major challenges are all "do something that will really displace an incumbent" political problems, rather than technical possibility.
    • we need something that doesn't depend on long supply chains or just-in-time fulfillment or presume an integrated trans-national economy of several billion. Those aren't bad things, but they're not resilient things.  We need to replace the Industrial Revolution coal, iron, and brass toolkit with something a couple million people can keep going over a (relatively) small geographical area, and build up from there.  Trade is good but all the ports are going to drown; we mustn't plan on steady, high-volume trade.
  4. food
    • decarbonized agriculture; no fossil carbon anything, whether fuel, fertilizer, or pesticides.
    • post-agricultural food supply; this necessarily means management practices that increase diversity and disparity of the organisms because we're going to be compelled to optimize robustness in the food supply, rather than productivity per person (which is what mechanized agriculture optimizes).
    • diversity; the massive reliance on wheat, maize, and rice is going to end.  We're going to be eating a lot of weird stuff and need to work at getting as much of it into the future as we can.
    • bioaccumulating anything-that-isn't-food is a problem; plastics, pseudo-hormonal compounds, persistent toxins in pesticides, anything like that. Keeping a reliable food supply means not doing that.  (An organism turns food into shit; an ecology turns shit into food.  If the ecology can't turn it into food, you can't emit it.)

Systems have common properties

They can all be modelled as stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Current anglosphere politics never mentions constraints.

So; extractive capitalism as practiced is the idea that you get rich by some combination of not permitting costs on the books, or at least by not permitting costs on your books.  Anything you can charge a rent for is an opportunity for extractive capitalism.  Flint, Michigan's created water crisis (it's a real crisis, but it happened because someone created it by means of improving their extractive position without regard to anything not on their books) is a simple example.  So is the classic "landlord won't do maintenance" tenancy problem.

This has three large problems.  One is that the outcomes are undesirable to the majority of the population, and in nominal democracies this ought to allow adjustments as to what must be accounted for when determining profit.  Two is that the available loot has diminished sharply from the 19th and 20th centuries; about the only really major opportunities involve extracting from your internal population, which is most of what creates problem one.  Problem three is that it's increasingly obvious that this whole "not including in the determination of profit" accounting is going to stop; it might stop due to a collective rush of sense to the head, or it might stop due to an extinction event, but it's going to stop.

Systems get more extreme in preference to changing to some other system.  What we're seeing with the rise of fascist politics is the absolutely standard oligarch response to "you'll have to stop looting"; genocide is much preferable to any diminished profit, and looting produces profit, so.... (Yes, really.  The purpose of a system is what it does.  If what it's doing is genocide, that's what's it's for.  The current atmospheric carbon load trend direction is unquestionably genocide.  There are lots of others.)

It's important to keep in mind that the "let's murder a minority" response isn't inevitable; it's even quite trivial to not have that.  (Raise wages until people are economically secure.  Oligarchs never pick this one.)

The prefered material outcome is for wages to rise, and the spread in incomes to drop.  This is why I like income and asset caps; no only does it remove the "if I can keep these people dying of being poisoned off the books, I can make enormous quantities of money" motivation, it makes it hard to buy political influence.  Between not being all that much more prosperous than anybody else and everybody being relatively decently provided for, buying influence gets difficult.

29 October 2018

Constructions of democracy

Democracy is a creature of the hoplite phalanx, the fyrd, the oared warship, and the regiment of riflemen.  Democratic institutions arise and prosper in conditions in which large portions of the population are required to participate in the mechanisms of territorial control.

The need for riflement stopped being so as of 1915; the need for troops and industrial workers stopped being  the case about 1970.  We've seen circumstances where democracy benefits no-one for two whole generations now. (If you're not an oligarch, you can't use the political process to improve your economic circumstances; if you are an oligarch, you can't have the law entirely as you desire.)

This is the core problem with saying "vote!"; voting doesn't get you anything you want.

It's entirely possible to fix that, but it requires a political calculation that it's better to address current material needs than to maintain the status quo.  It's not easy to get a political system to do that; the status quo is always more advantageous to the powerful than change.  (In Canada, we've got to the point where major parties are pretending to embrace change.  Be interesting to see if one actually does, rather than becoming more and more willing to commit atrocities to maintain the status quo.)

24 October 2018

Justice and Legitimacy

Just is the label used for the acts and conditions which increase the perceived legitimacy of government.  (The only legitimacy a government may have.)

Democratic forms of government presuppose agreement on the nature of justice.  (Justice the word "displaced Middle English rightwished", a term which might be easier to think about having fewer statues.)

If instead you have a party which constructs their notion of justice as "does not levy taxes" and another party which constructs their notion of justice as "provides for the common needs" (defense, transport, education, environment...), you get a situation in which the legislative priority becomes damaging the legitimacy of the government in the view of the other, opposed party.

This happens even if it is not intended; a legislature in control of the first party prefers the homeless to die in doorways to raising taxes. The dead diminish the legitimacy of government in the view of the second party, whether or not this was the first party's intent.  Should it become the first party's intent -- if they recognize that the way to secure their power involves creating a belief that the second party's ideals of justice are materially impossible -- you get the first party adopting a legislative agenda which, to the second party, amounts to "maximize injustice".

It's not accidental and it's not incidental to economic goals.  It's in pursuit of a sincerely held ideal, an ideal which insists that being concerned with the count of the dead in the doorways is not just.

(Remember that bit about how any moral system can give arbitrary results if you can pick the context?  That's what this is.)

22 October 2018

The cruelty is a means

There's been a bunch of people asserting that the cruelty is the point.  I can see where they're coming from, but, no, the cruelty is a means.

Any moral system is fundamentally arbitrary; you can get any result you want through selecting context.  (You can watch this happen in most of the press.)

If moral systems are widely used, this creates a social role for "selector of moral context"; it doesn't matter if it's as priest or a psychologist or a tabloid editor or a judge or a local gerontocracy.  Someone's social role involves picking the context for the moral judgement.

Once you've got the role, you want to keep it.  Keeping it requires that other people in your social system acknowledge that you have the power to declare the moral context.  Arguments over who has this power have historically tended violent; "a priesthood of all believers" is a statement that everyone (in context of its time, every male head of household) got to set their own moral context and make decisions on that basis.  There was a generation of war in consequence, because any existing system wants to keep existing and will not and cannot tolerate having the basis of its social power removed.  And this is a kind of power that must be used to be maintained; there's a constant competition for who really gets to say, socially.

That's what the cruelty is for; you use cruelty to demonstrate your power to set the moral context. (If it doesn't have a potential social cost to agree with it, it wouldn't be a demonstration of power.)  Facts explicitly and necessarily have nothing to do with it.  (This is why you have a class of very rich people proud of their innumeracy.)  People go along so they can reinforce their goodness, which is inherently what people say they are.

It's not the poor who go anti-vax; it's the upper class.  They go anti-vax because having to acknowledge intractable facts is equivalent to having to admit that good and bad are not what they say they are; that they do not have entire control of the moral system.  And in a moral system, either you have the power to declare the context -- to say what is good, and what is bad -- or you do not.

This is precisely why authoritarians insist that the problem is _saying bad things_, rather than doing bad things; saying bad things about people questions their authority, which is functionally the power to declare the context for moral judgement.  It's precisely why low-status authoritarians support the whole system; it's a known context in which they are good.  That's pretty much what it's "for" at the participant level; you've outsourced a lot of your insecurity management to the people deciding what the moral context is.  You get a lot of truly vehement responses, because any threat to this, even apparently entirely trivial threats, is equivalent to "I am going to hurt you until you admit you're a bad person".

Pretty much anyone engaged in that exercise of power started as a child in a moral system social context, and they aren't necessarily conscious of how it works and they either want to be good -- which requires a greater authority to convey -- or they're completely disinterested in anyone else's notions of good and bad, having defined "good" as "I get what I want".

The fix for this is not a better moral system (that great trap of the social left); any moral system inherently requires that selection of context because "good" and "bad" are preference statements and inherently contextual.  (Someone has to be doing the preferring.)

The fix is to argue measurable material outcomes and organize society around those; the difficulty is that most people would rather be good.  It's not a live-and-let-live circumstance.

15 September 2018

Road design

Various people comment that pedestrian and public transit city design with a side of cycling is much safer; various other people comment that much existing cycling infrastructure in Anglo NorAm looks for all the world as though it was designed to kill cyclists.

Well, yes it is in sober truth of fact meant to kill cyclists.

I don't understand how this can be considered a question.  Long-standing -- from the 1970s burst of cycling enthusiasm -- cycling infrastructure invariably has features meant to slow you down or to force you to dismount more or less as often as it can; any time the cycling path might cross a road or go under a bridge or interact with a pedestrian path.

These bits of infrastructure generally take two forms; a heavy metal gate, or a speed bump.  The heavy metal gate is invariably set a height to throw you off the bicycle forward on to your head if you hit it; just hitting the heavy metal barrier at speed might well kill you, and it's not like the things are signed at all.  It's not hard to go down a hill round a corner and get a surprise.  The speed bump is invariably carefully narrower and more steep (and thus cheaper, for requiring less material) than a car speed bump.  Also sometimes taller, and equally it functions to throw you off your bicycle into traffic.

The purpose of a system is what it does; the bicycle infrastructure is set up with a clear "get off the bicycle or we'll kill you" message.

Pretty much all cycling infrastructure in AngloNorAm is set up this way; it's created to minimize inconvenience to car traffic and to minimize startlement to pedestrians.  It thereby exists to make you get off the bike, and if you won't get off the bike, it'll kill you.

That's what it's for.

13 September 2018

Ontario politics

This is a whole lot simpler than a lot of people seem to be treating it as being.

Doug Ford has no belief that the law applies to him because it never has.

White supremacy is an authoritarian economic system based on loot-sharing.  The idea that there is no more loot -- that everything has been stolen, or, alternatively, that there's a system of laws that allows people to have and effectively defend political and property rights -- is utterly intolerable to a white supremacist.  The idea that you're not allowed to keep copying the authoritarian social norms into the future -- which is what the idea that you shouldn't bully, that the disabled and poor have rights, that misogyny is not virtuous, and so on functionally are -- is an obvious moral wrong.  That you should not loot, but work, is another obvious moral wrong.  The virtuous take, they do not strive.

If you combine these things, you've got someone driven by an intense moral imperative to create a category of lootable goods; who indeed believes it is morally wrong to have a concept of public space, public land, or public goods if those things interfere with looting behaviours on the part of his class.  It's not precisely corruption; corruption involves a recognition of wrongdoing.  Doug is absolutely certain that it is right to enforce hierarchy, to loot, and most of all, to enrich himself, because that is how you demonstrate virtue.

Laws are not applicable to him, and by extension anything he wants is legal.

That's all there is to it.

30 August 2018

Publication targets

So my books generally publish to Google Play, Kobo, iTunes, and Scribd.

Draft2Digital can (recently) publish to Amazon, and this solves my problems with Amazon's thing-like-a-contract and wire-payment-requires-a-chartered-bank-and-we-won't-cut-you-a-cheque policy.  It doesn't solve my issues with Amazon's labour practices.  When I used The Human Dress as an experiment to see how much market there was for my books on Amazon, there wasn't much; fewer sales than iTunes, which in turn is fewer than Kobo, which runs about a quarter to a third of the Google sales.  Putting the Commonweal on a platform with an internal flesh-robot business model is something I don't want to do, and it's not the case that I'm ignoring half the market; I might be ignoring ten percent of the market as it exists for me.  The Google Play version is DRM-free and readily cross-loaded, so liking your kindle shouldn't be too much disadvantage.

I don't publish to Nook.  Nook is a Draft2Digital publication target, but Nook as a platform cannot cope with the EPUB3 standard without introducing some highly specific workarounds.  These workarounds break everybody else, and the whole point of Draft2Digital is you give them one instance of the epub file and they publish the same thing everywhere you want to send it.  (I've been getting the same "EPUB3?  that's very advanced and our marketing tools may not cope!" message from Draft2Digital since the first time I used them in 2015, too.)  I like my EPUB3 toolchain; it's nicely debugged.  It validates readily.  It takes a couple of seconds to generate a new version.  I don't want to change it if I don't have to, and "have to" is not how I view "get books on Nook".

Tangible book publishing is outside my skillset and beyond my means, so there are no present plans to do so.

That's the current state of the means by which my books might wend their merry way to you, and I hope if there was any confusion there is now less.

20 August 2018

Committing book is getting to be a habit

Cover for Under One Banner, Commonweal #4
Egalitarian heroic fantasy.  Career options after your Talent-mediating brain tissue catches actual fire, what became of the Shot Shop, and certain events involving Scarlet Battery, Fifth Battalion (Artillery), First Brigade, Wapentake of the Creeks.

May contain feels.

Available on Google Play
Available via Draft2Digital  (this is a "universal link" and will show you everywhere it's available on Draft2Digital publication targets.  Amazon is not one of them.  Kobo, iTunes, and Scribd are.  It can take a couple weeks for a book to propagate on to the publication target.)

18 August 2018

Moral rot

"The moral rot of Trumpers like Dennard is breathtaking." That's Josh Marshall about some specific presumption-of-corruption incident.

I have this axiom that as soon as you're trying to explain anything beyond maybe a specific individual at a specific time in moral terms, you're making a mistake. Moral systems do not scale and have effectively no explanatory power. So what's going on?

Your complex modern world demands a couple of things, one obvious -- a willingness to accept you're going to have to approach it through abstraction -- and one much less obvious -- you're going to have to abandon anything that turns out to be counterfactual.

You can get a really clear example of "abandon the counterfactual" in drug policy. If the goal of the policy is to minimize harm[1], punitive laws don't work. Legalization and medical support mechanisms work.

Thing is, if you were raised in an authoritarian worldview, you probably can't do that. Abandoning your counterfactuals isn't something you've got the cognitive machinery to do, and you're nigh-certainly strongly conditioned to regard it as failure to attempt to do so. There's one immutable truth and you can never escape or alter it. (Facts aren't mutable but facts aren't the stuff in your head, either, and facts are just as complicated as the world they describe. Facts are a surprisingly poor tool for understanding. (Hence abstraction being both difficult to do well and essential.))

So what we're seeing isn't people in the grip of moral rot, so much as what we're seeing is a bunch of authoritarians who cannot abandon the counterfactual. (One of those counterfactuals is "money is virtue".) That inability leads to using an erroneous understanding of reality; it doesn't match up and the cost to get the reality map folded correctly starts to approximate "start over". This is impractically difficult for anyone to do. If you're rich enough, no one will expect you to and you'll wander around the landscape arguing what public schools (which at least approach the ideas of abstraction and abandoning the counterfactual) are bad, because they teach things which aren't authoritarian.

If you're not rich enough, you'll suppose everyone else is using your exact set of collapsed axioms and get angry when they won't admit it. Because what else could people be doing?

Simple does make things easier to copy into the future for awhile. Thing is, wrong is expensive, even when the complex society does its best to minimize the immediate consequences, that only lasts for awhile.

[1] the purpose of the system is what it does. Drug policy exists as an excuse for enslavement and terrorism with a side-note in avoiding civil control of the police by creating an independent revenue stream.

08 August 2018

More functionality

So when I was talking about functionality in a post recently, various commentators thought I was describing something plausibly either socialism or anarchism.

This made me blink a bit, and then I recognized that I hadn't said that the Seriously Full Service Credit Union Arrangement -- hereafter SFSCUA -- is a market actor.

Markets work fine if, and only if, all the participants are knowledgeable, all the participants have the option to refuse (at least on the scale of "this deal"), and there's a rough parity-of-pockets so that one party can't use greater financial endurance as a tool to impose costs.  (and if there's decent regulation disambiguating a common public notion of what it means to cheat and applying penalties to those as do anyhow.)

Part of the point of the SFSCUA arrangement is that it's potentially immortal.  It buys housing stock on the assumption that it's got a fifty year planning horizon and thereby a real need to minimize maintenance costs, so of course some initial capital spending is warranted.  It buys food on the futures market.  (It probably clubs together with other SFSCUAs and that entity buys food on the futures market, just as real credit unions handle insurance capital requirements today.)   It's not a corporation; it doesn't have immunity from liability and you are secure in your share.  (You can sell it or swap it but there's no way to offer the corporation (the SFSCUA isn't) a buyout agreement, sorts of thing.)

This is the sort of thing that makes markets effective; individuals can't possibly know enough for there to be an effective market in nearly all areas.  There is no fix for this that doesn't involve collective actors.  I think the intense opposition to collective actors on the part of corporations should tell us something.

07 August 2018

This regrettable map

I don't even know where to start.

  1. Anywhere that has farmable soil is farmed.  There isn't any north (or south) of sixty.  It takes a long, long time to create by natural processes.  (The ice melted ~10 kyears BP for most of Canada.  Still lots of places in (for example) the Ottawa Valley that don't have soil yet.  Even in a beaver pond in ideal (that is, there's lots of soil nearby) conditions you're looking at decades.  We have no real idea what's in there because we can't culture most of it.
  2. We have no idea how to build a city without using fossil carbon energy technologies.  (But stone masons! etc.  First off, 12 quarrymen to a stonecutter; 12 stonecutters to a mason.  There's a reason stone houses were swank for so long...)  Critical things are water and sewage; building a water treatment plant is a bit more challenging than an aqueduct.  What is the pipe made out of?
  3. We have no idea how to build any semiconductor, including solar panels, without fossil carbon.
  4. Every available indication we've got, including some Australian witness traditions, says "sea level rise is abrupt".  We've got, at most, until the coastal cities drown.  The old global economy goes with them.  It takes a lot less rise than what we're going to get to break a city as a functioning machine.
  5. We have no idea how to get enough to eat without agriculture.   Hunter-gathering in a depauperate ecosystem undergoing a mass extinction doesn't support enough (possibly "any") people.  Pastoralism, well, maybe, some, but also "not enough".
  6. 4 C is the absolutely minimum predictable warming that can be considered to have any scientific credibility.  It's nigh-certainly not an accurate prediction; the folks talking about Arctic amplification or the ocean feedback loops and albedo shifts aren't wrong about everything.
The Involuntary Human Extinction Project has succeeded.

We might be able to change that, but the appropriate level of effort is "full national mobilization and industrial rationalization", likely for a couple of generations.  It takes absolutely ceasing to extract fossil carbon as soon as humanly possible.  It takes replacing agriculture.  It takes creating a local industrial toolkit -- trade is great, but you can't count on much in the uncertain future; sea level rise or fall has a history of rendering ports unusable, and we could get a century of "is it done yet?" -- that can be maintained at the local level.  Try real hard to keep anesthetized dentistry while you're at it.

03 August 2018


So capitalism doesn't work.

This is pretty easy to demonstrate; we're in the middle of a mass extinction caused by capitalistic forms of social organization.  Present expectation is that the mass extinction is going to include us.  (The Involuntary Human Extinction Project has succeeded.)

Even theoretically, it's easy to demonstrate; capitalism seeks to increase profit. Value is the ratio of benefit to cost.  To increase profit, you need to either lower benefit or increase cost.  So capitalism is a mechanism to destroy value.  (As we do indeed see happening all over the place as the social barriers to treating profit as a goal, rather than a measure, collapse.)

Socialism also doesn't work.

This is a bit harder to demonstrate; you can start in on the linear optimization problem of a command economy, but someone can quite correctly point out that socialism doesn't necessarily imply a command economy.

The easiest way to grasp this (I think) is that any system has stocks, flows, feedback, and constraints.  (The mythological market is supposed to provide feedback, for example, in capitalist systems.)  The problem with socialism -- anything where you're taking "according to ability/according to need" or collective ownership of the means of production seriously -- is that you wind up with scale-invariant constraints.  That won't work.  It wouldn't work even if you could get the Angel of the Lord to quietly remove all the greedheads.

Consider -- In Soviet Russia, how many socks you are issued and when they are laundered (and where they are laundered...) is decided in Moscow.  You live in eastern Siberia and you herd horses.  This is very very bad; when you have socks, they neither fit nor have been washed.  In Soviet Russia, national emissions and atmospheric dumping policy is decided in Moscow.  That's pretty good, or at least it could be; that's the correct scale of collective to be addressing that problem.  The scale of the decision must be appropriate to the scale of the problem to have an effective solution. (And if you've got an intractable deadlock the issue is pretty much that you need to change the scale of the mechanism that's looking at the problem.)

Mixed economy?  It doesn't stay mixed, because the rich win the argument about the economy is for.

You can have something that exists to guarantee, defend, and extend existing wealth, or you can have something that exists to create a general prosperity.  You can't have both.  (The objectives are opposed!  "both?" is a bit like saying "hot AND cold".)

So what do you do?

No rich people.  If you want the general prosperity version, there have to be hard income and asset caps, and they have to be relatively low; around an order of magnitude more than the lower of the mean/median income as the income cap, for example.  (50 kCAD/annum median income, 500 kCAD/annum is the income cap.  The PM's salary is set a x8; I'd cap CEO salaries there, too.)

The limited liability corporation functions, effectively, as "you can't complain when I steal this".  Don't have those.  (Collectives, partnerships, and other forms of collective organization already work pretty well.  They'd work better if they were in an regulatory and legal environment where they were normalized rather than opposed.)

There's a really intractable fact that the solution has to be as complicated as the problem.  Social organization that forbids collective responses to problems is equivalent to an assertion that the problem must not be solved.  (Not that it can't be solved; that you're not allowed to solve it.)

So ... experiment.  Consider the possibilities of really full service credit unions.  (Housing is a way for capital to make everyone pay them to live.  The fix is to make housing something that's collectively arranged and managed.  And then you can diversify the investments, and start running a daycare, and then start buying things collectively.)

While you're experimenting, recognize that the purpose of the legal system is NOT to provide feedback; it's to set constraints.  ("Work or starve" is feedback.  "Everybody eats" is a constraint, at least if you attach legal liability to political units when that isn't factual there.  You need to pick your constraints carefully because lots of people prefer murdering the poor to providing them food.)

Also recognize that land is alive, and you make rules for it as though it is alive, and not dead.  (E.g., you own a Picasso.  (A painting by the famous painter of that name.)  You really own it; no liens, it's not loan collateral, you've got simple clear title.  You throw it through a wood chipper.  You have probably upset many people but you have not done wrong.  But throw a dog through a woodchipper and you have done wrong; the relative prices of the Picasso and the dog are not what's relevant, it's the categories.  The painting is dead and the dog is alive.  Pave over grassland and you have also done wrong.)

This is not actually difficult to do, it's giving up on the possibility of being king that's challenging.  (You can have success, or control.  (That is, be king; everybody has to do what you say.)  Trying for control precludes success.)

29 July 2018

So there was this article...

It was mostly someone with a disability talking about why it's hard to get the existing system of (alleged) supports for someone classified as they are classified to impose "allowed to use a laptop" on the professoriate.

So, let's see.

We've got a system that functions to turn conflict into a fight for control, which in effect means the existing organizational system exists to maintain control.

We've got at least three judgement-driven taxonomies.  (The profs, if they agree (snicker-snort), the support system, and the person, all have a different judgement driven taxonomy about what counts as "disabled".)

The entire notion of "disabled" rests on the presumption of a prescriptive norm which all meet.

There's a lot of wrong involved.

You can have success, or you can have control.  It's an exclusive "or".  This is a robust result from operations research back in the 1940s, which is probably much of why everyone hates operations research.  As an effective way to prevent change, this kind of control fight is quite excellent, and any hierarchical system is run by people determined to prevent change.  (If you're at the top of the heap, change makes you worse off.)

Judgement-driven taxonomies are inevitably materially false.  Arguing about them turns into exercises in social power. (For a semi-safely-historical example, look at the Cope-and-Marsh bone wars of the late 19th century.) 

Prescriptive norms are a tool of authoritarian control; "you must do this".  The norm -- presuming it doesn't come with a methods discussion, careful peer review, and error bars -- doesn't represent the population; it represents what the person in authority wants.  (Even with the error bars, it represents a specific population at a specific point in time.)

(No, I don't think a kid trying to get an education should start off knowing this stuff; that doesn't mean their sympathetic outrage results in an effective choice of tactics.   Especially given an environment where the older, wiser, and institutionally funded people have made such terrible errors and created a system to prevent effective change or more useful results.)

What to do instead?

Make sure the system has materially defined success criteria which are the thing used to generate feedback.  This is NOT "graduates X percentage of entering students"; it's something closer to "nothing is ever more than Y difficult to do for anybody".  (There are several devils in those details, but evaluating teaching is not about "is it possible to learn this?", it's about "did we make this more difficult than the material requires?")

Crush all use of judgement-driven taxonomy; taxonomy, outside comprehensive and testable statistical approaches, is a tool for concretizing bias in ways that make it harder to argue with.  (This is a system constraint; no judgement-driven taxonomies.)  For electronic devices in class, this goes two ways; of course you can have them, of course you're not going to use them in ways that make anyone else's learning more difficult.  ("difficult" needs to be measured, not asserted.)

If you want to constrain infrastructure to wider utility and to do it effectively, you need to specify a broad range of actions in specific material terms, you need to include actions the owners of the infrastructure want (e.g., deliveries), and you need to make it widely known that being out of compliance makes it unlawful to charge for services on those premises.  So, for example, the courier companies and the post office can specifically and without penalties refuse deliveries to commercial entities if the force required to move a set mass of package up the ramp is too high.  A legislator interested in doing a good job puts this in the commercial building code, makes it retroactive, and sets the amount of force based on a broad study of mobility aids.  ("special" is not only bad politics, it's materially wrong; the practical difference between someone with a mobility aid, someone with a baby, and someone with a lot of packages is small.)

28 July 2018

Increased communication speed breaks moral systems

I feel very stupid.

It's really that simple; it had to be simple to be so darn pervasive, but it also explains why you get cults around news organizations.  The cult is a defense of the stability of a moral universe.

Every time -- I think television is a historical example now; printing and radio and mass literacy sure are -- you get an increase in communications speed, you get a massive social crisis.  This makes no sense in some respects, because those things tend to come in with improving economies and standards of living.  What's the problem?

The problem is that moral systems do not and cannot scale; they're driven by feelings, and the feelings are established in childhood in a fixed context.  (Nuance is not a capacity of infants.) Communications speed drives the rate of change in the context.  If you have to walk a few hundred miles, work some place for six years, and walk back to bring mechanical improvements you then have to convince locals to fund or adopt, it takes close to a generation to change anything.  If you can download instructions from the internet, everything speeds up, and the context shifts faster than the rate at which people can emotionally reconcile themselves.  Especially if the change is viewed as disadvantageous, this becomes intolerable.  If you have everybody convinced that they'll suffer for eternity if they're bad -- remember that good and bad are inescapably contextual judgements -- you get the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the wars of religion; a lost century, rather than a lost decade.

It explains the intense loathing of public education; public education came in as a means to generalize concepts like "submission to authority", but as soon as it turns into "here are the ways to get along with strangers" it's a problem to any  moral system.  (Anything that says "your feelings aren't always important" is a threat to any moral system.  That moral system needs to get itself copied into the future.  Moral systems are all fundamentally "if the king is upset, everybody is upset; don't upset the king".)

It explains why ostensibly moral systems collapse throughout history to "I am right" on the part of some autocrat; it was always like that, it just usually had the justification of a functioning social system.

Since moral systems aren't required to organize society -- boundary-driven social organization, rather than prescriptive rules, works fine -- this is not in principle a problem.  Severing the chain of cultural transmission for the existing moral systems, in a time when we're guaranteed a millenium of instability (no agriculture, awful weather events) and a century or so of migration (because those places aren't inhabitable anymore) is likely a challenge.

25 July 2018

"The Campbell had orders King William had signed"

So over here, Charlie talks about the way Brexit is going.

Charlie's scenario ends with the UK re-entering the EU but without the previous exceptions; going to the Euro, full Schengen, and so on.

I think this is an excess of optimism.

First off, it's really not clear there's going to be anything in place able to do the negotiating; a collapse of legitimacy is not inevitable, but sure seems likely.  (Food shortages are an inherent collapse of legitimacy.)  Having the monarchy step up isn't impossible, but the EU's response to a direct overture from a crowned head nigh-certainly involves insisting on a legitimate -- that is, democratically elected -- government.

Secondly, and much more importantly, getting rid of governance is the point to the exercise.  Sane people who are willing to acknowledge the idea of facts and that there are actual facts which are a constraint on what is possible are able to recognize that money is a social institution, not a material thing.  It's only real if we all agree that it's real.  The folks pushing Brexit aren't in that category of sane people.  ("Government is bad" started for racist reasons, but then Randite economic delusions got into it.  Brexit is just another manifestation.)  They truly believe that money is as natural and as pervasive as gravity, and if they could only get rid of the government entirely they would have more money because all those regulations would go away.  (Regulations are mostly there to keep your commercial practices from being either fraud or lethal.  Might want to keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complaining about regulation.)

This is absolutely barking mad in several ways, but, well, if you model post-1990s politics as the Mob taking over it's surprisingly plausible.  No rule of law would be something they wanted.

(If you are in the UK, you might want to think about water purification.  Your modern gravity filter system is surprisingly cheap and compact.)

24 July 2018

Incrementalism has limits

There's a natural desire to not change too quickly; it's unpredictable and unpredictable is risky.

You can't get off a local maximum gradually.  People won't stand for it; stuff gets worse, and keeps getting worse, and now you want it to stay worse?  Why don't we just go back up there?

Breaking agriculture doesn't just take the peak off the local maximum; it disposes of the entire rise under the local maximum.  And it disposes of the entire rise into an ecologically damaged world with a carrying capacity way under a billion humans.

(Is there there another local maximum?  Maybe.  We'd have to go look.  We'd have to go look on the "every nerve and sinew" level.)

Thing is, people know this is in general.  If you say "we should organize society by some means other than patriarchy", and you're speaking to practical people who aren't in the habit of abstracting anything, you're heard to say "there should be no male judges for at least the next hundred years".  Anybody male who wants to be a judge is immediately opposed.  (Never mind the people who figure you're trying to put them into the category of those who may be licitly coerced into sex.)  This is why you get such violent swing-back from any increase in social generality; the hierarchy re-asserts itself.  The system exists to stick to that local maximum.

Sometimes, yes, it gets replaced with something else.  This is usually associated with cities reduced to rubble and a tenth or more of the population dying.

This time, the local maximum kills everybody.  It would be good to go find another where all might live.

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.

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".