18 February 2019

Prescriptive Norms

Today is apparently a ranty day.

So the unifying thread of various everything to day; whether James Barry's identity as a man should be respected (yes), whether intersectionality is a thing (yes), why conservatives keep doing that, and so on, all come down to the idea of an enforced prescriptive norm.  Pretty much everything that sucks about being alive in the Anglosphere comes down to an enforced prescriptive norm.

That is, who has the power to decide on what constitutes normal and then hurt you for not conforming to it, either until you die or start to conform.

It is not useful to point out that this is terrible.  It copies itself into the future effectively, and has persisted for multiple generations and shows no sign of going away on its own.

It is not useful to try to devise some kind of universal norm to which everyone could conform.  Not only would this require knowledge of the future and an impossible degree of empathy for the present, it misses the point; the utility of the idea of enforcing a prescriptive norm is that it grants power.  (Really a whole lot of economic power.  Look at the amount of money involved in the Pink Tax, as one relatively minor thing in prescriptive norms.)  Definitionally, the test of power is whether or not it is retained.

This returns it to the Basic Problem; how decent can life be for who, and this form of social organization still win fights with the alternatives?

(The notion of what's possible in this respect has been badly skewed in the Anglosphere the last couple centuries by being at the front of a period of technical innovation.)

Anyway; the obvious alternative is to structure society not around norms, but around boundaries.  Inside the limits, it's fine; outside the limits, there are material consequences, probably necessarily quite severe ones.  And it gets tricky to avoid picking unnecessary boundaries and to do so only on the basis of some form of material harm, to keep it from turning back into prescriptive norms with different language.

Can this win a fight with prescriptive norm forms of social organization?  I should like to believe we are going to find out.

Some assumptions about cars


Is a twitter thread about why Honda is leaving the UK for manufacturing purposes; the official Honda statement is "pulling manufacturing back to Japan", and the comments almost get it.  Almost.

The thread notes there's a global trend to geographically shortening supply chains; it notes that cars on the water are a lot of tied-up capital, and the longer the time on the water the more capital.  It even manages to note that car manufacturers are all heavily invested in electric.

That's all factual.

What gets missed is that an electric car is fundamentally less expensive than an ICE powertrain car.  Cost scales with parts count, and the drive train parts count in electric drops a couple orders of magnitude.  The margin to support long-distance trade in automobiles isn't there in an electric world.

Honda (and everybody else making cars) is sharply aware of this.   They don't want to say so, in part because the longer it takes the buying public to notice that car prices should be dropping in real terms, the better.  Also in part because so much of the current trade order is about car parts, and getting blamed for the boat capsizing is best avoided.

Given current Chinese policy (fairly close to "electric or death"), the distance from Japan to China, and the fundamental impracticality of shipping anything but Veblen-good luxury vehicles globally in an electric car world, of course Honda is pulling out of Europe.

Overall, this is a good thing; that's a good hint we're getting closer to the electric transition for personal vehicles.

11 February 2019

The insect decline has hit the mainstream

Which is good, in as much as that increases the chance of something being done about it.

The science types have been aware of this for years; work on trying to figure out why the whole guild -- that is, a group of organisms with a similar ecological role, not necessarily related -- of aerial insectivores has been declining has been going since at least 2010.

(Some bats, some birds, and some other bugs all eat bugs by catching them [in flight].  All are declining.)

The answer is not "climate change", or at least not directly.  (Climate change isn't helping.) The answer is "pesticides".

Persistent biologically accumulating toxins eventually kill everything.  It's important to remove any such thing from agriculture, other environment dumping, and to not stop at "this was made for that purpose"; the incidental (all the hormone-analogs and mimics released by the plastics industry, for example) counts, too.

It's important to not allow a lot of hand-wringing and pointing to a need for study to slow or stop the immediate need to completely phase out any such thing; lawns, golf courses, highway verges, farm fields, wetlands, everywhere and anywhere the answer is not so much "you may not" (though it is, indeed, "you must not") but to destroy the ability to produce the stuff, globally.  With about the fervor and focus that would be applied to someone selling bulk refined plutonium; that could kill us all.  The pesticides are killing us all, and (like the climate) we don't have very much longer and the only way to find out for sure how long we've got would be to keep going until all are dead.