Aphorisms

I wrote this section as a response to the critique of my long time and much valued friend April, who said (in paraphrase) that I suffered from wanting to first state the problem I was addressing, then lay out the background concerns, only then arriving at some conclusion or recommendation. The result is that the reader does not know where I am going until the end, and there is the danger that they will get weary of following my logical progression and never actually reach the good stuff. She said that I needed to tell them where I was going right at the start, to keep them interested enough to find out how I arrived at that conclusion. 

This seemed like good advice, so I started going through my articles picking out the main conclusions, thinking to add a paragraph to the start of each one. Instead I decided to put them all in one place (here) and link them to the articles showing the argument for each. I have not yet had time to do the linking part, but this at least gives a kind of overview of my socio-political philosophy, and perhaps give the reader an incentive to explore further. Some of these maxims may seem extreme or shocking, and you may find them hard to accept as true; this may be due to my failure to express them optimally rather than to their untruth. It is not my desire to preach to the choir, but rather to stimulate people into considering points of view that may not have occurred to them.

Please do not dismiss everything I say because of any single opinion I express. It is altogether probable that I am wrong in some areas because I have not thought them through adequately, and I am very much open to considering opposing views, as long as they actually address the subject matter substantively. These short statements are not intended to be themselves persuasive arguments in and of themselves, but rather  hooks to get you interested in reading further whether you agree with them initially or not. If you wish to engage in debate, it is not enough to simply quote “everybody knows…” type slogans in response. 

The dictionary defines an aphorism as “a saying that expresses a belief, often true.” These are my beliefs. I hope that they are often true.

Universal

Noblesse oblige: from those to whom much is given, much is expected.

Our faults are our virtues misapplied.

The natural state of things is that nothing is owned, and there are no laws other than the laws of nature. Any departure from this state must be justified. Justification cannot be based on assertions that cannot be logically supported.

It is not for those who object to an existing law to show that it is bad, but for those who would retain the law to show that it is needed.

The proper understanding of Darwinism is not survival of the fittest, but survival of the fit. Fit does not mean strong, it means appropriate.

An important role of government is to protect the weak from the strong. The strong do not need protection. 

The only socio-political distinctions that matters are that between the owners, the owned and the indigent. It is all but impossible to move to the next class above (though easy to move down). Commentary…

All qualities, good and bad, are distributed more or less equally among every level of society.

There are no good people and no bad people. The line between good and evil passes through every human heart.

Trying to eliminate evil from the world is like trying to remove just the yolk from a plate of scrambled eggs.

We do not generally make decisions rationally, but we believe that we do. We do make decisions predictably, but we believe that we do not. Those who would control society are aware of both facts, and use them to control our behavior.

Human nature encompasses generosity as well as greed; pacifism as well as violence; love as well as fear. All are always present: the question is, which ones do we allow to guide our actions?

Human rights

Every child born in the world is entitled to an equal opportunity to participate in what the world as to offer. To the extent that any human law stands in the way of this, that law lacks merit and legitimacy.

Nobody should get seconds until everyone had had firsts.

Under present laws the owners of businesses can seek the cheapest labor regardless of national boundaries, but workers cannot cross national boundaries in search of better pay. Either workers must be allowed to migrate freely or capital must be confined by national borders.

A person may choose to live by the strictures of their own beliefs, but may not impose those strictures on others.

Groups

We are a social species just as ants and bees are social species.

Any group of people is a distinct organism with its own attitudes and rules of behavior that are seperate from, and may conflict with, those of its individual members. 

A large group of people together can become a crowd, which has yet another set of unconscious but predictable behaviors, usually completely at odds with the normal behaviors of its individual members.

All groups without exception impose limitations upon the freedom of action of their members.

People are rewarded in our culture in inverse proportion to the amount of useful work they do. (This rule does not apply at the very bottom.)

The deprivation of freedom of movement is the harshest punishment possible short of death. It should be used as a last resort. Even then it should not also be accompanied by harsh treatment while confined.

The question is not is government necessary or unnecessary, government is unquestionably necessary; the issue is what is the proper scope and extent of government.

Whatever we use, we should obtain the most efficient use possible from it.

Money

It is not moneythat is the root of all evil, it is the love of money.

Money is no more and no less than a scoring system. 

Money is a symbol for value, and is not itself a thing of value. 

The only thing that “backs” money is the combined ability of society to provide a thing of inherent value in exchange for it. Gold is no better a guarantor of money than paper.

Money is an IOU. It is called into existence by the need to record an exchange.

Money is not complex or hard to understand. The apparent complexity is an artificial structure that purposefully obscures what is really being done and provides a cover for criminal behavior.

There should a one single bank, and it should be a community service, like the fire department. The bank is simply the societal scorekeeper. 

The entire financial services industry is parasitical.

The ownership class is entirely parasitical.

Social issues

There are no undeserving poor.

There are eight times as many empty houses in the US than there are homeless people.

A society will tolerate certain kinds of crime to the extent that they observe that the laws are unfair.

The proper balance between socialism and capitalism is socialism for necessities and capitalism for luxuries.

You cannot eliminate terrorism by killing terrorists. 

Slavery is still alive and well all over the world, but has become more and more virtual. We have moved from chattel slavery to debt slavery.

Society has throughout history been a tool for the wielding and retaining of power. This does not make society harmful, it makes it a tool that has been used for evil ends.

Wars have always been a tool of the ownership classes, and have never benefited the population as a whole. 

Violence can no longer be considered a legitimate means of settling differences in the world.

The laws of nature are absolute restrictions on our freedom of action. The laws of society are an artificial construct that can be changed at will.

Something can be judged as fair if a person with full knowledge and  would agree to it without knowing which side of the question would apply to him.

Uniquely among living organisms in their natural state, as a society we deny resources to the failing and heap them upon the already successful.

The wealthy promote the virtue of personal responsibility yet do not apply it to their own children.

Communism is not an experiment that failed; it has never been tried in the world except perhaps for Cuba, where it was remarkably successful.

The experiment that has now been shown to be on an inevitable path to failure is capitalism.

Ideas

As soon as an idea is expressed in writing, it begins to lose its meaning as the words change their meaning. The longer it is since they were written, the greater this effect.

The first tool of learning is to learn to know what you know, and what is your degree of certainty in that knowledge.

All verbal communication depends on shared understanding of the meaning, both implicit and explicit, of the words used. This understanding is rarely as shared as the communicators believe.

Words can never completely describe any form of reality. The only complete description of something is the thing itself.

You cannot draw conclusions about an individual based on a generalization, or draw generalized conclusions based on observation of an individual.

There can be no absolute certainty, only greater or lesser degrees of probability.

The scientific method is an algorithm; a set of procedures which when correctly applied will yield the best possible approximation to a reliable and repeatable truth.

You cannot make a one in a million chance happen by trying something a million times. It might happen the first time, or it might not happen at all.

It is not for the poor person to explain their poverty, but rather for the rich person to explain their riches.

Poverty is more likely to be a result of virtuous behavior; wealth is more likely the result of socially destructive behavior.

Would you prefer to have your medical decisions made by someone who is paid by an organization you have no control over to deny you care, or by someone paid by an organization you are part owner of to keep you well?

Politics

The Founding Fathers worried about what they called the tyranny of the majority. This has never occurred in the USA. Instead we have suffered from tyranny of minorities.

The observation that power corrupts does not imply that we cannot allow power to be exercised. It means we need to take special precautions to monitor its use and prevent corruption.

The case for the political right is based on pragmatic considerations, that for the left on ethical ones. The right has historically co-opted the ethical arguments of the left and twisted them to justify their own ends.

Proposal for Choosing a Better President

It seems to me to be undeniable that the method we use to decide who should be President is pretty much guaranteed to produce the worst possible outcome. By some fluke we occasionally seem to find a winner, but most have been middling to terrible. Perhaps it is time to consider some alternatives. There is nothing magical about the system we use, and owes many of its features to the politics of the time it was written, and the framers knew from the start that it was a flawed document and left us the means to improve it, which we have, by and large, failed to do.

However even without actually changing the system I believe that there is a way to elect a person to the job who is the most appropriate available. The trick is to bypass the whole party structure. I am not suggesting starting yet another third party; history does not offer much hope for that route.  Instead I propose a People’s Candidate. This candidate would be chosen by that most American of all institutions, the TV game show. 

Let me be clear that this is a serious suggestion, and while game show methodology would be used, the whole project would be planned and executed by respected public figures, and would represent a genuine attempt to educate the public into making wise choices. I would first seek to recruit the support of all the living former presidents, and leverage that to attract a team of people suitable to the gravity of what is being attempted. Former prominent White House senior staff would be a good pool of prospects.

The first task would be one that has never really been done, though one would think it was fundamental to the issue, which is to come up with a proper job description. This would define all the skills needed for the job. The second task would be to devise a series of challenges that would test these skills. These would range from fairly simple games at the local tryouts level, and increasingly challenging ones as the game progressed. The third task would be to figure out how to properly educate the viewers in as fair and unbiased a way as possible.

The structure would be America’s Got Talent meets Survivor, but the aesthetic would be very much PBS. I would imagine someone like Bill Moyers as the presenter, though it must avoid being run by a gerontocracy.

When the field is down to a manageable number the challenges would more and more closely resemble the actual work of the presidency, such as carrying on mock negotiations (perhaps foreign leaders could even be persuaded to participate) while being constantly distracted by an ongoing stream of unrelated matters demanding immediate attention.

The end game would be to run the winning team in the next election, using the profits of the show to fund the campaign. My bet, though, is that little actual campaigning would be needed. By the end of this whole project the winner would be so well known and loved by the viewing public that they would win in a landslide. What would be really interesting is whether actual political candidates would participate in the game, or whether all the contestants would be members of the general public.

While this project would definitely not be humorless (I suspect that a functioning sense of humor may turn out to one of the absolute requirements of the job) it should not suffer any hint of levity. It should be conducted in as transparent a manner as possible, and consult a wide range of views on what features to include.

Proposal for fixing the campaign finance problem

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that giving money to political candidates is a form of free speech, and therefore cannot be regulated. Many of us profoundly disagree with this conclusion, but nevertheless given the recent change in the ideological balance on the Supreme Court this decision is unlikely to be overturned in the near future, so from a practical point of view we are stuck with it. However I believe that all is not lost. There is a strategy that could be implemented that would take account of this reality and yet still ameliorate the problem.

While it is argued that the giving of money is a right, it would be hard to argue that it was also a right for the recipient of the money to know who gave it. I would propose modifying the campaign finance laws in the following way. Set up an agency that would be charged with collecting and distributing all political donations in such a way that a wall is maintained between donor and recipient. All money would be passed along in random amounts different from the donation amounts and at times unconnected with when the donation was made. This way, although donors could claim to have donated money to particular candidates, they would be unable to prove it.

The main difficulty would be to devise a method of ensuring that the money really was passed along in a verifiable fashion to the proper recipients without anyone being in a position to know both donor and recipient, and without requiring an excessive degree of trust, which is in short supply in today’s political environment. This is a significant problem, and may indeed turn out to be impossible, though it would seem that blockchain technology may offer a solution. Unfortunately this technology is so little understood that it is hard to know for sure.

If it is not possible to set up a completely blind system it would be necessary to have trusted intermediaries to do the job, which would not be ideal, but should not pose an insuperable barrier. We already have people who are privy to highly secret information that could easily be used for personal gain yet we trust that they do not use it for such. IRS auditors are one group that come to mind. I am not necessarily suggesting we should use IRS auditors as a solution to our problem, but rather pointing out that the mere ability to act dishonestly does not always produce that result.

A combination of careful selection and very harsh sanctions for breaking the rules would keep any possible leaks to a minimum. It is not an argument against a proposed system that it might not be completely proof against dishonesty; we do not need to seek perfection, but rather a substantial improvement on the status quo. Most people are law abiding, and would hesitate before exposing themselves to substantial legal consequences. The likeliest result of adopting such a system would be that it would expose the hypocrisy of those claiming the free speech rights for their contributions. When they could not legally exert any influence on their donees (because the could not prove their donations) I would predict that the majority would simply stop donating.