Solarpunk midterm for Philosophy of Happiness

This is my Philosophy of Happiness midterm. It's about Solarpunk. I wrote big chunks of it this morning before turning it in (extremely late), so I don't feel too guilty about not writing about it a ton here. Especially since it's 11:15. (I did just get the notification that it's been the requisite 2 months since the last time I skipped a day, but I figure I should save that for later. Also, I'm thinking about revising the skip rules and I want to do that before I skip any more.)

Infinite subdivision of money

I've been putting off this post for just, like, way too long. I wanted to make a mock-up of a hypothetical website before writing it, but I've been having some trouble with InDesign on my laptop and haven't had the emotional energy to call Adobe and ask what's up yet. There are some technologies that are obviously inadequate, compared to what is possible with the tech, but they remain the way they are because they've been that way since before anyone could have begun to imagine what resources would be available. Things like how the electoral college works, or the degraded audio quality of phone calls, or -- y'know, cars.

One of the ones that's been annoying me lately is bank accounts.

At one point, it was pretty sensible that the division of money into separate accounts should be restricted, because any increase in the complexity of tracking finances would substantially increase the bank's overhead. After all, they are by far the institution facing the greatest pressure not to misplace any of those numbers.

Now, though, it would be trivially easy to set up bank accounts like folders on a computer. It should be trivially easy, for example, to break up your checking account into separate folders for bills, food budget, entertainment budget, discretionary spending, etc.

It should even be easy to set up elements on those folders that indicate how much ought to be in them at any given time. "Car Payment: $ 45/110, next charge May 15," for example. You should be able to set up your debit card to deduct cash from the Groceries account when charged at your grocery store, and from the general budget the rest of the time. Services should decline your card if you try and spend money that's not in the folder your card draws from, rather than automatically dipping into your car payment money when you aren't going to notice.

Savings, too, should be divisible. New laptop fund: $ 225/1100. You should be able to define finance goals as variables. Emergency savings: $ 5500/5250. (Emergency savings = sum(bills)*6 months)

This is the kind of stuff that would be obvious -- it would be immediate features out of the gate -- if banks were just starting up now. It's the kind of stuff tech start-ups would race to outdo each other in. Banks would be leaping over themselves to make your account as budgeting-friendly as possible.

But banks have been around for hundreds of years, and it'll take a long, long time to shake them from the idea that each account is worth charging you for, and that they shouldn't be helping you stop yourself from spending money you can't afford to spend.

(They'd probably speed up a hell of a lot if a new-tech startup got in the game, though.)

I'd argue that in a sense, this almost elevates to the level of a human rights issue -- certainly it's a human well-being issue. Banks should do everything they can to make it easy for us, the users, to create barriers against accidentally misusing our money, and smooth the path toward intentional, careful budgeting. It should all be wrapped up in a neat little bow on the website. It should be trivially easy to make it almost impossible to spend your mortgage payment on CDs. Your bank account should practically drag you toward responsible budgeting and effective money handling.

To be honest, the more I think about how obvious, how easy, it should be, the more sickening it is to be aware how completely banks are set up to help you overdraw and mismanage your accounts. is so easy to use!

I have health insurance now. Or, I will on May 1. (I also had health insurance on March 31. I'm currently passing through a lacuna of healthcare coverage.) I've been putting off dealing with getting new healthcare because it's a huge, scary, big thing that I don't like thinking about, and because I imagined trying to use as being a lot like trying to get my car registered -- complicated, requiring multiple document reviews, and significantly more expensive than I thought it would be.

In reality, it was easy -- I wasn't asked any questions I couldn't answer off the top of my head -- and it was really informative, straightforward, and more expensive than I'd like but a lot less expensive than I'd feared.

Thanks, Obama! (No but really. Thanks.)

Fascism and expression

  I have a set of rotating quotes for my desktop and lock screen images on my computer. For most of them, they're just quotes I like. This one, though, is there because the idea is hard to hold on to -- it's a slippery understanding and repeatedly seeing it pop up on my desktop is helping me slowly start to clamp down on it. walter-benjamin-desktop


"Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. ... The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war." --Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Looking at this quote, I think about the theater of the American government -- of rallies and debates, of the performance of congresspeople -- I remember a Jon Stewart clip where he showed a US House Representative using a giant pair of scissors to cut up a giant credit card meant to represent the United States' borrowing.

And I think about the first amendment -- about the idea that's so pervasive in America that our single greatest achievement as a country is Freedom of Speech and Expression. That having the first amendment vouchsafes all other freedoms, all other rights, all other moral obligations, automatically -- that the fact that we can freely criticize the system automatically means the system is reshaped in the face of those criticisms.

I'm not saying that freedom of expression is bad. But I am saying that there's something scary about the superficial, iconic freedoms we hold up in America as proof we're a functional and moral country.

Getting your education from Tumblr

I saw a kind of post tonight on Tumblr that annoys me, and I responded -- and my response was pretty long and I can't think of something else to blog about today, so I'm reposting it here. Here's a link for full context. The post was about not taking information on Tumblr too seriously, and discouraging people from treating Tumblr like it's a legitimate source the way school is.

I responded:

ok but that’s not what the “learning more from tumblr than school” thing really means? It’s not about any given individual point of information. It’s that the collective experience of spending time on Tumblr leads to a more sophisticated and more accurate education than school for a lot of people. Like, lots of high school teachers did have to get higher degrees to do their jobs — and they still show up and teach absolute bullshit like it’s the final word on a topic. Lots of teachers who know better are required to teach bullshit because it’s on the curriculum.

And comments like this one are part of that benefit — which is why it’s so frustrating when they’re posted in this ‘um actually’ tone — the experience of realizing that a source was wrong is an educational experience people don’t get very often in school. Pointers on how to double-check or verify information is a valuable part of a Tumblr education, and it’s a huge benefit, not a drawback, that the environment of Tumblr can help you to hone your bullshit sense and figure out when you should be googling to make sure something’s true before you reblog it. That’s not really a thing in school, but it’s one of the most important things about being informed. You learn that on social media, exactly because it’s not a platform with any institutional authority.

You shouldn’t treat Tumblr the way you treat Wikipedia, because it’s not a highly regulated, systematic project. You should treat Tumblr the way you treat the internet — by understanding that anyone can post here, and paying attention to who’s doing the talking. Because, even though it’s not required, some people are definitely bringing their Ph.D.’s to the conversation, and their posts may well be worth treating like a primary source. Or not Ph.Ds but feet on the ground at actual events that are really happening. Or valuable perspective and experience. That stuff gets posted straight to Tumblr all the time, and it’s not less legitimate because nobody got paid to put it here.

Tumblr doesn’t have to be flawless to be doing a better job than, or serving as an extremely valuable supplement to, institutional education.

I've been thinking about good cops lately

I heard a lot in the last few months people talking about how not all cops are bad -- how there are good cops, and we shouldn't hold the bad cops against them. And I just keep thinking, more and more, like --

There's a thing, that's really deeply established in our culture, called "Good cop, bad cop."

The bad cop is the abusive monster who breaks rules and violates your human rights.

And the good cop is the guy who lets him do it, so you feel like you have to cooperate with him.

That's not one good guy and one bad guy. That's two people who are both deliberately undermining the system of protections that are supposed to insulate you from institutional violence. Two people who are both saying "This system is only here to protect you when you're doing what we want."

A "Good cop" isn't someone who's standing up for what the system's supposed to be. A "Good cop" is the guy playing the honeymoon side of the abuse cycle.

On the scale of an interrogation, we get this. But for some reason when it comes to a whole institution, some people can't see that it's not an ideological rift within the police force; it's a division of labor.

Another piece of bullshit about rich people's hard work and sacrifice

Alright, so I know nobody who follows me buys the bullshit cultural narrative that people who make a lot of money make that money because they work harder or longer or are generally less lazy or take less recreation time than people with less money. I'm not arguing about that here -- I just ran into a specific piece of truth vs. bullshit that I found particularly galling. Part of the popular mythology of the hard-working-rich-man is that people who make a lot of money tend to sacrifice a lot of sleep. There's an almost puritanical implication in the idea, that the very wealthy are always pushing themselves right to the edge of their physical ability. Arianna Huffington even gave a TED talk about the apparent culture of deliberate sleep deprivation among successful businessmen.

So I was pissed off -- although not really surprised -- at this line in the latest episode of Healthcare Triage:

Richer people also get more sleep than poorer people: only about a third of the people in the United States making $75,000 a year or more get less than six hours of sleep a night. On the other hand, almost half of people making less than $30,000 a year get less than six hours a night.

Conservative columnists being angry about things

Sometimes I like to imagine a politician trying to advocate for the creation of something that already exists, and the general tone and content of the conservative think pieces that would come out in response.

Like, imagine if someone proposed that having a system of roads would be a good idea:
"Well, what are you going to do when it SNOWS? They'll be COVERED IN SNOW. Not so smart now, are you mr. roads?"
"We could have special vehicles with plows on them"
"That's pretty convoluted. It sounds to me like this whole thing is bound to fall apart"


"How are you going to deal with it if bits of the road break?"

"What if there are holes? How about THAT, Mr. smarty-streets?"

Or farming:

"You want to plant nothing but corn in a WHOLE FIELD? Agri-Culture? More like Agri-NOPE."

Try it! It's a lot of fun.

I hate everything about cars

I got pulled over again this morning. My car's uninspected. I got a $62 fine I can't really afford because I didn't have the free money for a $60 inspection I can't really afford. So, obviously, as any classist libertarian internet asshole would gleefully point out, I can't really afford to own a car. Unfortunately, both of my jobs, and my community college, are about a half an hour's drive apart from both my home and each other. (Give or take 10 minutes for any given line in that triangle.)

There isn't any public transportation in my home town, and even if there was, I live a 15 minute drive off the center of town, which is about a 4 hour walk, and while public transportation is sort of well-equipped to get people to and from my school, it's not even a little bit set up to get people to either of my jobs.

The solution, I'll point out again for people who don't follow this blog and so don't see this rant every time something bad happens with me and my car, is comprehensive public transportation reform.

The ability to get around is a basic requirement for participation in society -- despite what recent Intro to Economics graduates and autodidactic internet Libertarians would argue, human beings are physical entities who interact in ways that are governed and constrained by time and space, and cannot be reasonably analogized to spreadsheets.

We need busses and trains and subways and government-funded cheap-or-free taxis. The government manages the roads, because transportation is a fundamental necessity for a thriving civilization. They should manage the stuff that goes on them, too -- or, at least, provide accessible options.

Having a personal vehicle should be a professional choice, or an uncommon hobby -- for a huge number of reasons: it'd be way safer if there were way fewer vehicles on the road, piloted by generally more professional people; human beings are in general objectively bad at driving and definitely shouldn't be doing it; it'd be a huge plus for the environment if the average vehicle housed a dozen people per trip instead of like 1.5; it would be less expensive to maintain the roads if they took less general wear; and other reasons also as well.

Which is to say: no, I'm not personally equipped to keep my car maintained and inspected. No, it's not reasonable to expect people in poverty to be able to do that. No, it's not reasonable to expect people in poverty to go without cars. No, that's not safe. No, it's not okay. And no, it's not a good idea to keep trying to bolster the American manufacturing economy by artificially inflating the demand for personal motor vehicles by perpetuating bad policy.

Lots of sad, dark thoughts on Serial (definitely spoilers)

Mike Rugnetta did not address the aspects of Serial that I had guessed he was going to. Instead, he talked about the nature of subjectivity and objectivity and the law, and saved a discussion of the same re: journalism for next week.

So, unfortunately, I don't have the jumping-off point I was hoping for -- it would have really helped to have someone smarter than me get the ball rolling on this one.

Serial doesn't resolve. That's a really stressful quality it has. It's a story about a person possibly-wrongfully in prison, it's an exploration of the circumstances surrounding his case. It started airing while the investigation was ongoing. Resource-laden people who believe he's innocent became involved in the case during the series. Sarah Koenig can't possibly have known that it wouldn't have resolved. She says so a number of times: she expected to catch a break. She expected the case to be solvable.

Mike takes the time to remind the audience that Serial is real, but in case you didn't watch the video: Serial is real. It's actually a story about a real person who is currently in prison, about a real teenage girl who was actually murdered in 1999. The ambiguities and conflicts were not artfully constructed and balanced to be just-barely-uncrackable. It's real. Adnan Syed is really in prison. Hae Min Lee is actually dead.

I'm going to keep trying, but I can't think of a better way to say what I'm trying to say. It's real. It really happened in 1999. For Adnan and his family, it really is still happening now. It's real. It's real.

In the closest he comes to talking about what I thought he was going to talk about, Mike calls the end of Serial Kafkaesque. It reminded me of something I once saw Christopher Hitchens say in an interview, about a story he was writing about Soviet Russia.

He had been smuggled into the country and was in the basement with his hosts, and he was going to be the first person to write a news story there without calling it Kafkaesque. But on his first night there, the secret police burst in and arrested everybody. He said, "They make you do it."

The idea stuck with me. That that's what a Kafkaesque real world would have to be like: if it were anything short of cartoonishly, surreally, randomly, capriciously oppressive, it wouldn't really be the kind of world Kafka described. And that's what still makes me sick to think about: that Kafka's world was the real world. That he wasn't exaggerating or making it up. It was real. It was real.

Would it be unfair or over-dramatic to say that Adnan Syed woke up one day in 1999 to discover that he'd turned into an insect? If he's innocent. Or that he's performing an extraordinary feat of starvation? If he's guilty.

The United States is second on Wikipedia's list of countries by incarceration rate. And next to our number, 707 per 100,000, is a note that leads to a section explaining all the different kinds of prisoners the United States leaves out of that count. Those are real numbers.

In a 2012 study people who watched certain major TV news sources performed worse on questions about international affairs than people who watched no news at all. After NPR (the people who make Serial) the next best performance came from people who get all their news from a parody news show on a comedy channel. That was a real study.

As jobs that require only a high school education become harder to find, and the minimum wage lags behind inflation by about a third and behind the cost of living by about half, the cost of attending college has increased at a rate that exceeds inflation for at least three decades. Those are real statistics.

My first thought about Serial was "Oh, isn't it cool that we're getting culturally used to hearing stories with a lot of ambiguity?" But that line of thinking ignores one huge, important detail: It's real. It's real. It's real.

inverse rights corresponding to freedom of speech

The issue of free speech (which has been in the news a lot lately) necessarily generates a parallel discussion of rights: To what extent do people have the right to not be exposed to speech? And to what extent should and can people have those rights? In the United States, it's obvious we don't take a binary position on this topic. There is content that people are considered entitled to fully avoid -- like pornography -- and there is content that people are considered obligated to consume -- like education.

And the issue is engrossingly complicated (if you're inclined to geek out about this sort of thing) -- what kind of enforcement does the right not to listen deserve? What should the rules be about content posted in public? What are the different kinds of public? (Outside on Main Street is different than the inside of the candy shop, the bar, the porn store...) Is there any right to control over the content display in private space?

And there's the issue of speech as a form of violence -- both in the broadcast sense of hate speech and the individual sense of harassment. In the case of the former, there's the legal concept of hate speech (although as far as I can tell, in the US hate speech only exists in case law). As for the latter, restraining orders have been upheld in defense of a right not to be contacted, even going as far as calling pokes on Facebook a violation.

I don't have any answers here for the mechanics of free speech. I just wanted to spend some time talking about the fact that there is literally no possible manifestation of the institution of free speech that doesn't require an elaborate set of narrowly defined specific exceptions.

I think maybe the nuclear family is going away

alright I'm tired and I'm having trouble thinking things through, so this is just going to be an incoherent blast of stuff I've been thinking about: The nuclear family as a social unit emerged in response to industrialization; after farming stopped being 80 percent of the jobs, and employment started becoming specialized, it became normal for people to move in order to take a job in some new destination. Obviously people don't want to leave their families behind, and also-obviously people can't take their whole extended families with them to their new job in Cleveland.

That was reinforced by the federally subsidized process of installing suburbs around the country -- housing units specifically optimized for the nuclear family.

And it's supposed to work like cells -- the family grows, then it gets big enough that it splits, and the new second family-cell goes away and starts growing somewhere else. That worked because there were other jobs out there, and because the government was subsidizing everyone's[1. Read: white people's.] house-getting.

The government doesn't subsidize the suburban class anymore. When the housing bubble burst, they didn't bail out the homeowners, they bailed out the banks. So that's half the arrangement gone.

And the jobs are going away. Human employability is on the decline, and anyways we've been in a post-industrial economy for a while now. Most of the particularly skilled labor is internet-based, which means employees could telecommute. A company certainly doesn't need to consolidate all its vital staff in one city anymore. Plus, there's less motive to move across the country for a job in an economic climate where you expect to swap not just jobs but whole careers at least a few times in your adulthood.

This decline in the availability of housing, and in the availability of jobs, for the latest generation of nuclear family spawn has coincided with a trend of twenty-somethings living at home a lot longer than they did ten, twenty, thirty or forty years ago.

And we're generally given to understand this as a recent and unique downward trend in the functionality of the youth.

When really it looks to me like it's a return to the way families worked pre-industrially,

and is a byproduct of the disintegration of an artificial version of 'family' that's no longer sustainable now that the corporations don't need it.

Anti-technology Roman emperors

I wrote part of a rant today about social justice, and it started to turn into an essay about equality as a necessary precondition for certain kinds of technological development. I'm not going to post it here, because it's long and unfinished and I want to do some more research, but I remembered a story --

Vespasian, a roman emperor during the first century C.E., was managing the construction of the Colosseum. An engineer suggested labor-saving machinery that would substantially cut down on the amount of labor necessary for the project, but Vespasian refused to use them -- the Colosseum project was designed to hire impoverished Romans to keep them busy.

-- I checked with my Western Civ professor, and he remembers the story (and also gave me the emperor's name) and said it sounds plausible, but I haven't confirmed yet that it's actually a true story, or if there's any record of it happening.

I've heard a lot of people argue about whether the industrial revolution could have happened during the Roman Empire, and if so why it didn't. I wonder if the Labor Movement might be part of it.

Causes of the Russian Revolution of 1917

So I've got another paper for that history class. (I've actually had another in the meantime -- I missed one.) This one's on the causes of the Russian Revolution of 1917, as you may have gathered from the title of this post. Paper is below the fold.

In 1905, Russia had a revolution that had resulted in the creation of a Russian parliament. But following that revolution, the Czar was still in control of the country. During this time, communist parties began to form and organize.

Peter Stolypin, a minister for the Czar, attempted to build support for the monarchy by allowing greater economic freedom among the lower classes and pushing for industrialization. This built on the reforms two Czars back, when Alexander II ended serfdom. Stolypin was assassinated in 1911.

When World War I began, Russia was immediately involved, and Czar Nicholas II hoped that would result in nationalist solidarity. That solidarity never manifested, and the difficulty of the war only increased the general population's distrust.

That distrust was also fueled by the stories about Rasputin, a monk who had (a.) a very poor reputation, and (b.) close, public influence on the royal family. Rasputin would have been a massive PR problem even if he didn't have any real influence, because he served as a tangible example of the Czar's poor judgement. He was assassinated by several members of the nobility in 1916, but that didn't affect the distrust he had seeded in the Russian people.

In Feb/March of 1917, there were mass strikes, and the Czar attempted to suppress them using military force. That probably would have been a bad idea anyway, but the army were more sympathetic to the strikers than the Czar, and changed sides.

Resulting in a revolution.

The Abjectionist Party

I remembered today that they pay representatives in the state House of Representatives, and that I need money and couldn't possibly do worse than our government does now, so I spent some time daydreaming about what it might have been like if I had attempted to run for state office in New Hampshire. It turns out, actually, that NH House Representatives make $200 per term.

I imagined coming up with my own party for the campaign: the Abjectionist Party. And I wrote a short campaign speech:

Abjection is the fear and disgust we experience at the sight of something that was once a part of us, and has been made separate. Alien. blood on a steering wheel. A severed hand. The phrase "Abject poverty" refers to the state of someone being so inhumanely poor that those of us with means enough have trouble seeing them as a person.

Our government is in a state of abjection. This vast, tendrilous thing, that takes us up into it, affects everything, touches everything, and is still here, living with us, and was once part of us -- Of the people, by the people, for the people -- but it isn't, any longer.

The abjection party stands for recognizing and processing that as a reality of America's collective psyche. We don't know whether the thing can be surgically reattached or whether it needs to be cut clean and disposed of, but we are here to say: this thing, this government, in which we still see ourselves, is severed, and is rotting.

In review, I'd want to spend some time figuring out how to make it more clear that I'm not saying the poor should be severed and disposed of -- I would see proper care for the homeless and impoverished of America as being one of the major goals of the Abjectionist Party -- but for something that took 15 minutes to write, I kinda like it.

Also, campaign slogan: "Turn your ballot into something alien and warped -- vote Abjectionist!"

Voting a straight ticket

I voted today, and my ballot looked pretty much like a black dotted line down the Democrat column. There was one category where I could vote for up to nine people, and there were only seven Democrats, so I voted for one Republican: my high school Latin teacher, who I remember being a pretty reasonable person. At least, definitely stubborn enough to stand against a Republican party line he personally disagreed with. I don't know much about most of the people on my ballot. But I still voted for them, and, yes, I voted for them for no other reason than they were the person in the D column.

And I think that's the right thing to do.

Well -- more accurately, I think the right thing to do would be to make voting mandatory, create systems for voter education and information distribution that are disconnected from the parties or partisan Super PACs, and provide a multiple-day voting period for maximum opportunity to consider.

But given that I have to work within the United States's terrible voting system, I think voting a straight ticket is the right thing to do, relative to not voting, or leaving blanks, or trying to rapidly brush up on one or the other person to see whose buzzwords sway you faster.

Because in a party system, the simple volume of party members matters in governance. When I vote for Jim Somethingface because he's in the Democrat column, I'm not just voting for Jim Somethingface, an individual with virtues and vices and character flaws and all. I'm voting for a warm body in a seat that might otherwise be occupied by a Republican -- and that warm body is, at least some of the time, probably close to all of it, going to vote along party lines. In a real, meaningful way, it's a vote for Democrats.

And like with most of the person v. person races in politics, I don't think Democrats are the Good answer and Republicans are the Bad one. I think Democrats are the Less Worse answer, and that's a considered position that has meaning and value.

I want, given this choice and only this choice, more people in my state legislature to feel pressured to feign allegiance to progressive, liberal principles than people who feel pressured to feign allegiance to conservative, classist principles. If I don't know their names, I'm going to assume the worst: that the people on my ballot are entirely corrupt. And if they're entirely corrupt, then most of their votes are going to be for more money, and whatever, that's awful but fine. But when they have to do something to appease their base, I want that appeasement to be in the direction of my values, not away from them.

I, like a lot of people I've noticed, am exhausted with the corruption of the American government, and with the flat-out badly arranged system that would fuck shit up all the time even if everyone was doing their jobs properly.

But the solution, insofar as a solution is possible, is not to Stand for your Principles and Refuse to Take Part In This Farce. The solution is to throw your hands up and say "Whatever, I'm gonna game the system just as much as everyone else is, because more sand in the gears of corruption is better than less."

If you were going to go and vote a straight R ticket, though, I think maybe you should stand for your principles and sit this one out because you don't have enough information. (Unless you're in North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, in which case go vote for Walter Jones and leave the rest of your ballot blank.)

Heuristics break down

I reblogged a post on Tumblr a few minutes ago. The OP appears to have deleted the original post, so I'll just quote the text:

political beliefs: if it upset rich people then it’s good

Now, that's obviously hyperbolic. There are almost definitely political positions that the majority of wealthy people would agree with, but that are nonetheless not horrible. [1. I mean, we're unlikely to notice them, because if something is (a.) not terrible and (b.) something rich people want, it's just going to happen and everyone will assume it's the way it's always been.]

It reminded me of a bit from one of Cory Doctorow's talks, The Coming War on General Computation, in which he explains that lawmakers can normally write sensible legislation about things they aren't intimately familiar with because they follow heuristics. Among those heuristics are: general-purpose things are simple, like wheels, and cannot be easily regulated; complex things are special-purpose, like cars, and they can be governed by more specific regulation.

That heuristic breaks down when it comes to computers, because they're incredibly complex, but are fundamentally general-purpose. That breakdown leads to lawmakers writing bad laws about computers.

And there are a huge number of heuristics that people use every day to get through basically every part of life. Just so far today, I employed these heuristics:

  • A scheduled online meeting to discuss a software update is going to contain obvious information, so I don't have to pay close attention
  • Four or five small objects, purchased at Walmart, are unlikely to cost enough to make me overdraw my bank account
  • Tylenol will probably relieve the horrible pain in my neck from sleeping on stiff and poorly angled pillows
  • Bloggers I follow who are reblogging information about Ferguson are generally trustworthy, and I can count on them to either (a.) not reblog any false information, or (b.) quickly and clearly point out their mistake to mitigate the spread of that false information, if it turns out they made a mistake

Any of those things could have been wrong. But they're all most likely right, and if I had tried to get through my morning without making any of those assumptions, I would (a.) be hungry and exhausted, because I had neither bought food nor caffeine pills this morning, (b.) have missed the phone meeting altogether, and (c.) not know any new information about Ferguson, because (d.) I'd be in the hospital making sure my neck wasn't broken and slowly leaking spinal fluid into my muscle tissue or something.

We all have to make assumptions to get through life. The important thing, I think, is being aware that almost-all-or-all of our decision making is based on heuristics, and being prepared for the possibility that, at any moment, we could be dealing with a situation where our heuristics are breaking down.

One of the ways to tell if your heuristics are breaking down is to take notice of the consequences of your actions and see if they look different from how you would have expected them to look. My card wasn't rejected this morning, so I'm pretty sure the purchase went okay.[2. I'm going to check my bank balance after I finish this post because I've made myself nervous, but that's beside the point.] I did attend the online meeting, had the shared-screen window open and kept the phone by my ear, so if any information struck me as unfamiliar I could tune back in. I check Tumblr pretty often, so I should see any posts about false info being spread on Ferguson -- although evaluating my level of trust for bloggers is an ongoing project that lasts as long as I follow them.

As for the heuristic at the top of the post, I'm generally sceptical of political views espoused by the very wealthy, but I'll be open to commentary by other political folks, in whom I have more trust, in case they're saying "Wait, this person's actually not full of shit."

Generally speaking, just saying to me "Are you sure your heuristics apply in this situation?" is a good way to get me to stop and think harder before proceeding in a conversation.

I want to dig deeper on this topic -- it's in orbit of an idea about political views that I haven't quite figured out how to express yet -- but for now I'm going to stop it here.

Basic survival should be free: a Tumblr rant

I wrote a thing this morning. It's about providing for people's basic needs worldwide. It's like 700 words long and I'm kinda proud of it, so I'm reposting it here. 1dmetalfan:


food should be free. water should be free. housing should be free. power, fuel, electricity should be free. basic necessities should be free.

the idea of “people should have to work for a living” carries the implication that some people deserve to die

You do realize that if all of these things were to happen your quality of life would go down, right? Like… if everything is free to everyone, than a lot of people’s lives would go down in quality.

Like, I’m not saying if you can’t afford it you don’t deserve it or anything, but I think that people who can pay, should pay.

Your sentiments are nice, but naive. Especially seeing as how a lot of experts agree that we may soon be going to war over water, because there is not enough clean water for everyone.

Is that really your argument? “Billions of people are dying of thirst, hunger and exposure to the elements, but we shouldn’t do anything about it because it would maybe cause me a little discomfort sometimes?”

By definition, if there are people whose lives would drop noticeably in quality if we were to adequately provide for the basic well-being of all people, then those people are currently enjoying luxuries that depend on the death and suffering of those people whose lives and well-being are systematically threatened.

"A lot of experts agree" is the kind of statement that folks usually expect a citation for. Now, I recognize that Tumblr is an informal medium and it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to present their academic journals to permit entry, but my guess is that experts who think a water-based war is coming don’t think it’s because there isn’t enough water in the world, they think it’s because none of the major world powers are willing to invest the resources necessary to provide functionally unlimited free water for everybody, because it wouldn’t be a profitable endeavor.

I won’t speak for you, but I’ve met a lot of people who hear phrases like “Wouldn’t be profitable,” and immediately jump to “It would absolutely be unreasonable to pursue this goal, and if a government did it the people ought to revolt.”

And that’s one of the problems with a capitalist system: it circumvents moral decision making. (Here’s one of many papers on the topic. Since it’s early and I don’t have time before work, I’ve only skimmed the abstract. See above: Tumblr is an informal medium.)

I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve been brought up to think this way, or if it’s a natural effect of capital, but when people are encouraged to think about a decision in terms of whether it will make them money, the rest of their decision making systems seem to shut down. The Profit: Yes/No switch skips over the Benefit, Harm, Moral Decency and Long-Term Personal Well-being switches.

So it’s safe to assume that, if we only think of whether the pursuit will be profitable, nobody’s going to pursue the expensive, non-profitable but very achievable and obviously morally positive goal of providing free water for everyone on earth.

Those of us advocating for free basic necessities for everyone aren’t posing that question. We’re asking people to switch the rest of their decisionmaking back on. To accept that taking on a little personal loss is worth the gain of knowing that, worldwide, nobody’s going to die of thirst, starvation, exposure to the elements.

And, furthermore, as a question of non-capital based self-interest, knowing that if everything goes pear-shaped in your own life, you’ll at least definitely be able to survive while you pick up the pieces. Because capitalism offers no one the guarantee that they’ll be able to keep their money and a lot of us are closer than we like to think to the possibility of not-enough.

War is only inevitable if there keeps being not enough to go around, and there will only keep being not enough to go around if we keep refusing to solve the (again, extremely solvable) problem of people not wanting to ever spend money they aren’t personally going to get back.

It’s the same apprehension that’s holding back progress on climate change, clean energy, medical science, government reform, and, frankly, the wars we’re already having.

So, yeah. The world in which everybody has enough food and water and shelter might be a world in which you have a smaller variety of microwavable burritos to choose from. Things might even get so bad that there might only be one McDonald’s in driving distance from your house. But if you’re in a place, financially, where things get worse for you instead of better when everybody gets enough, you can’t possibly with a straight face say you deserve to keep the stuff you’d be losing.

EDIT like 5 min. after posting, for clarity, to put in a word I missed in paragraph 10 of my response.

Long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution

EDIT JAN. 26 2015, 10:05 P.M.: Hey -- so, this post gets slightly more hits than everything else on my blog combined, so I can only imagine that people are finding it in searches for the answer to homework questions. So, I feel like I should give some follow-up: I didn't do great on this assignment.

I didn't do awful, but I lost some credit for failing to construct the points in a continuous narrative that addressed causal relationships between the elements. 

So, if you're using this as a rough guide for your homework, keep that in mind.

I have an assignment due for Western Civilization II on Friday -- a short essay on the long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution.

I forgot about this assignment.

Fortunately, today, the professor went over the sort of thing he was looking for in an essay, and he used as an example "Describe the long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution."

Here's a photo from the board:

Photo of a whiteboard. Text reads: 1. Long-term A. Enlightenment B. Am. Rev. (American revolution) C. Class Injustice D. Poor Leadership 2. Short-term A. War Debt B. Estates Gen. (Estates General) C. Oath (The Oath of the Tennis Court) D. Bastille (The storming of the Bastille)


So, here's my assignment.

Causes of the French Revolution, Short and Long-term

I. Long-term causes

  1. The Enlightenment
    1. The Enlightenment was a movement in Europe towards 'rational' understandings of the mechanisms of every aspect of human civilization. Politically, as explored by writers like John Locke, this meant challenging the narrative that governments ruled by divine mandate, and instead beginning to construct a notion that governments ruled by consent of the people. Locke argued that if a government failed to protect its people's basic rights -- to Life, Liberty, and Property[1. and also health, but that one usually gets left out.] -- then the people are morally entitled to overthrow that government, and install a new one.
  2. The American Revolution
    1. In an effort to gain European support, the American independence movement used the language of Enlightenment-style revolution in the propaganda they sent out across Europe. Consequently, the success of America's war for independence lent a narrative of legitimacy to the idea of an Enlightenment-style revolution.
    2. Also, the French support of the American war for independence contributed to significant war debt, which according to the whiteboard isn't important until section II:a.
  3. Class Injustice
    1. French society at this point had begun to drift into the capitalist style of stratification: the people who controlled the production and sale of goods were becoming significantly more powerful. But according to the pre-industrial class structure, which was still the formal system of organization in French politics, those capitalist upper-class were still members of the less-privileged Third Estate, after the First and Second Estates -- the Church and the Nobility. The newly powerful members of the Third Estate chafed against the institutions that gave special privileges to the First and Second Estates, whose pre-industrial advantages had become less and less valuable.
  4. Poor Leadership
    1. Louis XV, the king prior to the revolution, had been largely irresponsible, and took advantage of the prosperity of France at the time to enjoy kingship and leave the consequences to Louis XVI -- who inherited a nation severely in debt and without any particular mechanism for repaying it. While he may have been somewhat sympathetic to the revolutionary cause and the needs of the Third Estate, he wasn't very good at making use of his political power, so his governance consisted mainly of the inertia of the status quo.

II. Short-term causes

  1. War debt
    1. I'm actually pretty sure the war debt is a long-term cause? Anyway, France had been in several wars, including losing one against the Americans then winning one on behalf of the Americans -- during both of which they took on a lot of debt, and following neither of which they acquired any significant economic assets. Because of the aforementioned privileges of the First and Second Estates, about two thirds of the people with the money -- the Catholic Church and the nobility -- were almost-or-entirely exempt from taxation, and the newly emerging upper class within the third estate weren't happy about the whole burden of the war debt being placed on them in taxes -- especially since they'd done a fair amount of the lending.
  2. The Estates General
    1. Louis XVI convened an old institution in which representatives of all three estates would gather and try to make decisions about the future of the country. Unfortunately, nobody was really sure how it was supposed to work -- especially how the voting would go; Estates 1 and 2 felt that each estate should get one vote, because that would mean they controlled two thirds of the vote, while Estate 3 felt the vote should be representative of the population, because that would mean they controlled about 95% of the vote.
  3. The Oath of the Tennis Court
    1. After being locked out of the meeting room (the hall of mirrors, I think) representatives of the Third Estate got fed up and found an empty room to have a meeting in. It was a tennis court. There, they (along with some members of the first and second estates) took an oath not to leave Versailles (where the Estates General had convened) until France had a constitution.
  4. The Storming of the Bastille
    1. The Bastille was a fort and political prison in Paris, where lots of weapons were stored. After the Oath of the Tennis Court, members of the Third Estate (meaning: just tons of people from all over Paris) stormed the Bastille (which is where they got the name) to assemble weapons with which to fight a revolution, should one arise.  This is generally considered the official start of the French Revolution.


Dear friends here and on Twitter and Tumblr -- I know a lot of you know way more about the French Revolution than me, probably in significantly more depth than this class is going to cover. If I've got anything really wrong here, please let me know!