Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Church of Tolerance

Though I support athiest, secular humanist, and separation of church and state groups, because I consider their cause is actually one of liberation, I also support the idea of a singular state-supported church, though I'm not sure that would work in USA.

The thing is, the national state churches of Europe seem to have led to majority athiesm--which I think is great, and also more decent traditional religion, the separation of church and state in USA seems to have led to mass religion to the point that, say, open atheism is forbidden in the highest offices, and we have lots of churches that preach crazy and crazier.

Given the institutions we have inheirited from history, people need something like churches.  Since this need for things like sense-of-community, mates and marriages, and so on, isn't fully served by other institutions.

For a country like USA, a very polycultural country, a singular church might not do.  If USA were to have a singular church, it could only be the Church of Tolerance because of all the variations in what people believe.

The Church of Tolerance admits all ideas except for intolerant ones.  Thus you may say that straight people are most wonderful, in your opinion, but not that gays are damned.  Not to say that everyone believes everything, but that everything is tolerated.

From a broad social perspective, there's no actual point in making sure people believe exactly the same things or be excluded--except that this makes additional kinds of intolerance possible, and therefore multiple conflicting groups.  With more and more conflicting groups, there is less social cohesion possible, and thus easier dominance by patriarchy and plutocracy.

Tolerance is the only kind of singular church that would work in USA.  But since so much religion in USA is essentially based on intolerance (others of any difference are always inferior or even damned) it's not clear we will ever get to that.  A further complication is how the lack of social cohesion created by intolerance may seem to be beneficial to some powerful people.  As a society, we must rise beyond such parochialism.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To be a human being is to be a social being

To be a human being is to be a social being, part of a human society.  Nothing is a better example of a "social" concept than the very concept of murder.  It is not a mere killing, it is a special intentional killing, not part of justified war or a legal process regarding crimes against humanity, or the administration of euthanasia.  And it is a crime, which means it is not allowed by society, determined by society, and punished society.  After it has been done by one or more members of society to other members of society.  And the justification for the punishment is that it will lower the number of such crimes committed within society in the future of that society.  The universal definition and prohibition of murder are noted especially in advanced societies of the last few thousand years, for example Babylonian, Hebrew, and Roman law schemes.  Animal species not much different from human genetically may feature an activity like murder as a normal advancement protocol.  It has long been my guess that the first legal prohibitions of murder were not originally intended to provide people with rights (the right to life) but rather than to keep the hierarchies of society stable and the operations of society efficient.  Prohibiting murder in general (if not necessarily in all cases as we would define them now--even fairly large societies had ritual killing) is therefore and obviously the first step in creating a mass society, a great civilization.

Since a human being is a social being, it is unavoidable that the life of a human being begins at birth.  That is when a human being enters society.  What is created by conception is not a social being but a biological one, scientifically known as zygote, which grows through several phases, but becomes part of human society, a bio-social entity known as a child, at birth.

I have no problem with abortions, I think safe and hygenic abortions are a good idea in all cases where children are unwanted by their mothers*, and should be free and encouraged in those cases.  One should not feel guilty about needing or having had an abortion.  I have no problem with an abortion up to the point of natural birth, following my understanding of when the life of a human being begins.  However I consider schemes which only consider abortion to be legal until the point of fetal viability also to be quite reasonable, and I find Roe V Wade to have been real world legal greatness of the highest order.  Lawyers familiar with Roe have often praised it.

(*The father's body is not involved even immediately before conception.  The father's interest ought be legally immaterial.  However, a father who wants a child, and can afford to support it, can possibly persuade the woman to carry the child.  A father who didn't want the child has an unavoidably weak hand, I think it is not unreasonable if he be committed to support even a child he didn't want, though each case may need to be considered in its details.  The mother's physical burden is greater, so each sex has its burden.)

Mostly unrelatedly, I also believe the human population needs to be reduced, as quickly as possible, but not harming human or non-human beings, from current 7 billion to somewhere around 3 billion under ideal circumstances. It's hard to believe such a harmless reducly could ever happen, but it obviously could do so reasonably quickly if each person is would choose or could be restricted to fathering or birthing one child.  I believe preferences are easily moved by society, a society committed to such change could easily do so without the use of physical force.  The problem is only that so many entities in society are opposed to such change because population growth is what makes them great (or, less charitably, it is what they feed on).  Religious entities the most common offender here.  Nations have been so also.

With anthropogenic carbon forcing underway, which threatens great catastrophes in the near future, a smaller number even might be preferable.  I have also heard estimates of the best number which ranged down to 0.5 billion, and personally I long held the notion that 1 billion would be best and most sustainable human population.

We could also solve our global warming problem with drastic we use energy, so why blame the birthing of children?  Because it isn't happening either way, and likely to make the changes we need to make both kinds of changes will be needed to minimize suffering.

Given that, I especially would have the law not encourage birthing in any way, including by restricting abortion in any way.  The only limitation with the importance of this is that allowing free, or even payed abortions (I would government pay all costs associated with having an abortion, including access to the abortion center--reimbursing patient travel costs if needed) wouldn't really make that much difference in the overall birth rate.  The bigger wins are in other areas, educating women, access to conception and family planning services, changing the social acceptance of such things (as well as the need for these changes).  Abortion is small potatoes in managing global population.

Since it is comparatively unimportant in that scheme, the principal motive for making abortion free is compassion for the mother, the unborn, and the would-otherwise-be-unconceived.  Availability of abortion is also of great concern to compassionate potential fathers.  I believe in all cases where a woman would prefer abortion, it would probably be better if she had one, for all concerned.  The unborn may lose the potential of becoming a human life, though most likely a tragic human life of unneeded suffering.

Would I choose to lead a tragic life of unneed suffering?  No.  Would I want to create a tragic life, when I would otherwise have a later opportunity to create  a fine one?  I try to make the choices that lead to the greatest happiness and the least suffering.  If terminating one unborn life makes it possible to create one later with far better chances for happiness with minimum suffering, I would go for it.  In my calculus the unconceived has as much moral authority as the unborn.

Anyway, tonight at the Texas Freethought Convention debate I did not hear an argument like mine from the pro-choice advocate favored by me and most people in the room.  Instead he relied on an entirely different argument to defend abortion, an argument which also demonstrates the need for free abortion but without explicitly making ANY claim about the beginning of the life of a human being.  I hadn't heard this argument before, and I think it is also a fine one.  I wonder, however, why the debater did not choose to make any statement wrt to the beginning of human life.  I beleive my version, as described above, but I haven't heard it debated in any debates, perhaps there is a weakness I am missing.

The argument this debater made was to start with the question, should a parent be compelled to give up a kidney to save the life of his or her child?  The obvious answer is that it might be wonderful if parents did this in many cases, but in no way should we legally compel people to do such things.  Abortion is a similar situation.  In no way should we compel a woman to have her body used to support the life of another being, regardless of whether that being is a zygote, fetus, or child.

This indeed may be a better argument than mine, so I can see that a debater would choose  to emphasie it, and even exclusively rely on it.  However at no point would he be nailed to saying that a human life actually begins, so he did not contradict me in any way either.  Really, the implied beginning of life in his argument is viability.  If a birthed fetus is viable, then it is human, otherwise not.

I felt sorry for the anti-abortionist, who had come to her position despite being an athiest, and particularly that she had to make her argument before a mostly unsympathetic audience.  But she basically used stock arguments, assertions really, about the beginning of life at conception,* and therefore the need to prohibit abortion, with the same penalties as murder, even in cases of rape, incest.  On danger to the mother's life, she immediately dismissed all claims of psychiatric illness or stress, only in cases where the mother would a decion have to be made as to which one to save.  Then she showed particularly gruesome pictures of post-abortion remains.  Considering the latter, or even the whole by my value system, which actually cares how well people feel, I found her whole presentation disgusting.*

The argument (and her personal motivation, as an Asian) about the need to control abortion for the sake of societies which prefer men so much?  So she would have women and unborn children suffer for the sake of their stupid and unchanging society?  Actually, as some people have pointed out, these defective social preferences are self-curing, and women need not be made to suffer in the process.  Soon, women will be quite valued, at last.  There will be no other option left to these societies.

(The presentation of gruesome pictures relies on the natural queasiness people have when initially unexposed to such pictures, and on sentimentality for the human form.  It should always be recalled that excessive population growth has not only eliminated available resources but literally made many animal species extinct.  So we happily make other species extinct, but cannot bear to see our own blood.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Price of Everything

Paul Krugman, writing in the corporate advertiser funded New York Times--and therefore hardly a bastion of true socialism, wrote that Mitt Romney, unlike the robber barons of old, didn't actually build a railroad.  He bought a few corporations, and mostly disposed of them in various ways, most often obtaining more money for the rentier class including himself than ordinary workers, communities, and customers, who often lost the value of implicit contracts they thought they had.  The biggest winner was Bain Capital itself, who often pocketed millions in fees.

This, it is argued by neoliberals, is an essential part of the economy.  Determining the correct price of everything, so that a market of everything can make the right decisions.  These corporations Bain Capital bought were so underpriced that money could be and often was made by destroying them.

Of course this market liberalism (as John Quiggen calls neoliberalism to be politically neutral) does not and cannot make decisions in the best interests of humanity, or even the class of large shareholders.  The whole Efficient Markets hypothesis is bunk (except in the superficial form indistinguishable from pure unpredictability).  John Quiggen's book examines the deficiencies of the hypothesis in vast detail.

And I'm here today to say that even the great classical economist David Ricardo realized this.  He realized that left to its own devices (and he did not really understand how our corporations are hierarchies which introduce wage price stability) a market economy would lead to a collapse in the value of both wages and product prices, with rents becoming oppressive to all but the rentiers, who would inhabit a unique super wealthy class.  No stranger to feudalism, even David Ricardo realized this was Not A Good Thing.

So this is what the hallowed "accurate price determination" thing will lead to, if indeed it is actually perfected, as the Eurocrats are now trying to do.  One of the key bits of all this, is wage deflation without inflation.

Yes, that is what the Rentiers are doing, crushing us.  And why they must be overthrown.

We start by resisting their efforts to enslave us or devalue us.  I will vote for Obama, but when he writes I will plead with him not to tolerate cuts in Social Security as some say he has already said will be needed.  In fact I don't think there should be any cuts in any spending*, I would increase taxes above $250,000 income (including corporate and carried interest income) and $2,500,000 estates to 70%.  (*I would re-purpose the military to homeland defense and renewable energy conversion--no more empire business.  Spend billions on new efficient energy sources and grids instead of bombers and ships.)

I now suggest as step #2, building a parallel world federalist government, organized along the most possibly democratic basis (unlike, say, the UN, which is only slightly more democratic than the superpower it sometimes angers).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

50 more years of growth may be possible through green economy!

The current techniques of neoliberalism (including the greatest neoliberal project of all: the Euro) have led to economic stagnation.  Ultimately, they profited the rentiers of society, but not so much median workers, so much that I believe the basic engine of capitalist growth is now broken.  The fix: increase wages to reverse 30 years of wage deflation.  I'd put that about 300%.  The rentiers would like to believe they can build a slave ship economy amidst the planetary wreckage of the carbon miracle instead.

Unfortunately, they may be correct.   Methods of political control through media control have gotten so good they made the George W Bush Presidency possible.

But anyway, it would be technically possible, I believe, to have 50 more years of growth to rival the period from Jan 1933 (yes, that was the very bottom) to 1969.  That was actually 36 years, I'm not quibbling here.  And I'm not so much projecting increase in population, energy use, or other things that can't easily be increased anymore.  But more a general prosperity, lack of economic fear (as well as lack of other fears), and technical and political development that would be hedonically measureable as being as that much improved--if not much much more.

(Note: Hedonic measurement is done by economists to determine the relative worth of different things by finding how much in relative terms people would pay for things.  So if, for example, people would only pay two times more for a computer that could crunch ten times more data, it's actual worth is two times more, not ten times more.)

The path to doing that would be the warlike footing (as in the US industrialization for WWII) to building fully renewable energy and sustainable transportation (electric) everywhere on earth, replacing all carbon and nuclear energy use except speciality chemical and medical use not related to bulk energy.

This kind of transition might have only needed carbon taxes if we had started in about 1965.  But now, the changes needed are needed too quickly and the changes needed are far larger.

Now we need direct central public investment, most likely through national governments, but to really really solve the problem it might well need a large trans national element as well, to fund all the new systems everywhere.

This could be run the old fashioned way, just as the Eisenhower economy was, with high taxes and correspondingly high spending.  It would be best, I believe, to have as much direct public employment and management as possible, and as little contracting.  That is ultimately at least as cost effective in most cases, and works to increase the general wage rather than "save money" by decreasing it.

In fact, increasing the general wage should be one new principle!

The result would be full employment and high wages everywhere.  Even Wall Street might well hold on (though personally I believe most of their activities should be outlawed and the outlawing enforced) even if most of the new economy is public, simply through servicing the still remaining private economy which would likely do at least as well as it does now feasting on 80% of the roast.

Along the business as usual, now defined as neoliberalism, path, there is no hope, I believe, of ever having robust growth again.  That may be acceptable to some people as long as they keep their huge cut of the small pie, or so they think, not realizing how small that pie can become.  There may indeed be warlike footings--continued warlike footing in the US for the useless war on terror--but they won't have a positive economic impact against the global destruction being caused by the final phases of the carbon extraction economy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nuclear Power: good solution for Global Warming?

Nuclear Energy is promoted by many environmentalists as basically the only technically feasible approach to ending and reversing the CO2 forcing that will cause terrible suffering and change in the future unless we start making the transition now.

Some examples: The new movie "Switch."  George Monbiot.  David McKay and his monumental "Renewable Energy without the Hot Air."  A famous architect I recently talked to who has been a pioneer in designing energy efficient homes going back 30 years.  John Quiggin--an Australian economist I usually agree with and greatly respect.  And many more.

Now all of the pro-Nuke environmentalists I'm referring to agree with that human activity has been causing CO2 increase and hence Global Warming which must be reversed soon.  And most of them would concede that a lot of renewable energy technologies have merit and should be pursued further.  But at the end of the day, they argue that the energy from purely renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal will not meet the required demand.   The intermittent character of most renewable sources is one of the biggest problems, they say.  And nuclear can handle this problem by providing stable backbone power, and do so as safely as other kinds of things we do, they say, safer than coal plants, they claim.

A typical example of the approach taken for mainstream media is the movie Switch, in which each energy source/conversion/recycling is shown along with a number which purports to show how many people would be served by this amount of energy.  I call this the "big numbers" approach.  When we see some kind of renewable energy system, we see a small number.  When we see nuclear, coal, or oil, we see a big number.

If not exactly wrong, all these numbers are misleading.  At the end of the day, we do not need Nuclear Power.   I'm not just singing Kumbaya here.  Many other scientists and engineers have looked at the problem and reached the other conclusion: that we can produce enough free energy for all human needs without either fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

Some of the pro-Nuke environmentalists might concede that much.  Sure, they might say, we could meet all our needs with renewable energies and energy storage systems, but it might require unlikely circumstances like these:

1) Reducing per-capita energy consumption and/or reducing human populations.
2) Replacing current political and economic systems with a fascist energy dictatorship that doesn't care how much renewable energy and storage actually cost.

In fact, assumption (1) does figure into almost every solution of the future energy problem.  But it also figures into the baseline, business-as-usual assumptions too.  As carbon based fossil fuels become harder to get, and relatively scarce relative to growing demand, prices will increase.  This will provide great "incentives" (as economists like to say) to reduce per-capita energy consumption in developed countries, and also incentives not to max out on fossil energy use in China and India.

And (2) in the form of some serious change in global governance (from the current burn and slash plutocracy) will be required, though it is hard to imagine exactly what form this will take.  Getting money out of politics is something most would agree on and would be a good start.  But we have made almost zero progress in carbon reduction so far, and it is clear to all how the existing power structure will block any useful progress (i.e. before catastrophe) in the future.

Usually the pro-nuke storyline finds every little gap in what renewable energy systems can do and calls it fatal.  The typical issue is energy storage.  But energy storage systems have been around for decades and is now a hot area where new technological developments occur daily.  Energy demand management has also been around for decades, but has been improving much like computers because it is largely based on computers.

We now do have experience with renewable systems providing up to 50% of grid power at some times of day (for example, in Germany).  While the renewable sources are intermittent, they average out over a wide area and with diverse sources, and blend into available power from other sources.  There is very little waste in blending this power with existing sources and displacing the use of carbon based energy.

Many of the naysayers who cry it will never work have already been proven wrong.

I recall reading one analysis by two qualified scientists concluding that an all-renewable-energy future would be feasible that was published in Scientific American.  One group that I feel is very qualified on such issues is the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Their conclusion is that nuclear energy research should continue, but no more deployment of nuclear power stations at this time.  They believe as I do that renewable energy is safer and will probably be sufficient.

In fact, many serious investigators feel that rather than reducing the cost of eliminating carbon forcing, full deployment of nuclear energy would increase the total cost--and not even considering the risk and uncertainty.  One such investigator is the famous Lester Brown.

Taking another look at McKay, he claims not to be pro Nuclear, just pro arithmetic.  But I wonder about his estimates of the excess death from Chernobyl.  And I didn't see Fukushima included in his numbers.  But anyway, even the UCS states clearly the nuclear presents the greatest potential dangers.  As I heard one person say, carbon power could be locally catastrophic, and kill just as many people right away, but nuclear can be regionally catastrophic, and have lingering effects on millions no one can dismiss.  And even if it never happens (which I hope!) there is uncertainty (worse than risk) and therefore fear--among millions--that they could be affected.  How much is that worth?

The Euro, bad idea

Steve Keen has one of the clearest descriptions of why the Euro currency was doomed from the beginning.

His succinct synopsis is:

A currency requires a nation, and there is no nation called Europe – nor will there ever be.

Paul Krugman has said much the same thing.  There is a thread in neoclassical economics which has examined "Optimal currency areas" and Europe is far too large, divergent, and not part of a unified fiscal regime according to that analysis.

Keen also points to Wynne Godley, who denounced the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992, predicting what has happened today.