Discipline

Discipline and disciple (which means “pupil”) have the same roots for a reason. Without discipline, you cannot be a pupil, you cannot be a student, you cannot learn. Proper discipline, especially self-discipline, is what gives us true freedom. Liberty is not libertinage. Freedom is not chaos. Freedom is the golden mean between order and chaos — it is arrived at through discipline.

Future Human Evolution

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of, for many reasons.

While there does seem to be some evidence of the division into “gracile” and “robust” forms in primates, Oliver Curry mistakenly says that chimpanzees split into robust chimps and gracile bonobos. This is not true. The common ancestor of humans, chimps and bonobos split into the descendants of chimps and a second group that itself split into the descendants of the bonobos and the descendants of the humans. We can see this in the fact that we are more closely related to bonobos and that we share some anatomical and behavioral features with bonobos, though many of our behaviors more closely resemble chimps, while bonobos physically resemble chimps more. So the evolutionary picture is more complex than Curry suggests.

The next bizarre statement, from an evolutionary point of view, is that “human evolution will reach its peak in about the year 3000.” I don’t know what this could possibly mean. Evolution does not have “peaks” in the sense that a species is as good as it gets. Species are always adapting to their environments. Humans are a strong generalist, and we are thus highly adaptive to practically every terrestrial environment. This leads into the nonsense about genetic regression. There is no such thing as genetic regression — there is only more or less adaptive species to their environment.

This then leads me to the issue of evolution itself. When a species is as mobile as our own — especially in the modern world — natural selection as adaptation to the physical environment no longer occurs. What we have now in control is population dynamics, where a genetic change spreads rapidly and evenly throughout a population after a few generations. Now, Curry mentions sexual selection. But I see little evidence for major differences in sexual selection. All the studies that have been done my evolutionary psychologists show that people universally find the same general proportions physically attractive. Globalization is, again, even eliminating many of the cultural differences that may (as unlikely as that is, since those differences were never actually substantial) have contributed to sexual selection. The elements contributing to intelligence, as I noted in a previous post, are so numerous as to make it difficult to determine what combinations are best.

This is not to say that over the time span he mentions — 100,000 years — that human evolution won’t occur. Sure by then we will have colonized the moon and Mars, perhaps even the stars. And one would expect those isolated populations to evolve. But to keep things more down-to-earth, Curry fails to mention another type of evolution. It is a more important kind, and it is the kind that gave rise to human intelligence itself. And that is the evolution of more complexity. It is possible that certain people might evolve to have more complex minds — perhaps as much more complex than humans as humans are over chimps and bonobos. It is unlikely they would appear to be physically any different, as the difference would be in the minds of the people who emerged into the more complex forms of thinking. This kind of evolution seems more likely, and it seems more immediately likely. And if Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan are right, it may have already happened in a small group of people. That is a much more interesting kind of evolution in my book.

Fortune Favors the Bold; Markets Favor the Meek

I stole the above headline from EconLog. I’ve been thinking a lot about this headline separate from the actual contents that follow it on EconLog.

The first thing I would like to note is that it is true. This is how the meek have inherited the earth — through the free market system. The markets favor those who are easy to get along with. If you want a job, just show the potential employer that you are a “team player,” meaning, you will do anything he wants when he wants it. The more social you are this way and the more submissive, the more likely you are to get the job. Now, this can all be a facade just to get your foot in the door so you can then be bold and shoot up in the company — but it can’t be a complete facade. You still have to continue to act meek and to play all the games necessary to succeed. And there’s no getting out of the game. In every job and potential job there is a game. The most one can hope for is to be involved in the occasional rule change.

Here’s another way to word the headline: “Fortune favors the idealist; markets favor the pragmatists.” In this case I am referring to social pragmatists. One can be a social pragmatist and still ignore physical reality. Those who go along to get along, who try to fit into whatever the social milieu of the company or organization is, are social pragmatists. Those who may think there is right and wrong, and that one should always come down on the right, and those who may think there are better ways of doing things than the boss, are typically advised to keep their mouths shut — you may win, in which case you become the hero; but you may lose everything you worked for as well.

If this all sounds pessimistic, well, it is pessimistic in a sense. But it’s not necessarily bad. The vast majority of people are “the meek” and are social pragmatists — and thus the free market favors them. This is why people are generally better off in a free market system. But at the same time, I am coming to understand the objections to the market by Nietzsche on precisely this issue. Nietzsche, of course, did not favor the meek. He favored the bold — and good fortune. I can thus understand where his objection to the free market system comes from. This does not mean, of course, that I agree with Nietzsche (with whom I agree more often than not) in his opposition to free markets — but that disagreement would only occur if we are to understand Nietzsche’s objections to the free market as objections in the sense most people mean it by, and not in the way Nietzsche means it when he attacks something: as a way to strengthen it. If we understand Nietzsche’s opposition this way, we then have to ask: is this disfavoring of the bold by the markets harmful to the markets?

It certainly suggests that it is harmful to the bold, for economics tells us that if the markets do not favor something, it will soon cease being offered. And where would that place the free market system? Can it truly exist without the bold?

Of course, if fortune favors the bold, we shall perhaps never be rid of the bold, as we shall never be rid of fortune. But where’s fortune when you need it? My own boldness keeps getting in the way of my success in the market — how ironic, then, that I continue to support it. What can I say, I’m just not selfish enough to want to do away with it for my own sake, and thus harm so many millions of meek. And what does that say about myself? Am I bold or meek? Or boldly meek? Or meekly bold? Or maybe I’m just so stupid as to not know when to stop fighting for what is right. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to pay the bills.

And yet, there is no market process without the bold. More, there is no wealth without the bold. While the market best distributes inventions/creations and wealth, it’s the bold, the creators and inventors, who create all the wealth in the world. The meek maintain, and they gain from the bold through the market, but without the bold constantly inventing the future, we would all live in nothing but abject poverty at best. And there wouldn’t be many of us around to live that way.

The Economic Pie Metaphor

Too many people think of the economy as being a pie. If the economy is a pie, then the socialists are right that it is unfair that the rich have more, because they had to take it from someone else. This would mean that every economic transaction would result in one person being better off, the other person being worse off. But the pie metaphor is simply incorrect. Economies grow, and it is the element of growth that is completely ignored in the pie metaphor.

In a true economic exchange, party A has something of value (object 1) to party B. Now, if party B wants to get object 1 from party A, they have to offer something to party A that is more valuable to party A than object 1 is to them. Naturally, party B will choose something that is also of less value to him than is object 1. As a result, party A will get something of more value to him than was object 1, and party B will get object 1, which he considered to be more valuable than what he exchanged for it. This economic exchange boils down to : “If you do something good for me, I’ll do something good for you.” Both parties are better off after the exchange. Wealthy people in a free market are wealthy precisely because they engage in more of these exchanges than do other people. They dedicate more of their time to making economic exchanges.

One problem I oftentimes see when people make anti-economic arguments is an objection to certain kinds of exchange. There is the assumption that they know more than the two engaging in the economic exchange what has what value. The assumption is that things have an inherent value, making economic exchanges absurd. This would mean that you are either exchanging things of equal value, in which case nobody is better or worse off, or something of high value is exchanged for something of low value, in which case someone is better off. The assumption here, then, is that the rich are good at tricking people into exchanging something of high value for something of low value. But things do not have inherent values — we give things value. And it is arrogant of someone to decide that they know better if something is of value to you or not. Such people are elitists — those who favor free markets are in this case the true egalitarian thinkers.

The pie metaphor implies another kind of exchange: “Unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you.” This is the kind of exchange government engage in — and those who support government intervention do recognize this, only they assume that all exchanges are like the government’s form of exchange. The presumption then is that since all exchanges are of this sort, we might as well put the government in charge of them. This kind of exchange has the effect of enforcing the pie metaphor, since inevitably one is exchanging something of more value for something of less — this results in “negative growth”. If we balance out growth with negative growth, we end up with a non-growing economy, and then we do indeed have a pie that gets divided up.

Fortunately the U.S. economy is not quite in that situation. Thus, the rich get richer by making everyone else better off as well. A free market economy is not a pie–it is not a zero sum game–rather, it is a positive sum game. That’s the only way we could have created the incredible amount of wealth we see in the world out of a world where aboject poverty dominated almost all of human history.

Intelligence

In his book “On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins says that intelligence is the ability to detect and predict patterns. I would go a step further and say that the signature of human intelligence is the ability to then create new patterns. If we look to what it is that IQ tests test for, it is pattern recognition. The more complex the patterns are that one can recognize, the more intelligent a person is said to be. Of course, there are many kinds of patterns, and some people are better at picking up some kinds patterns than they are at others. Thus there could be social intelligence, emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence, artistic intelligence, literary intelligence, memory-intelligence, mathematical intelligence, etc. Some patterns, like those in math, are extremely simple patterns — so simple that math is difficult for many people.

So we see a variety of kinds of intelligence. We should also then expect that, with the way we measure IQ, we should see differences in IQ based on the complexity of a society one finds oneself in. People in more complex societies, cultures, and sub-cultures would then test as having higher IQs than do those in less complex societies, precisely because those in more complex societies would be more likely to encounter and have to recognize more complex patterns. Complexity in a society (or in a person’s mind) is something that emerges over time. Some places, due to any number of factors, have more complex societies than others. When an environment changes, a society can and oftentimes will react to become more complex. This helps to make sense of the fact that IQ has steadily gone up in Western countries throughout the 20th century (it doesn’t appear to be the case only because by definition 100 is average, meaning they have had to modify the tests). Obviously, evolution could not be working quite that fast, to make people at the end of the 20th century smarter than those at the beginning. However, I think we can all recognize that Western culture and society have gotten more complex over that same period. People living in the more complex societies, being exposed to more complex patterns, would naturally be able to detect the more complex patterns associated with high IQ. This also makes sense of the fact that IQ can and does oftentimes go up as a person gets older. Some children can see complex patterns right away and easily. Others learn to do so.

Is there a genetic component to IQ? Unquestionably. But with 1/3 of our genes being expressed exclusively in the brain, good luck figuring out what combinations make for high intelligence. Also, the massive shifts and migrations of people throughout history and pre-history, along with the bottlenecking that occurred several tens of thousands of years ago to make us almost genetically identical, makes any racial component to IQ so unlikely as to be almost laughable. Intelligence comes about through the interaction of genes and environment, and the more complex the environment is, the higher the IQ of the people in that environment. As noted, social-cultural-environmental differences are accidents of geography as much as anything, as Jared Diamond observed in “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” As the world becomes more complex, other cultures around the world will respond to that complexity — sometimes by lashing out, sometimes by becoming more complex themselves. But we have to recognize that this is where the differences lie: in our psychosocial complexity. It is that component to IQ that is variable among groups, not genes. The world we live in, and how complex we think the world is that we live in, makes a difference. Individual differences, rather than group differences, may be another matter, as different individuals may be better or worse at detecting patterns, or certain kinds of patterns. And there is certainly a difference in ability to create new patterns. Artists, poets, and musicians aren’t all that common, after all. But my guess is that they are also less common than they could be.

Leftist Values?

The contemporary Left is postmodern. Postmodernists say there are no values (or that there can be no hierarchy of values). So isn’t it an oxymoron for someone to say that they have Left-wing values? Wouldn’t this come into conflict with their postmodernism?

Of course, this is an issue not just with the postmodern Left, but with the postmodern Right as well. You may recognize the postmodern Right by another name: neoliberals.

Our contemporary culture is dominated by anti-value postmodernism. And Trump is the President of that movement. He is everything the postmodernists, Left and Right, have been saying they wanted. But now that they have him, we get the same old aw: “But that’s not what we meant!” Of course it’s what you meant, just like Stalin is what Marx meant. Fortunately, postmodernism has no principles with which to justify directly murdering millions, so there is that.

A Few Observations on Oil and Alcohol

Basic economics shows that we will never run out of oil. As we use up the supply of oil, the price will go up. This will make it more economical to locate and drill harder-to-reach reserves. Higher oil prices will also result in the creation of alternatives, as it will be worth looking for and developing those alternatives. Over longer periods of time, as oil gets used up and the price of oil goes up in response to supply, less oil will be used, and more alternatives will be created, until we are completely converted to the alternatives — sometime before we ever use up all the oil. There will eventually be a price where nobody cares to get any of the oil, and what is left will stay there. Thus, we will never, ever run out of oil. It’s basic economic principles. There will be alternatives.

The car, for example, is an alternative to the horse. A plane is an alternative to either one. A computer is an alternative to the abacus, to pen and paper, etc. During the bronze age, who would have thought of iron as an alternative? The microwave is an alternative to fire. Petroleum, when whale oil became expensive due to a shortage of whales, became an alternative. Some of these pre-existed. Some were invented later.

An alternative in the economic sense is not necessarily something that replaces another object exactly. When we run out of oil, it will become more economically feasible to come up with alternatives — many of which, like so many things in the past — haven’t even been thought of yet.

I have no doubt that it will happen, because it has always happened. Always.

Now one may object that all the alternatives to oil have, so far, been inferior. But just because they have been inferior so far, that doesn’t mean they will continue to be. Many falsely assume that the price of oil will remain constant, meaning people will continue to use it as the same rate, until it runs out, and that nobody will have any incentive to find alternatives. But, again, as the price of oil goes up as supply goes down, it will be economically viable to find better alternatives. What we are getting now is government-subsidized alternatives — so we shouldn’t be surprised at what we are getting. Things will change when market pressures create an actual demand for real alternatives. These new ways of doing things won’t be done with government — unless there is the coincidence of creating a bomb whose power source can also be used for energy production (i.e., nuclear power). I’d rather the market find a solution than to have the government bomb its way into one.

And this brings me to government-subsidized alcohol. Is it really a good idea to turn our food into fuel? That just seems like a bad substitute right on the face of it. One could argue that it’s also a bad idea to wash cars, since that uses up water we could be drinking, but we need to beware of false analogies. There is much, much, much more water than there is corn. If we wash our cars, it doesn’t raise the price of water enough not to drink it. But the rise in the price of corn that has already occurred has resulted in problems in Mexico with availability of corn for tortillas, driving up the price of a main staple there — among some of the poorest people. Further, it has driven up the price of meat, because corn is a food for chicken, pigs, and cows. When the price of feed goes up, the price of meat goes up. This, again, hurts the poor far more than any other group.

So, again, it is incredibly stupid to use food to fuel. And it hurt the poor. But that just means that ethanol is just another thing liberals have latched on to that causes harm to the poor. When your every economic policy harms the poor, one begins to wonder why you want so bad to make their lives worse.