Friday, December 31, 2010

Feminizing the military

Feminisn'tm; or, La Dumb Nikita:
The problem with the military is not that it is "masculinist" or heteronormative, not that it is homophobic nor insufficiently inclusive regardless of your rankings of the included and excluded. No, the problem with the military is that it is the military. The qualities of inequity perceived as problematic are merely symptomatic and arise from its very nature. It's an evil institution. You do not reform hell with better daycare.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (Justin Bieber edition)

the stupid! it burns! Mosque foes launch Bieber boycott
Andy Sullivan, a construction worker and Brooklyn native, has been one of the loudest opponents of Park51, the planned mosque and community center near ground zero. ... So it was quite a surprise this month to read that Sullivan has set his sights on a new target: Canadian teen pop superstar Justin Bieber.

Mosque foes recently started a boycott of Bieber after he made comments in support of the mosque project in an interview with Tiger Beat, a teen fan magazine, Sullivan told WYNC earlier this month. ...

But I couldn't find any sign [on Tiger Beat magazine] of an interview on Park51. There is, however, a post on the website purporting to describe a Tiger Beat interview. It reads in part:
In an interview with Tiger Beat, the pop sensation stressed that freedom of religion is what makes America great, and went on to say that those who oppose the Mosque are motivated by bigotry.

I was able to reach the proprietor of the site, who confirmed that the Bieber item is in fact a hoax. "[T]he fact that some people take it seriously is hilariously depressing," he said in an e-mail.

The ethics of revolution

In comments, Archvillain asks some pointed questions about the ethics of revolution:
In the course of this revolution, more than one group of revolutionaries may rise to prominence. What would happen if those groups had differing political and economic goals? In my opinion, the two most likely possibilities are balkanization or another protracted civil war.

Do you think either of these possibilities would be likely to be in the best interests of the people?

Observation: Only a fraction of any population actually gets involved in any given revolution. The overwhelming majority only wants the fighting to stop.

Given this observation, the nature of all post-revolutionary societies is toward a ruling elite. Doesn't this imply that your desired revolution will merely repeat the same cycle of creating a new ruling class which would invariably grow ever more oppressive?

To rephrase a bit, I see three questions here. First, a revolution is a chancy thing: by definition the ordinary mechanisms of legitimacy have broken down. There are no guarantees that the outcome will be desirable, much less optimal. Given the enormous risk, is it ethical to contemplate revolution? Second, a revolution is always the intention of a minority: Is it ethical to foment revolution, given that it will proceed without intention of the majority of people? Third, Does every revolution inevitably lead to a new ruling class, which will eventually become oppressive and require yet another revolution?

I don't have any easy answers to these questions, but they are questions that I think anyone seriously contemplating the possibility and desirability of a revolution must think deeply and carefully upon, and proffer serious and considered answers.

Economics, a visual approach

(via Dan Crawford (Rdan))

The Revolutionary Party and the Government

We will need a revolution to overthrow the capitalist class. At some point capitalism as mode of economic relations will cease to relate productively to the actual means of production. But the capitalist class, accustomed to centuries of rule, and having convinced themselves — like every ruling class — that they have an absolute moral right and obligation to rule, will refuse to relinquish political and military power, and will try to hold onto that power by increasingly oppressive and brutal means. (And if you think the modern capitalist class is already brutal and oppressive, you ain't seen nothin' yet.) At some point the people must rise up and take power, and they will have to respond to and defend themselves from the oppression of the capitalist class by force of arms. Any sincere and humane revolutionary would prefer to implement a revolution by the peaceful, democratic means the capitalist ruling class gives lip-service to (and indeed simple decency demands we attempt to do so up until the very moment it becomes patently impossible), but even the most casual student of history cannot hold much hope for a peaceful transition of the magnitude necessary to overthrow capitalism.

So, there will need to be some sort of revolution, which will demand a revolutionary party, or something very much like a revolutionary vanguard party: a nucleus to provide organization, leadership, and discipline to what will be a complicated and protracted struggle. More precisely, as conditions deteriorate, many revolutionary parties will form, and some individuals will pursue revolution without leadership and organization; sooner or later (hopefully sooner) one party will emerge as the obvious leader and seize power. (If the anarchists want to overthrow capitalism without the kind of leadership and discipline provided by a revolutionary vanguard party, they are welcome to try with — if they want it — my unqualified blessing. I just don't think they will be successful.)

I myself am squeamish and sentimental; analytical rather than emotionally persuasive; my weaknesses make me a poor revolutionary. I am much more interested in the question: What is to be done after a successful revolution? Perhaps even more importantly: What do we know definitely should not be done after a successful revolution?

The most important lesson of history is that after a successful revolution, the revolutionary party should not explicitly and structurally privilege itself in the subsequent government and political system.

The qualities that will be necessary for a successful revolutionary party — i.e. a party capable of successfully leading and winning a revolution — are precisely the qualities that make for poor government. A revolutionary party must be tightly disciplined and extremely focused. They must prefer to act decisively, even if some particular decision is wrong: In any struggle, millennia of military history has shown indecision and hesitation more fatal than error. A revolutionary party must be "gung ho"; they must speak with one voice, with all of its members at least pretending not just acquiescence but enthusiastic agreement. A revolutionary party must develop habits of secrecy and obedience. Most importantly, a revolutionary party must, for reasons of social psychology, adopt an uncompromising Utopian vision as the foundation of a mass movement.

A civil government of a free people, however, requires precisely the opposite qualities. The government must be flexible and wide-ranging. Debate must flow freely, with a wide variety of views espoused with the presumption of good will and honest intentions. A government must prefer indecision to error: better to do nothing than act wrongly. A government must develop habits of transparency and toleration of dissent. A government, most especially a democratic government, cannot afford to speak with one voice in the same sense as must a revolutionary party; grudging acquiescence is preferable to phony enthusiasm.

No class of people, however defined, can ever be trusted to rule on behalf of another class. At best, when the aims, habits and interests of a ruling class happen to coincide with those of the ruled, the rulers can maintain the appearance of benevolence. But the interests of the ruling class will soon diverge from those of the ruled — subtly at first, so that the divergence and hostility can be easily rationalized — until the rulers are nakedly oppressing the ruled. If a revolutionary party sets itself up as a ruling class, either de jure or de facto, it will remain the ruling class until the next revolution.

Without commenting on the historical circumstances surrounding the past Communist governments of the Soviet Union and China, we can at least conclude that the rule of a party is not a successful road to democratization. Even with a commitment to some sort of ideological purity (a commitment I'm deeply suspicious of), there is too much scope for those without that commitment to gain power and corrupt the ideology from within. The Communist Parties of both the Soviet Union and China became corrupted by bourgeois ideology; neither party was capable of resisting this corruption. The rule of the party cannot the rule of an ideology; it is the rule of just a name: the rule of the people who call themselves by that name. The only way to rule by ideology is when the people wholeheartedly adopt that ideology, and rule themselves by it. If the ideology is restricted to a ruling class, the ideology will inevitably change to favor the perpetual rule of that class.

It is not just the Communist Parties that have displayed this evolution. Every ideology that has established a privileged class — the religions of the ancient world, Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Islam, feudalism, mercantilism and capitalism and republican "democracy" — all have evolved to justify the perpetual rule of that class, regardless of their actual beneficence to the ruled: If the ruled are unhappy with the actions of the rulers, the ruling class ever believes is the ruled who are in error: it is precisely because the ruled "cannot" rule themselves that they must have a ruling class above them, n'est pas?

It is likely that any revolutionary party will enjoy enormous prestige after a revolution. For a time, at least, there would be no need to structurally privilege the party itself. And the time a structural privilege would be needed is precisely the time when the revolutionary party must give way to the people.

Not only must a revolutionary party not structurally privilege itself after a successful revolution, it must explicitly and officially sow the seeds of its own destruction. It may ride for the time in the passenger seat, but it must decisively give the keys of state to the people, and let the people decide when they no longer desire the advice and guidance of the party.

It may be too much to expect a revolutionary party to accede to this demand, and it may be the case that a new ruling class would be better than the capitalist ruling class. Indeed for a revolution to be successful, almost anything should be better than the capitalist ruling class. Say what you will about the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and China, it is hard to consider them anything but a profound improvement from the supine victims of Western imperialism, and attempts to establish a Western-style republican bourgeois "democracy" proved entirely ineffectual.

But nevertheless, I feel I must make this demand. If the people are not immediately put in charge after a successful revolution, it will require yet another revolution to put them in charge. And, regardless of my efforts in the first, I will inevitably join the second.

The Stupid! It Burns! (presumptuous edition)

the stupid! it burns! The Presumptuousness of Atheism
The "presumption of atheism" demonstrates a rigging of the rules of philosophical debate in order to play into the hands of the atheist, who himself makes a truth claim. Alvin Plantinga correctly argues that the atheist does not treat the statements "God exists" and "God does not exist" in the same manner.5 The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God’s existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist — whether or not one has evidence against God’s existence. ...

Moreover, the theist can muster credible reasons for belief in God.
Sigh. If there really were "credible reasons", it's pointless to argue in the subjunctive about what we should believe if there were no credible reasons. (And note the switch in the article from evidence to "credible reasons".)

The "real" position of atheists is that all these godbaggers are completely full of shit, and we are no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

(via The Poached Egg)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The real Greek economy: owners, rentiers and opportunists

The real Greek economy: owners, rentiers and opportunists

Aristos Doxiadis, 23 September 2010
Aristos Doxiadis is a private equity professional and angel investor based in Athens.

Rebuilding the Greek economy will require creative interaction with the underlying realities of Greek society: the family, the small business, the habits of rentocracy and of low-trust opportunism. (This article was first published in Greek in the Athens Review of Books, June 2010)


Formal and demotic language

The way we talk about the economy has changed dramatically in the past few months. Before our own debt crisis erupted, public discourse was not very different from that in western countries. We would discuss the merits of public vs private, of boosting demand vs cutting expenditure, of liberalism vs social democracy.

A few observers did insist on Greek specificities. For example, on how the public sector is not public when it has been captured by private and by ‘syntechnic' interests [there is no English equivalent for the Greek word ‘syntechnia’ in its current usage; it means ‘trade union’, but in the particular sense of defending the common privileges of a certain narrow occupational group, rather than class interests – like guilds used to do in medieval cities]. Or, how the private sector is not private when it lives off the public purse. But these voices were not present in the discourse of political parties and of talking heads, nor did they influence government policy.

Technocrats would plan for the ostensible, rather than for the real. For example, they would decide the official corporate tax rates, but not the taxes that enterprises actually paid; which were much higher than official rates when the tax inspectors descended on honest and cheat alike; and much lower when the business owner could work the system.

There was a great gap between the formal language of government, of politics and of technocracy on the one hand, and what we all felt and discussed in coffeehouses, on the other, but would not articulate in public. In formal speech, we talked about investment, planning, competition, productivity, incentives, regulation, laws. In demotic, about arguments, delays and Greek ingenuity. We knew that official intent would never be realized, but we would say: let’s try, and if we achieve ten percent of the target, OK – so we won’t fall too far back away from “Europe”.

Now public discourse has changed, and it suddenly sounds like coffeehouse talk. The dilemma between public and private has mutated into “are you for the idle bureaucrat or for the tax cheat?.” That between unions and employers has mutated into “shall we crack down on retiring at the age of 52, or on scandalous overpayments for medical devices in the NHS?.” We have begun discussing the real Greece, not some generic mixed economy. Everyday experience has melded into the big picture. This is healthy. It is the start of self-knowledge.

But the economy is a complex system, and our experience is chaotic, diverse and contradictory. It is easy to exaggerate, denounce and talk at cross-purpose; to lose sight of causes and of prospects. Out of coarse experience we must rebuild a learned theory of the Greek economy that will focus on the basics, will explain them and will define our options.

Theories of diversity

A good way to start is to identify how we differ from those developed western economies that we consciously or unconsciously try to imitate. Even when we criticize them, they are the standard to which we compare both private consumption and public services. For this purpose a neo-institutional approach is useful; one that analyses the different national forms of capitalism and links them to the history and institutions of each country.

The concept of institutions is rather general, and it is variously defined. In the broadest of definitions, it includes both formal institutions (the school) and informal (tutorial schools, private teaching). It includes rules (medical legislation), organizations (the hospital) and also common practices (bribing the doctor). In some theories it also includes ideology (‘what is progress?’) and culture (work ethic).

Neo-institutional theory tries to illuminate and explain the micro-behaviors that shape the macro-phenomena. Why have we let the pension system go bankrupt? Why aren’t we paying taxes? Why haven’t we got exportable manufactured goods? Why do high school students take private tutorials? How are we different from the Germans on this level?

An immediate empirical answer consists of a very long list: corruption, clientelism, bureaucracy, familism, cronyism, conspicuous consumption, learning-by-rote at school, mistrust, but also, flexible enterprises, graduates, ambition, mobility, political activism, foreign language proficiency, hard work (sometimes), international outlook. However, such a long list is not very helpful. It is more useful to identify just a few fundamental elements of difference from the more developed economies. I consider that the basic elements of Greek specificity are the following:

  • The large number and small size of enterprises, in combination with widely dispersed ownership of real estate (owners)
  • The extent and distribution of various forms of rent (rentiers)
  • A deficient ethic of cooperation, and a rational response to incentives and disincentives (opportunists)

Greece is a capitalist economy with a welfare state, like many others. And like any other, it has its own dynamic, which is shaped by its specific characteristics in combination with the general elements of capitalism.


A fundamental institution

There is no other European country and no other member of the OECD that has as many self-employed and as many micro-employers as Greece pro rata to its population. In Greece 57% of those employed in the ‘non-financial business economy’ (NFBE) are either self-employed or employed in firms of under 10 employees. The value of this index for EU-27 is 30%. Italy comes second with 47%, Portugal third with 42%. France is at 27%, the UK at 21%, Germany at 18%. Our newest role-model, Denmark, is at 20%.

Agriculture, which is not counted in the NFBE, is even more fragmented. In the region of Corinthia, the average grower of table grapes for export has less than three hectares, and the biggest has less than 20 hectares. The competitors of the Corinthian growers in Murcia, Spain, have over 100 hectares each. It is the same in California, South Africa, Chile, Egypt.

In the economy as a whole, businesses of more than 250 employees employ no more than 9% of the labor force; and this includes banks and utilities.

How did it happen that we have so many small businesses – vineyards, olive presses, rooms-to-let, mini markets, doctors’ practices, theaters, clothes boutiques, clothes makers, IT workshops – and why so few large employers?

We owe it to history, which prevented the primitive accumulation of capital that occurred in the west; to the institutions of our modern state, which assist the survival of small business and hinder enterprise growth; and to our culture which makes it hard for us to cooperate.

Western Europe came into the industrial era with large landholdings and an army of landless workers, the result of feudalism. The new state of Greece was established in a society of smallholders, a result of Ottoman policy which supported the small peasant and discouraged large holdings. Land policy in the new state continued favoring small plots. Even the large chifliks of Thessaly in central Greece were broken up over time. The great majority of families had some land in the country or in town where they set up farms or shops or houses. In this, Greece was very different from all of non-Ottoman Europe. As for our Balkan neighbors, those who had extensive small-holdings lost them in the socialist era.

Small business is still the prevailing form of organization in the private sector after 180 years of modern state, with bourgeois institutions and more or less free markets. This is remarkable, as in a modern economy size is an advantage in a great many business activities. But here enterprises on average are not getting bigger. Let us list the causes.

Families that own a business, even a small one, do not send their offspring to become workers. If they decide to become low-paid white collar employees, this is done only in positions with job security and a good pension – i.e. in the public sector, or in banks. Otherwise, they prefer their parents’ farm or shop. The owner-household resists proletarianization.

Regulations are not uniformly enforced. Taxation, social insurance contributions, labor legislation etc are more of a burden on bigger enterprises, because it is easier for small ones to evade these. If the family handles receipts and payments, it can hide sales and pay uninsured workers. If invoicing and hiring is done through an accounts department, tax and contribution evasion is riskier. So in Greece anomie favors fragmentation. The state as a rule does not go after the smallest.

Foreign direct investment has been discouraged. In other peripheral economies large-scale industry was often created by foreign capital. Here bureaucracy, corruption, resistance by local communities and populist rhetoric have meant that relatively few foreigners have invested in Greece, and even fewer have remained. There are important exceptions in the non-tradable service sectors: banking, telephony, retail trade. In these, foreign capital moved in because the high cost of entry and operation is not prohibitive – it can be recouped by higher prices. In the tradable sectors, where competition is global, this is not possible.

To this list, add the maze of rules and prohibitions that protect the current way of doing business, and the small size of plots of land.

Institutional bias in favor of the small scale is so strong, that neither the 1.5 million of incoming Greek refugees in 1922, nor the huge wave of poor immigrants since 1990 became a permanent proletariat for big employers, as has happened elsewhere. It was small employers who became rich in farms and in building sites on the back of the immigrants.

Self-employment, micro-employment and family business is a stable and fundamental institution in our economy, perhaps the most fundamental. Their share in employment and output will not shrink under normal circumstances. Not even a long and deep recession will change this. Only a revolution in institutions would.

An important point is this: it is institution that determines specialization, not the other way around. That is: because we are a society of small business, we do not build electronic devices; rather than: because we don’t produce such devices we have small businesses. This insight often escapes policy makers. They believe that with the right funding and infrastructure we may grow competitive businesses in industries that require a larger scale. In every era, small businesspeople will do the work that suits them. Yesterday diving for sponges, today letting rooms to tourists, tomorrow what?

Family strategies

In a small-scale economy households make different choices from those in an economy of salaried employees and large organizations. The family will seek stability in polyergy: in having varied sources of income, as many as it can find and appropriate. There is family solidarity: multiple incomes require multiple hands. The father has a petrol station, the son studies information technology for the upside, but if it doesn’t work out he will not starve. The daughter preferably becomes a teacher or a municipal clerk – something secure which leaves free time to care for elderly parents and for the next generation. If the family shop does well, the whole family will work there; if not it will be maintained by one or two members. The system is admirably stable, flexible and long-lasting.

In a small-ownership economy household saving and investment is also different. It is channeled, quite rationally, into real estate and into education. In western economies savings are invested collectively through pension funds, mutual funds and bank deposits. They end up funding industry, technology, infrastructure, and in general, sizeable organizations. In the Greek micro-economy monetary savings have few reliable collective outlets.

Human capital takes a different form. In western economies human capital can develop in standardized career paths – that is, by building relationships inside organizations. Higher education is useful mostly as a first step in a career – if the jobs market does not demand it, the young will not insist on getting it. In small ownership, the value of a person is vested in their individual characteristics. The jobs market does not give clear signals. I want an engineering degree not in order to work at Volkswagen, but because I will have numerous options, as a reseller, contractor, consultant, retailer or just possibly a middle manager. That is why families overinvest in education for the young: in English language tutorial schools, in university exam tutorial schools, in living expenses for out-of-town studies, and even for studies abroad. In national accounts these expenses appear as consumption, but they are investment.

The owner-household is a stable institution as long as it can provide enough income for its members, albeit with crises and mutations. However, there are only a few cases around the world of local small-business economies being internationally competitive – most are in “third Italy”. In Greece, small scale agriculture and tourism have sometimes been competitive; and incomes from working on ships or in western factories made a big contribution to GDP. These were usually not enough, and we complemented those with loans and subsidies from abroad.

Now that the loans have dried out, Greece may need to become competitive in more sectors. Can small businesses achieve that?

Moving into new activities does not seem to be an issue. Greek polyergy is used to that. These are not family businesses where the same activity is carried on over many generations. The young study new disciplines, and parents support them.

There are three major disadvantages in small scale: cost (economies of scale); coordination (transaction costs; economies of scope); and continuity (innovation, updating, succession). If the institutional environment changes in ways that will help small businesses to overcome some of these disadvantages, then we may hope to build an internationally competitive economy on the small scale. If not, we’ll see either persistent poverty or a forced concentration of capital.


The term political rent denotes various forms of income which enterprises, syntechnies and individuals derive from the state, and which do not correspond to real work or real value. It includes idle employment in the public sector, privileged pensions, subsidies without developmental impact, extraordinary profits of private providers to the state, and graft. It also refers to regulations which allow occupations to overcharge in the market (restricted professions, regulated prices, prohibitions), and, less obviously, to the windfall benefits of breaking the law when your competitors are conforming. It does not include public sector salaries for those who truly work, nor social benefits that are given on the basis of general criteria.

Some say that political rents exploded in the 1980s, as the radical populist PASOK government sought to integrate more strata and new business interests into the process of development. But clientelism and favoritism have been inherent in the modern Greek state since its inception, and the state has always been a major player in the economy. Distributing political rents was a necessary means of legitimation of politicians in the eyes of the electorate, and harvesting rents was a major egoistic reason for becoming a politician.

The state as a whole has been a rentier of inflows from abroad: international loans that were distributed to the populace and never repaid, international development plans, and lately the EU structural funds. These inflows have influenced the economy in depth. “Let the money cross the border, and we’ll figure out how to share it”, a small agribusiness contractor said as we were discussing how to apply for an investment grant.

There are also substantial non-political rents in the private sector. Tourism income includes a major rent component, since visitors pay first for location and then for service. Transfers from ships and emigrants are the fruit of real work abroad, but for the receiving local economies they act as pure rent.

Democratic rent

Rent appropriation mechanisms are quite varied, but they have a common effect on economic culture: almost all Greeks, from large business owners to small landowners in islands and to municipal clerks in villages, believe it is natural to have some income which derives neither from work nor from risking capital. If they cannot have it, they feel wronged.

How was rentocracy reproduced over such a long period? One reason was that “the money is there”, to quote a notorious phrase from last years’ election campaign. The money was there from international transfers; and from milking local productive activities within an economy that adopted technical progress more or less adequately; and more recently from exploiting the immigrants.

The other reason was the democratic nature of the system. Rents were widely distributed. Especially after 1980, most households could get some benefits from the system. Democratic legitimacy was further strengthened by new institutions that made access to rents more impartial: the state started hiring based on standardized examinations (ASEP), and the university entrance mechanism eliminated the possibility of personal favors. If people have to work hard and to compete honestly in order to gain access to a position, nobody questions whether the position itself is parasitical. And the privileges attached are considered fair.

Like any mechanism which dominates (or co-dominates) an economy, rentocracy influences behavior and culture in many different ways. Rents may not be a result of specific cultural norms, but they are certainly a cause of such norms.

Zero-sum mentality: rent does not contribute to growth, it only shares in what is there. Therefore, it secured by militant claims, not by productive work. It breeds populism, whose fundamental strategy is to shift responsibility for the whole to the opposite pole, the enemy. In populist discourse citizens identify with the weakest groups, regardless of their actual position in society; so they feel entitled to demand more on grounds of fairness, or even on humanitarian grounds. They do not feel responsible about production of wealth, nor about setting priorities for redistribution to the truly weak. It is others who are responsible for the big picture. Populism differs radically in this from a socialist strategy which starts from the mode of production before the mode of distribution; as well as from a political program of solidarity towards the really poor and excluded.

Business strategy: if businesses can make high profits from government contracts or from other privileges, they will invest more to gain the privileges than to become competitive in an open market. Over time this distorts their whole mode of operation: a good salesman is one who can build personal relationships with bureaucrats, a good engineer is one who can draw out a project to make it more expensive. It is rare for a state-dependent enterprise to be also competitive. This was true for the big so-called ‘national suppliers’, as well as for the small I.T. companies, in which many bright engineers wasted their youth working on useless R&D projects funded by EU Programmes.

Measurement and budgets: rentiers do not need to measure the world; producers do. Rentiers will haggle. Producers will plan inputs and outputs and will try to maximize the margin between the two. The rentocratic state behaves like the rentier. It bargains constantly with various groups (with the ‘non-hired’ for hirings; with farmers for subsidies; with businesspeople for contracts), and always gives a little more than it started out to. It is not constrained by an absolute limit for expenditure or for tax relief. It ends up invariably in deficit, which had not been planned.

Beyond fiscal numbers, society in general does not demand measurements, either for pollution, or for the quality of hospital care, or for the impact of policing on crime. There is no pressure on public services to count and to evaluate. That is how we get to ‘Greek statistics’, long before anybody intentionally tampers with the numbers.


Maybe Greeks will work as hard as westerners when given the same set of choices; but they will not collaborate as well.

In game theory an opportunist is one who grasps the chance to make a good profit today, even if that may have negative repercussions tomorrow. Usually, he will break a rule or spoil a collaboration to make the ‘grasp’ (αρπαχτή – ‘arpachti’, from the verb αρπάζω, to grasp).

A taverna owner in Plaka (the district of Athens below the Acropolis) who serves trash food to tourists does exactly that: he breaks the implicit contract between restaurateur and client, so that he can make a good profit per portion, risking that the client will not come back. He acts rationally, because tourists are transient, and they would not be coming back anyway. This spoils the reputation of Athens as a destination, but he is not swayed by that, because reputation is shaped by the acts of all the tavernas, not just his own.

The opposite of opportunism is cooperation. A business that invests in quality, a builder who takes the rubble to the designated distant dump instead of the field next door, the team member who works hard instead of free riding, the professional who declares his taxable income, in the parlance of game theory are all cooperators.

The roots of cooperation

Greeks act more opportunistically than the Swedes or even the French. This behavioral difference is due to multiple causes. There are cultural differences, and there are different incentive structures, which favor opportunism. The two levels (culture and incentives) interact through tolerance (I will not denounce the tax cheat) and distrust (I will cheat on our agreement, because I expect that you will too).

Why are local cultures of cooperation different, and how deep are the causes? Systematic research on the question has begun only recently, in the past twenty years. The most interesting narrative on Greece is that of Stelios Ramfos on ‘unsuccessful individualization’. The anthropology of the person developed differently among the Greeks than in the West. In western (high) culture “the purpose of the individual is to encapsulate in itself, if possible, the totality of social and spiritual development – a sensitive wholeness of being human”. Western man has internalized, i.e. individualized, the rules of society. In Greek society, as medieval collective structures dissolved, we were left with individualism without individualization.

A related but distinct factor is the evolution of political institutions and economic hierarchies. In the West, feudalism, monarchy and the Catholic Church interacted to create the absolutist state which was mandated to rule and guide society. The bourgeoisie inherited this state and reinforced its role of societal guidance. In parallel, during the industrial revolution large business hierarchies were developed, which assigned stable positions to workers and clerks. Such things did not happen in Greece: we overthrew the Ottoman state rather than developing it, and we resisted economic hierarchies.

In other words, advanced western economies were founded not only on free markets and individual incentives. They were founded on hierarchies (vertical rules) and on strategies of cooperation (horizontal rules). Successful and hegemonic capitalism is free markets embedded in a society of rules and responsibility. Otherwise, it is either a jungle, or a community of corner shops. We Greeks have subscribed neither to vertical nor to horizontal rules. We are neither obedient nor cooperative. If we have avoided the jungle, it is because we have kept the corner shops.

Institutions of opportunism

The culture of opportunism explains why cooperatives fail and syntechnies succeed. A cooperative manages a collective good – for example a packing plant for the farm produce of its members, or a government grant for building such a packhouse. Without mutual trust, members will try to gain individually while offloading loses onto the collective. They will send inferior produce to the packhouse, while keeping the best to sell privately; or, they will divide and pocket the grant without investing, because they do not trust each other as business partners.

A syntechnia has no collective assets, it has common demands. Members easily recognize similar interests in their common occupational designation, and will demand privileges that will be common to all, but of a private nature. As collaboration it carries low risk and requires limited personal investment, as befits members of a group with no cooperative ethos.

Within this context, we have developed some admirable economic institutions, which western-educated technocrats find peculiar. Post-dated cheques, with the legal framework that supports them, reinforce trust among transacting parties because they carry immediate sanctions for an issuer who cannot cover the cheque, without involving the bureaucracy of banks as intermediaries. Each party is responsible for the counterparties it chooses. Name and reputation count. It is remarkable that no recipient of post-dated cheques will try to cash them before their designated dates, even though legally he could do so. If he does, he will be effectively expelled from the market. This is an institution of peer-to-peer credit, which developed spontaneously from below and is based on personal responsibility. We should be fostering such institutions, not be thinking how to banish them. Hierarchical credit from banks degrades individual responsibility and encourages opportunism.

The future of cooperation

Opportunists are not inherently crooks. They are ‘rational egoists’. They will conform to rules if they think it is in their interest. In an environment where most people are cooperators and where opportunism is punished, opportunists turn into cooperators. The issue here is vicious versus virtuous circles. If opportunists are a majority, it is very difficult for the group to converge towards cooperative behavior. This is why history matters.

In the West, history bequeathed cooperative norms and practices. Some fear that recently cooperative institutions are being corroded and individualism is on the rise. This is attributed to different causes, such as the corrosion of families, consumerism, social and/or economic liberalism, inequality, rent-seeking. Could it be that Greece is already there, where the West is now going? Could Greece be an image from the West’s dystopic future?

A countervailing tendency derives from technology. Platforms of information exchange and of collaboration render each person’s contribution transparent, and can make much of hierarchy redundant. For the first time in history, goods can be produced collectively and responsibility apportioned individually. These are tools of cooperation for opportunists; e.g. they enable a lone programmer to sell her services all over the world. Further, they can leverage small amounts of voluntary work into major contributions to collective welfare (Wikipedia), and can allow the maintenance of some collective goods without asking for big personal sacrifices. Could it be that Greek individualism can now find a creative role in the world economy?


To conclude, a brief prologue to a very large discussion.

Development policy can succeed only by focusing on family strategies, on small business, on rentocracy and on opportunism – to build on some elements and to reform others.

A new model of development for Greece should not imitate the ones that have been most successful globally. We start from different initial conditions, and will follow a different route. Let us accept our peculiarity.

Society has developed informal institutions that are widely respected. Private tutorial schools, for example, to which students keep going even when they are shutting down the official schools in protest. Or, post-dated cheques. Let us debate how to make the most of these.

Most of our organized, corporate economy is in non-tradable activities, while tradable industries are for the most part very fragmented. This leads to a paradoxical situation: any improvement in the balance of payments must come from the small units that many politicians and technocrats look down upon, as tax evaders, opportunists and inefficient. Should we encourage concentration of capital in the tradable economy, and by which policy? This is a thorny question, for right and left wing politicians alike, which they have preferred not to address. If yes, how will we avoid rent-seeking and opportunism which plague all large scale efforts in our society?

Small units will always be critical for us. They must become more export-oriented, more competitive and innovative, they must coordinate and collaborate, and they must be free of inordinate regulatory burden. All public sector systems should support these objectives: taxation, social insurance, education, research, infrastructure. Our development discourse must be restated for the small-scale.

‘To each his own weapons’.

[This article was originally published under a Creative Commons license. Please see the original article for copyright and reprint information.]

(via Peter Dorman)

The Stupid! It Burns! (bed wetters and fagots [sic] edition)

the stupid! it burns! Atheism and Other Fairy Tales
When attempting to decide for yourself whether there is in fact a god or not, I would encourage you to first consider the arguments used by the proponents of theism vs. the arguments proposed by the atheists. ...

Another atheist whose words we should consider is the pedantic lunatic, Michael Shermer. Shermer is the publisher of skeptic magazine. Just hearing this man’s name makes me cringe. ... Shermer uses an emotional argument to attempt to disprove the existence of God... He then accuses theists of using only emotional arguments. Really? Who listens to this guy!? I’ll tell you who, the only people subscribing to Shermer’s “Skeptic” magazine are bed wetters and fagots [sic]. If I’m not being politically correct enough for you, then bite me!

The Stupid! It Burns! (know-it-all edition)

the stupid! it burns! The Arrogance of the Atheists: They Batter Believers in Religion with Smug Certainty
The loudest voices of today's militant atheism, for all their talk of rational thought, don't seem to want to do too much thinking at all. ... The militant atheist wants nothing more than to spoil the believer's spiritual journey. That's both meanspirited and radically unenlightened. ...

When the esteemed theologian David Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked C.S. Lewis when he would write another book, Lewis responded, "When I understand the meaning of prayer." It was an acknowledgment that he - a thinker with a much sharper mind than, say, Maher's [snicker, yeah right!] - didn't know everything. I implore my fellow atheists to take this humility to heart. There's still a lot to learn, but only if you're not too busy being a know-it-all.

Another Great Depression?

Underneath the Happy Talk, Is This As Bad as the Great Depression?

According to the post author, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker and host of other Very Serious Economists "have - at some point during the last 2 years - said that the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression." Today's housing crisis rivals that during the Great Depression. States and cities are in worse shape. Loan loss rates are higher. Unemployment is near Great Depression levels. Wealth and income inequality are worse. One out of every seven Americans now rely on food stamps.

If you're not in the top 1%, or hanging on by your fingernails in the top 10% (don't get too cocky: you're next on the chopping block), things are looking pretty fucking grim.

(via Naked Capitalism)

The resurrection of Jesus

I have an enormous body of evidence that people do not rise from the dead. Billions of people have died, and I know that most of them have stayed dead. Everything we know about biology, physics, and medicine leads to the conclusion that people cannot rise from the dead. I could — in theory — be persuaded to change my mind. But I would have to see evidence that outweighed the enormous body of evidence presented above. And that seems like a difficult, practically insurmountable task.

I also have a lot of evidence that people exaggerate, fill in the blanks in their perceptions, take things for granted, make up fictions and sometimes lie outright. Ancient history is lousy with stories of resurrected gods:
Male examples include Asclepius, Orpheus, Mithras, Osiris, Tammuz, Jesus, Zalmoxis, Dionysus, and Odin. Female examples are Inanna, also known as Ishtar, whose cult dates to 4000 BCE, and Persephone, the central figure of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose cult may date to 1700 BCE as the unnamed goddess worshiped in Crete.
And that's just in Western civilization.

Also, the body of evidence underlying our knowledge of ancient history is equivocal or ambiguous about a lot claims that don't contradict my prosaic and scientific knowledge about the world. Who, for example, were the Sea Peoples? How were they able to cause the collapse of the international civilization of the Late Bronze Age? Where did they go? Why was a new international, seafaring civilization (the Phoenicians) able to spring up so quickly in their wake? Nobody really knows.

So you have an enormous body of evidence that undermines the primary idea of a resurrection, a tiny and equivocal body of evidence from which we might support the idea, and considerable evidence that people love to make up myths of resurrected gods.

Furthermore, I cannot investigate every claim directly. I have to, at some level, trust the scholarship and intellectual integrity of others to summarize and present the important evidence in an honest and convincing way. I know no small few scholars of ancient history, professional and amateur, and I find that those claiming insurmountable problems supporting the physical reality of the resurrection of Jesus typically gain my trust. More importantly, I find those historians who claim ancient history does indeed support the physical reality of the resurrection of Jesus invariably undermine and compromise my trust, in ways that have nothing to do with their primary claims.

Given the practical reality, the whole idea of the resurrection of Jesus is a complete non-starter. If you have converted to Christianity on the basis of the historical truth resurrection, you are at best woefully ignorant of basic standards of critical thought and scientific investigation.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (It's a Wonderful Life edition)

the stupid! it burns! It’s a Wonderful Atheist Life?
Watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the zillionith time last weekend, and still loving every minute of it, a thought struck me: Could an atheist or an atheistic culture have produced such a movie? ...

In addition to that Christian-inspired holiday favorite film and many others, what else has Christianity given the world? How about Western culture, and all the art, music, and stories that have come down to us because of Christianity’s influence? Does anyone really think that atheism would have given the world Shakespeare? Or Bach? Or Michelangelo or Rembrandt?

Who was it that saved the documents and knowledge of antiquity? Medieval monks and the Catholic Church. We would know very little of ancient Greece and Rome without them.

How about science? Despite what atheists continually assert, the foundations of modern science were produced by men of faith in a personal, creator God. It was the only worldview that could have and in fact did result in science.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (totalitarian edition)

the stupid! it burns!New Atheists with totalitarian ambitions
Complete victory of New Atheism would be a calamity, and the nature of the question suggests the (a)theocratic false ambitions of the New Atheists, who have been hyped into thinking atheism some kind of scientific proof to it.

Assets/Christianity and Liabilities/Atheism
In Atheistic Society the liabilities/evil are the norm, with there being a rejection of elimination/execution by society. Atheistic societies are considered by Progressives/Liberals to be the pinnacle of being humane. The problem with Atheism is the evil/liabilities leads to disease, death, destruction and poverty that requires massive health care/welfare/entitlement programs to sustain Atheism. Since the Atheists have no assets, they must steal (redistribute wealth) from the Christians for the survival of the Atheists. Atheists reject God because they think they can do a better job of setting up a set of rules for society.

And a little Christmas cheer stupidity to round things out.

Atheists Celebrating Christmas: Worse Than Christians Believing Jesus Was Born on December 25th?
Richard Dawkins sings Christmas carols and celebrates Christmas itself, which he says is a religious festival people of religion- and no religion, can share. That's very kind-hearted of him, but why is Christmas an exception when other Christian holidays such as Good Friday are ignored by atheists? If you want to argue that Christmas was founded on paganism thus making it a faux-Christian holiday and acceptable to atheism, where is the logic in practicing paganism which is as illogical to them as believing in God? It's clear that receiving presents and singing simple melodies takes precedence over logic.

My Constitution: Article I: The Citizen

Article I: The Citizen

Definition of Citizenship

§1 An individual is a citizen of the Nation if he or she was born in the geographical territory of the Nation, was a resident of the territory at the time of adoption of this Constitution, has a natural parent who is a citizen, has been adopted as a minor child by a citizen. A person may become a naturalized citizen if he or she is of the age of majority, is within or enters the geographical territory of the Nation with the intention of permanent residency, can fulfill the obligations of citizenship, and agrees without coercion to abide by those obligations.

Economic Rights and Obligations

§2 Each citizen is entitled without precondition to the economic necessities of a dignified life: food, shelter, clothing. Health being a public good, each citizen is entitled to the equal opportunity to receive medical treatment necessary for life, freedom from pain and suffering, and good health. Education being a public good, each citizen is entitled to he equal opportunity to receive such education that they may successfully acquire.

§3 As each citizen is entitled to the economic necessities of a dignified life, each citizen is obligated work as many hours of labor as necessary on average to provide those necessities, or to pay taxes of at least the median wage times that number of hours. Only provable medical necessity may exempt a citizen from this obligation.

Inalienable Rights

§4 Each citizen has the inalienable right to freedom of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly, so long as the exercise of these rights do not foreseeably threaten immediate and proximate harm to the life or health of any person, so long as the exercise of those rights do not immediately and unavoidably comprise the quiet enjoyment of any individual, and so long as falsehood does not foreseeably threaten immediate harm to the reputation of any person. Each citizen has the inalienable right to listen to, read and examine any speech or writing as he or she sees fit. Each citizen has the inalienable right to hold any religious belief, or no religious belief at all, and may exercise and act upon such belief so long as such exercise does not violate any secular law or provision of this Constitution.

§5 Each citizen has the inalienable right to speak and read any language of his or her choice, and to have any laws, acts or proceedings of the government translated to that language at public expense.

§6 Every citizen has the inalienable right to mutually consensual sexual activity, and the right with mutual consent to marry any person or persons of of his or her choice and enjoy the companionship of that marriage. Each citizen has the inalienable right to reproduce, to bear or father children, if he or she is physically capable of reproduction.

Rights Alienable by Due Process of Law

§7 Each citizen of the age of majority has the right to participate in the democratic process as described in Article II unless found unable to participate by due process of law based only on medical inability to exercise that right to his or her own benefit.

§8 Unless deprived by due process of law, each citizen has the right to reside or move freely anywhere within the geographical territory of the Nation. Unless deprived of freedom of movement by due process of law for a felony, any person, citizen or non-citizen, may leave the geographical territory and jurisdiction of the Nation at any time.

§9 Unless deprived by due process of law, each citizen has the right to own personal property necessary for the efficient and comfortable conduct of his or her daily life.

§10 Unless mandated by due process of law for crimes committed within the jurisdiction of the Nation, or crimes committed against a citizen of the Nation, no person may be compelled to or prohibited from entering the geographical territory or jurisdiction of the Nation.

§11 Unless deprived by due process of law, warrant specifying probable cause, or the reasonable suspicion of immediate and proximate danger to the life or health of any person, every citizen has the right to the privacy and security of his or her dwelling, personal effects, and information reasonably and broadly considered private.

§12 Unless deprived by due process of law, every citizen has the right and obligation to bear arms under military or police discipline for the defense of the Nation or security of the community. Any person who by reason of conscience refuses to bear arms under any circumstances is obligated to serve in a manner acceptable to his or her conscience. It is an affirmative defense that the specific or general fulfillment of this obligation would cause harm to any person or persons that would outweigh the value of the defense of the Nation or the security of the community.

§13 Unless deprived by due process of law, every citizen has the right to engage in profitable Private Enterprise as set out in Article II of this Constitution.

My Constitution: Preamble


We the working people of the world have thrown off the chains of capitalist oppression and exploitation. We are grateful, to an extent, to the capitalist class for having built a mighty engine of material prosperity and productivity, but we are appalled at the price in blood, pain, poverty and misery, this effort has cost humanity. But these sins are now in the past, and it is our duty to look to the future.

We have inherited an industrial civilization, and the task now falls to us to transform it to a civilization of prosperity for not just a few but for all. We must transform our civilization to one where justice is more than the adherence to arbitrary rules, and instead the mutual benefit of all. Just as we have thrown off the chains of feudalism and phony "noblesse oblige", of chattel slavery, of vicious sectarian warfare, we must too finally throw off not just the explicit rule of the capitalist class, but also the relations of exploitation and oppression that after centuries of capitalist rule now permeate our society. We must throw of these relations not with hatred and with anger, but gently, and with love for humanity. But throw them off we must.

Only the working people of the world are fit to rule, but each and every person may join this class. There is much work to be done: to rebuild our roads and schools; to exercise fit stewardship of the Earth and all the living things on whom not just our prosperity but our very survival depend; to bring material prosperity to the remaining pockets of impoverished humanity; to treat and cure the ills of the body that still afflict us; and to rise from the cradle of humanity and explore the vast and limitless universe that beckons to us.

To achieve these noble goals, prosperity, happiness, justice, security, and the fulfillment of the best that humanity can be, we the working people of this nation do ordain and establish this Constitution.

Religion is bullshit

As George Carlin (PBUH) put it, "Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told."

That's fundamentally the position of most atheists: That all the God talk of the popes and priests, theologians, rabbis, imams, gurus and assorted prophets is just that: bullshit, through and through. Arguing that religious bullshit comes in a variety of flavors doesn't help. Arguing that some particular atheist has misidentified some precise flavor of bullshit doesn't help. Whatever these guys (and they're mostly guys, surprise surprise) have to say, you can take the God bullshit out of it and they're saying the same thing, except without divine authority.

The point is not that people who bullshit others, have been bullshitted, or have bullshitted themselves cannot do good things. They can, of course. They can at times even bullshit themselves into doing good things. The point is that whatever good the religious do, they could do the exact same thing without the bullshit, and almost always do it better. Indeed, what's the point of telling me that you're doing something good only because you've bullshitted yourself into thinking that an omnipotent god has bullied or guilted you into doing it? Until you told me that, I kinda liked you for doing something nice; now you tell me you didn't really care about the nice, you cared about the God behind the nice.

You might as well tell me, "I got a nice necklace for my wife."

"Oh, how thoughtful of you."

"No, I hate the bitch, but if I don't suck up to her, she'll divorce me and take the kids and all the money."

"Well, aren't you the model husband."

One thing that strikes me, and I would imagine strikes many other atheists, is how religion is not just bullshit, but such obvious and egregious bullshit. And Carlin's caricature of religious belief,
An invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
is the best the religious have to offer; all the dodges and metaphysical work-arounds are even worse bullshit.

It really is astonishing, and the first thing that comes to my mind is: If you believe that — if you're proud you believe that — you could believe anything. It's the intellectual equivalent of stumbling across Dexter's bodies: If you can do that, you can do anything. How can I trust anything you say or do? It's not a matter of making a mistake, or a moment of weakness, or of not thinking something all the way through: It's an intentional and conscious abandonment of basic intellectual standards of critical thinking: the admission that you find critical thinking is at best optional, perhaps accidental, and at worst contemptible:
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.
The topic of the resurrection has come up in comments. But if a person supposedly rose from the dead today, I would need the entire weight of the scientific community, (with James Randi and Penn and Teller for good measure) working for years to substantiate the event for me to believe it. If I merely saw it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it. Not because I have some sort of bias, but because it would be more plausible that I had been fooled and tricked in some clever way, as clever stage magicians have fooled and tricked me a thousand times before. Bury the event two thousand years in the past in a pre-technological, pre-scientific society, and it's completely unrealistic to hope for even the preponderance of evidence, much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If your religious belief, how you live your life, who you marry and love and hate and give your loyalty to, depends on the fact of the resurrection, and depends on proving that fact according to ordinary standards of historical investigation, you're doomed from the start. We can barely make a credible — albeit controversial — case that any such person as Jesus actually existed; how can you even hope to make a credible case that an event that contradicts everything we know about biology and physics using that same body of evidence? Just undertaking the project with any degree of seriousness undermines any claim the investigator might have to a commitment to critical, rational thought.

It is the "if you believe that, you could believe anything" notion that fills many atheists with an outrage born of fear. Critical thought isn't perfect, of course, and many critical thinkers have done abominable things, but without critical thought, what hope do we have of ever improving? Throughout history it has always been the realization that, "Hey, wait a minute, that [women are inferior/blacks should be enslaved/Jews drink the blood of babies/etc./ad nauseam] just doesn't make any fucking sense, no matter what the priest says God says," that has begun any moral transformation. Critical thinking isn't a panacea, but it's the only treatment we know that can work, to lasting effect.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry fucking christmas

A Declaration of Revolution

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for the people of a nation to seize political and economic power from a privileged minority, and to employ that power for the common benefit of the people of that nation and of all humanity, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the seizure.

We know through scientific study that our political and economic institutions are the common property of all humanity, to be exercised not for the benefit of a privileged few but for the common benefit of all. Our rights and freedoms are not merely noble-sounding abstractions; they must ever be physically built and maintained through the labor of each and every human being. Their benefits, therefore, deservedly accrue to each and every human being. The just powers of not only the government but also the administration of the means by which we secure our sustenance and material prosperity derive from the consent and participation of the people. Whenever the institutions of a society become destructive to those ends it is the right of the people to alter or abolish those institutions and create new institutions to secure not only their liberty and happiness but their sustenance and material prosperity. The institutions of a society, embodying the experience of millions of people over centuries, should not be overturned lightly. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to seize power and create institutions of political and economic governance to secure their own liberty and material prosperity. The history of the Capitalist Class in the United States and the world at large is a history of grievances and usurpations, all having not only the direct object of tyranny and slavery over the masses of humanity. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

The Capitalist Class and its captive government have created a financial crisis that is impoverishing not only the United States but the entire world.

They have stolen the savings, pensions, and homes of millions, even those who have done nothing contrary to the Capitalist Class's own rules.

They have demanded the labor of future generations only to cure the ills caused by their incompetence, ineptitude and greed.

They have thrown tens of millions of people out of work, and forced hundreds of millions more to work harder and longer only to receive less; not because there is no work to be done but because the work to be done does not accrue to the privilege, power and status of the Capitalist Class.

They have poisoned our air, our land and our water, incontrovertibly the property of all humanity.

They not only threaten the very survival of hundreds of millions of people by the scientifically incontrovertible danger of global warming caused by human industrialism, but dither and prevaricate while a catastrophe may yet be averted or mitigated.

They have kept secret or demanded outrageous ransom for scientific and technical advances, advances that rest on the cultural, intellectual and scientific progress of a hundred generations, incontrovertibly the property of all humanity.

They have pursued wars of aggression, killing thousands of their own citizens and millions of innocent civilians in the countries they have illegally and immorally occupied, devastating city, town and countryside, and usurping their economic and political self-sufficiency and independence.

They have compromised or destroyed outright the political liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. No longer are the people "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

No longer do the people enjoy freedom of speech. The Capitalist Class controls all speech, lying and concealing the truth to propagate its own privilege, and imprisoning or impoverishing those whose only crime is to speak the truth.

No longer may we peaceably assemble, nor demand a redress of our grievances, but that we must endure the violence and oppression of the police and the hostility of the courts.

They have fomented discrimination and division: racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination on religion, language and culture, all to weaken the people and turn them against each other instead of their common foe.

They have waged a brutal war of occupation against their own citizens, especially African-American and Hispanic citizens, imprisoning more people, and more people of color, than any other society.

They still seek to deny the most basic human right, the right to control one's own body, to women; they seek no less to enslave half the human race to their reproductive organs.

They have abandoned the physical and economic infrastructure of the nation and the world, allowing to decay its roads, bridges, tunnels, transportation, electric power, water and sewage treatment.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our peaceful protests have been answered by brutality, our elections by subversion and corruption.

As a single individual, I do not have the authority or power to go beyond enumerating these grievances; I can only encourage the citizens of the United States and the people of the world to take possession of what is theirs, by natural, scientific and Constitutional right.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (scientific edition)

the stupid! it burns! Why do many Atheists insist on insulting the Religious as “illogical” But MAJORITY of scientist were religious?
Are Atheists aware that MOST of the well known scientist that you know today in your textbooks were religious? MOST Were Christians (Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Jewish). Almost all of those scientists are Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The Catholic Church developed the scientific method and the law of evidence. Many Atheists assume that Christians have an arrogance against all science. But I am an avid follower of all things scientific as well as devoted to God. ...

I wonder if you Athiests are smart enough to calculate SciMath or even understand the scientific method? You claim to believe in logic. You base your logic… on a religious mans logic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (Mickey Mouse edition)

the stupid! it burns! (Sometimes the headlines just write themselves.) Re: Atheists cause trouble over 11-million-dollar Christmas treeinAbuDhabi :)
Feel free, any time you feel like, to show us where Anthony Flew failed in his understanding of biology and how you are smarter than him. [Note: Anthony Flew is a philosopher, not a biologist.] ...

Do you realize how stupid you and other atheists are to compare belief in God to believing in Mickey Mouse? It just shows that you don't have a clue, it shows that you are stupider than Mickey mouse's turds. How many churches have been erected to Mickey Mouse? How many have given their lives because they have seen Mickey mouse raised from the dead? The truth is, I know you hate the truth, but here it is, believing we are here without a creator has much more in common to Mickey Mouse than believing in God does. So put your Mickey mouse ears on and have faith in anti-science like all the mousekateer atheists do!

Bruce Sterling on Julian Assange

The Blast Shack

The Wikileaks Cablegate scandal is the most exciting and interesting hacker scandal ever. I rather commonly write about such things, and I’m surrounded by online acquaintances who take a burning interest in every little jot and tittle of this ongoing saga. So it’s going to take me a while to explain why this highly newsworthy event fills me with such a chilly, deadening sense of Edgar Allen Poe melancholia.

But it sure does.

(via Brad DeLong)

Americans: Churchegoers or wannabes?

Walking Santa, Talking Christ: Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

Social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.

C. Kirk Hadaway, director of research at the Episcopal Church
and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members' reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county. They found that actual "church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half" of what people reported.

The rhetoric of the preamble

Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
(RCP Publications, Print, October 2010, $8 from Revolution Books)

  1. Introduction
  2. Republic or democracy?
  3. The Preamble
    1. Rhetoric
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

One can criticize the United States Constitution on a number of grounds, not the least of which is that the Constitution perpetually privileges the capitalist ruling class, albeit indirectly. But one cannot criticize the US Constitution on rhetorical grounds, and its preamble, despite (or perhaps because of) its transparent simplicity, is a masterpiece of rhetoric.

Any society, if it is to be a society with a distinct identity, must have some way of speaking with one voice. The purpose of a Constitution is to define what constitutes that voice, what we can and cannot say with that voice, and how the people are bound to that voice as members of the society. In a time of crisis — such as the imminent failure of the Articles of Confederation or after a communist revolution — a proposal for a new voice must be sold to the population. Any state must maintain at least the passive cooperation of the people; Even the most brutal and oppressive state must still establish the instruments of oppression: the loyalty of the army and police, which must come from the people. As we have seen time and again, even the most oppressive states have fallen when the people are no longer willing or able to cooperate. A candidate state that resolves to end brutality and oppression must therefore pay even more attention to selling its voice. It must gain not just the passive but the active cooperation of the people, not just their acquiescence but their enthusiasm.

I am learning from my experience as a writing tutor that the most important part of any persuasive writing is the hook. The very first sentence must make the reader want to read your paper. If you do everything else exactly correctly but your hook is lifeless, limp, boring, you cannot hope to persuade the reader: She will not be motivated to critically engage in your arguments; she will read it "at a distance" without bothering to link it to her own opinions and attitudes.

Hence the rhetorical brilliance of the preamble to the US Constitution. It gets across two of the three aims of the Constitution quickly, simply and compellingly. First, the voice of society is the voice of the people*. We the people — not the King, not God — ordain and establish the Constitution. And the people speak with this voice "in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility," and so forth. These phrases are of course vague as to what specifically constitutes a "perfect union", "justice", etc., but it's important to note that they are not at all vague in the sense that these are things we definitely want. The preamble to the US Constitution definitely "hooks" the reader: it at least offers what we want; the reader is motivated to critically engage with the material.

*At least in theory. In practice, of course, the voice of American society has always been the voice of the economic ruling class, first the slave-owning class, then various capitalist classes. But I'm talking about rhetoric, not substance.

There's a lot of good substance in the preamble to the RCP Constitution, but in contrast to the preamble to the US Constitution, the rhetoric is limpid and boring. I speak with all due humility: I myself am an incompetent rhetorician; indeed I fancy myself an expert at rhetorical incompetence. I can't offer any advice on how to write it, but I know what I want to read: I want to read something uplifting, something that makes me eager with anticipation to join this great new project. There's a time and a place for all the complications and qualifications of communist social and political theory, but the preamble to a draft constitution is not that place. There was no need in the US Constitution to quote Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau; there's no need to quote Marx and Lenin in a communist Constitution.

The best advice I can give is to lay out the positives simply and clearly: We are going to transform society to bring about true justice, true democracy; we are going to end the systemic oppression of the working class, of racial and ethnic minorities, of non-English cultures, and most especially of women. We are going to bring about not just political democracy, not just political justice, but economic democracy and justice. No longer will the oppression of the capitalist ruling class be able to hide behind the fiction of economic necessity. And — in line with my earlier comments — be explicit: are we establishing a democracy? A republic? A one-party state? A benevolent dictatorship? Whatever form of government is proposed, you're not going to sell it if people don't know what it is. If one were (entirely hypothetically) to think a benevolent dictatorship of a person or a party were necessary, come right out and say so; obfuscation doesn't sell. (And if one were (not just hypothetically but contra-factually) intending to actually deceive the people, obfuscation belongs in the small print of the contract, not the sales brochure.)

If your first sentence, or even your first clause is not compelling, you will lose half your readers. (Hence the preamble to the US Constitution begins with the phrase "We the People", itself stirring, novel and engaging.) If the first paragraph is not compelling, you will lose half of what's left. And if you don't say everything you have to say in two or three paragraphs, you will again lose half. If you don't intend to sell the people on the Constitution, there's no need to keep them, but a people under the grudging acquiescence of a superior constitution will be worse off than a people who enthusiastic embrace an inferior constitution.

Rhetoric matters. The RCP can write to its long-time membership, but I don't believe they can communicate with the people at large. Whether they view this inability as a problem, and how to correct it if they do view it as a problem, is up to them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A neutral worldview?

Metaphysics is probably the most recondite field of philosophy. Not only is the field itself subtle and complex, but it is frequently conflated (not necessarily unjustifiably) with other philosophical fields, especially ontology. In one sense, metaphysics is not about the world at all, but about the most basic principles about how we should think.

How we actually do think is the field of cognitive science and neurobiology, but in order to understand how we actually do think, we must have some notion of how we should think about how we actually do think. This curious circularity highlights one of the difficult aspects of metaphysics, the problem of foundationalism: how do we know our "first principles" — especially our first principles of epistemology — are correct? If we adopt a strict hierarchical, deductivist epistemology: a true statement is a statement derived by the canonical laws of logic from true first principles, then we have a conundrum: a first principle, by definition, cannot be deduced from anything. (The best way out of the foundational trap is, I think, the framework of dialectical materialism, but that's a topic for another day.)

One way of looking at metaphysics is as the definitions of the fundamental philosophical fields: What does it mean to say we know something? What does it mean to say that something exists? What does it mean to say that something is good or beautiful? And, most importantly: What do we mean when we call a proposition true? Your answers to these questions comprise your metaphysical system. Given this definition, it seems an easy corollary to say that communication actually happens only when there is some congruence between two people's metaphysical systems: Internally, we have to internally mean something congruent by our words at a fundamental level in order to communicate.

Presuppositional apologetics typically asserts that there is no "neutral" metaphysical system from which to evaluate competing metaphysical systems. To an extent, this assertion is obviously correct: seen as the fundamental basis of thought, the process of comparing anything is itself an exercise of thought, which itself must rest on some fundamental basis, i.e. some metaphysical system. The question, though, is: Does this uncontroversial assertion help the Christian apologist?

There are two senses of "neutral" — other than the trivially incoherent notion of absolute neutrality — that we can usefully employ. First, we can label "neutral" — in the sense of uncontroversial — the areas of congruence between any two people's metaphysical system. Second, we can determine if a metaphysical system is neutral relative to some specific proposition: if the truth or falsity of that position is not logically entailed a priori by the metaphysical system, the system is neutral relative to that proposition.

The presuppositional apologist successfully cuts off one line of naturalist argumentation, that naturalism is propositionally neutral to the existence of a specifically supernatural god. (Of course, naturalism is still neutral towards the god of more traditional apologetics, which hold that the Christian God is naturally knowable.) But the presuppositional apologist is by definition engaged in apologetics, which is some form of communication; if the apologetic is actually happening, there must be some congruence between the apologist's metaphysical system and the skeptical listener's. If the presuppositional apologist claimed there were no congruence at all, then he would be implicitly claiming that he was not engaged in apologetics, that he was simply making noises in the air his listener was unable to understand. So the presuppositional apologist must claim congruent neutrality, and therefore his protestation that there is no "neutral" ground on which to stand must be at least irrelevant and at worst intentionally misleading.

The presuppositional apologist's "real" strategy has to be that the congruence that already exists between the listener is somehow favorable to theism: that the listener already believes in some sense that not just any old god but the Christian God actually exists and is the fundamental basis for the listener's metaphysical system. The apologist need not accuse the listener of active dishonesty; the listener could simply be taking the existence of God for granted.

The presuppositionalist tactic for asserting the favorability of theism in this essentially neutral ground must therefore be to show that if we fail to explicitly presuppose the existence of the Christian God explicit, we can find internal contradictions or areas of radical incompleteness in whatever remains. At the very least, the presuppositionalist must prove that the presuppositions of Christianity are somehow better than those of naturalism.

Unfortunately, these tactics do not actually succeed. The first tactic, showing that naturalism is self-contradictory, usually relies on Logical Positivism or naive empiricism, which has been decisively rejected by naturalists for several decades, at least since Popper. The second tactic, asserting that naturalism "fails to account" for things like logic, reality, ethics, etc. could be trivially addressed by presupposing such things directly, without the mediation of the Christian God. (Of course, naturalistic philosophers have somewhat more sophisticated positions.) And Christianity simply fails to offer better presuppositions by any sense of "better" within the presupposed ground of congruent neutrality.

The only viable tactic of presuppositionalist apologetics is to trade on the difficulty of the subject matter, and to drown the listener in barely-comprehensible philosophical jargon, the thicker the better.

Conversation stopper

Much as I'd like to discuss abstruse metaphysical concepts with Only the Sangfroid, it's difficult to have a conversation when someone fails to observe the basic canons of intellectual honesty. Drawing unsupported inferences is one thing, but you cannot put words in someone's mouth, even with brackets. To do so is not just intellectual dishonesty, it's lying pure and simple.

In Sangy's latest missive, He quotes me as saying,
[W]ho — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care [about truth]?
What I actually said was,
And even if the universe were as thick with causally inert objects as morons at the Creation Museum, who — besides philosophers, theologians, pseudo-intellectuals such as Sangy, and other professional bullshit artists — would ever care?
The only thing an honest person could put inside the brackets would be "causally inert objects". To place one's own interpretation of another's remarks, even if that interpretation were justified (which it's not), is simply lying.

All I can do in this situation is prove he lied and call him a liar. No further conversation has even the slightest chance of being productive.

The Stupid! It Burns! (giant bolus of stupidity edition)

the stupid! it burns! We have truly magnificent bolus of burning Christian stupidity at (This site is usually atheist, so they're either just reprinting Christian stupidity or they've been hacked.) They don't quite cover every stupid argument there is (they seem to be missing the Thomistic arguments), but it's darn close. Put on your tinfoil hat, gentle reader; the stupidity is so powerfully concentrated I cannot be responsible for what happens if you read it.

Christian Responses: Scientific Facts in the Bible
1. Only in recent years has science discovered that everything we see is composed of invisible atoms. Here, Scripture tells us that the “things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

2. Medical science has only recently discovered that blood-clotting in a newborn reaches its peak on the eighth day, then drops. The Bible consistently says that a baby must be circumcised on the eighth day.

3. At a time when it was believed that the earth sat on a large animal or a giant (1500 B.C.), the Bible spoke of the earth’s free float in space: “He…hangs the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7).

Christian Responses: Questions for Evolutionists

by Dr. Kent Hovind [heh]

1. Where did the space for the universe come from?

2. Where did matter come from?

3. Where did the laws of the universe come from (gravity, inertia, etc.)?

4. How did matter get so perfectly organized?

5. Where did the energy come from to do all the organizing?

6. When, where, why, and how did life come from dead matter?

7. When, where, why, and how did life learn to reproduce itself?

8. With what did the first cell capable of sexual reproduction reproduce?

Christian Responses: “Missing Link” Still Missing
Instead of ‘a true missing link’ connecting dinosaurs to birds, the specimen [Archaeoraptor Liaoningensis] appears to be a composite, its unusual appendage likely tacked on by a Chinese farmer, not evolution. ...

Christian Responses: The Dead Sea Scrolls
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) at Qumran in 1949 had significant effects in corroborating evidence for the Scriptures. ... The Qumran texts have become an important witness for the divine origin of the Bible, providing further evidence against the criticism of such crucial books as Daniel and Isaiah.

Christian Responses: Archaeology and History Attest to the Reliability of the Bible
Writings confirming [Jesus's] birth, ministry, death, and resurrection include Flavius Josephus (A.D. 93), the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 70–200), Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (approx. A.D. 100), the Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 115–117), Mara Bar Serapion (sometime after A.D. 73), and Suetonius’ Life of Claudius and Life of Nero (A.D. 120).

Christian Responses: Authority and Authenticity of the Bible
The Jewish historian Josephus as well as the secular Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius all bear record of the person of Jesus.

Christian Responses: “Christians Are Bad People”
So called religious wars and atrocities that go against the teachings of Jesus:
(These include the Crusades, Spanish inquisition and burning of witches)
2,000,000 (best estimate)

Wars and atrocities from just 2 atheist regimes:
(Stalin & Mao)
60,000,000 (recorded fact)

Christian Responses: Faith and Science (Part 1)
Atheism in its classical sense in self-defeating. One cannot affirm a negative in the absolute. ... If the only statements that are true are statements that can be verified empirically, then the principle of verification itself would fail the test because of it’s own premise, “only those statements that can be empirically verified have any meaning,” cannot be empirically verified.

In the 20th century scientific ideas of a beginning have been resisted because they threatened to increase the plausibility of belief in God.

Philosophers of science ... came to realize that the whole scientific enterprise is based on certain assumptions that cannot be proved scientifically, but are guaranteed by the Christian worldview.

Christian Responses: Faith and Science (Part 2)
The present favored candidate for a GUT is superstring theory, but accepting its ideas depends upon believing that theorists, on the basis of mathematical considerations alone, can second-guess the character of nature at a level of detail more than ten thousand million million times smaller than anything of which we have direct empirical evidence.

Note: String theory still remains highly speculative. It is at best a "candidate"; many physicists consider it Not Even Wrong. We don't get our answers handed to us on sliver platter; we have to speculate and then test those speculations against empirical evidence.

Christian Responses: Faith and Science (Part 3)
“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology.” ~ Professor Stephen Jay Gould (atheist)
This is naked quote mining.

And last but not least...

Fundie Ramblings: Part 11
I can have fun stirring a pot of God haters… All you atheist are doing nothing, but proving Biblical prophecy. ...

Have any of you ever actually read a Bible for yourselves to know what it says? I doubt it, because if you did, you’d know that there are more Scientific facts in it than any Science book.

I've just reproduced a sampling of the burning stupidity there. Read the posts yourself to get the full impact... If you dare! [cue scary music]