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Scalzi’s Latest: But I didn’t get MY say!


John “Breathtakingly Brilliant” Scalzi has made another breathtakingly brilliant post.  At 800 comments and late at night, he finally said “Enough,” especially because everyone was repeating himself (and anyone who didn’t notice the non-sex-specific “he” in that sentence might have problems with this conversation).  Point is, I had something to say about it, and, after reading all 800 comments, no one said it.  So I will say it here.

First, please read his post.

Okay, when I say it is ‘breathtakingly brilliant,” I mean it, because it has beautifully redefined things for me.  It was a classic case of, “You’re bothered by this metaphor, so let me give you a new metaphor without the emotional baggage, so that, just maybe, we can discuss the actual issue.”  It worked.

And, in so doing, it highlighted my problem with the whole, massive bundle.  My problem can be stated thus: All of this effort put into either a) How do we make the game more fair, or b) At least making us aware of how unfair the rules are,  makes it that much harder to focus on what is, to me, most important: THE FUCKING GAME SUCKS.

I don’t want to play it, I don’t want to be forced to play it, I don’t want strangers to have no choice but to play it; I don’t like smug assholes “dropping out” to live in the woods and then claiming they aren’t playing it.

The game needs to go.  It needs to be replaced by a game that doesn’t have a wealth stat, or an education stat, because those things are just always maxed for everyone.  It needs to be replaced by a game in which the stats are different talents, and the only thing to put points in are interests and passions.

John calls his game real life, and he’s right, it is.  But I passionately, deeply believe it isn’t the only choice for what real life can be.  Most people will believe my desire here is unrealistic, and dismiss it; but we must not forget that many of these people believe (or believed) that voting for Obama made a difference, so exactly who is unrealistic is open for debate.  In terms of material wealth and capacity for wealth production, there is, at present, enough to create the game I want, or at least get pretty close.   In order to concentrate on changing the rules for stat setting, you must believe the game is always going to be there, more or less the same.

I will never accept that.




Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.


  1. Just because straight while males have the easiest mode for ‘the game’ doesn’t mean that the game is fun. Agreed.

  2. Sir, your desire is unrealistic. Of course, all the best ones are.

  3. There is just no meaningful sense that a straight white male from backwoods West Virginia with no electricity or running water is all up on a coastal black lesbian with a trust fund.

    So long as the 1% keep the proles talking about gender, race, sexuality, ain’t nothing gonna change.

    But assuming it can’t change is a good runner up strategy.

  4. As Hannah Rosin more than adequately pointed out in her Atlantic article “The End Of Men”, the game *has* changed – the effects just haven’t rippled through yet.

    Women are already the majority of the workforce in the US and for every two men that get a college degree, three women do.

    Women (in general) are more adept at the sort of jobs that exist in a 21st century economy. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women.

    “The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.”

    Today if you look across the entire workforce, women are behind – but if you look at Gen-Y statistics, you see that they’re pulling ahead and dominating.

    Nothing wrong with this at all – but the idea that what held for Scalzi’s generation holds for Gen-Y and the Millenials misunderstands the deep changes that are going on.

  5. Maybe this is why I always give up on these discussions in frustration sooner or later. What do specific game mechanics even matter when your deepest wish is actually to get rid of the whole game?

    I don’t know what your idea of an alternate game involves exactly and whether it’s anything like mine, but I figure any unwillingness to play is a step in the right direction. As a person who’s certainly not playing the current game in easy mode, the temptation to get involved in discussions of privilege sure is high … but yeah. I want to change so much more than that.

  6. Pingback: Maria Lima » Blog Archive » It’s not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game

  7. A Warcraft analogy really does capture what’s vapid about the argument: if you wanted to fight with a Rogue in PvP of course you rolled an undead rogue because the racial preferences gave them an advantage. But your undead rogue did not automatically mean you were a lord of PvP. And if you were top ranked in PvP, someone trying to claim it was just because your rogue’s undead was just an ass.

    The easiness of being a white male doesn’t make accomplishment 50% easier or even 1% easier. It’s hard to picture Cassius Clay or Usain Bolt winning more if they were paler. Getting published, selling stuff on EBay, founding EBay: race and gender are becoming less and less relevant.

    Besides giving us an extra chance to belittle the accomplishments of a Bill Clinton, and to give an extra heaping of applause to someone like Willow Smith who has overcome such adversity to become a celebrity, what does the entire category of argument add to, well, anything?

  8. While I agree that the model breaks down on closer examination, I think Scalzi fulfilled his stated goal—getting a certain group of people to think more about the concept of privilege—more than adequately. And the statement that “race and gender are becoming less and less relevant,” which is true, doesn’t change the fact that race and gender are still pretty damn relevant. For example, it’s not at all hard to picture Muhammad Ali winning more if he wasn’t black, because he lost three years of his career to a criminal charge that many people believe was racially (and religiously) motivated.

  9. Steve, if you haven’t yet read Ben Rosebaum’s piece on this at I think you’d like it. It gets at some of the same things as you using different terms– talking about modding the game so there are different scorecards than the default, which sucks.

    Speaking of sucking, I disagree with the idea, from comments, that there’s nothing wrong with the decline in employable skills and graduation rates on the part of our young men. That’s not ‘a decreased relevance of gender,’ that’s us as a society standing to fail at supporting and inspiring a whole generation of boys as to how to live a loving, productive, creative, engaged and positive life.

  10. I find I am in complete agreement with you. I’ve been wishing to live in ChrisWorld for years now, while knowing it’s unlikely to happen in my lifetime. But I can still voice my views; and perhaps, someday, somewhere, they’ll do an overhaul of the code and come out with The Real World II.

    (Heck, I’d settle for a series of patches and expansion packs to slowly change things. Start small, people, just make it happen!)

  11. Anne, I followed that link. I’m so tired of “101” imagery from graduates of expensive private schools. It strokes their egos to play educator, but it’s condescending as can be to people who live in the world they’re able to ignore, the one where wealth matters most.

  12. Okay, I agree that the game sucks and I’d love to be in the game “that doesn’t have a wealth stat, or an education stat . . . in which the stats are different talents, and the only thing to put points in are interests and passions.”

    So here’s the question: how does that work, really? Certain rules of the real life game are unalterable (like the need for food and shelter), but many of the rules are… fungible. So how do you deal with resource allocation without wealth, for example? There aren’t a lot of people with interest and passion for farming, or construction, or facility maintenance, or cleaning, or food preparation so how do we make sure we get enough of those things?

    Personally, I can only see three ways to allocate resources so the whole mess doesn’t fall apart. Invitation/negotiation (money for work), force (might makes right), or altering people to have the “right” interests/passions (through individual altruism, maybe).

  13. It’s a tough problem, Jacob. But I believe one that can be solved, as soon as we get rid of profit as a motivator. We human monkeys are (in spite of the cynicism of certain sf authors) very good at solving problems together when it is in our interest to do so. Personally, I think it’ll be a combination of industrialization on a scale currently unheard of (and unprofitable) and altruism and enlightened self-interest. I do not discount the possibility of some degree of coercion in the early stages; nor does it scare me, even if I’m the one being coerced.

  14. I call “BS”.

    You may have had a case 20 years ago. 30 years ago. But now?

    You need to check your difficulty settings.

    A friend of mine, straight white male, complained to me that he can’t get overtime at his plant. His Hispanic manager is only giving OT to Hispanics. In white-bread Ontario.

    I looked at the bus stop today heading to University of Waterloo, disembarking in the Engineering department. When I graduated in ’93, there were 30% Asians in my class, where they are only 5% in the province. Now it’s 60%. UofW has the highest minumum average in Engineering of any university in all of Canada, and is in the highest demand because its Co-op program is the best in the world, allowing lower class students to pay their own way through University, just like I did in their situation. (That’s right, folks. I was lower middle class, at best.) Where’s the straight white male advantage, when 5% of a minority population is taking 60% of the highest demand seats?

    If you cherry pick your facts, you can find advantage in ANY demographic. The simple fact is the world has CHANGED. The straight white male advantage has been squashed, and other prejudices have taken over. Here, in Canada, access to education is available to everyone that is in a personal situation to take advantage. Walk Waterloo, and you’ll see your own prejudice against straight white males is fundamentally false, and has been for decades.

    You see what you want to see. It’s your turn to walk the streets and open your eyes to the new reality. Prejudice is NOT the sole purview of whites. It never was. It never will be. Blaming us is EASY, and now it’s unjustified. What’s YOUR metric for deciding the world has changed? How will YOU know that the straight white male has lost his dominance?

    I asked that of a feminist once, and she said that it was not necessary. It could never happen, so they would never stop fighting to advance the women’s cause. How prejudiced is that? Women can never gain enough to overcome the perceived male dominance, and turn the tables? Clearly false on its face. But then, feminism was never about equality, was it? It’s about advancing women, and if it goes to far, it’s okay, because it’s only goign to hurt straight, white males. It’s okay to hurt SWM’s, because they’re so privileged, right?

    So if you walk down this road, and take the view that anything you want to do to nullify “privilege” is acceptable, I stand against you. Show me how you will stop when you reach a measurable level of equality, and you’ll have my ear. Without those metrics, you can’t even prove your case that there even exists now a sraight white male advantage.

    You PRESUME an advantage.

    If it exists, you can PROVE it to me. Show me the stats, the numbers for your case. And show me what the numbers should be, instead. And tell me how you will make those numbers STOP, once you have achieved them. If you can’t do that?

    Then I’m not the one that’s prejudiced, Mr. Pot and Ms. Kettle.

  15. Right on, bro. Er, dude. 🙂

  16. Oh, as far as “easiest” setting goes, the ethnic groups that’re richest in the US are Jews and Hindus—Asian Americans were briefly richer than white Christians, but a lot of their wealth was in housing, so the crash set them back. I agree with people who say Jews are white–the Confederacy had a Jewish secretary of state–but it’s awfully hard to argue that Hindu Americans, who’re primarily Indian American, are white.


    So “white” isn’t the only option if you’re playing the game to optimize the odds for wealth.

  17. “But I believe one that can be solved, as soon as we get rid of profit as a motivator.” The thing is, profit isn’t the motivator. “Wanting to have stuff” is the motivator. Profit is how you have stuff in an invitation/negotiation society. The motivation of “wanting to have stuff” in a force society leads to acquiring more force. The problem isn’t profit, the problem is “wanting to have stuff”. (where “stuff” is things you want but don’t need).

    So I agree that heavier industrialization (to decrease scarcity) and increased altruism (to increase fulfillment of remaining needs) would change the game in a good way. I’m not sure what you mean by “enlightened self-interest”. That sounds to me an awful lot like “wanting to have stuff” and that’s the primary barrier to changing the game, I think.

  18. “I don’t want to play it, I don’t want to be forced to play it, I don’t want strangers to have no choice but to play it; ”

    And that is a big part of why we get along so well – I live in StarWorld, and yes it intersects the “real world” but in many ways I play by different rules and work hard to let people escape into StarWorld from time to time.

  19. I’ve been to StarWorld. I like it there.

  20. Kreistor, I think you’re talking to Scalzi, not our host. Our host is saying, I think, that ALL identitarian bickering is obscuring the real issue, which is that all but the richest people live in a world that’s unnecessarily limiting and unjust. When you focus on the minor imbalances of ethnicity or gender or sexuality or religion, you help obscure the real problem. In other words, whether you’re assigning “privilege” to white males or Asians or Latinos or women, you’re playing the socially approved game, and failing to acknowledge that the game itself is deplorably rigged.

  21. Jacob @17:

    I’m confused; you mention industrialization to “decrease scarcity,” but then say “Wanting to have stuff” is a symptom of profit.

    How is “wanting to have stuff” not satisfied by decreasing scarcity? Isn’t that the same as “making sure there’s enough stuff for everyone”?

    The problems are a) when the desire for profit leads to bad people creating artificial scarcity, and b) when “wanting to have stuff” is followed by “better than everyone else’s stuff.”

    I want to stop playing the game AND have my stuff. The very bestest stuff. But I’m perfectly happy if everyone else has it too.

  22. Blarkon, you’re still playing the game. The issue is not whether women have an advantage over men, or men have an advantage over women. As long as we frame the injustice in terms of, “I am struggling because I am X,” we can’t understand the real rules and rewrite them. We are struggling because a small percentage of humanity–male and female, of many skin colors, religions, and national origins–owns a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth and has made the game rules to give themselves the points. They’ll win no matter how hard we try to outplay them.

    So why are we still playing? And worse, why are we participating in identitarian side combats that only offer us the illusion of winning, when in the real game we’re nothing but cannon fodder and non-player characters?

  23. Jacob: I’m using “profit” in the strict, narrow, economic sense: that portion of surplus value that is appropriated by the capitalist. The problem isn’t greedy people; greedy people are a symptom. The problem is an economic system that was so successful, it outstripped itself; it can no longer contain the production capacity it generated.

    I’m with Chris B: I want to have stuff. I want everyone to have whatever stuff he wants.

    Emma: ‘As long as we frame the injustice in terms of, “I am struggling because I am X,” we can’t understand the real rules and rewrite them.’

    Yes. Exactly. Well put.

  24. (It’s an image from the Highlander Folk School web site.)

  25. it isn’t the only choice for what real life can be
    That is the pivot of revolution. Wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who used the antonym as a slogan: There Is No Alternative?

    Back in the Cold War, it amused me that the U.S. and Russia said the identical thing: That other side is total liars and everything they say is a lie — except when they say that they are the only possible alternative to our running things, so you have to keep being run by us.

  26. I think that being able to acknowledge that despite any personal obstacles and challenges, there are many starting points in life that give one advantages. Admitting that doesn’t mean that your life is perfect or even ok.

    That said, the game does indeed suck. Steven is also correct, most folks who are fortunate enough to go completely off the grid and stop playing that game, are able to because of some abundance of resource that made it possible. I’ve mentioned this before, I can get chickens, join my locals CSAs, drive a clean(er) vehicle and install solar panels on my home but I have to be fairly affluent to do any of that and it doesn’t fix the global problem that my existence, however annoying I may find some days, even with my own personal sets of challenges, my existence is a house of cards built on the backs of billions living in abject poverty.

    I don’t like it, nor do I wish to live in abject poverty. I don’t know how to fix this. I know that as long as profit is god it’s not likely to change.

    I think it’s sometimes easier for me to see ow arbitrary this all is because I was adopted-left in a hospital lobby at birth- so happenstance dramatically changed my socio-economic standing in life. I’m grateful for that, grateful for a loving family, grateful for a supportive community but I get that, despite Scalzi correctly avoiding the loaded term, I am truly privileged and my take in things will always be skewed by my position and relative comfort in the larger scheme of things.

  27. Since Scalzi has turned off any more comments to his article–I feel a comment made here might meet his eyes.

    Equating Straight White Men with a default setting of easy in a game is not how I’d see it. They are more like, pardon the analogy, favorite courtesans of the king. While they are used most inappropriately, they are gifted luxuries.

    Now to those who happen to be without those luxuries, a whore is a whore is a whore, right?
    Maybe one doesn’t see the dignity and pride that is taken from the courtesan?

    After all, dignity is the only luxury value that cannot be given only thrown away. And for those with so few luxuries, how can a whore live better than them having discarded that which is so beloved?

    Beloved or the power to gift? How can a powerless whore be above them? Is this not the subtext of the entire argument? And if power is the real reason for the argument than I have to ask–what makes the poor in luxuries any different from those who distribute luxuries to ‘favorites’ ? Quantity?

    Should not there be a firmer footing? A surer ethical base than simply political power? Maybe something like Automation must always be cheaper than human labor? Something to do with the actual under production of luxuries enforced by current economic models.

  28. Emma: I like you. You think right. 🙂

  29. Enjoy the flood of straight white guys who think anti-white bigotry is a problem. I banned one from my FB yesterday. Good times.

    A friend handed me a print out yesterday of me back at the beginning of Occupy Austin, and I was holding a sign which read ‘Be Unreasonable, Demand The Possible.’ I think that fits this post.

  30. @Chris I don’t think you can (with current technologies) take scarcity out of the picture altogether, no matter how much we increase industrialization.

    @skzb Ah. My problem, I guess, is that I don’t really like the term “surplus value”. I’m not sure what that means or what to do with it. That’s why I take issue with both Capitalism and Marxism, actually. Personally, I think money *tends to* follow value in the long term (and in the absence of force). If capital allocation to production is more valuable, it’ll capture more of the money. If labor is more valuable, it’ll capture more of the money. In other words, my view of money in the market is completely descriptive (as a reasonable, if imperfect, stand-in for value). As such, I don’t think there can be *surplus* value.

    I don’t know if workers, consumers, owners, marketers, or salespersons *should be* paid more or less than they are. I *can* tell you roughly how *valuable* those inputs are by following the money. So *should* owners of capital be compensated less? No idea. All I know is that those contributions are valued rather highly at present.

    Market distortions are a different topic, though related. The trend with successful businesses is, unfortunately, to begin looking for ways to apply force. Monopolies, cartels, false advertising, subsidies, and other rent-seeking activities all serve to disrupt the flow of money to value with varying side-effects. We value some side-effects (like pushing the price of murder for hire up by punishing assassins). Others, not so much (like raising the price of computers or books by cartel/monopolistic practices). I’m not sure what the effect would be of redistributing the money currently being captured by capital owners by force. Typically, that’d lead to less capital being applied to production and thus to lower production.

  31. I see what is being said here, but I don’t think that socialism is the right answer, or at least not direct socialism. One main reason that I believe that is that I don’t see us converting to socialism without some unforeseen and unwanted consequences (though you could argue that there would be positive unforeseen consequences as well). What I suggest would happen, is that those that are happy living off welfare without contributing, will continue to do so. I also see others, who would have motivation to perform a function under a capitalist society, would also become content to not contribute due to not seeing the direct benefit of hard work. There will still be those that will work, even work hard, but I would suggest that there would be a lot less people just because the benefits of the hard work would be distributed among all the people of the sovereignty. Though I will admit that socialism would solve a lot of the issues of preference, due to everyone getting the same amount, no matter who or what you are.

    I don’t believe that greed is a symptom of the system that we have, so much as the system is allowed it to present itself through the medium that the system presents. Due to human nature, even in a socialist society, you will find bureaucrats that will find a way to get advantage over others using the same attributes that present themselves as greed in our present society.

    Let’s have a mental exercise: Imagine a world so large and full of resources that anyone can have as much land and resources as they would want. In this world, there is no such thing as copywrite, because the thought of enforcing such a concept over an infinitely large world is laughable. Some people will have vast expanses of land, and others will be content with having just enough for an apartment. Let’s say that some of these people develop technologies using their plot of land. Some people will freely share that technology with anyone who wants it, and others will trade services, or even monies for those technologies.

    Do you think, even though there is nothing wrong with steeling the idea of the technology and developing it on their own plot of land, that some people would rather just try to take the land and/or the facility that built the technology, instead of just developing it for themselves on their own land? Do you think there won’t be people that will always be expanding their land just because enough is never enough? Do you think that, just because there is more than enough land for everyone, that crowded cities wouldn’t still develop and with them, the social problems that are inherent in the crowded cities that we have now?

    Though most humans are not greedy creatures, there are some who no system will be able to cure or prevent. There is no truly and fully right answer, just a bunch of answers that each have different pros and cons.

  32. Emma, it’s quite possible to fight economic injustice as well as racism, sexism, and all the other -isms. When you say that you want to ignore prejudice in favor of fighting for economic justice, you’re willfully ignoring a whole host of problems.

    This is not an either-or situation. We can do both, just like we can simultaneously rescue cats in our local town, and campaign for a national cause, and worry about what to have for dinner tonight. Multitasking! Not that hard.

    “When you focus on the minor imbalances of ethnicity or gender or sexuality or religion, you help obscure the real problem. ”

    That is a deeply foolish sentiment. What you are saying is basically “How can you worry about this tiny problem when there are STARVING CHILDREN IN CHINA?” It’s not useful, it’s insulting, and it’s silly.

  33. Amphigorey, I won’t speak for Emma, but since she may not return to this thread, I thought I ‘d try to clarify one thing: social justice activists see separate forms of oppression that sometimes intersect; socialists see hierarchy and believe its branches are intertwined.

    For example, SJ activists believe racism and classism are distinct, but socialists agree with Rev. Thandeka, who wrote, “we must not forget that white racism was from the start a vehicle for classism; its primary goal was not to elevate a race but to denigrate a class. White racism was thus a means to and end, and the end was the defense of Virginia’s class structure and the further subjugation of the poor of all “racial” colors.” and Trinidadian historian Eric Williams, who wrote, “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”

    As for characterizing what Emma said as a “deeply foolish sentiment”, I suspect you have failed to note that that’s more “not useful, insulting, and silly” than your sentence about what you think she is “basically” saying—something that sounds silly because you made up something that is silly rather than hear with what she said.

    Which isn’t a personal failing, mind you. It’s simply a limitation of the worldview you’ve adopted.

    Social justice activists wish to believe there are no hierachies in oppression, but their ability to think being working class is equivalent to not being picked up by a racist cab driver is a bourgeois privilege. Working-class people know what matters most: food, shelter, health care, and education.

    And, no, this doesn’t mean racism and sexism don’t matter. Socialists have always been at the front of the fight against those particular manifestations of hierarchy.

    There is also the question of whether quibbling about words will make a better world. I’ve seen no evidence that it does, though that belief is at the heart of slacktivism.

  34. “hear with” Why, yes, that was “deal with” in the first draft. Typos R Us.

  35. Kit: “Be unreasonable. Demand the possible.” I cannot express just how much I like that. Yes.

    Jacob: Value – (material costs + labor) = surplus value. It is simply the amount of value added by labor; or, in other words, the difference between what the worker is paid, and the value he produces, for a given commodity.

    Chris: “What I suggest would happen, is that those that are happy living off welfare without contributing, will continue to do so” Really? All three of them? You don’t think even one will change his mind?

    Amphigory: To me, Emma was, purely and simply, suggesting we cure the disease rather than devote our energy to fighting the symptoms; or, at a minimum, recognize what the disease is that is causing the symptoms. I agree with her. I respect that you may not.

  36. Will, what Emma said plainly attempted to minimize racism, sexism, ableism, et cetera, in favor of focusing on only one thing. That’s quite explicit in her sentence. That’s what she said. She said don’t focus on these things, look at this other thing here because it’s much more important, and she implied that those things don’t matter. That’s why it’s a foolish (and deeply privileged) thing to say.

    Of course the vast wealth disparity in the world is a huge problem. I’m not disputing that. I am disputing Emma’s idea that nothing else matters until we fix it. You can do more than one thing at once, you know.

    Christ on a sidecar, Will, nobody said that not being picked up by a racist cab driver is equivalent to being poor. I don’t know where you got that. No wait, I suspect I DO know – it’s because you misread Scalzi’s post. You’re fighting straw men.

  37. Amphigorey, humans read through their preconceptions. That’s just being human. But now that you’ve told us twice what you read, try to read what Emma wrote.

    As for what I wrote, the online social justice community claims all oppressions are equal–that’s what underlies the “don’t play oppression olympics” meme.

    It’s a meme which privileged people embrace because they don’t want to acknowledge that in a capitalist country, privilege is ultimately about capital: Life is simply harder for poor folks than anyone else. Deal with it.

    And if you think that poverty is about race or gender, here’s one of my favorite Martin Luther King quotes which is still true today: “In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.”

  38. Amphigorey: It is interesting to me that you say “much more important” is the same as, “the other doesn’t matter.” Let us just say I disagree, and I suspect Emma disagrees, and leave it at that.

    What is key, in my opinion, is not “what will give one the worst starting handicap,” but rather, “what is fundamental to all social inequalities?” In my opinion, it is class society. In my opinion, the complete destruction of class society and the rebuilding of society on the basis of equality is the only answer.

    Moreover, theories–like identity politics–that not only obscure this, but actively tend to foster divisions within the working class, are reactionary, dangerous, and destructive.

  39. skzb@35: “Really? All three of them? You don’t think even one will change his mind?”

    I happen to know two of the people which I have described. One of which is probably in prison now, because she used the money from the Government to ditch her kids and go hang out with a new boyfriend in another state. Another, who is actually a friend of mine, lives in an apartment that is to small for him, his wife, and his kids, but instead of going for a better apartment, he decided to spend it on a brand new Star Wars edition Xbox 360 and a few games to go with it, as well as a full set of brand new paintball gear. I would say that both of them are pretty happy with their situation (if the one has managed to stay out of prison), and considering that both of those within the same county that I live in, your exaggeration of three people is too far off to be justifiable. I would be willing to submit that at least half (perhaps even more than 80%) of the people that are on welfare are not happy with their situation, but the fact remains that there are those who believe that welfare is just fine for them and thus are not motivated to improve their situation by attempting to get a job.

  40. Chris, you are, I trust, aware that there are not enough jobs for everyone? The statistics are available with very little googling.

  41. Will Shetterly, I am not referring to those that are not happy with welfare and are looking for a job. I’m referring to those that are on welfare and are not looking for a job. The people who, there could be more jobs than there are people to fill them, and they would still prefer to be on welfare. As I have stated before, I am willing to admit that it is a relatively low percentage.

    My original point was, even though socialism would create an environment where everyone was treated equal, that it wasn’t necessarily the best option. Marx himself said that it wasn’t the best system, only that it was the inevitable fall-back system that would be adopted when capitalism failed.

    I would prefer that a complete overhaul of our current system needs to be put in place. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to come up with all the details of the changes that I am proposing, but I would like to see the end of party politics, a welfare program that encourages employment and discourages stagnation, and a government that performs the function of a government and nothing more. What I mean by the function of a government is:

    First and foremost, the protection of the people under its sovereignty. I don’t mean build up a massive army with weaponry so stalk-piled and advanced that the next country down doesn’t have even 1/10th of the military capability, I mean that we only have what is needed (such as the military of the Clinton years). More importantly though, the government should be the first line of defense to defend the rights of its people, which should be completely even across all the inherent attributes, no matter which ‘difficulty level’ the person is. The making of laws should be an effort to protect the people, and not restrict them from doing things that has no effect on other people.

    Second, I believe that government should act as a restricter, instead of an enabler, of those that have accumulated wealth and power sufficient to be considered their own government if circumstances permitted. Lobbyists should not exist in any capacity, and corporations certainly should not be considered people.

    Third, government should organize and run systems of the sovereignty’s infrastructure which are needed throughout all the land either for commerce or survivability, which would be unfeasible if left to competing companies to accomplish them (I know that the government contracts companies to accomplish most of those things, that’s not the point).

    Other than that, I don’t think the government should go any further. I keep going back and forth on whether the full Health Care Act is a good thing, but I do like the regulations that have been put in place to protect people from the things that insurance companies try to do (and have been doing). If I end up paying less than my current $900/month for health insurance, and it ends up being better coverage, and also covers everyone, then I will be impressed.

    Even if all that happens, or if you prefer, if your own solutions to how the government should change happen, it will still not change social prejudices. Those will only disappear, with the slow march of progress, and only when generations that have the prejudices ingrained into them die off. Even under the best of circumstances, I will be dead long before the change has fully occurred.

  42. skzb: Yeah, I know the formula. I just disagree with it being “true”. It is demonstrably… inadequate. Or incomplete. It leaves out the value of capital investment by renaming it “surplus value”. I think a more adequate formula is (labor * capital investment) – material cost = value. If you had all the material in the world and all the labor in the world your value would still be zero without capital investment. This is true even for basic farmers who need the capital investment of cleared land and tools (using labor to clear the land and create tools is simply using labor to create the value later used as a farmer’s capital investment and doesn’t change that farming requires that capital investment).

    To be fair, the capitalists get it equally wrong when they try to flip that around. If you had all the capital in the world and all the material in the world, your value would still be zero without labor. This is true even for the most automated factory in the world, at least to our current state of technology.

    Both capitalists and Marxists are talking across each other, in my view. Both camps marginalize the other in the apparent attempt to distort the allocation of value in their favor. Capitalists denigrate labor in favor of capital investment. Marxists denigrate capital investment in favor of labor. I don’t find either convincing.

  43. Chris and Jacob, in broad strokes, you’re both defining forms of socialism. Marx’s conception–and I’m not a Marx scholar, so don’t assume I’m right in my interpretation–of socialism was as a transitory phase from capitalism to full sharing of the world’s resources. Which could be called regulated capitalism. The capitalists of the 19th century and the right-libertarians of today would say any restrictions on capitalism are socialism.

  44. ‘It leaves out the value of capital investment by renaming it “surplus value”.’ The term Marx used for capital investment was, let me see, capital investment. This is surplus value that goes back into the production by paying for more labor and materials. It is certainly part of the process. But putting it in the equation where you did is just silly.

  45. It is my understanding that politics are the attempts to change the balance of power in society by people or groups of people. To continue with the game analogy, people are trying to change the stats in the game of power, from within the game.

    “In order to concentrate on changing the rules for stat setting, you must believe the game is always going to be there, more or less the same.

    I will never accept that.”

    Well said, Mr. Brust. Well said.

    But there is something I see as a problem.

    I understand how the game can make its ugly head apparent, even though pounds of makeup are applied to hide it. People can and do recognize it, and efforts are being made to show more people the truth. The current system does not work. Not only is it broken, but it is not repairable, not salvageable, and it needs to go. A known hurdle that is being addressed.

    I understand how, in the right atmosphere, anger at the game’s oppressive nature can be ignited. Revolutions happen, and sometimes they even succeed. Certainly not unprecedented. Again, it is something recognized as a hurdle that can be faced when we get that far.

    But in between is a problem. Most people in America buy into the idea that major, revolutionary change of any type does not happen. It is simply scoffed at. Challenging individual norms is a rite of passage of sorts, but it is expected of those darn rebellious kids to grow up quickly and accept that Change Does Not Happen.

    So assume we get people to agree that this system, in its entirety, is not working. The problem I am having is how do we get people to go from, “Yeah, there is a problem, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” to the forceful words of Mr. Brust, “I will never accept that.” Because only once the people, a majority of them, relearn the proper way to stand up for themselves will we have any chance in the more tactical phase of “the complete destruction of class society and the rebuilding of society on the basis of equality.”

    I fully acknowledge that I am a fresh 18 years old, and therefor have little or no real understanding of the topics above. Just today, while reading the powerful declaration, “I will never accept that,” did it really hit me how the entire thing might truly need to be torn down for a fresh start.

    And then I confronted my own above question. “What can I do against an invulnerable system of millions of humans.” But I though how fragile societal systems are. How many times now have civilizations fallen? Why should the current one be any different? It is the classic thought of, ‘it won’t happen to me,’ and it needs to be countered.

    If you have not yet noticed, I’m still forming my opinions, so forgive me if this is so far off-base that you don’t know where to start. I consider this an ‘essay,’ in that with these words I am trying. Trying to express my thoughts, review them and edit the daft bits out. Hopefully I’ve added to the discussion, and hopefully you fine folks will be civil in your criticisms. I do indeed want holes poked into this, but constructively please.

  46. Ryan: Valid question. In my opinion, people are, more and more, going to be driven onto the road of revolution, because all other options are going to be and more obviously shut down. At that point, victory or defeat will be determined by what sort of leadership the working class as managed to create.

    Is that at all helpful?

  47. @46 This is a good place to plug a new book by Michael Sandel called “What Money Can’t Buy” in which he examines the way market economies not only change monetary norms, but how they change ethical norms. It’s offers a sad picture of how market societies widen the gaps between rich and poor by allowing the rich to pay more and more for things regardles of their actual production value. The saddest part is when he cites study after study that show altruism plummets when a cash value is put on formally civic minded actions, and then the original generous intent often fails to return because people no longer regard certain actions as civic, but as commercial.

    Following his analysis, people are being numbed into apathy as more and more of their lives are commercialized, and revolution isn’t a likely scenario.

  48. Mr. Burst, yes, it is helpful, albeit in a general way. It does answer my question. Even in the most successful and well disguised system of oppression in history, ours, if you narrow down the options to rebellion or a life of slavery to the government people should see things clearly. The matter of, “Well, I can’t do anything about it,” is washed away in the spirit of uprising. Everyone else thinks that if they work together they can do something about it, what’s the problem?

    But for me it reveals another question. I don’t think our “other options” will ever run out. What I mean by other options is the pointless circular politics of the game. They don’t offer us any real traction so they are fine right where they are, in the eyes of those who control the game. They are the illusion that we have another option. Why push things and openly oppress the people when you can rake in money and maintain relatively stable power while never narrowing the populaces’ perceived choices down to nothing else but the road to revolution.

    They don’t want a revolution, so they let us keep the ‘right’ to run in circles for our particular cause. So the next question is, “How do we cut through the lies and get people to realize that they are being duped by their government into believing they have ‘other options?'”

    Suddenly this looks a lot less probable in my eyes. As an atheist in a catholic high school I found that rallying an idea, even when your idea is the majority, is nigh impossible when the opposite ideas are enforced by authority. But you have sold me. I’ll see if maybe a few others think the same way when I go to college in a few weeks. Grassroots movements and word-of-mouth are the only tools we have, might as well use them.

    And to think I just registered as a Democratic Party Member. How quickly things can change.

  49. Ryan: That’s a reasonable attitude, just one that I disagree with. I believe that, as the economic crisis deepens (the underlying crisis, of which the cyclical ones are an expression), the options of the ruling class will narrow. This years run by neo-fascist Ron Paul indicates that sections of the ruling class are dipping their toes in the possibilities of extreme measures of repression. They aren’t there yet, but I think they will have to be, and sooner rather than later. Of course, I could be wrong.

  50. Emma: “Our host is saying, I think, that ALL identitarian bickering is obscuring the real issue, which is that all but the richest people live in a world that’s unnecessarily limiting and unjust.”

    Since the vast majority of “rich” people today are self-made, and not inheritors, they EARNED that state. Brust’s position believes only in inheritance and Class structure dictating who is and is not rich, and that hasn’t been true in almost a century. Communism was born in an age in which that was true, but Capitalism has grown to be inclusive. Getting rich today is more about picking the right company to work for to get plum stock options for the IPO, than who mommy and daddy were. How many got rich off Microsoft? Hundreds? And I’m in Waterloo, birthplace of RIM. You think birth had anything to do with getting in there early? Your view of birth and privilege is archaic, and ignores the current state of wealth.

    “When you focus on the minor imbalances of ethnicity or gender or sexuality or religion, you help obscure the real problem.”

    But when you expand to the overall view, you lose the truth: opportunity does not come to the race, but to the individual. You can’t point at a 16 year old and say, “You will have an easy life because you are straight, white male,” and the gay black girl and say, “You will have a hard life as a gay black female.” The boy’s father may have died of a heart attack and forced the college-capable kid into the work force to pay the bills, and the girl’s father could be a rap star that will put her in his next album. At the individual level, things are not that simple: an individual straight white male can certainly have the difficulty set to “extreme” and the gay black female set to “smooth sailing”.

    How familiar are you with the term “Networking”? 80-95% of jobs are obtained through contacts — who you know, not who sees your resume. (Only 5% of jobs are gotten via the Black Void of the Internet resume upload.) HR gets 2-5 THOUSAND applications for every position it advertises on the Web. Is it any wonder they walk downstairs and ask their employees, “Do you know anyone that could do this job?” and then hire a friend of an employee?

    Networking is, fundamentally, nepotism and sustains group based hiring, which conveniently helps with your prejudice theory. But it is the only choice. Public advertising for positions is just plain daunting for the company. And this is not going to be solved by “ending profit”. The problem is created by the Internet and how it has shrunk the world. gone are the days when companies advertised in the local paper and expected 40 resumes: job hunt sites find it, plaster it publically, and they still get thousands.

    Emma: “In other words, whether you’re assigning “privilege” to white males or Asians or Latinos or women, you’re playing the socially approved game, and failing to acknowledge that the game itself is deplorably rigged.”

    I did not assign “privilege” to anyone, did I? I pointed out that prejudice and helping of your racial type is common to all races, if not sexes and religions. Singling out one that you perceive to be worse thna the others leads to a very dangerous creation of a publically accepted stereotype that it becomes “okay” to abuse. You create a third class by blaming it for what is endemic and natural behavior.

    And don’t try to tell me that it’s impossible. We’re already seeing it in a lack of parental rights for fathers, regardless of race.

    So, yes, Emma, I was talking to Steven (though he won’t speak to me at all anymore).

    Steven’s fantasy solution was clearly disproven in the USSR. The children of the Politbureau had all of the advantages, got all the best schoooling, access to resources and jobs, but I guess it was so much better because there was no money driving the privilege. Only money-based, not power based, privilege is unacceptable.

    Removing “profit” or any scapegoat motive ignores the real reason that Networking and nepotism persist. For 99% of the world, you live for your FAMILY, not your society. Remove Profit? Family is still there. Friendship is still there. You help your friends because you know them, and are certain that they will help you. And that continues regardless of class or economic situation. Destroy money entirely, go back to a barter economy, and it is still true: your perceived prejudice remains, because profit was never the motive.

    I wish I kept one quote, but this one appeared on a radio while I was at work. It was from a CEO of a major financial institution, and he was asked by a reporter, “Why are you greedy? Why make so much money?”

    Answer: “To make life better for my children.”

    In the end, all of this descends to that level. If you get in front of a man with a son he intends to send to College, and say, “You have to pay for that child to go to college, and your son doesn’t get to go,” you are going to have a problem prying that money out of him. You’ll need men with guns behind you, because to him, you’re stealing everything he worked all his life for: to make life better for his son.

    Because it’s about FAMILY. Not race.

  51. Continuing the conversation from 49.

    My theory was on the basis that those in power want stability long-term, and I mean decades and centuries here. If things are not stable more people start looking for reasons why, and some of them see that the game itself, as you eloquently put “Fucking Sucks.”

    But do those in power ever think even close to long-term? HA! To tie this into the current economic trough, bankers decided to use an immediate money-making scheme that they knew full well undermined stability. That hurts themselves in the long run. They’re -bankers- for cryin’ out loud. The service of making money more fluid in the economy. When the economy hurts, the money stops flowing. This real life lack of even basic foresight is why my theory would be the smart thing to do, not what actually happens.

    So the idea that individuals of the ruling class want to stay for any particular length of time can be thrown out. It would be nice if their children could hold down the mansion- oh, I mean fort, in fifty years but if they had to chose they would rather, to quote a favorite comedian of mine, “put spinning rims on a gold jet-ski” now instead. Probably to hang from the ceiling over Michelangelo’s David in their bathroom. So mine those damn peasants for all they’re worth!

    I’m getting too cynical. Anyway, thanks for clearing the tracks for my trains of thought.

  52. I very much like Scalzi’s metaphor. It is eloquent in an eye-opening way. However, what I don’t get is the idea that, in the game metaphor, money = winning. I don’t buy that. Continuing the metaphor, I think the accumulation of wealth is a very clever misdirection in the game. One where the player gets to what they think is the final puzzle or boss showdown, but finds that they’ve been chasing the wrong thing the whole time. I know very wealthy people who are not happy or fulfilled. I know people who are at or near the poverty line who are both happy and fulfilled. Money does not equal happiness, love, or fulfillment. The pursuit of wealth as an endgame strikes me as a big joke the coders wrote into the game, and the joke is on the player who fixates on that path.

    That doesn’t negate Scalzi’s point, however, as the player who rolls white-male-straight still gets the easy setting on the pursuit of happiness. There is evidence in that the white-male-straight demographic (myself included) certainly has the best percentage of players who are, for lack of a better term, fat, dumb, & happy.

  53. One thing I think everyone here is missing, and Scalzi as well. The viewpoints are all very American in their shortsightedness of a true world encompassing look at things. In the states we really don’t get a good look at the rest of world. If you do some traveling and actually live for any time in other counties you will find that some of the countries with the poorest populations have some of the greatest wealth. China and India have a vast accumulation of reserve wealth at their disposal but the majority are miserably poor. Many countries in Africa have great resources. The true problem is global and America and the western white male is such a small part of the problem as to be laughable. Racism, Sexism and Classism are to a far greater degree much more prevalent in most every poor country you can think of than in the United States. In most other countries people from the wealthy down to the very poor only care about getting ahead and don’t give a damn about the next guy. (That is a generalization but applicable to roughly 80% of the populations) Life is far cheaper outside the US. And, even in the poorest of them the people don’t want some arrogant western social justice engineer telling them how to fix their lives. Remember also, that there in the US the poor are far better cared for than almost anywhere else in the world. I have said it before here that you cannot fix the the world until human altruism becomes the norm. In every socialist and communist society throughout history, ruthless greedy people have taken control and destroyed the system. I have fought and bled for our country and have lived in a lot of countries so I know something of what I say. America was the greatest country in the world but she has squandered her wealth trying help people who only want to take that wealth and have no use for our values or our belief in fairness. That is the world we live in. A couple of small things that each of us can do will help to make life better. Live your life the very best that you can. Far better to help the people who live next door than to worry about impossible dreams of remaking an imperfect world. God will take care of that in his time.

  54. Kevin: “The viewpoints are all very American in their shortsightedness of a true world encompassing look at things.”

    Hardly an American thing. People used to say the Japanese took a long view of things, but their 15 year long recession has proven that didn’t turn out so well. Over the long term, the variation in potential events grows to infinity, making long term planning moot. Solely looking at short is wrong. Planning for mid-term is good, but long term simply has too many possible problems to make it reliable.

    “In the states we really don’t get a good look at the rest of world.”

    And they dont’ get a look at you, either, except through Hollywood’s view of you. When no one else does what you’re nto doing, it’s not fair to point the finger only at yourself.

    “If you do some traveling and actually live for any time in other counties you will find that some of the countries with the poorest populations have some of the greatest wealth. China and India have a vast accumulation of reserve wealth at their disposal but the majority are miserably poor.”

    Not quite true. China and India are both resource poor.

    The current myth is that China owns vast amounts of the US. Well, that comes from its insistence on only trading US$ for Yen at a set rate. They can’t get teh money out of the US, because the Chinese government doesn’t have enough Yen available to buy it all, or much of it. They have fundamentally restricted themselves to being unable to bring their wealth out of the USA. They could print huge amounts of Yen, sure, but that leads to the break neck inflation we saw in South America during the 80’s, where they printed vast amounts of dollars. (Which is why it is a Bad Idea (TM) to put the money supply in the hands of elected politicians. They’ll print money to buy votes for re-election. Like they did in South America.)

    Don’t sell the USA short. It has problems, but the idea the USA has screwed up more than others is only possible if you do exactly as you claim — ignore everyone else’s mistakes.

    “Many countries in Africa have great resources.”

    No, that’s not true. Vast amounts of Africa have no appreciable resources.

  55. @Kreistor
    Are you drunk?! or just dyslexic? Where do you get your info. India may be resource poor but China certainly is not, and exploration groups are finding new resources in Africa and South America every month. Regardless of all that you got my name wrong and missed the point of my post entirely.

  56. 1. I never talked about South American resources. I am well aware of their richness, especially in Copper, Silver, and the various by-product minerals that come out of copper mining, as well as Lithium, oil, etc.

    2. There are some regions in Africa that have resources, but the central and plains areas are not amoung them, and they cover vast stretches. The poorest African nations have no resources: it’s the ones that were already rich that are finding more.

    3. China produces a lot of the rarest minerals, and iron/steel, but not a lot more. Compared to its population, it is quite resource poor. it has certain specific resources in quantity, but it lacks a lot we would call common, too, despite being the third largest country.

    Sorry about the name. Wasn’t intentional.

  57. Since the vast majority of “rich” people today are self-made, and not inheritors, they EARNED that state.


  58. SKZB et al, I know damn well ur smart folks, but do you think maybe it might be more interesting to consider what Is (evolution, to make a long story short), rather than what you wish could be or what should be or what would be right…I’de really enjoy hearing what u smart folks would say about Real reality…cheaters win, cheaters survive, and cheaters will always dominate the gene pool. The only thing those cheaters do better than cheat is deceive themselves about their cheating. thatz what the true arc of human history — backwards and forwards — is all about. white guys, steven hawking, blah blah…thatz really ur horizon for this conversation? Y do folks (white, red, thin, overeducated, handicapped…whatever) use all that tremendous gray matter simply to do the same things cavemen did, only better: more sex, salt, sugar, faster cars, beat the Joneses, whine about social equality…when our brains can pursue whatever the social eqivalent is of quantum chromodynamics? Our scientific knowledge (which has been great for showing us what our brains are capable of) has WAY outclassed our thought in pretty much every other dimension. I’m living through this idea-disparity in spades right now in the Army War College…damn fools are still studying Clausewitz! (as if killing better could ever be a good answer to any worthy question). I frankly have not heard an interesting idea in years…smart folks like u are too busy talking about bs like this…yeah, u just keep waiting on society to do the right thing–maybe u simply haven’t explained ur ideas clearly enough yet to take hold…yeah, that must be it. utopia must be over the next hilltop–my bad. SKZB, u should have just a liitle bit more respect for those who drop out. they may be on to something ur thinking just hasn’t gotten to yet.

  59. Ever notice that those who can’t be bothered to spell or paragraph also can’t be bothered think?

  60. notso concerned about ur grammar/spelling remarks, but i am interested to know wutz wrong with the ideas. seriously, if player levels rocked ur world but evolutionary psychology rings empty to you, you’ve got some serious catching up to do.

  61. He’s young and therefore disorganized, Steven. If he’s in the War College, he can’t be 24 yet. Laying out a good argument takes practice and experience.

    But what he is NOT doing is spouting regurgitated crud. That’s all him pouring out, from the heart. Sticking his neck out to get chopped off.

    And Maxx… it’s time to start spelling properly. I know kids Text and L33tspe4k lot and short-cut to speed comms, but it’s lazy language, which suggests lazy thought processes. You’ll get discounted and ignored, just like Steven just did to you. It’s time for proper English.

  62. Maxx: The problem with lazy spelling, grammar, and paragraph breaks is that it becomes much too much work to ferret out any meaning that might be hidden there. In your case, I could not do so.

  63. This time, what came to mind/heart was

    and I’m delighted to discover a score of videos.

  64. @SKZB “The game needs to go. It needs to be replaced by a game that doesn’t have a wealth stat, or an education stat…”

    You make a good point.

    @Jacob Proffitt – “There aren’t a lot of people with interest and passion for farming, or construction, or facility maintenance, or cleaning, or food preparation.”

    This just isn’t true.

    Farming: Look at all the people who go in for hobby farming, urban farming, organic farming, etc.

    Construction: People start with Legos and erector sets and building model airplanes and railroads — and the ones who go on to make something big and real feel like the lucky ones. There are television shows devoted to showing people how to do their own projects in carpentry and home improvement. I myself am an enthusiastic maker of all sorts of different things from musical instruments to parasols.

    Even cleaning has its enthusiasts, with blogs and discussion boards dedicated to handy tips for doing it better.

    Food prep? People may not aspire to work the line at Burger King, but where do the world’s chefs come from if not people with a passion for preparing good food?

    It’s not that people don’t have any interest or passion for these things, it’s that the industries are dehumanizing and nobody wants to be treated like a cog in somebody else’s machine.

  65. A dead post, perhaps, but this quote reminded me intensely of what you’re saying, Steven:

    “Over and over again, I heard Occupy tell us that we needed to cut the pie up in a fairer way. Not once did I hear them say that the problem was the pie itself; that it was, in the final analysis, rotten.”

    from a review of Heist: Who Stole the American Dream

  66. Propose a system that has no “rottenness” in it. All that statement means is that everything humans create is flawed, and we already know that. That a human created system is flawed is not a reason to abandon it, until a system with fewer flaws is available.

    I have yet to see any system proposal that approaches our current levels of freedom of thought, speech, movement, and choice. Nothing else that has ever existed has permitted so many to be so free, and at the same time create an economy in which so many have so many more resources than basic needs.

    Like it or not, reward for success is mandatory, if you want success in your system. And once you’ve got that, you will always have the 1%.

  67. Steve – I agree – the game fucking SUCKS. The fact that it’s rigged SUCKS. The fact that the rigging is pretty iron-clad SUCKS.. The fact that the game promotes people who act like monsters, SUCKS. But for me, more than anything else, the fact that I’m forced to play it sucks so goddamn much I sometimes want to kill myself, and not in a “hyperbole” type of way. I *hate* the game; I *hate* being shaped by it; and I *hate* having to “play” it.

    But we as humans have been struggling with the basic tenets of the game for a long, long time. Siddhartha, for example. The whole concept of samsara, and/or dukkha (in all of its connotations.

    I think that a system of government will not do much to change the game–garbage in, garbage out. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrapped in cellophane or gold foil. Our human instincts define what will become of any system of government–and our proclivity towards, for example, tribalism, will mean that it will for the foreseeable future remain essentially the same game. Maybe you could call it “Taxes Hold’em”.

    Our quality of life has immeasurably improved; but we are still, with our mortgages, or our insurance, or our healthcare debts, BOUND to a state of indentured servitude–the underlying principle remains essentially unchanged. We are placed by the system into a mode where our output is maximized and siphoned off so that we have enough to live (and often not even that–such is the cost of making sure that the majority of people are “siphoned” to the right degree); but never enough to deliberately and directly change our lot in life, barring extremely unusual circumstances.

    Until such time as we can change the input; modify our predisposition to tribalism, our hard-wiring surrounding risk and reward, our inability to perceive that when religious texts speak about treating each other as our brother/sister, they have, perhaps inadvertantly, described a very profound truth…then I think we’re stuck where we are.

  68. skzb

    Jon, in my opinion, there is no need to fall back on “tribalism” or “human nature” or Buddhist mysticism or any other vague handwaving to understand it. Political inequality flows necessarily from economic inequality. Economic inequality is a soluble problem today, which it was not even a hundred years ago, simply because of how much we as a species are now able to produce.

  69. First, I want due credit for “Taxes Hold’em” as a phrase 😛

    Second, I agree that the problem is soluble today. I don’t agree that our basic instincts are irrelevent factors, for a couple of reasons: 1) if political inequality arises from economic inequality, where does economic equality arise from? I maintain that it arises from our instincts surrounding material resources. 2) If we are serious about solving the problem of economic inequality, we must as a whole be prepared to make, and be OK with, the necessary changes to our current system. There will never be sufficient public buy-in for those changes until such time as we re-program ourselves in our instincts surrounding material resources, among other things.

    Communism in Russia failed because of corruption, and has almost completely failed in China for the same reason. It failed because people paid lip service to the underlying principles of the system of governance. Behind closed doors, they behaved exactly as you’d expect humans to do, exploiting the system for their direct or indirect personal gain. Many people actually bought in to the system; but not enough (both in terms of numbers as well as depth of conviction).

    I very highly doubt that immediate redistribution of wealth/resources can be achieved by anything other than an armed insurrection; but my question is, what happens the day after? History is full of examples of revolutionary governments becoming the very thing they rebelled against. In the Old Testament (various different books), it’s somewhat comical how predictably a righteous king was followed by a corrupt one–so much so that I wonder if the authors weren’t trying to convey an accurate historical timeline as much as they were trying to convey a moral lesson.

    So, unless we’re okay with killing people, and then killing some more, and then some more, over and over and over again, I don’t think violent rebellion is the LONG-TERM answer. I’d be perfectly okay with an armed insurrection if we could rest reasonably assured that it would be one of the very last that ever happened.

    The alternative is very difficult. Incremental progress happens at a very slow pace indeed, since a society’s life cycle is much longer than our own individual lifespans. The advent of improved historical records has been a double edged sword; it shows us how far we’ve come, but it also makes us impatient for the next steps which will, as always, proceed at their own pace, and not ours.

  70. skzb

    ” I don’t agree that our basic instincts are irrelevent factors”

    What basic instincts? If you identity specific instincts and show me a scinentific basis for believing they’re real, I’m fine with that. I just see too much of people pointing to behavior that was clearly learned from class society and calling it instinct.

    “if political inequality arises from economic inequality, where does economic equality arise from?” Development of the productive forces sufficient to create a surplus, but insufficient to create plenty.

    “There will never be sufficient public buy-in for those changes until such time as we re-program ourselves in our instincts surrounding material resources, among other things.”

    War, police murders, income inequality, chronic unemployment and underemployment are all doing a fine job of reprogramming people.

    “Communism in Russia failed because of corruption, and has almost completely failed in China for the same reason.”

    This turns out not to be the case. Communism in Russia (or, to be precise, the Russian workers state that was aiming for communism) failed for many reasons, but primarily because of economic inequality that could not be overcome in one very backward, isolated country. China, like North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, never had a workers state; it had a peasant revolution (as opposed to a working class revolution) that included nationalized industries and a ton of Marxist slogans with no content.

    I think violent revolution is the answer because, so far, society has found no other way to move from one economic form to another.

  71. I suppose our difference is that I’m taking a longer view–which sounds like it’s “better” but might not be better at all. It’s just a different frame.

    The instinct towards tribalism, for example, is a well-documented phenomena. Babies learn to distinguish between a similar face shape/colour *very* quickly, and react negatively when “strangers” are present. I could probably find the studies if you want, but your google is as good as mine. But they ARE out there to be found.

    The instinct towards resource-hoarding is present in almost every animal, humans included, when stress and resource-scarcity (or the potential for scarcity) is presented. Resource guarding is a fairly universal characteristic that can develop when significant resource-scarcity is established.

    On the other side, the nurture instinct that many animals can display towards babies, not necessarily of their own species.

    It may sound very counter-intuitive, but just because it’s a learned behaviour, doesn’t mean it’s not an instinct. But perhaps I should clarify: what I term an “instinct” is something that we are genetically programmed towards. Certain behaviours, certain responses to stimuli (such as, but not limited to, reflexes) are going to be fairly consistent across cultures.

    The difficulty in pinning down what’s an “instinct” and what’s a learned behaviour lies in the fact that instincts are powerful impulses towards a certain type of behaviour, but not the same as reflexes, which occur 100% of the time a specific stimuli occurs. Instincts, in other words, are subject, to a varying degree, to the conscious mind, but it often requires a significant act of will to ignore or overcome an instinctual bias towards a given behaviour.

    I’m going to pass by your explanation as to why economic inequality arises, because you’re right; but I think there are very very many reasons why it occurs, and it really depends on which particular filter you want to view it from–which is why I’ll also bypass the communist state’s reason for failing. Obviously very very many factors that went into what happened there. I don’t think I’m wrong, and I dont’ think you are. But neither of us have time to exhaustively catalogue all the extensive influences that created that outcome.

    But I will mention your comment re: China/Korea et al. because your point reinforces mine–they never had a worker’s state; ie, there was never sufficient buy-in from the populace.

    Re: War, police murders etc. I would disagree. One of the applications of the tribal instinct is the ability for us to not care as much if, for example, some black person dies in South Sudan, or some Arab in Syria, than if our own child, or family member, or friend, or even acquaintance dies. The death of anyone we’ve come into contact with will provoke a more intense response from us than the death of a complete stranger who we essentially create an abstract reality of. It’s hard to personally identify with someone who has no personality traits in our minds (because we were never exposed to which traits a person had or didn’t have).

    The average person has a remarkable tolerance for travesty. And their own self-interest is a POWERFUL _instinct_ to NOT engage when they see/know of an injustice occuring in their vicinity.

    I agree that violent revolution (or the threat thereof) is the answer as well…but to what question? I am not okay with violent revolution if it means replacing one despot for another. Utilitarianism is a pretty cold and unsatisfying mechanism for justifying one’s actions…but where even no utility exists, what possible justification can there be for killing/death/suffering?

  72. skzb

    Once again, Jon, thanks for the thought-provoking reply. One thing I’ve never understood is, if “tribal instinct” is supposed to explain so much, how do we account for the overall kind and welcoming treatment Europeans received upon arriving in the Americas?

    In my opinion, your analysis of China is flawed. There was no shortage of support, or “buy-in”, at least up until Chang massacred the Shanghai working class. What was lacking was a revolutionary leadership determined to base its work on a working class, rather than a peasant-based program. It is worth pointing out that the Left Opposition pointed out this problem and warned of exactly this danger before the events of Shanghai. See, for example, here: or do a search for “China” in this document:

  73. Let’s say that a bunch of people disapprove of me.

    Some of them disapprove because I’m black.
    Some of them disapprove because I’m male.
    Some of them disapprove because I have strange ideas.
    Some of them disapprove because they think I have autism, a genetically determined disease which is diagnosed by behavior. If you say things that upset people whose social status is higher than yours, you probably are on the autistic spectrum.
    Some of them disapprove because I am a SF fan, a member of a group of impractical weird poorly-socialized people.
    Some of them disapprove because I don’t go to a church they approve of.
    Say I get all this disapproval and I’m trying to live on $15,000/year.

    Now suppose that I find a way to live on $60,000/year. All that disapproval matters a whole lot less to me. It doesn’t matter that much in the first place. Except it might have a lot to do with income, and treatment by police, and government benefits, etc.


  74. A lot of people feel superior to a lot of other people. I personally feel superior to people who believe they can solve math problems without knowing any math, and who believe they *have* solved math problems who get wrong answers but don’t notice.

    I feel superior to people who believe they can reason out social problems using the English language, dialectically, and who then are sure they are right. Language is a tool, using it effectively is an art, and before you decide for sure you have used it to find the objectively correct answer you need to be sure you’ve chosen the right question.

    Anyway, people like to feel superior to other people. It may be a problem that some white people feel superior to all blacks, that some black people feel superior to all whites, that some religious people feel superior to all religious people who believe other religious doctrines, that some white people feel superior to other white people because of their accents when they speak or their place of birth, that some successful bridge players feel superior to everybody who doesn’t play bridge as well as them, etc etc etc.

    I don’t know what to do about any of that. One obvious approach is whenever you find a white person who feels superior to blacks to scorn him and feel superior to him. I tend to just accept that this is something that human beings tend to do. There are a lot of zen stories about zen monks who have spent their lives attaining whatever zen is, getting into competitions about who is most zen and feeling very much superior for winning the competition. Like zen is something you do to win competitions, and after you have won you put it aside and go back to your everyday thinking.

    But if none these superior people were in a position to mistreat each other, it would be much less a problem. It’s people who have power over people they feel superior to, people they feel don’t deserve rights, things like that, that are the problem.

    Of course, it’s people with more power who can stop people with less power from mistreating people with still less power. If they want to, and know how.

    If somebody with strong muscles decides to bully weaker people, they can band together behind a leader who will tell them what to do and they can stop that bully. They can bully him. Their leader can’t bully anybody unless they let him, which they will often do. This is not really a solution. It is something that sometimes improves things and sometimes makes them worse. I don’t see how we could keep it from happening if we wanted to stop it.

    People who bully other people often feel justified. People who are anti-racist feel perfectly justified to bully racists, because they know they are right and the racists are wrong. Of course the racists believe they are right. As a moral relativist I don’t want to say which of these people are objectively right or wrong. I just note that pretty much everybody who bullies people believes he’s right and the people he bullies are wrong. I don’t see what to do about that either.

    It’s a puzzle. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Pretty often when I can’t figure out how to solve a problem, it means I’m trying to solve the wrong problem.

  75. @Maxx

    “cheaters win, cheaters survive, and cheaters will always dominate the gene pool. The only thing those cheaters do better than cheat is deceive themselves about their cheating.”

    I can see how it would look that way at the War College, where most of the students cheat regularly and occasionally they throw out a few (or a lot) for cheating without affecting the rest. But this is because they officially want you guys to follow a strict set of rules to be the best military officers. The ones who get caught cheating are not devious enough to survive the later infighting. They reward actual results, and the appearance of propriety.

    But in the real world, there isn’t any War College administration to enforce the rules. There’s only public opinion and its effect on some corrupt and mostly useless official enforcers. Cheating doesn’t mean what it does for you.

    But I’m blathering on, Plato said all this more effectively, a long time ago.

    “Y do folks (white, red, thin, overeducated, handicapped…whatever) use all that tremendous gray matter simply to do the same things cavemen did, only better: more sex, salt, sugar, faster cars, beat the Joneses, whine about social equality…when our brains can pursue whatever the social eqivalent is of quantum chromodynamics?”

    Isn’t that what this post is about? People do that because they can’t afford to lose the game that’s being played around them. If you’re on a football field they expect you to play football. If you and one of the guys on the other team decide you’ll move off to the side and play tiddly-winks, you’ll get removed from the football field and replaced by guys who are ready to play football.

    “Our scientific knowledge (which has been great for showing us what our brains are capable of) has WAY outclassed our thought in pretty much every other dimension. I’m living through this idea-disparity in spades right now in the Army War College…damn fools are still studying Clausewitz! (as if killing better could ever be a good answer to any worthy question).”

    Doesn’t Clausewitz talk about that some? You have the blind emotions propelling war, the rational efforts to find an acceptable outcome, and the random reality to navigate. You aren’t trying to answer a “worthy question”, you are faced with politicians who often enough demand their opposite numbers’ heads. You don’t get to choose the questions you must respond to. The most you can do along those lines is to resign rather than lead your force into destruction. If you are senior enough you can try to reason with politicians.

    You can’t expect people to look ahead. The rewards for that are usually minimal. If you follow a proven path, you won’t be faulted for it until you are there when it stops working. If you put other people’s resources into trying out an unproven, potentially unworkable alternative, you can expect to be blamed for it before it can be tested.

    So to get by, your best chance is to think of alternatives which might become necessary, and secretly prepare for them. Find things you can do which would help you, and come up with normal, innocuous ways to get them started. Then when the crunch comes and you actually have to use them, you can present it as brilliant improvisation. It wasn’t that you secretly prepared, against doctrine. That would make other people look bad. It was only that under the spur of necessity you found ways to use what you happened to have available, to do what needed to be done.

    Best wishes.

  76. @Steve – re: my interpretation of China being flawed: Your argument doesn’t really counter mine–ie, I can still say “not enough buy-in” like some sanctimonius little know-it-all POS…

    …but I suspect you’re right because what I don’t know about the Chinese revolution, or really any revolution, could fill a library. I readily admit that I have done little to no research on the topic. The interpretation I described can be shoved into the hole that history left, like too many clothes into a dresser drawer–and I can say “Hey look, it fits, it must be right” even though shirt sleeves are hanging out and preventing the drawer from closing properly.

    That’s the problem with my understanding of the world via metaphors and group-think. It can often come up with solutions that LOOK right, if you don’t look at the details–and the problem is that, in that mode, you *shouldn’t* look at details, because that introduces inaccuracies based on scale transitions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the inconsistencies in the argument are accurately explained away as translational problems.

    I think my perspective can/should be limited to being a tool by which the problem may be viewed from a different perspective, one that’s not readily accessed by most people (I think). The novelty of the perspective means that it may, perhaps, “punch above its weight” when it comes to producing meaningful insight, but it should not replace in-depth analysis, regardless of how tempting it is 🙂

  77. @J Thomas “It’s a puzzle. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Pretty often when I can’t figure out how to solve a problem, it means I’m trying to solve the wrong problem.”

    Perhaps what my long-winded arguments boil down to is what this person has said: I don’t think you can successfully fight fire with fire. It is here that I believe people like Christ, or MLK Jr. for example, can show us the way. You don’t have to agree with everything they said; but if they happen to drop a truth worth keeping, I’ll gladly pick it up, and I don’t care if it was a Hitler who stumbled upon it.

    Going back into mysticism, there will always be a yin to a yang; or in science, always a reaction to an action, or an effect to a cause. The relationship between these two diametrically opposing principles is NOT one of confrontation, or even negation; it is about a balance, one requiring the other to exist. There will always be the exploitation of those who are vulnerable. I believe the solution is not to seek out the exploiter’s vulnerability and attack it, but to find a way to minimize the harmful effects of their exploitation.

    I believe that labour relations in the world today can be described as “We are exploited to a degree with which we can live; and where one side goes too far, there will always be a response to restore that balance.” That response may or may not be effective. If not, a further response is necessitated.

    I believe that, currently, those who require the labour, ie, the corporations or whatever you want to call that market force, are exploiting the worker to a degree that is out of balance; and that this is why this message board, or Bernie Sanders’ campaign, exists. We are all part of the solution–the question for me is, is that solution going to be effective in resolving what we want it to resolve?

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