<> Perspective <>

Issue #2: June 24, 2018  

 

Contents:

“Killing Children is Bearable Now”, by David McNary

“Climate Change”, by James TenEyck

“To Change a History”, by Michael Quackenbush

Summary of Matthew Stewart’s “Birth of a New Aristocracy”, by David McNary

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Killing Children is Bearable Now!

Since 20 children laid dead in classrooms at Sandy Hook, Americans have decided to end the gun control debate.

Killing Children is Bearable

It’s what makes America Great!!

270 million guns we have

90 mass shootings have been completed

It’s the Guns Stupid!

America is Efficient.

The closest country has 46 million guns, 18 mass shootings.

They’re not even close

4% of mass shootings are mental health related

96% are not

Our gun homicides are really doing well

We have reached 33 homicides per million

Canada 5 homicides per million

Great Britain, at .7 million per million

Come on guys catch up.  Wimps!

We are not more prone to crime

Hey but we are more lethal, 54 time more lethal

It’s the Guns Baby!

I knew we were good

So Americans stick with it

17 kids in Parkland last Wednesday

Schools are a great place to

Make America Great Again

And again

And again

And again

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To Change a History

 

When someone says “I’m voting for Mary Smith because she reflects my values, she thinks like me”,  we feel that this expressed rationale is right and proper. But saying the same thing in different terms can change how we feel about this rationale.

 

A story from my past:  During the Nixon-McGovern presidential race, I worked a between-jobs job at a drive-in movie snack bar, where we were told to do a straw poll of the customers, using, of course, drinking straws to tally the votes.  To the outrage of my fellow employee at the snack bar, I guessed correctly the candidate choice of each person who walked in the door…by profiling.

 

My fellow employee said in outrage that I couldn’t do this, that people are not two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.  Unfortunately for her argument, and for her beliefs about people, I profiled accurately every time.  I could do this because a person’s early life experience shapes his behavior for the rest of his life, including how he’ll vote, and this behavior is easily profileable.

 

That statement explains what prompts the comment “she reflects my values”, but explains in a psycho-jargon way that people find offensive.  The values assertion maintains a comfortable mystique of human individuality and uniqueness and complexity, and who can begrudge people their comfortable illusions?  But it leaves us helpless to deal with the psychological manipulation of voters by those who intend to dupe them into taking over for them, through voting, this most consequential government on the planet.

 

It may be that comparing the worth of people’s comfortable illusions to the cost they exact on society tells us we may have, in recent decades, sold out society for the sake of the individual.  Ayn Rand’s equating of society with a decayed and debauched herd, while individualistic capitalists were cartoon superheroes, reinforced libertarians’ uber-selfish constitution. It has gotten to the point that, today, legislation prioritizes selfish concerns such as individual rights to open-carry guns everywhere, over society’s well-being.  

 

This focus on the individual, instead of on society, enables the useful trick of setting individual against individual, group against group, to keep society as a political force crippled.

        

As humans were evolving, and what benefited the group benefited the individual, this wisdom became a genetic imperative.  The knuckle-dragger and the Renaissance man alike benefit from society-building measures, and suffer when ideologies work on parts of the brain that are not informed by evolutionary wisdom.  Ideologies are used to divide society for the sake of power and profit for the few. If ideologies can be properly parsed, if their power to pervert can be extinguished, then our common interests would lead to a much more unified society than what we see today.  

 

Soldiers were interviewed as they were returning home after WWII.  What the Army found out was that 85% of soldiers shooting from their trenches had deliberately aimed high to avoid hurting  faceless strangers who were firing at them (probably aiming high, also). Drivers approaching four-way stops or lane merges take turns with people they’ll never see again.  It’s what social animals do. It’s how socialized beings behave. Monkeys, even birds, have a sense of fairness, and display outrage when treated unfairly.

 

It takes ideology to bypass a few hundred thousand years of genetic selection for cooperation and make one of those particularly shocking corporate CEOs we all love to hate.  The CEO and the victim of his/her bad behavior both have the same prosocial genes, but ideology turned one of these cooperative humans into something we try to process by calling it a sociopath.  

 

The KKK lynchman and his victim both have the same prosocial genes.  How could someone with these genes become such a monster? As the song says, he has to be carefully taught.  It doesn’t come naturally.

 

Being born with a gene for cancer does not guarantee a person will get cancer, nor will good genes guarantee immunity.  Dietary and lifestyle choices, and environmental factors, can overpower genetic predisposition one way or the other.

 

Being born loaded with prosocial genes is no guarantee of a person’s sincerely humanistic behavior.  Early lifetime experiences can teach cruelty and assure votes for Republican and Libertarian candidates for office.

 

We saw how reality is irrelevant, when Trump supporters, shown photos of inauguration day crowds for Obama and for Trump insisted that the sparse crowd for Trump was clearly bigger than the crowd for Obama.   Only dogma and division matter, that which is so carefully taught.

 

This brings us back to the observation that a person is altered in predictable ways by early life experiences.  Knowledge of how to use these predictable personality sortings to advantage is useful to political parties, to politicians, to corporatists, who distract us from our commonality with manufactured lures or resentments or fears.  If we saw only our commonality, there would not even BE political parties or politicians or corporatists.

 

The comment “I’m voting for Mary Smith because she reflects my values” doesn’t sound so warm and fuzzy in light of these observations.  It demonstrates a need for separation of people into distinct camps created to keep us disapproving of each other. Being a responsible citizen means stepping up the intensity of the war against the evil others.  We actually feel virtuous when we work to defeat and humiliate fellow humans who wave the wrong animal flag, or else we feel guilty and ashamed if we give up and just wallow in self-pity. Either way, we’re not living as members of a healthy and united society that can accomplish whatever it wants.

 

Let’s talk in future issues about  how we are going to change this history.

 

Climate Change

 

The climate change “debate” in the United States for the past two decades has involved one party (our side) trying to convince the other party (their side) of the validity of the claim that human activity is causing an unsustainable increase in global temperature.  The other side resists this claim either because it represents a threat to private economic interests, a challenge to underlying beliefs in the primacy of market forces in governing economic behavior, an encroachment of government on individual freedom, or simply a disdain for liberals pushing “their agenda.”  There is little that either side can say or do to change the opinion of the other.

Perhaps the appropriate question to ask each side would be: “Suppose you are wrong?”  What would be the consequences, and how should such a possibility be addressed? A simplified exercise to illustrate this approach is to take a blank sheet of paper and draw a line vertically down the page.  The right hand side will denote the truth of the claim about the effect of human activity on the climate, and the left hand side the negation of this claim. Now draw a second horizontal line across the paper and let the area above the line denote that effective action is taken to address the problem, and the area below to represent no action being taken.

The question of the validity of the claim is not something that can be resolved by debate.  It is what it is, and the only tool we have for determining an answer is science and the tools and methodology that it embraces.  Only the people actively involved in this particular branch of science can give an authoritative opinion, and 97% of these scientists find that human activity is causing climate change.  Thus we should consider that 97% of the area of the paper lies to the right of the vertical line.

The question of whether the United States will take sufficient corrective action is, unfortunately, a question of political debate.  The probability that it does will relate to the percentage of people who regard it as a real and significant threat. Let’s put that number at 50% and allocate ½ the area of the paper above and below the horizontal line.

The lower right hand quadrant represents the case of a real problem with no action taken to prevent it.  It has been assigned a probability of 0.485 and its costs will include losses due to coastal flooding, severe weather events and droughts, climate induced population migrations, increased competition for basic resources, increased risk of pandemics and war, and depressed economic activity.  The costs could be astronomical.

There is only a 0.015 probability of spending money to avert a problem that does not exist, as represented in the upper left hand quadrant of the paper, but this will also add a long-term benefit of a more environmentally friendly infrastructure.  The money spent in the upper right hand quadrant will be offset by the amount of damage averted if nothing were done. The average, or expected, cost is just the sum of the costs/benefits times probability associated with each quadrant. Ideally it should be at or near zero.

This exercise would need to be repeated at regular intervals with the costs, benefits and probabilities changing with the actions taken or not taken in previous years.  The basic question being addressed changes from one of belief to one of how much insurance it is prudent to have in case the unexpected occurs. The real beneficiaries of this insurance policy, if purchased and maintained, will be the future generations that will assume the consequences of the actions we take – the same people we find it prudent to insure in our personal lives.

Climate change is not just a national problem, but a global problem.  The United States is a major contributor of the carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere and has historically played an influential role in shaping world opinion.  If it wants to continue to exert its influence and merit the respect of other countries, particularly our “friends” in Europe and elsewhere, it cannot shirk its obligations on this issue.

 

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Summary

“The Birth of a New Aristocracy”

by Matthew Stewart

Atlantic, June 2018

 

    • Top .1%, 160,000 households hold 22% of the Nation’s wealth.  Their money can buy elections.
    • The next 9.9% (down to 90%) hold 58% of the Nation’s wealth. 8.8% of them are minority.
    • The bottom 90% holds 20% of the Nation’s wealth, down 17% from the 1980’s.
    • Median Black family has net worth of $1,700 in 2013
    • Median Hispanic family has net worth $2,000 in 2013
    • Median White family has net worth of $116,800 in 2013
    • Economic mobility in the land of opportunity is not high and is going down.
    • IGE (intergenerational earnings elasticity} at .5 and getting higher.  At 1 means child ends up right where they came into the world of their parents.
    • At the bottom and top 10% IGE is very close to 1.
    • United States has the greatest inequality and immobility among the developed nations.
    • Rate of single parenting is the most significant predictor of social immobility.   
    • 70% of children born to parents with high-school education or less live in a single-parent household.
    • Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease are 2 to 3 times more common in individuals with a family income of less than $35,000 than a family income greater that $100,000.
    • The 9.9% live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons.  We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.
    • Parenting is more expensive and motherhood more hazardous in the U.S. than any other developed country, that campaigns against family planning and reproductive rights are an assault on the families of the bottom 90%, and law-and-order politics serves to keep even more of them down.  We interpret their relative poverty as vice: “Why Can’t they get their act together?”
    • 2.2% of students graduate from nonsectarian private high schools, yet 26% of these students are represented at Harvard and 28% represented at Princeton.
    • A founding myth of our meritocracy that the rising education premium is a direct function of the rising value of meritorious people in a modern economy.
    • The Godfather of the meritocratic class is the financial-services sector that has $1 of every $12 GDP.  In the 50’s it was $1 out of $40. In 2008 the public underwrote the risks. This financial system has been engineered over
    • decades by powerful bankers, for their own benefit and for that of their posterity.
    • The exceptionalism of American compensation rates comes to an end in the kinds of work that do not require a college degree.
    • The educated ban together in associations of professionals.  The working class through unions—considers a violation of the sacred principles of the free market.
    • The 9.9% have mastered the art of getting the government to work for us even while complaining loudly that it’s working for those other people.
    • We have traded rights for privileges.  We’re willing to strip everyone, including ourselves, of the universal right to a good education, adequate health care, adequate representation in the workplace, genuinely equal opportunities because we think we can win the game.
    • The best evidence for the power of a 9.9% aristocracy is the degree of resentment it provides.  The surest sign of rising resentment is in the political division and instability. IN 2016 Resentment entered the White House. It was an alliance between the .1% and a large number of the 90% who stand for everything the 9.9% are not.
    • Resentment is a solution to nothing.  It isn’t a program of reform, it isn’t populism.  It is an affliction of democracy, not an instance of it.  The politics of resentment is a means of increasing inequality, not reducing it.
    • As long as inequality rules, reason will be absent from our politics: without reason, none of our other issues can be solved.
    • The American idea has always been a guide star, not a policy programs, much less a reality.
    • Access to the means of sustaining good health, the opportunity to learn from the wisdom accumulated in our culture, and the expectation that one may do so in a decent home and neighborhood are not privileges to be reserved for the few who have learned to game the system.  They are rights that follow from the same source as those that an earlier generation called life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    • The kind of change that really matters is going to require action from the federal government.  That which creates monopoly power can also destroy it; that which allows money into politics can also take it out; that which has transferred power from labor to capital can transfer it back.  Change also needs to happen at the state and local levels.
    • It will take something from each of us too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game.  We need to think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors; we should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it.  It probably does.

 

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