Philosophistry Database

The Great Switch

Global superpowers shape the world in their image. The Dutch gave us the joint-stock corporation. The French gave us philosophy and culture. The English, their language. The Spanish, their glory. For more than half-a-millennia, the West has dominated the world, and likewise, duplicated its culture a million times over across the globe. But what will happen when it's the East spreading its culture?

Will we be members of a surveillance state like in China? Will the Bill of Rights be shredded? Will dissension be suppressed and lead to single-party rule of government?

Likewise, will infrastructure costs match Asia's? Will the cost of building subways and roads come down to the order of millions of dollars, as opposed to hundreds of millions of dollars? Will litigation decrease? Will city council meetings with never-ending Q&A with wacko citizens become a thing of the past? Will education levels and literacy become more consistent across the country?

China's language, mannerisms, politics, consumer goods, and ideas will now be our world. Are we prepared to integrate these ideas? Every culture will have to decide whether to adapt or resist.

history politics china _new

Adversarial Reporting

If there is an inherent media bias, one that cuts across both conservative and liberal outlets, its adversarial reporting. There can be no news without a "for" and an "against." Even non-political news, such as that of a crime, is adversarial, telling the story of good versus evil.

Our national consciousness is shaped by historians, which are a type of media, and they too report the past as adversarial. One of the highlights is the Civil Rights Era, where the Protest was king. Again, the framing is adversarial. Whereas in prior eras (except the Civil War) the enemy is outside, such as in wars against foreign nations, in the case of the Civil Rights Era, the enemy is ourselves. Such a view of history is odd, because it disowns the non-protestors, the "Silent Majority" as Nixon called it. The media narrative of that era is a triumph of good over evil, with the idea that we're somehow now good.

politics history media

Bitcoin is the first open-source government, with branches of power much like git trees, forking and merging, yet still producing a master

computer_science politics technology

Bubble economics might be the path to socialism

While socialism has yet to arrive, it may come indirectly through economic bubbles such as the current venture capital market. 2015 saw the rise of the "unicorns," so-called startups with billion-dollar or greater valuations, with Uber being the poster-child, raising cumulatively $15 billion as of 2016, putting its valuation at $62.5 billion. But this so-called "bubble" might instead be a symptom of excess GDP growth. When there is more wealth than the wealthy can spend on yachts and low-yield bonds, their excess money has to find more exciting ventures, like startups. Money is like steam, and when pressure builds up in one area, it finds release somewhere elsewhere.

In a way, the startup bubble has increased tacit socialism. All the extra startup jobs have helped low-education people into lightweight desk work and relatively high salaries. Likewise, society benefits from free software and services pumped out by startups eager to build market-share quickly, often in a vain attempt to achieve a monopoly and return value to investors. If 90% of what we consume comes from startups that eventually won't reach that monopoly state, then in a way society gets a 90% discount on everything. For example, Netflix spends billions to win the original programming race with HBO and Amazon Prime, and while the company may or may not go broke doing so, the consumer benefits from getting all this extra art on the cheap.

economics technology politics

Can democracy and harmony exist side-by-side, i.e. can the U.S. adopt the lock-step of China without curtailing free speech?

Perhaps it's time to think beyond opposition in politics. Many policy debates just shouldn't be debates. The debate exists simply because there has to be an opposition. Opposition is the immediate way to build a base of support. Opposition is the simplest journalistic narrative. And opposition is an easy niche to fill in the media landscape.

Opposition is useful in a debate between two people because the back-and-forth distils the policy to an optimal outcome. But when played out in a mass democracy, the result is a gradient of positions spread out among the populace.

Opposition has a way of becoming self-fulfilling. For example, United States Republicans favored the universal health insurance mandate when it wasn't President Obama's idea. And so they rallied the opposition and eventually came to believe their own spin. Which makes the following statement controversial in our current way of thinking: "Healthcare reform should have been conducted with minimal or no opposition."

China's "harmonization" philosophy is the logical extreme of curtailing opposition. The Chinese have reduced freedom of speech to achieve more desirable political outcomes. However, the quality of the desired outcome is corrupt without a free and open discussion. So the question is, Can there be a balance between harmony and democracy?


Disenfranchising felons takes away those felons' right to define what it means to be a felon

By denying felons the right to vote, we passively create the "tyranny of the majority," just as the American founders warned us. As a thought experiment, imagine a society with 10 people. Initially, it starts with 10 free persons and 0 in prison. Then a law passes through majority vote, 6 to 4, to jail drug users. Now there are 9 free, 1 jailed. Then a measure passes 5 to 4 to jail sodomizers. Now there are 8 free, 2 jailed. Then a measure passes 5 to 3 to jail abortionists. Now there are 7 free, 3 jailed. And then a measure passes 4 to 3 to jail anarchists. Now there are 6 free, 4 jailed.

Little-by-little, our hypothetical society went from having laws requiring approval by the majority six, to now rule by the minority four. And this isn't just hypothetical, as drug laws disenfranchise millions of Americans who don't have the power to re-define those very laws that disenfranchised them.

A literal interpretation of the democratic principle, "government by the governed," is all that is needed see this flaw.

politics society

Employment may be the last remaining force for cultural assimilation

Culture is so resilient that the only way to change it is through the threat of death. The standard approach is through colonization or conquest, but since those have fallen out of favor in the latter-half of the 20th century, all that remains is commerce. If your tribe's culture is intolerant of non-heterosexual people, then there is no incentive to change except through the pocketbook. If the only way to get a job and feed your family is to adopt the social and cultural norms of the company you work for, then you will adapt.

This logic is frightening though, because it gives credence to the idea that we should attach conditions on welfare or basic income. If people can automatically earn food, clothing, and shelter, they can form subcultures that are as hate-filled or joy-filled as they want. Without the contact with some sustaining group, whether it's a workplace or social affilition, like a church, then anybody can disconnect from mainstream society without consequences. Culture hegemony will have to come from somewhere else.

basic_income socialism politics

For conservatives, there is no apostasy, only orthodoxy; Every mistake is an opportunity to "make American great again."

When conservative politicians co-opt policy positions that they once rejected, they frame it like this is the way things have always been. While as when liberals do it, they frame it like it's something new and innovative. For example, when Mitt Romney campaigned in 2008 for what is essentially Obamacare, he framed it terms of "re-asserting choice in medicine and bringing back accountability," while as President Obama framed it in terms of "modernizing health care and turning a new chapter." Conservatives then cast Obamacare as a form of socialism, to make it seem like a deviation from a good America, while as Obama framed it as a struggle against entrenched interests, and therefore a deviation away from a bad America. Conservatives call it returning to roots, whereas liberals call it breaking new ground. For conservatives, there is no apostasy, only the re-enforcement of orthodoxy.

politics rhetoric

If Judeo-Christian tyranny is, "It must be this way," then Buddhist tyranny is, "Who can really say which way is right?"

If you were a hypothetical emperor and had to choose between having your subjects influenced by Eastern philosophies and thought versus influenced by Western thought, what would you choose? For the sake of argument, let's over-simplify and grossly generalize Eastern and Western thought, defining them as follows:

Eastern ways of thinking express moral behavior as an outcome stemming from mindful action. The student who meditates calms their mind and sees how we're All One will indirectly find the righteous or virtuous path.

The Western way is to tell people explicitly, "this is good" or "this is bad." Think of The Bible or The Koran: They are just a Thousand Commandments. The equivalent in Eastern thought might be the Bhagavad Gita or Confucius's writings. But these are more like "good ideas" or aphorisms, like "No man who got up before sunrise every morning failed to make his family wealthy."

Again this is a gross over-simplification. For the sake of argument, let's assert that Easterners believe virtue is an indirect result of a peaceful mind, while as Westerners believe virtue proceeds from following virtuous commandments.

As a Western emperor, you would have a society that springs up based on law-and-order, with codes of conduct everywhere. In 2009, the United States saw the rise of the Tea Party, a group of people for whom it was fashionable to carry a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution with them at all times. That is how Western revolutions looks.

An Eastern revolution would not revolve around a text. Gandhi's revolution revolved around mass stillness exercises (non-violence) for example.

If you were a benevolent emperor and wanted your subjects to be happy, Eastern philosophy might be useful because it emphasizes inner peace. But if you were a more pragmatic ruler, you might assume that people aren't smart of enough to think for themselves and that they need matters of virtue codified and drilled into people's heads.

If you wanted to be a tyrant, though, either philosophy could serve your ends, but in a different manner. The Westerners could be chained by Draconian laws and The Easterners could be chained by the lack of a clear and consistent legal system.

politics philosophy

If literacy and literalism go hand-in-hand, then so must radicalism and the Internet

Text and literalism go together. Once a rule is in writing, it can always be referenced, and usually referenced one specific way. Likewise, upon the arrival of the printing press, Christian literalism saw a resurgence in Protestantism and eventually Puritanism which laid the groundwork for the early American cultural foundation. Could it be possible that the Internet, which is as significant an explosion in text as the printing press, has led to increased literalism? Although this hasn't resulted in religious puritanism given that the religiosity in modern times is at a nadir, it has led to politically polarized minds and a prevalence of conspiracy theories. The Internet helps people codify their beliefs by giving text to every position, both extreme and generic, leading to radicalism and rigidity.

technology politics religion

If money organizes value, and if politics distributes value, then capitalist states are by definition corrupt

Capital is the organization of resources. Consider a mountain. By itself, it is just a hunk of rock. But when a company buys the rights to that mountain, then builds rails to it, and employs people to work on it, it becomes capital. The people, the rails, and the mountain are now organized by the capitalist into a single channel of value that they control and direct at their will.

The reason capitalist societies are corrupt, then, is not so much that money buys politicians, but that money is organized. Money and organization are one and the same. Even if there were no bribes or political donations, money could still pay lobbyists to work in the Capitol and pitch complete programs that busy—or lazy—politicians would have no time to rebut or investigate.

The few rich have always controlled the many poor because the poor can't organize. Orwell writes in 1984, "But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies." But to conspire is to organize, and organizing isn't commonly part of being poor.

politics economics

In the U.S., every odd-numbered class is pitted against the evens: middle-class against the 1%, lower-class whites against blacks

racism society class politics

Is it acceptable if the 1% control 99% of the wealth, so long as everybody else is guaranteed happiness income?

Is it acceptable if 1% of the people control 99% of the wealth, just as long as they don't have an outsize influence on politics and everybody else is guaranteed $40,000 a year? Studies consistently show that $40,000 is roughly the point beyond which increases in income don't lead to meaningful gains in happiness. If everybody is happy, and the corrupting influence of money were hypothetically canceled, would there be anything else troubling about wealth disparity?

politics economics

Platform-less Democracies

Democracy means coalitions are required to pass legislation. So if Black Lives Matter becomes unpopular, so does climate change. Since the Democrats and Republicans roughly take turns occupying Congress, the environmentalists may have to wait a couple election cycles before having the spotlight again. If the Democrats fail to deliver, the environmentalists may have to wait a generation to switch parties, a gamble that isn't guaranteed to pay off. Is it possible to create a version of democracy without platforms?


Political-correctness paralysis is the phenomena whereby someone from the majority becomes self-conscious about making a politically-incorrect faux pas in the presence of a minority

The paralyzed majority then retreats, not bothering to even deigning the interaction with noblesse oblige. The result is then a denial of any social networking benefits that might have occurred if both parties could speak casually.

socializing politics

Political correctness depends on the size of the mouthpiece, with populist news on one end, hushed tones on the other

The nature of ethics changes depending on where we hear those ethics. On one end of the spectrum is network news, which has mass appeal. These ethics tend toward irreproachable ideas, such as "All men are created equal." They're the same ethics that are discussed in high school history books, often perpetuating a mythology of the Founding Fathers and their concern for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

On the opposite end of the spectrum is parental ethics. For example, mothers may teach their daughters things like man-catching, or dads may teach sons "how to be a man." The mainstream media—as well as academia, another land for mass ethics—scrubs out any notion of gender inequality.

In other words, the political correctness of ethics changes depending on who is listening. Somewhere in the middle is talk radio, since you often listen to it alone in your car, as opposed to television ethics, which are the ethics of the living room.

Consensus ethics, the kind of ethics that politicians talk about or we discuss in polite company, are ethics that we can all agree are for the good of all. Peer-to-peer ethics are designed to help both parties in a conversation. And parent-to-child ethics are just for one person since parents are trying to send their children on their way. The kind of ethics that gets handed down from parents tends to be the most selfish of imperatives. They're even worse than the ethics from friends; Friends at least want you to follow the golden rule.

politics philosophy rhetoric mediums


While people may claim to be conservative, libertarian, or socialist, in practice 99% of people are pragmatists. The prevalence of pragmatism is sort of tautological, because everybody typically negotiates along the lines of the available policy directions of their party. Rarely does anyone start from the absolute execution of their ideology, then work their way backwards to changing the world to suit it. Plus, espousing an ideology is easy when the specifics of policy aren't on the table. For example, if you ask a libertarian what they think about the parking situation in their city, you won't hear a libertarian response.

Another one of those secret, but de facto, ideologies is elitism, which about 9% of people have. Most of the above mentioned "ists" are not what they say they are, but are rather elitist/pragmatist, whereby their first concern is that they are right about the world and that others should believe the same. While socialism or libertarianism may be the contents of their propaganda, the idea that they are propagandists in the first place is the more important ideology. An elitist attitude speaks volumes as to what that person thinks about the world, because it has bearing on what they believe about democracy, autocracy, the role of the government, and so forth. Rare is the activist who seeks to change the world, but only through information, as opposed to persuasion. It's the how of ideology that is the real ideology.


Racism is precisely the tyranny of the majority that the Founders feared would happen in a democracy


Rationality is a ritual, one that involves light, vague estimates of costs and benefits

They're so light, that one wonders if they can even be called rational. For example, when you ask for help and someone volunteers it, neither party is really measuring cost-benefit because the stakes are so low. Rather, all our actions are just a matter of drives and culture. Likewise, in the case of voting, it's not a rational decision for most of the electorate.

politics rationalism

Socialism and capitalism are both straw men that the media and the masses flog back-and-forth to keep them distracted from real solutions

socialism politics

The 90-9-1 Rule of Internet Forums

There is a rule about Internet forums that says 90% of users lurk, 9% upvote or contribute in small ways, and just 1% create content. Likewise, a historical study from 1900 to 2006 showed that once a nonviolent protest got the sustained participation of 3.5% of the population, it was then guaranteed succeed. So, in both peaceful protests and Internet forums, there is a disparity between the perception of who they represent and the minority that comprises their content.

That such a disparity appears in both places means there might be implications for activism in general. Let's say that 1% of the population tells 9% what to read and write about. And let's say that 9% tells the remaining 90% what they should consider being mainstream thought. You would then only need to persuade half of that 9% to effect mass social change. Convincing 4.6% of the population is all it would take. This task may seem small or large, depending on your optimism, but it's certainly easier than trying to convince all of the Blue States or all of the Red States. Just sway the chattering classes, and the rest should work itself out.

politics society

The existence of billboards is proof that democracy doesn't work

We all have a neutral-to-negative opinion about billboards, and yet the apathy of our collective voice cannot overcome the motivated will of a tiny advertising lobby.

politics society democracy

The history of progressivism is the story of the least the rich can give the poor to keep the system intact

politics history

The Internet is a false scapegoat for polarized rhetoric

Polarization came about as a substitute for us lacking real external enemies. Communist Russia was plausible for a few decades, and radical jihad for one, but now we have to turn on ourselves.


The Market Economy of Political Discourse

If we wanted to model politics using economics, we could view political discourse as a marketplace for signals. Every utterance about a policy position has a cost and a benefit. The act of saying something requires time and calories to move your mouth. Gaining access to a platform, such as a major news channel, can also have operational costs. Then there is the cost that people may not like what you have to say. The upside being that you said something that people like which helps advance your campaign or stature.

The same model could extend to a polical action committee. For PACs, there is a cost in buying ads, and there is a benefit if those ads generate interest.

From the end-consumer's perspective, listening to political words has a cost-benefit too. It takes time and attention to watch the news. And Cable TV subscriptions cost money, as does owning a television. A benefit is entertainment. Another is information. The news informs you so that you can participate in political conversations later according to the same cost-benefit rules.

Let's say that the end-consumer goes to a party and shares some of the things they' heard. Again there are costs and benefits. It costs time and money to go to that party, as well as penalties to health for drinking alcohol or junk food. The benefit, though, is that by uttering political words they might receive affinity from other people.

In this model, politics is, by definition, capitalistic, which may explain why campaign finance reform is so difficult. The United States has periodically advanced major campaign finance regulation without making the country more democratic. Political discourse follows the same power laws of capitalism, with accumulation begetting more accumulation, and with influence consolidating into the hands of the few. The slickest politicians have the maximum cost-benefits from their rhetoric, and so they are used by the most profitable political ideas as vessels for change.

politics economics rhetoric

The middle-class supports policies that favor the rich because they assume money comes from hard work and talent

The middle-class understanding of wealth might actually be more positive than the attitude wealthy people have for themselves. The wealthy know that their wealth is not the product of hard work or talent, but of connections and opportunism. Those in the middle-class are stuck there because they are unaware of the dirty deeds necessary to get further.

The wealthy will always vote in their best interest. But since they are small, they need the inadvertent support of a middle-class that votes against their self-interest, otherwise, they would have no power.

politics society

There's a fine line between anarchy and a truly functional democracy


There can be no "war between the sexes," so long as their genetic destinies are as twined as the strands of DNA that supposedly divide them

Ultimately the sexes are at peace with each other because their genetic destinies are linked. Every selfish man or woman who plays to the negative stereotypes of their sex has a mother and a father who benefits from that selfishness. If a selfless man or woman mates with a selfish jerk of a man or woman, they may be oppressed in this generation, but if the couple is successful in ensuring the survival and thriving of their children, then that selfless/selfish combination will perpetuate itself in their children, as designed.

While the lack of rights for women might vex those who currently live under those rules, those rules which supposedly benefit men, also benefit those women's brothers, fathers, and sons. This genetic collaboration doesn't justify those rules, but it does change the interpretation of existing, supposed fault-lines in the "war of the sexes." For example, when veiled, Middle Eastern women are trotted on Western news networks, it's framed under the guise that all those women are oppressed. Veiling is an automatic oppression according to feminism, but we can't assume that those women in rights-restricted countries are as excited about the promise of their liberation as we are. After all, those rules are intertwined with a social structure that supports their way of life.

sexuality evolution politics

The success of BuzzFeed and the success of foul-mouthed politicians share the same logic

The rise of foul-mouthed politicians like Donald Trump, Bradford William LePage (Governor of Maine), Ricardo Duterte (President of the Philippines), and Boris Jackson (Mayor of London) is the result of social media and democratic apathy. Less than half of eligible voters participate in elections, and less than half of those eligible voters are informed. As a result, the people are much like a sleeping giant, with only a small percentage of its conscious functions active at any given moment. Even if a politician says something widely unpopular and distasteful, he may inspire enough support in his base to overcome the unpopularity. For example, if a politician says something politically incorrect that irks the ears of 20% of the electorate, but inspires or rings true for 12% of the electorate, he may still win if only a quarter of that 20% opposition shows up versus half of his 12% supporters.

This math has existed as long as democratic apathy has existed, which has been a reality for at least fifty years. However, this math hasn't really been exploited until the rise of social media. More than half of people receive their news and information from social media, whether it's from Facebook, Twitter, or from the original social media: the email forward. In these environments, sensational rhetoric thrives. Whereas before social media, the mainstream media could curate rhetoric to be the most pleasing to its audiences, in today's environment everybody forwards the most incendiary sound bites to their friends, regardless of whether they support or oppose the position. Politicians are rewarded for inciting the most offense in their opposition since even the opposition will help spread their words, which may ultimately lead to a net increase in support.

In other words, you can constantly say unpopular things in today's climate, and yet win a popularity contest, i.e., an election, given the amount of slack in democracy, combined with the speed with which incendiary rhetoric bounces around social media.

politics technology

The vice of consumerism prevails even when we replace conspicuous consumption with conscious consumption

Liberals mock stereotypical conservatives with their gas-guzzling SUVs and gaudy McMansions, without realizing that their brand of consumption is not much better. Wealthy liberals buy hybrid or green cars, but replace them every couple years, leap-frogging each other over who can have the right, trendy car. Their cars are adorned with bike racks, roof racks, and filled with high-end yoga mats and artisanal bottles of tea. They buy products with value-added labels such as GMO-free or Local, but find them in stores that have an order of magnitude greater variety—and therefore higher operating expenses—than traditional grocery chains. Stereotypical liberals distinguish themselves by replacing conspicuous consumption with conscious consumption. Meanwhile, consumerism remains the constant vice all along the political spectrum.


We have always lived under democracy, just with varying degrees of dormancy

Democracy is not so much representational government as it is government with begrudging consent. The government takes as much as it can from people without inciting them to become informed and vote with total participation. Before modern democracy, the old autocrats ruled similarly, in that they took as much from the people without inciting them to overthrow the government. Even the slave of Ancient Greece lived in a democracy of sorts in that their slave masters knew there was a limit to how much they could extract before it would incite rebellion. While the masters could disrupt peaceful gatherings of slaves or interfere with slave communication, if they mistreated them enough, the slaves would commit the democratic act of voting with their fist. Government is the redistribution of violence, and since violence is available to all humans, minimally based on an individual's ability to resist force, we have always lived under democracy, with just varying degrees of dormancy.

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While apathy increases with larger states, so does mass activism, which is how we ultimately address local injustices

The problem with larger states is that motivation is so diffuse. When there are millions of voters, it's irrational to go to the polls. On the other hand, with a larger state, gross local injustices can accumulate enough small bits of regional ire to generate a unique, mass-scale response that would have otherwise been impossible, such as in the nationwide response that descended on Rosa Parks.

politics society

While Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) might be the ideal voting system in theory, in practice, it is not sustainable according to existing power dynamics

Once IRV is implemented, it subsequently gets undone by the sore losers. The losing party rallies its passionate base to undo the broad—but mild—appeal of voter reform. Maybe we should pack strategic clauses into IRV initiatives, such as giving consolation prizes to second place. For example, we could award the lieutenant governor office to the second-place winner. Such a policy would then mollify challengers, thus neutralizing a comeback for the two-party system.


Willful Philistinism

The expression, "I may not know art, but I know what I like," is a defense mechanism against real or imagined culture snobs. But there is an alternative, empowering approach called willful philistinism. The Sloanes, who were a group of wealthy Britons epitomized by Princess Diana, employed this strategy. They were unembarrassed to admit disliking ballet, opera, modern art, and James Joyce. Most public intellectuals of the 1970s and 1980s were left-wing, but because the Tory Sloanes were right-wing, they had to distance themselves from that culture. The Sloanes created an alternative reality of ideals wherein base taste was an object of admiration and pride.

Ironically, in dissing intellectual snobs, the Sloanes became snobs of snobbery. Whereas the typical snob rejects mainstream taste, the willful Philistine rejects those same snobs for trying too hard. So instead of cultural taste being like a spectrum, with good and bad taste being the poles, it is more like a ring. Those at the top of the pecking order, to protect their coveted position, reject the whole hierarchy itself, looping back to the bottom and identifying with plebian icons.

The Republican Party, which draws significantly more votes from the wealthy than the Democratic Party, has recapitulated willful philistinism. They've crafted messages that slam intellectualism and praise the countryside. While rural America could easily evoke illiteracy, destitution, backwardness, and naiveté, the Republicans have romanticized the farmer's life. Republicans emphasize homespun virtue and authenticity, abandoning cosmopolitan academics, and as a result, have created a strange alliance between rich and poor.

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