The Beauty and Innovation of Culture

Posted on 22nd August 2004 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Social Animals

With a complex understanding of Evolution, one that goes beyond observable genetic traits, we find some deeper reasons for the human race’s success. Sure, we had some terrific genes. Those opposable thumbs were really handy (Get it, “Handy”?) and the subsequent tool use helped us to bonk the duller monkeys on the head and reduce competition for the females, but there was something beyond standing upright and manual dexterity, a proficiency more advanced than anything in the animal kingdom. We had culture.

Culture is the act of passing our life’s wisdom on to our offspring. When one of our ancestors figured out how to use a rock as a tool, its family members imitated that behavior. One of the key features of mammals is that we are not fully prepared for life at the time of birth. We undergo a period of being taken care of by our progenitors, being nourished off our mother’s milk, protected until we are properly grown into our environment. This seems like a step backwards in evolutionary terms, not being able to survive on our own at birth, but mammals have this fantastic evolutionary innovation called the Cerebral Cortex, which is an adaptable layer of brain matter surrounding the primitive brain stem, which more than makes up for our weaknesses during infancy.

While our reptilian brain is filled with all the instinctual, purely survival-driven hard coded data needed to keep us breathing long enough to reproduce, the Cerebral Cortex is a sort of blank slate. It comes into the world set on “record” mode and wired with the capability to analyze and cross-reference the data it receives, drawing conclusions about its world. The mammal’s most superior trait then becomes is adaptability to a complex and ever-changing environment.

The Cerebral Cortex elevated evolution from chance genetic mutation into ideological mutation. The importance of our genes, or genetic code, was trumped by the importance of our ideas, our memes. The homo sapiens with the superior ideas, passed these ideas onto their offspring, or other members of the tribe, and that tribe became superior to the other tribes. Race was no longer as important as ethnicity.

We see fossilized evidence of ancient Chimpanzee cultures. Gorillas have been observed passing on their learning to their offspring, including tool use. Archeological evidence is slowly uncovering a history extending further than a hundred thousand years of our ancestors’ tool-use, gatherings, and cooperation. The details of cultural “survival of the fittest” are chronicled in the Old Testament and other documents of Ancient History, where we find tales of cultures battling other cultures and more often, in a warning to our own times, succumbing to their own insustainability.

Civilization Contracts

Tribes, villages, and other communities are like organisms. Single human units are comprised of numerous, specialized organs. The heart, lungs, circulatory system, brain, liver, muscles, etc must work together to keep the entire organism running. Looking even deeper, we find each organ comprised of thousands of cells, working collaboratively to keep the organ functioning. All of these organs would die if any were to fail; they are interdependent on one another for nourishment and maintenance.

Culture is like that. Our communities are like organisms. We are multi-celled, they are multi-bodied, a collaboration of single-human units, each with a specialized purpose. We are reliant on all the members of our tribe. The law enforcement officer, farmer, grocery clerk, managers, doctors, garbage collectors, civil planners, lawyers, engineers, musicians, teachers, on and on. Our Culture grows vaster, with greater specialization as it evolves. New human-units with new skills are developed every day.

Certain behaviors, codes of conduct, had to be observed by our species before Culture could occur. It simply makes sense that an interdependent group of human-units would fall apart if any of its members worked against the others or even failed to adequately contribute. Other tribes, with superior Cultures would propagate. Codes of Conduct were not “thought up” as many people believe, but civil behaviors naturally evolved out of necessity.

There are three ethical principles that all early civilizations agreed on, do not kill, lie, or steal, but it wasn’t until writing was invented that we have historical evidence of Cultures attempting to articulate these concepts. These documents defining the laws of a Culture are Civilization Contracts.

The “Ten Commandments” is one of the earliest known Civilization contracts, set in stone with merely ten principles. The Old Testament, with the intricate laws of Deuteronomy and other books, further complicated the law with legal precedents, judgments based on specific situations. The American legal code, with its near-maddening complexity, displays our highly evolved understanding of situational ethics.

A Universe as vast and complex as ours, with seemingly infinite combinations of factors to produce infinite situations, requires documentation equally complex. Ten Commandments didn’t cut it, so we have produced millions of pages of legal code. This still does not satisfy the need, as new issues arise every day, but still we follow in the steps of our ancestors, setting our reasoning, our interpretation of things to stone, paper, and electronics so that the knowledge of our Culture will be preserved for our offspring, who will use and improve on our memes.

The Collective Body of Work

From Oral Traditions to Libraries to the World Wide Web, these collective bodies of knowledge are how we pass on our learning, our culture, and preserve our memes:

Oral Tradition

Beowulf, the Gospels of the New Testament, stories your parents and grandparents tell you about their lives, these are all works of knowledge that were passed down through generations via verbal instruction. In spite of its obvious disadvantages in maintaining accuracy due the memory’s fallibility, this knowledge has a great propensity for adapting to more modern understandings of our world because it is not set down in a permanent medium.

Libraries

Our Communal Memory or the Written Tradition. Preserving all of our knowledge in written form allows us to go back and revisit the exact wording of the prose, as it was set down in its time. The accuracy of the communication is preserved, but a difficulty arises. We must now revaluate the text each time we revisit it. This places an immense burden, not just on the current reader, but on every reader that follows them, for each one must revaluate the content. What are we to make of the Bible’s validity, for instance, when its stances on slavery, animal sacrifice, and sexuality are so removed from our modern paradigms?

World Wide Web

Our Communal Intelligence. The Information Age has further expanded the collective body of knowledge to reach even more people, but there is no filter. All ideas are treated equally, which is ideal, but also places dubious value on the Internet for research purposes. There is no peer-review, no record of changes, only the search engines with their web crawling bots operating on the spurious logic of their programmers. All ideas being equal to the search engine, the onus is placed on the Web-surfer to exercise healthy skepticism.

What’s next?

Beyond…

Encyclopedia Galactica

If there are other civilizations, beyond our insignificant solar system located in the boondocks of the Milky Way, then what has existence taught them? If they have advanced enough to venture beyond their own planetary systems, then they must also have methods for preserving knowledge.

On Earth, different Cultures continue to intercommunicate, exchanging our different perspectives on reality, comparing notes. East meets West, Communism meets Capitalism, and so many other exchanges of beliefs that transcend these dichotomous ones are resolved through wars, discussions, and economic competitions. How then are we going to come to understandings with species that have evolved entirely different types of intelligence on other planets?

What will the library of our common galaxy look like? What technology, philosophy, mathematics, and other, unknown fields of knowledge will it hold? When cultures on Earth meet and exchange, their collective knowledge increases dramatically. By what factors will the collective knowledge of the Milky Way increase when we join that Culture, which Carl Sagan refers to as the Encyclopedia Galactica?

By what factor will Cultural knowledge increase when merged into the Encyclopedia Universal…?

Comments Off on The Beauty and Innovation of Culture

Universal Ethics, Virtues, and Vision

Posted on 15th August 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Ethics: The “Do Not’s”

The following ideas were heavily influenced by the Theologian Dr. Huston Smith, who I saw give a talk on “The Enduring Truths of the Great Religions.” The word “Enduring” jumped out at me as the language of Science. There are not absolute truths, only enduring ones. While Huston Smith often laments the rise of “Scientism” as excessively focused on the Natural World to the extent of forgetting the Spiritual, his arguments persuaded me precisely because they were so focused on Natural Observations.


To begin, we should look at the common Ethical components of all religions, these are the “Do Nots.” It is interesting to note that these destructive acts are a rarity for intra-species relationships in the wild. Animals only kill, steal, lie, or exploit members of their own species to the extent required to survive. Species with a proclivity to commit these acts beyond satiation would quickly self-destruct themselves out of the environment.


These rules apply especially to the Human race, for our most powerful Evolutionary trait is our Social Organization, our cooperation, our Culture. We are a species of interdependent minds, each specialized to fill a need that benefits the whole. Without our Social Networks, we would die as individual units.


The East and the West take different approaches to Ethics. The West frames them as rules that must not be violated. The East frames them as character flaws that must be purged. The Ten Commandments and the Three Poisons are two expressions of these approaches.


The Four Core “Dont’s” of Social Living

Do Not Kill – Hatred


Every one of us fulfills a necessary function in our collective organism. Removing any one of us, not only removes someone who performed a service for the community, but removes their life’s wisdom as well. If you kill the farmer, where will you get your food?


The entire society raises each one of us. Killing a member of the community prematurely generates a loss on society’s investment. A potential lifetime of productivity and contribution to the community that raised the individual is lost.


Do Not Steal – Greed


Societies are social constructs, requiring a consensus on the rules of the systems. Our economic system uses currency that society defines the value of using a naturally fluctuating exchange rate. When the rules of our economic system are subverted the currency rate adjusts in relation to the subversion.


For instance, in the case of stealing, a product is taken without exchanging currency; therefore, the amount of currency for product exchange rate goes up to compensate for the loss of currency. In a case of violating acceptable labor practices, the amount of labor for currency increases, bringing down the value of labor everywhere to compete. In both cases, exceptions have a detrimental effect on the whole by distorting the values for products and services agreed upon by society.


Do Not Lie – Delusion


We live in a world of facts and we base important decisions on them. When someone lies, they introduce a falsehood disguised as a fact into the Memepool. For a macro-organism, such as Society, which collectively makes decisions, maintaining the integrity of the memepool, its truth, is crucial.


When a bad idea enters the memepool, society’s public disputational exchanges will often root it out and dispose of it. Yet, in the case of an individual, or group of individuals seeking personal gain from a bad idea, bad ideas can find greater staying power in the social mind. Society will always suffer as a result, in the form of poor policy-making and hindered progress.


Do Not Exploit – Hubris*


Exploitation is the objectification of another human being. There are many forms of exploitation such as slavery, rape, murder, and greed. It both encompasses the other “do not’s” and yet requires special mention.


Exploiting other human beings requires the delusional belief that oneself is better than one’s neighbor. It requires a greedy sense of privilege and a murderer’s contempt for others. All of these ethical violations are forms of hubris and they all fall under forms of exploitation.


Adultery is a form of exploitation, and not only within the context of a committed relationship. The objectification of one’s sexual partner removes their individuality, their humanity. It is a delusional perception that requires an unrealistically high self-perception to apply such a lowered perception of another human being.


The rationales for each of these ethical principles are intertwined. They all orbit the social animal that is the human race and the pragmatic needs of our societies. Without these principles, there cannot be a society. The lines blur between these principles and we can easily imagine how hubris leads to greed leads to delusion leads to hatred and back again.


*Hubris is not one of the Three Poisons.


The Mercurial Application of Ethical Code

Situational Ethics

Are these Ethics set in stone, as the Ten Commandments? Are they absolutes? We live in a complex world, where contextual variables must be applied in our Ethical applications.


Take for instance this hypothetical situation: A mad person is running down the road, killing people left and right. Is it wrong to kill them? Very few people would say so. Pragmatic necessity overrules the Ethical principle.


There is a substantive rational that could support killing in such a circumstance. If we define the Human race as Social beings, then damaging Community Integrity could, in a sense, inviolate one’s Humanity. The situation and the intent must be considered carefully. We must try to adhere to the rules as if they are absolutes, but there are always exceptions. The essence of these Ethics is to preserve the Social Structure, our culture.


Evolving Ethics


Another aspect of ethics, also portrayed in Star Trek and other futurist speculations is the changing nature of ethics as our Society evolves. As our world changes, we encounter new and unique ethical challenges that we must face as a community. As our understanding of the world becomes clearer, we are forced to re-evaluate our previous ethical standards.


For instance, in the case of slavery, as our understanding of race relations evolved, the practice of subjugating other human beings became abhorrent. An improved “theory of mind,” or understanding that other races are also human beings with thoughts of their own overtook the traditional standards of inequality. Although the Bible finds nothing wrong with slavery, so long as it is humane, our understanding of the practice has advanced to rule out the possibility altogether.


Scientific advancements bring the greatest ethical conundrums. The Human Genome Project’s completion brought the potential for institutions to conduct DNA screening for undesirable genes. In response, more than 40 States in the U.S. passed genetic non-discrimination bills. File-sharing networks, allowing their users to violate copyright laws, have simultaneously prompted disputation of what constitutes stealing and raised questions about the abuse of copyright monopolies, such as Disney’s perpetual hold on Mickey Mouse, a character that would have entered the public domain decades ago were it not for legislative extensions.

Debates such as abortion, stem cell research, animal testing, and genetic engineering also challenge our traditional understandings of life and equality, which affect the ethics of killing and exploitation. To resolve these, we are forced to determine specifics such as when life begins and the sentience of different animals.


“Truth may be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but our understanding of truth is not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

– Huston Smith

Virtues: The “Do’s”

Virtues, not self-control, is what truly separates us from the animals. Pack and herd animals do not kill, lie, or steal from one another in their species unless resources are scarce, and then they only take what they need. Instinct, preserving the flock, herd, pride, pack, whatever keeps them relatively civil to one another. It is merely our misperceived exceptionalism that prompts us to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom in this way.


Humans are distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom in our capacity to seek improvement over our current state. Our large cerebral cortex gives us enormous power over our reptilian brain. The effect can be to incredibly improve our situations or affect them adversely on drastic scales.


While adherence to Ethical Principals will prevent actions with deleterious affects on our lives, Virtues tell us how to positively enhance them. These are the “Do’s” of social living, positive actions we should seek to emulate. These behaviors improve the quality of life for ourselves and everyone around us, because the two are intertwined.


The Short List

Humility


This virtue concerns keeping an accurate perspective of yourself in the universe. This does not only mean that we should not live beyond our stature as a single human being, but we must also live up to the stature of a single human being as well.


We must remember that our mind feels like an entire universe unto itself. It contains your concept of the self, and feels separate from the body, but this is only a perceptual illusion. The brain does the thinking (“I”), which creates the mind (“i”). The scope of your brain defines the scope of your mind. “‘I’ think, therefore ‘i’ am” is a self-referential argument.


Failing to keep yourself in perspective, inflating your perceptions beyond supportable reality will lead to failures for which you will not comprehend the reasons. Living in your mind will do nothing for yourself or have any effect on the world around you. You will only have yourself to work with. Being true to yourself means recognizing your limits, and also pushing them.


Charity


You are a single human being, but as social animals we must also recognize our neighbors as separate and equal human beings. In science, this is having a “theory of mind” and it is expressed to varying degrees in the animal kingdom. Cats, Dogs, and Ravens are capable of recognizing other beings have minds and perceptions as well.


Keeping your perspective in the Universe means keeping your perspective in Society as well. We are all cells in a communal organism. If we do not contribute to the benefit of that creature, we will all die.


This is where the concept of Philanthropy comes into play. We may play our role in society, fulfill our responsibilities by going to work, paying our taxes, letting the forces of Capitalism and Socialism provide for the community, but we also have the ability to go beyond what is expected of us. We may donate to charities or perform volunteer work to improve the local or global standard of living. When you raise the standard of living for your community, you raise it for yourself as well.


Veracity


Be true to yourself, be true to others, and be true to the Cosmos. Seek truth in all things. When we see the world as it really is, we are able to function more effectively in it, we are able to define our purpose in it more clearly. When confronted with a fact that contradicts our hypotheses, we must always accept the fact.


We must also practice truthfulness with those around us. Openness, sincerity, and forthrightness are all crucial to establishing secure social bonds with our fellow human beings. Mutual trustworthiness means we waste less time searching through a morass of false perceptions.


When the facts are subject to interpretation and “gray areas” in knowledge result, we must practice fairness. We must encourage discussion, challenge our perceptions to hone them into an accurate world view. We must entertain all ideas.


We must be devoted to the truth. We must pursue it. We must conform to it.


A World of Infinite Virtues

There are a multitude of virtues beyond these three. We live in a vast, complex world, and there are infinite Virtues to help us face it. There are Virtues in pursuing Emotional Maturity, virtues in maintaining Physical Fitness, in Managing Money, Intellectual Pursuits, on and on, subcategories within categories, all interrelated.


As our understanding of the Cosmos increases, the bodies of knowledge in which we may reveal the truth expand as well. While our understanding of ethics grows more specific and refined with our advancement, the understanding of virtues expands the horizon of ways in which we may improve ourselves. No matter how apt at virtues we become, we can always improve.


From evolution, as biological, social, technological, and intellectual, we know that one of the purposes of life is to grow and improve Virtues are keys to such progress. They apply to ourselves as a single beings and to our social animal. They are a means to an unknown end, but the benefits of improvement are apparent everywhere.

Vision: Why All This?

What are We Striving For? Why all the Ethics to preserve Society? Why all the Virtues to improve ourselves? Where is all of this leading?


The answer is that we do not know, and that is what makes the voyage so wonderful. If we know the destination or even know for certain that there even is a destination, it would limit the scope of the game. Currently we have a universe of infinite possibilities. We may think we see the edge of it, but we also know there may be neighboring Universes beyond that.


Not knowing anything with certainty does not mean that we cannot draw the trends we see into something coherent enough to inspire us, yet abstract enough so as not to intimidate us. We are like the single-celled organisms that unknowingly embarked on the voyage to becoming the human race. Imagine if such organisms had known this destination, and that it was going to take 3 Billion years and that progress was going to be painstakingly slow. Understanding these things would take all the enjoyment out of it.


Better to merely swim in the primordial ooze, serving the now by fulfilling its simple purposes to survive and reproduce.


The Three Core Aspects of vision

As outlined by Dr. Huston Smith:


Unity


Existence, we’re all in it together. Reality is One. We all share it. If there is alien life in a galaxy on the opposite end of the Cosmos, it is dealing with the same laws of physics and chemistry we are.


We constantly seek to refine this unified understanding of reality as a Society. No two people will have the same perspective on it, but reality and its truth are still there and immutable. Through disputation, testing and retesting the data, and refinement, we will edge closer and closer to a clearer comprehension of everything.


Perfection


From inanimate matter, to single cells, to multi-cells, to fill the oceans, to cover the lands, to the Billions of years of process that brought us here today. Life gradually climbs to greater heights. We may have our hindrances, our minor lapses into recidivism, but we always strive in the direction of better.


Perfection is the goal. We strive for an ultimate understanding, a destination. We want to know everything. Is this possible?


Mystery


The mystery of life is like walking toward the horizon, you see more and more of the world around you, but the horizon always stays the same distance away. There is always another, smaller particle. There is always another digit in the perfect ratios of Pi or Phi. There is always more to know.


There are two types of mystery in life, the “Known Unknown” and the “Unknown Unknown”. The next digit of Pi is the “Known Unknown,” because we know that it is there, waiting to be discovered. The “Unknown Unknown” are all of the surprises waiting for us over the horizon that we cannot even guess at. The “Known Unknown” is the carrot dangling before our noses that leads us to the next “Unknown Unknown” that will keep existence new and fresh.


We have physical bodies, opposable thumbs, big brains, and Massive Collaborations that enable us to discover our Cosmos.


Now What?

So you accept and adhere to the core Ethical principles. You are practicing and refining your application of the Virtues. You understand the Vision and let it guide you. What else is there?


Only to live, enjoy life, the good and the bad parts of it. The more you accept your world, the clearer you see it, the less the bad moments will hurt you and the more you will enjoy the good ones.


Remember that single-celled organism? Brimming with genes of varying usefulness, its only purpose is to survive and pass on those genes. We humans are like that, brimming with memes of varying truthfulness. Except we have the power to improve our memes. We actively propagate them through our good deeds and the demonstrable success of our works. The more prevalent the good memes become, overtaking the bad, the better all our lives will be in the future.


So simply live, do no harm, and spread your good memes.

Enjoy the ride.

Comments Off on Universal Ethics, Virtues, and Vision

False Dichotomies: Poor VS Rich

Posted on 8th August 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

“Class Warfare” is a term we often hear politicians evoke when attacking and when under attack by those who disagree with their economic viewpoints. Both liberals and conservatives charge the other with engaging in this tactic as a means of unfairly motivating the “poor” and the “wealthy” against one another.

This rhetoric completely ignores the middle class, creating yet another false dichotomy. A more accurate way to describe the conflict between classes is to redefine it as the competing needs of Labor and Capital interests.

The overwhelming majority of people across the globe are familiar with Labor interests. People who earn their income through wages, salaries, working for others share these interests. From the highest-paid CEO to the impoverished custodian, all are part of the Labor class.

Capital Interests are those represented by the investment community. This community is not entirely comprised of human beings. Corporations, which are entities bestowed all of rights and protections of human beings without actually being one, represent one extreme of Capital Interests. The small business owner who has started up with their own capital represents the other extreme.

Is there not also a gray area in defining this debate along these lines? Of course! I have labor interests that stem from my income as a Web Developer. I have capital interests that stem from my 401k income. Right now, with my 401k earning maybe 1% my salary, I side heavily with Labor. Later in life, when my 401k becomes my primary means of income, I will side with Capital.

So let’s look at some issues of contention these competing interests maintain in our political system.

A Fair Tax System

There are two competing theories for taxation in America, another dichotomy. Conservatives argue for a top-down stratification of tax rates, known as the “Trickle Down” theory. Liberals argue for a bottom-up approach, known as the “Bubble Up” theory.

The “Trickle Down” economic growth theory states that by giving tax relief to the wealthy, this will free up investment monies, allowing for business/corporate growth and increase employment. Increasing Employment improves incomes overall, strengthening public buying-power, which improves Capital gains and the circle repeats, benefiting everyone.

The “Bubble Up” economic growth theory states that by increasing education and using other government services to bring up the standard of living, this will strengthen the labor class. If labor has more money, through less taxation and higher-income resulting from improved job skills, it can purchase more goods and services, improving corporate profits and benefiting everyone.

Consumer buying power versus Producer cost-reduction power.

The problem with both of these theories is that they ignore the merits of their opposite. We cannot give preference to one class over another. To do so would unbalance the system. Placing the tax burden on Capital interests places too much social responsibility on Corporations and the Government. Placing the tax burden on the Labor interests creates a “servant” class, eliminating the middle class — one of our society’s most important developments.

If the top 1% of the income spectrum are paying 80-95% of the total Federal Taxes in America, and only 1% of the population controls 80-95% of the total wealth (These numbers are generalized because we cannot know the exact statistics due to the tax system’s complex nature.), then the question becomes one of who consumes more Governmental services?

Conservatives argue that Capital income pays more money in taxes than Labor. Liberals argue that Capital income does not pay the same percentage of income as Labor. Conservatives argue that Capital income is more important than Labor. Liberals argue that Labor’s product is more important than Capital’s.

Pharmaceutical Companies consume billions of dollars in Federal Research subsidies. A Billion dollars could put a million police officers on the force for a year. If the Pharmaceutical Company is paying more into the system, don’t they deserve to get more out of it? Or does benefiting society through a more stable social system make more sense?

Capital income owes the government for providing the system which produces its wealth. The Government prints the money, provides the stable social system, stable market system, enforces the rules of fair play, insures the banks, and so on.

Labor income owes the government for providing a stable social system and providing services Capitalism is incapable of providing, such as police, roads, fire departments, and so on.

So what’s fair?

Other Dimensions

“Free Market” VS “Fair Market”

A Free Market means that entrepreneurs have an open field to test their business models and have the potential to make limitless profit from their ventures. A Fair Market means everyone plays in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others to pursue the same goals. Maintaining both Free and Fair Markets require Governmental oversight.

Take the example of Monopolies. A Free Market provides for the possibility of a single company completely dominating the market. A Fair Market ensures that this single company does not use its dominance to prevent competing goods and services from entering the market. Free and Fair markets are not mutually exclusive, but we do sacrifice freedom for fairness and vice versa.

“Right to Work” VS “Union Power”

Labor also has issues of Governmental regulation to contend with. Unions are formed to create a united negotiating front in support of worker’s interests against the unified front of their Corporate employers. Unions are similar to the Corporate bodies they confront, providing a service, requiring membership dues, and a contractual obligation.

Enter the “Right to Work” state, where employees and employers are prevented from entering into many contractual obligations. The employee has the right to quit anytime for any reason and go work for anyone they want. “Right to Work” destroys Union Power by preventing Unions and Employees from entering into binding contracts and forming a united front, but “Right to Work” also prevents Employers from “trapping” employees in unfair work contracts or dictate who the employee may or may not work for after their employment ends.

Minimum Wage

To raise or not to raise the minimum wage? This is a contentious issue that seems to come around every few years. Raising the minimum wage too much places an economic burden on employers. Raising the minimum wage too little places an economic burden on employees. Without a minimum wage, Employers could lower wages artificially and create deflation.

A capitalist economy must maintain inflation, and a minimum wage is crucial to that end. If a company is able to create deflation through circumvention of fair labor standards, then the economy suffers. If employees are able to demand unrealistic wages, deflation will occur when the system cannot support their demands. An ever-slowly-rising minimum wage is crucial to both the bubble-up and trickle-down models.

Can you see how each of these issues is a balancing act?

Interdependency

Capital and Labor incomes rely on one another, each provides services that the other needs. Employers need employees to produce products. Employees need incomes that come from investment monies.

Attempting to establish a hierarchy of worth between these two forms of income becomes an exercise in futility when we understand the magnitude of this interdependency. Favor one form of income over the other and we unbalance the system, creating either a servant class out of the laborers or a socialist provider out of the capitalists. While it is certainly true that Capital interests get more out of the Government than Labor, the system is far too complex to quantify whether Capital interests gain more proportionally than labor.

With a system so complex, the reductionism required to accuse one another of “Class Warfare” seems absurd. Attempting to apply qualitative reasoning to either Labor or Capital is far too subjective a route to take. They both benefit from the Government, which provides them the entire system for the market to take place, and they should both pay into it for this service.

Remember IAAMOAC. The established economic state, the marketplace is how we manage our Civilization’s transactions of interdependent needs. A free system promotes innovation. A fair system promotes stability. When something raises the standard of living for your neighbor, it raises the quality of living for you.

So the next time someone screams “Class Warfare” — give them an earful.

Comments Off on False Dichotomies: Poor VS Rich

Your Taxes as an Investment

Posted on 1st August 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Two and a half blocks down the street from my house stands a monument to the irrational enterprising spirit, the Old Dominion University Maglev train. “Maglev” is short for “Magnetic Levitation”. This is a train that would float on a cushion of air a half-inch thick above the track, shuttling students across campus. It would be doing this, that is, if the technology worked.

It was supposed to be running in Spring of 2001, now it just sits, abandoned, but I am not looking to criticize the spirit of invention and idealism that prompted the University’s attempt at this endeavor. Nor am I critical of the project’s cost, $16 million. $7 million of which came from private enterprise, $7 million from Virginia taxpayers, and $2 million from Federal taxpayers. This is money lost, and barring a “Eureka!” breakthrough on the part of American Maglev Technology, the company working on it, this project will never succeed. Unfortunate, but that is not what bothers me.

What’s irking me is what if it had worked?

If, by some miracle, American Maglev had managed to stabilize the magnetic fields sufficiently to make the train a safe and enjoyable ride, they would have become billionaires. The technology would sweep across the country like wildfire, revolutionizing mass-transportation systems throughout America.

What would the taxpayers get? The $9 Million dollar loan paid back, with interest.

Hardly seems fair. We call the money a loan, but if the business venture fails, we’re hung out to dry. No bank would ever take such a risk. It’s not a loan, its Venture Capital, and it’s ours.

It happens all the time. Dr. Amar Bose, a professor at MIT, developed revolutionary enhancements to sound systems thanks to Government Grants. He then patents his inventions and starts the corporation Bose, making millions. Pharmaceutical companies receive billions of dollars in Federal research funding to invent life-saving medicines, so they can charge astronomical prices for pills that patients will die without.

If you went to an investor and asked them to invest in your product solely for the privilege of letting them use the product at an overblown price. They would laugh you out of the room. The taxpayer is an investor who puts up capital for such a ridiculous return.

Our tax money goes into research and invention that would not be done otherwise, because the cost is too high. These inventions we create are then used against us. We become slaves to phone monopolies, Microsofts, pharmaceutical companies who charge extravagant prices for things we cannot live without. Then these same companies hide in tax shelters, lobby for tax cuts, and argue for corporate welfare.

I am not proposing government seizure of these inventions. To do so would squelsh research and innovation. Inventors should reap potentially fantastic rewards for their hard work to inspire other. Some Universities take a 50% cut of the profits earned on their Professor’s inventions. Perhaps the Government, State and Federal, should do something similar. Say perhaps a 10% cut of profits for our Capital Investment, which would be dedicated to funding future research?

One Bose could make up for many American Maglevs that way.

Comments Off on Your Taxes as an Investment