New Micro-essays


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.

Property and Selfishness

There are two sides in the debate on the origins of altruism: one that insists we're selfless, the other that we're selfish. However, the distinction between selfishness and non-selfishness is biased by our socially-acceptable notion of human goodness. We think we're selfish, but that's just because we have norms where we don't ask for people's charity. If we were selfless, all of our friends and family would have the same amount of money, or at least everybody would often rebalance so that everybody was roughly free from need in the same amount.

When children play, we often police them to make sure they share their toys. And yet, as adults, we would never share our property with the same frequency. It's just that adults know not to bug each other for their stuff. As adults, we are as selfish as we were in our natural state as children.

Talk Therapy and Morality

Talk therapy is bounded by morality, a problem vividly illustrated in The Sopranos which centers around a mafia boss and his relationship with his therapist. What if in order to be happy, you have to be selfish and commit crimes? At one point, homosexuality was amoral, and therapists went to lengths to remove it from their clients. Or consider couples therapy. Many healthy realtionships require self-deception (i.e. love) in order to bridge the great divide in agendas between the sexes. Even if this suggestion is wrong, the fact that it is forbidden indicates that there is a whole swath of insight that is not only ignored, but actively avoided, in therapy.

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.

The Centralization of Technology

The current panic over the centralization of tech companies isn't new. While the fear that just a few players (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.) are dominating the tech space is a legitimate one, the forces underlying it are part of who we are. Centralization, technology, and capitalism are intertwined. In a way, all of those concepts are synonymous with leverage. Capitalism is the centralization of wealth that is then dispatched for singular aims. Technology is the means of transforming that capital into some value for society. Whether it's farming, weaponry, railroads, or industrialization, the first to seize on an invention is the first to capitalize on it. The subsequent rapid growth is then centralized by the wielder of that tech.

While Silicon Valley tech companies have a friendly face, they are the continuation of a long tradition of capitalists, from the East India Trading Company, to Big Oil, to Kingdoms and Empires. All power ultimately stems from technology. Even the tribal chief's power comes from the technology of spears and clubs.

Eventually, the capitalist's leverage gets co-opted and commoditized by insurgents. Democracy undid the trusts of Big Oil. Guerilla fighters with muskets undid the projection of power wrought by imperial powers. Eventually, an approximation of Google will emerge for less money. Eventually, Amazon's economy's of scale won't be so gross of an advantage. Facebook is a challenge to this model, though. The nature of its application comes from the size of its network, making it impossible for upstarts. And splitting up Facebook wouldn't work like splitting up Big Oil since Facebook's utility is in its all-encompassing nature. And yet, the incentive for upstarts to enclose people into smaller tribes that use different kinds of social networking experiences is too valuable. The king can only reign so long until the meek co-opts all of their advantages for their power play.

The Evolution of Sleep

Sleep shouldn't have evolved in prey animals, because it makes animals too vulnerable to attack. And sleep shouldn't have evolved in predator animals, because it takes time away from hunting animals that are sleeping. That sleep evolved in both predator and prey indicates a sort of group coordination, like an armistice. Both need to eat, and both could use a recharge, and so they've agreed on a set time to lay down their arms, much like two warring countries agreeing to rules of engagement. The rules enable the countries to trade some of the lives of their citizens without threatening the entire existence of their kind.