Archive for May, 2012

“Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the stormy weather”

I love Sonic Youth so hard.

Trade = Peace

The writer, historian, and all-around badass nerd John Green gives an awesome overview of trade in the Indian Ocean.1 I really like Green’s Crash Course series on history. It’s an excellent overview of world history done in an accessible, yet high-content fashion, and it does a great job of demonstrating the complexity of history.

One thing I like about this video in particular is that it does an excellent job of demonstrating what I like to call Peaceful Trader Principle2. Roughly put, the Peaceful Trader Principle is that people who interact primarily through trade are less likely to engage in violence against one another. After all, if both parties are profiting from trade, war suddenly becomes much more expensive and, thus, less attractive. It also tends to forge other social bonds, such as commonality of religion, as in John Green’s example of Indonesian merchants converting to Islam.

This is a pretty well-established phenomenon, and it’s well-supported both in historical anecdotes like Green’s, but also in scholarly work in trade economics. Even the most cautious studies that I’ve seen say that trade only moderately promotes peace or may not promote it in every particular case.3

So generally speaking, people who trade aren’t likely to start butchering one another. Green’s video is an excellent example of that fact, and I find it a little funny that (starting at around 4:48) John Green seems surprised that the trade was so peaceful. Really, peace is the expected outcome from such a large and healthy trading community.

Peaceful self-regulation works pretty well when both parties stand to gain from the arrangement.

1 Another good overview of the trade in the Monsoon Marketplace can be found in Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist.

2 If there’s a pre-existing term for this well-known phenomenon, then I’m ignorant of it. If anyone knows a pre-existing or more proper term, please let me know in the comments.

3 A quick plug here for the blog that taught me most of the (very little) I understand about Trade Economics: Trade Diversion, written by my good friend Jonathan Dingel.

“We Knew Doug Hopkins”

The true story of any suicide is always the people left behind. And it’s always the saddest story of their lives. I’ve been close to a few people in my life who have decided that life was so dark that suicide was the only way out. A few of them succeeded.

And so reading Brian Smith’s remembrance of his friend Doug Hopkins was painful, but also incredibly touching. As I said, stories of suicide are almost never about the person checking out. They’re really about the people who have to stagger on with holes in their hearts afterwards.

“A few days ago I was in a party store. A wan cold morning and a holiday feeling in the streets. “Found Out About You” wafted up from the cheap stereo radio sitting behind the bullet-proof glass. I froze. It’s nearing Christmas again, it’s that time. Every Christmas it’s the same. It’s been years since Doug died but I can never find any real distance from the guy. I learned volumes from him. For years after his death I was on that same Doug track – I figured I’d drink and do drugs until I expired, basically what Doug did. What the hell, I thought.

But true beauty lives in the grace of the small things — a kiss in the warm weight of spring’s first sun, the last days of school, the way Christmas lights summon that weird solitude and childhood memories of days filled of splendor. Such grace isn’t easy to find. Once you do, it’s still not hard to hit the self-destruct switch. If only he’d hung on. A guy like that — like a few death-skirting addicts I’ve known — would’ve emerged on the otherside, after years of battle, some kind of spiritual giant. Besides, the world could’ve used a lot more songs written by Doug Hopkins. But the man couldn’t separate the beauty from the booze. It took me forever to learn how.”

If only he’d hung on. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never be able to hear “Hey Jealousy” without changing that one fateful line back to the way Hopkins intended it. “You can trust me not drink, and not to sleep around.”

Hey Jealousy by Gin Blossoms on Grooveshark

Thomas Sowell on Sophistry and Empiricism

The greatest triumph of human thought will be the triumph of logic and philosophy over sophistry and mysticism.

The greatest achievement of the Enlightenment will be the triumph of Empiricism over Pure Reason.

But neither of these battles are won. And to be honest, they might never be. The former has already been going for almost 2500 years. The latter for about a tenth as long.

In this video, Thomas Sowell lays out his critique of the role of intellectuals in public life. To my mind, two of the key points of Sowell’s argument are that intellectuals are often wrong (and dangerous when in the public sphere) because a.) they follow theory rather than evidence and b.) they are emotionally and egotistically invested in their theories.

In other words, intellectuals in modern society fail because they are fighting against the two greatest achievements of mankind. They are fighting against a genuine quest for knowledge and they are fighting in favor of Pure Reason rather than empirical understanding.

Even if you disagree with my assessment or with Dr. Sowell’s thesis, the interview above is well worth your time. It’s a great primer on the content of an important book and an often entertaining conversation between two brilliant thinkers.

Some Bassnectar for Your Sunday Night

Malthusianism: Not Just Wrong, but Dangerous

I’ve written before about my views on Malthusianism. But lately I’ve encountered some particularly good arguments to the effect that Malthusianism isn’t just wrong, but actively dangerous. Bryan Caplan, writing at EconLog, raises some good points about the role that Malthusianism played in the rise of Nazism. In short, Malthusianism, and more particularly the belief that there wasn’t enough room and resources on the planet for everyone, was one of the driving forces behind Hitler’s crimes. As Caplan put it, “[Malthusianism] told them that millions had to die; [eugenics] told them who the victims ought to be.”

This, to me, highlights one of the reasons why it’s so important to speak out against gloom and doom and to be a voice of anti-Malthusian optimism. The idea that scarcity of land and resources demands the restriction of human populations isn’t just flawed, but it can and has caused real suffering. At the bare minimum, it can lead to unnecessary worry. It can also lead to prolonged misery through retarding economic growth and the advancement of prosperity. And at its worst it can, and has, lead to forced sterilizations and mass exterminations.1

The wonderful writer Robert Zubrin has a new book out about the dangers of doomsayers. I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet, but it’s high on my list. Zubrin recently did an interview about the book with Reason TV, and I think he makes his case well:

I like the way Zubrin frames his argument by saying that the dangers from “Merchants of Despair” (his words) actually far outstrips the dangers we face from the evils they’re “warning” us about.

One counter-argument is that Caplan’s article and Zubrin’s interview make Malthusians out to be almost cartoonishly villainous in their plans for the human species. As such, I understand skepticism about whether or not anyone actually believes in the brand of anti-humanist Malthusianism that Caplan and Zubrin describe. One proof of the existence of real-life Malthusians comes by way of the Azizonomics blog which posts excerpts from Finnish writer Pentti Linkola who says, among other things, that:

“Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent a dictator that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. The best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and where government would prevent any economical growth.”

If this were the ravings of a lunatic or a Bell Street trustfund hipster they’d be easy to ignore. But this man is an influential writer and a key figure in the Deep Ecology movement. His views aren’t just considered, but embraced by a segment of the population that would rather see the human race eradicated than see it flourish and who unapologetically embrace dictatorial governance in pursuit of that end.

I think anyone who desires a dictatorship with the explicit goal of murdering people and completely curtailing economic growth is, at best, a moral cripple. And yet we live in a world where people like Linkola are given a serious hearing. Indeed, Bryan Caplan’s essay that I linked to above would be easy to dismiss as its own brand of fear mongering, if it weren’t for the fact that there are people out there today who are actually calling for Nazi-style dictatorial governments for the express purposes of satisfying their anti-humanist urges. And those pro-dictatorial types are using explicitly Malthusian arguments, just as the Nazis did almost 80 years ago.

Meanwhile, thankfully, the human species continues to flourish. Global poverty is declining; global health is improving. Our understanding of the world continues to advance and, with it, the power of the tools we use to shape it. Life is good and getting better. And it is doing so in spite of the Merchants of Despair and their despicable anti-humanism.

Disclosure Notice

1And lest you think that things like forced sterilization are a thing of the past, UN economic aid is often contingent on a country having some method of population control in place. This means that taxpayers in the US and Europe are helping to fund and encourage the forced sterilization of Indian women.

God Speed, Good Robot

Well, after an earlier last-second (actually last-half-second) abort of SpaceX’s Dragon mission to the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule is away. Reports from Elon Musk via Twitter say that the Falcon 9 booster worked perfectly and that the Dragon capsule has successfully deployed its solar cells.

This mission is an incredibly important milestone for the era of private space flight, as it represents the first instance of a private resupply mission to a manned space installation.

Congratulations to Elon Musk and the folks at SpaceX. I look forward to an era when such privately-funded missions are the norm, rather than a spectacular first success.

“The kind of love that makes my back hurt”

Proving once again the Conor Oberst is one of the finest songwriters of my generation, I’m just re-discovering this track from his excellent 2008 self-titled album:

Sausalito by Conor Oberst on Grooveshark

“He’s doing the ballet on both of his wrists”

I know I’ve posted this tune before, but I have to post this live version. I fucking love this song and Ian and Will do such a great job with it here:

Your Daily Bit of High Futurism

A promo for a proposed underwater hotel:

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