The Trust Engine

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Somebody recently tweeted something to the effect that being “anti-Capitalist” was a form of absolutism. This person also implied that being anti-Capitalist was hypocrisy in that an anti-Capitalist enjoys the benefits of Capitalism while being “pious” about its flaws. Consider this:

I’ve enjoyed computers ever since I got my first one in my early 20s. It worked great. I was awed by what I could do with it and gaming on it was mind-blowing. I loved that thing.

Why don’t I own it anymore?

Sure, it worked. The software that ran on it was pretty good. It was fast for its time. But times changed. As the software became more capable, the system couldn’t keep up. So I upgraded. Does that mean I didn’t enjoy or benefit from my first computer? No. It simply means that, as software and networking became more sophisticated, new problems arose in software that had to be addressed. Security became a concern. On top of that, the desire for people to do more propelled evolutions in software that often required wholesale overhauls of their code bases. The new software was more robust but also placed greater demands on my system. Eventually, those changes were so extensive that I simply had to buy a newer, faster system. Luckily for me, PC hardware companies understood this reality and kept making their components faster and better.

It was simply evolution.

I’d say, like most people who enjoy computers, I have fond memories of my first real one. I’d also guess that there is not one of us who would trade in what we have now to go back to using it.

This is an easy enough argument when it comes to computers so why is it so difficult to understand when it comes to Capitalism? It’s like any other man-made system. It will work great for awhile but start to show flaws. Those flaws will be patched and patched until it is no longer practical to fix them. Then, a newer, better, more robust system will replace it.

But, oddly enough, this observation isn’t really why I wrote this post. It was just the thought that motivated a deeper exploration. I realized that I was going through life but not really understanding it. What is the essence of our existence?

I didn’t find the meaning of life but I think I did come to a few pretty significant conclusions. I came to understand what the single most important component of modern society truly is:

Trust.

It is the single most valuable component in society. It is the literal foundation on which all of civilization is built. From the very first time that two non-related humans decided to cooperate, trust has been the most relevant survival trait. Without it, society literally could not exist.

Why is this important? Because, by understanding that trust is the single most valuable component in society, you start to understand why people, at the apex of humanity’s wealth and dominance on this planet, are unhappy. Guys like Max Roser and the late Hans Rosling wave around statistics showing how much the world supposedly has improved. It’s compelling evidence. But they are completely missing the point.

The only way we can survive and prosper truly on this planet is not only by trusting one another but also by valuing the building and sustenance of it as our core ideology. My next statement may seem controversial but, on reflection, I think you will agree:

Trust is the only true religion.

If you explore the tenets of most religions, especially the major ones, trust is their foundation. The very power of the “God” concept is the belief in an objective arbiter who punishes those who violate social trust and rewards those who honor it. Indeed, what is a “belief”? It is trust in any conceptual entity without the benefit of evidence. Even our secular laws and institutions… every single one is built on the premise of trust.

Assuming I’m correct, then consider the following extrapolations:

  • In order for a system to be trusted, it must produce uniform outcomes. In other words, it must produce near identical and consistent outcomes based on context for everyone or everything in that system;
  • The only true “sin” or crime is that which violates, undermines, or destroys trust;
  • The key criteria for trust are consistency, plausibility, predictability, and reproducibility. Any system or institutions that does not fulfill those criteria will be rendered invalid.

When I look at the world, what I see is a fundamental erosion of the trust structures. This is a problem that Capitalism is not solving. Indeed, it is now exacerbating it. When equal circumstances do not produce equal, consistent, or, minimally, equitable outcomes, any system designed to produce those outcomes is fundamentally flawed. A system does not have to produce universally bad outcomes to become invalid, it only needs to produce inconsistent ones.

In any system built on trust, the most corrosive element in it is the “bad actor.” I don’t mean in a theatrical sense; an actor is simply someone who takes action. A bad actor is one who violates, undermines, destroys and, otherwise, exploits trust systems for personal gain to detrimental effect. The irony of bad actors is that many are pretty good actors in the theatrical sense.

Which brings me to this next point: one of the reasons I oppose incrementalism, at least as it relates to social progress, is that it fundamentally validates the bad actor’s actions. Remember, in order for a system to be trusted, it must produce consistent outcomes for everyone. Incrementalism is both a tacit acknowledgement and an accommodation of the bad actor in the form of tolerance. The opposition to incrementalism is rational because trust is undermined in any system where uniform outcomes under contextually similar conditions aren’t possible. By nature, such a system is fundamentally flawed.

I could continue on but I hope those who read this will take the time to relate it to their own experience. Think of the institutions with which you participate, the people with whom you interact. Do you trust them? What bad actors, in person or institution, have you engaged?

I think when you examine it more closely, you will begin to understand why there is so much discontent in the world. Look even closer and you will see that many pathological systems endure largely because, even by producing consistently negative outcomes, they create trust.

Should Capitalism ever fail, it will likely be simply because people no longer trust it.

The Philosopher King

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Like millions of sci-fi fans around the world, I consider Dune by Frank Herbert to be the seminal work in the genre. I’ve only read a handful of books that I’ve enjoyed as much and absolutely none from which I learned more. The breadth and complexity of the topics explored in Dune are amazing; indeed, though its universe is ideally suited for the silver screen, capturing it in a way that is true to Herbert’s work has proven to be a challenge that has only yielded limited success.

The themes in the book regarding politics and economics are the ones that have had the most impact on me. The basic concept of an idea being shaped by its environment was one of the most powerful. Consider the idea of liberal democracy; it seems intuitive and pretty much expected that it is the ideal form of government for our world. But is it? Consider the persistent vigor of totalitarianism, even in the face of its numerous spectacular failures. It is an idea that seems to be shaped largely by its environment. Liberal democracies tend to work better when there is far less societal “noise,” such as when populations are low and largely homogeneous and there is little bureaucratic overhead. However, when populations and bureaucracies increase, it becomes far more difficult for consensus to be reached and common goals to be achieved. From those seeds, totalitarianism often seems to spring. Consider the U.S.’s lurching move in that direction with Donald Trump. Considering the growing ineffectiveness of its government to serve a growingly diverse constituency, it’s only rational that, to maintain some semblance of stability, it would shift to the greater efficiency of simpler, non-nuanced ideas emanating from a charismatic, simple man.

Frank Herbert explored the concept of environment shaping ideas in several profound ways. One was the Imperium itself; it wasn’t an arbitrary choice on Herbert’s part to set his story in a feudal monarchy, it was a logical extrapolation based on the history he invented for the civilization as well as the reality of an economically integrated society. Consider our own globalized world: since the fall of Communism, the United States and its President are the apex of a system of nation-states that, at least for awhile, were becoming far more interdependent. Conspiracy theorists have long posited on the concept of a “New World Order” in the form of a unified global government but such an idea, at least conceptually, isn’t that far-fetched. As oligarchs and plutocrats exert more influence on the politics of countries, particularly in a world in which economies are becoming far more integrated, the idea of the nation-state becomes redundant. However, as long as our current economic and political structure allows for distortions that facilitate the accumulation and increased control of power and wealth, it will continue to exist in its current form.

But consider the political structure of Dune; the Padishah Emperor was engaged in a perpetual stalemate with his feudal lords, the Great Houses of the Landsraad. The Sardaukar, the Emperor’s army, was evenly matched with those of the complete Landsraad, ensuring mutual destruction in the event of civil war. While not completely similar, I see the same stalemate between those with political power versus those with economic power right now. The plutocrats may control wealth but the politicians have the monopoly of force. As time goes on, the struggle between those with “hard” power (force) and “soft” power (wealth) seems to favor those with the soft power. Indeed, governments across the globe seem to have placed the interests of the wealthy above everyone else. As long as the two forms of power have common interests, the system works in a symbiosis. However, inevitably, their combined goals always seem to diverge from those of the greater population.

The way I see it, fascism, the combination of both forms of power into a unified entity, is a natural result simply because it is more efficient. Another natural result is dynastic wealth, the need and practice of passing wealth to one’s progeny; this is consistent with genetic and Darwinian competition. In Dune, both of these phenomena take the form of feudalism, which itself is a product of the vastness of the Imperium. A feudal monarchy is likely the only way an economically integrated society or group of societies could exist over such a vast expanse, particularly one featuring thousands of worlds. Democracy simply would be far too inefficient as the bureaucratic overhead would be phenomenal. The same dynamic plays out in Star Wars as well. It’s easy to witness the same phenomena in our own history; it consistently shows a tendency for force, power, and wealth to consolidate with attempts then to preserve and enforce that consolidation hereditarily. It is likely that, should that consolidation ever truly come to fruition, the end result would be stability at the price of stagnation, which Herbert also astutely examines.

Thankfully, such homogeneity would be very difficult to achieve to a large degree. The dispersal of wealth as well as the forces of chance tend to degrade or destroy hereditary wealth in our world. Frank Herbert addressed this conundrum in his stories with the device of the spice melange, a naturally forming narcotic that severely prolongs the life, enhances the health and vigor, and extends the consciousness of those who consume it. He even cleverly established that it could not be artificially produced and could only be found on one planet in the entire known universe, the control of which was under a corporation wholly owned and operated by the very nobility that exclusively benefited from its consumption. The dynamics of spice are essential to the stability of the Imperium but, rather than delve too deeply into that topic, my recommendation is simply to read Dune and the rest of the Dune series. In my opinion, it won’t be time wasted.

It is another concept explored in Dune, related to what I have presented, that motivated this post:

The Philosopher King.

Introduced by Plato in The Republic, the Philosopher King is the proposed ruler of what Plato envisioned as the ideal nation-state. Plato defines the Philosopher King as a ruler who philosophizes, most often interpreted as one who is guided by the pursuit of optimality through enlightened wisdom. In other words, a Philosopher King rules with good judgment derived from understanding, not just knowing.

On the other hand, for the purposes of this post, I will use my own definition of Philosopher King, which I think will allow for greater context:

Philosopher King – one who is driven to, seeks, and gains the power to lead by his belief in his right to do so, either by capability or necessity, while maintaining the empathy and understanding of his own inherent fallibility.

I think the concept of the Philosopher King is a deceptively significant motivator in human dynamics. There seems to be a inherent, subconscious, almost metaphysical desire for humans to identify and elevate a Philosopher King. I think it is a significant motivator in the development of cults of personality of all stripes, one so powerful that it often defies logic.

First, let’s explore the dynamics of the Philosopher King. By nature, he is one that lives in a state of contradiction. A Philosopher King assumes power largely because he believes that he is most capable or that his capabilities best match necessity. A fundamental belief in his right or purpose to rule is paramount. However, what separates the Philosopher King from a run-of-the-mill tyrant is the complete understanding of the costs of his decisions. A Philosopher King understands that some, even many, of his decisions will have a price. He makes those decisions with no hesitation yet carries the weight of them in perpetuity, which allows him to make decisions of greater benefit for everyone with greater time and experience. The cumulative effect of making decisions of both ruthlessness and empathy is undeniable progress or, in times of desperation, ultimate survival.

The irony of the Philosopher King is that, as much as he is desired, by nature, he cannot ever be fully embraced. He is both loved and hated, accepted and envied. By nature, some will suffer as the result of certain decisions; the staunchest of the Philosopher King’s believers who are impacted by those decisions will interpret them as betrayal. Some will simply envy him because he represents something to which they aspire but can never achieve: greatness. They don’t fundamentally understand that that greatness comes at the price of a wounded soul, the deep understanding of all who may have suffered because there was no other choice. The Philosopher King is a man of destiny who’s greatest strength is the ability to gracefully bear the weight of his sins.

Frank Herbert explores this dynamic primarily with two characters, Paul Atreides, who buckles under the weight of the responsibility, and Leto II, who embraces it and becomes “God Emperor” of the Known Universe. Each is motivated by a terrible purpose. But another characteristic of the Philosopher King is that he possesses one or more gifts that he is aware are completely unique. For Paul Atreides and Leto II, that gift is prescience. I’ve always thought this was a particularly powerful device because it provides both the certainty of action and the burden of knowledge. It also separates them from everyone around them, even those closest to them. Most profoundly, the Philosopher King is alone.

If you look at history, you can identify this theme quite often. Hitler, Muhammad, Jesus, Steve Jobs. The writings of Machiavelli inadvertently describe the basic politics of the Philosopher King. It is my belief that the Philosopher King even plays a major role in religions. Indeed, the so-called “Anti-Christ” is a being who is primarily loved and worshiped even when he commits unspeakable acts, a clue that such a person, should he ever exist, will embody the traits, at least superficially, of a Philosopher King.

In the end, the Philosopher King guides society to greatness even at great personal expense. In my opinion, Frank Herbert’s exploration of this concept is incredibly important because it reveals a psychology that I think exists in all of us. In my opinion, there is a part of all of us that seeks a “father,” one who rewards generously for what we do right and punishes justly for what we do in error. In history, there have been many who have climbed to the heights of power by promising just that. They have largely failed though I can think of at least one who did succeed in his lifetime.

These topics are just a few of those that I discovered in Frank Herbert’s work. Even now, I think my understanding of it is largely superficial. I grapple with the themes in his books every day, in my own thinking and writing.

I will forever appreciate his work. Thanks Frank.

Immutability = Extinction

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A thing that is not changing is dying.

Being interested in technology, I’m often confronted with the concept of “disruption.” Maybe the more apropos term is “creative destruction.” In any case, the idea that growth is indelibly linked to change is one that is pretty much unchallenged when it comes to tech.

The ironic and, at least to me, hypocritical thing is that such thinking doesn’t apply when it comes to Capitalism. Particularly in regards to Silicon Valley and its high-profile venture capitalists, Capitalism is the one concept that should forever be immune to disruption. There is a belief that we have perfected economics, that no system is possible beyond Capitalism and, therefore, no serious discussion of potential alternatives is necessary. Those who believe in the Capitalist system are prone to consider those, such as myself, who contemplate alternatives as “cranks.” Even their language is polarized; most immediately consider anything that is not Capitalist as “socialist” or “communist.” The idea that there can be anything outside of our current economic system is simply beyond their ability to grasp.

Here’s the thing: Capitalism will either change to the point where it no longer resembles what it does today or it will cease to exist entirely. This isn’t speculation or wishful thinking, it is a fact. The simple reality is that a thing that is immutable is unchanging and a thing that doesn’t change is a thing that ultimately becomes extinct.

I find it humorous how serious Capitalists are about their system. From the economists, to the finance guys, to the tech guys, Capitalism is the one thing that is truly “serious,” a thing that, for some reason or another, should not ever change. Indeed, even the subject of it changing isn’t “serious” enough to discuss, at least not in any but the most marginal way. It’s pretty preposterous really. What thing can exist in perpetuity without changing? The champions of Capitalism don’t even seem to be intelligent enough to understand that their unwillingness to seriously address its shortcomings is what guarantees its ultimate failure.

Capitalism isn’t immune to “creative destruction.” At some point, the necessity for it to alter in a substantial or even a profound way will become apparent. What then? Will its champions resist? Will they become the impediments to advancement that they attribute to “cranks” such as myself?

I have to admit, the entire process tickles me. The asymmetries of Capitalism are not indefinitely sustainable. Either a more egalitarian form of growth will evolve from it or it will alter under the specter of violence and upheaval. But, one way or the other, it will change. Or it will die. Simple as that.

So, all you “serious” guys… enjoy Capitalism now while it still resembles something you recognize. Change is coming, whether you like it or not.

The cranks will have their day.

How the West *Really* Got Rich

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Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria by BarbedWings

Yesterday, I got into an exchange on Twitter that made me simultaneously remember what I enjoy so much about the platform and why I have significantly decreased my presence on it. I responded to a blog post by economist Jared Rubin titled Why The Middle East Fell Behind; his premise, at least to my understanding, is basically that institutional stagnation resulted from the political and economic elite’s need to manage around the influence of the religious elite, who had the weight of the Quran behind them. The progressive economic improvements codified in the Quran had a major stimulative effect on growth in the Middle East; however, because they were indeed codified into the religion, they prevented economic innovation and thus impaired the region’s ability to progress through economic adaption. I don’t want to misrepresent Rubin’s work so please read his post.

I decided to respond to his post because, while I generally agreed with his reasoning, it gave me the impression that he was making the case of a Middle East that had complacently chosen a path of stagnation. As someone who has read the Quran and learned a lot about Islam’s “golden age,” Rubin’s premise did not seem consistent with the dynamic cultures from that region of that era. The Islamic Empire from 600 A.D. to 1200 A.D. was arguably one of the most progressive and advanced in history; the Middle Eastern cultures of that time forwarded the disciplines of mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, and art to unprecedented levels and it seemed incongruous that such innovation would not touch their economics. Why would a region so advanced in every other endeavor of learning fall behind so dramatically when it came to finance and economics?

To me, history easily provides that answer: war. Between the Crusades and the Mongol invasion, the Middle East endured roughly 300 years of war in some form or another. The Mongol invasion was particularly devastating as it was routine for the Mongols to depopulate and destroy entire cities, including valuable libraries and scholars likely representing hundreds of years worth of technological advancement. My premise is that much of the stagnation of the institutions of that region in that era wasn’t by choice but by necessity. Civilizations at war tend to only progress in technology that facilitates fighting war more effectively versus making other societal improvements. With the destruction of some of its most valuable technological and philosophical resources as well as the ruthless murder of tens of thousands of its brightest minds, the Middle East was devastated beyond repair. The cultures that supplanted the Arab and Persian hegemonies, particularly the Mongols and the Ottoman Turks, were assimilators versus being innovators. Though many of the advancements of the Islamic Empires of the Middle East survived, the Mongols and Turks were cultures with very different motivations and histories; while they assimilated Islam, they were not its progenitors and thus likely could only respect its traditions rather than build upon them.

I advanced my (unoriginal) premise to Rubin and the result was this thread and adjacent related ones. All in all, I think it was a pretty interesting exchange but, once again, intellectual vigor slowly started to yield to tribalism and general suck-uptitude. Thankfully, my involvement reached a natural end before too many people jumped in to “put me in my place” for the apparently serious Internet crime of engaging someone with better bonafides than mine in a fashion that wasn’t completely fawning.

I think Rubin’s premise is well reasoned. His argument reminded me of economic historian Deidre McCloskey’s recent essay on the so-called Great Enlightenment and the rise of the West which I addressed in a rebuttal. Rubin’s juxtaposition of the Middle East with Western Europe seems to me like another angle on the concept of Western Europe’s apparent exceptionalism. A lot of words have been written regarding why Western Europe came to dominate the world economically, militarily, and socially; the basic thread is that, around 1800 A.D., Western Europe, particular England, embarked on an unprecedented technological advancement called the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t intend to challenge fact. However, I’d like to advance my own theory for why Western Europe came to dominate the world.

Let’s start from the period of Islam’s Golden Age in the timeframe of 600 A.D. to 1200 A.D. Around this time, Western Europe was pretty much a backwater. In every meaningful way, the dominant cultures of the Middle East and Asia were far more technologically, militarily, and culturally advanced.

Now consider this: In what direction could Western European culture spread at that time? In pretty much any direction east or south, the peoples of Western Europe were going to encounter a more advanced culture. Are they getting through the eastern Europeans or central Asians, who have already been exposed to the advances of Islam? Nope. Are they going through the Mongols, who have militarized largely from conflict with the Islamic Empire? Nope. Are they going through the Middle East or North Africa, the heart of the Islamic Empire, which at that time is likely the most technologically and militarily advanced in the world? Nope. And, if by some miracle, they make it to the Far East… are they going through India or China, also two cultures far more advanced than them? Definitely not.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, for a great deal of history, conquest was not an avenue for Western European cultures, at least not on land. The Western European nations (if you could even call them that) were stuck fighting each other on their little, fairly undesirable plot of land. Any attempts at serious expansion would have put them directly in the sights of a more powerful culture.

So Western Europe spent most of its time stuck in Western Europe. However, it does have something that everyone else mostly doesn’t (with the exception of China and Japan): unfettered access to a great, big ocean. When going east isn’t an option and going west means traveling over a huge body of water, an enterprising people start trying to figure out how to travel long distances over that water. So they start innovating. Their ships get bigger, faster, and more capable. Then they start exploring. Yeah, it’s expensive but not as expensive as war (even though you still continue to indulge that pastime every now and again). Now here’s where it gets interesting… they send ships out into the ocean and start finding things. People, places. But, more importantly, they start finding riches. Even better, the cultures protecting those riches, while advanced in some ways, aren’t even close to them technologically and, more importantly, militarily. On top of that, their presence has the devastating effect of making massive portions of the indigenous populations terminally ill from disease, far more effective than any army. So now, Western Europeans are raping and plundering “inferior” cultures all over the globe.

But then, it gets even better. Some enterprising individual has learned on their travels of entire cultures that can be enslaved. The best part is that those cultures are so primitive in comparison that the moral dilemma solves itself. Now they’ve discovered a whole new concept: scale. Slavery allows them to take the first timid steps in understanding the value of economies of scale. Now, there is virtually unlimited manpower to grow their economies.

But they also reached a tricky part: slavery requires space. Using slaves in all that new stolen/conquered land is fine, but those slaves can’t come to Western Europe. There’s simply not enough room. On top of that, Western Europeans figured out early that slavery is expensive. Mouths to feed and all that, which is why they switched to serfdom. “Let the nouveau rich in ‘the colonies’ deal with that headache.”

Now we’ve reached the turning point. An interesting thing happened in the colonies: a man named Eli Whitney found a way to use a machine to do the work of many slaves. In other words, a new method for developing economies of scale was developed, one that was far cheaper and far more efficient than manpower. Now, the concept of substituting machines for labor takes root.

At that point, the floodgates open. The confines of using finite physical resources, particularly physical manpower, to create wealth are circumvented by turning to an unlimited, free resource to achieve the same end: human ingenuity. In the end, it was a combination of necessity and circumstance that allowed Western Europe to make the technological leap that gained it worldwide preeminence.

Is this all a gross simplification? Yeah. I’m definitely sacrificing nuance and detail for succinctness. And I’m also fairly certain this isn’t an original idea. But it is definitely more logically coherent than the concept of Western European exceptionalism, which is really just the intellectual forerunner to white supremacy.

It wasn’t “liberty” or superiority that created the dominance of Western Europe, it was necessity along with the proper conditions. At least, that’s what makes sense to me.

Your mileage may vary.

A Troll’s Guide to Trolling

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Regarding my last post, Hypocrisy, it’s easy to interpret it as an advocacy for violence. However, my intention was to show that, for the most part, many people don’t understand the nature of violence. We draw the line at force so it is easy to think that certain actions are not violent simply because they do not involve coercion or force.

I think, as a society, we routinely engage in the “soft violence” that doesn’t harm physically per se, but facilitates a systematic destruction of dignity which often leads to physical harm. My personal belief is that violence begets violence, so an attempt to harm a person’s dignity will often make the recipient feel justified in responding with force. I think the conundrum is based on the fact that society has normalized attacks on self-esteem and dignity; rarely do such attacks create ostracism or repercussion and, when they do, it is often applied conveniently or hypocritically. I’m a firm believer in what author and statistician  Nicholas Nassim Taleb calls “skin in the game.” I think that we would value and respect the dignity of others far more if the repercussions of attacks on such were more costly. Back in the day, personal affronts would often be resolved through dueling. I often consider that some reasonable level of personal force may be healthier for society than the complete domination of force by the State. But that wouldn’t solve every issue, particularly those between genders.

I think that many of these issues could be addressed if we more highly valued rules for how we communicate. The thing that I  (and, no doubt, many others) have noticed is that virtually any situation in which one party interacts with another in disagreement is now considered “trolling.” I think it’s important to understand exactly what trolling is and the best way to do that is to understand what trolling is not:

Is a statement or response direct, factual, and easily verifiable? If yes, then it’s not trolling. If you are going to post any statement in public, then it is reasonable to expect pushback. It isn’t trolling if someone makes a counterpoint that clearly proves that your statement was incorrect. At least on my end, I tend to address statements or posts that I see as inaccurate, callous, or misleading and it’s often been considered trolling. The way I view it, if you make a public statement, be ready to support or defend that statement.

A lot of the issues related to trolling could be solved if people simply stopped making judgments, particularly in ignorance. For instance, probably one of the most irritating statements that I see repeated often is that global poverty is “declining.” Not only is the measure most quoted directly challenged by more comprehensive counter-evidence, poverty is highly subjective. Most of the poor in this country are considered rich by global standards but try convincing them of that. One of my personal rules is to not judge the quality of someone else’s life if I am unwilling to trade places with them; I think a lot of miscommunication or disagreement could be avoided simply by people respecting this simple rule.

So what is actual trolling? As far as I’m concerned, any statement or response made in a public forum that is easily-verifiably incorrect, an uninformed personal judgment, a logical fallacy, or a personal attack.

However, a personal attack isn’t just any statement one doesn’t like. For instance, I was blocked on Twitter by Andreesen Horowitz analyst and amateur Magic 8-Ball Benedict Evans when I called him out for making a verifiably false statement. His justification was that I was accusing him of lying. To me, that’s semantics. If you post something misleading that is verifiably false, what else would you call it? As the old saying goes, we don’t get to have our own facts.

So what actually qualifies as a personal attack besides the obvious? A statement made with the clear purpose and intention to denigrate or humiliate that is either non-factual or non-contextual. In other words, the statement is false and/or doesn’t provide an objective point to which one can directly respond.

To sum it up, every statement or response that you don’t like isn’t trolling. If people are going to post things publicly, I think they have a responsibility to the general discourse to either be willing to defend them or otherwise understand that some statements should not be made in an open forum. In my opinion, a good rule of thumb regarding making public statements is whether you are actually willing to defend them. If you aren’t, then you probably shouldn’t make them. That’s likely the best way to save yourself a headache.

In other words, don’t feed the trolls.

Hypocrisy

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When so-called “white nationalist” Richard Spencer got punched in the face, I can’t say I had an ounce of sympathy for him. I wish I could say the same for others. The feeling of some was that, in a civilized society where free speech and the rule of law are valued, people should not be punched in the face for their beliefs.

Should harm be done to someone simply for what they say? Put in another way, is the use of coercion or force ever a correct response to actions that may not do overt harm?

To those questions are my counter: is it possible to do harm to someone without using force or coercion? Can words or even a complete lack of action do harm to another? Even more importantly, can the harm be commensurate or even worse than actual coercion or force?

Despite what many people claim, ideas are extremely powerful. There is not a thing created by man today that is not the result of an idea. So the notion that ideas are not only powerful but can have power is pretty obvious to me. But there are people that seem to think that they are benign by default. I have to disagree.

Can words do harm? Can communication, particularly when done in bad faith, breed violence and contempt? Is the willful destruction of reason just as, or even more, dangerous than the use of force? By now, if you are like me, examples should be flowing through your mind in the affirmative. The most egregious example is Adolph Hitler. He was one man with a voice, a man with a handful of powerful ideas. He used that voice and those ideas to take over a nation and turn it into a world power. He then used that nation to plunge most of the world into the most devastating war in history. There were those in his day who thought he was simply a thug or a relatively harmless criminal, that his rhetoric was meaningless. He had few weapons, he had no real army. But, armed with ideas, he gained both and literally set the world on fire.

We’ve created a society where we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want free speech but we want our “safe spaces.” We want to post our ideas in public forums but not face any criticism, valid or otherwise, or ridicule. We want to protect the right to say whatever we want, however we want, but never have to face our opposition. Or, more importantly, face repercussion.

Getting back to my counter questions, what about bullying? Are those just words or are they coercion? If they involve no threats of bodily harm but simply personal insults, is that free speech? Does the intention of malice make it violence? And, if so, how is that any different than someone who desires an ethnically pure homeland, by force if necessary?

Society has deemed that force, either by coercion or actual, is the boundary no one but the State will cross. The State maintains a complete monopoly on force in order to protect the “rule of law.” But what about harm that results not through force but through the systematic destruction of personal sovereignty and dignity? Think about a child who is mentally and verbally abused but never struck. What about the ones who are simply ignored, their needs never met? Is that not violence? What about the violence of being laid off from your job or being denied a promotion because you are a woman or a minority? Are prejudice, bigotry, deceitfulness, and oppression not also violence?

Violence comes in many forms and it is always about control. However, not all violence is coercion or force. I could literally write all day about the violence that exists that has absolutely nothing to do with force. And behind all of it is an idea. Sometimes its expressed in the written word or spoken, most of the times it isn’t. But it all starts with the simple little seed of a thought. And it can, does, and will harm someone.

Just because they are “just words” doesn’t mean that they are not harmful. Just because it is “just a thought” doesn’t mean that someone will not suffer or die because of it. Malice can harm, but so can callousness, deception, and apathy.

In my opinion, we’ve institutionalized cowardice by making force the boundary. Any action that does harm, either word, deed, or even inaction, should have the potential for dire consequences. When it doesn’t, the result is like a pressure cooker without a release valve. Sooner or later, it’s simply going to explode.

Trump Has Already Won

kingdonald

There are few things that provide as much bang for the buck as outrage. It’s free and grants the person who indulges in it a smug sense of self-worth that few other emotions can offer.

There’s a lot of outrage going on right now regarding Donald Trump and his colorful executive orders. He definitely has taken a running start toward turning the U.S. into a totalitarian state, though few people seem to get that it was already halfway there.

Few people also seem to understand that this outrage, particularly against what is called the Muslim Travel Ban, plays right into Trump’s hands. Trump knows a whole lot about bang-for-the-buck himself. His ban affects a relatively small handful of people yet its symbolism is huge. More importantly, it plays great for his most die-hard fans. Though a small gesture in the grand scheme, it shows Trumpletons that Donald is indeed a man of his word, unlike other politicians. He said he was going to curtail immigration and he took a small but highly visible step to do that right out of the gate. And I guarantee that his core constituency, and more fence-sitters than most people are willing to admit, loved it.

The more bleeding-heart liberals, Social Justice Warriors, and “coastal elites” ride for immigrants, the more it shows Middle Americans, Rust Belters, and anyone else disaffected by the current economic system that the priorities of Americans already in this country are not a concern for them. The people outraged by Trump don’t seem to understand that it fuels him. He is not a man prone to bouts of conscience or sentiment. More importantly, he knows that he is playing a winning hand.

As long as the bleeding hearts are unable to provide a viable alternative to the economics that have harmed so many of the so-called “middle class,” Trump is running downhill. So far, the same people who have been so willing to write off huge swaths of Americans and others worldwide as simply neoliberalism’s collateral damage have been the most vocal about the injustice of banning immigrants. This may play well for the peanut gallery but, to many, it just seems like a whole lot of hypocrisy. Where was this outrage when middle America lost their jobs? Where was the handwringing when Rust Belters turned to drugs, alchohol, and, more importantly, suicide to deal with their marginalization?

As long as the bleeding hearts refuse to deal with the core issues of our economics and create a better value proposition, Trump has already won. He’ll continue to stoke hate and fear like a fire because he knows that his opponents don’t have the resolve to change a system from which they benefit. He knows that every time he appeases his constituency that their support for him will only grow. And he knows that everyone who opposes him without providing better solutions are becoming their own worst enemies.

The mark of the gifted totalitarian is not the ability to make common sense seem evil but to illuminate the natural hypocrisy of their opposition. Trump has shown that the bleeding hearts only care about certain types of people, the others, instead of the ones suffering in their own backyard. As time goes on, he’s going to forge that hypocrisy into a sword and drive it right through the heart of democracy.

By then, it’ll be considered a mercy killing.