Tag Archives: Facts

The End

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A strange thing happened after I finished my last post, The Joker. I realized that I was comfortable with it being my last article on this blog. It felt like my “mic drop.”

There were times when I stopped writing for different reasons. But I always left the door open. There was a part of me that knew there were things left to say, ideas left to express. I still feel that way but I realize that there is no longer anything left for me that needs to be expressed. I could continue on. But, like all good things, the end is a vital part of the experience. That moment has come for me with this blog.

I’m proud of what I’ve done here. For over three years, I personally explored a subject most people aren’t even willing to contemplate. My understanding strengthened and I discovered things that people immersed in the subject only learn through the writing of others. I haven’t been shackled by someone else’s understanding. I never read the books or papers of the experts. Instead, I wrote my own. It started with an essay, and it culminated with this site. This is The Currency Paradox, a single volume. I really don’t need anything more.

There are some who will be pleased that this day has come. “At last,” they’ll think, “his  self-importance has ended.” “At last, this idea can die while the serious work of Capitalism continues.” There may even be some who think that I fake these discoveries, that I regurgitate words written by those with greater understanding and eloquence. They won’t believe that I could have been able to cognize some of the most important works of economics and philosophy on my own. I was never going to earn their approval and I definitely won’t try now.

There are some who will read this site and see nothing but error and those who, due to their own arrogance, will not read it at all and assume error. I took this journey to learn. I have no regard for those who may know but will not teach, will not challenge, will not express. If you refused to engage, out of fear, or doubt, or spite, your judgment means nothing to me. I came for your ideas. I challenged you all in turn. None of you stepped up. So who truly failed?

As time went on, my original essay proved to be the very definition of “anti-fragile.” It has only gotten stronger as time has passed, has only been validated. Indeed, the vast majority of the ideas I’ve presented here have not only withstood the test of time but have invalidated ideas still considered sacred in other circles. The sacred cows may still be sacred but they no longer live; they’re “zombies,” dead ideas that will persist in the minds of people too afraid to let them go. That’s only going to make the transition to come that much more painful.

I want to end here with this quote:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” – Adam Smith

Adam Smith missed the greater point. It is only by acting in good faith that the butcher, the brewer, or the baker can succeed. Therefore, it is not their own interest which guarantees their success, it is the morality imposed upon them by their need to serve others for their own benefit that does. None of them could prosper if they violated the trust necessary for them to benefit by offering their service to others. It is only by valuing the needs of others that they can prosper. What do they gain if their wares are poisoned? If their wares are inferior, economics states they will be supplanted by others who will provide better goods. It is only by servicing their clients greater needs that they can guarantee their own prosperity. It is only by respecting, valuing, and cultivating trust that they can actually satisfy their own self-interests. It is never a one sided exchange. It is always a symbiosis.

However, when there is monopoly power, it is easy to violate that trust. Without the check of arbitrage or competitors, the social contract of trust can be violated without regard. That is one of the main flaws of modern Capitalism. As a system built on the premise of the commitment of capital to ventures that may either succeed or fail, the elimination of arbitrage and competition is a fundamental force. It is only when those things are eliminated that markets are “captured.” By definition, that capture involves the destruction of the symbiosis of trust agents. In other words, monopoly destroys the need for social trust in the exchange of value. It becomes a form of coercion. That is why it is, ultimately, socially destructive. However, it is also the means by which Capitalism works best.

Our society cannot sustain this contradiction indefinitely.

Marx tried to prove that Capitalism’s contradictions would destroy it. What he didn’t factor in was technology’s ability to improve living standards so quickly and so pervasively. Many economists think that he was wrong. However, it is more likely that Marx just hasn’t been right yet. Capitalism is a system that fundamentally undermines social trust, particularly at its most efficient. It’s a feature of the system, not a bug. The complete elimination of arbitrage and competition is always in the best self-interest of those involved in commercial exchange, especially done on the scale which it is today.

I undermined that premise with The Currency Paradox. In a society where money is created by time/effort, it behooves those with capital to fund opportunities for competition and arbitrage, particularly in a world of seven billion people. The tremendous demand coupled with the direct value creation of the populace would spur massive innovation and scale without the destruction of social trust by monopoly. Indeed, monopoly would largely be impossible. Equitability of opportunity would be a built-in feature of the economy and greater equality would be a direct result. More importantly, those things would be achieved without sacrificing economic growth. The world would continue to become richer and more prosperous. Because time would become valuable, healthcare would become a global priority. As a result, poverty, and its attendant physical, mental, and emotional health risks, would be completely eliminated. As prosperity increased, the population would drop precipitously, tremendously lowering demand for natural resources. It is likely that almost all the major problems faced by our world would be eliminated within only a generation or two.

As time has gone on, The Currency Paradox has only grown stronger. I end this particular journey with one final, likely unassailable argument:

Capitalism may create wealth but, ultimately, it destroys social trust.

Goodbye friends. Maybe I’ll have more to say. But, if I don’t, consider what is written here and use it to strive for a better world.

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The Truth About Tax Cuts

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This kid is gonna be POTUS one day.

Let me ask you a question: for what do you think your taxes pay? Is it better roads, good schools, social services, like firemen and police?

Maybe, probably at the state and local level. But, at the national level, your tax dollars really don’t pay for anything.

Let me repeat that: your tax dollars really don’t pay for anything.

In the U.S., our government can literally print as much money as it wants. It can completely eliminate its liabilities more or less at will. So why collect taxes?

The truth is that, at least when it comes to taxation on a national scale, our tax dollars don’t “pay our bills.” Our government can literally print as much money as it needs to cover any entitlements, military spending, or pretty much any other bonafide social safety net expense or ridiculous boondoggle it decides to fund. Imagine if you had your own printing press that could perfectly reproduce Federal Reserve notes. And it was completely legal. Would you ever be short of cash? No? Well, that’s pretty much the way our fiat currency system works.

Politicians play on the fact that, as a controlled commodity, it’s difficult for most people to accumulate money in significant amounts. So they talk about “deficits,” ”debt,” ”spending,” etc., referencing metaphorically what most people live very much literally. The government never has to worry about running out of money. Think of it as having a bank account with infinite dollars.

When it comes to money, the government is concerned about something else entirely: debasement. It’s more worried about printing so much money that it becomes worthless. A debased currency makes everything tremendously more expensive (except debt, which would actually decrease in value).

So there are mechanisms within the fiat currency system to prevent an excessive accumulation of money. In other words, our monetary system contains mechanisms for destroying money. Fractional reserve banking is one such method.

The other is taxation.

The purpose of taxation is to remove the “extra” dollars from the economy. However, as it functions, this system is profoundly flawed.

If the purpose of taxation is to remove excess money from the system, consider what happens when taxes are “cut.” When the government cuts taxes, it has decided to remove less excess money from the economy. Why would it do that? Because, at least theoretically, the additional money could be used to spur innovation and productivity, which we call “economic growth.” That economic growth translates as societal wealth, in the form of better goods and services. Economic growth is what propels us all into progressively higher standards of living, at least materially.

However, what happens if that additional money does not create economic growth? What happens if major new innovations are not created and productivity doesn’t actually increase? What happens when the options for monetizing new products and services simply don’t materialize? Think of the “unicorns” of Silicon Valley… what would happen if Uber flamed out? What would happen if the public ends up rejecting augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR)? What happens if self-driving cars end up being a dead end?

The key for tax cuts is that, if they don’t spur growth, they exacerbate the problem of currency debasement. Rather than allow the government to get those dollars back, the wealthy prefer to hold on to them by whatever means, legal or illegal. Our laws and force apparatus give those dollars real worth even though they are inherently worthless. As a matter of status, the rich want to keep those extras dollars to buy the bigger house, the bigger boat, the bigger jet, etc. More houses, more boats, more cars. At a certain level of wealth, it’s all ego tripping.

Which brings me to this point: have you ever noticed how tax cuts go almost exclusively to the wealthy? Why don’t they go mostly to those lower on the chain? The simple answer would be because that would defeat the purpose. People further down the chain will simply spend the money into the economy. “What’s wrong with that?”, you may ask. “Aren’t the rich going to get the money anyway?”

Yeah, but there’s a problem with that… it’s called “price inflation.” When merchants and businesses know that there is more available money in the economy, they tend to raise prices. Since taxes can’t be cut enough for most of those lower down the economic chain to make a material difference in their incomes, the effects of “tax cuts for everyone else” will likely simply translate to higher prices. So the money will indeed “trickle up” (actually flow up), but then everyone will be stuck with higher price levels for goods and services. Oddly enough, funneling the money directly to the rich prevents that outcome.

The real question is “Does it work?” My best answer is that it has to, at some level. At least materially, our standard of living continues to increase. There are a few large bets on the horizon technologically that could have a major positive impact on living standards, such as AR, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) , and autonomous vehicles. Will tax cuts help those big bets pay off? It’s possible.

But, in the wake of that, a potentially dangerous condition is also developing: the increased displacement of human labor in the value chain. Labor is the method by which most people acquire the means to participate in the economy; simply put, it’s how they earn money. However, globalization and increased technological automation is leading to an increased deprecation of Labor value. At the more developed end of the spectrum, employment is either shrinking or progressively moving to lower wage work. All signs are that this trend is accelerating. So far, Capitalism has not found a way to address what it perceives as a short-term transition that could easily become a long-term crisis. Tension is already rippling through the most advanced economies in the form of increased populism. The world is changing and Capitalism so far has shown little capacity to manage that change effectively.

If you look at taxation from the perspective of its intended purpose, then you can understand how disingenuous the arguments of the wealthy are against higher taxation. The rich want those further down the chain to shoulder more of the tax burden. The reality is that such a proposition will almost certainly have a profound effect on economic growth. As the middle class evaporates, those lower on the chain can barely afford to make their way in the modern economy as it is. If the purpose is to get the “excess” dollars out of our economy by getting it from those who can least afford to give it, I don’t see how that is going to have a positive outcome. The reality is that we tax the rich because they have the excess dollars. Their argument is that they are the ones who fund innovation and enterprise. But it’s just as likely that they will devote their money to financialization; in other words, they’ll use safe financial instruments simply to make more money rather than making riskier bets that may spur much greater growth. Even worse, a lot of that money will be used simply for indulgence, avarice, and status-seeking. As displays of opulence and decadence become more visible in our more socially connected world, the potential for backlash increases substantially, the outcomes potentially catastrophic. Remember the French Revolution?

The truth is that our economic system is fundamentally unbalanced and likely to become more so. Money is being kept out of the hands of the very people who need it most and given in wheelbarrows to the very people who need it least. The worst part is that this is probably our economy’s optimal condition; it is unlikely that the system can be made more equal, or even more equitable, without running the risk of high price inflation at least, and, potentially, economic collapse. As it stands right now, the only way the system continues to function is if it continues to become more and more unequal.

I don’t see how that ends well.

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.

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.

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.