Saturday, May 13, 2017

Two Capitalism hacks to help you sleep better

Social Capitalism

marrying money is a full time job (image: harpers bazaar)

What gets you out of bed in the morning? For me, it's Capitalism. And lately, it's been keeping me up at night, too.

There's much to like about Capitalism. For one thing it's exciting, because it's gamified. Like all great games, the challenges increase progressively as participants' skills increase, along with the rewards.

Newbies can get started with Capitalism quickly, with little investment. Capitalism is well-documented with lots of free advice available in print and online. Citizens can participate as individuals or as part of a team. And the pursuit of Capitalism has pulled a large part of the world's population out of desperation and servitude.

But Capitalism is losing its mojo. Like dead-eyed real estate scions at a Reno roulette table after 3am, we're not feeling the fun anymore. We're burning out from high-pressure jobs, America is in a funk, and billionaires are feeling sorry for themselves. Something's wrong with Capitalism, but I believe we can fix it.
"Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate." ~ Bertrand Russell
Core to Capitalism's success has been its scoring system. Standings are tallied in money, letting us know in real time whether we are winning or losing. In Capitalism, money is the point, and that's the problem.

Shouldn't the point of a social-economic system be (something like) happiness1, which money, we know, does not buy?

The focus on money is a critical design flaw, creating perverse incentives that have led to levels of inequality now threatening to undermine the entire system. The edifice is starting to creak.
“When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.” ~ John Maynard Keynes
Happiness, not money, should be the measure of success. What brings happiness? Human relationships2. Whereas an emphasis on money is ultimately destructive of the social-economic system, an emphasis on human relationships would be self-reinforcing, because what is a social-economic system but a network of human relationships?

I don't want to throw Capitalism out, just make a few tweaks. A couple of modest adjustments to the scoring system can shift the emphasis from money to human relationships, keeping all the freedom and frisson we love about Capitalism, but adding sustainability and happiness. I'd like to call the modified system Social Capitalism.
Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That's the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here are the tweaks:
  1. abolish inheritance.
  2. make charity non tax-deductible.
When the Flames face off mid-season against the Oilers, the starting score is 0-0. In hockey, as in most sports, points are not transferred between games. When the Flames beat the Oilers 9-1, the Flames do not carry the 8 point surplus into the next game. This system maintains a level playing field (in the sense of fairness, not flatness) in order to preserve competition and reward excellence. To allow teams to carry points across games would rig the game in favour of the incumbents, leading to greater and greater inequality, until the league broke.

We should abolish inheritence on grounds of fairness and equality, because letting families accumulate wealth across generations is like letting sports teams accumulate points across games.
In Social Capitalism, when a citizen dies, all wealth reverts to the state. For the reasons just discussed, most Capitalist societies already impose heavy taxes on inheritances and other gifts of wealth. Abolishing inheritance is an extension of these policies.

Without the option of passing wealth across generations, citizens seeking a happier future for their children would do better to invest in, rather than insulate their children from, society. Legacies would take the form of publicly recognized contributions to society, not contributions to private bank accounts.

The second tweak is to make charity donations non-tax-deductible, because the welfare of needy citizens is as much Government's concern as that of any specific charity, and Government is typically better organized, informed, and open to scrutiny. Government should be the best run charity, and everyone's concern and obligation.

It's illuminating to think of Government as a charitable organisation with mandate to care for its citizens. In this light, tax-deductions for private charities are shown to be, in effect, opt-outs from government. So when Lord Beezlebotham makes a tax-deductible donation to a private charity, the deduction redirects a portion of money from the government to the private charity, say the WindyFlanks Retirement Home for Hunting Dogs.

Compared to private charities, Government has advantages in scale and scope that let it provide services with greater effectiveness and efficiency. Governments are also typically better run and more accountable. Citizens should be allowed to donate their money to any cause they feel is deserving, but there should be no opt-out from obligations to Government, society's collective charity.

Without the option of diverting money from government toward private causes via charitable tax deductions, citizens looking to make positive change would be more likely to engage in Government, and to engage with societal needs beyond their personal interests. Citizens would still be free to fund Arts Centers, Hospitals, etc, and name them after themselves, but their first obligation would be to Government, the collective charity that provided the conditions for their own success.
"Capitalism fails to realize that life is social. Communism fails to realize that life is personal. The good and just society is … a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism." ~ Martin Luther King
The ideal of Social Capitalism is a society where excellence is rewarded, competition is fair, and an individual's standing is tallied in terms of contribution to society, not financial assets. These tweaks are meant to encourage people to measure their lives in terms of Social, rather than Financial capital.

  1. Happiness as an end-goal has its own problems, but it works as shorthand for profound satisfaction and peace of mind
  2. see, for example: here, and here and here

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rising above it all


oh lord it's hard to be humble

For the offence you gave,

for the disrespect you show,

for your lack of shame or acknowledgement of guilt...

I forgive you.

I forgive you immediately, comprehensively, retrospectively, proactively, and aggressively. Before you have the chance.

I forgive you because I will not carry the burden of resentment. I will not have my thoughts tainted by bitterness. I will not be distracted from the enjoyment of my days by unrewarding disputes.

Let my unconditional forgiveness show: in the greater scheme of things, on the scale of what really matters, in terms of peace of mind and lasting happiness, I am in control, and you are insignificant.

Not for your sake, do I forgive you, but for my own.

I win!

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Private Joke

thoughts from the dentist chair

actual view from my dentist's chair

My heels shot up and fell back to the chair as if I had been electrocuted.

Dentistry has made tremendous progress in terms of patient comfort, but the experience of lying in the dentist chair is still fraught.

Lying in the dentist chair tends to concentrate one's thoughts on the present. Usually I lie in the dentist chair with my legs crossed at the ankles. I noticed, as my feet went up again, that I had uncrossed them.

I filled my lungs and slowly exhaled, through my nose because my mouth had a vacuum tube in it. The pain had been only in the instant, gone as soon as my heels hit the chair again. What is pain?

I thought of the 1978 movie Marathon Man, starting Dustin Hoffman.
A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent. (IMDB)
There's a scene in the movie where the Nazi torturer (Szell, played by Sir Laurence Olivier) uses dental instruments to torture the unwitting student (Babe, played by Dustin Hoffman), who has no idea why he is there.

the most relevant bits are near the 1:45 and 3:13 minute marks
Christian Szell: Is it safe?... Is it safe?

Babe: You're talking to me?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Is what safe?

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it.

Christian Szell: Is it safe?

Babe: No. It's not safe, it's... very dangerous, be careful.

"mmmMMMmmm" I said.

My dentist pulled the whirring tool from my mouth, "Are you OK?"

"It's safe."

"I don't understand."

"I'll tell you after."


I uncrossed my ankles, inhaled another deep slow breath through my nose, and smiled around the dental instruments sticking out of my mouth.

She never asked me to explain. I think it's better.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Monday, November 11, 2013

tandoori taco sunset


Crab, Dill Pickle, Fully Loaded Baked Potato, Mediterranean Herbs, Salt & Pepper, Soulmate Cheeses & Onion, Ranch, Honey Mustard, Sweet Onion, Cheddar And Sour Cream, Rotisserie Chicken, Spicy Jalapeno, Sour Cream And Onion, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion, Smokey Bacon, Prawn Cocktail, Pickled Onion, Beef & Onion, Marmite, Spanish Chicken Paella, Japanese Teriyaki Chicken, German Bratwurst Sausage, Italian Spaghetti Bolognese, French Garlic Baguette, American Cheeseburger, Brazilian Salsa, Scottish Haggis, Irish Stew, English Roast Beef And Yorkshire Pudding, Dutch Edam Cheese, Australian BBQ Kangaroo, South African Sweet Chutney, Argentinian Flame Grilled Steak, Welsh Rarebit, Mango Red Chill, Pizza(!), Magic Masala, Nori Seaweed, Basil, Squid, Garlic Soft Shelled Crab (Hong Kong), Soy Sauce, Salmon Teriyaki, Hot & Sour Fish Soup.

I'd be surprised to find this list of potato chip (crisp) flavours had any connection to actual ingredients. In the fast-paced world of food technology today, creating a new flavour is easy, a matter of chemistry. I imagine it's like creating a new shade of lipstick: the hard part is coming up with a name.

...maybe they also do some testing on pigs before they launch to the public.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

wholly water

God | Squad

personal best
Abstinence is a big part of why I'm not Mormon. It's hard to relate to teetotalers. My people are Irish/Australian; I can't get my head around the idea of cultures that don't drink. When do they let their their id off the leash?

I once stopped drinking for 2 years during a bout of hepatitis, so I can understand non-drinking for reasons of poor health. I also understand drinking for reasons of good health: for some of us, alcohol is part of a mental health regime that helps us thrive in the conditions of modern civilization, like iodized salt.

Mostly, I don't understand why anyone would refuse alcohol on religious grounds. The deeper issue is not alcohol, it's about trust. If someone can refuse to drink alcohol for no other reason than because the Almighty forbids it, how can I be sure they won't make other choices that seem random and arbitrary to me?

That's the thing with religious people: they follow a different set of rules. They can eat this, they can't eat that. This day that can't work, that day they have to stay up all night. If you want to get to know a religious person to the level where they don't seem just, well, random and weird, then spending time and sharing activities with them is not enough. To get to know a religious person, you also have to get to know the(ir) Almighty, an entity who usually is not bound by Logic or Reason. Almighty has not introduced his/herself to me and has not answered my calls.

Why would anyone give up their freedom to, say, drink alcohol, in favor of an apparently arbitrary set of rules delivered from on high?

Consider the swimming pool. I love to swim. But I won't stay long in an open pool during public swim on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I might try a few underwater somersaults, or see if I can swim the width underwater on a single breath, but very soon I'll get bored and out. For me, it starts to get interesting with lane ropes. Lane ropes give swimming some sense.

I used to train with a swim squad. We had a coach who set the workouts for us. A typical set might look something like this:
3 x (4 x 75):
#1: free;
#2: 25 choice stroke, 50 free;
#3: 50 choice stroke (same stroke), 25 free;
#4: 75 stroke (same stroke).

The sets often seemed arbitrary. Sometimes Coach Al would tell us to swim lengths without kicking, or only using one arm, or using a limited number of strokes or breaths. The sets were sometimes hard to remember and we would occasionally lose our place. No problem, Coach Al would bark out the next drill from the end of the pool.

I never really understood the method behind these intricate swimming sets, but Coach Al seemed to know what he was doing. All I had to do was follow Coach Al's commands. Giving him control over my workout allowed me to focus swimming right in the moment. All other concerns washed away. I retain a strong memory of the feeling of liberation I experienced during those punishing swim squad workouts.

Giving myself over to the commands of Al made swimming meaningful and rewarding; Maybe I do understand why someone would hand over their freedom to a higher power. Ideally, every once in a while, you and your higher power should get together after practice and share a drink or three.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

owning jesus

Man of faith smashing scripture 
If I was Khalid I would not belong to the Muslim faith. I would not subscribe to its beliefs, nor would I follow its practices. If I was Khalid, I would own Islam.

You may think I am being pedantic, but in fact, I am being Orthodox. This post is about Faith and Religion, chapter and verse.

As it happens, I don't own Islam, although I do have some ideas for how I'd fix it up if I did. It could use some pictures on the walls, for one. I own Catholicism. Yes, the Pope is mine. Sorry about him. He just won't listen. We've been thinking maybe medication would be a good thing for him.

I never asked for Catholicism. I inherited it. I find it unsightly, myself, but my mother likes it. It's not like I can give it away. It's not much practical use, so I usually keep it in the attic, buried under a pile of other accumulated crap. Sometimes I drag it out when we have visitors who are interested in that sort of thing. It's not pretty, it gets in the way, it's poorly constructed, rotting, and often stinks, but it's mine, my problem.

The actual point of this post is to point out the absurdity of the idea of anyone belonging to a faith. In my view, Faith requires free choice. Without free choice, Faith becomes compulsion, or unthinking adherence to culture -- without free choice. If faith is possible without free choice, then Ants can be believers.

My complaint may seem specious. Belonging has 3 senses, roughly: classification, fit, and ownership, and it is reasonable to say that a Christian person belongs to the Christian faith in the same way that an ant belongs to the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Arthroproda, and the class Insecta, i.e., in the sense of classification.

To my ears, however, when people say they belong to a faith, it sounds like they mean the faith owns them. It sounds inappropriately passive. Subscribing to a faith is equally passive. (More often, believers are prescribing the faith, which, at least, is active.) To be a follower of a faith is also passive. All these terms seem dispirited, especially for a faith. Faiths should spirited, not passive.

So is my problem pedantry? YES! My problem is other peoples' pedantry, the pedantry of people of the word. Because language, like mathematics, is a system of symbolic manipulation, processed by the parts of our soul (or brain, if you prefer), that handles logic and analytical thinking, which, if you think it through, are anti-thetical to faith. Salt on the slug of faith. If your faith needs a logical proof, then it isn't faith. If you have a logical proof, then you don't need faith.

Faith and Reason don't mix. Language is a system of symbolic manipulation, inextricable from Reason. So people of the word, i.e, subscribers/prescribers of scripture-based religions, must swallow this indigestible nugget before they can open their mouths to preach. This may explain the constipated empathy for non-believers. Scripture is no place for Faith.

The proper medium of Faith is Art. Art is handled by the systems of the brain that deal with intuition, emotions, fellow humans, and beauty. Compare: which religion you would like to own?

Scripture Art
Rational Intuitive
Manipulative    Open
Consistency Beauty
Eternal Humane

What about Poetry? I grant, poetry is Art, capable of expressing the ineffable. But is religious scripture poetry? Millions of the faithful claim it is. But if scripture is poetry, then is it fiction? No. The categories of fiction and non-fiction don't apply to poetry. Poetry, like music, has its own criteria of Truth, based on Intuition, Authenticity, and Beauty.

So, if scripture-based faith was music, what kind of music would it be? Probably something like this ancient music:
Music of Ancient Greece - First Chorus, Orestes Tragedy of Eurypides - by Christodoulos Halaris - Ancient Greek Music

It may have it's musical qualities, but it doesn't come anywhere near this more recent work in terms of Intuition, Authenticity, or Beauty:

My point is, if scripture is to be read as non-fiction, then believers are literally followers, and that's no way to belong to a faith. If scripture is meant to be poetry, then, it's a crunky, stiff, and unappealing kind of poetry, a poor alternative to other, better, more uplifting and soul-nourishing art on the market.

The best indication of the Truth of scripture-based religions, like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, is the Art they have inspired, not the scripture they are based upon.

People of the word (followers of scripture-based faiths) may argue that scripture is poetry, and believers do make the free choice to believe in its truth. But poetry, like music, does not give prescriptive truth.  Art does not give Rules.

I'm preaching to the converted. If you are still reading this far, you already agree with me. Otherwise, you would have stopped reading this infidel nonsense earlier, recognizing it for the Sophistry it is. The fact is, dear reader, I don't even believe in the existence of you. I can't think who would be interested to read this far. Oh yes. Sorry. Hi Mum! Yes, I believe in you. I hope you are looking after Jesus.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

an uncomfortable opinion


I am a moderate man, a man of the left. I am a family man, father to 4 children, born in 4 corners of the world. I am a believer in larger social causes, sceptical of western capitalistic ideologies of individualism. I support socialized medicine, and advocate bicycle paths. I am a Canadian, living in the Netherlands. So I am surprised to discover that everyone needs guns.

Justin Bieber needs a gun. Carly Rae Jepsen needs a gun. Pamela Anderson needs a gun. Shania Twain needs a gun. Celine Dione needs a gun. Leonard Cohen needs a gun. Keanu Reeves needs a gun. Nelly Furtado needs a gun. Jim Carrey needs a gun. Avril Lavigne needs a gun. Margaret Atwood needs a gun.

Not just Canadians. We all need guns. Right-thinking community-minded freedom-loving atheists like myself especially need guns. We should resist any attempt at gun control, gun registration, ammunition monitoring, and anything else that sniffs of restrictions on our natural rights to defend ourselves. We need guns to protect ourselves from conservative religious nut jobs. The NRA doesn’t explain this well.

This is a new opinion for me, two days old as I write. It came upon me suddenly, as I listened to reports of PRISM, the US governments collation and monitoring of our personal network data. Working in the software industry, I am aware of how much detailed personal information can be extracted from such a database. Living in Europe I am often reminded of how badly governments have behaved. Yesterday, in fact, we had to detour around a cordoned-off area of the beach where an unexploded grenade had been found. It is easy for me to imagine a bad government – in Turkey, say, or Italy – using social network data to snuff out sparks of dissent: actual, potential, or perceived.
"According to the documents revealed by Ed Snowden, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has access on a massive scale to individual chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers and social networking data of individuals. 
The US government confirmed it did request millions of phone records from US company Verizon, which included call duration, location and the phone numbers of both parties on individual call. 
According to the documents, Prism also enabled "backdoor" access to the servers of nine major technology companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. 
These servers would process and store a vast amount of information, including private posts on social media, web chats and internet searches."

In 2001, the Bush Administration amended the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to permit warrantless wiretapping. Lawmakers who knew of the program were gagged from publicly discussing the top secret program.

These laws give the US government the ability to identify virtually anyone on the basis of their expressed personal beliefs and opinions. The scope of surveillance extends to other western capitalist democracies. (Of course, citizens of overtly authoritarian regimes already expect surveillance.) Whether exploited or not, these laws provide unprecedented capability for oppression.

The Obama administration recently reauthorized these powers after "extensive debate," a fact all the more worrying because I am disposed to like Mr Obama. I imagine he made the inevitable political choice: If he chose to end the surveillance program he would be held responsible for the next terrorist act against the United States. Reauthorization, however, merely maintains the status quo. I like Obama, but I'm scared of many of the other conservative US politicians. I'm scared of what might happen if the more extreme conservative US politicians were to gain control of the levers of power. In time, inevitably, they will.

I don't like the tradeoffs of my new position against gun control: the increased risk of gun violence on the streets, in homes, and at schools. However, history shows the alternative possibility of ruthless repressive authoritarian regimes is a reality.

I am uncomfortable with my new position against gun control, but it came to me quickly, and so may change just as swiftly. Please dissuade me.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader