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Friday, July 8, 2011

Three Crucial Events in the News:

Today saw three independently important events come up simultaneously. The USA launched its final shuttle, a new country was born in South Sudan, and a US jobs report showed yet another dramatic rise in unemployment.

The shuttle is an old, dangerous, expensive design which I'm glad to see come to an end. Now that the space shuttle program has completed the International Space Station, it's no longer necessary. When something this expensive and this deadly is unnecessary, it should be cancelled immediately. We cannot begin a true space age until people can reliably enter and leave the atmosphere without their ship exploding. The shuttle program had 130 flights and 14 deaths, which translates to someone dying every nine trips or so. For all we know this last shuttle will end with disaster too. We're high time for another disaster, with these percentages. It's inexcusable that something so dangerous was ever built or allowed into the air in the first place. We shouldn't have even begun tinkering around in space until we had a reliable vehicle to deliver our astronauts to and fro. Now we can start over from scratch, and hopefully learn our lessons from the shuttle debacle.

We could learn something from Russia's soyuz capsules. They reliably have been ferrying supplies and people to and from the ISS without any losses, and at a lower price too. When second rate countries with tiny budgets compared to our own are making more reliable spacecraft than us, you know something has gone terribly wrong.

I hope the ISS does something up there to make all the expense and loss of life worth it. But it's probable the ISS was also a mistake. A project without a mission, the ISS existed solely to exist, as far as I can see. There was no fundamental scientific purpose for it. It was just an expensive boondoggle, a 'let's do it because we can' spur of the moment idea that took decades to realize. So for decades space has been using old, dangerous shuttles to build a useless, pointless floating monument to human stupidity. Nothing has come from the ISS. No scientific breakthroughs, no research, nothing. It will take something miraculous to repay the investment of decades of lost time, 7 lost souls, and billions of dollars that went into making the albatross.

Before we do anything more in space, I want a clear commercial or scientific goal we will reach thereby. A space station that is self-sustaining and a viable outer space colony? Great. A space station that just parasitically relies on billions of dollars of outside money to keep afloat? No. A commercial satellite launch? Sure. A billion dollar handout to engineers who design useless spacecraft that never go anywhere or do anything, that are never even built? No. A successful colonization of Mars? Great. Another useless hike on the moon just to show we can still hike on the moon? No. Asteroid mining for profit? Great. Flying high in the sky for millions of dollars as an amusement park ride? No.

It may be that rockets are simply a bad model to move into space with, and we need to wait until new technologies like space elevators are available before we even begin. But an even bigger question is why humans should be in space in the first place. Our bodies aren't built for space. We have all sorts of weaknesses, like the discomfort of zero G, radiation sickness, and the loss of muscle mass. Humans are evolved for life on Earth, not anywhere else. We should populate space with people evolved for space -- namely, with AI robots. This would put us on a much more solid footing. We wouldn't need atmosphere to breathe, we could live out in space freely, without any spacesuits, because we wouldn't need to breathe. We'd be immune to solar and stellar radiation because we wouldn't be composed of fragile elements that radiation could so easily break apart. We'd be immune to cold and heat because we wouldn't be such fragile bodies that care about temperature in the first place.

Instead of spending billions on useless space sideshows, we could spend billions on developing artificial intelligence, as the first step to true space colonization. Until we have our robotic replacements, life in space will never be affordable or practical. Just look how hard it's been for the whole world to keep just five people in space for the last decade. Is this really a workable program when scaled up to serious levels?

Meanwhile, down on Earth, a new nation was born. South Sudan joins East Timor, Kosovo, and a plethora of other new countries in the world who all tell the same tale: Because they were an out-of-power minority that was somehow different from the ruling power, they were oppressed and abused. The oppression and abuse led to a civil war, and the civil war eventually led to some sort of U.N. brokered secession. There are clear lessons from such independence days. If you want to rule a large country with a large population, it had better be completely homogeneous, such that everyone is in the 'ruling party.' Or it had better treat everyone equally, such that minorities are never oppressed or abused, and thus have no incentive to seek independence so that they can rule themselves. You would think this would be easy. But it may be too hard for anyone on Earth. After all, Hungary couldn't stand being part of Austria, nor could Portugal remain for long as part of Spain. Ireland couldn't suffer Britain's rule, nor could the United States, Canada, or Australia, be the rule ever so benign. There seems to be an instinctive wish for every group to rule themselves and an instinctive resentment of foreign rule no matter how equally everyone is treated. There's also an instinctive desire, which is often acted upon, to not treat minorities equally. The fair complaint, for instance, that people in the colonies were not allowed a vote in British elections, like real British citizens were. Why was that? Why weren't we treated exactly equally in every way? If only they had treated us as equals, we wouldn't have fought a revolutionary war to be free of them. But they refused, King and Parliament both, even after years of petitions for nothing but fair, equal treatment.

Liberalism's overriding drive for fairness and equality has quite possibly evolved as a desperate attempt to retain large borders composed of diverse populations. Anyone who doesn't adopt the liberal creed of fairness and equality for all eventually splinters apart into civil war and dozens of tiny mini-states, like what happened to Yugoslavia. The EU risks falling apart if the constituent nations feel that they aren't getting a fair and equal shake from Brussels. Why, for instance, should German taxpayers be paying for Greek retirees? If the EU keeps playing around with these sorts of fires, picking winners and losers, taking from some and giving to others, all in an arbitrary and discretionary manner, without any agreed-upon-ahead-of-time guidelines, the EU will collapse. No one trusts a government that isn't committed to treating them just as well as anyone else in their sovereignty. This is why subjects of seemingly minor importance, like gay rights, which only affects 2% of the population at most, are issues of national importance. Because once a nation starts singling out minorities and treating them unequally in any way, no one can feel secure that they will be treated equally and fairly either. It isn't a gay issue, it's an issue that concerns all citizens: Are we all equal under the law, or are there special groups with special privileges, and other special groups with special burdens, and will these groups be constantly shifting and changing according to our ruler's caprice? Obviously, if it's the latter case, it's time for a civil war, a secession, a revolution. But if we're genuinely committed to the former, then it's time to change the law ASAP. We cannot have even a 2% group in the United States singled out and treated unequally, because it jeopardizes the right to fair treatment of us all.

Arguments that we aren't treating gays unequally, but simply treating people who behave poorly unequally, will continue to be greeted with distrust so long as we lump all gays together. Committed family type gays who are exactly as good or better than straights in all their behavior should not be treated like lepers unfit for marriage or children just because they're gay. No one can explain what harm there is in two men, or two women, falling in love and marrying, living perfectly upper class lives, never cheating on each other, and raising their adopted or artificially inseminated children in a 2 parent home. This isn't discrimination based on bad behavior, it's discrimination based on their innate sexual preference. A completely meaningless, arbitrary detail that has nothing to do with morality. If you can't point to any harm done by an act, whether to yourself or others, intrinsically, then the act isn't wrong. The problem with gays is their tendency to engage in OTHER, UNRELATED harmful behavior: promiscuity, crime, drugs, alcohol, suicide, STD spreading, child molesting, public indecency, adultery, etc. If we separate the two out, we can regain the moral high ground. Yes, gays can marry and have children, but only if they behave well enough to deserve to marry and have children -- and the same should be true of straights. By treating everyone equally, we can protect children, and marriage, while not discriminating unfairly against anyone.

Why should cheating, drug using, promiscuous, criminal straights have the right to marry or reproduce? Why should a model gay couple not be allowed to marry for fear of what 'harm' they'll do to the institution of marriage, or adopted children, when these sorts of straights are allowed to run amok, completely unregulated? It's hypocritical. The institution of marriage was destroyed long ago when we got rid of all standards among straight people. When we allowed no-fault divorce, encouraged premarital sex, decriminalized adultery, and gave women the choice to murder their own children, marriage was already ruined. Adding misbehaving gays into the mix won't change that. Reforming gay and straight behavior, however, could help both groups immeasurably.

Large, diverse nation's challenge is not solely to treat everyone equally, however. Equal treatment, after all, still leads to disparate results, because not everyone is equal. A large, diverse nation will be torn apart by our intrinsic differences even if the government treats everyone fairly. The losers in any contest will beg for special treatment from the government to make up the disparity, and if they don't get it, they'll engage in whatever violence it takes to get it: strikes, unions, civil disobedience, crime, riots, voting for special benefits, civil war, or secession. A government saying, "Tough, it's not our fault your life sucks" isn't good enough. This is because people know government has the power to improve their lives, and THEY have the power to replace a government unresponsive to their needs with a government that IS responsive to their needs. You will not keep a large, diverse nation together just by treating everyone fairly. Everyone also has to believe that by living in this country, they are receiving, within reasonable approximation, as good a life as they could expect, no matter where they had lived.

You could say this is the second degree of Fairness, the fairness of John Rawls. A large country must be fair to the second degree, not just the first. In many cases, this means contradicting the first principle of fairness, which is equal treatment under the law. By bullheadedly clinging to the first principle of fairness, you will trample all over the second principle of fairness. By adopting the second principle of fairness, you will abolish the first principle. Almost every dispute in modern politics is between liberals of the 1st principle of fairness and liberals of the 2nd principle of fairness. A sturdy nation can rest only upon the 2nd principle. This is why socialists, democrats, liberals, or however you want to call them, have always won in the long term over their Republican/Libertarian/Conservative rivals. The people side with the second group, because that's the group they want setting policy decisions, because it is the group which will treat them most fairly -- not in terms of 'equally,' but in the more weighted terms of 'given a reasonably good quality of life, one I could expect if I were running the government and setting its policies.' People have no reason to obey a government that doesn't give them a decent standard of living. It's unfair to expect such a thing as obedience from a group that is directly harmed by your continued rule. Fairness isn't about equal treatment, it's about equal results. Nothing short of equal results will ever be satisfactory.

No one expects the impossible. No one is asking for gold-plated sinks from the government. But a place to live, a school for your children, a hospital for when you get sick, clean water, public transportation to and from work, clean air, food, and the basic amenities of life, combined with basic respectful consideration by your fellow citizens, isn't asking too much. The people who vote for Democrats understand this instinctively. They know taxes aren't too high, in fact, US taxes are the lowest they've been in 50 years. They know the rich have plenty of money, in fact, they have the largest share of the US's wealth and income in 90 years. If the 'equal treatment under the law' types were ever subdued, it would be well within the nation's capacity to give affordable housing, education, transportation, environmental protections, and health care for all. The USA is the richest country on Earth. It has $47,000 per year per citizen to work with. Nor would changing our tax codes from the lowest they've been in fifty years to something higher instantly make us Communists or instantly bankrupt the economy. This sort of scaremongering will not work on the people, who aren't so blind that they can't see the massive 80 million paychecks being paid to CEO's all across the country in a time of universal joblessness and foreclosures.

Fairness takes on a whole different meaning from this viewpoint. When some people are homeless and without a job, and others are earning their largest profits ever, something is deeply wrong. It may not be the successful person's fault. Perhaps it's God's fault. But that's no excuse. When people are suffering or dying right in front of us, there's no excuse by just saying, "I didn't do it." Real neighbors help each other regardless of how the fire started or the earthquake struck. If the citizens of this country are simply unwilling to extend a helping hand, isn't it natural for liberals of the 2nd order to want a new country? To stage a revolt? To turn to violence for a solution that sitting around will never achieve? Whether that comes from voting for socialist policies on election day, or like the Greeks simply smashing windows and marching through the streets, or like the Hutus simply taking a machete to their richer, in-government-power Tutsi neighbors, it's all fundamentally the same. We demand better than this, and we won't stop until we feel we've been treated fairly.

John Rawls made the important breakthrough in philosophy that no one chooses what parents they are born to. No one chooses what genes they were given, or what environment they grow up in. Therefore no one can possibly be to blame for how they act in life, or be responsible for their own life results. We are a product of preexisting forces, helpless threads in the tapestry of fate. Our outcomes are statistically predictable before we ever leave the womb. The smart, good looking, athletic types born into homes with lots of money and lots of love will always succeed. The dumb, ugly, sickly types born into impoverished, loveless homes will always fail. Where does free will ever come into it? And therefore, where does 'fairness' ever enter the picture? How is such a world fair? Fairness isn't taking two people who start at completely different starting points in a race, such that one person has to cover 10 meters and the other 1,000 meters, and then fairly awarding the first person to cross the finish line with the laurel crown. Fairness means putting the people at the same starting line, THEN starting the race. Anything else is a joke.

This is one of the reasons I loved the Angel Beats anime. It gave an afterlife specifically to the people who were treated unfairly, who didn't get a fair shake, in their previous lives, their lives on Earth. They were victims, and the afterlife was God's apology, God's justice making things even again. Not everyone needs an afterlife, and not everyone needs government aid, but unfortunate people do, and unfortunate people should have whatever it takes to even the ledger again.

C.S. Lewis also realized this, when he created differing criteria for who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven. According to C.S. Lewis, those who had hard knock lives, who were given dull minds, dull spirits, and painful life circumstances, would be given affirmative action when it came to Heaven placement. If they showed any spark of divine grace, any little hint of humanity, despite all these drawbacks, God would consider them more godly and more fit for heaven than a pampered, smart, sensitive soul's most titanic efforts. If you weren't a saint, but you were born to a rich and loving family, God help you. Meanwhile, if you weren't a cannibal rapist witch, if you were from a poor family, there was still hope for a good ending.

Charles Dickens also realized this when he pointed out that ten cents of charity from a poor man was more virtuous than billions of pounds from the rich.

All of these great thinkers -- Rawls, Lewis, Dickens, are people who believe in 2nd order fairness. You could say they were second stage lensmen, the ones who went back to train with the Aryssians after realizing their first degree of fairness simply wasn't fair enough. The conservatives, the libertarians, the equality under the law types, are mere 1st stage lensmen, amateurs who will never do anything great and to be pitied for their myopia, as well as their own arrogant approval of themselves as somehow special and mereticious. 2nd stage lensmen, like Jesus Christ, are light years ahead of them.

Which brings me to the third news item. Unemployment was worse than ever again, as was labor force participation, as was hours worked. Every number I cited in my previous article, the Wall Street Journal is clueless about jobs, has deteriorated even further. How much will it take to address the root cause of this issue? Overpopulation, for one part. And as for the other, a complete and utter lack of empathy for the unemployed, as though they're to blame for a complete societal, systematic failure to create enough jobs for everyone. How long are we going to blame the victim? Do we call canaries in coal mines 'weaklings who deserved their fate?' Or do we become alarmed when they die due to increasingly poisonous air that they could no longer endure? Do we start to wonder whether we will be like the canaries soon, or do we remain self assured that canaries are canaries, humans are humans, and there's no possible correlation between the two's well-being? The unemployed are the first victims of mechanization and globalization -- but they won't be the last. In the end these forces will destroy all our jobs, they will unemploy us all. But if you don't help the jobless now -- who will be around to help you when it's your turn? Think! Feel! Either way would work!

It's time for a citizen's dividend. A fair living for everyone, given equally to all. This should satisfy both 1st order fairness and 2nd order fairness. It should be acceptable to everyone. And most of all, it should solve our insoluble jobs crisis that has been dragging on for years without a single peep from the government offering any relief to tens of millions of drowning victims. There are seven applicants for every available job in America. By God, what are the remaining six supposed to do? Become egg, blood, and plasma donors for a living? Are we ghouls? Vampires? Are we going to treat people as portable reserve organ banks? Or are we going to give a cheap, affordable, and decent citizen's dividend to everyone, and end the suffering once and for all?

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