Thursday Highlights

Good morning.

  1. Stimulus irony.
  2. Gitmo in the news.
  3. BP’s payment and consequence.
  4. Transplants and an interesting development.
  5. The future of skin art?
  6. A different way to look at H/S cultures. A few months ago I was considering the thesis (I still am) that H/S cultures are happier, just not wealthier, than the Western individualistic one. Perhaps the “more natural” fit with human nature is the reason why.
  7. A VC threesome, on the individual mandate and Constitutional considerations, the historical origins of the separation of Church and State in US jurisprudence, and why lawyers seem to prefer technicalities to ethics.
  8. Scary tales.
  9. Two links to Serbia and cinema.
  10. Speaking of cinema, a film everybody should see noted.
  11. Heh.
  12. One of the consequences of progressives insistence on ‘good racism’, is that they need to constantly maintain their artificial hierarchal victimology.
  13. Brain drain, democracy and the third world.

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12 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    Stimulus irony.

    Do critics of the stimulus who center on the difficulty of finding true ‘shovel ready’ projects understand that a minority of the stimulus went to construction spending?

  2. Boonton says:

    BP’s payment and consequence.

    Seems more like misperception. There’s no compensation for idle fishermen when fishing and shrimping is open again. The guy running the $20B fund is the same guy who ran the 9/11 fund. He strikes me as a hard but fair guy who puts a lot of attention to detail.

  3. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    My impression on my admittedly quick pass was that the fisherman in question was idle and being compensated.

  4. Boonton says:

    Nothing then would stop non-compensated fishermen from sweeping in on what he’s leaving in the seas.

  5. Boonton says:

    A different way to look at H/S cultures. A few months ago I was considering the thesis (I still am) that H/S cultures are happier, just not wealthier, than the Western individualistic one. Perhaps the “more natural” fit with human nature is the reason why.

    Do you have a real example of a H/S culture that existed in a state of wealth and prosperity? The only example that comes to mind is maybe Saudi Arabia but this isn’t really a wealthy society in the sense that they are producing a lot of surplus goods, they just lucked out in planting their tents on top of oil.

    H/S cultures seem to exist in marginal conditions, where life is lived very close to the edge. In this condition just making it through the day, season or year may elicit great joy. But we all aspire to improve our material lot and as things get better a lot of the ties that supported the individual in the H/S culture start to feel like chains that bind.

    Some movies might make for a good illustration; Consider Italy as depicted in Godfather I, II. Clearly an H/S culture. Consider Divorce Italian Style. A neat comedy about an H/S culture where people have ceased taking H/S seriously but keep playing along with it because they were raised with it. (If you haven’t seen it, take a peek. In it a husband wants to get rid of his wife and hook up with the hot girl next door. Divorce is not legal in Italy at this time but he hears about a case where a wife killed her husband and mistress after she caught them in adultery. Because it’s a ‘crime of passion’ she only gets a year or so. The husband then decides that he will find someone who will seduce his wife, and then kill her after ‘discovering’ the affair) Finally Godfather III. Here H/S has all but been forgotten about in a world of wealth and plenty.

    Perhaps the flaw you’re missing with H/S cultures is that like wormholes, they may self destruct. Move a little bit beyond subsistence levels, and H/S cultures start undermining themselves. Saying H/S cultures are ‘happier’ then misses an important point. They maybe happier in the sense that kindergarten is remembered as a happier time for many adults than life currently is. It very well may be true but its irrelevant. We cannot have an H/S culture in the modern world anymore than the 40 yr old adult can return to the simpler life he enjoyed in kindergarten.

  6. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Rome.

  7. Boonton says:

    Rome was relatively prosperous but not in the democratic sense I’m talking about. I’m talking about a society where the average person has sizeable amount of leisure time and the ability to command an amount of resources in a time period multiple times larger than what they need for sustainance. I’d add to this definition that to qualify such a society must be relatively self sustaining (meaning this standard of living is maintained by internal production or trade, not conquest) and does not depend on a large population of slaves. I would say Rome did not fit the bill. China and Japan may but there’s clear signs that propserity is loosening the bounds of their H/S cultures.

  8. Boonton says:

    The logic behind this argument can be summed up in a line I heard from Mel Brooks’s “2000 Year old Man”….it went:

    “What was the dominant form of transportation in your day?”

    “Hmmm, I’d say FEAR, Fear was the dominant form of transportation”.

    If you are afraid the most important thing is security. Hence H/S cultures work well by reinforcing the family, tribe and so on at the expense of all else. If a gun is to your head your happy that the trigger isn’t pulled, you don’t really care about the health of your marriage, how satisfying your job is etc. If there was no one to rely on but your family then the punishments for violating the family must be high. Likewise factors like adding to the family (sex and pregnancy) must be done under very controlled circumstances to avoid material diaster.

    But as societies move beyond the most basic level (as a few did starting in the mid 1800’s), fear resides. When the gun is to your head you don’t care about many things like work and family but the gun doesn’t make your job good or your family healthy. It only distracts you. When the distraction is gone, the absolute needs tha the H/S culture was designed to address receed. As a result, the H/S aspects of your culture seems less like a vital way to avoid diaster and more like a bunch of rules which you may or may not feel very loyal too depending on your personality.

    Hence the Divorce Italian Style example. H/S culture was still very real in Italy in the 50’s but you see how it has become more of a game rather than a way to avoid diaster. The husband kills his wife because in H/S culture an unfaithful wife is a horror that is so beyond words that no man can be expected to behave rationally. In this society, though, the husband not only isn’t horrified but plays the ‘rules’ as an ultra-rational game player. What’s interesting is that no one stands behind these rules. Yea that Church & Conservative elements don’t want divorce legalized but no one seems to be standing up for the H/S culture. Hence the only people who actively support the husband’s use of the ‘rules’ is the cynical lawyer whose job it is to argue for his client. They seem to be going thru the motions because they don’t know what else to do….sort of like citizens of communist nations in the late 70’s and 80’s.

    The question then is whether a society can transition to what we would call ‘civilized’ (i.e. developed) and somehow preserve the H/S culture with real sincerity. I think it can’t. It may develop an new culture that incorporates some of the H/S (such as the Japanese cultural value of not ‘shaming’ your family by doing poorly in school) but it won’t be anything like the real thing.

  9. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    I disagree (on the notions of wealth in Rome). Yes there were slaves and so on, but the average prosperity was very high. One example might be that standards of porcelain were only duplicated in the 19th century in the no-longer H/S England and Continent. Literacy levels likewise, e.g., they wrote insults and notes on slingstones historians note that the soldiers were literate and expected their enemy to be as well. And that isn’t even talking about the Eastern empire until say the late 11th century.

    If you’re interested, I’d highly recommend this book The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization paying some attention to the descriptions of the level of wealth and how thoroughly it spread through the culture before the fall.

  10. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Oh, you continued. Hmm. Allow me to observe that the fifth highest official position in the Eastern Roman empire was the Orphanocrator (Feeder of Orphans) a position put in place to care for and feed … orphans. Does that sound like a fear driven culture to you?

  11. Boonton says:

    I disagree (on the notions of wealth in Rome). Yes there were slaves and so on, but the average prosperity was very high. One example might be that standards of porcelain were only duplicated in the 19th century in the no-longer H/S England and Continent.

    And from what I understand we still have not matched Rome’s concrete whose receipe has long been lost. But no matter, as much merit Rome may have had the fact is it didn’t hold a candle to a developed country, even England of the mid-1800’s would have the empire beaten hands down. And unlike 19th century England, could you say that Rome could have maintained itself if it was denied the use of slaves and conquest? (Anti-colonalists may snipe that England colonized numerous developing nations but I suspect that was not a real driver of England’s wealth, it might have even been an expense that England was able to indulge in *because* it was so successful).

    Allow me to observe that the fifth highest official position in the Eastern Roman empire was the Orphanocrator (Feeder of Orphans) a position put in place to care for and feed … orphans. Does that sound like a fear driven culture to you?

    Yes it does. Ask yourself why such a position would never be the ‘fifth highest official position’ in the US? Because the US doesn’t care about orphans? No because the US hardly has any orphans. How wealthy was a Roman really if there were so many orphans that caring for them was a major branch of government? Here we see an insight from life expectancy at birth:

    During the Roman Empire, Romans had a approximate life expectancy of 22 to 25 years. In 1900, the world life expectancy was approximately 30 years and in 1985 it was about 62 years, just two years short of today’s life expectancy.

    http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/lifeexpectancy.htm

    An objection to this might be that life expectancy in the ancient world was low because of the high rate of infant deaths. http://www.richardcarrier.info/lifetbl.html has a good table here. If you were 25 years old in Rome there was a 1 in 10 chance you’d be dead within a year. You know what a 1 in ten chance of death is? It’s decimation which you probably know was the procedure the Roman military used to instill fear into troops.

    Changing my thoughts here to be about a “culture based on fear” misses the point. Some modern cultures have tried to use fear as a base (Mao, USSR, N. Korea etc.) It’s not a culture “based on fear” but a culture that is responding to fear.

    Rome did do pretty good (and aspects of its H/S culture did start to dissolve, Romans fretted about ‘family breakdowns’ and ‘decadence’ before anyone post-Rome started using Rome as the catch all cliche for decadence. But as nice as it is as a literary motiff, the fact is Rome’s usefulness as an analogy really starts to falter if you’re looking at anything post, say, 1900. Getting a life expectancy in the high 20’s might have been best in class in the ancient world, in today’s world its like comparing Junior High football with the NFL.

  12. Boonton says:

    For the record do we have a real life example of a H/S culture that managed to survive prosperity? Again the definitions I’m going to use is as follows:

    1. The prosperity cannot originate primarily form a model of conquering other people and taking their wealth. (Rome is off the table, so are pirate cultures of the 1700’s).

    2. Prosperity cannot originate from a large portion of the population being slaves.

    3. Prosperity for this purpose will have an absolute definition. Let’s peg 2000 calories a day as the standard diet needed to maintain health. A prosperious society will be defined as one where at least 90% of the population is able to have this at any given time and at least 70% of the population is able to command an income that could provide, say, ten times that (if they choose to spend all their income on food only).

    4. To keep it interesting let’s put a min. population size at half a million. Hunter gather type societies would then be excluded. While they might be interesting to examine I think we have a few problems with them. One we don’t have a lot of detailed information on their culture and beliefs. Another is that such societies need a huge amount of land to spread over a small number of people. If you’re talking about modern society which has to accomodate hundreds of millions of people hunter gather is just not going to work as a model.

    Rome I think doesn’t meet this criteria. I suspect that no society pre 1850-1900 could qualify and many in today’s world don’t. The question then is it even possible to have a H/S society that is also prosperous in a self-sustaining way? Or do the dynamics of plenty act in such a way to undermine the foundations of a H/S culture?