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Reblogged: Of Zombies and Men: What the Apocalyptic Reveals about the
There has been an explosion in recent years of apocalyptic books, movies, and television shows. The agents of destruction have been many and various. Zombies are a common culprit, featured in the Resident Evil franchise, 28 Days Later, World War Z, and The Walking Dead. But zombies don’t have a monopoly on the end of the world. Pandemics, earthquakes, climatic catastrophe, extraterrestrials, asteroids, and vampires have been central to such works as Contagion, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Falling Skies, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and I am Legend, respectively. What has caused this increased interest in end-of-the world entertainment?
To get a handle on that, consider what these kinds of stories have in common. Whatever the catalyst, any good apocalypse leads to widespread societal collapse. The hallmark of any such collapse is the problem of scarce resources. People are thrown into a world where survival depends on scavenging the barren landscape for whatever abandoned morsels remain and competing with other survivors for the same. Every gain is someone else’s loss. Seizure and force are the coin of the realm.
What about such a world makes for compelling entertainment? It is not a question of escapism. Who would want to escape to such a desolate place? Rather, there is something deeply resonant in this fictional universe, something people regard as important and real, concretized and dramatized. In the days of the Cold War, there was a real concern about nuclear annihilation. Today, there is no such concrete threat. The destructive powers of terrorism are local, not global.
Instead, recent public anxieties have been fixed on problems of purported scarcity: exploding debt and financial instability, diminishing fossil fuels, overpopulation, environmental erosion, and so on. These concerns manifest a deeper concern over resource depletion—financial, natural, and environmental. Some might say that unchecked resource depletion will result in catastrophic scarcity, making a real apocalyptic scenario only a matter of time. But is it?
Is wealth actually a scarce, finite quantity, divvied up equally or unequally simply by ruthless seizure? No. Some natural resources appear finite, but wealth, properly regarded, is not. The creation of wealth depends both on finite natural resources and the human ability to use these resources through intellectual ingenuity.
Consider this. If wealth were a fixed sum, subject only to depletion and division, then who would be wealthier—a Neanderthal millennia ago or a citizen of the United States today? Were wealth fixed, the Neanderthal must have been wealthier, because less wealth was “depleted” and it was divided among fewer people. But who honestly yearns for the life of the Neanderthal? Who would give up an iPod for the sound of two stones clacking together in a desperate quest to make fire?
So the essence of wealth is not the possession of finite resources but productive activity and technological achievement. And these can be brought into existence by ambitious and inventive human minds, pushing us forward and generating levels of wealth never before seen.
Men are not zombies doomed to mindlessly consume their fellows. In a society where people are free to trade or not as they wish, all transfers of wealth are for mutual benefit. Such a society is not ruled by roving bands of highwaymen, but by traders exchanging value for value. When a return on the investment may be expected, men will also produce values and increase wealth.
In closing, one work of apocalyptic fiction deserves special attention. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged tells a story of economic and societal collapse. The world of Atlas Shrugged is populated not by literal zombies but by their intellectual equivalents, who use guns and governmental edicts in a frantic attempt to consume the brains of the few human beings that remain. These metaphorical zombies are infected, not by a virus but by an idea come at last to fruition. Part of this idea is a static, concrete-bound view of wealth—that wealth can only be taken or distributed, not produced. The other part is an unflagging belief that men should selflessly immolate themselves for “the greater good”—that is, for the sustenance of zombies who offer nothing in exchange but their eternal hunger.
Atlas Shrugged also presents a vision of a different world—a sunlit place where men produce and exchange values to survive, rather than living as zombies and surviving only by the force of their jaws and the selfless compliance of their prey.
What makes Atlas Shrugged uniquely compelling—and terrifying—in the realm of apocalyptic fiction is that the cause is not some fantastic agent like a zombie virus but rather the ideas that do, in fact, dominate our culture. Fortunately, it also presents the antidote—the ideas necessary to defeat its agents of destruction. I like a good zombie flick as much as the next guy, but I certainly don’t want to live in one. What about you?
The post Of Zombies and Men: What the Apocalyptic Reveals about the Mainstream View of Wealth appeared first on The Undercurrent.
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Reblogged: A Quick Thought on Perception
David Smith tweeted: “Mind = blown. These two blocks are exactly the same shade of grey. Hold your finger over the seam and check.”
I’d like to do some more thinking on perceptual illusions. I don’t think that the grays look different due to any conceptual inference. The grays look very different, until the seam is covered, and then they look the same.
Yet I don’t think that these are “perceptual errors.” Rather, this is exactly how our perceptual system is supposed to work, perhaps because such mechanisms enable us to properly judge shades and depth in the real world. However, particular with computer images, we can reveal these oddities and limits in our perceptual systems in a stark way.
Notably, these kinds of cases are very different from many traditional illusions like a stick bent in water, which are a function of the medium of perception (i.e. air versus water). Still, I don’t think that they reveal that our senses aren’t reliable or valid: they just reveal, in yet another stark way, that the diaphanous model of perception is wrong.
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Reblogged: "Public Health" Plagues Body Politic
Reader Snedcat points me to an interesting, but somewhat rambling article about the "Disease of 'Public Health'" over at Spiked. Perhaps the most interesting is the first paragraph, which provides a laundry list of recent proposals that have been made in Britain the name of public health:
... minimum pricing for alcohol, plain packaging for tobacco, a 20 per cent tax on fizzy drinks, a fat tax, a sugar tax, a fine for not being a member of a gym, graphic warnings on bottles of alcohol, a tax on some foods, subsidies on other foods, a ban on the sale of hot food to children before 5pm, a ban on anyone born after the year 2000 ever buying tobacco, a ban on multi-bag packs of crisps, a ban on packed lunches, a complete ban on alcohol advertising, a ban on electronic cigarettes, a ban on menthol cigarettes, a ban on large servings of fizzy drinks, a ban on parents taking their kids to school by car, and a ban on advertising any product whatsoever to children.The article goes on to raise some interesting methodological and motivational questions about the new breed of scolds behind such proposals. It also draws some historical parallels with religiously-motivated health and behavioral crusades from the past.
These are all worthwhile and interesting, and the author even touches on a crucial question usually missing from modern discussions about health policy (i.e., whatever role the government is assumed to have regarding our health): "[I]n an enlightened society the judgement [about whether a given health risk is acceptable] can only be made by the one person who bears all the risk and enjoys all the benefits: the individual." That said, the article wanders, as if in need of a moral and political compass. Morally, it could have stood to take a more fixed gaze at the whole idea of third parties making cost-benefit analyses. (That said, it does challenge the idea by examining how an individual could have different criteria for making a choice than some government official.) Politically, it would have done well to ask of all such measures, the question Ayn Rand asked when governments took money and freedom from individuals: "By what right?"
Modern puritans have the power they do because too many people tolerate them making such calls. This tolerance unfortunately extends to the political realm, where government coercion of private individuals is increasingly accepted, rather than regarded with the high degree of suspicion that it deserves. It is this coercion that empowers "the assortment of neurotics and authoritarians that make up the modern ‘public health’ movement" to dictate even to those of us who see them for what they are.
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"'You Didn't Build That,' Conservative Style&
With Obamacare in shambles and President Obama proposing his newest one-year plan to fix it, Republicans are experiencing a moment of schadenfreude. That’s understandable, but focusing on the Democrats’ failures will not lead the Republicans to success. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) understands this, and he is busy trying to articulate the Republican vision for America. Unfortunately, while the senator’s fans may view him as a champion of free enterprise, Lee’s vision isn’t fundamentally different from the president’s.
This op-ed was published at The Daily Caller on December 9, 2013.
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Reblogged: Bad Ideas vs. IQ
Noting that "black students scoring far below white students on various mental tests has become so familiar that people in different parts of the ideological spectrum have long ago developed their different explanations for why this is so," Thomas Sowell introduces some new data that demands different explanations.
The November 9th-15th issue of the distinguished British magazine The Economist reports that, among children who are eligible for free meals in England's schools, black children of immigrants from Africa meet the standards of school tests nearly 60 percent of the time -- as do immigrant children from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Black children of immigrants from the Caribbean meet the standards less than 50 percent of the time.Considered only in racial terms, the low-income result is the opposite of what recent studies in the United States usually find. Sowell has a good hypothesis regarding the differences seen on each side of the Pond:
What low-income whites in England and ghetto blacks in the United States have in common is a generations-long indoctrination in victimhood. The political left in both countries has, for more than half a century, maintained a steady and loud drumbeat of claims that the deck is stacked against those at the bottom.This reminds me somewhat of the underlying thesis in Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals, except that he is considering the role that philosophical ideas -- although he stops short of calling them that -- play in shaping a culture. That consideration is the hallmark of Ayn Rand's cultural commentary, and I think that more such analysis can only accelerate the abandonment of the wrong (and not even wrong) beliefs that are guiding so many of us today onto a path of certain ruin.
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Reblogged: Activism Recap
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Reblogged: 12-7-13 Hodgepodge
A Hard Road for the Creative
Writing for Slate, Jessica Olien maintains that most people actually dislike creativity, although they may well appreciate its fruits and grasp that it is good on an intellectual level. While I am not sure I agree with everything she says, I think the following point is particularly insightful:
Creative ideas take effort to evaluate and may well cause emotional discomfort among those with less-active thinking habits. Fortunately, as the article points out, many creative people learn to overcome that common limitation in others.
"Rather than dismiss this as new-age silliness or psychobabble, I encourage people to look inward and identify what leads them to feel more or less emotionally safe." -- Michael Hurd, in "Emotional 'Safety'" at The Delaware Wave
"As they spout off, they are admitting, albeit implicitly, that they are not able or willing to figure out what's true anyway, so all that matters is that they look like they know what they're talking about." -- Michael Hurd, in "Saying 'No' for No Reason" at The Delaware Coast Press
"It may surprise those who damn 'the lust for gold' to hear this but gold, like music and painting, is a spiritual value." -- Harry Binswanger, in "In Praise of Gold. Not a 'Barbarous Relic' but a Spiritual Value" at Forbes
"My previous column ... was not meant as an advocacy of a gold standard--not if that means giving government the power to dictate what is and isn't money." -- Harry Binswanger, in "Free Money! Then Free the Rest of the Economy" at Forbes
In More Detail
In his piece on gold, Harry Binswanger makes his argument that gold has spiritual value by generalizing from comments Ayn Rand made about music and applying her identification of reason as man's means of survival. I'll include his excerpt of Rand on music here.
And I'll encourage my readers to head over to Forbes for the rest of the piece (linked above), which is absorbing and inspiring in its advocacy of gold.
A Classic, Now Illustrated
From a recent announcement by the Ayn Rand Institute:
Especially after reading the related Binswanger piece on gold, I look forward to revisiting this classic.
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Reblogged: The Head Covering Movement
When I first read the whole Bible a few years ago, I wondered when all those Bible-focused Christians would rediscover the very clear command that women cover their heads in church in 1 Corinthians 11:
And… it’s happened, as you can see for yourself at the web site of The Head Covering Movement. (The site looks of recent origin, and the domain was only registered earlier this year.) Of course, feminism is to blame:
On a bright note, I’d much prefer that Christians resume the biblical practice of covering or not covering their heads during church than that they resume the practice of stoning people like rebellious sons, suspected witches, and blasphemers!
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Reblogged: Friday Four
1. Will GMail soon be easy to export? Actually, it already is, because it can be accessed by standard mail protocols. This fact has allowed me to use getmail to back mine up weekly for well over a year.
At any rate, Google has announced the gradual rollout of a new feature that will make it easy to export email and calendar data. Interestingly, the announcement also mentions that this new feature will permit easy migration to other email services. If this new feature comes at the expense of GMail no longer behaving like regular email under the hood, I'll take the hints and switch.
2. We took the kids to see Santa yesterday evening. Pumpkin, who was terrified of Kris Kringle last year, had no trouble marching right up to the Big Man and asking for a "kitchen" this year. She was also a big help when we were getting pictures and having trouble getting her baby brother to smile. He usually smiles upon first seeing her, and often laughs at her antics. So when three adults failed to get anything more than a fleeting smile out of the boy, I put her to work.
We now have a picture of Santa and our smiling baby boy.
3. Can an elite rugby player hack it in the NFL? The Indianapolis Colts are in the process of finding out:
Now the experiment has yielded a very tangible result. [Kenyan-born Daniel] Adongo isn't yet ready to square off against veteran offensive tackles, coming off the edge to chase quarterbacks. Given the rate he's developing, that day probably will come. But for now, special teams are the perfect fit for Adongo. That's the closest thing to performing rugby tasks on the gridiron, with a single ball handler to be tackled and fewer moving parts. His speed will be an asset there, enabling him to cover a lot of ground in short order.The transition makes sense in many respects, but has nonetheless required an impressive amount of hard work on Adongo's part.
4. File this one under comedy and "I'm married, not dead." I ran into an old LA Times blog posting that asked whether Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan on Mad Men is "too plump for primetime".
Uhhh ... No.
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Reblogged: The Moral Perils of Mocking People on the Internet
I love this brave and thoughtful Salon essay by Caitlin Seida so very much: My embarrassing picture went viral. It begins:
Initially, she wasn’t angry, but then she saw some of the comments:
In addition to issuing takedown requests to various web sites — which she was able to do because the photo was hers — she also confronted people directly about their nasty comments:
Read that last paragraph again. Personally, I’m going to be more careful about the funny things I share. I don’t want to be even a small part of any social media wave that makes a decent person’s life miserable.
Of particular concern, I think, are seemingly hilarious commentaries on the supposedly bad behavior of other people, such as this one by Elan Gale: This Man Is Hilariously Live-Tweeting His Flight-and-Feud With The Woman in #7A. I thought it mildly funny until I read the other side of the story: Bullying at 35 thousand feet. Of course, I have no way to determine the veracity of either story: both might be inventions. Yet the incident is instructive, I think. As I posted to Facebook:
I love laughter, I really do… but there’s plenty of funny in the world without being unjust or malicious.
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