Peaceful Exploration in the 21st Century

To those who say that exploration cannot be done without the forceful arm of the government, to those who have presumed to take my money by force to see their whims enacted in space and to all those without the vision to see the possibilities of a truly peaceful society, please consider eating crow and donating (voluntarily) to see a small project of great importance get off the ground.  Is it the end of government funded science?  Is it an all-in-one replacement for NASA?  No, of course not.  But it is a beginning.  It is an idea so much more beautiful than two giant, lumbering gangs racing to the moon as to be in an entirely different category. 


Things That Annoy Me - An Update

In an update of my previous post on things that annoy me, I am providing a couple more things that are annoying me as of late:
  1. The overuse of the term "Juxtaposition".  It's not that the term is necessarily used inaccurately, I just see it cropping up all over the place for no particular reason. 
  2. The use of the term "Methodology" when "Method" would be more accurate.  
  3. The use of the term "Phraseology" in almost any case, because "wording" or "phrasing" would almost always suffice and be more accurate. Don't believe me that this actually happens?  Check out this interview with Senator Harry Reid in which he attempts to explain through contorted logic that taxation is voluntary in the United States. 
The common theme today is people trying to sound smart and sophisticated, when their goal really ought to be clarity and accuracy.  This is a common tactic (though rarely is it conscious) among academics and politicians.  My hypothesis is that this results from the lack of incentive for either of these groups to actually be clearly understood.  Both academics and politicians have a considerable amount to gain from the appearance of mental superiority and relatively little to gain from the actual transfer of thought and knowledge. 

The Mothering Effect of Government Regulation

The Case for Regulation

On the surface, government regulation provides a much needed service to our uncertain world and protects us from rampant subjugation to the whims of our neighbors.  It is such a compelling and simple concept that I have a great deal of empathy for those who believe it to be true.  Many of my fellow travelers in the quest for greater individual freedom hold the position that, of course, we need some minimal level of regulation from government.  Who could be so extreme, callous and ignorant to propose that we should have none?

Me for one.

When I was growing up, my mother made us do chores.  I'm glad she did because when I struck out on my own I knew how to cook, sweep the floors, do the laundry and clean the toilet.  I had the skills and the compulsion to keep a clean kitchen and an orderly bedroom.  But when I pause to think about the quality of the work I did as a child and contrast it to that which I do in my own house, I am embarrassed.  Now I was a well-behaved child, but I did the bare minimum I could get by with less I disappoint dear mother.  My style of cleaning in those days could well be described as "hitting the high spots."  I never moved chairs to sweep beneath them.  I rarely took the items off of the bathroom sink to wipe it down.  I mastered the art of pushing them back, wiping and pulling them forward, thus creating an illusion akin to sweeping dust under a rug, which I was also not above.

Comparatively, I am a cleaning Nazi when it comes to my own house - think rigid discipline and rampant germicide. 

Why the disparity?  What drives us to literally and figuratively sweep things under the rug in certain conditions and not others?

Ownership and Responsibility  

The difference now is that I own the house I live in and thus have an internal drive to keep it neat and orderly.  Even when I rented an apartment, the effect of being the sole person responsible for housekeeping created an immediate shift in my behavior.  I knew that if I did not keep my place in order it would directly effect how I felt about myself, and perhaps just as important, how visitors felt about me. 

Granted, in the case of industry in the market there is still the effect of ownership and responsibility to one's customers.   But consider for a moment the effects of a paternalistic regulatory apparatus on the goals of an organization.  The confines of regulation are inherently slow to change and rarely focused entirely on the safety and satisfaction of the consumer or the public at large.  They are necessarily driven in large part by political forces and are usually subject to the powerful influence of relatively small interest groups.  Besides these effects they shift the focus of industry in part away from satisfying customers, which includes an interest in their safety, on to the particular guidelines provided by regulatory bodies.  This provides industry with the perverse objective to dot the i's and cross the t's provided by regulation and then, if they run afoul of public safety, to blame the shortsightedness of the regulatory body which has claimed ownership and responsibility for an orderly society. 

Advice for the Young and Unemployed

I just found this great article on advice to young, unemployed workers over at FEE.  There was one section where the author, Jeffrey Tucker, really stuck a note with me.  He called out exactly what I have just learned after a very few years in the workforce:
 "At every job, you are going to learn so much about human ethics, psychology, emotions, and behavior. Most of what you will learn will be enlightening and encouraging. Some of it, however, is not pretty and might come as a shock. 
First, you will discover that people in general are extremely reluctant to admit error. People will defend an opinion or an action until the end, even if every bit of logic and evidence runs contrary. Sincere apologies and genuine admissions of error and wrongdoing are the rarest things in this world. There is no point at all in demanding apologies or in becoming resentful when they fail to appear. Just move on. Neither should you expect to always be rewarded for being right. On the contrary, people will often resent you and try to take you down.
How do you deal with this problem? Don’t get frustrated. Don’t seek justice. Accept the reality for what it is. If a job isn’t working out, move on. If you get fired, don’t seek vengeance. Anger and resentment accomplish absolutely nothing. Keep your eye on the goal of personal and professional advancement, and think of anything that interrupts your path as a diversion and a distraction."
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have felt my own progress or the progress of my employer hampered by the simple fact that those around me were afraid to admit they had made a mistake or, despite their credentials, might not know everything about a particular subject.  If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would be openly ridiculed at work for having the skills and desire to quickly solve problems, I would have never believed it. 

I encourage everyone to read the full article here. 

Lysander Spooner on Democracy

Of all the commentary on the failings and conceptual problems of democracy, I think Lysander Spooner put it best in No Treason - No. 1:
The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that—however bloody—can, in the nature of things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave.

Just Think About the Average

It's not every day that you run into expositions on mistaken aggregation in popular culture.  Maybe you aren't as big of a Rush fan as I am, so you might think that their lyrics from 1976 do not constitute 'popular culture.'  Let's just assume you are wrong and carry on.  In case you are not familiar with this epic piece (I really mean epic, not in the overly broad sense it has come to mean in our vernacular.  The song runs just over 20 minutes.),  I will poach a portion of the synopsis from the wikipedia page for the 2112 album:
In the year 2062, a galaxy-wide war results in the union of all planets under the rule of the Red Star of the Solar Federation. By 2112, the world is controlled by the "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx," who determine the content of all reading matter, songs, pictures - every facet of life. A man discovers an ancient guitar and learns to play his own music. Thinking he has made a wonderful discovery that will be a boon to humanity, he goes to present the guitar to the priests of the Temples, who angrily destroy it and rebuke him for unearthing one of the "silly whims" that caused the collapse of the previous civilization.
The section I would like to focus on is the main character's meeting with the priests.  After the priests deliver their initial rebuke, he says in absolute confusion and dismay:
I can't believe you're saying
These things just can't be true
Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you
To which the priests angrily reply (italics mine):
Don't annoy us further!
We have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?

Another toy will help destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the Plan!
Picture the central planners of today and think of their conceit in reference to the priests.   There is no average, no class of averages, no average person or average family that can enjoy the beauty of music or will miss its absence.  These are actions and passions of individuals that cannot be summed, divided or averaged.  It is true that this wonderful new discovery doesn't fit the plan, because the goal of the plan is to maximize something that doesn't exist - average happiness.

Does Government Research Funding Really Contribute to Economic Growth?

I just read a great article over at Reason on a subject near and dear to my heart and related to some previous posts of mine regarding NASA funding.  I implore everyone to check it out.  Here is my favorite snippet from the article:
The story of the airplane is instructive. After the Spanish-American War, the federal government supplied a grant of $73,000 to the director of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Pierpont Langley to develop heavier-than-air craft. All six of Langley's prototypes crashed, the last one on October 7, 1903. Two months later, Ohio bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright, launched their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Their R&D budget? About $1,000.
This is merely an anecdote, of course, but what a powerful one it is, especially when the proponents of government funded science offer a handful of successes to make their case.  

All Hail - May 1st is Now Officially "Loyalty Day"

The proclamation has come down from on high: May 1st is now officially Loyalty Day.  What sort of procrustean bed must one's mind occupy to celebrate Independence Day and Loyalty Day in the same year and on the same soil?  

What exactly are we to pledge our allegiance and affirm our loyalty to?  Well our founding principles of, "service and citizenship; courage and the common good; liberty, equality, and justice for all."  These are the words of the president in his proclamation made April 30, 2013.

Herein lies the danger of the hero worship and allegiance to "founding fathers" and "founding principles".  It is the tendency to twist, distort and add to those "founding principles" that makes them particularly dangerous.  Principles, to be useful for the people must be few and clear.  To be useful to the expansion of the state, it is best that they are many, unclear and broadly interpretable.  Compare for instance:
  • Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
  • service and citizenship; courage and the common good; liberty, equality, and justice for all
Service to whom and for what?
The courage to do what?  To follow the rules, to stand up, to recite a pledge without understanding and to fit in? 
The common good?  Defined by whom and to what ends?

Ask yourself also if the founders had held as core values "service and citizenship", would they have ever declared independence from the king? 

What are we being asked to celebrate exactly?

Ascending Into Anarchy and Order

You always hear, in history and in fiction, about society "descending into anarchy and chaos" following the demise of some government or empire.  This is the premise behind Asimov's Foundation Trilogy so loved by Paul Krugman.  In summary, the ever present goal of generations of characters within the books is to restore the grandeur of the now fallen Galactic Empire and establish a second so that order, progress and prosperity would once again exist in the galaxy.  Even within the state paradigm, the idea that such a broadly centralized government would be effective or beneficial to anyone - besides those in charge of it - is outright silliness.  Still the specter of a galaxy "descending into anarchy and chaos" is invoked numerous times.  

I've got news for everyone: If the societal framework for peaceful coexistence did not already exist, undergirding the law and order provided by the state, then the state could not provide it.  There could never be enough laws or enough lawmen to make order out of a society in chaos.  I could go outside right now, with all our laws and regulations, and throw a brick through my neighbor's window, run back in and probably not get caught.  Even if he saw me, a conviction seems unlikely (and quite expensive at that).  Think about it as you go throughout your day.  What could you get away with if  you were so inclined, and what is the likelihood of getting caught?  If you work at it, I estimate that you could come up with a dozen or so petty, low risk crimes.  Extrapolate by millions and imagine the disorder and chaos that would be far beyond the law's powers to contain.  Now ask yourself why you do not do these things; I suggest by the way, that you do not.  It cannot simply be a matter of economic incentives.  Your neighbor's TV is pretty sweet, and you have seen where he hides his key and know what time he leaves and comes home.  You do not steal his TV because of your own moral rules, whether you derive them from God, nature or otherwise. 

These are the rules that 98% of us agree on 98% of the time and that hold our world together whether there is a state or not.  So let's put an end to the rhetorical nonsense of anarchy equating to chaos and pause for a moment to appreciate how internal rules for proper conduct on an individual and family level provide an extended order for peaceful civilization without the aid of a ruling class. 
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