Old Aliens

When I was a kid, smart adults still believed that humans would be visiting other planets sooner rather than later. That was mostly a carry over from the previous generations, who managed to get from zero to the moon in roughly a decade. If you were into this stuff in 1968, it was hard not to think that the next stop for man was Mars and then from there the rest of the solar system. By the time I was becoming aware of the world, this was fading, but there were plenty of optimists and romantics, with regards to space travel.

It really was a generational thing. By the time my generation was noticing things the space program had stalled and there didn’t seem to be a point to it. The competition with the Russians had decayed into a fight over the mundane and pointless. My guess is beating the Russians in hockey counted for more to most Americans than the space shuttle managing to take off, go to space and come back in one piece. Subsequent generations are simply too self-absorbed and self-indulgent to care much about space travel.

Of course, a big part of it is the self-inflicted wounds from previous generations that continue to tax us to this day. If Boomers and their parents had not decided to violate the rules of human nature in the 60’s and 70’s with a laundry list of social programs, things may have been different. The money spent on “fixing race relations” could have financed several trips to the stars. Our ruler’s endless fights with observable reality is like a leash keeping us from doing much more than squabbling over our own destruction.

Putting aside the Spenglerian interpretation of the recent past, there is another way to understand the technological stall. This post the other day by Steve Sailer had some interesting stuff in it, but the space travel stuff is what got my attention. Freeman Dyson is of that generation that thought we would be much further along in exploring the universe than we are today. He still assumes it will happen, despite the obvious decline in overall human capital due to changes in demographics and social mobility.

What occurred to me reading it is humanity probably needs to go through a different period of technological advance, before we can make the great leap to exploring the stars. If you look at the generation of geniuses who took us from propeller planes to rocket ships, peaking with the moon landing, it all happened in about one generation. It really was a remarkable run. In the 1930’s, the concepts of rocketry were being worked out and 30 years later a rocket was hurling men to the moon. That’s a great career.

That’s what it really is, one career. The sorts of people who work on these types of projects are not starting as teenagers. They go through years of education and apprenticeship, before they get on the big project. A career making project is going to be one that happens within the normal span of a human career, which is about 30 years for a cutting edge scientist.  A guy like David Reich, who is doing groundbreaking work in ancient genetics, is never going to do much of anything else. This is his peak.

Well, if you are an ambitious guy looking to do space work and be part of a great project, you’re not picking one that will take 50 years to finish. Some people may be fine toiling away at some small aspect of the 50 year project, but most people, especially the people funding it, are not going to find it appealing. If Elon Musk is going to bankroll a trip to Mars, he wants it to happen in the next decade, so he can take credit for it. The same is true of the scientist he would recruit. They want to get it done before they retire or die.

What this means is that space travel, beyond orbiting the earth or maybe revisiting the Moon, is going to first require extending the human life span. A mission to land people on Mars and return them to earth is probably 30 years away. Getting propulsion technology to traverse the solar system is a fifty or sixty year project. Figuring out how to survive longer periods in space is an even longer project. Before humans figure any of this out, it is going to mean living much longer lives so that a person can have a 50 or 60 year working life.

Think about it. If a person could reasonably assume a working career that started in the mid-20’s and goes strong to 100, with a slight decline at the end, that’s roughly a 60 year prime working life. With twice the time, you take more risks and you take on different career objectives. Suddenly a twenty year project to put men on Mars is not that big of a deal to the financiers or the scientists. Stretch the lifetime out further and the much more daunting projects can be chipped away at by a team expecting to finish in their lifetime.

Logically, it means the same would hold for some alien species that eventually comes to visit us on earth. Those aliens we have stored in Area 51 are probably very old, as their species had to unriddle problems that would take hundreds of years to solve, not to mention the fact that it was an extremely long trip from their home planet. The nearest habitable planet outside out solar system is roughly four light years from earth, which means it was a very long trip for our alien visitors. They must have been extremely old.

The other aspect of this is a longer life would mean more experience. Our IQ may be fixed, but we have an infinite capacity for screwing up. The longer the life, the more trial and error a person would endure. Someone living 500 earth years is not going to be any better at math, but they would be much more prudent. That would mean at the upper limits, the species would become less rash and less prone to error. Those dead aliens in New Mexico are an outlier, because their kind rarely misses its intended target.

Anti-Science

You can put me down in the “pro-science” column. I think in the main, science is a good thing for humanity. Life is more than material wealth, but having better food, better shelter, better communications and better medicine is nice. None of those things can happen without men in labs, amateur and professional, fiddling with the bits of nature, trying to learn how things tick. It is the constant trial and error of improvement that has made civilization possible and it is science that has made the modern world possible.

That said, people are flawed so their enterprises will be flawed as well. Science is not an exception to this rule. That’s what makes science different from religion or ideology. Good science is the constant revisiting of past claims, while religion can never permit it. You can become a famous scientist by proving that some accepted bit of science is flawed or simply wrong. New technology can lead to the overturning of fields, which is what we see happening with psychology. Technology is turning psychology into alchemy.

That’s one important aspect of the replication crisis.

Half the results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are probably wrong. John Ioannidis, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, made headlines with that claim in 2005. Since then, researchers have confirmed his skepticism by trying—and often failing—to reproduce many influential journal articles. Slowly, scientists are internalizing the lessons of this irreproducibility crisis. But what about government, which has been making policy for generations without confirming that the science behind it is valid?
The biggest newsmakers in the crisis have involved psychology. Consider three findings: Striking a “power pose” can improve a person’s hormone balance and increase tolerance for risk. Invoking a negative stereotype, such as by telling black test-takers that an exam measures intelligence, can measurably degrade performance. Playing a sorting game that involves quickly pairing faces (black or white) with bad and good words (“happy” or “death”) can reveal “implicit bias” and predict discrimination.
All three of these results received massive media attention, but independent researchers haven’t been able to reproduce any of them properly. It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just aren’t so. For a 2015 article in Science, independent researchers tried to replicate 100 prominent psychology studies and succeeded with only 39% of them.

It is important to understand what is going on here. Science has always been self-correcting by definition, but it does not prevent the problem of the Left abusing the truth. Psychology is a good example. In the 20th century, psychology became part of the theology of the Left, used to justify their latest crackpot ideas about humanity. The money for research went into studies that purported to prove some aspect of the blank slate, rather than challenge these beliefs. It was about confirmation, rather than discovery.

As a result, the soft sciences are under fire. That’s what the replication crisis is about and why it is a good thing, even though it opens the door for people who wish to fly the flag of intellectual authority, but lack the cognitive skills to participate in a STEM field. There are legions of people who will never understand the basics of genetics, for example, but they want to be an authority on evolution and human biodiversity. They will point to the replication crisis and claim that all science is suspect and no better than opinion.

In fairness, the soft sciences are not the only area of “science” taking a beating in the replication crisis. Chemistry has had problems with crap papers flying through the peer review process undetected. That’s about the politics of publishing as much as anything, but it should not happen. Medicine has also come under scrutiny and rightly so. These quack studies on diet, for example, that populate news sites, do more harm than good, because they often lead people into wacko conspiracy theories like pawtism.

This is what Cofnas gets right in his review of the moral and political pressures that undermine and retard the scientific process. The people in charge are the people sponsoring the research and paying for the studies. Like everyone in power, they want confirmation and they will pay good money for it. As long as research is done by humans, there will be humans willing to fake their research to get grants and tenure. That’s the story of climate  science thus far. The “consensus” was money well spent.

Cofnas is wrong to think this is unique to our age. The people in charge in all ages have had their priorities. A smart guy in the Roman Empire was wise to apply his skill to practical things, like how to improve sword making, because that was important. Philosophy was not. In the Middle Ages, the emergence if science meant navigating around the church and crown, as both viewed new ideas with concern. The king and his favorite bishop were more concerned with power than scientific knowledge.

“Reality is that thing that does not go away when you stop believing in it” and that is the reality of the replication crisis. The quackery of the soft sciences eventually runs up against reality. In our age, it is the reality of genetics that is dismantling the nutty ideas popular with the prior generations. That’s what Cofnas gets wrong. Science is self-correcting, just not as quickly as you would like. Sometimes it takes a new technology or simply a generational change, Eventually, reality returns to right all wrongs.

The Gathering Darkness

Christopher Caldwell wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, “One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.” It is a wonderful observation that applies to much more than just affirmative action. It seems to apply to all aspect of Progressivism. Today’s minority view is tomorrows absolute, inviolable dogma. It happens so quickly, no one seems to notice.

That’s been the way with Progressives and science. It used to be common to see a Subaru or Volvo decorated with a Darwin fish. The point was to let the world know that the driver was a good liberal, who embraced reason, rather than superstition. Of course, the other point was to stick it to Christians, who the Left had declared their primary enemy somewhere in the middle of the last century. Even so, science was a big part of how Progressives defined themselves. Then suddenly, imperceptibly, the opposite was true.

That’s what we are seeing with the response to David Reich’s book, Who We Are and How We Got Here and the subsequent articles he has written about his research. The great Greg Cochran has been reviewing the book, pointing out the bizarre contortions Reich goes through in order to avoid having his lab burned down. It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that Reich fears an angry torch wielding mob, but it is only a small exaggeration. Many careers have been ruined by getting on the wrong side of the mob.

Understandably, Cochran takes exception to much of this, because he is a true man of science. He values truth above all else. He has no patience for the political, and now theological, nonsense that saturates the modern academy. There’s also a personal aspect to it, as Reich takes some cheap shots at the late Henry Harpending, who was Cochran’s colleague for many years. They collaborated on The 10,000 Year Explosion and on this groundbreaking paper. Cochran can be forgiven for taking this a bit personal.

On the other hand though, David Reich is not an old guy with his career behind him and his retirement vested. He is in his prime years as a scientist and as such he has to be careful to not upset the mullahs in the orthodoxy. That’s why he is going through these ham-handed efforts to inoculate himself against the charge of heresy. The morality police may not burn down his lab, but they are more than happy to burn down his career. If they will hurl a giant like James Watson into the void, they will not flinch at David Reich.

If you are old enough to remember the 1980’s, you remember a time when it was Progressives chanting about free speech, the need for independent media and the glories of scientific inquiry. Today, it feels like a million years ago, only because none of it is true now and not just in small ways. Progressives have swung so far in the opposite direction, becoming what they always claimed they were fighting, it is impossible to imagine them being otherwise. A younger person must assume it has always been this way.

The funny thing is that our Progressive mullahs are probably worse than the people who suppressed Galileo. Relatively speaking, they are worse than Torquemada. The old inquisitor was quite lenient, relevant to the age, when stealing a cow could get you hanged. Galileo’s trouble with the Church had as much to do with politics and his personal squabbles as science. Today, the people in charge take a perverse pleasure in destroying the life of a heretic. Billionaires now hunt Dirt People on-line for sport.

If you are in the human sciences, none of this is lost on you. If you read academic papers, they have become so thick with jargon and statistics, they are impenetrable to all but the people in the field. Some of it is the normal pattern of group behavior, but some of it is a defense against the charge of heresy. Instead of writing coded notes in the margins of approved texts, people in the human sciences rely on impenetrable gibberish and  eye-glazing statistics. Race has now become “ancestry group”, for example.

One thing that is clear, in hindsight, is that Church efforts to contain the growth of scientific inquiry were a rearguard action. The institutional place of the Church was not toppled by science and reason. The role of religious institutions was already diminishing with the rise of the secular institutions and the spread of commerce. The clergy was no longer the richest faction in European society. Their efforts to re-impose their order on society was reactionary and doomed. The world was changing and the feudal era was ending.

Perhaps something similar is happening with Progressives and human sciences. Their embrace of reason was always like their embrace of liberal democracy, socialism and social reform. It is as a means to an end. Free speech was a bus they rode from their position outside the academy, to a position atop the academy. Once they got to their destination, they got off the free speech bus. That’s certainly true of their embrace of science and reason. Once they gained power, they peeled the Darwin fish off the car.

On the other hand, there is no reason to think that humanity is a linear progression from tribal darkness to some glorious post-human future. We have the phrase “dark ages” because there have been dark ages, when civil society reached a dead end, collapsed and sat dormant for centuries. Back when the turn began, Allan Bloom wrote that relativism and multiculturalism were ushering in a closing of the American mind. Perhaps now we are seeing the fruit, the coming of a new dark age ruled by fanatics and dullards.

Techno-Feudalism

Feudalism, in the most general sense, is a set of obligations between a superior and a subordinate, based on land. The lord owns the land and grants access to the land to vassals. The lord provides services like protection and the imposition of order, while the vassal provides food rents, military service and labor to the lord. In practice, a lord could also be a vassal to a greater lord or a king. The result of this combination of relationships is the system we know as feudalism, that dominated Europe in the Middle Ages.

From the perspective of economics, the key components are land and labor, with land being the critical one. For most of human history, labor was interchangeable. German speaking peasants working estates in France were the same as Frankish speaking peasants. Wars were fought over land, so chasing off the other guy’s peasants, in order to take his land, made perfect sense. The land was the thing of value, while the labor that worked it was a commodity. The supply of peasants was never a problem.

The politics of a feudal system are simple. The arrangements were designed to serve the needs of the warrior nobility at the top the system. The lords may serve a king, but they also serve one another in defending and perpetuating the system. It is why innovation was often seen as a threat. If one lord could get much more from his fief, than the other lords, or even the king, then the power relationships all change. Feudalism, by nature, must be highly conservative, as it is based on legal and economic relationships never changing.

The other thing worth noting is that feudalism arises when an empire begins to decline or collapse. The central authority is no longer able to maintain order, so local power centers emerge that can protect land and impose order. Since no single local lord can impose order over his rivals, a system of rules and obligations evolve to handle relations between the local power centers. In other words, feudalism is what comes after the collapse of central authority. It is a return to a default position of local control and local autonomy.

The relevance of this to our age is that we are at the end of the liberal consensus or maybe even at the end of liberal democracy. The West is not an empire, in the way Rome was an empire, but there’s no doubt that the last 500 years of human history has been about the rise of Europeans and the evolution of European social order. The liberal order is base upon the nation state, which roughly corresponds to a single ethnicity. The people of that state own and control the assets of the state, picking rulers from their own people.

The role of the state has been the single focus of Western intellectuals since the Enlightenment. The evolution of economic arrangements, political arrangements and international arrangements, have all been in the context of the state. What is called the liberal consensus is the combination of all these things, based on each state having some form of liberal democracy. A nation gets to be in the liberal order if it holds elections and has a form of representative government, that is notionally responsive to its people.

What has become increasingly obvious, is that private entities now perform many of the duties formerly delegated to the state. Regulating political speech, has always been the job of the government, but now it is tech companies serving that role. Similarly, it used to be the job of government to control the financial system, even at the retail level. Today, firms like  PayPal or CitiBank are in charge of regulating and controlling access to the financial system. Even central banks now operate outside of national governments.

The result of this delegation of power is that the national authority is losing power over the societies it allegedly rules. This may be the natural result of globalism. As the states delegate important duties to international authorities, they lose the power to impose order domestically. The result is they must rely on private interests that are not constrained by constitutions and customs. In order for government to maintain the illusion of power, they have ceded domestic power to multinationals and tech giants, that they claim to regulate.

In feudalism, the political relationships between the warrior elite were about controlling land and defending it from those outside the alliance. The subjects working the land were not all that important. The post national world we are entering will be one where the global tech and finance giants control the flow of information, working with one another to maintain control of the system. Because a feudal system must be conservative, defending this new system will mean stamping out dissent and alternatives to the dominant platforms.

The thing about the feudal order was how effective it was at preserving itself. At the dawn of the French Revolution, as France began to emerge from feudalism, most people living in what was then France, did not speak French. They spoke regional dialects that dated back, in some cases, to the Roman Empire. Given the ability of tech giants to regulate the flow of information, it is not unreasonable to think they will be better at controlling and isolating people, as a form of defense in depth. Everyone will live on a data manor.

Lessons from the Printer

The other day, my printer started giving me trouble. A green light kept flashing that normally never flashes. An amber light was illuminated and a dangerous looking red light was flashing over the door for the ink cartridges. I pushed the button for printing out the diagnostic page and the results were not good. While the print heads were in fine shape and the ink cartridges more than half full, the pink cartridge had expired. In fact, it had expired last year, meaning I had be using an ink corpse for almost a year.

I removed the pink, which is called magenta for some reason, and examined it. I did not see any signs of decomposition, so I put it back in and the lights returned to normal. I was able to print whatever it was I was printing. The next time I tried to print something, the bad lights lit up and I had to go through the same process. For some reason, taking the cartridge out and putting it back in tells the printer to ignore its own concerns about the fitness of the ink cartridge, but only for one print session.

Of course, expiry dates on ink cartridges are ridiculous. In theory the thing can dry up, but that’s just another version of empty. The whole point of doing this is to force users into buying new printers. In my case, the ink replacements will cost twice what I paid for the printer. Only an idiot would do that, so I’ll buy a new printer for $100. Apparently, something happens to ink cartridges to make them cheaper when they are wrapped with a new printer. That means trashing a working printer because pink has expired.

Imagine buying a cheap compact car and finding out that a brake job or a new set of tires costs more than the car. That would never happen, of course, because public outrage would force the government to crack down on the car makers. Built-in obsolescence is fine if it only applies to styles or fashion. When it is part of the engineering process of a good, then the state is expected to step in and put an end to the practice. Planned obsolescence is a form of fraud. The maker is using insider knowledge to trick you.

There has been at least one court case over the practice of the obsoleting of ink cartridges by HP. The resolution was a few million bucks, nothing to discourage the printer oligopoly from continuing the practice. Third parties have tried to get into the print cartridge business, but the makers abuse patent and copyright laws to thwart them. Lexmark went all the way to the Supreme Court in order to block these companies from reproducing cheap ink cartridges. Lexmark lost, but only on narrow grounds so the practice continues.

This is an example of something Steve Sailer has pointed out about Silicon Valley. This industry has thrived as much by thwarting the laws that apply to other industries as they have by pushing the barriers of technology. Whether it is patent laws or labor laws, these big tech firms have played by a different set of rules. In fact, they have often been given the right to make the rules.. Volkswagen is facing a criminal probe over gaming the emissions system, while Apple faces none for tampering with your phone.

The other thing that the printer scams, and now the phone scams, are signalling is the end of the technological revolution. Companies like Google and Apple stopped being technology companies a long time ago. Instead, they are oligopolists. In the case of Apple, they were never a technology company. They were a design and marketing firm that repackaged existing technology into cool consumer products appealing to cosmopolitan hipsters. They sell expensive display items for the trend setters and the fashionable.

As a reader at Sailer’s site observed, Google now resembles an adult daycare center where mentally disturbed women terrorize the few people doing real work. Google has not don’t much of anything, in terms of tech, once it gained a near monopoly of on-line advertising. The reason Susan Wojcicki can wage endless jihad at a money losing division like YouTube is it is owned by an oligopolist given a special right to skim from every internet user on earth. Google is now a tax farmer, not a tech company.

The end of the Industrial Revolution featured civil unrest and industrial scale violence across Europe. In the US, it resulted in great social reform movements that ranged from public morality to economics. By the middle of the 19th century, it was clear that the old feudal governing system was no longer able to maintain order in Europe and the colonial model was not working in America. A century of war and revolution resulted in social democracy, a Western governing system compatible with industrial societies.

What my printer is telling me is not just that the pink has expired, but the social arrangements that allow this scam have also expired. The Technological Revolution has made the old arrangements untenable. It’s why our ruling class struggles to do even the minimum. It may turn out that the managerial state is the perfection of industrial age governance, but entirely unsuited for the technological age. Whether or not we are on the verge of a century of social tumult is hard to know, but that’s the lesson of history.

This also suggests that the great biotech revolution is unlikely to happen. The Industrial Revolution happened outside of state control. Similarly, the Technological Revolution happened outside of the regulatory scheme. Biotech is pretty much a government funded and regulated enterprise at the moment. There are no entrepreneurs in their garage challenging the boundaries of genetics. All this work happens in government sponsored and regulated laboratories. History says revolutions from within never happen.

The Tectonic Paradox

On my morning run, the local temperature read -3° F. That’s an unusually low temperature for this part of the world, but not unprecedented. Modern times makes extremely cold weather not much more than a curiosity. Everyone has shelter and plenty of heat. Even the poor have central HVAC in their homes and plenty of resources to get their energy bill paid for by others. The local bums had to be rounded up, but there are shelters for them as well. Otherwise, it is something to chat about at the office or experience at a distance.

This was not always true. Not long ago, extreme cold resulted in a lot of death and damage. A hundred years ago, deaths from cold were not uncommon in the northern parts of the world. Some of it was due to disease spreading quickly among people huddled together indoors. There was also the poor nutrition that came from not enough food in the winter months. Even so, people did not have what we have now to deal with the cold, so it was not uncommon for people to die when a serious cold snap hit the region.

Go back further and the problem gets even more perilous. A thousand years ago, humans living in areas that got extremely cold, or had long winters, were faced with unique challenges. This required long term planning in order to have enough food, heat and shelter for the winter. It also required a different type of cooperation. Specialization increases productivity so a people facing long winters would be more dependent on one another. Many hands make a light load, but many different skills make it even lighter.

It is generally accepted that humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 as genetically modern humans. Most likely this meant following a path along the Red Sea and then into Asia and Europe. As the ice sheets receded, humans followed them north to settle into northern Europe and Asia. When the ice sheets began to expand again, these more adaptable and resourceful people moved south, conquering and displacing the people to their south. The slightly improved people became the stock of settled civilization.

Most of this is speculative, but genetics is slowly filling in a lot of blanks. The implication has always been the that harsh environment selected for more resourceful people, who figured out large scale cooperation, burden sharing and so forth. That sounds good until you consider that settled societies did not first start in the north. They began in the mild climates of the Middle East. The data says that the first settled farming communities were in Mesopotamia, which is why it is called the cradle of civilization.

Further, when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, the people in the British Isles were building Stonehenge. That’s an interesting structure, but it was built by people who were barbarians compared to the people of the Middle east. When the Sumerians were writing down things on clay tablets, Europe was lightly populated by people. who had just barely mastered stone tools. Even into the late Roman Empire, the tribes of Europe were hard pressed to do much more than organize a primitive village surrounded by farms.

Of course, all of this has changed. A great puzzle to the blank slate crowd is why it is Europeans rocketed ahead of the rest of the world, in terms of technology and organizational might, starting around the late Middle Ages. When Europeans arrived in Africa, they found a people, who had yet to master the wheel. The ancient civilizations of the Middle and Near East had fallen into squalor. In the new world, the Incas were about where the Egyptians had gotten 5,000 years prior.

It is widely understood that modern humans, homo sapiens, emerged from the speciation phase of sapient humans in Africa about 100 000 years ago. The genetic record supports this conclusion and it provides details in support of the dispersal. Not only are all modern humans walking around today descended from those original humans, a baby born today is not very different genetically from humans of 100,000 years ago. While there is genetic variation in modern humans, significant physiological evolution ended 100,000 years ago.

The archaeological record, what there is at least, says that humans dispersed around the world over the next 50,000 years without much change in behavior. Then seemingly all of a sudden, humans began to change culturally. The first agriculture appears in Mesopotamia and soon after large scale settled societies. New technologies spread in fits and starts as people figured out how to contend with and modify their natural environments. This is the period, up to today, that science refers to as the tectonic phase.

The sapient paradox is the puzzle as to why it took so long for humans to go from hunter-gathers to settled people. The genetic evidence and lots of wishful thinking say that people in Africa 50,000 years ago were not much different from people 10,000 years ago in the Tigris River area. Why did the people in Mesopotamia figure out how to plan and organize large agrarian societies, while the people in Europe were still living off the land in small tribes? Most important, why did it take so long for humans to accomplish it?

The tectonic paradox, a term I just made up, is the puzzle as to why modern Africans were never able to master the wheel or build a structure taller than a man. When Europeans were conquering the globe, the people in sub-Saharan Africa had yet to adopt a written language. At the same time, how is is that the English, who were no more advanced than Arabs in 1066, were the ones to lead the Industrial Revolution? The great gap in material and cultural progress between the big races is recent and unmistakable.

Genetics is starting to unriddle this great puzzle. Even though the genetic difference between human groups is tiny, it turns out that small difference can have huge downstream consequences, particularly with regards to cultural evolution. The high risk environment of northern Europeans, for example, is most likely the root of the wide variety of hair and eye colors that don’t appear anywhere else on earth. A small difference results in people who look like a different species from their close cousins in sub-Saharan Africa.

What this means is that human evolution is not just recent and local, but the behavior differences between populations is not amenable to social engineering, at least not in the short term. The Arabs flowing into Europe are going there because like all mammals, they seek safety and easy access to food and shelter. They are not Germans, however, and no amount of proselytizing will change Mother Nature’s mind on the subject. We may not know exactly why people are different, but we know they are and there’s no changing it.

The New Zeroes

In the coming decades, Western nations are going to be faced with a number of problems stemming from the technological revolution. Some are already with us. We are now post-scarcity societies, where we have more than enough food, medicine and housing for our citizens and even some non-citizens. The pruning force of scarcity is no longer doing its magic to keep the population fit or even sensible. The next big problem is what to do with the tens of millions of extra humans, no longer needed to contribute to society.

The hardest part of the automation wave coming in the next decades will simply be language. What do you call people who no longer have any purpose, in terms of producing goods and services through their labor? For as long as anyone has been alive, the very small slice of the population that has fit this definition could simply be dismissed on moral terms. The underclass is assumed to be lazy or anti-social. Trying to fix this has been a good way to keep the useless off-spring of the middle classes busy is social work.

When the numbers swell as automation eliminates the need for human labor in wide swaths of the economy, it will be impossible to dismiss the idle. When many of the idle are people who formerly occupied office jobs or semi-skilled laboring positions, blaming their condition on a lack of ambition is not going to be possible. The current labor participation rate is about 63% right now. This is about where it was in the Carter years. In the coming decades, that number will fall below 50% due to automation and demographics.

The other challenge is how to support the swelling ranks of the useless in a way that keeps them from causing trouble. The hot idea currently is the universal basic income, which is being experimented with in Finland. In the US, some states are talking about how to replace their welfare programs with something more simple like the UBI. Libertarian economists like the idea of the UBI, because it theoretically allows the under classes to participate in the market economy, unencumbered by the state.

The trouble with this idea, one that they can never overcome, is math. If all citizens have a floor, in terms of their basic income, whatever that floor is, will be the new zero. The only possible way to have a negative income, in real terms, is if someone is paying their employer for the right to work. There may be some bizarre situations where that exists, but in the main, zero is the smallest number that can appear in box #1 of your W2. If that number is bumped up by the UBI, that becomes the new zero, the lowest possible.

Think of it this way. Imagine the government decides to help BMW sell more cars, so they offer every citizen $5000 if they spend it on a BMW, rather than some other car. BMW is now facing a wave of people coming into American dealerships toting a $5,000 check payable to BMW. The logical thing for BMW to do is raise the price of their low end models by $5000. That way, they don’t increase production costs, but they increase the profit per car. In effect, the floor for entry level buyers was just raised by $5000 by the government.

There’s a pretty good real world example of this. The government decided to do something to help working class people get into college. Since many need remedial help, before taking on college work, the scheme was to offer a subsidy to be used for community colleges. The students would use the money to prep for college then head off to a four year university, presumably using loans and aid at that level. The result, however, was the community colleges just raised their tuition by about 65% of the subsidy.

The Universal Basic Income would most likely follow the same pattern. By guaranteeing that no one would earn less than some amount, in lieu of traditional welfare payments, the absolute floor becomes the subsidy level. In effect, the new zero becomes the subsidy so all other wages would be based off that, as the price of goods and services would correspondingly adjust. It is really no different than printing up money and dropping it from helicopters into the ghetto. The UBI would be as inflationary as debasing the currency.

The truth is, the zeroes that our rulers will be forced to address are zero population growth and zero TFR among the surplus populations. For example, you could fix Baltimore in a generation with mandatory Norplant for the underclass. A generation of childless females means the last generation of 80 IQ residents with a propensity for violence. The reason Baltimore is a violent city is not an excess of hard working, college educated STEM workers. The reason the city is a violent mess is the surplus of violent stupid people.

It also means zero immigration. When 80% of today’s immigrants end up on public assistance, the immigrants of tomorrow will be nothing more than useless people to police, feed and house. Japan is the model to follow. They have no immigration and their population levels are about to drop in the coming decades. They are the only nation on earth that is truly ready for the automated future, as they have the demographics to meet a shrinking demand for labor. They also have the cultural confidence to pull it off.

There’s one other zero the West will have to tackle and that is zero participation. The fact is, free-market consumerism and mass democracy work when the right answer is not obvious. As automation takes over more and more tasks, the number of issues that need to be hashed out collectively will diminish. Rule by robot means exactly that, which means voting and popular government will have to be reconsidered. What’s the point of being mayor when there are no more patronage jobs to dole out to friends and family?

Cord Cutting

Anytime I mention cord cutting, I get a ton of responses on it. It’s not just about the cultural phenomenon. For a lot of people, the alternatives to the traditional cable model are much better at delivering the desired content. If you think TV is immoral, the solution is simple. Don’t buy a television. If you enjoy some shows and movies, it gets a little more complicated. Given how many times it comes up, I thought it would be worthwhile to post about what I’m doing as a cord cutter. Others can chime in with what they are doing.

Like a lot of men, I ended up with a cable bill because I liked sports. When I was a kid, there were a few games on a week. Then ESPN came on-line with live sports. Then regional sports networks. Now every league and sport has multiple channels dedicated to showing live events. It is the golden age of TV sports, if the gold standard is measured in quantity, rather than quality.That said, I had all the other stuff on cable so I tried to watch popular shows. It was there and people talked about, so I watched.

My first foray into cord cutting was due to technical issues. I did not have cable for a summer and one of things I noticed is I did not miss it very much. I’ve always been a baseball fan, but listening on the radio is a better way to consume baseball. The other stuff I used to watch, well, I did not miss it. If I felt like watching a movie, I got a disc or watched one of the discs I owned. That’s one of the truths of TV watching I learned. Most of what we watch is re-runs and old movies that we have already watched.

With that in mind, I cut the cord at the same time I bought an Amazon FireTV box. This is a simple little device that lets you access Amazon library of movies and TV shows, over the internet. It plugs into your TV via an HDMI cable and connects to the internet over your wireless. You can also connect it with an Ethernet cable. It also has a simple browser so you can access video on the web, like YouTube. It lets you load apps for other video content providers like Hulu and Netflix. There are a lot of small providers with apps.

I have been a Amazon Prime member for a long time, as I do almost all of my shopping on Amazon. The free shipping pretty much covers the cost of the membership for me. That means I get all of the Prime video, which is old movies and TV shows. For instance, I watched a series called Justified that had gone off the air long before I heard of it. They also have original content and some of it is very well done. Amazon also has a movie and TV show rental service. For most people, Amazon Prime for $90 a year is all they need.

In my case, Amazon is all I needed, but I got curious and sampled some of the other serves and devices just to see what was available. I tried the Hulu live TV service, which is one of the many new services for live TV. Their package has most of the popular cable channels for $40 a month. That also gets you their massive library of old TV shows going back to forever it seems. If you liked Taxi or Three’s Company, you can watch it with your Hulu service. You can also watch Hulu on other devices like phones and tablets.

I gave the DirecTV service a ride and it was buggy as all hell. They say it got better, but my experience was not good. In theory, it should be great as it is an internet version of the DirecTV service, which rated the best of all traditional TV offerings. I know when I used their satellite service, it was fantastic. Their internet option has lots of content, but getting it too work was so frustrating I finally gave up and deleted the app. I was an early adopter so maybe it is better, but I’d recommend Hulu over DirecTV for most people.

Now, if you are not interested in the Amazon ecosystem, then you can use something like Roku. I got one of these free when I signed up for comething. Like the Amazon box, it is a small device that connects to your internet via wireless and to your television through an HDMI cable. The interface is easy to use and the setup is super simple. I had it running in five minutes. That’s really the amazing part of all of these new devices. They are vastly more simple to setup and operate than your old cable box.

Roku does some things really well. It is good at buffering content so even if your internet connection is a little buggy, you get no interruption in the video service. Amazon is not as good at this. It’s also really good at finding content on your PC’s so you can use the Roku to play your music and movie collection in another room. I was really impressed at how well this feature worked. I have a vast music collection so having it available anywhere is nice feature for me. I would imagine the same is true for video collections.

One more thing about the ease of use bit. The new devices are modern, unlike your old cable box. For instance, they use Bluetooth for the remote. You don’t have to point the remote at the box, which means the box can be hidden away for a nice clean look to the TV area. I have mine behind the TV. The remotes are also amazingly well designed. You can navigate everything with a few buttons. The Roku remote has a feature where you can plug headphones into the remote and listen, without disturbing everyone else.

Finally, there is one other thing I’ve been doing. I loaded an app called Kodi on the Amazon FireTV. This is a service that uses add-ons to allow you to see content from anywhere on earth. The legality of this service is dubious, but it is impossible to police. The upshot is you can use Kodi to get all your TV and movies free. You can also watch sporting events from all over the world too. There are two downsides. One is you have fiddle with the installation and configuration. The other is the quality is not always the best.

If you are the sort who enjoys fiddling with stuff, then you can find plenty of on-line guides to setting up the Kodi system. Here’s a guide to installing Kodi on a FireStick. You can get the Fire TV Stick for $40, so you can use it for an experiment without spending much. You can also buy a box that is configured, but people really into this stuff tell me those boxes are mostly junk. My experience is that installing on Amazon took about 30 minutes, most of which was spent watching a video on YouTube. Otherwise, it was simple.

Here’s the thing with Kodi. I have no idea how it is legal or how it could be policed in the future. This has the same vibe as the Napster and LimeWire fads of yesteryear. The technology is designed to circumvent current efforts by the gatekeepers to maintain their monopolies. In the music rackets, the gatekeeprs eventually waged jihad on the users in order to scare people out of using file sharing. It failed, but a lot of people were bullied and hassled by Big Music. You need to assess your risk tolerance before using Kodi.

That’s my cord cutting story.

Nature Finds A Way

One of the more frustrating things about biological realism is that most people really wish there was no such thing as biological realism. The reason ad makers keep trying to sell stuff using little girl football players or race mixing campers is they know most white people wish all that stuff was true. Those ads and their assumptions are flattering to SWPL-ville types. The studied dismissal of human biology by our ruling elite goes largely unchallenged, because the great white middle class hopes they are right about all of it.

I’m always reminded of this when the topic of African population numbers and the world’s most important graph are mentioned. Putting the racial issue aside, the population explosion in Africa is going to be the defining issue of the 21st century. Inevitably, someone always says something like “that assumes those trends go on forever.” The implication is that population math will magically correct itself. Any effort to explain the math is met with more denial and hand waving. Most people don’t want to know about it.

The fact is, the West is struggling with a sub-Saharan population of about three quarters of a billion people. Those flotillas of Africans crossing the Mediterranean every day are causing all sorts of political and economic trouble for Europe. The number of migrants landing on the beaches of Europe are in the thousands right now. That’s thousands per day. Imagine what happens when it is ten thousand a day. In fifteen years the population of Africa will double. The migrant troubles of today will feel like the good old days.

Nature finds a way of solving these sorts of problems. Thomas Malthus gets a bad rap from history, but he gave us a great concept. It is the Malthusian catastrophe. Once population numbers reach the carrying capacity of the land, society collapses and humans fall back to subsistence level existence. It’s never happened, as agricultural technology has far outstripped population growth, but that does not mean catastrophic risk does not increase with population numbers. Risks like pandemics, for example.

Right now, Africa has a Marburg outbreak and a Madagascar Plague outbreak. The Marburg virus is the most interesting. It kills 88% of the people that contract it. There is no known treatment for it either. The outbreak thus far is limited, but Africa is not exactly a well oiled machine when it comes to managing large scale social projects, like containing disease outbreak. Talk to people who study this stuff and you come away with the sense that Africa has been very lucky and their luck is about to run out.

The Madagascar Plague is a different sort of problem. It is a combination of bubonic, pneumonic and septecaemic plagues. Modern medicine has treatments for all three and they are cheap enough to get to Africa. The trouble is, these diseases spread quickly. African medical service are like everything in Africa. They are a circus of inefficiency, corruption and ineptitude. It would not take a very large outbreak to tip over the medical system, as well as the supply chain from the West, to that medical system.

Getting back to the most important graph in the world, one possible change to it could come from a wide scale pandemic. It’s not inconceivable. There have been plenty of pandemics in human history. The Black Plague not only altered the structure of European society, it altered European DNA. There are some good arguments that the Black Death helped accelerate Europe’s cultural progress out of the medieval period. The relationship of land, labor and status were thrown over by a great die off.

There’s another angle to it. The Black Plague did not originate in Europe. It arrived by sea in October 1347 when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. Most of the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were close to it. They had The Plague. Even if those ships had never made it to Europe, the strange disease that was killing people along the great trade routes of Asia was on its way. The Black Death came to Europe the same way the first people came to Europe.

Human-like animals burst out of Africa at least twice and probable three or four times in history. We know that modern humans displaced the Neanderthals, who left Africa and settled Eurasia. The Denisovans were probably displaced by Neanderthals, but that’s open to debate. There is the possibility that the out of Africa narrative is wrong in some important ways, but the available data still suggests that there have been waves of humans out of Africa for as long as there have been bipeds on earth.

Maybe that’s how Mother Nature erases the board and starts over. When one wave of humans runs its course, a new batch of humans burst forth from Africa to replace the old, outmoded ones. The new batch being raw and unformed, they adapt to the new lands they inhabit and give the old evolutionary process another shot. Because they bring new diseases or new forms of diseases, they don’t have to be more fit than the indigenous populations initially. Those invisible bugs they bring with them become the great equalizer.

That could be what we are seeing today. The people of Europe and Asia had a nice run, but they have reached a dead end in the eyes of nature. The fertility rates have plummeted, even in China. In Europe, the willingness of the natives to defend themselves and their territories has collapsed. From the perspective of nature, Eurasians are looking a lot like the giant Panda. Humans may think it worthwhile to maintain a species that no longer will reproduce, but nature is unemotional about these things.

Alternatively, a great plague that originates with the swelling populations of Africa and then spreads around the world is another option. Most people who study the current crop of diseases in Africa don’t think they will mutate into something wildly contagious that overwhelms our social structures. They could be wrong about this. It could be that some new bug alters some common bug, like the flu, which then ravages the human populations of the world. Like the Black Death, it would be carried by outsiders to Europe.

Those are all pleasant outcomes to consider, but there is another option. The population of sub-Saharan Africa could reach a point where it exceeds the capacity of the West to subsidize it. Right now, without foreign aid, Africa would fall into famine and civil war. What if as their numbers increase, the per capita aid required to sustain them increases? The ability to manage the problem could have a much shorter time horizon than Western planners assume. Economic crisis could come to the West like the plague.

Doctor Robot

One of the popular topics among the curious minded is the coming robot revolution where, presumably, all work will be done by robots. A regular feature of the news is the story of how some function previously done by people is now being done by smart machines. The prevailing assumption is that the sort of manual labor jobs done by the working class will disappear over the next generations. That may be true, but it will not be the working man losing out initially. It’s going to be the office people who feel the pinch first.

One of the things everyone sort of knows is that a whole lot of what passes for office work is not all that important. Government is the most obvious example. Everyone is familiar with the image of the road crew standing around watching one guy work, but that pales in comparison to the government agency.Thousands hiding cubicles watching porn or gambling. The paleocons used to make the point that the expansion of government at all levels is primarily a jobs program. It keeps the troublesome busy.

Anyone who has worked in big corporations or large law firms knows there is plenty of busy work going on in those cubicles too. Some of it is defensive, like human resource departments and safety managers, but a lot of it just sort of happens. Make-work jobs grow on an organization like a fungus. The hospitality industry has always suffered from this more than most. In good times, they hire up, even though the need is not there, but then come the lean times, the extra is cut loose and no one really notices.

The robot came to mind when booking my last physical. I’ve been saying for years that a good chunk of health care could be automated today. Yet, the only growing segment of the labor market, outside of government, is health care. At my doctor’s office, I interact with probably a dozen people during a physical. I know what two of them do and one of them could be replaced by a kiosk. The rest are just women in purple scrubs milling around doing nothing I can identify as medical work or even clerical work.

What’s always been puzzling to me is that I never actually see a doctor. In fact, I have yet to meet my doctor in person. We have communicated by e-mail once or twice. Instead, I deal with a nurse practitioner. Once a year, she asks me the same questions and then types my answers into a laptop. She then gives me a physical examination, sticks her finger in my arse and that’s the end of it. If I was allowed to answer the questions in advance, the whole thing could be done as a drive-thru service.

I noticed when booking the last visit, on-line of course, that the time slot was now 30 minutes. In the past, I was told to be there for an hour. Some of that time was waiting for my turn, but most of the face time with the nurse was the question and answer stuff. The new on-line appointment process had me answering the questions during the booking, rather than in person. I even did the insurance work in advance. I just show up, get naked, get violated, give a blood sample and go on my way.

The truth of it is, most people could get along just fine with Doctor Google and a routing service to guide people in need of services to the correct providers. When I hurt my knee a while back, I met with a dozen people I had no reason to meet, just to get to the correct person. Frustratingly, I knew the service I needed because I knew the injury. I even looked up the possible ways to address the injury. But, I was forced by humans to see a dozen of them first. The robot doctor would never do this to me.

This is just one example of the millions of daily tasks now done by humans in offices that can easily be eliminated with current automation. The fact that it is happening so slowly speaks to how resistant work life is to change. Medical service providers are now being squeezed by insurance companies so the medical providers are looking for savings via automation. One day, reality will come crushing in on the insurance firms and most of those jobs will be automated in the blink of an eye.

The medical services business is a massive racket, that exists as it does primarily due to government. I’ve made the point for years that it would look something like veterinary medicine if not for government. As such, it should be more resistant to the robots than other fields. The fact that it is showing signs of disruption due to automation suggests we will get our first glimpse of the robot revolution in a white collar fields, rather than a blue collar one. The robots are coming for the office workers first.

That will be bring some interesting socio-political ramifications that our rulers seem incapable of pondering. Just look at how they struggle to make sense of the public reaction to wholesale migration. Democrats abandoned working class whites in favor or cheap foreign labor and they remained poleaxed over why these voters abandoned Team Clinton for Team Trump. Imagine what happens when suburban unemployment doubles due to automation. Signaling over trannies is probably not going to work too well.

In case anyone is wondering, Doctor Robot gave me a clean bill of health.