Western Misunderstandings of ‘Individual Choice’

Builds Upon: Driving Lessons For the Vehicle of Consciousness

Western Enlightenment culture idolizes the conscious human will.

Our entire culture is based on the assumption that every human is a conscious rational decision maker.

This is a deeply flawed understanding of what people really are.

The conscious is a junior partner to the subconscious and traditional peoples have always known this.
Most things people do are determined through instinct as it relates to survival and reproduction. Most conscious things we do are mere reactions to forces over which we have no control. Mystics such as Gurdjieff have repeatedly pointed out:

We don’t really do anything at all!

The naïve Western understanding of human nature creates a social environment in which advertisers have little responsibility for the memes they spread. Corporations can run rampant while following the letter of literal-minded laws.

Social movements driven by well-meaning idealism set up those they ‘help’ for even worse disaster because they don’t understand what people are. If only people are given the chance to exercise ‘free choice’ they tell themselves, the world can change!

They do not understand that human will is a weak and delicate thing that must be carefully cultivated and protected. Without special effort and training, we are just monkeys fighting over sex and bananas.
There is nothing self evident about will or rights. For the most part, these are unique, radical ideas that sprouted from Western Christianity.
If we go back and read the Bible, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Jesus’ ideas are totally new and confusing to nearly everyone he meets. If we examine the vast majority of people on Earth today, they have far more in common with typical Judeans of Jesus’ time than with naive educated Westerners.

Any traditional culture has mechanisms to protect their people from predatory influences whether through religion or animistic magical practices.
Without these mechanisms, Western civilizations malfunction on a massive scale.

We choose what to do, but we don’t choose what we want to do. “Attraction is not a choice” as it is formulated by pick up artists or anyone selling anything.

A strong society grounded in right ideas protects its people from those who would ‘hack’ their wills and parasitize them. Especially proles or women, most of whom are at best marginally capable of thinking for themselves.

Societies like our own that refuse to understand what people are inevitably stumble and falter.

The champions of capitalism relentlessly criticize communists for misunderstanding the basics of human nature, but barely 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the victors at the end of history find themselves little better off.
They too failed to understand what humans are.

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The Importance of Magic in Social Structures

Builds Upon: The Most Precious Resource: Legitimacy

In our modern way of thought, few things can be more contemptible than superstition. Words like ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ are taken to be synonymous with everything dark and barbaric.

Yet every pre-industrial society and plenty of post-industrial societies include magic as a regular part of daily life.

Whether magic is ‘true’ or not is of little relevance. We can divine that societies with belief in magic had a competitive advantage over those that did not.

If we really look at what magic is, we find that its function is pretty consistent and straightforward. It’s a means of influencing the human subconscious.

Let’s look at a typical shamanic strategy: Tell the family that the sick person is inhabited by a demon and that it can only be driven away if the family members are totally devoted in their hearts to recovery.

Is there really a demon causing the disease? Who cares? The shaman has inspired a sense of urgency in the family and caused them to really take the situation seriously. Attitude influences action and the shaman has gotten their attitude in the right place so that the right actions follow.

It’s a pretty straightforward chain of causation that almost unanimously escapes ‘rational’ modern thinkers.
In fact the relationship between the shaman and his patient is pretty similar that between worker and boss. Begin with incentives(worker gets fired if they screw up), then watch for results(worker knows on a visceral level they can’t screw up).

Magic has already been discovered by science.

The proof is a cure that often proves the equal of the best technology has to offer. Medical science calls it a ‘placebo’ a totally useless pill that actually works if you just add belief.

Yet Enlightenment thought in its worship of the Absolute Explicit still tries to tell us the placebo doesn’t work. People just think it works. Therefore if people are cured by the placebo effect they are irrational and deluded. They’ve been tricked.

Some shamans might agree with scientists that they ‘trick’ people but the connotations and implications of this word would be understood very differently.

To the ‘rational’ thinker the effects of a placebo treatment actually do not exist because the treatment itself was not explicit or measurable. To them the shaman is a primitive lout and a charlatan.

If any word hits a nerve with Enlightenment thinkers, it is ‘witchcraft.’

Today’s thinkers have never evolved beyond the 16-18th century rebels who were actually persecuted and pursued by the church, the state, the entire establishment.
The cultural memory of witch hunts by the church or by the king remains fresh in their minds as if Galileo or Voltaire still walked the earth.

In their eyes, witchcraft has become symbolic of the stupid, benighted things people did before Enlightenment.

Yet every traditional society and plenty of modern ones believe in witchcraft.
In fact, I had a roommate in college who was a Kikuyu from the Kenyan highlands. He was an intelligent and rational person who absolutely believed in witchcraft. And he quite frankly told me that witches were still stoned to death where he lived.

Why would every traditional group in the world unanimously come up with remarkably similar ideas of witchcraft and be willing to take extreme measures to prevent it?

As best as I can figure, witchcraft is the opposite of magic used for healing.

That is, a witch uses rituals to program the subconscious to achieve destructive and selfish aims.
All the nonsensical ingredients, the dolls, the rituals are a means of influencing the visceral self. To adjust one’s attitude and then passively let actions follow from the attitude. Or to adjust their environment in a way that would precipitate negative consequences…

I suppose that if I wanted to be a modern Western witch, I might go out at night and start breaking windows in strategic, visible places.
Our modern studies tell us that when people see lapses in order such as broken windows, they instinctively perceive weakness in the ruling order and more readily act on their immediate desires.
With a simple mental ‘trick’, I could influence the attitudes and therefore the actions of hundreds of people.

Pre-modern societies are in many ways founded on a much sounder understanding of human nature. Tribes founded on wishful nonsense have long since been stamped out of existence.

In our own literal-minded society, I could be punished for breaking windows, but no law we have on our books would address the far worse damage I had caused the community by influencing people. I might pay fines and do some community service or jail for vandalism, but that’s about it.

More ‘primitive’ people don’t need studies to tell them that the integrity and morale of the group must be protected at all costs.

Cohesive, pre-industrial societies would have had little patience for my mind games; the exertion of my magical powers over the populace.
Sooner or later, people would have intuitively perceived my malicious intent. Though they might not understand exactly what I was doing, I would eventually be accused of witchcraft and executed.
The society would be better off without me. It would be more fit to compete against rival societies.
While ‘irrational’ on the level of individuals, executing a witch becomes the lowest sort of pragmatism when considered on the level of the group.
A coach who cuts an underperforming or disruptive player from the team does much the same thing.

Cultural Recombinance

Builds Upon: Innovation As Exception To The Rules

We predictably see more languages, world views, art styles coming from heterogeneous peoples in the Caucasus divided by mountainous geography than we do from a river valley in China with a population many times greater.

A smaller population split into a hundred separate slivers generates a greater variety of ideas than a single population under one unified culture and language.

Yet forcing modern people to live in mountain valleys without internet access is a crude, inefficient, literal-minded method of achieving the overall principle: The promotion of cultural recombinance.

One of the major problems of mass culture is its potential to kill off heterogeneous elements of society.
In the 21st century many of the events around us can be explained as a struggle between emerging recombinant systems and established, fixed systems.

Thus far, social variation has been dependent on geographical accident and technological limitations in the spread of information.
If one were to visit even a culturally unified land such as Korea a couple centuries ago, one would surely not have found any two villages with the exact same customs, dialect, or kimchi recipe.

With the emergence of nationalism, central governments all over the world tried to spread the dialect and customs of the capital city to every corner of the nation. First through systems of mass education and later through mass media.
Today French and Italian people cling to their local culinary traditions in no small part because their other local distinctions were stamped out in the age of nationalism.

There is an obvious problem with a culturally fragmented population for the nationalist: it presents a huge obstacle to the mass unity necessary for the nation-state to defend itself from other nations and to engage in sustained conquest.
Yet forcing mass unity kills the domestic wellsprings of culture.

The symmetrical internet has been a huge step in the right direction.
Most previous forms of mass communication have been largely asymmetrical, tools that have allowed elites to control and hand down culture to the masses from above as never before.
While the internet gives rise to a mass culture with memes known to millions of users, one also sees the proliferation of countless subcultures.
In the internet community we have a glimpse of what a loosely united yet creative society might look like.

Open source is also an important step that challenges the inherent asymmetry of capitalistic production.
No matter how many corporations are competing to fulfill our desires, the variations they hand down to us pale in comparison to that which can arise from millions of individual users customizing tools to their needs.
Worse, companies must cater to the needs of a majority in a sort of democratic process. A frustrated minority can end up losing when they go shopping for mass produced goods.
The market as we know it succeeds in mapping out the general shape of coastlines, but it is incapable of accounting for the fractal intricacies.

For example, an ice cream parlor might double or triple the number of flavors it offers but any such increase in variation is puny next to the output of a recombinant system.
As soon as the ice cream parlor allows customers to combine flavors any way they like, an exponentially greater potential for variation emerges.
If the parlor offers 31 flavors we have 961 possible permutations for just two scoops and 29,791 permutations for three scoops.
If we further extend the principle and create a wiki ice cream parlor that has no flavors when it first opens and relies on its customers to choose what they’d like or even create their own flavors. Favorites would get upvoted.
One would see a different combination of flavors at every single location. The number of possible permutations would become astronomical.

Despite its advantages, a society that promotes cultural recombinance faces a major obstacle.
Such a society must be able to outcompete repressive but united neighbors who can bring the might of millions to bear in collective action. This is exactly why fixed, conformist social models have been dominant throughout history.

If a recombinant civilization realizes even a fraction of its power it has a commanding edge over its rivals.
Wherever in history a small state happens upon a formula that allows for a higher rate of recombinance it effortlessly produces new ideas and technologies that elude the best minds in neighboring empires.
For instance, both gunpowder and removable type had been known in East Asia for centuries but other civilizations were able to take the same ideas and keep recombining them and extending them to new applications.
It seems obvious to us in retrospect to make a wheel or written language.
Most number systems before the elegant Arabic numerals now seem clumsy and archaic. It seems moronic to us now that you’d have any more than 10 numbers for a decimal system.
A small example from our own time:
The real time strategy game has been essentially unchanged since its origins about 20 years ago. I recently downloaded the genre’s famous progenitor, Dune 2 from abandonia and found that aside from refinements such as multiple unit selection, rallying, and queuing, little has changed.
Without critical examination, a system sooner settles into a stable
orthodoxy which allows a single model to be refined but which actively blocks experimentation with new models.

In any case, Darwinian evolution on the level of individuals or of societies is driven by the selection of favorable mutations.
Thus a system that has exponentially greater rates of variation also has a much higher rate of mutations.
As the probability of favorable mutations rises, so do the chances of simultaneous mutations with the potential for synergistic interaction. Perhaps a critical mass of mutations is necessary for certain game-changing leaps to take place.
Ultimately, an exponentially recombinant system is the natural foundation of a post-Darwinian social order in which social structures are no longer left to accident of nature.

Why Tyrants Stand in the Way of Progress

An ordinary modern person enjoys luxuries ancient kings couldn’t have dreamed of.

Yet throughout history, we see kings standing in the way of innovations that raise the standard of living for everyone.
If absolute monarchs still ran things, we surely wouldn’t have a shower and microwave in every house.
For short-sighted despots, having an abject, beaten population incapable of organization or resistance serves their interests.
It does not cross their minds that loosening their stranglehold on their own people could enrich them far more.

Yet people in power aren’t in power because they are enlightened visionaries. They are in power because they are good at staying in power.
The system gets exactly what it selects for.

These despots have always understood on some level that they cannot possibly anticipate all the complex changes brought about by a rampant stream of invention and innovation.
The same technology that allows everyone to communicate instantly across hundreds of miles or cook a meal in a minute might also undermine the ruler’s power.

We might think of the story of the town mouse and the country mouse. The country mouse enjoys the riches of the city but finds he must live in constant fear and uncertainty. He ultimately chooses to return to a secure life in the country.

Thus, an overwhelming desire for security becomes the poverty of the rich.

I’ve seen the tombs of the rich and famous of medieval Europe, I couldn’t help but notice that none of them lived past age 60.
I’ve imagined what modern medicine could have done for an older, ailing Henry Tudor.
These winners of the social game lived sickly lives alongside those they’d beaten. In some ways, they had not succeeded in being truly prosperous but only in becoming less wretched than their counterparts.

And so long as they were less wretched than anyone else and were secure in their power, any uncontrolled change was more likely to be a threat than an asset. In their circumstances crushing new ideas was rational.

But to really understand the conservative tendencies of the powerful down to the present day, we have to be honest about human nature.

How much does an i-phone or a television really improve our lives if everyone has one?

The ruler loses when one of his prized luxuries becomes commonplace amongst the seething masses. He will soon turn his attentions to some other thing that is still inaccessible to most people.
The more ways he can distinguish himself from his peons, the happier he is.
As humans, we tend to perceive our wellbeing not by an absolute barometer but by the capriciously shifting circumstances of others.

Might not the farmer who makes a decent living while his neighbors are starving feel a greater swelling of satisfaction than a modern millionaire who owns the same i-pod as the commonest of peasants?

It’s all about relative status and power.

Does a television or a hot shower change the fact that most of us are impotent corporate cogs?

On the other hand does dying young while ruling over a neolithic cave change anything if you can mate with anyone you want and wield ultimate power over life and death?

Does ‘progress’ then really change the way we experience life and our place in society?

Do ‘conveniences’ and ‘entertainment’ do anything more than make our lives as tools and slaves slightly more palatable?

If not, can we blame tyrants who prefer to die in filth as the absolute rulers of starving peasants to living in a wealthy society as mere ‘representatives?’

Shelters From Planned Obsolescence

Builds Upon: Living On A Keynesian Playground

Many an old aphorism tells us that human desire is limitless.
Yet not so many tell us that human imagination is quite limited.

Humans can desire only what they already know of or are capable of imagining.
Thus kings in ancient times never had any desire for personal computers or i-pads.

Markets are like a genie that grants the wishes of a collective—anything that people want tends to manifest—but like a typical Arabian Nights style narrative, the moral of the story is the banality and short-sightedness of the wish-maker.

Somehow, we never see the ‘experts’ factor in shortcomings in human knowledge and imagination when they discuss the workings of capitalism. The theoretical customer seems almost like a Laplace’s demon with perfect knowledge of the universe.

In real life, imperfect consumer knowledge and foresight plus the influence of emotion makes planned obsolescence a more lucrative strategy than making high quality merchandise.
Furthermore, planned obsolescence is in part merchants’ response to increasing abundance. It is just one of many mechanisms that reinforce artificial scarcity.
Consumers, especially the millions living from paycheck to paycheck, buy the cheapest products available only to have them break in a short while. Over years, they actually end up paying more than if they had invested in a single high quality item.
This tactic works brilliantly for the sellers because most people do not have the critical thinking ability, requisite curiosity, or knowledge outside their narrow specialty to understand how they are actually being ripped off in the long term.

Ironically, quality merchandise that won’t break has become a rarity. Most products we find at major retailers have devolved into junk as consumer expectations have steadily eroded over the decades.
If the parents could be sold a toaster that broke after 8 years, perhaps their kids could be induced to buy a cheap toaster that breaks in 4 years…and so on. Now after several generations have grown up in our modern capitalism we see the market in its present state with the process of decay actually accelerating.

If we know the nature of the wish-maker we can predict the nature of the product. Thus we can predict that we will get ripped off if we shop in the same venues frequented by ignorant and apathetic consumers.

How do we shelter ourselves, then, from the nightmare market wished into existence by the tyrannical masses?

Why not find and follow those wish-makers who have a stake in getting the highest quality merchandise possible?
For instance, businesses that are very much motivated to look out for their bottom line:

Exhibit 1
Any more, a pair of jeans wears out very quickly. In particular, I notice that it’s usually the knees that give out, often within just a few months. Even sooner if there’s any actual physical work or rough handling.
Yet we still buy them just because we have a cultural memory of jeans as durable work clothing and all purpose casual wear. We keep coming back to get ripped off because we’re unthinkingly following the crowd.

Meanwhile, work clothing stores sell high quality pairs of pants that can absorb years of constant abuse. The knees are actually reinforced with an entire extra layer of thick fabric.
I think someday, I may well choose Dickies over Dockers and although unfashionable, it will be my fashion statement.

Exhibit 2
Most kitchen appliances any more break like cheap toys, even if the consumer buys a shiny tin-plated version of the same garbage that costs 25-50% more.
The only real solution: Find out what blenders, toasters, and mixers restaurants are using.
For in our present world, if it’s not ‘industrial grade’ it’s probably not worth buying.

Or, one might plug leaks by only keeping the most useful appliances. After all, couldn’t one toast a piece of bread on a stove or in an oven? In your average home how often does one actually need an electric mixer?
To be worthwhile each additional appliance must not add to the hundreds of financial thumbtacks of Damocles hanging over one’s head.

Exhibit 3
As if by royal decree, schools and instructors create a monopoly for text book companies. Not only are prices exorbitant, the publishers keep their cash cow alive by frequently ‘revising’ their books. ‘Revision’ of course mostly consists of changing the page numbers, the order of the chapters, and the assignable homework problems. Thus, everyone has to buy each new edition and discard the previous one.

Given absolute power, these companies create as much artificial obsolescence as they can. So advanced is the decay of this market, that all pretence has been dropped and the vendors overtly, ruthlessly, and arbitrarily milk their precious captive consumers.

As quality merchandise becomes less available in the wider market, we can expect an increasing resemblance to the monopolistic text book industry.

Conclusion:
For those who sing praise unto capitalism, the principle of planned obsolescence invites us to reflect on one of the most glaring paradoxes of free markets.

The perfect product that never breaks puts its manufacturer out of business.

This conundrum shows us that capitalism alone cannot be a foundation for a society that works in the best common interest.

A better society clearly must be animated by some kind of higher legitimacy and intrinsic defining purpose that encourages every item to be made in the best possible way.
We’re often told that modern production is very efficient. Yet needless waste on a mass scale is a defining trait of our system.
Surely the enlightened society is one that makes every single effort, whether by worker or machine count for as much as possible—not to perpetuate slavery of the masses but to open up increasing amounts of leisure time and emancipate the human mind.

Final Note: I would invite readers to contribute their ideas for Obsolescence Shelters in the comments section.

The Future of Money – Does Money Have A Future?

Builds Upon: Why Unrest Will Continue To Grow In Industrialized Nations

As production becomes increasingly efficient and requires ever less labor, civilization is faced with a horrible dilemma—abundance.

Without scarcity, there can be no market.
Money deprived of a market is a goldfish flopping about after its bowl has been shattered.

For those who enjoy the benefits of money, unfettered abundance can only bring on a fate worse than death—to become perfectly ordinary with nothing to justify a sense of superiority or to distinguish oneself from the faceless crowd.

It takes a lifetime, even generations to accumulate money. A decrease in the importance of money would destroy gains won through years of labor and sacrifice. Many would lose their life’s work.
The incentives bring the wealthy to the obvious conclusion.
Efficiency in production cannot be allowed to result in indiscriminate abundance.
Scarcity must be maintained at all costs.

For most human beings, money is the shackles of slavery. It is always scarce and without it one cannot be considered a member of society or even a human being.
Ironically for this majority, as the production of goods becomes more efficient, money must become more scarce. If less people are needed to produce, less people are paid.

Thus wealthy people’s goal of maintaining the integrity of markets and the value of money is inimical to the interests of most people.
Abundance has resulted in zero sum conditions that pit the wealthy against everyone else as never before.

This is why we see a different sort of conflict developing. This time it is not about getting a slightly better deal under the existing system. It’s not even about unseating the wealthy and taking over the top of the pyramid.
The scope of what is happening here is far wider than most people yet understand.
The system itself is at stake.

Let us look at some possible new worlds:

1- The Powerful Stay In Power

There are only as many cattle as demand supports.

This same principle applies to the human herd.

As less people are needed, the population of workers must shrink down to the level of equilibrium.
-Perhaps some people would perish of privation
-Fertility in the herd drops because of scarce resources.
-Social strife spurred by scarcity causes millions of deaths.
-Direct and indirect means used by the powerful to reduce the population to a more manageable level.

A critical precedent is established once and for all: societies exist to serve the rulers. Anyone else is livestock.

The rulers want each generation of cattle to be more useful and pleasing than the last.
Predictably, genetic engineering and selective breeding become the norm.
The process of human domestication that began 10,000 years ago is finally taken to its logical conclusion.
In the underclass, at least, humans as we know them cease to exist.

2- Abundance Destroys Money As The Means to Power

The powerful are unable to maintain artificial scarcity. Like a high tide, the influence of money over the world begins to recede.

Basic human needs such as food and shelter are massively devalued or even become free.
In a world where people aren’t just desperate to eat and keep a roof over their head, pointless tasks that no one wants to do(most of the economy) are abandoned.

The money system likely continues, but only where there is sufficient scarcity.

A new period in human history begins but it isn’t a utopia. Indeed, without scarcity to keep people in line, such a world would be one of disorder. All the impulses that people must suppress in order to eat for another day would be unleashed on the world.

Is this world better or worse? As in outcome 1, it depends on who you are.

For followers who instinctively love predictability, the world is a much darker place.

For those who thrive on creativity, critical thinking, and chaos it is a great age of opportunity.

3-A Middle Road?

The length of the working week is reduced from 40 to 35 to 30 and so on. The job is gradually and peacefully phased out.

Unfortunately, the moderate path comes with certain problems.

Already, the 40 hour workweek is a myth.
People in salaried jobs commonly put in 12-16 hours a day.
A monthly salary is a blank check for an employer: the employee ends up working as many hours as they possibly can. The employer then gets to hire less people.
Furthermore, no one creating a job wants to have their best worker work only 30 hours in order to share time with someone less competent. Equal distributions of jobs or hours can’t work in an unequal marketplace.

What really happens then is that only the most desirable people end up with real work to do while most of the rest of the population is underemployed or idle. The elite employers and employed won’t support an unskilled, unneeded, disruptive underclass forever.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 1.

As most people find they can rely less and less on traditional jobs for their livelihood they inevitably start looking for alternatives.
Abundant leisure time and urgency results in millions people stopping to think about the world they live in.
The artificial nature of scarcity becomes obvious.
Social unrest in favor of abundant resources ensues.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 2.

To say the least, this middle passage seems precarious.

Why Tent Cities Won’t Go Away

Builds Upon: Breaking the Iron Law, A Game of Social Arbitrage

The emergence of tent cities across the industrialized world has been met with outrage and confusion. The inhabitants of these impromptu towns have been repeatedly dismissed as “dirty hippies” and “troublemakers.” Yet neither this shaming language nor the intervention of law enforcement has done much to reduce the appeal of these encampments.

The tents should come as no surprise.
Tent cities are a reaction to the shrinking buying power of wages in proportion to basic living expenses such as rent.

Presently, paying even the cheapest of rents can easily devour over half of a month’s earnings.
The cost of being able to camp in a 12×12 box without being beaten up or jailed strips people of most of the fruits of their labor.

So why is it surprising when people begin to camp in parks for free under the threat of being beaten up or jailed? The threat of force hasn’t changed.

Until basic living expenses are reasonably proportional to wages, we can expect that increasing numbers of people will opt out of rent-paying situations.
Criticisms such as “Occupy a Job!” fall flat because there is now a much higher payoff for people to support each other in a park than to slave away in isolation for their respective landlords.

The public outrage at these encampments is to be expected. Paying for a box to live in is a standard part of the SPT(Social Participation Tax). Those who dodge this tax are not members of society.
People understand in their gut that avoidance of SPT expenses such as house and car are outright rebellion.

People who do not pay SPT:

-Cannot as easily be coerced into desired social roles. The mass society is stripped of its leverage without these enormous expenses. People are afraid of those who cannot easily be kept in line. The cycle of dependence required to maintain a social order is broken.

-Those who have spent decades of their life dutifully bleeding themselves dry for a box to live in are given a slap in the face by the very existence of “freeloading” campers.
Their rage arises from a sense of unfairness that lies deep in human nature. On some primal level they think: “I suffered to hold down this house like I was expected to without complaining! It is only fair that they do the same!”
They do not recognize that it makes no sense for others to follow their example.

As it is, there have been strong incentives to flee rents for most of history, but flouting the SPT in most cases meant ostracism, punishment, certain death. So people had to pay up no matter how impoverished it left them.

Now, better communication technologies have allowed a critical mass of people to abscond from rent paying situations at once and support each other in the process.

The prevailing social order is faced with a grave threat and indeed, this explains the degree of force used against these encampments.
On some gut level, those who are invested in the present order understand well that where there is a ragtag camp today, tomorrow there will be free houses.

As a final note: We can likewise expect an explosion in the number of squatters across the nation. If hordes of people coordinated across social media do it all at once, the authorities cannot respond as effectively. This is the same principle that has made the encampments particularly difficult to eradicate.