The Lichen and the Weed

Builds Upon: Best Possible Persons,
The Inevitability of Orthodoxy

It always seems to happen sooner or later.  The inevitable transition of a new, dynamic great idea into the next robotic McDogma.

Thus, Christianity has been a fantastic success while Christ has failed utterly.

Thus, Martin Luther’s well intended ideas enjoyed great success because European rulers needed a justification for breaking away from Catholicism.  The horrors of the Thirty Years War, social tumult across the entire continent ensued.

Thus, the ideas of Descartes and Newton, devout Christians, soon came to be used against Christianity.

Thus, the Fordist vision of a consumer utopia has resulted in a consumer dystopia.

I’ve long wondered if it’s possible to grow a great idea like a lichen rather than a weed.  A lichen that meticulously plans and reinforces every new spot of growth into something that can endure the elements indefinitely while generations of weeds grow quickly all around and then die just as quickly.

Most ideas that have mass success seem to indiscriminately replicate themselves through anyone who’s willing to call themselves a disciple or a follower.  This strategy without fail results in a chaos of weeds.

Like a game of telephone, the original message gets irreparably distorted as it goes indiscriminately from person to person.

A lichen, it seems, must choose its adherents with extreme care always putting quality before quantity, group chemistry before group power and influence.  Nothing says more about the integrity of a new idea than the type of people it adopts as followers and the real impact of the idea on their lives.

Thus, a lichen clearly must follow the model of a tribe rather than that of a mass society.


Social Real Estate

Builds Upon: Legitimacy: The Most Precious Resource

Let’s say we have two identical rooms of equal size.  To an empiricist it makes no difference whether we choose one or the other.

Now let’s apply some labels.



Since the two rooms are materially the same in every respect an empiricist could continue to argue that it makes no logical material difference whether one defecates in one room or the other.  Such is a major shortcoming of a purely material world view.

Society is far more real to human beings than are the realities of matter.  Social rules exert far more influence on human lives than do mere physical limitations.

As a kid I loved geography and especially historical atlases.

As an adult I’ve wondered what a map of any given building would look like if it was a map of social zones(bathrooms, smoking rooms, boxing rings) and social territories(John’s cubicle, Jill’s room).

In my mind’s eye I see something like a typical map of a post-Westphalia Holy Roman Empire.

The way territories would work out on an actual social map would be impractical for an empire, but it works out all right for individuals precisely because of the largely immaterial nature of social circumstances.

Lets say someone has a 12×12 room all to themselves.  This social real estate gives them the rare, priceless gifts of privacy and autonomy.

If we reason like a pure empiricist, we might logically conclude a 15×15 room would provide a 25% increase in privacy and autonomy.

However, if one possesses a certain minimum amount of space, physical considerations diminish in importance.  The important thing about a piece of social real estate is the social or asocial circumstances in which one occupies it.

The Inevitability of Orthodoxy

Builds Upon: Why the Hippies Failed,
Innovation As Exception to The Rules

There are lots of ‘unique’ people out there who like to rave about all the conformists among us.  Yet we’ve all seen how a clique of non-conformists always develops its own brand of conformity.

Clearly, anyone with realistic goals must realize that all social groups, even divergent ones must acquire a new set of norms.  With an accepted set of norms comes aversion to those who fail to follow them.

The very critics who lambast conformity usually become dedicated to conforming  to their own community.

Therefore most dedicated non-conformists are clearly unable to articulate their ideas and desires on the conscious level.

It seems clear enough to me though, that conformity itself isn’t the problem.  The issue seems to be that many people can’t find the sort of group they want to conform with. Without fail, such protesters never hesitate to gel with a group that turns out to be a good fit.

Orthodoxy is inevitable, but this need not be an oppressive restraint for the way of the accepted can take many forms.

An orthodoxy can promote flexibility, creativity, and dynamism as social norms.

That is, those who love adventure and experiment would be Correct.  The conservative and comfortable would be Incorrect.

Where there is orthodoxy, there must be persecution of the heterodox.  Such processes are critical in defining a society and preserving its defining nature against destructive influences.

Many groups out there sincerely believe they’ll accept anybody.  This of course is nonsense.  They’re of course only willing to accept people who are willing and able to fit in.  But most people seem unable to reflect on the truth of the matter.  Most transactions of acceptance and rejection seem to take place on an instinctual level.

There is a fixed set of parts needed for a group to function.  An orthodoxy is one of them.

All that remains to one who would create a society is what modules to install.

Though it may be unpleasant to face the fact that there must always be Correct and Incorrect persons in a society, failure to plan for an orthodoxy is an enormous mistake.

If we refuse to step in and define an orthodoxy, than the orthodoxy will define itself according to the forces of nature.

An orthodoxy that does not have to answer to its members is well on its way to becoming the sort of mindless tyrant that rules over mass societies.

‘Unplanned’ Traits

Builds Upon: Reforming Ant Society, The Reality Show: Part 1
Reforming Ant Society Part 2

Within about 10 generations, Soviet geneticist Dmitri Belyaev was able to completely transform wild silver foxes into completely domesticated animals.

All he had done was select for the calmest tamest foxes each generation yet by the end of the process, the foxes exhibited many other traits common to domesticated dogs.  They had spotted coats, floppy ears, and curled tails.  They barked, wagged their tails, and were sensitive to human body language.

Selecting for one major criteria resulted in multiple changes.

Scientists and other logic workers pride themselves on their ability to work with rational cause and effect, but when it comes to the real world their efforts often fall short.  These persons tend to fall into the trap of pairing each cause with one effect, or a few related effects.  Complex processes tend to be regarded as a collection of discrete, independent cause and effect relationships that happen to be occurring simultaneously.  Thus, complex processes are reduced into countless bite-size syllogistic morsels.

However, the case of Belyaev’s foxes tells us that one should not rely too heavily on this syllogistic method.  Rather than one cause leading to an effect, one cause begets a variety of intended and unintended, related and unrelated results.

I suppose one could envision a crowded pool table.

A player is trying to hit a ball into one of the pockets, but in attaining this goal, pool balls are scattered all over the table.  Influencing one variable sets a host of variables into motion.  The absolute control of being able to predict everything is much harder to attain.  Under such circumstances, one is better rewarded by an overall understanding rather than a solid grasp of the minutia.  That is:

Rather than exhaustively cataloging every minute detail of every relationship only to end with a heap of disconnected ‘facts’, looking for a pattern in the scatter on the pool table has a lot more potential.

If selectors chosen by humans cause multiple unintended results, it seems that nature also would also be equally imprecise in implementing changes.  Thus if a Galapagos finch adapts to grow a different shape of beak, it would be unsurprising if this one change also resulted in other new and unforeseen traits.

Thus, the same principal that gives us tame dog-like foxes might also result in many of the evolutionary loopholes we observe in human beings that are not easily explained away as survival behaviors.

The same also with human social systems or any system at all…

Selective Pressures, Social Minds, Global Crisis

Builds Upon: Superstition and the Mind of Society

With critical resources nearer to depletion and population approaching carrying capacity it pays to look at the macroscale.

Most individuals may wish to avoid a world wide catastrophe, but the sentiments of individuals can hardly reverse global trends.

It makes sense then to consider the problem then from the perspective of competing minds of society.  In the present situation what is their best interest?  What sort of society comes out on top?

Right now, we can think of the world’s societies as locked in a deadly game of chicken.  If a society were to back out of the reproductive race(brake before driving off the cliff), it would swiftly be overwhelmed by its competitors.  If it keeps on producing babies at the same pace(step on the gas), the result could be disaster.

Some possible victory conditions in this game:

-Restraining reproduction near max carrying capacity while opponents fail to do so and experience a Great Famine.   The overpopulated but minimally fed society is left with its competitors at its mercy.  In terms of chicken: backing down at the last moment while counting on the competitor to go over the edge.  If the competitor doesn’t suffer a net loss from the fall, however, the result is defeat.  A significant degree of risk with limited potential for achieving victory.

-Going aggressively over max carrying capacity but overwhelming everyone else in the process.  As crisis hits, millions of your desperate people spread all around the world and grab precious resources from everyone else.  They all eventually die, but not before taking down the competition with them.  With your huge population, they can be thought of as expendable shock troops.  After the Great Famine.  Members of your society are the new world majority by proportion.  The death toll was enormous but when the dust clears, your genetic legacy has been selected for.  That is all that matters.  You win.  Continue to flood the world in successive waves of great famine until any remaining competitors have been either eliminated or assimilated.  Then continue to have periodic Great Famines to keep clearing out the weak.

Your strategy: Drive straight off the cliff without caring what the opponent does and win by surviving the fall.  If they drive off the cliff, you have placed your bet on being more resilient.  If they don’t drive off the cliff, they lose when(if) you reach the bottom without suffering excessive injury.  This strategy achieves victory the quickest, but it’s also the most risky.  Your population could be utterly demolished if the famine doesn’t hit the competition just as hard.

-Going significantly over max carrying capacity to a limited degree.  It will hurt to go over the limit, but your society has more food than the others.  The  competition will suffer worse when it too reaches excess.  Let’s say you lose 10-20% of your population in the Great Famine while your competitors are hit much harder.  Rinse and repeat.

If both of you drive off the cliff in this game of chicken your armored car equipped with extra air bags will give you the advantage.

If the other person brakes, famine reduces your population back to carrying capacity.

Back to square one.  Low risk, relatively low yield.

Individuals don’t reason in these terms but social minds must.  That’s why they’re still around after all these generations.  Undoubtedly this isn’t the first time in human history that there have been games of Malthusian chicken.

Every society has survival strategies that arise in aggregate from millions of humans going about their every day lives and following their instinctual programs.

What becomes painfully clear is that the deaths and suffering of millions are meaningless to the collective mind.  A society is selected for not when it produces a comfortable situation for its members, but when it outproduces the competition in offspring, keeps as many alive as possible to reproductive age, and successfully transmits its cultural programming so that the cycle will continue.

This one principle does much to explain why our world is no paradise.  Were one society to settle into a utopia, it would soon find itself engulfed and eliminated by the half-starved, stressed out, malnourished, miserable competition.  Every single one of their countless striving bodies is efficiently squeezed dry generation after generation.  Such a state of perpetual struggle for individual cells is the predictable result of intense selective pressures upon the body as a whole.

Wine Tasting, Empiricism, and Perception

Builds Upon: Photography, Transience, Memories
Neatness: The Religion of the Rectilinear

I had read about scientists fooling professional wine tasters by merely putting food coloring in the wine, by changing the labels on the bottles they were being served, by serving up the same wine in different bottles, or by telling them nothing at all about what they were drinking.  The scientists’ conclusion?:  Even the professionals are all frauds.  We are incapable of actually knowing what we’re eating or drinking.  Our perceptions are all hopelessly skewed by emotions, suggestion, and expectations. Therefore, we’re mostly wrong most of the time without strict methods of empirical observation.  Scientists have demonstrated yet again that they are the indisputable bookkeepers and accountants of a collective reality.

Yet science also tells us that the human nose has countless receptors that account for most of our sense of taste.  Researchers are amazed at the incredibly small number of particles per million we are capable of detecting.  Scientists and advertisers are especially intrigued to discover that our sense of smell has more immediate, visceral access to our brain than any other.  We are deeply influenced by smells without even consciously perceiving them.

When it comes to foods and scents:

The appeal or the very nature of a food changes relative to our mood, our circumstances, our bodily needs of the moment.

A stick of butter would taste very different on the first bite than on the last.

Thus butter indeed tastes different to me based on the state of my body and my mood.  Empirically I am wrong.  I have been ‘fooled’ by my senses.  It is the same stick of butter each time I take a bite from it.  If I were in any way rational, I would tell them after each bite that the stick of butter tasted and felt the same, even as I approached the point of wanting to vomit.  The scientists would celebrate another defeat for subjective perception and another victory for empirical observation.

I wonder if the outcome of these experiments means what the scientists think it means.

With wine, I imagine that one gets hints of different kinds of flavors depending on what it’s eaten with, how much wine has already been drank,  one’s mental state.  Whatever the body craves at the moment will taste far better than it usually would.  A wine will taste better or worse depending on one’s personal taste or on what wines one has had before.   I’m sure a cheap wine tastes as good as an expensive wine if one has had to go a year without any wine at all.  Many variables could affect the perception of the taste of wine.

I am very far from any kind of a wine tasting professional but I can readily say that I much prefer a Cabernet Sauvignon to a Merlot.  How on Earth could  I possibly have the gall to state any such preference if I ought not to be able to tell the difference between a white and a red?

To me, an affordable merlot tastes like a watered down cabernet.  The same oak and blackberries minus the cleansing dryness and full body.  A merlot is something of a blank slate that requires an artist to paint on it.  Paying more a higher price per bottle is almost necessary to get a good one.  It’s just not a good everyday table wine.  I think of it as the gateway wine beginners, appletini ladies, and light beer guys can tolerate.

All these detailed, emotionally charged opinions yet I admit I could be easily fooled in a taste test.  If I were blindfolded, I might not be able to tell the difference between a cab and a merlot.  I might taste one of the wines and wonder whether it was a lousy cab or a typical beginner’s merlot.  It could be either one.  Not only are there lots of wine varietals, there’s a huge amount of variation for each varietal.  Without something to go on, I just wouldn’t know.  Upon guessing the wrong one, the scientists would pull off my blindfold and say “HA HA!  Fooled you!  Your pathetic little senses can’t do nothing without strict empirical, quantitative, observations!”

However, science has found that especially when it comes to taste and smell, our limited conscious awareness of the experience is but the tip of the iceberg.   Scientific inquiry has already demonstrated that most of the impact of taste/smell is subconscious!  Can our judgments and preferences be said to be a complete flight of fancy if we are not fully consciously aware of the experience.

In an empirical, standardized mass reality, an inability to declare=falsifiability.  Thus we’re all frauds for preferring either white or red wine.  If you can’t produce the correct information on demand, you obviously don’t know it.

Yet most scientists probably couldn’t tell me what they had for dinner three months ago.  The same scientists would likely be flabbergasted if I suggested that if they could not remember eating anything for dinner on that day, clearly they had eaten nothing at all.  I would further explain that the idea of having eaten dinner that night is merely a comforting self-delusion and a product of their shoddy emotional brains.

I have a very rational friend who once amused himself by giving me a special test.  He moved the bookmark in the book I was reading forward a few pages while I was away and watched what happened when I returned.  I kept reading without realizing what he’d done.  He eventually told me what he’d done and I found myself feeling angry about his meddling.  “How can those pages matter,” he argued, “If you didn’t realize they weren’t missing it makes no difference whether or not they were there.”  At the time I felt a sense of stubborn indignation and did not know quite how to counter him.  Yet I could have asked him to tell me what happened on page 304 of his edition of ‘Fellowship of the Ring’.  He would not have been able to produce any details for me.  I could therefore have come to a couple of different conclusions.

-He’s a fraud and never actually read through the book.

-He must have accidentally skipped page 304.  Nothing important must have happened if he didn’t even realize he had missed it.

We find that it is the general, partially conscious, emotional information that is truly important to us.  My friend couldn’t recite for me the content from a single page of the book, but clearly he got something out of it.  It’s one of his favorite books.  He probably could have read and enjoyed the story just the same without a page 304.  Yet he would have lost something from the overall memory of having read that book.  The loss of one or even a few pages might be trivial, but every single page fleshes out the concept even if no individual page can be explicitly recalled to memory.

In many ways, the emotionally charged perception and memory is the hardest to access reliably through conscious inquiry or to articulate in its fullness to a scientific questioner.

Thus:  Have we all been proven frauds for preferring different kinds of wine over others?  OR is judging our perception only by empirical information immediately obtainable at the conscious level simply an approach ill-suited to gauging human perception and memory?

If a stick of butter tastes different after each bite, is it extraordinary to suppose that even a glass of wine could taste a little different after every sip?  As the state of the body changes, the state of perception must change.  Are the senses fooling themselves.  Not really.  They give us information relative to our needs and circumstances.  We’re living things subject to constant change, not static scientific instruments.

So naturally, if we’re called on to behave like scientific instruments, we’re going to fail.

Perhaps it is the very difficulty of applying order and categorization to the sense of taste/smell that has attracted the attention of strict empiricists.  Perhaps this fixation on demonstrating the ‘inaccuracy’ of human perception is a result of an inability to accept or understand the transient, entropic nature of the universe.

The Absolute Value of Material Goods

“You get what you pay for.” says the old adage.

More money= more quality/utility

Yet this is a vast simplification:

-A good can be overpriced relative to the larger market

-A good might not be necessary regardless of cost

-A good might not be useful regardless of cost

-A good might not be desirable

-The price of a good and the possession of a good might cause more trouble than it’s worth.

-Social prestige might be a major factor in a purchase.  Thus one pays a premium price for good that is far more elaborate than necessary even it is functionally inferior to a lower cost alternative or altogether unnecessary.

What do we really get when we pay?  What does the amount we pay mean?  What is this amount derived from?

We get a numerical value relative to the demand for a good.  A price is just a result of our desires in aggregate.

What one person pays has little to do with whatever benefit or detriment a single person derives from a good.

Thus there is need for every person who uses money to assess the absolute value of a good.

A figure that relates to the average potential customer is of little help.  One must consider their own situation, not that of others if they are to pursue their own best interests.  Thus an absolute value is the opposite of  a market price emergent from a collective average.  Absolute value = the value of a good to a single individual.  I call it absolute because it is the real value.  If one desperately needs a good, we pay the collective value for its purchase.  If we don’t need it at all, we still pay the collective value.

Thus focusing on absolute value leads us maximize the utility of each purchase relative to our individual situation.  It also leads us to avoid purchases that are of secondary, minimal, or detrimental utility relative to our actual lives.

Let us say there is a person with a wallet with $100 wandering around the desert about to die of thirst.  This person comes to a small shop.   Inside the shop there are two items for sale.

One is a huge jug of water for $1.  The other is an umbrella holder made to look like a hollowed out elephant’s foot for $100.

The cost of these items must:

-Include production costs plus a profit margin for the merchant and suppliers

-Be equal to the value emergent from aggregate demand

If the person stranded in the desert were to reason in terms of market value, the umbrella holder is a hundred times more valuable than the water.  There could not be a moment’s hesitation.  The person dying from thirst would buy the umbrella holder.

If this same person were to reason in terms of absolute value, the water would be worth all money available.  It would be worth obtaining through non-monetary means such as theft.  The umbrella holder would have a negative value because:

-Its purchase would deprive the person of water.

-It would serve no function

-It would be a burden

However, the thirsty person would be happy to pay just one dollar for the water and maximize the utility of their situation.

If the shopkeeper offered a jug of super-rare spring water for $100 the person would decline this offer and purchase the regular water instead.  It would provide the exact same utility for 1/100 the price.  It would also leave the person with left over money to purchase more water.

Thus a person reasoning by absolute value takes advantage of the market wherever possible while avoiding less optimal purchases altogether.