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The Market is failing us? I’ve got news for you, it is not exactly operating unadulterated

2011-01-28 1 comment

I am applying my background in economics to the industry I work in, hence the boldface. No expository analysis, just emphasis.

Asia’s Medtech is Inexpensive

The Star Tribuen/ Economist—January 24, 2010–Across the rich world,  governments with aging populations are worried about soaring health care costs.

In Britain last week, David Cameron announced yet another reorganization of the National Health Service. But the problem is most severe in America. Medical spending per head has nearly tripled since 1990, yet most indicators of health have barely budged. And the rising cost of health care depresses wages — because many Americans receive health insurance from their employers, who therefore pay them less.

Help may be at hand. Frugal innovators in China and India are making medical devices that are cheaper — sometimes by an order of magnitude — than their Western equivalents. Companies such as China’s Mindray and India’s TRS serve home markets that include vast numbers of people for whom every yuan or rupee counts. So these companies focus relentlessly on reducing costs. They create products that are stripped to their essentials: scanners that cost $10,000 rather than $100,000; portable electrocardiographs that cost $500 instead of $5,000.

These devices are not merely cheap knockoffs of Western designs. Often they are just as effective as the gold-plated machines used in the West, yet they are rarely found in hospitals of the rich world. Their absence helps explain the massive disparity in costs between treatment in the West and the emerging world. A night in an American hospital typically costs 25 times as much as a night in an Indian, Brazilian or Chinese one. A night in a European hospital typically costs four times as much.

Western medical device firms are well aware of eastern innovation. Indeed, firms such as GE Healthcare, Philips and Medtronic are investing heavily in China and India: setting up research centers, hiring local talent and developing frugal inventions of their own, which they gleefully sell both locally and in other emerging markets. Alas, they are not rushing to market such thrifty ingenuity back in America or Europe.

Two main factors keep cheap devices out of Western markets. One is the muting of price signals. Health care is not an efficient market in the rich world because — be it in Europe, where the state typically pays the bills, or in America, where private insurance companies do — the customer does not have to shop around. Patients neither know nor care how much anything costs, so they demand the best of everything, which is wonderful for the makers of hugely expensive equipment.

A second factor — which applies more in America than in Europe — is red tape. America’s Food and Drug Administration is excessively risk-averse: It often takes twice as long to approve a new medical technology as European regulators do. America’s confusing approvals process deters upstart medical technology firms, since they typically lack the deep pockets and army of experts required to navigate it.

And for a device to succeed in America, it must be blessed not just by the FDA but also by the bureaucrats who oversee Medicare and Medicaid, the two huge government health care schemes. Obtaining that blessing can take years…

(again, emphasis added)

Link to Article

 

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Welcome!

To be a great thinker is to say that you have confronted some of the deepest, the most revolutionary, and at times the most hard-to-swallow ideas of our time.
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More Cool Astronomy: Black Holes

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Shroud of Turin

Here is the research paper I had to do for my writing class last quarter at S Beezie. The class centered around conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and urban legends. Enjoy!

Max Brookman

May 30, 2010

The Shroud of Turin

Spanning more than fourteen feet in length and three feet wide, The Shroud of Turin stands as the most controversial piece of linen in all of human history.  Its remarkable condition and ill-defined history has led scholars and scientists alike to debate relentlessly over its authenticity.  More spectacular than the Shroud’s mysterious nature, advertised as the burial sheet of Jesus Christ, are the formidable sides of the debate that this artifact creates: religious zealots, science bashers, skeptic researchers, respected historians, scholars, priests, doctors, artists, and dozens of other professions that encompass thousands of people all seem to have weighed in on this subject.  From the resulting ideological and philosophical debate over the Shroud comes the confirmation biases and escalating levels of commitment revealed among researchers.  The Shroud of Turin and the subsequent research and findings on its credibility reveals not only the possibility of locating its true beginning but also the underlying human behaviors that lead people to so quickly jump to conclusions and work backward to convince others of what they already think to be true.

Fewer topics of conversation stir more passion than the topic of religion.  Realizing this, it is then no surprise that the Shroud of Turin, a religious artifact, remains a hot topic of debate among those identified as religious or scientific.  This cloth’s uniqueness stems from the New Testament’s story of Jesus Christ’s death.  According to the gospels of John, Luke, Matthew, and Mark, Jesus was crucified and stabbed by the Romans.  After his death, Jesus’ followers took his body and prepared it for burial.  Joseph, one of Jesus’ disciples, “had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,” and placed in a cave to serve as a sepulcher (Matthew 27:59).  The gospels then relay that three days later, Jesus had been resurrected and, as a result, his body had physically disappeared from the cave.  The cloth that remained behind is then claimed to have been passed down from generation to generation, protected and venerated as the true burial sheet of Jesus Christ.

Chronologically, following the gospels that make up the New Testament (which are estimated to be written several decades after Jesus’ death), the next written record of the Shroud’s appearance is in the fourteenth century.  Around the middle of the 1300’s, there are numerous reports of a cloth being put on display by the Catholic Church advertised as the true holy shroud.  The Shroud was placed on view in the old wooden church named Our Lady of Lirey of Lirey, France (Nickell 2007).  Geoffroy de Charny, founder of the church and principle advocator of the shroud “presented the cloth to the dean of the proposed abbey at that time,” and spoke on the Lord’s behalf that the cloth was indeed a holy relic (Wilson 1979, 192).  Immediately following Geoffroy’s endorsement, Bishop Henri de Poitiers of Troyes was encouraged by “many theologians and other wise persons” to look into the true nature of Geoffroy’s claims (Wilson 1979, 194).  Bishop Henri never did launch an investigation, but his successor, Bishop Pierre d’Arcis reported a lengthy analysis to Pope Clement VII following his findings.  Pierre d’Arcis wrote in his memorandum that, “[a man] procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man… falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb,” (d’Arcis 1389).

D’Arcis and Geoffroy both belonged to the Catholic Church, and yet here we see an instant bifurcation of opinions regarding the Shroud.  Why would men with shared ideologies have such opposite viewpoints on this matter?  In this instance a mutual following of Christ’s teachings was not enough to abate the feud, as it seems that other motives were abound.  Geoffroy is said in d’Arcis’ report to have had “certain men being hired to represent themselves as healed at the moment of the exhibition of the shroud.”  This misleading con does not necessarily call into question Geoffroy’s faith; it does, however, raise a red flag as to whether he thought the cloth was genuine.  Geoffroy’s motives can be attributed to his desire to make his beliefs have more public appeal.  He most likely viewed the cloth as a means to attract attention and bring in more converts to the Catholic Church.

D’Arcis and Geoffroy’s battle waged on, though it appeared as though d’Arcis’ overwhelming case against the Shroud would have the relic ejected from the church.  Nevertheless, Geoffroy de Charny and Geoffroy the second (his son) continued their campaign to keep the Shroud on public display with the Church’s endorsement.  It is also known that d’Arcis swore that he had attained a written confession from the artist himself who had claimed to have painted the cloth; however, no such documentation exists to prove this claim.  Ultimately, Geoffroy and his son employed a campaign of longevity and, after Bishop Pierre d’Arcis’ death, had the Shroud readmitted into the Church, protected under royal guard and holy law.  That the shroud was then, and still is, preserved by the Catholic Church is testament that Geoffroy de Charny had won the long-lasting battle among the two feuding theologians.

This well-documented historic debate demonstrates that disagreement has waged on over the Shroud since its first appearance.  It also shows that the Shroud’s authenticity is not just a superficial table topic that pits the religious against the non-religious.  Both d’Arcis and Geoffroy had the intention of serving their Church, albeit in different ways.  Bishop Pierre hoped to maintain the integrity of the name of Jesus Christ by preventing false icons from depreciating their savior’s teachings and symbolism.  Geoffroy de Charny saw the Shroud as an opportunity to strengthen the case for the validity of the New Testament and, by extension, strengthen the numbers of the Catholic Church.  This theological dichotomy is still rampant in today’s religious culture.  Those who proselytize can be generalized twofold: those who truly believe in their respective religious philosophy; and, those who hope to convert in hopes of validating their faith.  Though both d’Arcis and Geoffroy had the same endgame, d’Arcis can be viewed as the more moral character, as Geoffroy willfully and deliberately lied to the general public to promote his ideology.

Due to the Shroud’s fragile nature, it continued to be safe-guarded away from public view for hundreds of years henceforth.  Since Geoffroy’s endorsement in the fourteenth century, the Shroud has rarely been put on display.  In 1978, the Shroud was put on public display for a five week period.  This time, the Shroud drew a record-breaking 3,000,000 visitors and again provoked public interest (Drews 1984, 11).  This public mass appeal also drew the attention of the scientific community.  More than half a century after its first unveiling, the Shroud of Turin would receive the objective scientific analysis necessary to put the debate to rest.

While the Shroud was on display in 1978, The Shroud of Turin Research Project was assembled and designed to analyze the cloth to determine its origins.  The Research Project, nick-named STURP, collected 32 tape samples of the cloth to determine its components.  The team was lead by Dr. McCrone, a microanalyst; Dr. Jumper, a thermodynamicist; and Dr. Jackson, a physicist.  These men, working with dozens of others, meticulously examined the miniscule fibers that compose the Shroud in hopes of shedding new light on the mystery.  By applying an amido black agent, researchers at STURP found a direct correlation between areas of high concentration of ferric oxide and areas of dark discoloration.  In other words, brown areas of the Shroud that outline the image of the man on the Shroud contained more ferric oxide, a compound found in painting materials, than in areas without a brown image.  In STURP’s final report, Dr. McCrone writes, “Our work now supports the two Bishops [Pierre d’Arcis and Henri de Poitiers] and it seems reasonable that the image was painted on the cloth shortly before… 1357.  It is, however, possible… that it was done by an artist and if all iron earth pigments… were removed there would be no image on the Shroud,” (Hoare 1984, 39).

The extensive work done by STURP in the 1970’s simply has been summarized here for a matter of convenience.  The full report included many more tests analyzing all areas of the Shroud.  Nonetheless, all areas of analysis and all researchers in the project had reached the conclusion that the Shroud was painted.  In the decades following STURP’s report, other research laboratories from around the world continued to investigate not only the Shroud, but the authenticity of STURP’s report.

Dr. Newitt, working out of the Univeristy of Leeds Department of Forensic Medicine, proposed the thermographic image theory to contest STURP’s testimony that the Shroud was painted.  Newitt showed using Infrared imaging, that the natural high temperature of a human body can effectively transfer heat to a cloth and by extension cause degradation to the fibers of the cloth and cause discoloring over time (Newitt 1979, 179-181).  With the same imaging technique, Newitt also examined cadavers shortly after death to determine the distribution of heat after death.  The Infrared footage showed that appendages and areas far from the heart lose blood and, consequently, heat the quickest.  The thermographic image theory thereby concludes that if Jesus’ body had imprinted itself on the cloth via a transfer of heat, then there would not be such a prominent and defined image for the feet, hands, nose, beard, or hair.  Dr. Newitt’s final proposal is that if the cloth’s discoloration was caused by fluctuations of temperature, then it must have been made intentionally using a temperature-controlled environment.

Dr. Heller and Dr. Adler, both chemical analysts, employed microspectrophotometry to demonstrate that the ferric oxide that STURP claimed to have been painted on was in fact ubiquitous throughout the cloth.  Such a consistent distribution of ferric oxide throughout the Shroud led the research team to the conclusion that it was a direct result of the 1532 fire at Chambery that the Shroud lived through and was not painted on (Adler, Heller 1981, 81-103).  This neither enforces nor detracts from its authenticity; it does, however, point out STURP’s fallacious research conclusions.

There are numerous other research groups that do not necessarily aim to debunk the Shroud, but instead explain other ways besides painting in which the Shroud could have had its image imprinted.  The most important thing that must be observed from all of this is a careful examination of STURP’s methods.  STURP’s experiments were not necessarily tampered with; it seems more likely that it was just bad science.  Moreover, the research team’s final report made bold conclusions that could not easily be deduced from the results of the experiments.  STURP’s erroneous investigation simply violated the true scientific method.  These researchers exhibited classic confirmation bias; they all had concluded that the Shroud was fake before testing it. Their published work merely revealed evidence that supported their hypothesis and ignored evidence that may have contradicted it.

The work done by STURP immediately pops out as roundabout and incomplete.  While science is maintained to be a discipline of objectivity, researchers often sully the integrity of the field by interpolating their own prejudices.  The psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias, coined by Peter Wason, sheds some light onto Dr. McCrone’s STURP research.  Confirmation bias is, “A type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs,” (Carroll 2003, 81).   Though STURP boasted no funding from outside organizations, its makeup of purely scientists begged the idea that their research was intended to reach a specific conclusion, despite the evidence presented.  McCrone’s published results are by no means the full story; it is not required for researchers to publish inconclusive data.  In this way, STURP was able to experiment on the cloth with Pierre d’Arcis’ original claim as a guide: any conflicting evidence could be ignored and general conclusions could be induced from very particular results.  This blatant cognitive bias does not weaken the case against the Shroud; instead it simply detracts from the credibility of the researchers involved with STURP.

It is a very intrinsic human quality to quickly grasp at a belief then later find it necessary to find evidence to support that belief only when others threaten its credibility.  Once we accept man’s natural irrational psyche, we can become more forgiving of individual’s beliefs.  However, such forgiveness cannot be lent to the scientific community.  Science, by definition, is the study of an objective reality, free of the prejudices supported by man. When researchers find themselves inviting personal beliefs into their field of research, their work quickly becomes a potential host to pseudoscience.  Michael Shermer, an American science writer, studies problems in scientific thinking and notes that, “Theory Influences Observations […] What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning,” (Shermer 1997, 46).  This statement can lead us to the idea that nature is constructed by the power of observation.  More importantly, it states that people can find ways to observe reality so that it fits their theory.  Such methods, as seen by STURP, are erroneous but omnipresent.  Researchers who display this behavior cannot be called true scientists; their actions are merely an analogue of any layman who recalls twisted facts to back their claims.

It is an enigma as to why some researchers aim to twist their research so as to support their cause when in most cases they are inevitably revealed as conducting bad science.  Peer-reviewed science exists solely for the purpose of uncovering the truth and revealing those who fabricate lies.  There are rare instances, however, where a scientist’s false work outlives the scientist.  As is the case of the Piltdown Man, the most famous paleontological hoax, wherein Charles Dawson committed scientific fraud.  Dawson made his claim to fame and lived his entire life before peer-review revealed that his find of the “missing link” between monkey and man was fabricated for the purpose of publicity.  Carl Sagan writes that, “most scientists feel it’s not their job to expose pseudoscientific bamboozles– much less, passionately held self-deceptions,” (Sagan 1996, 228).  From this observation we see that misleading research is carried out in hopes that other researchers will not be quick to scrutinize their peers’ work.  Ultimately, individual motivation to either willfully or unintentionally deceive others in the scientific community is a result of a researcher’s desire for fame or a desire to persuade others to their line of thinking.

Pathological science seems so intertwined within the scientific community that it is no wonder that many pseudoscientific or blatantly fallacious theories abound for so long.  Cognitive biases such as escalating levels of commitment and confirmation bias contribute to the reason why science is not trusted by many.  The same individual prejudices that allow for improper research are also often times the best tool for a zealot of either side of an argument.  Arguments always sound more grounded with statistics, as numbers and figures from experimentation are generally accepted to be true.  As is the case of the Shroud, believers and skeptics were both quick to reach for the supposed omniscience of research, only to find out that the opposing side of the debate had reached a diametric conclusion with the same data.  Just as Michael Shermer argues in his article, it is the interpretation of data that allows people to make conclusions about reality.

The Shroud of Turin’s authenticity is still a heated topic among numerous niches of professionals.  The debate presented here among scientists is also argued among historians and scholars alike.  The paramount lesson learned is that mankind views reality as malleable; any fact is exorable with the proper argumentation.

Works Cited

Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic’s Dictionary: a Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003. 81. Print.

D’Arcis, Pierre. “Memorandum Report.” Letter to Pope Clement VII. 1389. MS. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France.

Drews, Robert. In Search of the Shroud of Turin: New Light on Its History and Origins. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1984. Print.

Hoare, Rodney. A Piece of Cloth: the Turin Shroud Investigated. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Aquarian, 1984. Print.

Matthew 27:59 (New International Version)

Newitt, C. “A Thermographic Study of Surface Cooling of Cadavers.” Journal of the Forensic Science Society 19.179 (1979): 179-81. Print.

Nickell, Joe. Relics of the Christ. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2007. Print.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House, 1996. 227-28. Print.

Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997. 46-47. Print.

Wilson, Ian. The Shroud of Turin: the Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? Garden City, N.Y.: Image, 1979. 85-90. Print.

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Lip Dub Battle Anyone?

To quote the Toyota Production System, Genchi Genbutsu = Go and see for yourself. I promise that you will not experience any “unintended acceleration.”

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Two Parties in the USA…and Bullshit

2009-12-07 2 comments

Song

I was getting rid of some old junk lest I wind up making an all too candid appearance on A&E’s Hoarder’s and I found a puzzle piece to one of my lingering ‘big picture questions.’ It was the exact page of notes from my 2001 Summer Session Political Science class at SBCC that had me thinking that I, at one time at least, knew the answer to the question.

Does that ever happen to anyone else? There is some concept to hogtie. You smoke out a source of information. You tailor the situation to your learning style, you light fancy city folk mood candles and you figure it out, dagnabbit! Well enough to make your peace, anyhow; to put that little noodle thumper out to pasture. And then some conversation or internal monologue comes up and demanding more details and all you can say is, “aw-shucks, I’m stumped! I bes’ be hittin’ me dat der drawin’ board ag’in paw.”

Here is a carbon copy of my notes, they were branded on some live cattle:

Why “only” two parties in America?

  1. Historical Reason – Basically it’s been that way for 200 years.
  2. Sociological Reason – Basically the 2 party system has satisfied the needs of the dominant groups in American[…]
  3. Legal Reason – The laws we use encourage it
    1. Single Member District System (plurality system)
    2. PR Proportional Representation
    3. Psychological Reason – cooptation; to absorb the demands of another in order to gain or maintain power (appease, peace) or avoid a challenge (absorb)

Duverger Law: A SMDS will cause a 2 party system

SMDS = Plurality system, “winner=take-all” system, first past the post system

PR = occurs where parties are represented in gov’t in proportion to their vote getting ability.

Is this interesting to anyone else or have you already wrangled this one in? Also, “dew thank yew kud gimme change fer a corder?”

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Free Market-Neoclassical-Austrian-Classical Liberalism-Libertarian Economics

2009-11-15 4 comments

That’s a Mouthful; that’s what she said.

I believe that my understanding of Economics is a superior one just as you might believe that your atheistic view of the whole religion dilemma is a superior one. While a brief survey of car bumper stickers would seem to indicate that we have the higher ground in these debates intellectually, neither of us can be sure that we are in the right.

And that’s true. As you can never be sure that a God in the form of a Duck Billed Platypus with reindeer antlers is not tweaked out on mescaline embroidering a quilt made of papaya displaying the group Westside Connection dressed in wedding dresses doing charity work with Common at a Racist-Children’s Burn Hospital just beyond the Event Horizon that defines the observable universe, I likewise cannot be sure that hosts on major news network programs, newspaper article authors, talk radio hosts, and most people I encounter are really spouting off economic fallacies right and left.

The Discriminating Skeptical Type

Now to be sure, it is very hard, even for the discriminating skeptical type, to discern who has anything worthwhile to say especially when people arguing from all directions will use language like, “You have to look at it logically,” “the data is clear,” “when you look at the facts,” “it’s not rocket science,” “we can’t have another 4/8 years of ________,” “what I’m talking about is the principles on which our country was founded on,” “We’ve all seen what’s worked and what hasn’t and it’s time for a change.” The discriminating skeptical person can tell that these people, beyond being very impassioned, have put together a worldview that to them is very robust and fleshed out. It is so manifest and clear in their minds that they hardly feel that they should have to repeat it. (Nonetheless they do not seem to have any problem doing so ad nauseam.)

How then, is it that all the facts and all the “common sense” in the world seem to validate two or more mutually incompatible worldviews? The discriminating person might suspect that there are others out there like him. And that those other discriminating people, whichever ones they turn out to be, assumedly the ones with the relatively more accurate (or at least logically consistent) worldview, would eventually find time, to not only debunk what they see as erroneous trains of thought, but also to delve into the psychology of the impassioned yet erring people. The discriminating types, would hopefully be working on picking out and naming logical fallacies and trying understanding where they came from. Not necessarily yelling back at their intellectual rivals while hyperventilating but perhaps giving serious thought to how these other people might be influenced, that is, led to work out their logical fallacies.

As an Atheist and author of “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins talks about memes and cultural space when he investigates and tries to explain how notions of God are implanted in peoples’ minds, like fresh papaya embroidered into a quilt. Maybe there are people working on doing the same for fallacies in the economic realm…

Austrian Economics

“Is there an economics that doesn’t proclaim the virtues of mathematical virtuosity? Does that economics appreciate the ability of the entrepreneurial-competitive process to generate social order and cooperation? Does that economics therefore search for the causes to the present situation, not in animal spirits, but in the rules of the game that gave rise to perverse incentives? Unfortunately, [the referenced author of a New York Times article] never asks these questions, but the answer is in the affirmative: Austrian economics.” (Sanford Ikeda, “A Triple Whammy for Austrian Economics”)

The Austrian branch of economics motivates a lot of the libertarian political philosophy, though it has not been part of the mainstream since the middle of the 20th century. “However, recent disillusionment with mainstream economics (even from within the mainstream itself)[7] and the accurate predictions of some Austrian School economists regarding the 2007–2009 financial crisis, have recently led to renewed interest in the School’s theories.” (Wikipedia)  Below are probably the three most prominent organizations spouting libertarian, hence Austrian wisdom:

Give me Libertarianism or Give me Death

http://fee.org/ (As a rich philander-the-rapist I would definitely give this place a few million…maybe I could get “some of that internet money”)

www.cato.org/ (Often appearing on Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!)

http://reason.org/ (Drew Carey has a video podcast for Reason Magazine)

I am not going to get into defining, distinguishing, and coalescing all of the concepts, branches, ideologies, and/or philosophies in the title. All you have to know for now is that the amalgamation most commonly results in the classification as libertarian. (I should say that Neoclassical makes up a significant portion of mainstream economics, and while many Austrians might criticize it as being unrealistic in terms of defining “rational individuals” and its use of mathematical modeling, it has tools which are useful for understanding how things work and still motivates a lot of free market thinking). As you already know, in addition to the libertarians there are two huge camps in America, the democrats and republicans, and both include a large portion which will lay claim to the “logical superiority” of their opinions and the downright stupidity and inferior nature of their intellectual opposition. Hey that sounds a lot like our religious friends!

We’re all just Apelike Creatures

So getting back to the hypothetical that you have this stance called atheism. We know that the great majority of people in America disagree with you, not because they are bad people, it’s just that the evidence for the Platypus is too great to be ignored. Seriously though, we are all subject to the environment we grow up in, we learn whatever language our parents and friends speak. We inherit whatever accent. We adopt social customs. We have to make due, we have priorities you know; survive and replicate. You can see how both political and religious ideology are relevant here; we evolved in an environment in which we counted on fitting into a tribe for survival. A tribe with weird rituals and practices is better than being in a jungle on your lonesome. To an extent, we will pretty much say or do anything to fit in. Remember how every movie about high school touches on the anxiety caused by not being in the “in crowd” and therefore not being able to mate with the choice-ist replicators? (I’m sure that’s how the most romantic of you would have phrased it.)

2001_not_another_teen_movie_005

I am no exception, I doubt you are. We’ve all agreed with/to something out of social expedience rather than rational deduction at some point or another and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it, it’s human nature. “Sure, I like that band too,” “No way! I’m not friends with her,” “Yeah, one more tank of NOS, why the fuck not!?” As far as religious folk go, while proselytizers abound in some regions, many are happy to let their faith (maybe I should say their tribe) give them quiet strength because they genuinely believe that the positive hard working and benevolent traits they possess come from the gospel. Or maybe they are just being good tribe members and it just doesn’t better their survival and replication chances to fight that meme. Whatever the case, they shouldn’t harass you too much. These are the types that probably feel guilty for not going to church enough (just like all of us feel guilty for not eating healthier, working out more, studying harder, doing more chores), for not praying enough, for not virgin sacrificing enough because they believe that these are good and noble things to do according to the mantras of their tribe: “A virgin sacrifice a day keeps the dancing tribesmen at bay.

Bill and Larry

This prototypical religious person, while he or she might believe that his or her essence is perfused with Jesus-y goodness, he or she won’t necessarily take every opportunity to push it on other people. Granted, many will, but a topical discussion on current events doesn’t get very far that way:

“Morning Bill! How’s it going?”

“Hey Larry! You know, same old story [somewhat haggardly]. Another Monday, so of course I’m fighting fires and getting hassled by corporate!”

“Ooh, yeah, ooouuuuch, know what that’s like…Well on the plus side at least we have jobs in this down economy. You know [voice gets soft and distant] I find that even in these tougher times, having faith can give us the perseverance to ride through the storm, and [grinning goofily] more often than not there’s a glorious sun on the other side.

“Right…yeah, well, okay Larry, you know…like I said, busy day, so…”

“Take care Bill.”

“Yep, see ya” [scurries down the hall]

Now even if Bill wasn’t creeped out and was of the mind to agree with Larry (and that contrived scene was less Family Guy-ish) the farthest that conversation probably would have gone is that they exchange some vague positive generalizations about how they really, truly are fortunate to have God in their lives, talk about the upcoming church (of course I’m picking on Christians) events and be on their way. Let’s see how that could have panned out had our buddies from work been on the same “end” of the “political spectrum:”

“…Well on the plus side at least we have jobs in this down economy. Of course [hushed tone], if it wasn’t for those bleeding heart liberal democrats/ greedy fat cat republicans we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Tell me about it! More like demo-lition-crats. As in demolish the country!/ more like re-stupid-cans. As in, uh… stupid! RIGHT?! AM I RIGHT?! [fervently shaking head and showing a lot of teeth] HIGH FIVE! FUCK YEAH!!” [Giving each other hand jobs until chaffing is prohibitive]

My point is that while religious people won’t spend all their time debating, the “politically minded” will. (By the way, does anybody else notice how awkward people get when they slip into Jesus mode all of a sudden?) I suspect the fact that topics such as government, economics, and the actions of political leaders are more grounded in reality than “Sweet Zombie Jesus!” gives them more to talk about.

Popular Radio Hosts

Let’s take radio hosts, their job is to find things to talk about, the really successful seem to have a few things in common including that they are highly intelligent and that they did not go very far in formal education. Arguably, these characteristics make them at once highly interesting and highly relatable to broad audiences. The funny thing is, regardless of how little formal university training, how free from the brainwashing by Biology departments in the form of indoctrinations to evolutionary history, the demagoguery of Physics departments and their notions of the origins of the universe, these highly successful men (they are usually men too) often come to the same conclusion that the majority in [scientific] academia do:

By the by, if you are trying to poke holes in these examples which are used, more than anything else, to add color to, than to supply evidence for this view, let me say this:

  1. It should already be understood that citing a prominent person with your opinion is not a valid way to make a fundamentally scientific claim, asshole.
  2. Keep in mind these guys were respectively the morning and afternoon commute for the most competitive market in America until the station changed its format.
  3. You get pitted, so pitted!

I’ll show you dispassionate!!!

Just as atheists such as Adam and Tom must routinely rebut the charge that they are cold and emotionless, libertarians are invariably accused of being phlegmatic by nature. So are librarians. I contend that those we consider to be feeling people, people having emotions, should include those having the judgment to gauge whether those emotions are serving them well for their current purposes. The person who can feel, but at the same time caution their feelings with an even head, is someone I see as virtuous not callous.

Now I know this all sounds as basic as the kindergarten aphorisms “count to 10,” “breathe,” “use your words,” and “stop having sex with your teacher 30 years your senior” but it is important to reiterate because all of these human emotions leave the playgrounds with us and we don’t get that much better at controlling them. It is frequently because one does not act hysterically, not in spite of the fact, that he or she is able to show compassion towards his or her fellow man or woman. We don’t over-parent and let kids learn from their mistakes, we tell our employees we are optimistic about 4th quarter job growth, and we show poise when our soccer team is down 3-1 in the second half because we are looking out for them.

Here’s another example that we all can relate to, let’s imagine talking to an extremely attractive member of the opposite sex. If you are an aspiring young lady in an enchanted conversation with an established dream boat that is well dressed (yes, including his shoes), has an unusual air of confidence and a glint in his eye, it might be a good idea, despite what you feel, to hold back the crazy and refrain from asking him what he is doing each and every day for the next 4 and 1/2 months. If you are a man, smitten at the sight of, let’s say, a nubile freak, it would perhaps be wise, despite your emotional state, not to glaze over and telegraph the fact that you would gladly give your right nut to spray your left one on her. “All this talk about abortions is making me super wet.”

So being an atheist yourself, hypothetically at least, you know that being accused of having no emotions makes you very sad… and when that happens, you might turn to that libertarian guy you know, because you are starting to suspect that you might have some common ground. As your conversation moves away from the unfair attacks you are both victims of, you start to realize that you may have even more in common. In fact, the foundational “truths” that motivates each of these two views, atheism and libertarianism, is dependent on almost the same thought process, a similar “function” of the human brain. The acumen that affords you an understanding of evolution also bestows this new friend of yours with an understanding of free market economics. If you have not already come to that realization on your own, or reading this just now does not give you an awe-stricken Neo-Whoa-Moment, then “for the love of all that is good and [logical],” think about this more.

whoa-neo

Whoa

They are both mechanisms. They are both selection processes. They involve bazillions of interactions amongst self interested players. “Survival of the fittest.” More advanced things result. Entropy, that is randomness, seems to be decreasing.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”               -Charles Darwin

Because the two phenomena are so conceptually similar, if someone tells me that A makes sense to them but B does not, I am immediately skeptical of their understanding of A. The real kicker is that most people seem to do just that, to “get” one and not the other. The inhabitants of each end of the traditional (and retarded) political spectrum (I am saying that the spectrum itself is asinine, not the people who populate it), [Neo]liberals and conservatives will often claim, respectively, that A is barefaced but B “doesn’t work” and contradictorily that B is self-explanatory but A is absurd. Here is an example of someone attesting to that fact, “The protests of libertarians notwithstanding, social conservatism (i.e. evolution does not make sense) and economic conservatism (i.e. free market economics makes sense) tend to go together” (“Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?”). What was that? A concession to libertarians? Maybe we were on to something with them…

Powerful Podcasts

I had already received a minor in Economics from UCSD but for the better part of a year I listened to the audio lectures from the Foundation for Economic Education at fee.org religiously. Here I compile a short list of podcasts that I found to be very interesting. If you ever store up an hour or so of intellectual curiosity and an ear libre I recommend giving one of these a listen (No economics coursework required!):

Liberty and Power (If this thought experiment doesn’t trip you out of your skull I don’t know what will)

Separating School and State (For the love of science! Why does the DMV run education?)

The Myth of the Robber Barons (Hey, that’s not how they said it went down!)

The Myth of the Rational Voter (Kinda depressing.)

Privatizing Roads and Oceans (If you live in Southern California and you think the road system works, put your address in the comments section and I’ll come over and face fuck you right now.)

Public Choice (Former engineer tries to understand how incentives work in the public sector.)

What does this all mean for you?

I’m not advocating that everyone who checks out this post hits the streets,  pickets, parades, writes his or her congressman or gives Matt Damon a donation. Don’t run out of the house naked like Archimedes yelling “Eureka! I’ve figured it out,” and say that you know the true path our country should be taking. Why? Because doing those things will most likely not benefit you directly (unless it gets Matt Damon off your back) or indirectly for that matter, and as an arbiter of useful information it is not my goal to make you my plaything, my marionette on a string to go out there and do my bidding and make me feel important. But if you really want to, make sure you wear assless chaps and reindeer antlers.

It’s not that I don’t have any sense of the “common good,” I just wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously if I was claiming to give you, you hypothetical atheist you, legitimate advice that resulted in you spinning your tires and getting nothing in return. Taking the kind of action that your excitatory liberal arts professors advocate (canvassing, boycotting, striking, sit-inning) probably won’t better your situation, I mean it may if you get an intrinsic benefit from spreading awareness which is fine too, but otherwise that action isn’t rational. When the perceived cost to you is higher than the perceived benefit, that action is not rational. Smart people tend to act rationally and that’s the problem, libertarians are too smart. It is said that herding libertarians is like herding cats (I myself am not registered libertarian; I don’t like to be categorized), and it’s not that they aren’t trying.

So have you gone through all this only to realize it was a futile waste of time? Maybe I’ve been preaching to the choir, eh hem… lecturing to the TAs.  Alternatively, you may be glad to be violently slapped awake out of your coma only to realize that you looked stupid lying there without anything intelligent to say. Maybe a lot of this has made sense but you are too attached to your “tribe” and will therefore gladly shut it all out and develop cognitive dissonance if it means Stewart and Colbert continue to make you feel as though you’ve got it “right” (that’s right, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert).

I want the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

If you are in that last category, let me pose a few questions:

  • If communism does not work for an entire economy (see Soviet Union) why would it work for part of the economy? -Jaybe
  • Why does hearing the phrase “trickle down” (and associating it with Ronald Reagan) make you feel like you understand a branch of economic theory?
  • Is it possible that I have made solid analogies relating two large social topics and the psychology that underlies them? This is to say:
    • Between religion and political philosophy.
    • Between the origins of life and the nature of the market.
    • Between evolution and economics.
    • The charged emotions behind them.
    • The intuition that propels them.
    • How our evolutionary history has shaped our thinking.
  • Has the fact that you are in the majority emboldened you to think that you are definitely “right?”
  • Do you base your opinions off those of your parents, your peers, your professors without doing all the work that forming an opinion entails because a) their values most resembled your own, b) they had the best presentation, or c) they just happened to get to you first?
  • Do you have the humility to reassess?
  • Do you actually care if you know what you’re talking about or do you just like to have a “side?”

A dream that you were so sure was real

To be brutally honest, if you are in that latter category to which I was posing questions, I hold no notion of being able to pull you out of your “delusion.” I am instead going after the “agnostics” of the economic/ political realm. Those of you who never really bought what their peers would say though they may have ran with it out of expedience. The ones always dumbfounded that their high school classmates were so harshly opinionated and sure of how right they were (even in high school!). Essentially, I’m going after those of you who have that subtle feeling that they’re in a dream they can’t wake up from.

Neo: I can’t go back, can I?

Morpheus: No. But if you could… would you really want to?

Morpheus: I feel I owe you an apology. We have a rule. We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous. The mind has trouble letting go. I’ve seen it before and I’m sorry. I did what I did because… I had to.

Platypus be with you.

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