We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The very concept of ​​progress—of the continual betterment of the human condition through the application of science and the spread of freedom—was a product of the European Enlightenment, as Kishore Mahbubani reminds us. These thinkers were among the first to advance the idea that humanity’s problems are soluble, and that we are not condemned to misery and misfortune. The spectacular progress that ensued, first for the West and then increasingly also for the rest, was a matter not of historical necessity, but of diligent human effort and struggle. Pessimism is not just factually wrong, it is also harmful because it undermines our confidence in our ability to bring about further progress. The best argument that progress is possible is that it has been achieved in the past.

Maarten Boudry

48 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Flubber

    I’m not pessimistic that we cant solve today’s problems.

    I’m pessimistic because our establishment misidentify the problems, and with their globalist open borders philosophy are intent on giving us many many more problems with really tough solutions.

  • Colin - Sima

    I agree with the quote. Much as I admire the Imperial Chinese civilization, they did not believe in progress. Even though they had seen it, or knew about it from their detailed histories, they seemed to have regarded invention as a fluke, unpredictable, and fairly unimportant to the grand drama of governance, Strange but then, not strange, as no civilization believed in progress until Europe in the late 1600s.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’m pessimistic because our establishment misidentify the problems, and with their globalist open borders philosophy are intent on giving us many many more problems with really tough solutions.”

    Yes, we’ve never really gotten rid of the protectionist impulse, or understood the role of free markets in that global progress. Protectionists love stability, fear change, and want to wall out all competition and difference.

    If there’s reason for pessimism, it’s not because we won’t be able to figure out solutions to our remaining problems using science and freedom – it’s that the Luddites will ban, block, and sabotage the solutions.

  • I think the quote reverses cause and effect. Freedom (mild government) came first. It did not come from some general idea that society could progress. It did not wholly come from individuals’ ideas that they could progress. Some of it came from people voting with their feet against being overtaxed but a lot of it came from people who “suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the wrong end” (as Swift put it).

    After many individuals had persuaded a fractious England, next to a Europe of many divided states, that it might be better to go easy on the “cuius regio eius religio” business, and not get overeager on taxing, the consequences were noticed and people started to evolve thories about it.

  • pete

    It is good not to be pessimistic but it is foolish to be too optimistic.

    Most harmful modern day optimism stems from a belief that human nature can progress just like technology if we apply science and reason.

  • Deep Lurker

    If human nature progresses at all, it does so very slowly. Culture, OTOH can progress much like technology. Which implies the heresies that some cultures are better than others and that some cultural changes might be regressions rather than progressions.

    There’s also the great damage done by the idea that progress (whether technological or cultural) is too important to be left in the hands of private individuals, but instead must be put under the control of Government Almighty.

  • CaptDMO

    I look forward to the freedom allowed to me from technology and freedom.
    Siri, make an AK 47 with high capacity magazine, white phosphorous rounds, bipod, silencer, bayonette, laser sight on the 3-D printer/ “replicator”.
    Siri, search for, and replace with (My EX), ALL electronic footprints for this.
    Siri, track and doxx the following individuals to their local SWAT departments.
    Siri, generate false texts and photos of my ex, and submit them to NAMBLA.
    Siri, find anything about my ex at NAMBLA and submit it to his employer, PTA, Neighborhood Association, and licensing Bureau.

  • CaptDMO

    Aaaaaaaah…thanks to the washer and drier, dish washer, roomba, microwave, daycare, retirement community for mom, and robot love doll, I FINALLY have TIME for my full time job to pay for the rest of my outstanding “student” loan, and look up the synopsis of the books I’ve bought for my “reader”!
    Oh wait. pay THAT with cash advances on my credit cards, and claim bankruptcy on THOSE instead!
    Because…WIC!
    Technology, and freedom! CULTURE!!!!!

  • Bilwick

    And yet some African American “scholar” (I forget the name) warned his fellow AAs that it was vital they move to some part of the world untouched by the values of the Enlightenment. You know, because freedom and reason are tools of the White Man to oppress the Brothers and Siaters.

  • Itellyounothing

    Protectionism by merely mortals is balanced out by protectionism in other merely mortals.

    Protectionism by the class that insists its awesome at government, expands government into every part of life, but is really rubbish and blocking progress across the board is a very different more dangerous thing.

    Thatcher needed to end the miners and wildcat strikes.

    Somebody, Farage, Bojo, anybody needs to stop Eton, Oxbridge self-serving achieve-nothings (the “Elite”) from blocking human progress.

    Humans can innovate round every but awful energetic well funded government…..

  • Edward Spalton

    Before the reality of ever-expanding, ever more intrusive government, “lliberalism “ has become dictatorial managerialism. The whole idea of Progress always was a bit of a con. For much of my life, it was usually sufficient to accuse opponents of this managerialism of “ Standing in the way of progress” .

    The other great trick was to assert “ All progress means change. This is change. Therefore it is progress. Therefore it is good”. I have seen this trick done quite frequently- in various fields of endeavour . quite often in the Church of England as “progressive “ “ liberal” clerics rubbished traditional doctrines and liturgy preferred by their existing congregations in the usually vain hope of attracting new people.

    Various recent state doctrines, such a “hate crime” or “ protected characteristics” of favoured groups of people are clearly opposed to the principle of equality before the law – yet they are enforced as supposed aids to “equality”! These concepts are being extended in ever increasing detail – in practice giving ever wider discretionary powers to the official class to advance the interests of the groups they favour and to diminish those whom Hillary Clinton called “ a basket of deplorables”.

    We do have many physical improvements to our lives for which to be thankful and many more toys to play with but the infinite human capacity for mucking things up, which traditional doctrine called Original Sin, has not gone away. The doctrine of Progress which G K Chesterton dubbed “Welllsianity” has not succeeded in abolishing it – although it pretends to have done so.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Edward Spalton
    The whole idea of Progress always was a bit of a con.

    Last night I watched the original terminator movie with my kids. Seeing how people lived in the 1980s just reminded me how dramatically better off we are just a short time later. To suggest that progress is a con just doesn’t square with the facts.

    quite often in the Church of England as “progressive “ “ liberal” clerics rubbished traditional doctrines and liturgy preferred by their existing congregations in the usually vain hope of attracting new people.

    But don’t you think there is a desperate need for the church to update Christian doctrine to be more in line with modern morality, or do you think that somehow Christian morality defines morality? Christian morality defended slavery for a thousand years (and not unjustifiably so since the Bible is hardly a condemner of the practice) or the oppression of women, or the persecution of homosexuals? If the Church of England has any hope of surviving it had better be updating its doctrines, even in a kind of weasily way to keep up with what is acceptable in the evolved principles of modern morality. It has, for example, managed to move past slavery, unequal treatment of women, the execution of homosexuals and the idea of seven days of creation. So surely updating a few of its other out of touch ideas isn’t going to turn Westminster Abbey into a den of Satan?

    Various recent state doctrines, such a “hate crime” or “ protected characteristics” of favoured groups of people are clearly opposed to the principle of equality before the law

    I agree that some of the new ideas such as the suppression of freedom of speech and the damage done to the concept of private property is not at all good. But you are ignoring all the things that have become better. Black people don’t have to suffer discrimination, and if they do their complaint is taken seriously, women don’t have to suffer through an obstacle course of grab ass to be successful at work. Men are not, at the whim of government, expected to leave their jobs pick up a rifle and head overseas to act as cannon fodder, lions wasted by the foolish donkeys. Homosexual Computer Scientists’ lives are not cut short because of stupid interventions into their private bedroom activities by the state.

    Of course governments are more intrusive and more oppressive in many ways, it is what they do, it is in their nature. But it is definitely a pros and cons thing. And I might add that the pros are often facilitated by the growth of “physical improvements” such as the Internet and cell phones, that you dismiss rather more lightly than I’d wish. I wonder if you would really like to live in the 1980s as opposed to today? (Even if we discount the additional risk of a homicidal, unstoppable cyborg attempting the kill all the Sarah Conners in the world.)

    And to be clear, the “Original Sin” was not “mucking things up” it was disrespecting the arbitrary and capricious command of our betters, our rulers. It was excess curiosity that crossed an unexplained line by “one who could not be questioned”. From that point of view, I rather admire and respect that particular sin.

  • Stonyground

    Isn’t this why “Cultural Appropriation” is so utterly ridiculous as an imaginary crime? If some aspect of a particular culture has enough merit that other cultures want to copy it, and as a result they do copy it, that surely makes the world a better place, at no expense to anyone. Why would anyone but an idiot lefty have a problem with this?

  • Stonyground

    See the previous Samizdata post about restructuring capitalism. Nothing can ever work so well that idiot socialists will stop thinking that they can make it work better.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Stonyground
    Isn’t this why “Cultural Appropriation” is so utterly ridiculous as an imaginary crime? If some aspect of a particular culture has enough merit that other cultures want to copy it, and as a result they do copy it, that surely makes the world a better place, at no expense to anyone. Why would anyone but an idiot lefty have a problem with this?

    Yes, it kind of reminds me of something else — patents. Where one person or group has a great idea which they put out there, and someone copies it to the benefit of everyone. But they want laws and restrictions so that the only benefit will accrue to the originator or those whom he decides may use it.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Dean Kishore (he was my Dean when I studied at the LKYSPP, even went to his house cos I placed on the honour roll) tends to be too optimistic about us East Asians inheriting the best of the West and Enlightenment values. And he still doesn’t get why Trump won.

    But even a half-baked authoritarian China which picked and chose what Western values it wants will probably do better than the multi-cultural jungles the West is fast descending into.

  • Stonyground

    I think that if you have a really good idea and work hard to develop it into something useful you deserve to reap some benefit from your endeavor. Cultural memes tend to grow organically and be less dependent upon one person’s, or group of people’s hard work.

    I trained as a diesel fitter in the late 1970’s and some engines used an air filter system that used an anular container and spinning the air around it to separate dust particles via centrifugal force. At no time did it occur to me that this principle could be applied to vacuum cleaners.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Stony,

    That’s a Yes.

  • Edward Spalton

    Fraser Orr,
    Sorry to be late in replying and very difficult to do it in a short space. Fortunately there is a serviceable Latin expression which sums this up “Lex orandi, Lex credendi” – in other words how you pray determines what you believe. I returned to the Church of England to find that the Lex Orandi had been utterly transformed. The Book of Common Prayer had been more or less banished. So the opening (for instance) of the Te Deum was no longer “We praise thee O God, We acknowledge thee to be the Lord” – but had become “You are God and we praise you” – a dumbed-down liturgy for a dumbed-down people- with dumbed down doctrine and morality to match. I won’t go into this in depth here but skip to matters EU, which are of general interest to other readers, I think.

    It was years later that I realised that this was certainly helpful to the process of absorption into the EU. The bishops and senior clergy were and are overwhelmingly Europhile although the rank and file Anglican laity were overwhelmingly pro Brext if opinion polls are to be believed. I wrote about this in a 1500 word article
    which appeared in “Freedom Today”. You can Google it at

    “Edward Spalton C of E Church of England or Church of Europe?” .

    On my computer it pops up next to an article by that good friend of British Independence, Professor Anthony Coughlan of the Irish National Platform, who deals with the EU subversion of other Churches in Europe.

    This is one aspect of a general undermining of Christian doctrine and morality under the guise of modernisation which has affected all Churches except (so far as I can judge) the Orthodox Churches.

  • Fraser Orr (June 30, 2019 at 11:06 pm), patents have lifetimes. I think the Chinese ‘patent’ on paper has long expired, as has the Indian ‘patent’ on the number zero. I have never seen the term ‘cultural appropriation’ used of a recent-enough-to-be-in-patent subject. So I think your analogy between ‘cultural appropriation’ and patents fails in its own terms.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I think that if you have a really good idea and work hard to develop it into something useful you deserve to reap some benefit from your endeavor.

    There is more than one way to do this, consider Linus Torvalds.

    There is also the case for Dyson, apart from their design, the actual product is very good and their customer service excellent (in my experience), these are often qualities people choose over competing systems, certainly there are industries where this matters even when there is no patent/copyright monopoly.

    .. it’s that the Luddites will ban, block, and sabotage the solutions

    Nowadays it is not the technological luddites that threaten progress, it is the political ones, recently the issue of climate change, in that even though liberal free market economies are already reducing carbon emissions and state run ones are not, the proponents of climate action are still pushing an outdated and discredited policy as a solution.

  • Fraser Orr

    Edward Spalton
    “We praise thee O God, We acknowledge thee to be the Lord” – but had become “You are God and we praise you” – a dumbed-down liturgy for a dumbed-down people

    I am curious why you think that is dumbed down. They mean practically the same thing, the only real difference being the use of archaic language in the first. It seems to me that what you are objecting to here is more the elimination of the kind of mystical, sanctified (in the sense of separate as opposed to holy) language. As to the book of common prayer — this book has as its origins a goal of separating the CoE from Rome in order to justified the outrageous behavior of King Henry VIII, dumping his, apparently not so fecund, bride. So hardly something to hold in especially high esteem.

    The idea seems to be that the mystical, the ceremonial, the symbolic elements of religion give people a sense that it is somehow separate and special. Which to me is simply a way of distracting from the substance, and disguising the fact that a rational person can’t sustain their rationality within the context of religion. It is indeed a very old idea. Even in the very early parts of the Christian religion there were extreme challenges from the mystery religions (even alluded to by Paul in various places with the use of the Greek word musterion, where he claims that his mystery is the correct one, Colossians 1:27 for example.) Religious societies (and for that matter secular societies) have continued to use these types of elements of secret phraseology, symbology and rituals to emphasize their tribal identity. The CoE is really no different in this respect. So perhaps your objection is to the reduction in these “barriers to entry” or “barriers to exit” from the tribe, or the secret language that makes it special. It is far from obvious to me though exactly how that is “dumbed down.”

    This is one aspect of a general undermining of Christian doctrine and morality under the guise of modernisation which has affected all Churches except (so far as I can judge) the Orthodox Churches.

    Like I said before, the problem here is that it is evident that the Church’s doctrine desperately needed to be “modernized” because some of the things it advocated or at least allowed were quite dreadful. Feel free, if you will, to be horrified at the guitar and drumset up front, or that the hymns are upbeat rather than funereal, but please tell me that you are as offended as I about the horrific treatment of homosexuals that was meted out in the not very far distant past. Or, for that matter, agree with me that the same King who commissioned the book of common prayer that you hold in such regard, was monstrous in his behavior when he burned heretics at the stake for such crimes as translating the Bible into English, or preaching a version of religion with which he disagreed. Surely the modernization away from such practices was a good thing?

  • Fraser Orr

    @Niall Kilmartin
    So I think your analogy between ‘cultural appropriation’ and patents fails in its own terms.

    Of course it wasn’t meant to be an exact match by any means, but I am reminded of some lovely young lady named Keziah Daum would wore a traditional Chinese dress to prom got alls sorts of people’s knickers in a twist, and surely you agree that the design of dresses is very much the subject of intellectual “property” claims.

    It is part of a broader concern — the concept that an idea, when revealed, somehow should remain in control of its originator, is very much the same thing, irrespective of the particulars of the law and custom surrounding it. I think it is a horrible idea in both cases. Not only is is an abuse of the idea of property but it is extremely retarding to progress, innovation and growth.

    But my comment was really meant more jocular than anything. I thought the comparison was interesting.

  • Stonyground

    I’m left wondering how a religion that is based on a book full of infantile fairy stories could be accused of dumbing down.

  • Stonyground

    Joking aside, I think that the law as it stands, that new inventions are protected for a finite amount of time, is fairly just. Water could get a little bit muddy if the guy who invented the air cleaner back in the seventies decided to sue Dyson for stealing his idea. His idea wasn’t worth that much until Dyson picked it up and ran with it, so how do you work out how much his input is worth? What if Dyson were to claim that he was unaware of the other guy’s work and came up with the idea independently?

  • neonsnake

    Isn’t this why “Cultural Appropriation” is so utterly ridiculous as an imaginary crime?

    It reminds me of the Christians who get so het up about Christmas being appropriated by the free-marketeers, and accuse them of appropriating it for commercial means.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Stonyground
    Joking aside, I think that the law as it stands, that new inventions are protected for a finite amount of time, is fairly just.

    For the record, I think patent law is profoundly unjust and I’d get rid of it completely if I could. Patents may encourage innovation but they also discourage innovation, and if such a gross imposition on people’s freedom is to be made (you can’t make something you designed and created) then there had better be a damn good reason. Things get invented when the precoursors of those inventions become available, so the innovation in nearly every patent is basically the natural development that anyone in the field would come up with. Someone just got lucky to be first, and have available to them the large amount of capital necessary to pay lawyers to write arcane legal blather than constitutes most patent applications. Patent applications are legal documents not technical ones (ask me how I know.) Patents are tools of massive corporations with gigantic legal departments, they are not there to protect crazy uncle Joe who created some widget in his backyard shed.

    However, we have had very long debates on this before, and I am usually in a small minority on it. So perhaps it is a bit too much of a tangent for now. Since I am already dissing religion, perhaps I should stay away from this equally controversial subject. (FWIW, libertarians are generally pretty split on the subject of patents, and I think most people here tend to be on the pro-patent side. The formidable bobby b, who, as a lawyer, has the advantage of knowing what the hell he is talking about, regularly kicks my butt on this issue.)

  • Paul Marks

    Progress is certainly possible – but so is decay.

    For example, to tell Americans that life is better than ever (as so many “positive minded” people do) creates, at best, laughter – as people see the shortening life expectancy and the decline of the family (and all other basic cultural institutions) all around them.

    Nor is this just a thing of the last few years. Overall, for example, the California of 70 years ago was a nicer place than California is now. True technology has improved – but society had declined. And it did NOT need to decline – as the late Andrew Breitbart pointed out, when the leftists arrived in California (just as well the leftists arrived in New York) they found the best life that humans had ever created – and for the average person. But the leftists were filled with hatred – and deliberately made a choice to do as much harm to that society as they could, telling themselves that they needed to destroy “capitalist” “bourgeois” society in order to create a better society (a better society that, supposedly, could only appear if civilisation was destroyed) – but really the left (those who took control of education, the schools and universities, and via the education system gained so much influence) were motivated by envy and hatred – and still are. There is no “better society” waiting to be born – there never was. Society is improved by working to make life better – NOT by working to destroy civilisation (society itself) claiming that a new society (a “new civilisation” as the Webbs put it) will then appear by magic.

    I tend to be too negative – and the “Uplift” crowd tend to be Bullshitters.

    The task is to find a mid point of wisdom between the suicidal despair of someone like me, and the bullshit of the “uplift” crowd.

    The left CAN BE DEFEATED (something I tend to forget) – but only if one sees what horrible damage to Western Civilisation they have inflicted (stop pretending that things are getting better when they are clearly being MADE to get worse), and dedicates one’s life to rolling back the crimes of the “anti bourgeois” types.

  • Fraser Orr

    BTW, on the subject of cultural appropriation … I am originally from Scotland, Glasgow in particular. I recently saw the most bizarre form of cultural appropriation:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7VDPoKzjlM

    An American playing “Scotland the Brave” on the great Highland bagpipes accompanied by an Irish band with Shamrocks emblazoned on their drums. I’d like to say that, as a native Scotsman, I was offended by this sacrilegious attack on my cultural heritage. But in fact I thought it was uber cool. FWIW, I’m not generally a fan of politicians or civil servants, but the more I learn of Bill Barr the more I like him.

  • I’m left wondering how a religion that is based on a book full of infantile fairy stories could be accused of dumbing down. (Stonyground, July 1, 2019 at 6:32 pm)

    One could accuse that way of describing it as dumbing down a rather large subject. 🙂

    On the other hand, one could accuse both of us of wandering off-topic. 🙂

    I was on-topic (or so I thought) when I wrote that

    Some of it came from people voting with their feet against being overtaxed but a lot of it came from people who “suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the wrong end” (as Swift put it).

    Swift’s way of characterising what many people were burned to death rather than deny can also justly be called dumbing down – but it is effective as satire precisely because it captures one element of the situation. It needed a lot of stubborn ‘unreasonable’ subjects to persuade stubborn unreasonable rulers that the state effectively could not – and so just maybe should not – decree what people could publicly believe.

    Not wanting to pay tax did much, but that is a fairly widespread attitude. If it happened in one place rather than another, factor in what else was making people ignore the common-sense ‘keep your head down’ advice that is also a fairly widespread attitude.

  • Paul Marks

    There is a Russian saying “first they smash your face in – then they say you were always ugly”.

    The young (and not so young) are being taught that the past was just “slavery”, “segregation” and so on – at this rate old films (such as “Easter Parade”) and even old photographs and postcards will be banned, for they offer an alternative view of what life was like.

    The effort to SMEAR the past is not really about making people happy in the present (people are not that stupid – they can see that society is in horrible trouble now), it is about DENYING-THAT-THERE-WAS-ANOTHER-WAY – that society was not always the mess it is now.

    The left want people to hate the past (to sneer that “America was never great” in response to appeals to “make America great again”) NOT because they want to make people happy about the present (that is impossible anyway) – but in order to prepare people to tear down what is left of society and “clear the ground” (by reducing society to ashes and dried blood) for the magical “new society” that is supposed to arrive – but never has, and never will.

    And, contrary to Marxism, it is NOT about technology – technology does not produce Civil Society (it is the other way round).

    Inventing new technology is almost pointless under tyranny – the Emperor Tiberius had an inventor of break resistant glass EXECUTED (because the man’s invention would threaten established producers) and the Emperor Vespasian had the inventor of new building machinery sent away with the words “please allow me to feed my people” (the “public works” fallacy) ringing in his ears.

    But in a free society like 18th century Britain inventors such as Josiah Wedgwood could flourish and transform industry.

    And the story is older than the 18th century – in 1588 English ship cannons did not fire three times (or more) faster than Spanish ship cannons by magic, they were better because English technology was superior and it was superior because English society (although far from perfect) was RELATIVELY freer (more private property respecting) than Spanish society – just as Spanish technology was superior to that of the Ottoman Turks (even in the 16th century) because RELATIVELY Spanish society was not as state despotic as the Ottoman Empire. There were fewer printing presses in the entire Ottoman Empire than in the average Spanish city – and the warriors of the Ottomans still fought with bows and arrows.

    It is no accident that modern academics love the Ottoman Empire – they bleat about its “tolerance” but it is its STATE DESPOTISM that they love.

    Even in Ancient Times the spears and swords of the Greeks would go through the shields of the Persians as if the Persian shields were not there – but the spears and swords of the Persians would not go through the shields of the Greeks.

    This indicates technological superiority based upon a superior society (society NOT “race”) – for the society produced the technology (not the other way round). But do not try and say that in a modern school or university – or in the “mainstream” media.

    You will be labelled a “Nazi” and Joe Brand of the BBC will demand that you have battery acid thrown in your face.

  • Paul Marks

    Chinese history does NOT refute the above.

    Inventions in China tended to occur in “warring states” periods (periods when China was not “united”) or in the early period of a dynasty – before despotism had crushed private property rights.

    And I am not just talking about military inventions – I mean just about everything.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Niall Kilmartin
    It needed a lot of stubborn ‘unreasonable’ subjects to persuade stubborn unreasonable rulers that the state effectively could not – and so just maybe should not – decree what people could publicly believe.

    I think this is a pretty interesting line of thought here. I don’t think that people being willing to die for their belief is an indication of the truth of their belief, only of the sincerity and passion with which they hold it. After all, people have sacrificed themselves for all sorts of reasons, many contradictory. I don’t think the deaths of the believers in the Halle Bop comet somehow validated whatever crazy doctrines they had around it, and I don’t think that the willing drinkers of poisoned kool aid somehow validated the crazy ramblings of Jim Jones. People get stuck in a belief system, so committed that they have shut out all alternatives and are cornered into these tragic ends.

    However, the question of what moves the needle with governments is an interesting one. Governments do not willingly give up power, but I think that a lot of it comes from the drive of technology as a countering force to the inexorable tyranny governments produce. It is, for example, the printing press the brought about the enlightenment, which, ultimately, broke the power of the church. It is also the new mass communication media that have broken the power of the mainstream media and dramatically changed the political zeitgeist. And certainly big, spectacular, sacrificial events are, to use the modern word, viral.

    But social movements, the spread of memes through society, do change the social context that seems to force the rulers to adapt to the ruled in interesting ways. And, once again, spectacular events, being viral in nature, are particularly efficacious at making that happen. Throwing oneself to ones death in front of the King’s horse at Epsom Downs surely spread the cause of women’s suffrage rather more effectively than a whole lot of talking and sidewalk blocking protests. Perhaps these events are more catalytic to a growing trend, the boost that takes the meme to the next level. So much of our human reasoning systems are disconnected islands, driven by “sound” bites.

    Anyway, I think it is an interesting question. Thanks for asking it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul,

    Especially interesting point about “smearing the past.” I hadn’t thought to look at it that way.

    Good job on your entire comment (all 3 of it *g*).

  • Lee Moore

    The Boudry comment carried a distant echo of one a while back from Edward Conard, which was him answering a challenge about how we can reduce the economic risks that are inherent in capitalism, which obviously cause worry, doom, despondency, unemployment, financial crises etc.

    The gist of his answer was that we’re not taking nearly enough risks. Risks are indeed inherent in capitalism, and that’s a good thing. Because on average capitalistic risk taking pays off for society, even if individual risk takers may often fail. Consequently far from devising more government interventions to damp down risk taking, governments should be demolishing their existing obstacles to more risk taking.

  • bobby b

    “The gist of his answer was that we’re not taking nearly enough risks.”

    But the “why” is just as important, as he almost points out.

    Humanity has progressed from dying early and ugly after a short life of great pain and hunger, to a comfortable life free of basic deprivation. We’re there. We have arrived at a golden time for mankind.

    But nobody wants to be that last guy who dies in the final days of the war.

    And that’s what risk entails. Sure, society progresses through individual risk, but individuals sometimes lose everything. It was probably easier to risk everything when the tiger was likely to eat you tomorrow than it is today when you can otherwise expect decades more of comfort and ease.

    That’s why we worry in this safest of times about horrible crime, why we worry in this cleanest of times about horrible pollution, why we worry in this most free of times about fascism. We’re so close to the promised land that everything in our way is terrifying. And so, we fear risk like we’ve never feared it before.

  • Julie near Chicago

    A long,long time ago, Mildred Clingerman (the SF writer) wrote a very good short story called “Letters from Laura.”

    As long as we’re worrying about not being worry-free.

    Letters from Laura (ss) F&SF Oct 1954. Anthologies:

    A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Vol. 2, ed. Anthony Boucher, Doubleday 1959
    A Cupful of Space, Ballantine 1961
    Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Treasury, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Bonanza/Crown 1980
    Space Mail, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, Fawcett Crest 1980

  • Lee Moore

    Fair point bobby.

    People come in all shapes and sizes and there are plenty of folk who find risk very disturbing. And we do now live in a world where coasting through life without taking any serious risk is perfectly possble. But although material comfort can be assured with very little risk, there still remains the competition for positional goods – power, status, a top quality mate etc. Those may be minority pursuits, but it still requires some risk taking to achieve them, even if these days slaying dragons is not required.

    Some people either like taking risks, or at least are perfectly willing to take them if the pay off is good. Conard’s point was that the conventional, and to be fair superficially plausible, wisdom – that taking economic risks is a bad thing for society – is mistaken.

  • neonsnake

    how we can reduce the economic risks that are inherent in capitalism, which obviously cause worry, doom, despondency, unemployment, financial crises etc.

    Would it be fair to say that most of those risks would be mitigated if we had more but smaller companies, and that societal-level risks are more tied to big, big companies?

    Small companies, I would think, would limit the risks to themselves, their employees, maybe their own locale, but if a small company takes a risk and it doesn’t pay off, it feels to me that the risk to society would be much less than if, say, Microsoft did something that backfired in spectacular fashion.

    Does that seem a fair statement?

  • Paul Marks (July 1, 2019 at 10:07 pm), I echo Julie-near-Chicago (July 1, 2019 at 10:39 pm) in thinking your comment makes an important point. Somewhere in his history of the Ukraine famine, Conquest remarks (I quote from memory) that “It was not possible for the communists to make the collective farms more appealing, but it was possible for them to make the alternatives even less so.” As you say, it is a tactic with wider applications, mental as well as physical.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    Humanity has progressed from dying early and ugly after a short life of great pain and hunger, to a comfortable life free of basic deprivation. We’re there. We have arrived at a golden time for mankind.

    Are you sure, or are we just thinking in relative terms? Consider this: every day in our world about a quarter of a million people die. Everyone of them someone’s child. Many of them a mother or a father, brother or a sister. If we even exclude that gross tragedy of the death of a child, what about the death of an old person? He or she has spent 70 years building a life, a family, learning and growing, and then boom! A blood clot and they are all destroyed in an instant. A virus and a slow lingering death. Clogged up brain and they die tragically over years as their brain rots while their body soldiers on. The last years spent with a loved one destroyed by the evils of dementia, whose last moments with you are utterly vile.

    Life is definitely better than it was, but there is still plenty to fix.

    In a sense I think the opposite of what you say is true. The risk takers of old had to hazard everything on their crazy idea. Today, you go on shark tank, and the worst you risk is a bit of embarrassment, and the horrific consequence of having to go back and get a proper job and a poor credit score for a couple of years. Which is to say today you can take massively larger risks because the consequences of those risks is much smaller.

    For sure people grossly misjudge risks. The 350lbs guy who sits in McDonalds stuffing his face with burgers and fries, then smoking a cigarette while talking about how he won’t fly on a plane for fear of a Muslim blowing it up. We really aren’t evolved to handle the risks of today. The scary and unpredictable terrify us because it is more representative of the lion sneaking up in the grass to kill us, or for some reason, probably a curse from a witch, you suddenly get boils all over your body and die coughing up blood. Rather than the day to day degenerative risks that hardly ever got us before the lion, the witch (or the wardrobe). If you will allow me a particularly dark example, I have often used as an example that it is statistically irrefutable that the number of Jews who died from cancer was dramatically lower under the Nazi regime.

    But part of it also is that the nature of humans has always been that there is a very broad range of risk tolerance. Some people are always out on the crazy edge, and most people cluster around a much lower mean risk tolerance. It is encapsulated in one of my favorite George Bernard Shaw quotes:

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    There are really two survival strategies that DNA seems to employ. The one is a slow steady propagation, minimizing risks, but minimizing rewards. The tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. And then the run at the bleeding edge strategy. Throw it all out there, take all the risks. Sure some of those guys are going to die horribly, but some will succeed spectacularly, and use those massive rewards to compensate the losses. The hare, balls to the wall.

    I’d be curious to know if there is any evidence supporting the idea that risk taking is genetic.

  • bobby b

    “Are you sure, or are we just thinking in relative terms? Consider this: every day in our world about a quarter of a million people die. Everyone of them someone’s child. Many of them a mother or a father, brother or a sister. If we even exclude that gross tragedy of the death of a child, what about the death of an old person? He or she has spent 70 years building a life, a family, learning and growing, and then boom! A blood clot and they are all destroyed in an instant. A virus and a slow lingering death. Clogged up brain and they die tragically over years as their brain rots while their body soldiers on. The last years spent with a loved one destroyed by the evils of dementia, whose last moments with you are utterly vile.”

    Whoa. You’re in a mood.

    Sure, everybody dies. Once.

    But the average Joe used to die at 24. Now we last into our 70’s or 80’s.

    A 24-year-old is a risk-taker. A 70-year-old has experienced the joys and pleasures of life, and wants more. It’s the 70-year-old who’s going in for regular prostate checks, who buys umbrella insurance, who always uses a condom with strangers, etc. It’s the 70-year-old who values what life has to offer and wants to ensure that he stays in the game.

    And it’s the well-off 70-year-old who has more to lose compared to the poor 70-year-old. So, I think your first para sort of makes my case for me.

    And, I don’t know people who go on Shark Tank as their big bet on life. I know people who put up the land as collateral when they want to take a risk. I know people who quit decent jobs to take a flyer on a possibly better one – that’s risk. I know people who put their lives on hold to go back to school – that’s risk.

    And I think that people who have good lives – and especially people who have had good lives for a long time – are more risk-averse than the younger poorer ones, who have less to lose and less appreciation for what they do have to lose.

    We used to get eaten by the tiger at 15. Now we have blood clots in bed at 75. Yeah, we’re still just as dead, but the trip was way better.

  • Ron B Liebermann

    The word “Progress” is often misused. It doesn’t only mean an improvement in standards of living. It’s also supposed to mean an improvement in overall happiness. But governments don’t like to talk about happiness, because if people are unhappy, that means that the government needs to change. But the government doesn’t want to change. Instead, for a very high price, it will continue to give us horrible schools, a mismanaged economy, cultural chaos, and lots of propaganda.

  • Lee Moore

    There are really two survival strategies that DNA seems to employ. The one is a slow steady propagation, minimizing risks, but minimizing rewards. The tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. And then the run at the bleeding edge strategy. Throw it all out there, take all the risks. Sure some of those guys are going to die horribly, but some will succeed spectacularly, and use those massive rewards to compensate the losses. The hare, balls to the wall.

    I’d be curious to know if there is any evidence supporting the idea that risk taking is genetic.

    Of course. In species in which sex is determined genetically, like ours. It’s genes that build testosterone factories, and testosterone is associated with risk taking.

    https://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/science/biology/how-testosterone-affects-risk-taking-behaviour

    Polygamous mating requires risk taking by males. Who dares wins. Who dares not, nookies not. Humans are reasonably monogamous as mammals go, and have brains capable of quite plastic mating strategies. All the same, male risk taking often pays off, even if the risk you take is just asking for a date.

  • Lee Moore

    Which reminds me. Yesterday I was out for a stroll in the beautiful city of Brisbane, which is kneedeep in cyclepaths and footpaths. It was along one such that I was strolling – on the footpath naturally, for there are many signs directing walkers to stick to the footpath, and cyclists to stick to the cyclepath, which are divided merely by a line.

    I came upon a thirtysometing Mom, and her two daughters, maybe ten and eight, all behelmeted and each equipped with one of those little motorised foot scooters. They were stationary and Mom was struggling with a camera, intending to get a pic of her two behelmeted and bescootered little girls against the city skyline across the river.

    Her problem was that to get the best picture Mom would need to back a yard or two into the cycleway. She was plainly reluctant to do so, even though there was not a bicycle in sight. I walked past and as I did so I heard the smaller girl say “If Gabe was here, he’d be breaking all the rules.” I smiled to myself imagining an impish brother Gabe, who no doubt would have been breaking all the rules – the prohibition on stepping onto the cycle path not something to obey, but to challenge.

    Most amusing of all was the little girl’s tone of voice. It was plaintive, in that it was unthinkable that she, her sister or her Mom would break the rules, but at the same time, the thought that Gabe would be breaking the rules carried a note of admiration.

    Good on yer, Gabe.

  • bobby b

    Sadly, brave little Gabe perished last year crossing against the light . . .

    😥

  • Lee Moore

    Sadly, brave little Gabe perished last year crossing against the light . . .

    No doubt, but there are Gabes aplenty. Lose 25% of then before they get to fifteen, and there’s plenty left to impregnate more Kylies than you could shake a stick at. So to speak. And the Kylies will always go for the surviving Gabes ahead of all the Tristans who crossed the road meekly holding Mom’s hand when the lights were propitious.

  • Instead, for a very high price, it will continue to give us horrible schools, a mismanaged economy, cultural chaos, and lots of propaganda.

    Ron, I’d rather the state was not in the education business at all, didn’t try and ‘manage’ the economy, had no view whatsoever about culture and didn’t own any media channels 😉

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