Energy Production, Cryptocurrencies & Hidden Agendas

How many times have you read something like this, “Bitcoin uses as much electricity as Malaysia or Sweden or Denmark or Chile….”. What a bore. Have you ever wondered, however, why the comparison is to countries? Why don’t they ever tell you what would seem to be a more natural comparison which is how much “Bitcoin” spends on electricity?

The reason is that electricity is incredibly cheap so Bitcoin electricity expenditures priced in dollars don’t look very large. Bitcoin uses something like 100 terawatt hours (TWH) of electricity annually (depending on the price of Bitcoin) but a TWH costs less than $100 million (10 cents per KWH times 1000000000). Thus, Bitcoin spends say $10 billion on electricity annually. (In fact, it’s less than this since bitcoin miners can be located in places where electricity prices are especially cheap.)

$10 billion in spending isn’t a lot. It’s less than the world spends on toothpaste ($30b), much less than the US spends on cigarettes ($80b), and considerably less than the US Federal government spends in one day ($18.65 billion).”

Alex Tabarrok. “Bitcoin and Electricity.” Marginal Revolution. November 29, 2021

One argument, one that you see everywhere in popular media, is that cryptocurrencies use a lot of electricity, and it’s not a productive use of resources. Rarely, you’ll see apple-to-apple comparisons, such as this response to trying to make a comparison to the electricity use of the VISA network, which is a strange comparison considering all the payment terminals, ATMs, bank mainframes, and many other things are treated as externalities.

“While no one can argue that Bitcoin (and other altcoins) mining consumes a lot of electricity (in absolute numbers) given that you need to run a network of few hundreds or thousands of very powerful computers all the time, the right way to look at this problem is not about the total consumption but to compare how efficient is Bitcoin relative to the alternative traditional centralized systems that we are predominantly using today and that one day crypto might replace.

However, the only comparison that seems to always pop up everywhere is against VISA transaction costs which was included in the article that trigger the above tweet and in other articles as well. As expected, VISA looks way more efficient which adds to the rhetoric that Bitcoin is a very inefficient system and it is just a Ponzi scheme that is polluting the world. In my view, this comparison is flawed and it is not comparing apples to apples. Besides the fact that Bitcoin is not simply a piece of a payment network like VISA but a full currency system, VISA itself requires the banking system for its payment system to work so you need to actually include some of those costs there to make a meaningful comparison. So let’s look first at how VISA works…

…”According to the article that trigger this discussion, Bitcoin annual Twh consumption is 28.67 , so currently more than 3 times more efficient than a very conservative calculation of the cost of the global banking system. Of course you will argue that the banking systems does more than handling a currency which is true but the difference is large enough that I do not think is that relevant. Even if only 30% of banks electricity consumption was the comparable part to Bitcoin, that will still make Bitcoin more efficient.”

-Carlos Domingo, “The Bitcoin vs Visa Electricity Consumption Fallacy.Hackernoon. November 29, 2021

And, the simple fact is that it is very difficult to price in externalities to determine the real price of any energy production.

“All energy production has environmental and societal effects. But calculating them — and pricing energy accordingly — is no easy task.”

-Erica Gies, “The real cost of energy.” Nature. November 29, 2017.

And, this is true when assessing energy use as well. It’s difficult to measure the benefits of energy expenditure. What is the value of street lights relative to the energy and infrastructure required to have them on? This is true of practically everything. What is the true cost and benefit of international shipping and transportation? Of the cement poured for a playground? The establishment of a new church or temple? You could continue this line of questioning down any avenue you like, and the answer is it is impossible to make this kind of calculation beyond the costs and perceived benefits.

Enter cryptocurrencies. The problem with the arguments against cryptocurrencies is that they generally take this form.

1. If an activity provides no benefit and uses resources, it is a wasteful activity.
2. People should not do wasteful activities.
3. Mining Bitcoin provides no benefit and uses resources.
C. People should not mine Bitcoin.

This is the extreme argument. The less extreme argument makes some kind of comparison between the benefit relative to use of resources. But, as we know from the above it is difficult to take into consideration the externalities involved. On the face of it, the argument that mining cryptocurrencies have no benefit is belied by the fact that every day billions of dollars worth of transactions are conducted using cryptocurrencies. None of that has any value? How do we evaluate the benefit relative to resource use or other ways this energy might be used? But, we really cannot make that kind of comparison. What is the relative value of Bitcoin mining versus the amount of power used in casinos on an annual basis? Online gaming? How does one make those kinds of comparisons? Is it even right to make them?

The reality is people don’t even try to make that sophisticated of an argument. Instead, it is something simplistic like: Bitcoin uses as much electricity as a country, the implication is that people would otherwise use this electricity, or the electricity they do use would be less expensive.

We also don’t make these kinds of calculations for other activities. The reason there’s the difference hinges on a value judgment that the activity, same as the implicit argument above mentioning casinos implies they have no value. But, even casinos have plausible arguments supporting their value.

The interesting thing, for me, in looking at these arguments closely is ho political arguments. The reason that the environmental argument is used is because it can plug into concerns that people have about climate change, and short circuit a reasonable assessment of the claims being made.

Same is true of claims that cryptocurrencies are used only for crime. Criminals may be an innovator in the space, but it isn’t only good for crime, just as it is not true that VHS and internet streaming is only good for porn. Porn pioneered the technology, but it didn’t stop with porn. YouTube isn’t porn.

There’s also a deeper agenda. It’s a simple fact that the more money that makes its way into cryptocurrencies, the less money that will be available to buy stocks, bonds, U.S. Treasury instruments, and so forth. Less money in traditional financial vehicles means lower prices for them.

The Bitcoin “debate”, if we can call it that, really helped me to understand how much of our dialogue is shaped using concepts from our political orthodoxies. A claim like, Bitcoin mining hurts the environment, is an emotional appeal, not a reasoned argument. The anti-Bitcoin argument is above, and it is problematic both because it has benefits and it is difficult to assess the costs and benefits without engaging in motivated reasoning.

Another point worth making here is that it wasn’t until this year that cryptocurrencies emerged that created a marketplace of cryptocurrencies, where they will compete. Network efficiency and cost will be one dimension of this competition, and it will drive both electricity use down and provide for many more benefits. And, where something like Bitcoin’s energy-intensive proof-of-work algorithm is used, it will be because it provides a capability that isn’t available in other approaches that justifies the cost.

When all of that happens, what will be the new reasons people will be against cryptocurrencies? It’ll be the need for regulation, to provide customer guarantees, or something else. But, the one thing that I am certain of is that there will be other reasons, other agendas that these kinds of arguments will be serving to obscure. And, this is how everything is, there’s always another or series of issues hiding behind the one that’s used as justification.

Why Ergo?

Ergo is different from other blockchains. It is focused on providing a decentralized, open, permissionless, and secure platform for contractual money that is usable by ordinary people to pursue their common good over the long term. It is designed to be resilient in the face of different economic environments and competing interests, allows individuals to choose how much privacy is right for them, and offers economic opportunity to the people using the blockchain.

Ergo has the technical capability to provide a wide variety of services to the decentralized financial cryptocurrency ecosystem and to enjoy comparative advantages, whether that comes from oracle pools, logarithmic mining, profit sharing protocols or other innovations. However, while Ergo offers a lot of technical capability not available on other chains, the real value of Ergo is its focus on providing the tools for the financial success of ordinary people, like you and me.

Introduction

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology.”

–E.O. Wilson

We are witnessing the birth of a new era, one where well-established elements of computer science, such as cryptography and distributed systems, are combining with fields of finance and game theory to bring a new economic and social order. Who will reap the benefits of this new era?

Shifts of this kind tend to create new social classes. For example, the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of capitalism made being royalty and a feudal landlord less important.

With change, there is opportunity. But, frequently, the opportunity is limited.

What is new is that blockchains make it possible to facilitate transactions between businesses of any size, between people in any geographic location and that can work in any economic, social or political environment. Blockchains can unlock synergies and new ways of exchange and interacting.

Blockchains are a new method of accounting. Just as double entry accounting introduced a formal and methodological rigor to bookkeeping that transformed medieval businesses into capitalist enterprises, blockchains have the potential to upgrade our medieval institutions into something that serves the common interest more than elite interests by providing mechanisms for financial exchange, decision-making, arbitration, and so forth that was not possible before.

The Challenge

People don’t like change. Medieval institutions who serve entrenched corporate, state and other interests will want to limit the opportunities of blockchains to enrich themselves. Even with the best of intentions, it is a challenge to broaden access to opportunity. Everyone wants to help the hungry, but few people want to give up their lunch in order to do it.

So, the question is how do you grow the pie? Do you grow the pie by focusing on large economic actors, such as governments or businesses in the Fortune 500, who then, presumably, pass along portions of the pie in the form of more goods and services at less expensive prices? Or, do you grow the pie by focusing on the needs of ordinary people and creating new opportunities with this technology that didn’t exist before?

And while it is necessary for a blockchain to have multiple constituencies with different interests, such as miners, liquidity providers, developers, entrepreneurs, users and so forth, some groups are in opposition. If you are focused on cross-border payments for large businesses, it’s not the same as being focused on cross-border remittances of people without access to traditional financial services. The software for these two use cases will be very different. While it is possible the same blockchain can serve both groups, it’s going to serve one of them better.

When using, or investing, in a blockchain, one of the key questions is: Whose interests does the blockchain serve? Who is threatened by it? And how can it be attacked?

The Power of Ergo’s Proof of Work

Ergo’s proof of work provides a powerful example of seriously considering the problems that come from various attacks, whether they be 51% attacks via centralized pools or regulatory attacks on infrastructure, such as China’s displacement of blockchain miners.

Ergo addresses this issue by implementing an algorithm designed to be mined on commodity hardware by users of the blockchain. Right now, there are smart contract pools that allow people with a single GPU graphics card to mine Ergo and verify the blockchain in return for some cryptocurrency. And with Moore’s Law, this commodity hardware becomes more accessible over time, as graphic cards with the same capability become less expensive.

It provides more opportunity, for more people and results in a more secure blockchain. What’s not to like?

Capabilities & Environments

Almost every blockchain claims to value decentralization. But, if you need people with specialized hardware to maintain your consensus, then you are beholden to people with that specialized hardware, or to the governments that can ban them.

People talk about the number of transactions per second, the market capitalization, the price, the size and productivity of the applications on the chain. But, there is much that is not discussed.

For example, people rarely think about longer term issues, such as the fact that blockchains have lifecycles. Blockchains will have to operate during times when a significant portion of the local, regional and global environment is experiencing a pandemic, a war, or some other factor that threaten their ability to function. How prepared are they to meet that challenge?

It is not hard to imagine that various blockchain ecosystems becomes important to our daily lives, such as when there is a digital national currency, and a failure could lead to catastrophic outcomes, such as famine. How many people in the cryptocurrency space have given that possibility consideration? Your lambo is useless in an environment where you don’t have enough food to eat.

At this time, most blockchains are building their infrastructure. They aim to increase their market share and capability of their dApps. But, if you don’t have your eye on the potential problems that will manifest over time, you’ll make design decisions that will be difficult to fix later, e.g., Ethereum’s move toward Proof of Stake in an effort to resolve their problems with fees. And every design decision has positives and negatives.

Ergo’s Positives & Negatives

  • Financial capital: A fair launch means you don’t have a lot of money sitting around to fund development. There are ways this problem can be solved, such as establishing funds that people that are interested in certain kinds of development or a particular dApp could contribute to that would help make them a reality. This also has the advantage that it establishes that there is interest and perhaps even a market for the software being developed.
  • Human capital: There are many excellent developers already working on Ergo. With financial constraints, it isn’t possible to bring on as many developers as some other blockchains, but this fact also leaves more room for organic growth. If adoption were only about market share, then Ergo is at a disadvantage. However, there are many niches that Ergo’s technology can fill. Some niches may not have many options and developers will be enticed to the platform because it can solve problems other blockchains cannot.
  • Infrastructure: You need wallets, dApps, APIs and so forth. The software that faces the user of the chain needs a lot of work. However, the underlying chain technology is great, or has great potential, and the dApps and consumer facing technology will only improve from this point.
  • Open source: It’s important to recognize that open source does have drawbacks. Many open source projects are a labor of love that don’t have good incentives, which can negatively impact projects by making it difficult to keep developers, create schisms that undermine the project or lead to other problems . But, there is also real value in not having to reinvent the wheel when building an application. It’s easier to leverage an existing code base, modify, and iterate than it is to write code from scratch. However, open source requires evolution, which takes time and implies some tolerance for error.
  • Synergy: The ecosystem is young. But, there is evidence of clustering of services, such as the development of a profit sharing contact that can be used by any dApp, the building of cross-chain functionality, the launch of a variety of stablecoins, etc. These kind of interactions implies both competition and an attempt to accommodate a variety of use cases.

Conclusion

Who is using the blockchain? Without many dApps, it is primarily people investing in the chain and transferring Ergo to and from exchanges and wallets. So, Ergo is a promise. It’s an idea that blockchains can be a vehicle for the economic good of ordinary people. But, there needs to be a lot of development before Ergo can fully deliver on that promise. Investing in that promise before it is fulfilled will both help make it reality, and it has the potential, if the promise is fulfilled, to benefit those willing to make that investment.

Cryptocurrency Platform Cardano & Ada Coin

Disclosure: I own Ada. This is a condensed summary of what convinced me to start buying cryptocurrency, specifically Ada. I’m happy to share what I learned, but this is not investment advice. I don’t know you. I don’t know your situation. Cryptocurrencies are a speculative investment, and you could lose all your money. If that’s not something you can live with, then do something relatively safe, like invest in an index fund, a certificate of deposit at a major bank or U.S. Treasuries. Also, if you are making investment choices based solely on the suggestions of some random blog on WordPress, written by The Deity knows who, without engaging your own mind and taking responsibility for your own choices, then you deserve to lose all your money. Caveat emptor!

Cardano is an open source crypto platform that runs a decentralized public blockchain for the implementation of smart contracts. The native cryptocurrency, or coin, of Cardano is Ada. There are 45 billion Ada coins, something like 32 billion are in circulation at the moment. It is currently capable of 1,000 transactions per second, and with a future upgrade, it will be capable of millions, on the level of global payment systems like Visa.

As a point of comparison, Ethereum and Bitcoin are both less than 20 transactions per second. It is also able to complete these transactions at a fraction of the cost of Ethereum and Bitcoin. But, the killer app for the Cardano platform is the Plutus integrated development environment (IDE) for smart contracts, which allows for programmers to write and “run end-to-end tests on their program without leaving the integrated development environment or deploying their [Haskell] code.”

All of these features will be available as of August 2021. Right now, the Plutus IDE is being tested for the August 2021 deployment. Once the new upgrades launch in August, smart contracts, and the applications that use them, will be possible.

Cardano has a staking system that will allow holders of Ada coins to stake their coin in a pool that verifies the distributed ledger – a function that earns returns, a bit like interest or dividends. Further, it has the capability of hosting other coins or minting new ones, which will enable other chains to use their smart contract functionality.

Right before Cardano launches, Ethereum will launch Eth2, which will move Ethereum to a proof of stake model like Cardano’s and introduce many of the same features. However, it won’t have is the integrated development environment Plutus. Ethereum also uses Solidity and Vyper programming languages to program their smart contracts. The criticism section from the Solidity Wikipedia page basically says that Solidity is a hot mess. [Edit on December 30, 2021: Eth2 looks like it won’t be launched until at least summer of 2022.]

Compare Solidity to Cardona’s Haskell language, which is an industrial strength language used in cryptography algorithms, semiconducter design, and was used to formally verify an OS microkernel. As a functional language, it doesn’t have side effects. It has type-safe operators and type inference. Basically, it is powerful and has many features designed to cut down on bugs in the code.

Of course, Haskell has drawbacks. It’s hard to learn, and the universe of people that can code in it is relatively small to other programming languages. Depending on your use case, there are other problems as well. But, every choice implies trade-offs, and Haskell is a good language for the implementation of smart contracts.

If you wanted to implement smart contracts into your business workflows. The more money, the higher the stakes, the more likely you’ll be to want to make sure you are not going to have problems later. You’re going to choose the best option available among top tier chains, Cardano.

Ethereum will have more name recognition, as the second highest capitalized cryptocurrency. It’s smart programs will be easier to implement, and they’ll, more often than not, be good enough for a given purpose, probably one that isn’t mission critical.

The good news is that these two systems, and others that rise to the top market capitalization tier, will likely all work together and have different niches. To illustrate, Occum.fi announced a liquidity bridge between Ethereum and Cardano, designed to encourage fund transfer between the two systems, which suggests there could be a symbiotic relationship between them in the future.

Anyway, I think this is going to change the world. These are the two choices in smart contracts in top tier chains, at the moment. And, one has clear advantages.

The current price of Ada on Sunday night, April 11, 2021 was $1.28. You can buy Ada coin through Coinbase.com and most other cryptocurrency exchanges.

This is the video that sold me on Cardano, Plutus and Ada.

For a slightly longer discussion, see this recent Reddit thread.

Meritocracy, Intelligence & Education

“…we need to dismantle meritocracy.

DeBoer is skeptical of “equality of opportunity”. Even if you solve racism, sexism, poverty, and many other things that DeBoer repeatedly reminds us have not been solved, you’ll just get people succeeding or failing based on natural talent…

…One one level, the titular Cult Of Smart is just the belief that enough education can solve any problem. But more fundamentally it’s also the troubling belief that after we jettison unfair theories of superiority based on skin color, sex, and whatever else, we’re finally left with what really determines your value as a human being – how smart you are. DeBoer recalls hearing an immigrant mother proudly describe her older kid’s achievements in math, science, etc, “and then her younger son ran by, and she said, offhand, ‘This one, he is maybe not so smart.'” DeBoer was originally shocked to hear someone describe her own son that way, then realized that he wouldn’t have thought twice if she’d dismissed him as unathletic, or bad at music. Intelligence is considered such a basic measure of human worth that to dismiss someone as unintelligent seems like consigning them into the outer darkness. So DeBoer describes how early readers of his book were scandalized by the insistence on genetic differences in intelligence – isn’t this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly. 

-Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

There’s a lot going on in this review. I’d highlight that Fredrik’s DeBoer’s blog has an RSS feed, which you can add to your RSS reader. I’m looking forward to reading more of his commentary.

Open Question: Is education an unqualified good?

I recently had an online discussion with someone who, in broad strokes, seems to agree with the above position, i.e., if we only had enough education, we would solve much of society’s problems. I think this is a standard U.S. liberal stance, which positions educational attainment as the means for advancement into the middle class.

Education is the great lie of U.S. liberal politics. Lest you think I’m a conservative trying to own the libs, let me first talk about the great lie of U.S. conservative politics in order to draw parallels.

The great lie of U.S. conservative politics is that you can have a global war-fighting capability and small government. The U.S. conservative lie is easy to grasp. There’s obviously a tension between government size and the ability to fight any war, much less a capability that involves nearly a thousand foreign military bases and nearly a trillion dollars of military spending every year, more if we include the debt servicing for past wars.

But, how is education like war? Isn’t education an unqualified good? The similarity is that just as small government caps one’s ability to fight wars, there is a demand limit on education. Most education is vocational instruction. People go to school in order to get a credential that gives them a better chance of getting a job. The education is, in large part, a secondary effect to the real demand for better employment opportunities.

It’s also possible to juice this demand. For example, I know of one university, and I imagine it is a feature of most universities, where jobs that used to employ people straight out of high school now require a university degree. The university, by implementing this requirement, increases demand for its product. But, does being an administrative assistant in the university organization really require this level of training? Does one need a Bachelor’s degree in communication, business, English, etc. in order to answer the telephone, write a Word document or navigate an Excel spreadsheet? Aren’t these skills acquired in the high school curriculum these days (and if not, shouldn’t they be)?

And you can see this happening at a broader scale as university administration has become professionalized. Instead of professors running university business in addition to their teaching, professors teach and the university business has been outsourced to administrators.

And, it’s not just universities. The same phenomena is happening across industries. It’s true of every level of government. It’s true of most industries, but particularly those that are tied closely to government. Look through the top industries by GDP in the United States: healthcare, durable goods manufacturing, food & travel, retail, etc. Almost everywhere you look, advancement implies management.

So, people go to school to learn a vocation. You get in the door, and then, in order to advance, no matter what industry you are in, you need to get into management. Leaving us to wonder, what exactly is vocational education for? Further, how large is the real need for managers, as opposed to front-line workers?

If you think it through, it is obviously a con, no different in its contradictions than talking about small government and global war. Management, by definition, has to be small. So, no amount of education is going to improve the lot of people getting educated to qualify for those relatively few positions. The only way that education works is if there are paths of advancement that actually require an education and aren’t management.

For example, if Dragon Naturally Speaking has taken over all the transcriptionist jobs, if Level 5 artificial intelligence has taken over from the teamsters, if 3D printing technologies have reduced the number of people working at construction sites, if fast food can become a largely automated process, etc., what will become of those people doing those jobs?

The most likely outcome is that there will be a compression of people into low skill jobs, driving down wages for everyone. There will be some people that will move into positions of managing machines. Someone will have to check on the artificial intelligence drivers, to make sure the results are as intended and to intervene when it starts to become very Sorcerer’s apprentice. But, the net is less jobs for people and more jobs for machines.

And, this is where the education argument starts to look plausible. People can be trained and are needed to supervise and inspecting the work of machines. In some ways, we are already preparing for that world, where people in low skill jobs are treated as if they are machines. For example, see some of the discussion about the conditions in Amazon warehouses and how that is breathing new life into the labor movement.

But, in the end, there is limited demand for education. Most people go through the process of getting an education credential for the vocational dividends that pays. But, it is clear that the university model and the push for education doesn’t deliver on its promise. And, when people are sitting on a mountain of debt and cannot find work, are they going to sell the educational dream to their children?

Another detail worth consideration, did the COVID-19 pandemic finally show that the promise of MOOCs are not something that can be delivered using the university model and university price points? At the very least, the focus on education and how it is delivered needs to be completely rethought. And, as DeBoer points to a deeper problem, our society’s focus on intelligence and expanding it through education is a fundamentally flawed project, as bad as small government and global war-fighting.

Fascists in Need of a Punch

“Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

—Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “fascism,” accessed January 24, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism.

When I think of fascism, I think of uniforms and the threat of violence. Want to wear a Hawaiian shirt with tactical gear and carry a gun? Into wearing a white hood and burning a cross on someone’s yard you don’t like? You might be a fascist.

In the United States, there are fascist elements baked in. We have ideas that “America” is exceptional. After the Capitol riot of 2021, there was a great deal of talk about the Capitol building being “sacred”. Sacred can mean dedicated to a specific use. But, the more common use implies religion and a deity. What religion is the Capitol building dedicated to? The religion of America.

It is understood that America is white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. America might be a melting pot, but there’s no question what the dominate flavor should be, at least among the fascists.

Then, we have a system of government that has concentrated much of its power into the hands of the President, putting the “sacred” functions of government into the hands of one person. There are even ideas like the unitary executive theory that argue that the President has complete authority over executive functions.

Autocratic control by a dictatorial leader is a feature of the U.S. system. It only requires someone to use it that way with sufficient cooperation from the other branches of government to make it a reality. The 45th President demonstrates the point.

Once you have autocratic government, then severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of the opposition is not far behind. Who is the opposition? It can be some specific group: Jews, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, aborigines, Germans, Arabs, Igbo, etc. Or it can be a group fabricated whole cloth, a catch-all term indicating an ideology or an imaginary distinction: Jacobians, anarchists, socialists, communists, terrorists, or antifa.

Every age has its opposition to the status quo, whether it’s anarchists organizing for an eight hour work day; the American Taliban, pushing for the return of a white, Christian orthodoxy; American revolutionaries and/or reformers fighting George III, Lincoln or Jim Crow; etc. All are dangerous to the established order. Whether you think the danger is good or not depends on your values. However, fascist values, with an authoritarian leader and a strong state subordinating the individual or individual states, are also American values. The United States has had its fair share of cult of personality leaders, and in some ways, great man (or woman) narratives tie into the individualist streak of our culture.

Labeling opposition as socialists or neonazis is standard in every kind of politics. It is a time-honored way of reducing nuance and creating The Other that can serve as a catalyst for cohesive action. The target of these labels largely doesn’t matter. They just have to be The Other and someone that opposes, or could oppose, the political project. Fascists do have a unique advantage that such thinking is built into their philosophy of authoritarian control and a national culture.

At the level of the nation, there is little an individual can do. You can only hope in institutions and in good people.

However, the process described above also happens in microcosm at the interpersonal and local levels. Local chapters of Proud Boys, booj and other fascist groups precede the appearance of those ideas on a national stage.

Look for the uniforms. It could be as simple as a color, an article of clothing, etc. Of course, these are also signs of tribalism. The key questions are whether these groups use violence and how.

Neo-nazis may have bad ideas. But, you cannot kill ideas, even bad ones. You can kill and arrest people, however. Sometimes, this is necessary, out of a sense of self-defense of the body politic.

Targeting people raise the stakes on violence. Generally, non-violent resistance raises the moral stakes. It reaches good people by creating opportunities to engage their conscious. But, again, there are individuals that do not respond to this approach. Some people aren’t in touch with their goodness or their conscious. Some people only understand the language of social censure and/or violence.

Violence is a dangerous tool. It is often self-perpetuating. But, it sometimes cannot be avoided. Some fascists, the violent ones trying to dominate a local space who don’t heed non-violent resistance, simply need to be punched. You need to speak to people in languages that they can understand, whether they be moral, violent or other.

Trauma & Transformation

Psychologists like to talk about trauma. If you have experienced X, then it must have been a traumatic experience. But, this is a function of the lens with which they view the world.

Our experience of the world tends to form a lens of interpretation. An emergency room physician — who, by definition, sees emergencies in their community — will think emergencies are normal. It will shape they way they view the world.

The same is true of every line of work. If you are a police officer, you will have developed a heightened sense of whether a situation matches a pattern where people are likely to be breaking the law. If you are an insurance claims adjuster, you will have seen a lot more outlier events and might view certain activities as more risky than others, when they might not be.

The same phenomena applies to psychologists and psychiatrists. They have seen people in their worst psychological condition, and they know to what depths we can all sink. But, the selection bias is such that the people that don’t need their help might be viewed as damaged people that just don’t know that they need their help. But, how often, in most circumstances in life, do we need help and not know it? This situation is unusual, not commonplace.

The problem is that trauma is just one story. We have the ability to overlay onto our experience a whole host of manufactured fictions. And while trauma may have a time and a place, I’d argue that trauma as a primary narrative should be reserved for experiences and situations which truly require assistance from a professional. Most situations don’t.

One person’s apocalypse is another’s day-to-day. If you need help, by all means, get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting it from psychologists or most any other place, if it benefits you. However, I’d argue that we are all much more resilient than we know, that trauma below most thresholds is the means through which we trigger the adaptation response and become stronger – mentally, physically, etc. – in response to our environment. This is not a negative nor should the focus be on the trauma, but in the adaptive response to it.

Of course, there’s taking it to the level of Neitzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” If you have had a limb cut off, it is unlikely you will become “stronger” in any meaningful sense of the term. But, on the other side, painful experiences do help to build psychic muscles. Doesn’t it make more sense to view most negative experiences as positive forces driving our development over the narrative of trauma?

Why Do We Talk to One Another?

Open Question: Why do we talk to one another?

“…To varying degrees, there is an uncrossable chasm between you and everybody you care about.

There are two ways you can interpret this. One is the depressing route: to believe that your friends are not really your friends and that you don’t really know them. That you will never really know anybody at all. Or you can take the more optimistic route: it’s not that you know your friends less than you thought you did, it’s that you know strangers more. You don’t need to have an established relationship to help someone. Even transient moments have meaning.

This second route is the one my colleagues and I take every time we pick up the phone. Conversations on a phone helpline are different from normal conversations in two ways: we make few assumptions about the caller or their background, and our goal is for the caller to reach a better emotional state than when the conversation started.”

-Natalia Dashan, “Working on a suicide helpline changed how I talk to everyone.” Psyche.co. November 9, 2020.

I find this quote interesting. For me, conversations are about ideas. I talk to people because I want people to know something, or I want to know something. However, I generally view people’s emotional states as their own problem. Managing our emotions is, arguably, one of the defining features that separate human beings from animals.

On the other hand, I recognize that my view is certainly the minority, if not an outlier. Most people’s conversations is primarily emotional in nature, where they are talking about their feelings and want other people to talk about theirs.

My experience is shaped by my relationships with people with Cluster B personality disorders. I have many posts on this topic, e.g., A Narcissist’s Prayer, Hoodoos, Toxic People, Psychic Vampires, Sucking Black Holes, The Unhappy & The Unlucky, etc. The common tactic of people that manipulate others is to get them to talk about themselves, and then, they use this information to their advantage.

In my view, trying to manipulate someone else’s emotional state, even if you are doing so with their benefit in mind, is still manipulation. In certain circumstances, such as when you are working on a suicide help line, this may be appropriate behavior. People are calling in crisis are because they need help. You are there to help them. So, these kinds of interactions are kind of built in.

However, I’m not as comfortable thinking about helping the people in my life this way. This is the kind of behavior that underlies the paternalism that most parents engage in with their children, that what they are doing is for their own good. However, it is often “their own good” from our perspective and not theirs, which can often not be their good but our own. How is this different from the behavior of a Cluster B personality? I’m not sure it is different.

Yet, on the other hand, creating environments where people can grow and be supported emotionally is something most of us want. Individually, we can increase our vocabulary that helps us describe, understand and experience our feelings, using tools such as The Feeling Wheel or the guidebook, “Staying With Feelings“. But, maybe one piece I’ve been missing is that this kind of development ultimately has to be processed through our relationship with others.

The rub, and the thing that is very much not clear to me, is how do you make sure that what you are doing is about getting to a better emotional state for everyone rather than getting a better emotional state for ourselves or manipulating other people’s emotions for some other ends. I find this question difficult, one where I have thought it is best to let people deal with their own emotions and try not to be involved with it. But, I’m thinking, in this moment, that this is naive. Every conversation has an emotional component, and we cannot pretend that we don’t have, at least, some responsibility for the kind of emotional environment we are creating, both for ourselves and others.

I don’t have any answers here. However, I do think these are good questions worth much deeper exploration.

The Extraordinary Intruding on the Ordinary

The only thing differentiating the extraordinary from the ordinary is frequency, quantity and volume. If you were a Sherpa climbing Mt. Everest every day, helping tourists get their one minute at the pinnacle. What would the value of summiting Everest be to you?

I remember reading Bernard Moitessier’s “The Long Way”, where he describes being in a Round the World Race for single handed yachts. This was a man who was leading the race, had all the difficult sections behind him, and instead of coming back through the Atlantic Ocean to Europe to claim his prize, he kept circling the globe in his vessel.

What kind of person decides to enter a race to sail a yacht, by themselves, around the world to show that it can be done? What kind of person, in the middle of this race, decides that the race is less important than the journey of the race, and then continues on for the experience and abandons the race?

It’s an extraordinary moment. But, in that moment, he was living in the ordinary, the repetitive existence of sailing in the open sea. The extrapordinary intruding on the ordinary, and vice versa.

Reflect on this long enough, and the inevitable conclusion, at least it seems to me, is that there is no difference. That extraordinary moments are no different from ordinary ones, the difference is the story that we end up telling to ourselves.

Ultimately, we can decide which story to tell. If you want your life to be extraordinary, then change your story to an extraordinary one. Everyone wants to believe that they are unique. That they matter. And they only have to decide which story to tell that highlights that narrative.

But, perhaps, therein lies an extraordinary opportunity. To identify with the ordinary, to continue on as not the first person to accomplish some feat, but in the commonplace repetition that makes up the bulk of our lives and that truly defines our experience.

Is being an astronaut more extraordinary than being a sailor of the high seas? The answer depends on the perspective of the person judging, usually from within the context of the historical moment. Two hundred years from now, assuming humanity doesn’t destroy itself in the interim, there will be far fewer sailors than astronauts. And, the opposite, two hundred years ago, the idea of an astronaut was largely unthinkable. Does this shift change the experience? Is one truly less or more extraordinary than the other?

Apocalypse is the Suburb of Utopia

The land of the possible has many paths, and we can know only one. Everything’s stochastic and impermanent. Our lives are packed with luggage, the vast majority of which would be best left at the side of the road.

Utopia is a place with kind and reasonable people using coalition-building, science and determination to solve their problems. How many of us can hope to live there? Grass so much greener than where we live, day-to-day.

But, even utopia rests on the cliff-edge and can easily change into apocalypse. Change some of the underlying structure. Change some of the personnel. Change the culture. And apocalypse will come like a fell wind pushing you from safety to calamity.

Life is subtle, glacial shifts that happen as we migrate from the youthful land of promise to one defined by limits: physical, of our historical moment, or of imagination. No one escapes transformation nor comes out alive.

Our destiny, in part, is to confront what we fear. Alone, insane, destitute and defeated. The catastrophe we think is going to happen has already happened, in our heart-mind. Truth is secondary to stories and opinion, a half-truth of unengaged labels, objectification and prejudices. A lack of common sense and gullibility are the red flags of alienation. The stink of fear and cries on the unsympathetic ear. But, these are also the tools of our survival.

But, even among the horror, beauty. Holding faith with the sun in a sunless place. Seeking perfection in the flawed. Loving the broken. It is our stories, our half-truths and deluded fictions that redeem the world.

Forgive me, dear friends. I was neither as strong, capable, or honorable as I wished. A mixed dish, contrary flavors, but I can be no more than myself. Why should I think you would be any different, even though I desperately wished it? Maybe if I wished enough, I could make it so, with the strength of my belief, smaller than a mustard seed.

The Impossibility of Comparative Consequences

A calculus of comparative consequences is impossible. Every effort to develop one is a process of rationalizing bias.

Consequentialism assumes, based on experience or thought experiments, that it can assess the consequences of a particular act. This position implies that one act causes consequences. These consequences can be evaluated, reduced to some kind of common metric, and then compared to other actions and their consequence to determine which action is best.

At the most broad philosophical level, consequentialism raises the problem of causality and induction. The problem of causality is one can never be certain that one event causes another. The problem of induction comes up when one makes assertions about circumstances where one has no experience by assuming that they are similar to circumstances where one does have experience, e.g., actual events are similar to counter-factual ones.

Therein lies sufficient grounds to reject consequentialism. One can never be certain consequences were caused by a particular act. Further, even if one wanted to pretend that one can draw a line between an act and a consequence, there is no way to be certain one is accounting for all relevant consequences.

Suppose it is possible that one can draw a line between an act and a consequence and that all morally relevant consequences can be accounted for. Consequentialism also claims that it can compare among the many different possible outcomes and determine which is “best” according to some criteria.

This assumes two things. One, it assumes that not only can one account for all relevant consequences in circumstances that actually occurred, but one can also do so in evaluating the consequences of actions that were not taken. This is the problem of induction, where one assumes that some possible course of action would happen with consequences similar to what one has experienced in the past.

Consequentialists defend against the problem of induction by saying that consequentialism is not intended as a guide for decision making but as a standard for evaluating consequences after the fact. Yet, the standard still requires making comparative judgments about acts that did not happen, which is as impossible to know as knowing all consequences in advance before acting. Making this distinction does not help them.

Pretend for a moment that even if one’s sense of consequences is not perfect, it is enough to draw useful moral distinctions. Now, suppose one has a billion US dollars, and one decides to invest it developing a space elevator. Based on consequentialist moral standards, which out of the infinite number of ways or combination of ways one could have spent that money is best? For example, it could have been used to provide clean water and food to people starving or suffering from food insecurity, eliminate disease through vaccination programs, train physicians, etc. Ultimately, any assertion of which way is best is based on a value judgment that comes before the consequences. If one thinks eliminating suffering right now is more important, then one is going to think an action aimed at addressing the here and now, such as alleviating hunger, is preferable to a space elevator even if, in the long run, the space elevator may have better consequences.

Consider the Trolley problem, where a trolley is out of control and going to kill five people and you only have the option to throw a switch which will turn the trolley down a track to kill one person. What is the “best” outcome? Aside from moral questions about the responsibilities of the actor and committing harm, how does one value the lives in this and other hypothetical scenarios? If these five people being saved are a criminal gang, then it seems difficult to argue that saving them would result in the most happiness for everyone. Or, perhaps the person being sacrificed is a once in a generation talent of some kind and the other five bring less happiness than this gifted person on one’s consequential scale. On the other hand, perhaps the criminal gang will eventually turn into good people that bring better net consequences than the person that was sacrificed. The only thing that is certain is that all lives do not have equal consequences, and it is impossible to tell what they are if some of those consequences remain in the future, and every action of current moral import will have future implications.

So, what is consequentialism really doing when it says it is evaluating consequences, when in fact it cannot? It is cherry picking moral options and which consequences are relevant. If one dictates the premises, one can dictate the conclusion. It’s a system for rationalizing bias. At base, consequentialism is a morality market with only one buyer determining the value (consequences) of different products (actions). And, like any market, there are externalities that are not factored into the price that are borne by society at large or are simply ignored. It’s a terrible basis for a morality.