June 6, 2015
There is so much fear in the world. Fear itself isn’t a bad thing, as there are legitimate dangers in the world, but we live in too much fear. The problem with humans is we have a limited perspective, giving us limited knowledge. When you combine this with a powerful imagination, there’s no end to the number of imaginary threats we can conjure up.
Just the other day, a man from Georgia waltzes into an airport with a fully loaded AR-15 assault rifle hanging from his neck. You’d think this is going to be yet another mass shooting, but it wasn’t. He was just some guy dropping off his daughter.
Apparently the state of Georgia allows a person to acquire an open-carry permit, allowing this man to take his assault rifle with him everywhere he goes.
When airport security was cautious and approached him, asking him why he was carrying that assault rifle around, he became indignant. He told the police officers, over and over, that it’s his right to carry it with him everywhere he goes. To the bank, the grocery store, the barber shop, literally wherever he goes.
What sort of threats does this guy imagine? What sort of wild conspiracy theories are running through this man’s head? Does he think Al Qaeda terrorists are waiting to blow themselves up while he’s getting his prescription medications at Walgreens? Does he plan on sitting in the high school parking lot, waiting to stop the next lone school shooter? Is he going to personally patrol the borders and keep out the illegal immigrants? If an inner city drug addict robs a convenience store, does he plan to jump out of his car and unload on the poor guy for stealing $250? I don’t understand what he hopes to accomplish with an AR-15 assault rifle with a giant magazine of ammunition.
I’m very uncomfortable with untrained people carrying loaded weapons which could easily kill a crowd of people in less than a minute. We have war veterans suffering from PTSD, loons whose heads are filled with conspiracy theories, and hot heads all carrying powerful weapons around with them.
I’m uncomfortable being the grocery store, knowing the person behind me is packing a gun. I don’t know this person. I don’t know what they believe. I don’t know what sets them off. I don’t know their history. It’s very uncomfortable.
The only people I want carrying guns are trained professionals who have been informed as to how to handle criminal situations and have went through proper psychological screening. If a person wants a handgun at home for self-defense, and they keep it at home, I suppose I can get behind that. I don’t want them all over town.
June 2, 2015
Recently a French economist named Thomas Pikkety wrote a book called Capital In The Twenty-First Century. It’s been getting a lot of positive reviews. He tracks the overall dynamics that lead to vast accumulations of wealth and capital. After carefully analyzing datasets over twenty countries which span centuries, he concludes that absent major political change, a small handful of powerful families will end up owning and controlling everything.
It’s not difficult to understand how capitalism, without any wealth redistribution mechanisms, will almost inevitably lead to fewer and fewer hands controlling all of the society’s resources and wealth.
It comes down to this. Say you invest your money and are able to earn 5-7% interest each year. Also, assume the national economy only grows at 2%. Your wealth is growing faster than the economy, so slowly but surely you begin to own more and more of the economic pie.
Imagine a pie that is slowly growing at a rate of 2% each year. Next imagine a red splotch within that pie which grows at 5%. That red splotch (the rich) is growing faster than the pie. The only way it can grow at that rate is to take more and more of the pie from others.
Maybe it’d help if I actually worked out the numbers. Say we begin with 10,000 slices of economic pie. The rich own 2,000 (20%) slices of the pie, everyone else combined has 8,000 slices of pie (80%). Now due to everyone’s hard work, the pie grows 2%. So the new pie has 10,200 pieces. The rich’s share of the pie grew at 5%, so they now have 2,100 (2100/10200 = 20.59%) slices of pie. So everyone else has 8,100 (8100/10,200 = 79.41%) slices of pie.
As time goes on, these wealthy families simply pass on their wealth to their children, who do the same, and they become more and more wealthy simply because they were born with money. There has been a slow trend toward oligarchy.
Ok, so that’s a nice hypothetical theory, but what do real numbers and economic history show? Analysis of real world datasets support this idea, but there are complications to consider. Tax policies in countries change over time. Here in the United States for example, we had really high tax rates in the 1950s and 1960s, and capital growth was actually slower than economic growth. That was also the time we had the strongest middle class. At other times (such as now), tax rates on the rich have been very low and capital growth has exceeded economic growth.
Wars, uprisings, and rebellions complicate all of this as well. The World Wars led to a lot of destruction of wealth. Rental homes were blown to bits. Governments and their currencies collapsed. Farms and properties were taken over by invading enemy armies. All sorts of things happened. Uprisings and rebellions lead to expropriations, where the people take from the rich and redistribute it amongst themselves. We can’t forget inflation either. Wars are financed through borrowing and printing money, so that destroys capital for the rich, unless they’re the ones who lent the money to the government in the first place, or are supplying the war munitions. So it’s not quite so simple, but the overall idea stays the same.
Piketty argues that we fight this trend of inequality through progressive taxation, greater financial transparency, a global coordination of wealth taxation (no foreign tax havens), and a global registry of financial assets. This is obviously preferred over wars, uprisings, or printing lots of money to inflate away their wealth.
Some will argue that society needs some degree of inequality in order for growth to occur. I agree. I’m not an advocate for complete equality. However, this is a matter of degree. There are extremes in everything. Like most people, I feel we should strive for equality of opportunity, not necessarily equality of outcome. People shouldn’t be wealthy simply because they inherited their parents money. Though this is hard to do in practice, we should strive for a society where people are self-made and start off life on a relatively equal playing field. People need to be given every opportunity to get an education, job skills, and anything else required to be productive and active members of society.
Many will argue that a person’s income reflects their productive capacity. If you believe this, I recommend you read the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality. He clearly shows that the highest earners in today’s society are primarily “rent seekers”, and they’re very often involved in schemes which take advantage of the tax payer and bailouts. Our system has been increasingly shifting toward one where wealth and income are redistributed not from the top to the bottom, but from the bottom to the top.
Extreme inequality is a sort of cancer which infects our society at every level. Wealthy elite purchase laws and regulation which work in their favor. The entire system of justice is corrupted. Considering our upcoming presidential election here in the United States, we’re all hearing about the different candidates and which billionaires are backing their campaigns. The idea of democracy is one person, one vote. But today there is too much money in politics and we all know the system isn’t working for us, the common people.
May 29, 2015
Do you all want to hear something strange? For the past week I’ve been running eight miles every day and I’ve been completely exhausted, so exhausted that last night I slept for eleven hours and woke feeling tired. That’s how exhausted I’ve been. Apparently this can do strange things to your brain.
During last night’s eleven hour slumber, what do you think I dreamed about? I stood outside of my house throwing a basketball against the rock wall. I turned to my left and saw Russian President Vladimir Putin entering my yard, along with several KGB agents. He was shirtless, wearing camouflage military pants.
He asked me to pass him the ball. I tossed it behind my back, spun it on my finger, and then threw it to him. He did the same and before long we were like the Harlem globetrotters, passing the ball behind the back, off the rock wall, under our legs, and spinning the ball on our fingers.
Eventually I got too fancy for him and he couldn’t keep up. Not to be outdone, he threw the ball away and said, “I have another game.” The KGB agents brought out a pile of concrete cinder blocks. He picked up each block, one by one, effortlessly lifting and thrusting them forward with both hands toward my home’s rock wall, letting out a loud grunt each time. Each block exploded into large pieces which were landing all over the lawn like small mortars. Over and over he hurled these blocks at the wall, and they shattered into big concrete chunks, leaving behind huge gashes in my home’s walls.
I told him, “I can’t do that. They’re too heavy. That’d hurt my wrists and shoulders to throw them like that.” He just smirked and continued on.
Before long there were chunks of broken cinder blocks all over the yard. I had no idea what was happening but apparently they were preparing for our next little “game”. The agents spread out and started hurling these broken concrete cinder blocks at the Russian President from every direction. While spinning he would catch the fragments and redirect them toward me! He hurled one at me and then another, and then another. I tried to catch one block but couldn’t even come close to stopping it. I almost destroyed my hands and wrists in the process. Putin continued on, twirling them behind his back, over his shoulder, and around his head, like this was some strange sport I’m unfamiliar with. He would release each one by spinning his arms, slinging these chunks of concrete at me like a professional softball pitcher. I was jumping out of the way, barely able to dodge them, much less catch and redirect them back to him.
A trail of destruction was left in the wake. Flower gardens were decimated, small trees were being knocked over, car windows were busted out, and my lawn was a disaster.
After a short while all the trees were busted and fallen over, my home’s windows were shattered, and the place looked like a warzone.
President Putin then started walking off and all I could do was stare at him in amazement. As he walked by I extended my arm to shake his hand. He looked at me as if I was pitiful. I became very self-conscious. What kind of weakling was I? I couldn’t even return a single cinder block passed to me! Out of politeness he shook my swollen, cut up hand and then left with a crowd of agents who all looked upon me with contempt.
I woke up exhausted and thought, “What the heck was that?” I consider the possibility that for a brief moment, our spheres of consciousness met in the dream world and I was simply overwhelmed.
May 16, 2015
I have received emails from several readers concerning my post ‘The Dark Side Of Life’. Their responses have left me thinking that I should write a short post regarding my views on optimism and pessimism.
So what sorts of things tell whether a person is optimistic or pessimistic? Here are some areas to consider:
1. Predictions and potential for change
Does the person expect the best or the worst outcomes in future situations? Can bad things be changed or is the situation hopeless? Is the external world in control, or do they have the power to change events?
2. Focus of attention
What sorts of things does this person talk and think about? Is there a preoccupation with the negative, the positive? Does the person strike some sort of balance?
3. Attributions of intentions
When they deal with other people, how do they think of other people’s intentions? For example, if you’re in the office and someone snaps at you, do you think that person is just mean, or do you think they’re probably just having a bad day, giving them the benefit of the doubt?
Do you believe your self/others are useless? Do you believe your self/others are loveable and valuable?
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to all of this, but either extreme is dangerous. Excessive pessimism can lead to depression and inactivity. Excessive optimism can leave people unprepared, unsafe, and ill equipped for the future. The answer is to live somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to confidence, keep in mind that people are the most over-confident in areas where they’re the least competent. It takes competence to recognize competence. Our ignorance in what we don’t know sustains confidence in our own abilities.
A pessimist would more easily see that people generally think too highly of themselves. Most all women consider themselves strong, most men consider themselves good-looking, and everyone thinks their children are above-average. We tend to accept responsibility for good deeds and not for bad deeds. The same goes for success and failures. Studies show that we all think we’re more ethical than our average counterpart and that we’re all better at our jobs than the average peer. We all easily believe flattery and are easily impressed with psychologist tests which make us look good. We tend to think our groups (our school, our country, our race, our children, even our pets) are superior. In situations where people tend to behave less than admirably, we overestimate how desirably we would act. We over-estimate the commonality of our foibles and underestimate the commonality of our strengths. Also people with excessive self-esteem are more likely to become aggressive when confronted as compared to someone with low self-esteem. Conceited, self-important individuals turn nasty toward those who puncture their bubbles of self-love.
As for judging other people’s intentions, always keep the situation in mind. Even good people can become nasty if put in a bad enough situation. We live in an overly individualistic culture which under-emphasizes environmental factors.
Optimists make better dreamers. They have the confidence to pursue their dreams and try to make them a reality. This leads them to see possibilities that a pessimist would miss. But that comes with a cost. Unrealistic optimists will ignore serious problems, refrain from taking proper safety precautions, and their emotional situations are often dealt with through denial, nonchalance, and blaming others.
Pessimism also has benefits. For example, they are better at recognizing dangers and foreseeing potential problems in a plan. Also, since they have lower expectations, they are less often disappointed. However, they also tend to have higher rates of depression, higher blood pressure, and are perpetual party poopers.
Both optimism and pessimism are mental strategies for dealing with an unpredictable world. Maybe being a realistic optimist is the best approach? However, who defines what’s realistic? If the greatest visionaries of the past had been “realistic”, they never would have tried. There’s no definitive answer to this.
May 5, 2015
Have you ever wondered what will ultimately happen to the Earth, the sun, and our universe, long after we’re dead? This video explains it all.
I’ll create a rough time-line for you all to follow.
– 600 million years from now
As the sun gets older, it will get hotter and hotter. This temperature increase will be too much for plant life on Earth and most all biological life will go extinct.
– One billion years from now
The sun’s increased temperature will boil away all the oceans, leaving it a barren rock. Only a few types of bacteria will survive, if anything.
– 2.8 billion years from now
Life will be completely impossible on Earth, even for straggler bacteria.
– 4 billion years from now
The Milky Way galaxy will collide with Andromeda, leading to a massive reshuffling of the stars.
– 5.4 billion years from now
Our sun will begin to run out of fuel
– 7.9 billion years from now
The sun will expand into a sphere 250 times larger than it is today; Mercury and Venus will be gobbled up in the process.
– 9.5 billion years from now
Our sun will deflate into a white dwarf star and become rather dim.
– 150 billion years from now
The universe will get so cold that even the cosmic background radiation becomes undetectable. All distant galaxies will be invisible due to the universe’s expansion.
– One trillion years from now
Stars will no longer be forming in our galaxy.
– 110 trillion years from now
All stars will have burn out. Everything will be lifeless, black, and cold.
– One quadrillion years from now
The cold, barren rock which we call Earth will plunge into the black dwarf which used to be our sun.
– 10^25 years from now
Our sun will becomes a black hole and slowly evaporate due to Hawking radiation. Whatever tiny particles remain from this process will be slowly stretched out into nothingness as the space-time fabric continues to expand.
– 10^100 years from now
The universe will return into the nothingness from which it began.