19 November 2007

Global Warming vs. Fascism; or, why NASA wouldn’t have stopped Apophis

Global Warming vs. Fascism; or, why NASA wouldn’t have stopped Apophis

[reposted from Nov 19, 2007 - updated 2012 after in person talk with actual climate scientists!  This is the essay that first caught the attention of the editors of Faircompanies, which led to me blogging for them, and eventually to being video interviewed by them.  The follow up video, about hypermiling, came out 2 days ago]

I am a liberal. I am an environmentalist. I commute by bicycle to my job advocating the bicycle as a means of everyday transportation. I run my work truck on modified vegetable oil at significant extra cost compared to petroleum diesel. I have a reasonably strong understanding of the sciences, including an associates in biology and earth science (which encompasses, among other things, geology and ecology)
I could be called a global warming "denier".

I should clarify; I don’t not believe in the same way I don’t believe in "God".
I acknowledge that the world is almost certainly getting warmer, and there is a good chance that humans have had something to do with it. It is certainly possible. 

Look at the graph above (or click the link below)
Graph of temperature of planet earth over time

Note that the time scale is logarithmic.  In other words, each section to the left is 10 times more compressed than the one next to it.  Notice that the right side of the graph is in thousands of years, the left half is in millions.

The graph is a log-scale in order to more easily see the range over different time scales. Each section exists on its own with a linear scale, I just choose this graphic because I think it allows for a better perspective of the over all long term cycles, in addition to the smaller cycles within the large ones. 

Here is the right side, in linear scale.



Here is another linear scale, looking at only the recent past (12 thousand years is recent in geological terms), after most major Earth changes had settled down:


The graph that is used by people who want to convince people of human caused climate change is invariably that of the last 1000 years. 1000 years, on the scale of global processes, is nothing. It is equivalent to looking at specie change or continent movement over the past 1000 years which would "prove" evolution and plate tectonics are myth.

However, the question is not "is the Earth getting warmer". That is measurable. The questions are: 1 "is there a net positive or a net negative feedback mechanism?" in other words, will it continue out of control or will it naturally stabilize; and 2 "is it our fault?"

Looking at the larger scale, from the time the earths climate settled into a reasonably stable pattern, there has been a periodic cycle, and we are not outside of the range of normal. From the fact that there have been at least 5 similar cycles so far, there is a strong indication that some negative feedback mechanism at play which serves to keep temperature extremes in check.

This is not to say that the consequences of a temperature increase (like the ones which have in fact occurred, naturally) are not catastrophic. It has been estimated that at least one of those past times of warming contributed to the extinction of up to 90% of all sea life, and 50-70% of land life.  However, humans and our technology wasn’t around to cause it.

I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the rate of change is outside the normal range - we simply have no way to precisely measure the change over very small intervals of something that happened billions of years before we existed. Nor is a rapid rate automatically indicative of a ever-increasing one. If there is a net negative feedback mechanism (and the historical global temperatures cyclic nature is a strong indicator that there is) it may simply kick in sooner if the rate of change is higher.

The historical geologic data suggests that it is temperature which affects CO2 levels, not the other way around.

I have heard many times now environmentalists, journalists, and politicians say something along the lines of "there is a scientific consensus" or "the facts are in, the question is what do we do about it" or some equivalent.
There isn’t, and they aren’t.
There is still a great deal of scientific debate. And not like evolution. Its not just scientologists and scienticians who question this hypothesis (it is not a theory by the scientific definition, as evolution is)

[UPDATE:  I have had an opportunity to speak to several actual climate scientists recently, who were in the Bay Area for a Earth science convention.  I had assumed that, more than 4 years after I had written this essay, things would have changed significantly.  Methods would have improved, more data would have come in, and much of what I wrote would be dated. 
Turns out the only thing I learned is that they genuinely believed in the misinformation they were saying. 
I started explaining some of the points written above. 
When I pointed out the Earth has been warmer at times in the past,  I got the same standard answer I've heard from many knowledgeable non-scientists: "it has never warmed as rapidly as it is now". 
Above I argued that we may not have precise enough measurements to make that assessment, but I have since learned we do - and it has gotten much warmer much faster at times before human technology existed.  In recent history the average Earth temperature has gone up about 1 degree over 50 years. 
At the end of the "Younger Dryas period" the average Earth's temperature raised by 7 degrees in just 20 years - about 15 times more rapidly. 
Later we talked about the climate models used to make predictions.  Turns out they are using 1800 as a baseline because thats when we started adding carbon to the atmosphere.  Because reality is so complex and we can't accurately take everything into account, the solution is to pretend that natural climate variations don't exist, and that if not for our actions the world would still be exactly hov it was in 1800.  But of course we know that even if we only look at the Holocene (and I would argue that is still cherry picking data) there is a cycle of roughly 5-10 thousand years.  But that is just a sub-cycle of a larger pattern that repeats every 50-100 thousand years.
That cycle is the baseline.
Now, if we were deviating significantly from THAT moving trend-line, we could say with relative confidence that something we did has affected the balance.
Modern climate scientists, with the fastest computers, are not yet able to even accurately model the climate changes that we already know occurred over the past couple billion years - there are just too many variables.
In other words, no one can plug in the starting conditions on Earth, and then have a program figure out where things were 100 million, 10 million, 1 million, 100 thousand years ago.
Without that, there is no baseline with which to determine where we would be today w/o human activity.
If we don't know where the climate would be today w/o us, we have absolutely no way to say what affect we are having.
I think even the experts are making the "emperor is wearing fine clothes" mistake that comes from being in insulated group of people on the defensive]


Granted, IF we are contributing to it, and IF there is a net positive feedback, then we may be doing severe damage, and it may be difficult or impossible to reverse it. It may very well turn out that by the time we know for sure it will be too late.
That is a reason to act now.

The irony is in the fact that we already know for sure that our driving and electricity habits damage both human health and our ecosystem at large.

Cancer, asthma, mercury contamination, loss of habitat, acid rain, smog, ground level ozone, soot, nuclear waste which is deadly for millions of years, strip mining, oil spills - not to mention the undeniable link between how much we drive and how many of us are obese (a problem no hybrid can ever solve).

And whether or not we have reached so-called "peak oil", it is indisputably a finite resource. Even if we find a way to develop tar sand fields, maybe it lasts us 200 years instead of 20, but it will not last forever. And as it eventually declines, the oil related conflicts of the past half century (from OPECs US embargo in the 70s to today ongoing war in Iraq) will inevitably increase proportionately.

These are real problems. There is no doubt that they have affects on our world and our lives. There is no question that we are causing them. There is no question that we could easily reduce or eliminate many of them by cutting back on our own (as Americans) luxuries. Technology is also likely to play a role, along with government regulations.

All of these real and undeniable problems have not been sufficient motivation to change our habits and lifestyle, nor even to spur new technology.

Instead, we have glommed on to this idea of global warming, and in order to make it seem more urgent, people claim there is no debate. Most of them no doubt heard it from someone else, and they fully believe it. Someone must have started this particular urban legend, and must have been lying deliberately.


But lets say that it turns out that we are significantly increasing the worlds average temperature.
Lets say that we overwhelm the previous millinea’s negative feedback mechanism so that further ice ages become impossible.
Say that it causes catastrophic consequences for us.

This would ultimately cause problems for much of earth’s life, including all humans. Even you live in one of the places which is not affected (or positively affected) you have to deal with the millions of people who now need to move. We can expect rising prices of all sorts, wars over land, food, water. Weather extremes. Bad stuff.
Everyone loses.
However, for any one person: everyone else is driving. Why should I stop? The impact of any one person cutting electricity usage in half or giving up their car is truly negligible when 300 million other people don’t change. Given that, why self-sacrifice?

Game theory has been run many times, by many people. In nature an altruistic strategy can become stable. The cheaters can be penalized to the point where it is to the individuals advantage to be good. This can be seen in some species societies, as well as in computer models.
Among humans however (at least Americans) it never seems to work.
Among educated professionals and business leaders, agreements break down, and everyone loses.
A frequent scenario involves a publicly available fishing grounds. Anyone can fish for free. You can sell what you catch. The fish have a limited rate of regeneration. If everyone takes only a given number of fish, the system is sustainable.
But as soon as its discovered someone else is "cheating" they all, wanting to keep up or "remain competitive", do the same. No one person causes the destruction of the system, yet everyone involved is directly responsible.
This game has been run by sociologists and mathematicians. They know the theory. They still end up "overfishing" their virtual lakes.

This phenomenon is noted in sociology, biology, and economics, and is referred to as the tragedy of the commons


There are certain words in our language which have been attached to a certain perception which goes far beyond their meaning. Communism used to be one such word. Political leaders (with help from the media) deliberately demonized the word. There was a time when few Americans could tell you what the word actually meant, although they could tell you without any doubt that they were strongly against it.

In reality, while it has never been enacted exactly as intended (as we are neither democratic nor purely capitalist here), the basic idea has to do with sharing; that everyone should have their needs met before anyone gets to build wealth.
Details aside, it is a fundamentally different way of looking at things.

In the US we learn to value individual freedom above all else.
Our most basic and fundamental value is freedom - "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" (and, though not written down, that is generally assumed to include pursuit of profit).
Victimless crimes aside, for the most part we feel that as long as we are not directly hurting a particular individual, we should be allowed to do whatever we want.

Ones right to fish should not be infringed upon.

Obviously there are many examples in reality where this outlook leads directly to overall harm for everyone involved.

Global warming, if we are in fact making it worse, will be one of those things.
So far, with the wide spread belief that the debate is over, much has been talked about, little has been done.
Average fuel economy is still far below what we had the technology to produce decades ago. The best hybrid gets worse mileage than a cheap compact car from 10 years ago. (note that CO2, the gas thought responsible for global warming, is a natural result of combustion. A more well built and efficient engine does not emit less CO2. The only way to decrease it per mile is increasing overall mileage)
New power plants are still being built as electricity use is still climbing.

In order to produce real results, we as a society would have to be willing to restrict both the options of individuals and the profit potential of corporations. We are loath to do either.
In fact, we generally feel this is immoral, even if the ultimate consequence is a diminished happiness for everyone (or even, perhaps, our ultimate self-destruction).


As it turns out, we are probably safe.
It has been less than a year since increased observation led to this conclusion.
The chances were originally estimated at 2.7% (1 in 37) that in 2029 or 2036 we would be hit by a rather large asteroid called Apophis. It was about 2 years between the time the possibility was noticed and the time it was determined to be safe. Astronomers revised estimates still predict that it will pass closer to the earth than our geosynchronous communications satellites.

Apophis is over 1000ft in diameter, weighs 50 million tons, and travels 18.5 miles every second.

You would think this would have been something more people would have heard about, people would have talked about it, there would have been international conferences, discussions, debates, and public input on who would take the initiative to, say, put a tracking device on Apophis so we would have better data, how long we should wait before acting, and begin plans of what to do if it turned out a collision was likely.

Perhaps it was because the statistical likelihood seemed smaller. Perhaps it was because we prefer to think nature (not just life, but all reality outside of humans) can do no wrong. Perhaps it is as random as what celebrity the media chooses to focus on in a given week.

Ultimately though, if it kept looking more and more likely that Apophis would hit us, eventually someone would likely say something.
And amid the resulting furor, a lot would be said, but chances are, not so much would be done.
The question would be, who is going to pay for this?
Few countries would have the technical capacity to change the course of an asteroid.
The US would resent spending their own tax dollars (which will be at quite a premium by 2029) on a project that is going to save the whole world. It might not even hit our country. Everyone else should chip in at least equally.


Fascism refers to a political system in which it is assumed that the good of the overall society supersedes the best interests of individuals.
A fascist superpower would fire up some rockets ensuring a killer asteroid did not hit the Earth, and that would be the end of it. The research would be government funded, and if need be industries would be commandeered to build whatever was deemed the most effective solution. The choice would not be left up to the individual owner of a factory that makes rockets, nor would it be left up to the "free market".

In a pure free market, if a comet is coming, everybody dies.
Fascism, while accurately thought of as authoritarian or totalitarian, is often if not always a populist movement. In places it has arisen in the past it has been supported by the very poor, working class, small business, big business, intellectuals, land owners, and farmers. It is anti-individualistic and anti-liberal, which is why it has grown to be accepted as synonymous with "evil" as the US has strengthened and exported its ideals around the world. It is opposed both to the free market and to communism. It is opposed by both the extremes of the political left and right in the US, in both cases due to the restrictions of individual freedom (social in one case, economic in the other).

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating fascism.
I just feel the need to question those things we all take as obvious fact when obviously many other people have felt differently at times. Instead of going along with our local beliefs, whatever they might be, perhaps at times we should question if the ’others’ in the world might not have had something useful going, something we could learn from. Instead of adopting a pre-made ideology, maybe pick and choose the good parts from each, see the problems in each, and maybe come up with something altogether new. It would sound crazy to claim to be a liberal who who thinks a lot of liberals are whiny crybabies living in a dreamland, to believe in much of libertarianism and want to eliminate the corporation, or to vote green and believe there is something positive or valuable in fascism. Or would it?


  1. Probably I'm missing some nuances of your message but if I understood correctly what you're saying, free market fails to solve major issues (game theory) while some regulation by the State will solve them. You mention nuclear waste: as far as I know (please correct me if I'm wrong) all the nuclear power plants all across the globe are State owned, so nuclear waste is a byproduct of the State, not the free market. A counter-example of how the free market works is independent film-making: some people contribute to the project without some assurance that it will ever be completed and knowing that most people on this planet will readily benefit from the result without contributing a single dime. According to "the game theory" it should not happen. I would add that in the "Apophis" case, the State fails, not the free market. I really can't imagine a bunch of people living in the free market (the real thing) waiting to die just because they are unable to get togheter, chip in, and solve the issue.

    1. "free market fails to solve major issues (game theory) while some regulation by the State will solve them."

      Close. The nuance is this: The free market fails to solve SOME major issues.
      I am not anti-market. The market does certain things much better than governments or charities or independent individuals. The market can definitely help fuel economic and technological growth, which is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing.
      The problem is that a great many modern American's believe the market is the answer to ALL problems, and am attempting to show that is dangerously false.

      Nuclear power plants are all heavily subsidized by the State (both in construction, fuel procurement, and waste disposal - which greatly hides its true cost), however they are almost all owned by corporations (usually, but not always, utilities. While utilities have strict state regulations, they are still independent, for-profit corporations)
      The only exceptions I see are the cities of Anaheim CA and Dalton GA. The other 198 power plants in the US are privately held.

      I don't see how anything I wrote conflicts with the independent film example. I never said the government should do everything, and individuals should not be allowed to engage in their own projects.
      Given that many, if not most, independent films do not end up making a profit, and in fact that the participants may never have even intended to make a profit, I don't think that example is particularly supportive of the idea of free-market capitalism either, in which the only motive for doing anything is individual profit.

      How does the state fail in the "Apophis case"? The reality is that government HAS engaged in massive scale projects which benefit everyone - and one of the best examples happens to be the US and USSR creating the space age - which in addition to giving us everything satellites have to offer, is also the technology which would save us from a potential asteroid someday.

      Of course people in the real world would not sit idly by when facing a deadly threat. Since there are millions of separate people, and the response would require a huge coordination, people would find a way to select qualified individuals to make and enact a plan, and everyone else would contribute money and/or time as needed to help that process. There is a word for that process: government. That's what government is. Its the way that people living free get together, chip in (taxes and conscription), and solve issues they can't do alone.
      There are people, from libertarians on the right to anarchists on the left, not to mention just about all Republicans, who seem to think that the "invisible hand" is that of God Himself, which will solve ALL problems. People getting together and chipping in is not a function of the market, it is a function of humanity. What you are pointing out is that human motives go beyond buying and selling and making money, and I agree with that.

    2. Thanks for the answer! I do have some remarks to make:
      1. By the film example I was not implying that you consider banning individual freedoms, I was giving an example of involvment into projects without a safety net, by regular people. You could add charity to the list as well. Let me clear up what I mean by "free market": voluntary interactions between free people (I saw you used profit in the context). If you want to give away your car for a smile, under the free market I'm talking about there's no problem, even if at the end of the day you don't have a profit.
      2. The most significant massive scale projects undertaken by the State (by that I mean any state - be it in the US or not) are wars.
      3. Anarchism is not opossed to organization, and organization is not government. These are separate concepts. On the right of the bipolar spectrum would sit a company (as opossed to a corporation which cannot exist without the State) who wins the competition by popular consensus, on the left a commune of people, in both cases the objective would be the same (the Apophis case). This doesn't mean anarchism can express itself in only these 2 ways, of course. If a better means of organization appears meanwhile, it would naturally rise to the top. Lastly, I cannot comprehend why do you consider that coercion is needed in order to enact solutions to problems? Do you need to coerce the people who build your house/car/whatever into doing it?

    3. 1) The term "market", by definition, involves a financial transaction or trade, which is beneficial to both parties.
      A gift is not a market exchange. Charity does not operate within a market.
      Free individuals choosing to interact with each other for some motive other than profit is something separate from the free market.

      2) Granted. But consider also that there is more violence overall in societies without any government, and that as government has centralized, the chances of being killed deliberately by another human has dropped by orders of magnitude. (You don't have to take my word for it:
      http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html )

      3) Organization IS government!!
      When you use the word "consensus" it implies 100% agreement. We live in a world of 7 billion people, with hundreds of cultures and religions and values. We live in a nation of 300 million which is nearly as diverse. The idea of 100% agreement on any one action - well I should hope I don't have to comment on that...
      I am assuming that by adding the word "popular", you mean "popular consensus" to mean an agreement by the majority. That is called Democracy. It is a form of government. In the case of a popular consensus of whom to delegate to take care of a problem, that is a Republic. Another form of Government (what we have in the US, and one of the most popular in the world)
      In the Apohis case, when you say a company would be chosen, what incentive does this company have to unilaterally spend 100s of millions of its own dollars and labor to develop a space missile, with no possibility of ever even recovering those costs, nevermind turning a profit? Where do they get the resources to do so? If the nation as a whole contributes to make it possible, how is that different from taxes?

      Lastly) Who said anything about coercion, ever?
      I have never had anyone volunteer to build me a house or car. I have to pay them for it.

      Lets say you have a group of 4 students. They need to do a group project.
      All 4 have different ideas of what project to do. If they can't come to an agreement, everyone fails. No one has more power than anyone else. Lets say 2 of them eventually accept an idea presented by another, but the 4th still doesn't like it. They have a vote, 3 to 1, the topic is chosen.
      What just happened was democracy.
      There was no consensus. The 4th person is free to not participate. However, the consequence is they will fail the class. That is their choice. There was also no coercion, and no hierarchy.
      Similarly, no one is forced to obey US law or pay US taxes. Anyone who wants to opt out is able to emigrate at any time for any reason. Because of that simple fact, there can be no coercion. The US is like a giant commune. We, the citizens who live here, collectively say to each new immigrant and each new baby who joins us: "you are welcome to live in our home, as long as you follow the rules."
      That makes the US a collective of free people. Law is the expression of the house rules which the majority agree upon (directly or indirectly). Taxes are the rent charged for the privileged of living in a wealthy nation and the benefits we all get from its infrastructure. Even without leaving the country anyone who wants to opt out of paying taxes can do so - they just have to not earn or spend any money. Its unpleasant, but its not illegal.
      So, where does coercion even enter the argument?

  2. 1. So if I buy some stuff that I don't really need just to help the guy selling it, isn't that trade? The same you can say about giving it away: I'm buying peace of mind. Anyway, this is besides the point.
    2. Comparing incipient forms of the State with later aparitions (more efficient from the standpoint of those controlling the State) is making your point in what way?
    3. By definition, consensus doesn't mean 100% agreement (and solving any issue doesn't require eliminating free-riding - hence the taxation parallel doesn't work: some people will contribute, others won't - so what?). We're getting into semantics again. You say that popular consensus means Democracy. In the context it doesn't. It's just that. Democracy is a form of manifestation of the State. Planning a trip to the mountains with your friends is not creating a democracy, it's just organizing (putting the shit toghether).
    To answer your question, government means coercion, and you brought government into discussion in your article (hence my comments). Your students example doesn't imply that government is needed, just like a threat like Apohpis doesn't justify government. If you fail to organise, or act in an apropiate way, there are consequences. You fail the exam or the collective people of the world goes extinct. How is that justifying government? It's like having the flu and the only cure for the flu is a treatment that gives you cancer. And you keep asking me what would I do if I don't take the treatment. Maybe I'll die of the flu without treatment, but the other option is obvious: I'll die certainly.
    About opting out: that's a joke. Where on the Earth is a habitable place without a form of the State in control? Leaving one manifestation for another is a choice? I was specifically mentioning that I don't speak of the USA alone. People in India sure love the luxuries their government is providing for them. Not earning money means dying, is that a mistake or you're just that cynical? And it is illegal, unless you can use public property just like your own (for instance to sleep on it).

    1. 1) If you buy stuff you don't need (90% of American shopping!) then you still got something of value in the transaction.
      2) I don't understand the point of your distinction between incipient and apparition forms.
      3) By definition consensus DOES mean 100% agreement. You can't just arbitrarily redefine words to suit your argument.
      With taxes, some people do contribute and others don't! If they were strictly voluntary, how many actually would? You seem to imply that enough would to do large scale projects. What evidence do you have to support that? When has that ever happened in human history?

      You state that direct democracy is inherently a manifestation of the State. If you are simply choosing to define it that way, then you are arguing definitions, not ideas. I am more interested in the process. There is nothing inherent in the process of direct democracy that requires a formal "state".
      The only clear difference I see between planning a trip to the mountains and organizing civil society is scale.
      For example, in the Occupy Movement, people present initiatives, the mass of people vote on them. That is majority rule at its purest. Then there is a general assembly, itself with subgroups. All of this is a wonderful example of participatory democracy, with no coercion or state needed.
      If you choose to categorically define the word "democracy" itself as inherently implying "state power", then fine, call it something else; but you have to explain what meaningful difference exists in the process.

      Again with the claim that "government means coercion" you are stating a categorical with no explanation or evidence to support it. That to me just sounds like anarchist rhetoric. The definition of government does not "mean" coercion.
      Define coercion. In my example, the odd student out who hates the topic idea could be said to be "coerced" by the other 3 by threat of failing the class, but since there is no threat of force and no power dynamic, it doesn't fit the standard definition of coercion.

      I am trying to challenge these preconceived ideas and definitions which are based on political rhetoric. You are restating them, but not making a case for them. If you take away the idea that democracy "means" coercion, than what you are left with is that the student example DOES imply a need for government.
      Call it something else if you want. If we are agreeing on the need for that process, then are you really arguing with me, or with the dictionary?
      So, ok, call the process "organizing"... and scale it up to a society with 100s of millions of people in it. How do you make anything actually happen? Just like in OWS, you organize in to committees, which propose initiatives, which the people collectively vote on. The sub-groups have representatives that meet with other representatives to stay organized. And the various sets of diverse geographical groups communicate with each other as well. Sounds a lot like representative democracy to me.

      There are plenty of uncharted islands. But its a moot point. That's like the student who hates the topic saying that there are no other groups to join. That is not the other group members fault, nor is it their problem. If a person doesn't like the rules of a commune, he can leave. If that means he is then homeless and can't support himself - well, that is good reason for him to conform to the rules, but that doesn't mean the members of the commune are coercing him to stay. Likewise it is not the job of the US to provide an anarchist haven for those who want to opt out.

      Not earning money does not mean dying! There are real people who chose to be homeless, wander the woods, eat bugs and wild plants. There is no law stopping them from doing it. If you want to live in a city because of all the benefits that cities have to offer, then the residents of that city are within their rights to ask you to contribute.

  3. Some context for point 2 above: http://rewild.info/anthropik/2008/01/noble-or-savage-both-part-1/
    The ted talk guy is just spewing some BS, but probably that's his job.

    1. I am going to assume you have no idea who Steven Pinker is.
      Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author, and Harvard College Professor.

      Because you personally have already decided what you want to believe, you assume that a world-renown secular research scientist in fields of human development and interaction is "just spewing some BS", while you take the opinion of a software engineer with a blog as well researched fact.

      Pinker has specific examples and data to support his claim.

      Godesky offers no evidence to support his claim other than his own interpretation of the context of the research he is disputing. What he is putting forth is a POSSIBLE alternative explanation for some archeological and anthropological findings, not actual evidence that they are incorrect.

      In fact, he never claims to have better data or that state-less societies are actually less violent.
      He only says that every example we know of could be explained by external forces (contact with Europeans, the invention of agriculture) acting on a given culture.

      He goes on to imply that violence is actually ok, because it is natural - just not ok if a society chooses to limit it to specified circumstances.

      On the one hand he implies that only war - organized group fighting - counts as violence in prehistoric societies (as opposed to one individual killing another), but then goes on to claim that things like prison or even the market economy should be counted as violence in modern civilization.

      He is arguing from the conclusion, not coming to a conclusion based on available evidence. He draws examples where pre-civilized societies have methods to limit violence (terrorism, torture, and killing non-combatant women are some of his examples), yet he doesn't acknowledge that the purpose of having (for example) police is for the very same purpose.
      And while his evidence that all societies make some attempt to limit violence is compelling, that is not remotely evidence that the overall rate at which one human being deliberately causes the death of another is lower in societies with out government. That was the original question. And all of the evidence says that it isn't.

    2. What you're doing in this post is called a logical fallacy (more exactly Argument from authority). Because Steven Pinker is an "experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author, and Harvard College Professor" while Jason Godesky is a "software engineer with a blog", Pinker is right, Godesky is wrong. The problem is that Pinker is not an anthropologist so what relevant background does he have in this topic anyway?

      Regarding evidence, you say Godesky has none, just opinions, while Pinker has evidence. You should consider the fact that you, via Pinker's talk, are asserting the violence in modern society is at a historical minimum. It's your job to provide evidence, not mine or Godesky's. Do you mean there is evidence of war or massive scale violence (not in absolute numbers, but in the percentage of adults involved in it) in human societies prior to agriculture, pastoralism and domestication?

      I don't have a made up mind. I just don't like when opinions are treated as fact just because they have an air of authority over them and they are more convenient. In the end I see you have a strange definition of violence. Could you please define violence (maybe we're not on the same page here).

      What specific anthropological/archeological evidence Godesky is refuting without providing evidence?

      Again, maybe this conversation will be better handled by a forum.

    3. I pointed out Pinkers credintials in response to your statement that the "guy is just spewing some BS, but probably that's his job."
      The fact that he is a scientist does not automatically make him right. But it does mean he doesn't "just spew BS". Even if he turned out to be factually wrong, I have seen enough of his work to know he isn't making it up arbitrarily.

      You say he isn't an anthropolgist - but he quotes one: "the archaeologist Lawrence Keeley, looking at casualty rates among contemporary hunter-gatherers, which is our best source of evidence about this way of life, has shown a rather different conclusion.
      Here is a graph that he put together ... The red bars correspond to the likelihood that a man will die at the hands of another man, as opposed to passing away of natural causes... And they range from a rate of almost a 60 percent chance that a man will die at the hands of another man to... only a 15 percent chance. The tiny, little blue bar in the lower left-hand corner plots the corresponding statistic from United States and Europe in the twentieth century, and includes all the deaths of both World Wars. If the death rate in tribal warfare had prevailed during the 20th century, there would have been two billion deaths rather than 100 million. "

      Now, you can question the data collection methods of Keeley, and you can debate (as Godesky does) whether modern hunter-gathers have any similarity to ancient ones. But this is not opinion. And it also answers your question about defining violence. I don't see any meaningful distinction between war and murder, and nor does the graph in the video. If one human being deliberately causes the death of another, that is violence.
      Why would there need to be evidence of war or "massive scale" violence? There is evidence that humans killed each other. If the total number adds up to more than the losses in a war, how is it any better?

    4. You basically say that you don't need to provide evidence, but you request me to provide evidence. What Keeley is doing is putting an = sign between people living 10k years ago and those living in the XXth century. You don't see a problem with that?

      About the red and blue bars, maybe you've heard of a book called How to Lie with Statistics (http://www.amazon.com/How-Lie-Statistics-Darrell-Huff/dp/0393310728).

      So only war and murder are violent acts? What about taxation (funny, that's how your country supposedly started it's independence war)? What about ecological disasters (people living in places destroyed by corporations)?

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. I'm say that Keeley DOES provide evidence:

      A lot of his examples are of prehistoric societies.

      A graph is a mathematical tool. If you understand statistics, you won't be fooled by its manipulation.

      And yes, I am only counting direct physical harm as violence.
      Again, redefining a word to mean what one wants it to mean is a common form of political rhetoric, and I don't feel it furthers a discussion where the goal is to come to the truth, as opposed to just trying to make an argument.
      The word violence actually means "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against...another person... that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation."

      One of the first sparks of US revolution was not taxation, but rather taxation WITHOUT representation. That is a very important distinction. No one was arguing that there should be no taxes. In fact, at that stage they weren't even asking for democracy. They wanted to be able to choose their own representative who would report to the king, instead of the king appointing British subjects as governors of American colonies.
      I don't know what the law is where you are, but in the US you can not be executed for failing to pay taxes. There is no corporal punishment for anything. In all but the very most extreme cases, you don't even go to jail for failure to pay taxes. The penalty is a fine. If you don't pay on your own, they may garnish your wages directly. If taxes in no way cause physical harm, how is it an example of violence? Again, if one wants to move to a country that has no taxes, the government will make no attempt to stop them (and those places DO exist). Almost no one does so - even those with the means - because we know that the benefit we get from living in a society with the infrastructure that taxes pay for is more than worth the cost.

      Certainly companies, as well as individuals, are capable of producing pollution which directly or indirectly harms others. One of the main points of my original essay was that a primary role of government is to restrict the actions of individuals which indirectly harm others; for example, human-caused ecological disasters. It is the government that says we can't burn our trash in our backyard, or dump our used oil into the bay, and that we have to get our cars smog checked every 2 years. The EPA and USDA and the rest are heavily corrupted by corporations, but that doesn't mean that having no restrictions at all would actually be an improvement.
      The damage done by companies is evidence of needing MORE regulation, not less.
      But either way, no, I don't think having a 20% higher lifetime risk of cancer as a side effect of industrial pollution is equivalent to a person sneaking into your home at night and stabbing you to death.

  4. Consensus: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consensus (b)
    Take a look at the link I've shown you in the previous post (rewild). Thanks for the replies.

    1. You're funny!
      From the link you just posted:

      noun, often attributive \kən-ˈsen(t)-səs\
      Definition of CONSENSUS
      1a : general agreement : unanimity

      so now lets look up "unanimity", since the definition says they are synonyms:

      adj \yu̇-ˈna-nə-məs\
      Definition of UNANIMOUS
      1: being of one mind : agreeing
      2: formed with or indicating unanimity : having the agreement and consent of all

      Not seeing how that supports your argument...

  5. One last post: http://www.energyvortex.com/energydictionary/captive_customer__core_customer__core_market.html
    By saying it's not the State's fault for imposing statutes on you while you have the freedom to leave (swimming I assume), you have just dismantled the concept of captive customer (I'm not implying the State is providing a service). Probably it's because I have no arguments, just anarchist rhetoric.

    1. I will totally 100% grant you that!

      But I see the keywords there as "cost-effective" and "reasonable"

      "consumers who can only acquire COST-EFFECTIVE energy from a single source and have no REASONABLE alternative source"

      I am not saying it is realistic or feasible for people to opt out, just that it is possible, and there for the system is not coercive (unlike, say, communist Cuba or China, where the State DOES explicitly disallow citizens to leave).

      I don't mean to attack you personally. The whole point of my original post was to challenge some nearly universally held ideas. I appreciate the feedback. And just because I think SOME of your arguments are rhetorical doesn't mean you have no valid arguments!
      Note the header to my blog: I am opposed to all ideology, all the time. If you can support your argument with data and or logic, I always try to be open minded to changing my opinion.

      And I appreciate the discussion: it has been precisely because of dialogs like this one that I have been able to refine my thoughts on these sorts of questions.

  6. My initial doubts about the article have been cleared up. We could continue the discussion on a forum, for instance www.marcstevens.net/board

    1. I read some, and found some interesting stuff. In a different post Godesky specifically address something said by Pinker.
      There was another post I quite liked contrasting anarchy to libertarianism with the explicit acknowledgement that there can be no private property without government.

      But I imagine this discussion, in that forum, would be more than a little one-sided, no?
      Which could be ok...
      But then, how would you propose beginning that conversation?

    2. Sure, that was only a suggestion.

    3. On the other hand, I didn't see any flaming on that forum, which is kind of rare.

    4. "But then, how would you propose beginning that conversation?"

      You could start a thread by asking why the state is coercion. I think that's an interesting topic.

    5. You mean why some people think the state is coercion.
      If you start such a thread, by all means let me know, and I'll participate.

      Maybe I'll post this essay, and see what comments they have.

  7. Some interesting analysis of Pinker and Keeley arguments: http://dreamflesh.com/projects/war-noble-savage/

    I see some missing comments...

    1. Nevermind, browser issue...


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