Category Archives: Philosophy

The Power of Forgiveness

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Matthew 6:12

Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

An unfortunate side effect of the secularization of the western world is that we are losing our ability to forgive. There is power in forgiveness. Power for the one forgiven, of course. That much is obvious even to the most secular. But there is even more power for the one who does the forgiving.

Forgiveness cleanses us. Forgiveness allows us to move on. Forgiveness gives us a power over those who have wronged us. And yet forgiveness also allows them to move on.

The Christian teachings on forgiveness are one of the many reasons I finally converted to the faith and joined it. As with so many things, it turns out that the Christian understanding of the world actually models it pretty well. If the teachings of the church are so good at predicting and explaining human behavior, maybe they really are on to something.

There is a segment of our society today that seems to be incapable of forgiving anything. No matter how big or how small, every infraction is held as a grudge forever. It doesn’t matter if the infraction was real or perceived. It doesn’t even matter if the infraction was against them, against their family, against their friends, or even against a total stranger. They are literally unable to forgive anything, ever.

The burden they carry is tremendous. It is so large that you can literally see it when you interact with these people. They are incapable of being happy – or, worse, some of them are only capable of being happy when they have something to feel unforgiving about. Of course, this isn’t true happiness, only a pale imitation of it. Because they cannot forgive, they can never let go of the past. Because they can never let go of the past, they can never proceed into the future or appreciate the present.

For this, I pity them. And I would help them if I could.

But in the modern world this problem extends far beyond that. These people are now working to model our entire society after their own pathology. They wish to remake us into a society that never forgives. The slightest blemish, the smallest mistake can now ruin you for life. These people brought us that. The continue to work to make it even worse.

For this, I fight them – at every opportunity and with all my strength.

But first, I forgive them.

Income Inequality is Unavoidable

For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

John 12:8 – King James Version

Income inequality can never, ever be eliminated from society. No matter how hard we try, it simply can’t be done. Here’s why.

Income does not fall along a “normal” (bell curve) distribution. It follows a power law distribution. This is necessarily and always the case. It’s an unavoidable law of nature. To understand why, let’s review the six factors that bring about the rise of a power law distribution. From my original post:

  1. A competitive event.
  2. The population of competitors is unequal
  3. The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.
  4. Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.
  5. The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.
  6. Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Let’s take each one of these in order.

A Competitive Event

Income is and always will be competitive. This will not and cannot ever change. You can pass all the laws you want. People will find a way around them. They always have. They always will. People have an ingrained drive to compete with each other. We must compete with each other. Evolution demands it. The organism that does not compete will eventually lose out to the organisms that do. Eventually those who don’t compete will be bred out of existence. Only those whose ancestors competed will be left.

The population of competitors is unequal

Human beings – like all other organisms – are inherently unequal. Whatever our status in the eyes of God, here in this realm we are not identical. Take a look at any individual field – or even any individual job description. Among the people who perform that job, some will be better than others. Some will perform it worse. It’s that simple.

But pretend for a moment that they are actually equal in their actual job tasks. Somebody will eventually figure out a way to extract an inequality in some other way. Sleeping their way to the top. Brown nosing the boss. Playing off of connections to get better pay. The source of the inequality doesn’t matter. It only matters that it exists.

And this is just within one job. Spread that out over multiple jobs, over multiple fields… it doesn’t take a genius to see that the competition is inherently unequal.

 

The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.

We know this to be generally true for most ways in which individual human beings are unequal. Height is distributed along a bell curve. IQ is distributed along a bell curve. Strength – or at least, potential strength – is distributed along a bell curve. And so on. It may not be the case that every conceivable competitive advantage is distributed along a bell curve, but in general that’s going to be the shape of things.

Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.

Once again, you will never, ever be able to take all of the winnings from all of the winners. You can try. Somebody, somewhere will always find a way around it. When you have a competitive event (see above) and stakes are high and you have a lot of competitors, somebody will try to cheat.

The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.

It takes money to make money. Better income in year A will most likely lead to better income in year B – probably even better than year A was. In the long term, these advantages add up fast. Better income pays for better nutrition, better tools, better education, better connections. In short, better everything. This is big for an individual. On the multigenerational front, its effect is staggering. Your better income pays for your child’s better education, better connections, etc. Which pays for your grandchild’s even better… well, everything.

Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Pick your definition of round: hours, days, weeks, months, years. Generations. The competition is iterated forever.

Income Inequality is here to stay.

Income inequality is here to stay. It will never leave us. So… if we can’t eliminate income inequality, what can we do? That is a much more interesting question, but it will have to be the topic of future blog posts.

 

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

–Frank Herbert, Dune

To fans of classic science fiction the above quote is nothing new. And yet fifty years after Frank Herbert’s masterpiece was first published we find ourselves in a society where these words would be utterly alien. Fear is everywhere and ever present.

But fear truly is the mind killer. Fear kills us in tiny ways each and every day. Whether it keeps us from talking to the pretty girl, prevents us from starting that side business, stops us from asking for that raise, or causes us to flip out over “trigger warnings” fear is everywhere. Fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of a poor economy. Worst of all, today, seems to be the ever growing fear of “badthink” that is overtaking modern politics – the fear that somebody, somewhere doesn’t agree with all of the “right thinking things” that some group or other has declared is now ironclad.

Our modern society is becoming more and more fear driven every year. Every aspect of our lives is ruled by it.

Fight this. Face the fear. Let it pass through you. Face your life as your life and move forward.

We Legislate Morality All the Time

There’s a particular kind of complaint against particular laws that goes something like this:

I don’t like it when people try to legislate morality.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense, and the person who makes the statement usually comes off as very moderate indeed. “Oh, I agree with you that that’s bad. I just don’t like to legislate morality.” The arguer here is attempting to placate both sides. On the one hand, it allows him to say: “Oh, I really agree with you. I’m not arguing. This is definitely what everyone should do.” On the other hand, it allows him to pretend to keep peace with the other side: “But I don’t see how we can legislate that. We can’t actually enforce morality, can we? If we made a law about that, it would just be silly.”

And so the first, obvious, problem is that it’s an attempt by the arguer to have his cake and eat it, too. He’s trying very hard to please both sides and appear that he agrees with them. Indeed, as mentioned, the goal of anybody making this statement is almost always to appear as the moderate voice of reason.

But there’s a much bigger problem: we legislate morality all the time. Indeed, the vast majority of our legal code is ultimately based on legislating morality.

When you get right down to it, most of our legal code deals with some very basic issues:

  • Protecting life and health. Obviously we have laws against murder. But we also have transportation safety laws (seat belt laws, helmet laws, speed limits, etc), workplace safety laws, product safety laws – even environmental laws at the end of the day are there to protect life and health.
  • Protecting property rights. Almost the entirety of contract law. Copyright and trademark laws. Real estate laws. Laws against theft, robbery, and squatting. Environmental laws (again).
  • Protecting individual liberty rights. Anti-slavery laws. Minimum wage laws. Labor laws and anti-trust laws.

All of this – every bit of it – is nothing more or less than legislating morality. And if you ask random people on the street what the basic functions of government are even the most hardcore libertarians will pick at least a handful of the items on these lists. In other words, everybody agrees that the government should legislate morality.

But that’s not really the issue anyway. When people raise the “I don’t like to legislate morality” argument, what they universally mean is, “I don’t want you to legislate your morality.” They are perfectly fine with legislating some other version of morality. But your morality is inconvenient for them in some way. Even more importantly, this is not a valid dialectical argument. It’s a rhetorical argument, and it’s meant to shut you up and get you to stop arguing and concede whatever point of view the person who plays this card is putting forth.

Don’t let them shut you up. We live in a democracy – one that, as demonstrated above, already legislates morality. If we’re legislating morality anyway then yours is just as good a candidate as anybody else’s. Make them argue for or against your version on the merits rather than trying to pretend in some crazy amoral vision of government that doesn’t exist, never has existed, and never could exist. And don’t fail to point out that if our government truly were amoral, they wouldn’t want to live in it either.

Power Law

power-law
A Power Law curve.

Take a look at the image to the right. It is very likely the most important chart they never taught you about in school. Failing that, it’s almost certainly the most important chart that you may have seen from time to time and learned a bit about but never realized the significance of.

What is it? Depending upon how you label the axes, it could represent a whole host of things. In fact, it’s kind of shocking just how many things in the real world this curve represents. Depending upon the dataset, you may have to flip the curve.

It goes by several names: Exponential distribution. Logarithmic function. But one of the most popular names, and perhaps the most ominous, is the Power Law curve. From Wikipedia:

In statistics, a power law is a functional relationship between two quantities, where one quantity varies as a power of another.

Or, more simply, it’s what you get when you plot out a function that looks like this:

f(x) = axk

normal
Normal Distribution – the “Bell Curve”

The name “Power Law” comes from the k – the “power” or exponent in the function. If you’ve had any introduction to statistics at all, you’re probably much more familiar with the chart to the left – the famous “Bell Curve,” or, more accurately, the Normal Distribution. Unless you took an actual “full” statistics course from the math department (many science majors these days get away with “statistics for <insert your department> majors” instead of taking the one from the actual math department), you probably didn’t spend enough time studying it. Even if you did take a “real” statistics course, you probably didn’t fully appreciate the significance of it. Don’t feel bad. It’s very likely that your professor didn’t appreciate it, either.

Most people are taught that the Normal Distribution is the most common distribution that you find in nature. Indeed, this is why it’s called the “normal” distribution. It’s very common. Quite a few people, however, mistakenly believe that it’s the only distribution you find in nature – that everything follows a bell curve distribution.

The second variant is patently false. Quite a few things follow other distributions (these are not the only two you will find; there are quite a few others). The first formulation, though, isn’t quite accurate either. Yes, a lot of things follow normal distributions. But quite a lot of things don’t. In fact, the prevalence of the normal distribution is actually what leads to so many cases of the power law distribution.

Because there are some key things about the power law distribution that you were never taught. Here are a few:

Power Law Distributions arise from iteration of Normal Distributions

OK, what does that mean? Let’s consider the following very generic set of circumstances:

  1. A competitive event.
  2. The population of competitors is unequal
  3. The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.
  4. Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.
  5. The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.
  6. Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Whenever these six conditions are met, after many rounds of competition the results will always form a power law curve. Always. Without exception.

With Power Law Distributions, Averages are Meaningless

Not just averages. The mean, median and mode are all meaningless in a power law distribution. They literally tell us nothing. We are taught as early as middle school to use these numbers to analyze large datasets. Indeed, for many of us they are the only ways we know to get meaning out of those sets. But for anything that follows a power law curve, they literally tell us nothing about the data. Well, OK, not quite nothing:

If the mean (average) and the median are wildly different, that’s a strong hint that the data actually follows a power law curve. In a normal distribution, they will be very close together. In a power law distribution they might be, but they probably won’t be. [The converse is not true: a power law distribution doesn’t necessarily have wildly different medians and means.]

What it all Means

The Power Law curve, combined in some cases with other important information, is the iron law of mathematics defining why:

  • Income and wealth inequality are an inescapable part of the human condition.
  • Top members of some professions (sports, film, tv, music, writing, journalism, and many others) make millions while nobody else can even make enough to live on.
  • Globalism is very bad for everyone except those at the very top.
  • Current levels of immigration in the US are too high.
  • Tenure is bad.
  • Big corporations are terrible.
  • Big government is worse.
  • Most mature industries coalesce around a very small number of very large firms.

And much, much more. But more on those another day.

Transhuman and Subhuman

The second title from Larry Correia’s book bomb that I’ll be reviewing today is “Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth” by Mr. John C. Wright. Yes, I just reviewed another of Mr. Wright’s works. And yes, Mr. Correia just book bombed that one as well.

They’re both worthy of it.

But first, a story: A friend of mine joined the Roman Catholic Church last Easter. My wife and I are also converts to the church, and even though we weren’t able to sponsor him or follow him through RCIA due to other commitments on the nights that it meets, we were happy to see him join and wanted to welcome him. So we bought him a book. No, it wasn’t this one. We bought him G. K. Chesterton’s Christian Writings – a solid choice for anyone interested in Catholic thought.

A few weeks later we were having lunch with our friend and somehow it came up that we had both read another of Mr. Wright’s works, Awake in the Night Land. Conversation progressed a bit until eventually it emerged that my friend had not read any Chesterton before we bought him his gift. After that revelation, conversation went something like this:

Me: Yeah, I really feel like John C. Wright is Chesterton come again for our modern age.

My friend: It’s funny you say that, because I was just about to say that Chesterton reminded me of John C. Wright.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in this work, a collection of philosophical ruminations on modern culture. From his thorough and complete explanation of why the recent Hobbit movies are so completely terrible to an Aristotelian explanation of why Snow White has animal helpers to ruminations on the value of science fiction itself… these essays are truly amazing in every way. He even managed to explain why I didn’t really like The Golden Compass, which was a book that never satisfied but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why – until now.

I have exactly one complaint about this collection, and Mr. Wright will probably hate me for saying this as it might impact his sales: almost all of these essays are also available for FREE (albeit in less polished form) on his blog. If you feel like wading through all the other stuff (and you should actually go read all of that, too), you can save yourself a whopping $4.99. Or you could just pay a little bit, give the man what he’s due for such amazing writing, and get the nicely collected, well-edited version. Yeah, do that one.