The human paradox.

For Alexander:
On Sun, May 29, 2016 at 10:21 PM, Alexander Thomas <alexanderanthonythomas> wrote:

Dear Mr. Spencer,

It has been some time since I last posted here, but I feel it important to address your comments about our "nature" as a species. What you paraphrase as the political and socioeconomic incursion of the left is, in actuality–and evidenced by History– a direct response to our inherent nature. As the comedian Colin Quinn once said, "we are not evolved from the ‘after-you’ but the ‘after-me’ people." Redistribution of value within a society is reflective of the evolving dynamics of the society itself. It has happened, and it will continue to happen. This is largely because the "nature" that you speak of is a history of violence, and involves Ice Age tactics of cutting the weakest link in the group when resources are limited. Here’s the key: we have evolved to look for weakness, and to look for reasons to cut the other man out, even when no immediate threat is present.

We see it in our society as greed; individuals hoard resources, despite having plenty. As an inevitable result of social structure, this hoarding is converted into societal influence. Societal influence then provides a greater ability to hoard more and more effectively than others. In other words, the rich get richer–this is part of our nature. So is sadism, malice, and every other deadly sin you’ve ever heard of. A natural instinct. Ethics is about overcoming basic instincts through the rational application of consciousness; by seeing the larger canvas, we can apply ourselves to greater ideals and pursuits. As such, we should recognize that parts of our nature must not only be suppressed, but actively combated. What is the Devil if not a reflection of what we fear in ourselves, from ourselves?

Furthermore, the desire to redistribute is not leftist, it is proletariat. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders were all voted for by working class Americans who want a Washington ‘outsider’. What does ‘outsider’ translate to? Redistribution. And it’s not new (e.g., election of Andrew Jackson). Right and Left is actually quite irrelevant and does not speak to the larger human issue.

Several other comments you made should also be addressed, but it is difficult to write coherently as there is much to unpack, and I want to do it in a way that is easily understood. I will address them as subsequent paragraphs:

1) Intelligence is not easily defined. Therefore, when you talk about a rank-and-file order with meritocratic intentions, you are oversimplifying severely. Who is more intelligent, the stockbroker or the physician or Beethoven, or are we missing nuance here? (Rhetorical.)

2) Related to our nature, the difficulty lies not in our ability to recognize difference–we’re very good at that, and we have done it for millenia quite ‘naturally’. No one believes that aptitude is evenly distributed. If that were so, there would be no diplomas or ranks or salaries.Our society has test after test and filter after filter because the one thing we are all sure of is that aptitude is not evenly distributed. Neither is fortune, which is what redistribution is about: everyone deserves the CHANCE to display aptitude, and it is the OPPORTUNITY that we demand be equal (ringing any constitutional bells?). Too many in our world never see that chance, and too many are blotted out by advantages taken by the privileged to retain their privilege (e.g., do you think any inner city kids got a $100/hr SAT tutor?). Redistribution is about opportunity, not direct wealth.

The system is not fair BECAUSE it is hierarchical. But this is also inevitable. (e.g., suburban kids will continue to have SAT tutors). So, the best a civil society can do is recognize that we are deviating too far from the mean, and attempt to reset it by doing the least damage possible (i.e., through coordinated and incremental restructuring, rather than huge swaps of privilege and power).

3) Citizens are motivated by rewards. And rewards are not evenly distributed. Ever. That’s what defines them as rewards. They cannot ever be evenly distributed, even if you tried: everything is too dynamic for that to make sense. Despite the luxury of modernity, we are far from the status of lofty gods suffering from boredom. If your impending death as well as the suffering of others around you is not enough to motivate you, then you’re not a very good citizen; and since there are indeed good citizens, you will simply be replaced. There’s a lot to do, and plenty of reasons to do it. Of course, I realize that you have probably oversimplified again, and believe that ‘reward’ is synonymous to ‘capital.’ To a certain extent, they overlap. But rewards vary tremendously. Prestige is a reward. Acquired status is a reward. As such, competition varies tremendously. If you are concerned that society will become rigid and static because of a lack of motivation, rest assured. Ivy League students living in the most lavish era of recorded history aren’t committing suicide because they’re not motivated. There is a lot to compete for. Every brilliant scientist I’ve ever met (and my professors work at CERN) are not motivated by financial incentives. These brilliant people barely make 6 figures. Why, then? Why all the anxiety and stress and deadlines? It’s not for the paycheck. It’s for the Nobel Prize. The History books. The ego– another product of evolution, perhaps to motivate us in the very ‘equal’ circumstances you dread.

All in all, redistribution is an inevitable aspect of human society because life is dynamic. Whether that comes in the form of an angry lynch mob burning libraries, or student loan debt forgiveness, is up to us and those we elect. But do not oversimplify and tag ‘redistribution’ as the enemy. Redistribution and regulation are not debatable. Specific mechanisms used to facilitate redistribution are the only factors manipulated in this equation.

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5 Comments

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  2. Thank you, Alexander, for providing these impressive and deeply thoughtful ideas. They are of great help in our efforts to achieve clarity. It is a delight to be able to share the adventure with you.

    AT: “Redistribution of value within a society is reflective of the evolving dynamics of the society itself. It has happened, and it will continue to happen. This is largely because the “nature” that you speak of is a history of violence, and involves Ice Age tactics of cutting the weakest link in the group when resources are limited. Here’s the key: we have evolved to look for weakness, and to look for reasons to cut the other man out, even when no immediate threat is present.”

    I am not pretending to know all that makes up human nature. I can however, understand that our course forward requires that we must contend with its dictates (whatever they might be). It does seem to be clear that we are self-serving even when we deny it. It is apparently our ability to create imaginatively variable concepts of “self” that lead to many of our conflicts with one another. (Example of complexity – Conflict can exist within a single mind if it has cultivated loves for incompatible values.) Less complex – All minds live within an environment we can call nature. All minds must contend with the laws that explain the workings of nature (whatever they might be). I speculate that science is our best tool for developing understandings that help us conform most harmoniously (most survivable) within those laws.
    You are correct in pointing out that some inherited predispositions hinder our achieving the most beneficial social cohesions. The human male’s proclivity for sexual variety is in conflict with the social advantages of monogamy. For the benefits of greater rewards we learn to discipline our inclinations.

    AT: “We see it in our society as greed; individuals hoard resources, despite having plenty. As an inevitable result of social structure, this hoarding is converted into societal influence. Societal influence then provides a greater ability to hoard more and more effectively than others. In other words, the rich get richer–this is part of our nature”

    We need to distinguish between enlightened self-interest and greed. Most healthy minds do not hoard or stuff their “extra” money into their pillows. Such wealth is invested. This means that they employ self-interested judgement to direct the use of this capital which aids other good minds to increase their inventiveness and productivity. True, (abhorrent to some) they may care less about the “poor”, but their actions benefit greatly the poor. More jobs and more opportunities are the result. The “rich”, if they invest well, get richer and then they have even more money with which to aid others in the kinds of inventiveness and productivities that result in more who truly become no longer poor.

    AT: “Furthermore, the desire to redistribute is not leftist, it is proletariat. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders were all voted for by working class Americans who want a Washington ‘outsider’. What does ‘outsider’ translate to? Redistribution.”

    What or who people voted for doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with altering the objective distinctions dividing the political left and right. As we move on a trajectory of ever greater government control (force) we move further from that of individual control (liberty). Extreme liberty and we have anarchy. Extreme government force and we have totalitarianism. The legitimate debate has to do with the type and degree of disciplines we create to help us achieve our most prosperous (in the full sense of the word) advance to the future. “Redistribution” as you say is unavoidable. However, the methods by which this takes place impact strongly on how viable (or not) our future becomes. “The allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses” is a most fundamental definition of economics. (I would add that it is fundamental to all aspects of life.) “Goods” (in the full sense of the word) are always going to be redistributed. Primarily, should it happen between willing buyers and willing sellers (free markets), or should it happen with a third party (government) taking and giving?

    Intelligence is recognized as judgment that works. Be it an ability to take aptitude tests (results of which correlate (imperfectly but) strongly with achievement), or just general judgments leading to success (in the full sense of the word) we recognize that some minds are better than others.

    AT: “everyone deserves the CHANCE to display aptitude, and it is the OPPORTUNITY that we demand be equal (ringing any constitutional bells?).”

    What kind of “Godlike source” is dictating that “everyone deserves the CHANCE to display aptitude”? We see here a danger of developing a mindset of righteousness along with its excesses (such as judging others as evil should they appear to be in dissent.) If instead of a moral tone, a mechanistic tone prevails, we can build support for the idea that it is better for humanity if we create as many chances to display aptitude as possible. Indeed, What a waste if any level of aptitude goes unused! (There is much empirical evidence that a truly free market tends to automatically (invisible hand) find and create more of the best places for every level of ability.)

    AT: “Citizens are motivated by rewards. And rewards are not evenly distributed. Ever. That’s what defines them as rewards….There’s a lot to do, and plenty of reasons to do it. … But rewards vary tremendously.”

    Yes! This helps explain the importance of the Constitution’s protection for freedoms that pertain to religion and other beliefs. As you point out, we vary greatly as to what we consider “reward” and “profit”. I have heard it said that it was the inventor(s) of soap who may have contributed most to the benefit of humanity. Does it matter really that altruism was or was not the motivation that inspired their effort? No matter what motivated them (Wanted to live with a beach view?) the benefits for society have been massive! When an external source, such as government (or social pressure) dictates what is and is not an “appropriate” motivation, we limit greatly the incentives that allow for more of our aptitudes to contribute to the process of becoming the best that could be.

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