In Defense of Taxes

We agree there are “social goods” which require a collective effort to complete (like roads, hospitals, infrastructure, etc). If not, we must have a different conversation before this one, probably about the issues surrounding anarchism/libertarianism. It doesn’t matter what in particular needs this effort, simply that there is something is enough. We must then form a body to collect resources, in a fair way, from everyone. That’s taxes.

We vote in a flawed, yet democratic way, to decide how that money is spent. Even in the most idyllic of democracies, people will have a portion of their money spent on things they disagree with. Accepting compromise is a necessity of any democracy. That doesn’t mean we’re completely stuck with this situation, there’s a partial solution.

The government allows you to choose which social good your money goes to but then charges you a premium. You agree to put more money into society in exchange for having some control over its usage. This is charitable donations. The idea is that all charities perform a similar social good as the government. Many focus on alleviating the effects of poverty on specific groups, tending to the sick/injured, dealing with disasters, or foreign aid. These are all things the government would have to do if a charity didn’t. A tax deduction on donations allow you to claim a percentage of your donation. You have diverted some of the money that would have gone to the collective pool into your chosen social program. So long as it’s always just a deduction based on a fraction of your donation, you’ll be paying more money into the ‘social good’ then you would have with straight taxes. Additionally, the government can encourage certain charities by modifying what that percentage is based on the type of charity.

This is also why voting is important, regardless of your political affiliation. Your money is being spent by people and you really should try to influence how it’s used. Whether you believe in starkly honest voting or strategic voting, you definitely can’t sway the usage of those funds by not voting.

I’m well aware donations can be gamed by the rich/corporations to reduce their taxes. False charities and loopholes allow abuse. This isn’t a flaw with the idea itself, merely a facet of any human created system. There are always cracks in the machine.

Angles

GEB

The cover of Godel, Escher, Bach is a shape which shows three different letters from three different axis. It’s a visual metaphor for a cardinal point of the book: truth can be viewed from different angles without each one contradicting the others. The shapes exists in a solid form but viewing it necessarily flattens it (whether shadows, or printing it to a cover or viewing it from your 2D optical nerve). We know the flattening happens so we shouldn’t ignore the differing perspectives but combine them into a greater image.

Reality itself is the same but to the nth degree. There are countless dimensions to see the shape of the universe, not just 3.

I came across an instance of this recently when reading a book on human society. It defined religions as a system of human norms & values combined with a belief in superhuman order. Non-theistic/Pan-theistic Buddhism is then a religion, as are modern political ideologies. Contrast that with the definition you’ll get in a basic philosophy of religion class; that it’s belief/worship in a superhuman power. It would reject (some of) Buddhism because it lacks gods or other supernatural powers. Both definitions have merit depending on what you want to discuss. This new (to me) view is very helpful when talking about the social usage of religion. It provides a useful contrast when analyzing the evolution of dominant memetic structures. The power, control, and divisiveness of modern politics is sensible when compared to early Christianity. The political left has been as schismatic as early catholicism. 

Nazi Punching

There’s this meme I’ve seen going around about punching nazi’s. Some use Captain America comics from world war two, others explain it from the antifa punk side, and the rest are more general arguments in favour of using violence against fascists.

I’m a pacifist. Well mostly, I don’t have the absolute conviction of some pacifists. I feel that violence can become necessary, but it’s something we shouldn’t celebrate. Hurting and killing people over ideas is never good. At best it can be an unavoidable better option than being passive. So I’m not going to claim an absolute argument against “punching a nazi” but I definitely think people are making a mistake in arguing in favour of it. Here’s three reasons

You’re not good at Violence:

Violence is an easy option because it’s simple. It doesn’t require the nuance that dialogue does. The problem is that it doesn’t convince anyone of your point. The best you can do is silence your opposition. So if you advocate violence, realize that’s the end goal you’re seeking. And getting to the end is what I see as problematic. See, imagine this idea you have for a “Nazi”, try thinking of what their sensible response would be. It’s violence. Once you bring violence to the table, that is what will be passed back and forth. They will not respond with more talk, they will fight back. And what you now have to ask yourself is, are you prepared to win that fight? The vast majority of the ‘progressive’ movement are people who prefer talking to fighting. The punk/antifa groups are the exception but I’ve seen way more people not associated with them arguing for it. These people are good at talking. The fascists are the ones more likely to be good at violent intimidation. So if you bring violence, you’ve helped them. You’ve made it easier for them to win.

Captain America was fighting a war:

All these memes showing the Captain fighting Nazi’s; it’s war propaganda. We have a general agreement that it was a justified war. I’m not arguing against that. What I want to point out is that by sharing these, you’re advocating war. Few of us have directly experienced the tragedy that is a war. We experience it through books and movies and games. These are notoriously bad for glorifying war and glossing over the horrendous acts. Acts committed by both sides; the allies killed many, many civilians in their bombing raids. Some would argue they were all necessary to win the war. Some would argue against it. Either way, people in charge of the war were deciding to kill innocent people. That’s never good. When you forget that, that’s when you lose your soul.

Furthermore, what many are forgetting is that Nazi Germany was a country. You can effectively wage war on a country. The fascist groups we’re opposing are not foreign nations, they’re internal groups of people. If you use world war two as your shining example, realize you’re advocating for civil war. That’s an even uglier situation, more brutal and tragic than a standard war. The death toll and damage to your country would be catastrophic.

Talk to people who’ve survived these wars, ask them if it’s worth it. If you don’t, you may have more blood on your hands than you want; your opponents, your allies and all the bystanders caught between you.

Why are you listening to Hitler?

The worst meme I’ve seen is this quote, attributed to Hitler, about the rise of the Nazi party: “Only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

On researching this, I found the original version of the quote too: “Only one danger could have jeopardised this development – if our adversaries had understood its principle, established a clear understanding of our ideas, and not offered any resistance. Or, alternatively, if they had from the first day annihilated with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

The larger context was that he believed they could have been stopped with violence OR if they hadn’t been attacked in a mild fashion. They were hurt mildly and that allowed them to grow, to feel they were being persecuted. So with full context, no, Hitler wasn’t telling you to cheer on petty violence.

But really, I don’t want to engage in this.

I don’t give a fuck what Hitler thought. Why do you think it’s a good idea to listen to Hitler? At what point did you decide violent sociopaths were full of good advice?

Understanding ones enemies will help you defeat them. That is not the same as taking their opinions as fact. He was a violent sociopath. He believed he could have been stopped through violence. Of course he said that! To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Violent people believe in violence. Don’t become them. Don’t quote their stupidity.

Stop quoting Hitler.

A final note.

Bayard Rustin was a gay, african american on the forfront of the the civil rights movement. He was also pacifist during world war 2. He protested the internment of japanese citizens and he went to jail for refusing to fight the nazis. That man was incredibly brave. We need pacifists like him.

Once more unto the Breach

Enter the Trump Presidency.

I’ve stayed silent about him for some time now. During the election process, especially early on, I got the impression he was being confrontational and offensive to get attention. I try not to talk about blowhards like that because it helps them. The more people talk about him the more attention he gets. We’re past that point though. We have to talk. He’s gotten an absurd amount of power and it’s not okay.

But let us take a step back first.

I’ve avoided politics in my writings, but also in my life. Of course I have many political ideas and I like to debate with people on them. Real low level politics are life, you can’t avoid that. It’s just that I’ve been actively disengaged with the big picture. I avoided getting involved with organizations and with movements. This isn’t something I’m proud of, nor is it something I’m especially ashamed of. We should all strive to do good in the world and it’s up to the individuals to decide what form that takes. There’s more problems than any one person can possibly face, so we pick our battles. Personally, I found politics to be far more draining of my energy and good will than most things. If you can’t guess from my writings, I don’t fall into a mainstream viewpoint. I’m actively frustrated by political parties and organisations. In some cases it’s not entirely their fault, the system itself is set up in a combative fashion which forces any successful group to adhere to a toxic mentality. The Us-vs-Them thing. The antagonistic, divisive, polarizing tactics. It’s not something I can agree with. So I tried for non-mainstream parties. Political people on the fringes are even worse because they’re actively divisive towards anyone with beliefs that are not “exactly correct”. The in-fighting is mind numbing. So I gave up. I focused my energy on those people I could directly engage with. Actually being able to have a conversation with someone makes helping them exponentially more effective.

Yet despite all that I’m coming back around.

We’ve been building towards a big shift: war or some global catastrophe, whether famine, plague, or other. If we had a strong moral leader, this event could be spun into a good thing. We could have been steered to something greater. Maybe a societal shift in how we treat our environment or in our inequality issues.

But no. Now the odds are on a tragedy.

America is bereft of a positive leader. Learning the history of the Roman Empire, both the fall of the united east/west empire and the subsequent fall of the eastern half, has been startling educational. Their president is reminiscent of the entitled and violently stupid later emperors. The ones who managed to squander the treasury, destabilize the borders, and wreck the legal system, all while playing a populist rhetoric of helping the common people. It’s scary to see how bad this collapse could become.

This generation will bleed. We will suffer and struggle but we will survive. Many common people survived both world war 1 and 2. The bloodshed was monumental but they survived.

As will we.

Three generations and we forget. Average lifespan skews the absolute number of years, but it’s the generations that count. The children who grow up in the shadow of tragedy know to not repeat it. Their children are a step removed from it, they learn of it as an idea. They start to glorify the violence, to forget the pain. When they have become old, their is no one to remember. The children of the children become adults who have forgotten why we remember.  

I can’t say for certain this president will be important in and of himself (important can be good or bad, I’m talking impact). I have my doubts about how he will be written into history. What I can tell for sure is that he will be a catalyst. The “cause” will be our societies neglected problems.

The lessons we have forgotten and the ones we have yet to learn.

Building our City

I’ve been working construction for the past 6 years. Big building kinda stuff, not single dwelling homes. Often it’s been government funded projects or large towers. Sometimes the things I work one conflict with my personal ethics. Gentrification is a problem in my city and these towers may be making it worse. There’s also government funded things that I don’t like the purpose of. But nonetheless, I feel a sense of pride at having worked on them.

It’s definitely not tied to the actual end result because as I stated already, I’m not always a fan of why the the thing is being built. Obviously it’s preferable when my ethics line up with the project. I briefly worked on a radio-pharmacology expansion for a local hospital. That’s something I’m happy to have worked on. Of course it was my first job, so I can’t really claim too much credit for it.

But I digress.

I enjoy these projects because of the size and scale of them. It’s having a direct hand in building my city. I feel more intimately connected to my home. These structures that make up our city are monuments to our progress as a society.

In the ancient times it would have been temples to the gods. Now it’s towers for business, with the great corporations names emblazoned on the top. Both structures are monuments to the elites arrogant belief in their own ideology. As a crafter I am in tune with those same builders of old (well the ones who weren’t slaves). The craftsmen who were prized for their skills. It’s unlikely they all believed devoutly in the old religions, but they harbored at least some beliefs. Worship has been safer than the alternative throughout most of history. The same is still true. We builders of the modern age must channel our forebearers when we trust in economics.

~~~

Cities are monuments to capitalism. The size and cost of a buildings is the plumage of a bird of paradise. They waste millions of dollars on displays of wealth, when millions of innocents die.

A piece of work I’m particularly proud of is a large chandelier I installed downtown. From talking to my bosses they estimated it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just the chandelier for a lobby. It’s main purpose wasn’t even to provide much light, it was principally decorative.

People are in terrible poverty very near that building. Walk a couple blocks from that job site and you’d see it. Yet a chandelier is installed that’s worth more than multiple people’s average  annual income. How to we justify this?

We don’t.
Not really.

It’s not a rational thing. It’s part of our confused concepts of justice and ownership and “fairness”. We’re all entitled in our own ways, even if we have a decent concept of morality. There’s an element of double think going on, of having morals and willfully ignoring them.

I’m reminded of the double-think required to be patriotic and moral.

True Patriotism, the kind that actually serves a positive purpose, has a dual nature. It’s a shame and a pride. And that’s how it should be. You have to feel both. You should feel pride in the progress your country makes because you are a part of it. A minute cog is still necessary for the larger workings of the national organism. Even if you hate the idea of it, you cannot be truly removed from nation states. The only option is to accept one, embrace it and try to do some good with it.

The flip side of Patriotism is patriotic shame. This is why I’ve always hated it, because so many “patriots” ignore this half. They don’t accept the wrongs done by their country. Most modern states have been involved in some horrendous acts; institutional racism/sexism, non-consensual medical experimentation, genocide, war crimes. No country is fully innocent, so recognize the flaws and work towards something better. If you stop feeling shame you’ve decided you no longer need to improve. Morally.
Unacceptable.

So reject that idea. Feel shame. Feel pride. One forces you to see your mistakes, the other allows you to see a better way to be. You amplify the good parts of your nation but you never stop talking about the shameful acts they’ve committed.

Money Problems

There’s a problem with money. Well there’s more than one but this is a poignant one. Having money allows you to get more money. As biological creatures we want to leave things for our offspring (usually). These two together create an inevitable growing wealth disparity, regardless of how equal we start off. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Taxes are the only counter force but they only function when they are a smaller force. A 100% or greater tax would simply encourage criminal behaviour.

Let’s get down the layers to the root cause: money is how we quantify power. You can eliminate money but the same dynamic will occur with raw power, be it technology, weaponry, etc. Power accumulates. It’s an attractive force like gravity. It will clump together in larger and larger chunks. The more centralized the power, the greater we can manipulate the world around us. Not as individuals but as humanity. All the great structures of the world were built when the wealth distribution was unequal. This power allows for monumental creations, but it also creates great complexity in the system. This complexity is inherently unstable. A society with less centralization and less complexity will naturally last much longer. If two societies meet, the more complex one is capable of far greater accomplishments. It will either destroy the simpler society with force or compete it out of existence.

Is there some elegant solution? Not that I can think of and I doubt it’s possible. Any means to work around this (like taxes) will be a human created system. This power dynamic isn’t of human origin, it’s a part of the universe. It’s intrinsically tied with evolution. A system we create will be itself susceptible to the exact problem it intends to solve. Power will still accumulate within it. Here I’m reminded of the self referential nature of Godel’s Incompleteness theorem and how it trashed the universal application of mathematics. Fucking Godel.

There isn’t a satisfying conclusion. We can’t solve the wealth gap, at least not in the long term. Wealth will accumulate until it reaches a point of instability and then collapse. The revolution is inevitable. As is its failure.

This can’t be taken as an argument for inaction because the scale is deceiving. Yes, all societies will fall prey to the greed of a minority. Everyone dies too, that doesn’t mean being a doctor is pointless. You do it to save people in the here and now. The present tense is always more meaningful. The future cannot trump that.

So we tax the rich and their inheritance. We plot the revolution. We plan for it to not fail.
Even when we know it will.

Our Fucked up Economy

We call capitalism efficient but it’s not. Well it is in a sense, if you give it a limited scope for that efficiency. Economic Efficiency. It minimizes the cost for the buyer and maximizes the profit for the seller. The invisible hand guides it to the point of equilibrium. If that’s all you care about then it’s great, but any sane person will have more values than that. The environment, resource usage, economic equality, work/life balance, ethical treatment of animals/people. All of those things are secondary to the real goal of our economy.

I’ve seen this first hand on construction sites. Efficiency is guided by contract bidding. A company makes a list of what must be done and companies don on the contract, with the lowest bid winning. The overall job is parceled out so there are multiple contracts on site with different companies Then when work is being done each company is simply trying to maximize their own profit. If it saves them money to throw stuff out and reinstall ne material then they will, despite the increase in material waste. If the work they’re doing needs to be done as stipulated in the contract, but it is known that the work will be removed for some extraneous reason, it is still done. If the work will clearly cause problems for one of the other companies, but it is supposed to be done at that time, it’s still done. Occasionally the different companies will foster more positive relations and work together, but it’s rare and only when not at the expense of profit. A wasteful and stupid idea.

It’s fucked up and obvious to anyone who’ll pay attention.

But costs must be minimized, that’s all that’s important.

Right?