Thursday, December 18, 2008


"Don't blame Africa's failure on the west or the free market, that is nonsense. Africa has failed because of its lack of ability to produce wealth for itself, its lack of ability to manage itself, its tendency to blame the west for their own personal failure. Just throwing that in there because some people actually do believe Africa has failed because of free trade. They didn't create jack for the 4000+ years without Europeans. If they were biologically equal to Europeans then they would of atleast had something, but no, they had nothing."

-Forum post by a libertarian

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


If you've ever lived in an apartment or dorm that required you to use a shared laundry room, you may have experienced an issue with the lint screen.

You find an open dryer and inspect the lint screen to make sure it's clean. Unfortunately, it's not, so you go ahead and clean it anyway, stuff your clothes in the dryer and push the button.


Done! Everyone should only have to clean the lint screen once, and since you cleaned it already (someone else's, no less!), you are not obligated to do it again.

Of course, by not cleaning your lint, you leave it for the next sucker to clean, who will be just as pleased to pass their lint on for the next sucker to clean...

Of course, by cleaning your lint, you leave it clean for the next person, who will be just as pleased to clean their lint for the next person...

Lint for lint makes the whole world dry. -Mahatma Lahndri


Saturday, September 27, 2008


I met a nice chap Imek on stumbleupon and we had a dizzying exchange...

Imek: It seems they [anarchists/socialists/communists] understand capitalism as the state of affairs today, but what they don't understand is that this isn't capitalism. True capitalism can't exist while nations squabble away while manipulating or disregarding the rights of their own people.

"It seems they understand communism as the state of affairs in China, Cuba, and North Korea today, but what they don't understand is that this isn't communism. True communism can't exist while nations squabble away while manipulating or disregarding the rights of their own people."

Imek: By the way, I tend to use the word communism to refer to applied communism - you know, the kind that's murdered over 100 million people - because that's the definition that most people recognise. I don't have a problem with voluntary collectivism between free individuals; just when it's violently and repressively forced on people.

Me: "By the way, I tend to use the word capitalism to refer to applied capitalism - you know, the kind that's murdered over 100 million people - because that's the definition that most people recognise. I don't have a problem with voluntary exploitation between free individuals; just when it's violently and repressively forced on people."

Imek: I think you'll find all the "capitalism" murders can be attributed to a state - fascist, monarchy, republic, whatever - being given too much power. But killed by the actual economic system? Yeah, I'm not so sure.

The fact is that, overall, collectivism is more conducive to statism and western individualism is more conducive to freedom and prosperity: I'd rather have been born in Finland than Soviet Russia, West Germany than East Germany, South Korea than North Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong than Mainland China, etc... Or, for death tolls, you could compare the Red Scare in the USA with Stalin's purges. I could go on, but I can never really be bothered with online debates.

Me: I did it again, sorry.

"I think you'll find the "state" can be attributed to capitalism - CEOs, bankers, lobbyists, whatever - taking too much political power. But killed by the actual philosophy? Yeah, I'm not so sure.

The fact is that, overall, greed is more conducive to statism and empathy is more conducive to freedom and prosperity: I'd rather someone view me as a person and not a consumer target; I'd rather be an important and respected member of the community, not another cog in a machine. I'd rather have an economy composed of clean, sustainable industries instead of dominated by dirty, war-mongering, state-creating mega-conglomerates. I could go on, but I can never really be bothered with online debates."

Thanks for typing most of this, Imek!

Monday, May 05, 2008


Stick your face in a car exhaust.
That's icky.

Inhale deeply from a smoke stack.
That's icky.

Drink deep from dirty water.
That's icky.

Take a walk in an ozone haze.
That's icky.

Of course, in everyday life we don't interact with such high concentrations of contaminants. But they're still there, and it certainly isn't good for our health. It could mean as little as another cough or sneeze, mild to severe respiratory problems, to a bout with cancer or some other potentially terminal ailment. No doubt about it,

Pollution is icky.

Pollution comes in large part from fossil fuels and icky energy production practices.

Fortunately, there's something that can be done.

*Alternative Energy
The wind can provide us with clean energy.

Newer models have ways to scare birds away and keep them safe.

Small windmills can be installed in many places, providing a measure of energy independence. Large windmills are also available for community production.

The sun always shines on the earth. We can harness this energy.
Like wind power, solar power can be
small- to large-scale, offering both the benefits of independence and centralized distribution.

There are even more effective ways to reduce pollution.

*Energy Reduction
Every dollar spent on energy-saving measures saves $3 to $5 over time.

High efficiency appliances help reduce energy use. Use guides that detail energy consumption of the appliance; go for the more efficient models.

This highlights the importance of consumer choices. The way consumers purchase products - and what kind - helps shape the economy. If we shop locally or regionally, for products both recycled and recyclable, we reduce transportation and extraction costs, a boon to individuals and businesses alike. We also help to support local farmers and environmentally-friendly businesses.
As a consumer, you can engage in recycling, a way of making use of what would otherwise be trash.
The way we get around is up to us. By utilizing mass transit, the consumer saves money on fuel and maintenance costs, and helps everyone breathe a little easier.
Another great way to travel is via bicycle. Getting around is fun, fast, and efficient. A good ride can be equivalent to a workout, a healthy byproduct.
Automobiles are now - amazingly! - available with electric motors, either solely...
... or in conjunction with a combustion engine.
They are usually more fuel efficient than their combustion-only counterparts.

As we have seen, pollution is costly to our health and slowing our economy. It would make sense for us to address it as an issue, and reap the side benefits of energy savings and regional growth. New ways of producing and saving energy can spur the economy, providing ample job opportunities and a host of new consumer products. For these reasons and more, it would behoove us, as consumers, civil servants, and businesses alike, to focus on a more sustainable energy future.
Anything less is just plain icky.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Honesty is the best policy. Or so the saying goes.

But what if it's brutal? Toss out a little white lie to keep the peace, tell a small fib to preserve the calm. Oh, it works for the inconsequential things, like what she looks like in that dress, or that lame joke he told. For important stuff, like your newfound atheism or your disapproval of how the boss handles things, little white lies don't work. Sure, the receiving party is none the wiser, and their emotional well-being is maintained, but yours may not be.

Sometimes sincerity is required, even if it is painful.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Coin

Sometimes in life we run into situations that require us to make decisions based on two possible choices. In some cases, it's easy to choose; in others, it is not.

What to do? Since either one of the options would be satisfying to you, and you really have no preference, flip a fair coin. If you like the outcome, stick with it. If you don't, you learn that maybe you did have a preference.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Emotional Coercion

Years ago, I read a book called "Why We Buy" by Paco Underhill. He and members of his research team would go to various shops of clients and observe customers. They have sneaky methods of noticing you so that you don't notice them noticing you. These researchers record a plethora of facts about you: what you are wearing, the company you keep, how you move about the store, what you pick up, what you touch, etc. You could almost hear David Attenborough in the background, narrating your activities. The research company then sticks all this data together and comes up with clever ways to get you to do what the store managers want you to do: buy more stuff. As a marketing executive, Underhill knows the tricks because he invented/discovered a lot of them. The "tricks" are making use of the simple things that make us tick, gleaned from this extensive observation of consumer behavior.

Humans are, first and foremost, survival machines. We evolved in the wild to be and act in ways that were conducive to our reproductive success. We're such clever monkeys, though, that we quickly de-wilded the wilderness. Our genes did not get the message, and are still cranking us out to behave as if we were still in the jungle. Of course, we have instinct blindness, that is, we are not aware of what we do or why - we don't need to, we just do it. That was the case for several thousands of years, but now we have folks like Edward Bernays, Underhill, and others that have been able to pinpoint specific instincts and ingrained behavior that we have in response to specific environmental cues. I would like to remind the reader that we are not entirely driven by instincts or predetermined behavior; there is a great variability in our thoughts and actions and our reasons for them. We are not little robots that mindlessly go about our business (well, most of us aren't). I mention this now to make a point later. (that humans ought to be "rational, reasoning, and thoughtful", not mindless animals that react to environmental cues.)

Bringing up Edward Bernays suggests, quite rightly, that government propaganda can and obviously does make use of the same tactics used by advertisers, and vice versa. We should not have expected things to be otherwise.

Our Candidate

From the video, we can see that the way to subvert the good sense of humans, propaganda must appeal to emotions. Fear is, I believe, the most commonly used and effective emotion to elicit the desired response. The reason is fear played such a huge role in our lives in the jungle. Fear meant survival, even if it was irrational. Running from a tiger cub thinking it is a tiger because the fear magnified the threat may indeed seem silly to us, but our monkey ancestors would rather expend a few calories like this and be wrong than be gobbled up for good.

Other emotions and systems come into play as well. For example, humans like faces. We have a natural propensity to notice them. (As an aside, I'm pretty sure most animals with faces have some face recognition pattern). Humans also have built-in attractiveness measuring systems. Symmetry of the body, especially faces, is often a good indication of quality genes. Stick symmetrical, youthful human faces all over advertisements - even if faces have nothing to do with the product:

[at an auto exhibit where a blonde model poses together with a car for a raffle.]
Homer: [looks at model after signing his raffle ticket] Do you come with the car?
Model: Oh you! [laughs childishly]
[Homer leaves. Another man walks up to the car]
Male attendee: [looks at model after signing his raffle ticket] Do you come with the car?
Model: Oh you! [laughs childishly]
- and people will look at it and make associations between the people depicted and the product. Multi-national and -cultural studies have shown that women with a .7 waist to hip ratio are found, on average, to be more desirable than other ratios. This probably has a lot to do with fertility cues. Associating fertility cues with automobiles makes a lot of sense.

Let's not expect advertisers to be the sole users of these facts. The recent republican debates and polls have shown Mitt Romney is a popular candidate. I predicted it was because of his hair, and since we know that national politicians generally don't say anything meaningful, this is probably the case.

The point of all this is to demonstrate the similarity of tactics. Now we must break down the underlying reasons for using them. The simple reason is: they want us to do something. Whether it's handing over money for a good or service or as a donation for a campaign, to having a positive mental attitude towards the company, party, or politician makes no difference.

Wanting something is not inherently bad or undesirable, it's just a matter of how we go about getting it. If I can save some effort by asking someone to pass the pepper, I just politely ask them to do so. I don't have to resort to fear-mongering or excessive charm. The use of emotional and sexual manipulation is what makes the previous cases so detestable. Rather than be addressed as rational, thoughtful, intelligent, responsible people (you know, humans), advertisers and political propagandists appeal to base instincts and survival mechanisms. It is insulting because it suggests that A) we are too stupid to understand the real reasons why we should do something, and B) we are too stupid to even ask. The most insulting thing, though, is C) it works.

Not all the time, nor on everyone, but it does. We are such that we can't help but react a certain way in some cases. I consider it coercion. In an obvious case, a person holds a gun to my head and demands my obedience. Bypassing such crude methods, I am induced as a monkey (not as a human) to obey through cleverly designed media spots. One interesting property of media coercion as compared to violent coercion, is that whereas the latter is good at obtaining direct obedience with direct, individual contact and less so in large groups; the former is rather poor at bending the individual to its will, but quite effective at moving crowds. Everyone has these holes in the armor of their persona, but not everyone has a gun to their head. Most people can overcome emotional or sexual coercion, but not always so with violent coercion. The trouble is that we often don't even notice we are being emotionally manipulated. It is easy to spot the gun and the malevolence behind it. Appeals to emotion - especially those couched in the innocent activity of "merely informing others that such a product exists" - do not have an apparent ill-intent. It may seem just fine and logical to vote for this or that candidate because of this or that emotionally-charged "issue".

This is perhaps the scariest and most dangerous aspect of emotional manipulation: because it is your emotion and your reaction, you feel like you are in control. You are not. At least, not completely. The amount of autonomy you give up depends on how comfortable you feel being driven by your emotions to perform the bidding of another person. Over time I would imagine you would be happy to have others make your decisions. After all, your emotions tell you that what you are doing is desirable, so what you want is what they want, and you don't have to go through the trouble of trying to figure out what it is you want. They do that for you.

So when I rail against consumerism (or political ads not unlike the spoof above) and all it's evils, this is just one aspect of what I mean. If you've ever seen a person zombie-like in front the TV, flashes of light flickering off their glazed eyes, reduced through years of careful conditioning to be an emotionally-driven consumer robot, you will experience the horror...

Horrified yet? Good, now do my bidding...