The four most dangerous words

It appears some of us are interested in the business of trading, hopefully for both fun and profit.
Here's a place to talk about that. I suggest two main categories. How to trade (timeless), and what are you trading now, and why, and how it turned out. Those tend to be missing from the pro boards, so pundits can have selective memory....but that's not all that is important. Being wrong is part of the game, and how to handle it and make money anyway is crucial, for just one example.
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The four most dangerous words

Postby Doug Coulter » Thu Apr 14, 2011 1:36 pm


"It's different this time". And indeed, they are very dangerous. During the internet boom, when companies with no income or serious business plan were zooming on the markets, people were sucked in with those words. If they weren't pretty nimble, they paid hard for that. Whether it's tulip bulbs, silver, internet stocks -- some things are never different. Human nature just doesn't seem to change much and it's mostly not good (present company excepted of course, and one reason this board is here -- so we few who aren't lazy, dishonest, greedy, short sighted, can find one another).

However, here goes -- I got guts -- it's different this time. No, not human nature, it sadly remains pretty constant.

What is different? Well for one thing, this is the first era in which the planet we live on is truly showing that it's finite. And we have built a world in the idea that there will always be another place to explore for more resources, another place to build a nest after we crap into the one we're in, and that new technology will always come along in time to solve our problems before they get really bad.

And it's just not true. The planet IS finite. There is no other place to go when we crap up our nest, and we've even cut any space travel, not that it would ever have been able to support a migration if there was another earth as close as the moon -- takes too much energy and history shows not that many people have what it takes to pull up stakes and rebuild anyway, unless it is awfully easy (like coming here from Mexico -- where there's already a rich country and culture, not really that hard a thing to do compared to taming a new world).

The world is addicted to inexpensive energy, mostly non-renew-ables, as a force multiplier so we don't eat our bread in the sweat of our brow -- a tractor does that part, and a tractor trailer brings it to our table. Energy keeps the food cold and fresh so we don't die and all that is possible.

As I study mining companies (good thing to do if you trade them as I do) the word is -- we've high-graded everything, and seached the entire planet and already found all deposits that are "significant". All the tech in the world can't do much about that -- there is so much copper here, and that's it. When you use up all the 30% ore, then doing down to 10% and less and there's no more places to look, well, you have issues. And of course it takes more energy to extract from the lower grades too -- and that's also in the same boat. I predict that some of us will live to see landfills fought over as "mines". Gold ore is now considered high grade if there are 10 grams per long ton of it.

The last big oil find was by PB and partners off shore in Brazil. It's not as big as Saudi....and there's not much earth left to look for oil on that hasn't been extensively searched already.

So, while human nature hasn't changed, and likely won't very much we do have a new input to the system -- we are flat running out of everything from energy to tillable land area. You can only double corn bushels/acre so many times with tech -- at some point it won't fit, and theres only so much solar energy per acre to grow it! What, realistically could even the best science fiction tech do for us once the solar-energy to corn-growth is 100% utilization? You could engineer it to use less water (and we have) but obviously there is a minimum there too.

A lot of people fantasize about moving to the great wild country if things get bad, like the place I live. Think again -- if many people do that, it won't be there anymore, there's just too many of us and too little "great wild". Not very long ago here, there was a meeting in the neighborhood that among other things, discussed the fact that we had a predatory mountain lion around.
I mentioned one of the very good hunters we have around here as a way to deal with that -- we'd hunted them to near extinction during the original settlements, as they are no joke, and even eat children (and the lack of them is why we now have too many deer and MUST hunt them for their and our own good). Well, the lady in question rejected that out of hand -- she wanted it captured and put "back where it belongs". There is no such place anymore -- she built a house on it, and I said that. Wasn't that popular a statement (for those who didn't laugh out loud) but hey, the truth, when it paints an ugly picture, isn't popular anywhere among normal humans, eh?

To me, this is just fact -- I'm not really that open to arguing it, and have already looked into the supposed "mineral and other" riches that the melting permafrost will expose and all that -- it's nothing, just a little more in our finite world.

So, how do we play this fact to our benefit? To me that's the true question, and those who assume that it's "never different this time" are about to be proved wrong in a way they can't dispute.
Since we have this little glimpse into what's to come, and it's doggoned inevitable, what do we do so that at least those of us who are honest and have skills and conviction come out fine, even if it's not possible for all to do so?

Now that's where discussion is called for, as I don't have an answer that makes me happy or content yet. I can't see just being superior fighter over less and less stuff that is more valuable by being scarce, but necessary as a happy outcome, even if I win that fight (though I of course do plan to win). I'd like to find an everybody-wins kind of solution, or at least "nearly everybody".

Anyone have a clue?
I see little point in changing a thousand dollars into a million if that million won't even buy then what that thousand would today. I see little joy in profiting in a world where people are dying for lack of the true necessities (but I don't care if people die over lack of cable TV or hot showers at 5 am every day).

IN fact, even our broken medical system is helping the problem along -- people are living longer, and consuming, while still only being productive for about the same length of time as ever, and our retirement laws don't reflect the new reality. In truth, having people retire young seems like a good thing -- wealth is time or vice versa, and in this case, just having more people "Do things" isn't the problem -- we can barely employ those we have now, labor isn't the problem anymore, machines have so hyped up our ability to strip the planet there's no need for a lot of slave labor anymore (as long as there's energy to run them, and I think we can count on the fact they'll have priority when energy is short).

Wow, that's pretty grim, and I'm not the grim sort -- why else would I be pouring my personal fortune and time into trying to find a way out via some form of nuclear energy, which would solve at least a few of the really big problems? Believe me, I spend a lot more time laughing my guts out or experiencing joy than any of the opposites. I just don't allow it to make me blind.

But what if I (we) fail? It's definitely possible we would. Science doesn't magically come along and save us -- we've just been lucky. The universe is constructed the way it is, and no other way. We can't prove there's a world saving secret trick out there we just haven't found out yet -- can't prove it either way, and dumb luck is not what I like to count on -- I take it when I get it, but don't think I will always have it when needed, and don't confuse it with skill on my part - and neither should "the world".

In the bad old days, the overpopulation issues were simply solved -- war and pestilence. I'm not going to wish for either, and I assume that no one here would either. Eugenics was made kind of unpopular by that dictator in Germany awhile back -- and I think that's a good thing myself -- we are obviously not wise enough as a species to handle that. Heck, collectively we were dumb enough to put ourselves into this situation as is, even with guys like Malthus to warn us about it -- he wasn't right at the right time, but....what about now, or soon?

We can't stop procreating -- human nature, and in truth, we are still in a world where the young are needed to take care of the old as well as themselves.

At any rate, given that it really is different this time, and to get back on topic -- what will we smart guys do to stay on top, and hopefully bring others with us, since we know it's different, but hardly anyone else does (at least anyone but some greenies with unrealistic goals and a serious lack of brains or a workable plan to fix it). And since we don't have a plan that can bring everyone along, how to choose who gets to come along for the ride? Heck, that's as hard and dangerous a judgment to make as that eugenics stuff, isn't it.

So if anyone wants to talk trash around this as a starting point -- here's the tinder, and the spark. Go make a fire.

Put as a question, even a biblical one -- How to be a good steward and be rewarded for so being?

Remember, that starving and desperate people will pull down those who aren't in that condition if they can (and call it fairness!), so betting on what "just has to do well in a shortage situation" might result in making a bad bet -- one example -- windfall profits taxes. There are more, of course.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: The four most dangerous words

Postby johnf » Thu Apr 14, 2011 8:42 pm

I think all thinking people have the same view
I did see a sign on a camper van the other day that I thought wasn't too bad

"To solve some of the worlds problems the hungrey should eat the homeless"

But in all other ways I think we have signed our own death warrents anyway----I see that medical proffessionals are saying that antibiotics will cease to be effective within ten years due to the overuse /abuse of prescribing them too easily in the past and present. So life expectancy will plumet and that will return to what it was around 1900
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Re: The four most dangerous words

Postby Doug Coulter » Fri Apr 15, 2011 12:01 pm

You'd have to have a high tolerance for recreational drugs to have a diet of homeless, the ones I've met...

True story:
Our R&R band had a roadie, a guy we called Wild Bill. He was a Vietnam vet, diagnosed PTSD and got drugs from the VA. He was a meth head, however. Since when he went to the army doctors, he was always wired to the gills, they prescribed this and that sedative like drug -- Valium prime among them, and boy, this guy needed that even when not on meth. Brilliantly smart most of the time, meth hadn't yet eaten out his brains, a little schizophrenic, and smart enough to game the system. So, he'd get all these free drugs -- you name it, from the army, then sell them to buy the meth. I let him live on my campus for awhile, as he was otherwise homeless -- that was quite a circus. But it basically ended due to two things. He was a gun guy, and sometimes when the hallucinations would take him, go out in the yard and shoot "imaginaries" in the middle of the night -- that was kinda hard to be around. And, when times got tough for him, I didn't get any rent. I wound up owning his gun rent. Rendered him a little safer I guess -- but he's in jail now for a long time due to him keeping one and waving it around crazy in the grocery store -- that sort of thing is not looked on with patience (and heck it was a .44 magnum -- but not loaded - he was gaming the system again to have a jail cell and 3 squares a day).
When he left, we cleaned up the place, and found, I dunno, many hundreds of little baggies with meth dust in them -- an insane amount, and those were just the ones that didn't find the trash, and simply fell into the couch. Gheez. I have trouble understanding that drug, why anyone would use it. I was exposed to that (and pretty much all the others) as part of my "job" as a drummer in a popular set of bands, but that one never did it for me, ever -- it was always unpleasant, yet made you want more, because it wearing off was even more unpleasant. That was enough to make me never want to see the stuff -- all downside as far as I could tell. I'm safe from that one, and most others. If anything, I'm wound a little too tight out of the gate, but anything sedative just knocks me cold for all too long -- sleeping is nice, but not exactly entertaining. I suppose that being wrapped so tight, I generally run somewhat sleep-deprived and when any downer is ingested, that one gets taken care of.

Actually, I feel pretty lucky that most drugs have never gotten a hold over me, since I did live in a world where that was very common, and people were giving them to you all the time, unasked. I guess it was my addiction to nicotine that really helped that -- let me tell you, that one really stinks, and is harder to quit than heroin (which I know from hard actual experience). Once you've got one monkey on your back, other contenders are much easier to see for what they are, and to avoid. Strange, but as far as I can tell, true.

Out in the country, there aren't any homeless, so I don't see them. Funny how one can be so easily fooled into projecting that "everything is like here".
We used to put such people in asylums and take at least minimal care of them, but various abuses led to budget cuts, and now they're on the street.

Here in the boonies, things are handled somewhat differently, more up close and personal. We have a few mental defectives around, but no homeless. They are generally taken care of by one of the remaining farmers -- room and board and a few bucks for farm help -- good deal for everyone, at least what I've seen, and a lot more efficient than some government taking money from all, wasting 2/3 of it paying themselves, and putting out the other 1/3, with further administrative loss along the way, to "help" someone. As you could see by the city/country differences, the country way works a lot better to the casual observer.


In this country, the big majority live in cities, and drink city water provided by some utility. It turns out that the water treatment plants don't do much of a job taking out various drugs and hormones flushed down toilets or runoff from farmland (the vast majority of antibiotics are used in livestock - no prescription required for that -- some people even buy them and use them to circumvent doctor bills). So if you're not drinking your own well water, it turns out you're dosing yourself on quite a number of interesting substances, like it or not.

Sometimes I wonder if the big rise in diabetes is really all about obesity, or the unknowing/unwilling ingestion of all these drugs and other organic chemicals. Could it be that all the estrogen (one of the big ones) men are drinking unknowingly is also the reason Viagra is now so popular (and so "needed")? Of course some of that might also be the ingestion of all those plasticizers people get from bottled water, soda pop, you name it. I'm lucky that way -- no city water, just from my springs or other local sources that measure quite pure, and the odd bottle of beer.

I have been seeing signs of progress in biology. It seems concepts taken from the computer science business have taken hold there and have been driving things -- good. Even way back, Watson and Crick mentioned DNA as the "paper tape of life", referring to that stuff we used to store our programs on and use for input. But it could be I'm not reading the "news" or more accurately, press releases on the science boards critically enough. I sure see plenty of bull in the physics area I'm more familiar with, so maybe I'm too optimistic there.

Antibiotic resistance is some pretty decent proof that bacteria evolve, not that people who don't believe in evolution are swayed by facts or anything. In fact, it's been found in some cases that resistance genes can be transferred sideways, even between species. Some interesting experiments have been done there. One is to introduce some resistant strain into a pond with a lot of natural bacteria of various kinds also present -- just doing that and waiting results in a higher percentage of resistance in all the bacteria in the pond, even without a challenge. Dose up the pond with a sub-lethal dose of antibiotics, and for awhile the bactieria count goes down. When it recovers, all the bacteria have acquired this resistance. You can do this without the antibiotic "challenge" and it still works -- it just works better under a little pressure. Most farms have ponds full of antibiotics from livestock waste runoff...

I think I must not taste good to the little buggers. It's really rare to see me get sick or infected with anything, compared to most people. Lucky genes or something, or perhaps as George Carlin said -- my immune system has had a lot of practice. All my transactions with the medical biz have been trauma related -- I've been known to wreck on and off road vehicles and generally have accidents because I'm always pushing the limits. So far, I seem hard to kill.

Even a rifle I was working on blew up on me and took off one side of my head -- but missed killing me by a hair. Of course, that one was my fault (they pretty much all are). I knew the thing was centuries old, not in super good shape, and the test firing should have been done remotely, the standard practice all we gunsmiths use. I just got in too much hurry....the only thing that saved me was I had mounted a scope (being an accuracy freak with not so great eyes) so when the bolt came back out of there, it missed my brain, low. After going through my jaw, it went through a locust fencepost(!) and buried itself almost a foot deep in a dirt bank 20 yards behind me -- that thing was really moving. You can call that a bad day at the must have looked pretty horrible, the EMTs were puking and I had to put in my own IV as the one trying to do so was shaking too hard to do it while his buddy hurled into the bushes. It didn't hurt -- then. Now I have an excuse to set off metal detectors -- my head is half Ti under the skin. I have a picture of what I looked like after the surgeons got done and even that one is pretty gross. Mostly all gone now, though. The surgeon said she couldn't make me good looking, so we went for distinctively ugly, and that worked. Never did care much about things like that -- pointless in my case anyway.

As I've become aware of my mortality, I just bought a safety harness rig for the roof work I'm about to do to get the new solar panels up there...

Of course, this doesn't bring us closer to a solution to the problems -- which I think are more or less summed up as "too many people" for the planet to carry in the lifestyles we'd like to become accustomed to. This issue, and another one (what to do as automation makes most jobs irrelevant -- and breaks capitalism due to no customers with money?) I've argued for a long time with all the smartest people I know, without anyone coming up with a solution we can all be happy with, so I guess we're just going to wind up watching humans try to muddle through. Rats. It's not that pretty a sight.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: The four most dangerous words

Postby JonathanH13 » Fri Apr 15, 2011 6:04 pm

Hmmm, a post close to my own heart – I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

There are solutions, but existing ‘social values’, that is, the indoctrination that we grew up with means that we cannot or will not implement them.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family...

In our short sightedness we genuinely believe that it is an inherent human right to have children, just because it is something that we have always done, and something that we are capable of. I'm saying it's NOT an inherent right. In an overpopulated world this will be a right that people work for, not a right that one is born into.

Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing...

So, to summarize: You have the right to have as many children as you like, regardless whether you have the ability to protect, educate and feed them adequately. And this is OK? Article 16 is in direct conflict with Article 25 because in a finite environment there is finite resource (planet earth, for example). The more humans that exist, the less resource there is for everyone. Maybe someone should explain to the clever people at the UN that the right to be fed is not actually the same as being fed. Is it premature to think this way? Should we wait until the population reaches 20 billion and then start eating each other?

<< Genesis 1:28 >>
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

In the social circles that we move in, one or two children might be normal, but 1.2 billion catholics still think differently. So do 1.9 billion muslims, 0.9 billion hindus and 0.7 billion Africans. Oh, and don't forget the 100 million American christians who also think 4.1+ children is a good idea. Even if you halve these numbers, that is still 2.4 billion people in total - over a third of the world's population.

However, given the choice and a little education I believe that very few women would actually choose to have 10 kids, or even 3, quite frankly. Birth-rates will decline voluntarily - and poverty rates will drop when steps are taken to increase women's control over economic resources. Low female literacy rates have a huge negative impact on population stabilization efforts.

During the '80s, per capita income dropped in at least 50 countries – studies that point to the reason for the growing impoverishment: discrimination against women, reinforced by religious doctrine and conventional economic strategies. Evidence consistently shows that investing in women is the most direct way to lift families out of poverty, but unfortunately, over the last decade the status of women has declined.

At the moment, article 25 is actually achievable - consider the global priorities in spending in 1998:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

    8 Cosmetics in the United States
    11 Ice cream in Europe
    12 Perfumes in Europe and the United States
    17 Pet foods in Europe and the United States
    35 Business entertainment in Japan
    50 Cigarettes in Europe
    105 Alcoholic drinks in Europe
    400 Narcotics drugs in the world
    780 Military spending in the world

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions

    6 Basic education for all
    9 Water and sanitation for all
    12 Reproductive health for all women
    13 Basic health and nutrition

Perhaps if the disenfranchised were better cared for the cycle of endless poverty would be, at least, slowed. Besides the fact that hungry, thirsty, sick people without homes don’t give a toss about global sustainability.

>IN fact, even our broken medical system is helping the problem along

It is currently estimated that in the ‘developed nations’, the average age of death is increasing by just under one month for every year that passes!

> Science doesn't magically come along and save us

I'm not fatalistic, but you don’t have to be too far-sighted to see that we are living in the final decades of privilege, extravagance and ignorance. Having said that, I also think that when making predictions about the future, you do need to factor in technological advances that we do not have yet. But yes, between now and then, someone actually has to do the work to create this ‘future technology’.

Personally I believe that we can already have a renewable energy system, if we just stop fighting:

In 2009 we (the terminally stupid human race) spent 1531 billion dollars on our military. How far do you think this money would go if it was used to cover our deserts with solar concentrators/panels, build desalination plants and electrolysers in order to create a hydrogen or synthesized hydrocarbon infrastructure? This is not beyond our ability - it is simple engineering, and we can afford it. Not enough money? Maybe we can spend next year’s military budget as well?
That's another 1.5 trillion dollars.

Perhaps the next generation or the one after that will not stand for all this greed and power mongering. When the dust settles and the resources are gone, the real men will be left standing - with their solar concentrators and hemp tunics :)

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the solar energy resource in a 100-square-mile (259-square-kilometer) area of Nevada could supply the United States with all its electricity. That is 800 Gigawatts of power, and that's using modestly efficient commercial PV modules. Break all that down and each state would only need to devote 17 x 17 miles (27 x 27 kilometers) of solar cells.

And they froze to death in the woods, because they did not know how to make fire.
(and they were too busy fighting amongst themselves to learn)
- Jonathan Howard 2011 :(
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Re: The four most dangerous words

Postby Doug Coulter » Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:42 pm

Unfortunately, we are where we are. The consequences of the sin of over-procreation are already living among us. Great if we can figure a good path going forward, but we have to make it past here first. Or figure out time travel.

For example, China's draconian one child per couple rule is going to result in some pretty horrible demographics -- too many old people not enough people in the productive parts of their lives to support them (and as a side issue, lousy male/female ratios now). That is, as soon as their medicine and general health improves so that people get old there. Japan already has this problem. It was one of the first things CIA taught me as an analyst when trying to predict the future. In essence, if you assume that age 18 (pick some number you like) is when people enter the workforce, then you know how many will enter the workforce for the next 17 years -- they've all been born already, all people are (currently) born at age 0. So, while reproduction rates are going down, in some places they actually went down so fast as to cause issues down the line. The CIA used to build some nice bar charts to show this. You divide a central vertical axis into age-cohorts, say ten year age spans, and then plot the number of males on one side for each age cohort as bars, the number of females on the other side as bars if you bother to distinguish -- makes more difference in some cultures than others. In ours, not so much. All feminism has really accomplished in our society is now both parties in a marriage have to work to get the same standard of living we used to get with just one working.

At the bottom, you have "takers" -- children who don't contribute productively to society (unless you count joy in their parents and maybe others, but I'm doing the dismal science here)
The middle -- where all the "makers" reside, and of course, also some takers and fakers -- all too many of the latter these days.
The top - like the bottoms, not makers anymore (mostly) but takers who need care from others to survive, just like at the bottom.

Study of demographics of various countries is most illuminating about the future they will experience, economically and otherwise. Some countries, like those currently "hot" in the MENA regions, look like pyramids -- bottom heavy -- imbalance toward hot headed people in their 20's. Some, like Japan, are top heavy. America has a big bulge near the top - baby boomers getting ready to leave the workforce. This has implications for investing, by the way. As well as for our entitlement programs, and it's not like that data hasn't been available to our supposed planners for quite a long time -- they chose to ignore any inconvenient data.

The thing is, no way exists to change these shapes short of violence or pestilence -- neither of which I'll assume is acceptable as a solution. We can't ship people off to a new land, there is none anymore. That's "what's different this time".

In unstable countries or dictatorships (eg about 90% of UN membership) pretty much the only way for a person to guarantee they can EVER retire is to have enough kids to care for them then -- and enough have to survive to do it, so extra kids are spawned to overcome the loss rates, which tend to be high in those sorts of places. However, as we attempt to help these people out, and increase the child survival rate, they don't adapt to this fact, and still have lots of kids.

The main determinant of reproduction rate is wealth. In a paradoxical response, the wealthier a people, the less kids they tend to have so they can have more luxuries for themselves.
In a poor society, kids are your wealth -- slaves, in effect.
Education tends to track wealth, or did until not too long ago. Now it seems to me that I learned more in high school than most PhD's I've met know -- even in their specialties sometimes.
I suppose though that it's always been that some learn and some don't and that it's not that correlated with a piece of paper from a for-profit institution, but it seems to me many teachers don't know their subjects like they used to. It was a good high school, I admit. My first two years of college were a breeze as I'd already learned all the maths, inorganic chemistry, and was already an electrical engineer (taught by my Dad) by the time I began.

Further, as western medicine makes people live longer, we don't increase the retirement age to match.

I agree -- when we try to predict the far future, it's pretty uncertain, the farther ahead, the more uncertain it is. One reason I tend to do shorter term trading -- like linear prediction or the fancier neural networks I do better with shorter term predictions -- less risk of a game changing event creeping into shorter term horizons. On the other hand I see the most ridiculous things on your average science boards in the comments about blind faith in science without enough understanding to realize how dumb that can be.

Example: we know the entire periodic table, and that it's highly unlikely that super heavy stable elements with interesting new electron configurations exist. Period ;) No holes in there. Chemistry in some sense is "done". Yet people still project that chemical batteries will increase in capacity forever. I won't dispute that some energy storage device might come along better than chemical batteries -- I can't know that answer just now, but if it does -- it won't be chemical, it will be something else, because once you have lithium and fluorine, you're at the most electro-positive and electronegative two elements that exist. Period. Stick a fork in it, it's done.

Batteries now are already at an energy density level roughly the same as high explosives; something that's received a lot more research dollars, actually. Any country knows that the most expensive military is the one that doesn't win (just as with lawyers), and if you've not studied history, you'd be real surprised how many famous scientists did stints with their local defense department -- Newton comes to mind, with calculus being used to calculate trajectories of cannon balls -- only after that did it help out in other areas. But he's just one example, and there are many-many more. Archimedes on up to Fermi.

I even did my stint, in my case, in the "intelligence community" but that's part of the same outfit. Mostly we tried to prevent fights and were sometimes successful at it.

I agree it would be nice if we'd all quit fighting one another, but that doesn't solve as much as you'd think on a simple analysis. Our DOD spends roughly 60% of its money on get this -- pensions and health benefits to people already retired. You can't just turn that off by not fighting -- and the ripple effects on the economy have to be taken into account for any such major change. The trouble is, we have human nature to contend with, and humans fight, lie, cheat, steal, murder, and all try to be at the top of the pyramid where there's not so much room for them all. We are not dealing with angels except the exceptions, which are few. So any solution to problems has to take into account the material we are working with.

Here's the thing -- it's obvious that it would be nice to have controlled procreation at some level that would make the demographic charts work out better, no question -- but you have to do that at the right speed or create more problems and there might not be time for that. The truth is that some places have already gone too far the other way! It would also be nice if we could move up the retirement age so people were in that "maker" category longer, to compensate for the longer lives. But -- older people have diminishing productivity even when healthy physically. They know big parts of the game are bull, and refuse to play anymore. Their mental facilities diminish even if they can still run marathons. But even that isn't the kicker here. We no longer benefit so much from more man-hours put into things as we did. Machines do a lot of things just fine, and cheaper.

Automation and the Internet are the most deflationary inventions in all history. This wouldn't be a problem except -- how do we distribute the wealth? Now I'm a dyed in the wool conservative, I really believe that if you produce more, you ought to be rewarded more, stuff like that (I am NOT a republican, the very idea of any of our political parties makes me throw up a little in the back of my throat). It's a nice built in incentive for people to achieve and try harder, which I happen to believe also makes them happier, based on evidence I've collected over my lifetime. It has driven a few of my own life decisions as well. After doing a lot of "secret" stuff, then a lot of software stuff for embedded product with obscure uses, I realized that in my entire life I had almost nothing I could point to and show someone else -- "Hey, I did that! I made this thing of value that helps the world go around". Not that I hadn't created any value, just that it was hard to point to. So I embarked on this and other projects for the satisfaction of that. Note, I have no children - this IS my legacy, if any.

One can imagine, in a reductio ad absurdum that at some point one big automated factory makes everything -- everything. No human work needed. The guy or company that owns that owns all the means of production. But they have no customers -- no one has a job, no one has money to buy that everything. Capitalism fails as a way to distribute wealth. Rats! I was kind of fond of it, myself -- and all implementations of all other systems really are capitalist at base, even in Soviet Russia when that existed. They failed as the Chinese kick butt economically because even inside a communist system, the Chinese embraced and encourage capitalism, where the Soviets tried to stamp it out, and failed, merely creating a black market and crony capitalism instead, which is less efficient, mostly.

We can actually see the beginnings of capitalism bumping up against this limit now, as things stagnate and mergers combine things, rather than innovation creating new markets. We can't even identify all that much new that humans want! So we fight over market share for the same old things, and the big boys, with economies of scale (and control of governments and power), win. A prime feature of most mergers is layoffs as "efficiencies and synergies are realized". Which points out that as things get more efficient, you don't need as many person hours to get all the production you can use happening. In fact, by most measures, productivity per person-hour is at all time highs, even with about 20% unemployment (the actual number, not the faked one). Could it be that companies were smart about who got the axe? I think so, from their standpoint.

So the "Star Trek" world is at least in theory, possible. But how to make the transition from here to there? Why would anyone build that giant factory, given human nature as it is, if there was no reward in it for them? It's already trying to happen. We just don't need all the human labor we have to make everything everyone needs or even mostly wants -- the only reason it might appear otherwise is that the third world isn't following along this path - yet. Dictatorships and corruption are wasteful enough to increase the demand for labor!

It seems to me, that all our problems boil down to human nature and the inherent flaws therein. No one is innocent, though some of us try pretty hard. As B.F. Skinner would point out, no one born with a stomach stays innocent long - the conditioning you get from that alone is enough to set you on a path for life, just like his pigeons.

As an erstwhile biblical scholar (long story, I was ordained once) -- I feel all too many people misinterpret that document to suit themselves. The "go forth and be fruitful" line has an obvious meaning at least to the people of the time. No one growing grapes or crops or an orchard would ever think that meant planting plants so close together that they can't be healthy - no it took modern "rationalization" for the Catholics (mostly) to come up with that one -- and to be a little cynical, to create more tithing members was surely the goal. Marriage was hardly touched on at all in the book -- because no one needed to write down what it was, everyone knew. Try finding out how to use a urinal in today's society -- same thing. We all just know so no one writes directions down.

I wasn't aware that outside the Catholics and a few small sects that Christians in general wanted 4+ kids. It's certainly not my experience that the ones I know do. But then most Christians haven't read the book, and certainly not tried to understand what it says in context (most would be in jail if they actually did, perhaps). Too lazy to be taught to think -- they want to be told what to think (which is one reason I quit teaching that stuff). And of course, plenty of people love telling other people what to think, which has devolved into some people's power over others using religion as the tool.

Science has many of the exact same issues, actually, or as CS Lewis said -- "when we go out to conquer nature, it's really the conquest of other men using nature as a tool" -- and he was a Christian writer, though that quote comes from some science fiction he wrote.

Underlying both is that crufty human-nature thing.

Other situations have other causes -- with no way to live beyond normal productive years, people in less advantaged countries use kids since they have no public dole to accomplish that one. And no one wants to die the minute they can't lift a bale of hay anymore. But sigh, man is a rationalizing animal, rather than a rational one. Stinks, but there it is. And human nature is relatively difficult to change, honestly -- and if you could force a change, well that's a pretty big responsibility (like eugenics) -- and who is wise enough to not have any unintended consequences, if you could do it anyway? Not I. It seems all that sort of help you can give someone has to be rather highly tailored or customized to the subject, one size just doesn't fit all.

For example, if you imagine heaven, nirvana, whatever, as being the top of some mountain, and we humans all around the base of it, you have one religion/philosophy yelling "go east" while another yells "go north". None are wise enough to say "climb the mountain" -- the only one size that would actually fit all. (which is one reason why I no longer practice the religion I was ordained in, among others)

I guess that approaches a problem-statement here. I learned the golden rule a long while back, but perhaps a different interpretation of it than most have. It can be stated:
Love your neighbor as you love yourself (old testament version)
Love your neighbor as I've loved you (new testament)
What goes around comes around (pagan).
Karma (Buddhism, and yes, I know that's not precisely correct, but close enough)

But everyone has this one in some form - the Dao, others, you name it. The thing is, all too many Christians believe that this is a law like we humans have, and some anthropomorphic old bearded god dude is going to slap you down if you don't obey, like the police, if you break a human law. But that's not how it seems to work out, actually.

The golden rule works out more like, if you make good things go around, then you create an environment where good things come around, it's just how the universe and humans in it work. If you hate people (or just don't care, like a sociopath), and are a thief, guess who you'll spend a lifetime hanging around with? No one good wants to be around you, and your misanthropic world view becomes self-fulfilling! It works the other way around too, as I've found out, to my considerable joy. Birds of a feather and all that -- some old sayings have more truth than is immediately evident sometimes.

I happen to believe there's no such thing as pure altruism (from a human)...there's a close substitute, which I call enlightened self-interest, golden rule based. Works nearly the same, but takes BF Skinner's work into account better. I think anyone who thinks they act purely from altruism is simply self-deceived, and maybe a bit vain.

So I guess I've started something here I can't finish -- if my statement of the problem is correct, there's no proximate answer but some magical all knowing benevolent and wise dictatorship. I'm sure there'd be plenty of applicants for that job, but I know of none worthy, now or from all of history. Otherwise, we'd need some magic "enlightenment pill" or substance we could put in the water, or something like the shoe shop enhancer ray described in hitchhikers guide to the galaxy -- and you'd still need someone to tell it what to say. That is in fact essentially what all flocks demand of all religious teachers -- a quick, painless way to enlightenment, preferably in pill form, or something else similarly simple to ingest. I know no humans, even wise ones with the best intentions (including me) I'd hand that power to willingly.

As a preacher, I found out why all the crap happens around famous preachers. You wouldn't believe how people treat you. People in the flock with marital problems -- their wives come on to you (or the gay men, no difference, really). Bad men try to "buy" salvation and want help rationalizing they aren't actually bad so they can continue to be (and that's not just men). People want to become your slave (they call it something like disciple, but they mean slave as in "please take over my thinking for me"), to "buy salvation" in a way that seems more real to them -- but really messes them and you up. Its like being under constant attack, difficult to keep your moral compass. I admit -- I folded, that kitchen was just too hot for me - I got out before I got too corrupted. I got real tired of pious people who'd try to run you down in the parking lot as soon as church let out -- the wind him up on Sunday crowd, forget morality the rest of the time. That's human nature again, even when you help it along a better path, it's still pretty pathetic often as not.

Gee that sounds more misanthropic than I think I actually am. There's plenty of humans I think are pretty neat. It's just that as a group, not so much. I think someone said something like "a man is smart" but "a crowd is a herd, stupid, mean, uncontrollable, and vicious" or something like that. Heinlein perhaps?

The above interpretation has allowed me to see a lot of religious writing more as an "owners manual for man" rather than a list of rules you must obey or not get some reward post-life. If you look at even the ten commandments with this in mind, they make a lot more sense, actually -- they are a list of things to be aware of to be happy and do well NOW, in this life. No society does well if it's full of thieves, and not even they prosper after awhile. If you don't respect your parents, you don't learn their wisdom. And so forth. Not so much a "do this or else" as "this is how the playing field is laid out, and here's a winning strategy".

So, that was one very powerful attempt to "fix" human nature, and we see it hasn't panned out as well as we'd like. We can't know how much worse it would be had no attempt been made, of course. As another writer said "no one can ever know what would have been".

A very good link on demographics that might not be around much longer. I was relieved to find it again so I didn't have to scan in the whole article I printed out at the time. Every now and then the finance people get a good one, though the analysis might not be right, here's the doggone data at least -- not sure how accurate it is but it points to "interesting times" ahead for various countries, and of course, to most, it will all be a surprise when it happens.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Doug Coulter
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