Constructed Worlds, Group Beliefs and Narrative Consciousness
September 6, 2021 11:42 PM   Subscribe

Three Simple Policy Heuristics - "The most important thing to understand is this: Harm ripples, kindness ripples. People you hurt go on to hurt other people. People who are treated with kindness become better people, or more prosperous people, and go on to help others. Yes, there are exceptions (we'll deal with those people), but they are exceptions." (via)

-- Circles --

On J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creation of the Modern Fantasy Novel - "One of the poems he found when he was studying Old English Studies was called 'Crist' by Cynewulf. The poem had a somewhat cryptic couplet. This is the translation. It said, 'Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men.' That word stopped him—Midgard is the word. It means Middle Earth. It stopped Tolkien in his tracks. Midgard was the everyday world between heaven above and hell below. Middle Earth."

Explaining Rural Conservatism: Political Consequences of Technological Change in the Great Plains [pdf] - "Today, people living just inside the Ogallala aquifer report systematically more conservative policy preferences than those just outside. This is true of both economic and polarizing social issues, suggesting economic self-interest relates to 'culture wars' in interesting ways... tldr: new technologies made new politics in rural America by giving rise to new wealthy agricultural economic interests which exert a conservative influence in elections, on both economic matters as well as cultural ones -- may help to explain 'what's the matter' with Kansas."

It's his money. - "Is it? Or is it largely the benefit of natural monopoly and uncompensated externalities that hollow out the economies of countless communities by siphoning funds from the local circular flow, exploiting network effects that would be better classified as uninvented public goods?"[1,2,3]

The Density Divide and the Southernification of Rural America - "I argue that the urban/rural partisan divide hasn't *exactly* eclipsed the old North/South divide. It's more like everywhere not a city has become sort of Southern."
  • A reason for the appeal: "The core of a particular part of Southern white identity is as the blameless victim of powerful forces (union tyranny, negro/carpetbagger rule, etc) that have modern applications."
  • I think it comes down to this: "As a country, we needed to give rural White Americans some sort of identity they could be proud of other than Confederacy-style white supremacy. We failed to give them one."[4]
Xi Jinping Thought - "One interesting thing about Xi Jinping is that unlike Mao, he hasn't really *done* anything to deserve being enshrined as a Great Leader. Xi has presided over slowing economic growth, beaten up on domestic rivals, and repressed minorities. That's it."[5,6,7]
  • Xi's Historic Mistake - "If China historically had pursued the path that its current paramount leader, Xi Jinping, seems to want to take, it would not be a rising economic superpower. History shows that it is in China's own interest to allow for more regional autonomy and less centralization."[8]
  • Why is China smashing its tech industry? - "Maybe because what countries think of as a 'tech industry' isn't always the same."[9]
The 100-year-old fiction that predicted today - "'We have made machines, not people, the measure of the human order,' Čapek later wrote, 'but this is not the machines' fault, it is ours.' ... Zamyatin insisted on the freedom to be imperfect, irrational and sometimes unhappy, which is to say human... Both were extraordinarily alert to the dangers of dogma, tribalism and the corruption of language in the inter-war years. Quick to identify the threat of totalitarianism, they were both ultimately crushed by it. Both their lives were changed by their most famous works but in radically divergent ways: RUR made Čapek a literary superstar, while We made Zamyatin a pariah. You can't really understand their vast gifts to the popular imagination without knowing a little about their lives and why they were driven to write fables about the horrors that technology can unleash when it converges with the worst of human nature."

"My career is moving from being an ecologist to coroner..."

Francis Ford Coppola is making his sci-fi epic Megalopolis, even if he has to pay for it himself - "Thematically, Coppola says Megalopolis will be an 'exciting change from the kinds of movies being offered to the public,' because it 'puts forward a fundamental message that it's time for us to consider that the society we live in isn't the only alternative available to us.' He wants young people to realize that a 'utopia' isn't an experimental thing but a 'discussion of people asking the right questions' about what kind of society they want to live in..."

Kim Stanley Robinson on 'Utopian' Science Fiction - "'I write as a utopian science-fiction writer.' But 'at the moment we're at right now in world history,' he admits, 'I have to set a pretty low bar for 'utopia.' If we dodge a mass-extinction event in this century, that's utopian writing. That's the best we can expect from where we are right now. Having put that story on the table as being possible, it suggests that we ought to be trying for it.'"[10]
  • Kim Stanley Robinson: a climate plan for a world in flames [ungated link] - "Thinking about money, and directing money, are key to getting through this crisis century successfully... Even in our current political economy... we might be able to pay ourselves to do the necessary things and thus dodge the coming mass extinction event."
  • Kim Stanley Robinson's Global Catastrophe Epic: We Will Keep Going - "Our reality is bending, melting, reshaping in deeply disturbing ways. News stories have started to sound like fiction. So perhaps fiction is needed to guide us into new ways of thinking about it – thinking that isn't just panic and despair. But it would have to be fiction grounded on reality, fiction that grapples with the facts we face."
We Don't Know, But Let's Try It - "For economist Albert O. Hirschman, social planning meant creative experimentation rather than theoretical certainty. We could use more of his improvisatory optimism today."[11]
Or as Hirschman succinctly put it: “development is essentially the record of how one thing leads to another, and the linkages are that record.”

This attention to decisions themselves as both a scarce resource and a catalytic force was the clearest statement of Hirschman’s distinctively optimistic and pragmatic brand of reformism. It resonated with what he later called his “possibilism”—his interest, as Alacevich puts it, in “the possible mechanisms through which the process of change could advance—sometimes through inverted, nonlinear, and otherwise unorthodox sequences.” As the title of a latter collection of his essays put it, Hirschman indisputably had, for better and for worse, a “bias for hope.”
-- Surf --
-- Good News --
How equality slipped away - "For 97 per cent of human history, all people had about the same power and access to goods. How did inequality ratchet up?"
So the critical problem is to explain inequality in village societies where it doesn’t yet have the protection of institutionalised power. These ‘transegalitarian communities’ are dominated by ‘Big Men’ (as they’re called in New Guinea and Melanesia), that is, individuals with wealth and status. But they don’t rule as a right, and their sons don’t automatically inherit their standing. It’s in communities of this kind that inequality establishes. Once these cultures exist, we’ve had a shift from social worlds that were equal to worlds in which inequality was a routine and accepted fact of life – so much so that it often seemed natural.

There are two developments in mobile forager cultures that tend to set the stage for the establishment of inequality. One such scaffold to inequality was the emergence of clan structure. Clans have a strong corporate identity, built around real or mythical genealogical connection, reinforced by demanding initiation rites and intense collective activities. They become central to an individual’s social identity. Individuals see themselves, and are seen by others, primarily through their clan identity. They expect and get social support mostly within their clan, as the anthropologist Raymond C Kelly writes in Warless Societies and the Origin of War (2000). Once storage and farming emerged, incipient elites used clan membership to mobilise social and material support.

The second development was the emergence of a quasi-elite based on the control of information, which created a hierarchy of prestige and esteem, rather than wealth and power...

Bottom line: egalitarian, cooperative human communities are possible. Widespread sharing and consensus decision-making aren’t contrary to ‘human nature’ (whatever that is). Indeed, for most of human history we lived in such societies. But such societies are not inherently stable. These social practices depend on active defence. That active defence failed, given the social technologies available, as societies increased in scale and economic complexity. There’s no going back to Pleistocene equality, and I for one wouldn’t embrace the social intimacy and material simplicity of such lives. But we do have new social technologies. China (especially) is showing how those can be used to enhance elite surveillance. Let’s hope they can be reconfigured to support more bottom-up social action, to mitigate some of the effects of imbalances of wealth and power.
Ideas that work - "Truth, knowledge, justice – to understand how our loftiest abstractions earn their keep, trace them to their practical origins."
The State of Nature is not something you find out about. It is something you construct... Though abstract and seemingly idle, the concept of knowledge thus turns out to be a true game-changer because it makes knowledge social: it transforms the solitary business of information acquisition into a joint enterprise, where we don’t have to see everything with our own eyes, but mutually rely on each other to pool far more information than any one of us could ever gather by themselves... if a community is going to pool information, it needs to cultivate the character traits of accuracy and sincerity in its members... Accordingly, there is a need for the community to cultivate whatever character traits will enable recipients of information to neutralise their own prejudices.[13]
History As End - "1619, 1776, and the politics of the past."[14]
The past may live inside the present, but it does not govern our growth. However sordid or sublime, our origins are not our destinies; our daily journey into the future is not fixed by moral arcs or genetic instructions. We must come to see history, as Brown put it, not as “what we dwell in, are propelled by, or are determined by,” but rather as “what we fight over, fight for, and aspire to honor in our practices of justice.” History is not the end; it is only one more battleground where we must meet the vast demands of the ever-living now.
We're already paying for it - "We can finance a social democratic benefits state from broad-based formal taxation, or we can just as well finance it via broad-based rent extraction by plutocrats. Call that the American VAT."
On the face of it, the United States collects taxes equal to just under a quarter of its GDP, while social democracies like Denmark or Norway collect taxes that amount to 40% to 50% of GDP. But how much do Americans pay once the plutocracy tax is taken into account? A recent study by Carter C. Price and Kathryn A. Edwards suggests that between 1975 and 2018, the share of taxable income paid to the top 1% grew by 13 percentage points, from 8% to 22%. Treating that additional income as our plutocracy tax, and naively summing it with the overt tax share of GDP, we get a total tax share of 38%, within spitting distance of Norway...

There are a lot of things to hate about this political economy. Having plutocrats, rather than the state, effectively collect much of the tax base creates dormant antidemocratic quasigovernments... Whatever its role in creating fiscal space for social democracy, plutocracy ultimately has to go... Efficiency demands either robust competition or public options in order to vouchsafe price-elastic supply of goods and services throughout the economy. But in order to get there from here, we need a muscular, popular state. Plutocracy sews the seeds of its own destruction by creating fiscal space to build one through the very rents that it extracts. Let’s water the fields.
Central bank digital payments - "The main case against CBDC, argued for example by Stephen Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz, is from my perspective a feature rather than a bug. Disintermediation of commercial banks is desirable."[15]
More urgently than CBDC, however, I think we need a federally operated digital payments platform in the mold of Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, or Google Pay... The value of those networks is extracted in markups (charged opaquely to businesses, not visible to payers) by within-ecosystem monopolists, at the expense of transactors... sometimes when we think about antitrust we spend too much energy on the anti — on what in the status quo we want to undo or dismantle — and too little on what we’d like to create... What we can do is ensure that there exists a fair payments platform, a platform that can’t discriminate against businesses without due process (as private payments providers assuredly do), which imposes no toll on transactions beyond the cost of managing and running the platform, and is conveniently available from all the digital ecosystems.
Economies of scale - "Besides technical economies of scale and network effects, there are less savory 'economies of scale'. There is traditional monopoly or market power by which firms can extract rents from workers, suppliers, and consumers. Market power is a correlate of scale that looks great from any firm's perspective, but its 'efficiencies' are just transfers from other stakeholders, and are destructive in aggregate. There are resource and coalitional 'economies of scale', the way very large firms can engage in predatory pricing, or coordinate the activities of lawyers and lobbyists and media, and eventually politicians and regulators, in a firm's interest. Again, these are not true 'economies' at all. They may benefit incumbent firms, but are of negative social value."
Finally there are economies of scale in the insurance of stakeholders, which is a genuine efficiency and of tremendous social value. A large firm can provide generous sick leave or parental leave, because the absent employee is one of a large stable among whom the extra burden can be shared, and over which the financial cost can be amortized. For a small firm, even temporary loss of a skilled worker can paralyze the business... However, much of this advantage of bigness would disappear if the social insurance function were sensibly provided by the state instead of our relying upon individual businesses to offer “benefits”...

When we think about “antitrust”, we should always ask ourselves from what apparent advantages of scale actually derive. If it’s just traditional market power, traditional antitrust remedies like breaking firms apart or forbidding mergers may be sufficient. Traditional antitrust can also help prevent and limit resource economies of scale, by limiting conglomeration or forbidding predatory pricing. If the scale advantage is due to network effects, forbidding scale will be socially costly, so the answer will involve some means of exerting public control over the network, whether by regulating or nationalizing private platforms, or by creating public alternatives that engender similar or even stronger network value. Addressing coalitional “economies of scale” encompasses the broad challenge of good government, of reigning in corruption, which probably does require truncating private scale. Addressing the economy of scale in insurance provision is the core work of social democracy. If you believe in free enterprise but oppose a social democratic welfare state, you have a serious contradiction in your worldview to examine.
  • Delegability: How money and monetary systems order social relations - "An economic good or service is provided by people to each other as a solution to a problem they are faced with and this means that they are considered useful by the person who demands it. And a last characteristic that is helpful in deciding whether you are looking at an economic product is 'delegability'. An activity is considered to be production in an economic sense if it can be delegated to someone else."[16]
  • Acquisitiveness: Remember that we are talking about the kind of behavior we find in a market society - "We live in a period in which much of the conventional wisdom of the past has been tried and found wanting. Economics is in a state of self-scrutiny, dissatisfied with its established premises, not yet ready to formulate new ones. Indeed, perhaps the search for a new vision of economics, a vision that will highlight new elements of reality and suggest new modes of analysis, is the most pressing economic task of our time... Perhaps in a different society of the future, another hypothesis about behavior would have us serve as our starting point. People might be driven by the desire to better the condition of others rather than themselves. A story about heaven and hell is to the point. Hell has been described as a place where people sit at tables laden with sumptuous food, unable to eat because they have three-foot long forks and spoons strapped to their hands. Heaven is described as the very same place. There, people feed one another."[17]
"His disciples said to him, 'When will the kingdom come?'
"Jesus said, 'It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.'"
--Gospel of Thomas
posted by kliuless (15 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
I've only read the first of these so far, but this looks like an amazing collection of links and a super interesting post. Thanks!
posted by sir jective at 11:45 PM on September 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Monumental FPP! ...though given the opening re: kindness ripples, I might have gone with the ultimate karmic biblical reference to close: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." (Mt7:12)
posted by fairmettle at 12:27 AM on September 7, 2021

That is a fantastic post and I will spend a lot of time delving into it. Sort of an Online Leftist Reader.
posted by zardoz at 3:27 AM on September 7, 2021

As usual with these posts, I have no idea from the posts what connects the links and find myself wanting a syllabus that explains the organizing principle. (Clearly others enjoy the post style and it’s fine that there are things that are not for me, even though I’m a little sad because it sort of seems Ike some of the topics would be up my alley.) For some reason I didn’t close out of this one as fast as I usually do, though, and first noticed this quote:

I think it comes down to this: "As a country, we needed to give rural White Americans some sort of identity they could be proud of other than Confederacy-style white supremacy. We failed to give them one."

Whoever said that is quite ignorant of the actual history of the country, sadly.
posted by eviemath at 4:14 AM on September 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

So eviemath, “I didn’t read this and don’t understand what it’s saying but I’m certain I disagree”?

My take on it is, loathe this group of people all you want, but if you ignore the absolutely fundamental role that elite propaganda and manipulation has played in the development of their beliefs, you are just as much a tool of those elites as they are.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:52 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

A really basic reason I tend to filter out historical details in my understanding of the urban-rural aspect of classism is that this is pattern happening throughout the whole world. It's not specific to North-South America, or its deep history of slavery. See for example washingtonpost 2018. And because modern neoliberalism is the context in which urbanizing societies exist, you also get urban elites and urban forms of classism (which also explains the apparently inverted observations at the end of this wapo piece).
posted by polymodus at 5:04 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Holy effort post, Batman! I feel kind of poopy for coming to just say this about the like, third paragraph of the first link, and yet, I feel it is important to state.

Again, people who are abused, go on to abuse others. Rapists were often raped before they raped others.

This idea often causes abuse victims a lot of pain and grief, because it implies a symmetry that doesn't exist. Often abusers were themselves abused -- that is true. But the abused do NOT just as often go on to be abusers. The harm doesn't always ripple you see -- it sometimes become the impetus someone uses for becoming a force of good.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:36 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apropos to yesterday, would Blair Mountain and Matewan not have been a decent drop-in substitution for Bedford Forrest? Ignoring, of course, America's (well, our banker's and landowner's) violent antagonism to anything socialism-adjacent
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 6:39 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

> So eviemath, “I didn’t read this and don’t understand what it’s saying but I’m certain I disagree”?

I read Wilkinson's article when it was posted, but hadn't seen that Twitter thread from Noah Smith. If you read the rest of the thread, he notes that blame lies primarily with Republicans, but still asks why "we liberal elites" didn't do more to give them an identity. There is plenty of good pushback in the replies to that thread, but here are some of my favorites:
@warmh20penguin: Rural America had main street, born in a small town, country road, cowboys, county fair, apple pie, all the stereotypical Americana shit. That's all gone by the wayside BECAUSE they decided to instead identify with neo-Confederate bullshit.

@DrJasonJohnson: The arrogance of this statement is stunning. Rural White America doesn't need to be "Given" an identity. It already exists. High-school football, off roading, cruising, NASCAR. You cannot "replace" bigotry with a new hobby or mascot and the presumption that you can is laughable

@qwosl: This is parody, right? If not, I assure you that grown-ass white people in rural areas do not want to hear your pitch on what their identity should be. And our efforts as a country should be focused on tearing down systemic racism, not uplifting rural whites.
The data and logic behind the "Southernification" hypothesis seem sound to me, but to take that real observed effect and use it to assign responsibility, however partial, to the rest of the country for failing to give white supremacists an alternate identity is to deny agency to those who chose to double down on their identity or even adopt one that wasn't theirs in the first place when there were plenty of other choices available to them.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:15 AM on September 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

Wait, which group of people do I loathe? I should probably find out, so that I can adjust my internal state to what I’m told it is.

tonycpsu likely said it better than I could have. The statement I was responding to, as written, was simply inaccurate. Lots of people (authors, groups, etc.; elite and non-elite) have provided examples of lots of other identities for rural white America that are based on something other than Confederacy-style white supremacy. Half the time it’s just a different flavour of colonialism, but still.
posted by eviemath at 9:24 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Re first link:

Do no harm I think is deeply insufficient as a heuristic in the modern age. Our societies are ridiculously complex, and life of all kinds has adapted and built around existing policies and realities. This means that when you change policy you inevitably disrupt the foundations of some folks’ successful living. A future-looking framework needs to acknowledge this and be explicit that the task is minimizing harm and prioritizing change management in order to do so.

Beyond that, I take a lot from contemporary facilitation and conflict resolution thinking here: harm will happen. The question is how do you recognize the harm, honor and heal the harmed, and move forward in a way that reduces future harm.

Do no harm imagines a world where we have ultimate knowledge (will this harm?) and control (I can prevent all harm if I try hard enough). It just doesn’t work that way.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

my fave heuristics that i believe should drive policy:

- posiwid
- the precautionary principle
posted by j_curiouser at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have no idea from the posts what connects the links and find myself wanting a syllabus that explains the organizing principle.

the 'phenotypic'[18] expression of ideas[19] :P
posted by kliuless at 6:09 AM on September 8, 2021

Well ok.
Life eats life.
With the coming scarcity of resources
We will become ( are) cannibals.
posted by JohnR at 7:28 AM on September 8, 2021

how science fiction is a kind of reporting: "You Need to Use Hope like a Club to Beat Your Opponent." Kim Stanley Robinson on Climate Change and Fiction - "We're now living in a science fiction novel that we're all co-writing together."
We can increase quality of life, even if it decreases profit.[20]... A whole lot of money has to be seized and directed that way, as if we were in a war.[21,22,23]...

There are higher priorities than political correctness.[24,25,26,27] The word geoengineering has been demonized particularly on the left because it looks like it’s a getaway card for the fossil fuel industry or it looks like we’re trying to ignore the problem and just MacGyver our way out of it. Well, women’s empowerment is geoengineering because it drops the population rate and that impacts the biosphere. Anything that’s done at scale is geoengineering. I know people in the geoengineering world who are trying to get rid of the word, it covers too many separate activities that have different impacts, and different possibilities. So, one replacement that I want to recommend is climate restoration.[28,29] Geoengineering, you think about the engineering of the planet, you know we can’t do that very intelligently. Climate restoration speaks to the why of it, that we need to restore the climate or we might cause a massive extinction event. So then hopefully it comes back onto the table...

There’s promising developments going on with Ministry For the Future for a TV series, but I can’t say much more.
posted by kliuless at 10:41 PM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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