Don’t Tolerate The Trumpists

Armed with his famously short temper, and the kind of weapons of mass destruction that America once went to war to prevent men like him from obtaining Trump is quite possibly the man that will end civilization as we know it.

His supporters are an unfortunate mix of three groups. (All three groups, of course, have some overlap).

First, wealthy people, who care mostly for tax cuts and whether the president is deferential to big business.

Second, not-so-wealthy suckers suckered by Trump’s false promises, faulty logic, and confidence tricks.

Third, the deplorables. The racists, and xenophobes, the nativists, the Bannonistas, the neoreactionaries, the actual Nazis, the antifeminists, and all the other assorted bigots. The people who call liberals “not even people”. The people who argue against the Statue of Liberty. The people who wave Confederate battle flags at Trump rallies, knowing full well that that flag represents an enemy that killed far more Americans than ISIS and al-Qaeda put together. The people who call for the lynching of journalists. The people who for reasons of bigotry hated having a nonwhite president, and hate the idea of having a female president.

If you fit into the first category, congratulations. You will get your tax cuts. But at what cost? Millions of people—including many of Trump’s voters!—are going to lose their health insurance. That has huge consequences to the economy, and to the health of millions of Americans. And now a madman is waving nukes around. Seems like your tax cuts came at a big cost. Tax cuts are rather useless in a nuclear holocaust.

If you fit into the second category, I pity you. I’m sorry that Trump falsely promised he would bring back muh jobs from China, when those same jobs are instead being replaced by robots. I’m sorry he told you Mexico would pay for the (needless, costly, ineffectual) wall. I’m sorry he tricked you with his barrage of demonstrably false claims, alternative facts, and other nonsense. I’m sorry he told you that he would make America great again by adopting the same authoritarianism, protectionism, and corporatist dumbfuckery that impoverishes much of the third world. You know, places like North Korea and Saddam’s Iraq, where the masses hunger while their Trump-chinned leaders with Trump-sized egos live in Trumpian gold-plated palaces.

If you fit into the third category—the deplorables—then fuck you. Why?

Modern civilization is built upon a single transcendential virtue: social and religious tolerance. What does society look like without this? It looks like endless civil war. Yonatan Zunger, in a piece that outlines the fundamentally important idea that tolerance is not a moral absolute but a peace treaty, describes one such time:

Among the worst wars of tolerance were the religious wars which tore through Europe between 1524 and 1648. These wars were predicated on… Protestants and Catholics each seeing the other as existential threats.

As states aligned with each side, the penalty for disagreement became exile or death, a condition no one could accept.

But even after six generations of fighting, and tens of millions of dead, these wars came to an end. The Peace of Westphalia, the series of treaties which ended them, was built on two radical tenets: that each ruler had the right to choose the religion of their state, and that Christians living in principalities where their faith was not the established faith still had the right to practice their religion. A decision was made, in essence, to accept the risk of the monster rather than the reality of the war.

The Peace of Westphalia was the political foundation for the concept of secularism: that religious matters are so uncertain that the state should not have the power to mandate them. It remains one of the classic peace treaties between fundamentally incompatible groups. It was also, in turn, the basis for the concept of religious freedom brought by European settlers to North America; the American Bill of Rights is its direct descendant.

The average deplorable response to this will be one of the two things.

First, they might ask “but what about Islam? We’re not destroyers of Western civilization. We’re trying to save it by keeping out the Muslims, who kill apostates. They want to force the entire world into a Caliphate, where they rule, and everyone who refuses to convert must be killed.”

This is very unfair to the majority of Muslims, who have no interest in imposing Sharia law across the world. But there is a a bigger point here. Deplorables are quite consciously trying to save the West from the religious intolerance of ISIS with their own brand of religious intolerance. This is absurd and paradoxical. You can’t save secularism while rejecting many of the most important tenets of liberal democracy.

Why? Well, why do you think Trump gets on so well with the tyrants of the middle east? The King of Saudi Arabia? The military dictator of Egypt? They are cut from the same cloth. They all adulate centralized power above all other things. Trump is like a middle eastern despot, but with blonde hair and blue eyes. Trump’s supporters are akin to the followers of those same middle eastern despots, obsessed with social, religious, and cultural traditionalism, obsessed with nationalism, obsessed with intolerance for minorities and outsiders, obsessed with making their respective region (America, or Arabia) “great again”. Harking back into the annals of a golden past that may or may not have ever existed. (Fun fact: the world is objectively richer and more peaceful than it was 20 or 50 or 100 years ago. Another fun fact: America was objectively terrible for anyone who wasn’t white until the end of Jim Crow).

Second, the deplorables might say something about so-called liberal intolerance. “But you liberals! You’re trying to force us to bake cakes for gay people! How dare you! Christians are being discriminated against! People who say women and men are not equal are being fired from their jobs! Liberals are intolerant!”

This is oxymoronic reasoning. Liberals stand up against prejudice and bigotry, for instance the refusal of businesses that claim to be open to the public to serve gay customers. Such a refusal is transparently intolerant. It is an attempt to marginalize a group of human beings. To prevent them from being able to get along in society like anyone else. What are people supposed to do when faced with such intolerance? Shrug?

No. What the deplorables need to grasp is that tolerance is a peace treaty, not a moral absolute. We are under no obligation as individuals to show tolerance to those who refuse to show tolerance to us. Tolerance takes root through individuals recognizing that by becoming mutually tolerant toward others, we as a society reap vast social, economic, and political rewards. But if we are treated badly by others, are we expected to be tolerant of that mistreatment? People have limits. They don’t like to be trodden on. Mistreatment breeds intolerance. It is not virtuous to tolerate someone who treats you like shit. It is self-destructive to.

The rise of Trump was a rank rejection of tolerance, and compromise. The deplorables love Trump because he is uncompromising and refuses to pander to liberals, or even recognize them as valid humans. Trumpism is an attack on anyone who believes in political and social equality for all people of all creeds, colours and faiths (or none). It is an attack on anyone who understands that most Muslims and Mexicans are not criminals or terrorists. It is an attack on anyone who believes in liberal democracy, in due process, and freedom of the press. It is an attack on modernity and pluralism. It is an attack on anyone who believes that women are worth more than being grabbed by the pussy by a creepy authoritarian racist.

To be clear, not all Trump supporters are deplorables. Many are just in it for the tax cuts, or out of ignorance. But until they start acting more empathetically and treating people as human beings with rights and feelings, they must be opposed and stymied in every lawful manner possible. Their leader must face total opposition and resistance, to stop him from carrying out his continuing attacks upon truth, reason, and democracy. And yes, they are attacking democracy: over half of Republicans would support “delaying the 2020 election” if Trump called for it. Tolerance is a peace treaty, and Trump and his supporters ripped it up, and continue to rip. If they want tolerance—and their ceaseless whining suggests they do—they need to showing some themselves, and help us get Trump out.

Sooner or later, they will learn. They will learn that their leader’s economic ideas are totally bogus. Muh jobs aren’t coming back from China, no matter how much Trump whines about it. Free trade—not protectionism—is the pathway to security and prosperity. They will learn that suppressing dissent and journalism does not make a country strong. They will learn that nepotism breeds corruption, sloth, and inefficiency. They will learn that man-made climate change is real, even if takes floods and fires, and desertification for them to do so. They will learn that declaring their liberal friends and neighbours the enemy is as stupid and dangerous as declaring your Jewish friends and neighbours the enemy.

Of course, Trump is already in a position of extreme power, and has the capacity to do vast amounts of damage before this is over. It may be too late to stop a calamity on the grandest scale.

But when they learn and make amends, we must be prepared to forgive them for their aggressions.



Yellen: “There Will Be No New Crisis In My Lifetime”

Via Reuters:

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Tuesday that she does not believe that there will be another financial crisis for at least as long as she lives, thanks largely to reforms of the banking system since the 2007-09 crash.

“Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis?” Yellen said at a question-and-answer event in London.

“You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be,” she said.

Sounds good, right?


Not really. Perhaps she is being extremely modest in projecting her future lifespan. But regardless of whether she means 5, 10, 20 or 50 years, Yellen sounds hubristic. It’s the kind of off-the-cuff prognosticating that gets you into trouble. Like those um-and-ah gut-driven prognostications from people totally sure that Bitcoin will go to $100,000 by mid 2014. Or that gold will go to $10,000 by late 2012.

Or, like the former occupant of Yellen’s office in 2005 when it came to the housing bubble.

Via Washington Post:

Ben S. Bernanke does not think the national housing boom is a bubble that is about to burst, he indicated to Congress last week, just a few days before President Bush nominated him to become the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.

U.S. house prices have risen by nearly 25 percent over the past two years, noted Bernanke, currently chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, in testimony to Congress’s Joint Economic Committee. But these increases, he said, “largely reflect strong economic fundamentals,” such as strong growth in jobs, incomes and the number of new households.


Yellen has no data to tell her that there will be no financial crisis. She has no clue what the next crisis will look like, either. None of us do. Each crisis is unique. All she has is the last crisis to go by. Regulatory policy will always be reactive because human behaviour is intrinsically innovative. Market participants will always and by definition seek to bend rules and look for loopholes, and new and exciting ways to eke out a profit. In the long run, that is beneficent. In the short run, it can lead to all kinds of wobbles, and shakes, and tumbles.

As Hyman Minsky put it, “stability is destabilizing.” This is a tricky, trippy, counterintuitive concept to really grasp, so it is hardly surprising that neither Yellen nor Bernanke grapple with it. It is not so much a problem with the arrogance or with the  limited or skewed visions of policymakers as it is a problem with entropy. Stability makes people forget what instability feels like. Policymakers are people. Market participants are people. Heck, voters are people.

The United States had a remarkable and bounteous seventy years of strong, unwavering economic growth with improving civil rights, widening property ownership, rising real estate prices—the thing, lest we forget, that tricked Bernanke—and rising median incomes and median net worths. The United States’ government was led throughout this period predominantly by career politicians and civil servants, with ideas provided by neoliberal economists and political theorists. For the most part, it worked well. But stability is destabilizing. Only historians and bookworms have any clue what it is like to have a pussygrabbing P.T. Barnum-esque showman as emperor. So, in the wake of a great recession and rising inequality—something that was bound to happen sooner or later, even with deft macroeconomic management, after all, stability is destabilizing—the Trump thing happened.

I don’t mean to go off on an anti-Trump rant. That is not the point of this essay. My point is only that stability is destabilizing. No matter how many well-meaning historians, and philosophers, and economists argue against Trump’s flawed anti-trade economics, his authoritarian tendencies, his xenophobic wailing, and so forth, people didn’t listen in the most part. For they didn’t live under Nero, or Mussolini. They didn’t live through the era of Godwinian strongman nationalism in the 1930s. They never lived in Saudi Arabia, or Sisi’s Egypt, or Putin’s Russia. They want to see what it’s like to shake the apple tree. To destabilize things. Stability is destabilizing. Get it yet?

Of course, having that unhinged maniac and his entourage of nutjobs and wackadoodles pissing about in the White House and ignoring sound economic reasoning is a very good tell that Yellen’s prognostications will likely be tested very soon, and why the booming stock market is likely soaring toward a euphoric bubble.

As I have been writing for years and years, modern, developed trade systems are fragile to shocks. That doesn’t mean that we should eschew global trade. Far from it. The more the world trades, the richer it gets. Ricardo was completely correct in his theory on comparative advantage, and trade is overwhelmingly beneficial so long as governments compensate the communities that lose out to trade migration. (Which, the U.S. government has again and again failed to do since the beginning of the great industry migration in the 1980s).

But we should be ready for breakdowns in these complicated systems. We must be ready. And if government is taken over by a group of people who are actively hostile to the trade systems that make the United States richer, doubly, trebly, quadruply so.

I don’t know what the next crisis will look like. But I do know that central banks have already stretched their balance sheets. I know markets are once again, like 2007, engaged in speculative frenzies over exotic asset classes (like, for instance, cryptocoins) that few if any really understand. And I know that Trump is the loosest of loose cannons. One tweet from him can tank a Fortune 500 stock.

The United States has had a run as the richest, strongest nation in the world. But stabilility is destabilizing. And we are well and truly in the destabilization phase now.


Trump’s Awful Tariff Plans Will Hurt America

He plans a 35% tariff on goods manufactured by American firms abroad:

This is less coherent economic doctrine and more puffed-up pseudo-alpha male posturing. Unfortunately, given that the man is about to become President, it will also be executive policy. Things, in other words, are about to get an awful lot more expensive for the American consumer.

Because it will be the consumer who pays the price to subsidize American manufacturing. As this excellent rundown by Taos Turner and Paul Kiernan of The Wall Street Journal explains, that is what happens when countries engage in naked protectionism via import tariffs:

As U.S. President-elect Donald Trump contemplates tariffs and other limits on trade, he might consider the results of such protectionist measures in two economies on the other end of the hemisphere, in Argentina and Brazil.

For decades, South America’s two largest economies have tried to shield their workers from global trade, largely through high tariffs and regulations that promote domestic production over imports. The World Bank ranks Argentina and Brazil among the world’s most closed big economies.

In Brazil, locally made products are enshrined in the constitution. Gadget-loving Argentines often use the black market or go to Miami to buy iPhones, which were barred for years because Apple wouldn’t produce them in Argentina.

These protectionist policies have created tens of thousands of well-paid factory jobs and may have helped avoid factory layoffs like those that rattled Midwestern U.S. states like Michigan. But they have come at a huge cost to consumers, who now pay higher prices, and to taxpayers, who underwrite the subsidies. Taken together, these measures essentially transfer wealth from society at large to a smaller group of workers.

These policies have not transformed Argentina or Brazil into industrial powerhouses. Far from it. These two countries—sitting in 36th and 54th place in the world—lag way behind the United States in terms of manufacturing value added per capita.

In other words, the consumer pays massive tariff costs for the high quality foreign-made goods they want—things like, for example, iPhones, Japanese and German cars, etc—to subsidize unproductive and non-competitive domestic operations. And those subsidized operations don’t do much in terms of adding economic value. That’s because they’re not internationally competitive. Protectionism weakens a country’s domestic industry by shielding it from market competition. A choice between a cheaper but inferior subsidized domestic good, and an artificially more expensive foreign good of higher quality is a choice between the worst of both worlds.

Today, this kind of protectionism may not even do much to create subsidized jobs. Companies may well take up Trump on his offer and manufacture domestically. But that doesn’t mean jobs will come roaring back. Robotics, A.I., and automation are advancing to an extent where automated factories can churn out huge volumes without employing many people.

This would be a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. Domestic production may increase without an attendant increase in industrial employment. International goods will become inordinately expensive, hitting the American consumer—and every American is an American consumer—hard in the pocketbook.

Immigration Makes Us More Prosperous

This is a really important fact that people don’t talk about enough:

That is a huge gap. Immigrants’ economic output is almost three times their weight as a proportion of the population, a difference that adds up to $3 trillion annually.

Why would this be the case? Well, immigrants are typically pretty motivated people. Packing everything up and moving out of the country and into a completely new environment is a very motivated and committed thing to do. It is a signal that says “I want to do something really worthwhile with my life.”

Migration also takes lots of different skills such as the ability to navigate bureaucracy and different legal and cultural frameworks, the ability to learn a foreign language, and the ability to do in-demand work in the destination country.

And while there may be bad apples who go abroad to commit crimes, or leech off welfare, or engage in terrorism—just as there are some native individuals who engage in crime, and terrorism, and welfare fraud—the bigger picture detailed in the McKinsey/IMF study is one of migrants making the world much richer.

Indeed, immigrants commit a disproportionately low amount of crime per person. Skilled and highly-motivated migrants probably have less time or reason to engage in criminal activities.

And, as the FT notes: “The study also cites widespread academic work indicating that migration does not harm domestic employment or wages despite short-term negative effects in limited areas. Instead it emphasises a wage gap of 20-30 per cent between immigrant and native workers, adding that bringing immigrants’ pay closer to national averages would also boost output.”

Of course, these facts do not take away the cultural distress of people who voted for Brexit and Trump, people who may feel left behind by globalization.

But immigration restrictionism to appease these people is throwing the golden goose out with the bathwater. Immigration makes us as a whole much richer. A much more sensible answer than immigration restrictionism is to use public funds derived from the benefits of immigration to address some of these concerns. Such programs should include job retraining programs for factory workers displaced by job migration, providing language and assimilation classes for new immigrants, and screening measures to prevent the movement of people who might intend to commit acts of terrorism.

According to some theories, completely open borders would be even more beneficial, doubling global GDP.

In practice, that may not work, but a sensible migration policy would be to seek to move closer to the paradigm of open borders, to see if the theory holds up. Unfortunately, in the post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-fact world, we see no such policy. And we probably won’t for a long while yet.

Trump’s Election Win Shows That The Bank Bailouts And Quantitative Easing Have Failed

The bigger picture of the early 21st century follows: Western nations experienced a massive blowout bubble of leverage, irrational exuberance, and Hayekian pseudo-money creation.

Yet this money was not going to overwhelmingly productive causes. The real output of the Western world did not follow anything close to the ebullience of the financial markets. Without the growth and jobs needed to service the debt load, many of the debtors—including most famously subprime mortgage borrowers—defaulted.  And thus the securitized debt bubble burst when—in the midst of two large and expensive American wars—the animal spirits of the market turned to panic over debt defaults.

What followed was not, it turns out, enough to right the ship. In theory, when markets are frightened of the future and productive human and financial capital lies idle, government borrowing can re-employ these resources until the animal spirits of the market emerge from their slump. In my view, there are two key measures of this: unemployment, and interest rates on government borrowing. High unemployment rates signify idle human capital. Low interest rates signify idle financial capital.

But this balancing did not occur. Even as the Brown and Obama governments engaged in a degree of fiscal stimulus, voters were not won over by the logic of this, and austerian conservatives came to parliamentary power in both the United States and United Kingdom. Government purse strings tightened. Instead, stimulus came down to central banks, who kept interest rates super low, and used quantitative easing as a form of simulated rate cut to cut interest rates beyond the lower bound of zero.

In my view, the political collapse we have seen since in the last year in both the United Kingdom and United States illustrates that this was not enough. Moreover—and more importantly— the continuation of the low interest rate environment illustrates that this was not enough. If quantitative easing had been worked as intended, interest rates would surely have bounced back by now, rather than remaining depressed? Certainly you can make an argument that we are now in an era of depressed interest rates as a result of our ageing society, where rising numbers of retirees mean that demand for savings is outpacing demand for productive investment opportunities. There is certainly some truth in that view. But ultimately, that is just one of many facts that governments and central banks had to weigh in getting the economy back to normal after 2008.

And maybe more quantitative easing would have allowed the market to bounce back and renormalize faster. Somehow, I doubt it. Why? Because quantitative easing is a Rube Goldbergian form of stimulus. It is a matter of pushing on a string. It is leading the horse to water. But there is no guarantee that the horse will drink. And the horse—in this case, the market—has not drunk. Demand for productive investment has not recovered, in spite the fact that that the central banks have made it super cheap. So the banks that got access to the cheap financing just sat on the money, instead of using it productively.

There is a bigger picture here, and it is something that I referred to in 2011 as Japanization. To wit:

Essentially, in both the United States and Japan, credit bubbles fuelling a bubble in the housing market collapsed, leading to a stock market crash, and asset price slides, triggering deflation throughout the respective economies—much like after the 1929 crash. Policy makers in both countries—at the Bank of Japan, and Federal Reserve — set about reflating the bubble by helicopter dropping yen and dollars. Fundamental structural problems in the banking system that contributed to the initial credit bubbles—in both Japan and the United States—have not really ever been addressed. Bad businesses were never liquidated, which is why there has not been aggressive new growth. So Japan’s zombie banks, and America’s too big to fail monoliths blunder on.

They have now blundered on into full on systemic contagion. Unhappy voters have lashed out and thrown out incumbents—the European Union and David Cameron in Britain, and the Bush-Clinton dynasties in America.

Unhappiness with the economy is at the very core of this. There has already been a quite voluminous debate about whether or not Trumpism and Brexitism were fuelled by economic anxiety or whether they are a traditionalist cultural backlash. Such debates present a false dichotomy. If Trumpism and Brexitism were not about the state of the economy, why did they not occur when the economy was strong? Why did they suddenly start rising after a financial crisis in the presence of a depressed economy—just as they did in the 1930s during the Great Depression? Hitler did not come to power when Germany was economically strong. Mussolini did not come to power when Italy was economically strong. The reality is that economic weakness and economic anxiety open the door to cultural backlash. People who feel that the economy is bad are primed to listen to scapegoating. Immigrants, rising foreign powers, and establishment politicians like David Cameron and Hillary Clinton provide easy targets.

However, even within the false dichotomy of anxiety vs backlash, there is substantial evidence that the Trumpist communities that were falling behind. A Gallup analysis in August of this year found that: “communities with worse health outcomes, lower social mobility, less social capital, greater reliance on social security income, and less reliance on capital income, predicts higher levels of Trump support”. Indeed, as Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo of The Washington Post—who took the “it’s not economic anxiety” position—noted, “there does seem to be a relationship between economic anxiety and Trump’s appeal”, even if that relationship is not as simple as unemployed and poor people diving into Trump’s camp.

The same is true for the Brexiteers. As Ben Chu of The Independent notes: ” new research by the labour market economists Brian Bell and Stephen Machin… suggests the Leave vote tended to be bigger in areas of the country where wage growth has been weakest since 1997″.

The financial crisis of 2008 provided politicians with an opportunity to re-engineer the economic system to prevent these groups from falling behind so dramatically. The system failed, completely and utterly. Policy makers were in a position to re-design it. The financial system could have at very least been re-engineered to provide financing, training, and education to people in areas which lost out on manufacturing jobs thanks to automation and globalization.

Instead politicians capitulated utterly to Wall Street, and bailed out a fragile zombie system, as Japan did in the 1990s. The machine keeps blundering on, sitting on vast quantities of productive capital instead of setting it to work. Later, they set in place reforms like Dodd-Frank to shore up some of the fragilities in the banking system. These—in combination with the ongoing quantitative easing—may have prevented a financial crisis since 2008 (and Trump repealing such things may make the system much more fragile again). But that did not address the underlying problems. The fragility in the financial system was absorbed by the political system, and thus transferred into the political system. And now we reap the whirlwind of those choices, in the shape of a new nationalist populism that blames globalization, trade policies, and migration for the failures of Western politicians.

Trump already is setting his stand out as a builder and an investor in infrastructure, just as Hitler did.

As Keynes wrote in his introduction to The General Theory:

The theory of aggregated production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire.

The laissez-faire West failed to implement his ideas and avoid an economic depression (albeit a relatively mild one compared to the 1930s) following 2008. Now proto-totalitarians like Trump will get their chance, instead.

Why will people colonize space?


Noah Smith over at Noahpinion does a rundown on why Firefly doesn’t really resonate with him. I agree with his take:

But in Firefly, why do we – meaning the crew of Serenity – go to space? It’s not for a higher purpose. There’s no science being done, no galaxy being saved. The show’s theme song may be about freedom, but unlike many of the people around them, Mal and his crew aren’t colonists. They aren’t going to found a new, more liberal republic on the virgin soil of a distant world. They aren’t going to build a city on a hill. They have no quest, they seek no knowledge, they fight for no cause, they meet no aliens. Their existence is simply a big fat middle finger to the government in the distance.

And for the same reason, it doesn’t resonate with me much, either.

But neither Noah and I are space colonists. I can’t speak for Noah, but I am above all else a science fiction fan, wedded to romantic notions of human expansion into the wider universe as a higher calling. A secular religion, if you will. Being human feels good, mostly (and I say that as someone who has experienced plenty of strife and difficulty, as well as physical disabilty and mental illness). And being human in the technologically augmented universe of fifty  or five hundred years from now — boosted by 3-D printers, artificial intelligence, robots, smart drugs, transhuman implants — will probably be significantly better, just as the present is vastly better (less poverty, less child mortality, less starvation and hunger, greater variety of tools and products, etc) for the vast majority than fifty or five hundred years ago.

So, if being human feels good, why not go forth and make more of the universe human? After all, if we earthly humans — and our vast chain of simpler and simpler evolutionary ancestors — are little more than awakened chemical elements, why not go forth, spread out, and wake more of the universe up? Let more of the universe experience love, emotion, mathematics, music, logic, technology, and all of the other things that make us human. Could there be a more manifest destiny?

In reality, though, I suspect that the motivations for space colonization will be far baser and more mundane. America’s early European colonists were not exactly motivated by the romantic ideals of free speech and free religion. They were much more motivated by lebensraum, and freedom from rulers they did not like.

First, resources. Resources are limited on earth Asteroid, moon and interplanetary mining offering up the potential to vastly expand the human resource base. This, of course, is basic economics. Humans are often greedy and avaricious. On earth, resources are guarded by the international military order and mutually assured destruction. Invading a country to take its resources is, to say the least, increasingly difficult. And I predict it will get more so as more and more technology (e.g. drones) up the stakes in terms of mutually assured destruction.

In space, no such thing. The universe is — to the best of human knowledge — effectively limitless. If the U.S. — or Microsoft, or China, or SpaceX —  seizes one asteroid, there are plenty more to seize. Once we’re done with near-Earth asteroids, beyond that there’s the asteroid built, and Venus, Mars, Jupiter and their moons, and so on. Then there’s the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud and onward and outward to the nearest stars. Beyond the nearest stars are billions more in our galaxy. And beyond that, lie billions more galaxies. If we are alone in the universe, there’s a whole universe for us to bring to exploit (or, in my romantic vision, bring to life). If not, then we may well have to fight other species for that right.

Hunger for resources and for lebensraum, I expect, will be a very major factor in bringing humanity to the stars, then.

But so too will also be the need to stick a “big fat middle finger to the government in the distance.” In absolutely no way are we humans ideologically homogeneous. Watching the rise and fall and rise of Donald Trump and American nationalism is reinforcing this point.

I am a universalist humanist, and that view stems directly from my view of humanity as a planetary species with the potential to go interplanetary. The vast majority of humanity are substantially more tribal than I am. And very many different tribes of people alienated by the earthly mainstream are likely to want to go. Racial and religious and ideological and tribal supremacists will go to space seeking out their own pure paradises, where rules are set by them, and not by the mainstream. And let them go, these Nazis, and radical Islamists, and cultish sects, and neo-Confederates. Let them fly off to some distant planet or asteroid or space station off in the black infinities to pursue their authoritarian dreams, rather than have them subjugate a corner of the Earth.

The point is that these ideological minorities have far more concrete reason to travel away than anyone from the mainstream. Our species is not homogeneous. That is one of our strengths. Our decentralization allows us to experiment with different modes of government and ideology. Our species over the aeons of history has undoubtedly been carried forward to each new generation by many men and women that we today would deem to be insufferably awful — genocidalists, bigots, rapists, murderers, alongside a few who, I assume, we would see as good people.

It doesn’t matter if we are carried to the stars by the dull and the bad. The point is that we are going. And we — the species — are as a whole species neither dull nor bad. Our children all possess the capacity to deviate from us. Such is the long and winding road of genetic and cultural evolution. Maybe that doesn’t make for great science fiction. But often reality is unspeakably dull, and unspeakably bad.

Beyond Good And Evil


It is tiring to hear voters complain about having to stump for a lesser evil.

The whole notion of purity in life — but especially in politics — is Manichean at best, and sophomoric at worst. Every choice in life and politics is a shade of grey. Pretending that any political candidate is anything other than a mesh of good and ill — much of it unintentional — is facile. Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are shades of grey. Policies that appear to be unadulteratedly pure and progressive can have negative consequences for many people. Ban fracking? Lose jobs, reduce economic activity. Never intervene militarily in a foreign country again? Fail to prevent another Rwanda or Nazi Germany. Turn away from free trade agreements such as NAFTA and TPP? Lose cheap imports, reduce economic activity globally, and risk expensive and damaging trade wars.  Overturn Citizens United? Quieten wealthy campaigners you agree with, as well as those you disagree with.

That’s not to say that those policies would not also have some positive effects, too, for some people. The reality is that the outcome of these supposedly pure and progressive policies is a patchwork quilt of good and ill, just as it is for any policies. Politics is an art of trying to counterbalance to maximize the positives against the negatives. This is tough. And politicians are trying to do it in foresight, not hindsight, which makes it much harder.

The pursuit of purity and perfection in politics is a delusional pursuit, and a showcase for naïveté. Every choice in politics is about trying to identify and pursue the lesser evil (or, in other words, the greater good). It was forever thus. Hillary Clinton makes no bones about being a pragmatist, and a shade of grey. Yes, the Clinton Foundation accepted money from  countries with questionable human rights records. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war (a decision she accepted in hindsight was wrong and apologized for).  Yes, she voted for the bank bailouts. All of these choices have had mixed effects, a combination of good and ill.

I admire her pragmatism, and her rejection of puritanism. She’s no High Sparrow. (Nor is she Mussolini, another ardent political purist). And I like that about her.