Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's start from the beginning.



Helpful hint: This essay is a portal to other essays. When you click on the essays, you'll notice that those essays also have links to other essays. While those essays can be helpful, it might be best for you to not read those since they are already linked here in this portal essay -- it really depends on the situation, e.g. what you are most interested in at the moment. So you might find that its easier to read the essays in the order listed here so that you can understand the context of those essays in relation to the overall picture.

Helpful hint 2: Lots of these essays introduce new words. I've listed them with definitions at the bottom of this essay, with links to further reading.

What's the most important thing in life?

Being happy. Which raises the question: What does it take to be happy? Well, its different for everybody, but there are some universal ideas that apply to everyone. To learn about that, read this essay -- it explains how people can think they are doing things that are supposed to "make them happy", but it doesn't work.

Ok so that solves a nasty systemic problem, a barrier to happiness. But it doesn't *cause* happiness. So what's next? How does a person achieve happiness?

At this point I think its important to explain what we mean by happiness. First, consider a poor happy person and a rich sad person. The poor guy has little in the way of luxury, yet is happy. The rich guy has few of his (material) wants go unsatisfied, yet is sad. The difference is that the poor guy is progressing, and the rich guy is not. And making progress means having control. It means that you are continuously improving. That each day you are better than your past self. You are the best you've ever been! What's sad about that? Nothing. So progress is the key to happiness. So, no matter how little or much wealth you have, if you are not progressing in life, then you feel unhappy.

Which raises the question: How does one make progress?


[EDIT 8/14/2013: now i think this is wrong. if someone believes that the most important thing in life is happiness, and lets say he also strongly dislikes criticism, liking it to attack/violence/war/involuntary-action, then he won't be able to make progress very well because he'll evade criticism like the plague. Criticism is crucial for making progress -- progress is learning and criticism is part of the learning process. So dislike of criticism is a barrier to happiness. So criticism takes the place of happiness as the most important thing in life. ~~~ The ability to criticize is the invention that the universe (i.e. evolution) created. Its something humans can do that no other animal can do. Its the universe's greatest invention! Why should the beings that wield its power not use it for their own benefit?! That sounds pretty awful to waste such a valuable resource -- the ability to create any knowledge -- the ability to solve any problem. People that avoid criticism like its the plague limit themselves a lot because they don't spend much effort thinking about their mistakes enough to fix them. So they don't make progress. And they feel stuck and without hope of solving their problems. Which is why they turn to religion and other types of mysticism that says suffering like this is a fact of life and just be happy anyway -- which of course doesn't work because they are intentionally ignoring reality. And they are doing it because they have an anti-rational meme that makes them feel bad when they hear criticism.]


How does one make progress?

Making progress means fixing mistakes. Which requires noticing mistakes, and thinking about them with enough depth to fix them. Now there are some common systemic problems that can get in the way here. We call them anti-rational memes.

Memes are ideas that replicate from person-to-person, generation-to-generation. Anti-rational memes are the kind that prevent themselves from being criticized by their hosts. An example is the idea of shame. Shame is taught to children by their parents and society. It teaches them to feel bad if they do something that parents or society don't approve of. And people with the shame meme feel bad when their mistakes are pointed out by other people, and sometimes even by themselves. Its a conditioned response. And it prevents those people from thinking about their mistakes because it encourages *not* thinking about them, since that (temporarily) removes the bad feeling of shame.

So what's the solution? Well, to learn what anti-rational memes are, and how to rid yourself of them, start with these essays and short blog posts (most of these are by Elliot Temple):

So that explains how to rid oneself of his anti-rational memes. But how can a person improve his skill at that? Also, while ridding oneself one-by-one of his anti-rational memes is a good way to remove one's barriers from making progress, how can one improve his skill at making progress in general?

How does one improve his skill at making progress?

Making progress means fixing mistakes, which means creating knowledge. The "fix" is knowledge about how to prevent oneself from committing a certain kind of mistake. So improving one's knowledge creating skill means improving his ability to make progress. The field of epistemology is what we know about how to create knowledge. So learning the right epistemology can help someone make progress. And learning it better, means getting even better at progressing.

The right epistemology, or rather, the best epistemology to date, is Critical Rationalism, aka Popperism. Its main rival, shared by 99.999%+ of the world population, is Justificationism.

Here are some essays that explain the epistemology from different angles:

How does this apply to parenting and relationships?

Here are essays that explain the morality of parenting and relationships:

How does this apply to how society should be organized?

I've read the essays. So am I done then?

Ok, so now you've introduced yourself to this new epistemology and morality. Do you think you will apply this approach well in all parts of your life? No, because it takes a lot more than just reading a few essays to learn the ideas enough to be able to apply them in real life.

Realize that you made mistakes in your understanding of the material. And in order to flush out those mistakes, you should test your understanding of the material. And a good test is to explain the material in your own words on the Fallible Ideas email list for the other posters to criticize.


Also, since these ideas are fallible, you can improve on the ideas. So once you're pretty sure you understand the ideas, you can explain what you think is wrong with them -- things that maybe nobody has thought of before. To know more about how to participate, read this essay and reply to it with questions/ideas.


~~~ Definitions ~~~

Idea

Theory

Meme

Anti-rational meme

Fallible
Humans are fallible. Mistakes are common. We cannot avoid making any mistakes and should instead emphasize using methods that can deal with mistakes well -- methods which deal with mistakes well are rational; methods which do not are irrational because they entrench mistakes long term. 
Rationality
Rationality refers to methods. Rational methods are those that deal with mistakes well. Irrational methods are those that don't and so they entrench mistakes long term.
Criticism

Zero-sum

Non-zero-sum

First-handed

Second-handed



Coercion


Sunday, September 29, 2013

What should America do in Syria?



Oil painting by Ragod Rustom
What should America do in Syria?

It's been two years since Syrians rebelled against their dictator. Early on, the citizens pleaded for American arms support. They were denied.

Since then an old war has resurfaced. Fundamentalist Muslims have hijacked the war and turned it into a religious one. They have declared that it's a fight between Islam and the non-believers — the latter being Assad, who is a secularist. Having turned it into a religious war, also known as 'jihad', they enlisted thousands of militant Muslims from all over the Islamic world to come and join the fight. Sure this will work to take down Assad, but it won't work in that there is no viable replacement government in sight.

100,000 dead. Millions displaced from their homes. Millions left Syria. Why?

It's because this war has a divided front — the rebels are mainly Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims and they've been fighting for Islamic political power since the inception of Islam 1400 years ago. And they are fighting against each other again in the middle of this rebellion.


So what is best for Syria?

Well a simpler question is: What was best for Syria at the start of the uprising? That had a better chance for success than today — so it's an easier problem to consider. It's easier to see how America could have gotten involved in a helping role to take down Assad, and in a helping role to create a democracy. But this theory has holes.

I asked a Syrian about what he would prefer between the following two options:
1) What the English did which is gradual-change of government — i.e. evolution of government — from dictatorship to democracy, or
2) What the French did which is radical-change of government — i.e. revolution of government — from dictatorship to democracy.

He answered English! He'd rather have piecemeal reform instead of revolution. And the reason is that piecemeal reform means less chaos, less destruction of infrastructure and knowledge, and less bloodshed. (See Edmund Burke.)

But then I asked, what would have happened had the Syrians given up their uprising before the militant Muslims from around the world joined in? How would the Syrians make sure that Assad enacts piecemeal reform like the English were able to achieve?

He had no answer.

So I asked: Do Syrians want liberalism?

He said no.

I asked, at least some of them?

He said a tiny minority.

So then, what would happen if Assad was suddenly overthrown? There would be many sides of religious groups that each want a dictatorial Islamic state, and each group wants the seat of power. This is bad. It's just more war. The resulting leader will be the one that does the most killing of his opponents — that means the one that does the most massacres. Case in point, the Taliban committed 15 massacres from 1996 to 2001 as they ascended to power in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion and subsequent Soviet installation of a communist dictator.

So Assad's government is better than the alternative, which is NO government at all. If Assad's regime falls, they will have devolved back to warring tribes.

And to make matters worse, most of the smart Syrians left Syria, so what are left are the dumber ones including the fanatics that have moved in from other places to join the jihad.


If Assad falls, we have another Afghanistan.

Before the Afghan civil war and subsequent Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was not that bad a place. It was kind of like Egypt and Syria.

The civil war was over modernization. Some Afghans wanted it but most didn't because they saw it as an attack on Islam.

A new prime minister, Hazifullah Amin, came to power by military coup as he exterminated the entire family of his predecessor — a common practice back then. He immediately tried to westernize Afghanistan by advocating for equal rights for women and promoting secular government — which is both a pro-liberalism and pro-communist move. He carried out a land reform —  huge and sudden state-sanctioned theft from rich to give to the poor — which was resented by most Afghans. This one was an anti-liberalism/pro-communist move.

Amin instituted laws that prohibited voluntary trade involving usury (interest on money) in a situation where there was no alternative for peasants who relied on the traditional credit system in the countryside. This led to an agricultural crisis and a fall in agricultural production — another anti-liberalism/pro-communist move, which coincidentally is also a pro-Islam move.

He also changed the national flag from the traditional Islamic green color to a near-copy of the red flag of the Soviet Union, a direct provocation to the fundamentalist Muslims because communism condemns religion — another anti-liberalism/pro-communist move. His government imprisoned, tortured or murdered thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment, and the intelligentsia. This is what the French poor did during the French revolution.

The Afghan resistance forces that rose up against Amin called themselves the Mujahideen, which means the people that do jihad — jihad means holy war against those people who are against Islam. In 1979, when the Soviets believed that Afghanistan was lost to the Mujahideen, they invaded. As a result, the jihad war was now extended to the Russians who were now in Afghanistan trying to maintain the power of Amin's communist government. The Russians claimed that they had been invited in by Amin's government and that they were not invading the country. They claimed that their task was to support a legitimate government and that the Mujahdeen were no more than terrorists.

In December 1979, the Soviet Special Forces stormed the presidential palace and killed Amin and his 100 or so personal guards. The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal as Amin's successor. Kamal's position as head of the Afghan government depended on Russian military support of 85,000 soldiers to keep him in power.

The Mujahdeen proved to be a formidable opponent. They were equipped with old rifles but had a knowledge of the mountains around Kabal and the weather conditions. The Russians resorted to using napalm, poison gas, and helicopter gun ships against the Mujahdeen — but they experienced exactly the same military scenario the Americans had experienced in Vietnam.

By 1982, the Mujahdeen controlled 75% of Afghanistan despite fighting the might of the world's second most powerful military power. Young conscript Russian soldiers were no match against men fueled by their religious belief. They love death more than their opponents love life — I'm not exaggerating here, it's in the Quran. To fundamentalist Muslims, martyrdom's reward in heaven provides more encouragement than the material life of this world.

Some factions were also fueled by support from America. Analogously in Syria, the opposition, whom America is now providing arms support in Syria against Assad, are the same as the Afghan Mujahideen — they have the same philosophy of how to resolve conflicts, that is, by force.

By the end of the 1980's, the Mujahdeen were at war with themselves as each group tried to consolidate power.

In 1989, when Gorbachev realized that Russia could not win the war, they withdrew. The Soviet-backed Afghan communist regime survived for three more years, after which the Afghan political parties established the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government.

Immediately civil war broke out between many militias, each backed by regional powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Uzbekistan, each seeking influence over the centrally-located Afghanistan, and each supported and in some cases controlled one of the militias. Analogously, in the Syrian civil war, Qatar has interests in Syria as it tries to get access to a pipeline through Syria bypassing the existing Saudi-controlled pipeline, and it too is funding the Al-Qaeda-connected rebels in Syria. Iran has interests in Syria because it wants an alliance with a Shite-friendly leadership.

The Taliban, one of the groups trying to consolidate power, with the backing of Pakistan's Army, took control and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They were enforced by several thousand Al-Qaeda fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia.

During the period from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban were responsible for 15 massacres on the Afghan people. This is the result of their efforts to consolidate control. This is what they know about how to resolve conflicts — violence instead of diplomacy.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the UN sanctioned intervention in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The purpose of this was to defeat Al-Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power and create a viable democratic state. They have not yet succeeded.

So let me break this down. America supported the Afghan rebels — which later spawned Al-Qaeda — to fight against the Soviet-installed communist dictator, expecting, I presume, that afterwards the rebels would create a democracy — or at least a capitalist-friendly secular dictatorship as has happened in many Islamic countries. Analogously, America is supporting Syrian rebels connected with Al-Qaeda against the Russian-backed dictator, expecting, I presume, that afterwards the rebels would create a democracy or at least a capitalist-friendly dictatorship.

Do you see the problem? Most Afghan people don't know the meaning of liberalism nor its relevance to governance. And neither do most Syrians. They don't know how to operate a government peacefully, which is critical for a nation to prosper. They don't have any interest in the liberal-democratic form of government because they are fundamentalist Muslims whose core religious values directly contradict liberalism. That's why Afghans rejected early attempts at modernization of their country by the Afghan King in the early 1900's, and that's why they resorted to violence instead of diplomacy after America helped the Afghan rebels overthrow their dictator. And all of this will happen again in Syria if Assad falls.


Maybe Syria won't be as bad as Afghanistan?

I said to my Syrian friend that the situation in Syria won't turn out to be as bad as what happened in Afghanistan because Syrian culture is more evolved than Afghan culture — mostly because of Enlightenment ideas installed by the French during their few decades of colonial-rule.

My friend disagreed. He said in this environment everybody must send their kids to the mosque. So their kids get indoctrinated there. A people can move backwards pretty quickly by just enforcing laws that everybody must attend mosques, and that nobody can criticize Islam or else be punished by death. So we would have a whole generation of Syrian Muslims who have no clue about how to resolve conflicts nor how to operate a government. All they would know about how to resolve conflicts is that violence is the answer.


There's a good sign, and a bad one.

Then my mom chimed in. She said that she has explained what an Islamic state would be like to her Syrian Muslim friends, and they all get shocked by the truth. And then they side with the idea of no Islamic state — they side with democracy. More importantly, they side with secular government instead of a state based on a religion. This is a good sign. But there are bad signs too.

I got into a discussion with a Muslim who said 'I CAN'T TALK TO YOU ABOUT THIS. IT'S.. IT'S HARAM [forbidden by religious law] FOR ME TO EVEN BE THINKING ABOUT CRITICISM OF ISLAM!!!" A moment later during the discussion he said that it is moral to punish for criticizing Islam. And the thing is that the standard punishment for that "crime" is death, since it's declared exactly that way in the Quran (9:11/12). And he knows it, and I know it, and we each know that the other knows it. So he's telling me that I should be punished by death. This is bad. It means that there are a lot of Muslims who are terrorists in their hearts who just haven't committed any crimes yet.

Some of these terrorists-by-heart are here in America. Fortunately in America we have way fewer of them than compared to other places like in Europe because they appease Islamic fear-mongering for censorship of criticism of Islam a lot more than we do. But don't get me wrong. We are guilty of it too. It's just that we are less guilty of it than they are. America is more pro-liberalism than Europe is.


So what do Syrians want? 

Most Syrians now want Assad to stay in power. They've seen the ugly reality of what a rebel war would be like, and now they don't want it. They don't want fundamentalist Muslims invading their country. They would rather have a secular dictator over a long civil war that results in a huge amount of human suffering in the form of destruction of lives, property, and infrastructure that is followed by a dictatorial Islamic state by the "winner" of the civil war that rewards the most cruel leader, the one willing to commit the most massacres.

And they especially don't want foreign help. “We stress that we reject foreign interference in Syria,” said Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church, in a statement read before a conference of more than 50 regional Christian leaders and a handful of global Christians and Muslim scholars in Amman this week. “We don’t accept any intervention by foreign powers … to protect minorities,” Pope Anba Tawadros II of Egypt’s Coptic church said in a statement. “It is basically a pretext … to advance their countries’ interest in the Middle East.”

Syrian Christians are afraid that their communities will suffer a similar fate to Iraq, where the US-led war and subsequent religious fighting forced roughly half of the country’s one million Christians into exile.

Syrians do not want more human suffering. Their pleas should not be ignored any longer.


So how should the US deal with the Syrian situation?

When Obama contemplates military strikes on Assad, he should be thinking about it rationally like so:

First, let's agree that there is a problem, and that we should work on solving it. Second, let's agree on what the problem is, explaining it in detail, which includes a detailed explanation of what a solution would look like. In this step, one of the details that should be considered is the amount of human suffering in the form of loss of lives, property, and infrastructure that would be caused by the proposal, as a measure of its success as a viable solution to the problem.

So, if your proposal is pretty much guaranteed to increase the amount of human suffering in Syria, instead of decreasing it, then your proposal is actually adding to the problem, instead of being part of the solution.

If you don't think about it in terms of problem-solving, then you're thinking irrationally. All life is problem solving. So the question is, what problem are you trying to solve? In the case of Obama funding the Syrian rebels, what problem is he trying to solve? Does he want another Afghanistan where rival fundamentalist Muslim groups keep fighting each other until the most cruel opponent finally succeeds and assumes power and creates an Islamic state with Sharia law? Or does he want a situation where a democracy evolves by slowly reforming the government like the English did?


Let's be clear about what Assad is.

He's a dictator that helped preserve and expand on evolved ideas that were installed by the French during the few decades that they colonized Syria — ideas like women learning to read and women in government. Before the French, Syrian girls were taught, and expected, to stay at home and take care of the children. Reading, and productive work outside the home, and governance was for men only.

If Assad's regime suddenly falls, these evolved ideas will too. Women will go back to their old status more like the women in Saudi Arabia — who are still fighting for their right to drive — and like the women in Afghanistan — who don't even have the right to go to school. Women will suffer from this chaos way more than men will.

Children will suffer more too. And Christians and Jews. And any Islamic sect that isn't in the seat of power. That includes the Alawis, which is an offshoot of the Shiites and is the sect that Assad and his whole government belongs to. Ethnic groups like the Kurds and Armenians won't be spared either. All these people are going to suffer at the hands of the people in the seat of power, which for Syria will probably end up being the one that is the majority, which is Sunni Muslims. Interestingly, Sunni Muslims have had almost exclusive control of Mecca, the center of religious power of the entire Islamic world since Islam's inception 1,400 years ago.


If this is not the time to help a country get rid of a dictator, then when is?

Sometimes a country could use some help. But that country needs to do like 99% of the work, and the outside help can give the extra 1% to make it happen. Syria is not even close to putting in that kind of initiative. Most of the people don't even know the meaning of liberalism — the political philosophy or worldview that (under the law) people should be free to do whatever they want short of initiating force on other people. That includes free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. They don't know that liberalism is the goal and that democracy is a way to achieve that goal. So lots of Muslims claim to want democracy, while not knowing what liberalism means, and not knowing that Islam's concept of censoring criticism of itself contradicts liberalism and is counter-productive to it's intended goal, which is peace and prosperity.


What's missing from these static societies?

That raises the question, what's missing from these static societies? It's the knowledge that when criticism is censored, evil spreads — and that where criticism flourishes, evil dies out — so good evolves. Criticism is the natural selective pressure that kills evil ideas.

The greatest advances in history of knowledge and technology are a direct result of those cultures having adopted the tradition of criticism (see _The Beginning of Infinity_, by David Deutsch). That's what the philosophers were doing — guessing ideas and refining and refuting them with criticism. And that's what scientists do too. Their ideas are scientific theories and their criticism comes in the form of the theoritical design and execution of experiments, and the interpretation of their results; and the criticism also comes in the form of explanations of flaws within the scientific theories.

The ability to criticize is the most awesome invention the Universe has ever created! It's something that only humans can do — it's what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Why would anyone want to do less of such a great thing? Why wouldn't anyone want to do way more of it instead!? Why not do more of the best things in life!?

Why censor criticism when censorship of criticism is itself evil??


And what political system lets criticism thrive best? 

A democracy, where free speech is protected and cherished.. where there is a strong tradition of people settling their conflicts with ideas instead of weapons.. where if a ruler is found to be horrible as a ruler, there exists a legitimate way to change rulers peacefully so that destruction of infrastructure, knowledge, and human life are minimized.


So let's not invade Syria. Let's instead use diplomacy to help Syria reform towards a liberal/democratic form of government. President Putin is taking the route of diplomacy as he tries to get Assad to give up his chemical weapons. We should follow his lead.

Helping get rid of Assad, with pretty much guaranteed chance of all-out religious warfare like in Afghanistan, is not as good as keeping Assad in power, and getting ready for reform where Assad phases himself out in a gradual way as the Syrian people learn how to rule themselves.


-----

Join me to help finish my Islam book — give honest feedback, get your questions answered, and contribute your own ideas.

---------

More background: _So much for the Arab Spring_, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

_Get Ready to Compete With the Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt Could Chart a 'Third Way'_, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.


EDIT: It seems Assad is worse than I thought. _Assad regime set free extremists from prison to fire up trouble during peaceful uprising_ Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/world/syria/assad-regime-set-free-extremists-from-prison-to-fire-up-trouble-during-peaceful-uprising

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Does government intervention help the poor?


Who eats at McDonalds? How much do you usually pay for you and your family? Let's say $20. Now let's say that the government enacts a new sales tax on McDonalds of 83%, which means that your usual $20 meal is now $36.60.

What do you think? Would you continue paying $36.60? Or would you try somewhere else? I bet you'll go other places.


Now what if the government did the same law to all the fast food places, and to all the restuarants? Then where would you eat? Maybe you buy more groceries to eat at home more. Right?

But then that means that fewer people are eating out, and that means less revenue for those companies, and that means that they'll have to downsize operations ~~ which means fewer jobs ~~ to lower costs in order to cope with the reduced revenue. So of course this isn't a viable solution. This is counter-productive to the intended goal of more money for the poor.


So the government law for new taxes had some unintended consequences that were counter to their intended goals.

But lots of people will say that my proposed 83% sales tax is ridiculously high and unrealistic. No one would do that in America! Well that's what's basically being proposed. Democrats are trying to increase the minimum wage from $7.50/hr to $15. And for McDonalds that equates to 4 times more money than annual profits,[1] so the extra cost would have to be passed on to the customer. But as I argued above, that means lower sales precisely because of the higher cost to customers. And that means downsizing and fewer jobs which is counter-productive to the intended goal of more money for the poor.


But wait. Democrats have another idea.[3] Why not just take whatever profits there are and give that to the workers? 25% of the target is better than none of the target, which equates to a $1.83/hr minimum wage increase. But this doesn't work either because it means that the investors wouldn't get any return on their profits, so they'll pull out their money and invest instead in other companies that actually turn a profit. And that means no more money for McDonalds and they'll have to downsize and that means fewer jobs. Again this is counter-productive to the intended goal of more money for the poor.


But wait. Democrats have yet another idea.[3] Why don't we take half of the money from the greedy CEO who made $9 million last year and give that to the workers? Well, that's only $4.5 million, which comes to 1/10th of a penny per hour, which of course is ridiculous to even consider because its so small in comparison.[2] And that's not a viable solution because the CEO will resign and go where he gets paid what he's worth instead of half of that, and McDonalds will replace him with a less capable CEO, and that means less profits for McDonalds, and that means downsizing and fewer jobs, which of course is counter-productive to the intended goal of more money for the poor.


~~~ Edit 9/19/2013 ~~~

a friend said that my argument ignores that lots of non-US mcdonalds employees have much higher min-wage, so my math is off. she's right.

so i looked up their financials:

http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com/content/dam/AboutMcDonalds/Investors/Investor%202013/2012%20Annual%20Report%20Final.pdf


1. US, company-operated sales = $4.5 billion.

2. US, company-operated margins = $883 million. This is #1 minus costs.

3. US, company-operated operating income = $3.75 billion. That's #1 - #2.

4. US, number of min-wage employees = 500,000.

5. Suggested min-wage increase of $3/hr. [the friend suggested it]

6. Extra annual cost = $3 billion. That's #4 x #5.

7. Net profits after increase = $750 million. That's #3 - #6.

8. Percent decrease to profit = 80%. That's #6 / #3.

So my argument still works for the US. An 80% decrease of profits means that investors will pull their money out and instead invest in other more profit-producing ventures. That'll result in downsizing and fewer jobs in the US, which means that the suggested minimum wage increase of $3/hr doesn't solve the problem that its intended to solve.

~~~

[1]
  1. Suggested increase in minimum wage is +$7.50/hr.
  2. Number of minimum wage employees is 1.5 million (for McDonalds).
    • this is a wild guess from total 1.7 million minimum-wage and non-minimum wage employees
  3. Average number of hours worked per year per employee is 2000.
  4. Total extra wages annually is $22.5 billion. That's #2 x #3.
  5. Last year's annual profits is $5.5 billion, which is only 25% of the target #4, so its not enough money.

[2]

    6.  Half of the CEOs pay is $4.5 million.
    7.  That's $2.50 extra per employee per year. That's #6 / #2.
    8.  That's a wage increase of $0.001 per hour. That's #7 / #3.


[3] These aren't real Democratic positions. I made them up to illustrate the various ways that the wage increase could potentially be paid for and how they fail.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My comments on Putin's Letter to Americans on Syria


The original letter is here.                                    Read my essay on What Should America do in Syria?

~~~
MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
hmm. why do we have insufficient communication? don't our presidents have computers with internet Why not talk to each other a lot?

Oh and why spend millions of dollars per trip to Russia every time Obama wants to talk to Putin when they could just exchange a few emails? Think of the cost difference. Millions of dollars on one side, zero dollars on the other. The zero one is better. Stop wasting tax payer's wealth on traditions that have no use anymore.

Well that's a wild guess. Does anybody know a reason why exchanging emails doesn't completely trump the idea of in-person meetings costing taxpayers millions of dollars per meeting?

~~~
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
That's not good though. Acting only when consensus is reached is too slow sometimes. Its no different than the argument for the idea that a person should wait to act until everybody in the family agrees with his idea — it doesn't work. Individuals need there own space. And within that space is an individual's private property, and the importance of this is that one's private space is free from the whims of other people.

But don't mistake this for an argument for a military strike against Syria. I'm only saying that the consensus is wrong sometimes, and so acting against them is right in those specific times. But, if you act against the consensus, and you haven't yet addressed all the arguments against your side, then that is acting in bad faith — its immoral/evil. The point is that sometimes the right thing to do is to act against the consensus, or even before a consensus is reached, but only if one has already refuted all the arguments against his side. And in this specific case of this civil war, Obama has not done that. He has so far ignored the arguments against his idea of a military strike. He also has so far ignored Putin's argument that even the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive.

Actually wait a minute. Putin actually did not argue his case. He only asserted it. So then lets ask him:

President Putin, please answer this question: What is your argument for your assertion that the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive in this specific situation in Syria? [Or does your argument have more reach than that? Do you think the threat of military strike is wrong/counter-productive universally? Or is the scope of your argument less than universal but more than just this specific situation in Syria?]

~~~
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
Well, if the UN read a letter by Obama that refuted all the arguments against his case, then the UN is wrong, not Obama. So then lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: Why don't you write a letter to the UN refuting all the arguments against your case? And, do you realize that if you don't do this then you are wrong and they are right — that you are acting in bad faith?

~~~
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. 
Its not just potential. Its pretty much guaranteed.

~~~
A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Yes, yes, and yes.

~~~
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country.
And that "opposition" is actually hundreds of separate opposition(s). They are not working together. They don't have shared goals besides the short-sighted goal of toppling Assad.

~~~
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
Yes. Its the same as what happened after the first Afghan war.

~~~
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.
You are protecting the Syrian people by suggesting that they keep their dictatorship government and to demand piecemeal reform, instead of their current idea which is overthrow their current dictator and then.. well.. this is where the hundreds of opposition groups disagree about what to do next. Some want democracy. Some want an Islamic-state, which means a religious dictator — this one is the worst possible scenario because it means no liberalism/freedom.

~~~
We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
Following the law whether we like it or not? So do you think that if the law was to ban the Quran or the Bible, should those people living in those countries throw away their holy books? I think you wouldn't agree to that, so why the contradiction?  I struck this out because its a dumb point. I think it was pedantic. I found a more important one.

You said that "Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council."  This is important. I think that Obama should address this point. Why is he considering acting against this international law without having an explanation as to why he should do that — why its right in this specific case, or why its right in general? So lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: What is your argument against this current international law as President Putin explained?

~~~
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
Right. But even if the chemical attacks were committed by the Syrian Army, that doesn't change the fact that military strikes on Syria will cause more loss of lives, property, and infrastructure instead of preventing it. So Obama's "solution" doesn't even work to solve the problem that it's claimed to solve.

So let me break this down even more. Please tell me what, if anything, is wrong with my reasoning.

First, let's agree that there is a problem, and that we should work on solving it. Second, lets agree on what the problem is, explaining it in detail, which means including a detailed explanation of what a solution would look like. In this step, one of the details should consider the amount of human suffering in the form of loss of lives, property, and infrastructure, as a measure of the success of a solution — so preventing loss of lives, property, and infrastructure is a primary goal.

So, if one's proposal would result in more human suffering instead of less, then the proposal fails to solve the problem its claimed to solve because it fails at its primary goal. So then the proposal is actually part of the problem, instead of being part of the solution. So lets ask him.

President Obama, please answer this question: Do you agree that the primary goal of any foreign intervention should be preventing loss of lives, property, and infrastructure in that country? If yes, then please explain how a military strike would prevent or otherwise save Syrian lives, property, and infrastructure? If you don't agree, then tell me what you think the goal should be. Also, what is your answer to the Syrians that don't want foreign military intervention?

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My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Well, most individual Americans are not exceptional. Some are. I agree that lumping a whole nation of individuals together as all exceptional is wrong. But are you sure that Obama wasn't saying that America itself as a nation is exceptional? Because it is. Its the best place to live.

As to your point about "We are all different", I think you're saying that to convey the idea that every situation requires a special solution, and that what works for one guy doesn't necessarily work for another. I agree. But so what? Just because I consider myself exceptional doesn't mean that I think that everybody should do what I do. What is best for me isn't necessarily best for anybody else.

~~~

Read my essay on What Should America do in Syria.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Golden Rule vs Platinum Rule vs Common Preference Finding method


Somebody said that the platinum rule is better than the golden rule. So lets consider them:
GOLDEN RULE- Treat others as you would like to be treated.
PLATINUM RULE- Treat others as they would like to be treated.

Lets consider some examples...
A boss's employee likes hugs from people she likes. The boss doesn't like hugs except from his daughters (or his girlfriend/wife) -- The boss doesn't want hugs from anybody else. Following  the platinum rule, he'd hug her, which ignores his preference while respecting hers. Following the golden rule, he won't hug her, which ignores her preference while respecting his. So what's the solution to this?
Somebody is a racist -- he doesn't like to walk on the same side of the road as a black man. A black man is walking on the same road he is on, coming the other direction. What should the black man do? Well, the black man doesn't even know that this man is racist, so he doesn't know that he has the preference of not walking on the same side of the road as a black man. So following the platinum rule in this case doesn't work. Could he guess? Yes. Maybe the racist is making dirty looks to the black man. Then the black man might guess that he's racist and of his racist preference for not walking on sidewalks with black people. Then what? Following the platinum rule, the black man should get on the other side of the road. Following the golden rule, the black man should not change anything at all. So what's the solution to this?

So the golden rule is wrong and so is the platinum rule. They work only in some situations. They don't work well when there are conflicts of interest (as the examples I gave above are). So what's the solution to conflicts of interest like these where both the golden rule and platinum rule are no good? What could work in *all* situations of conflicts of interest?

The solution is the method known as Common Preference Finding. It goes like this. Each person states his initial preferences, and if they find that they conflict with each other, then they work to try to find a common preference, one that everybody agrees with -- one that no one has any criticisms of. The work involves guessing and refining and refuting the guesses with criticism. The first guesses are the initial preferences. The final guess is the common preference.

Now there are some common misunderstandings about this. I'll list them in no special order:

  • Stating initial preferences is not the only way to establish preferences. One can make guesses from reading body language and one can apply what he knows about the culture of the people he's interacting with.
  • The fallback common preference is to leave each other alone and not interact with each other.
  • This method works best when everybody involved understands the Principle of Optimism, that *all problems are soluble*, which means that *every conflict of interest has a solution where everybody gets what they want and nobody sacrifices anything important to them*. That way they will continue to search for a common preference before ever acting on an idea that isn't a common preference. [To be clear though, there are cases where one should act on an idea that isn't a common preference, and that's when somebody is initiating force/coercion on you and you are defending yourself.]


So here's an example.
Say you and I decide to go to lunch and we let the deciding of which place to eat to happen during the drive. So first we state our initial preferences.
Rami: I'm craving that fish dish from Fish House. (this is my initial
preference)
Jane: Fish smell makes me gag so I can't eat at any restaurant with
fish. (this is your initial preference)
Rami: Ok I like lots of other places too, and i like big salads. Where
do you want to eat? (this is me asking you for info that we can use to
find a common preference which also gives info from me to you about my
preferences)
Jane: I like the soups and salads at the deli place on main street. (this is you giving me a suggestion for a common preference that is consistent with the preferences that i provided earlier.)
Rami: ok great i haven't tried that place yet. lets go there. (this is me saying that i don't have any criticisms, which means that we've found a common preference)

Keep in mind that if one or more people in the conflict are not following the method, then of course things fail. And that means doing things like...
- stop thinking before a common preference is found,
- getting offended,
- appealing to authority,
- not checking one's idea for accuracy,

All of this applies to many people as well as it applies to just one person -- a conflict within one mind. Its a situation where part of me says to do X while another part of me says to do NOT X. When this happens, when you have two parts of you pulling you in opposite directions, and if you act on one of them while the other one is still active in your mind, that's coercion. This is psychological suffering.

What is coercion?  fallibleideas.com/coercion

How to avoid coercion?  fallibleideas.com/avoiding-coercion

So btw, acting on an idea that isn't a common preference means causing coercion/suffering. Another way to say that is that acting on an idea/emotion while another conflicting idea/emotion is active in one's mind, means causing coercion/suffering.


Lets start from the beginning.

...

To learn more, email me and ask me questions.