Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mailvox: time-preferences and civilization

JC is is wondering at the intrinsically anti-scientific bent of the SFWA:
I'm a white, Christian, American male of slightly above average intelligence - but far from a super intelligence.  I've been ejoying your writings since the WND days.  Since you left them, and I was forced to discover and follow your Vox Popoli blog - my mind has been quite blown away by the content.  I eagerly digest (or attempt to follow) the economic posts, and love the cultural posts.  The science fiction generally doesn't interest me, but this latest uproar re: SWFA makes me sick.  I just wanted to drop a note of thanks and support.  Between you and Ann Barnhardt, I truly feel blessed to be able to see the examples you set in steadfastly standing for Truth.
Thank you.
Now for a question.  I may have missed it, but your "h8ers" seem to imply you've conferred a superior/inferior distinction to the various human sub-species.  I don't recall seeing anything of the sort, I thought you just noted that they are provably different.   I would personally assume that different groups should have nothing approaching "equality" for quite a number of characteristics, in general from a statistical perspective.  An overall ranking of "superior/inferior" doesn't seem like it would make any sense at all unless we are discussing specific characteristics.  For instance, a Jimmy the Greek foul in discussing fast twitch muscle fiber and athletic performance, or perhaps predisposition to certain hereditary medical conditions.  Or demonstrated contributions to advanced science.  
There's nothing in my mind that would necessarily judge one of God's children as better/worse from an overall intrinsic value sense simply by noting a particular subspecies (or intermingling thereof, such as with my mixed heritage children), but it's absurd to say we can't talk about relative comparisons of discrete characteristics.  I've wandered a bit here, but I assure you I'm no rabbit or troll.  I guess my question was about the conclusions drawn from the variations in subspecies:  you never made any claims that the homo sapiens sapiens are just dirty pieces of shit with no worth, as your critics seem to be claiming, right?  I don't know how you put up with these clowns without having their insanity rub off on you just a little bit.
I have repeatedly stated that it is absolutely meaningless to claim general superiority or inferiority for any of the various human subspecies, (or, if you prefer, genetically distinct population groups), because it completely depends upon the specific metric involved.  Is a Great Dane superior to a Siberian Husky?  Is a bluebird superior to an eagle?  It all depends upon what the basis for comparison is.

Now, the reason that the SFWA pinkshirts are upset is because if one chooses the metric of "civilized", by which I mean "the ability to participate in, maintain, and build a complex, technologically advanced civilization", one can both observe and explain which subspecies are more and less capable of it than others, and therefore it is possible to claim that Group X is superior to Group Y on that particular basis.  As it happens, that particular ability is largely predicated on time-preferences, as longer time-preferences are required in order to a) practice self-discipline, and, b) build wealth, which are two of the primary prerequisites for maintaining and building civilizations.

One can even go so far as to say that the civilizational process, which I observe appears to take around 1,000 years on average, is largely the result of artificially selecting for individuals with longer time-preferences.  If a society regularly gets rid of its short-preferenced, hot-tempered predators and its non-savers, it will eventually find that it has built up considerable wealth as well as a population capable of cooperating and living together in relative peace.  And with cooperation and wealth, a society has the wherewithal to begin advancing technologically so long as it has entrepreneurs and elects to foster them rather than crush them in the interest of established parties.

Having shorter time preferences doesn't make anyone "dirty pieces of shit with no worth", any more than being physically shorter does, it simply makes them human beings with the same intrinsic human value as everyone else who happen to be less able to participate in, maintain, or build an advanced civilization.  The pure savage lives entirely in the moment and does not control his impulses. The entirely civilized individual is self-disciplined and is always capable of putting off for tomorrow, or next year, options that are available today.  This may explain why Christianity tends to be a civilizing force, as it reinforces longer time preferences by extending them beyond one's lifetime, and why atheism, despite the higher-than-average intelligence of atheists, tends to be a barbarising force. Intelligence, while not entirely irrelevant, is somewhat of a red herring in this discussion.

The idea that there are meaningfully different time-preferences between genetically distinct population groups is a testable scientific hypothesis, although aside from some very small-scale studies on children, "the Stanford marshmallow experiment", I am not aware of any studies that have been done in this regard.  In order for it to be useful, I would recommend a study with randomly selected adults, (corrected for income and debt), who would be offered a choice between receiving $200 in cash immediately and a check for a randomly selected amount between $250 and $1,000 in a randomly determined period of time ranging from three months to one year.  A second study would then test the ranges of the time preferences of the various population groups based on the information from the first study, and a third would test children to see if the range of their time preferences were consistent with the adult ranges.

Perhaps the hypothesis that pure homo sapiens sapiens have shorter time preferences than the various homo sapiens-homo neanderthalensis blends would hold up, or perhaps not.  But that is the primary purpose of science, to formulate and test hypotheses.  It is, I think, more than a little ironic that so many self-professed "science fiction" writers are not only horrified by a scientific perspective, but are openly and avowedly anti-science whenever science threatens to upend their cherished ideological beliefs.

Anyhow, it is because the entire concept of a racial supremacist is intrinsically nonsensical that I occasionally describe myself as an "Esquimaux supremacist".  Having grown up in Minnesota, and having lived through more than a few bitterly cold Minnesota winters, I have a particular appreciation for the obvious and undeniable superiority of that noble people of the north.

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Anonymous Jack Amok June 19, 2013 11:59 PM  

it seems like the tribes in the Pacific Northwest were a lot less warlike than other tribes.

Well, I suppose I could be more precise, I was using "salish" broadly for all the various potlaching tribes along the Inside Passage and Puget Sound/Oly Peninsual - Tlingit, Bella Coola, Tshimshiam, Skagit, Snohomish, Skokomish, Chinook, Quinault, Kwakiutl, etc. They were pretty peaceful, but then the PNW is one of the few areas in the world where you can have a sedentary hunter-gatherer society.

The exception is the Haida, aka the Vikings of the PNW. They lived in the Queen Charlottes, and paddled huge 50+ person canoes (dugout canoes, made from a single Cedar tree) along the coast, raiding villages and taking slaves.

Strange myths they had though. Very strange.

Anonymous Jack Amok June 20, 2013 12:03 AM  

Hmm... 8,000 years of "civilization" and not one wheel was produced, let alone a city. Color me extremely skeptical.

Stagnation. They didn't have entrepreneurs. Besides, who the fuck would want a wheel in the PNW? They travelled by water. Water was the safe place, you just had to worry about Killer Whales, giant Octopus, and sharks. On land there were Grizzly bears.

And Sasquatches...

Anonymous dh June 20, 2013 1:33 AM  

And that's what I disagree with -- since "least-worst" also means "best" in this context, the best option is an interest-earning plan where the money cannot easily be withdrawn. It's simple enough to do -- at the very least, automatic payroll deduction into an online savings account (where it is difficult or inconvenient to make withdrawals) would fit the bill here. If they never touch the money, it's harder to spend it.

I just think you are out of touch with being poor. The financial habits of the poor would probably be alien to you. They change jobs a lot, or work temp jobs, or for cash. Payroll is irregular, a moving target. They often get paper checks, and then proceed to check cashing stores or Walmart to get the funds as cash or onto a prepaid credit card. They don't usually have traditional checking or savings accounts. They have no savings. They have no online accounts. They have no payroll deductions that the government doesn't force on them. They pay $50-$100 or more to borrow $300 for a pay period. Then they pay $50 or $75 to push that out another pay period. They pay 500-600% interest on consumer goods like televisions and video game systems. They rent furniture.

Anonymous Northern Observer June 20, 2013 2:21 AM  

...try to stuff stuff...

Do don't get ...

VD: make sure you do don't meet this girl in dark alley. She sounds like a stalker and may try to stuff stuff.

...sheets-covered head...

What is that? ESL?

Anonymous Jack Amok June 20, 2013 3:02 AM  

...sheets-covered head...

What is that? ESL?

Nah, our latest troll must've used up his quota of Nazi references so he decided to call Vox a klansman instead.

You weren't expecting a dialectic approach from the twitchy noses were you?

Anonymous WaterBoy June 20, 2013 3:08 AM  

dh: "The financial habits of the poor would probably be alien to you."

It's possible, though the thinking you describe does seem to be at direct odds with the type of long-range thinking that would see them want to implement the IRS savings plan in the first place.

It's a conundrum....

Blogger tz June 20, 2013 6:08 AM  


It depends. And reminds me of the old joke.

A man saw a nearly new Corvette with a for sale sign, $25. He wondered whatnwas wrong with it but he couldn't see anything. He went to the door and after talking the lady handed him the keys so he drove it. t was great. He got back, handed her $25, and she handed over the title. The man asked why so cheap? She explained that her husband was in bermuda with his secretary, having an affair, but he called me and instructed me to sell the car and send him the money.

If you try to sell $100 bills for $5, people will think them stolen or counterfeit.

Anonymous Cail Corishev June 20, 2013 8:37 AM  

"The financial habits of the poor would probably be alien to you."

Not to me; been there done that. The thing is, most of the bad financial habits you describe are choices. No one has to rent furniture. But many poor people do, and they end up paying $500 for a $200 sofa, when my poor grandparents would have bought a sofa for $10 at a garage sale (or just done without) and saved their pennies until they had enough for a new one, maybe even getting a discount on it for paying cash.

Being poor doesn't keep you from having checking and savings accounts, though making lots of bad time-preference decisions like writing checks you can't cover could take away the checking option. But I'm pretty sure the person with the worst credit in the world could go to a bank and get a passbook savings account and have a place where he can A) save a few bucks out of every paycheck, maybe automated, and B) cash his paycheck without paying the high fees at the check-cashing place. And if you're borrowing against your next paycheck, you have no business buying "consumer goods" at all.

To use your term, these are "financial habits." Being poor doesn't require you to engage in these habits (though spending lots of time around other people who do might make you think they're normal); engaging in them makes you poor.

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