Is it time to embrace poverty?

I am a migrant. I have not only left my country of birth, I've actually changed the country I live in multiple times in my life. In theory, people change countries for various reasons. In practice, there's usually just one reason why people want to move to a different country, namely to make more money, and that's why migration is so controversial. This creates a problem because obviously everyone would like to make more money, but not everyone can.

I moved to Germany because I fell in love with German literature, German music, the German mentality, and the German language. This is a great reason to move to a different country: If you feel that you fit in better somewhere else, then why not go where you belong? The problem is that most people who move to Germany, the vast majority of people who move to Germany, are not much interested in German culture or anything else German; the only thing they're interested in is German money, and that's why they risk their lives to go to Germany. The money is everything to them. I have spoken to many people who moved to Germany and seen interviews with them on television and the Internet, and almost without exception, people rave about how much money they are getting now that they're in Germany. Nobody talks about how much they love the writing of Nietzsche, Goethe, or Hermann Hesse, or the music of people like Beethoven or Bach, or the cinema of Hans Deppe or Fritz Lang (who was Austrian but had his first great cinematic success in Germany), or the painting of, to name an obvious choice, Caspar David Friedrich. Without exception, people get excited by how "generous" the German people are because they get lots of money, but they continue to listen to the music from their countries of birth, watch television from their countries of birth, and often speak the language of that country among themselves.

There's one country where those motivations for migration make sense, namely the USA, because the USA is kind of based on that model: It is about having a big, powerful economy that draws people from all over the world who are attracted by the prospect of making more money. Although such motives are crass and were historically unwelcome in Europe, they are par for the course in America, because this was the premise upon which America was built in the first place. America's heart and soul is not in its writers like Mark Twain and William Faulkner, nor its musicians like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan; these people are certainly globally-recognized figures who happen to be American, and Americans often like to imagine that they channel the spirit of John Wayne or Dean Martin, but in reality, Americans are all about money. And that's okay, as long as everyone understands it; a culture functions well when everyone is on the same page and agrees that they all value the same things. The problem arises when people pretend that this is not the case, as if they are too coy to admit that they are really all about money. While living in the U.S., I once spoke to a person who had recently immigrated but then expressed some regret that money was so important in America: "It's a bit strange, to my mind, that money is so important here". I agreed that Americans think about money a lot, and that it's sometimes regrettable that money is such a strong cultural value there, but I couldn't help but wonder why, knowing this, someone would immigrate in the first place, so I asked: "Why did you come to America for the purpose of making more money if you didn't want to be in a place where people think about money?", thus echoing the common (in America) sentiment: Why did you come here if you hate this place so much? The person could only shrug bemusedly and conclude: "Somehow I just imagined this place being... different".

The same was true for me. I moved to America because I wanted to work in the computer industry. When the computer industry disappeared, I found myself disgusted with what America had become: A country which had sold all of its industry to China and believed it could now make a living by posting things on "social media" websites. America had become such a ridiculous parody of itself that I sought deeper and more lasting cultural values in the Old World of Europe. Since moving to Europe, I make much less money than I made in America, and that has never bothered me. I knew this would be the case, and I accepted it, because I was driven by something which was, to me, more important than money. In fact, it's probably better that people earn less, because less money means that less greedy, money-obsessed opportunists are migrating to that place.

When I first left the U.S., I lived in Russia for a while, and I enjoyed the fact that Russian people have gotten used to living without money; rather than being dependent on a salary to make a living, Russians are in the habit of growing their own food when possible, fixing old machines rather than replacing them, and generally doing things that don't cost money instead of doing things which do cost money. I like that kind of self-sufficient living, although understandably, Russian people see things differently. When I lived in Russia, I once explained to a Russian person what I liked about Russia (this being an understandably common question which Russians asked of me) thus: "People here don't have any money". The person indignantly replied: "I see nothing good about that".

I suppose this is a case of the grass always being greener on the other side. People who live in poor countries romanticize and idealize rich countries, and dream of living there. People who live in rich countries romanticize and idealize poor countries, and dream of living there. This is similar to the East/West German divide which existed in the time of the Berlin Wall: People who lived in East Germany risked their lives to escape it, while people who lived in the West admired the thrifty, simple East German life.

Today, of course, there are no longer two Germanies, just one Germany which has had famous success in bouncing back, in economic terms, from two history-defining wars and decades of being politically divided. What Germany has gained in economic and political clout, however, it has lost in culture. Perhaps these two are mutually incompatible: When a country becomes too wealthy, it becomes preoccupied with that wealth. I came to Germany hoping to find a nation of Hegels and Nietzsches. Instead, I found a nation of hedonists. The vast majority of Germans whom I speak to are at best bored with historical German culture, and at worst outright disgusted with it because they only learned about World War II and never studied German literature, music, or philosophy. Instead, when Germans talk about culture, their idea of culture is almost universally based on going out with friends. An evening in a bar having drinks with people is considered "culture" now, which shows just how far Europe has tumbled from its Renaissance peaks.

The loss of understanding regarding what culture is can be clearly seen in Germans' repeated enthusiastic use of the word "multiculturalism", which of course means multiracialism. A typical German's description of their social and cultural life goes thus: "Last night, I went to a rave and took drugs with a black guy. And the night before that, I went to a rave and took drugs with an Indian guy. And last week, I had the opportunity to go to a rave and take drugs with a guy from Afghanistan. Multiculturalism is great! It affords me so much variety in my life!" At this point, I would like to state that this is not in any way exaggerated or satirical; this is literally the present-day German perception of "culture" and "multiculturalism". Germany today no longer treasures its cultural heritage. If Germans had held their culture in their hearts, they would not have lost it, but they willingly gave it up. What a waste. What a horrible, shameful waste.

It seems that life is just too good in Germany. When a people really has nothing to worry about, its constituents lose interest in improving themselves physically or mentally, and fall into a lifestyle of just trying to enjoy life as much as possible. This is similar to the cultural void which is even more highly visible in the Nordic countries, and which I've excoriated in the past. The Germans aren't developing their own culture--in fact, they seem eager to get rid of it, as though it were something cumbersome, dull, and embarrassing--and the people moving to Germany don't care about it either, because they are drawn only by the prospect of making money.

All of this has led me to ask myself for a while now: Is it time to embrace poverty? In the 20th century, life was good in wealthy countries, because the constant development in science and technology meant that people who worked in those fields could make great money while also bringing new possibilities to the world. Today, technological development has been stalled for 20 years, and the West is falling apart: Both the USA and Western Europe are becoming constantly more economically, socially, and politically unstable, and they no longer hold any promise for the future, either for new immigrants or for people who've lived there their entire lives. Culturally, too, ours is a dead world: The world's search for wisdom and development is over. There is no longer any sense in living in a rich country, a place where nothing good can happen and the country is constantly besieged by me-too opportunists who just want to come in to snatch a piece of an ever-dwindling pie.

The question is simply where I would go. There are lots of poor countries, but the problem is that most of them also have no culture. Human beings are astonishingly bad at developing culture, which is why so many people associate "culture" with inane things like dancing or food, thinking that a particular style of cuisine constitutes a national culture. There is, for example, Poland, which doesn't like to consider itself Eastern Europe but has historically been Eastern for most of its history. Poland is still mostly Polish, but Poland does not have a strong internal culture. There are Polish books and movies, in the sense that there are books and movies which have been written and filmed in Poland, but these tend to mimic patterns seen in other literature and cinema (usually either German or American). And now that Poland has joined the European Union, it has been busily trying to turn itself into another America, where the most important thing in life is business success. If I were to flee to a poor country, Poland could not be it.

Of course, there are others. There are plenty of economically-underdeveloped countries in Europe, which is why I tried to make a thorough survey of all of them. What I discovered in most of them is that such countries are just too small and weak (in every sense; not only economically and politically, but also culturally) to really have any identity. They may have had some writers, composers, and artists in their history, but these were rather incidental to their development, random geniuses who were born by pure happenstance in Eastern Europe rather than people who represent anything which could be called a national culture. (Nikola Tesla is one of the most famous examples: Born to a Serb family in what is geographically Croatia, Tesla lived like neither a Serb nor a Croat; he was an eccentric genius, and there is nothing about his personality or his life which reflects anything representative of national culture in either Serbia or Croatia. Indeed, Tesla immigrated to the U.S. and lived there for the rest of his life.) People who grew up in most Eastern European countries grew up reading literature from other countries and hearing music from other countries. That seems to leave Russia, as Russia is the only one of the "poor" countries in Europe which really has a rich and widely-received internal culture, by which I mean a culture which most of its residents are aware of and recognize. But even in Russia, Russians tend to dislike their own culture, because they are obsessed with moving to Nordic Europe, England, America, or somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea. Whenever I expressed admiration for Russian literature to people in Russia, they almost invariably gave the same response: "We Russians don't like Russian literature, because we were forced to read it in school and we find it boring. We'd much rather read Western literature because we love Western money. Um... Oops... We meant cultural values, of course". The only thing which I really hated about living in Russia was how much Russians hate their own country.

To boil it down to the essentials, if you want to live in Europe, you broadly have two options: You can go to Western Europe and do what I'm doing now, which is basically documenting the downfall of Western society as the whole idea of "culture" disappears and gives way to absolute obsession with trade, business, and hedonism. The other option, of course, is Eastern/East-Central Europe, which is mostly countries that never had any culture in the first place and simply exist as places on a map. Moving there is difficult as an outsider because there are not a lot of jobs, nor a lot of avenues to meet people if you don't already know people there; most people there survive by maintaining large families and local social networks who support each other financially and socially. If you live there, you lose a lot of independence because you don't have any money and your life depends on having friends and family, but that is a place where real stability can be found.

The message that we're learning here is that just as the West was a place where people sought stability in the 20th century because of the turmoil caused in Eastern Europe by the rise of communism and constant "revolutions" which failed for one reason or another while the West maintained strong economic growth that allowed people living there to have very good lives and you had good chances at financial success if you had reasonable levels of intelligence and ambition, the 21st century has become a time where this picture is exactly reversed: The West is a set of crumbling castles which are falling apart as waves upon waves of "refugees" come pouring in at precisely the time that most jobs have been replaced by computers and robots, while the East is a place of stability where, outside of the largest cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, people in the villages still live much the same way as they did 50 years ago. If you want stability, seek out a place of stable poverty, because the only safety and stability in the world today is to be found in places without economic development. Any amount of economic development rapidly brings an endless stream of parasites desperate to latch onto whatever money they can grab.

The question then becomes: What do you do when you're in a place like that? If you're able to secure a place to live and a job in a poor place and can manage to sustain a stable life in a place where most people are farmers and factory workers, you come to realize that "stability" is the same as "stagnation": Yes, you might have a stable life there, but your life will never change because there is no way and no place to grow or develop. However, this is true in the West as well: Culturally, economically, politically, socially, and technologically, global humanity is at a dead end. So if you're going to stagnate anyway, you might as well at least do it in a place where neighbors know each other's names.

The limitations of intelligence and language

A widely-repeated quote from Albert Einstein states: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world". As with most such quotes, this is something you shouldn't take too literally; obviously knowledge is limited in the sense that a person can't know everything, but imagination is also limited, because a person can only imagine things which their mind is capable of coming up with. Different people have varying levels of creativity and originality in their imaginations, but all imaginations are limited because a person can't imagine everything.

Broadly speaking, both knowledge and imagination are types of intelligence. Intelligence is nothing more than the ability to store and process information. You might add "create information" to this list, which seems to be what artists and other imaginative or creative people do, but this is precisely the point: The mind only creates ideas based on what it has experienced, what it has already known and felt. The mind cannot create something without a frame of reference, and so the act of creating art is really just a subset of processing information: Creativity is like a computer function in which the input is everything the mind has learned, and the output is whatever art gets produced by the artist.

Intelligence, by itself, cannot change anything, because intelligence only handles information. For that intelligence and information to have any effect, it must be converted into real-world events. This is why a computer, by itself, is completely powerless: A computer can do nothing but store and process information. In many science-fiction movies, there are ideas about computers which take over the world by launching nuclear missiles or controlling huge armies of killer robots, but these things are only possible if there is some link between the computer and these physical objects. A computer can only control something which has a specially-made interface for that computer.

For example, you have probably seen 3D printers which can produce various plastic objects. These printers are controlled by a computer, and so you can, through a computer, tell a 3D printer to print, for example, a cup or a plate. What's important to understand here is that the computer is not capable of printing anything; the only way it can tell the printer to print anything is through an electronic cable which connects the two devices. (Well, okay, it's possible to create a wireless link between the devices, but the idea is the same: The two devices need to be programmed to communicate with each other.) This may seem "obvious", but many people lose sight of this fact because they imagine a world in which some central computer controls everything, even though this is not possible because a computer cannot control anything at all unless some physical link exists which allows the computer to send electronic signals to devices, and even then, events can only happen when those devices understand and obey the computer. If a device were to refuse an order from a computer, for whatever reason, the computer is helpless to enforce compliance.

In this regard, human intelligence works the same way as computer intelligence. You can learn a lot of things, understand a lot of things, and imagine a lot of things, but all of this is just information, and that information, by itself, doesn't do anything. There are also science-fiction scenarios in which people develop hyper-intelligence and are somehow, through their intelligence, capable of things like telekinesis or telepyrosis (often incorrectly called "pyrokinesis"), which is absolute nonsense because intelligence alone cannot cause things to happen. The only way telekinesis or telepyrosis could be possible would be if there were some physical link from a person's brain to physical objects; intelligence alone won't make it happen. Imagining stuff like this might be fun (see here for an insane list of literally hundreds of fictional "-kinesis" abilities that people have come up with), but this is just fictional entertainment.

So an intelligence device, whether it's a silicon computer or an organic brain, can only process information but can't actually make things happen. It's dependent on external devices, and connections to those devices, to be able to do anything. The devices which are controlled by the computer or brain must be both willing and able to do what the controller wants, or else the desired result will not be achieved. In thinking about this, I realized that this same holds true for language, both human languages like English or French and computer languages like C or Java. A language, by itself, cannot do anything. Language is a way for one "thinking device" to communicate with another thinking device, but it depends on both devices being able to process a specific set of symbols. In most human languages as well as in most high-level computer languages, these symbols typically take the form of words.

At some point in your life, you've probably hit upon a concept which you wanted to express or communicate somehow, but for which you lacked appropriate words. Language is finite; there are only so many words that exist in any language, and the words which exist in any language are a reflection of what that language's culture has experienced. A word is coined when someone in that culture has an idea which they want to attach a word to. Until then, there is no word for that idea, and so expressing that idea becomes difficult. Many languages have words which exist only in that language and which cannot be easily translated into any other language. If you want to express an idea for which there is no word in the language you're using, you have to be indirect and use a phrase instead: If you're writing in a language which has no word for "airplane", you might use the phrase "flying machine" instead.

The same applies to computer languages: A computer language has a finite library of functions built into it, and you can only use that language to do whatever its vocabulary enables you to do. If you want to do something for which there is no built-in function, you may be able to turn a word into a phrase. For example, many early microprocessors included built-in functions to add numbers, but not to multiply. If you wanted to multiply, you had to reformulate the multiplication as repeated addition: 4 times 8 could not be expressed as 4 times 8, but rather as 8 plus 8 plus 8 plus 8. More advanced math functions were even more elaborate: The Commodore 64 had a BASIC interpreter built in which included functions to perform trigonometry operations like calculating sines, cosines, and tangents, but these functions were not built into the CPU, and so the Commodore 64 could only calculate these things based on long lists of instructions which took a relatively long time to process. Even today's newest CPUs generally lack instructions to perform advanced mathematics like calculus-level differentiation or integration, and so software with fairly complex logic consisting of many instructions must be written to do these things indirectly.

Even if you can perfectly formulate and express an idea into language, language is a form of communication, and for any communication to work, it's necessary not only that the "speaker" or "sender" transmits information correctly, but also that the "listeners" or "receivers" receive and understand the information correctly. Language is complex, and there are many possible reasons why a person or an electronic device might misunderstand communication. Fundamentally, though, language is still dependent on a vocabulary, a set of words or other symbols which the language makes available to people who want to communicate in that language. If the people or devices involved in that communication don't understand specific symbols, or if they lack the necessary symbols to express what they want to express, language stops being useful.

Within the context of the limitations of intelligence and language, perhaps the most deluded person is the software developer who knows how to write code and believes that this ability makes them omnipotent. I see countless people who really seem to believe that because they learned how to program and then started looking at some software code, this means they can do anything because as long as they write the correct code, they can achieve whatever they want. These people are failing to understand the fundamental limitations of both intelligence and language: They don't understand the limitations of a programming language because any language is only capable of doing what its vocabulary provides to you. In high-level languages today, you usually cannot communicate directly with the hardware, which means that the language specifically lacks functions to enter information directly into memory or specific input/output ports. And even if you write in assembly language, assembly language also does not have infinitely many instructions; a CPU has a finite list of instructions it can understand and run, and if you want to do something which cannot be expressed in that set of symbols, you can't do what you want with the language. Meanwhile, software developers also fail to understand the fundamental limitations of the computer itself: The computer can only process information, nothing more. The computer is very smart, but if you want to turn the computer's software into any kind of real-world physical effects, this can only be done if the computer has a link to a person or device which is willing to obey instructions from that computer. If the computer does not have anyone listening to it who is willing to obey it, it can do nothing except think.

By no means do I mean to say that intelligence is useless. Far from it. But people need to understand its limitations. You may be very smart, but if that's all you are, then that doesn't really count for anything. Intelligence needs to be combined with something else to make it meaningful or useful. With all due respect to Einstein, if all you know how to do is imagine, all you're going to have is a head full of dreams which you can neither communicate nor turn into reality.

A brief introduction to booting with UEFI

If you've been keeping up with developments in the PC world any time in the past 15 years, chances are that you've at least heard of UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) and are aware that it is, among other things, a relatively new way to boot a PC in contrast to the old so-called "BIOS" method of booting, in which the BIOS just starts executing the code on the boot sector of the boot drive. UEFI has been both praised and criticized, and although I've generally been wary of it because it is, by nature, something which limits the user's ability to control their own computer, my point here isn't to provide an exhaustive list of the pros and cons of UEFI (Wikipedia already does a decent job of this in its article on UEFI; check the "Criticism" section). Instead, this is a quick look at how booting with UEFI works, for the simple reason that UEFI isn't going to go away, and if it's going to plague us for the rest of humanity's existence, then we might as well at least have an idea of how it works.

I'm feeling a bit opinionated today. I'm here writing a textfile for the Internet about something I found out about computers, and I'm here to tell you what I think of it as well, so to make this a little more fun, I've dialled my brain back a bit to have the mentality of a 12-year-old typing some k-k00l g-phile which he intends to upload to his local BBS when his parents go to sleep tonight. So here we go. Let's write a real textfile like it's the 1980s again. Let's explain exactly how booting from UEFI works, from the Windows perspective, since Windows is, sadly, more ubiquitous than atoms.

If you look at any Windows computer which is fairly current (running a version of Windows from the last few years, not Windows 95 or something like that), if you look in "Disk Management" under "Computer Management", you'll probably see three partitions on the hard drive. One of these will be the main C: partition which takes up most of the drive, but what are the other two? I always assumed that these were just some random garbage which Windows puts on the drive and didn't pay too much attention to them. Well, it turns out that I was half-right: The "Recovery Partition" which is probably the larger of the two remaining partitions (typically around 500 MB) is indeed something from Windows and can technically be deleted. It's only used by Windows to do a "reset" of the system, whatever that means--some Windows trash which isn't properly documented, as usual. This should not be confused with a restore partition which is provided by some PC OEMs (like Dell, Lenovo, etc.) to do a full system restore in case your boot partition really gets thrashed. Because the Windows "Recovery Partition" is only used for a "reset", it can technically be deleted without compromising the normal functionality of the computer. It's probably better to leave this partition in place, though, as Windows may break someday, and being able to do a "reset" (still no idea what this actually entails as I do not have any source code for this process) may fix it. Or maybe not. You never know with closed-source software.

The other partition, however, is potentially more interesting. Though Windows often calls it simply a "System" partition, technically it is an EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) partition. The first interesting thing about this partition is that it's basically a FAT partition. That's right, PCs are still using FAT in the year 2020. You see? There are still some things left to love about the world.

The partition itself is actually called an EFI System Partition (ESP; don't you love it when acronyms are further embedded into other acronyms?), and to distinguish it from a normal FAT partition which has a partition type of 01 for FAT12 (used on floppy disks), 04 or 06 for FAT16, or 0B or 0C for FAT32, an EFI System Partition has a partition type of EF, which I find aesthetically pleasing because of its obvious mnemonic properties. There's also a partition type EE which is used on MBR boot systems to indicate that the MBR is followed by an EFI header. Nice!

What's possibly even more awesome is that the ESP can be in FAT12, FAT16, or FAT32 format, so if you want to be super cool and go booting a UEFI system using FAT12, this is technically possible. The point is that in terms of its actual structure, the ESP is basically a FAT partition, but it's marked as partition type EF to indicate that it is not a normal data partition, but rather, it contains a file which in turn contains the boot table. That's how UEFI booting works: When the BIOS wants to boot through UEFI, it actually looks for an ESP, and if it finds one, it tries to read the files there to find out what operating systems it can boot. That's kind of cool, isn't it? A whole list of selectable operating systems to boot via an index file and a set of boot loaders on a FAT partition which the BIOS is aware of. When you understand that this is how booting with UEFI works, you start to appreciate that maybe it has some virtue to it after all.

Now comes the question which you've probably been asking for a while already: How do you see what's on the ESP? To see what's on the EFI partition, run DISKPART from Windows and then type list partition to see the partitions on the drive. You should see one which Windows just calls a "System" partition; typically it's 100 MB. If you see it, that's your target. By the way, going back to how much garbage Windows is: Technically your hard drive is likely to have a fourth partition which doesn't even show up in "Disk Management", called an MSR (Microsoft Reserved Partition). The MSR is only a few megabytes (in Windows 10, it starts at 16 MB), but the joke is that it literally doesn't contain anything at all. Windows just reserves this space in case it might suddenly want to use another partition someday. I'm not even joking; that is literally why the MSR exists. Windows creates it and then hides it from you so you don't wonder why Windows is just consuming disk space for no reason. It does show up in DISKPART if you run list partition, but not in "Disk Management". So yeah, EFI/UEFI might be okay in some ways, but Windows in the 21st century is still the worst thing to ever happen on Earth.

Getting back to DISKPART, if you type list volume, you'll see a list of "volumes" which Windows recognizes, which is usually the partitions minus Windows' "Recovery Partition" and the MSR, which Windows doesn't treat as "volumes". This is important, because to access the ESP, you'll need to treat it as a "volume", even though this is a bogus word invented by Windows, and not a "partition", which is what it really is. In the output from list volume, you should be able to see the volume number of the ESP, so type sel vol X where X is the ESP's volume number, and now you've selected the ESP as the "active volume". I'm "using" a lot of "quotation marks" because that is a stupid thing to do, just like using Windows. Now you can do something pretty awesome: Type assign letter=x: where x is the drive letter you want to assign to the ESP, then look in Windows Explorer (which means clicking on that yellow folder on the taskbar; Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer, which is a (bad) web browser). Now you'll have a visible drive with a drive letter in Windows that represents your EFI boot partition!

Not so fast, though: If you try to double-click on that drive in Windows, chances are that you'll get an "access denied" error. Yes, Windows never stops trying to oppress its users and prevent them from doing anything with the computer which they paid money for. Even if you're an "Administrator" on this computer, Windows won't let you read the data on your own disk drive! This is further evidence that, like voting in elections, being an "Administrator" in Windows is a false sense of emancipation, a pacifier which our oppressors give to us to maintain an illusion that we have control over our own environments, when in reality every choice we make is actually the only choice which Microsoft offers to us. So remove the drive letter which you've created by typing remove in DISKPART. You don't even need to specify the drive letter, because assuming the EFI partition is still the "active", "selected" one (which it should be if you haven't selected a different one), then Windows implicitly assumes that that's where you want to remove the drive letter, and does so without further prompting.

Go ahead and type exit to get out of DISKPART. Make sure that you're running a command line with Administrator permissions (do "Run as administrator" on cmd.exe if you're not) and run the following command instead: mountvol x: /s where x is, again, the drive letter you want to assign to the EFI partition. Now you can access the EFI partition through the command line! It won't work in Windows Explorer, but then again, if you've gotten this far, you're an intelligent person, so why would you want to use something stupid?

Once you've taken a look in the EFI partition for a while, you'll probably notice that while it's good fun to take a look around, you don't want to make any changes there without really knowing what you're doing, so when you're finished looking for now, run mountvol x: /d (where x is the letter of the EFI drive you created) to remove the drive letter and keep it out of temptation's way.

I'm getting to the end of this brief introduction to booting with UEFI, but you might have started reading this because you have the question of how to create or recreate an EFI partition for Windows in case the existing one got damaged (or never existed in the first place). If you have an entirely new drive which has no EFI partition and you want to create one manually, this is something you should probably leave up to your operating system's setup program, but if you really want to try doing it manually, you can go back to DISKPART and use the following commands:

list disk (you'll see the drives in this system)
select disk x (where x is the number of the drive where you want to create the EFI partition)
If this disk is completely new and not configured in the GPT format, you may need to run the following command to convert it to GPT format:
convert gpt
Now it's time to make the EFI partition with the following command:
create partition efi size=100 (the size is in megabytes)
Specifying the size of the EFI partition is important, because otherwise DISKPART will try to fill the whole entire drive with the EFI partition, which is a little like building a traffic light which fills the entire intersection, leaving no room for cars to drive through.
Note that the "create partition efi" command automatically makes the new EFI partition the "active" one, so that the following command formats the correct partition! If you have made a different partition active in the meantime, make sure to select the right one with select partition BEFORE you run a format!
format fs=fat32 (obviously you can use FAT12 or FAT16 if you want, but let's be practical now)

Now you have a usable EFI partition on the drive. You can verify this with list partition. If everything looks good, now you need to get Windows to put its files in the EFI partition so that the BIOS knows how to boot Windows. Windows has a bcdboot command for this, BCD standing for "boot configuration data", but the bcdboot command requires the EFI partition to have its own drive letter, so while in DISKPART, go ahead and once again run assign letter=x: so that you can reference the EFI partition using a drive letter. Now you can exit DISKPART with the exit command and run bcdboot like this: bcdboot C:\Windows /S D: /F ALL /V where C:\Windows is the path to the source Windows files and D: is the drive where you want to configure the EFI partition. (This should be a drive letter on the EFI partition which you created in DISKPART with assign letter=x: and NOT the main partition on the target drive!)

That's all. Hopefully it was interesting. Call my cool BBS and post some messages or upload some files. Thanks!

When you have the right message, but pound it too hard

One thing I should make clear right from the start is that I've always been a strong supporter of PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The group has been controversial throughout its 40-year history (it turned 40 this year), due to a variety of opinions and publicity stunts which did not come off well with the public. Among the most famous of PETA's stunts has been their propensity to throw cans of paint onto people who are wearing fur, which I found more overdone than malicious, but PETA is probably most hated for how brutal some of their documentaries are. When I was in college, a teacher in one of my classes once showed us a PETA documentary about how animals are treated in slaughterhouses, and most of the class was literally crying by the end of the video. Reactions were polarized: Some people said that it's good that such documentaries are made because people need to see the real truth, while other people become extremely upset over it, asking why PETA feels the need to disturb the general public with such horrific content. I've generally been in the former camp, because it's always been clear to me why this must be done: If people didn't see the truth, they wouldn't believe it. Perhaps some people look at the smiling, dancing cows and pigs visible on some meat products and imagine that these cartoon representations actually bear some relation to the sentiments of animals in meat-processing facilities. It is necessary to give people a good, clear dose of reality if they are to understand that the problem is not just that animals are killed; the problem is how animals are treated while they are still alive. In meat-processing plants, animals live and die in the most horrifying, cruel circumstances, and it is necessary for the meat-eating public to see this for themselves. One of PETA's documentaries was cleverly titled Unnecessary Fuss, in reference to a remark made by neurosurgeon Thomas Gennarelli, who at the time ran an experiment lab in which brain damage was traumatically inflicted upon baboons. Gennarelli refused to describe the nature of his research to the media, declaring: "I'm not willing to go on record to discuss the laboratory studies because it has the potential to stir up all sorts of unnecessary fuss. We're trying to keep ourselves out of the newspapers." If you watch the film, you'll see why. PETA had the right attitude here: "You think this is unnecessary fuss, huh? We'll show you some damned unnecessary fuss." (That's not a quote from PETA; those are my words characterizing the motivation behind the film.) Like many of PETA's documentaries, Unnecessary Fuss is extraordinarily difficult to watch, but I don't see what the point of such a documentary would have been if they had softened its view of reality. People need to know the truth.

In recent years, however, PETA have become somewhat different in what causes they adopt and how they present those causes to the public. They've repeatedly had public campaigns featuring nude women who declare: "We'd rather wear nothing than wear fur", which might sound like a cute slogan but comes across more as a silly way to grab sensationalist media attention than to draw attention to the real issues. PETA also got involved in the question of animal copyright in the "monkey selfie" case, when a macaque trigged a camera in 2011, producing arguably the first case of an animal taking a photograph of itself; because copyright law in the USA only applies to human beings, the photograph was considered as being in the public domain, whereupon PETA chimed in and declared that the macaque should own the copyright to its own photograph. Whether you agree or not, I can't help but feel like this is a silly non-issue that only distracts from what PETA really should be talking about.

Recently, on July 13th, 2020, PETA came into the news again when their Twitter feed featured a graphic image of a cat which had been mutilated in a research lab. If you have not seen the picture in question and do not know what it is about, I would advise you not to search for it; believe me when I say that you can live well enough without having seen this photograph. The outcry against PETA for posting the image was, I think, quite damaging for PETA's public image; this is an organization which can only thrive on public support, and it is not doing itself or its cause any favors by making an enemy out of the general public.

The problem is not PETA's message, because the message is obviously right. Some people may have the impression that I am a cruel person due to my frequent assertions that people who are damaging the world or their society need to be killed if they cannot be reformed, but I do not consider killing to be cruel; an organism which cannot thrive healthfully in its environment is better off being euthanized than being forced to live in a world where it doesn't belong. I do not have any moral objections to killing so long as it is justified, so long as it is being done to remove life which cannot reasonably be expected to live well. But one thing I cannot and do not tolerate is cruelty. The lowest form of life is one which does not care about the suffering of another, and I do not object to the removal of such life forms as unworthy of life. If I had ever found myself in Gennarelli's lab, I would have personally killed every employee there and walked out with a clean conscience. Doubtlessly, many scientists will say that I am an enemy of science, but I consider myself an advocate of science; what I oppose does not deserve the title "science". Even "cruelty" and "inhumanity" seem too weak; "monstrousness" or "abomination" are perhaps closer, but I have seen many things in my life for which there are simply no words. Some things you just can't describe; you can only pull the trigger if you're in a position to do so, then walk away and try to forget what you've seen.

The thing is, I understand what PETA are trying to do, and I empathize with their mindset. When I was a child, I wanted to do something to "wake up" the world: I wanted to collect some footage of the worst atrocities that exist and show it to the world. I was under the impression that people are too ignorant, too quick to turn away from anything which they don't like, too willing to forget what they know so that they can be blissfully ignorant. Many people believe that they "must be cruel to be kind", that to hammer the truth is the best approach because people need to wake up to its reality. I grew up in an environment of constant child abuse, and abuse was all I knew growing up; I thought that the world outside my house was sleeping and needed to know what was going on. Now, as an adult, I understand that people have no shortage of information on atrocities: They read such information every day in the news. The problem is not that people need to be made aware of what's going on in the world, because they already know about it. Trying to shock them into action by showing them ever more horrifying truth is not going to work. Many people will just turn away and ignore the truth you show them, and the people who take the time to watch it will just grow numb to it. What can they do about it, anyway?

This is part of the problem which PETA finds itself in now. Showing information on what happens to animals in meat-processing plants is well and good, because the only reason those things happen is because most people eat meat; if people stopped eating meat, those things would stop happening, and so you can make a difference in the world by showing that footage to the public, because that is something which people actually have the power to stop. Scientific research is much more difficult to influence, because it does not exist in response to any consumer group; there isn't really a lot which most people can do to stop it. You can speak out against it, but speaking out does nothing; it's going to keep happening regardless of what anyone says. One of the problems with PETA's recent tweet is that it has no context: it does not say where the cat is, what happened to it, or why, which means it can serve no purpose except to shock and upset people, which is counterproductive to PETA's goals. PETA has stopped being an organization of public advocacy, a group which says "Here's what you can to do prevent these abominations", and started becoming more of an ideological bully, a group convinced that because it has the moral high ground, this gives it the right to abuse the public with the truth. This is terribly unfortunate, because as I said at the very beginning, I've been a strong, lifelong supporter of PETA, and to see this happening to it now is agonizing on so many levels. It's not just the lost trust that hurts; it's the realization that one of the world's foremost organizations for speaking out for animals (animals being a group which cannot speak for themselves) is self-destructing at a time when it is still very much needed in the world.

I think that I am a pretty emotionally hardened person. I have lived in cruelty all my life, and I have reached the point where I can take a lot. I suppose I am not unique in this regard; we are all surrounded by cruelty constantly. Even so, I cried when I saw the picture of the cat. I cannot, in all honesty, say that I regret seeing it; I suppose it is better that I saw it than that I remained unaware of it. And yet I do not really know what I can do about it, or what anyone can do about it, other than the obvious solution of not doing horrible things. I think that PETA have gotten themselves into the ideological trap of having the right message, but not knowing how to present it to the public in a practical way, resulting in a group that just pounds its message too hard, such that people become numb and apathetic toward it, which is precisely the opposite of what is supposed to happen.

Every conscious being can reach a point where it is overwhelmed by horror, where it is so horrified that it can no longer react in any empathetic way to things which it should be able to empathize with. To know a lot is not always an advantage; if you know the full extent of the suffering in the world, it becomes so overwhelming that you get the feeling that it's hopeless. This is surely what Dostoevsky meant when he declared, in Notes from Underground, that being "too aware" is a sickness.

I'm sure that I've done things like this in the past; perhaps not as extreme, but really, the essence of my writing for the past 20 years has been to not hold back with telling people the truth that I think they need to know. If you've read my blog for the past 10 years, you probably have an idea of what I'm talking about. No, I don't take any pleasure in disturbing people, but yes, I'm willing to do so if I think that they need to know something. I realize that this limits my audience; doubtlessly, more people would want to read what I write if I wrote something more pleasant. I'm not saying that I never try to moderate what I want to say: I do make the effort to express myself constructively and rationally rather than explosively, but I don't know that it really does much good. At the end of the day, I'm sure that most of what I've written would probably be extremely depressing for most people. How many people in the world would want to willingly read countless, endless reflections on the misery and hopelessness of humanity?

When I was a child, I was furious with people who turned away from the abuse they knew I was experiencing and simply washed their hands of it. I swore that I would never commit such willful ignorance if I survived to adulthood. Today, I understand that focusing on real-life horror doesn't help anyone; as I said before, "speaking up" doesn't do anything. If you can change something, change it, but any thinking person with a reasonable grasp on reality understands that there are many, many wrongs in the world which they do not have the power to change. Constantly hammering them with that reality does not help anyone.

With this understanding, I'll be taking a step back from this blog. I don't mean that I'll stop writing; I don't intend to stop altogether. What I mean is that no one benefits from me just beating them senseless with a message, no matter how true or morally virtuous that message is. You are responsible for your own words; before you speak or write them, you need to consider what effect they are likely to have on their readers, and whether that is the effect you want to create. Truth alone is powerless unless thinking human beings are both willing and able to act upon it. I must write not only to the world, but for the world. As someone with the gift of being able to write, I must have the discipline to use that gift wisely and well, to people's benefit rather than to their detriment.

To anyone who may read this, then, please understand: You are not a good person or a bad person, because there is no such thing as a good person or a bad person. All people have both goodness and badness in them, and are capable of doing good things and bad things. Any human being is only capable of doing what they believe to be right, based on their view of the world. It's not right or wrong; it's just who they are. You can and should try to understand people whenever possible, but you're going to end up doing things which other people disagree with, and that's okay. Look and listen: Look at the world and its people and listen to them, and also listen to your own heart and rational, reasonable mind. Then make the best decision you can based on what information you have. If you can do this, no one can justly blame you for what you do. All this being the case, though, I will still advocate for the death penalty for cruelty.

Thank you for reading, everyone. May you live well.


Pets as a substitute for partners

I've lost count of how many times I've seen or heard someone say something like "If you want true love for life, get a dog". It's difficult for me to understand the kinds of sentiments that go into a statement like this.

Yes, dogs tend to be loyal. If you treat a dog well, it will want to stay close to you at all times and obey whatever you tell it to do, and if you ever have to leave it alone for whatever reason, it will miss you and sadly wait for your return, only feeling joyful once you appear again. Now read that same sentence again, but imagine that instead of describing a dog, it's describing a human partner. Doesn't it seem like there is something a little off about it? Why is this kind of bizarre, dependent obsession okay when a dog does it, but not when a human does it?

The fact that people idealize and value such behaviors in a dog suggest that the people who really like dogs are the kind of people who would probably exhibit obsessive, possessive, and controlling tendencies in a relationship. And yet this isn't the case; even people who love dogs and are attached to their dogs would probably be disturbed if they were dating a human partner who did these same things. I don't really understand why this double standard exists.

What makes a person interesting is not being pathologically obsessed with you. What makes a person interesting is when they have their own personality, their own ideas and opinions. To be sure, loyalty and devotion are vital in a committed, long-term romantic relationship, but they can't be the only thing which the relationship is based on; a relationship isn't based exclusively on the idea that someone will "always be there for you". If that's the only thing which you value in a relationship, you might as well just date a pet rock; at least you know that the pet rock is never going to get tired of you or leave you.

That is obviously supposed to be a joke, but it's worth mentioning that I do sometimes see people expressing romantic sentiments about inanimate objects, especially food: "Pizza will never judge you", "Coffee is always there for you", or "Chocolate understands you better than anyone". These statements seem like jokes as well, but I think that underneath the layer of irony, there's a deep truth to how people relate to these statements: Many people really do have a more intense relationship with food than with other human beings.

It seems that what many people--perhaps even most people--value in a relationship is not any amount of compatibility or connection between the two people, but simply how the other person makes you feel. You could be the most terribly mismatched couple imaginable, but if you can make the other person feel good, they'll cherish the relationship despite any problems that may exist in it. I frankly don't understand this attitude toward relationships; I've never looked for a partner for the purpose of making me feel good. I don't need another person to feel good about myself. What I want is a person whom I can share life with as an equal, someone who understands me and whom I understand. Someone who can discuss interesting ideas with me on my level.

I have the sad feeling that many people in the world have never experienced the joy of discussing a particular idea from Hegel or Nietzsche with their partner and feeling the love that swells up in the heart when your partner says something insightful about philosophy or psychology. That's an intense experience which you can never get from a cat or a dog, or any other non-human animal.

Don't get me wrong: I love animals--I am fond of both dogs and cats--but I don't see them as a replacement for human companionship and community. Great culture is not created by animals; animals do not write literature or philosophy, nor do they have discussions about these subjects. There have been some cases of a specific few animals creating art when trained to do so by humans (elephants painting is a "thing" on the Internet), but these do not approach the level of subtlety and depth which go into a true masterpiece. Animals are wonderful, but they cannot completely replace humans.

I think I understand, however, why so many humans resort to getting their companionship from animals rather than from other humans. The reason is simple: Most humans are terrible. Absolutely, incredibly terrible. Rather than wanting to discuss something intelligent, most people just want to do and say the stupidest things that exist. How many times can a person have a conversation like this because they lose their hope for humanity?

Person A: Do you think there is value in the search? Is this value cheapened by the unearned reward?
Person B: LOL, I want to listen to music because I like da beatz.
Person A: Do you think that your obsession with music is related to certain social values which you hold? What compels you to listen to music like a crack addict?
Person B: LOL, I want to laugh because I like to laugh.
Person A: I like to laugh as well, but laughter is best as a response to biting wit, not lowbrow buffoonery. Can you tell me your favorite joke?
Person B: LOL, I'm going to smoke drugs because drugs are coooool///
Person A: Unfortunately, I have never been able to derive enjoyment from the debilitation of my physical and mental faculties. Is there any way that you could experience a rush of pleasure without resorting to means that dull your senses?
Person B: LOL, I'm going to stand in the kitchen and think about food, because food is the best, but I'm not hungry enough to eat.
Person A: Food can be both healthful and pleasurable, to be sure, but food ought to only be eaten when your body needs nutrition. Food doesn't just serve as a way to fill yourself up; it exists as a source of critical nutrition for your body's various systems. Why don't you find another way to make use of your time if you're not actually hungry?
Person B: LOL, I want 2 watch teevee shoe.
Person A: I wonder what our society would have become if television had not been invented. Do you have any other entertainment venues that appeal to you besides watching other people do something on an electric picture screen?
Person B: LOL, I want 2 trun teh music up louder, because I like going def.
Person A: Why do you enjoy damaging your senses? The ability to hear subtlety of sound is precious; you could lose this faculty if you constantly blast loud audio into your ears.
Person B: LOL, back 2 teh drugzzz

There is a greater difference between extremes in human beings than there is between an average human being and a non-human animal. Human beings are capable of such amazing highs, such wonderful feats of brilliance, wisdom, and genius. And yet most of them are eager to do precisely the opposite: It's a race to the bottom, a competition to see how stupid and self-debasing people can be. When you realize this, at least the relative consistency of animals probably seems appealing to most people by comparison.

Over and over and over again, I've been disappointed by human beings in this way. I guess if one has this kind of experience enough, one eventually gives up and decides to just take what they can get. Dogs may not have much intelligent to say, but then again, neither do most humans. A cat is okay too.

"Isn't there already enough X in the world?"

Some years ago, I remember reading a novel about businesspeople which contained a scene in which a young man who had rapidly risen through the ranks of a big corporation had announced that he was leaving to pursue a career in the arts. There was a scene in which this young man was in a meeting with a senior manager who asked the young man why he was giving up a promising, high-earning career for something which didn't promise a lot of money or prestige for the future by asking the question: "Isn't there already enough art in the world?"

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would have spent a decade of my life writing in a blog where the focus was on philosophy, I would have doubted this prediction. My attitude towards philosophy, at the end of the 20th century, was similar: "Isn't there already enough philosophy in the world?" Lots of people go to university to study Philosophy, lots of people debate it, and there are thousands of years' worth of tomes which have been written on it, more than one person could ever understand in a single lifetime, so why add more to that pile?

The beginnings of my focus on philosophy came when I tried to find out more about it. I quickly discovered that philosophy is an under-treated subject in most bookstores. If you go to any bookstore, you can find shelves upon shelves of forgettable, fictional novels which have nothing to impart to readers but an entertaining story, quite a lot of books aimed at children (because to adults, for some inexplicable and stupid reason, it is important that children read, but not that people continue to read as adults), a lot of cookbooks (because one of the biggest markets for books is bored housewives with nothing to do but cook at home all day, although of course the eroding middle class is causing this market to disappear), probably a handful of books on history, languages, and travel, and for most bookstores, that's most of it. I had never paid too much attention to whether bookstores actually have books on philosophy, but when I started to look for such sections, I realized that they were very often absent--even well-stocked bookstores often lack a "philosophy" section entirely--and when present, they were severely underserved. Very often, what gets stocked in the "philosophy" section of a bookstore is actually books on religion, Eastern-style mysticism, or pop-culture books which liken ideas from presently-popular movies and TV shows to ideas from classical philosophy. Even in Germany, which until the 21st century had been easily the most philosophical country in Europe, this is the case: "Philosophy" is often entirely lacking even in major German bookstores, and when it's present, it is often this ridiculous sort of pop-culture philosophy which teaches that the way to wisdom is to burn some incense, adopt the lotus position, and empty your mind of all thoughts, which is precisely the opposite of philosophy, which is specifically about good, careful, and rational thinking. You could (probably correctly) counter that such "Eastern" philosophy is just another way of thinking about philosophy, but it is not at all what I wanted or want from my philosophy: To me, wisdom is about turning the brain on, not shutting it off.

Then it became apparent to me how rarely one actually sees philosophy represented in everyday life. Yes, a lot of people study Philosophy in university, but how many people seem to take much of this study out of the classroom with them? The arts are well represented in everyday life: Take a walk around nearly any city in the world, or go nearly anywhere on the Internet, and you will see great, heaping, overflowing outpourings of music and visual art everywhere you go: people talking about it in casual conversations, people selling it in stores, and people giving it away for free on the street because they just like painting or playing music. But how often does one see, in everyday life, people working to establish a framework for how to think about human existence or the value of human contributions to the world?

Even on the Internet, where ideas can be traded more freely than in most other places in the world, one hardly sees real philosophy being discussed. When I first started seriously writing in this blog, I went looking for blogs that offered great wisdom on LiveJournal--then still one of the world's most popular blogging platforms--and I found nothing. Looking through the most popular blogs on LiveJournal yielded, again and again, people writing very short blog entries about things which had happened in their personal lives, random thoughts which had occurred to them and which they summarized in a short paragraph, and people writing fictional stories because they like fantasy fiction and wanted to write it. This is the sort of typical notion of a "blog" which existed at the end of the 20th century going into the beginning of the 21st, the idea that a "blog" is just a place for socially-handicapped teenagers to talk to nobody about their personal lives or complain about something which had upset them on a particular day. I do not wish to sound boastful, but it's difficult for me to write honestly without sounding that way, because I am so troubled by the lack of real wisdom and thought in public writing on the Internet and elsewhere. When I make points in my blog, I often link not to other people's writing, but to previous entries on my own blog which I wrote in the past, because I just can't find anyone else on the Internet who writes about what I do in the way that I do. I'm not trying to make myself seem better than other people; I'm just so terribly frustrated by the lack of wisdom and wise thinking in the world.

So no, there isn't enough philosophy in the world; there is, in fact, not nearly enough of it. Philosophy is not a stack of centuries-old books written by people like Plato and Hegel; philosophy is something living, something which exists in the minds of people, because philosophy is about wisdom, and books cannot be wise; only living minds can be wise.

A similar position is valid, I think, for the other thing which I have consistently tried to research and document throughout my life: Detailed information about how computers work. When the Internet first started becoming common in households in the 1990s, computers were one of the most common topics of discussion online, which wasn't surprising considering that most people who were on the Internet at that time needed not only a computer, but also some interest in (and savvy with) technology to be online in the first place, since getting onto the Internet at that time was not quite as simple as it is today. Since then, the rise of widespread smartphones and Internet access mean that the average level of technical awareness of people on the Internet has steadily decreased, and the "technical" information which finds its way onto the Internet tends to be of a distinctly less technical nature.

To be sure, there are still plenty of websites which carry information about the latest graphics cards, CPUs, and other big-ticket items, but there is very little information about how these things actually work. The reality is that even most people who work in technology or consider technology a personal hobby know very little about how computers work internally, which I believe is a great failing that has far-reaching implications for a world that is increasingly dependent on computers. People think that they know a lot about computers when they can recite the numbers being advertised for the latest graphics card from some specific manufacturer, but this is actually not at all technical knowledge, but rather knowledge appropriate for a marketer or salesperson. An engineer or technician is not interested in memorizing model numbers and the marketing blurbs associated with them, but rather in understanding how devices are structured internally and how the different parts of a device fit together.

Many people might ask, then: "Isn't there already enough technical mumbo-jumbo for nerds on the Internet?", and I would once again answer: No, there isn't nearly enough. Or at least, there isn't enough real, detailed, incisive information; there is a lot of fluff and advertising and other such nonsense, but very little concrete information which could be used to construct such electronic devices in a home electronics laboratory. People go to bookstores and see racks upon racks of books and magazines for "nerds", filled with information on digital photography, smartphone apps, and operating system upgrades, and people think that there is plenty of technical information in the world, but actually, all of this stuff is just superficial trash for people who falsely imagine themselves to be knowledgeable, people who think that clicking an "Update" button makes them technical geniuses. No, there isn't enough real technical information in the world, and there probably never will be. That's why I've tried to cobble together what information I could find: Because real information, actual concrete and useful information, is very rare on the Internet.

I suppose that most people with a particular interest probably have similar feelings about what interests them. A person with a specific interest in anthropology, for example, could go to nearly any bookstore in the world and lament the lack of good books about anthropology there. Nearly any kind of scientist would likewise be lacking for books about "real science" in a bookstore; books in the "Science" section there are pop-science books written for lay audiences, not books that really contain the kind of in-depth scientific data which would be necessary for serious research. This is the nature of a bookstore: A bookstore is a business, and as such it needs to cater its offerings to its customer base. I think I wrote, some time ago, that books have always been obsolete, because books are written for mass audiences, and anyone who wants detailed, extensive, in-depth information would need to find it in scientific or academic journals which are usually not sold in bookstores because they're written for specialty audiences rather than general ones. I suppose that if you ask any question of the form "Isn't there already enough X in the world?", there exists a small but devoted group of people for whom the answer is unequivocally "no". You might hear a lot about something, but that doesn't mean that there is enough of it in the world, or that people think enough about it.

A finite universe

"Everything is not everything. There's more."
-- Dr. Gordon Kindlmann as Dr. Tom Schoesser in Computer Chess

Someone left a good comment on my last post noting that conflict and competition are inherent to our universe: not something specific to humanity or even to planet Earth, but actually to the entire universe we find ourselves in, this plane of reality, for the simple reason that both space and resources are limited. We cannot end conflict, because conflict is built into every living thing. We cannot put an end to the need to kill and create waste, because that is the nature of this universe.

This idea reframes our imprisonment not as one of politics, economics, science, or psychology, but as one of existence. It does not matter what political systems we could devise, how far we could travel, how much money we could make, or how deeply we could explore the depths of the human psyche; we would still be fundamentally trapped in the same lives we have now, by the very nature of our existing at all. This is not a new idea, of course: Sartre's No Exit portrays the horror of being trapped in an existence, and I'm sure that other people have had similar ideas over thousands of years of human history, but our modern understanding of astronomy portrays humanity's existential imprisonment somewhat differently.

For most of human history, the Earth has seemed like a prison because it is a sphere (so no matter how far you go, you can never prevent yourself from going in circles) and because we cannot easily escape it. But in the 20th century, we found a means to escape it: We can build spacecraft that carry human beings away from Earth. Yet we discovered, in the same century, that there is nowhere else to go: Even if we sent people to other planets, there isn't anything better there waiting for us. As I observed not long ago, even if we could somehow travel to a distant galaxy far beyond what our telescopes can see and find intelligent life there, it's likely that their lives would be much like ours: Just a constant struggle to find enough biological energy to remain alive.

And what about those lucky few who manage to have a life where they do not constantly struggle for survival? What do they do with the life they have? There is nothing for them to do but entertain themselves. At one point in human history, it seemed like there was some bright and hopeful future for people to work toward, but today we see more clearly than ever that all of these utopian dreams are meaningless, not because the ideas themselves weren't good, but because of the nature of our universe. It's partly human nature, but also partly the nature of the universe itself. Human nature is limited, but so is our universe.

One of the things which characterized the 20th century was the so-called Flynn effect, the gradual increase in the IQ of the average population which continued through especially the second half of the 20th century. Every decade, the average IQ of people in developed countries climbed a few points. This was an interesting and important trend, but arguably even more important is the trend observed since about the year 2000 which shows that the Flynn effect has been reversed: Over the past 20 years, people have been getting progressively stupider with each year. Theories about why this is happening (or whether this is even happening at all) are varied, but it seems to be generally agreed that the shift is due to environmental changes: People are living in an environment that makes them stupider than they were in the 20th century. People are more surrounded by distractions and by media which does not promote critical thinking.

Even if this were not the case, however, would it really change anything? Human beings have already reached the limit of their development. In every field of human endeavor, there is now far more information than any human being could learn in one lifetime. We've developed more information about science and technology than even the most brilliant geniuses can understand: No one actually understands everything about a multi-gigabyte operating system or the experiments now being performed in fields like quantum physics. We've reached our limits in terms of artistic expression and creativity: Every story which people tell is simply a reworking of countless stories that humanity has been telling for thousands of years. There are no new stories to tell. It's not that there is nothing more to learn, discover, or understand, but that there is nothing more that we, as human beings, can learn, discover, or understand. We, as living organisms, are very small, stupid, and weak. Some people are much smarter than others, but no one can come even close to grasping the vastness of all that there is to know in the universe. And yet even that universe is very small and limited compared to what could be.

There has been much popular speculation in fictional media about our perceptions of reality being fake, about human existence actually being something akin to a computer simulation, but I think this is only part of the picture. Even if our lives are real and everything which we perceive is real, there is probably more than just this one universe. The reason why we can't break out of our existence is not because we can't fly far enough, but because we don't have any mechanism to cross over into a different existence. In a computer, there can be many programs running at once. Each program has its own memory space, but these do not cross over: Memory space which belongs to one program cannot be accessed by any other program. Within one program, you can do as much as you want; if it's a simulation program like a flight simulation and you want to fly farther and access a new area, the computer will give you more memory to store the extra data of that new area, and you can keep on going forever, and the computer will just keep giving you more memory to work with (unless the physical memory runs out), but you'll never be able to break out of that one program you're in.

This analogy brings me back to the notion (which I wrote about earlier this year) of God as a programmer, and the universe as an experimental program, which is certainly not my own original idea (it was notably played with by Neal Stephenson at the end of In the Beginning... Was the Command Line). The idea may sound a little flippant, and I acknowledge that the analogy is not perfect, but the way that physical space and information are handled in our universe is remarkably similar to how they are handled in a computer program. If Heaven exists, it's in a different plane. Historically, people have thought of the journey to Heaven as one of distance: If you could only travel far enough, if you could only add enough digits to the number of miles you can travel, perhaps you could get there. But I don't think that it's a matter of distance; it's a whole other existence. We could never get there with the fastest rocket ship, because our universe doesn't intersect with others; at least, not in a way that we can perceive or control.

Talking or even thinking about existence in this way is dangerous, because it tends to lead to a sense of unreality, derealization, depersonalization, and insanity. People tend to get a lot of wrong ideas when they think about these things, leading them down paths of delusion which go nowhere. And even if they get the ideas right, often they can't deal with those ideas.

"There will be no order, only chaos... As soon as you discard scientific rigor, you're no longer a mathematician. You're a numerologist."

"I think that with this theory of yours, you're making a few wrong connections, and I'm worried that if you're fixating on this, the balance of wrong connections to right connections could shift, and at that point, we've lost our sanity."

Why did Max Cohen burn Sol's epiphany at the end of Pi? There are two possible reasons: Either it was all-powerful, or completely powerless. Either it really was what people thought it was, what people had been looking for, something that could give them unlimited power, in which case it wasn't something which could have been entrusted to humanity, or it was meaningless gibberish, a red herring that had no power or importance, in which case it could be thrown away, as there is already enough junk and meaningless distraction in the world. Either way, whatever people dream of reaching will never fulfill humanity.

Some of you will ask "Why?", but let's be honest with ourselves: Does it really matter why? Do you really want to know why? Would it change anything if you knew? If you don't understand why, it's only because you are not willing to take the time and effort to understand why, and anybody who's not willing to do so is someone who can't be entrusted with the answer. Anyone else already understands well enough that they know how pointless it is to ask why, or to answer that question.

People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be

My first public presence on the Internet was the website which I first put online with GeoCities in the late 1990s; I believe the exact year was 1998. As many people do when they first expose themselves and their creations to public scrutiny, I invited feedback, noting that I couldn't think of any feedback which I wouldn't welcome. This is something that people often say when they get started with putting their presence out into the larger world, as a way of saying that they are not adverse to negative remarks; usually what "I welcome any and all feedback" means is that people do not just want to hear positive praise along the lines of "This is great!", but are also open to receiving criticism.

I did not receive much feedback on my website, but over the years, occasional e-mails slowly trickled in from random visitors who had been motivated, for one reason or another, to send me an e-mail. What I came to discover, however, was that if you invite feedback on something you've written or otherwise created, that feedback usually doesn't take the form you expect it to take.

The problem with feedback is not criticism. Criticism can be constructive, of course, but even unconstructive criticism is sometimes entertaining if not especially informative. Back in the days when it was still common for people to have personal websites where they would post information about random topics of interest to them, it was common for people to collect and even publicly share negative feedback they'd received, because e-mails full of profanity or insults are often more entertaining than they are troubling. It's amusing to think that someone became so upset by your choice of a background color that they took the time to personally insult you for it. The Internet was a different time back then; offensive and abusive behavior was more widespread but less targeted, meaning people were generally fairly indifferent to it and often even rather amused by it, because there was a sense that it wasn't so much a personal attack as just how some people behave on the Internet. Tirades full of insults were common, but they weren't usually seen as something to take personally or seriously. (I say "usually"; obviously, there were exceptions.)

What I ended up getting for feedback on my website, however, tended to be not so much positive or negative commentary on the site itself, but more like entirely irrelevant or even unrelated content which people had inexplicably felt the need to send me for one reason or another. Of course, a lot of the communication I received was spam, and even worse than the automated spam which was sent by "mailer robots" was the directed advertising which took the form of people who seemed like very nice and genuine people who took an interest in the things I took an interest in, only to later turn out to be advertisers who were just trying to get me to buy their product, or advertise their product on my site. ("I think your readers would be really interested in this amazing product I found recently" and the usual similar phrases which such people use to abuse people's willingness to give their time and attention to strangers.)

Besides the advertising, though, I got a lot of comments which had very little to do with what I'd actually put on my website. People would read some particular thing I had written and send me a long, rambling message because they were so bored and lonely that they had no one else to talk to and felt like I was someone who wanted to listen to them. So I'd get long e-mails which contained nothing that I could really meaningfully reply to, and often not even anything which I could make any real sense out of, but that didn't matter to the people who sent the messages; they were so socially outcast that they would spew their stream-of-consciousness writings to anyone who would listen to them, and even to anyone who wouldn't. I often felt bad for these people because they had taken the time to write me something lengthy, but it was also apparent that these people were somewhat unbalanced if not outright mentally ill, and it became clear to me that if I tried to reply to them, the "communication" (if one can call it that) would just go on forever.

And even when I got messages which related to what I'd written on my website, it still wasn't really anything which I could meaningfully reply to. People might say "Hey, I saw that you liked this book which I read when I was a kid. I liked that book and remember reading it with my parents" or some similar personal anecdote which would invariably leave me with not much to say other than "Thanks for sharing your story" or something similar. I realize that these messages were heartfelt and meaningful, because people had been touched in one way or another by something that I'd written and that was why they had taken the time to write to me, but there wasn't much I could say to them other than a brief reply of acknowledgement and appreciation.

I won't deny that I got some messages which were very kind and thoughtful, and which contained useful or interesting ideas or suggestions for the website, but I would not characterize such messages as being in the majority. I eventually came to understand that I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do and say with the site, and so there wasn't really anything which people could tell me about it which would be both new and interesting to me: I knew what I wanted to hear, and the fact that not everyone told me what I wanted to hear was simply my own fault for expecting that people would, when clearly, they wouldn't; there was no point in people telling me what I already knew or had already said. If people would have anything new to say to me, it would necessarily have to be something unexpected.

What I learned from this experience is that people are unpredictable and confusing, and they are not the way we wish they would be, or even the way we think they are. When people imagine humanity as a whole, they tend to have idealistic notions; people seem to instinctively imagine that other people are like themselves. I think this stems from human beings' natural tendency to be friends with--and thus keep company with--people who are similar to themselves ("birds of a feather flock together"), which creates an echo-chamber effect in which people assume that because most of the people whom they see and talk to on a regular basis are similar to themselves, therefore most people in the world are similar to themselves. This is, of course, not true: Most people are pretty different from most other people, and not just in superficial ways, but in deep-seated, far-ranging ways.

I mention all of this because these ideas can, of course, be expanded to apply generally. When people who consider themselves "democrats", "liberals", or many other similar words think about humanity, they think about a big happy group of human beings who have values similar to their own, people who just want to experience the wonderful beauty of life, laugh with their dear friends and family, and give a little something back to the world to make it a better place. There may indeed be a lot of people in the world who want to do these things, but what they consider beautiful in life and what they consider "making the world a better place" may differ vastly from what you think of when you consider these ideas.

This can be seen, for example, among groups of people who talk about how they value "diversity" among people. When these people talk about how important diversity is to them, the irony is that what they really value is people who are like them and have the same values which they have. Their idea of "diversity" is someone with a different skin color or other superficially different physical appearance; they like that, but what they don't like is people with different opinions. This is why, time and time again, people will talk about "democracy" and "freedom of speech" and say a lot of things about how important it is that everyone be free and able to express their opinions, but then become dismayed when they hear opinions which they do not welcome: "We want the world to be open so that everyone can express themselves and their values in whatever form they want. Wait a minute... Now people are saying things which we disagree with! How could this happen? We didn't want this. We just wanted to hang out with people who agree with us. We didn't want to encourage anyone to say something we don't like!"

When people talk about "diversity", what they consistently fail to recognize is that diversity doesn't just mean people who look different, but people who have different values, different lifestyles, different goals, and different hopes for the future, including values and goals which may differ from--or even directly oppose--yours. This is a natural consequence of inviting "diversity" from humanity. If you value differences between people and want to encourage people to be different from each other, here's one thing which you need to clearly understand: People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be. You can't control the ways in which people are different. If people are allowed to be different and make their own life decision, then they're going to be different in ways which you don't like.

That's why when people talk about democracy, freedom of opinion, and freedom of choice, these idealistic-sounding ideas inevitably come tied with self-contradictory plans about eliminating people who don't agree with them. The irony of democracy is that it is its own form of fascism: Anyone who doesn't agree with the ideals of democracy is not invited to take part in the democratic process, but rather shunned and excluded from it. The only people whom so-called "democrats" want to hear from is other people who embrace the same mentality. It's the same old story which we've seen countless times of a subculture which identities itself as being "different from other people" by means of all of its members being the same as each other.

On a recent blog post of mine, a discussion arose in the comments because someone asked me whether I would want all people to be the same. This is a common question which arises in these kinds of discussions, and it surprises me that even well-educated, deep-thinking people seem naive enough to adopt the fairy-tale line that "A world in which all people are the same would be boring and not worth living in". I think this thinking comes from the application of an unreasonable and unrealistic extreme: People seem to automatically think of some sort of theoretical science-fiction scenario in which human beings are normalized like mass-produced machines, where each person looks, sounds, thinks, and acts exactly like every single other person in the world. That's not the ideal that I mean when I say that I'd like to live in a world where all people are similar. There are differences between people which can be endured and tolerated, and then there are differences between people which cannot be.

One of the problems with public discourse about "diversity" is that people never bother to define what kind of diversity they're advocating for, which is a very self-defeating act since it's clear that there are certain types of diversity which most people could reasonably want to eliminate. For example, do you want to live in a world in which there are people dying of cancer? If the answer is "no", then you are removing one type of diversity from the world. Having a particular illness is one way in which people can be different from each other, so if you want to eliminate illness, then you want to eliminate one type of diversity. That's why, when people who value "diversity" are talking about curing widespread diseases like cancer, AIDS, or this year's history-making coronavirus, it's worth posing the question: Wait, you want to cure people who have those diseases? All of them? Because that's tantamount to a form of genocide: A great deal of culture and artistic works--books, movies, songs, paintings, and so on--have arisen out of stories (both real and fictional) of people being terminally ill. If you want to cure these terminal illnesses for all people in the world, forever, then you're removing an entire genre of creativity and expression, and also removing one facet that makes different human beings different from each other. Now, I can understand doing this; I myself would not be opposed to eliminating such diseases from the world, but that's because I do not value "diversity" in all its forms: there are certain ways in which I do not want people to be different from each other, and in fact, I would be okay with living in a world in which not one single person was dying of cancer. I think that is a world I could tolerate living in, and I wouldn't feel like that world would be boring or lacking in variety because of its lack of cancer sufferers.

A perhaps more controversial idea is poverty. Again, if you could, would you want to eliminate poverty from the world? Would you want to make sure that every person was not poor? All of them? There are many political activists who would not hesitate to answer "Yes" to this question, but consider what such an idea entails. Once again, there is a very, very large body of cultural and artistic creativity which has concerned itself with the lives of the financially poor. Countless works of genius like Les Misérables, Oliver Twist (and indeed, most of the writing of Charles Dickens), and The Grapes of Wrath are mainly about the desperate plight of the poor. These books would never have been written if poverty didn't exist. Now, you might say that it would be worth giving up these landmark books if it could mean that poverty could be eradicated from the world, and you might even be right, but consider what you are doing by introducing such ideas: You are forming humanity into a more uniform mass where all people think the same thoughts and live the same lifestyle. That dystopia of a "boring", homogenized humanity becomes much more real if you eliminate illness and poverty from the world. In doing this, you vastly detract from the variety and diversity which you claim to value in humanity.

Lest anyone think that I am some chauvinist pig talking down to humanity and telling them how important it is for some of them to be poor, be assured that my own financial situation is by no means secure and that I am not saying any of this to benefit myself. To be sure, I am above the poverty line, and so you could rightly accuse me of not knowing what it's really like to be on the verge of homelessness (or, for that matter, actually homeless), but it so happens that the virtue of poverty isn't my own idea. In many places in the world, I have seen expressions against what people call "gentrification", which is the process of neighborhoods becoming wealthier. People who have lived in a certain place for a long time become alarmed when their neighborhood becomes "cleaned up" because they fear having to pay more money for their costs of living. More than once, I've seen clean, newly-constructed apartment buildings vandalized with graffiti which says things like "Clean walls = higher rents". These kinds of anti-gentrification gestures show that some people want to remain in poverty. It's not just anonymous graffiti, either: More than once, I have seen people wearing shirts saying things like "My neighborhood will stay dirty", meaning that they don't want a bunch of posh wankers moving in. We idealize both poverty and wealth, but the reality is that not everyone is unhappy being poor, and not everyone is happy being rich. You could rightly say that concerns about gentrification are more about people worrying that other people around them will become rich while they remain poor rather than a terror of becoming rich oneself, but this is not the whole story: There are quite a lot of people in the world who are happy living in "the ghetto" or "the hood", considering this environment their natural home and the people who live in such areas their natural community. Not everyone who is poor wants to be "rescued" from their life by some knighted "socialist" heroes.

Returning to the question of whether I'd like to live in a world where all people are the same, I stand by my answer of "Yes", but emphasize that this answer must be understood as having qualificiations. I don't mean that I want every person to physically look like me, or to like exactly the same things I like. But there are properties which I want all people in the entire word to have, as well as other properties which I would like for not one single person in the world to have. Once again, I admit that this means that I don't value "diversity" in people very much, but I'm okay with that. If you think for a little while, you can probably think of things in these categories for you, too: You can probably think of things like health, happiness, or thoughtfulness which you would like for all people in the world to have, and you can probably also think of traits like being a serial rapist or a child abuser which you would like for exactly zero people in the world to have. It's okay to value differences and contrasts between people, but you shouldn't make blanket statements in which you say that "diversity" between people is important. And if you do, just remember: People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be.

The failure of the long tail

On multiple occasions in the past, I've written about the theory of "the long tail", an idea popularized by Chris Anderson in his book of the same title. Briefly, the gist of this idea is that the Internet has enabled a huge market of relatively unpopular items to be sold; whereas pre-Internet companies tended to focus on selling just a few items in large quantities, the "long tail" represents "tail-end" products among which each individual product is not bought or sold in large quantities, but where such a huge array of niche products for niche consumers abounds that there's a whole new market opening up where people with specialized interests can buy products which they would likely have never been able to buy in the pre-Internet era.

About four years ago, I described this phenomenon as "The death of the hit", reflecting the popular notion that big-name music groups which sell millions of albums would give way to smaller-time musicians who don't sell millions of albums each, but are given a new opportunity to flourish because of the artistic and creative diversity opened up by the Internet. That's the potential benefit of the long tail: a newfound variety in mass media which wouldn't have been possible without the Internet. In the blog post which I wrote back then, I sounded a cautionary note from this perspective, because while it's true that small, independent musicians can now receive global exposure due to the Internet, the music business is still a business, and the copycat effect tends to prevail in it: If one thing becomes popular, a huge array of imitators suddenly appears, people hoping to cash in the popularity of a current trend. So rather than enabling a new generation of unprecedented diversity in music, the long tail may simply enable unprecedented numbers of me-too artists simply hoping to catch whatever is selling right now.

That's the possible risk of the long tail from the artistic perspective. It has recently become apparent to me, however, that the long tail is also problematic from a financial and economic perspective. People who tout the long tail see it as an economic equalizer: Instead of a few really huge, big-name bands dominating music sales, we're promised a future in which lesser-known artists can also sell their music to more people than they could before. But how much are small-time, independent artists actually making from sales that have been enabled by the Internet?

In 2013, Apple trumpeted that iTunes had sold 25 billion songs--a lot of songs, to be sure. At that time, it had a catalog of about 26 million songs, which means that on average, each song on iTunes had been sold about 962 times. As of this writing, iTunes has a library of about 60 million songs, but it's probably reasonable to assume that average sales per song are somewhere in the same ballpark, because there are also more songs available in the library than there were back then. A song on iTunes usually costs 99 cents, and while you might be tempted to make the math easier by calling it a dollar, remember that not all of that money goes to the artist: Generally, Apple collects a 30% commission on iTunes sales, meaning that only about 70 cents of each sale go to the artist. That means that in 2013, the average amount an artist earned per song released on iTunes was 962 sales * 70 cents = $673.40, which is certainly not bad, but not nearly enough to make a living on, especially since this is not what the artists were making monthly, but rather the total intake over the entire time period that iTunes had existed, which at that point was 12 years since iTunes launched in 2001. $673.40 in 12 years is an average of less than $5 a month. And remember, that's an average; some artists are still way more popular than others, meaning there are some artists who were earning much less than this. I consider it likely that despite iTunes' 60-million-song library, there are probably many songs which have not sold even a single copy, and I feel quite certain that there are a great many songs in the library which have been bought less than 10 times in iTunes' history.

What we see here is a sort of fundamental failing of the long tail in terms of is economic viability to artists and producers: Yes, the Internet opens up a new market to people which had been previously closed to them, but that market has been opened up to all people, in all places of the world, and that's a lot of people. One of the problems with a very large global population is how big numbers become when they're multiplied by all those people: Climate change is a serious problem partly because even if each individual person's economic footprint is small, almost any practical number--even a very small one--multiplied by the current estimated global population of 7.8 billion people becomes a very large number. And math works in reverse, too: Any number multiplied by 7.8 billion tends to become really big, but any number divided by 7.8 billion tends to become really small. Any resource available to people, even a seemingly plentiful one, becomes scarce if it is to be equally divided among 7.8 billion.

The long tail was once seen as an economic equalizer because it gave everyone a chance, but the thing is, if you give everyone a chance, few people are going to emerge successful, because they're all competing against each other. As it turns out, what the long tail has done is repeated the same pattern we saw before: There is a huge array of starving, unknown artists who lack exposure or income, and a tiny group of very popular artists whose fame is replicated by mass media. And who's the big winner? Why, the big winners are, of course, the services which distribute that media to the people; distributors like Apple (music sales), YouTube (video views), and Amazon (sales of nearly every consumer product imaginable) are the ones making the big bucks from all these sales. The actual artists are lucky if they can get the average amount of $5 a month, because that number, as a mathematical average, is skewed upward by big-name artists who make much more than that.

So the long tail just ends up perpetuating what we saw before: Unequal distribution on a mass scale, with the big winners being only the sellers, who ironically are the people who did the very least: The distributors didn't create the music, write the books, or film the videos, all they did is resell other people's work. This recalls an article I wrote earlier this year noting that "Trade benefits the people who work in trade enormously, but traders are the people who do the least work, because they do nothing more than take other people's work and sell it". The long tail does not resolve this pattern, but simply repeats it.

This pattern also reflects the repeatedly-seen consequences of economic communism, in which wealth is forcibly redistributed to the masses. The problem with communism is that there are a lot of people, and if you really evenly distribute everything to everyone, the results are not that everyone becomes rich, but rather that everyone becomes poor, because you're adding so little money to each person's actual net worth that inflation quickly eats up the difference; communism does not benefit the people at the bottom, all it does is destroy the people who have even slightly more than the poverty baseline. It ruins even people's dreams of attaining a better life, because there is no better life to be had. Its only victory is its gratification of people's sour-grapes jealousy, gleefully proclaiming: "There! Now everybody has nothing! Now we are happy!" What is astonishing about human nature is how content people are with poverty as long as everyone is poor: they will howl and complain ceaselessly if anyone has anything they do not have, but if everyone is terribly poor, they are happy and satisfied with this state.

To provide the example of a popular target: As I write this, Jeff Bezos is listed as the richest person in the world, with a net worth of 113 billion U.S. dollars. For any one single person, that's a lot of money, but again, the current global population is estimated to be about 7.8 billion people. If Bezos' money were divided equally among all those people, each person would end up with less than $15, not enough to feed even a frugal person for a week. What benefit does the public really gain from attacks on Bezos or demands that his money be redistributed? Each person would get such a small amount of money that it would be meaningless, not even worth the time and trouble it would take to get that money. All it would do is gratify people's petty jealousy. No, Bezos may not have "earned" that level of money, he may not "deserve" it, but what does it benefit us to hurl bitter accusations against him? Hate damages everyone; people who hate the wealthy also end up hurting themselves because they fill themselves with a lot of pointless negative emotions that bring nothing.

This is why I tend to discourage anger and jealousy towards the rich: Yes, each individual member of the elite may have more money than you or I, but if someone were to take all their money and distribute it among the masses, it would come out to such a pittance that it wouldn't be worth the effort. If some person had enough money to make every person on Earth a millionaire, that would be different, but to have that much money, someone would need $1,000,000 times 7.8 billion people = 7.8 quadrillion dollars, which is about 100 times the estimated amount of all the money in the entire world. There literally isn't enough money in the whole entire world to make everyone rich. So let the damned rich people have their money; it wouldn't be enough for the rest of us anyway.

The long tail was and is a nice idea. At the very least, it's an interesting reflection of how marketing, shopping, and distribution are changed by the Internet. But it hasn't really materially changed the world very much; at the end of the day, there are still too many people in the world competing for too few resources, and only a few winners. This is not a problem which can be fixed through political or economic change; it can only be changed by reducing the number of people. The number-one problem in the world is overpopulation, by far the biggest contributing factor to nearly every other major problem which the world faces today, and that's something you can't fix through a communications network. The Internet is pretty cool, but as the decades go by, it's becoming apparent that the Internet has changed the world less than people thought it would. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The never-ending cycle of power exchange

It occurs to me that I often write about messages which I see in graffiti scattered throughout my wanderings. Although I abhor most graffiti because it usually consists simply of some person's name or a stylized logo of their "street name" which they were vain enough to think needed to be plastered all over the city, occasionally graffiti contains real messages, and as such represents a sort of "voice of the people" which unheard people otherwise might not have. While this doesn't give people the right to broadcast their message anywhere they see fit, it is true that sometimes one sees messages of importance, wisdom, or at least relevance in graffiti. If nothing else, it gives you an idea about what some people are thinking.

So it was with a piece of graffiti I saw recently which said: "Comfort the disturbed. Disturb the comfortable". It became immediately obvious to me that this graffiti represents an infinite loop, and as such, it accurately represents the never-ending cycle of power exchange which is the heart of most political activism. Most political activism is about taking power (bearing in mind that money is a form of power) from people who have it and giving it to the people who don't have it, on the basis that the people who have power are using it to oppress people who don't have power. This has been done many times in many different places and at many different points throughout history, and the result is always the same: The direction of oppression simply flips. The group which now has power uses it to oppress the group which used to have power.

There are many examples which could be cited, but one which is particularly relevant for our present day is probably the takeover of Russia by the Bolsheviks, both because this is relatively recent history and because it so dramatically displays what I'm talking about. Russia had suffered under tsarist oppression for generations, and dreamed of a liberating movement which would take power away from the Russian elite and bring it to "the people". The Bolsheviks rose to power on this message, but as soon as they had seized control, it became immediately obvious that they were bent on being even more oppressive, taking away land which had been owned by families for generations and destroying wealth wherever they could find it because wealth was the enemy of the people.

There is a popular image which exists in the mind of the public that poor people are all humble, wise, and good-natured people who deserve to have wealth, while the people who have wealth are greedy, cruel, and deserving of destruction. In fact, many wealthy people are kind-hearted, generous people, and many poor people are greedy and cruel themselves; their presentation of the wealthy as being such is often just psychological projection, the fallacious attribution to other people of properties which you yourself carry. There is not some angelic underclass of wonderful people who would live good lives if only they had the money to do so; if the poor became wealthy and powerful, they too would simply use that wealth and power to oppress their perceived enemies.

The mechanism of political activism produces a loop of power exchange that just goes on forever. If you "Comfort the disturbed" and "Disturb the comfortable", it is pretty obvious that you will soon need to reverse these motions, because the people who were formerly the disturbed are now comforted, and the people who were formerly the comfortable are now being disturbed. It's like one of those joke cards which has "Please turn this card over to the other side" written on both sides. I don't know whether people actually realize this cyclical nature of their activism (it seems pretty obvious to any thinking person) or whether they just don't care and are willing to accept that their work is pointless, but lately I am inclined to suspect the latter: It really seems to me that people are not actually so stupid as to be unaware of the pointlessly cyclical nature of their work, but rather so addicted to conflict and chaos that they simply want to create it wherever they go, in any way they can. And what better way to create conflict and chaos than to pit all of humanity against itself? Human beings will quite readily fight, oppress, and kill each other, so why not amplify these tendencies so that chaos lovers can get what they want?

One thing will always remain constant: There will never be actual equality in the world because people will always be different from each other in some way, and as long as there are differences between people, there will always be something for people to fight about, and for some group to claim they are being deprived of. The lovers and sowers of chaos have fertile fields to plant and harvest, because humanity really is an endless sea of ignorance, selfishness and destructiveness. And they'll always justify it by claiming that they are doing it "for a good cause".