Posts in: April 2015

Bigotry, Discrimination, and Religious Idiots

My personal view is that bigotry and discrimination, for any reason, should not exist. I consider it heinous and absurd. It’s something that’s always been a part of the human race—there’s even evidence of it in prehistory—and is quite possibly a primitive instinct built into our genetic code. However, like so many primitive instincts: just because the detritus of our old-timey ancestors remains part of the fabric of our being doesn’t mean we have to embrace it. Our capacity for reason means that, unlike much of the animal kingdom, we don’t have to act in accordance with our “nature.”

It’s clear, despite what some have said in the wake of Ferguson and other examples of overzealous police actions tinged with racism, that a great deal of progress has been made in the social psychology of this country since the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement. Don’t get me wrong; equal rights do not (yet) exist for minorities, but significant progress has been made. It will continue to be made as the “hearts and minds” of the American people are won. The systemic issues will slowly be rooted out as new generations of parents teach their children that superficial qualities don’t have to separate us. The human race is one species, and the only thing dividing us is how much of an asshole a person is.

The sitcom black-ish, for all its many faults, has deftly satirized this concept from the black perspective. Three generations of African-Americans, under one roof, illustrate the progress that has been made: old codger Laurence Fishburne fought for the rights his grandchildren take for granted, to the point that they can’t fathom Obama being the country’s first black President, much less understand just how terrible things once were. Anthony Anderson’s protagonist is caught in the middle: he is keenly aware of the battles fought by previous ancestors, and he wants his children to understand and respect that without undermining what social progress has been made. In an odd way, he (at least in the early episodes) yearns for a “separate but equal” divide, where his kids’ race is directly linked to their cultural attitudes, and he’s comically befuddled by their complete apathy regarding both racial divides and embracing the unique aspects of black culture.

Stephen Colbert has lampooned the claim of not “seeing” race, as well, and while he does a great job of showing the absurdity of such claims, the more important point is that racial differences still exist and are still seen; they just increasingly don’t matter, especially in larger cities. My theory is that the diversity of large cities exposes the various subcultures to one another, and while a person in a large city may still make unfortunate generalizations, they will begin to see people as individuals, rather than as representatives of a group they dislike. It’s the Archie Bunker syndrome, where he’s generally a right-wing bigot, but he lightens up considerably when individual members of a group he superficially hates “prove” themselves “equal” to superior white males.

This leads back to my personal disgust with bigotry and discrimination. I believe in the primacy of individuals, and I judge people based on who they are as people, not their skin color and/or country of origin and/or the genitalia they possess and prefer. I’m not afraid of judging people, because I know that no part of me—even the scary, subconscious part of me—sizes up a person based on these superficial qualities. I wasn’t raised that way, and my life experience has taught me that nobody’s character can be summed up based on these qualities. They’re irrelevant. Anybody who is willing to divide people based on superficial qualities, and the stereotypes that have developed around those superficial qualities, is an idiot. I also think anyone willing to put themselves into a group-shaped box and define themselves—and let others define them—based on superficial qualities is an even bigger idiot.

Plenty of people think this way, but it’s an absurd way of looking at identity. You are not black first and a person second. You are not a woman first and a person second. You are not a member of your goofy religious group first and a person second. You are simply a person. Yes, certain facets of your heritage and upbringing will make you different; these superficial qualities add to all of your other qualities to make you a unique little snowflake, not a giant ball of snow comprised of every other member of one superficial group.

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Over the weekend, I watched a little film called Whiplash. I still don’t know what to make of it. It had many admirable qualities: excellent acting, visually interesting (especially for a movie that prominently features dudes banging on drums), surprisingly suspenseful (again, especially for a movie about banging on drums). I liked some of the cliché-defying choices, especially the aversion to the trope of the “knowledgeable friend” (i.e., an experienced band member who shows the newbie the ropes).

There was also a moment, late in the film, where I was pretty much convinced that it was going to have a frustratingly schmaltzy ending. When Andrew (Miles Teller) decides to see Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) play at a little jazz club, and the two talk like grown-up peers for the first time, I thought it was going to turn into that scene where Fletcher invites Andrew onstage to jam, just the two of them, as equals. Fade to black.

I’m glad it didn’t end that way, but I’m not sure I’m happy with its actual ending. I spent a great deal of the movie—far too much—wondering what it was all supposed to mean. I admired Andrew’s drive but hated him for being kind of a douchenozzle. His internal drive is wonky: he doesn’t want to be the best just to be the best; he wants to be talked about. Many of his actions in the film have more to do with trying to impress Fletcher than his internal drive to succeed, another symptom of his desire to please others more than himself.

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The Theory of the Firm — Part I: On Government-Funded Innovations

A Note to Readers: Because I am incapable of shutting up, I have made my latest post into a two-part series exploring the economics of tech innovation.

I recently stumbled across this Q&A, reprinted and edited for Bill Moyers’s website (which is the version I’ll be working from).  I think it demonstrates a nice example of the short-sighted thinking of some economic thinkers.  Far be it for me to argue with a Harvard economics Ph.D, as a layman with little more than a casual interest in the subject, but doesn’t even require a sixth-grade education to see that his conclusions were poorly thought through at best, and dishonest polemics at worst.

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The Theory of the Firm — Part II: Public Companies vs. Stable Economies

A Note to Readers: Because I am incapable of shutting up, I have made my latest post into a two-part series exploring the economics of tech innovation. Read part one.

Claim 4: Public Shareholders Haven’t Invested in Business Assets

At this point, Lazonick edges dangerously close to flat-out Marxism, particularly when he says, “The actual investors in corporate value creation are households as taxpayers and workers. Let’s run the corporation for them.” Eek.

He doesn’t come out and use the well-worn rhetoric, but the essence of the argument is that profit is merely surplus value, and surplus value must be returned to the worker. Where Lazonick diverges from Marxism is that he isn’t focused on it going to the workers of the greatest need, but to the workers of the greatest ability. Which is not an unreasonable position; it’s just argued in an unreasonable way, especially the part where said workers should add the unnecessary pressure of making high-level business and management decisions instead of focusing on all that cool innovation shit. Lazonick claims that the disconnect between how workers should be treated versus how they are rests in what shareholders actually are: “traders in corporate stock, not investors in corporate assets.”

Anybody who’s been reading this blog recently should know by now that my political mindset is geared somewhere between libertarianism and classical liberalism, and that I admire the work of Ayn Rand. Much of that, naturally, colors what I’ve written in this post. So try not to get the vapors here as I do a brief, Zack Morris-style time-out to say something shocking: I think publicly held companies, and the financial sector, cannot be sustained in a free-market (or even mixed) economy, and I believe recent economic troubles demonstrate that those chickens appear to be finally coming home to roost.

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