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Tag Archives: nihilism

Seattle Airplane Suicide Is A Barometer of Culture

In a society where most people have lost hope in a worthwhile future, the creep of nihilism gains ground in human hearts.
A mild-mannered airport worker with an affably broey affect commandeered a huge prop plane in a daring last act on earth rather than eke out another four to five decades as a wage slave in a drab and pointless neo-liberal society.

What is most telling about this event is not the actions of a single man, but the overwhelmingly positive public reaction I’ve seen so far on social media. Some are even calling him “Sky King.”
People often identify with the motives of mass shooters more than they admit but selfishly taking the lives of others dampens any sympathy they may feel. Even in the darkest and angriest periods of my life I was disgusted by the thought of petulantly lashing out against people I didn’t even know.
Sky King Russell sets a new precedent by going out in a stoic and affable manner while harming no one.

This may be a natural reaction to incentives as mass shootings are now so common that like car crashes, they cease to be of much note. It now takes some more flair and creativity to get the mass society’s attention and hold it for a news cycle or two as one’s final legacy to the ages. A fleeting reward but still better for a few than to labor a whole lifetime away, appreciated by no one.

In this time of constricting internet censorship, this suicide is an important indicator of the culture. The more the system takes away from people, the less they have to lose. Isolated suicidal people and nutjobs are harmless on their own, but the crowds regard the Sky King as almost a Robin Hood kind of figure. He hurt no one else, showing millions a glimpse of real freedom, while putting a dent in some impersonal corporation’s bottom line. When crowds begin to support this kind of behavior, the real trouble for elites is just beginning. It is a sign that under certain circumstances, certain targets are seen as legitimate by most people.

Very tellingly, Russell was a European-American, especially when most airport workers I see running around are minorities. Suicidal behavior, especially that requiring real initiative and planning is endemic to higher-agency Euros and Asians. The Africans and Indios of this world may groan from time to time under the lash of their overlords but they resign themselves to the grimmest slog of daily life and always manage to push out progeny just the same. I honestly cannot completely blame the world elite for wanting to replace a troublesome population with more pliant and domesticable strains. If that task were completed, there would be no more airplane thefts and no more flamboyant aerobatic maneuvers born from heightened existential consciousness.

Towards A Post-Secular Religion

Religion remains widespread but we can’t pretend it exerts the same power over human imagination and behavior as it used to.   No one takes it quite seriously.  There are many who still go to church but with the notable exception of Muslims it would be difficult to find more than a handful of zealots who would kill or die for their religion.  And this is probably because Islam is not just made of airy ideas of God and heaven but is at least as heavily concerned with governing earthly culture, law, and politics.  By this comparison we can readily see that separation of church and state is a death blow for traditional religions.  A serious religion cannot be excluded from the state any more than gravity or magnetism could be excluded from the purview of science.  So a modern religion must encompass the entire spectrum of humanity and human endeavor and not linger as a weak, de-fanged figurehead.

We have discovered through hard trial and error that a society without a sense of larger purpose drifts into nihilism and despair.  Ever since the Enlightenment gave rise to the “separation of church and state” leaders have looked for a convincing tofu substitute for meat.  From Lenin and Hitler to Lincoln, leaders all over the world have tried to create the sacred from the secular.  Of all the secular ideologies, Nazi-ism may have come closest to generating real religious zeal but it burnt out in a few short years.  The American faith of individual and national Exceptionalism also has shown potential to inspire, but only when the going was good.  It’s easy to cheer for a home team that’s winning, so it doesn’t really count.  It’s a weak religion that can be killed by a slow economy when Judaism survived repeated conquest and exile.  All attempts at Enlightenment secular faith have ultimately failed at the thankless task of cultivating vigor and cohesion from barren soil.  No matter how it gets re-packaged, a society that is for everyone is for no-one.

The first step is to have some sort of core identity.  Islam requires enough hard-to-fake signalling that it actually means something to be part of the in-group.  Meanwhile, most Christian denominations welcome any warm body that shows up and aren’t too much more than a weekend social club for adults.  Some kind of ethnic and cultural identification helps form the core, even if it just applies to the founders.

Next, a core group has to have a grand mission to fulfill, usually to help the in-group against the out-group.  For Judaism it was the imperative to preserve and pursue the interests of the chosen people against every conceivable obstacle.
A successful mission has the ability to inspire from the top to the bottom.  A religion requires a mainstream version that addresses the needs of most people but it also needs loftier schools of philosophy, scholasticism, and mysticism to satisfy the intellects of smart and educated people.  One thing I admire about Catholicism is its scholarly tradition.  It has lasted as long as it has because it had roles for outliers.
This is a major failing of Protestant Christianity.  Because it was a reaction against Catholicism all emphasis was on the needs of the common man while neglecting the intellectual traditions.  Like most reactions, including the Enlightenment, it overcompensated in the opposite direction rather than finding a golden mean.  I was stunned when I opened a catholic bible for the first time as a teenager and saw archaeological explanations of the origins of each book with an analysis of the time and place.  To this day, many Protestant strains offer up a bible of texts from thousands of years ago without any interpretation.  It’s a mind-numbingly stupid approach for anyone who likes to think.  Protestantism as a newer experiment in religion hasn’t yet developed the traditions of exegesis that provide endless hours of entertainment for nerds and shore up the philosophical foundations of the faith.
Meanwhile, more estoteric schools of Buddhism like Zen might be examples of ideologies that favor the intellectual side with little to offer to ordinary people, but there’s mass market versions of Buddhism out there too.
The modern religion of secularism backed by holy science fails completely, though, because it offers no mission to anyone, really.  We’re just here on this rock in space, everyone’s interchangeable, and there’s a faith-based doctrine of eternal progress that inevitably gets discredited with time.  A real religion has to have answers during down times if it wants to last, not just when things are going forward as planned.  People have to have a reason to keep going even when the home team loses.  The insipid gruel of modernity has never yet succeeded in sustaining a people.  We need something better.

The chaos of impending neo-tribalism will give us plenty of new groups all looking for their own answers to the big questions within the secular vacuum.  Those that come up with the best formulas will become the ruling tribes and the lesser tribes will be placed in castes beneath until a new order eventually emerges from our modern dark ages.

Overpopulation Altruism Is Misguided

The composition of a population matters more than population size.
In ancient times we see a world that was far less populous yet far more violent with lower standards of living.  Over time people have been selected to be more productive and less violent even at much higher population densities.
The most casual glance tells us at once that how people are bred, organized, and educated is far more important than numbers alone.  A million humans bred for aggression, with no civic organization, and who are illiterate will be far more miserable and short-lived than a billion who can work together in peace.

This is why people who want to help overpopulation by not having kids are misguided.
If they, with their altruistic and cooperative tendencies choose not to procreate, they merely select for those who will reproduce recklessly.  Any “slack” that they free up for the species quickly disappears and further breeding is even more reckless.
If anything those who altruistically sit out of the game actually make the Malthusian trap even worse as even the capacity for restraint and long-term planning gets bred out, dooming the race to an eventual precipitous crash of famines, plagues, and wars.

A solution to the problem is to engineer societies to encourage conscientious cooperators to have babies and limit the fecundity of those who are short-sighted and vicious.
It may seem far-flung, but the inability of short-sighted people to plan makes them easily manipulated.  Their need for instant gratification means for small gains, more drugs and cash, they’d willingly get sterilized.  Thus the traits that make them fit under present circumstances would again, with such a correction, make them less fit.

It requires a certain conviction to make objective value judgments about populations of human beings, yet it must be done because avoiding the responsibility of judging leads to even worse outcomes.
Those who disavow children because of overpopulation are taking the easy way out, assuaging their guilt superficially while avoiding a higher responsibility to oversee the herd.

Of course, anti-natalist beliefs are also a convenient excuse for people to avoid children that will just be drains on their lives, so arguing the point matters little. We all contrive a facade to justify what we want to believe anyway.
In which case, it may simply be that in a world with abundant contraceptives, those who do not have an urgent drive to reproduce independent of sexual lust will simply go extinct, since it isn’t rational for an individual to beget the burden of offspring. Strictly rationally speaking, we live and die one life only, so the fate of a family, tribe, or species ought not to matter to us. Yet just one look at how the universe works shows us rejection of this sort of selfish nihilism is required to thrive and live well. Those who live for their brief day and stand outside the circle of life always lose to those who cooperate with the intent of nature. Anti-natalists, overpopulationists, selfish nihilists struggle against the laws of physics while those who work with ways of this universe succeed without effort.
Even the unusual breed of altruists who wish to reduce suffering by not continuing the cycle any further fail in their goals. By abstaining out of compassion and empathy, they merely select for those without compunction.

Market Demand Must Be Regulated

Society values pro basketball players who provide entertainment far more than trash collectors who perform a vital service. We may need garbage collectors more than professional athletes, but it’s easy to find people who can pick up trash, while elite athletes are scarce by definition.  In this case market supply and demand is a distortion of actual value.  We are ok with athletes being paid millions of dollars to play a game because we suppose demand is sacrosanct, almost a godly force we dare not question.  After all, we get paid what we’re worth, right?
Yet it’s illegal to buy cocaine or hire a hitman when there is undoubtedly demand for drugs and contract killing.   Alcohol and liquor sales are heavily taxed to try to curb demand.  Or what about medical treatments?  When a patient is in danger of death, the value of the next treatment is theoretically infinite.  So shouldn’t that next round of chemotherapy always cost everything the patient has left according to pure demand?  The state already can and does regulate demand—it’s not off limits.
So why then do we let a football player or a movie star walk away with millions of dollars when its obvious there’s no way their contribution however important can be that large?  When someone becomes a millionaire by throwing a ball around or playing make-believe on camera, the character and morale of the entire society is undermined.
What is the garbage man to think when society values a single movie star more than him dozens of times over?  His task is so important, society can’t do without him for even a week.  If movie studios were all shut down, it might be unpleasant news but people would get on with life.
So why not put a strict cap on the income of entertainers and their promoters?  They provide services that people want and seem to generally do more good than harm by helping to create a thriving culture, so it would make sense to allow them to earn a good living, but becoming multi-millionaires would be out of the question. Entertainment is wonderful to have but it is a luxury, not a mainstay.

Obviously, a big budget movie gets made and its star actors paid millions because hundreds of millions of people are willing to pay for movie tickets.  So I could see someone arguing that because demand exists, it should be allowed.  But this is not enough.  Otherwise we should also be willing to argue for the legalization of contract killing and robbery.  The pattern I see is that demand is allowed to express itself so long as it does more good than harm to society.  So now we have to decide if it is good for a society to pour billions of dollars of its wealth into a handful of entertainers.  Surely there’s a limit on the worth of entertainment when there’s other things that need to be done.
As individuals, we value recreational time playing video games, watching movies, or blogging.  Yet we have a time and money budget for our own entertainment.  Similarly, a society ought to have a wealth budget for its luxuries.  It may sound restrictive to limit what a pro athlete or day trader makes, yet we already accept sin taxes that curb and punish demand for cigarettes and booze.  Sin taxes already carry the implicit recognition that we are not rational economic agents.  We routinely make bad decisions.  So we’re given a push in the “right” direction by the state.  We can buy that bottle of vodka or pack of cigarettes, but we have to be willing to pay an extra fee that serves as both a disincentive and an indemnity to society.  By the same principle we could cap the price for event and movie tickets or the acceptable budget cities can spend on stadiums to prevent or at least limit the misappropriation of society’s very finite wealth.
It would also be interesting to examine financial “products” and examine which of them return equivalent or greater value to society and which are a net drain or even cause damage.

Limiting the size of luxury industries brings up a big issue though—what about all the people that would lose their jobs in movie studios, stadiums, and concert halls?  We ask this because we lose perspective of the big picture.  We go to work to provide value to others and then get compensated in proportion to our contributions.  Is it a net good to work at a stadium that cost the city’s tax payers billions of dollars to spend billions more on a luxury activity?  If there’s nothing more productive to do with someone, why shouldn’t society just give them a guaranteed minimum income until there’s something more useful to do?  Society comes out way ahead by just skipping the multi-billion dollar excuse to write a paycheck.  No activity at all is far more valuable than useless activity.  Just staying at home with some basic income, there is a small chance they may have the initiative to use their leisure time wisely and genuinely contribute to the good of the group.

We’ve been taught to think in a way that’s a distortion of Keynesian views.  Keynes suggested hiring people to do useless tasks as one way to stimulate a depressed economy.  Naturally, his prescription for emergency situations became the new normal, where making money is a good thing even if we’re building “useless pyramids” or paying people to dig a hole just to fill it in again.  The trouble is this becomes a philosophy of economic nihilism in which human activity is divorced from purpose and meaning.   People just want money and as long as no one is murdered outright, the means don’t matter much.  Strangely, it sounds almost heretical now to suggest that markets and the accumulation of wealth ought to serve a purpose—to benefit the group in which we participate—that money awarded for unproductive or under-productive activity damages the integrity of society.

The survival of human societies in this world is a serious business; against other societies, against the pitiless forces of nature, and never-ending internal pressures.  The elevation of frivolous things to the heights of accomplishment makes a mockery of the social order.  A society where people worship “celebrities” over inventors, leaders, and entrepreneurs has lost its way.  Such is a disaster of mob rule where the masses are allowed to determine who is great and who is low.  When the undeserving get the best rewards, cynicism spreads and loyalty erodes until one day a nimble challenger full of confidence arises and proves more than a match for a mighty opponent crippled by rot.
The market is a form of economic democracy—every purchase is a vote.  We have an electoral college and representatives in political democracy rather than a pure popular vote.  So popular demand on the market must also be subject to controls, to curb and prevent tragedies of the commons.  There already are rules such as monopoly prevention that implicitly acknowledge the market has a mission to fulfill.  It is not there for its own sake.   These principles just have to be extended until the market is re-animated with purpose as a healthy circulatory system.

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