March 28, 2010
I wrote the post below a while ago – not long after my original Fermi’s paradox post linked to. Somewhat startled and uncertain about the conclusions drawn at the second part of the post, I filed it away. Looking at it again, the reasoning seems plausible, and no obvious counterarguments come to mind.
This post aims at pursuing somewhat further a line of thought explicated earlier. As before, the jumping point is the realization that among all [near] space-faring civilizations (SFCs) to ever develop in the universe (in the past or in the future) the human SFC is a-priori unlikely to be an a-typically early one. Thus, either (1) there are, and ever will be, very few SFCs in the universe (and of those, all those that are earlier than humans either met with misfortune or have shown self-restraint in polluting the universe) – this is the “rarity” option, or (2) there are many of them, but they – in some coordinated way – are making sure we are unable to observe them – this is the “protected wilderness” option.
The first possibility – rarity – which has some proponents – can be developed further: sub-possibility (1a) is that the universe is naturally inhospitable to SFCs – in the lifetime of the universe there are likely not to be many SFCs. Sub-possibility (1b) is that it is the first SFC that achieves cosmic scale (presumably the human one) manages, deliberately or non-deliberately, to suppress all later budding SFCs.
Under both those options, the universe as we know it – the pristine, unkept place which gave birth to the human SFC – cannot exist for much longer (i.e., more than, say, a few hundred times its current age), since if it did, some later SFCs would develop, some of which, presumably, would have cosmic-scale impact.
The same type of appeal to non-extremity, however, can also be used to argue that we, i.e., people living now, are not particularly early specimens of the members of the human SFC. Thus, the total number of human beings being part of the human SFC is unlikely to be much larger than a few hundred times its current and past membership (which is about 10 billion people). This seems to rule out the possibility of a large scale colonization of space by humans, but does not rule out over-running of the galaxy (or universe) by von Neumann probes originated by a human-made seed, which could be a cause for the non-development of other civilizations.
March 26, 2010
Glenn Greenwald is excoriating the hate speech laws of Canada. It turns out that an official in a Canadian university in which an American, one Ms. Coulter, has been invited to speak has sent that speaker a letter notifying her that expressing certain types of ideas while in Canada would be against the Canadian law.
As has been the case with his post dealing with the court decision regarding regulations of election campaigns, Greenwald’s argument weaves several related but distinct claims – of varying validity – into a single narrative. Unpacking the argument, I identify several claims. The first three seem almost gratuitous:
- The official’s letter is “threatening”.
- The official is anointing himself as the arbiter of what is and is not sufficiently “civilized discussion”.
- For the two reasons above, the letter is “hateful” and is therefore itself a violation of the hate speech laws.
Those three claims can be easily dismissed. The letter itself is informative rather than threatening. It does not indicate that the official or anyone else in the university would try to instigate a criminal prosecution against the speaker. The official to some limited extent expresses some opinion that certain ideas are uncivilized, but so do many people, more or less convincingly, in countries with or without hate speech laws. In this particular case, the official seems to indicate that in his opinion the speech outlawed by his country’s laws is uncivilized. This is hardly outrageous, hateful, or even unusual or controversial. That is his opinion and nothing more. Whether a certain idea is illegal under Canadian law is decided on grounds that are not directly affected by that opinion.
The more substantial points are Greenwald’s arguments for the inadvisability of criminalizing certain ideas:
- “The hubris required to believe that you can declare certain views so objectively hateful that they should be criminalized is astronomical; in so many eras, views that were most scorned by majorities ended up emerging as truth,”
- “I’ll never understand how people want to vest in the Government the power to criminalize particular viewpoints it dislikes,”
- “[I] will never understand the view that it’s better to try to suppress adverse beliefs than to air them,”
- “[I] will especially never understand people’s failure to realize that endorsing this power will, one day, very likely result in their own views being criminalized when their political enemies (rather than allies) are empowered.”
And, in the comments,
- “[If the majority can suppress certain ideas then] all opinions held by a minority could be criminalized. Who would endorse a standard like that?”
March 15, 2010
I posted on Equality-by-Lot a short critique of the proposal by McChesney and Nichols of financing public news media by distributing “media vouchers”. My message in a nutshell is that vouchers are like elections while what would be useful would be a sortition-like system.
It is interesting that McChesney and Nichols would promote a voucher system for news media, while as Lefties they are probably opposed to the vouchers idea in the context of education. I have not read the entire book but neither in the interview on The Real News Network nor in the excerpt I read on Google books do they offer an explanation of what are the differences between those two areas that make them think vouchers work in one but not in the other, and why they do not suggest a system that mimics that public education system. The two areas are sufficiently different so that an argument can surely be made – but it is rather surprising that they do not make an explicit case.
March 15, 2010
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that expenditure patterns vary by income. Households in the bottom quintile of income (i.e., the 20% of households with the lowest income) spend on average about 3.75 less money than households in the top quintile. Yet, the bottom quintile (where 61% of households live in rented dwellings) spends about twice as much money on rent as the top quintile (where 91% own their homes – and as a result pay almost 12 times as much in mortgage interest and charges as the bottom quintiles).
Other significant categories in which the lowest income households spend a larger proportion of their income than the rich do are utilities, fuels, and public services, health insurance, food at home and vehicle insurance. The highest income quintile spends proportionally more on new cars and trucks, away-from-home lodging, entertainment fees and admissions and cash contributions.
The chart below summarizes the situation. The dashed line indicates the average expense ratio between the expenses of the bottom quintile and the top quintile (26%). All bars that are higher than that line indicate expense categories in which the bottom income quintile spends proportionally higher than the top income quintile.