Monthly Archives: December 2013

Pulling on the Thread of Equality

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. ~ Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Where did the idea of equality (specifically equal protection) come from? Today we assume that it is a secular idea and part of our liberal American tradition. But is it?

My time as an atheist began with questioning. I started pulling on the threads of belief that I held to see which ones were justified and which were baseless. Over the years I destroyed countless beliefs that could not be immediately justified by evidence.

So let’s take on the idea that everyone born is entitled to equal protection. If it is a secular idea then there must be some objective basis for it. Is there a scientific test that we can run on each newborn to prove this point? Nope. There is overwhelming evidence in favor of Evolution, perhaps it could support this view of equality? Evolution points out that all humans are genetically related, but unfortunately does not smile on equal protection.

Evolution teaches that we are the offspring of those that survived and reproduced — by any means whatsoever. Eliminating genetic completion is not only justified, but very effective from an evolutionary point of view. The new alpha male of a lion pride will kill the cubs of the former leader so that the lionesses will begin ovulating earlier and be available for his own reproduction. If the Neanderthals genetically competed with modern humans (i.e. sought out the same types of food, shelter, etc.) then evolution says it was wise for modern humans to destroy them (not saying they did definitively). Early European settlers in America competed with the Native Americans for the use of the land. Evolution says that the Europeans did the right thing by defeating and marginalizing them — in favor of their own genetic offspring.

Yikes! Evolution justifies some heinous behavior!

If the idea of equal protection did not come from science and evidence, then where did it come from? Was it simply invented? Was it a religious idea?

One of the first references to equality came from Pericles, who praised Athens for her equal protection of citizens under the law around 420 BC. War historian Victor Davis Hanson attributes the military strength of the Roman Empire to their unique idea of offering citizenship status to non-Romans. So, not only does the idea of equality predate Christianity, it also formed the foundation of the early Greek and Roman Republics.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, however, classic Greek and Roman writings were not widely circulated and largely vanished from the public consciousness in Europe.

Meanwhile the ideas of a Judean revolutionary by the name of Jesus had spread far and wide across Europe. We often study the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the suppression of the Bible as evidences of Christian atrocities. What we often fail to note is that a great deal of unique and peace loving ideas were also spread with Christianity. Crazy ideas like this:

…the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you:…whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.

Translation: Good Christians don’t seek leadership positions to control more value, but to benefit the people they lead.

Even the suppression of the Bible itself is a testament of the fact that it contained ideas threatening to Catholic leadership. Take the quote above. Did Bishops and Popes that enjoyed “exercising dominion” want adherents to read Jesus’ views on leadership? No, indeed not.

When the Bible finally did become widely available, philosophers like John Locke used its teachings to observe that we were all Gods children and that the “natural law” (which highly resembled Judeo-Christian law) put us all in a state of equality.

Coming back to the Greeks, I’m summarizing here, but the Greek and Roman classics were transferred largely to the Arab world after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and then reintroduced from the Arab world into Europe, sparking the Renaissance.

Ultimately, its impossible to determine which had a stronger effect on the people of Europe, Greek writings on equality, or St. Peter’s declaration that “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons”. However, the thing that can be determined is that despite the fact that Arab nations were custodians of Greek ideas for centuries, those ideas did not result in the Industrial, Democratic, or Scientific Revolutions occurring in Arab nations. People in Arab countries were simply not protected enough to carry out scientific investigations without fear of recrimination or start and build factories without their property being threatened and confiscated. Indeed, something about the Judeo-Christian tradition made Europe particularly suitable for those revolutions to occur — the idea of equal protection being one of them.

To conclude, our liberal ideas of equal protection are not scientific. They are superstitious and came to use via Christian nations that studied Greek and Roman classics, but also were heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas that declared that strangers, widows, orphans, believers and unbelievers alike were deserving of protection and justice.

Federal Housing Aid for Rich and Poor

Business Insider article pointing out that rich people receive more housing aid than the poor:

The main reason for this is the majority of federal housing aid flows to homeowners, not renters. The mortgage interest deduction is the most well-known program that subsidizes homeownership. That deduction alone is larger than all federal rental aid combined.

Which reminds us of a Valerian principle: “Sad experience teaches that when governments are given the right to discriminate, they will.” This is because granting the government the right to tax homeowners differently than renters is a massively valuable form of control. Naturally people in government will use this power to benefit by themselves by favoring their strongest constituency — in this case the wealthy.

Taking away the right of the government to discriminate with respect to tax policy would fix all of that. Give equality a chance.

HT to @UsefulAggregate

Control and College Athletics

NOTE: The following post is contributed by a fellow Valerian, with minor edits made by myself to make it suitable for a general audience.

From this article on conferences within the NCAA seeking more autonomy:

“What’s really hard in these kinds of things is for people to vote themselves less political authority,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday. “They don’t do that. That’s not a natural thing to do.”

Props to Commissioner Jim Delany for understanding value.

The non-FBS conferences “have mobilized, and rightfully so,” Benson said. “I think everyone wants to protect their turf and wants to protect their future.”

And protect their value.

For a Valerian, the solution is obvious: protect the value of the individual. The most important issue here is not Big 5 conferences or the smaller conferences or whatever. The party that always needs the most protection is always the individual because they are always the most vulnerable. And so it is in this case as well:

“When critics rip universities for spending lavishly on coaching salaries, locker rooms and facilities while athletes struggle to pay for basic expenses…”

Who ultimately is getting exploited in the massive struggle to control the billions of dollars in value generated by college sports? Not surprisingly, the individual. It’s the kids that are fleeced out of the value they produce. Which shouldn’t be surprising. Which is why it is so important that their value be so strenuously protected. Athletes, even young 20-year-old athletes should be able to control their labor and capture the value produced by their athletic prowess. I mean, why not? Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in college and captured its value. Why are college athletes any different?

The president of the NCAA (unsurprisingly) disagrees:

Despite a growing public perception that college athletes in revenue-generating sports should be compensated beyond their scholarships, NCAA president Mark Emmert reaffirmed Wednesday that his conversations with school presidents don’t echo that sentiment.
“There’s certainly no interest in turning college sports into the professional or semi-professional,” Emmert said at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City.

There’s certainly no interest on the part of those that currently control the value these athletes produce to transfer any of that value away from themselves, and to the athletes themselves. Entirely predictable.

He also conceded that schools and the NCAA haven’t done a particularly good job in recent years of explaining the value of scholarships.
The countervailing voices of this notion that student-athletes are being taken advantage of has been the dominant theme and had played out pretty loudly in a variety of outlets,” Emmert said. “The reality is schools are spending in between $100,000 and $250,000 on each student-athlete.”

Well, golly! Playing a little detective Columbo here, we might ask, you know, because we’re not familiar with college sports, “How much control do student athletes have over the $100,000 to $250,000 in value spent on their behalf?”

Oh, you mean to say that they don’t have any control over it? You don’t say… So, who does control that value? Administrators, coaches, and the Universities? Hmmmm… They control $100K to $250K per student? No wonder they have an interest in keeping student athletes under the their thumb…they’re worth a lot of value!

Valerianism 101

(Updated 10/14/16)

What is Valerianism? It’s an extremely simple world view that makes understanding and predicting human behavior almost trivial (and also happens to form the most sensical fusion of liberal, conservative and libertarian ideologies). Here are the core tenets:

  • The central concept of Valerianism is value. Value is anything that people want and it can take many forms: food, water, clean air, money, shelter, liberty, etc.  Another way of saying it is that value is anything worth controlling and can come in any form.  We don’t often hink of “controlling people’s attention” or “access to personal photos and videos” as value, but they certainly are.  YouTube allows people to monetize their control of people’s attention and Google Photo allows Google to see what kind of car you drive and what auto accessories you might be interested in purchasing.
  • We capture value when we have control over it. Full control and even legal ownership are not required (e.g. the fire department doesn’t own your house, but they control it in the event of a fire). For that reason we use the term “control value” instead of ownership. The most valuable form of control is absolute and arbitrary control.
  • All people seek to control as much value as possible. If given the choice we would all rather own $100 than $10. We would all prefer to have more control over the air we breath than less. This tendency is called the value motive. It is completely independent of people’s intentions, which may be selfish or altruistic. Controlling a lot of value is a prerequisite even for accomplishing great things that benefit humanity. We are this way because of evolution, i.e. the organisms that controlled the most value were more likely to survive and reproduce. All living creatures are programmed to seek out and control value.
  • The more control over something you have, the more of its value you capture and the better off you are individually. For example, you capture more value from a $100 bill than a $100 Home Depot gift card.  You can do more with the $100 in cash even though the nominal values are the same. If you strongly control or own something then you can exclude others from controlling it, you can transfer it, contract it out, and capture all of the gain or loss in value of that thing. If your control is strongly protected, that means it is nearly impossible for someone seeking your value to take it away.
  • Control over value can always be monetized. This is just a matter of converting one form of value to another.
  • Something does not need to be directly valuable to you in order to constitute value.  As long as you control something that is valuable to someone, then you control value.
  • Almost all coercive transfers of value result in winners and losers (coercive transfers include dishonest and fraudulent transfers and any other transfer that results in an unwilling transfer of value).
  • Generally speaking, voluntary transfers of value result in winners all around — otherwise the parties would not trade.
  • Because almost all coercive transfers of value result in losers, and transferring control of value equally to all citizens requires that control be taken away from the privileged and elite (that they become the losers), it is very difficult and uncommon to establish a Valerian society.
  • Our universal desire to control as much value as possible puts us in an inherent state of competition with each other. Even in a state of abundance, we still desire (for good or for evil) to control the value of others.  This is also part of our evolutionary programming since we hold more dearly those things we see valued by those around us.  For example, a caveman would see clams as far more valuable after observing another caveman harvesting and eating them. We see this tendency today when a backyard trampoline can sit idle for days (i.e. an abundance of trampoline time) until one child starts bouncing and then every other child wants on, too.  Monkeys behave similarly, they don’t just want to sit on any good branch with equal likelihood, they weight more highly the branch currently occupied by another monkey.  Because of this, protecting the control of all individuals over their own value is the foremost challenge of civilized society.  Put another way, the intractable problem is not scarcity of resources, because resources may or may not be abundant, but rather the scarcity and mutual exclusivity of control, which will exist in any imaginable society.  The inherent problem is not that value is scarce, but that it is valuable and the number of people wanting control over it is greater than can actually control it.
  • We all seek to protect our control over our value. The more layers of protection the better.
  • Protection is protection. It doesn’t particularly matter where it comes from. Protections can be economic, religious, cultural, institutional, legal, etc. As long as they protect your right to control your value, that is all that matters. For example, some countries have weak institutional protections, but perform well because they have strong cultural protections.
  • Equal protection is the strongest protection. All members of the same class have the same legal and institutional protections. Promoting the equal protection of members of your class also protects your own value. The larger your class, the more likely you are to be mutually protected. People in general are more strongly protected when all citizens of a country belong to the same class i.e. a “classless society”.
  • The biggest threat to our protection is the value motive combined with coercion (i.e. people that can forcefully satisfy their desire for more value). As long as value exchanges are entered into voluntary, both parties are likely to come away controlling more value — otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to trade. It’s generally the case that when one party forcibly seizes value from another that the seizing party benefits and the other party suffers.
  • Therefore, the power to coerce value away from people should be strictly limited to governments, and the governments’ activities narrowly limited to protecting individual value. Governments should have no right to arbitrarily seize value unless it’s absolutely necessary to the universal protection of individual value (e.g. to repel an invasion). Sad experience teaches that when governments are given the right to discriminate (between individuals or groups), they will.
  • Because people seek to protect the value they have (i.e. and not transfer it away), agreements to exchange value must necessarily be enforced to ensure that both parties transfer the promised value. This tendency necessitates the formation of governments as third party enforcers.
  • The highest priority is protecting individual value because individuals are the most vulnerable (least able to forcibly protect their own value). Protections of group value (of corporations, unions, etc.) should act as extensions of individual protections, and not supersede them.
  • People are people. As much as we’d like to think that some members of society (scientists, doctors, economists, government officials, etc.) don’t have a value motive, they most certainly do. This doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means they’re human.
  • The foremost measurement of any society is how strongly and equally its members are protected. For example, anarchy and tyranny are near each other on the political spectrum because citizens control very little value in both of those societies and their value is poorly protected. A society that strongly and universally protects individual rights is said to be “Valerian”.
  • In Valerian society, the government is prohibited from discriminating against any religion, creed, nationality, sexual preference, person, company, industry, etc.  For example, in a Valerian society, all companies would be treated equally (just like religions are treated equally today in the U.S. as a consequence of the 1st Amendment) so the government couldn’t provide a lower tax rate for oil companies and a higher surcharge tax for medical device manufacturers.  The government would not have the right to subsidize or privilege any industry over another.
  • Modern Democratic societies often allow the government the right to discriminate in the hopes that the power to discriminate will be used to help the disadvantaged or encourage certain economic behaviors, but over the long term government use their control over value to benefit themselves and the “already privileged”.  Hence we see automobile subsidies going toward purchasing luxury Tesla vehicles for wealthy individuals rather than buying inexpensive first time cars for the poor.  We see tax breaks for wealthy home owners paying mortgages, but no commensurate break for poor renters.  Wherever possible, the government should not be given the right to discriminate, and where it is given, it should be monitored very closely for abuse.
  • An individual’s material well being is directly tied to how much value (s)he controls and how well that control is protected.  For this reason, a multi-millionaire in China is not nearly as well off as a person of equal net worth in America.  In China, corruption is so rampant and often necessary for business success that you can easily be accused (and perhaps guilty) of having ill-gotten gains.  Hence the Chinese investing in U.S. real estate.  Likewise a Mexican immigrant controls more value just crossing the border (also sees a GDP per capita boost) into the U.S. even though his possessions haven’t changed.
  • People are happiest with industries where individual consumers control the most value.  One example is in the U.S. where consumers have a great deal of control in the cell phone industry, deciding what phones to buy, what apps to download, what photos to take, messages to send, etc.  Phones are continually getting better, faster, and cheaper (for the value they provide).  Alternatively people are unhappy in industries where they control little value, like the education and health care industries in the U.S.  In the case of medicine, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, employers and the FDA have far more control over the medical treatment decision making process than patients do.  It is no wonder patients are unhappy with our healthcare system, they control so little value.
  • A nations economic well being is a function of how many people the country has and how broadly control is distributed within that society — i.e. the sum of how much value each individual controls.  An economy is not strictly made up of capital, consumption, and labor, but rather, of how much value is being generated and how strongly control over that value is protected.
  • In a Valerian society, all individuals, groups, and species of property are entitled to the same protection. For example, if value is being taken away from one citizen, then it should be taken away from all citizens. All insurance companies should be governed by the same rules. All stock ownership should be equally protected regardless of whether it is publicly or privately held, or whether the owner is rich or poor.
  • All societies have protection vacuums.  A protection vacuum is a portion of society (in the case of N. Korea a very large portion) where value is unprotected or less protected than the rest of society for whatever reason.  Protection vacuums constitute the most miserable states for human beings and should be minimized and eradicated wherever possible.  Past protection vacuums included concentration camps for Jews, Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, etc. during WWII.  Some protection vacuums in the U.S. are necessary like the prison system, but should be only sparingly used and tightly monitored.  Other groups in the U.S. that find themselves in protection vacuums are illegal immigrants, collegiate athletes, African Americans, low skilled workers, patients, students, the poor, etc.
  • There can be many forms of Valerian government. Democratic governments are favorable not because they give you a right to vote, but because they give you the right to govern yourself (to control your own value). As we’ve seen in Russia, Iran, Iraq and countless times throughout history, the act of voting can be rendered meaningless if institutional and cultural abuses prevent the vote from having any effect. At the same time, Valerianism has no inherent respect for the will of the majority per se. Aside from normal human decency, nothing about the will of the majority ensures that it will protect individual value equally, and it is often a threat.  We’ve seen this countless times in America where the majority votes for discrimination (e.g. Jim Crow laws in the South), but the will of the people is overridden as unconstitutional by the Courts.
  • Government benefits for the needy are compatible with Valerianism. However, in order to ensure that they do not represent an unjust transfer of value, the following rules should apply. 1) If a society desires to offer a benefit, then all of society should equally pay for it without weakening the protections of any group, individual, or minority. 2) All of the value of that benefit (i.e. complete control) should be transferred to the beneficiaries or the beneficiaries’ legal representatives. This second rule ensures that the government is offering the benefit in good faith, and not in order to control more value itself. For example, if a society wants to offer people assistance for food, it should transfer all of the tax money raised for the program to the needy individuals (food stamps are a good example where the beneficiary controls most all of the value of the benefit). If the government wants to provide education, all of the value for that purpose should be transferred to the children (in the form of cash or “education stamps” controlled by the children’s legal representatives – their parents). The government should not build and maintain schools, hire teachers, dictate curricula, etc. because doing so means the government is capturing much of the value of the benefit and has a strong motivation to protect and further its own interests rather than the interests of the students.
  • The reason that the major, positive revolutions of the past millennium (Democratic, Scientific, Commercial, Industrial, Renaissance, Enlightenment) originated in Europe was because those nations were more Valerian than any others of their time. The Industrial Revolution began in England because it was the most consistently Valerian society to have ever existed.
  • The first modern republic in world history, The United States of America, was founded on Valerian principles. Taken as a whole, its founding documents of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, achieve the highest form of Valerianism of any body of work of any significance in all of world history. The principal exception to Valerianism within them of course being the discriminatory treatment of African Americans and the question of slavery.
  • All religious traditions contain elements of Valerianism. Historically speaking, the Judeo-Christian tradition has been particularly conducive to building Valerian societies (all of the major revolutions of the last millennium occurred in Christian nations). This is not because Christianity is a “superior religion” per se, but because it contains many Valerian ideals. We would be surprised to find that many of the liberal values that we all accept today came to us via the Judeo-Christian tradition. Biblical ideas such as: God is no respecter of persons (all people are equal), rights to life and property, and doing justice to the weakest members of society (orphans, widows, strangers) are highly Valerian and should be emphasized within Jewish and Christian faiths. All faiths (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) should highlight their own Valerian principles and deprecate beliefs that promote inequality, prejudice and injustice. Valerianism is vehemently opposed to caste systems, lesser rights for the unbelieving (e.g. infidels), or prejudicial treatment of any group or individual (homosexuals, women, children, minorities, etc.).
  • People that use their knowledge of value to promote universal and equal protection are referred to as “Light Valerians” or just “Valerians”. We stand in awe of past Valerians such as John Locke, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the recently departed Nelson Mandela. True Valerians are very few in number because they must be both enlightened, and selfless. They are not proven until they’ve transferred value away from themselves in favor of others or advanced our understanding of Valerianism.
  • Those that use their knowledge of value to seize more value and control for themselves are referred to as Dark Valerians. Dark Valerians are far more common. The brilliant and charismatic ones are extremely dangerous.
  • You don’t understand someone until you understand what (s)he values.  Tremendous professional and political success can be built off of openmindedly understanding what value people want, and delivering that value to them.
  • The best way to quickly make sense of any industry, company, culture, nation or other new situation is to simply ask, “Who controls what value?”  and “How is that control protected?”  This is called Valerian vision.  In Japan, for instance, your control over your possessions is fabulously well protected, but at the same time young workers are culturally prohibited from switching jobs between companies.  Japanese individuals therefore have protected control over their possessions and poor control over their own labor.
  • Although most all of the observations of Valerianism are irrefutable facts, as an ideology it is difficult to discover or promulgate because it advocates for the privileges and discriminatory control of the elite to be revoked — something they oppose and in modern times have the power to thwart.  It relies not only on the interest and agitation of the disadvantaged, but also on the virtue and decency of those in power to concede.  The default case in human history is for those in power to favor ideologies (academic, religious, environmental, economic, etc.) that reinforce their own control.  This is called motivated reasoning.