Author Archives: Brett Alder

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.  

Control is Essential to Happiness

From a New Yorker piece on the Psychology of First Person Shooter Games

“Control, compounded by a first-person perspective, may be the key to the first-person shooter’s enduring appeal. A fundamental component of our happiness is a sense of control over our lives. It is, in fact, “a biological imperative for survival,” according to a recent review of animal, clinical, and neuroimaging evidence. The more in control we think we are, the better we feel; the more that control is taken away, the emotionally worse off we become. In extreme cases, a loss of control can lead to a condition known as learned helplessness, in which a person becomes helpless to influence his own environment. And our sense of agency, it turns out, is often related quite closely to our motor actions: Do our movements cause a desired change in the environment? If they do, we feel quite satisfied with ourselves and with our personal effectiveness. First-person shooters put our ability to control the environment, and our perception of our effectiveness, at the forefront of play.”

Or put another way: “We are genetically programmed to control value.”

All of this makes complete sense. Our ancestors that recognized value and successfully controlled it were the ones that were successful in the their environments (i.e. didn’t get killed by exposure, or hunger, or violence) and thus lived to reproduce. We are their progeny. So, when someone asks, “Why does that politician/businessman/religionist/militarist appreciate value?” The right answer is, “Because he was programmed to. Just like you. Just like me. Just like everyone.” Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised when someone takes an interest in controlling our own value.

“the psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues found that, between 1960 and 2002, Americans have increasingly turned to external explanations for the shapes of their lives. The shift is not a function of socioeconomic background; the attitude change occurred across demographics. This, in turn, suggests increased alienation and, as a result, more of a need for a means by which to reassert the control that otherwise seems to be missing from our lives.”

If, indeed, Americans do have less control today than in 1960, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an increasing divergence where people recur to virtual worlds to get the control they’re looking for and this partial abdication of real world control then leaves our real world value less protected, and we lose more of it. At some point I’m optimistic that Millennials that are used to very high levels of virtual control, will start to demand the same of the real world and reverse the trend.

The Question of Same Sex Marriage

Wrapping things in bacon means you raise them to a new level of awesomeness — an experiential plane akin to guilty pleasure. Most of the debate surrounding same sex marriage deals with the unfairness of denying homosexual couples the same privileges as heterosexual couples. What are some of those privileges?

  • Visitation rights in the hospital
  • Survivorship social security (SS) benefits
  • Right to transfer property to surviving spouse without paying inheritance tax

So let’s ask the question, is it fair for heterosexual couple to enjoy these benefits and deny them to homosexual couples? Absolutely not, and I’m frankly not familiar with anyone on the right or left who maintains that position. But let me ask a more fundamental question, “Is it fair for married couples to enjoy any benefits not enjoyed by the unmarried (coupled or not)?

  • Shouldn’t you be able to decide who can visit you in the hospital?
  • Is it fair that married couples can transfer SS benefits, but the unmarried can’t?
  • If an inheritance tax is fair, then it should apply to the married and unmarried alike, right?

The fact that homosexuals are being denied equal privileges is a specific example of a much larger problem:

In the U.S., married people represent a privileged class.

The Superset teaches us the danger of privileged classes. Granting privileges unequally gives the gov’t the right to discriminate, and when they have that right, they most always take advantage of it (as seen in the case of same sex couples).

How do we best rectify this injustice? By allowing same sex couples to join the privileged class or by abolishing the privileged class all together?

How did we get here anyway? In the past, marriage had a different meaning than it does today. In the pre-birth control years, sexual activity bore significant risks for women; the risk of being pregnant for 9 months and caring for the child once born. Different societies reacted differently to this risk. In Japan, records of abortion go back hundreds of years. Polynesian islanders resorted to infanticide to keep their populations in check. Many Christian nations adapted by encouraging women to restrict the supply of their sex (i.e. chastity).

It seemed to make sense, in light of the risks that women were assuming when they married, that they needed legal protection. This is at least partly how married people came to form a privileged class. But in the post-birth control years, marriage does not equal procreation. Many mothers are choosing children without marriage, and many married women are choosing to remain childless. This makes the status of “married people as privileged class” very difficult to justify. Also, child support laws protect women and children regardless of whether the child was conceived in a marriage.

So, how to do you do right, not only by homosexuals, but also by all of the underprivileged “unmarrieds”? By granting all of the same rights and protections to all people, irrespective of their marital status. Would that mean that a wife would have to pay an inheritance tax on property received from her husband? Yes, if that’s the standard applied to everyone else. But the good thing about equality is that it makes it much easier to see what is fair and what is unfair. If it is unfair for a lesbian to pay an inheritance tax on property she inherits from her deceased partner (married or unmarried), then the inheritance tax must be inherently unfair as well.

A Healthcare Manifesto Sponsored by Creative Maladjustment

I took the assignment to address the question: What would Lincoln or Dr. King say if they were ePatients? What kind of manifesto would they subscribe to? I was quite familiar with Lincoln and so decided to listen to Dr. King speeches for the last several weeks. It’s very difficult to concisely summarize his thinking — he was a brilliant and compassionate man. It would be correct to state that he wanted full equal rights for African Americans, but then Dr. King would surprise you by going even farther:

I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.

The most shocking thing I noticed was that probably more powerful than his eloquence was his courage in telling the truth as he saw it. Remembering that about Dr. King, if I were to formulate a manifesto it would be something like this:

1) All individuals in the American healthcare industry should have the same rights and protections as individuals in any other industry.
2) All groups in the American healthcare industry should have the same rights and protections as groups in any other industry.

The shortened version would be “equal rights for patients”. The second part of that equation is necessary also as a precaution for protecting patients. For example, if you represent a health insurance company and the government passes a law that will hurt your business, but that only applies to health insurance (not to auto, disaster, or other insurance companies) how will you respond? I would not blame you if you responded by trying to protect yourself and offset the value that you’ve lost by transferring the loss to someone else. Not surprisingly healthcare organizations are tempted to take the value they’ve lost away from those with the least ability to protect themselves — patients. This is why equal protection for organizations is extremely important as well.

These ideas would certainly involve radical changes, but I don’t think I’m radical…just maladjusted.

…there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self defeating effects of physical violence.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

The Exhaust of Medicine X

Stanford’s Medicine X conference has just driven by. It was an amazing ride. Tempted to wait before writing for the insights to distill in my mind, but feel the urgency to describe it before the exhaust dissipates.

At the beginning of the conference I tweeted (click image to enlarge):


Love these responses.

After talking and soaking in so many experiences from fellow MedXers, my main takeaway was “purpose”. It was this eerie feeling that most everyone you spoke with wanted to improve things, just like you. They were not hung up on dogma or politics. They were passionate enough to have educated themselves and could speak articulately on the issues. For me it was like soaking in a hot spring and floating in space — at the same time.

The thing that left the greatest impression on me, and was also a salient illustration of that purpose, was Regina Holliday sitting on a panel and addressing a question from the audience. She blustered at the questioner who was talking about issues in healthcare: “Nothing’s stopping you, if you want change, make it happen! Do it. Do it now!” It was raw. Emphatic.

Regina Holliday.

She paints a tailored story for people for free on the back of sports jackets. I’m trying to imagine how she can process so many different factors and create a representative work of art in so little time. Paintings with embedded brilliance and poetry. Members form a group called the Walking Gallery (click image to enlarge):


Medicine X had some of the most brilliant people from around the planet, all with a common purpose. The thought that came to mind watching Regina was a curiosity to know if she had a manifesto to match her enthusiasm, brilliance and artistry. Liza Bernstein talked about the indignity of Apartheid and shared a quote from Nelson Mandela. Mind flashes to the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

You see, African American civil rights leaders marched — they boycotted discriminatory bus systems, they sat in restaurants where they were prohibited — but that’s not all. They stood for something. We all know exactly what that something was. Everyone should enjoy the same rights regardless of skin color. Separate was not equal. Police in Alabama could spray water canons and release the dogs. People watching on TV were appalled by the violence, but we often see violence on TV. Individuals could be silenced and maimed, even assassinated. But there was no stopping the idea.

What is the ePatient idea? Let patients help? Give us our damn data? Patients rights? What would Martin Luther King Junior say if he were an ePatient today? What would Lincoln say? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll be giving it some thought in the coming weeks. In the meantime Regina will be haunting me. “Do it! Do it now!”

What a great experience.

HT to Susannah Fox for the use of the term “exhaust”.

Frontier and Establishment Generations

Susannah Fox posed an excellent question during a recent Master Class on participatory medicine at Medicine X that went something like this:

How do we adapt to a shifting landscape of polling where people expect a more participatory approach?

The translation is, “How do we connect with young people that increasingly have more control over who calls them and do not see an apparent need to participate in polling research.”

In my humble opinion, Millennials have often been poorly characterized. Employers read that they were given a lot of trophies as kids and expect a lot of feedback and praise. I believe the truth is a lot more textured than that.

I would argue that Millennials (young adults born after about 1982) are a Frontier Generation. What does that mean?

A frontier is an untamed and unsettled world. A Frontier Generation is the first group of people to arrive on the scene. The U.S. western frontier may have closed in 1890, but the virtual frontier of the Internet opened in the 1980’s and Millennials are the first to be online for most of their lives.

Being the first to arrive on a frontier means that there is almost no distance between “what you want to do” and “doing it”. If you see a problem, you band together to find a solution. If MySpace isn’t meeting your needs, you create your own alternative (Facebook) and people are free to flock to it. Who settled the Facebook Frontier? Millennials. They have imprinted on a virtual world that seems to always get better, is filled with innumerable choices, and where they are constantly in the driver seat.

At the opposite end would be Establishment Generations. They grow up in a world where things are orderly, and have not largely been disrupted for quite some time. They learn in their youth that it is futile to try to change things, not just because it’s really hard, but because it will make life worse for you. People will think that you’re crazy for challenging an establishment that –most people are convinced — was set up for the betterment of society.

The most long lived Establishment society I’ve encountered is Japan. They have many, many cultural rules and norms that have been fostered for thousands of years. The frontiers of Japan have been closed for centuries. Interestingly, while other ancient countries have seen massive disruptions (being colonized, fighting for independence, etc.), Japan’s history is far more static. They’ve largely always been independent (people could argue they lost that after WWII, I would respectfully disagree). The difference is amazing. One example is the way they park in Japan:


Flickr by andydoro

Notice how all the cars in a row face the same direction. Notice how each car is neatly parked within its lines, anyone who’s been to Japan can relate to this. Now behold American parking:

American parking

Flickr by corporatemonkey

If you want to connect with young people, it helps to understand their world.

Expectations of the World:
Frontier Generation: Changeable, engaging, with transparent exchange (i.e. What value do you want, and what do you offer in return?).
Establishment Generation: Emphasizes peace and stability, one-way, opaque (e.g. “fill out this form and don’t ask why — it’s for the greater good.”).

The Question of Syria

“We witnessed our politicians and countrymen send us to war on a surge of emotion and quickly forget about us for nearly a decade.”  ~ Former Cpl. Jack Mandaville

To test to see if Mr. Mandaville is correct, I’ve posed this question to people who complain about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Do you really care?”  Most of the time the answer is, “Well, yes!”  I then ask them, “When was the last time you wrote your Congressperson or joined in a street protest against the wars?”  The answer to that is always, “Never.”  I’m not blaming them, I’m in the same boat.

This is a dangerous place to be in.  Libertarians rightfully argue against military interventionism, but so often the answer is just to “stop doing it.”  But we can’t stop military activity altogether.  So the question is, “What are the rational military needs of a nation?”  We need to be able to defend ourselves and strike enemies when necessary, but we need to refrain from striking when it is not necessary.  How do you find such a balance?

As is almost always the case, the answer lies in equality.  The problem we have today is that the people deciding to send troops into Iraq and keep them there are not at all at risk.  This means you get the very predictable behavior where a majority votes in favor of benefits for themselves (real or perceived) where the cost is solely born by a minority.  In this case the role of underrepresented minority is played by our servicemen and women.

What is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam?  The culture war tradition handed down to us from previous generations has two main accounts of Vietnam.  One telling is that it was a matter of cowardly draft dodgers vs. patriotic Americans willing to fight against the encroachment of Communism.  The other telling is that it involved principled peace loving protesters against an unnecessary conflict vs. blood thirsty napalming soldiers.

So often the debate today surrounding Vietnam is whether or not the U.S. should have stayed or whether or not the war was really won.  The amazing thing we should be highlighting is how vigorous the public debate was during that period.  We did not “send them to war on a surge of emotion and forget about them.”  Why is that?

The truth is that people protested the Vietnam war so vigorously because they were personally at risk.  Everyone had a vested interest.  If it wasn’t you, it was your boyfriend, son, or cousin.  Things were set up differently because most all young people were more equally at risk of being drafted.  Now that we’ve done away with the draft, the vast majority of Americans have no personal stake in Iraq or Afghanistan.  They will not pay more in taxes and there is zero likelihood that they will be sent overseas to fight.  People may have strong opinions, but the truth is as Mandaville has said, we have forgotten them.

How do we maintain a balanced approach toward war — fighting when only necessary?  By having a system in place where if society wants a war, society will bear the costs as equally as possible.  That should be measure of a necessary and just war.  That is when people ask more forcefully, “What do we hope to accomplish?” and “How long will the engagement last and how much will it cost?”  Let’s give equality a chance.

China vs. Western Liberal Ideals

By default we assume that the world shares our Western views on equal protection and human rights.  They don’t — and it’s not because the world is evil, but because the idea of equal protection will always be inherently threatening to those in power who extract value from those they have power over.
Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership,” Cheng Xinping, a deputy head of propaganda for Hengyang, a city in Hunan, told a gathering of mining industry officials. Human rights advocates, he continued, want “ultimately to form a force for political confrontation.
Exactly.  This is why it’s amazing that such ideas of universal human rights (to life, liberty, property) ever evolved in the first place.  They can only do so under violent opposition from those in command.  This fear of losing value is why:
  • Officials in Alabama during the civil rights movements didn’t want to give up good seats on the bus, good slots in schools, and equal protection to African Americans.  
  • Plantation owners in the South did not want to give up their cotton and tobacco producing slaves.
  • Great Britain did not want to give up the 13 American Colonies which could provide ample sources of tax revenue.
These ideals are unique and fragile.  They need the strong support of principled men and women like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — and brave Chinese citizens on the same quest.
A few other observations on the article:

These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

NEWS FLASH: The Chinese are human too and think and feel just like we do. They predictably fear the perils of a loss of value by the political class.  Chinese politicians appreciate value just like all other politicians.

The confrontation at the newspaper and campaign demanding that officials disclose their wealth alarmed leaders and helped galvanize them into issuing Document No. 9, said Professor Xiao, the historian. Indeed, senior central propaganda officials met to discuss the newspaper protest, among other issues, and called it a plot to subvert the party, according to a speech on a party Web site of Lianyungang, a port city in eastern China.”

When did the full government backlash hit? When people were trying to put a number on the amount of value that the government leaders controlled.  “Whoa, hold that right there! You people at the bottom can be subject to the accountability of market forces, but don’t try to treat us the same way. That is intolerable.  Never forget that we are not equal.  We are your superiors.”

The Real Universe is Dead

I’m not arguing that we affirmatively live in a virtual universe, just that the assumption of realness made by the scientific community cannot be independently verified.

Nietzsche described and popularized the “God is Dead” philosophical movement. If you haven’t read the fantastic account of the Madman in the market place, I’ve excerpted it here:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this?

Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?

There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

For history’s sake, let’s review the arguments that “killed God” or rather, destroyed the certainty that He exists:

  • His existence cannot be observed or verified (to date) in a scientific fashion.
  • Belief in God, then, is superstition.
  • We don’t need God to explain the creation of the Universe or of intelligent life. Theories like the Big Bang and Evolution do that for us.
  • The Universe is governed my physical laws, with no need of God for governance (e.g. keeping the moon in its orbit).

And why was the Madman mourning his death so dramatically? Because with the death of God comes the loss of any moral authority. We each can have our own opinion about morality, but no scientific reality will help us to prove that one action is definitively more moral than another. Any true atheist can relate to this (sometimes liberating) feeling of being “unmoored”.


We now find ourselves in an strikingly similar situation. Same stage, same lines, different starring actors. This time instead of God doing the dying, it is the Real Universe lying in the back of the hearse. What a peaceful visage, but so few people marching in the procession?

As a precursor, see once again this discussion on the naturalness of the Universe.

Therein we encounter this doozy:

“Physicists reason that if the universe is unnatural, with extremely unlikely fundamental constants that make life possible, then an enormous number of universes must exist for our improbable case to have been realized. Otherwise, why should we be so lucky? Unnaturalness would give a huge lift to the multiverse hypothesis, which holds that our universe is one bubble in an infinite and inaccessible foam. According to a popular but polarizing framework called string theory, the number of possible types of universes that can bubble up in a multiverse is around 10^500. In a few of them, chance cancellations would produce the strange constants we observe.”

Throughout this discussion, it is always assumed that we live in a real physical universe — just like we used to assume that God existed. Let’s apply the same arguments that killed God to the question of the Real Universe:

  • The reality of our Universe cannot be observed or verified (to date) in a scientific fashion.
  • Belief in a Real Universe, then, is superstition.
  • We don’t need a Real Universe to explain the origin of the Universe or of intelligent life. A Virtual Universe could do that.
  • The Universe could be governed by virtual laws (computer code), with no need of space time or reality for governance.

Let’s take the statement: “with extremely unlikely fundamental constants that make life possible, then an enormous number of universes must exist for our improbable case to have been realized.” You only need 10^500 universes if our Universe is real. If the Universe is virtual than it was designed to make life possible. So which is more unlikely, a simulation on the scale of our Universe, or the existence of 10^500 universes? Keep in mind that a million is 10^6.

Even without these discoveries, even if our Universe looked pretty, orderly, and natural, there would still be a non-zero likelihood that it is virtual, especially since virtual universes can have a many-to-one relationship to real universes.

So even though the certainty of a Real Universe is dead — it never existed — we still live in its shadow and the full ramifications of its death could take decades to be realized. Stating this I often meet with blank stares. Perhaps “I have come too early, my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way.”


And finally, what would it take to prove that our Universe is not virtual? It would not be enough to show that humans cannot create such a simulation in our universe, you would have to prove that there does not exist any universe governed by any set of rules populated by any type of intelligent life that could possibly host our virtual universe.

Proving that makes finding dark energy sound easy.