Fatalism and Why It Sucks

Russell Michaels

Russell is inside his own mind, a comfortable yet silly place. He is also on Twitter.

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34 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels
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    says:

    If “fatalism is codswallop” and “incentives matter” doesn’t that logically suggest that we should in fact, use the levers of power to create incentives to produce the outcome we desire?Report

    • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      I’m taking a shot in the dark here, but based on comments you’ve made before I’m going to guess you’re considering the possibility of using incentives to change human nature, on the grounds that Russell says nothing is permanent. I’m also going to speculate that Russell’s answer is this article’s third sentence.Report

    • Russell Michaels in reply to Chip Daniels
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      The Curious Task, man.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Russell Michaels
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        What’s curious is that the claims of our inability to design systems never seem to account for the fact that the most fundamental pillars of the liberal order such as property itself, are designed systems.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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          What are you suggesting here? That the system could be designed better? Very much agreed.

          Having said that…
          1) There are many more bad designs/ideas out there than good ones.
          2) Many of the bad ideas have already been tried lots of time and we’ve seen they really are bad ideas.
          3) We already have a lot of bad ideas which have been given life.
          4) We have a limited budget.
          5) Things are pretty good as is.

          Our current era is the best that humanity has done. Many of the old problems are gone by sane metrics. Our current country is among the best the planet has (depending on metric).

          6) Given political/societal mass and inertia, we’re probably better off making slight changes than large ones. Given the risks of things going bad, we’re probably better off making slight changes than “risk everything” bets.

          7) Many problems are really value judgements.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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            The claim being made in essay is that our ability to design systems is limited and so therefore we should take a modest approach and allow for spontaneous orders to arise.

            Which is a perfectly reasonable position to take, almost trivially true.

            Where this veers off the rails is when this is used as a general purpose argument against designing systems of incentives to achieve some purpose.

            Because there are many designed systems which work splendidly. The systems of property rights and markets are themselves designed systems.Report

            • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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              Property rights and markets are “designed” systems which are simple and we’ve had thousands of years to iron out the bugs (and are still always finding problems).

              We can most certainly have better incentives in our systems. However I can’t tell if you’re trying for something like “simply the tax code” or more “make communism work this time”. I also can’t tell if your design makes assumptions like “we’re a monocultural society”.

              It’s not that it can’t be done, but making systems is really hard. What did you have in mind?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                My first post was asking that if we agree that “fatalism is codswallop” i.e. that progress is achievable, and we agree that “incentives matter” i.e. that people will change behavior according to the design of the system, then is logically follows that we can design system which promote progress.

                Not that we always get it right, but designed progress is possible.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                What is the definition of “progress” here?Report

  2. Chris
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    Fatalism is the idea that what currently exists is what will always exist.

    Putting aside the fact that I’ve never heard this definition of fatalism, is there anyone who actually believes that what currently exists is what will always exist?Report

  3. Pinky
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    Interesting article. The Yu-Gi-Oh reference makes me curious if you’re an anime fan, and if so, whether Gurren Lagann was on your mind when you were writing this.Report

    • Russell Michaels in reply to Pinky
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      No, have heard of it, though. That the one with the military redhead in a bikini?Report

      • Pinky in reply to Russell Michaels
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        Yes, and I like where your head is, but she’s not why I brought it up. To put it briefly, the show deals with themes of heroes seeing limitless potential, versus villains who see only limits. There’s also a blogger (about whom I know very little) named Steven Pressfield who has written on the hero archetype in this way.

        Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a blast. It’s not quite as good or clever as its reputation, but it’s a fun, big adventure. The bigness is the point. Every episode ups the stakes by, like, an order of magnitude. It runs on pure audacity. I don’t know if the world can outrun Malthus in the grand scheme of things, but I admire the effort.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Pinky
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      Superman and Gurren Lagann
      Ain’t got nothing on me.
      Report

  4. Greginak
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    Sigh…. This hits on a bit of a hobby horse of mine. Its the first Para with Evo psych stuff. The only problem is that it is crap, just junk science. What you are saying is nature isn’t, it’s modern projections based on a handful of cultures. Beauty standards have changed widely over the years and very very much are based on local culture. Men haven’t always big boob/ hip women. The nature made me stare at that woman’s chest when we walking in the mall is a weak excuse for being a doofus. There is a human nature but it can’t be defined be just so stories. Talk to me about human nature when we are looking at cultures from around the world and over time. Until then it’s just meh.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Greginak
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      This kind of genetic shift could happen in a society where only attractive people had children, but I don’t know of any such society.Report

      • Greginak in reply to Pinky
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        Lots of Evo psych is theoretically plausible but needs a metric crap ton of actual evidence to prove. Almost none of which exists.Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Greginak
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          A large chunk of Evo psych is actually very easy to disprove, all you have to do is check if babies care about something. After all, if it was programmed into humanity, babies should have it too. And their reactions are very simple to read.

          And it turns out babies care about almost nothing.

          All babies are attracted to nipple-like things, all of them dislike being in the dark. Babies _also_ noticable react to spiders and snakes. Weirdly, they aren’t _scared_ of them, they don’t get upset, but they pay more attention to them than random bugs or random lizards. There’s more alertness towards them…which probably is genetic, somehow. Sure!

          And honest to God, that’s probably about everything that’s true in ‘evo psych’. A few basic phobias and attractions…which every human on the planet already knows, because we all kinda started with them. (Which is, again, the literal premise of this.)

          And then a bunch of white Westerners ‘invented’ tons of nonsense, called it ‘evo psych’, making up ‘just so’ stories about stuff that isn’t even true worldwide currently, much in the past. Just…take assumptions and saying ‘This assumption is true and programmed into every human because [made up reason]’, not only without evidence that [made up reason] is truly the reason, but not even checking if the _assumption_ is any sort of human commonality.

          It’s like they are proudly telling everyone about their ‘scientific’ conclusion that dog is God spelled backwards because primitive humans hated dogs and thought they were evil. Like, I disagree with that conclusion about primitive humans, but also that premise is almost indescribably stupid to start with, and really calls into question the entire foundation of the supposed scientific field.Report

    • Fish in reply to Greginak
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      Was thinking the same thing.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Greginak
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      says:

      During the 1920s, small boobs and slender figures were considered attractive as a reaction against the hourglass figure favored from the 1890s to 1914.Report

  5. DavidTC
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    If America were to wage a 95% tax on the top 0.1% of earners tomorrow, most would easily flee to another country.

    Why do we _want_ wealthy people in this country? No, seriously, what do you think it accomplishes to have the super-wealthy? What exactly do you think would happen tomorrow if all of them ran off with all their money? Exactly how do you expect the super-wealthy to operate _without_ access to American assets?

    Seriously, I can’t even come up with a way to _ask_ this question, because the premise is so backed in that the super-wealthy do things, and they, literally, do not. They OWN STUFF, and we pay them a cut of it. That’s how capitalism works.

    It is really _weird_ how people think the wealthy are some magic, unique thing. Like, maybe Bezos would run off to avoid taxes…and his assets would still be here, and still be making money for whoever now owned them…which we would still be taxing.

    And the new Amazon stockholders are actually MORE LIKELY to spend the money they get from Amazon stock (As they are less wealthy, thus spend a higher percentage of their income.) so the economy works just as well.

    Maybe those new people, also being rich, would get fed up with taxes on the wealthy, too, and eventually _all_ the wealthy people run away and Amazon’s stock…ends up…in the hands of common people…huh.

    The superrich people are not an asset to this country. They don’t accomplish _anything_. They literally do not do things, that’s almost their definition. They own things that require other people to pay them money. If they want to abandon what they own, it does not harm us in the least.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to DavidTC
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      Which “we” are we talking about?

      The ones who pass laws? Apparently, they’re falling all over themselves to make wealthy people happy.

      It’s the ones who provide little-to-nothing that are seen as a problem by the ones that pass laws (unless, of course, they can be counted on to vote a particular way).Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Jaybird
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        I mean, yeah. I don’t know what ‘we’ want, I just…keep running into people who think the world is Atlas Shrugged and if the wealthy run off, society collapses.

        But we are not better off in a world where Jeff Bezos own 11% of Amazon, vs. a world where Jeff Bezos has sold that stock out of spite (?) and moved to Ukraine or something. Someone will still own that stock, the company will still exist, everything will continue to happen as it already does! We almost certainly would be better off, because it would be distributed more evenly.

        Like, this is honestly just so baffling that we seem to care so much about hypothetically ‘running the wealthy out of this country’.

        If we’re only taxing _income_, and we cause the wealthy to sell their _US income production assets_ because they don’t want to pay taxes on that income, then _other people_ will buy those assets, make the same income, and pay the same taxes!

        Worst case scenario is that the assets get divided up so much the new owners pay income tax in a lower tax bracket, which….mission f***ing accomplished!Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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          Someone will still own that stock, the company will still exist, everything will continue to happen as it already does!

          The owner of the company, whose choices made the company what it is, will still have made those choices? Seriously?

          If he moves to the Ukraine because he doesn’t want his life work stolen then he’ll be structuring his wealth so to the degree that is possible, it’s not subject to being stolen. This will have vast impacts on GDP growth. Rather than trying to create jobs in the US (where it would create wealth that would be stolen), he’ll strive to create those jobs overseas.

          Pointing to the creators of vast wealth and saying we’d be better off if they didn’t exist is pointing to hugely successful companies and claiming they’d still exist as they are even if the people and structures that allowed them to exist don’t allow them to exist.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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      The super-rich are a result of activities we want to have, i.e. brand new Fortune 50 company is created.

      Claiming that the creation of Amazon or Apple wasn’t an accomplishment is absurd.

      and Amazon’s stock…ends up…in the hands of common people…huh.

      I had this conversation back in the 80’s about Microsoft. So let’s go back in time and do this to Microsoft.

      Why does Bezos create Amazon here knowing that it’s just going to be taken from him? Is he not motivated by money? Is he just really stupid? Or is the claim that Amazon is the absolute last new company that should be created?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to DavidTC
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      “What exactly do you think would happen tomorrow if all of them ran off with all their money?”

      Well, we’d lose half our income-tax revenues. From that link, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 40 percent of all income taxes, while the bottom 90 percent paid 29 percent.

      “eventually _all_ the wealthy people run away and Amazon’s stock…ends up…in the hands of common people[.]”

      …you know that leaving the country doesn’t mean you have to sell all your assets, right?Report

    • Pinky in reply to DavidTC
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      I don’t mind wealthy people in my country; I don’t crave them either. I’m interested in the conditions that create wealthy people, because those are the conditions that generally create positive economic change. I mean, I wouldn’t want a country with a lot of super-wealthy divorce lawyers and drug lords. But a country where people believe that they can receive return on their effort with a little luck, that’s where I want to live.Report

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