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You can be neutral on a moving train

There's a popular idea that one can't avoid taking some political position because having no position is to support the status quo. In the words of Howard Zinn, "You can't be neutral on a moving train." For a while, I agreed with this, but I don't think I believe it anymore. The lack of a position on some political question only defaults to the status quo if you presume there's a meaningful choice between the status quo and some preferable alternative. This presumption of a choice, and some agency over effectuating one's choice, now appears to me wrong, with respect to many of the supposedly most important political questions.

The compulsion to take positions is arguably one of the more malignant aspects of the status quo, perhaps even a basis for its worst injustices. If you think choice and agency in political affairs is negligible, then deliberating and expressing one's choice has the same political valence as declining to do so — but declining saves a lot of time, energy, and mental health, all of which can be spent on the immanent politics of one's shared life with others. If most people stopped paying attention to politics, and had no opinions, overall social welfare would be improved relative to the status quo. A popular lament is that voters are not sufficiently informed, but as far as I can tell, huge masses of people are now irreconcilably passionate about too many problems, precisely because they have too much information and education relative to their processing power. Once upon a time, ignoring macro-politics was seen as immature, uneducated ignorance and passivity, but perhaps it will increasingly become a mark of educated sagacity and radical honesty.

Segmentation and personalization for philosophers and scientists

The techniques used by today's marketing professionals, such as "customer segmentation" and "web-page personalization," would appear to be emblems of instrumental, exploitative communication. Today, we are so saturated with instrumental communication that Orwell's 1984 sounds benign in retrospect ("doublethink" feels quaint compared to the "multithink" we have now). At the point where nearly the entire public sphere is occupied by instrumentally deceptive signals, I am beginning to wonder if the tools of high-tech mass deception might not be amenable to a philosophical refactoring. If I'm wrong, the risk seems quite low, given that one can hardly make the status quo much worse in this regard. So the question is this: If certain techniques can systematically deceive so many sub-populations in purposeful ways, is there any good reason why these techniques cannot be used to undeceive sub-populations? Can we not run the machine in reverse? If the goal of philosophers and scientists is to discover and transmit the truth, but people respond differently to the same statements, it is rather odd that none of our great authors have yet thought to write multiple versions of one book to optimize its transmission among multiple audience segments. My proposal cuts across the grain of many humanistic intuitions about the nature of intellectual communication and authorship, but perhaps this explains why today the truth appears to be lightyears behind the false.

Segmentation and personalization

Customer segmentation refers to grouping potential customers according to the key dimensions that condition their decision-making and buying behavior. Key customer segments are usually based on variables related to demography, interests, geography, class, and personality traits including IQ. After segments have been identified, different communication strategies are deployed for different segments, to maximize the the probability of purchases from each segment. The segmentation and subsequent conditioning of communication on customer differences increases sales better than one blanket set of communications. Customer segmentation is arguably an ancient practice (all of the history here is just from Wikipedia, but it's pretty good); some marketing historians find Bronze Age traders engaging in geographic segmentation. The first use of customer segmentation based on systematically collected data appears to have been in the first decade of the twentieth century. The technique gets developed with greater sophistication from there, until the 1980s usher in what marketing historians call "hyper-segmentation." For the whole history of customer segmentation, it was always conducted at the level of groups. It is only then that technology presents the remarkable prospect of segmenting an audience at the individual level: marketing one thing to one individual, while marketing differently to a different individual, and so on. Today, in the digital context, hyper-segmentation can be done across millions of customers quickly and programmatically. Today, digital marketers even segment within individuals, by sending different messages at different times of day, or different parts of the year, etc. For the largest and most digitally sophisticated corporations, we must assume that AI systems are already deployed to not only identify any number of optimal hyper-segments, but also to update dynamically (with some lag) based on customers' changing attitudes and behaviors. Try to escape the model and the model will learn from your escape decisions.

Web-page personalization is one particular technique for the application of segment-conditioned communications. Personalization refers simply to the practice of delivering different web pages to visitors from different segments. This process leverages the data collected about users in their web browsers, to deliver website experiences that maximize whatever the website owner wants to maximize (typically sales, but not necessarily).

The ethics of communication

Such techniques are generally and correctly seen as sinister because they tend to be harmful deceptions: an agent promotes two different pictures of the world, for selfish and ulterior motives, using opaque methods. Through this contradictory presentation of the world, individuals are misled into two different and somewhat mutually exclusive maps of the world around them. The goal generally is to increase the income of the manipulative agent. Rigorous philosophical or scientific commitments, on the other hand, are devoted to seeking, and telling, the truth.

However, Western culture in 2018 is a crash space. Different subcultures now use the same words in radically different ways that appear, so far, irreversible and irreconcilable. Because our basic cognitive capacities — such as moral intuitions — evolved in low-tech contexts where the background environment was relatively constant, they're now overheated by a background environment in which unfathomable quantities of information churn at an accelerating rate. We cannot not live according to our evolved intuitions, but they are constantly being cued in contradictory and nonsensical ways. Our cognitive and behavioral circuits are hi-jacked by a super-intelligent system— namely the price system of a globally integrated marketplace — and there is no way not to think and do whatever one is cued to do by agents with more data and more intelligence than you. Doing otherwise would make no sense, for some supplier will always know what we truly want, even better than we do. Techniques such as segmentation and personalization are only unfoldings of this collective superintelligence. This is perhaps why marketing historian Wendell Smith called segmentation — in an ominous flight of abstraction rare for marketing historians — a "natural force" that would "not be denied."

But what if there were agents with good data and machine intelligence who sought not to maximize sales, but the effective transmission of true messages? They would accept the empirical reality of segmented human cognition and behavior. But then they would reverse-engineer the principles of historical, mass instrumental deception to produce a cypher capable of translating any one true statement into multiple different versions, each of which will be interpreted as true according to the subculturally segmented linguistic conventions.

I don't think I've ever heard any serious philosopher or scientist propose this idea, but I don't see why it couldn't work, and I don't see why it might be objectionable from an intellectual or ethical perspective. If my proposal sounds unsavory — "Serious intellectuals cannot employ the tools of vulgar digital marketers!" — perhaps this may explain why marketing professionals have such extraordinary influence over the intellectual and affective content of so many lives, while professional intellectuals appear to have less and less of it every passing year.

To drive home my quite abstract idea, I should give a concrete example. Perhaps you will guess, correctly, that I am interested in this prospect for personal reasons, having some experience with being misunderstood on the Internet. Fortunately, I have ample material for some thought experiments.

One of my motivations for going on YouTube is that I wanted to escape the confines of provincial paranoid leftism. But another motivation is that I would quite like to counteract the nastier dimensions of reactionary politics one finds on Youtube, for instance, white nationalism. So let's say I wanted to write a blog post explaining this rationale, why I think this is valuable and necessary work. As far as I know, this is truly a key part of my rationale, and I would like for as many people as possible to understand this, on the left and right. Perhaps because I personally believe it'd be good if others chose to do the same. In this sense, I am seeking to effectuate behaviors just like a marketer seeks to effectuate behaviors, but the crucial distinction is that my motivations are one with the explicit content of my message. My statement and the behavior I seek to effect are essentially the same thing, whereas commercial marketing is based on generating symbols that say one thing, for the purpose of doing something very different (make money), which is nowhere stated or implied in the outputted symbols. It's widely and correctly understood that people write messages in public because they want that message to be understood by others, to increase the probability of consequences that are themselves implied by the content of that message. The other distinction is that I only have one signal I want to be received by multiple people. You could say that marketers only have one true signal (the purchase), but the problem is that their different messages leave individuals with pictures or experiences that push them into different worlds. A philosopher or scientist would seek to increase the similarity and consistency of the receivers' different pictures of the world, aligned with what they believe is the true one.

Now, I could write a blog post entitled "I Am Going on YouTube to Escape Leftist Political Correctness and Mitigate the Fascist Right—And You Should, Too!" The problem is that this is a message for nobody. It is likely to go nowhere because the part that's critical toward the Right is defined by right-wingers as SJWism, and the part that's critical toward the Left is defined by the leftist individuals as racist dog-whistling. It's a true and pretty straightforward statement of my overarching rationale, and its chances of reproduction in the memetic ecology — in short, it's chances of living beyond day zero, or what it means for a message to even be communicated — is effectively nil. I wouldn't even click that, and I totally agree with it. It's so affectively empty that I could not muster the energy to even pretend that I "like" or "support" or "agree with" such a stupid, lame, obvious writer!

Now, imagine that you are in a physical room filled with leftists. Wouldn't it be perfectly normal, reasonable, and appropriate to use a different set of words to describe this mission, than if one was in a physical room filled with right-wingers? Of course it would. This conditionality of language is actually the essence of genuine communication; it is, must be, and should be as context-contingent as possible, in order to be true. If you think about whatever cases of speech that, in your opinion, are the greatest examples of truth revelation, I think you'll find they possess a kind of unique and mysterious element, a je ne sais quoi. And the reason you can't quite pin down the general feature that defines them is that they so effectively nailed the multidimensional context problem, that they were perhaps the best possible words you can personally imagine for communicating that message in that singular, contingent moment. Because the moment is singular and it's the nailing of that context that impresses you so forcefully, we experience its uniquely effective truthiness as an ineffable, non-generalizable feature. All of this is simply to point out that the truth value of any statement is actually a function of how well one communicates a particular signal in the form of contingently and instrumentally-selected, context-conditional symbols. Here the instrumental optimization is with respect to the objective of signal fidelity and noise minimization. That's a strategic, instrumental sub-goal to the final goal of being radically truthful and honest (a non-instrumental or substantive value or goal.)

If I say the same exact thing to these two different rooms of people, when the meaning of my words is fundamentally different to those two groups; that's not some kind of radical authenticity or commitment to the one whole truth. It's idiocy in the technical sense, devotion to a private language. In the words of Wittgenstein, forget about it. It's the apotheosis of delusional narcissism. And one of the reasons why so many people are feeling so insane right now is that smart people with a fairly balanced and independent view of the world are precisely those who are becoming less and less able to express themselves; these are the people who feel more than others that suddenly everything is escaping the grasp of human cognition.

Can customer segmentation and personalization techniques really offer a rigorous protocol for making objective truths equally sensible and transmittable to various pockets of social reality (what I have elsewhere called hard forks of reality)? Well, let's play out the example, and we can see how plausible it sounds. For the example I've been using, I could write a blog post making the one same argument, except the web page titles and the first page headers would be served differently depending on whether my free Google Tag Manager infers that the visitor is a left-winger or a right-winger (perhaps from some combination of other measured factors; maybe female millenials who recently visited the Democratic Party website get tagged as leftists, while white males in their twenties coming from Youtube get segmented as right-wing— whatever, this can be improved over time by testing the results). If a visitor is segmented as a leftist, the post might be entitled "Youtube Is a Nazi and I Am Punching It in the Face," which translates my mission into the exotic dialect that leftist opinion managers speak, allowing my breath to become living speech among leftists. If a visitor is segmented as a right-winger, the post might be entitled "Biggest Red Pill Ever (How to Trigger Every Snowflake)." I might use Google Optimize (also free), not only to trivially create my two different web page experiences, but to also give me a direct measure of the effects of the experiment. Through constant iteration, I will converge toward the two, true, optimally aligned translations.

Now mind you, in this example, the content of each blog post would be exactly the same, other than the titles. But in the future we might manipulate every single word, when we have such a sufficiently precise model and the necessary data to conduct accurate and systematic subcultural/ideological translations at such a high resolution.

A problem arises regarding whether this does not become instrumental manipulation for the ulterior motive of my own personal power. So far I've stipulated that, by the definition of the thought experiment, I'm maximizing a certain conceptualization of truth value. But in practice, especially if I am selling things on the side of my truth-maximization goal, bias seems doomed to creep in. This is an empirical problem that turns on having a defensible measure of truth value, that is not simply a proxy for "how many books I sell, because by definition my book is the truth." This is not a trivial problem, but the main reason we don't have such a measure and an easily implemented tool for it yet (Google Truth?) is simply that the non-instrumental communication of truths generally does not pay. In fact, it tends to do whatever is the opposite of pay. It's expensive to produce and it makes most people dislike you. Maximizing your own income helps you live, it wins you friends, and makes you happy (up to a point). Maximizing truth value makes it harder to live, it loses you friends, and it makes you tired with nothing real to show for it (most of the time). Is it really any wonder that we don't have fancy and free Google tools for customer de-segmentation, when segmentation is what makes money? It's almost evolutionarily impossible to imagine under contemporary capitalism. Although perhaps, as information processing power becomes so strong and so free and so available, then maybe, just maybe, like a few days before the singularity takeoff, a few hackers will find it easy enough to code up this kind of system.

One thing you could do is somehow measure each segment's picture of the world after reading the blog post, and see if they moved closer together. Maybe you could measure this with facial responses using their web cam or something, or ask them in exit surveys, or look at behavior later on. The degree to which they moved closer together would represent the translation consistency, at least. If the initial truth is actually an error, then you're screwed, and optimizing for this measure won't help matters. But this measure would be a start, for an objective criterion to maximize, separable from selfishness-biased variables such sales or click-through rates. If initial truth statements were somehow vetted, perhaps with reference to some larger objective database or something, then optimizing for the translation consistency would be a pretty good "performance indicator" for a philosopher or scientist blogger. I want to say this would represent instrumentally optimised, substantive (non-instrumental, i.e. honest) communication.

The two different blog posts may accent or emphasise different components of the one truth, but any particular communication item is always going to over- or under-emphasise partial aspects. This is simple, textbook, random error in any particular communication. In some sense, you could argue that segmenting and personalising the framing of a communication in this way, should increase the average accuracy of what one says overall, in the same way that increasing the sample size of a well-conducted survey will tend to push your sample stats closer to population values.

I suspect many humanists, philosophers, and social scientists may be discomfited by my thesis, but this is partially because most of them don't know how to use customer segmentation and personalisation techniques. It would be found simply ridiculous if the future of intellectual transmission might rely on tools that incumbent intellectuals find at once too vulgar and too difficult. For me, this indicates only one more exciting opportunity ripe for the taking by the next generation of truth-maximizing enterprises.

By the way, how did you like the title of this blog post?

On Intellectual Twitter Beefs

Smart and capable people spend vast amounts of time engaged in useless, circular debates on a platform that is arguably designed to thwart intellectual illumination. Why? No sane person would ever consciously choose or agree to participate in these monstrous wastes of effort, and yet even smart people do it all the time. Either everyone is insane, or there are deeper social-psychological and behavioral forces at work. Here are some thoughts.

1 — It's a well known feature of our universe that destruction is much easier than construction. There are many ways to be wrong, only a few ways to be right. It requires a long and difficult process to link multiple ideas into a plausible and coherent perspective. And the greater the perspective, the more moving parts vulnerable to objection. There is thus an obvious asymmetry between the works of disciplined intellectuals who produce large tomes, and freewheeling intellectuals who produce a high volume of short digital emissions. The former type of work is a costly and therefore credible signal, which earns respect and sustained attention. The latter type of work is much cheaper, so less credible, and people give less attention and trust to it.

2 — Given academic disciplinarity and insularity, there are diminishing returns to academic specialism and increasingly large potential returns to forging creative, cross-disciplinary webs of conjectures. I use the word "conjectures" rather than, say, "insights" or "truths" simply to denote that they don't really become insights or truths until they are repeatedly questioned, tested, pruned, and tilled over time, ideally by adversarial interlocutors (but these are the labors of discipline).

3 — Forging creative cross-disciplinary conjectures is more fun than getting one thing really right. The former runs on dopamine, the latter must run on something other than dopamine, because its rewards are more distal. The latter therefore involves lower time preference. Lower time preference is positively correlated with IQ and other obvious things such as savings rates. Thus many of the people today who are cultivating the funnest and highest-potential-value intellectual terrain (creative cross-disciplinary conjectures) will likely have more disordered lives, and those cultivating the more tedious spaces of diminishing returns will likely have more stable and "successful" lives.

4 — It seems unfair that the cultivators of academic discipline — who do nothing more than till overworked soil to extract increasingly tiny shards of value — tend to enjoy more influence and more wealth. This is likely to cause resentment — and understandably, I almost want to say rightfully, so — among the smart, independent person who is discovering potentially huge, never-before-documented relationships between Spinoza and modern information theory! The perception of an unfair and malignant situation is exacerbated by #1 (costly signals receive more attention).

5 — The reality is that the cultivators of academic discipline are not better rewarded for their intellectual discoveries, which are as politically and monetarily impactful as the eccentric generalist's — almost all of them are equally Sisyphean ventures commanding the same price of zero dollars. Rather, they are differently constituted individuals, and the blessing that endows the disciplinarian with more influence and money is also the curse that makes them till increasingly dead soil. And the curse that dooms the eccentric generalist to less influence and money, is also the blessing that allows them to live on the thrilling edge.

6 — The grass is always greener on the other side, and each type wants to enjoy the benefits of the other type. This is the proximal cause of many intellectual Twitter beefs, or at least the kind that appear to be increasingly common at the moment.

7 — Disciplined and influential intellectuals want, and increasingly need, to be on social media because almost all humans have now averted their gaze from the top of prestige hierarchies to whoever best reflects their personal preferences in the very long tail of the digital market. Disciplined intellectuals give their whole life to earning eyeballs via prestige, only to suddenly realize their prestige no longer brings any eyeballs, so they are currently in a slow mass migration to where the eyeballs are.

8 — On the other hand, eccentric generalists are constantly on the prowl for large, disciplined hot-air balloons they can quickly and brilliantly pop with their disorganized and dopamine-drenched stockpile of undisciplined insights. For them, Twitter is a gift from God; it's like if you dropped a deer hunter in a beautiful, infinite forest where the deer are automatically replenished every time one is killed. Twitter is Westworld for undisciplined intellectuals, except it's already here and it's fully operationalized. Disciplined and influential intellectuals have to be on there now, so there are several thousands of them roaming in the open, all in one place at the same time (your screen, whenever you want). As per #1, the asymmetry of destruction vs. construction guarantees virtually limitless easy wins, and — here's the kicker: on the medium itself, lengthy disciplined constructions are banned. The medium installs an impenetrable glass-ceiling on the intellectual firepower of the disciplined, while removing all traditional limits on the effervescent performance of undisciplined brilliance.

9 — For many traditional intellectuals, Twitter intellectuals are seen as too bad to be real. "How do all of these idiot amateurs have more influence than me?!" For the undisciplined intellectual, however, social media is too good to be true. "I can hardly finish a blog post, let alone write a book, but on Twitter I dominate two philosophers and a scientist every damn day biotch!" The reason these views seem too bad/good to be true is that they're both false. Few, if any, of the eccentrics and dilettantes (and worse) have influence; they earn some short attention spans through their constant, low-effort, high-volume displays — but influence requires deeper audience investment over longer periods of time. As per #1, very few of these people are "owning" anyone. They are mostly just performing entropy. But together these two types increasingly enter into dances that mutually reinforce each others false perceptions.

10 — Unfortunately, these illusions have asymmetrically negative implications. For the undisciplined internet intellectual, who is already more likely to suffer from a disordered life (as per #3), the illusion of constantly dominating more disciplined intellectuals is an experience of unmitigated positive feedback, which appears to frequently produce mental health crashes. (Anyone who does not understand that they have been owned can be blocked). My evidence is purely observational and anecdotal, but I think this tendency is publicly visible and cyclically repeated. It seems true that some of the smartest and most interesting Twitter intellectuals have brilliant bursts of activity followed by periods of extreme irritability and cruelty, followed by periods of deactivation and radio silence (and presumably, hopefully, recovery). Friends of mine have expressed serious objections to my commenting on the mental health of internet people, but if you see patterned behaviors that predictably produce terrible outcomes for someone — I think it's cruel and inappropriate to not state it, even if it's admittedly speculative.

11 — Someone should experiment with novel ways to make these different temperamental strengths and weaknesses interact productively. Perhaps someone could start hosting live conversations with a variety of these different intellectual types, contributing some longer-form disciplinary pressure onto the effervescent brilliance of eccentric generalists, while offering a public dopamine trough to the most interesting among the highly disciplined. Such a project would point toward an intellectual life that avoids the sterile disciplinary waste of energy on diminishing marginal returns, but also avoids the trap of sinking dopamine-addled flights of brilliance into archives that nobody can even find — let alone appreciate or build on — one day later. Such a project may even represent a reproducible vector toward a kind of other life in general…

Radical Europeans of the Twentieth Century — In Color

Machine-learning techniques for automated colorization are increasingly effective and accessible. I came across a Python library by Algorithmia that makes colorization very easy. If you have a working installation of Python, all you need to do is install the package and get an API key. Then just a few a few lines of code will colorize any image.

So I naturally started searching my mind for black and white photos I've never seen colorized, of interesting people who lived before the advent of widespread color photography. Europe gets a bad rap nowadays, but I've always had a soft spot for twentieth-century European political radicalism — thinkers and actors. Narrowing my focus to this domain, I did some searching for high-resolution black-and-white photos of exemplary figures, which have never been seen in color before.

The colorization model works impressively well right out of the box. I made no tweaks to the default options. One can spot a couple of weird shadings here and there, but all of the colorized photos below look very natural and plausible in my opinion. There were a few duds I excluded, but they were mostly due to low-resolution in the original photograph, I think.

Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault. Likely 1972. Via Charnel House.
Simone Weil. Likely around 1936. Via Awestruck Wanderer.
Theodor W. Adorno. 1958. Via The Philosopher's Mail.
Theodor W. Adorno. About 1958 (guessing; unknown). Via Rien ne veut rien dire.

The most beautiful colorization here is the 1949 photo of Simone De Beauvoir, below. The one that's most surprising or incongruous is the one of Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, also below: while the original black-and-white lends them some mystery and gravitas, the colorized version makes them look like a family-friendly department store advertisement.

Simone De Beauvoir. 1949. By Elliot Erwitt for Magnum. Via Huguette Bouchardeau.
Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. 1975. By Marie-Laure Decker. Via Graham Harman.

Andreas Baader. 1967. Via RAF: No Evidence by Arwed Messmer.

The colorization of Andreas Baader in late 1960s Berlin is perhaps the one that adds the most vibrancy and cultural context. It's well known that many of the left-wing terrorist movements of the late twentieth century trafficked in hipster aesthetics, but my mental images of left-wing terrorist fashion revolve mostly around leather jackets and other black-chic garments. Little did I know that Baader wore the same kind of thick red lumberjack shirt that many leftist hipsters wear today! I can't tell if Baader's shirt is flanel or perhaps polyester, which was probably in, or coming in, at the time? I have no idea what's going on with his eyes though; he's either been beat up or it's a problem with the original image. The original black-and-white is a negative from the Berlin police archive — I think those are police trailing him — so that might explain it.

Bronze Age Perversity with Mike Crumplar

Mike Crumplar (@mcrumps) is one of many strange people who have entered my internet orbit in recent months. I can't tell you much about him because I can't understand or remember anything about anyone I interact with on the internet. In this video chat I will hopefully learn more about him. He recently wrote an essay in Jacobite about Bronze Age Pervert. That will be the initial pretext for our conversation. Where it goes from there, only time will tell.

This conversation was originally livestreamed on Youtube on June 25, 2018.

Mike's article on Bronze Age Pervert

Mike Crumplar's website

You can now support the podcast at patreon.com/jmrphy

Download this episode.

The rich are more communist than they're allowed to be

When I talk about aristocratic communism — the idea that a functional communism might be achieved by organizing and enforcing respect for the rich, on condition they distribute wealth — many people scoff and say "that's already the hell of neoliberal capitalism!"

But in fact, today, it's increasingly difficult for the wealthy to enjoy  their nobless oblige, in part because it's so mediated by large sclerotic institutions. Wealthy nobles once upon a time redistributed their wealth as a kind of art form; they were like painters painting on the grandest canvas, and the enjoyment of this creative control, as well as the glory that came from being directly and visibly linked to it, were likely major incentives encouraging redistribution.

Today, the wealthy donate a lot of money through Big Philanthropy, but Big Philanthropy is better thought of as a huge bureaucratic blockage to the real social-psychological attractions of philanthropy.

Consider Tyler Cowen's recent column on Jeff Bezos, who just announced a $2 billion gift to help preschool education and homelessness.

…the gift is unlikely to take the form of Jeff Bezos dictating terms, even if he is the world’s richest man. Bezos and his team will have to work through many institutions — not just preschools and homeless shelters but other organizations that help them do their work. Even brand new preschools and homeless shelters, funded entirely by Bezos, will have their own charters, missions, staffs and fiduciary responsibilities.
Any wealthy person who wants to give away money will find that incentives and the nature of decentralization and bureaucracy impose their own set of checks and balances.

Tyler Cowen, Has private philanthropy become underrated?

This supports my contention that perhaps the only thing the rich cannot get their hands on today is the invaluable experience of genuine nobility — which comes from generously and creatively supporting others and receiving respect and admiration in return. If we could engineer a way for some rich people to enjoy such true, disintermediated nobility, I think they'd become quite open to supporting a community of common folk in a fashion that approximates the classical communist ideal.

And now that I think about it, who is blocking the rich from exercising their nobless oblige? Most of the bureaucrats and meddlers working in philanthropic and humanitarian agencies and organizations generally see themselves, and present themselves, as morally progressive agents. If Bezos wants to give $2 billion to solving some big social ill, there will be dozens if not hundreds of groups who already claim to be the nobles "working on it." But these people basically own the poor and working people they seek to represent and "help." If Jane wants to give me 20 bucks but John insists that she must give it to him first, and then John gives me 10 bucks — John is not my helper. He is my owner, and he is using me to make money for himself. In short, modern society is overrun with fake nobles, who do not have resources to distribute but quite the opposite: they push the moral buttons of the populace and pull government levers to extract money from the wealthy, primarily for their own careers and identity, and only secondarily to help others. This ordering of priorities is clearly legible in the balance sheets of these organizations, which generally show most of the money going to staff and overhead. They claim to be promoting redistribution, but they happily place themselves in the way of rich people who would like to be more communist, if only they were allowed.

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