Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dear Kids: It's Up to You Now, and It Always Has Been

Philip Larkin was more right than he realized. They do f*ck you up, your mum and dad, but this time, they've managed to f*ck up the entire world. Let us count the ways--and provide a few lessons from their failures. 

1. Segregation has been the defining feature of 21st century Western civilization, as has constant warfare. You'd think more people would make the connection between conflict and segregation, but you'd be overestimating humanity's ability to self-analyze--especially when much of its wealth derives from selective inflation in residential property. Seen properly, segregation constitutes unconscionable insider trading on the future of one's neighborhood at the expense of all other residents. 
From Perry's Singapore (2017)
To fight this alliance between respectable taxpayers and the shills they elect, we must understand segregation is not the natural result of registering property, respecting property rights, insurance company incentives, or Hernando de Soto-style capitalism. ("The issue in the 21st century in the West is assetless paper and everywhere else it is paperless assets.") It is the result of lawyers and governments creating legal systems that prioritize tax revenue using short-term metrics (i.e., not factoring in long-term costs of segregation) and then delivering services based on assumptions of expected tax revenue. To take one extreme example, during the 1992 L.A. riots, LAPD cordoned off affluent Beverly Hills, leaving Koreatown and other minority areas to fend for themselves. Of course more prosaic examples of segregation's long-term inefficacy exist, but by now, even the most myopic must see two systems: one for respectable taxpayers, and another for the ones left behind invisible lines until a crisis makes them visible. 

Once we realize the primary evil in the world can be reduced to a single phenomenon, we can marshal our resources to eliminate it. Unlike abstract wars on poverty and terrorism, a war on segregation is capable of producing tangible results. Complexity by and for lawyers can be made simple; government hiring practices can be reformed to avoid nepotistic job structures often benefiting one race, one religion, or one ideology; and mafias thriving in the ruins of political neglect can be co-opted. 

Any decent sociologist or city planner's goal should be to create James J. Guild's Indonesia, the opposite of segregation: 

This is not a city of sanitized and detached nuclear families living in insulated bubbles and disconnected from one another. It’s a city of bonds, where neighbors — probably because they are packed together so densely — chat with one another and hang out on the curb eating fried tempe with raw chilis. The city may not be perfectly planned, but everyone that lives here — minus the super rich — experience and share in those imperfections together.

There has never been a sustained War on Segregation. Its supporters are too numerous, too united, too powerful. Brown vs. Board of Education failed even as it succeeded, but as the world becomes increasingly globalized and diverse, I foresee mandatory conscription if civilization is to continue.  

2. Any entity that can attract and deploy capital without consequences will become corrupt--often with unforeseen consequences. For example, study Project MKUltra or review America's "black budget," estimated at 50 billion USD annually (as of 2016). Ted Kaczynski, a domestic terrorist caught only because a family member recognized his handwriting, was part of Project MKUltra. Some lessons: community collaboration and other factors not part of any formal accounting mechanism can be more valuable than tools valued at billions. Meanwhile, progress is often packaged with expensive bells and whistles to prevent you from seeing gifts proffered are less valuable than the ones you already have. 

3.  Incremental change is common in advanced societies because compromise is a sign of maturity. When consistent, incremental change occurs in pursuit of a specific goal benefiting all--educational reform, tax reform, etc.--progress continues. When incremental change occurs because political factions are preserving their own bailiwicks, social cohesion suffers, revolution inches closer, and propaganda proliferates. If you see stagnation and greater inequality--potentially fatal self-inflicted wounds when others are improving living standards--be flexible in your choice of location unless you have a long history in one place.
From Jim Rogers' Street Smarts (2013)
4.  Don't read or listen to people who rely on secondhand information. Every single scenario has two sides--look at Barry Seals' life, for example--and remember: if one person's motives and motivations vary so vastly by the month, large organizations with hundreds of individuals cannot be summarized in neat packages. 

5. You will hear others telling you to keep your "inner child." They mean your sense of wonder. To that end, watch and find good movies. Almost anything with Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, or Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai will do. These are my sources of wonder--yours may differ. 

6. Be careful whenever you establish legal preferences. First, all laws will be enforced by Establishment-minded employees, whether police, lawyers, or judges. Second, the enforcement of the law matters far more than the law itself. (Selective drug arrests and prosecutions are simple examples of the aforementioned principle.) Third, the original purpose or intent of any law will always degrade or attenuate, and as society itself changes, laws made by previous legislators are more likely to be useless over time--except to characters within the Establishment desiring to entrap political or other enemies.

7. In the end, the world is filled with charlatans, liars, and thieves, but it has always been this way, and one of your ancestors may have been one of them. Your lack of knowledge about the past--and the future--does not excuse you from being honest and forthright. In the end, each generation must contend with an ever-increasing pile of dung, so get your shovel, and get to work. 

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