Friday, August 31, 2007

Threats to Longevity

The resource crisis, with its attendant destruction of the biosphere (prominently due to greenhouse gas pollution affecting the climate), threatens to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, humanity’s population in this century. The amount of reduction and how fast it occurs depends on future trends in consumption and destruction of natural systems. In the worst case, humans could become extinct by the middle of the century; in the best case, the population could level off at some value higher than it is today. It is extremely unlikely that our numbers will continue to grow, at least on this planet.

There are other threats to our longevity. During the latter half of the twentieth century, our greatest fear was the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by the world’s superpowers. With thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other, the United States and Soviet Union stood within minutes of killing many millions of people and plunging the rest of the world into a horrific winter that would cause starvation on an epic scale. In this century it is just as likely only a fraction of such weapons may be used, but recent research indicates that even a limited nuclear exchange would lead to devastating human and environmental consequences. This prospect has led a growing number of rational and caring people to conclude that the presence of ANY nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Unfortunately, not enough of the world’s leaders and their terrorist counterparts have adopted this point of view. Surely a critical step toward avoiding a decline in human longevity must be to ban all such weapons.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Like it or not, our population has global dominion, and our actions today are having a profound influence on the survival of our species and that of many others. We are assuring our mutual destruction by continuing to function as small, independent groups struggling with each other for more power; such behavior works well to promote growth, but growth is what is killing us.

In a closed system, growth can only break the system, which means we effectively have three choices. We can continue trying to grow in population, consumption, and destruction of the natural systems that replenish the resources we need for survival, leading to a catastrophic increase in stress that will ultimately crash our population. We can cooperate to repair the damage we have done and reduce our consumption and waste to sustainable levels. Or we can find a new supply of resources and reduce the pressure on the Earth by moving people to where the new supply is.

As I’ve already described, the first choice is unacceptable and the third is impractical given our time constraints. I’ve explored the issues involved in implementing the second choice; proposing a set of requirements for an “ideal society” and using them to evaluate existing social structures, which history proves are insufficient to deal with the crisis facing us. Given that significant changes to people’s human environments are typically perceived as threats, leading to often violent resistance (ironically as the result of the kind of increased stress we are trying to avoid), our best hope may be to increase everyone’s awareness of the problems facing us, making the cases as personal as necessary so they will work within their existing social structures to take appropriate action.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Resource Scarcity

When resources such as food and water become scarce, animals are forced to go where the remaining resources are, and therefore must interact more frequently. Other animals interfering with eating, sleeping, and other basic functions increases stress, leading to a fight or flight response known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). If neither fight nor flight is a viable option (what I have called “confrontation” and “escape”), an animal will learn to live with the stress (“accommodation”). Eventually the animal dies because the stress has disabled its ability to fight disease.

There are several ways that a resource can become scarce. The first is overfeeding: the resource is consumed at a faster rate than new supplies can either be generated or found. The amount of available resources can also be reduced by inadvertent destruction (such as pollution poisoning food or water). If the population’s ability to access the resource becomes impaired (such as a natural disaster disabling transportation, production, or extraction infrastructure), the available amount is also reduced.

All of the mechanisms of resource scarcity are being vigorously applied by humans today on a global scale. Highly efficient extraction technologies and growing populations are depleting our energy and water supplies at exponential rates. We are generating huge amounts of waste that are overcoming natural systems that provide many resources we need, as well as poisoning ourselves. Our activities are radically altering the climate, increasing the chances and severity of natural disasters such as drought, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and disease outbreaks. We are effectively committing suicide, and taking many other species down with us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Avoiding Disaster

The key feature of my ideal society, adoption by everyone of the goals of extending longevity and improving quality of life for our entire species, addresses the issue of forceful confrontation between different societies, arguably responsible for most evil in human history, by melding all societies into one. Unfortunately, the very violence I am attempting to quell may erupt when the existence of this feature becomes apparent to the fraction (perhaps one-eighth) of the population inclined toward forceful resistance to change.

I was surprised to learn recently that at least some of the current resistance to environmentalism is due to a fear that it is being used as a tool to unify the planet in fulfillment of the predictions of the Bible’s Book of Revelation. The leaders of environmentalism, this conspiracy theory goes, are agents of the Antichrist, whose ultimate goal is to facilitate a final war between good and evil. Globalization and the elements of world governance emerging to deal with it have long been viewed with similar suspicion by fundamentalist Christians. Thus, the dominant religion (society) in the world today has programmed its members to fear what may be the best way to assure our continued survival as a species.

If this were indeed an ideal world, all of us would recognize that our fates are tied up in one another’s; that we can only choose to either work together or destroy each other. And we would all choose the former option. In reality, there are some who see the destruction of others as an acceptable choice; and in response the rest of us must override our peaceful instincts to some extent in order to survive. Killing people (other than in self defense) is only rational when dealing with diminishing resources, thus reducing the population to the carrying capacity of the environment. Since our species is currently facing a major resource crisis, the violent part of our population may become more dominant. Ultimately, my ideal society is an expression of what I see as the only hope for avoiding a major increase in violence and death: cooperation in using our combined intellects and remaining resources to deal with the crisis that is precipitating this disaster (and any future ones that might come along).

Monday, August 27, 2007


Because it encompasses what I believe are goals common to most of humanity, I hope that my version of an ideal society will be embraced by existing societies. I expect, however, that it will be either dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic (a variant of the escape response) or confronted with earnest reasoning (“this isn’t an ideal world, so just give up”). My purpose, of course, is not to force a new way of living on people, but rather to use the discussion of “an ideal world” as a tool for exploring the underlying structure of “the real world” to spark and hopefully inform a debate about future change.

Since, as I’ve discussed, my ideal society has much in common with existing societies (especially Christianity and, to a large extent, representative democracies), its introduction would involve emphasizing the more advantageous aspects as tweaks to those societies, like new features and better performance from a software upgrade (“the same, only better”). The environmental movement has taken this approach, with mixed results. By highlighting economic efficiencies (albeit over a longer time frame than most western consumers normally consider) and potential health gains (less pollution, more nutritious food) environmentalists are marketing their preferred changes in lifestyle as the equivalent of bug fixes to software. And, as a handy byproduct, users get to save the world from destruction (or at least massive damage).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Resistance to Change

People tend to identify strongly with their societies, I suspect because they offer a degree of security and predictability greater than that afforded by Nature. This may explain the apparent resistance that many people have to either significant changes in their societies or interaction with different societies; they feel threatened, which results in stress.

There are three alternative responses to threats: escape, accommodation, or confrontation. Which alternative is chosen depends on the practicality of each reaction and the dominant personality of the group. Strong threats will tend to negate accommodation as an option, especially if the time available for reaction is too short. A group led by people with neurotic and individualistic dispositions will tend to favor confrontation, especially if they are also incurious.

Societal changes and interactions with other societies that can result in such changes may, over time, be responded to by accommodation if the changes are eventually perceived as beneficial to the groups involved. Escape or isolation may be practical if there are sufficiently isolated geographic (spatial) options so that the society, and those who would change it, cannot interact. Confrontation can be physical (through use of force) or diplomatic (convincing people to not change the society).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Elements of an Ideal Society

Any society similar to an ideal society is composed of a basic architecture (the parallel computing model), common operating software (for example, “the word” in Christianity) and networks of hardware and data management (such as churches). Users of the system are the members of the society, who also aid in its continual functioning by serving roles in either the central processor (officials) or the parallel processors (individual congregations). Policies, procedures, training materials, music, and other output of the society are designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of use, just as documentation and training does for software.

Societies have evolved from others to the extent of dissatisfaction experienced by users. While policies and procedures, or even architectural tweaks tend to distinguish various religious sects or cultural communities from each other, entirely new religions (or countries) appear when a group attempts to significantly modify the core software (for example, “the word” in Christianity, or the set of basic laws in a political structure).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Critical Updates

As close as Christianity is to my model of an ideal society, it does lack several necessary features. The most significant of these is the continuous collection and rigorous testing of the accuracy of information and validity of concepts that enable the effective and appropriate use of the information. If it were computer software, it would need the equivalent of a “critical update” of its information and algorithms, most of which haven’t been changed in some two thousand years. To carry this analogy further, the Bible implies that a critical update, perhaps even a brand new release, is due any time – to be delivered by the chief programmer Himself.

My ideal society would have a constant stream of such updates. Its successful functioning is ultimately dependent everyone having and sharing the most accurate information about their wellbeing. Reality-tested concepts about how the world works are necessary so that people (especially those filling the “central processor” role) can assess the most probable impact of actions on the happiness and longevity of everyone.

In such a society, faith has a role, but a psychological rather than an operational one (unlike Christianity, which uses faith, in some cases, to override observation). Faith would reduce stress by focusing on a common, positive future, but get out of the way when it comes to determining what we need to do to achieve it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Christianity and the Ideal Society

Christianity, the most successful religion on Earth, has several characteristics worth highlighting as what may be the closest real-world example of my model for an ideal society.

Like Judaism, on which it is founded, there are only a handful of rules that individuals need to remember for minimum functioning of the society: the Ten Commandments. Christianity includes one more rule that encapsulates the others in case they are forgotten: Love your neighbor (including the disadvantaged) as yourself. This last rule is the essence of altruism, which translates into the maximizing of every individual’s happiness and longevity.

Christianity also has a mandate for growth, enabling its expansion to include most of the human population. By defining all of humanity as its “family” (most favored group), it assumes that it will eventually include the entire species. Based on its Judaic tradition, it mandates that the population will continue to increase (maximizing population and, in a world not constrained by resources, longevity of the species).

Earth’s population growth must eventually end, and Christianity even forecasts how this might happen (one might even say that it programs its members to fulfill the prediction). Simply put: the entire world becomes unified, a fight breaks out over sacred territory, and then a chosen few escape into heaven. One pretty realistic scenario paralleling this narrative involves a globally integrated society fighting over diminishing resources and launching a small breeding group into space to survive the ensuing population crash.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


There are (at least) two potential points of failure in my ideal society as described so far. The first vulnerability is the assumption that most of the population will act to support its objectives; and the second is its dependence on the central processor.

I discussed earlier how people who refuse to accept or accommodate people very different from themselves are most likely to resist taking action to benefit the species (except by accident). For them, the incentive for action (or not obstructing others who are taking action) must be made intensely personal, either by threatening punishment or by constantly convincing them.

It is possible that the central processor’s functionality (including communications with members of the population) may be degraded or destroyed, either intentionally, by accident, or due to external factors. To counter this, individuals and groups must have the ability to verify the authenticity of the messages and recommended actions they receive from the central processor, and generate the missing or suspect information and guidance on their own if necessary.

To the extent that my ideal model of a society has manifested itself in the real world, religion appears to have been used to deal with the vulnerabilities I’ve described. The leaders and educational elements of religious organizations have served as central processors, replicating their functionality in smaller entities (such as churches) to deal with potential isolation, and convincing people of the personal impact of their actions through elaborate myths with the promise of eternal joy if they conform and eternal pain if they don’t.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I doubt anyone would have a problem with getting feedback about their impact on the wellbeing and future of our species. Where I do expect resistance is in the enforcement of behavior that supports it.

Governments don’t just coordinate behavior; they force people to adhere to their laws. In my ideal world, the “central processor” would simply consider actions that adversely impact the longevity and wellbeing of individuals and the species as part of the “problem” whose solution it is facilitating. There are, after all, people who derive their sense of wellbeing from hurting or killing others (serial murderers come to mind), and parts of society would be called on to restrict their destructive behavior. This is obviously just a theoretical description of the policing functions already in place in most countries; but in this case, rather than having the central processor (“government”) retain the power of enforcement, the methods used would be left to the people most capable of dealing with the behavior.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Need for a Global Society

The need for a global society is in large part due to the fact that, due to technology, individuals and their favored groups can have a significant impact on the future of our entire species. If, instead, smaller groups could act without destroying just themselves when something goes wrong, these groups could function as more or less independent societies of their own. When individuals or groups gain too much power over the rest of the population, as for too many are inclined to do (such as leaders of “superpower” nations and multinational corporations), then they better be flawless or we are all eventually doomed.

I believe that many of us intuitively grasp these facts, which is why there is a persistent resistance to the fact of our individual power: We don’t want the responsibility that goes along with it.

Global warming is an excellent example of this. Many people’s power is tied up in the world’s dependence on carbon-based energy and materials, the principle source of the single greatest threat to the longevity of our species (as well as others). That power will go away when the vast majority of people grasp the consequences of this dependence on a personal level. As a result, groups with the most power to lose (such as oil companies and certain corrupt government leaders) have been engaged in a vast campaign of misinformation with the goal of seeding doubt about the fact of our impact on the environment. Because many of us share this dependence, we are loath to radically change our lifestyles unless the evidence is practically incontrovertible (or we are forced to by our governments). Unfortunately, by the time there is 100 percent certainty, it may be too late to influence the outcome.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

An Ideal Society

If a society is a collection of individuals that have common characteristics and needs, then its institutions will ultimately have to support (or at least not reduce) the survivability of its members. In my conception of an ideal world, the “society” that claims the most allegiance is the human species, and our institutions act like components of a massive parallel processing computer whose goal is to maximize the longevity and happiness for every member of the population, where the size of the population can not decrease.

Parallel processing computers typically have a central processor that farms out parts of a problem to numerous parallel processors and then combines and distributes the results. At least superficially, governments tend to resemble the central processor, with individuals and groups acting as parallel processors. In an evolutionary system (for instance, a capitalist economy) there is no “central processor” and no common problem to solve; each processor is competing to get the most resources, and the last with the most wins.

I should be clear that I am absolutely not advocating the creation of a worldwide society with a planned economy and hive-like slavery imposed on the population. History shows that the goals of my ideal world can not be met in such a society. What I am advocating is a system where everyone is working on part of the problem (meeting the goal), with an institution providing accurate and useful feedback to people as to the impact they are having on the overall problem.

Economic Control

It is an article of faith in the so-called “West” that the invisible hand of the free market in capitalist economies will properly allocate resources and effort to maximize the wellbeing of their participants. The mechanism is fundamentally the same as evolution, where natural selection favors those genes that offer the best chance of survival. (For this reason, it amazes me that so many people who believe in capitalism do not accept the reality of biological evolution.) Clearly faith in the market is unfounded: By its nature, the market will not maximize the wellbeing of all of its participants, only some of them.

Confronted by this disconnect between expectations and outcomes, societies with capitalist economies have granted a controlling role to their governments, effectively restricting the “freedom” of the market so that no individual or group gains too much power. If a government controls too little, economically powerful groups use the government to benefit them and the society becomes fascist. If the government controls too much, resource distribution becomes too inefficient for people to thrive and it becomes communist. In fact, one of the most common ways of looking at political turmoil in such societies is in terms of how its citizens define role of government in controlling the economy.

People who are stressed by variability in their environment and care most about people like them prefer to maximize personal power, and will tend to favor a system that offers the best chance for that. For them, this is far better than evenly distributing economic power to everyone. With hard work and manipulating the right people, they expect to become among the favored few in an evolution-based economy.

On the other hand, people who are comfortable with variability and distrust concentration of power will favor the alternative. The entire population is their favored group, with every individual, regardless of characteristics, as valuable as any other. They see both the economy and government as tools for enabling everyone, not just a select few.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Conditions for an Ideal World

Due to globalization, what functioned as innovative, roughly self-contained populations are being forced to interact and adapt to other groups in closer and closer proximity and competing for resources that are becoming dangerously scarce. This is leading to an increase in stress which in non-human populations has lead to mass die-offs. I recommend that both education and the enforcement of altruistic behavior be used to deal with this problem, recognizing that they are at best stop-gap measures that will likely diminish the happiness of those who naturally resist changing the characteristics of their favored groups because doing so increases their own stress.

Maximizing the longevity and happiness of the human population, my conditions for an ideal world, clearly depend on increasing the per capita resources available, which includes provision for privacy. As I mentioned, while space settlement may be ultimately the best long-term way to do this, it won’t likely have a significant enough effect in the short term to avoid major changes on Earth. The altruistic behavior I’ve alluded to involves, as painlessly as possible, the fundamental restructuring of our economies to radically reduce waste and the destruction of natural systems. “Waste” not only involves mass and energy, but space (area): the more people (or their artifacts) we are exposed to on a daily basis, the more stress we will feel.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Political Poles

The use of government enforcement as an alternative or adjunct to the voluntary conformance of people to society’s values has long been a point of contention. On one side of the spectrum is communism, while the other side is anarchy (or, if there is a government remaining, fascism).

In the United States, the primary political parties are largely defined by the debate over the role and size of government. Until recently, Republicans could be expected to resist an increased role of government in individual lives, while Democrats insisted on more regulation. Under the Bush administration, the parties appear to have undergone a sort of “pole reversal,” with Republicans pushing for larger and more intrusive government, and Democrats advocating less.

People who feel threatened and personally impotent will tend to yield their personal power to others who seem capable of dealing with what threatens them. To the extent that a threat requires large scale coordinated action, government has traditionally filled the role of protector. We can therefore expect that when a large threat is perceived by people, government will grow, and when people feel safe, government will shrink.

I discussed earlier how a large part of a population will react to stress by increasing the predictability of the people around them. A natural reaction to a threat by other people is to remove (if not change) the people responsible for the threat, along with anyone else who might coincidentally be contributing to the stress. Those who have a low tolerance for variability of people in their environment will tend to overreact to such threats, vigorously enforcing conformity on everyone around them; and the more powerful they are, the more people they will try to change (or exterminate, if change is too difficult).

The observed “pole shift” in the positions of our political parties regarding the role and size of government may therefore be understood as a strong reaction to stress as experienced by Republicans. Democrats haven’t changed their position much, but may be reacting to a different kind of stress, imposed by the attempted reduction in diversity by Republicans.

On the surface, the stress-triggering threat is international terrorism. There is, however, growing evidence that international terrorism may be a reaction to the much larger problem of people maintaining individuality, privacy, and access to resources in an increasingly interconnected world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stress and Survival

One of the reasons many people favor groups of people like them may be that it reduces stress in their lives. This is a key consideration when trying to convince them to at least act altruistically.

Other people are typically the most stressful part of a person’s environment. The more predictable they are, the less stress the person will feel; and predictability is a natural consequence of sharing common characteristics, especially values and behavior. This is particularly important when it comes to key survival-related activities such as eating, sleeping, and mating. Ecologists have known for years that, in non-human species, interference with these necessary activities increases stress, which if not abated (by increased distance, for example) can lead to mass death. If this same mechanism is present in humans, and there is good reason to believe it is, then there will be a natural and healthy resistance to increasing the numbers and kinds of people competing for the resources associated with survival.

Humans are different in that we can regulate our behavior beyond just instinct. Rules and laws, when used responsibly and wisely, provide some additional protection against unhealthy amounts of competition (interference with each other); but when used irresponsibly or incompetently they can easily make things much worse. There is likely a natural limit to even how far this tactic can be used, which involves the availability and spatial distribution of resources (and people); until we approach that limit – which we may be doing already – I believe we should use regulation to its maximum benefit, enabling the survival of as many people as possible without increasing individual stress.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Small Groups

Small, mostly isolated groups of people have historically tended to be a major source of innovation and evolution for culture (for example: art, technology, social systems) as well as biology. Modern communication and transportation have made it increasingly difficult for these groups to incubate new ideas before being forced to “compete” with other groups, thus watering down their uniqueness. Unfortunately, dangerous innovations which might destroy an isolated group, like viruses can now diffuse into the population at large and imperil us all.

There are several ways to empower small groups. The safest way is to provide new places for them to settle where they can experience the necessary isolation; this can be done through the exploration and settlement of space. Another safe, but less attractive approach is to attempt to filter harmful innovation and control behavior (as I advocated earlier). Unacceptable alternatives include the culling of Earth’s population and the disabling of globalizing technologies, which are on the verge of being taken if they are not already underway.

The reason I have not more forcefully advocated space settlement as a solution to this problem is my reluctant realization that we may not have enough time to develop the large-scale technology necessary to transport enough people off our planet before the unacceptable alternatives fully assert themselves. Space settlement, at best, can provide the means for establishing a few (more realistically, one) small breeding populations in other, relatively isolated locations, primarily as an insurance policy for the survival of the species if Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Monday, August 13, 2007

People Like Us

To achieve maximum happiness, people need to have the freedom to experience and express their individuality. This will not be possible in a “cookie cutter” world where they are forced to conform to rigid standards of behavior, appearance, and values. There must, of course, be some standards; but just enough to assure the required freedom and maximizing of longevity (for individuals and the species).

There is a considerable part of the population that feels most comfortable around people like them. As a result, they tend to focus their generosity on such people; and consider others to be less valuable, effectively thinking of them as objects to be manipulated, avoided, or destroyed (what I contend is the root of all evil). Members of such groups are not altruistic, since they are unlikely to act in the interest of the entire population. To the extent that such a group requires resources to grow, its members may forcibly seize the resources from others and then convert the others into members of the group, isolate them, kill them, or use them as slave labor. If group sizes correspond to breeding populations, and an ideal breeding population consists of 160 or 144,000 members, then there may be anywhere between 45 hundred and 41 million such groups in the world today.

Should the definition of “freedom” include the allowance for people to live in such groups, if that is what makes them happy? Intellectual honesty demands an answer of “yes,” but with restrictions on behavior so they do not infringe on the happiness or survival of the rest of us.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Conflict of Philosophy

If half of us care only about ourselves and those closest to us, and only a smaller, committed fraction of altruists are willing and capable of taking action to benefit the rest of the world (including future generations), we may not achieve an “ideal world” (as I, a somewhat committed altruist, define it); but historical evidence clearly shows that this has not kept the world from getting better.

Those on the other side of the spectrum rightly point to economic growth (the capitalist form being based on the premise that everyone is selfish) as a key driver in improving the material aspect of quality of life for an exponentially increasing number of people over the past century. Since our knowledge of impact on others and the future can be imperfect at best, they argue that we are practically limited to taking care of those around us, and letting the rest of the world take care of itself. They point to socialist countries like the former USSR as clear examples that centralized systems, ostensibly designed around the altruistic theory of communism (in its simplest form: taking from the rich and giving to the poor), do not and can not work efficiently.

For most of my life I was a staunch Republican. I agreed with my father and his cohorts that truly helping people involves enabling them to become self-reliant rather than simply giving them what they need or want. The apparent Robin Hood mentality of the “do-gooder” Democrats looked like a recipe for disaster: bringing down all of society to spoil the weakest of us all. I didn’t understand at the time (due to lack of questioning) that Democrats actually, on average, agreed that people should become self-reliant, but they felt no one should be deprived of basic needs, a philosophy more closely aligned with basic Christian teaching than that of Republicans who acted more like the ancient Pharisees.

It should be said that I now believe that my father was in fact an altruist (he simply couldn’t accept that side of himself), but he chose to focus his altruism on helping people take care of themselves, primarily through education, rather than advocating the distribution of wealth to them. I have personally chosen to take the extra steps of supporting (to the extent possible) the distribution of enough wealth to keep everyone in the population above a basic survival threshold, and promoting responsibility for improving the chances of survival for future generations.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Agreement to a Vision

If everyone in the world were to do their best to maximize population, longevity, and happiness, my vision of an ideal world would have the best chance of being realized. Those who don’t, or actively oppose it, will reduce that chance. Encouraging people to endorse the vision is therefore an important first step in achieving it.

One aspect of the vision that I think all of us would support is increasing individual longevity (especially since it has such a strong correlation with happiness). Historically, average life expectancy has varied between 18 and 67 years. The oldest anyone has ever lived is over 122 years. While we may want it for ourselves, how many of us could be persuaded to want it for others, and what would it take to convince us?

More problematic is getting people to sign on to the idea of maximizing population over time. My guess is that most would be amenable to the idea as it relates to their own families; and less so with others, especially those who are very different from them. I expect that only in cases where the entire present population was in peril would most of us agree to improve the chances of everyone.

The probability of success is perhaps most dependent on the prevalence of altruism in any given population (we would have to convince not just those alive today, but all who will ever be born). From a strictly personality point of view, less than half of us may be expected to be altruistic enough to make a difference.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Return from Vacation

I was on vacation last week, and for the most part stayed totally out of touch with the rest of the world. My stress level dropped to its lowest level in years. I didn’t think much about the end of civilization, mass extinction, the predations of the Bush administration, or whether I will find a job next year. I enjoyed mountain scenery (including spectacular wildflowers near Ouray, Colorado) and the company of my kind and beautiful wife.

When I returned and got “plugged in” again, I discovered (as I feared when I left) that things had gotten much worse. Congress had once more bitten from the fruit of fear that seems to be the president’s only remaining power tool, and actually expanded the NSA surveillance program which, on its face, is a clear violation of the Constitution’s privacy protections. Our government claims to be against terrorism, but by removing our civil liberties, won in a time of much greater peril than what we are experiencing now, it is giving the terrorists exactly what they want: the dismemberment of our free society.

I think it really comes down to how people react to threats. I tend to become briefly angry, then emotionally detached and deliberate rather than scared and impulsive. If people are threatening you, it makes the most sense to create more FRIENDS, rather than filtering out only those people you feel comfortable with and wasting effort on an unsustainable firewall against the rest of the world.

Bush, like the terrorists, insists on using fear as a tool for political gain. Instead of giving in to fear, our representatives must be deliberate in protecting not only lives, but the institutions that make those lives worth living. I don’t personally want to live in the oligarchy that Bush and his allies favor, any more than the theocracy that bin Laden and his supporters want. An uncorrupted representative democracy suits me just fine, thank you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Quality of Life

Quality of life is often measured in economic terms: How much money people have or spend, and the monetary value of their assets. Research indicates that people’s satisfaction with their lives is not very well correlated with wealth (at least above a level of basic subsistence).

If we measure quality of life in terms of happiness (personal satisfaction), then it makes sense to maximize those things that influence it most. As my personal research indicates, happiness is strongly correlated with freedom and life expectancy, while more loosely correlated with consumption (ecological footprint).

Combining longevity, population, and quality of life, we would want the product (multiplication) of population and happiness to either increase over time or level off at some high value.

Monday, August 6, 2007


There is a problem with being concerned only with longevity: We could theoretically have only one person remaining in the “species” with an extremely long lifetime. To deal with this clearly bizarre consequence, we must also maximize the number of people. Maximizing both longevity and people, we would expect population to either grow or stay constant over time, but never decrease.

In a resource-constrained world (or “universe”), there would be a maximum population, the world’s “carrying capacity,” where the rate of resource consumption and the rate of resource replenishment were equal. The consumption rate depends on both the size of the population and the resource dependency of the quality of life, while the replenishment rate depends on processes in the environment that convert matter and energy into usable forms. To maximize population, we must therefore decrease the consumption rate, increase the replenishment rate, or both. The Universe, as a finite entity with unbendable laws, ultimately limits the availability of resources, so these are our only options in the long term.