Politics and Basic Research

Politics and Basic Research
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Basic research in the sciences has been crucial to United States leadership in both technology and science. Basic research typically offers little if any immediate economic or social benefit, so private industry has not historically been the major source of funding for most basic research. Such research typically occurs in university contexts, or sometimes industrial contexts largely supported by government funding, especially if the research has any potential for military applications.

Although those familiar with my articles know that Fox News is not a source I trust for objective news, I have chosen it as the source for this next specific piece of information simply to forestall its outright, knee-jerk dismissal by archconservatives that citing a liberal source has previously and reliably provoked. In an article addressing one factor in the erosion of scientific know-how in the U.S., Fox News cites a scary statistic regarding the potential degradation of our scientific and technological leadership in the world. Fully one out of five scientists is seriously considering leaving the country to avoid the premature demise of their careers for lack of funding. It’s a sad scenario. We fund their education, then we watch them go down the proverbial drain as far as U.S. scientific and technological leadership is concerned.

For those who have trouble understanding the fundamental economic value of leadership in basic research, there are many very telling examples in our relatively recent past. Although the following example does not lead to any obvious economic or social benefit on its face, neither did going to the moon. Nevertheless, the positive economic fallout of the latter has been enormous, an explanation of which follows. The economic principles involved without even claiming an economic or social benefit are clearly illustrated in the example below.

In a video interview posted by William Wei in Business Insider dated Aug. 29, 2013 and misleadingly titled “Neil deGrasse Tyson Doesn't Think Elon Musk's SpaceX Will Put People On Mars”, Tyson explains that he doesn’t see SpaceX or any other privately operated enterprise as pioneers in taking astronauts to Mars. This is quite a different statement from that in the headline. Pioneering an adventurous trip and never making the trip are not quite the same thing, to put it mildly. However, in a separate article published about this interview, one comment complained that Tyson shouldn’t be polarizing the issue, since the comment’s author feels that both the public and private sector need to work together.

But it is untrue that Tyson polarized the issue in the interview. This distortion of Tyson’s interview is important because it gets to the essence of a lot of political arguments relating to the funding of basic research in the United States. Tyson has just made an intelligent assessment of the reward/risk and cost/benefit ratios. He projects from this that we cannot reasonably expect that a private enterprise like SpaceX will be sufficiently capitalized. He didn't say private enterprise cannot go to Mars. He merely stated that it won't be the first to do it.

Tyson cites a very old example, the journey of Columbus. That is a very good analogy, since Tyson points out that it was not the enormously wealthy Dutch East India Trading Company that led to the huge economic boom Europe’s connection to the Americas later provided, but a government sponsored exploratory trip that opened up the economic expansion that ensued. The modern and much more precise analogy is that Musk wouldn't be doing what he's doing if NASA hadn't done it first. Now Musk with his private enterprise is doing it more cheaply and effectively. Tyson was not polarizing the issue at all. He was just showing how each has its appropriate role in achieving the overall goal.

Another example is modern, ultra-compact information technology. NASA financed the basic research for simply because of the compact, light electronics demanded by the economics of rocket propulsion. It costs anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds of rocket fuel to put a single pound of payload even into low earth orbit, not to mention going to the moon. The government financed it out of fear the Soviets would beat us. That would have never happened if we had waited for private industry. We owe our laptops, cell phones, and iPhones, not to mention GPS navigators, to that. Simple! Where's the polarity? There is only complementarity.

Failure to understand these simple economic ideas is behind the Republican resistance to funding basic research. Some simplistic brands of conservatism have a natural tendency toward a static world view. In one sense, that is precisely what the word "conservative" means. The obvious implication is that it fails to see inevitable change, often even fears it, and clearly fights it.

It also means this kind of conservatism is intrinsically short-sighted, since slow change means the future looks essentially like our recent past. Well, we're changing very fast and have been for quite a while. A relatively static world view cannot deal with that reality well enough to make smart moves based on accurate assessment of even near-term needs in the future. Reality is the reason that, in the not-so-long view, this kind of conservatism is doomed to failure. This can happen in two ways, one of which is catastrophic. In its current, intensely myopic incarnation, radical conservatism is either doomed to disappear from the political landscape or our country is doomed to lose its leadership in the world arena.


Copyright August 2013 © Robert P. Wendell

Redistribution freely permitted contingent upon the unmodified inclusion of this copyright claim.


Robert Wendell Added Aug 31, 2013 - 9:31pm
So Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, etc. are not private enterprises? Since when does doing business with the government or receiving government loans revoke anyone's status as a private enterprise. I operate my own small business. I had two student loans, one for undergraduate and one for graduate work, that provided the education that qualified me to run my business. I guess I'm not a private enterprise now. By the way, Musk paid his government loan to Tesla back way early, so how does that disqualify him from private enterprise status? How does sending cargo the to ISS for less money than NASA can do it disqualify him from that status. I thought that's what conservatives want...more outsourcing to private enterprise. That's what I want when it works like Musk has made it work. Oh, and Paypal is not a private enterprise? Musk was a co-founder.
As I clearly pointed out in the article, there was zero free-market demand to go to the moon, too. Are you denying the enormous benefit of the economic fallout from that, or even that there was any economic fallout? Were you born yesterday? Unlike what I said in defense of Kate in her article, "A Word on Quitting", your "logic" is weird indeed. Now that I've called you out on that, you'll probably tell me I'm thin skinned like you did there for no good reason I can fathom as long as we ignore the blatant projection of your own thin skin.
Robert Wendell Added Aug 31, 2013 - 10:00pm
Oh, and by the way, when he was alive von Braun was not eager to talk about his Nazi past, nor was the U.S. government. This was during most of my life, since I was born before he was captured by the allies. The Russians captured quite a few of the Nazi rocket scientists, too. If we had tried von Braun as a war criminal, which would have been legally justifiable because he personally witnessed the slave labor camps in which people were worked to death after Peenemuende was bombed to ashes, we would have lost the space race to the Soviet Union. So his knowledge bought him a ticket to freedom and a pretty darn nice life.
That happens a lot right now in U.S. politics, in case you were wondering. Lot's of political interests have something ugly on most politicians or at least something political that would make them unelectable. It's called leverage. I don't think you're so naive that you don't know that already, but your use of what knowledge you have, that is, your information processing, is very unfortunately truly whacked out as your rationally inane responses to my articles clearly demonstrate to anyone with a little rational coherence.
Robert Wendell Added Aug 31, 2013 - 10:22pm
 I can only ask in return - what economic benefit from that waste of money is there to deny?""
- Adrian
What? If you have to ask that, you can't read, don't know enough about anything to judge anything I say accurately, or you're just a balloon head. I actually suspect you're just some kind of semi-professional troll. My article clearly points out that we wouldn't have laptops, cell phones, iPads, or GPS navigators if we hadn't developed microelectronics because rockets have to burn 25 to 50 pounds of fuel for every pound that goes even into low earth orbit, not to mention getting to the moon. That simple fact and our space race with the Soviets are what generated the political will to make the trip. So our per capita productivity is at an all-time high precisely because of this technology. You really must have been born yesterday, because you don't seem to know the most simple, basic facts of life in the modern world, including those in the public domain that anyone who wants to can discover for themselves. You don't have to take my word for it even given the long shot that you would ever want to, unfortunately for you.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 1, 2013 - 1:53pm
@ Robin - I looked for a conservative source of the same news others were publishing. I didn't watch it on TV. I sometimes do, though, because it's also informative to know what spin they're putting on things.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 1, 2013 - 2:08pm
For centuries, even millennia, technology has been largely driven by war. If you don't that, you don't know much. Only in the 20th century did we reach a point at which technology became driven by consumer demand and visionary entrepreneurs enough to BEGIN weaning itself at least partially off war and fear of war.
Now in the 21st century we have technology that with market demand and visionary scientists, engineers, and inventors can be completely self-propelled. Before, the political will was not there to spend on basic research. I worked in electronics for ten years. I'm an avid follower of modern science and technology. I understand both pretty darn well. You clearly don't. I'm a great admirer of Tesla, but if you really, truly think he pioneered microelectronics, your ignorant little posterior is exposed and shining.
So why don't you go play with other people with a sixth-grade level of comprehension? If you think I'm the arrogant fecal orifice you pretend to detect in me, why do you hang out verbally with me and discuss stuff you know nothing about? If I thought about me the way you apparently do, I would get lost and hang with other people. Sometimes I think you're just some kind of verbal terrorist who loves to blow up otherwise intelligent conversation, (i.e., and ignorant troll).
Robert Wendell Added Sep 1, 2013 - 2:24pm
For the intelligent and receptive reader, the first practical light bulbs, refrigeration systems, and radios were deployed on battleships. It is not the ideas, the visionary concepts and inventions that war is responsible for, but their practical implementation. The political will to pay attention to the brilliant but practically untested ideas of scientists and inventors has in the past been largely motivated by fear of war and war itself. All the huge advances in the practical realization of technology even as late as the 20th century happened either during or in preparation for war. We need to grow past this.
I see this phenomenon as a result of the conservative fear of wasting effort, time, and money on brilliant but untested ideas having been greater historically than the motivation to reap its potential benefits until the fear of war became great enough to outweigh it. I see this as a very immature state of human social evolution beyond which we must progress. Radical conservatism is diametrically opposed to this kind of progress.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 1, 2013 - 2:30pm
The whole Solyndra loss conservatives are so fond of pounding should bit them in the posterior. We cannot reasonably expect any investor, including the government, to be 100% right on all investments. The fact that conservatives keep pounding on this one instance of loss is testimony to their inability to find much else to pick in that particular area and flies in the face of their own philosophy of entrepreneurial risk-taking. But then, since when are these people known for the internal consistency of their arguments?
Johnny Fever Added Sep 1, 2013 - 9:35pm
Would you like some more examples of Government waste?
Robert Wendell Added Sep 2, 2013 - 12:38am
@ Adrian - I just don't suffer fools very easily. Why do you think I'm angry...just because I notice your utter inability to exercise any critical thought and call you out on it? Get over it and learn to think.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 2, 2013 - 12:42am
Fever, you don't have anything to tell me about government waste. I'm a damn expert on the issue. I used to sell to the government because I was the only industrial sales agent who had the patience to put up with them. The government is the only business entity I know of who, for purely political reasons, will spend $5,000 to prove they spent $1,000 wisely. But that has nothing to do with Solyndra or any of the truly dumb things some conservatives are trying to make of that situation.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 3, 2013 - 12:43pm
@ Adrian - I read your "Mining Fear..." article as you recommended. Your apparently anarchist perspective lives in a la-la-land of baseless idealism regarding the practical function of human society for reasons I outline in my comment there and summarize here. It is no less idealistic than either Marxism or laissez-faire capitalism.
Marxist philosophy idealizes human motivation toward abstract philanthropic goals rather than personal economic benefit. Laissez-faire capitalism idealizes the ability of markets to naturally self-regulate to the benefit of social well being despite very evident human flaws. Anarchy idealizes the ability of human society to spontaneously self-regulate in ways that protect against the very sociopathic tendencies it implies exist with its complaints against government. Such sociopathic tendencies inevitably exist in some sub-population that would, without the idealistic, government-free self-regulation anarchy assumes, therefore create the very de facto government anarchy despises. Drug cartels in Mexico, some neighborhoods in California, and other parts of the southwest U.S., are a case in point.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 3, 2013 - 7:46pm
@ Adrian - "By the way, drug cartels are NOT anarchistic, but another form an authority structure. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying."
This is exactly what I mean by the suggestion that you learn to think., not to mention read intelligently. I never even remotely implied that drug cartels are not an authority structure. In fact I clearly stated that they are a de facto government, the kind you get when you have no superior brand of social organization to countermand their stranglehold on a population. That was intended as a clear example of how anarchy makes idealistic assumptions about how a major portion of a population possessed of the kind of integrity you assume can survive without any kind of organized protection against a despotic minority that, unlike the major portion of that society, is quite willing to use lethal force to subjugate the rest. History is full of this. You hate it, but you also promote a situation that would guarantee it.
If you think our government is the worst it can get, I invite you to live in North Korea. Maybe you already live there and that is the explanation for your strange "logic". I don't imagine that you could be communicating so freely with me if that were the case, though, so that explanation and potential reprieve for your strange imaginings is moot, I guess.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 3, 2013 - 8:41pm
@ Adrian - Well, I like your tone now a lot, Adrian. Now we can communicate intelligently, I hope. I will address your question later, since I don't have time right at this moment.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 3, 2013 - 10:01pm
@ Adrian - How can those of us with some decent quantum of integrity organize without creating a monopoly on the use of force to protect ourselves from those who would otherwise become our despotic rulers? I believe that is what you propose, is it not? I would like to know how you think that would function. I generously grant you the questionable assumption that the vast majority of us are people of integrity who would somehow organize to accomplish that. You're the one proposing it, so I would think you should be the one explaining how that would work rather than my explaining why I think it wouldn't.
Instead, you want me to explain why I think that's not possible? Well, I will indulge you despite what I see as a reversal in the order of obligation to explain. First, in modern times there exist very potent weapons, including both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. All who possesses them have a monopoly within their own state on their use. I would like you to explain how we could change that in ways that would protect the general population from the potential of very dire consequences. I would also like to include anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, heavy artillery, flame throwers, tanks, and a plethora of very modern, high-tech weapons into the mix.

We could have lots of spontaneous popping up of paramilitary organizations within such a "society", clubs of weapons freaks, etc. that could run amok and create incredible chaos and despotic, de facto, local governments and possibly a federal one. Please explain why you think this would not happen. It only takes a small sub-population to create utter chaos and subject us all to incredibly despotic power mongers.
We actually only need automatic weapons for the same phenomenon to occur. Hell (and I use the word advisedly), we already have that even with your assumed monopoly on the use of force by our government. In brief, I don't think it's at all practical, even possible, to protect ourselves against such eventualities without some attempt to monopolize the use of that kind of force.

What we have failed to do that allows the abuse in the use of force by our government is to exercise the vigilance that supports our right to control this use of force by legitimate political means. We have let international corporate interests to usurp our rightful power as citizens. We've been asleep at the wheel and failed to exercise our right to elect people of integrity to represent us in our government. Considering how well our founders conceived and attempted to initiate their conception of our government to protect us from our current and very unfortunately badly degraded reality, what we currently have is an innocent reflection of what we as a people deserve through our inexcusable default in exercising the power ceded to us by that very well-conceived governmental structure.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 3, 2013 - 10:19pm
@ Adrian - Addendum to my last post:
It seems to me that our default in the use of our constitutional right to elect people of integrity to represent us is a strong indicator of why anarchy cannot work. Our constitution granted us the freedom and the power to rule ourselves intelligently and we have handed it to international corporate interests that despotically subjugate us to their will and routinely deceive us regarding the reality of their actions, both domestic and international. How, under the most conducive circumstances that have historically occurred, have we failed to govern ourselves to prevent our current subjugation, with many of us blindly supporting it as willing suckers for the corporate and government propaganda machine, many of whom publish their silly articles right here on this site? How is this possible given how badly we've blown the opportunity if it is indeed realistic to think that anarchy could work?
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 8:40am
@ Adrian - "...I must say that your examples seem extreme. I am forced to wonder where you live. Is your neighborhood, or even your town or city so dangerous that nuclear weapons or even tanks are an actual threat?" - Adrian

This is a blatant straw man argument. I never implied that any of us live in such a neighborhood if we exclude the monopoly the U.S. government has on these weapons. Extreme? Of course! But do you deny that they're real or that we have them? We're not even the only ones, and each nation that has them has a monopoly on them, we hope, precisely because they're so extreme.

So unless you want to live in such a neighborhood as your question implies I might, you'd better hope they remain a monopoly. That was the clear point of my comment. Wonder how you missed that and went off on that weird straw man tangent. Was it because you know how to think?
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 1:31pm
@ Adrian - 
I agree that it is not impossible to organize for defense against screwball sociopaths, who you admit exist. The caveat that requires no monopoly on weapons is the sticking point. So first, please explain how such an organization for defense is not a government. With regard to the condition requiring no monopolies on weapons, the problem is two-fold, and I truly don't understand how you keep overlooking this, especially in the light of what I've already said:
1. Anytime you have weapons, even just automatic weapons such as those playing star roles in the heinous massacres in Colorado and Connecticut...weapons that place the power to kill massive numbers of people in the hands of a single person, we have too many nutcases for us all to live in peace rather than some random number of us in pieces under the condition of free access to anyone.
2. There are entire nations who would gladly attack us and take us over with the "extreme" weapons that we and they have. We need protection against them without making our extreme weapons available to the general public (for the reason in point 1).
I did not say we have to have a monopoly on weapons by a ruling class. First and by all constitutional rights, they should be our servants, not our rulers. Second, they should not constitute a class, but merely a body of temporarily chosen servants who are strictly accountable to us as individual citizens. We should by all rights be ruling ourselves in this country, since that is what our constitution is all about.
I've already attempted to show more than once that the mere fact that we are not ruling ourselves via elected servants accountable only to us is a clear demonstration of why anarchy can't work. You have not addressed that argument anywhere. There is nothing like fear mongering, only simple practicality, in stating the simple truth that it is dangerous to make massive killing power easily accessible to random members of society, some of whom are demonstrably cuckoo and sociopathic.
You keep skating around these points, Adrian, while you accuse me of avoiding your question. I'm addressing your question head-on and you fail first to understand my responses and avoid their central and most essential thrust. You create the strong impression that you cannot bring yourself to directly confront my reasoning because it would be the undoing of your highly cherished world view in which you are apparently so very heavily invested.
So please explain to me how it would be in anyone's best interest to end the current monopolies within national boundaries (ruling class or not) on extreme weaponry such as nuclear, chemical, and anti-aircraft weapons, flamethrowers, etc. and allow them to fall into the hands of narcotraficantes, radical Muslims, Mafiosi, etc.
What kind of ideal world do you pretend to yourself that you live in? How can you even begin to imagine a practical, workable scenario in which no socially respected organization serving as a centralized legal system exists that enforces compliance with contractual agreements, etc.? Have you never noticed how irrational even otherwise seemingly normal people can get when it comes to disputes over money? Maybe you should spend some time in a small claims court or watch them on their ubiquitous TV shows if you believe people are so generally and widely fair minded.
I'm not arguing that such a society with the kind of general integrity you assume could not in principle exist on some planet, but not on this one right now. You've pretended to give ME one last chance to provide YOU convincing reasons for my position. The problem with that strategy is all you have to do is remain unconvinced no matter how ironclad my evidence and reasoning from that evidence may be. When you refuse to even address my reasoning, skating around it endlessly, you've set up a situation in which YOU (and only you) can feel that you gave me a chance to explain and I failed. You hold all the chips in that strategy. It's quite simply bogus.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 6:17pm
I agree with much of your comment, Jamie. I don't think we're going to be invaded, but we have both trade and military deterrents that make that true. That is similar to the reasons bad neighborhoods don't go guns blazing, as you put it, into other neighborhoods. They know that money brings protection, but doesn't care that much about what the poor Hispanics or blacks do to each other. Let's be honest.
Years ago I lived on the Chicago south side and was practically the only white around unless you count work. So I'm not completely ignorant regarding such matters. I also speak Spanish fluently enough to be frequently mistaken for a native speaker by native speakers. I'm intimately familiar with both cultures, from the bottom up, lower to middle "class".
I agree that if we were to stand down from our nasty deeds and exploitative foreign policy, a lot of our own nastiness coming back home to roost would evaporate over time. I'm not naive enough to expect that would happen overnight, though. It would take time for our change of heart to be noticed and responded to. Some people think this kind of talk about our sins on foreign soil is treasonous, but they're just very ignorant regarding the reality of our role in the international arena.
But how much money, Jamie, are either you or Adrian willing to bet that if we the people were to simply dissolve our government in a flash and do our best to organize ourselves against a takeover by internal and/or neighboring nasty folks, making our arms available to anyone who wished to have them, that we would be successful? First, is it realistic to assume that no one would wish to walk in and walk over us if there were no obvious economic or military deterrent? Second, is it realistic to assume that whatever organizing we did to protect ourselves would not become the very thing we're trying to protect against. After all, isn't that exactly what has happened in the case of our own revolution against King George's government? I regard that as a practical experiment in a real social test tube for your assumptions, Adrian, and look what has happened! You're complaining about the results more than most and it's essentially your hypothesis already experimentally debunked long ago, as I see it. And then came the "wild west"...another real world test tube experiment in which "fine, upstanding citizens" formed lynch mobs because they merely suspected people of having done some dastardly deed or simply didn't like there looks. There are places in the world that have become fiefdoms of warlords and are called failed states for precisely that reason. They have no central government and each fiefdom is an local organization with the purpose of protecting itself against all the others. In the past there are places in the world in which your tribe killed anyone you ran into who didn't look or talk like you. In your scenario in today's world, we can visualize that as groups of people walking around with automatic weapons shooting anyone who didn't look or talk like your own people. That actually exists in some places. You have so far failed to address that point every time I present it. The governments we have are not the product of chance or happenstance. They are the governments we have collectively chosen by virtue or lack of it in our own collective character.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 6:36pm
@ Adrian Quoting myself at the end of my last post:
"The governments we have are not the product of chance or happenstance. They are the governments we have collectively chosen by virtue or lack of it in our own collective character."
That is the essential point, Adrian.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 7:53pm
@ Adrian - I just finished viewing the video and reading your brief article, Adrian, including a good chunk of the comments there and your replies.

I find the video full of logical holes and unwarranted assumptions. Almost every point is made in isolation from any kind of realistic whole, one fragmented piece of reality at a time without consideration of any of its realistic ramifications. It is rife with the inability to appreciate the role of any of its threads in the tapestry. As a musician, it strikes me as a series of random, context-free notes that attempt to pass themselves off as a coherent composition. It is so replete with this kind of context-free data points that I feel swamped, with no possibility of addressing them all. Nevertheless, I will attempt to provide an example or two.

You mention commercial services for arbitration of disputes. First, they have no enforcing power, which you tacitly admit with your proposal of buying insurance to protect against the eventuality of refusal to respect a commercial arbiter's decision. I would like to see what entrepreneur would have the kahunas to start an insurance company on the basis of your premises.

You ignore the power of large commercial entities to ignore even government law, much less unenforceable arbitration, even when legislation goes against them, and their ability to prevent its going against them by swaying judges in their favor with benefits under the table. Aren't you aware that Monsanto contaminates organic, heirloom seed vendors' products with their GMO pollen, ruining farmers' businesses after decades of the latters' investment in developing it? Aren't you aware that Monsanto then successfully sues them for patent violation because their now worthless seeds legally violate Monsanto's patent rights? How would either your commercial arbiter or the farmers' hypothetical insurance protect them against such powerful adversaries' refusal to compensate the farmers for damages?
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 8:14pm
@ Adrian - You also ignore the social power of rumors, unsubstantiated assumptions about who did what bad deed, lack of any reliable recourse to forensic evidence even if you assume its existence in the form of commercial vendors. Who is going to pay for that when they feel they already know who's guilty? Who is going to defend the unjustly accused from their strongly convinced society of accusers? Who is going to guarantee that the self-protecting citizens are going to win the showdown with their attackers? As I mentioned previously, you already have a test tube experiment in the history of the "wild west". You ignore the power of crowd dynamics except in its positive manifestations. You ignore its power when it takes a negative turn with social indignation for which there is no guarantee that it is justly aimed with any kind of reliability. You ignore the power of mob action that involves otherwise decent people committing heinous acts. You ignore the ability of evil leaders to manipulate large numbers of people with rhetoric that exhibits a profound understanding of human prejudices and how to exploit them for their nefarious ends. In a word, your whole way of thinking hypothesizes a collective consciousness that is much more highly evolved in terms of its intrinsic wisdom than currently exists.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 4, 2013 - 8:49pm
No, the government is a shill for corporate power embodied in the likes of Monsanto. You have it backwards. The problem is not government, but who it works for, and that's ultimately, collectively our fault as citizens. But this is such a side issue. Why do respond to such a relatively irrelevant point?
You cherry picked a relatively insignificant piece that you happen to feel able to critique instead of addressing the central thrust of my arguments. The specific nature of Monsanto and how it derives its power, whether from government or any other source, is essentially irrelevant to my point. I merely used it as an example of a powerful commercial entity that feels it doesn't have to respect any arbiter, whether legally imbued with the power to enforce its edicts or not.
So many pick such little, irrelevant side issues so much in comments to articles, whether to mine or those of others, that it is nothing short of dismaying. Ironically, I believe this phenomenon is the basis of our lack of ability to govern ourselves effectively. With incredible reliability, dissenting comments find one thing the critic thinks s/he can pick with and ignore the relevant issues. Apparently the authors of these comments experience some happy feeling that they've found the one thing they think they can pick with and for them that represents some kind of great triumph. Meanwhile they virtually ignore anything of real substance in the valid arguments with which they so much wish to find fault that they'll grab at any silly little straw.
So, Adrian, why don't you address the true guts of my arguments instead of desperately grabbing at relatively irrelevant little pieces of it? You apparently wish so badly to maintain and protect your current views that you cannot really, seriously take on in any convincing way any substantial arguments against them. You seem to be intelligent, but not very wise. Intelligence alone doesn't bestow the ability to think with any validity. You let your biases distort your thought processes so severely that you don't even notice that you're doing that. Try being objective for once and begin truly addressing the core of my arguments rather than gleefully jumping on irrelevant side issues you think you can correct. It might be painful at first, but try it and ultimately you'll like it. I promise.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 6, 2013 - 11:43pm
@ Jamie & Adrian - As much as Steve and I disagree in general, history is most assuredly on his side on this issue. I find it extremely naive to think that all the services a complex, modern civilization needs are going to get supplied by an ideal capitalist society that has no formal checks and balances on anything, including invasion and domestic crime organizations, large or small.
I don't even think if we assume absolutely saintly behavior from every last human being on earth, anarchy would serve their interests adequately. If we assume such a saintly society can exist in the first place, the most efficient means of government would be a benevolent monarchy by a fully enlightened king in the Asian sensse of that word (e.g., a current equivalent of Bhudda who was willing to act as king.) I simply mean that if we're going to dream in the first place, go ahead and speculate all you want, Adrian, but if everyone's an enlightened sage, then I propose that a king would be the most efficient and effective government.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 7, 2013 - 3:11pm
@ Chris Fister -
"I have no idea what Government could have accomplished with the funds it used to go to the moon, nor does anyone else." - Chris
You're completely ignoring political will; leaving it completely out of the equation. You can't legitimately do that. This statement of yours refers to a magical assumption that if the government hadn't spent that money to get to the moon, we not only could have, but would have spent it on something more productive for society.
The political will to go to the moon was a direct product of a space race with the Soviet Union. That's the ONLY reason we bothered to spend that much money to do it. Some here, possibly including you, Chris, very naively assume that there was little or no economic benefit from having done that. That is absurdly wrong. We stretched all kinds of technology to the limit to achieve those successful moon manned moon trips. We did it in record time, highly motivated by the race with the Soviets.
That technology is responsible for the cheap communications we have worldwide today. It's responsible for your GPS navigator, your iPad, cell phone, laptop, etc. We wouldn't have even had desktop computers if it hadn't been for that. Some here are so young they take these things for granted and because it never dawned on them that any of it had to do with going to the moon they don't even want to believe it did.
Your GPS navigator even depends on Einstein's theories. It couldn't possibly work without his theories. Why? Clock speed and timing are critical to accurate location of geographical position. Clock speed changes with differences in velocity and GPS satellites move at a big enough fraction of the speed of light to affect that significantly. The ability to calculate that comes from Einstein's Special Relativity. Difference in position within a gravitation field also affects clock speed. Satellites are significantly higher enough than we are within earth's gravitational field to affect that, too. His theory of General Relativity allows that calculation. So something that most people regard as arcane, esoteric physical theory that has no impact on their personal lives is essential for our GPS navigators to work.
I'm constantly amazed at how most people are so ignorant of science and technology that they are effectively stuck intellectually in the 19th century. This even includes scientists who deal strictly in terms of classical theory. This is why otherwise intelligent people honestly argue with a solid fact that any informed person in the 21st century should know, that the technology developed because of political will based on military competition is responsible for most of the technology that we take for granted every day. Airline flight uses GPS and has since way before we had GPS navigators. The military, including the Air Force, of course, used it first.
Good grief, even most of the infrastructure that feeds us today didn't exist 60 years ago. A lot of that infrastructure is bad, but that's another issue. The point is we're incredibly dependent on a lot of infrastructure that is extremely efficient, but delicate and highly vulnerable. It's an issue for another time that some of it delivers food that is extremely bad for human health.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 15, 2013 - 12:08am
@ Jamie - Answering anyway:

Well, on the king thing :  ) we would still need collectively necessary infrastructure, both hard and soft. There is always an obvious need for decisions of broad social interest to be made efficiently and well except in the case of the smallest and simplest of societies. Are you ignoring that? My assumption is that a hypothetical enlightened king in a hypothetical enlightened society would naturally make the decision-making process highly efficient and the results would spontaneously align with the wishes of all the enlightened subjects. That's all. In an enlightened society there would be no need for cumbersome checks and balances to guarantee against abuse of power or any lack of alignment with the well being of everyone in it. The assumption is that just as individuals would spontaneously act in accord with the best interests of all the rest, so would the king. Enlightenment is, according to the Vedic tradition of India, essentially a natural coherence phenomenon that would act at the social level in ways analogous to its manifestation at the individual level.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 16, 2013 - 12:48pm
@ Fister -
Quoting you: "...I would much rather the private sector decide where to allocate funding on research as the Government is rarely unbiased or efficient spender of our tax dollars."
Maybe you should try reading the first paragraph again with some modicum of understanding this time? You really don't seem to understand the lack of market for the basic research that by definition doesn't necessarily have any clear short-term value to the private sector, but without which we would not have had anything like the modern, digital/electronic economy we have today. You pretend to understand, then make dumb critiques based on an utter lack of any understanding while you accuse the other of exactly that. Hmmmm....you sure represent your side of the political spectrum extremely well and that's precisely my point.
Robert Wendell Added Sep 16, 2013 - 3:47pm
@ Jamie - 
You seem to miss the key point of the post you're responding to. There are large, country-wide organizational tasks that require coordination beyond everyone knowing what's in the best interests of society. This all may sound magical because it's admittedly a theoretical ideal. However, I'm not going as far as to say everyone will be telepathic and spontaneously coordinate on every detail of all the tasks needed to implement what they all understand to be in the best interests of society. That's all. There have to be some practical, broad decisions centrally made and their implementation directed in order to coordinate activities of national scope. There is no objective reason under such theoretically ideal conditions to object to a king, so why not? The need for someone to coordinate some things would still be there and one enlightened person is much more efficient than any kind of representative group. Maybe the group would just all agree as quickly as a single individual, but what would be the point in it? I don't see this as having any practical importance anyway.

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