Blame Capitalism!

Someone else has something I want. How can I get it?

Capitalism has received a great deal of criticism, from its invention to the present day. It has been blamed by one group or another for seemingly every human evil, real or imagined, including depression, imperialism, violence, hedonism, the decline of democracy, and the destruction of the environment. Especially for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the empathetic, the common refrain seems to be “blame capitalism!” Yet blindly criticizing a policy or view is not at all the same as thinking carefully about it. It’s easy to forget that governments, organizations and policies are tools just as much as hammers and plows, despite their larger scale–in fact, that very scale makes it important to pay extra attention, especially with policies as widespread and influential as capitalism. This means considering such tools’ benefits as well as their evils, while remembering that there is not likely to be a “magic bullet” solution. Poverty, depression, antagonism and the environment are all important problems–but is capitalism really responsible? Or is it possible that true capitalist practice might actually help solve some of these issues?

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Pascal’s Wager

There is a famous theological argument known as Pascal’s Wager which, rather than making the usual appeals to morality and intuition, instead tries to show that believing in God and the afterlife is the logical, rational thing to do. While Pascal admitted that it is not always possible to “make yourself” believe in God (the Christian God, that is–what, you thought we were talking about some other God?), you should at least act as though you do until you are convinced. The core argument frames the question of whether one should be religious as a “wager” that you can’t opt out of: even if God isn’t likely to actually exist, the possibility of an infinite win (eternity in Heaven) justifies the merely finite cost of devoting yourself to religion–even if that cost is a lifetime of self-denial and asceticism. (This was back in the 1600s, when most folks thought getting into Heaven was really difficult and unpleasant, but the argument applies equally to anything a religion requires you to do that costs you time, effort, or money.)  Sounds pretty impressive, huh? Let’s go over the argument in a bit more detail–this time, with a few superficial modifications.

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What You Really Want to Do

What do you want? It seems like a simple question, but it can be deceptively difficult to answer. Even when you do have an answer, “wanting” something doesn’t seem to be any guarantee that it’s possible, or if it is, that you’ll actually do it. How can you reconcile the things you want to do, and the things you are capable of doing, with the things that actually get done? There is no easy answer, but it can help to think of your wants as distinct from your wishes–and to realize that you can wish for making better choices, not just for having better choices available. Continue reading

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Power and Freedom: Individuals and Societies

The other day I saw the following quote on a bumper sticker:

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.”
Gerald R. Ford

It got me thinking about the relationship between power and freedom, and how that relationship applies not only to governments but also to businesses, authority figures, laws, programming languages, and even games. Continue reading

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Lisp, Smalltalk, and the Power of Symmetry

Like many hackers, my first real programming language love was Lisp. Paul Graham, who inspired my own explorations of the language, is a particular advocate and has written quite a bit about Lisp and what makes it different from other programming languages. So what does make Lisp different? Why does Lisp continue to be one of the most powerful, flexible, and concise programming languages in existence, despite the fact that it was invented in 1958–making it the second-oldest high-level programming language in the world? Continue reading


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The New Service Economy

As our transition from agriculture to manufacturing shifted the focus from food to material wealth (commodities), we are undergoing a similar shift now where material wealth is becoming as cheap as food became during the industrial revolution (introducing similar problems of overabundance). As material goods were the most valuable things before the industrial revolution, ideas and information are what’s most valuable now–in other words, service industries. This has implications across the economy not just concerning which businesses will make the most money, but how most of that money will be made. Continue reading

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We Have A New Puppy!

This Monday, July 7th, my fiance and I went to the airport and picked up this little guy:

A tiny baby pug sleeping in a travel crate

His name is Beetle and he is adorable.  Normally I think pugs are hideous (it was her idea), but Beetle is the sole exception.  Obviously. Continue reading

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Filed under Diary, Just for Fun, Programming