Upsetting conversation - Journal of Omnifarious
Aug. 14th, 2008
03:14 pm - Upsetting conversation
I became really angry over some things pleiade37 said today. She criticized my friends in a way that was sort of fair, but also not, and rather exceedingly rude in my opinion. I have my theories about what's going on here, but those aren't for public consumption. Aside from that, I would like to talk about what she said.
Her specific criticism was that my friends complain bitterly about our society being a classist one while enjoying the benefits of such and/or not doing anything about it but complain. She then named a few specific exceptions among people I know.
I pick my friends very carefully. One of my biggest criteria, often not so consciously applied, is that my friends are a net positive to the world around them. I do feel that money is in general a mediocre to poor measure of this. But I pick friends who do not at base treat life as a negative or zero sum game.
I am frequently frustrated by the specific complaint pleiade37 voiced. I deal with it by trying to always be willing to talk about things and convince people and trying to show people actions they can take, like insisting on using Open Source software. Though, on a bit of reflection, I believe that pleiade37 also has a mistaken perception colored by her personal background.
A lot of her friends are from the world of high finance. I tend to not have a lot of respect for these people as a whole. I feel that they tend to either be 0-sum people, or people who create a net benefit for themselves and either a net negative or break even for everybody else.
Most importantly, I feel they are wedded to a system that is flawed (as any system is) and currently creates unjustifiable concentrations of wealth and political power. They are so wedded that they see everything through the filter of that system and can't step outside it to see that it's just today's agreement for a game we've all agreed to play and instead see it as somehow being so fundamental that it represents the true nature of reality.
At their most myopic, these people can begin to believe that all ways of measuring value can be reduced to the symbols in the system they know how to manipulate so well.
But that doesn't mean that I don't think there's some fundamental truth wandering around in there somewhere. I like pointing people at Linked: The New Science of Networks because it shows a glimpse of this fundamental truth. And it says that there will always be concentrations of both economic and political power, no matter what system is in place.
I've refined my idea of what a good system is based on that book. And in my mind, steep power law curves are worse than shallow ones as they imply that things are much more concentrated at the top and there's much more of a monopoly situation. Secondly, systems in which nodes with little power can become nodes with a lot of power relatively quickly and painlessly when they demonstrate a greater ability to generate value are also very important.
I think what we have in the US (and what much of the rest of the world has because of our dominance) has been slowly degenerating in both of these respects. But I don't really think the people deeply involved in the current economic system can really see that, or if they can, can't see how it might be changed since they see the current economic system as somehow inviolate and unchangeable.
In that sense, they are no better than the friends I have who complain and don't do anything to try to change things. In fact, I think that publicly complaining about a problem is often an important component of fixing it, so I feel that recognizing and saying something about the problem is better than not.