Influences IV

This is another disparate group of influences, R. Buckminster Fuller, Edward Tufte, Douglas Hofstadter.  The first is from the 60s, the second from the 90s, and the third from the first decade of the 21st Century, in the order that they came into my life.  But all three think outside of the boxes which have contained so many of us.

R. Buckminster Fuller

He was a native, like my Mother, of Milton, MA, but twenty-seven years older.  He was a navy man, like my Grandfather.  He was revered in the urban planning field, although he had none of the instincts for socialism which plagued that following.  I was briefly in graduate school to study urban planning when I discovered Bucky Fuller.  He also had some false starts before becoming himself, maybe it was his experience with that which made me flee so soon from central planning.

I had the wonderful opportunity to see one of Fuller’s geodesic domes at the Expo ’67 site, in Montreal, QC, Canada, in the summer of 1968.  In 1971, I saw the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO.  I suppose that RBF may have been the most famous architect in America after Frank Lloyd Wright.  Not because he created styles that are with us in residences and public buildings today, but because he took architecture in a very different direction.  His mind was obviously consumed with self-organizing phenomena.

I remember very clearly, not verbatim, but conceptually a thing that he said which sticks with me today:  the everyday man has been serving, has been owned by, the king, but the direction of history shows that more and more has been spread from the king to the common man.  Such that most of us have things like smart phones and good food to eat — things that the richest man in the world could not have owned just a few generations ago.  It was this optimism by Fuller that made me the optimist I am today.

Edward Tufte

Like Buckminster Fuller, I have been a tinkerer all my life.  I began tinkering with computers in the 1970s.  I was most impressed with their potential, not with their effect at that point in time.  Their potential was in reaching user goals, in getting things done, in allowing new approaches.

I very quickly learned that it was in terms of improving human communication that the computer would become the ultimate human tool.  Communication is made of information, communication is of no small degree.  An information system exists with every human endeavor, therefor it’s primary component is people.  The glue that holds the system together is communication.  Computers have been evolving to provide ever greater communication, self-ordered as information, among people.  The geeky parts like hardware, software, data, and procedure are critical too, but they are incidental, able to be shaped to serve the fundamental relationship between sentient beings, beings in communication with one another.

Edward Tufte was the first person I became aware of who could see that fundamental relationship.  He could see that the great purpose of information was knowledge, and beyond that, wisdom, but within that, practical and correct decisions.  To me, the first compelling case that Tufte made was the story of how data was misrepresented in the events leading up to the Challenger disaster of 1986.  Tufte has said “The minimum we should hope for with any display technology is that it should do no harm.”  The slides viewed in this tragedy were flawed, with life and death criticality.  I soon ascribed to the goal of eliminating usability problems in information.  The second famous case that Tufte pursued was that of the Florida butterfly ballot which affected the course of history.

Tufte also said, ” … nature’s laws are causal; they reveal themselves by comparison and difference, and they operate at every multivariate space/time point.”  In this I saw further evidence of the connectedness of reality

Douglas Hofstadter

I saw Douglas Hofstadter speaking from the stage in Memorial Hall at the University of Kentucky.  His topic was Endless Beauty.  For examples, he played recordings of Billie Holiday.  They were “This Year’s Kisses” and “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?”  He said in a WIRED magazine interview, ” … take Billie Holiday, singing with some of her accompanists in the 1930s – playing and improvising. Now, if all that incredible poignancy turns out to be something that can be mass marketed on a chip, it will destroy my image of something very deep and sacred to the human spirit. I’ll just have to eat my words and say, “Well, I guess all that complexity was just another kind of circuitry we can manufacture.”  For an individualist this is gold.  Hofstadter had confirmed my conviction that beauty and uniqueness are found everywhere, but cannot be replicated mechanically.  They can be simulated but not replicated.

Even if you find that things in your life are tedious, repetitive, and humdrum, it is true that your responses to those things are unique and can be changed by you.  Instead treat tedium as an endless generator of unique instances.  Look for the differences … and the similarities.  The differences are infinite, the similarities are astounding.  Dwell on probabilities and possibilities, not on the way that events can overwhelm.

Here are some of the observations about the world that Hofstadter has fashioned:

The nice thing about having a brain is that one can learn, that ignorance can be supplanted by knowledge, and that small bits of knowledge can gradually pile up into substantial heaps.

Relying on words to lead you to the truth is like relying on an incomplete formal system to lead you to the truth. A formal system will give you some truths, but as we shall soon see, a formal system, no matter how powerful—cannot lead to all truths.

One of the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism is that there is no way to characterize what Zen is. No matter what verbal space you try to enclose Zen in, it resists, and spills over. It might seem, then, that all efforts to explain Zen are complete wastes of time. But that is not the attitude of Zen masters and students. For instance, Zen koans are a central part of Zen study, verbal though they are. Koans are supposed to be “triggers” which, though they do not contain enough information in themselves to impart enlightenment, may possibly be sufficient to unlock the mechanisms inside one’s mind that lead to enlightenment. But in general, the Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Reality includes creating every real connection and reference.

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.

Meaning lies as much
in the mind of the reader
as in the Haiku.

How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some “gullibility center” in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.

Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.

The key question is, no matter how much you absorb of another person, can you have absorbed so much of them that when that primary brain perishes, you can feel that that person did not totally perish from the earth… because they live on in a ‘second neural home’?… In the wake of a human being’s death, what survives is a set of afterglows, some brighter and some dimmer, in the collective brains of those who were dearest to them… Though the primary brain has been eclipsed, there is, in those who remain… a collective corona that still glows.

And so forth.

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Sit-ins

I scarcely noticed in 1960, when I was a sophomore in high school, and it happened so fast.  All of the lunch counters and soda fountains in Frankfort, KY’s drug stores and dime stores disappeared overnight.

The catalyst was the phenomenon of sit-ins, or so it was said.  I was pretty much uninvolved.  I was distracted by being the new boy at the newly consolidated county high school.

Frankfort was a sleepy little town, among the three smallest state capitals in the USA.  We only had three drug stores, and I can’t even remember a dime store.

Up on the hill where US 60 headed east for Lexington, there sat Kentucky State College, an 1890 land grant college, that was the segregated, separate but equal, institute of higher learning for negroes (as we called them officially then).

Those of us in the town had little or no knowledge of their existence.  The negroes who lived in the city school district, lived in a section known as “the craw” or “the bottom.”  There were 3 colored students at the county high school — a sister and brother and another.  Of the 2 males, one was a football star and one was a basketball star.  The siblings, I deduced years later, were the children of a Kentucky State professor.  The three were part of a student body of greater than 700.  I do not know how stressful their school lives may have been, for they got no friction from me and they returned none.

Again, they went unnoticed by me, except for the gratuitous labels they bore.  Similarly, to this day I can tell you who were the two jewish students.

What went on in the mystery territory of the college campus could just as well have been the cavalcade of life on Mars.  This did not affect the speculation, however, in the Caucasian meadowlands.

The campus had to be a hotbed of agitation.  Interlopers from the big northern cities were putting strange ideas in the heads of those students.

It seems strange, today, to look back on this time.  In subsequent years, nearly 3 decades later, I got my second college degree in Computer Science from Kentucky State, now a University, now called an HBCU (historically black college or university).  I went on to become a professor — part of KSU’s reversed affirmative action program.

I don’t know how it worked in my salad days that I was so sheltered from diversity, but I could count the number of blacks, or other minorities, with whom I had even the most infrequent association on the fingers of my two hands.  Where were they?  They could have been hiding from the white world.

I was born and raised in the South.  I have told previously the story of my mother’s being open to black people on the Chattanooga buses.  It was there, in my first 4 years that I had any prior exposure outside my own ethnic group.

My mother was a New Englander from Boston.  It was on trains going to and from Boston that my other exposure came.  And then there was the time in high school when Duke Ellington and his band played a concert in the gymnasium.

This is it.  I have told you about every encounter that I had outside the white European-descended world, by the time I was 16, in less than 600 words.  I don’t mention Hispanics, because there were none.  I don’t mention orientals, because there were none.  I may have met a Mormon at 12 or 13, but I am not sure.

Therefore, it can hardly be a surprise that I did not feel the Earth shift on its axis in 1960.  The civil rights revolution began its first uneasy steps during a short time in the South, during just a week in Frankfort.

I remember thinking, “why would those drug store owners cut off their noses to spite their own faces?”  How could they sacrifice that lucrative soda fountain trade?

I realize now that they gave up very little.  I’m sure that the two smaller stores were glad to have the square feet, space they could turn to more profitable uses.  The big store was already a general store, almost a department store — the place where I would begin my jazz record collection soon.  They probably didn’t even notice a ripple.

The little town also survived.  There were plenty of restaurants.  None closed.

But those young people from Kentucky State College won the day whether I noticed or not, whether local merchants thought they had won or not.  America would never be the same again.

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Rothbard #18 — Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

This time Murray Rothbard makes his point by citing Edmund Burke:

In 1756 Edmund Burke published his first work: Vindication of Natural Society. Curiously enough it has been almost completely ignored in the current Burke revival. This work contrasts sharply with Burke’s other writings, for it is hardly in keeping with the current image of the Father of the New Conservatism. A less conservative work could hardly be imagined; in fact, Burke’s Vindication was perhaps the first modern expression of rationalistic and individualistic anarchism. … “Anarchism” is an extreme term, but no other can adequately describe Burke’s thesis. Again and again, he emphatically denounces any and all government, and not just specific forms of government. … All government, Burke adds, is founded on one “grand error.” It was observed that men sometimes commit violence against one another, and that it is therefore necessary to guard against such violence. As a result, men appoint governors among them. But who is to defend the people against the governors?

Rothbard’s major point seems to be “[b]ut who is to defend the people against the governors?”  But his secondary point may be that Burke was much more profound than just being the “Father of the New Conservatism.”  Let’s examine both points.

Who shall guard the guard?  This question goes back at least to the Roman Empire when Juvenal wrote, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”  I am sure it goes back even further, maybe into the mists of prehistoric time.  What makes one man legitimately able to stand above any man, woman, or child.  The question rings out almost anytime one schlemiel says “I’m in charge here!” another will pipe up with “Who died and made you King?”  The question occurs whenever a voluntary arrangement begins to slip into a declared authoritarian arrangement.  The question arises on every occasion where one seeks to impose will upon others through violence.  One may be reasonably certain that the question arose among the congregation of the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas when a gunman took it upon himself to kill 26 members of the churchgoers.  Where does authority come from, and once ceded who will assure that it is not abused.  The question of authority and legitimacy is ancient.  If there were a thoroughgoing guardianship for all humans, half would have to watch the other half, but then who would watch the first half to make sure each of them was discharging her duty faithfully.  People who are comforted by the posting of a guard do not understand the dynamic.  People who are skeptical about the guard can never have their cares laid to rest.  Who shall guard the guard is a conundrum.

Now we can address the idea of Burke’s place in history.  I commend the Rothbard article, Edmund Burke, Anarchist, by Murray Rothbard at LewRockwell.com.  I am a big fan of Edmund Burke, but I must admit that I feel much warmer toward him, now that I have read Rothbard’s view, which includes

He upholds that noble tenet of eighteenth-century rationalism: that happiness, in the long run, rests on truth and truth alone. And that truth is the natural law of human activity and human relations. Positive law imposed by the State injures man whenever it strays from the path that we know to be the law of man’s nature. How is the natural law to be discovered? Not by Revelation, but by the use of man’s reason.

I have always taken a larger view of Burke, because he is a fellow Irishman.  Most of his conservatism was shaped by his life and background.  He was an Irish Catholic.  His preference for older institutions was influenced by his religion as well as his respect for property.  Although he took the side of aristocracy in France, it was mostly having to do with a Catholic aristocracy.  In Ireland, the Catholics had been usurped.  And the property of Irish Catholics had been ripped from them by the worst of the Church of England tyrants.  My personal preference for Ireland over England is not based much on the religious question (I come from a half Catholic, half Protestant ancestry), but the propertarian question.  But Burke was a staunch propertarian as he appeared to believe that the properties of the Irish had been wrongfully purloined.  It may have been for that reason, as well, that he took the side of the Americans when he was a Member of British Parliament — although it is clear that he didn’t go so far as to favor American Independence.

As to the continuing debate on whether Burke meant Vindication of Natural Society to be satire, I would argue that he would not have asserted that governments were the principle murderers of human beings in the years leading up to his work.

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Elite

Indignation does not help.  We cannot easily change the underlying landscape for every atrocity that happens in a territory.  There is a nearly impossible gauntlet to run before anything gets changed.  Last week, I attended a presentation on the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States.  This was 1 installment, which mostly dealt with the Second Amendment.  Earlier this month, I was decrying that with current offshoring practices the economic world was being shaped by an oligarchy.  It appears that the same is the case with process.  The oligarchs will only let the rest of us do what they, the oligarchs, want done. The dog is being wagged by a mite on the flea on the tail.  And there are billions of dogs with billion billions of fleas and mites.

H. L. Mencken wrote, ” … there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

It does no good to determine where the fault lies.  Even if you can find the one elite who sets a million mites to work on a billion fleas who will infest a trillion dog’s tails, there is another elite starting a similar chain of chains of chains, a nanosecond before and a nanosecond after.  It is better to forget the elites, to focus on your own responsibilities within your own theater of events.  One needs to deal with one’s own dogs, fleas, and mites.  One needs to deal with the only eliteness that you can handle, your own unique set of circumstances.

In today’s lecture room there were many people who demanded to know when shooting massacres were going to end.  Since these demands were registered in a room where the Constitution was being discussed, we must assume that the complainants believed that the answer lay within the four corners of the Constitution.  Yes, you can attempt to correct any flaw in the Constitution by changing the instrument itself.  But think about it … do we really want any statist group to hold a convention wherein the Constitution gets a tinkering?  What if they fix the Second Amendment (if we could agree on what “fix” might mean), what would stop them from moving on to the Fourth Amendment to repeal it.

OK, let’s admit that we have mixed emotions about taking the Constitutional Convention genie out of its bottle.  So now we go to the Supreme Court.  SCOTUS is the very model of reasonable, objective, neat, and plausible — not.  Any product of SCOTUS’ deliberations bears a resemblance to an aardvark from a subcommittee given a camel as a pattern by another committee assigned the task of designing a horse.  SCOTUS has spent a hundred years dancing around the idea that the “well regulated Militia” clause denotes any demands on the “shall not be infringed” clause.  It says here that the militia clause is meaningless window dressing.

Next!  We can try to get this problem solved by banning things through legislation delivered from Congress.  Constitutionality be damned.  Isn’t it COTUS’ sacred duty to give us anything it takes to make our little hearts go pitty-pat?  Lots of luck.  Congress couldn’t pass a stone in the largest bladder ward of the largest hospital in the world.  They can’t even do something for the tantrum thrower we call POTUS.

So what about POTUS?  Can he just issue an Executive Order making all guns go away?  Well, he can, but the EO will not eliminate the guns.  Only the people who believe in executive orders will turn in their guns.

So let’s take it to imaginary deities in prayer, and abra-cadabra, all the guns except those held by cops, robbers, soldiers, citizens of countries less self-despising, and enemy soldiers will disappear.  This will leave only knives, poison, arrows, snakebite, trucks, cars, hatchets, swords, garottes, hangman’s nooses, electricity, suffocating, pressure cookers, and drowning still to be controlled.

 

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Lysander Spooner Quote #21

Majorities, as such, afford no guarantees for justice. They are men of the same nature as minorities. They have the same passions for fame, power, and money, as minorities; and are liable and likely to be equally — perhaps more than equally, because more boldly — rapacious, tyrannical and unprincipled, if intrusted with power. There is no more reason, then, why a man should either sustain, or submit to, the rule of the majority, than of a minority.

— Lysander Spooner

We are bound head to toe in the snares of democratic politics.  We have elected a horrendous POTUS with only 1-of-5 votes from the American population.  (I count the entire population because every man, woman, boy, or girl alive in the US today is affected by the current inadequacy of the office and the person of POTUS).

I am certainly not a fan of the Orange POTUS, but please be assured that my estimation of all occupants of the Oval Office is 0-good, 45-bad.  Even estimable occupants, such as Thomas Jefferson, were sorry excuses for governmental administrators.

If one is not a reader of Lysander Spooner, one should be.  Here is a link to electronic versions of most of Spooner’s work.

Now, we should be sure that Spooner is not advocating either majority elections or minority elections.  He is only pointing out the abject failure of such an innumerate idea.  Majority rule was a byproduct of democracy as founded by Cleisthenes in Athens.  Vote-counting on up-or-down issues was a pragmatic tool for crystalizing decision-making.  It was ingenious, as a method for converting indecision to a binary determinant.  Any question that could be couched so as to be answerable with a “yes” or a “no” could be converted to a unary action.  But this was on a very small scale, and those who did the voting were directly interested in the outcome.  They also had the ability to change a vote, restate the matter under consideration, argue a position, explain a position, and a practically unlimited scope of considerations.  This idea, however, is not scaleable.  Today, we often claim that we have a democratic system here in America, but technically we are a republic, where representation replaces direct accountability for the running of a community.  With 300 million people, we cannot give each interested party a vote.  I suspect that Spooner would advise us to scale back to something we could handle.  That would be my recommendation, humbly, as well.  If one bites off more than one can chew, handle it!  Make the next bite right-sized.

Individual A must deal with Individual B — there is no practical means for A interacting with B when it can only be done through Individual C.  The first failing point is that either Individual C would have to declare herself superior to A and B, to make anything stick, or C would have to be empowered by Entity D to rule over A and B.  Any working arrangement that involves more than two individuals has too many moving parts, too many points of friction, too many points of failure.

For a 3-way relationship to work, unit C must be totally indifferent to the outcomes of matters between A and B.  Yet C must devote its very existence to the watching of A and B.  What could go wrong?  One has to wonder how C could be bound to the oversight of A and B, if C had no interest in the doings of A and/or B.  What if it is not beneficial to C to make a decision that is acceptable to A and B.  Shall C be indifferent?  Worse yet, what if other relations of C, say E and F and so forth had their very lives dependent on C making a decision that would make A and/or B very unhappy?

I have taken a great deal of interest lately in international practices of partition or inclusion.  A very hot case right now would be where there is sentiment in Catalonia, a province of Spain, to secede from Spain, to become an independent sovereign.  My sympathies go with Catalonia, as they would with any other secession that is initiated within the territory of the would-be seceder.  But then, I run into the problem of how exactly is determined the true inclination of the territory?  If there is a vote initiative, what percentage of the voters would indicate a fair consensus for or against secession?  Would a simple majority of registered voters do the trick?  I say no, since voter registration laws always work to the reduction of the population who are even qualified to express an opinion.  Therefore a majority of registered voters is not automatically a majority of the whole population.

To solve that problem, might we (and who is “we?”) require a super majority like 60% or two-thirds of the voter base, or a majority, greater than half, of the population?  Then, what of the people in the minority?  Is there any justification for changing the statehood status for a whole block of people based on an arbitrary part of the whole?

To take a current example, I am assured in saying that there is some remnant of Northern Ireland who are vitally interested in staying loyal to the British Crown, just as certainly as there is a block who wish to become loyal to the Republic of Ireland.  This should not be to exclude those who would opt for independence of Ulster.

In the British Isles, there have been two recent plebescites that have left many unhappy excluded people in their wake.  Scotland narrowly decided to stay in the Commonwealth, disappointing the slightly smaller contingent who wanted separation.  Then the UK voted in BREXIT to leave the European Union (EU).  Since we know that vote was very close, we know that either way there is no method for figuring out how a true majority of the total population would have chosen.  We do know that BREXIT may have been viewed differently in Northern Ireland, where perhaps a majority wished to remain in the same politico/market basket with the rest of the Irish Island.

Another problem in Catalonia was that the people there were contemplating secession in a relatively peaceful manner, demonstrating and voting.  But then Spain, in the embodiment of central government from Madrid, tried to prevent a peaceful vote by intervention, ousting officials and usurping police powers.  Spain went so far as to close down polling places by force, as I understand it.  Let me state another principle here.  The retention of a former state or the formation of a new state should not be as a result of intervention from beyond the territory in question.

While we see that the Catalonia story is hanging from coercive, authoritarian, statist action, we know that in other parts of the world self-determination is being forestalled or advanced through military action, plainly, warfare, such as invasion, bombing, embargo, and sanctions.  Whichever contingent is pursuing territory by violence  is in the wrong.  But two wrongs don’t make a right.  Partitioning by third parties — as in the Iraq coalition thinking about dividing Iraq into Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and Shi’istan  — has little chance of being satisfactory.  One need look no further than Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh — an unsettlement created as a parting shot by the British as they were escorted from the Indian subcontinent.

I am not sure what is the right course, going forward, but I am a strong proponent of Spooner’s sentiment that subjugation of any territory by any statist construct is wholly objectionable — to the extent that such should be resisted to the nth-degree, with one’s last dying breath.  There are no cases in this world where a corralled peopled were better off than if they had not been corralled.  It would be much simpler if we had established principles of non-imperialism two centuries ago.

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Libertarian Views on Two Books and a Movie

I have recently, as usual, been bingeing on various dramas and books that have some degree of voluntaryist content.  Here are three examples that I would like to recommend to you, dear readers.

As Close to Us As Breathing (Book)

This novel by Elizabeth Poliner follows a Jewish family in Connecticut for several years, and multiple generations.  On the surface it seems like a fairly pedestrian history, but with a foreshadowed event — the death of a child.  Much of the book fills in the characters who will eventually be knocked violently from their routines by the tragedy.  The youngest family member, a boy, around whom the story revolves, is the least detailed of the characters.

There are several paths to follow in the book (in no particular order):

  • Being Jewish in the early to mid-Twentieth Century.  Even though there are some interethnic liaisons, none seem to have legs.  The interesting aspect is that discrimination works both ways.  The Jewish characters are as clannish as the groups in which they dabble in mixing.  There are very strong, but hardly ever acknowledged, cultural and religious boundaries.
  • Living in a time that compares most unfavorably with today’s lifestyles.  Even rich people have homemade style clothing, even if they hire the making of the clothes out to artisans.
  • The relationships between males and females seems far closer to Jane Austen than to the most recent winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.  And women’s general social stature, or any family members’, compared to a male head of household’s (I haven’t typed that phrase in quite a while) border on repression.  Domestic and economic roles are very tightly constrained.
  • Free will and choice are not taken for granted, and are seldom seen in practice.
  • But every character seems to go in a new trajectory, more or less voluntarily chosen, after the defining events surrounding the accidental death of the youngest.  Every path goes to a new, unforeseen experience.  But all of the collection of people seem to have longed for permanence and consistency.  They achieve stability no more than would their counterparts in the 21st Century.
  • Niches were apparently developing long before it became modish to talk about them.  Life seemed to be breaking apart, even with the stability of the “good old days.”

Pachinko (Book)

This is a novel by Min Jin Lee, about three generations of a Korean family transplanted to Japan during the years covering the beginnings of Japanese imperialism in large parts of Asia and up through World War II and on to the end of the 20th Century.  In the early years, Koreans often found that they had to migrate to Japan to find any kind of work.  At the time, and probably still today, the repression of non-Japanese peoples in Japan was extremely severe, as portrayed in this book.  Koreans apparently could only work in the very lowest of jobs, factories (sweatshops), food vending, and pachinko parlors.  Koreans are drawn as particularly adept at the skills of the pachinko industry.  A pachinko machine is a kind of vertical pinball apparatus in which launched balls cascade down through rows of pins (small nails).  In each overnight the pins are slightly manipulated with small hammers to change the characteristics of the machine, so a player from yesterday must learn to read the machine anew today.  Pachinko machines figure in a popular form of gambling for inhabitants of Japan.

The characters in the Korean family are bounced through life like pachinko balls.  The pegs in the machines are changed continuously so that gravity and physics are the only constants, as time, family, and age are constants for the Korean immigrants.

One of the very surprising things in the story is that problems in all parts of the world seem to be of this world.  The nature of life is similar across cultures; the differences are in degree.  Each individual is unique, being shaped by their own choices within the range, often severely narrow, of choice available to each.

Defiance (Movie)

This 2008 movie recounts events based on a true story.  The Bielski brothers flee, in 1941, from the scene of a massacre of their parents, by local police collaborating with the Nazis, into the Naliboki Forest of Belarus.  As they hide out, they are joined by many more Jewish people seeking refuge from the Nazis, whom are on a genocidal mission against Jews and other repressed ethnicities.  The group becomes famous in the area, known there as the Bielski partisans.  It is interesting to see how each individual thrives by making aggressive choices based on positive expectations and relinquished outmoded beliefs.

Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber are excellent as the two older of the four Bielski brothers.  They are both action-oriented, but Tuvia (Craig) is more level-headed, while Zus (Schreiber) is a bit impetuous.  Many lessons are taught in how the brothers reach outcomes by different paths.  Also, compelling is to see the development of the individuals in the group toward self-reliance and division of labor.  Competence is seen as a general characteristic of the men, women, and children partisans.  The leadership of the Bielskis is mostly free of ego, and there is little of arbitrary rules.


All three of these entertainments feature the self-organization of human events.  Despite the often frivolous constraints that our environment and collectivist impulses may burden us with, individuals tend to make wise decisions when larger outcomes are on the line.  As von Mises observed, “All rational [both intentional and consequential] action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.”  [Material in brackets added]

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