May 08th, 2013
In this week’s episode, Jad and I discuss one of Kevin’s all time favorite political and economic topics: risk and reward. Jad starts our episode off with a fictitious example of how the concept politically works. And while there is humor in it, it’s also all too serious in that it’s entirely true. How is it that the fabric of our modern society is woven together such that a few hundred people in power can arbitrary steal an unlimited sum of money to do, really whatever they damn well please? Why should we allow costs to be hidden and abstracted from our view? Are we not to be entrusted with our own earnings?
Halfway through the episode we segue from risk, reward, and cost abstractions to discussing the fundamental reasons why humans are tolerant of this kind of behavior. It would be amusing to consider just how much bullshit people are taught to accept if only the practice weren’t so detrimental to our lives.
So yes, risk, reward, cost abstraction, religion, politics. All of the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table rolled into a single twenty-minute radio show. Of course we’re pretty certain the only reason those topics are taboo in the first place is because if we did discuss them regularly, we’d discover at a much earlier age how patently absurd our societal views of the topics really are. But that’s a future episode in the waiting.
Jad: This is somebody else’s example – I can’t remember who so I can’t credit them – but if you know, a month after 9/11 they’re like, this guy went door to door and was like, “we’re going to fucking invade Afghanistan and take over their government, and hunt down Bin Laden and kill him”, and then the person would be like, “yeah, fuck yeah. Let’s do it.” But if they were like, “OK all we need you to do is give us $10,000 dollars”, nobody would do it – nobody cares that much.
Kevin: Hello and welcome back to the JK Podcast, and anti-authoritarian free speech zone dedicated to the pursuit of liberty, humanity, and equality for all people. In this week’s episode, Jad and I discuss one of my all-time favorite political and economic topics, risk and reward. Jad started our episode off with a fictitious example of how the concept politically works, and while there is some humor in it, it’s also all too serious in that it’s entirely true.
How is it that the fabric of our modern society is woven together such that a few hundred people in power can arbitrarily steal an unlimited sum of money to do really, whatever they damn well please. Why should we allow costs to be hidden and abstracted from our view? Are we not to be entrusted with our own earnings?
Halfway through the episode, we segway from risk, reward, and cost abstractions, to discussing the fundamental reasons why humans are tolerant of this kind of behavior. It would be amusing to consider just how much bullshit people are taught to accept if only it weren’t so detrimental to our lives. This is Kevin Ludlow and Jad Davis – welcome back to our show.
Let’s go ahead and back that up.
Jad: – that if they were like, “OK, all we need you to do is give us $10,000 dollars”, nobody would do it – nobody cares that much. And maybe they do care enough to contribute $20 dollars to a bounty, and you can have like the Abraham Lincoln brigade you know, Spanish Civil War, people can get together, collectively pool their funds, go over and try to find him, but they’re not going to be able to bomb the fuck out of cities, and occupy countries, and assassinate leaders.
Those kinds of resources can’t be voluntarily raised because people aren’t stupid. When there’s a vague idea, they can be stupid. And when it’s other people’s you know, lives on the line, they can be stupid. But when you actually ask them to pay for something, suddenly they start to calculate, you know?
Jad: They start to realize they don’t realize they don’t really fucking care that somebody in a building 2,000 miles away – the guy responsible for the murders – may be in a cave in – that whole story is like why – when there’s a price tag on it – so yeah, you’re going to find a lot less people that are really all that outraged by it.
Kevin: I mean it’s a brilliant point and my whole basis for all these laws that exist is about quantifiability. You cannot quantify something you cannot say what it is or is not worth to you, and I think that’s an excellent point to say, if people were individually fronting the bill for what it was that they were allegedly in favor of paying for, this shit would disappear in seconds because nobody could do that obviously. Nobody really gives a shit that much, hell, if I could pay a guy a couple bucks to sit on my front porch every night and defend the place, sure, that sounds great – I have the money to do that.
But you know, if I had to shell out – as you say – $10,000 grand a month for that protection, that’s probably pretty unlikely I’m going to do that. I’m going to get a dog way before I do that, right? There’s just this basic level that anybody’s able to look at with that and I just – I think it applies to so many laws that are coming about in the books in this country, and because people are – I mean partially because the government forces it this way – but they’re unwilling to look at the quantified cost of it, and if you put it in front of your face, there’s no way you take the deal ever because it’s a bad deal.
Jad: Yeah. Yep, exactly. That’s exactly it, you hit the nail on the head. People get so upset – people who believe in the system – get so upset that people are not making rational choices, but the problem is there’s no way to make a rational choice unless you understand the cost and the benefits, and the only way you’re going to understand that is when someone says, “if you want this to happen, this is what you will have to pay. Are you in or are you out?” And that’s just the foundation of – that’s the definition of voluntarism, right?
Jad: Solving problems that way allows rational decisions to be made. People that seem totally crazy will become very, very sane very quickly under those circumstances. But if you allow crazy debt instruments, and inflation, and all these sorts of things to be alternatives to, then people will – I mean, there’s no way for them to even comprehend what the costs are.
I mean, you can look at something very abstract like saying you know, every person owes whatever, $50,000 dollars to the national debt or something, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to vote for politician X or Y I mean, the point is is that those things are so pulled apart that anybody with any common sense at all in a position of power can manipulate things to get anything they want done, to get any amount of money sent to any person, or to any war, or whatever – it’s not a problem at all as we’ve seen. And so that cannot be the way a stable society exists, it’s just not – it’s just not a possibility.
Kevin: No, I couldn’t agree more you know? I never did finish the larger parts of my book because you know, there was other chapters as well, but the very first chapter that led into everything else in the book – I forget what I actually called the chapter – but it was risk and reward is what the basis of it was, and my arguments are just that this country has completely, completely in every way, shape, and form lost sight of the basic tenets – the most fundamental tenets – of risk and reward.
And risk and reward of course is the exact same thing as pros and cons, cost and benefit you know, however you want to say it, but it’s the exact same shoe and unfortunately, cases like this. I mean, I think most people tend to only consider the notion of risk reward when you think about finances, and that’s a huge part of it as well – there’s no doubt about that. But risk reward plays a role in everything you do.
As I described it in the book, if you skip work one day, the risk is that if you get caught, you could get fired – the reward is that you get the day off. But you know, there’s consequences to things and I think that we have zero ability to have basic analysis in this country – the most of us anyways – and it leads to just epic failures.
Jad: Well and I would challenge that with what we were saying before though, like most people will make reasonable decisions about, “will I go to work today?”
Kevin: Yeah, they will.
Jad: There are some people that won’t. It’s not that they’re incapable of making the decisions, it’s that they don’t have the decisions to make, right? So if –
Jad: – do they go to work, yes or no – they make the rational decision. Are you going to support this war, yes or no – they have no means, they don’t have the tools, they’re not allowed to make the choice, so to say they don’t make irrational decision doesn’t make any sense because they don’t have the cost and the benefit in front of them to decide what to do, you see what I’m saying?
Kevin: Well there’s truth to that, yeah absolutely.
Jad: Or like you would say, the national debt is a way in which Americans are just blind to this impossibility of maintaining this lifestyle, blah, blah, blah, well the reason they seem blind to it is because they’re not allowed to make that choice. If you said, “we’re going to put your kids’ $20,000 dollars in debt so we can pave the street”, they’re going to say no, right?
But if it’s like, “oh, there’s bond issue, blah, blah, blah”, there is no risk reward, you know? It’s just some sort of these vague abstractions of future payment to you know, something – they might even live in the city where the bond is – I mean it’s just, they’re not being stupid, they’re just not – they’re not really making real choices.
Kevin: But I mean that was a very fair characterization of that. So the point – which you said the word in there somewhere – is that you’re right, it becomes abstracted so we keep abstracting at levels, and levels, and levels, and that’s a big thing I talk about a lot is the abstraction of costs, and the abstraction of decisions because I think the government’s become increasingly wonderful. I mean I think their tactics are brilliant even though every one of them is – I couldn’t disagree with more. They are very good at abstracting the decision process from people and they’re very good at abstracting the cost structure from people, and the further you abstract something from its base root, the base root being, “will you pay me $20,000 to pave your street” – fuck no I won’t, it’s fine as it is, right? And then you take that one level out – there’s a neighborhood that’s raising money to do that, right? And would you contribute to the neighborhood, and then the neighborhood in turn is going to of course, be street paving. “No, I really don’t feel like giving to my neighborhood fund.” Now we take it to the bond measure, right?
And you can keep taking that up the level, eventually it gets to a point where, well now your property taxes are doing it, not it’s this that’s doing it, not the state’s just going to collect a tax from you, now the whole government’s just going to collect a tax from you, and we’re going to do that. “You don’t need to tell us if you want the roads paved at this point, they’re going to be paved, but we’re taking your money for it anyway”, so I completely agree with your point.
I guess it’s not a counterpoint, but the question then becomes, how do you get people to get more on board with the side that we’re looking at because for whatever level – for whatever reason, maybe we’re six levels deep of abstraction, and so to me, I feel that I can run the cost benefit analysis. I fell that I can look at the situation and say, “well I don’t want to pay taxes because this is what those taxes are going for.” “I don’t want the Los Angeles police department to be militarized because this is the actual reality, this is the actual cost or the risk to that militarization – I don’t want that to occur.”
And so I guess I’m trying to get at or trying to question how you get people to come to that level, and I guess to your point – the one that you’ve brought up many times – is it all pretty much just comes down to education upbringing, right? But I’m thinking that there’s – I’m always trying to think about other ways in which to bring that abstraction to a less abstract nature, does that make any sense?
Jad: Sure, totally, totally. And I’m not trying to denigrate any effort to do so. I think that’s – there’s no reason not to try, it’s just the deck is so radically stacked against you but you know, that only seems to make your enjoyment rise in the challenge. And I’m – you know, that’s what I do too, having a conversation like this with anyone is just an education effort, right? Like you were saying, you’re just trying to like, present a view that maybe they will ponder for some time and start to view the world in a different way and start to think about these things in a different way or whatever.
But the institutions and the status quo or whatever is I mean, they’re not even heavily sand bagged, they’re like in an underground bunker 30 miles below the surface of the earth in reinforced concrete and then it’s like it’s nearly impossible to imagine the argument that would turn anything around.
Jad: And you know, the historical trend is that people start to reconsider these ideas when they start to starve to death you know, which is something I hope I don’t live to see frankly, and yeah, I don’t know how that goes. But that seems to be – this has never been – this pattern has never been broken. The conversation has been had lots of times, but every time you know, when it comes time to figure out what to do, some group of people have a bunch of guns and they take control of everything and they reestablish the same hierarchal system and the same process of abstracting away decisions about cost and benefit – taking control of them essentially – and running things into the ground. It happens again and again every single time.
Kevin: Just tying it into it, it’s kind of the great atheist debate again. I mean, it’s convince a pious person that God doesn’t exist, you know? It’s kind of that challenge. It’s the deck is so stacked I mean, that’s basically what you’re trying to do – that’s the level of abstraction you’re trying to beat out there because it’s just so engrained.
Kevin: So I’m not saying you can’t do it – I think it happens.
Kevin: I think it happens all the time, but statistically, it does seem to be against people.
Jad: Yep, and the answer again that your religion analogy points to, what I’m always saying like, the main way to overcome that is to not lie to the child for 10 years before they’re a conscious adult about the nature of God or whatever.
Jad: It’s really hard to undo you know, a lifetime of propaganda. But if you don’t do it in the first place, it’s not something that normally occurs to a child – or an adult rather. There’s no way that a 23 year old has never heard of Jesus is going to make it up – they’re just not going to believe it.
Jad: They’re going to show up and be like, oh yeah, there was a Semitic[?] carpenter who you know, who turned water to wine and raised the dead and then he died so that all the evil that you do is forgiven and you’ll be in heaven. I mean like, no one’s going to believe that shit at age 30 upon first hearing it and I know the theory is – which I totally believe but it’s more speculative than that example – is that if you said to a 30 year old person who’s just growing up without violence being a part of the social relationships that he’s having with the people around him and you’re like, “no wait, really if you want to get things done, what you need to do is give all of your weapons to that guy and he’s going to do whatever he wants, and it’s going to turn out great”, you know?
Like, that sounds insane – no one’s going to believe that shit unless they’ve been told that that’s the way things are supposed to work and that’s the only way things can work, you know? If they don’t know that story then it sounds ludicrous.
Kevin: That is – I’ve never heard that analogy before, but that’s a far more interesting one than the religious one because –
Jad: I think they’re exactly parallel, frankly.
Kevin: I think they’re completely parallel, it’s just it’s a much more interesting spin on the side of it because maybe I’ve just heard the religious one so many times, or maybe religion is just actually less interesting to me than the political side of things, which is very real and very tangible. So to think that that same sort of parallel exists there – which I’d be willing to wager you’re spot on right – and it’s just interesting to consider that.
Jad: Yeah. If you sit down and you explain the social contract and imagine explaining it to an adult who’s never heard the idea – it just sounds absurd, it really sounds ludicrous. Or the divine right of kings even more so, right? But that kind of goes back to the religion thing, but I mean all of those things are just explanations for why you should be someone else’s slave, you know – which it’s really hard to make that argument to an adult, but very easy to tell a child a story again, and again, and again, and then have them think “oh, this is just – you know, you’re crazy if you don’t believe this”, or whatever.
Kevin: So kind of drawing it slightly off to the side, I don’t know if you and Elisa[?] have any intentions of pursuing the child thing in the future – I don’t know if that’s something that you’re interested in or not –
As it turns out and as you may have remembered us mentioning in another recent episode, Jad and his lovely wife Elisa actually are expecting their first child in just a few short months.
– anyways, I know a lot of your friends are you know, have kids or what have you and of course a lot of my friends have kids and all that sort of jazz, and it’s really interesting – I assume you’ve had this conversation with some friends as well as far as how your friends are going to raise the children with respect to I mean, religion and politics for the most part, but the religious one in and of itself I think is really interesting. Have you had that conversation with friends of yours with kids?
Jad: A little bit, it’s one of those ones where it gets kind of sensitive, so –
Kevin: Yeah – no, it totally does.
Jad: I think again, just kind of the way I roll is I’m just not friends with people who are going to raise their kids religiously – I just don’t talk to those people frequently. I mean I do have some friends, I have this one – not to derail your point – but I have this one acquaintance that I used to work with who was Bangladeshi Muslim you know – very intelligent woman. So she very quickly abandoned religion as an adult, then she has twins and they’re adorable and they’re brilliant, and she’s decided to raise them catholic and I’m like, “what? You’re an atheist, you don’t even believe this stuff.” It’s just that social belief that this is an important part of like, a well rounded cultural something or other is to have this component. It’s pretty deeply engrained apparently, but carry on with what you were saying.
Kevin: I don’t know that I had any huge point other than it tied into what you were talking about as far as being raised and so I agree with you wholeheartedly whether we have proof to that point or not. I guess it’s somewhat theoretical, but I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that that’s where that comes from because the stats behind it are pretty revealing. If you’re raised without religion, you’re probably not religious, in fact I think there’s an overwhelmingly strong correlation that you’re not.
It’s just kind of at a point in life now I guess where I have that conversation with people and I ask people about it and you know I’m usually pretty inquisitive with my friends, but just trying to figure out like some of the ones that I’ve seen you know, there’s varying traditions that play into it and that one always kind of – that one always kind of catches me where like maybe my friends would be like, “well, I don’t really give a shit about religion, but the grandparents are really upset if we don’t do this you know, we gotta get them baptized”, and all that sort of stuff and I’m like, “really? Why does that matter”, and they’re like, “well you know, they’re going to be upset if we don’t do it and we don’t want to have to deal with that”, and it’s just interesting to me to kind of see some of that stuff unfold and I guess I would take – I know I would take – a very stubborn point, and I certainly wouldn’t subject my kids to any of that shit.
But for a number of reasons, it’s interesting thinking to me like, where it comes from and why it happens, and what’s good intentions, what’s bad intentions, what’s just – what just happens because it happens, and then the longer term consequences of that. For example, a friend of mine whose kid actually was baptized and his wife is enough religious where she goes to church from time to time, and my buddy is flat atheist as could be, but I mean their – her family is especially religious – and I don’t think that the kid’s going to be dragged to church and all that sort of jazz, but just the fact that you know, you have kind of this religious background, it’s just interesting to me to consider in say, 18 years from now or even 15 years from now, if that kid is going to be of the mindset to believe the Jesus story, or if they’re going to have the mindset to say, “my parents like, did some of that stuff but that’s just ludicrous”, you know? I guess the level of atheism that comes from that person is of interest to me.
Jad: Sure, yeah.
Kevin: I guess the bullet point is what I’m trying to figure out or what’s an interesting puzzle to me in just the world is how much or how little marketing it actually takes of something to convince somebody to follow it blindly.
Kevin: Like to your point about the 30 year old man who’s you know, never heard of the authoritative action before. If he didn’t have any exposure to it at all but then I don’t know, when he was 10 years old for 1 year, he got exposed to it and then again, it just kind of went away after that – is his brain completely susceptible to believing that all of a sudden, or does it take longer than that? That’s an interesting puzzle to me.
Jad: Sure yeah, I agree. I agree. Well I think it’s all to do also with not just the exposure, but how it’s tied to what motivates people is, “am I good”, or “am I bad”. No one wants to act badly, so in that year, if you’re able to convince someone that despite maybe their native biological discomfort with inflicting pain on somebody or forcing someone to do something, it is good to do it – it’s a good thing to do and resisting people who do that is a bad thing to do – to answer your question, I don’t know how long that takes or under what circumstances you could do that under you know, and what periods of time, but that’s what you have to achieve in order to have it stick.
Jad: Like our friend – you know, like your friend and my friend – they’re like it’s good to please your parents, or it’s good to you know, stick with social norms enough to you know, observe these rituals of baptism or whatever they are. They believe that that’s a good thing to do more than they believe that it’s a bad thing to indoctrinate their child and you know, in a Stone Age religion – and that’s why they do it. And so – and they same thing is going to be true of their kids = there’s a million other life experiences that feed into it, but essentially it’s going to be the case that you know, when that time comes for their grandchildren to be christened or whatever, does their child feel like it would bad of them to not do it.
It’s going to be to do with whatever pressure the parent’s put on them, you know? If you have a religious mom then you’ll probably do it, especially if you’re a close knit family and I’m stereotyping here, but – well let’s just say it doesn’t really matter the nationality, if you’re five generations living in the same city with a thousand cousins, and uncles, and aunts, there’s no way you’re going to be an atheist, right? That’s what a black sheep is right, it’s a family outcast because your social surroundings require that you – again, you’re going to be a really bad person if you don’t go to church every Sunday.
Jad: And no one wants to be considered that bad person. Back to what I was saying about my friends like, almost all my friends, I don’t know what the fuck their parents are doing like, they don ‘t go and hang out with their parents, you know what I mean?
Kevin: Right, right.
Jad: They’re independent 30-something year old people and that’s why – I mean, that’s part of the reason that we’re all such easy atheists I guess right, because we don’t have any family expectations to uphold really. You know, you go back home on Christmas or whatever and maybe you go to church or something like that but like, the idea that you’re going to christen your child into a religion just because somebody who’s a you know, 1,000 miles away that you see once a year would be upset with you is kinda you know, just doesn’t hold any weight.
Kevin: Yeah – no, I totally agree with that. I mean, you’re right about the family size, family values, all that. Well I guess now that you say that, to those friend groups of mine that I’m thinking of where that actually plays a role, that’s certainly – that’s certainly the make up of those families.
Jad: Larger families that are close by?
Kevin: Tend to be larger, they’re definitely going to be close by, they’re definitely going to be tighter knit – I mean they don’t have to be huge or anything but you know, definitely large enough where there’s definitely a different type of interaction I think that exists.
Kevin: And a lot of it you know, comes from a lot of traditional values, a lot of conservatism obviously down here, so –
Jad: Yeah. Well and again just to – I think that the key point is like being disapproved of, being thought to be you know, going to hell or whatever once a week or three times a week, or however long – however often you’re you know, encountering those people that feel that way about you is a lot more powerful than having that same thing happen once a year, or not even that, if you can just go – you know, a lot of people will go to their parents, they just lie, you know? They’ll just be like, “yeah, we go to church”, you know, whatever, they don’t give a shit. So it’s not even what you necessarily believe is right, it’s just what you believe they believe about you, you know?
Jad: If you don’t go to church and you go home for Christmas you know, like I said, a thousand miles away and you know, you go to church with your parents and your kids and then you go back home and you know and back to your house with whatever, with a worldly materialistic house of you know, with swearing and you know, violent movies and whatever else you know, unchristian things are going on, if you don’t think you’re perceived as being bad and you don’t feel bad about it yourself then it’s not a problem.
Jad: So there’s a lot of influence in those and I think it’s very subtle, I don’t think – again, people aren’t making the calculation, it’s just like, that’s just the soup they swim in, you know?
Kevin: Yeah, sure.
Jad: I guess you don’t really swim in soup, but –
Kevin: Well I would if I had a big enough bowl.
And with your help, we’ll get that giant bowl of soup. Risk, reward, cost abstraction, religion, politics – all of the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table rolled into a single 20 minute radio show. Though I’m pretty certain the only reason those topics are taboo in the first place is because if we did discuss them regularly, we’d discover at a much earlier age how patently absurd our societal views of the topics really are – but that’s a future episode in the waiting.
As always, thank you so much for listening. We do love hearing from anyone and everyone, so if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for the show, please do contact us. You can reach us through the podcast website at www.JKPod.com, or directly through either of our personal websites. Jad is at Jad-Davis.com, that’s J-A-D dash D-A-V-I-S dot com, and I am at KevinLudlow.com, that’s K-E-V-I-N-L-U-D-L-O-W dot com. Thanks again for tuning in to the show, and we’ll talk to you again next week.