How not to eat the rich

Boy sucking girl's finger, from the anime Amagami SS

Eating the rich, one finger at a time!

There is something absurd about the Left’s fantasies about taxing the “super rich” to fix the broken economy. It is not specifically that it is evil – that is a matter of different opinions – but that it is impossible.

As I have mentioned before, the real super rich are not like Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, who has his money in a silo full of coins and bank notes he can bathe in. Rather, their wealth takes two basic forms: Stocks and bonds. Stocks are part-ownership, mostly in running businesses. Bonds are money lent to other. There are also various derivatives of these, such as the option to buy a stock or a bond at a certain price at some future time. But it really boils down to these two types.

Now say you decide your economy is so messed up that you need to grab 10% of the wealth of the super rich. It is not really sad for them, they still have more than they need for a thousand years of comfortable living, which the Light is unlikely to grant them in any case. But let’s look at what happens when they try to pay their taxes.

Alternative one: They try sell enough stock to finance their extraordinary tax. This is done on the stock exchange, as the name implies. Suddenly there is a glut of sellers and a lack of buyers. This is what we usually call a “stock market crash”. We had one in 1929, heralding the Great Depression. We had another heralding the current troubles, which are the troubles that motivate the Left to want to eat the rich in the first place. So the solution is another stock market crash?

Well, this may seem harmless enough if you are 25 and unemployed. Seeing Wall Street crash and burn, figuratively at least, will probably be satisfying. Not so for your parents: All pension funds are heavily invested on the stock exchange, and everyone’s future pensions will start to unravel before their eyes. This is not a good idea to sign into law for a President who plans on a cushy retreat position as, say, anything other than a panhandler.

Well, how about the bonds? Some of these will mature – the loans fall due – over the course of the year, so these at least should be easy. Just take the money and don’t lend it out again, pay your taxes instead. Fine. But credit has become a bit of a cornerstone in society. Factories or shops that don’t get their credit extended  have to close their doors, even if they otherwise run a profit. In fact, the infamous “financial crisis” that threw the rich world into recession recently was caused by a lack of credit, rather than anything else.

Let us quickly mention the fact that states also depend on credit these days, and a credit panic would cause them to be unable to pay civil servants, state pensions, food stamps etc. Of course, they could just compensate by taxing the rich more…

It is not that it is impossible to tax the rich without the world going down the drain. Many countries tax their rich more than the USA (and a few tax them less). That is not the problem. The problem is the time scale. You can’t confiscate 10% of their wealth one year, or the economy will start spiraling toward death and destruction. You could grab 0.5% each year for 20 years and get the same money with no measurable disruption. But the problem with this is that it won’t solve your problem right here, right now. Even shooting every one of America’s super rich and taking all their money – provided you magically could do this without causing a panic – would only be enough to keep the US debt at its current level for a year, rather than the usual skyrocketing increase. Stealing a measly percent or less simply has no noticeable effect, but it will insult the corporate overlords that wines and dines the politician class. Not worth it, in other words.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s the same with eating the rich. You have to start doing it a generation before you are going to spectacularly mess up your economy. With the current scarcity of time machines, I don’t see a great past for this in America. (Of course, we did it in Norway. We do everything right in Norway. We are simply the best. We were created in God’s image, and then we evolved. Just ask any of my fellow Norwegians.)

Insane terrorists and others

Photo: Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen/Aftenposten/REUTERS/SCANPIX

This picture is all most Norwegians have seen of our worst terrorist since WW2. Not a lot to base a judgment on. But since when has that stopped any of us?

Norwegian public debate ran into an ice berg a couple days ago, when a psychiatric report concluded that Anders Behring Breivik, the supposedly right-wing terrorist who blew up government buildings and massacred teenagers at a political camp this summer, was actually insane. “Paranoid schizophrenia.”

Very few had expected this. Certainly not Behring Breivik.

The public reacts generally with disbelief and anger. The general opinion is that these experts don’t know what they are talking about. Their scientific report should be overruled by people who have never met Behring Breivik, much less actually talked with him for hours and hours on end, and who have not even begun to read his own “manifesto” even though it is freely available on the Net. After all, they have seen the news on TV. That is all you need to know everything in the world, and have absolutely infallible judgment.

Yes, I’m putting the irony on here. My respect for actual humans is, generally, extremely low. This may not be obvious because my respect for the human potential is enormous. We have the capacity to become, fairly precisely put, godlike. In practice however we pay little attention to the soul and so we live and die as a writhing mass of mind parasites, largely unaware of reality beyond what is necessary to survive and procreate. Sometimes we may also fall short of this.

Thus, public opinion about terrorists in Norway and bankers in the USA only matters because we have some degree of democracy. Luckily it is mostly “opiate of the masses”, giving people an illusion of having real power. Long may this last. When the masses awaken, mass murder is sure to follow, since approximately 5% of the population are utterly devoid of conscience, and the remaining 95% generally have no idea how to constrain this minority without the rule of law. That’s, you know, why we have the rule of law in the first place.

So chances are that despite the loud wailing, the court of law will listen to the extremely tiny minority who actually know what they are talking about, and ignore the overwhelming majority who don’t. This is as good as it gets. One day perhaps we will in great numbers realize our human potential. But until then, most live and die only a few steps from insanity, and some will fall off the edge.

 

Thankful to not be American

Well, to be honest I am more precisely thankful to be Norwegian and live in Norway, the world’s best country for years now according to the UN. Those who live in Congo, Somalia or even Colombia probably regard the USA as pretty much Heaven on Earth, and not entirely without reason. But the disturbing fact is that for years now, the US has been in decline, while the world as a whole has been growing healthily. Even after the onset of the Financial Crisis, the emerging economies (much of what used to be the Third World) have been growing at a brisk pace.

What is more important is that the growth in the emerging economies is largely real growth, caused by investment in infrastructure such as roads, railroads, education and telecommunication. In contrast, the growth in America has for a long time now been false growth, caused by growing consumption based on borrowing.  The “dotcom” bubble was quickly replaced with a housing bubble, which exploded spectacularly in the so-called Financial Crisis, impacting many other rich countries to some degree. But what is less obvious yet is that this was followed by yet another bubble, which is still growing: The government bubble.

The government is issuing ever more debt, and we are now talking about truly astronomical amounts, where trillions come and go. There is no plan, not even a vague idea, for how to pay back any of this. In fact, there is no plan for how to stop borrowing, ever. In fact, there seems to be no one who sees this as a need, or even a goal, or even a possibility. It is assumed that for the foreseeable future, America and its government will be financed by borrowing.

Unfortunately, that means the foreseeable future is getting shorter.

Unbelievable as it may seem, there are over 6.5 billion humans who don’t particularly think that the US is God’s chosen  country and is entitled to getting money for nothing. But as long as everyone else is also playing along, as long as you can sell American debt or use it as collateral as if it were gold, it is in everyone’s interest to continue to lend. The day someone big throws the cards and back out of this charade, it will be quite unpleasant to live in America for a while.

Not that it is particularly pleasant now, from what my friends there tell me. High unemployment has become a feature and is taking its toll: There are still many people slowly unwinding their life savings while trying to get a new job, even one that pays less than they used to have. There are still people living in houses they cannot really pay the mortgage for, putting off bills and racking up credit card debt while they hope for better times. But the better times don’t always show up, and so people slowly sink down into poverty. Neighborhoods gradually turn into slums. Schools deteriorate and teachers are fired.

Meanwhile, police is beating up protesters on a regular basis, and public parks are becoming like Palestinian refuge camps, permanent spots of squalor and anger.  In several states, recording police brutality has itself become a crime punishable with years in prison. Some of the latest police crackdowns seem to have been organized on a federal level, something that is against the constitution. (Let us leave aside whether or not it is a good idea to beat up leftists, in  principle, if they give the slightest excuse to do so.)

The culture war goes on, with the enmity between “blue” and “red” growing ever stronger, slowly inching toward an actual civil war with blood on the streets. (Not that the streets in America are free from blood even at the best of times, with the violent crime in the country being several times higher than in other first-world countries, and a general acceptance that you choose to risk your life if you walk into areas populated by people of a different skin color.) While the economy is in chaos, and infrastructure falling apart, the political parties are latching on to obscure pet projects that serve little or no useful function, but simply demonstrate their loyalty to their side of the culture war.

It is not that many years since people around the world looked up to America as a shining example of what a modern society should be. But something has gone horribly wrong. I would be surprised if it is not the same thing that always goes horribly wrong with every empire that has a golden age: Hubris. Overweening pride. A sense of being entitled to privilege. Well, at least you had your days in the sun. I hope you enjoyed them. Your golden age is over – so say your analysts.

 

Global warming politics

You can get away with anything by saying "the Word of God"

In the past, you could get away with just about anything by saying “The Word of God”. These days, you can get the same effect by saying “Climate Change”. People will focus on whether or not they believe, not on whether or not what you say makes sense.

American politics are unique, as far as I know, in that the very fact of man-made climate change is a political issue. Not whether it is a bad thing or what to do about it, but the actual temperature measurements, not to mention the models used to predict future changes.

In a way it is understandable that American conservatives flat out deny man-made climate change. After all, liberals believe in it. In the current poisonous political atmosphere (which is far more dangerous to the country that whatever happens in the physical atmosphere), if your opponent claims the moon is not made of cheese, it probably means they have secret plans to eat it.

There is also the unfortunate tendency for an unholy alliance of progressive politicians and mass media to hype current weather aberrations as proof of climate change. But the truth is that we have literally seen nothing yet: The world is slowly heating up, but from a record low in the 17th century. These things literally happen at a glacial speed, as glaciers are a big player in the process. So we are now back to around the Viking age in temperature, and the Bronze Age was warmer than that, and the late Stone Age warmer than that again. So we have literally not seen anything yet that hasn’t been there already.

In the past, singular weather events like a bad storm or a year of drought were hyped by religious groups as divine punishment. The current behavior is essentially the same, God being replaced by a more nebulous force. But it is still some higher force punishing us for our greed, and people react in much the same way: Not very much at all, since people generally like their greed.

Again, we have literally seen nothing new yet, but we are probably past the point of no return where we will see change on a whole new level – some day in the future when gas-driven cars seem as quaint as horse-driven carriages. And by then, it would probably have changed anyway, either becoming hotter or colder or wetter or drier.  So conservatives are perfectly right to redefine “climate change denier” as “someone who, despite overwhelming proof, refuses to believe that the climate has always been changing.”

A hot summer or cold winter or a particularly devastating tornado or three are weather, not climate. But these are the things that get attention, and the press is adding to the confusion. The press – and presumably TV, for those dumb enough to watch that – is trying to stir up intense emotions, because that’s what sells. Spring coming two, then three weeks earlier to Norway or Canada is not going to compete with the latest sex scandal or grotesque murder. You have to have cities swallowed by the ocean and stuff, so that’s the angle you get. But then you come to the beach and it is exactly where it was last year, and it is kind of hard not to dismiss the whole thing as a hoax.

It is not a hoax. Science has known for over 200 years that carbon dioxide retains heat, because it lets light through but scatters infrared (heat) radiation. Light comes down during the day, and is absorbed to some degree by any surface that is not pure white (or a mirror), more the darker the surface. Light that is absorbed does not disappear, but is radiated as heat. (This can take its sweet time if it is absorbed by plants, of course, since these must be eaten or burned or some such to release the heat. And a lot of the planet is covered in plants, but they actually store only a minor part of the energy that hits them. Nobody calls for more efficient plants though. There are actual differences even between existing species, without genetic engineering.)

So if we increase the carbon dioxide and methane content in the atmosphere, it will hold back more of the heat that would otherwise radiate into space. This is what these gases do and they can’t help it. You can see them in action on our sister planets Venus and Mars, and the atmosphere already keeps Earth 19 Kelvin warmer than it otherwise would be, which is very much a good thing. That’s why nobody complained during those 200 years that we already knew about the greenhouse effect. Even children could read about this in any serious book on astronomy, and it was in no way controversial. It shouldn’t be now.

What should be controversial is the notion that if the planet is getting hotter, we need more socialism, more taxes and more regulations of everything from banks to children’s books. Seriously? No, seriously? If we are facing a massive environmental challenge, don’t we need the most flexible economy we could possibly have? History has already shown us just how great socialism is to protect the environment: It left Eastern Europe an ugly, poisoned dystopia at a point where the forests were already beginning to spread again in North America. If your house is on fire, you don’t call for a pyromaniac. If your environment is in trouble, you don’t call for socialism.

Now, don’t get this wrong. Taxing carbon dioxide emissions is a perfectly reasonable approach, if you think your country will suffer from the global warming. (If you think it will profit from it, that’s a bit different. Scandinavia, Canada, and Siberia will probably all benefit greatly from an ice-free Arctic, for instance.) Taxing carbon emissions from the industry might cause the industry to move elsewhere, so is somewhat less efficient than taxing gas-driven cars or coal-driven power plants. But you can still tax goods on the border for the carbon dioxide emissions made during production. There is nothing controversial about this from a fiscal conservative point of view. Taxing negative externalities is a staple of conservative economic theory, believe it or not.  Laissez-faire does not actually extend to looking the other way when someone dumps their garbage in their neighbor’s backyard.

So yeah, most countries will probably want to tax carbon fuel in order to discourage its use, but should then pass this money back to the people by cutting other taxes or subsidizing positive externalities (like painting your house white, installing solar cells etc). There is no reason to use it to finance your weird culture wars.  Stop doing that, so people can take you seriously.

Regulation vs transparency

Your number one friend is yourself! This is pretty much also the basic tenet of “the dismal science”, economics.

I am mildly surprised to hear demands for “more” regulation of the financial sector, as if that would make things better instead of worse. Some regulation is necessary, but we also have to consider the problem of corruption. As you increase the power of government over business decisions, you increase the benefit of corruption.

Let us take the polar opposite situations. In one scenario, the government has no particular influence on a sector of business. In this scenario, corruption is a waste of money. The various businesses involved could not care less what the government agencies think, and would not spend a dime to influence them.

Now look at the opposite situation, where government has total control over day to day operations. This government sets quota for all kinds of activities, and have nebulous powers to Just Say No to any activity they may find suspicious or not promoting the wellbeing of society, as they see it. In this case, the best investment anyone could do in that branch of business would be to influence the government agencies in any way possible, whether by targeted information campaigns, generous gifts, or good old blackmail. Creativity abounds. But the motivation is certainly there.

By estimating how much influence government has on business operations, we can estimate how strong the pressure toward corruption is. But will this necessarily lead to actual corruption?

The answer to this is that human nature remains human even with the best possible intentions. In other words, corruption WILL happen unless there is a system for watching the watchmen, and then watching the watchers of the watchmen and so on. For each level of overseers it becomes more expensive to corrupt them all. (We must assure that the watchers don’t have the power to actually instruct the executive level, or it would be enough to bribe the watchers.) Of course, adding levels of overseers will cost money which drains society of other resources. Still, it is probably better than corruption.

In other words, what we don’t need is generic “more” regulation. That is worse than nothing. We need more transparency. That is to say, we need to organize things so that correct information is available to as many people as possible.

One way of doing this is to have the participants watch each other. In many countries, sales tax is organized as VAT, Value Added Tax. This means that the final seller collects the sales tax, yes, but also pays sales tax to the previous link in the chain. So a customer may pay sales tax to the retail store, but the retail store pays sales tax to the wholesale business, which again pays sales tax to the factory, and so on. If one of these chains have a completely different set of numbers, something is off. Say the factory and the retailer both sell a lot, but the middleman has much less business. That should ring bells pretty quickly. Same with the other way around, of course.

In contrast, look at the recent financial crisis, the so-called “subprime crisis”. This was caused by packaged loans. What happened was that a few dubious loans were mixed into a batch of pretty solid loans. There was no outright lying about it – probably – but since most of the loans were solid, the total package was considered solid as well. Then such packages were sold again, and each time more rotten loans were added to a package that was deemed “solid”. You can see where this ends. It’s like letting an alcoholic add just a little brandy to the punch. He’ll add a little so often that in the end it is all indistinguishable from brandy.

If one had rules of transparency, so that the content of subprime loans could have been identified at a glance, the crisis could have been averted. But if so, we would also not have had the heady boom years before, when cheap credit was everywhere. Because rotten loans are not cheap. If there is a big risk involved, investors require a “risk premium” to lend you money. This is why, for instance, credit cards have higher interest than mortgages, normally. So the interest rates on loans would have been climbing steadily, and the wild rush into property speculation would not have been possible. People simply would not have been willing to pay that much interest, or conversely, not been willing to lend at that risk.

In this high-transparency scenario, we would not have had the boom of the early 2000s. There would not have been cheap credit to use for consumers, and they would have noticed that their standard of living was not rising (because wages and salaries weren’t). But the thing is, people LIKED to have cheap credit. The banks liked it, but also the government that oversaw the banks liked it, because the voters liked it. Even if the government had been given absolute powers to do whatever they wanted with the financial sector in the year 2000, chances are the result would have been WORSE, since the government not only had the exact same goal (economic growth) but less insight in what was actually going on.

So, not “more regulation”. More transparency. More truth, to put it bluntly.

Subjective wealth

Let them eat cake!

Still sick, still trying to be short, still trying to not roleplay a holy apostle on the Internet.

Let us talk about money. It is a definitely this-worldly thing, I hope we agree. There may be those who worship it, but hardly in a literal, religious sense. Apart from that, admittedly, all bets are off. People can get really excited about it. Probably more than it warrants.

I have looked at these protest movements in the USA and elsewhere, where people want a change to the current distribution of wealth, where a small minority has most of the money. I do not agree with them. Here is why.

As I see it, there is not a big difference between the rich and the middle class. Not even between the super-rich and the lower middle class. Sure, in absolute numbers the difference is staggering. A single oligarch can have more money than a whole town. But it is still just different levels of luxury. The real difference is down to the actual poor: Those who don’t know where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep tonight, or when they will find a pair of shoes without holes.

You may have read about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.We often refer to this as a “pyramid of needs”, but I have a revelation for y’all: In terms of money, it is actually an upside-down pyramid. It takes little money to eat, it takes a lot of money to gain social status, and in between there are things like living in a good neighborhood, getting high-quality medical treatment and so on.

But it gets even more convoluted than that. For the highest levels of the traditional pyramid barely need any money at all. To actualize yourself certainly may require some free time (“slack”), but you can also gain that through having a menial job you can do with half your brain. You don’t need to travel the world to grow as a human. But it probably helps to not be so hungry that you don’t know or care where you are and what you are doing.

I think of money as following a Briggsian logarithm, or base 10. That is to say, someone who has 100 dollars is twice as rich as one who has 10. One who has a million dollar is twice as rich as one who has 100 000. Actually I am not sure, it may be fading at higher levels, but it seems to hold pretty well at low levels. If you don’t have money at all, having money to buy a bread makes a huge difference. A bread can provide food for a person for a week. But for a middle-class person, finding extra money of that order is basically worthless. It is barely worth stopping to pick up. For Bill Gates in his prime, it was said that picking up a $1000 bill would cause him a net loss, because his time was so much more worth.

Does this make sense to you?

Games made me do it!

Screenshot from City of Heroes, starring my character In Hoc Signo Vince (a modern paladin type with a Roman-inspired helm and Valkyrie cape), leader of the supergroup Masshiro (“Pure white” in English) on the main European server. In the background two other supergroup members. Evidence to use against me if someone here in Mandal blows up something.

According to an article in Norwegian news site DN.no, the star profiler of criminals, Pat Brown, has found a connection between Norwegian terrorist Breivik and computer games. (Breivik famously mentions playing computer games in his 1500 page book. Of course, I mention playing computer games over and over in my far larger autobiography right here in front of you, and I have yet to kill any socialists in real life. So I think that may not be the crucial point.)

“Violent psychopaths often have a superhero complex” the expert is quoted as saying. (Well, it is translated into Norwegian, so some nuances may be lost.) “They are obsessed by the thought of playing the role as Superman, Spiderman or ninja and fight in a superhero way.”

Evidently it must be divine intervention that I have not already murdered several times over as many people as Mr Breivik. Well, I won’t deny that. Divine intervention is a good thing. (Somewhat depending on the deity, says a voice in my head.) But if so, I think we should not rule out demonic intervention in his case. Or “mind parasites” as we say in the Transdimensional Church of the Cosmic Raccoon.

Evidently computers must be a lot more widespread in Afghanistan than their $1 a day average income made me believe. Also, those games must be older than I thought to have influenced not only Hitler but also Genghis Khan (probably Civilization II in the case of Genghis, the Mongol Horde strategy was a pretty sure winner back then). Not to mention the Vandals, the Aztecs, and the Assyrians with their habit of stacking up skulls. Incredible how the amount of computer games has dropped over the last few decades to give us the fairly peaceful and harmonic world we have today, compared with every single age of recorded history (and the bone record of prehistory, implying that something like a quarter of the stone age dead were killed in some way).

Oh well. I should probably go set some pixel people on (spiritual) fire again. After all, I am not like you ordinary people who don’t do such dubious things as playing games!

Incidentally, the word “masshiro” is Japanese, as is the costume of one of the girls. It refers to all of us using light-based powers, as a symbol of spiritual purity, and has nothing to do with race.  Yeah, right, tell that to the judge!

Fury of the Northmen

I must admit that I have a couple characters in City of Heroes inspired by Norse mythology. It lends itself quite well to warlike heroes… in a fantasy world.

As I expressed on Google+, there was something off about the bomb in Oslo. It did not follow the pattern of al-Qaeda or their Islamic copycats. The timing in particular was a bit off. Once I heard that someone was shooting at Utøya, the traditional summer camp site of the Social Democrats, I knew it had to be a nationalist. At that time, I still did not know he was also behind the bomb, just that something was subtly “off” about it.

You see, this guy was not the only one thinking of the (more or less) ruling Social Democrat party as quislings. I would guess somewhere around 1/4 of the adult population would agree with that, possibly more. And I mean quisling in a very literal sense. Nationalists consider the Muslim immigration more of a threat to Norway than the German invasion ever was. As it happens, I agree with that, in a manner of speaking. But it really does not matter now. History is coming to an end, and Norway and Islam both will become like dust on the wind. Not in my natural lifespan, perhaps, but in less than a century is my guess.

But most people don’t look forward. They don’t even look backward properly. They don’t realize that the world has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500, or quite possibly 5000. They don’t notice that the acceleration of accelerating change is accelerating – that the pace at which chance increases is itself increasing. An exponential function of knowledge and change. All that you knew is slipping between your fingers. Your grandchildren will either be as gods, or not alive at all. The squabble between cousins that we call a clash of civilizations is … insignificant. Unless it somehow manages to inspire us to blow up the planet, I guess. And you have to wonder, after days like these.

As I said, nationalists consider the current stock of politicians to be guilty of high treason, so it would make sense to assassinate them. I can certainly understand their feelings, having been human myself. For much of my life, there was this constant undercurrent in my life of thinking “evil people must die, evil people must die”. It took me many years of self-reflection to realize that I was basically one of the evil people, and I am still not completely dead, although I am certainly much reduced. For someone stuck at the mental level I was at in my 20es, blowing up a government building or executing Evil People (TM) would certainly be a holy duty and a great joy. Having a good enemy to project your evil on makes life a lot more bearable.

You may have heard that Norwegians are eager to help all kinds of people and try to negotiate peace all over the world. That is certainly true. What you don’t know is that we do all this because we know, but dare not think of, that deep inside we want to throttle people with our bare hands, or at least cleave their skull with a good axe, and laugh as we watch the light die in their eyes. Do you really think our genes have changed that much in 1000 years? They have not, we just go out of our way to not trigger them.

“From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, o Lord!” So prayed the English monks during the viking age, and rightly so. Scandinavians may be slower to anger than people in warmer climes, but once the bloodlust rises in them, there is no holding them back. I am not really surprised that we have a throwback to that time: In school we used to learn a slightly glorified version of the old Norse history, with the strong and proud warriors as an ideal. “Noregsveldet” was it called in my grade school, meaning roughly “the lands ruled by Norway”, encompassing such vassal states as Ireland and Great Britain and parts of France, not to mention Iceland, Greenland and snippets of North America. I am sure Swedes are thinking back to the time when they ruled much of Germany as well, but let us stick with Norway for now.

It should not surprise anyone that people who take the Vikings as ideal, can get a bit … bloodyminded, so to speak. And one habit of old (which is unfortunately not restricted to this corner of the world) was, when you had an enemy you really hated, to kill his children in front of him before blinding him.

I see international media represent Utøya as a political youth camp, and that it is too. But especially for the younger (and more vulnerable) teens, it is mainly a summer vacation resorts for children of the Social Democrat political elite, the leaders locally and nationally and their friends in the party. I think you see what is coming here.

“They were friends” said Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, after the massacre, and he was right. Those kids were his friends and children of his friends.  “This place was my summer paradise, and it has been made into a hell.” The Oslo-bomber did not kill the traitors, as he (and many others) thought of them. Instead, he killed their children. I have on good authority that this is far worse.

And it makes sense. You destroy our future, we destroy yours. An eye for an eye. This man was perfectly sane – within his worldview. If the world he lived in were the real world, he would have been a hero. I am sure that is how he regards himself even now.

I am pretty sure there aren’t many others who think of him as a hero, though. Not even among his fellow nationalists. Most of us have the good sense to notice when the berserker rage begins to creep up on us, and go to extremes to avoid it. Because once it takes us, the old gods of thunder and spears are very much alive and well in the land.

From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us o Lord!  Amen.

 

I don’t live in Oslo

I do live in Norway, though. Luckily there have been no terror attacks here on the south coast where I live, so the huge bomb blast in Oslo and the shooting episode are really not much “real” to me than it is to you.

The aftermath will probably be, though. Depending on who is found to be responsible, the political climate will change dramatically, I am sure. There is a strong undercurrent of resentment and scorn toward the Muslim immigrants in Norway. And rightly so, actually! What has happened is that Norway has taken in a large number of refugees from various Muslim countries, for the obvious reason that Muslim countries are among the few where killing people is still government business.

Now, the refugees are not necessarily political opponents, although that happens. They may often be common habitual criminals, which is enough to get you killed in those countries. So they are not criminals because they are Muslims. They are criminals from countries where being a criminal is highly unsafe, and we take them in because, well, we’ve signed various treaties to that effect.

As a result, “Muslims” – as in people form Muslim countries – are now a major part of the criminal underclass. They are responsible for the overwhelming majority of rapes, most robberies and all but a few murders.  (The exception being homegrown psychiatric patients with sufficiently serious mental afflictions, and a few jealous boyfriends.) Again, this has less to do with religion than absence of religions. That does not really help the public opinion though.

So today I put up a brand new smoke detector. I don’t really expect a Kristallnacht thing, or for that matter a preemptive strike by the foreigners, but I do share this house with a family that is not ethnic Norwegian. Since I have only newly arrived, I am not sure how many locals know that I am even living here yet – the upstairs family was alone in the house for some time, and people may still think they are. Just saying. A smoke detector may not be enough if push comes to shove, but it is generally a good idea to have anyway.

So yeah, the bombing could affect me  even that distance, in a subtle and indirect way. But hopefully not.

And hopefully we won’t take a nosedive into “homeland security” society, like a certain other nation that used to be admirable. But you never know. Humans are just barely rational even at the best of times.

On the bright side, if this turns out to actually be an Islamic terrorism, we might finally get a conservative government after the election. That would be a silver lining indeed, since conservatives here in Norway are rather different from the American version. The correct name for them is actually “Moderates”. This is the name of the corresponding Swedish party, “Moderaterna”. I was briefly a member of Moderat Ungdom (Moderate Youth) in high school. And no, it did not mean that I was only moderately young.  Now, however, that would be a more fitting description!

 

“Austerity measures”

My own austerity measures: The first sacks of things to throw away before moving to the smaller place. More sacks to follow.

I have written a few times about the near future, after peak oil and peak metal and so on. What I have sketched is not a disaster scenario. Disaster scenarios are good for selling books, and I agree that if we act like complete morons, we can make a disaster out of it. Then again we can make a disaster in paradise itself, as the Jewish creation mythos so beautifully explains. This tendency lies in us all and must be watched.

Seeing pictures of Greeks rioting in the streets not only brings home this human tendency to make a mess of things, but also an even more ingrained human tendency: To never give up something you already know from experience that you can live without. This is not a pure evil: It is kind of helpful for a marriage, for instance, that you won’t give up on your spouse at the first bump in the road, even if you survived for several years before even meeting them. But for the most part, it is people torturing themselves.

I am going through my own austerity measures these days. Getting less for the same money is the trend of the future, and I have started (somewhat unexpectedly, in my case) since I have to move from a house to half a house for the same rent. In the process, I am once again going through the things I’d like to bring along, and sorting out things that I won’t realistically have room for. The thing is, I started my adult life with much less than this. It took many years before I even had my first bookshelf. It is like my material riches have increased by 1000% and now I have to go back to 800%. Not really something to riot over, I think.

I can see how people who planned to retire at 50 will be upset that they can’t. The whole thing I am going through now is an exercise in how to (not) react when you find out that people break their promises if they have the power to do so. That is unfortunate, but when the promises were a bit too good to be true, when we were living our dream, simply going back to reality should not be the end of the world.

Retiring at 50 or even 55 is certainly dreamlike, at least if you have a job you hate. But the best response to that is to either get a job you like, or like the job you have. Almost all jobs consists of helping other people (because that is the only thing people are likely to pay for, if they have a choice). So by rising your love to a very high degree, you can usually find satisfaction in any work that is not contrary to law or decency.

I have every intention of working till 75 if my health holds up. That is not a certain thing, of course. But as far as I see it, retirement is not natural. It should not really exist. Rather, people may get disability pensions when they are no longer able to work, whether it happens at 20 or 90. If you want, you can of course quit your job at any time, but I don’t see why one should be rewarded for that. The way Europe at least has organized this, people have paid for other people’s retirement for decades, so it stands to reason that they want to get their money’s worth. But that money is not saved anywhere. It is already spent, on other people’s retirement. So it is not like you can give them back the cash. Given that we all face a period of austerity, I think it is more important to support those who are actually ill, over those who are actually lazy.

When the money is gone, it is gone. The tooth fairy won’t bring it back even if you break somebody’s teeth. It is like that with all things. The only certain thing about anything on earth is that it will end. As the Buddha said: “All things that have form are subject to decay.” I hear even the protons will decay some hundred billion years from now. We should salvage the happiness we can find during our journey through time, collect the good memories and learn from the unpleasant. For each of us there will come a time when we won’t get any more memories from Earth. There is more joy to be had from austerity than from rage. Believe me, I have tried both.