Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

From David P. Goldman at PJ Media in his article, "The Triumph of Inequality" (hat tip to Sense of Events):
The great divide is not between black and white, or male and female. We are turning into two races: Eloi who play video games and Morlocks who program them. The July 3 New York Times reported, "By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year. Between 2004 and 2015, young men’s leisure time grew by 2.3 hours a week. A majority of that increase — 60 percent — was spent playing video games."
If you enlarge the definition of Morlocks from the people who program video games to the people who design the computers those games run on, and all the other engineers and technicians of all kinds: electrical, mechanical, aerospace, and more, I'm there with him.  I have as much respect for a mechanic who can keep a modern jet engine running optimally as the team who designed it.

Goldman goes on to draw a few contrasts.
Three hundred years ago, pretty much everyone knew how their technology worked. Europe had lived for a millennium on the innovations of the Carolingian Renaissance: the water wheel, the horse collar, and three-field crop rotation. Everyone knew how a water wheel worked. Water pushed the paddles and gears turned the millstones. Not everyone knew how a steam engine worked, but a lot of people did. The same applied to internal combustion engines.

Not only were those technologies easy to understand: They were easy to make. Any competent carpenter could build a water wheel. The Wright brothers built their first airplane in a bicycle shop. Henry Ford made his first internal combustion engine out of spare parts in a backroom at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit.

How many people know how a computer works? Solid-state electronics depends on quantum theory, which is understood by one in 10,000 Americans at best. To build a competitive integrated circuit now requires a multi-billion-dollar plant. A numerically minuscule elite invents the technologies we use every day, and a handful of large corporations access the capital required to manufacture them.
He argues that today's technology is too complex.  It's true that as recently as the early 1960s, only a couple of guys were required to design a state of the art radio, (I've met some of them) while today's equivalent radios require a team of hardware and software engineers, with each of those broad categories having several specializations.  It's the rare engineer who can understand all of those domains and design every piece.  To do so is discouraged in the industry for the simple reason that the product gets on the market faster when a team works in parallel than if one guy does everything one subsection at a time.

To dwell on this is to miss the big point: it's that "numerically minuscule elite" that leads all progress in our world and for a nation to have real influence, they need to ruthlessly select for them in a free market of education and ideas.  To deny the opportunity to compete for that education to some portion of its citizens is likely self-defeating, but only the best should advance. Meritocracy, not equality.
Today there are two billion Asians whose parents were immured in utter backwardness who now have a chance at the brass ring. China graduates four times as many STEM bachelors as the United States and twice as many PhDs; a generation ago the Chinese university system had just begun to pick itself up out of the ruins of the Cultural Revolution
Part of the glue that held the Chinese imperial system together these past three thousand years is the chance that every Chinese has to get rich by passing what used to be the Mandarin examination.
The byword in American education is "No child left behind." In Singapore, it's "You must be exceptional to survive."
America is at a distinct disadvantage to Asia.  We are numerically quite a bit smaller than China or India.  That means fewer to choose from to find that minuscule fraction.  

While the idiots on the left are consumed with equality of outcomes for everyone, rather than the equality of opportunities, Goldman gives the simple, inescapably true message that we should ruthlessly search for excellence instead. 
If we focus on equality rather than excellence, we will be overwhelmed by the rest of the world.  A generation from now there will be a word for an American who works for an Asian: "Employed." Our future lies in the talented few, not the mediocre masses -- and if we repudiate them, the future will repudiate us.
Are we headed for another dark ages?  Cloistered in the future equivalents of monasteries may be the people who know how to do things: the Morlocks.

A commenter there retold a story that I know I've seen before, and I'll bet most of you have, too.
I remember a story about how some archeologists excavated a Roman villa in East Anglia and found that while it was occupied by Romans soon after the conquest of Brittania it had all the comforts of civilization including central heating. As they continued to excavate they found strange burn marks in what was the great room which were accurately dated to a time three or four generations after the Romans left. Why the burn marks? Campfires. Within 100 years the people living there had forgotten how to make central heating work. They had probably forgotten that it existed at all.

Similarly, records kept by the Romans showed agricultural productivity for the same area three times what it would be when the Domesday Book started keeping records again. The farmers after the fall of Rome not only COULDN'T achieve that productivity, they didn't know it existed in the first place.
A modern generation Digital Signal Processor chip.  It takes the industrial might of billion dollar companies along with teams of engineers to design and make these.  If society collapses, I can easily see us losing the knowledge of how to make these.  I can see after a generation without them, people not being able to imagine they existed at all. 


  1. You can have equality or liberty but never both. Look how many nation states have equality in poverty. Venezuela HAD relative it has relative equality in poverty of course. The continent of Africa is sliding into equality of poverty and the last shred of liberty is being strangled. Poverty produces only more poverty..only liberty can produce for a functioning society. indyjonesouthere

  2. It is very much past time to document all we do, and more importantly precisely how it is accomplished. The Morlocks lived underground. Unfortunately, the new monasteries we should be building to preserve what humanity has struggled for so long to understand should be build underground as well. To preserve them against the predations of those who only know how to build fires out of sticks.

    The novel A Canticle for Leibowitz was perhaps the saddest and most eye-opening book I've ever read. I highly recommend people find and read it. For perspective that you rarely find anymore.

  3. A few years ago I heard on NPR that if the North Korean dictator was assassinated, the North Korean citizenry would be in the worst possible situation: without a government. I think that's the analysis mistake that's being made here.

    The present mess is not going to continue on a slow decline for gggg generations; Denninger says it's going to break due to rising Medicare costs inside four years. After that financial crash, the government in North America will stop being able to pay its employees. Those employees will find other jobs. Then if criminals riot or rob, they may be shot by their victims, who may suffer no consequences because there will be so many fewer government employees left to impose consequences. In this new smaller-government environment, currently suppressed industrial competition will blossom. The problem of future barbarians not knowing how to code html because it wasn't transmitted to them by culture after all the practitioners died out is not going to happen; the transition will be too short and the outcome too positive.

    Low-end chip design is almost a home hobbyist technology. Linux runs on a soft cpu running on a $50 FPGA demo board. The source for that cpu is open. The compiler for that source is closed, but a replacement is being worked on. That replacement works today for smaller devices. I understand there is a toolchain through which the same cpu source code can target ASICs layouts directly, without the FPGA layer. The high end chip output of the present civilization is very much a team effort. However, Unix runs in 8 Megabytes and 100 Megahertz, which makes the home hobbyist output interesting.

    1. Low-end chip design is almost a home hobbyist technology. No. It's not. A home hobbyist can make crude FETs given chemically pure silicon wafers, but they can't start with quartz, refine it to silicon, grow wafers, slice them, then repeatedly dope and etch even a low end CPU with 250 or 500 nm geometries, which are trivial to modern manufacturers. The hobbyist couldn't even make 6um geometries like the 8080.

      What you're talking about presupposes all that technology is still there. That FPGAs are still being made and all the other parts you need for that FPGA demo board are still there. No home hobbyist is even going to make the ubiquitous chip capacitors and resistors you need on that pwb.

      Could a group of hobbyists working together accomplish these things? Maybe more than someone working by himself.

      As for your other paragraphs - sure could be that the coming future isn't as bad as could be. Could be that we're not going into long term decline. I'm a fan of the observation that "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes". I'm just looking for rhymes.

    2. I meant the "which gates and wires do you put where to construct a cpu" aspect, not the physical fab of chips aspect.

  4. “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as "bad luck.”

    Robert A. Heinlein

    Accurate, that, and incomplete. Unless that small minority is incarcerated or executed, they go somewhere, and that "somewhere' has the opportunity - if it is perceptive enough to recognize the bounty, and intelligent enough to capitalize on it - to enjoy the opposite of "bad luck." The greater danger is a malevolent culture which convinces that minority to self-exile individually and remain individually remote; even those who "went Galt" in Rand's novel remained associated and organized, using group remoteness as a productive tool.

  5. NOTE
    WSRA recently linked to a new article that linked to this two year old posting. Due to the flood of Spam, comments to articles more than 14 days old are blocked.

    If you want to leave a comment, please go to the June 23rd post linked. For four more days.