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I’ve remembered about the article What We Believe I wrote two years back, in the early days when I was still writing anonymously (as “stalker”) and was pretending to be a team. Had fun rereading it, almost like a time machine. My views on Russia have remained mostly unchanged. I’ve grown to become somewhat more positive about the legacy of the Soviet Union; like most Russians, I retain the same ambiguous attitude towards Stalin, whom I have described as “the despotic Messiah who led and ruled [Russians] like the God of the Old Testament”; and I am as convinced as ever of the hypocritical and double standards-laced coverage of subjects like Putin, Chechnya, and Russia’s human rights record in the Western media.

Furthermore, I’ve become much more skeptical about the universalism of liberalism and HR. Two years back I believed the West should be actively involved in cultivating social progress in regards to women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc, in backward areas of the Muslim world; not any more, though I remain a social progressive. It’s just that I’ve recognized that these concepts – liberalism, HR, etc – are but manifestations of a specific Romano-Germanic (Western) culture, and do not necessarily have much resonance with the cultural traditions of other civilizations. In some cases the cultural clash between the two leaves produced nothing but destruction. Other civilizations should be left free to forge their own path into the iron cage of modernity, or not.

Far more interesting was reading my own “General Values” from two years ago, back when the world was so different and global neoliberalism appeared to be at high noon – whereas in reality it is near sunset, in large part due to the imminence of peak oil and the creeping insolvency of Pax Americana. I too have changed a lot. Reading about myself from back then is almost like listening to a highly familiar, but nonetheless different, person. From economic centrism, of the Krugmanite variety, to Green Communism. From atheism to pantheism. Lots more postmodernist claptrap. Etc. Let me outline my beliefs two years on.

Political Compass

Da Russophile is economically centrist, extremely liberal socially and supportive of liberal democracy, albeit with an authoritarian streak. We are Economic Left/Right: -1.25, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.59 on the Political Compass test.

Make that economically leftist, extremely liberal socially, and with an interpretation of political power that is much freer from forced categorization. Who is more democratic, the deaf “liberal” ideologue with a 5% approval rating or the post-ideological pragmatist / semi-authoritarian uniter with an 80% approval rating?* The post-historical “liberal democratic” country ran by socialist oligarchs or an unelected “deliberative dictatorship” that acts on opinion polls and executes corrupt officials using mobile execution buses? For what it’s worth, I am now Economic Left/Right: -9.50, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.28 on the Political Compass. Quite a shift leftward if there ever was one.

Theophilosophy

We are atheists and have a secular worldview. We do not think religion is useful for anything other than some of its aesthetic aspects (like choral music and icons)…

I no longer agree with this at all. All worldviews are valid from within their own frames of reference. The Christianity of the Middle Ages – as reflected in the sublimity of their holy rites, the dark Gothic splendor of the cathedrals rising above the plains, etc – had at least as much meaning and validity to the West European peasant mind, as does the science-rationalism of the Machine to the modern Faustian mind. I have come to appreciate this, in a postmodern way, and have now embraced pantheism; all religions have validity, they are all slivers of one indivisible, unbounded whole, the Void. In particular, I appreciate Orthodox Christianity for its aesthetics, and the great Eastern philosophical religions – Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism. I think there is great potential in synthesizing traditional belief with secular mythologies such as Marxism, achieving a sublation that reconciles social and cultural progress with eternal transcendental values and ideals such as the sobornost (the just social contract) and natural balance (ecological homeostasis, in the scientific jargon).

Death Penalty

Our position on the death penalty is that it is wrong out of a) humanitarian concerns (that is, death row syndrome) and b) the impossibility of making 100% sure that innocents are never executed. Nonetheless, we recognize that there is a (one) valid justification for the death penalty – deterrance. This applies particularly to those countries where violent crime is at very high levels (South Africa, Columbia, etc). We also accept its use as a deterrant against corruption, as is the case in China and Vietnam – this is because corruption also kills people, if indirectly. Since our goal is deterrance (rather than ‘moral’ reasons of ‘eye for an eye’ retribution), we see this as merely being consistent.

I have to admit I tend to oscillate in my support for the death penalty. At some moments I feel all humane and sentimental. At other points I follow the logic above, and support it for: murder, serial rape, child rape, human trafficking, treason, and gross corruption & sabotage (on the scale of >10mn $, say). After all, is it not an affirmation of a higher and noble form of love for one’s people, the love inherent in self-sacrifice, to vouch for the death penalty (which is an objective form of deterrent), despite one’s moral scruples?

Another idea I’ve had on this topic is to determine guilt by the standard jury method, but let the people decide the punishment. So the bad guy / gal gets to make an impassioned televised plea to the nation electronically voting on the punishment. If (s)he is convincing and / or pitiable enough, the sentence gets adjusted from the death penalty to community service, psychiatric treatment, flogging, deportation to the Canadian gulags, and reality TV gladiator death games like in the dystopian movies (maybe not). And it’s all very democratic. BTW, another thing – the current prison system should be eliminated or at least massively downsized.

Anyhow, reality supersedes individual beliefs. The social rifts that will be inevitably opened up by the shocks of peak oil and its consequences will probably lead to the reintroduction of the death penalty throughout Europe, and the expansion of its use elsewhere (e.g. for corruption and sabotage, which become far more serious issues in a world of scarcity and limits to growth).

Abortion

We are in favor of full abortion rights, since it is our opinion that a) women should have full sovereignty over their own bodies and b) that a clump of human cells with no self-awareness should not be considered a person with rights. We view restrictions on abortion as violations of human rights.

I will take this opportunity to expound on an old idea of mine for a new ethics for the Information Age (though I can’t say I fully subscribe to it).

This is a values system based on patterns. Every human individual is an extraordinarily complex and interesting pattern. A pattern, formally defined, is a set of rules which can be used to generate things – the pattern is said to exhibit itself if the things created have enough in common for the underlying rules to be inferred. Hence, we can treat a specifically adult human pattern as a soul (with its capacity of around 10^26 calculations per second and specific software or neural makeup), and the set of all patterns in our universe as the Pattern; the values system will be based on patterns and their particular relationship, in complexity, interest and ‘meaningfulness’, to a soul; over time, of course, the latter two concepts will evolve with the whole Pattern. This opens up a Pandora’s box of possible repercussions, but they are all containable and can be used to justify a range of propositions.

For instance, abortion is permissible because the pattern of a human foetus is negligibly small compared with the soul of the mother-to-be; it is directly comparable to that of lower animals, depending on the state of its development. Outright banning abortion will inflict much greater net sin because of the psychological damage to the soul, and its possible total termination due to unsafe backstreet abortions. Furthermore, it can save souls by lowering the murder rate, as maintained by Steven Levitt… Nonetheless, such an ethics system does not make killing a human baby equivalent to killing, say, a parrot with the intelligence of a five year old, so long as the aforementioned baby has souls heavily devoted to it; by terminating it, one removes the neural connections stimulated or used to communicate with the baby, so one in fact destroys a significant part of several souls through such a deed.

This new ethics can be summarized with a rather freehanded conversion of Asimov’s original Three Laws of Robotics – these will be the Three Laws of the New Ethics.

  1. Preserve existing patterns.
  2. Expand patterns in scope and complexity unless it conflicts with the First Law.
  3. Future patterns also have value, but their sum converges to a limit.

The inevitable question – doesn’t this apply to the death penalty? Not really. While the death penalty destroys a soul (Law 1), the deterrent effect preserves a lot more further down the road (Law 3)

Drugs

Da Russophile supports a gradual decriminalization of all drugs. We consider ‘wars on drugs’, like ‘wars on terrors’, to be a cover for infringements on human rights and state corruption. Licensing them will take money away from criminal organizations and bolster government funds, which can be directed towards healthcare (including treating drug addicts). Marijuana, LSD and ecstasy are fun things and as such little different in essence from alcohol and tobacco, which are legal out of the force of tradition. We would also tax the fat, salts and sugar content in foods so as to cut heart disease and cancer rates and create incentives to move to healthier diets.

Yes, bring on the fat tax and libertarian drug laws.

Economic Philosophy

We would best be described as economic centrists, though in general we like to steer clear of labels, preferring to judge policies on their own merits. We support liberal ‘ease of doing business’ laws (e.g. on unemployment, starting up companies, etc) and private participation in the social sphere, e.g. healthcare, education, etc. In general, we oppose government subsidies to failing industries, preferring instead that they invest money into retraining workers. However, we support an extensive welfare state that would shield everyone and anyone in case of crisis – our role model is mostly Scandinavian.

Global capitalism, however thickly sugar-coated with socialism / welfarism, is incapable of resolving its fundamental contradiction – that economic growth is its essence, and thus ecological overshoot and collapse are inevitable barring a technological silver bullet, i.e., a deux ex machine. Read my post on Green Communism.

Trade & Protectionism

We support free trade so as to achieve the optimal division of labor and hence prosperity in the world.

Free trade is only good if it’s really free, which it is not. So I retract this. And let’s not even go into the energy and ecological costs of the freighter fleets and air transports fueling the global consumerist orgy.

Feminism

We support the goals of the feminist movement and consider that gender equality has not yet been achieved anywhere. Men are still more valued as bread-winners and women-more as home-makers, and changing these social perceptions is one of our goals.

Some musings I wrote on this, again quite a while back – a Hegelian interpretation of herstory.

Consider the dialogue of power between the sexes. In prehistoric societies, women held a rough balance of power, apparently independently procreating, augmenting the sustenance base through forage and practising medicine from the derived knowledge of plant properties. However, men’s focus on animal domestication – derived from their previous hunting specialization – drew their attention to the link between animal copulation and reproduction. Women came to be seen as mere vessels, defined as unwilling and unable to participate in battles for pure prestige and hence entirely subhuman. Furthermore, harsher tribal societies based on herding tended to subjugate agricultural societies and so embed their values upon their submissive populations. By the times of the Old Testament women were little more than chattel in the most advanced cradle of civilization, the Near East.

However, after thousands of years, Christianity (and Islam) came to be widely adopted: both proclaimed theoretical spiritual equality between everyone. In time the image of women was transformed into the ‘Lady’ of courtly love, an object of admiration and worthy of respect that was to continue on into the industrial era as the Victorian ‘angel of the house’, moral agent of cleanliness and sobriety. Yet the social agitation of the industrial ‘wage-slaves’ resulted in a clamour for extension of the democratic franchise, a wing of which included the suffragettes. The first part of the twentieth century saw the franchise extended to women in much of the advanced world, with a few local exceptions like Switzerland; the second part witnessed the active promotion of social equality between the sexes, enabled above all by the Pill (a facet of technology) that allowed the liberated feminist to reassert her own sexuality.

Hence we observe that the major step changes in feminist history – vessel, lady and woman – coincide with both social (slavery, feudalism and capitalism) and economic (agriculture, basic mechanization, industrialism) paradigm shifts, even though social transformations tends to be both blurred and lag behind economic changes. ‘Herstory’ is the collective history of the female thymos – the combined desire of women to achieve recognition as human beings and to reject their epithet as the ‘second sex’. That is the world-historical mission of the feminist movement, which has always existed even if it only recognized itself for what it was just two hundred years ago with the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and other visionaries.

Things are now returning back to the future, which is a cyber-primitivist one, the circle returns to the original point but higher up (or lower down) on the spiral of history. Perhaps the circle will be broken entirely by the development of an artificial womb (more research and experiments should be done on this).

Limits to Growth

It is obvious that global warming is both real and anthropic. Furthermore, the latest research implies that it is catastrophic, threatning to go out of control once it passes certain tipping points – which may well have been passed already. Hence, man-made emissions, by raising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and thus causing global warming, can trigger other mechanisms that will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – frozen methane clathrates under the world’s seas, methane in the Siberian permafrost and Indonesian peat bogs, and the vast amount of carbon locked into the world’s tropical forests. …

Yes, but even more so; I know support a global policy of “sustainable retreat” from industrialism in search of Green Communism. Furthermore, unlike 2 years back when I was a relative optimist on the energy front, I am now a full-blown “peaker” on oil and resource issues. It shows.

Other Issues

Unfortunately, LGBT rights are weak…

Yes.

We support testing on animals.

But with a lot more reservations and strict conditions than which I had in my days of tunnel-minded faith in the religion of science. We should recognize that pharmaceutical industries are bloated and corrupt; that in many cases traditional alternative approaches produce better results; and that in some sense (e.g. growing antibiotic resistance), industrial-era medicine is going down a dead alley. Quite literally.

We are against censorship.

At least in principle.

We are against gun control, since we think than an armed citizenry tends to reduce the crime rate. However, we insist on licensing and would stop short of allowing full-automatics to be sold.

Remove the full-automatics bit. One can never have too many guns.

For more on my beliefs, especially those related to Russia and being afflicted with a diasporic mentality, see my interview @ Siberian Light.

* E.g., Yushchenko and Putin, respectively.

Edit 2013: Needless to say I no longer agree with a lot of this.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Edit 2013: It is with regret that I now acknowledge a lot of what I thought I knew about optimal eating some years back was wrong. Please disregard this post.

Sometime ago I wrote that introducing a fat tax is a good idea on the grounds that fatty foods are unhealthy and addictive (like drugs), and that a fat tax is socially progressive and would encourage healthier eating lifestyles. This argument is especially persuasive in countries where people who consciously lead unhealthy lifestyles can freeload on universal healthcare systems. Even in the US, these irresponsible characters drive up the costs of private medical insurance for everyone else. Given that Obama is energetically driving our fat asses in this direction, no matter that the nation is going broke, this issue becomes rather pertinent.

My arguments for a fat tax were considered worthy enough to be included in an anthology of essays dealing with this problem of At Issue: How Should Obesity be Treated?, edited by ed. Stefan Kiesbye [Amazon linkie], where the original essay was republished as A Tax on High Fat Foods Might Modify Poor Eating Habits. I re-republish their slightly edited* version below:


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A Tax on High Fat Foods Might Modify Poor Eating Habits

Anatoly Karlin

Anatoly Karlin is the author of a blog that concentrates on Russian news topics, as well as one subjects of general interest.

The government should implement a graduated tax system on foods high in fat to counteract the obesity epidemic. Such a program would persuade people to cut back drastically on fat- and sodium-rich foods and encourage them to start eating food that is good for them. The goal is not to increase the life expectancy on the population but to make people live healthier and more productive lives.

We noticed that culinary cultures which consume a low-fat diet have tend to have dramatically lower mortality rates from CVDs [cardiovascular diseases] and degenerative diseases than those who indulge in a high-fat, high-sodium ‘civilized’ diet. As such it is a good idea to encourage consumption to shift from high-fat to low-fat foods.

Taxing Fatty Foods

Research should be conducted so as to ascertain the optimal levels of taxation to maximize positive outcomes, and the tax will probably be introduced gradually. But I’ll give a rough idea of how the tax will work below.

Calculate the caloric fat content of a particular food (take the number of grams of fat per 100g and multiply by 9; divide this by calories per 100g to get %). Anything under 20% will remain untaxed. This includes vegetables, fruits, fish and some white meats (skinless chicken breast). Then a flat tax of 25% for 20-30% fat (this will account for leaner steaks), 100% for 30-50% fat (traditional red meats) and 200% for 50+% fat (fast food hamburgers, vegetable oils, etc).

It goes without saying that advertising unhealthy foods will be a no-no, along with alcoholic drinks and tobacco.

Sodium will be taxed too. The RDA for sodium is 2g, or 4g of salt (max 3g/6g). Say, anything with more than 0.5g of sodium / 100g will be flat taxed at 50%.

A few foods, while OK in fat, are unacceptably high in cholesterol. The big one [is] eggs – one egg yolk = 2 days of RDA of cholesterol. Tax them at 200%. While some seafoods like prawns or oysters are medium-high in cholesterol, they have other health benefits, so leave them untaxed. I will not tax sugar because a) cakes, puddings, etc will already be taxed for their fat content and b) a lot of fruit actually contain a rather high % of sugar, but it is of a healthy kind. Fruit shouldn’t be taxed.

Advertising Restrictions

It is of course vital to propagandize the benefits for personal health of a low-fat diet on prime-time TV, radio, Internet and other media outlets. It goes without saying that advertising unhealthy foods will be a no-no, along with alcoholic drinks and tobacco. On the other hand, people do respond to price signals and meat and sweets costing less than fruit does not make a good contribution to public health. The fact is that countries with some specific diets (e.g. Okinawans have a life expectancy of 85 years) have health results that are objectively better than countries with other diets (e.g. Americans, Danes have a life expectancy of 77-78 years). So surely it would make sense to tax and subsidize in a way that shifts consumption patterns to the ones seen in countries/regions with the better health results?

Radical problems (a million preventable deaths from heart disease per year in the US alone, etc) require radical solutions. The hoi polloi [common people] will be treated to an intense national information campaign informing them of the benefits of the low fat diet.

Seriously though. The elite has a vested interest in improving the health of the workforce. Firstly, there will appear articles in newspapers and programs on TV exploring the links between nutrition and health. Advocacy groups for healthy dieting will appear and momentum for legislative changes will build up. Eventually, the government will bow to the public interest and gradually step up the fat tax.

You can still stuff yourself with butter and high-fat cheese if you really want to, you’ll just have to pay more for it.

Fast Food Industry Must Change

In industrialized countries, agriculture tends to account for a low % of GDP [gross domestic product] (7.9% in Portugal, 4.6% in Russia, 2.0% in France, o.9% in the US), and accounts for a correspondingly low % of those countries’ workforces (10.0% in Portugal, 10.8% in Russia, 4.1% in France, 0.4% in the US). So a dip in these figures will not affect the national economy much. In any case producers can adjust to it if plenty of advance warning is given and changes are introduced gradually.

Same goes for the food industry. The demand for food will remain; they will just have to try to adjust to the new order of things. Maybe it will be too hard for companies like McDonalds or KFC, but who cares about them anyway?

For some products you can pay very dearly indeed for consuming them (e.g. illegal drugs), i.e. with jail time. Secondly… in France and some US states unhealthy snack foods like chips and soft drinks are already subject to taxes.

Currently, even people who would otherwise want to eat healthily are discouraged from doing so because of higher prices because this is a niche market squeezed by the mainstream food market which is high in fat and sodium.

Incidentally, however, I have always supported legalizing all drugs, for the usual health, monetary and battling hypocrisy reasons, although they would remain heavily taxed (except red wine and to a lesser extent white wine, the consumption of which will be encouraged in moderate daily doses). On the topic of which, fat is actually also a drug – it is both debilitating and makes you irritable and mentally sluggish if consumed to excess in one session.

Finally, consumption of high fat foods will not, of course, be banned outright. You can still stuff yourself with butter and high-fat cheese if you really want to, you’ll just have to pay more for it.

Consumption Patterns Will Change

Today, there is an illogical situation in which rich cakes sometimes cost substantially less than an equivalent weight in fruit or salad, in supermarkets or in catering. The fat tax will reverse this state of affairs by encouraging people to switch consumption patterns to a lower fat, healthier diet. After all, elasticity is high within foods.

Currently, even people who would otherwise want to eat healthily are discouraged from doing so because of higher prices because this is a niche market squeezed by the mainstream food market which is high in fat and sodium.

Yes, it will affect the poor more than the rich. However, consider also the fact that it is the poor who suffer most from low-quality diets and the attendant symptons of obesity, heart disease, etc. Money from the fat tax can be used to support subsidies to healthy foods, community sports programs and a system of preventative healthcare, all of which are sorely lacking in Russia and the industrialized West.

A fat tax is a profoundly pro-poor measure.

A Market-Based Solution

I have considered converting the food industry into a totally planned thing, on the Soviet model but focused on the goal of fat reduction. Inefficiencies will invariably develop; but since… a) [food production] constitutes a fairly small portion of GDP; b) the goals of what to increase, what prices to set, are quite clear; and c) there aren’t many food products (relative to advanced industrial goods), it is a sound proposal.

Nonetheless, I think the market-based solution (fat tax, but free setting of prices) should first be completely explored and the planned model considered only if the former fails in its objectives (say, reduce by 50%+ annual cases of heart disease mortality, etc, over a decade since its full implementation). …

[Personally], I have cut out all butter, margarine, vegetable oils (switching to things like balsamic vinegar, salsa and low fat, low sodium tomato sauce and bolognese); cut out jams with any added sugars (there are some preserved with fruit concentrate, which I think is OK); only consume skimmed milk, low-fat cheese; no chocolate or coffee; a glass of red wine per day; only do skinless chicken breast or fish; cut out egg yolks. Of course, I don’t always follow it, but the only exceptions are in social settings where I go to a party or gathering, etc. As long as interruptions are infrequent rather than systematic, all is good.

Chicken and fish can be greatly enhanced by tossing in lemon, peppers, all kinds of spices, etc, and served with rice, pasta, etc. … For instance, you can even make a delicious carrot cake (calories 159, cholesterol 0, fat 0.6g, calories from fat 3%).

The point is that a low fat diet is only a little bit more restrictive than an unrestricted fat diet, if you bother to find/adapt the appropriate recipes, and it is orders of magnitude better for health/wellbeing. …

The key point is not increased longevity, which due to the high standards of treatment-based modern medical care, is not going to be much more than 5 years or so. The key point is a much increased healthy life expectancy. …

Note how in the UK life expectancy has increased much more rapidly than healthy life expectancy. The main trend in this period? More consumption of fats, especially saturated, in the forms of fast food, which has increased obesity levels significantly over this period.

So the question isn’t whether you’d like a few more years or not, but whether or not you want to spend the last few years of your life incapacitated and hooked up to mediciny machines.

At least so far. If medical progress continues and radical life extension therapies become available by the middle of this century, those few added years could make the difference between death and immortality!


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A few qualifiers and clarifications I would add:

  • The major arguments stand, though today I would reduce the emphasis on just fat (indeed, some of it has a positive effect like nuts) and highlight the dangers of consuming a lot of food with a high glycemic load.
  • Make this book (Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil) required reading. Whether or not you are a singularitarian, the health advice in it applies to everyone.

Finally, despite the perceived “statism” behind this approach I should emphasize that my own life philosophy is that it does not pay to wait for the government to “help” you and instead take the personal initiative to guarantee your own health and wellbeing. Nor are private corporations your salvation. They are interested only in profits, not people, however hard they pretend otherwise.

Above is my perception of the medical-industrial complex. Wanna deal with them?

* They took out things tangential to the argument (mostly Russia-related, since remember, back in April 2008 this blog was still Da Russophile), as well as the irreverent humor. ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.