Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘freedom

Life-and-death choices II

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A, I hope, last death-related entry for a good long while:

My previous text ([1]) spoke of potential complications around a too liberal approach to assisted suicide.

A drastic counterpoint to such an approach is the bans on suicide that have been historically common. Such bans are also a violation of the right to choose for oneself, and a more obvious one, but they differ through their ineffectiveness, as the successful perpetrator is, as a matter of definition, dead. There is a possibility to punish someone for a failed attempt, but this is not much of a deterrent in the big picture and “if at first you don’t succeed …”.* Short of punishing surviving loved ones,** a claimed punishment in the afterlife might be the only way to go, but that presupposes credibility concerning both the existence of an afterlife and this punishment. In some cultures, the threat of e.g. dragging someone’s name or honor through the mud might work, but this hardly applies to the modern Western world.

*It does raise interesting questions around spur-of-the-moment attempts at suicide, where, after failure, there might be no wish to go through with the act, the allegedly common attempts that are intended mostly as “calls for attention”, and similar, but these are off topic, as they do not reflect a true wish to die.

**An approach so obviously unethical that it should make the law worthy of condemnation even to those who are in favor of a ban. Note that such punishment need not involve, say, a prison term, but might include e.g. some type of “forfeiture” claims directed at the estate of the deceased, which would hurt the heirs and not the deceased, even should they nominally be directed at the latter.

Correspondingly, bans on suicide (that are not draconian) are a lesser evil than undue suicide pushing and too lax laws on government approved suicide.

More interesting questions include where to draw the border between regular suicide and something else, and how this something else is to be treated and classified in what cases. Consider, in jurisdictions where suicide, per se, is illegal, when and whether assistance rendered can make someone an accomplice to the crime of suicide. Even outside such jurisdictions, we have issues like where to draw the border between assistance and murder/manslaughter/whatnot, what level of encouragement (to go ahead) is tolerable in what setting,* when there should be an obligation to provide alternatives, when an offer to assist and/or a request for assistance should require a “cooling off” period, etc. While I will not attempt to answer these questions, I point to risks such as the ones described in [1] and the fundamental difference between aiding or “aiding” someone not otherwise capable of suicide and someone who, given enough determination,** could manage on his own.

*That such encouragement can and often should be illegal is clear. Consider e.g. a deeply unhappy high-school student who is exposed to “encouraging” bullies. Even in a more medical setting, a case can often be made, as seen by how many who experience gender-dysphoria have been prematurely encouraged to take irrevocable steps. An analogous, “suicide affirmative”, approach could lead to a great many unnecessary deaths—maybe including that someone who engaged in a “call for attention” pseudo-attempt is encouraged to try again and with professional help to guarantee success.

**This might be an important point: with unassisted suicide, a greater amount of determination might be needed, which increases the likelihood that the suicide truly reflected the will of the deceased.


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December 29, 2022 at 11:05 pm

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Life-and-death choices

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A particularly problematic angle on various reductions in choice* is a potential removal of the right to live resp. make own decisions about living and dying,** be it outright or through taking or not taking certain risks, taking or not taking certain precautions, etc.

*Cf. [1] and various follow-ups.

**Beyond the restrictions that arise through natural mechanisms, including aging, accidents, and fatal diseases. (But note that some of these still have a component of choice, e.g. in that a chain-smoker has a disproportionate risk of lung cancer and other health issues, and can choose to smoke or to quit. Cf. the later part of the above.)

For instance, over the last few months, I have heard repeated claims of excessive pushing of “assisted suicide” (likely all relating to Canada). Assisted suicide might seem like an increase in one’s own self-determination. When done correctly, it might even be so.* However, when suicide becomes a “solution” actively offered by e.g. the government or a hospital (as opposed to something requested by the patient), maybe even one pushed as “the best option” (or similar), this fast ceases to be the case—especially, when the concerns of others are given priority.**

*As a Libertarian, I originally had a positive attitude to the availability. From what I have seen over the twenty-or-so years since the topic became mainstream, I have begun to suspect that the harm will be greater than the benefits. (More generally, Libertarianism often needs a pragmatic brake.)

**Consider thinking like “if this patient dies, we have a free bed for someone else and maybe an organ or two to transplant”, “if this pensioner dies, there is more pension money to go around”, “if this prisoner dies, society is free from the costs of keeping him incarcerated and he is guaranteed not to commit further crimes” (also see excursion), and note the fate of Boxer in “Animal Farm” and many in “Soylent Green”. (Also note how often the dystopic works of old appear to be used as instruction manuals today—not as deterrents.)

We might even, in the long term,* see scenarios where someone is offered an unconscionable** solution (or “solution”) to a problem, turns this down, is then offered assisted suicide, turns this down, and is then told to take a hike. (Often with the effect that the unconscionable solution is begrudgingly “accepted” as the lesser of three evils.) At the far extreme, beyond what might be realistic, a scenario is conceivable where anyone who raises complaints against the government is offered death as a “solution” and, if turning this “solution” down, is told that he has no right to complain—as he has rejected the “solution” and thereby chosen to live in society as it is.

*Here and elsewhere, note that I am not necessarily saying that this-and-that dystopian scenario is right around the corner. I am merely pointing to what might happen at some point, if current government mentalities, current societal tendencies, whatnot, go unchecked.

**What this might be will vary so strongly from situation to situation, person to person, and level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot to level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot that it is hard to give specific examples. However, a less drastic real-life example with an unconscionable alternative is Karl Lauterbach’s (failed) attempt to force vaccinations in German by a fines-or-injections scheme.

For instance, there have been cases where abortion extremists have suggested a mother’s “right” to take the life of an already born child, in some variation of the old parental threat “I brought you into this world; I can take you out of it again”. If we were to accept this, where is the line to be drawn? Could we e.g. have a first-grader killed off for letting mommie dearest down by not being the genius that she had expected? What happens when this intersects with the previous paragraph? Consider scenarios like a social worker denying welfare payments to a mother unless she does her utmost to cut unnecessary costs—including by euthanizing that kid. Or take an NHS-style scenario of “it is too expensive to treat that chronically ill kid for several years, so we will not do that, but we can euthanize him for you” (with variations like “the waiting list for the right operation is two years, but we could euthanize him for you later this week”).

For instance, other recent reports include patients being denied operations and other treatment—unless they accept a COVID-vaccine. This even for patients who are not in a risk group, have already had COVID, or otherwise belong to a group for which not getting the vaccine is the rational decision. This can then result in situations like “either you take the vaccine or you die an excruciating death from a burst appendix”. The former is, by a very considerable distance, the lesser evil, but it does involve an additional and entirely unnecessary risk of death. (Not to mention (a) the risk of non-lethal side-effects, (b) the violation of choice in other categories than life-and-death.) In quality, if not quantity, it is the same as if someone was told to play a round of Russian roulette “or we just shoot you”.*/** In a longer term, the same type of approach might be used for a more harmful*** or otherwise unconscionable alternative, maybe up to such extremes as “either you accept this digital implant for governmental monitoring or we let you die” and “either you agree to donate a kidney or we let you die”.****

*Normally, I make a clear distinction between active action (e.g. harming someone) and passive inaction (e.g. not helping someone). The Russian-roulette example involves an active action (or threat thereof), while the failure to treat is a passive inaction; however, I view medical professions as a special case, as, within reasonable limits, a duty to render medical aid should be assumed, which nullifies the difference. (The overall topic is for a dedicated text, but I note that contractual obligations, debts of gratitude, and similar can also nullify the difference through creating a duty to act.)

**I am slightly reminded of a case of a criminal dentist that I encountered many years ago. Apparently, he would make an agreement about some type of dental surgery for some amount of money, put the patient in a daze through drugs, perform half the procedure, and then demand more money to complete it. The dazed patient had two options: pay or be kicked out on the street with his mouth a complete mess.

***The COVID-vaccines are highly problematic when we look at aggregates over a large number of recipients, but, with reservations for future revelations and what I might have missed, pose a (in comparison) tolerable risk for any given individual.

****Off topic, there are other severe complications that can arise from such arbitrary denials, e.g. that someone who has the “wrong” skin-tone or “wrong” political opinions might be denied treatment. (It might even be argued that current vaccine requirements are sufficiently poorly founded in science that they should be seen more as a matter of demanding political compliance than as a medical issue.)

For example, there are reports of unvaccinated patients being forced to accept blood transfusions from vaccinated donors against their will, which implies an additional risk.* Blood transfusions are, again, an area where the benefit of treatment often outweighs the risk, but it is also, again, a potentially unnecessary risk and a violation of free choice. And: if the treatment outweighs the risk in this case, things could be different the next time around. Correspondingly, any intervention of the kind and/or size of the COVID-vaccinations should lead to a great amount of caution, and it should have been par for the course to (a) strongly prefer unvaccinated donors, (b) strictly separate blood from vaccinated donors from the unvaccinated donors—just like any major intervention in any area should be cause for caution and precautions.**

*I have heard the claim that this should not be a concern, as the vaccine does not enter the bloodstream. Empirical evidence shows this to be either false or misleading. If in doubt, there is no guarantee that the shots are given with sufficient skill and precision to make even a “true on paper” claim hold true in real life. (E.g. in that an injection intended to be given solely in muscle still occasionally ends up directly in a blood vessel. Generally, such “sunshine” assumptions are an endless source of problems, e.g. in politics and software development.) It could not even be ruled out that someone like Karl Lauterbach would push the deliberate addition of COVID-vaccines to the transfusions to ensure that as many as possible are exposed to the vaccine, no matter the cost, the consequences, the efficiency, and the violations of self-determination.

**Note e.g. thalidomide and freon, how they are perceived today vs. how they once were perceived, and how long it took to discover the problem.

Excursion on capital punishment:
From a general view point, the death penalty is a relevant example for this text, in that it removes the convict’s right to live and in that there are many current or historical regimes that abuse[d] the death penalty to e.g. get rid of dissidents—but, unlike most the above, it is neither a current development, nor something that the typical reader would be unaware of.

However, the aforementioned calculating attitude of “if this prisoner dies, […]” is fundamentally different from the normal motivations for the death penalty, and the presence of the one does not necessitate the presence of the other. Indeed, looking at the U.S., assisted suicide could end up being far cheaper and taking place far faster than an execution, as the years or decades of appeals and whatnots disappear.

An interesting middle-ground is formed by various rumored fake suicides, rumored instigated-by-management prisoner-on-prisoner murders, the possibility that some prisons might view prisoner-on-prisoner murders as positive (even without own instigation) and not look too closely at the issue, etc.

Excursion on COVID and the elderly:
I do not believe that similar thinking has been behind the mismanagement of COVID; however, I have from very early on noticed a considerable convenience for over-burdened welfare societies, especially those with a “pay it backward” pension system: Deaths from COVID disproportionately hits the elderly, and the elderly tend to be a burden on the government, the welfare system, or whatnot through paying smaller amounts of (especially, income) tax, drawing pensions, and incurring greater medical expenses. (To which, maybe, some other factors can be added, e.g. that they might consume less and thereby stimulate the overall economy less.) Especially in Left-leaning countries and countries with a demographic strongly skewed towards the elderly (relative the historical norm), COVID might have been a great boon for the politicians by clearing out the retired Boxers.

(COVID has also been a great boon for them as an excuse to blame for this-and-that and as an excuse to implement this-or-that policy that might otherwise have been blamed on the politicians resp. rejected. Here I do assume considerable deliberate action.)

Excursion on “Quitters, Inc.”:
Mentioning smoking resp. quitting smoking above, I am reminded of Stephen King’s “Quitters, Inc.”, which shares some common ground with this text series. I do not wish to dwell too long on King (cf. [2]), so I merely recommend a thoughtful reading.

Disclaimer on references:
As none of the individual encounters left me with a strong wish to write something, I did not keep references at the time.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 27, 2022 at 7:10 am

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Attacks on air travel and ATMs / Follow-up: Attacks on freedom

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As a further follow-up to Attacks on freedom:

A day after writing that text, I stumbled upon two interesting examples, in the form of attacks on air travel and cash, respectively.

To the former: Apparently, France is banning domestic short-haul flights, whenever “there is a regular and frequent train option that takes less than two and a half hours”. Air travel is generally a common target of such attacks, having been given an unfair and misleading reputation, and having become a favorite something-to-exterminate of environmentalists.

This particular attack comes with a number of complications, including that we might see an existing domestic flight that is allowed at time A suddenly being a violation at time B, because train services have improved (and without the airline necessarily knowing this), that competition is reduced, giving train companies a leg up, and that it can give train companies unsound incentives, e.g. to add another train between two stations for the purpose of eliminating a competing flight or to cut out an intermediate stop to save time for the same purpose. (In a second step, as trains are easier to coordinate than airplanes, maybe that train is removed again/that stop reinstated, once the flight is gone…)

Moreover, it seems pointless: As I have noted in the past, the sheer amount of waiting and delays around air travel is horrific, and the comfort is much higher and the stress much lesser on a train. In most cases, going by air when there is a train connection fulfilling the mentioned criteria is, then, either a bad idea (where additional information could move travelers to make a better decision) or something done for a specific reason, where the removal of the flight would be harmful. An example of the latter: someone travels by air internationally between two major airports, wants to reach a smaller town, which also has an airport, and now has the choice between (a) simply changing flights at the larger airport and (b) going from that airport to the next train station and then travel by train, possibly losing hours and very likely increasing the stress of travel.* Another example: someone travels on business and has this business much nearer to a certain airport than to the city center. (Should he now (a) travel by e.g. car to his local airport and by plane to the destination airport, or (b) by car to the local train station, by train to the destination city, and then from there to the destination airport by some other means?)

*Note complications like dragging luggage around, the greater amount of walking likely necessary, the greater likelihood that something goes wrong, and that much of the otherwise relevant stress of air travel does not apply to those already on the right side of the security checks.

To the latter: Nigeria limits ATM withdrawals to $45 per day* to force government-controlled digital payments. So, get rid of cash in order to force the citizen onto digital currencies—a particularly perfidious variation of two of the issues mentioned in my original text. Also note complications like the inability** to withdraw a large amount before travel, to give a larger amount of cash to someone else, to have a buffer when a crisis threatens, and to avoid government scrutiny even when having a legitimate*** reason to do so.

*From the text, I am not clear on whether there is an actual day-based limit, as implied by e.g. the headline, or whether there is a weekly limit, which gives this daily amount when divided by 7.

**In exchange for considerable fees, the amount might be overdrawn, but that is a shitty option, to say the least. Moreover, beyond a certain limit, even the personal approval of the bank CEO might be needed.

***And even fanatic Leftist proponents of government power and “the government is always right” will have a hard time extending that position to Nigeria. The more sensible might understand that such legitimate reasons can exist even in, say, Germany or the U.S.

Note that similar issues exist with many other countries. The current case differs through the nominally low amount, but might be nothing special once we factor in purchasing power.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 9, 2022 at 2:56 pm

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Attacks on freedom

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Writing my various texts on choice, I contemplated how the modern world and modern politics seem hellbent on removing not just choice but even freedom. (Notwithstanding that the two often go hand in hand and that the border can be hard to draw.)

My first thoughts were around time, energy (electricity, especially), and money/ownership, that these would be central to having freedom in today’s world:* We need to be able to dispose of our own time; we need energy to accomplish much of what we do, including keeping warm, using computers, and driving cars; and without money (cash, especially) and ownership, we might become very limited, unable to build something for the future, or become dependent on others and/or the government for survival.

*The historical situation might vary, e.g. in that energy, beyond having access to fire, might not have mattered in the paleolithic. However, the importance of these three factors is by no means limited to the “now”.

At the same time, at least the two latter are under a massive attack today: Energy is growing outrageously expensive, and for largely artificial reasons, might be rationed in the near future, and some types of energy and energy uses are anathema—often, again, for artificial reasons. Money has been devalued in many steps, giving us nothing but fiat money and exposing us to increased dangers of inflation—and the rate of inflation is (directly or indirectly) determined by the government. Even now, money can be reduced in value simply by expanding the money supply, e.g. in that the government prints more money to pay its own bills, which makes our money worth less (or, at an extreme, worthless). Money is owned only with the government’s tolerance, and can be confiscated with next to no cause. Governments worldwide seem set on abolishing cash, which would increase government control of money further, while correspondingly limiting us and our uses, and would make it that much harder to do something private.* Then there are issues like misuse of investors’ money for purposes that they need not agree with (and which might reduce their return on investment), including ESG investments and the push of Leftist agendas. Other property? “You will own nothing. You will still be happy—or else!” Etc.

*Not restricted to criminal acts, which is often the pseudo-motivation given by governments. If every payment is either by credit card or some traceable electronic currency, then the government has (or will in due time have) the ability to see anything we spend money on. Give money to the “wrong” organization, buy something unhealthy or “bad for the environment”, whatnot—and the government knows. Moreover, looking at the past few years, chances are that the government will often presume to intervene, be it “for your own protection” or because we are a “threat” for not being compliant drones.

As to time, the matter is more complicated (and partially overlapping with money), but note that even adults have great restrictions on their time in various forms, e.g. in that most of the work done by employees results in more money for the government—not more money for the employees.* While the exact proportions will vary from country to country, time to time, and person to person, thinking of a typical 40-hour working week as 20 hours of unpaid work for the government followed by 20 hours of paid work for oneself gives a good idea of the principle. Then there are issues like tax filings and other for-the-benefit-of-the-government actions, which can take many hours per year or, if hired out, cost a significant amount of money and still require a non-trivial own involvement. Many countries have or used to have mandatory military service, even in peace time, forcing many young men to waste a year of their lives.** Looking at children, mandatory school (note: “school”, not “education”) is all too common, often amounting to 12 years of work taken by the government with a poor return for the children (as school is a poor way to gain an education and, increasingly, time is wasted on indoctrinating the children into becoming what the government wants, instead of educating them to be all that they can be).

*In contrast, while the need to work for money, which most of us underlie, does restrict freedom, it does so in a less negative and less unfair manner.

**As an aside: if this was at all addressed by Feminists, then in the form of “the evil Patriarchy robs us poor women of the right to join the military—men have it so much better”.

However, I soon found more and more examples. For instance, mobility and, specifically, cars have long been hailed as a revolution in freedom relative yore. To some part, this is a different type of freedom, but there is a considerable point to it—including the possibility to leave an oppressive country. However, today, cars seem targeted for extinction or are moving out of what most can afford, due to the switch to expensive EVs. Gasoline prices are, of course, through the roof. Public transport is often awful. Etc. During the height of the COVID-countermeasure era, getting anywhere was hard or impossible, and there is reason to fear that more of that will come, unless a sufficient reckoning against the likes of Fauci, Birx, Biden, Merkel, …, follows—and the odds are against such a reckoning.

Then we have issues like anonymity, home ownership, determination over one’s own children (which increasingly is transferred to schools and/or the government), self-determination (be it bodily, professional, matrimonial, informational, whatnot), control over one’s own devices (note the many issues of bad software, malware, Bundestrojaner, government espionage, …), freedom of speech and thought (including the right to make up one’s own mind and the right to be wrong), freedom to stick to the correct pronouns and to use words according to their the true meanings, etc. Even the right to work in a chosen field and in a self-chosen manner is under attack, as with the Netherlands and its farmers, with a repetition seemingly about to unfold in Germany. And do not get me started on all the shit that governments have pulled during the COVID-countermeasure era.

Everywhere I turn, it seems that whatever contributes to freedom is under attack.

Excursion on the limits of individual freedom:
It used to be that “your freedom ends where my nose begins”.* This has increasingly been replaced with thinking like “my freedom has no limits, because I belong to a privileged group**; your freedom exist at my mercy, because you are not one of us”, and a similar prioritization of government- or Left-approved causes over causes without such approval. The government, of course, has a clear attitude of “we can do whatever we want; no-one else has any rights at all”.

*In detail, I find this formulation misleading and I would certainly see the border well before my nose; however, the general idea is sound. Also note the classical Liberal “bubble of rights”.

**Notably, U.S. Blacks and LGBT-etc.-etc. Generally, the more “intersectional” someone is, the better.

From another angle, even other restrictions might sometimes be warranted, but they should be imposed with great caution and an eye at the costs, not just the benefits. Moreover, they must be based in fact and reason—not a quasi-religious belief in the absolute good or evil of something. New rules, of course, must be imposed in such a manner that the people has a fair chance to adapt. The issue with many (maybe, almost all) governmental impositions is that they fail to do this. Many of the COVID countermeasures are good examples. For instance, there was great reason to be sceptical to lockdowns from day one, but governments tore ahead, with no rhyme or reason—and now we know that lockdowns had at best a minimal postive health effect (quite possibly, an outright negative one) while wrecking livelihoods and the economy.

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December 8, 2022 at 10:51 am

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Overruled choice and firejail

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Another case of user hostile limitations and overruled choice ([1]):

I regularly use firejail, a sandbox tool, to reduce the risk of security breaches and programs (or downloaded contents viewed in programs) misbehaving.* Today, I was trying to listen to a downloaded music file, the filename of which contained a comma. I started it with my usual bash-script wrapping a firejailed mplayer—and was met with an “Error: “[filename]” is an invalid filename: rejected character: “,””.** Note how this makes no mention of what program or sub-functionality of that program caused/detected/whatnot the error, nor gives any true and valid reason—as the filename (cf. below) is perfectly valid.

*Note that, apart from bugs, there are many software makers who have radically different ideas as to what they are allowed to and should do than many users and/or specifically I. Consider e.g. “phone home” functionality.

**Where I have replaced the actual filename with “[filename]”. I caution that the original quotes might have been distorted by WordPress—as might “Wordpress”, which I write with a “p” not a “P”. Cf. [1].

After some experiments with the ls* command, I could conclude that (a) my file system has no objections to the filename, (b) ls has no objections to the filename, (c) even firejail, it self, has no objections to calling ls with the filename,** but that (d) firejail objects to using this filename in a “whitelist”***. Firstly, this is an extremely disputable decision, as there are hardly ever legitimate reasons to artificially restrict users (and, apart from the above, I cannot recall ever having problems with commata in filenames in any other context). Secondly, the error message is absolutely and utterly inexcusable—an acceptable error message might have read “firejail: “[filename]” is not a valid name for whitelisting: rejected character: “,””. I note, in particular, that (a) it is never acceptable to assume that the user calls a certain program directly and will automatically know what program is to blame, (b) firejail, by its nature, is always used in combination with some other program and correspondingly must make clear whether a certain error comes (directly or indirectly) from firejail or from the other program, (c) as filenames can enter firejail by different roads, it must make clear what road is affected.

*This command just lists file information, so a potentially hostile music file cannot really do any damage even absent firejail.

**But this might simply be a result of firejail being agnostic of the nature of the arguments sent to the “real” program, in this case ls resp. mplayer.

***A means to tell firejail what files may be accessed. An opposite blacklist mechanism tells firejail what files may not be accessed. Note that with mplayer, which per default underlies stricter rules, whitelisting is necessary, while it is optional with ls. Indeed, this points to a possible further point of criticism: it is not a given that a tool will fail just because a certain file cannot be whitelisted, and it would, then, be better for firejail to merely print a warning message and continue with execution. Why should a “firejail ls [filename]” work, while a “firejail - -whitelist=[filename] ls [filename]” leads to an error message? Similarly, why should “firejail - -whitelist=[filename] ls [completely different filename]” lead to an error message?

Generally, firejail has proven quite problematic in terms of arbitrary (or arbitrary seeming, cf. excursion) restrictions, poor usability, and whatnot. For instance, a natural use case is to whitelist the home directory of the current user (while preventing a number of other accesses, including to the Internet, to public directories, and maybe a sub-directory or specific files in the home directory). But this results in “Error: invalid whitelist path /home/[username]”. This is an intolerable restriction, as it should be up to the user and the user only what decisions he allows here. Specifically, the result with my script to play music (and another to view movies) is that I must put my files in a sub-directory of the home directory, which is a nuisance.* Moreover, the error message is, again, very weak. (Yes, this time the issue of whitelisting is mentioned, but neither that firejail is the culprit, nor the exact issue, viz. why this was not allowed.)

*To this note (a) that I reject the idiocy of pseudo-standard directories like “Movies” and “Music” in general and in principle, as a bad idea, (b) that these would be entirely redundant in my case, as I use separate users for this division (just like I have separate users for e.g. surfing, writing, and business activities). Indeed, while whitelisting the home directory, a restriction that prevents the automatic creation of such directories by user-hostile tools would be an obvious use case.

For instance, I had once shuffled off some user files to a directory /d2,* and later tried to access one of the files using firejail. The result? “Error: invalid whitelist path”. As research showed, there are only a limited set of directories below the root that firejail allows, and (the created by me) directory /d2 was not in this limited set. Very similar criticism as with home directories apply. To my recollection, making matters worse, this set of directories was hard-coded, where it should have been configurable, even be it on the system level (instead of the user level).

*I have my “root” and “home” directory trees on separate partitions and the latter happened to be full. This shuffle was a very temporary workaround.

Another issue is the mixture of whitelisting and blacklisting that is used, which is both inconsistent and can lead to odd effects. It would be better to, for most tools, simply consider everything blacklisted and then to whitelist exactly what the tool legitimately needs. (The aforementioned ls is an exception, where the reverse approach seems natural, at least with regard to files, but not, of course, rights like network access.) In all fairness, there is room to discuss the degree to which the firejail developers are to blame and to what degree the distributions that contain firejail.*

*Which have a considerable influence through delivery of configuration files. For instance, until a little less than a year ago, I was a Debian user, and Debian had a very lax attitude, which made use more comfortable, but also reduced the benefit of using firejail. Gentoo, my current distribution, takes a much more stringent attitude. While I prefer this stringency in the long term, it did make the switch from Debian to Gentoo unnecessarily painful. As to Gentoo, there is a lot of incompetence too, in that all user changes are supposed to go in “.local” files that are included during reading of the main “.profile” file for the program at hand. (For instance, there is a file mplayer.profile, which is read, and a file mplayer.local, which is merely included—but mplayer.profile does things that I cannot, or not trivially, undo through mplayer.local, which is contrary to my right to configure my system as I see fit.)

Excursion on possible justifications:
At least with /d2 (cf. above), I could imagine a justifying scenario relating to firejail being a SUID* program, that there might be some way for a user to gain illicit rights if whitelisting directories directly under the root directory (i.e. /). This is speculation, however, and it should have been stated much more clearly, if this was actually the case. It does not justify the home directory issue, even if true, and I cannot see how it would justify the comma issue—if in doubt, firejail should perform better sanitation, not throw errors.

*A program that starts with other rights than the user who calls it and then (if programmed correctly!) drops any additional rights as soon as possible.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2022 at 7:42 pm

Overruled choice

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And yet another few words on choice (see [1], [2], [3] for earlier entries):

Sometimes we have, or should have, a choice and we make that choice—only to have someone else overrule it. This was first brought to my mind again by seeing one of my recent posts altered by WordPress and its absurd handling of “Wordpress” vs. “WordPress”. I very deliberately write this name/word with a “p”; however, WordPress illegitimately and user-hostilely alters this “p” into a “P”. Correspondingly, chances are that the reader sees four variations of “Wordpress” in the two preceding sentences, out of which one is correctly spelled with a “p”, because the whole word is in quotations marks (which have so far prevented this illegitimate change), one is correctly spelled with a “P”, because I put it there for contrast, and two incorrectly and illegitimately with “P”, because the correct “p” was altered without my doing and without my consent. (Also see [4] for a variety of other absurd distortions by WordPress.)

This might be seem trivial, but it shows a very harmful attitude—and other examples abound.

To just remain with texts, we have cases like Twitter (at least, pre-Musk) manipulating messages by users; over-aggressive auto-correction/-suggestion distorting messages in a sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful manner;* over-aggressive automatic censorship in forums;** and, as I describe in [5], German police officers replacing coherent texts and other claims with the nonsense of a high-school dropout.

*I can only recommend turning these off. (“Hey, honey, I just kissed your sister. MISSED! MISSED!”)

**Notably, the type that stars out letters in certain words, e.g. by replacing “cock” with “c*ck” and “ass” with “*ss”. This is ethically dubious to begin with; and, more pragmatically, the victims of this include roosters and donkeys, and, in extreme cases, the likes of “cocktail” (“c*cktail”) and “Hancock” (“Hanc*ck”). Some star out the entire word and have no sense of word boundaries—whatever you do, do not write a text about an assassin assaulting and assassinating the unassuming passport-assessor’s assistant in a massive massacre—or you will look like a complete arse.

Consider a few non-text cases:

  1. I have read about (but do not remember the names involved) a museum dedicated to a single artist, that was set up in a particular house with a particular set of paintings in a particular configuration by the artist—with the non-negotiable stipulation that this setup must remain unchanged, house included. Long after the artist’s death, the board (or whatnot) of the museum decided to move the paintings to another building in another configuration because the old building would be too small to meet demand. (Not to mention: allow all of the potential profits to become realized profits.)

    A similar case can be argued for the Nobel Prizes, which are often given with little regard for the original stipulations* and to at least some** that Nobel would have strongly disapproved of.

    *The Peace Prize is a common sinner, to the point that it is not necessarily awarded for anything relating to peace… Note e.g. the ridiculous award to IPC and Al Gore. Also note a general trend to use the Prize as a means to send a political message, rather than to reward the winners. Last time around (2022), it was very obviously a message on the war in the Ukraine, with the actual merit of the Laureates quite secondary—if not them, then some similar constellation.

    **I know too little about Nobel’s personal preferences, ideology, whatnot to make a strong guess (beyond those met with near-universal skepticism, e.g. Yasser Arafat); however, in light of the extreme politicization and arbitrariness of the Literature and Peace Prizes, I assume that each contains a number of examples, even should the science Prizes not deliver any.

    In a similar family, we have a likely endless list of foundations, charities, and beneficiaries ignoring various stipulations and whatnots when they become inconvenient and there is no-one left to file a lawsuit.

  2. Leaving behind a spotlessly cleaned dorm room in Sweden before my move to Germany, I was hit with an entirely unjustified cleaning invoice* and the claim that I had stolen a lamp (or something similar—this was in 1997 and my memory is vague). I decided to take a stand and refuse payment, especially as the dorm company had repeatedly shown a student-hostile behavior and failed to live up to its contractual obligations, and I could only conclude that this was a deliberate attempt to defraud me. My mother went behind my back and paid the invoice “to avoid trouble”.

    *No, there was no blanket inclusion of this in the contract.

    In a similar family, we can include e.g. lawyers settling out of court when they have been instructed to pursue the case to the end.* I have read of at least on such German case, and suspect that they occur comparatively often. (I have also heard of one German case where a lawyer triumphantly told his client that he had fought a criminal case down to a heavy fine instead of a month (?) in prison. The client was upset, because he could not afford the fine and would have preferred a short prison sentence. This is more of a communication error, but it does demonstrate the pitfalls involved.)

    *Note the difference between telling a client that he should settle, even that he is an idiot for not settling, and unilaterally overriding his decision not to settle.

  3. Decisions that should belong to the one are sometimes unfairly vetoed or altered by the other. A stereotypical example is a sitcom couple going through a variation of “Peg! I’m going out with the boys!” and “No, you are not, Al!”.*

    *Note the major difference in principle between this and e.g. a hypothetical “Peg! I’m going to sleep with the neighbor’s wife!” and “The hell you are, Al!”. In the one case, the decision involves something which usually has no major effect on “Peg”, or where the refusal would affect “Al” the more or be more in violation of his rights; in the other, the potential effect, metaphorical breach of contract, whatnot, is usually far, far larger. A veto in the latter case is typically fair.

    (I have some trouble finding examples, as I seem to land at the border to other cases and non-cases, maybe from another text in this series. Consider, e.g., a traveller being turned away at a foreign border despite having done, and done correctly, everything that could and should be done before reaching the border, including all paperwork: How exactly is this to be classified? Will the classification depend on details not given in the example?)

  4. The world of software has many examples. For instance, when I last had my screen locker on, a few minutes ago, it displayed an annoying message about being out-of-date. This results from a conflict between the maker of the program (xscreensaver) and my Linux distribution (Gentoo; but I first encountered this issue as a Debian user)—the one wants updates to go over “upstream”, and has added an artificial check; the other over “downstream”, where updates can take place in a controlled and standardized manner, with checks for intra-distribution compatibility of various package and library versions. Here both are trying to thwart the choice made by the other.*

    *Who is in the right is open for debate, but I would side with the distribution when the software has been installed through the distribution (e.g. per emerge or apt-get), as opposed to a manual download/compile/install. This annoying message was the reason that I moved to another screen locker under Debian, and it might be time to repeat the process under Gentoo.

    A highly annoying case occurred when I travelled with a business notebook using Windows, provided by my then employer. I had deliberately put the sound on “mute” to avoid any negative surprises, overly loud noises, whatnot—including that I would only activate the sound at the right time* when watching a DVD in the evening. However, the pre-installed DVD player automatically and with no query unmuted the notebook as soon as it began playing—inexcusable.**/***

    *I.e. after any and all menus, trailers, and other annoyances.

    **And something that ideally should not even be possible: the system-wide and program-local settings for sound should be separate from each other, and the program should only have access to the program-local.

    ***Likely, one of the many, many cases where some idiot has reasoned that “unless we do this, some absolute beginner might be confused, unable to resolve the situation, or, worse, actually call the hotline; ergo, we do it and the real users can go fuck themselves”. (Sorry, “[…] f*ck themselves”.)

    Firefox is known for its idiotic practice of disabling existing options, while resetting the behavior of the browser to the behavior wanted by the developers—not the user. This in two forms: either by removing functionality from the official settings, while leaving the corresponding switch in about:config (with the value potentially altered from the user-chosen value), or by making a setting in about:config have no function, without giving any error or warning* to the user.

    *The reasoning seems to be that if there is an error or warning, someone could see this error or warning, or a script could fail—and either would be a disaster. This is an outright amateurish attitude, a true beginner’s error. The correct attitude is to do show an error or warning, so that (a) users know that something has changed, (b) they can adapt accordingly. This, of course, in particular in a script setting, where the consequences could otherwise be extremely unpredictable.

Excursion on drawing borders between cases:
It is often hard to draw borders between cases that are a good match for the above, cases that involve deliberate sabotage,* deliberate malicious distortion,** incompetence,***legitimate overrulings (cf. below), and maybe some other categories.

*Say, someone manipulating a (paper or digital) ballot to make the ballot invalid or to indicate another candidate than the one chosen by the voter.

**E.g. someone misquoting someone else for malicious purposes, e.g. in a court case.

***Consider e.g. a HTML form that has been (accidentally) misprogrammed or mislabeled to reverse the meaning of a checkbox or to scramble the possible meanings of a radio button.

A good example is Emvie Martin, an utter sub-human shit who cut down, distorted, and commented on my comments to create the impression that I agreed with her, when my comments actually disagreed. (And, yes, I feel very, very strongly about this type of horrifying behavior—the fraudulent invoice above was a lesser evil, in my eyes.) I originally planned to include this above, but soon realized that it fit better with “deliberate sabotage” and/or “deliberate malicious distortion”, leading to the writing of this excursion. Some acts by e.g. Twitter might also be closer to one of these, depending on the exact details, including the intentions behind the respective act.

Excursion on legitimate overrulings:
There are, however, many cases where an overruling is legitimate. Consider e.g. an employee told to order something for his employer. He fills out an order form indicating “green” as color choice, gives the form to his superior for verification/approval/corrections, and the superior changes the “green” to “blue”. Here, the legitimacy arises through only making a delegated choice for someone else’s benefit, where the “someone else” has a reasonable right to override the decision.

Choices that might seem unilateral but actually have other parties involved form an other case family. (Or are quasi-unilateral at one point of time, but not at another, after circumstances have changed.) Consider e.g. a scenario of one romantic partner inviting the other to Christmas dinner with the parents. Should they break up before the dinner, the original choice often becomes pointless or, if some variation of “I’ll be there!”, contingent on the approval of the other party. Similarly, if “the parents” raise objections, the original invitation might be void and the original choice, again, pointless.

A third family includes many instances of parents overruling the choice of a young child. Note e.g. the headache-pill story below, which I am open to view as a legitimate overruling and have not included in the main text. (The method and the breach of trust is a very different thing.) In contrast, the above story with the fraudulent invoice is not an example, as I was already 22 and in my 5th year as a legal adult. (Off-topic, I would also argue a civic duty to fight back against such fraud.)

Related cases, although arguably based more on potential misunderstanding of the nature of the apparent overruling than a true overruling, include those where the scope of a choice is limited and the choice, per se, is respected. For instance, the choice to appeal a verdict rests with the appealer, but the court handling the appeal might* have the option to turn the appeal down without more than cursory study. If so, it is not a matter of overruling the choice to appeal, which remains with the appealer, but of making a separate choice in a step following the appeal. (An analogue example with less risk for a misunderstanding of the mechanism is a marriage proposal: it is the decision to propose that rests with the proposer, not the decision to get married, which requires the consent of the “proposee”.)

*I am not aware of how this is handled in general and worldwide, but the SCOTUS certainly rejects more requests for certiorari than it accepts. A great many other courts might throw something out for formal reasons like “wrong court” or “past the deadline”.

Excursion on breach of trust and mothers:
As a word of warning to any readers who are mothers (or fathers): The above payment of an illegitimate invoice was one of several incidents that contributed very strongly to my drifting apart from my mother and not keeping contact and confidence during my adulthood, because they taught me that I could not trust and rely on my mother (in at least some regards). The, likely, first such incident took place when I was a very young child, maybe three or four, and she gave me a sandwich with a hidden headache pill of some kind. I did have a headache, but I had also refused the pill. That she tried to trick me into taking it hurt me more than if she had tried to force me to take it. It also raised questions like how many other times she had tricked me in the past, without my discovering it, and what other surreptitious manipulations of my food were taking place. (Try to see this event through the eyes of a small child, not of an adult.) The, maybe, last was when I was in my twenties and she began to brag to a random stranger, a cashier in a store, about something that I had told her in confidence. Yes, it was something positive, but it was also something that I did not want to be public knowledge—and even if I had, it was mine to tell, not hers.*

*A common fault of women is that they assume that anything told, seen, whatnot is free-for-all gossip material.

Disclaimer on completeness:
Neither this text nor the text series as a whole are intended to be complete analyses. There are bound to be many other interesting cases, exceptions, and complications, but I will draw a line here for this text and attempt to do so for the text series too.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 2, 2022 at 11:14 pm

Unfair government and choice

with 6 comments

To continue the discussion of choice (see The illusion of choice and non-choice):

There are some interesting variations of restrictions on choice, often involving civil servants or police, including “having a choice” but being unaware of this choice, having a choice but being unaware of the stakes and consequences involved, being denied a choice that one rightfully should have, and seeing a so rapid and unexpected escalation that choice becomes irrelevant.

Consider e.g. citizen–police interactions in the U.S. (and likely many other countries too): We have non-criminals who travel with large amounts of money for a legitimate reason—and see that money confiscated through civil forfeiture, on the mere unproved suspicion that it would have some connection to something criminal. We have an innocent woman, Ashley Babbit, gunned down in cold blood for no even remotely justifiable reason, with not even a “Leave NOW or I’ll shoot!”—her murderer walked free. We have Republicans, Pro-Lifers, and the like being arrested in public, in their homes, and/or with an overkill of police force, when nothing more was called for than a notification of “Please surrender yourself voluntarily within three days.” (or whatever might be applicable in the individual case; and even assuming that the underlying suspicion was justified to begin with, which often seems dubious).

Even in more specifically criminal–police, troublemaker–police, whatnot–police interactions, there is often a risk of undue or premature escalation, e.g. in that shots are fired too soon, that something harmless is mistaken for a weapon (followed by deadly force* from the police), or that a criminal is not given the chance to surrender, drop his weapon, whatnot.** Here the question is often (for the purposes of this text!) not whether someone is doing something wrong, but whether a sufficient awareness of the potential consequences is present/can reasonably be assumed to be present—and whether the police has sufficiently considered all relevant circumstances that were known, should have been known, or should have been reasonably suspected. A particularly absurd and horrifying case is the shooting of Linden Cameron, a boy of 13 (cf. e.g. Wikipedia; also see below for more details). I seem to recall (but might be wrong; the principle remains instructive) a story of someone deaf being thrown to the ground for not obeying instructions delivered from behind. The possibility of deafness is certainly something that must be considered in such situations.*** Ditto, with reservations for the details, the risk that a hearing-someone looking the wrong way might not be aware that certain instructions were intended for him. Ditto the risk that someone does not speak English.

*As this term is often misunderstood, I stress that “deadly force” does not automatically imply a high risk of death. A strike with a nightstick that breaks an arm is also an example. (But, yes, with enough bad luck even breaking an arm can result in death.)

**What counts as e.g. “too soon” will depend on the individual case and I will not attempt to give a specific rule. Suffice it to say that there are situations where immediate deadly force is called for and situations where it is not. (Indeed, that things vary from case to case is likely a strong contributor to such issues. The choice between firing too early, potentially killing/injuring someone unnecessarily, and firing too late, risking one’s own or a hostage’s death/injury, e.g., can be quite tricky.)

***Note the Bayesian angle: few are deaf, but given the fact that someone does not react to sound, the probability increases drastically. Ditto the probability that someone is using in-ears with noise cancellation to listen to music, and similar. (Leaving aside whether such in-ears are a good idea when outside.)

To look at Linden Cameron in more detail, it appears that his mother called 911 to get help to bring him to a hospital—an act that no reasonable person would have seen as involving the risk of a shooting. (From the description on Wikipedia, it is not clear that she even expected the police, as opposed to, say, an EMT or a social-service employee.) Linden ends up running away from the police, which he (especially at age 13, regardless of autism) could hardly have expected to lead to worse consequences than a chase and, if caught, a tackle. Instead, he was shot at eleven times and grievously wounded—with no adequate warning.* This, notably, despite the police being at least approximately aware of his age and condition or, on the outside, should have been aware.** That the actual shooting seems to have been performed by a single officer does not make the injuries lesser, but it does point to the increased risk for the people—disaster only requires one single officer who misunderstands the situation, is too trigger happy, shows up high on something, whatnot.

*At least, going by the description, where a “Get on the ground!” is mentioned, but not, e.g., a “Halt or I’ll shoot!”. (It is conceivable that one of the shots were intended as a warning shot, but I doubt that someone fleeing would take a gun shot, with no verbal companion, as cause to stop running. The opposite seems more likely.)

**From Linden’s point of view, there are more circumstances of relevance claimed, e.g. a strong fear of the police; however, I try to keep this as fair as possible to the police. It is reasonable to demand that they knew or visually recognized that he was just a kid, but the same demand for his fear of the police would almost always be unreasonable.

Once in court, absurdities in many legal and justice systems can lead to utterly disproportionate punishments and other consequences. Consider the Ahmaud Arbery shooting ([1]): Let us say, strictly for the sake of argument, that the two McMichaels set out to deliberate murder Arbery. How does that justify the multiple life-sentences that befell William Bryan? How could he even remotely have predicted that outcome? There are no signs that he coordinated in a non-trivial manner with the McMichaels, it is unclear to what degree he knew them, he did not fire a weapon, he did not attack anyone, etc.* All he did was drive a car in a manner that was deemed felonious—and (a) he was likely not aware of even the risk that his driving would be deemed felonious, (b) from my layman’s point of view, it seems a comparatively harmless matter felony-wise,** even were it contextually unacceptable, which might be a matter for debate. Now, because another party killed someone, his felonies became “felony murders”—and his life was ruined. Felony murder is an abomination and must be abolished, at least for cases comparable to this one (also see [1]).

*Going by my last state of knowledge and with reservations for memory errors. I have not looked into the case since last year.

**Much unlike e.g. the Waukesha massacre. By analogy, giving someone a slap in the face is battery—and so is beating him until he is unconscious and needs a few weeks in a hospital to recuperate. The former might (under most circumstances) be unacceptable, but it is not even remotely on the level of the latter.

And, remember, that this is even making extreme assumptions, very likely to be wrong, about the McMichaels. There are no signs of any ill-intent in the two that I am aware of. They might or might not have acted ill-advisedly, maybe even illegally by engaging Arbery, but everything points to good intentions (in general; not necessarily vis-a-vis Arbery) of more-or-less peaceful neighborhood protection. Especially the younger and non-shooting McMichael could make a very strong case for just being an innocent (beyond minor felonies*) victim of circumstance, where he acted in good faith and with no awareness of potential consequences. The older is the only one of the three who shot anyone, and the only one who might be on the line for murder in a sane justice system. Even for him, however, there is the issue of self-defense and chances are both that he saw pulling the trigger as justified in the moment, and that a great many others would have done the same in the same position.

*And even these might be disputable, depending on who drove and did what prior to the shooting, which I do not remember.

In contrast, Arbery had, or should reasonably have had, an understanding of the potential consequences of his actions: Attack a man with a gun, and being shot is par for the course. (Note that this does not change because the attacker believes the attack to be justified, which might or might not have been the case here. Guns do not care about right and wrong.)

Looking at various governmental agencies, they are often allowed to just fine without warning and often out of proportion—where a private entity with a complaint usually must first point out a problem and ask for a remedy before taking further actions (and this further action ultimately involving a law suit and a court judgment before the equivalent of a fine can be relevant). More generally, at least in Germany, various civil servants and similar characters are often allowed to by-pass the court system entirely and merely dictate the equivalent of a court outcome on their own. The afflicted citizen still has the opportunity to go to court, but should not count on being successful, because the German government/civil-service system is drenched in a mentality of “the citizen is always wrong; the civil servant is always right”.

Consider the case of an absurd and unwarranted 1000 dollar fine:* An old owner of a building in NYC had failed to have a boiler inspected. The boiler was removed before the next owner, one Serafim, bought the building. There was no sign of the issue on a “title search”, because of delays in the city bureaucracy. Years later, Serafim is told to fork over a 1000 dollar as penalty for his predecessors negligence—and to have the long removed (!) boiler re-inspected. His requests for a hearing are denied. Allegedly, this is a deliberate standard practice in NYC.

*I had a better case in mind, relating to much, much larger fines for an overgrown lawn. (The owner went on a long vacation, the guy hired to take care of the lawn died, and tens of thousands of dollars in fines accumulated before the owner was even properly notified that something was amiss—with reservations for details.) Unfortunately, I only found the above in my browser history and my current search-engine, mojeek, is (yet another) useless POS. On the upside, the similarities with my own situation (cf. below) make the example the more satisfying.

The following quote catches much of the general issue with government abuse, overreach, undue bureaucracy, failure to consider the citizens point of view, etc.:

Serafim said, in a statement released through the IJ, “This lawsuit isn’t about me, it’s about the basic principle that nobody should be punished without a hearing or a chance for an appeal. The city punished me for someone else’s mistake and then denied me a chance to point that out,” Serafim said. “This system is simply wrong, and I want to help ensure that other people don’t have to go through this.”

To this I note a similar own set of experiences in Germany with the (technically pointless and redundant-due-to-yearly-servicing) exhaust check of gas heaters. A chimney sweep, the runner of a commercial business,* performs legally mandated (but, again, pointless) exhaust checks as part of a government make-work** scheme to keep the otherwise borderline unemployable employed. After various problems*** with these impossible persons, I decided to just dodge the issue by cancelling my gas contract. Despite my having no gas and despite no check being technically possible, he insisted on a check. When I turned him down, in light of his and his staffs repeated rudeness, incompetence, and belligerence, he went straight to the city and had a two(?)-hundred-something Euro fine ordered. The city refused any reasonable hearing or objection, including relating to the absence of gas, and certainly did not ask for my point of view in advance. The chimney sweep said to fine someone; ergo, we fine. To avoid future demands for these pointless checks and/or unjustifiable fines, I was ultimately forced to remove the entire gas heater. Utter insanity! (The above leaves out quite a few other complications that are equally insane.) A semi-sane system would have had the chimney sweep report the issue to the city, the city to contact me with a request for information and/or resolution, and the fact that I had no gas would have ended the matter—possibly, excepting a reprimand to the chimney sweep. Alternatively, the city would have given me a deadline to arrange matters after which a fine might have been applicable. A truly sane system would, of course, not have these nonsense checks to begin with.

*In other words, he has an immediate personal advantage from forcing his “services” onto those who do not need them. In contrast, an employee of NYC has no personal advantage, even though the city government might have.

**Germany is big on make-work. Note e.g. the decades of support for the coal-mining industry, at a rate of billions per year, where it would have been so much better to just let the market work, let the industry shrink to profitability, and let the surplus workers find new jobs, which most would have managed within months, instead of drawing on the tax payer’s money for years or decades. Even paying unemployment for a few years, to any who had trouble finding new work, would have been much cheaper. (And note how much better it would have been for the environment if coal had been ditched faster and nuclear power been kept.)

***A small subset of the problems has been discussed in the past, cf. e.g. [2], [3], [4].

Excursion on Chauvin et co. and Floyd:
This scenario shows the police being more on the receiving end than the criminal. From their behavior, it is highly likely that they did not expect Floyd to die and/or to die in a manner that brought culpability on them.* They certainly had no conception of the (objectively utterly out of proportion) consequences that would follow, or they would have acted very differently. (Remember that the whole scene was in front of a multitude of witnesses and that it was filmed.)

*I recall some commenter on the matter saying that Chauvin’s lack of emotion (or whatnot) during the knee-portion of events showed what cold-blooded psychopath he was, murdering a man and showing no emotion—and because he showed no emotion, he must be guilty. Much more likely is that he showed no strong emotions because he did not believe that he was doing anything harmful, out of proportion, and/or legally/ethically wrong. At that, I am still not convinced that the knee was the deciding factor in Floyd’s death.

Excursion on awareness of consequences:
Just as “mens rea” plays in when it comes to crime, it might make sense to formally make a reasonably expected knowledge of consequences a part of both evaluating criminal punishment (but not necessarily criminal culpability) and various fines and whatnot. Unless the government can show that someone knew or should* have known about certain legal consequences, these consequences may not follow. This would be a great obstacle to government abuse.

*Where some stricter definition must be found to avoid government abuse: it would be all too easy to say “it is in a promulgated law; ergo, he should have known”, “a story on this was in the papers five years ago; ergo, he should have known”, or similar. Some additional leeway might be needed for foreigners and laws that differ between countries, but care must be taken in the other direction, so that this leeway is not abused by criminals.

From another point of view, some analog of the medical “informed consent” might possibly be applied to governance, laws, and whatnot. Consent in the proper sense is, obviously, tricky, as few governments, unlike physicians, would be willing to allow a choice, but a principle might be possible that a consent-like whatnot cannot be presumed without sufficient proof of “informed”, and that e.g. laws are limited when this consent-like whatnot is not proved.

More generally, governments must actively inform to a much higher degree than today, where, for instance, an important change in laws or the COVID-restrictions typically only reaches those who read the papers/watch the news on the right day; and where the sheer mass of laws casts serious doubt as to the compatibility between “ignorantia juris non excusat” and both Rechtsstaatlichkeit and Rule of Law. (However, the main point of this excursion is not ignorance of what is criminal but of what the resulting punishment might be, and to some degree ignorance of what crime a criminal act might be considered by the law. Note, with an eye at the above, how hard it can be for a layman to tell what crime he is committing, even when he might be aware that he is committing some crime.)

Excursion on J6 and Brandon Fellows:
The J6 political persecutions contain many examples of problems in line with the above. Taking a break from writing, I encountered the story of Brandon Fellows. (Disclaimer: I have not watched the videos included with the linked-to text.) He did no-one any harm and he was given every reason to believe that he was acting in an acceptable manner, including being told by the police that he was in no danger of being arrested, “but has been detained without bond for 16 months on four misdemeanors and one felony ‘obstruction’ charge” in the aftermath. This is likely longer than a reasonable sentence, should he paradoxically and unjustly be found guilty, and the imprisonment conditions for J6 victims appear to be far worse than in a regular prison. At this stage, even a reversal of Biden’s hypocritical and deceitful “semi-Fascist” accusation falls well short of the mark—the current Biden regime is all-out Fascist and it must be treated as such. Remember: Fascist is as Fascist does.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 31, 2022 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

The illusion of non-choice / Follow-up: The illusion of choice

with 2 comments

One of my many backlog items is a text that partially reverses The illusion of choice ([1]), namely a discussion of how some entities claim that they do not have a choice when they either do or when the non-choice has arisen through own manipulations. For reasons of time, I will just give a few examples and then drop the backlog item:

Many examples arise from government regulations or requirements on businesses. These sometimes* “force” a business to do something that is in the business’s best interest to begin with, often because of extensive consultations with or covert lobbying by business representatives. Consider, e.g., laws that ban free bags at grocery store check-outs. The grocery stores can now collect more money from the customers and/or reduce the overhead for providing bags, while blaming the government in order to avoid a loss of goodwill with the same customers.

*More often, I suspect, they are driven by ideology, voter manipulation, ignorance, or other harmful-to-the-business factors. Sometimes, of course, there are valid reasons and a societal/customer benefit.

A less obvious, but very similar, example is the introduction of new restrictions on e.g. cars for reasons like traffic safety and pollution, or refrigerators for reasons of energy efficiency. Yes, this usually makes the products more expensive to produce. However: Firstly, by not giving low-end producers the option of foregoing a voluntary product improvement in favor of a lower price, mid- and high-end producers have it easier. Ditto businesses with greater R-and-D investments/success versus businesses with lesser such. Secondly, as the government is blamed, customers will be somewhat willing to accept a corresponding price increase. Moreover, markup is usually a percentage of the price, meaning that more expensive products give a higher profit-per-unit and chances are that a disproportionate price increase can be passed off as “caused” by the new regulations, as the customers are not aware of the actual increase in production costs. Thirdly, chances are that the new regulations will shorten the life-cycle of already sold products, e.g. because customers feel the need to upgrade to be safe or environmentally friendly. Absent a grandfather rule, there might even be a legal mandate to upgrade well before the natural end-of-life of the already sold product.

(When it comes to the environment, even an official government intervention might not be needed, as a business can claim e.g. that “the climate crisis forces our hands”.)

However, examples exist in many other areas, as with a government who wants to push some unpopular-with-the-people policy, but fears the loss of votes. No problem! The EU, the UN, or whatever might apply, “forced” us do it (after we lobbied them to do so/voted in agreement). Or consider an individual who uses work as an excuse to avoid unpleasant family-related activities and vice versa. (“Sorry, honey, I have to work late tonight.” / “I would love to help, boss, but I promised my wife that X.”)

Excursion on electric cars:
Electric cars are a particularly interesting example, with the reservation that their effects on the car industry have been very varied from producer to producer: They are typically massively more expensive than corresponding “internal combustion” cars, which allows the industry to shift the price range of cars correspondingly far upwards, while, again, blaming the government or the climate. (Such attempts to shift the price range and/or get rid of products that have too low margins are comparatively common. I have another backlog entry on the topic, but, for now, just consider attempts to shift coffee consumption from drip-brews to capsule systems of various kinds, which come with a higher or much higher markup than drip-brews.)

Excursion on the Sorting Hat:
Looking back at the beginning of [1], is the Sorting Hat an example? Not normally, as the misinterpretation by the children is of a very different nature than the misrepresentations above. However, if someone were to argue, e.g., “I am cool, and I really wanted to join Gryffindor! It is not my fault that the stupid Hat put me in Ravenclaw with all the nerds!”, then it would be an example. (Assuming that my interpretation is correct and that the choice of Ravenclaw ultimately reflected the true wish of the child.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 29, 2022 at 1:35 am

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The illusion of choice

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Something that struck me about the “Sorting Hat”, when I first read the “Harry Potter” books, was how it seemed to be misunderstood—a feared decision maker for and to the children, who could only hope that they would, more-or-less by chance, land with their friends, siblings, like-minded spirits, whatnot.

To me, something very different was going on, namely that the Hat was bringing the right choice out of the child, possibly after offering some options or pointing to some overlooked factors: The child made the decision; the hat merely helped.*

*My last reading is too far back for me to give details, but note e.g. the dialogue between Harry and the Hat and how everyone with a strong preference, pre-sorting, seemed to land where he originally wanted to land.

Unfortunately, it is often the opposite in real life, where we seem to be offered a choice, but the choice is mostly an illusion, and/or where those who seem to be there to help us make the choice instead presume to impose their own choice. I have, for instance, heard repeated tales of guidance counselors who have set upon students with a fix and unwavering opinion that (repeatedly) “You must go to college!” or (at least once) “You should learn a craft!”, with any resistance from the student being viewed as recalcitrance, and with no attempt to find out what the student actually wanted to do/was suitable for.* A truly grievous, utterly absurd, Orwellian, and Kafkaesque example is the German Social-Democrat’s (failed) attempt to implement forced COVID-vaccinations, the “forced” of which Karl Lauterbach tried to deny on the basis that no physical violence, “only” severe fines, were intended as coercion—either the people would “voluntarily” choose to be vaccinated here and now, or they would do so, again “voluntarily”, once they ran out of money.

*Unfortunately, I can only provide hearsay and one-sided accounts here, but guidance counselors might be the closest to the Sorting Hat that most of us encounter in real life, which makes the example very relevant.

Consider politics: Here there are many potential problems, including that there is often a limit on the choices available;* that the established parties deliberately try to suppress newcomers with other ideas;** that parties in government can use public resources (ultimately, tax-payers’ money) to push their own propaganda;*** that even parties not in government, if they are large enough, receive public money for their political propaganda; that parties can collude and barter to push policies with little voter supporter; and that the will of the voters can be made entirely redundant by unholy alliances, as when Merkel’s CDU repeatedly (!) formed coalitions with its nominal archenemy, the SPD. In the last case, the only effect of a vote was to influence whether CDU or SPD would be the senior partner.**** In light of this, how much choice does the voter really have and how much of a democracy is e.g. Germany, Sweden, and the U.S.? It is not quite as bad as “People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.” ([1]), but a “[…] black, brown, deep blue, or, on the outside, dark gray.” would come close to the truth.

*For instance, in that some opinions are common to virtually all the parties. (In Sweden even the nominally Right-wing parties, SD excepted, subscribe to various scientifically debunked gender-nonsense.) For instance, in that a vote for a certain party or candidate amounts to a vote for a package of opinions, where the voter might be happy with the party’s/candidate’s take on taxes and crime but not on immigration, but where the implied mandate will also include immigration. For instance, with party-based voting, that various party members come as a package, with little chance for the voter to speak for or against them individually. Looking at the U.K., if someone votes for party X to have Y as Prime Minister, he might also be stuck with Z as Chancellor, no matter how much he disapproves of Z. (Also note a discussion of the PM-without-a-mandate issue below.)

**Note e.g. the treatment of SD in Sweden and AfD in Germany.

***Note e.g. how public opinion on COVID was not so much determined by the actual science as by what the respective government declared to be the “truth”—even when the actual science was unsettled or contradicting this “truth”. The government line was then pushed using tax-payers’ money and government influence on media, while those who objected had to use their own, much smaller, resources. (And note how most governments seemed to stick to the original line even as scientific results accumulated against this line.)

****But this ultimately backfired for CDU, as SPD grew larger in the last election and chose not to continue the coalitions, making them a one-sided gift to the Left.

Then we have the issue that the elected politicians do not necessarily have the power that the voter is given to believe. Complications include powerful bureaucracies and civil servants, higher-ranking levels of government (note the influence of the EU on its members), international treaties signed by earlier governments, and whatnot. A particularly sad case is the constant obstruction of Donald Trump’s presidency by various and sundry: he had more-or-less* the right ideas, he was elected to implement them, he was willing to implement them—and half the time he ran into a roadblock, the rest of the time mere speed bumps.

*I have yet to find a politician with whom I agree on all issues, but he was closer than most. Certainly, more so than any other POTUS since Reagan.

Yet another complication is that politicians, once elected, have little accountability towards the voters until the next election. This allows them to make great promises before the election and to break them after the election—and it allows them to make important decisions on new issues with no true voter feedback and in a manner that the voters might not have agreed with, had the issue been on the table during the election. (COVID is, again, a great example.) Or consider the recent political chaos in the U.K.: Boris Johnson had once received the mandate of the people through a general election. He brought himself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people.* Liz Truss was elected to replace him by the Tory members, without a mandate from the people as a whole. She, too, brought herself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people. Then Rishi Sunak was more-or-less appointed,** without a mandate from the people and even lacking a mandate from the party members. Now, with an eye on these developments, how much true choice did a voter in 2019 (the previous general election) have? Would a Tory voter have considered Johnson’s COVID policies an acceptable result of his vote? Would he have been on-board with both Truss and Sunak? Chances are that many feel outright defrauded and disenfranchised—and those who do not probably should.

*Note that I neither deny that some means of changing leadership between elections must be present, nor rule out that the people would have agreed, had it been asked.

**I have not looked into the details, but I am under the impression that he was the only candidate that (a) wanted to run for the job, (b) reached some low minimum bar of support among the Tory MPs to make him eligible to do so. In other words, he does not have a true mandate even from the Tory MPs, let alone the overall party members, let alone the people. As an added complication, both Sunak and Truss were elected to lead the party and became leaders of the U.K. almost ex officio.

The election of Liz Truss shows another common problem, namely an artificial limitation on options, which forces the nominal decision maker(s) to pick among choices that someone else has cherry picked: The conceivable candidates had been narrowed down to two (Truss and Rishi Sunak), the members had to pick between exactly these two, and there is a chance that neither was truly the preferred candidate among the members. An older text deals with a similar problem of pre-filtered candidates for the U.S. 20-dollar bill, where the only candidates made available were those whose portrait would send a Leftist, usually Feminist, message. A more significant example is the 1980 Swedish nuclear power referendum, where the voters were, for all practical purposes, given the choice between “abolish nuclear power fast” and “abolish nuclear power slowly”. An option of “keep nuclear power” was conspicuously absent.* Also note the traditional sales technique of posing a choice between almost-equivalent options, e.g. whether to buy a certain car with or without a certain upgrade, as opposed to buying or not buying the car. (The latter, and much more important, decision being treated as foregone by the salesman, in the hope that the customer will fail to object and, thereby, lock himself in.)

*However, 42 years later there still is nuclear power in Sweden, if not as much as there would be in a saner world. This points to another problem, namely that someone creates the impression of influence by asking for advice but negates that influence by ignoring the advice. (Referenda are merely advisory in Sweden. Whether the advice was deliberately ignored, whether it fell victim to changing circumstances, and whether the misleading nature of such a limited-in-choice referendum was realized, I leave unstated. The general issue holds regardless.)

To stay with the topic of sales, consider the German Kundenberater:* He is a salesman,** nothing more and nothing less, and he typically has no true interest in helping the customer to make the best possible choice*** for the customer. No, he wants to lead the customer to the purchase which is the best for the Kundenberater, himself, e.g. through a larger provision (if working for provisions) or more impressive numbers that make him correspondingly more popular with his employer (if on a fix salary). A choice made through the strong influence of a Kundenberater is not typically a true, free, and informed choice already for this reason. However, to make matters worse, these Kundenberater are hired less for their product and market knowledge and more for their pleasant manners, their ability to be (at least somewhat convincingly) fake-friendly, their grooming and the style/quality of their clothing, and what else might apply. In a twist, I suspect that the quality of the actual advise correlates negatively with that of the clothing, e.g. in that the coverall-wearer from the hardware store is more knowledgable and/or more interested in giving good advice than the suit-wearer from the car dealership.

*By analogy with Berater in roles like guidance counselor, cf. above, the translation “customer counselor” begs to be used. Without this influence, I might have gone with e.g. “customer adviser”.

**And most or all of this applies to e.g. U.S. salesmen too. The German word, however, demonstrates the difference between claim and reality so much better.

***Which might be buying a cheap low-end product, buying from the competition, or not buying at all.

Go to college in the current U.S. and chances are that you will be stuck with various un-, pseudo-, or anti-scientific Leftist propaganda which rightfully would have no place in higher education. This regardless of what choices you make with regard to college or, once you are there, courses and lecturers: even the STEM fields are slowing becoming infested, the softer sciences are long gone, and some type of Leftist-cause course is increasingly a graduation requirement. Nominally, you have intellectual freedom, but in reality?

The ever-recurring area of COVID would be great source of examples, except that the illusion of choice is usually absent.* Still, examples exist. Consider the mandatory vaccinations in the U.S. military. Firstly, there is a great chance that the “mandatory” is actually illegal or unconstitutional, which implies that someone who enlisted in, say, 2019 might have made his choice in the justified belief that no-one would force him to take a vaccine (or, at least, a vaccine with so poor a risk–benefit ratio and so many uncertainties) in 2021. If so, his choice in 2019 has been ruined, as he was tricked-after-the-fact (see below for this ad-hoc term) into it. Looking at today, considering the state of science and the intrusiveness on personal choice of the vaccine, he should have the option to at least leave the service with an honorable discharge and no ill consequences—but instead he is faced with the risk of either negative consequences while he serves out his contract or simply being booted from service.** There is a religious exemption program, which nominally would give those with religious objections a choice—but applications for religious exemptions seem to be denied in a blanket or near-blanket manner, removing this apparent choice. (And also the choice to voice louder objections against the vaccination at an early stage, as he might have “chosen” not to do so in the belief that it would not be necessary. Ditto the option to ask for greater scrutiny of the exemption program from day one, which he “chose” not to exercise.)

*The topic of this text is not “we have no real choice” but “we seem to have a choice but actually do not”. With COVID (and a great many other things, e.g. taxes), governments have often made clear that “no, you do not have a choice—you do what we tell you to or else”. This, too, can be a very bad thing, but it is simply not today’s topic.

**Note that how one leaves service can affect e.g. post-service benefits and later employability.

As to trickery: Many apparent choices are not true choices, because we are actually tricked into making them. These fall into at least two categories: Firstly, cases where we are deliberately mislead about central facts and whatnots, e.g. through misrepresentations of what we will get for our money should we buy a certain product or service, important restrictions that are only mentioned after payment is made (if at all), information that should be given up front but is only given after a major investment of time has already taken place (implying that a different choice would lead to a loss of the invested time), etc. Secondly, cases where trickery-after-the-fact takes place, e.g. in that a business chooses to act in bad faith and to the disadvantage of the customer at a later date. (It might be that this was intended all along, it might also be that something changed, e.g. that one CEO with one set of values replaced another CEO with another set of values.) An absolutely horrifying case is that of Göteborgsvarvet, a Swedish half-marathon with tens of thousands of participants every year. When it was cancelled in 2020, the arrangers decided to just keep the entry fees—with a big “Fuck you!” to the poor runners, who got nothing for their money. Even knowing of a cancellation risk, a 2021 edition was planned, new entry fees were collected, the race was cancelled, and the arrangers kept the new entry fees—with an even bigger “Fuck you!” to the poor runners.*

*Here there is an element of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”, but this cannot excuse the inexcusable.

Excursion on sorting and self-fulfilling prophecies:
The type of sorting performed by the Hat has a risk of self-fulfilling prophecies, e.g. in that the various houses took on or exaggerated a certain character through the sorting. This is a lesson to beware in real life. For instance, the repeated claim that only an X would ever join group Y might make those who are X slightly more likely and those who are not-X considerably less likely to join Y—resulting in a Y that is thoroughly dominated by Xs, while it might not have been so without the claim. (I have often suspected that some Leftist groups deliberate use exactly this phenomenon against some of their opponents, notably those critical of highly permissive immigration policies.) For instance, many of the more sensible youngsters might deliberately avoid college, despite having a greater claim to being “college material” than many who do go, because they want to avoid a certain type of politicized and anti-intellectual environment hostile to their ideas. For instance, those who still went to college might deliberately avoid certain fields or forego an academic career for similar reasons.

Excursion on free will:
For the purposes of the above, I assume that we have free will and that there are no other complications that imply that we never truly have a choice, no matter what. Also see Eriksson’s Free-Will Wager.

Excursion on other issues:
This text is not intended to be a complete listing of all possible reasons for an illusion of choice. As I continually find myself seeing some new angle during writing, I am deliberately cutting myself a little short between the added footnote on asking-for-advice-and-then-ignoring-it and the not added* idea that advice can be deliberately misinterpreted, especially when the advice is filtered through the answers to a vague survey.

*Except to the degree that I need to explain the cut. This is one of the conundrums of communications, like how to truly not dignify a claim with an answer. (Saying that “I will not dignify that with an answer” is self-contradictory. Saying nothing, on the other hand, could be misinterpreted.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 27, 2022 at 1:31 pm