A socialist, capitalist and moderate respond to the Facts

Fact: There are poor people.

Socialist: Give me all your money, I will take care of them. Or else.

Capitalist: I can make lots of money from them because they’ll work for less.

Moderate: Give me half your money, so I can pay them not to work, then hire anyone who doesn’t want your money for free. If you make a profit, I’ll take it to pay more poor people to not work.

Fact: People lie.

Socialist: The government ought to teach people how to think and decide who is allowed to say what because people can’t tell lies from truth.

Capitalist: Honesty is good business. Suing frauds for everything they’ve got is also good business.

Moderate: Say whatever you want, as long as no one is offended. But just in case, a “truth board” will censor anything anyone might find objectionable.

Fact: Some people are more successful than others.

Socialist: Since men are all equal, differences must be due to education and inheritance. We must seize inheritance and other gifts, and replace education with standard government schools. If anyone is still more successful than anyone else in school or in their career, they must have cheated, so we must punish them until they are equal.

Capitalist: Let’s find out what makes people successful so we can make a fortune doing or selling it.

Moderate: It’s OK to be successful as long as you don’t make anyone jealous. You must make those who envy you feel better about their failures by sharing your success with them. Or else.

Fact: Some people don’t like each other.

Socialist: Since men are equal, they must all love each other equally. We must take away anything that make them different or special away from them so that they cannot tell any group apart.

Capitalist: More customers is always good for business. If someone doesn’t want to work with someone for irrational reasons, I will happily take their customers and employees.

Moderate: People ought to learn to get along. Therefore, I will force people who hate each other to live and work together so they can learn to appreciate their differences.

Four reasons why you need to squat

You probably don’t know how to squat. In fact, you are probably not capable of squatting for any period of time, even though it is one of the basic human positions, like standing and lying. Why does it matter? Because, as I recently discovered, squatting is the optimal position for all sorts of things — eating, working, defecating, exercising, and especially giving birth. Learning to squat can even prevent cancer!

The full, resting squat position

I first learned about squatting through “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way.” Squatting is one of the exercises the book recommends to build muscles for birth as well as an alternative birthing position. What most people knows as “squatting” is the partial squat — where only the ball of the foot touches the ground. This position cannot be held for long because it requires continual muscle tension. For the full “resting” squat, you must plant your feet flat on the ground with your buttocks resting on the backs of the calves. Try it. You feel off-balance, right? That’s because a life of sitting on chairs and wearing shoes with heels (including most men’s shoes) has shortened your Achilles tendons and left many muscles underdeveloped.

While “civilized” people who have office jobs and read blogs rarely squat, it is still very common in the developing world. In China (where I live), you will often see people squatting while working or eating. The majority of people across the world also squat on the toilet. Is that because they don’t have money to pay for western-style toilets and chairs?

Squatting for health:

http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2012/04/why-you-should-squat-to-poop/

Actually, it turns out squatting offers numerous health advantages for all kinds of activities. First, you must realize that human beings did not evolve to sit on chairs and toilets. This matters because the unnatural position we use while eating and defecating sitting down causes various health problems including:

  • Appendicitis
  • Bladder Incontinence
  • Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
  • Colon Cancer
  • Constipation
  • Contamination of the Small Intestine
  • Diverticulosis
  • Gynecological Disorders
  • Endometriosis
  • Hysterectomy
  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse
  • Rectocele
  • Uterine Fibroids
  • Heart Attacks
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Hiatus Hernia and GERD
  • Pregnancy and Childbirth Issues
  • Prostate Disorders
  • Sexual Dysfunction

Yeah.

Squatting for birth:

Squatting also happens to be the ideal position for birth. Lying down to give birth is a very recent “innovation” due to the replacement of midwives with doctors in the last century. Lying flat for birth reduces blood flow to baby and placenta, increasing the risk of fetal distress, whereas squatting maximizes the spaces between the pelvic bones and puts pressure on the cervix. Unfortunately, after a life time of sitting and wearing heels, most women cannot maintain a squat without extensive exercise.

Squatting for back pain:

A few years ago, I went to a social event that required me to stand while talking to people for several hours. Although no exercise was involved, the effort of just standing for an extended time caused such a strain in my back that I was in pain for weeks. Most adults have experiences some sort of back pain and assume that this one of the costs for the privilege of walking upright. In fact, the reason back pain is so common in the West is because we spend most of our time sitting or reclining rather than walking and squatting.

Farewell to the chair?

So we need to change our ideas about birthing position and toilet design, but what about chairs? Chairs for common use (rather than as thrones for public display) only became common with the European Renaissance.

I’m not an expert in ergonomics, but I suppose that sitting in a chair certainly has practical benefits. It allows for a better view of the surroundings, better access to operate machinery, and probably requires less calories. Are these benefits relevant to the modern office worker plugged into on a computer terminal all day? I don’t know. The important thing is not to rely exclusively on the chair (or couch or bed) to support one’s body. Ultra-comfortable ergonomic designs work against us when they allow the muscles that support the back and neck to atrophy. Every now and then, you must let your muscles and tendons do the job they were designed for.

Four reasons to practice evidence-based medicine

Few people would openly admit that they prefer irrational treatments and doctors.  But most people do in fact advocate irrational health practices – using pseudonyms for “irrational” as “holistic,” “alternative,” “homeopathic” and the deadly “natural.”

Medical practice requires an understanding of cause and effect

The human body operates according to certain causal principles. If we wish to make a change in our health, we must understand some of those causal principles and act according to our understanding. To act without a rational basis is to disconnect our goals from their achievement. Irrationality does not guarantee failure — it just means that success, to the extent that it happens, will be due to other factors that our goals.

The study of human health is especially vulnerable to errors of reasoning

In the field of health, especially rigorous rationality is necessary for at least five reasons:

  1. The human body will solve, or at least try to solve most problems on its own. This makes establishing causality due external factors quite difficult and introduces biases such as the placebo effect and the regression fallacy.
  2. The body is very complex! Because it evolved over billions of years, the causal relationships in the body are extremely complex and interdependent.   For example, even if we know that the body has too little of a certain substance, taking that substance may:
    a: not do anything
    b: cause the body to produce even less of the substance or c: cause an unpredictable side effect. On the other hand, if the body has too much of something, then the solution may be to a: consume less of that substance b: consume more of that substance or
    c: the consumption has no relationship at all to the level of that substance.
  3. It can be difficult to quantitatively measure the extent to which health problems are solved. While some things can be measured, many things, such as pain levels are very difficult to quantify.
  4. It is difficult to isolate causal factors in human beings since changes in health take time to develop and we can’t control every factor during an experiment or dissect human subjects when it is over.
  5. Humans tend to be irrational when it comes to their own mortality! We fear death, leading us to irrational over or under spending on health as well as being especially vulnerable to all the logical fallacies.

Scientifically sound research is needed to identity truths in medicine

There is a name for the field that applies rigor to the discovery of facts about nature: science. Science has been so successful in improving the state of human knowledge that many irrational, anti-scientific quacks have begun to use the term “scientific” to describe anti-scientific practices and ideas. In response to this, the medical community has come up with a term which identifiers the distinguishing aspect of rationality: “evidence based medicine.” This phrase is a necessary redundancy that identifies the essential characteristic of science: that it is based on empirical evidence. The alternative to non-evidence based science is not science at all, but emotionalism – “I feel it is true, so it must be.”

In the last hundred years, we have discovered certain practices for ensuring the conclusions of our medical experiments are valid. We know experimentally that observing these practices leads to more accurate conclusions. Let me emphasize that: the truth of medical claims is strongly correlated with the degree to which experiments follow accepted scientific standards. There are a number of objective scales for measuring the quality of an experiment.

Five characteristics of evidence-based medical studies

  1. The experiment and its results are fully described in enough detail to reproduce and compare the results
  2. There is a randomized control group
  3. The selection of control subjects is double blind
  4. The methods of randomization and blinding are accurately described and appropriate
  5. There is a description of withdrawals and dropouts.

Further reading:

 


Addendum: How to judge health claims

Continue reading “Four reasons to practice evidence-based medicine” »

Why I eat Paleo

We are animals not far removed from the jungle. Genetically, we are nearly identical to primitive man.

Our bodies have been shaped by our environment to make the best of the resources available to us. Our genotype (the DNA) only develops a healthy phenotype (our body and mind) in response to the environmental inputs it evolved to thrive in. The trouble with our modern, industrial lifestyle is that it is very different from the environment our bodies evolved to thrive in.

As a result, most of us are plagued by chronic illnesses that our ancestors never dealt with. If they survived childhood illnesses and accidents, our primitive ancestors could expect to live almost as long as us without the help of any modern comforts.

What are the sins of the modern lifestyle?

  • We eat terrible, non-human food: our bodies are adapted to handle a diet of mainly whole animal carcasses, leafy greens,nuts & berries.  Modern man eats a diet full of grains and starches – full of carbohydrates that were a rare delicacy for primitive man.
  • We evolved to eat whatever food is available and to handle occasional fasts – not to gorge ourselves multiple times a day on substances engineered to directly trigger our pleasure hormones.
  • We evolved to tone our bodies with hours of daily activity, but today we fight every exertion with door to door transportation.
  • Most people who try exercise programs follow stressful, repetitive and boring workouts which can be counter-productive and do not match the natural workouts our bodies adapted to.
  •  We evolved to handle occasional intense stresses (chasing prey and escaping predators) but we are overwhelmed with constantly stressful modern workplaces and hectic schedules.
  • The substitution of a physiologically proper diet with highly processed modern foods and toxic, synthetic sweeteners has destroyed our health as well as our sense of taste: we can no longer taste or appreciate the natural sugars and flavors in many foods.

So, why Paleo?

A harmony of values: political versus market solutions

People tend to become better at doing thing they are rewarded for doing. Entrepreneurs are good at turning money into products, politicians are good at getting votes, and bureaucrats are good at increasing their budgets and influence.

In markets systems, there is a tendency for explicit and actual motivations to match.  For example, Apple, BMW, or Wal-Mart want to make stuff I want because they are rewarded to the extent that they make stuff I want.

In politics, the trend is reversed.   Incentives in politics are often the opposite of political promises or goals.   For example, politicians and bureaucrats may honestly want to fix poverty, pollution, corruption, and terrorism, but they are more often rewarded for making all these things worse.   The worse the problem becomes in the voters mind, the larger the politician’s power and scope for action.  The more power a politician has, the greater his ability to rewards the pressure groups who fund his campaigns.

The more efficient a democracy, the more it tends to reward those who re-direct resources away from problem-solving activity and toward towards vote-generating activity. In an inefficient or indirect democracy, someone who is a good problem solver can win though the support of a minority that directly rewards success.  In a popular democracy, the ability to get votes will tend to triumph over the ability to achieve campaign promises.  By contrast, the more efficient a market is, the better it is at directing the production of goods towards what consumers actually desire – a harmony of consumer and producer values.

In the big picture, the intentions of politicians and voters are irrelevant – whether they are good or evil, the outcome depends only on what kind of behavior is incentivized. Studies show that most voters are altruistic, not selfish — and this is very destructive. Selfish voters tend to vote based on their own evidence and reward problem solving. Altruistic voters tend to vote based on campaign platforms, have no empirical basis to evaluate a candidate’s proposals, and no incentive to follow up on outcomes.

mass luxury and capitalism: Vertu vs. Apple

Vertu is a luxury phone maker. They sell jewel-encrusted phones for $10,000 to $100,000.

Vertu is a successful company, but in both style and substance, the iPhone is probably the best phone you can buy. The vast majority of people who can afford a Vertu still choose to purchase an iPhone, presumably because they believe it is a better product.

The reason why reveals a deep truth about how a capitalist economy works.

In order for the iPhone to exist, consumers must spend hundreds of billions on the smartphone ecosystem, which then pays for the research and development of devices, applications, and accessories. Therefore, the iPhone can only exist if it is priced at a level that hundreds of millions of people can afford.

Vertu probably has sales of about $100 million – compared to $220 billion for Apple. It not possible for them to produce a substantially better or even comparable product given such a difference in R&D budgets.

Furthermore, Vertu only exists because Apple and Samsung created a supplier ecosystem which rapidly democratizes technological innovation. A Vertu’s hardware is almost as good as the latest iPhone or Samsung phone because the hardware ecosystem that the market leaders create is available to all participants. The same applies to the low-end of the market: you can get a substantially similar experience on a Vertu as you would on an iPhone or a $150 basic China-produced smartphone with last year’s hardware.

In a capitalist economy, entrepreneurs compete to direct capital to the creation of products which satisfy as many human values as possible. Given sufficient time for capital accumulation and technological innovation, capitalists create products that try to satisfy all values that can be satisfied by material means, and create substitute products to satisfy non-material values as well – think explosive action movies and pornography.

The larger the potential consumer base of a product, the more resources can be invested in creating and improving it. Therefore, a capitalist consumer economy tends to create affordable, mass-produced goods which cannot be substantially improved by higher-prices alternatives. Andy Warhol observed the result of this in his 1975 book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.