Why progress is a self limiting disease

Wednesday, 16 July, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

So I need a flashlight, therefore I buy a flashlight. Doesn't matter what exact brandi, whatever midmarket thing I paid fifteen bux for. A tube with seven led lights on one side and a detachable lid on the other, allowing someone to plug into the battery.

Within fifteen minutes of use, this flashlight that I bought develops a fatal flaw : it will stay lit if your finger's on the slider, but it will go dark otherwise. So it's a flashlight that's trying to consume your soul now, one hand at a time.

Within a further fifteen minutes the flashlight ended up in dozens of pieces of various sizes all over my bathroom, as a result of me smashing it on the floor and then jumping on the parts. Prior to that, I had tried to make it work like an actual flashlight, by hitting it increasingly hard on an ever increasing array of surfaces and flavours assorted items.ii Because that's what I do.iii

This happened a few days ago, and so by now my rage has subsided enough to allow critical examination of the matter. Unfortunately for all those involved I'm also the sort of guy that actually has access to historyiv, and as a result knows that for instance three centuries ago, back when flashlights were called lanterns, they were also a lot more reliable than this. You really didn't get products that ceased to work within the first hour of use, back in 1714. That only started later, once the colonists introduced mass production.

So now let's consider this. Given situation A, where there's a total of 3 products available in one product class, there exists significant economic incentive for each of the three manufacturers to deliver excellent quality products. The situation in the field works something like this : each of the villages and little neighbourhoods of the cities have, perforcev, have a social mesh. As a result, out of every potential mini-market of maybe hundreds of buyersvi a few, maybe just one tried each product. The best (or perhaps the best suited) would generally be selected, with most minimarkets ending up in a stable situation with a mixture of two out of the three. And when I say stable situation I mean stable situation : the places that used linen used linen, and the places that used wool used wool, forever. Period. In spite of Ovis aries and Linum usitatissimum being pretty much commensal over their entire areal, and thus in principle available everywhere.

Now consider situation B, where through whatever magic the cap on the sole product class is removed, there existing in principle an infinity of products that may claim (unverifiably) to be included. This, of course, under the pressure of the poor and marginal, who, unable (in the sense of unwilling) to find a place in the world as is, prefer instead to try and fleece it for their benefitvii. So, every two bit schmuck that isn't capable of participating in the wool and linen economy is going to be making treebark suits and paper boots. Just as much "suits" and "boots" as the actual suits and boots. What's the matter, you meant actual suits ? Tough, caveat emptor.

This comes into conflict with the best interest of society (which at this point still exists), and as a result the right to claim any particular item is part of the class becomes codified. You have to be part of a guild in order to claim you're selling cloth. And if you fail to so be part and fraudulently make the claim, why... off with your head. Which happens to be a major fucking problem, because saying things isn't malum in se and shouldn't, consequently, cost you your head. Nevertheless, the practical choice the scumviii leave everyone else is to either perish (because their scummyness will definitely dissolve society) or else kill them. There's really not a third option, as you can't coexist with scum any more than you can coexist with the common flu, as a healthy person.ix

Scum 1 : 0 Society, because the introduction of that abuse against natural law in the legal system of any society is quite likely enough to ruin it in principle. But the game's not over yet.

The game's not over yet, because the scum has this splendid property of practical infinity. Specifically : no matter how much of the scum you include in society, there's always going to be more. First, you include poor men, such as the Irish, because whatever, they're people too. Of sorts, I guess, they are. They must be. Next, you include women, because whatever, they're people too. Of sorts, I guess, etc. Then you include blacks. Then you include faggots. Then you're going to include people who disagree that there's such a thing as gender, and people who do not wish to subscribe to the definition of marriage but instead change it, and people who see nothing wrong with fucking goats, and then people who see something wrong with you balking at the notion of interacting with a goat as a person on the flimsy grounds that the goat in question is "someone"'s girlfriend (or boyfriend), then people who like incest, then people who balk at you for not fucking your children, then people who want to bash their head against the wall nineteen hours a day, then people who want you to bash your head against the wall and so on and so forth and it'll never end. There's never going to be an end to inclusion, which is as excellent a reason to never do any as one could conceive : why start what you can't finish ?

And so here comes situation C, where not only the cap on products in the one class is removed, but also there's an infinity of classes. What do you mean there can't be such a thing as "pet personal care products", or for that matter "pet food" ?! What, pets aren't people, they should just be happy to get whatever's falling off the table and otherwise stay out of everyone's way ? Nonsense! What do you mean there can't be such a thing as "High Yield Investment Programmes" ? What are you, some sort of anti-liberal progressive-hater ? Because yes, as well you've intuited, all this decay is commonly called "progress", and the bacteriums and molds involved tend to call themselves "liberal".

2:0, and it's a game, set and match, because society can't actually survive this conceptual deluge. There's so many items, and so many kinds of items, that pretty much anyone could spend pretty much all of their time fondling the itemsx, with virtually nothing left over to interact with others. Merely an attempt to classify all the items one might come into contact with would take the intelligent person longer than their likely lifespan.

This leads to serious perverse incentives. Consider : the lantern I destroyed, however it was called, was produced in China. If I actually do buy a replacement, however it will be called, it'll have also been produced in China. Had the lantern worked properly for many years, China would have sold me one lantern. Total. On the other hand, had the lantern been a piece of crap, China'd have sold me 1.x, where x is a factor describing how much I actually need one. And not total, but over a finite time interval, months, years, whatever it is. Well, China happens to like selling me things, and so inasmuch as I can be convinced to buy into the brands bullshit, this system will work to a) concentrate all production to China, and b) ensure that everything is about as flimsy as possible, as if the termites were at it.xi

So now, in situation A, each of three lantern manufacturers had a very serious incentive to make good lanterns - which pretty much sell themselves. If they failed to make good lanterns however, they failed. End of the story for them.

Comparatively, In situation C, each of a myriad "manufacturers" of a myriad pieces of colored crap has the incentive to sell the colored crap. As anything. They seemingly manufacture themselves, and there's no possibility of failure anymore. The worst that's going to happen should something "fail" would be something "else" being bought. Win.

It is perhaps upon me at this juncture to explain why progress and liberalism are self-limiting diseases. I think I'll pass, but that's okay : there are about six thousand other articles on Trilema, in various languages. Maybe you'll find what you're looking for there ?

  1. I'm not going to say, because apparently fucking flashlights are a subject of rabid fan behaviour. Yes, that's right, fucking flashlights. What the hell is wrong with you people ? Who the fuck cares ?!

    And since we're on in, why do half of them have to be "tactical" ? What the fuck is that, a "tactical" flashlight ? Is your nose "strategical" ? Were you lot unhinged before or is this the unfortunate result of some gimmicky producer coming up with and trying to market the "fleshlight" ? []

  2. I got a message a little later, "Hey, did the flashlight talk back ?"

    Yes. Yes it did. Yes it motherfucking did. []

  3. And not just to physical objects, either. I do the exact same to institutions, and for that matter to people. "Here's how you're to work. Because I say so. Work that way or else here's how you'll be smashed, until you're no longer a thing, and for a while after that".

    This happens to be exactly the only way you can behave, as a moral individual. Anything else's just you taking the piss. []

  4. As it actually was, rather than as digested by whatever current "authorities" on the matter [of how to restate history so as to support whichever ideology promoted them to authorityship]. This distinction is very important, o ye who only touch reality through narratives of reality and similar 2nd hand sources. []
  5. Because if there's not a lot of items available to diddle with, people are stuck interacting with each other whether they want to or not, and in the process develop all those things like language and common sense and so on and so forth that we're squeezing today for the last drop of blood they've got.

    Just think of this : it took five fucking hundred generations of soldiers dying on campaign beds in obscure wilds sending home word to their pregnant wife and untold other billions of similar tension in order for the word "best" to become the word best, and for the word "happy" to become the word happy and so on and so forth. Was all this just so that a bunch of copywriters can make fiddy cents writing copy to sell shitty lanterns that break within an hour ? Nobody says "best" and "happy" in advertising anymore, and you know why ? They've sucked these poor words dry already, and moved on. To other words. Other words to suck dry.

    Other words they didn't make, and didn't pay for. Peak oil ? How about peak language, baby ? []

  6. The Dunbar number, as it's called. []
  7. Externalize costs and claim benefits, a stable strategy. []
  8. Ie, every two bit schmuck that isn't capable of participating in the wool and linen economy. The poor and marginal, unable (in the sense of unwilling) to find a place in the world as is. []
  9. Yes some people have immunity. Bully for them. Now what ? []
  10. Technically speaking, there are not more items today than in 1714. Anyone so inclined could have found an infinity of small rocks and shells on the seaside, or an infinity of twigs and leaves in the forest. Anyone inclined to spend most of their time fondling their ipad leaf in 1714 would have well been taken as nuts, and readily marginalised. The difference here is that society in 1714 was not yet advanced enough (ie, liberal and progressive) to seriously propose that spending your day diddling treebark is acceptable for the adult male. []
  11. Or, as one person in the book trade put it, people have long ago decided to make books as the cheapest, shittiest assemblage people will still recognise as a "book". []
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10 Responses

  1. Unhinged before.

    Almost any two guys can easily find plenty of things to talk about, whereas it's often difficult for a man to come up with even one thing he really cares about that a woman also cares about.

    For example, I was talking to a woman who was talking to the wife of a guy I've ridden bikes with. The wife was telling a story about how her husband ordered some lights for his bicycle, and when they arrived, he immediately unpacked them and took them into his dark basement so he could try them out and see how bright they were.

    Now, that is EXACTLY what I have done when I have bought similar lights! But neither the man's wife nor the other woman could comprehend this behavior.

    There is, believe it or not, a Web site for "flashaholics"---men who collect flashlights! I am not kidding, unless the site is some sort of hoax. But I don't think it is a hoax, because I found it to contain lots of useful data about various kinds of portable lights and batteries.

    Not too surprisingly, such people as visit the site and post articles about their flashlight collections are almost all men.

    To a man who collects flashlights, a woman who shares his passion would seem to have a great personality. But who ever heard of a woman with a passion for flashlights?

    You could pretty much repeat that for just about everything I find interesting. If I want to talk to someone about those things, I pretty much have to talk to a man. Sometimes it's difficult to believe women and men are members of the same species.


  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 18 July 2014

    Why not vacuum cleanners I wonder. Certainly the average suburban home needs more vacuuming than flashlighting.

  3. @Mircea Popescu

    For nearly every consumer good up to and including vacuum cleaners there are cults of faux afficianados conditioned by marketing (i.e. rape's darker moar damaging cousin). While reasonable people want X product that fulfills Y requirements... there are actually mother fucking vacuum cleaner fanboys. Almost pushes a person to take the french seriously with their whole words only refer to other words bullshit, but then again the French were the original consumer culture...

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 18 July 2014


  5. The French forum Hardware-fr, initially devoted to computer hardware, will talk about pretty much any consumer product. Coffee machines, flashlights, vacuum cleaners, shaving, those guys are experts and the threads are incredible resources.

  6. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 18 July 2014

    A, I have no objection to people knowing things. Fan behaviour is a different beast tho, it's one thing to know that flashlight X uses widget Q whereas flashlifht Y widget W, and perhaps that Q > W for K. It's quite another thing to hate people that a) have nfi Q != W ; b) couldn't care less that Q > W for K or c) don't see why K should even matter.

    It's just a fucking flashlight, it has exactly three specs : whether it lights and how long it lasts (two! two specs!). I've seen people try to make it into a plane engine or something.

  7. Well yes, it becomes quickly time-consuming and scary; for example I know I'm shaving WRONG now. (Not that I care, I shave like 10 times a year.)

    For the flashlight, I can think of a few other criteria on the top of my head, like the batteries they accept, whether they can stand up, be used as a weapon or glass breaker (the "tactical"), have multiple modes (affecting how it lights and last)...

    And I have to thank those forums for finding out more about batteries, now I have batteries that do not discharge themselves after a few weeks.

  8. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 18 July 2014

    Well sure, they can be useful, no argument.

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