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Thread: POTF 46 - Winner and Runner Up

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    Default POTF 46 - Winner and Runner Up

    The winner of POTF 46 - Nominations was Iskar, earning 1 competition point and 5 rep points. Well done!

    Winning Post
    For the Latin texts on this see De Iustificatione Tumultuorum by Albertus Muggnus and Repressionis Apologia by Nicolaus Coppernicus.

    Last weekend saw the first of May and with it the usual riots, clashes with police, burning litter bins and smashed shop windows. Many people's, including my own, first reaction to this is usually disdain and a latent horror - disdain for this "uncivilised mob" and horror that they might one day come to our own houses and disturb our neat bourgeoises existences. Thomas Mann put this sentiment in the tone of cold irony when in the Buddenbrooks he writes on the occasion of student riots in 1848: "...wobei Gott allein wußte, was das Fenster des Herrn Benthien mit der hohen Politik zu tun hatte." (... whereas God alone knew, what Mr. Benthien's [smashed] window had to do with high politics.) - Which leads us to the next thought: After abhorrence and disdain comes derision for those that think smashing shop windows could in any way further whatever "higher" goals there might be.

    However, taking a step back, it is clear there are at least two opposing poles on which most of us could agree: Mere destructive pillaging is reprehensible, while revolting against an unjust regime is generally applauded as an act of courage and sacrifice for the greater good. As such we are confronted with a scale, spanned by these two opposites and it is suddenly much less clear what actions are commendable and which are reprehensible. I wish to argumentatively explore this grey area between the poles in the following.

    In order to do so without losing ourselves in branches and tangents, I want to exclude two main tangents beforehand:
    Direct fight of partisans/guerrilleros/other irregulars against the agents of whatever (a priori morally neutral) regime without involving or harming civilians or their property will not concern us, as that is more a topic for discussing the strategies of asymmetric struggle, and the ethical assessment of such a struggle will usually be based on independent factors, such as declared motives or the (lack of) legitimacy of underlying claims.
    Secondly, whether or not a goal or motive advanced by generic rioters is "worthy" under whatever moral code will not concern us either, as that can be addressed in a philosophical discussion that is "perpendicular" to this one, in so far as its outcome has little to no effect on our enquiries: Both the rioters and the powers-that-be will maintain their position of what is right and wrong throughout the riot situation at hand and post-factum condemnations or justifications of either cause are unlikely to be accepted by the side "losing" the philosophical argument. Of course philosophical discourse on the motives advanced by rioters or the regime can in the long run influence public and then political discourse, but these feedback loops cover much longer timespans than even most election cycles and can therefore be safely excluded from our arguments - the ethical considerations of potentially underlying issues causing or advanced by riots can be regarded as quasi-stable.

    Now for our investigation. We shall consider a riot in the sense of
    I a large number of people,
    II incited or motivated by one or more particular grievances (be they factual, imagined or fabricated),
    III exerting violence on people or property not directly related to said grievance (possibly in addition to those related to it).

    If we dropped any of these conditions the investigations would be pointless, because (I) the phenomenon would be negligible, or (II) we'd be back in the extremal case of mere pillaging, or (III) we'd be back in mere partisan warfare - which we excluded above - or non-violent resistance - which is not contentious.

    A priori we will not be making any assumption on the "quality" (democratic, autocratic, anything in between) of the regime, but will be able to make some inferences on that later. The grievances advanced by the rioters as their cause can usually not be brought to a quick resolution or compromise in the situation itself as they often concern legislative or iuridical issues or societal phenomena that entail longer processes to be addressed. As such the main point of contention between the regime and the rioters will not be the validity of the grievances, but the appropriateness of the actions taken in their cause or against them. More complex societies (as are most) tend to have various systems to address and remedy grievances. The regime will argue that the institutions in place offer sufficient means to address the grievances, while the rioters will hold the contrary. The justifiability of the riot thus hinges critically on this seemingly technical question.

    It has an obvious structural aspect: Do the institutions of the regime offer the opportunity to address all possible grievances, at least in theory? For instance, a state with no court of appeals cannot reasonably argue that riots about (even just allegedly) unjust verdicts are unjustifiable, as its institutions offer no way of even considering the grievance. As another example, one would be hard pressed to justify a riot for access to medical treatment in a country with a universal public health insurance and a dense net of hospitals.
    If a polity does not offer avenues to address a grievance and if the cause of this grievance is not directly reachable, either due to being an institutional system or persons beyond public reach (which is usally the case), then the only way to enact pressure on the regime is to damage its everyday workings elsewhere. A simple protest causes basically no cost for the regime and can just be dispersed so in our societies largely based on material property the next best action driving up the cost of not responding to the grievance for the regime is the damaging of property and/or disruption of everyday life by threat of violence. At this point the further development is determined by how each side reacts in the context of strategies for asymmetric struggles. I would not wish to go into this much further as that is really a separate discussion on a subsection of strategy, so I will only point out the most salient decision to be made: If the rioters hurt people instead of just damaging property or if the regime responds by increased physical repression the situation tends to develop in the direction of an armed struggle, often until one side is forced into (tacit) surrender and in the public and international opinion often the side first using violence against people loses the most legitimacy.
    In order to preemptively dejustify all manner of violent riots a polity needs to provide a number of (more or less institutionalised) structures:
    - an independent jurisdiction to handle grievances especially against the executive or legislative branches
    - an independent legislature to prevent the jurisdiction from setting its own premises
    - an independent executive to prevent the legislature from taking advantage of just passing laws to ensure legality and then putting its every whim directly into action
    - furthermore internal subdivision of all power structures to allow control of their internal processes (tiered jurisdiction, parliamentary "councils of eldes" to ensure due behaviour in the legislature, and internal investigation units for the executive)
    - a basic statement of fundamental, sufficiently* universal rights (codified or not) not to be impaired by any of the power structures, upheld by the jurisdiction, respected by the legislature, and protected by the executive
    - at least one avenue for almost* every member of the polity to influence the composition and actions of these power structures, viz. elections for the power structures, or at least one of them if it can in the long term influence the composition of the others
    - if the latter is the case, control mechanisms to still ensure the independence of the other power structures
    - some system of (even just very) basic welfare to ensure that no member of the polity has to struggle for mere survival on their own (before we get into misunderstandings, this would even include the oft berated US social system).
    In short, said polity needs to be a democratic state of law with separation of powers ensuring the rights and (basic) welfare of its citizens. A deficiency in any of these points will inevitably leave an open flank regarding the justifiability of riots.
    As a final note on this paragraph, notice the asterisks we put on "sufficiently"/"almost" by which we qualified "universal"/"every": We noted above in (I) that a riot needs to comprise a large number of people to evade neglibility. (A very small group can not hope to drive up the cost of inaction for the regime enough to elicit a reaction, unless it delegitimises itself by mere terrorism.) As such, even though it may sound surprising, our polity at hand could oppress minorities that are too small to marshall a sufficiently numerous riot. This is due to the fact that we are only considering questions of technical justifiability here, not of ethical validity. That even numerically insignificant minorities must not be discriminated against is hence a purely ethical point, not one of considerations of power or strategy. It can still be deduced logically in moral philosophy, but that is a very different topic, with which we shall not concern ourselves here.

    We have seen above what criteria a polity must satisfy to structurally dejustify riots. Since polities failing any of these criteria will always have trouble delegitimising one or the other riot, we shall henceforth only concern ourselves with polities that are at least structurally insulated against justified rioting.
    One might now ask what else there actually is to consider after our structural arguments, but the structural part only goes halfway to the finish line: Since politics never happen in a vacuum, but involve particular actions by particular individuals or groups, we must also consider the practical side of things.

    The structures to address grievances we laid out above exist mostly in an institutionalised form, since large societies require a pronounced division of labour to function and therefore specialised branches to handle and process all grievances. These institutions come with specialised procedures to follow, forms to fill out, vocabulary to understand. That this is the case is not just a factual finding but, on a side note, can even be shown to be a necessary phenomenon in sufficiently complex societies (cf. Niklas Luhmann, "Legitimation by Procedure"). For our investigation of the practical issues the factual finding is perfectly sufficient, though.
    Now consider a polity that has all structures in place to theoretically address any possible grievance of a citizen. A citizen might still be effectively prevented from having a grievance addressed (where I include elections in the broad sense of using them to resolve a grievance with your current reperesentative by voting for another one):
    They might lack the education to understand the legal texts outlining their rights, or to know how to fill out forms so their grievance is not thrown out due to a formality. They might also lack the means to pay for legal counsel, or be unable to afford the free time for court proceedings or voting day. Their voting rights might be effectively stifled by overly complex preconditions that disproportionately daunt the less educated.
    The mere size of an official institution where to lodge complaints may dissuade people from doing so if navigating them to reach the correct addressee for a complaint already requires a structural understanding of the institution. Furthermore officials used to certain social conventions can be (even just sobconsciously) condescending and discouraging towards people not grown up in societal strata familiar with these conventions. (A prime example of this are the common manners and nonchalant cultural side-references of the educated bourgeoisie, that effectively serve as a shibboleth.)
    All of these factors can effectively make a structurally present possibility to adress grievances practically unreachable, rendering the regime's argument that the grievance can be handled non-violently void. In order to counter this polities must therefore not only make the structural provisions but also ensure that these are practically reachable by almost(* see the asterisk note above) all citizens. This can be achieved by
    - universal education up to a certain degree
    - automatic voter registration
    - compensations for salary lost due to time spent in court/voting/administrative proceedings that is paid automatically with no or very little application forms required
    - laws protecting from repercussions by employers for time spent in court/voting/administrative proceedings
    - important laws and individual rights worded in easily understandable language and actively made available to everyone
    - free minimum legal counsel or support to understand relevant legal contexts where the above is not possible due to irreducible complexity
    - trainings for state officials to reflect and check possible personal biases
    In general, the polity has a duty to actively enable its citizens to claim their rights and make their grievances heard in the proper channels, and to ensure that the dispensation of rightful claims requires no formal application but is the default only cancelled by an active waiver of the citizen.
    The soundest political structures are only worth as much as the polity's members are enabled to partake in them and if the latter is not ensured then even democracies will have a hard time arguing why certain riots are not justified.

    Runner-ups this week are Septentrionalis and Muizer. See you next time!

    Runner Up Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by swabian View Post
    Fermi's thoughts in particular aim at the assumption that civilizations would at some stage of development try and colonize galaxies with optimized exponential growth, thereby leaving all kinds of detectable technology in their wake or even prevent the evolution of other sentients like our evolution.
    Quote Originally Posted by swabian View Post
    My, maybe naïve, interjection at this point would be that civilizations might not at all want to expand as much as possible in order to secure the existence of its denizens, citizens, whatever. A logistical network on a galactic level might not be economically feasible or sustainable.
    Thank you for your well thought-out input. Given the astounding practical difficulties of interstellar travel, I find it unlikely that any such exploration could even take place, let alone establishing an economically feasible network on a galactic level. The nearest star system to us (that in the cosmic scale of distances is practically growing on the skin of our solar system) would take some 10,000 years to reach with present technology.

    If we were able to accelerate spaceships to light speed by some method that would be nothing short of miraculous, the distances would still be too great handle. With the acceleration phase considered, it would most likely take more than a human lifespan to reach a system 60 light years away, and by then time dilation would make any hope of reaching people back home hopeless. And 60 light years is peanuts. There might not be anything of even colonization interest that close to us let alone someone to trade with.

    I have also seen various calculation attempts of the energy needed to accelerate a physical object, such as a large starship, to light speed. Some state that reaching half the light speed would take as much as the entire energy output of humankind over ten years. Others say that reaching full light speed could take more energy than there is available on Earth. I do not have the competence to assess those calculations, but I take the words of astronomers and astrophysicists who deem human interstellar travel impossible very seriously.

    It is my conviction that people's tendency to assume that technological advancement will eventually lead us into being able to colonize the galaxy is based solely on popular culture. Growing up with scifi literature, movies, and comics have conditioned us to think that those things are just discoveries yet to be made. We have become cozy with the idea of Captain Kirk and his fictional colleagues boldly going where no man has gone before. But we need to understand that if lightspeed is unattainable to us and not even lightspeed is enough for routine space travel, all of that is within the realm of fantasy. In fact, we may be more likely to genetically engineer orcs and dwarves than having a functional galactic empire. Or even having a single outpost in another star system.

    Quote Originally Posted by swabian View Post
    The other, I think less likely, possibility would be that we are in fact alone, at least in the Milky Way. More modern discussions of the topic seem to be more inclined to emphasize that sentient life, unlike basic unicellular life, is much rarer than previously assumed.
    One thing that we need to understand is that, as long as we do not understand the mechanism of how life begins and we have only observed it having happened once, there is absolutely no way of estimating its likelihood. If you have seen someone positing a likelihood now or referring to previous assumptions, you already know that they operate outside the boundaries of scientific inquiry. We do not have any scientific grounds for estimating the likelihood of life. If we find even primitive life on another celestial body or somehow come across a chemical explanation for the birth of life and can artificially reproduce it, that can change our understanding overnight. But right now, we cannot give any likelihood to life existing anywhere else in the universe but Earth. No matter how many galaxies and planets there are. We could very well be the only things alive in the entire vast universe, as counterintuitive as that may sound (I admit, it does to me).

    Quote Originally Posted by swabian View Post
    I think total self caused destruction is unlikely. Unfortunately a partial collapse of civilization is quite possible, but not a total extinction event at our own hands. So I would say that it is somewhat possible that mankind suffers a severe setback due to climate change and ensuing conflicts, but a total self-annihilation, while still possible, is pretty unlikely in my humble opinion. It is more likely that mankind suffers death by some kind of catastrophe, like supervolcanism or an asteroid impact.
    Total annihilation is unlikely indeed without the external influences that you mention. However, the setback you describe is probably much more likely than a future of technological marvel that allows us to conquer new star systems and extend our species to the far reaches of space. And any setbacks like that will delay those plans indefinitely.

    Runner Up Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Muizer View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Because mister sun says no. The earth can support complex life for another couple hundred million years and single cell life for about 1 billion years after that. This is no matter what we do. Also you can't really add raw materials to a planet. What happens when all the iron has been mined and all the oil is gone.
    The problem with this argument, which I already addressed but you're ignoring, is the life-span of civilizations and even species. You're essentially asking us to believe a civilization will arise that will last a hundred million years or more. Only for such a civilization then would the brightening sun or earth shattering asteroid impacts become likely problems. You're postulating a continuously operating civilization that stays in operation for a length 2 orders of magnitude larger than the entire human species, 5 orders of magnitude larger than the longest lasting human civilization and 6 orders of magnitude longer than the industrial age. I reject that as a boundary condition for any discussion concerning what we today should be thinking of doing in the near (this century) future. It's absurd.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Space colonies in our solar system, yes. And only in the case of a supernova. Space colonies in other solar systems or around other planets if the disaster is not a supernova, no. A meteor wiping life on earth has no bearing on the Martian colony. Moreover gamma ray bursts from nearby supernovae or hypernovae do not kill life on all planets. They kill by saturating the atmosphere with protons that cause a self perpetuating reaction that destroys the protection from cosmic rays. Life on earth does not die because of the burst, it dies of cancer and lethal doses of radiation from outer space. Other planets atmospheres may not be affected in the same manner.
    Same counter argument. This thread has already discussed how unlikely it is humans will ever jump to other solar systems. As for the Martian colony, again it's a matter of odds. One cannot possibly call a Mars colony a sensible contingency plan except at ludicrous timescales in the context of our civilization.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    I disagree. With the technology we have right now humanity could survive on mars
    Attempts to create closed system biospheres have as yet not been successful. A self regulating biosphere would be a requirement. Technological solutions are going to fail sooner or later. We may be able to survive on Mars, but only 'submarine style', meaning they'd need to 'come up for air', i.e. be resupplied from earth, or its occupants returning to earth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    but it could not survive on post K/pg earth. And let's not forget what kind of life survived the K/pg impact. in case of a simmilar impact we'd be the dinosaurs not plesiadapis. Moreover K/pg was not even the biggest impact. The aftereffects were so serious because of where it hit, namely one of the few concentrated iridium deposits on earth. If it hit anywhere else but Chixulub it would have wiped out north america. There are rocks out there that can outright end ALL life on earth.
    I already disproved the validity of a human civilization planning for such a rare event, but even if: Given life survived the K/pg impact unaided I'm sure humans can today already build shelters that could survive the impact. And any such habitat will have a way easier time surviving, with access to water, oxygen, nutrients, food even, than any habitat on Mars.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    There is no reason for humanity, or better put, descendants of humanity to not be able to survive if we colonize. Moreover we are currently living thought the 6th major extinction even, and so far the science says this will be the worst so far (previous worst was the Permian-Triassic). Even if the Earth can harbor complex life it does not mean it will or that it can harbor human life. And this is ignoring all the other dangers we have discussed previously. Besides, even if it can, do we want our species to thrive or just scrape by in a post-anthropocene world? We were already nearly wiped out once before, when the total number of humans on earth was reduced to 75k individuals.
    And so the solution is to try to jump out of our own self-poisoned petri-dish to the next? Does it not seem much more sensible to take better care of our own planet? Should not every resource go into that accute, imminent problem rather than some totally unfeasible de-camping to Mars? In any case, if that is the reason, why not colonize Antarctica first. Or the oceans? Both eminently more survivable than Mars.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Actually yes and no. We already know how to terraform Mars, we just lack several key technologies to do it. The early stages of terraformation, namely creating a more friendly atmosphere, does not really require any human presence as it can be done via genetically engineered plants and bacteria, and while the rest of the process would indeed take several centuries it would be a lot more preferable to live in conditions mimicking the Vorkutan trundra or the Gobi desert than in spend your life in ISS conditions.
    Mars had an atmosphere and water on its surface. They're gone. Mars already died as a survivable planet. I don't see humans capable of reversing the process and create a stable ecosystem. And yes, on the time scales you mentioned that necessitate a departure from Earth, it would have to be stable. No solution that relies on continuous operation of an artificial system can expect to survive uninterrupted for that long. Not knowing our own history as a species.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Though all this talk is moot given that the number of discovered out-of-the-box (theoretically) habitable planets is increasing.
    This is quite irrelevant in the context of anything we plan in terms of space exploration in the next few centuries or so, since we won't be able to get there.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; September 30, 2021 at 04:32 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: POTF 46 - Winner and Runner Up

    Wait a minute. I am having some issues with the structure of this post. Working on it.

    EDIT: Finally. What a nightmare.
    Last edited by Septentrionalis; September 30, 2021 at 04:33 PM.

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