Just an idle thought:

I’m watching Wall Street being occupied, and became fascinated by the degree to which the Media and assorted right-wing morons are glibly disparaging the Wall Street protestors for “not having any coherent demands.” That in itself is just pathetic, since we all know what their demands are and why they’re not something that can be written on a bumper sticker.

But it made me think: What a powerful and terrifying prospect that could be, if you genuinely have something to feel guilty about: For people to gather in numbers, look you in the face and then not tell you what their demands are.

Imagine a bunch of people walked up your driveway today and just stood there, staring at you impassively through the window. Imagine they kept doing that, day and night, without a word. Every time you walk into a room, there’s someone with their face pressed up against the glass, looking at you and giving nothing away. How long would it be before you started searching your conscience? Frankly, I’d probably be offering them all my money and admitting to crimes I’d never even committed within minutes! But if I HAD committed crimes, or even willingly gone to work and done a mundane job in the financial sector, knowing that there was a little uneasiness in my gut about the ethics of it but not being willing enough to rock the boat or suffer the consequences of resigning, then I think I’d probably be quaking in my shoes. Before long I’d be suggesting my OWN concessions to make them go away. And who better to figure out how to put the mess right?

Of course the major flaw with this kind of reasoning is that I do actually have a conscience, and a sense of empathy, and most of the people responsible for the current scandal in America and around the Western world don’t. It’s their most characteristic feature by far. Maybe if you are completely clueless (or simply don’t give a s**t) about what is going on inside other people’s minds and how they feel, then being faced with thousands of impassive faces, looking at you accusingly and making no demands of you whatsoever, would merely cause you to shrug and say “why should I care?” before going about your business. Unfortunately, such a psychopathic mindset is the primary qualification for being the sort of person who is causing all the trouble, whether on the inside of Wall Street’s towers or on the outside cheering it on. But if there’s even a glimmer of empathy inside the brains of these people then staring blankly at them and waiting for THEM to do something is probably a damned good way to unnerve them, I’d have thought.

Incidentally, a few years ago I bizarrely found myself lying on my front lawn, head to head with a journalist called Jon Ronson. We were lying head to head for a magazine photo and shortly after that he made me climb a tree, but I’ve really no idea why a journalist like Jon in particular would be sent to interview an artifical intelligence researcher. Unless it was to uncover what a bunch of kooks we all are. Anyway, a while back I was driving through the Arizona desert listening to NPR and a voice came on that I recognized. It was Jon, talking about a book he’d written about psychopaths. After our encounter on the lawn, I was glad to note that I wasn’t in it. But if you’re looking for some light but insightful reading about a kind of mind that (being a reader of my blog) you are most unlikely to own yourself but may be uncomfortably aware that you share a planet with, then I thoroughly recommend it. It’s called The Psychopath Test: A journey through the madness industry.

P.S. How ironic that Steve Jobs died today. This is an iPhone-fuelled revolution, for sure.

About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

16 Responses to Zombiepocalypse

  1. I think it might unnerve teabaggers that no one is telling these protesters what to say. Their shock at people thinking for themselves and being individuals might be hard for some to comprehend. Just sayin’.

    • Zach Blankenship says:

      I wish that those tea-party people would have stuck to the merits they had in the beginning when the movement spawned from Ron Paul’s campaign in the last election cycle. Although the Occupy Wall Street protests are seen as a generally left-wing movement, they’re in some ways directly in line with the Libertarian perspective shared by Congressman Paul. If the government is protecting the corporations and bailing out the banking industry, it’s up to the people to peacefully protest those corporations and demand changes in government policies. I understand there are several other issues being raised, but I think those are among the most bipartisan, if only people could see them for what they are.

      • stevegrand says:

        Hi Zach,

        I’ve heard others say that there’s some correspondence to the original Tea Party aims too, and I honestly don’t know if the protesters have objections to the government bail-out in itself. But as I understand it, what they fundamentally oppose is the fact that 40% of the country’s wealth lies in the hands of only 1% of the population, and a tiny number of people have grown obscenely rich while very large numbers of people are suffering greatly, in large part as a result of the irresponsible actions of that very minority. That doesn’t sound like a libertarian perspective to me. Deregulation is what CAUSED that.

        This comes down to a fundamental question of what a government is and what it is for. As a libertarian, you presumably think that the social contract we’ve made with each other is simply to agree a mutual defence against outsiders and not to restrict each others’ freedoms, but nothing further. Government therefore has no purpose beyond ensuring national security and keeping the rule of law. As a liberal, I think the social contract is quite different: I see government as the will of the people – the method by which we look after each other and care for those less fortunate than ourselves. I’m willing to give up a few of my liberties in order to play my part in that. I pay taxes and thus help provide social security so that people who suffer misfortunes aren’t left in the gutter, and I expect my government to provide those services to people on my behalf. In my experience it simply doesn’t happen otherwise. It’s a very different view, and unfortunately each side sees only the evils in the other, not the advantages. To libertarians the unemployed are often seen as losers or spongers, but I’ve spoken to enough homeless people to know that people can very easily get screwed through no fault of their own. Many of the people in the 1% got much of their riches by closing down businesses and throwing people out on the street. If someone lives in a factory town and is made redundant because it’s cheaper to outsource to India, it’s pretty harsh to say that such a person only has themself to blame. If someone has to sell everything they have in order to keep their mother alive because of spiralling medical costs, it’s not right to just say “well they could have chosen to spend their money differently, so they can’t expect my sympathy”. If someone develops schizophrenia, or ends up on the street because their husband drunk himself stupid, surely it’s wrong to say “tough luck – that’s your problem”? Yet that’s exactly what libertarianism (and modern conservatism) says. For my part I can’t agree with that. My understanding is that these protesters don’t either. I think they want their government to pull its finger out and bring some justice to the system.

      • Zach Blankenship says:

        Hey Steve!

        What I really mean to be getting at with this is that this an issue that is widely supported and that it’s spreading because it’s appealing. I think that is a perfect example of where the supposed “free market” system could intervene on behalf of the people. The people on Wall Street have every right to be protesting the corporations and I think that the more their message spreads so will the effect on the corporations in the market place, which is where it really hurts. It’s incredibly likely that a corporation finds loopholes in tax codes and the like, but it’s hard to recover from a hit to your stocks without changing your policies.

        I think that all too often the media puts the modern libertarian in the”they don’t care about anyone but themselves light,” and I can see where that comes from but I don’t think it does justice to the perspective. Sure, the libertarians believe that the rights of one citizen ends where the rights of another begin but that dosen’t mean that they’re fundamentally anti social programs or anti people. It just means they don’t think anyone should be forced to participate in such a program. For instance, I think Social Security has great merits and I think it’s something that we need to continue to have around for as long as people would like but I’d personally like to be able to opt-out and pursue other options. It dosen’t mean I don’t want the older generations to be supported or that I wouldn’t volunteer support.

        It’s just my opinion.. and I do subscribe to some that are considered pretty far out there. I think that a lot of the issues with the economy in the U.S would be solved if we took a serious look at an audit/eventual end of the Federal Reserve System, which is also something being voiced by a lot of these people in the Occupy Wall Street movement. And I think it might also help if we stopped funding both sides of the “War on Terror,” and removed our military from the 150 countries we’re in across the world.

      • stevegrand says:

        Totally agree about the amount that has been wasted on wars that were not even fought for good reasons.

        I’m European, so I have to say I find this libertarian view rather perplexing. If people are free to opt out of social welfare programs, surely that just leaves the funding of them to those who are most likely to need them? But these are the very people least able to spend that kind of money. The wealthy are unlikely to need social housing, unemployment benefit or free heathcare, so they’ll just opt out, leaving the poor to look after the poor. If money was well distributed I could see how such a system might feasibly support itself, but given that it’s extremely inequitably distributed, I can’t see how that works. The bottom 40% of the population owns only 0.2% of the wealth. You’re not a wealthy man and yet you want the opportunity to opt out, so suppose the top 60% follow your example. What kind of social provision can you get by reducing the available capital by 98%? It’s effectively zero.

      • Zach Blankenship says:


        I don’t think it leaves the funding of those programs to the people most likely to need it, I think it leaves the funding to the people who think they might need it at some point and would like to continue it’s existence. I also think there are even better options that would produce better benefits. A great deal of the people who are unemployed or losing their homes now, were people who were at one time at the upper end of the middle-class. I think if people were allowed to opt for personal accounts that allowed for such things as personal unemployment benefits and they had seen the ability to plan for themselves for such a crisis as a real, viable and respected option then they might not be in such bad shape now.

        I think a good example of such an opt-out program at-least with respect to social security is with regard to the county employees in Galveston county Texas, employees there decided that they wanted to opt out of social security and now they’re reaping benefits that are two-three times what the SSA is paying and they get to leave the balance of the account to their family members that survive them upon their death.

        I think another problem we have is the income tax. I feel that the idea that the federal government has ownership of our labor is a very dangerous one and I think If we got rid of the income tax all together it would be an immediate aid to the poor in our communities and would definitely help the markets a lot more then the setting of interest rates and manipulation of currency that the Federal Reserve insists on.


      • stevegrand says:

        Oh, you mean like the US’s appalling health insurance system? Costs twice as much as anybody else’s and kills more people? 🙂

        How does dropping income tax help poor people? I don’t understand.

        > I feel that the idea that the federal government has ownership of our labor is a very dangerous one

        I don’t understand that one either. In what sense does extracting a small percentage of people’s incomes to pay for the roads and armed forces and other shared needs constitute “ownership of labor”? Corporations own labor – I can see that – but federal government? Government regulation is what makes it possible to work without being poisoned, or live near a factory without your tap water catching on fire, or have some redress if you get fired unfairly. I don’t see that as ownership except in the sense of the People having a little (very little) ownership of their own labor. I accept that governments can lose their way and enact nonsensical laws, but anarchy really doesn’t do any better and feudalism has magnificantly demonstrated how iniquitous it is. I bet if you asked any 12 year-old chimney sweep during the industrial revolution whether they wanted more government ‘interference’ in the way business is run or less, they’d probably have said “bbbrphl, cough, splutter”, or something equally erudite along the lines of “please government, pray save me from the free market!”

        What is it with this hatred of a federal government anyway? I thought everyone was proud that this is the United States of America, not a bunch of independent little backwater countries. You only got this rich and successful by being one nation, so why the desire to disband it?

        It’s not as if state laws (*especially* in Republican-held states) are not themselves autocratic and highly controlling. Try getting an abortion in Ohio, or joining a union in Wisconsin. Disbanding the “evil Fed” just leaves you with no interstate, no army and the same world status as Lichtenstein.

      • Zach Blankenship says:


        I don’t see it as a move to disband, I see it as a move towards founding principals. It’s much easier for an individual to have a voice when the government that has the most power over him is the one that he’s closest to.

        ->”It’s not as if state laws (*especially* in Republican-held states) are not themselves autocratic and highly controlling. Try getting an abortion in Ohio, or joining a union in Wisconsin.

        I definitely agree with you there are a lot of states that have laws that I think are absolutely ludicrous, but the great thing about the founding principals of this country is that they allowed for different segments of the population to governor themselves as they see fit while still being one unified body. My argument is – if some state makes a law that causes small business to fail or perhaps places a ban on the marriage of any two people then at least there are other states in America they can go to find these things. However, if the United States government as a whole makes a law that’s unjust then the people in the second part of that problem suffer and the jobs from the first part will, instead of moving to a state next door will move to a country overseas.

        -> “Government regulation is what makes it possible to work without being poisoned, or live near a factory without your tap water catching on fire, or have some redress if you get fired unfairly. I don’t see that as ownership except in the sense of the People having a little (very little) ownership of their own labor. I accept that governments can lose their way and enact nonsensical laws, but anarchy really doesn’t do any better and feudalism has magnificantly demonstrated how iniquitous it is.”

        I think that those regulations are very important but I can’t see the place of government in them especially at the federal level. It’d be much more appropriate, at-least in my mind, to allow the free market system to take care of the regulations. It’s the notion that people aren’t going to buy a car that isn’t safe much like they won’t fly in a plane that isn’t safe. I understand that this is sort of a tired argument but I think it’s a pretty reasonable one.

        ->Disbanding the “evil Fed” just leaves you with no interstate, no army and the same world status as Lichtenstein.”

        I do support the end of the federal reserve system, but I don’t support an end to the federal government. I would say that federal government has a constitutional obligation to defend our borders, but it has no constitutional authority to levy taxes across state lines. I’m not saying there haven’t been good things that have come from the role the government has taken, I just think there are a lot of things that would have best been left to the states.I think that the department of education is a good example of this.

        ->”How does dropping income tax help poor people? I don’t understand.”

        Well… my understanding is that the income tax currently accounts for about one-third of the total revenue of the federal government. It’s also my understanding that ten years ago the federal government’s budget was about one-third less then it is today. With that in mind we could effectively eliminate the income tax immediately and still have /roughly/ the same amount of government that we had in the late 90s (of course it’d be a lot better if we coupled this with cuts in spending). The income tax takes a lot of money out of the private sector and about twenty percent of net income from the individual, it would help the poor by letting them keep more of the money they do earn and it would also help the economy by putting more money in the pockets of consumers.

      • stevegrand says:

        > It’d be much more appropriate, at-least in my mind, to allow the free market system to take care of the regulations.

        Hahahahahahaha! Hahahahahaha! Good one Zach! Very funny! You had me going, there, for a minute…

      • Zach Blankenship says:

        😉 haha.

  2. mmmmbacon says:

    Hey Steve,

    I don’t think you have to invoke psychopathy to understand how bankers could go about their day without being affected by the protests. In-group versus out-group bias can explain how bankers would focus on the positive in their own group and the negative in the protest group to make it ok on one’s conscience to be in the situation they are in. Sure there may be cognitive dissonance involved, but I bet in general a lot of them are decent people who love their kids etc. Unfortunately there’s too much legitimate blame to go around for one group of people to be clearly responsible, making it easier for those who had a role to not feel responsible. But obviously there’s some justice on Wall St. that has yet to be served (lest you think I am defending the bankers).


    • mmmmbacon says:

      Perhaps even more effective for bankers than the above bias is good old fashioned denial… and if that counts as psychopathic behavior then we’re all psychotic.

    • stevegrand says:

      Yeah, I’m sure many bankers are delightful people. Although it’s not bankers per se that are in trouble with the kids in Zuccotti Park, just the corrupt ones, and I reckon there are plenty of those to go round. A friend who used to be the chairman of a major telecoms company used to tell me that business has no heart. He used to say it to protect me from the awful truth of it, but I still learned the hard way. That’s partly just the nature of the beast, but in my experience a lack of empathy is also such a useful “skill” for any businessman, and especially for money men, that such people tend to rise to the top.

  3. mmmmbacon says:

    sorry, psychopaths, not psychotic.

  4. Nekura says:

    This idea was the basis of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, ‘cept the corpse didn’t even have to walk or stare. Damn shame too.. I’d like to protest while laying in bed. And people do know why they’re there, it’s just the news casters finding those guys who randomly showed up to join the fun. These guys point it out best http://anonops.blogspot.com/

    Its several factors, 5 points I think. I know that two are being against internet censorship, and more government transparency. I believe the third is to stop third party funding of political campaigns. As for the others I’m sure its being against the general economy and all that, though some are claiming to be protesting for ecological reasons which wasn’t really the point.. but eh… more people to annoy Wallstreet.

    BTW they’re doing one in New Orleans tomorrow. I’m going to try and get pictures of that.

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