On March 31, 2018, Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, was interviewed by Nikola Danaylov, a.k.a. Socrates, of Singularity.FM. A synopsis, audio download, and embedded video of the interview can be found on Singularity.FM here. You can also watch the YouTube video recording of the interview here.
Apparently this interview, nearly three hours in length, broke the record for the length of Nikola Danaylov’s in-depth, wide-ranging conversations on philosophy, politics, and the future. The interview covered both some of Mr. Stolyarov’s personal work and ideas, such as the illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong, as well as the efforts and aspirations of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The conversation also delved into such subjects as the definition of transhumanism, intelligence and morality, the technological Singularity or Singularities, health and fitness, and even cats. Everyone will find something of interest in this wide-ranging discussion.
Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website at http://transhumanist-party.org. To help advance the goals of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, as described in Mr. Stolyarov’s comments during the interview, become a member for free, no matter where you reside. Click here to fill out a membership application.
Adam Smith’s appreciation for the Stoic emperor’s writings is evident in his own work.
Who Was Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was the last of the five good emperors of Rome. He was born in 121 AD, reluctantly became emperor in 161 AD, and reigned for 19 years until his death in 180 AD. His reign was punctuated by numerous wars during which he repelled Rome’s enemies in long campaigns. When not at the frontiers of the empire, he spent his time administering the law, focusing his attention particularly on the guardianship of orphans, the manumission of slaves, and choosing city councilors.
Lord Acton memorably stated, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Lord Acton’s aphorism is, for the most part, true, but there was one exception to it in history: Marcus Aurelius. He famously had a keen interest in philosophy. Perpetually practicing self-control and moderation in all aspects of his life, he was the closest any person ever came to embodying Plato’s ideal of the “philosopher king.”
While on the front lines of his campaign against the German tribes, Marcus Aurelius wrote his own personal diary. This was originally titled Ta Eis Heauton, meaning To Himself in Greek. Subsequent translations of the text changed the title numerous times; we now know it as Meditations. In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes his personal views on the Stoic philosophy.
He focuses heavily on the themes of finding one’s place in the cosmic balance of the universe, the importance of analyzing your actions, and being a good person. Asserting that one should be judged first and foremost on their actions, he decisively urged us to “waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” Meditations is a masterpiece of Stoic philosophy, brimming with insightful, emotional and, most importantly, useful observations on morality and the human condition.
Who Was Adam Smith?
Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher who is renowned as one of the first modern economists. He was born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy and died in 1790. He is famous for his two seminal works, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. His work was massively influential on classical liberal thought as he was one of the first defenders of the free market.
In The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith articulated a persuasive case for the efficacy and morality of a free-market commercial society. Ludwig Von Mises, speaking about Smith’s works, wrote that they “presented the essence of the ideology of freedom, individualism, and prosperity, with admirable clarity and in an impeccable literary form.” Classical liberal economist Milton Friedman often wore a tie bearing a portrait of Adam Smith to formal events.
Adam Smith’s Readings of Marcus Aurelius
These two figures lived in vastly different times, under vastly different circumstances, so how did Marcus Aurelius ever influence Adam Smith? The answer lies in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.
Stoicism was one of the three major schools of Greek philosophy in the ancient world. It was founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC by a man named Zeno of Citium. The name “Stoic” was given to the followers of Zeno, who used to congregate to hear him teach at the Athenian Agora, under the colonnade known as the Stoa Poikile. Over time, Stoicism expanded and developed sophisticated views on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
While Stoicism posits numerous views on a huge variety of topics, its most interesting and relevant observations are on ethics. The Stoics were concerned with perfecting self-control which allowed for virtuous behavior. They believed that, through self-control, one could be free of negative emotions and passions which blinded objective judgment.
With a peaceful mind, the Stoics thought, people could live according to the universal reason of the world and practice a virtuous life. Marcus Aurelius described the ideal Stoic life in book three of Meditations, writing, “peace of mind in the evident conformity of your actions to the laws of reason, and peace of mind under the visitations of a destiny you cannot control.”
Adam Smith was educated at the University of Glasgow where he studied under Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson was a Scottish intellectual and a leading representative of the Christian Stoicism movement during the Scottish Enlightenment. He hosted private noontime classes on Stoicism which Adam Smith often attended. Smith’s preference for Marcus Aurelius was encouraged by Hutcheson, who published his own translation of Meditations.
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith referred to Marcus Aurelius as “the mild, the humane, the benevolent Antoninus,” demonstrating his deep admiration for the Stoic emperor. Marcus Aurelius influenced Adam Smith in three main areas: the idea of an inner conscience; the importance of self-control; and in his famous analogy of the “Invisible Hand.”
Our Inner Conscience
Both Marcus Aurelius and Adam Smith believed that the key to understanding morality was through self-scrutiny and sympathy for others.
Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations in the form of a self-reflective dialogue with his inner self. He thought that moral conviction lay within “the very god that is seated in you, bringing your impulses under its control, scrutinizing your thoughts.’’ He interchangeably referred to this inner god as the soul or the helmsman and believed that it is a voice within you that attempts to sway you from immoral doings; we now call this a conscience.
Similarly, Smith emphasized the role of people’s innermost thoughts. A key aspect of Smith’s moral philosophy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is the impartial spectator. Smith theorized that morality could be understood through the medium of sympathy. He thought that before people acted they ought to look for the approval of an impartial spectator.
“But though man has… been rendered the immediate judge of mankind, he has been rendered so only in the first instance; and an appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher tribunal, to the tribunal of their own consciences, to that of the supposed impartial and well-informed spectator, to that of the man within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of their conduct.”
The Importance of Self-Control
The Stoics listed four “cardinal virtues” — wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance — for which they held great reverence. These were believed to be expressions and manifestations of a single indivisible virtue. Smith used slightly different names, but he endorsed the same set of virtues and the idea that they were all facets of one indivisible virtue.
Smith and Aurelius had a mutual appreciation for the virtue of self-control. They both believed in an impartial, self-scrutinizing conscience that guided morality: while Aurelius called it the God Within, Smith called it the Impartial Spectator.
Marcus Aurelius said, “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The primacy of self-control is intrinsic to the Stoic philosophy. In a similar vein of thought, Smith writes that “self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from all other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre.” This respect for self-control was encouraged and cultivated by Smith’s Impartial Spectator and Marcus Aurelius’ Inner God.
The Invisible Hand
Marcus Aurelius argues that we must work together in common cooperation in order to improve humanity as a whole. He argues that we “were born to work together.” Aurelius stressed the vital nature of human cooperation.
“Constantly think of the universe as one living creature, embracing one being and soul; how all is absorbed into the one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass, and their wonderful web and texture.”
In The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith’s defense of the free market is expressed through the analogy of the Invisible Hand. Smith argues that in a society of free exchange and free markets, people must sympathize with one another and understand how best to benefit their fellow man in order to better their own situation.
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”
The transaction will not occur unless the parties involved demonstrate their sympathy for the interests of others. In the analogy of the Invisible Hand, Smith argues that we must think of others before ourselves and consider how best to serve our fellow neighbor. This famous passage bears a striking resemblance to the previous passage by Marcus Aurelius who also argues for the importance of conscious cooperation among people for the common good.
We Are All Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
A Roman emperor seems like an unlikely intellectual influence for a classical liberal thinker such as Adam Smith. Upon closer inspection, however, Smith and Aurelius are like two peas in a pod: both men believed that the root of morality lies within the self-scrutiny of one’s conscience; both believe in the primacy of the virtue of self-control; and both believe in the importance of sympathy as a tool for cooperation and the betterment of civilized society.
No thinker is entirely alone in their pursuit of truth. All people discover truth by building upon the previous discoveries of others. This explains how an emperor came to influence so strongly an Enlightenment moral philosopher and economist more than a thousand years after he had passed away. I believe that the best expression of the development of such ideas was written by a medieval philosopher and bishop, John of Salisbury, who spoke of the wisdom of Bernard of Chartres:
“He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”
We are all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants in the pursuit of the system of natural liberty and prosperity that Adam Smith sought during his lifetime.
Paul Meany is a student at Trinity College Dublin studying Ancient and Medieval History and Culture.
This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.
I cannot imagine the pain Charlie Gard’s parents are feeling now, as they savor their last moments with their precious child. Charlie is 11 months old and he’s dying.
Chris and Connie have been fighting for months to get treatment for Charlie, ever since he was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. But they have been forced to give up that fight.
I can’t imagine their pain, but I can imagine their fury because I share it.
From the Hospital to the Courts
Charlie is not mine. I’ve never met him or anyone who knows him. Yet I am furious with the British government for refusing to allow his parents to take their dying son to the United States for treatment: a therapy trial, his last and only hope.
No further recourse was available in the UK, but an American doctor was ready to try to help him at Columbia University Medical Center. Charlie’s parents raised £1.4 million through crowdfunding; they had the money to take him to the US by air ambulance.
But doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London didn’t like that idea. They said it wouldn’t help, that the American therapy was experimental. They said the baby’s life support should just stop.
On April 11th, a British High Court judge ruled with the doctors, empowering them to turn off Charlie’s life-support machines. His mother screamed “no” when she heard the verdict.
There was a petition with more than 110,000 names on it. People wrote letters to the Prime Minister, calling on her to release Charlie from Great Ormond Street’s care. The pope said he was praying for Charlie’s parents, “hoping that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end is not ignored.”
And now Charlie is out of time.
Even US President Trump tweeted that “If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so.”
Charlie’s parents challenged the decision in the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, and the European Court of Human Rights.
All to no avail. The Courts would not allow them to try to save their baby’s life.
Who Can Call This Justice?
And now Charlie is out of time. According to the BBC, “US neurologist Dr. Michio Hirano had said he was no longer willing to offer the baby experimental therapy after he saw the results of a new MRI scan last week.”
It’s possible that Charlie’s doctors were right, that experimental treatment wouldn’t have helped (although his parents don’t think so, nor do American and Italian doctors). But what harm could it have done when he’s dying anyway? And if his parents had the means to give him one last chance, why shouldn’t they exercise their right to do so? They belong to Charlie just as he belongs to them, and no one but Chris and Connie should get the final say on his medical care.
I never really knew what people meant by the phrase “death panels” before. It was just a term bandied about by talking heads and political personalities. It’s chilling how well it applies in this instance: a group of bureaucrats that sits around deciding who is worthy of medical care.
I don’t know how the power slipped away from the individual, whether taken by force or given away with applause, but this is outrageous. And it’s wrong.
Read with a Box of Tissues
I will leave you with the words of Connie Yates, Charlie’s mom:
Due to the deterioration in his muscles, there is now no way back for Charlie. Time that has been wasted. It is time that has sadly gone against him.
We want people to realise that we have been speaking to parents whose children were just like Charlie before starting treatment and now some of them are walking around like normal children. We wanted Charlie to have that chance too.
All we wanted to do was take Charlie from one world renowned hospital to another world renowned hospital in the attempt to save his life and to be treated by the world leader in mitochondrial disease. We feel that we should have been trusted as parents to do so but we will always know in our hearts that we did the very best for Charlie and I hope that he is proud of us for fighting his corner.
Charlie had a real chance of getting better. It’s now unfortunately too late for him but it’s not too late for others with this horrible disease and other diseases. We will continue to help and support families of ill children and try and make Charlie live on in the lives of others. We owe it to him to not let his life be in vain.
Despite the way that our beautiful son has been spoken about sometimes, as if he not worthy of a chance at life, our son is an absolute WARRIOR and we could not be prouder of him and we will miss him terribly. One little boy has brought the world together and whatever people’s opinions are, no one can deny the impact our beautiful son has had on the world and his legacy will never ever die.
We are now going to spend our last precious moments with our son Charlie, who unfortunately won’t make his 1st birthday in just under 2 weeks’ time, and we would ask that our privacy is respected at this very difficult time.
Mummy and Daddy love you so much Charlie, we always have and we always will and we are so sorry that we couldn’t save you.”
Marianne March is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she majored in Public Policy, with a minor in Economics. Follow her on twitter @mari_tweets.
This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.
Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, interviews Bobby Ridge, a researcher into transhumanist philosophy and the scientific method and the new Secretary-Treasurer of the United States and Nevada Transhumanist Parties.
Watch this conversation regarding the subjects of Mr. Ridge’s research, the scientific method, and transhumanism more generally.
Bobby Ridge has a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Science from California State University of Sacramento (CSUS) and is striving to achieve his MD in Neurology. He only recently became a Transhumanist. He conducts research for CSUS’s Psychology Department and his own personal research on the epistemology and Scientiometrics of the Scientific Method. He also co-owns Togo’s in Citrus Heights, CA. Mr. Ridge considers transhumanism to describe the future of humanity taking its next steps in evolution, which are both puissant and daunting. With the exponential increase in information technology, Mr. Ridge considers it important for us to become a science-based species to prevent a dystopian-type future from occurring.
Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party at http://transhumanist-party.org/.
Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free by filling out this form.
The gunman who attempted to slay Republican Congressmen at a baseball practice had a Facebook feed. Before it was deleted, everyone could read his vitriolic attacks on the rich, his denunciations of capitalism and corporate culture, his calls for high taxes and wealth redistribution, and, of course, his push for Bernie Sanders to be the ruler of us all. We all know the litany of gripes that drove him.
And yet, when the folks at National Public Radio were reflecting on his motives, the hosts declined to speculate. They feigned to be completely mystified how a happy, charming, good soul such as this could have turned to violence. Had the tables been turned – say an alt-right agitator had shot up a civil-rights protest – there would have been no question about the motivation.
One reason for the failure to connect the dots here concerns the loss of awareness of the destructive effects of envy. When was the last time you heard a sermon against it or observed a media figure casually recognizing its evils? Condemnation of envy as a motivating force for the destruction of life and property has nearly entirely vanished from the culture. This is probably because so much of modern public policy is based on it and depends on encouraging it. What was once one of the seven “deadly sins” is now a baked-in part of our public ethos.
What Is Envy?
Let’s return to the classic understanding of what envy is. It is part of the general vice of looking negatively upon the success of others. It is different from mere covetousness. To be covetous means to desire something that is not yours to have. It is also different from jealousy, which means to look upon the success of others and wish it were yours too. Jealousy can lead to emulation and that can be good. It is not the same as zeal, which is to feel inspiration from the good fortune of another to adapt your own life to also experience good fortune. (This commentary is taken straight from St. Thomas Aquinas.)
Envy is distinct from all these. It observes the excellence of others and desires it to stop. It sees the fortune of another and aspires to punish it. Envy is actively destructive of another’s successes as an end in itself. It is not even the case that the realization of envy brings happiness to the person who wants to harm others. It merely achieves the goal of satisfying the anger you feel when looking upon the happiness of others. It tears down. It harms. It hurts. It crushes, smashes, and kills. It begins with resentment against others’ achievements and ends in the infliction of personal harm.
To review, you notice a nice house. To say, “that very house should be mine,” is to be covetous. To say, “I want to buy a house like that,” stems from jealousy which leads to emulation. To say, “I aspire to a life in which I can afford a house like that,” is zeal. Envy is to say: “I want to burn down that house.”
Envy is a ubiquitous problem but it is not felt by everyone. Let’s say you have a person with a naturally aspirational personality. He or she looks at life as a trajectory of opportunities for success; it is a matter of will, intelligence, and creativity, and he or she believes in all those things. There is no room for envy in this person’s heart. The success of another serves as inspiration and drive to perform, not tear down.
But let’s say another person has no such outlook. He or she imagines himself to be intellectually limited, unskilled, uncreative, bound by a restricted personality or a lack of will. In this case, life seems like a series of routines not to be disrupted, and begins to resent others who pass him or her by in the struggle to achieve. This person is ripe for feelings of envy, that is, the desire to harm others who perform better than their peers.
Every successful person has to deal with the problem of encountering the envy of others. You might begin your career thinking that your excellence will be rewarded. You find that it sometimes or often is. At the same time, it incites envy as well, and you have to deal with knives in the back, hidden attempts to undermine you, plots and conspiracies to stop you from advancing. It is a sad fact but a reality every successful person has to deal with.
Medieval mythology described envy as the “green-eyed monster” because it looks at any sign of wealth with an aspiration to bring an end to it. The legend of the “evil eye” goes back to antiquity and denotes the profound fear all people have felt concerning envy. In Judaism, the rabbis taught to favor the “good eye” which calls for us to rejoice in the fortune of others, while the evil eye is the opposite impulse.
The world’s most famous anti-envy charm comes from Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. It is the Nazar, a glass eye in blue, black, and white. The idea of this charm is that it looks back at the evil eye and neutralizes its influence in your life. So far as anyone knows, it originated in the 15th and 16th century, which is not a surprise given the rising wealth of the Ottoman Empire. The merchants felt envy, and, as wealth grew, so did everyone else. This culture learned that popular hatred of wealth was something to fear, because it truly threatened the basis of people’s livelihoods. Even today, you see the Nazar in the cars, homes, boats, and keychains of average people. Even the Istanbul airport features a huge Nazar above the baggage claim.
The Politics of Envy
At some point in the 20th century, we normalized envy as a political idea. Down with the rich! His success must be punished! The 1% must be pillaged! Redistribute the wealth! All these ideas trace to an ancient idea that was widely seen not as a virtue or a good motivation but rather a socially destructive sin.
Indeed there is a burgeoning academic literature that seeks to rehabilitate envy as a motivator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It leads people to oppose unfairness and inequality, and hence builds the kinds of political institutions that many progressives favor. To be sure, there are good reasons to be upset and yell at the immorality of unjustly acquired wealth, but keep in mind that the problem here is not the wealth as such but the means of acquisition.
Real envy makes no distinction: it is unhinged loathing that ends in destruction. It seems like an implausible thing to do, take a sin and convert it to a political virtue. But there is a hidden truth here that people are unable to face: modern political institutions are in fact built on an ancient vice, institutionalized and unleashed.
Envy can seem relatively benign when it is embodied in political institutions. This is why Bernie Sanders can imagine himself as a preacher not of violence but of peace. “I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said of the gunman on the baseball field. “Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society….”
But what about whipping up masses of people who shout for the violence of the central government to loot and pillage people merely because they are wealthy? Some forms of violence are apparently acceptable.
If you teach with every speech and every article to sow hatred and encourage people to blame others’ successes for their own plight, you are playing with fire. Sometimes the seemingly benign veneer is torn off and this ends in bloodshed.
Both sides of the great ideological splits of our time are rooted in vices. While we are quick to recognize the evil of race and religious hatred, we do not like to think about the insidious effects unleashed by hatred of wealth and success. Maybe it is time for the Nazar to make its way from the Ottoman region to our own. We need some protection from the evil eye that modern politics is working daily to unleash.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.
This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.
I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.
People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.
Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.
This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.
So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.
Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:
Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical. But few people are willing to give up meat, so such feelings are suppressed because acknowledging them would only make one feel guilty. Once the costs of giving up meat fall, however, vegetarianism will spread like a prairie wildfire, changing eating habits, the use of farmland, and the science and economics of climate change.
Lab-grown or cultured meat is improving, but so is the science of veggie burgers. Beyond Meat has sold a very successful frozen “chicken” strip since 2013, and their non-frozen burger patties are just now seeing widespread distribution in the meat aisle at Whole Foods. Beyond Meat extracts protein from peas and then combines it with other vegetable elements under heating, cooling, and pressure to realign the proteins in a way that simulates the architecture of beef.
I picked up a two-pack on the weekend. Beyond Meat burgers look and cook like meat. But what about the taste?
The taste is excellent. The burger has a slightly smokey taste, not exactly like beef, but like meat. If you had never tasted a buffalo burger before, and I told you that this was a buffalo burger, you would have no reason to doubt me. A little sauce and salt and pepper, and this is a very good-tasting burger, not a sacrifice for morality.
The price is currently more than beef, $6 for two patties, but that’s Whole-Foods expensive, not out-of-reach expensive. I will buy more.
The revolution has begun.
The second picture is the BuzzFeed version. My burger wasn’t quite so artfully arranged but was still delicious, and I attest to the overall accuracy.
This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.
Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.
During this especially contested election, a lot of people are talking about people “wasting” or “throwing away” votes. However, many people who say this do not have a complete grasp of the full mathematical picture – or worse, they are only mentioning the part that supports their position. First let’s define what a “wasted” vote is.
Mathematical Definition of Wasted Votes
A wasted vote is a vote that provides no determination or effect on the final outcome of the election. According to Wikipedia: “Wasted votes are votes cast for losing candidates or votes cast for winning candidates in excess of the number required for victory. For example, in the UK general election of 2005, 52% of votes were cast for losing candidates and 18% were excess votes – a total of 70% wasted votes.”
There are two kinds of wasted votes that mathematically have no effect on the final election:
- Votes cast for candidates who did not win
- Excess votes cast for winning candidates
Clearly, neither of these kinds of votes statistically affect the election. However, many arguments only mention the first type without mentioning the second. Mathematically and logically, both categories are ineffectual votes.
First Past the Post
The value of your vote is what you give it. Should you spend it on a candidate you don’t believe in?The United States, along with several other nations, uses the First Past the Post (FPTP) or “winner take all” election. This method is defined as “the candidate who receives more votes than any other candidate wins.”
This is one of the reasons that many people mention wasted votes – our system creates that result. Sociologically speaking, the FPTP system tends to favor a two-party system. The French sociologist Maurice Duverger created “Duverger’s Law” which says just that.
The Electoral College
For U.S. Presidential elections, a state-by-state system is used called the Electoral College. Each state gets a proportional amount of electoral votes which are then used to find a majority for president. Interestingly, what happens in each separate state is a smaller FPTP election, followed by a counting of electoral votes.
The Electoral College is slightly different from a pure FPTP system because it requires an actual number threshold (currently 270 electoral votes) for a candidate to win instead of a simple majority of the votes.
We can sum things up as follows:
- States hold “winner take all” FPTP elections for electoral votes
- Electoral votes are counted
- The winner must have 270 electoral votes
- If there is no candidate that reaches it, the House of Representatives chooses the president
These distinctions are important, because they can change the math and the concept of the “wasted” vote phenomenon.
Wasted Votes in Presidential Elections
The general concept that is proposed by many is that you must always vote for a Republican or a Democrat because you must stop the worst candidate from winning. In a sense, you are voting a negative vote – against someone – rather than for a candidate of your choice. However, this actually depends on the scenario of the vote. Let’s look at some examples.
Bush vs. Gore: 2000
People voting out of fear of the worst candidate is a self-perpetuating cycle. Let’s examine a common example used in this discussion.
Following the extremely close 2000 U.S. presidential election, some supporters of Democratic candidate Al Gore believe that one reason he lost the election to Republican George W. Bush is because a portion of the electorate (2.7%) voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party, and exit polls indicated that more of these voters would have preferred Gore (45%) to Bush (27%), with the rest not voting in Nader’s absence.
The argument for this case is even more pronounced because the election was ultimately decided on the basis of the election results in Florida where Bush prevailed over Gore by a margin of only 537 votes (0.009%), which was far exceeded by the number of votes, 97,488 (0.293%), that Nader received. (Wikipedia)
At first, this may look like a clear example of the need to vote for a major party. However, let’s break this situation down mathematically. In every single state election, Bush or Gore won. There were millions of mathematically wasted votes in this election of both types.
In California, Gore won by 1,293,774 votes. Mathematically speaking, there were over one million wasted votes for Gore in this state alone. None of these excess votes could have helped Gore, since he had already mathematically won the state. The California votes didn’t matter in Florida. In fact, the votes in Florida have much more relevance than any other state.
Conclusions: Sometimes a vote for a major party winner is wasted anyway. Sometimes everything will come down to one state. However, there is no way to predict in advance which votes will be this important. If the parties knew that Florida would have been the deal breaker, then they would have acted differently. However, we simply don’t know the future well enough to predict that.
We do know that battleground states are generally more important than “safe” states for each candidate, but it is hard to know exactly which state might matter. (There are plenty of scenarios you can research online about possibly electoral outcomes, I encourage you to do so.) This leads us into our next example.
Clinton vs. Trump 2016
Let’s do some math about the state of California and our current presidential election. The average RCP poll has Hillary Clinton ahead by 22.2 percent. The registered voters in California add up to 17.7 million. Not all of them will vote, but we can use the 2012 presidential election as a predictor, where 13.2 million people voted.
Out of those 13.2 million, according to current predictions, 52.6% will vote for Clinton. However, Clinton only needs about 31% to beat Trump. The other 21% of excess votes for Clinton will be wasted. This means that approximately 3 million votes for Clinton in California will be wasted. Now, this is only a mathematical model, but we have several reasons to believe in it.
- California has a history of being a heavily Democratic state
- Polls usually swing within a single digit margin of error
- 21% is quite a large margin of leeway
Even if the polling changes significantly, we are still looking at millions of wasted Clinton votes in California.
Now let’s throw Jill Stein into the math. As part of the Green Party, she is to the left politically of Hillary, so we will assume that votes for her will be taken from Clinton’s pool. (Though this isn’t always a true assumption, as we will see later.) Right now she is polling at around 4%, but we could even give her 5%. If you take away 5% from Hillary’s margin of 22.2%, that leaves a huge margin of 17.2%: still millions of votes. The takeaway from this: you can safely vote for Jill Stein in California without fear of changing the state election results. Therefore, it will not affect the national vote either.
Since we have the Electoral College, your votes will have no influence beyond the state to change other vote counts. Those who prefer Jill Stein can with a clear conscience vote for her, since it will make no difference mathematically. Later we will look at the ethics of voting as it relates to this math.
Mathematical Importance of a Single Vote
There are a few theories on voting power calculations; we will look at two of them here. John F. Banzhaf III created a probabilistic system for determining individual voting power in a block voting system, such as the Electoral College. According to his calculations, because of differences in each state, it gives different voters different amounts of “voting power.”
A computer science researcher at UNC ran the Banzhaf power numbers for the 1990 U.S. Presidential election and determined that the state of California had the voters with the highest power index: 3.3. This index is measured as a multiple of the weakest voting state, which was Montana (1.0 voting power).
A newer method of measuring voting power was created by a research team from Columbia University using a more empirical (based on existing data) and less randomized model. They concluded that the smaller states had more mathematical voting power due to the fact that they received 2 votes minimum as a starting point. This model tends to generate smaller multipliers for voting power but more accurately matches empirical data from past elections.
Using these power ratings as a guide, we can estimate an estimated maximum voting power for each vote. We will be making some assumptions for this calculation.
- The minimum voting power multiplier is 1
- The highest multiplier from both models will be used as a maximum
In the United States there are currently 218,959,000 eligible voters with 146,311,000 actual registered voters. In the 2012 Presidential election, 126,144,000 people actually voted. This is our voting pool.
Each vote, legally speaking, has the same weight. So if we start from that assumption, taking into account a probable amount of voters (126 million), the power of your vote is:
This is: 0.0000000079 or 0.00000079%. That is the weight of your vote mathematically. Now we can multiply it by the highest power index to show the highest potential of your vote. Our California historical data from 1990 shows a 3.3 index, but to be conservative we will raise it to 4. So now the power is: 0.00000317%
Using probabilistic equations and analysis, this is the result. This is how powerful your vote is in the U.S. Presidential election is if you end up in the most heavily weighted state.
Addressing Weighted Vote Fallacies
As we have seen, many people argue that we should not “waste” votes, yet many millions of votes for the winner are wasted every year. It is difficult to predict whether a vote will end up in either wasted category. We’ve also seen past and possible scenarios where voting third party or major party can have no influence on the final election.
Fallacy 1: Treating Single Voters as One Block
A false assumption that people make about voting is treating a single vote as a block. For instance, let’s use our current election again as an example.
Someone insists that if you do not vote for Hillary, then you are helping Trump to be elected. (The reverse of this can also apply here.) You claim that you wish to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. You’re then told that the current national poll with all parties shows that Johnson is polling at 7%, which is less than the difference between Clinton (39%) and Trump (40%). Therefore, you must vote for Clinton to make up that difference.
There are several problems with this proposal. It does not take each state into consideration. It assumes all Gary Johnson supporters have Clinton as their second choice. And it treats your single vote as the entire 7%.
As we have seen, the current picture in California shows that Clinton has a huge margin. If this voter lived in California, a vote for Gary Johnson would not help Trump and also would not hurt Hillary, even if the entire 7% voted for Johnson. Anyone who says it is your duty to vote negative in this scenario does not know the math of this state.
This also assumes that all Johnson votes would choose Hillary as the second choice, but given that Libertarians take some platform elements from both the Left and the Right, this assumption would be highly unlikely. The same would go for Trump.
When people look at the 7% and tell you that you must vote a certain way, it is assuming you will somehow influence the entire 7%. However, we have seen that you are just one voter, and that your voting power is a very tiny number by itself. You cannot be entirely responsible for a candidate winning or losing with your single vote. In theory, it’s mathematically possible for one vote to decide an election, but given there are an exponential number of possible scenarios with millions of voters (imagine raising a few million to an exponent), it’s astronomically unlikely, especially if you live in a non-battleground state.
It’s also astronomically unlikely that all 7% (8,820,000 people) would vote for who they polled for. Even if you gave each voter a 99% chance of voting for who they polled for, the chance that all of them would vote the way they polled is (0.99) to the power of 8,820,000, which is less than 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%
Individuals are not entire blocks of voters, and it’s problematic to treat them as such.
Fallacy 2: Third Party Votes Have No Value
If enough people vote their conscience and vote for what they believe in, things can change.On the surface, this might appear to be true. A third party candidate for President has never won an election. We also have Duverger’s law that states our FPTP favors two party systems. However, it is mathematically possible for a third party to win, and there are also other measurable gains for voting for a third party.
Part of this fallacy is the “winner take all” perspective. In other words, if you don’t win the presidency, you’ve wasted your time.
However, there are many benefits of voting third party, even for president. It makes a political statement to the majority parties. It helps local politicians of that party in elections. It can help change platforms to include third-party elements. And it provides recognition for the party among voters as a viable alternative.
Third party candidates can and have won local and state elections in the past. This is a fact.
In 1968, George Wallace ran as a third party option for President. He received nine million votes and 45 electoral votes. Though he did not expect to win the popular vote, one of his aims was to force the House of Representatives to choose the President by denying either candidate the 270 electoral votes needed to win – and he nearly succeeded. Since our system is not a true First Past the Post, but a hybrid, this kind of situation is possible. In fact, calculations have been done showing that Gary Johnson could in fact force that situation this year. It is very unlikely, but it is possible.
Regardless of his loss, the impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial. He was able to affect the dialogue and events of that election significantly. (This is meant in no way as an endorsement of George Wallace’s political positions.) If his supporters had mostly voted for a majority party, his impact would have been less significant.
In most scenarios given by the “wasted” vote crowd, all of the votes that are considered are ones from the current voting electorate. Yet we have seen from figures previously mentioned that over 50 million eligible voters are not registered. Even among registered voters, almost 20 million didn’t vote in the last election. These potential votes are never placed into the scenario.
The simple truth is, there are millions of uninterested voters out there, yet candidates are not inspiring them to vote. If candidate X or Y were truly worthy of votes, would not some of these voters decide to register? And another question, would it be easier to get a third party voter to choose a majority candidate, or a non-voter? These are not mathematical questions, but they are logical. The fact is, with this many votes at stake, if these non-voters could be encouraged to register, they would undoubtedly change the election as they make up one-third of total eligible voters.
Ethics and Math
It has been demonstrated that the potential individual power of a vote is mathematically very small. It also has been shown that wasted votes can be cast for the winner of an election as well as the losers, as well as demonstrating that it is sometimes hard to predict exactly which vote will be wasted. Given this information, where do we derive the value of a vote?
It’s hard to get it purely from the math or practicality. In fact, it would seem our single vote is of very little import at all. Therefore, we must find meaning and value for our votes outside of the math.
Certainly, the Founders never envisioned an endless cycle of US citizens voting for the “lesser of two evils.”Certainly, the Founders never envisioned an endless cycle of United States citizens voting for the “lesser of two evils,” as the argument is often presented. The idea was for free and open elections where the people’s voice would be heard. It was simple: the candidate who best represented your interests earned your vote.
Your vote is, therefore, an expression of yourself and your beliefs. Your vote has power as a statement. People voting out of fear of the worst candidate is a self-perpetuating cycle. If no one ever has the courage to vote outside of the two main parties, it will never be broken. However, if enough people vote and it shows in the total election count, it will give cause for us to reconsider and embolden even more to vote outside of the two parties.
Yes, our current electoral system has some serious mathematical flaws. It simply does not encourage people to vote for their conscience – but we have seen that things are not as bad as we would be led to believe by some. The true value of a vote is in the people.
The Value of Your Vote
The value of your vote is what you give it. Should you spend it on a candidate you don’t believe in? Should it be an exercise in fear? It’s up to you. It is my hope that these mathematical calculations will bring you freedom from the idea that only majority party votes matter. A vote is a statement, a vote is personal, a vote is an expression of your citizenship in this country. If enough people vote their conscience and vote for what they believe in, things can change.
If you are already a staunch supporter of a major party, then you should vote that way. This paper is not against the major parties at all – but rather against the concept that votes somehow “belong” to only Democrats or Republicans. Votes belong to the voter. There has never been a more important time to vote your conscience.
Stephen Weese has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from George Mason University, and a Masters in Computer Information Technology from Regis University. Stephen teaches college Math and Computer courses. He is also a speaker, a film and voice actor, and a nutrition coach.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.
How long would you like to live for? Is there a limit to how long we can live for? These are not questions you hear often, but do not be surprised if they are repeated more frequently in the future. The reason? Life extension. It is the concept of living well beyond the average lifespan. 
Humans are already living longer due to vaccines and improvements in sanitation.  The World Health Organization reported that the average life expectancy at birth increased from 48 years in 1955 to 65 years in 1995, and is projected to rise to 73 years by 2025.  As medical techniques continue to improve, we are more inclined than ever to pursue life extension.  Indeed, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to China’s First Emperor, prolonging life has been an ever-present thought in society. [4, 5] Both individuals failed to escape death, but the idea of life extension ironically lives on. Even so, is it truly possible and what should upcoming doctors and scientists consider if they are to join the most ambitious of quests?
The “Horcruxes” of reality
In the fictional Harry Potter series, “Horcruxes” were objects where people could hide a fragment of their soul in an attempt to take one step towards immortality.  Of course, humans cannot split their souls and hide them in objects, but there are several proposed means by which life extension may be achieved.  This is a testimony to the progress within the life extension field, but there remains much room for improvement.
Eat less, live more
Caloric restriction (CR) is one proposed method for life extension.  In the CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) trial, 218 non-obese humans were randomised to either a control group or an intervention group. The latter aimed for a 25% reduction from baseline energy intake. At the end of the 2-year study period, the intervention group had significantly greater reductions in circulating levels of TNF-α – an inflammatory marker involved in many age-related diseases.  Dr Alexander Miras, winner of the 2014 Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal for his research on bariatric surgery, acknowledges that the study was a “good first step,” but argues that “the evidence in humans is lacking.” “A definitive RCT (randomised controlled trial),” Dr Miras continues, “would be very hard, if not impossible.” He also spots a glaring consequence of CR. “My personal approach is to avoid caloric restriction as this leads to hunger which is an unpleasant feeling. I would rather live a shorter life, but enjoy my food.”
One alternative is modulating telomerase activity – as attempted with the anti-ageing TA-65MD® supplement.  Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes ; they resemble the aglets on the ends of shoelaces. Just as shoelaces would unravel without the aglet, chromosomes would lose vital DNA sequences in the absence of telomeres.  Our cells divide over time, causing telomeres to shorten. Once the telomere becomes too short, cell division ceases, and short telomeres correlate with cellular ageing.  Telomerase is an enzyme that can oppose telomere shortening  – it was what Hamlet was to King Claudius; what exercise is to obesity; and what junior doctors, in England, will be to Jeremy Hunt.
Reactivating telomerase in telomerase-deficient mice reversed both neurodegeneration and degeneration of other organs.  This proved the concept that boosting telomerase activity could have anti-ageing effects, but there is little proof that this occurs in humans. While the mice were telomerase-deficient, humans normally have some telomerase activity. It is like giving food to someone who has been fasting for hours and to someone who has just eaten a three-course meal – the starved individual would unquestionably benefit more. A 12-month long RCT, involving 117 relatively healthy individuals (age range: 53-87), found that low-dose TA-65 significantly increased telomere length when compared to placebo. High-dose TA-65, however, failed to do so. 
Dancing with the devil
What is more worrying than treatments that may be ineffective? Side effects. Telomerase is a double-edged sword and by reducing telomere attrition, it can promote unlimited cell division and cancer.  Elizabeth Blackburn, co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in the discovery of telomerase, has doubts about exploiting the enzyme. Speaking to TIME magazine, she said, “Cancers love telomerase, and a number of cancers up-regulate it like crazy. . . . My feeling would be that if I take anything that would push my telomerase up, I’m playing with fire.” 
A cauldron of rewards
CR and boosting telomerase activity are just a small sample of life extending techniques, yet there is the notion that such techniques will be intertwined with risks. However, risks are always weighed against rewards, and Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, believes life extension would bring “immense and multifaceted” rewards. “The greatest benefit is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished . . . This is the greatest possible loss, and should be averted if at all possible.” Stolyarov also envisages “major savings to healthcare systems” and that “the achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems.”
Former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, disagrees with this view and argues that mortality is necessary for “treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.”  Hence, increased longevity could lead to an overall reduction in productivity over one’s lifetime. Perhaps Kass is correct, but the array of potential benefits makes it seem unwise to prematurely dismiss life extension. In fact, a survey, which examined the opinions of 605 Australians on life extension, highlighted further benefits – 23% of participants said they could “spend more time with family” and 4% cited the opportunity to experience future societies. 
Learning from our mistakes
Conversely, life extension may result in people enduring poor health for longer periods. 28% of participants in the Australian survey highlighted this concern.  Current trends in life expectancy reinforce their fears. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains, “Currently, in most countries in the developed world, life expectancy is increasing at approximately 2 years per decade, but healthspan (the years spent in good health) is only increasing at 1.7 years. This has major consequences . . . as more of later life is spent in poor health.” This is a consequence of treating “killer diseases” – according to Dr Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The current model in biomedicine,” says Dr Sierra, “is to treat one disease at a time. Let’s imagine you have arthritis; cancer; and are starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So what do we do? We treat you for cancer. You now live longer with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.” A better approach is clear to Dr Sierra who stresses the importance of compression of morbidity – “the goal is to live longer with less time spent being sick.”
Learning from our successes
Even with Dr Sierra’s approach, individual boredom and social implications, including overpopulation, would still be problems. According to Stolyarov, the boredom argument does not hold up when facing “human creativity and discovery.” He believes humans could never truly be bored as “the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue.”
In his novel Death is Wrong, Stolyarov explained that the idea that society could not cope with a rapidly expanding population was historically inaccurate. The current population “is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller.”  If it has been achieved in the past, who is to say our own society – one far more advanced than any before it – cannot adapt?
Life extension research is quietly progressing, and there is a good chance that it will eventually come to fruition. Although there are doubts about current techniques, Dr Sierra draws attention to novel interventions, such as rapamycin, which “delay ageing in mice.” He concludes that the next challenge is to “develop measures than can predict whether an intervention works in a short-term assay.” Such measures would provide the scaffolding for future clinical trials that test life extension techniques.
Given what may be gained, it is no surprise that artificially prolonging life is exciting some in the same way the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve. The impact on society? Impossible to predict. It would undoubtedly be a big risk, but perhaps in this complex and uncertain scenario, we ought to remember the words of the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 
Gerrard Jayaratnam is a student of Biomedical Science at Imperial College London.
- Stambler I. A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century. Ramat Gan: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2014.
- National Institute on Aging. Living Longer. 2011. https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.
- World Health Organization. 50 Facts: Global Health situation and trends 1955-2025. 2013. http://www.who.int/whr/1998/media_centre/50facts/en/.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. Epic of Gilgamesh. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh.
- Lloyd DF. The Man Who Would Cheat Death and Rule the Universe. Vision. 2008. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/history-shi-huang-emperor-china/5818.aspx.
- Rowling JK. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2005.
- Ravussin E, Redman LM, Rochon J, et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1097-1104.
- A. Sciences. What is TA-65®? (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-ta-65/.
- De Jesus BB, Blasco MA. Telomerase at the intersection of cancer and aging. Trends Genet 2013;29:513-520.
- A. Sciences. Telomeres and Cellular Aging. (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/telomeres-and-cellular-aging/.
- Jaskelioff M, Muller FL, Paik JH, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase deficient mice. Nature 2011;469:102-106.
- Salvador L, Singaravelu G, Harley CB, et al. A Natural Product Telomerase Activator Lengthens Telomeres in Humans: A Randomized, Double Blind, and Placebo Controlled Study. Rejuvenation Res 2016; ahead of print. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1793.
- Kluger J. The antiaging power of a positive attitude. TIME. 2015.
- Than K. The Psychological Strain of Living Forever. Live Science. 2006. http://www.livescience.com/10469-psychological-strain-living.html.
- Partridge B, Lucke J, Bartlett H, et al. Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation Res 2009;12:351-357.
- Stolyarov II G. Death is Wrong. 2nd ed. Carson City, Nevada: Rational Argumentator Press; 2013.
- The Huffington Post. 11 Beautiful T.S. Eliot Quotes. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/ts-eliot-quotes_n_3996010.html.