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Two philosophers' views on California's homelessness epidemic
How can Innovation Central not manage to solve its own sprawling homelessness?
- The housing crisis in California has reached new heights, with more than 100,000 people without homes.
- To some, the dichotomy between the innovation the state is known for and its denizens ongoing inability to solve the problem is boggling.
- A couple of famous philosophers can show us how this problem isn't actually as odd as it seems.
In cast you haven't been paying much attention lately, there is a bit of a housing crisis in California. Homelessness is skyrocketing alongside the cost of even modest homes.
There are nearly 130,000 homeless people in California. Unlike other states where most of the homeless can be deemed "sheltered," meaning they have someplace to stay, such as a homeless shelter or transitional housing, in California 70 percent of the homeless population is considered "unsheltered," meaning they live in places like boxes, the street, or cars.
The number of people in question is also spiking; the number of homeless people in Los Angles County alone has gone up by 16 percent since last year. The state overall sees similar figures, with a 15 percent increase overall from 2015 to 2017.
The irony of all this is that the Bay Area is Innovation Central — California is supposed to be full of bright entrepreneurs that make billions turning dreams into reality. So then, how can it be that such a state filled with creative energy and cash can also be so apparently powerless to solve its problem of sprawling homelessness?
Philosophy to the rescue!
The go-to thinker for when something seemingly contradictory happens in capitalism is Karl Marx, the father of modern communist thought.
In his book Das Capital, Marx discusses what he sees as the two values of commodities, their value for use and their value for exchange. He suggests that capitalism is unique in that people will use capital to transform commodities into others which can command a higher price in exchange for the sake of a higher profit.
Thus, for Marx, there is no contradiction in a place being innovative and not being able to serve the needs of the poor. He would see it as a feature of capitalism. The fact that the people there are considered innovative doesn't change this at all. In fact, it might lead them to create stupid products that are both useless and quite profitable while total ignoring a social problem that offers little profit if solved.
Since housing demand far outpaces supply in California, landlords can keep raising prices and still find people willing to pay that much for a place to stay. Since it is more profitable to do this rather than keep rents low forever, they do so. It doesn't matter how innovative your landlord is, they are still going to act this way if they can. Marx, being a commie, sees these features of capitalism as unsolvable.
His solution would be to toss the whole thing out. If you don't want a revolution tomorrow, one could also look into decommodifying housing in general and remove the profit motive entirely.
Which philosophers have passed the test of time?
If you'd like another opinion from somebody who isn't a communist, that's fine; we have liberal capitalists, too.
John Rawls, the most celebrated American political philosopher of the 20th century, was less concerned with the question of who owned the means of production and more with what happened with the money created as a result.
As a liberal thinker, Rawls accepted that some inequalities were going to exist in any society and even argued that some of them could be beneficial. However, his principals of justice demand that any inequalities that exist in a given society must be demonstrated to improve the condition of the poorest as a justification for their existence.
If that doesn't make sense to you at first sight, here is have an example.
Suppose that a small, poor, isolated community has no doctor living there and that the residents of that town must travel large distances at great expense to get basic medical care. One day they find a doctor who is willing to move there, but only if they are paid a very high salary. To pay him so much would create much income inequality in the community, but it would also improve the condition of the poorest, as they would now have ready access to health care.
In this case, creating the inequality — that is, paying the doctor a high salary — makes the poorest people in town better off; they would then have health care. In Rawls' theory of justice, all inequalities have to meet this qualification.
For Rawls, the problem in California, or the rest of the United States, for that matter, is that while it has excellent ways of producing wealth, the institutions we have to distribute that wealth — or to make sure the adverse side effects of inequality are minimalized — are ineffective. They allow for the creation of vast inequalities that have made the condition of the poor worse as newly-rich tech workers drive up housing costs.
That many people in California are high-earning tech innovators isn't entirely relevant here, despite their work streamlining people's lives (see: there's an app for everything). This said, since California possesses both high-earning individuals and, judging by the homeless community's exponential growth, a still lackluster system in place for the needy — the current crisis can be said to be, in this philosophical lens, an institutional failing. However, it's such a one that can happen anywhere. Poverty is nothing new.
Nevertheless, a Rawlsian solution to the housing crisis might be to charge a surtax on all ultra-high incomes or on the sales of luxury homes to finance the construction of low-income housing, as it would continue to allow high salaries to exist while helping to assure that any income inequalities benefit everyone.
Though, given that California has had a significant housing shortage since the '70s don't hold out for an innovative solution that abolishes the problem of excessive rent prices any time soon.
All of this philosophy is great, but what are we doing right now to fix this?
California lawmakers have just implemented a rent cap to try and control the skyrocketing costs of housing. One of several around the country in place to try and correct the housing crisis through price controls, it limits yearly rent increases to inflation plus five percent for millions of units of housing and increases tenet protections against eviction.
"Rent control," the name for this kind of legislation, works by limiting how quickly rents can rise on certain units of housing. Expert opinions on it are mixed. Economists of both the left and right agree that it can reduce the amount of housing available in the long run. One study even found that it might cause gentrification as innovative landlords turn less profitable rental properties into owner-occupied housing. Many economists suggest, instead that longer-term options that will increase the housing supply overall be considered.
Proponents of the policy argue that it is effective in preventing evictions in the short run. While that may seem short-sighted, remember that people don't eat in the "long-run" — they need solutions to current problems now. Creative ideas to help increase the affordable housing stock have been tried with some success, but more is needed.
For a place so filled with brilliant people, piles of money, and a creative energy that has earned the love and ire of the rest of the country, California has had a difficult time solving its homelessness problem. While different philosophers can offer us insights as to why this is, they can only point us in the right direction. We have to go about fixing the problem ourselves.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.