Category Archives: Proposals

Temporary housing: a suggestion

When the first space habitats are constructed, the furnishing of the interior will start. Trees need to be planted and many buildings have to be built. Houses, offices, hospitals, schools and so on have to be constructed. It might take a decade or more before all these building will be finished. The construction of buildings with a public function will have a priority.

Hence we should consider temporary shelters till the time permanent establishments have been arranged. One idea could be to house the first settlers in “army” tents. Though they could be established quickly and at low costs, their appearance will be too provisional. Further tents are also quite vulnerable.

A better option, in our opinion, is the use of quonset huts, prefabricated structures of galvanized steel designed to establish temporary shelters in short time. Quonset huts were developed during the second world war by the US military. After the war they also proved to be useful for civilian purposes.

Quonset huts are quite durable, and could be used for decades. Therefore the are preferable to tents. Because they are intended for temporary use, they will dismantled when permanent buildings will be available. Thereafter the huts could be reused at other locations.

250px-Quonset

Quonset huts in the US, 1946

Interior including human powered airplane

The interior of a Bernal Sphere

Positive discrimination

In employment positive discrimination is the policy that if in case of a job vacancy there are two or more equally qualified applicants, the job will be awarded to those applicant who belongs to a disadvantaged group (such as ethnic minorities or women). At first sight positive discrimination seems to be attractive, but positive discrimination, as well the related concept of quota, has several issues.

Positive discrimination necessarily also implied negative discrimination, of those who are not a member of a disadvantaged group. If an employer has a preference (whether or not as result of government policy) for underprivileged applicants, than applicants of more advantaged backgrounds will have a lesser chance of getting a job. Though positive discrimination and quotas might be a good temporary measure to correct past injustices, if such policies are, however, pursued to long it will backfire.

A second concern of these, well-intended, policies is that they might actually reinforce those social attitudes which caused negative discrimination of certain groups. When there is in case of (more or less) equal qualifications, a preference for (say) either women or ethnic minorities, some people might think that one has received his/her job only because of his/her background and not because of his or her qualifications. Such attitudes, however unjust they might be, could be disastrous for an employee of a disadvantaged group.

If neither positive discrimination nor quotas might have adverse consequences, are there alternatives? Instead of positive discrimination, we could use random selection (a.k.a. lottery) as a procedure of rewarding a job in case of multiple more or less equally qualified applicants. This method is fair, in that it gives all qualified applicants an equal chance to get the job regardless of their background.

Sport vouchers

Classical republicanism is build on a few basic concepts, on of these concepts is vita activa [1]. Vita activa is Latin for active life, but what is active life in a classical republican sense? First of all for classical republicans an active citizen is someone who is active in the public domain. Second an active works together with others to further the common good (res publica).

For centuries small city states with only a few thousand citizens, have been the ideal of classical republicans. Because of its limited size, a city-state would allow all its citizens to participate in politics. In larger political structures ( such as nation states or empires) its more difficult for individual citizens to participate in the political system. We see that in larger political structures a shift from self-governance to bureaucracy.

Since a return to small city states seems to unlikely in the modern world [2], classical republicans face the question whether we have a way to pursue the vita activa even in larger political structures. We believe that there is a way.

Voluntary associations are essentially miniature republics. Voluntary associations differ from other organizations in that VAs are run by their members: the members of the association appoint its board and can dismiss them. Even more importantly, in most voluntary associations activities are organized by their members. Voluntary associations are established to serve a certain purpose. It is this purpose that unites the members, as they usually join the VA because the support this cause. For these reasons voluntary associations are a good occasion for people to pursue the vita activa, and really active citizens can be active in multiple associations.

Citizens who are active in public life, are essential for the survival of a free and democratic society. Private citizens with experience in voluntary associations form a counter-force against career bureaucrats. Also publicly active citizens will be more interested in public affairs. Apathy is lethal for any free and democratic society.

If we want to promote active citizenship, we should stimulate people to join voluntary associations. But that is easily said. The difficult question is how we can stimulate people to join VAs? It is important that people should be familiar with voluntary associations from a very young age. It seems to be a hard task to seduce children to join a VA.

In order to stimulate children to join voluntary associations we propose the introduction of sport vouchers. A substantial portion of all voluntary associations are sport clubs. Most people who join a sport club do that in first place because they want to practice some sport (it’s hard to play football or hockey alone), while being a member of a VA is only of secondary importance. That is, however, no big deal, because once they are a member, they might become more enthusiast about being in a VA.

How will sport vouchers work? The idea is that all children will be able to join a sport club, regardless of their parent’s ability to pay membership fees. Instead the government will pay the fees for youth members. Our system has two important features: first children will be free to decide which sport they will do and at which club, and secondly the government will pay the fees to the sport associations directly rather than to the parents. The latter rule is meant to prevent parents from embezzling this money. Consequently signing up your child for a sport club will be free. Important to ad, is in our proposal the government will not only cover youth membership fees, but also the purchase of personal equipment (hockey sticks, shoes, clothing and so on).

It is essential that children are free to choose the sport they like most, because coercion to do a particular sport will have an adverse effect. How would children now what sport they will like most? One suggestion is to organize regular “sport fairs” at which children can try different sports.

Due to our commitment to secularism, we propose that only secular sport clubs (i.e. clubs which are not based on a certain religion) can participate in this program. Also clubs which discriminate against certain groups of people, will be excluded from the program.

[1] Other concepts are self-government, mixed government, the separation of the public and private domain.

[2] Space settlements could, however, cause a revival of classic city states.

Intellectual rights in Mordan

Intellectual rights can be divided into main categories: copyrights and patents. Intellectual rights are also known as intellectual property, but we believe this is actually a misnomer because property usually refers to the ownership of tangible object, while nothing is more abstract than ideas.

The concept of intellectual rights, especially if called intellectual property, is quite controversial. On one hand there are people, in particular among the far-left, who oppose the very concept of intellectual property. We do not want to abolish intellectual rights, since inventors, writers, musicians and artists invest much of their time, efforts and money in developing new ideas. Many of these ideas are quite influential and important for society, and hence these people deserve a decent reward.

Instead we believe that intellectual right should be reformed. In this post we will discuss some ideas how to organize intellectual rights in the Humanist Republic of Mordan.

Copyright

All works of writing or music will eventually become part of the public domain, usually several years after the death of the author. However, the duration of patents is usually a fixed period of time (usually 21 years). We propose a fixed term for the duration of copyright of 25 years after initial publication.

The collection of copyrights was not that difficult in earlier times, since printing books and making gramophone records was a costly process. The sale of books and gramophone records could easily be overseen, and hence the collection of copyrights. When copying machines and tape recorders became widely available, clandestine distribution became a serious concern. The widespread use of Internet has made copyright enforcement virtually impossible.

If we accept the premise that authors and artists deserve something for their efforts, we need to find a solution for this problem. The industry with its established interests, typically lobbies for better enforcement of traditional copyrights. Not only do the proposals made by the industry, pose serious threats to civil rights, they also place a serious burden on society. The costs of effective copyright enforcement in its traditional form, as huge and are paid by the state. If these cost were fully passed on to the industry (in the form of taxes), they would probably go bankrupt.

Better would it be to make downloading and sharing e-books, music and videos legal, and introduce alternative methods of compensating authors (as opposed to the corporations who currently collect copyrights). An interesting suggestion is made by the French organization Association de Audionautes, they propose to levy a lax on internet service provider subscriptions to fund an alternative compensation system. Quite predictably the industry opposed this proposal, but we need to recount that the industry is primarily concerned with generating profits for their shareholders, and that the interests of the artist are of secondary importance for them.

By counting clicks on legal download sites and peer-to-peer sharing sites, it will be not difficult to obtain accurate estimates how many copies of intellectual works are in circulation. The funds raised by the above mentioned levy, can be divided proportionally over the respective authors and artists (and by-passing the industry).

In order to facilitate a smooth implementation of this policy, it’s important that there will be a trade union of authors and artists. This trade union will be the official discussion partner of the civil authorities in this matter, and the corporations which currently dominate this industry will be ignored.

Patents

Lone inventors who invent important stuff, are nowadays extremely rare, and most modern inventions are the result of expensive research and development programs of universities and private businesses. The idea behind patents is that a temporary monopoly would enable inventors to earn back their investments. But patents are not without criticism.

One example of patent controversy are patents one genes. Since genes are natural things, and not human inventions, we oppose such patents. Another controversy are pharmaceutical patents. Pharmaceutical corporations are accused of making medication unnecessary expensive through the use of their patents. We propose that the government will fund all medical and pharmaceutical research, and all resulting medication will be license free.

Software patents are yet another common controversy. Earlier we have proposed a “prize” system for encouraging programmers to develop open source software.

A serious issue with which should be dealt are patent trolls, companies which hold patents but do not manufacture anything and only exist to collect patent fees. Patent trolls should be prohibited and prosecuted.

Transdermal patches for a rational voluntary death?

James Park is one of our favourite contemporary philosophers, and like us he is a proponent of the right of people to decide on their own death. However, Park is seriously concerned about what he calls irrational suicide, that is people making an end to their life for futile reasons such losing a job or being rejected by their love, but if they had not chosen to die they would be able to recover from these setbacks and be able to live a happy life.

The problem, according to Park, is that most methods for voluntary death only require one decision: yes or no. And once the decision to commit suicide, a point of no return has been passed. It would be better in his opinion if people who want to die should use a method which would require multiple decisions. This would force people to consider whether their original desire for a voluntary death is actually what they want.

Park therefore proposes voluntary death by dehydration as a method for a rational voluntary death, i.e. the refusal of drinking water by a person with the intent of ending one’s life. Because death in this fashion is not instantaneous and require a period of at least several days, during which the person has to consistently to refuse water, this method precludes its use in an impulse suicide.

He then puts forward several arguments in favour of this method. First this method does not depend on doctors, and that it could be used by everyone. Also he states that no change of law is required, but this depends on the jurisdiction where one lives and in many countries doctors will put you on intensive care if you has lost your consciousness (but not yet your life) in this way.

But most important is his claim that this method is relatively painless. But this claim is highly questionable, and evidence suggests that voluntary dehydration does cause great suffering. But given that most people will agree with Park’s concern about irrational suicide, could we design a humane but slow method of voluntary death?

I think the answer might be found in transdermal patches. Unlike pills or potions, transdermal patches are designed to administer low doses of a drug to the body over a longer period of time. A well-known example of such devices are nicotine patches, but another example are contraceptive patches and there are several other applications.

What properties should the drug used in this type of transdermal patch have? First, the drug should be able to permeate through the skin into the blood stream. Second, the drug should have a long biological half-life, i.e. the rate in which the body removes this drug should be lower than the rate in which it is administered and hence enables a build-up of the drug in the body. Third, the drug should have a high lethal dose. This means that a large amount of drug should be present in the body before death will occur, this will prolong the time between the attachment of the patch and ultimate death.

A fourth but very important property would be that until the lethal threshold level is reached, the drug should have no or only minimal side effects. And as fifth and final property, is that if the patch is removed before the point of no return, total recovery is possible.

These properties together will ensure that the use of transdermal patches as a method for voluntary death, will not lead to irrational suicides.

In order to guarantee a responsible distribution of these patches, we propose that these devices will only be available through a thanatologist (a medical profession proposed by A. C. Grayling, specialized in euthanasia in order to free other medical personal from this practice). People should be certain that patches provided by licensed thanatologists are save and reliable. An additional benefit is that when a person requests a patch, the thanatologist can have a conversation with this person on why one wants put an end to his or her life, and whether this is the only solution.

Exit visas and international child abduction

In the modern world only a few countries, mostly with dictatorial governments, require their citizens or residents to buy a visa for leaving the country. Most countries only require foreigners to buy a visa for entering the country.

Since the freedom of movement, including the right of leaving one’s own country at will, is considered a fundamental human right, most civilized nations consider a general restriction on departing one’s country as an abomination. Only in a few serious cases (e.g. of convicted criminals or people awaiting trial), it’s nowadays acceptable for a state to put restrictions on their citizens’ freedom to leave the country.

This is all fine for adults who are capable to decide for their own whether they will leave the country or not. There’s these days, however, a huge problem of international child abduction. It’s our opinion that an exit visa requirement for minors can be an effective measure to combat international child abductions.

In most cases of international child abduction, a non-custodial parent take his or her own child to another country against the will of the custodial parent. Usually the motive is the result of a failed marriage or another intimate relationship and a subsequent custody battle between the parents.

The system we propose will works as follows. All minors, defined as all persons below the age of sixteen years, who will travel to a foreign destination are required to be in the possession of an exit visa. Only the custodial parent is authorized to apply for this exit visa, which does not mean that a child cannot travel with his non-custodial parent, it only ensures the permission of the custodial parent.

On the application form the custodial parent will declare the minor’s destination (multiple destinations are possible), the duration of the stay abroad, whether the child will travel alone or in company of an adult, and in the latter case with whom.

In order to ensure the cooperation of foreign countries, the passport of minors should contain instead of “valid for all countries”, the phrase “valid only with appropriate exit visa”. The subsequent effect of this measure, is that expiration of the exit visa, the minor will automatically remain illegal in the foreign country, and hence the authorities are obliged to extradite the minor back to his or her home country. And the person, mostly the non-custodial parent, can be charged of harboring an illegal immigrant.

The Cheering of the Bulls

Bull fighting is barbaric and should be prohibited, and not only in space settlements. But for some reason people have a unsatisfiable need for “gruesome” entertainment, hence a proposal for a totally animal friendly alternative for bull fighting.

First like traditional bull fighting, this game is performed in an arena. Second we substitute real bulls with two humans in a realistic bull costume (including sharp horns), alternatively we could remote-controlled animatrons (but my preference is the first option). Third we need a human who fights the “bulls”, this person is referred to as the “coward”. Fourth within the arena there’s a field with a marked line, called the “ring”.

The rules are quite simple. First, the coward enters the arena and will stand at the midpoint, then (s)he will greet the audience. Meanwhile the coward is booed and insulted for coward by the audience. Subsequently two “bulls” enter the arena, and now the audience is cheering for the “bulls”.

The task for the “bulls” is plain and simple: pushing the coward outside the ring, for each time they manage to push him outside the ring they will receive a point. But also the coward can earn points by leaping over the “bulls”, each time he succeeds in leaping over a “bull”, the coward receives a point. The team which has the most points after fifteen minutes, wins the game.

To make this game even more exciting, each time the “bulls” earn a point the audience will cheer, but every time the coward earns one they will boo him.

 

Free Public Transport

We have discussed some ideas on public transportation in space habitats in an earlier post. In this post we will argue in defense of introducing free public transportation in Mordan.

Public transportation is in many developed countries already heavily subsidized, in some cases to such extent that travellers pay no more than 20% of the costs of public transportation. So we might wonder why bothering with charging fares at all? If you believe that people should pay for their own transportation, than you should oppose any subsidies on public transportation. But if you believe that some public subsidies on public transportation are fine, you should explain why we should not subsidize it for 100%.

We believe that freedom of movement is a fundamental right. But freedom of movement is also of great social and economic importance. People have to be able to travel from their homes to their jobs, students to their schools, consumers to the shops and so on. A good and accessible public transportation system will increase economic activity and hence wealth.

Since anyone, workers, employees, businesses, and consumers will gain from public transportation, we believe it will be fair if the government would use public funds to provide free public transportation. In principle the funds needed to finance such free public transportation will be supplied by the revenues generated by the lease of land by the government.

Related topics

The case for universal, single-payer health care