Are We Trapped in a Muskian Matrix?

Disclaimer: I am a fan of Elon Musk. I like what I know of him personally. I admire his courage and vision (open-source Tesla technology!). And I have no doubt that his IQ is close to twice what I'm working with. But all that just makes his recent comments about how we're all probably living in a simulation all the more strikingly absurd.

Here's his "strongest argument" (which Musk says has been honed by many hours of hot-tub conversation in recent months:

The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following. Forty years ago we had Pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were.

Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what's wrong with that argument.

Here are a couple of major flaws in that argument:

You cannot arbitrarily choose a segment of a trend and extend it into the future. The progression from Pong to World of Warcraft may be impressive, but there's no reason to assume, as Musk does, that the rate will continue as it has in the past decade. That's not how reality functions (or even simulated reality). To take an example with which Mr. Musk is deeply familiar, space exploration went from virtually nothing to landing men on the moon in the decade between the early 60s and the early 70s. A Muskian projection made in 1973 would have confidently assumed we'd be in Alpha Centauri by now, given that rate of progress. If real-estate prices had continued to climb at the rate of a decade ago, we'd all be millionaires by now! My 14 year-old cousin has grown about a foot taller in the past six months. Would Musk have us believe my cousin will be 100 feet tall by the time he gets out of college?

Video games are still just video games. Despite the progress from Pong to whatever the kids are playing these days, they're still looking at a screen, making images appear to move around in imaginary space. To my knowledge, there's been very little advancement in engaging the other senses, unless we're going to count very recent gizmos like the Oculus Rift, which mainly engaged my sense of nausea when I took it for a spin. No jasmine scent, no breezes in our hair, no silk through our fingers. It's still just light and sound. Hardly anything approaching a world.

I hate to throw cold water into Mr. Musk's hot tub, but let's get real. Of course, we may be living in a simulation, but if this is the strongest argument an acknowledged genius like Musk can come up with, I think it's time for a reboot.

Best Non-Sex Performance!

Look what's going on my mantlepiece! (I don't have a mantlepiece.)

Look what's going on my mantlepiece! (I don't have a mantlepiece.)

I'm so glad they included "PhD." Respect!

I'm so glad they included "PhD." Respect!

I don't know if anyone reads this blog. To be honest, I forget it even exists. One thing I don't lack is opportunities to write/speak about what's going on. So, apologies to anyone who follows this and is wondering where I go for months at a time. (If that's you, drop me a line so I know you're out there.) I sort of assume that most people who are interested in what I'm up to follow my podcast, where I rant about whatever's happening on a weekly basis. But to be honest, I rarely listen to podcasts, so why should I assume anyone else does?

Anyway, the news this week is that I won an AVN award. The AVNs are considered "the Oscars of porn." Cassie and I had cameo roles in a film called Marriage 2.0, which is an ambitious film about a couple going through the growing pains that generally accompany deciding to open their relationship. The woman in the couple, played by India Summers, is a documentary film-maker, so her character decides to interview some "experts" on alternative relationships—which is where we come in. So Cassie and I are interviewed by her, and then India and I have a scene in the kitchen (fully clothed, alas) where we have a friendly chat about the challenges of pursuing authenticity in a relationship. The experience of being in a porn movie was fun and strange in all the best ways. And now I have another bizarre line to add to my already surreal resume.

The Costs of Civilization

History is not a collection of threads that connect individual people and ideas across time; history is a web in which all ideas and all lives are entangled. Civilization is a package deal. These ostensibly positive things don’t suddenly appear without context or cost. They come wrapped in the antecedent conditions and cruelties of their creation: no blues without slavery; no moon landing without NAZI rocket scientists; no Slaughterhouse-Five without Vonnegut cowering in an underground meat locker while Dresden burned above him.

A dozen socks for $3.99 at Walmart seems like a bargain until you include the Cambodian sweatshops and cotton pesticides in your calculations. A bottle of “natural spring water” in your backpack is a great idea until you give some thought to the estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic polluting the world’s oceans—amounting to some 269,000 tons of plastic crap on the surface of the deep, blue sea.[1] There's no doubt that the political stability resulting from the Mongol empire allowed significant advances in science, trade, and agricultural technology. Some historians even argue that the European Renaissance was a rebirth—not of Greece or Rome—but of concepts spread by the rampaging Mongol hoards. (For an example of a positive spin on the Genghis Khan and the Mongols, see Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 2005, by Jack Weatherford.) Could be. But were those advances worth the suffering of the estimated 50 million people the Mongols raped and slaughtered? Are the achievements of world capitalism worth the widespread exploitation and destruction essential to its success? I guess it depends on whom you ask—and when.[2]

Just as there’s never any mention of PTSD, lost limbs, or brain trauma in “Be All You Can Be” recruitment commercials for the U.S. Army, and the slaughterhouse goes unmentioned in burger ads, most of civilization’s costs are conspicuously missing from polite conversation. Did you know, for example, that foragers rarely work more than a few hours per day? Kids in school don’t learn that hunter-gatherers were, on average, about six or seven inches taller than the farmers who displaced them and had far better health overall, or that fewer than one percent of foragers experienced tooth decay or gum disease, painful conditions that skyrocketed to rates 20 times that with the adoption of agriculture. They don’t hear that the Iroquois confederation had a profound influence on the framing of the U.S. Constitution.[3] Despite overwhelming evidence that our hunter-gatherer ancestors who survived childhood had lives that typically stretched into their 60s, 70s, and sometimes beyond, we’re still surrounded by “experts” who insist on repeating the inane disinformation that they only lived into their 30s. Ignoring decades of careful research by anthropologists and ethnologists that demonstrate low stress and infrequent conflict, the public is repeatedly assured that our prehistoric ancestors faced lives of constant war and teetered on the brink of starvation.

Our insistence on considering only the upside of civilization while ignoring many of its costs—and, conversely, demonizing prehistory with repeated misinformation—is as misguided (and dangerous) as only paying attention to the visible part of the iceberg. In the end, it’s the massive, submerged churning that will determine our fate, on both the individual and planetary levels.

[1] Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea
Published: December 10, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111913
[2] (link is external)
 On slavery as a necessary antecedent to capitalism, see: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, 2014, by Edward E. Baptist, or Empire of Cotton: A Global History, 2014, by Sven Beckert.
[3] Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy 1982
by Bruce E. Johansen

(Excerpted from Civilized to Death, coming in 2016 from Simon and Schuster.)

Civilization: Worth the Trouble?

When you’re going in the wrong direction, progress is the last thing you need. Maybe the “progress” that defines our age is closer to the progression of a disease than its cure. Sorry to be such a buzz-kill, but things aren’t looking good and show no signs of improving any time soon. In fact, from where I’m standing, it looks like western civilization is picking up speed the way things do when they’re circling the drain. Could it be that the fiercely-held belief in progress is a sort of pain-killer—a faith-in-the-future antidote to a sorely lacking, terrifying present? Does our belief in progress function the same way assurances of eternal heaven just around the corner have been used to calm the despairing for centuries? The way imported spices were used to cover the stench of the rotting food on the tables of wealthy Europeans?  

I know, there’s always been some lunatic warning that the end is nigh and we alway say, “But this time it’s different!” But seriously, this time it’s different. The planetary climate is shifting like cargo on a sinking ship. The most recent report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced by war, conflict and persecution had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million in 2004. Flocks of birds are falling from the sky, the buzzing of bees grows faint, and ancient butterfly migrations have ended. Species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the last time a major asteroid struck the planet. Texas-sized islands of swirling plastic suffocate oceans that are swelling as quickly as fresh-water aquifers are shrinking. Ice caps melt down as unstoppable methane bubbles up from the depths. Governments dither obediently while Wall Street tears the last bits of wealth from the carcass of the middle class.

None of this is particularly surprising. Far from it. Every civilization that’s ever existed has ended in chaos, tumult, and collapse—and there never was any good reason to think ours would break the pattern. But Rome, Sumer, the Mayans, Ancient Egypt, and the others were all regional collapses. The civilization imploding around us now is global. As Canadian historian Ronald Wright puts it, “Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up. The collapse of the first civilization on earth, the Sumerian, affected only half a million people. The fall of Rome affected tens of millions. If ours were to fail, it would, of course, bring catastrophe on billions.”

But the end of the world is beside the point. Despite the previous few paragraphs, I didn’t write this book to convince you that progress is a lie and civilization is a colossal mistake. Maybe you think the sublime beauty of Mahler’s Second Symphony, those photos of Earth taken from space, or knowledge of the structure of DNA are worth any price—even the otherworldy price we’ve paid. And after all is said and done, who am I to say you’re wrong? Maybe your life, or the life of someone you love, was saved by technological medicine—which makes it both personally difficult and morally distasteful for you to be anything less than a full-throated fan of modernity. Maybe you think the shit will ultimately miss the fan because coalitions of smart, decent people find a way to use the internet to spread corrective ways of thinking and interacting that rapidly, finally, infect our species with some common fucking sense. Let’s hope so. Whether the wonders of our age are worth their exorbitant cost is a question we each must ultimately answer for ourselves, and a lot of it depends on what happens—or doesn’t—in the next decade or so.

But even if they remain unanswered, these are questions well worth asking, because our species’ only hope of a future worth living in depends on how we understand our past, and how we apply that knowledge to our present and future. We need to ask ourselves who’s more worthy of our respect and admiration? The handful of inbred, power-mad pharaohs who financed the building of the pyramids in pursuit of ego-driven immortality, or the millions of forgotten foragers who accepted without struggle the universal fate of all that lives, their bodies long-since dissolved back into the Earth without monument or complaint? If death is the monster we all face, the question we must answer is Nietzsche’s: “Is it better to out-monster the monster or to be quietly devoured?” I vote for being devoured, though I can’t promise how quiet I’ll be.

(Excerpted from Civilized to Death, coming in 2016 from Simon and Schuster.)

In Economics, Tomorrow Never Comes

In 1928, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” in which he imagined the world a century later. By 2028, he predicted, things would be so good that no one would need to worry about making money. In fact, the principal problem people were going to face, according to Keynes, would be what to do with all their free time: “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won.” 

In fact, the average American works as many hours today as he or she did in 1970 and is lucky to get a couple of weeks off in a year. Overall, wealth has increased, but in America, almost all the increase has gone to the richest 1%. European countries have been more equitable, as least in the distribution of free time. According to Elizabeth Kolbert, “The average employed American works about one hundred and forty hours more per year than the average Englishman and three hundred hours more than the average Frenchman. (Current French law mandates that workers get thirty paid vacation days per year, British law twenty-eight; the corresponding figure in the U.S. is zero.)”[1] 

Ah, the glorious, leisurely future! Always just around the corner, but never quite arriving. Think I'm being harsh about progress? Get a taste of evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote that “Progress is a noxious, culturally embedded, untestable, nonoperational, intractable idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history.”[2] Jared Diamond isn’t convinced by the pro-progress propaganda either, though he’s a bit more diplomatic in his doubts:

“Don’t words such as ‘civilization,’ and phrases such as ‘rise of civilization,’ convey the false impression that civilization is good, tribal hunter-gatherers are miserable, and history for the past 13,000 years has involved progress toward greater human happiness? In fact, I do not assume that industrialized states are ‘better’ than hunter-gatherer tribes, or that the abandonment of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for iron-based statehood represents ‘progress,’ or that it has led to an increase in human happiness. My own impression, from having divided my life between United States cities and New Guinea villages, is that the so-called blessings of civilization are mixed.”[3]

[1] (The New Yorker, 5/26/14, p. 74) by Elizabeth Kolbert
[2] Gould (1988) “On Replacing the Idea of Progress with an Operational Notion of Directionality,” in M.H. Nitecki (ed.), Evolutionary Progress. p. 319.
[3] Guns, Germs, and Steel, p. 18.

(Excerpted from Civilized to Death, coming in 2016 from Simon and Schuster.)

What Should a Sex Show Show?

I may have an opportunity to be part of a TV/Net show about sexuality. I've already told the producers that I'm only interested in a Louis C.K.-type situation where I'd be free to do/say whatever the hell I want. The world doesn't need another moralistic, judgmental show looking down its nose at "deviant" people and their bizarre hungers. Nor does it need another dusty old professor diagramming the penile hooks of creepy insects or the desperate ordeal of the salmon, who lives only to spawn and die....

I've got some ideas of topics I'd like to tackle head-on. Here are a few, to give you an idea:

  • What does it really mean to be "gay?" Are two men who have sex while in prison a gay couple, even if they don't consider themselves to be? What if same-sex behavior is considered a standard part of life, as in some tribes in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere? 
  • Is sex with animals always wrong? If so, why? Can they give consent, just by continuing the interaction? How can it be legal to kill them, skin them, and eat them, but not to fuck them?
  • Are teenaged boys who have sex with adult women victims of sexual abuse? What if they don't think so? What if, in fact, they're clamoring for the opportunity to be "abused" in this way? Are all adult/adolescent sexual encounters inescapably exploitative?

Get the idea? If I'm going to do this, I want to make a show that asks questions everyone else is afraid to address, but that are important and interesting. Please use the comments to add your ideas for topics you'd like to see addressed on a show like this. Thanks.

Mexico on my mind

I'll be at Mexico's TED-style conference, called Ciudad de las Ideas, from November 7-9. Should be an interesting event, featuring lots of diverse speakers like Richard Dawkins, Helen Fisher, Deepak Chopra, and someone I've long wanted to meet in person, Robert Sapolsky. If you're in Mexico, ven a vernos.

Richard Dawkins is Cool with the Groping

Can Pedophilia Ever Be "Mild"?

Richard Dawkins isn't concerned about having been groped as a boy. Should we be?

First published on September 12, 2013 by Christopher Ryan in Psychology Today

 World-famous scientist, Richard Dawkins has attracted a lot of negative attention recently by suggesting that the "mild pedophilia" he experienced as a boy wasn't really such a big deal. In a recent interview, he recalled how one of his teachers “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Dawkins went on to say, “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.” Dawkins' point was that such situations must be seen in context, and that the cultural backdrop of his youth was sufficiently different from now as to make judgment more complicated and less warranted than it may seem. 

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours," Dawkins said. "Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” he said.

Predictably, the backlash has been intense. Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called Dawkins’ statement “a terrible slight” to victims of such abuse. “Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” Watt said. “But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

No, we don't know that. In fact, we don't know that any two people will "suffer the same effects" from the same experience in the here and now, much less in completely different contexts. 

Bruce Rind, an expert on the study of "intergenerational sexuality," got himself in some hot water in the 1990s when he published controversial research demonstrating that the best predictor of subjective harm is whether or not the minor consented to the experience.

Sexuality researcher, Jesse Bering, summarizes these findings in his soon-to-be-published book, Perv:

"Rind and his colleagues ... argued that it makes little sense to refer to something as 'child sex abuse' if, as an adult, the individual doesn't personally feel harmed and if his or her harm can't be detected by any known empirical measures." Bering notes that "this wasn't just the authors' personal and controversial opinion, but a statement based on scientific findings. Rind's study was a meta-analysis of previously published data on the sexual histories of a whopping 35,303 college students from around the world."

Rind's subject pool was taken from randomly-chosen college students, rather than "clinical samples of adults who'd sought help for ongoing problems stemming from their being raped, molested, or otherwise sexually exploited as children or teenagers." Using this random pool of over thirty-five thousand students, Rind and his coauthors concluded that, "the majority of those people who reported having had consensual encounters with adults as minors were, at the time of testing, no more likely to have pervasive psychological problems than those who hadn't."

Bering is careful to point out that, "these mentally healthy individuals weren't those who'd been subjected to terrible abuses as children. More often they were those who, as adolescents, had consensually (in the psychological sense of that term) 'fooled around' in various ways with someone on the other side of the legal line."

In other words, they weren't traumatized, probably because, like Dawkins, they never felt that what they'd experienced was traumatic.

Bering notes that Rind and his colleagues weren't alone in their conclusions. "In 2006, the psychologist Heather Ulrich replicated Rind's 1998 findings, concluding cautiously that the presumption of universal harm from juveniles having a sexual encounter with an adult is too simplistic to account for the variance in people's subjective interpretations of their own life experiences."

Dawkins has responded to the controversy his remarks caused here, writing, "To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention." 

This is indeed a delicate thing to talk about because, of course, it is a big deal when an adult abuses a child in any way—sexual or otherwise. But what this research suggests is that while urgency in detecting and stopping abuse of children is warranted, assumptions that all minors are traumatized by any sexual contact with someone over the age of consent are not scientifically supported. Perhaps more importantly, by sending the message that such experiences are by definition traumatic, we may sometimes be causing suffering even as we try to stop it.

On Older Men, Younger Women, and Moralistic Claptrap

Hugo Schwyzer owes Johnny Depp an apology.

Before getting too far into the weeds of this thought experiment, Schwyzer makes it clear that he's not talking about pedophiles or other obvious creeps; he's talking about men like Johnny Depp, who is apparently dating a woman in her late 20s, while he's just hit the big 5-0.

After bemoaning the ubiquity of this pattern of attraction, we come to the nub: "What seems harmless and natural, however, is neither." Schwyzer argues—or seems to—that this isn't in fact happening in response to any innate biological desire men hold for women in their most fertile years, despite the overwhelming biological evidence in support of such a view. To back up his thesis that this isn't a reflection of a "natural" desire on men's part, Schwyzer cites a 2007 study done in Sweden (though linking only to an article in The Economist that briefly mentions the study).

A few problems here. 

1. You're going to cite a just single study to refute the overwhelmingly accepted understanding that men are attracted to women at the prime of their fertility due to innate, evolved tendencies? Just one?

2. The study Schwyzer cites actually says the opposite of what he thinks it does. The authors conclude that an age difference of 4-6 years (man older) is optimal for greater fecundity, not that partners should be the same age. Here's the first paragraph of their discussion at the end of the paper:

"We show that the offspring count of both men and women who did not change their partner (i.e. the other parent) between the birth of their first and last child increased, the younger the female partner was compared with the male. The age difference between the partners yielded a maximum offspring count for men, if the female partner was approximately 6 years younger than the male and for women if the male partner was approximately 4 years older than the female. These findings may account for the phenomenon that men typically prefer and mate with women younger than themselves, whereas women usually desire and mate with men older than themselves (Buss 1989; Kenrick & Keefe 1992)" (emphasis mine).

3. Note that in addition to concluding that "offspring count ... increased the younger the female partner was compared to the male," the authors stipulate that they only included couples who "did not change their partner (i.e. the other parent) between the birth of their first and last child..." So Schwyzer's contention that there is no evolutionary basis underlying this attraction, expressed as reproductive pay-off, is not supported by the only study he cites. In fact, the study he cites refutes both his contention that "the science" shows this to be other than a natural behavior pattern and his moralistic scolding of Depp for dating a 27 year-old. After noting that, "The strategic reproductive benefit of choosing a younger woman diminished as the age gap widened," without including the crucial stipulation that the study only included coupleswho only had children with each other, Schwyzer writes, "According to the science, Depp was better matched with Paradis (nine years his junior) than with the new girlfriend." No, that's not what the science says. That's the opposite of what the science says. Schwyzer's "proof" that men's fecundity didn't increase when they hooked up with younger women didn't include men who had a second family after hooking up with a younger woman, as Depp seems poised to do. It's like arguing that smoking doesn't cause cancer without including smokers in your study. Hard reasoning to follow, that.

Which brings us to the moralistic claptrap.

Apparently oblivious to his complete failure to make the scientific point, Schwyzer stumbles along into the judgmental denunciation of men's morals and motivations, writing, "So if older men aren't pursuing much younger women because of evolutionary hardwiring, why do they? It's hard not to conclude that much of the appeal is about the hope of finding someone less demanding. A man in his 40s who wants to date women in their 20s is making the same calculation as the man who pursues a 'mail-order bride' from a country with less egalitarian values. It's about the mistaken assumption that younger women will be more malleable."

Ouch. Poor, pathetic Johnny Depp. Schwyzer somehow knows Depp's not attracted to his 27 year-old girlfriend because she's interesting, smart, has a great sense of humor, and is clearly hot (i.e. He's responding to "evolutionary hardwiring"), he's into her because she's powerless and he's intimidated by less "malleable" women of his own age. Think I'm putting words in Hugo's mouth? Read em and weep: "Men who chase younger women aren't eroticizing firmer flesh as much as they are a pre-feminist fantasy of a partner who is endlessly starry-eyed and appreciative."

So here's the moral of the story: Old losers like Johnny Depp are too weak-willed to pick on someone their own age, so they chase younger women who will put up with their bullsh*t because the poor young things don't know any better and couldn't do anything about if they did.

Ha! A quick perusal of Amber Heard's Wikipedia page suggests that if old Johnny's expecting malleable, starry-eyed, and appreciative, he's got another thing coming. Turns out, Miss Heard is a big fan of Ayn Rand, guns, and other women.

Schwyzer's attempt to shame consenting adults out of what he considers to be inapproapriate relationships strikes me as quite the opposite of an informed feminist perspective. If anyone's suffering from a "pre-feminist fantasy" in this situation, it would appear to be Mr. Schwyzer, who thinks a smart, successful 27 year-old woman is necessarily disempowered by her youth and beauty. I don't think she needs your help, Uncle Hugo. She seems to be doing just fine.

* Full disclosure: I've met Hugo Schwyzer when we appeared together on The Point, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. I've never met Johnny Depp, but he seems like a nice guy, too. And lastly, my wife is older than me (but far prettier).

A Death in Tikal

About 34 years ago (shit! really?), I was sitting atop a Mayan temple in Tikal, Guatemala when a scorpion stung my toe. Even before this happened, I was in an altered state of consciousness that got a lot more altered when I was told that the sting of the local scorpions were lethal. It was a hell of an evening, as you can imagine. I've told this story to friends over the years, but I recently told it to Kevin Allison, who produced it for his podcast, Risk! Hope you enjoy it.

Lost Opportunities for Metaphor


You know, for a few years now, I've been reading Paul Krugman desperately pleading that this is NOT the time for fiscal austerity in response to the economic crash. Much the opposite, he says, this is time to inject capital into the economy as a way to stimulate growth. Furthermore, he argues (very convincingly, IMHO) that because interest rates are at a century-long low, there can be no better time to invest heavily in infrastructure renovation. Fixing all those bridges, tunnels, and airports at virtually zero percent interest is a pretty sweet deal. The logic, in other words, seems pretty unassailable.

Krugman take another swing at it in today's column in the New York Times, writing:

"Now, just to be clear, this is not a case for more government spending and larger budget deficits under all circumstances — and the claim that people like me always want bigger deficits is just false. For the economy isn’t always like this — in fact, situations like the one we’re in are fairly rare. By all means let’s try to reduce deficits and bring down government indebtedness once normal conditions return and the economy is no longer depressed. But right now we’re still dealing with the aftermath of a once-in-three-generations financial crisis. This is no time for austerity."

Now, maybe it's just me, but this seems to be an argument in desperate need of a metaphor—an image that crystallizes what's being said. Since this thing began, four years ago, the same image comes to my mind every time I read/hear the debate: 

A man (the economy) has had a massive heart attack (crash). It almost killed him, but, with huge infusions of blood (cash), he survived and is slowly recovering. But recovery is slow and tenuous. He's still shaky on his feet and looking pretty damned pale. What's the smart thing to do now?

Krugman and others seem to be saying, Take it easy. Get lots of rest, plenty of liquids, and sleep a lot. Chillax and don't stress til you're back on your feet. Paul Ryan and his crowd have been arguing that this is exactly the sort of behavior that caused the heart attack in the first place (possibly true) and thus more of the same is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing.

You see the problem here? Krugman's argument makes logical sense, but the Republican's argument makes emotional sense—which isn't really, you know, sense—even if it feels just like it. The Republican's position has all the appeal of chastising your lazy, overweight uncle for never getting off his fat ass to exercise, eat right, whip himself into shape. But is bedside in Intensive Care really the place to be making this particular point? The guy can hardly hobble to the bathroom, and you want to force him to go on early morning jogs and take hot yoga classes?

Krugman's saying, "Let the dude recover before you impose your moralistic discipline on him. Plenty of time for guilt tripping him later, unless you kill him with your harsh love now." Maybe I'm naive, but I can't help thinking that if Krugman had used this metaphor repeatedly over the past few years, more people would agree with him. Sure, a disciplined aerobic exercise program is good for you—unless you're flat on your back recovering from a massive heart attack.