A Letter to Marshall Brain

By Xah Lee. Date:

Hi Marshall Brain,

I have always enjoyed your howstuffworks.com tremendously.

Recently in the past month I started to read your online diary and also your Robotic Nations series of essays. I cannot help but get a sense of a crank.

I have read many of your social or financial related articles from howstuffworks.com, such as the basic workings of banking, advertisement, money, stocks, leadership etc. So, I'm certain that you as a engineering geek is familiar with the basics of economics and corporations, as in contrast to the vast scientist type who are totally ignorant of social sciences.

However, your articles comes across as by a inciting crank. Your robotic nations series, for example, in general has the tone of a alarmist, as if you would benefit from a ensuing panic.

Yours reads like a sophistry. A article on the surface seems to call for awareness of a potential problem, a problem that nobody can be sure of. But the content and style has many subtle flaws and imbued propaganda.

As an example, I quote from your latest article “Robotic Freedom, Part 3 of the Robotic Nation series” at http://www.marshallbrain.com/robotic-freedom.htm

[best seller Harry Potter's author J K Rowling had problems subsisting and the book was rejected multiple times.]

… Society as it is designed today wastes an unbelievable amount of human potential through mechanisms just like these.

At the very least, Rowling's story shows us that the economic theory underpinning our world contains a element of dysfunction. It should not be the case that highly creative people sitting on top of billion dollar ideas have to go on welfare (and reach “one of the lowest points” in their lives by doing so) in order to express themselves. By removing this dysfunction,…

The situation of J K Rowling is an unfortunate one, and I would like to see our society change for this. However, your statement “Society as it is designed today wastes an unbelievable amount of human potential through mechanisms just like these.” is outrageous and absurd.

Societies are not designed. And, it doesn't “waste” things. Waste implies a criterion. Throwing away a burger is wasting. But taking my burger and drive to nearest city to give to a homeless is more wasteful. And, what you mean by the lurid “unbelievable amount of human potential”? It is said that all humans are unique and has vast potential. By your implication, no society could ever not waste an “unbelievable amount of human potential” .

The situation where people involved with non-profit oriented artifacts (such as artists, writers, historians…) will often have a problem subsisting is indeed an unfortunate one. Artisans being artisan because they have not chosen to be a businessman, and probably not much interested in making money, and for these obvious reasons they are poor. This is just how things are, which we may call it “social physics”. If we don't like it that way, we could then be aware of it and change our society. However, it is harmful to propagate the implication that there is an evil doer or collection of greedy businessman forcing artisans to their sorry condition.

In your last article you also mentioned Linux.

The Linux phenomenon specifically, and the open source phenomenon in general, point in the same direction. Linux is one of the best operating systems on the planet, and it is free. It has been created by thousands of programmers who have donated their time and skills to the creation of Linux. What if we create an economy that encourages the creation of things like Linux? If people could make a living without being employees, we could unlock an unimaginable ocean of human creativity and human potential.

This I find ridiculous. Linux is perhaps one of the best operating system on the planet for a computing professional who love free things, but it is UNUSABLE for the vast consumer in homes or corporations. Even within the computing professional community, Linux is far from being considered the best. BeOS, Mac OS X, OS/2, Solaris, all probably are considered technically superior to linux.

There are so many ludicrous implications in your article intermixed with statistics, but the above is a good example of a hole where only a expert in a particular field can clearly see. You wrote that about Linux only because yourself as a computing and freedom loving geek who are infatuated with the Open Source ideology.

On the whole, I find your articles interesting partly because I'm also a technology geek. However, since you are a full-time online writer with your celebrity status, I question if your alarmist tone and style is doing some great harm to the geek community, who are already poor on social sciences and prone to conspiracy theories.

You being a educator, have responsibilities in your writings, especially those that are freely distributed online.

According to biography from Wikipedia Marshall Brain, as of , Marshall Brain may be the author behind this website 〈Why Won't God Heal Amputees〉 At http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/ .