Sunday, April 28, 2013

Real Diversity and Fake Compromise

With the failure of the gun legislation, some people seem kind of surprised that the "plurality" of Americans who want the new regulations aren't getting what they want. Obama appeared visibly angry, and at the end of that linked article, you'll notice that the Post blames the messaging and nothing more fundamental. To them, this has been a public relations failure, not a failure of principle that the democratic system, for once, actually worked to stop. Obama's administration-
tried like hell to emphasize that the proposals in the bill were ones that drew support across party lines. But, their failure to make that case effectively speaks to the entrenched views much of the country holds on guns. The conclusion? Most people simply weren’t really listening to the argument President Obama was trying to make.
Nice adverb use at the end... but anyway, this makes me want to talk about compromise, because that quote helps display a subtle but effective tactic of the press used to endorse someone's actions implicitly without showing too much journalistic bias. Obama is painted as the one compromising and engaging in bipartisan behavior. Whether or not it was a good idea to emotionally launch legislation in response to violence that the legislation couldn't have possibly prevented clearly has no bearing on the situation, because he's going about getting what he wants like a gentleman.

Compromise can be fun. Let's say, for example, that I'm a very enthusiastic surgeon general and I decide that I want everyone in the United States to eat salad twice a day, so I find a way push a bill into Congress to that effect. Sound crazy? Slow down, hoss; I can come up with plenty of data, reams of statistics, to show that salad twice a day would be a boon to national health. This new legislation shows that I have America's best interests in mind. Never mind what it does to the concepts of personal responsibility that make up a large chunk of the individualist foundation of all Western philosophical thought; I'm being the rational one here. I know your constituency won't like it, Mr. Congressman, but don't worry! I'm prepared to compromise, and only force people to eat salad once per day! See? Aren't I being nice about this? You can say you did everything in your power to hold back the salad Armageddon, and things certainly could have gone worse.

This prizing of compromise is like many other ethical ideas: it's just a tactic to make one's presentation look better, by making the presenter more sympathetic. He's trying to be nice, decent, caring, interested in your point of view, listening to your point of view, flattering the opposition with attention while making sure not to kick up any defensive reaction by just coming out and saying what he wants. Did I actually want people eating salad twice a day, or did I actually want once a day, and I just start with a highball offer, meaning to get talked down like I'm selling a Chevy on craigslist? That should flatter their ego, and really make 'em look like assholes if they say no!

Remember, if they refuse, then they hold "entrenched views".

This is basically maneuvering like a passive-aggressive girlfriend. It's disrespectful, not so much because it's a power game, but because it's a dishonest power game where the raw public opinion, no matter how temporary, becomes a weapon. And it says fuckall about whether or not the idea on the table has value.

Why value compromise so highly? Because it's their way. We know these people, and listening to them talk is like listening to an engine misfire. In their desire for a borderless, egalitarian home untrammeled by structure, they have developed their own worldview.

And boy, it's a stupid worldview. There is something truly, intractably screwed up about the way that notions of freedom, justice, values, power, morality, judgment, exchange, and other such terms mix in the liberal mind to form their culture, and their perspective on culture. Compromise is their solution to conflicts of interest between equal people that are sharing the same space, a necessity for a borderless, centralized world. For this equality, all must be equally vulnerable, with no sharp objects for the children. Think about the old Judeo-Christian preference for the weak over the strong, that facet of Western thought Nietzsche referred to as slave morality. Tolerate everything, and never place your own values above those of others; never empower yourself, or even consider empowering yourself, as there is always a cost to others. Anything else is selfishness or racism. The liberal attitude towards guns and their attitudes towards compromise show this in spades.

This sounds like a description of a set of cultural values, a set which is intolerant of other systems of thought. Liberals are aware of this, and soften their own intolerance by talking about, among other things, compromise, at least when politically expedient. But despite this, I'm not convinced that liberals understand the concept of cultural identity at all. Holding shared values encourages trust, but gun legislation very strongly shows a lack of trust. And if you are a part of a culture which holds a set of values but does not impose its values on others, and thereby encourages trust among your own, then it is perfectly natural to acknowledge that 'your people' are different from other people, and to hope for a space or some outward expression within which those values can be understood as shared. That's what walls, borders, property, and identifying aspects of appearance and mannerisms can do for you. They are exclusionary, and rightly so; endless compromise begets endless destruction of ideals, and sensible people understand this. But today's liberal wants no borders and absolute inclusion; basically, the solution to perfectly normal human conflicts of interest is to strip identity and loyalties down to nothing but meaningless preferences. And hence, we get multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is so bad for trust that the most high-profile sociologist in the country suppressed his own research for six years after doing a massive study on it, and all the attempts to put a happy face on those results fail miserably. The assertion that, over decades, communities forge new ties and go on like nothing happened under multicultural circumstances is un-tested, un-testable, and historically dubious: people forge new ties because war, poverty, and other emergencies force people to cooperate in order to survive, resolving conflicting values by necessity and creating new hierarchies. It's the kind of thing that struggle, military and economic, brings about. Meanwhile, liberals are also promoting a welfare state to delay this forced interdependency as long as possible. This set of policies is, quite simply, an anti-cultural agenda masquerading as morality. They are not so much creating a new, systemically workable culture so much as eliminating the possibility that any dominant culture can develop.

The democratic games are, of course, power games themselves, which liberals believe to be legitimate because the government creating the laws is elected. But does getting a 51% majority in the electoral college directly translate into legitimacy? Because it sounds like a majoritarian ideal, one played to because it's easy to sell stupid people on the need to fight against the hierarchy which "oppresses" them. For liberals, this is morally right, not a cultural belief. Thus, for liberals, law goes beyond culture because it is moral, and their morality is universal. But that undermines that poorly thought-out idea they love as much as most Americans, freedom. So how do they square this circle of crap? They don't. They rely on the intuitions of the average voter, greased by simple-minded mass communications, who's sense of justice today is based on whatever they can convince themselves they deserve. That goes bad when they try to convince people that they don't deserve the right to carry a gun because you might go bat-shit insane. They might be less surprised by this if they actually understood how Utopian and ridiculous their own motivations were.

Try as they might, they cannot pretend to liberation, trust, and equality simultaneously. We have a name for those who trust everyone with no regard for their values and character. That name is stupid. A society has to choose who's worthy of trust and who isn't. When you can accept that trust relies on the prerogative of a group to disqualify and discard those who don't meet agreed-upon cultural standards, then you've gotten to the point where you can think like an adult and see humanity honestly. Then you can accept boundaries, and the genuine diversity the walls allow. Without the walls, we have no hope for blending peace and an allowance for individual and cultural beliefs.

I don't have a problem with them trying to get gun legislation passed - I've come to expect stupidity - but I do have a problem with the attempt to go through the federal government to get past local and state government, just like I have a problem with the push from the UN to regulate the arms trade. The centralization, even though it looks so inevitable, needs to stop.

PS: Since writing this, a friend posted up a blog by Kontra - who is a leftist but also loves his guns - which reinforces many of my points and takes many of them further. Clearly, I am not usually on this man's side, but one thing about well-educated liberals is that when they don't like something, they really blast it without mercy and strike the right notes as often as not. Kontra's irritation with using children in anti-gun propaganda is a particularly good example of the kind of messaging manipulation I've come to heavily despise. I wish I could sit down with this guy over a beer and discuss the rest of his worldview with him. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Opinion: Nietzsche at Yale

Just watched Yale University's Youtube recording of a freshman level class, and its introduction to Nietzsche. Not a bad way to spend forty-five minutes:

The professor is clearly German, and while the first few minutes are boring, he gets more animated when the actual lecture begins. The course I took on Nietzsche was taught by the German department and was somewhat better, certainly more comprehensive, but this does the very bare trick of introducing the material, particularly the Genealogy of Morality

But I feel the need to raise some points of disagreement here.

Let's start with what's obviously wrong. Nietzsche was not appointed to the University of Basel as a chair professor of philosophy. He was appointed as a professor of philology, which is an academic who studies the origins of language. Nietzsche dug into the meaning and origin of words, not so much philosophical ideas, which I think makes a positive difference in his philosophy.

Second, the story of Nietzsche's collapse while hugging and protecting a beaten horse is presented as fact, and comes up later in the presentation. As allegory, it's a beautiful story that many would like to believe, but it is supported by no evidence whatsoever. It's inclusion into an academic course on Nietzsche is, as far as I'm concerned, about as respectable as including rumors that he contracted syphilis in a male brothel, another unsubstantiated rumor and about as relevant to understanding the philosophy in question.

And now, for my more opinionated critical ramblings:

The professor says some questionable things about the philosophy itself. For one, he calls Nietzsche a "humanist" without expanding on what, exactly, he means by that. Now, in the modern imagination, humanism is basically Christian ethics without the baggage of actual religion, and by this standard, there is nothing humanist about Nietzsche whatsoever. He accepted a degree of brutality that most people today find simply repellent on a deeply aesthetic level. In a very different way, Nietzsche can be seen as a humanist, but he should never be presented as such without deep ontological clarification.

The professor gives an interesting interpretation of why Nietzsche separated the dichotomies of good/bad and good/evil: he basically says that Nietzsche used one as a standpoint from which to critique the other. You can easily see why, as the entire point of the Genealogy of Morals was to critique morality itself; to do this, one must engage from a position outside the position of morality, so this makes a certain sense. However, while there is obviously some appreciation for the honorable attitude of the "master morality" in Nietzsche's works, he merely sees it as being superior to the "slave morality" and does not necessarily see it as being in any greater way right in any metaphysical sense. If there is any metaphysical standpoint from which N's critiques spring from, they stand on the foundation of the Will to Power, which is not the master morality at all. The Genealogy is, in a sense, Nietzsche being somewhat neutral; he tells a story of how he believes that the moral revolt of the slave class came about. I know people who dislike Genealogy for this structured and relatively objective approach. Nietzsche values honesty. This is not the good/bad dichotomy addressing the good/evil one so much as a comparison of both from a third stance: Nietzsche's perspective of empowerment for its own sake.

There is a brief mention of Jesus, which is frankly rather pointless: Nietzsche targets the life of Jesus much more effectively in Beyond Good and Evil, in the "What is Noble?" section, as a man greedy for love, so much so that he casts God as love embodied. This is more consistent with Nietzsche's overall philosophy. That's not to say that the professor is wrong, but that there is better source material for understanding N's attitude towards the Christ. For that matter, much of the material in Genealogy of Morality is probably better explained in that section of Beyond Good and Evil, which is probably the finest and most concise of his work.

The "blonde beast" gets exactly the wrong kind of attention from almost every academic, despite the fact that I'm fairly sure it's an allegory. If you read on from there, much is made of memory, or forgetting and remembering, and there's good reason for it: man's explicit and controllable memory is intimately responsible for his character as a species. We would not be men without it, and the professor gives a garbled interpretation of the importance of memory at the end of the video, with his words not matching what was on the projector. He says that what matters is the ability for men to suppress their memories; the slides say that what matters was the development of memory to begin with, and the administration of pain and punishment to the end of instilling it, and the slides are more accurate than the voice. The allegory of the blonde beast has, thus, a particular meaning for me: regardless of hair color, this beast was the first creature to acquire genuine memory and put it to controllable use. 

I think this has been an underrated point, from my perspective as an economist. Check out my Will to Survive and Will to Power post, and you might see why: memory is required to invest, to remember cause and effect well enough to create projects and labor now in expectation of return later. This concept is, in modern moral terminology, neither good nor bad; there are only good and bad/evil specific investments, with the concept itself being neutral. I find that highly interesting. I also find it probable that some of the first investments involved slavery: attack that weak group, enslave them, make them do what we want them to do, and profit. This falls in the realm of evil investment today, but so does pretty much all social order in the ancient world. Some would say that order in the modern world qualifies as the same.

Finally, from the beginning on, this professor takes the usual approach to Nietzsche of making his perspective a biographical one. There is some irony here: Nietzsche himself said that philosophers do not reveal truth so much as reveal themselves, that all philosophy was biographical. So calling Nietzsche's philosophy biographical is a very safe thing, but may also invite the reader to miss the point. You can't really object to it, since Nietzsche so clearly wanted the text to be read that way, but I tend to get leery when academics make too much hay out of a guy's perspective as being colored by his life; it's too easy to dismiss his experiences as being irrelevant in the broader sense, and I find Nietzsche to be not only the most interesting but the most practical and applicable of explanatory thinkers. In all things large and small, life makes much more sense through his lens.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Meaning of a Great Shave

My first straight razor shave is complete, and it went pretty well. My face is almost as smooth as with a normal shave, and I should be able to go out in public with no shame. But as I sit here for a few minutes and wait for the bleeding to stop, I'm thinking of why it holds some importance to me to be able to cut hairs off of my face in a manner so obsolete. I want to be able to do it, and do it well. And despite my own delusions of grandeur, there seem to be far worse ways a man can make a living than providing a truly excellent shave as a barber. I've decided there are two reasons why I think the razor and its use are important in today's social context.

Razor-Thin Margins

First of all, there's the economics. This is what I'm using as a straight razor, a shavette, because I am still too lazy to sharpen and strop and I don't want to pay a hundred bucks for a quality Dovo. For daily use, my usual razor for several years now has been a 1940's Gillette Tech, a single-blade safety razor so excellent that I cannot, for the life of me, understand why we think modern razors are any better. And we must think that, because holy shit, we pay out the ass for a modern shave. Buying cartridges for a Gillette Fusion costs about $25 for a pack of 8, and that's the Amazon price before shipping. More than $3 a cartridge, in other words. Now, what the hell is so amazing here that we're paying so much for a Fusion shave?

In physical terms, simply put, nothing. Estimates have put the difference between cost of manufacture and cost of sale at 4000% for those blades. That markup is money for the store, the shipper, and the developer of the blade, but then look at old-fashioned double-edge blades, and you know that something is wrong here. I've never had to buy more than the original package of blades for the Tech, they last longer than the Fusion cartridges, and DE blades average about seventeen cents each. My package of 100 Shark blades cost me around $15. The blades for the straight are even cheaper, and most straight razor users simply don't use replaceable blades, since they use real straights, so I'm paying more than necessary.

The real benefit to modern razors is convenience. You need not know what the hell you're doing to get a good shave out of a Fusion. Any idiot can do it. There's no risk - they've been designed to simply never cut you. You don't need to think about it, it's fast, you can do it while hung over or possibly still drunk. The speed thing definitely matters; my shaves would probably go twice as fast with a Fusion. I'm not sure what that's worth, probably more or less with any given person with different schedules. But in a culture where the average person is finding several hours per day to watch TV, I still wonder why it's so much of a problem to learn how to use an actual razor.

What's the point of such convenience? What's the point of convenience, generally? Seems like a stupid question, but why not put yourself into all your tasks with equal dedication? Of course, in most cases, we handle the mechanics of life, like shaving, so that we can get on with more important things. But does everyone really have much more important things than maintaining themselves? For those who live on tight schedules and must abbreviate the routine to the extreme because their time is so precious, I understand the fastest possible shave, but this cannot be everyone, or even most people.

Pointing out the obvious, this spend-happy preference would not be feasible without our ridiculously cushy middle-class living standards. We've become used to wasting money however we like; if there were a sudden need to actually watch our budget, the number of old-school shavers would likely increase. In fact, they seem to be doing so; there are many conversion stories on sites like Badger and Blade. That's not a bad thing. The pressure to save money creates not only efficiency, but proficiency.

Razor Ethics

But the second element that matters is trust.

The change is most apparent with the experience of going to a barber for a shave, which almost never happens anymore. This sucks, because by all accounts, getting a professional shave is a great experience, full of expert craftsmanship, great smells, and a demanded relaxation that can create an almost retreat-like sensibility for a man comfortable with the process.

It has always taken a certain faith to allow another person, particularly one you don't know, to use a literally razor-sharp blade directly on the skin of your throat, just next door to the jugular. But that particular aspect we probably still wouldn't think twice about. It is a credit to Western civilization that, a century ago, men who lived in much more dangerous circumstances would implicitly trust that a barber wouldn't hack them to pieces. A society which creates such trust probably deserves a basic respect for producing good, trustworthy, God-fearing people. We take that for granted now; you simply don't have to worry about someone hurting you in your daily routines.

Or do we? Depends on your definition of 'hurt'; maybe not with true malicious intent, but as far as competence goes, there is some concern. There are some problems here. We don't trust teachers to educate the kids, don't trust cops to enforce the law fairly, don't trust fathers to discipline, don't trust politicians to preside. We can't trust business, governments, churches, universities, or almost any other critical institution without serious reservations. The doctors are negligent and the bureaucrats are crooked. We might be willing to get the shave if the timing was right, but in a broader sense, we are a society that locks its doors more, refrains from casual interaction with strangers, pushes the kids to stay in touch via cellphone, and otherwise minds its business to such a degree that the creation of social capital obviously lags. We isolate ourselves and huddle into our little circles when we're lucky enough to find people we can count on. The problem extends to our own self-image: this is a generation without much in the way of living skills, no manners, none of the easy confidence of a people at home with each other. With the Fusion razors, why use something so safe and spend so much money doing it? Because people don't trust themselves to learn the skill well. So they take the easy route. They do it when they demand the government regulate our credit cards and mortgage contracts, no business relationship too safe.

The barber is essentially a wage peon today, and so maybe we take some trust in the image of a man simply trying to earn a living, not really in a position to hurt us as a matter of consequence. But when the images move towards those of people in authority, we simply do not trust them. Many grand moral pronouncements have been made to the effect that a society is truly legitimate when it cares most enthusiastically for its lesser members, but I disagree; a society isn't in serious trouble until it can no longer admire its highest. When that happens, you have serious functional issues. And we do. The lesser members can be dealt with locally. The greater members cannot do what we need them to do without trust, respect, and honor from pretty much everyone.

Is this a lot to make of a shave? Yeah, probably. I still recommend learning to use a razor properly and saving yourself a few bucks a month in the process. I go through the whole routine, with shave soap in the mug and a badger hair brush, and it quickly becomes enjoyable. The shave is much closer than with a cartridge razor, and you can buy Gillette tech razors on eBay, in good shape, for ten bucks all day. Money aside, it's worth it to slow down and put some attention into something both mundane and intimately personal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Becker's Taste for Discrimination

In labor economics, Gary Becker established a notion to explain discriminatory hiring behavior among businesspeople, called the "taste for discrimination". Such an explanation needed to exist, because discrimination is kind of a difficult thing to understand economically.

Defining discrimination as basically preferences based on something other than productivity, it makes little sense for employers to reject applicants for reasons that have nothing to do with their capacity to do the job, particularly when they will work for less. But still, there exists a wage premium for whites in particular, albeit one that has been vanishing for Asians, who have gained the status of "honorary whites". So the situation looks strange from the outside.

So, viewing discrimination as an acquired taste that employers would pay to enjoy, Becker's model develops a discrimination coefficient, based on the wage differential between the minority worker and other workers, and the numbers of minorities hired. It makes for an interesting graph: a line holds straight across for employers who do not discriminate - they value minorities and other workers the same, basically the red line until you get to the drop-off - then dog-legs down as the willingness of increasingly prejudiced employers to pay them fades. As a model, it's workable and probably fairly accurate, basically saying that discrimination is costly to the discriminator because he passes up capable labor and pays more for labor in the preferred demographic.

We need not get into the conversation about just how much of this discrimination is pure bigotry and how much of it might be justifiable good sense in hiring. If employers don't want to hire someone, they frequently have a reason that the statistics don't show, and it's their prerogative; if they don't want to pay someone equally, those people have the right to leave. If they don't leave, it just proves the power of money and the hierarchical nature of economics, and that's okay. I prefer the attitude that sees "discriminating taste" as a compliment instead of an insult, and business cannot function without the employer having authority over the employee.

Becker is a much more interesting character when it comes to family. The taste for discrimination model is applied to women as well as racial minorities, which may or may not have actually held for the guy who created it. Becker researched family economics a lot; his book on the subject is one of the most widely quoted works in economics, and I wonder just how strongly Becker understood the situation facing family and the reasoning behind those who do not hire equally.

The Conservative Family Model

It was basically impossible for me to take the taste for discrimination model at face value when applied to women, because I have a very different idea as to why employers have hesitated to hire and pay women as if they were men.

The old-world model of family is one in which the genders have different roles within the marriage structure. This is probably best displayed by my great-grandmother, an extremely intelligent women who spent World War 2 as an important supervisor for Western Union. This was the Rosie the Riveter period, but when the war ended, she gave up her job and went back to keeping the home. She is one of the few people I know of who explicitly stated the arrangement: the man works to provide for the family, and a woman taking a serious career position from a man is denying some other family of an income, not just an individual. She knew the arrangement, and did not complain when it was time to move to the side. Today, feminists would probably call her a coward for supporting the patriarchy.

But anyway, I think the male premium stems from employers paying men more because they have the same social model in mind, and believe a family is being supported on that paycheck. There's a marriage premium, too, that exists for the same reason. The marriage premium is massive, and I don't think that performance fully accounts for it; the increased performance of married men is probably overstated by their bosses, who likely respect married men more. The betrothed probably work harder, but not that much harder. That breadwinner image and status creates a difference between the way an employer pays a single or second-income versus a married man, and if you hold a traditionally structured view of society, this is simply the right thing to do. It's a positive prejudice, one that looks an awful lot like a sensible one and not simply a "taste". Employers, believe it or not, don't hate the people that work for them, and they try to cut a balance in their pay between paying well but not draining the bank account and destroying the business. I think that's particularly true of small businesses, which still hire most people.

So what did Becker think? He didn't explicitly say that more women in the workforce was a bad idea, but at one point he basically said we had done enough to promote equality, and a few different commentators took jabs at him for it. He seems to be the type that prefers to see the family as a good institution and prefer that the structure remain intact; it says a lot that he truly thought of it as a structure at all, enough to research it as one. But I doubt he would be the first researcher to establish concepts with a tongue-in-cheek mentality. Marriage would still be valuable if children were seen as the point of it and the parents' happiness was secondary or irrelevant, and it becomes fairly clear when you live around both married people and single people just how radically all of society will have to shift as the norms shift for no good reason. The numbers and the observed outcomes look better for traditional families, if not always for the individuals in them, usually for the children. Becker might well understand this even now. The children are simply better served by one parent being at home and another at work, and the genders had centuries of refinement of the roles to fall back on before they abandoned them.

Freedom versus Structure

Today, this view is so obsolete as to be laughable. For one thing, economists promoting growth have no respect for the zero-sum understanding of labor displayed by my great-grandmother. They do not see jobs as a resource which can be over-exploited; if anything, they think the more everyone works, the more everyone creates economic growth, the more the market for labor expands into infinity. This attitude is one reason I sometimes question the entire field of economics: you cannot look at the labor situation and not see a relative hierarchy, but economists pretend that they don't, refusing to look at economics as anything but a world of individuals maximizing their welfare. The more familiar reality of economics, that of a hierarchical social environment where individuals try to survive by joining groups and maintaining the relative value they have to others, never gets real play. The ideas economists have come up with to explain away the gaps between their models and reality are stunning in their elegance and absolutely ridiculous in practice.

For another thing, society will not ideologically accept the structured view anymore. The modern, liberal world wants to establish a playing field that is totally individualistic and as equal as possible. That's justice in their eyes. The family, as a hierarchical institution, holds no agency or validity except as a source of happiness for the individuals in it. This is probably the greatest sea change in social roles in the history of man, it's fairly recent, and it's taken as absolute dogma that such an individualistic model is morally correct. The alternative notion, that justice is about people meeting their obligations in proven and workable social roles, seems more likely to invite scorn as oppression, and of course the arrangements die if society as a whole has no faith in them.

In any case, the male premium will probably not last but another generation or two, and I'd gamble that the marriage premium will slide a bit over the same period as marriage changes as an institution. I've said in the gay marriage post why I think marriage is becoming a purely romantic and pragmatically pointless arrangement. The decline of gender roles and even greater decline in the expectation to stay married add to that perception, while the safety net and absolute cultural permissiveness make permanent single parenthood viable. Marriage is no longer needed, so while it's going to take a long time for the image of romance as lifelong to fall apart, the importance of marriage structurally is all but gone already.

To lots of people, the elimination of the pay gap is progress. To me, it's the de-structuring of society, and if I were to open a business and hire employees, anti-discrimination laws would prevent me from practicing what I believe to be good citizenship. Not only is the positive prejudice laughable, but it's now also illegal. I would be pissed if I thought that freedom held any validity as a concept. It's frustrating enough to be an anachronism, believe me.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Will to Survive and the Will to Power

Keeping it basic today.

Back when I was younger, when I was first trying to figure out what made people tick, I started with the certainty of the will to survive. You understand that; it takes very little imagination to put yourself in a position of mortal danger and know that you would try to get through it alive. This quickly brought me around to Nietzsche, and I still don't know why people separate the will to live and the will to power.

Think about investment for a second.

Imagine that you're a primitive human having to trek down a grassy, sloping cliff to a stream to get water. You make this trek daily, and you realize that it's dangerous; you often slip a bit, occasionally fall, and know that you could get seriously hurt if things go just wrong. No medical care, predators everywhere... the situation just sucks. So one day, down at the stream, you look back up and realize that if the slope had less grass and more flat spots, you could climb up and down easily, carrying water in jugs, with much less danger. So you spend the next few hours with some primitive tools, hacking out the slope, and create a staircase out of rock and earth.

Totally economic activity. This investment of a few hours of your time reduces the level of effort you need to perform a basic, necessary activity, and will save not only more time in the future than what has been put into it, but it will lessen the degree of risk associated with it. And in making these changes, you've altered the natural world into something built for human use. You've brought it under your control. You've maximized chances for survival. You're not reacting, you're acting. This is empowerment. Is there anything more rational?

There's no reason to believe that such drives only apply to the strictly physical environment, by the way. The social environment is far more important now, having physically bent the world to such a high level of submission. The most unpredictable and dangerous factor we deal with is other people, so there's no reason at all - except for one's desire to see it differently - to think that the will to control people is any different from the will to control the physical world. The perspective that tells us otherwise is the result of an individualist culture built on philosophies that worked themselves out dialectically, proverbial knives to each other's throats, forcing us to talk out our issues until we come to an agreement which can be called a consensus. No matter how powerful you are, other people are still dangerous, and the myth of equality is built on a respect forced on one another in the same way a hurricane forces you to respect it.

But if people are often the only dangerous thing, they are just as often the only really valuable thing, and the question becomes one of the arrangements between the individual and the group, the questions of trust. The leadership makes the plans and guides the group into working overtime, winning the war, curing the disease, staying together, treating each other according to norms that symbolize respect, and all those forms of investment that, for a strong society, comprise moral positives. Such is the genesis of culture that so exquisitely molds our minds into who we are, identity shaped by the backlog of thought built into language and social norms. There's nothing beyond understanding about its genesis, only a lack of imagination as to the beautiful complexity simple principles can create.

Our lives are filled with opportunity costs, forethought, imagination. We listen to the rumor mill because we need valuable information and we need people to think of us as having valuable information, and we work for others because reciprocity has built everything we enjoy. We love and hate because we value others, and we need to have value in their eyes; these relations create drives that are core to our identity. We collect favors and remember failures. We create art to affect the perspectives of others and create understanding, and this only becomes more amazing when you realize that all language use, construction, and the physical play-acting of our social roles constitutes a form of art. All of this is investment.

You didn't think that there was actually some dividing line between offense and defense, action and reaction, empowerment and adaptation, did you? Power is the most obvious form of adaptation. The greatest defense from reality is an god-like offense, and absolute power constitutes absolute control, which constitutes the most effective possible form of security. Denying this just shows a willful misunderstanding of the word "security", which is anything but static and brittle. Predictability makes one vulnerable, and security requires action; given the perpetual imperfection of control, security becomes an art form, too, taking risks at one point to reduce them later, responding and keeping options open, calculating and recalculating, a sort of dancing with your environment. There's a reason they call it "martial arts".

Absolute power is absolutely impossible, but the empowered perspective is the one that makes sense. Investment over time for the sake of power works, and seeking the greatest possible level of control is, beyond the dictates of our subjective interpretations of the world, truly rational. Nietzsche understood this, and it guided his perspective throughout his productive period. The will to survive and the will to power are the same, and other bases of thought are riffs on flawed interpretations.