Monthly Archives: February 2017

On military bravery

All countries and armed groups emphasize the bravery of their soldiers for propaganda purposes. Such claims are made regardless of whether there is any actual valour. Going to a dangerous situation or even certain death is not necessarily courageous, in particular if there is no knowledge of the danger or no choice. Are sheep going into a slaughterhouse brave? They are calmly walking to certain death, after all. But usually this is not ascribed to courage, but to ignorance. Analogously, soldiers used in early tests of the physiological effects of radiation exposure who were marched through an area of a recent nuclear explosion are not considered brave. They did not know the cancer risk.

If there is no choice, which usually means there are only perilous choices, then putting oneself in danger is not usually accounted brave. Jumping out of a burning building offers a higher probability of survival, so people do it despite the substantial risk of falling to death. When a sufferer of a painful terminal disease chooses euthanasia, this early death is commonly not considered brave. Some cultures even believe suicide to be a sign of cowardice. If a military has a well organized system for catching deserters and administering the death penalty to them (and their family in some regimes), then a soldier charging enemy machineguns is merely maximizing his survival probability. The enemy might miss, the firing squad rarely does.

The greater the probability of victory for one’s own side, the less attractive desertion becomes, because being caught is more likely. This explains the propaganda emphasis on own victories and the punishment of “defeatist talk” in wartime. The greater the military advantage of a party in an armed conflict, the less bravery its soldiers need.

Genuine bravery exists, but it is rare. Evolution favours cowardly bullies who attack the weaker (prey) and run from the stronger (predators). People who face no compulsion to fight in a war and know the dangers, yet still join, are brave. Freedom fighters (insurgents from the other side’s viewpoint) against a dictator qualify. With the caveat that only joining the fight initially requires bravery – after that, losing would mean being tortured to death by the dictator, so continuing the war is the safer option. Similarly, volunteering for the military requires some bravery (the more the greater the likelihood of being sent into danger), but once military law applies, desertion is usually more dangerous than the duty.

Military courage is proved for those who start the war as a weaker side against a stronger, if a continuing peace is not a slow death. Peasant revolts were often driven by hunger, meaning the participants may have perceived the probability of death from starvation as higher than the probability of being killed by the aristocrats.

People who have never faced an informed choice between a safe and a dangerous option may be “latently brave”, in the sense that given such a choice, they may exhibit courage. They are not proved brave, however, until they have made the choice. There are likely to be some latently brave people in the world’s militaries and armed groups. Probably a greater percentage than among the general population.

There are some proven brave folks even in the militaries of powerful countries, but the proof requires knowingly choosing a dangerous option when there is no future punishment for cowardice. For example, when nobody would know of the choice.

A topical question is whether suicide terrorists and other fighting religious fanatics are brave. Their behaviour may be driven by the fear of punishment either in the afterlife or by their fellow fanatics. It may also be due to ignorance – believing in an afterlife is like believing that one cannot really die and thus the danger is not real. In both cases, no courage is required for choosing death.

The belief in the impossibility of dying may even be literal – W.E.B. Griffin had a story of a witch doctor convincing the fighters of his tribe that his magic had made them immune to bullets. Great was the fighters’ surprise later… Their charge with spears against guns was not due to bravery, however.

Võitjate põlvkond võis põhjustada kadunud põlvkonna

Võitjate põlvkond Eestis olid need, kes 1990ndatel noored ja edukad olid. Kadunud põlvkonnaks nimetatakse neid 2010ndate noori, kes ei õpi ega tööta. Majandusstruktuuri muutus kommunismi lagunedes võimaldas sogases vees suuri kalu püüda, ehk tühi turg võimaldas neil, kes õigel ajal õiges kohas olid, eduka ettevõtte luua. Edu tuli hoolimata kogemuse ja kvalifikatsiooni puudusest ning mitte eriti targast juhtimisest. Tööturg vajas uusi oskusi, mille omandamisel oli noortel eelis. Nii sai võitjate põlvkond noorelt rikkaks ja kõrgele kohale. Seda stabiilse ühiskonnaga võrreldes erilise pingutuseta. Juba 1990ndatel ennustati ajalehtedes, et võitjate põlvkonnale järgneval põlvkonnal on edu tavalisest raskem saavutada, sest paremad kohad ühiskonnas on võitjate põlvkonna käes, kes on alles noored ja lähiajal ei pensioneeru ega sure.

Psühholoogilisest küljest: võitjate põlvkonnale järgnenud noored nägid üles kasvades eeskujusid, kes olid noorelt edukad ja rikkad, hoolimata vähesest pingutusest ja kvalifikatsioonist. See võis panna järgnejad arvama, et elu selline ongi, et noorelt saab lihtsasti edukaks. Kui tööturule sisenedes selgus, et edu on raske tulema, siis võis pettumus päris suur olla. Inimesed kipuvad ikka oma hädades teisi süüdistama, näiteks riiki ja ühiskonda. Seekord oli teiste süüdistamine osaliselt õigustatud, kuna edasijõudmise raskus tulenes osaliselt võitjate põlvkonna eelnevast edust. Kuna 2008. aastani kasvas majandus kiiresti, polnud järgnejate põlvkonna raskused selle ajani eriti suured, aga majanduskriisi järel küll. Teismelisena nähtud noored ja edukad eeskujud kruvisid ootused kõrgele, järgnenud ebaedu tekitas pettumuse, mis võis panna inimesed lootust kaotama, tööotsingutele ja õpingutele käega lööma. Selline on üks võimalik seletus kadunud põlvkonna tekkele.

Inimesed jäljendavad edukaid. Võitjate põlvkonnal olid tüüpilised uusrikaste käitumismustrid – ülbus, rahakultus ja rahaga eputamine, reeglipõlgus ja sulide austamine. Järgnejad võisid need mallid üle võtta. Seda enda kahjuks, sest üldiselt need ühiskonnas edasijõudmist ei soodusta.

Kadunud põlvkonna järgne põlvkond ilmselt üles kasvades suuri ootusi ei omanda. Ka tööturul on neil lihtsam kui kadunud põlvkonnal, kuigi raskem kui võitjatel. Lihtsat raha enam teha ei saa, aga osa võitjaid hakkab vaikselt kohti vabastama. Nüüd on ühiskond stabiliseerunud ja järgib läänelikku mustrit, kus vanainimesed on rikkamad ja noored vaesemad, sest vanainimesed on eluaeg sääste kogunud. Seda vastupidiselt 1990ndatele, kus pensionärid olid hüperinflatsiooniga oma säästud kaotanud ja majandusstruktuuri muutusega olid nende oskused kasutuks muutunud, nii et noored olid rikkamad. Stabiliseerunud ühiskonnas hakkab palk enamvähem oskustele ja pingutusele vastama, erinevalt 1990ndatest, kus kelner või turvatöötaja võis teenida rohkem kui arst või õpetaja.

On backpackers and low-spending tourists

Countries encourage tourism to make money. The same goes for local governments, tourism industry associations and tour firms. Some places provide options for low-spending tourists like backpackers, despite not making much money from them. These options may be cheap campsites, backpacker hostels, allowing hitchhiking and work-travel visas. At first sight, any positive revenue from poorer tourists would justify welcoming them. This simple revenue calculation, however, neglects the substitution effect and dynamic demand.

Substitution means that if cheaper travel options are available, then some tourists who would have spent more in the absence of these options now spend less. For example, a person who would stay in a hotel if there was no other accommodation, stays in a backpacker hostel instead. On the other hand, if all options are expensive, then the poorest tourists do not come at all. There is a tradeoff between the number of tourists and the average tourist’s spending. If introducing cheaper options leads to many tourists switching to these, but does not attract many additional low-spending people, then creating these cheaper options reduces total profit.

Dynamic demand means that a person who has toured a particular location once changes his or her likelihood of going there in the future. For example, having seen a tourist site, a person does not visit it again. Or someone going on vacation and liking the location starts going there year after year. If a region encourages young, low-income people to visit as backpackers, then it may increase or decrease future visits by these people when they are older and wealthier. In particular, if people do not tour the same location again (and spend more when older), then encouraging them to visit when young reduces the total profit from them over their lifetime.

The fact that some regions welcome backpackers has several possible explanations. There may not be much substitution, or a visit may increase future visits. The tourism industry may not have thought this through and may be reducing their own profit inadvertently. Or the government may have other objectives than taxes from the tourism industry. For example, allowing people from other countries to visit cheaply may make these people friendly to the host country, which may yield some nonmonetary benefit in international relations.