Thursday, January 31, 2019

Reversion to primitive archetypes

I am very interested in NextDoor and the conversations that occur there. Local people arguing about local things, though often with a national, partisan or ideological gloss.

For context of what follows, my neighborhood is deep, deep blue; >90% voting Democratic. But it is also a neighborhood which has been suffering dramatically rising predation in the past three years. Theft of cars, car larceny, and porch thefts are up dramatically, almost a daily event in some parts of the neighborhood.

The first post sheds some information about the problem and its magnitude. In the more prosperous neighborhoods, crime is rising 15-30% a year. The City flushes money away on subsidies to large corporations while failing to provide even rudimentary services, especially including police and courts. Ideologically there is in the Mayor's office a strong aversion to police and a deep commitment to keeping people out of jail through restorative justice diversion programs.

The following set of (anonymized) exchanges occur on NextDoor.
Click to enlarge.

In the most prosperous neighborhoods, crime is up 20-30% and there are increasing rumblings from the otherwise Democratic base.

What is so striking to me about this exchange is that it mirrors the observation I have made elsewhere of the inversion of the respective roles of Democrats and Republicans since the 1960s. It used to be that the Republicans were the social throw-backs, unconcerned about civil rights, nativist, anti-international, etc. with a strong whiff of racism, anti-semitism and anti-catholicism.

They shed those positions but it seems as if, unwilling to let them go to waste, the Democratic base has picked up them all.

Someone endorses that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Click to enlarge.

Of course a clever Dick with little knowledge of statistics tries to magic away the problem.

Click to enlarge.

He is soon set straight by someone who does know statistics and does know the APD numbers.

Click to enlarge.

Next a woman in the neighborhood makes the archaic, widely reviled and horrendous argument that the victims were asking for it.

Click to enlarge.

The victims are responsible for their victimization. Just astonishing.

Someone gently points out that the criminals are the ones breaking the law, not the victims.

Click to enlarge.

Having made the "They were asking for it" argument in defense of the criminals the far left neighbor next asserts:

Click to enlarge.

She now seems to be making the argument for vigilante justice. Unintentionally, but there it is in her words.

In this exchange, we see the new Democratic base morphing before our eyes into the Democratic Party of Bull O'Connor. A Democrat of an earlier era when "She was asking for it" and "We'll take the law into our own hands" were the theme of the day.

The astonishing thing is that the woman making the argument, judging from her other comments, is a hard left Democrat, fully bought into the postmodernist critical theory view of the world. And here she is unconsciously parroting the world view of an earlier, unacceptable time without even realizing that is what she is doing.

Its a strange world.

My Childhood Home I See Again

My Childhood Home I See Again
by Abraham Lincoln

My childhood home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world
‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that’s earthly vile,
Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
Like scenes in some enchanted isle
All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye
When twilight chases day;
As bugle-notes that, passing by,
In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall,
We, lingering, list its roar—
So memory will hallow all
We’ve known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away
Since here I bid farewell
To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain
Of old familiar things;
But seeing them, to mind again
The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day,
How changed, as time has sped!
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell
How nought from death could save,
Till every sound appears a knell,
And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms,
And feel (companion of the dead)
I’m living in the tombs.

My life as a cartoon

Click to enlarge.

Skills Based Technological Change (SBTC) is the root of everything.

Well, to the extent that it affects productivity.

Click to follow the threaded discussion.

"Claims of “scientism” are more often used the way dogs urinate on fire hydrants: to mark territories in the humanities."

From More science-dissing: WaPo’s misguided criticism of “scientism” by Jerry Coyne.
There’s never an end to science-dissing these days, and it comes largely from humanities scholars who are distressed by comparing the palpable progress in science with the stagnation and marginalization of their discipline—largely through its adoption of the methods of Postmodernism. (Curiously, the decline in humanities, which I believe coincides with university programs that promote a given ideology rather than encourage independent thought, is in opposition to the PoMo doctrine that there are different “truths” that emanate from different viewpoints.)

At any rate, much of the criticism of science comes in the form of accusations of “scientism”, defined, according to the article below in the Washington Post, as “the untenable extension of scientific authority into realms of knowledge that lie outside what science can justifiably determine.”

We’ve heard these assertions about scientism for years, and yes, there are times when scientists have made unsupported claims with social import. The eugenics movement and racism of early twentieth-century biologists is one, and some of the excesses of evolutionary psychology comprise another. One form of scientism I’ve criticized has been the claim (Sam Harris is one exponent) that science and objective reason can give us moral values; that is, we can determine what is right and wrong by simply using a calculus based on “well being” or a similar currency. I won’t get into why I think that’s wrong, but there are few scientists or philosophers that espouse this moral form of scientism.

But these days, claims of “scientism” are more often used the way dogs urinate on fire hydrants: to mark territories in the humanities. And that, it seems is what Aaron Hanlon, an assistant professor of English at Colby College is doing. In fact, he could have used science to buttress his main claim—that numbers make fake papers more readily accepted in journals—but didn’t. When you do, as I did, his main claim collapses.
The rest of the post is worth reading but I especially liked the fire hydrant analogy.

The Bibliophile by Félix Vallotton

The Bibliophile by Félix Vallotton

Click to enlarge.

The resurgence and expansion of the ideas of thought control

From The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Page 98. This fear of totalitarianism was on his horizon way back in 1964. He would be appalled to see the forces on informal tyranny today, trying to forbid topics of speech, speakers, and "bad" thoughts.
This modern society seems to be threatened by a number of serious threats, and the one that I would like to concentrate on and which will be in fact the central theme, although there will be a lot of subsidiary little items, the central theme of my discussion is that I believe that one of the greatest dangers to modern society is the possible resurgence and expansion of the ideas of thought control; such ideas as Hitler had, or Stalin in his time, or the Catholic religion in the Middle Ages, or the Chinese today. I think that one of the greatest dangers is that this shall increase until it encompasses all of the world.
With all information about us tracked, with self-organizing mobs of internet puritans, with legislators always seeking to ban something and constrain someone, and with the closing of the Overton window where any disagreement with orthodoxy brings unemployment, ostracism, denigration, the forces of thought control have invaded the home and approach the hearth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Who has the authority, in a democracy, to determine what counts as truth—an elite of the supposedly best, most intellectually capable citizens, or the people as a whole?

From An Equal Say: Where does truth fit into democracy? by David A. Bell. A book review of Democracy and Truth: A Short History by Sophia Rosenfeld which sounds excellent and will go on my list.

Both Bell and Rosenfeld sound like they are solidly of the academic left and yet are treating some very interesting ideas.

From Bell's review. He is commenting on the mainstream media's obsession with fact-checking Trump and keeping a running tally of his "lies". "Lies" in quotes when half and more of the "facts" being checked are his opinions or his rhetorical flourishes. Bell is rightfully disdainful.
Take, for example, Michiko Kakutani’s recent book The Death of Truth, which cites a figure for Trump’s lies (2,140 in his first year in office) on its third page. His questionable attitudes toward truth are, Kakutani tells us, “emblematic of dynamics that have been churning beneath the surface of daily life for years.” The goddess of truth has fallen mortally ill, her book charges, and a dizzying list of perpetrators are responsible for poisoning her: Fox News; social media; the New Left; “academics promoting the gospel of postmodernism”; the narcissism of the baby boomers; and “the selfie age of self-esteem.”

Kakutani and the many pundits and critics who have offered up a similarly broad cultural diagnosis have obvious incentives for doing so. It lets them pose as serious public intellectuals who can see beyond the froth of the current news cycle. It gives them the chance to display their wide-ranging and eclectic reading (in a single paragraph, Kakutani name-checks Foucault, Derrida, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Thomas Pynchon, David Bowie, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and Frank Gehry). And, not least, it exonerates them from the charge that they are nothing but liberal ideologues by allowing them to assign blame to both sides in the ongoing American culture wars. Yes, the responsibility for the death of truth may lie, in part, with Fox News and the GOP, but it also lies with the New Left and those dreadful postmodernist academics. “Postmodernist arguments,” Kakutani explains, “deny an objective reality existing independently from human perception.” And since one perception is as good as another, anything goes. Michel Foucault and Donald Trump: brothers-in-arms.

Mainstream writers like Kakutani have repeated this last argument so often that it is easy to forget how strange and unconvincing it actually is. First, it reflects a misunderstanding of the most prominent “postmodern” philosophers. The radicalism of an author like Foucault, for instance, lies not in any supposed denial of objective reality but in his insistence that the way we know, understand, and speak about reality is always a matter of power relations. Second, it also assumes, bizarrely, that an abstruse current of thought which has attracted few readers outside the academy, and which mainstream publications have roundly and repeatedly denounced, has somehow infected the entire culture and come to define our political moment. Has academic postmodernism really had an appreciable influence on the Trumpian right, whose ideologues rarely miss an opportunity to denounce academics in general and humanists in particular?

The real problem with these arguments, however, rests in the very notion of a “post-truth era,” which presumes the existence of a previous golden age in which self-evident, objectively verifiable truths were for the most part acknowledged. The history of ideas, in fact, suggests the opposite: that truth, and the authority to determine it, has always been deeply contested, and that philosophers from ancient Greece onward have wrestled in profound and troubling ways with how to distinguish objective reality from human perception. Nor have anything like clear and authoritative standards of truth prevailed in political life. The assumption that the last 50 years or so have marked some unprecedented break with a previous age of truth reflects both an inattention to history and an attitude that might be labeled “pessimistic narcissism,” since it yet again focuses attention on the generation that came of age in the 1960s and ’70s.
I agree. Most the critics are barnyard fowl, quacking away their criticisms with a complete absence of integrity, moral or philosophical consistency or contextual knowledge of science, history, or many other relevant domains of knowledge.

I especially like these following passages which capture the too often ignored radicalism and revolution in thought of the Age of Enlightenment.
Against this backdrop, it is a relief to open Sophia Rosenfeld’s brilliantly lucid Democracy and Truth. Not only does she make short work of the “postmodernism is to blame” argument; she provides the historical background necessary to understand our current truth crisis. That a crisis does indeed exist, Rosenfeld has no doubt. But it is not one that came upon the Western world from nowhere, like a meteor strike vaporizing a peaceful pastoral landscape. Instead, it broke along an epistemological fault line that has existed in modern democratic regimes since their founding: Who has the authority, in a democracy, to determine what counts as truth—an elite of the supposedly best, most intellectually capable citizens, or the people as a whole?

As Rosenfeld shows us, conflicts along this fault line are nothing new. Elites and experts have long sought to impose their epistemological authority over a broader public, even at the risk of constraining democracy. And popular movements have long insisted on the people’s right to judge the world on their own terms, denigrating elite opinion in the process—and, sometimes, expertise and learning more broadly. The current crisis represents a drastic ratcheting up of these conflicts thanks to a host of factors—including, Rosenfeld suggests, some of the most dynamic forces in our rapidly changing capitalist economy, which have profited directly from such developments as the rise of social media and the flourishing of right-wing talk shows.

Few historians are better positioned to tell this story than Rosenfeld. A professor of intellectual history at the University of Pennsylvania, she has devoted her career to exploring the ways that philosophical conversations during the Enlightenment and the age of revolutions shaped basic modern political concepts and presuppositions. Her previous book, Common Sense, offered a scintillating account of how influential Western thinkers came to believe that ordinary people of limited or no education had the intellectual capacity to participate as equals in political life—a belief that provided crucial legitimacy for democratic regimes based on universal suffrage. While as a scholar Rosenfeld is most at home in the 18th century, she has never shied away from pointing out the contemporary implications of her work.
Marvelous. Yes, who gets to determine truth? I disagree with Rosenfeld in that I do believe that the intellectual corruption of postmodernism has had a real and corrosive influence. In academia it has created in too many places an environment inamicable to the pursuit of truth. I agree that the principal impact has been in academia and has only marginally extended, in a selective and fractured fashion, to other segments of society. Regrettably the establishment mainstream media is one of those select areas where academic postmodernism and its hostility towards truth has penetrated the most.
Like Kakutani, Rosenfeld cannot resist mentioning the Trump lie count at the start of her book. But rather than treat it as a shocking sign of the new “post-truth era,” she uses it to note the obvious fact that truth and democratic politics have “never been on very good terms.” If we are now living in an age of unprecedented mendacity, what was the Nixon administration? For that matter, no less an American icon than George Washington complained, at the end of his presidency, of the “ignorance of facts” and “malicious falsehoods” with which hostile newspapers had tried to destroy his reputation.

Rosenfeld also insists (borrowing, yes, from Foucault) that different societies exist under different “regimes of truth.” Not all truths are self-evident, and not all facts are easily verifiable, so societies need particular evidentiary standards and forms of authority to determine where truth lies. These can change from place to place and from era to era; they are rarely (if ever) stable or uncontested, but continuities are still discernible.

Our own regime of truth dates back to the 18th century, when a host of Enlightenment thinkers challenged established churches and rulers. They insisted that no single individual or institution should “hold a monopoly…on determining what counts as truth in public life” and disputed the idea—long promoted by absolute monarchs—that good rulership involved keeping most information secret and lying when necessary to protect the state. They put a premium on the values of openness, transparency, sincerity, freedom of expression, and unfettered debate. In short, they created the “truth culture of the transatlantic Enlightenment.”

Even for revolutionaries who believed that all should enjoy equal rights, this truth culture was in no sense egalitarian. Many of the Enlightenment’s most influential thinkers had little but contempt for uneducated people and wanted to restrict the pursuit of truth to a learned elite. Rosenfeld quotes Voltaire’s shocking essay on “Man” from 1764, which derided the bulk of humanity as “two-footed animals who live…barely enjoying the gift of speech, barely aware that they are miserable.” For his part, Kant saw the “enlightenment” he championed as the province of men able to function as “scholars.”

Such beliefs, in turn, helped shape the outlook of the men who devised the first constitutions for the revolutionary governments that came to power at the end of the 18th century. The American founders deliberately designed our own government not as a democracy that gave an equal say to all, but as a republic that, in the words of James Madison, would be ruled by “men who possess [the] most wisdom to discern, and [the] most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.” In creating the federal government, they allowed for direct election by the people for only one-half of one branch: the House of Representatives. (The Senate would eventually follow, more than 100 years later.) Many of the republic’s early leaders worried that the press could lead the people dangerously astray, and some of them advocated strong limits on free speech—including the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
Here's where we might start deviating somewhat, perhaps more in emphasis but possibly in substance. American Founders certainly had a marked, and well reasoned, concern about direct democracy. They were concerned that the public is easily swayed by emotions and circumstances which contributed to the short duration of democracies up until that time. Living now in the oldest continuing government, it is too easy for us to overlook that democracy had a terrible track record before the modified and carefully calibrated construct put together by the Founding Fathers. They wanted the legitimacy that came from democracy but they needed mechanisms that could constrain the demonstrated tendency of direct democracy to self-destruct. I am not sure that jibes with what Bell/Rosenfeld see as having happened.
Over the last two centuries, even as this revolutionary brand of elitism ebbed, a different form has strengthened immeasurably: In nearly all democratic societies, we have witnessed the rise of the expert. As modern society has grown more complex, it has become far more dependent on people who possess specialized knowledge: economists, statisticians, engineers, architects, lawyers, scientists of every description. We do not defer to their truth judgments because of their wisdom or virtue; we defer because it is practical to do so—we need their expertise. And while they do not rule over us directly, the authority they exercise on the basis of their truth judgments can give them a power comparable to or greater than that of many elected officials.

This reign of experts, however, can threaten democratic governance just as much as restrictions on suffrage. The epistemological authority that experts enjoy can lead them to retreat into a bubble in which they are insulated from public judgment and criticism, and over time they can devolve into a privileged interest group as scornful and condescending toward ordinary people as the most snobbish of the founders. Perhaps the most visible example of this has been the European Union, where regulation-generating technocrats have multiplied while remaining at a greater distance from the electorate than their counterparts in most democratic nation-states.

Worse, while experts base their authority to make truth judgments on their supposed objectivity, in practice this objectivity is easily compromised. Some think tanks that claim to conduct impartial research are in fact thoroughly partisan. Others, while pretending more convincingly to independence, still remain dependent on corporate sponsors. Experts routinely dance through the revolving door connecting government or think-tank positions to industry and associated lobbying groups. All of these practices undermine the Enlightenment culture of truth on which democracy rests. And the more that ordinary people become aware of these practices, the more likely they are to denounce expertise in general as a fraud, an ideological hoax, or fake news, undermining the culture of truth still further.
Whether you date the modern era from the Industrial Revolution or the rise of urbanism or WWI or WWII, whichever starting point you take there is a rising degree of specialization in society and the economy and that has fostered a rising degree of reliance in experts.

One of our challenges in the past couple of decades is that we have substituted credentials for expertise to our great detriment. Credentialism fosters the guild mentality of the Mandarin Class, especially in academic and media circles and have driven a wedge between the incestuous circle of academia-press-politics where Mandarin Class players circulate among one another, and the rest of society who wish to live freely of the dictates and nagging of the Mandarin Class.

The Mandarin Class guild fear the autonomy and resistance to their ministrations by the populace and are, therefore, mortally afraid of the age old systemic response to sclerotic, unaccountable and unresponsive governance - populism. Reflecting that fear, Bell goes on for a bit about the evils of populism without really acknowledging that it is only and almost always just a response to bad governance. If the Mandarin Class fear populism, the solution lies with reforming themselves, not bewailing the obvious excesses and potential evils of populism.

Populism is always the canary in the coal mine which the Mandarin Class choose to ignore or misinterpret.

The closing many paragraphs of the review focus on a splitting of hairs between Bell and Rosenfeld. It feels like both are starting from an untenable position - How do we the Mandarin Class exert control over the barbarian populace without them noticing or objecting? Instead of the more obvious question - How do we acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns and interests of our fellow citizens by reforming our own self-destructive behaviors so that we all advance beneficially together?

This circling of the Mandarin Class wagons comes across clearly in the following passages which read as a lamentation of a credentialed guild of the barbarian interlopers who threaten their sinecures and luxury purchased at the cost of well-being and freedoms of the populace.
Instead of belaboring the point, she concentrates on two other recent phenomena that have led conflicts over what counts as truth—not to mention the sheer amount of mendacity in public life—to increase exponentially in recent years: the rise of a news machine that thrives on outrage and the advent of social media. Both of these may be well-known suspects where the “death of truth” is concerned, but Rosenfeld has interesting points to make about them. In both cases, she argues, these developments are especially dangerous because they call into question the very idea of common standards and authorities for truth-telling. The power of conservative talk radio and Fox News does not only come from their relentless propagandizing for hard-line Republicans and their even more relentless demonizing of the left. It also comes from their ability to delegitimize, in the minds of their audience, mainstream sources of information which, despite the liberal bent of their personnel, generally make good-faith efforts to report facts impartially and objectively. Rush Limbaugh rarely lets a single broadcast go by without repeated attacks on the “lamestream,” “drive-by” media and academia, caricaturing them as liberal propaganda operations.

Meanwhile, social media, by turning every individual user into an author and publisher of sorts, drastically lowers the perceived difference between The New York Times, scientific journals, or the federal government, on the one hand, and a dyspeptic relative expostulating at his keyboard. In short, the ability of democratic societies to maintain common, authoritative sources of truth in the face of reactionary demagogues and media provocateurs has drastically withered, producing vastly destabilizing consequences.
And from there it is a short downhill slide into neo-Marxist blathering starting with
Rosenfeld hints at the role of contemporary capitalism in driving these changes, but she might have said a bit more on the subject.
Oh, capitalism - that heinous system which has lifted the world out of poverty, illness, debilitation and short lives into prosperity and hope and realized dreams. What a monstrosity. And most tragically, done without the gentle guiding hands of the Mandarin Class but through the brawny insight and spirit of the teaming masses. Lenin's vanguard are so regretful at this dreadful turn of events.


by Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—

If intelligence is such an important heritable trait, why isn’t everyone much smarter?

An interesting observation and argument from Variation In General Intelligence And Our Evolutionary History by Razib Khan.
If intelligence is such an important heritable trait, why isn’t everyone much smarter?

Think of this as the second Von Neumann paradox. What I’m alluding to is the fact that we know for a fact that human biology is capable of producing a god-made-flesh. With all due respect to another Jew who lived 2,000 years earlier than him, I speak here of John Von Neumann. We know that he is possible because he was. So why are the likes of Von Neumann bright comets amongst the dust of the stars of the common man, rather than the norm?

First, consider the case of Von Neumann himself. He had one daughter and two grandchildren. That is, within two generations genetically there was less “Von Neumann” than there had been. Though his abilities were clearly mentat-like, from the perspective of evolution Von Neumann was not a many sigma individual. He was within the normal range. Close to the median, a bit below in fecundity and fitness.

Taking a step back and focusing on aggregate populations, the fact that intelligence seems to be a quantitative trait that is at least moderately heritable and normally distributed due to polygenic variation tells us some things evolutionarily already. In Principles of Population Genetics is noted that heritable quantitative traits are often those where directional selection is not occurring due to huge consistent fitness differentials within the population.

Breaking it down, if being very smart was much, much, better than being of average smarts, then everyone would become very smart up to the physiological limit and heritable genetic variation would be removed from the population. Characteristics with huge implications for fitness tend not to be heritable because natural selection quickly expunges the deleterious alleles. The reason that fingerprints are highly heritable is that the variation genetically is not much impacted by natural selection.

The fact that being very intelligent is not evolutionarily clearly “good” seems ridiculousness to many people who think about these things. That’s because if you think about these things, you are probably very good at thinking, and no one wants to think that what they are good at is not evolutionarily very important. The thinking man cannot comprehend that thinking is not the apotheosis of what it is to be a man (similarly, the thinking religious man sometimes confuses theological rumination with the heights of spirituality; reality is that man does not know god through analysis, man experiences god).
Relates to an observation from Gregory Clark that perhaps Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, with its dramatic increase in complexity and cognitive load, because, for a variety of reasons, Britain was one of the few places where the most accomplished families were among the most fecund. Upper class accomplished families displaced lower ability individuals at lower levels in the social strata. I.e. there was downward mobility from a social level, reflecting excess cognitive ability at the upper level.

But in most places at most times, it is hard to see in the historical record a substance selection pressure on exceptioanl cognitive capabilities. Indeed, it is easier to find examples of the opposite.

A just society would be one in which inequalities in wealth were acceptable provided that the people at the top of the heap got there as a result of effort and skill

From The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson. Page 73.
Some readers may object that my argument is a not-very-subtle way of justifying inequality of condition or private possession of property. But the argument so far is not that inequality of condition is generally necessary, but only that however we judge the worth of our fellows, we will tend to consider distributions and obligations just if they are proportional to that worth.

That is how I think people make judgments, and it is different from how the famous contemporary philosopher John Rawls thinks they make them. In his theory of justice, Rawls asks us to imagine a group of rational people trying to decide on what social rules they would be willing to live by before knowing what position they would occupy in the society that would be created by these rules. In this “original position,” he says, they would agree on the following principle: inequalities in wealth will be considered just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of society.36 As I understand him, everybody in Rawls’s universe is averse to risk; each wants to
make certain that, if he winds up on the bottom of the heap, the bottom is as attractive as possible.

But many people are in fact not averse to risk, they are risk takers; to them, a just society would be one in which inequalities in wealth were acceptable provided that the people at the top of the heap got there as a result of effort and skill, And even people who are not risk takers may endorse this position because they think it fair that rewards should be proportional to effort, even if some people lose out entirely. (These same people might also expect their church or government to take care of those who lost out.) They have this view of fairness because they recognize that people differ in talent, energy, temperament, and interests; that conflicts among such people are inevitable; and that matching, as best one can, rewards to contributions is the best way of handling that conflict.

Stay warm

The Visit, 1931 by Édouard Vuillard

The Visit, 1931 by Édouard Vuillard

Click to enlarge.

Intellectual blind arrogance "Our ideas may not be perfect, but they do have the merit of existing."

From Thomas Piketty and the False Promise of “Solidarity” by Theodore Dalrymple.
The article was titled “Our manifesto to save Europe from itself,” and was a manifesto collectively-signed by a number of European intellectuals and academics, but apparently written by Thomas Piketty, the French economist who recently, and rather unexpectedly, became a world celebrity with the publication of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Embedded in the article was the following curious statement:
Our ideas may not be perfect, but they do have the merit of existing.
In so far as this means anything, it must mean that it is better to have bad ideas than no ideas at all, a proposition that I find dubious at best, and which I believe to be more likely false than true. The worst political monsters in the world had ideas, often many of them, that had the supposed merit of existing, but the somewhat graver defect of occasioning the deaths of millions of people. Give me any time a man, even a dictator, with no ideas rather than someone with the ideas of a Lenin, a Hitler, a Mao or a Pol Pot—or of an Islamic terrorist.

I am not sure that I should trust anyone very far with my investments, or with anything much much else, who was capable of expressing the sentiment that Professor Piketty here expressed. Few are the situations in human existence that cannot be made worse by ideas, more especially those of intellectuals and academics. But let us pass over this foolish sentence as if it were a mere slip of the pen and look at the actual ideas that had the merit of existing. Here, I am afraid, things are not much better.
It is a curious self-flattering belief of cocooned intellectuals that their untested abstract ideas must inherently be superior to the less articulated concrete actions of others. The abstract has no superiority to the concrete, the academic to the pragmatic, the considered over the habitual except as circumstances dictate.
In Britain, as in other countries, more than a quarter of the income tax is paid by 1 per cent of the population. But this is not enough for the Professor, irrespective of whether increasing the rate would increase the take (the purpose of tax being primarily symbolic). He would like capital to be taxed too, from above the not very high limit of $900,000. This would increase both equality and efficiency, according to the Professor, in so far as the money raised would then be redistributed and invested productively by the philosopher-kings of whom the professor is so notable an example.

All this is to be done in the name of what Piketty calls solidarity. ‘If Europe wants to restore solidarity with its citizens it must show concrete evidence that it is capable of establishing cooperation’: that is, it must raise taxes on the prosperous. Overlooking the question of what Europe actually is, or how it is to be defined (I suspect that the Professor thinks it is not continent or a civilisation, but a bureaucracy), this seems to me the kind of solidarity that only someone suffering from autism could dream up, solidarity equalling taxation administered by politicians, bureaucrats and intellectual advisers.
Solidarity, diversity, equality - all abstract ideas which might be interesting and useful when translated into a concrete proposition but otherwise mostly used by would-be totalitarians towards their own ends.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A whisper, and then a silence

The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right

Dos Passos has been a name that I became aware of in university but with little weight beyond recognition. Jay Nordlinger makes me want to rush out and find a book of his essays. From Doses of Dos Passos, Part I by Jay Nordlinger.
Whatever it is, The Theme Is Freedom is dazzling and deep. Who writes like Dos Passos today? Mark Helprin, for one, but not many others.

The collected pieces date from 1926 to the present, i.e., 1956. That is a neat span of 30 years. And, for the anniversary-minded, this is the 60th anniversary of the book. Throughout the book, Dos Passos provides a running commentary, in italics. That is, his mid-’50s self comments on his earlier self. He is sometimes embarrassed, but he would not have republished these pieces if he weren’t pleased with them — as well he should be.

He maintains that, wherever he has been on the political spectrum, his theme has been constant: the freedom of the individual, and therefore of society as a whole. We can argue with him, and claim that he tarried too long with the Left, but he has a case. And, even at his left-most, he was usually awake and skeptical, rather than hypnotized and fanatical.

Here is Dos Passos — the 1950s Dos Passos — on the radical attitude (an attitude that he of course shared):
Capitalism was the bogey that was destroying civilization. Cut the businessman’s profits we said. … We thrilled to the word cooperative. … Capitalism was the sin that had caused the war [World War I]; only the working class was free from crime.
And here he is on an interesting correlation of forces:
Greenwich Village wanted freedom and so did the working class. … Greenwich Villagers, mostly the sons and daughters of professional people, clergymen and lawyers and doctors, felt a sudden kinship with the working class. Of all strata of society only the artists and writers and the people who worked with their hands were pure. Together they would overturn the businessman and become top dog themselves. From the alliance between the trade unions and Greenwich Village the American radical was born.
Exactly. I know this alliance — or imagined alliance — so well. I saw it in Ann Arbor (my hometown), to begin with.


‐Dos Passos has a memory. The New York radicals have traveled to Passaic, N.J., to protest for Sacco and Vanzetti.
The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.
Dos Passos agreed with the protest, mind you. He was part of it. But he was unnerved — “frightened” — by the people. I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.

Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

‐Once upon a time, there was tolerance, Dos Passos writes. You could talk to people.
It’s amusing to remember that in those carefree days a Communist party-member and an anarcho-syndicalist and even some sad dog of a capitalist who believed in laissez faire could sit at the same table and drink beer together and lay their thoughts on the line. It wasn’t that you respected the other fellow’s opinions exactly, but you admitted his right to remain alive. Needless to say, this happy state didn’t last very long.

A striking characteristic of moral judgments is that people commonly assign value to particular actions, irrespective of what consequences the actions bring about

From Actions Versus Consequences in Political Arguments: Insights from Moral Psychology by Timothy J. Ryan. From the Abstract:
A striking characteristic of moral judgments is that people commonly assign value to particular actions, irrespective of what consequences the actions bring about. This phenomenon might be important to understanding political judgments, where people frequently purport to stand on principle, even when doing some comes at a substantial cost. Here, I draw on work in psychology that might help identify which citizens are insensitive to consequences in the context of political argumentation. I find that a particular facet of attitude intensity (moral conviction) identifies citizens who think about political issues in absolutist terms (Studies 1-2), and who dismiss damaging information about policy consequences (Studies 3-4). These results develop understanding of what attributes make different political arguments compelling to different people, and illustrate the utility of attitude intensity measures as a way to account for the atomized and disorganized nature of political opinions.
People who base their arguments on moral conviction are indeed difficult to talk with. By questioning their facts, you are inherently questioning their moral beliefs.

This goes to an underlying issue. Ideally and as a default you need to be prepared to discuss an argument with anyone and you should be prepared to do so. However, time is limited and there are people who are profoundly uninformed, ill-informed or misinformed. It requires a great deal of time, effort and goodwill simply to get on the same song sheet. Under some circumstances that investment in time, goodwill, and effort is fully warranted.

In many cases it is sunk cost and best avoided.

Similarly, there are people who are completely unamenable to argument because their position is not determined by their knowledge of facts, logic and reason. Their position is determined based on a moral worldview. Sometimes those position can be changed with logic, reason and facts. Usually they cannot.

If you have scarce time then it is valuable to assess your interlocutor. Are they ready to speak right away from an informed position? Or are they materially deficient in facts, logic or reason or are they emotionally committed to their position regardless. You can save yourself much time and anguish by being able to determine those things in advance.

Nymphs after Bathing, 1908 by Émile Bernard

Nymphs after Bathing, 1908 by Émile Bernard

Click to enlarge.

Exclaime of all things, though they never adventured to know any thing

Easy to forget that the Mandarin class was there at the beginning; posturing, posing, whining.

From The General Historie of Virginia, New England and The Summer Isles (Vol. I) by Captain John Smith. Smith, the proto-Tea Party Patriot with no time for the effete gentlemen more concerned with appearances than with effectiveness.
Who though they were scarce ever ten myles from James Towne, or at the most but at the falles; yet holding it a great disgrace that amongst so much action, their actions were nothing, exclaime of all things, though they never adventured to know any thing; nor ever did any thing but devoure the fruits of other mens labours. Being for most part of such tender educations, and small experience in Martiall accidents, because they found not English Cities, nor such faire houses, nor at their owne wishes any of their accustomed dainties, with feather beds and downe pillowes, Tavernes and Alehouses in every breathing place, neither such plentie of gold and silver and dissolute libertie, as they expected, had little or no care of any thing, but to pamper their bellies, to fly away with our Pinnaces, or procure their meanes to returne for England. For the Country was to them a misery, a ruine, a death, a hell, and their reports here, and their actions there according.
Translations from archaic English to the modern vernacular:
"Exclaime of all things, though they never adventured to know any thing" - All talk and no action. 27 year olds who know literally nothing. Talking head experts whose predictions are uniformly wrong.

"Nor ever did any thing but devoure the fruits of other mens labours" - Taxation for thee, subsidies for me.

"Being for most part of such tender educations" - Undergrad degree in Social Justice Theory. Masters in Gender studies.

"And small experience in Martiall accidents" - No toxic masculinity allowed.

"Because they found not English Cities, nor such faire houses, nor at their owne wishes any of their accustomed dainties, with feather beds and downe pillowes, Tavernes and Alehouses in every breathing place, neither such plentie of gold and silver and dissolute libertie, as they expected, had little or no care of any thing, but to pamper their bellies" - First World Problems and WEIRD world views.

"For the Country was to them a misery, a ruine, a death, a hell, and their reports here, and their actions there according" - The nation was a disappointment to these gentlemen, especially all the deplorables making it possible for them to survive.
People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

Click to enlarge.

And he looks just the man to do violence on behalf of the needy.

Don't trust them further than their facts will support

From The Future Is Female. And She's Furious. by Cathy Young. The article is both a book review of three recent feminist tracts as well as general critique of the turn towards toxic feminism.

This passage resonated. Emphasis added.
You can debate the extent to which gender inequalities in 21st century liberal democracies stem from present-day sexism, from cultural baggage from the past, or from personal choices and innate sex differences at an individual level. But does the gallery of horrors in the literature of feminist rage really reflect women's lives in today's America?

In 1994, dissident feminist Christina Hoff Sommers published a controversial book, Who Stole Feminism?, that charged feminist activists and authors with using bogus facts and other "myth-information" to portray modern Western women as brutally oppressed. Much of this critique has held up—and, as the new crop of feminist books shows, has remained relevant.

Indeed, one pseudo-fact debunked by Sommers and mostly retracted by its authors, school equity crusaders David Sadker and the late Myra Sadker, makes a comeback in Chemaly's book: the claim that boys in class call out answers eight times as often as girls do, while girls who speak out of turn are usually rebuked. Manne not only recycles that "fictoid" (as Sommers called it) but garbles it.

These are no isolated lapses. A cursory fact check of Chemaly's lengthy endnotes reveals that many of her sources don't say what she claims they do. The claim that "when women speak 30 percent of the time in mixed-gender conversations, listeners think they dominate," for instance, is sourced to a 1990 study that shows only a slight tendency to overestimate the female portion of a male-female dialogue. (Chemaly's claim is apparently derived from a passing mention in the study of a 1979 article by Australian radical feminist scholar Dale Spender.) The purported source for another alleged fact—"domestic violence injures more American women annually than rapes, car accidents and muggings combined"—is a book appendix by journalist Philip Cook that debunks this very myth.
Georgetown University circa 1981. Course in some higher level economics. Professor is a self-avowed Marxist. Much of the course is taught by a PhD candidate TA.

One of the great learnings from that course had nothing to do with the academic content. It had to to do with trust and veracity.

The TA assigned some academic economic article for our reading and required a review of the argument. The article's argument was extreme but plausible. It was well constructed and deeply researched and footnoted.

I prepared my counter-argument, focusing on chinks in the logic and the occasions of too great extrapolation.

In the class where we reviewed our critiques, the TA sprang a surprise on us. Line by line, as the academic in the original article argued his case, the TA went to the supporting footnote and produced the original source. In almost every instance, the academic was implausibly twisting the original piece or outright misrepresenting what had been claimed.

The TA's point was that you can't take anything at face value. It is fine to focus on the logic and reason and find faults there but if the factual input is already wrong, you are kind of wasting your time. It is easier sometimes to demonstrate factual error and misrepresentation than it is to split logical hairs in an argument.

Go to the source and make sure you are not dealing with garbage-in:garbage-out. It is eactly the same thing Young is pointing out.
A cursory fact check of Chemaly's lengthy endnotes reveals that many of her sources don't say what she claims they do.
Many people are fine making the form of an argument rather than making an argument. That is especially true when the facts don't support their position. Focus on the substance, focus on the truth. And don't, simply because they have an advanced degree or an academic title, trust them further than their facts will support.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Evidently, getting rid of loose hogs was not easily accomplished

As residents of a major city, neighbors are exasperated by City incompetence, especially regarding low staffing of police, rare prosecutions and even rarer convictions. The principle disturbance is the costly nuisance of nightly car thefts and theft from vehicles. The populace is outraged. Politicians throw up their hands and lie that there is little they can do. They are teaching people to take law enforcement into their own hands which is never a good idea.

And some things never change. Doing some genealogical research I come across the following passage. In January 1885, the residents of the area elected to incorporate the town of Plant City, Florida with elections and a marshal and alderman and every other mark of a civilized and progressing city of the future.

Despite the ambitions of the residents though, it was still a growing town, only recently carved out of the brush and still semi-agricultural. Or more than semi. From Plant City Its Origin and History by Quintilla Greer Bruton and David E. Bailey, Jr..
In the town minutes for that first year, Clerk Speir, very faithfully and at some length, reported on what appeared to be the first major problem confronting those first alderman. It was the problem presented by stray hogs which were allowed to run loose.

At the September 12 meeting it was decided that something had to be done to cope with this growing nuisance that was bringing complaints from residents. Alderman Tyner moved that hogs be taken off the streets by the first of October, after which time those found loose will be put up in a pen and the owner forced to pay fifty cents per head for their release. If they were not taken out within twenty-four hours, the pigs or hogs would be sold and proceeds, after paying expenses, would go to the owner.

Evidently, getting rid of loose hogs was not easily accomplished, as the matter was before the council again on November 4, when it was "resolved that the hogs be kept out of the corporate limits until there shall be an election for councilman, at which time the vote will be taken by the citizens for or against hogs." So the responsibility for solving the hog problem was to be shifted to the citizens.

Reading those early town minutes, it's not clear whether or not the hog problem was submitted to a vote of the people at the general election in January, 1986, as planned. But it is clear that hogs on the streets continued to be a major problem and appeared to receive more attention than any other subject. The town clerk continued regularly to record action proposed or taken on the hog law as late as 1892.

At the first meeting of the new council, January 4, 1886, aldermen turned their attention to this unsolved problem. The hog law was suspended for 30 days, with the understanding that the marshal would pick up only male hogs over six months old and have the owner pay one dollar and expenses for shelter and feed. Enforcement was delayed another 30 days on February 4, when it was moved that every man owning a residence be requested to "stop up" under his house to keep hogs out.

Further thirty-day extensions were allowed on April 8 and May 7. At council meetings on June 3 and August 12, 1886, sixty-day extensions were moved and carried. Months later, on September 1, 1887, it was ordered that an election be held on the second Saturday of October and a vote taken to see if the hogs would be allowed to remain on the streets or be removed. The town minutes had no further reference to the dilemma that year, and it was not mentioned in 1888, perhaps because of the more serious problems resulting from the yellow fever epidemic.

The next note in the minutes about hogs was on March 19, 1889, when it was ordered that everyone in town be notified to fix their houses to keep the hogs out. But on April 15, 1889, the following ordinance was passed:
After the first day of May, 1889, it shall be unlawful for any hogs or pigs to run at large inside corporate limits of Plant City, and the penalty for the violation of said orders shall be the same as the Article 9, Section 14 of the town ordinance. All hogs or pigs that are found running at large inside corporate limits of Plant City on or after said date should be put in the pound, and a charge of 50 cents a head shall be assessed with expense of feeding and care, for a period of five days, after such time that shall be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, and after all lawful expenses and cost have been paid, balance, if any, shall be refunded the owners of such hogs and pigs.
The people had won!

Evidently, the hog law was rarely enforced, as, on January 29, 1890, it was ordered to have the marshal obtain a list of the registered voters for the purpose of determining their opinion regarding hogs on the streets and report back. On February 17, 1890, it was ordered that the hog law be enforced. The town council refused to bow to pressure when in April, 1892, D. L. Crum, prominent stockman, presented a petition bearing thirty-four names asking that the hog ordinance be repealed. The petition was denied.
Living in cities has, apparently, always been complicated with poorly enforced ordinances abused by hogs and scofflaws alike.

The free market and rule of law - Is there anything it can't do? Witchcraft hysteria suppression edition.

From Defamation Takes A Holiday: Slander And The Salem Witch Trials by David Kluft
It was not until October 1692, seven months after the accusations began, that things finally started to calm down. What ended the madness? The simplest explanation is political. After Massachusetts finally got its new charter, it also got its new governor, William Phips, in May 1692. Phips’ first and only priority at the time was to fortify Maine against the French and their allies. Phips left Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, a puppet of the Mather clan, in charge of everything else. When Phips returned in late September, he found to his horror that Stoughton had presided over the execution of twenty fellow citizens on flimsy accusations of witchcraft, and that many more accusations were under consideration, including one against the Governor’s wife.

The Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved by Phips on October 12, 1692. Nobody else was executed, and the ongoing proceedings eventually came to an end by early 1693, much to the disappointment of the odious Stoughton, who had already ordered a fresh set of graves dug for a new group of accused innocents even before they had been condemned.

But there is one more possible explanation of — or at least contributing factor to — the end of the Salem Witch Trials: the reemergence of the civil slander suit. Boston cloth merchant Robert Calef, critic of the proceedings in Salem, wrote a contemporaneous account of them in More Wonders of the Invisible World. Calef reports that in October 1692, a “worthy gentleman of Boston” was accused of witchcraft by a resident of Andover (the actual location of many of the “Salem” proceedings). The accused gentleman immediately responded by lodging a “thousand pound action for defamation” (a ruinous sum) and advising the accuser to get his evidence ready for trial. Not surprisingly, the gentleman’s accuser changed his mind, and shortly thereafter the accusations of witchcraft dried up altogether.

Come see the north wind's masonry

The Snow-Storm
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

I never had words sharp enough.

From Faust I & II by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, edited by Stuart Atkins and David E. Wellbery. Page 239. Gretchen is facing the prospect of a child out of wedlock.
GRETCHEN (walking home).
How readily I once declaimed
when some poor girl did the wrong thing!
Worked up about the sins of others,
I never had words sharp enough.

What seemed so black, I blackened even more,
and yet that wasn’t black enough for me;
I’d cross myself, act high and mighty—
and now I’m prey to sin myself!

And yet, o God, what brought me to it,
was all so good, and oh so sweet!
The dilemma of all puritans. The standards to which they hold others eventually redound on them. We are all human. We are all prey to ills and failings. Best to be tolerant and treat people with respect because "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Instead the Jacobins morally preen and fail to understand why others are repulsed by their arrogance, ignorance, incivility, and puritanical hatred.

It is ironic that those most demanding of tolerance, inclusiveness, and respect are those least likely to extend it.

Landscape with Snow, 1888 by Vincent van Gogh

Landscape with Snow, 1888 by Vincent van Gogh

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Potemkin Village of Expertise

First there is this from yesterday afternoon.

Obviously there are some issues in the tweet.

More pertinently, if you go to Lawrence Tribe's Twitter timeline, that tweet is no longer there. I have seen other thread tweets which appear to have been linked to that tweet which now read as that this tweet is no longer available.

So the first question is whether that screenshot is a real tweet from Lawrence Tribe or whether it is a photoshop. Impossible to tell but given that other's accounts are showing that something was removed, it appears that it is quite possible that this was indeed a real, though unconsidered, tweet by Tribe. It is certainly customary for right leaning commentators to screenshot embarrassing left leaning commentators' tweets. They say embarrassing or vile things and then reconsider and take them down, though typically not before they have been retweeted many thousands of times.

It is actually quite a slick technique. You can say unspeakable things to your followers and then, absent a screenshot, deny that it was said or claim that it was misunderstood.

In this instance, Tribe isn't saying anything vile. He is just saying things that are incompatible with his reputation for being knowledgeable.

Which brings to mind this observation from Richard Fernandez.

Click to enlarge.

Since at least 2006 with Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock, we have begun to understand the dimensions of just how poor are the pretenses of expertise, especially against the harsh test of forecasting. If the deep knowledge experts produce forecasts no more accurate than that of informed observers, then there is no predictive value inherent in the expert knowledge.

Tetlock landed a hard blow to the credibility of generic "experts". That is not to say that there is no value in deep knowledge or even forecasts. There is value and it is value determined in application and utility, not in the abstract.

It was not Tetlock's intention to threaten the Mandarin class but there was now a mental model and data which provided a basis for an informed debate about the real value of public experts and commentators. There was a grace period for the next ten years in which the whole issue of inaccurate expert forecasts was set aside. A period which may be seen as the calm before the storm.

But with accumulating failures despite the forecasts of experts, failure which directly and negatively affected the body politick, the continuing collapse of credibility in any sociological or psychological or even anthropological research, the foundations for Mandarin Class experts continued to quietly erode. The failure of an economic recovery despite such forecasts by house economic experts did not help. Serial international failures undermined the foreign policy community. The healthcare debacle debased the credibility of medical experts and politicians alike.

So when the harsh accusations of Fake News and direct attacks on the court "experts" came, it was a shock to a system already on poor footing.

The shock of 2016 to the pundits in mainstream media and to academia was extreme. They were accustomed to unquestioning respect and deference. Harsh questioning of both their arguments and their evidence has not brought out the best in them. The irony is that the worst damage to the Mandarin reputation has not come from direct questioning or harsh language.

They have been their own worst enemies. They reacted badly to the implied insult of the results of 2016 and their behavior has spiraled since then, leaving far behind dispassionate argument or respectful treatment of facts. Tetlock provided the empirical evidence to question the purported expertise of the experts. Trump has incited the Mandarin Class experts to emotionally, continually, and in an accelerating fashion to demonstrate why Tetlock's empirical data makes sense.

It is not the Emperor who has no clothes, it is the Experts.

We do need knowledge and experts and credibility. But we have so long substituted credentials and Mandarin status for real expertise that it might take a good while to dismantle the Potemkin Village of Expertise and build a real platform of Experts. Those who have enjoyed the status and recompense of being highly paid but wrong experts, won't go gently into the night to make way for non-Mandarin Class people who are actual and demonstrated experts.

Snow, 1973 lithograph by David Hockney

Snow, 1973 lithograph by David Hockney

Click to enlarge.

We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it.

From Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Page 11.
Far deeper objections may be felt—and have been expressed—against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?’ or ‘May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?’ Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property.
When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not ‘a gentleman’ you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said—so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully—‘Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?’ They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man ‘a gentleman’ in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is ‘a gentleman’ becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were ‘far closer to the spirit of Christ’ than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

732 identical homes in the style of the French chateaux, each with an ornate facade, Juliet balconies, and a round turret fit for a princess

Remarkable. From Massive faux chateaux development sits empty after developer goes bankrupt by Liz Stinson. It is truly an amazing world filled with wondrous things.

Click to enlarge.
Nestled into the beautiful rolling hills of central Turkey, there’s a housing development of apocalyptic proportions. Rows of identical faux chateaux sit empty at the Burj Al Babas complex after its developer, Sarot Group, recently filed for bankruptcy.

When construction started in 2014, the Burj Al Babas was supposed to be a luxury residential retreat for wealthy investors from the Middle East. The $200 million complex called for 732 identical homes in the style of the French chateaux, each with an ornate facade, Juliet balconies, and a round turret fit for a princess. The interiors could be customized to the buyer’s desires.

The cookie-cutter mini-castles were going for anywhere from $370,000 and $530,000, and according to Bloomberg, plenty of people were already buying them. Just not enough, apparently. By the time the developer filed for bankruptcy, they had completed 587 homes and were $27 million in debt.

If ever two were one, then surely we.

To My Dear and Loving Husband
by Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672, 'an educated English woman, a loving wife, devoted mother, Empress Consort of Massachusetts, a questing Puritan and a sensitive poet.' Well, yes. And mother of eight. Emigrant across the oceans in a vessel not much bigger than a school bus. Pioneer. Poet. Woof.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The tidal pull of schadenfreude

Adrian Vermeule expresses the charity I wish to feel combined with the pleasure I do feel. I do hope these people find a way to transition into jobs that provide value to others and I also celebrate the reduction in cognitive pollution that that move will entail.

However, these kind of tweets make it really hard to muster that charitable feeling I know I should have. The tidal pull of schadenfreude is strong.

Please, please, please. I am trying to be good.

Stop it. Please stop.

Double click to enlarge.

Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Double click to enlarge.

Bat Out of Hell
by Meatloaf

The sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
There's a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright
There's evil in the air and there's thunder in the sky,
And a killer's on the bloodshot streets
And down in the tunnels where the deadly are rising
Oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter
He was starting to foam in the heat

Oh, baby you're the only thing in this whole world
That's pure and good and right
And wherever you are and wherever you go
There's always gonna be some light,
But I gotta get out, I gotta break out now
Before the final crack of dawn
So we gotta make the most of our one night together
When it's over, you know,
We'll both be so alone

Like a bat out of hell I'll be gone when the morning comes
When the night is over, like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone, gone, gone
Like a bat out of hell I'll be gone when the morning comes
But when the day is done
And the sun goes down
And the moonlight's shining through
Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven
I'll come crawling on back to you

I'm gonna hit the highway like a battering ram
On a silver-black phantom bike
When the metal is hot, and the engine is hungry
And we're all about to see the light
Nothing ever grows in this rotting old hole,
And everything is stunted and lost
And nothing really rocks, and nothing really rolls,
And nothing's ever worth the cost

Well I know that I'm damned if I never get out,
And maybe I'm damned if I do,
But with every other beat I've got left in my heart,
You know I want to be damned with you
If I gotta be damned, you know I want to be damned
Dancing through the night with you/
Well if I gotta be damned, you know I want to be damned,
Gotta be damned, you know I want to be damned
Gotta be damned, you know I want to be damned
Dancing through the night,
Dancing through the night,
Dancing through the night with you

Oh, baby you're the only thing in this whole world
That's pure and good and right
And wherever you are and wherever you go
There's always gonna be some light,
But I gotta get out, I gotta break out now
Before the final crack of dawn
So we gotta make the most of our one night together
When it's over, you know,
We'll both be so alone

Like a bat out of hell I'll be gone when the morning comes
When the night is over, like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone, gone, gone
Like a bat out of hell I'll be gone when the morning comes
But when the day is done
And the sun goes down
And the moonlight's shining through
Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven
I'll come crawling on back to you

Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven
I'll come crawling on back to you

Well I can see myself tearing up the road, faster
Than any other boy has ever gone
And my skin is raw, but my soul is ripe,
And no one's gonna stop me now, I'm gonna make my escape
But I can't stop thinking of you,
And I never see the sudden curve until it's way too late
And I never see the sudden curve until it's way too late

Then I'm down in the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike,
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart, still beating,
Breaking out of my body and flying away
Like a bat out of hell

Then I'm down in the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun,
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike,
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart,
Still beating still beating
Still beating still beating
Breaking out of my body, and flying away

Like a bat out of hell
Oh, like a bat out of hell
Oh, like a bat out of hell
Oh, like a bat out of hell (I'll be gone when the morning comes)
Oh, like a bat out of hell (I'll be gone when the morning comes)
Oh, like a bat out of hell

Ely Cathedral by Paul Beck

Ely Cathedral by Paul Beck

Click to enlarge.

When your chosen policies conflict with your stated objectives

From The Problem with Trying to Measure ‘Racial Resentment' by Robert Cherry. One might assume that the three or four decade-long obsession with finding structural racism as the foundation of American culture, despite a persistent lack of affirmative evidence and an increasing volume of refuting evidence, might be a singular cognitive phenomenon. How can one believe something so weakly supported for so long?

But all we need to do is recollect that some of the best minds our species has ever produced similarly held long-lasting beliefs in things which were not true. And not just individuals but whole cultures as well. Alchemy serves as an example with Isaac Newton's decades of efforts in pursuit of that magical outcome.

Resistance to evidence is one of the quirks we know characterizes us. So the critical theory postmodernist belief system, despite its manifest contradictions and absence of evidence is comprehendible from that perspective. But, given its pernicious and disastrous consequences, it cannot be tolerated.

Cherry does a decent job of scratching the surface of the issue attached to trying to measure and quantify the nebulous and constant redefined "racism". As explicit aspects of old style overt racism have declined and disappeared, adherents of the cult of belief have become ever more desperate and creative in finding ways to try and evidence an undefined racism.

When your tools of diagnosis (IAT as an example) increasingly have the appearance of casting knuckle bones to forecast the future, you should see that as a sign that something is amiss.

From Cherry:
Writing in the New York Times recently, Thomas Edsall highlighted this perspective in a discussion of a forthcoming book by Duke professor Ashley Jardina. He noted that in her book, she attempted to measure the level of racial resentment by asking survey respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “blacks should work their way up without any special favors.” She found that the results revealed a “new type of racial prejudice — one that is a subtle combination of anti-black affect and the belief that blacks do not adhere to traditional American values associated with the Protestant work ethic.”

The article does mention a study that calls into question Jardina’s results: Harvard researchers Riley Carney and Ryan Enos posed similarly designed questions to respondents, but substituted other ethnic groups for African Americans, including white ethnic groups such as Lithuanians. The results were indistinguishable from those measured when they asked the same questions with blacks as the target group.
Carney and Enos are taking the position that a values system that is applied equally to everyone can still be considered racist. So much for Dr. King's wish for being judged by the content of one's character than the color of one's skin. Carney and Enos show that people of all colors are being judged by the content of their character and yet Carney and Enos still believe that that reflects racism.

Just as Newton kept looking for that missing piece of evidence. Though I suspect that overestimates the capacity of Carney and Enos' capabilities compared to those of Newton.
Many whites who score highly on the racial-resentment scale likely believe that a weak work ethic impedes black progress. Indeed, this viewpoint is not uncommon among black Americans. A 2015 CNN survey asked respondents to quantify the role that various factors play in the economic and social problems black Americans face. As one would expect, a majority of black respondents classified discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities as “major reasons.” Many will be surprised, however, by the other causes they found important. Among black respondents, 61 percent believed that the breakdown of the black family was a major cause, while only 11 percent believed it was no cause at all. Similarly, 42 percent of black respondents believed lack of motivation and willingness to work hard was a major cause, while only 21 percent believed it was no cause at all. In fact, blacks were more likely than whites to say these factors were important.
Same belief held across racial lines but academics consider racist when held by one group and racist when held by the other. It is as if they do not see the inherent racism of their own position.

All of this is academic if it stayed within the academy. But these pernicious ideological ideas of don't stay within the compound of leprous ideas. They spread and infect. The foster division and a culture of victimhood which in turn induces failure. Instead of wasting time chasing an ideological construct which is not true and which cannot be true based on its own contradictions, why not pursue ideas which can foster progress and improvement. Which is what Cherry calls for.
Rather than debating whether negative attitudes about the work ethics of young black men justify labeling someone a racist, we should spend more time trying to combat their joblessness. Despite a robust 28 percent increase in employment of young black men since 2010, in 2017, 19 percent of those 16 to 24 years old were neither in school nor at work, compared with 14 and 10 percent of comparably aged Latino and white men, respectively. A 2018 study found that these youths are often disconnected from close family as well. Disconnected young people are about two-and-a-half times as likely to be living with family other than their parents, about twice as likely to be living with a roommate, and eight times as likely to be living alone than their more-connected peers.

The more disconnected these youth become, the farther they distance themselves from the paid labor market and the more likely they are to engage in illegal activities. A 2016 research paper by criminologists Gary Kleck and Dylan Jackson examined whether the jobless were more likely to engage in serious property crime. They found that the unemployed who were looking for work and those who were jobless because of acceptable reasons, such as schooling or family caregiving responsibilities, were no more likely to engage in criminal behavior than the general population. By contrast, those who were jobless and had no legitimate reason for not seeking employment were four times more likely to engage in property crime.
Stop focusing on unprovable and substantively non-existent structural racism and start focusing on the policies which actually have the prospect of improving lives.

A novel concept not widely held in academic quarters.