Thursday, October 31, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Morning Sunshine by Edward Dufner

Morning Sunshine by Edward Dufner

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Those Bill of Rights Freedoms aren't welcome here. We are an inclusive community.

I love how innocently unconscious are purportedly intelligent people in the academy. From UMaryland warns 'cultural appropriation' costumes have 'no place' on campus by Celine Ryan.
Students at the University of Maryland have been warned to steer clear of costumes that use an "aspect of another culture," with the school insisting that such costumes have "no place in an inclusive community" and can cause "heightened anxiety and tension" for "minoritized communities."

The University of Maryland is warning students to avoid committing "cultural appropriation" with their costumes by asking themselves questions like "Did people from the other culture represented by the costume endure negative experiences that people from your culture have not?" "What are the consequences of generalizing people based on their culture?" and "Who should determine the level of harm someone might experience from cultural appropriation?" according to a pre-Halloween news release.
Of course this is merely empty ideological virtue signaling. Empty minds spouting empty platitudes. They don't really care about others; they care about their own power.

But the amazing thing is that they don't even respect themselves enough to listen to their own words. Insisting that certain people exercising their free speech rights have "no place in an inclusive community" sure seems to call into question their assumptions about tolerance and inclusiveness.

Maybe it is that simple.

From Stephen Green on Instapundit. He is talking about California's steady decline into statewide dysfunction owing to public policies inspired by socialist thinking.
Milton Friedman said that if you put the government in charge of the Sahara desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand. Put progressives in charge of the nation’s most advanced economy, and pretty soon you can’t even keep the lights on.
I am seeing a lot of this form of statement lately. True but provocative.

You read it and you want to argue with it. "Its more complicated than that." Then you marshal your argument and you realize, "Well, yeah. Maybe it is that simple."

Off Beat Humor

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Off Beat Humor

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Epistemic uncertainty

The world and human life becomes increasingly better in terms of income, wealth, environment, health, mortality, education attainment, size of homes, etc. And yet we persistently exhibit a negative mental correlation. The better things become, the more anxious we seem to become.

I have usually attributed this to two considerations.

First - As we become richer, individually and a a group, the farther there is to fall. If everyone is at subsistence and there is little or downside potential, the assessed probability and the concern about a possible reduction is mitigated. Things are already hard and they can't become much harder.

Which seems to me to be different from the circumstance where things are very good and they could become much harder. Perhaps demonstrated anxiety is driven by increasing sense of risk exposure. Which is more alarming - missing a rent payment or losing the mansion?

Second - The more prosperous we become, likely the more complex life becomes. Prosperity arises from specialization and complexity. There are more moving parts and more of them are remote and beyond control. That is stressful.

Third - The more prosperous we become, likely the more people we interact with. Human interaction is always fraught with risk and uncertainty. If we have to deal with more and more people, the greater is the risk and uncertainty.

From Highlights from the Comments on PNSE by Scott Alexander at SlateStarCodex. He introduces another factor worth considering.
Imagine a doctor told you that repeated trauma can cause a long-lasting state of dysphoric depersonalization. In fact, you don’t need to imagine it – I am telling you now that repeated trauma can cause a long-lasting state of dysphoric depersonalization. How much effort should you put any effort into doubting this? If I say that my evidence is I know a few patients with trauma histories who say they’ve had long-lasting states of dysphoric depersonalization, and that most other doctors I talk to also know some patients, and a couple of small studies have been done on this and say the same thing, are you especially interested in doubting it?
We might call this epistemic uncertainty. In an environment of increasing complexity, the more probable it is that we have to rely on unknown agents for knowledge we cannot easily validate. Complexity is driving increase in anxiety via a higher volume of epistemic uncertainty.

If societal anxiety is indeed rising, perhaps one driver is that more people have to take more knowledge on trust.

And he will be finished!, 1861 by Vinzenz Statz

And he will be finished!, 1861 by Vinzenz Statz

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Experts and the deep state betrayed earlier presidents as well

From When JFK was Trump by Jeff Greenfield via Ann Althouse.

I keep hearing from political journalists of the uniqueness of Trump's actions in condemning tones. And in virtually every instance, I can immediately think of the multiple near-identical instances from earlier presidents. It makes a mockery of journalism and reinforces Ben Rhodes' dictum ("The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.")

I'll grant that Trump as a whole is reasonably unique, at least for this century. We have had even more extravagant characters in the past. He is a pale ghost in comparison to Andrew Jackson for example. It is not that any individual thing that Trump does which is unique, it is the accumulation of all the actions together. He seems to operate at a higher tempo and with greater instinct than plodding analysis.

Greenfield highlights one area where Trump is criticized but for which there is a very modern-era counterpart.
Have we ever had a president before this one who so disdains the advice and policies of those who have spent their lives working for the government he leads? Have we ever had a chief executive who is so skeptical of the judgments of career diplomats and military leaders, who rejects the advice of top intelligence leaders, who trusts his family more than those with a lifetime of experience?

Yes we have. And his name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Yep. Greenfield labors to make clear that he neither admires Trump nor approves his actions but he is sufficiently honest to at least acknowledge a reality most the clerisy wish to ignore.

He elaborates.
But in one way they are alike: Throughout Kennedy’s presidency, he came more and more to distrust the received wisdom of the “permanent government” or “deep state” or “military-industrial complex” or whatever term seems apt today. In his case, that skepticism may have saved the planet from nuclear annihilation.

During the tumult of the Trump years, generals like H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis have been glorified as steadying influences in the room—military wisemen whose opinions on everything from Syria to NATO Trump has recklessly disregarded. And that is true. Trump deserves censure for his refusal to listen to the advice of experienced hands, and his White House can be faulted for jettisoning decades worth of scientific, economic and military expertise.

But in the reflexive rush to criticize Trump, we risk forgetting the lesson of the Kennedy years: There is danger in relying too heavily on the “wisdom” of the elders.
In denigrating Trump and perhaps overemphasizing Kennedy's courage, Greenfield weakens his argument but the facts speak for themselves. The Executive branch is always at risk of being taken hostage by established interests and the deep state. The voters are in their millions far away. The interests and bureaucrats are next door.

Trump has distrusted the Washington establishment from the beginning and events have so far proven him right. Virtually every "catastrophic" decision he has made has ended up playing out to positive outcomes as he forecast and has not failed as the Establishment class claimed.

Very early on in his presidency, I have thought of Kennedy's actions at the Bay of Pigs. A couple of accounts here and here. Kennedy inherited a CIA plan that was along in the planning and to his ultimate dismay agreed to its implementation, largely on the advice of foreign policy experts and the CIA. He felt betrayed by the outcome.

His view of the establishment and experts became even more jaundiced after a similar experience with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Greenfield works hard to distinguish a wise skepticism on the part of Kennedy versus an ignorant skepticism on the part of Trump. This is a distinction without a difference. Experts and the establishment are moderately useful on occasion. Wisdom is distinguishing the occasions.

From my perspective, Kennedy was wise to be cautiously skeptical of the establishment and the deep state and so is Trump. The establishment track record in terms of results achieved for the average American has been pretty dismal over the past two or even three decades. Indeed we seem to have seen a lot of the toxic blend of ignorance, arrogance, and corruption which has more or less marked the past three administrations.

Trump and Kennedy both had to earn their stripes in the face of an implacable establishment and deep state. The establishment is much larger and more entrenched now than it was fifty years ago. Trump has been under sustained attack (verbal and political) since the day of his victory and from a broader array of bad actors. In contrast, the academy was Kennedy's cheering section (with some exceptions). The press was mixed. The political opposition heterogeneous and therefore perforce more moderate. The entertainment industry enamored with Camelot.

Greenfield is right to draw the parallel, as reluctant as he seems to be to acknowledge it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

The Beach by Rafael Cidoncha

The Beach by Rafael Cidoncha

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0.4% of adults are responsible for 73% of political tweeting. And 75% of the 0.4% are far left.

I have been saying this for a long time. The mainstream media are especially prone to bubbles and seem to be especially susceptible to Twitter bubbles and academia bubbles. The nonsense from those sources get amplified by the gullible MSM and then it all seems real. Except that it is not.

Most people rub along pretty well with most other people. They spend more time on sports than they do on politics. They are way more polite than anything you will see on late night or the news. Polarization? Climate Change? Race Relations? Patriarchy? Rape Culture? White Privilege? All of it and much more is simply the product of a very few, very loud voices in a handful of places blown all out of proportion.

Here is some supporting evidence for that contention. From Just 6% of US adults on Twitter account for 73% of political tweets… and they disapprove of Trump by Sarah Perez.

As a baseline:
Only 22% of U.S. adults even have a Twitter account, and of those, only 31% are defined as “political tweeters” — that is, they’ve posted at least five tweets and have posted at least twice about politics during the study period.

Within this broader group of political tweeters, just 6% are defined as “prolific” — meaning they’ve posted at least 10 tweets and at least 25% of their tweets mention national politics.

This small subset then goes on to create 73% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the subject of national politics.
6% X 31% % 22% = 0.4%

0.4% of Americans are responsible for 73% of all political tweets. What would you like to wager as to the degree to which that 0.4% are representative of Americans at large?
What’s concerning about the data is that it’s those who are either far to the left or far to the right who are the ones dominating the political conversation on Twitter’s platform. A majority of the prolific political tweeters (55%) say they identify as either “very liberal” or “very conservative.” Among the non-political tweeting crowd, only 28% chose a more polarized label for themselves.

This polarized subgroup also heavily leans left. For example, those who strongly approve of President Trump generated 25% of all tweets mentioning national politics. But those who strongly disapprove of Trump generated 72% of all tweets mentioning national politics. (They’re also responsible for 80% of all tweets from U.S. adults on the platform.)
So 0.3% of the 0.4% are far left. And they are who set the mainstream media agenda. A tiny unrepresentative fraction of the great American commonweal.

You wake up in the morning and look at some of the headlines which seem far adrift not only from reality but from commonsense and you think "How on earth could they be writing this nonsense). Look no further than the 0.3% of far left shouter oon Twitter.

All Social Justice Warriors are pecksniffs but not all pecksniffs are social justice warriors

Just came across a word I haven't seen or thought of in a long while - Pecksniff.

An unctuous hypocrite, a person who affects benevolence or pretends to have high moral principles; (also) a person who interferes officiously in the business of others. Frequently attributive Also (occasionally) as adjective.


Mid 19th century; earliest use found in The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal. From the name of Mr Pecksniff, a hypocritical character in Charles Dickens's novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.
Perhaps this a solution to a longstanding inaccuracy that has bothered me which can be summarized as:
All Social Justice Warriors are pecksniffs but not all pecksniffs are social justice warriors.
People who subscribe to the garden variety postmodernist ideas - social justice theory, feminist theory, critical race theory, critical theory, deconstructionism, gender theory, etc. - typically are not thinkers. They hold these ideas through some emotional appeal (or character defect), not necessarily because they have engaged with them on an epistemic or philosophical level, or have read anything about them. Postmodernism is effectively the advocacy branch of socialism and yet many, many good people holding these obnoxious ideas would not consider themselves socialist.

It is a fair point and referring to them as Social Justice Warriors has always bothered me somewhat. Partly because it is mildly dismissive and partly because it often is not technically accurate. You can parrot ideas without understanding them.

Most these ideas, while often having a very small nugget of insight, are usually blown way out proportion. The nugget of true insight cannot bear the weight of the nonsensical extrapolation.

While SJW has bothered me, I have never come up with an adequate alternative. Pecksniff is actually pretty close to the real distinction. Most of the banal evil of people spouting SJW ideas is not in the ideas themselves (bad as they are) but in their associated behavior. They are nearly all Dolores Umbrage models of humanity, happily convinced of their moral virtue and inherent goodness and simultaneously capable of extreme cruelty and yet completely unaware of the dichotomy.

Pecksniff better captures exactly the type of person who is so aggravating and unconsciously evil in effect, though not in action.
An unctuous hypocrite, a person who affects benevolence or pretends to have high moral principles; (also) a person who interferes officiously in the business of others.
Extending the idea even further. What is the political disturbance we are seeing across the OECD? The MSM, Clerisy, and Mandarin Class characterize it as polarization or emergent populism. I have characterized it as a revolt of the citizens against the Mandarin Class Establishment. I think that characterization is functionally correct but another springs to mind. The Rise Against the Pecknsiffs.

Certainly, most citizens dislike the corruption and incompetence of the Mandarin Class Establishment. But perhaps almost as much a motivation to overturn the Mandarin Class Establishment is due to the behaviors on display. The Mandarin Class Establishment are characterized by unctuousness towards dictators and tyrants, they are violent against independent thinkers, they are disdainful of those not part of the Mandarin Class Establishment, not to say disrespectful and dismissive.

It is bad enough to have to deal with an establishment which is ignorant and corrupt but that can be managed as long as they are far away and inconsequential. But when they become intrusive and close, the ignorance is on display with arrogance and the corruption is paired with dismissiveness. No wonder ordinary citizens rebel against such presumption.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

In the days of sail and outsourced naval action

From Stranger than fiction: Privateer action off Madagascar 1806 by Antoine Vanner.
A John Myers was serving as first lieutenant on the privateer Tamar in September 1806. (His identity was uncertain – see note at end as regards his possible subsequent career). Close to Madagascar this vessel captured a small French privateer, the Bon Fortune, which was operating out of the French island stronghold, the Isle de France, now known as Mauritius. The crew was removed to the Tamar and Myers took over the Bon Fortune with a prize crew of fourteen men. The two vessels separated in the night but the following morning Myers saw a strange sail approaching at speed and her general appearance indicated that she was La Brave, a large privateer carrying 16 guns and 130 men, which had been operating in the area with considerable success.

Myers recognised that he had no hope of escaping this enemy vessel or of defeating her in straight combat but he settled on a stratagem that was as audacious as it was dangerous. La Brave had a reputation for capturing her prizes by boarding with almost her entire crew, a manoeuvre that avoided damage and potential loss of valuable cargos. Myers accordingly brought the Bon Fortune’s two portside guns across to supplement the two on the starboard side, on which La Brave was approaching. He had them all loaded and then the remaining gunpowder was then dumped overboard. His vessel carried one boat only and this he had lowered from the stern, filled with small-arms and secured close to the cabin’s portside port. He then briefed his crew on what he wanted of them and waited. As La Brave closed to “within pistol shot” the Bon Fortune opened fire and received a broadside in return. The French ship then crashed into her, her bowsprit lodging in the Bon Fortune’s rigging. Briefly locked together, La Brave repeated the manoeuvre for which she was known – the greater part of her crew, all but four men, swarming across to take the prize. They met no opposition. Myers and his crew had retreated to the stern cabin and had locked themselves in. The French placed guards on the door to prevent a sally.
Read on at the link for the denouement.

There is no more patent folly in the world than to reduce these things to the measure of our own power and capacity.

From Essays by Montaigne. Translated by John M. Cohen
It is a stupid presumption to go about despising and condemning as false anything that seems to us improbable; this is a common fault among those who think they have more intelligence than the crowd. I used to be like that once, and if I heard talk of ghosts walking or prognostications of future events, of enchantments or sorceries, or some other tale I could not swallow, I would pity the poor people who were taken in by such nonsense. And now I find that I was at least as much to be pitied myself. Not that experience has since shown me anything that transcends my former beliefs, though this has not been for lack of curiosity; but reason has taught me to condemn anything so positively as false and impossible is to claim that our own brains have the privilege of knowing the bounds and limits of God's will, and of mother nature's power. I have learned too, that there is no more patent folly in the world than to reduce these things to the measure of our own power and capacity.

Unnamed by Michael McCurdy

Unnamed by Michael McCurdy

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The DNA in these districts is flecked with disadvantage

An interesting update on a field which has many nervous. From The promise and peril of the new science of social genomics by David Adam. Part of the concern is that the large swarth of blank slaters in academia simply refuse to acknowledge variant impact of heterogenous DNA and the capacity of DNA to affect behaviors. That is mostly Luddism mixed with ideological obsession.

The second concern among those who accept genetics, evolution and DNA is milder but still strong. Just how might people misuse new knowledge. It is always a fair question and the plausible scenarios are certainly frightening even though in almost instances, the reality is rarely anywhere new as dystopian as the chatter.
The deep coal mine at the Yorkshire village of Kellingley closed in 2015 — the last of more than 1,000 such pits that once drove British industry. As the mines closed, the jobs went with them. Faced with economic and social decline, many people who could moved away.

Geneticist Abdel Abdellaoui has never been to Kellingley or any of the United Kingdom’s other former coal-mining regions. But he has found something surprising about the towns and their inhabitants. His research shows that the DNA in these districts is flecked with disadvantage, just as the coal seams once threaded through the ground.

By looking at the genomes of people living in former coal-mining areas, he has found genetic signatures associated with spending fewer years at school compared with people outside those areas, and — at weaker significance levels — variants that correlate with lower socio-economic status. Some genetic variants even correlate with political persuasion and whether or not communities voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Abdellaoui, who works at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, acknowledges that he is venturing onto politically charged ground. “I try to understand human genetic variation and this is what I run into,” he says.

The study — published this week in Nature Human Behaviour — is a high-profile example of an emerging trend: using huge amounts of data and computing power to uncover genetic contributions to complex social traits. Studies published in the past decade have examined genetic variants linked to aggression, same-sex sexual behaviour, well-being and antisocial behaviours, as well as the tendency to drink and smoke. In doing such science, geneticists are heading for controversial territory. They have even been accused of “opening a new door to eugenics”, according to the title of a 2018 MIT Technology Review article by science historian Nathaniel Comfort2.

To the geneticists and social scientists doing this work, the results offer a useful and important guide to the relative contributions of nature and nurture to specific behavioural traits — just as genetic analysis can already highlight people who have an increased risk of cancer or heart disease. The approach could, for example, improve understanding of how the environment affects complex traits, and so offer a way to intervene to improve areas such as public education.

“It is super-exciting,” says Philipp Koellinger, a genoeconomist at Vrije University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “It gives us better and more-precise ways for scientists to answer questions they have been interested in for a long time.”

Caveats abound. The genetic contribution to any behavioural trait is relatively small and easily swamped by the influence of the environment. The studies can reveal only whether someone is likely to have a certain trait, and cannot predict the qualities of any one individual. Most scientists are quick to point out why they do this work — to establish what role, if any, genetics has in behaviour — and to lay out its limitations.
Read the whole thing for a useful update.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

The Great Revealing Continues

How far will the mainstream media go in their partisan advocacy? Astonishingly far.

A human being lost his life. Evil, but human. There is a tragedy in there. More than that, he apparently took several of his children who must be admitted as innocents. We should pray for their lost lives.

However. He was the leader who oversaw the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, drowned his enemies, threw gays from rooftops, serially raped women captives including an American aid worker, who attempted the eradication and genocide of a whole people, the Yazidi, killing the men and enslaving the women, and ultimately led the war which has seen the death of tens if not hundreds of thousands and caused millions to flee to refugee camps.

Across the board the usual MSM suspects are trying to either downplay the evil, pretend the death was inconsequential, disavow Trump's role as the person who authorized it, claim that it is all part of a diplomatic failure, etc. All in order to fulfill their partisan role.

I think it is right to question how far we go in celebrating the loss of a human life, even an evil life. But presidents always do this. There is no real substantive difference between Trump and Obama and Clinton (making a joke of Gaddafi's death) in this regard. And there is no doubt that the death of such a capable enemy means life for American soldiers, for the people of Syria and the region, and a form of justice for his millions of victims.

But for the Washington Post to run this headline?

That was his distinguishing characteristic? That he was an austere religious scholar? That is an almost impossible-to-conceive formulation and yet that was, as a product of the reporter, layers and layers of fact-checkers, and presumably multiple editors, the angle with which they ran? The Great Revealing continues. If the MSM are not the enemy of the people as Trump alleged, they seem to be working hard to earn that distinction.

Appropriately, they now have their own hashtag, #WaPoDeathNotices mocking their decrepit "journalism". Click through for wit, more or less sharp.

A handful of others:

This one probably takes a cake, if not the cake.

In matters of opinion, there is no science.

The full results of the Great American Read. As good, and as objectionable, as any other opinion-based list. In declining order.
To Kill a Mockingbird

Outlander (Series)

Harry Potter (Series)

Pride and Prejudice

Lord of the Rings

Gone with the Wind

Charlotte's Web

Little Women

Chronicles of Narnia

Jane Eyre

Anne of Green Gables

Grapes of Wrath

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Book Thief

Great Gatsby

The Help

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer


And Then There Were None

Atlas Shrugged

Wuthering Heights

Lonesome Dove

Pillars of the Earth



A Prayer for Owen Meany

Color Purple

Alice in Wonderland

Great Expectations

Catcher in the Rye

Where the Red Fern Grows


The Da Vinci Code

The Handmaid's Tale


The Little Prince

Call of the Wild

The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy

The Hunger Games

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Joy Luck Club


The Giver

Memoirs of a Geisha

Moby Dick

Catch 22

Game of Thrones (series)

Foundation (series)

War and Peace

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Jurassic Park

The Godfather

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Notebook

The Shack

A Confederacy of Dunces

The Hunt for Red October


The Martian

The Wheel of Time (series)


Crime and Punishment

The Sun Also Rises

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

A Separate Peace

Don Quixote

The Lovely Bones

The Alchemist

Hatchet (series)

Invisible Man

The Twilight Saga (series)

Tales of the City (series)

Gulliver's Travels

Ready Player One

Left Behind (series)

Gone Girl


The Pilgrim's Progress

Alex Cross Mysteries (series)

Things Fall Apart

Heart of Darkness


Flowers in the Attic

Fifty Shades of Grey

The Sirens of Titan

This Present Darkness


Another Country

Bless Me, Ultima

Looking for Alaska

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Swan Song

Mind Invaders

White Teeth


The Coldest Winter Ever

The Intuitionist

Doña Bárbára

We mostly read for story, not for style

From The Way We Read Now by Adam Kirsch.

What makes a book popular? What makes a book enduring? What makes a book consequential? Each a million dollar question.

The challenges are enormous. How do you measure popularity? How do you measure consequentiality? How do you measure durability? How do you deal with the recency effect? How do you address the disconnect between commercial success and critical reception? How do you address the age cohort issue? How do you address translations? How do you address the confounding factor when books are turned into movies?

As with any survey, the results depend on the definitions used and the populations being sampled. Pick you definitions and pick your populations and you pretty much have your answers.

None of this stops newspapers, magazines and others from assembling new lists that other can berate, mock, admire, or use.

In this instance they are using Great American Read.
When the novelist Philip Roth died in May, the obituaries and tributes agreed that he was (to quote a few choice descriptions) “towering,” “pre-eminent” and a “giant of the American novel.” In the opinion of those who create the official narrative of American literature—the critics who write about it, the professors who teach it, the publishers who sell it—there was no one bigger than Roth. The one question few stopped to ask—and maybe an obituary was not the place to ask it—is whether the reading public agreed. Is Philip Roth in fact one of America’s favorite novelists? Can such a thing even be measured?

As it turns out, it can—and he isn’t. We know this thanks to “The Great American Read,” a new initiative from PBS, which set out to produce a list of America’s 100 favorite works of fiction. The alphabetical list (the books aren’t ranked) was released this spring, based on a poll of more than 7,000 American readers. The results of the poll were winnowed down by an advisory panel of “literary industry professionals” using a few rules: The books had to be published (though not necessarily written) in English, with a series like “Harry Potter” counted as one title, and there could be no more than one book per author.
There is a lot of discussion of the issues, particularly the obviousness of the recency effect (23% of the nominated books on the list of 100 were published in the past 19 years, an improbable outcome if we are weighting durability as important.)

But then Kirsch goes on to another observation.
Beyond statistics, however, there are also literary insights that can be deduced from the Great American Read list. For one thing, it seems clear that American readers don’t care very much about good prose. “The Da Vinci Code” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” are regularly cited as examples of terrible writing, but both were mega-best sellers, and both find a place among the top 100. This is not simply a matter of readers preferring genre writing to literary writing. Rather, it appears that, in any genre, readers prefer strictly functional prose to stylistic elegance or idiosyncrasy. Isaac Asimov is on the top 100 list, but not Philip K. Dick ; James Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries and Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” but not Elmore Leonard or Raymond Chandler.

Another way of putting it is that when Americans read, we mostly read for story, not for style. We want to know what happens next, and not to be slowed down by writing that calls attention to itself. According to one familiar indictment of modern literature, today’s literary writers are unpopular precisely because they have lost interest in telling stories and become obsessed with technique. In the 20th century, this argument goes, literature became esoteric, self-regarding and difficult, losing both the storytelling power and the mass readership that writers like Balzac, Dickens and Twain had enjoyed.
It is an interesting observation.

Bathing girl on Hornbaek Beach by Paul Gustav Fischer (1860-1934)

Bathing girl on Hornbaek Beach by Paul Gustav Fischer (1860-1934)

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Who are you?

The British Parliament of recent years has been a sad shadow of its earlier self but it is always entertaining.

Click to link to original.

Those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure

From The Autobiography of Benjamin Benjamin Franklin. Wisdom that is especially relevant to our public discourse today.
While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood's), at the end of which there were two little sketches of the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a specimen of a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procur'd Xenophon's Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many instances of the same method. I was charm'd with it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved. I continu'd this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat everyone of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously:
"Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot;"

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Dulle Griet

I thought someone was being snarky titling this as Mad Greta, 1563 by Peter Bruegel The Elder, making fun of mad "How dare you" apocalyptic Greta Thunberg. It is a very Hiernoymus Bosch like painting.

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But . . . no. From Wikipedia.
Dulle Griet (anglicized as Dull Gret), also known as Mad Meg, is a figure of Flemish folklore who is the subject of a 1563 oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting depicts a virago, Dulle Griet, who leads an army of women to pillage Hell, and is currently held and exhibited at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp.
Gulle Griet, Dull Gret, Mad Greta, Mad Meg - seems like something of a loose continuum.

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Winter in Odnes, Norway, 1935 by Peder Mønsted (Danish painter) 1859 - 1941

Winter in Odnes, Norway, 1935 by Peder Mønsted (Danish painter) 1859 - 1941

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When they talk about reason they mean a mishmash of ideas they picked up at university.

From The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray.
There is nothing singularly British in this development. Though the term political technology first emerged in post-communist Russia to describe the use of new media in military-style strategies of deception, it is something practised in many countries. The mutation of politics into warfare is contagious in much the same way that freedom was once supposed to be contagious.

The technologists of power are today’s true rationalists. That superior intelligence is found among the practitioners of populism is a fact of our time. When liberals talk about reason they mean a mishmash of ideas they picked up at university. Scraps of Rawls, Dworkin and Thomas Piketty, together with a smattering of modish conspiracy theories, form the folk wisdom of the thinking classes. Rationality means deferring to this ragbag of ephemera and ignoring enduring truths about the deciding forces in politics.
The whole article is an interesting take on the turmoil in Britain but it has echoes of the struggle between citizens and establishment which is going on in countries around the world.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Unnamed by John Craig English

Unnamed by John Craig English

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Sex Selection

Only 1.3% of deaths from drug overdose involve prescription drugs

At last, data I have been seeking. From The Contribution of Prescribed and Illicit Opioids to Fatal Overdoses in Massachusetts, 2013-2015 by Alexander Y. Walley, MD, MSc, Dana Bernson, MPH, and Marc R. Larochelle.

Ever since the opioid epidemic hit, now taking 70,000 lives a year, the media and policy makers have focused on prescribed drugs as the source of overdoses which has always struck me as extremely unlikely. That focus I have attributed to lawyers colluding with regulators in order to to be able to sue pharmaceutical companies. A convenient scapegoat but, my suspicion, not the actual culprit.

But so far that speculation is based only on reason, knowledge of incentive structures, and observation of human nature, particularly the sub-species, homo politicus, for whom a guiltless culprit who can be sued is more desirable than the hard word of addressing the real cause. I have had no data.

This study is the first I have seen with actual data. It seems to support my supposition. Policy setters have been going after the easy cash cows, not actually crafting policy to the real circumstances. From the findings:
Of 2916 decedents with complete toxicology reports, 1789 (61.4%) had heroin and 1322 (45.3%) had fentanyl detected in postmortem toxicology reports. Of the 491 (16.8%) decedents with ≥1 opioid prescription active on the date of death, prescribed opioids were commonly not detected in toxicology reports, specifically: buprenorphine (56 of 97; 57.7%), oxycodone (93 of 176; 52.8%), and methadone prescribed for opioid use disorder (36 of 112; 32.1%). Only 39 (1.3%) decedents had an active prescription for each opioid detected in toxicology reports on the date of death.

My epistemic world

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Lunchtime by Anna Ancher (1859-1935, Danish)

Lunchtime by Anna Ancher (1859-1935, Danish)

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Dreaming Octopus

China consumes more coal than all the other countries of the world combined.

That's interesting. From BP's Statistical Review of World Energy via Matt Ridley.

China consumes more coal than all the other countries of the world combined.

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I am not an immiseration advocate such as the social justice global warmists. All countries ought to generate energy in order to life their people out of poverty. Ideally clean, renewable or plentiful, efficient energy. Such as nuclear. But each country starts from a different point of wealth, culture, technology, institutional coherence and legitimacy, etc. You do what you need to do to make everyone's lives better.

So this graph is not so much an issue of alarm as proportionality. Global warming advocates are not merely ignorant bullies. Like all bullies, they are also cowards. They would much rather make the lives miserable of the ordinary citizens of open democracies than they would confront the aspirations and power of the largest totalitarian state which is actually responsible for most of the problem they claim to be concerned about.

Religion and Meaning

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Sea Nymphs, 1896 by Abbey Altson (1866-1949)

Sea Nymphs, 1896 by Abbey Altson (1866-1949)

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The present findings suggest that denigrating today’s youth is a fundamental illusion grounded in several distinct cognitive mechanisms

Hmmm. A few years ago I blogged The new generation is indeed not the equal of its progenitors commenting on the ages-old Curmudgeon's Lament (kids these days . . .) and a way to see that it might have some validity.

My alternative or supplemental explanation of the Curmudgeon's Lament is that 1) civilizations rise and fall, 2) they produce more literature at the apex or just past the apex when they are declining, 3) higher production volume leads to disproportionate survival, 4) written at the time of decline, the children likely were inferior to those who built the civilization. Therefore, the plaint of kids these days is an artifact of a survival bias of complaints.

Someone has actually done some research to try and quantify the Curmudgeon's Lament. From Kids these days: Why the youth of today seem lacking by John Protzko and Jonathan W. Schooler. From the Abstract:
In five preregistered studies, we assess people’s tendency to believe “kids these days” are deficient relative to those of previous generations. Across three traits, American adults (N=3,458; Mage = 33-51 years) believe today’s youth are in decline; however, these perceptions are associated with people’s standing on those traits. Authoritarian people especially think youth are less respectful of their elders, intelligent people especially think youth are less intelligent, well-read people especially think youth enjoy reading less. These beliefs are not predicted by irrelevant traits. Two mechanisms contribute to humanity’s perennial tendency to denigrate kids: (1) a person-specific tendency to notice the limitations of others where one excels, (ii) a memory bias projecting one’s current qualities onto the youth of the past. When observing current children, we compare our biased memory to the present and a decline appears. This may explain why the kids these days effect has been happening for millennia.
The discussion part of the paper is actually more revealing than the abstract.
In five studies, we found evidence of a general tendency to disparage the present youth across traits (respect for elders and enjoying reading) and a trait-specific tendency to see today’s youth as especially lacking on those traits on which one particularly excels (respect for elders, intelligence, and enjoying reading). Although the trait specificity of the kids these days effect was observed across three domains, there was no impact of excelling on a trait other than the one in question. Someone who has a high respect for authority is especially likely to believe that kids these days no longer respect their elders, but not necessarily that kids these days are in decline in other ways (e.g., becoming less intelligent). We also found indirect evidence for at least two mechanisms underpinning this effect. First, people who objectively excel in a dimension are more likely to notice others’ failings on that dimension, for both the youth and adults of the day. In addition, excelling on a dimension also leads people to project back to both themselves and their peers in the past, believing, for example, “because I like to read now everyone liked to read when I was a child.” Manipulating this subjective belief, partialing out objective standing, causes a reduction in the kids these days effect through this proposed mechanism. Apparently, when observing current children, we compare our biased memory of the past to a more objective assessment of the present, and a natural decline seems to appear. This can explain why the kids these days effect has been happening for millennia.

This backward projection from the self to kids likely occurs because people have fewer details available when recalling past peers than when assessing present adult peers. People use their present self as a proxy for their past self as well as projecting onto past others. When judging present others, we have readily available information and do not need to rely so much on self-projections. The causal effects shown in study 5, however, were small, suggesting additional mechanisms of the kids these days effect to those explored here.

The present findings suggest that denigrating today’s youth is a fundamental illusion grounded in several distinct cognitive mechanisms, including a specific bias to see others as lacking in those domains on which one excels and a memory bias projecting one’s current traits to past generations. It may be the case that, in some domains, children really have been in decline; in which case, our findings also highlight how accurate perceptions of declines relate to individuals’ standing on those traits. Although we cannot rule out actual declines, it is likely that part of the kids these days effect is illusory. In some domains (e.g., intelligence), children are increasing (13), and there is no objective reason more intelligent people would falsely believe the opposite. Although increases in intelligence have stalled in some countries, even reversing in some Nordic countries, in the United States, where these participants are from, intelligence continues to rise (15). Furthermore, in other domains (e.g., reading and respect for elders), the same complaints have been leveled against youth of the day for the past 2500 years; this would imply a steady deterioration over millennia, which seems highly unlikely. We find that perceptions of a decline in today’s youth can be experimentally manipulated by altering people’s memories of themselves as children. Although the cognitive mechanisms that unfairly impugn children today are likely to persist for millennia to come, knowledge of their sources may minimize unwarranted gloom about future generations.
Yep, cognitive mechanisms lead to the Curmudgeon's Lament. The survivorship bias cannot be ruled out based on this research. Real declines cannot be rule out either.

The trait bias is an interesting discovery. That reader's think kids don't read as much, that authoritarian personalities think kids don't have as much respect, etc.

Checking the math - the downfall of the blind auditions research

I have long been very skeptical of claims of systemic discrimination against various groups. Discrimination by individuals certainly exists, sometimes deliberately, but it seems to me to be relatively rare and, more importantly, noisy. In other words whatever the category of identity, you have some individuals discriminating positively and some discriminating negatively.

Other forms of disparate impact exist. People of one identity or another are less prevalent in an occupation, for example, but almost always, once you begin to take into account reasonable confounding factors, the disparateness disappears. Confounding factors such as age, height, IQ, education attainment, criminal record, duration in the field, etc.

There is person-to-person discrimination, but it is noisy and rarely systemic.

There is frequent disparate representation which creates the appearance of discrimination but it is a product of confounds.

I am certain that there are likely occasions where there is systemic discrimination at an enterprise level because of someone in a particular position being able to hijack the selection process.

But that becomes hard to identify because of all the over-claiming.

One of the few studies I have seen which I took to be reasonable evidence of possible systemic bias was the orchestra blind selections study.

From Blind Spots in the ‘Blind Audition’ Study by Christina Hoff Sommers.
It is one of the most famous social-science papers of all time. Carried out in the 1990s, the “blind audition” study attempted to document sexist bias in orchestra hiring. Lionized by Malcolm Gladwell, extolled by Harvard thought leaders, and even cited in a dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the study showed that when orchestras auditioned musicians “blindly,” behind a screen, women’s success rates soared. Or did they?

Nobody questions the basic facts that led to the study’s publication. During the 1970s and ’80s, America’s orchestras became more open and democratic. To ensure impartiality, several introduced blind auditions. Two economists, Claudia Goldin of Harvard and Cecilia Rouse of Princeton, noticed that women’s success rates in auditions increased along with the adoption of screens. Was it a coincidence or the result of the screens? That is the question the two economists tried to answer in “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians,” published in 2000 in the American Economic Review.

They collected four decades of data from eight leading American orchestras. But the data were inconclusive: The paper includes multiple warnings about small sample sizes, contradictory results and failures to pass standard tests of statistical significance. But few readers seem to have noticed. What caught everyone’s attention was a big claim in the final paragraph: “We find that the screen increases—by 50 percent—the probability that a woman will be advanced from certain preliminary rounds and increases by severalfold the likelihood that a woman will be selected in the final round.”

According to Google, the study has received more than 1,500 citations in academic articles and thousands of media mentions. It has been featured in TED Talks, celebrated at the Davos conference, and showcased in so many diversity workshops that one attendee begged never to hear about it again. Inspired by the “academically verified Orchestra study,” GapJumpers, a Silicon Valley startup, offers companies software to conduct blind interviews in other contexts.

The study’s appeal is clear: Two prominent economists, in a top journal, wielding state-of-the-art econometrics, captured and quantified bias against women and documented a solution. Or so it seemed.

The research went uncriticized for nearly two decades. That changed recently, when a few scholars and data scientists went back and read the whole study. The first thing they noticed is that the raw tabulations showed women doing worse behind the screens. But perhaps, Ms. Goldin and Ms. Rouse explained, blind auditions “lowered the average quality of female auditionees.” To control for ability, they analyzed a small subset of candidates who took part in both blind and nonblind auditions in three of the eight orchestras.

The result was a tangle of ambiguous, contradictory trends. The screens seemed to help women in preliminary audition rounds but men in semifinal rounds. None of the findings were strong enough to draw broad conclusions one way or the other.
A more technical review is available from Orchestrating false beliefs about gender discrimination by Jonatan Pallesen.
The paper also looks at the issue from another angle: How do blind auditions impact the likelihood of a woman ending up being hired? The results in this section (even after a statistically questionable data split) are not significant, as they state in the paper:
Women are about 5 percentage points more likely to be hired than are men in a completely blind audition, although the effect is not statistically significant. The effect is nil, however, when there is a semifinal round, perhaps as a result of the unusual effects of the semifinal round. The impact for all rounds [columns (5) and (6)] is about 1 percentage point, although the standard errors are large and thus the effect is not statistically significant.
So, in conclusion, this study presents no statistically significant evidence that blind auditions increase the chances of female applicants. In my reading, the unadjusted results seem to weakly indicate the opposite, that male applicants have a slightly increased chance in blind auditions; but this advantage disappears with controls.
I should have known better as it is sociology where hardly any research holds up. I have long respected Claudia Goldin (one of the authors of the original research) and the quality of her work. It sounded plausible, I trusted her, and I did not bother to do the detailed paper review which Pallesen has done. Shame on me.

But shame on us all as well. This is a seminal research paper widely cited in the academic literature and even more widely referenced in casual conversation. Nearly twenty years, 1500 citations, thousands of presentations, tens of thousands of listeners. And no one checked the math.

And one of the few seemingly valid pieces of evidence to support systemic gender discrimination goes up in smoke.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Off Beat Humor

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Best of the Bee

Review of Malice

Finished Malice by Keigo Higashino. From the blurb.
Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he's planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

At the crime scene, Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka's best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same public school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi eventually left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka.

As Kaga investigates, he eventually uncovers evidence that indicates that the two writers' relationship was very different that they claimed, that they were anything but best friends. But the question before Kaga isn't necessarily who, or how, but why. In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the killer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. And if Kaga isn't able to uncover and prove why the murder was committed, then the truth may never come out.

Malice is one of the bestselling―the most acclaimed―novel in Keigo Higashino's series featuring police detective Kyochiro Kaga, one of the most popular creations of the bestselling novelist in Asia.
I read foreign murder mysteries in part to be exposed to foreign cultures and traditions, literary and cultural. Malice could have been written anywhere. There is very little that is particularly Japanese. So don't read it for that purpose.

However, it is a pretty interesting exercise in unreliable narrators, shifting perspective, and evolving and refining knowledge. Page turning? No. Compelling, yeah, probably.

I enjoyed Malice. I won't read it again but I would something else by the same author.

Parents joy, 1903 by Jean Eugéne Buland (1852-1926)

Parents joy, 1903 by Jean Eugéne Buland (1852-1926)

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It’s about protecting civil liberties, and it’s deeply ethical

An excellent and thoughtful piece. From What Teaching Ethics in Appalachia Taught Me About Bridging America’s Partisan Divide by Evan Mandery.

The jaundiced eye would look at this and say, oh, just another Yankee coming to anthropologically examine the rural rubes. But fortunately, Mandery is not that sort of researcher. He is genuinely interested (and interesting).
BOONE, N.C.—On the first day of my “Justice in America” seminar at Appalachian State University, I offer a deal to a student named Forrest Myers. I explain that I’m a tough grader and that the class average will be around a B-minus. “I’ll give you an A,” I say. “All you have to do is designate someone to get an F.”

The other students laugh nervously while Forrest considers the deal.

I’ve asked this question at the beginning of every semester for over 20 years, mostly to liberal northeasterners at Harvard and the City University of New York. It’s a good starting point because it tends to show commonality. The beginning of ethical thinking is to accept that other people’s interests matter. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone take me up on my offer.

But I’ve come here seeking difference, not similarity. The 2016 election exposed a national rift so deep that it feels as if even reasonable conversation is impossible. I’m a liberal New Yorker, but I know that plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum worry that this divide poses an existential threat to the American democratic project. On the most controversial issues—race and immigration, to name just two—we’ve lost the capacity for compromise because we presume the most sinister motives about our opponents. I’ve arrived here in the fall of 2018, hoping to find a wider range of views—not to change anyone’s opinions but rather to see whether there remain principles and a shared language of ethics that bind us together.

So I’m as curious as everyone else in the class about how Forrest is going to answer.
Read the article for the answer.

Mandery is a professor at John Jay College in New York. He comes to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina to get a sense of similarities and differences. As he notes,
But Boone is a little blue island in a sea of red. You’d have to drive about 30 miles to find another polling district that voted for Hillary Clinton, and there are only a total of five within a 75-miles radius.


But Boone is a little blue island in a sea of red. You’d have to drive about 30 miles to find another polling district that voted for Hillary Clinton, and there are only a total of five within a 75-miles radius.
His class is a structured experiment.
My class is modeled on one created by Michael Sandel, a charismatic, globetrotting political philosopher who has taught “Justice” to more than 15,000 Harvard undergraduates. It’s the perfect vehicle for learning about people’s political values. The syllabus pairs readings in classic philosophy—John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, John Rawls—with modern policy dilemmas including abortion, affirmative action and hate speech.

But inevitably, all journeys of ethical discovery begin with the trolley problem.

“A trolley is barreling down the tracks to which five people have been tied,” I explain during our second meeting. “You can flip a switch and divert the trolley, but you’d kill someone else who’s been tied to the sidetrack.”

I ask a young woman named Kierstin Davis what she would do. (It’s her real name—all of the students quoted here consented to participate in this article.) “I probably would flip the switch because I know less people would be killed,” she says. Almost all of her fellow students concur, albeit reluctantly. The notable exception is Jackson.

“You kill the one person,” he says without hesitation.

Jackson is wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a Carhartt shirt. His baseball cap, which he got on a trip to Yellowstone, displays the outline of a bison and mountains. In the discussion of grades, Jackson was the one who said that everyone deserved equal opportunity. I remind him of this, but he’s ready with a distinction: “In this situation you don’t have a choice—somebody has to die, so it goes beyond equal opportunity and becomes what this outcome is going to be.” It’s clear that Jackson will be a force. The distinction he’s drawing is smart—no one had to get an F in my first example, but, more importantly, it’s clear that he likes this kind of intellectual jousting.
Mandery, throughout the article, is dealing with individuals and their individual views and never uses anyone as a proxy for a group view. Wonderful.
But Jackson once again stands out. He says he’d kill his mom or even a baby if it meant saving more lives. “I mean, someone has to die either way and I’m fine putting my life—even if I had to spend the rest of my life in prison or whatever it is—to save the five versus the one.”

I haven’t known Jackson for long, but I believe that he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, and I can see that his classmates believe it too. Even if they don’t share his willingness to throw the switch on a family member, they see him as principled, not cruel. It’s a type of selflessness and consistency that seems lacking in contemporary discourse, in which people are too willing to prioritize what’s politically expedient over fundamental values. It’s what feels wrong, for example, about liberal intolerance of dissenting speech, especially on campus, or the rush to punish alleged sexual predators without due process. And it’s what feels equally wrong about conservatives who claim to revere life, and yet can display such brazen cruelty to immigrants and prisoners.
One of his points is for all the mainstream media hysterical cries of polarization, that is more rhetorical than real.
My students don’t come to class with signs around their necks announcing their political leanings. None of them were even old enough to vote in the 2016 election. But the near unanimity with which they responded to the trolley question is notable. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most people analyze these sort of dilemmas in more or less the same way.

Indeed, Jesse Graham, a professor at the University of Utah’s business school, says that for all their ideological differences, liberals and conservatives are pretty much identical in how they view trolley-like dilemmas. Graham has conducted a dozen studies on “trolleyology,” which occupies its own niche in social psychology research. “Liberals are a little bit more likely than conservatives to say, ‘OK, yes you can push the guy off the bridge to save the five people,’” Graham says, emphasizing a little. “It’s questionable whether you’d even say there’s a difference there,” he continues. “Overall liberals and conservatives are really similar.”
He makes a point which I believe to be critical but which is nearly absent in almost all talking head commentary.
Libertarians, however, are a different story. We don’t talk much about them—not members of the political party with that name, but rather people who believe in limited government. There are a lot of the latter (estimates range between 7 percent and 22 percent), and they merit greater discussion. Graham and his collaborators, including New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, have collected reams of data on people’s values at One instrument, called the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, measures the extent to which a person is influenced by five moral foundations: harm-care, fairness-reciprocity, ingroup loyalty, authority-respect and purity-sanctity. In a study of 12,000 libertarians, Graham found that libertarian responses to the MFQ differ more from either liberals or conservatives than liberals and conservatives’ answers differ from each other.

Graham explains that the libertarian cognitive style is cerebral rather than emotional. “Libertarians are far and away the most likely to say, ‘Yeah, push the guy off.’ They just see it as a math problem,” he tells me. “They have no squeamishness about having to kill the person.” It’s coldly calculating, but also, arguably, rigorously ethical. As Graham tells me this, I can’t help but think that efforts to unpack what separates red states from blue states haven’t been careful to differentiate between conservatives and libertarians. Venn diagrams of voters generally categorize voters as Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. But as is becoming increasingly apparent, the cool-headed libertarian in my classroom who’s willing to sacrifice his mother for the greater good doesn’t fit neatly into any of these circles.
So wrapped are the mainstream media in the polarization story that they fail to see what is right in front of them. Republican versus Democrat is such an archaic framing. And liberals versus conservative is incomplete.

Liberals, conservatives, libertarians and the moderates/undecideds/strategic voters is a better categorization. But even there it leaves too much unsaid. Liberals are really at least two categories - socialists and moderates. Conservatives are the most heterogeneous group - Classical Liberal conservatives (Locke, Smith, Hume, Mills, etc.), social conservatives, anti-communist conservatives, free market conservatives, religious conservatives, Burkean conservatives, Hayeckian conservatives, patriotic conservatives, etc.

Mainstream media are suffering from a problem of category error and they end up misreporting because they are misunderstanding what they are looking at. For example Burkean conservatives look an awful lot more like moderate liberals than they look like free-market conservatives. And neither of them look all that much like libertarians.

Refreshingly Mandery points out the consequence of these distinctions.
Strikingly, Jackson’s defense of gun ownership never once mentions a love of guns. He’s a “little-d” democrat who wants a super-process in place in case democracy, as his classmate Cole puts it, “fails to work or provide any meaningful benefits.” Resolving the ambiguity of for whom it’s supposed to work and who’s supposed to decide when change within the system is futile might be impossible, but it’s important to recognize the argument for what it is. It’s not about guns for the sake of guns, it’s about protecting civil liberties, and it’s deeply ethical.

In an article full of good insights (meaning they are insights with which I agree), this is one of the best.
Imagine if care were taken to frame the discussion not as outsiders trying to impose their will on people whose culture they did not understand, but rather as one among people with a shared interest in protecting the safety of their children. My suspicion is a conversation like that would reveal useful common ground. It’s an epiphany.

And it leads quickly to epiphany number two, which seems dramatically more important. If Americans are serious about reducing polarization, they’re going to have to start doing some careful listening, because what Jackson is saying has very little to do with what we say he’s saying.
For several years now, one of the filters I use all the time when hearing a debate or discussion is exactly this. Are the individuals talking engaging with one another's actual arguments or are they engaging with straw man versions of those arguments. Overwhelmingly, it is the latter. These aren't real discussions at all, usually are unhelpful and often destructive or divisive. They reflect an absence of respect for one another as individuals with sincere and specific actual beliefs which frequently end up being incorrectly characterized.

I often want to shout Distinguo! Or more simply, Listen!

Mandery moves on -
If one looks—and listens—carefully, a consensus reveals itself across a wide diversity of fields on the importance and untapped power of listening. The names and nuances of these approaches to careful listening differ, but they share two basic qualities.

The first is to listen with an open mind. NYU psychologist Carol Gilligan, who began the Radical Listening Project in 2017, says the essential step is “replacing judgment with curiosity,” or, as put by my student Gaby Romero, who has been trained in the diplomat Hal Saunders’ Sustained Dialogue protocol, “to acknowledge that everyone is there out of a genuine desire to learn and understand.” University of Michigan professor Donna Kaplowitz, who practices an approach known as Intergroup Dialogue, simply calls it “generous listening.”

The second quality is that all these approaches, in one way or another, ask the listener to inhabit another person. One element of Gilligan’s Listening Guide, which she developed and practiced in researching her seminal gender study, In a Different Voice, is to separate each phrase containing “I” from a narrative and list it in order of its appearance, thereby composing what Gilligan calls an “I poem.” Professor Sandel at Harvard does something similar when he teaches. After a student speaks in “Justice,” Sandel makes eye contact with the student, gestures in his or her direction, often with an open palm, and restates the argument in its most reasonable form. Years later, this remains my most lasting impression of the class.

The aim “is to create a space in which I can admit—let in—another person’s voice,” Gilligan says. It’s a way of stimulating empathy. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” Atticus Finch tells Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. An emerging body of research shows that Finch—or Harper Lee—was right.

Curious things start to happen to people when they listen generously. At the most superficial level, one hears things that he or she might not like. But one also hears the sincerity of people’s convictions, the authenticity of their experiences, and the nuance of their narratives. Being open is transformative because, almost inevitably, one finds that the stories they’ve been told about what people believe oversimplify reality.
Here I make a distinction. I agree with the sentiment and some element of Mandery's argument.

Mixing people together can be a great platform for opening clarifying discussions which build understanding and respect. Can. But not necessarily.

My reading of the research is that this works when there is some adjacency of interests or some commonality of experience.

If you simply mix people together, it may or may not work or even might be destructive, reinforcing prejudices or negative judgments.

Putting middle-class black kids together in the same classroom as middle class white kids can work terrifically. Each group has an adjacency of interests and a commonality of interests with the other that, reasonably moderated, can lead to much greater understanding. Same with all sorts of configurations. Poor white Christians with poor black Christians - they have an adjacency. Muslim businessmen and Jewish businessmen.

It can work.

But if don't seek the adjacency or commonality and don't facilitate it, it can be a disaster. Because there is an element missing from Mandery discussion. I am not faulting him because it is a treatment beyond the bounds of an article.

All of the above can work but often will not work where there are constraints. Specifically, when there is no time, when there are no resources, when there is extreme uncertainty and when there is the justifiable fear of death or illness, or subjugation. A proximity, not of adjacency and shared experience, but of a variant of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, War, Pestilence and Famine).

Putting rich suburban white (or Asian-American or Jewish or . . . ) kids in the same classroom as impoverished urban black (or hispanic or Asian-American or white . . . ) kids is a recipe for disaster. Not because they are black and white but because they have little or no adjacency of interests or commonality of experience. AND because one (or perhaps both) groups may have a heightened sensitivity to time, money, uncertainty and negative consequences. With extreme care and close facilitation, even this can be made to work but the probability of it working on its own is low.

I think we have suffered too long from a naive expectation that if only people can be with one another, they will find out that we are all human. The "Can't we all just get along" assumption. I think there is plenty of research which suggests otherwise. Proximity is no guaranty and can be a recipe for disaster.

Our basic freedoms of speech, of assembly, of religion, consent of the governed, rule of law, equality before the law, equality of human rights, individualism, etc. - all these things facilitate constructive debate. Mandery is illustrating how this can happen and he is good story teller. It is refreshing to read his article. Everyone who believes in these things, regardless of their specific policy interests or views, can engage with one another to mutual benefit.

The challenge is when engaging with someone who rejects some or all of the above predicate beliefs. Someone who believes in only one truth, who is fine punishing the "other", who in fact wishes to stamp out the "other", who believe rules are to be gamed for benefit, who rejects individual rights in pursuit of group interests, etc.

When these conditions prevail, then there is conflict and discord. Mandery finds all the predicates in place and constructive engagement, respectful dialogue, and personal learning occur. We know it can and does happen and this is a delightful affirmation of that.

But when the shared predicates are not in place, when the Four Horsemen are galloping afield, then simple engagement becomes far more challenging. That is beyond the purview of this article but it is a reality not to be ignored.