Some statistical notes

Source: The Atlantic
Source: The Atlantic

However, The Atlantic article notes that, “the significance of these figures may be hugely overblown. “Everybody who’s remotely professionally involved in this kind of stuff knows that beyond about 10, 15, 20 years, [population estimates] are basically useless,” says Dr. Sean Fox of the University of Bristol in the U.K.”

Personally, I’d still be worried.

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1. Rare events / things are likely to be over-represented in survey results due to random chance, if the chance of randomly picking that option among the survey items is higher than the chance of it occurring in real life. For example, let’s suppose I hand out 1000 surveys with three options to select from:

  1. Heterosexual
  2. Homosexual
  3. Asexual

Then chances are I will end up with an over-representation of asexuals. In real life, asexuality is rare–a British survey estimates it at about 1% of the British population, so I expect to get about 10 surveys marked asexual. But let’s suppose some people decide to just fill my survey out completely at random because they’re just here for the free M&Ms, or they’re not paying very good attention and mark the wrong box, or I accidentally make a mistake while tallying up the numbers. Then the chances of randomly ticking “asexual” are 33%. If 1% of responses are randomly incorrect, then I will get an additional 3.3 or so asexuals–that is, I will over-estimate the asexual population by about 33%. If 3% of responses are incorrect, then fully half of my reported asexuals aren’t asexual at all.

This problem will only get worse if there are two rare categories you can select on my survey. Suppose you can also select your race:

  1. White
  2. Black
  3. Hispanic
  4. Anything else

And we’re doing this survey in Comanche, TX, where Whites are 80%, Blacks are 1%, Hispanics are about 17%, and everyone else is about 2%.

The statistical odds of a black asexual in Comanche, TX, assuming these are independent variables, are therefore around 0.01%–in other words, we probably shouldn’t find any, so let’s hand out our survey to 10,000 people so we have a reasonable chance of finding one. (You know, pretending that Comanche has 10,000 people.)

If you’re filling this survey out randomly for the M&Ms, you’ve got a 25% chance of marking black and a 33% chance of marking asexual, for an 8.3% chance of marking both. If 1% of people do this, then we should see about 8 black asexuals–about 8 times as many as we ought to see.

A prominent real life demonstration of this effect was Pat Buchanan’s performance in the 2000 election in Florida. Voters had a close to 33% chance of randomly voting Buchanan if they mis-poked the ballot, but only 0.4% of people nationwide voted for Buchanan. This resulted in a large over-counting of votes for Buchanan.

Pop Palm Beach= 1.135 million * 51.3% voting rate = 582,255 voters. 0.4% of that is 2,329 votes. But if 1%–5,822–of those voters vote randomly, that’s another 1,921 votes for Buchanan. If the difference between winning and losing in Palm Beach comes down to less than 2,000 votes, then random chance, not democracy, is casting the deciding vote.

If your error rate goes above 1%, things obviously get even worse.

(To his credit, Pat Buchanan freely admitted that his anomalously high numbers in Palm Beach were probably due to people getting mixed up about the ballot.)

 

2. The black (African American) IQ score distribution may be wider and/or less normal than claimed.

The number of high-scoring blacks does not line up with the expected number of high-scoring blacks based on IQ distribution estimates. Pumpkin Person does a good breakdown of the math on this one, in their post, “Are too many U.S. blacks scoring high on IQ tests?

Clarifications about “As the Peacock Struts”

A few weeks ago,  wrote a post, “As the Peacock Struts: Are Liberals more competent than conservatives?” which a reader has pointed out to me has some poor phrasing and is generally not very well written.

I am therefore going to attempt a clarification.

The point of the post was that the morals people advocate have a lot to do with whatever happens to be a problem in their personal lives or the personal lives of the people around them.

Let’s run through a quick hypothetical. Suppose you grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of gang violence. You are not in a gang; in fact, you think gang violence is really bad. So you, like many people in your community, have joined many “anti-violence” organizations, go to anti-violence rallies, describe yourself as an Anti-Violence Crusader, etc.

Now let’s suppose you met someone from a far away community who was not an AVC. After staring at him in shock and horror for a moment, you burst out, “What do you mean you aren’t anti-violence? What are you, some kind of gang lover?”

Your new acquaintance scratches his head for a moment, then says, “Actually, I’m more of an anti-police brutality advocate, because the police in my community keep assaulting innocent people.”

You are now thoroughly horrified; the last thing you think any community needs is a more restrained police presence.

But your acquaintance is not actually an evil gang-violence advocate; gang violence just isn’t a problem in his community. Likewise, you are not actually advocating police brutality against innocent people; police brutality just isn’t a problem where you live.

Most people are not advocating universal moral principles that will work for everyone in the world, but instead are trying to help the people they know and address the problems they see in everyday life (or the media they consume).

If you know people whose lives were destroyed by divorce, then chances are you will have a rather dim view of divorce and will advocate against it. If divorce is a thing that doesn’t happen very often in your community, then chances are you won’t give it much thought. Within that context, people’s morals are probably basically functional, at least in the short-term.

This leads us to an obvious danger: advocating one particular situational morality to people in a different situation. This is generally called being a busy-body. A morality that has been transplanted out of the area it belongs in is likely to be highly damaging to the people it is inflicted upon.

The point was not “Oooh, Liberals are better than Conservatives; everyone should convert to atheism and go attend the nearest LGBTQ meeting.” I have no particular reason to believe that either of these behaviors leads to better life outcomes, much less that they would work for you. If anything, I suspect that conservative Christianity (of any stripe) is of great comfort and help to people enduring personal hardship. The idea that Evangelical Protestantism is uniquely causing high divorce rates in Appalachia is silly.

Long term, of course, what happens to be working now may not keep working; I think this is more or less what is happening in America (and much of the world) today. Changing conditions require changing priorities. Technology is changing incredibly quickly, and conditions in America (and the world) today are not what they were even a decade ago. An instinct for altruism that was functional in the conditions of 1800s Sweden, where the priority for survival was probably group cooperation to survive the winters, may be directly detrimental to Swedes in today’s world of smartphones and mass transportation, where non-Swedes can easily move to Sweden and take advantage of the Swedes’ generosity.

Betrayal

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The US government tested the effects of nuclear radiation and atomic warfare on live, human subjects–our own soldiers. Called the Desert Rock Exercises, (and Operation Plumbbob,) they destroyed the lives of thousands of Americans.

“In Operation Desert Rock, the military conducted a series of nuclear tests in the Nevada Proving Grounds between 1951 and 1957, exposing thousands of participants – both military and civilian – to high levels of radiation.

“In total, more nearly 400,000 American soldiers and civilians would be classified as ‘atomic veterans.’

“Though roughly half of those veterans were survivors of World War II, serving at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the rest were exposed to nuclear grounds tests which lasted until 1962.”

Sure, we could have tested it on pigs, or monkeys, or cows, but nothing beats marching your own people into an atomic blast to see if it gives them cancer.

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Of course it gives them cancer.

The Soviets did similar things to their own soldiers. In 1954, the Soviets dropped a 40,000-ton atomic weapon on 45,000 of their own troops, just north of Totskoye. More on Totskoye, and more. I don’t know for sure if these photos are from those tests, but they’re awfully haunting:

strange-photo strange-photo-3

One of my–let us say Uncles–died in Vietnam. He was 17. His mother, who had signed the papers to let him enlist even though he wasn’t 18, who had thought the army would be a good thing for him, sort him out, get his life on track, never recovered.

His name is not on the Vietnam Memorial.

image 004VietnamWar_468x382

And for what did we die in France’s war to retain its colonies?

I think I’m starting to understand these guys:

vietnamveterans

NEW EAGLE AND PATCH DESIGN 05-15-10-viet-nam-vets

third worlders probably think our obsession with saving dangerous megafauna absurd

megafauna-of-north-america

I like animals, (though I prefer them not in my house–most animals shed and don’t use the toilet.) I like small furry creatures and non-poisonous scaly ones and even squishy slimy ones, and I like the idea of living on a planet where creatures like moose and elephants and tigers exist.

But I recognize, as well, that most of the world’s endangered megafauna are endangered principally because their habitats conflict with human ones. Hungry people would rather eat an elephant than watch it trample their crops, a lion wandering around your village will really put a damper on play time, and the pygmies probably don’t appreciate getting kicked out of their homes to make room for a gorilla preserve.

Most of the American (and European) megafauna has already been killed (and those we still have seem not to terribly interest people, who’d rather see elephants in a zoo than a buffalo,) so as a practical matter, most megafaunal conservation efforts are aimed at animals located in other people’s countries.

Normally I try to stay out of other people’s business, but when other people are killing elephants or tigers or whales, obviously my desire that these animals exist conflicts with their desire that they not exist.

Now, I know many third worlders are quite fond of their local animals and don’t want to see them hunted, poached, or exploited out of existence. Much megafaunal death is not caused by locals competing for land/resources, but poachers and other outsiders who kill for trophies or body parts animals the locals are actually fond of or depend upon. Many small tribes are actively involved in environmental movements to try to protect their hunting grounds (and thus, food supply,) from activities like mining, logging, pollution, etc.

But I imagine that for someone who has to deal with elephants eating their crops or lions eating their livestock (or neighbors), the idea that a bunch of people in some far off country want more of these creatures around must seem pretty silly.

Bi-modal brains?

But... the second equation makes perfect sense.
But… the second equation makes sense.

So I have this co-woker–we’ll call her Delta. (Certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of the innocent.) Delta is an obviously competent, skilled worker who has succeeded at her job in a somewhat technical field for many years. She has multiple non-humanities degrees or accredidations. And yet, she frequently says things that are mind-numbingly dumb and make me want to bang my head on my desk.

To be fair, everybody makes mistakes and says incorrect things sometimes; maybe she thinks the exact same thing about me. Also, I have no real perspective on how dumb people think, because I haven’t spent much of my life talking to them. Even the formerly homeless people I know can carry on a layman’s discussion of quantum physics.

At any rate, I don’t actually think Delta is dumb. Instead, I think she has, essentially, two brain modes: Feeling Mode and Logic Mode.

Feeling Mode happens to be her default; she can do Logic Mode perfectly well, but she has to concentrate to activate it. If Logic Mode isn’t on, then things just get automatically processed through Feelings Mode and, as a result, don’t always make sense.

When Logic Mode is on, she does quite fine–her career, after all, is dependent on her rational, logical abilities, above-average math skills, etc. But her job is just that, not a passion, not something she’d do if it didn’t put food on the table. When she is in default mode, her brain just doesn’t make logical connections, notice patterns (especially meta-patterns), or otherwise understand a lot of the stuff going on around her. And her inability to judge distances/estimate sizes just makes me cringe.

My conversation topics typically go over like lead balloons.

In a recent Stanford Magazine article, Content to Code? in which Marissa Messina discusses her decision to major in computer science:

BEFORE STANFORD, I’d never heard the term “CS.” When my pre-Orientation mates used it repeatedly during our technology-free week of hiking in Yosemite prior to the start of freshman year, I had to ask them what it stood for. But their matter-of-fact response—”computer science”—was still a foreign concept to me. …

“Nonetheless, I celebrate my decision to develop my technical side. Although it does not come naturally to me, in Bay Area culture, knowing how to code feels like a prerequisite to existing. …

“I quickly learned through get-to-know-you conversations that being a “techie” was inherently cooler than being a “fuzzie,” and that social standard plus rumors of superior job prospects for engineers began to make me question my plan to major in psychology.

“Three years later, here I am, close to graduating and capable of coding. Now what?

“I certainly don’t imagine myself thriving as a professional programmer, because thinking in syntactically flawless computer-speak remains a wearisome process for me. … “

How on Earth does anyone arrive at Stanford without knowing that computer science exists?

Messina illustrates my theory rather well. She can go into logic mode, she can write code well enough to major in CS at Stanford, but it does not come naturally to her and she finds it rather unpleasant. She is only doing it because, back in freshman year, someone said her job prospects would be better with a CS degree. Now she realizes that she doesn’t actually want to do CS for a full-time job.

I suspect that most people operate primarily in Feelings Mode, and may be even worse than my co-worker at activating Logic Mode. Some may not have an operative Logic Mode at all; a few people may not have a Feeling Mode, but that seems less common. Feelings are instinctual, irrational, and messy. They exist because they are useful, but that does not mean they make logical sense.

For example, let’s suppose an out-of-control train is racing toward a group of schoolchildren who’ve been tied to the railroad tracks, but if you push a 9-foot tall man in heavy plate mail in front of the train, his death will save the children.

People operating in Logic Mode start debating the virtues of Kant’s Categorical Imperative verses Mill’s Utilitarianism.

People operating in Feelings Mode want to know what kind of psycho came up with a fucked up question like that. Children tied to the train tracks? Murdering an innocent bystander by pushing him in front of the train? Why are you fuckers debating this? Are you all sick in the head?

When Feeling people switch over into Logic Mode, I suspect it exerts some cost on them: that is, they can do it, but they don’t really like it. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant, and sometimes exhausting. So most of the time, they prefer to be in default mode.

So there are things that they can understand in Logic Mode, but since they find the whole business unpleasant, they prefer to ignore such conclusions if they possibly can. This probably makes it very difficult to get people to make any kind of decisions involving unpleasant scenarios + data. The unpleasantness itself of the scenario breaks them out of Logic Mode and into Feeling Mode, and then the whole business is flushed down the toilet because someone goes into a screaming fit because you hurt their feelings with your data.

Earlier this morning, I happened across this “Systematizing Quotient” Quiz that HBD Chick linked to. Obviously the quiz has certain drawbacks, like user bias and the difficulty of comparing oneself to others (do I know more or less about car engines than other people? I probably know less about them than most men, but since I can diagram how an engine works and explain it, do I know more than the average woman? Where do I fall on a population scale? And what if I wouldn’t research something before buying it because I already know all about it, or because I think the brands available on the market are similar enough that the time spent resourcing would not be cost-effective?) but I thought I’d try it, anyway.

I scored in the 61-80 range, which is not terribly surprising. What’s weird is just how low everyone else scores, since the averages are 24 and 30 for women and men, respectively, and it’s not like the scale goes down to -50 or anything.

At any rate, when Delta started talking about how much she hates the Common Core math, well, I was curious. I did some digging and came up with problems like the one at the top of the screen, generally accompanied by a bunch of comments from parents like, “What are they even doing?” and “I have no idea what that is!” and “That makes no sense!” And I just look at them all like, Wow, you can’t figure out that 5+2+10+10+10=37?

Sure, math is a recently evolved trait and all, but those sorts of comments still vaguely surprise me.

IQ probably intersects the two modes via a separate axis. That is, a high-IQ Feelings Person might be able to concentrate enough of their mental resources to out-math a low-IQ Logic person, and vice versa, a high-IQ Logic Person might be able to concentrate enough mental resources to out-feel a Feeling Person. (For example, by reading a book about what various facial expressions mean and then using that knowledge in real life.) Delta, for example, could probably figure out the problem after a while, but would still say it’s a terrible problem.

There was a conversation around here somewhere about a recent paper that came out claiming that the discrepancy between the number of men and women in high-end mathematics was due to not enough girls taking rigorous math courses in middle school. Well, I don’t know about the middle schools where the paper was published, but my middle school only had one math class, and we all took it, so I don’t think that’s exactly the problem. More likely, cognitive differences just happen to be manifesting themselves in Middle School, and the math geniuses are starting to outshine people who are smart and hard working but not geniuses.

In the conversation, someone remarked that while women (or in this case, girls,) they’ve known can do math perfectly well, they tend not to enjoy it, and prefer doing other things, whereas the men they know are more or less forced to do it because their brains just happen to automatically look for patterns. This was the original inspiration for this post; the idea that someone might be able to switch back and forth between two modes, but would generally prefer one, while someone else might generally prefer the other. I might call it “Logic Mode” and The Guardian might call it “Systematizing Mode”, but they’re both basically the same.

If this is true, most people may not operate in Feeling Mode, but most women do. On the other hand, it may be that only a small sub-set of men operate primarily in Logic Mode, either, but they happen to be a larger sub-set than the sub-set of women who operate primarily in Logic Mode. Since I don’t talk to most people (no one possibly could,) and my real-life conversations are largely limited to other women, I am curious about your personal observations.

 

 

Les Miserables

Do you hear the people sing?

It has long amused me that one of America’s favorite plays is essentially pro-communist propaganda.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t Les Mis about the French Revolution, which is totally like the American Revolution’s little brother?”

No. Les Miserables takes place during the June Rebellion of 1832. The French Revolution happened in 1789, about 40 years earlier.

That’s kind of like the difference between 1945 and 1988, or 1968 and 2012.

“Ah,” you say, “but weren’t the French into all of that liberty and equality stuff? Isn’t that what the revolution is all about, just like the American Revolution?”

Look, did you hear anyone in the musical singing about how the taxes on their tea/coffee/wine were too high? Or how they wanted to vote? Or pretty much anything about liberty?

The whole play is about how much life sucks for the French proletariat because they are being oppressed by the state and the petty bourgeoisie.

Communism and democracy were not originally thought of as opposites. Communism is just a later evolution of the same intellectual tradition that brought us democracy.

You think of government and business as two different entities–unless you are an anarchist, of course. If you are an anarchist, you know they are one, and you are correct. It doesn’t matter who wears the boot that stomps your face–king, president, dictatorship of the proletariat, corporate boss–it’s still a boot stomping your face.

Not long before the American and French Revolutions–the big one, in 1789, with Robespierre and the guillotines and the Tennis Court Oath and whatnot–the economic and political system in Europe were one and the same.

You knew this, of course, because you studied Medieval and early modern European economics, manorialism and feudalism in school during the 11 months of white history, right? If so, you can skip to the end.

But if all you remember from history class is something about a bunch of art that was painted in the Renaissance, and then blah-blah-Athenian Democracy-something-something-American Revolution?

*Sigh*

Okay. So “feudalism,” is basically a contractual system of obligations and responsibilities between land owners and tenants. Wikipedia defines it as, “a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.” This is the super-simplified version.

The Medieval Lord, starting in the early Middle Ages, was the guy who owned a big chunk of land, typically called a manor. He owned it because he or his ancestors had conquered it, or because he or his ancestors got it from the king who’d conquered it, and no one else had the military power to conquer him and take it away from him.

Roland (vassal) swears fealty to Charlemagne, his king
Roland (vassal) swears fealty to Charlemagne, his king

The lord’s vassals were people who received a chunk of land to live on and farm in exchange for swearing loyalty and rendering certain services to the lord. For example, they might be required to tend to the lord’s fields 2 days a week (leaving 5 days for their own.) Or they might be required to serve one month a year in the lord’s army, in exchange for which the lord guarantees that they won’t get conquered.

Gathering the lord's wheat
Gathering the lord’s wheat

Economically, the vassal might be required to only take his grain for grinding to the lord’s mill, in exchange for which the lord guarantees him access to a functional mill, or to only mate his cows to the lord’s bull, in exchange for which the lord guarantees a higher quality bull than the peasant could afford on his own. The vassals were required to take their disputes to the lord for adjudication, and the lord was required to provide sound legal judgment on the cases brought before him.

The manor was the basic economic and legal unit of medieval society, producing all or nearly all of the goods necessary for its residents, including a bakery and mill for bread production, a tannery for leather, and quite often, luxury trade goods, like wine. All of this was coordinated and directed by the lord, (or the lord’s employees).

Plan of a typical manor, with mill, pasture, fields, and woodlot.
Plan of a typical manor, with mill, pasture, fields, and woodlot.

The system was not limited to lords and their vassals; not only were there a variety of noble landholders, independent landholders, etc., the Roman Catholic Church also owned a great deal of land, which was similarly administered. I have read that 20% of the land in France on the eve of the French Revolution was actually owned by the Catholic Church. The system persists, diminished, in many monasteries–like the Grande Chartreuse Monastery, whose monks and nuns have supported themselves via the production and sale of Chartreuse Liquor since the early 1700s. (The monastery itself was founded in 1084.)

Grande Charteuse Monastery, France
Grande Charteuse Monastery, France
Chartreuse Liquor aging in the Grande Chartreuse Monastery
Chartreuse Liquor aging in the Grande Chartreuse Monastery

Chartreuse-bottle

HBD Chick has all sorts of interesting things to say about manorialism, and in particular, how it (and the Catholic decree against cousin marriage,) may have selected for certain personality traits that influenced the development of modern Europe.

Interestingly, during the Ostsiedlung, the German eastward expansion that took place between about 1,000 and 1945 the 1400s, manorialism was spread to eastern Germany via recruitment of people from western Germany to come live in what we would now call “company towns.”

Poznan, a planned Ostiedlung town laid out in a grid
Poznan, a planned Ostsiedlung town laid out in a grid
Ostiedlung in action: The Locator (with a special hat) receives the foundation charter from the landlord. He recruits settlers, who clear the forest and build houses. The locator acts as judge in the village.
Ostsiedlung in action: The Locator (with a special hat) receives the foundation charter from the landlord. He recruits settlers, who clear the forest and build houses. The locator acts as judge in the village.

I believe the Germans also used a similar selection process when immigrating to German-founded towns in the US, probably resulting in German immigrants to the US being a particularly high-quality lot.

But an even more interesting case is the Dutch East India Company. Established in 1602, it was granted by the Dutch parliament,

“a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia. It is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world [2] and it was the first company to issue stock.[3] It was a powerful company, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts,[4] negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies. … By 1669, the VOC was the richest private company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and a dividend payment of 40% on the original investment.[27]” —Wikipedia

The Dutch East India Company engaged in a bunch of wars, and its territory later became the Dutch East Indies, which in turn expanded and became the modern country of Indonesia, to say nothing of their activities in other countries.

Closer to home,

“Nine of the original American colonies were colonial corporations whose charters granted them broad governmental powers subject to retention of “English liberties” by the residents therein and the king’s right to collect customs on merchant shipping. “…one Body corporate and politique in Fact and Name, by the Name of the Governor and Company of the Mattachusetts Bay…” was typical language in these charters. These corporations were even sometimes (as in this case) sold from one set of investors to another: the modern legal distinction between commercial and political (e.g. municipal) corporations was not yet common. …

“The idea that a majority can “consent” for other members their class also comes from medieval corporate law (it certainly does not come from contract or tort law). “Constitution” was often used as a synonym for “charter.” The United States Constitution can be profitably viewed as a corporate charter, ratified by a majority of delegates to conventions in each State but shorn of royal imprimatur. “The Queen…grants…” became “We the people of the United States…do ordain and establish.” “We the People” granted rights to ourselves, in some vague collective way. This makes no sense in legal terms outside the context of corporate charters.” –Unenumerated’s “Corporate Origins of the United States

Anyway, by the time of the American Revolution, feudalism was on the decline. It was still vaguely around in France, making trouble for people now that regular economic activity crossed old feudal jurisdictions, and Wikipedia claims that some feudal landholdings were still around in Germany until just before WWII, but large tracts of free, open land on the American continent meant that feudalism had never been a major force over here. When American colonists ran short on land, they could just engage in a little class warfare and redistribute it from the Indians to themselves.

What is this fancy new idea that came roaring in with the American and French Revolutions? What is democracy? We Americans think of democracy as simply the right to vote for our own government. Where the opening up of vast new tracts of land had effectively made each man the master of his own economic destiny, the American Revolution made them, collectively, masters of their political destinies.

But back on the continent, the vestiges of feudalism still persisted; vast tracts of land were not free for the taking. Revolution came not just to the political, legal end of the system, but also the economic.

“In the eighteenth century the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in his hugely influential The Social Contract (1762), outlined the basis for a political order based on popular sovereignty rather than the rule of monarchs.[4] His views proved influential during the French Revolution of 1789, in which various anti-monarchists, particularly the Jacobins, supported the idea of redistributing wealth equally among the people, including Jean-Paul Marat and Gracchus Babeuf. The latter was involved in the Conspiracy of the Equals of 1796 intending to establish a revolutionary regime based on communal ownership, egalitarianism and the redistribution of property.” — Wikipedia

By the time Les Miserables was published in 1862, Marx’s Communist Manifesto was already 14 years old, and communism had gone from being a sub-text in the French Revolution to a full-fledged ideology in its own right. The 1832 rebellion described in Les Miserables falls smack into the time of the early communist development, predating the publication of the Communist Manifesto by only 16 years.

Les Miserables is not about liberty, in its anarchic sense nor its American sense. It is not, for the most part, about the values that compelled Americans into their revolution. It is about the tribulations of the poor, miserable, wretched French proletariat. It is about the democratization not of the political order, but of the economic order.

It’s really the perfect combination. American elites lean communist and can appreciate Les Mis for what it is without explicitly endorsing Stalinism. But the American lower classes can also join in, enjoying the illusion that it has something to do with the founding American mythology.

Creativity and Psychoticism

I was discussing the research for the AIDS and California post with a friend the other day, and they reacted with what I recall as shock and horror, protesting that San Francisco was home to Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs (formerly,) and all kinds of fabulous innovations. I thought about this for a moment, and replied something to the effect of, “Creatives are Psychotic.”

Now, I do not mean that creative people are stark raving bonkers and lost connection with reality, nor that they are violent, dangerous, malicious, or anything like that. I do mean that their minds do not function the same as everyone else’s.

Normal people, as I’ve mentioned before, (seem to have) neurological feedback loops that make them imitate other people. This is deep in the wiring of the brain; it’s crucial for things like learning to talk. People who imitate other people are normal, functional humans; people who fail to imitate others generally have severe life impairments. Understanding how these feedback loops work and influence our decision-making processes is crucial, IMO, to understanding the vast majority of humans.

But creative people, by definition, are not imitating others.

There are two obvious ways to be creative:

  1. Not know what other people know/think about something. Therefore, you are completely unable to have any conformist thoughts about it.
  2. Not care what other people know/think about something.

Most people who don’t know what other people know/think are small children, and small children are wonderfully creative. To get the same effect in an adult, in any useful sort of way, your best bet is to look for outsiders. Outsiders aren’t deeply tied into and invested in your way of thinking and doing things, and so can easily see things you’ve overlooked. I tend to think of Jayman’s creativity, for example, as springing at least partially from his semi-outsideriness, giving him a perspective other people lack. (Jay, if I’m wrong, forgive me.)

Creatives who don’t care what other people know see past what everyone else sees. They see new ways to combine things, new ideas, new stuff other people haven’t tried yet.

Normal people either cannot see this stuff, or when they do see it, their neuro feedback loops punish them for having deviant wrongthought.

The normal person experiences reality like a fish experiences water. A creative person is a fish with wings.

A normal person cannot escape from reality. They struggle to produce novelty because their brains only like doing things that are already being done. Normal is their programming.

Creatives lack some aspect of this programming. The normal feedback loops aren’t there. They are disconnected from reality. Not totally, of course–if they were totally disconnected, they’d probably just walk in front of a car and then we’d never hear from them again. They are usually connected enough to function, to eat and sleep and not get run over, but to be frank, all of that normal stuff is often a struggle for them.

Paul Erdős comes immediately to mind. Yes, mathematicians are creatives. This is obvious.

From the Wikipedia:

“Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle. Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life as a vagabond, traveling between scientific conferences, universities and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He earned enough in stipends from universities as a guest lecturer, and from various mathematical awards to fund his travels and basic needs; money left over he used to fund cash prizes for proofs of “Erdős problems” (see below). He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.”

Just one case; you may provide many others. Artists who cut off their ears or seem obsessed with vaginas; rock stars with their fiery careers and often spectacular ends; scientists or engineers obsessed with tiny, obscure bits of the world that no one else pays attention to, like eels or gyroscopes.

For San Francisco to be both the source of great technological breakthroughs and improvements, and a place where a good percentage of the population decides to just throw social norms out the window, heh, norms, who needs the damn things? seems entirely sensible. Sometimes not caring what other people think leads to good ideas, sometimes to bad ideas, sometimes to really strange but ultimately neutral ideas.

Therefore:

  1. If you want creativity and innovation in your society, you have to tolerate some crazy, socially-deviant behavior from your creatives.
  2. A certain percentage of “outsiders” will probably help maximize society’s creative output.
  3. Creatives are not always very good at taking care of themselves. If a peripatetic mathematician arrives suddenly on your doorstep, it’s probably best for humanity if you let him sleep on your couch and do math on your table. Society at large may want to keep this in mind, as well.
  4. Don’t believe *everything* creatives say. Sometimes they have great breakthroughs; sometimes they just don’t see the underlying logic for doing things the normal way.

 

This was not originally my idea–I think it was Bruce Charlton‘s. If not, I apologize.

Happy 200 Posts! Come join the party

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It’s a sedate party, I admit. But the canapes are delish.

There are two themes to this fairly open thread: How I Came to Be Me and Your Favorite Posts

It’s funny, but way back when I began typing little theories about human behavior into my graphing calculator during highschool math, I had no idea that the whole topic matter was taboo. Actually, I didn’t even believe in evolution back then–at least, I was pretty sure that evolution was a thing that Christians were not supposed to believe in. Nebraska Man and all that, you know. So I didn’t think of my theories as having anything to do with evolution, just “things that made sense.”

I remember one of them, on the symbolic/physical importance of sharing food among friends. For me to take some of my food and give it to you both helps ensure your continued existence, and decreases my my chances of existing. To give a friend a french fry or cookie from one’s own lunch tray was a sign of valuing the friend’s life enough to be willing to risk a threat to one’s own life to help the friend. This was the symbolism, I wrote, underneath both the importance of ritual food sharing with strangers–bread and salt in Russia, the inviting of people to tea or dinner–and more elevatedly, Eucharistic communion itself: the giving of Christ’s literal life, blood and body in the breaking of bread and giving of it to his disciples, ensuring their lives continued by ending his own.

Years later, when highschool days had largely faded from my mind, I was reminded rather vividly of this essay when a new Jewish friend promptly escorted me to their home and set out a kosher dinner, a good portion of which was bread.

Since this is my party, help yourself to the metaphorical bread and salt, wine and cheese. Or coffee, if you prefer.

But back to our story. I somehow passed highschool bio and got into college, despite being more or less a Creationist, where I did all of the normal college things. Alas, college is wasted on the young. Eventually I read a book on human evolution and decided that the book sounded a lot more sensible than that anti-evolution video they’d shown us once in Sunday School. The last chapter of the book–sadly, I no longer remember the title–wasn’t about bones and teeth and people trying to figure out which skeletons were hoaxes, but the evolution of human families in which grandparents exist. Now, sure, all that business about australopithecines sounded reasonable enough, but that last chapter blew me away: a complex emergent behavior / idea-thing like a family could also have been created by evolutionary adaptation.

At the time, I considered myself a liberal of the most upstanding character. I did all of the good liberal things–feminist, pro-trans, fat acceptance, LGBQ friendly, Pagan friendly, anti-war, anti-meat, anti-racism, anarchist, etc.

Then came Facebook and similar systems. Since I like debating politics, I tried to write entertaining essays for my friends, and promptly lost most of my friends. I also got kicked out of my feminist community for some trivial bullshit–I think I posted a response to another poster in the wrong section of a message board.

Now, I am not stranger to internet flame wars, but by this time, the whole business was starting to grate. Friends who were basically on the same side of the political system ought to be able to discuss political details without antagonism or declaring that the other person is secretly evil. At the very least, there ought to be some trust that your friends have good hearts and are trying hard. But I lacked some of the meta-level understanding of what was going on in liberalism necessary to safely traverse these waters–for example, I thought pretty much all liberals accepted evolution as true. It turns out that they only believe in evolution when conservatives are around. Among themselves, they deny that humans have “instincts” or that gender exists, and insist that the application of evolutionary theory to the study of human behavior is actually evil.

Then something major happened: I had a kid.

I lost friends over that, too, but I realized several important things:

  1. Childbirth is absolutely horrific.
  2. There is no possible way the differences in the amount of energy/risk men and women entail to reproduce could not cause different evolutionary pressures that would lead to different optimal mating strategies.
  3. Feminist claims that parents teach their children gender roles are total bullshit.
  4. Gender is mostly nature, not nurture.
  5. Natural childbirth is a horrible idea (for the record, c-sections are also horrible and the recovery is worse.)
  6. People politicize a bunch of issues that should not be politicized.

Something non-political also happened: the baby got sick. After a week of especially sleepless nights, I figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. I remember that moment, the sudden energy that came over me: NO ONE was going to stand between me and helping my child.

When feminists speak of “empowering” women, this is the feeling they mean. The feeling that you will do whatever the hell it takes to accomplish your objectives, and no one and nothing will stop you. I don’t think you can “empower” someone. It comes from within. It comes from the evolutionary urge to protect your children.

As it turned out, no one got in my way and everyone was actually super-helpful and the whole business ended well, with a happy, healthy child. Luckily my husband is an upstanding fellow who loves his children, too. But helpfulness is not one of life’s givens.

Around this time, the whole SJW movement was picking up steam, and the “privilege” concept became an unexpected sticking point. I thought the idea was basically nonsense, and said so. I later came across a conversation between–I thought–a friend and one of my best friends. “EvolutionistX isn’t worth talking to,” said the best friend.

I didn’t break up with liberalism. Liberalism broke up with me.

It had become increasingly obvious to me that the people in these feminist and SJW communities weren’t just wrong on a few issues, but that many of them were deeply psychologically disturbed, and the politics had become a cover/excuse/justification for not getting help and dealing with their issues. Many of them, to be frank, were disconnected from reality, and pointing out that physical facts contradicted them (I don’t mean totally controversial theories like evolution, but just basic stuff,) resulted in anything from banning to death threats. Unfortunately, the memeplex was becoming increasingly dominant, infecting communities that had nothing to do with politics and were officially apolitical.

By this point, I’d learned to just keep my mouth shut, and found some new things to do with my time. My husband introduced me to Jayman’s blog, and I read every word of it. Same for Evo and Proud, the sadly defunct Neuropolitics, and West Hunter. These guys are awesome. I learned so much anthropology I hadn’t learned in anthropology class, without the post-modern bullshit and constant negativity that had infected academia. I was still vaguely afraid of talking, but at least I had some good reading material.

Shortly after, I beheld, with terrifying clarity, the abyss. Suddenly I understood why liberals hate HBD and ev psych.

My break with the left came over an obscure case: protests surrounding the death of Marshall Coulter, a teenager who climbed over a homeowner’s 6-foot fence at 2 am and then got shot in the head.

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The elites will always defend the bullies.

Now, I understand that there are some innocent excuses for being in someone’s yard at 2 am, like being so drunk that you think you’re at your own home when you aren’t, or jumping a fence for a dare, with no intention of committing any harm. But it remains, like driving 120 miles per hour or poking bears, an activity that I regard has having a very high chance of killing you, and you should not do if you do not accept those risks. You certainly do not blame the bear for eating you after you poke it.

Likewise, if you act like you are breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night, the natural and only reasonable consequence is that home owner (or resident) kills you.

Salon weighed in, with an article about what a sweet kid Marshall was.

Protestors weighed in, claiming that Marshall was just an innocent kid who hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t deserve to die, demanding that the homeowner (who was being charged with attempted murder) be, well, charged with attempted murder.

In fact, Marshall already had a criminal past before he got shot in 2014:

  • October 2009: disturbing the peace
  • November 2012: criminal trespassing
  • December 2012: disturbing the peace
  • December 2012: burglary of an inhabited dwelling
  • March 2013: possession of stolen things and theft
  • April 2013: possession of marijuana

Ironically, the police had actually been discussing Marshall as a possible suspect in a string of recent burglaries the day before he was shot trying to burglarize someone’s house.

The attempted homicide charges were only dropped against the homeowner because Marshall recovered enough from the bullet in his head to get arrested for three more crimes:

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During the Trayvon Martin case, I had understood how someone could hear the story of a teenager walking home with a pack of Skittles and think that a great injustice had been done. This case had no such ambiguities. I realized the left had abandoned liberalism, in every traditional sense of the word. This was not about freedom; this was an explicit denial of the right of self-defense against someone intent on harming you, at least if you were white and they were black.

Every betrayal suddenly made sense. The meta-politics became clear. I felt like I finally understood everything, and I leapt into the abyss.

Around this time, my husband found Moldbug’s Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives, and I wandered into Slate Star Codex. All of the words I’d been holding in began spilling out, in a torrent, so I made this blog.

A friend of mine (if you’re reading this, hi!) had kept telling me that life is too short to worry about assholes. If I had to walk on eggshells around my other “friends,” then they weren’t my friends and I should get new friends.

Sage advice.

So here we are, 200 posts in, and people actually like my blog.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you like the next 200 posts.

 

I’m going to open up the floor. Tell me your stories, ask questions, or just chat. And if you feel like it, tell me your favorite posts for inclusion in the sidebar.

Comment on Left-Right Polarization

This is just something I wrote in response to Free Northerner’s response to Slate Star Codex‘s claims of increasing left-right political polarization:
I think there’s an issue here where Left and Right don’t always take stands on the same issues. Liberals can care about Issue A that conservatives don’t give a fig about, while conservatives care about B that liberals aren’t even aware of. So, for example, my conservative uncle might rant endlessly about Benghazi, while my liberal uncle keeps rambling on about White Privilege.

In many ways, the right and left have become more polarized from each other, but the right has been generally unsuccessful in the long term on most of their issues. They have not repealed Roe V. Wade; they have not eliminated Welfare or gotten deficit spending under control. They have not reinstated prayer in school. Hypothetically, they might have “moved right” in some opinion poll of what they profess to believe, or they might have simply felt more to the right as the country shifted suddenly leftward, but they haven’t accomplished their agendas.

I was subjected to a portion of [the most recent] Republican debate, and just disgusted at the sheer amount of verbal garbage the candidates spouted that was nothing more than a re-iteration of Republican talking points for the past thirty years. They have failed to overturn Roe V. Wade for the past 40 years, but they are still up there promising that this time, they’re really going to do it! They promise to cut the budget, eliminate the deficit, and increase military spending! Where, exactly, do they think the money for the military comes from? These people don’t achieve their objectives or else their objective is simply “no change at all,” rather than rightward movement.

By contrast, liberals have actually been achieving their goals. Whether or not they’ve personally become more liberal relative to the rest of the population, or relative to the past, they’ve had a lot of successes and convinced a lot of the country to agree with them.

So we could get both increasing polarization of people and a general leftward trend on actual policies.

People are probably more likely to spout liberal positions when they involve far away people or moral posturing that they suspect will incur no material cost to themselves, and more conservative positions when they bear the potential cost. That is, it’s easy to sit in the US and say, “Oh, yes, Germany should take as many refugees as physically possible,” while at the same time saying, “No, I don’t want to give one of the spare rooms in my house to a refugee.” Or “Ferguson police must stop shooting black people!” while demanding lower crime rates in one’s own city.

But there are far more people in the world who don’t live in Ferguson (or Germany) than who do, and so the collective pressure of people making small, low-cost to them decisions about far away people can overwhelm the local pressure of people making great-cost to them decisions. So general consensus moves leftward.