Please go away and Leave us Alone: Legal Systems Very Different from Ours pt 1

51ta-us7crlI am about a third of the way through Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, so I thought it was about time I got this discussion rolling. If you haven’t started the book yet, don’t worry–you still have plenty of time to pick it up before next week.

How have you liked the book?

While we are at it, here is a similarly interesting piece: War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, by Charles Tilly:

What distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else? In the long; run, enough to make the division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” force credible. Eventually, the personnel of states purveyed violence on a larger scale, more effectively, more efficiently, with wider assent from their subject populations, and with readier collaboration from neighboring authorities than did the personnel of other organizations. But it took a long time for that series of distinctions to become established. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, the practice of using it routinely to accomplish their ends, or both at once. The continuum ran from bandits and pirates to kings via tax collectors, regional power holders, and professional soldiers.

The uncertain, elastic line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence appeared in the upper reaches of power. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, its actual employment, or both at once. The long love-hate affair between aspiring state makers and pirates or bandits illustrates the division. “Behind piracy or the seas acted cities and city-states,” writes Fernand Braudel of the sixteenth century. “Behind banditry, that terrestrial piracy, appeared the continual aid of lords.” In times of war, indeed, the managers of full-fledged states often commissioned privateers, hired sometime bandits to raid them enemies, and encouraged their regular troops to take booty. In royal service, soldiers and sailors were often expected to provide for themselves by preying on the civilian population: commandeering, raping, looting, taking prizes. When demobilized, they commonly continued the same practices, but without the same royal protection; demobilized ships became pirate vessels, demobilized troops bandits.

But back to Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.

This book takes a quick look at many different legal systems–13 or 14, depending on how we count the chapter on feuds. This makes for a lot of interesting material, but it means each system is treated very quickly. Some I have enough knowledge of to say a few things independently about them; others I must just trust the authors entirely. I would be interested in an expanded version of this book that goes into some of the legal systems in a big more depth.

The first chapter is on the Imperial Chinese legal system, which is a bit less useful than a chapter on the modern Chinese legal system, but I am sure there are many books out there on the modern system if I wish to learn about it.

My overall impression of the Imperial Chinese legal system is “Please go away and leave us alone.”

The logic appears to be that people who are good and virtuous have no need of a legal system, so the goal is to encourage people to be good and virtuous so they will not bring lawsuits. If that doesn’t work, using the legal system should be unpleasant enough to discourage people from using it. This probably cuts down on the number of frivolous suits, but has certain drawbacks.

In practice, the system tended to delegate authority for keeping people in line (not committing crime, not breaking contracts) to extra-legal authorities like family heads and merchant partnerships.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted:

The Chinese legal system originated over 2000 years ago in the conflict between two views of law, Legalist and Confucian. The Legalists, who believed in using the rational self-interest of those subject to law to make them behave in the way desired by those making the law, were accused by later writers of advocating harsh penalties to drive the crime rate to near zero. …

Confucianists argued for modifying behavior not by reward and punishment but by teaching virtue. They supported unequal treatment based both on the unequal status of those to whom the law applied and on their differing relationships.

China, being an ancient civilization, managed to keep much of its legal code across the centuries:

Laws originated as statues proclaimed by Emperors and passed down from dynasty to dynasty; one source estimates that forty percent of the Qing code came from the Tang code, created about a thousand years earlier.

I wonder if any of this is still around.

The legal code was not so much an account of what was forbidden as an attempt to specify, for every possible offense, the proper punishment. … Where the offense could not be fitted into any category in the code, the court could find the defendant guilty of doing what ought not to be done or of violating an Imperial decree–not an actual degree, but one that the Emperor would have made had the matter been brought to his attention.

I find this very amusing. It definitely has some potential drawbacks, but I can also understand the exasperation of an official going “Of course you shouldn’t have done that! Everyone knows you shouldn’t do that, you imbecile!”

On the difficulty of preventing local magistrates from acquiring too much power for themselves and threatening the chain of command, the authors note a parallel with the Ottoman situation:

The Ottoman Empire had a somewhat similar approach to the problem of maintaining central control. After conquering territory, the usual pattern was to appoint the surviving members of the defeated dynasty as local rulers in some distant part of the empire. The knowledge that defeat would not deprive the losers of life, wealth, or elites status reduced the incentive to resist conquest, and a governor with no local ties was dependent on the Sultan for his authority, hence likely to be loyal.

On to the famous Chinese Examination System:

Officials, including magistrates, were largely but not entirely selected from those who had successfully passed through a series of ferociously competitive exams.

Level one accords the rank of licentiate. Passing level two meant a good chance of official employment, and level three meant nearly guaranteed office.

Our system has all of the exams and none of the guarantees.

Competition was stiff:

In the early part of the final dynasty, there were about half a million licentiates out of a population of several hundred million, only about 18,000 people who had reached the next level. The provincial exam that separated the two groups had a pass rate of about one percent. … The [third level] exam produced 200 to 300 degrees from as many as 8000 candidates each time it was given.

People have speculated on the Chinese exam system/the official appointments made based on the system having a role in boosting the average Chinese IQ (which is quite high) by allowing the brightest Chinese more wealth and security for bringing more children into the world, but at such a small percent relative to the population as a whole, we’d need to do some real demographic number crunching before concluding that the system had any overall effect.

Curiously:

The exams did not test administrative ability, knowledge of the law, expertise in solving crimes or other skills with any obvious connection to the job of district magistrate or most of the other jobs for which the exams provided a qualification.

The authors quote:

The content of the provincial examination presented an exacting challenge, especially to the novitiate. Its syllabus called for compositions on themes from the four core texts of the Ne-Confucian canon and a further five or more classics, extended dissertations on the classics, history, and contemporary subjects, verse composition, and at various times the ability to write formal administrative statements and dispatches. To be at all hopeful of success,t he candidate should have read widely in the extensive historical literature, thoroughly digested the classics, developed a fluent calligraphy, and mastered several poetic styles. …

As the authors ask, Why?

Perhaps the Chinese just wanted well-rounded, intelligent administrators rather than grinders who just “studied for the test,” and figured that testing on such wide variety of qualitative topics would do the job.

Of course in practice this probably just meant that people shifted what they were studying from one subject (say, proper punishments for various crimes) to other subjects (eg, poetry), but it’s hard to make a perfect system and we might as well ask why some systems require men to be ritually circumcised before they can assume leadership positions.

(Still better than being a Chinese eunuch.)

The authors have their own theories:

A more interesting explanation focuses on the content of what they were studying–Confucian literature and philosophy. There are two characteristics one would like officials to have. One is the ability to do a good job. The other is the desire to do a good job. … One might interpret the examination system as a massive exercise in indoctrination, training people in a set of beliefs that implied the job of government officials was to take good care of the people they were set over while being suitably obedient to the people set over them. …

The ideal Confucian Emperor would never punish anyone for anything, merely set an example of virtuous behavior so perfect that it would inspire all below him.

?? This sounds like an improbable ideal, unless espoused by the most truly ivory tower of academics.

I suppose even Imperial China had its bad ideas.

Seen from that standpoint, it made some sense to set up a system designed to produce good men, put them in power and then leave them alone.

I think Socrates would like this idea, but of course:

In the system as it actually existed, crime was prevented not by moral example but by an elaborate penal system.

The authors propose a further idea, that the purpose of the system wasn’t so much to chose officials–after all, so few officials actually got chosen that this is almost just a rare side effect of the system–but to get as many people as possible to study for the exam. If we think of studying for the exam as like going to college, and actually getting a job as like the very rare case of someone becoming an astronaut, we would certainly say that the purpose of college is not to become an astronaut, but “to produce well-educated people who are good at their jobs.”

(If we are not being cynical and going down the “college is mostly signaling” route:

The problem with this theory is that there should be much less expensive ways of generating the same evidence. So far as intelligence is concerned, a few days of testing should do it…

Well, there really ought to be a way to figure out who should be considered a tribal authority without ritual circumcision, but there you are.)

This is an interesting and really quite clever idea.

The authors’ final theory is indoctrination in the justification for the legitimacy of the Chinese state, which ties neatly into the previous idea.

On to the legal system itself:

The State and the Family: Subcontracting Enforcement

In Qing law, as in the law of earlier dynasties, legal consequences depended in part on the status of the parties, both absolute status–the rules for government officials and Manchus were different than the rules for ordinary commoners and those in turn different than the rules for groups of especially low status–and relative position within the extended family. All relatives were classified as senior or junior to each other. … Relative status in turn affected penalties…

It is common to include among the offenses of oppressive polities forcing children to inform on their parents. Imperial China had precisely the opposite approach. It was a criminal offense for a child to accuse his parent of a crime even if the parent was guilty…

My understanding is that this system can also be oppressive, especially if you are the person your parent has committed a crime against.

The system relied heavily on parents and grandparents to enforce the law against the younger members of their families (even allowing them, under certain circumstances, to carry out capital punishment).

This reliance on elder enforcement appears to be due to the relative paucity of official bureaucrats available to enforce the law, due to the dearth of people who had actually managed to pass the third exam–or perhaps the Empire did not bother increasing the number of officials because families were already doing an adequate job of policing their own.

The existence of essentially two different sets of authorities–one’s family and the state–sometimes lead to conflicts. It was illegal to disobey one’s parents, even if those parents ordered an illegal act. At the same time, the act itself remained illegal.

Another way system dealt with the paucity of legal officials was by simply discouraging people from using it by making court cases as unpleasant as possible:

One way of doing so was to treat most private practice of law as criminal. Practitioners, “litigation sticks,” were viewed as troublemakers out to stir up unnecessary conflict. … It was legal to torture witnesses in the process of extracting information from them.

The authors quote:

Shouted at and reviled by the magistrate, growled at and beaten by the constables, the position of the accused was a most unfavorable one indeed. Small wonder that having to appear in court was considered by the people at large as a terrible misfortune… In general people tried to settle their differences as much as possible out of court…

Law was a headache for any magistrate sitting as a judge. Among the public it was generally ruinous for all concerned. The fees paid to [criminal catchers] might bankrupt plaintiff as well as defendant. …

Imperial edicts even urged the populace to avoid the courts rather than crowd into them.

This is why I characterize this system as “Please go away and leave us alone.”

But what about contract law?

The authors discuss the Japanese acquire of Taiwan in 1895, prompting them to try to determine what its legal system was–creating useful records for us today:

One feature of that system was the combination of elaborate contractual practice with an almost total absence of contract law, at least at the Imperial level.

Taiwanese merchants didn’t limit their trade to far-flung family ties, as developed in some uncertain legal system. Nor did they develop private courts run by merchants, like those of medieval Europe.

The authors don’t have much of an explanation for how these merchants managed to do business, other than developing a system of contracts that minimized the chance of either party defaulting on the other. It is a pity that it has been so long since this system has been (I presume) active; it would be nice to hear how it worked from someone who knew and understood it well.

Nevertheless, it stands in sharp contrast with our own system, in which businesses are engaged in such constant legal battles with each other that lawsuits are considered simply “part of the price of doing business.” We are a deeply litigious people; where a problem arises, we are loathe to even consider working out a non-law-based solution.

It is typically assumed that businesses cannot operate without some degree of this help (even I propose a mere 90% reduction in regulatory burden; even libertarians propose that the government should concern itself with enforcing contracts,) but what if we’re all wrong? Would the Imperial Chinese system have worked better with a more user-friendly, more involved legal system? Did its very unpleasantness inspire everyone involved to behave? Or was the formal legal system largely irrelevant, and Chinese business practices shaped by other factors, like local governments, traditions, or just the cleverness and foresight of everyone involved?

 

 

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Woketianity

Scott’s recent post, Gay Rites are Civil Rites, helped a lot of different threads I’ve had bouncing around cohere into a manageable whole:

  1. Civil religion is religion, it just doesn’t have the god part
  2. Our civil religion is Woketianity
  3. Civil religion exists to justify the rule of the upper class
  4. It does so by claiming to care about the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, etc
  5. But of course never in a way that would challenge the rule of the upper class

This explains a few things, like

  1. why SJW pile-ons and their approach to social relations look like cult behavior (because they literally are),
  2. why the entire society has suddenly come out in support of Pride Month (because this is the new chief rite of the civil religion),
  3. why companies like Goldman Sachs are making an effort to be publicly associated with Pride Month (to justify their egregious money piles via Woketianity),
  4. Why so many Woke pile-ons actually target poor and powerless people, like shop keepers and janitors (because they did not serve the Elite Wokeist with sufficient defference)
  5. and why so little of this Woketianity involves things that actually improve the lives of poor people (because that’s not the point).

If some poor people do better because of Woke policies, Wokeists won’t be disturbed, but the primary purpose of their beliefs is to justify their position in the ruling class.

Woketianity can be seen as a heretical co-option of whatever ideas people originally had about helping the poor and downtrodden.

Memes can be roughly divided into two forms–those that spread horizontally, (ie, across society) like viruses, and those that are transmitted vertically (ie, from your ancestors), like mitochondria. Mitochondrial memes tend to promote your health and well-being, because if they didn’t, your ancestors’ children would have died and never made you. Brushing your teeth is a mitochondrial meme, most likely taught by you to your parents in order to improve your chances of not dying of tooth decay. Viral memes do not need to improve your health to spread; in the short term, at least, they only need to spread faster than people die from them.

Woketianity is a viral meme, and in the minds of anyone not in the elite, it is functionally a parasite, convincing them to accept elite rule on the grounds that it is “good for the oppressed.”

There are three responses to the Woke argument for supporting the elites to help the oppressed:

  1. “I don’t care about the oppressed.”
  2. “Your proposal doesn’t actually help the oppressed.”
  3. “Fuck you, you hypocritical grifter.”

Option two has the most potential for turning into quicksand, since even if you happen to be correct on some particular issue, you are arguing against people who are trying to raise their social status by holding the Right Sort of Views, not actually deal with icky poor people.

If you actually want to help the poor and/or oppressed, the Woke are good targets for funds, but don’t expect them to come up with good ideas. They have no idea what it’s like to be a teenage runaway, homeless, ugly, crippled, or hopeless, so if anything, you will have to prevent them from instituting bad ideas that actually harm the people they want to think they are helping.

You’d like an example? Okay, here’s one:

IQ tests are actually the only reliable way we have right now of identifying bright kids who come from underprivileged backgrounds. Anyone trying to do away with IQ tests is not interested in helping poor students.

If you want to actually do good:

  1. Be sincere.
  2. Be realistic.

Does Special Ed do any good, and other items of interest

A study on the genetic correlates of empathizing and systematizing with different psychiatric conditions found, unsurprisingly, that autism correlates a bit more with systematizing than empathizing, but interestingly also found the genetic correlates of both empathizing and systematizing correlate with schizophrenia:

f2.large_

I’m not really sure how this works, but I’ve never bought into the “autism and schizophrenia are opposites” theory. Too many people seem perfectly capable of getting diagnosed with both conditions at once. Indeed, the stereotypic schizophrenic delusion is filled with science fiction tropes (telepathic communication, UN black helicopters, subdermal tracking devices, perpetual motion machines, etc.) that are far more familiar systematizers than empathizers.  

The authors note that the anorexia correlation holds even after you control for sex.

 

One suggestion for dealing with deepfakes and authentication: blockchain:

So let’s say we create an image. How can we set things up so that we can prove when we did it? Well, in modern times it’s actually very easy. We take the image, and compute a cryptographic hash from it (effectively by applying a mathematical operation that derives a number from the bits in the image). Then we take this hash and put it on a blockchain.

The blockchain acts as a permanent ledger. Once we’ve put data on it, it can never be changed, and we can always go back and see what the data was, and when it was added to the blockchain.

Does special ed do any good? Looks like no:

The purpose of the current study was to compare the adulthood outcomes of children who received special education services with those who did not, using one-to-one match propensity score methodology. Our analyses revealed that Hispanic students showed evidence of benefitting from special education, in terms of reporting better physical health and less family conflict, compared to non-Hispanics. Despite this, the majority of results suggest that individuals who were born between 1980 and 1994 and received special education services did not differ on adulthood outcomes across educational attainment, social adjustment, economic self-sufficiency, and physical health, compared to individuals with the same likelihood of receiving services who did not receive services. In other words, children who received special education services did not fare better than children who were equally likely to have received services, but did not receive them.

Note that they compared kids who were equally qualified for special ed but just either did or didn’t receive services, and found no meaningful difference between them (excepting Hispanics.)

The finding that it does something for Hispanics might be a version of the middle-aged-Hispanic-woman-syndrome (that is, if you divide your data into enough categories, by random chance one of them may look significant but really isn’t) but I think it more likely that it’s because this special ed amounts to extra English practice at a critical time in the child’s life, allowing ESL kids to learn faster and adapt to the otherwise English-speaking classroom faster, putting them ahead of peers who learned English more slowly and so fell behind in school.

That special ed does very little useful (though it might be more pleasant for some of the folks involved) than certain alternatives is rather disheartening, especially given the expense. According to the NEA: 

The current average per student cost is $7,552 and the average cost per special education student is an additional $9,369 per student, or $16,921

According to DisabilityScoop, 6.7 million kids are in special ed, for a cost of about 62.8 billion dollars. 

Of course, the study is on kids who went to school in the 80s and 90s, and special ed might have improved since then, but I see no reason to assume it has. That is a LOT of money for no improvement, money that could have gone toward better playgrounds, more art supplies, less crowded classrooms, or just stayed with the taxpayers.

It should come as no surprise that I think the best place for most kids who qualify for special education is at home (since I am homeschooling my own children), where they can get their entire education individually tailored to their exact strengths and weaknesses.

Too many smart (or average!) kids who don’t fit within the school environment–boys who are wiggly or immature, girls who are spacey and distracted–get labeled as “disabled” and then pushed pushed pushed to perform the necessary school-related behaviors, rather than simply put into a different environment where these behaviors become irrelevant and they can focus on learning.

School itself is a fairly recent institution, based largely on the German model. It was not created by scientists who figured out some optimal way to get students to learn and prepare them for life; it’s just a particular system that we happen to have, and some kids are not suited for it.

Unfortunately, most educational interventions, in the long run, don’t do very much. The standard stuff, like teaching a kid to read and write, does a ton. Almost everyone benefits from clear, direct instruction in “what those squiggly lines on the page mean.” And everyone benefits from getting enough sleep, eating plenty of healthy food, etc. Everyone benefits from a loving, peaceful home life (even if it doesn’t show up much on IQ tests.) Everyone benefits from adequate iodine levels and not catching malaria.

Getting beyond these basics, though, is much trickier.

Sunken Lands and lost Paradises: Beringia

caribou_feed_on_lichens_and_moss-_the_bird_is_an_alaskan_raven_-_nara_-_550384Beringia is the now-lost land between Alaska and Russia that was, during the last ice age, a vast grassland. It is believed that humans lived here for thousands of years, hunting mammoths, woolly rhinos, bison, and equines. The probably fished as well, just like modern humans in the area.

It was a land of frigid abundance, of herds of giant beasts that probably put the buffalo to shame.

Here is a nice podcast by Razib and Spencer on the lost paradises of Beringia, Sundaland, and Doggerland.

800px-jefferys_-_the_russian_discoveries
Old map of a mysterious, non-existent blob-land

Humans lived in Beringia for thousands of years before they made it into the rest of North America, because the rest of the continent was blocked off, then, by a giant impenetrable ice sheet. This period is therefore referred to as the “Beringia pause” because humans “paused” here during their migration from Siberia to the Americas, but this name obscures the lives and purposes of the people who lived here. They weren’t consciously trying to get to North America and pausing for thousands of years because their way was blocked; they were happily living their lives in a land of abundant resources. We could equally say that Europeans “paused” in Europe for thousands of years before some of them migrated to the Americas, or that anyone on Earth has “paused” in the place they are now.

eskimodna
DNA of the Eskimo/Inuit and related peoples, from Haak et al

According to an article published recently in Nature, The Population History of Siberia since the Pleistocine, by Martin Sikora et 53 other people, these folks in Beringia have their own interesting and complex population history, full of migration and back-migration, conquering, splitting, and joining:

Northeastern Siberia has been inhabited by humans for more than 40,000 years but its deep population history remains poorly understood. Here we investigate the late Pleistocene population history of northeastern Siberia through analyses of 34 newly recovered ancient genomes that date to between 31,000 and 600 years ago. We document complex population dynamics during this period, including at least three major migration events: an initial peopling by a previously unknown Palaeolithic population of ‘Ancient North Siberians’ who are distantly related to early West Eurasian hunter-gatherers; the arrival of East Asian-related peoples, which gave rise to ‘Ancient Palaeo-Siberians’ who are closely related to contemporary communities from far-northeastern Siberia (such as the Koryaks), as well as Native Americans; and a Holocene migration of other East Asian-related peoples, who we name ‘Neo-Siberians’, and from whom many contemporary Siberians are descended. Each of these population expansions largely replaced the earlier inhabitants, and ultimately generated the mosaic genetic make-up of contemporary peoples who inhabit a vast area across northern Eurasia and the Americas.

There is a lot of interesting material in this paper (and some nice maps and graphs), but I’m too tired to summarize it all and not lose accuracy, so I encourage you to read it yourself; perhaps the most interesting part involves migration from Alaska to Siberia, across the now-Bering Strait, of people like the Ekven (are these the same as the awkwardly named Evens?)

The polar world is a fascinating circle.

Since you asked…

Of course I believe in the importance of nature a bit more strongly than the average person. But our lives are still the sums of many different factors, some genetic, some nurture, some random. We also have something that feels like free will, crazy as that may sound; we are not doomed to eternally repeat the sins of our parents just because we saw them do something bad when we were three, nor are we condemned to robotically enact whatever flaws are encoded in our DNA. We are complicated.

I recently read a very interesting article about a man who discovered, via DNA testing, that his father (and grandfather) wasn’t really his father:

In the first phase, I was numb: no shock, anger, disappointment—just bewilderment. It was sohard to grasp. Unimaginable. It was hard to think clearly. And yet, a tiny bit of relief. Maybe truth would yield clarity and understanding of my father’s actions. This secondary sensation was the beginning of a wholly unexpected change in my internal being.

The second phase—feeling unmoored—was by far the hardest. Who am I? From where do I come? And who is this unknown man living in my body, coursing through my veins? I would subconsciously shake my hands trying to get him out of me. And worst, with my mother and the father who raised me both deceased, would I ever find the truth, get to the answers I was seeking? When you think you understand your origins, there is no obsessive need to explore and connect; you are satisfied knowing there is an origin and your ancestors and family members can be searched and contacted whenever needed. But when that assumption is taken away, you truly are an alien.

I should note that unlike Professor Schreiber, I had very decent parents; I have nothing to be ungrateful for beyond the normal vagaries of family life.

But the sense of being alien is still there; I always feel myself floating between worlds. There’s the world I was raised in, which I know culturally and can imitate quite effortlessly, (aside from a certain striver efficiency that seems more innate); then the world I talk to on the telephone, where people make the same sort of stupid mistakes as I do, but the cultural context is missing.

The advent of the internet is easing this gab, by the way, as the younger folks in my generation and I share more online culture.

Cultural things can get a good laugh out of you–you and someone else liked the same show, or went to the same park, or enjoyed the same brand of hot dogs–while innate things can strike very deep. Finding out that your brother got in trouble for the same distinct habits that you got in trouble for, or that you see in your own children, is really something. You look at this person and realize that despite this cultural and experiential gulf between you, you understand them–and they understand you.

The fellow in the article ended up with a bunch of new relatives, which he found very rewarding. For most adoptees, contacting biological family is iffy. People who gave you up when you were an infant may not want you in their lives, may not be good people, or may just be dead. But extended family never gave you up; extended family tends not to have all of that awkward parental baggage, either. They’re just potential siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., you’ve never met, and meeting them can be quite interesting.

I find that people really focus on adoptees’ parents, so I would just like to reiterate that biological families are more than just parents. They are cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, etc. They are entire families. Even people whose biological parents have given them good reason to never contact them (or are dead) may want to contact the rest of their biological families.

And like the good professor, I’ve found that meeting family from very different walks of life than my own has exposed me to very different perspectives. It is interesting seeing how similar people cope with very different situations–the things that stay the same (eg, dorkiness); the things that differ (attitudes toward guns).

Like they say, it’s about half nurture, half nature, half random chance, and half what you make of it.

(Just to be clear, yes, I know that’s not how halves work.)

American Senescence

 

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aging_and_cogntive_decline
Source: Boston U, Cognitive Changes with Aging

People suffering cognitive decline (dementia, Alzheimer’s, or plain old age,) should have their TV consumption carefully monitored because they lose the ability to tell that the things they are seeing, like zombies, aren’t real.

This goes for the news, as well, and is why your older relatives send you so many stupid email forwards about politics and are irrationally hung up on whatever the news is talking about today. Their ability to understand what they are viewing declines while their fear of it increases. (Do not be cruel in return; they cannot help that they are aging.)

People blame political craziness on young people, but we have never before in all of history had such a large percent of the population in mental decline–and it is only going to get worse.

Fame is Terrible for People

175px-Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock
Elvis

While researching my post on Music and Sex, I noticed a consistent pattern: fame is terrible for people.

Too many musicians to list have died from drug overdoses or suicide. Elvis died of a drug overdose. John Lennon attracted the attention of a crazy fan who assassinated him. Curt Cobain killed himself (or, yes, conspiracy theorists note, might have been murdered.) Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington committed suicide. Alice in Chains’s Layne Staley died of heroin. The list continues.

Far more have seen their personal relationships fail, time after time. The lives of stars are filled with breakups and drama, not just because tabloids care to report on them, but also because of the drugs, wealth, and easy availability of other partners.

At least musicians get something (money, sex,) out of their fame, and most went willingly into it (child stars, not so much). But many people today are thrust completely unwillingly into the spotlight and get nothing from it–people caught on camera in awkward incidents, or whose absurd video suddenly went viral for all the wrong reasons, or who caught the notice of an internet mob.

Here we have people like the students from Covington Catholic, or the coffee shop employee who lost her job after not serving a black woman who arrived after the shop had closed, or, for that matter, almost all of the survivors of mass shootings, especially the ones that attract conspiracy theorists.

It seems that fame, like many other goods, is a matter of decreasing returns. Going from zero fame to a little fame is nearly always good. Companies have to advertise products so customers know they exist. Being known as an expert in your field will net you lots of business, recommendations, or just social capital. Being popular in your school or community is generally pleasant.

At this level, increasing fame means increasing numbers of people who know and appreciate your work, while still remaining obscure enough that people who don’t like or care for your creations will simply ignore you.

Beyond a certain level of fame, though, you’ve already gotten the attention of most people who like you, and are now primarily reaching people who aren’t interested or don’t like you. If you become sufficiently famous, your fame alone will drive people who dislike your work to start complaining about how stupid it is that someone who makes such terrible work can be so famous. No one feels compelled to talk about how much they hate a local indie band enjoyed by a few hundred teens, but millions of people vocally hate Marilyn Manson.

Sufficient fame, therefore, attracts more haters than lovers.

This isn’t too big a deal if you’re a rock star, because you at least still have millions of dollars and adoring fans. This is a big deal if you’re just an ordinary person who accidentally became famous and wasn’t prepared in any way to make money or deal with the effects of a sudden onslaught of hate.

Fame wasn’t always like this, because media wasn’t always like this. There were no million-album recording artists in the 1800s. There were no viral internet videos in the 1950s. Just like in Texas, in our winner-take-all economy, fame is bigger–and thus so are its effects.

I think we need to tread this fame-ground very carefully. Recognize when we (or others) are thrusting unprepared people into the spotlight and withdraw from mobbing tactics. Teenagers, clearly, should not be famous. But more mundane people, like writers who have to post under their real (or well-known pseudonyms), probably also need to take steps to insulate themselves from the spasms of random mobs of haters. The current trend of writers taking mobs–at least SJW mobs–seriously and trying to appease them is another effect of people having fame thrust upon them that they don’t know how to deal with.

California: Only Acceleration can fix this mess

Picture 20
Gratuitous bioluminescent jellyfish

Observation: Over time, legal systems tend to build up, bit by bit, until they become unworkable messes that hinder the creation and acquisition of basic necessities like jobs, housing, or justice. This is because it is easier to pass new laws than to repeal old laws; because there are always interest groups in favor of passing some new regulation in their favor, but rarely groups in favor of repealing them; and because it is generally difficult to look back over the many laws passed over many years to deal with changing conditions and think up and pass a better, more efficient law that unifies all of the things the previous laws were trying to address into one coherent package.

In other words, the second law of thermodynamics.

The middle class is now leaving CA at high rates because they can’t afford it, due primarily to housing costs, which are in turn driven by building/environmental regulations, rental regulations, and tax laws.

Notably, California has some laws that affect taxes on housing that only make one’s tax rate go up when a home is sold, so people who’ve lived in their homes for a long time pay much lower real estate taxes than people who recently bought homes, which makes people who’ve lived in their homes for a long time much less willing to sell and move to a new home because they don’t want a big jump in taxes, which keeps a lot of the housing stock off the market and means that young people trying to buy their first homes are paying a hugely disproportionate amount of the real estate taxes.

This wouldn’t be such a huge deal if Californian could just build more houses, but with so many regulations, that’s difficult, and on top of all that, California is one of the top destinations for newcomers to the US, who also want to live in houses and so are also competing for the limited stock.

So young middle class folks increasingly find that they simply cannot afford to live in California and are leaving.

This is migration driven entirely by artificial scarcity created through bad policies, since (other than maybe water) CA is resource-rich, land rich, and has great weather.

Since it is easier to add more laws on top of old than to repeal, there is very little hope of fixing things through legal reform. Laws exist in part because someone wants them or benefits from them, after all, and the system will keep limping along for as long as it can.

The other option, acceleration, is to simply speed up the process so the system breaks sooner rather than later, forcing people to deal with it rather than punt the problems to the next generation.

The Optimal Free Rider Problem

It occurred to me this morning that the optimal state of compliance with many programs is not 100%. Society is better off, in essence, with some free riders.

Take vaccines. Immunity is good. Herd immunity is good. Herd immunity in general goes up as vaccination rates go up, but by its very nature, herd immunity does not require 100% vaccination.

But vaccines also have side effects; there are people who, for medical reasons, probably shouldn’t have vaccines.

Let’s take measles, an unpleasant and highly contagious disease. A vaccination rate of 90-95% is required to achieve herd immunity against measles–let’s just play it safe and say 95%.

Since every vaccine (and medications generally) carries some risk of side effects, that last 5% of people is not necessarily any better off getting the vaccine than not getting it. In fact, if they can coast along on herd immunity without taking any of the risk of vaccine side effects, they are personally better off. From a herd standpoint, there’s no point in spending resources on unneeded vaccines, finding the last few non-compliant people, or killing people with compromised immune systems who can’t handle vaccination–beyond 95%, these activities may be lowering the herd’s collective health, not raising it.

Of course, this opens a Prisoners’ Dilemma-type situation: Everyone would like to enjoy more herd immunity with less personal risk of vaccine side effects (not to mention cost, inconvenience, etc), which means everyone has an incentive to defect, claim a medical exemption, and let everyone else take the jab for them.

If too many people start claiming exemptions, of course, herd immunity breaks down. People claiming religious, ethical, or “I just don’t want to have vaccines” exemptions aren’t really in the former category of people whose health would be actually harmed by vaccines. Some of them might still fit in that 5%, but beyond that, we have a problem.

Then society starts cracking down on the freeloaders. This leads to “policies,” procedures, gate keepers, and red tape. Now people who actually shouldn’t get vaccines have to go through a bunch of trouble to prove they aren’t freeloaders, and people are generally shamed for non-vaccination.

Parking spots are another case where a few freeloaders is probably optimal.

Most parking lots set aside a few spaces for the disabled, but most of the time, these spaces are not completely filled. There are usually a few empty spaces that could be optimally allocated to people in a special hurry, making deliveries, pregnant women, people nervous about crime at night, etc.

Of course, if more than one or two people cheat, then very quickly we don’t have any disabled parking spots, so there’s a lot of social pressure on people not to abuse the disabled parking.

Disabled assistance animals are also exceptions to a general rule. We usually declare that dogs and other animals aren’t allowed inside places like grocery stores and restaurants for hygienic reasons/other people’s allergies, but 100% compliance with the “no dogs” rule isn’t optimal. We make exceptions for seeing eye dogs because obviously everyone is better off with blind people being able to get around town and buy food. The general category of assistance animal has been expanded to include other useful abilities, like hearing dogs for the deaf and mobility for people in wheelchairs.

These are clear-cut cases, but the water becomes muddier when we enter the realm of psychiatric or emotional assistance animals. Does someone with PTSD who disappears under a car every time there’s a loud noise need an assist animal? What about a child with autism who will be much quieter and calmer on a plane if his dog is there? How about an anxious older woman who feels calmer with her cat?

At some point we run into the fact that most pet owners have a pet in the first place because it makes them happy. Many people would be happier or less anxious with their pet with them (or at least think they would). 

Allowing a broadened definition of self-declared assist animals leads quickly down a path to someone’s “emotional support pitbull” mauling a five year old at the airport:

The traumatic incident for the young girl is just one of numerous high-profile allegations of bad support-animal behavior at airports as airlines and the federal government have scrambled to respond to a growing pile of complaints, ranging from poor potty training to nasty bites.

The episodes have proliferated over the past two years, fueling a debate over how the animals should be regulated while traveling. In June 2017, a 70-pound emotional support dog bit a man in the face just as he sat down in his window seat on a Delta Air Lines flight departing Atlanta, leaving him with 28 stitches. In February 2018, another emotional support dog chomped at a little girl’s forehead on a Southwest Airlines flight departing Phoenix, leaving her with only a scrape but causing panic.

In Gabriella’s case, she had to undergo tear-duct surgery, leaving her with permanent scars, her attorney, Chad Stavley, told The Washington Post. The pit bull severed her tear duct and disfigured her upper lip, leaving a chunk of it missing, according to a graphic photo of her injuries provided by Stavley. …

All of these bad incidents amount to businesses and lawmakers cracking down on “support” animals and passing stricter laws about which ones qualify–in other words, people who have a legitimate need for real support animals get inconvenienced because of people taking advantage of the system.

Firefighting is another case where there’s probably an optimal number of free riders–not in the fighting of fires, but in the paying taxes to pay the firefighters. Suppose a system where everyone pays their taxes to the fire department and the department puts out all fires: good. But some people are poor and don’t have any money for taxes. Even if we don’t care about their houses, their neighbors do, and their neighbors don’t want fire jumping from their houses to the houses of taxpayers. It makes sense for the fire department to put out all of the fires, even of people who haven’t paid. But if people can get their fires put out without paying, there stops being any incentive to pay the fire tax, and soon the fire department can’t afford trucks.

These cases suggest an overall pattern: First, a rule that needs to be nearly universally followed. Second, a few legitimate exceptions that people generally recognize. Third, too many people taking advantage of the exceptions. Fourth, increased institutional/legal rigidity in an attempt to define just who exactly gets the exceptions.