Abuse

It’s a form of abuse to constantly tell someone things like “No one loves you,” “everyone hates you,” “you’re so awful, no one would ever put up with you,” etc. It’s worse, of course, if the person saying these things is someone the abused trusts, loves, or looks up to, like a parent or spouse.

What happens when someone starts to believe these sorts of lies? If they think that other people hate them or would do horrible things to them when they actually don’t? Would they come to believe that their abuser really was “they only one you can trust” and “just looking out for you”?

Every time something bad happens, they’d internalize it as yet another piece of evidence that the abuser is right: “Of course bad things happen to me–everyone hates me.” They would be afraid of the world, unable to trust anyone. How would they even begin to realize that they’ve been lied to?

It would be pretty awful if people were going around with incorrect ideas about the rates of police violence against them, too.

How many unarmed people did the police kill last year?

This is the total police killings of unarmed people, of all races, over the past 5 years. Of course, some of the “armed” people really weren’t, but we are still talking numbers similar to the number of people killed by bees and wasps each year:

Deaths by Wasps and Bees per year”

As for race:

This Y-axis is seems like a case of deceptive truncation, but the total number of unarmed Africans killed by the police in 2019 was 9. This is on the same order of magnitude as “killed by lightning” and “drowned in a bucket” (don’t worry, though, if you can read this, you’re too old to fall into a bucket and drown.)

But suppose we zoom out and assume that all of the “armed” suspects shot by the police really weren’t. This is obviously not true, but it constitutes a theoretical upper bound. The police killed about 240 black people total last year. By contrast, over 3,500 people drown each year; over 7,000 black people were murdered by non-police in 2018.

Oh, and these protests are now happening in the midst of a pandemic that has been killing over a thousand people per day. Any argument that police violence is a bigger concern than corona is statistically nuts.

I’ve noticed that, aside from the WAPO article, the exact number of unarmed people shot by the police was not easy to find. Most people want to talk about rates and percentages, rather than absolute numbers. This is understandable if you are trying to figure out if one group is more likely to get killed than another, but bad for figuring out how often something actually happens and whether or not you should be worried about it.

Look, I actually have a fair number of complaints about the police/judiciary/legal system, and there are reasonable arguments about excessive force, over criminalization, and bad prison conditions that I support.

But no one should be told that there is a giant conspiracy out there to kill them when there isn’t.

Waco

There’s a drama on Netflix based on two books about the 1993 standoff between the ATF/FBI and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. I recommend it.

There is something sad about a cult that grows old. Pretty much every new religion starts as a cult–a small group of people following a charismatic leader–but the ones that last become focused on ritual and theology as they mature. Cults that don’t mature end up facing some kind of crisis of faith, which tends to result in people getting very hurt.

The Branch Davidians began in 1929 when Victor Houteff split off from the 7th Day Adventists. They were in California back then, a good place for wacky cults, but Houteff decided to relocate to Waco in 1934, the middle of the Dust Bowl. Either he got a great deal on some extremely cheap land or he was completely insane.

The cult continued along, doing culty things and expecting imminent apocalypse but not really causing trouble, until David Koresh showed up. (David Koresh isn’t his birth name, btw. His mother named him Vernon Howell, but he changed it to better lead the cult.)

As far as I can tell, Koresh had two obsessive interests: the Bible and sex, and the former was his path to the latter. He joined the cult when he was 20 and started sleeping with its then 60 year old female leader. The cult leader’s son, George Roden, sensed that Koresh was trying to mosey into his inheritance and kicked him and his band of followers out of the compound. Koresh and about 25 others went off and were essentially homeless hippies living in tents and buses for a couple years before he set off on some globe-trotting adventures to raise some more members for his side of the cult, then returned to the power struggle with Roden.

At that point, Roden’s advantage over Koresh was that he was heir to the cult and had control of the compound; Koresh’s advantage was that he was slightly less insane. Roden started digging up dead bodies and challenged Koresh to a raise-the-dead contest, which Koresh reported to the authorities on the grounds that digging up corpses is illegal.

The authorities declined to prosecute because they didn’t have any proof, so Koresh and his followers stormed the compound in search of evidence. This ended in a gunfight and Roden was injured; Koresh and his followers were tried for attempted murder, but basically acquitted. According to Wikipedia:

Even with all the effort to bring the casket to court, the standing judge refused to use it as evidence for the case.[17] Judge Herman Fitts ruled that the courtroom is no place for a casket when defense attorney Gary Coker requested it be used as evidence for the case. During questions about said casket, Roden admitted to attempting to resurrect Anne Hughes on three occasions. The Rodenville Eight were forced to carry the casket down the street to a van awaiting the body.[citation needed]  

While waiting for the trial, Roden was put in jail under contempt of court charges because of his use of foul language[18] in some court pleadings. He threatened the Texas court with sexually transmitted diseases if the court ruled in Howell’s favor. Alongside these charges, Roden was jailed for six months for legal motions he filed with explicit language. 

Roden then removed himself from the conflict by putting an axe through another man’s skull for claiming to be the messiah. Roden became one of the few people to be found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent off to the psychiatric hospital, while David Koresh and his followers paid off the compound’s back taxes and cleaned out the meth lab someone had built in there.

Koresh then got back to his primary business: having lots of sex with lots of women and teenage girls and making lots of babies. Koresh fathered at least 16 children, (at least 12 of them died in the fire that took down the compound following the ATF raid, but some children he fathered before he joined the BDs may have survived). The Branch Davidians were also stockpiling tons of weapons, a hobby I have never quite understood but I have been told is not that unusual for rural Texans.

The Branch Davidians actually owned a gun shop where they sold weapons to other folks in Waco, (like everyone else, they had to make money to feed their families,) so there may be a fairly mundane explanation for most of their guns.

This is when the government got interested in what Koresh and his followers were up to.

On February 23, 1993, the ATF rolled up with three helicopters and a 100-man SWAT team to execute a search warrant for illegal guns and drugs. (While the raid was probably also motivated by reports of child abuse/polygamy/rape, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as its name indicates, doesn’t handle such cases.) No one knows who shot first, but a firefight broke out, people were killed on both sides, tanks were brought in, and both sides hunkered down for a protracted siege.

The standoff ended 51 days later when the FBI decided to ram the compound and fill it with (CS) tear gas. The US government is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention from using CS gas against its enemies in war, but it is perfectly legal for the government to gas American children because they are not foreigners and, crucially, cannot fight back: 

Use of CS in war is prohibited under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by most nations in 1993 with all but five other nations signing between 1994 and 1997. The reasoning behind the prohibition is pragmatic: use of CS by one combatant could easily trigger retaliation with much more toxic chemical weapons such as nerve agents.

At this point, the compound burst into flame. There is much debate about who started the fire (and why). but even in the scenario where the Davidians started it themselves, we have to remember that they were being gassed, tanks were ramming the walls of their compound, people were trapped under the rubble, and they thought that if they left, they would be shot.

According to one of the few survivors: 

When the 51-day siege finally came to a head and the entire compound was on fire, Thibodeau escaped from a hole in the building. He says he could feel his hair crackling from the fire.

“I really thought the FBI was going to kill me [once I left the building], but at that point, I thought it was better to die by a bullet to the head than to die by burning to death. …”

Thibodeau wrote one of the books the Netflix miniseries is based on, along with the memoirs of Gary Noesner, the FBI’s hostage negotiator who manned the other side of Koresh’s telephone line during the siege. Thibodeau disputes the notion that the Branch Davidians started the fire themselves; unless we can listen to the FBI tapes for ourselves (and line them up accurately with events as they went down), we can’t really say, but I’m willing to split the difference and say that even if someone intentionally lit a fire, it doesn’t mean that everyone else in the building agreed with them and wanted to die in a fire. It seems more likely that something resembling Thibodeau’s account (total chaos) is closer to the truth.

76 people died in (or during) the fire, 25 of them children. (10 others died in the initial shoot-out, some ATF and some BDs.)

It is now generally agreed that the Branch Davidians were minding their own business and didn’t pose any meaningful threat to outsiders; they had no intention of going on a shooting rampage nor of committing mass suicide, at least before tanks showed up in their front yard. There may have been child abuse and Koresh was definitely having sex with teenagers, but everyone else in the compound was celibate and not really doing anything objectionable, and the children who burned to death obviously would have been better off had the government left well enough alone.

As far as Noesner’s account is concerned, the ATF/FBI side of the affair was a total clusterfuck of different people with different agendas working at cross-purposes, making it impossible for him to do his job and convince Koresh and his followers that they totally wouldn’t get shot this time if they left the building. I don’t think the government ever officially admitted any culpability, but the case has gone down as “How not to conduct an ATF raid on a heavily armed cult.”

The government’s main case was against Koresh, who could have been easily arrested any time he went to town; other cult members who might have had gun violations also could have been arrested at work or while socializing. There really was no need for the siege at all.

Thibodeau says he expected more people to care about his side of the story. The standoff was televised, but viewers only got the outside view, colored by the ATF/FBI’s allegations against the cult. Liberals tend to appreciate stories of police/state violence against ordinary citizens when they involve obvious minorities like Rodney King or Micheal Brown, but are less concerned when they involve weird cultists from Texas. Mainstream conservatives tend to side with law enforcement; they like stories where the bad guys are criminals.

The Waco siege was interesting enough to make the news, but didn’t cross the right tribal lines for normal people to side with the Branch Davidians. To the mainstream left, religious nuts in Texas were the bad guys, and to the mainstream right, law enforcement were the good guys.

The Branch Davidians themselves were not far-right–

according to the Religious Tolerance website:

A major international recruitment drive was established in 1985; it was aimed at SDA members (in particular those who had been disfellowshipped from the church due to their beliefs). This effort brought in members from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, etc. A number of businesses were created within the compound; guns were purchased wholesale and legally resold at gun shows. There were 130 members living at Waco in the Spring of 1993; they were a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of whom 45 were black.

Does some quick math… That makes the Branch Davidians about 33% black, while the nearby city of Waco is only 23% black. If they’d lived in California instead of Waco, they probably would have been portrayed as a hippie commune. (Aside from the “David Koresh is a prophet so he gets to have sex with everyone” thing, their beliefs don’t seem that unusual for the area, either.)

–but because of the layout of American tribal identities, the only folks who really cared about their side of their story are far-rightists who think that the government intentionally targets white people. Thus the Branch Davidians were not white nationalists, but white nationalists and their relatives on the far-right are the only people (besides their loved ones) who’ve really cared about their story.

On April 19, 1995, on the second anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidians’ compound, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing at least 168 people 19 of them children, and injuring nearly 700 others. The men were motivated, they said, by the events at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the deaths of the Branch Davidians in 1993.

I doubt any of the Branch Davidians would have wanted their deaths avenged in this way.

Global Warming Poll

I noticed a while back that many of the people who fit roughly into the “global warming skeptic” category don’t disagree entirely with the idea, so I wanted to investigate more deeply. Here are the preliminary results of my poll:

If you don’t believe in Global Warming, why?

A. I do believe, but I don’t admit it because I think libs are trying to use GW for political ends I disagree with
B. I believe, but I want the Earth to get warmer because winter sucks
C. I believe, but I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal/there’s nothing I can do about it
D. I stopped paying attention to environmentalists sometime around 1995 because their predictions always fail to come true
E. People who claim to believe in global warming don’t actually act like they believe it, so I don’t, either
F. I don’t find the science/evidence I’ve seen convincing
G. The Earth is too big for humans to have an effect
H. Something else I will explain in the comments

Thanks to everyone who participated. Many people went into detail about their opinions rather than pick any of the given options, which was great because it helped me see flaws in the poll and get a deeper insight into what people are thinking. In retrospect, C should have been broken into two options and there should have been another option similar to A but is “I don’t believe it because I think libs are just using it to push a political agenda.”

That said, here are the rough results after smooshing people’s responses into the closest categories:

A. Disagree w/ politics: 27
B. Winter sucks: 14
C. No big deal/can’t change: 32
D. Lost credibility: 10
E. Don’t act like they believe it: 11
F. Science: 17
G: Earth too big: 3

Other:
H. Cult: 7
I. Real but not caused by humans: 3
J. It’s real: 4

Qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, I think results broke down into three main categories: 1. disagreement with libs about politics/solutions, 2. personal credibility of the global warming advocates, 3. science.

Under disagreements, many people noted that global warming gets used to advocate almost solely for leftist causes like socialism, while other important solutions are ignored, eg, @CamperWatcher27′s take:

It’s a true scientifically proven crisis, the solution for which just happens to be implementation of every left wing wishlist item. It mandates no policy sacrifice by the left whatsoever, it’s almost too good to be true.

A couple of people noted that often the solutions, like shipping plastic trash to China so it can be burned under the guise of “recycling”, do more harm than good, and many people noted that there is effectively nothing they can do about China’s pollution, eg @laikasrefectory’s opinion:

I do, and I find the evidence convincing, but find fault in where fingers are pointed, and agree that the topic is weaponised. The West could stop all emissions tomorrow and we’d still be fucked thanks to China and India.

Many readers complained that environmentalists aren’t in favor of building more nuclear power plants, limiting immigration, or virtually any other “right wing” position that would also help the environment.

Personal credibility of environmentalists turned out to be more important than I expected. People didn’t just object that global warming advocates don’t actually act like they believe in global warming (I just finished talking to a relative who is both concerned about global warming wiping Florida off the map and preparing to fly around the world for an international vacation), but they also objected on the grounds that global warming is a “cult” or “religion.” (This was a little annoying from the coding perspective because it doesn’t answer the question–believing that Christianity is a religion doesn’t stop Christians from believing in it.) I interpreted these responses, therefore, as “this is a belief system that those people hold an I don’t happen to hold it,” just as I might respond if suddenly put on the spot and asked why I don’t believe in shamanism.

There were also people who remembered fears of “global cooling” in the 70s or had grown weary of the media habit of attributing practically everything bad that happens to “climate change,” even when there’s no way to prove it causally. A good example from @punishedkomrade:

The exaggerated predictions of doom, combined with the unseriousness of “solutions” (eg We need socialism to save the Climate! Ew, not nuclear!) leads me to ignore the issue

Then there’s the science:

This is quite remarkable. You might think that more intelligent people would hold more similar opinions, since we all have access to the same scientific material (more or less). Instead, dumb people take more moderate stances while intelligent people throw themselves toward their tribe’s extreme.

For example, here is @billkristolmeth‘s take on the science:

Explain how a ~400ppm (0.04%) trace gas acts as a “control knob” on global temperature. Explain why CO2 has a greater effect than water vapor.
Explain why models that do not factor in cloud albedo can be considered reliable in long-term prediction of climate.
Explain why solar output is considered generally irrelevant by the model makers despite being measurably variable.
Explain why substantially higher CO2 in the past on Earth did not cause Earth to become a Venus-like hothouse as predicted by some models.
These are the sorts of questions that I eventually started asking as the time to DOOM compressed. Sure the climate changes, it always has. The CO2 hypothesis however is based almost entirely on vastly incomplete models and I find it unconvincing on a basic thermodynamics level.

I believe in global warming (specifically, I believe the claims of climate scientists that the Earth is getting warmer and it is caused by humans), but I can’t answer these questions. I believe because scientists I know in real life respect other scientists who think global warming is real. By contrast, none of the astronomers I know in real life have ever mentioned the sun causing global warming. This is a chain of trust (or authority), not first-hand knowledge and understanding of climate data. I suspect something similar is going on for other people–which science they find credible is determined by which scientists they find credible.

This chain of trust is interesting, because it relates back to different groups of people being, essentially, separate. There are other cases where different groups have different chains of trust–obviously Israelis and Palestinians believe different news sources about the region. There are black communities on the internet that also have their own “science” with its own separate chain of trust, usually centering around claims that melanin has fantastic powers and that white people kidnap black children to harvest their melanin (I think this claim was motivated by confusion about the difference between melanin and melatonin, which you can buy at the store). Native Americans also distrust mainstream science (especially genetics) and don’t include it in their chain of authority, though they don’t tend to replace it with anything in particular.

If you happen not to find any scientists credible (or you just aren’t into science), then your next fallback is judging the kinds of people who advocate for global warming (well, advocate for doing something about it,) and their policy solutions. If the upshot of global warming advocacy in your real life is an “energy and water efficient” clothes washer that has to be run twice for every load of laundry because it doesn’t use enough water to get the soap off, you’re going to be pretty darn skeptical of this whole deal.

Obviously my poll isn’t terribly scientific or accurate, but I think it’s close enough to capture the zeitgeist. So if anyone reading this actually wants to save the planet, then I think the first thing you (and others) should do is disentangle global warming and politics. Don’t make global warming a reason to vote left–this is making the survival of our planet dependent on irrelevant questions like “Do you like gays?” Come up with ideas that appeal to people from both sides of the political aisle, like using nuclear power to achieve energy independence. Second, you need to act like you actually believe it. Stop flying. Stop buying products made in China and shipped across the ocean in great big carbon-belching container ships. Ride your bike to work. Then, maybe, people will take you seriously.

 

Many Feminisms

If you’ve ever spent half an hour reading anything about feminism, you’ve already discovered one of its biggest flaws: it’s completely incoherent. There’s sex positive feminism and sex negative feminism, radical feminism and intersectional feminism, trans-inclusive feminism and TERFs, first wave and third wave, third world and first world, etc, etc.

There’s a simple reason for this: women don’t have that many major issues that they universally share.

Groups of women have interests in common, just like any groups. Women in Alaska have certain interest in common that are different from women in Arizona. Women in their 80s have interests in common that they don’t share with women in their 30s (yet). Single women, women married to men, and women married to women all have distinct interests. Women who don’t want to get pregnant have an interest in abortion, women who do want to get pregnant aren’t so interested in abortion, and female fetuses in countries where sex-selective abortion is rampant have an inverse interest in abortion.

The one thing we all have in common is that we’d like women to be treated decently. We have this in common with most men, too, and most of us would also like men to be treated decently. Conservatives want to treat women decently. Liberals want to treat women decently. Pretty much everyone who isn’t a sociopath thinks other people should be treated decently. This is not a philosophy, much less an overriding political position.

It makes as much sense to think that all women could have political interests in common as to think that all of the French could, and then be surprised to find that France has more than one political party fighting over what is in the best interests of the French.

Since “the interests of all women” can’t be a political position, we’re left instead with people using the motte and bailey trick to claim that their particular self-serving position is really in the interests of all women–rather like if all of the political parties in France decided to call themselves the French Party. (Note: all political positions are self-serving, of course.) Then if you don’t agree that some particular self-serving point in your interest, you get hit with the “What, you don’t support the interests of all women?”

Since no one on the left wants to admit to not supporting the universal interests of all women, we get instead a plethora of feminisms, each purporting to be the One True Feminism, and absolutely nothing coherent.

The Idiocy of Categoric Purity

I realized yesterday that the Left has an odd idea of “purity” that underlies many of their otherwise inexplicable, reality-rejecting claims.

The left has, perhaps unconsciously, adopted the idea that if groups of things within a particular category exist, the groups must be totally independent and not overlap at all.

In the case of genetics, they think that for a genetic group to “exist” and be “real”, it must hail from a single, pure, founding population with no subsequent mixing with other groups. We see this in a recently headline from the BBC: Is this the last of the Aryans? 

Deep in India’s Ladakh region live the Aryans, perhaps the last generation of pure-blooded people and holders of possibly the only untampered gene pool left in the world.

These actually-called-Aryans might be fabulous, interesting people, but there is no way they are more pure and “untampered” than the rest of us. The entire sub-headline is nonsense, because all non-Africans (and some Africans) have Neanderthal DNA. They aren’t even pure Homo sapiens! Africans btw have their own archaic DNA from interbreeding with another, non-Neanderthal, human species. None of us, so far as I know, is a “pure” Homo sapiens.

Besides that, the proto-Indo-European people whom these Aryans are descended from where themselves a fusion of at least two peoples, European hunter-gatherers and a so far as I know untraced steppe-people from somewhere about Ukraine.

Further, even if the Aryans settled in their little villages 4,000 years ago and have had very little contact with the outside world over that time, it is highly unlikely that they have had none.

Meanwhile, out in the rest of the world, there are plenty of other highly isolated peoples: The Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, for example, who will kill you if you try to set foot on their island. There was a pretty famous case just last year of someone earning himself a Darwin award by trying to convert the Sentinelese.

Now let’s look at that word “untampered.” What on earth does that mean? How do you tamper with a genome? Were the rest of us victims of evil alien experiments with CRSPR, tampering with our genomes?

The Chinese might figure out how to produce “tampered” genomes soon, but the rest of us, all of us in the entire world, have “untampered” genomes.

To be honest, I am slightly flabbergasted at this author’s notion that the rest of the people in the world are walking around with “tampered” genomes because our ancestors married some Anatolian farming people 4,000 years ago.

This strange idea pops up in liberal conversations about “race”, too. Take the recent AAPA Statement on Race and Racism:

Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters.

But… no one said they did. At least, not since we stopped using Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth going their separate ways after the Flood as our explanation for why races exist.

“See, human races are’t descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth, therefore races don’t exist!”

Two groups of things need not be completely separate, non-overlapping to nonetheless exist. “Pillows” and “cloth” contain many overlapping traits, for example; there are no traits in “cloth” that do not also exist in “pillows.”

Colin Wight on Twitter articulates this beautifully as the “Univariate Fallacy”:

Click the cube. Watch it turn.

This fallacy, when deployed, is commonly done using a single sentence buried within an article or essay couched around a broader narrative on the history of a particular type of oppression, such as sexism. Let me give you some recent examples of this fallacy in action.

You’ll remember this @nature piece arguing that sex is a spectrum and that perhaps there are more then 2 sexes, even though over 99.98% of humans can be classified at birth as being unambiguously male or female. … [Link to piece]

In this piece, they hold off deploying the Univariate Fallacy until the second-to-last sentence of a nearly 3500 word essay.

So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? “My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter.”

Please read the whole thread. It is very insightful.

For example, if you look at the so called “big five” personality traits, you find only 10% overlap between men and women. This is why it is usually pretty easy to tell if you are talking to a man or a woman. But if you you look at only one trait at a time, there’s a lot more overlap. So the trick is to take a thing with multiple facets–as most things in the real world are–and claim that because it overlaps in any of its facets with any other thing, that it does not exist. It is not pure.

Are our categories, in fact, random and arbitrary? Is there some reality beneath the categories we use to describe groups of people, like “male” and “female,” “young” and “old,” “black” and “white”? Could we just as easily have decided to use different categories, lumping humans by different criteria, like height or eye color or interest in Transformers, and found these equally valid? Should we refer to all short people as “the short race” and everyone who owns a fedora as “untouchables”?

Liberals believe that the categories came first, were decided for arbitrary or outright evil reasons, bear no relation to reality, and our belief in these categories then created them in the world because we enforced them. This is clearly articulated in the AAPA Statement on Race and Racism:

Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world.

Race exists because evil Europeans made it, for their own evil benefit, out of the completely undifferentiated mass of humanity that existed before 1492.

This statement depends on the Univariate Fallacy discussed above–the claim that biological races don’t actually exist is 100% dependent on the UF–and a misunderstanding of the term “social construct,” a term which gets thrown around a lot despite no one understanding what it means.

I propose a different sequence of events, (with thanks to Steven Pinker in the Blank Slate for pointing it out): Reality exists, and in many cases, comes in lumps. Plants, for existence, have a lot in common with other plants. Animals have a lot in common with other animals. Humans create categories in order to talk about these lumps of things, and will keep using their categories so long as they are useful. If a category does not describe things well, it will be quickly replaced by a more effective category.

Meme theory suggests this directly–useful ideas spread faster than non-useful ideas. Useful categories get used. Useless categories get discarded. If I can’t talk about reality, then I need new words.

Sometimes, new information causes us to update our categories. For example, back before people figured out much about biology, fungi were a bit of a mystery. They clearly act like plants, but they aren’t green and they seem to grow parasitically out of dead things. Fungi were basically classed as “weird, creepy plants,” until we found out that they’re something else. It turns out that fungi are actually more closely related to humans than plants, but no one outside of a molecular biologist has any need for a category that is “humans and fungi, but not plants,” so no one uses such a category. There are, additionally, some weird plants, like venus flytraps, that show animal-like traits like predation and rapid movement, and some animals, like sponges, that look more like plants. You would not think a man crazy if he mistook a sponge for a plant, but no one looks at these examples, throws up their hands, and says, “Well, I guess plants and animals are arbitrary, socially-constructed categories and don’t exist.” No, we are all quite convinced that, despite a few cases that were confusing until modern science cleared them up, plants, animals, and fungi all actually exist–moving sponges from the “plant” category to the “animal” category didn’t discredit the entire notion of “plants” and “animals,” but instead improved our classification scheme.

Updating ideas and classification schemes slightly to make them work more efficiently as we get more information about obscure or edge cases in no way impacts the validity of the classification scheme. It just means that we’re human beings who aren’t always 100% right about everything the first time we behold it.

To summarize: reality exists, and it comes in lumps. We create words to describe it. If a word does not describe reality, it gets replaced by a superior word that does a better job of describing reality. Occasionally, we get lucky and find out more information about reality, and update our categories and words accordingly. Where a category exists and is commonly used, therefore, it most likely reflects an actual, underlying reality that existed before the world and caused it to come into existence–not the other way around.

The belief that words create reality is magical thinking and belongs over in Harry Potter and animist religion, where you can cure Yellow Fever by painting someone yellow and then washing off the paint. It’s the same childish thinking as believing that monsters can’t see you if you have a blanket over your head (because you can’t see them) or that Bloody Mary will appear in the bathroom mirror if you turn out the lights and say her name three times while spinning around.

Of course, “white privilege” is basically the “evil eye” updated for the modern age, so it’s not too surprised to find people engaged in other forms of mystical thinking, like that if you just don’t believe in race, it will cease to exist and no one will ever slaughter their neighbors again, just as no war ever happened before 1492 and Genghis Khan never went on a rampage that left 50 million people dead.

“Purity” as conceived of in these examples isn’t real. It doesn’t exist; it never existed, and outside of the simplistic explanations people thought up a few thousand years ago when they had much less information about the world, no one actually uses such definitions. The existence of different races doesn’t depend on Ham and Shem; rain doesn’t stop existing just because Zeus isn’t peeing through a sieve. In reality, men and women are different in a number of different ways that render categories like “man” and “woman” functional enough for 99.99% of your daily interactions. Racial categories like “black” and “white” reflect real-life differences between actual humans accurately enough that we find them useful terms, and the fact that humans have migrated back and forth across the planet, resulting in very interesting historical stories encoded in DNA, does not change this at all.

I’d like to wrap this up by returning to the BBC’s strange article on the Aryans:

I asked Dolma if she was excited over her daughter participating in the festival. She replied that not many outsiders came to Biama, and that it was fun to meet foreigners. But even more importantly, she couldn’t wait to see friends from neighbouring villages, brought together by each year by the festival, as well as the chance to dress up, dance and celebrate. If the future generations continue to hold traditional ceremonies and celebrations and keep their vibrant culture alive, perhaps then, they won’t be the last of the Aryans.

smallisland
Source:  The Economist

One wonders what the author–or the BBC in general–thinks of efforts to keep the British pure or preserve British culture, untouched and unchanged through the millennia. Or is preserving one’s culture only for quaint foreigners whose entertaining exoticism would be ruined if they started acting and dressing just like us? What about those of us in America who think the British have a quaint and amusing culture, and would like it to stick around so we can still be entertained by it? And do the British themselves deserve any say in this, or are they eternally tainted with “impure,” “tampered” bloodlines due to the mixing of bronze-age peoples with Anglo Saxon invaders over a millennium and a half ago, and thus have no right to claim a culture or history of their own?

Goodness, what an idiotic way of looking at the world.

What’s to be done with the dumb?

Society seems split into two camps on the matter of intelligence. Side A believes that everyone is secretly smart, but for a variety of reasons (bad teachers, TV, racism, sexism, etc) their true intelligence isn’t showing. Side B believes that some people really are stupid, because they are bad people, and they therefore deserve to suffer.

Out in reality, however, there are plenty of good, decent people who, through no fault of their own, are not smart.

I’m not making my usual jest wherein I claim that about 75% people are morons. I am speaking of the bottom 40% or so of people who have no particular talents or aptitudes of use in the modern economy. For any job that isn’t pure manual labor, they will almost always be competing with candidates who are smarter, quicker, or better credentialed than they are. Life itself will constantly present them with confusing or impenetrable choices–and it will only get worse as they age.

The agricultural economy–which we lived in until 7 decades ago, more or less–could accommodate plenty of people of modest intellects so long as they were hard-working and honest. A family with a dull son or daughter could, if everyone liked each other, still find a way for them to contribute, and would help keep them warm and comfortable in turn.

When you own your own business, be it a farm or otherwise, you can employ a relative or two. When you are employed by someone else, you don’t have that option. Back in the early 1800s, about 80% of people were essentially self-employed or worked on family farms. Today, about 80% of people are employees, working for someone else.

Agriculture is now largely mechanized, and most of the other low-IQ jobs, whether in stores or factories, are headed the same direction. Self-driving cars may soon replace most of the demand for cabbies and truckers, while check-out kiosks automate retail sales. I wouldn’t be surprised to see whole restaurants that are essentially giant vending machines with tables, soon.

The hopeful version of this story says that for every job automated, a new one is created. The invention of the tractor and combine didn’t put people out of work; the freed-up agricultural workers moved to the city and started doing manufacturing jobs. Without automation in the countryside we couldn’t have had so many factories because there would have been no one to work them. Modern automation therefore won’t put people out of jobs, long-term, so much as enable them to work new jobs.

The less hopeful point of view says that we are quickly automating all of the jobs that dumb people can do, and that the new economy requires significantly more intelligence than the old. So, yes, there are new jobs–but dumb people can’t do them.

If the pessimistic view is correct, what options do we have? People are uncomfortable with just letting folks starve to death. We already have Welfare. This seems suboptimal, and people worry that many of those who receive it aren’t virtuously dumb, but crafty and lazy. Makework jobs are another option. If not awful, they can let people feel productive and like they’ve earned their income, but of course they can be awful, and someone else has to make sure the fake job doesn’t result in any real damage. (If they could work unsupervised, they wouldn’t need fake jobs.) Our economy already has a lot of fake jobs, created to make it look like we’re all busy adults doing important things and prevent the poor from burning down civilization.

People have been floating UBI (universal basic income) as another solution. Basically, all of the benefits of welfare without all of the complicated paperwork or the nagging feeling that some lazy bum is getting a better deal than you because everyone gets the exact same deal.

UBI would ideally be offset via an increase in sales taxes (since the money is initially likely to go directly to consumption) to avoid hyperinflation. This is where we get into “modern monetary theory,” which basically says (I think) that it doesn’t really matter whether the gov’t taxes and then spends or spends and then taxes so long as the numbers balance in the end. Of course, this is Yang’s big presidential idea. I think it’s a fascinating idea (I’ve been tossing it around but haven’t had a whole lot to say about it for about fifteen years) and would love to see the independent nation of California or Boston try it out first.

UBI doesn’t exactly solve the problem of the dumb–who still need help from other people to not get scammed by Nigerian princes–but it could simplify and thus streamline our current system, which is really quite unwieldy.

Thoughts?

Why do People believe in Conspiracies?

What happens when one’s beliefs come in conflict with reality? Not a small conflict, like the shops closing earlier than expected, but a massive conflict, such as believing that a non-existent conspiracy is out to get you.

Both leftists and rightists have their pet conspiracies. I have conspiracy theories. Every now and then, a conspiracy theory turns out to be true, but usually they aren’t.

Here’s an interesting example of a non-political conspiracy theory: Obsessed Benedict Cumberbatch Fans Tried to Have Me Fired:

It started, as so many online flaps do, with a thoughtless tweet. A starstruck friend and I had bumped into the popular actor Benedict Cumberbatch and his pregnant wife, and I made a faintly ironic tweet about it. …

Then the replies started. “How do you know it was his wife?” “What’s his wife like?”

Then, “SHE’S NOT PREGNANT.“ …

Members of the self-named “Skeptics” (a group of exclusively female Cumberbatch fans who believe that his wife is, variously: a prostitute, a hired PR girlfriend, a blackmailer, a con artist, a domestic abuser, mentally ill, and apparently the most brilliant criminal mastermind of all time, and that the marriage, his wife’s pregnancy, and very existence of their child have all been faked in a wide-ranging international conspiracy orchestrated by a 30-something British opera director in an attempt to force a naïve and helpless movie star to pretend to be married to her) had discovered me, and they were not impressed.

These sorts of fans are probably either 14 years old or actually low-level mentally ill.

In a way, I suspect that mental illness is far more common than we generally acknowledge.

If we define mental illness in evolutionary terms as something that interferes with survival and reproduction, then it is relatively rare. For example, depression–one of the most common mental illnesses–doesn’t interfere with female fertility, and at least in some studies, neuroticism is positively associated with having more children.

By contrast, if we define mental illness as including any significant disconnect from reality, then large swaths of people may be ill. People who are convinced that movie stars’ wives are fake, for example, may be perfectly adept at getting pregnant, but they are still delusional.

Here is another conspiracy theory: The Fetid, Right-Wing Origins of “Learn to Code”:

Last Thursday, I received the news that the HuffPost Opinion section—where I’d been opining on a weekly basis for a few months—had been axed in its entirety. … Dozens of jobs were slashed at HuffPost that day, following a round of layoffs at Gannett Media; further jobs were about to be disappeared at BuzzFeed. …

Then the responses started rolling in—some sympathy from fellow journalists and readers, then an irritating gush of near-identical responses: “Learn to code.” “Maybe learn to code?” “BETTER LEARN TO CODE THEN.” …

On its own, telling a laid-off journalist to “learn to code” is a profoundly annoying bit of “advice,” a nugget of condescension and antipathy. … the timing and ubiquity of the same phrase made me immediately suspect a brigade attack. My suspicions were confirmed when conservative figures like Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. joined the pile-on, revealing the ways in which right-wing hordes have harnessed social media to discredit and harass their opponents.

So the journalist does some deep sleuthing, discovers that people on 4Chan are talking about telling journalists they should learn to code, and decides that the entire thing is some coordinated troll attack for no other reason than trolls are gonna troll. Just like some movie stars inexplicably have fake girlfriends, so people on 4Chan inexplicably hate journalists.

Related: The Death of a Dreamer:

The day before the conference, Heinz had apparently been told he would be on for ten minutes rather than the three he’d been planning. To fill some of the time at the end, he decided to speak briefly about some of companies he’d partnered with who’d be using Cambrian Genomics technology. Welcoming one of these partners onstage, Gilad Gome of Petomics, he talked about the idea of changing the smell of faeces and gastric wind and using it as an alert that a person was unwell. “When your farts change from wintergreen to banana maybe that means you have an infection in your gut,” he said. He introduced Sweet Peach as a similar project. “The idea is to get rid of UTIs and yeast infections and change the smell of the vagina through probiotics,” he said. …

“These Startup Dudes Want to Make Women’s Private Parts Smell Like Ripe Fruit” ran the headline at Inc.com later that day. … Soon, the Huffington Post picked it up: “Two Science Startup Dudes Introduced a New Product Idea this Week: A Probiotic Supplement that Will Make Women’s Vaginas Smell Like Peaches.” Gawker called it a “waste of science” and said Sweet Peach “sounds like a C-list rom-com with a similarly retrograde view on the priorities of the contemporary human female.” Then, Inc.com weighed in again: “Its mission, apparently hatched by a couple of 11-year-old boys still in the ‘ew, girl cooties’ stage, is to make sure women’s vaginas smell ‘pleasant.’” Similarly negative stories began appearing in major news sources such as SalonBuzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Business Insider.

Long story short, all of the negative publicity resulted in public ostracism in his real life; funding for his company dried up; the company crashed; and he committed suicide.

Shit like this is why so many people hate journalists at magazines like HuffPo.

HuffPo journalists apparently think it’s fine to lie about a guy’s company and drive him to suicide, but think it is very concerning that some assholes told them to “learn to code.” (That said, a bullying campaign targeted at a bunch of people who just lost their jobs might also push someone over the edge to suicide.)

Over in reality land, the learn-to-code meme is far bigger than 4Chan and stems from society’s generalized attempt to replace outsourced manufacturing and other blue-collar labor with white collar jobs like coding. Earning a degree in computer science is, however, outside both the cognitive and physical resources of most laid-off factory workers. Indeed, as the information revolution progresses and society grows more complex, it is not unreasonable to expect that many people will simply not be smart enough to keep up. These are the losers, and there is nothing to be done for them but eternal bread and circuses, welfare and soma.

They commit suicide a lot.

It’s tempting to claim that being so out of touch with mainstream culture that you believe the “learn to code” meme sprang up ex nihilo is part of why these journalists got fired, but it’s far more likely they were just the latest victims of the contraction of print media that’s been going on for two decades.

People believe many other things that defy logic. The QAnoners fall more into the non-functional loony category, but the also-fanciful Russia Conspiracy is widely believed by otherwise levelheaded and normal liberals. The usually not too insane NY Times just ran an article claiming that, “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong.” Whew. There’s a lot implied in that statement.

(While I can’t tell you what people in New York think of black women wearing fur, I can tell you that around here, the only concern is for the fur.)

And there are many conservatives who believe an equal number of silly things about vast conspiracies–be they run by the Jews or the Gays or whomever–but in general, conservative conspiracy theories don’t get as much attention from reasonable people. Conservative conspiracies are low-class.

Take, for example, the way Alex Jones was deplatformed for getting the Sandy Hook students and their families harassed. Infowars is considered low-class and disreputable. But The New York Times did the exact same thing to the Covington students and their families, resulting in harassment and death threats for them, yet the NY Times has not been deplatformed.

What makes a conspiracy low or high status, published in the NY Times or on Infowars, believed by people who are otherwise kind of crazy or otherwise fairly sane?

Centrists and moderates tend not to champion political conspiracies, probably because they basically like society the way it is. “There is great big conspiracy to make society a nice place!” is not an argument most people will bother with. People who are further toward the political extremes, however, are dissatisfied with much of the way society is run. These people need an explanation for why society is so awful.

“Satan” is the archetypal explanation. The Evil One leads people into evil, and thus there is sin in the world and we are fallen from our original state of utopian grace. Satan has the rhetorical advantage of generally not being associated with a real person, so people of even moderate persuasions can be convinced to rally against the abstraction of evil, but sometimes people get a bit too worked up and actual people are put in prison for witchcraft or devil worship. Our last serious witch-hunt was in the 1980s, when people became convinced that Satanists were operating an international daycare conspiracy to kidnap, rape, and torture people’s children.

Today’s Pizzagaters are disreputable, but the Satanic Daycare Conspiracy was pushed by completely respectable mainstream media outlets and supported by the actions of actual police, judges, prosecutors, etc. If you lived through the 80s, you’ve probably repressed your memory of this, but it was a totally real conspiracy that actually sent real people to prison.

Today’s atheists have had to invent less demonic adversaries. The far left believes that the world is run by a cabal of evil heterosexual patriarchal cis-gendered white male Christians. The alt-right believes the world is run by a cabal of scheming Jews. Both of these are conspiracy theories. (Moderates occasionally delve into non-political conspiracies, like the ones surrounding famous movie stars or vaccinations.)

These theories provide all-encompassing ways of understanding the world. People are inexplicably mean to you? It must be part of a conspiracy by “them” to “get” you. As people encounter new information, the ideology they already have shapes how they react, either incorporating it as corroborating evidence or discarding it as worthless propaganda put out by their enemies.

Unfortunately, this makes conspiracies difficult to disprove.

A conspiracy will be considered reputable and believed by otherwise sane and level-headed people if it comes from an already trusted source, like the New York Times or 60 Minutes. It is normal to trust a source you already trust. After all, humans, even intelligent ones, are incapable of knowing everything society needs to know to keep functioning. We therefore have systems of trust and verification set up–such as medical degrees–that let us know what other people know so we can draw on their knowledge. If a plumber says that my plumbing is busted, it is probably in my interest to believe them. So it goes all the way up society–so if trusted people on CNN or in the government think Trump colluded with the Russians, then a reasonable person concludes that Trump colluded with the Russians.

A conspiracy will be considered disreputable and will appeal more to mentally unstable people if it requires first rejecting an established, trusted source. It is easy to believe a false thing by accident if someone you trust states it first; it requires much more work to first justify why all of the trusted sources are saying an untrue thing. This is therefore much easier if you are already paranoid, and distrusting everyone around you is usually a bad idea. (But not always.)

Of course this does not tell us how a source becomes trusted in the first place, but it does suggest that a false idea, once spread by a trusted source, can become very pernicious. (Conversely, a true idea, spread by a false source, will struggle.) The dominance of Cultural Marxism in universities may simply be a side effect of leftist conspiracies being spread by people whom society (or universities) see as more trustworthy in the first place.

(I suppose the fact that I usually don’t believe in conspiracy theories and instead believe in the power of evolution–of species, ideas, cities, civilizations, the sexes, families, etc–to explain the world as it is, might be why I generally see myself as a moderate. However, this leaves me with the task of coming up with a conspiracy theory to explain why evolutionary theories are not more widely accepted. “Meta-conspiracy theorist” sounds about right.)

(My apologies if this post is disorganized; it’s late.)

Trump can’t fire anyone and neither could Tsar Nicholas II

The late reign of the Russian Tsars was marked by their near total inability to exert their will over anything.

At Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation festival:

Before the food and drink was handed out, rumours spread that there would not be enough for everyone. As a result, the crowd rushed to get their share and individuals were tripped and trampled upon, suffocating in the dirt of the field.[39] Of the approximate 100,000 in attendance, it is estimated that 1,389 individuals died[37] and roughly 1,300 were injured.[38] The Khodynka Tragedy was seen as an ill omen and Nicholas found gaining popular trust difficult from the beginning of his reign. The French ambassador’s gala was planned for that night. The Tsar wanted to stay in his chambers and pray for the lives lost, but his uncles believed that his absence at the ball would strain relations with France, particularly the 1894 Franco-Russian Alliance. Thus Nicholas attended the party; as a result the mourning populace saw Nicholas as frivolous and uncaring.

The guy can’t even get out of sports with his uncle:

From there, they made a journey to Scotland to spend some time with Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. While Alexandra enjoyed her reunion with her grandmother, Nicholas complained in a letter to his mother about being forced to go shooting with his uncle, the Prince of Wales, in bad weather, and was suffering from a bad toothache.[41]

Russo-Japanese War:

Nicholas’s stance on the war was something that baffled many. He approached the war with confidence and saw it as an opportunity to raise Russian morale and patriotism, paying little attention to the financial repercussions of a long-distance war.[45] Shortly before the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas held firm to the belief that there would be no war. Despite the onset of the war and the many defeats Russia suffered, Nicholas still believed in, and expected, a final victory, maintaining an image of the racial inferiority and military weakness of the Japanese.[44]

As Russia faced imminent defeat by the Japanese, the call for peace grew. Nicholas’s mother, as well as his cousin Emperor Wilhelm II, urged Nicholas to negotiate for peace. Despite the efforts, Nicholas remained evasive, sending a telegram to the Kaiser on 10 October that it was his intent to keep on fighting until the Japanese were driven from Manchuria.[44] It was not until 27–28 May 1905 and the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese, that Nicholas finally decided to sue for peace.[citation needed]

The Duma:

A second Duma met for the first time in February 1907. The leftist parties—including the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries, who had boycotted the First Duma—had won 200 seats in the Second, more than a third of the membership. Again Nicholas waited impatiently to rid himself of the Duma. In two letters to his mother he let his bitterness flow:

A grotesque deputation is coming from England to see liberal members of the Duma. Uncle Bertie informed us that they were very sorry but were unable to take action to stop their coming. Their famous “liberty”, of course. How angry they would be if a deputation went from us to the Irish to wish them success in their struggle against their government.[67]

He can’t even stop people from coming into his country!

Then, of course, there was that little matter with WWI.

The Tsarina, Alexandra, complained that she couldn’t so much as change the scones they were served at tea time. Each detail of the tea service was set, determined by a system of rules and patronage already put into place and now immutable.

I wish I could find now the book that discussed this, but my search skills are failing me. But in short, despite being the ostensible autocratic monarchs of a massive empire, the Tsar and Tsarina were remarkably incapable of altering even the most minor aspects of their lives. Despite titles like autocrat, emperor, tsar, etc., few men rule alone–most monarchs are enmeshed in multiple overlapping systems of authority, from their relatives–the rest of the royalty–to the military, bureaucracy, the local upper class, feudal obligations, rights and privileges, etc.

Even Henry VIII had to resort to inventing his own religion just to get a simple divorce–something we peasants affect with far more ease. Henry’s difficulties stemmed from the fact that his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was daughter of the king and queen of Spain, and the Pope (whose dispensation was needed for a royal divorce) was at the time being held prisoner by Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V.

But Henry did eventually manage.

We might criticize Henry for murdering two of his wives, but Britain had just emerged from a century of civil war and he knew the importance of producing a clear heir so succession could not be contested and the country would not descend again into war. He was descended from the guys who were ruthless enough to come out on top and he was willing to chop off a few heads if that’s what it took to keep his country safe.

And the product of Henry’s reign was peace; his daughter, Queen Elisabeth I, oversaw England’s golden age.

By contrast, Nicholas II couldn’t produce a viable male heir (hemophiliacs are right out). Alexandra’s failure resulted in neither divorce, a rupture with the Orthodox Church, nor execution (had any of Henry’s wives associated with the likes of Rasputin, their heads would have been off.) He couldn’t even get out of frivolous amusements with his uncle.

It’s not that lopping of Alexandra’s head would have saved the Russian Tsars, but that having a system with enough flexibility that the Tsar could actually make important decisions and leaders capable of using said system might have.

Meanwhile in America, it amazes me that Trump is not capable of simply firing anyone in the executive branch he so desires–including the entire executive branch. After all, Trump is the head of the executive branch; they answer to him. If Trump cannot fire them, who can? How can bad actors be removed from the executive branch?

Take the incredible recent 60 Minutes Interview with McCabe, a former FBI agent who was fired for conspiring to overthrow President Trump during the election:

Tonight you will hear for the first time from the man who ordered the FBI investigations of the President. Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is about to describe behind the scenes chaos in 2017, after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. In the days that followed, McCabe says that law enforcement officials discussed whether to secretly record a conversation with the president, and whether Mr. Trump could be removed from office by invoking the 25th amendment.

Who the fuck does this McCabe asshole think he is? The power to impeach lies with Congress, not the FBI. The FBI is part of the executive branch. It doesn’t even make sense for the executive branch to investigate its own head, much less try to oust a sitting president for firing someone.

That’s how the entire CHAIN OF COMMAND works.

After Comey was fired, McCabe says he ordered two investigations of the president himself. They asked two questions. One, did Mr. Trump fire Comey to impede the investigation into whether Russia interfered with the election. And two, if so, was Mr. Trump acting on behalf of the Russian government.

The media keeps trotting out a line–they’ve been trotting this out since before the election–that Trump needs to believe the intelligence on Russia. But nobody–outside of a few folks inside the intelligence service itself and perhaps Trump–gets to see the actual evidence on the matter, because it’s all “classified.” And frankly, I don’t think they have any evidence. Because it’s not real.

Remember Iraq?

If you can’t prove any of this, there’s no reason to believe (or not believe) any of it.

Imagine if during the ’08 election, the Republicans had become convinced that Obama was an Islamic foreign agent working together with Muslim countries to subvert America, and the FBI under Bush started an investigation into Obama. (There are Republicans who thought this, but it has always been fringe.) Now imagine that two years later, the media is still insisting that Obama needs to “believe the intelligence agencies” about Saudi interference in the election and that the FBI is trying to secretly wiretap him because he fired the guy who was pushing the “investigation” of his supposed links to Osama bin Laden.

Would you not think that the FBI had gone a bit insane?

Whether you like Trump or not is beside the point.

There is simply no accountability here for the FBI’s behavior. The FBI is pushing whatever harebrained conspiracy it wants, and if Trump tries to do anything to reign them in, they threaten him with “obstruction of justice” and threaten to team up with Congress to get him impeached.

Even if you don’t believe in democracy, you may still be concerned that random guys in the FBI are trying to run the country.

Remember, in the midst of the destruction of the Russian regime, the best the royalty could manage was murdering an annoying monk. They couldn’t save themselves–or their country–from disaster.

Tribalism, for good or ill (mostly ill)

esquire

The difficulty with modern politics is that it is stupid. Stupid, cultish, and insane.

Let’s use a recent example: Esquire ran a cover article about a white male teen entitled “American Boy,” and and at least a handful of people reacted with the kind of vitriol that makes alt-right conspiracy theorists point and yell “See? See? We told you so!”

For example:

Capture

Since when has “the cover of Esquire” been a “we”?

Just a few of the responses to Jemele’s Tweet, which has over 48 thousand likes:

So let me get this right, @esquire can’t put any other color person on their cover during the ENTIRE month of #BlackHistoryMonth  !?!?

All during black history month. They know what they’re doing. All press is Good press

I can’t even believe that! Especially during Black History Month? I mean it’s not right to begin with but it’s completely ridiculous this month! The least they could have done was cover me! I’m the biggest black sheep there ever was ask anyone! So kidding…Sry,I know, NOT FUNNY!

During Black History Month no less. Just don’t get it at all.

What the hell?!!!! Was there some type of urgency? Some clamoring from the masses, a cultural void that needed to be filled that warranted the commissioning of this article?! WtF

Seriously?!? Just the title of this article made me throw up in my mouth a little

Okay, new rule: You’re not allowed to talk about single people on Valentine’s Day, colon cancer in October, food during Ramadan, or jam during the entire month of March, because March is National Celery Month.  Also, the second week of July is Nude Recreation Week, so consider yourselves forewarned.

By the way, this is the March issue of Esquire, not February. (As far as I can tell, the last time Esquire published a February issue in the US, it featured a black man–Pharrel–on the cover.)

Ironically, I agree, strongly, with the folks who say we need to teach non-white history–the history of Africa, Asia, Oceana, and the rest of the world.

It’s not a pretty history. It involves cannibals. If they’re right that those who fail to learn about history are destined to repeat it, then we’re in for a lot of trouble.

Humans are fundamentally tribal creatures, even when they pretend to themselves that they aren’t. It’s part of our psychology; it’s part of how we understand the world and process threats. Human history is largely the history of one tribe of hairless apes bashing another tribe of hairless apes with increasingly advanced rocks. When we understand history, we realize that our current travails are more of the same old, same old, just fought with new technology.

Tribalism makes sense if you rewind the clock a hundred years or so to before the invention of the car, plane, and television. When most of your dealings were with members of your own community, and your own community was small enough that you knew a good portion of the people in it, “tribalism” was just regular life.

The tie that divides: Cross‐national evidence of the primacy of partyism:

Using evidence from Great Britain, the United States, Belgium and Spain, it is demonstrated in this article that in integrated and divided nations alike, citizens are more strongly attached to political parties than to the social groups that the parties represent. In all four nations, partisans discriminate against their opponents to a degree that exceeds discrimination against members of religious, linguistic, ethnic or regional out‐groups. This pattern holds even when social cleavages are intense and the basis for prolonged political conflict. Partisan animus is conditioned by ideological proximity; partisans are more distrusting of parties furthest from them in the ideological space. The effects of partisanship on trust are eroded when partisan and social ties collide. In closing, the article considers the reasons that give rise to the strength of ‘partyism’ in modern democracies.

In practice, partyism is mostly racialism. 90% of blacks vote Democratic; the majority of whites vote Republican. 

The problem is that these days, we don’t live in communities of a few hundred people. We don’t just interact with members of our own tribe.

bq-5c65baff8d5a5The Esquire controversy is old-fashioned tribalism dressed up in modern language–really, all SJW politics is just tribalism dressed up in new words. There is nothing “social” or “justicey” about disliking an interview with a teenager; Jamele and the thousands of people agreeing with her aren’t objecting to the quality of the article nor the lad’s personality, but expressing a very simple emotion: You aren’t part of my tribe, therefore I don’t like you. 

But who cares about any of this? 40,000 likes is a lot of likes, but then, there are >300 million people in this country. 40k isn’t even 1% of them.

Yet I think it is important. For starters, this low-level sniping is pervasive. Whether you’re on the internet or just watch TV, people who don’t like you are everywhere.

20 years ago, I wouldn’t have had any idea whether Jemele liked Esquire’s latest cover article or not–and I wouldn’t have cared, because I don’t know her. She doesn’t live near me, doesn’t work with me, doesn’t run in any of my social circles. She could hang out with her friends, talking about how much they hate this dumb Esquire cover, and I could hang out with my friends, talking about squids and Aztec sacrifice, and never the twain would meet.

Now we do.

Every group has memes about how awesome the group is and how much other groups suck. (If they didn’t, well, they’d stop existing pretty quickly.) Jocks insult nerds; nerds talk shit about jocks. But normally we keep our opinions within our own groups, where they function to increase group cohesion and punish deviators.

This is your brain on tribalism.

Insane tribalism.

Contrary to what some sociologists claim, bringing people into contact with people whom they don’t like seems to increase conflict, not decrease it. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Being constantly exposed to other people’s ideas about how awful you are seems to have two effects on people: either they agree (become infected–pozzed, if you will) that they are awful and start trying to help the people who hate them (this might be a kind of Stockholm Syndrome); or they react negatively, become immune, and hate back.

The former I refer to as the “suicide meme.” More on this later, but in short, the suicide meme happens when you absorb the memes of people who want you dead.

To the gazelle, the lion is a monster; to the lion, the gazelle is lunch. Neither of them benefits from adopting the other’s ideas.

To the grass, of course, the gazelle is a torturer and the lion a perfect gentleman.

There is something ironic about getting lectured to about treatment of Latinos by someone who is literally named “Cortez,” (Hernando Cortes was the Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico and destroyed the Aztec empire; he apparently also created a lot of children in the process.)

Quoting Cortez (the modern one):

We must have respect for… human rights and respect for the right of human mobility. Because it is a right. [Applause] Because we are standing on native land. And Latino people are descendants of native people. And we cannot be told, and criminalized, simply because for our identity or our status. Period.

There are multiple lies in this statement. “Human mobility” isn’t a right. Not across national borders. If you think it is, go try it on the North Korea border and report back on how it works. There is no country in the world that recognizes the right of non-citizens to traipse across its borders whenever they please.

Second, we are not standing on native land. This was filmed at the US capitol. This is AMERICAN land. It is American land because Americans killed the people who used to live here.

Every single piece of land in the entire world belongs to the person who actually has the ability to physically enforce their claim to that land. China is a country today and Tibet isn’t because the PRC has physical control over Tibet and Tibet does’t. Italy is a country because no other country has the ability to take control of Italy’s land. Bhutan is a country because it controls the borders of Bhutan.

Third, while Latinos are descended from “native” peoples, they aren’t descended from Native Americans. They’re descended from natives from other countries that are not America. White people are also “native” peoples by this logic; they are descended from the native peoples of Europe. Asians are descended from the native peoples of Asia. Blacks are descended from the native peoples of Africa. Etc. Just because Latinos are descended from people from the North and South American continents is not meaningful–Germans and Poles are both native to Europe, but that doesn’t mean Germans have some inherent right to invade Poland.

Fourth, you certainly can be criminalized for your “status” (as illegal immigrants.) In fact, immigration status is exactly what is being criminalized.

There are many other issues with this speech–like the part where AOC blames ICE for the death of a little girl they actually were trying to save (despite the fact that our border patrol has no moral obligation to spend American taxpayers’ money to save the lives of non-Americans) and her promotion of the idea that non-citizens deserve “Constitutional protections” (fact: they already have constitutional protections, under the constitutions of the countries they are citizens of. They don’t have constitutional protections in countries they are not citizens of,)–but the most troubling thing about this speech is the fact that Ocasio-Cortez is an actual member of Congress.

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments would make sense over on the Mexican side of the border–a Mexican advocating for things that benefit Mexicans is perfectly reasonable.

But for a member of the American government to advocate that Americans have no right to control their own borders and assert that the territory of America actually belongs to someone else–including non-citizens–is straight up treason.

Phase Change and Revolutions

Phase changes don’t usually happen instantly, like in the video, but they are sudden from the perspective of temperature. You don’t see a few ice crystals forming at 40 degrees, a few large chunks of ice at 38, the water halfway frozen at 34, and the whole thing solid at 32. No, at 34 degrees, water is liquid. Water is a liquid all the way from 100 to 33 degrees, and then suddenly, without warning, it transforms at 32 (even if it takes a little time.) By 31.9, it’s a solid chunk.

One of the enduring mysteries of political science is “Why did no one in political science predict the fall of the Soviet Union?” One of the other enduring mysteries of political science is “Why on earth did the Soviet Union fall when it did? Why not earlier–or later?”

Political regimes don’t fall very often. We can look around the world today and see a number of repressive states–North Korea, Venezuela, Iran–that don’t look like they’re doing a very good job of taking care of their citizens, yet their governments stay firmly in power. Why don’t these regimes fall? Or will they–someday?

I propose that regime change is much like phase changes–difficult to predict because they simply cannot happen before a specific point, and they happen so rarely that we don’t have enough data to test exactly which conditions are necessary to make them occur, much less figure out whether those conditions currently exist within a foreign society.

There are probably two main things necessary for something like the fall of the Soviet Union:

First, a majority of the people with guns–the armed forces in most countries, but a lot of civilians in the US–need to stop believing in the regime.

Second, the majority that no longer believes in the regimes’ legitimacy has to know that it is a majority.

Since opposing the regime will usually get you shot, no one wants to be the first guy to say that he doesn’t believe in the regime. Since opposing the regime will get you shot, even people who oppose the regime will go ahead and shoot comrades who have opposed the regime in fear that if they don’t, they will also be shot.

100% of people in a system can oppose the regime and the regime will still keep charging on, shooting dissenters, if no one knows that everyone else is also opposed to the regime.

So how does regime change actually happen?

First, you need crazy people willing to charge, like Don Quixote, at windmills and regimes. These people will usually get shot, which is why they need to be crazy. But if enough people have already decided that the regime is not particularly legitimate, there is a possibility that one of them will decide to be lenient. They will quietly decide not to shoot the revolutionary.

The fall of the Berlin Wall happened almost by accident–new regulations were passed regarding round-trip travel in the Soviet Union and this was read aloud on the radio in a way that made it sound like anyone who wanted was now allowed through the checkpoints into West Berlin, effective immediately. Thousands of people showed up within hours, demanding to be let through (after all, it had been officially announced, as far as they knew.) The overwhelmed border guards didn’t want to shoot that many people, so after a bit of conferring, they gave in and let everyone through.

There were plenty of cracks already in the USSR’s hold on power, but like a tap to the side of a bottle of supercooled water, this one little mistake caused a knowledge cascade. The thousands of people who showed up at the checkpoint (and didn’t get shot) now knew that there were thousands of other people who agreed with them–and soon that knowledge spread to everyone else in East Germany and the rest of the USSR.

The difficulty with predicting when a regime will fall is the difficulty of predicting a random tap to the bottle or a little dust for the first crystals to form around–and that’s assuming you have a state that has already lost legitimacy in the eyes of most of its citizens. If it hasn’t, that same tap does nothing–and unfortunately, states are much more complicated than bottles of water, and so involve a lot more variables than just temperature.

It’s getting late, but I think this suggests that the thing for most regimes (not even official regimes) is not to control legitimacy (that’s hard if, say, the peasants are starving), but to control what people know and make sure they’re convinced that if they step out of line, they will get shot. So long as shooting is on the table, even people who don’t like the regime will go along and enforce it by shooting dissidents.

The whole point of purity spirals and outrage mobs, then, may be to enforce the idea to people that “if you cross this line, you will get [metaphorically] shot” to people thinking of defecting from ideologies within a culture. It doesn’t even matter if the people being destroyed by the mob actually did anything wrong, so long as the mob is effective at destruction.