An Open Letter to Liberals and Centrists

600px-persian-kitten-in-teacupWelcome. Come in, take a seat. Would you like some tea?

Don’t worry, we aren’t even evil–though you might not want to tell your friends you’ve been here. They might not understand.

In light of the recent election craziness, it’s time for a serious discussion. First, some basic facts:

if only X voted maps
How the 2016 Electoral Map would look if only ____ Voted Source: Brilliant Maps

Here’s some poll data on the 2018 Election.  It tells the same story.

Voting is tribal. People vote with their group, for the interests of their group–and these groups happen to correspond surprisingly well with race and ethnicity.

This pattern has been going on for a long time–blacks have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since FDR, and whites have voted Republican since 1968. Even though whites are a majority and vote Republican, Democrats have been elected president 5 times since then.

And as far as whites are concerned, the electoral situation isn’t improving, because whites don’t have a lot of babies, and democracy is fundamentally a numbers game:

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The situation is true globally, as well. As Flexible Solidarity: A comprehensive strategy for asylum and immigration in the EU reports:

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“In 1980, the EU-15 had more people than sub-Saharan Africa; today, sub-Saharan Africa has twice-and-a-half as many people. Within the next two generations, sub-Saharan Africa should reach 2.5 billion people, 5 times more than Western Europe.”, h/t @SomehowUWill

The Changing Demographic Landscape: 

In 1900, the US was about 88% white, 12% black, and <1% Hispanic.

Today, the US is 64% white, 12% black, 16% Hispanic, and 8% Asians and others. In 1950, there were 500,000 Hispanics in the US. Today, there are 50.5 million.

ft_16-06-23_censusmajorityminority_agegroupsAccording to the census bureau, in 2012, American infants were 50% white and 50% non-white–about 25% of American children are now Hispanic.

The majority of infants born in the US are non-white and have been for six years. By 2050, whites will be an absolute minority in the US.

“So what?” you say. “Race doesn’t matter. Race is just skin color. It’s what’s inside that matters.”

Ah, but you forget: we live in a democracy.

And in a multi-ethnic democracy, people vote on tribal lines.

For example, in Norway:

Studies of the electoral behaviour of immigrants in Western Europe and North America have revealed a remarkably coherent cross-national voting pattern. Immigrants from the non-Western world hold a strong preference for left-of-centre parties. This unusual expression of group voting is so stable over time that it has been referred to as an ‘iron law’. There is, however, a dearth of scholarly research on this phenomenon. This article tests two explanations for the left-of-centre preferences of immigrants in Norway. The first is that the ideological and socio-economic composition of the immigrant electorate explains the preference for left-of-centre parties. If so, these voters’ ethnic or immigrant background is not in itself decisive on Election Day. The second hypothesis is that immigrant voters engage in group voting, in which one’s ethnic or immigrant background is significant and trumps other concerns when voting. This would express itself in a coherent voting pattern that cannot be explained by other factors. We also expect those who engage in group voting to favour candidates with similar ethnic backgrounds as themselves. The group voting hypothesis finds the strongest support. The immigrant vote appears to be driven by group adherence, rather than by ideology or social background.

In Britain, the historical political divisions have been mostly class-based, with the working class voting Labour and the wealthier voting Conservative, but with mass immigration, ethnic voting patterns are now important: Labour gets the ethnic vote; Conservatives the white; and the Scottish National Party, which actually has more members than the Conservatives, is explicitly Scottish.

Ethnic voting in Nigeria:

This paper examined the election and voting pattern in Nigeria with particular reference to 2015 Governorship election in Bauchi state. … The findings of the research empirically proved that voting pattern in Bauchi state is more greatly influenced by ethnic and kinship affiliation than party, issues and ideology. On the basis of findings of this study, it is recommended that, there is urgent need for public enlightenment by appropriate authorities on the dangers of voting based ethnic consideration. Voting a candidates is supposed be based on credibility and competence of contestant not ethnicity, religion and other parochial sentiments.

In Canada, ethnic minorities vote for the Liberal Party:

Canadian politicians make a point of courting immigrant voting blocs far more than their counterparts in the U.S., Kurl said. “They haven’t really figured out marginal minority politics in the way Canadians have,” she said in a telephone interview. “The parties in Canada at least pay lip service to, or really do double down on, courting and franchising the minority vote.”

Other Angus Reid polling found Trudeau won the overall immigrant vote due to a substantial lead among recent immigrants. The agency also found that its polling category of “other” religions — including Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist voters — skewed heavily for Trudeau.

Canada also has a number of regional parties, such as the famous Bloc Québécois. 

Ethnic voting in Kenya:

Do Kenyans vote according to ethnic identities or policy interests? Based on results from a national probability sample survey conducted in December 2007, this article shows that, while ethnic origins drive voting patterns, elections in Kenya amount to more than a mere ethnic census. We start by reviewing how Kenyans see themselves, which is mainly in non-ethnic terms. We then report on how they see others, whom they fear will organize politically along ethnic lines. People therefore vote defensively in ethnic blocs, but not exclusively.

Ethnic voting in Brussels, Belgium:

In recent years immigrant origin ethnic minorities have become a non-negligible electoral group in Belgian cities. … We investigate whether non-EU immigrant origin voters have a particular party preference which cannot be explained by other background variables such as educational level or socio-economic position. We also look into the issue of preferential voting for candidates of immigrant origin. According to the theory on political opportunity structures, one would expect a lesser importance of ethnic voting in the Belgian context (in which ethnic mobilisation is discursively discouraged). Ethnic voting, however, turns out to be quite important in the Brussels’ context.

Uganda, South Africa and Switzerland, India, Spain, Brazil, etc.

The only major exceptions I can think of to this pattern are countries that are very homogeneous or have no elections.

The ideal of democracy holds that people vote for the ideas and policies they think will be best for the country. Tribalism destroys this ideal, because people start voting for whatever benefits their own group, even if it hurts everyone else. Democracy works if everyone feels like they have a stake in the system; it breaks down if people become convinced that the other side is betraying them or if they won’t vote against an obviously corrupt and incompetent leader just because he’s part of their tribe.

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” –James Bovard

Tribal voting is why you’ve been so stressed since Trump got elected–Trump is your tribe’s enemy.

Now please imagine, for a minute, that you believe a crazy idea like “abortion is murder” or “we should talk about Jesus, a lot, in public.” I know, I know, just roll with it. These are values that really matter to Republicans, just as your values matter to you. Suppose, also, that you live in a Red State where the majority of people vote for conservative policies. This is your culture, your people, and you’re happy with things the way they are.

Now take a look at the maps at the top of the post. What happens when a few million Hispanics move into your state?

It flips from Red to Blue.

That’s what happened to California, homeland of Ronald Reagan.

“Sounds great! I didn’t like Reagan anyway.”

Yes, but put yourself in their shoes and think strategically. If the majority of non-whites vote for the Democrats, why would a Republican want any immigration from any non-white country? The perception that Democrats are trying to rig the system by importing voters only leads to increased polarization and anger on the other side.

We can reverse this thought experiment. Let’s suppose you’re a Democrat. You want Affirmative Action, gay marriage, abortion, and legal protections for trans people. And you live in a Blue State where all of this is pretty much guaranteed. You vote your conscience and you like it here.

Now suppose a few million very conservative Russians immigrate and flip the place Red. No more gay marriage. No more abortion. Affirmative Action for Russians, not blacks.

Even if you love Russians as people, you might come to the conclusion that more Russian immigration is not in your self-interest. You might even come to the conclusion that since America is your country and not Russia’s country, that you have a right to vote for a self-interested immigration policy that limits the number of hyper-conservative Russians showing up in your neighborhood.

And thus we have tribal voting.

“But that’s hypothetical Russians,” I hear you saying. “Who cares if 90% of blacks vote for the Democrats? They’re just voting for their own self-interest. I don’t care about tribal voting.”

For starters, I don’t believe you. I think you care deeply about tribal voting.

90% of blacks voting for the Democrats is usually regarded as fine and dandy. Appropriate. A logical response to white racism.

Yet 53% of white women voting Republican is not fine and dandy. As The Guardian reports:

For the past two years, the American left has been haunted by a number: 53. It is the percentage of white women who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. In the sectors of the left where the figure and its implications have become a perennial theme, the number is treated both as disappointing and darkly unsurprising, a reflection of the conventional wisdom that white women would rather choose the racism espoused by the Republican party than join in the moral coalition represented by men of color and other women.

And that’s just women–do you think it is morally acceptable for white men to vote overwhelmingly for Trump? Or is that racist?

Even though his opponent was a white woman?

In reality, everyone is okay with tribal voting for their own side and deeply disturbed by tribal voting by their enemies: tribalism for me, not for thee.

This doesn’t happen because we’re in a democracy–once one side starts voting tribally, the other side will follow. Let’s take the simplified case where our population is 90% whites, who are split evenly between two parties, and 10% blacks, who vote Democratic. In this case, the Democrats capture 55% of the vote and win every time.

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Source Audacious Epigone

Of course, Republicans aren’t going to put up with this–they’ll change their policies to attract more voters from the middle ground. Since even conservative blacks vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the easiest group to win over is centrist whites. If 56% of whites vote for the Republicans, then the Republicans win.

In 2018, 77% of Asians and 70% of Hispanics voted for the Democrats. As the white share of the population has decreased relative to nonwhite populations that vote more Democratic, Republicans have had to capture an increasingly larger share of the White vote to remain electorally competitive.

(You are fooling yourself if you think the Republicans can make a more appealing offer to black and immigrant voters than the Civil Rights Act. Maybe they could pass “mass reparations,” but then they would lose most of their white base. Remember, the black voting pattern has been stable for over 50 years–if Republicans could figure out a way to attract black voters without losing whites, they would.)

whiteshare
From: America’s Coming Political Realignment:   “Barack Obama won the presidency despite losing the white vote to John McCain by 12 percent. Four years later, he did even worse, losing the white vote to Mitt Romney by 20 percent. … In the last election, white voters backed Donald Trump by a similar 20-point margin.”

But attracting a larger percent of the white electorate shifts the Republicans to an even more obviously white-favoring party, the Democrats even more obviously to the non-white party: tribalism intensifies.

As the Washington Post reports:

White votes were split between the two parties about 50-50 in the 1970s — but in elections since 2000, that has become closer to 60-40 in favor of the Republican Party.

“But purposefully trying to attract more white voters is immoral! Republicans should act morally–just resign themselves to losing, with dignity, forever.”

This is not going to happen. If you set up the rules for the game so that the only way for your opponents to win is by being immoral, then you shouldn’t act surprised when your opponents behave immorally.

In a multi-ethnic democracy, if you don’t play the tribal voting game, you lose.

“Eh, groups voting their interest all works out for the best in the end.”

Tribal voting is terrible.

Tribal voting makes people anxious. It makes people cranky. It convinces people that if their enemies get into power, they will be slaughtered. We saw this in 2016 when liberals were convinced that Trump’s election meant trans and LGBT people would be dying in the streets. Well, it’s been two years and I’ve yet to see any rivers of blood, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrational to fear your enemies getting into power.

That same anxiety was at play in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, when a white nationalist became convinced that Jews were promoting Hispanic immigration in order to flood the electorate with Democratic voters and responded by murdering 11 people.

Tribalism is ugly.

What happens to multi-ethnic democracies? 

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7-year old Nermin Divovic, a Bosniak child killed by a Serbian sniper during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1994.

Do you remember Yugoslavia?

In 1980, Yugoslavia was a poor but peaceful country in central Europe (Belgrade is further west than Helsinki.) Demographically, it was about 36% Serb, 20% Croat, 9% Muslims (mostly Bosniaks), 8% Slovenes and Albanians, 6% Macedonians, etc.

Then Tito died, ethnic factions began voting, Milosevic road a wave of Serbian anxiety to power, and in a move that still confounds quick summaries, the entire country fell apart.

When countries succeed, they are beautiful. When they fail, they fail on ethnic lines.

One of the worst things to be in such a state is a market dominant minority:

dominant minority is a minority group that has overwhelming political,  economic, or cultural dominance in a country, despite representing a small fraction of the overall population (a demographic minority).

Examples of market dominant minorities include:

plaasmoorde
Crosses commemorating victims of South African Farm Attacks, photo by Johnnyhurst

Ashkenazi Jews, 2/3s of whom were killed in the Holocaust.

The Tutsis of Rwanda, 70% of whom were killed in 3 months in 1994.

The Alawites of Syria, who have been under attack by ISIS (of course, ISIS attacks everyone who isn’t ISIS, but the Alawites constitute Assad’s ruling government, so if they fall, they’ll be slaughtered.)

Parsis in Zanzibar, until the locals started slaughtering them, which is how Freddie Mercury ended up in Britain

White South Africans, who are being slaughtered.

You might have noticed a trend. Market dominant minorities do great–until they don’t.

Back to America:

In America today, Democrats are the inner party–the party of the bureaucracy, the party that runs all of the government’s actual day-to-day functions–and Democrats are explicitly “anti-racist“. This is how we know America is not a white-supremacist state.

spending-GDP-chart1-1024x697
Source: Forbes

Republicans are pro-white (in the sense of not being anti-white), but they’re the outer party. Sure, sometimes they gain control of this or that branch of government, but the inner party always thwarts the majority of their agenda. This is why, despite Trump being president and having a Republican-controlled Congress for two years, not a single issue of importance to conservative voters has passed–not Trump’s narrow “Muslim ban,” much less a complete ban on all Muslim immigration; not the wall; not a halt to illegal immigration; no abortion ban. Gay and trans rights have not been rolled back; affirmative action has not been outlawed. No one has been nuked. The Federal government has not been reduced in size until you can drag it, kicking and screaming, to a tub and drown it.

If Trump had any real power, antifa would be mowed down by tanks.

So we have a situation where whites are hurtling toward market dominant minority status and the inner party is anti-white.

This is a bad combination.

“You’re just afraid that POCs are going to do to whites all of the terrible stuff they’ve done to POCs, aren’t you?” 

I am far more afraid of people whipping up irrational, unfounded ethnic hatred simply because it nets them short-term economic, social, or political benefits than I am of Native Americans accidentally infecting Europe with diseases that wipe out 90% of the population.

You know, like in Rwanda. And Germany. And Yugoslavia.

mongolian-national-park
Genghis Khan

“But whites have it coming,” I hear you saying. “They deserve it for all the things they’ve done to other people. Besides, we’re a nation of immigrants.”

If you’ll excuse me, I’d prefer it not be my head on the chopping block. I don’t think you want it to be yours, either.

The idea that whites are uniquely evil on the scale of human history–that non-whites have never enslaved, conquered, or committed genocide–is ahistoric nonsense. The Mongol invasions killed an incredible 5% of the world’s population, and 1 in 200 people alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan’s immediate family, but Mongolia still builds enormous statues in honor of Genghis Khan, because Mongolia isn’t sorry.

Primitive peoples are NOT peaceful, matriarchal paragons of virtue; they had much higher homicide rates than we do. 

Non-whites did not simply spring from the earth fully-formed in the places they currently reside, sit down, and never move. The Inuit conquered and killed off the Dorset (the “Skraelings” the Vikings met and wrote about.) The Aztecs conquered and ate their neighbors. The Bantus are not the original inhabitants of central, western, and southern Africa–they conquered it, killing the original Bushman (San) and Pygmy inhabitants as they went. The “Taiwanese” are not the original inhabitants of Taiwan–the Aboriginal Taiwanese are, but immigration of Han Chinese since the 1600s has reduced them to a mere 2% of the island’s population.

If America is a “nation of immigrants,” then so is Taiwan, so is Japan and so is India. The Navajo and the Inuit are immigrants. We’re all immigrants because all human groups have moved around in the the past 300,000 years.

That doesn’t mean we want to be conquered.

“Wait. Wait. America isn’t going to descend into anarchy and genocide. Forget what I said earlier. We’re just going to turn into California–the progressive wave of the future!” 

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Source: Business Insider

California is an interesting case.

I assume by “progressive utopia” you mean “a place with social and economic policies that make life better for everyone, especially the poor and oppressed.”

Unfortunately, California has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the nation. In other words, while California does have a lot of billionaires, it also has a lot of really poor people. (This explains LA’s typhus outbreak.)

It’s probably no coincidence that income inequality and immigration are almost perfectly correlated. Speaking of which:

Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest public school system in the country, is more than a sprawling collection of campuses — it’s one of the nation’s largest depositories of child poverty. About 80% of the more than 600,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. When I heard from Supt. Austin Beutner that nearly a quarter of the students at Telfair last year were classified as homeless, I began visiting the school and the neighborhood, hoping to give some human shape to the numbers. …

But the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the decades, said fifth-grade teacher Sandra Tejeda, a former Telfair student who has taught there for 29 years. Tejeda still lives down the street from the school in the house she grew up in.

“Oh my goodness, things were beautiful,” Tejeda told me as we sat in her classroom after school one day. “People had front lawns, everybody owned their house, we knew who was in each house and we knew we were safe.” …

“It used to be single families,” said first-grade teacher Gricelda Gutierrez, another former Telfair student who stopped by Tejeda’s class to join our conversation. “Now you see multiple families in a home, in a garage, in makeshift shanties.”

California wasn’t always divided into the haves- and have-nots. Back in 1977, California (and the rest of the US) was much more economically equal. Today, California is less equal than Louisiana, the least-equal state in 1977.

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Source: California exodus gathers strength, as home prices continue upward march

But perhaps these newcomers are just starting out poor and on their way up, destined for California’s upper class? Some of them are, of course, but overall, California’s economic mobility is only average–the low immigration states of the upper great plains have America’s highest rates of economic mobility. Meanwhile, California has some of the nation’s most expensive housing–cutting its poorer citizens out of the equity game.

And let’s not forget California’s abysmal NAEP (National Assessment of Economic Progress) scores.

The only reason people think California is nice is because as the rich hoard all off the housing, the poor leave:

Over a million more people moved out of California from 2006 to 2016 than moved in, according to a new report, due mainly to the state’s infamously high housing costs, which hit lower-income people hardest. …

Housing costs are much higher in California than in other states, yet wages for workers in the lower income brackets aren’t. And the state attracts more highly educated high-earners who can afford pricey homes.

California is such a paradise that the people progressives are supposedly helping are straight up leaving, but hey it’s great because immigration flipped it Blue and put the Democrats in power.

What happens when we run out of states for people fleeing failed policies?

“Okay,” you say, “maybe there are some potential downsides, but what do you want? Closed borders? White supremacy? An ethno-state?”

Look, I’m just the messenger. I’m trying to warn people. This is like asking what to do about Global Warming. There’s not a lot you can do–besides invest in Alaska.

Even if you close the border today, major demographic shifts are already underway inside the US. Besides, the US can’t get its act together and agree to shut down the border with an actual caravan of people marching toward it.

The demographic trends point to the US becoming Mexico 2.0 within a few decades. A few whites will move to places like Idaho or Montana, but these places will remain unattractive to most because they are not economic powerhouses, and anywhere that does become an economic powerhouse will quickly attract outsiders.

I believe in Aristotelian ethical moderation, and I want neither open borders nor mass expulsions. I want to minimize ethnic tensions. 

Right now, we’re fighting for seats in the lifeboats on a sinking ship when we could just fix the ship.

  1. Recognize that the tension/anxiety you are feeling is a result of democratic voting systems inherently dividing on ethnic lines, not a result of Republicans or Democrats being uniquely evil. 
  2. This is a global phenomenon, not limited to the US.
  3. Recognize that mass immigration cannot continue indefinitely as global population keeps growing–there is a limit to how many people can fit in a country before you run out of food and water.
  4. Let the other side have a little space for themselves, where they can run their lives the way they want without getting in a fight with you.
  5. Promote incentive structures that solve human problems by aligning with good behavior rather than conflict.

“What on Earth does that mean?” 

Democracy incentivizes conflict. That’s how it works. If one political party came out in favor of cute puppies and kittens, the other party would rail against rabies and dog bites. You’d have pundits on TV demanding to know why the president won’t stop the epidemic of pitbulls eating babies. The first party would demonize the other as a bunch of fanatics who want to load unwanted pets into gas chambers at the local for-profit kill shelter.

Now imagine a system where most of the day-to-day running of the local municipality is done by a local for-profit institution, similar to a university.

Most people I talk to’s strongest sense of nationalism is attached not to their country, state, or even city, but to the college or university they attended. I therefore conclude that universities are doing something that appeals to people’s basic sense of tribal identity, even though they are not democracies–maybe because they are not.

Maybe Elon Musk and Peter Thiel buy up a bunch of land, attract investors, build houses and schools, and the next thing you know, you have Irvine, California:

 In 1864, an investor named James Irvine bought a big tract of California land. Over the next century, his heirs formed a group called The Irvine Company to develop it further. They got their big break in 1959, when James’ grandson Myford Irvine cut a deal with the University of California to build a college on the still mostly-empty land, virtually guaranteeing it would grow into a town. The Company planned out their ideal urban utopia, raised some money, and built it according to plan. Now Irvine is the 16th largest city in California, and Irvine Company head Donald Bren has $16.3 billion and is the 80th richest person in the US. Irvine consistently tops various “best city” and “highest quality of life” rankings and manages to balance some density (the listed density of 4,000 is probably an underestimate because of the deliberately preserved wilderness areas; other parts are much denser including a few 20-story buildings) with a very safe, suburban feel. It’s also very good at attracting tech companies: Blizzard, Broadcom, Allergan, and the US headquarters of Samsung, Sega and Toshiba are all located there. It’s also an outlier in new housing construction, growing its housing stock at (informal estimate) 5% per year – twice the rate of Austin, three times that of Seattle, and five to ten times that of San Francisco.

China is doing something that will likely turn out similarly in Africa:

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Map of Chinese Investments in Africa

Universities are nice places. Since people pay to attend them, they work hard to attract students. If students decide they don’t like a particular university, they can leave, or apply elsewhere. The ability to chose your university is powerful–and students at almost every level have many options available.

Neocameralism is a proposed political system (coined by Moldbug) in which states are essentially corporations; to the extent there is voting, it is done by shareholders to elect the CEO. There are many potential problems with such a system, I admit, (mostly the difficulty with getting the federal government to let people try it, which is why such states are most likely to be founded outside the US,) but there are also many upsides–chiefly, clear ownership.

When a thing is jointly owned by many people with no clear ownership, we end up with tragedy of the commons; in many neighborhoods, we have the Tragedy of the NIMBY.

The Tragedy of the NIMBY states that when ownership spread widely and authority is unclear, people default to doing nothing because they see themselves as more likely to suffer from wrong decisions than to benefit from good ones. If no one derives a direct, obvious benefit from development, then everyone demands the ability to veto new development–and nothing gets built. Infrastructure crumbles, new housing gets nixed, liability looms on every corner.

Neocameralism proposes to fix this problem by giving people–investors–a clear ownership stake and thus clear benefits from local improvements.

Not all neocameralist states need to look like Irvine or your local college. Some might look like Singapore, others like Vermont. There are thousands of potential state designs. Nor do neocameralist states need to be entirely independent–some sort of mutual defense pact seems very reasonable. The point is just to align people’s incentives so they provide good governance–good roads, excellent hospitals, clean air, etc.–not exacerbate ethnic tensions.

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Vacation posting: When Capitalism Devours Democracy

I am on vacation, and so have only been able to take notes on the posts I want to write for the past week. Here is the outline I jotted down in the car:

  1. When Capitalism Devours Democracy

Ken Star, Mueller, the media, and endless for-profit, anti-nation investigations into the president. (Actually, Tom Nichols’s discussion about the evolution of talk radio and Cable News and their deleterious effects on political discourse is one of the better parts of his book, The Death of Expertise.)

The overly complex legal code + endless investigation + the media + advertising dollars => undermining government function.

Watergate, White Water, Monica, Russiagate, etc.

Can you imagine the national reaction if someone tried to investigate George Washington the same way? It would have been seen not as “anti-George Washington,” but as fundamentally anti-American, an attempt to subvert democracy itself and interfere with the proper functioning of the nation.

Note the complexity of the modern legal, economic, and tax systems, which simultaneously make it very hard for anyone doing much of anything to comply with every single law (have you ever jaywalked? Accidentally miscounted a deduction on your taxes?) and ensure that, with enough searching, if you want to pin something bad on someone, you probably can.

This is why you never talk to the police. Reason #1:

Even though you believe in your heart that you have done nothing wrong, you have no idea whether you might be admitting that you did something that is against the law. There are tens of thousands of criminal statutes on the books in America today. Most of them you have never heard of, and many of them involve conduct that nobody would imagine could ever be a crime.

(Unless you’ve been pulled over for speeding. Then obviously you pull out your driver’s license and talk like a normal human.)

See also Joe Salatin’s Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.

In short, the media discovered, with Nixon and Watergate (at least within the past century or so,) that constant presidential scandals could be good for ratings, and certain folks in the government discovered with Bill Clinton and Monica and Lewinsky that if you go digging for long enough, eventually you can find some kind of dirt to pin on someone–even if it’s completely irrelevant, idiotic dirt that has nothing to do with the president’s ability to govern.

This creates the incentive for the Media to constantly push the drumbeat narrative of “presidential scandal!” which leads to people truly believing that there is much more scandal than there really is.

Theory: Monica, Benghazi, Russiagate, and maybe even Watergate were all basically trumped-up hogwash played for ratings dollars. (Well, clearly someone broke into the Watergate hotel.)

The sheer complexity of the modern legal system, which allows this to happen, also  incentivizes each party to push for constant investigations of the other party’s presidents. In essence, both sides are moving toward mutual defect-defect, with the media egging them on.

And We the People are the suckers.

I feel like there are concepts here for which we need better words.

Maybe America is too Dumb for Democracy: A Review of Nichols’s The Death of Expertise

For today’s Cathedral Round-Up, I finally kept my commitment to review Tom Nichols’s The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. It was better than I expected, (though that isn’t saying much.)

Make no mistake: Nichols is annoyingly arrogant. He draws a rather stark line between “experts” (who know things) and everyone else (who should humbly limit themselves to voting between options defined for them by the experts.) He implores people to better educate themselves in order to be better voters, but has little patience for autodidacts and bloggers like myself who are actually trying.

But arrogance alone doesn’t make someone wrong.

Nichols’s first thesis is simple: most people are too stupid or ignorant to second-guess experts or even contribute meaningfully to modern policy discussions. How can people who can’t find Ukraine on a map or think we should bomb the fictional city of Agrabah contribute in any meaningful way to a discussion of international policy?

It was one thing, in 1776, to think the average American could vote meaningfully on the issues of the day–a right they took by force, by shooting anyone who told them they couldn’t. Life was less complicated in 1776, and the average person could master most of the skills they needed to survive (indeed, pioneers on the edge of the frontier had to be mostly self-sufficient in order to survive.) Life was hard–most people engaged in long hours of heavy labor plowing fields, chopping wood, harvesting crops, and hauling necessities–but could be mastered by people who hadn’t graduated from elementary school.

But the modern industrial (or post-industrial) world is much more complicated than the one our ancestors grew up in. Today we have cars (maybe even self-driving cars), electrical grids and sewer systems, atomic bombs and fast food. The speed of communication and transportation have made it possible to chat with people on the other side of the earth and show up on their doorstep a day later. The amount if specialized, technical knowledge necessary to keep modern society running would astonish the average caveman–even with 15+ years of schooling, the average person can no longer build a house, nor even produce basic necessities like clothes or food. Most of us can’t even make a pencil.

Even experts who are actually knowledgeable about their particular area may be completely ignorant of fields outside of their expertise. Nichols speaks Russian, which makes him an expert in certain Russian-related matters, but he probably knows nothing about optimal high-speed rail networks. And herein lies the problem:

The American attachment to intellectual self-reliance described by Tocqueville survived for nearly a century before falling under a series of assaults from both within and without. Technology, universal secondary education, the proliferation of specialized expertise, and the emergence of the United States a a global power in the mid-twentieth century all undermined the idea… that the average American was adequately equipped either for the challenges of daily life or for running the affairs of a large country.

… the political scientist Richard Hofstadter wrote that “the complexity of modern life has steadily whittled away the functions the ordinary citizen can intelligently and competently perform for himself.”

… Somin wrote in 2015 that the “size and complexity of government” have mad it “more difficult for voters with limited knowledge to monitor and evaluate the government’s many activities. The result is a polity in which the people often cannot exercise their sovereignty responsibly and effectively.”

In other words, society is now too complex and people too stupid for democracy.

Nichols’s second thesis is that people used to trust experts, which let democracy function, but to day they are less trusting. He offers no evidence other than his general conviction that this change has happened.

He does, however, detail the way he thinks that 1. People have been given inflated egos about their own intelligence, and 2. How our information-delivery system has degenerated into misinformational goo, resulting in the trust-problems he believes we are having These are interesting arguments and worth examining.

A bit of summary:

Indeed, maybe the death of expertise is a sign of progress. Educated professionals, after all, no longer have a stranglehold on knowledge. The secrets of life are no longer hidden in giant marble mausoleums… in the past, there was less tress between experts and laypeople, but only because citizen were simply unable to challenge experts in any substantive way. …

Participation in political, intellectual, and scientific life until the early twentieth century was far more circumscribed, with debates about science, philosophy, and public policy all conducted by a small circle of educated males with pen and ink. Those were not exactly the Good Old Days, and they weren’t that long ago. The time when most people didn’t finish highschool, when very few went to college, and only a tiny fraction of the population entered professions is still within living memory of many Americans.

Aside from Nichols’s insistence that he believes modern American notions about gender and racial equality, I get the impression that he wouldn’t mind the Good Old Days of genteel pen-and-ink discussions between intellectuals. However, I question his claim that participation in political life was far more circumscribed–after all, people voted, and politicians liked getting people to vote for them. People anywhere, even illiterate peasants on the frontier or up in the mountains like to gather and debate about God, politics, and the meaning of life. The question is less “Did they discuss it?” and more “Did their discussions have any effect on politics?” Certainly we can point to abolition, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the Revolution itself as heavily grass-roots movements.

But continuing with Nichols’s argument:

Social changes only in the past half century finally broke down old barriers of race, class, and sex not only between Americans and general but also between uneducated citizens and elite expert in particular. A wide circle of debate meant more knowledge but more social friction. Universal education, the greater empowerment of women and minorities, the growth of a middle class, and increased social mobility all threw a minority of expert and the majority of citizens into direct contact, after nearly two centuries in which they rarely had to interact with each other.

And yet the result has not been a greater respect for knowledge, but the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else.

Nichols is distracting himself with the reflexive racial argument; the important change he is highlighting isn’t social but technical.

I’d like to quote a short exchange from Our Southern Highlanders, an anthropologic-style text written about Appalachia about a century ago:

The mountain clergy, as a general rule, are hostile to “book larnin’,” for “there ain’t no Holy Ghost in it.” One of them who had spent three months at a theological school told President Frost, “Yes, the seminary is a good place ter go and git rested up, but ’tain’t worth while fer me ter go thar no more ’s long as I’ve got good wind.”

It used to amuse me to explain how I knew that the earth was a sphere; but one day, when I was busy, a tiresome old preacher put the everlasting question to me: “Do you believe the earth is round?” An impish perversity seized me and I answered, “No—all blamed humbug!” “Amen!” cried my delighted catechist, “I knowed in reason you had more sense.”

But back to Nichols, who really likes the concept of expertise:

One reason claims of expertise grate on people in a democracy is that specialization is necessarily exclusive. WHen we study a certain area of knowledge or spend oulives in a particular occupation, we not only forego expertise in othe jobs or subjects, but also trust that other pople in the community know what they’re doing in thei area as surely as we do in our own. As much as we might want to go up to the cockpit afte the engine flames out to give the pilots osme helpful tips, we assume–in part, ebcause wehave to–that tye’re better able to cope with the problem than we are. Othewise, our highly evovled society breaks down int island sof incoherence, where we spend our time in poorly infomed second-guessing instead of trusting each other.

This would be a good point to look at data on overall trust levels, friendship, civic engagement, etc (It’s down. It’s all down.) and maybe some explanations for these changes.

Nichols talks briefly about the accreditation and verification process for producing “experts,” which he rather likes. There is an interesting discussion in the economics literature on things like the economics of trust and information (how do websites signal that they are trustworthy enough that you will give them your credit card number and expect to receive items you ordered a few days later?) which could apply here, too.

Nichols then explores a variety of cognitive biases, such a superstitions, phobias, and conspiracy theories:

Conspiracy theories are also a way for people to give meaning to events that frighten them. Without a coherent explanation for why terrible thing happen to innocent people, they would have to accept such occurence as nothing more than the random cruelty either of an uncaring universe or an incomprehensible deity. …

The only way out of this dilemma is to imagine a world in which our troubles are the fault of powerful people who had it within their power to avert such misery. …

Just as individual facing grief and confusion look for reasons where none may exist, so, too, will entire societies gravitate toward outlandish theories when collectively subjected to a terrible national experience. Conspiracy theories and flawed reasoning behind them …become especially seductive “in any society that has suffered an epic, collectively felt trauma. In the aftermath, millions of people find themselves casting about for an answer to the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people.” …

Today, conspiracy theories are reaction mostly to the economic and social dislocations of globalization…This is not a trivial obstacle when it comes to the problems of expert engagement with the public: nearly 30 percent of Americans, for example, think “a secretive elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world” …

Obviously stupid. A not-secret elite with a globalist agenda already rules the world.

and 15 percent think media or government add secret mind controlling technology to TV broadcasts. (Another 15 percent aren’t sure about the TV issue.)

It’s called “advertising” and it wants you to buy a Ford.

Anyway, the problem with conspiracy theories is they are unfalsifiable; no amount of evidence will ever convince a conspiracy theorist that he is wrong, for all evidence is just further proof of how nefariously “they” are constructing the conspiracy.

Then Nichols gets into some interesting matter on the difference between stereotypes and generalizations, which segues nicely into a tangent I’d like to discuss, but it probably deserves its own post. To summarize:

Sometimes experts know things that contradict other people’s political (or religious) beliefs… If an “expert” finding or field accords with established liberal values, EG, the implicit association test found that “everyone is a little bit racist,” which liberals already believed, then there is an easy mesh between what the academics believe and the rest of their social class.

If their findings contradict conservative/low-class values, EG, when professors assert that evolution is true and “those low-class Bible-thumpers in Oklahoma are wrong,” sure, they might have a lot of people who disagree with them, but those people aren’t part of their own social class/the upper class, and so not a problem. If anything, high class folks love such finding, because it gives them a chance to talk about how much better they are than those low-class people (though such class conflict is obviously poisonous in a democracy where those low-class people can still vote to Fuck You and Your Global Warming, Too.)

But if the findings contradict high-class/liberal politics, then the experts have a real problem. EG, if that same evolution professor turns around and says, “By the way, race is definitely biologically real, and there are statistical differences in average IQ between the races,” now he’s contradicting the political values of his own class/the upper class, and that becomes a social issue and he is likely to get Watsoned.

For years folks at Fox News (and talk radio) have lambasted “the media” even though they are part of the media; SSC recently discussed “can something be both popular and silenced?

Jordan Peterson isn’t unpopular or “silenced” so much as he is disliked by upper class folks and liked by “losers” and low class folks, despite the fact that he is basically an intellectual guy and isn’t peddling a low-class product. Likewise, Fox News is just as much part of The Media as NPR, (if anything, it’s much more of the Media) but NPR is higher class than Fox, and Fox doesn’t like feeling like its opinions are being judged along this class axis.

For better or for worse (mostly worse) class politics and political/religious beliefs strongly affect our opinions of “experts,” especially those who say things we disagree with.

But back to Nichols: Dunning-Kruger effect, fake cultural literacy, and too many people at college. Nichols is a professor and has seen college students up close and personal, and has a low opinion of most of them. The massive expansion of upper education has not resulted in a better-educated, smarter populace, he argues, but a populace armed with expensive certificates that show the sat around a college for 4 years without learning much of anything. Unfortunately, beyond a certain level, there isn’t a lot that more school can do to increase people’s basic aptitudes.

Colleges get money by attracting students, which incentivises them to hand out degrees like candy–in other words, students are being lied to about their abilities and college degrees are fast becoming the participation trophies for the not very bright.

Nichols has little sympathy for modern students:

Today, by contrast, students explode over imagined slights that are not even remotely int eh same category as fighting for civil rights or being sent to war. Students now build majestic Everests from the smallest molehills, and they descend into hysteria over pranks and hoaxes. In the midst of it all, the students are learning that emotions and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert, or intellectual will ever be able to breach.

At Yale in 2015, for example, a house master’s wife had the temerity to tell minority students to ignore Halloween costumes they thought offensive. This provoked a campus wide temper tantrum that included professors being shouted down by screaming student. “In your position as master,” one student howled in a professor’s face, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students… Do you understand that?!”

Quietly, the professor said, “No, I don’t agree with that,” and the student unloaded on him:

“Then why the [expletive] did you accept the position?! Who the [expletive] hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!” [emphasis added]

Yale, instead of disciplining students in violation of their own norms of academic discourse, apologized to the tantrum throwers. The house master eventually resigned from his residential post…

To faculty everywhere, the lesson was obvious: the campus of a top university is not a place for intellectual exploration. It is a luxury home, rented for four to six years, nine months at a time, by children of the elite who may shout at faculty as if they’re berating clumsy maids in a colonial mansion.

The incident Nichols cites (and similar ones elsewhere,) are not just matters of college students being dumb or entitled, but explicitly racial conflicts. The demand for “safe spaces” is easy to ridicule on the grounds that students are emotional babies, but this misses the point: students are carving out territory for themselves on explicitly racial lines, often by violence.

Nichols, though, either does not notice the racial aspect of modern campus conflicts or does not want to admit publicly to doing so.

Nichols moves on to blame TV, especially CNN, talk radio, and the internet for dumbing down the quality of discourse by overwhelming us with a deluge of more information than we can possibly process.

Referring back to Auerswald and The Code Economy, if automation creates a bifurcation in industries, replacing a moderately-priced, moderately available product with a stream of cheap, low-quality product on the one hand and a trickle of expensive, high-quality products on the other, good-quality journalism has been replaced with a flood of low-quality crap. The high-quality end is still working itself out.

Nichols opines:

Accessing the Internet can actually make people dumber than if they had never engaged a subject at all. The very act of searching for information makes people think they’ve learned something,when in fact they’re more likely to be immersed in yet more data they do not understand. …

When a group of experimental psychologists at Yale investigated how people use the internet, they found that “people who search for information on the Web emerge from the process with an inflated sense of how much they know–even regarding topic that are unrelated to the ones they Googled.” …

How can exposure to so much information fail to produce at least some kind of increased baseline of knowledge, if only by electronic osmosis? How can people read so much yet retain so little? The answer is simple: few people are actually reading what they find.

As a University College of London (UCL) study found, people don’t actually read the articles they encounter during a search on the Internet. Instead, they glance at the top line or the first few sentences and then move on. Internet users, the researchers noted, “Are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed, there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

The internet’s demands for instant updates, for whatever headlines generate the most clicks (and thus advertising revenue), has upset the balance of speed vs. expertise in the newsroom. No longer have reporters any incentive to spend long hours carefully writing a well-researched story when such stories pay less than clickbait headlines about racist pet costumes and celebrity tweets.

I realize it seems churlish to complain about the feast of news and information brought to us by the Information Age, but I’m going to complain anyway. Changes in journalism, like the increased access to the Internet and to college education, have unexpectedly corrosive effects on the relationship between laypeople and experts. Instead of making people better informed, much of what passes for news in the twenty-first century often leaves laypeople–and sometimes experts–even more confused and ornery.

Experts face a vexing challenge: there’s more news available, and yet people seem less informed, a trend that goes back at least a quarter century. Paradoxically, it is a problem that is worsening rather than dissipating. …

As long ago as 1990, for example, a study conducted by the Pew Trust warned that disengagement from important public questions was actually worse among people under thirty, the group that should have been most receptive to then-emerging sources of information like cable television and electronic media. This was a distinct change in American civic culture, as the Pew study noted:

“Over most of the past five decades younger members of the public have been at least as well informed as older people. In 1990, that is no longer the case. … “

Those respondents are now themselves middle-aged, and their children are faring no better.

If you were 30 in 1990, you were born in 1960, to parents who were between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, that is, born between 1920 and 1940.

Source: Audacious Epigone

Fertility for the 1920-1940 cohort was strongly dysgenic. So was the 1940-50 cohort. The 1900-1919 cohort at least had the Flynn Effect on their side, but later cohorts just look like an advertisement for idiocracy.

Nichols ends with a plea that voters respect experts (and that experts, in turn, be humble and polite to voters.) After all, modern society is too complicated for any of us to be experts on everything. If we don’t pay attention to expert advice, he warns, modern society is bound to end in ignorant goo.

The logical inconsistency is that Nichols believes in democracy at all–he thinks democracy can be saved if ignorant people vote within a range of options as defined by experts like himself, eg, “What vaccine options are best?” rather than “Should we have vaccines at all?”

The problem, then, is that whoever controls the experts (or controls which expert opinions people hear) controls the limits of policy debates. This leads to people arguing over experts, which leads right back where we are today. As long as there are politics, “expertise” will be politicized, eg:

Look at any court case in which both sides bring in their own “expert” witnesses. Both experts testify to the effect that their side is correct. Then the jury is left to vote on which side had more believable experts. This is like best case scenario voting, and the fact that the voters are dumb and don’t understand what the experts are saying and are obviously being mislead in many cases is still a huge problem.

If politics is the problem, then perhaps getting rid of politics is the solution. Just have a bunch of Singapores run by Lee Kwan Yews, let folks like Nichols advise them, and let the common people “vote with their feet” by moving to the best states.

The problem with this solution is that “exit” doesn’t exist in the modern world in any meaningful way, and there are significant reasons why ordinary people oppose open borders.

Conclusion: 3/5 stars. It’s not a terrible book, and Nichols has plenty of good points, but “Americans are dumb” isn’t exactly fresh territory and much has already been written on the subject.

Cathedral Round-Up: Checking in with the Bright Minds at Yale Law

Yale Law’s Coat of Arms

Yale Law is the most prestigious lawschool in the entire US (Harvard Law is probably #2). YL’s professors, therefore, are some of the US’s top legal scholars; it’s students are likely to go on to be important lawyers, judges, and opinion-makers.

If you’re wondering about the coat of arms, it was designed in 1956 as a pun on the original three founders’ names: Seth Staples, (BA, Yale, 1797), Judge David Daggett aka Doget, (BA 1783), and Samuel Hitchcock, (BA, 1809), whose name isn’t really a pun but he’s Welsh and when Welsh people cross the Atlantic, their dragon transforms into a crocodile. (The Welsh dragon has also been transformed into a crocodile on the Jamaican coat of arms.)

(For the sake of Yale’s staple-bearing coat of arms, let us hope that none of the founders were immoral in any way, as Harvard‘s were.)

So what have Yale’s luminaries been up to?

Professor Yaffe has a new book on Criminal Responsibility, titled The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility. The blurb from Amazon:

Gideon Yaffe presents a theory of criminal responsibility according to which child criminals deserve leniency not because of their psychological, behavioural, or neural immaturity but because they are denied the vote. He argues that full shares of criminal punishment are deserved only by those who have a full share of say over the law.

The YLS Today article goes into more depth:

He proposes that children are owed lesser punishments because they are denied the right to vote. This conclusion is reached through accounts of the nature of criminal culpability, desert for wrongdoing, strength of legal reasons, and what it is to have a say over the law. The heart of this discussion is the theory of criminal culpability.

To be criminally culpable, Yaffe argues, is for one’s criminal act to manifest a failure to grant sufficient weight to the legal reasons to refrain. The stronger the legal reasons, then, the greater the criminal culpability. Those who lack a say over the law, it is argued, have weaker legal reasons to refrain from crime than those who have a say, according to the book. They are therefore reduced in criminal culpability and deserve lesser punishment for their crimes. Children are owed leniency, then, because of the political meaning of age rather than because of its psychological meaning. This position has implications for criminal justice policy, with respect to, among other things, the interrogation of children suspected of crimes and the enfranchisement of adult felons. …

He holds an A.B. in philosophy from Harvard and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford.

I don’t think you need a degree in philosophy or law to realize that this is absolutely insane.

Even in countries where no one can vote, we still expect the government to try to do a good job of rounding up criminals so their citizens can live in peace, free from the fear of random violence. The notion that “murder is bad” wasn’t established by popular vote in the first place. Call it instinct, human nature, Natural Law, or the 6th Commandment–whatever it is, we all want murderers to be punished.

The point of punishing crime is 1. To deter criminals from committing crime; 2. To get criminals off the street; 3. To provide a sense of justice to those who have been harmed. These needs do not change depending on whether or not the person who committed the crime can vote. Why, if I wanted to commit a crime, should I hop the border into Canada and commit it there, then claim the Canadian courts should be lenient since I am not allowed to vote in Canada? Does the victim of a disenfranchised felon deserve less justice than the victim of someone who still had the right to vote?

Since this makes no sense at all from any sort of public safety or discouraging crime perspective, permit me a cynical theory: the author would like to lower the voting age, let immigrants (legal or not) vote more easily, and end disenfranchisement for felons.

Professor Moyn has a new book on Human Rights: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. According to the Amazon blurb:

The age of human rights has been kindest to the rich. Even as state violations of political rights garnered unprecedented attention due to human rights campaigns, a commitment to material equality disappeared. In its place, market fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant force in national and global economies. In this provocative book, Samuel Moyn analyzes how and why we chose to make human rights our highest ideals while simultaneously neglecting the demands of a broader social and economic justice. …

In the wake of two world wars and the collapse of empires, new states tried to take welfare beyond its original European and American homelands and went so far as to challenge inequality on a global scale. But their plans were foiled as a neoliberal faith in markets triumphed instead.

As Yale puts it:

In a tightly-focused tour of the history of distributive ideals, Moyn invites a new and more layered understanding of the nature of human rights in our global present. From their origins in the Jacobin welfare state

Which chopped people’s heads off.

to our current neoliberal moment, Moyn tracks the subtle shifts in how human rights movements understood what, exactly, their high principles entailed.

Like not chopping people’s heads off?

Earlier visionaries imagined those rights as a call for distributive justice—a society which guaranteed a sufficient minimum of the good things in life. And they generally strove, even more boldly, to create a rough equality of circumstances, so that the rich would not tower over the rest.

By chopping their heads off.

Over time, however, these egalitarian ideas gave way. When transnational human rights became famous a few decades ago, they generally focused on civil liberties — or, at most sufficient provision.

Maybe because executing the kulaks resulted in mass starvation, which seems kind of counter-productive in the sense of minimum sufficient provision for human life.

In our current age of human rights, Moyn comments, the pertinence of fairness beyond some bare minimum has largely been abandoned.

By the way:

From Human Progress

Huh. Why would anyone think that economic freedom and human well-being go hand-in-hand?

The Dramatic Decline in World Poverty, from CATO https://www.cato.org/blog/dramatic-decline-world-poverty

At the risk of getting Pinkerian, the age of “market fundamentalism” has involved massive improvements in human well-being, while every attempt to make society economically equal has caused mass starvation and horrible abuses against humans.

Moyn’s argument that we have abandoned “social justice” is absurd on its face; in the 1950s, the American south was still racially segregated; in the 1980s South Africa was still racially segregated. Today both are integrated and have had black presidents. In 1950, homosexuality was widely illegal; today gay marriage is legal in most Western nations. Even Saudi Arabia has decided to let women drive.

If we want to know why, absurdly, students believe that things have never been worse for racial minorities in America, maybe the answer is the rot starts from the top.

In related news, Yale Law School Clinics Secure Third Nationwide Injunction:

The first ruling dramatically stopped the unconstitutional Muslim ban in January 2017, when students from the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) mobilized overnight to ground planes and free travelers who were being unjustly detained. The students’ work, along with co-counsel, secured the first nationwide injunction against the ban, and became the template for an army of lawyers around the country who gathered at airports to provide relief as the chaotic aftermath of the executive order unfolded.

Next came a major ruling in California in November 2017 in which a federal Judge granted a permanent injunction that prohibited the Trump Administration from denying funding to sanctuary cities—a major victory for students in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) …

And on February 13, 2018, WIRAC secured yet another nationwide injunction—this time halting the abrupt termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). … The preliminary injunction affirms protections for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers just weeks before the program was set to expire.

And Rule of Law Clinic files Suit over Census Preparations:

The Rule of Law Clinic launched at Yale Law School in the Spring of 2017 and in less than one year has been involved in some of the biggest cases in the country, including working on the travel ban, the transgender military ban, and filing amicus briefs on behalf of the top national security officials in the country, among many other cases. The core goal of the clinic is to maintain U.S. rule of law and human rights commitments in four areas: national security, antidiscrimination, climate change, and democracy promotion.

 

Meanwhile, Amy Chua appears to be the only sane, honest person at Yale Law:

In her new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (Penguin, 2018), Amy Chua diagnoses the rising tribalism in America and abroad and prescribes solutions for creating unity amidst group differences.

Chua, who is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law, begins Political Tribes with a simple observation: “Humans are tribal.” But tribalism, Chua explains, encompasses not only an innate desire for belonging but also a vehement and sometimes violent “instinct to exclude.” Some groups organize for noble purposes, others because of a common enemy. In Chua’s assessment, the United States, in both foreign and domestic policies, has failed to fully understand the importance of these powerful bonds of group identity.

Unlike the students using their one-in-a-million chance at a Yale Law degree to help members of a different tribe for short-term gain, Amy Chua at least understands politics. I might not enjoy Chua’s company if I met her, but I respect her honesty and clear-sightedness.

 

On a final note, Professor Tyler has a new book, also about children and law, Why Children Follow Rules: Legal Socialization and the Development of Legitimacy. (Apparently the publishers decided to stiff the cover artist.) From the Amazon blurb:

Why Children Follow Rules focuses upon legal socialization outlining what is known about the process across three related, but distinct, contexts: the family, the school, and the juvenile justice system. Throughout, Tom Tyler and Rick Trinkner emphasize the degree to which individuals develop their orientations toward law and legal authority upon values connected to responsibility and obligation as opposed to fear of punishment. They argue that authorities can act in ways that internalize legal values and promote supportive attitudes. In particular, consensual legal authority is linked to three issues: how authorities make decisions, how they treat people, and whether they recognize the boundaries of their authority. When individuals experience authority that is fair, respectful, and aware of the limits of power, they are more likely to consent and follow directives.

Despite clear evidence showing the benefits of consensual authority, strong pressures and popular support for the exercise of authority based on dominance and force persist in America’s families, schools, and within the juvenile justice system. As the currently low levels of public trust and confidence in the police, the courts, and the law undermine the effectiveness of our legal system, Tom Tyler and Rick Trinkner point to alternative way to foster the popular legitimacy of the law in an era of mistrust.

Speaking as a parent… I understand where Tyler is coming from. If I act in a way that doesn’t inspire my children to see me as a fair, god-like arbitrator of justice, then they are more likely to see me as an unjust tyrant who should be disobeyed and overthrown.

On the other hand, sometimes things are against the rules for reasons kids don’t understand. One of my kids, when he was little, thought turning the dishwasher off was the funniest thing and would laugh all the way through timeout. Easy solution: I didn’t turn it on when he was in the room and  he forgot. Tougher problem: one of the kids thought climbing on the stove to get to the microwave was a good idea. Time outs didn’t work. Explaining “the stove is hot sometimes” didn’t work. Only force solved this problem.

Some people will accept your authority. Some people can reason their way to “We should cooperate and respect the social contract so we can live in peace.” And some people DON’T CARE no matter what.

So I agree that police, courts, etc., should act justly and not abuse their powers, and I can pull up plenty of examples of cases where they did. But I am afraid this is not a complete framework for dealing with criminals and legal socialization.

“Cultural Collapse”

Tablet recently had an interesting essay on the theme of “why did Trump win?”

The material-grievances theory and the cultural-resentments theory can fit together because, in both cases, they tell us that people voted for Trump out of a perceived self-interest, which was to improve their faltering economic and material conditions, or else to affirm their cultural standing vis-à-vis the non-whites and the bicoastal elites. Their votes were, from this standpoint, rationally cast. … which ultimately would suggest that 2016’s election was at least a semi-normal event, even if Trump has his oddities. But here is my reservation.

I do not think the election was normal. I think it was the strangest election in American history in at least one major particular, which has to do with the qualifications and demeanor of the winning candidate. American presidents over the centuries have always cultivated, after all, a style, which has been pretty much the style of George Washington, sartorially updated. … Now, it is possible that, over the centuries, appearances and reality have, on occasion, parted ways, and one or another president, in the privacy of his personal quarters, or in whispered instructions to his henchmen, has been, in fact, a lout, a demagogue, a thug, and a stinking cesspool of corruption. And yet, until just now, nobody running for the presidency, none of the serious candidates, would have wanted to look like that, and this was for a simple reason. The American project requires a rigorously republican culture, without which a democratic society cannot exist—a culture of honesty, logic, science, and open-minded debate, which requires, in turn, tolerance and mutual respect. Democracy demands decorum. And since the president is supposed to be democracy’s leader, the candidates for the office have always done their best to, at least, put on a good act.

The author (Paul Berman) then proposes Theory III: Broad Cultural Collapse:

 A Theory 3 ought to emphasize still another non-economic and non-industrial factor, apart from marriage, family structure, theology, bad doctors, evil pharmaceutical companies, and racist ideology. This is a broad cultural collapse. It is a collapse, at minimum, of civic knowledge—a collapse in the ability to identify political reality, a collapse in the ability to recall the nature of democracy and the American ideal. An intellectual collapse, ultimately. And the sign of this collapse is an inability to recognize that Donald Trump has the look of a foreign object within the American presidential tradition.

Berman is insightful until he blames cultural collapse on the educational system (those dastardly teachers just decided not to teach about George Washington, I guess.)

We can’t blame education. Very few people had many years of formal education of any sort back in 1776 or 1810–even in 1900, far fewer people completed highschool than do today. The idea that highschool civics class was more effectively teaching future voters what to look for in a president in 1815 than today therefore seems unlikely.

If anything, in my (admittedly limited, parental) interactions with the local schools, education seem to lag national sentiment. For example, the local schools still cover Columbus Day in a pro-Columbus manner (and I don’t even live in a particularly conservative area) and have special Veterans’ Day events. School curricula are, I think, fairly influenced by the desires of the Texas schools, because Texas is a big state that buys a lot of textbooks.

I know plenty of Boomers who voted for Trump, so if we’re looking at a change in school curricula, we’re looking at a shift that happened half a century ago (or more,) but only recently manifested.

That said, I definitely feel something coursing through society that I could call “Cultural Collapse.” I just don’t think the schools are to blame.

Yesterday I happened across children’s book about famous musicians from the 1920s. Interwoven with the biographies of Beethoven and Mozart were political comments about kings and queens, European social structure and how these musicians of course saw through all of this royalty business and wanted to make music for the common people. It was an articulated ideology of democracy.

Sure, people today still think democracy is important, but the framing (and phrasing) is different. The book we recently read of mathematicians’ biographies didn’t stop to tell us how highly the mathematicians thought of the idea of common people voting (rather, when it bothered with ideology, it focused on increasing representation of women in mathematics and emphasizing the historical obstacles they faced.)

Meanwhile, as the NY Times reports, the percent of Americans who think living in a Democracy is important is declining:

According to the Mounk-Foa early-warning system, signs of democratic deconsolidation in the United States and many other liberal democracies are now similar to those in Venezuela before its crisis.

Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations. …

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.

That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

Note, though, that this is not a local phenomenon–any explanation that explains why support for democracy is down in the US needs to also explain why it’s down in Sweden, Australia, Britain, and the Netherlands (and maybe why it wasn’t so popular there in the first place.)

Here are a few different theories besides failing schools:

  1. Less common culture, due to integration and immigration
  2. More international culture, due to the internet, TV, and similar technologies
  3. Disney

Put yourself in your grandfather or great-grandfather’s shoes, growing up in the 1910s or 20s. Cars were not yet common; chances were if he wanted to go somewhere, he walked or rode a horse. Telephones and radios were still rare. TV barely existed.

If you wanted to talk to someone, you walked over to them and talked. If you wanted to talk to someone from another town, either you or they had to travel, often by horse or wagon. For long-distance news, you had newspapers and a few telegraph wires.

News traveled slowly. People traveled slowly (most people didn’t ride trains regularly.) Most of the people you talked to were folks who lived nearby, in your own community. Everyone not from your community was some kind of outsider.

There’s a story from Albion’s Seed:

During World War II, for example, three German submariners escaped from Camp Crossville, Tennessee. Their flight took them to an Appalachian cabin, where they stopped for a drink of water. The mountain granny told them to git.” When they ignored her, she promptly shot them dead. The sheriff came, and scolded her for shooting helpless prisoners. Granny burst into tears, and said that she wold not have done it if she had known the were Germans. The exasperated sheriff asked her what in “tarnation” she thought she was shooting at. “Why,” she replied, “I thought they was Yankees!”

And then your grandfather got shipped out to get shot at somewhere in Europe or the Pacific.

Today, technology has completely transformed our lives. When we want to talk to someone or hear their opinion, we can just pick up the phone, visit facebook, or flip on the TV. We have daily commutes that would have taken our ancestors a week to walk. People expect to travel thousands of miles for college and jobs.

The effect is a curious inversion: In a world where you can talk to anyone, why talk to your neighbors? Personally, I spend more time talking to people in Britain than the folks next door, (and I like my neighbors.)

Now, this blog was practically founded on the idea that this technological shift in the way ideas (memes) are transmitted has a profound effect on the kinds of ideas that are transmitted. When ideas must be propagated between relatives and neighbors, these ideas are likely to promote your own material well-being (as you must survive well enough to continue propagating the idea for it to go on existing,) whereas when ideas can be easily transmitted between strangers who don’t even live near each other, the ideas need not promote personal survival–they just need to sound good. (I went into more detail on this idea back in Viruses Want you to Spread Them, Mitochondrial Memes, and The Progressive Virus.)

How do these technological shifts affect how we form communities?

From Bowling Alone:

In a groundbreaking book based on vast data, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures– and how we may reconnect.

Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.

Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.

to data on how many people don’t have any friends:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reported in its General Social Survey (GSS) that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. Published in the American Sociological Review (ASR) and authored by Miller McPhearson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Matthew Brashears, sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona, the study featured 1,500 face-to-face interviews where more than a quarter of the respondents — one in four — said that they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. If family members are not counted, the number doubles to more than half of Americans who have no one outside their immediate family with whom they can share confidences. Sadly, the researchers noted increases in “social isolation” and “a very significant decrease in social connection to close friends and family.”

Rarely has news from an academic paper struck such a responsive nerve with the general public. These dramatic statistics from ASR parallel similar trends reported by the Beverly LaHaye Institute — that over the 40 years from 1960 to 2000 the Census Bureau had expanded its analysis of what had been a minor category.  The Census Bureau categorizes the term “unrelated individuals” to designate someone who does not live in a “family group.” Sadly, we’ve seen the percentage of persons living as “unrelated individuals” almost triple, increasing from 6 to 16 percent of all people during the last 40 years. A huge majority of those classified as “unrelated individuals” (about 70 percent) lived alone.

it seems that interpersonal trust is deteriorating:

Long-run data from the US, where the General Social Survey (GSS) has been gathering information about trust attitudes since 1972, suggests that people trust each other less today than 40 years ago. This decline in interpersonal trust in the US has been coupled with a long-run reduction in public trust in government – according to estimates compiled by the Pew Research Center since 1958, today trust in the government in the US is at historically low levels.

Interestingly:

Interpersonal trust attitudes correlate strongly with religious affiliation and upbringing. Some studies have shown that this strong positive relationship remains after controlling for several survey-respondent characteristics.1 This, in turn, has led researchers to use religion as a proxy for trust, in order to estimate the extent to which economic outcomes depend on trust attitudes. Estimates from these and other studies using an instrumental-variable approach, suggest that trust has a causal impact on economic outcomes.2 This suggests that the remarkable cross-country heterogeneity in trust that we observe today, can explain a significant part of the historical differences in cross-country income levels.

Also:

Measures of trust from attitudinal survey questions remain the most common source of data on trust. Yet academic studies have shown that these measures of trust are generally weak predictors of actual trusting behaviour. Interestingly, however, questions about trusting attitudes do seem to predict trustworthiness. In other words, people who say they trust other people tend to be trustworthy themselves.3

Just look at that horrible trend of migrants being kept out of Europe

Our technological shifts haven’t just affected ideas and conversations–with people able to travel thousands of miles in an afternoon, they’ve also affected the composition of communities. The US in 1920 was almost 90% white and 10% black, (with that black population concentrated in the segregated South). All other races together totaled only a couple percent. Today, the US is <65% white, 13% black, 16% Hispanic, 6% Asian and Native American, and 9% “other” or multi-racial.

Similar changes have happened in Europe, both with the creation of the Free Movement Zone and the discovery that the Mediterranean isn’t that hard to cross, though the composition of the newcomers obviously differs.

Diversity may have its benefits, but one of the things it isn’t is a common culture.

With all of these changes, do I really feel that there is anything particularly special about my local community and its norms over those of my British friends?

What about Disney?

Well, Disney’s most profitable product hasn’t exactly been pro-democracy, though I doubt a few princess movies can actually budge people’s political compasses or vote for Trump (or Hillary.) But what about the general content of children’s stories? It sure seems like there are a lot fewer stories focused on characters from American history than in the days when Davy Crockett was the biggest thing on TV.

Of course this loops back into technological changes, as American TV and movies are enjoyed by an increasingly non-American audience and media content is driven by advertisers’ desire to reach specific audiences (eg, the “rural purge” in TV programming, when popular TV shows aimed at more rural or older audiences were cancelled in favor of programs featuring urban characters, which advertisers believed would appeal to younger viewers with more cash to spend.)

If cultural collapse is happening, it’s not because we lack for civics classes, but because civics classes alone cannot create a civic culture where there is none.

Do Sufficiently Large Organizations Start Acting Like Malevolent AIs? (pt 1)

(and Society is an Extremely Large Organization)

What do I mean by malevolent AI?

AI typically refers to any kind of intelligence or ability to learn possessed by machines. Malevolent AI occurs when a machine pursues its programmed objectives in a way that humans find horrifying or immoral. For example, a machine programmed to make paperclips might decide that the easiest way to maximize paperclip production is to enslave humans to make paperclips for it. Superintelligent AI is AI that has figured out how to make itself smarter and thus keeps getting smarter and smarter. (Should we develop malevolent superintelligent AI, then we’ll really have something to worry about.)

Note: people who actually study AI probably have better definitions than I do.

While we like to think of ourselves (humans) as unique, thinking individuals, it’s clear that many of our ideas come from other people. Chances are good you didn’t think up washing your hands or brushing your teeth by yourself, but learned about them from your parents. Society puts quite a bit of effort, collectively speaking, into teaching children all of the things people have learned over the centuries–from heliocentrism to the fact that bleeding patients generally makes diseases worse, not better.

Just as we cannot understand the behavior of ants or bees simply by examining the anatomy of a single ant or single bee, but must look at the collective life of the entire colony/hive, so we cannot understand human behavior by merely examining a single human, but must look at the collective nature of human societies. “Man is a political animal,” whereby Aristotle did not mean that we are inherently inclined to fight over transgender bathrooms, but instinctively social:

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces—the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to a bird which flies alone.

Now the reason why man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere sound is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state. –Aristotle, Politics

With very rare exceptions, humans–all humans, in all parts of the world–live in groups. Tribes. Families. Cities. Nations. Our nearest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, also live in groups. Primates are social, and their behavior can only be understood in the context of their groups.

Groups of humans are able to operate in ways that individual humans cannot, drawing on the collective memories, skills, and knowledge of their members to create effects much greater than what could be achieved by each person acting alone. For example, one lone hunter might be able to kill a deer–or if he is extremely skilled, hardworking, and lucky, a dozen deer–but ten hunters working together can drive an entire herd of deer over a cliff, killing hundreds or even thousands. (You may balk at the idea, but many traditional hunting societies were dependent on only a few major hunts of migrating animals to provide the majority of their food for the entire year–meaning that those few hunts had to involve very high numbers of kills or else the entire tribe would starve while waiting for the animals to return.)

Chimps have never, to my knowledge, driven megafauna to extinction–but humans have a habit of doing so wherever they go. Humans are great at what we do, even if we aren’t always great at extrapolating long-term trends.

But the beneficial effects of human cooperation don’t necessarily continue to increase as groups grow larger–China’s 1.3 billion people don’t appear to have better lives than Iceland’s 332,000 people. Indeed, there probably is some optimal size–depending on activity and available communications technology–beyond which the group struggles to coordinate effectively and begins to degenerate.

CBS advises us to make groups of 7:

As it turns out, seven is a great number for not only forming an effective fictional fighting force, but also for task groups that use spreadsheets instead of swords to do their work.

That’s according to the new book Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization (Harvard Business Press).

Once you’ve got 7 people in a group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%, say the authors, Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins, and Paul Rogers.

Unsurprisingly, a group of 17 or more rarely makes a decision other than when to take a lunch break.

Princeton blog reports:

The trope that the likelihood of an accurate group decision increases with the abundance of brains involved might not hold up when a collective faces a variety of factors — as often happens in life and nature. Instead, Princeton University researchers report that smaller groups actually tend to make more accurate decisions, while larger assemblies may become excessively focused on only certain pieces of information. …

collective decision-making has rarely been tested under complex, “realistic” circumstances where information comes from multiple sources, the Princeton researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In these scenarios, crowd wisdom peaks early then becomes less accurate as more individuals become involved, explained senior author Iain Couzin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. …

The researchers found that the communal ability to pool both pieces of information into a correct, or accurate, decision was highest in a band of five to 20. After that, the accurate decision increasingly eluded the expanding group.

Couzin found that in small groups, people with specialized knowledge could effectively communicate that to the rest of the group, whereas in larger groups, they simply couldn’t convey their knowledge to enough people and group decision-making became dominated by the things everyone knew.

If you could travel back in time and propose the idea of democracy to the inhabitants of 13th century England, they’d respond with incredulity: how could peasants in far-flung corners of the kingdom find out who was running for office? Who would count the votes? How many months would it take to tally up the results, determine who won, and get the news back to the outlying provinces? If you have a printing press, news–and speeches–can quickly and accurately spread across large distances and to large numbers of people, but prior to the press, large-scale democracy simply wasn’t practical.

Likewise, the communism of 1917 probably couldn’t have been enacted in 1776, simply because society at that time didn’t have the technology yet to gather all of the necessary data on crop production, factory output, etc. (As it was, neither did Russia of 1917, but they were closer.)

Today, the amount of information we can gather and share on a daily basis is astounding. I have at my fingertips the world’s greatest collection of human knowledge, an overwhelming torrent of data.

All of our these information networks have linked society together into an increasingly efficient meta-brain–unfortunately, it’s not a very smart meta-brain. Like the participants in Couzin’s experiments, we are limited to what “everyone knows,” stymied in our efforts to impart more specialized knowledge. (I don’t know about you, but I find being shouted down by a legion of angry people who know less about a subject than I do one of the particularly annoying features of the internet.)

For example, there’s been a lot of debate lately about immigration, but how much do any of us really know about immigrants or immigrant communities? How much of this debate is informed by actual knowledge of the people involved, and how much is just people trying to extend vague moral principles to cover novel situations? I recently had a conversation with a progressive acquaintance who justified mass-immigration on the grounds that she has friendly conversations with the cabbies in her city. Heavens protect us–I hope to get along with people as friends and neighbors, not just when I am paying them!

One gets the impression in conversation with Progressives that they regard Christian Conservatives as a real threat, because that group that can throw its weight around in elections or generally enforce cultural norms that liberals don’t like, but are completely oblivious to the immigrants’ beliefs. Most of our immigrants hail from countries that are rather more conservative than the US and definitely more conservative than our liberals.

Any sufficiently intelligent democracy ought to be able to think critically about the political opinions of the new voters it is awarding citizenship to, but we struggle with this. My Progressive acquaintance seems think that we can import an immense, conservative, third-world underclass and it will stay servile indefinitely, not vote its own interests or have any effects on social norms. (Or its interests will be, coincidentally, hers.)

This is largely an information problem–most Americans are familiar with our particular brand of Christian conservatives, but are unfamiliar with Mexican or Islamic ones.

How many Americans have intimate, detailed knowledge of any Islamic society? Very few of us who are not Muslim ourselves speak Arabic, and few Muslim countries are major tourist destinations. Aside from the immigrants themselves, soldiers, oil company employees, and a handful of others have spent time in Islamic countries, but that’s about it–and no one is making any particular effort to listen to their opinions. (It’s a bit sobering to realize that I know more about Islamic culture than 90% of Americans and I still don’t really know anything.)

So instead of making immigration policy based on actual knowledge of the groups involved, people try to extend the moral rules–heuristics–they already have. So people who believe that “religious tolerance is good,” because this rule has generally been useful in preventing conflict between American religious groups, think this rule should include Muslim immigrants. People who believe, “I like being around Christians,” also want to apply their rule. (And some people believe, “Groups are more oppressive when they’re the majority, so I want to re-structure society so we don’t have a majority,” and use that rule to welcome new immigrants.)

And we are really bad at testing whether or not our rules are continuing to be useful in these new situations.

 

Ironically, as our networks have become more effective, our ability to incorporate new information may have actually gone down.

The difficulties large groups experience trying to coordinate and share information force them to become dominated by procedures–set rules of behavior and operation are necessary for large groups to operate. A group of three people can use ad-hoc consensus and rock-paper-scissors to make decisions; a nation of 320 million requires a complex body of laws and regulations.

But it’s getting late, so let’s continue this discussion in the next post.

Free Speech is Downstream from Territory

(Journalist?) Angus Johnston provides moral justification for this act (to save space, I’m going to quote instead of screenshot most of the thread):

It’s not just a speech act. It’s a test. It’s a test to see whether you can get away with it. It’s an attempt to shift boundaries. It’s an attempt to frighten, to cow, to subdue. It’s a challenge: “Are you going to stop me?” It’s not “political speech” in the way we typically think of that term. It’s not simple advocacy of Nazism. It’s street harassment. …

I think it’s the same as a woman pepper-spraying a man for accosting her with sexual insinuations while she walks to the subway. I think it’s the same as a gay man punching the guy who threatened him and shamed him for kissing his boyfriend goodbye. I think it’s the same as clocking someone you see yelling at an old Jewish lady, telling her she should have been gassed like her mom.

We can distinguish coherently between different kinds of speech, and how we respond to them. We do it all the time. …

Not getting harassed by antifa.

Before I consult with a lawyer about whether a police officer would consider these cases equivalent, I would like to point out that people do, in fact, wear Nazi symbols on a regular basis–even in Johnston’s vicinity–and normal people definitely do not punch the wearers unless they want to die right now.

Yes, I am talking about outlaw bikers and their ilk.

That said, Johnston is right about one thing–it is a shit test. I highly doubt the average Vagos (or other outlaw) actually cares that much about promoting the 80+ yr old military ideology of a foreign country, but they do care about declaring that they are the biggest, baddest bad-asses in the area and that therefore you shouldn’t mess with them. Wearing the most offensive symbols possible sends the message: I am so bad-ass that you can’t stop me.

The entire point of criminal gangs (outlaw motorcycle clubs included) is to control territory; with territory come resources and (most importantly) women.

And I guarantee you Johnston and the other antifa are not going to punch the Vagos in their faces, because while they want to keep “Nazis” out of their spaces, they know they can’t stop the Vagos.

“But what about Free Speech?” I hear you asking.

You get Free Speech when you control a space.

Let’s take a look at this video: Black girl decolonizing the space around the president – Evergreen State College. Normally, the president of a college owns that space. But as you can see, this black student has decided to claim his space, and there is nothing he is willing to do to stop her. He has relinquished his space. He has surrendered.

The world “decolonize” is specifically chosen to signify the removal of white people, who own the land Evergreen State is built on by virtue of having conquered it. Of course, since black are not indigenous to the area, a black person taking it over is equally “colonialism.” True “decolonization” would return the land to the Native Americans who once owned it, not black newcomers. But the point here is to drive out whites from white spaces, with bats and tazers, if necessary, not to benefit the Indians.

Other videos/articles from Evergreen are equally tellingprofessors trapped by students; college shut down for three days because of violence; the president forced to state that the college’s occupation of this land is illegitimate. Oh, and let’s not forget the violent Berkley protests/riots that shut down Milo’s speech.

Free speech is a luxury you enjoy after you secure a territory.

University of Missouri protests

While you were laughing at the whiny cry babies with their “safe spaces,” liberals were using “victimhood” as the justification to mark their territory: places where you and your ideas are not welcome.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution’s John Villasenor, professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, found that 44% of [University] Students Incorrectly Think the First Amendment Does Not Protect Hate Speech.

1,500 students at four-year universities were asked if the First Amendment protects hate speech (The correct answer, based on 200+ years of law and Supreme Court rulings, is “Yes.”)

The student’s answers:

  • “Hate Speech not protected”: 44%
  • “Protected”: 39%
  • “Don’t know”: 16%
  • Men who answered correctly: 51%
  • Women who answered correctly: 31%
  • Republicans who answered correctly: 44%
  • Democrats who answered correctly: 39%
  • “Independents”: 40%
  • Think “shouting so that the audience cannot hear” is an acceptable way to oppose an unpopular speaker: 51%
  • Think violence is acceptable: 19%

Let’s be clear: it’s not just any ideas that are unwelcome. The most unwelcome ideas are directly related to the question of Who should be allowed in the country/region? We are literally arguing over who should be allowed in the US (and Europeans over who should be allowed into their countries.) The vast majority of what people are calling “Hate Speech” is actually speech aimed at stopping foreigners from entering an area or advocating that they should be expelled.

Professor Weinstein’s crime that sparked the Evergreen State riots wasn’t wearing a Nazi armband or advocating his own gassing, but his disinclination to leave campus when the SJWs decided to have a symbolic day of kicking all of the white people off campus. It is literally about tribal control of space and violently kicking out everyone the SJWs don’t like.

Do conservatives do it, too? You betcha. Here’s what happened when Richard Spencer tried to occupy a space and give a speech:

Compare that against what protesters were allowed to do Baltimore. From the Baltimore Mayor’s speech:

“I’ve made it very clear that I worked with the police, and instructed them to do everything they could, to make sure the protestors were able to exercise their right to free speech… We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

Now let’s go back to the beginning, because I do want to address the legal question implicit in Angus Johnston’s claims: Having consulted with a lawyer and a police officer, I can say with certainty that Johnston’s argument is “legally garbage.” Punching people just because they happen to be wearing Nazi armbands is definitely illegal and you can go to prison for assault if you try it.

Blocking traffic, as the BLM protesters have often done, is also illegal. So is burning and looting, as the Berkley protestors did. Johnston is not offering legal advice (and I don’t recommend going to him for legal advice;) he is speaking from the perspective of someone who believes that the police will look the other way and allow you to break the law by punching Nazis. Since he believes that the Nazis are entering his territory, he believes that the power structure in his territory will support violently driving Nazi invaders from his territory.

Conservatives tend to be several years behind liberals. Conservatives are still talking about Free Speech, while liberals are talking about Controlling Territory. You have to control the territory before you can have free speech. Otherwise you get whatever speech the people who do control the territory allow you.

Take Twitter: Do you have free speech on Twitter? No. Twitter has banned or censored thousands of accounts. You have what speech Twitter decides to allow–in the name of “safety.”

Okay, so you can switch to Gab–unless, in a nigh-unprecedented move–it gets booted from its registrar for violating Australian hate speech laws. Or Google censors it so you can’t download the app.

Well, maybe you could just make Youtube videos and get out your ideas that way–except that Youtube is now censoring videos that don’t even violate its terms of service if someone finds them “offensive.” Even Numberphile–a Youtube channel about math–has been censored by Youtube!

The biggest question of the Trump Presidency–the question that drove him into office–is territorial: Who owns America? Who should be allowed in? Who should benefit from America’s wealth? (The same questions are being asked across Europe.)

And this is precisely the conversation the left is trying to shut down.

In multi-ethnic democracies, political parties don’t represent ideas about how the country should be run. They represent ethnic groups. Free speech is downstream from territory.

Tribalism and the Two-Party System

I’ve spilled a lot of ink trying to figure out why people hold the political opinions they do–Genetics? Neurology? Game theory?–but maybe it’s just the fact that we’re tribal creatures stuck in a two-party system.

The US is legally set up as a two-party system. Doen’t matter how much you like a third party: our system of counting votes makes it nearly impossible for it to win.

A two-party system means that whatever one party supports, the other party–if it wants to win–opposes. It doesn’t matter what you support. You could be the Cute Puppies and Kittens Party, and your opponents would start writing diatribes about how “cute” puppies and kittens are a serious menace to society. “Millions of babies have been smothered by puppies and kittens!” the headlines would scream. “Why won’t the Cute Puppies and Kittens Party acknowledge the dangers of flea-borne BUBONIC PLAGUE?”

And we, being tribal creatures, believe that it is absolutely critical to support their own tribe against that other, awful evil tribe that is clearly evil because of its obviously EVIL stance on puppies and kittens.

If you don’t want to play this game, then guess what? You aren’t going to win votes.

The Democrats have increasingly focused on race and other identity-politics issues for the past 8 years or so, (culminating in the BLM protests.) The initial Republican strategy (embodied in Hispanic-friendly candidates like Jeb, Cruz, and Rubio) was to try to win by attracting Hispanic voters. But Cubans aside, being the “slightly welcoming to immigrants” party isn’t good enough to woo immigrants away from the “Open borders now” party, and it’s going to alienate all of the voters who are concerned that immigration is too high.

By not opposing the Democrats, Republicans left themselves open to internal sniping: hence Trump’s takeover.

A lot of people blame Trump for the Alt-Right, but the AR existed long before Trump. The AR emerged as a response to the left’s SJW-Identity politics, politics mainstream conservatism had no credible answers to. Trump is simply a product of the same forces.

It’s bad enough when tribal lines are being drawn over puppies and kittens. Throw in actual ethnic and group identities and you are asking for trouble.

Now add to this the fact that democracy is essentially how we are trying to run our country. “Want to get something done? Want to improve your pet issue? Vote!”

We are incentivising people to OPPOSE GOOD IDEAS because if they don’t, someone else who DOES will GET ELECTED INSTEAD.

Cathedral Round-Up (ish) #21: Syria

Syrian Alawite Falconer, circa WWII

I got bored of reading my usual list of Cathedral publications (although Stanford Mag did have an interesting article recently about a woman discovering her father’s book he wrote while in a Japanese POW camp during WWII [he was eventually beaten to death by the Japanese]), and decided to see what various universities had to say about Trump’s decision to attack Syria.

From Harvard, we have:

The Gangs of Syria (Harvard Political Review, 2012); Opinion: Bashar al-Assad is Syria’s problem, not its solution (Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, 2015); Germany and Saudi Arabia: Alliance in Counter-Terrorism (Report by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard Scholar, 2016); and A War Apart: Syrians at Harvard (The Harvard Crimson, 2017):

On the first day of shopping week this fall, Nisreen S. Shiban ’17 received a phone call from Syria. She immediately knew that something must be wrong.

It was one of her uncles. His voice panicked, he asked Shiban to get in touch with her father and make sure her mother was not within earshot. He had devastating news to deliver: Shiban’s maternal uncle Makarem, a former veterinarian who had practically raised her, had been killed by ISIS fighters in Aleppo. …

A College senior’s aunt and uncle were beheaded by rebel groups in Daraa.

An Arabic language preceptor often woke up in the middle of the night worrying about her brother and sister in Damascus.

A College freshman lost 13 relatives in the bloodshed. …

A junior volunteered at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in an effort to do something to ease the pain of her fellow Syrians.

A surgeon in Harvard’s Scholar at Risk program helped set up makeshift infirmaries to provide care to a bleeding city.

I didn’t find anything that was both recent and analytical (ie, not a human interest story,) but the bombing did happen only a few days ago and stories take time to publish, so we may have to wait for more reactions.

I also read some relevant articles about the Alawites and Cochran’s still-relevant article, How to Cut the Syrian Knot (2013):

President Obama is asking for Congressional approval of an attack against the government of Syria, in response to that government’s apparent use of nerve gas in eastern Damascus. …

The problem is that this strike doesn’t seem likely to help the United States. At least, that’s a problem for me, and it might even be a problem for some of the players in Washington.

First, we could be wrong. It does seem that a nerve agent killed over a thousand people in eastern Damascus—but who did it? The Syrian government certainly has chemical weapons, but it is possible to imagine ways in which some group among the rebels could have obtained some. Sarin isn’t even that difficult to manufacture. A Japanese nut cult, Aum Shinrikyo, managed it by themselves it back in 1995, killing 13 people in the Tokyo subway. The main objection to the official scenario, where Assad’s people used the nerve gas, is that doing so would have been irrational. …

So the Alawites are kind of interesting. Maybe not as fascinating as the Yazidis (*waves to Yazidi followers,) but still worth learning about and potentially extremely relevant to the situation. You probably already knew this, but Assad and his regime are Alawites, an ethno-religious group that forms about 11% of the overall Syrian population.

According to Wikipedia:

Alawites have historically kept their beliefs secret from outsiders and non-initiated Alawites, so rumours about them have arisen. Arabic accounts of their beliefs tend to be partisan (either positively or negatively).[14] However, since the early 2000s, Western scholarship on the Alawite religion has made significant advances.[15] At the core of Alawite belief is a divine triad, comprising three aspects of the one God. These aspects or emanations appear cyclically in human form throughout history. The last emanations of the divine triad, according to Alawite belief, were as Ali, Muhammad and Salman the Persian. Alawites were historically persecuted for these beliefs by the Sunni Muslim rulers of the area.

So it looks like traditional Alawite religion might have been kind of a mix of Christianity and Islam. This makes sense, given that Christianity was prominent in the area for about 600 years before Islam showed up, and when you leave behind the modern political/ethnic animosities people hold toward each other, both Islam and Christianity are built on pretty much the same base (Muslims even regard Jesus as a prophet.) There are weirder things than regarding Mohammad as just yet another prophet in the long line of Jewish prophets–like Mormonism, which is polytheistic but still gets grudgingly classed as a branch of Christianity. Continuing:

Alawis are self-described Shia Muslims, and have been called Shia by other sources[68][69] including the highly influential Lebanese Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon,[68][70] and Iranian religious and political leader Ruhollah Khomeini.[71][72][73]

Alawite doctrine incorporates Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Islamic, Christian and other elements and has, therefore, been described as syncretic.[15][76]…

Their theology is based on a divine triad,[63][77][78] or trinity, which is the core of Alawite belief.[79] The triad comprises three emanations of the one God: the supreme aspect or entity called the “Essence”[79] or the “Meaning”[78] (both being translations of maʿnā), together with two lesser emanations known as his “Name” (ism), or “Veil” (ḥijāb), and his “Gate” (bāb).[77][78][79][80] These emanations have manifested themselves in different human forms over several cycles in history, the last cycle of which was as Ali (the Essence/Meaning), Muhammad (the Name) and Salman the Persian (the Gate).[77][79][80][81][82]

Other beliefs and practices include: the consecration of wine in a secret form of Mass only open to males; frequently being given Christian names; burying the dead in sarcophagi above ground; observing Nowruz, Epiphany, Christmas[84] and the feast days of John Chrysostom and Mary Magdalene;[85] the only religious structures they have are the shrines of tombs;[86] the alleged book Kitab al Majmu, which is supposedly a central source of Alawite doctrine; and the belief that women do not have souls.[87][88][89][90]

Alawites have historically been kind of isolated, often oppressed and poor, but somehow managed to get control of the country after independence.

Considering that the majority of Syrians are Muslims, as are the majority of people in neighboring countries, the Alawites have good reason to want to be perceived as Muslims. I get the impression that a hundred years ago, the Alawites may have thought of themselves as pretty different from their Islamic neighbors, but today they see themselves as more similar–the push to get others to accept them as good Muslims, plus increased interaction with their neighbors due to urbanization, cars, TV, etc., may have changed their own view of themselves. (This process happened a while ago with different Christian groups–a Methodist would hardly balk at marrying a Lutheran–and is hard at work in Reform Jews, who have pretty high out-marriage rates.)

But as Cochran notes, just because they want to be accepted as good Muslims, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are:

Traditionally, Alawites were considered non-Muslim and treated like dirt—worse than Christians or Jews. You can see how the Sunni majority might resent being ruled by them—indeed, it’s hard to imagine how that ever came to pass. …

So, while the Baath party took over in 1963, the Alawites took over in 1966—and they haven’t let go yet.

The thing is, when you ride the tiger, you can’t let go. Although they have made efforts to build support outside their sect, through nationalist and redistributionist policies, the Alawite government has always faced violent opposition. They’ve put down full-scale revolts, most notably in Hama, 1982, where they leveled the city with artillery, killing tens of thousands. All that official violence means that they can’t afford to lose. Once the Alawites were despised, but now they’re hated. At this point, Peter W. Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia, says “The next genocide in the world will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”

From A War Apart: Syrians at Harvard:

As the conflict worsened and alliances formed, the war took on sectarian dimensions. President Assad’s family is Alawite, a minority Muslim sect that comprises roughly 10 percent of the Syrian population but has ruled over the majority Sunni country since the 1960s. Prior to the Arab Spring, Syrians across ethnic backgrounds had coexisted in a fragile peace, despite undercurrents of tension.

Shiban—who was born in Syria, moved to Qatar, then settled in the United States when she was 12 years old—comes from an Alawite family. Her family had close Sunni friends in Aleppo before the war. Shiban remembers playing with their children as music floated over the balcony where the adults sat sipping a traditional Middle Eastern drink and smoking hookah.

But when predominantly Sunni rebel groups began fighting for Assad’s overthrow in 2011, they were challenging not only the regime but also long-secure Alawite control. Some used religious affiliation as a rallying cry to mobilize the population against what they considered an oppressive minority. Faced with the very real threat of a take-over by a hostile majority, the Assad regime invoked Alawites’ identity to intimidate them into allegiance.

Swayed by this rhetoric, Shiban’s cousin and uncle left for the front lines. Neither would return.

Meanwhile, Shiban and her family noticed their Sunni friends sharing Facebook posts written by a Sunni religious leader promoting violence against Alawites. “We were very heartbroken. We were confused,” Shiban says. “When you hear about all of the infringements on human rights, constant censorship by the government… you can understand why a war like this would happen, but nobody could see people literally going against loved ones, friends, family.”

I am reminded here of similar accounts during the breakup of Yugoslavia–prior to the war, people spoke warmly of Yugoslavia as a multi-ethnic state in which people of different backgrounds lived in peace and harmony. Following the Fall of Communism and the Rise of Democracy, Yugoslavia degenerated into civil war and “ethnic cleansing,” a mild euphemism for genocide. Friends and neighbors turned on each other.

As frequent commentator SFC Ton notes, when countries collapse, they tend to do it on ethnic lines–and Syria is no exception.

In The Ever-Evolving Battle for Syria, (Yale Books Unbound, 2016,) Phillips writes:

David Cunningham, an expert on civil wars, has argued that the more external actors are involved, the longer civil wars last. With few hurting significantly as a result of their involvement, these actors rarely withdraw until their independent agendas are met; and the more agendas in play, the more difficult for any resolution to satisfy all players. If these agendas shift over time, resolution becomes even more difficult. Instead, the players act as “resolution blockers” prolonging the war. In Syria, feeding into the mixed agendas of the various domestic players, the six key external players have contributed six further agendas, none of which have remained static over the course of the conflict.

Though I admit that I admit very little about the situation, I am not in favor of US intervention against Assad. It’s not that I like Assad (I don’t know enough to have an opinion of the man;) I just think ISIS sounds much more frightening and have no confidence in America’s ability to make matters better. Remember that time we invaded Vietnam, and lots of people died and Vietnam still became a communist country? Or that time we supported the mujaheedin in Afghanistan and they turned into Al Qaeda and flew some planes into the NYC skyline? Or that time we invaded Iraq, deposed a dictator, installed democracy, and then got ISIS? Or that time we helped France and Britain instal a democracy in Germany, and the German people went and elected Hitler?

Our track record isn’t all bad–Japan is handling democracy just fine, though the Japanese idea of democracy seems to be re-electing the same party every time–it’s just mostly bad.

I started reading about Syria mostly because I found the media reaction to the bombing confusing: why were they so uniformly happy? Weren’t these the same people who were just telling us that Trump is a trigger-happy madman intent on hurting Muslims? Shouldn’t at least some of them be pointing out that Trump is now actually killing Muslims by bombing their country? Shouldn’t someone express concern that we don’t have good information about what’s actually happening in Syria, and so don’t know for sure that gas attack actually happened and was actually committed by Assad’s regime? I mean, “find out what actually happened before you act” is a moral taught in cartoons aimed at toddlers.

My confusion was compounded by the fact that most of the people I know expressed reservations about the bombing; many believe we should be supporting Assad against ISIS and that Assad is basically the “good guy” (or at least the “less bad guy”) in this whole mess.

And I don’t feel like I’m coming from a particularly partisan perspective, here. I don’t think your opinions about Obamacare or abortion or racism are really going to affect whether you think Assad used chemical weapons on his own people and now we should rain bombs on his people (because it is really bad when you die of chemical weapons but totally rainbows and kittens when you are blown to smithereens by a bomb.)

But then I remembered that democracy is America’s religion. Just as Muslims think non-Muslims should all convert to Islam, so Americans tend to think that non-democracies should all become democracies. Unfortunately, multi-culturalism seems to be one of democracies failure modes, as different ethnic groups start trying to vote themselves a larger share of the national pie.

Belgian refugee fleeing violence in the Congo following the end of colonial rule

Assad is a dictator, and in our simple heuristics, “dictator=bad.” The rebels are (or at least originally were) fighting for democracy, and “democracy=good.” Therefore people think Assad is a bad person (after all, if he were a good person, why would anyone rebel against him?) and needs to go. They’re not really thinking two steps down the line to, “If we take out Assad, the resulting power vacuum could allow someone even worse to come to power, like ISIS.”

There are many rebellions in the world. Go read the history of pretty much any African country and you’ll find a bunch. Few of these rebellions actually result in a real improvement in the lives of ordinary people, as the rebels often aren’t idealistic, moral young men who just want to make their country a wonderful place, but rival power factions that want to take the country’s wealth for themselves.

Even the Iranian Revolution began with many groups that wanted to oust the Shah so Iran could be a democracy–and the theocratic state they got in the end looks positively peachy next to ISIS.

A dictator might be bad, but it’s hard to be worse than civil war or ISIS.

South Carolina: The Land Democracy Forgot

While researching my post on migration and the Civil War, I came across a curious twist in American history: out of all the states in the union prior to 1860, one, South Carolina, never let its citizens vote for president. The popular vote did not come to South Carolina until after the Civil War, when democracy was imposed.

In America’s first election, (George Washington, 1789,) the country hadn’t really worked out how this whole “elections” thing worked. Three states didn’t even participate in the election; six states had no popular vote but let the legislature choose electors instead; three states held a popular vote for electors; and one state–Delaware–totally meant to let people vote, but forgot to get ballots.

Everything worked out, though, and Washington received 100% of the electoral votes.

By the election of 1800, 6 states had something resembling popular votes, and 10 did not.

In 1812, the country was evenly divided: 9 by popular vote, 9 by legislature.

In 1824, 18 states had popular votes and only 6 still used the legislature.

In 1828, only two states–South Carolina and Delaware–still had no popular vote, and by 1832, South Carolina was the only one left.

The citizens of South Carolina were not allowed to vote for president until the election of 1868, after the Civil War and the passage of various legislation related to reconstruction, black citizenship, and popular voting.

Strom Thurmond’s incredible 48 straight years as Senator from South Carolina makes me wonder, though, if democracy ever truly took hold in this final hold-out.