Logan Paul and the Algorithms of Outrage

Leaving aside the issues of “Did Logan Paul actually do anything wrong?” and “Is changing YouTube’s policies actually in Game Theorist’s interests?” Game Theorist makes a good point: while YouTube might want to say, for PR reasons, that it is doing something about big, bad, controversial videos like Logan Paul’s, it also makes money off those same videos. YouTube–like many other parts of the internet–is primarily click driven. (Few of us are paying money for programs on YouTube Red.) YouTube wants views, and controversy drives views.

That doesn’t mean YouTube wants just any content–a reputation for having a bunch of pornography would probably have a damaging effect on channels aimed at small children, as their parents would click elsewhere. But aside from the actual corpse, Logan’s video wasn’t the sort of thing that would drive away small viewers–they’d get bored of the boring non-cartoons talking to the camera long before the suicide even came up.

Logan Paul actually managed to hit a very sweet spot: controversial enough to draw in visitors (tons of them) but not so controversial that he’d drive away other visitors.

In case you’ve forgotten the controversy in a fog of other controversies, LP’s video about accidentally finding a suicide in the Suicide Forest was initially well-received, racking up thousands of likes and views before someone got offended and started up the outrage machine. Once the outrage machine got going, public sentiment turned on a dime and LP was suddenly the subject of a full two or three days of Twitter hate. The hate, of course, got YouTube more views. LP took down the video and posted an apology–which generated more attention. Major media outlets were now covering the story. Even Tablet managed to quickly come up with an article: Want a New Years Resolution? Don’t be Like Logan Paul.

And it worked. I passed up Tablet’s regular article on Trump and Bagels and Culture, but I clicked on that article about Logan Paul because I wanted to know what on earth Tablet had to say about LP, a YouTuber whom, 24 hours prior, I had never heard of.

And the more respectable (or at least highly-trafficked) news outlets picked up the story, the higher Logan’s videos rose on the YouTube charts. And as more people watched more of LP’s other videos, they found more things to be offended at. For example, once he ran through the streets of Japan holding a fish. A FISH, I tell you. He waved this fish at people and was generally very annoying.

I don’t like LP’s style of humor, but I’m not getting worked up over a guy waving a fish around.

So understand this: you are in an outrage machine. The purpose of the outrage machine is to drive traffic, which makes clicks, which result in ad revenue. There are probably whole websites (Huffpo, CNN) that derive a significant percent of their profits from hate-clicks–that is, intentionally posting incendiary garbage not because they believe it or think it is just or true or appeals to their base, but because they can get people to click on it in sheer shock or outrage.

Your emotions–your “emotional labor” as the SJWs call it–is being turned into someone else’s dollars.

And the result is a country that is increasingly polarized. Increasingly outraged. Increasingly exhausted.

Step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Get some fresh air. Ask yourself, “Does this really matter? Am I actually helping anyone? Will I remember this in a week?”

I’d blame the SJWs for the outrage machine–and really, they are good running it–but I think it started with CNN and “24 hour news.” You have to do something to fill that time. Then came Fox News, which was like CNN, but more controversial in order to lure viewers away from the more established channel. Now we have the interplay of Facebook, Twitter, HuffPo, online newspapers, YouTube, etc–driven largely by automated algorithms designed to maximized clicks–even hate clicks.

The Logan Paul controversy is just one example out of thousands, but let’s take a moment and think about whether it really mattered. Some guy whose job description is “makes videos of his life and posts them on YouTube” was already shooting a video about his camping trip when he happened upon a dead body. He filmed the body, called the police, canceled his camping trip, downed a few cups of sake while talking about how shaken he was, and ended the video with a plea that people seek help and not commit suicide.

In between these events was laughter–I interpret it as nervous laughter in an obviously distressed person. Other people interpret this as mocking. Even if you think LP was mocking the deceased, I think you should be more concerned that Japan has a “Suicide Forest” in the first place.

Let’s look at a similar case: When three year old Alan Kurdi drowned, the photograph of his dead body appeared on websites and newspapers around the world–earning thousands of dollars for the photographers and news agencies. Politicans then used little Alan’s death to push particular political agendas–Hillary Clinton even talked about Alan Kurdi’s death in one of the 2016 election debates. Alan Kurdi’s death was extremely profitable for everyone making money off the photograph, but no one got offended over this.

Why is it acceptable for photographers and media agencies to make money off a three year old boy who drowned because his father was a negligent fuck who didn’t put a life vest on him*, but not acceptable for Logan Paul to make money off a guy who chose to kill himself and then leave his body hanging in public where any random person could find it?

Elian Gonzalez, sobbing, torn at gunpoint from his relatives. BTW, This photo won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

Let’s take a more explicitly political case. Remember when Bill Clinton and Janet Reno sent 130 heavily armed INS agents to the home of child refugee Elian Gonzalez’s relatives** so they could kick him out of the US and send him back to Cuba?

Now Imagine Donald Trump sending SWAT teams after sobbing children. How would people react?

The outrage machine functions because people think it is good. It convinces people that it is casting light on terrible problems that need correcting. People are getting offended at things that they wouldn’t have if the outrage machine hadn’t told them to. You think you are serving justice. In reality, you are mad at a man for filming a dead guy and running around Japan with a fish. Jackass did worse, and it was on MTV for two years. Game Theorist wants more consequences for people like Logan Paul, but he doesn’t realize that anyone can get offended at just about anything. His videos have graphic descriptions of small children being murdered (in videogame contexts, like Five Nights at Freddy’s or “What would happen if the babies in Mario Cart were involved in real car crashes at racing speeds?”) I don’t find this “family friendly.” Sometimes I (*gasp*) turn off his videos as a result. Does that mean I want a Twitter mob to come destroy his livelihood? No. It means a Twitter mob could destroy his livelihood.

For that matter, as Game Theorist himself notes, the algorithm itself rewards and amplifies outrage–meaning that people are incentivised to create completely false outrage against innocent people. Punishing one group of people more because the algorithm encourages bad behavior in other people is cruel and does not solve the problem. Changing the algorithm would solve the problem, but the algorithm is what makes YouTube money.

In reality, the outrage machine is pulling the country apart–and I don’t know about you, but I live here. My stuff is here; my loved ones are here.

The outrage machine must stop.

*I remember once riding in an airplane with my father. As the flight crew explained that in the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you should secure your own mask before assisting your neighbors, his response was a very vocal “Hell no, I’m saving my kid first.” Maybe not the best idea, but the sentiment is sound.

**When the boat Elian Gonzalez and his family were riding in capsized, his mother and her boyfriend put him in an inner tube, saving his life even though they drowned.


Rafflesia: the Parasitic Flowers of Breath of the Wild

Let’s consider the similarities between the fairy fountains found in Nintendo’s new Legend of Zelda installment, Breath of the Wild, and the enormous blooms of our terrestrial Rafflesia genus.

Rafflesia Arnoldii hold the record for world’s largest flowers, growing regularly to a width of 3 feet and weighing up to 24 pounds. Their central chamber is large enough to put a baby in, if you aren’t too perturbed by their odd spiky structures and horrific smell.

The Fairy Fountain is obviously the largest flower in Breath of the Wild and has a central chamber similar to Rafflesia’s; an enormous fairy woman lives inside.

Rafflesia is a parasitic plant which actually has no stems, leaves, roots, or even chlorophyll! (This has made tracing its genetic relationships to other plants difficult for scientists, because most of what we know about plant relationships is based off comparing differences in their chlorophyll’s DNA.) The only visible parts of the plant are its buds and, subsequently, the flowers they open into.

Likewise, the Fairy Fountain has no leaves, stems, or other visible plant parts–it is just a bud that opens into a flower. (However, the fairy fountain bud is green. Perhaps it would have looked too much like a giant nut if it were brown like the true Rafflesia.)

The rest of Rafflesia’s structure is hidden within the vines it parasitizes. When not in bloom, it’s just a network within the vine, just as a mushroom’s principle structures lie hidden within the ground or rotting logs.

The Fairy Fountain is surrounded by mushrooms, which suggest their similarity to the fountain’s hidden structure.

Rafflesia’s enormous size is due to the fact that it is pollinated by carrion flies, who are attracted to the largest carcasses they can find. Unfortunately, this also means that Rafflesia smells like rotting meat, earning it various unsavory names like “corpse flower.” It also possesses the remarkable ability to generate heat, creating a warm, comfortable environment for flies to congregate in.

In Breath of the Wild, the Fairy Fountain is also home to flies, though these are thankfully the much less smelly, tiny winged fairy kind.

What about pollen? According to Harvard Magazine:

“The pollen is incredible,” Davis continues. In most plants, the pollen is powdery, but in Rafflesia, it is “produced as a massive quantity of viscous fluid, sort of like snot, that dries on the backs of these flies—and presumably remains viable for quite a long time,” perhaps weeks. In their pollinating efforts, the flies may travel as much as 12 to 14 miles.

I don’t have a very good sense of scale in Breath of the Wild, but 12 or 14 miles between Fairy Fountains sounds about right. By picking up fairies at one fountain and carrying them to the next, Link is helping this likely endangered Hylian species reproduce.

Likewise, the center of the enormous Fairy Fountains is filled not with powder, but some kind of… liquid.

Flower snot.

Or it might just be water:

Vines move massive quantities of water, which may be one of the physiological reasons that Rafflesia colonize them, he explains. The flowers, which to the touch are like “a Nerf football that is wet,” are mostly water themselves, and the exponential growth of the blooms in the final stages of development is made possible “primarily by pumping massive quantities of water into the flower.”

That’s a lot like what I imagine the Fairy Fountain would feel like, too.

But the really interesting thing about Rafflesia is their genes:

Given his mandate to establish a phylogeny for the order Malpighiales, Davis set out, dutifully, to duplicate the published result for Rafflesia. What he found was not just unexpected. It absolutely astounded him. Some of the genes he sequenced confirmed that Rafflesia were indeed part of Malpighiales—but other sequenced genes placed them in an entirely different order (Vitales)—with their host plants. Davis had stumbled upon a case of massive horizontal gene transfer, the exchange of genetic information between two organisms without sex. …

The work is also facilitating the identification of Rafflesia’s past hosts, since many of the transgenes Davis found came from lineages of plants other than Tetrastigma, the current host. These ancient parasite/host associations, a kind of molecular fossil record, could be used to elucidate the timing and origin of plant parasitism itself.

Davis found that the host plant contributed about 2 percent to 3 percent of Rafflesia’s expressed nuclear genome (genes in the cell nucleus), and as much as 50 percent of its mitochondrial genome (genes that govern energy production). The sheer scale of the transfer was so far-fetched, his collaborator at the time at first didn’t believe that the findings could be accurate. The paper, published in 2012, demonstrated that intimate host/parasite connections are potentially an important means by which horizontal gene transfers can occur. And it showed that the physiological invisibility of Rafflesia within the host is echoed in its genes: the host and parasite share so much biology that the boundaries between them have become blurred.

Intriguingly, some of the transferred genes swap in at precisely the same genetic location as in the parasite’s own genome. “One of the ideas that we are exploring,” says Davis, “is whether maintaining these transferred genes might provide a fitness advantage for the parasite. Might these transfers be providing a kind of genetic camouflage so that the host can’t mount an immune response to the parasite that lives within it?”

And finally, Rafflesia flowers and the Fairy Fountain are basically the same color: both are both reddish with white mottling.

Intra-ethnic violence is crime; Inter-ethnic violence is war

Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.
Proclamation issued in 1816 by Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, Tasmania.

Peace is a government that can prevent both, but people will settle for preventing war.

I was thinking today that people are far more concerned with the harm done to them by others than the harm done by themselves. 1 in 5 of you–about 700,000 people per year–will be killed by your own over-indulgence in food, and you are three times as likely to kill yourself with your own gun as a stranger is to shoot you with theirs. And don’t get me started on cars. By contrast, the past 15 years have seen a few thousand Americans murdered by Islamic terrorists and domestic mass-shooters. These events might be terrifying, but America’s enemies could kill a lot more people by providing us with free soda, cookies, and cigarettes than by flying planes into buildings.

America has spent approximately 5 trillion dollars pursuing Bin Laden and his associates, and yet no one (sane) has proposed shooting everyone involved in the production and sale of Coca-Cola.

One of the central tenets of this blog is that people are not merely random in their irrationality; if millions of people do or think something, then there is likely to be some sort of cause.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Coca-Cola isn’t trying to kill anyone, so we tend not to think they deserve to be killed.

Humans are bad at estimating risks because we are not adapted to TV. 100 years ago, if you saw a bunch of people being horribly murdered, there was a war going on and you were either killing them yourself or about to get killed. Today, you’re probably just watching a movie.

As a practical matter, this means that people do, in fact, get completely worked up and devote absurd amounts of money to fighting trivial problems. The “Satanic Daycare Scare” of the 1980s is one such case.

For those of you who don’t remember the 80s very well, or have blocked the Satanic Daycare Scare from your memory due to sheer stupidity, here’s a rundown:

A bunch of mentally ill people–that is, people actually receiving treatment for mental illness at the time or who were later discovered to be schizophrenic–began coming up with stories that their parents or their kids’ daycare workers were part of a vast, underground Satanic conspiracy, ritually murdering and torturing children, ritually sacrificing giraffes and drinking their blood, flying on broomsticks, etc.

The Wikipedia page lists 19 major cases involving over 100 defendants; as of 2006, the McMartin preschool trial, for example, was “the longest and most expensive criminal trial in the history of the United States.[1]” Over 1,000 smaller cases were brought on similar evidence of “Satanic ritual abuse,” (SRA) and even Geraldo Rivera claimed on TV that:

“Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in [the United States and they are] linked in a highly organized, secretive network.” (source)

Eventually the FBI got involved and figured out that it was all nonsense:

Kenneth Lanning, an FBI expert in the investigation of child sexual abuse,[151] has stated that pseudo-satanism may exist but there is “little or no evidence for … large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies”.[46]

Lanning produced a monograph in 1994 on SRA aimed at child protection authorities, which contained his opinion that despite hundreds of investigations no corroboration of SRA had been found.

The Satanic Daycare Scare is a fascinating subject in its own right, but beyond our current scope; for now, the important thing is that even intelligent, trained folks like lawyers, doctors, judges, and Geraldo Rivera can believe obviously false things if you just put it on TV or in a book. We are really bad at dealing with modern mass media, and probably even worse at math.

But the instinct to protect one’s children from people who would hurt them are perfectly sound, reasonable instincts. You should protect your children; you just have to protect them from actual dangers, not made up ones.The Satanic Daycare Panic of our day is the conviction that the police are brutally slaughtering black bodies in the streets. Statistically, of course, they aren’t; not only is a black person far more likely to be murdered by a fellow black person than by a police officer (of any race,) but the police don’t even disproportionately kill blacks: shootinggraph

Graph originally from Mother Jones magazine (and if Mother Jones can’t find evidence for disproportionate police shooting of blacks, who can?) but helpfully cited by Slate Star Codex’s extensively researched article, Race and Justice: much more than you wanted to know. I strongly recommend that article; I also wrote a rather long piece about crime statistics back in Bully Part 2: Race, Crime, and the Police.

The short version is that blacks get into a lot of conflicts with the police because blacks commit a lot of crime, much of which is aimed at their fellow black people. We know this from crime victimization surveys, which ask people who have been victims of crimes to describe their attackers.

Thousands of black-on-black murders barely make a blip on the airwaves, while one white-on-black murder can dominate the news, streets, and college campuses for months.

By contrast, when a shootout in Waco, Texas, left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested, allegations that police snipers had actually murdered the 9 victims resulted in exactly zero campus protests.

White on white violence? Snoozefest. Black on black? *Zzzzzzz* Black on white? Hate Twitter notices. White on black? College campuses explode.

People notice inter-ethnic violence in a way that they don’t notice violence committed by their own ethnic group.


Every group has its own, internal way of dealing with their own malefactors, from compelling murderers to pay a fine to the victim’s family to ostracization to stoning. This is, in short, what police are for. But sans an extradition treaty, it’s almost impossible to deal with malefactors from some other group. If a neighboring group of tribespeople starts killing your tribespeople, the only way to stop them is to kill them back until they stop.

From an evolutionary standpoint, your own criminals simply aren’t as big a deal as another tribe coming in and killing you. If my brother kills me, horrible though that may be, my genes will still live on in his children. Furthermore, my brother is highly unlikely to kill me, my children, and my parents, then burn down my village and carry off my wife and cattle. But if some guy from the next tribe over kills me, the chance of any of my genes making it into the next generation goes down significantly. Historically speaking, inter-ethnic violence has probably been a bigger deal than intra-ethnic violence.

Modern countries are, with a few Polynesian exceptions, much bigger than individual tribes. As a result, their priority becomes not just protecting their people from outside attack, but also protecting their people from each other.

In a world of limited resources (and no obvious technical advantages), a group that cooperates with itself and defects on others will out-compete a group that cooperates with itself and others. But the government of a large, multi-ethnic state has little to gain from everyone falling into default-defect scenarios; the government wants everyone to cooperate in order to maximize economic growth (and thus tax revenues.)

The Pax Romana comes immediately to mind as a famous historical example of a government conquering a whole munch of little tribes that formerly warred against each other, and using its military might to put an end to such conflicts.

The Mongol Empire, after destroying everything in its path from the Sea of Japan to the gates of Vienna (a conquest halted only by the Khan’s death,) brought about the similarly named Pax Mongolica:

[Pax Mongolica] describes the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural, and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries. The term is used to describe the eased communication and commerce the unified administration helped to create, and the period of relative peace that followed the Mongols’ vast conquests.

The conquests of Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227) and his successors, spanning from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, effectively connected the Eastern world with the Western world. The Silk Road, connecting trade centers across Asia and Europe, came under the sole rule of the Mongol Empire. It was commonly said that “a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”[2][3] Despite the political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire into four khanates (Yuan dynasty, Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate), nearly a century of conquest and civil war was followed by relative stability in the early 14th century. The end of the Pax Mongolica was marked by the disintegration of the khanates and the outbreak of the Black Death in Asia which spread along trade routes to much of the world in the mid-14th century.

I know less about Yugoslavia than about the Mongol Empire, but Yugoslavia’s various states were clearly at peace with each other under the dictatorship of Josip Tito, and fell into civil war after Tito died, democracy came to the country, and everyone began voting along ethnic lines.

I recall–but cannot locate at the moment–an interview in which Lee Kuan Yew, erstwhile autocrat of Singapore, expounded on one of the reasons why he didn’t support western-style democracy for his own country. Given a country with three major ethnic groups, he asserted, democracy would quickly break down into each group attempting to vote for its own interests, against the interests of the others. Singapore may be a small country, but it is also a successful one.

A national government does not need to do anything about crime if sufficient local institutions exist to handle local conflicts. If the Amish want to handle Amish criminals and the Zuni want to handle Zuni criminals, that is no skin off anyone else’s nose. However, inter-group conflicts are better handled and adjudicated by an outside third party that can A. enforce its rulings against both groups, and B. does a good job of convincing everyone that it is being fair and effective–that is, a higher level of government.

This seems like the most effective and expedient way to avoid mutual defection in large, multi-ethnic societies. (The other option, I suppose, is to not have large, multi-ethnic societies.)

When Defector-Punishers meet Cooperator-Punishers in the Streets of Paris

ETA: I’ve got to find a new source for the video.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a game theory experiment that explores the conditions under which people cooperate or defect against each other. I assume you are already familiar with the details.

In a single game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, defection or cooperation depends a lot on the folks involved’s individual personalities, but in multi-iteration games (games where people play multiple times against each other,) cooperators generally punish defectors, which eventually leads to mutual cooperation–the best outcome.

One of the implications of this finding is that people will cooperate more with people they’ve had (and will have) repeated interactions with than with strangers. I learned this the hard way when I went from playing board games with my highschool friends to playing with a group of strangers, and promptly got defected on in a plan to split the profits from Broadway and Park Place. The whole business sounds silly in retrospect, but believe me, if I had ever encountered this person again, I would have defected–hard–against them.

Punishing defectors leads to a stable system of mutual, beneficial cooperation.

But in when experimenters took the multi-iteration prisoner’s dilemma abroad, they discovered an unexpected (to them) behavior: cooperation-punishing. These are people who defect against cooperators, leading to mutual defection. Mutual defection is also stable, but shitty.

Cynically, we might say that this is less about “punishment” as that the cooperation-punishers smelled a sucker and decided to benefit themselves. They may also have been unable to realize that their opponent would probably change their behavior in response to the initial defection due to insufficient ability to model other people’s thought processes, and so simply continued doing the thing that had worked once, even once it stopped working. (IE, they were dumb.) As a practical matter, though, we can refer to this as “punishing cooperators,” since that is the result.

Societies with smart people should converge on mutual cooperation; societies with dumb people converge on mutual defection.

What happen when these two styles meet, and people from societies where defectors-get-punished meet people from societies where cooperators-get-punished?

In an actual prisoner’s dilemma experiment, it is of course obvious whether you cooperated or not, but let’s think about this in the much fuzzier terms of normal human human interactions, where there is far more debate and uncertainty about intentions (and effects.) If, in the normal course of your daily life, most people cooperate and defectors are defected against, and then suddenly someone starts defecting against you, your first response may be to soul-searchingly examine whether you did something to cause the defection. For example, suppose you are part of a social group that normally eats dinner at each other’s houses once a week, and suddenly one week, someone doesn’t invite you to their gathering. A reasonable response would be to ask yourself, “Did I do something to piss them off?”

Many of the most liberal people I know seem completely incapable of figuring out, on an instinctual level, whether or not they are being taken advantage. They get hurt and say something like, “I don’t want to abandon my faith in humanity,” or they try to “examine their privilege” even harder. It is painful to watch; sometimes I just want to yell, “It is okay to hate people who have hurt you!”

There’s a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. What’s the word for a person who’s been mugged and is still a liberal?

Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. T

… when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. …

What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.

Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay.

One of my friends was homeless for 20 years and never mugged anyone. I know people who have been reduced to shoplifting food because they did not have any, but still never pulled a gun on anyone, broke into their house, threatened someone, or stole from them.

Poverty does not make good people rob others at gunpoint. This is bullshit, and an insult to all of the people who have endured poverty without hurting others.

I have not been able to write about the Paris Attacks and their fallout since they happened, mostly because I try not to write posts that look like this: DJGGGYWEEERRRRRRRRK!!!111!!

But I came upon this graph today, of French attitudes toward Muslims before and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo…”

I regret that I do not have more recent data from France, but I do have some from America:

From Pew Research Center, "Ratings of Muslims rise in France..."
From Pew Research Center, “Ratings of Muslims rise in France after Charlie Hebdo Attack…”

Take a look at those conservatives!

Forget about “It’s better to be feared than loved.” Apparently being feared makes you loved.

To be fair, I have noticed a habit among certain people to delicately start a sentence, “Now, I like Muslims, but…” or “I like blacks, but…” which may be driving some of this. Anti-racism has become such a dominant value that even conservatives cannot express the pain and horror they felt from 9-11 without first throwing out an anti-racist disclaimer (not that it works, of course. They are always guilty of racism, no matter what they say.)

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, did anyone feel the need to stand around, declaring, “I’m not anti-Japanese, but…” ?

The mere idea of having a single blanket encapsulation of 1.6 billion people–1/5th of the world’s population–is idiotic. I reject the question. I have no opinion of Nigerians that applies equally to Bosnians, nor of Kazakhs that applies to Indonesians. Likewise, I have no opinion of Christians that covers Haitians, Norwegians, and Ugandans; Mormons and Eastern Orthodox; no single coherent opinion of Hindus, Buddhists, or Jews. But I have very strong opinions about the people I consider my enemies.

According to Newsweek (8-26-14):

One in six French citizens sympathises with the Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as Islamic State, a poll released this week found.

The poll of European attitudes towards the group, carried out by ICM for Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, revealed that 16% of French citizens have a positive opinion of ISIS. This percentage increases among younger respondents, spiking at 27% for those aged 18-24. …

Newsweek’s France Correspondent, Anne-Elizabeth Moutet, was unsurprised by the news. “This is the ideology of young French Muslims from immigrant backgrounds,” she said, “unemployed to the tune of 40%, who’ve been deluged by satellite TV and internet propaganda.” She pointed to a correlation between support for ISIS and rising anti-Semitism in France, adding that “these are the same people who torch synagogues”.

In lieu of the video that was supposed to be here, let’s just say that I think ISIS is pretty darn evil.


EvolutionistX Manifesto

1. Evolution is real. Incentives are real. Math is real. Their laws are as iron-clad as gravity’s and enforced with the furor of the Old Testament god. Disobey, and you will be eliminated.

2. Whatever you incentivize, you will get. Whatever you don’t incentivize, you will not get. Create systems that people can cheat, and you create cheaters. If criminals have more children than non-criminals, then the future will be full of criminals. Create systems that reward trust and competence, and you will end up with a high trust, competent system.

3. Society is created by people, through the constant interaction of the basic traits of the people in it and the incentives of its systems.

4. Morality is basically an evolved mental/social toolkit to compel you to act in your genetic self-interest. Morality does not always function properly in evolutionary novel situations, can be hijacked, and does not function similarly or properly in everyone, but people are generally capable of using morality to good ends when dealing with people in their trust networks.


5. Whatever you think is wrong with the world, articulate it clearly, attempt to falsify your beliefs, and then look for practical, real-world solutions. This is called science, and it is one of our greatest tools.

6. Create high-trust networks with trustworthy people. A high trust system is one where you can be nice to people without fear of them defecting. (Call your grandma. Help a friend going through a rough time. Don’t gossip.) High trust is one of the key ingredients necessary for everything you consider nice in this world.

7. Do not do/allow/tolerate things/people that destroy trust networks. Do not trust the untrustworthy nor act untrustworthy to the trusting.

8. Reward competency. Society is completely dependent on competent people doing boring work, like making sure water purification plants work and food gets to the grocery store.

9. Rewarding other traits in place of competency destroys competency.

10. If you think competent people are being unjustly excluded, find better ways to determine competency–don’t just try to reward people from the excluded pools, as there is no guarantee that this will lead to hiring competent people. If you select leaders for some other trait (say, religiosity,) you’ll end up with incompetent leaders.

11. Act in reality. The internet is great for research, but kinda sucks for hugs. Donating $5 to competent charities will do more good than anything you can hashtag on Twitter. When you need a friend, nothing beats someone who will come over to your house and have a cup of tea.

12. Respond to life with Aristotelian moderation: If a lightbulb breaks, don’t ignore it and don’t weep over it. Just change the lightbulb. If someone wrongs you, don’t tell yourself you deserved it and don’t escalate into a screaming demon. Just defend yourself and be ready to listen to the other person if they have an explanation.

Morality is what other people want you to do

This is morality from a game theory perspective.

Let’s say Person B and Person C are playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma. We ask B, “What is the moral thing for C to do?” A of course responds, “Cooperate! If C cooperates, we get highest net utility!”

Now we ask Ayn Rand, “What should C do?”
“Defect,” she answers. “Defection gets C more money than cooperation, and C doesn’t have any obligation to care about B.”

B then responds, looking a bit nervous, “I think C really should cooperate. Caring about others is moral.”

Rand: You’re just making a deontological argument with no backing. Morality, hah! You just want C to do what’s in your interest instead of his interest.

B: But obviously this kind of thinking leads to everyone defecting, and then utility is crap! Trustworthiness makes society function!

Ayn Rand: Look, what if C just lost his job? He has a dozen children to feed, and cooperating will not get him enough money to survive. If he doesn’t defect, he and all of his children will die.

B: Well… I guess then it’d be okay…

Ayn Rand: In that case, by your own reasoning, you ought to encourage his defection, because that saves lives!

B. Well… Um… But wait a minute! What if I also have 12 children to feed and no job? My first obligation is to my kids, not C’s kids. C should cooperate so that I can defect!

And, in fact, in extreme cases like famines, people sacrifice their own lives–go without food–to save the lives of others. And people have been known to literally kill and eat other people. It’s gruesome, but it is generally agreed that saving lives trumps most other concerns. (See previous post on morality for why.) People in wartime will also go to extremes, though this may be less justified.

But most of the time, we are not in a famine. B and C aren’t facing death if they cooperate–C’s life will just be marginally better if he defects, (and vice-versa).

B wants C to always cooperate–this is the best possible thing for B, even if B has secret plans to defect. So publicly, at least, B will always insist that the most moral thing is for C to cooperate–even if it harms C.

Some people actually care about the greatest possible good. Many just care about encouraging people not to defect on them. The net effect, of course, is a general message that the “Most moral thing possible” is to completely sacrifice oneself for others. People who, say, run into burning building to rescue people, or give up their lives for their children, or donate kidneys to strangers, or spend all of their time helping disabled orphans, are generally hailed as heroes, the epitome of morality.

We might shorthand this to “Morality = the greatest good to society.” (The cost to you be damned).

Obviously a society that manages to convince people to cooperate in no-famine situations will be better off than a society that fails to do so. In fact, this is the kind of society you want to live in–the alternative would be kind of awful.

The downside to this kind of morality is that people who take it too far tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool, leaving society less moral in their wakes. We might laud people who give up their fortunes to help the poor, but try announcing your plan to give all of your excess money to starving third worlders and begin sleeping in a cardboard box to your parents at [holiday of your choice] dinner, and see how it goes over.

We might even argue that there are two kinds of morality at play, one mitochondrial, the other viral. Mitochondrial cares about the survival of your genes, and people who don’t share your genes be damned. Viral morality cares about the well-being of society, and your particular genes be damned. The connections to liberals and conservatives should be obvious.

If a conservative says, “X is moral,” and it makes no sense to you, they likely mean, “X is in my genes’ interests.” If a liberal says, “X is moral,” and that makes no sense to you, they likely mean, “X is in society’s interests.”

The correlation is not absolute, though, as the vast majority of people employ both sets of morals, and not just hypocritically.

If you want to live in a nice society, you need both approaches. You need people to basically cooperate most of the time, so that you can do business with strangers or live remotely near them. You also need to exert a little interest in your own self-interest, so you don’t die.

Some people lean too far in the self-interested direction, and need to be reminded to cooperate.

This is one of religion’s good points–almost all religions generally try to encourage people to cooperate and make sacrifice for the common good, and religion tends to be effective at doing this because it can say, “Do it because GOD SAYS SO,” which has historically been pretty effective. So in a religious ceremony, we vow, “Until death do us part,”–promising, before god, not to defect on each other, which probably makes people actually less likely to break their marriage contracts than merely promising before a gov’t bureaucrat. Likewise, in many of the most destitute parts of the world, (like the DRC or your local homeless shelter,) the only people doing anything to help are mostly religious folks.

Even many of the world’s most successful “communist” ventures were religious, because “god says so” is an effective motivator to get people to share–but more about that later.

By contrast, some people lean too far in the societally-interested direction, and need to be reminded that it is okay for them to look after their own interests, too. Women who’ve become the primary caregivers for elderly relatives, for example, often end up sacrifice excessively, nearly killing themselves in the process. They may need to be reminded that it is okay to value their own lives, too.

Aristotle posits his virtues as the middle between two extremes–Bravery between Cowardliness and Rashness, for example. I suggest an optimum morality as taking the middle path between these two extremes of social and genetically-interested morality, so that you can have a nice society without all of the nice people dying out and being replaced by jerks.

Studies: Disgust, Prisoner’s Dilemma

Disgust leads people to lie and cheat; cleanliness leads to ethical behavior


Prisoners better at Prisoner’s Dilemma than non-Prisoners


“… In one experiment, participants evaluated consumer products such as antidiarrheal medicine, diapers, feminine care pads, cat litter and adult incontinence products. In another, participants wrote essays about their most disgusting memory. In the third, participants watched a disgusting toilet scene from the movie “Trainspotting.” Once effectively disgusted, participants engaged in experiments that judged their willingness to lie and cheat for financial gain. Mittal and colleagues found that people who experienced disgust consistently engaged in self-interested behaviors at a significantly higher rate than those who did not.

“In another set of experiments, after inducing the state of disgust on participants, the researchers then had them evaluate cleansing products, such as disinfectants, household cleaners and body washes. Those who evaluated the cleansing products did not engage in deceptive behaviors any more than those in the neutral emotion condition.

“At the basic level, if you have environments that are cleaner, if you have workplaces that are cleaner, people should be less likely to feel disgusted,” Mittal said. “If there is less likelihood to feel disgusted, there will be a lower likelihood that people need to be self-focused and there will be a higher likelihood for people to cooperate with each other.” ”



“for the simultaneous game, only 37% of students cooperate. Inmates cooperated 56% of the time.

On a pair basis, only 13% of student pairs managed to get the best mutual outcome and cooperate, whereas 30% of prisoners do.

In the sequential game, far more students (63%) cooperate, so the mutual cooperation rate skyrockets to 39%. For prisoners, it remains about the same.”

A several things may be going on:
1. Defecting on your fellow prisoners may have really negative consequences that college students don’t face.
2. Prisoners may identify strongly with each other as fellow prisoners.
3. Prisoners may be united by some form of hatred for the people keeping them in prison, leading them to cooperate with each other over outsiders even when they don’t like each other.
4. Prisoners may have been through enough bad crap already in their lives that the promise of a few cigarettes seems trivial and not worth defecting over.
5. Prisoners are drawn disproportionately from a population that happens to have strong norms or instincts about not defecting.
6. College students are jerks.

Sociopaths within, sociopaths without

A few posts back, I made a comment to the effect that liberals tend to be “good people” (or at least well-intentioned people) who are concerned about sociopaths.

I feel like this comment deserves some explanation, because it comes across as harsher than intended toward conservatives.

Conservatives would kill themselves to save the people they love. My mother would literally give me her good kidney if I needed it; she has stated on many occasions that she would die for her grandchildren.

Conservatives are disproportionately employed in the riskiest fields that require risking their lives to save or protect others, like fire fighters, police, and military. They also take on shitty, dangerous jobs simply to feed their families, like crab fishing and coal mining.

The flipside to that extreme level of altruism is that you simply cannot extend it to everyone. You cannot die for just anyone.

Suicidal altruism can only exist if it makes the individual’s genes more likely to persist into the future.

If I die to save my childrens’ lives, then my genes will continue to exist, because they (each) carry half of my genes, and in their genes they carry some altruistic sentiment. Not sacrificing myself to save my children means that my genetic line ends with me, and with them dies my lack of altruism.

But if I die to save the life of a stranger, orphaning my own children, someone else’s genetic line is more likely to continue, while mine is more likely to end as my orphans starve. If a stranger cannot reciprocate my altruism, then being altruistic to them lessens the chance of altruistic genes in the future population.

The amount of charity (altruism, help,) people are willing to extend to each other therefore has a lot to do with how much they can afford to risk the other person not reciprocating. If you can guarantee that the other person will reciprocate (“cooperate”, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma,) your kindness, then you will be likely to be kind to them. If the other person can defect without consequences, then you would be a fool to help them.

Liberals and conservatives show different patterns of altruism, suggesting that they perceive different patterns of cooperation/defection and are possibly genetically distinct from each other.

Conservatives display very high levels of altruism toward their kin, friends, groups they identify with. They display comparatively low levels of altruism toward strangers, whom they will readily kill in order to save their loved ones.

Liberals display low levels of altruism to a much wider range of people. They are much less willing to risk their lives to save anyone (few liberal firefighters or marines,) but they are also less willing to kill random Iraqis on the off chance that one of them might be a potential terrorist.

The two groups perceive threat differently–conservatives see strangers as basically threatening, while liberals assume that strangers have no particular reason to cause them any harm. Conservatives would rather kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out, whereas liberals do not believe in god and would rather just make friends.

I recently posed a moral dilemma to several of my relatives: A man’s wife is dying of cancer. A doctor has invented a miracle drug that will cure the cancer, but he’s charging a million dollars a bottle and the man simply cannot afford it. Without the medicine, his wife will die.

Should he steal the medicine?

Now, my sample size is very small, (N=6), but the pattern has been amusingly consistent. The conservatives answer automatically–of course they would steal the medication. (One person launched into a discussion of the importance of properly casing the joint, so that you don’t get caught and go to jail, but I’m counting that as “would steal.” Another person objected that I must have the question wrong, because there was absolutely no way anyone would ever answer “no”.) The liberals, by contrast, equivocated. The question made them uncomfortable. I got responses like, “He should work/appeal to charities to save up/raise enough money,” and general refusals to fully answer the question.

To the liberal, conservative behavior toward the strangers looks sociopathic. To conservatives, liberal behavior toward their loved ones looks sociopathic. (Liberals see themselves as merely trying to be nice to everyone, of course, whereas conservatives see no real point in being nice to people who might try to kill them.)

Now, I feel I should stop for a moment and note that there are plenty of strangers toward whom conservatives are not openly hostile. Conservatives do a lot of charity work. There are many parts of the world where religious groups are pretty much the only people trying to help people and make their lives less desperately poor. They also adopt more kids than liberals. But the flipside of that greater willingness to cooperate is coming down much harder on defectors.

Liberal and conservative philosophical approaches to the world and political positions make a lot of sense in this light. Conservatives emphasize the importance of personal sacrifice and duty, that is, reciprocating to those who have shown you kindness in the past. For example, a conservative would argue that you should make personal sacrifices to help a parent in need, even if that parent is kind of an ass, because they are your parent and they used to wipe shit off your butt. For the conservative, group memberships and strong relationships with others are of prime importance, and trying to change all that is not tolerated.

Liberals tend toward anomie. They believe that relationships between people should be voluntary and mutually beneficial (fun, a virus-value,) and that you don’t “owe” people for past kindnesses that you didn’t necessarily want or even ask for, or that may have been delivered under some form of duress that made you unable to say no (being a child who can’t wipe their own behind counts as a form of duress.) Liberals believe that it is acceptable to sever relationships that do not benefit the individual, and are more likely to see others as individuals, rather than as members of some group.

To the conservative, a mother has a duty to her unborn child (and the child, a future duty to their mother.) To the liberal, there is no such duty.

I hope it is obvious that both views, if taken to extremes, cause problems. Society functions best when people have some flexibility to determine their duties and obligations, rather than having everything dictated to them at birth, and it also requires that people have some confidence that others will reciprocate altruism, otherwise everything falls apart.