Fighting the Bureaucracy

Modern civilization is plagued by many evils, but the most common, in everyday life, is paperwork. By “paperwork” I mean basically all bureaucratic overhead, all of the accounting, regulation and compliance enacted in the past century.

Paperwork is the devil.

David Graeber gets it: 

… as early as the 1970s, formerly leftist parties from the US to Japan made a strategic decision to effectively abandon what remained of their older, working-class base and rebrand themselves primarily as parties representing the interests and sensibilities of the professional-managerial classes. This was the real social base of Clintonism in the US, Blairism in the UK, and now Macronism in France. All became the parties of administrators. …

Whereas the core value of the caring classes is, precisely, care, the core value of the professional-managerials might best be described as proceduralism. The rules and regulations, flow charts, quality reviews, audits and PowerPoints that form the main substance of their working life inevitably color their view of politics or even morality. These are people who tend to genuinely believe in the rules. They may well be the only significant stratum of the population who do so. If it is possible to generalize about class sensibilities, one might say that members of this class see society less as a web of human relationships, of love, hate, or enthusiasm, than, precisely, as a set of rules and institutional procedures, just as they see democracy, and rule of law, as effectively the same thing. …

For most care-givers, however, these people are the enemy. If you are a nurse, for example, you are keenly aware that it’s the administrators upstairs who are your real, immediate class antagonist. The professional-managerials are the ones who are not only soaking up all the money for their inflated salaries, but hire useless flunkies who then justify their existence by creating endless reams of administrative paperwork whose primary effect is to make it more difficult to actually provide care.

I call these people “lizards” because they do not seem to have human souls.

Some amount of paperwork, of course, is necessary to keep track of things in a modern, industrial economy in which food for 320 million people has to get from farms to tables every single day. The expansion of paperwork beyond its necessary domain is essentially the auto-cannibalization of society, a metastatic cancer of bureaucrats and paper-pushers.

If we want to fight bureaucracy, we have to know what feeds bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy grows because people don’t trust each other to do the right thing. It grows because people over-graze the commons, because they dump toxic waste into rivers, because they build cheap apartments that turn into flaming death traps, because they take bribes and cover up incompetence, because they discriminate against minorities or hand out sinecures to their friends.

The demands for paperwork are generally demands that you prove that you have or can do the right thing–that you will not pollute, that you have car insurance, that your products are not dangerous or defective, that your medicines aren’t poisons and your experiments don’t involve giving people syphilis.

The more people do not trust each other to do the right thing, the more layers of bureaucracy they institute. If I am afraid that police officers are taking bribes, then I propose more oversight and agencies to ensure that they do not take bribes. If I am concerned that mining companies are paying off the EPA to let them dump toxic metals in the groundwater, then my response is to demand another agency come and clean out the EPA and enforce tougher restrictions on dumping. If I don’t trust you, then I hire someone to watch you.

The problem with this approach is that adding more untrustworthy people to a system doesn’t start making them trustworthy. If I can bribe one person, then I can bribe the person who is supposed to make sure that no one gets bribed. In the end, we just end up with more people to bribe.

And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, people are “ethical” and the whole thing grinds to a halt. To get your new building built you first need authorization from the wetlands licensing committee, and the lady from the licensing committee wants thirteen forms in triplicate proving that your building won’t impact the mating habits of a rare toad that you are pretty sure doesn’t even live in your state. To get your study on the efficacy of a survey your clinic already hands out to patients approved by the ethics board of your local institution you first have to prove that you will not be collecting personal data from at-risk patients, but you can’t know if they are “at risk” until after you collect their data. Or maybe the guy who is supposed to send you the form you have to fill out simply isn’t returning your phone calls and you can’t figure out from the website where his office is located.

The more you try to fight bureaucracy with more bureaucracy, the more bureaucracy wins, and the bureaucracy does not care if you starve to death, you Kulak.

To the bureaucracy, you are always a Kulak.

There are two ways to break a bureaucracy. One, total system collapse. This happened to the Soviet Union. It takes a long time, it’s not fun, and you can starve to death in the meanwhile. The replacement system may not be much better.

The other is to increase trust so that people don’t advocate for more bureaucracy in the first place. True, this doesn’t get rid of what you’ve got, but at least it contains the spread.

Trust is hard to get, though. You could do a thousand year breeding experiment. You could try to brainwash children. Or you could look at how the incentives are set up in your society and try to align them with the outcomes you want to achieve. (We can try, at least.)

Aligning incentives requires doing something hard: admitting that humans are human. Communism keeps failing because of “wreckers,” aka ordinary humans. Humans will lie, cheat, and steal if it benefits themselves; this is why we have police. Humans will also fall in love, have sex, and make children. We will then cheat and steal to feed our children, if need be, because we love them.

Accept human nature and align incentives accordingly. (Easier said than done, of course.)

Here is an entertaining example:

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll quote the rest:

The mafia backed company actually had good, fresh food! Most of the mobsters’ kids went to those schools (several I went to school with saw their dads go down). The sandwiches were real hoagies on good bread, there was fresh fruit, juice, etc. All local.

Then, overnight, all their food was gone, and their vending machines too. And they were replaced by the corporate equivalent. And we were excited too! National brands, etc! Now the good stuff! Nope.

The corporate food was shite. No more local, fresh ingredients. The portions were smaller. All the food was overly processed and overpriced. It was just nasty. I remember my dad and others laughing bitterly about it.

At the time, I was struck by how these unintended consequences were the most visceral ones. Later in life, I came to realize that this was the norm: that the unintended consequences of any major political change are often the ones with the greatest impact.

But it was also my first inkling that the real world differences between the literal mafia, and the even greater power of modern corporations, were not as black and white, or clear cut, as those who benefitted from the latter would have any of us believe. Fin/

I knew and dreaded Aramark as a kid. When people, whether kids or prisoners, don’t have a choice about the food they eat, the quality tends to suffer. By contrast, when you are feeding your own children (or the children of mobsters), cooking quality tends to be decent.

The same dynamic as at work in children’s electronics. Electronics that are marketed solely to kids, like the LeapFrog system, tend to be bad (often very bad) because the buyer (parents) tends not to be the users (kids), and kids often don’t have enough experience with electronics to realize they’re being ripped off. (Every augmented reality devices I have bought has been similarly bad to awful.) The only good kids’ electronics systems I have encountered also have significant adult fanbases, like Nintendo.

Capitalism, of course, is the classic case of aligned incentives. Invisible hand and all that. It’s not perfect (corporations will eat you for breakfast if they can get away with it,) but it’s pretty good. People are more likely to protect the commons when they have an expectation of future gain from the commons.

Reputation also helps align incentives. People care about what others think of them. The internet has both expanded our ability to interact with total strangers who have no reputations and to create reputations, with interesting effects. Sites like Amazon and Yelp allow small, previously unknown sellers to build up their reputations, making people more confident about what they’re buying.

By contrast, the recent kerflufle over Youtube, trying to make it more kid-friendly via increased regulation, has done nothing of the sort. None of the things parents want to protect kids from have actually been addressed because bureaucracy just doesn’t work that way, but if you don’t like Youtube, you already have the very easy option of using literally any other content service.

Incentives matter.

Whither HBD: Happy 1,000 posts

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Gratuitous pic of Niels Bohr and Einstein, 1925, because this is my party.

This blog is now 1,000 posts long, which I think calls for a bit of celebration.

I started this blog because I found the idea that evolution–a process normally thought of as turning fins to feet and gills to lungs–could also code for emergent, group-level behavior like the building of termite mounds or nation states fascinating. Could evolution code for other things? Could it give us male and female behavior? Emotions? Political preferences?

I started reading JayMan’s work, then Peter Frost and HBD Chick, and of course Cochran and Harpending. Each of these blogs had new (at least to me) and fascinating ideas about why humans behave the many ways they do. Then came Slate Star Codex and Unqualified Reservations. There were others, of course; a complete listing of one’s intellectual predecessors is always impossible.

Evolution is ultimately a numbers game: if more people who do X have children than people who do Y, then X is likely to become more common than Y–even if we all believe that Y is better than X.

This gets interesting when X is not obviously mediated by genetics–your eye color, sans contacts, is clearly genetic, but the number of years you spend in school is influenced by external factors like whether schools exist in your society. This is where some people get hung up on causation. We don’t need to posit a gene that causes people to get more or less school. Maybe your village has a school because a mountain climber got lost nearby, your village rescued him, and in gratitude, he built you a school, while the village on the other side of the mountain doesn’t have a school because no mountain climber got lost there. Once a school exists, though, it can start having effects, and if those effects are not random, we’ll see genetic correlations.

If people who have more education make more money and end up buying more food and raising more children, then school is exerting a selective effect on society by causing the kids who happened to live near the school to have more children. From an ecological standpoint, the school is operating like a spring in a desert–we get more growth near the spring than far away from it, and whatever traits were common in the village–even ones that have nothing to do with education–will become more numerous in the overall population. If this trend continues, then the cultural habit of “going to school” will continue to proliferate.

We can also posit the opposite case: in the village with the school, kids spend many years at school and end up marrying later and are more educated about things like “birth control” than their neighbors on the other side of the mountain. The kids on the other side of the mountain marry younger and have a bunch of unintended children. In this case, education is suppressing fertility; in this niche, education is like a drought. The educated kids have fewer children of their own, and whatever traits the uneducated kids happen to have spread through society because there are now much more of them (at least as a percent of the total). If this trend continues, then the cultural habit of “going to school” may well die out.

In both of these cases, education caused a change in the distribution of genetic traits in the overall population without requiring any genetic predispositions from the students involved. We are looking at the evolution of the whole society.

But this is a highly constrained example; it is rare in places like the modern US to find areas where one village has a school and the next does not. Once schools are everywhere, they’re not going to select for (or against) “living near a school.” The traits that cause a person to attend more years of schooling or do better in school will be less random–traits like conscientiousness, ability to recognize letters, or family income. In an agricultural society with no schools, raw, physical strength may be at a premium as people must wrest their living from the soil, rocks, trees, and beasts. This selects for physical strength. Once we introduce schools, if the better educated have more children, then physical strength becomes less important, and its prominence in the next generation diminishes. The ability to sit in a chair for long hours may be positively selected, leading to a proliferation of this trait.

This is gene-culture co-evolution–a cultural change can shift the balance of genes in a society, and that in turn can cause further cultural changes, which cause more genetic changes.

I would like to pause and note just how annoying the “but you haven’t proven causation!” crowd is:

Imagine if I said that I thought the blood circulates through the body in a loop instead of being generated anew by the heart with every pump, and someone protested that blood couldn’t possibly circulate because I hadn’t shown any way for blood to get from the arteries to the veins and back to the heart.

This was a real debate in physiology. That the heart pumps is obvious. That veins and arteries carry blood is also obvious. That people die if you cut them open and let the blood drain out, though, mystified doctors for centuries.

Capillaries, unfortunately for many patients, are too small to see with the naked eye. Without any mechanism to return blood from the arteries to the heart, doctors refused to believe that it did. They instead believed that blood was produced anew with every heartbeat and was consumed at our extremities. Bleeding patients, therefore, shouldn’t cause any great difficulties.

The fact that we could not see capillaries before the invention of the microscope should not have caused doctors to reject the theory of circulation, only to say that a mechanism had not yet been found to make it work. The circulation hypothesis did a better job of explaining various facts of human anatomy–like the existence of veins carrying blood to the heart and the habit of patients to die after bleeding–than the heart-generation hypothesis.

The insistence on clinging to the older theory due to the lack of a capillary mechanism lead, of course, to the deaths of thousands of patients. (For more on the history of medicine, anatomy, and circulation, I recommend William Bynum’s A Little History of Science.)

How something works is vastly secondary to the question of whether it works at all in the first place. If it works, it works. If you can’t figure out how, you call it magic admit that you don’t know and hope that someday it’ll be clear. What you don’t do is claim that a thing cannot be true or cannot actually work simply because you don’t understand how it happens.

I don’t understand how airplanes stay in the sky, but that doesn’t make them fall down. Reality doesn’t stop just because we don’t understand it; to think that it does is pure, asinine hubris.

The next objection I commonly hear to the idea that cultural changes (like the proliferation of schools) could trigger changes in the genetic makeup of society is that “evolution doesn’t work that fast.”

This is a funny objection. The speed of evolution depends on the nature of the trait we are discussing. Developing a radically new trait, or greatly modifying an existing one, such as developing the ability to breath air instead of water, does indeed take a long time–sometimes millions or even billions of years. But simply modifying the distribution of existing traits in a population can be done nearly instantly–if an invading army lops the heads off of anyone over 5’9″, the average height of the population will fall immediately. From a genetic perspective, this is “negative selection” against height, and the population has “evolved” to be shorter.

(You might object that this is too artificial an example, so consider the inverse: a situation where everyone over a certain size used to die, but due to environmental changes they now survive. Modern obstetrics and the cesarean section have rescued mothers of large babies from the once-common fate of death in childbirth. This was of course often fatal to the infants, as well, and prevented their parents from producing any further children. Large babies were a serious evolutionary problem for our ancestors, but much less so for us, which has probably contributed to the rise in average heights over the past century.)

Usually selection is less extreme, but the point remains: traits that already exist (and vary) in a population, like height, weight, blood type, or temperament, can be selected for (or against) on very short timescales.

In fact, human societies are always selecting for some traits; this means that we are always evolving. The distribution of traits in humans today is not the same as the distribution of traits in humans 20 years ago, much less 100 years ago.

And we can look at all of the things humans are being selected for (or selecting themselves for) and speculate how this will change society. Religious people have more children than atheists, and some religions produce far more children than other religions. This trend is juxtaposed against the massive rise in atheism over the past few decades. Will atheism continue to spread to the children of the religious, or will the religious “core” be effectively immune and overwhelm the remaining agnostics with numbers?

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Source: Do Schooling and City Living lead to Fewer Babies?

Education (or perhaps it is just a proxy for intelligence) seems to have different effects on different folks and different levels of society. Highschool dropouts have a lot of kids. People with PhDs have a fair number of kids. People who have merely graduated from college, by contrast, have the fewest kids.

Fertility is also different for men and women, with more educated women taking a bigger fertility hit than educated men.

Any discussion of “what’s up with the American middle/working class” has to address facts like these–our country is effectively bifurcating into two “success” models: one very high achieving and one very low achieving. The middle, it seems, is getting cut out.

But we can apply evolutionary theory to much more than humans and their societies. We can analyze ideas, transportation networks, technology, etc.

My first–and probably best–idea in this area was that the idea that the way we transmit ideas influences the nature of our ideas. One of the biggest changes of the past century has been a massive change in the way we communicate, from the rise of mass media to the explosion of social media. Before radio and TV, most people got most of their information from people they knew personally, mostly their families. Today, we get most of our information from total strangers.

Ideas we get from strangers I refer to as meme viruses, (meme as in “unit of idea,” not “funny picture on the internet”) because horizontal transmission resembles the transmission of viruses. Ideas we get from our families I refer to as mitochondrial memes, because vertical transmission resembles the transmission of mitochondrial DNA.

Since the interests of strangers are different from the interests of your close family (your parents are much more interested in you making lots of money, getting married, and making grandbabies than strangers are), they will tend to promote different sorts of ideas. Your parents generally want you to succeed, while strangers would prefer that you do things that help them succeed.

It is this change in the way we communicate, rather than the actions or intentions of any particular group, that I think explains the rise of many modern political trends. (This is the condensed version; I recommend reading one of my posts on memes if you want more.)

I am obviously interested in politics, but not in the conventional sense. I have very little interest in anything associated with particular people in politics, outside of a few historical figures. I have no interest in the latest thing Nancy Pelosi or Emmanuel Macron has been up to. I think people place too much importance on individuals; I am more interested in broad trends (like the spread of technology) that are much bigger and further-reaching than any individual politicians (often their bigger than individual countries).

I’ve come over the years to the conclusion that conventional politics drive people to do (and say) very stupid things. People develop a tribal identity attached to one side or another, and suddenly everything their side does is good and sensible, and everything the other side does is nefarious and dumb. This is not a bad instinct when your enemies have pointy spears and want to turn you into lunch, but it’s terrible when your enemy disagrees with you on optimal interest rates.

My second purpose in founding this blog was to reach out to people who were, as I see it, harmed by the cult-like behavior of modern leftism. When I say “cult-like,” I mean it. Atheism is on the rise, but religious thinking and behavior remains strong. When peoples’ self-identities as “good people” become linked to their membership in political tribes, the threat of excommunication becomes particularly powerful.

Here’s a public example:

… far more unsettling was what happened two weeks later, when knitters who claim to be champions of social justice went after a gay man within the community because he’d written a satirical poem suggesting (correctly) that all the recent anti-racism mobbings might be having a toxic effect on the community. …

The next day, Taylor’s husband Benjamin Till, a composer (who also happens to be Jewish) posted on Sockmatician’s account: “This is Nathan’s husband, Benjamin. At 3 pm today, Nathan was admitted to [the emergency room at] Barnet Hospital. …

Till also wrote on his blog about what had happened:

… Nathan disabled comments when the sheer weight of them became too much, but the following morning, his other Instagram posts, and then his Twitter feed had been hijacked by the haters. The taunts continued. He was a white supremacist, a Nazi apologist…He started obsessively reading the posts but became increasingly worked up, then more and more erratic and then suddenly he snapped, screaming like a terrified animal, smashing boxes and thumping himself. I was forced to wrestle him to the ground and hold onto him for dear life as the waves of pain surged through his body. He made a run for the car keys. He said he wanted to drive at 100 miles per hour until he crashed. I called our doctor and they could hear him screaming in the background and said I was to immediately take him to [the hospital], where he was instantly assessed and put on suicide watch …

This was not the end of Nathan’s ordeal at the hands of people who supposedly believe in “social justice” and helping the powerless, as people continued piling on (yelling at him in public) because of the “harm” he had caused.

I wish I could reach out to everyone like Nathan and tell them that they’re not bad, cults are bad.

The right has its own issues, but I come from a leftist background and so am responding to what I know personally, not abstractly. 

From time to time I get a question about the future of HBD (human bio-diversity). The online HBD community was quite vibrant about a decade ago, but many of the brightest lights have faded. Henry Harpending of Westhunter and co-author of The 10,000 Year Explosion has sadly passed away. HBD Chick and Jayman are both occupied with their own lives.

The future of HBD isn’t in blogs or the internet generally (though we can read about it here). It’s over in real genetics research. Yes, there are some subjects that academics don’t want to touch for fear of losing their jobs, but there are many researchers forging paths into fascinating new territory. The field of ancient DNA is unlocking the story of human migration and dispersal, from Neanderthals to Anglo Saxons. Thanks to aDNA, we’ve discovered a whole new Human species, the Denisovans, that interbred with the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens (as did the Neanderthals). We have also discovered “ghost” species in our DNA that we have no name for.

The field of modern DNA is also advancing; we’re learning new things all the time. CRISPRing humans is just one fascinating possibility.

Imagine the ability to remove simple genetic flaws that cause painful and fatal diseases, make ourselves beautiful or smarter. How much are 20 IQ points worth? One study found that people with IQs of 100 average $58,000 a year, while 120s made $128,000. $70,000 a year, averaged over a few decades of working life, (less intelligent people tend to enter the workforce and start earning younger, so it’s not a simple multiplication problem), adds up quickly.

Let’s imagine a scenario in which CRISPR actually works. Only the wealthy–and perhaps those with genetic diseases willing to shell out thousands or covered by insurance–will be able to afford it. The current bifurcation trend will become even more extreme as the poor continue reproducing normally, while the wealthy make themselves smarter, healthier, and prettier.

But if CRISPR confers advantages to society as a whole–for example, if smarter people make fabulous new inventions that everyone benefits from–then we could see foundations, charities, and even welfare programs aimed at making sure everyone has the CRISPR advantage.

After all, if an extra year in school boosts IQ by 3.4 points (I’m not saying it does, but let’s assume), then 6 extra years in school will give you 20.4 points. We pay about $10,600 per pupil per year for public schools, so those six years are worth $63,600. If you can CRISPR 20 IQ points for less, then it’s a better deal.

Of course, CRISPR might just be a pipe dream that gives people cancer.

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Isaac Newton

Whatever happens, the real future of HBD lies in real labs with real budgets, not online blogs. I’m just here to share, discuss, and think–and hopefully there will be enough interesting ideas to discuss for another thousand posts.

Thanks for being part of all these discussions. Blogs are nothing without readers, after all.

California: Only Acceleration can fix this mess

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Gratuitous bioluminescent jellyfish

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

In other words, the second law of thermodynamics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of dignity, and politeness

It seems like a lot of our problems in modern America stem from wanting to act as a unified entity but not actually being a unified entity.

Of course, we never were. No one in 1776 thought Massachusetts and Georgia were culturally or economically the same. They were so different that the whole country was set up as a “confederation” of nearly-independent states that just cooperated for reasons of national defense and trade efficiency.

Of course, that didn’t work so well and, over time, the nation installed a more and more powerful federal government, but differences in how people thought the whole thing should be run were still strong enough that we ended up fighting a civil war in the process.

That’s bad enough! But today we have nukes. We affect other people, not just ourselves, and other people are understandably concerned about those nukes. They’d like us to be a wee bit consistent in where we’re pointing them and maybe give them a heads up if we’re about to destroy their country.

Which we might be able to do if we were a single entity. But we’re not. We don’t even have the same people in power from year to year.

What’s that, we just let people vote, and if some 51% of us decide to vote for the guy whose policy is “nuke all of the penguins and use global warming to cancel out nuclear winter,” then that’s the law of the land?

Yes, that’s how democracy works, horrifying as it may sound.

The only sane response is a buildup of technocratic and bureaucratic apparati devoted to thwarting the will of the people in order to make sure no one nukes Antarctica in a fit of democratic fervor (or self-serving fervor, an actual concern during the Nixon administration.)

Who prevents the Deep State that’s supposed to prevent the president from going off the deep end from going off the deep end?

Meanwhile, we can’t get our national act together even on much simpler questions, like “Is rent control good?” or “How should we teach kids to read?” or “is abortion murder?”

Yet despite the fact that we really aren’t a single entity, we get perceived as one. We basically perceive ourselves as one. The actions of people at the other end of the country (or the world) we feel reflect on ourselves, even when we might from some rational standpoint admit that we really don’t have any control over those people and we shouldn’t be implicated in some giant mass guilt schema because of them.

In short, half of us want to run things one way and half want things the other way, and one of the side effects of this is absolute horror that some people are being RUDE.

The conservative joke about liberals is that liberals aren’t in favor of open borders, they’re just opposed to anything that would prevent open borders.

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Liberals, of course, are concerned that closing the borders is rude. Muslim bans are rude. Attacking journalists is rude. Trump is rude.

Half of the country wants to welcome immigrants, and the other half doesn’t, and the net result is liberals feel like the conservatives are rude to their guests and conservatives feel like liberals are rudely imposing guests upon them.

Meanwhile, Japan manages to have a reputation for politeness even without an open borders policy, proving that life is not actually a choice between two and only two diametrically opposed sides.

The Japanese have refined the art of politely saying “no”, such as “I am sorry, but that is very difficult,” or “We are very busy right now; we will have to address this later.”

Having rules of etiquette and politeness (where everyone understands, of course, that “I am very busy,” really means, “No”) allows people to wiggle out of difficult situations without losing face.

It may be true, for example, that the average American doesn’t really want to die for the sake of Montenegro, a small nation that didn’t even exist when the average American learned geography. Montenegro was only officially declared a country in 2006, and certainly no American was ever asked whether they want to die for it. Now, a normal person might think it a wee bit presumptuous and rude to just straight up expect a bunch of strangers in a foreign country to be willing to give up everything and die for you, without even asking in the first place, but that people don’t like dying in strange lands never seems to occur to politicians. No, it is telling Montenegro that we aren’t so keen on the idea that’s the rude part. (Much better to wait until Montenegro is in dire straits and then weasel out of it, of course.)

Well, regardless of what works with North Koreans, being rude to your allies is a bad look. A country needs some sort of consistency, or it stops being a reliable partner at all and just becomes a rampaging elephant.

At least with a dash of formal politeness, I think people could feel a bit better about themselves and the conduct of the country. Maybe they’d calm down a bit.

Or maybe not.

When we become our own worst enemies

In times of danger, tribes merge; in times of peace, they split.

From Scientific Reports, De novo origins of multicellularity in response to predation:

Here we show that de novo origins of simple multicellularity can evolve in response to predation. We subjected outcrossed populations of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to selection by the filter-feeding predator Paramecium tetraurelia. Two of five experimental populations evolved multicellular structures not observed in unselected control populations within ~750 asexual generations. Considerable variation exists in the evolved multicellular life cycles, with both cell number and propagule size varying among isolates. Survival assays show that evolved multicellular traits provide effective protection against predation. These results support the hypothesis that selection imposed by predators may have played a role in some origins of multicellularity.

If we evolve multicellularity in response to predation, then the inverse–a loss of multicellularity, a splitting apart, can happen when predation is removed. 

The Democrats have faced a bit of controversy lately over the comments of Ilhan Omar (for the non-Americans in the audience, Ilhan Omar is a recently elected representative of Somali Muslim origins.) As Politico reports: 

Then, after being seated on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar was lampooned for a 2012 tweet in which she wrote during an Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”  

Omar then made an idiotic non apology — “she claimed ignorance of the anti-Semitic trope that conceives of Jewish hypnosis.” 

Whether Omar knew it is a trope or not is irrelevant to the question of whether or not Omar was saying something anti-semitic–and even that is not necessarily grounds for an apology, because people apologize when they actually feel contrite about something. Omar most likely doesn’t.

Muslims have their interests; Jews have different interests. The existence of Israel is a big deal for Jews–it helps ensure that nasty incidents like the Holocaust don’t repeat. The existence of Israel is also a big deal for Palestinians, many of whom, I assume, would be living in the area if Jews weren’t. 

Conflicts over land are nothing new in human history, and it doesn’t require a degree in astrophysics to realize that sometimes groups have conflicting interests. Americans of the non-Jewish or Muslim variety also have their own interests (many desire, for example, that Israel continue existing for their own religious reasons–not hypnosis.) 

The left’s coalition requires different groups to work together (to ally) in their own self-interest, which works if they have bigger enemies to fear. It doesn’t work if they are strong enough to stand on their own feet (or if someone is too dumb to recognize the value of teamwork.) The ideological justification for allying is “intersectionality,” a term which has been bastardized well beyond its original meaning, but is now used to mean “all forms of oppression are really the same thing, so if you oppose one oppression, you must oppose them all.” So if you are against wife beating, you must also be vegan; if you are opposed to the police shooting unarmed black men, you must also be in favor of hijabs. “Interlocking systems of oppression” work to identify a single enemy, a necessary component for unifying people into something like a voting block or a military. 

And it works as long as there actually is a single enemy. 

It falls apart when you don’t have a single enemy, which is of course the world as it actually stands, because lots of groups have different interests and would like each other’s stuff. There isn’t actually anything magically special about cis-hetero-white-Christian-omnivorous-etc-men that makes them any more or less the oppressors of others. Over in Africa, Africans get oppressed by their fellow Africans. In Islamic countries, chickens get eaten by Muslims. In China, Christianity isn’t even remotely significant. 

In a related story, some British schools have recently seen their pro-LGBT curricula attacked by Muslim parents, who are, despite intersectionalist theory, actually pretty anti-homosexuality.

There is no real way to decide between these two points of view. The vast, vast majority of Muslims believe that homosexuality is a sin, and a school that goes out of its way to teach something counter to that is obviously running up against the students’ and parents’ right to their beliefs. Yet gay people also believe, with equal fervor, that homosexuality is morally respectable and they have a right to advocate on their own behalf and have a perfectly sensible desire to reach out to gay Muslims. 

The difficulty with victory is you don’t need your allies anymore; like the US and the USSR at the end of WWII, victorious allies are apt to turn on each other, fighting for what remains of the spoils. This is true of everyone, not just the left–it is just more interesting when it happens on the left because I’ve been pointing out that this would happen for years. 

Of course, some people react to this and say, “clearly the solution to our group splitting apart is to split our group apart; once our group is split, we will all have the same interests and no one will ever fight, just as children never fight with their siblings–hey knock it off in there STOP PUNCHING YOUR BROTHER you have to SHARE THAT TOY–“

Lack of predation => splitting doesn’t just stop at any particular level. 

297px-world_population_v3-svgThe other difficulty with splitting is that we live in a shrinking world. Up until the 1950s, the entire world had fewer than 3 billion people; today we have more than twice that many, and we’re still growing. Our cities are bigger, communities are expanding, transportation is better and faster, and more people have the money necessary to move to new places. More people than ever before are on the internet, watching TV, or otherwise interacting. 

Devour, get devoured, or make something new?

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:

ft_16-01-26_eligiblevoterchange

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

Population-1950-2100-b

“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.

contraitors
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? 

main_900
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!” 

577fec1388e4a779638b6793-960-776
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.

mw-gi343_ca_mig_20180501170723_zh
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:

50290f926bb3f76b7d000000-1136-1113
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.

Identity Politics and Identity Voting

Our society has managed to simultaneously discover identity politics and that identity groups tend to vote together:

2016-Youth-Voting-by-Race

 

_92349606_us_elections_2016_exit_polls_race_624

 

“We’re just like you! Make society friendlier to us!”

“Okay, but why do you all vote for the party I don’t like?”

contraitors
Source Audacious Epigone

Even when you control for ideology, ethnic voting still shows up. This graph shows only conservatives–conservative blacks are still extremely unlikely to vote for Republicans. Conservative Asians and Hispanics actually do vote Republican on balance (in this particular poll), but about 40% of them still voted for the Democrat.

 

Non-Jewish whites are the most loyal conservative voters, even among self-professed conservatives.

ft_16-01-26_eligiblevoterchange

The problem with immigration is that we live in a democracy.

Republicans now regard immigration as a massive attempt to demographically swamp the electorate by bringing in new voters who’ll vote Democrat because this is the functional result of immigration. Whether intentional or not, that is absolutely what it does.

Identity politics and awareness of identity-based voting are incompatible. “We’re just like you, we just vote for everything you hate,” is not a winning argument.

I’m reminded of the time Julian Assange naively asked why his enemies had all taken to putting ((())) around their names and got called an anti-Semite in return:

Assange

Polite society often requires politely not noticing or not pointing out other people’s differences. A store clerk helps an customer find a “flattering dress” without mentioning the customer’s obesity. A teacher helps students catch up in school without calling them stupid. And we don’t mention that different ethnic groups have different political ideas.

“They’re just like us,” and “I don’t see race,” are both lies people tell to try to get along in large, multi-ethnic societies. Obviously ethnic and racial differences are easy to see, and different groups have different cultures with their own norms, values, and beliefs. Chinese culture is different from Ghanian culture is different from Chilean culture is different from gay culture is different from video game culture, and so on.

The pretty little lie of democracy is the idea that people vote based on rational, well-thought out ideas about how government should be run. In reality, they vote their self-interest, and most people see their self-interest lying in solidarity with others in their ethnic group. Even when they aren’t voting pure self-interest, cultural similarities still result in voting similarities.

The insistence that people must see race was accompanied by increased demands for racially-based benefits/an end to racially-based harms–that is, the change was triggered by a perception that being more racially aware would benefit minorities. But this leads, in turn, to increased visibility of ethnic voting patterns, explicit vote-counting by ethnicity, and ethnic voting conflict.

I see three ways to resolve the conflict:

  1. Obfuscate. Pretend ethnic differences don’t exist and scream “racist” whenever someone notices them.
  2. Admit that ethnic differences are real and that everyone is voting in their own self-interest.
  3. Admit that ethnic differences are real and get rid of voting.

Option One is the Left’s strategy. These are the folks who insist that “race is a social construct” but at the same time that “white fragility” is real and that “whiteness needs to be abolished.” They’ll also threaten to send you to gulag for stating that Affirmative Action exists because blacks score worse than whites on the SAT. (True story.)

Option Two is the Alt-Right strategy. If the Pittsburgh shooter’s motive remains opaque to you, here it is: the majority of US Jews vote Democrat and support immigration policies that will continue giving Democrats a majority.

Option Three is NeoReaction aka neocameralism. Remove voting and you remove the incentive to shoot each other over demographic cheating (perceived or not.)

(This blog favors Option Three, the strategy that doesn’t involve shooting each other, but we understand why others might not.)

ETA: Perhaps there ought to be an Option Four: People stop arguing so much and try harder to get along. I’m not sure exactly how this would come about, but I know there are people who believe in it.

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.

The Social Signaling Problem

People like to signal. A LOT. And it is incredibly annoying.

It’s also pretty detrimental to the functioning of the country.

Take Prohibition. The majority of Americans never supported Prohibition, yet it wasn’t just a law passed by Congress or a handful of states, but an actual amendment to the Constitution, (the 18th) ratified by 46 states (only Rhode Island and Connecticut declined to ratify. I assume they had a large Irish population or depended on sales of imported alcohol.)

Incredibly, a coalition driven primarily by people who couldn’t even vote (women’s suffrage was granted in the 19th amendment) managed to secure what looks like near-unanimous support for a policy which the majority of people actually opposed!

Obviously a lot of people voted for Prohibition without understanding what it actually entailed. Most probably thought that other people’s intemperate drinking should be curbed, not their own, completely reasonable consumption. Once people understood what Prohibition actually entailed, they voted for its repeal.

But this is only part of the explanation, for people support many policies they don’t actually understand, but most of these don’t become disastrous Constitutional amendments.

What we have is a runaway case of social signaling. People did not actually want to get rid of all of the alcohol. People wanted to signal that they were against public drunkenness, Germans (this was right after WWI,) and maybe those Irish. Prohibition also had a very vocal group of people fighting for it, while the majority of people who were generally fine with people having the occasional beer weren’t out campaigning for the “occasional beer” party. It was therefore more profitable for a politician to signal allegiance to the pro-Prohibition voters than to the “occasional beer” voter.

Social signaling leads people to support laws because they like the idea of the law, rather than an appreciation for what the law actually entails, creating a mess of laws that aren’t very useful. For example, on Dec. 12, 2017, the Senate unanimously passed a bill “to help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets.”

In the midst of increasing crime, an opioid epidemic, starving Yemenis, decimated inner cities, rising white death rates, economic malaise, homelessness, and children with cancer, is the return of assets stolen 75 years ago in a foreign country really our most pressing issue?

No, but do you want to be the guy who voted against the Justice for Holocaust survivors bill? What are you, some kind of Nazi? Do you want to vote in favor of drunken alcoholics? Criminals? Sex offenders? Murderers? Racists? Satanic Daycares?

Social signaling inspires a bunch of loud, incoherent arguing, intended more to prove “I am a good person” or “I belong to Group X” than to hash out good policy. Indeed, social signaling is diametrically opposed to good policy, as you can always prove that you are an even better person or better member of Group X by trashing good policies on the grounds that they do not signal hard enough.

The Left likes to do a lot of social signaling about racism, most recently exemplified in the tearing down of Civil War Era statues. I’m pretty sure those statues weren’t out shooting black people or denying them jobs, but nonetheless it suddenly became an incredibly pressing problem that they existed, taking up a few feet of space, and had to be torn down. Just breathe the word “racist” and otherwise sensible people’s brains shut down and they become gibbering idiots.

The Right likes to social signal about sex, which it hates so much it can’t shut up about it. Unless people are getting married at 15, they’re going to have extra-marital sex. If you want to live in an economy where people have to attend school into their mid-twenties in order to learn everything, then you either need to structure things so that people can get married and have kids while they are still in school or they will just have extra-marital sex while still in school.

Right and Left both like to signal about abortion, though my sense here is that the right is signaling harder.

The Right and Left both like to signal about Gun Control. Not five minutes after a mass shooting and you’ll have idiots on both sides Tweeting about how their favorite policy could have saved the day (or how the other guy’s policy wouldn’t have prevented it at all.) Now, I happen to favor more gun control (if you ignore the point of this entire post and write something mind-numbingly stupid in response to this I will ignore you,) but “more gun control” won’t solve the  problem of someone buying an already illegal gun and shooting people with it. If your first response to a shooting is “More gun control!” without first checking whether that would have actually prevented the shooting, you’re being an idiot. (By contrast, if you’re out there yelling “Gun control does nothing!” in a case where it could have saved lives, then you’re the one being an idiot.)

This doesn’t mean that people can’t have reasonable positions on these issues (even positions I disagree with.) But yelling “This is bad! I hate it very much!” makes it much harder to have a reasonable discussion about the best way to address the issues. If people can personally benefit by social signaling against every reasonable position, then they’ll be incentivised to do so–essentially defecting against good policy making.

So what can we do?

I previously discussed using anonymity to damp down signaling. It won’t stop people from yelling about their deeply held feelings, but it does remove the incentive to care about one’s reputation.

Simply being aware of the problem may help; acknowledge that people will signal and then try to recognize when you are doing it yourself.

In general, we can tell that people are merely signaling about an issue if they don’t take any active steps in their own personal lives to resolve it. A person who actually rides a bike to work because they want to fight global warming is serious; someone who merely talks a good talk while flying in a private jet is not.

“Anti-racists” who live in majority white neighborhoods “for the schools” are another example–they claim to love minorities but mysteriously do not live among them. Clearly someone else–maybe working class whites–should be forced to do it.

Signalers love force: force lets them show how SERIOUS they are about fighting the BAD ISSUE without doing anything themselves about it. The same is true for “anti-abortion” politicians, eg Kasich Signs Law Banning Abortions After Diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. Of course Kasich will not be personally adopting or raising any babies with Down’s syndrome, nor giving money to their families to help with their medical bills. Kasich loves Down’s babies enough to force other people to raise them, but not enough to actually care for one himself.

Both sides engage in this kind of behavior, which looks like goodness on their own side but super hypocritical to the other.

The positions of anyone who will not (or cannot) put their money where their mouth is should be seen as suspect. If they want to force other people to do things they don’t or can’t, it automatically discredits them.

Communism, as in an entire country/economy run by force in order to achieve a vision of a “just society,” ranks as the highest expression of social signaling. Not only has communism failed miserably in every iterations, it has caused the deaths of an estimated 100 million people by starvation, purge, or direct bullets to the head. Yet communist ideology persists because of the strength of social signalling.

Local Optima, Diversity, and Patchwork

Local optima–or optimums, if you prefer–are an illusion created by distance. A man standing on the hilltop at (approximately) X=2 may see land sloping downward all around himself and think that he is at the highest point on the graph.

But hand him a telescope, and he discovers that the fellow standing on the hilltop at X=4 is even higher than he is. And hand the fellow at X=4 a telescope, and he’ll discover that X=6 is even higher.

A global optimum is the best possible way of doing something; a local optimum can look like a global optimum because all of the other, similar ways of doing the same thing are worse. To get from a local optimum to a global optimum, you might have to endure a significant trough of things going worse before you reach your destination. (Those troughs would be the points X=3.03 and X=5.02 on the graph.) If the troughs are short and shallow enough, people can accidentally power their way through. If long and deep enough, people get stuck.

The introduction of new technology, exposure to another culture’s solutions, or even random chance can expose a local optimum and propel a group to cross that trough.

For example, back in 1400, Europeans were perfectly happy to get their Chinese silks, spices, and porcelains via the overland Silk Road. But with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the Silk Road became more fragmented and difficult (ie dangerous, ie expensive) to travel. The increased cost of the normal road prompted Europeans to start exploring other, less immediately profitable trade routes–like the possibility of sailing clear around the world, via the ocean, to the other side of China.

Without the eastern trade routes first diminishing in profitability, it wouldn’t have been economically viable to explore and develop the western routes. (With the discovery of the Americas, in the process, a happy accident.)

West Hunter (Greg Cochran) writes frequently about local optima; here’s an excerpt on plant domestication:

The reason that a few crops account for the great preponderance of modern agriculture is that a bird in the hand – an already-domesticated, already- optimized crop – feeds your family/makes money right now, while a potentially useful yet undomesticated crop doesn’t. One successful domestication tends to inhibit others that could flourish in the same niche. Several crops were domesticated in the eastern United States, but with the advent of maize and beans ( from Mesoamerica) most were abandoned. Maybe if those Amerindians had continued to selectively breed sumpweed for a few thousand years, it could have been a contender: but nobody is quite that stubborn.

Teosinte was an unpromising weed: it’s hard to see why anyone bothered to try to domesticate it, and it took a long time to turn it into something like modern maize. If someone had brought wheat to Mexico six thousand years ago, likely the locals would have dropped maize like a hot potato. But maize ultimately had advantages: it’s a C4 plant, while wheat is C3: maize yields can be much higher.

Teosinte is the ancestor of modern corn. Cochran’s point is that in the domestication game, wheat is a local optimum; given the wild ancestors of wheat and corn, you’d develop a better, more nutritious variety of wheat first and probably just abandon the corn. But if you didn’t have wheat and you just had corn, you’d keep at the corn–and in the end, get an even better plant.

(Of course, corn is a success story; plenty of people domesticated plants that actually weren’t very good just because that’s what they happened to have.)

Japan in 1850 was a culturally rich, pre-industrial, feudal society with a strong isolationist stance. In 1853, the Japanese discovered that the rest of the world’s industrial, military technology was now sufficiently advanced to pose a serious threat to Japanese sovereignty. Things immediately degenerated, culminating in the Boshin War (civil war, 1868-9,) but with the Meiji Restoration Japan embarked on an industrialization crash-course. By 1895, Japan had kicked China’s butt in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Japanese population doubled–after holding steady for centuries–between 1873 and 1935. (From 35 to 70 million people.) By the 1930s, Japan was one of the world’s most formidable industrial powers, and today it remains an economic and technological powerhouse.

Clearly the Japanese people, in 1850, contained the untapped ability to build a much more complex and advanced society than the one they had, and it did not take much exposure to the outside world to precipitate a total economic and technological revolution.

Sequoyah’s syllabary, showing script and print forms

A similar case occurred in 1821 when Sequoyah, a Cherokee man, invented his own syllabary (syllable-based alphabet) after observing American soldiers reading letters. The Cherokee quickly adopted Sequoyah’s writing system–by 1825, the majority of Cherokee were literate and the Cherokee had their own printing industry. Interestingly, although some of the Cherokee letters look like Latin, Greek, or Cyrillic letters, there is no correspondence in sound, because Sequoyah could not read English. He developed his entire syllabary after simply being exposed to the idea of writing.

The idea of literacy has occurred independently only a few times in human history; the vast majority of people picked up alphabets from someone else. Our Alphabet comes from the Latins who got it from the Greeks who adopted it from the Phoenicians who got it from some proto-canaanite script writers, and even then literacy spread pretty slowly. The Cherokee, while not as technologically advanced as Europeans at the time, were already a nice agricultural society and clearly possessed the ability to become literate as soon as they were exposed to the idea.

When I walk around our cities, I often think about what their ruins will look like to explorers in a thousand years
We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.”

By contrast, there are many cases of people being exposed to or given a new technology but completely lacking the ability to functionally adopt, improve, or maintain it. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, is full of ruined colonial-era buildings and roads built by outsiders that the locals haven’t maintained. Without the Belgians, the infrastructure has crumbled.

Likewise, contact between Europeans and groups like the Australian Aboriginees did not result in the Aboriginees adopting European technology nor a new and improved fusion of Aboriginee and European tech, but in total disaster for the Aboriginees. While the Japanese consistently top the charts in educational attainment, Aboriginee communities are still struggling with low literacy rates, high dropout rates, and low employment–the modern industrial economy, in short, has not been kind to them.

Along a completely different evolutionary pathway, cephalopods–squids, octopuses, and their tentacled ilk–are the world’s smartest invertebrates. This is pretty amazing, given that their nearest cousins are snails and clams. Yet cephalopod intelligence only goes so far. No one knows (yet) just how smart cephalopods are–squids in particular are difficult to work with in captivity because they are active hunter/swimmers and need a lot more space than the average aquarium can devote–but their brain power appears to be on the order of a dog’s.

After millions of years of evolution, cephalopods may represent the best nature can do–with an invertebrate. Throw in a backbone, and an animal can get a whole lot smarter.

And in chemistry, activation energy is the amount of energy you have to put into a chemical system before a reaction can begin. Stable chemical systems essentially exist at local optima, and it can require the input of quite a lot of energy before you get any action out of them. For atoms, iron is the global–should we say universal?–optimum, beyond which reactions are endothermic rather than exothermic. In other words, nuclear fusion at the core of the sun ends with iron; elements heavier than iron can only be produced when stars explode.

So what do local optima have to do with diversity?

The current vogue for diversity (“Diversity is our greatest strength”) suggests that we can reach global optima faster by simply smushing everyone together and letting them compare notes. Scroll back to the Japanese case. Edo Japan had a nice culture, but it was also beset by frequent famines. Meiji Japan doubled its population. Giving everyone, right now, the same technology and culture would bring everyone up to the same level.

But you can’t tell from within if you are at a local or global optimum. That’s how they work. The Indians likely would have never developed corn had they been exposed to wheat early on, and subsequently Europeans would have never gotten to adopt corn, either. Good ideas can take a long time to refine and develop. Cultures can improve rapidly–even dramatically–by adopting each other’s good ideas, but they also need their own space and time to pursue their own paths, so that good but slowly developing ideas aren’t lost.

Which gets us back to Patchwork.