Thursday, June 21, 2007 43 Comments

Why conservatives never quite catch the boat

In a sad effort to boost my sagging stats (only twelve people visited UR last week - seven of them were commenters, and the other five were me), I have decided to begin attacking other bloggers. I thought I'd start with one of the wisest and most perceptive conservatives around, Lawrence Auster, and one of his excellent frequent correspondents, "Thucydides."

Thucydides writes in, apropos of nothing (the sheer brainpower in Auster's salon is enough to carbonize an ox, especially if the ox is pro-immigration):

It occurs to me that one reason most liberals refuse to recognize the problems of illegal or excessive legal immigration, even though some of the effects, for example, driving down wages for the lowest earners, should attract their concern, is that their utopianism prevents them from acknowledging that we have a culture worth preserving. Their dreams are of some universal rationalist civilization in which human difference will evanesce, by comparison to which our existing culture seems lacking. They gain an elitist self satisfaction on the cheap by positioning themselves as critics of what actually exists; it is unjust, discriminatory, racist, etc. The minute they would acknowledge that we do have a culture that, whatever its flaws, compares favorably to most others in the world, that we do have things to be thankful for, that we have reason for gratitude, they are out of business as superior critics and morally worthy people who imagine a better world. Since their whole sense of identity is bound up in this posture, they cannot for a minute think of abandoning it, even when it clashes with their other goals.

Being unable to acknowledge that there is anything worth preserving about our culture, their universalism takes complete control. Since all people are the same in all places and times, regardless of their particular historic inheritances, any sort of division or border seems in need of rational justification, and they, given their assumptions, cannot find one.

Auster replies:

Very well put. They cannot ever allow themselves to be in the position of defending our particular culture, because then they would not be superior to all cultures.
In my opinion, it's not well put at all. Its logic is almost right, but it's not quite right.

Who, for example, is "we"? What is "our culture"? Why should subjects of a particular political entity have anything particular in common? What is the difference between this set and the set, say, of all the people whose names start with the letter A, or the set of all people with brown hair?

Not that I am a universalist (a word I like a lot, along with Brahmin, idealist, progressive-idealist, ultracalvinist, or any other names I may invent, or others may submit, in UR's ongoing name-that-death-star contest, whose prize is as usual a bottle of Laphroaig; the referent is the same thing Auster means when he says "liberal," a word I dislike intensely).

Au contraire. I recognize that the section of North America ruled by the government in Washington, DC, is very different both in geography and population from, say, the section of West Africa ruled by the government in Abuja. In fact I feel as if I'd have a great deal of trouble assimilating into any of the many cultures in Nigeria, and I see no reason to assume the converse would be any different.

But the US, too, has many cultures. What do Thucydides and Auster even mean by "culture?" I am really not sure. I prefer to think of America's major social divisions as castes; here is my taxonomy, here is my analysis of the conflicts.

Surely, if one attempts to construct some description which combines all these castes - Brahmin (liberal, Democrat), Dalit (ghetto, Democrat), Helot (laborer, Democrat), Optimate (old-school aristo, Republican), and Vaisya (middle American, Republican) - you get mixed nuts with maraschino cherries and calamari. If this is somehow a single "culture," a description I doubt can be defended with any conceivable definition of the word, its main common denominators are McDonalds, "public" schools and CNN. Pound, Hamsun and Celine, come back, we miss you, all is forgiven.

In fact, when you look at the actual issue Thucydides is concerned about, but use my framework rather than his, you see (IMHO) a very clear and intelligible pattern.

The Brahmins, universalists, ultracalvinists, etc, do not hate "our culture" at all. They have a very distinct culture of their own - with a family tree that spends a remarkable amount of time in Massachusetts, upstate New York, etc, etc. (In Charles Royster's excellent and only mildly neo-Unionist picture of the Civil War, The Destructive War, he mentions a foreign traveler in 1864 who asked some random American to explain the war. "It's the conquest of America by Massachusetts," was the answer. Massachusetts, of course, later went on to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites as of 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945. But I digress.)

No, the Brahmins love their own Brahmin culture. And they hate the culture of their enemies, the Optimates and Vaisyas. I mean, where does a bear shit? Not in the Vatican, that's for sure.

As for Brahmin feelings on the Dalits and Helots, opinions are more complex. Orthodox ultracalvinists idolize Dalits and Helots (as this hilarious study reveals), but most of them do not know any Dalits, and converse with Helots only occasionally and in their professional capacity. They certainly do not want to live in the same neighborhoods as Dalits - although some daring ultra-Brahmin youth do use this as a social selection device, especially with Dalits of the Hispanic variety, who for some reason are less violent. (The principle is much the same as that which leads young Yanomamo warriors to torture themselves with bullet ants; the decision to accept the various discomforts of living in a Dalit neighborhood is the rite of initiation into an exclusive social circle. Though it also of course tends to be cheaper, allowing our "hipster" to attend more assiduously to his various unproductive pursuits.)

But if Brahmins needed to work up a lather of hate against Dalits and Helots, they probably could. However, this is not presently useful. It is quite the contrary. And so instead we see a lather of love. Again, we are not talking about the Pope doing his business in the woods, here.

The Dalit and Helot castes are wonderful allies for the Brahmins. First, they provide, of course, votes. If we counted just B versus OV votes, the OVs would win in a walkover. As a very rough proxy, the last US president to win the white vote was Lyndon Johnson.

Almost if not quite as important, the high crime rates of both Dalits and Helots (if illegal immigration isn't a crime, what is?) make them such useful allies. These entire castes can be deployed as crude but effective demo-armies in the grand old leftist style.

Here, for example, is a major presidential candidate deploying them - rhetorically, at least - as a direct threat in order to extract money. ("It would be really nice if all riots would be quiet riots," and it would be really nice if you could put your hands on your head and accompany me to the nearest ATM.) In fact, the only reason the riots are quiet (that is, pretty much nonexistent), is that sometime around 1975, the black man started to get a little tired of being used as the white man's pawn - if I may indulge in a little blast of retro-rhetoric.

Therefore, what is going on is simple. Brahmins don't really believe all cultures are equal. They believe their culture is superior, and they have a system of thought ("multiculturalism") that contradicts all other systems of thought on the planet, past and present. Again, the Pope and the bear, etc. All cultures are brutal, aggressive predators, and all are positively orgasmic, Highlander style, at the prospect of eliminating any of their competitors. Certainly the Brahmin culture, which as I've described is the current heir to the American and Western European mainline Protestant tradition, is the leading contender and going strong.

Ultracalvinism, this modern descendant of the Puritans, is an aggressive cultural predator that has evolved a cool new trick. It likes to partially reanimate or reinvent the corpses of its smaller and more-decayed victims, as "Aztlan" reinvented the Aztecs, "Kwanzaa" the Ashanti or "Ossian" the Celts, and pretend they're real. Since there is actually no prospect at all of any actual revival of the Aztec, Ashanti or Celtic cultures, this is safe, and it demonstrates ultracalvinism's so-called "tolerance." Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly!

And ultracalvinism is also "tolerant" to branches of other religions which it has in fact taken over, such as Reform Judaism or "moderate" Islam. In fact, no "moderate" of any modern faith could find any conceivable reason to raise his voice in any conversation with any randomly selected Unitarian, which while it may not be entirely conclusive is pretty good evidence that they are actually devotees of the same religion. It's the old zombie manuever.

So we end up with a very simple and quite mundane (exit the Pope, pursued by the bear) reason why the Brahmins are trying to augment the US's Helot population: everyone always needs more allies. (Especially when your stagnant empire is crumbling.)

Of course this is not a conscious thought. But it doesn't need to be a conscious thought. It just needs to be adaptively successful. In other words, it just needs to work. And boy, does it.

So, again, I'd say Thucydides is not quite right. Perhaps he agrees with this logic, perhaps he doesn't (if he finds this post he's welcome to comment). But it is certainly not what he said. And "not quite right" may be almost right, but that "not quite" is the difference between the ventilation shaft and the ventral asteroid plate.

Which may not matter at all if you just want to fire up a mob. But dissidents in the West today cannot win by firing up a mob. They can only win by convincing young smart people, who will otherwise be convinced by the numerous extremely convincing official sources of information that are constantly competing for access to their tender eyes and ears.

Conservatives: if Washington could be conquered by peasants with pitchforks, don't you think it would have happened by now? Do you think there are more peasants with pitchforks, or fewer, than there were ten years ago? Do you have any strategy for reversing this trend? If not, aren't you just wasting time and annoying the pig?

In my opinion, it is not Larry Auster's words that we can learn from - although those words are often remarkably cogent and well-informed. It is his actions. He may think in terms of a strain of American nationalism that hasn't been effective since Robert Taft was a little boy, but his blog tells a different story. Compare it to National Review's Corner someday, and you'll see the difference. Auster's random emailers (he hand-moderates everything, and only accepts comments via email) are much smarter and better-informed than most of NRO's pros.

Auster is collecting the smartest people around. So why does he keep pursuing rhetorical strategies that appear calculated only to rally people who already support his movement - rather than strategies designed to compete with and defeat ultracalvinism's own reproductive system, capturing the cream of their youth and turning them to the dark side of the Force? Excuse me, I meant away from the dark side, of course.

If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that "liberalism" is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It's a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines. (I will say more about this in a bit.)

Of course, if you are a Christian, you don't believe these features are superficial. But doesn't that make a nice trap? Neither side can call a spade a spade. The ultracalvinists need to hide the fact that they are spades, and the conservatives, since they believe that only conservative spades are true spades, refuse to bestow upon their enemies the prized status of spadefulness.

Whereas if you can make it past this trap, you are rewarded with an enormous store of clear and easy-to-apply metaphors for religious persecution, an entirely quotidian and extremely common phenomenon which everyone understands.

For example, if ultracalvinists are Christians, "political correctness" is religious orthodoxy. Hm, where have we seen this before? Perhaps in Massachusetts? I mean, is it any surprise that Ivy League schools are acting, in effect, as ultracalvinist seminaries? Isn't that exactly what they were founded as?

And what are "multiculturalism" and "diversity" but religious tests for office? Hm, I don't know anything of the sort in history. Maybe in Nepal? Nah.

In fact, religious conservatives, whose Christianity is generally of the non-mainline sort, although not every single one of them is an actual practicing snake-handler, have basically taken over the traditional role of Catholics in the British political system.

For example, Brahmins are all in a tizzy that the Justice Department under Bush has hired eight lawyers from conservative Christian law schools (Ave Maria and Regent). Of course, in the same period, it hired sixty-three from Harvard and Yale, but once the camel's nose is in the tent, etc. It invites contamination. You can't just let your institutions be captured like that, and the New York Times is very wise to object. I mean, they should know, shouldn't they?

And this is why conservatives never quite catch the boat. They do not want to admit that what they are fighting is, in fact, a very old religious war, in which their side holds and has always held the losing hand. Conservatives cannot admit that conservatism is futile, because then they'd have nothing to do. No man will willingly abolish his own occupation.

So conservative political activists, too, do good service as their enemies' pawns. Because the only winning political strategies I can imagine for conservatives, at least in the near term, involve things like boycotting elections. Since conservatives believe in "America" and in democracy, they will never do this. Therefore, they lose, and they will continue to lose.

This castrated pseudo-opposition is of enormous use to the ultracalvinist blue government. It disguises the essentially one-party nature of the Polygon, the vast majority of whose servants are Democrats, and whose bizarre idea of apolitical or "post-partisan" government would otherwise not withstand two chimpanzee-seconds of actual mental cogitation.

Furthermore, the conservative movement is remarkably effective as a scare puppet. The American political system consistently promotes the most idiotic, backward and ridiculous "conservatives" it can find. Every year, mainstream American conservatives are stupider, more venal, and more crass. The gradient from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Albert Jay Nock to Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz, let alone to Michael Savage or Ann Coulter, is simply pathetic. Again, this is not somebody's "plot," it is not a conscious design, it is an adaptive pattern whose beneficiary is quite obvious.

Stupid conservative foreign policies are wonderfully useful as well. The war in Iraq has been the greatest boon to the Polygon since - well, since the war in Vietnam, in fact. Gee, isn't it funny how that works?

There is no exit strategy for conservatives which does not involve (a) disassociating themselves completely from the failed Republican Party, and (b) successfully communicating with young Brahmins who are willing to question the tenets of the rapidly-ossifying ultracalvinist cult and the rule of the vast, moribund Brezhnevite institutions which sustain and transmit it.

Moreover, any such conversation has to involve you converting them, rather than them converting you - something by no means guaranteed with your average "South Park conservative." And no, you are not going to convince them to handle snakes or speak in tongues. Focus on the basic fact that while they may think they're rebels, they're actually loyal servants of a theocratic one-party state, and you might even get somewhere.

43 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There is no exit strategy for conservatives."

That's right! The bloody fools keep digging themselves deeper and deeper. Maybe their restructuring will re-democratize America...

June 21, 2007 at 10:54 PM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

If American culture is to vanish, would it be too much trouble to produce one true genius before you go? One man (it would be a man) in the class of Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare, Smith, Hume, Gauss, Mozart, Beethoven......
I know that there's a case for reckoning Mr Jefferson a genius, but only as a spin-doctor, which would be so undignified a legacy. Come on, chaps, just the one.

June 22, 2007 at 2:41 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

Good analysis and a fantastic final paragraph.

I wonder, how do you account for the fact than so many potential Brahmin, such as myself, resist entering the Brahmin culture. Despising, in fact, the Pig, as you call it. It would seem a no-brainer to opt for the winning team, to realize that one loves the Big Brother. Hell, why doesn't a gifted man like Auster become a Brahmin?

June 22, 2007 at 5:14 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

I'm still somewhat unhappy with your whole classification system. It occurs to me, for example, that the reason political discourse is so thoroughly dominated by "Brahmins" is that someone in the business of writing political commentary or holding public office would almost have to be a "Brahmin" by definition.

Further, it's quite common that individuals are primarily competing for resources with others very much like themselves, whereas their opportunities for mutually beneficial exchange often are a direct result of the differences between them. The point being not that caste struggles never happen, since of course they do, but rather that there's much more conflict within castes than between them, that one should not expect a person to sacrifice his personal interests to advance his caste's interests, and it isn't that weird or uncommon for people to feel more affection in general towards those of another caste than those of one's own caste. Particularly since they don't self-identify according to your system in the first place.

June 22, 2007 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

dearieme,

I have kind of a soft spot for "Notes on the State of Virginia" myself...

I'm still not sure what "American culture" is, but I know what American intellectual culture is, circa 2007, and it's not something you want on your Cheerios. Or your Weetabix. Vanishing would be the best thing that could happen to it.

As for "American culture" in the form of barbecue, square dances, or whatever, it's quite orthogonal to genius. All you need for genius is the right DNA and a good library.

Or database. (Note that the collected works of all your worthies are available gratis. In fact, if you want to talk about American intellectual culture, reimaging the server from the 1922 copyright cutoff, or even the 1911 Britannica, is not such a bad idea.)

In any case, the problem with genius is not promoting it, but suppressing it. It takes a very large and intricate system to perform the latter task, but it works pretty well as you can see.

June 22, 2007 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

pa and george,

I am certainly part of the Brahmin culture. I have never left it and I don't intend to. I grew up eating organic food; I have never in my life purchased any beer that was not imported, microbrew or both; I don't have a television; I don't have a gun; I do have a very expensive education; I live in San Francisco and only watch arty movies; etc, etc, etc.

This makes me a Brahmin. It is a reflection of who I am and how I was raised. It is my caste. It is impossible for me to change this, and it would be an affectation to try.

But there is a certain set of received opinions about life and the world that tends to go with these cultural tropes. In many ways, these opinions happen to correlate, often in very subtle and counterintuitive ways, with the interests of people like me. I don't believe this is a coincidence, although it is certainly not a conspiracy.

I have described this belief system as idealist, ultracalvinist, etc, etc, etc. Whatever you want to call it, I am 100% convinced that its resemblance to mainline Protestant Christianity is not an analogy (like the resemblance between a bird and a bat) but a homology (like the resemblance between a bird and a dinosaur).

My problem - and I suspect your problem, PA - is that this belief system is stuffed chock-full of bizarre received assumptions, not just unverifiable metaphysical claims, but thoughts about the real world, that are unjustifiable at best and malignantly delusional at worst.

Thus my decision that I would be better off rederiving my intellectual framework from scratch, rather than relying on the one that comes free with being a Brahmin, or trying to patch and glue it here and there in places where it's obviously falling apart.

I may yet have some occasion to regret this decision, but I haven't run into one yet.

George, I agree with your last paragraph, but I think you are thinking as though these caste perspectives were individually invented, rather than being the product of adaptive selection.

Also, your view is rather economic, whereas I was thinking more of social bonds. We can trade with just about anyone, but it is harder to be friends with just about anyone. Most people are very xenophobic and mimeophilic when it comes to actual friendship, and your friends are the people you rely on in any conflict.

They are no longer military, but alliances that look very much like chimpanzee gangs are ubiquitous in any social or professional setting you can point to (eg, the common use of the word "mafia.") Shared cultural tropes, such as the castes I describe, are an essential tool of alliance-building. I always cringe when I find myself at any kind of social event at which Bud is being drunk, even though I have no reason at all to dislike the kind of people who drink Bud.

BTW, I'm pretty sure Auster is a Brahmin, as well. For example, (a) he quotes Bob Dylan all the time, and (b) his cousin is the literary novelist Paul Auster. But unlike me, he's a very committed convert to Christianity. Which I have no problem at all, of course, but which I think makes it harder for him to see certain patterns.

June 22, 2007 at 5:28 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

"not just unverifiable metaphysical claims, but thoughts about the real world, that are unjustifiable at best and malignantly delusional at worst."

Good way of putting it. I'm an eastern European immigrant, quite sympathetic to many aspects of the Brahmin culture (I lived in Cambridge MA and rented every arty foreign flick I could for three years), but on an emotional level feeling a kinship with the lower Vaisya types -- Rednecks etc. Maybe it comes from my stays in Tennessee.

Check out this "Deer Hunting with Jesus" piece, to get the sense of what I am getting at:
http://www.fredoneverything.net/FOE_Frame_Column.htm

In my ideal world, the Brahmin and Vaiysas would live in harmony, or at least in a live and let live arrangement. As is, I see the Brahmins engaged in a war of extermination against varius lower class American cultures, and that's a shame, and needn't be so.

June 22, 2007 at 5:43 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

I don't know if Auster is even aware of your blog. You should e-mail him.

I'd also note while progressivism seems to continue its relentless progress, I don't know if we can blame it on the New York Times and Ivy League schools. Newspapers are losing out to television which is losing out to the internet. I think Brink Lindsey (and I suppose Joseph Schumpeter before him) give a much better explanation.

June 22, 2007 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I always cringe when I find myself at any kind of social event at which Bud is being drunk, even though I have no reason at all to dislike the kind of people who drink Bud.

Beer-drinking at parties is a Stroop test for class background. I might pretend to cringe at Bud when I show up at the party, but after a few drinks, I have much difficulty keeping up this pretense. Or, if the party is attended by Brahmin-born hipsters, I forget that drinking PBR is supposed to be a hip/ironic act.

June 22, 2007 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

pa -

Exactly. For my part, I sympathize with middle Americans (or even "rednecks") because I'm not really American - I grew up mostly outside the US - and because, as a second-generation Brahmin, I have no caste insecurities.

In other words, red-state America is almost a foreign country to me. My fondness for it is like the fondness of a Western Sinophile for China - it's not that he thinks he's actually Chinese, but this does not necessarily make his feelings phony. (I certainly don't drink PBR.)

June 23, 2007 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

I've actually exchanged a few emails with Auster, and I certainly sent him a courtesy tip on this piece.

The thing about Auster is that he's basically a conservative Lenin. He has no real interest in anyone who doesn't share his basic worldview, unless he feels they are worthy of his attacks. I actually find this attitude very refreshing, a nice break from the usual team-building spirit. But it's not very productive of discussion.

The problem with Lindsey's thesis is that it assumes opinions disseminate evenly, like dye in a gel, or something. Your basic democratic fallacy. He should read Jouvenel, Burnham, or at least Walter Lippmann. Elites matter.

For example, people may get their worldviews from TV. But TV reporters get their worldviews from the New York Times, and NYT reporters get theirs at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. The latter, therefore, continue to matter.

Hopefully the Internet will change this. But it is still too early to tell whether, when, or how. It could quite easily be for the worse. The Internet may be a peer-to-peer network, but it's also quite good at implementing broadcast.

June 23, 2007 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

To be fair, I really liked Lindsey's Against the Dead Hand. If nothing else just for its cool title. But he seems to have basically come to see the world in "post-partisan" terms.

When you spend too long in DC, you start to see the idea that the world should be managed by enlightened experts as essentially normal. And this is the new mantra of the DC libertarian: we have a policy approach that actually works. I respect these people, but I think they've long since lost sight of the forest.

So Lindsey naturally comes to see the Progressive Era and New Deal as a natural, healthy and inevitable development. Just like everyone around him. This approach surely has much to recommend it, it is not on its face indefensible, but one also can't overlook the fact that it gets you much better press - especially compared to those degenerate neo-Confederates down at the Mises Institute.

Boromir has many faces.

June 23, 2007 at 5:08 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

While I think Brink is tactically (and "philosophically", not that I really care for philosophy) wrong in his "liberaltarian" pitch, I think you should read the beginning of this from him in which he says "Whether Chait likes it or not, economically conservative, socially liberal sentiment runs fairly strong in a good-sized chunk of the electorate--and it's especially common among the nation's disproportionately influential socioeconomic elites." which is basically what you claim he is ignoring. I can't find him saying anything in favor of the New Deal/Progressive era, but on the other hand I don't see him saying anything bad about it (excepting the complacency of the post-New Deal Galbraithian heights of industry with planning and regulation that changed in the 70s), which I suppose makes the point even better. The important thing is not whether or not Lindsey is Boromir (I try to shy away from applying fiction to politics but I agree he is unsettling), but whether his hypothesis about the changing values of America is right. I believe he is. The elites are where these ideas begin, they disseminate down even if slowly among some. The only polls I can think of that seem to contradict this is that a the young now are the first to be more pro-life than their parents, dubbed the "Roe effect".

June 23, 2007 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

My TNR subscription lapsed long ago and all I can read is the first paragraph.

But Lindsey is entirely right except for the words "economically conservative," in which - and this is just my experience - I think he has been seduced by, if not the Ring, certainly a small dose of wishful thinking. He might want to try cancelling his Economist subscription and moving to SF or Brooklyn, or going to Burning Man, or something.

I think the reason Lindsey expects this change is that he thinks he is dealing with an ordinary problem of intellectual fashion, in which bad ideas are adopted, tried and then discredited. And yes, among policy wonks, liberaltarianism is not unpopular.

But intellectual fashion is not made by policy wonks. It's made by Slavoj Zizek and Michael Moore, and, more precisely, by the elite universities. What the elites are thinking is a very nebulous question, and there is much room for legitimate disagreement, but if Lindsey thinks economic conservatism is gaining momentum in the Harvard film department, he is on crack.

More generally, what Lindsey does not see is that he's playing an intellectual game that's tilted against the product he's selling. Of course collectivism is popular with professors - the basic idea of collectivism is that professors should run the world.

I'll bet Lindsey's opinions about the Progressive Era and the New Deal aren't too different from mine. (In fact, he says mostly as much in Against the Dead Hand, although without criticizing the Fed, of course.) But what he's learned is that nobody wants to hear it. Certainly nobody in DC.

And this is what makes him such a '90s figure. In this century, people will say what they think. The Internet is not quite there yet, but it's already pretty clear that the era of reticence is over.

When I read Lindsey, what I hear is a message tuned to an audience. What I hear is a very smart and thoughtful person who has come up with what may well be the optimal solution to the age-old problem of "how do we sell libertarianism?"

The problem is that (a) in my opinion, and it seems yours as well, Lindsey's solution is not effective, so its very optimality damns the entire problem; and (b) it is very clear to any intelligent person that what they are reading is spin, a sugar pill.

I have a very different approach. If I think democracy is shite, I say democracy is shite. It may not work, either, but at least it doesn't leave me feeling soiled.

You can replace Boromir with Acton if you like. The fundamental problem is that the 20C's marriage between power and intellectuals has been disastrous. Power corrupts not by repression, but by seduction. It cocks an ear and says: that's wonderful, of course I agree, but don't you want to be effective?

The tragedy of the DC libertarian - and I include the George Mason School in this, because DC extends pretty much to Goochland County at this point - is that he is neither frank, nor effective. At best he may end up making some small improvement to the machine he once swore to dismantle. Fate's a bitch.

June 23, 2007 at 10:43 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I don't see where we disagree with regard to Brink Lindsey now. I noted from the beginning that I think his approach is wrong (not only for libertarians but also for Democrats), but I believe his ideas about the changing culture that begins at the elite level and filters down is correct, I just don't share his optimism about that process.

I found your comment about George Mason rather odd. A good number of them are out-and-out anarchists. I don't see them being as seduced by the Polygon as Brink (not that I'm endorsing anarchism here, I just think it is slightly less compatible with DC than, say, racialism).

June 24, 2007 at 4:12 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

No, we don't disagree on Lindsey.

Which ones are anarchists? Isn't it pretty difficult for an anarchist to work for an official institution? Are you thinking of Cowen, Tabarrok, Caplan, Hanson...?

But I agree that holding an official academic post is intrinsically less incriminating than working at Cato.

A very large problem still arises, though, for economists, because the whole field is one giant conflict of interest. You personally may write off the chance of employment at the Fed, but your peers haven't, and their opinion of you matters. It makes about as much sense for the state to fund economics research as it does for Philip Morris to fund research into the effects of tobacco - the partnership seems obvious at first, but inevitable questions arise.

June 24, 2007 at 9:50 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Who is an anarchist at GMU? Well, besides Caplan there are Boettke, Leeson, Stringham, Coyne, Boudreaux, Roberts and possibly Buchanan (some people claim he's an anarchist and others say he's not, it appears his position has not been constant). There could also be some in their College of Law, though I haven't checked much there.

Your analogy of state-funded economics to Phillip Morris-funded tobacco research was funny, but I don't know how apt. Phillip Morris would fund such research in order to publicize it. I don't think the Polygon is even really aware of what some goofballs at GMU are writing. Chicago is the one that really gets attention.

I linked to this earlier, but in it Rothbard mentions an anarcho-austrian friend of his accepting a position at the Federal Reserve. So maybe such a possibility is not to be "written off". I think the oddest example I've come across so far is an anarcho-libertarian working in the Department of Interior. His writings, of course, were not endorsed by his employer. Libertarians generally seem less prone to environmentalism than conservatives, so I can't think of many places in government one would be less likely to go. Economics, in comparison, is the most likely area to find libertarians (anecdotally, a lot of programmers also tend toward libertarianism, but while Caplan and Klein give data on economists, social science professors and the general public I don't know of any for programmers). The Polygon willing to tolerate the oddness of that department because of the general orientation of academia that renders it insignificant.

June 25, 2007 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Does Caplan call himself an anarchist? I would be a little surprised, but I suspect you've read more Caplan than me. "Anarchist" is a bit the sexy and meaningless label, anyway.

However, I suppose I am making the common error of conflating the "George Mason School" with the views of its most visible members. (I also do not think of Buchanan in this group - I think of him as a public-choice man, sort of from a different generation. But, again, I suspect your perceptions are more accurate than mine on this one.)

Not that I haven't read a bit of Klein, Leeson, etc. But they are not as dramatic and compelling writers as Cowen, Caplan, etc. And what strikes me as really odd is that I don't even know their views on fractional reserve. Which is, to follow the analogy, like not knowing if a tobacco researcher thinks smoking causes cancer.

Presumably if you believe mismatched maturities are just peachy and you consider yourself an Austrian, or even an anarchist (which Mises was not), you should be charging the barricades, a la Selgin and White. If you agree with Mises and Rothbard, you are very much in the position of the tobacco researcher. So to downplay this issue strikes me as strange, and a little worrying.

Randall Kroszner, a Fed governor, is I believe a free-banker of the Selgin and White school. This is not a conflict of interest, but I don't think Kroszner calls himself an Austrian.

Rothbard's point is one thing, but there is another question: if you believe the Fed is a criminal organization, why would it hire you? Or even anyone who praises you? Academic politics is a murky and brutal game, and a small finger on the scales can steer it quite effectively, especially over time.

June 25, 2007 at 11:48 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Yes, Caplan is an anarchist. He's got an anarchism FAQ online that anarcho-socialists regularly denounce and every once in a while he waves the romanticized black flag.

June 26, 2007 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

My problem is that Caplan's anarchism doesn't seem to have anything to do with his actual professional career. Waving the black flag is about right.

His book on voting, for example. How does an anarchist have any interest in democracy? It's like a sheepman publishing a book on cattle breeding.

June 26, 2007 at 10:35 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Caplan's interest in democracy is that he's agin' it. It makes as much sense for him to write about voting as it does for Marx to write about Napoleon and Bismarck. Caplan sees himself as improving public choice theory. Wittman wrote a book saying that PCT overstates government failure given voter rationality. Caplan sees all of Wittman's optimistic results reversed if voters are irrational. He wants people to adjust their expectations of government downward, and their relative expectations of the market upward. In the end he wants the government to be utterly rejected in favor of the market, or anarcho-capitalism. Nothing odd about it (for an anarcho-capitalist).

June 27, 2007 at 2:25 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

The problem is that Caplan's replacement for democracy is exactly the same as Woodrow Wilson's: more Polygon. Caplan differs only in that he is honest enough to say what he means, rather than as is the usual practice, redefining "democracy" to mean its opposite.

From his Cato essay:


Another way to deal with voter irrationality is institutional reform. Imagine, for example, if the Council of Economic Advisers, in the spirit of the Supreme Court, had the power to invalidate legislation as "uneconomical." Similarly, since the data show that well-educated voters hold more sensible policy views[13], we could emulate pre-1949 Great Britain by giving college graduates an extra vote.[14]


This is certainly controversial in some quarters, and I do welcome Caplan's willingness to throw some darts at the sacred cow. But Hans-Hermann Hoppe he ain't.

Basically, Caplan is using the language of the DC policy wonk, a world into which he seems quite well-assimilated. There is a kind of Economist magazine tone of reasonableness and inoffensiveness that creeps up on one. Caplan may think he's being subversive, but I think he's being assimilated.

I suppose it is wrong of me to react so harshly to Caplan's points, which by and large are perfectly reasonable, just absurdly mild. But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that I grew up in the DC world - my mother, father and stepfather together served the beast for a total of about 80 years. I'm unnaturally allergic to its smell, you might say.

June 28, 2007 at 12:14 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Right before I read your comment was I listening to Caplan's interview podcast with Russell Roberts. In it he discusses how difficult it is to get anyone to accept economic wisdom and how painful admitted the wrongness of cherished ideas is. He states that simply stating that I (the economist) are right and you (the layman) are wrong is a terrible strategy and economists need to learn what rhetoric people find acceptable (like saying to his students "Do you want to be like the people outside this classroom who believe X or me and the majority of economists who have studied this that say Y?"). So, yes he proposes relatively mild changes that have historical precedent or are similar to other respected institutions that have status-quo bias supporting them. I also note that in the interview he and Roberts both say that when they talk bad about democracy they must support dictatorship...or anarchy. They skirt around actually saying that democracy is better than anarchy (or dictatorship, of which Caplan discusses Mises' equivalence argument here and finds better than most public choice but not completely accurate), instead saying that a hypothetical person could support an institution while also wanting it improved, likely because they didn't want to set off warning flags in the minds of the average listener.

June 28, 2007 at 11:54 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I forgot to note that the podcast can be found here: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2007/06/caplan_on_the_m.html

June 28, 2007 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

I wish people wouldn't put .doc files on the Web...

That is actually not a bad paper by Caplan. But it's funny how little time it spends discussing the fact that both democratic and dictatorial governments spend managing public opinion. Lippmann's "phantom public" is alive and well. Of course Mises (and Olson) are right for stable dictatorships, which Stalin's was not. Stalin was like a shark - he had to keep killing to stay alive. (And Caplan also really needs to read Hoppe, or at least cite him.)

The problem with Caplan's Fabian strategy is that Fabian strategies simply don't work for libertarianism. They work for socialism because water runs downhill - the state likes to grow.

Moreover, again, Caplan forgets that the public opinion he decries is in fact a creation of the forces he opposes - or at least purports to oppose. When you conceal your own convictions in order to endorse it, whose interests, exactly, are you serving?

The whole Polygonesque idea of the academic as a responsible opinion leader is utterly distasteful to me. I'd like to think that in the future, people will just say what they think. Caplan as a professor has a captive audience - but he is just as much its captive. He should stop publishing and just blog. And if he thinks democracy is a hoax, he should just say so. What, are they going to arrest him? What purpose can this give-every-college-graduate-two-votes thing possibly serve?

June 29, 2007 at 12:26 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

I wish people wouldn't put .doc files on the Web...
Ouch. In another comment section I linked to Thomas Sowell's "Are Jews Generic" which I had put into a .doc file and on the web. Why are you upset about it?

But it's funny how little time it spends discussing the fact that both democratic and dictatorial governments spend managing public opinion. Lippmann's "phantom public" is alive and well
[...]
Moreover, again, Caplan forgets that the public opinion he decries is in fact a creation of the forces he opposes - or at least purports to oppose. When you conceal your own convictions in order to endorse it, whose interests, exactly, are you serving?

How much do they spend? How effective are they? I don't know, but Caplan gives a pretty good case that in general people are simply statist (and economists since Adam Smith and Bastiat have been correcting the same errors over and over because they are so universal). Those with more exposure to the media and education (the well-informed or "enlightened public" determined by accurate responses to objective questions) tend to be less so. I am distrustful of conspiracy theories, and while your Polygon model is fortunately an undesigned evolved strategy, the "manipulating public opinion" bit sounds a lot like the populist complaint that regular folks could manage things just fine if the politicians listened to them instead of plotting in their smoke-filled rooms. Generally, populism is wrong. The government does a crappy job of convincing kids not to do drugs (I've heard reports that D.A.R.E programs increase usage) so I don't know how good it is at manipulating opinion unless those people want to be manipulated. I haven't read Caplan's book, but I'd like to see what he says about that. On the other hand, he does take seriously studies that show East Germans are more approving of communism and central planning than capitalism compared to West Germans despite having lived through it. Maybe even a few that went over the wall felt that way. This phenomenon is discussed in the interview I linked to, but with Mexico used as an example.

And Caplan also really needs to read Hoppe, or at least cite him.
Kuehneldt-Lidden did it first, and didn't claim people who argued against him were engaged in a performative-contradiction. Seriously though, a decent number of economists have at least heard of Mises and are aware he's considered by many to be an important figure. I can't say the same is true of Hoppe, and even fringe figures associated with the Mises Institute like Roderick Long (who I'm not too fond of) consider him kind of embarassing. I suspect if Caplan cited him readers would be divided between a majority that say "Who?" and a minority that say "Wasn't he the one that said homosexuals have warped time preferences and spoke to that german crypto-nazi publication?".

The problem with Caplan's Fabian strategy is that Fabian strategies simply don't work for libertarianism. They work for socialism because water runs downhill - the state likes to grow.
I don't know to what extent Caplan even sees himself as an activist pursuing a strategy (I don't think he's a member of any libertarian organization). He seems more like a nerd who likes to have a good argument. He sees Public Choice economics as flawed for assuming voter rationality, and though he gives expert economists the benefit of the doubt in most cases he believes he has enough evidence here that there is a 10% chance his book will shift the academic conventional wisdom. I think he does agree that it is the nature of the state to grow. This is the abstract for his paper Has Leviathan Been Bound?
"This paper develops a formal theory that combines power-maximizing "Leviathan" political parties with well-defined imperfections in the political process. The model implies that both parties tend to make government larger as their likelihood of electoral victory increases. Empirical tests on state-level data confirm this prediction. Racing the Leviathan hypothesis against alternatives theories of party motivation indicates that both the Leviathan and the "contrasting ideologies" views have some degree of validity."
You can find the paper and diagrams that go with it in his academic economics page here.

The whole Polygonesque idea of the academic as a responsible opinion leader is utterly distasteful to me. I'd like to think that in the future, people will just say what they think.
Caplan might call that a rationally irrational preference over beliefs, or something like that! Think to yourself "Am I trying to think like reality, or are my gut feelings swaying me?" I would also note that Caplan does not have that high an opinion of academics but says they are self-selected for leftism, and that economics professorship acts against this. So controlling for ideology widens the gap between economists and the public. Academic experts on bogus fields won't have much to say (in the interview he notes that expert astrologists don't persuade him because of the nature of the field). I would like to hear what you have to say about the Kaiser Foundations' survey of economists and the public on the economy.

What purpose can this give-every-college-graduate-two-votes thing possibly serve?
What purpose can importing Helots and letting them vote serve? Caplan has found that people with college degrees tend to have a more accurate view of the economy. Giving them more votes would, on the margin, tend to shift policy in a more economically rational direction. Another area in which the public seems to be irrational is foreign policy with "rally round the flag" effects and increasing confidence in government after 9/11 and initial support for war that always dies over time, no matter if the war is succesful or not (they should have predicted in advance they'd come to dislike war if they were rational). I don't know if the educated are more rational there (though I would bet they are), but there could be many areas that would improve.

He should stop publishing and just blog.
Caplan attributes many of his ideas to his lunch-table discussions with his colleagues at GMU (admittedly an unrepresentative group, even for academic economists). He doesn't have to build up tiny readerships of the elite "remnant" on his blog (though the readership at econlog is a lot higher than here), because he's got the audience he wants in the form of his colleagues. If he stopped publishing he wouldn't be part of the broader economist conversation and probably wouldn't have gotten his book made (although it seems he really wants his graphic novel to published and views his book as a step toward it).

June 29, 2007 at 3:46 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Note that when I said he thinks he has a 10% chance of changing the fields' minds I'm not imagining what's going on in his head, that the answer to the last question in his interview here. There's no mention of a Fabian strategy there, although I think when Stringham was with him discussing political culture at ISI he talked about educating the public toward rationality. After googling to find it I came up with this which may not have the same as the video I had watched before as I haven't checked it.

June 29, 2007 at 3:57 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Because I have a Mac, for which there is no free Word viewer, and I don't have Word.

I wasn't intending to complain about your Sowell post, though - I commend you for typing it in. I just don't see why anyone would post an original paper as a .doc. (Note that Word files are also a major virus conduit, at least on Windows.)

On public opinion: I think you'd enjoy the Lippmann book, which is on the net (not as a .doc :-). You seem to have a focus on the late 19th and 20th centuries, which may bias your sample a bit. Public opinion throughout history has seldom varied from the opinions of those with access to the pulpit, and that access tends to be managed in ways that are far from our ken. Journalism, like its churchly forebears, is an esoteric trade, and there is far more to it than there is to DARE or any other lame government PR exercise.

In any case, aggressive and even irrational libertarianism has certainly been a feature of many societies, especially in the 18th and earlier 19th centuries. Check out Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty for a whole passel of Revolutionary examples.

I don't care who has or hasn't heard of Hoppe or Mises, and I agree that Hoppe's "argumentation ethic" is baloney. He is nowhere near in the league of Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Still, he is by far the leading modern critic of democracy, and ignoring him is rude, especially if you have some pretense of being a scientist.

(I also find this in Caplan's response to Rothbard - he says, yes, Rothbard anticipated all this work, but now we neoclassicals have abandoned our Keynesianism and done it too, so we can move on. Science does not proceed from error. If Rothbard was right when everyone else was wrong, you need to throw out Samuelson et al and work forward from Rothbard.)

I also don't care if Hoppe wears a KKK hood and beats his wife. I don't know how this idea of purging "extremists" got into the universities, but either it needs to go or they do.

Preferably the latter. What would be the result of giving college graduates two votes? Besides the remarkable juxtaposition of impracticality and picayuneness that this proposal demonstrates, and its astounding insouciance in admitting the fundamentally official nature of these institutions, I know exactly what the result would be - within no more than a generation, everyone, including your imported Helots, would be a "college graduate." Christ, they practically are already.

I mean, where did universities come from, anyway? They were designed by the remnant, for the remnant. The university in the modern sense of the word is a very new thing. It has since been taken over by shills and time-servers, of which Caplan is brighter and fresher than 99.9%. But, as Hunter Thompson put it, you can't wallow with the eagles at night and fly with the pigs in the morning.

If you like economics, or at least finance, try reading Macro Man and Cassandra, two of the bloggers in my sidebar. These guys run hedge funds, and you can't look at their blogs for a minute without concluding that they have 20 IQ points on anyone at the Fed, or probably at GMU for that matter. The only academic economics blog I find worth reading is Brad Setser's, and even then only because it is full of these hedgies and they keep his game up. He knows it, and he is very respectful of them.

I am sure Kling and Caplan have far more readers than I, but I have much better commenters - at least for the moment.

10%, I think, is much too high a number. Trying to convince academics that democracy is bad is like trying to convince a lion to be a vegetarian. Democracy is the source of the universities' power.

Maybe I am just crazy. But I find it far more realistic that the remnant will use the Internet to realize it can do without the universities. This is no more than the universities did to their predecessors, the churches, and it is at least as richly deserved.

June 29, 2007 at 11:08 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Use AbiWord. You can download it for Windows, Mac and Linux. I always hated Microsoft Word and used Works instead, but now I use AbiWord.

On public opinion: I think you'd enjoy the Lippmann book, which is on the net (not as a .doc :-).
Could you link to it?

Public opinion throughout history has seldom varied from the opinions of those with access to the pulpit, and that access tends to be managed in ways that are far from our ken.
Mises' democracy-dictatorship equivalence theory would seem to endorse this, but with causality going the Caplan rather than Lippman way.

Journalism, like its churchly forebears, is an esoteric trade, and there is far more to it than there is to DARE or any other lame government PR exercise.
I doubt journalism matters as much as journalists like to think it does. Public school teacher unions refuse to have any sort of measurement of their output (standardized tests) and so will instead insist that their work is esoteric and immeasurable. That sort of thing should send bullshit-flags flying. I'd like to see some empirical studies on the effect of journalism of public opinion. I know you distrust the empirical studies of academia and think tanks, but to me they are more convincing than the sort of falsification-free writing of Marx, Freud, Galbraith and even you (even if praxeology is the only correct way, you haven't done any on this blog).

In any case, aggressive and even irrational libertarianism has certainly been a feature of many societies, especially in the 18th and earlier 19th centuries. Check out Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty for a whole passel of Revolutionary examples.
I distrust Rothbard's history. I explain a bit why on a comments thread about his take on the American War of Independence. At the beginning of my first post I note how outright wrong his take on the mafia and movies about them are, which I explain in another comments thread here.

I also don't care if Hoppe wears a KKK hood and beats his wife.
Caplan is not writing for you. He is writing for people who have almost certainly never read any of Hoppe's work.

What would be the result of giving college graduates two votes?
Theoretically, policy would more reflect the opinion of the college educated. Or, we could just look at the history of England, which as Caplan notes did grant the college educated more votes.

I know exactly what the result would be - within no more than a generation, everyone, including your imported Helots, would be a "college graduate." Christ, they practically are already.
That's actually a good point. Of course, I doubt a polity that endorses super-enfranchising the college educated would also be so enthusiastic for getting everyone into college. Perhaps the college educated would vote to restrict access, as the AMA and bar association do.

I mean, where did universities come from, anyway? They were designed by the remnant, for the remnant.
They were designed by the elite clergy and nobles for the elite clergy and nobles, hardly Isaiah's or Nock's Remnant.

If you like economics, or at least finance, try reading Macro Man and Cassandra, two of the bloggers in my sidebar. These guys run hedge funds, and you can't look at their blogs for a minute without concluding that they have 20 IQ points on anyone at the Fed, or probably at GMU for that matter. The only academic economics blog I find worth reading is Brad Setser's, and even then only because it is full of these hedgies and they keep his game up. He knows it, and he is very respectful of them.
Maybe I will check them out. I hope they are better than Nassim Taleb.

10%, I think, is much too high a number. Trying to convince academics that democracy is bad is like trying to convince a lion to be a vegetarian.
Public choice theorists were rather critical of democracy, though in its implementation rather than simply by virtue of being democratic. As Caplan points out, his view is close to Lenin's, and there are probably more leninists in universities than out. I would also bet you that universities are more supportive of the Supreme Court's power of judicial review, which Caplan analogizes his practical suggestion to. Finally, his book has gotten a lot of praise from other academic economists. I don't think he expects academia to become ancap or libertarian, but he does hope that public choice theorists seeking to explain democratic failure will drop the assumption of voter rationality (I don't know if Caplan thinks democratic-failure deniers like Wittman or negative-inspiration market-doubters like Rodrik will be convinced).

Maybe I am just crazy. But I find it far more realistic that the remnant will use the Internet to realize it can do without the universities.
What is it this "remnant" is going to do? Plus, the internet has some of the worst excuses for humanity in full display, as shown by somethingawful and populationpaste.

June 30, 2007 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Lippmann. (Note that they've misspelled his name.)

I actually had AbiWord installed before AppleCare nuked my HD. It's okay, but there is no non-MS Word reader that really works. I use antiword these days.

I distrust Rothbard's history.

I distrust Rothbard's history as well - it is useful mainly to show how different a take of the same events can be constructed. I still need to read a good Tory account, if you have any such recommendation. I don't think Rothbard lies, however, I just think he has a strategic emphasis.

praxeology
Actually, my explanation of friction/violence is quite praxeological, but much more is coming down the pike.

They were designed by the elite clergy and nobles for the elite clergy and nobles, hardly Isaiah's or Nock's Remnant.
I should have clarified what I meant - not the medieval university, but the modern research university, which is basically a 19th-century German development.

10%
If you (and Caplan) mean 10% of public choice economists may be convinced of voter irrationality, I do think that's reasonable. It is very different from my own goal, which is to convince 0.01% of intelligent people that the system of government they trust and love is fundamentally and irreparably criminal.

What is it this "remnant" is going to do? Plus, the internet has some of the worst excuses for humanity in full display, as shown by somethingawful and populationpaste.

I have ideas on this as well - please stay tuned. Basically, the problem is to fix Wikipedia, or make something similar that can deliver accurate answers to controversial and poorly-defined questions. A real oracle. A real oracle is a dangerous thing.

I'd like to see some empirical studies on the effect of journalism of public opinion.

Maybe like "The Spanish-American War: It Happened."

The problem, as I'm sure you know, with looking at everything through an empirical lens, is that you're looking under the lamppost for your keys. Moreover, you are often looking with a microscope, and your microscope is often one provided by the same party that stole the keys and placed the lamppost where it is.

If these caveats are observed, "empirical" (numerical is a much better word) history can be useful - for example, I feel Albion's Seed is much the richer for its wealth of statistics. But as a way of seeing the forest it has little, I think, to recommend it, and this is the task you are asking it to perform here. (It is also the task Caplan is asking it to perform - compare Caplan's critique of democracy with Carlyle's!)

Of course, I doubt a polity that endorses super-enfranchising the college educated would also be so enthusiastic for getting everyone into college. Perhaps the college educated would vote to restrict access, as the AMA and bar association do.
Yeah, that's definitely a recipe for social harmony! The logic behind universal suffrage is not rational at all - it is a balance of power situation. If you can do anything to alter this balance of power, which is unlikely, you might as well focus your effort on getting rid of the whole crazy system.

On reflection, I think this is what I dislike most about Caplan's style - this sort of pseudo-dangerousness, which is really calculated, like so much else in academia, to appeal to undergraduates. I would like to think my ideas appeal to undergraduates as well, but at least they are actually dangerous. 70% of Americans could agree with Caplan, at least on this one point, and it would change nothing at all.

Maybe I will check them out. I hope they are better than Nassim Taleb.
I think it depends whether or not you're actually interested in actual asset markets.

Taleb is a very good writer but he does not seem to have any actual information to convey. Unless it's in his latest book, which I haven't bought.

June 30, 2007 at 5:02 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I actually had AbiWord installed before AppleCare nuked my HD. It's okay, but there is no non-MS Word reader that really works. I use antiword these days.
If someone insists you send them a document you have created in .doc format, do you just tell them "tough noogies"? If you can do so, congratulations. I personally have only used Mac and Linux when required to and found them both frustrating (perhaps my formative years on Dos and Windows machines irrevocably warped me), but I imagine it is even tougher for non-Windows users given the market-share it possesses.

Lippmann.
Thanks for the link. I'll get right on that after I finish the online book for Oppenheimer's "The State".

I don't think Rothbard lies, however, I just think he has a strategic emphasis.
I think Rothbard did not really care that much about the truth. It is entirely secondary to his ideology. Anything that does not fit into his narrative must be spun or ignored. To use an apt phrase and idea of Eliezer Yudkowsky (I'd love to see a dialogue between the two of you) he views arguments as soldiers on his side or the enemy's and must support those on his side.

I should have clarified what I meant - not the medieval university, but the modern research university, which is basically a 19th-century German development.
Wasn't that also created by societal elites? If the remnant had such power, I don't think it could still be considered a remnant.

If you (and Caplan) mean 10% of public choice economists may be convinced of voter irrationality, I do think that's reasonable.
That interview question seems to indicate something like it (actually, a ten percent chance of a significant shift rather than ten percent of some group of economists), but I am sure Caplan would be delirious with joy if he accomplished something substantive policy-wise. I don't know if he has any expectations of accomplishing that, though I believe he does hold out hope in the possibility that some person or group of people at some point in time could accomplish something like it.

It is very different from my own goal, which is to convince 0.01% of intelligent people
Define intelligent. If it's something like an IQ of 105 or higher, that's a tough task.

that the system of government they trust and love is fundamentally and irreparably criminal.
You're not going to convince me of that. Although I don't trust and love the government, I don't consider it criminal because I'm a legal positivist. The best you can get for someone of my ilk is "does things you strenuously disapprove of", which is already the case for me.

I have ideas on this as well - please stay tuned. Basically, the problem is to fix Wikipedia, or make something similar that can deliver accurate answers to controversial and poorly-defined questions. A real oracle. A real oracle is a dangerous thing.
Wikipedia has as much trust as it does from such a wide variety of people because it does not seem to support any point of view over any other (although some idiots have already started Conservapedia, which has mostly gotten attention from laughing lefties) but I look forward to your explanation of what is wrong with it. The poorly-defined aspect seems tougher than the controversial part though. Betting markets can handle the latter, but not the former (unless forcing people to define things better counts). By the way, what do you think of Robin Hanson's idea of Futarchy?

Maybe like "The Spanish-American War: It Happened."
Both my high school and Hollywood (is the latter part of the Polygon?) taught me that Hearst was responsible for the Spanish American war, and nowadays it will be claimed Fox News is responsible for Iraq. I say it is more plausible that hawkish citizens are responsible for the success of Hearst and Fox, as well as for the hawkishness of politicians. There is behavioral research supporting the idea of hawkish bias, and good evolutionary reasons to support this idea.

The problem, as I'm sure you know, with looking at everything through an empirical lens, is that you're looking under the lamppost for your keys. Moreover, you are often looking with a microscope, and your microscope is often one provided by the same party that stole the keys and placed the lamppost where it is.
Looking under the lamp-post still seems like a better strategy to me.

If these caveats are observed, "empirical" (numerical is a much better word)
I believe Claude Shannon defined information as "a difference that can make a difference". This is usually expressed symbolically with something like numbers, so I guess in a sense it can be called "numerical", though it also tends to involve a number of qualitative factors that have been assigned numbers.

history can be useful - for example, I feel Albion's Seed is much the richer for its wealth of statistics. But as a way of seeing the forest it has little, I think, to recommend it, and this is the task you are asking it to perform here. (It is also the task Caplan is asking it to perform - compare Caplan's critique of democracy with Carlyle's!)
I find Caplan more convincing than Carlyle, both because of his style and his ideas. Carlyle is at best entertaining. Perhaps if I were not such a reductionist I would feel differently, but if my mind and attitudes were different to a certain degree I would not be reading your blog and would be shocked by your ideas (and if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle).

Yeah, that's definitely a recipe for social harmony!
Such inequality coincided with as much or more harmony as now for a while. It would be tough bringing it back though.

The logic behind universal suffrage is not rational at all -
That would support Caplan's thesis.

it is a balance of power situation.
But that would be rational! I really do not believe the leftists who always say we have to appease the masses or they won't stand for it. The masses don't revolt by themselves. It is elites who cause these things. Perhaps some scheming faction of the elites schemed to expand suffrage for their own ends, perhaps Caplan's un-self-interested and irrational political actors simply bumbled their way into it. A combination sounds sensible to me.

If you can do anything to alter this balance of power
A formalist should not be using poorly defined phrases like "balance of power". That kind of bull allows institutionalists to come up with unfalsifiable ideas like "countervailing power" and "bargaining power" (distinct from supply and demand in some way).

which is unlikely, you might as well focus your effort on getting rid of the whole crazy system.
How are you going to get rid of the system without power? Always think about gains on the margin. That's why seasteading uses small, marginal vessels rather than going on about some huge transformation of the earth into replica nations at sea. The popularity of unelected bodies like the Supreme Court, Federal Reserve and military relative to the President or (worse) Congress as well as the expansion of the permanent bureaucracy indicates that people can support anti-democratic shifts in power (unfortunately, it is frequently to some sort of strong-man exemplifying the Rousseau-esque "will of the people"). Achieving small gains of that sort are also much more likely than scrapping the entire system, and even if you never succeed in your ultimate goal, at least with marginal gains you've made things a bit less crappy than otherwise.

. 70% of Americans could agree with Caplan, at least on this one point, and it would change nothing at all.
Considering the extent of "democratic fundamentalism" and self-serving/overconfidence bias, I think it would be a giant change in opinion and I am sure it would result in drastic changes in government.

July 1, 2007 at 12:09 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I'll get right on that after I finish the online book for Oppenheimer's "The State".

I suspect you'll be disappointed by this - I was. Nock got most of the good stuff out of it.

I think Rothbard did not really care that much about the truth. It is entirely secondary to his ideology. Anything that does not fit into his narrative must be spun or ignored.

One can do a lot worse than spinning or ignoring, but yes. However, Rothbard's ideology was so well thought-out in general that this is often a minor flaw.

Both my high school and Hollywood (is the latter part of the Polygon?) taught me that Hearst was responsible for the Spanish American war, and nowadays it will be claimed Fox News is responsible for Iraq.

These realities have no reason to align. Analogy is not a deductive tool.

I'd say it's a slight overstatement to blame (or praise, depending on your views) Hearst personally for the Spanish-American War, but only slight. More interestingly, the role of newspapers in the Civil War is greatly understated. These days I basically think of that conflict as a battle between the Northern and Southern press. This may or may not be accurate, but it's certainly not a view you'll get from Hollywood or high school!

Where do you think public opinion comes from, anyway? You must observe the amazing shifts in what is felt to be obvious and right and true over the last 200 years. Do you really see this as a process of individuals assimilating new information, Bayesian style?

I'll have to think about Hollywood and the Polygon. I suppose I avoid the issue just because of the Jew factor. Hollywood certainly has always had very sensitive antenna for what would please the State, although the fact that smart people tend to be leftist and Hollywood is not run by dumb people has a lot to do with it, too.

How are you going to get rid of the system without power? Always think about gains on the margin.

Why do you think we don't have a Soviet Union anymore? Do you think Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were thinking about gains on the margin?

Power is information is public opinion. You get rid of the system by making it fashionable, among the most fashionable people, to believe the system needs to be gotten rid of. It is certainly possible to build a system of government that can withstand, in a purely military sense, the disapproval of its own elites, but such is not the case with ours.

Today's elites already believe they are rebels. The problem is that the forms of rebellion they are offered are fake - if anything, they make the Polygon stronger, because they constitute actual rebellion against its enemies. Jouvenel, who you should definitely read, identified this pattern 60 years ago and it's as true as ever.

This includes libertarianism or even "anarchism" as Caplan styles it, especially the DC variant which focuses on improving the system. The problem with improving the system is that while you are patching it up at point X, it is deteriorating at points A-W and Y-Z. So you are in fact contributing to the cancer.

Break this pattern, on the other hand - introduce genuine anticlericalism, Voltaire style, into the world - and you have the bastards on the run. We still have the Catholic Church to kick around, and even the Jesuits, but they are no longer a problem. Once this would have surprised many. Surely at some point the universities will meet the same fate. Why not sooner, rather than later?

I really do not believe the leftists who always say we have to appease the masses or they won't stand for it. The masses don't revolt by themselves. It is elites who cause these things. Perhaps some scheming faction of the elites schemed to expand suffrage for their own ends, perhaps Caplan's un-self-interested and irrational political actors simply bumbled their way into it. A combination sounds sensible to me.

You are exactly right about this. Dead on, I would say, on all points. Dangerfield's The Strange Death of Liberal England illustrates both cases, as does Carlyle. The process is adaptive, not conscious, and I apologize if I suggested otherwise.

Looking under the lamp-post still seems like a better strategy to me.

You mean for the proverbial drunk? Perhaps. The analogy only goes so far. But in reality, there are many, many ways to think - as Mises showed - which don't pretend to be science.

The most common trick of scientism is to shift the null hypothesis. You believe that genes influence IQ? Prove it. No such standard of proof is ever demanded of those who believe genes don't influence IQ, or that education does, both of which are at the very least extraordinary propositions which demand extraordinary evidence. Yet no numbers will make this argument.

It's not that reason works because reason is scientific. It's that science works because science is reasonable. Forget this and you are already deep in the weeds of scientism.

Considering the extent of "democratic fundamentalism" and self-serving/overconfidence bias, I think it would be a giant change in opinion and I am sure it would result in drastic changes in government.

You mean it would require a giant change in opinion. Well, sure. But as the Turks say, then all you need is three horseshoes and a horse. If it requires a giant change in opinion, why not focus on the giant change in opinion, not Caplan's horseshoe?

Define intelligent. If it's something like an IQ of 105 or higher, that's a tough task.

Oh no, I mean 140 or higher. Maybe 130.

An army of marching morons certainly won't do the job. This is the conservative error in a nutshell - they believe in democracy. They are chasing a trailing indicator.

The system will be defeated when most intelligent people realize that the New York Times is a government gazette and Harvard is a government seminary, and when they form alternate institutions that fulfill the same role in a way that is genuinely independent. The alternative music and independent film scenes are excellent analogies.

By the way, what do you think of Robin Hanson's idea of Futarchy?

I think it exposes the problem of social science in a nutshell. There is no way to control the experiment, and all the numbers are fudge. Did GDP go up because (a) your policy is good for business, (b) something else that also happened is good for business, or (c) someone tweaked the "GDP deflator"?

Wasn't that [the modern university] also created by societal elites? If the remnant had such power, I don't think it could still be considered a remnant.

Elites, believe it or not, were once quite eccentric. This is kind of the whole point of aristocracy, as opposed to the essentially clerical system we have now.

I just read John Burgess' unfortunately unfinished Reminiscences of an American Scholar - he was influential in turning Columbia College into Columbia U. "Remnant" might be overstating things, a bit, but the gap between Burgess and Nock is miniscule by modern standards.

You're not going to convince me of that. Although I don't trust and love the government, I don't consider it criminal because I'm a legal positivist. The best you can get for someone of my ilk is "does things you strenuously disapprove of", which is already the case for me.

I agree, in a sense - "criminal" is not really a well-defined word in this context. The main thing that I think people don't realize, though, is the extent to which this system depends on the propagation of falsehoods.

July 1, 2007 at 7:23 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Where do you think public opinion comes from, anyway? You must observe the amazing shifts in what is felt to be obvious and right and true over the last 200 years. Do you really see this as a process of individuals assimilating new information, Bayesian style?
I attribute these shifts to the same causes that Joseph Schumpeter and Brink Lindsey do. I think the printing press was very important in the rise of nationalism, since it made a unified language more realized and important. I also think technology has allowed the government to expand because it has made new tasks simply more feasible for it to attempt. However, I do not think newspaper editors, writers and journalists have had that big of an impact. As Philip Converse pointed out, they always think their work in idea-manipulation helps shift the public closer to their ideology, but the public doesn't really have an ideology, doesn't undergo real shifts in ideology corresponding to shifts in political power that are rather the result of them souring on or taking a liking to certain people (whom they may also have very sketchy knowledge about). I think the status quo plays a great role in public opinion, as do family and other social settings one finds onesself in. I think schools, since people are basically required to attend and tested on their paying attention, play a role but not nearly the one educators think they do. Much of it may also be genetic, as heritability studies on twins separated at adoption show. Newspapers I would place rather low on the list. People select the newspapers they will want to read and will selectively ignore information that contradicts their beliefs while seeking out that which confirms their beliefs. Most people will be reading the newspaper for stories on Paris Hilton rather than Dick Cheney anyways. There was a time when grumblers about "liberal media bias" had a point, as due to the restricted sources of information television news was mostly dominated by liberals. This didn't cause people to be liberals though, it just resulted in them complaining a lot and tuning out. Fox News arrived to serve that niche and did it quite successfully. Nowadays I think most media sources generally peddle what their target market wants to hear, especially with the explosion in such sources with the internet.

Why do you think we don't have a Soviet Union anymore? Do you think Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were thinking about gains on the margin?
I don't think Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov really had much of an impact. I think, as Caplan does, that the realization on the part of the elites that the system was simply doing a lousy job when it came to delivering the goods relative to the West caused the end to come about. I also don't see their transition as one I want to emulate. All observers seem to agree it went quite badly, and afterward there was a backlash against many of the classical/neo liberal ideas behind it, with much nostalgia for the old days of even Stalin, which has allowed Putin to grab so much power while retaining popularity. The only cases I can think of when drastic changes and collapses in government really turned out well is when an outside power caused it (as with the British empire) or an outside power that had caused such changes exited (as with the part of eastern europe that had been seized by Russia with the end of the Soviet Union). The China model of Deng seems much more attractive to me than the Soviet one of Yeltsin.

Power is information is public opinion. You get rid of the system by making it fashionable, among the most fashionable people, to believe the system needs to be gotten rid of.
I would not make such equations because I am a stickler about such things. I believe that marginal shifts in opinion among those that matter (while large jumps in ideology on an individual basis are relatively common among those that have an ideology, in the aggregate that is not the case) will result in marginal shifts in policy. I do not believe that large shifts in opinion are caused by intellectuals.

The problem with improving the system is that while you are patching it up at point X, it is deteriorating at points A-W and Y-Z. So you are in fact contributing to the cancer.
By keeping the patient alive longer? I do not see killing the system as positively as you do. Under great times of uncertainty and change people flock to idiocy and the worst rise to the top. I do not see the Promised Land coming, even in an explicitly non-utopian form and do not wish to put any eggs into its basket. To me working on the assumption of the arrival such changes as you imagine occurring within my lifetime seems as silly as giving up worldly desires because of the afterlife.

Break this pattern, on the other hand - introduce genuine anticlericalism, Voltaire style, into the world - and you have the bastards on the run.
Don't you hold in such high-esteem the writers who think the French Revolution led to catastrophe? I suspect I might actually be closer to Voltaire in putting more hope in (relatively) enlightened despots than the overturn of the system.

Surely at some point the universities will meet the same fate. Why not sooner, rather than later?
"The universities" do not make a good comparison with the Catholic Church. I find your earlier linkage to the protestant sects more apt. I expect to see online education making inroads on university turf, but not the fate of the Catholic Church. As might be expected considering my view of the importance of newspapers, I also do not consider them to be as important as you do, although I certainly put them well above newspapers. The students at universities are much more likely than the general population to be receptive toward the ideas transmitted there (just as the readers of the Weekly Standard are more receptive to the ideas there) but they still ignore a whole lot of what they don't feel like hearing. As Caplan points out, university graduates and university faculty have very large gulfs in opinion, and to assume that the products of "universities [with the plural treated as if it were singular]" are all like the latter puts you at odds with the data.

But in reality, there are many, many ways to think - as Mises showed - which don't pretend to be science.
Mises and the crowd at his institute always seem to insist that praxeology really is "science" and has as much right to the title as physics. Marx also thought his socialism was "scientific". I tend to concur with Popper on the "What qualifies as science" question and would prefer if the social sciences were called "social analysis" or something like that.

The most common trick of scientism is to shift the null hypothesis. You believe that genes influence IQ? Prove it.
That could be done with randomized experiments and "knocking out" genes, but for now we have to settle for twin-adoption studies. I think that in the fields that study such things there is more agreement on IQ, it is people out of their element like Gould and his fans that screw up. Considering how many people don't believe in evolution while it dominates the opinion of the experts on the subject, that is not too surprising.

No such standard of proof is ever demanded of those who believe genes don't influence IQ, or that education does, both of which are at the very least extraordinary propositions which demand extraordinary evidence. Yet no numbers will make this argument.
That's what Bayesianism is for.

You mean it would require a giant change in opinion.
That depends on what we mean by "it". The main focus of Caplan's book is convincing people that voters are irrational. His policy prescriptions are more of an afterthought. I think the former IS a giant change in opinion, I am not so sure the latter requires it, as I mentioned in my previous post. People like "democracy" in the abstract, but not necessarily in the concrete, which they call "politics". The legislative body is the one I most identify with "democracy" (though it is trumped by referendums), and the people seem to have been just fine with its decline relative to the other branches as well as various permanent bureaucracies.

The system will be defeated when most intelligent people realize that the New York Times is a government gazette and Harvard is a government seminary, and when they form alternate institutions that fulfill the same role in a way that is genuinely independent.
That sounds a bit like the strategy of the conservative movement.

The alternative music and independent film scenes are excellent analogies.
That doesn't sound all that great to me. It might be because I'm a philistine, but to me they seem much the same as the mainstream only affecting more "hipness", eventually leading it and the mainstream to fuse into one entity with different branding.

I think it exposes the problem of social science in a nutshell. There is no way to control the experiment, and all the numbers are fudge. Did GDP go up because (a) your policy is good for business, (b) something else that also happened is good for business, or (c) someone tweaked the "GDP deflator"?
If GDP is not good enough, use something better which cannot be easily "tweaked". I am satisfied with a system that screws up some of the time, as long as it has a tendency to be correct. I expect far better from "Futarchy" than from the behavior of human beings so prone to ignore at their discretion and "fudge rolls" or say "that didn't count and doesn't prove anything".

I think you might like joining in the discussion at Overcoming Bias. That strikes me as much closer to your ideal of a gathering of the brightest minds than Lawrence Auster's page (or this one). Then again, you and seem to think quite differently. I can guarantee you that they will be more accepting of criticism of their methodology or general project and willing to reasonably discuss it with you than Auster would be.

July 1, 2007 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

However, I do not think newspaper editors, writers and journalists have had that big of an impact. As Philip Converse pointed out, they always think their work in idea-manipulation helps shift the public closer to their ideology, but the public doesn't really have an ideology, doesn't undergo real shifts in ideology corresponding to shifts in political power that are rather the result of them souring on or taking a liking to certain people (whom they may also have very sketchy knowledge about).

We'll have to disagree on this - I think it is very much a result of looking too much at current events and not at history in the large. If any intellectual from the 19th century could get a look at the 21st, I guarantee you he would not conclude that the public does not have an ideology! I'll be interested to see what you think of Walter Lippmann.

Mises and the crowd at his institute always seem to insist that praxeology really is "science" and has as much right to the title as physics. Marx also thought his socialism was "scientific". I tend to concur with Popper on the "What qualifies as science" question and would prefer if the social sciences were called "social analysis" or something like that.

When Mises uses the word "science" he is simply translating the German Wissenschaft, which had a broader meaning. Perfectly fine in its own context, but I agree with you and with Popper that the term needs to be narrowed considerably.

If GDP is not good enough, use something better which cannot be easily "tweaked". I am satisfied with a system that screws up some of the time, as long as it has a tendency to be correct.

Don't you think that if there was such a thing, it would have already replaced GDP and the like? The methodological problems are fundamental - you simply can't control the experiment. As you say yourself, "social analysis" is a much better term.

I think you might like joining in the discussion at Overcoming Bias. That strikes me as much closer to your ideal of a gathering of the brightest minds than Lawrence Auster's page (or this one). Then again, you and seem to think quite differently.

I sent Hanson one of my early posts and he rejected it, quite politely. Which is fine with me. I actually think there is a lot more to learn on Auster's page - there are many things in his philosophy that you will not find at George Mason. And the reverse, of course, but since I find geeks much more accessible and easier to understand than religious traditionalists, I prefer the latter. (And social science really does drive me up the wall, as you see.)

That sounds a bit like the strategy of the conservative movement.

But the problem with the conservative movement is that they have no strategy for attracting elites. They put their hopes in democracy, they fail and they wonder why. Conservatism in anything like its present form can never, ever be cool, and this is fatal.

People like "democracy" in the abstract, but not necessarily in the concrete, which they call "politics".

Indeed, and this precious little piece of cognitive dissonance has been gaining currency for the last century. It certainly doesn't need Caplan's help!

The problem with the permanent bureaucracy is that any enterprise controlled by its own employees tends to expand without limit.

This is the real trap of democracy as it is in the real world - it actually consists of two systems, mob rule (ochlocracy) and self-selecting oligarchy. Both of these systems suck, and you can oscillate between them indefinitely. At present the Republicans are the party of ochlocracy and the Democrats of oligarchy. It's the government of Scylla and Charybdis.

That's what Bayesianism is for.

That's what an understanding of Bayesian principles is for. But this understanding can be and must be expressed rhetorically, because there is no way to objectively calculate numerical priors for the probability that genes affect IQ, etc.

As Caplan points out, university graduates and university faculty have very large gulfs in opinion, and to assume that the products of "universities [with the plural treated as if it were singular]" are all like the latter puts you at odds with the data.

Ah, but this does not prove a lack of influence at all. It is the microscope and the lamppost all over again.

You have no way of knowing what public opinion would be in a world where the universities were dominated by Nazis. Unless, of course, you read history - and there you see that the students were Nazis as well. Although on average less fervent ones.

Most university graduates are far to the right of their professors. But the professors, simply by being far to the left, serve as a weight to define the center. So the moderate ideas of one generation are the extremist ideas of its parents, and the whole system shifts gradually over time. Too gradually to see with the microscope under the lamppost.

By keeping the patient alive longer? I do not see killing the system as positively as you do. Under great times of uncertainty and change people flock to idiocy and the worst rise to the top. I do not see the Promised Land coming, even in an explicitly non-utopian form and do not wish to put any eggs into its basket.

A very reasonable perspective. Perhaps a more sympathetic way to state my view is that systems do die, often unexpectedly, and generally of internal rather than external causes (as in the case of the Soviet Union), and it is always wise to have a good plan for a total reboot on hand.

But remember, again - almost no one expected the collapse of the Soviet Union. History happens, man.

Don't you hold in such high-esteem the writers who think the French Revolution led to catastrophe? I suspect I might actually be closer to Voltaire in putting more hope in (relatively) enlightened despots than the overturn of the system.

I agree. As you say, the French Revolution was Rousseauvian, not Voltairean. I do not favor anarchy in any way, shape or form - I want a reboot, not a revolution.

I don't think Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov really had much of an impact. I think, as Caplan does, that the realization on the part of the elites that the system was simply doing a lousy job when it came to delivering the goods relative to the West caused the end to come about.

I disagree with this completely. One thing that most people don't understand is how dependent on Western public opinion the Soviet Union was. As long as a substantial fraction of the Western intellectual elite regarded it as a new world full of promise, it was very easy for the Soviet leadership to present the same picture to its own intellectual classes. But the Iron Curtain was never airtight, and when the likes of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov changed the minds of the West, the Soviet ruling class lost its self-respect. They always had good excuses for material poverty, but not for being a stagnant backwater.

I agree with you that the transition was not handled well. It is difficult to compare the Western and Soviet oligarchies - it is like comparing a lion to an alligator. The Western states are stable in a way the Soviets could only have dreamed of. They would have loved, for example, to be able to have loyal opposition parties. But they did not dare.

A good read on this is the late Soviet dissident, Bukovsky. (Not to be confused with Bukowski!)

July 2, 2007 at 11:18 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

We'll have to disagree on this - I think it is very much a result of looking too much at current events and not at history in the large.
Just as I do not separate my micro and my macro economics, I do not separate my micro and macro history/political science either.

If any intellectual from the 19th century could get a look at the 21st, I guarantee you he would not conclude that the public does not have an ideology!Intellectuals, usually ideologues themselves, always overstate the ideology of the public and its shifts. I play the Converse card again.

Don't you think that if there was such a thing, it would have already replaced GDP and the like?
Why would it? What would its function be? GDP was created by Keynesian central planners, who were those who demanded and were capable of supplying such things (it is an accident that it does not always make Keynesianism or central planning look good, even if it is biased toward doing so). Prediction markets under Futarchy would be different.

The methodological problems are fundamental - you simply can't control the experiment. As you say yourself, "social analysis" is a much better term.
I am not looking for optimal, fudge-free information, but for improvements on the margin.

I sent Hanson one of my early posts and he rejected it, quite politely.
You don't need his position to post comments. Just recently someone referring to themselves took over a thread by singling me out for conversations on egoist/consequentialist organization of society. I think you would like that fellow. The blog is not devoted to social science. As much as I deride Hanson for it (and he is not the sole force behind the blog, with other interests certainly popping up) he is also interested in philosophy and ethics and so on. I believe there have been several commenters that have touted Austrianism without receiving any criticism regarding it, though Hanson did once place Austrians in quite sordid company, while also denying that he was criticizing them.

But the problem with the conservative movement is that they have no strategy for attracting elites. They put their hopes in democracy, they fail and they wonder why. Conservatism in anything like its present form can never, ever be cool, and this is fatal.
Conservatives that try to enter into elite discourse get assimilated. Do you see that as a danger?

Indeed, and this precious little piece of cognitive dissonance has been gaining currency for the last century. It certainly doesn't need Caplan's help!
I think if Caplan's ideas of the relative worth of democracy vs markets gained currency they would be very helpful.

This is the real trap of democracy as it is in the real world - it actually consists of two systems, mob rule (ochlocracy) and self-selecting oligarchy. Both of these systems suck, and you can oscillate between them indefinitely. At present the Republicans are the party of ochlocracy and the Democrats of oligarchy. It's the government of Scylla and Charybdis.
It seems to me there is very little oscillation, with the difference between the parties mostly rhetorical.

That's what an understanding of Bayesian principles is for. But this understanding can be and must be expressed rhetorically, because there is no way to objectively calculate numerical priors for the probability that genes affect IQ, etc.

It doesn't matter what your priors are as long as you update them properly.

You have no way of knowing what public opinion would be in a world where the universities were dominated by Nazis. Unless, of course, you read history - and there you see that the students were Nazis as well. Although on average less fervent ones.
I do not believe the students were Nazis because they're teachers were, I believe the teachers were because Nazism was so popular.

Most university graduates are far to the right of their professors. But the professors, simply by being far to the left, serve as a weight to define the center. So the moderate ideas of one generation are the extremist ideas of its parents, and the whole system shifts gradually over time.
Social scientists would propose that proposition be analyzed more closely. For example, after controlling for IQ Caplan found the effect of education on beliefs significantly diminished, with IQ replacing education as the strongest factor. That is just adding another factor though, something better would be a "natural experiment", such as the ones Krueger did for education. Both extra controls and natural experiments are better (in my opinion) than speculation, including yours.

History happens, man.
I hope I am not there when it does. I think the Chinese are right to use the curse "May you live in interesting times".

I disagree with this completely. One thing that most people don't understand is how dependent on Western public opinion the Soviet Union was. As long as a substantial fraction of the Western intellectual elite regarded it as a new world full of promise, it was very easy for the Soviet leadership to present the same picture to its own intellectual classes.
I am skeptical of this. I can look at data showing the West bounding over the Eastern Bloc, and east germans fleeing to the west. I have not seen data on the shifts in opinion among western elites, or studies suggesting any causality flowing from the attitudes of intellectuals (who simply proclaim their own importance). Another factor neither of us mentioned previously but everyone else does is the replacement of the ideology-filled revolutionary generation with their more cynical successors. This is also frequently discussed today with regard to Iran.

July 3, 2007 at 1:29 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I am skeptical of this. I can look at data showing the West bounding over the Eastern Bloc, and east germans fleeing to the west. I have not seen data on the shifts in opinion among western elites, or studies suggesting any causality flowing from the attitudes of intellectuals (who simply proclaim their own importance).

You and your data, man! Read Czeslaw Milosz, Bukovsky, or Navrozov pere or fils. There is no data in any of them, but there is more under heaven and earth than data.

I am increasingly skeptical of this Bayesian cult. Talk about microscopes and lampposts. The microscope certainly shows you what's in front of it, but it shows you nothing else at all. What an efficient device for applying blinders.

Bayesian inference assumes more than just objective priors. It assumes that the data is objectively interpretable and representatively distributed.

Both extra controls and natural experiments are better (in my opinion) than speculation, including yours.

What you deride as "speculation" is what people, before this age of scientism, called "thought." The danger of scientism is that it's a way to turn off your ability to think, and especially to examine received assumptions. The microscope will not show you the elephant in the living room.

Take your views on public opinion. Like John Dewey, who wrote a whole book of outraged disagreement in response to Lippmann, you believe public opinion is essentially an exogenous force, unmanaged and unmanageable. It is not hard to see how this is the root of the cult of democracy, nor is it hard to connect it to good old Calvinist Providence.

But it is a question much too big for your microscope, and it is not under the lamppost. At the bottom of scientism lies an essentially medieval conceit that the world is the music of the spheres, that it must be understandable as geometry. The reality is much larger and stranger than that, and when you adopt the scientistic viewfinder - scientism being of course merely another name for pseudoscience - you separate yourself from it.

I do not believe the students were Nazis because their teachers were, I believe the teachers were because Nazism was so popular.

Certainly both effects existed. But National Socialism is a lot older than Hitler. Look at historians like Treitschke. It was an intellectual movement, it did not spring out of the ground in 1933.

I think you'd greatly enjoy reading Klemperer, who is quite exercised on this issue.

It seems to me there is very little oscillation, with the difference between the parties mostly rhetorical.

But how much rhetoric there is!

Conservatives that try to enter into elite discourse get assimilated. Do you see that as a danger?

The only way to avoid this is to not be a conservative.

I am not looking for optimal, fudge-free information, but for improvements on the margin.

The problem with fudge is that it's not just fudge. Fudge is like garbage - you can imagine sterile garbage, but it doesn't exist in reality.

In reality, fudge always feeds your biases back into the experiment. It becomes dominated by deception, conscious or otherwise. This is why no science is better than cargo cult science.

Why would it? What would its function be? GDP was created by Keynesian central planners, who were those who demanded and were capable of supplying such things (it is an accident that it does not always make Keynesianism or central planning look good, even if it is biased toward doing so). Prediction markets under Futarchy would be different.

Let's see. You need a numerical measurement of goodness, on the scale of a nation, and you need a way of separating the effect of one policy on this goodness from the effect of all the others, or from the effect of time passing without any policy at all.

This is more than just three horseshoes and a horse. It's four golden horseshoes and a flying horse. How can anyone take this stuff seriously?

The answer is that, over the nonsense, there's a thin overlay of math and logic. Futarchy makes about as much sense as the rule of the archangel Gabriel, but if Hanson just came out and said: "I think we should be ruled by the archangel Gabriel," no one in this day and age would be impressed. It's scientism in a nutshell.

July 4, 2007 at 2:03 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

You and your data, man!
If ever there was an insult/exasperation I would wish to be directed toward me, that is it.

Read Czeslaw Milosz, Bukovsky, or Navrozov pere or fils.
I do not find your speculation (that word again) compelling. Since these people presumably witnessed the goings-on we are discussing, I would expect them to be marginally more compelling, but not nearly so as DATA. Anyone can write a bunch of opinions of his and claim this or that is important. If there is disagreement between different speculation, how am I to decide which is more accurate other than just checking which agrees with my priors more? The answer is seeing which better matches reality through data. Perhaps the method of data collection is imperfect or biased. If so, an estimate of bias should be given. To simply proclaim data is biased and garbage and to be ignored is itself a garbage thought. All bias is signed and I may discount data by the estimated bias beforehand, which will still permit me to engage in Bayesian updating. To do otherwise is false modesty.

I am increasingly skeptical of this Bayesian cult.
I expect I am not a very good representative. My gestalt understanding is, like that of most people, frequentist rather than Bayesian. Inherent randomness is so unfathomable to me that I expect (and hope) scientists will make advances in quantum mechanics to show that it has really been completely deterministic all along. The actual Bayesians seem to have minds flexible enough to think like reality.

Talk about microscopes and lampposts. The microscope certainly shows you what's in front of it, but it shows you nothing else at all. What an efficient device for applying blinders.
Take a bunch of microscopes and point them at a lot of things. Aggregate the information gained by each in something like a meta-study. There you go. Human eyeballs likely seem tiny to some hypothetical race of super-giants. Nevertheless, we are able to examine both the very large and the very small. Avoiding data and falsification sounds like a method much more prone to blindered behavior to me.

Bayesian inference assumes more than just objective priors. It assumes that the data is objectively interpretable and representatively distributed.
I do not believe it assumes any such thing. That seems very much at odds with everything I've read of Bayesianism. Show me a Bayesian who says such things and I will reconsider.

What you deride as "speculation" is what people, before this age of scientism, called "thought."
I do not trust that "thought". Actual science has produced a lot of neat stuff. Pre-science "thought" produced loads of nonsense. Once data has been gained, theory can well be used to help interpret it and make predictions. A theory that holds itself above data is no good.

The danger of scientism is that it's a way to turn off your ability to think, and especially to examine received assumptions.
Bayesianism is all about examining assumptions. Non-bayesian, data-free thinking is far too prone to leaving assumptions unexamined.

The microscope will not show you the elephant in the living room.
Of course it will. Sitting in your arm-chair with your eyes closed will not do so (though, perhaps to carry the metaphor too far, you might hear or smell it).

Take your views on public opinion. Like John Dewey, who wrote a whole book of outraged disagreement in response to Lippmann, you believe public opinion is essentially an exogenous force, unmanaged and unmanageable.
I believe historically that public opinion has largely been so, but I will not deny the possibility that someone will come up with an effective method of manipulating public opinion when it does not wish to be manipulated. I would not invest much money in a venture depending on it though, as I do not feel the field's body of knowledge and success history is all that reassuring.

It is not hard to see how this is the root of the cult of democracy
If only public opinion was so manageable, libertarian success might be possible! Alas, we are "selling the public a bill of goods they do not want".

nor is it hard to connect it to good old Calvinist Providence.
I don't quite see the connection, but given my fondness for the Protestant and the Anglo over the Catholic, the Continental and the non-Western it is not terribly surprising I give off those vibes.

But it is a question much too big for your microscope, and it is not under the lamppost. At the bottom of scientism lies an essentially medieval conceit that the world is the music of the spheres, that it must be understandable as geometry.
Does that concept gel at all well with the Eliezer Yudkowsky post I linked to earlier? It does not seem so to me. I would also like to add that non-Euclidean, multi-dimensional and various other geometries can be pretty hard to understand.

The reality is much larger and stranger than that
To repeat myself, reality is not strange, YOU are strange.

scientism being of course merely another name for pseudoscience
Avoiding data and falsification is the hallmark of pseudoscience. The opposite is science.

you separate yourself from it.
Spurning data is separating one's self from reality.

Treitschke [...] Klemperer
Sounds anecdotal. Were there a higher proportion of anti-semites within academia than without? Did the increase in Nazism in the general public precede or proceed from the increase in Nazis in academia? Speaking of that though, what recommendations would a formalist give if he were advising the Third Reich at some time like after Operation Barbarossa?

But how much rhetoric there is!
And this coming from someone who "doesn't believe in religion"!

The problem with fudge is that it's not just fudge. Fudge is like garbage - you can imagine sterile garbage, but it doesn't exist in reality.
Paper waste is sterile garbage. Bayesianism is not a matter of logical proofs from axioms. You can anticipate error in data and avoid ruining your beliefs on faulty information.

In reality, fudge always feeds your biases back into the experiment. It becomes dominated by deception, conscious or otherwise.
That sounds more like a description of speculation or "thought" to me.

no science is better than cargo cult science.
I really do not know what you are getting at with that.

You need a numerical measurement of goodness, on the scale of a nation
Inherently impossible, in an objective sense. A formalist ignores "goodness" though, and simply gives a better implementation to the shareholders. Hanson treats citizens/voters as the shareholders in his example who give demands, and his system promises to deliver the goodies better than any other existing government. The shareholders in any other company are permitted to make demands on an idiotic basis, such as coin-flips or the advice of an astrologist, so I don't see how Futarchy is much worse.

ou need a way of separating the effect of one policy on this goodness from the effect of all the others, or from the effect of time passing without any policy at all.
"A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy. Betting markets can produce conditional estimates several ways, such as via "called-off bets," i.e., bets that are called off if a condition is not met."

Futarchy makes about as much sense as the rule of the archangel Gabriel
For that even to be implementable (leaving aside whether it is desirable) the angel Gabriel would have to exist. There is nothing of that sort necessary for Futarchy to be implemented.

It's scientism in a nutshell.
If scientism is as you describe it, it is starting not to sound too bad to me!

July 4, 2007 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I do not believe it assumes any such thing. That seems very much at odds with everything I've read of Bayesianism. Show me a Bayesian who says such things and I will reconsider.

Is Bayes a Bayesian?

If you can't objectively compute the probability of B given A, you can't use Bayes' theorem.

If your data stream is filtered by an attacker who only gives you results that push your posterior in one direction, the result will be precisely as the attacker desires.

It's really incredible that people think they've disproved GIGO. Perpetual motion cannot be far away.

>no science is better than cargo cult science.
I really do not know what you are getting at with that.

Have you read the essay? Cargo cult science assigns the prestige of science to what, in your terms, is mere "speculation." Or, worse, unconscious bias. If we are all just "speculating," we have to actually argue on a level playing field, like reasonable people, and we have to state our assumptions.

"A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy. Betting markets can produce conditional estimates several ways, such as via "called-off bets," i.e., bets that are called off if a condition is not met."

So as the market's assessment of a policy reaches the point (whatever that is, at which it would be enacted), the null hypothesis becomes nugatory, which means that the market's estimate of it becomes irrelevant (the limit of this process being the point at which the condition is actually cancelled). Therefore, the bet on the null hypothesis provides no information, and you are just comparing something to nothing.

This is a feedback problem. The market's estimate of one proposition needs to depend on its estimate of another. The result is instability.

And there are more. Suppose for example you have two policies A and B, which are incompatible - A and B alone might work, both together are a certain disaster. The result will be that if either A or B is ahead, the value of the opposite will tend to drop, without reference to which is better.

But I'm afraid this is all just speculation...

Hanson treats citizens/voters as the shareholders in his example who give demands, and his system promises to deliver the goodies better than any other existing government.

Hardly an impressive hurdle! Hanson should start by proposing that private companies adopt this system of management. Google already has an internal prediction market, which apparently works quite well. But prediction is one thing and planning quite another.

Avoiding data and falsification is the hallmark of pseudoscience. The opposite is science.

No, actually. Pseudoscience is anything that pretends to be science and isn't. You have a false dichotomy going on - there are plenty of ways to think that have nothing at all to do with the scientific method.

Bayesianism is not a matter of logical proofs from axioms. You can anticipate error in data and avoid ruining your beliefs on faulty information.

In other words, Bayesianism plus thought equals thought. Similarly, a horseshoe, plus three horseshoes and a horse, is a fully-shod horse.

Take a bunch of microscopes and point them at a lot of things.

You can't point a microscope at a forest. You can't experiment on human societies.

If we could perform controlled experiments on human societies - let's say we were superpowerful, super-long-lived, aliens - we would rightly view uncontrolled experiments as pseudoscience. But pseudoscience is pseudoscience - the comparison is unnecessary.

Pseudoscientists apply the dignity of science to their rhetorical speculations. They put untested and untestable assumptions into their impressive numerological mathemolatries, pull them out the other end, and declare them Science. It's the memetic equivalent of money-laundering. I really have trouble understanding how a person as smart as you doesn't see the problem here.

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March 2, 2009 at 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOCKIV~「朵語‧,最一件事,就。好,你西

March 6, 2009 at 9:34 PM  

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