What You Think, I Don’t Think

One of the benefits of learning I am on the autism spectrum has been the realization–the very deep realization–that practically nobody thinks like me. I don’t think most people really realize that others don’t think like them. At least, not in such a way that it affects their world view.

Most people think that other people are exactly like them. If someone acts in a way different from them, that difference is seen as a flaw or fault (the social justice warriors only invert this and declare that Western differences are flaws). Many men see women as flawed men; many women see men as flawed women. They’re both wrong.

The social sciences and the humanities are a complete mess because of this. Academics think everyone else thinks like them–like academics. Practically every stupid thing Marx thought can be traced to this fact. He looked upon the working masses with pity that they have to work at jobs they did not inherently enjoy, not realizing that only a few people thought that any work at all could or would be inherently enjoyable. The academic, the scientist, the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur all find their work inherently pleasurable to do. Them, and nobody else. 20% of the population at best. The other 80% would rather be watching TV or browsing the internet. There is no work out there they would find inherently enjoyable. They work only because they must, and if they didn’t have to, they wouldn’t do a thing.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I recently had some middle school kids tell me they thought the reading and writing I love was boring. Well, of course they did. Almost everyone on earth agrees with them. Very few love to read, and fewer still love to write. I decided to tease them by telling them I didn’t like sports because I find sports to be boring. They couldn’t even begin to imagine such a thing. They couldn’t imagine me finding sports boring any more than they could imagine finding reading and writing interesting, let alone a great joy.

So long as social scientists think everyone is really just like them, they are going to get practically everything in the social sciences wrong. There are a few who manage to have a great enough connection with non-academics, with that other 80%, to have non-stupid ideas in the social sciences, but they are very few indeed. Even those who come from working class backgrounds seem utterly oblivious–they likely spent most of their own childhoods with their nose in a book, and didn’t realize nobody else around them did or thought the things they did. And when they got into college, let alone grad school, that was the last they set eyes on any non-academic outside their own parents, who they called less and less often as the years went on.

And think about this: the people who most love learning and academics are the ones who are trying to reform education for the 80% who don’t.

The Euphemism Treadmill

In The Stuff of Thought Steven Pinker talks about the use of metaphor in politics, leading him to discussing George Lakoff’s recommendations to the Left on how to come up with metaphors to support their ideology. For example, Lakoff recommends that “taxes” be reframed “as “membership fees” that are necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which we belong” (246). Let me suggest why this won’t work by referring you to another of Pinker’s works, The Blank Slate. In it he talks about something he calls the “euphemism treadmill.” That is where “People invent new words for emotionally charged referents, but soon the euphemism becomes tainted by association, and a new word must be found, which soon acquires its own connotations, and so on” (212). He then points out that we went from “water closet” to “toilet” to bathroom” to “restroom” to “lavatory.” He then observes that “The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are primary in people’s minds. Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name, at least not for long” (213).

In other words, no matter what name we give taxes, it remains a fact that when you are taxed, that means that someone with more power than you is taking money that you earned and using it for projects that either directly or indirectly benefit them and which my or may not benefit you and which you may or may not agree with, and threatening to do you harm unless you hand over the money. When a private citizen does it, we call it being mugged. It is theft, plain and simple. Calling it a “membership fee” isn’t going to change that. It’s just putting lipstick on a pig.

Altruistic Racist Warriors vs. Selfish Tolerant Pacifists

In the Vol. 318, 26 Oct. 2007 issue of Science there is a fascinating article on pg. 636-640 titled “The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War” by Jung-Kyoo Choi and Samuel Bowles, with an accompanying review article on pg. 581-2 by Holly Arrow titled “The Sharp End of Altruism.”

Using computer simulations, Choi and Bowles show that if you create beings with the following traits: either altruistic (A) or non-altruistic (N) and either tolerant (T) or parochial, or anti-stranger (P), you end up with two stable populations, depending on the conditions. Under peacetime conditions, you get “a society of selfish but tolerant freetraders” (Arrow, 581), but under wartime conditions, you get “a warrior society in which people help one another but are hostile to outsiders” (581). The other two combinations — selfless, tolerant people and selfish racists — seem to be unstable combinations, though more stable under peacetime conditions than under times of war. The researchers observe that one doesn’t even need war to be that common for the PA combination to quickly dominate.

These conclusions make a lot of evolutionary sense. Without making the mistake of thinking of behavior as simply a choice between P and T genes, as behavior is more complex than that from both a genetic point of view and from a social point of view, by treating them as overarching behaviors that can be selected, we can see, nonetheless, that certain behaviors are more adaptive than others. Part of this has to do with territorialism. All land vertebrates are territorial to varying degrees. This allows individuals and groups to have enough food and water to continue to live. Protecting territory protects food. So we should expect species to protect their territory — which they do. Now, if a species is going to protect its territory, it must confront those who wish to intrude on or take that territory. Various rituals have evolved that allow many confrontations to end without violence. But sometimes that breaks down. And more, in chimpanzees, we see an outright preference for attacking and killing members of other groups when the balance is in favor of the attacking group. This assumption was used by the researchers, and it led to the creation of a preference for racist altruists — those that will sacrifice to protect family and tribe, but who hate and will attack those not in the tribe. Tolerant groups are less likely to attack first, meaning the racist groups are more likely to both attack first, killing the tolerant people of other groups. The end result is that the human race has evolved to be racist altruists.

Now, the fact that we evolved to be racist altruists who love war in no way excuses such behavior. But it seems that this combination is the most stable one under conditions of periodic war. The other combination is predominant under periods of peace: the TN individual. These people are tolerant of others and are willing to engage in interactions with people from different groups, yet are selfish. This is the paring most associated with Americans — and it is no doubt because America’s isolation from the rest of the world, keeping us out of constant wars, encourages the development of TN behavior. Does this mean PA is completely replaced? The authors don’t say, but let me expand on their research a little with some thoughts on my own. It seems likely that wars may have resulted in natural selection for genetic PA’s, though behavior, being complex, can still have other kinds of attributes built on it by society. So in the U.S., for example, while people may be more likely to be genetic PA’s, we have adopted the TN meme, and use it more often than we do the AP genetic tendencies we’re born with. But as the Japanese learned in WWII, it is not difficult to awaken the “sleeping dragon” of PA behavior latent in people.

It seems, though, that so long as there are wars, the PA genes-memes will continue to dominate. However, the bad news for many of the peace activists on the Left who are TA’s is that peace will not produce more of them. Rather, it appears that it will be more likely to produce more TN’s — people who are more and more likely to believe in and engage in free market economics. My guess is that Ayn Rand would be one of the few not surprised by this outcome.

1st Amendment and Churches

I encourage everyone to read the following article: Church Free Speech. It is an editorial on the way our government restricts political speech in the U.S. It turns out it was one of the many mad ideas of LBJ made law.This is perhaps not surprising, given the role of the churches in the civil rights movement. LBJ did what was politically expedient, and he said the right things in public, but the fact that many of his policies ended up having very racist outcomes, despite the War on Poverty rhetoric, should say everything about who he really was.

The First Amendment of the Constitution says that Congress shall make NO LAW either restricting the freedom of speech or setting up a state religion. This means that the government cannot tell people what they can or cannot say, particularly those in religious positions. It absolutely does not mean that religious leaders are not allowed to engage in political speech.

The tax-exempt status was a sinister way of shutting down political speech in our churches by first offering them something, and then threatening to take it away from them. Had it been in place, they would have been able to silence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before he even got started. Which, of course, is the intention of the law. The intention of the law is that it is and can be used to intimidate people to not engage in political speech. And that is outright illegal. It is time churches got together and brought this to the Supreme Court so we can get rid of this illegal law.

There’s an Open Door–What Do You Do?

A creator opens a door. He may be a creator of a new technology, a creator of a new work of art or literature, a creator of new values, a creator of new virtues, a creator of new ideas.

What do you do?

Do you ignore the open door?

Do you cower in fear that a door’s been opened?

Do you slam the door shut?

Do you murder the man who dared to open a previously unopened door?

Or do you go through the door?

And why do you do these things? If you do any but the last, what do you fear? How many would have the door shut because it’s not fair to already-open doors? How many would have the door shut because it opens into the unknown? How are either of these (left and right, respectively) different from the other in outcome?

How many who have opened doors have been denigrated, maligned, condemned, even as a few went through and, reporting back how beautiful the world is on the other side, get more to cross over, and the more who cross over, the more cross over, until the creator is celebrated as one of the great benefactors of humankind (though the more he may have profited from his success, the less great he’s perceived to be)?

Why do you envy the creators? Why do you fear them? Why do you punish them for being creators, for benefiting humankind? Without creators we would have no more–no more wealth, no more morality, no more art and literature, etc–than the chimpanzees. If you have more than a chimpanzee, it’s not because of wise governance (though truly wise governance helps), it’s not because of workers (though employees are necessary to mass produce the creator’s creations), but rather, it’s because of creators–creators who often had to create despite all your efforts against them.

And what do the creators want from you? Do they want accolades? Worship? Money? Actually, they don’t want any of those things–not really (though mutually beneficial exchange and/or a good reputation signals the general value of their creations). No, what they really want is just to be left alone, to be allowed to keep creating. To not be imposed upon, punished, denigrated, expected to do more and more and more and more and more, expected to “give back” when all they have ever done is give.

Each and every creator offers a gift to the world. And too often, the world throws their gifts to the ground and says, “How dare you!” That is why it took so long for wealth to be created. But when the cultural conditions changed, albeit all too briefly, to a celebration of creativity, there was an explosion of wealth unlike the world had ever seen.

More and more, though, we are returning to the old attitude of “How dare you!” True wealth creation is flattening out (yes, there are increasing wealth disparities, but don’t confuse wealth with riches–the “wealthy” are getting “wealthier” in no small part because governments are increasingly protecting the already-rich from competition and thus from losing their riches), the arts and sciences have mostly stagnated, philosophy is busy counting the number of (secular) angels that can dance on the head of a pin, and philanthropy seems to be positively withering as government replace private philanthropy with far less effective government programs. And all of this comes from a combination of fear of change and protection of cronies from competition–both of which ask for the same results and use the same methods.

If you want to kill the contemporary increasingly global society–and a few billion people–I strongly recommend staying the course and despising creators. Anyone who isn’t a misanthropist, though, should celebrate the world’s creators, and work to create the conditions for their continued success in order to encourage even more creative people to create more and more and thus to increase the cultural, material, and spiritual wealth of the world.

On the Origin of Law

Laws (all laws in general, including laws of the universe) emerge from the interactions of the elements of the system. With humans, it is interactions within a social system that first give rise to custom-laws, which then develop into government-laws. Government laws are written down codes that have developed in the society at large. Nobody is actually inventing new laws ex nihilo, but rather observe laws emerging, then give then a name. I think if we truly understand the origins of laws, we will be able to more fully understand their role (and what their role should be) in our lives. Should every custom-law be turned into a government-law? Which custom-laws should be? Which should not? Are there some laws that are created in order to create new custom-laws? Are bottom-up laws better (or always, or necessarily better, if they are better) than top-down laws? (My own opinion: they are. Why? Because of the nature of complex systems. Though this does not mean that we don’t need the occasional top-down corrective of bad bottom-up custom-laws.)

What does it mean for the understanding of law and justice if we take a complex systems approach to understanding the origins and consequences of law?

Discipline

Discipline and disciple (which means “pupil”) have the same roots for a reason. Without discipline, you cannot be a pupil, you cannot be a student, you cannot learn. Proper discipline, especially self-discipline, is what gives us true freedom. Liberty is not libertinage. Freedom is not chaos. Freedom is the golden mean between order and chaos — it is arrived at through discipline.

Future Human Evolution

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of, for many reasons.

While there does seem to be some evidence of the division into “gracile” and “robust” forms in primates, Oliver Curry mistakenly says that chimpanzees split into robust chimps and gracile bonobos. This is not true. The common ancestor of humans, chimps and bonobos split into the descendants of chimps and a second group that itself split into the descendants of the bonobos and the descendants of the humans. We can see this in the fact that we are more closely related to bonobos and that we share some anatomical and behavioral features with bonobos, though many of our behaviors more closely resemble chimps, while bonobos physically resemble chimps more. So the evolutionary picture is more complex than Curry suggests.

The next bizarre statement, from an evolutionary point of view, is that “human evolution will reach its peak in about the year 3000.” I don’t know what this could possibly mean. Evolution does not have “peaks” in the sense that a species is as good as it gets. Species are always adapting to their environments. Humans are a strong generalist, and we are thus highly adaptive to practically every terrestrial environment. This leads into the nonsense about genetic regression. There is no such thing as genetic regression — there is only more or less adaptive species to their environment.

This then leads me to the issue of evolution itself. When a species is as mobile as our own — especially in the modern world — natural selection as adaptation to the physical environment no longer occurs. What we have now in control is population dynamics, where a genetic change spreads rapidly and evenly throughout a population after a few generations. Now, Curry mentions sexual selection. But I see little evidence for major differences in sexual selection. All the studies that have been done my evolutionary psychologists show that people universally find the same general proportions physically attractive. Globalization is, again, even eliminating many of the cultural differences that may (as unlikely as that is, since those differences were never actually substantial) have contributed to sexual selection. The elements contributing to intelligence, as I noted in a previous post, are so numerous as to make it difficult to determine what combinations are best.

This is not to say that over the time span he mentions — 100,000 years — that human evolution won’t occur. Sure by then we will have colonized the moon and Mars, perhaps even the stars. And one would expect those isolated populations to evolve. But to keep things more down-to-earth, Curry fails to mention another type of evolution. It is a more important kind, and it is the kind that gave rise to human intelligence itself. And that is the evolution of more complexity. It is possible that certain people might evolve to have more complex minds — perhaps as much more complex than humans as humans are over chimps and bonobos. It is unlikely they would appear to be physically any different, as the difference would be in the minds of the people who emerged into the more complex forms of thinking. This kind of evolution seems more likely, and it seems more immediately likely. And if Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan are right, it may have already happened in a small group of people. That is a much more interesting kind of evolution in my book.

Fortune Favors the Bold; Markets Favor the Meek

I stole the above headline from EconLog. I’ve been thinking a lot about this headline separate from the actual contents that follow it on EconLog.

The first thing I would like to note is that it is true. This is how the meek have inherited the earth — through the free market system. The markets favor those who are easy to get along with. If you want a job, just show the potential employer that you are a “team player,” meaning, you will do anything he wants when he wants it. The more social you are this way and the more submissive, the more likely you are to get the job. Now, this can all be a facade just to get your foot in the door so you can then be bold and shoot up in the company — but it can’t be a complete facade. You still have to continue to act meek and to play all the games necessary to succeed. And there’s no getting out of the game. In every job and potential job there is a game. The most one can hope for is to be involved in the occasional rule change.

Here’s another way to word the headline: “Fortune favors the idealist; markets favor the pragmatists.” In this case I am referring to social pragmatists. One can be a social pragmatist and still ignore physical reality. Those who go along to get along, who try to fit into whatever the social milieu of the company or organization is, are social pragmatists. Those who may think there is right and wrong, and that one should always come down on the right, and those who may think there are better ways of doing things than the boss, are typically advised to keep their mouths shut — you may win, in which case you become the hero; but you may lose everything you worked for as well.

If this all sounds pessimistic, well, it is pessimistic in a sense. But it’s not necessarily bad. The vast majority of people are “the meek” and are social pragmatists — and thus the free market favors them. This is why people are generally better off in a free market system. But at the same time, I am coming to understand the objections to the market by Nietzsche on precisely this issue. Nietzsche, of course, did not favor the meek. He favored the bold — and good fortune. I can thus understand where his objection to the free market system comes from. This does not mean, of course, that I agree with Nietzsche (with whom I agree more often than not) in his opposition to free markets — but that disagreement would only occur if we are to understand Nietzsche’s objections to the free market as objections in the sense most people mean it by, and not in the way Nietzsche means it when he attacks something: as a way to strengthen it. If we understand Nietzsche’s opposition this way, we then have to ask: is this disfavoring of the bold by the markets harmful to the markets?

It certainly suggests that it is harmful to the bold, for economics tells us that if the markets do not favor something, it will soon cease being offered. And where would that place the free market system? Can it truly exist without the bold?

Of course, if fortune favors the bold, we shall perhaps never be rid of the bold, as we shall never be rid of fortune. But where’s fortune when you need it? My own boldness keeps getting in the way of my success in the market — how ironic, then, that I continue to support it. What can I say, I’m just not selfish enough to want to do away with it for my own sake, and thus harm so many millions of meek. And what does that say about myself? Am I bold or meek? Or boldly meek? Or meekly bold? Or maybe I’m just so stupid as to not know when to stop fighting for what is right. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to pay the bills.

And yet, there is no market process without the bold. More, there is no wealth without the bold. While the market best distributes inventions/creations and wealth, it’s the bold, the creators and inventors, who create all the wealth in the world. The meek maintain, and they gain from the bold through the market, but without the bold constantly inventing the future, we would all live in nothing but abject poverty at best. And there wouldn’t be many of us around to live that way.

The Economic Pie Metaphor

Too many people think of the economy as being a pie. If the economy is a pie, then the socialists are right that it is unfair that the rich have more, because they had to take it from someone else. This would mean that every economic transaction would result in one person being better off, the other person being worse off. But the pie metaphor is simply incorrect. Economies grow, and it is the element of growth that is completely ignored in the pie metaphor.

In a true economic exchange, party A has something of value (object 1) to party B. Now, if party B wants to get object 1 from party A, they have to offer something to party A that is more valuable to party A than object 1 is to them. Naturally, party B will choose something that is also of less value to him than is object 1. As a result, party A will get something of more value to him than was object 1, and party B will get object 1, which he considered to be more valuable than what he exchanged for it. This economic exchange boils down to : “If you do something good for me, I’ll do something good for you.” Both parties are better off after the exchange. Wealthy people in a free market are wealthy precisely because they engage in more of these exchanges than do other people. They dedicate more of their time to making economic exchanges.

One problem I oftentimes see when people make anti-economic arguments is an objection to certain kinds of exchange. There is the assumption that they know more than the two engaging in the economic exchange what has what value. The assumption is that things have an inherent value, making economic exchanges absurd. This would mean that you are either exchanging things of equal value, in which case nobody is better or worse off, or something of high value is exchanged for something of low value, in which case someone is better off. The assumption here, then, is that the rich are good at tricking people into exchanging something of high value for something of low value. But things do not have inherent values — we give things value. And it is arrogant of someone to decide that they know better if something is of value to you or not. Such people are elitists — those who favor free markets are in this case the true egalitarian thinkers.

The pie metaphor implies another kind of exchange: “Unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you.” This is the kind of exchange government engage in — and those who support government intervention do recognize this, only they assume that all exchanges are like the government’s form of exchange. The presumption then is that since all exchanges are of this sort, we might as well put the government in charge of them. This kind of exchange has the effect of enforcing the pie metaphor, since inevitably one is exchanging something of more value for something of less — this results in “negative growth”. If we balance out growth with negative growth, we end up with a non-growing economy, and then we do indeed have a pie that gets divided up.

Fortunately the U.S. economy is not quite in that situation. Thus, the rich get richer by making everyone else better off as well. A free market economy is not a pie–it is not a zero sum game–rather, it is a positive sum game. That’s the only way we could have created the incredible amount of wealth we see in the world out of a world where aboject poverty dominated almost all of human history.