Category Archives: Politics

Liberal vs Conservative Psychologists? Definitions Matter

gladiator-2

This is a funny little battle between the leftist psychologist and a guy defending the right from his own profession.  It’s a lesson in how not to make a good argument on both sides.  I’ll focus on the first post.

The first blogger goes about defining Liberalism in what he thinks is a meaningful way to describe the modern left – he is wrong:

Liberalism: The genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others.

He uses this to explain why Liberals (that is, leftists) apparently tend to score higher (on average) on IQ tests than people on the right.  His reasoning is that the liberalism he defines above is evolutionarily novel.  In tribal societies and hunter-gatherer situations we had evolutionary pressure to be altruistic towards those in our own group – but to those outside it. So, to be altruistic to those people who are not related to us (are not in “our” group) is something beyond our evolutionary base-line of familiarity, and therefore hard for people who aren’t as intelligent to deal with and understand. 

Liberals are smarter, so they care more.  Conservatives are dumber, so they don’t understand that helping others that you don’t know is a good thing.  That is much of his argument.  Wow …

Here is the biggest problem:

He uses some studies (apparently) showing that people who have more (politically) liberal views tend to have (very) slightly higher IQ’s (again, on average) than people who identify as (politically) conservative.  How much?  The liberals have an average of 104 and conservatives have 94.  (Big deal, both are well within normal range, IQ is a notoriously inaccurate judge of intelligence, and it is not correlated with morality generally.)

The problem is that he’s flipped definitions on us!

What the studies DO suggest is that (ever so slightly) higher IQ is correlated with a POLITICAL self-described liberalism.  But, the above definition he started with is NOT political, it is ethical.  There is a difference.  He’s flipping back and forth. 

The original definition is good, if we leave politics out of it.  But, it is false to say that only leftists define themselves this way.  Most Christians would also – who are generally conservative.  (Think of all of the Christian infomercials asking us to give money to African children.)

The difference is in HOW to contribute those larger proportions of private resources to those who need them.  Leftists feel as though it is the governments job to do this with taxes, and rightists believe that we should do so privately and with private organizations (even that is simplistic, but we’ll go with it for now).  Conservatives are not less morally interested in helping others than the left is.  They just don’t believe that the government is the right arbiter of the resources necessary to make that happen. 

By the first definition, we’re all liberals.  But, politically that is certainly not the case. 

This tendency to be cavalier with definitions is at the root of most arguments people have in politics.  We presume that we are all using the same ones when in fact we rarely are.  We presume that if someone else disagrees with our point of view, they must be either stupid (because they aren’t getting our line of reasoning) or immoral. 

Everyone is suspicious of everyone else.  Motives are questioned.  What is never questioned is simply whether we’re even on the same page to begin with.  Definitions matter. 

Mosque Madness Continues

Ground Zero Mosque

Aziz Poonawalla makes a compelling argument in favor of the building of the Mosque in NYC:

[I]t really does boil down to an issue not just of religious freedom but also a means of putting into practice the very American values which Al Qaeda seeks to deny. A mosque in NYC, near to the site of 9-11, is not a “monument to the attackers” (a pernicious claim, which puts collective responsibility for the terrorist attacks on all Muslim Americans) but actually a repudiation of the Al Qaeda ideology. What they want is to make Muslim Americans reject American identity and follow their call to jihad – explicitly, as Anwar al Awlaki has repeatedly stated, and even succeeded (ref the cases of Fort Hood and Times Square). An American mosque, built for American Muslims, is literally the antithesis of what the enemy most desires.

The bigotry unleashed by this whole affair plays perfectly into our enemies’ hands.

The above picture just freaks me out.  What scares me is the fact that humans have the capacity to be so illogical.  We love to toot our own horn as a species – we’re so smart compared to other animals, we’re so superior.  The fact is, we’re a race of idiots blessed periodically with a few people who aren’t quite as dumb who do all of the inventing, writing, thinking, and other braniac stuff. 

Here’s the guys “great logic”.  Ground zero is to Auschwitz what Muslims are to _______ ?  If you answered, “Hitler” you’re correct! Muslims are like Hitler. 

Even if we allowed the metaphor of ground zero to Auschwitz (already a bit strange), the next line hardly follows.  For one, Hitler was one dude who had absolute power over a country, an army, etc.  Islam is a religion that has NO power because it isn’t human.  Only humans have power.  Sure, there are dumb-asses who use religion to justify – post-hoc – their political violence, but that doesn’t make them members of that religion. 

I can say I’m a robot, kill a bunch of people in the name of machine-kind, but that doesn’t make me a robot.  It makes me an insane murderer.

Fucking idiots. 

Whatever, I’m sure this guy doesn’t believe in evolution either, or who knows?  Maybe he doesn’t even believe in gravity!  It’s just a theory, after all …

Here’s a happier picture:

ground zero mosque2

Would Hayek Support Obama’s Healthcare Plan?

medicine

I voted for the President, and I’ll likely do it again.  But while I’ll certainly take the new approach to healthcare over what we had, that doesn’t mean I like it. 

There’s been some talk on the left that maybe even Hayek (the classic Libertarian) would have supported the current plan.  Will Wilkinson, not surprisingly, has something to say about that:

At a cosmetic level, there’s something to this. Hayek was open to the idea of mandating the purchase of health insurance on the grounds that “many who could thus provide for themselves might otherwise become a public charge.” But I think it’s safe to say that Hayek would not have supported the recent health care legislation. Why not?

Well, Obamacare builds upon and consolidates some of the worst features of the American health care system from a Hayekian perspective, such as (a) It is more or less illegal to sell actual insurance, and (b) There is at best a grievously hobbled price mechanism in the health care market, if you can call it market.

If Hayek stood for anything, he stood for the importance of the informational function of freely moving prices for both individual planning and effective social coordination. (a) and (b) screw it up bad.

He continues with a story comparing the current system of human healthcare vs the healthcare available to his dog:

As many of you know, our dog recently broke his leg and had surgery that involved installing a plate and some pins. (He’s doing really well, thanks!) Do you know what I got when we came to pick him up? AN ITEMIZED RECEIPT?! I could see what the pins cost! The tube for the IV bag! Can you believe it? Later that week I had a doctor’s appointment at the university hospital and mentioned the itemized receipt to the resident and his supervising physician. Man, did they laugh. “How much does this appointment cost?” Hoo! Good times, good times.

Call a hospital and ask “How much for a hip replacement?” and they’ll almost certainly ask, “What insurance do you have?” This is not what Hayek had in mind in “The Use of Knowledge in Society.”

Prices, prices, prices, prices.

Without even knowing the prices of what you’re buying, how on God’s green earth can we make smart choices.  No market can thrive without an honest knowledge of the price of its goods and services. 

I can’t say this with certainty, as Hayek is dead, and he can’t defend himself.  But, I think Hayek would be for a minimum of healthcare for those who can’t afford it that covers all major necessary care (and especially preventative care).  But, only in a system of open prices, free markets (It’s still illegal to sell insurance across most state borders), and freedom of choice for the consumer.  That would lower prices for all, and increase quality of care. 

Sadly, the current plan is not that.

Why Are Intellectuals So Opposed to Capitalism?

Robert Nozick

I just found a fantastic article by the late Robert Nozick over at Cato.  It’s titled, “Why do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”  Nozick was a major proponent of free markets, and has become a go-to guy for many Libertarians like myself who never liked the Ayn Rand side of the Libertarian crowd. 

In this article he’s poking specifically at who he terms “wordsmiths”.  That is, those people who make their living through words: Novelists, professors in the Humanities, Journalists, etc.  But, I’d include most people in the sciences (with the very obvious exception of Economics).  Most scientist skew heavily toward the left by knee-jerk reaction.  I tend to agree with them in certain particulars (acceptance of global warming, heath-care and education as rights, and general environmentalism) but not categorically so. 

When it comes to their feeling about capitalism and free markets, there is a powerful distrust and distain that seems to color any ability to think about it with fresh and rational eyes.  It has often baffled me how otherwise very bright people, who themselves dislike when others use emotions to justify their beliefs rather than reason, can do exactly that when it comes to any discussion of capitalism.

Nozick has a possible answer.

Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status. However, even those intellectuals who do not mix socially are similarly resentful, while merely mixing is not enough–the sports and dancing instructors who cater to the rich and have affairs with them are not noticeably anti-capitalist.

 

That is, intellectuals have a feeling that what they do is more important than what Phil Knight (the owner of NIKE) does. But, they don’t get paid anywhere near what he does.  Isn’t the service they provide to society more important than a pair of shoes, or an inscribed basket ball?

 Nike LeBron

Nozick then goes on to explain how they may have come to these feelings in the first place.

What factor produced feelings of superior value on the part of intellectuals? I want to focus on one institution in particular: schools. As book knowledge became increasingly important, schooling–the education together in classes of young people in reading and book knowledge–spread. Schools became the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority "entitled" them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

This is backed up by the fact that so many of the worlds most successful entrepreneurs were horrible at school.  Many got straight C’s, scraped by, or simply dropped out.  They were smart, they were creative, but they didn’t have the specific skill set to do well in the environment of school. 

Think of school as an evolutionary selection tool.  It has rules, and where there are rules, there are selection pressures.  If you just happen to have the right series of skills, you will do well, and be rewarded.  But those rules are arbitrary.  Knowing a thing and demonstrating that you know a thing are two totally different things.  And further, the manner in which you ask a student to demonstrate knowledge will greatly affect whether the demonstration of that knowledge is closely tied to the actual knowledge you want them to have.

This was the argument behind many teachers resentment at being forced to deal with “No Child Left Behind”.  By creating a bunch of arbitrary standards, you are leaving those kids behind who DO know the material, but are bad at the particular method of showing that they know the material.

Intellectuals, people who work in these fields of the humanities and the sciences, tend to have been quite good in the world of school, with all of it’s grades and teacher-decided-upon rules.

[NOTE: Now in certain fields like Math and Physics it is demonstrably NOT the case nearly all of the best in the field did well in K-12 schooling.  In fact, many did the opposite and only thrived once they hit graduate school.  But, the reason these fields are so open to people who did poorly in early education is simply because the fields are so quantitative.  If you can demonstrate in any way at all that you are a genius at this stuff, then you’re in.  But, this is not the case in other fields that are more qualitative by nature. 

A simple example is that in the field of Political Science, if you aren’t a professor at a top-tier school, you have very little chance of getting your paper published in a top journal – no matter how good it is.  The selection committee likely won’t even read it.  That would be unheard of in Mathematics where “no names” make remarkable discoveries all the time.]

Nozick then makes what amounts to a “nerd” comment:

There is a further point to be added. The (future) wordsmith intellectuals are successful within the formal, official social system of the schools, wherein the relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the "anarchy and chaos" of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway.

 

So, because intellectuals did better in the classroom (a totalitarian world, ruled by the teacher) and poorly in the schoolyard (a near-anarchy where school-smarts just weren’t enough), then they learned over time to fear systems that functioned similarly to the schoolyard. 

 

Now he was just positing all of this as a hypothesis, and it would need to be tested and refined to be useful in understanding why so many people in the intellectual class (particularly writers and people in the humanities and softer sciences – including biology) are so anti-free-market.  But, it is an interesting one that sits very well with my own experiences in Academia. 

And, if true, it would help to explain why so many of the people I know in this group have such visceral gut reactions against capitalism and free-markets that supersede their rational abilities. (That isn’t to say that free-markets are categorically good.  They could be bad – I’m always open to a good debate.  But, the responses I get from so many bright people are hardly intelligent nor well researched nor well thought out.)

Coordinated Punishment Leads to Cooperation


A new study suggests that cooperation is maintained by punishment

Humans are incredibly cooperative, but why do people cooperate and how is cooperation maintained? A new research study by UCLA anthropology professor Robert Boyd and his colleagues from the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico suggests cooperation in large groups is maintained by punishment.

This study looks to be attempting a solution to the “free-rider” problem in human behavior research.  A free-rider is someone who, in a large enough society to support such things, refuses to cooperate, or play by the rules, but still benefits from the cooperation of others.  Think of someone who doesn’t pay their taxes in Canada, but still gets to use their health care system. 

The “problem” we face when dealing with the free-rider issue is not that it exists, but that it doesn’t exist MORE.  It should by any good Game Theoretic reading.  It’s in the best interest of the individual to NOT pay their taxes, and to still get the health care.  That’s a win-win. But, the reality is that the vast majority of Canadians DO pay their taxes.  Why?

But it turns out that most members of large groups cooperate. Why? Boyd and his colleagues suggest cooperation is maintained by punishment, which reduces the benefits to free riding. There are tribes, for example, that punish free-riders who do not participate in warfare by not allowing them to take a bride. Thus, there is the threat of losing societal benefits if a member does not cooperate, which leads to increased group cooperation.

The results of their model look a lot like what is seen in most human societies, where individuals meet and decide whether and how to punish group members who are not cooperating. This is coordinated punishment where group members signal their intent to punish, only punish when a threshold has been met and share the costs of punishing.

The important point being that the cost of punishment (to the society) is not higher than the cost of allowing the person to free-ride. 

Since theft and other forms of (non-violent) crime can be seen as free-riding, one has to ask, if the current system of punishment in the US has not resulted in lowered crime rates (think of marijuana related cases, for instance) then might it be because the cost of the punishments outweighs that of the crime to us as a whole?  Just a thought.

Woman are Key to Peace

It has been known in anthropology for some time that the more power young men have in  a society, the more warlike it is.  There is in fact a threshold of young male population after which wars are all but inevitable.  Having a society where older males and women as a group outnumber young men is good for peace. 

But, peace in a nation isn’t just about population percentages.  It is also about education – specifically the education of women

Girls with just one year of formal education are less likely to suffer from illness or hunger and are more likely to avoid teen pregnancy, and their children are less likely to die in infancy. Microfinance loans for women entrepreneurs build more stable communities, because they invest proceeds in their families and communities.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Women and girls are one of the world’s greatest untapped resources. Remember the proverb, ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime?’ Well, if you teach a woman to fish, she’ll feed the whole village.”

Health Care in the Hands of 10


Politico makes the argument that 10 people have all the power in the upcoming vote on healthcare reform.

  1. Pennsylvania Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper — Stupak’s soldiers
  2. Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth — looking to move up in the world
  3. West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd — guardian of Senate tradition
  4. North Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell — freshman hazing for first-termer
  5. New York Rep. Michael Arcuri — Empire State of opposition
  6. Vice president Joe Biden — Former senator still Senate president
  7. Rep. Brian Baird — Washington state wild card
  8. Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva — carrying the liberal banner
  9. Florida Rep. Allen Boyd — keeping Blue Dogs on a leash
  10. Sen. Jim Webb – the evasive holdout
  • Quote:

    No one thinks liberal Democrats will actually vote against legislation that provides coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans — and that’s their problem.

    Liberals feel like their support has been taken for granted, even as their favored provisions — such as the public option — have been stripped out of the bill.

    Is Andrew Sullivan an Anti-Semite?

    Andrew sullivan

    The short answer is no.  But, there’s a lot of vitriol going around about the comments made by Andrew Sullivan’s old editorial buddy Leon Wieseltier.  Glenn Loury and Matt Yglesias get into the Political Correctness issue of the Israeli and Palestinian issue.

    Click here for the episode.

    The Return of Karl Popper: Is Social Science Really Different Than Natural Science?

    karl-popper Social Scientist have contended for much of the last century that we cannot approach the study of human behavior with the same tools that we would use to study the natural world.  This is hogwash.  And Karl Popper, the great 20th century philosopher, would agree with me. Humans are animals, they are made up of chemicals and cells, their behavior is determined by a complex interaction of chemical processes and their lives are a network of cause and effect relations with other animals (some of which we’d call human).   If we are ever going to get a solid grasp on our own behavior, we’ll need to use the items from the large and well developed toolbox of natural science.

    Falsifiability and Objective Reality

    Karl Popper believed that a theory is scientific if and only if it is falsifiable.  Most scientists would agree with this statement, and in fact would be shocked by anyone who didn’t.  (This may be why natural scientists and social scientists don’t tend to hang out together!)  But, falsifiability presupposes a belief in an Enlightenment-style “objective” reality beyond that of our own minds.  In much of social science, especially in sociology and psychology, there is a powerful belief in a post-modern relativism that rejects an objective reality. That is to say, they don’t believe that there is a truth that is inherent to the objects of study themselves.

    Without a belief in an objective truth outside the mind of the observer, it is impossible to even discuss what it would mean to falsify a statement.  Therefore, you cannot use Poppers falsifiability axiom as a demarcation line for what is and isn’t science.  And now we allow in all sorts of unfalsifiable statements and theories simply because who is to say what is and is not objectively true?  This is not good science.  But, it defines much of what passes for science in the world of social inquiry.

    Now, it must be said, that the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. But, most relativists are basing their relativism on what I’d consider a false understanding of some basic ideas.  Among the more common things I hear when encountering someone who is a hardcore relativist, who wants to impress me (knowing that I’m a mathematician) is with the idea of quantum physics.  It usually goes something like this, “hey, man, you know that every time we observe a particle we change it’s state.  So, everything is relative.  Our presence changes what we observe.  There is a reflexivity between us and the object.  There is no way to know what’s what if every time observe something that something changes.  Reality can be and is manipulated.”

    OK, true.  But, it’s missing the point.  When we say we change a particles state, we aren’t saying the particle didn’t have a state to begin with.  It was simply a state we can’t directly observe.  That isn’t relativism in the strictest sense.  Sure if I observe it and you observe it, we’ll see different things, but that doesn’t mean the particle didn’t have an objective state before we each changed it. True relativism would be that the particle has no state until someone observes it. But, that isn’t how it is.

    Octavian-coin Think of a particle as a coin.  Suppose I spin that coin on a table.  While it is spinning is it heads or tails?  You might say neither, or more accurately, you could say both.  It’s 50% heads and 50% tails.  That’s it’s objective state.  The trouble is, suppose we can’t see a coin spinning.  Suppose we can only see coins when they are heads or tails with 100% probability – that is, when they are flat on the table.  Then if I want to observe the coin, I have to slam my hand down on top of it to stop it from spinning.   Say it lands heads up.

    When I leave, suppose it pops back up and begins spinning again.  Then you come by and slam your hand down on it.  Now it’s landed on tails.  We’ve each seen the same coin in different states.  I claim the coin is heads, you claim the coin is tails, but neither of us realizes that it is both.

    Many things in the natural world are of this form.  That doesn’t mean we can’t study them objectively, and infer what we can, correct for our own “observation” errors, etc.  Physics is going just fine with far crazier objects than humans could ever hope to be.  There is no reason we have to pretend that studying human behavior is somehow so much harder than studying particle physics.

    Popper’s 3 Worlds

    There is no doubt that the reality outside our minds is not always in line with the perceived reality we hold within our minds.  Many natural scientists, in light of this, are Cartesian dualists without even knowing it.  That is, they accept that there are two worlds: the world of material things that we study; and the world of the human mind. They accept that these don’t always jive, and that each one has an influence on the other.  But, keeping them separate, at least heuristically, is seen as useful.

    In social science there is a stronger emphasis on the effects culture on the mind.  And this is seen as a feedback loop from the mind to itself.

    Karl Popper goes one step further with his heuristic and suggests that the universe is really made up of three worlds.  The objective world of objects.  The world of the Mind.  And the world of human-created ideas as manifested in books, paintings, blogs, etc.   The third world includes culture and so brings it out of the second world, thus striping it of some of its recursive properties.

    What I like about the idea of the third world is that it allows for this world to undergo it’s own evolution (the way the other two obviously do).  And because of this we can study it (largely) independently using the tools of evolutionary research such as game theory.

    One More Time

    I contend that Social Science is a proper subset of Natural Science and is in fact a subset of Biology, most specifically Human Biology.   To say that we cannot study Social Science with the same tools we use in Natural Science because we are ourselves of the type we are studying is an act in strange logic. If we follow the strange logic further, then we shouldn’t study any animals like we study the natural world, because we are animals.  We shouldn’t study chemistry as we study the natural world because we are made up of molecules.  And we shouldn’t study physics the way we study the natural world because we are nothing more than a collection of atoms.

    There is always some sense of recursion in any attempt we make to study the natural world.  Our brain is made up of cells which use electricity to fire information back and forth.  Whenever we are trying to understand electricity, we are using electricity to understand it!

    Popper dealt with this problem in what I consider a most reasonable way, the Popeye way:  Science is what it is, and that’s all that it is.  Scientific statements can only be falsified, not verified.   And the world (including the world of human interaction) has an objective component that must be sought after as truth in its own right.  It isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done.

    The only way we’ll ever make headway into the realm of human behavior is if we are comfortable approaching the human animal the way we approach the study of all animals – with science.

    UK Government Joins the Future: Open Access Science


    The UK Government adopts a creative commons compatible copyright system for use with 2,500 central government data sets at data.gov.uk.  Here’s a quote from the site:

    Advised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt and others, government are opening up data for reuse. This site seeks to give a way into the wealth of government data and is under constant development. We want to work with you to make it better.

    We’re very aware that there are more people like you outside of government who have the skills and abilities to make wonderful things out of public data. These are our first steps in building a collaborative relationship with you.

    They’re so “hip” you can even follow them on Twitter.