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Monday, February 16, 2015

Fear of Intelligence

I sat on a robotics panel last week that discussed the future of robotics. The audiences' questions exposed the fact that at least some people are really scared of robotics and Artificial Intelligence.  It seems that some of this renewed fear is due to the philosopher Nick Bostrom,who recently authored Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom specializes in "existential risk" and I have a hunch that just like everything tends to look like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer, it's convenient for everything to look catastrophically dangerous when your specialty is existential risk. It certainly increases your likelihood of funding!

The basis for the fear is the advancement of machine intelligence coupled with a technology singularity. The following is a description of levels of machine intelligence:
AI Caliber 1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly. 
AI Caliber 2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and we’re yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.
AI Caliber 3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.” Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words immortality and extinction will both appear in these posts multiple times.
The Technological Singularity is described as follows:
The technological singularity is the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization in an event called the singularity.[1] Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.[2]
The concepts of varying levels of artificial intelligence and the singularity have been around for a long time, starting well before existential risk philosopher Bostrom was even born. I've had the opportunity to contemplate these concepts for decades while I've worked in technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, and I think these concepts are egregiously fundamentally flawed. They make for a good science fiction story and not much else. I was glad to find I'm not alone in this:
If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Critics such as the robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks say that people who fear a runaway AI misunderstand what computers are doing when we say they’re thinking or getting smart. From this perspective, the putative super intelligence Bostrom describes is far in the future and perhaps impossible.
While it would take volumes of highly detailed technical information for me to present a fully convincing argument, for now, I'd like to leave y'all with a couple of thoughts.

Consider the following words: computation, intelligence, experience, information/knowledge, decision, action.

  • Even infinite computation (which is kind of the basis of the singularity) doesn't inherently translate to infinite intelligence or even any real or general intelligence.
  • In a vacuum, even infinite intelligence is useless.
  • The frontiers of information/knowledge can't be very much expanded with intelligence alone - experience (hypotheses, experiment, scientific method, etc.) is required no matter how intelligent something or someone is, and experience takes time, a long, long, long time as any researcher, developer or thinker (apparently other than an existential risk philospher) knows.
  • No matter how intelligent something is, it can't make decisions to take catastrophic actions based on currently unknown knowledge until it takes the time to gain experience to push the state of knowledge. The actions required to gain that experience will be observable and easily stoppable if necessary.
On the other hand, consider a nuclear tipped cruise missile. It can perform some computation and can maneuver in its very narrowly intelligent way, has none of its own experience (it's a one shot deal after all), has some information/knowledge in terms of maps, someone else made the decision to launch, but it's action is quite devastating. 10,000 of them could destroy most of the advanced life on earth. When I was a child, we had air raid drills in school because we thought some crazy soviet might do exactly that.

The point being that we're already more than intelligent enough to destroy ourselves via nukes, pathogens, etc.  The risk from super intelligent machines pales in comparison. Consider:

  • About 1% of humans are sociopaths and that translates to about 70,000,000 people worldwide. Given standard bell curves, some of those are likely to have IQs in the neighborhood of 200. If intelligence alone is a thing to fear, then it's too late unless we're willing to kill all the smart people, and I strongly suggest we don't do that.
  • Humans, using tools (including computers), have and will continue to have access to all the tools of annihilation that a super intelligence would have and some of us are downright evil already.
Part of the runaway AI fear is based on the concept of a single Artificial Super Intelligence emerging in a winner-takes-all scenario, where it redesigns and rebuilds itself so fast that nothing else will ever be able to out think it and disable it so we'd better hope it's beneficent.

But consider the saying: "Jack-of-all-trades, master of none." My view is that narrow, focused intelligence, sort of the idiot-savants of the AI world, in their narrow area, will outperform a super general intelligence, and enable us to use them as tools to keep super general intelligences, if any are ever created, in check.

There is no commercial reason to ever create a general intelligence. For example, at my company, our vision systems will soon surpass human vision systems, and watching our Robotic Pruner prune, it looks quite purposeful and intelligent, but there's no real intelligence there. Siri's "descendants" will far surpass the Turing Test in a couple of decades (or sooner or later), and will appear extremely intelligent, but will be just a very, very good verbal analysis and response AI and will have no general intelligence of any kind. C-3PO in Star Wars appears intelligent and we will be able to create a C-3PO eventually, but the real world version will have no real, general intelligence.

The illusion that many of us seem to have fallen for is that many behaviors that we associate with our own anthropomorphic intelligence are only possible if we create an entity with intelligence that somehow operates like a human's, or is orthogonal to the way human intelligence operates, but is similarly global and all encompassing. I strongly believe that view is mistaken and that it is just an illusion. Seemingly intelligent looking behaviors will emerge from massive computation and information interacting with a non-trivial environment, but it won't be any sort of conscious or real intelligence. And because of that, it won't be dangerous.

Human intelligence requires a human body with a circulatory system pumping hormones and responding to rhythms and movements and events and sensory input. I always chuckle when someone suggests encoding someone's brain (neurons & connections) into a computer. You know what you get if you do that? The person in a coma, which doesn't seem particularly useful to me.

I think intelligence, especially within this particular topic, is wildly overrated, and there's nothing to fear.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


The use of labels is standard fare in many political discussions.  Such simplifications can be helpful but they can also obscure or confuse things when the labels miss the mark or their use changes over time.  I was recently reading an article at PJMedia and there was a link to an article with the very cute title: The Electric Tea Party Acid Test in which the author offered his own construct:

A necessary precursor to accepting any new worldview is to first jettison the previous worldview. So let’s start at the beginning: for the duration of this essay at least, pretend you’ve never heard of the left/right spectrum. Stick with me on this. As an intellectual exercise, just toss the notions of “left-wing” and “right-wing” out the window and begin your political education anew. Because it is this unnecessary (and now inaccurate) dichotomy between “left” and “right” which prevents most people from clearly conceptualizing the way that political thought is actually arrayed.

OK — is your mind clear? Now look at my newly conceptualized spectrum which schematizes political philosophies in a much more sensible and incisive way:

Later in the article Zombie continues:
People who adhere to the outdated and overly simplistic left/right divide may have trouble grokking this new way of looking at society. Newsweek, for example, recently claimed that the Tea Party has an “anarchist streak.” I find this interesting, because the Newsweek writer understood that both Tea Partiers and anarchists are on the same end of the “Government Control” axis, but couldn’t grasp that, viewed from a different orientation, Tea Partiers are at the opposite end of the “Human Nature” axis from anarchists, who want to construct an (impossible) law-free utopia based on the assumption that people can change and control themselves in the absence of any authority whatsoever.

This brings up a good point: Scroll back up to the chart and think of it in terms of “halves.” Leftists want to highlight the fact the both Tea Partiers and Nazis are in the same “half” of the chart — the bottom half, as it is currently oriented (although of course the way I rotated the chart was completely random — there is no inherent meaning in the up-down-left-right placement, and I just as easily could have designed it to be 90 degrees or 180 degrees a different way). Of course, as mentioned above, the crucial difference is that Nazis and other totalitarians want to use government to enforce their idea of the natural order of things, whereas Tea Partiers have the exact opposite urge — to have no government enforcement at all, and to let the natural order of things play itself out — naturally.

On the other hand, The Tea Partiers (and I) want you to notice that all the “bad” ideologies, including Nazism and communism, also share space on the same half of the chart, in this case the “more government control” half.

So, the chart is viewpoint-neutral; each person can express their pre-existing political bias by pointing out how this-or-that political enemy is at least in the same half as some identifiably bad ideology. It just all depends on what angle from which you choose to view the spectrum.

There are things to quibble over and different points of emphasis someone else might bring to bare, but overall a pretty interesting take on the matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 10 - Karma?

In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin created a metaphor for modern men and women:
Throughout my reporting, a certain imaginary comic book duo kept presenting themselves to me: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Plastic Woman has during the last century performed superhuman feats of flexibility. She has gone from barely working at all to working only until she got married to working while married and then working with children, even babies. If a space opens up for her to make more money than her husband, she grabs it. If she is no longer required by ladylike standards to restrain her temper, she starts a brawl at the bar. If she can get away with staying unmarried and living as she pleases deep into her thirties, she will do that too. And if the era calls for sexual adventurousness, she is game. [...]
Cardboard Man, meanwhile, hardly changes at all. A century can go by and his lifestyle and ambitions remain largely the same. There are many professions that have gone from all- male to female, and almost none that have gone the other way. For most of the century men derived their sense of manliness from their work, or their role as head of the family. A 'coalminer' or 'rigger' used to be a complete identity, connecting a man to a long lineage of men.
Clearly the female gender is far superior with its "superhuman" flexibility and success while "centuries" can go by with men mired in the same muck. But wait! In the uncountable centuries prior to the last couple, where was that vaunted flexibility and success of the female gender? It seems like women were rather stuck in the mud with the same "ambitions" century after century as well, just like men.

Ah, but I'm sure it was the oppression of the evil patriarchy that kept "Plastic Woman" from launching into her meteoric rise all these millennia. After all, it's always the patriarchy's fault. Of course, then we have to wonder why the patriarchy suddenly became incompetent at oppression in the last couple of centuries.

To play a little with a famous saying, god created man and woman, but Sam Colt made them equal. When the armaments of an age are the broadsword and longbow, which require a lot of strength to use effectively, wielding weapons of war and defense is best left to the physically stronger sex. With the development of hand guns and rifles, a woman wielding a weapon became every bit as dangerous as most men. I don't think it's a coincidence that Plastic Woman seems to have emerged with the development of modern, light, and powerful weapons. The cost of oppression was suddenly much higher and the need for male defenders swinging broadswords was suddenly much lower.

Weapons technology was one technology behind the emergence of Plastic Woman, but virtually every technology has moved all aspects of life towards matching women's nature. I realize that only an evil patriarch like myself would even dare to suggest that women and men have different natures, but I'm the evil author of this post, so deal with it.

Natural attributes of men, such as physical strength and willingness to engage in physical and even mortal danger, have been rendered nearly useless by inventing machines and refining them to tame their potentially violent and dangerous or deadly force. Though there is debate on the issue, my opinion is that one would have to be deaf to not know that women are more verbal than men (I'm using up all of my words for at least three days just to write this post), and with the increasing importance of information and complex networks in all aspects of society, verbal competency has become ever more important, playing to women's strengths. Being naturally nurturing in nursing and other jobs in the growing service sector also moves the world towards women.

Therefore, it's not that Plastic Woman necessarily has superhuman flexibility, but rather the world was dumped in her lap and she could hardly help but flourish. On the other hand, Cardboard Man has pretty much had everything taken away from the sweet spot of his abilities. From this perspective, women haven't been flexible at all and while men may not have flexed enough to keep up with the stunningly rapid change of the last two centuries, they have flexed quite a bit. Other than a few things like female prostitution, there really aren't any jobs a woman can do that a man can't, and men have made at least some inroads into most existing careers.

Ms. Rosin can continue to gloat for her gender for a while longer. But what goes around comes back around eventually, and technology, which has so far destroyed mostly only men's livelihoods while creating new opportunities for women, is relentlessly marching towards eliminating women's work as well. Within decades, computers will learn to speak, and not just the rote responses you get on the phone or from Apple's Siri. They will learn to understand what they hear and respond with knowledgeable and seemingly empathetic responses. My estimate is that this strong AI will start to be well developed within two decades.

Along the way, computers, coupled with sensors and actuators, will become better doctors, nurses and therapists than humans; better administrators; better at customer service; and better at sales. They may eventually even be better at prostitution, though robot sex may not be considered prostitution, I suppose. At that point we'll get to see if Plastic Woman is really fantastically flexible or if women also are ejected unceremoniously from the workforce and end up sitting around watching soap operas all day.

Then Ms. Rosin can write a new book with the title "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence." Oh wait! Somebody already wrote that book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 9 - War in the Workplace

One of the major battles in the War of the Sexes is in the work place. Within this realm, I don't think anything draws the ire of feminists more than the following:
On average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
It's seen as inherently unfair, certain to be a symptom of rampant discrimination and oppression by the patriarchy. After all, given that women are equal to men in every way (except, of course, where they're better), how could anything but nefarious motives possibly explain why women are paid so much less?

To those of us, such as myself, who are deemed to be part of the evil patriarchy, it looks like there are a large number of reasons for the salary discrepancy, and most of them aren't nefarious at all. Indeed, according to a US Department of Labor report, pretty much the entire wage gap can be easily explained:
There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1% and 76.4% of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4%, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8% and 7.1%. These variables include:
  • A greater percentage of women than men tend to work part-time. Part-time work tends to pay less than full-time work.
  • A greater percentage of women than men tend to leave the labor force for child birth, child care and elder care. Some of the wage gap is explained by the percentage of women who were not in the labor force during previous years, the age of women, and the number of children in the home.
  • Women, especially working mothers, tend to value “family friendly” workplace policies more than men. Some of the wage gap is explained by industry and occupation, particularly, the percentage of women who work in the industry and occupation.
Research also suggests that differences not incorporated into the model due to data limitations may account for part of the remaining gap. Specifically, CONSAD’s model and much of the literature, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics Highlights of Women’s Earnings, focus on wages rather than total compensation. Research indicates that women may value non-wage benefits more than men do, and as a result prefer to take a greater portion of their compensation in the form of health insurance and other fringe benefits.
This report doesn't even take into account minor little details like fatalities as shown by the following depiction:

Nor does it take into account things like lawsuits. Women bring far more lawsuits against employers than men and some of the awards are astounding. For example, one jury awarded $168 million for a sexual harassment lawsuit. While some of the lawsuits may well be justified (though more than half of all sexual harassment lawsuits are dismissed as No Reasonable Cause), it makes women as a whole more expensive than men for the same job.

Women, still not happy with their compensation relative to men, are turning to the class action suit:
This month, Merck  was hit with a $100 million sex discrimination suit alleging that the company engaged in systemic gender bias. The complaint could be used in a law school as a way to teach virtually every gender-based claim that could possibly be brought against an employer.
The case includes many allegations of discrimination against female and pregnant employees, and staffers who chose to take family-medical leave. The suit also claims that Merck engaged in discriminatory promotional and payroll practices. And the case also includes less tangible “Boys’ Club” allegations, which have become increasingly common in gender bias cases. 
But Merck is far from alone. In a 2011 paper, Holland & Hart’s John M. Husband and Bradford J. Williams list private employers who have settled class actions in the tens — or even hundreds — of millions of dollars, noting that it “reads like a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies.” Many, but not all, involve sex discrimination. 
Class actions are not going away. First, there are plaintiffs’ lawyers who focus on class actions. Let’s face it: That’s where the money is for many lawyers. Indeed, there are some plaintiffs’ lawyers who specifically focus on Fortune 500 companies. 
Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its strategic plan, has prioritized eliminating systemic barriers in hiring. This priority will unavoidably focus on the way employers give out promotions too. 
It is highly likely that the EEOC’s approach will involve more and more class action suits because companywide or systemic issues almost always involve a group of employees. It is probably no accident that the most recent EEOC commissioner appointee is an attorney with significant class action expertise.
This battle in the War of the Sexes is being taken to the courts. It has entered the realm of who can get what from whom and who can control whom. Pretty much like the purpose of any other war. Why do I claim that this is the purpose rather than assume the courts are needed to address some sort of inequity? Consider the following thought experiment.

Let's ignore all the analysis and say that women really are paid less than their value. If that's the case, I would think that women would start lots of companies and hire all these underpaid women because if they did, they'd have a huge advantage in labor costs relative to existing companies, and they would be wildly profitable and dominate the markets in short order. There are even government programs to help encourage this.

Women don't do that. Instead, they turn to the class action trial attorneys. Therefore, I can only conclude that this battle is more about getting something not really deserved rather than actually working towards a positive solution.

With the help of the trial lawyers, my bet is that women will have a decisive victory in the battle of the workplace as well before too long. As they drive more and more men out of work, they may find that victory to be somewhat hollow.

Monday, February 09, 2015

If It Doesn't Kill You, Is It a Bad Decision?

I stumbled upon an excerpt today that I think nearly perfectly describes the contempt many conservatives assign to the progressive experiment (liberal disease):
It should be apparent by now that these social policies [of modern liberalism] and the passions that drive them contradict all that is rational in human relating, and they are therefore irrational in themselves. But the faulty conceptions that lie behind these passions cannot be viewed as mere cognitive slippage. 
The degree of modern liberalism’s irrationality far exceeds any misunderstanding that can be attributed to faulty fact gathering or logical error. 
Indeed, under careful scrutiny, liberalism’s distortions of the normal ability to reason can only be understood as the product of psychopathology. 
So extravagant are the patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating that characterize the liberal mind that its relentless protests and demands become understandable only as disorders of the psyche. The modern liberal mind, its distorted perceptions and its destructive agenda are the product of disturbed personalities.
Personally, I don't think it's a problem of liberalism, but rather it's part of the human condition. All of us, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, communists, etc., are so divorced from reality that we can all have "extravagant" "patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating" that have little or nothing to do with reality. Almost no matter what we do, we'll all survive, at least into our reproductive years. We'll all have enough food, clothing, and shelter to keep on breathing, even the poorest among us.

A significant part of the reason for that is that neither conservatives, libertarians, progressives, communists, etc. are going to let children starve or otherwise die from destitution. None of us can stand to watch children die, especially if those children are in our own communities. That aversion is part of being human. But that means that all children, even very poor ones, even ones that come from a long line of folks whose decisions we disagree with, such as those whose actions result in single motherhood which results in poverty most of the time, will reach adulthood and will likely have children of their own, who also will be kept alive, enabling the cycle of poverty to continue.

Is anyone making an objectively bad decision? I claim no. For those that support safety nets (which is nearly everybody, really), the money is more than worth it to not have children starving. For those making decisions that will likely result in children being raised in poverty, they're propagating their DNA, which seems like an objectively good decision as well.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A False Flag Operation?

As I read the Master and Commander series, I gained an appreciation for what "false flag" means: an action carried out under an identity other than that proclaimed and sometimes surreptitiously opposite to that of the claimed identity.

Just so with A New Way to Talk About Poverty in New York.

Slate is a bastion of mostly — but to be fair, not always — unreflective progressivism (which, unfortunately, continues to make the brand-sullying error of publishing Amanda Marcotte).

The point of the piece was to photographically document living in poverty and, ostensibly, provide an opportunity for empathy and sympathy in the viewer. And not black poverty, which is such a lightning rod, but rather white poverty in upstate New York.

To progressives, poverty is an indictment of society and the system and capitalism. Oh, and Reagan.

In contrast, for non-progressives, poverty is often the consequence of self-defeating choices, which should not be subsidized because the inevitable consequence is getting more of what you pay for.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this photo essay serves as a compelling indictment of right-wing capitalism. Here is the author's précis:

Brenda Ann Kenneally takes photographs, but to call her a photographer isn’t quite accurate. She prefers the term “digital folk artist,” and when you hear how she interacts with her subjects—families living below the poverty line in Troy, New York—and tells their stories ...

Kenneally lived in Troy, a city 140 miles north of Manhattan, and surrounding cities on and off as a child and teen. She left for good at the age of 17 after a young pregnancy and abortion, problems with drugs and the legal system, and time living in group homes. After getting sober, she studied photojournalism and sociology at the University of Miami. After graduation, she moved to Brooklyn and began photographing her neighbors’ struggles with poverty and drugs.

No doubt, part of this story is about the consequences of economic change: no one wants to live without it, but, particularly for some, it can be hard to live with, too.

... today, Troy is a city with serious social issues: According to a report released by the New York State Community Action Association in 2010, 21.4 percent of residents in Troy live in poverty, and about 70 percent of poor families are headed by a single mother. “I have dedicated my life to exploring the how and why of class inequity in America. I am concerned with the internalized social messages that will live on for generations after our economic and social policies catch up with the reality of living on the bottom rung of America’s upwardly mobile society,” Kenneally said in a statement about her work. “My project explores the way that money is but a symptom of self-worth and a means by which humans separate from each other. Poverty is an emotional (rather than simply) physical state with layers of marginalization that cements those who live under them into place.”

The rote boilerplate and passive voice is the false flag; the images themselves the operation. It is surprising Slate got taken in so easily. After all, it is clear enough that Kenneally's success came only after stopping make bad choices; or, for you optimists out there, started making good ones.

In this thread are some images that didn't make the cut at Slate — scroll down.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chart of the Day: Education and Spending

Since the topic in one of the comment threads has turned to education, I thought I'd put this chart up.  I may have used it before, but I can't remember.

Yes, yes, yes, I know, careful dissection of the data behind this chart coupled with alternate assumptions and premises could lead one to conclude this chart is an exaggeration, but education spending and actual educational outcomes have been at least somewhat decoupled for a half-century.

That delta $100,000+ in spending also should give us pause. Many of the recipients would likely, in my opinion, be better off with that money invested for them rather than spent trying to educate them.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Smug

A recent Jonah Goldberg column contained the following:
I don’t know who first said, “Behind every apparent double standard lies an unconfessed single standard” (and as far as I can tell, neither does the Internet), but whoever did was onto something.

What looks like inexplicably staggering hypocrisy from the conservative perspective is actually remarkably consistent from the liberal perspective.

Well, “perspective” is probably the wrong word because it implies a conscious, deliberate, philosophical point of view. What is really at work is better understood as bias, even bigotry.

If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.

Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave. Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.

A later column titled Blaming America First  had these additional points  :
In reality, the liberal ideological comfort zone is incredibly narrow. If an issue can’t be turned into a critique of America (or: white privilege, the religious Right (variously defined), capitalism, the GOP, or some other float in the parade of horribles that is the legacy of those horrible Pale Penis People who gave us so much of Western civilization), then the conversation must be pulled in that direction. It’s simply where their minds go. Rhetorically they have to fight every fight on home turf.
 So what happens when events and facts make it impossible for liberals to change the subject to more convenient topics? They figure out how to make the villain or problem at hand “conservative.”
 All of the nonsense about microaggressions and hate speech, all of the namby-pamby self-esteem boosting, the elevation of feelings, the paranoia of offending people, the thousand flavors of political correctness including informed-consent for every romantic overture: They did it. Them. All by themselves. And they are still doing it. Conservatives aren’t behind any of it and libertarians certainly aren’t.

But the moment it becomes impossible to ignore the huge frick’n mess they created, what do they start calling it? Conservatism.

This is all part of the narrative and political branding.  Plenty of bright people are so trapped in the bubble that they can't see this at all.

Later in the same column he continues:
The Left loves wars of national liberation. The Left loves self-determination against colonialism. But when such nationalism becomes a problem, out come the smug lectures about how nationalism is right-wing.

 And that’s the point. Once something becomes too terrible to ignore, it must be labeled “right-wing” or “conservative” somehow. If you don’t believe me, find the smartest liberal you know and ask him or her to list all of the really bad things done by the Left. Odds are you’ll get silence. Or you might get “Well, I don’t believe in labels . . . ” (“Don’t get him started on that again, people!” — The Couch). But what you won’t hear is much of anything about the American eugenics movement, or the internment of the Japanese, or the Black Panthers, Weathermen, the manifest failures of the New Deal (economic and non-economic alike), etc. That’s because liberalism, by conviction if not definition, is never wrong.

Kevin Williamson in a column titled The New Royals :

Other civilizations are big on karma, arete, martial codes of honor, virtus, etc.; we Americans have “Work hard, live well, enjoy good stuff,” which might be sneered at by philosophers and warlords but is nonetheless the best and most humane organizing principle a human polity has yet discovered.

I miss the days when the important status symbol could be something so simple as a Cadillac.

Tinkering with the organic, spontaneous orders of human society is a tricky business. In the 1960s, the Western world got it into its collective head that traditional social arrangements, especially family arrangements, were an instrument of oppression that needed to be torn down. And we set about tearing them down, without giving any thought to what would replace them. We were confident that whatever came next inevitably would be better, and about 80 percent of our current domestic-policy initiatives are in one way or another aimed at dealing with the fact that what came after wasn’t better — that it was brutish and frequently cruel — without ever being so gauche as to notice that that’s the case.

Similarly, the old status symbols — the nice house, the car, the sensible two-week family vacation — might have been bound up with a brand of unthinking and insalubrious materialism, but they were also bound up with some important virtues that we are in the process of rediscovering: thrift, frugality, delayed gratification, etc. That is, in fact, why status symbols work as status symbols: It’s not just having the Cadillac or the gold watch — it’s being the sort of person who earns them.
 As in the case of the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1835 story, so sensitive that she could feel the pea under 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds, acute dissatisfaction with the tiniest, most ridiculous little details of life is how 21st-century progressives communicate to the world that they are indeed the new royalty, with sensibilities finer than those known to mere commoners.
 There is a term for this that is uncharitable but cannot be improved upon: status-whoring. The old status symbols may have been shallow; the new ones are shallow, destructive, and a great deal less fun to drive.

And they don’t even require you to work particularly hard in school.
 But there is an important distinction between political-correctness-as-status-symbol and Cadillac as a status symbol. The Cadillac, at least as presented by Neal McDonough, is a symbol of what you have earned; hashtag-activist foie-gras phobia is, like the princess’s sleepless night, an expression of who you are — or who you are pretending to be. Anybody can be dissatisfied; it requires no real expenditure of effort. All you have to do to be a member of the new aristocracy is to convince the prince (or some gender-neutral equivalent) that you belong.

Which is to say, our progressives have progressed right back to 1835.

 These examples are presented in support of what the late Andrew Breitbart described as the frequent practice of the left to exhibit an "unearned moral and intellectual superiority."  This kind of posturing is an attempt to always claim the high ground in all matters.  It's as phoney as heck and it's all pretend even if many of practitioners don't realize this.

This Afterburner video with Bill Whittle explains this Coin of the Realm.

Once matters get beyond modest complexity, there are no shortcuts to acquiring the requisite knowledge and achieving sufficient maturity and wisdom to make sound judgements about right and wrong and to then have sound ideas about what might follow.  That is what I told my youngest child, who is a junior in college.  All that has comprised this post was part of an attempt to give him an explanation of and a vocabulary to describe and deal with an attitude he senses on campus which he calls "The Smug." 

Cost of this effort: some time; look on his face afterwards: priceless!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chart of the Day

(HT: Cafe Hayek)

I'm not sure what the caption should be though. I was thinking one of the following:

More people, more wealth

Exploding towards Malthusian disaster

The rich get richer and the poor get richer

The rich get richer and the poor get relatively poorer

Yet another chart whose meaning is in the eye of the beholder

Or something else. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Great Guys Announce a Major Staff Realignment

As a result of output both shabby and sporadic, from a place people care so little about that it isn't even in the right place on most maps, the Great Guys Board of Directors announces with some relief that Hey Skipper will in the near future be spending more time with his family.

In Germany.

Where he will continue his output both shabby and sporadic.

War of the Sexes: Part 8 - In Defense of Non-Monogamy

There are several things to consider when humans choose their own monogamous partners. One of those is assortative mating:
Assortative mating is a nonrandom mating pattern in which individuals with similar genotypes and/or phenotypes mate with one another more frequently than would be expected under a random mating pattern.
Assortative mating almost certainly happens:
The old saw notwithstanding, opposites do not really attract when it comes to love and marriage. Likes attract. In one of the classic papers, originally published in 1943, two sociologists studied 1,000 engaged couples in Chicago, expecting to find at least some traits in which opposites did indeed attract. But out of fifty-one social characteristics studied, the sign of the correlation was positive for every single one. For all but six of the fifty-one traits, the correlations were statistically significant. [...] 
Of the many correlations involving husbands and wives, one of the highest is for IQ. [...]
Christine Schwartz and Robert Mare examined trends in "assortative marriage," ... from 1940 to 2003. They found that homogamy has increased at both ends of the educational scale -- college graduates grew more likely to marry college graduates and high school dropouts grew more likely to marry other high school dropouts. [...]
In 1960, just 3 percent of American couples both had a college degree. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25 percent. The change was so large that it was a major contributor to the creation of a new class all by itself. [...] 
Bit increased educational homogamy ... inevitably means increased cognitive homogamy.
I'd like to go beyond just considering cognition though. Imagine all successful people across all human endeavors. Leave out those that are successful overwhelmingly due to luck. Consider all positive traits that are more common among those successful people than the general population. Those traits no doubt have at least some intersection with cognition and the "fifty-one social characteristics" above and might include things like perseverance, impulse control, drive, learning ability, creativity, curiosity, ability to work in teams, leadership, followership, etc.

Let's call that suffectiveness. Suffectiveness is a combination of "success" and "effectiveness" or those human traits that are generally effective towards achieving success given the current state of civilization. It ignores specific characteristics that are useful in specialized endeavors. Ability to play brass instruments would be an example of a characteristic which is good but not part of suffectiveness.

If mating were completely random, the distribution of suffectiveness would likely resemble a bell curve. If suffectiveness is at least partly heritable and if assortative mating occurs to some extent (which it does), the distribution of suffectiveness would change.

Is suffectiveness heritable? To some extent, very likely. For example, IQ is likely at least partly related to one of the sub-traits of suffectiveness and IQ is very likely at least partly heritable:
The general figure for heritability of IQ is about 0.5 across multiple studies in varying populations.
I decided to do some modeling. There's no way to completely accurately model the suffectiveness of a human population, so I made some simplifying and extreme assumptions.  The model population is 100,000 for each generation, with each female having exactly two children. Each individual has 23 pairs of chromosomes, coincidentally the same number of chromosomes that humans have. On each chromosome, there are arbitrarily 12 gene complexes that add to the suffectiveness of the individual if present. The total suffectiveness of the individual's genotype is the sum of all present suffective gene complexes across all of the chromosomes.  I'm not considering dominant and recessive genes for this model. Since there are 46 chromosomes (23 pairs), and 12 gene complexes per chromosome, there can be a maximum of 552 suffective gene complexes present.

Each individual is able to exactly tell the suffectiveness of another individual just by observation, except that a small random amount of suffectiveness is added to the sum of the suffective gene complexes. The small random amount for these trials had a mean of zero and a variance of 2.76 gene complexes. This was added mostly to keep the curves smooth but the original reason was to keep the sorting from be too rigid and to provide a distinction between genotype and phenotype. I call the total suffectiveness including the random addition the phenotype suffectiveness.

The first model is an assortative monogamous mating model. Each generation is sorted by phenotype suffectivness. One of each of the 23 alleles is taken whole (no chromosomal crossover) from each paired male and female when generating the chromosomes for the offspring. The following graphs show the phenotype suffectiveness for generations 1 (the original), 2, 3, 9, 33, 129, and 257.

Assortative Mating - Original Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 2 Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 3 Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 9 Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 33 Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 129 Distribution

Assortative Mating - Generation 259 Distribution
The variance of suffectiveness increases each generation, though it changes little after about the 100th generation as this seems to be the point where the distribution of chromosomes can't be improved upon without chromosomal crossover.

In the model above, no chromosomal crossover was allowed. In other words, alleles were never allowed to be formed by mixing any of the gene complexes. In real life, some crossover does take place. In the second model, I allowed an extreme version of chromosomal crossover, where any of the suffective gene complexes were randomly allowed to crossover intact.
The results did not differ noticeably for about 30 generations, where the changes in distribution from selection of entire chromosomes was such a large factor that crossover had relatively little effect. After the 30th generation or so, the differences relative to the first model became more apparent. The following graphs show the suffectiveness for generations 33, 129, and 257, 513, and 1025.

Assortative Mating with Crossover - Generation 33 Distribution

Assortative Mating with Crossover - Generation 129 Distribution

Assortative Mating with Crossover - Generation 257 Distribution

Assortative Mating with Crossover - Generation 513 Distribution

Assortative Mating with Crossover - Generation 1025 Distribution
Chromosomal crossover enables further concentration of the suffective gene complexes (and lack thereof) leading to an even wider variance and more extreme distribution of suffectiveness. Perhaps in enough generations, these two extremes will resemble H.G. Wells' Morlocks and Eloi?

The two models above were monogamous mating models. Even without the genetic drift shown by the models, assortative monogamy still leads to inequality. Even with wealth redistribution, there will still be a radical inequality of suffectiveness per household. At one end, Ph.D.'s marry Ph.D.'s, at the other end, unemployed sewer workers marry part-time barmaids. Not that there's anything wrong with sewer workers and barmaids, but the point is that the two households will have nothing in common and will hardly even be able to talk to each other. It will likely only get worse over time even with no genetic component. I believe that this sort of inequality will be both an inherent feature of monogamy going forward and that this inequality is far more destabilizing than mere wealth inequality.

Many societies in the past and present are not monogamous and as I've pointed out in other posts, monogamy is becoming less popular now in the United States (and the rest of the world) as well. Monogamy has many good points and was, in my opinion, very likely necessary for civilization to have made it this far. But here we are, and it's not clear to me that it makes sense going forward because it will inherently lead to a particularly destabilizing sort of inequality.

Lets' go back to models. This next model models female hypergamy, which, for the purposes of this post is defined as the natural desire for females to mate with someone of higher status, perhaps or hopefully much higher status. It's debatable to what extent that desire is present in human females, but that's the assumption for the next model.

This model is just like the first model except that only the top fifth of suffective males are used to generate the next generation of offspring. In the first model, each male and female had two children. In this model, each female still has two children. However, each of the top 20% most suffective males has ten children, two with each of five females.

In the graphs from the previous two models, the axes were identical. For this model, the Y-axis expands as the distribution narrows. The following graphs show the suffectiveness for generations 1, 2, 3, 9, 33, and 129 from the female hypergamy model.

Hypergamy - Generation 1 (Original)  Distribution

Hypergamy - Generation 2 Distribution
Note that by the 2nd generation (1st iteration), there is already a significant shift of suffectiveness in the positive direction.

Hypergamy - Generation 3 Distribution

Hypergamy - Generation 9 Distribution

Hypergamy - Generation 33 Distribution

Hypergamy - Generation 129 Distribution
The genetic distribution of suffectiveness moves rapidly in the positive direction every generation until it maxes out what the genome can support without mutations (after about the hundredth generation, there's not much change). Note that these results are without chromosomal crossover. With crossover, the results are pretty much the same, they just happen faster and are even more extreme.

As I mentioned before presenting these models, there are many simplifying and extreme assumptions incorporated into the models. The point is not that the above is a reflection of reality, or to the extent it is a reflection, it's a very, very distorted one. The point of modeling is to get an idea of how potential factors might affect the trajectory of society.

Each person interprets the ideas and information available differently. My interpretation is that monogamy will probably lead to a more unequal society over time and that the particular type of inequality (inequality of suffectiveness and status) will be destabilizing and may more than cancel out the advantages of monogamy, and that women seeking out much higher status males to get them pregnant may not be such a bad thing if we can survive a few generations of that, especially if the other 80% of men are happy to go their own way each generation and play video games and watch porn.

Friday, January 09, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 7 - Civilization

One of the problems of anthropology and other sciences that look back in time is that there are a lot of "just-so" stories. Especially in anthropology, there are such huge holes in the data that lots of narratives can be created to fit the evidence. As a result, many of those narratives are little more than educated or sometimes wild-ass guesses. On the bright side, while not at all an expert in anthropology, I do consider myself an expert in wild-ass guessing, so I fit well in that field. I cheerfully admit that the rest of this post is nothing more than guessing by me and various experts in the field.

The first humans and proto-humans were monogamous hunter-gatherers. The just-so story goes that since they were often hunting animals much larger and faster than they were, they needed the whole tribe to rally, especially the males, in order to bring the mammoth (literally) beasts down. They also needed to defend the tribe against predators. To keep all of the males maximally engaged in a tight and large tribe, the males and females paired off in monogamous relationships, and they lived happily ever after. In the 20th century, 10 different remote hunter-gathering tribes were discovered, and they were indeed mostly monogamous.

Then herding and agricultural were invented and it all went to hell for a number of reasons. The male teamwork required for hunting was no longer needed for survival. Women were able to do farm work and were more than self-sufficient so they didn't need men to hunt for them.  In addition, people started having possessions and wealth disparities were introduced, so that a "rich" or alpha male could afford and/or entice multiple women.  So monogamy went out the window and was replaced by polygamy in primitive herding and agricultural societies. Once again, a number of remote tribes of these varieties were discovered in the 20th century and were mostly polygamous.

Unfortunately, the polygamous cultures didn't live happily ever after. Humans, regardless of mating patterns, go to war over resources. One of the problems of polygamy is that one resource is always in short supply: women. If the men at the top have multiple women, the men at the bottom have zero women, and even the men at the top would prefer more women, always more, more, more. As a result, these tribes are often in a state of continuous warfare: they are at war every day and have been at war as long as anyone can remember. The most famous of these tribes is the Yanomamo discovered in the mid-1960s by Napolean Chagnon:
According to Chagnon, when he arrived he realised that the theories he had been taught during his training had shortcomings, because contrary to what they predicted, raiding and fighting, often over women, was endemic. ... As Chagnon described it, Yanomamö society produced fierceness, because that behavior furthered male reproductive success. According to Chagnon, the success of men in violent interaction and even killing, was directly related to how many wives and children they had. At the level of the villages, the war-like populations expanded at the expense of their neighbors. Chagnon's positing of a link between reproductive success and violence cast doubt on the sociocultural perspective that cultures are constructed from human experience. An enduring controversy over Chagnons' work has been described as a microcosm of the conflict between biological and sociocultural anthropology.
There are a number of possible problems with large groups of men with no access to women. At best, they just sulk off on their own but have no interest in supporting or defending society. At worst, they turn on society and damage or destroy it. In the right hands, they can be used as a resource to attack other tribes, to loot and plunder, or possibly to jihad against infidels. All of these have happened many times throughout history with polygamous societies.

You may have noticed that advanced, stable, prosperous societies from the far east to the far west are usually mostly monogamous (at the very tippy top of the ruling class, there're often mistresses, concubines, slaves, etc. but it's monogamy for the vast majority of the people). Somehow, we got from pathological polygamous societies back to monogamy. Anthropologists have lots of just-so stories about how that happened, but given the success of monogamist societies relative to non-monogamous ones, it seems that getting from primitive agriculture to the industrial age was not hindered and possibly aided a lot by the stability provided by monogamy.

But now we're transitioning from the industrial age to the information age and I wonder if there are some parallels to the transition from hunter-gathering to primitive agriculture. The engagement of males was required for hunting for hunter-gatherers and industrial age males were likely required for a lot of the heavy lifting required for factories and the more advanced high-production agriculture required to support all those workers in the factories. On the other hand, full engagement of males was not required for primitive agriculture and now is not required for the vast majority of jobs in the information age. The transition from hunter-gathering to primitive agriculture was accompanied by a transition from monogamy to non-monogamy. Is there any reason we should be surprised by a similar transition from monogamy to non-monogamy going forward?

It's already happening at a rapid rate. For example, 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock, with the black mother often having multiple children, each with a different alpha (to her) father. It's pretty much a perfect example of a non-monogamous mating system. Other ethnicities are behind in the polygamous revolution under way, but they are catching up.

Fortunately, with the availability of ever more immersive entertainment, most of the displaced males (Men Going Their Own Way), will hopefully just sulk off and not cause any major damage.

Too Busy to Loot, Rape & Pillage
Unfortunately, they may not be much interested in supporting the culture that's pushing them away. For example, they may work a lot less, making just enough to support themselves, which could reduce the tax base. That may be a problem: one reason that the 72.3% of blacks born out-of-wedlock is not a catastrophe is that the mothers and children are able to get support from the safety net if needed. If there's not a large enough tax base, that safety net may be difficult to maintain.

Competition and attack from other societies may also be a problem. A culture where a large number of males are disengaged is not going to be competitive with a culture that keeps the males involved. Will men rise to defend America if they've gone their own way? Will women be able to defend America if the men won't?

I suspect civilization will survive just fine in some form or other but time will tell.

Monday, January 05, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 6 - Male Entertainment

In the article "Shock study: Marriage rate declines with porn use, threatening economy, society," we learn that:
Pornography is replacing the desire among young men for marriage, according to a new study that finds males are chasing “low-cost sexual gratification” on the web over a wife and family.
There we have our answer.  Men are going their own way because of porn. Case closed!

Or maybe not. While the authors make a herculean effort to show causality, a closer look at the actual study finds the following in the conclusion regarding porn causing a decline in marriage rates:
... the causality likely runs in the direction that we assert. We stop short of saying that we have accurately identified the magnitude of the causal effect.
In other words, they're only guessing which way causality, if any, runs. So never mind. We still don't know if porn lowers marriage rates, lower marriage rates cause increased porn usage, or they're just coincidentally correlated.

Indeed, from table 4 in the study, it seems that any Internet usage (for example, viewing financial sites) by men correlates with lower marriage rates except for viewing religious sites (there's that religion thing again). I'd also be willing to bet that increased use of sports facilities, watching sports TV and TV in general, watching movies and other entertainment, playing electronic games, and probably even working crossword puzzles all correlate with reduced rates of marriage.  In other words, if men aren't married, they're going to fill their extra time with something.  And perhaps, just perhaps, if they spend their time doing stuff they find enjoyable, they won't bother getting into the dating game and marriage. What a surprise! Shocking even, eh?

So clearly, we should ban not only porn, but also sports, TV, movies, games, etc. for men. Indeed, we should ban all activities that males might possibly find enjoyable so that they can focus on women. I'm sure that'll eliminate the "shocking" threat to society of falling marriage rates. Unless, in their spare time, the very bored and frustrated males instead decide to destroy civilization, pillage and rape (increased use of porn correlates with lower rates of rape, for example).

If it is true that porn (and games, movies, etc.) reduce marriage rates, then it will probably only quickly get worse. Movies, games, and porn are rapidly co-evolving with each other and virtual reality to become ever more realistic and immersive. Female (and male) actors won't even be needed for porn or probably even movies in general in the not too distant future. Porn games will probably be created to be customizable active porn movies with perfect 10 virtual stars whose actions will be directed by the gamer. Once there are no humans involved in the entertainment, it will be really hard, if not impossible, to regulate and/or ban.

Men who go their own way will have an ever more realistic virtual reality to retreat into and perhaps they will indeed by happier there.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 5 - Young Female Fantasy Fiction

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who got into a spot of trouble. She was rescued by a prince and they got married and lived happily ever after. The End.

Oh. You've heard the story before? Yeah, never mind the lack of detail, I might be a few dozen millennia late for that to be an original story.  Indeed, that story and a few variations (knight in shining armor instead of prince, for example) have been told over and over again, I think probably since shortly after language evolved enough complexity to tell it.

I have a number of alternate plots.  She could've been saved by the big-hearted pauper and then gone on to starve on the streets.  She could've been saved by the kindly serf farmer and then died from infection after giving birth to her second child.  She could've been saved by a courageous merchant who then fell afoul of the king and was beheaded forcing her into a life of prostitution to stay alive.  All of these would be much more realistic (and in my opinion better) stories, but no, the big favorite is that she's saved by, and then marries, wealth and power, and then lives happily ever after. Yeah, right, like that ever actually happened. Nonetheless, that's the favorite fantasy of the ages.

True love's first kiss usually makes a showing as well. How can anyone feel true love at their first meeting? Well, the prince is such a better catch than anyone else in the kingdom that I'm sure the young woman did indeed feel true love.  For the prince, it was probably true lust.  Close enough for government work.

In the modern age of feminism, you would think stories like that would be banned or at least rewritten.  They are, to some extent.  For example, Disney's Tangled is a rewritten version of Rapunzel to have the savior be a reforming thief, rather than a prince.  However, books are one area where feminism has had minimal impact.

One of the genres I like to read for fun is Science Fiction/Fantasy leaning towards Fantasy.  Think Harry Potter. Or maybe King Arthur and Merlin.  The Fantasy end of the genre is overwhelmingly populated with the story I told above.  Except it wasn't necessarily "once upon a time" (it's often set in modern times) and instead of a prince, it's a superhuman alpha-male.  Or two.  Or more. All fighting over the girl.

Unlike the young women in stories of old, the young women in these stories have few, if any redeeming qualities.  They're usually whiny, bitchy, weak, incompetent, untalented, and the plot generally is built around her continually doing really foolish and stupid things that puts her in mortal danger requiring repeated rescues by the alpha-male(s) at great cost to them.  She sometimes has agonizing difficulty deciding whether or not to be in a "relationship" with the alpha-male hero, and if there's more than one interested in her, it's a heroic struggle on her part deciding which, if either, to commit to.

The alpha-males are not only the strongest superheros ever imagined, they're also intensely loving (they'd give their lives for her), tender, emotionally intimate, incredibly devoted, impossibly patient (they'll wait for her forever if they have to and if she chooses the other alpha, that's okay - they'll still be there for her), and of course handsome, talented, etc.  Even though she has no or few redeeming qualities, they love her because, well, um, just because.  Maybe just because she exists.

One of the most popular fantasy romance is the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and closely follows the above description.  But it is neither the first nor the last of its kind.  In the sub-sub-genre of paranormal romance, Amazon lists 95,338 titles, most from "indie" authors, and from what I can tell, most of those were written since 2010. From what I can unfortunately tell, over 80% of those follow the above description pretty closely.  I use the term "unfortunate" because so many of the books have descriptions that sound pretty good, so I read (at least part of) them, before becoming frustrated with reading about yet another completely lame young woman.  At this point, if it's a female author and a female protagonist anywhere in the realm of Science Fiction/Fantasy, I won't read the book. Ever.

95,338. That's just paranormal romance and doesn't include other teenage girl romance titles. Hundreds of these books are released every day and hundreds of thousands or even millions (on the days surrounding a popular release) of young women finish reading one of these books every day. Why would any self-respecting female author write something with such a weak and incompetent young woman?  Because it sells, that's why.

This post is an interlude in this series, just a tidbit.  It may be a puzzle piece in the War of the Sexes, it may not be.  If it is a puzzle piece, I don't really know how it fits.  Perhaps it's a primary persistent fantasy of a substantial percentage of teenage girls since the beginning of time/language, which might indicate that the feminist narrative will always find some competition in the female psyche of a substantial part of the population (after all, it's always members of the patriarchy that comes to the rescue). Perhaps teenage girls going their own way (from men) have nothing else to do and are retreating into this fantasy reading.  Perhaps teenage girls are influenced by these books and end up with unreasonable expectations about men fueling the War of the Sexes.

Or perhaps it's just entertainment, though at best, certainly not entertainment of which feminists would approve.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Common Genius: episode ##,###,###

A recent column by Bret Stephens about yet another example of American resilience contained the following:
Imagine an economic historian in the year 2050 talking to her students about the most consequential innovations of the early 21st century—the Model Ts and Wright flyers and Penicillins of our time. What would make her list?

Surely fracking—shorthand for the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that is making the U.S. the world’s leading oil and gas producer—would be noted.

 Fracking would make a good case study. The revolution happened in the U.S. not because of any great advantage in geology—China, Argentina and Algeria each has larger recoverable shale gas reserves. It didn’t happen because America’s big energy companies are uniquely skilled or smart or deep-pocketed: Take a look at ExxonMobil ’s 2004 Annual Report and you’ll barely find a mention of “fracturing” or “horizontal” drilling.

Nor, finally, did it happen because enlightened mandarins in the federal bureaucracy and national labs were peering around the corners of the future. For the most part, they were obsessing about the possibilities of cellulosic ethanol and other technological nonstarters.

Instead, fracking happened in the U.S. because Americans, almost uniquely in the world, have property rights to the minerals under their yards. And because the federal government wasn’t really paying attention. And because federalism allows states to do their own thing. And because against-the-grain entrepreneurs like George Mitchell and Harold Hamm couldn’t be made to bow to the consensus of experts. And because our deep capital markets were willing to bet against those experts.

Here, then, is the larger lesson our future historian will draw for her students: Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. Autocracies can always cultivate their chess champions, piano prodigies and nuclear engineers; they can always mobilize their top 1% to accomplish some task. The autocrats’ quandary is what to do with the remaining 99%. They have no real answer, other than to administer, dictate and repress.

A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn’t have this problem. Flexibility, not hardness, is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design. Failure is tolerable to the extent that adaptation is possible.

This is the American secret, which we often forget because we can’t imagine it any other way. It’s why we are slightly shocked to find ourselves coming out ahead—even, or especially, when our presidents are feckless and our policies foolish.

We are larger than our leaders. We are better than our politics. We are wiser than our culture. We are smarter than our ideas.

This is yet another example of the Common Genius described by Bill Greene and referenced in an earlier post.  Having read the book back then and recently reread parts, I would say that on balance the author did a fine job making his point.  Reiterating that point with some limited excerpts:
A major theme of these pages is that all historical progress has bubbled up from the bottom—from the actions of common men and women. A secondary theme is that most of history's evils have flowed from the top—from the intelligentsia, organized groups, and soft-science experts who arise in mature societies and are the pied pipers of their decline. In the final chapters, we will examine how the decline of free societies has often resulted from the transfer of authority and leadership from those who built the society to a destructive intelligentsia who arrive after the heavy lifting is done. The arrival of the intellectuals also marks the time when knowledge and decision-making appears to enter a steep decline. The notion that intellectuals are wise and should be listened to is a persistent, recurring, and insidious error that has doomed most past civilizations.

I do not mean to demean all people of intellect—most of them are great assets to their communities. However, there is reason to beware those with little practical experience in any field, who parade their "expertise" before the public, and operate primarily as critics rather than participants.

Throughout history, such leaders have made life as difficult as possible for the bulk of humanity. The expression of man's genius had to be fought for, and opportunities for its release have been restricted to a few brief moments and places in time. Such moments were the "accidents" of history, but there was nothing accidental about what subsequently happened. The achievements were never pre-ordained but arose from a long-term struggle by ordinary people to advance, one step at a time, over thousands of years. But wherever individual men and women got even a little such opportunity, freedom and prosperity followed. They built it piece by piece, not by trying to apply utopian theories, but by solving one problem at a time and moving ever forward.
Now, this is a revolutionary idea and perhaps in a perverse way, will delight most of the average Joes out there who are pestered by those "beautiful people" who want to tell them what to do and how to do it.

Dinocrat concluded a recent post with the following observation:
The US soi-disant intelligentsia and the US average Joes are probably more likely split against each other on some critical issues (95-5 one way, 62-38 the other) — are you de Blasio or a cop, for example. Perhaps the danger Diamond senses but (can)not articulate is in the self-styled intellectual elites losing big for a long time if the average Joes found a guy with a clear mind and strong voice. Pity Walter Williams is probably a little too old to run.

This hints at a future pregnant with the possibility of unleashing much more common genius.  You know - if we had a revolt of the masses against the elites, middle class American style!

(A "revolt against" being a part of this previous post)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two Newspapers in One!

h/t to Best of the Web. TNiO is a regular feature there highlighting newspapers and magazines that take completely opposed positions on issues. I'm sure BOTW would have been all over this, but the feature is on hiatus until the new year.

New York Times editorial, January 9, 2011:

Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Ms. Giffords, killing a federal judge and five other people, and wounding 13 others, appears to be mentally ill. His paranoid Internet ravings about government mind control place him well beyond usual ideological categories.

But he is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery. With easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the parking lot, those already teetering on the edge of sanity can turn a threat into a nightmare.


It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.

New York Times editorial, December 22, 2014:

Two families in Brooklyn — and the larger family of New Yorkers and the New York Police Department — are mourning the deaths of two officers who were shot in ambush by a criminal on Saturday. His deranged act has inflamed rifts between the police and Mayor Bill de Blasio and between the police and the public, and it posed a grave test of Mr. de Blasio’s leadership.

The protests for police reform should not be stifled — they should be allowed to continue, and be listened to. The protesters and their defenders, including Mayor de Blasio, need offer no apologies for denouncing misguided and brutal police tactics and deploring the evident injustice of the deaths of unarmed black men like Eric Garner. As Mr. de Blasio noted on Monday, a vast majority of demonstrators are “people who are trying to work for a more just society,” a mission that has nothing to do with hating or killing cops. Those who urge violence are on the fringe, Mr. de Blasio said, rightly denouncing them and urging New Yorkers to report them.

So, NYT Editorial Board, which is it: rank hypocrisy or drooling stupidity?

Hmmm. I may have posed a false dichotomy.