Monday, June 11, 2012

Change is Hard. Especially for Humans.

Memo: posts will generally be later or shorter through June 20, when school ends.

Good news: if my psychic weather forecast is correct, Obama has officially entered the collapse phase of his presidency, from which there can be no recovery. As we blognosticated back in January 2009,

"When I say that the Obamanauts are about to enter a world of pain, I mean that they will eventually know the dark side of the wave of fantasy upon which they are riding. Only in this case, it seems unusually dark, for it is the same darkness that currently attaches to President Bush. As much as he is hated, Obama is loved, and for reasons that are equally insane because they are a precise and predictable function of each other."

The collapse "occurs when the public begins to feel that the fantasy leader is helpless to prevent catastrophe," and "is seen as weak and vulnerable, which triggers a wave of near homicidal anxiety that aims to purify the group by ritual slaying of the divine king, identical to what took place in the most primitive tribes. So today [January 20, 2009] isn't just the coronation of the new king, but the ritual blood sacrifice of the old one. But he was scourged for so long, he was virtually dead anyway -- or only 'alive' with primitive projections."

Of course, Romney's ascension will be greeted by a wave of enthusiasm, but he will eventually have to be sacrificed as well. Unless humans suddenly grow up, but I think you need pretty extraordinary evidence to suggest such an extraordinary development. The evidential burden is not on us, because we're not the ones making the outlandish claim about the human propensity for ritual sacrifice.

Which, by the way, I was just reading about this weekend -- not about human sacrifice but about the nature of evidence -- in this outstanding book called Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society. If nothing else, it is an extremely useful review of what science is and isn't, and more to the point, how it is possible (or impossible, depending on the case) for anyone to know what causes stuff to happen.

As we ascend the cosmic hierarchy, science becomes increasingly helpless to discern causation (let alone generalize it via induction), because of the complexity of the system, i.e., the multitude of causes. After all, science is ultimately about what causes things to happen and how to make predictions, but predicting what will happen if I kick a rock is much easier to predict than what will happen if I kick the dog.

As we ascend the cosmic ladder, causation becomes increasingly "dense," from physics, to chemistry, to biology, to psychology, and on to social sciences such as economics.

Imagine the virtually infinite causal density of the economy, and you have arrived at Hayek's "knowledge problem" -- which is precisely what leftists do not and will not understand. But it is the reason why central planning always fails. It generally requires someone as economically ignorant as an Obama to be so grandiose about what he thinks he knows -- similar to how a child has no idea of how much he doesn't know, relative to how complex the world actually is.

The original point I wanted to make was that, because of the relative simplicity of causation at the physical level, it is easy to make improvements to, say, cars and telephones. But the higher we ascend the cosmic scale, the more difficult it becomes to "make things better" without simultaneously making them worse.

Manzi cites a striking example, that as many as 100,000 Americans a year die as a result of reactions to medications that were properly administered. Nothing analogous happens at the level of physics. For example, imagine if 100,000 coins per year came up 100% heads every time you flipped them. This would tell you that there are some hidden conditionals of which you are unaware -- some additional causes for which your model has failed to account.

What's interesting is how complex human beings are, and yet, how certain causal factors are nevertheless so robust and persistent (AKA "human nature"). For example, there really seems to be some sort of "law" that governs the course of a fantasy leader from idealization, to collapse, to ritual sacrifice, but it obviously isn't of the same order as the laws of physics.

However, these enduring "laws of humanness" are what make it so difficult to achieve progress via mere political change. In short, people are people, no matter how much you may wish to change them.

In this regard, it is critical to distinguish between politics and culture. Culture is something that arises spontaneously and organically, in order to deal with the universal problems of human existence. It is easy to look at another culture and see how "stupid" it is, but that doesn't mean we can simply remove the stupidity and expect something better to emerge. A culture is not analogous to physics, but is again characterized by causal density and what Manzi calls "holistic integration."

Thus, when we talk about a massive change to the system, whether it is wild deficit spending, or Obamacare, or the redefinition of marriage, the burden of proof should always be on those who advocate it, because "almost any reasonable-sounding program" will "fail most of the time."

For example, if there is such a thing as a "culture of poverty," this would explain why the criminally simplistic War on Poverty is such a quagmire. And if homosexual behavior is conditioned by culture -- which it obviously is -- we're about to see a lot more of it. Likewise, you can't just say "you have to pass the bill to know what's in it," because that's like saying "here, have some radiation, because you have to have the birth defect to know how great it's gonna be!"

Indeed, the reason why these policies fail is the same reason why the vast majority of genetic mutations result in harm to the organism. If Darwin is correct, every once in a great while a random mutation will confer benefit, but don't bet on it.

Likewise, based upon sheer chance, every once in a while a government program will actually benefit the intended recipient without side effects and unintended consequences. But don't bet on it.

And certainly don't bet four billion dollars a day, every day, for the rest of your life.


julie said...

Reading the blurb for Manzi's book, this bit grabbed my attention:

"Randomized trials have shown, for example, that work requirements for welfare recipients have succeeded like nothing else in encouraging employment, that charter school vouchers have been successful in increasing educational attainment for underprivileged children, and that community policing has worked to reduce crime, but also that programs like Head Start and Job Corps, which might be politically attractive, fail to attain their intended objectives."

It strikes me, once again, that most ordinary people I've ever met, left or right, when they choose their politics (especially regarding welfare and education) they do so based on what they perceive to provide the best benefit for the greatest number of people. The difference is, in general the ordinary leftist bases this perception on what feels nice and what they read in the mainstream news, while the person on the right is more likely to base their perception on actual results, which all too often appear cruel and heartless on the surface, but when implemented generate true success.

Handouts vs. hands-up.

If the majority of the population comes to the realization that a hand up is better than a handout, I'll believe humans - or at least Americans - have suddenly grown up at least a little bit. But I won't hold my breath...

Gagdad Bob said...

It also really shows quite forcefully how the left rejects science, i.e., actual experiments to determine the effects of their policies. Rather, they are taken totally on faith, and then impossible to eliminate, because of the lack of feedback. If the government were a business, then it would be out of business. But for Obama, no amount of spending is sufficient to disprove his ideology.

mushroom said...

It is possible to make certain behaviors illegal, but it is impossible to legislate virtue.

julie said...

Rather, they are taken totally on faith, and then impossible to eliminate, because of the lack of feedback.

It's like they're trying to clap enough to bring a non-existent fairy back to life. And they think that if they force everyone else to clap, too, it'll work that much better. Question the clapping (much less the fairy), and it must mean that you want fairies to die.

julie said...

Incidentally, I'm kind of amazed that the Obama campaign hasn't capitalized on the fact that AGW has pretty much been proven to be crap, given the whole "this is the moment the sea levels began to fall" shtick at his inaugural speech. True, he didn't wave his hands and make it so, but but he could use the real science to try and calm people down about the whole thing. But of course, encouraging calm and rational thought amongst his constituents isn't really what he wants...

Magister said...

Community organizers have a vested interest in disorganization.

Their trick is to appear to organize things while encouraging their further collapse.

Jean Monnet is an example of this par excellance. He knew the route to supranational governance in Europe could only occur by stealth, and especially during moments of crisis -- preferably engineered ones.

Reuters is reporting EU finance official talk about "capital controls" in the event of a Grexit.

Right. That will end well.

Viva von Mises, Hayek, et al

mushroom said...

Monnet got the Presidential Medal of Freedom from LBJ hisownself. I wonder if they measured dongs afterward?

Another thing about France, when you read about the political turmoil, especially from Bonaparte to Louis Napoleon, you can't help but think of contemporary events here.

I think Obama wanted our "man on a white horse" that Louis Napoleon seemed initially to be. It may be the next. It is a good time to beware.

Magister said...

It's more likely they talked about brandy. Monnet came from a little town near Cognac and got his start in the international brandy trade. He apparently died a Catholic, asking for a priest, but he married an Italian woman who was married to an Italian diplomat and figured out that he needed to make her a Soviet citizen in order to marry her legally. So the French ambassador to Moscow got that done, they married, and eventually settled in New York where his wife (Sylvia) entered on her Soviet passport under Turkish immigration quotas. They never became Americans. She became naturalized in France.

National citizenship meant nothing to them.

I wonder whether this reminds you of anyone.

julie said...

Mushroom - lol.

Apropos the post, Insty links to a Times article about the eugenics movement, past and present. Third paragraph in, the author of the article is shocked - SHOCKED! - to report that early eugenicists were liberals:

But these same eugenicists were often political and social liberals — advocates of social reform, partisans of science, critics of stasis and reaction. “They weren’t sinister characters out of some darkly lighted noir film about Nazi sympathizers,” Conniff writes of Fisher and his peers, “but environmentalists, peace activists, fitness buffs, healthy-living enthusiasts, inventors and family men.” From Teddy Roosevelt to the Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, fears about “race suicide” and “human weeds” were common among self-conscious progressives, who saw the quest for a better gene pool as of a piece with their broader dream of human advancement.

Never fear, though. In the next paragraph the author assures Times readers that "This progressive fascination with eugenics largely ended with World War II and the horrors wrought by National Socialism."

No, today's leftists are far more motivated. They think that practically everyone ought to just stop reproducing, not just those with undesirable genes.

Gagdad Bob said...

Here's an odd coincidence: just reading this interesting book (in the sidebar) on the weird uses to which the left put the JFK assassination, and on p. 182 it says that regicide was

"a palliative offering to the gods," or "a preemptive measure to ensure that [the king] died before his physical powers were allowed to decay," which I suppose would cause anxiety about a weak father.

He continues:

"When the king was killed, it was often in late autumn, corresponding to the time of harvest and the onset of winter, when subjects convinced themselves that an offering to the gods was required to assure the return of a green and abundant spring."

So maybe it's no coincidence that our presidential election is in November.

Gagdad Bob said...

Nor that the inauguration used to be closer to the spring, in March....

Gagdad Bob said...

Live blogging the Cup. 45 years of hockey misery about to end tonight. Surreal.

julie said...

4-0 now? Awesome. Go Kings!

Gagdad Bob said...

It's a miracle. Only this time, on ice!

mushroom said...

A lot of the old '70s enviro writing didn't even bother to double-talk around the eugenics. I remember reading stuff that flatly bemoaned the fact that "undesirables" were out-breeding the better and more intelligent populations long before anybody thought of "Idiocracy". The emphasis back then was on India, China, and Africa.

I wonder what will happen when the population bubble of ronery males created by China's one-child policy and sex-selective abortions comes of age? Kind of like a prison population -- but no walls and lots of weapons.

mushroom said...

Congratulations, Kings! 6-1 sounds like a baseball score, though.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Imagine the virtually infinite causal density of the economy, and you have arrived at Hayek's "knowledge problem" -- which is precisely what leftists do not and will not understand. But it is the reason why central planning always fails. It generally requires someone as economically ignorant as an Obama to be so grandiose about what he thinks he knows -- similar to how a child has no idea of how much he doesn't know, relative to how complex the world actually is."

Aye. Plus, they deny history lessons...or simply rewrite it to support their insane ideas.

Michael Chricton superbly illustrated the dangers of ignoring complexity.

Leftists (and some self described conservatives) always know the answers irt complexity theory.
They are absolutely certain their plans will work.

And when their "good" intentioned plans don't work, resulting in bad consequences and even death, many don't even feel guilty about it.

They assauge any trace of guilt by blaming those who were supposed to implement their glorious plans (or conservatives for ruining it stopping the madness).

Besides, they had good intentions. It's not like they wanted tragic consequences to happen.

As if good intentions is some sort of magic talisman to ward off the guilt they should feel.
Also good in warding off reality and reinforcing their denial.

Cetainty trumps the truth in leftyoopsolis.
In fact, what reality deniers call truth is merely their certainty (which they also think is science).

Certainty grounded in bullshit, but hey, they have faith and they are oh so proud of their certainty.
And they can always invoke Descartes, Rousseau, Hume and Marx, among other false profits.

Those who love truth and who are grounded in reality are certain they don't have all the answers and are acutely aware of complexity n' consequences (known and unknown).

We value ahumble heart, circumspection, truth, history
lessons and wisdom over good intentions and proud certainty.

We also know that if somethin' works not to try to fix it, nor to put our faith in politicians who are inclined to embrace central control (and force) over liberty and freedom.

River Cocytus said...


Yep, when the well intentioned (but doomed) plan fails, you can always blame the naysayers... who knows! Maybe it really did fail because they undermined it.

But their intentions are not really even that good, in my opinion. In many cases all of the opinions are motivated, like most political opinions (on both of our 'sides') by fear.

Going to church because you fear God's judgment may or may not be a good thing, but I wouldn't count it as good intentions. It's more like CYA, which is what I feel a lot of leftist 'care' for the less 'fortunate' is - pure CYA.

River Cocytus said...

Oh not to mention my experience with leftist Christians on the matter.
Social Gospel? It's complete CYA.

My haughty opinion is that if every person did personal charity (like giving food or money to someone thye met who needed it) while supporting non-infantalizing policies, it would have the most positive impact possible.

It wouldn't end poverty (you can't do that except by making everyone poor and telling them they aren't) but it would both satisfy the conscience and actually help those in need.

mushroom said...

I agree regarding personal charity, which is what I was thinking with my remark about the impossibility of legislating virtue.

Personal "investment" -- whether it is assisting someone financially or in other ways -- transforms both parties. Government dependency is detrimental both to the dependent and those forced to pay for it.

That's not even to account for the practical reality that the various layers of government absorb tax money like a sponge and are inefficient means of assistance.

River Cocytus said...

quo vadis - right? Additionally, oversight now must exist for the process to make sure the money isn't getting wasted... this process of course costs money.