Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for June 2020

Political failures through attacking the wrong target

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One (!) of the more important reasons why politicians tend to fail is that the tasks chosen are often virtually impossible, and often through being aimed at the wrong target.

The fight against poverty, for instance, tends to have at least two faults:

Firstly, the typical aim is to exterminate poverty, where a much more achievable and fairer goal would be to exterminate undeserved poverty. Even that might be very hard and/or just approximately achievable, but it is within the realistically (approximately) achievable. Indeed, countries like Sweden and Germany are already approximately there. But to exterminate poverty, in general? There are too many who not only dislike* working for their money, but who either actively try to avoid such work or are too irresponsible to look for work. There are too many who spend what money they do have too unwisely or spend money that they do not have. There are too many who have children before having enough own income to get by without governmental aid. Etc. Trying to hold these above a poverty limit is not only a task to frustrate Sisyphus, but a task which is unfair to everyone else and can make it harder to keep the undeservedly poor out of poverty, because there is less money to go around. Other complications include e.g. that short-term financing through taxes can hurt future economic growth, which means that the cake to divide will not be as large as it could be; and that more money for the deservedly poor can lead to a dysgenic pressure, which gives us more of the same kind in the next generation.

*Yours truly included: I differ in that I do not expect others to pay for me without a “something for something” and actually work hard to get money when I need money. (And that I do not just want to avoid employment in order to be lazy, drink beer, and watch TV—I still work hard, just at tasks that are more fulfilling to me, like studies, blogging, and writing my first book.)

Secondly, the barrier for poverty is continually altered to include a large segment of people that are not poor in any real sense—people who live lives incomparably much better than their counter-parts even a hundred years ago, let alone two or three hundred years ago. Indeed, definitions of relative poverty like “anyone with an income below 60 % of the median income is poor” can create more “poor” merely though others growing wealthier and is at best an indirect measure of low income (let alone poverty in any real sense): what it actually measures is income disparities.* A better goal would be, e.g., to ensure that everyone has the opportunity** to earn enough money*** that a happy and self-fulfilling life is possible. This is something that does not require much money and other factors than money are more likely to be the main obstacles****.

*Other flaws include that it does not include existing wealth or expected pay-out over time. For instance, I currently earn nothing, because I use money that I have earned in the past to take a break from “regular” work to write my book. Does that make me poor by any even remotely reasonable definition? Moreover, that I earn nothing right now does not mean that I will not earn something in the future based on my current activities. I have no illusions about earning even a fraction of what Stephen King has, but he did go through a number of very lean years before breaking through. He might even have qualified as poor-for-real at the low points, but I daresay that most of us would willingly switch places with him, income-wise, if it brought the same type of wealth a few years later—and he could have been better off back then, simply through not writing and spending the same amount of time on a second job. What measure of poverty will catch something like that?

**Opportunity and not guarantee, in order to filter out the undeserving.

***Based on the current society. Other societies might see some other mechanism than earning money, but the point should be clear.

****What these are will vary from person to person. In my case, the single greatest obstacle is the constant exposure to human stupidity and irrationality, as discussed in many previous texts. Indeed, even this text discusses special cases.

As an aside, these two issues are among the reasons why I consider social mobility a much higher priority than reducing income disparities (while the Left, especially in Sweden, tends to be obsessed with the latter). On the contrary, when social mobility is high enough, large income disparities are a good thing.

Another fairly obvious example is trying to exterminate the effects of different abilities—something, again, both unfair and virtually impossible*. For this, we do not even need to look at e.g. U.S. racial discussions—we can equally look at Swedish and German “working-class children” discussions: Based on an outdated and scientifically disproved “tabula rasa”/“nurture only” thinking, Leftist politicians again and again make noise about how working-class children tend to have worse grades, worse careers, whatnot, than those with wealthier and more educated parents**; and, similarly, how adult members of the working class tend to have worse health and shorter life-expectancy. Now, some of this might very well still go back to differences in “nurture”, but, if so, far, far less than a hundred years ago. Note e.g. that Swedish schools are very uniform and that both Swedish and German university studies are almost free of charge. At the same time, there is a definite “nature” aspect, e.g. because IQ (or e.g. academic talent, for the IQ-deniers) tends to bring a better education, a better job, and a higher income (i.e. a higher SES) and has a heritable component, implying that the children of high/low-SES parents will have predisposition towards high/low-SES, themselves. There will be some regression to the mean and considerable individual variation, but not seeing a sizable effect would be highly surprising. For e.g. school to neutralize the alleged-by-the-Left effect of the parents’ SES, it would not be enough to create equal opportunities and a fair playing field—it would be necessary to give children from low-SES families outright advantages in violation of equal opportunities. Here, too, the key is social mobility: if a large proportion of the low-SES children end up with a high own SES and a similar proportion of the high-SES children do not, then things are in order and we can assume that opportunities are at least approximately equal.***

*At least, in a society that would not soon turn out to be a horrible dystopia. It might be short of Harrison Bergeron, but a horrible dystopia nonetheless.

**This, obviously, boils down to SES, but that term is rarely used in the actual discussions, simplistic and propagandist as they tend to be.

***How large that proportion should be is very hard to say, and it will likely vary over time, as a high social mobility will tend to polarize the intellectual “upper” and “lower” classes from each other over time. A better test might be to look at life outcomes based on e.g. IQ and some other psychometric measures, e.g. relating to industriousness, conscientiousness, or “delayed gratification”. If these have a significantly larger effect than parental SES on own SES then things are in order. (But it might be necessary to make such measures fairly early to avoid real or suspected effects of mutual influence, e.g. that more education would affect IQ, with the disadvantage that these measures would have an increased unreliability, as the correlation between the child and the adult is far from perfect.)

The health issues, similarly, will to a large part boil down to inborn difference in, e.g., conscientiousness and “delayed gratification”, that the one will prioritize long-term health over potato chips and will pay attention to the nutritional information on various foodstuffs, while the other will not, and so on. True, there might very well be circumstantial effects, like lower work satisfaction increasing the risk for potato chips, pizza, and beer at the end of the working day. Here something might be doable, but e.g. just “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” is unlikely to be very helpful. To boot, the lower work satisfaction might have been avoided if the employee was better at X, Y, and Z. Similarly, someone who makes a more rational and informed choice of spouse is likelier to have a happier marriage than someone who picks the first “cool” or “sexy” counter-part who is willing, and it seems highly plausible that a happier marriage will lead to a healthier life. Etc.

As an aside concerning the education aspect of SES, and education in general: It is a major fallacy to assume that because X was bright, competent, and had a degree, Y will be bright and competent, too, as soon as he has his degree. On the contrary, the bright and competent of the past often (not always!) had degrees because they were bright and competent to begin with. Pushing the dull and incompetent through years of higher education and graduating them through lowered academic standards will do more to undermine the value of the degrees and less to increase competence.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 30, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Follow-up: Speculations on the negative influence of female attitudes

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Preamble: This began as a brief clarification, but the clarification spun off footnotes that turned into excursions and then the excursions spun off other excursions. There is material enough to build a “regular” text around the excursions, but I prefer to keep them as excursions to reduce the time spent—which is already about ten times longer than I had intended.

Thinking back on a recent text dealing partially with topics like paying for services, I suspect that the superficial reader could misinterpret (or the politically hostile distort) it. To reduce the risk, a brief clarification:

These parts of the text are directed mostly at the recipient, not the performer, of the service: I do not necessarily argue that the performer should require payment. Whether he does is up to him and whether I would do so in his shoes would depend on the circumstances (see excursion). The main point is that the recipient should not have a “something for nothing” mentality and, at a minimum, make a genuine*offer to pay (see another excursion)—the antithesis of “the woman with many friends” from the original text. A secondary point is that a society which works on a “something for something” basis is fairer and more likely to be successful than a “something for nothing” society, an “I am entitled/I deserve” society, an “I am pretty and smile a lot, so do things for me” society, a “those who can are legally obligated to help those who can’t” society, etc.

*As opposed to an insincere offer made in the knowledge that it will be turned down.

Excursion on forms of payment:
Payment need not be in money. (Here, I might have been a little short-sighted during writing. However, without money, advantages like potential new businesses disappear.) Trading favors are an obvious alternative and it is possible that the lawn-mowing boy would have seen a piece of cake as fair payment. Indeed, even a token payment is better than no payment in terms of fostering the right attitudes. To some, performing a perceived (cf. excursion) good deed might be a reward in its own right. (In addition, we might need to think of at least three broad types of payments: token payments to acknowledge gratitude, payments to at least approximately cover the costs and/or efforts of the performer, and payments that allow a profit for the performer.)

Excursion on when I would require payment:
This is too large a topic for this text and I have not thought it through in detail, as the topic has not been that important in my adult life. However, there are at least four aspects that I would consider and recommend others to consider: (a) Whether the service is within the realm of professional expertise and/or is something for which the performer is regularly paid (cf. the lawyer and the physician in the joke from the original text). (b) The closeness of the relationship, e.g. whether a lawn is moved for the own mother, the neighbor, or some random person somewhere in the same town. (c) The size of both the individual service and the sum of all services requested by that recipient, e.g. in that I would not have expected anything over a “thank you” for driving that shopping cart to the rude woman (not that I got one …), but would have required payment in the hypothetical case of carrying her bags home (unless, more likely, I turned her down outright). (d) Whether requiring payment could have a positive effect of the attitude on the recipient, e.g. in light of recurring freeloading (a similar idea as with the lawyer/physician joke, but from another angle.

I caution that the right answer for the one performer might not be the right answer for another, e.g. because the one has much more spare time than the other.

Depending on the situation, the ability to pay might also factor in. For instance, if I had mowed the lawn for widows as a teenager (cf. original text), I might have gone with money in case of the rich widow and been content with cake in the case of the poor.

In addition, care should be taken when the recipient has a legitimate or perceived “pre-payment”. For instance, the mother of a teenage boy would usually be justified in seeing a mowed lawn as very partial payback of the services that she has performed for and expenses that she has had because of him.

Excursion on paying own children for house-work and similar:
Some argue that paying the own (pre-adult) children for house-work and similar tasks is a good thing, e.g. to teach the connection between work and money or having them earn their pocket money. I can see the point behind this, it is compatible with the ideas of my original text, and I might do so myself, if I ever have children. However, I also see potential problems, notably in that the children might be more likely to appreciate their parents efforts, if they are taught that “by doing chores, you pay us back”, and be more likely to develop a sound team spirit if they are taught that “by doing chores, you pull your own weight”. To some degree the suggestion amounts to viewing the children as performers, but it might be better to focus on the parents as performers and the children as recipients.

To boot, the one* case of such explicit payment within my family (that I recall) did not work well: my sister had lousy school grades and received payment for reaching certain standards**. This did nothing to help her academic career, as she eventually became a high-school drop-out, but it did make young me feel unfairly treated: In my eyes, she was rewarded for past failure and for past laziness—not for later adequacy (“success” would be too strong a word). This while my success and hard work came with a pat on the back. Or consider the game-theory point of view: someone could play this system by deliberately (!) earning bad grades the first semester, negotiating a money-for-grades scheme, and then studying normally to earn an entirely artificial reward. Or consider the psychological effects: instead of learning for life or the sake of learning, students already learn too much for the sake of grades, and now we add an aspect of trying to get grades for the sake of a small short-term pay-out.

*I did on several occasions receive explicit payment from my grand-mother for helping her with some church activities, but as she, in turn, was paid by the church, I would see that as another case entirely. (And, no, I did not ask for money—she offered.)

**I do not recall the details (or the duration of the experiment), but the amount per good grade was sufficiently much that I would have liked to have it, while not being enough that it made a major difference in the big picture. (For instance, even the amount that my better grades might have earned is bound to have been lower than the monthly value of free food and lodging.) The events were almost certainly before high school for her, and no later than the first year of high school for me.

Excursion on perceived or claimed good deeds:
Not everything that might seem, or is claimed to be, a good deed actually is. Consider e.g. giving to a poorly managed charity or two examples from my own past (the second also being a further illustration of annoying and self-centered women):

When I was a teenager, I had a summer job as a gardener/janitor. As I performed some type of work near a flower bed, an elderly man approached me and asked if I could remove that young tree that had invaded the flower bed. I was happy too do so, and pleased at the learning experience. With hindsight, I am uncertain whether I was allowed to do so, and whether the elderly man had any say in the matter, and the tree might well have been the cause of two years of heated arguments in the home-owner’s association—where I had just given the kill-the-tree side a victory that I was not entitled to give. (This is not actually likely, but it is also far from impossible and I performed that particular service without bothering to find out.)

During a train ride, a few years ago, a group of women boarded and went through the train, sitting down with the other passengers (very rude, as there were free seats apart from other passengers, and as they proved not to be “bona fide” passengers, themselves) and beginning conversations without probing for interest (mildly rude) and for the purpose of selling (extremely rude). When they came to me, I learned that they were selling some type of garage-sale* junk, from baskets that they carried, to give money to two friends who were getting married (such sales are against train regulations).

*I actually wrote “garbage-sale” before proof-reading …

As I declined and pointed out that such sales were not allowed, one of them got snippy and went on about how this was for charity (“Wohltätigkeit”, or similar). It is not: had they given own money and/or their garage-sale junk to their friend it might, possibly, have constituted charity. When they ask me to do so, with or without an alibi piece of junk in return, it is just panhandling. To this, I note that there was not even an attempt to describe the happy couple as particularly needy—they were just “our friends”, and because they wanted to give money to their friends, I should open my wallet …

But they all seemed unable to comprehend that they were doing something wrong, too self-obsessed, too blind to other people, too lacking in self-perspective, … Even the fact that I preferred to read my book over talking to them seemed to annoy them—something that must be entirely my decision and something very understandable in light of the rudeness and lack of intelligence displayed.* And, no, this appeared to be perfectly regular native German women—they were not members of some gypsy-like group who might have used a similar scheme to panhandle on a professional level.

*And here, too, I suspect a strong aspect of “men are supposed to”: they were dressed much more provocatively and uniformly than was normal for a train ride. This would be well explained by e.g. a “if we are sexy and flirty, men will be kind to us” type of thinking. (Cf. the original text and women flirting in the office.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 28, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Libertarian idealism vs. Conservative pragmatism

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Even as a Libertarian, I have often been tempted by Conservatism. In light of long-term societal developments and recent U.S. events, the temptation is here again.

I am particularly troubled by two issues:

Firstly, freedom requires responsibility and the ability and discipline not to use it indiscriminately: There is a difference between “is allowed to” and “should”, as well as between “is allowed to” and “would benefit from”, even between “is allowed to” and “will not be harmed by”. For instance (not necessarily with a Conservative angle), it is a very bad idea to binge drink and gorge oneself on fast food on a daily basis—but both are perfectly legal in e.g. the U.S.

However, large swaths of the population are stupid, uninformed, short-sighted, and/or reckless, or might have other weaknesses* that make them do things that are not good for them when they have the freedom to do so. Giving the wrong persons too much freedom leads to negative consequences for them. Worse, there can be negative side-effects for others, including their children and the tax payers.**

*The list could be quite long, and much would be irrelevant to this text. For instance, more-or-less anyone can be driven to do something stupid in anger, e.g. throwing a coffee mug at a wall.

**To stick with drinking: Even someone who never drinks in the presence of the children might damage them through e.g. being unable to keep jobs or being restricted to poor jobs. Tax payers might e.g. be forced to foot the bill for various forms of government aid that would not have been necessary with a sober parent.

Libertarians usually work with the explicit or implicit premise that we are each capable and responsible enough to make good decisions for ourselves—or, failing that, that we should be free to decide as long as the negative consequences only or mostly hit ourselves. At the same time, most humans are idiots and consequences often extend to others (cf. footnote above).*

*Incidentally, almost all ideologies are naive and overly optimistic about human nature. Communism, e.g., even ethical concerns aside, would be extremely unlikely to ever work as intended. Conservatism might be a partial exception (cf. below).

Secondly, many of the norms, traditions, behaviors, whatnot that were present in the past, but are now considered antiquated, might actually have had considerable benefits to them—even when these benefits are not obvious to us. For instance, there are strong signs that the current world underlies a dysgenic pressure; for instance, it might well be that a more modern life style leads to less individual happiness. Similarly, it might be that several norms (etc.) worked when they were all present, but that removing one of them causes problems when the others are not adapted. Trial and error over many generations might have led to a set of norms that happened to work well, while our current norms are often the result of chance or thoughtlessness and might work less well. Consider by analogy an ecosystem where one species is suddenly exterminated (or a new one artificially introduced): chances are that the effects will be highly negative, even though there are functioning ecosystems elsewhere that never had this species. In due time, a new balance will be found, but it might take a long time and the damage might be considerable. Indeed, more literally, humans are likely to partially have evolved to fit into a particular set of norms, and turn out to be maladjusted when those change,* or, vice versa, some norms might have evolved to keep biology in check.

*For instance, a pet hypothesis of mine is that many parent–teen conflicts are rooted in a conflict between current norms and biology: Once it was normal to be considered an adult, build an own life, find a spouse and have children (especially, for the girls), and whatnot, as a teen. Currently, a first real job might have to wait until after college, spouse and children until after thirty, and a too independent teen might be grounded even at seventeen-and-a-half.

Similarly, it is conceivable that removing a ban* on pre-marital sex** or introducing TV*** (let along e.g. heroin) could have negative effects on society and/or the individuals involved. It might or might not be that these specific examples are problematic,*** but it is extremely likely that problems will be present somewhere among the very many changes that have taken place over comparatively short time spans.

*Or e.g. a strong societal or religious norm. To keep the discussion simple, I will mostly speak in terms of laws instead of norms, customs, whatnot. This should not be seen as more than a convenience, however, and Conservatism is not just a matter of laws and public policy.

**To deliberately take an example of something considered perfectly normal by most modern Westerners, but which has been seen very differently at other times. Note that I do not call for the re-introduction of such a ban (nor for the abolition of TV).

***TV is given as an easily understood example of something that has brought large changes but might just as easily be underestimated. I am not implying that anti-TV sentiments would be common among Conservatives. If they are, I am not aware of it.

***Both definitely have brought great changes, but whether the net effect was positive or negative would have to be investigated in more detail. My personal strong suspicion, however, is that they have both been negative for society, while, when we look at direct effects, being positive for the individuals. I am highly uncertain about the net effect on the individuals when we factor in indirect effects.

Conservatism, however, to some degree amounts to “sticking with the true-and-tested”, to assume that a society that worked* did not need fixing, and that changes should be gradual and controlled—all of which would help in avoiding such problems.

*Which is not to say that a working society was a perfect society, or necessarily a good one. I would, on the contrary, strongly caution against building an idealized image of “yore”, even changes brought by scientific and economic progress aside. By analogy, being an animal in an ecosystem is not necessarily a great life, but, by-and-large, a stable and only gradually changing ecosystem is preferable to one which is severely disrupted.

For someone with a Libertarian heart, these problems raise very unpleasant questions, for instance when and whether the idea of a “bubble of rights” needs to consider indirect negative effects on others and when and whether the damage* to the public might be large enough to warrant restrictions on individual rights on a “necessary evil” basis. Looking at the current, disastrous U.S. developments, e.g., it is clear that many simple cannot or will not handle freedom responsibly. Chances are that Conservatism is pragmatically sounder than Libertarianism, and it often seems to me that a (not very realistic) world in which legislation is Libertarian and behavior voluntarily Conservative would be the best option.**

*A word chosen to differentiate from more generic claims about “the interests of the many”, “the greater good”, and similar. Here there is a very dangerous slippery slope, which could lead past Conservatism into Leftist politics, and which makes it necessary to tread very carefully.

**E.g. in that there is a right to pre-marital sex but that few make use of it.

A potential, if imperfect, way out is to treat areas like majority* in a more discriminating** and individualized manner: Instead of having everyone reach certain rights in a blanket manner at certain ages, some set of more relevant criteria (cf. below) could be used to determine whether any specific individual should be given the corresponding rights. It might then be that someone highly intelligent, well informed, and mature is allowed to do things that the metaphorical*** high-school drop-out is not allowed to do—or is allowed to do them earlier than the high-school drop-out. (Note that most, if not all, objections that could be raised on a “personal freedom” basis apply similarly to the current age based restrictions.) We might then have a Libertarian ideal for those who can handle it and Conservative pragmatism for those who can not.

*In the sense used in “age of majority” and with the “like” intending to include all the various “age of X”, e.g. “age of drinking”, “age of driving”.

**In its correct sense.

***Any given real high-school drop-out could still be highly intelligent, well informed, and mature—rare, true, but not impossible.

As an aside, this type of discrimination should not be limited to e.g. maturity according to current standards or to resolve a Conservative–Libertarian conflict. It should also include an increased freedom from e.g. more Leftist government interventionism, say that someone who fulfills certain criteria will be allowed to make his own decisions concerning health insurance, pension savings, and similar—no matter what restricting laws do or do not apply to others.

As to what criteria should be used, this is a tricky question and might involve different answers for different rights. A first suggestion would be to use some combination of I.Q. (or a similar score) and age, e.g. (!) that most* rights currently given at eighteen are awarded when min(I.Q., 130) + 3 x min(age, 30) >= 184. This would e.g. imply that someone with an I.Q. at or above 130 would receive them at eighteen, like today; someone with an I.Q. of 94 would do so at thirty, having had another dozen years to build knowledge and maturity; those in between would do so at an age varying linearly between eighteen and thirty; and those below 94 would never** do so.

*Off topic, I suspect that staggering the flow of rights more than today would be a good idea, so that the individual can learn to handle the rights and the responsibility gradually, instead of being hit with most of it in one go and with little preparation. To keep the main text reasonably simple, I have not made attempts to bring in such a staggering in the main text or the specific example.

**The specific number 94 arose as a side-effect of using a high-I.Q. of 130, a low-age of eighteen, and a high-age of thirty; and I am very open to discuss other values. However, I do note that someone with an even lower an I.Q. is horrifyingly limited. Chances are that no amount of time will be enough to catch up with an eighteen-year-old with an I.Q. in excess of 130, let alone a thirty-year-old with such an I.Q.

In specific cases, other values/criteria in the formula and/or various exceptions might apply. For instance, the right to marry might reasonably involve some type of “success in life” measure, e.g. that a steady income has been present for some time, and might have a laxer I.Q.* criterion. If (!) a “no sex before marriage” principle was re-introduced, it might take the form that pre-marital sex is allowed for those with a high enough score, while “intra-marital” sex always is allowed.

*That no-one with an I.Q. below 94 was allowed to marry would, if nothing else, reduce the chances that this scheme gains acceptance from “small” to “zero”.

Formal tests of more specific abilities or knowledge are possible criteria, but must be applied with great caution, lest they be deliberately abused for nefarious agendas* or have accidental negative effects through oversights, subjectiveness, or incompetence**. Counting e.g. years of formal education is out: it might once have been plausible, but with the current degree inflation, the disputable value of formal (as opposed to self-) education, and the outright poor decision that higher formal education can be in e.g. the current U.S., it would do more harm than good. It might also kill the remaining credibility of the education system if too many strive for an easy degree for the specific purpose of gaining a higher score.

*E.g. to ensure that only those with the “correct” political opinions are allowed to vote in public elections.

**A good example is fiddling with various aptitude tests to remove differences in group outcomes without considering the possibility that these reflect differences in ability distributions between groups.

Excursion on practical problems:
Above, I have deliberate ignored practical problems, like when and how testing is done, how many re-rests might be allowed, how to ensure that test results are not made pointless by cheating, … They are not very interesting at the current level of abstraction, but must be very carefully investigated and considered if an implementation is ever attempted.

Excursion on culture clashes, etc.:
The complications of the “Secondly” above could apply in other situations, too, including culture clashes. There is a risk that biological adaptations to one system of norms might become maladaptations when the individual is moved to a society with a different set of norms.

Excursion on rule breaking and rules as a baseline of behavior:
A complication with any set of rules is that at least some will break them, including some who merely aim to demonstrate their disregard for the rules, “act cool”, be rebellious, whatnot. To the latter, the exact rules broken might not matter much; and even other rule-breakers might be directed more by the amount of “breakage” than the eventual behavior. For instance, if a speed-limit of 50 (in some unit) results in some traveling at a speed of 60, then raising the speed-limit to 60 will not cause everyone to now drive legally. More likely, 60 will be seen as the new baseline and some will now drive at a speed of 70. A child testing boundaries will not be content if a given boundary falls, when it can just proceed to test the next boundary. Avant-garde painters of one generation might seem like conventional bores to the next generation, who is set on pushing the envelope further. Etc. Correspondingly, pragmatically speaking, it can pay to have some amount of buffer in the rules—a point where a highly laissez-faire philosophy will fail.

Similarly, a too great laxness in one area can lead to problems in another. For instance, if school children learn that they can get away with almost anything without consequences at home, they might assume the same about school and behave accordingly. If they do get away with almost anything at school, they might take this lesson into the streets. Etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 27, 2020 at 12:44 pm

Thirty years ago

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Around thirty years ago, sometimes and somewheres a little earlier or a little later, it appeared that the world was breaking free from the Leftist insanities of the 20th century:

The Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe had fallen—as had their greatest symbol in Western eyes, the Berlin Wall. Germany was in the process of reuniting. Gone were the likes of Honecker and Ceaușescu. The free West had won over the enslaved East.

China under Deng Xiaoping was turning away from Mao and his abominable heritage (Tiananmen Square notwithstanding).

In the U.S., Reagan had undone some of the damage caused by the likes of LBJ, and, if nothing else, managed to bring an era of economic optimism, which seemed irreversible and irreversibly non-Swedish to my young* eyes.

*I was born in 1975, so the Reagan-era proper fell mostly in my pre-teens. My early impressions are likely even based more on the brief continuation under Bush the elder.

In the U.K., brought to the edge of disaster by Labour and the unions,* Thatcher had turned the ship around.

*And which had never seen the post-war recovery of e.g. Germany, before the 1970s depression-era hit.

In my native Sweden, the 1991 election saw a rare non-Leftist victory; the iron alliance between the Social-Democrats* and the unions** was rusting; and the main Communist party, VPK***, re-branded it self as a mere Left party in the wake of the collapsing dictatorships. More: many members suddenly loudly protested not just that they were Communists no longer—but that they had never been Communists to begin with: They had either just been hibernating in VPK as a least evil or the name had just been a misleading legacy for years.

*Which ruled Sweden for most of the 20th century.

**Most importantly in the shape of the umbrella organization LO, which was immensely powerful in its own right and had very tight ties to the Social-Democrat party, including that a membership in an LO organization automatically and unavoidable lead to a membership in the Social-Democrat party—never mind what political opinions the member actually had.

***“Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna” (“the Left party the Communists”; odd in Swedish too). With the re-branding, it became “V” and “Vänsterpartiet” (“the Left party”).

In my eyes, we were heading into a bright new era of freedom, prosperity, and enlightenment.

Today? In 2020, a mere thirty years or roughly one generation later?

How short is human memory …

Today, the West is collapsing into Leftist populism and extremism, most often in form of various PC and Feminism movements, quasi-Marxist ideas like identity politics, etc., void of reason and basing their success on cheap propaganda and reality distortion. At the same time, the “old Left” has recovered in e.g. Sweden and Germany, despite its ideas having been long outdated even thirty years ago.

Look at the current U.S. Look at the destruction of U.S. colleges, dominated by Leftist ideas and Leftist intolerance. Look at the fiasco of ObamaCare. Look at the racial and other hate mongering by the Left, and the Weimar-Germany level of chaos that it has caused. Indeed, in some areas, like the purification of thought, the common blanket condemnation of people based on being White Men (resp. Jews), or the Kristallnacht-like activities of some “peaceful protesters”, I am reminded more of the (pre-war) Nazi dictatorship than of the failing Weimar republic. The replacement of real science with ideologically correct “science” is a particularly dangerous parallel. Indeed, note how the Nazis could condemn a scientific theory for being “too Jewish”, while the modern U.S. can do so for being “too Western” or “too Dead-White-Men-y”.

Sweden is crippled by Gender-Feminism, officially subscribed to even by the allegedly non-Left* parties. The current government is Social-Democrat and since that 1991 election, we have had a mere eleven years of non-Leftist government to twenty** Social-Democrat years. And, yes, the formerly Communist (still Marxist-Socialist and additionally Feminist) party is still present in parliament. It even has a larger share of the votes than it did before the fall of the Communist dictatorships. The situation in higher education and science is as bad as in the U.S.

*Who, just as in Germany, are hiding under labels like “Center”, because “Right” has somehow become a label of evil, while “Left” somehow, absurdly, has become a label of good and enlightenment, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the events of the 20th century, despite its lack of arguments, despite its (almost always) highly egoistical and (often) hateful nature, despite its the-end-justifies-the-means mentality, …

**Counting the on-going four years in full.

Germany, since I moved here in 1997, has had eight years of outright Social-Democrat rule, five years of outright Conservative rule, and twelve* (!) years of joint** Social-Democrat/Conservative rule. Those five years include the last year of the Kohl era, which stretched from 1982 to 1998—centering on exactly 1990. As to “Conservative”, Frau Merkel has turned out to be very far from Mrs. Thatcher.*** The SED, the old East-German Communist party, hiding under a new name, still sits in parliament. When the re-branded SED took a third of the vote in the state of Thüringen, media and politicians went into panic—but not because of this truly negative development. No, instead they panicked over the “Rightwing” AFD having made some progress, which still left it well short of the SED.

*Again, counting the on-going four years in full.

**This type of unholy and anti-democratic alliance raises a whole set of other questions, but they are off-topic today.

***But I stress that my own political position is more Libertarian or Classical(!) Liberal. This still leaves Conservatives as a much better choice than Social-Democrats.

Etc.

The old Communist nations, admittedly, have not re-descended into Communist dictatorships, but that does not change the horrible truth—that the tables from thirty years ago have been turned. Idiocracy is no longer a future threat—it is current reality. All factors considered, Der Untergang des Abendlandes might be progressed too far to be stopped by now. The barbarians are already well past the gate.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 25, 2020 at 12:08 pm

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Eriksson’s Razor(s)

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One of the main cognitive problems among humans is an overly large tendency to assume a conscious driving force of some kind, even when it is not necessary to explain the observed phenomena. For instance, a dominance of Jews in some area does not require a Jewish World Conspiracy—it might just as well be a result of different personal or cultural characteristics (e.g. a higher average IQ to explain success in science) or Jews being directed by outside forces (in the case of medieval banking). Ditto the Feminist paranoia “the Patriarchy”. Ditto the alleged “systemic racism” that makes head-lines in the U.S. at the moment, which, to the degree that it at all exists, is better explained by individual actions than systemic problems, and is largely a misinterpretation or incorrect explanation of observations to begin with—much of it discussed in “The Bell-Curve” decades ago.

Similarly, we do not need to postulate a divine creator or an extraterrestrial intervention to explain life as we know it: known chemical processes followed by Evolution suffices. We certainly need not give Evolution a teleological aspect, as with naive ideas of eyes having evolved for the purpose of seeing or that Evolution would be a continual, automatic process from worse to better. (The latter include such whoppers as ascribing the post-industrial increases in human height or the Flynn effect mostly to Evolution and being blind to the risk of a dysgenic effect from the currently low evolutionary pressure.)

That earth-quake was not caused by the wrath of the gods, but by natural processes in the Earth. That ball did not hit little Billy in the head because it was “stupid” or “mean”, it did so because external influences moved it to do so, including the wind and little Bobby. (Little Bobby, in all fairness, might have deliberately tried to hit little Billy, but there is a fair chance that he was genuinely just trying to score a point.)

I have seen so much absurd behavior from e.g. civil servants and customer service staff that I have often been tempted to assume a conspiracy—but I know that sheer incompetence is a (much, much) more likely explanation. Why would both the German “IRS” and DHL, e.g., be out to get specifically me? They might have an aversion to Swedes*, but shit happens all the time, even when my counter-part has no way of knowing** that I am a Swede. In those cases where I have a legitimate reason to suspect that my being a Swede was an issue, it has usually*** been in an indirect manner, e.g. that I might have had problems getting my first job in Germany because my German was quite poor at the time—or been something going back to the individual at hand, not a massive anti-Swede sentiment or deliberate policies directed at keeping Swedes down. If we look at foreigners in general, the risk of negative sentiments might be considerably larger, but would genuine xenophobes care about the few Swedes (geographical neighbors and members of another Germanic people) when there are Turks and Arabs to worry about? Unlikely, but my negative experiences remain.

*I am a Swede living in Germany.

**Most persons and entities that I casually interact with would not have access to this information through e.g. files, my name could easily be explained by a single Swedish great-grandfather, and many will have no opportunity to deduce otherwise. For instance, the DHL never rings my doorbell and can, therefore, not deduce my status through a Swedish accent. For instance, someone who sees me in the street would have little reason to reflect on the possibility that I am not a born-and-bred German. However, I could easily see how e.g. a Black man with a name like “LeBron Ali” could have drawn the opposite conclusion based on even my set of experiences (if transferred to him).

***One truly glaring exception was my first German bank account, at the now defunct Dresdner Bank. The bank refused to hand out the PIN for my ATM card, claiming something about my youth or my status as a student and explicitly telling me to go to the counter every time I wanted to make a withdrawal. I took this at face value at the time, but was soon told that this was unheard of by other students in the same age bracket and even another branch of the same bank called it an absurdity.

Even in the case of the Left, where there is some reason* to assume deliberate large-scale driving forces, chances are that much what might look like a conspiracy is just coincidence or caused by “natural” forces. For instance, the trigger for this text is a Mike Whitney text on UNZ, which pushes the envelope of a Leftist U.S. Conspiracy beyond the plausible.** For instance, is the DNC an evil force masterminding everything that happens—or is it just driven hither and thither by attempts to use the unstable political winds? For instance, is journalism (ditto, m.m., colleges, and whatnot) dominated by Left-leaning people because of a conspiracy, because people with Leftist opinions coincidentally are more interested in journalism, or because many Left-leaning people have independently (and to a higher degree than “Right”-leaning) had thoughts like “if I become a journalist [professor, whatnot], I have the opportunity to push my political agenda”? Has non-Leftist journalists [professors, whatnot] had a harder time to be accepted or get printed because of a systematic mistreatment by their peers or because the Left has had a majority and contained sufficiently many intolerant and bigoted individual journalists?***

*As with the “long march through the institutions”, the Frankfurt School, and Marcuse. (More on him in a later text.)

**Not to deny that individual portions of his writings might be correct or make sense, but when taken as a whole the result becomes highly dubious. I do not give specific examples, because the text and reasoning is confused, draws strongly on other sources, and it is hard to say for certain what individual speculation is right or wrong.

***If so, with the implication that the reverse might have happened if the Left had been a small enough minority in the press. (I use “might” as my experience with the Left and the non-Left point to a greater intolerance problem within the Left.)

A conscious driving force, a conspiracy, a deliberate attempt at sabotage, whatnot, might be the explanation in any given case, but it should not be our first assumption. Other explanations must be considered, we must look closer at the evidence and not jump to conclusions, we must consider the relative plausibility of various explanations, etc.

To this end, I suggest “Eriksson’s Razor” (V1.0):

Never explain an observation with a conscious mover, a conspiracy, a systemic problem, or a teleological force when coincidence, individual choices, game theory, natural processes, emergence, or similar, are sufficient.

To this, knowing the Internet, I add “Eriksson’s dumbed-down Razor” (V1.0):

Not a conspiracy, stupid!

Moreover, looking at the current world, I add “Eriksson’s PC Razor” (V1.0):

Never assume racism, sexism, or another “ism”, when the observations can be explained by either individual characteristics/behaviors of the subject(s) or non-“ism” characteristics of the actor(s), like a personal antipathy, selfishness, general misanthropy, a pre-existing bad mood, etc.

Finally, I add “Eriksson’s dumbed-down PC Razor” (V1.0):

Never assume “ism”, when “idiot” will do.

To give examples of the “PC Razor”: If a woman is fired, do not just scream “sexist boss”, but do consider whether she was performing her job well or poorly and whether other reasons might have applied, e.g. that her boss simply (whether for good or bad reasons) did not like her personally.* If Black men appear underrepresented at a college, do not just scream “racist college”, but do investigate whether they are admitted by unfair or fair criteria and might actually be held back by, on average, worse grades and/or SAT scores.** If a White cop kneels on a Black criminals neck, do not just scream “racist cop”, but do investigate whether he used acceptable methods and whether he has a prior history of unacceptable behavior against arrested citizens (and, if so, by all means, whether Black victims were over-represented relative their proportion of arrests and/or criminals).

*As can be seen, a ruling of “not sexism” does not automatically imply that no fault or unfairness of another kind took place.

**Either could, obviously, point to some other problem that might need intervention, e.g. worse schools, but that is not the college’s fault. (And, again, I refer to “The Bell-Curve”, for why differences in cognitive distributions are a likelier explanation.)

Note on “mover”:
The term “mover” is taken to include e.g. the eponymous “Prime Mover”, divine beings, secret governmental agencies, the Illuminati, “mean” balls, and individual humans. This with the reservation that e.g. individual humans will very often not be covered by the Razor as a whole. For instance, an assumed Kennedy shooter could be a conscious mover, but would not be covered by the Razor: Kennedy was shot and any attempt to explain this without a human shooter would be far-fetched. (A dog accidentally triggered a loaded gun that just happened to hit the U.S. President in the head?) In contrast, an unknown mastermind behind the shooting is an example of a conscious mover that probably would be covered by the Razor.

I have considered a switch from “mover” to “agent”, as the original choice of mover was motivated by the exclusion of humans, where I changed my mind during the writing of this text. For the time being, I remain with “mover”.

Note on “conscious”:
This is not an entirely ideal word, as it e.g. can be disputed whether a secret government agency could be described as “conscious”. My very first draft used “deliberate”, but that seemed even worse. I also considered and rejected “sentient”. The point is that there is something more going on than e.g. a wind moving a ship forward. (But not necessarily as much as a fully sentient Boreas deliberately driving the ship of an offending Greek sailor onto a deserted island for the purpose of punishing his hubris.)

Excursion on other Razors:
Compared to the two most famous pre-existing “Razors”, Eriksson’s Razor could* be viewed as a sub-set of Occam’s Razor and as potentially slightly overlapping** with Hanlon’s Razor (which, in turn, could* also be viewed as a sub-set of Occam’s Razor). In addition, both Eriksson’s and Hanlon’s Razors have some overlap with the claim “shit happens”.

*For both Eriksson and Hanlon, they would be sub-sets if we assume that the respective encouraged type of explanation is more economical than the discouraged one. While I believe this to be the case, there is room for discussion and it need not be true generally.

**For instance, if Bobby, above, was covered by Eriksson’s Razor (but I would tend to exclude him), we would have an overlap with Hanlon’s Razor (which prescribes that we assume that Bobby did not intend to hurt Billy, unless more proof to this is present). The “mean” ball would be covered by Eriksson’s Razor, but would probably not be covered by most interpretations of Hanlon’s Razor. The Jewish World Conspiracy would be covered by Eriksson’s Razor, while Hanlon’s Razor has no bearing. The “PC Razor” has larger overlap; the “dumbed-down PC Razor” even more so.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 24, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Physicians who believe in Homeopathy (and how this resembles the Left)

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My last text dealt with human stupidity, and left me pondering, for the umpteenth time, the fact that even many highly educated (and often allegedly intelligent) people believe the oddest things. (See e.g. Minding the Campus for examples of how the U.S. college world is descending into an insane asylum run by the inmates, or how the same thing has happened in Sweden.)

One particularly odd special case is Homeopathy: If someone takes pseudo-scientific “gender studies” classes, sees no counter-weight, is fed a similar message by media*, and ends up being convinced of e.g. “Patriarchy”, this is not that remarkable. This especially as the average level of the “gender studies” students is not very high. But: how can it be that many physicians, with years of medical studies, internships, and own practice still often** believe in Homeopathy? This especially as the average level of medicine students tends to be quite high. Moreover, as very many laymen have learned that Homeopathy is quackery with less than half-an-hour of research?*** This is as would someone with a degree in astronomy believe in astrology.

*I was indoctrinated into a lot of odd ideas in my own, Swedish, youth, even just through media and school. (Cf. excursion.)

**For instance, according to Germany Wikipedia, Germany had 6712 physicians with a specialist (“Facharzt”) education in Homeopathy as of 2009. Not all of them are necessarily believers, but the number is still depressingly large.

***Which is not to say that this is a reliable amount of time in general. Often, so short a research would amount to too little, but Homeopathy has so glaringly obvious problems that it forms a special case. Indeed, half-a-minute (!) of research might often be enough.

I tried to look into the issue in Germany, e.g. to find an explanation from an apostate how belief survived and eventually disappeared. I found an excellent example in Natalie Grams, who became a physician, gained an additional doctorate*, and practiced Homeopathy until she tried to write a book in its defense—and found out that it was all humbug, around ten years after receiving her license to practice medicine (“Approbation”). She ended up writing a book attacking Homeopathy …

*Note that a Germany physician, unlike a U.S. one, is not awarded a pseudo-doctorate for having completed med school. The German medical doctorates are earned separately, as an additional qualification, and they are, at least nominally, real research doctorates. (There is some concern that they fall well short of the “Ph.D. level” in practice, but it is still a step up from the U.S. M.D.) Also see a comparison of a J.D. with my own education.

Below, I will quote, translate, and comment portions of a very long German article, which discusses her experiences in detail. Those familiar with e.g. the situation at U.S. colleges, in the Feminist and PC movements, etc., will recognize quite a few issues:*

*Note that some formatting might have been lost or changed due to copy-and-paste or technical issues. Further note that I have not necessarily tried to translate “idiomatically correct” or straighten out the often very poor “journalist German”, and that there might some inaccuracies in terminology on my behalf.

[Impfgegner und Anthroposophen] würden sich bisweilen nicht mit verbalen Anfeindungen begnügen, sondern auch vor körperlicher Bedrohung nicht zurückschrecken. Zu manchen ihrer Vorträge oder Buchpräsentationen kommt Grams daher lieber mit Begleitschutz. […] Beschimpfungen, Beleidigungen und Hassbotschaften ist sie längst ebenso gewöhnt wie plumpe Interventionsversuche. Kurz vor Beginn der Corona-Krise legten sich Widersacher ins Zeug, um einen Vortrag in einer Apothekerkammer zu verhindern.

Translation:
[Anti-vaxxers and Anthroposophen] would occasionally not be satisfied with verbal hostility, but resort to threats of violence. To some of her lectures and book presentations, Grams prefers to bring body-guards. […] She is as used to verbal abuse, insults, and hate messages as to attempts to intervene [against her, presumably]. Shortly before the beginning of the Corona crisis, her opponents tried to prevent a lecture in an Apothekerkammer*.

*Literately, roughly “pharmacists chamber”, which might match some uses of “chamber” (e.g. “chamber of commerce”) reasonably. Note that pharmacies are a major part of the Homeopathy problem in Germany, often selling these quackery products in preference of real medicine and without a word mentioning their uselessness. Cf. portions of an older text.

Comment:
Similar behavior appears to be quite common in Leftist circles, especially in the PC and Feminist factions, and at U.S. colleges.

Die größte Sünde, die sie in den Augen ihrer Gegner begangen hat, ist aber gewiss der Verrat: Natalie Grams hat die Seiten gewechselt. […] Hier exponiert sich nicht jemand aus der fernen Welt der notorischen Skeptiker, unverbesserlichen Zweifler und stur Wissenschaftshörigen, sondern eine Person aus der eigenen Mitte mit langjähriger profunder Innensicht, die mangelnde Plausibilität, Kollision mit Naturgesetzen, innere Widersprüche und unzulässige Heilsversprechen des Glaubenssystems Homöopathie aufzeigt.

Translation:
The greatest sin, that she committed in they eyes of the opponents, was surely the treason: Natalie Grams changed sides. […] Here someone exposes herself, who does not belong to the distant world of the notorious skeptics, incorrigible doubters, and stubbornly scientific, but is a person from the own circles with a long and profound internal view, who shows the lack of plausibility, the collision with natural laws, internal contradictions, and unallowed promises of cures* of the belief system Homeopathy.

*The German word (“Heilsversprechen”) might point to a hyperbolic (religious) “salvation” instead of “cure”. I am uncertain of the nuances. (Again, poor “journalist German” …)

Comment:
As with the PC (etc.) movement, no-one is worse than the traitor, someone who once had the “correct” opinion and then left for the other camp. In many cases, just being someone who “should” support the one camp is enough to cause immense ire, when failing to do so. (As with women who speak up against Feminism and are label “gender traitors” or, indeed, the “class traitors” of old.)

Freunde wandten sich ab, Weggefährten wurden zu Kontrahenten. Es sei vergleichbar mit dem Ausstieg aus einer Sekte.

Translation: Friends turned away from her, fellow travelers became opponents. It was like leaving a sect.

Comment:
Again, the same. I have heard repeated tellings of former good Leftists who literally lost friends over a change of heart. Indeed, when the Swedish Party SD first gained traction, there were campaigns to dump all Facebook “friends” who had had the audacity to vote for them. (This was more than ten years ago, so I am low on details and references, but a much older text might be of interest.

[Homöopathie schien sie von mysteriösen Nachfolgen eines Autounfalls zu retten.] Grams reagierte wie viele Menschen, die derartige Erfahrungen machen: Auf Ereignis A (eine homöopathische Behandlung) folgt Ereignis B (die Beschwerdefreiheit), also muss A die Ursache für B sein. Sie hinterfragte das keine Sekunde. […] “Es war meine homöopathische Erweckung.”

Translation:
[Homeopathy appeared to safe her from mysterious consequences of a car accident.] Grams reacted like many other humans, who have made such experiences: Event A (a Homeopathic treatment) followed event B (disappearing symptoms); ergo, A must be the cause of B. She did not question this for even a second. […] “It was my Homeopathic awakening.”

Comment:
This is mostly unrelated to PC issues and more of interest for her personal development. However, the mentioned “post hoc; ergo, propter hoc” thinking is a common problem, including in Leftists and PC contexts, as is the more general failure to separate causality and correlation, as with e.g. the observation that (on average) working-class parents have less academically successful children and the conclusion that this must be due to the lesser amount of money or lesser SES of the parents.

Sie begann eine Zusatzausbildung in Homöopathie und Traditioneller Chinesischer Medizin. […] Da wie dort war es erforderlich, große Stoffmengen auswendig zu lernen, viel Zeit für eine differenzierte Betrachtung blieb nicht. Genau wie ihre Kommilitonen kam sie auch gar nicht auf die Idee, eine solche für angebracht zu halten: Man war unter Gleichgesinnten, […] Es war ein Leben in einer Blase.

Translation:
She began additional* studies in Homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. […] Here as well as there,** it was necessary to learn large amounts of material by heart, not much time was left for a differentiated view[ing?]. Just like her fellow students, she did not even contemplate, that this was necessary: They were among fellow believers, […] It was a life in a bubble.***

*In addition to her regular medicine studies.

**Presumably, referring to her regular studies and the additional studies. The formulation is idiotic in German too.

***Note the English expression “echo chamber”.

Comment:
My main take-away is that medical* education might be flawed through focusing too much on knowledge and too little on understanding and thinking. However, both the lack of willingness to question (for whatever reason) and the “bubble” appear to match large portions of the social sciences, including “gender studies”, well.

*This, obviously, is a criticism that I have made against large portions of the education field in general, and is likely not specific to medicine. However, medical education does have a reputation of being based more on very hard work than on very high IQ.

Grams las [ein Anti-Homöopathie-Buch] und war wütend. Hier verhöhnten offenkundig Ahnungslose eine bewährte Therapie, auf die viele Menschen schworen, wie jeder Anwender und Scharen von begeisterten Patienten bestätigen konnten, zürnte Grams. [She wanted to write her own book in defense of Homeopathy.]

Translation:
Gram read [an anti-Homeopathy book] and was furious. Here an obvious ignorant spotted a proven therapy, that many humans swore on, that ever user and hordes of enthusiastic patients could confirm,* vexed** Grams. [She wanted to write her own book in defense of Homeopathy.]

*Equally bad in German, The intent is likely that they could confirm how well it worked.

**The German original uses a “zürnen” (“to grow angry” or “to grow angry at”) in a similar non-standard manner. The intent is likely that she expressed the opinion preceding the “vexed” while being vexed.

Comment:
This is broadly just an illustration of the prior quote, but it catches the mood in Leftist circles well: we have the truth and those who disagree are unenlightened buffoons, who should shut the fuck up until they have taken “gender studies 101”. (Also see excursion below.)

Dafür allerdings musste sie recherchieren. Sie war gezwungen, nach Belegen für die Wirksamkeit von Homöopathie zu suchen, […] Das Ergebnis war niederschmetternd. Grams stellte fest: Verdammt, die Kritiker haben recht. […] “In dem Moment ist meine Welt implodiert.”

Translation:
But to do this, she needed to research [the topic]. She needed to search for proof of the effectiveness of Homeopathy, […] The result was devastating. Grams found: Damn, the critics have it right. […] “In that moment, my world imploded.”

Comment:
And so it is with e.g. Feminism: actually look at the facts with an open and critical mind and the Feminist world-view proves a fantasy or nightmare. (Cf. e.g. 77 cents on the dollar, rape statistics, or any number of Woozles.) But: all too few are willing to do that …

[…] dass es einer seltsamen Beweislastumkehr gleichkommt, wenn gefordert wird, die etablierte Medizin müsse eben so lange forschen, bis sie auf Belege stoße, die den Homöopathen recht gäben; dass es ein seltsamer Sonderstatus der Homöopathie ist, wenn sie ihre Methode trotz seit 200 Jahren ausständiger Belege am Patienten anwendet, während alle anderen Sparten der Medizin zuerst Wirksamkeitsbeweise brauchen und dann erst therapieren dürfen; […]

Translation:
[…] that it is an odd reversal of the burden of proof, when established medicine is required to research, until it finds proof that the Homeopaths are right; that it brings an odd special status to Homeopathy, wenn it uses it methods on patients, despite 200 years of undelivered proofs, while all other branches of medicine have to give proof of effectivity first and treat later.

Comment:
The same problem is very common with “gender studies”, Feminism, Leftist propaganda. The rules are different for the Left, the non-Left must prove* its points while the Left is to be believed, and the Left has tolkningsföreträde on any issue.

*And any proof given is likely to be discounted for/in an unscientific or intellectually dishonest reason/manner, e.g. an unfounded accusation of sexism/racism, ridicule, or outright censorship.

Sie schrieb ihr Buch, […] Wie sie selbst, dachte Grams, müssten doch auch all ihre Kollegen daran interessiert sein, Argumente auszutauschen und das wissenschaftliche Fundament ihres therapeutischen Konzepts zu erörtern. Sie waren es nicht. Sie erntete Bestürzung, Ablehnung und offene Feindseligkeit. Sie hatte sich der Ketzerei schuldig gemacht.

Translation:
She wrote her book, […] Just like she, thought Grams, her colleagues must be interested in an exchange of arguments and a discussion of the scientific foundations of the therapeutic concept. They were not. She reaped chock, rejection, and open hostility. She had spoken heresy.

Comment:
Her expectation is a little surprising, as she had shown a similar reluctance herself, before her research, but the observations are well in line with the PC crowd: Their “truth” is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–and must not be questioned.

Excursion on who is the unenlightened:
A very annoying problem, mentioned repeatedly, with the Left (and, apparently, Homeopaths) is that dissent is usually viewed as “You are an unenlightened buffoon. Once you have seen the light, you will also see that I am right.”, while the truth is usually the opposite. I, e.g., grow up with many Feminist prejudices that I only later learned were unfounded—and the more that I have seen of statistics, reasoning, Feminist debate methods, male and female behavior, etc., the more I have realized how flawed their world-view usually is. (The same applies to e.g. the “Old Left”, but I saw through it a lot earlier.)

For instance, the first major doubt came at some point in my teens: I read about a behavioral study in a news-paper, where male and female pedestrians had been placed at zebra crossings and the number of male and female drivers who did and did not halt had been counted. This seemed like a no-brainer: The kind and considerate women would tend to halt, the egoistic men would tend to drive, and when a “mere woman” waited at the crossing, men would be less likely to halt than for other men. The results were the exact opposite: Men halted more often than women, the constellation with the highest proportion of haltings was male driver/female pedestrian, and the one with the lowest proportion was female driver/female pedestrian. When I read this, I had a big “what the fuck” moment, and wondered if there had been some error somewhere. Today, based on another thirty (give or take) years of experiences with men and women, I would not have been the least surprised.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 23, 2020 at 12:59 am

Why the world is going to Hell

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As the world appears to go to Hell faster and faster, and as problems that I complained about ten years ago appear to go from a Swedish phenomenon to a world-wide disaster, it might be time to reflect on the causes. How can it, e.g., be that group A brings factual arguments, reasoning, statistics, whatnot, that group B brings ad hominem and other unethical rhetorical tricks, sloganeering, pseudo-arguments and -reasoning that fall apart when prodded with a stick, etc., and that group B wins? How can the virtual astrologers defeat the astronomers? The virtual homeopaths defeat the “allopaths’?

A dominance in media might contribute, certainly. (But how did that dominance arise?) Ditto less stringent schooling. Ditto less exposure to history. Ditto less exposure to past thinkers. Ditto this and ditto that.

The core problem is something else, however, namely that most humans are very bad at thinking (or choose not to think, in the first place).

In particular, someone of “average” intellectual/cognitive abilities, IQ, g, whatnot, is deeply stupid.

I am sorry, but it really, really has to be said:

The average human is deeply stupid.

More than that, even humans a fair bit above average are usually far from ideal. For instance, my main tour at university was at a program* widely considered one the most challenging in Sweden, loaded with math and physics—the type of program where the (in U.S. terms) average AP math A-scorer has problems keeping up. Even here, I saw plenty of students unable to follow not-too-complicated arguments or who preferred to ask for help instead of thinking for themselves—students who were not just less smart than I was, but who were depressingly far behind.

*Civilingenjör in “teknisk fysik” at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

In parallel, I took roughly two semesters of business classes at one of the hardest-to-get-into programs* in Sweden—where (again, in U.S. terms) a near perfect GPA and/or SAT score is needed to get in. My impression of most students was not one of awe (certainly, not compared to the above), many were more leg-workers than head-workers, and the tests usually checked more for rote-learning and ability to replicate from memory than for understanding and ability to apply knowledge independently. Still, this might have been second brainiest “peer group” that I ever had.

*Civilekonom at the Stockholm School of Economics. I interrupted my studies when I moved to Germany as an exchange student within my main program. (I deliberately leave out my studies in Germany from the discussion, as issues like my own language deficits made it hard to judge the level of the students.)

Go back to “year nine” of school, where brain-development was at an almost adult level and I last interacted with students who had not been strongly pre-filtered* for intelligence—and most were deeply stupid. So stupid, in fact, that I consider it a joke that they, a few years later, gained the right to vote by dint of turning eighteen.

*Years ten-through-twelve, the Swedish “gymnasiet” is voluntary, with many of the dumbest dropping out, and with a self-filtering into different programs, some academic, some vocational. I went to the the usually-considered-hardest academic program (natural science). Compared to year nine, almost everyone in my new class would have rated in the upper half or better.

Before I switched to writing, I worked in different software positions over twenty years. Most of my colleagues have likely had Master-level STEM-degrees. If not, most have definitely had at least Bachelor-level STEM-degrees. Very few have been smart enough to make good software developers; about half so dumb* that they should have been kept away from the profession entirely. Looking at other departments, (e.g. HR, product management, project management), the standard has been far lower, even though most of these have had some type of university level qualification, often undergraduate degrees in some business or administration topic.

*But, to avoid misunderstandings, a clear majority of these were still above the population average.

Looking at other people that I have interacted with over the years, including roughly half of my pre-college teachers*, most-or-almost-all civil servants, most-or-almost-all customer-service workers, most-or-almost-all social contacts (outside work), there is a clear dominance of “deeply stupid” and “has no business voting” (among those that I have seen enough of to form an impression). Then we have my impressions of most journalists, many elected politicians, whatnot—-just depressing.

*I left for university in 1994. In my impression, the quality has dropped even further since then.

The simple truth is that most activities that humans engage in, even most post-school activities that many have ever encountered, require very little “higher” intelligence—but that tasks like software development, politics, and voting do.* Holding a conversation, e.g., requires comparatively little, because humans come with a tremendous amount of built-in “circuitry” for conversation and what is not built-in can be trained simply through talking a few hours a day. Children and people with an I.Q. of 80 can do it—as long as the topics include the weather, who has a crush on whom, and what team won the game last Saturday. Performing simple routine tasks after a bit of instruction is not that intellectually straining. Etc.

*To do well, that is: Just getting a position as a software developer is far, far easier than becoming a good software developer, some complete idiots have managed to be elected, and the right to vote is usually handed out in a blanket manner to those who turn eighteen.

But: let the intellectual demands increase and most fall of the map fairly rapidly. Disturbingly many have problems with so elementary concepts as fractions, even when explained. Fewer yet could be told the concept and come up, on their own, with simply arithmetic laws for fractions. Most of the population appears unable to learn non-trivial matters from books. Think critically, see through a flawed argument, make abstractions, understand cause and consequence, create new knowledge, understand a math proof, …? Now we are down to a small minority.

One way or another, almost all modern problems boil down to human stupidity and irrationality. For instance, is it really reasonable that someone is allowed a say in politics who wrecks a child’s math score for illustrating “3 x 8” by adding 3 eight times instead of adding 8 three times?* Someone who does not understand that causality and correlation are different things? Someone who believes that if X implies Y then not-X necessarily implies not-Y? Someone who fails to understand that a difference in incentives can alter human behavior? Someone who hears “First they came …” and fails to see how it could apply to any other group than the Nazis (or, on the outside, other members of pseudo-category “Right”)? Someone who cannot understand the point of the previous questions without examples?

*A real example that I encountered on the Internet a few months ago (with reservations for the exact details). Even posing the question is disputable, as it does little to test the child. Picking the one over the other is idiotic, on this level, because both points of view are arithmetically equivalent, and a significant difference will only be relevant when we start to think about math in terms of operators—which is not productive for small children and somewhat arbitrary in general.

Also see e.g. [1] for previous discussions.

Excursion on IQ, etc.:
A more extensive and slightly quantified attempt to classify IQ and capabilities is found in a text by James Thompson. Comparing his speculation with my personal experiences and observations, I believe that he errs on the side of optimism in some cases. I suspect that at least some readers will be tempted to use flawed arguments like “Michael speaks of IQ, IQ is this-and-that; ergo, everything above is nonsense”. To this I add that the value of IQ as measure is well established, contrary to PC propaganda, and that none of the above requires IQ to be valid. (Neither does it require e.g. that I.Q. is heritable.)

Excursion on my second Master:
I earned a second Master in Germany, a few years after my original studies. As this was a distance program, my interactions with other students were to small for me to form an impression, but I have written very unfavorably about the quality of the university in the past ([2]).

Excursion on “Civil”-degrees:
Swedish degrees that start with “Civil” are usually broadly equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor immediately followed by a U.S. Master, thesis included. I compare the progress of my own studies with a U.S. J.D in an older text ([3]), which might be a useful illustration.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 21, 2020 at 11:46 am

German anti-Rightwing law is coming

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Among the many, many problems with reductions of civic rights, declining Rechtsstaatlichkeit, censorship, and Leftist dominance of public debate, one quite severe is the recently suggested German “Gesetz zur Bekämpfung des Rechtsextremismus und der Hasskriminalität”. I simply do not have the time to analyze and discuss it in detail,* but I want to clearly point to one thing—its name.

*But see e.g. an analysis in German by a data-protection company.

The name translates to “Law for combating Rightwing-extremism and hate-criminality”. (Fairly literally, with added hyphens to avoid potential misinterpretation. An official translation or a corresponding “native” English law would likely have a more idiomatically conventional name.)

Why make this anti-Right agenda so programmatic? Especially, when Germany has a very severe problem with Leftwing extremists, like Antifa*, MLPD**, Die Linke***, and others.

*Needs no explanation.

**A Marxist-Leninist party which is publicly calling for revolution and bans of all other parties that are not sufficiently compatible with their opinions.

***A direct descendant of SED, the ruling Communist party of the old East-Germany—currently established in (the German-wide) parliament and a co-ruling party in the state of Thüringen.

In addition, the combination with “hate” continues Leftist attempts to push a Right-equals-hate/hate-equals-Right agenda, despite Leftist hate being a far greater problem. (Similar to the White-equals-racist/racist-equals-White pushing that is increasingly common in the U.S., despite, as far as I can tell from abroad, racism being more prevalent among Blacks.)

Any legitimate, objective, and not-outrageously partisan law* would have spoken of e.g. “political extremism”. Including a “Rightwing” discredits the law ab ovo and equally discredits anyone who votes for it.

*Whether and to what degree such a law would have been justified over regular laws against e.g. violence can be disputed (I would be skeptical); however, the current type of programmatic anti-“Right” law is inexcusable.

Excursion on problems with variations of “Right” and “Rightwing”, without or without “extremism”:
As I have repeatedly stated in the past, the concept of a political “Right” is, on the outside, definable as something not Leftist, due to a too large heterogeneity, and the “extreme Right”, in particular, does not constitute a more extreme version of the “Right”. Nevertheless, in the current Germany (and not only there) there is a very strong trend to put anything even remotely “Right” in one basket, often with an implicit stamp of “racist”, “Nazi”, or similar. What is “Right” is increasingly one-sidedly defined by the Left, and traditional “Rightwing” parties, e.g. CDU, are increasingly hiding behind a “Center” label.

Excursion on “hate”, etc.:
Implications of “hate” are often hard to prove, yet equally often assumed in a blanket manner. (Just like the blanket “racism” accusation in the George Floyd situation.) Moreover, this is another area where the Left presumes to one-sidedly dictate what is or is not hate. Cf. e.g. [1] (ten years ago—things have not improved) or my series on hate speech ([2], [3], [4]).

Excursion on other programmatically wrongful laws:
Unfortunately, this type of angle is not something unique. For instance, Swedish laws for protection of minorities explicitly includes (the majority!) women but not (the minority!) men—why not simply make a law that protects against mistreatment based on group, without any such ridiculous and arbitrary inclusions or exclusions? If in doubt, a good-faith attempt to justify this with claims about women being more exposed or mistreated more often (a highly dubious claim for several decades, in Sweden) is untenable, because there is no guarantee that what holds today holds tomorrow. It would be trivial to make a more generic law that is not vulnerable to such issues and the failure to do so reeks of anti-equality Feminism. (But, in all fairness, pure incompetence could also explain it—we are talking about politicians.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 18, 2020 at 10:34 pm

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Creating leadership to raise awareness of poor language

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I recently skimmed a Wikipedia page with the almost absurd claim “[he] devoted his time to raising awareness of childhood obesity”, which leads me to have a look at a few words/phrases that have annoyed me for a long time.

To begin with, unsurprisingly, “raising awareness”:

I cannot count the number of times that I have encountered this nonsensical “raising awareness” and I cannot remember more than a small fraction of the causes for which awareness is being raised. This makes the phrase hackneyed and pointless.

I have never quite understood what “raising awareness” would amount to, the phrase is too generic, and the implications can be very different from context to context. This makes the phrase uninformative, even potentially misleading.

The number of apparent causes is so large that it makes the phrase, even the general idea, disputable (also see an excursion below): Firstly, most of the underlying issues are either too trivial to bother the broad masses with or so obvious that any even semi-educated person will already be aware of them. (As with e.g. childhood obesity in the modern U.S.) Secondly, the number of issues is too large for anyone to be seriously “aware” of more than a small fraction of them. (And the limited “awareness” is, obviously, best spent on issues with a personal relevance or where a personal effort can bring something. Someone who tries to “raise awareness” of childhood obesity with me, a childless adult, wastes my time.)

There might well be worthy actions available to those who want to help with a certain cause or issue (and there might be some causes and issues far worthier than others), but “raising awareness” will hardly ever be one of them.

If someone provides an information service, then say so.

If someone raises funds, then say so.

If someone holds speeches, then say so.

Etc.

The we have variations on the “leader” and “leadership” theme:

For instance, consider how many colleges proudly proclaim that they are “educating the leaders of tomorrow”, how many activities will “improve leadership skills”, or how many “leadership” awards there seems to be.

“Leader” seems to be increasingly used merely as a term for someone of some level of accomplishment, and not necessarily a very high one. The aspect of actually leading* is often absent or reduced to being a claimed role-model, being a “leader by example”, or having at some point led something trivial, like a handful of boy-scouts or a three-person department (as opposed to e.g. an army regiment resp. a Fortune-500 company). Indeed, the truly competent are often not found in leadership positions, e.g. because they are not sufficiently interested in self-promotion and socializing, or because their ideas are voted down by a less competent majority.

*As an aside, I have a fairly low opinion of many types of leaders and leadership ideas in general. This in particular with leaders who focus greatly on motivation and/or are poor decision makers.

A brilliant scientist, e.g., might well be a “leading scientist” and might even legitimately have “led the field”, in the sense of being a forerunner, but these meanings are only tangentially related to “leadership” and “being a leader”. Why then speak of “leadership” and “being a leader”, unless separate proof of leadership is present?

From another point of view, consider the reality of the world vs. a Lake Wobegon where everyone is a leader: How many college graduates, e.g., will ever have a leadership position actually worth mentioning? Is it not better for an engineering student to focus on becoming a great engineer than on being one of the “future leaders of the engineering profession”? For a med student to focus on becoming a great physician than on being one of the “future leaders of the medical profession”? If in doubt, very many engineers will end up in a “Dilbert” scenario, “led” by an incompetent middle-manager*, while very many physicians work endless hours to remain in the middle off the pack. Looking at non-STEM students, they are often found “leading” customers to include fries in their fast-food orders.

*As an aside, making managers and administrators more than assistants of and paper-work handlers for the core work-force might have been a grave mistake.

If in doubt, when a college degree has become the norm, calling college graduates “leaders” would result in an army with more generals than privates.

Similarly, if someone played a major part in a sports win (possibly, any part), he “led” the team to victory, while, apparently, the team’s coach did not. Going by biographies and CVs there might be teams out there with as many leaders as players …

I might go as far as suggest that the reader bans terms like “leadership” from his vocabulary. Often, they are entirely misleading; when not, more specific* words are usually better, to avoid both the taint of today’s wishy-washy meaning and the risk, when applied to oneself, of sounding self-aggrandizing.

*Which words will depend on the circumstances, but calling Trump “president”, Merkel “chancellor”, the mayor “mayor” and the major “major”, and so on, would be better than speaking of the “leader of [whatnot]”. In collectives, “heads of government” would be better than “leaders of countries”, etc. Semi-generic, but still more specific, terms like “decision maker” can work well in many contexts.

Finally, consider “create”:

Increasingly, a song-writer no longer writes songs but “creates” them; a designer no longer designs but “creates”; replace an ingredient in an existing drink, and you have now “created” the whatever-you-choose-to-call-it; etc. On one occasion, I actually read that someone had “created” the hair of some celebrity or other—not even the hair style, but the hair …

A particular negative examples is an actor “creating” a part: Never mind the preceding work of a playwright or director—if an actor takes on a new part, he “creates” it. As much as I acknowledge an actor’s ability to interpret a part, variations of “create” will hardly ever be fair and meaningful. If this was limited to the first actor to play the part, I might have been content with pointing out that “originate” would be a better word, but, no, if the play moves from London to New York, a second actor might be credited with “creating” the very same part, move to Paris and we have a third, etc.

The word is used in such a blanket manner that it is beginning to lose all meaning. (Not to mention removing nuance from the language. Compare e.g. “I wrote this text” with “I created this text”.)

And, yes, I have seen cases of the double-whammy “create awareness” … (But, in all fairness, that use of “create” is much more acceptable.)

Excursion on the purpose of “awareness”:
From a non-language angle: What is awareness supposed to achieve? Those who are actually affected will usually already be aware—and those who are not, are unlikely to be sufficiently bright and willing to be made aware.* On the other hand, if someone never interacts with children, it will rarely matter whether awareness of childhood obesity is present. If some old lady spends her evening with concerns about all those poor obese children while she watches TV, how does that make the world better? Her evening would certainly be more pleasant without the awareness. If awareness changes voting patterns, it will usually do more harm than good, because few issues are even remotely important enough to outweigh the totality of other factors that decide a vote. If someone donates money, it might harm another charity or take away business from someone else—and money given to charities often mainly serve to keep the charity, it self, its employees, and its contractors in money. (Raising all that awareness can be quite expensive …) If more people join a march or run a marathon with a certain badge, then this achieves nothing, except, possibly, to raise more awareness.

*Take someone who is sufficiently uninformed, unobservant, or uncaring, to not prevent an obese child from stuffing himself with chips and soft-drinks. Would this someone be likely to listen to warnings against childhood obesity? Fervently write down tips for a better diet? I doubt it.

Now, if awareness was directed at truly big issues where ignorance is common, there might be a point—but it rarely is. For instance, consider formation of opinion (political opinion, in particular): if more were aware of how important it is to think for oneself, to look at both sides of a story, to read deeper accounts than what newspapers provide, to have a solid knowledge of history, to have free speech even for dissenters, …, that could have a major positive impact on the outdated or otherwise flawed opinions that plague current societies, which, in turn, could have a major positive impact on public policy. Very few* actually “raise awareness” (if that loathsome phrase is tolerated) in this area. Of those who do, hardly any are considered philanthropists, and quite a few are condemned for spurious reasons, like allegedly supporting a particular movement after merely having advocated that its members, too, must have free speech.

*I am one of the few, which explains the example.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 18, 2020 at 4:35 pm

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Speculations on the negative influence of female attitudes

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Over the years, I often contemplated whether many of the unfortunate political and societal tendencies of today might be partially rooted in a greater female* involvement in fields like politics and business, e.g. a focus on equality of outcome (instead of opportunity), the feelings-matter-more-than-facts mentality, the I-deserve-this attitude (as opposed to I-have-earned-this), the condemnation of anything considered “elitist” and the over-focus on just-different-not-better-or-worse, the misinterpretation of something as a personal** matter (as opposed as factual one), the increasing legal obligation of the “strong” to take care of the “weak”,*** the prioritization of effort over accomplishment (“A for effort”), …

*In general and not restricted to the negative influence of the pseudo-science “Gender Studies” and Feminism, which has for decades been increasingly unable to hide that it is a one-sided women’s movement, not an equality movement.

**As in e.g. “you said/did this because you dislike me, specifically and personally”, and as opposed to “you said/did this because you dislike what I said/did, and you would have said/done the same, had it been someone else”.

***Where “strong”, in reality, often amounts to nothing more than “is a hard worker who planned ahead”, while “weak” often amounts to “was lazy in school and is lazy at work”, or variations on similar themes.

A few days ago, this was again brought to my mind through a shopping incident, which, in it self, was no big deal, but did provide an excellent illustration of some problems that I have encountered again and again in interactions with women (it also illustrates why I often find women frustrating):

I went to grab a shopping cart, found that the first one in my aisle* had some sort of metal holder sticking up from the “handlebar” (for want of a better word), which served no obvious purpose, which I had never seen on any of the carts there or elsewhere, and which could not be removed. I would obviously have preferred to grab a cart without this add-on, but in order to do so, I would have had to lead this cart out of its aisle, temporarily leave it, go back down the aisle and grab the next cart, lead it throw the aisle, leave it unattended, while I brought the original cart back through the aisle, and then go out the aisle a last time to pick up the waiting cart—assuming that no-one had grabbed it, in which case I would have had to start over. Obviously, this would simultaneously have hindered others who wanted to access the aisle. In the pre-COVID-19 days, it would also have involved using two Euro coins instead of one, forcing me to go for my wallet instead of my pocket.**

*At this particular store, the shopping carts are parked in two quite long aisles surrounded by metal railings. My aisle was almost empty, while the other had exactly one cart. (In Germany, the last cart is often not removable, for unclear reasons, and going after it might have saved me some time or might have forced me to return to my original aisle with an additional loss of time.)

**Most shopping carts in Germany have a slot to insert a Euro coin to release it from the chain of carts. (The coin is refunded when the cart is returned.) During the COVID-19 era, many stores have dropped this requirement. (Presumably, to justify a parallel “you may not enter the store without a shopping cart” rule, in turn, likely, an attempt to either increase distances between people or to limit the number of simultaneous visitors to the store.)

I was halfway out of the aisle, when the following events and dialogue (from memory and paraphrased from German into English) began:

W(oman who was driving her cart back to her car): That cart is for [some baby thing or other]. It would be good if they were left for the mothers.

(Note how she does not spare a word on the extra effort that this would have implied for me, does not consider that it had been, apparently, mis-parked by someone else, and assumes in a blanket manner that only mothers would ever use it, not fathers, baby-sitters, whatnot. She also spoke in a reproachful you-should-know-better tone—but how should I have known better? Again, I have never seen this type of modified cart before!)

I: It would be good if I could reach the other carts.

W: Well, yes, that other woman did park it in the wrong place.

(If she had noticed this, why did she speak to me, now or at all, and not “that other woman” at the time? Or did she, again, just assume that it had to be a woman?)

W: Well, we can switch carts, I suppose, then I can drive it back where it belongs.

(This in a tone that and formulation as if she were doing me a favor, displaying a lack of perspective both on the situation and our respective roles.)

She moves one or two bags between carts and we go our separate ways. I soon notice that the cart is unusually clumsy for being empty, but first assume that it is just a locked* wheel, which she has pawned off on me. A moment later, I spot a carton with six (?) quart-sized juice boxes on some type of rack below the main “basket” of the cart.

*Many German shopping carts have an idiotic wheel lock that is triggered when the cart leaves a certain area, but which is not unlocked when the cart re-enters that area and the staff does not seem to unlock carts on its own initiative—if at all.

I: Lady, excuse me lady. Your beverages!

W: Oh, I forgot, come here and I’ll take them.

(She forgets, and I am supposed to come to her, a dozen-or-so meters in the wrong in direction? The forgetting, it self, is a little odd, but I might have given her a pass, had it not been for all the other oddities. I, too, occasionally forget things, but I take responsibility for them when I do.)

As I suspect that I would lose more time through arguing than I would gain, I do drive over—and then have to wait some ten seconds, while she fiddles around with her own cart, before she turns her attention to the juice. (If I cause a problem for someone else, I tend to that problem first and my own later. With hindsight, as I write some of the below, I cannot rule out that she was not just inconsiderately leaving me waiting, but positively expected me to move the juice for her.)

Now, imagine if her first line would have been that of an adult, e.g. “W: Excuse me, but someone must have placed that cart in the wrong place. It is a [baby this-or-that] and does not belong with the other carts. If you want to, we can switch, and then I will take it back where it belongs, when I am done.”—which version would you prefer and which is fairer? Alternately, she would still have left the world a little better off by just remaining silent towards me and, optionally, writing a letter to the store, suggesting some design change to prevent a return of the cart to the wrong place.

(As an aside, I would likely have been done faster, had I gone through the pick-another-cart-through-running-repeatedly-through-the-aisle scenario above. Should a similar situation happen again, I will be sorely tempted to make my first and only line “I: Take a hike, rude woman!” …)

Among the interesting sub-topics there are two overlapping that I want to address in more detail:

  1. That she spoke to the wrong person above and that women might expect more from men than from other women:

    Now, I do not know the specifics of her motivations above, and it is possible that she simply was too late to speak with the other woman (but in time to speak with me). However, it is quite possible that she picked me, because I am a man. More generally, many women still seem to work on the assumption that men are (or should be) kinder to women than other women are, are more likely (or even obliged) to do them favors, etc., which could explain the choice. (Also note the assumption that I would be the one to come to her with the juice.) If in doubt, a smile and a little flirting seems to be supposed to make men give women special treatment, and I suspect that one of the reasons that I have had proportionally more intra-office conflicts with women than with men is that I do not engage in such favors and that I do hold women to the same standard as I do men. While many women are reasonably professional, far too many are not (especially, among the younger): In a minor caricature, “I spent five minutes flirting and he still wanted me to fix my own error! Why didn’t he let it slide—or volunteer to do it for me?!?”

    The TV meme of a girl-friend wanting the boy-friend to drop everything and come over immediately has happened to me in real life and I have been asked to solve dozens of computer problems that the respective girl-friend could have solved herself in five minutes through just using her head or doing an Internet search. My niece apparently has managed to talk my step-father into driving her eighty kilometers to something as trivial as cheer-leading practice (“practice”, not “competition”) after she missed a train; and I have myself been told* that I really should have a car or I would not be able to drive my girl-friend when she needed a ride. In our teens, my sister (mother of the aforementioned niece) hardly lifted a finger in the household while I mowed the lawn and chopped wood. I once, in some context, read about a mother who had asked her (very young) daughter why she preferred to play with her father—the reply was along the lines “daddy plays like I want too”, which the mother did not. Etc.

    *In all fairness, this was a joking statement, by one of the more self-insightful female colleagues that I have had. My reply was that I did not have a girl-friend and, therefore, did not need a car. The attitude is real with some women, however.

    At the extreme end, I once read an article (blog post? whatnot?) by a woman who insisted that it was important to have many friends and, specifically, at least one friend in each area of potential need, to have a computer-geek friend (“he* fixes my computer for free”), an accountant friend (“he does my tax filings for free”), a lawyer friend (“if I am ever sued, he would represent me for free”), etc. (To avoid misunderstandings: her attitude was not “I am lucky to coincidentally have many good friends who are also very useful to me” but “I deliberately seek to make ‘friends’ because they will be useful to me—and you should do so too”.)

    *In my recollection, these friends were all or overwhelmingly male, but the general scheme was likely open to female ‘friends’, if they had the right skills to be useful and were naive enough to let themselves be used. A version which is less centered on male victims, however, would only move the example from this item to the next.

  2. Who-does-what and the contrast between selfless cooperation and own responsibility/cooperation for mutual benefit:

    Superficially, it might seem that it was reasonable that I drove my cart to her to get rid of the juice, instead of the opposite—I had a lesser load relative* my strength level, it was a lesser effort for me,** and she would now only have to reload the juice once (my cart to her car; instead of my cart to her cart to her car). This is also in line with the opinions that I had (or had instilled in me) as a child, to selflessly help others whenever we can—and to take such help from others for granted.

    *But not necessarily absolutely, depending on what she had in her bag(s).

    **At least, on a normal day. At the time, I was at the end of a ten kilometer walk with a lot of hills, but she had no way of knowing that.

    However, as I have understood as an adult, this type of reasoning causes no end of problems and unfairness. For instance, above, she made a mistake in implementing her suggestion, and I am supposed to rectify it. Why? In this particular case, it was not a big deal, but by an analog reasoning, if her car had broken down, I would have been obliged to carry her bags home for her. It fosters a lack of own responsibility, it removes the incentives to think first and take precautions (because if something goes wrong, someone else will fix it for free), it distorts markets and misses opportunities for economic growth, it lands the innocent with an undue burden, it opens the door for deliberate abuse, it keeps growth in the skills of the helped back,* etc.

    *In at least some cases, as e.g. with the child whose parents do everything for him, the girl-friend who refuses to fix her own computer problems, or the man who is given a fish instead of a book on fishing.

    For instance, consider the woman with many friends from the first item: As long as only she, or only just a small minority, follows her method, or as long as such free-of-charge services are limited to true and long-term friends and family members, things will still work fine. However, if (as per her suggestion) everyone tries to build the same type of friend network, what will happen? Take her accountant ‘friend’: He will now have next to no private business but have a roughly unchanged work-load, because people go to their “friend accountant” instead of their “paid-for accountant”. Those who deal mostly with corporate clients might still do well, but now with the additional workload from their “friends”. The profitability of being an accountant will drop, some current accountants will be forced to leave the profession,* members of the following generations will be less inclined to become accountants, etc. As an interesting side-effect, accountants with a greater interest in socializing will be hit worse, because they are more likely to have many friends, and some might deliberately cut down on friends to be able to remain in business. Is that a world that we want to live in? Especially, as the same will happen to more-or-less any useful profession? (The Leftist reader should also note the drop in tax revenue and that taxes are what ultimately pays for all those “free” government hand-outs.)

    *But they might still be on the hook for helping their friends, if they still have the right skills (and, possibly, certifications).

    Or consider fairness, incentives, and market forces, in a scenario like a teenage boy mowing the lawn for the wealthy old widow next door, because she is too weak to do so herself. If he does it for free, from the kindness of his heart, she benefits and no-one else. If she pays him, they both benefit. If the widows Smith and Wesson insist that he help them too, because he does help the widow Jones, he would he hard-pressed to turn them down. In one case, he has extra work for nothing; in the other, he has a fair recompense and, possibly, even the beginning of a small business, which will teach him valuable skills for his later life. (And the Leftist reader should, again, pay attention to taxes.) With remuneration, that one boy might not be stuck with moving all the lawns alone, because some other boy might be found willing. Or we might see two birds by one stone, when an unemployed (adult) neighbor starts to earn money. With remuneration the widow Jones might have the guts to point out that the boy occasionally nicks a flower when mowing around the flower beds. With remuneration the poorer widow Wesson might find that a bi-weekly mowing is enough, giving the boy some more spare time.

    Or consider taking or not taking own responsibility: Say that three poor co-eds go to a far-away party, stay until the middle of the night, and that one calls for a free-of-charge ride from her boy-friend, while another has to call a taxi, and the third has to walk home. Who will tendentially behave how the next weekend? (And would it not be fair for the first to at least cover gas and time spent for the drive?) Or say that the co-eds each have an unnecessarily expensive apartment, and that, at some point, rent is overdue and unpayable: The first student gets a no-strings-attached handout from her father; the second a loan, to be repaid within six months, no excuses; the third gets nothing*. Who is more and who is less likely to go through the effort of looking for a cheaper apartment, pay greater attention to unnecessary expenses during the month, and/or take on a part-time job?

    *Not that I necessarily suggest this where a parent–child relationship is involved. (Indeed, my parents volunteered to pay my rent through-out, so it would be hypocritical. With hindsight, however and from my more adult perspective, a loan would have fairer to them and I might have learned to take more own responsibility at an earlier stage.) Still, the illustration of principle is valid. If in doubt, feel free to mentally replace “father” with “boy-friend”, “landlord”, or “tax payer”.

In both cases, there is a fair chance that evolution has tilted women more strongly towards such flawed attitudes than men (and might well have tilted men to be cooperative with women, which increases the problem). For instance, in the second case, a woman in a historical setting has often been mostly surrounded by close relatives and close friends, where help has been highly likely to be reciprocated and often had a positive evolutionary effect. Most of the relatives have likely been young children, with a limited or even absent ability to take care of themselves. In this situation, an attitude focused on helping and being helped might be very useful, even up to and including the Communist mantra of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

Move to adult life, business, politics, … and this no longer holds. These attitudes are suddenly highly problematic for reasons like those discussed above.

Men, in the same historical times, have been mostly surrounded by adults, interacted with a wider range of people, traded with strangers, been exposed to the risk of free-loaders in a different manner, seen a much lower degree of fungibility of personnel,* hunted in a different type of cooperation, lived in a world where lack of responsibility in one person might have caused the failure of all and everyone needed to be held to said responsibility, etc. If someone is too slow to hunt a certain animal, the others cannot hold back or carry him (as women going to gather berries might or might not have done), because then the hunt will fail. Instead, some other role has to be found, e.g. as a layer of traps or maker of weapons. Should the reason be old age, they would take care of him based on past work for the team, but not should the reason be laziness and a wish to get something for nothing. This develops the attitudes suitable for adult life, business, politics, …

*I am uncertain how to formulate that reasonably, but the point is that the positive resp. negative effects of working with someone with higher resp. lower IQ, strength, speed, whatnot are much larger when e.g. hunting or building a house than when gathering berries or raising children (at least by the standards of old). Moreover, the proportion of tasks in which it was possible to compensate for a lack of ability through harder and longer work was likely considerably smaller among men. Hence the degree of fungibility among women was correspondingly higher than among men, and there was less point in rewarding excellence or giving the more able incentives to work harder.

As an aside, regarding parts of the second item, there is well-known joke that is highly pertinent:

A physician asks his lawyer friend what to do about all those people who want free medical advice when they meet him in private. “Easy”, says the lawyer, “give them their advice and then send them a bill for services rendered. Either they will stop asking or you will get paid for the effort.” The physician was happy to finally have a solution. Two weeks later, he received a bill from the lawyer.

I doubt that these bills can be enforced, because the “customer” was not made aware of the fee in advance, but the principle is sound. Imagine spending the entire day dealing with medical or legal problems, trying to relax* with a few friends in the evening, and then having to deal with further medical or legal problems with not a dime of recompense. A better friend might just as well have dropped down to the office for some official, paid-for advice, which the physician or lawyer might have reciprocated with a prioritized treatment or a family-and-friends rebate.

*My idea of relaxation is a good book, movie, sit-com, whatnot, while hanging out with friends after a hard day’s work seems like a chore, but I appear to be in the minority here.

Another point of interest is the physicians failure to see the symmetry of the situation and/or his failure to realize that his “one” question might have been the lawyer’s umpteenth, just like his own umpteenth question might have been “one” question to each of his own free-loaders. This is certainly something that those should keep in mind, who wish for help from others.

Excursion on sexes in examples:
In the examples, I have mostly stuck with a male helper/female “helpee” to stress the early points on female attitudes. While these constellations are typically more likely than others, other constellations do, obviously, exist.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 14, 2020 at 4:00 pm