Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘democracy

Voting at 16

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After recent calls for a lowering of the voting age to 16 in the U.S., I just found the same idiocy in Germany. Consider [1] (in German) and some quotes:*

*The source is not quite current, but telling. (My original source is not archived and would be subject to short-term link rot.) Some changes to formatting and typography have been made. I make reservations for the details of the translation, in light of odd formulations in the original. I follow the original (and the standard German practice) in using conjunctive/subjunctive formulations for indirect speech.

Die Juristin Silke Ruth Laskowski von der Uni Kassel wies auf das Engagement vieler junger Menschen in der Klimabewegung hin. “Die notwendige Ernsthaftigkeit und Vernunft, die erforderlich ist, um an einer Wahl teilzunehmen, ist offenbar heute schon auch in einem jüngeren Alter zu finden.”

Translation:
The jurist Silke Ruth Laskowski of the Kassel University pointed to the involvement of many young people* in the climate movement. “The necessary seriousness and reason necessary to participate in an election** is obviously, today, to be found even in younger years.”

*Here and elsewhere, I use the idiomatically more likely “people”, over the literal “humans”, for “Menschen”.

**Contextually, in the sense of voting. The ambiguity with “running for office” is present in the original.

Firstly, the participation in climate hysteria* speaks strongly against enough reason being present. Secondly, the value of seriousness** is disputable. Thirdly, there is no proof that the current generation would, in some sense, be better than the past generations in this regard. (I rather suspect that they are worse…) Fourthly, seriousness and/or reason are not enough (as, if in doubt, proved by the participation in climate hysteria), we also need an understanding of how this-and-that works, an ability to see causes and consequences, to think in terms of side-effects, etc.—and the younger generations will, on average, trail by dint of being younger and having had less time to build their minds. As a special case, maybe overlapping with seriousness, we have physical maturity, as even the brain is not completely developed in someone of that age. As another special case, voting is to a significant part based on ideological positions, and the ideological positions of those in this age group tend to be exceedingly naive and highly changeable: very few have good opinions for good reasons, very many have poor opinions for poor reasons,*** and the best to be hoped for in any quantity is those who have good opinions for poor reasons…

*While there is nothing wrong with e.g. being aware of environmental issues and striving for a more “sustainable” world, what goes on with e.g. Greta Thunberg, “Fridays for the future”, and (sadly) even most of the adult movements is hysteria—nothing more, nothing less. If in doubt, the focus on specifically the climate, as opposed to the environment in general, goes a long way to prove a position naive. (I would go as far as suggesting, as a rule of thumb, to ignore everyone who speaks in terms of “climate” instead of “environment”.) The likes of Greta Thunberg are an argument against lowering the voting age.

**Indeed, the term, even in German, is sufficiently odd and irrelevant that the exact intentions are unclear.

***Something made worse through Leftist indoctrination in school, which affects the younger generations the more, and which can takes years to shake even in those who do manage to shake it.

Der Berliner Rechtswissenschaftler Christoph Möllers plädierte dafür, mehr “in Betroffenheiten zu denken”. Entscheidungen, die der Bundestag heute treffe, seien insbesondere für jüngere Menschen relevant. Das spreche dafür, das Wahlalter zu senken. Robert Vehrkamp von der Bertelsmann Stiftung argumentierte, die Möglichkeit zur Partizipation erzeuge politisches Interesse. Ein Wahlalter 16 biete die enorme Chance, Interesse für die Demokratie und für ihr Funktionieren zu erzeugen.

Translation:
The Berlin legal scientist [scholar?] Christoph Möllers pleaded in favor of thinking more in [terms of?] affectednesses.* Decisions that the Bundestag [German parliament] make today would be particularly relevant for young people. This would speak in favor of lowering the voting age. Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann foundation argued that the possibility of participation would create political interest. A voting age [of] 16 would offer the enormous chance of creating interest in democracy and its functioning.

*The German formulation is similarly unusual and awkward, but would contextually imply that whoever is affected by a decision should be included in the decision making. (Quotation marks removed for reasons of word order.)

Looking first at Christoph Möllers:

That current decisions might* be more relevant for the young is nothing new, as a greater portion of their lives might be affected by these decisions. As it is nothing new, it is not cause to reevaluate the situation.** Moreover, there is an implicit “us vs. them” thinking in Möllers’s reasoning, as the argument is only strong if we assume that different voter groups do and should vote predominantly based on personal interests (as opposed to e.g. what is ethically right, makes economic sense for society, what is, in some sense, fair, and similar), e.g. in that “the young must have the right to vote to protect themselves from exploitation by senior citizens”. It would, then, be much more valuable to combat this type of voting and the “us vs. them” thinking found (mostly) on the Left. Three further weaknesses of this argument are that the young will grow older and soon land in a group with other interests and priorities, that chances are that their parents already do a sufficient job in defending their rights and interests, and that there are other means of exerting political influence than voting—e.g. to present an intelligent argument to others.

*An important word as (a) the immediate relevance of many or most decision might be larger for others (e.g. a pensions reform), (b) the decision of today might have changed again by the time that it does/would have become immediately relevant.

**But it might be something to consider, should the situation be reevaluated for other reasons. A case could maybe be made that the bigger government and more meddling politicians of today has changed the situation, but, if so, the correct solution is to make government smaller and to prevent politicians from meddling.

As with the earlier discussion, it can also be doubted whether the young (a) know what politics further their best interests, even when they actually know these interests, (b) do know these interests, have their priorities straight, etc. For instance, an idea like “We must abandon nuclear power so we don’t end up in a nuclear wasteland!!!” might be appealing to many of the young, but the result of that will almost certainly be a worse future, both in general and when looking specifically at the environment, not a better one.

Robert Vehrkamp has a pointless claim: Firstly, the effect that he proposes is speculation. Secondly, political interest and participation is not an automatic good. On the contrary, most of the political active bring a net harm to the world. What we truly need is for those who are not sufficiently intelligent and well-informed to abstain from running for office, engaging in political activism, and voting—and he seems keen on achieving the opposite. Thirdly, any decision must be based on a pro-and-contra, and any advantage (should it actually exist) from lowering the voting age must be measured against the disadvantages that appear.

As is clear from other parts of the linked-to page, the pressure in Germany, as in the U.S., is coming from the Left—entirely unsurprisingly, as the Left (a) has a current advantage in the younger generations, (b) relies more strongly on voters who are poorly informed, outright misinformed or indoctrinated, and/or weak critical thinkers. (There is also room for speculation that pushing for a lower voting age can be beneficial to building that misleading image of “we on the Left care for you”, or similar, which well matches activities with other demographic groups.)

To be clear: From all that I have seen, such reforms aim at making the voters more susceptible to influence from the politicians, so that the politicians can do what they want with fewer constraints. Correspondingly, such a lowering of the voting age is a threat to democracy (or what little still remains of it) and to society. (Also note similar issues with a politicians’ attitude of “it does not matter whether you pick the right party, the main thing is that you vote at all (but please vote for us)” and other nonsense. Cf. a text on agnostic scepticism.)

Even absent this intent, the result would be a lowering of the ability of the voters to make reasonable decisions, which, again, is a threat to democracy and society.

What we need is, if anything, a complete reversal: the typical 16 (or 18!) y.o. simply does not have the maturity, depth and breadth of knowledge, understanding of the world and politics, whatnot, to give a qualified vote. The only thing to be said in defense of a low age is that too many of the considerably older are also unqualified to vote, yet still have the right to do so. Going back to 21* would be a better move—and a much better move would be, as I have repeatedly mentioned in the past, to make the right to vote contingent on some more individual judgement. (For instance, passing some test of critical thinking, having some combination of age and IQ, or similar.)

*This used to be the cut-off in at least some countries. Looking at any given country, the “back” part might or might not apply.

To take another approach: There is nothing magical about either of 16 and 18, and a lowering to 16 today could well result in demands for 14 tomorrow. Given that we have the need for some type of border,* and given that this border is age-based,** we have to ask what age forms the best border. The arguments in favor of specifically 16 are very weak, would often apply equally to e.g. 14 or 15, and going to 16 would not inherently make the world a better place than remaining at 18, “only” dropping to 17, or, even, increasing the age.***

*If not, we would see small children voting in the manner dictated by others (parents, teachers, whatnot) or even others outright voting for them, as they are too small and uncoordinated to physically perform the act of voting.

**Which is the current situation, but not, cf. above, my personal ideal.

***This to be contrasted with older debates like whether the “common man” should have the right to vote, or just the upper classes, and whether women should have an equal vote to men. These involve a difference in principle that is much more fundamental. (Notwithstanding that both have likely led to a lowering of the quality of voters.)

In particular, a limit at 16 is today harder to justify from a rational point of view than in the past. For instance, a school-kid at 16 today is likely* to be worse or considerably worse educated than his age peers of e.g. 1991 (when I was 16) or 1968 (when my father was). This both in absolute terms and relative the rest of the population.** He is also likely to have less practical experiences in other areas of life and is likely to have been infantilized*** to a higher degree. There might or might not be a “pro” argument based on physical maturity, but physical maturity does not imply mental maturity and I doubt that the apparent effect of earlier physical maturity has been very large going from e.g. 1991 to today (but it might be, if we compare 18(!)91 with today).

*Looking at averages and with reservations for the developments in the country at hand. Here I assume a reasonably well developed Western country.

**Note that the proportions of adults with respectively high-school, college, and whatnot degrees have grown rapidly over the years. For instance, my mother was at 9 years of school when she was 16, while her mother/my grandmother never got past the 6 years that were mandatory in the 1930s, and her case to vote, given that my grandmother was allowed to vote and looking just at formal education, was stronger than today. Looking at her children, me and my sister, we were also at 9 years of school, but Mother had moved on to 12 years of (regular) school, 1 or 2 of the Salvation Army’s officer school, and then 4 or 5 of university—or between 17 and 19 in all. The case that we should have been allowed to vote given that Mother was, was weak indeed.

***It could be argued that giving the right to vote would help with reducing infantilization, but (a) the overall effect is likely to be small, as the overall time and effect for any given person would be small, (b) it starts at the wrong end, with giving power over others instead of building responsibility for oneself, (c) the effects of prior infantilization would still affect the vote negatively, making this a poor starting point.

Excursion on voting inflation:
An interesting thought is that increases to the voting population diminish the value of each individual vote in a manner similar to how printing more money reduces the value of existing money, with the implications that there is partial disenfranchisement of existing voters in favor of the new and that more existing voters might refrain from voting, because the expected pay-off* is lower. A better approach to, e.g., “create interest in democracy and its functioning” would be to move more influence to politicians and voters on the regional/county/city/whatnot level, where each individual vote counts for more. (Today, it hardly pays to vote on the national/federal level, as the chance of a vote counting is miniscule, and it hardly pays to vote on the local level, as the local government has too little power relative the national/federal.)

*Where “pay-off” must be taken to some approximation, as voting pay-offs tend to be all-or-nothing: either, very rarely, my vote determines the (sub-)election or, much more often, my vote has no effect. More other voters, all other things equal, pushes the likelihood of “nothing” up and reduces the likelihood of “all” even further than it already is.

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Written by michaeleriksson

December 25, 2022 at 9:49 pm

Politicians dictating opinions to the people / evil circle of opinions

with 2 comments

In a functioning representative democracy, the representatives are elected through convincing the voters of their suitability, be it in terms of competence, of compatibility of opinions, preferences, priorities, whatnot, or of some other factors. Once elected, they, to some degree, act to execute the will of the people; to some degree, act to make decisions on behalf of the people.*

*In a bigger picture than this text, one of the main problems is an over-emphasis on the latter at the cost of the former. However, neither here, nor in general, is this the sole problem. A more important issue might be a shift from “on behalf of” to “for”.

Looking at opinions (preferences, priorities, whatnot), however, there is usually a very negative and outright perfidious loop, contrary to the democratic ideal: Those in power can (and very often do) abuse that power to manipulate the opinions of the voters. This gives them and their opinions an immense advantage over those not in power and can lead to undeserved reelections. Moreover, it can lead to a more fundamental change of society than if power was restricted to the more immediate tasks of ruling and making laws, e.g. in that Overton windows are shifted (cf. an upcoming text) and that the population is indoctrinated to hold certain opinions.

To some part, this is virtually unavoidable, as those in power gain more publicity and have more (literal or metaphorical) platforms to speak from. However, other mechanisms include direct or indirect control of schools, teaching, news media,* etc.; use of tax-payers’ money to spread propaganda; and various party-support mechanisms** of dubious value.

*If in doubt, because journalists and publishers might see unofficial benefits (or absence of disadvantages) from being cooperative. However, there are also issues like owned and/or controlled media. My native Sweden, e.g. had a TV-monopoly vested in SVT until around 1990 (cf. excursion), and SVT is still the most important Swedish TV company, carried by unfair tax support and ultimately, directly or indirectly, government controlled. The situation in Germany is very similar. Outright censorship is still an issue in many countries. Etc.

**The sufficiently established (not just ruling) parties have given themselves a sweet deal in many countries, where they receive tax-payers’ money to help run their parties, engage in propaganda, etc. This with the motivation that it would be “good for democracy” or similar. In reality, it often causes a lock-in effect that gives the established parties an advantage relative newcomers and smaller parties. (Also note an upcoming text series on insiders vs. outsiders, guilds, and the like.)

To look at some such propaganda that I have seen with my own eyes, I note e.g. a semi-recent attempt by the German government to, extremely contrafactually, claim that Germany is a Rechtsstaat; attempts by the City of Cologne to spread misandrist men-beat-women (but not the other way around) claims (cf. [1], [2]); various “X has no place for Y”*; variations of “immigrants are welcome”;** variations of “you must vote”;*** and, of course, any amount of COVID-related bullshit.**** (Similarly, attempts to steer behavior in various forms are common, e.g. in that “unwanted” choices are taxed more heavily and “wanted” ones are given subsidies: the government tells the citizens what to do, instead of the citizens the government.)

*Where X is some location and Y typically one of “hate”, “racism”, and “intolerance”—often extremely hypocritically, as these typically stem from Leftists and as hate, racism, and, above all, intolerance are extremely common on the Left. Indeed, the “X has no place for Y” is very often a manifestation of exactly intolerance, often of exactly hate, and sometimes of exactly racism.

**Here there are at least two problems, both of which apply even from the point of view of someone positive to immigrants/immigration: Firstly, that the politicians (or, worse, civil servants) behind the message presume to make a statement for the community as a whole. Secondly, that the message is not primarily directed at immigrants, but at the people, to indoctrinate the people into a pro-immigration attitude. (Or, worse, to alienate those negative towards immigration, to further sow discord, and to gain possibilities of later attacking these critics for, e.g., radicalization.) Of course, it also entirely misses the point of how many immigrants might be accepted in during what time frame, under what circumstances, and what type of immigrant is welcome (e.g. in terms of want-to-work-hard-and-earn-money vs. want-to-receive-social-aid). A blanket “welcome” simply does not make sense.

***Higher numbers of voters help the elected politicians to project legitimacy; and, as uncertain voters are more easily manipulated, higher numbers of voters can give the better manipulator an advantage and/or offset the disadvantage that the party with the weaker arguments has.

****I note with interest that many of these examples, picked of the top of my head, are of a reality-distorting kind, rather than a plainer and more direct propaganda. (For instance, if Germany was a Rechtsstaat, politicians would look better; for instance, if “X has no place for Y”, the implication is that Y is problem in X, and specifically a Rightwing problem, that needs to be addressed, which is hardly ever the case.) I am not certain whether this is a coincidence or whether it reflects something larger. The “something larger” would be plausible, in as far as pushing a too specific and obvious agenda could backfire. (Consider a “Vote Biden!” campaign immediately pushed by, and in the name of, the U.S. government as an extreme example.) It also plays in well with that text on shifting Overton windows.

Excursion on other issues:
This abuse of power is not the only issue that can sabotage a democracy. A notable other example is that a too party-centric system can reduce the importance of the individual’s characteristics to his chances of being elected. In e.g. Sweden, the primary choice for voters is “What party?”, and what individuals are elected through that choice is largely determined by the parties, forcing the voters to take the bad with the good.

Excursion on Swedish TV:
I did some reading on Swedish Wikipedia to gain some more specific information on the level of government control. This was not very successful due to a mixture of vagueness, changes over time, and the complication that the de jure situation does not necessarily determine the de facto situation. Some notes from [3] on the monopoly situation, however: SVT (predecessor) broadcasts began in 1956 with a first channel. A second was added in 1969, and these remained the only legally watchable (!*) channels until the mid-1980s (excepting TV from neighboring countries, for those close enough to the border). A third, independent, Swedish-language program was launched per satellite in 1987—and the ruling Social-Democrats tried to kill access by (unsuccessful) attempts to ban (!) satellite dishes. A first terrestrial competitor arrived only in the early 1990s.

*I do not vouch for the correctness of Wikipedia, but the formulation used (“de enda kanaler som tittarna kunde se i Sverige enligt svensk lag”) could imply not just that there were only two channels available, but that viewers were only allowed to watch these two channels—by law.

Disclaimer:
This is a long-standing backlog entry, which is worthy of a more in-depth treatment. I find myself wishing to reference it in the aforementioned text on shifting Overton windows, however, and have decided to get it out of the way, even at the price of a shortened treatment.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 27, 2022 at 1:31 am

All the world’s a prison / And all the men and women merely prisoners

with 6 comments

While watching or reading various accounts of prison life, be they real or fictional, I am often struck by an eerie similarity, below the immediate surface, between prison life and “regular” life in allegedly free societies, in general, and school, in particular—and this even before the COVID-countermeasure era, which came close to turning the various peoples of the world into actual prisoners.

Certainly, there are great differences to be found. For instance, Jack Henry Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast* might be a sobering account for someone tempted to take the comparison too far; for instance, the sorrows and plights of the J6 victims go far beyond anything that I have seen in my own life;** for instance, the risk that I will be stabbed with a shiv while going about my affairs is small.

*See parts of the below and an excursion for a more detailed discussion. Note that many of my own statements on prison are colored by my recent reading.

**But the fact that they have been locked up without proof of crime, with no speedy trial, no true due process, whatnot, and on political charges, does show a similarity between real life and prisons. In a U.S. prison, someone can be thrown in solitary for ages without a trial; in a truly free country and a true Rechtsstaat, he cannot; where, then, does this put the real-life U.S.?

However, there are also many similarities, especially if we look at prisons that are more “white-collar crime” centric or located in “softer” countries.*

*There are, of course, many other countries with prisons than the U.S., which is likely the main source of prison-related impressions for most of us, even when not ourselves of the U.S. Some are softer in treatment, like Sweden; others are so bad that inmates would not hesitate to switch places with a U.S. prisoner.

Before I go into more detail, two specific pointers: Firstly, prison is a place with a natural division into two worlds, guards and inmates. Secondly, in prison, right and wrong do not matter. This neither factually, where compliance is all-important; nor ethically, where “can” and “can’t” are what matters. Thinking on how this applies to the real/non-prison world can be very beneficial.

Consider school:* The students are told where to be and what to do. Food is provided at a fix time and a fix location with minimal choice and, often, in dubious quality.** The teacher’s word borders on law, be it through formal authority or through being able to talk to other adults, including principals, other teachers, and parents on an adult-to-adult basis and with an adult credibility. A student who is not sufficiently compliant and conforming risks punishment. Justice is often arbitrary.*** When the students have issues with each other, teachers are rarely to be found, and if they are found, there is no guarantee that they even differ between aggressor and victim. The sharp division into teachers (and other school staff and other adults) and students/children creates a two-tiered society and, worse, a tendency for a parallel society, with its own rules, to arise among the students (if one less sophisticated than among adults in a similar situation). Time off for good behavior? No. Barring a local possibility to “test out”, skip a year (or, in reverse, repeat a year), or be home schooled, everyone is stuck for a fix time.**** Often there is not even the possibility to switch schools or classes.***** Etc.

*Schools, too, vary. Here I am partially guided by my own school years. A modern stereotypical U.S. inner-city school might differ in e.g. less teacher discipline (playing down the guard angle), but might be more similar in inter-student violence, lawlessness, gang-building, whatnot (playing up the inmate angle). Go back further in time, instead, and discipline could be quite heavy, including corporeal punishment.

**Although the worst meal of my own school years might have been well above some shown in TV prisons. Certainly, unlike Abbott, I have never been on a forced starvation diet.

***I recall especially, and have likely mentioned in the past, an incident when I was around six and another boy framed me for something that he had done. The “teacher” physically dragged me away from where I was—and refused not just to hear any defense that I might have had, but outright refused to tell me what I allegedly had done.

****Home schooling is not an option in Sweden. Skipping years is (was?) very rare, maybe through being seen as “social injustice” or whatever the term of the day might have been—and, barring truly exceptional cases, would only have been a matter of a single year. As to “testing out”, there simply was no such mechanism.

*****In the very rural area where I lived, for my first years, everyone of my age and for kilometers around went to the same single school in the same single class, with a vague awareness of a smaller school a few kilometers away. Then this other school was closed, and we had two classes in the one school for a while, and then, for year six, a single class in the single school. (With reservations for exact details.) Of course, even with the theoretical option to switch this-or-that, the student has to be aware of the option, has to convince parents and school(s), and has no guarantee that he will enjoy life after the switch any better.

Consider “adult” society: The laws and law enforcement are there more to control the people than to protect it;* and police officers often border on being prison guards in terms of rights and whatnot relative the people.** There is, again, a division into two parallel societies, the governmental and the “real”. Even the lowest civil servant has opportunities to make decisions that the citizen cannot see remedied. Politicians can make the most abstruse and destructive decisions, and the citizen is helpless. Apart from mandatory schooling, many countries have or have had mandatory military service (e.g. my native Sweden) and if a war occurs, witness the U.S. and the Vietnam War, a citizen might find himself fighting for a cause that he rejects—on pain of jail. In the U.S. there are plentiful cases of e.g. “civil forfeiture”, where arbitrary asset losses take place. Many countries, including e.g. the U.S. and Canada pose a great risk to dissenters, as they might be hit by governmental persecution for dissenting. The privacy of the citizen continually shrinks in the wake of computer surveillance, unwarranted*** searches, facial recognition systems, ever more and ever larger governmental registers, whatnot. Etc. To this might be added some phenomena, notably taxes, that have no obvious similarity in prison, but follow a similar pattern of subordination and subjugation. (And note that I am talking about allegedly modern and Western democracies. Go into the third world or various dictatorships and the situation can be far worse.)

*Notably, the two central pillars of a true Rechtsstaat, that citizens are protected from harmful acts by other citizens and from governmental overreach, arbitrariness, whatnot, tend to be largely missing. This is definitely the case in Germany, where the police and the “DA” has a virtually complete discretion to not investigate/prosecute most crimes and where the civil courts are usually a dead end for other reasons—that the government is virtually above the law is an even sadder fact.

**See excursion for an example by Abbott.

****In both senses. I have myself been the victim of a middle-of-the-night apartment search, with no warrant and no legitimate reason, on the instigation of some psychopath who had claimed that I would hold a woman prisoner in my apartment—the worse, as merely watching the (small) apartment with regular and/or infrared binoculars through the many windows would have virtually ruled out the possibility without a physical search. And, no, there were no consequences for either of the idiots who fell for this nonsense, the idiots who mis-implemented this nonsense, or the psychopath who instigated this nonsense.

As a related, if arguably slightly off-topic, case, there is a massive problem with treating humans as less than human or as non-human by wide groups of other humans—something that Abbott repeatedly complains about in the guard–inmate relationship. Consider, e.g., travel with the Deutsche Bahn (“German Railways”), where the customer is almost without rights and has to take whatever shit is thrown at him, including constant delays, undue crowdedness, rude or incompetent staff, misinformation, and a system that seems bent on doing as much damage as possible.* On one occasion, I was locked in a broken train, just short of the next station, for half an eternity** waiting for the Deutsche Bahn to let us out. No apology, no recompense, no whatnot, followed. Or consider the typical attitude displayed in/on (at least German) airports and airplanes, where the passengers are treated as lemmings or sheep, everything runs according to an empty ritual,*** and even a typical stewardess, herself usually without any true accomplishment and ability, sees it as her right to boss the passengers around with not one word of explanation, and not the slightest shimmer of the service mentality that was once a part of the stereotypical image.****

*To take just one of many examples: when I was commuting between Düsseldorf and Cologne, there was, on the way back and virtually without exception, an artificial halt for five-or-so minutes in Leverkusen, month in and month out. Why? Well, either my train was on time and had to stop to let through an ICE (a fancier and higher-priority train) that was delayed—or my train was already delayed and had to stop to let an ICE that was on time through.

**I want to say that it was hours, but I honestly do not remember, and it might have been as little as one hour. It was certainly, however, far longer than could reasonably and by any stretch of the imagination be justified.

***Including the ever repeating, virtually identical, security lectures and the stubborn back-and-forth with the food-and-beverages carriage, no matter how short the flight, no matter how little it brings for a short flight, and no matter the disturbance that it causes.

****This is a recurring theme in the real world: It matters little who the parties to an interaction are, what they have accomplished, what level of intelligence they move on, etc. What matters is whether they have the weight of an organisation behind them or some other lever of power. A stewardess, a low-level civil servant, and a prison guard have such weight and/or such a lever—the mere passenger, citizen, and prison inmate do not. With some reservations for the rich, famous, politically influential, whatnot, the latter can be a genius and still be forced to bow to the whims of the former, even should the former be incapable of higher thought.

Then there are the horrors of COVID-countermeasures, which, with no true scientific support, saw businesses and lives destroyed, forced wearing of masks, curfews even for adults (even day-time bans on leaving apartments for “non-essential” purposes for some time), mandatory vaccinations for many places of work and with attempts to push nation-wide mandatory vaccinations,* gross defamation of those who opposed this Nazi-nonsense (using tax-payers’ money), the closing of borders,** etc. Note, in particular, how the issues of vaccinations and mask-wearing, no matter with what intentions they began, soon descended into a measure of compliance—and how those not in compliance were seen as the Enemy, even absent sound scientific reasons to criticize their choices.

*I am uncertain what the scope is, but Austria briefly had a law to the effect, the German Social-Democrats pushed hard for the same, leading to a parliamentary vote, and a general attitude among many, especially on the Left, has been that everyone must be vaccinated—regardless of whether he belongs to a risk group and regardless of the established danger from the available vaccines.

**Which did not just mean that vacations had to be postponed, but also that entire countries became virtual prisons. In a slightly different reality, I, e.g., might have found myself forced to take the vaccine if I remained in Germany, but been unable to leave Germany for another country without first being vaccinated (or, worse, at all)—even if the other country did not have an internal vaccine mandate.

More philosophically, many politicians and similar groupings seem to see it as right and just that the citizen is subjugated to the state and/or some other collective(s), and seem to deliberately push for a furthering of this condition—the ant heap matters; the individual ant only exists to serve the heap. (Certainly, a typical judicial ideal of many politicians is the police state—not the Rechtsstaat.) If we look at e.g. the ignorant and arrogant nonsense that the WEF spreads, like “you will own nothing”, where would that lead us? One of the most fundamental advantages of a non-prisoner relative a prisoner is that he does own quite a few things (albeit, even today, only as long as the government allows it)—remove his belongings and the distance shrinks considerably. Ditto having a somewhat private home, e.g. an apartment or a house shared with no-one but family, as opposed to prison quarters—remove the citizen’s right to such a private home in favor of something shared with strangers, and he yet again grows closer to a prisoner.

Returning to Abbott, one of his complaints is the lack of free information in prison and how, in his opinion, prison schools were instituted to ensure that only that was learnt (or “learnt”) that the prisons wanted to see learnt—but how is that different from regular school in many countries, and the more so the more strongly the Left controls the schools? Or look at mainstream media, social media, and the single-minded agenda pushing that has so often taken place. U.S. colleges and social “science” virtually everywhere? This especially during the COVID-countermeasure era, but also with regard to various PC and “woke” opinions, including all-out biology denialism contrasted with mindless acceptance of any and all climate hysteria. Yes, those who know better can still find independent information and make their own comparisons, but that is something that many governments would like to see ended—and often have been trying to end or reduce. More generally, while Abbott’s world was very different, and far worse, than mine , he was angered or frustrated by many things in a very similar manner and for very similar reasons to how and why I am angered and frustrated. (And I doubt that I am unique in this.) Take such a thing as the prison’s attitude of “you are at fault for X” and the dependence of the prisoner on the guards for everything that he needs, compared to how many Leftist regimes want to see society—an all-wise and all-giving government that provides, with no mention that someone might only need such help because of how much he must give up in taxes and other government-caused burdens or because government intervention has slowed the growth of the economy. Or take his complaint about prison having (mis-)shaped him into what he became, while modern society is often doing the same, if less extremely, to the rest of us. Or take the common disproportion between crime and punishment. Etc. Above all, when things are boiled down to the smallest core, both prison and real life is filled with injustice imposed from above or the outside.*

*Where, yes, the prisoner has it worse, but where most prisoners are actually guilty of something, while the citizen on the street is not.

Excursion on becoming an adult and things “getting better”:
There have been quite a few cases in my life, where I have thought or been told that “things will get better once [I/you] grow older” (or similar). This includes the presumed greater freedom enjoyed by an adult relative a child and by someone in the workforce relative a school-student. Usually, to the point that I have repeatedly considered writing a text on the specific topic of “It was supposed to get better!”, I have been gravely disappointed—including in both the aforementioned cases. In many ways, adults have just changed one set of externally imposed restrictions, complications, and duties for another. Indeed, even something as childish as bullies is often found in adult life—including among civil servants, who are untouchable. At age ten, those sufficiently daring can at least clock a bully with no worse “legal” consequences than a stern talking to, some detention, and/or a grounding. At twenty? The daring might well go to jail, especially if the bully is a civil servant.

Excursion on Abbott:
Most of the above is a backlog item, finally written due to my concurrent reading of Abbott’s book. As the writing proceeded, I added a number of footnotes and comments on Abbott, which cluttered up the text. Most of them have been moved to this excursion and slightly re-written. (I have considered writing a separate text on Abbot, and might have done so, had I realized in advance how interesting the book would be—there might be more than a dozen other points that I have not written a word on. As is, I have decided against it for reasons of time.)

  1. On the nature of prison guards vs. “regular” humans:

    While Abbott takes a view of prison guards as evil beings detached from normal humanity,* who lack something good that most others share, I suspect that it is the other way around—that a very significant portion of humanity is ultimately evil and simply lacks the opportunity to express that evil. It might well be that prison guards are overrepresented among these, be it through stupidity or through having deliberately picked a field where evil tendencies can be given more opportunity, but, no, sadly, they are not fundamentally different from a very large group, maybe a majority, of “civilian” humans.

    *Bear in mind that he spent decades as a prisoner and might have had a too one-sided/partial view or lacked a frame of reference involving non-guards/non-prisoners.

    It is particularly interesting that he seems to consider the guards sub-/non-human in much the same way as he claims that the guards feel about the prisoners. (In a manner that goes well beyond “they are idiots”, “they are small-minded”, “they are cruel”, whatnot. Note that I am on record as saying that most humans are idiots, and would not consider a similar assessment on his behalf the least bit remarkable.)

  2. Concerning Abbott’s view of the non-prison world:

    He spent so little time out of prison that his view of the rest of the world is likely to have been extremely incomplete. Generally, Abbott seems very naive about topics not relating to prison,* often seems to reverse causalities, sees the world through a distorting Marxist/Communist lens, and, increasingly gives the impression of being nutty as the book goes on.

    *For want of own experiences and deeper knowledge from other sources, I cannot rule out that he was naive about prison too; however, for the same want, and in light of his long time in prison, I would be foolish to assume it.

  3. Concerning Abbott’s credibility:

    This “impression of being nutty” reflects poorly on his overall credibility, and some stories told are sufficiently fantastic (notably, concerning the extremely prolonged starvation) that I do not rule out a deliberate lie or exaggeration. (But, I stress, neither do I say that he is lying or exaggerating.)

    I would further caution that it is very easy to get the details of past events wrong, especially when they take place under extremely stressful circumstances. I have certainly put things in writing, myself, that are wrong in detail, because my memory failed me (as proved by a later encounter with, for instance, old personal notes or documents).

  4. Concerning time covered/later changes:

    The book was published in 1981 and might, in parts, go back as far as the 1950s. Conditions in even U.S. prisons appear to have improved for most prisoners. (Chances are that Abbott was also on the deeper end, even by the standard of his day.) Generally, of course, prisons tend to be worse the further back in time we go.

  5. Concerning Marxism:

    Abbot, at the height of his naivety and nuttiness, appears to sees a Marxist/Communist revolution as a stroke for freedom, despite these having led to a more prison-like world where- and whenever they have been tried. Certainly, a division of the world into “us vs. them” is at the very core of Marxism, and Marxism goes hand in hand with the subjugation of the individual to the collective, with the suppression of dissent and free thought, etc.

    Indeed, there are stretches when he reads like a modern/2022 instruction manual for proper Leftist thought, including various talking points on racism, white supremacy, IQ, homosexuals, oppression, whatnot.

    As naive as his long discussions of Marxism/Communism/whatnot are, they can be valuable in giving some clue to the paradoxical attraction that these ideologies hold to so many, despite their horrifying track record. A particular point is exactly the Marxist “us vs. them” and “oppressors vs. the oppressed” thinking, which fits prison life and his own experiences of prison quite well.

  6. Example of non-compliance with horrible results:

    Abbott (who, however, seems to interpret the situation naively) tells a story about witnessing a Black man being shot to death by the police. The Black man appears to have double-parked* his truck, and partially in a “whites only” parking space (non-compliance with a law**), failed to immediately pay the ordered 200-dollar fine (non-compliance*** with the police), resisted the ensuing arrest with violence (severe non-compliance with the police), and ended up brandishing an improvised weapon against the police (extreme non-compliance with the police).

    *Proof-reading, I see that I assumed that the “whites only” infraction was the sole issue. While this is a plausible assumption, I cannot rule out that double parking was a contributing issue or would have been sufficient on its own—again: compliance. (I have left the text and the following footnote unchanged.)

    **Yes, the law was flawed, but that makes the incident the more telling—it is simply not a matter of whether someone fails to comply for a good reason, out of ignorance, or, as it might have been here, by accident or through sloppiness. It is a matter of complying—period. That is simply the government’s attitude: you comply—period. Also note e.g. my own adventures with a piece-of-shit chimney sweep, as discussed in some older texts.

    ***Albeit, non-compliance of a very understandable type. Even today, many or most will not have that amount at hand at any given time—and the sum might have been an order larger in the dollar-of-the-day. (From overall context, the year was likely 1962 or 60 years ago.) Looking at circumstances, including the immediate payment, I cannot rule out that this was some type of scam or that Abbott had the details wrong.

    Now, a take of a typical modern Leftist (and, approximately, of Abbott) might amount to “he was shot over faulty parking” or “he was shot for parking while Black”, with attributions to “racist laws”, “racist cops”, and “systemic racism”. In reality, he ended up shot for repeatedly not complying, up to the point of brandishing a weapon, which is among the last things (both literally and figuratively) to do against the U.S. police—no matter the race of the involved persons. Had he chosen to comply at any point prior to the decision to shoot, chances are that he would have remained alive. (Notwithstanding that any racist attitude among the police officers might have made matters worse or escalated them faster.)

    The first type of problem to address, then, is what the consequences of non-compliance should be, what type of escalation by the police is allowed under what circumstances, etc. Also note Unfair government and choice, where I discuss similar situations.

    It would be very, very interesting to see what proportion of police actions alleged-by-the-Left to be racist are in fact a matter of non-compliance, how statistics for various racial groups look when adjusted for non-compliance, and what the statistics of non-compliance are for these groups.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 23, 2022 at 4:08 am

Servants in charge

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A recurring problem is that those supposed to perform work on behalf of someone else, after a sufficiently long time, end up being in charge of that someone else and/or that the authority vested in them takes on its on life and wanders from the vester to the vestee.

Consider a “democratic” state developing into one of the modern “we the politicians” (or, worse, “we the civil servants”) instead of the “we the people” that once was intended, or a true monarchy developing into a pro-forma monarchy with all power resting with the erstwhile advisors and executors.* Consider the shift of power from elected politicians to bureaucracies and government agencies. Consider how mere administrators often end up being those in charge, as with e.g. the typical college or university, or within many businesses or individual departments and teams within a business.** Consider staff at an old-people’s home behaving like they are in charge of the residents instead of being “the help”. Etc.

*Whether this development is a bad thing in the case of a monarchy is open to debate, and might well depend on the individuals involved at any given time, but it does fit the general pattern of gradually shifting power very well. (Also note some of the below and an excursion on etymology.)

**Here, unfortunately, the swing is so large that it is often taken for granted that the administrator is supposed to be in charge, and where a degree in e.g. business administration might be worth more than one relating to the field at hand for the chances of being put in charge.

To get some idea, even if in a highly over-simplified manner, assume that someone is given the authority in an office to make schedules, handle vacation requests, etc. These are basic tasks of coordination that do not require “true” decision making around how the business is conducted externally (e.g. with whom a contract is made on what conditions) or internally (e.g., for a software business, what features should be implemented and how). However, these tasks still bring some degree of decision-making power, increase the chance of meeting invitations and of having easy access to someone of true power, and also give indirect influence, in that the power can be abused to reward or punish. Moreover, an impression can easily arise that this type of administrator is a “somebody”, despite the choice often originally having been made on a “who can we spare from the real work” basis. Let time pass, and chances are that more influence will drift the way of the administrator, e.g. to pre-filter applicants for jobs and to perform performance evaluations—until such a point that the administrator determines that he is the boss. Worse, such situations can often arise when administrative tasks have rested with a “true” decision maker and are now divested to give him more time to focus on his true work.

Something similar applies in politics, with the difference that a greater block of power is usually delegated—but with a critical point still coming when the helper decides that he is the one in charge. Consider e.g. the drift from monarchs as active rulers with mere helpers to, first, monarchs as passive rulers (still with the final word, but only involving themselves in rare circumstances) with ministers-of-this and lords-of-that to handle most of the actual ruling, and to, second, figureheads subordinate to the erstwhile helpers. Similarly, consider many situations from “Yes, Minister” where it is clear that “Sir Humphrey”, the civil servant, sees himself as in charge and “Jim Hacker”, the elected politician, as a mere unfortunate obstacle to work around. (Of course, neither cared that much for the will and the weal of the voters.)

A particularly perfidious case is when the influence of the individual is lost through an intermediary layer, as with a typical democracy, as with a share-holders’ meeting, or as with an organisation like the local PTA, home-owners association, or similar. Looking e.g. at my own situation with building management (BM) and Wohnungseigentümergemeinschaft* (WEG), which forms an excellent analogy for how democracy fails on a country level: The presence of the WEG makes each individual apartment owner powerless against the BM (which, in my case, happens to be incompetent and/or corrupt): the BM formally works for the WEG and is paid by the WEG, while we owners are members of the WEG and pay a monthly fee to the WEG. If I am dissatisfied, I cannot fire the BM, not even with regard to just my own apartment. I cannot shorten the monthly payments, because I nominally pay to the WEG, not the BM. I cannot, without considerable effort, lobby within the group, because there are no mailing lists, most members do not themselves live in the building,** and the yearly meeting is controlled by the BM, which invites, sets the agenda,*** chairs, and, very importantly, determines the location**** of the meeting. Then there is the issue that many owners do not bother to show up to the yearly meeting, at all, and merely give a signed power-of-attorney and some instructions to the BM… Of course, the BM also controls what information is given to the owners when it comes to voting and can angle the information so that the de-facto decision by the BM becomes the de-jure decision of the WEG. If in doubt, most of the other owners have so far appeared to be intellectually limited, poorly informed, and easily led by the BM—the BM sees the duty of the WEG as rubber-stamping BM decisions and too many of the owners appear to agree. For all practical purposes, the hired help, the BM, is in charge, while we owners are next to powerless. The similarity with the often highly un- or anti-democratic system used to rule a typical nominal democracy is almost spooky. On the upside, the BM has hitherto never tried to allow non-owners a vote; on the downside, there is no choice between different BM-candidates every few years, which makes it all that harder to replace a poor BM with another.

*Roughly, “apartment owner association”. All the owners of apartments in the house are members and it is nominally the decision making entity for the house.

**Instead, renting to others.

***This includes one-sidedly ignoring several suggestions made by me, which were thus never on the agenda and never put to a vote by the nominal decision maker, the WEG.

****No, the meeting is not held in the house, nor in the vicinity of the house, but, and likely deliberately, quite far away. The last time around, about an hour ahead of the meeting, I checked for the best way to get to the latest location—and found that it would take me around that hour, with a mixture of walking, train, and bus. In effect, I had the choice between missing the meeting and grabbing a taxi. (I chose the former. I grant that I should have checked this sooner, but it never occurred to me that such a ridiculous distance was on the table, even after prior years.)

Excursion on monarchy to democracy shifts:
The situation is often complicated by a shift from some form of monarchy to some form of democracy, often (as with some current European countries) leading to a half-and-half situation with a monarch as head of state and an elected (or “elected”) politician as head of government. Here, no-one might care about the monarch (in terms of politics) because the source of power is the people, and too few care about the people as the politicians and the civil servants were in charge long before the people became relevant.

Excursion on “nominal” and “nominally”:
Have I used these words often above? Not as often as they deserve to. The core of the overall problem is that X should be in charge but that Y is, and often in exactly the constellation that X holds the nominal power but the true power resides with Y. Indeed, in e.g. the previous excursion, I had to hold myself back not to say “nominal[ly]” once or twice per sentence.

Excursion on etymology and drifts over time:
Etymology can give many clues to things going wrong. The word “minister”, e.g., effectively means servant, while “administrator” goes back to the same root. In parallel, “secretary” is etymologically related to “secret” and likely implied someone within confidence, but has since often been used even for very powerful persons, including as an equivalent of “minister” in the governmental sense.* The root of “chancellor” goes back to something like a door-keeper. A marshal once took care of horses. Etc.

*While the old use as roughly “assistant” is disappearing, with exactly “assistant” taking its place. Even in the past, however, secretaries could be immensely powerful by granting or not granting access to the person assisted, by whispering the right things in his ear, etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 17, 2022 at 11:23 pm

Oddly equal elections and game theory (and some other thoughts)

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With the U.S. election day upon us, I am pondering the oddity that elections tend to be close or closish, no matter the parties/candidates and positions. (And, no, e.g. 55–45 is not that much. That it appears to be a landslide shows the scope of the issue. If numbers had been random, for instance, it might equally have been 95–5.) A portion of that is certainly that most voters are stupid, uninformed, and/or tend to believe what they are told (possibly, with a reservations for who does the telling); and, certainly, other voter centric causes might be relevant. However, right now, my thoughts are on game theory, that the parties might deliberately position themselves in an attempt to gain a majority, and thereby are forced to take positions more or less close to what the median voters want to see—and this would neatly split the field in a manner similar to what is observed in actual politics.

Consider first an extremely simplified example with two parties (resp. candidates), a single issue with a simple numerical indicator where the parties can make a “bid”,* with voters who pick the party whose bid is the closest to their respective preference, where the parties have perfect knowledge of voter preferences, where winning is all that matters, where both parties play perfectly rationally, and where there are no hidden side-effects. Further, strictly for the sake of easier-to-understand examples, assume that the numerical indicator is strictly integral, implying e.g. that “5” is a valid bid, but “5.5” is not, and that the median** used below is also integral.

*E.g. in that one party might bid a something-or-other of “10” and another of “20” in some unit, but not “more money for schools; less for tanks”.

**The median of 6 and 7 is 6.5, which is not a valid bid and would cause problems.

Let us say that the bid “5” catches the median voter. If the one party picks “5”, and the other something else, say, “9”, then “5” will almost always win and never do worse than a tie: Per definition, at least half of all voters will be at the median value or smaller and at least half will be at this value or larger.* Already here, the median is guaranteed to have at least 50 percent of the vote, regardless of whether the competing bid is higher or lower. However, in reality it is even better: assume a real-valued set** of values with a median of m and an x > m*** with half (or more) of all members >= x. By the definition of m, we also have (at least) half of all members <= m. If the “or more” holds, at least one member must necessarily simultaneously be both > m and <= m (and >= x, < x), which is impossible. If it does not hold, there is a small loophole, in that exactly half of the members can be >= x and > m, while exactly half are < x and <= m. This, however, presupposes that m is not equal to any member (as with e.g. the set 1, 9, with the non-member median 5, where e.g. x=7 achieves a tie). If m is a member, in the aforementioned constellation, it is not the median, per definition. (What about voters between 5 and 9, using the original numbers? They do not matter, as 9 is not the above x. With the rules specified, voters below 7 go with 5 and voters above 7 go with 9, while voters at 7 are tied. But let us give even the voters at 7 to 9. We now have the following observations: (a) The number of votes for < 7 is >= the number of votes <= 5. (b) Per the above, excepting that one small loophole, even the number of votes <= 5 (m) is strictly larger than the number of votes >= 7 (x). (c) A fortiori, the number of votes awarded to 5 is strictly larger than the number of votes awarded to 9. If the loophole hits, we have still have no worse than a tie.) Correspondingly, the best strategy for both parties is to pick the median value, resulting in a tie.**** As both parties have perfect knowledge and play perfectly rationally, this is what they will do.

*If this seems paradoxical, consider the set 1, 2, 2, 3, with median 2, and where there are three entries (1, 2, 2) <= 2 and three entries (2, 3, 3) >= 2.

**Re-writing this paragraph, past 4 AM German time, to make it understandable, I imagine that a set must have unique members. If so, here and elsewhere, please make a corresponding mental adjustment to allow repetitions, as with 1, 2, 2, 3 in the previous footnote. As to the text as a whole, I (a) suspect that I am making matters worse, (b) would, had it not been for the readers, prefer to make it more mathematical, including more formal notation and replacing the median with some type of equivalence class of “medianoids” where all numbers between the largest number smaller than a non-member median and the smallest number larger than it are considered equivalent. (For member medians, the median would be the sole “medianoids”.)

***m < x is handled analogously.

****What happens now is not specified above, but we can e.g. imagine that voters distribute themselves randomly between the positions “first party”, “second party”, and “bugger this voting nonsense—I’ll stay at home”. In this case, the difference between the vote counts of the two parties will be close to 50–50 (of those who actually vote) and statistical fluctuations will determine the winner and the margin of victory.

Unless the number of voters is very small,* we will now expect an at least approximate draw (cf. the above footnote), or the type of close to 50–50 numbers that we see in real life—in fact, likely, numbers far closer to 50–50 than in real life.

*With a single voter, one party will win 100–0, while e.g. a twenty voter group might occasionally land at 75–25 through coincidence. In contrast, for a group of twenty thousand voters a 75–25 would be a sign of some systematic difference, contrary to above assumptions.

A somewhat similar image will appear if we loosen constraints. For instance, if remove the “perfect knowledge” restriction, the parties must guess what the optimal bid is. With a one-off election in an unknown territory, this is a fool’s game, but both parties have a 50–50 chance of winning or drawing (even be the eventual distribution of voters far from 50–50). If they guess somewhat similarly, they will likely have numbers close to 50–50, and chances are that they will do so, given the chance.* If in doubt, going for the same bid will give that tie or almost-tie. In the real world, the game of voting will repeat every few years or, in different areas and for different positions, more often, and great effort is spent on probing the population, implying that a reasonably good guess for the perfect bid might be available.

*This will depend a little on the modalities, but take a setting similar to a prolonged campaign where bids can be adjusted over time. On day one, the parties bid 10 and 20, respectively. Regardless of who is closer to the truth, the first party is now giving up the range 15–19 (15 is equally far from 10 and 20 and they draw there), and will re-bid “19” to take that range, while the second gives up the range 11–15, and will re-bid “11”. After a few rounds of jumping back and forth, they will land at 14 resp. 16, and might end it there, both bid 15, try to bid in some other constellation, whatnot, but ultimately in a pattern that results in a small or no difference, as to not gift a range to the opponent. (There might be some deviations if one or both take the strategy of the other into account, but not normally any that change the principle.)

Or say that we have more than one issue to bid on: The voters will use some implicit* aggregate function for judging the sum of all issues, and we still have a win/draw strategy if we can pick a combination of bids that matches the median.** More importantly, in any somewhat reasonable scenario, over- or under-bidding the opponent in the right direction will lead to the right result, just like in the above footnote, which will bring both parties to manoeuvre into approximate 50–50 scenarios—if in doubt, if nothing else helps, by just matching the exact bid of the opponent. (As above, if we still had perfect knowledge for both parties, the rational strategy for both is to use the same set of bids, except that there might be some room for different sets of bids with the same number of voters. There could conceivably be constellations where a better bid can be found, but the effect will be extremely temporary before the opponent retaliates or matches that bid for a tie.***)

*Not necessarily a mathematical, rational, consistent, or whatnot function, but likely with what amounts to one function per voter.

**There is some risk that we can not; maybe even, in reverse, that there might be more than one combination of “median bids” conceivable. I have not done the math.

***I have not done the math here either.

What if winning is not all that matters?* What if, e.g., one party has an upper limit of “15” for whatever bids it can make in good conscience or wants to go as low as possible while in office? Well, this makes things tricky, especially if we only have one issue to bid on. However, even here a similar type of over-/under-bidding might tend to close the distance.** From another angle, politicians are not known to be truthful, and a dishonest bid of, say, “19” might still follow in the above example, with the idea that the actual policy, once in power, will be no more than 15, regardless of what bids were given. From yet another, many view it as better to gain or remain in power, even with sub-optimal politics, because the alternative might be (or be believed to be) worse, with the result that “19” is bid anyway, because a policy of 19 might be worse than one of 15—but better than one of 20, which was the opponents first bid.

*How often this applies in real life, for what candidates, and for what parties is a very, very interesting question.

**For instance, take the last example with an added upper limit of “15” for the first party: The bids “10” and “20” might now be followed by “15” and “11”, then “10” and “14”, “13” and “11”, “10” and “12”, and a new halt with close values. (The exact sequence will depend on priorities, but this illustrates the principle.)

Remove the perfectly rational play, and things might again grow more interesting, but going just a little higher or lower than the opponent is not rocket science, both parties will (all other things equal, on average/when looking at expectation values) make mistakes of a similar number and magnitude, and chances are that things even out.

The last brings us to an advantage of having many unrelated issues: a party that misjudges one or two issues severely, or many a little bit, might well see these misjudgments neutralized on average, because they are put on the scales against mistakes of the other party and, from another point of view, against own excellence on other scales. Have, say, twenty issues that at least some voters are interested in, and a distribution close to 10–10 in issues “won” and “lost” with the voters is statistically likely, and might lead to numbers close to 50–50 in terms of voter percentages. This even as we remove constraints and make the scenarios more realistic.

The topic could be pursued in much greater depth, but I will settle for some additional remarks (mostly the result of free association while I was writing the above):

  1. In some situations it might pay to game the opponent. Assume e.g. that one party cares less about winning the election and more about what policy is implemented post-election. Then there might be room to go artificially low or high, and depend on the opponent to stay close. Take, again, starting bids of “10” and “20”. The first party wants as small a value as possible, and might now choose to not change its bid, leading to “10” and “11” in the next round, or might choose to lower the bid, e.g. with a next round of “5” and “11”, a third round of “0” and “6”, etc. until a further lowering is either not credible or not sensible. This might well lose the election, but the policy of even “11” (let alone “6” or lower) might be sufficiently much better than the final own bid of “14” from the original example as to outweigh this. (And, yes, I suspect that similar things happen in real politics.)
  2. Contrary to what would be expected from the above, the distance on many issues can seem quite large, even to the level of polar opposition. (Abortion in the U.S. springs to mind.) This does, in part, speak against the idea, but might partially be an effect of the sheer number of issues available, where it might be less a matter of winning individual issues and more of winning in aggregate (cf. the statistical argument above). Other aspects include that various issues might not be unrelated, which can skew impressions, and that the difference on some issues might seem greater than it is, because the opinions are not at extreme ends of a free spectrum, but of one constrained by opinion corridors, Overton windows, or whatnot. In some cases, these can be narrow indeed. (I note e.g. that even the allegedly non-Leftist main parties in Sweden are onboard with various Gender-Feminist nonsense as core beliefs, excepting only SD—which is, unsurprisingly, borderline untouchable to the others.*) It might also be that the many individual voters would miss differences in opinion if they are too small (or that the parties believe that voters would miss differences), which might lead to surprising result from the point of view of a more discerning observer.**

    *Here we see another potential distorter: if a non-pariah party comes too close to a pariah party on some even semi-controversial issue, there is a risk of guilt by association, of being (fairly or unfairly) grouped with the pariah, etc., which can give strong incentives to limit the range of real or metaphorical bids. Indeed, looking specifically at migration in many countries, this is exactly what has happened.

    **To return to our “10” and “20” initial bid: if the parties (a) assume that a voter might miss a difference of 1, 2, or maybe more, (b) want to ensure that they never, ever cross lines (unlike the first version of the example), we might end up with a bid series of “11” and “19”, “12” and “18”, “12” and “17”, “11” and “17”, or similar.

    As to the reasons that the gaps are not shrunk for purposes of vote fishing, I suspect a mixture of irrationality in strategy, the sheer extremeness of many Leftist opinions, which might make a “follow the leader” game intolerable to both sides, and a propaganda strategy, especially on the Left, to not allow the possibility that the opponent has any good points, that anything the opponent believes is automatically wrong, etc. (I have written about such behaviors on the Left in the past.) This might also play in to widen the gap, because condemning someone as “evil” for bidding “10” is harder when the own bid is “15” than when it is “50”. It might also be that politicians are highly principled, but, well, let us be realistic here.

  3. Credibility might often be an issue, and might play in with the previous item: if two parties are too close to each other, let alone skips over another in terms of who is “highest” and “lowest” on some issue, this can lead to credibility problems. (Unless these are comparable parties and allies in a multiparty system.) However, looking at sufficiently long-term perspectives, this changes to some degree. It can, for instance, be argued that the U.S. Republicans and Democrats have changed places on some issues, like working-class life and attitude to Big Business. There are also cases where the distance between two parties has been kept approximately constant, while both parties have drifted in the same direction, maybe because the one party is trying to get closer and the other tries to keep the distance. (Likely self-defeating, as this might also shift opinion corridors without altering voter shares—or maybe even causes massive voter dissatisfaction.) Potential examples of this include climate issues in a great many countries and Gender-Feminism in at least Sweden. Another potential example is the drift towards Big Government, but this might have other explanations, maybe in the “slippery slope” or “boiling frog” families.
  4. If there are not enough issues, or not enough issues with enough room to profile oneself relative others, creating issues is an option. Here I would point to many suspect Leftist issues and sub-issues. Consider e.g. the historical record of environmental doomsday prophecies that have not panned out, or the unreasonable and, in its effects, anti-environmental hatred of nuclear power pushed by many “Green” parties; or the claims around “Systemic Racism” and “Patriarchy” that only seem to be there due to naive or deliberate misinterpretation of facts, statistics, and causalities. Biden’s recent hate propaganda of “the others are fascist (and don’t look too closely at what I do)” is likely another example. (However, determining what is malice and what incompetence can be hard.)
  5. The extremely one-sided election results seen in e,g. some Communist dictatorships with more-or-less nominal voting, where the Party and Comrade X are re-elected by 99–1, are an extremely strong sign of direct or indirect cheating in my eyes and partly based on the above. This is unlikely to be a great surprise to the reader, but much might be explained simply by persistent and one-sided propaganda, news reporting, whatnot, absent the general drift towards 50–50 results. A result like 99–1 simply goes beyond what is plausible based on just natural opinions in all but the most extreme cases. More likely, it is supported by means like voter intimidation and non-secret ballots, outright manipulation of results, that dissenters do not bother to even go to vote, and similar. (The exact means might vary strongly from country to country.)
  6. The general reasoning applied to a two-party system above can also be applied to a multiparty system, but with the “advantage” that the parties of a certain block need not be good at everything individually (it might be enough that one of them has a strong grip on a particular “market”), and the complication that they must not get too much in the way of each other. (In particular, it can be that even a good bid from the two-party system is no longer a good bid, because it is cut off on both sides. There is, in particular, no guarantee that a median bid will win. Further, matching someone else’s bid will tie that someone, but not everyone else, and the sharing of votes can harm both relative the other parties.)

    However, an interesting further driver of 50–50 situations is that (in particular) smaller parties might be tempted to switch blocks or go more independent if the old block grows too strong. For instance, a 10-percent party might be better off helping a 41-percent party to power than a 49-percent party, because it might get a greater say in exchange. For instance, in Sweden, a position as “vågmästare”* has been historically attractive, as it carries a lot of influence but little responsibility. Similarly, a small party within one block might well conclude that it can grow larger by changing its politics, be it as an independent or in another block.**

    *Roughly, “master of the [weighing] scales/balance/whatnot”, the one who can put a little extra weight on the one side to push the one scale down at the cost of the other. This refers to a party which is not member of a fix block, or in government, but can play two large blocks against each other and get favors from both in exchange for votes in the “right” direction on important issues.

    **This, I suspect, backfires more often than not, but hope springs eternal.

  7. The “advantage” of having multiple issues available can be severely limited by an apparent drive to have every party member agree on everything (especially, on the Left). Too often, there is an attitude that “either you agree with me on everything or you are evil [not one of us, whatnot]”. This can not only hamper individuals but also cause a long-term lock-in or a drift towards ever more extreme attitudes as the individuals try to out do each other in orthodoxy.
  8. An optimal use of multiple issues can be hindered by a need to compromise internally, with external partners, and with voters. Here we can also see cases of bartering. Say, e.g., that someone has two issues to bid on and wants to bid “25” on the one and “49” on the other. It might, however, be that going beyond “40” on the second measure will scare away or antagonize someone important, or that “49” is acceptable if the bid on the first issue is lowered to “15”.
  9. Multiple stages of voting, like in the U.S. (with primaries and regular elections) can lead to distortions in tactics. For instance, it might be that a bid of “15” would have been ideal in the regular election, but that a wish to win a primary forced an earlier bid of “5”. Going from “5” to “15” might or might not be acceptable in a next step, but often there will be a lock-in effect or a need to compromise with, say, an “8” as the closest to “15” that will be tolerated by those once swayed by the “5”.
  10. A more realistic model family than the one used above would consider effects on allies. Assume e.g. that we have several individual candidates from the same party running for different offices at the same or close to the same time. To have them run on too different platforms might be very harmful, especially with credibility among voters, consistency of message, and ensuring that the right message has been received. This can then severely limit what bids are available. For instance, it might be that a bid of “100” on some issue would strongly help a local candidate in one state, but also that his party fellows in other states have bid “20” on the same issue. He might now have to moderate himself to, say, “25” or “30” for a much smaller help.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2022 at 4:40 am

Reading tips for the prospective voter

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I have done a fair amount of complaining about human ignorance, including among voters and politicians. It might be time to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

Below, I will give a short list of books that I see as a suitable minimum reading for a voter (“required reading”, in a manner of speaking). Someone who has not read and understood these or equivalent books, or otherwise gained equivalent insight, should not be voting. To this, I stress: (a) I do not ask that the reader/voter agree with these books. (Indeed, while I am, myself, mostly in agreement with my own recommendations, I do not necessarily agree with them on any given individual point.) The important part is to think and to think hard, to understand the books, and to gain new or more nuanced insights, even should these insights not match what the author and/or I might have intended. (b) This is by no means a complete list of books that the ideal voter should have read, be it within the areas of the list or areas outside it. Indeed, even the same authors often have more advanced works on offer.

To expand on (b), it is my intention* to give books sufficiently short and sufficiently easy to read that they can be considered conscionable in terms of effort even for weaker readers and thinkers,** but simultaneously sufficiently interesting and informative as to bring value even to the stronger. Moreover, I have deliberately avoided books that are too specific in their contents. For instance, I considered the inclusion of The Black Book of Communism, but pointing out the evils of Communism in so direct a manner feels too specific and might miss my commonly repeated point that it is actions and not opinions that matter—evil is as evil does.*** Certainly, there are other evils than Communism, let alone evil aspects of other groups. Some of the works below (Orwell, Hayek) cover somewhat similar ground, but they do so in a far more general manner, which can match, e.g., a totalitarian society of any ideology. (Except in as far as totalitarianism is a part of resp. contrary to the ideology.) Moreover yet, there are areas of importance where there might not be a suitable alternative. For instance, I have written about how important I consider history, but history is such an immense topic that just reading one single book is unlikely to do much for the overall understanding,**** as this single book will either cover many events/developments/times/persons/whatnot shallowly, leaving little room for a developed understanding, or few in depth, restricting the understanding to a small area. (See an excursion for some other areas left out.)

*I have not been entirely successful, but I am not aware of any better choices. Suggestions are, of course, welcome.

**Yes, these might require considerably more time, but since they are likely to begin from a weaker position in terms of previous understanding and whatnot, the effort is the better invested.

***Also note that it is not my intention to tell the reader e.g. “Stay away from Communism!”. I sincerely hope that he does, but the point of this text is something different, namely to give the reader better tools to make his own decision. (Proofreading, I see that I repeatedly fall well short of neutrality of formulation, but as it is the recommended books, not this text, that are important, I will leave things as they are.)

****Which should not be interpreted as “so read no book at all”. On the contrary, I recommend reading (and thinking on!) as many history books as possible—or to dig into the many and deep articles on Wikipedia. (Indeed, Wikipedia has been my own main source on history.) Non-history works from “yore” can also be a very valuable source of historical information, in addition to their originally intended value, as with e.g. the “Federalist Papers”.

One contributing criterion to my choices have been the dominating, and usually poorly founded, opinions among naive voters on important topics. With a different set of opinions dominating, or another set of topics being more important, other choices might have been made. To this a more general reading recommendation: prefer books and other sources that go outside your personal “echo chamber” at least until you have seen a wide range of other perspectives on different issues—and have actually understood these.

The actual list:

  1. The Road to Serfdom is a great work on the dangers of totalitarian societies, collectivism, disregard for the individual, etc. My own last reading was a long time ago, so I cannot go into details of argumentation and content, but I do recall that he warned strongly against developments back then (WWII Britain) that were not only a recurring theme throughout the 20th century, but have continued into the 21st. Indeed, the various COVID-countermeasures were more-or-less the opposite of what Hayek might have recommended. Ditto e.g. the behavior of the current U.S. Democrats. I might go as far as to say that this book has been more relevant to the world in the last few years than it had been since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than thirty years ago—just maybe, even since the end of WWII, shortly after the writing, and closing in on eighty years.

    On the downside, the style of writing might be a little challenging for the weaker readers.

    As an important caveat, Hayek uses “Liberalism” (with variations) in an older sense, incompatible with the use of e.g. the current U.S. Democrats—who are, in fact, often outright anti-Liberal by this older meaning. When he proposes e.g. Liberalism, he would be more closely in agreement with a typical U.S. Republican than with a typical Democrat, and certainly more so with Rand Paul than with Bernie Sanders.

  2. Economics in One Lesson is a very insightful and very easy to understand overview of some basic Economics, with an emphasis on common fallacies that typically affect even (particularly?) government action. Interestingly, the first edition was published in 1946 (!),* “my” second edition from 1979 complains that these fallacies are even more influential in 1979 than they were in 1946, and my own observations show their power even in 2022!** Generally, with one exception, the books recommended are 20th century, mostly from the first half, describing problems that are still present and providing insights that are still ignored—well into the 21st century.

    *While the book is a little dated, even with the 1979 updates, the contents are sufficiently, and deliberately, general that they are still valuable. For a first and quick introduction to the field, they are certainly enough.

    **1979 was shortly before Reagan (1981) came into power, and there was a major change during his years. However, post-Reagan, this change has increasingly been reversed, and Biden seems determined to out-LBJ LBJ. (And even Reagan was not perfect.)

    Examples of such fallacies include destruction bringing a net benefit to society through the work created (failing* to consider the effect of the opportunity cost), that various price, wage, and rent controls bring a benefit (failing to see that the gain of the one is the loss of the other and that market mechanisms are disturbed), and that corporate profits are uniformly gigantic and somehow evil (failing to consider how many businesses go bankrupt and how profits motivate e.g. job creation).

    *These “failing” are not a complete analysis, just a first rough indication off the top of my head. Do read the book.

    A particular “summary lesson”, which well reflects some of my own complaints about what the Left fails to do:

    The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

    Disclaimer: The books on Economics that I have previously read have been at least one of: unsuitable to the target audience of this list; unsuitable to any pre-“101” student; full “101” texts (which are too long, entail too much busy work, and often bring too little actual understanding to be included here*). Correspondingly, I searched out this book for the specific purposes of this list, and it is the only book on the list that I have not read deeply and/or repeatedly. That said, I was extremely pleased by the first, slightly shallow, reading.

    *Example: Last year, I revisited a hard-copy of David Begg’s “Economics” (presumably, originally bought during my long-ago business studies). Trying to study it was an endless frustration, beginning with the fact that he long pretended that the goal of a business was to maximize revenue, whereby he minimized his own credibility. Any attempt to explain something was done with minimal math and endless and over-complicated discussions of graphs, intersections, and tangents, where a little math would have given a better understanding in a fraction of the space. At some point, he basically reinvented an inferior type of derivative, while failing to actually introduce derivatives, which should be high-school material and already known to the college-goer. Instead, the preface brags about the book not even using (presumably: high-school) algebra, which is absurd in an alleged college text.

  3. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, while fictional, are extremely interesting to those who want to see the dangers of thought control, abuse of language, violations of privacy, etc.—especially, but not exclusively, in a Leftist* world. They also give a good run-down of many of the methods used by the Left, many with disturbing parallels in today’s world.** Two particularly important insights is that (a) even the members of a movement/group/whatnot (e.g. O’Brien) can become slaves to that movement, (b) the same type tends to rise to the top regardless of whether pig or farmer—and the difference in species resp. ideology is then often nominal.

    *Orwell, himself, was a convinced idealist Socialist, but also one of the harshest critics of Socialism and Communism as practiced. This largely based on his experiences with British proponents, the practices in the Soviet Union, and what he saw while fighting on the Leftist side in the Spanish Civil War. (Other sources of inspiration for “Nineteen Eighty-Four” might include his experiences working for the British Empire or living in WWII Britain.)

    **A key aspect here is that Orwell did not invent a dystopia out of thin air, but integrated and extrapolated what he had actually seen in real life. Humans, governments, and the Left have not changed that much in the seventy-something years since his time of writing.

    I name both books, because they are overlapping, not identical, in content and complement each other very well. If forced to choose, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the more important to read, but the extra effort for “Animal Farm” is small, as it is more of a novella.

    Do not be fooled by the apparent “for children” nature of “Animal Farm”, however, as its main benefits come from allegory that few children can understand. Indeed, I remember being disappointed by the lack of a happy ending after my own first reading, as a child—why did not Snowball come back and right all wrongs? (As an adult, I see how a happy ending would have ruined the point of the book; and I realize that, while Napoleon was a proven bad guy, Snowball had never truly proven himself to be a good guy, implying that the effects of his hypothetical comeback were uncertain.)

    As an aside, going from the year of completion of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, 1948, to the year 1984,* we have an interval of 36 years. We are now in 2022, or another 38 years down the line—and closer to the fictional 1984 than we were in the actual 1984.

    *The official claim, in-universe, is not trustworthy, but the claimed 1984 of the book and the actual 1984 of the real world were and are a natural point of comparison—especially, in 1984.

  4. The Bell-Curve is, first of all, not racist, White Supremacist, or anything similar. That I have to lead with this is sad, but necessary. The reason for this defamation is likely that its implications, but not necessarily intentions, amount to a discrediting of much what the Left (in general) and/or the U.S. Democrats (in particular) push. (Generally, such books tend to be given a label like “racist” in a near blanket manner, often by those who have not read them, followed by a guilt-by-association attack on anyone who does not similarly condemn them, let alone supports them. Even more detailed Leftist critique tends to be based on misrepresentation and distortion of the actual contents.)

    What “The Bell-Curve” is is a highly important work with extensive policy implications centered on the effects of g, IQ, or, in the authors preferred phrasing, cognitive ability.

    Most notably, the conclusion must be that most differences in group outcomes are to be viewed in the light of IQ first and whatever else secondarily. This includes e.g. a staple of the current “Old Left”, that working-class children get nowhere in life because they are “disadvantaged” or “underprivileged” from birth—and we must institute social justice!!!! However, once an investigation takes the IQ of the children into consideration, the influence of parental SES is drastically reduced—own IQ matters significantly more than our childhood homes.* And, no, IQ is not largely determined by parental SES either (at least not in e.g. the U.S. or my native Sweden).

    *I am, myself, a good individual example of a successful move from a “disadvantaged” up-bringing to a materially pleasant and high-SES life.

    Yes, this applies to race too, but there is nothing racist about it. The facts are what they are, namely, that e.g. U.S. Blacks (as a group) have a lower average IQ than e.g. U.S. Whites (who, in turn, have a lower average IQ than e.g. Ashkenazim) and that the disparities in outcome look very, very different after own IQ has been factored in. If Blacks, on average and for instance, do worse in college than Whites, this is not a matter of “systemic racism”, “discrimination”, or whatnot—it is a matter, mostly, of IQ. The massive pro-Black interventions that take place are not fighting an unfair disadvantage against Blacks, they are creating one in favor of Blacks.

    On the downside, this book is quite long, and a shorter version might have been preferable for my current purposes. A good idea for the slow reader might be to first read the various summaries and whatnots to get a general idea, and then to dig deeper over time.

    A good complement is Blueprint, which foregoes “The Bell-Curves” big-picture discussions of the potential effects and policy implications of this-and-that, but goes more into the genetic side of human diversity, allows more influence of non-IQ factors on behavior and behavioral differences, and is more up-to-date*. A particular benefit is that it addresses extensively one of my own main complaints about many Environmentalist arguments, namely that the effects of inherited characteristics on the environment are not considered.** However, unlike “The Bell-Curve”, it is not a seminal work with little competition, and substituting some other book on HBD, genetics and psychology, or evolutionary psychology might give a similar value. (My choice was partially because it is the only book in the extended field that I have read in 2022, and my memory of others is a little vague and/or might require a re-read before a recommendation.)

    *Published in 2018 and by far the youngest book on the list.

    **Most notably in that the effect of parental IQ on parental SES is not considered; however, there are very many other examples.

Excursion on left-out fields:
Apart from history, there are at least two obvious seeming fields that are not included (be it pro or contra):

Firstly, global warming/climate change. This is simply because I am not well-read in the area and have not yet formed a firm own opinion. I do note that the Left tends to engage in severe misrepresentation in these areas, however, and point to e.g. a recent text on science denialism with a brief climate discussion and a link to an older text on “Unsettled”. (A book that I found helpful and interesting, but which I do not endorse in the manner of the above.)

Secondly, COVID and COVID-countermeasures. Here I do have strong opinions (cf. many earlier texts), but I am faced with the problem that my readings have all been Internet based and that I have no books to recommend. (On the Internet, I recommend in particular Brownstone.) Moreover, (a) the problems with the countermeasures are to some degree covered more generally by the other texts, (b) further countermeasures seem (knock on wood!) less likely than in the past, which makes the topic less urgent. (Otherwise, I might well have searched for a book.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 1, 2022 at 7:20 am

Nazis XIII: The Remains of the Day

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I am currently working on a longer (maybe, multi-part) text on nationalism, racism, etc. relating to the Left–Right issue. In parallel, I have been reading Kazuo Ishiguru’s “The Remains of the Day”, which not only has a sub-theme of Nazi perception in pre- and post-WWII Britain, but also contains some points of interest to my own discussions. (An interesting read in general, but I will leave out other topics.)

This in particular relating to democracy, where we e.g. have a “Mr Spencer” deride the idea that the broad masses are suited to the task of governing (correctly, in my opinion; also see excursion). A little later, “Lord Darlington” complains about how Britain is dithering, while the likes of Germany and Italy, even the Bolsheviks (his formulation) and FDR, have put their houses in order.*

*Here an interpretation of “strong man” as opposed to “elites” or “experts” is possible. The practical effects on the below are not that large, if the interpretation is changed.

Naively viewed, this might amount to “we need universal suffrage—or we get Hitler”. However, is is possible to largely agree with Mr Spencer (on this issue), without agreeing with other ideas that might have been held by him or Lord Darlington (and, in the extension, e.g. Hitler):*

*In addition: it was universal suffrage among easily manipulated voters that gave Hitler the opportunity to seize power—not a lack of suffrage.

  1. A typical modern representative* democracy approximately and nominally** amounts to the members of the broad masses collectively making decisions for themselves. When combined with increasingly big government and an increasingly Leftwards trend of society,*** we soon land in a “dictatorship of the masses” and a “the single sheep and the many wolves voting about what/who is for dinner” situation. Politicians are elected for how charismatic or crowd pleasing they are, not how competent, and those elected proceed to make poor decisions, be it through sheer incompetence or in order to buy votes, please lobbyist, gain personal advantage, …

    *Without this restriction, the set of problems is different-but-overlapping. (I am not aware of any current non-representative democracy on the national level, however. The closest approximation might be the Swiss. In smaller circles, e.g. a club of some sort, non-representative democracy might appear.)

    **Quite often, the intermediate layer of elected representatives gains power and/or makes decisions in a manner that eliminates the masses. Consider e.g. the massive attempts of politicians to force the people to hold the “right” opinions on various matters in recent years, most notably regarding COVID; or the German horror of repeated “great coalitions” between the nominal Conservatives and the Social-Democrats, which have severely reduced the value of voting.

    ***Both to a considerable degree caused by, or occurring much sooner in, democracies.

    To some approximation (nominally): everyone is governed to a high degree by the broad masses.

    To some approximation (real world): everyone is governed to a high degree by an elected pseudo-elite.

  2. They Nazis chose a different road, in that they tried to eliminate the masses from influence, but kept big government—or even “went bigger government”.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by Hitler or some similar person/grouping/whatnot.*

    *Note that these are not necessarily even close to “elite” in terms of e.g. competence, IQ, etc.

    (With an eye at the overall “Nazis are Leftists” theme, this well matches e.g. the Soviet Union, while more moderate Leftist regimes often move somewhere between this and the previous item—especially, in the “real world” version.)

  3. My own thoughts are a modification of democracy in the opposite direction from what the Nazis took. (Yet one quite likely to be misunderstood or misrepresented as closer to the Nazis by the Left.)

    By having a small government, with little intervention in the daily life of the people, the members of the broad masses individually make decisions for themselves. What small government there is, is to be ruled by a more select group, in that there are restrictions on (a) who is allowed to vote, (b) who may be elected for what role.*

    *In both cases, I have yet to settle on details, but one alternative is to replace a blanket age barrier of 18 years for “(a)” with a more dynamic and harder-to-pass test of IQ or critical thinking.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by himself(!), while remaining collective decisions are fewer and made by a (hopefully true) elite.

Towards the end, the protagonist (“Stevens”, the butler of Lord Darlington) seems to regret that he might have been too trusting and, unlike Lord Darlington, failed to commit his own mistakes.* This plays in well with much of my own writings, e.g. on agnostic scepticism: those who trust too much in the competence and good will of politicians, the statements of others, etc., will often be burned—and they contribute massively to the problems with modern democracies.

*This is somewhat ironic to me, as (a) Stevens made plenty of own mistakes, (b) Lord Darlington arguably also was led astray by trust in others, including a visiting Ribbentrop. Indeed, it might be argued that Lord Darlington, as implied by Ishiguru, was a useful idiot while Stevens was someone blindly following orders, thereby representing two common problematic characters in discussions around the Left and/or Nazis—of which I would consider the useful idiot the more problematic. (Writing this, I even see some similarity between Stevens way of thinking of his profession and the SS attitude of “meine Ehre heißt treue”, if maybe driven more by professionalism and less by personal admiration. Might be more to discover on a re-read, maybe with the household as a parallel to a totalitarian society and “Miss Kenton” showing how an idealist can fail to act through fear in such a society.)

Excursion on Ishiguru’s intentions:
I would not speculate on Ishiguru’s intentions based on this first read. I would certainly not vouch for his intentions matching my own ideas. However, I do note that the type of portrayal that he uses has often been used, if usually with far less nuance and more one-sidedly, by others to try to score cheap points—and usually in a fallacious manner, as e.g. various types of democracy criticism is blocked into a single unnuanced and undiscriminatory category of “evil”.

Excursion on the masses:
The problems with the broad masses are not limited to a, on average, low or lower level of intelligence, knowledge, and understanding. (Nor to e.g. the risk that someone barely able to put food on the table is vulnerable to promises of government money, should some party or candidate win.) A major problem is that many of the issues involved in government can require considerable expertise,* and that allowing those too low in such expertise even a vote can be dangerous. The appropriate bar for voting is certainly lower than for e.g. being a member of parliament, but some ability to judge the general soundness of e.g. a party program must be present. Note e.g. that there was a paradoxical positive correlation between amount of education and probability to vote for Biden in the 2020 elections, while he and the Democrats pushed politics virtually bound to do more harm than good—something borne out by the results in the almost 17 months since his inauguration.

*Note that I am not, absolutely and categorically not, claiming that current politicians would be satisfactory in this regard.

And, no, I am not being a snob here. For instance, going from my own first vote (Swedish parliamentary elections in 1994, age 19) to today (age 47), I have found that I used to be naive on a great many topics. Sometimes, I have revised my opinions as time went by; sometimes, I have kept the same opinions, but now hold them for better reasons. (And while I expect fewer new revisions going to 75, I do expect them.) Yes, in a time-travel scenario that brought me back to good old 1994, I would likely have voted the same as I did back then; no, I do not believe that a legal limit of just 18 (or 19) for voting is sensible. For instance, before I had acquainted myself enough with U.S. politics, I managed to make several naive statements about both Obama and Trump.* (And I fully expect both that there are statements from my past that will turn out to be naive in the future and that I will make further naive statements as time passes.)

*I note, preempting parts of the “text on nationalism, racism, etc.”, the complication that a foreign point of view can be highly misleading, e.g. because the local media’s reporting on other countries is skewed towards foreign policy and other fields with an international effect over fields with a more national effect, say, education. (For instance, the internationally relevant free-trade issue is likely where I disagree the most with Trump, while the more nationally relevant heavy “social justice” angle of Obama is where I disagree the most with him.) That the media’s understanding of foreign countries tend to be lower than for its own does not help.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 12, 2022 at 6:29 pm

Trump’s impeachment and a horrifying democracy failure / Follow-up: U.S. elections

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The second impeachment of Trump is truly a horror; and the meagerness of today’s acquittal utterly absurd.

Consider, among other factors:

  1. The impeachment was with a high degree of likelihood unconstitutional to begin with.
  2. Failing that, it indisputably misses the purpose of an impeachment, which is to remove a problematic office holder from his current office.

    (Here it seems driven by an attempt to prevent a former office holder from holding future offices and/or to exercise some type of Orwellian utter destruction of a defeated enemy.)

  3. The accusations raised were utterly untenable, and were clearly so from the very beginning, considering what statements allegedly were impeachable.

    By no reasonable standards can these statements be considered e.g. an incitement to riots or speech not covered by the First Amendment.

    (Notably, going down this road could lead to the very dangerous situation of elected politicians being limited in their freedom of speech to a considerably higher degree than others, and possibly at the whim of their enemies and/or the Democrats/the Left.)

  4. There are great signs that Trump could not have caused the events at Capitol Hill even by negligence or otherwise unintentionally, as they, apparently, began before he reached the critical portions of his speech.

    This even discounting claims (which I have not investigated) that the events might have been pre-planned (by others) and/or involved Antifa members acting under a false flag. Indeed, political violence tends to come from the Left, so this would be less surprising than a pro-Trump group using violence (barring situations of a defensive nature).

  5. Considering far worse statements by Leftist politicians, especially regarding e.g. the BLM riots, and the scope, damage, and whatnot of the BLM riots, the impeachment is an astounding and inexcusable hypocrisy.
  6. If this type of approach was successful, the results could be horrifying. Consider e.g. a scenario where an election campaign is held, under a massive investment of time and money, and one of the candidates is dishonestly impeached just a few weeks before the election date. If conviction succeeds, the possibility of launching a strong secondary candidate in time would be minuscule. Even with an acquittal, the distraction caused by the proceedings could damage the campaign severely—as could the negative publicity, considering that too few voters bother to look beyond the headlines.

    Worse, we could see a scenario where candidates or the already elected are picked off one-by-one, possibly in a true “First they came” scenario. Indeed, a portion of the Nazis success came from removing opposing members of parliament—notably, after the Reichstagsbrand, an arson attempt against parliament and a target (but not means) of attack similar to that which was invoked to justify the Trump impeachment.

But let us say, very, very strictly for the sake of argument, that everything would have been above board with the impeachment: What could possibly have motivated Trump? It is very hard to see any possible positive effect for him (or the GOP), while the risk of a backlash would be considerable and obvious. Indeed, if he had actually incited a riot, a coup attempt, or a whatnot, chances are that he would have landed in the real courts, be it on criminal charges or as the target of a handful of civil suits. This alone should make any rational thinker highly suspicious of the accusations. Cui bono? Not Trump, that is for sure.

Despite this, and likely quite a few other arguments, the vote was a disgraceful 57–43 against Trump—enough to acquit him but more than enough to condemn the Senate. Even a 43–57 would have been a disgrace. It is quite clear that this was never a bona fide impeachment attempt, a bona fide attempt at protecting this-or-that, or otherwise anything “bona fide”. On the contrary, it was a malicious, dishonest, and anti-democratic* attempt to abuse the available processes to do damage to a political opponent.

*As in “opposed to democracy”, not “opposed to the Democrat party”.

In addition, it was a democracy failure in that those Republicans who voted against Trump almost certainly did so against the will of the voters who had once elected them and the states that they represent, who tend to be more pro-Trump than their senators. (I have already seen reports of protests and censuring based on the vote in the House. Of course, that the impeachment was not struck down in the House is also a travesty.)

I note that I published a text titled Democracy lost almost five years ago. The time since then has made the contents of that text seem optimistic …

Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2021 at 11:23 pm

The end of the world as we know it

with one comment

So this is how democracy dies—to thundering applause!

(or something very similar) is how the fall of the Republic to the evil Empire is commented in “Star Wars”. So it was today.

A few comments:

  1. Over the last few decades, we have had a very disturbing combination of the allegedly free world growing ever more totalitarian (with a severe recent push due to COVID) and ever more Leftist. Today, we have seen a disastrous culmination of this.

    Trump, to continue the “Star Wars” theme, might well have been our only hope, the last defense against not only excessive Leftist policies, bad enough in their own right, but the evil, the intolerance, the hatred, that the modern Left pushes so hard—often, paradoxically and hypocritically, in the name of good, tolerance, and love. Note carefully that evil usually comes in the guise of good, and that it is never more dangerous than when it is mistaken for good. (This is one of the reasons why I insist that we should go by what people actually do, not what they merely say, and that we should listen two both sides of an issue, not just blindly believe the one side.)

    Also note how the Left has grown more and more intolerant, the more power it has received, as in Germany, where you cannot open the news without hearing fears about Rightwing-this and Rightwing-that, while society shifts ever more Leftwards. If Ludwig Erhard had lived to see the current set of redistributions and “welfare” excesses, he might have died from the shock (despite having a strong “social” streak, himself); while the likes of Erich Honecker (the last dictator of the GDR) might have been positively surprised. And, yes, Germany has very similar problems with the “New Left” as does the U.S., on top of the “Old Left” problems—here even Honecker might have been upset.

  2. We might now be in the absurd position that Putin is the leader of the free world; and, in the long term, it might well be that China poses a greater chance for the world than does the U.S. This not because Russia, let alone China, would be setting a shining example, but because the U.S. is crashing fast.
  3. While I have long considered democracy a mere “least evil” as a political system, situations like the current truly make me wonder: Either the system is too easy to cheat or the broad masses are simply too stupid to vote (or both …), leaving us with a dictatorship of the manipulators and the dumb masses. Democracy in its current form is simply not tenable. It might work for a while, but as the problems build up, we end where many “advanced” Western democracies are now: wealth created by the free or semi-free markets give people enough affluence to not complain, while the individual is increasingly trampled and the government and its bureaucracies and “programs” grow out of hand. Go outside this group and it can turn even worse, as with Venezuela.

    Democracy needs either a (constitutionally guaranteed) small government or a restriction of voters by e.g. an IQ cut-off—and a high one, at that.

  4. For democracy, this election might have been the greatest failure since the rise of Hitler (by mostly democratic means) and the fall of the Weimar Republic. (And, yes, I strongly suspect that the events in “Star Wars” were partially inspired by that failure, partially by the fall of the Roman republic.)
  5. As for the U.S., it might have reached the single greatest internal crisis since the Civil War, and while the consequences are likely to be less bloody, they might turn out to be as dire in terms of e.g. societal costs, damage to long-term development, etc. Note that the Biden/Harris election is just one part of the overall puzzle, which must be seen in combination with e.g. extreme-Left (and other) rioters, the anti-intellectual take-over of the academic world, and the social-media censorships.
  6. Irrespective of anything else, it is quite clear that the U.S. must change its procedures to eliminate the rampant possibilities for election fraud. Will Biden/Harris do so? Do not bet on it.

    However, if, against expectations, the Supreme Court, the state legislatures, or whoever, intercedes to compensate for the fraud and irregularities that have taken place this year, it would set a very dangerous precedent. It might be used to prevent fraud today, but it might then be used by the Left to perform fraud the next time around. On the off chance that Trump does win in this manner, his highest priority would have to be election-law reforms.

  7. From a personal point of view: I have grown ever more cynic and disillusioned with the world, humanity, and governments, as time has gone by, but what I have seen in the last year, with disproportionate COVID countermeasures, people being fired for having the “wrong” opinions (or even their spouses (!) having the “wrong” opinions), BLM and Antifa hate-mongering and riots over a likely drug-overdose, Leftist lies being openly (but likely often insincerely) supported even by large swaths of the non-Left, the extreme censorship and free-speech violations by e.g. Facebook/Twitter/YouTube, the U.S. elections, …

    It is all truly horrifying. Even the Social-Democrat Sweden of the 1980s, where I first developed a political awareness, was a better place that the modern Sweden, Germany, and U.S.

    I like to think that “this too shall pass”, but I am not certain that it actually will.

    Frankly, I have only two hopes: (a) that the sheer extremity of what happens will awaken sufficiently large portions of the masses to stop the changes, and (b) that the Left might splinter, e.g. along “identity” lines, and see its factions turn on each other, allowing the non-Left or a more moderate Left to take over.

Excursion on future posts:
The results of the election, and the circumstances around it, have led to many more “extraordinary” posts on this closed-in-principle blog than I had intended. With one exception, a re-working of the lyrics to “American Pie”, I will probably not post more on this topic. This, obviously, with a reservation for a change in outcomes, e.g. through a successful Trump lawsuit.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 14, 2020 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Why the world is going to Hell

with 2 comments

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