Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

A call for more (!) discrimination

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The word “discrimination” and its variations (e.g. “to discriminate”) is hopelessly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. Indeed, while properly referring to something (potentially) highly beneficial and much needed, it has come to be a mere short for longer phrases like “sexual discrimination” and “racial discrimination”.* Worse, even these uses are often highly misleading.** Worse yet, the word has increasingly even lost the connection with these special cases, degenerating into a mere ad hominem credibility killer or a blanket term for any unpopular behavior related (or perceived as related) to e.g. race.***

*Note that it is “sexual” and “racial”—not “sexist” and “racist”. The latter two involve ascribing an intention and mentality to someone else, beyond (in almost all cases) what can possibly be known—and is sometimes manifestly false. Further, their focus on the intent rather than the criteria would often make them unsuitable even in the rare cases where the use could otherwise be justified.

**E.g because a discrimination on a contextually rational and reasonable criterion (e.g. GPA for college admissions) indirectly results in differences in group outcome, which are then incorrectly ascribed to e.g. “racial discrimination”. The latter, however, requires that race was the direct criterion for discrimination.

***Including e.g. having non-PC opinions about some group or expressing that opinion, neither of which can in any meaningful sense be considered discrimination—even in cases where the opinion or expression is worthy of disapproval. This including even the (already fundamentally flawed) concept of micro-aggressions.

What then is discrimination? Roughly speaking: The ability to recognize the differences between whatever individuals/objects/phenomena/… are being considered, to recognize the expected effects of decisions involving them, and to act accordingly. Indeed, if I were to restrict the meaning further, it is the “act” part that I would remove…* (Also see a below excursion on the Wiktionary definitions.)

*E.g. in that I would not necessarily consider someone discriminating who flipped a coin and then hired exclusively men or exclusively women based on the outcome—apart from the greater group impact, this is not much different from the entirely undiscriminating hiring by a coin flip per candidate. I might possibly even exclude e.g. the feminist stereotype of a White Old Man who deliberately hires only men because of the perceived inferiority of women: This is, at best, poor discrimination on one level and a proof of a lack of discrimination on another. C.f. below. (While at the same time being a feminist’s prime example of “discrimination” in the distorted sense.)

For instance, deciding to hire or not to hire someone as a physician based on education and whether a license to practice medicine is present, is discrimination. So is requiring a lawyer to have passed a bar exam in order to perform certain tasks. So is requiring a fire fighter to pass certain physical tests. So is using easier tests for women* than for men. So is using health-related criteria to choose between food stuffs. So is buying one horse over another based on quality of teeth or one car over another based on less rust damage. Etc. Even being able to tell the difference between different types of discrimination based on justification and effects could be seen as discrimination!

*This is, specifically, sexual discrimination, which shows that even such special cases can have the blessing of the PC crowd. It also provides an example of why it is wrong to equate “sexual” and “sexist”, because, no matter how misguided this discrimination is, it is unlikely to be rooted in more than a greater wish for equality of outcome. To boot, it is an example of poor discrimination through focus on the wrong criteria or having the wrong priorities. (Is equality of outcome when hiring really more important than the lives of fire victims?!?)

Why do we need it?

Discrimination is very closely related to the ability to make good decisions (arguably, any decision short of flipping a coin)—and the better someone is at discriminating, the better the outcomes tend to be. Note that this is by no means restricted to such obvious cases as hiring decisions based on education. It also involves e.g. seeing small-but-critical differences in cases where an argument, analogy, or whatnot does or does not apply; or being able to tell what criteria are actually relevant to understanding the matter/making the decision at hand.*

*Consider e.g. parts of the discussion in the text that prompted this one; for instance, where to draw the line between speech and action, or the difference between the IOC’s sponsor bans and bans on kneeling football players. Or consider why my statements there about employer’s rights do not, or only partially, extend to colleges: Without a lack of understanding, someone might see the situations as analogous, based e.g. on “it’s their building” or “it’s their organization”. Using other factors, the situation changes radically, e.g. in that the employer pays the employee while the college is paid by the student; that co-workers who do not get along can threaten company profits, while this is only rarely the case with students who do not get along; and that a larger part of the “college experience” overlaps with the students personal life than is, m.m., the case for an employee—especially within the U.S. campus system. (For instance, what characteristic of a college would give it greater rights to restrict free speech in a dorm than a regular landlord in an apartment building? A lecture hall, possibly—a dorm, no.)

Indeed, very many of today’s societal problems and poor political decisions go back, at least partially, to a failure to discriminate resp. to discriminate based on appropriate criteria.

Consider e.g. the common tendency to consider everything relating to “nuclear” or “radioactive” to be automatically evil (or the greater evil): Nuclear power is “evil”, yet fossil energies do far more damage to the world. The nuclear bombings of Japan were “evil”, yet their conventional counter-part killed more people. Radioactive sterilization of food is “evil”, yet science considers it safe—much unlike food poisoning… What if discrimination was not done by name or underlying technology, but rather based on the effects, risks, opportunities?

Consider the (ignorant or deliberate) failure to discriminate between e.g. anti-Islamists and anti-Muslims or immigration critics and xenophobes, treating them the same and severely hindering a civilized public debate.

Consider the failure to discriminate between school children by ability and the enforcing of a “one size fits all” system that barely even fits the average*, and leaves the weakest and strongest as misfits—and which tries to force everyone to at a minimum go through high school (or its local equivalent). (Germany still does a reasonable job, but chances are that this will not last; Sweden was an absolute horror already when I went to school; and the U.S. is a lot worse than it should and could be.)

*Or worse, is so centered on the weakest that school turns into a problem even for the average… Indeed, some claim that e.g. the U.S. “No Child Left Behind Act” has done more harm than good for this very reason.

Consider the failure to discriminate between politicians based on their expected long-term effect on society, rather than the short-term effect on one-self.

Consider the failure to discriminate between mere effort and actual result, especially with regard to political decisions. (Especially in the light of the many politicians who do not merely appear to fail at own discrimination, but actually try to fool the voters through showing that “something is being done”—even should that something be both ineffective and inefficient.)

Consider the failure to discriminate between those who can think for themselves (and rationally, critically, whatnot) and those who can not when it comes to e.g. regulations, the right to vote, self-determination, …

Consider the failure to discriminate between use and abuse, e.g. of alcohol or various performance enhancing drugs. (Or between performance enhancing drugs that are more and less dangerous…)

Consider the undue discrimination between sex crimes (or sexcrimes…) and regular crimes, especially regarding restrictions on due process or reversal of reasonable expectations. (Whether sex is involved is not a valid criterion, seeing that e.g. due process is undermined as soon as any crime is exempt from it.)

Consider the undue discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians by many Westerners, where the one is held to a “Western” standard of behavior and the other is not. (Nationality is not relevant to this aspect of the conflict.)

A particularly interesting example is the classification of people not yet 18 as “children”*, which effectively puts e.g. those aged 3, 10, and 17 on the same level—an often absurd lack of discrimination, considering the enormous differences (be they physical, mental, in terms of experience or world-view, …) between people of these respective ages. Nowhere is this absurdity larger than in that the “child” turns into an “adult” merely through the arrival of a certain date, while being virtually identically the same as the day before—and this accompanied with blanket rights and obligations, with no other test of suitability. Note how this applies equally to someone well-adjusted, intelligent, and precocious as it does to someone who is intellectually over-challenged even by high school and who prefers to lead a life of petty crimes and drug abuse. (To boot, this rapid change of status is highly likely to make the “children” less prepared for adulthood, worsening the situation further.)

*The size of the problem can vary from country to country, however. In e.g. the U.S. there is a fair chance that a word like “minor” will be used, especially in more formal contexts, which at least reduces the mental misassociations; in Sweden, “barn” (“child”) dominates in virtually all contexts, including (at least newer) laws.

However, there are many other problems relating to the grouping of “children” with children, especially concerning undifferentiated societal and political debates around behavior from and towards these “children”. This in particular in the area of sex, where it is not just common to use terms like “pedophile”* and “child-porn” for the entire age-range, but where I have actually repeatedly seen the claim that those sexually attracted to someone even just shy of 18 would be perverts**—despite the age limit being largely arbitrary***, despite that many are at or close to their life-time peak in attractiveness at that age, despite that most of that age are fully sexually mature, and despite that people have married and had children at considerably lower ages for large stretches of human history.

*This word strictly speaking refers to someone interested in pre-pubescent children, making it an abuse of language not covered by the (disputable) justification that can be given to “child-porn” through the wide definition of “child”. Even if the use was semantically sound, however, the extremely different implications would remain, when children and “children” at various ages are considered.

**Presumably, because the classification of someone younger as a “child” has become so ingrained with some weak thinkers that they actually see 18 as a magic limit transcending mere laws, mere biological development, mere maturity (or lack there of), and leaving those aged 17 with more in common with those aged 8 than those aged 18.

***Indeed, the “age of consent” is strictly speaking separate from the “age of maturity”, with e.g. Sweden (15) and Germany (14 or 16, depending on circumstances) having a considerably lower age of consent while keeping the age of maturity at 18.

Not all discrimination, depending on exact meaning implied, is good, but this is usually due to a lack of discrimination. Consider e.g. making a hiring decision between a Jewish high-school drop-out and a Black Ph.D. holder: With only that information present, the hiring decision can be based on either the educational aspect, the race/ethnicity aspect, or a random choice.* If we go by the educational or race aspect, there is discrimination towards the candidates. However, if the race aspect is used, then this is a sign that there has been too little or incorrect discrimination towards the hiring criteria—otherwise the unsuitability of the race aspect as a criterion would have been recognized. This, in turn, is the reason why racial discrimination is almost always wrong: It discriminates by an unsound criterion. We can also clearly see why “discrimination” must not be reduced to the meanings implied by “racial [and whatnot] discrimination”—indeed, someone truly discriminating (adjective) would not have been discriminating (verb) based on race in the above example.

*Or a combination thereof, which I will ignore: Including the combinations has no further illustrative value.

Excursion on proxy criteria:
Making decisions virtually always involves some degree of proxy criteria, because it is impossible to judge e.g. how well an applicant for a job fairs on the true criteria. For instance, the true criterion might amount to “Who gives us the best value for our money?”. This, however, is impossible to know in advance, and the prospective employer resorts to proxy criteria like prior experience, references, education, … that are likely to give a decent, if far from perfect, idea of what to expect. (Indeed, even these criteria are arguably proxies-for-proxies like intelligence, industriousness, conscientiousness, …—and, obviously, the ability to discriminate!)

Unfortunately, sometimes proxies are used that are less likely to give valuable information (e.g. impression from an interview) and/or are “a proxy too far” (e.g. race). To look at the latter, a potential U.S. employer might (correctly) observe that Jews currently tend to have higher grades than Blacks and tend to advance higher in the educational system, and conclude that the Jew is the better choice. However, seeing that this is a group characteristic, it would be much better to look at the actual individual data, removing a spurious proxy: Which of the two candidates does have the better grades and the more advanced education—not who might be expected to do so based on population statistics.

As an aside, one of my main beefs with increasing the number of college graduates (even at the cost of lowering academic standards to let the unsuitable graduate) is that the main role of a diploma was to serve as a proxy for e.g. intelligence and diligence, and that this proxy function is increasingly destroyed. Similarly, the greater infantilization of college students removes the proxy effect for ability to work and think for oneself.

Excursion on discrimination and double standards:
Interestingly, discrimination otherwise rejected, usually relating to the passage of time, is sometimes arbitrarily considered perfectly acceptable and normal. A good example is the age of maturity and variations of “age of X” (cf. above)—a certain age is used as an extremely poor and arbitrary proxy for a set of personal characteristics.

In other cases, such discrimination might have a sufficient contextual justification that it is tolerated or even considered positive. For instance, even a well qualified locker-room attendant of the wrong sex might not be acceptable to the visitors of a public bath, and the bath might then use sex as a hiring criterion. Not allowing men to compete in e.g. the WTA or WNBA can be necessary to give women a reasonable chance at sports success (and excluding women from the ATP or the NBA would then be fair from a symmetry point of view). Etc.

Then there is affirmative action…

Excursion on how to discriminate better:
A few general tips on how to discriminate better: Question whether a criterion is actually relevant, in it self, or is just as proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy-for-a-proxy, …; and try to find a more immediate criterion. Question the effectiveness of criteria (even immediate ones). Do not just look at what two things have in common (e.g. building ownership, cf. above) but what makes them different (e.g. being paid or paying). Try to understand the why and the details of something and question whether your current assumptions on the issue are actually correct—why is X done this way*, why is Y a criterion, why is Z treated differently, … Try to look at issues with reason and impartiality, not emotion or personal sympathy/antipathy; especially, when the issues are personal, involve loved ones or archenemies, concern “pet peeves”, or otherwise are likely to cause a biased reaction.

*The results can be surprising. There is a famous anecdote about a member of the younger generation who wanted to find out why the family recipe for a pot-roast (?) called for cutting off part of it in a certain manner. Many questions later, someone a few generations older, and the origin of the tradition, revealed the truth: She had always done so in order to … make the pot-roast fit into her too small pan. Everyone else did so in the erroneous belief that there was some more significant purpose behind it—even when their pans were larger.

Excursion on when not to discriminate (at all):
There might be instances where potential discrimination, even when based on superficially reasonable grounds, is better not done.

For instance, topics like free speech, especially in a U.S. campus setting, especially with an eye on PC/Leftist/whatnot censorship, feature heavily in my current thoughts and readings. Here we can see an interesting application of discrimination: Some PC/Leftist/whatnot groups selectively (try to) disallow free speech when opinions contrary to theirs are concerned. Now, if someone is convinced that he is right, is that not a reasonable type of discrimination (from his point of view)?

If the goal is to push one’s own opinion through at all cost, then, yes, it is.

Is that enough justification? Only to those who are not just dead certain and lacking in respect for others, but who also are very short-sighted:

Firstly, as I often note, there is always a chance that even those convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt are wrong. (Indeed, those dead certain often turn out to be dead wrong, while those who turn out to be right often were open to doubts.) What if someone silences the opposition, forces public policy to follow a particular scheme without debate, indoctrinates future generations in a one-sided manner, …—and then turns out to be wrong? What if the wrongness is only discovered with a great delay, or not at all, due to the free-speech restrictions? Better then to allow other opinions to be uttered.

Secondly, if the power situation changes, those once censoring can suddenly find themselves censored—especially, when they have themselves established censorship as the state of normality. Better then to have a societal standard that those in power do not censor those out of power.

Thirdly, there is a dangerous overlap between the Niemöller issue and the fellow-traveler fallacy: What if the fellow travelers who jointly condemn their common enemies today, condemn each other tomorrow? (Similarly, it is not at all uncommon for a previously respected member of e.g. the feminist community to be immediately cast out upon saying something “heretic”.) Better then to speak up in defense of the censored now, before it is too late.

Fourthly, exposure to other opinions, dialectic, eclecticism, synthesis, … can all be beneficial for the individual—and almost a necessity when we look at e.g. society as a whole, science, philosophy, … Better then to not forego these benefits.

Fifthly, and possibly most importantly, censorship is not just an infringement of rights against the censored speaker—it is also an infringement of rights against the listeners. If we were (I do not!) to consider the act against the speaker justified (e.g. because he is “evil”, “racist”, “sexist”, or just plainly “wrong”); by what reasoning can this be extended to the listeners? Short of “it’s for their own good” (or, just possibly, “it’s for the greater good”), I can see nothing. We would then rob others of their right to form their own opinions, to expose themselves to new ideas, whatnot, in the name of “their own good”—truly abhorrent. Better then to allow everyone the right to choose freely, both in terms of whom to listen to and what to do with what is heard.

Excursion on failure to discriminate in terminology:
As with the child vs. “child” issue above, there are many problems with (lack of) discrimination that can arise through use of inappropriate words or inconsistent use of words. A very good example is the deliberate abuse of the word “rape” to imply a very loosely and widely defined group of acts, in order to ensure that “statistics” show a great prevalence, combined with a (stated or implied) more stringent use when these “statistics” are presented as an argument for e.g. policy change. Since there is too little discrimination between rape and “rape”, these statistics are grossly misleading. Other examples include not discriminating between the words* “racial” and “racist”, “[anabolic] steroid” and “PED”, “convicted” and “guilty”, …

*Or the concepts: I am uncertain to what degree the common abuse of “racist” for “racial” is based on ignorance of language or genuine confusion about the corresponding concepts. (Or intellectually dishonest rhetoric by those who do know the difference…) Similar remarks can apply elsewhere.

(In a bigger picture, similar problems include e.g. euphemistic self-labeling, as with e.g. “pro-life” and “pro-choice”; derogatory enemy-labeling, e.g. “moonbat” and “wingnut”; and emotionally manipulative labels on others, e.g. the absurd rhetorical misnomer “dreamer” for some illegal aliens. Such cases are usually at most indirectly related to discrimination, however.)

Excursion on Wikipedia and Wiktionary:
Wikipedia, often corrupted by PC editors [1], predictably focuses solely on the misleading special-case meanings in the allegedly main Wikipedia article on discrimination, leaving appropriate use only to alleged special cases… A particular perversity is a separate article on Discrimination in bar exam, which largely ignores the deliberate discriminatory attempt to filter out those unsuited for the bar and focuses on alleged discrimination of Blacks and other ethnicities. Not only does this article obviously fall into the trap of seeing a difference in outcome (on the exam) as proof of differences in opportunity; it also fails to consider that Whites are typically filtered more strongly before* they encounter the bar exam, e.g. through admittance criteria to college often being tougher.**

*Implying that the exam results of e.g. Blacks and Whites are not comparable. As an illustration: Take two parallel school-classes and the task to find all students taller than 6′. The one teacher just sends all the students directly to the official measurement, the other grabs a ruler and only sends those appearing to be taller than 5′ 10”. Of course, a greater proportion of the already filtered students will exceed the 6′ filtering… However, this is proof neither that the members of their class would be taller (in general), nor that the test would favor their class over the other.

**Incidentally, a type of racial discrimination gone wrong: By weakening criteria like SAT success in favor of race, the standard of the student body is lowered without necessarily helping those it intends to help. (According to some, e.g. [2] and [3], with very different perspectives and with a long time between them.) To boot, this type of discrimination appears to hit another minority group, the East-Asians, quite hard. (They do better on the objective criteria than Whites; hence, they, not Whites, are the greater victims.)

Worse, one of its main sources (and the one source that I checked) is an opinion piece from a magazine (i.e. a source acceptable for a blog, but not for an encyclopedia), which is cited in a misleading manner:* Skimming through the opinion piece, the main theses appear to be (a) that the bar exam protects the “insiders” from competition by “outsiders” by ensuring a high entry barrier**, (b) that this strikes the poor*** unduly, and (c) that the bar exam should be abolished.

*Poor use of sources is another thing I criticized in [1].

**This is Economics 101. The only debatable point is whether the advantages offset the disadvantages for society as a whole.

***Indeed, references to minorities appear to merely consider them a special case of the “poor”, quite unlike the Wikipedia article. To boot, from context and time, I suspect that the “minorities” might have been e.g. the Irish rather than the Blacks or the Hispanics…

Wiktionary does a far better job. To quote and briefly discuss the given meanings:

  1. Discernment, the act of discriminating, discerning, distinguishing, noting or perceiving differences between things, with intent to understand rightly and make correct decisions.

    Rightfully placed at the beginning: This is the core meaning, the reason why discrimination is a good thing and something to strive for, and what we should strive to preserve when we use the word.

  2. The act of recognizing the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in situations and choosing good.

    Mostly a subset of the above meaning, with reservations for the exact meaning of “good”. (But I note that even a moral “good” could be seen as included above.)

  3. The setting apart of a person or group of people in a negative way, as in being discriminated against.

    Here we have something that could be interpreted in the abused sense; however, it too could be seen as a subset of the first item, with some reservation for the formulation “negative way”. Note that e.g. failing to hire someone without a license to practice medicine for a job as a practicing physician would be a good example of the meaning (and would be well within the first item).

  4. (sometimes discrimination against) Distinct treatment of an individual or group to their disadvantage; treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality; prejudice; bigotry.

    sexual or racial discrimination

    Only here do we have the abused meaning—and here we see the central flaw: The example provided (“sexual or racial discrimination”) only carries the given meaning (in as far as exceeding the previous item) when combined with a qualifier; dropping such qualifiers leads to the abuse. “Sexual discrimination”, “racial discrimination”, etc., carry such meanings—just “discrimination” does not. This makes it vital never to drop these qualifiers.

    Similarly, not all ships are space ships or steam ships, the existence of the terms “space ship” and “steam ship” notwithstanding; not all forest are rain forests; sea lions are not lions at all and sea monkeys are not even vertebrates; …

    Note that some of the listed meanings only apply when viewed in the overall context of the entire sentence. Bigotry, e.g., can be a cause of discrimination by an irrelevant criterion; however, “sexual discrimination”, etc., is not it self bigotry. Prejudice* can contain sexual discrimination but is in turn a much wider concept.

    *“Prejudice” is also often misunderstood in a potentially harmful manner: A prejudice is not defined by being incorrect—but by being made in advance and without knowing all the relevant facts. For example, it is prejudice to hear that someone plays in the NBA and assume, without further investigation, that he is tall—more often than not (in this case), it is also true.

  5. The quality of being discriminating, acute discernment, specifically in a learning situation; as to show great discrimination in the choice of means.

    Here we return to a broadly correct use, compatible with the first item, but in a different grammatical role (for want of a better formulation).

    I admit to having some doubts as to whether the implied grammatical role makes sense. Can the quality of being discriminating be referred to as “discrimination”? (As opposed to e.g. “showing discrimination”.) Vice versa for the second half.

  6. That which discriminates; mark of distinction, a characteristic.

    The same, but without reservations for grammatical role.


Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2018 at 2:08 am

Some thoughts on a recent German controversies around athletes and freedom of action

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An incident around German/Turkish soccer star Mesut Özil* and Turkish President Erdoğan has caused immense controversy in Germany—and, in doing so, it illustrates some of the problems I have written about in the past, including the poor behavior of sports organizations and their disgraceful treatment of athletes (cf. e.g. [1], [2]); intolerance against unpopular opinion, especially by the press (cf. e.g. [3], [4], [5]); undue accusations of racism (cf. e.g. [6]); and at least an attempt at “who cries the loudest wins” ([7]). A triple hit (sports organizations, intolerance, racism) is provided by [8].

*Most information and all quotes are taken from this (German) Wikipedia page; some information stems from memory of the previous reporting or general knowledge.

Özil was born in Germany and is a German citizen; however, he is of Turkish descent, has a strong Turkish connection, and has had* a Turkish citizenship. He has on repeated occasions met with Erdoğan, the controversial Turkish President, without notable objections. However, a renewed meeting, including several other players with a similar background, in Mai 2018 lead to strong protests**:

*Having a dual citizenship as a German is usually not allowed. The two main exceptions are citizens of other EU states (which Turkey is not) and those still underage (which Özil no longer is). The latter must, unless otherwise exempt, make a choice which citizenship to keep when they do become of age.

**I am uncertain what the cause of this difference in reaction was. It might have been a symptom of the increasing Leftist and media intolerance, a change in perception of Erdoğan, a greater publicity due to the ongoing Turkish election campaign or the soon following World Cup, or that some aspects of the latest meeting were different.

Diesmal wurde Özil, ebenso wie Gündoğan, nach der Veröffentlichung von Fotos der Begegnung und dem Austausch mit dem türkischen Präsidenten teilweise scharf kritisiert. Die Trikotübergabe wurde als “geschmacklose Wahlkampfhilfe für Erdoğan” verstanden, beiden Nationalspielern warf man mangelndes “politisches Bewusstsein” vor. Die Aktion wurde als “Gegenteil von gelungener Integration” bezeichnet. Der Deutsche Fußball-Bund erklärte durch seinen Präsidenten Reinhard Grindel, man stünde “für Werte, die von Herrn Erdoğan nicht hinreichend beachtet werden.” Deshalb sei es nicht gut, dass sich Nationalspieler für dessen “Wahlkampfmanöver missbrauchen lassen. Der Integrationsarbeit des DFB haben unsere beiden Spieler mit dieser Aktion sicher nicht geholfen.”


This time, Özil, just like Gündoğan [one of the other players] was partially sharply criticized after the publication of photos of the meeting and the exchange* with the Turkish President. [The handing over of one or more (sports uniform) shirts] was understood as “tasteless election campaigning for Erdoğan”, both national-team players were accused of a lacking “political consciousness”. The act was referred to as “the opposite of successful integration”. The German Soccer Association explained through its President Reinhard Grindel that it stood “for values, not sufficiently respected [considered?] by Mr. Erdoğan.” Because of this, it would not be good that national-team players allowed themselves to be abused for “his election tactics. The integration work of the DFB [the football association] has certainly not been helped by this act.”

*From context, likely the exchange of gifts. However, other interpretations are possible, including the interaction between them.

(Note that some typographical changes have been made to the original for technical reasons. The disputable placement of full-stops with regard to quotes present in the original has been preserved in both the original and the translation. Beware of the risk that the mixture of original quotes with text by Wikipedia editors can at some point have led to distortions compared to the full original quotes. Similar claims apply to other quotes below. )

There are quite a few problems with this*, most notably that Özil and Gündoğan should not lose their right to freedom of opinion** and action just because they happen to play for the national-team (or because they might be persons of public interest, idols of some teenagers, or similar). Such restrictions, barring exceptional cases***, are highly dubious when required by the press and inexcusable when by an organization like the DFB.****

*And note that this description (and my discussion of it) is just a sample: If this had been the totality, I might have been more forgiving. However, it is a sample highly compatible with what I have seen continually in other sources regarding Özil and/or the original events. (Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of other discussions, including reactions-on-reactions, including by German and Turkish politicians, journalist, and athletes.)

**To boot, Özil denies that there was a political motivation or an act of political support involved (see also below). Whether this is true, I do not know; however, his claims are not obviously implausible. This would make the reactions against him even more inappropriate, be it because of being the more unfair or for being premature and having failed to discuss the matter appropriately in private before criticizing. (Which would have been reasonably possible for both members of the press and, above all, the DFB.)

***I am far from certain that such cases exist that do not at least touch upon the area of the illegal (e.g. explicitly calling for violence against Turkish dissidents). However, they might exist, and at least some of the above would be justifiable in another setting, e.g. the Pope chastising a member of Catholic clergy for appearing to support satanists.

****In as far as we speak of opinions, rather than sanctions or threats of sanctions, it could be argued that Grindel and/or the DFB equally has a right to speak his/its opinion. However, quite generally and including the press, there is a difference between an expression of opinion like (hypothetically) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil is an idiot for supporting him” and (what practically amounts to) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil has no right to support him”. Further, it can be disputed whether an organization like the DFB is even allowed to have an opinion in areas not relating to sport and its immediate business—and the implicit condemnation of Erdoğan is certainly not acceptable. Indeed, it amounts to the same sin that Özil is hypocritically accused of committing—with the critical difference that it actually is a sin when the DFB does it. Grindel, in turn, has the right to have his private opinion, but he must not presume to speak with the authority of the DFB if expressing this private opinion. To boot, people in positions like Grindel, unlike national-team players, are among the very few where I could contemplate an argument that they should hold back their private opinions, due to (a) the risk that these opinions are given undue weight by others, (b) the risk that others mistake private opinions of the individual for the opinions of the organization he leads or is a spokesman for—again making the accusations against Özil hypocritical.

More in detail, I note:

  1. The word “tasteless” (“geschmacklose”) is not compatible with a neutral discussion; “inappropriate” is an example of a neutral alternative.

    Whether this choice of word was merely careless, an unconscious sign of aversion, or deliberate rhetoric, I leave unstated; however, in a worst case, it could imply that such acts would have been allowed, had someone more “acceptable” than Erdoğan been involved—a thoroughly undemocratic attitude. (But not one that would shock me in light of my experiences with various Leftist groups. The same can apply elsewhere without explicit mention.)

  2. Even “inappropriate”, however, would have expressed a democratically dubious attitude, severely restricting the freedom of Özil on political issues.
  3. Athletes cannot be expected to be deep thinkers, intellectuals, whatnot to a higher degree than the average person. A lack of e.g. “political consciousness” (“politisches Bewusstsein”) cannot be a legitimate point of criticism unless the same is extended to the very many others who have the same deficit. To boot, this phrase is sufficiently vague that it is unclear what is meant, making the criticism harder yet to justify.* Worse, looking at the overall scope of the debate (not just the quoted Wikipedia passage), the most likely interpretation is a euphemistic way of saying “everyone who reads the paper knows that Erdoğan is evil; Özil obviously does not read the paper”.

    *In all fairness, this might have been different in the original context.

  4. The two claims about “integration” are misplaced, very hard to defend, and likely contributed to the character of Özil’s responses (discussed below). I note that integration can validly be a matter of behavior in society (and similar), possibly* even, to some degree, the adoption of certain value norms; however, it must not be extended to requiring adherence to whatever opinion corridor (cf. [5]) is currently popular. Further, the purpose of the DFB is not integration work; Özil has no duty to help them with whatever integration work they engage in; and it is not obvious to me how Özil might have done damage**. Indeed, it can even be disputed whether Özil, himself, has any reason to currently be well-integrated into Germany: He is a player for Arsenal; the Brits might have the more legitimate reason to require his conformance.

    *To me, it is more important to show (or not show) a certain behavior than to share the value norm behind that behavior. If nothing else, value norms change over time, even in a single country, regularly within a single generation, and it is important that value norms can be discussed and criticized. Also see e.g. [5]. Requiring a more than minimal value-norm conformance would deny immigrants rights of opinion that “old” citizens have.

    **If he did not, why would the DFB mention the topic? On the other hand, I could see how the behavior of the DFB and/or media might have damaged “integration”, e.g. through unnecessarily alienating some Turks or through lending them the impression that they are second-class (current or prospective) citizens.

    In addition, while it is true that many Turks remain poorly integrated even after the first generation, it is noteworthy that Özil is born in Germany, has lived most of his life in Germany, and went to school in Germany. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, even his father was two years old (the mother is not mentioned), when he came to Germany, making Özil a virtual third-generation immigrant. To, in this situation, lead with the assumption of poor integration is highly dubious, possibly genuinely indicative of prejudice; and it would be more reasonable to look e.g. at the personal character of Özil first and at “integration” only when this is insufficient. (By analogy, I do not reject, detest, deplore, and condemn the German “Karneval” because of any problems with my integration, but because of my and its respective character—as do quite a few natives.)

  5. To presume to criticize players or politicians (especially foreign* ones) for having or aiding “values” is not the job of the DFB, unless these are immediately relevant to its purpose. For instance, if a politician made statements favoring an increase of taxation for such organizations, a reduction of physical education in schools, or an outright ban of a sport or parts of that sport**, then that is a matter that the organization could legitimately speak on. Even here, however, a factual approach and factual arguments should be assumed: To say “If this tax increase is implemented, we will be forced to considerable reductions in our activities, including youth sports.” is quite OK; to say “X is a sports-hating idiot!” is not.

    *While being from another country, culture, religion, or time cannot e.g. make an unjust act just, it can change how the actor should reasonably be treated and viewed, because the degree to which he has been acting in good or bad faith, in conformance with his upbringing and societal norms, whatnot, can change correspondingly. It can also sometimes reveal a presumed-to-be-unjust act as just, e.g. because the circumstances are that different or because the presumed victim considered the act just; and it can easily reveal a presumed-to-be-illegal act as legal, because the laws in different countries and at different times can vary considerably.

    **For instance, Sweden long had a ban on professional boxing.

    The press should obviously have more lee-way (if in doubt, to protect the freedom of the press). However, I do note my suggestions for a new press ethics, and my strong belief that the press should report facts and leave the formation of opinion to the readers—not shove its own opinion down their throats. The more so, seeing how often this would amount to the blind presuming to lead the seeing.

  6. The use of “abuse” is doubly unfortunate, because it paints Özil et co. as patsies and Erdoğan as maliciously plotting in a manner that is both speculative and rude.

A point where some criticism might have been valid is concerning the disposition of shirts, e.g. depending on what team (national?, club?, other?) they belonged to, whether they were private property or team property, whether they were “official” shirts or shirts bought privately from a fan shop (merely using the same look as the official shirts), etc. However, if this criticism has been raised at all, it has not been one of the major points and it has no major effect on the above analysis. (For which reason I have not bothered to find out the details about the shirts.)

If I had been in Özil’s shoes, I would have been deeply angered over this criticism and I would not have hesitated to stand-up for my position. Gratifyingly*, Özil did exactly that. Less gratifyingly, he did so by resorting to counter-accusations of racism.

*Indeed, in [8] I call for exactly this willingness to take a stand.

Özil erklärte am 22. Juli 2018 auf dem Kurznachrichtendienst Twitter auf Englisch: “Ich bin in Deutschland aufgewachsen, aber meine Familie ist stark in der Türkei verwurzelt. Ich habe zwei Herzen, ein deutsches und ein türkisches. In meiner Kindheit hat mir meine Mutter beigebracht, immer respektvoll zu sein und nie zu vergessen, wo ich herkomme – an diese Werte denke ich bis heute”. Für ihn sei es bei dem Treffen weder um Politik noch um Wahlen gegangen. Ferner warf Özil einigen Medien vor, sein Foto mit Präsident Erdoğan als rechte Propaganda zu benutzen, um ihre politische Sache voranzutreiben. Weiterhin erklärte er, “nicht mehr für Deutschland auf internationaler Ebene spielen” zu wollen, solange er “dieses Gefühl von Rassismus und Respektlosigkeit verspüre”. Er forderte DFB-Präsident Grindel zum Rücktritt auf, weil Grindel unfähig sei.


On July 22nd, 2018, Özil declared on the [short-message service*] Twitter, in English**: “I have grown up in Germany, but my family is strongly rooted in Turkey. I have two hearts, a German and a Turkish. In my childhood, my mother taught me to always be respectful and to never forget from where I come—values that I think of even today”. For him, the meeting was neither a matter of politics, nor of elections. Further, Özil accused some media [services/sources/…] of using his photo with President Erdoğan as Rightist propaganda, to further their political causes. Further, he declared, wanting “no longer to play internationally for Germany”, as long as he “sensed this feeling of racism and lack of respect”. He urged DFB-President Grindel to resign, because Grindel was incompetent.

*A somewhat literal translation of “Kurznachrichtendienst”. I am not aware of a corresponding English word, nor do I consider it likely that an English text would have used one: This type of largely unnecessary attempts at overly abstracted classifications and pseudo-explanations is a specialty of Germany. To boot, the word is very unfortunate, because incorrect assumptions of word division could lead to great misunderstandings: “Nachrichtendienst” is roughly “intelligence agency” (but here the appearance of this character sequence is just a coincidence).

**I have translated the German text back into English, and could possibly deviate from the original in detail. This sub-optimal procedure was partly used because the mixture of Wikipedia text and original quote might make it hard to identify the exactly corresponding statements; partly because I very deliberately have blocked Internet access to sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. to avoid unethical tracking of my activities. For a text of this length, under these circumstances, it is faster to simply translate, probably (!) even when counting this explanation.

His justification* makes great sense, especially when combined with another source (some weeks ago), where I believe I read a statement that it was less a matter of meeting Erdoğan (as a person) than a matter of meeting the Turkish President (as a symbol or as the holder of the office). Consider, in the same line, if he had been of U.S. descent instead of Turkish: Would it be remarkable if he took the opportunity to meet with the current U.S. President or cherished an acquaintance with him going beyond a single meet-and-greet? He might or might not have had a preference for Trump or Hillary—but most people in his shoes would likely have taken either.** This even when there are other people who have an extremely low opinion of one of them (as with me and Hillary).

*But I remain at my position that he had done nothing that required a justification, this being merely an issue of averting unjustified criticism.

**In all fairness, I belong to those who might have turned down both.

I am highly skeptical towards the racism angle, however, in light of the strong left-lean of Germany media, what I have read on the Özil-controversy to date, and the common abuse of the accusation of racism for purposes like discrediting opponents. An anti-Erdoğan sentiment is a far more likely explanation for these reactions, and he would have been far better off having combined his justification of the meeting with a few choice word on freedom of opinion and the need to respect the choices of others—as would society: In this case, he would have helped point the way towards a more reasoned and tolerant debate climate; as is, he worsened it through too weakly supported accusations. (In his defense, he is a soccer player—not an intellectual. The situation might also have been different, had he e.g. spoken only of the DFB or Grindel, where he could very well have had insider knowledge of importance.)

I am not certain that Grindel must resign, but a retraction and an apology would be the minimum: His actions in this issue have done more harm than good, he has proven to be a part of the intolerance problem of modern society, and he has further proven himself to be a part of the problem with athletes’ rights vs. their organizations. I can also understand how Özil, personally hit by his behavior, would see his resignation as necessary. I might even, in his shoes, have demanded a resignation to emphasize the strength of my protests and to try to make clear that the Left and the PC crowd are not the only sources of dissatisfaction and that it is dangerous to just fold for their loud cries (cf. [7]). (Whether he is incompetent, as claimed by Özil, I cannot judge beyond what is implied through his actions in this issue.)

Finally, the DFB has in turn rejected any accusation of racism in a very blanket manner and said e.g. “Die Abrechnung von Mesut Özil schießt aber über jedes nachvollziehbare Maß hinaus und lässt keinerlei Selbstkritik erkennen.” (“However, the reckoning* by Mesut Özil shots over any understandable measure [sic!**] and reveals no sign of self-criticism*** whatsoever.”)

*This, in approximately the sense used in “there will be a reckoning”, is a reasonable translation of both the literal and metaphoric senses of “Abrechnung”. However, the English version likely comes across as more drastic than the German.

**The weird mixed metaphor is present in the original and is idiomatically freakish even in German. Something like “Özils Antworten gehen zu weit und mangeln an Selbstkritik” (“Özil’s answers go to far and lack in self-criticism”), would have been a far better formulation.

***“self-perspective” or similar might be closer in intended meaning.

While I agree that the accusations of racism are over-blown, Özil’s general negative reaction is justified. I see no obvious reason to fault him for too little self-criticism (there has been no* proof that he has done anything wrong!); while the reaction by the DFB hints that it lacks in the corresponding quality. Further, I must make the depressing observation that many an athlete has been accused of e.g. racism on similarly flimsy grounds—and, in those cases, it has typically ended either with the athlete being forced to offer an “apology” or the athlete being sanctioned. This up to and including a refusal to participate in global championships! (And despite it being highly, highly dubious to exclude even a genuine racist from competition based on opinion. If nothing else, absent even the slightest shred of sympathy for the rights of the offending athlete, even the most fanatical anti-racist must recognize that the absence of competitors devalues the event and the accomplishment of the eventual winner.) A similar case is present in [8], although involving a trainer rather than an athlete.

*Barring something that has gone past me during a more than two-months controversy that I have only followed casually. If so, it is not mentioned in Wikipedia either.

Excursion on my opinions of Erdoğan:
In light of my experiences with the PC crowd, I stress that I do not defend (or accuse) Erdoğan. The above deals with societal issues based on an example that happens to tangentially involve him—no more, no less. From what I have seen so far, Erdoğan is problematic, possibly highly problematic, in terms of e.g. his approach to topics like democracy and human rights, and chances are that Turkey would be better off without him. On the other hand, my knowledge of the overall Turkish situation is shallow, and I would not condemn him wholesale before having done considerably more research, especially as his position and actions might have been exaggerated or misrepresented in German media (which would by no means be a unique event). To boot, it is not a given that he is the “greater evil”: Looking e.g. at the rise of ISIS in the power vacuum left by the Saddam Hussein (an indisputable dictator with countless lives on his hands, and whose demise I whole-heartedly welcomed), keeping Hussein might have been the lesser evil…

Excursion on hate speech:
It might be interesting to compare the above with my recent discussions of hate speech, both with regard to how hate-speech accusers often proceeded and how my interpretation was more forgiving in those cases.

While I do say that there have been a number of statements made that have been e.g. wrong, rude, or propagandistic, I do not: Accuse any of the parties of hate speech; call for legal bans on anything said or done;* claim that others must censor them for the good of society; or call for anyone to self-censor**. This is very much unlike a typical hate-speech accuser.

*But note that specifically the collectors of the examples did not necessarily imply such demands.

**With the single exception that the DFB and its representatives should stay out of certain issues—and this exception for reasons that do not relate to whether the statements are right or wrong, or worthy of condemnation in and by themselves; rather that it would be, in some sense, an abuse of its role to enter these issues with any opinion. Cf. an excursion in [8].

Also note that when I see an interpretation as merely probable above, I try to take the trouble to actually speak of a “probable” (or similar) interpretation—I have an awareness that my interpretation could be faulty. (But I do not rule out that I, on occasion, have been or will be unintentionally careless in this regard.) In contrast, hate-speech accusers tend to jump to the worst possible interpretation and take it as the only possible interpretation.

When we now look at how “forgiving” my interpretations are, there are three underlying differences: Firstly, above I argue a “lesser crime” than the collectors did—the question is not one of “hate speech: yes or no?”, but of whether the speech can be considered fair and correct. Secondly, I have more context available than in most of their examples, making the room for ambiguity and misinterpretation smaller (and some other issues, notably a preceding Hebrew–English translation, are irrelevant, which also reduces the risk of misinterpretation). Thirdly, their examples should be seen in light of their own obvious hostility, including risks like cherry-picking, removal of exculpating context, or even malicious distortion.* (While I am not infallible, I at least try to be neutral.)

*Notably, if they had had more incriminating information to provide (e.g. a damning situational context or surrounding statements that would have made a more negative interpretation likelier), it is reasonable to assume that they would have included it. Because they did not, the likelihood of more negative interpretations is reduced.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Some issues around the role of the government in relation to the citizens

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One of the greatest issues with governments* is the implicit or explicit transfer of power from the individual to the government.** In a fair and non-dictatorial system, this must imply that the government (a) acts with corresponding care and concern to validate and justify the trust placed in it***, (b) in an appropriate, effective, and conscionable manner handles all the tasks that the individual is no longer able or allowed**** to handle for himself.

*With the intent on the overall system, including (depending on context) the state as an abstract entity, high-ranking politicians, the local civil servants, whatnot. In the first draft, I spoke abstractly of “state”; however, found this word entirely inadequate as it would typically exclude lower levels of organization, e.g. cities and counties, that also have an imposed-by-law power over the citizens. The difference is particularly noteworthy in federations like Germany or the U.S., where there are two levels of “state” (the federation as a whole and the individual members of the federation); in the case of Germany, a third level, the EU, is arguably relevant or in the process of becoming relevant.

**While this text deals with the most significant case, the same phenomenon occurs in other areas, and some of the discussion can apply accordingly. Consider e.g. the transfer of individual power to a collective in an apartment owners’ association or a labor union.

***Very similar to the “Spiderman” maxim that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

****Most notably through a governmental monopoly on violence.

As a partial corollary, the most important aspect of “civic rights”, “human rights”, the “Rechtsstaat”, whatnot, is the protection of the individual from the government, including from introduction of laws that violate his rights, from unlawful behavior of government employees and institutions, from arbitrariness, incompetence, and corruption among civil servants. … More importantly, however, from attempts by the government to control his life in a manner exceeding that which is needed to (a) protect the rights of others*, (b) keep the government running**.

*Cf. the (classical) liberal concept of a “bubble of rights”. Exactly what rights to include and how is open to some discussion; however, I point to the dangers of extending the concept too far, as is often the case in today’s world. A post on the topic of various types of rights is in planning.

**Exactly what this should entail can be a matter of long disputes and depend considerably on circumstances (e.g. in that great compromises of rights might be necessary in a war-time scenario). However, the situation of most or all modern Western nations is not compatible with this, instead having an enormous and enormously expensive governmental bureaucracy that has become an end in it self, rather than a means to an end. Complications include that this bureaucracy is financed by someone else’s (i.e. the tax payers’) money and that doing the right thing and reducing the bureaucracy would harm the politicians’ chances at re-election, while increasing it might actually benefit them. This not only because a reduction could force changes of populist policy—but more importantly because of the effect on the laid-off bureaucrats and whatnots (and possibly other special-interest groups): Being laid-off is a problem for anyone, but here we also speak of people who have often had very low-effort jobs and/or had positions that they would not be competitive for in the open market.

Here, however, we have one of the greatest problems of the modern Western society: These necessities are not respected in the remotest. On the contrary, most politicians* and many parties/political movements are quite keen on extending the influence or size of the government as far as possible, sometimes (as e.g. with the Swedish Social-Democrats) even with a “demancipation” of the populace as an unstated goal. Examples include:

*For simplicity, I will speak of “politicians” below, and let other entities be implicitly included.

  1. Deliberate attempts to shape society to the politicians’ personal preferences. This especially by “progressives”, who are in fact often quite regressive (notably, through their lack of respect for the individual and his right to self-determination and self-development.)

    A certain degree of shaping is not necessarily a bad thing—it could even be seen as a necessity. However, many of these go completely over-board, e.g. with considerable redistribution of wealth, invasive and inefficient government programs (ObamaCare…) and projects, heavy-handed regulations even* of matters best left to the individual or the free markets, whatnot. Even e.g. today’s Germany and U.S. often push it too far, Sweden of the 1960s and 1970s was a disaster, and those are still democracies—unlike e.g. the Soviet Union. (I am contemplating a post on some German issues.)

    *I do not believe that all matters necessarily fall in this category; however, very many do, and many of those that do not would be better off with a lighter hand. Indeed, regulation can often have a negative net effect (even violations of rights, growth of bureaucracy, whatnot aside), as has been the case with many drug regulations, the U.S. prohibition-of-alcohol fiasco being an indisputable example.

  2. Attempts by the politicians to influence public opinion and manipulate the voters using governmental resources*. (A post is in planning.)

    *As opposed to e.g. private or party funds. Note that the abuse is not limited to government funds; it can also include legal restrictions on opinion or the use of government personnel. To boot, there is the border-line case of important politicians using e.g. TV opportunities that arise from a public office to spread their private opinions, which might or might not be a problem.

  3. Measures intended for the private gain of the politicians in form of increased chances at re-election or developing a good relationship with powerful special interests, notably various lobby groups.
  4. Politicians naively believing what special-interest groups tell them and acting accordingly.

    I note that many politicians, especially in Sweden, have nowhere near the intelligence, general education, specialist skills, and practical experience that they should have to be good choices for their respective positions.

  5. A growth of government in order to manage overly complicated policies and systems (in turn resulting from items like the above ones—or, in a vicious circle, possibly even this item).

Similarly, there are many problems in the area of (b) in at least some countries*, notably Germany. Note e.g. that Germany is only now instituting “class action” law suits—in the year 2018. The civil courts are often useless, seeing e.g. that there is no equivalent to a “small-claims court”, that “process economy” is prioritized considerably higher than finding justice**, that lawyers will not take cases that are too small*** while insurance companies do not pay legal fees unless representation is by a lawyer, … This creates the secondary problem that German businesses know that, unless the amounts in question grew fairly large, they can get away with more-or-less anything—and they act accordingly. To boot, without class action, the amounts must be measured per capita instead of as a sum over all customers. The criminal law is not one iota better: Unless crimes are serious enough, by some measure, reports go into a file, never to see daylight again.

*Sweden is better off than Germany, e.g. through stronger consumer-protection laws. Unfortunately, I do not have a strong global impression in this area; however, I suspect that similar problems are quite common. As a specific negative example in Germany, consider the issue of security deposits for apartments and how their excessive size tilts the scales very heavily in favour of the landlord.

**Finding justice invariably has other issues attached to it, including proving the facts that would give victory to the disadvantaged party. There are several variations of a German saying/pun that amounts to being in the right (“Recht haben”) and receiving justice (“Recht bekommen”) being very different things. This is probably an unavoidable problem with civil law anywhere that is outweighed by the benefits; however, other problems, e.g. the small-claims issue, could be avoided through a better system.

***There are strict regulations as to what a lawyer may charge, all based on the sum in dispute (“Streitwert”). If the Streitwert is too small, the lawyer earns too little and would just be wasting his time with the case. (Of course, this is not solely a negative, seeing that it can reduces some of the excesses of legal fees that can occur in other countries. Then again, there is at least one additional negative aspect, namely that all lawyers charge approximately the same, irrespective of the quality of their services, which in turn is a bad thing for both said quality and the clients ability to make good choices.)

Of course, when a German citizen has a complaint against a governmental agency, he has extremely weak cards—despite this being the situation where it is the most important that the government protects him and his rights. Apart from the generally low competence levels, he is now faced with the problem that most complaints are handled “in house”, implying firstly that those who review the complaints are disproportionately likely to see him as a trouble-maker and “not one of us” (while the target of the complaint is “one of us”; worse, the involved civil servants could know each other personally), and secondly that the internal instructions of the agency or office will trump the law. The intended main tool and first recourse for a mistreated citizen, the “Dienstaufsichtsbeschwerde” (roughly, “complaint to the supervisor”), is widely considered a waste of time—even when the citizen is in the right*. In fact, as I recently browsed the Internet due to some problems with the “IRS”, I was left with the impression that most sources saw a petitioning of the state parliament as the only recourse that had a major chance of success (this being the only recourse, short of going to court, that was handled by an entity not part of the overall IRS system).

*Obviously, the citizens can be wrong too, especially when it comes down to an understanding of legal regulations and precedent. The incompetence and recalcitrance of German civil servants and their employers are such that it is tempting to make the blanket assumption that they are wrong; however, realistically speaking, it will probably be around 50–50.

To avoid misunderstandings, I consider even a poorly functioning justice system (within reasonable limits) to be better than an anarchic system of self-justice. However, there are some positives with the latter that are gone and for which no proper replacement or compensation exists in today’s world. This especially with an eye on game theory* and human behavior: Let us say that an auto mechanic rips someone off. In today’s world, the victim can protest loudly and be ignored; he can try to go to court, where he will with some degree of likelihood fail (in doubt, remember the evidence issue), and might well incur more costs and effort than he gets back, even should he win; or he can just live with the loss. In the days of yore, he could have picked up a cudgel and shown the mechanic what is what.** In which of these scenarios does the mechanic have the incentives to behave how, and how will his behavior develop in light of what happened (or did not happen) after each attempt to cheat? Similarly, a bicyclist who decides to ruthlessly and illegally abuse the pavement as a bicycle lane has little to fear—the police (at least in Germany) ignore this entirely and the pedestrians have no practical means of defense***. Examples like these show that it is extremely important for a good justice system to protect against even relative minor crimes, frauds, rip-offs, whatnot—and why the German obsession with “process economy” is dangerously short sighted.

*The small-claims issue above is a similar example arising from an absence of incentives to be honest.

**However, here we can easily see why even a poorly functioning justice system might be better overall: What if the mechanic and a couple of friends return the favor a few days later? What if the mechanic had actually been honest and the “victim” misunderstood the situation? This could all too easily amount to the arbitrary rule of, metaphorically, the larger cudgel.

***Notably, any attempt to force the bicyclist back where he belongs (i.e. on the street or a real bicycle lane/path/whatnot) would risk an assault charge—and violations of the monopoly of violence is one of the crimes that governments really take seriously.

Excursion on poor reasoning around violence:
At least some issues around the restrictions on use of violence appear to be based on more emotion than thought, and can show a great deal of hypocrisy. For instance, in many countries, any type of violence against a child is forbidden—not just severe beatings, the use of canes, and whatnots, but even minor slaps. At the same time, it can be perfectly legal, often outright easy, to put the same child on Ritalin or a similar drug. Similarly, emotional and psychological harm are usually ignored or even undetected in all but the most outrageous cases—but tend to cause far greater and longer lasting damage than a comparable amount of violence.

Excursion on passports and other restrictions:
Unfortunately, even the above discussion does not give a complete view of the problems governments can cause through putting its own interests above the citizens’. An interesting example is passports, which (at least until the recent terrorism scares) served almost exclusively to benefit the governments. However, it is the citizen who has to pay for the passport. Effectively, the government creates an obstacle for the citizen, and the citizen has to pay for the “service” of removing the obstacle. I note specifically that when I last renewed my passport, I found that the validity had been cut in half, from ten to five years. Why? Well the government had decided that it, strictly for its own benefit, needed to store some digital data on the passport—and feared that this data could be corrupted if the passport was in use for more than five years…

As an aside, the “effective” validity can be even shorter, because some countries require a minimum remaining validity of e.g. six months for a visitor’s passport. Six months out of five years is quite a chunk…

Excursion on the relative strength of parties:
Many of the above problems relate to great differences in strength between the involved parties, and these differences make the above principles that more important: The citizen is far weaker than the government, often to the point of being helpless. Further, the citizen/customer is usually weaker than a business with which he might be in conflict. (This not just because of e.g. budget and access to lawyers: Factors like relative vulnerability come into play. For instance, if a customer refuses to pay an obviously incorrect utilities bill, this will only have a marginal effect on the utilities company—but when the company terminates delivery of e.g. water or electricity, the customer can face severe problems.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2018 at 5:45 am

A sketch of a sound immigration policy

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As a semi-continuation of yesterday’s work*, a few thought on how issues around immigration might, on an abstract level, be better handled when the inflow of foreigners is large**:

*This text was originally intended to be a part of it, as I originally saw “nyanländ” as an aggregating term and wanted to push the importance of a more fine-grained treatment. My understanding of “nyanländ”, however, turned out to be faulty—and this text long enough for separate publication.

**When it is small, it rarely matters much how it is handled. However, some of the below guide-lines might need modification in light of a changing inflow. In extreme cases, it might even be necessary to use tourist quotas, say if a disproportionate part of the world population wanted to visit a miniature state. (This is conceivably just a theoretical possibility, but such quotas have been used for individual sites/attractions/whatnot.)

The key is to categorize the incoming foreigners according to criteria like intentions and abilities; and to treat them differently according to the respective category. In this there might be some need to make individual exceptions, e.g. because the categorization is unclear* or changes** unexpectedly. However, when dealing with e.g. changes of category, a fairly strict attitude should be taken, simply to avoid that people “game the system”; and the criteria should not be lower for someone who moves from category A to category B than for someone who goes straight to category B. Typically, but not necessarily always, someone who fails to live up to the expectations of the category should be booted (say, someone who intends to take up work but fails to such a degree that he is a long-term and net liability to society***).

*Not only can some individuals fit poorly within a given set of categories, it can also be very hard to determine who is what. Indeed, I suspect that problems with making an accurate categorization would turn out to be the main obstacle for the implementation of my suggestions below… Whether the categorization should tend towards “in dubio pro reo” or “if in doubt, throw him out”, would depend on the circumstances, notably the size of the inflow. For an example of a tricky categorization (within my suggestions), consider a long-term guest-worker who intends to stay and earn money for twenty years and then to return to his home country. By the letter, the first category is closest; by the spirit, the second.

**Consider e.g. a visiting head of state, who, during the visit, is deposed by a coup, sentenced to death by the new rulers, and finds himself in urgent need of asylum; or, as in my own case, an exchange student who decides to stay indefinitely.

***Note the importance of “long-term” and “net”: It is not uncommon for someone who has a positive long-term and net contribution to go through some period of being a liability. This even includes some, like yours truly, who are massive net-contributors. How long periods of liability are allowed will, for want of a crystal ball, need to factor in long-term expectations as well as past history. The implication is that someone who is a liability in his early days can, arguably should, be treated with less lenience than someone who has long positive history.

A complete categorization is far beyond the scope of this post (especially, since it might require more than one dimension), but I would tentatively* suggest the following four main categories and treatment of the members of the categories:

*Parts of the below has been on my mind for years; parts are brain-storming during the writing and might not reflect my opinions after putting in more thought. Further, practical tests of paper constructs tend to reveal a need for improvement. (That the categorization is not perfect is obvious from the above guest-worker example.)

  1. Voluntary, temporary visitors, who intend to reach some goal and then leave again. This includes tourists, exchange students, possible some project workers, …

    By and large, these should be allowed to come and go as they please, provided that they cause* no harm, can support themselves, and achieve their goals in a reasonable time and without being a burden. The details of this will depend on the more specific categorization. For instance, if an apparently casual tourist spends a full year in the country, the assumption of a permanent move is not unreasonable (=> re-categorization); for an exchange student who originally intended to stay one year, however, a-year-and-a-half could still be perfectly acceptable**, provided that the university raises no objections, that he still has lodging, that he can still pay his expenses, …

    *An estimation of the likelihood before entry is acceptable. Exactly according to what criteria and probabilities, I leave unstated; however, no country should be required to allow entry to e.g. a known terrorist on the grounds that he has not yet committed a crime in that country.

    **Which matches my own situation: My original plan was for one academic year, but I stayed for another semester to write my master thesis. However, when I decided to stay even longer and as a non-student, I obviously moved to a different category.

  2. Voluntary, long-term, non-visitor immigrants, who intend to stay and make an honest living indefinitely.

    To the degree realistically possible, these should be allowed to come and stay for as long* as they are sufficiently successful. Note, however, that care must be taken not to overstretch society: Even positive contributors can reach a too large quantity for a successful integration. Consider e.g. that many will require language classes** and that the number of teachers is limited; that they will need somewhere to live and that apartments are often hard to find; that they will require a place of employment (unless self-employed) and that work is often scarce; that they might need time to adapt to the local culture and that too many “adaptees” at one time can be disruptive; … Obviously, those who come well-prepared, preferably having already arranged for a job and a place to live, should be welcomed more eagerly than those who come with nothing but good intentions and high expectations. Similarly, those with good qualifications should be given preferences over those with poor qualifications—the former tend to be a scarce resource; the latter often already are in a local surplus.***

    *Making allowances for temporary setbacks. Cf. above.

    **Note that this can be an issue even for those who “know” the language in advance: When I came to Germany, I had had six years of German in school, with good grades, and I still struggled horribly the first year. In the second year, I merely struggled…

    ***The implication is that the one will benefit society more; the other less—possibly to the point of being a liability. Further, that the accusation of “job stealing”, be it based on a real effect or merely a perceived one, is far more likely to occur for the unqualified.

  3. “Parasitical” immigrants, who merely intend to use the new country for an own gain at the cost of others, e.g. through abuse of a social-security system.

    These should be denied entry resp. be thrown out when they are discovered post-entry.

    While I see this mostly as a question of fairness and justice, there are also aspects of benefit for other foreigners, notably those of the previous category: The absence of the parasites frees resources for them, implies that they can be imported at a higher sustainable rate, and increases the chance that they will be accepted by the old population.

  4. Refugees, asylum seekers, and other non-voluntary, ideally temporary visitors, who would typically rather not have been forced to leave their country of origin and would welcome the chance to get back.

    Here the foremost principle is that they should be returned to their home countries as soon as this is practically and humanitarily possible. Integration into society and similar are not ends in themselves, nor are they necessarily means towards anything useful. The end is to see them return to their home countries; the means should be chosen with that end in mind.

    With regard to who is accepted and how, a balance between humanitarian and pragmatic concerns must be found, in order to relieve as many as possible without causing considerable harm to the original population. Solutions like refugee camps or another type of segregation are definitely within the realms of what I consider acceptable (possibly even recommendable, to reduce the temptation of a move to e.g. the “parasitical” category); however, if the circumstances allow it, a more integrative approach is certainly equally acceptable.

    The exact rights and obligations would depend on the circumstances, including the eventual length of the stay. For instance, someone who stays two months to survive a drought and then returns, could be seen as “charity case”, with few obligations and no need to e.g. learn the local language. (However, those who have can pay for themselves should be expected to do so, within reasonable limits.) In contrast, someone who stays for years should be obliged to at least try to find work, even one for which he is “over-qualified”*, find his own apartment, and so on**—even if he is still expected to return home at a later stage. (Of course, this requires that the local laws allow him to work, possibly after a work permit is issued—if not, corresponding changes must be made.)

    *If physicians, engineers, and the like, end up as garbage men, then this is a regrettable waste and a sign of a problem that should be fixed. It is not, however, a reason for a beggar to be a chooser.

    **Note that this is not integration-for-the-sake-of-integration (cf. above), but integration-to-reduce-the-burden-on-society. Further note that this is not only an issue of benefiting the local society: The lesser the burden per refugee, the more refugees can be shouldered, and the greater the expected tolerance of their presence in the overall population.

Excursion on the emigrant side:
The above only looks at the perspective of the country of immigration. The country of emigration, in contrast, has different concerns—up to extremes like North-Korea or the old East Germany, which sees resp. saw leaving the country as a privilege. Here my take is clear and simple: Only under rare circumstances is it justified to deny someone the right to leave (and re-enter). Remove those incarcerated from the equation and we have “very rare”. However, “brain drain” can be a legitimate concern and it can make great sense to give qualified members of the work-force (positive, “carrot”) incentives to stay.

Excursion on different treatment of citizens and immigrants:
Viewed abstractly, it might seem fair to apply the same standards of exclusion to those born in a country, e.g. in that someone who abuses the social-security system be thrown out. There are at least two practical problems with this, however: Firstly, since few or no countries would want these, they could end up without any country to live in, or being sent from country to country (likely driving up costs even further than if they stayed put). By ensuring that everyone has some guaranteed country of residence, this is avoided. Secondly, when moved to another country, their possibilities are diminished further, e.g. through language deficits—and the chance that they will start to earn their keep is diminished correspondingly. In addition, arguments along the lines of the government being the servant of the people, not its keeper, might be added, making it an abuse of power to presume to remove someone from his home country (but not necessarily to e.g. terminate his unemployment or social-security benefits).

Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2018 at 5:39 am

A few guidelines on when not to use “feminist”

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The word (and, by implication, the associated concept) “feminist” and its variations are extremely overused. A few, likely incomplete, guidelines for when not to use it:

  1. Never use the word to refer to someone who does not self-identify as feminist.

    Note particularly that many (including women, including those who see men and women as equal) see the word as an insult. For this reason, particular care should be taken with those who are already dead or will be otherwise unable to defend themselves against what can amount to an accusation.

    Even among those who do not, the use is often too speculative or commits the fellow-traveler fallacy (which I recommend keeping in mind through-out this post).

    A fortiori, never use the word about someone who died before the word was coined (preferably, became mainstream with a stable meaning)*. This is particularly important, because by associating it self with successful or important women from the past, many of which might have viewed it as absurd, feminism can create an unduly positive perception of it self.

    *The earliest mentions, in a somewhat current sense, appear to have been in the 1890s. A more reasonable cut-off might be the 1949 publication of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which arguably brought a change of character in the women’s right movements; and at which time there had been considerable changes in women’s opportunities and rights through e.g. WWII and various law changes in various countries, and the word had reached a greater popularity than in the 1890s. Beware that the spread of the word necessarily progressed differently in different countries.

  2. Be cautious about applying the word to someone who does self-identify as feminist, but is unlikely to be fully aware of the implications. Notably, every second young actress appears to self-identify as feminist, without having any actual understanding, instead being “feminist” because it is what is expected of the “enlightened” or because they have fallen into one of the traps of meaning discussed below. To boot, they give reason to suspect me-too-ism.

    More generally, a disturbing amount of supporters of feminism fall into the category of “useful idiots”, e.g. through declaring themselves supporters after uncritically accepting faulty claims by feminist propagandists. Obviously, however, a significant portion of these do qualify as feminists. (By analogy, someone who follows a certain religion based on flawed evidence should still be considered a follower, while someone who has misunderstood what the religion teaches often should not.)

  3. Never use the word because someone supports equality between the sexes. Very many non-feminists do to; very many feminists do not*.

    *Contrary to their regular self-portrayal, which has even lead to some grossly misleading dictionary definitions. Notably, the red thread of the feminist movement has been women’s rights, which only coincides with a fight for equality in a world where women are sufficiently disadvantaged. The inappropriateness of this self-portrayal is manifestly obvious when we look at e.g. today’s Sweden, where men now form the disadvantaged sex and feminist still clamor for more rights for women—but hardly ever mention rights of men or equal responsibilities for both sexes.

    Notably, I believe in equality and very clearly identify as anti-feminist. Cf. e.g. an older post.

    Equating “wanting equality” with “feminism” is comparable to equating “wanting freedom” with “liberalism” or “wanting [socio-economic] equality” with “communism”. (However, there is an interesting parallel between feminism and the political left in that both seem to focus mostly on “equality of outcome”, which is of course not equality at all, seeing that it is incompatible with “equality of opportunity”, except under extreme and contrary-to-science tabula-rasa assumptions.)

  4. Never use the word because someone believes in strong women, takes women seriously, writes fiction with a focus on women or showing women in power, or similar.

    None of this has any actual bearing on whether someone is a feminist or not. Indeed, much of feminist rhetoric seems based on the assumption that women are weak, in need of protection, unable to make their own minds up*, unable to make sexual decisions for themselves, and similar.

    *Or, make their minds up correctly, i.e. in accordance with the opinion that feminists believe that they should have. (For instance, through not professing themselves to be feminists, or through prefering to be house-wifes.)

  5. Never use the word because someone agrees with feminists on a small number of core issues, even if these have symbolic value within the feminist movement.

    For instance, it is perfectly possible to have a very liberal stance on abortion without otherwise being a feminist. (And feminists that oppose abortion, e.g. for religious reason, exist too, even though they might be considerably rarer.)

Addressing the issue from the opposite direction, it would be good to give guidelines on when the word should be applied. This, however, is tricky, seeing that there is a considerable heterogeneity within the movement. An indisputably safe area, however, is that of gender-feminism, which has dominated feminist self-representation, reporting, politics, …, for decades, and likely has the largest number of adherents once non-feminists (per the above) and useful idiots are discounted. The use can with a high degree of likelihood safely be extended to variations that are otherwise strongly rooted in quasi-Marxism, a tabula-rasa model of the human mind, and/or de Beauvoir’s writings.*

*With the reservation that we, for some aspects, might have to differ between those who actually apply a certain criticism or whatnot to the modern society and those who merely do so when looking at past societies.

I personally do not use it to refer to e.g. “equity feminism”, which is so contradictory to gender-feminism as to border on an oxymoron—and I strongly advise others to follow my example, for reasons that include the risk of bagatellizing or legitimizing gender-feminism through “innocence by association” and, vice versa, demonizing “equity feminists” through guilt by association. However, the case is less clear-cut, in either direction, than the cases discussed above.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 10, 2018 at 1:02 pm

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The fellow-traveler fallacy

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I am currently writing a shorter post on the use of the word “feminism”. As a result of my contemplations, I suggest the existence of a “fellow-traveler fallacy” (based on the originally Soviet concept of a fellow traveler and its later generalizations):

If a group of travelers take a ship from London to New York, can we assume that they share the same eventual destination? No: One might remain in New York indefinitely. Another might go back to London a week later. Yet another might take a different ship to cruise the Caribbean. Yet another might travel across the continent to Los Angeles. Yet another might move on to Anchorage. For some time, they are fellow travelers, but not because they wanted to reach the same destination: They merely had a part of the road in common, before their paths diverged.

During their time together, they might very well have enjoyed each others company, they might have helped each other, they might have even have collaborated to survive a ship-wreck. This, however, does not imply that their destinies and interests are forever bound to each other. Those who did not intend to remain in New York would have been grossly mistreated if forced to do so. The one heading for the Caribbean could hardly have been expected to be pleased about going to Anchorage instead. For the one to entrust his suit-case to the other (and not to collect it again in New York) would be silly. Etc. Even this does not directly consider the underlying reasons for the respective journey: What if the one was returning from a vacation and the other just starting his? What if one was going to a conference, another visiting a relative, and a third taking up a new position? With factors like these in the mix, even people who are fellow travelers through-out the journey might have so different objectives that grouping them together becomes misleading.

By analogy, it is a fallacy to assume that people who at some point have the same current goals and/or strive in the same current direction will continue to do so, will remain allies, can be permanently grouped together, whatnot—and, above all, to allow one of the temporary fellow travelers to permanently speak for the entire group. Similarly, if there is disagreement about methods, a status as fellow traveler is not necessarily a good thing: If the one buys a plane ticket to Cuba and the other, even for the exact same reason, forces a plane to go to Cuba at gun point, are they really the same?

An easily understood example is how the U.S. and the Soviet Union were close allies during WWII, only to become bitter enemies for the rest of the latter’s existence—they traveled together for a short span, forced by external circumstance, and then went their own, very different, ways for more than four decades. Ideologically, they were as night and day; but as long as they had a common all-important goal (i.e. defeating the Axis powers) they still fought on the same side. Those naive or uninformed enough to commit the fallacy by expecting a post-WWII friendship were severely disappointed; those who actually saw the alliance for what it was, an unnatural union of natural enemies to defeat a common enemy, were not surprised. (This is also a good example of why the saying “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” (a) is at best a semi-truth, (b) gives no guarantees once the common enemy is defeated.)

Most examples, however, are likely to be less obvious (and, therefore, more dangerous). Consider e.g. how the goals of feminism might be almost identical to those of a true equality movement when women are considerably disadvantaged, only to grow further and further apart as female disadvantages are removed or supplanted by new privileges, while male disadvantages remain or are increased and privileges removed, until, eventually, they are on opposing sides. Similarly, a classical liberal or a libertarian might have a considerable overlap with feminism in the original situation, only to end up on opposing sides as the situation changes.

Other potential examples include stretches of classical liberals and social-democrats or social-democrats and communists going hand-in-hand at various times and in various countries, as well as many other political cooperations or “common enemy”/“common goal” situations—even groups like vegetarians-for-health-reasons and vegetarians-for-animal-rights-reasons could conceivably be relevant. I am a little loath to be more specific and definite, because “fellow traveling”, in and by it self, does not automatically imply that the fallacy is present. To boot, even when the fallacy does occur, it will not necessarily affect the majority. (Feminism, in contrast, is an example where the fallacy is extremely common.)

As a sub-category of this fallacy, the temporary fellow travelers who fail to understand that later destinations will diverge, or who are apologetic for misbehavior by their current fellow travelers, are an ample source of “useful idiots”. (Feminism, again, provides many examples.) This becomes a great danger when apologeticism extends to methods, not just opinions, as when lies, censorship, or even violence is tolerated because “they are on our side”, “it helps our cause”, or similar, by someone who would condemn the exact same actions from a group that is not a current fellow traveler.

Another potential sub-category is those that identify some group as fellow travelers, fail to consider the fallacy, and then start to adopt opinions that they “should” have in order to conform further with the fellow travelers, leading themselves astray through committing a second fallacy. (Cf. parts of two older posts: [1], [2])

Written by michaeleriksson

June 9, 2018 at 6:47 am

A higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

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I have recently read James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership”—and unlike my last excursion into “Trump literature”, I find this book worth the reader’s time.

Above all, it provides a very important message on leadership, in particular in the “Author’s note”*, including the value of ethics, humility, the willingness to be open to input from others, …—and how such characteristics are all too often missing. Indeed, their weaknesses in such areas strongly contributed to my own feeling that the choice between Hillary and Trump was between two of the worst (realistically electable) candidates on record. (Cf. e.g. [1].)

*For those who do not want to read the book as a whole, do go by a bookstore and just read this part.

As a whole, the book is engaging with many interesting discussions of stations of his life. Unfortunately, parts are poorly written* and/or formulaic, as seen e.g. by how again and again a short paragraph is spent on describing someone and then spending just a few paragraphs on interactions with that someone, leading to situations where the description is too short to bring any value to the text and making it self redundant—these should either have been left out or expanded to such a point that they would have brought something to the context. This type of description does not appear aimed at actually bringing information to the text, but rather at “human interest” or similar cheap entertainment. To boot, they are potentially dangerous by giving his abbreviated view of someone else.

*Possibly ghost written: Apart from the high proportion of ghost-written works, the text often seems too polished (but not in a good way) and (again) formulaic for this to be the work of someone who is not simultaneously a professional writer, lacking in artistic drive, and not having a true connection to the material.

For the below items on and around the book, I will largely assume that the text is true or close to true. However, I stress that, as with any such text, warnings have to be raised with regard to its accuracy and fairness, e.g. due to memory lapses, subjective estimates, misunderstandings, and other human weaknesses. Worse, a text of this type and by an author coming from such hot weather could easily be an apologia or an attempt to position the author for a political career (see excursion at the end). To the degree that the text is not true, the items can need corresponding adjustment.

  1. A particular disturbing aspect is the great influence of politics (be it public or interpersonal/office politics) on his work and the maneuvering and compromises that were needed. This theme recurs through-out the book, including e.g. how to handle matters like the investigations of Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton, or how to handle pressure from people in the White House (this not restricted to Trump, specifically, or to members of his team).

    I have already contemplated that some parts of law enforcement might need its own branch or to become a part of the judicial branch, rather than the executive. His problems point further in that direction.

  2. I found his discussions of the mafia and various interactions with its members highly interesting, through depicting a very different world and a very different sense of ethics than I have myself encountered. Even so there are at least some areas of overlap in attitude with e.g. politicians. (With a high degree of likelihood, Comey has deliberately written these parts as pieces of a greater puzzle and in a deliberate attempt to show such similarities.)
  3. Loyalty (as might be suspected from the title…) is another important theme, with the implicit question of what someone should be loyal towards. Comey seems to focus on higher ideals in the general area of truth, justice, and whatnot (which I consider highly appropriate for someone in his shoes); Trump wanted personal loyalty towards himself; others wanted loyalty towards some cause (e.g. national security in the wake of 9-11); others might have* wanted loyalty towards a particular institution or his subordinates; …

    *I do not recall whether this appears in the book; however, it is a quite common phenomenon.

    Loyalty is something that we do well to think hard on: What should we be loyal towards and why? A good example is national loyalty, where people who have sided against their countries have historically been among the worst condemned and/or punished—but why? Should we not rather side with those who share our ideals, plans, visions, … than with our country when they conflict? (This especially since the “country” often amounts to nothing more than the opinion of the country’s current leaders.) Similarly, should we not, in an argument, side with those in the right over those in our family? Etc.

    An oddity is his discussion with Trump, where he consents to give “honest loyalty”: In the context, Comey might have meant “loyal honesty” or “loyalty to truth”, but that is not what he actually, by his own depiction, agreed to. He seems to believe that he dodged a bullet and managed to avoid promising loyalty without upsetting Trump. However, the only reasonable reading of the text is that he did explicitly promise loyalty, the most reasonable involves loyalty towards Trump (as per Trump’s request), and it would be highly surprising if that is not the message Trump took home. Many less egocentric people than Trump would have been upset when this loyalty failed to materialize. The right thing to do would have been to turn Trump down without any possibility of a misunderstanding, or, on the outside, find a way to dodge giving an answer entirely, e.g. by a change of topic. (However, I stress that I have great understanding for someone who does not think sufficiently fast on his feet in a stressful situation.)

  4. Some parts of the book appear a little too self-congratulatory or conceited, especially with regard to his relationships with his subordinates, their feelings towards him, his effect on them.

    Judging such things correctly is extremely hard, and that a boss thinks that he is a beloved source of inspiration does not automatically make him so. Even should he be correct in his assessment (by no means impossible), it would be better to play it down.

  5. An interesting topic is lying under oath, during an investigation, whatnot, which is a recurring theme of the book, albeit always with a simplistic “it’s wrong” as the message:

    Many jurisdictions, including the U.S.*, contain some provisions to limit the requirement to testify, e.g. when self-incrimination is involved or when incrimination of family members could occur. Outside these narrow exceptions there is usually a blanket obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Over the years, I have grown increasingly skeptical whether this is sensible from a “Rechtsstaat” point of view, and I consider it better that anyone acting in a private** capacity would have the right to refuse a statement at will, irrespective of e.g. self-incrimination. Further, there must even be some*** room for legally allowed lying when the witness is also the accused/suspect, especially in those circumstance where refusing the answer could be seen as admitting guilt. Consider, as an extreme example, the question “Did you kill the victim?”, the reply “I refuse to answer!”, and the impression left on the jury.

    *In the following, I discuss the topic in general. I have not studied the exact rules in the U.S., specifically, and I do not rule out that parts of what I say has been implemented.

    **As opposed to e.g. in the capacity of an elected official, a CEO, whatnot, possibly even as a regular employee.

    ***Exactly how much, I leave unstated. A blanket allowance is likely overkill. Lying on behalf of someone else is not included; however, there might be situations when even this might be sufficiently reasonable to warrant a legal exception. (Consider e.g. the question “Is your best friend since Kindergarten a Jew?” posed in Nazi-Germany: “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” would hardly have been believed.)

    The difference between lying or refusing a statement on behalf of one self and on behalf of another party should not be understated. Failing to make this differentiation taints some of Comey’s comparisons.

  6. His assessment of Trump as e.g. an incompetent leader is true from one perspective, but not necessarily from all. If we look at the situation from the view point of the led, he does not appear to do well; by implication, he is a poor leader. If we look at the situation from Trump’s perspective, things might be very different*: What are his goals and how well does he reach them? Considering his success at gaining power, he is certainly not incompetent** (but still poor) as a leader. I strongly suspect that Trump is merely continuing practices that have worked well for him in the past—even bringing him the presidency…

    *Looking e.g. at his interactions with Comey, as described by Comey, it is clear that he is attempting something that would weaken the separation of powers within the executive branch as well as the integrity of the FBI. However, he is also doing something that might have been good for himself. Notably, very many would have been swayed to do the wrong thing in Comey’s shoes, being (or appearing to be) implicitly offered the keys to the kingdom.

    **With some reservations for what baseline is used in the comparison. For instance, the average Bundesliga player is extremely competent at soccer by any mortal measure—but that does not mean that he is World Cup material. Similarly, of those who do go to the World Cup, only a fraction make the honorary all-star team.

    In addition, we have to consider that aspects of leadership like e.g. humility and integrity are means to an end, not the end it self. They are needed because it is almost impossible to be and remain a good leader without them. However, they do not automatically make someone a good leader, because this also requires making the right decisions and being able to enforce these decisions. It is also not a perfect certainty that someone without them will be a poor leader—just an overwhelming probability. Now, I very seriously doubt that Trump will get an A+ through such aspects when his presidency is eventually summarized; however, as for now I still remain with my thumb angled slightly upwards when looking at actual policy until now*. More importantly, when judging whether someone is a good or poor leader, in general, it is dangerous to look just at humility et co.—the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    *With reservations for the results of his tax reform: A tax reform was needed, but I have serious doubts as to the one that took place, and it could turn out to be Trump’s biggest screw-up, just like ObamaCare turned out to be Obama’s.

  7. A few areas where Comey loses credibility include diversity*/PC nonsense, including abuse of “they”** as a generic singular, and his disregard for citizens’ rights with regard to surveillance and the like.

    *While some degree of diversity can be good in the FBI, in order to facilitate its work with e.g. immigrants, Comey seems to belong to the more naive brigade that sees diversity (in the racial, cultural, whatnot sense) as a good in its own or even as a fairness issue. Down that road lies affirmative action and other destructive measures: Pick the best person for the job, irrespective of sex, color, and creed, and no-one has a legitimate cause to complain.

    **I have a post in planning on this type of abuse, where I discuss why this is a bad thing and some alternatives. In this specific context, I note that a person of his level of education and accomplishment should know the rules of grammar better, implying that, almost certainly, this has been done deliberately in the highly offensive PC manner.

    To expand on the latter: While he claims to try to see various sides of the issue, he is clearly very set on the advantages that surveillance, lack of encryption, whatnot can bring to law enforcement. He does not appear to understand the technical risks involved and how opening doors for the government also opens doors for criminals; he fails to consider that we must always have regulations based on the assumption of an evil government, because a good government today does not imply a good government tomorrow; that e.g. anti-encryption regulation will hit “small timers” much worse than “big timers”, who have the resources to work around such regulations. Cf. e.g. my previous post.

    Other related issues already discussed on this blog include the uselessness of digital evidence, the danger of tools like the “Bundestrojaner” eventually being used to plant evidence, the risk of legally gathered data (accidentally or through intrusions, cf. my previous post) moving outside the control of the government, …

    An interesting point is his claim that the surveillance of many big timers only became hard in the wake of the Snowden revelations (quite contrary to my expectations). This, however, is not a sign e.g. that Apple should not give end users means of encryption—just a sign that these big timers used to be highly naive about their vulnerability to surveillance when not taking counter-measures: They are not doing things post-Snowden that they could not have done pre-Snowden. It is not even that strong an argument for e.g. encryption backdoors in standard software, because these would simply lead to competing, possible illegal or black-market, products without backdoors that big timers would use—while the small timers, again, are the ones left vulnerable…

Excursion on Comey as President:
On several occasions through the book, I considered the outside possibility that it was intended as a maneuver towards a presidential (or other high position) candidacy of Comey’s own. I note in particular the combination of stress on ethical leadership and other characteristics with how he portrays himself to have them and Trump to not have them.* From another perspective, consider how satisfying it might be for him, should he win an election over the same President that fired him…

*He is probably mostly correct about Trump; whether he is correct about himself, that I cannot judge.

Would Comey be a good choice? This depends to a large part on how serious he is about what he says on leadership and how well his self-portrayal matches reality. If he scores highly in these regards, then he could be a very interesting candidate. Unfortunately, I some fears on matters of policy (cf. the last item above), and I also have some doubts about his suitability in terms of experience: Being head of the FBI or the Deputy Attorney General are not bad qualifications; however, a few terms as e.g. governor would have been much better. (But they could be very valuable for some other position.) Either which way, he would be bound to be better than either of Hillary and Trump.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 6, 2018 at 1:09 pm

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