Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Capitalization of racial colors

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I capitalize quite a few words, and tendentially more as time goes by, including Democrat/Republican,* Liberal**, Conservative**, Feminist***, and various nationalities**** (e.g. Swede and German). Sometimes, I follow standard use; sometimes, I do not; sometimes, there is no true standard. (The reader is encouraged to check this text for various uses of capital letters, even outside first-letter-of-a-sentence.)

*The U.S. party belongings, to differ them from the more general words denoting attitudes towards forms of government and whatnot.

**The ideologies, as opposed to everyday meanings.

***Originally, probably, by analogy with something else.

****As per standard conventions in English.

This includes “White” and “Black”, when I intend the racial groupings—not the actual color. (Contrast e.g. “White man” and “white boat”. As can be seen from the footnotes above, disambiguation is often the cause.)

I have some concerns about the appropriateness of these terms based on e.g. the difference between claimed and actual skin color, and questions like how to handle e.g. black or dark-skinned people who are not of African descent—should e.g. some Indian or Australian groups be considered Black, despite not being African? Ditto the paradox that many Asians are whiter than “White” Europeans.

Only very recently, have I become aware that even capitalization can be an issue, if often for idiotic reasons. Much of the linked-to page boils down to a conflict over whether those who use capital-B
“Black” should also use capital-W “White”. (A question that by any reasonable standard should have the answers “yes”, for reasons of consistency, just like we have “Monday and Tuesday”, not “monday and Tuesday”.)

For instance, it quotes the “Washington Post” as saying “Stories involving race show that White also represents a distinct cultural identity in the United States”, to support its recent decision to capitalize both words, while “Associated Press” and “Columbia Journalism Review”, apparently, has a capital-B-only policy.

Several (mostly incoherent) tweets are quoted, including one claiming “[…] or it* could imply White Power, White Pride, etc, which makes me very uncomfortable.”

*From context, the capital-W.

Both the concerns around identity, be it cultural or racial, and “White Power” should be entirely irrelevant to the question of capitalization:

The former refers to something highly arbitrary and ever-changing, which makes it entirely unsuitable as a criterion. It could, for instance, lead to situations where Pat Buchanan was born white, because there were no “White” cultural identity at the time, and by now having turned White, because such an identity would now exist. We might then, in the atrocious style of Wikipedia, find claims like “A White man, Pat Buchanan was born to white parents. Originally a white baby, he began turning White in 1982.”. For instance, we might find that capital-B is eventually unacceptable because the “Black” identity fractures too much over time. (Indeed, even now, it can be disputed both whether e.g. Obama, a Black Bronx-kid, an elderly Alabama Black, and a first-generation immigrant from the Ivory Coast, have that much of a common culture, identity, or whatnot, and whether any related identity would be “natural” or imposed by propaganda.) For instance, it leaves open how to handle those who carry the outward signs, but do not share this identity.* Moreover, this would leave a great deal to arbitrary judgment and a danger of abuse through Leftist tolkningsföreträde.

*By this standard would Rachel Dolezal be White or white, or would she even be white and Black. Is an “Oreo” black or Black, or even black and White. Etc.

The latter would involve both a dropping of context* and open doors wide open for misinterpretation, even of a deliberate kind: “Hey, he used a capital-W. Now we know that he is a White supremacist—no further proof needed!”.

*Consider e.g. the drop of modifiers from “discrimination” (say, “sexual discrimination”), which has led to a severe distortion of meaning, or the ridiculous abuse of “chauvinist” to mean e.g. “misogynist”, instead of “nationalist”, based on the analogy expression “male chauvinist” and the later dropping of “male”.

Two simple rules:

If you do use capital-B, then capital-W is mandatory. (And vice versa.)

Whether you do, is up to you, but I recommend it for reasons of disambiguation and disambiguation only—to differ colors from groups and entities named based on colors.*

*This not restricted to racial groupings. For instance, if we have a tournament between teams identified by color, it would usually make more sense to e.g. speak of “the White goalkeeper”, “a Blue forward”, “the Green team”, etc. (And, yes, the White goalkeeper might very well be a Black man, but that should be beside the point in this context.)

As a corollary: Never assume anything more than disambiguation from this type of capitalization.

Note on quotation marks:
I have deliberately left out quotation marks on a good many places where they normally belong. This, in part, to avoid cluttering; in part, because of a problem of interpretation and expression: Everyone writes “Black” with a capital “B”, and saying e.g “Spell ‘Black’ with a capital ‘B’!” would be tautological and uninteresting. If it is not spelled with a capital “B”, it is not “Black”, but “black”. (Or “Slack”, “Alack”, whatnot, depending on how the capital “B” is avoided.) The latter complication has also led to use of “capital-W” and “capital-B” above.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

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A few thoughts on charity and helpfulness

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Since writing a few earlier texts ([1], [2]) negative towards charity, I have repeatedly seen, with some early puzzlement, the claim that charity would be a major evolutionary benefit—even when directed towards strangers.

To outline my resulting thoughts on this topic:

  1. It is important to make a distinction between cooperation, reciprocal* help, and one-sided help. The first often** allows humans to accomplish more than they can individually or in a more timely manner. The second leaves the “helpee” better off without harming the helper.*** The third is good for the helpee but bad for the helper, risks that the undeserving are helped, risks abuse, and risks a dysgenic effect through allowing the lazy, unfit, stupid, whatnot, to afford children.

    *Where the reciprocation need not be immediate or even short term, and might also, in an extended sense, be indirect e.g. through A helping B, who helps C, who helps A. In a further extension, parents helping children might be included: the parents received help from their own parents and the children will someday help their own children, in a chain of “paying it forward”. Note that there can be some overlap with cooperation.

    **Team-work in schools often provide counter-examples. Among the problems, note that the more intellectual the task, the more the result tends to be determined by the best individual brain, who might even be held back by the team.

    ***At least to some approximation and when accumulating help given and received over a life-time and all actors: that the exact “value” of the overall help in each direction, for two given individuals, will be equal is unlikely.

    For an example of cooperation, consider an Amish barn-raising as portrayed in fiction*: the entire village comes to perform the work that a single man,** or even a single family, would be extremely hard pressed to manage on his own. There is a bit of hard work, then a bit of a feast, and then everybody goes home happy.

    *Reality might or might not be different.

    **In my recollection, these scenes have been heavily dominated by bearded men, but feel free to include women and children.

    For an example of reciprocal help, take the same barn-raising and the understanding that those who helped today will themselves be helped in the future, when they have a barn to raise.

    For an example of one-sided help, with a dose of abuse and the undeserving being helped, take a barn-raising for someone who sees his fellow villagers as dupes, whom he has no intention of helping in return.

    (The barn-raising can be varied further, e.g. that a family with fewer working men might, non-abusively, be net-recipients of help and a family with more working men net-givers of help, or that an old widow might be unable to repay in kind, having either to find other means of repayment or be a non-abusive charity case.)

  2. What is good (general sense) for society, what is good (general or evolutionary* sense) for the individual human, and what is good (evolutionary sense) for the individual gene are not necessarily the same. For instance, help given from a parent to a child is often good in both senses and for society, both individuals, and the genes that they both share. However, help given to a complete stranger is likely to be bad for the genes, good for the individual stranger, and the result for the individual helper and society will depend on the circumstances (including the degree of future reciprocal help).

    *In the below, I will not be exact with this differentiation and mostly work with the implicit assumption that an evolutionary advantage is an objective good. This for two reasons, viz. to keep the discussion simple and because this type of discussion often is used in an evolutionary context and my motivation is partially from an evolutionary claim (cf. the first paragraph). However, this is not the only perspective on the issue.

    This might be a clue to charity-towards-strangers as an evolutionary benefit: it might, within some limits, be beneficial to society, and a more successful society might bring sufficient benefit to the individual that a lesser fitness within the group is overcome. (Cf. my, usually anti-Leftist, analogy that a smaller slice of a larger cake might be better than a larger slice of a smaller cake.) However, this with both a “might” and caveats like “assuming that sufficiently many others are sufficiently charitable” and “assuming that society has had enough time to benefit” (which might rule out a net benefit for a “first generation” helper).

  3. In sufficiently small and tight groups, charitable actions are likely to be to one’s own benefit, through factors like a higher chance of helping a relative and the higher chance of repeated interactions, in turn, with a greater chance at later reciprocation, the greater risk that today’s helpee might be the only possible helper when today’s helper needs help, and the greater ability to judge whether someone is worthy of help. (Compare e.g. a decrepit old man who has hunted for the tribe for decades with a spoiled girl who absorbs help without ever reciprocating and prefers to spend her days watching her reflection in the nearest pond.)

    In larger and looser groups the opposite applies. Indeed, someone needing help on the subway in New York might not be someone the helper will ever see again, whose worthiness is impossible to judge, etc.

  4. A charitable attitude that does make sense in a certain evolutionary setting does not necessarily make sense in another. For instance, humans living in small and tight groups might have benefited even from entirely selfless and uncalculated charity (cf. above), and might have been rewarded by evolution for being unselfishly charitable. Move such humans into a larger and looser group, and the impulse might now be unfit, because more calculation and deliberation is needed to get a sufficient payback, to not reward the undeserving, etc. Move one of these selflessly charitable humans to a big city, and the result might be horrible.
  5. A charitable attitude that uses someone else’s money, work, resources whatnot, can be a very bad thing. Contrast, on the one hand, a wish to help the needy and the resolution to donate money and spend a few hours a week in a soup-kitchen with, on the other, the same wish and the resolution to press for higher taxes to fund a government program, often in the abused name of “solidarity” (cf. excursion).

    From such attitudes*, the horribly inefficient and abused well-fare state has arisen, where the undeserving are helped as much as or more than the deserving (who are less likely to need help), where laziness and dumbness are rewarded by the state, while hard work and intelligence are punished, where the list of those who are to be helped is extended further and further,** where there is less and less personal responsibility, etc.

    *Combined with the self-serving votes of many who look for help for themselves, obviously.

    **Where, indeed, many only need help because their income is eroded by the money that they pay to the government …

  6. Overall, I would at a minimum recommend calculated help over selfless help, once we move outside family and close relatives: I help you today, so that you can help me tomorrow; resp. I help you today, because you helped me yesterday.

    Reservation: I am a little on the fence when it comes to close (non-relative) friends, but would tend towards calculation, as there is a considerable risk that one “friend” or another will otherwise turn into a free-loader. This with the further reservation that someone who has proven himself in the past might be helped in a blanket manner.

Excursion on money:
Much of reciprocal help could be handled wonderfully and even more fairly through use of money and paid services—well in line with my earlier texts. (At least, had it not been for those pesky taxes, today, and the low availability of money or money-equivalents, in the past.) For instance, the barn-raising families with more men could have been paid more than those with few men for their help, while someone who carelessly burns his barn down and needs a new one has to pay twice (once for raising the original barn, once for the new). In addition, those paid in money today do not need to wait for ten years to be repaid with a reciprocal barn-raising.

Excursion on solidarity and “The Farmer Paavo”:
The abuse of the word “solidarity” by e.g. the Swedish Left (“solidaritet”) is outrageous: “we” must show solidarity—by taxing others and giving to ourselves or our voters.*

*Depending on whether the statement is made by a Leftist working-class voter or a Leftist politician.

This is to be contrasted with the very well-know Swedish–Finnish* poem Bonden Paavo (“The Farmer Paavo”):

*The author, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, was of Finnish nationality and the setting is Finnish, but he was a member of the native Swedish minority and wrote in Swedish.

The poem has a repeating pattern of something going wrong with Paavo’s: farming activities (floods through melting snow in the spring, hail in the summer, cold in the autumn), his wife despairing and exclaiming that God* has abandoned them, and Paavo resolutely pushing through with hard work, ditch digging, and bark bread, while selling of cattle to pay for new seeds. At the end, the two first steps are reversed in character: the intended harvest survives the three misfortunes and his wife rejoices over the newfound happy days and bread without bark; however, in the last step, Paavo insists on bark bread, as his neighbors field is frozen. (With the implication that a portion of Paavo’s harvest will be going to the neighbor.)

*Runeberg was a priest and Paavo’s contrasting confidence in God is another theme of the poem,

That is solidarity.

(Whether it is selfless or calculating, resp. one-sided or reciprocal, help will depend on unstated circumstances. There is no mention of the neighbor helping Paavo in the past, but that might very well be because he has suffered the same set of misfortunes in the prior years.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 30, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Hunger and COVID

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Apparently, the UN estimates “10,000 child deaths” from* hunger related to COVID, with “[m]ore than 550,000 additional children” suffering from wasting—each month. Presumably, the adults in the affected areas are not magically protected from hunger either …

*The text uses the word “linked”, which does not necessarily imply a causal connection. Contextually, however, a causality from COVID (counter-measures) to hunger is almost certainly intended and present.

To get some sense of how large these monthly numbers are: The current Wikipedia page on COVID-19 seems* to see overall numbers of infections and deaths at roughly 14 million resp. 600 thousand as of July 18. At current rates, it would take these child deaths 60 months to catch up with the current COVID deaths, and roughly 25 to catch up with the overall cases (infection vs. wasting—and the effects of wasting are likely to be worse in the long term). In other words, we are talking of something highly significant in its own right—not just a mole hill next to a COVID mountain. (And this is just one of the side-effects.)

*I estimate off two graphs. Looking for more exact or current numbers is fairly pointless as there are great complications with over- and underestimation, inconsistent reporting in different countries, etc. In addition, these numbers will continue to grow.

Of course, these effects are largely caused not by the disease, per se, but by the counter-measures against it, showing again how important it is to actually consider opportunity costs and side-effects, and to look at more than one criterion*, whatnot, before implementing far-going policies. Looking e.g. at my adopted Germany, I would consider it a near** certainty that the counter-measures has done more harm than good, which I speculated as far back as mid-march. It also shows that the effects of COVID can be both highly indirect and only manifest fully in a faraway future: How many of those wasting children will not die this year but still have ten years cut off the end of their lives? What about non-lethal health effects, like a stunted growth or mental development due to malnutrition? (Similarly, how many Germans will die a few months or years prematurely in the future, due to the direct and indirect effects of that isolation that took place in 2020? For that matter, what about the additional strain on the already strained European economies when the campaign to “save the starving children in Africa” comes? )

*Which will depend on the situation and the list can potentially be quite long. Two obvious extensions in the case of COVID are changes in non-COVID deaths in addition to just COVID deaths and effect on economic growth, unemployment, bankruptcies, whatnot in addition to just effects on deaths (whether overall or just COVID-deaths).

**As we can only speculate about what would have happened without counter-measures, there is some small remaining uncertainty.

Excursion on interpretation by idiots:
Unfortunately, I suspect that many will jump to the opposite conclusion of what is warranted (and/or that e.g. some politicians will try to spin it in the opposite direction): Oh, my those poor children, COVID is so horrifying—we need more counter-measures!

Excursion on UN and credibility:
While I have no particular reason to doubt these numbers, apart from the obvious problems with correct estimates, I do mention that the UN and its various organizations have little credibility as sources of data, in my eyes. There is too much politics and ideology, and too little science, involved.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 28, 2020 at 8:49 am

Sweden and COVID

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A recent article on UNZ is very interesting both with an eye on the situation in my native Sweden and with regard to issues like journalism and public policy.

Broadly speaking, the article amounts to Sweden (which has imposed far less restrictions than most other countries) having done much better economically done others and having paid at most a small or tolerable price in terms of health effects, yet also being torn down by international media.

A few meta-issues:

  1. Looking through the article and the comments, it is clear that a great uncertainty exists on what the true situation is.* The truth might well be out there, but how do we outsiders get at the truth? One way is to look into varying sources and to give dissenting voices a hearing, but that takes a lot of time and doing so on all important issues would be more than full-time job. Here there is a niche where journalists could truly provide “value added”: have a strong critical thinker go through various sources, debates, and whatnot, and have him summarize the overall sets of opinions and arguments, determine the currently dominating opinion, and give his own take on plausibility and whatnot as an extra protection. What journalists actually do is pretty much the opposite … Too often, they grab a single source, often a government agency, another media outlet, or a professor of the social “sciences”, and blindly trumpet that one viewpoint to the world. Indeed, in many cases, they deliberate try to squash dissenting opinions to prevent the readers from forming their own opinions, lest they come to a different conclusion or perception than the journalists want to push.**

    *And I am not necessarily saying that the data and interpretation in that article are the superior ones. My impressions go in the same direction, but my leg-work is not even remotely up-to-date.

    **See e.g. a recent text on NYT.

    This problem (and this wasted opportunity) is by no means restricted to epidemics. Consider e.g. the current heavily distorted U.S. reporting on alleged racism, including an often highly incomplete picture of the George-Floyd case.

  2. Chances are that both governments and journalists suffer from a can’t-retreat-now effect: even admitting the possibility that Sweden had made a better choice could lead to a horrifying loss of reputation and credibility. For instance, what politician wants to be known as the “guy who tanked the economy for no reason” or “the guy who cost me my job for no reason”. (Vice versa, I strongly suspect that an early fear in the other direction increased the panic-making: no politician wants to be known as “the guy who let millions die because he did not follow the example of everyone else”.)
  3. Sweden’s policy would have been a good thing, even had it backfired: In order to handle situations like this one, we need information and we need to be able to compare strategies. When more-or-less everyone uses a tight lock-down strategy, how are we supposed to get this information and how are we to compare strategies? (Even aside from complications like inconsistent data gathering, testing, attribution of death, whatnot, between countries.) As is, we do not actually know that more than non-trivial counter-measures were needed, because there is no true benchmark to tell us whether an no-restrictions policy would have led to the equivalent of four-flu-seasons-in-one or the Spanish Flu.* Looking e.g. at Germany (alone), there might not be enough data to allow anything but a second major shut-down, should a second wave of even specifically COVID occur—the room to draw important lessons has simply been too small.**

    *I still suspect the former. Also remember e.g. the SARS and swine-flu scares that eventually had a trivial impact, far less than COVID, even without massive lock-downs.

    **And I suspect that the one lesson (or “lesson”?) will be an immediate introduction of face masks, as opposed to the delayed one that took place this time.

    Imagine instead that there had been an international agreement that different countries* should apply different levels of restrictions. Take something as trivial as varying where masks are mandatory, how large gatherings are allowed, or whether old people should be isolated. When the next epidemic comes, we would have a better idea of what counter-measures bring what benefit or damage* to health and what damage to e.g. the economy. Indeed, as even this wave has hit the world at a stagger, controlled experiments with the first countries hit could have given some help to countries hit later.

    *Or, in e.g. Germany or the U.S., different states of the federation.

    **To this, remember that e.g. involuntary isolation can have negative health effects of its own, as can unemployment caused by the counter-measures, etc. It is not a given, in advance, that even the net health effect will be positive. In my own case, it has almost certainly been negative through weight-gain and damage caused by an idiot neighbor (cf. e.g. portions of an older text, which also address the general issue in a little more detail).

    Sweden’s heretic road gives us at least some chance of comparison.

Excursion on “we can’t risk it”:
Looking at the last item, some might argue that we simply cannot take the risk and that it would be a callous risking of human lives. With this I would disagree on several counts, including that the same argument would apply in a great many other cases and result in a crippled society, that we could equally argue that the opposite would be a callous risking of the economic well-fare of the people, that neglecting to gather this information is a callous risking of future lives, and that policies can always be changed, should the situation turn out* to be unacceptable.

*One of my complaints with how the situation has been handled is that the gun was jumped—extremely far-going restrictions were applied before it was clear that the situation would actually turn out badly without restrictions. (Something that we still do not know …)

Excursion on my take on the core issues:
This few-restrictions policy is in line with my own recommendations (if in doubt because adults should themselves decide what small or moderate risks they do take) and the economic advantage is a near given. That the health effects are small* is in line with my expectation, but confirmation is good. The treatment by media is not unexpected, but I would have hoped for better.

*Compared to e.g. the overall death toll from all causes or total loss of life-years, not necessarily “raw” COVID death cases from comparable countries with a more restrictive policy. (Note that COVID still only provides a fraction of all deaths and that many of the dead were so old and sick that they lost only a small portion of their lives—unlike e.g. that middle-aged chain-smoker who died in lung cancer or that child who died in a car accident.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 26, 2020 at 1:22 pm

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Not perfect; ergo, useless

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Quite a few odd human behaviors, especially on the political Left, could be explained by assuming a “not perfect; ergo, useless” principle, be it as a logical fallacy or as an intellectually dishonest line of pseudo-argumentation. (To the latter, I note that this principle seems to be applied hypocritically to the ideas of opponents but not to own ideas.)

A typical use is to find some flaw or disadvantage and use it to discredit the whole. (If a small flaw, usually combined with rhetorical exaggeration.) This without weighing the overall pros-and-cons, without acknowledging similar flaws in other ideas, products, whatnot, and without considering whether the flaw is repairable*. Consider e.g. an infomercial that I watched at a tender age: A hyper-energetic salesman ran around comparing “his” fitness product to the competition’s:** “The X is great—but, unlike my product, you can’t stow it under the bed!”, “The Y is great—but twice as expensive!”, “The Z is great—but not portable!”, etc., without comparing stowability, price, portability, and whatnot, over all products. It was simply not a fair comparison or an attempt to find the best choice, just a series of excuses to “prove” that any given competing product was inferior to the one sold by him.

*As a good counter-example, complicated mathematical proofs often turn out to contain defects. While these are sometimes fatal, they are often repairable and often the proof can still stand by limiting the conclusion to a subset of the original scope. Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s wild claim is a good example.

**This was likely more than 30 years ago, so I cannot vouch for the exact comparisons (let alone formulations), but the idea should be clear.

Or consider the example that was the impulse to write this text: In Hans Fallada’s Kleiner Mann — was nun?, the protagonist (Pinneberg) tries to get a payment from an insurance company, is met with an unexpected request for must-be-provided-before-payout documents, and inquires at some type of supervisory agency whether these were justified. He obtains and sends all the documents in a batch to the insurance company (in parallel). Now, some of these document were obtainable sooner (e.g. a birth certificate); others later. Pinneberg’s actions are then limited by the availability of the last of the documents that the insurance company requested. When the insurance company replies to the supervisory agency, it, among other things, tries to pawn off the delay on Pinneberg: he had the birth certificate at date X and sent it at date Y; ergo, the delay from date X to date Y was his own fault.*

*The book is not sufficiently detailed for me to judge whether these documents were reasonable and exactly how the blame is to be divided. However, this particular reasoning remains faulty, as Pinneberg could not have expected more than very marginally faster treatment through sending in a partial set of documents at an earlier time, and as the extra costs might have been unconscionable. (Pinneberg was a low earner with wife and child in the depression era, and want of money, unexpected expenses, risk of unemployment, etc., were constant issues.)

A more common example is IQ, which (among many other invalid attacks) is often met by e.g. variations of “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is useless”, “the correlation between scholastic achievement and IQ is not perfect; ergo, IQ is useless”, “IQ is only X% heritable; ergo, we should ignore heritability of IQ”, …*

*Note the difference between these and perfectly legitimate and correct ones, e.g. “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is not the sole determinant of wealth and income”. These, however, appear to be rarer in politics.

The last points to another common example: nature vs. nurture: too many* seem to think that because “nature” only explains some portion of individual** variation, it can or should be ignored entirely. Note e.g. calls for very high female quotas even in absurd areas, as with a 50% quota within a Conservative party, or various forms of distortive U.S. college recruiting to “help minorities”, unless these minorities happen to be Jewish or Asian. (Or male, for that matter.)

*Even among those who do not blindly deny any non-trivial influence of nature at all, whose position is solidly refuted by the biological sciences. It is rarely clear to me which school any given debater belongs to, which makes the division and the giving of examples tricky.

**This also relates to another fallacy: assuming that a small difference (in e.g. characteristics or outcomes) between typical individual members of different groups implies small group differences. This is sometimes the case, but not always, and especially not on the tails of a distribution.

The possibly paramount example, however, is postmodernism and its take on knowledge and science (logic, whatnot):* because science cannot give us perfect knowledge, science is a waste of time (or, even, quackery). Worse, even attitudes like “because we cannot have perfect knowledge, all hypotheses are equal”, “[…], we can decide what the truth is”, “[…], we can each have our own truth”, are common in, at least, the political and pseudo-academical use. However, even absent perfect knowledge, science can achieve much, say, finding what hypotheses are likely resp. unlikely, what models are good and bad at approximating the results from the unknown “true” model, or increasingly better approximations of various truths. Certainly, I would not be writing this text on a computer had it not been for science and the practical work done based on science.

*At least, as applied practically and/or by those less insightful. I cannot rule out that some brighter theorists have a much more nuanced view.

Excursion on fatal flaws:
Of course, there are cases when a flaw is fatal enough that the whole or most of the whole must be given up. A good example is, again, nature–nurture: if someone wants to base policy on a “nurture only” assumption, any non-trivial “nature” component could invalidate the policy.* A good family of examples is “yes, X would be great, but we cannot afford it”.

*And vice versa, but I cannot recall anyone basing policy on “nature only” in today’s world, while a “nurture only” or a “too little nature to bother with” assumption is ubiquitous. Cf. above.

Excursion on nature vs. nurture and removed variability:
A common error is to assume that the relative influence of “nature” and “nurture” is fix, which is not the case: both depend strongly on how much variability is present. Notably, if we remove variability from “nurture”, which appears to be the big policy goal for many on the Left, then the variability of “nature” will be relatively more important—and when we look at group outcomes, where the individual variation through chance evens out, then “nature” will increasingly be the dominant determinant. In other words, if “nature” (strictly hypothetically) could have been mostly ignored in the Sweden of 1920, a century of Leftist hyper-egalitarianism would almost certainly have made it quite important today. Similarly, note how attempts at removing “cultural bias” from IQ tests have not eliminated the many group differences in test results, of which it allegedly was the cause. Indeed, the group differences have sometimes even grown larger, because the influence of “culture”/“nurture” has been diminished in favor of “nature”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 24, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Google and censorship

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In a text from the 21st, I wrote:

What if my writings are blacklisted by Google? (If they are not already, then it might well just be because I am too small a fish.)

Those who might think that this is paranoia should note an announcement by Ron Unz from the 22nd*, which describes exactly such problems. (And not for the first time …)

*German time, we are shortly past 1 AM on the 23rd. In other time zones, the 22nd might still be “today”. (And the 21st “yesterday”.)

We are rapidly approaching a point where China starts to look like the lesser evil.

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July 23, 2020 at 12:13 am

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Pseudonyms in writing and my own choices

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Earlier today, I visited “educationrealist” (Ed) and found a post on issues on my own mind: Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?.

This especially with regard to the sub-topic of anonymous or pseudonymous writing and potential backlashes in light of today’s utterly insane climate.

Firstly, is there a risk that my attempted literary career will be ruined because my political writings will automatically cause too large groups to consider my literary works “evil”, regardless of actual contents and literary merit?* That I will not just risk rejection by publishers or low sales because my writing does not measure up or is not sufficiently commercial,** but that I face the additional burden of having the “wrong” political opinions or having at least attempted to apply reason and objectivity where emotion and subjectivity is mandated? Of claiming that free speech must apply to everyone in order to be free speech? Of calling “bullshit” on Feminists and the PC crowd when they do use bullshit arguments?***

*Note the controversies around even Peter Handke, last year’s winner of the Nobel Literature Prize and one of the most highly regarded “serious” German-language authors for decades, whose personal opinions where not kosher enough to many complainers, who saw it as a scandal that someone like he could even be nominated. (While Bob Dylan was accepted with open arms …)

**The simple truth is that few aspiring authors meet with any major success.

***Which is very often the case. See a great number of older texts.

If I had not already decided to use a pseudonym, this alone would be reason for me to do so. But: Even that is not likely to help, as keeping an identity secret for the duration is hard or impossible. (If with the upside that no-one is likely to search me out unless I have already become successful. Then again, an intolerant publisher or editor might disapprove a lot earlier.)

Secondly, what might come of my political writings, per se? I have so far published under my own name (and will likely continue to do so) and have yet to experience any known trouble, but with the ever worsening climate, who knows what will happen in the future? As Ed writes:

I am quite afraid of being outed as Ed and then fired and cancelled and probably stripped of a pension. Hell, maybe not even outed as Ed—the wrong person could learn I voted for Trump, and it’s game over.

My situation is not as potentially dire (and I would not go as far as saying “afraid”), as my pension is guaranteed* by the government, as I live in Germany, where things have yet to progress as far, and as I am self-employed (be it as an author or as an IT consultant). However, my writings might be an obstacle should I ever seek regular employment again. Other risks, like someone attempting to hack my accounts are certainly conceivable (and apply to e.g. Ed, too). What if my writings are blacklisted by Google? (If they are not already, then it might well just be because I am too small a fish.) What if someone outs me with a photo, locally, and I am refused service here and there?**

*Other concerns, like a too small payout due to under-financing of the overall system, are present. It is, after all, a Leftist scheme :-)

**Not (yet?) a concern in Germany, but something like that could easily happen e.g. on a current U.S. college campus.

Moreover, while things are not as bad in Germany, they are growing worse and worse, including hysteria over (real or alleged) “extreme Right” groups* and constant complaints about “Rechtsruck”**. The border between what is classified as “extreme Right” and “Right” is being increasingly blurred, and even a moderate “Right” or Conservative position stands the risk of being condemned with a blanket “Right; ergo, evil”. The criteria for condemnation/inclusion seem to grow laxer, and I suspect that it is only a matter of time before the Left will begin to apply “extreme Right” to e.g. anyone who uses public*** violence, where a violent attitude becomes an ipso facto proof of being “extreme Right” (which would, incidentally, give the Left a good excuse to disassociate it self from e.g the Antifa or the “autonomous” Left, should the need arise). It is possible that I am overly pessimistic on this point, but it is hard not to be pessimistic in light of the U.S. situation and the disastrous developments over there, and this type of Orwellian control of terminology and tolkningsföreträde has been an ever recurring theme on the Left during my adult life.

*Defined almost exclusively based on anti-immigration or nationalist positions, and with no regard for positions on other issues.

**Roughly, “shift to the Right”—a fairly generic complaint directed at any trend towards a position not on the Left, even despite the disturbingly strong (old) Leftist take on society that dominates much of German discourse and government efforts. German politics needs to be shifted away from the Left.

***For want of a better word: Here I intend e.g. political violence, riots, soccer hooliganism, etc., but exclude e.g. robberies and physical altercations of a private nature.

Then we have the question of time and importance: The comments discuss Slate Star Codex/Scott Alexander*, including the claim by one Mark Roulo that:

*Who stopped his, apparently, massive blogging and deleted his blog due to threats that his full identity would be leaked by the New York Times. (Also note other recent concerns about the NYT.) “Scott Alexander” appears to be a part of his true name, which reduces the search space very considerably and, with other freely provided information, cannot have made him that hard to identify. (Even alternate routes like hacking or inquiries to his ISP aside.) His blog appears to have been right up my alley, but, unfortunately, I only found out about it when it was too late, and I must go by reputation.

But his popularity grew slowly and at the beginning the NYT would not have cared about him. Today they do, but there wasn’t a clear line that he crossed to become interesting.

So he didn’t self-censor and then a publisher with a large audience became interested in him. Ooops. But in some sense only ooops in hindsight. Who would have guessed five years ago that the NYT would want to write a piece on his blog AND insist on publishing his name as part of the piece?

Well, my own visitor numbers are small these days (and have never been truly notable), but who knows what could happen in the future, e.g. if some post goes viral or I do have success as an author. Indeed, note the recent controversy over J. K. Rowling for statements that are trivial PC-violations compared to some of mine—imagine if the NYT found out that Rowling had written texts like mine? The scandal … Similarly, who knew that the negative trends would continue* in such a horrendous manner when I (or Scott Alexander) began to publish thoughts on the Internet, and who knew in 1980 what claims made then, and then perfectly acceptable, would be met with cries of “racism”, “sexism”, and whatnot today?

*With hindsight, it might not be that surprising, but when I began my own activities, I was expecting the opposite, as I saw a counter-movement gathering momentum, that more and more people protested against Feminist nonsense in Sweden, that alternative views were gaining at least some traction in broader circles and might gain a sufficient presence in media that the propaganda web would collapse. (That “a lie repeated often enough is taken to be true” only holds when the actual truth is sufficiently suppressed.)

If I had begun my writings today, I might well have chosen a more anonymous road. As Ed says (in the context of the attitude “that there’s no real excuse for the cowardice of a pseudonym”).

The idea that I should* post under my own name is….insulting in its grotesque stupidity. Who the hell do you people think you are, I say as respectfully as possible, to Philippe to Jonah Goldberg to Tim Carney to Charles Murray to all the other people who think the eggnuts trolling them on twitter are the same as eight years of blogging and tweeting under the same identity.

*In my case, substitute “should be obligated”.

Of course, to this I note recurring demands in Germany that e.g. bloggers should be not just morally obligated to reveal their true identities, but actually be so by law, e.g. to make it easier to pursue “hate speech” from the “far Right”.

Excursion on my original motivations for a pseudonym:
Almost paradoxically, in light of the above, my original motivation was that I wanted to keep my privacy, even should I meet with an unexpected amount of success. (Whereas the above deals with fears that publishing under my own name would make success impossible.) While I want for my books to be read and for some money to flow in, I do not want to be someone of public interest, see a blog flooded with visitors (who visit just because I am famous), have people from my past read my books and draw incorrect* conclusions about me, etc.

*A book is almost invariably colored by who the author is, but it is quite hard for the reader to see the difference between where the author writes of himself, where he merely uses own experiences and characteristics as input, where he writes with next to no self-connection, and where he might even deliberately reverse himself.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 1:21 pm

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Tolkningsföreträde

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I find myself, again, wanting to reference the Swedish concept of tolkningsföreträde. To make this easier, I publish this text as a considerable modification of an excursion from an older text:

An apparently international problem with many members of the Left is that they presume to have, using a Swedish word, “tolkningsföreträde”—it is their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism, racism, xenophobia, whatnot. They decide what is acceptable. They decide what is fair and unfair. They decide what is science and what quackery.* Etc. Often, they even presume to decide what someone else meant by a statement and what his motivations were.** Have the audacity to question this right in Sweden,*** even by pointing to the possibility of another interpretation or by pointing out that their use does not match the established one, and what happens: You (!) are accused of demanding tolkningsföreträde …

*Often mixing the two up in a manner that would be comedy if it was not so tragic, as with the blanket condemnations of anything related to IQ or the influence of “nature”, despite solid evidence, and the blanket acceptance of e.g. “gender studies” claims and a “nurture only” view, despite very severe problems with lack of proof, ideological bias, an adapt-the-facts-to-fit-the-hypothesis attitude, and whatnot.

**Not to be confused with the often observed (and it self disputable) attitude that it is solely the subjective perception of the “target” which counts to determine e.g. whether a statement is offensive: Here I mean the case of e.g. unilaterally deciding which interpretation of a statement the speaker intended and unilaterally deciding that the speaker was motivated by e.g. racism or sexism—not e.g. by concerns over sustainability of this-or-that or by the wish to make a joke. For instance, someone who says “White lives matter” is actually a racist shit who means that Black lives do not matter—not someone who, just maybe, might try to point to problems with the current attitudes against Whites or who wants to push for a more inclusive approach.

***The principle holds internationally too, if to a lesser degree and without use of the word “tolkningsföreträde”. Consider e.g. the very deliberate misdefinitions of “racism” pushed by some groups, which are simultaneously illogical and contrary to established use, but where even the attempt to push the correct meaning can lead to condemnation.

The behavior often goes beyond what can be taken as good faith based in stupidity and ignorance, and moves into outright Orwellian areas, where deliberate attempts to manipulate the debate and suppress dissent must be suspected. This especially when the Left reverses the accusation by complaining about tolkningsföreträde in others. Then again, the level of hypocrisy and blindness is often disturbingly large, and, even here, I cannot rule out an inability to see the hypocrisy.

The word, it self, means roughly “precedence of interpretation” and originated as a legal term* implying that one person/organization/whatnot has the power of interpretation of e.g. an agreement or a set of rules or by-laws, in case of ambiguity or dispute.

*An English/U.S./common-law equivalent might well exist, but I am not aware of it.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 10:32 am

Utterly insufficient data, insight, and thought

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One of the largest problems today is that too many, including many politicians, make decisions based on utterly insufficient data, insight, and thought. All to often, there is not even the slightest awareness that data, insight, and thought are utterly insufficient. To make matters worse, they can make quite far-going commitments or take extreme actions based on this utterly insufficient data, insight, and thought.

A favorite example of mine is a young* girl from my own school in Sweden: she had become a member of the Social-Democrat’s youth organization and was sufficiently dedicated that she was interviewed in the local paper on the matter. Why had she landed with the Social-Democrats? Well, someone had given her a pamphlet and she had liked what she read …

*I do not remember exactly when this was, but we were likely somewhere in the range 15 through 17, i.e. roughly thirty years ago.

But: if we grab a pamphlet from a wide range of parties, chances are that we would like what we read, for reasons like there being a simplistic focus on issues with broad support, that more controversial opinions are not mentioned, that practical issues (financing, notably) are swept under the carpet, and that other parties have no possibility to make a counter-statement in that very pamphlet. Indeed, pamphlets often border on sloganeering, with claims like “we fight for a fairer society” and “we want to save the environment”. As can be seen, these claims are often not even very party specific. That they often mean different things by the same words, e.g. “fair”, makes the matter even trickier.

A pamphlet can be no basis for joining a party. Even more extensive information, like a party program, might well fall short. Indeed, one of the reasons why this particular story has remained with me over the years is the extreme contrast to my own* choice of party, at roughly the same time: I read the actual party program of all the seven (?) parties in parliament, Communists included, a considerable amount of other information, and even after joining the one side, I read much of what “the other side” wrote.

*At the time, Moderaterna, broadly a Conservative/Libertarian party. They have changed for the worse over the years. (And I have not been affiliated with any party since I left Sweden.)

A current example, and one (again!) demonstrating the danger of a too one-sided press and a too one-sided propaganda, is the cause of death in the George-Floyd case.

Before I continue, let me stress that I am not saying that main-stream opinions about cause of death are wrong—merely that they are too unfounded to be “right for a good reason”. They might (as I suspect) or might not also be wrong, but I do not pass final judgment on that matter, because I have not done the leg-work to come to a firm own conclusion. However, I do point to e.g. the Zimmerman–Martin tragedy for a situation where the main-stream opinion was almost certainly severely wrong and where I have done the leg-work. Also see the Mavi Marmara incident for a similar case of how the situation can change when a reader moves beyond the simplistic message of incompetent and, very often, partisan journalists.

Now, the cause of death seems to be almost universally described as the knee* on the neck, including even in German news reporting, where I today saw the claim that Floyd died after having pleaded for his life a dozen-or-so times (!!!!with video evidence!!!!). However, there appears to be considerable doubt on this point when we move behind the scenes, as described e.g. in several recent articles on UNZ, including [1]. Among the issues often discussed we have that Floyd had taken a very large, possibly life-threatening, dose of fentanyl before the events and that he had severe prior heart and other health problems. This while the (apparently, and contrary to media claims, sole) autopsy rules out e.g. suffocation through the knee on the neck. Certainly, if he did plea for his life a dozen-or-so times, that speaks against suffocation. (“How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath / To say to me that thou art out of breath?” as Juliet protested.) A few pleas, possibly, but here it seems much more likely that Floyd experienced a lack of oxygen (or some other symptom) for a reason not immediately related to air flow to the lungs. In [1], there are even claims (which I have not verified) that point to breathing problems prior to the alleged murder and that Floyd might have wanted to rest on the ground.

*Something, incidentally, that makes the whole “taking a knee” thing seem quite tasteless to me, its prior history notwithstanding.

From what I* know at this stage, it is possible that even a drugged and unhealthy Floyd would have survived without the knee, but it is also possible that he would have died anyway. Remove the knee, and he might or might not have lived. Remove the drugs, and he might or might not have lived. Remove his health problems, and he might or might not have lived.

*I am a medical layman. Others might do better, but the typical journalist and the typical protester are not among them.

On the outside, it seems extremely likely that Chauvin, the “knee”, had no intention of causing death or permanent harm. Indeed, if he did, he would have to be Darwin-Award level stupid to do what he did on camera and in front of witnesses. Certainly, I have not seen one shred of proof that the event was motivated by racism. (Also see an earlier text on this situation.)

In a sane society, we might right now have an objective debate about what police methods are or are not safe, demeaning*, whatnot. What we do have are near-blanket condemnations of “racist murder”, “institutional racism”, “racist police”, etc.—not to mention riots and looting.

*If someone kneed on my neck, I would raise hell afterwards, even if the method was medically safe.

I am going to go as far as to say that, unless further evidence appears and provided that the trial is fair, Chauvin will ultimately be acquitted of any murder charge, simply because there is next to no possibility to gain “beyond reasonable doubt” if even half of the “off screen” claims are true. There might or might not be room for a manslaughter conviction or some relatively lesser crime (reckless endangerment?), but not murder.*

*I have not attempted to verify exactly what charges might apply in what jurisdiction and how they differ in detailed meaning, but my general intent should be clear. (Here too, I am a layman.)

Of course, if he is acquitted, we can cue the next round of riots … (“Racist jury!”, “Racist justice system!”, etc.)

A few quotes from [1] that are highly relevant to the main topic and which well match my own concerns in the abstract*:

*I do not vouch for the details, e.g. what goes on with specifically “The Minneapolis Star Tribune”, and I do not agree with e.g. the over-generalization implied by “None” in the first quote.

None of the people watching the video had any awareness of any of the facts. And the media made sure they still have no awareness of the facts.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is no doubt afraid of (1) having all advertising pulled by businesses afraid that they will be burned out, (2) afraid of being burned down itself, and (3) afraid of being called racist by its employees which always has more force than when it comes from outside, and (4) the editors are afraid of being fired for being racist.

And then there are the many readers for whom it is of the utmost emotional importance that Floyd was murdered by white police for racist reasons. These readers are immune to all facts. One told me that fentanyl is not toxic. Another told me that it is not possible to overdose on fentanyl. Yet another told me that the medical examiner is white and his report is a racist report. Another asked me when did I become a racist.

What we are dealing with is not only the brainwashing of white students as to the evil origin of their country and their inherited guilt, but also their inability to think rationally and to make an objective conclusion from evidence. This was once the purpose of education, but no more. Today students are taught that their emotions are what is true, and their emotions are manipulated by the lies that they are taught.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 9, 2020 at 9:32 pm

Feminist nonsense in Germany / Disturbing news

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Another cosmic-joke day:

Checking the news shortly after wakening*, I am met with two absurd German news-items in the “poor discriminated women” genre:

*Viz. being prematurely awakened by some type of ruckus, which, from its length, is almost certainly a part of the construction works.

  1. CDU, an allegedly Conservative party, has decided on an internal women’s quota of 50 (!) %. In effect, women should be guaranteed at least half of all positions for “group elections of board members, such as deputy chairpersons and assessors” (according to an English source ([1])).

    Apart from the general dubiousness of quotas and the observation that equality of opportunity does not lead to equality of outcome, through e.g. different preferences and priorities, I note that: (a) An effective minimum of 50 % for women implies a very strong distortion that could move the party even further* into Leftist ideas and/or deepen its cowardly hiding under the label “Center” (instead of “Right”). (b) This is a party with traditionally more male voters and members than female ones, implying that the quota is inherently unfair and amounts to a massive pro-woman/anti-man step away from equality of opportunity—a woman who wants to make a CDU career will have it much easier than a man. (c) It is likely to move the party further away from the wishes of its voters, as women tend to have different political preferences than men.** (d) This, obviously, is yet another case of a women’s quota, despite there being no reason whatsoever to not use a generic sex/gender quota (if a quota is used at all).

    *Note a drift towards the Center in more than name for a long time, repeated absurd coalition governments with nominal archenemy SPD (Social-Democrat), increased acceptance of “New Left” ideals (including e.g. Gender-Feminist/-Studies propaganda), and a disturbing past of doing more to increase than decrease the redistribution state and the nanny state. As to why I am concerned about too many women, see e.g. [2].

    **The rise of the allegedly extreme “Right-wing” AfD is to a large part old CDU voters defecting due to alienation and disappointment with CDU’s behavior in the Merkel era.

    Ah, and this is apparently a “compromise” … To me, it looks more like a blanket capitulation.

  2. “Minister of Family” and SPD member Franziska Giffey is pushing a “national strategy for equality of women and men” (“nationale Strategie zur Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern”, see a German source ([3])).

    Newsflash: Men and women have been equal in Germany since before I moved here in 1997—almost 23 years ago. (How long before, I leave unstated. On paper, it is much longer.) Looking at my own experiences in the office, being a woman appears to be a career bonus, in and by it self. Looking at overall society, very much of is geared at women. Looking at laws and redistribution, women appear to be heavily favored, through e.g. mechanisms like paid baby-breaks that come out of the pay of everyone else and the way that men’s health-insurance fees subsidize women’s.

    Particularly annoying is that Giffey is quoted as mentioning a payment difference of more than twenty percent and requiring governmental intervention. This despite the 77 cents on the dollar fraud having been debunked countless times, by countless people, in any major Western country where a version of it has been claimed. This staple of Feminist rhetoric is one of the worst cases of “fake news” in the history of politics.

    The claim amounts to demanding that women receive equal pay for unequal work, including shorter working hours; and it disregards the result of personal priorities, e.g. risk taking during negotiations and whether someone loses career years through a baby break. It also disregards the extensive transfers that take place from men to women.

    This is yet another case of women being given a major leg up based on the lie that they would be the victims of “discrimination” and whatnot.

Excursion on baby breaks:
At least in Sweden, I have seen the actual, but likely fringe, opinion that women who come back from even a lengthy baby or child break should not only have the right to be rehired by their old employers into the old position, but that they should actually receive promotions and pay raises on par with the men who did not take the same break … Say that a woman drops out today to have a baby and comes back seven-or-so years later, when the kid enters school. She has now been out of the game for seven years, she no longer knows the company internals*, she is unlikely to have kept up with the field (and whether she has is irrelevant to this fringe opinion), she has not put in the years of hard work to prove her dedication to the company, etc. (And she has not had to face the risk of a major screw-up leading to a firing or side-ways “promotion” into a career dead-end during those seven years.) Nevertheless, she is to be reinstated with a promotion and a pay raise …

*The importance of this can vary depending on the exact job and company, but the effect can be quite large, especially for more qualified positions. In e.g. software development, my own old field, it is not just a matter of forgetting large parts of the often enormous amounts of knowledge needed, but the world can have changed so much that she might have to start over from scratch. We have changes to the domain knowledge, internal processes, technologies used (possibly, even the programming language), best practices, … We are not talking weeks to get up to the old speed, but months or even years.

The motivations for this nonsense, in my recollection, has fallen into two families: It is only fair (how?!?) and being a mother will have brought so many new skills that she will be more valuable than before (naive beyond belief).

To the latter, I note a parallel in nonsensical calculations like The Telegraph on housewives—-who “deserve an annual salary of £159,137”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 8, 2020 at 9:17 am

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