Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Here we go again… (Jason Stockley trial and riots)

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Apparently, there has been another acquittal of a White guy who killed a Black guy—and another riot…

This ties in with several of my previous posts, including my recent thoughts around Charlottesville controversy and my (considerably older) observations around the Zimmerman—Martin-tragedy.

What is deplorable here is not the killing or the acquittal (see excursion below), but the utter disregard for the rights of others, for the justice system, and (in a bigger picture) democratic processes that is demonstrated again, and again, and again by certain (at least partially overlapping) groups, including parts of the Black movements, factions of Democrat supporters, and Leftist extremists (including self-appointed anti-fascists, notably various Antifa organizations, who are regularly worse fascists than the people they verbally and physically attack).

Looking at the U.S. alone, we have atrocious examples like the reactions around the Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin shootings, trials, and verdicts (followed by racially motivated or even racist outrage by large parts of the Black community) or the post-election protests against Donald Trump* (he is elected by a democratic process the one day; starting the next day, long before he even assumed office, there are protesters taking the streets to condemn him as if he was Hitler reincarnate). Of course, there is a more than fair chance that the Charlottesville riots (cf. link above) partially, even largely, fall into this category—here Trump is perfectly correct.

*Can or should we be disappointed, even distraught, when we feel that an important election has gone horribly wrong? Certainly: I would have felt horrible had Hillary Clinton won. (While I could live with Obama.) Would I have taken to the streets and tried to circumvent the democratic processes (had I been in the U.S.)? Hell no! When an election is over, it is over. (Barring election fraud and “hanging chad”-style issues.) Feel free to criticize poor decisions, make alternate suggestions to policy, attack abuse of power or Nixon-/Clintonesque behavior in office, whatnot—but respect the election result!

In Sweden and Germany (cf. the Charlottesville post), it is par for the course for any “right-wing” demonstration to be physically attacked by fanatical Leftists. Or consider the treatment of SD in Sweden. Or consider how, in Germany, immense efforts are taken to destroy the nationalist NPD, while a just as extreme and even more hare-brained descendant of the SED actually sits in parliament, and the far more extreme MLPD, openly calling for a communist revolution, is left in peace… Or take the methods of e.g. feminists* that I have written about so often, where dissenters are arbitrarily censored, unfairly maligned, shouted down, have their opinions grossly distorted, … In fact, at least in Germany, many Leftists seem to think that the way to change peoples’ mind is to make as much noise as possible—with no effort put into forming a coherent argument or presenting actual facts. To take the streets with banners, drums, and empty catch phrases far away from the politicians seems to be the only thing some of them are able to do.

*The old claim family that “If you want to anger a [member of a non-Leftist group], tell him a lie; if you want to anger a [member of a Leftist group] tell him the truth.” may be an exaggeration and over-generalization, but there remains a lot of truth to it. When applied to some sub-groups (notably feminists, the extreme Left, the likes of Antifa, …) it comes very close to being the literal truth. They walk through their lives with a pre-conceived opinion in their heads, blinders on their eyes, and simply cannot handle it, when some piece of contrary information manages to sneak into their restricted field of view.

There is a massive, truly massive, problem with large parts of the Left and its attitude that “if we don’t like it, it must be destroyed by whatever means necessary”—no matter the law, civic rights, democratic values, …

This insanity must be stopped!

Please respect freedom of speech!

Please respect democratic processes!

Please understand how “presumed innocent” and “beyond reasonable doubt” work in a court!

Please look at the actual facts of a matter before exploding in rage!

Please save the riots for true abominations—and direct them solely at the authorities*!

Etc.

*A common thread of (even politically motivated) riots is that they hit innocent third parties worse than the presumed enemies of the rioters, having more in common with random vandalism and violence that with political protest.

Excursion on the acquittal: As I gather from online sources, e.g. [1], [2] the killer was a police officer at the end of a car chase of the deceased, who was a known criminal* on probation—and who had heroin in his car. The exact events at and around the end of the car chase are not entirely clear, but applying, as we must and should, “reasonable doubt”, it is clear that there was nowhere near enough evidence for a conviction for the raised “first-degree murder” charge—even had the police officer been guilty (which we do not know and, basing an opinion on news reports, we do not even have a strong reason to suspect). Under absolutely no circumstance can we arbitrarily apply different standards of proof to different types of crimes (including sex crimes!), to different types of suspects, or based on our personal involvement or pet issues. To boot, we must understand that while e.g. a jury can contain members who have preconceived opinions and personal sym- or antipathies, who fall for peer or press pressure, who are deeply stupid, whatnot, the jury members will usually know far more about the evidence situation than even knowledgeable observers—let alone random disgruntled citizens: If they see things differently than the disgruntled citizen, then the explanation will very often be that they know what they are talking about and that he does not. (As can be seen quite clearly with the Zimmerman trial. Cf. earlier link.)

*An interesting observation is that all or almost all similar cases I have seen, have had a victim or “victim” (depending on the situation) that was not only Black, but also had a criminal history, albeit sometimes petty. This includes Anthony Lamar Smith, Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, …—even Rodney King, who set his car chase in motion when he tried to hide a parole violation… (Which is not in anyway to defend the excessive violence used and unnecessary cruelty shown by the police in that case.) This is important: These cases have not occurred because of random harassment or (at least exclusive) “racial profiling”—these are current or former criminals, many which actually were engaging in criminal behavior during or immediately prior to the events.

There is a problem here, but it is certainly not the acquittal and almost certainly not the behavior of this specific police officer. Neither is there reason to believe that the killing was racially motivated. Neither is there reason to believe that an innocent man was killed (as might or might not have been the case with Treyvon Martin)—this was a criminal being killed while perpetrating crimes and trying to avoid arrest*. No, the problem is the general thinking within the U.S. justice system that guns are a reasonable early recourse and that it is better to shot first than to be shot. (This could in turn be necessitated by the surrounding society or the attitudes of the criminals, but moving beyond “motivated” is conjectural from my point of view.) Possibly**, use of tranquilizer guns might be a viable option. Possibly**, a rule that guns must only be used against a criminal/suspect himself with a drawn gun could work. Possibly**, a directive makes sense that an attempt must first be made to take someone out by other means*** before a likely lethal shot is allowed to be attempted. Either which way: If that would have been a legitimate cause for a riot, it should have taken place after the actual shooting—in 2011.

*He might not have deserved to die for these crimes—even criminal lives matter. However, there is a world of difference between killing an innocent, or even a hardened criminal, just walking down the street, and killing someone who has just recklessly tried to outrun the police in a car chase. If in doubt, he would almost certainly not have been killed, had he surrendered peacefully in the first place. Notably, without the heroin (and possible other objects) that he criminally possessed, he would have had no obvious reason to run.

**I am too far away and lack relevant experience to make more than very tentative suggestions, and I make no guarantee that any of the mentioned examples would prove tenable.

***Depending on the situation, this could include a tasering, a tackle, a (mostly non-lethal) leg or gun-arm shot, …; possibly, in combination with waiting for an opportunity for a reasonable amount of time. (In this specific case, e.g. that the suspect leaves the car.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

September 16, 2017 at 9:39 pm

Reality disconnect

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I have often, including in some of my latest posts, written about a “reality disconnect”* among e.g. politicians, journalists, feminist propagandists, … where the things that they loudly claim** in public simply do not match reality. And, no, I am not saying that they simply see the world differently than I do (if I did, I might be the problem!): There are many points where main stream science says something very different; where actual statistics are incompatible with the claims; where the statistic might seem superficially compatible, but logically must be interpreted differently than they do***; etc. Not to mention the many cases where a certain set of data allows a handful of conclusions and they just jump to and stick with the one single conclusion that matches their world view, without even considering the possibility that one of the other conclusions could be true.

*I am not certain whether I have ever used this particular phrasing, however.

**What is genuine opinion and what attempts to manipulate the public is often hard or impossible to tell. In the case of high level politicians, I would tend towards manipulation attempts; in the case of journalists, feminists, and lower level party sympathizers (including many bloggers), genuine opinion could be more likely.

***Cf. e.g. the the “77 cents on the dollar” bullshit.

To date, I have been focused on issues relating to e.g. political correctness; however, there are many, many other instances where similar reality disconnects exist.

Take e.g. the issue of doping (in general) and anabolic steroids (in particular)*: The view painted in media and “public information” is invariably that this is a great evil, with numerous unavoidable and debilitating side-effects. The high use among e.g. gym goers is viewed as a major issue. If we look at actual experiences and data a much more nuanced picture arises, up to the point that the overall effect on someones life can be positive.

*Disclaimers: a) The intent is not to paint doping in a positive light, nor even to paint it in a more nuanced light (although I would see it as positive if some of the readers develop a more nuanced view). The purpose is rather to demonstrate the problems of reality disconnect, intellectual dishonesty, lack of critical thinking, etc. The apparent topic matter is just a very suitable example, especially since I would rather not write yet another piece on e.g. feminism. b) The only drugs I take myself are coffee (large quantities), alcohol (small quantities), and the odd aspirin/tylenol/whatnot. (However, I did originally look into the topic with an eye on a possible future use, to compensate for the effects of aging that will eventually manifest. I leave this option open for now.) c) No-one should ever take these types of drugs before knowing what he is doing. (Cf. e.g. item 1 below.)

Consider some common problems with reporting:

  1. Severe problems, let alone disastrous ones, usually go back to people taking drugs without doing the appropriate research (either not researching at all or going by what some guy in the gym said) or people simply being stupid.

    For instance, I once saw a YouTube video speak of a body-builder friend who, as a first time user, had taken a large shot of insulin* on an empty stomach and not eaten anything afterwards. He started to feel weak and, instead of now urgently eating something, went to bed to rest. He fell unconscious and hours of seizures and life in a wheel-chair followed. Notwithstanding that insulin is a drug that is generally considered dangerous, being a “lesser evil” even for actual diabetics, this shows a great degree of ignorance and stupidity: Even five minutes on the Internet would have taught him that it was vital to compensate with carbohydrates; indeed, an at least vague awareness of “insulin shocks” and similar in diabetics should be present in anyone who has even graduated junior high school, and that at least the potential for danger was there would follow immediately. To boot, chances are that a low blood-sugar level would have diminished the results he was hoping for, because one of the main ideas would be to increase the muscles uptake of glycogen, thereby making them larger**—but with low blood sugar…

    *Insulin is used by many (non-diabetic) body builders for the purpose of muscle growth.

    **Whether this actually works, I do not know—the line between science and “bro science” can be hard to detect on the Internet. It is notable, however, that body builders often go for size over strength. Glycogen can contribute to overall muscle size, but the actual “weight pulling” parts of the muscle remain unchanged.

    A common issue is failing to “cycle” (effectively, taking a break from drug use): This is basically the first thing to pick-up when even considering to use drugs—yet many fail to do so and see a health detriment with no off-setting benefit. Cycling has the dual benefit of a) giving the body time off to function normally and to at least partially restore it self from side-effects, and b) to diminish the “tolerance” towards the drug, so that a smaller dose is needed once the break is over: As with e.g. alcohol, the more the body is used to it, the more is needed to get the effect one is looking for—and the greater the damage to those parts of the body that cannot or are slower to adapt. Take a break and the effectiveness of a smaller dose increases again.

  2. Many reported cases go back to misrepresentations of the actual events.

    A particular notable case is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heart surgery, which has been blamed on steroids. In reality, there is no proof of a connection whatsoever. More over, his version is that it was a congenital problem… (Schwarzenegger could, obviously, be lying, but there is no obvious reason for him to do so: He has already publicly admitted to drug use and what he did was, at the time, perfectly legal.)

    Another is Gregg Valentino and his “exploding arms”: This issue, including the invasive surgery needed, did not stem directly from use of any type of enhancer—it stemmed from being sloppy with injections, especially re-using dirty needles. This sloppiness led to a severe infection, the situation was made worse through amateurish attempts at self-surgery, and the professionals were forced to take drastic measures. With proper handling of injections (possibly even with a sufficiently early visit to a physician) this would not have happened; with such improper handling even medically legitimate injections (e.g. to treat diabetes) would have led to similar problems with equal probability. (With some reservations for where injections for what purpose take place.) To boot, one documentary that I saw claimed that “steroids” ruined his arms—which is not at all the case. What he injected was synthol, a type of oil which is used for localized, artificial optical improvements (often highly unsuccessfully…), which has nothing at all to do with steroids (or any other actual performance enhancer). We could equally claim “dieting ruined her breasts” when a looks obsessed woman suffers a breast-implant burst—a ridiculous non sequitur.

  3. Comparisons are usually made based on extremes. If e.g. a world-class body builder spends twenty years taking steroids, HGH, IGF-1, and whatnot in enormous doses, and develops some form of health problems, this does not automatically mean that an amateur who uses much more moderates doses of a single drug will immediately develop such problems—or necessarily even after twenty years.

    Similarly, much of the public perception on steroids (and PEDs in general) go back to the East-German (and other Eastern European) athletes from the 1980s, in particular the female athletes. What was seen there, however, does not necessarily have much importance for the average gym goer of today, including that we compare with world class athletes on a forced regimen—but also because the knowledge of how drugs work has grown and the drugs available has become more sophisticated. For a man, the partial comparison with women is also misleading, both because the physiological reactions can be different outright and because some effects considered negative for a woman need not be negative for a man. Some, e.g. a deeper voice, might even be seen as positive. (Of course, those that affect health, not just superficialities, are negatives for everyone.)

  4. Effects of various drugs are often conflated, especially through “steroid blaming” (e.g. with Gregg Valentino above). For instance, the so called “roid gut” appears to have little or nothing to do with steroids. Instead, it arises through growth hormones*, which simply make everything grow—including the internal organs. This to the point that some people appear to think that any and all PEDs are steroids.

    *Generally, I have the impression that growth hormones are considerably more problematic than steroids in terms of side-effects. This impression could be wrong, however.

  5. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to associate any health problem in a body builder or strength athlete with drugs in general or steroids in particular. However, a proper comparison must look at aggregates and not individual examples: There are plenty of non-drug users who have developed severe health problems, including e.g. the heart, at forty or fifty, even many who have died. The question is therefore not whether such cases occur among drug users—but whether* they are more common and/or more severe. However, this differentiation is not made: Instead it is X died at age 50, he took drugs; ergo, the drugs killed him.

    *The result of such an investigation can very well be that they are more common and/or severe—I am not saying that e.g. steroids are harmless. The matter at hand is one of scientific thinking and intellectual honesty, not the pros and cons of drugs.

    Similarly, there is often a blanket attribution of cause and effect whenever a potential cause is known—and this is not limited to e.g. PEDs. If x percent of the users of a certain drug has a certain problem, we cannot conclude that this drug caused the whole x. Instead, we have to make a comparison with an otherwise comparable control group. If we find that y percent of these have the same problem, then the drug, approximately/statistically speaking, caused x – y percentage points of the cases. Similarly, a smoker who dies of lung cancer did not necessarily develop lung cancer because he smoked: Chances are that he did, and smoking certainly did not help—but he could still be among those caught by another reason, e.g. air pollution. There simply is no guarantee that he would have lived, had he not smoked.

    Strictly speaking, we would also have to make more detailed comparisons in order to judge various issues, but this too is never done (at least outside of scientific research): How is a particular aspect of health influenced by spending hours a day training with weights? By eating twice, thrice, or even four times as much as ordinary people? By using a diet with unusual fat/carbohydrate/protein proportions? By repeatedly “bulking up” and then forcing the body fat down to just a few percent? By weighing a hundred pounds more than normally expected, even be it muscle instead of fat? What if there is some genetic link between an inborn increased ability to build muscle, as would be expected even in a drug-taking top body-builder, and some medical problem? …

  6. Side-effects are often overstated or misreported. For instance, hypogonadism is often cited as a negative side-effect of steroid use: “If you take steroids your testicles will shrink!” Now, this is at least potentially true; however, there is an important addendum that is virtually always left out: They will usually* bounce back again after the steroid use ceases. Not all steroids have the same strength of various side-effects. Some side-effects can be countered by other drugs**, notably where excess estrogen is concerned.

    *Depending on the state of research, where I lack the depth of knowledge, “usually” might be an unnecessary addendum or replaceable by “almost always”. The time frame and the probability will naturally depend on length of use and quantities used; as well as whether the user has “cycled”.

    **Whether this is a good idea, I leave unstated. It will likely depend on the specifics of the situation, notably what side-effects the second drug has. However, when viewed in light of some arguments against steroids, the possibility must be considered. To e.g. try to scare someone away from steroids with the threat of gynecomastia without mentioning potential counter-measures is just unethical.

  7. A particular nefarious issue is the constant phrasing with “abuse”: Basically, any and all use of e.g. steroids is called “abuse” in a blanket manner. Good journalism should be impartial and stick to the facts. This includes using value-neutral words like “use” and not value-loaded words like “abuse”—no matter the journalist’s own opinions.

Of course, a side-effect of such propaganda is that we no longer know what we can or cannot trust: Is this-or-that recreational drug as dangerous as claimed? It might or might not be—but we are robbed the opportunity to learn this without doing time consuming research, because what is said in the media simply cannot be trusted.

In the bigger picture, I suspect that at least part of the problem is that some people come to the conclusion that something is evil, and take it upon themselves to prevent others from coming to a different conclusion through deliberate distortion of facts, demonizing something or someone, irrational emotional arguments, whatnot—they believe* that they have the truth and fear that others are not smart enough to find this truth, if left to their own devices. Indeed, this explains very well the apparent paradox that the surest way to be censored on a feminist blog is to comment with a strong counter-argument, a link to statistics contrary to the point of the original post, or otherwise doing something that could bring other readers away from the (often outrageously untrue) “truth”.

*The twist is, of course, that these people, more often than not, are less intelligent, less informed and more prejudiced, and worse at critical thinking than many or most of the people they try to “protect”. Unsurprisingly, they are also often wrong…

A good example of this is a group of anti-tobacco campaigners who visited my school class when I was some 10 to 12 years old: They started off trying to disgust the pupils away from snus, by discussing the potash content* and how potash was gathered for snus production through doing something** to the contents of chamber pots***… Now, snus is a nicotine product, it is addictive, it can cause health problems: These are all things that could, conceivably should, be told to school children and/or the public in general. Putting forth an absurdly wrong story in order to convince children through a shock effect is simply unethical, intellectually dishonest, and likely does more harm than good: When adults lie about one thing, how can children trust them on another? Why should they believe that snus is addictive, that this is not just another lie to scare them away? Etc.

*I seem to vaguely recall that even this claim was outdated, potash once having been an ingredient, but no longer being so. I could be wrong, however.

**I am a little vague on the details, especially since they simply did not make sense to me even then. (And, of course, the claim had nothing to do with reality, starting with the simple fact that chamber pots barely existed in Sweden at that time.) The story was so preposterous that it can be safely assumed that they were neither ignorant nor stupid enough to believe this themselves—it had to be a deliberate lie told to children in order to manipulate them.

***Surprisingly, the implied pseudo-etymology works almost as well in English as in Swedish: potash -> pottaska, chamber pot -> potta

Another example, which depending on developments might result in a separate post, is the recent claims of the German SPD that women would earn 79 cents on the euro—and, oh my, how unfair! I contacted them per email to complain and the answer (among a number of naive statements) showed that they actually, indisputably knew that any true difference was far smaller at, on the outside*, 5–8 % (i.e. 92–95 cents on the euro)—even using their own numbers. They are deliberately lying to their voters! See also e.g. my discussion of the 77 cents on the dollar and note the similarity of numbers over geography and time—this is exactly the kind of similarity that tends to indicate a biological (rather than e.g. a cultural or societal) variation.**

*Contrary to the beliefs of the SPD, an unexplained difference of 5–8 % does not mean that we have a systematic wage discrimination of 5–8 %—this interval is just an upper limit on the maximal size of any wage discrimination. Using studies with more factors, there is no reason to expect more than at most a marginal variation to remain. Interestingly, they also claim that while the West-German difference was 23 % (i.e. exactly the U.S. 77 cents), the East-German was a mere 8, which ties in well with some thoughts in my previous post. Note especially, this the eastern parts of Germany are still worse off than the western part and that there are still plenty of educational choices made and careers started during the GDR era.

**However, two data points does not make for any degree of certainty.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm

The feeling of being unfairly treated and its consequences

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In my previous post, I stated in a footnote:

I suspect that the extremely negative attitudes that e.g. the Swedish PC crowd displays towards everything non-PC actually serve to worsen problems with e.g. racism and xenophobia: Because even legitimate discussion of topics like immigration or immigration problems are so hard to do in public forums, many who try to start such discussions are driven out and end up in discussions with actual xenophobes instead, where they have every opportunity to be “radicalized” or whatnot. The same danger is present with e.g. the above renaming, being a signal (or, if not, very likely will come across as a signal) of “you are either with us or what you think and feel does not matter”.

Since then, I have pondered a related phenomenon: Feeling* unfairly treated.

*The most common reason for such feelings is actual mistreatment. However, it is important to understand that it is the subjective assessment of the violated or “violated” party that matter in this particular discussion. (See also several below disclaimers.) The assessment of a neutral third party (let alone the subjective assessment of the violators/”violators”) is not of interest—no matter how important it can be in many other discussions.

People who feel that they are unfairly treated often play by different rules. They are more prone to ignore or bend the rules—because they feel that the rules have already been ignored or bent by the other party. They are less likely to respect the wishes, interests, even rights of the other party—because they feel that their own wishes, interests, even rights have already been ignored. They are more likely to take action against the other party—because they feel that action has already been taken against them. Etc. That they will tend to see the other party as the “bad guys” hardly needs mentioning.

A very pertinent example is the rise of Hitler: He benefited very substantially from the sense of unfairness against the Treaty of Versailles and the post-WWI developments in Germany. A significant part of his official program, and a significant contributor to his popularity, was the restoration of what had been taken from Germany by the Treaty* and the removal of the ensuing** problems in the population.

*I have not put in the leg-work to judge the fairness or unfairness myself. However, I note that it is widely considered unusually harsh, making it an understandable target for unusually large feelings of unfairness—even were these feelings subjective. (Some feelings of unfairness are more-or-less unavoidable.) This included not only loss of significant portions of land and rights, but also enormous reparations that negatively affected the post-war economy.

**Note that it is enough for a connect to be perceived for this to happen. Even negative events not or only partially caused by the Treaty and the general treatment of Germany could very easily be blamed on the Treaty.

To take a more trivial example: Some of the readers might be inclined to unofficially take twice as long breaks from work as they do officially, even “without provocation”; some (I hope: most) will handle breaks in a fair manner, respecting the interests of the employer. Now image that there had been “provocation”, say, a promised raise that never materialized, a forced re-location, or just an accumulation of little things. In this situation, the likelihood of artificially prolonged breaks (and other actions to the disadvantage of the employer) increases radically—because many will now feel* that they are just retaliating an unfairness or that the employer no longer deserves their loyalty.

*Depending on the circumstance, they might or might not be correct. My personal advice, however, would be to stick to the rules and to find another employer, if the circumstances allow it—sticking around will quite likely be a source of more grievance than pleasure.

Similar examples, both large and small, are easily found.

To boot, it seems that feelings of unfairness are often stronger and more long lived than many others; especially when combined with frustration and lack of power. For instance, my own strongest memory from pre-school, at possibly six years of age, is an incident starting with one of the other children setting me up to take the fall for something he had done. This was bad enough, but would likely have been forgotten within a week and/or after a brief fight. What filled me with indignation even several years later was the behavior of the teacher*, who was supposed to be a wise adult, a helper, a righter of wrongs, …: Not only did she punish me and refuse to punish the other boy, but she also refused to even hear my side of the story and, here is the clincher, refused to even tell me what I allegedly had done. (To this day, I have absolutely no idea what was up.)

*For want of a better word: I am very uncertain, after so much time, what her exact role and the then terminology was, even barring the possibility that something would be lost in translation.

Of course, this is by no means restricted to children (or I would not be writing this post). I see examples among others again and again, especially (cf. above) in a work place setting, where an employer treats the employees badly and they start to bend the rules more and more, because the feel unfairly treated or that there is no loyalty from the employer (so why should the employees show loyalty back). In situations when people really go on the barricades (mostly on political or consumer issues), Kafkaesque refusals of remedies by incompetent bureaucrats or dishonest businesses are often strongly contributing. In my own case, the curious reader should be able to find plenty of examples in my writings, both with regard to myself (e.g. when a comment has been censored without a legitimate reason, allowing a factual error or outright lie to stand unopposed) and to unfair treatment of others (e.g. some discussions of the Swedish party SD or, partially, the previous post).

To come back full circle:

What happens when group A is e.g. physically attacked by group B, sees its agenda or methods equaled to that of a more extremist group in a blanket manner, or is not even allowed a fair say, not even to correct straw-man portrayals by group B? What if additionally the police, the press, the politicians, fail to act against these behaviors, even participates in them, and then adds insult to injury by blaming group A? (Who are “obviously” in the wrong, because group A is “evil”—according to the propaganda of group B…)

Naturally, its members will feel unfairly treated, will be less likely to try “democratic channels” (if in doubt because they are blocked), more likely to try violence, more prone to associate with more extremist elements, and so on. In a twist, the fifties/sixties “Black rights” movement in the U.S. saw similar (if likely not identical) problems, and it can be safely assumed that this contributed to the flowering of the extremist wing, with e.g. the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, compared to a more cooperative treatment by “the establishment”.

It should be clear that it is highly pragmatically* unwise for someone genuinely looking for a peaceful solution, greater understanding between people, whatnot, to use such tactics. These tactics will do less to destroy the enemy than it will in driving opponents into more and more hostile positions, quite possibly strengthening the enemy in the process.

*Which is not to say that pragmatic concerns should override all others—it is one of the aspects to consider. However, in the situations prompting my previous post, the non-pragmatically “right” thing to do has usually gone in the same direction. For instance, “freedom of speech” that only applies to those who agree with us is not freedom of speech at all—and selectively suppressing our opponents right to speak is truly deplorable and thoroughly anti-democratic.

Disclaimer: As stated in my last post, I have not investigated the Charlottesville situation in detail and do not necessarily say that the “Right” groups have been unfairly treated in this particular case. However, a) if they have not, there are countless of other cases to draw on, b) for the risks discussed here, it is enough that these groups feel unfairly treated.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 20, 2017 at 11:11 pm

A few thoughts around the Charlottesville controversy

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Disclaimer: I have not had the time to look into the details of the specific situation, and cannot rule out that the blame for the events rests e.g. on Neo-Nazi groups or the KKK. However, the events tie in, especially in light of Trump’s controversial statements, with a number of general thoughts I have entertained for quite some time, and I am taking the opportunity to discuss at least some of them.

  1. On a great number of occasions, I have read both German and Swedish news stories starting with a headline in the direction of “Extreme-Right march results in violence”, followed by a main text discussing victims, property damage, whatnot, leading to the natural assumption that the violence stemmed from the extreme Right*. However, at the very end of these stories there is a small, hidden away sentence: The original demonstrators had been marching more-or-less peacefully—and then been attacked by members of the extreme Left… (Those who only read the head lines or never get to the end of an article will get a very distorted world-view indeed.)

    *I restate my opinion that speaking of “Right” (extreme or not) is entirely pointless; “extreme Right” the more so, since the “extreme Right” does not correspond to a more extreme set of methods or “Right” opinions than the “moderate Right” (and so on)—very much unlike the Left. In fact, the “extreme Right” is often arbitrarily defined as nationalists, racists, and the like, without any regard for other opinions—even when those opinions, as is very often the case in e.g. Sweden, are otherwise mostly on the “Left”…

    Indeed skimming* through the Wikipedia page, I see e.g. that the “Right” used statements like “White lives matter”, while their opponents used extremes like “Kill All Nazis”. Let us turn this around: One group says “Black lives matters”, the other “Kill all Black Panthers”**—what is your take on that situation?

    *I do not claim that these examples, or even the Wikipedia entry as a whole, give a full picture of who is evil, holds what opinions, …, in this specific situation. However, this matches what I have seen in other contexts very well—and should it not hold in this specific case, it does hold in many others. Notably, the people complaining about “hate”/“haters”/“hate speech” are usually the bigger sinners by a considerable distance.

    **By which I do not intend to put the NSDAP and the Black Panthers on an equal footing. Then again, the Neo-Nazis of today are not the NSDAP either and many of those called Nazis are nothing of the kind.

    As always, it is important to look more at actions than opinions.

  2. The original cause, the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, is part of a great problem of hypocrisy and historical revisionism in the U.S.:

    The civil war is by now almost exclusively portrayed as a war over slavery, with the South a nation of evil-doers and the North the shining knights in white armor. In reality, slavery (and arguably more general disagreements about who should decide what for whom) was the cause of the secession and the war was fought over whether the South had a right to secede—not over slavery. In this, the ensuing civil war goes in direct opposition to the earlier revolutionary war, where the then colonies did what? They seceded over issues like taxation and representation… Would the U.S. have declared war on Canada, had slavery been legal there? Almost certainly not (barring the eventuality of a pretext to expand). Would the North have declared war on the South, had they seceded over, say, a new cotton tax? Very likely*.

    *Doubt remains mostly because of questions of what political issues are sufficiently loaded that a war will gain acceptance in the populace and what can and cannot be patched up. (Compare e.g. the World Wars to the Vietnam war.) It would e.g. be imaginable that a cotton-tax secession would have led to a brief crisis, which was resolved with a voluntary reunification, or to a war of two months after which both sides were fed up and let each other be.

    Was Robert E. Lee such a monster that his statues should be removed? Skimming through his Wikipedia page, I see nothing that would indicate this or anything that would make him worse than, say, Washington (but Washington won; Lee lost). He was to some degree involved with slavery, but apparently somewhat accidentally (as executor of a will) or even reluctantly, and there is nothing remarkable mentioned by the standards of his society. He even appears to have originally opposed the secession… If anything, I suspect, the root is a wish by the populist Left to follow the lead of Orwell’s* Big Brother and stamp out any potential sign of disagreement or dissenting thought, to paint every opponent, even non-ally, as evil beyond measure, and so on—something I have very often observed in Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Germany. Notably, the park of the statue used to be called “Lee Park”—it is now called “Emancipation Park”. There is no doubt to me that this change of name is ideologically and/or politically driven; I would even suspect that the name was chosen demonstrably; I would not rule out a deliberate provocation**.

    *Reading Orwell is an education in it self, especially when it comes to the problems with the Left. The fact that someone himself so far to the Left was so critical of the behavior, hypocrisy, …, of the Left is remarkable. Much of “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is based directly on his personal experiences, observations, and thoughts on various Leftist parties and movements in Britain, Spain, and the USSR. Orwell looked at the actions of the Left, not the opinions of the Left. Similarly my own extremely negative opinion of the Left, the politically correct, and, above all, feminists is rooted not in their opinions; it is rooted in how they behave, how they confront dissenting opinions, how they handle conflicts between their theories and actual observations, …

    **I suspect that the extremely negative attitudes that e.g. the Swedish PC crowd displays towards everything non-PC actually serve to worsen problems with e.g. racism and xenophobia: Because even legitimate discussion of topics like immigration or immigration problems are so hard to do in public forums, many who try to start such discussions are driven out and end up in discussions with actual xenophobes instead, where they have every opportunity to be “radicalized” or whatnot. The same danger is present with e.g. the above renaming, being a signal (or, if not, very likely will come across as a signal) of “you are either with us or what you think and feel does not matter”.

  3. Somewhat overlapping with the previous item, people in general and the Left/the PC crowd specifically, tend to have a very weak grasp of history, judging behavior and events in different times by the standards of the current time*, seeing too much in black-and-white, seeing the historical “us” as heroic and the historical “them” as evil**, and often being ignorant of even the most basic relevant facts***. Now, I am by no means a historian, but I can at least say that my knowledge and understanding has developed past high school, and that I actually bother to think—the same cannot be said about most people. (Regrettably, the “think” part does not automatically apply to all historians either…)

    *Examples include speaking of “poverty” among modern people who live very well by the standards of a hundred years ago, looking down on or even morally condemning people of old who simple had access to less knowledge, criticizing behavior that was necessary for survival at one time but is so no more, comparing the life of one group of people (e.g. U.S. slaves) back then with modern groups instead of contemporary groups (including e.g. the British lower class of the 19th century or the bottom rungs of the feudal hierarchy a few hundred years earlier); applying modern standards for warfare on wars of old; …

    **Consider e.g. how Vlad Tepes is a Hitlerian figure in most of the Western world, but a folk hero among his compatriots; how Napoleon is still viewed differently in different parts of Europe; how the estimate of e.g. U.S. presidents varies depending on their involvement in “good” wars (Washington, Lincoln, even such a disaster as FDR); or, obviously, how differently Robert E. Lee is viewed in various U.S. groups.

    ***A particular laughable example is feminist complaints that Swedish women did not receive the right to vote until the 1920s—oh, oppression and discrimination! In reality, some men received the right to vote only a dozen years earlier; men in general at the exact same time as women did; and factoring in that men, even then, were only allowed to vote after they had completed the mandatory military service, they were briefly worse off than women…

  4. In many cases, the questions of who is in the right and who in the wrong, who did what to whom, what the facts say, appears to be irrelevant. If the facts do not match reality—ignore them. It does not matter, in this regard, whether Trump was right* or not, when he spoke of violence from different directions—the Left would have condemned such statements either which way. It does not matter, whether “The Bell-Curve”** was good or bad science, factually correct or faulty, neutral or racists—the PC crowd would have condemned it either which way. It does not matter, whether I post a dissenting comment with a scientific finding*** or a curse on a feminist blog—the blog owner will censor it either which way.

    *I have no clear opinion on this specific situation. (But in many others, he would have been correct or even unfair towards the “Right”. Cf. above.)

    **While there have been some scientific objections raised, this applies to virtually any scrutinized work; the picture painted by many Leftists is a very grave distortion of the actual contents and the claims made.

    ***The former has more often than not led to censorship (but admittedly not quite always)—so often that I hardly ever bother these days. I am not certain whether the latter has ever happened (but I have been tempted many, many times).

See e.g. [1], [2] for examples of potentially similar blame pushing; and e.g. [3], [4], [5] for examples of how the Left’s behaviour is more fascist than the “Right’s”. My previous post also touches on some points common with this post.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 17, 2017 at 10:45 pm

How to lose an election in a lost democracy

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In recent times, I have made several posts dealing with the themes like democracy and the U.S. presidential election—including How to win an election in a lost democracy, on how a truly disastrous candidate (like Hillary Clinton) could conceivably and hypothetically manage to win through placing a sufficiently bad candidate (like Trump) in the opposing camp.

While this was not a serious suggestion (at least not for the current election), I actually and honestly thought that the flaws of Trump would bring Hillary a victory—for the last week or two before the election, a sure-fire one, with not enough time left for a turn-around. This to the point that I actually failed to write the please-consider-what-you-are-doing post I had planned for last week, seeing it as a waste of time.

Election day came the miracle and one of the greatest reliefs I have ever experience—a major bullet was dodged.

Despite the title of this post, I will not try to analyze how this happened in-depth (I have not done the necessary leg-work). But: Trump likely managed to leverage his advantages among the uneducated/working-class/whatnot*, while likely sufficiently many in the rest of the population realized that Hillary was the greater evil, possibly aided by the email scandals that brought her long history of bad behavior to mind—as well as the many investigations that have all been prematurely interrupted. Trump was lucky (or campaigned well…) in that his distribution of votes gave him a majority of electors through winning most of the swing states, while having slightly fewer votes than Hillary overall. Voter turnout, how many of whose supporters actually voted, might have had a significant effect (often the case with upsets).

*Looking at statistics at e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016 it is clear that the candidates have very different impacts on different demographics, including using criteria like education. That I side with the candidate of the “uneducated” while most of the “educated” go against my recommendations is annoying, but I can understand how someone like Trumps rubs the educated the wrong way—I too see him merely as the lesser of two evils and would like have preferred e.g. Obama. At the same time, I re-iterate my observation that education is not automatically a sign of intelligence or good judgment: Many of the educated who voted for Hillary will have done so because she too is educated, because she has a more sophisticated image, because the educated in the U.S. are “supposed” to vote Democrat, or similar. With the Republicans and the Democrats in general, there is often the problem that those with some intelligence are bright enough to see the right-most wing of the Republicans, the Fundamentalist Christians, and so on, as problematic; however, not bright enough to see that the left-most Democrats, the politically correct, the gender-feminists, …, are just as uninformed, irrational, dangerous, and otherwise problematic.

Looking back at the posts I did write, I want to repeat that this is not an ideal situation: Disaster was averted, but chances are that Trump, as the lesser of two evils, will prove to be a genuinely bad President—it is just that the alternative would with a high degree of probability have been even worse.

On the down-side, looking at the problems with democracy and its current failure, the victory of Trump could actually be the stronger side of that failure, with his extremely populist take. On the other hand, it is a positive sign that someone in no way established as a politician, and certainly not a professional politician, could win.

As for those who wanted Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, because it would be high-time to have a female President, or similar (all idiotic reasons to elect someone), they should take comfort in it being far better to wait a while longer and then get a woman who is actually worthy of the job. Someone like Hillary could, in a worst-case-scenario, have set back the chances for other women by decades. As a Swede I can point to a number of absolutely disastrous women, far worse than Hillary, who have been brought to the fore despite their lack of competence and other suitability to provide the female candidates the feminists cry for—and who have done exactly such damage. The single best example is likely Mona Sahlin, who came very close to becoming the Swedish Premier, but who also was deeply, deeply stupid and has repeatedly been caught in various, if minor, corruption scandals. In contrast, those women who have made it to the top without a significant leg up or with being a woman as a major selling point, like Thatcher and Merkel*, have done women a favour through actually proving that there are women who can do the job as well as the typical male Prime Minister resp. Chancellor.

*Notwithstanding that my opinion of Merkel has dropped considerably over the last few years.

As a side-bar, it can be interesting to briefly compare Bill and Hillary, especially because part of my aversion to Hillary is Bill’s Presidency and a wish to keep the Clintons in general (but Hillary in particular) out of the White House: Bill was a lesser evil than Hillary for at least two reasons (if we otherwise consider them fungible, which is likely unfair to Bill) in that firstly he had considerable relevant practical experience from his time as Governor, while Hillary had a gifted Senatorship and otherwise was the Governor’s/President’s wife; secondly his Presidency interrupted a long period of Republican dominance*, while Hillary’s would have extended a Democrat reign.

*One of my main observations concerning democracy, and power in general, is that it is a bad thing for a specific individual, party, organization, … to have great power for too long. Reasons include a growing risk of corruption, people confusing who they are as persons with their official roles, lack of new ideas, and too much resistance to change. Correspondingly, it is good when another party wins an election every know and then, even when otherwise the worse choice. For Bill, the last Democrat was twelve years back and the Democrats had had four of the last twenty-four years. For Hillary, she would have extended a Democrat streak to at least twelve years and twenty out of the last twenty-eight.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2016 at 11:27 pm

How to win an election in a lost democracy

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Looking at the U.S. Presidential election system, there is an interesting flaw in the two phases* involved: A candidate can win the first phase by having an ever so small majority, possibly even plurality, of his own party support him—and be without chance in the second phase through this support being too small.

*Preliminaries and main election. A case for more phases including preparations, declarations, nominations, and (of course) the election by the electoral college could be made, but I stick to the popular vote here.

In this setup, what is the best way to win an election? Make sure that a. you have a strong internal support, b. your opponent antagonizes almost half of his own party (or otherwise has a weak internal support and a strong risk of defectors). By planting, covertly supporting, whatnot, a poor candidate within the opposing party, the election result can be manipulated in a massive manner. The poor candidate does not even have to be “in on it”. In fact, I would be unsurprised if most variations of such (at least approximately) “divide and conquer” tactics work better when only the outside manipulators know the truth.

Notably, in the U.S. political landscape, with the two main parties both covering a very wide range of opinions and interests (the Republicans likely more so), this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Take a candidate like Donald Trump*, who by playing the populist element and fringes of one party can gather a majority of his own party, while being highly unpopular in other parts of the party. Chances are that he will be able to mobilize a smaller share of the party members in the main election than a more main-stream/moderate/whatnot candidate—and he will see far more “defectors” from his own party than the opponent’s come election day**. In fact, a number of Republicans have actually publicly declared Hillary the lesser evil (something I very strongly disagree with, however problematic Trump may be). Similarly, with some reservations for how well the populism works, he is likely to miss out on most of the party-less vote.

*This post is very definitely inspired by the current situation. However, and I stress this strongly, I am not saying that this has actually already happened—just that it is a very real risk that it eventually will happen, the more likely after the parties have reviewed the events of the current election. However, similar stratagems have definitely been tried in other contexts in the past, notably during military conquests.

**Normally, almost every Republican voter will see virtually any Republican candidate as better than his Democrat counter-part (and vice versa), because even if flawed in character and sub-optimal in opinion, he will still be the lesser evil through belonging to the right party and having at least roughly the right opinions. The idea is to find a candidate who will disturb this principle with as many voters as possibly (while still managing to gain the party majority).

Say that election day comes, that the Republicans and Democrats are equally strong in general support, but that 80 % of the Democrats vote loyally while 20 % remain at home—and that only 70 % of the Republicans are loyal, 20 % remain at home, and 10 % actually defect. Well, that splits the vote 90–70, giving the Democrats an easy victory*, where we “should” have had a hard fight to the last hour of the election.

*Of course, with the all-or-nothing voting on the state level, such overall numbers are not necessarily important. However, in the given constellation, this would have kept every blue state in its traditional color, likely turned every swing-state blue, and quite possibly given some red states a do-over. The result is the same—an easy victory.

Now, consider the special case that you are put in charge of getting someone herself* almost unelectable elected. Suddenly, this strategy is not merely advantageous—it might be an outright necessity! For a disaster** to be elected, the opponent must at least appear to be similarly poor.

Bottom line: If you are Scylla and want ships heading your way, make sure the alternative is Charybdis.

*And, yes, I am most definitely talking about Hillary Clinton. However, I am still not saying that this is what actually has happened.

**In the case of Hillary Clinton, the disaster falls into two parts. Firstly, she is objectively a poor candidate, with a history of corruption, dubious qualifications, weird opinions, … She has even already more-or-less promised a cabinet with a male–female division of 50–50 based on the overall population distribution and ignoring actual suitability and availability of candidates—an idea fully on par with a wall to Mexico. Secondly, she is a candidate with handicaps when it comes to being elected, including being less than universally liked and more controversial among the Democrats than is safe for a candidate to be, being unusually disliked among the Republicans, being less telegenic and charismatic than many others have been (including Bill and Obama), and just (at least to me) appearing less natural.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 9, 2016 at 12:11 am

Democracy Lost

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Churchill is claimed to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” I have long held the same belief: Democracy is not a good form of government, due to weaknesses such as giving clever manipulators power they are unsuited for and allowing the majority to impose its will on the minority in an often unfair or destructive manner. Unfortunately, all other methods (that I am aware of and that have actually been tried) have been worse. The “enlightened despot”, e.g., suffers from the massive problem of how to ensure that the despot is actually enlightened…

Today, however, we are at an absolute crisis of democracy, where the leaders elected are problematic or even disastrous; where the “democratic ideals” are increasingly neglected in the name of democracy; where democracy it self just becomes a charade to keep politicians in office and lobbies in charge; and where the voters’ concerns are only relevant to the degree that they can be used for (re-)electing politicians, implying that only the concerns of the broad masses are on the table and that party “information” becomes misinformation geared at the dumb and easily manipulated. In many ways, the modern politicians are as separated from and have the same attitude towards the people as the likes of FIFA and IAAF* have towards their respective athletes. Where politicians should see themselves as the voters elected representatives and servants, they too often see themselves as the elected conservators and masters; while the voters do not so much exercise a given right as they pose a bureaucratic obstacle to keeping the politicians in office.

*I had repeatedly warned against these and similar organizations (IOC, PETA, various UN organizations, …) years before the recent scandals broke. In part, because I had observed much negative behavior, especially a disregard for the best of the athletes and the sport (more generally, the ostensible raison d’être); in part, because it appears to be general principles that organizations slowly become mechanisms for their own self-preservation and that power-hungry opportunists drift to the top. Many of these organizations have a monopoly in their area of activity and the people in charge can be so for decades, with little or no accountability to the outside world or the athletes, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to these principles.

Democracy is degenerating into a caricature of it self. More: While democracy has never worked more than adequately and has often failed locally at different times (especially in countries lacking a democratic tradition), we are now standing the risk of global failure. More yet: One of the greatest selling points of democracy used to be that it was “for the people”, not “for the ruler(s)” or “for the state”—and this does not apply more than nominally in today’s world.

Often, the best we can hope for is politicians who do less harm than others. Obama did very little good, but (with some reservations for yet unknown long-term effects of ObamaCare) he also did very little harm, and by that standard he deserves a passing mark.

If the negative trends do not turn around, we will end up in a scenario halfway between “Nineteen Eighty-Four”* and “Idiocracy”, with a regular dose of “panem et circenses”.

*I almost renamed this article “Twenty Sixteen”, seeing that Orwell’s work is far more relevant to the text than Milton’s.

The U.S.* presidential elections are a good case in point: For all practical purposes, they are just another popularity contest along the lines of “American Idol”. Take Obama: What does it matter whether his wife is considered wonderful? What does it matter whether he is a Muslim, African, Hawaiian, whatnot? What should matter is what he brought (or was expected to bring) to the table, say how intelligent or unintelligent he (and not his wife!) was, how knowledgeable or ignorant, how diplomatically skilled or unskilled, what experience he had, … Was his election and re-election based on this? No: His proponents played up his image, his wife, his (as turned out) empty “hope” agenda, and the “no more Bush” angle. His opponents tried to defame him based on issues of heritage, religion, and the like, even trying to remove his eligibility based on birth place. (Making a challenge of eligibility is of course legitimate. However, rules along the lines of “the President must have been born in the U.S” have little practical relevance on whether someone is suitable for the job. In contrast, hypothetical rules like “the President must have a post-graduate degree” or “the President must have served as a state governor or mayor of a major city for at least five years” would be much easier to defend.)

*Among the Western democracies, the U.S. is possibly the one where democracy works the worst—despite arguably having the most thought-through system. I would speculate that this is due to the age of the U.S. democratic system, with “FIFA-ization” simply having had more time to do its damage, possibly aided by the earlier and wider spread of television. (Cf. how Kennedy allegedly beat Nixon due to a better television performance.) The common use of public elections to appoint e.g. district attorneys is likely harmful. The emphasis on individual politicians and not parties (as in Sweden and Germany) almost certainly increases the populism and the vulnerability to lobbyists, but could have positive counter-effects e.g. through diminishing the role of organizations (and thereby the “FIFA-ization”).

Of the three current main candidates, all appear unsuitable for the job and each could do considerable damage if elected. Sanders is disturbingly far to the left. Trump seems to be off his meds. Hillary* is a corrupt opportunist (as was revealed repeatedly during her husband’s presidency), appears to have a distorted world view (e.g. regarding feminism), and has a political career that consists of gifts from others. In fact, her main strength is campaigning and public relations… (Between her and Bill, this is probably her fourth preliminary campaign, to which we can add two presidential campaigns, her senatorial campaigning, Bill’s gubernatorial campaigning, possibly campaigns for smaller offices at some point in time, and likely some involvement in at least the campaigns of Al Gore.)

*When I hear “Clinton”, I still think “Bill” and I suspect this is the same with most people outside the U.S. “Hillary” reduces the confusion.

As absurd it may seem to someone who knows my political stance (libertarian and classical liberal) and what I tend to think of the Left, I consider Sanders the least of these three evils. Indeed, since he might be the best hope we have of preventing a Hillary presidency, which is an absolute nightmare scenario, I would urge those who still have a vote to cast in the preliminaries to cast it on him. (By analogy, in a Hillary–Trump match-up for the main election, go with Trump. A Sanders–Trump match-up is harder, because there is at least some possibility that Trump is merely playing the opinion or trolling the election process, with the intention of being far more reasonable should he be elected. If so, he is the better choice; if not, Sanders is slightly ahead.)

The general problem, however, will not go away by voting for the “lesser evil”. To remove ourselves from popularity contests, radical measures are needed. In the specific case of the U.S. President, one way could be to explicitly forbid candidates for the electoral college to in anyway indicate a preference for a presidential candidate and to re-focus the election process on the individual electors, ideally even with the electoral college being chosen before the presidential candidates are determined: The college candidates have to convince the public that they are, individually, more suitable for the ad hoc task of electing the president than their competitors, ideally through pointing to intellectual accomplishments, experience, education, whatnot. (The actual implementation would have to be carefully thought through, especially in order to prevent a candidate’s unofficial preferences for President from being well-known, despite an ostensible lack of preference.)

A more general solution (that I have repeatedly suggested) is to set competency based limits on eligibility for both voters and candidates for office. For instance, presumptive voters could take a test to determine their ability to think critically and rationally and to see through political propaganda. (However, tests based on opinion or even knowledge must not be allowed, because these would very soon be abused to limit the right to vote to those having the “right” opinions, thereby defeating the democratic process. A test of thinking, in contrast, is only marginally different in principle and purpose from the age restrictions that are in universal use.)

An important point of democracy, too often forgotten: There are certain rights that are usually grouped with democracy in a blanket manner, but which are actually unrelated—and more important than democracy it self. Consider e.g. freedom of speech and thought or the right to due process. (To some degree these overlap with the connotations of “civil liberties”, “human rights”, and “Rechtsstaat”. More often than not, in my experience and at least outside academia, they are simply grouped together with “democratic rights” or “democratic principles”.) Keeping a true democracy running without (at least some of) them is hard; preserving them in a non-democracy might be even harder. Still they are not inherently linked to democracy. Indeed, there are many officially democratic countries that try to limit these rights and in doing so they become lesser than (hypothetical) non-democratic countries in which the rights are preserved. To take a few examples:

  1. Crimes related to sex are often given a drastically different treatment than other crimes, which undermines principles like “due process” and “Rechtssicherheit”. The underlying reason for such principles is, somewhat simplified, that no-one should be arbitrarily punished without having committed a crime or punished in disproportion to a crime actual committed. (With regard to criminal law. Civil law is the same m.m.) This is not just to reduce the risks of incompetence—but even more to reduce the risk of deliberate abuse of the legal system. This applies particularly to abuse by the government*.

    *Generally, a constitution, bill of rights, system of government, whatnot, must not be based on the assumption that the leader(s) of the country, governmental agencies, and individual civil servants are never evil (or incompetent). On the contrary, one of their most important tasks is to protect the people against this very risk. Unfortunately, this is something that most politicians fail to grasp—thereby proving the importance of the task…

    However, we now can have situations where no-one (ideally) can be arbitrarily punished for e.g. theft and murder—but easily could be so for rape (sexual abuse of children, whatnot). What then is the benefit of preventing arbitrary punishment for murder? A hostile entity (e.g. a government or a powerful personal enemy) simply forgoes the murder accusation and trumps up a rape accusation.

    For this reason, it is imperative that sex crimes are not treated differently than other crimes, no matter how easy it is to play on emotions. (The irrationality often present is proved e.g. by rape carrying similar penalties to murder in the U.S. and how some debaters actually seem to consider it the worse crime—a stupidity so abysmal that its sickening.) If someone accused of murder has the right to the presumption of innocence, then so must someone accused of rape. If someone accused of murder has the right to face his accuser, then so must someone accused of rape. If an alleged victim of attempted murder is cross-examined by the defense, then so must the alleged victim of a rape. Etc.

    Notably, “strict liability” has no justification whatsoever in criminal law, be it with regard to sex or other areas. All cases where a punishment is reasonably due (in the absence of unlawful intentions) can be fully covered by variations of negligence. For instance, someone who fires a gun in an apartment and accidentally kills a neighbor is negligent, because any reasonable person should have realized that this action endangered the lives of others. A large corporation is almost always negligent when inadvertently breaking laws, because a duty* to have sufficient legal knowledge or to make sufficient legal consultations can be assumed. In contrast, someone having sex with an underage person who professes to be of age and looks it to boot, cannot be considered negligent without additional proof that a reasonable person should have suspected something foul.

    *Typically, the legal system of a given country will assume such an obligation for entities, including natural persons, in near blanket manner. However, I am very skeptical as to whether this is ethically justifiable and compatible with a sound legal system, especially considering the horrifyingly large number of laws and their complexity. In my opinion, natural persons should be given considerable leeway, outside a certain core set of laws where knowledge can reasonably be assumed and demanded. (Better yet, if the average person cannot be presumed to understand or know that something is a crime, there is a fair chance that it should not be criminal to begin with.) Corporations, especially major ones, are a different matter.

    This the more so, as many sex crimes are in fact Orwellian “sexcrimes”: In the modern West, homosexuality is perfectly legal; a few decades ago that was not always the case and in other parts of the world it still is not. In Germany, someone 60 years old can legally have sex with a 16 y.o. partner*; in some U.S. states, someone 18 years and 1 month old can see his life ruined over having had sex with a 17 years, 11 months old partner. (In both cases, assuming mutual consent.) In Germany, prostitution is perfectly legal; in the U.S. it is not; in Sweden and (until this month) France it used to be legal, before campaigns of misinformation and misrepresentation forced the illegality of the purchase**. Indeed, I strongly suspect that some who call for changes in legislation have a hidden agenda. For instance, making sex with a 17 y.o. a strict liability statutory rape, will not merely cause people to stop having sex with 17 y.o. looking people—it will also make them a whole lot more careful about having sex with strangers who appear to be in their early to mid-twenties, about having sex while drunk, and similar. Similarly, extending bans on child porn to include not merely (proper) children, nor even just “children” below the age of 18, but depictions where someone above 18 pretends to be below 18 or could be taken to be below 18, is absurd and idiotic—unless we assume that this is just an indirect way of attacking porn in general, merely using the pretext of attacking child porn (and thereby avoiding the strong protests and resistance that would follow an attempt to ban porn in general).

    *I am not necessarily saying that this is a good or a socially accepted combination (certainly not a likely one). The point is that it is very weird (and usually a sign of too restrictive laws) when one highly developed and “modern” country declares something illegal that other highly developed and “modern” countries allow. Even within the U.S. there are odd variations from state to state.

    **But not the act of prostitution it self. The asymmetry is absurd, illogical, and incompatible with how e.g. narcotics are handled (the buyer or possessor is often not culpable, but the seller is). If nothing else: If the purchase is illegal, then the prostitute is enticing others to a criminal act, which would normally (and justifiably) be criminal.

  2. Germany has considerable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, notably in that a number of symbols and greetings associated with the Nazi movement are forbidden. While to some degree, for historical reasons, emotionally understandable, there is little or no rational justification and it remains an undue intrusion on the rights of the individual. In stark contrast, the (largely common) symbols of GDR, the USSR, and other Communist dictatorships are not forbidden, even though the crimes of the USSR match those of Nazi-Germany and the GDR showed the same disregard for the life and rights of the individual. (More generally, unfortunately, and contrary to Leftist propaganda and Hollywood movies, there is nothing uniquely evil about Nazi-Germany. History is full of qualitatively similar examples, the difference being a matter of scale and success, which, at the time, where unprecedented.) To make matters worse, there are ongoing attempts to ban the strongly nationalist and allegedly Neo-Nazi NPD while a direct continuation of SED (the governing Communist party of GDR) is sitting in parliament. Notably, these attempts are directed not against actions but against opinions* and Leftist extremist often call for blanket bans on all claimed** Nazi and Fascist organizations. Claims for bans have even been raised against upstart AfD, currently the third largest party in Germany. Populist, yes; unconventional, yes; disliking the “old” political parties, yes. More ban-worthy or extreme than the other parties in parliament? NO! Fascist is as Fascist does: The organizations that want to ban other organizations for their own benefit are the ones that deserve to be banned.

    *In my understanding of German law, a ban would require more than opinions and to boot something specifically “anti-constitutional” (“verfassungswidrig”); however, I have seen little or no evidence of more than opinions and those Leftist extremists that call the loudest for a ban appear to ignore the question of constitutionality. Further, in as far as the opinions of the NPD, themselves, are anti-constitutional, they are so partly or wholly because the German constitution makes too far-going attempts to regulate what is the right opinion to have and the right way to do things, in manner that is not worthy of a modern Western country. (I have toyed with the idea of a deeper analysis, but have so far not executed the idea.)

    **The degree to which this classification is correct is often disputable. As I have noted again and again, words like “Nazi”, “racist”, “sexist”, are often used in a highly inappropriate manner by the Left (the politically correct, feminists) in order to unfairly discredit their opponents (or through pure incompetence); similarly, it is quite common than an anti-immigraTION sentiment is considered anti-immigraNT or even anti-foreigner, or an anti-IslamISM statement considered anti-Islam or even anti-Muslim. In the specific case of NPD, they have many opinions that I find absurd, but if the Nazi claims apply (of which I am not yet convinced), they still make no demands for an invasion of Poland or extermination of Jews. In addition, as absurd as I consider some of their opinions, they are no worse than many Leftist extremists, and in areas unrelated to nationalism and the like their opinions often coincide with other parties. Indeed, having read up a bit during the writing of this article, I find them to have quite a lot in common with the Left in areas like economic policy and the traditional Leftist anti-EU, anti-globalization, anti-nuclear-power, …, stances—an observation I have made repeatedly with organizations considered to be on the extreme Right, including the Swedish SD. People on the “extreme Right” are often actually people that would have been considered on the Left, except for the addition of nationalist (etc.) opinions. To a non-trivial degree this applies to NSDAP (the original Nazi party) it self, even in its self-perception and deliberate presentation: The “S” stands for “Socialist”, the “A” for “Worker” (“Arbeiter”).

    Analogous to the above “sexcrimes”, this just amounts to Orwellian “thoughtcrime”.

  3. The surveillance mania of allegedly democratic governments is reaching a point which is, yet again, Orwellian. In light of the common knowledge of the Snowden revelations, I will not go into detail of what is already known to be implemented. However, I will give special mention to the recent attempts to force Apple to manipulate user devices according to governmental wishes (albeit by the judicial branch) and the suggestions for legal restrictions on encryption: Encryption should only allowed if its breakable (thereby rendering it almost useless). Similar calls have been made for a requirement that encryption providers also provide explicit back-doors or keep keys that they can hand out to the government at its will (making encryption useless against the government and opening a major security hole that non-governmental attackers will love). Some jurisdictions already require users to “voluntarily” hand out their encryption keys and passwords to allow governmental access. Other suggestions with a somewhat similar motivation is to remove large bank notes or put upper limits on the size of cash transaction, for the purpose of making anonymous payments impossible.

    Big Brother sees you…

    As an aside, I am very strongly in favor of legislation in the other direction (and use encryption extensively, myself): In order to protect the citizens from the government, such attempts to break encryption, engage in digital surveillance, accessing private computers, …, must be made illegal even for the government. (As should access to some non-digital forms, notably private paper diaries.) In particular: A computer can tell us so much about someone that such access is unconscionable. Firstly, many (including yours truly) use their computers as an extension of their own memories, making the intrusion tantamount to an intrusion into their actual heads. Secondly, many use their computers to record highly private thoughts, including for diary and (as I once did) therapeutic purposes. Thirdly, a computer can indirectly give us enormously detailed information about someone—too detailed. (Including highly intimate information, such as porn habits.) Fourthly, a computer will almost certainly contain communications with other parties that can be damaging to them or be of a type that they justly wish to remain secret to third parties, including e.g. exchanges of romantic emails and confidential business communications. Fifthly, digital evidence is so easy to forge* that it must only be admissible in court when the absence of manipulation can be proved, which is basically impossible to do when third parties have extensive access to a device, making most uses of such surveillance and access pointless to begin with.

    *In the vast majority of cases, no forgery will take place—true. However, it does happen even today, even in countries like Germany or the U.S. Cases where a DA seeks a conviction irrespective of guilt and innocence occur; where an investigator “knows” that someone is guilty and resorts to fabricating the evidence he lacks; where the accused has personal enemies who influence the investigation; … Worse: There is always a risk that times change and that, for instance, politically motivated persecutions through the justice system become common. “Due process” that is based on the assumption a benevolent justice system can never be true due process.

  4. The influence of lobbies does not only result in sub-optimal economic decisions, but also poses a severe threat to the rights and interests of the population. Among the many examples, consider changes in copyright legislation to postpone the time that works enter the public domain*, absurd restrictions on how a purchased good might be used (e.g. bans on backup copies of DVDs; as opposed to reasonable restrictions like a ban on arbitrary distribution of copies to third parties), attempts to reduce customers’ privacy from corporations, …

    *At what time and under what circumstances this should take place is ultimately arbitrary and the right to read books free of charge is something very different from the right to free speech. However, there have been repeated adjustments upwards over time (often retroactively), without the underlying ethical issue having changed, and through lobbying or other “para-democratic” means. To boot, I suspect that these changes are not only intended to favor the copyright holders—but also to artificially reduce competition for newly released works. While the nature of the change is my point above, I do find the often used criterion of 70 years after the author’s death to be excessive. Notably, these 70 years will almost always be longer than the time the actual author enjoyed copyright protection… If I had drawn up the rules, I might have gone with something like the author’s death or 30 years past first publication, which ever comes last: This protects the rights of the author (which is the most important), gives the heirs a fair slice even if the author drops dead the day after publication, and provides a sufficient time of use and security for third parties to not rule out buying the rights—while ensuring that the public domain is enriched in a reasonably timely manner. Alternatively, copyright could be entirely open ended, but associated with a rapidly increasing fee after the death of the author. (As an aside, I have grown increasingly skeptical to awarding non-natural persons rights outside of what is a business necessity, including copyright and free speech, seeing that these often lead to abuse like outrageous misrepresentations in advertising being called free speech or record companies snatching up the majority of the profit from the musicians’ work. Such rights are possibly better tied to natural persons only, with appropriate changes in business models where needed.)

Even the democratic process it self can be circumvented. Consider e.g. how the current German government consists of a coalition of two parties whose ideologies, economic policies, and whatnots are so drastically different that forming the coalition betrayed the confidence of their respective voters—and potentially made further elections unnecessary: They could, strictly theoretically, just make a behind the scenes deal to always form a coalition and potentially govern uninterrupted for decades, irrespective of the votes given. Or take the tricks of the Swedish parties against SD: Exclusion of SD from committees, parties voting against their own program rather than allowing SD influence on the vote, … This goes beyond the unethical-but-established practice of making election promises while crossing ones fingers—here the parties ignore the reasons why people voted for them in order to follow their own agenda.

The reader may be surprised that I have not included the rise of strongly populist parties, so common in Europe at the moment, that have a limited number of core issues, an incomplete overall party program, and a main theme of “we don’t like the way things are”. (In Sweden, they are termed “missnöjespartier”—“malcontentment parties”.) The “conventional truth” among the established parties and the press is that these malcontents are an evil and a proof of the stupidity of the masses—which would fit in well with my above discussion. However, I very strongly disagree with this premise: These parties show that there is hope for democracy, that the people is not satisfied with being the puppets of the politicians, and that the political landscape can change. In as far as they are problematic, they are just a symptom and not the disease. The common criticism that these parties often lack experience, competence, and a developed party program can be true, but before they actually become part of a government, if ever, they will typically have plenty of time to improve–and it would be a grossly unfair Catch-22 to exclude parties based on deficits they need inclusion to remedy. If nothing else, their presence can shake the old parties out of old habits.

Similarly, I have not included the sinking participation of eligible voters in elections: Yes, this is potentially bad, but it is also just a symptom of the underlying problems. I have, myself, not voted in the past fifteen years or so, despite once being politically active, because there are no parties and preciously few politicians that I find myself comfortable supporting. At best, I could vote for yet another “lesser evil” and I, as do many others, prefer to let my non-vote be a message of disapproval to the politicians. What I consider far worse, truly worthy of lament, is the reactions of some politicians: Instead of realizing that voter participation is a problem that they have caused themselves, they blame the non-voters… I have even heard statements along the lines of non-voters not doing their civic duty! The right to vote and to participate in the democratic process is a right—not a duty. (And, as above, not voting can it self be a deliberate message.) Quite often, I have heard claims that it is important to vote, irrespective of what one votes for or whether one feels informed enough, which is turning the world on its head: If someone does not have a clear opinion, it is most definitely better to stay at home and reduce the problem of the uninformed selecting our leaders. The attitude towards both the citizens and the democratic processes that shines through in these reactions is horrifying. Whether they are stupid, despise their voters, try to increase their legitimacy*, …, politicians like these have no business seeking office.

*A higher voter participation implies a higher degree of (perceived?) legitimacy, because if someone claims to be elected by the people and does not have even close to a majority of the people’s vote, well, it is simply not very credible. In Germany and Sweden we can have situations where 80 % is eligible to vote, of which 70 % does vote, of which 90 % of votes actually have an effect (votes on parties below 5 resp. 4 % are wasted, because of a cut-off, some votes are sorted out for formal reasons, etc.), and the eventual premier belongs to a party that received 40 % of the votes that did count, relying on the support of smaller allied parties to gain a parliamentary majority. In this scenario the support of 100 % * 0.8 * 0.7 * 0.9 * 0.4 = 20.16 % of the overall population or 25.2 % of the eligible population is needed—elected by the people, my ass! Now, if everyone voted, and no-one voted on new or fringe parties (or the fictitious but popular-in-Sweden “Donald Duck Party”), these numbers would turn into an at least semi-legitimate 32 and 40 %, respectively. (Assuming the same distribution. However, even with a lower overall share, the original proportions would typically be exceeded by a considerable margin.) Drop the proportion of voters to, say, 25 % and the numbers become 7.2 and 9 %! No wonder that politicians react negatively to non-voters… Also no wonder that they are much against lowering the proportion of eligible voters, while at least some politicians want to increase it, e.g. through lowering the age of eligibility to 16.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 16, 2016 at 9:13 am