Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Society

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

A few thoughts after watching Hjernevask

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A while back, I wrote a post with an excursion on the TV series “Hjernevask”. Having a number of thoughts in my head after watching said series, I wrote most of the below a day or two later, but I never got around to complete it, in particular having several other sub-topics unstarted. As is, I just publish what I have—especially since I want to reference it in the post I started today…

Thoughts on homosexuality:

An often cited problem with the existence of homosexuality is the apparent contradiction of evolutionary principles: Reproduction is not possible between members of the same sex in humans (and a great many other animals, likely including all mammals); ergo, men who like men and women who like women will not have children; ergo, if homosexuality has a genetic background*, it should be a fringe phenomenon.

*This is not a given, even if we see homosexuality as something mainly or entirely congenital. An entirely different line of explanation is then simply that homosexuality has a non-genetic background. Below I will make the “for the sake of argument” assumption that the reasons are genetic (or otherwise inherited by a sufficiently similar mechanism).

This has led to all sorts of speculation and explanation attempts, e.g. that homosexuals could benefit their non-homosexual relatives (who share a considerable amount of genes) in a way that partially outweighs the immediate reproductive disadvantages. This might or might not be true; but is not that convincing because the proper focus of selection is usually the genes themselves and the non-homosexual relatives would still have to share in the “homosexual” genes for this to work out. (While this is by no means impossible, e.g. through some constellation of recessive genes, it requires additional assumptions to be true.)

There is an easier way out, however: What if homosexuals do reproduce in the ordinary manner? My own father, e.g., is a gay man with two children; I am a straight man with no children. (In both cases, that I know of.) In fact, in cultures with a low tolerance for homosexuality, chances are that most homosexuals will lead more or less normal reproductive lives. They will try to fit in, they will marry, they will have children*, and they will pass their genes on. A low-tolerance society is good for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). In contrast, in a high-tolerance society, like the current, homosexuals will have a far lower probability of having children—it is bad for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). There is much more evolutionary pressure against homosexuality in the tolerant society.

*It is true that they will be less interested in intercourse with their partners. However, we have to consider factors like the own wish for children (no need for “gay adoption”), the partner’s wish for children, the partner’s wish for sex, and that lack of other release possibilities can make sex with even the “wrong” partner a positive. The latter in particular in cultures that frown upon masturbation.

This applies already for homosexuals. If we widen the field to include bisexuals*, the effect in the low-tolerance society is strengthened; however, it is weakened in the high-tolerance society.

*If homo- and bisexuality do have a genetic background, it would be surprising if they were unrelated.

Thoughts on comparisons and the effects of variation:

A problem with making comparisons is the lack of a common base line, as well as the choice of an unsuitable base line. This is exemplified e.g. by claims that men and women are so similar that it does not make sense to focus on the differences: For some base lines and some purposes this will be true; for others, it will be false. (Cf. also the “math professor” example from the original post.)

If we make a four-way comparison between a male and a female human and a male and a female horse, e.g., we will likely see (although this could depend on what is compared) that the interspecies differences dwarf the intraspecies differences. (Still there will be some aspects of being a male shared by horse and human, but not male and female, and so on.) Add a mollusk and even the human/horse differences seem small. Throw in a rock and they might seem negligible. Why? Because the reasonable base line for the comparison changes.

Still, while a horse and a human may seem similar when compared to a rock, horses and humans are normally seen as living very different lives, having very different capabilities, whatnot. Why? Because when comparing humans and horses in everyday life, the relevant baseline is not the baseline from the comparison with the rock. The observable differences do not arise out of similarities—but out of underlying, genetic* differences. Now, the smaller the differences are, the lesser the effect might be and the fewer areas might be affected. Indeed, the differences between men and women are much smaller than between humans and horses, and their lives, abilities, whatnots, are correspondingly closer.

*The human–horse differences can probably be safely considered genetic; however, quite often the wider set of congenital differences should be considered, including when comparing humans with other humans. (In all fairness, even the human–horse difference could have a non-genetic component, because minor parts of the differences could go back to the uterine environment and gestation process—and in the highly unlikely event that a horse/human could be gestated by a human/horse, then some of these difference might manifest in the wrong species. For species that are considerably closer related, e.g. donkeys and horses, this might be an interesting experiment.)

However, men and women are biologically different, even mentally. Open for discussion is only by how much and how relevant the differences are. It borders on a statistical impossibility that there would not be some difference. Sign two letters, even the one immediately after the other, even using the same pen, same ink, and same type of paper, even while deliberately trying to keep the signature constant, and there will be differences in the result. Likely, they can be seen by the naked eye; if they cannot, a microscope will show plenty of differences. Even the minor differences in input that will still occur, say a minuscule difference in the placing of the hand, a slight hesitation in a stroke, whatnot, will lead to differences in the result. Male and female brains have physiological differences akin to writing on a different day, with different pen, ink, and paper, …—possibly even a different hand. That they would happen to neutralize so perfectly that differences in behavior, abilities, preferences, whatnot, are not obvious is unlikely—that there would be no difference at all, well, that is virtually impossible.

Now take even a small difference and look at what can happen in sub-populations. Imagine a hypothetical type of competition where men have an average result of 100s, women 98s, both (unrealistically) a standard deviation of 10s in an approximate normal distribution and assuming equal amounts of training* (etc.). Gather your colleagues, put them through training, and have a competition: Pick a man and a woman completely at random and the chance of the man or woman placing better is toss up; and whether a man or a woman wins will depend mostly on whether there are more men or women among your colleagues… In stark contrast: What would be the sex of the (non-segregated) Olympic Champion? Very likely a male if a higher time is better; very likely female if a lower time is better. Indeed, chances are that the field would be dominated accordingly. This through a difference of two parts in a hundred in one single aspect (resp. one fifth of a standard deviation, which is mathematically more significant). Let us say that you have to be one in thirty thousand**/*** to make the final. This corresponds to being roughly four standard deviations above the mean. Looking just at women and assuming that a lower time is better, the limit for a final would be 58 (= 98 – 4 x 10). Any man who wants to make that final has to have a score no worse than 58 (but possible better). Now, this corresponds to 4.2 standard deviations (58 = 100 – 4.2 x 10) or roughly one in eighty thousand. In other words, if 240 thousand women compete at this sport, roughly eight would be candidates for the final; among 240 thousand men, only 3. Assuming eight-people finals (as in e.g. the 100m dash), we might have six women and two men. We might have two or three female medalists to one or no male medalists—and the winner is very likely a woman.

*This is of course unrealistic in the real world, or even when looking at the Olympics (cf. the rest of the discussion). It might e.g. be necessary to use a greater standard deviation in the example calculations, which would make the effect smaller—but would not change the principles. When looking e.g. who excels at what profession, we might find a variety of unrelated caused (notably variations on interest and ability), some of which might favour the one sex, some of which might favour the other. It is, however, enough for there to be a net difference to be present in these for a net difference in outcome to result. Of course, depending on how these turn out, they can make the net difference larger than if only one factor had been present, just as they could make it smaller or turn it around.

**In the following some numbers are a mixture of experiments with a statistical package I am unfamiliar with and rough guesstimates. The math could be wrong in detail, but not in a manner that invalidates the principle. For the purposes of demonstrating the effects at extremes, the above should be sufficient. If in doubt, just throw on another standard deviation and any misestimate will be dwarfed.

***Looking at the global population in sports, we have to factor in the many people who do not compete in a given sport, are too old or too young, or might have some other reason for being out of the race. Olympic champions are typically nowhere near one-in-seven-billion. A small sport might have someone as low as one in a few hundred; a large one might conceivably go into one in a few millions. (However, feel free to do calculations based on one in billions—my point will be even clearer.)

A pseudo-paradoxical result of attempts to “even the playing field” is that those factors that are not evened out will be the more important. Now, barring massive interventions, congenital factors cannot be evened out after the fact; while e.g. factors like number of school years can. Consider a situation where men and women are perfectly equal in all rights, responsibilities, opportunities, whatnot. Any variation of outcome will now be explained by one of two things: Congenital factors and coincidence. Looking at sufficiently large samples, the effects of coincidence will even out and disappear—and differences in sample outcome will depend only on congenital factors!

When we look at sufficiently exclusive groups, then, (even small) differences in e.g. ability distribution have a larger effect* on an even playing field than they do on an uneven one. To boot, using the same principles as above, given a sufficiently exclusive group, even very small differences will have an effect. The result is that if it were true that a difference in outcomes was un- or only weakly related to ability in 1917, 1967, or even 1987, it could very well be strongly related in 2017.

*Which is not automatically to say that the differences in outcome are larger. If women are not allowed to run for office, they will not land in office (barring some exceptional scenarios like a woman running for office under a false, male identity). At the same time, in that scenario, no difference in ability distribution, no matter how large or in what direction, between men and women will have any effect on the sex distribution of those successfully elected. Allowing women to run will decrease the difference in outcome—while increasing the importance of the differences.

A somewhat similar mechanism is suggested in Hjernevask: Women (and men) might be more prone to follow their natural inclinations in today’s West than in poorer parts of the world or in the West of earlier days. Because society is more affluent, survival is easier, etc., they have less external restrictions in the form of e.g. lack of money, and they can afford to forego a better paying career in, say, software development, for a worse payed career in nursing or teaching (should they find the latter more interesting). If women do not move into lucrative careers that are open to them, chances are that they have other, natural preferences; ditto, if e.g. Norwegian women stay away from tech and Indian* do not. If and when India grows more affluent, it will be interesting to see whether its women will be more or less interested in tech careers.

*As occurs to me, the proportion of female software developers (in particular) and IT people (in general) with a foreign background has been considerably higher than for male ones in the projects that I have worked in. (With both men and women, Eastern Europe has been the main source.) For instance, out of three women in the IT department of my current client, one was a native (German), one is Romanian (?), and one was Iranian—and at the moment only the Romanian remains. The project before that had one out one being native but likely from the former GDR area (the project was in an “East-German” city, Chemnitz, and most of the team members were “Easterners”); the one before that one out one Eastern European; with similar numbers going back. However, I caution both that the statistical sample could be too small to draw conclusions and that foreigners are by no means rare among the men either.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:10 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

The 2016 Nobel Prizes II: Women and the Nobel Prize

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One of my articles was almost upset by the 2009 unprecedented naming of no less than five female laureates, including a historically very rare Chemistry Prize and a first Economics Prize. I left a corresponding disclaimer that I would revisit some issues if this turned out to be a normal state of affairs.

It did not*: The following year saw not one single female laureate, neither did 2012—and the same applies to this year. 2011 did see three, but they all shared the Peace Prize. The remaining intervening years saw one or two laureates, of which only two came in scientific fields (the 2014 and 2015 Prizes in “Physiology or Medicine” each saw a woman among the three** winners.) The others were all Peace or Literature Prizes.

*Here and elsewhere I draw my numbers from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_Nobel_laureates and http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html.

**The science Prizes are almost always shared, typically between the maximum three laureates allowed per Prize and year. Here and elsewhere, I will assume equal shares for the sake of simplicity and of avoiding leg-work. I do know of at least one historical deviation, however: Curies first Prize was shared in equal halves between the Curies and Henri Becquerel, with Marie and Pierre effectively receiving a quarter each.

Counting in 2016, we have seen a total of 8 female laureates with a total of 4 and 1/6 Prizes in seven years—a little more than one laureate and clearly less than one Prize per year. For comparison, the (admittedly cherry-picked) years 1945–1947 saw three laureates and 1 and 5/6 Prizes for very comparable numbers. 1963–1966 women did almost as well in numbers and scored in both Physics and Chemistry—in the 50 (!) years since, they have scored one Chemistry laureate and not one single Physics laureate.

In other words, there is at this juncture no reason to assume that we have entered a new era, nor that women are being artificially held back, as naive feminists like to claim: That the science awards have seen so little change, or even change for the negative, while Literature and Peace Prizes regularly go to women, is a clear sign that the main underlying reason is one of inherent differences between the sexes in these fields, be it with regard to ability, priorities, interest, or some other factor. How the Literature and Peace Prizes should be interpreted with regard to ability* is very unclear, due to the extreme subjectiveness** and the obvious recurring political agendas behind the awards; however, these are definitely areas where women are more inclined to get involved than in the sciences.

*But, outside of the scope of Nobel Prizes, I do note for the record that several of my own favorite authors have been women.

**Bear in mind that while the sciences can be subjective too, e.g. regarding what discovery is the more important, the problem is far smaller there. If worst comes to worst, almost any result in, say, Physics is something that we can test today or will be able to test in due time. There is no such test for works of fiction and many works lauded by one qualified observer is consider garbage by another. (Including the works of semi-recent Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek—the choice of which caused a dissenting member of the election committee to resign in protest…)

As an aside, I see at least two possible explanations for the anomalous results of 2009: The one is sheer co-incidence, the equivalent of drawing a one-color poker hand. This is unlikely for any given hand, but keep drawing hands and it will eventually happen. The other is that female candidates were given an artificial leg up. In fact, this type of artificial support is extremely common in Sweden, where the drive to have men and women share everything 50–50 can be virtually pathological. Many consider the relatively low number of female laureates a failure of the election committees—or even of the respective field of science it self! They simple fail to understand that this type of award must be about accomplishment, not feeling good; about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 1, 2016 at 9:56 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

Intolerance of opinion and the threat it poses to society

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It is no secret that intolerance of opinion is one of the things I loathe the most—when people do not merely disagree, be it ever so drastically, but when the one party presumes to consider the other party morally defect, evil, worthy of being shot, whatnot based on the difference in opinion.

(Not to be confused with considering someone worthy of being shot, be it literally or metaphorically, because of the methods used and actions taken. No-one should be shot for being a Nazi. Those who invade Poland and gas Jews, those are a very different matter—even if they happen to belong to another ideology.)

I will not expound in detail on this topic in general here (again), except in as far as noting that it almost invariably does harm (cf. medieval inquisitions, Nazi or Communist censorship, or, although less violently, the Politically Correct of today); that “Fascist is as Fascist does” (where I use the word “Fascist” in the incorrect but dominating everyday sense); and that no matter how convinced we are that we are the ones in the right, other opinions must be tolerated and only fought with facts, arguments, and reasoning—because there always, absolutely always remains a possibility that we are wrong. (After all, religious and ideological fanatics are almost by definition utterly convinced that they are right—even when they are obviously wrong in the eyes of others.)

Instead, I will point to the immense danger that we are currently exposed to through the intolerance of politically correct fanatics and populists through their attempts to use opinions as a criterion to ban people from work, political office, and similar.

In just a few weeks time, I have read news stories about e.g.:

  1. A young employee in Germany being fired for having made racists posts on Facebook, with no regard whatsoever to his actual performance at work, and even though his statements were irrelevant to his employer. (For instance and to the best of my knowledge, he did not insult his employer or leak secret information.) In effect, those having certain opinions will not be able to utter them for fear of losing their jobs.

  2. Hulk Hogan being thrown out of a hall of fame for professional wrestling for having expressed racist opinions—despite almost certainly being the most famous professional wrestler of all times. Notably, his fame and his importance in the (mis-) development of wrestling in the past thirty or so years is utterly unaffected by this, except in as far as he might become even more well-known because of it.

    If they had at least thrown him out for ruining the action performance art of wrestling and turning it into half-an-hour of muscle mountains screaming at each other, then I might have had some sympathies.

  3. Today, Donald Trump suddenly moved from a prime presidential candidate to a persona non grata over allegedly sexist statements.

I have seen many other examples over the years, including:

  1. The inexcusable firing of Larry Summers for making non-conclusive statements that are, by and large, supported by both science and common sense.

  2. A number of athletes being banned from competition, including the Olympics, or being forced to make (fake?) apologies for allegedly racist statements that by and large were either harmless, in the heat of the moment, or merely racial. (And even if some of them were racist, seeing that I am unlikely to be aware of the details of every case, they still had nothing to do with athletic performance. Note that the criticism raised has, to my knowledge, always been the irrelevant “racist”—not “lacking in sportsmanship”, which in some extreme cases may have been a legitimate reason to act.) A very young triple jumper, e.g., was banned from the Olympics for making a single joke that could realistically only be criticized for not being very funny…

  3. One or several U.S. colleges tried to instigate a policy where students of education would not merely be prevented from teaching unless they were sufficiently politically correct—bad enough, seeing that this would propagate the politically correct brain-wash from generation to generation. No: They would actually be prevented from receiving their degrees! This irrespective of actual academic accomplishment.

  4. The (with very few exceptions) utterly unscientific, prejudiced, and whole-sale condemnation of “The Bell-Curve” as racist, including the absurd idea that Wikipedia should not even provide an article on the book! (Basically, due to it being so evil that it would be best to bury it in silence, as if it were the Necronomicon or some similar work of darkest magic.)

  5. German Leftist extremists calling for a ban of all parties they do not like—much like Hitler in 1932… Again: Fascist is as Fascist does.

  6. A German IT company requiring that their employees, their contractors, and the employees of their contractors (!) have no connections with the Scientology movement. As I answered them upon hearing this requirement for a possible collaboration: Scientology might be a religion for idiots, but if you want exclude them in this unethical manner, well, then I will in return exclude you.

Unless we want to end up in a world were freedom of opinion has no more value than in North-Korea, it is high time that we take a stand and refuse to accept such intolerance and de facto censorship. A far more enlightened and worthy attitude is found in the words attributed to Voltaire:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

Freedom of speech and freedom of thought by their very nature must not be “say whatever you like—as long as you agree with me”.

(A similar principle appears in many other cases. For instance, “innocent until proved guilty” becomes hollow and hypocritical when taken as “innocent until proved guilty—unless the accusation is of crime A or B, because these particular crimes are so horrible”. Indeed, the entire concept could be seen as invalidated, because possibly the single greatest advantage is removed: Protection against deliberately false accusations, be it from a dictatorial regime, modern day witch-hunters, or feuding neighbours.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 8, 2015 at 11:11 pm