Thursday, December 03, 2015

On Our Increasing Political Violence

The latest mass shooting, in San Bernardino, CA, should draw our attention to the fact that there has been an overall increase in mass shootings in the U.S. over the past several years -- even as gun violence overall has been decreasing. The answer in the case of this latest shooting seems obvious -- a radicalized Muslim couple is now known to be responsible -- but the rest are not so simple. Neither, by the way, is this one.

I have written previously about Peter Turchin's thesis of 50 year cycles, which he discusses in light of mass shootings in Evonomics. But I haven't really done so in light of some of the specifics we are beginning to see.

One thing Turchin predicts is a rise of political violence. What that means can vary. It doesn't necessarily mean assassinations of politicians, though in the late 1960s and 1970s it certainly did mean that. It doesn't necessarily mean the targeting of obviously political/governmental targets, either. What it can and often does mean is the targeting of institutions which the individuals in question consider to be responsible for their situation. It is telling that universities, colleges, and schools seem to be high on the list of targeted institutions.

We see a lot of "unrest" at our colleges. Adjuncts are pushing for reforms in employment. Left-wing students are increasingly pushing their P.C. agenda, demanding the end of free speech, including the silencing of critics and even the media. Many of them are essentially victims in search of oppressors -- they have been told for so long by teachers and professors that they are victims, they now believe it. The only problem is, there are no real oppressors around. Whatever racists there are, they mostly keep their mouths shut. Unless provoked. The P.C. left have discovered that if they want oppressors, they have to provoke the racists into exposing themselves. So they first fabricate an incident, protest against their own fabrication, provoke the racists to expose themselves, then protest the racists' words and actions. Rather than trying to build bridges and tear down the residual racism in America, they seek to create deeper divisions, just so they can justify their own ideology. It is a tactic which is ultimately self-destructive, but in the meantime it's socially destructive, being intended to trigger hatred. Among the beneficiaries of this will be the professors who have radicalized their students and are using them to make reforms within the universities. Politicians will also benefit, as they will be able to use the unrest to centralize power more and more and try to disarm the public.

In the meantime, we see increased militarization of the police and increased police brutality, even as we see fewer police harmed in the line of duty. Those who protest the police the most ironically want only the police to be armed, and they also want the police to have even more laws to enforce. This will lead to more and more police killings, which will only increase political violence. We are seeing this with more and more protests against police shootings.

And let's be honest, what happened in San Bernardino was a case of political violence. As is all terrorism. We should expect to see more and more mass shootings from all sorts of political actors, left and right, religious and secular. This is due to increasing alienation in our society, alienation created by our government, whose actions at home and overseas are designed to dissolve social cohesion and trust in order to centralize power more and more. There is a web of economic policies that keep us working longer and longer hours, discourage entrepreneurship, and protect political cronies -- policies supported by both parties -- and thus alienate us more and more from friends and family we can't see because we work long hours, and alienate us from the places where we work as we blame our employers for our situation (seen vs. the unseen). We should expect to see people reacting violently against our government's policies, foreign and domestic, and targeting anything but the government itself, since targeting the government is even more of a suicide mission than hitting softer targets. Thus the tendency to hit gun-free zones and avoid direct government targets.

Much of the violence we have been seeing and will be seeing involve race and other kinds of differences, like religion and ideology. People of different races make for an easy scapegoat, while the people actually responsible for the situation we find ourselves in are safely tucked away in government buildings. Worse, we should expect our politicians to use race, religion, and ideology to direct people's attention away from the polities in question. In fact, we are already seeing this happening in the Presidential nomination races. The most obvious offenders are Trump and Sanders, but they all do it in more or less subtle ways.

Over the next few years, political violence will continue to increase. Will it become more overtly political over the years? Perhaps. If and when it does, we'll begin to see more direct solutions proposed. Will they solve the problem? In the short term, perhaps. It's amazing what a few carrots will get you, even as you continue to ensure everything remains mostly the same. But people won't remain fooled for long. Then the violence will return.

What needs to happen? A true revolution. There are too many path dependent problems in our political environment, economy, culture, and society. Unfortunately, history shows that most political revolutions turn out terrible. But the revolution doesn't have to be political in the way most of us think; rather, it can be a change in culture, society, philosophy, art, literature, thinking, economy. The best revolution would be one that completely bypasses politics as practiced, leaving the politicians within nothing and no one to rule. The best revolution would be a psychosocial revolution. It can be realized, but it will require a revolution in our thinking about revolutions themselves.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Civil Rights and Mental Differences

Differences in thinking is the next area in which there needs to be social reform. We insist that people accept women, racial and ethnic minorities, gays, transgendered people, and cultural differences, but people continue to insist that everyone think exactly the same way.

I am not talking about ideology here (though there is a case to be made for more ideological heterogeneity in many situations, such as the social sciences and the humanities). No, I am talking about truly different ways of thinking -- what we all too often call mental disabilities.

Of course, we once considered homosexuality as a mental illness. Sexual orientation has since been normalized. We need to do the same with a variety of mental differences, and ceasing to call them mental disabilities is a step in that direction. Of course, mental differences result in differences in behavior, the same way that differences in sexual orientation result in differences in sexual behavior. A person who has autism is going to behave differently from someone who is neurotypical, yet everyone expects people with autism to behave like everyone else, and to respond in the same way as everyone else. But those are completely unrealistic expectations.

Of course, there are degrees of autism. There are people you may not suspect of being on the spectrum (I present myself as Exhibit A), but who clearly are if you fully understand the features of autism, the behaviors that result, and the interactions with others as a result (which very few do). These -- people with Asperger's or who are mildly or moderately autistic -- are people who could contribute in fantastic ways to society if just given the chance. But too many are not given the chance. Or, given a momentary chance, find themselves without a job without understanding why. And given all of the barriers our governments create to prevent people from starting new businesses (and given the fact that people on the spectrum are easily discouraged), alternatives to working for others are all too often far out of reach.

I understand this first-hand. I have had a difficult time keeping a job. On paper I look great (except to those who do not understand what they are seeing when they view my C.V.), and yet I have a hard time keeping a job. I never quite understood why, until I read a book about work and having Asperger's. That book was practically a catalog of all the problems I had in every job I ever had. All to often I found myself without a job without understanding what happened. But now I know. Now, you would think that knowing would help, but as it turns out, knowing you do certain things and being able to do something about it are quite different things. This is why it's important to have workplaces where people are prepared to deal with and interact with people on the spectrum.

This is important not just because only about a fourth of people on the spectrum are even working and only a fourth of those working are working full time or because people on the spectrum are almost twice as likely to get fired from a job as anyone else, but because they bring traits that ought to be of great value to a business. I have some recommendations along these lines on my autism blog, An Intense World.

People on the spectrum have a lot to offer the world, and it's a real shame that the rest of the world is almost completely unaware of that fact. Part of it is because people are truly afraid of people who think differently than they do. It is the last allowed and allowable prejudice -- to such a degree that if you tell your boss you have something like Asperger's, you can find yourself let go. And the person won't think anything of it. They would never fire someone because of their sex or race or sexual orientation, but if they find out you are on the spectrum, you could in fact get fired. But at the same time, if you don't say anything, you could end up getting fired anyway because of your differences in social behavior, learning, and thinking.

We hear a lot of lip service about the importance of different kinds of thinking, of creative thinking in the work place. We need more "diverse" work places to ensure we have a more creative environment. But in fact the vast majority of businesses want nothing but identical ways of thinking, so they hire people who will fit in perfectly, provide the same ways of thinking, and not rock the boat at all. This would be fine if we did not have laws on the books that enforce this prejudice throughout society. That they target what could be some of the most intelligent, most creative people in society -- in no small part because they are too often labeled as mentally disabled -- is all the more shameful and harmful to society.

While I have talked mostly about autism, since I know most about it, this is also applicable to many other mental differences, from dyslexia to bipolar to schizophrenia. Many such people could be contributing members of society, if only people accepted their eccentricities more. True, at the most extreme, help (like medication may be needed by many of the kinds of people I've discussed here, but at the same time, one has to wonder how much better many of these people's lives would be if we simply accepted them as they were and accepted them into society, cherishing their different ways of thinking. How many of their problems with living in society would disappear if the stigma associated with their differences in thinking were no longer stigmatized?

This is a civil rights issue. And we who are heterogeneous thinkers need to make it a civil rights issue. Like others who were Others before us, we need to stand up for ourselves and insist that we be treated like fellow human beings -- albeit differently-thinking human beings. We have much to offer, and there is nothing more shameful than the fact that practically everyone keeps rejecting the gifts we offer.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Podcast on Spontaneous Orders

There is a new podcast hosted by Kevin Rollins in which I participate. Well, I participate as much as my technology would let me. The microphone in my computer wouldn't work, and then for some reason, after I switched to my phone, they couldn't hear me on my phone. After I got that fixed, I eventually ran out of charge, and I tried to get back on the computer -- where the microphone was still not working. In any case, I may have managed to say something amongst all the technological interruptions.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Can Someone Point Me to the Road From Serfdom?

Under serfdom, the serfs lived on the land owned by the feudal lords, who took a portion of what the serfs produced in exchange for allowing them to live on and work the land.

Fortunately, we no longer have that system.

Today, we live on our own land, which we have to pay taxes on if we wish to continue to live in our own homes on our own land, and when we work, we have to pay taxes for the privilege of working.

Okay, maybe it IS that system.

But at least the main feudal lords have so much land that we can pretend we can freely move around -- within those borders, of course -- and choose which minor feudal lord to whom we wish to pay property and income taxes.

Yeah. That's different. Oh, and we get to choose our feudal lords. Who all pretty much act the same. And who we rarely if ever actually replace. So yeah, there's that.

How do we get on the road FROM serfdom?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Civil Society Man, Not Economic Man

If idle hands are the Devil's workshop, the Protestant work ethic would seem to naturally emerge from Christian theology. Of course, one can work as well as a serf under a lord for as for oneself, so this is hardly a sufficient condition for the emergence of wealth-generating free market capitalism, even if such willingness to work long and hard is one of its many necessary conditions.

Even so, the emphasis on work does not necessarily imply a concern with economic conditions. Neither, too, does the emphasis on innovation, as discussed by Deirdre McCloskey in The Bourgeois Virtues, imply this, not certainly does the emphasis on scientific discovery. Even Adam Smith's investigation into The Wealth of Nations was an exercise in moral philosophy first and foremost, an accompanying piece to A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Indeed, most philosophers throughout most of Western history were primarily concerned with ethics and political philosophy, and any economic concerns were at best footnotes to that political philosophy. Why, then, the extreme emphasis on economic conditions in the 20th century and now?

If you read the great thinkers prior to the rise of Marx, economic materialism wasn't a primary concern. Political philosophy was. After the rise of Marxist thinking, especially in the 20th century, the concentration was increasingly on economic conditions and materialism. This so permeated the culture that even anti Marxists have ended up thinking in Marxian categories. Marxism is not and never really was an economic theory. It was a political theory. The fact we get that wrong underscores the degree to which Marx's materialism and making economic conditions primary has affected even our thinking about Marx. He was no economist, and he certainly never thought of himself as one. He was a political philosopher.
The fact that the West is obsessed with economic conditions rather than ethics or political philosophy can be traced to Marx. In fact, it's amazing the degree to which our thoughts have been influenced by Marx's materialism. If you see economics as the explanation of everything, you're in some fundamental sense a Marxist. Opposition to immigration can't be due to racism; it's because of concerns about the economy. Terrorism can't be due to religious beliefs; it's because of economic conditions. Nobody likes your art? Must be due to the dominance of the market economy. Crime? Can't be cultural or subcultural; must be due to economic conditions.

None of this is to say that the economy isn't a factor in people's lives -- in all people's lives -- but rather that for the vast majority of people, it's hardly the primary concern. Or even a secondary one. Economics is not the driving force in most people's lives. It is something we can use to meet certain needs for many other ends. I suspect it's almost exclusively anti-market leftists who are the most obsessed with the economy and materialism. Almost nobody else (other than those libertarians who think everything can be explained using economics) does.

Yet, our major thinkers and secondhand dealers in idea all treat economics as primary. And most of those people are leftists. It is they who think of humans as Economic Man. But Economic Man is but a small part of being human. What we need to revive is Civil Society Man. That is, people who are involved in the moral order, the artistic orders, the religious order, the economic orders, the scientific order, the philosophical order, the philanthropic order, etc. Not just political man, not just economic man, but civil society man is who we need to model, discuss, and think about. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When Government Colonizes Different Spontaneous Orders

There are a variety of spontaneous orders. We too often only think of the economy as a spontaneous order, but there are also the scientific order, the philanthropic order, the philosophic order, the religious order, the democratic order etc.

I believe that each of these orders provide things the other orders absolutely cannot. This is why I oppose the colonization of the economic order by the democratic order. That colonization is called socialism. Socialism only involves the takeover of the economic order, or catallaxy. It does not involve the colonization of any other order.

Of course, colonization can be complete or incomplete. If the economic order is completely colonized, we have socialism; if it is only partially colonized, we have various degrees of interventionism. This is true of all orders, though for the sake of clarity, I want to deal with only complete colonization.

The colonization of the philanthropic order by the democratic order is known as the welfare state. When an area of philanthropy is colonized by the democratic order, we call that "crowding out."

The colonization of the religious order by the democratic order is known as theocracy. The same is true in reverse.

The colonization of science by the democratic order would mean that all science is being done in government-run laboratories. The goals of science would be predetermined by the government. This would be known as "socialized science." Michael Polanyi famously argued against this taking place.

The colonization of our educational institutions by the democratic order is known as public education.

The colonization of the health/medical order by the democratic order is known as "socialized medicine." 

The colonization of the monetary order is known as central banking.

Too many people are a little fast and loose with the term "socialism." Properly understood, socialism only involves anything in the catallaxy. This can include sub-areas within the catallaxy, such as medical provisions, meaning that if we have socialized medicine, that would be socialism applied to a particular area of the economy/catallaxy. But not everything is involved in the catallaxy -- nor should it be. I don't know what we have terms for the catallaxy colonizing other orders, but I would suggest that it would be as problematic as having the democratic order colonizing everything.

Thus, the colonization of philanthropy by the democratic order is not socialism. The philanthropic order is not part of the catallaxy. These are two quite separate orders, and rightly so. The arguments for and against the government colonizing either the catallaxy or the philanthropic order are and ought to be completely different. I would suggest that confusing the two only harms the arguments being made by those who argue against socialism. Further, too many who really favor an extensive welfare state think they favor socialism. They don't. Or, they don't necessarily. The two can be separated. The two are separate issues. And I think it would benefit everyone -- libertarians especially -- if they understood these distinctions and didn't mistake everything for being in the catallaxy.

I mean, suppose the democratic order decided to colonize the artistic order. Now all poems would be produced by government poets on topics determined by the democratic order. Is that socialism? No. But it's probably a recipe for a whole lot of really bad jingoist poetry.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Welfare is NOT Socialism

I have come to realize that too many people -- on the left, on the right, and even far too many libertarians -- are deeply confused about the nature of socialism. I keep hearing people claiming to want socialism when what they really want is welfare. I keep hearing people complaining about socialism when what they are really complaining about is welfare.

The issues surrounding government involvement in the economy qua economy are completely separate from the issues surrounding welfare provisions and the ways to pay for those provisions. It is perfectly possible to have a completely unregulated, free economy combined with government-provided welfare. Equally, one could have an economy completely controlled by the government without that government providing a single dime for welfare-type programs. We perhaps confuse the two because of Marx's combining them in his famous phrase, "To each according to their need, from each according to their ability." But they are not at all necessary companions.

One consequence of this confusion is the mistaken identity of welfare as socialism. I keep hearing people arguing for socialism, but when you get the details, they really only want more welfare provisions. One can receive money (it is always money, in a variety of forms, though some of those monies cannot be spent but in certain ways, depending on the programs) from the government without that government owning or controlling the means of production. More, most people don't understand that socialism means central planning -- even market socialism involves central planning. The latter attempts to allow for prices, but in the end, everything is owned by the central government and the economy is thus completely folded into the government itself. Most people don't realize that this is what socialism means, or that this model has been refuted over and over, in a variety of ways. If you want the complete destruction of the economy and the elimination of all wealth in the economy, socialism is the way to go. Why? It eliminates the entrepreneur, which is the only source of wealth creation in the economy. No entrepreneurs, no wealth creation.

Of course, most people who talk about socialism don't actually mean this. No, what they really are talking about is increased welfare provisions. Those provisions can extend from food stamps and housing to a single payer for health care to a basic income guarantee. This is why you can find some avid opponents of socialism and government intervention into the economy, like Hayek and Milton Friedman, making arguments in favor of basic income guarantees, negative income taxes, and even single-payer, universal health insurance. They were smart enough to understand that welfare has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with socialism or interventionism.

This isn't to say that the taxes necessary for welfare or the welfare itself won't have an effect on the economy. But having coincidental effects is not the same as legislation directly regulating what a given business can or cannot do. One can oppose the minimum wage while favoring welfare. Equally, once can oppose welfare while favoring the minimum wage (as a way of getting people off of welfare, though that would ignore the fact that increasing the minimum wage necessarily increases the number of those unemployed, meaning it increases the number of people on welfare). Some early progressives favored having a minimum wage precisely because it would create unemployment among minorities, who would be starved out because there was no welfare available -- it was an attempt at eugenics through economic interventionism.

At the same time, not all taxes are created equally. If you want to discourage something, tax it. If you tax income, you discourage work. If you tax sales, you discourage buying. If you tax capital gains, you discourage business creation and expansion. If you tax property, you discourage property ownership. There are some things, like business creation and expansion, which you probably do not want to discourage. One could make the argument that since jobs are a cost, income taxes that encourage businesses to automate more and thus drive down prices are good for the economy over the long run. Licenses are also a tax -- on starting new businesses. If you want to discourage the creation of new businesses, licenses and capital gains taxes are the way to go.

Equally, subsidies encourage certain behaviors. Subsidies can come in a variety of forms, including artificially cheap loans, insurance, or government protections. If you want to encourage risk, make risk cheaper. Socialize risk by providing cheap government-provided insurance. Government flood insurance encourages people to build in flood plains, creating far more property destruction and loss of life when people's property is flooded.

Those who confuse government regulations on the economy or government control of the economy with welfare are confusing taxes for subsidies, and vice versa. Also, the data on things like negative income taxes and basic income guarantee suggest that they do not encourage people to not work per se, but rather give people the leeway to hold out for better jobs or to create new businesses. As such, these programs can in fact improve economic conditions. But only if the government doesn't at the same time erect barriers to entry and growth such as licenses, regulations, and taxes on capital gains.

Those who truly want people to have better lives need to understand the difference between socialism/interventionism and welfare. The arguments for and against each are completely different. They really have nothing at all to do with each other, and confusing them only harms the arguments in favor of free markets. The arguments for free markets and against interventionism/socialism are one thing; the arguments for and against various welfare programs are quite another. Each of these can be combined in a variety of ways. If we understand this, we can understand how Hayek and Milton Friedman were able to argue for some of the programs they did, even while completely supporting free markets.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Approaches to Economics: A few definitions

Classical Economics -- complex model building using a combination of empirics and logic to explain those empirical observations. 

Econometrics -- making simple mathematical models of the economy and then recommending policies to make the real world fit the models.

Keynesian Economics -- given the institutions we currently have, what will fix or maintain the current situation right now, with little to no consideration of the future.

Marxist Economics -- an anti-empirical, logic-based system beginning with the premise that value is created through labor; given that value is subjective, the entire system completely collapses (much like actual attempts to realize Marx's vision in the real world).

Central Planning Socialism -- given econometric models as ideal and given the belief that the economy can be completely predicted and controlled (through econometrics), the ideal system; given that prices cannot ever be calculated, the worst idea ever.

Democratic Socialism -- replacing the market with votes; the end-result is the creation of government monopolies and the inability to determine prices to help with the most efficient distribution of materials, goods, or services.

Complexity Economics -- algorithmic model-building with the goal of getting the models to match the real world. Both negative and positive feedback taken into consideration.

Austrian Economics -- an approach to economics beginning with human action and human motivations to satisfy their perceived needs and values. It also uses empirics and logic to explain those empirical observations. It also uses algorthmic model building to explain the emergence of spontaneous orders and how they affect human (inter)actions.

Behavioral Economics -- humans do not act rationally, so we need equally arational humans to design systems to make people act more rationally, to fit our econometric models. Potentially, an insightful approach to economics, once it completely abandons mainline economics / econometrics.

Neoliberal Economics -- whatever system progressives disapprove of. It means anything and nothing.

Progressive Economics -- changing whatever we have, regardless of any understanding of economics, regardless of whether or not what we have is now working ir if anything in the past worked.

Fascism -- a form of political economy in which the government controls the economy through regulations and by allowing private citizens to pretend that they are the ones who run and own the means of production when it is in fact the government which does. Also known as corporatism, as it takes the corporation as the ideal model on which all of society should be designed. A combination of nationalism and socialism. Given its dominance in the world, the most successful threat to free market capitalism ever developed. Its success comes from the fact that it is structured in such a way that its failures can be blamed on a non-existent free market or "deregulations" that never took place, creating the conditions for more regulations to be imposed on the economy.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Macrosocial Evolution -- Cycles and Emergence

I am convinced that human social history demonstrates a variety of patterns. There is increasing evidence for this, ranging from Kondratieff waves (K-waves) to Peter Turchin's secular cycles. 
The Kondratieff wave cycle goes through four distinct phases of beneficial inflation (spring), stagflation (summer), beneficial deflation (autumn), and deflation (winter). Since, the last Kontratyev cycle ended around 1949, we have seen beneficial inflation 1949-1966, stagflation 1966-1982, beneficial deflation 1982-2000 and according to Kondratieff, we are now in the (winter) deflation cycle which should lead to depression. 
By this, the depression cycle should last from 2001-2020, more or less, since all the other "winter" periods lasted about 20 years. Is it any coincidence that 2008 is close to the dead center of that range? I think not. This also implies that there will be a beneficial inflation 2020-2035/40. Given the degree of quantitive easing in which the Fed engaged, I think there is little doubt that inflation will be on the horizon. One hopes it will in fact be beneficial.

Coincidentally, Turchin's secular cycles, when mapped onto the K-waves, give interesting patterns.

1970 was in the middle of a stagflation period.
1920 was at the end of a stagflation period.
1870 was during Reconstruction, near the end of a plateau leading to depression.
1820 was at the beginning of a plateau, during the "Era of Good Feelings" -- a time, coincidentally, when there was not a peak of violence.
1770 was in a depression cycle, and of course was the lead-in to the Revolutionary War.

2020 will come at the end of our depression cycle, at the opening of an expansionary period.

It is my suspicion that 2020 will also do a number of other things. It will be the swan song of the social conservatives and of the kinds of  nationalist sentiments being fostered by Trump and Sanders. It will also spell the end of our Egalitarianist society (in Gravesean terms), and the emergence of an Integrationist society. Given that this means a tier-leap, meaning an exponential leap, it would not be surprising to me if we will be facing the kind of revolutionary violence as we saw in the American and French Revolutions. The former moved the U.S. into a more liberal society (entrepreneurial level), while the latter attempted to move French society into an Egalitarian society (failing, because it attempted to skip a level).

We saw in 1920 and 1970 egalitarian upheavals, with the first one applying pretty much only to white males, with the latter expanding the franchise to minorities of all kinds.

2020, I suspect, will be an Integrationist upheaval, perhaps first only affecting the West, perhaps also including economies like China and India, with the rest of the world being included in 2070. Perhaps, though, 2070 will be a Holistic upheaval, since there is good evidence that increasing complexity evolves ever-more quickly over time.

But if 2020 is in fact an Integrationist upheaval, creating an Integrationist society to replace the Egalitarian society in which we currently reside, I suspect that 2020 will make the violence of 1970 and 1920 look like cake walks. The aftermath, however, will give us a radically different society than the one we have. We will see the final breakdown of hierarchical organization and the more widespread embrace of scale free network processes. We aren't talking about the false kinds embraced by the egalitarians, whose flattened hierarchies are still hierarchies, but real scale free networks with nobody really in charge, just algorithms aiding smooth coordination. Think Uber applied to the entire economy, to the degree that it is possible to do so.

Such a society is more accepting of differences, heterogeneity, complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and change. It is more cosmopolitan, favoring diversity and movement over artificially created political boundaries. Such a society will be more interested in information and the accumulation and use of information. It will be interested in both micro and macro views of life, mind, and society, recognizing the necessary interactions between those views and among those aspects. Such a society will recognize the negative feedback dominating at the micro social level and the positive feedback dominating at the macro social level, and the bipolar feedback driving complexity of society in their necessary interactions. In other words, such a society will finally come to terms with the fact that all elements of human society are spontaneous orders.

In fact, we have to understand these interacting elements if we are going to understand the interactions of these macro-level social patterns. With a macro-only view, we would expect to just see cycle-after-cycle going on into infinity without change. But I suspect that we have seen these saves -- K-waves and secular cycles -- shortening over time. Why? Because these waves are taking place in societies which have different features due to emergent complexity. Greater complexity shortens the temporal experience of that process. Interacting negative and positive feedback give rise to biotic processes with the property of being able to leap into a new level of complexity. Combine the micro patterns of human interactions giving rise to negative feedback with the macro patterns giving rise to positive feedback, and you get the bipolar feedback described by Hector Sabelli.

If you want a more accurate understanding of the evolution of our social world, I think we have to combine the work of J.T. Fraser, Kondratieff, Hector Sabelli, F.A. Hayek, Clare Graves, and Peter Turchin. If this gives rise to a model of society that is insanely complex, well, that just means we're finally on the right track.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Contradiction vs. Paradox

I affirm a metaphysics of paradox. Anyone who has read enough of my works -- academic, popular, and blogs -- knows I affirm paradox. But what is a paradox?

First, a paradox is absolutely not a contradiction. If anything, paradox and contradiction are complete opposites.

The word "paradox" comes from the ancient Greek para-, meaning "contrary to", and doxa, meaning "opinion." A paradoxon is thus a statement contrary to opinion. This, at least, is its etymological meaning. Doxa comes from dokein, meaning "to appear, seem, think." Thus, a paradox is contrary to appearance. For example, we think that something is either attractive or repulsive, when in fact there are processes which are simultaneously attractive and repulsive (like strange attractors).

The word "contradiction" comes from the Latin contra, meaning "against", and dicere, meaning "to speak." Thus, a contradiction is literally "to speak against." To contradict something is to speak against it. If two things are in contradiction, that means they are mutually opposed to each other. In a sense, each speaks against the other. For example, a shirt of a single color cannot be both red and blue at the same time -- it must be either red or blue.

A good example of a paradox is the relationship between competition and cooperation. Many think of these two things as being in opposition -- as even being contradictory. That is why so many who favor cooperation vilify competition. Yet, these two are not at all in opposition, except in extreme cases, such as, say, golf or tennis. And even then, both parties have to cooperate on when to play and where. With the vast majority of sports, you not only have this level of cooperation, but you have to have cooperation within the team itself in order for there to be competition between the teams. Cooperation between the teams (or the individuals) in regards to the game play itself would be considered corruption of the game itself. Cooperation cannot enter into what is the proper realm of competition without there being corruption, and competition cannot enter into what is the proper realm of cooperation without the possibility of game play itself being rendered impossible.

This may begin to point to why it is that corruption exists. If we have cooperation where there should not be cooperation, and should in fact probably be competition, you get corruption. Corruption exists where businesses and governments cooperate. Corruption exists where businesses that ought to be competing with each other are cooperating (typically because the playing field has been made more conducive to this kind of cooperation by the rule-makers, i.e., government).

The word "corrupt" comes from the Latin cor-, meaning "altogether", and rumpere, meaning "to break," meaning that to corrupt is to break altogether. This suggests the breaking or breaking down of a system, to break it altogether. Those who thus favor cooperation-only favor corruption. The presence of competition prevents or at least reduces corruption.

The elimination of paradox simplifies the system in question, making it far less interesting. A game in which the two teams are cooperating to create a given outcome will not be interesting to the viewers. They will rightly feel cheated when they find out that the game was rigged. They will realize that the outcome was not in fact unpredictable, and unpredictable outcomes are a feature of all complex systems. Predictable outcomes are a consequences of simple systems. But simple systems cannot create wealth or interest or freedom; only complex systems can create wealth or interest or freedom. Paradox creates complexity, and complexity results in creativity and wealth.

All of this is, of course, contrary to opinion. Yet, it is true.

One can also imagine a contradictory proposition. Can one simultaneously be an anarchist -- in opposition to someone ruling -- and also favor a more expansive government? The anarchist speaks against government, and government speaks against anarchy. You cannot be a big government anarchist. That is a contradiction.

So don't confuse contradiction and paradox. They are opposite things, even if they appear to be the same. Contradictions are truly incompatible, while paradoxes only appear to be so, unless you understand the true relations between the parts.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

2020: Civil War in the GOP?

Infamously, the 1968 Democratic Convention, held in Chicago, was wracked with protests -- from the far left. There had been a civil war within the Democratic party, for the soul of the party, throughout much of the 1960s. The conservative southern Democrats vs. the liberal northern Democrats; Jim Crow vs. Civil Rights; hawks vs. war protestors. The more extreme leftists weren't satisfied with mere protest. We had violent terrorist groups, ranging from the Black Panthers to the Weather Underground, rise up as well. The violence peaked in 1970, but it continued throughout the 1970s, with laggers like Ted Kaczynsky continuing their terrorism through the 1980s.

The 1960s-70s was a peak of violence centered around the development of the left and the divisions within the Democratic party. The violent fringe elements were assimilated into general society through the left-dominated institutions, like our universities, while the southern Democrats were, essentially, ejected from the Democratic Party. Left adrift, they were picked up by the Republicans, creating the contemporary Republican party with Nixon's southern strategy. Excepting the Reagan Revolution, which only really lasted Reagan's 8 years, the GOP is the party of Nixon -- a party of southern social conservatives and Keynesians.

Today we are seeing a return of the kind of violence as saw leading to the peak in 1970. Except this time, it seems the perpetrators are on the right. I have talked about Peter Turchin's cliodynamical prediction of a new peak in violence in 2020, and it seems to me that this time it will involve the right and the Republican Party. I suspect there will be a civil war within the GOP between the southern social conservatives and the libertarians. I predict it will be these two groups precisely because the "moderate" Keynesians don't care what social policies they need to support to get power. It is the social conservatives and the libertarians who have principles. That is, they care enough to fight.

We are seeing a surge in violence from the far right, with Dylan Roof's targeting African-Americans at their own church or the recent cinema shooting in Louisiana in which the shooter seemed to be a misogynist targeting women. The police seem to be increasingly emboldened, despite the omnipresence of cameras. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has been taken up by the libertarians and dismissed or worse by the social conservatives, who inevitably support the actions of the police no matter what they may do.

For those who don't think that the libertarians within the GOP are strong enough to wage a civil war within the party, you have to remember exactly how weak the far left within the Democratic party was early in the 1960s. Yet, by the 1970s, they were a vital force, and now they dominate the DNC.

What, then, can we expect to see? Will the Southern social conservatives be ejected yet again? Who will take them up? The Democrats? It's not impossible. Southern whites view themselves as a victim group, and in this sense they would feel at home in the DNC. Of course, if they moved into the DNC, that would be a major disruption to the coalition that now makes up the DNC. The libertarians would be in a position to pick many of those people up, though, to be honest, a more conservative Democratic party would probably be even more attractive to African-Americans and Hispanics who are really socially conservative. It depends on how divisive the Southern social conservatives insist on remaining.

It is also possible that the libertarians are ejected. That would mean two Keynesian parties who only differ on social issues. Liberalism would become a true minority view in this country, which would mean the final and complete destruction of our liberal institutions. In other words, we could see just the final blow to liberalism in the violence of 2020. Let us hope the opposite is true.

I talk about cliodynamics here and here and here and here and here and here and here

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some Thoughts on Populism

Anyone trying to understand the popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans and Bernie Sanders among Democrats needs to understand the fact that both men are populists.

A populist is someone who appeals to the hopes and fears of the general population, generally against the ruling elite. That is the typical definition of populism, and it is certainly correct as far as it goes. But that does not explain why it is that populism only seems to arise at certain times and why it is that populists not only attack elites, but the weakest in society as well.

Populists are political opportunists. They seek to take over the elite, to become the alpha in society, and they seek to do so by creating a new coalition among a general population that for some reason feels itself under attack. I go into detail about social hierarchies here. Economic downturns are good times for populists because the general population feels itself slipping down the social hierarchy. Any movement toward becoming an omega is threatening, and it is natural for a social mammal such as humans to both lash out at those groups or individuals they consider to be omegas in society as well as at the elites they blame for creating the social conditions leading to their descent.

This is why both Trump and Sanders (and Ross Perot, in the 1990s) attack the elites as well as illegal immigrants and economic trade from developing countries. This remains the acceptable way to attack ethnic minorities, since outright in-nation racism is generally unacceptable.

My previous discussion of social hierarchies (linked above) also explains why it is that we have billionaires and elected elites emerging to attack the elites. This is a struggle for the alpha position (the Presidency) in American society, and because the presumed nominees seem to most people to be pre-selected (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton), they are the "elite" alphas who the populists wish to overthrow. The populist manages to distinguish himself from the "true elites" by "telling it like it is," by saying things the way people say them in private. This is why they can say "outrageous" things. To the majority, such rhetoric is refreshing.

The populist plays toward the people's ignorance and prejudices, making virtues of their vices, claiming truth and goodness for them. Specifically, the populist plays toward people's evolved tendencies, which may not fit well in modern societies. Listen to a populist, and you will hear folk psychology, folk sociology, folk anthropology, folk economics, and degrees of tribalism. They thus tap into people's emotions in a way those who know, say, actual economics cannot.

Populism is thus neither a specifically right or left movement. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are populist in nature. And I have already noted that Trump (Republican), Sanders (Socialist), and Perot (Independent)  are all populists. If you listen carefully, you will not hear much difference at all in either their rhetoric or their ideas. Any preference for Trump over Sanders, or vice versa, expresses nothing more nor less than the political party tribalism of their supporters.

It is important to note that "populism" comes from the Latin "populos," which is more equivalent to the "folk" (volk) of Germany. The populist party that came to power using the rhetoric of the folk was, of course, the National Socialists. I point this out not to engage in the logical fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerium, but to make a serious point about the nature of all populist movements.

In the U.S. it has not been uncommon for populist movements to be concerned with money and banking -- the Greenback Party in the late 1800s and the Occupy movement of today -- in much the same way that the Nazis came to power in the aftermath of the devastation of the hyperinflation of the Wiemar Republic and ongoing concerns about debt. While we are not facing hyperinflation, or even much inflation (because businesses are still holding cash rather than investing it as capital -- but when that changes . . .), there is increasing concern about debt. This is something Trump has brought up in recent days. The Occupy movement has focused mostly on the "unregulated" banks (they are "unregulated" because the banks and financial institutions are in fact the most regulated sector in the economy, and all of the problems that came to a head in 2008 are a consequence of that fact) and the wealthy, making them prime pickings for a populist politician. Sanders fits the bill for them. But, honestly, so does Trump. Both preach fascist policies.

Sander's socialism is nationalist in flavor. He favors trade restrictions, is generally anti-immigrant, and is an economic nationalist. This has been observed from both the left and the right. Economic patriotism, whether left or right, is necessarily nationalist in nature. It doesn't necessarily have to be outright socialist in nature, like Sanders'; no, it can also be highly interventionist in nature, like Trump's. But favorable to freedom it is not, no matter the degree of "socialist" you prefer.

The use of the term "fascism" has mostly become a slander leftists use against anyone with whom they disagree, but I am using it in the precise economic meaning of the term. As has been observed by others, whether he knows it or not, Trump is essentially a fascist. The Salon article, perhaps not surprisingly, ignores Sanders' similar positions.

That populism is fascist should not surprise anyone. Fascism taps into our most primitive, primeval propensities and drives. It is populism. Those on the right are accused of anti-intellectualism; those on the left are anti-elitists (while supporting bringing to power their own elites) -- but in fact, each is a variation of anti-elitism. And both promise the masses that they will gain power, that their lives will improve, and that the minorities who have been oppressing them all this time (the 1%, bankers, Jews, illegal immigrants, foreign workers, etc.) will receive their punishment. If you hear people attacking the elites while attacking some kind of minorities, you have a populist on your hands.

And that's the bottom line of populism. It is deeply, fundamentally anti-minority -- whatever that minority may be. The opposite of the populos, the masses, the folk is the minority group or groups within society. The easiest to attack are those from other countries -- that's why fascism is always nationalist socialism -- but eventually, those minorities are within the country, marginalized as not being true members of the nation, of the folk. This story has already been told in other countries. We came close with FDR's Japanese concentration camps. We don't need the full-blown American version.

Cecil the Sacred

Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, is currently one of the most hated men in the world. His crime? Killing Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe.

Palmer has killed many animals in his life, including at least one other lion. Probably the only people who cared about those animals were animal rights activists. So why is everyone losing their minds over this particular lion? 

Cecil the Lion was a sacred animal.

Traditional societies often have sacred animals or even sacred species. Some Native American tribes considered white bison to be sacred. White elephants in India were sacred, as are cows for Hindus. Cecil, who was well known and tagged, became for many people a sacred animal. Killing Cecil was thus a dire sin for which Palmer will have to pay.

There is something deep in our evolved psychologies that want there to be sacred animals. Cecil fulfilled that deep need in many people. If you want to know why people are so angry about Cecil, you have to understand this aspect of our evolved psychologies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Uber Economy and the Distribution of Labor

One of Marx's more famous statements is that
as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. (The German Ideology)
While the possibility of the elimination of the division of labor have historically sounded utterly ridiculous -- especially given the immense benefits which have accrued from it for the entire human race -- it seems that we may have entered a time when we can do exactly the kind of things Marx suggested.

And it is all due to the Internet.

Uber/Lyft provide the model. If you want to be an Uber driver, you sign up. You can pretty much set your own times. You can work as much little as you'd like. You can work as a driver while also working at another job. So you could literally work one job in the morning and another job in the evening. And if you sign up on Airbnb, you can also work as a hotelier. Third job.

But what if this is only the beginning?

How many other kinds of work or services could be provided in this model? It is no longer impossible to imagine signing up for various jobs online to provide various services and working one in the morning, another in the afternoon, another in the evening, another after dinner, one thing today and another tomorrow.

And anyone with a blog can criticize after dinner.

All of this came about not because of communism, but because of the emergence of a new spontaneous order -- the internet. More specifically, the increasingly wireless internet. Marx was right that the emergence of a new social order would make such a life as he explains above possible; he was only wrong that it would (or could) at all resemble communism. It has turned out to be, in many ways, the absolute opposite of communism.

The combination of the free market and the internet is making many of Marx's goals possible. We just didn't get there the way he thought we would.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Observations on Dominance Hierarchies and Human Society

Humans are a species of social primate, so we should not be surprised to find we prefer to organize ourselves into dominance hierarchies. In fact, humans are unique in that we will organize ourselves into every kind of dominance hierarchy found among primates, as shown here.

Actually, two kinds -- multimale-multifemale groups and fission-fusion societies -- do not have humans listed, but this is wrong. The other groups in which humans are listed involve "family" units, while larger society actually falls into both  multimale-multifemale groups and fission-fusion societies. Corporations and governments involve the first, and civil society involves the second.

So dominance hierarchies are a natural part of human society and psychology. Thus we should not be surprised if we find people defending various dominance hierarchies, whether corporations or governments. Most interestingly, those most likely to defend them are the alphas (those with the most power) and the omegas (those with the least power). We find defenders of government among those who are in government -- particularly the elected alphas -- but also among what we would now call "marginalized groups," including women, minorities, and the poor. This may seem odd since, historically, marginalized groups are marginalized by the very governments which they defend. However, if we understand the psychologies of the omegas, we can come to understand why they defend the group that most oppresses them.

In wolf packs, the role of the omega is to hold the group together by being the scapegoat -- the one on which everyone's frustrations are expressed. Nobody really wants to be the omega, though it seems the omega is necessary for social cohesion. Since nobody wants to be the omega, we have the Klan dominated by poor whites; the most physically abusive husband are also, not coincidentally, found among the poorest, though anyone who sees himself as the omega male in any organization may become abusive. This also is why physical abuse increases during the Super Bowl among men whose team lost. Your team is a proxy social group, and when they lose, "you" lose, making you submissive to the winning team. To assert you are not an omega, you seek to find someone weaker to make the omega.

The ancient Greeks were brilliant with their development of tragedy, in which they could stage a scapegoat, creating a ritualized scapegoat that would eliminate the need for a real, physical one. In a democracy, this development is particularly necessary, since everyone is formally equal. At the same time, Athens was hardly universally equal -- only land-owning men were equal. This left women and non-citizens, particularly slaves. In the U.S., women have become included, as well as various minority groups, into society on more and more equal footings. While this happened first socially, throughout civil society, it is not uncommon for governments to come along as cap the social changes with legislation -- and, as a result, taking credit for the changes. What this does is ingratiate the former omega group to the alphas, with the result that the omegas in fact stay in place, though they have been ritually included. But they are included on the condition that they maintain loyalty to the alphas who "granted" them safety. Indeed, in social species we often see the alpha showing a certain favor for the omega, protecting them from the rest of the social group if things get too rough. However, the alpha will turn on them if the omega mistakes that favoritism for the granting of any real power. Favor must always be shown to the alpha.

The ones most likely to challenge the alpha are thus not the omegas. More, it is not likely to be anyone close to the alpha, either, as they are part of the coalition that keeps the alpha in power. Coalition politics keeps the alpha in power. No, the ones most likely to really challenge the alpha are those who are neither omegas nor the ones in the coalition. They are the ones always in danger of falling lower, and they are always wondering if they could and should be the ones in charge. It is out of this group within the social group where real challenges occur, where revolutions are spearheaded.

Of course, in order to succeed, the one(s) challenging the alpha will have to form a coalition, persuade enough of the group to join them. This may or may not include the omega, though it typically will not, since the omega is loyal to the alpha. Some in the alpha's coalition, though, may be persuaded to join the revolutionaries precisely because they want to be on the winning side.

These dynamics are most obvious in the political realm, but if we are honest, we find these dynamics among groups of friends, among various social groups, like among artists, and within organizations, like firms. In politics, it is not uncommon to use proxies from other social orders to shore up power. Poverty is such a proxy. Politicians use the omegas from the economic order to create more favoritism for themselves within the political order. Or from other orders (though this may be less obvious). Coalitions are central to maintaining power, regardless of what kind of power one is seeking to maintain. Corporate CEOs seek to maintain economic power through coalitions with governments, and politicians seek to do the same with CEOs -- this is the source of competition-crushing regulations and the regulatory capture that necessarily happens when regulations are passed. These are coalitions among the powerful, and they ingratiate the poor and oppressed to them (through the government more often than not) to help maintain their power. This squeezes out the middle class, from which all real challenges to the system -- political, economic, etc. -- necessarily come.

The fact that the middle class is being squeezed out of existence is thus a feature, not a bug.

As I've noted before, entrepreneurs also tend to come from low in the social hierarchy. 

Appropriate Literatures for Appropriate Psychological Levels

If people go through different stages of psychosocial complexity, it would make sense for our schools to teach whatever literature is appropriate for each of those levels. While there are different cultures throughout history at different levels of complexity, more complex societies also contain the less complex levels within them, usually among the younger people who are moving through the psychological levels themselves and creating local subcultures at that level.

For example, the world of ancient Greece around the time of Achilles and Odysseus was at the same psychosocial level as are the middle school children in countries like the United States. This doesn't mean that the ancient Greeks were more childlike; rather, it means that our society is so complex that movement through the levels are compressed. While the adults during the time of Achilles behaved like our middle school kids, the teens of his time would have not acted at all like our teens, but likely would have been more docile (of course, teens at the time were adults, so nobody would have thought them rebellious for acting like Achilles, either).

In our society, we therefore find levels of complexity that resemble tribalism (younger children, home life in general), the world of Homer (middle school kids and gang members), the Medieval period (older teens and social conservatives/Religious Right), the Enlightenment period (late teens to early twenties, most libertarians), and the postmodern period (the rest of adulthood for most, the egalitarian left). There are also integrationists and holistic thinkers, but society hasn't caught up with them quite yet.

This would suggest that certain works of literature would be most appropriate for different levels.

Grade schools should teach fairy tales, fables, and works that generally have animism as a theme.

Middle schools should teach the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. There are of course contemporary works that are at this level, such as the Harry Potter series. These are stories the students can relate to.

The ancient Greek tragedies were written when the Greeks were transitioning from an ancient world view to a "Medieval" world view. Thus, works such as these ought to be taught in that transition (8-9th grades).

Early high school ought to be taught Medieval works such as the works of de Troyes and Dante.

Late high school ought to be dominated by Renaissance literature and early Enlightenment works.

In college, students ought to be taught later Enlightenment works and Modernism.

Postmodern works ought to be reserved for the end of college, perhaps even grad school.

Integrationist and holistic works, like the works of Milan Kundera and Frederick Turner, are certainly grad school works, though many would have to get them on their own, since the only grad school programs providing such readings would be English and humanities programs. 

This sequence would allow students to read works with which they can, psychologically and socially, relate, while at the same time moving students through each of the psychosocial levels, allowing them to reach more complex psychological and social levels. Among the benefits is the fact that the more complex your psychology is and, as a consequence, the social level in which you can interact, the more successful you will be in life (by any variety of measures).

We could and should do the same thing with things like philosophy (which is also easily divided into these periods, with very good reason). Ways of teaching the sciences, social sciences, and other humanities would have to be developed to fit these levels of psychological complexity. But my areas are primarily in the humanities, so I'll leave the development of other areas to others.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Is Life? How Common Is It?

How common is life in the universe? To answer that, we have to first answer the question: what is life?

What is life? Life is a complex self-organizing network process capable of reproducing itself. In other worse, it is a self-organizing system capable of self-reproduction -- creating another, very similar self-reproducing self-organizing system.

Self-organization is a feature of the universe itself. And as an environment at a particular level of complexity is filled, new levels of complexity emerge to create new environments to be filled. Atoms to molecules to chemical cycles to living things to social species to humans and their social environments. Re-run the universe, and you get life. And you get life over and over and over in a variety of places. And you get human-type intelligence as well, eventually.

Life is extremely common because self-organizing processes are extremely common. Life is simply a subcategory of self-organizing processes. It is simply a certain level of complexity of self-organizing processes. Given that, we must assume that life is common across the universe.

If we assume that the number of atoms in the universe is 10^80 and that life is exponentially more complex than is atomic complexity, and that therefore life is likely exponentially less common, we could come to some number of living things that would suggest how common life may be.

First, consider that the number of atoms that make up the earth is about 10^50. That should give you some idea of how big 10^80 truly is. It has been estimated that the number of living things that have existed on earth throughout history is about 10^40.

There are various estimates of the number of habitable planets in the Milky Way. I'll pick a low number simply so we can extrapolate it to all the other galaxies. So let's say there is only 10 billion = 10,000,000,000 = 10^10. If there are 100 billion galaxies, that means about 10^20 habitable planets in the known universe. Thus, number of living things on earth multiplied by number of habitable planets is 10^60 living things throughout the history of the universe. So life is common.

More, we only have to have life emerge once per planet. That's only 10^20 times that self-organizing self-reproducing systems had to emerge. Given that atoms had to emerge 10^80 times, this is a truly small number of times it had to emerge. It seems highly unlikely it didn't, over and over and over again.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Science of Cultural Change Is Possible (and Necessary)

T. Greer asks the eminently sensible question Is a Science of Cultural Change Possible? I think it is, but Greer is more skeptical (while acknowledging the interesting work in the field so far).

Greer uses the example of changing views on marriage and family that have made acceptance of gay marriage even possible. The complex narrative of those changing views is provided as evidence that narrative is most important for understanding what happened. (The narrative is definitely worth reading.) However, the narrative, as unquestionably important as it is, in some ways doesn't explain why it is that a particular view of marriage came to dominate over what had been the dominant view. Why did the change occur? That's what a science of cultural change can explain.

Greer notes that in 1995-96, only 27% of the population thought gays should be allowed to get married, while in 2015, 60% agree with that position. That's a huge change in 20 years. But let's be honest -- the 27% in 1995 was a huge percentage compared to what it had been 20 years before, when it was in the single digits. That means there was a huge leap in support in basically a generation. That means that a huge number of people who once opposed gay marriage now favor it. How do we explain that?

Network theory explains it. When you have a network, you have a situation where you can have explosive change, or emergence. There is a tipping point where the idea, etc. spreads rather quickly. It usually occurs at about 10% saturation. Given the slowness of cultural change, such a massive change in only a generation is rapid.

Greer further asks some great questions:
Today countries with fairly similar economic and demographic profiles—such as much of Western Europe and Japan—have very different attitudes and expectations for the roles men, women, and children are supposed to play in family life. Things like the age at which children leave the home or marry can be quantified and coded with ease. It is much harder to quantify or code how much affection husbands are expected to show their wives, or how harshly parents should discipline their children. [5]
So what does explain these things? And more importantly, how can we verify if any proposed explanation is true? Is it possible to establish a science of family life? 
The answer to this is that one would have to create a set of network models for each of the cultural traits, from economy to culture to family to whatever other spontaneous order would be involved. There are patterns of psychosocial emergence that take place under changing degrees of interactive density within a population or culture (see the work of Clare Graves and those influenced by him). But these patterns both affect the economy and culture (and others) and are in turn affected by them. We would expect people to have different attitudes based on economy, interactive density, various cultural practices, degrees of trust, etc. Each of these can be modeled and layered on each other to create the rich variety we see in the world.

This may not satisfy many people who think that "science" means "precise prediction." But precise prediction is only appropriate for the simple sciences, like physics and (most) chemistry. It is not at all appropriate for the complex sciences, like biology, psychology, and the social sciences, where we can only ever make pattern predictions.

A great example of a pattern prediction is Turchin's prediction that there will be an increase in political violence in the U.S. in 2020. The research he has done strongly suggests there is a 50 year secular cycle of political violence in the U.S. (The exception, 1820, occurred during the Dalton Minimum, which caused temperatures across the globe to plummet, and may have had a dampening effect on people getting together publicly to get riled up together.) While he can predict that there will be an upswing in political violence, and he can recognize some general elements that drive the cycle, what he cannot do is predict what the precise nature of the conflict will be, what parties will be involved, precisely where the violence will erupt, and precisely what will trigger everything. Also, something could happen to increase or decrease the degree of violence. And 2020 is a more-or-less (within a year or two) prediction. So if it peaks a little early or a little late, Turchin would still be right in his prediction.

Turchin's work involves the creation of a kind of macrohistory comparable to macroeconomics. The patterns that emerge in each macro view involve the kinds of cycles one would expect if positive feedback dominates. Underlying this involves microhistory and microeconomics, which involves the actions of individuals and which is dominates by negative feedback. The fact that different kinds of feedback dominate at different levels of analysis suggests to me that we need to have both approaches if we are going to develop a fully scientific, fully complex understanding of history, culture, economics, or any other social phenomenon we wish to understand. No question that narrative is a vital element, but so too are network models, constructal theory, percolation models, emergence, self-organization, and other related mathematical approaches that will allow us to develop more scientific understandings of human psychosociology.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Camplin Creative Consulting Online

Camplin Creative Consulting is officially online! If you have any editing or proofreading needs, this is the place to go. Only $10 per page. I can also do writing consulting.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Cliodynamics Talk

I talked about Peter Turchin's Cliodynamics on this BlogTalkRadio show. We talk about the validity of macrohistory and the 2020 prediction. Listen in and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Effective Altruism and Business Ethics

Peter Singer has an article on The Logic of Effective Altruism. The idea is that you should make sure that your altruism is effective,  and that every spare dime you have ought to go to altruism. He does acknowledge that, of course, we all fall short of our ideals, so we shouldn't beat ourselves up too much if we do, so long as we continue to aim for the ideal.

The idea is not a bad one, so far as it goes, and he even acknowledges that one can in fact benefit others through starting a business and providing jobs. Quite frankly, I think that's the best way to help others overall. Which makes me consider the potentials in combining effective altruism with business ethics.

Egoistic business ethics would suggest you should do anything and everything you can to make as high of profits as possible and to keep your business in business. To the extent that you benefit others by hiring them, that's good from the point of view of altruism, but it primarily benefits those known to you (your employees) over others, and it is the effect on others not known to you with which Singer is concerned.

Egoistic business ethics would suggest increasing profits as much as possible. That is ethical in relation to one's investors. To keep one's own business in business may require one lobbying government to reduce or even eliminate competition. Or to get subsidies for one's business. One can (and one often does) come up with any number of good reasons why you should get the government to regulate your industry (you are fair and produce good products, but the competition may not), license others in your business (you don't want incompetents providing services or making products, do you?), or subsidize your business (to level the playing field, of course), but in the end, these are all designed to benefit you at the expense of others. Prices are kept up for your benefit. Keeping your business in business may of course benefit your particular employees, but at the expense of higher prices for everyone and less employment overall.

So what would an effective altruistic business ethics look like? First, you have to know what is most effective. That would require understanding basic economics (at the very least), and the consequences of various regulations on the economy in general and your sector in particular. You would then not necessarily do what is best for your business (outside of trying to create the best product at the lowest cost, of course), but what is best for the economy in general, and your sector in particular. Anti-competitive regulations are not likely to benefit the most people most of the time, so one should not engage in lobbying for anti-competitive legislation to be passed. This doesn't mean you should be a sucker and let everyone else exploit the system in place while you struggle and fail in it; rather, what it means is you should lobby to get rid of any legislation that is anti-competitive and benefits the already-wealthy and regulators at the expense of competition and broader wealth creation.

We may also see businesses using their profits for both sustainable growth of the business and for bonuses for all of the employees. Employee buy-in of the business through bonuses and programs that encourage loyalty (which should be rewarded with loyalty from the business owner) and stock ownership among the employees so that they have literally bought into the company and its success may also be considered forms of effective altruistic business practice (though one has to be careful with ownership through stocks, given the track record of stock owners wanting profits at any cost). Some profits may also be used to improve the local community, to make it a better place to live for everyone. If you can encourage people to live close to work (walking or cycling distance), that will benefit the community through reduced pollution and increased exercise. Business could also do the legwork of finding effective philanthropies to which the owner and employees could donate (once everyone agreed upon what kind(s) of philanthropy in which they wished to engage), ensuring many were engaging in effective altruism.

I am sure one could come up with a number of other scenarios which would demonstrate how one could combine effective altruism and business ethics. For them to be effective, such business ethics would strongly support free market principles, I would think, rather than profits at any cost for investors. It would be pro-market, but not necessarily pro-business, and certainly not pro-corporation. Corporations, after all, are beneficiaries of government largess and are in fact government-created entities. It would be difficult to imagine how one could maximize effective altruism within a pro-corporate civil society, even as it is easy (for me, at least) to imagine how one could maximize effective altruism within a free market, entrepreneurial civil society.

 And given the inefficiencies inherent in government actions, policies, and programs, support for government programs is the opposite of effective altruism. Government programs are ineffective altruism at its worst. One possible exception would be a basic income guarantee, which could be done with minimal cost (costs which primarily benefit highly paid government employees at the expense of those being helped) and result in maximum benefits. Of course, wealthy people could also set up BIGs for certain communities, benefiting those communities by allowing people to decide what is the best way to spend the money on themselves. That would be another form of effective altruism many have perhaps not considered precisely because too many think the government should do such things. Such crowding-out effects of government are also anti-effective altruism.

All in all, this seems an interesting idea. I think people ought to consider effective altruism as their guiding morals when it comes to helping others. It is easy to benefit those closest to you, but perhaps we are better judged by how we treat others we will never ever meet.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Historicism and/vs Universalism

In the West, at least, there seems to be a constant argument between Historicism and Universalism.

The Historicists, who include the postmodern multiculturalists, claim that to understand any cultural artifact, you have to understand the historical and cultural situation in which the artifact was created. One cannot understand the works of Sophocles without understanding the ancient Greek world in which he wrote. And since we are not ancient Greeks ourselves, we cannot really ever understand Sophocles' works.

Historicism is a Romantic idea, and was in part a reaction against Enlightenment Universalism. The Romantics -- particularly the German Romantics -- favored more regional arts that would reflect the local language and culture. German poets should write German poetry -- which went well beyond the poems simply being written in German -- meaning, with German thoughts and German ideas and reflecting Germanness itself. The Germans thus studied the ancient Greeks as a model of a radical Other to the German. Without understanding this, one cannot understand the German obsession with the Greeks, or what the German Romantics were getting at in writing about the Greeks.

Gunther Heilbrunn, in a review of a book on esotericism, has an extended discussion of Historicism in which he provides several good definitions:
[Historicism] meant that even the greatest philosophers and thinkers were the intellectual hostages of their own era’s conventions. Consider the dwellers in Plato’s famous image of the cave. Shackled so that they can only look ahead, they confuse the images cast on the wall before them with real beings. Only a few ascend to descry the real world, lit by the sun, not artificial fires.

The historicist denies that anyone can escape. Hegel, for instance, taught that the most profound thinkers are those that best captured the spirit of their own age, or rather of the age just past—the owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk. Hegel helped usher in das historische Jahrhundert, the century devoted to history. Timeless truths made way for such as were possible within a certain historical horizon. Plato’s ideas could be studied as a historical artifact; they were no longer live options. The Ideas had become just ideas. Implicit was the notion that progress, with the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, had suffered a pounding from which it could not recover.
 The Historicism of the German Romantics also worked its way into 19th Century German economics. The "Austrian School" was a derogatory term created by the German Historicist economists for those who opposed Historicism and embraced, rather, more universalist ideas in economics. Ludwig von Mises' praxeology, for example, is applicable to all people at all times in all places. This is the very opposite of Historicism.

One of the problems with Historicism -- and one of its strengths -- is the insistence on relativism. If everything is always only ever historically and culturally situated, then there is no universal truth -- there are not even patterns which one can detect -- rather, there are only truths that are truths in their times and places. Truth is, thus, relative. And not just truth. Beauty, morals, human nature itself. All is relative.

The problem with relativism is that it ends up corroding the boundaries between truth and myth, between virtue and vice, etc. If my truth is as valid as your truth, then if I believe that Aristotle stole his ideas from the Great Library of Alexandria, then I am entitled to my truth. You may then complain that the Great Library was built only after Alexandria was founded, and Alexandria was founded only after Alexander the Great took over Egypt, and that therefore the tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle, was dead well before the Great Library was built. But if all truth -- ALL truth -- is relative, then your facts don't matter. Of course, this is the most extreme form of relativism, but there have been people who have argued precisely for this approach. Again, Heilbrunn points out that,
The corrosive relativism of historicism threatened to destroy such pockets of virtue that remained. But historicism, it turned out, was itself vulnerable to attack: for one thing, it relied on a circular mode of argument. Suppose that you could understand Sophocles only if you had a firm grasp of the Greek culture from which he emerged. But the tragedies were themselves an integral part of Greek culture. Absent an understanding of the plays, Greek culture was impenetrable.
So, we cannot understand Sophocles without understanding Greek culture, but we cannot understand Greek culture without understanding Sophocles. Of course, for strong Historicists/multiculturalists, this isn't a problem -- it is the point. One could counter, instead, that it seems unlikely that one human being couldn't understand a fellow human being, but this leads us into arguments for universalism, which the Historicist denies to be valid. Yet, there is another problem:
Historicism also suffered from self-reflexivity. Historicists may claim that the thought of all previous eras was confined by the historical conditions that produced it, but from where could a thinker derive suppositions of his thought if not from the world about him? Obvious examples were the Greek polis, the Roman Republic and Empire, and the mental world of feudalism. Yet this insight impales the historicist on the horns of a dilemma. Either he has to claim an exemption from his discovery that all thought is merely an expression of its age, thereby landing in a mass of contradictions, or he has to admit that this insight is as time-bound as any other. Case closed.
The Historicists' world view may itself be a product of his/her time and culture, and thus is just as valid/invalid as is universalism.

And this may in fact solve the problem. The dual validity of Historicism and Universalism is not necessarily a contradiction, but may rather be more of a paradox. The difference between a contradiction and a paradox is that the former results in a breakdown of the entire system, while the latter drives the system to new levels of complexity.

We can thus take an idea from the Historicist par excellance mentioned above, Hegel, to solve the problem -- dialectics. If the Enlightenment thesis of Universalism gave rise to the Romantic thesis of Historicism, then we should expect the emergence of a synthesis of the two. We would expect it to emerge once the contradictions of Historicism became too overwhelming. There are bound to be attempts to return to the older form -- Universalism -- as we see with Mises, but the most successful systems of thought will be those that synthesize the two ways of thinking. And we do see some degree of this in the works of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Hayek, M. Polanyi, J. T. Fraser, Frederick Turner, Clare Graves, et al.

For example, what happens when the universal laws of economics meet this or that particular culture? It turns out that cultural diversity affects the degree of entrepreneurship that takes place and thus the degree of wealth created. Cultures can also undermine entrepreneurship in other ways -- through myths that make heroes of liars and thieves, for example. Respect for entrepreneurial endeavors matters when it comes to wealth creation. At the same time, subjective valuation is a universal human trait, as is the law of diminishing returns and marginal utility. No matter how much you like something, you want less of it immediately after your desire for it is satisfied.

Thus, the synthesis of Universalism and Historicism into a pseudo-Universalism/pseudo-Historicism seems closer to the truth of the matter. Think of it as a solid core of truth with fuzzy edges. This suggests that truth is more like a strange attractor than a solid, unchanging Idea. The system of thought in which the truth is embedded comes closer to it and sometimes drifts farther away from it, but always circles around it as an absent center which cannot ever be reached. This is how knowledge works, and it is how memory itself works. Indeed, strange attractors are simultaneously attractors and repulsors, acting together in a paradoxical manner that keeps the system in place. The system is more stable by being both stable and unstable. A better understanding of truth is thus one that sees truth as simultaneously universal and historically/culturally contingent.

Some of the thinkers I mentioned above have demonstrated how this is possible and how it results in a kind of contingent progress. Fraser's theory of time and emergence shows us how it works out throughout the universe, across time. With the emergence of new levels of complexity, we can simultaneously get universalism in the less complex level and historicism in the emergence of the new level. Clare Graves' social psychology does this, too, for human psychology and social order. Plato and Aristotle are universal for their level of complexity (and any levels less complex than themselves they addressed), which would be included in any levels of greater complexity. At the same time, to be purposefully anachronistic to make my point, the Enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes, Locke, Smith, Hume, et al are not universal for Plato and Aristotle in the areas in which they have built on their ideas at greater levels of psychosocial complexity.

Complexity, strange attractors (chaos and bios theory), and emergence is thus the paradigm that allows us to synthesize Universalism and Historicism. With it, we are able to get a better understanding of the necessity of both. Further, we are given a model that allows for the simultaneous existence of Universalism and Historicism, of the enduring and the ever-changing. The enduring endures because it is ever-changing, and the ever-changing is prevented from dissipation by the presence of the enduring. Both, simultaneously. And thus we spin ever so slightly closer to the absent center truth of these matters.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Teaching Literature by Helping the Students Lose Themselves in It

Why do students -- college students especially, but high school students as well -- avoid literature classes? We are, after all, a storytelling species. We love stories. Why, then, would we avoid a class on stories?

Perhaps the reason is that literature teachers don't teach literature as stories or as beautiful words arranged beautifully. No, they are primarily teaching them in the worst kinds of reductionist manners imaginable, and are particularly fond of reducing everything to political positions (and it is their political positions which are the height of human virtue, meaning all literature must be thoroughly condemned for not coming to their realizations centuries before).

Students ought to be able to walk away from a literature class excited about literary stories and poems. They like stories and songs, after all.  If we can actually get human beings hating the best stories and songs (in the form of poetry) ever written, we have either failed or have succumbed to a truly evil world view, one designed to dehumanize us from within.

We should real literature because it is entertaining, beautiful, makes us more empathetic because we are reading about idealized human beings who are doing things that are either greater or worse than we have done but with whom we can empathize and therefore become better people.

That is why we ought to read literature. And that's how it ought to be taught. As great works that can make us great people, not by tearing down the works, but by becoming lost in them.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Paradox Drives Creativity in Nature, including Humans (Executive Function Version)

New research shows that people who are maximally creative exhibit both imagination and attention. While attention requires the use of the brain's executive function, imagination has been shown to be optimal in those with weak executive function. Given that the executive function actually restricts creativity in the form of imagination, as I discuss here, we seem to have a paradoxical situation where the executive function both represses and is required for creativity.

Yet, paradoxical situations are the very drivers of creativity in nature. The strange attractors of chaos and bios both attract and repel, simultaneously. The most creative groups are those that are involve both individualism and group-think simultaneously, and which have a strong core with a clear boundary and also interdisciplinary overlappers with other groups. The strongest, most creative economies are those that exhibit both cooperation and competition simultaneously. It is in the overcoming of paradoxical relations, while maintaining those paradoxical relations, that drives creative problem-solving at every level of reality.

As a result, we should not be surprised that human creativity is driven by a paradox -- that we simultaneously need a weak and a strong executive function to work. Human psychological and social complexity is driven by paradox, and increasing complexity results in ever-more paradoxes, driving ever-more complexity. Still, we should expect to find some basic paradoxes, such as this.