Take a step toward civility

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

The virtues of humility and decency are timeless, Russ Roberts reminds us, even if they’re out of fashion. When the world is increasingly uncivilized, he suggests, take a step toward civility:

Don’t be part of the positive feedback problem. When someone yells at you on the internet or in an email or across the dinner table, turn the volume down rather than up. Don’t respond in kind to the troll. Stay calm. It’s not as much fun as yelling or humiliating your opponent with a clever insult, but it’s not worth it. It takes a toll on you and it’s bad for the state of debate. And you might actually change someone’s mind.

Be humble. Shakespeare had it right: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You’re inevitably a cherry-picker, ignoring the facts and evidence that might challenge the certainty of your views. The world is a complex place. Truth is elusive. Don’t be so confident. You shouldn’t be.

Imagine the possibility not just that you are wrong, but that the person you disagree with could be right. Try to imagine the best version of their views and not the straw man your side is constantly portraying. Imagine that it is possible that there is some virtue on the other side. We are all human beings, flawed, a mix of good and bad.

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

In case you didn’t notice, Bruce Schneier reminds us, you’re not Equifax’s customer:

You’re its product.

This happened because your personal information is valuable, and Equifax is in the business of selling it. The company is much more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights.

Its customers are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

It’s not just Equifax. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about you — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet, and sometimes it seems that everyone is spying on you. You’re secretly tracked on pretty much every commercial website you visit. Facebook is the largest surveillance organization mankind has created; collecting data on you is its business model. I don’t have a Facebook account, but Facebook still keeps a surprisingly complete dossier on me and my associations — just in case I ever decide to join.

I also don’t have a Gmail account, because I don’t want Google storing my e-mail. But my guess is that it has about half of my e-mail anyway, because so many people I correspond with have accounts. I can’t even avoid it by choosing not to write to gmail.com addresses, because I have no way of knowing if newperson@company.com is hosted at Gmail.

And again, many companies that track us do so in secret, without our knowledge and consent. And most of the time we can’t opt out. Sometimes it’s a company like Equifax that doesn’t answer to us in any way. Sometimes it’s a company like Facebook, which is effectively a monopoly because of its sheer size. And sometimes it’s our cell phone provider. All of them have decided to track us and not compete by offering consumers privacy. Sure, you can tell people not to have an e-mail account or cell phone, but that’s not a realistic option for most people living in 21st-century America.

The companies that collect and sell our data don’t need to keep it secure in order to maintain their market share. They don’t have to answer to us, their products. They know it’s more profitable to save money on security and weather the occasional bout of bad press after a data loss. Yes, we are the ones who suffer when criminals get our data, or when our private information is exposed to the public, but ultimately why should Equifax care?

Yes, it’s a huge black eye for the company — this week. Soon, another company will have suffered a massive data breach and few will remember Equifax’s problem. Does anyone remember last year when Yahoo admitted that it exposed personal information of a billion users in 2013 and another half billion in 2014?

Yet crime went up, not down

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The history of academic criminology is one of grand pronouncements that don’t prove out in the real world:

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, criminologists demanded that public policy attack the “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and racism. Without solving these problems, they argued, we could not expect to fight crime effectively. On this thinking, billions of taxpayer dollars poured into ambitious social programs — yet crime went up, not down. In the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, as crime rates continued to spike, criminologists proceeded to tell us that the police could do little to cut crime, and that locking up the felons, drug dealers, and gang leaders who committed much of the nation’s criminal violence wouldn’t work, either.

These views were shown to be false, too, but they were held so pervasively across the profession that, when political scientist James Q. Wilson called for selective incapacitation of violent repeat offenders, he found himself ostracized by his peers, who resorted to ad hominem attacks on his character and motivations. Wilson’s work was ignored by awards committees, and criminological reviews of his books, especially Thinking About Crime and Crime and Human Nature, were almost universally negative.


Evidence of the liberal tilt in criminology is widespread. Surveys show a 30:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives within the field, a spread comparable with that in other social sciences. The largest group of criminologists self-identify as radical or “critical.” These designations include many leftist intellectual orientations, from radical feminism to Marxism to postmodernism. Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship, as represented in books with titles like Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse.

A quick perusal of Presidential Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Justice, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), shows that the winners were primarily rewarded for their left-wing advocacy. They included a judge in Massachusetts who advocated abolishing the state’s death penalty, an FBI agent who successfully sued the organization for ethnic discrimination, and a former director of juvenile corrections in Massachusetts who closed the state’s juvenile reformatories and wrote a book alleging that the system hunted down black men for sport. The society also honored Zaki Baruti, a radical black activist in St. Louis known for his hatred of police and support for leftist causes.


Liberal criminologists avoid discussing the lifestyles that criminal offenders typically lead. Almost all serious offenders are men, and they usually come from families with long histories of criminal involvement, often spanning generations. They show temperamental differences early in life, begin offending in childhood or early adolescence, and rack up dozens of arrests. Their lives are chaotic and hedonistic, including the constant pursuit of drugs and sex. They produce many children with different women and rarely have the means — or inclination — to support them. Active offenders exploit others for their own benefit, including women, children, churches, and the social-welfare system. They commit many crimes before getting arrested, and they move in and out of the criminal-justice system for decades. Many also report enjoying acts of violence; the social-media accounts of martyred gangsters shot by police often illuminate this subculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see the police as another competing tribe that has to be manipulated, controlled, and sometimes confronted. In sum, the lives of persistent criminal offenders are often shockingly pathological. The nature of this world is hard to grasp without witnessing it firsthand.


When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race. Disproportionate black involvement in violent crime represents the elephant in the room amid the current controversy over policing in the United States. Homicide numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976–2005 indicate that young African-American males account for homicide victims at levels that are ten to 20 times greater than their proportion of the population and account for homicide offenders at levels that are 15 to 35 times greater than their proportion of the population. The black-white gap in armed-robbery offending has historically ranged between ten to one and 15 to one. Even in forms of crime that are allegedly the province of white males — such as serial murder — blacks are overrepresented as offenders by a factor of two. For all racial groups, violent crime is strongly intraracial, and the intraracial dynamic is most pronounced among blacks. In more than 90 percent of cases, the killer of a black victim is a black perpetrator.


Reliable evidence tells us that the most effective strategies to reduce crime involve police focusing on crime hot spots, targeting active offenders for arrest, and helping to solve local problems surrounding disorder and incivility. Putting predatory, recidivistic offenders in jail or in prison remains the best way to protect the public — especially those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. Lower-level offenders can often be supervised in the community, and many benefit from programs that seek to modify drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their criminal behavior. Despite our best efforts, though, most will re-offend and reenter the system at some point.

Arnold Kling notes that it was Robert Nozick who coined the term “normative sociology” as the study of what the causes of problems ought to be:

My fear about academic economics is that it will evolve in the direction of criminology. I foresee ever-increasing social pressure within the community of academic economists to undertake research that confirms left-wing biases.

Fact-based hope for our future

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Glenn Reynolds remembers how Jerry Pournelle offered fact-based hope for our future:

But Pournelle didn’t just write fiction. His 1970 book with Stefan Possony, The Strategy of Technology, outlined a strategy for winning the Cold War (with among other things, an emphasis on strategic missile defense) that was largely followed, and successfully, by the Reagan administration. He was a driving force behind the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy in the 1980s that helped lay the groundwork for today’s booming civilian space launch industry. And, for me, his wide-ranging columns in Galaxy Magazine, back when it was edited by star editor James Baen, were particularly influential.

I was a kid in the 1970s, which was not a great era to be a kid. We had Vietnam and Watergate, the Apollo space program quit abruptly, oil prices skyrocketed and so did inflation. Even a hamburger was expensive.

And while that was going on, the voices in the media were all preaching gloom and doom. Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich, in his book The Population Bomb, was predicting food riots in America due to overpopulation. A group called The Club of Rome published a report titled The Limits to Growth that suggested it was all over for Western technological civilization. Bookstore displays were filled with books like The Late Great Planet Earth that announced the end times. And if that weren’t enough, most people figured we were heading for a global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. It looked like we were headed for some sort of apocalyptic future in which Charlton Heston would be the only survivor besides a few apes or mutants.

But Jerry Pournelle never bought it. In his Galaxy columns — eventually collected and published in book form, and still in print — he actually did the math. The fact was, he reported, we could not only survive but, in his words, survive with style.

Claims of resource limitations were bunk, easily disproved with available data. And beyond the resources of Earth, there were the effectively limitless resources of the solar system: Energy from the Sun, captured by orbiting power satellites that never had to shut down, materials from the asteroids, and an expansionary frontier that would prevent the growth of damaging zero-sum politics on Earth.

Some people found such claims outlandish in the 1970s, but we’re pretty much living in Pournelle’s world now. The 1970s “Energy Crisis” and its turn-of-the-millennium equivalent, “Peak Oil,” have been undone by technological advances in the form of fracking. Private companies are launching rockets into space at a furious rate — Elon Musk’s SpaceX is on track to launch more rockets than Russia this year — and there are even private companies (companies, plural) working on asteroid mining.

I suspect that a lot of the people working on these things were, like me, influenced by Pournelle’s writing. (I know that some of them were, because they’ve told me so, and I doubt those are the only ones.) At one of the gloomiest times in American history, Pournelle offered not only hope, but a plan. We should all be grateful for that. I certainly am.

Bulgaria with nuclear missiles

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

I had no idea that Steve Sailer was friends with Jerry Pournelle:

I didn’t meet Jerry until 1999, but I’d known his son Alex in high school. The Pournelle family asked me to go with them to Kansas City in August 1976 to the science-fiction convention at which Heinlein, the central American sci-fi writer of the 20th century, received his lifetime achievement award. (But I had to be at college that week.)

But Jerry, one of the great Southern California Cold Warriors, had a remarkable number of careers, starting as a teenage artillery officer during the Korean War, which deafened him in one ear. (At the lunch table, he’d choose his seat carefully to position his one remaining good ear next to his guest.)

He once recalled a question from the Army Officer Candidate School test:

Q. You are in charge of a detail of 11 men and a sergeant. There is a 25-foot flagpole lying on the sandy, brush-covered ground. You are to erect the pole. What is your first order?

The right answer is:

A. “Sergeant, erect that flagpole.”

In other words, if the sergeant knows how to do it, then there’s no need for you to risk your dignity as an officer and a gentleman by issuing some potentially ludicrous order about how to erect the flagpole. And if the sergeant doesn’t know either, well, he’ll probably order a corporal to do it, and so forth down the chain of command. But by the time the problem comes back up to you, it will be well established that nobody else has any more idea than you do.


Jerry once told me that if in early 1951 General MacArthur had said, “Boys, it’s time to clear out the nest of traitors in the White House. Who is going with me?” he would have been on the first flight to Washington with his hero.

After Korea, Pournelle went to West Point for a while, was a Communist briefly, and earned numerous advanced degrees in a variety of hard and soft subjects. He became an aerospace engineer at Boeing and several other companies and spent 1964 writing a Dr. Strangelove-style study for the Air Force on how a nuclear war would be fought in 1975.

He pored over satellite photos of the Soviet Union, counting the ratio of trucks to horse-drawn carts, eventually concluding that rather than the wave of the economic future, the U.S.S.R. represented “Bulgaria with nuclear missiles.” With his mentor, Viennese spymaster Stefan Possony of the Hoover Institution, Jerry wrote The Strategy of Technology, arguing that the way to win the Cold War was to turn it into a high-tech competition over who could innovate faster.

Read the whole thing.

Cherry-picking the best students

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Public-school supporters often claim that charter schools manage to “cherry pick” the best students:

Now a series of reports in California and elsewhere show the opposite is true. In one case, educators in the San Diego Unified School District have been counseling their students with low grade-point averages to transfer into charter schools, especially online charters, according to a Voice of San Diego report last month.

Students who were part of the district’s class of 2016 but transferred to a charter school “had a combined grade-point average of 1.75 at the time they transferred,” which is below the 2.0 average needed to graduate. This includes 919 students who left the school system and were “no longer factored into the district’s overall graduation rate,” the news site explained. The districts are able to “dump” students that drag down the overall graduation metrics, which are used to rate schools and influence funding decisions.


The impact often falls heavily on online charters, because brick-and-mortar charters have enrollment caps. Online charters have no such caps, and are an easy way to offload kids who might drag down district test scores and graduation rates.

The subsequent poor performance of some of these students has another benefit to teachers’ union leaders: it becomes a reason to clamp down on charters.

A cultural subset that defines a large-scale tribe

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Arnold Kling sees politics as religion, defining religion as a cultural subset that defines a large-scale tribe:

A broad set of norms, symbols, beliefs and practices constitutes culture. Narrow that down to a subset of norms, symbols, beliefs and practices that clearly define who is or is not a member of the tribe. Focus on that subset. For example, Jews eat gefilte fish, observe Yom Kippur, and don’t pray to Jesus. But only a subset of those (observing Yom Kippur and not praying to Jesus) are tribally definitive. The rabbis won’t question your Jewish identity if you turn down gefilte fish.

No tribe is perfectly defined by a precise list of cultural characteristics. But bear with me and think in terms of tribally defining cultural subsets.

A tribally defining cultural subset will (a) tend to empower adherents to obey, enforce, and regularly re-affirm tribal norms, and (b) lead its members to fear and despise people who are not members of the tribe.

Further comments:

1. Cosmopolitans (including progressives, libertarians, and conservative intellectuals) would say that, yes, historically, “fear and despise” was part of religion, but that is a bug, not a feature. Ironically, cosmopolitans start to look like a tribe that fears and despises people who espouse traditional religions. And yes, there does seem to be a fourth axis here: cosmopolitan vs. populist, or Bobo vs. anti-Bobo.

2. The role of a transcendent being is to help motivate members to obey tribal norms, for fear of being punished by the transcendent being (See Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods). However, belief in a transcendent being is not necessary to have a modern large-scale tribe. But it does seem necessary to have an out-group that you fear and despise.

3. Historically, major religions have usually fit my notion of a cultural subset that defines a large-scale tribe.

4. Usually, modern nation-states have fit this notion. There are those who say that nation-states were a better tribal bonding technology (so to speak) than belief in a transcendent being, and hence they made religion relatively unnecessary.

5. Finally, to the commenter’s point, I think that some political ideologies have come to fit my notion of a cultural subset that defines a large-scale tribe. The current progressive ideology seems to me to fit the notion particularly well. But the three-axis model suggests that conservatives and libertarians are tribal, also. Again, the emergence of the Bobo vs. anti-Bobo conflict has scrambled things quite a bit.

Shoring up support

Monday, September 4th, 2017

I’ve always found Labor Day a bit abstruse:

Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike.

The date of May 1 (an ancient European holiday known as May Day) was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers’ Day.

Greeks are close to Jews, and Lebanese are far from Arabs

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Pierre Zalloua share some recent genetic discoveries that neither Antisemitic Nordic Supremacists nor Arab Nationalists will like:

1) Greeks were close to Jews, as the “Aryan” theory is genetically bogus & 2) Lebanese (both Christian and Moslem) are very far from being Arabs (the historical accounts of Arab migrations to Lebanon are fiction).

The most formidable of twenty-first century weapons

Monday, August 21st, 2017

A new study from RAND examines Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and shares some lessons learned in Gaza:

For starters, smart weapons are no panacea. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempted to destroy Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels with airpower alone (surprising in light of the failure of such an approach in the 2006 Lebanon War). Lack of success meant ground troops had to be sent in.

The failure of airpower meant the revival of artillery. The IDF barely used artillery in 2009, but used lots of big guns in 2014. “On a technical and tactical level, the IDF’s use of artillery support was impressive,” RAND noted. “It increased its use of precision artillery from earlier campaigns and reduced the minimum safe distances for providing fire support. Artillery fire often proved quicker and more responsive than other means of firepower, such as CAS [close air support].”

Armor also proved its worth in Gaza. “Before Protective Edge, the IDF invested in intelligence and airpower, often at the expense of particularly heavy armor,” RAND found. Or as Israeli sources told RAND, “Half a year before, they closed the Namer [a tank converted into a troop carrier] and we said it was a mistake; and immediately after, they reopened the project. You need protection. Mobility is protection.”

In turn, armor needs active protection systems. “there was near-universal consensus among IDF officers and outside analysts interviewed for this report that vehicles equipped with the Trophy system stood a better chance of surviving not only RPG fire, but also the Kornet ATGM [anti-tank guided missile],” RAND found. “Indeed, according to some accounts, there were at least 15 instances of active protection systems intercepting Kornet-style missiles.” Another unexpected benefit was that the sensors on the Trophy also proved useful in detecting the location of hostile fire.

However, neither smart weapons nor artillery can stop that most formidable of twenty-first century weapons: lawfare, or the use of international law and public opinion to stymie an adversary’s superior firepower. Under intense media scrutiny, the IDF grappled with how to destroy rocket launchers that Hamas had emplaced in densely populated civilian areas. To its credit, Israel tried a variety of means to avoid civilian casualties, including calling residents on their phones to evacuate, social media and the memorable “door knocker” inert bombs landing on roofs as a signal to get out of the target zone. Lawyers even reviewed targeting decisions, and yet Israeli still suffered a public relations disaster, including public and UN accusations of war crimes. Now the IDF General Staff is adding a lawfare section. “For better or worse, lawfare is here to stay, and the IDF — like all Western militaries — will have to wrestle with its implications in any future operation,” RAND concludes.

The Greeks had to learn civilization all over again

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

Without Classical Greece and its accomplishments, Razib Khan says, the West wouldn’t make any sense:

But here I have to stipulate Classical, because Greeks existed before the Classical period. That is, a people who spoke a language that was recognizably Greek and worshipped gods recognizable to the Greeks of the Classical period. But these Greeks were not proto-Western in any way. These were the Mycenaeans, a Bronze Age civilization which flourished in the Aegean in the centuries before the cataclysms outlined in 1177 B.C.

The issue with the Mycenaean civilization is that its final expiration in the 11th century ushered in a centuries long Dark Age. During this period the population of Greece seems to have declined, and society reverted to a more simple structure. By the time the Greeks emerged from this Dark Age much had changed. For example, they no longer used Linear B writing. Presumably this technique was passed down along lineages of scribes, whose services were no longer needed, because the grand warlords of the Bronze Age were no longer there to patronize them and make use of their skills. In its stead the Greeks modified the alphabet of the Phoenicians.

To be succinct the Greeks had to learn civilization all over again. The barbarian interlude had broken continuous cultural memory between the Mycenaeans and the Greeks of the developing polises of the Classical period. The fortifications of the Mycenaeans were assumed by their Classical descendants to be the work of a lost race which had the aid of monstrous cyclops.

Of course not all memories were forgotten. Epic poems such as The Iliad retained the memory of the past through the centuries. The list of kings who sailed to Troy actually reflected the distribution of power in Bronze Age Greece, while boar’s tusk helmets mentioned by Homer were typical of the period. To be sure, much of the detail in Homer seems more reflective of a simpler society of petty warlords, so the nuggets of memory are encased in later lore accrued over the centuries.

A recent Nature paper looks at the Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans and shows that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar.

Europe made space at the political bargaining table for economic interests

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

In Rulers, Religion and Riches, Jared Rubin argues that differences in the way religion and government interact caused the economic fortunes of Europe and the Middle East to diverge:

The driving motivation of most rulers is not ideology or to do good, but to maintain and strengthen their hold on power: “to propagate their rule”. This requires “coercion” — the ability to enforce power — and, crucially, some form of “legitimacy”. In the medieval world, both Islamic and Christian rulers claimed part of their legitimacy from religious authorities, but after the Reformation, Rubin thinks that European governments had to turn away from religion as a source of political legitimacy.

By getting “religion out of politics”, Europe made space at the political “bargaining table” for economic interests, creating a virtuous cycle of “pro-growth” policy-making. Islamic rulers, by contrast, continued to rely on religious legitimation and economic interests were mostly excluded from politics, leading to governance that focused on the narrow interests of sultans, and the conservative religious and military elites who backed them.

The source of Europe’s success, then, lies in the Reformation, a revolution in ideas and authority spread by what Martin Luther called “God’s highest and ultimate gift of grace”: the printing press. Yet even though printers quickly discovered how to adapt movable type to Arabic lettering, there were almost no presses in the Middle East for nearly 300 years after Gutenberg’s invention. Conservative Islamic clerics did not want the press to undermine their power, and the state — still tied to religion not commerce — had no incentive to overrule them. Not until 1727 did the Ottoman state permit printing in Arabic script, with a decree that the device would finally be “unveiled like a bride and will not again be hidden”. The prohibition was “one of the great missed opportunities of economic and technological history”, a vivid example of the dead hand of religious conservatism.

By contrast, Europe was revolutionised. Rubin argues that the Dutch revolt against Catholic Spain and the English crown’s “search for alternative sources of legitimacy” after breaking with Rome empowered the Dutch and English parliaments: by the 1600s both countries were ruled by parliamentary governments that included economic elites. Their policies — such as promoting trade and protecting property rights — were conducive to broader economic progress. Decoupling religion from politics had created space for “pro-commerce” interests.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the bankers share a common delusion

Friday, August 18th, 2017

Eric Weinstein explains the crisis of late capitalism:

I believe that market capitalism, as we’ve come to understand it, was actually tied to a particular period of time where certain coincidences were present. There’s a coincidence between the marginal product of one’s labor and one’s marginal needs to consume at a socially appropriate level. There’s also the match between an economy mostly consisting of private goods and services that can be taxed to pay for the minority of public goods and services, where the market price of those public goods would be far below the collective value of those goods.

Beyond that, there’s also a coincidence between the ability to train briefly in one’s youth so as to acquire a reliable skill that can be repeated consistently with small variance throughout a lifetime, leading to what we’ve typically called a career or profession, and I believe that many of those coincidences are now breaking, because they were actually never tied together by any fundamental law.

Weinstein shares this anecdote about class warfare:

I reached a bizarre stage of my life in which I am equally likely to fly either economy or private. As such, I have a unique lens on this question. A friend of mine said to me, “The modern airport is the perfect metaphor for the class warfare to come.” And I asked, “How do you see it that way?” He said, “The rich in first and business class are seated first so that the poor may be paraded past them into economy to note their privilege.” I said, “I think the metaphor is better than you give it credit for, because those people in first and business are actually the fake rich. The real rich are in another terminal or in another airport altogether.”

The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the bankers share a common delusion, he says:

Both of them believe the bankers are more powerful in the story than they actually are. The real problem, which our society has yet to face up to, is that sometime around 1970, we ended several periods of legitimate exponential growth in science, technology, and economics. Since that time, we have struggled with the fact that almost all of our institutions that thrived during the post-World War II period of growth have embedded growth hypotheses into their very foundation.

That means that all of those institutions, whether they’re law firms or universities or the military, have to reckon with steady state [meaning an economy with mild fluctuations in growth and productivity] by admitting that growth cannot be sustained, by running a Ponzi scheme, or by attempting to cannibalize others to achieve a kind of fake growth to keep those particular institutions running. This is the big story that nobody reports. We have a system-wide problem with embedded growth hypotheses that is turning us all into scoundrels and liars.

Let’s say, for example, that I have a growing law firm in which there are five associates at any given time supporting every partner, and those associates hope to become partners so that they can hire five associates in turn. That formula of hierarchical labor works well while the law firm is growing, but as soon as the law firm hits steady state, each partner can really only have one associate, who must wait many years before becoming partner for that partner to retire. That economic model doesn’t work, because the long hours and decreased pay that one is willing to accept at an entry-level position is predicated on taking over a higher-lever position in short order. That’s repeated with professors and their graduate students. It’s often repeated in military hierarchies.

It takes place just about everywhere, and when exponential growth ran out, each of these institutions had to find some way of either owning up to a new business model or continuing the old one with smoke mirrors and the cannibalization of someone else’s source of income.

Then there’s the Wile E. Coyote effect — as long as Wile E. Coyote doesn’t look down, he’s suspended in air, even if he has just run off a cliff:

But the great danger is understanding that everything is flipped. During the 2008 crisis, many commentators said the markets have suddenly gone crazy, and it was exactly the reverse. The so-called great moderation that was pushed by Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, and others was in fact a kind of madness, and the 2008 crisis represented a rare break in the insanity, where the market suddenly woke up to see what was actually going on. So the acute danger is not madness but sanity.

The problem is that prolonged madness simply compounds the disaster to come when sanity finally sets in.

The path to power for all “decent men” consists in a deeply deceptive competition to appear maximally unthreatening

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Justin Murphy just watched a documentary about John McAfee, and it helped him realize some things about supertoxic masculinity:

The McAfee story is profound because it shows in stunning, horrifying detail how the hyper-masculine drive to dominate really works in contemporary culture: when cranked sufficiently high, it rapidly and easily trounces any quantity of moral outrage and/or legal constraints, in a direct line toward the zenith of the global dominance hierarchy.

Moderate misogyny can get you exiled from contemporary public culture, often for good reason, but hyper-misogyny in an intelligent and driven male appears to give you sovereignty over public culture. It seems to me that, if feminism today has one genuinely catastrophic problem to be rightfully alarmist about, it might just be the small number of males who will not be domesticated through social-moral pressure.

First, a premise of my argument is that SJW culture is genuinely quite effective at minimizing the nastier masculine edges of large numbers of men, because most men are decent people who want to be liked and approved by most others. This is not an empirical article so I won’t go into it, but if you doubt there’s been a general cultural pacification of male aggression just watch a random film from the 1950s and then watch a random film at your local cinema. Anyway, people on the left and right disagree about what to call this trend, but its existence is attested by all. Feminists see this as men learning to be less violent and oppressive, and feminists celebrate women’s long-term positive effect on the civilizing of violent patriarchies; others see this as a kind of female totalitarianism and evidence of civilizational decline. But the fact that feminist cultural politics have exerted notable and widespread effects of generally reducing the expression of masculine aggression in public culture seems hard to dispute.

The hypothesis I would like to advance is that this social domestication of masculine tendencies has made our society more vulnerable to the rare cases of men who escape the filter of social opprobrium. The life of John McAfee is a case study of this problem.

Why would the social pacification of once popular, moderate masculinity empower more virulent forms of violent masculinity? Many lefties think that pacifying the larger mass of men will shift the whole distribution of male behavior, lowering the ceiling of how bad the worst men may become. I would say this is the dominant mental model of most SJWs, because it’s the basic picture that comes out of liberal arts education today (that our images of the world shape what we do in the world, hence the emphasis on media and “representations”).

The problem is that when the baseline of masculine dominance expression is held below it’s organic tendency, defined simply as what men would do in the absence of cultural campaigns to defang it, this increases the potential payoff to those who dare exercise it, as there are more resources to dominate precisely to the degree that other men are not contesting them. Not only does it increase the rewards available, it decreases the risk of competing for them, as the chance of being defeated by an equally aggressive male, or even just the chance of encountering costly competition at all, is lower than it would be in a world of much but minor, local masculine excess. We might also adduce a “rusty monitor” effect: Through the domestication of men over time, most people become blissfully forgetful about what genuinely dangerous men are capable of, decreasing the probability or the speed with which domesticated males might awake from their slumber.

Another reason the over-domestication of moderate masculinity is dangerous is that it makes it too easy for ethically lax “bad characters” to win all of the large number of local hierarchies that would typically have the function of imposing humility and modesty on cocky boys coming of age. If you’re a highly intelligent, confident, and driven young man, the complex difficulty of having to navigate multiple distinct local hierarchies (among other highly driven males themselves sometimes prone to dangerous excess) from a young age, teaches you very quickly that you cannot ever be the best at everything. And that if you cut corners anti-socially you will be destroyed by other males invested in the maintenance of sociality. Examples of local hierarchies are sports competition, dating, ethical honor or “character” in the neighborhood or religious community, or even just fleeting micro-social competition such as battles of wits in social gatherings. All of these things will function as negative feedback mechanisms tempering genuinely dangerous anti-social ambitions in young boys coming of age, but only if the other males are equally able and willing to play all of these games to the best of their abilities.

If you’re overzealous or immodest or you cheat or you ignore your standing in one local hierarchy to dominate another — all of these things tend to get constrained by other males of equal will and ability, who are also sometimes dangerous and who have an interest in knocking all wiley characters down a few notches. What’s happened in recent decades is that a non-trivial portion of the West’s most intelligent and ambitious males pursue cultural careers predicated very specifically on the strategic under-display of their will to power. Take someone like the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — he’s the leading politician of a whole country, so nobody can deny that this is a man with a substantial will to rise to the top through a whole series of competitive filters. But he is one of the best examples of how, today, the path to power for all “decent men” consists in a deeply deceptive competition to appear maximally unthreatening. One reason you get the John McAfee’s of the world is because they went to high school with the Justin Trudeau’s of the world. In all of the little, local hierarchies they encountered throughout life, people like John McAfee and Donald Trump learned that they could be as anti-socially ambitious as they pleased and no other intelligent and able men would check them (because those men were opting for the cultural capital that accrues to being feminist). A serious challenge for feminism is to see that someone like Justin Trudeau is seriously complicit in the production of the McAfees and Trumps of the world. And if your a cheer-leader for the former, you’re an objective supporter and producer of the latter.

I also think that people like McAfee and Trump learn early in life that if you are ostracized from social groups for exceeding moral expectations, then you can just channel your anti-social intelligence to making money all the more efficiently. That is, another key problem is that in secular, advanced capitalist countries such as the U.S., if you are smart and driven enough it is a feasible life path to accept absolute social exile by converting all of your energy into economic capital accumulation, and then build up a new social cosmos for yourself. The interesting thing is to see that this is really only psychologically and materially feasible in a very late stage of advanced western capitalism where non-economic criteria of value have all but disappeared. Whereas above we saw one reason for the emergence of the McAfee’s and Trump’s of the world is that there wasn’t enough local masculine aggression to check them throughout their life, here we note the specific problem that secular society lacks any effective adjudicator of human character other than economic prowess. In this particular dimension we see that the contemporary correlation of anti-capitalism and secularism/atheism is ultimately an untenable loop, because you never have an effective basis for anti-capitalist cultural change if you cannot submit to the possibility that values come from a place higher than practical reality. Of course people pretend they value other criteria, but those criteria don’t operate in the selection of who ultimately wins attention, esteem, and power in society as a whole. There was no person, and no entity, in the entire life of these men who could credibly convey that there exist things in life more powerful than money, for the simple reason that hardly anyone believes this anymore. And so the most toxically ambitious males become the very first to realize that one can very well quit the entire game of socio-moral respectability and shoot to the top of everything via radically unreflective capital accumulation.

Another reason why the constraining of moderate masculine toxicity may increase the power of supertoxic masculinity is that males may become more pathologically power hungry from lacking opportunities for healthy satiation. Once upon a time (for better or worse), masculine prowess promised a fair number of immediate satisfactions. The best football players received the genuine interest of the most desired girls in high school, say. But even from my own observations growing up, it was easy to see that as my cohort aged from about 10 years old up toward about 17 years old, conventionally masculine prowess became less and less effective at winning immediate social rewards. By the end of high school, the most desired girls were more interested in — I kid you not — a nationally competitive business role-playing team. What this suggests to me is that, aside from perhaps an early bump at the very beginning of adolescence, dominance hierarchies rapidly stop rewarding conventional masculine expressions of dominance behavior in favor of the capacity to elegantly dissimulate dominance behavior. Today all of the basic evolutionary machinery of mating and dominance competition remains in full operation, but it’s mind-bogglingly confusing because increasingly females select for males who can most creatively and effectively hide their power. What this means is that precisely the most over-flowingly aggressive males may be less and less likely to receive the basic, small doses of love and esteem that every human being requires, in their early socialization experiences. Combined with the previous point about the ultimate power of money, it’s easy to see how and why the feminist inversion of which males get selected by females (defining dominance as the dissimulation of dominance), has the direct consequence of leaving the most irrepressibly narcissistic and power-hungry males to seek unbridled social domination via capital, as a basic requirement for psychological self-maintenance.

As a woman in tech, Megan McArdle realized: these are not my people

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Until the age of 26, Megan McArdle was employed as a technology consultant by a small firm that served the financial industry, where she realized something:

I built servers and workstations, mostly for banks, and in a happy foreshadowing of my future writing for Bloomberg View, I installed some of the first PC-based Bloomberg terminals for a Japanese firm’s office in New York.

Finance back then was heavily male, as it is now. And technology, the same. At the intersection of the two … well, I can count on one hand all the women I worked with directly during almost four years of consulting.

It was very male-centric. I heard about client outings, involving strippers, to which I was obviously not invited. And the sexual harassment (entirely from clients, not colleagues), could be spectacular.

Which has nothing to do with why I left. This will make me sound a bit dim, but at the time, it never occurred to me that being a female in this bro ecosystem might impinge my ultimate career prospects. Nor did I miss having women in the room. I liked working with the bros just fine. And the sexual harassment, while annoying, was just that: annoying. I cannot recall that it ever affected my work, nor that I lost any sleep over it.

No, the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”

I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.