Inference With The Vampire

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Imagine a cravat-wearing vampire Count who is one thousand years old:

The vampire is incredibly knowledgeable about humans. He gets his knowledge about humans from centuries of experience interacting with them and observing them. Modern humans get their knowledge of humans from their limited experience, from the social sciences of psychology and sociology. The vampire’s knowledge of humans is far superior to our social science. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

Who do you think will make more accurate predictions about humans: a 25-year-old sociology/psychology graduate student who has read a ton of studies, or a thousand-year-old vampire? If you agree with me that the vampire would eat the graduate student alive, then we can conclude that sufficient experience with people can overpower social science.

When the Count turns 1000, a study comes out that contradicts his understanding of human nature. This study has a sample of a couple hundred college students, a p-value of 0.05, it was conducted by a professor who proudly claims a political cause, and the results just happen to line up with that cause. Would the vampire throw out his 999 years of experience and believe this study?

No, he would stick with his prior beliefs and laugh at the puny humans. College students are only good for dessert, not for generating knowledge.

Typical social science studies, which nowadays pass for serious evidence, are immensely weak in comparison to knowledge accumulated over human history. There are probably very few studies that are strong enough to contradict a vampire’s beliefs. If modern people disagree with the vampire about human nature, it’s most likely that the vampire knows what he is talking about and the humans are just wrong.

Raymond Brannen suggests how you can think more like a wise, thousand-year-old vampire and less like a puny, Philistine human:

Imagine digging up a historical figure you admire, getting them up to speed on everything that’s happened since they died, and then seeing what they think about the questions you are mulling over.

When someone is slinging study in your direction, consider where it would persuade a thousand-year-old vampire to shift his beliefs. If not, then perhaps it shouldn’t persuade you, either.

Read old books, and talk to your parents and older people. They are your lifeline to the past.

Take what the wisest humans believed at an earlier point in time, and make those beliefs your priors. Next, mentally replay everything that has been learned since then, updating as you go. See if you get the same answers as the modern consensus, or if you get different answers.

Qattara Depression Project

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

The Qattara Depression Project is no Atlantropa, but it’s still pretty ambitious:

The depression is a region that lies below sea level and is currently a vast desert. By connecting the region and the Mediterranean Sea with tunnels and/or canals, water could be let into the area. The inflowing water would then evaporate quickly because of the desert climate. This way a continuous flow of water could be created if inflow and evaporation were balanced out. With this continuously flowing water hydroelectricity could be generated. Eventually this would result in a hypersaline lake or a salt pan as the water evaporates and leaves the salt it contains behind.

The proposals call for a large canal or tunnel being excavated of about 55 to 80 kilometres (34 to 50 mi) depending on the route chosen to the Mediterranean Sea to bring seawater into the area.

Or otherwise a 320 kilometre (200 mile) pipeline north-east to the freshwater Nile River at Rosetta.

For comparison, the nearby Suez Canal is currently 193 kilometres in length.

By balancing the inflow and evaporation the lake level can be held constant. Several proposed lake levels are -70, -60, -50 and -20 m.

Plans to use the Qattara Depression for the generation of electricity date back to 1912 from Berlin geographer Professor Penck.

In 1957 the American Central Intelligence Agency proposed to President Dwight Eisenhower that peace in the Middle East could be achieved by flooding the Qattara Depression. The resulting lagoon, according to the CIA, would have four benefits:

  • It would be “spectacular and peaceful.”
  • It would “materially alter the climate in adjacent areas.”
  • It would “provide work during construction and living areas after completion for the Palestinian Arabs.”
  • It would get Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser’s “mind on other matters” because “he need[ed] some way to get off the Soviet Hook.”

(Hat tip to Scott Alexander.)

The Most Wanted Man in China

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Freeman Dyson reads Fang Lizhi’s memoir and concludes Chinese reeducation camps worked:

Fang’s book is the personal story of a scientist whose life was shaped by Chinese history. From the evidence provided by this book, I am led to believe that communism survived in China because the brutal reeducation of the elite, by exile to coal mines and villages and forced sharing of hardships with dirt-poor workers and peasants, was to some extent a genuine reeducation. A great many members of the elite endured a period of gross abuse and humiliation, so severe as to drive many of them to suicide. Fang—who died in 2012—describes four of these personal tragedies that he remembered vividly when he wrote his book thirty years later. But the majority of the victims, like Fang, survived the physical and mental battering, and returned to pursue careers as leaders of society. They became a privileged and corrupt class, but had acquired some indelible firsthand knowledge of the real needs and desires of the Chinese people.

In Russia there was much talk of reeducation of the elite, but the reality was different. In Russia the purges killed large numbers of the elite and condemned others to long years of imprisonment in the gulag archipelago, but those who survived were not re-educated. The intellectuals who survived in Russia remained isolated from the realities of working-class existence. The working class in the minds of the rulers of Russia remained an intellectual abstraction, detached from contact with reality.

Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Fang became a dissident. His reeducation was too successful, pushing him all the way to a final rejection of communism. But he was the exception who proves the rule. The rule is demonstrated by the majority of Chinese intellectuals who climbed back into the system after reeducation, not by the small minority who became dissidents. The historical fact is that reeducation generally succeeded in its avowed purpose. It produced a governing class that combined a formal acceptance of the regime’s Communist dogma with some understanding of the people it was governing.

Diversity is Our Vibrancy

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

As the slogan etched on the blade of every Obama Youth dagger says, Diversity is Our Vibrancy:

Friday was a red-letter day for both of the motivating principles of the modern United States as the Army announced, in a Friday data dump, that they were commissioning 22 women as Infantry and Armor officers. A large percentage of them are West Pointers; a few are ROTC scholarship foundlings.

They have not yet passed any of the requirements, but what’s most important is how everybody feels about it, unless they don’t feel totally awesome about it, in which case they will be punished suitably. Of the 22 greatest 2nd lieutenants ever, 13 will bring their light to the dank of the tank, as operated by the Armor Branch; and nine will be the only officers that ever mattered in the previously unfashionable Infantry Branch.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has now checked one of his highest priority boxes.

Absolute Harrison Bergeron equality-of-results is not upon us yet, unfortunately. True, the women need to pass their courses, but having announced their success already makes that a mere formality. But still, some problems remain.

To start with, the women will have no subordinate women to command, at least, not yet. So far, exactly one woman has volunteered to serve as an enlisted infantry entity, and none has signed up for enlisted armor duty. Of course, neither the cat pack of officers nor the one female infantry entity has passed and been Distinguished Honor Graduates of their respective courses, yet, but today’s announcement makes it clear it’s the merest of formalities.

All right-thinking people know that the only reason women haven’t been infantrymen everywhere, taken over the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks, and broken all the mens’ Olympic records, is because of false consciousness, and because they don’t have incredibly awesome female officers yet to show them the way.

If enlisted women don’t start signing up in larger numbers, the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Combat, that is, self-actualization of the upper class female officers, will require them to be drafted. Self-actualization of upper class female officers is, after all, the reason we have an Army in the first place.

It should stop evolving

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Nick Land shares this passage from Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye (from the end of Chapter 3):

“They used to teach us that evolution of intelligent being wasn’t possible,” she said. “Societies protect their weaker members. Civilizations tend to make wheel chairs and spectacles and hearing aids as soon as they have the tools for them. When a society makes war, the men generally have to pass a fitness test before they’re allowed to risk their lives. I suppose it helps win the war.” She smiled. “But it leaves precious little room for the survival of the fittest.”

[…]

“You were saying about evolution?”

“It — it ought to be pretty well closed off for an intelligent species,” she said. “Species evolve to meet the environment. An intelligent species changes the environment to suit itself. As soon as a species becomes intelligent, it should stop evolving.”

He adds:

It makes you think (or rather, the opposite). The original sin of intelligence — falling back in blind homeostatic antipathy against its own conditions of emergence — isn’t so hard to see.

Demonstrated Intellectual Superiority

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

As their Wall Street Journal piece was going to press, Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim received a copy of an astonishing letter written in 1969, from Macklin Fleming, Justice of the California Court of Appeal to Louis Pollack, the dean of Yale Law School:

The immediate damage to the standards of Yale Law School needs no elaboration. But beyond this, it seems to me the admission policy adopted by the Law School faculty will serve to perpetuate the very ideas and prejudices it is designed to combat. If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck. The faculty can talk around the clock about disadvantaged background, and it can excuse inferior performance because of poverty, environment, inadequate cultural tradition, lack of educational opportunity, etc. The fact remains that black and white students will be exposed to each other under circumstances in which demonstrated intellectual superiority rests with the whites.

[...]

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards.

[...]

The American creed, one that Yale has proudly espoused, holds that an American should be judged as an individual and not as a member of a group. To me it seems axiomatic that a system which ignores this creed and introduces the factor of race in the selection of students for a professional school is inherently malignant, no matter how high-minded the purpose nor how benign the motives of those making the selection….

The present policy of admitting students on two bases and thereafter purporting to judge their performance on one basis is a highly explosive sociological experiment almost certain to achieve undesirable results.

OkCupid Study Reveals the Perils of Big-Data Science

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

A recent OkCupid study reveals the ethical perils of Big Data:

On May 8, a group of Danish researchers publicly released a dataset of nearly 70,000 users of the online dating site OkCupid, including usernames, age, gender, location, what kind of relationship (or sex) they’re interested in, personality traits, and answers to thousands of profiling questions used by the site.

When asked whether the researchers attempted to anonymize the dataset, Aarhus University graduate student Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, who was lead on the work, replied bluntly: “No. Data is already public.” This sentiment is repeated in the accompanying draft paper, “The OKCupid dataset: A very large public dataset of dating site users,” posted to the online peer-review forums of Open Differential Psychology, an open-access online journal also run by Kirkegaard.

The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

In The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class sociologist Alvin Gouldner explained that the highly educated were on their way — this was in 1979 — to becoming a major political force in American society:

As a man of the left, he had mixed feelings about this development, since he thought the intelligentsia might be tempted to put its own interests ahead of the marginalized groups for whom it often claimed to speak.

Today, with an ideological gap widening along educational lines in the United States, Dr. Gouldner’s arguments are worth revisiting. Now that so many people go to college, Americans with bachelor’s degrees no longer constitute an educational elite. But the most highly educated Americans — those who have attended graduate or professional school — are starting to come together as a political bloc.

Last month, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school have “down the line” liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions.

Dr. Gouldner’s “new class” wasn’t exactly the contemporary intelligentsia, with its Washington policy analysts, New York editors and Bay Area biotech researchers. But it was close. Dr. Gouldner observed changes in the American occupational structure that he thought were altering the balance of power among social classes. As he saw it, beginning in the early 20th century, increasing complexity in science, technology, economic affairs and government meant that the “old” moneyed class no longer had the expertise to directly manage the work process or steer the ship of state.

Members of the old class turned to scientists, engineers, managers, human relations specialists, economists and other professionals for help. As these experts multiplied, they realized the extent of their collective power. They demanded fitting levels of pay and status and insisted on professional autonomy. A “new class” was born, neither owner nor worker.

A distinguishing feature of this new class, according to Dr. Gouldner, was the way it spoke and argued. Steeped in science and expert knowledge, it embraced a “culture of critical discourse.” Evidence and logic were valued; appeals to traditional sources of authority were not. Members of the new class raised their children in such a culture. And it was these children, allergic to authoritarian values, who as young adults were at the center of the student revolts, finding common ground with disaffected “humanistic” intellectuals bent on changing the world.

Dr. Gouldner assumed that as the student radicals aged and entered the work force, they would retain their leftist sympathies. But he conceded that they might also work to shore up their privileges. He characterized the new class as the great hope of the left in a period when the American labor movement was in decline, yet also as flawed.

John Earl Haynes on Soviet Subsidies in America

Monday, May 16th, 2016

John Earl Haynes describes his research in Soviet subsidies in America:

My research colleague, Harvey Klehr, and I were extremely fortunate to be the first historians to explore several major long-closed archives: the Communist International and Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) records in Moscow, the decrypted Soviet cables of the National Security Agency’s Venona project, and the KGB archival notebooks of Alexander Vassiliev.

Among the most surprising discoveries was that the Soviet Union’s secret subsidies of the CPUSA were much larger and lasted much longer than we expected, only ending in 1988 with a $3 million secret payment. In addition, the number of American sources recruited into Soviet espionage between 1935 and 1945 was much larger than we had earlier expected, and the extent of the CPUSA’s direct involvement in that espionage, making itself into an auxiliary of Soviet intelligence, was much more extensive than we expected.

[...]

Too-large of a segment of the academic world is inclined to a benign view of communism in general, and of the CPUSA in particular. They prefer to think of Communists as idealists interested only in social justice and peace. They resent historical accounts such as those Klehr and I produced that present archival documentation of the CPUSA’s totalitarian character and its devotion to promoting Soviet victory over the United States in the Cold War.

In particular, many historians resent our finding documents that firmly establish the guilt of certain Americans accused of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union such as Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Harry Dexter White. Even after the superb books by Ronald Radosh on the Rosenberg case and Allen Weinstein on the Hiss case, convincingly showing both men guilty, there remained in the academic world a vocal minority proclaiming their innocence and a larger group saying there was still doubt as to their guilt. Many textbooks for high schools and colleges promoted the doubt position. The documents Klehr and I found in the Venona decryptions and the Vassiliev notebooks closed both cases: they were guilty.

Today only a few pro-communist fanatics in the academic world hold for their innocence. However, in too many cases, the recognition in the academic world that Hiss, Rosenberg, and White were Soviet spies is given grudgingly. It interferes with the ideologically preferred narrative that Hiss and Rosenberg were liberal innocents wrongly convicted by evil anticommunists. They don’t like it that the documents Klehr and I found made maintaining that narrative impossible, and they certainly don’t thank us for establishing the truth.

What really happened in Belize

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

John McAfee explains what really happened in Belize:

My most prominent act of civil disobedience occurred in Belize, when I refused to be extorted by the government. This led to a series of events that to this day, no fictional movie has matched.

Politics has again raised my Belize experience into public awareness. My opponents in the Libertarian party have cloaked me yet again with questions about Belize.

I would like to put this issue to rest, and I will do my best, now, to do so. Belize, by any standards, is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its officials are intimately connected with the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, and money laundering. For all practical purposes it is barely distinguishable from the Sinaloa Cartel.

Into this morass I inserted myself.

I moved to Belize in 2008, thinking I would retire and fish, scuba dive, sail and otherwise enjoy my declining years.

I was 63 at the time. My retirement lasted just a few months. I moved to the North Island of San Pedro, where the roads were impassable and all residents depended on the one ferry service — Island Ferry — whose dozen or so boats ferried people back and forth to town from the 30 mile coastline of the North Island. The boats were unreliable and schedules were seldom kept.

This annoyed me so I started my first business in Belize — the Coastal Xpress.

I charged less than half of what the Island Ferry was charging, ferried school children back and forth from school for free, charged one quarter of Island Ferry prices for local Belizeans, bought a fleet of brand new covered boats, kept to a strict schedule, and put Island Ferry out of business within three months. The owner of Island Ferry was a Canadian with friends in high places within the Belizean Government.

Needless to say, I made no friends with my first business venture, other than the Belizean citizens working for my new company, who shared whatever profits were made. I never took a single penny out of Coastal Xpress. My benefit came from having reliable transportation to and from town.

I formed more than a dozen other companies in Belize, from a water sports rental company, to a coffee producer to an antibiotic research lab. They were all staffed by local Belizeans and from no company did I take a single penny.

Doing business in Belize brought me quickly into direct contact with the corruption that is Belize. Government officials frequently expect a piece of the business, a share of the profits or regular bribes, which I, foolishly perhaps, declined to co-operate with.

I also foolishly began to speak openly about the system of corruption and how it kept the majority of Belizean citizens in abject poverty.

In 2011, I caught wind of a government plot to kill me. The following two secretly taped conversation between an agent of the Belizean government and a number of conspirators details the options that the government was considering to get rid of me. The conversations are in Creole — a barely understandable form of English, but written translations accompany each tape. The assassination methods considered ranged from a sniper attack to planting explosive devices in my car. They are very entertaining tapes (tape 1 and tape 2).

It takes more than a simple assassination plot to cause me to run. I instead beefed up my security and, again, unwisely perhaps, stepped up my verbal attacks on the government.

In April of 2012, a local representative visited my jungle compound in the interior, and discreetly suggested that a $2 million dollar donation to the ruling party could cause our impasse to simply go away. I declined.

One week later, on May 2, 2012, my jungle compound was stormed by 42 paramilitary soldiers of the universally feared GSU.

They shot my dog in front of eyes, destroyed a half million dollars worth of my property, subjected me to indignities, and arrested me on false charges which were dropped a few hours later.

The following day, I was contacted by the same representative that had originally asked for the $2 million dollars and who now asked whether or not I had changed my mind. I told him to f— off.

Thus began a war between myself and the government of Belize that went on until October of 2012, when my neighbor was murdered. To this day I believe the target was myself, and that the incompetence of the government caused the assassins to enter the wrong house.

Hard Truths About Race on Campus

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim address some hard truths about race on campus:

A basic principle of psychology is that people pay more attention to information that predicts important outcomes in their lives. A key social factor that we human beings track is who is “us” and who is “them.” In classic studies, researchers divided people into groups based on arbitrary factors such as a coin toss. They found that, even with such trivial distinctions, people discriminated in favor of their in-group members.

None of this means that we are doomed to discriminate by race. A 2001 study by Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that race was much less prominent in how people categorized each other when individuals also shared some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team. If you set things up so that race conveys less important information than some other salient factor, then people pay less attention to race.

A second principle of psychology is the power of cooperation. When groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to dissolve enmity and create a mind-set of “one for all, all for one.” Conversely, when groups are put into competition with each other, people readily shift into zero-sum thinking and hostility.

[...]

But as practiced in most of the top American universities, affirmative action also involves using different admissions standards for applicants of different races, which automatically creates differences in academic readiness and achievement. Although these gaps vary from college to college, studies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.

As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers. People notice useful social cues, and one of the strongest causes of stereotypes is exposure to real group differences. If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other schools are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.

And racial gaps in classroom performance create other problems. A 2013 study by the economist Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University found that students tend to befriend those who are similar to themselves in academic achievement. This is a big contributor to the patterns of racial and ethnic self-segregation visible on many campuses. If a school increases its affirmative-action efforts in ways that expand these gaps, it is likely to end up with more self-segregation and fewer cross-race friendships, and therefore with even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.

[...]

In their book All That We Can Be (1996), the sociologists Charles Moskos and John Sibley Butler describe how the U.S. Army escaped from the racial dysfunction of the 1970s to become a model of integration and near-equality by the time of the 1991 Gulf War. The Army invested more resources in training and mentoring black soldiers so that they could meet rigorous promotion standards. But, crucially, standards were lowered for no one, so that the race of officers conveyed no information about their abilities. The Army also promoted cooperation and positive-sum thinking by emphasizing pride in the Army and in America.

Theodore Dalrymple explains how Britain went down the drain

Friday, May 13th, 2016

While working as a pyschiatrist in a prison and in a hospital serving the poor, Theodore Dalrymple “saw almost straight away that raw want was not the explanation” for the poor behavior of the poor in Britain:

Blame is reserved for the intellectual class that made all this happen. Not through the indifference of the 1930s, but overindulgence. Trendy 1960s social theories have run amok and caused endless harm to the people they are supposed to be helping, he says. Academics, writers, artists and journalists tore down old values like personal responsibility and civility, replaced by ideas that “society is to blame” and a moral relativism that says that nothing is wrong.

“It has disastrous effects on those worst off,” he says, “those least able to withstand the practical results” of that moral anarchy.

Zero self-control and zero connection between effort and reward did not make people happy, but left them trapped in “cheerless self-pitying hedonism and the brutality of the dependency culture”, he wrote in the book, Life at the Bottom.

A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

In his conversation with Tyler Cowen, Jonathan Haidt mentions that he has “become more libertarian, but with a real sense of respect for what social conservatives say about family stability” — but there are hints of other changes, too:

Cowen: Some of your core ideas in psychology and also I would say anthropology, if you had to pick a famous movie, or famous novel, or play, that illustrated those, that you would use to teach some of your ideas, what would you point to, and what would your account be?

Haidt: Oh my God. I should have a great answer to this question. I am so poorly read, my wife makes fun of me that I haven’t read a novel since I met her in the year 2000, I’ve just been so busy reading non?fiction. Let’s see. Gosh, almost any of these BBC epics, anything that illustrates, I think English aristocratic life in the 19th century illustrates a rich, morally rich society with hierarchy and all those things that have disappeared from modern morality.

I should have a much better answer for you, but I think just reading novels from non?Western cultures, and I would consider 19th century British aristocracy to be sort of a foreign culture now, just can give you an idea of cultures other than our own.

[...]

Cowen: What’s the best replacement for religion in modern, secular society?

Haidt: Oh boy, the best replacement.

Cowen: Good question. Durkheimian question.

Haidt: Yeah. A few years ago I would have tried to give you an answer and say we should have some other sacred value to replace it, but given what’s happened in the last year on campuses, I’m really afraid of it, because you might think, “Humanitarianism should replace it. We should all have a religion of helping the poor, helping each other.” Now, of course, it’s really important to help the poor. It’s really important to help people who are oppressed.

But once you make it a religion, that means you are impervious to evidence. You are committed to certain religious rituals even if those rituals make things worse. For example, I’ve been studying the research on affirmative action and diversity training. As far as I can tell there’s no evidence that they make things better and there is some evidence that it makes things worse.

Now, it’s messy. I can’t say for sure that they do, but the point is, we seem to be doing things on campus that are making things worse. The activists are largely asking for things that will make things worse. Much more affirmative action, much bigger racial preferences, which will cause much bigger gaps between Asians at the top and African-Americans at the bottom. Which is going to inflame prejudice, not reduce it.

Once you make something a religion, you’re not open to evidence. You do really crazy, stupid things. What I would say is, let’s not have a replacement for religion. Let’s set things up so that there isn’t a big religion that unites us all to take on our enemies. Let’s try to return to a climate in which people find meaning and purpose in their private lives and in their smaller associations, but we don’t have a big sense of national purpose.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

The experienced Screwtape speaks to the younger devils about the latter half of the nineteenth century and recent developments:

The great movement toward liberty and equality among men had by then borne solid fruits and grown mature. Slavery had been abolished. The American War of Independence had been won. The French Revolution had succeeded. In that movement there had originally been many elements which were in our favour. Much Atheism, much Anticlericalism, much envy and thirst for revenge, even some (rather absurd) attempts to revive Paganism, were mixed in it. It was not easy to determine what our own attitude should be. On the one hand it was a bitter blow to us — it still is — that any sort of men who had been hungry should be fed or any who had long worn chains should have them struck off. But on the other hand, there was in the movement so much rejection of faith, so much materialism, secularism, and hatred, that we felt we were bound to encourage it.

But by the latter part of the century the situation was much simpler, and also much more ominous. In the English sector (where I saw most of my front-line service) a horrible thing had happened. The Enemy, with His usual sleight of hand, had largely appropriated this progressive or liberalizing movement and perverted it to His own ends. Very little of its old anti-Christianity remained. The dangerous phenomenon called Christian Socialism was rampant. Factory owners of the good old type who grew rich on sweated labor, instead of being assassinated by their workpeople — we could have used that — were being frowned upon by their own class. The rich were increasingly giving up their powers, not in the face of revolution and compulsion, but in obedience to their own consciences. As for the poor who benefited by this, they were behaving in a most disappointing fashion. Instead of using their new liberties — as we reasonably hoped and expected — for massacre, rape, and looting, or even for perpetual intoxication, they were perversely engaged in becoming cleaner, more orderly, more thrifty, better educated, and even more virtuous. Believe me, gentledevils, the threat of something like a really healthy state of society seemed then perfectly serious.

Thanks to Our Father Below, the threat was averted. Our counterattack was on two levels. On the deepest level our leaders contrived to call into full life an element which had been implicit in the movement from its earliest days. Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn’t know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a toolshed in his own garden.

Such was our counterattack on one level. You, who are mere beginners, will not be entrusted with work of that kind. You will be attached as Tempters to private persons. Against them, or through them, our counterattack takes a different form.

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”

Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic.

Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic. I am credibly informed that young humans now sometimes suppress an incipient taste for classical music or good literature because it might prevent their Being Like Folks; that people who would really wish to be — and are offered the Grace which would enable them to be — honest, chaste, or temperate refuse it. To accept might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals.

All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: “O God, make me a normal twentieth century girl!” Thanks to our labours, this will mean increasingly: “Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.”

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day) who will not be made Normal or Regular and Like Folks and Integrated increasingly become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it expects. (“Since, whatever I do, the neighbors are going to think me a witch, or a Communist agent, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and become one in reality.”) As a result we now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.

But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.

What we are seeing worldwide

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes what we are seeing worldwide:

What we are seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30y of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, microeconomic papers wrong 40% of the time, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating only 1/5th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers with a better track record than these policymaking goons.