How Stable Are Democracies?

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

How stable are democracies? Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard, and Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, have developed a three-factor formula to answer that question:

The first factor was public support: How important do citizens think it is for their country to remain democratic? The second was public openness to nondemocratic forms of government, such as military rule. And the third factor was whether “antisystem parties and movements” — political parties and other major players whose core message is that the current system is illegitimate — were gaining support.

If support for democracy was falling while the other two measures were rising, the researchers marked that country “deconsolidating.” And they found that deconsolidation was the political equivalent of a low-grade fever that arrives the day before a full-blown case of the flu.

Venezuela, for instance, enjoyed the highest possible scores on Freedom House’s measures of political rights and democracy in the 1980s. But those democratic practices were not deeply rooted. During that apparent period of stability, Venezuela already scored as deconsolidating on the Mounk-Foa test.

Since then, Venezuelan democracy has declined significantly. In 1992, a faction of the Venezuelan military loyal to Hugo Chávez attempted a coup against the democratically elected government. Mr. Chávez was elected president in 1998 on a wave of populist support, and he immediately passed a new constitution that consolidated his power. His government cracked down on dissent, imprisoned political opponents and shredded the country’s economy with a series of ill-planned economic overhauls.

Likewise, when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, it was hailed as an especially strong example of a post-Communist country making the transition to consolidated democracy. But Mr. Mounk and Mr. Foa found strong signs of deconsolidation during that period: As early as 2005, nearly 16 percent of Poles said they believed democracy was a “bad” or “fairly bad” way of running the country. By 2012, 22 percent of respondents said that they supported army rule. And in the mid-2000s, a series of antisystem parties began to gain traction in Polish politics, including Law and Justice, Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland, and the League of Polish Families.

Today, that fever is starting to look a lot like the flu. Law and Justice, which won the presidency and a parliamentary majority in 2015, has systematically weakened democratic institutions.

Their key finding:

Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.

Waiting Is Torture

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Waiting is torture:

SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.

Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.

So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero.

This story hints at a general principle: the experience of waiting, whether for luggage or groceries, is defined only partly by the objective length of the wait. “Often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself,” notes the M.I.T. operations researcher Richard Larson, widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on lines. Occupied time (walking to baggage claim) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at the carousel). Research on queuing has shown that, on average, people overestimate how long they’ve waited in a line by about 36 percent.

This is also why one finds mirrors next to elevators. The idea was born during the post-World War II boom, when the spread of high-rises led to complaints about elevator delays. The rationale behind the mirrors was similar to the one used at the Houston airport: give people something to occupy their time, and the wait will feel shorter. With the mirrors, people could check their hair or slyly ogle other passengers. And it worked: almost overnight, the complaints ceased.

The drudgery of unoccupied time also accounts in large measure for the popularity of impulse-buy items, which earn supermarkets about $5.5 billion annually. The tabloids and packs of gum offer relief from the agony of waiting.

The Bestseller Code

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

The Bestseller Code reveals what sells:

After four years of work, Jodie Archer, a former acquisitions editor, and Matthew Jockers, an academic specializing in computational analysis of style, have been able to “predict” which books were bestsellers and which were not with “an average accuracy of 80 percent.” This means that, out of a randomly selected group of 50 bestsellers and 50 non-bestsellers, the algorithm would predict 40 of each correctly.

[...]

They built a collection of “just under 5,000 books,” including “a diverse mixture of non-bestselling ebooks and traditional published novels, and just over 500 New York Times bestsellers.”

[...]

There’s a prejudice among many readers of esoteric fare that bestsellers are badly written, escapist, and driven by cringe-making sex and implausible plot turns. But the results of the authors’ program suggest that sex doesn’t sell but realism — of a sort — does, and that bestsellers are carefully, even masterfully, crafted, down to the level of the individual sentence.

As to escapism, Americans’ idea of that means inhabiting somebody else’s job. Work is a riveting topic. The authors don’t explore this in detail, but those jobs tend to be emergency-room doctor or fiery litigator, not insurance analyst or dental hygienist. Other favored topics are “intimate conversation” and “human closeness.” Television caught on to this interest in work and talk long ago: Think of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Friends, Seinfeld. But many so-called serious novelists avoid the world of work, unless it’s university teaching, presumably due to lack of experience.

The list of turnoffs is revealing as well: Fantasy, science fiction, revolutions, dinner parties, very dressed-up women, and dancing, as well as “the body described in any terms other than in pain or at a crime scene.” Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll account for less than 1 percent of bestsellers’ content; sex sells only in a niche market.

[...]

As to structure, focus and simplicity work: “To get to 40 percent of the average novel, a bestseller uses only four topics.” One of these should be something many people fear: an accident, illness, or involvement in a lawsuit. And oddly enough, despite such relentless practicality, 9 of 10 recent debut novels that became instant bestsellers were written by women.

The authors are given to the adjective “winning,” as in “winning style,” “winning over readers,” and “winning prose.” They don’t like “long-winded syntax” and “the endless sentences of some classic writers who will write for three paragraphs without a period point.”

Halloween

Monday, October 31st, 2016

I’ve written a surprising amount about Halloween and horror over the years:

Steven Den Beste has died

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Steven Den Beste of the U.S.S. Clueless has died. Glenn Reynolds will miss him:

I’ve missed his blogging for years. He was a giant in the early days of the blogosphere. And even afterward, he made his contributions, like his Unified Theory Of Left-Wing Causes. Rest in peace, Steven.

I cited him often back in the early days of the blogosphere (2003).

Intolerance is not a thing of the past

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

The Authoritarian Dynamic offers a kind of Rosetta stone, Jonathan Haidt suggests, for interpreting the rise of right-wing populism and its focus on Muslims in 2016:

Stenner notes that her theory “explains the kind of intolerance that seems to ‘come out of nowhere,’ that can spring up in tolerant and intolerant cultures alike, producing sudden changes in behavior that cannot be accounted for by slowly changing cultural traditions.”

[T]he increasing license allowed by those evolving cultures generates the very conditions guaranteed to goad latent authoritarians to sudden and intense, perhaps violent, and almost certainly unexpected, expressions of intolerance. Likewise, then, if intolerance is more a product of individual psychology than of cultural norms…we get a different vision of the future, and a different understanding of whose problem this is and will be, than if intolerance is an almost accidental by-product of simple attachment to tradition. The kind of intolerance that springs from aberrant individual psychology, rather than the disinterested absorption of pervasive cultural norms, is bound to be more passionate and irrational, less predictable, less amenable to persuasion, and more aggravated than educated by the cultural promotion of tolerance [emphasis added].

Writing in 2004, Stenner predicted that “intolerance is not a thing of the past, it is very much a thing of the future.”

[...]

Stenner ends The Authoritarian Dynamic with some specific and constructive advice:

[A]ll the available evidence indicates that exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference — the hallmarks of liberal democracy — are the surest ways to aggravate those who are innately intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness…. Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation.

If Stenner is correct, then her work has profound implications, not just for America, which was the focus of her book, but perhaps even more so for Europe.

Happy Secession Day

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Once again, I wish you a happy Secession Day! I’ve discussed the colonies’ secession from the motherland more than once over the years:

Behind the Scenes

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Puppet MasterOur Slovenian guest has been quietly working behind the scenes, connecting some of his favorite blogs.

Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

In Panzer Battles, von Mellenthin describes the psychology of the Russian soldier with an emphasis on its Asiatic foreignness:

No one belonging to the cultural circle of the West is ever likely to fathom the character and soul of these Asiatics, born and bred on the other side of the European frontiers.

(I am of course aware that the Slavs migrated into Russia from the west, and were originally a European people. But the Mongol invasion of 1241, and the two centuries of domination which followed, gave an Asiatic twist in the Russian outlook and character, a development accentuated by the policy of the Tsars.)

Yet the Russian character must contain the key to an understanding of their soldierly qualities, their achievements, and their way of fighting. The human heart, and the psychology of the individual fighting man, have always been the ruling factors in warfare, transcending the importance of numbers and equipment. This old maxim held good during World War II, and I think it will always to so.

The Russian soldier is unpredictable, von Mellenthin felt — and American General George S. Patton felt the same way, as he’s quoted in General Patton: A Soldier’s Life:

The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other Asiatic characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk.

He definitely did not see the Russians as true allies:

We promised the Europeans freedom. It would be worse than dishonorable not to see they have it. This might mean war with the Russians, but what of it? They have no Air Force anymore, their gasoline and ammunition supplies are low. I’ve seen their miserable supply trains; mostly wagons draw by beaten up old hoses or oxen. I’ll say this; the Third Army alone with very little help and with damned few casualties, could lick what is left of the Russians in six weeks. You mark my words. Don’t ever forget them… Someday we will have to fight them and it will take six years and cost us six million lives.

In Football We Trust

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

In Football We Trust examines the “Polynesian pipeline” into the NFL through Mormon Utah:

The documentary could be considered a study in human biodiversity. You can’t help but notice that these young men are big, strong, fast, tough, and impulsive. One of the dads laments that he doesn’t have a short fuze; he has no fuze. All of the grown men in the family have personal problems; that is, they’ve served time in prison.

Popular Posts of 2015

Friday, January 1st, 2016

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2015. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, three of which are new, seven of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Myostatin, Belgian Blue, and Flex Wheeler
  3. Longbow vs. Armor
  4. He-Man Opening Monologue
  5. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Fast Friends Protocol
  8. What A Good Job Looks Like (new)
  9. Small-Arms Overmatch (new)
  10. Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent? (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2015 and not from an earlier year:

  1. What A Good Job Looks Like
  2. Small-Arms Overmatch
  3. Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent?
  4. The Unintended Consequences of Recording the Police
  5. FOMO
  6. America Lite
  7. An Elaborate Suicide Fantasy
  8. Weightlifting is Anti-Aging
  9. Traction Magnates
  10. City vs. Small Town
  11. Asymmetrical Multiculturalism
  12. Simplistic and Naive but Effectively True
  13. Silicon Valley White-Asian Divide

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Free NorthernerOutside InPJ Media, Borepatch, and Mapping The Dark Enlightenment.

Happy Wookiee Life Day!

Friday, December 25th, 2015

I’ve discussed Christmas a number of times over the years:

Our Era of Outrage

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Even the New York Times accepts that South Park perfectly captures our era of outrage:

Now, it was as if our culture had been shining an Eric Cartman-shaped Bat-signal and “South Park” answered. You could see the news from college campuses — safe spaces, trigger warnings — and conclude that America was more radically leftist than ever. You could read a dispatch from the Republican primary — border walls, refugee panic — and conclude that it was more reactionary than ever. The country is deeply polarized, and between two poles is precisely where the quasi-libertarian “South Park” most likes to swing.

Deep Survival

Friday, December 11th, 2015

The lesson of Deep Survival, Scott Berkun says, is that the people who survive abandon their mental models of the world and open their eyes:

They don’t try to force the world to be a certain way: instead they respond to the world like a child, taking it to be what it is, and working within the real world to try and survive (or thrive).

Halloween

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

I’ve written a surprising amount about Halloween over the years: