One subgroup of scholars did manage to see more of what was coming

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

I really enjoyed David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. His new book, Range, explores why generalists triumph in a specialized world:

Ehrlich’s starvation predictions were almost comically bad. And yet, the very same year he conceded the bet, Ehrlich doubled down in another book, with another prediction that would prove untrue: Sure, his timeline had been a little off, he wrote, but “now the population bomb has detonated.” Despite one erroneous prediction after another, Ehrlich amassed an enormous following and received prestigious awards. Simon, meanwhile, became a standard-bearer for scholars who felt that Ehrlich had ignored economic principles. The kind of excessive regulations Ehrlich advocated, the Simon camp argued, would quell the very innovation that had delivered humanity from catastrophe. Both men became luminaries in their respective domains. Both were mistaken.

When economists later examined metal prices for every 10-year window from 1900 to 2008, during which time the world population quadrupled, they saw that Ehrlich would have won the bet 62 percent of the time. The catch: Commodity prices are a poor gauge of population effects, particularly over a single decade. The variable that both men were certain would vindicate their worldviews actually had little to do with those views. Prices waxed and waned with macroeconomic cycles.

Yet both men dug in. Each declared his faith in science and the undisputed primacy of facts. And each continued to miss the value of the other’s ideas. Ehrlich was wrong about the apocalypse, but right on aspects of environmental degradation. Simon was right about the influence of human ingenuity on food and energy supplies, but wrong in claiming that improvements in air and water quality validated his theories. Ironically, those improvements were bolstered through regulations pressed by Ehrlich and others.

Ideally, intellectual sparring partners “hone each other’s arguments so that they are sharper and better,” the Yale historian Paul Sabin wrote in The Bet. “The opposite happened with Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon.” As each man amassed more information for his own view, each became more dogmatic, and the inadequacies in his model of the world grew ever more stark.

The pattern is by now familiar. In the 30 years since Ehrlich sent Simon a check, the track record of expert forecasters — in science, in economics, in politics — is as dismal as ever.

This is Philip E. Tetlock’s domain, of course. His notion of Superforcasting goes back to 1984, when he attended a meeting of a National Research Council committee on American-Soviet relations:

Renowned experts delivered authoritative predictions, and Tetlock was struck by how many perfectly contradicted one another and were impervious to counterarguments.

Tetlock decided to put expert political and economic predictions to the test. With the Cold War in full swing, he collected forecasts from 284 highly educated experts who averaged more than 12 years of experience in their specialties. To ensure that the predictions were concrete, experts had to give specific probabilities of future events. Tetlock had to collect enough predictions that he could separate lucky and unlucky streaks from true skill. The project lasted 20 years, and comprised 82,361 probability estimates about the future.

The result: The experts were, by and large, horrific forecasters. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, and (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting and bad at long-term forecasting. They were bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that future events were impossible or nearly impossible, 15 percent of them occurred nonetheless. When they declared events to be a sure thing, more than one-quarter of them failed to transpire. As the Danish proverb warns, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Even faced with their results, many experts never admitted systematic flaws in their judgment. When they missed wildly, it was a near miss; if just one little thing had gone differently, they would have nailed it. “There is often a curiously inverse relationship,” Tetlock concluded, “between how well forecasters thought they were doing and how well they did.”

Early predictions in Tetlock’s research pertained to the future of the Soviet Union. Some experts (usually liberals) saw Mikhail Gorbachev as an earnest reformer who would be able to change the Soviet Union and keep it intact for a while, and other experts (usually conservatives) felt that the Soviet Union was immune to reform and losing legitimacy. Both sides were partly right and partly wrong. Gorbachev did bring real reform, opening the Soviet Union to the world and empowering citizens. But those reforms unleashed pent-up forces in the republics outside Russia, where the system had lost legitimacy. The forces blew the Soviet Union apart. Both camps of experts were blindsided by the swift demise of the U.S.S.R.

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming. Unlike Ehrlich and Simon, they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews. They agreed that Gorbachev was a real reformer and that the Soviet Union had lost legitimacy outside Russia. A few of those integrators saw that the end of the Soviet Union was close at hand and that real reforms would be the catalyst.


Unfortunately, the world’s most prominent specialists are rarely held accountable for their predictions, so we continue to rely on them even when their track records make clear that we should not. One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.


In Tetlock’s 20-year study, both the broad foxes and the narrow hedgehogs were quick to let a successful prediction reinforce their beliefs. But when an outcome took them by surprise, foxes were much more likely to adjust their ideas. Hedgehogs barely budged. Some made authoritative predictions that turned out to be wildly wrong — then updated their theories in the wrong direction. They became even more convinced of the original beliefs that had led them astray. The best forecasters, by contrast, view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. If they make a bet and lose, they embrace the logic of a loss just as they would the reinforcement of a win. This is called, in a word, learning.


  1. Kirk says:

    Paul, it’s possible, nay… Probable, even, that I read a different report on the same data you did, because I remember it being cast quite differently than you describe.

    There has been a certain sort of arrogance and self-congratulatory BS that I’ve seen in a lot of the Swedish sociological research on criminality, which I surmise stems from having dealt primarily with Swedish criminals. Once they’ve spent a few generations working with the various ethnic groups they’ve encouraged to migrate, I suspect that the disdain they display for American criminal justice is going to shift, somewhat.

  2. Kirk says:

    “Poor John is getting stick from the SJWs because he is lamenting the loss of his culture, and is being labelled a racist for doing so. Ironic that the SJWs see him as an old, establishment figure to attack, rather than the satirist and anti-establishment figure he and the gang were.”

    I read him somewhat differently–He’s that guy who tore out Chesterton’s Fence, and is now lamenting that his garden is overrun with the neighbor’s sheep. The Python crew were subversives, termites gnawing in the woodwork, as it were. The fact that they were finally successful in killing the things they were mocking is kind of tragic, but it was their own damn doing. Which is why I’d like to know what the John Cleese of then would think, compared to the John Cleese of now. Does he remain essentially self-unaware? Does he realize what he did, what he took part in…?

    I don’t think that a satirist is necessarily dangerous, but at specific moments in the zeitgeist, they can be viciously inimical to the survival of a culture. You make mock of things, don’t be surprised then when they go away…

  3. Paul from Canada says:

    “Yeah, color me in as dubious of the proposition that there’s a definitive relationship between low intelligence and criminality. I think what it is is that there’s a high correlation between not-so-bright criminals and our ability to catch them…”

    Well of course. there is also the question of what I would call personal impact. Unless I am stupid and gullible enough to fall for it,and in his target demographic, Bernie Madoff is not a problem to me. Lots of white collar criminals manage a successful career, without hurting me, being visible to me or affecting me other than perhaps higher insurance costs.

    On the other hand the tweaker breaking into my car or house to steal for his habit, the kids vandalizing my parked car for kicks, the drunk driver, all these can have a profound impact my everyday life.

    Likewise the suggestion that poverty and “root causes” cause crime, which is an insult to the millions of poor people who DON’T steal.

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    “I read him somewhat differently–He’s that guy who tore out Chesterton’s Fence, and is now lamenting that his garden is overrun with the neighbor’s sheep….”

    Yes, I expressed that wrong, what I meant was what you expressed so much better.

    Being against the establishment when he was young, now suddenly finding out that he IS part of the establishment, at least so far as the current generation are concerned, is quite ironic. The sad part is that the kids criticizing him don’t really know him or his work.

  5. Paul from Canada says:

    “There has been a certain sort of arrogance and self-congratulatory BS that I’ve seen in a lot of the Swedish sociological research on criminality, which I surmise stems from having dealt primarily with Swedish criminals.”

    Well yes, this study was from data involving conscript induction testing, so the results applied to ethnic Swedes or Danes or Finns (I don’t actually recall which country the data came from).

    I have used that as an example to refute someone I was arguing with over crime and race. I pointed out that criminality was cultural and possibly, in this case IQ related, and that the subjects of this study were as white as white can be.

    Scandinavians, and particularly Swedes are a strange mix of complexes. The university professor friend I mentioned in an earlier comment teaches there. She is Canadian, but has spent the last decade or so at the University in Lund, and I had the chance to go visit her, and see a good deal of Scandinavia.

    I rather like the place, and the people, recent additions of “vibrancy” notwithstanding. However, there is a strong streak of hypocrisy. They are all Kumbaya and racial equality and so on, rights for all etc. However, they clung to Eugenicist policies, sterilizing the mentally retarded and so on, well into the ’70′s.

    In Norway, there is a hidden scandal about the treatment of women who collaborated and had “German” babies. The kids were discriminated against, put in orphanages, abused. One of the women from ABBA was one of these kids and there is a documentary about it.

    We hear about the almost suicidal attitude towards their “immigrants” to the point where a “man” who was raped by a “refugee” didn’t want to press charges because his attacker might be deported back to Somalia. They indulge in what I would call a “paternalist racism”. They will excuse almost anything on the grounds that “well they don’t know better, poor things”. They don’t demand the newcomers integrate, but then complain that they are not doing so.

    We hear about the annual “carbeques” and no go zones, and we see immigrants ghettoizing themselves, and blame them for it, but there is a lot of insularity and exclusion on the part of the Swedes, towards the “new Swedes”.

    In North America, national identity is cultural, not “blood and soil” nationalist, for the simple reason that there isn’t a single ethnicity to form it around. Swedes want to be multi-cultural and inclusive, but part of them is still “blood and soil”, and the contradictions are interesting.

    They can be also terrifyingly naive because of their insularity. After visiting my friend, having developed an interest in the region, I subscribed to an English language Swedish news feed.

    There was a fascinating article by a woman who got an inkling of a clue. They were having local elections. Now immigrants can’t obviously vote in national elections, but all permanent residents can vote in local and municipal ones. This women worked as a volunteer, helping new immigrants through the process.

    Anyway, she was helping a Muslim woman( full headscarf and chador) through the process, showing her how the ballot worked, and so on. She took the woman into the polling booth and showed her who the candidates were and explained which parties they belonged to, at which point the woman marked her ballot for the Sweden Democrats.

    She was aghast! “I’m not allowed to influence you about your vote, but are you sure that is the party you want? Don’t you know they are against immigration and want to ban your headscarf?”

    “Oh yes” the woman replied, “that is who I want to vote for.”

    For the first time, the Swedish woman had to consider that the propaganda about purdah being voluntary, that the woman DIDN’T want to wear her headscarf, but couldn’t defy her family, but if the government banned it she would have the excuse, and so voted Sweden Democrat.

  6. Kirk says:

    Yeah, there are a lot of Euros that just strike me as being suicidal in their naivete. Like that Danish biker who got shot down in Florida, or the idiots that go to Yellowstone and wander out among the buffalo to kick one of them, in order to get him up for a selfie with him…

    Of course, a lot of my fellow citizens are equally prone to behavior which is contra-indicated for further survival.

    I think that there’s a set of experiences and behavioral conditioning events that you need to experience in order to be a well-rounded, fully actuated human being–And, we just are not getting those events and experiences into the lives of the general population. Which explains the burgeoning amount of sheer “dumb” we’re seeing. At some point, there’s going to be enough of it to collapse beyond the event horizon, and we’re going to have a singularity event here on Earth…

  7. Graham says:


    I just came back and caught up. That exchange was well worth reading, some of the best I’ve seen on this site. Nothing more to add on the key points, save that I’m glad to see you converging on some conceptual mid point that I have in the past thought should be there. I do have some spin off thoughts:

    I remember that case with the Norwegian male rape victim. I then as now have no idea what it would be like to go through that experience, still less as a man. I recall that British writer Adam Nicolson [he is a fine historian and travel writer] has written about his experience being raped in border country Syria, and seemed to be able to reconcile the experience. On the other hand, I read a tortured account of a Rwandan or Congolese man who had been a war rape victim, subsequently ostracized by his village and family and denounced by his wife. He obviously couldn’t protect her if he couldn’t protect himself, being the logic. They both were horrifying tales. So I cannot imagine what I would have experienced if I had been in that Norwegian’s position. That said, I am pretty confident I would have leaned more toward ‘how can I see that rapist skinned alive and fed to unclean dogs’ than ‘how can I prevent this poor refugee and sufferer of the white Norwegian power structure being deported back to what is after all his own country, and what his kind have made of it’. I cannot understand the mentality. I know it is to generalize too much, but it made me wonder whether Scandinavia should survive and whether I care. My country has already imported too much of their mentality, sometimes with direct attribution.

    That being cruel for a Friday afternoon, I’ll move on.

  8. Graham says:

    I more or less breezed through grade school and high school, though with grades in the 80s mostly rather than the 90s now expected to get into a good university. I got 90s in things like history, English, geography, 70s in math. So it goes. Math was never a strong suit.

    In my second and final semester of high school, I got lucky. I still got grades like that, but I had to work suddenly harder. I’m not sure of the details anymore, but some combination of teacher style, workload, expected quality, and expected autonomy had its bars raised. I was fortunate to realize this early and adapt.

    Best thing that could have happened. I didn’t really experience the even then spoken of with dread transition to university. Even back then, people were talking about how hard this adjustment ostensibly was for some students and I laughed. Now that subject is raised as though a national crisis. I figure, Jesus if at 17-18 neither your parents nor life nor high school has taught you to show up on time and do your work without supervision, ask for the help you were told was available, etc., maybe you need to reconsider or at least wait another year and do something else.

    SO I worked plenty hard at university and I got, if not the most I could academically, then a lot of engagement with what I studied and then some. There were people even in third year seminars that made me wonder why there were there, and this nearly 30 years ago.

    On that, somewhere this week, possibly earlier in this exchange, someone raised the issue of really basic behaviours like the aforementioned showing up on time. Time was, reformers would criticize the 19th -20th century school model for its emphasis on uniformity, schedule, and making good little citizens and corporate workers out of kids. Even as late as the airy-fairy 1970s of my childhood. [My mother knew the two grade 1 teachers at my school well and was glad I got the old school one. Mrs. Olive Brinson. The other was actually older, but was the sugar coated granny type. ] If the schools no longer expect you to show up everywhere on time and drug free, what is the point of going? That was the most basic and the last utility of the system.

  9. Paul from Canada says:

    “I think that there’s a set of experiences and behavioral conditioning events that you need to experience in order to be a well-rounded, fully actuated human being–And, we just are not getting those events and experiences into the lives of the general population.”


    I think that is an amazingly incisive observation, and cuts through pretty much all of our previous discussion. I think I was groping for something like this when I was blathering on earlier, but you just boiled down a long, milti-strand thread discussion into one simple paragraph.

  10. Paul from Canada says:

    “…sufferer of the white Norwegian power structure being deported back to what is after all his own country, and what his kind have made of it’. I cannot understand the mentality.”


    That is not the worst of it.

    I can see how an American or Brit could buy into the current white-guilt-colonialism/slavery/reparations thing, though most of us do not!

    The Scandinavians seem to bought into it completely, and in their modern guise, they never had slaves or colonies!

    Once you get past viking times, the closest thing to an empire was Sweden, and their “colonies” consisted of other Scandinavian countries, part of the Baltic, and part of Poland! In Viking times, sure they had slaves, but that was way back then, and the slaves were white!

  11. Graham says:


    You raised the issue of “all shall have prizes” which is a definite issue but I don’t quite think it’s the same as the whiz kids of the new meritocracy.

    TO me it is two issues. It’s not that they aren’t related in spirit but they produce different ends because they’re working on somewhat different populations and produce different adult populations.

    There’s all shall have prizes that reflects the egalitarian idea that every accomplishment is equal as well as the assumption that encouragement of the mediocre is the way to produce the excellent, and that the kid in question could be excellent and just lacks encouragement and self-esteem, as opposed to competition, obstacle and real reward. Or perhaps the assumption that there is no difference between a real reward and a fake one, so what matter?

    I wouldn’t want to turn into a Chinese student mill. And maybe there’s something in the idea of being gentle to encourage younger kids. But I don’t have that little memory of myself or my friends in grade school. Most of us seemed to want to excel at something- some school subject, or gym, or sports, or even just be obsessively knowledgeable about our interests/hobbies or social cliques. I’ve always thought most kids understand competition somehow, in whatever field catches their mind. We are rarely as soft as all that.

    [My dad used to rebel against the idea that one could have self-esteem. He thought you could have self-respect, which was earned. You couldn't esteem yourself. I think he might have been using an older thesaurus, but his point has stuck with me.]

    The second issue is for the academic grinds, of which perhaps I was one but probably not by modern or Ivy League standards. The ones who strive, or are striven by parents, or both, who thrive on study, tests, competition of a rather specific kind, and who, more recently, have understood the value of other skills within the limits of resume-padding, so carefully or mandatorily so stints of social work, sports for grinds, and learn to write essays about their well-planned extra-curricular life. [I actually find that latter element, flowering after my time, the most irritating. So did my father. He found it infuriating that the schools might require his kid to do such things especially if he didn't approve of them politically. I inherited this attitude. I can see where it is broadening, but it is broadening in a very specific, goal oriented way. I thought it intrusive on my real life.]

    I can see the similarities of impulse behind these and why they go together, but they’re not entirely the same problem. The grinds probably resent the all have prizes kids too.

  12. Graham says:


    I generally take the view that war and imperialism were normal civilizational behaviors for millennia. I don’t see why Europeans should apologize for being the ones to break the wheel. So to speak.

    I can see why the Chinese might resent us trying to break the wheel while on top so they have to abide by our rules based international order [TM]. If I were them I’d also tell us to GTFO.

    But for my part, I’m not apologetic. Even less so as I get older.

    I really don’t understand the agony some folks go through. It strikes me as insane, and still would even if Britain had been a lot worse than it was. It’s actually making me less generous and liberal minded and I’m OK with that.

    The Scandinavians strike me as either unnecessarily making up for the Vikings, which is silly since it was so long ago and we the victims all ended up well enough off, or just as a bunch of nutters who apologize for being raped and [if male] allegedly pee sitting down.

    Hmm. I’m starting to get all casual here. I think I’m tired of being told at intervals through my life how Canadians should emulate Swedes. Only if it means sacking Russia.

  13. Kirk says:


    I think the problem goes to a lot of what I’m talking about with the report John brought up the other day, about lying in the US Army.

    Frame this as an exercise in behavioral conditioning. If we take the model of B.F. Skinner to heart, his ideas about operant conditioning play into this.

    Expressed behavior is a product of an individual organism’s ongoing conversation with their environment. The environment signals something, the organism selects behavior that either avoids the signal when it dislikes it, or repeats the behavior to get more of the signal. Humans add complexity to that because of cognition–We imagine, we project, and we can make use of observation of others to “borrow” signaling events from the experiences of others.

    We also have a bit of a dichotomy going on due to the very human ability to communicate with parts of our environment, namely other organisms.

    Consider this as “message vs. signal”, and that each event in our lives can be framed as a behavioral conditioning opportunity.

    In my conceptualization of it, there’s message and signal; message is when I tell my dog “Leave that kitty alone…”. Signal is when that foolish dog persists in putting her nose into the corner where the cat is hiding, and then gets a face full of claws.

    The problem we have with so many human societal structures is that the behavioral signals we’re sending a lot of people do not match the messages accompanying them, and our managerial/leadership class that’s sending those messages is apparently lacking the self-awareness of what they’re doing with the signalling vs. the messaging.

    You tell the kid one thing, with that “trophy’s for everyone”, but the actual signal that’s being sent is entirely another, and dependent on all too many non-verbal cues that nobody thinks about because they’re simply not cognizant of them in the first damn place.

    We often operate in haze of oblivious self-delusion about what the signals are, versus what we’re saying.

    Which is why the ongoing conversation that people have going with their environments is so thoroughly out of whack with reality.

  14. Graham says:

    It occurs to me that to be a good progressive in today’s world, one has to believe a lot of cognitive dissonance.

    1. There is no such thing as IQ, there is nothing hereditary about intelligence or anything else, all intelligences are equal.

    2. Anyone can grow up to be anything if they get the right interventions early enough.

    3. The intelligent should rule, intelligence is defined academically and specifically by particular kinds of tests.

    4. Anyone can be part of that intelligentsia. It’s a pure meritocracy.

    5. The intelligentsia show themselves in childhood.

    6. We should cull them from their communities and introduce them to our caste in its seats of power.

    7. Everyone is equal.

    8. Why are our periphery people such retards?

    9. Stupidity is defined by not passing the tests but also holding wrongthink views.

    10. Logic and Reason define goals, nor means. And your goals and values are irrational. Ours are rational.

    11. Intelligentsia should date, marry and reproduce with other intelligentsia in equal intelligent long term marriages. This will project intelligence into the future.

    12. Again, nothing is hereditary.

    13. It would be inegalitarian to force the stupid to have long term marriages and raise children that way. And they’d still be stupid. If their kid is not, we’ll make sure they give her to us.

    And so on.

    I put those in no particular order. I am sure some order could be found to tease out the relationships a little more.

  15. Paul from Canada says:

    “I generally take the view that war and imperialism were normal civilizational behaviors for millennia. I don’t see why Europeans should apologize for being the ones to break the wheel. So to speak..”

    My attitude as well. I think the problem is a side effect of the enlightenment and our emphasis on the individual. It has made Western Civilization ™,the source of the greatest good and most human progress in history, but I think there is something in this emphasis on individual identity which makes us prone to these weird guilt trips. I’m not sure exactly what, so I need to think about this some more.

    One thing I DO know for sure, is that we are the ONLY ones who feel any of this “guilt”. I’m not sure if this speaks well of us as taking the high road, or if it is just a sign of our loss of confidence and decline. You NEVER hear anyone else apologizing for a war or conquest.

    The other thing is, the rest of the world knows it. For example, the whole “reparations for slavery” thing. Reparations are always demanded from Britain and America, even though we came to the institution late, and did more than anyone else to abolish it.

    You never hear demands for reparations from Brazil or Cuba, from Oman, the West African Kingdoms, just the UK and US. Likely because only they are remotely likely to give in to it. If you demanded reparations from China, they would look baffled at first, and then tell you to F-Off.

  16. Paul from Canada says:


    I like your list, especially the inherent contradictions, like between 1. and 5.

  17. Kirk says:

    Message not in accordance with signal…

  18. Paul from Canada says:

    …”signalling vs. the messaging”

    Bit a a tangent, but might be slightly germane.

    We talk about “virtue signalling”, and I find it interesting that lot of it seems so very superficial. It is almost like a lot of SJW stuff, isn’t held very deeply. It isn’t that most of them deeply believe, just that they feel they have to signal in conformity with the group to maintain their social position and acceptance.

    It is amusing to notice the autophagy that breaks out in the left from time to time. When the previously acceptable narrative is suddenly not any longer, and those who didn’t “get the memo” in time get eaten because they didn’t reverse their position. For example the current T.E.R.F. war between the rad-fems and the Trannies.

    Economists point to what they call “Stated preference vs. revealed preference.”

    Think of how badly polling has been recently. The two explanations are that the publicly released polling info is meant to “push” i.e. we say our side is winning, regardless of the actual results, so our opponents should just give up and stay home. The other is that political correctness and the current political climate means that people make a stated preference to match the political environment, but reveal their actual preference “revealed preference” when they get into the privacy of the polling booth.


    One of the big Canadian newspapers, I think it was the Globe and Mail, used to do a feature, where they would get one of the large polling companies to do a public opinion poll on the big story of the week.

    A few years ago,when Michael Ignatief was the Liberal leader. Now, a deadline related to Kyoto and global warming was coming up, and when the Liberals had been in power, they signed on to it, and then did SFA to actually comply. Now that the Conservatives were (newly)in power, the Liberals very cynically put in a non-binding resolution to the effect that the current government should do everything it can to meet our Kyoto obligations, even if it meant damaging the economy.

    So that week, the newspaper poll question was something like, “Do you agree that the government should do whatever it can to meet our Kyoto obligations, even if it means higher taxes and a weaker economy. Result? Something like 80% YES.

    A week or so later, something happened, refinery fire, strife in the Middle East, or something which caused a massive spike in gas prices. SO that week’s poll question: “Do you think the government should do something like temporarily reducing gas taxes to help struggling consumers with the price of gas. Again, around 80% YES.

    Now either this means that people are hypocrites, or they are paying lip service and virtue signalling with the regard to the first poll, or that they really don’t think much and just react on an emotional level to most things, and so don’t see the contradiction. Which it is I can’t decide.

  19. Graham says:


    Autophagy is the word of the day.

    It reminded me of coprophagy, a pursuit I heartily recommend to the modern left. Especially on the imperialism stuff.

    At one point there was an internet datum going around alleging that in the Chinese internet the crazier western progressives are referred to derisively as “baizuo”, the White Left. Now in a vaguely Leninist society a dismissal like that could come from a lot of different thought processes, but either way I endorse their cavalier dismissal.

    On the polls, I tend to assume the latter most of the time. I’m not especially likely to dismiss the wisdom of the common man to govern his own affairs, I rather like it, but it’s not surprising they’d not think consistently about connections on statecraft. Few ever did. Or will. I don’t want to be either too elitist or get too in thrall to the idea that there is too much universal wisdom in The People.

    The problem with our elite is that it is the wrong one, too disconnected and in thrall either to stupid ideas or serving goals that aren’t likely to the benefit of their countries as presently constituted, because they want them constituted differently.

    I’d like an elite that was open to talent, flexible in its understanding of talent, interested in the consent of the governed, and dedicated to preserving our sundry countries much as they are for the longer term. We can discuss more ideological nuances later.

    I will never get that.

  20. Graham says:

    Of course I’d like to think people answering Globe and Mail polls are all lying for the sheer sake of it.

    Alas, Canadians are mostly too earnest for that.

    If they ever polled me, I can’t decide if I’d tell them the truth for sheer shock value, or lie in some increasingly baroque way to f them up.

  21. Graham says:

    Kirk mentioned the Atlantic earlier.

    In the late 80s and 90s and even early 2000s I thought it a great publication. Mainstream liberal with some time for conservative. They even printed opposition to the Iraq war from some relatively unusual directions.

    Now I’d still call it a little liberal but it’s bidding to be a house organ of the prog elite. I don’t think I really want to read an Atlantic article called The War on Stupid People.

    Pop culture notes-

    Agree with Kirk on John Cleese. I sympathize with him very much now but that’s the funny thing. Many of my generation loved Python, I never thought much of it all that funny. And I wasn’t too old before I started to think about it, and that whole era of British, Canadian, and American satire culture. Yes, a lot of 1950s or earlier ways of life might have struck me as overdone stuffy and elitist too. But that generation really tore out the foundations.

    Cleese helped create this pickle we’re in, so he can suck on it. To put it mildly.

    I highlighted earlier a couple of Lisa Simpson moments. She’s one of my cultural archetypes for Ivy Striver class, all the more so for the contrast with her family. ANd I think the Ivy grads who wrote early Simpsons were at least more self-aware, or weren’t quite the same personality types as later. Or they couldn’t quite have created that character. Aching to be tested on everything, self-superior about everything, can’t even read a bus schedule. And has had a few other no common sense or street smarts moments in the early years.

    Another, curious example of some kind of awareness sneaking into television, a tad more recently. I’m just going to assume you are all intimately familiar with early 2000s TV series Gilmore Girls and go ahead and discuss it….

    Right? OK.

    When I was 30 or so and having some roughish times I enjoyed this bit of sentimental, vaguely liberal-minded, a little striver class snotty, but environmentally conservative fluff. Also, both leads were cute. Context over.

    The younger main character is a girl, 16-23 over the course of the show, whose young mother [not personally but runaway from rich parents] has just gotten her into private school and groomed her for Harvard. She ends up at Yale, at first presented as a backward step, but by choice.

    The entire run of the show, this girl is presented as the ultimate striver, despite her ‘humble’ small town roots [again, rich grandparents though... heredity; the mother is smart, just a rebel type, which is also presented as heroic if its a woman].

    However, on more than one occasion she is [with varying levels of subtlety] portrayed as mainly book-smart, street-unsmart, selfish, arrogant, and weak when facing criticism even from peers, and ultimately from a prospective employer in journalism. Which is of course her goal, since she wants to be Christiane Amanpour, then an iconic figure.

    But she could quote every piece of journalism or literature in vogue among that set, and so was assumed an ideal human type. A large number of real fans never recognized the clearly offered flaws.

    So when they did a revival, the internet was rife with complaints that at 32 she had washed out of journalism as a result of laziness and lack of dedication to finishing assignments, and her personal life consisted of cheating on her boyfriend with a former boyfriend from the series who was also cheating on his fiancee. And she was pregnant by same, an allusion in part to her mother having had her at the young age of 16 and never marrying.

    Every lick of that was foreshadowed by the original series. She even once took the wrong bus and missed a key family event.

    I raise all that because I watched the show, though not the revival as I thought in 2016 it would all be too left for me. Sorry I didn’t. It seems to have been a slap in the face to young striver class feminist supergirls everywhere.

    Last note- way back circa the early 90s, in that era when Clintonites were striving to tell regular people that their regular jobs would all go overseas but it’s OK they can all become programmers or environmental scientists, Time or Newsweek did a cover story called “Will we become a nation of high-tech strivers?” using the Doonesbury characters in heroic journalist poses.

    I suppose I raise that because it might stand as an early warning for where things went.

  22. Kirk says:

    I’d define “virtue signalling” as message, though…

    The SJW types send the message that they’re all warm and fuzzy, politically correct. Then, what do they do?

    As I’ve always said, watch the hands. Ignore the words, watch the hands. Actions.

    Signal. Cat claws in the face. Message? “Don’t f**k with the cat, dumbass…”.

    Which actually changes the dog’s behavior?

    If you want to analyze what’s wrong with the culture all over the world today, it’s that the messages we send are out of alignment with the signals we actually create. We think the message is enough, but it isn’t. The message only works on its own, if the conditioning has previously been effective in teaching the individual to pay attention to the message as a proxy for the real signal. If your message is not in accordance with the signal, it will be ignored.

  23. Graham says:

    You might have to be a real Inner Party member for the distinction between message and signal to be conscious.

    A lot seem to not even recognize any cognitive dissonance.

  24. Kirk says:

    Recognition and cognizance of the effect is something you have to train yourself to see. I think, to a degree, I’ve been doing that all my life.

    You look at what’s going on around you in a military unit, typical of the modern military. Same-same in any hierarchy, but I know the military the best, sooo… That’s my example.

    In any event, you observe what is going on around you, and you start trying to figure out why the hell the desired effect does not emanate from from the various ostensible causes that everyone agrees upon.

    The Army tells you it values integrity. Message. Then, the signal: We’re routinely going to ask you to lie to us for the betterment of your career, starting with small things, and eventually, the big ones when we need you to.

    Message: Be careful stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars. Signal: Yeah, blow all the left-over money at the end of the year on extraneous bullshit, and ohbytheway, all those expensive munitions we projected needing, and then didn’t use? Expend those in essentially useless ways of no real training value.

    Message: Every rule and regulation is enforced fairly. Signal: Different strokes for different ranks; a general officer commanding a major command will be allowed to retire at a lower grade, and the drill sergeant that does the same thing will go off for a nice sentence in Leavenworth.

    And, we wonder why we keep seeing the “unexpected” happen?

    I’ve started framing things in this fashion, and it’s actually disturbing how apparent the lack of cognizance is, and how unaware these people must be of what they’re creating with the operant conditioning environments they set up in their organizations.

    Why don’t people see this stuff? I shouldn’t have to point it out, should I?

  25. Kirk says:

    I’d recommend steeling yourself and reading that article, Graham. It’s got some good stuff in it, and it’s not taking the side of the “cognitive elite”, either.

  26. Kirk says:

    Another example of message/signal mismatch:

    The “elite” tell us troglodytes that we need to upgrade our skills, become competitive, learn to code.

    Message, yes? We can all agree we’ve seen that, because that’s what they tell everyone.

    Signal, now? Oh, that’s when Disney lays off the majority of its IT department, or HP fires all of its US-based engineers.

    Resultant behavior stemming from that? LOL… Do I really need to explain how we got to Trump, folks?

    I think that at least a part of Trump’s election came out of a bunch of people saying “Well, you’ve ruined my life, sending my job off to MexiVietThaiChinaIndia, so ya know what? Imma gonna ruin yours by voting for Trump…”.

  27. Paul from Canada says:

    “The SJW types send the message that they’re all warm and fuzzy, politically correct. Then, what do they do?”

    Yes, that is interesting, the what do they do part.

    There is a recurring tag or category (I think on Instapundit, but I think also used elsewhere): “Why are anti-gun activists so violent?” This is used as a tag when some earnest anti-gun activist gets arrested for domestic violence, or every one in a while, one actually, ironically shoots someone.

    Now I suspect that some of this is projection. Every time a state loosens their carry permit law, there is always hysterical shrieking about “blood in the streets” and shootouts over parking spaces, and it never happens. I have come to suspect that it is because THEY have anger management issues, and that THEY imagine themselves shooting someone over loud music or a parking space, and imagine everyone else is the same.

    Likewise rape and sexual harassment. Some of the creepiest people are so-called male feminists. I often thing that one of the reasons SJW women are all up in arms about the sexism and misogyny of men in general, and conservative men in particular, is because of the creepy men on the left that they associate with.

    I think that a lot of them get sexually harassed or assaulted by the leftist men they associate with, and they think “Wow, if men are so bad that even the woke, allied feminist men I associate with are such pigs, the evil right wing men must be mush worse”. Message/Signal mismatch; Harvey Weinstein is a left wing progressive, allied to feminism and pro-choice / Harvey Weinstein is a disgusting misogynist pig.

    I wonder if this message/signal mismatch is why we have so much mental illness.

    Kirk is very good at NOTICING the mismatch, his military examples are spot on, but I wonder how many of the participants are actually aware of their “hypocrisy”. One of the ways we handle cognitive dissonance is either to rationalize it away, or ignore it. Kirk sees the mismatch between the message and the signal, but I wonder if all of those doing the signalling are aware of it, at least consciously.

    I wonder if the apparently f’ed up nature of our current society,and the epidemic of unhappiness and mental illness might be in some way related to unconsciously being aware of the mismatch, and the associated cognitive dissonance, and not dealing with it.

    Just an idea that popped into my head, not sure how valid/if valid. Thoughts?

  28. Kirk says:

    Paul, are you ‘effing clairvoyant, or what?

    Inbound draft, headed your way…

  29. Paul from Canada says:


    You have said two things in the last 24 hours that have penetrated my thick skull, and stuck there, festering and fermenting.

    The first is the statement about socialization;

    “…set of experiences and behavioral conditioning events that you need to experience in order to be a well-rounded, fully actuated human being–And, we just are not getting those events and experiences into the lives of the general population…”

    I love the “actuated” . Different tense, but very much in line with Maslow’s “actualization”. (When I was getting leadership training in the C.F. they were big fans of Maslow.),

    It Instinctively sounds right to me, and ties in with my point about IQ not being everything, that personality, character, ideology etc., and what I facetiously called the “ Total Personal Ability Quotient”.

    The second was your message vs. signal dissonance point.

    That is almost Marshall McLuan level!

    I think I was aware of this at a subconscious level, but couldn’t articulate it like you did. It is like a “where’s Waldo’ puzzle, or one of those 3D pictures like you used to get on the comics pages of the newspaper. Once you have seen it, you can’t “un-see” it. Once I twigged what you meant, I couldn’t un-see it, and noticed all sorts of examples besides the military ones you cited, (with which I totally identified), but now I can see political, business and social example galore! I think what you described as your “autist” tendencies allowed you to notice this consciously, which caused a cognitive dissonance you could not ignore, triggering your frustration and anger with the situation, which is what brought us here.

    This is what triggered my last comment on the thread, YOU could see the dissonance, as an outside observer, (as it were), but could the participants? Part of what triggered this was your initial criticism of Dr. Wong. It occurred to me that from the inside, he could NOT see it , until he was a dis-interested outside observer, an outside academic, rather than an active participant. Rather like how an academic historian can make better sense of a battle than those who participated.

    It made me wonder about the mindset of those caught up in the middle of the situation. One of the criticisms of armchair historians, is the “Monday morning quarterback” criticism. Of course, fifty years later, with access to all the information, and the enemy’s archive too, you can fault the decisions of a commander, but what was he seeing and what did he know at the time?

    So to what extent does this cause an unconscious cognitive dissonance in the participant, rather than a conscious one in you, and what are the consequences?

    It is a combination of Dunning-Kruger, and Gell-Mann amnesia effect, and I am still working out the implications.

  30. Graham says:


    I’m willing to believe the archetype redneck wife beater, or urban working class wifebeater, existed and still exists, as does the street rapist and the prep-school Ivy League date rapist. All default bugaboos of the left.

    Still, there’s a few weird sorts of male feminist out there.

    One is the heirs of William Moulton Marston, who created the character Wonder Woman because he not only liked being sexually and in all others ways dominated by women, he constructed a theory of life and society around maternalism and matriarchy.

    Another is very common in the SF/Fantasy/Comic Book subculture, certainly to my past observations. This also partakes of a certain submissive personality and a, not necessarily lower, but an odd sort of dependent self-respect, but it’s mainly about sexual attraction to the idea of, to use the vernacular, ass-kicking teenage girls. The god of this crowd for a time was and perhaps still is Joss Whedon. His ass-kicking girl was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have time for him as the creator of Firefly and Serenity, but he was at once an unctuous prat and an angry firebrand in his feminism. Turned out to be pretty nasty to a lot of women. Seems to have recovered status though.

    Then you have the suave types who I can’t always pin a motive on. They might just like the attention. One thinks of some prime ministers.

    Now all these may be sincere in many ways, Marston certainly was a true believer. But more is going on behind the eyes.

  31. Kirk says:

    Graham, I think you meant that to reply to Paul’s post, not mine. I’d like to take credit for it, because it encapsulates a lot of my own observations and takes on things, but I can’t.

    I’m always cautious to take the work as true expression of the author’s inner mind, because I’m right there with Heinlein’s quote about there being a specialized technical term for that, and that term is “Idiot”.

    However, I do think there are authors who are giving us glimpses into the inner workings of their ids with their writing. G.R.R. Martin springs to mind, among others. He isn’t someone I’d put in charge of a girl’s school, that’s for damn sure.

    I’m a big believer in the adage that “…by their works, ye shall know them…”. Watch the hands, ignore the mouth. Actions, not words.

  32. Kirk says:

    Aaaand, that’s what happens when you post before finishing…

    The next paragraph would be:

    And, while that sounds hypocritical when I say it in conjunction with what I just wrote about authors, it’s actually not. There are words that you’re just mouthing, when you’re angry, and which you don’t mean much by. Ones you’d never actually put into action.

    But, at the same time, there are words that do bear watching and attention: Someone tells you that they fantasize and fetishize rape, well… You should pay attention to those words, because the fact that they let them escape their reflexive self-censorship is what we’d call “highly indicative”.

  33. Graham says:


    Yes, that was in response to some observations by Paul. Sorry about that.

    Late evening fumble reading and too quick to reply.

    I’ve rather enjoyed Game of Thrones on tv but the consensus even among fans is that the books are significantly worse for sexual violence.I don’t think I’ll try them.

    Whether Martin has adopted any kind of feminist pose in response, I’m not sure. He did create a couple of characters along those lines.

  34. Paul from Canada says:

    Actually Graham, I think the TV series is worse than the books, for what its worth. The books at least have some good world building, some interesting characters, character development and dialog, but the TV series got worse as time went on. (In the words of the great Dennis Miller, “Of course, that’s my opinion, and I could be wrong”).

    I do think there is merit in the “Game of Thrones” books, and I don’t share Kirk’s visceral unease with them, but after having read the first couple, and not knowing any other of his works, I did a little digging, and based on some of his short stories and Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury Theater scripts, I can see where Kirk’s unease comes from. There is definitely some weird stuff going on in his head.

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