Published September 13, 2014 by
530325_10150969382958986_1688000157_n“Marilyn Monroe on the screen was an image of pure, innocent, childlike joy in living. She projected the sense of a person born and reared in some radiant utopia untouched by suffering, unable to conceive of ugliness or evil, facing life with the confidence, the benevolence, and the joyous self-flaunting of a child or a kitten who is happy to display its own attractiveness as the best gift it can offer the world, and who expects to be admired for it, not hurt.

In real life, Marilyn Monroe’s probable suicide–or worse: a death that might have been an accident, suggesting that, to her, the difference did not matter–was a declaration that we live in a world which made it impossible for her kind of spirit, and for the things she represented, to survive.

If there ever was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim–of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.

None of the objects of the humanitarians’ tender solicitude, the juvenile delinquents, could have had so sordid and horrifying a childhood as did Marilyn Monroe.

To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen–the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked–was an almost inconceivable psychological achievement that required a heroism of the highest order. Whatever scars her past had left were insignificant by comparison.”—Ayn Rand On Marilyn Monroe

Libertarianism

Published September 11, 2014 by

A social nerd sure is too happy.

In the battle between nerds and jocks, the jocks have always the last laugh. Well, almost. For much of human history. But, what might happen if the influential nerds decide to oust jocks from positions of power? The nerds will engage in traditional jock pursuits, pressurizing others nerds to follow suit. The traditional nerd pursuits will take a backseat. The nerds are now living a lie, attending the social gatherings they do not want to attend and exchanging meaningless words with jocks when they would rather be writing novels, doing Math or learning to program.

The old neurotypical taunt will be hurled against the nerds who refuse to toe the official line: “Apart from writing and Facebook, do you have a life? You must be really sad!” The influential nerds will see them as traitors to their own tribe. The influential nerds will claim that the nerdy nerds are violating their own nature while they themselves itch to do “their own thing”. The media will publish studies on how the nerd-jock gap is being bridged, with the nerds replacing the jocks in traditional jock pursuits like sales and marketing. (No nerd is yet a successful politician.)

The nerd is rising. Slowly, but assiduously. 

One day, the long-suffering nerd finds himself old, long past his prime. He has not written the novels he had wanted to write when he was a teen. He has not invented anything worth mentioning. He is still recovering from a hangover from the previous night’s party. Then he hauls himself to work, where he is beaten fair and square by the jocks. They are pros at office intrigue. A social nerd sure is too happy. Like the much ridiculed post-menopausal cat woman.

If you know what this means, it is not hard to understand why women claim that women are too smart to even try their hand at traditional male pursuits. Satoshi Kanazawa is probably right:

“Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy.  Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy.”

The traditional male pursuits are not useless. But, neither are the wide, shallow networks created by jocks. That is how humans built culture.

Libertarianism

Published August 31, 2014 by

wordcloudgovfreshIf there is a huge disparity between what people say and what people do, the people who take words quite literally will be the first to notice it. What would the literalists do? The literalists will exaggerate the disparity between the words and actions of people. The literalists are “sincere” because if people do not really mean what they say, God only knows what they might do—Or so they think.

When the literalists notice that the government is a bunch of robbers and mass murderers, they perhaps assume that the bureaucrats and politicians have verbalized their true motives, and have set out to rob and murder people. This is not surprising. They take words literally, and often refuse to act upon motives that they have not yet verbalized.

But, even if the libertarians do not make such extreme assumptions—they almost never do—they do not have much insight into how a politician’s or a government official’s mind works. So, are these politicians and bureaucrats trying to defraud people? Are they trying to serve the masses? Neither? Then, what? If the truth lies somewhere between these two point of views, where does the truth lie? I cannot tell. From what I know, Mr. Libertarian could not either. So, when they see this disparity, the libertarians are outraged, and cannot help exaggerating the disparity between theory and practice.

For instance, many libertarian economists are surprised when they hear that learned people are more likely to “think like economists” because, well, “The professors are all Marxists”. When the Austrians see that the mainstream economists are often boring and dishonest, they claim that it would do a great deal of good if all the economics departments in the world are shut down. I am not surprised that Mises predicted that the British pound would be worthless within a week when the UK went off the gold standard—“because the central bank will print truckloads of currency”. Mencken felt that “on some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Now, what would the other people—the hypocrites—do? The hypocrites will deny this. The hypocrites are probably “sincere” because they do not take words too literally. They do not fully understand what the literalists are talking about. Even if they understand, they are not likely to take it too seriously because this fits in well with the subconscious assumptions about human nature they hold. When the hypocrites sense that the government is evil and inefficient, they accept these as part and parcel of democracy. “Okay, what is the big deal? It could have been worse.”

Because they do not take words literally, 1) They find it easier to deny the claims of literalists. 2) They act as if the literalists are right, but speak as if they are not. 3) They believe their own lies.

The statists believe their own lies. This can have two effects. They are oblivious to their own motives. They might go too far. Libertarians know, for instance, that governments kill more people than all the private individuals combined. True enough. But, there is another major effect. Believing their own lies—or self-deception—can act as a safety valve.

The statists want to be seen as doing the right thing. They even want to see themselves as doing the right thing. They do not want to be seen as outright scoundrels. The police and the court system in India is bad enough for people to not approach them. But, it is often good enough to scare even the rich and powerful. When the government officials do wrong things, there is often plausible deniability, except when there are greater incentives to break the rules. But, of course, greater incentives to break the rules are fairly common.

So, what might happen? It can go either way. But, I think in many contexts, the libertarians should be grateful that the statists do not know what they are doing. I think libertarians should thank the statists for their phony concern for the larger good.  

So, when Bryan Caplan wonders (1, 2) why the government works so well, I think it is an interesting question. I think a major reason is that the government officials and bureaucrats tend not to be “inefficient” and “corrupt” when there isn’t plausible deniability. Of course, the specifics differ from case to case, country to country. 

This is true of the government, but there is something similar going on in every sphere. The deluded people instinctively grasp this, and this is perhaps why they say that writers like Ayn Rand have a black-and-white view of the world. They also say that Aspies split things into black and white. People are not “all good”, or “all bad”, as they say.

Now, a lot of libertarians retort: “The government is not so bad, but when compared with what?” Libertarians underestimate the inefficiency of private firms. Private firms can be unbearably inefficient even if the government leaves them alone. Robin Hanson is right in saying that coalition politics is the major reason. So, how do the private firms deal with it? Robin says, by allowing the powerful coalitions to take over. So, when a literalist confronts coalition politics at workplace, he wonders why the whole structure does not collapse like a pack of cards. It is horrible. Office politics beats democratic politics. Why, even the CEO encourages coalition politics. But, lacking insight into people with covert conniving skills, he might still be overstating his case.

Shikha Sood Dalmia says, “Try living in India, dealing with the bureaucracy”. True, but when you compare the Indian government with the Indian private companies, I doubt whether the government looks too bad. This might be very true of many industries—for instance the private TV channels are incomparably better than the government channels. But, if you compare the government internet service providers with the private ones, or the government post office with the private courier services, this is not quite true. These are bad enough, but comparable to the private services.

Teacher absenteeism in government schools in India is fairly high.  But, in my state, the government schools run for the children of government officials are at least as good (!) as the well-known private schools. That side of the world never had much of an urban culture, and most educated people are on government payroll. Even the well-known private schools are cheap, and the private school teachers are paid a pittance. So, relatively speaking, it might be true that the government teachers self-select for teaching and caring.

While I never studied in a government school, anecdotal evidence tells me that it is not *always* as bad as people think. The students are gone cases, but at least in some of these schools, teachers turn up every day to work. But, in police stations and other government offices where conformity pressure is likely to dehumanize people, it is complete pandemonium.

My point is that our understanding of how the world works has a lot to do with what makes us tick—and what makes others tick. If a system is driven by factors that make us tick, we are likely to assume that it might work well.

In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Howard Roark says that “Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive. Has any act of selfishness ever equaled the carnage perpetrated by disciples of altruism? A humanitarian who starts with declarations of love for mankind and ends with a sea of blood.” But, most people believe that the world would collapse if everyone were selfish. I do not think so, and I am not alone.

Now, observe. Most people equate selfishness with predation, when what she means is “rational self-interest”. Ayn Rand sees—rightly so—that altruism is a cover for power lust. If this is true, ordinary folks will overstate the flaws of a Randian utopia, and underestimate the horrors of collectivism. When they compare predation with reciprocal altruism, it is not surprising that they find a selfish world scary. But what if people conflate “groupism” with altruism? They are likely to think that predation and “the refusal to engage in reciprocal altruism” as two sides of the same coin. Ayn Rand was good at separating the appearance from substance, but the collectivist ideal rarely results in the unmitigated disaster that many libertarians fear. The reason, I suspect, is that they lack the courage of their own malice.

Post Script: I think something similar is going on when neurotypicals claim that Aspies lack empathy and that it is empathy that keeps the world go round. So, when the neurotypical researchers see that Aspies do not have empathy (mindreading skills), but are super moral, they are shocked. They use logic to create their own moral code (Too bad). So, the Aspies wonder why the neurotypical world does not collapse and the neurotypicals wonder why the Aspies do not slaughter them.

I think this is closer to what neurotypicals think:

“Oh, you’ll never renounce anything! You’d walk over corpses for what you want. But it’s what you’ve renounced by never wanting it.”

Libertarianism