Libertarianism

Facebook, My News Editor

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05paper3A decade ago, while debating capitalism and socialism in an Orkut forum, I shared a journal article of Murray Rothbard. This evoked response to this effect: “I don’t care about what some guy on the internet says about economic depressions.” It did not occur to them that Murray Rothbard was one of the greatest polymaths ever lived, and that they were adolescents who did not know what they were talking about. When journalists like Manu Joseph claim that the internet disseminates rubbish, I feel quite the same way. They do not know what they are talking about. When journalists see nostalgia as a business model, a bit of iconoclasm is in order. Let me evaluate those claims.

“Friends, as most of us know, are people on Facebook who usually share information. Among the things they post on their newsfeeds are, in fact, news. And columns, too, thankfully. An increasing number of people are now doing many things primarily on Facebook, including consuming journalism. And what they are most influenced by is what their friends have shared. As a result their hopes and convictions find easy confirmations, and are seldom challenged on their newsfeeds. The world might be fragmenting, but within the fragments there is an eerie, almost indestructible, uniformity of minds. Facebook did not create this, but it has facilitated, and will do so more effectively in the future.”

Are these arguments even new? Hundreds of years ago, when the print culture was taking off, the narrow minded Luddites without sufficient imagination raised the same arguments. They believed that The Bible and the works of Aristotle would be printed and read throughout the continent. When people read the same texts, there would be “an eerie uniformity of minds”, or so they believed. Of course, this was not what happened. The body of literary output, before and since then isn’t even comparable. It was not just that the people did not read the same texts over and over. Their belief in earlier texts was shaken when they compared the ancient texts with more credible, modern works of literature. This would not have happened without the printing press. Over five centuries later, the ancients sound stupid. Why didn’t they see the obvious? People aren’t good at comprehending or anticipating change, especially when they are dull and have a vested interest in preserving the “good old ways”.

When I was a child, the only English language publications my parents subscribed to were The Hindu and The Indian Express and The Reader’s Digest and India Today. The internet wasn’t around. These newspapers and magazines were the only source of news and analysis. There was a certain uniformity in consumption of news and analysis. Even now, the range of political and philosophical positions debated in the public sphere in India is quite narrow. It was much worse when I was a child, or even in my early teens. The contemporary events were analyzed by journalists, by mediocre minds. When they debased the ideas of their superiors, there was no one to call them on this. The journalists couldn’t interpret the world quite the same way the public intellectuals or the academic bloggers do. They were blinded by envy and ignorance. A lot of them did not even read books. Even today, I cannot think of a single Indian journalist who knows elementary economics—Or the fundamentals of any social science, for that matter.

There was not much access to the non-fiction classics of the west before early 2000s. Before the blogging revolution, the brightest academic minds couldn’t publicize their thoughts on contemporary events. The internet changed everything.  News, when seen through the prism of social sciences, did not make any sense to me. The journalists never made much sense to me, but the internet made them look naked.

An academic who has been thinking about the internet for the past quarter of a century would not have missed the parallels with the arguments of the Luddites at the outset of print culture. Fifteen years ago, I had to be content reading such third-world ignoramuses who wrote for the Indian newspapers and magazines against tight deadlines. Now, to understand the internet I read Tyler Cowen, Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, Paul Graham, David Weinberger or Sherry Turkle. Why? They know what they are talking about. They aren’t writing to make a quick buck.

When the brightest intellectuals discuss contemporary events on their blogs, they see many aspects the journalists would have missed. They see many aspects other intellectuals had missed. They continually challenge each other. In the pursuit of the truth, they push themselves hard. Do you see uniformity of opinions here? I do not.  

“Facebook is now an ally of mainstream journalism as any good distributor of content would be, but it is also an efficient medium for disseminating rubbish.”

True enough. Way too many people write on the internet. The median blogger is, in all likelihood, a moron. This is inevitable. But, India has 99,660 publications according to a recent estimate. The media allows way too many people to write. The median journalist is also, in all likelihood, a moron. If you judge the media and the blogosphere according to the performance of the median journalist or the median blogger, there is no substantive difference. As a reader, I do not see much difference between writers that live with mild mental retardation and the writers that live with borderline intellectual functioning. So, why do I read blogs? The best bloggers are geniuses. Here, I am not using the term “genius” loosely. The best bloggers are more informed than any newspaper columnist. If the best bloggers are geniuses, why should I worry about the incompetence of the large majority of incompetent bloggers? 

True enough, rare as they are, the western capitalistic democracies have very good journalists and columnists. I sift through newspaper and magazine archives. I read them. Of course, bright academics and public intellectuals do write for the mainstream press, but they are not merely bright intellectuals, they are also politically correct, clever “politicians”. When compared to the best bloggers, they are not so good. The newspapers and magazines do not turn over their editorial page to truly iconoclastic thinkers. To speak for myself, I do not write carefully constructed prose for a middle-aged harlot to botch it up.

[ Jealousy and pettiness, of course, are barriers too. I am sure Manu Joseph remembers what he did to a more gifted young writer in the pursuit of giving the moral equivalent of a blow-job to his masters. He probably remembers what happened when he did not bend enough while giving blow-jobs. The bosses at his pauperized magazine kicked him out. :P ]

For instance, Manu Joseph writes for the New York Times, but not one of my favorite western bloggers have a regular column at the New York Times. This is not because Manu Joseph has a more sophisticated mind, but because the mainstream media does not cater to elite insiders. His views are well within the mainstream because he is not a particularly well-read writer, or an extraordinary thinker. No discerning reader would miss that most of his columns—in which he pits one political figure against another—are mediocre. Much of these are cheap rhetorical tactics. But, every single blog post of the best academic bloggers reflect a lifetime of scholarship. It is not surprising that their views might offend the readers of the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. I cannot recall a single blog post on Econlog, or Overcoming Bias that disappointed me. On the internet, anyone can contribute to world literature, but the internet also allows the geniuses to publish. It is the geniuses who push humanity forward. Time is very, very, valuable.

“Facebook is most dangerous when a major conflict divides society, as did Israel’s attack on Gaza. Facebook users, in the passions of their ideologies, found, in their newsfeed of course, news and visuals that endorsed their emotions. They attached credibility to these stories because they were posted by their friends, and propagated them without enduring the inconvenience of verifying them. For that they would have had to take the trouble to go to the website of a respectable news organisation.” 

The journalists are not more credible than the best bloggers. To begin with, the talented academic bloggers would find the cheap rhetorical tactics of third-world journalists beneath them. I was never disappointed reading a journal article or book the best bloggers recommended. I do not trust the Indian literary critics. No Indian journalist has sound judgment in such matters. No news organization is “respectable”, in any meaningful sense of that term. Verifying facts ain’t easy. No Indian journalist knows how to interpret studies because they do not know social statistics. News is worthless if you do not know how to interpret what you read. Most people who read the newspapers cannot interpret news. But, it is the processors that matter, not the hunters and the gatherers. The talented bloggers are better processors.

Could any journalist have written any of these blog posts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I doubt. So, should a reader form his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by reading the lesser “eminentoes” that write for The Times Of India or The Hindustan Times? Or, should he read what the brightest minds on earth have to say on this? For once, I leave the answer to you.

“Over the past few weeks, many were fooled by a story that was originally the work of a satirical website — that all of Earth would be enveloped in total darkness for six days in December because of a solar storm.”

But, the supposedly respectable newspapers and magazines have always fooled the readers. This is not necessarily because they were trying to purposefully fool the readers, but because they are duds. While working against tight deadlines, even a bright mind might just give up. Journalists do not see how they are distorting reality because they do not see how their cognitive biases deceive them. Even if you point this out, they wouldn’t recognize this, because they are not introspectivist enough. . They do not have ethical standards not because the advertisers corrupt them, but because they are barbarians, and do not have any values to begin with. They did not grow up reading books.  Morons cannot have moral values. Much as they rant about falling journalistic standards, the journalists haven’t even identified the problem. But, on the blogosphere, the brightest minds analyze contemporary issues. The brightest minds on earth are not journalists for the same reason the copy editors in news organizations are not the most grammatically skilled people around.

“Facebook, like most smart people and entities, has a mild disregard for what humans might achieve when left to their own devices. So it intervenes in the composition of newsfeeds to make them interesting. It does this through a secret, evolving algorithm that decides, on the basis of personal histories, what people might be interested in seeing when they are inside Facebook. Such a seductive newsfeed not only makes it easier for the users to shift to online journalism but also lures them to bypass the digital versions of conventional media. Already, for a vast section of the youth, the very idea of a newspaper’s homepage is nostalgic. They are not foraging for news, they are being fed, and fed what they like.”

This is the philosophy of a middle-aged Luddite in its full glory. There were not many talented fellows among the published writers before the internet. There aren’t many talented fellows among the writers who publish on the internet today. Talent is innate, and scarce. The internet has not changed this. So, what has changed? Unlike newspapers and magazines, the internet allows the obscure geniuses to publish. A typical blog post or essay does not fit the format of a newspaper or magazine piece. The traditional publishing outlets, especially in poor countries, were never good filters. There are many reasons why this is so.

For instance, in Today’s Mint, Aakar Patel hints why the “eminentoes” in the publishing industry often do not have good judgment in such matters.

“On a flight last week I began an essay Davidar wrote for Open. I could not read on after the opening 400 words. Perhaps it got better later but he had lost me. Cliché grappled in grim desperation for space with stock phrase. How could this person possibly edit someone else’s writing competently, leave alone be hailed as some literary genius? It was so sobering I had to ring for another round of Air India’s Talisker. It demonstrated to me once again my belief that in this nation of idolators, reputation is all and quality incidental. I brought up Davidar’s writing with another very sharp editor and she said writing and editing were different skills and that while he may not be good at the first, Davidar was certainly so at the second. I was convinced but not entirely.”

Why does this happen? David Davidar is a publisher. In country where the readers and critics cannot make fine distinctions, it is the “politician bosses” that rise to the top. Unlike the eminent academic bloggers, the rent-seeking writers and literary critics do not have qualms praising such mediocre eminentoes in the publishing industry. They do not have self-respect. The contemptible courtiers of the past knew on which side their bread was buttered on. It is naive to assume that the world has changed too much. They believe their lies, but live with the mortal fear that someone might say this aloud. Everyone knew this, but it wasn’t awkward till someone said this aloud. Now, he has embarrassed all of them. How would they respond? Think about this. This is how reputations are built and destroyed. Is it surprising that in a world where people have no judgment or values, the traditional publishing outlets aren’t efficient filters? 

Much of published literature was always mindless pap. The internet hasn’t changed it. But, this is irrelevant. The problem was never that there are way too many writers. But, it was always challenging to find the diamonds in the rough. But, too much “rubbish” being published on the internet does not make it harder to find those precious diamonds in the rough. Quite the contrary.

In the past, when there were tens of thousands of publications, perhaps filtering meant subscribing to, at most, a handful of them. In those times, perhaps filtering meant reading what the literary critics or friends consider to be good. These weren’t good filters. How do I filter? I read what the best academic bloggers and writers link to. I peruse the footnotes religiously. I subscribe to their blogs. I follow the most thoughtful thinkers on Twitter. I create lists on Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook, I add them to my “close friends” list. I receive instant updates when they share insightful essays. 

The social media is a great filter. But, human minds resent the algorithm-driven filters of the social media because human brain isn’t good at comprehending probabilistic statistics. But, in many contexts they act as if they do comprehend probabilistic statistics because they are instinctively shrewd. But, while reading newspapers they do not act quite the same way. They prefer a “wise editor” for the same reason they pray for a benevolent dictator. It is not Facebook or Twitter, but the supposedly “wise editor” who does not have much respect for what human beings would have chosen to read if they were left to themselves. It is the supposedly “wise editor” who lumps too many unrelated essays together, nudging the reader toward consuming them mindlessly .

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Gmail and YouTube impels us to compromise on the margins to optimize in more substantive ways. When I Google “Neurodiversity”, I might not see some of the best pages that Google does not display on the first few pages. But, this is a small price to pay for macro-scale optimization. It is better to use Google than to grope in the dark. I would rather not read some of the best content than avoid Google altogether. This is what Facebook and Twitter feeds do too. The social media saves time. It cuts “searching costs”. I can barely influence what the media publishes, but I actively influence what Google and my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds shows me. If you are able to make fine distinctions, you cannot afford not to filter. This is what being a discerning reader is about.

For long, the journalists argued that a lot of nonsense is being published on the internet. The solution is of course, learning how to filter. The social media is one of the greatest filtering tools. Now they claim that filtering creates uniformity. These two claims cancel out each other. But, does this even occur to them? 

“Most of the stories that become popular on Facebook are, naturally, free. Newsfeed functions like a supernewspaper of free content from various parts of the world. There is a popular view that most of the world will not pay for online journalism as they have been habituated to paying nothing for journalism. But it is inevitable that in the future high-quality journalism will not remain free. Great journalism then will become niche and expensive, and very rarely found on Newsfeed.”

The journalists have been saying this for at least two decades. But, this has not materialized, and probably won’t. This is not true of other forms of literature, like academic non-fiction or literary fiction. They have long found a niche. So, why did the truthful journalists fail to find their sweet niche? As Clay Shirky put it, Nostalgia cannot be  a business model.

Libertarianism

Nabokov On Philistinism

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nabokov.siNabokov’s is the most nuanced and psychologically perceptive analysis of neurotypical communication I have ever read. This fits normal human beings to a T:

“Philistinism implies not only a collection of stock ideas but also the use of set phrases, clichés, banalities expressed in faded words. A true philistine has nothing but these trivial ideas of which he entirely consists. But it should be admitted that all of us have our cliché side; all of us in everyday life often use words not as words but as signs, as coins, as formulas. This does not mean that we are all philistines, but it does mean that we should be careful not to indulge too much in the automatic process of exchanging platitudes. On a hot day every other person will ask you, “Is it warm enough for you?” but that does not necessarily mean that the speaker is a philistine. He may be merely a parrot or a bright foreigner. When a person asks you, “Hullo, how are you?” it is perhaps a sorry cliché to reply, “Fine”; but if you made to him a detailed report of your condition you might pass for a pedant and a bore. It also happens that platitudes are used by people as a kind of disguise or as the shortest cut for avoiding conversation with fools. I have known great scholars and poets and scientists who in the cafeteria sank to the level of the most commonplace give and take.

The character I have in view when I say “smug vulgarian” is, thus, not the part-time philistine, but the total type, the genteel bourgeois, the complete universal product of triteness and mediocrity. He is the conformist, the man who conforms to his group, and he also is typified by something else: he is a pseudo-idealist, he is pseudo-compassionate, he is pseudo-wise. The fraud is the closest ally of the true philistine. All such great words as “Beauty,” “Love,” “Nature,” “Truth,” and so on become masks and dupes when the smug vulgarian employs them. In Dead Souls you have heard Chichikov. In Bleak House you have heard Skimpole. You have heard Homais in Madame Bovary. The philistine likes to impress and he likes to be impressed, in consequence of which a world of deception, of mutual cheating, is formed by him and around him.”

Read what Nabokov has to say about Philistines And Philistinism

Libertarianism

If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease.

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Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, Chancellor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.I believe you are the kindest to people when you tell them exactly what you think, in the clearest possible terms, in the most uncompromising manner, without hostility, without manipulative intent. It is sheer evasion and malice that stops people from seeing this. Normal human beings find this very hard to understand, because they are cheap. But, the details of their narrow-mindedness doesn’t interest me at all.

Little people evade the truth because truth is not a great ally in persecuting brilliant, honest men. This is what happened to James Watson. Watson now wants to sell his Nobel Prize to make quick cash. Read what he has to tell you:

“I’ve had strong opinions probably since I was born. It makes you unpopular, but what can you do?”

“If someone’s liver doesn’t work, we blame it on the genes; if someone’s brain doesn’t work properly, we blame the school. It’s actually more humane to think of the condition as genetic. For instance, you don’t want to say that someone is born unpleasant, but sometimes that might be true.”

“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great….”

“I think it’s irresponsible not to try and direct evolution to produce a human being who will be an asset to the world.” 

“When you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

“All our social policies are based on the fact that Africans’ intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really. People who have to deal with black employees find equality is not true.”

“If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 percent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that.’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent.”

“If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we? What’s wrong with it? Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we’ve got a perfect genome and there’s some sanctity?”

“Ultimately, we’ll help the people we discriminate against if we try to understand more about them; genetics will lead to a world where there is a sympathy for the underdog.”

“One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

“To succeed in science, you have to avoid dumb people… Even as a child, I never liked to play tag with anyone who was bad as I was. If you win, it gives you no pleasure. And in the game of science-or life-the highest goal isn’t simply to win, it’s to win at something really difficult. Put another way, it’s to go somewhere beyond your ability and come out on top.”

“If you accept that people are the products of evolution, then you have to have an open mind to the truth. Unfair discrimination exists whether we like it or not; I wouldn’t have married a gum-chewing vegetarian.”

“It is necessary to be slightly under employed if you are to do something significant.”

“No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”

“Never be the brightest person in the room.”

“I just can’t sit while people are saying nonsense in a meeting without saying it’s nonsense.”

“Constantly exposing your ideas to informed criticism is very important, and I would venture to say that one reason both of our chief competitors failed to reach the Double Helix before us was that each was effectively very isolated.”

Libertarianism

Why Would Sachin Do That?

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1891996“Four years ago, while working with Chappell on his book Fierce Focus, I read his diary. It was exhaustively detailed. Chappell wrote it for himself, not for publication. He has not consented to my raising it now. But he has, it seems, been traduced, and ought to be defended. The diary records only one visit paid by Chappell to Tendulkar’s home. It took place nearly a year before the World Cup, on May 9, 2006, the day before Chappell and Dravid were to take the Indian team to the West Indies for a Test and one-day tour. Tendulkar was months away from playing. In private and in public, Chappell was placing unstinting faith in Dravid. This is the meeting to which Chappell’s statement refers. His diary records no other visit to Tendulkar’s home. So what’s going on? Was there a second meeting? Conspiracy theorists might say Chappell doctored his own diary, to delete a meeting such as Tendulkar describes. However, he would have needed to do this between 2007, when the diary was finished, and 2011, when I saw it. The only conclusion is that he has done this deliberately. Why would he do that? Perhaps to win favour with Dravid, who, while not possessing Tendulkar’s godlike status, has universal admiration and respect from cricketers of all nations for his unimpeachable integrity, a quality in which he is second to none. There is a certain cruel logic by which Tendulkar should throw Chappell under a bus. By the end of his tenure after India’s poor showing in the 2007 World Cup, Chappell was the convenient fall guy for all of India’s problems. Tendulkar may be playing a dangerous game by challenging others to go public with what they really thought of his behaviour over the years. Or perhaps there is no danger at all. Greatness on the field brings its own shield of invulnerability, and off-field, financial power adds a sword of intimidation. To fight for the truth is seen as too much bother, too difficult, too politically fraught. Too scary. Cricket Australia has bowed its head to realpolitik before, and there is no sign that it will change course. But for as long as free speech is suppressed in public, private resentment will fester.”

—-Malcolm Knox in The Sydney Morning Herald

“Why would he do that?” This is a good way to put it, because there is too much paranoia about paranoia. This question has roots in the weak-hearted fool’s inability to accept the human condition. Jealousy explains much of what people do, but this is an explanation that sounds too ugly to the little people who are too nice to see the truth. People don’t have self knowledge. So, when this question is posed at “conspiracy theories”, the proper retort is often, “Perhaps the dirty old shmoe was jealous?”

But, why would Tendulkar do that? Malcom Knox’s explanation doesn’t make any sense to me. Even if it is true that Sachin has lied, it can’t be because Sachin wants to win favors with Dravid. Sachin has already hinted that Dravid had declared the innings when Sachin was at 194 in the Multan test. This makes Dravid look like a jealous guy, and this is perhaps not unjustified. The Chappell incident was probably slipped in to make Sachin look like a noble guy who wouldn’t accept Chappell’s offer to kick out Dravid and pull the strings, even after Dravid had stabbed him in the back. Awww.

Dravid seems to have sensed this and that’s why he is hinting that he doesn’t know about that:

“I haven’t really read the excerpts of that book. Also I am not privy to any private conversation between two individuals. I have not heard about this before and I have no idea what happened and I would not want to make any comment. It’s been a long time and it does not make much of a difference to me now. Not looking forward towards reading this [Chappell controversy] but yes anything that Sachin writes on batsmanship and things like what made him the best in the world. I am more interested in reading those parts (!).”

Post Script: But, there seems to be an answer here:

“Then, there is the problem of Rahul Dravid. There was a distinction between the society’s love for Tendulkar and for Dravid. The distinction was based on class. Just as Tendulkar’s ruse was humility, Dravid’s was intelligent discourse derived from apparent reading. A segment of the urban society had a Nehruvian adoration for Dravid. Tendulkar knows enough to embarrass Dravid and the ill-fated coach Greg Chappell, and people tell me that he has spoken at length to the book’s collaborators, but it is possible that he has not retained everything.”

Libertarianism

How Inflation Fell

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UntitledMore than a year ago, I wrote:

“In professions in which perceptions matter, real skills are not valued much. But, no amount of rationalization can change the fact that real skills do matter. In economics, theoretical competence matters. Intelligence and rationality matters. Raghuram Rajan is supposed to take charge as the Reserve Bank Of India governor today. On Twitter, I see many people who question his citizenship and lack of central banking experience. But, Raghuram Rajan is an extremely competent economist. In India, this is not the norm. Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the Federal Reserve is a talented American economist who understands the importance of inflation targeting. Perhaps it is true that Bernanke and Greenspan did not live up to their potential. But, the first essay on monetary economics many Econ nerds read when they were teens was the previous Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s “Gold and Economic Freedom”, because it was published in Ayn Rand’s non-fiction collection. Almost everything that is being written on inflation in the mainstream media is nonsense, but this paper of Raghuram Rajan and Eswar Prasad is brilliant.

Untitled2A lot of people were saying that one man alone cannot do anything, as if inflation is beyond the control of the RBI. But, look at the results.

Libertarianism

Should Jonathan Gruber Have Lied About Having Lied?

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gruber2.rOnce when I asked an economist how the government should cure the fiscal deficit, he said that the government should cut spending. “The government shouldn’t run schools and colleges. The government shouldn’t run hospitals. The government shouldn’t run the police and the courts. The government doesn’t do anything well—except perhaps running the NHAI roads.” Then he asked, laughing, “Do you disagree with that?” I said, “No. I don’t disagree. This is obvious. Everywhere I see idiots. I haven’t talked to an honest guy before.” He said, “Thank You. But, you can’t quote me on this.”

Call him a hypocrite, but my respect for him went up. The establishment economists do lie, or at least they do not tell the whole truth. Whatever the ethical aspects of the matter, this is the necessary price they pay for being part of the establishment. We’re better off when the establishment economists are otherwise sane, thoughtful fellows. Would you rather have sincere mad scientists as appointees? I’d pick economists who cannot help speaking their mind over others any day.

Once when a proposal to raise the tax rate on the rich in India was under discussion, in a meeting with the Finance minister, all the economists present disagreed with the proposal. When I was at the finance ministry, an economist who spoke after the meeting had as much as said so. After an hour, I noticed that the finance ministry had issued a statement saying that there was a near-unanimous consent on the proposal. I couldn’t even believe what I read. When I asked an economist, he said that he was surprised to hear this too, but he was not willing to be quoted on that.

I am not willing to believe that “They are doing this for the nation.”, but I am sure that they see this as a necessary price to pay for having a say in policy matters. But, irrespective of whether they would like to believe it or not, are they right? I suspect “sincere” policy making is scarier.  India’s central bank head, Raghuram Rajan, for instance, is more sensible than he comes across. Inflation has fallen drastically in the past one year.

Few days ago, Rich Weinstein, an obscure investment adviser publicized tapes of establishment economist Jonathan Gruber’s cynical comments on Obamacare. Now, this is what Jonathan Gruber said that angered people:

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.” 

Of course, now he claims that these were off-hand remarks. Human nature being what it is, this is what we should expect. Jonathan Gruber has proven not to be a sincere liar. But, would Jonathan Gruber have been an honest man if he had accepted the official party line, lock, stock and barrel? People think that the sincere liars have more integrity than the intellectuals who consciously lie. I have my doubts. I have learned from hard experience that people can convince themselves of almost anything they want to believe. The conscious liars at least feel bad about what they do, but the sincere liars feel good about themselves.  Wouldn’t they go too far?

What is unusual about Gruber is that people penalized him for not having consistently lie dabout having lied. Remember: He is not being punished for being deluded, or even lying, but for not having consistently lying about having lied. Otherwise he would have been damned all along.

He wouldn’t have been publicly humiliated if he had kept his mouth shut. The harm has already been done. So, what did he gain by speaking his mind? Gruber probably felt better saying that he did not really agree with how things were being done. Wouldn’t it be good if this happened often enough? By punishing Jonathan Gruber for making off-hand remarks, libertarians are punishing him for not being a good coalition partner. I think we should subsidize that more. Or, should false excuses inspire more trust?

I do not believe that there is something antisocial about too much honesty, but I think libertarians haven’t internalized this enough:

“Although we claim to value truth above all else, we are also at least dimly aware that there is something antisocial about too much honesty. This dilemma has often been portrayed in literature and film, from Dostoevsky’s Prince Mishkin, whose innocence and honesty destroy the lives of those around him, to the 1997 film Liar, Liar!  in which a lawyer wreaks havoc when he is placed under a spell condemning him to be truthful for twenty-four agonizing hours. Evolutionary biology suggests that no normal person would be capable of such a feat. We are natural-born liars.

The power to deceive is our main weapon in the struggle for social survival. Like it or not, without it, we are sheep in the company of wolves. Similarly, the power to read intentions from nonverbal expressions is our best safeguard against victimization by others. Without it, we are at their mercy.

Immensely rapid, specialized unconscious modules are humming in the background of our minds twenty-four hours a day. We could not get along without them. We could not get manage if we had to consciously coordinate our bodily movements, choose words in a conversation, or laboriously parse streams of sound from people’s mouths into choppy words and sentences. Fortunately, our brains come equipped with pre-installed cognitive software for these tasks, and the same holds true of our ability to understand the meaning of social behavior.

“All social inferences flow from a common set of assumptions, an informal folk-psychological theory of human nature. If the theory is biased, it will deliver faulty appraisals of everyone: not only of oneself, but also of other people. Commonsense assumptions include gems of sagacity such as the notion that self-deception is abnormal, that good people do not lie, that so-called normal people are not motivated by self-interest, and that politicians aspire to serve the public. Such homilies cannot serve as a basis for sound social reasoning, but they are terrific gimmicks for Machiavellian manipulation. The knife of self-deception cuts two ways: you cannot maintain a highly distorted conception of yourself side by side with a true estimate of others.

A savvy social operator needs to have an excellent grasp of human self-interests, because it’s impossible to beguile others unless you understand what makes them tick. However, self-deception, which is also essential for competent social manipulation, pulls us in the opposite direction, leading us to disavow knowledge about human self-interest and encouraging a rather naive conception of human nature. So, there is a tension between the profound psychological understanding needed by the shrewd social player and the dumbing-down of social intelligence required by self-deception. How could nature have engineered the mind to make the most out of these conflicting forces? The obvious solution is to split the mind. It is all right for consciousness to be socially myopic if this helps social intelligence to operate smoothly behind the scenes. Our sheer conscious stupidity about one another is a perfect front for a wily Machiavellian intelligence. If these considerations are on the mark, we must be far better at “reading” other people unconsciously than we are consciously. We must all be gifted, instinctive psychologists, whose conscious minds are left out of the loop. The chasm dividing unconscious astuteness from conscious naivete is a consequence of the way that natural selection has sculpted our psyches to handle the pressures of a complex social life. It is distinctly and quintessentially human.

In short, we are like people playing poker in the dark. We are in the dark because “part of the game of social competition involves concealing how it is played.” from our own conscious minds. As unconscious poker players, we can manipulate the others while remaining innocent of many of our own self-serving intentions. If accused, we can sincerely take offense and claim that it is all in the paranoid eye of the beholder. Self-deception about our own Machiavellian agenda also makes us relatively insensitive, on the conscious level anyway, to the selfishness of others. We sleep because waking up would spoil the game.”—Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith

Libertarianism

Why Parsis Love Classical Music And Why They Are Becoming “Extinct”

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Parsi-Work-sareesMy father teaches Rohinton Mistry’s “White Hairs And Cricket” in college. Though I had heard from the people familiar with Indian English literature that Rohinton Mistry is the best Indian novelist, I have never really read him. Yesterday, I noticed that Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi, and remembered what Aakar Patel says about them:

“Parsis have civilization; other Indians don’t. Parsis have civilization, but not culture. They cannot speak old Persian and their Avesta they cannot read. For language, they lean on Gujarati, for music they lean on Brahms. Their beautiful women wear saris. Parsis cannot even speak their own first names. The real Parsi surrender came in Bombay when they submitted to the individualism of Enlightened Europe. We hate sweeping statements about Indians, and generalizations about India. The problem is that everywhere in India the same evidence keeps slapping us in the face. We’ve become good at looking away.” 

I am reading about Parsis, a community about which I know close to nothing about. But, let us assume that the Parsis have high IQs. What could have happened? Intelligent people are likely to do evolutionarily novel things. So, they are not likely to cling too much to their own traditions and customs. Intelligent people are also more likely to enjoy classical music because purely instrumental music is an evolutionary novelty. Parsis love western classical music. Intelligent people are also more likely to be individualistic because individualism is an evolutionary novel concept too. The savage was governed by his tribe.

Now, observe. Their population is dwindling. From Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters:

“Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only. Extinct, like dinosaurs. They’ll have to study our bones, that’s all.“If, if, if,” said Dr. Fitter. “If we are meant to die out, nothing will save us. “Yes,” said Inspector Masalavala. “But it will be a loss to the whole world. When a culture vanishes, humanity is the loser.”

But, still Parsis live longer than ordinary Indians. This is not surprising. Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. Intelligent people live longer than normal humans. So, what could have happened? Though the Parsis live long lives, the incidence of genetic abnormalities is high. Some researchers inferred that genetic abnormalities and high IQ are correlated because this is true of the Ashkenazi Jews too. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) But, I am surprised that all of them missed a very obvious explanation. The Parsis marry late, or not marry at all, and this was true even in the late 19th century. Their fertility rate is lower than Japan’s.

“Zubin Shroff, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been working on a new demographic study of the Parsis for the past two years, and using data from 2001-06 he has observed a TFR of 0.88. I recall him telling me that, when he disclosed this figure to a professor of demography at Harvard, she had a look of complete horror on her face. To provide some context, let us look at what the TFR is like amongst general populations in some countries. According to a United Nations report published in 2006, TFR between 2000 and 2005 was, for each country?s total population, 3.11 for India, 2.04 for the United States, and 1.29 for Japan. In other words, indicators for the Parsis of India are well below that of Japan, a country where the government has thrown a significant portion of its resources into reversing its population decline and educating its population about how, precisely, its population has fallen.”

But, why? High IQ people marry late or not marry at all. Marrying late or not marrying at all, or being childless is evolutionary novel. So, children born when parents are older might have genetic abnormalities even if the parents are smart.

Satoshi Kanazawa observes in The Intelligence Paradox:

“Marriage and parenting are among the very few exceptions to this pattern in a comprehensive review of American life. In fact, “very bright” individuals are the least likely to marry of all the cognitive classes. Only 67% of these “very bright” white Americans marry before the age of 30, whereas between 72% and 81% of those in other cognitive classes marry before 30.  The mean age of first marriage among the “very bright” whites is 25.4, whereas it is 21.3 among the “very dull” individuals and 21.5 among the “dull” individuals. The more intelligent you are, the later you marry. The pattern is similar in parenting. For example, general intelligence does not confer advantages in giving birth to healthy babies. For example, 5% of white babies born to “very bright” mothers suffer from low birth weight, compared to 1.6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 3.2% of those born to “normal” mothers. Only babies born to “dull” mothers (7.2%) and “very dull” mothers (5.7%) fare worse. The lack of IQ advantage continues later in the childhood. “Very bright” mothers are more likely to have children who are behind in motor and social development or have the worst behavioral problems. Specifically, 10% of children born to “very bright” white mothers are in the bottom 10% of the motor and social development index, compared to 5% of those born to bright” mothers and 6% of those born to “normal” mothers. Similarly, 11% of children born to “very bright” mothers find themselves in the bottom 10% of the behavioral problems index, compared to 6% of those born to “bright” mothers and 10% of those born to “normal” mothers.  It is important to note that the problems suffered by children born to “very bright” mothers are not just social and behavioral—for which there might be varying and changing cultural definitions of what constitutes “normal”—but are also physical, such as birth weight and motor development, for which the criteria of normal development are objective and invariant.”

But, this isn’t because high IQ and genetic abnormalities go together, but because high IQ people are more likely to be evolutionarily weird.

Libertarianism

Is The World A Good Place?

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The people who read the newspapers believe that people are at each other’s throats. But, the probability of I being murdered, or your child being kidnapped is way too low. The reason is, of course, that the media discusses journalistic concretes, but not fundamental abstractions. To answer the really complex questions, we need broad empirical evidence and abstract reasoning. This is why news, especially Indian journalism is worthless. Aakar Patel claims that the world is a good place, though the newspapers might tell you otherwise.

People are not continually at each others throats. True enough. But, if we judge people as bad only if they’re at each other’s throats, we are setting the bar way too low. People are quite awful. Deception is the norm in human interactions. But, do people believe that the world is a “bad place” because the newspaper tells them so? I think not. People read news reports on deception or politicking in human subgroups as if it is “news”. It doesn’t occur to them that this is the norm, and not a transient cultural abberation. Now, why do people overestimate the risk of homicide or burglary, but underestimate the extent of deception in the market or the marketplace of democratic politics? I think David Livingstone Smith a good explanation:

“The power to deceive is our main weapon in the struggle for social survival. Like it or not, without it, we are sheep in the company of wolves. Similarly, the power to read intentions from nonverbal expressions is our best safeguard against victimization by others. Without it, we are at their mercy.”

“Immensely rapid, specialized unconscious modules are humming in the background of our minds twenty-four hours a day. We could not get along without them. We could not get manage if we had to consciously coordinate our bodily movements, choose words in a conversation, or laboriously parse streams of sound from people’s mouths into choppy words and sentences. Fortunately, our brains come equipped with pre-installed cognitive software for these tasks, and the same holds true of our ability to understand the meaning of social behavior.

“All social inferences flow from a common set of assumptions, an informal folk-psychological theory of human nature. If the theory is biased, it will deliver faulty appraisals of everyone: not only of oneself, but also of other people. Commonsense assumptions include gems of sagacity such as the notion that self-deception is abnormal, that good people do not lie, that so-called normal people are not motivated by self-interest, and that politicians aspire to serve the public. Such homilies cannot serve as a basis for sound social reasoning, but they are terrific gimmicks for Machiavellian manipulation. The knife of self-deception cuts two ways: you cannot maintain a highly distorted conception of yourself side by side with a true estimate of others.“—Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith

As Aakar Patel points out, the homicide rate in the US is very low. But, it is still many times higher than the homicide rate in, say, Japan. There are some pretty good arguments why this is so, in Satoshi Kanazawa’s “Order By Accident”. Japan is a conformist society which punishes both criminals and geniuses, because both geniuses and criminals are non-conformists. The US is more individualistic and produces both. But, white collar crimes are far more common in Japan than in individualistic Denmark because we all descended from criminals, aka alpha males. The people in Japan are not likely to refuse if their bosses ask them to do something wrong. 88% of them said that they’d do it. Only 52% (!) in Denmark said that they’d do things for their bosses. People are weak and pathetic. They do not see this as wrong, and wouldn’t admit that the people who toe the official line are rascals. What we call crimes today, like murder, were strategies that helped people acquire status in the past. When the modern governments defined murder or burglary as a crime, what did people do? They channeled their criminal instincts into acts that are not too visible to the naked eyes of the mush-headed. 

Libertarianism

Real Women Get Raped

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Real_Men_Don__t_Rape_by_Kissing_ConcreteWhen I read in a news report that a court said that forceful sex on post-menopausal women is not rape, it was obvious to me that they were misinterpreting the judgment. When journalists hear something bizarre, they do not have the brains to know that they are probably misinterpreting what they heard. Now, it seems that the court said that consensual, rough sex is not necessarily rape. This is, it seems to me, a legitimate distinction.

From Scroll.in:

“There is no reference to menopause anywhere else in the judgement, and it does seem like a complete outlier, with no real inference being taken from it. One could interpret the court’s assertion of it being simply a way of establishing age or health, but it shows no evidence to suggest that menopausal women are, say, more vulnerable to forceful sex or more likely to have gastric reactions thereafter. The rape law does feature different punishments for women who are pregnant, where menopause would be relevant, but that is a question of sentencing, not conviction.”

What has menopause got to do with this? Now, feminists often claim that rape has nothing to do with sexual desire and that we should not tell women how to dress because it is vulnerability that makes women susceptible to rape. But, is this true? If this is true, post-menopausal women would have been raped more often because they are very vulnerable, and physically weak. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Men rarely rape post-menopausal women. From the “The Natural History Of Rape”  by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer:

“There is no question, however, that rapists primarily target females of fertile ages. This pattern is seen in every available set of data on female rape victimization. Thornhill and Thornhill (1983) tabulated all the major US data sets available at that time on female rape victim ages. They also commented on several additional but more limited data sets from other industrial societies. They concluded that young women are greatly overrepresented and that girls and older women are greatly underrepresented in the data on victims of rape. The authors cautioned that these data were based primarily on reported rapes and may thus have been biased. However, numerous later studies indicate that both reported and unreported rapes show the same age pattern. One national study of reported and unreported rape included a representative sample of women and older and found that percent of the victims (at the time of the rape) were of ages 11-29, only 6 percent were older, and 29 percent were below 11 (Kilpatrick et al. 1992). However, these data were not broken down by the nature of the rape (which was defined broadly to include any sexual penetration, by finger, object, or penis, of mouth, rectum, or vagina), nor were data collected on the proportion of the victims under 11 who were exhibiting secondary sex ual traits (e.g., estrogen-facilitated development of breasts, buttocks, and/or thighs). 

Men’s evolved sexual psychology is predicted to be more sexually motivated when the latter traits are present. Meeting this prediction, Studies in which data on the ages of female rape victims under 15 are broken down by year show increased rape victimization with increased age (Hursch 1977). The increasingly early age of menarche in Western females (Barber 1998) contributes to the enhanced sexual attractiveness of some females under 12. Also, the youngest rape victims are raped in proportion to their occurrence in the population: child (defined as under 12) rape victims comprised an estimated 16 percent of US rape victims in 1992, when females under 12 comprised 17 percent of the US female population (Langan and Harlow 1994). Another large study of reported and unreported rapes and other sexual assaults in a representative sample of US females 12 and older—the National Crime Victimization Survey Report Of data for 1993 (Perkins et al. 1996)—showed that population-based rates were highest in the age range 16-24 and next-highest in the range 12-15. Rates decreased in each higher age range after 24, and there were few cases in which the victim was older than 50. A similar study for 1994 (Perkins and Klaus 1996) revealed exactly the same pattern, and earlier National Crime Victimization Survey Reports show the same pattern. In analyses of data on attempted and completed rapes for the years 1973-1982, the ages of female rape victims ranged from 12 to 96, the median age was 21, and 92 percent of the victims were 40 or younger (Felson and Krohn 1990). The average age of female victims of robbery and rape (28) was significantly younger than the average age of female victims of robbery only (35)—that is, when the victim of a male robber was young, the robber was more likely to rape her As Greenfield (1997) found when he reviewed more than two dozen data sets maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the same pattern—great overrepresentation of adolescent and young adult female victims—is seen in all available data sets involving only rapes reported to police or involving ages of victims of imprisoned sex offenders. Data on female rape victims’ ages during wars (across societies and over considerable time spans) also show that most were young. 

Rapes and other sexual assaults of males by males constitute only about 1-3 percent of sexual assaults, but data show that these sexual assaulters also prefer youthful features in their victims (Perkins et al. 1996). This pattern is likely to be a by-product of men’s evolved preference for young sex partners (Symons 1979; Quinsey et al.1993; Quinsey and Lalumiere 1995). 

We are not claiming that the available data on rape victims’ ages are perfect depictions of rapists’ sexual desires. (Presumably, rapists weigh benefits and costs and select victims accordingly, just as other people select from available options in sexual and non-sexual domains of life.) Nor are we claiming that the data are without bias. Rape probably remains significantly underreported, even in surveys that strive to obtain the highest degree of accuracy.1S There is some evidence that young women, relative to post-reproductive-age women, are more likely to desire to keep a rape secret (Thornhill and Thornhill 1990a). Thus, it may be that young women’s rapes are most subject to underreporting and hence even more disproportionately frequent than the studies based on reported rapes suggest. And false accusations (Kanin 1994) may bias the data on purported rape victimization if such accusations are a function of age. Despite these concerns, however, we are safe in concluding that young adult females are vastly overrepresented and that female children and post-reproductive-age females are greatly underrepresented in the population of rape victims. This pattern has been shown so many times, across so many settings, by so many methods, that it is established beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Libertarianism

Prejudices

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I think many, perhaps most Indian writers find Rushdie’s claim controversial:

“The prose writing – both fiction and non-fiction by Indian writers working in English, is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the 16 “official languages” of India, the so-called “vernacular languages”, during the same time; and, indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, “Indo-Anglian” literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books. It is a large claim, and while it may be easy for Western readers to accept it (after all, few non-English-language Indian writers, other than the Nobel laureate Tagore, have ever made much of an impact on world literature), it runs counter to much of the received critical wisdom within India itself. It is also not a claim which, when we set out on the enormous and rewarding task of doing the reading for this book, we ever expected to make. The task we set ourselves was simply to make the best possible selection from what is presently available in the English language, including, obviously, work in translation. To our considerable astonishment, only one translated text – S. H. Manto’s masterpiece, the short story “Toba Tek Singh” – made the final cut.” Those who wish to argue with the conclusion we have drawn may suspect that we did not read enough. But we have read as widely and deeply as we could. Others may feel that, as one of the editors is English and the other a practising English-language writer of Indian origin, we are simply betraying our own cultural and linguistic prejudices, or defending our turf or – even worse – gracelessly blowing our own trumpet. It is of course true that any anthology worth its salt will reflect the judgments and tastes of its editors. I can only say that our tastes are pretty catholic and our minds, I hope, have been open. We have made our choices, and stand by them.”

I have said this before. I haven’t read literature in “vernacular languages”. But, I think Rushdie is right. I have my own reasons. 1) The Indian writers in English have much higher IQs. 2) English is a rich, complex language. 3) Writing in vernacular languages doesn’t pay. 4) If the non-English-language writers were smart, they would have been writing in English. It is hard, if not impossible to express complex thoughts with the highest degree of fluency in vernacular languages. But, I am being charitable here.

I noticed this now:

“First, there has long been a genuine problem of translation in India – not only into English but between the vernacular languages – and it is possible that good writers have been excluded by reason of their translators’ inadequacies rather than their own. Nowadays, however, such bodies as the Indian Sahitya Akademi and UNESCO have been putting their resources into the creation of better translations, and the problem, while not eradicated, is certainly much diminished. And second: while it was impossible, for reasons of space, to include a representative selection of modern Indian poetry, it was evident to us that the rich poetic traditions of India continued to flourish in many of the sub-continent’s languages, whereas the English-language poets, with a few distinguished exceptions (Arun Kolatkar, A. K. Ramanujan, Jayanta Mahapatra, to name just three), did not match the quality of their counterparts in prose.”

If it is, indeed, true that Rushdie is prejudiced against vernacular writers, why is he unusually prejudiced against prose writers, but not against poets? People don’t think.