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Jun. 15th, 2012

A year late, I thought of the perfect analogy to describe Occupy's impotence:

Occupy is the cargo cult of social movements. They're a functionless imitation built without any understanding of how the real thing works, like an airplane made of bamboo and palm fronds tied together with vines.

The good news is that they may have finally gotten their act together this year, in the few cities where they haven't given up completely. The bad news is that the public no longer cares.


Do we live in a meritocracy? I used to say not, but it just occurred to me recently that I was thinking about it the wrong way. Just like biological selection, social meritocracy is value-neutral. The only "value" it selects for is success. So it's not that we don't live in a meritocracy; it's that we live in a meritocracy that doesn't necessarily reward the merits we would like it to reward.

There are two lessons to be learned from this. First, a lesson for progressives: if we want to change our society, we shouldn't deny that it's a meritocracy; instead, we should try to identify the merits it does reward and think of ways to change them. And second, a lesson for conservatives: we shouldn't mistake those value-neutral merits for virtues.

Riddle me this.

How come the same people who insist that government can't possibly compete with private enterprise are the first to whine that it shouldn't when it does?


Aug. 27th, 2011

It's always seemed strange to me that so many Evangelical Christians support Israel, when so many of them are also so rabidly anti-Semitic. (Martin Luther called Jewry "an incorrigible whore and an evil slut" and advocated sending Jews to forced labor camps.)

But I was thinking today about how certain orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist because Jews aren't supposed to have a homeland until the Messiah comes, and using worldly means to establish one is an affront to God. (Especially if you do it with the help of followers of that one impostor Messiah...) It occurred to me that there might be a connection there. Perhaps American Christians view themselves as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. Perhaps they hope that by establishing a Jewish homeland, they will convince Jews that they are agents of the true Messiah. (And the ones that don't convert can still burn in Hell.)

Aug. 22nd, 2011

Real-world markets quickly cease to function unless the government regulates market failures and externalities. One of the market failures the government is responsible for regulating is the exploitation of weaknesses in consumer knowledge. Note that this does not mean the government is responsible for educating consumers!

However, educating consumers is frequently the most cost-effective means of preventing market failure. When that is the case, then education is the government's obligation.


Hope without reason isn't hope; it's foolishness. Hope can be calculated and measured. Anything less is self-deception. I'm not interested in tricking myself into being happy; I'm interested in finding reasons to be happy.


Jul. 18th, 2011

A point eloquently made by Slashdot user causality:

When some kid at school is acting like a total dipshit to everyone else and the authorities don't care, the solution is not to ask him politely to stop. The solution is to give him a black eye, then ask, then give him another if he refuses.

While I would place emphasis on the "authorities don't care" part, you're absolutely right. There are people with whom you cannot reason. In fact, they hate reason because reason would tell them to change their ways and they're addicted to the gratification and feeling of superiority they obtain from being that way. That kind of egomania is the only sort of (pathetic) life they have.

It is not your fault if someone will not cherish reason. That is their decision; let them reap what they sow. It does not make you a bad person to do what is necessary (but no more) to handle someone like that. It is in accordance with how they have chosen to live. In the case of a bully like in your example, it may in fact be a turning point in life that will end up being the best thing that ever happened to them. It would amount to giving him, albeit a harder way, the correction and guidance that his parents (or more likely, parent) so thoroughly failed to deliver.

After doing what needs to be done, then there is opportunity to take the high road and have an attitude of "sorry it came to this, but you had it coming." Gloating and being glad it happened would just make you a bigger bully who will eventually run into one who is bigger still. That path won't reform anyone. So yes, you're absolutely right but it has to come from a certain level of understanding. The real mistake is to coddle a person like that out of some misguided sympathy (what the unwise think is compassion) because they interpret it as weakness, as submission, and they'd be right.


Denying Their Roots

There can certainly be more than one valid paradigm for describing the history of feminism. But I recently encountered a new phenomenon among Fourth Wavers: not content to use a new paradigm of their own device, they've decided to completely reject the Waves paradigm.

This smacks of historic revisionism — an attempt to brush the shortcomings of the Third Wave under the carpet. Perhaps they forget that "Second Wave" and "Third Wave" are not just dry historic descriptions; they were, and are, living self-descriptions. Basically, the Fourth Wave wants to tell people who identify as Second Wave or Third Wave that their self-identification is invalid.

Add this to their rejection of good science and their vehement denial of their own patent bigotry, and you come to an inescapable conclusion: the Fourth Wave is the liberal counterpart of Teabaggers.

Is this the "change" Obama promised?

Like the magnetic poles of our planet which reverse their polarities on million-year time scales, our nation's two dominant political parties — and there have almost always been two — have at times flip-flopped the voter ideologies they court. Perhaps best remembered is the reversal that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement, when the Democratic Party — traditionally the party of slavery — reinvented itself as the champion of racial minorities. Another shift occurred in the Republican party after the Eisenhower administration; by Nixon's time, the party of small government, progressive taxation, and market-oriented fiscal conservatism had become the party of government excess and crony capitalism. And way back in Jefferson's day, the Federalists represented the moneyed interests the Republicans represent now, and the Republicans were the liberal progressives.

Call me crazy, but I sense another change in the wind.

The Obama administration has dragged the Democratic party to the right of center with its subtle undermining of gay rights and its Bushier-than-Bush policies on the economy, the environment, and the wars. Meanwhile, I'm picking up murmurs from a few Republicans that suggest they consider their embrace of the far-right in the last election cycle to be a losing strategy. Could it be that the GOP is preparing to extend a hand to social progressives? It would be quite a shakeup, but it wouldn't be unprecedented.


Cultural Feedback

Facts are not culturally bound, but the importance of knowing them is. If you asked members of a hunter-gatherer society what six times eight is, they might not know the answer. They might not even understand the question. But you would be wrong to conclude from this that they are stupid. Multiplication simply isn't important to their culture.

The same effect occurs within our culture, but it's much more subtle.

After controlling for every socioeconomic factor they can think of, scientists are left with this controversial graph of different races' performance on IQ tests. (Missing from this graph: Jews, who score above everyone else.) But the controversy stems from a lack of understanding — even among many scientists — of what an IQ test actually represents.

An IQ test does not measure the universal scale or scope of a person's knowledge. Nor does it measure their ability to learn, or any other theoretical definition of "intelligence". An IQ test is a measure of the scale and scope of a person's knowledge within the subset of universal knowledge that is deemed important by the culture that wrote the test.

So... who writes the tests?

The subculture of academics who write IQ tests is not a racial monoculture. But relative to our culture as a whole, some races are overrepresented, and others are underrepresented. (This shouldn't be news to anyone; I'm just setting up my argument.) Races that are overrepresented in academia have more influence over the content of IQ tests. Naturally, then, members of those races will have an advantage on the tests. This results in positive feedback, because an individual's performance on IQ tests (and other standardized tests) influences their opportunity to enter academia. Conversely, members of races that are underrepresented in academia suffer negative feedback.

There are many other feedback loops in our culture, and it's no coincidence that races turn up in the same order in most of them. Influence in one subculture is often locked in a cycle with influence in another. A graph of wealth and income, for example, looks exactly like the graph of IQ test scores, and the relationship between the two doesn't require much explanation. But other cycles are more convoluted.

Consider the beauty of the human form. This beauty is culturally defined; it's heavily influenced by repeated exposure to images that are presented as beautiful. So, who has the most influence over the content of those images? The complete cycle goes like this: IQ scores affect access to education, access to education affects wealth, wealth affects social exposure, social exposure affects perceptions of beauty, perceptions of beauty influence perceptions of intelligence, perceptions of intelligence affect who gets to write the IQ tests, and who writes the IQ tests affects how people score on them. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sometimes this cycle takes a shortcut. In the media, perceptions of beauty are locked in a very tight cycle with wealth. Beauty sells. This explains Satoshi Kanazawa's wildly controversial but scientifically sound observation that black women are widely perceived as unattractive. Black women are significantly underrepresented in the media; black women who don't look and speak like white women, even more so. (Compare black men, who have a distinct presence in the media, however unrealistic.) And at the other end of the spectrum, again, are Jews, who make up 2% of the US population, but are dramatically overrepresented among Hollywood's top actors and producers. Jews aren't the richest, smartest, and sexiest people on the planet because of anything innate; it's all just cultural feedback.

Falling smack in the middle on every measure of cultural feedback, whites are in a unique position to arbitrate this cultural discourse and lead the search for a fair way to break the cycles. Collectively, we stand neither to gain nor lose except as society gains or loses as a whole. In particular, whites should not feel threatened by affirmative action; indeed, we should champion it. If not for the fact that Jews are demographically conflated with whites, a carefully-tuned affirmative action program would be a perfectly fair and effective solution to cultural feedback.

We should also fight back against the myth of white privilege. Among racial minorities, there's a pervasive idea that we live in a white-dominated society. It's true that whites collectively dominate our culture, simply by numerical majority. And whites do enjoy certain dubious privileges for being the numerical majority, like being advertised to the most. But Asians and Jews enjoy greater individual opportunity and influence. And it's individual opportunity and influence that drive cultural feedback.

Equally important, we need to aggressively police our own against statistics becoming an excuse for racism. Pink liberals are in the habit of preemptively dismissing science that could be used to justify bigotry, so it would only take a few examples of anti-Semitism arising from the fact of Jewish cultural dominance to sabotage our effort to draw attention to cultural feedback. We must keep the focus on the fact that wealth, not race, is the defining class in our society, and strive to unite the impoverished majority of every race against the privileged minority.