A Political Science Thought Experiment

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex:

[I]magine a world with a magic artifact at the North Pole which makes it literally impossible to violate laws. The countries of the far north are infinitely orderly with no need for police at all. [NB: And Jews who don’t want to be marched into gas chambers are out of luck, since they can’t resist the edicts even if Nazis take power.] Go further south and the strength of the artifact decreases, until you’re at the edge of the Arctic Circle and it might be possible to violate a very minor law if your life was in danger. By the time you’re at the Equator, any kind of strong urge lets you violate most laws, and by the Tropic of Capricorn you can violate all but the most sacred laws with only a slight feeling of resistance. Finally you reach the nations of the South Pole, where the laws are enforced by nothing but a policeman’s gun.

Where would you want to live in such a world?

I don’t know, but that’s an awesome thought experiment. I wonder what would actually happen? I mean, in a world of well-meaning people, government would seem to be unnecessary. In a world with a mixed bag of people, I initially thought this: All the bad actors are going to congregate at the no-law place (the South Pole), thus ruining it for any well-meaning mellow pot-smoking anarchists who might just want to chill there.

But it’s not that simple. The game theory of the self-selection effect is fascinating. In the preceding paragraph, I was assuming that the “bad actors” range from garden-variety assholes who like doing mailbox vandalism, up to retail-level serial killers. BUT: The most evil people in history are not retail-level killers. They’re killers who got to the top of nations’ governments and implemented wholesale genocide, slaughtering people by the millions. These psychopaths would not gravitate to the South Pole. They’d gravitate to the North Pole, and do everything in their power to try to gain control of the laws.

Now where would you want to be?

A related thought experiment is this: To preclude any self-selection effects, imagine that the relevant regime is going to cover the entire planet. If you were the person who got to make that decision for the world, which regime would you choose for the planet?

That is not a trivial question, but I would choose the South Pole option, i.e., no enforcement but what humans themselves implement. After all, that’s what we have now, and even that is too much government.

Here’s a meta-question: Would you push a button that would randomly select a person from the world population to make this decision for the whole planet?

Me neither. A good case for limited-state democracy, with the emphasis on the “limited-state” part.

Another question: Just how are the laws to be made? I mean, are these unbreakable North Pole laws made by any dickhead who manages to cobble together a 5/9 majority of the Supreme Court? (Let’s be realistic about how our laws are actually made these days.) Or does it have to be at least a 75% – 25% majority in a popular referendum? Or what?

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Red Pill in Fiction, Reverse Edition: Heinlein’s Friday

We spend a lot of time here at Neurotoxin mocking women’s adorable but addle-pated fantasies about men, as revealed in female-authored fiction. That’s a major part of our Red Pill in Fiction series.

However, every now and then there are some silly male fantasies about women that are revealed in male-authored fiction. Even yer humble blog author, Neurotoxin* himself, is not entirely immune to certain fantasies. (* Actually Neurotoxin is the blog, not the proprietor, but I don’t know what else to call myself, so I’m going with that.)

Which takes us to Robert Heinlein’s Friday, a science fiction novel published in 1982.

picoffriday
This picture activates my salivary response.

Friday is a genetically-engineered superwoman, mentally and physically superior to everyone except other “artifical persons” like herself. At one point when the espionage organization she works for is destroyed and she is forced to go job hunting, she describes herself on her resume as a “combat courier.”

So before proceeding, let me just take a moment to say that James Cameron is kind of a wanker. In his movies and TV shows he lifts material profligately from SF written by other people. In the case of Friday, you might be thinking, “Hey! Maxine, the character in Cameron’s series Dark Angel, was described as a genetically engineered combat courier! That bastard Heinlein lifted his idea from that show!” There was lifting, alright, but it went the other way. Look at the publication date again. Friday was 1982. Dark Whassis didn’t air until 2000. The term “articifical person,” which Cameron slipped into the movie Aliens, also comes from Friday. And the phrase “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2 was lifted from an earlier William Gibson work (Neuromancer, IIRC) that used the phrase “mimetic polycarbon.”

Anyway, Friday is an extremely popular character among male SF fans. She’s had kind of an underground run, but more and more, I see male SF readers of a certain age grooving on that novel and its protagonist.

Even Charles Stross, who is not exactly in political alignment with Heinlein, couldn’t resist doing an entire novel that overtly referenced the character. I mean, really overtly, e.g., at one point his character has a hotel reservation under the name F. Baldwin. Friday’s last name is Baldwin.

Why is this character so lusted after admired?

Well, here’s a lead-up to the answer: It’s the equal-and-opposite equivalent of women’s fantasy about a bad boy who really has a heart of gold and will fall for them in the end.

Men love Friday because she’s an attractive young woman with no trace of drama queen in her personality.

In fact, if anything she goes too far in the other direction; she’s too matter-of-fact about life. Now there’s something you don’t see often. As a courier for a secret agency, she is captured by bad guys in the first few chapters, and raped and tortured as part of their attempt to break her down for questioning. She shrugs all this off. In fact, when she’s narrating the account later, she makes disdainful remarks about her tormenters, for being amatuerish in their torture techniques.

There is a major difference between the male and female fantasies: The female fantasy about the jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold is not what women really want – they just think they want it. If the jerkboy ever actually became loving and attentive and faithful and all that, they’d instantly lose interest. (That does, in fact, happen sometimes; see the posts and comments at your local Game blog.) Whereas, the male fantasy is what men really want. There’s nothing a man would like better, in actual reality, than a hot and horny young woman with no drama queen in her personality.

Of course, a young woman with zero drama queen is as unrealistic as the cheating jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold.

But it’s fun to fantasize.

Oh yeah, some thoughts on the novel as a novel: As fiction, this is entertaining enough, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The pacing is ka-pow! but when it’s over you realize not much has happened. Or rather, a lot has happened, but to little effect.

Example: In the opening paragraph Our Heroine kills a man who’s following her. She takes his ID and credit cards and proceeds to a hotel where she doesn’t check in, but uses their lobby computer to do some sleuthing about the dude. She doesn’t find out much, so – this must be an hour or two after she killed him – she leaves the hotel. Later she learns that the hotel had been blown up a few minutes after she left. She dismisses this as a coincidence and proceeds on her merry way. Eventually, of course, we learn that it was not a coincidence. Some very powerful group of people wanted her dead and had enough resources to follow her and arrange a bombing in that small window of time. The novel goes on like this.

There is an emotional journey Friday makes, having to do with her initial insecurity over the fact that she’s genetically engineered. (As if it’s a bad thing to have superior intelligence, speed, and strength, etc.) But a novel needs a coherent external conflict as well as a coherent internal one. All which is a way of saying: Your Mileage May Vary. There is a certain lightness to the novel, but sweet damn, that main character!


Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts:
https://neurotoxinweb.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/red-pill-in-fiction-index/

Trump’s Presidency: Hysterical Bitches Need to Calm the Fuck Down

Two links via Vox Day:
http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/03/woe-is-us.html

Audacious Epigone: The day the Trump presidency died (for fuck’s sake, dude):

This is probably the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency. [Oh, for God’s sake.] The midterms are shaping up to be a bloodbath. The markets now put the odds of Democrats re-taking the House at 68%. [Just like they showed 7-to-1 odds against the Brexit vote! Just like they showed a 98.5% chance of Corrupt Hillary winning in 2016!] The odds of Democrats gaining control of the Senate is 40%, an astoundingly high figure given Democrats are defending 25 of their seats–more than half–while Republicans are defending just eight of their own.

Ya think? Yes, it IS an astoundingly high figure… because it’s total bullshit designed to fuck with your head! They manipulate polls and they manipulate markets in order to demoralize you! And you’re falling for it completely! WE’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! WILL YOU PLEASE LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE?

John Derbyshire: Deep State Rolls Trump On Budget, Immigration. Is This the End? (Yes, he actually wrote “Is This the End?” as part of his headline.)

This budget bill is, in short, a middle finger to President Trump. Its larger message: populism is no match for the Deep State. …I’m afraid we can now see that the populist victories of two years ago that filled us with so much hope were in fact a false dawn, a mirage. For all its spirit and vigor and successes, the populist movement is amateurish and uncoordinated. It’s no match for the seasoned, hardened operatives of the Deep State, with their decades of experience at gaming Western democratic systems.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Jesus, people, you’re writing what looks like Deep State propaganda designed to demoralize us… except that Deep State agitprop operatives are probably more subtle and professional than to write stuff like, “the populist movement is…no match for the seasoned, hardened operatives of the Deep State.” Dear Lord, if you were a CIA operative who wrote that, you’d never get it past your superior; he’d tell you it’s too clunky and unsubtle.

Seriously, it sounds like Soviet propaganda: Capitalist running-dog imperialist warmongers will be no match for the strong, brave, and virtuous Soviet Army resolutely defending Socialist Homeland!!!

Yeah, he should have vetoed it and yeah it’s good to call him out on that. But with proportional response. A quick reminder of actual reality:

WE’VE HAD THIS HYSTERICAL DEFEATISM NONSENSE SINCE LITERALLY BEFORE THE ELECTION OF 2016! It’s always “We’re doomed! We’re doomed!” Then we keep winning and winning and winning…

As I said in April of last year,

All this panic, with members of the right running around with their hair on fire, would be hilarious if it weren’t so stupid and counterproductive. Guys, haven’t you learned yet? The man is extremely intelligent and he’s on our side, the side of the nation. He’s been damn perceptive so far about what moves he can make at what speed. Don’t demand total victory within five minutes of his taking the Oath of Office; you’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.

Ah, I fondly remember how one week into Trump’s Presidency, the C-3PO crowd was screaming, “We’re doomed, R2!” because Trump hadn’t totally solved 100% of our problems in the first week.

It’s a good thing I have common sense and contact with reality and can just laugh at you doofuses, or listening to you would be exhausting.

Which takes me to another thing. It’d not just that this “doom!” stuff is wrong, it’s that it could be demoralizing for any naive young person who might accidentally take it seriously. Cut it out.

Furthermore, I don’t know how much spare time the Prez has to sweep the Net, but if he does, it can’t help him to see his ostensible supporters shrieking defeat every time we have a “two steps forward, one step back” moment.

So for God’s sake, quit acting like a bunch of leftists. Use your gray matter. Don’t bloviate without thinking about all the victories we’ve had.

And you ever have any doubts about whether President Trump is firmly on our side, ask yourself this:

WHAT’S THE DEEP STATE’S AND THE LEFT’S ATTITUDE TOWARD HIM?

That’s right, stark terror and rage! If reviewing all the advances takes too long – and it might, there have been a lot of them! – just remember that. They wouldn’t HATE and FEAR him so much if he were secretly on their side (WTF?) or a wussy pushover (LOL).

And President Trump, on the one in a trillion chance that you read this, most of us are not hysterical, emotionally incontinent children. We understand that politics is politics and we’re on your side as much as ever. As long as the Deep State is thrashing about desperately and newspaper editorial pages are in hysterics, you know you’re on the right track.

The Russia thing is perfect for President Trump

The Russia thing is perfect for President Trump. The reason: Since no such thing ever happened, it keeps his enemies distracted chasing fantasies. This prevents them from focusing their energies on something that might actually damage him.

They might as well be trying to prove that he killed a unicorn.

So we shouldn’t let the fact that these blatantly false accusations are an unjust outrage blind us to the pleasant reality: The left-wing fuckwits have really shot themselves in the dick on this one. Of all the things they could have chosen to go after, it was something with no basis in reality, LOL!

Trump couldn’t have arranged things better if he’d tried. Once I got over my anger at the sheer evil of their intentions, I thought of it this way:

Imagine that this was actually enginered by Trump. It would be utterly brilliant. Go back to late 2016. He knows that once he’s sworn in, the entire reigning institutional structure of our society will try to take him down. He knows they’re going to try something. So what does he do? He arranges to have them going after something that has no chance of getting him. The man’s brilliant. It’s the sort of thing he’d do. I know he didn’t actually do it; I know that Hillary Clinton and the Dems did it. But they couldn’t have handed him a bigger gift if they’d tried.

Sometimes I think there really is a God. Seriously. I’ve been wondering lately.

Trump will not be impeached over “Russia”

Any leftists who are still clinging to this vain hope are forgetting one important thing:

Articles of impeachment must actually allege a specific crime.

Articles of impeachment can’t say, “Some of us have a vague feeling that Trump might have done something sort of dodgy. Which may have involved Russia somehow.”

They have to say something like, “On August 28, 2016, Donald Trump met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey SmirnoffVodka, and…” and the rest of the sentence must allege something that is (1) specific and (2) a crime.

Since no such crimes were ever committed, they can’t do this.

Make no mistake, the left would do this if they could. It’s not like they’re constrained by honesty. But they can’t.

The reason they can’t is that major-party U.S. Presidential candidates are some of the most scrutinized people in the world. From the moment it became clear that Trump had locked down the Republican nomination – and realistically, months before that – his whereabouts are a matter of public record for literally every day. And for many days, every hour.

How is the left going to allege something specific that isn’t obviously false based on the actual record – which is now publicly available via the Net? They’d love to pull a 1984 and simply edit the past, but they can’t do that.

Supposing he did meet with some dignitary from Russia – and of course, meeting with a foreign official would be a perfectly normal thing for a person in government, or prospectively in government, to do. They can’t say, “We have video, without sound, of Trump and the Russian guy laughing together in a way that strikes us as conspiratorial.”

Since Trump did not, in actual reality, conspire with anyone to fix the election (WTF?), they can’t “prove” that he did. (I can’t believe we’re even talking about allegations that are pure fabrications. It is a testament to the delusionality of the left that they can induce us to refute assertions that are literally pure fabulism, made up, out of whole cloth, and paid for, by the opposing party. Jaysus!)

What is actually going on is that the left is trying to keep their base riled up in general, and for the 2018 mid-term elections in particular. This strategy relies on deliberate vagueness, misleading wording, and the general fact that leftist voters are low-information and don’t actually care about truth.

But if the House of Representatives actually tries to move articles of impeachment along, then suddenly the normals will start paying attention. Impeachment is a Big Deal. It’s not an everyday occurrence. That’s when the normals who aren’t paying attention right now, and have never even heard of the Steele “dossier,” suddenly start paying close attention and learn that it was literally a work of fiction commissioned and paid for by the Democratic Party.

Impeachment is when normals get interested in the details. And when they plunge into the details, of course, those that still think there might be some fire in all the smoke realize that there isn’t; there’s just smoke, created by the left’s smoke machine.

The left’s strategy here requires a certain amount of attention by people. It’s obviously no good for them if no one is paying any attention. But it also is lethal for them when people start paying close attention and realize that there is literally nothing there. The left’s strategy requires a certain level of vague, half-listening-with-one-ear attention. That low level of attention cannot survive the introduction of articles of impeachment.

So the only question is, will they give up on all this after the 2018 mid-term elections, or will they keep going? This depends both on whatever strategy they think they have and on their emotions. Journalists, in particular, seem to be in a psychologically non-normal state over Trump’s election, so they may never be able to let this go.

But they can’t and won’t impeach the T-Dawg on “Russia.” They’d have more luck with some parking ticket, something that he actually did. Or they’d have more luck alleging that something legal that he did, is actually illegal. What they can’t and never will do is introduce articles of impeachment about the utterly insane “election fixing” horseshit.

Note I’m not saying they won’t try to impeach him over something – of course they will, if they have the numbers in the House; Trump’s election has them absolutely frantic. I’m saying that it won’t be about the retarded “election meddling” thing.

Should You Trust “Experts”?

The sometimes perceptive, sometimes bizarre, but usually interesting Eliezer Yudkowsky has a new set of posts up at lesserwrong.com, excerpts from his book Inadequate Equilibria. (Lesserwrong.com is the successor site, established in 2017, to the rationalist site Less Wrong.) The first post of interest is

Inadequacy and Modesty.

Yudkowsky has two main topics: One is when to trust one’s own judgment, when one disagrees with experts, versus going with the experts’ opinion. The link above talks about informationally efficient and inefficient situations, where we can roughly define an informationally efficient situation as one where the experts are as right as possible given currently available information.

His second topic is the set of ways that a society can get stuck in a suboptimal equilibrium. That’s an enormous topic, which I’ll take up in a later post, but the connection is this: One example of such suboptimality is when there are insufficient incentives for the discovery and spread of information. The dissemination of information – who knows what – is obviously connected to the topic of expertise.

For me, there are two main items of interest in all this. One is random walks and their links to rational beliefs, and the other is the question of expertise itself.

A random walk is a kind of variable that often arises in informationally efficient situations. Yudkowsky uses the classic exanple of stock prices, though he doesn’t use the term “random walk.” He discusses the reasons to believe that stock markets are informationally efficient, which means that all relevant information known to market participants is already incorporated into stock prices. That in turn implies that you can’t profit by second-guessing the market, because the expected (i.e., mean) change in the price is zero. That in turn is the definition of a random walk. (If you’ve ever taken a Finance class this may sound familiar; it’s the Efficient Markets Hypothesis.)

See my post The Mind Cannot Foresee its Own Advance, which presents a generalization of this point.

There are good reasons to think that stock markets are pretty damn informationally efficient:

Empirically, it’s extremely difficult to beat the market – for periods of time long enough to not just be temporary luck – even with Cray big iron and a truckload of quant PhDs on staff. This empirical regularity is the real meat of the argument. But why is that the case? Several reasons, noted by Yudkowsky (but my wording here):

1. There are enormous incentives $$$!!! to uncover patterns that other market participants haven’t uncovered, so you can second-guess them and make bug bucks,

2. There are lots of people involved in attempting to do this constantly, which tends to push securities prices in the correct direction,(*)


(*) If a security is underpriced you should buy it to profit when people eventually realize it’s underpriced and the price rises. But also, the very fact of your buying it constitutes an increase in demand for it, which tends to push the price up. A symmetric phenomenon happens when you bet on a price falling in the future.


3. There is fast feedback from empirical reality telling them whether their trading strategies are successful, so fast error correction,

4. You can bet either way in the stock markets. That means that whether everybody else is too optimistic or too pessimistic, there are bets you can place to profit when the current mispricing is eventually corrected.

At the link above Yudkowsky says, somewhat floridly,

In the thickly traded parts of the stock market, where the collective power of human civilization is truly at its strongest, I doff my hat, I put aside my pride and kneel in true humility to accept the market’s beliefs as though they were my own, knowing that any impulse I feel to second-guess and every independent thought I have to argue otherwise is nothing but my own folly. If my perceptions suggest an exploitable opportunity, then my perceptions are far more likely mistaken than the markets. That is what it feels like to look upon a civilization doing something adequately.

A very important point here is that stock markets are exceptional! As points 1 – 4 explain, there are reasons to think the experts – in this case, securities trading firms – are correct on average.

But in the generic case – consider the field of history, e.g. – none of those things is true. And the whole question of who is an expert basically scuttles this attempt to say “You should often defer to experts.”

For example, Marxist historians like to say that they’re experts on history – they’ve figured out its ineluctable laws! – but they’re actually a bunch of ideological fuckwits who can’t think themselves out of a paper bag. But they’re also professors at many a US university (all the universities, I think). They’ll tell you they’re experts, man. It says so right here on the label, “I’m an expert.”

So is that a reason to regard them as experts?

Plainly not. Well, but we don’t have to trust them on this; after all, they’re hired by universities! Universities must be unbiased; it says so right on the label! Right? No, actually universities (outside of STEM fields, and increasingly even there) are also largely a bunch of ideological fuckwits.

Or so I claim. Am I right or wrong? Before you respond, I claim that I’m an expert on this topic. Hmmmm, we’d need to assess their degree of ideological fuckwittery empirically, wouldn’t we?

Or are we going to count heads? Whose heads? The historians’? But they’re the ones whose very credibility is being questioned, so that would be going in a circle.

How about the average person? Well, the Marxists lose that one, since most people aren’t Marxists. More to the point, if we’re asking people other than soi-disant “experts,” we’ve already departed from the dictum “trust experts.”

(By the way, should we trust the pollsters who are doing the head counting? Are their polling methods unbiased? Are they competent polling experts? How do you know?)

Furthermore, there are no particular incentives to be correct in this area. Your fellow historians are largely leftists who will grant you tenure for saying, in various ways, “Socialism is nice. Capitalism is bad.” You are not betting your own money or your life by predicting that next time – in China… Cuba… Venezuela! – socialism is sure to work.

Marxism is not intended to factually describe reality anyway. It’s an ideology of power, a convenient pre-made language for people who want to seize power, and realize they need a veneer of justice to help them gain adherents, put their opposition on the defensive, etc. Or as Marx himself put it, more discreetly: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

Once it’s recognized that you can’t just trust anyone who says “I’m an expert” – anyone can say that – the whole epistemic question returns to the forefront. How are you going to judge who’s an expert? Hmmm, maybe we need some standards regarding the use of evidence. (Frequentist? Bayesian?) Also some procedures, like whether testable empirical claims are being made, whether they’re replicable and actually replicated, etc.

You see the problem: In order to judge who’s an expert, you have to be damn far along the trajectory of knowledge in the relevant subject, far enough along that you’d be a jack-leg expert yourself on the topic. You might as well just assess the evidence for yourself, ignoring the purported “experts.”

What I do, and I hope everyone does, is try to identify areas in which there don’t seem to be monetary or ideological incentives to be biased, and provisionally trust the experts in those areas, and ignore experts in areas where the incentives are bad. This is far from foolproof, of course. (I’m perpetually surprised by how politicized nutrition science is.) But given the impossibility of becoming experts ourselves in all topics, we use heuristics, imperfect though they are, to try to avoid getting scammed by fraudulent “experts.”

There are many reasons, not just malign intent, that this instinct to mistrust “experts” is sound. Yudkowsky mentions some and I will mention others in my next post.

Here’s a teaser: In my next post I will cite a paper by two game theorists on the topic of expertise. This paper was published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, which is a top Economics journal in the world. A major conclusion of the paper: In general, the equilibrium outcome is that experts will deliberately not inform you perfectly. Now here’s my question for anyone who says “trust experts”: Do you trust the conclusion of these two game theory experts?

NO on the gun control thing, Donald

When a python causes a rat to asphyxiate, you know how it does it? I learned this from a biology teacher in high school. It wraps around the rat and squeezes. The rat can lock its diaphragm, but eventually it has to unlock it to try to inhale. When this happens, the python contracts around the rat a little more, squeezing even more air out of its lungs. Repeat until you have a dead rat.

This is what the gun grabbers will do if they can’t get outright immediate confiscation. It’s their strategy, as is obvious from their actions, and, when they think no one’s paying attention, their explicit words.

Is the metaphor clear, Mr. President?

Listen: The Second Amendment is MORE important than the First, because without the Second, the government will just ignore the Constitution, laugh at us, and say, “What are you going to do about it, you powerless, helpless slaves?”

(We’re never really totally powerless, but we’re a hell of a lot more empowered when we have something closer to weapons parity with the would-be totalitarians.)

And remember: The Left will always hate you no matter what you do. The Right, the real right, adores you, as long as you do the right thing.

There is no percentage in caving on this. THERE NEVER IS ANY PERCENTAGE IN CAVING ON ANYTHING, WITH THE LEFT.