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2010 October 19 Tuesday
Razib On The Skeptical Conservatives

Razib looks at an affinity group for skeptical conservatives and after noting that politics are not his main interest he offers his views on what is worth conserving.

But by disposition and outlook I have a preference for what can loosely be termed the bourgeois world which arose in the West in the wake of the Enlightenment, and would prefer to conserve it, and at most evolve it from within. I have come to reject excessive axiomatic constructs in political theory and politics, and also believe from an empirical evolutionary perspective that the methodological individualism at the heart of modern liberalism may at root be a quirk of the preferences of the intellectual classes in general.

Razib and I agree. But I tend to say the same thing with, well, lower brow prose. Axiomatic constructs? Methodological individualism? I need to learn how to talk like that. Not sure to who though.

I used to try to figure out which political philosophy or theory was correct. After all, renowned people subscribe to assorted political philosophies. Surely one of them must be correct. But as I got absorbed into and found unacceptable flaws in each major political school of thought it occurred to me that the people who buy into these schools of thought are unhinged. They build big systematic intellectual houses on rickety foundations, mostly wrong due to wrong models of human nature.

On types of individualism: I think individualism flows from an instinctual desire to not be dominated. Men who let themselves become dominated handed over too much of their hunting spoils or crops to people who used their wealth to out-reproduce them. So our desire for independence and freedom are an accidental outcome of evolution. That some people dress this up in elaborate philosophies (e.g. Objectivism) amounts to trying to rationalize one's instincts in order to rally more to your instinctual cause.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 19 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2010 September 01 Wednesday
Tony Blair Sees Gordon Brown As Autistic?

Former British Prime Minister has published a book about his time in government where, among other things, he addresses his relationship with his long time ally and rival Gordon Brown. Tony sees Gordon as handicapped in dealing with human emotion.

Brown, he writes, lacked the political instinct "at the human gut level" at which Blair excelled. "Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero." Looking ahead to Brown's prime ministership, Blair writes baldly: "It was never going to work." Labour lost in 2010 because "it stopped being New Labour".

Of course Tony's long term policy direction (more spending) wasn't sustainable either. But the financial crisis combined with Gordon Brown's failings made a decaying situation worse. Tony thinks New Labour could have won if it had not drifted further to the Left? I'm skeptical. The party's voters wanted more from government. Just like Barack Obama's voters.

"Labour won when it was New Labour," Blair writes in his memoir. "It lost because it stopped being New Labour."

Having the world's reserve currency allows the Democrats in the United States to go further into irresponsibility. The British have less wiggle room for irresponsibility. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK is facing reality as it cuts spending. The British government - like the US government - is living beyond its people's means. But the US government can go longer before being forced back toward fiscal responsibility.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 01 07:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 January 22 Thursday
Most Groups Expect To Gain Influence Under Obama

Most people see themselves as becoming more influential now that Barack Obama has ascended to the US Presidency.

In the latest Pew Research survey, conducted Jan. 7-11, 47% said that people like themselves would gain influence under Barack Obama, 18% said they would lose influence, and 29% said they would not be affected. The survey found that overwhelming majorities of African Americans (79%) and other core Democratic groups said that people like themselves would gain influence under the new administration1.

But by nearly two-to-one (41% to 22%), more whites said they will gain rather than lose influence under Obama; 32% of whites say they will not be affected. White voters supported John McCain over Obama by 55% to 43%, according to exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool.

White evangelical Protestants were one of McCain's strongest groups last November; 74% supported McCain, while 24% backed Obama. Yet 37% of white evangelicals say that people like themselves will gain influence under Obama, compared with 31% who say they will lose influence and 27% who say they will not be affected.

What are the odds of all these people being right? I figure slim to none.

I think Bush was perceived (accurately in many cases) as impervious to reason. Obama comes across as seeking expert opinion and solicitous of the views of others. So people feel like he listens to them. This makes them feel more powerful and influential.

I've read that in person Bill Clinton comes across as very attentive and sympathetic to whichever view someone else is presenting. So people feel listened to by Clinton. Obama has some of that charm as well.

More whites feel like they are gaining influence with the transition from Bush to Obama than felt that way with the transition from Clinton to Bush.

Somewhat more whites say people like themselves will gain influence under Obama than expressed that view in January 2001 regarding Bush (41% vs. 35%). Hispanics, on balance, said they would gain influence under Bush, but a far greater percentage of Hispanics today believe that people like themselves will benefit under Obama (66% today vs. 38% in January 2001).

Some of the same groups had more people saying they'd gain than lose influence during each of these transitions. So are they all becoming more influential during each transition? I don't think so. I think this is all just delusion driven by the desire to feel higher in status and power.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 22 08:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 September 21 Sunday
Obama Worse Than McCain On Human Genetics Research?

Godless Capitalist thinks Barack Obama will suppress genetic research into human biodiversity and human differences. Greg Cochran disagrees. First off, Godless says John McCain will allow more research into genetic differences.

Half Sigma is way off on this one. I don't want to diss him too hard because the h-bd realist blogosphere isn't big enough for internecine warfare, but come on now...Palin is the most libertarian candidate to run since the Reagan administration.
A candidate like Palin is only available because Alaska is a frontier region which has somewhat escaped the tender ministrations of the diversicrats in the lower 48.

Some points:

1) First, the guys who think "worse is better" are morons. Rhodesia and South Africa prove that "worse is worse". The left can take a country all the way to the grave by controlling the media. A rightist backlash is NOT assured.

2) Second, from an h-bd realist perspective we're fighting to hold territory, not to take it. We just need to hold off the left till genomics can come through. We're going to be knocking off sacred cow after sacred cow in the next decade or so. "Race is a social construction" has now been completely dynamited by the genomic maps of Europe, the Hapmap, and all the related papers -- and that only took about 6 years time. Any knowledgeable person can now fillet an unreconstructed Lewontinite by just linking half a dozen recent vintage papers, and there will be literally hundreds by the time the decade is up.

Moreover, it's only a matter of time before the IQ/genomics correlations come down the pike, and that will change everything. But under Obama, there is a very serious risk that work on the genomics/race/IQ nexus will be outlawed or banned. Marcus Feldman and his rapid response teams are only the beginning of this...there are a lot more mutterings going on than have been made public, and left creationists will be ascendant as never before in an Obama administration. There is plenty of precedent: just look at how research into nuclear power, physical anthropology, and genetically modified plants have been brought to a shuddering halt in Europe (and slowed in the US).

It doesn't have to be an overt "ban", of course -- it can just be a series of obstacles to getting any funding for such "racist" studies. It's already well nigh impossible to study genetics, IQ, and race directly given IRB issues...all they'd need to do is apply even stricter scrutiny to the various loopholes that savvy scientists have been exploiting (e.g. Alzheimer's).

By contrast, 8 years of "hold" under a Palin administration will buy us the time we need. And it will be a "Palin administration", in that McCain will see that his popularity depends on his VP. I think amnesty is a *lot* less likely if Sarah has something to say about it.

Anyway -- all the rest regarding the ostensible "prole" nature of solidly middle class Palin is basically bullshit. I mean, for real? Does everyone forget that Obama is an agitator for the underclass, a longtime drug user born to an airheaded teenage mother, the son of an African polygamist and a member of a barbaric church? Obama is beloved by both Yale *and* Jail, and is an apologist for criminal vermin like the Jena Six. Palin is an advocate for the taxpayers. That's the difference between them.

So GC sees a McCain-Palin presidency as less bad than an Obama-Biden presidency. I have to say: I do not know. I can trot out major negatives about each ticket. Presidents once in office can do far more damage than we can foresee in advance. The best we can hope for is an ineffectual president. The downside risks are bigger than the upside potential.

Greg Cochran thinks genetic research into human biodiversity isn't suppressible because the cost of DNA testing has gotten so cheap that the US government suppression won't stop it. I agree on the cheapness. It is going to get orders of magnitude cheaper still.

I've thought about this question for ten years or so, and of course I've had more direct experience with the reaction to this kind of work than - well, anyone.

And I have to conclude that you're an utter loon. First, the idea that there is some difference in the way that the two political parties would react to controversial research results in this area is simply false. Mostly they won't react at all because they're not even interested. Second, the idea that we'll see draconian regulation of genetic data is highly unlikely: researchers will _not_ like it, independent generation of such data is going to be trivially cheap, and the scheme only works if the US conquers the world.
Worse than that - it'd make us fall behind in the great gene race with China. Darpa sure wouldn't like that.

Next, you seem to think that understanding the genetic roots of phenotypic differences between population groups will have dramatic effects - in particular, undermine people's core political beliefs - if allowed to. But in fact it will have minuscule effect. Genotypes are not more convincing than phenotypes, which we see every day. More to the point, you can't shift such strongly held, emotionally held beliefs with anything less than dynamite. And I don't mean _rhetorical_ dynamite.

Read more history.

I happen to think that the evidence from genetics is going to shift enough people's beliefs that many currently taboo subjects will reenter mainstream discourse. For defenders of the status quo genetic evidence represents a threat. The current foolish elite conventional wisdom about human nature (e.g. that all can be raised up to college level of intellectual performance) helps to justify educational policies that inevitably fail. The defenders of those policies do not want to defend their policies against detailed genetic evidence that some people really are dumb. So they do not want to see detailed mechanisms that explain why the dumb are dumb reaching the pages of scientific journals.

While the genetic evidence isn't going to shake the faith of most hard core Lefties it will embolden a lot of people who are currently fearful to speak their beliefs. The balance of forces in political battle will shift against the educational bureaucrats who argue that all can become college material, against the defenders of racial preferences, against redistributionists who argue that economic inequality is primarily the result of unfairness by capitalists.

Now, educational bureaucrats will continue to fight for more money. They'll just use different arguments. For example, they'll argue that training the less intellectually able with useful job skills requires a lot ratio of teachers to students and lots of intensive teaching. Redistributionists will argue that while intellect and hard work are responsible for part of inequality some inequality will be due to unfairness. Politicians will still campaign with Robin Hood arguments for the masses. But the Left will not win quite as many political struggles. Obama wants to win struggles for the Left. So he's not keen to see the Left weakened by the results of scientific research.

Cheap DNA testing by itself doesn't get us the identification of genetic variations that influence intelligence and personality. We need large scale comparisons of people for many different cognitive measures and lifetime behaviors correlated with DNA testing results. This requires collection of large amounts of social science data. The work probably won't get funded much in the US - unless some rich people pony up the money. But I'm hopeful that countries with less racially diverse populations will fund the research and we'll learn which genetic variations cause which differences in cognitive function.

Suppose Godless's worry about Obama is correct. The research will still get done more slowly elsewhere. But we have to keep in mind other considerations when selecting a President. One of my worries for a McCain Administration is that he could become demented while in office. He might not be willing to admit it to himself. His decision making could become even more erratic than his temperament and shallowness already makes it.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 21 01:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2008 February 16 Saturday
Will Cynicism Win Out Over Hope For Obama Magic?

Dahlia Lithwick can't be an Obama groupie now that Obamamania is so mainstream.

I know this is going to sound strange, but it's not you, Barack, it's me. Really it always was me, but now it's really, really about me. I don't know when we started to feel weird supporting you, but: My friend Hanna thinks it started with that "Yes We Can," video. I mean, last week I was totally crying watching it. Now just thinking about how choked up I got gives me the creeps. I think I felt something at the time, but even if I did, I'm pretty sure I don't want to feel it anymore. Feeling inspired is soooo early-February.

I think Dahlia only wants to lead trends. She doesn't actually want to stick around once a trend matures for any longer than it takes to show that she was out front in the vanguard.

Or maybe it started when everyone began madly posting last week about how you are not the Messiah. And that got me thinking. Then, when commentators started accusing me of being a venomous drone in a "cult of personality," I just needed to get out. I mean cults are soooo 1970s. And cults of personality? So totally first century.

Once everyone else has joined up you are just one in a huge mass and you lose the characteristic that made you part of a small, distinctively different, and most importantly better group. You can't stay well above average by supporting the mainstream. That's Dahlia's problem and one of the basic problems with the human condition. Well, I'm glad she doesn't want to be part of a cult of personality. This need to be separate puts limits on dangerous herding activity.

A twenty one year old writes to Andrew Sullivan about his emotional needs that he looks to Obama to fill.

There's one salient reason why people of my age are supporting Obama and that's because we feel that Obama will finally show us what it means to be proud of our president.

This foolish kid likes Obama because he felt giddy in Obama's presence.

I attended an Obama rally a few days ago and was amazed at how filled up with emotion I was. Halfway through his speech, other 21 year olds just like that filled the Hall were screaming their heads off, waving banners, and grinning. Everyone was giddy, hell even I was giddy. I was smiling and chanting along to "Yes We Can."

As for "Yes We Can": Oh no you can't. The hippies in the 60s thought music could change the world. Neil Young recently commented that, no, music can't change the world. Neil appears to more realistically think that scientists working alone matter more than singers. I wonder when he figured that out.

A Song Alone.
By Neil Young

No one song can change the world. But that doesn’t mean its time to stop singing.
Somewhere on Earth a scientist is alone working. No one knows what he or she is thinking. The secret is just within reach. If I knew that answer I would be singing the song.

Though Neil thinks there was a time when music could change the world. But of course Don McClean explained how that ended in "The Day The Music Died".

"I think that the time when music could change the world is past," Young told reporters, according to the AP. "I think it would be very naïve to think that in this day and age."

Maybe Neil and others like him see the world as going through stages where the magic gradually drains away. I'm reminded of the movie in which Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) failed to stop the decline of magic by creating Merlin (Sam Neill). I see that movie as trying to build a mental bridge showing how a mythical past was replaced with our physically constrained present. The political magic believers ought to try to reconcile themselves with the modern world by seeing this story as explaining how the magic died.

We live in a world with no rock stars - at least none under the age of 50. So younger politicians see an opening to try to pose as rock stars in order to appeal to that youthful demographic. Some people obviously want a Barack Obama or other conjurer to somehow bring back supposedly lost magic so that people who chant "Yes We Can" really can change the world. But that's not going to happen. The best outcome we can hope for is that someone ends up with a beautiful Isabella Rossellini made youthful again using scientific rejuvenation therapies.

If Obama gets elected then his giddy supporters of today are eventually going to end up feeling pretty disappointed. The problems of the world are not that tractable by political leaders with enormous wisdom and people with enormous wisdom pretty much don't want to run for the US Presidency anyway. Instead we end up with charismatic showmen who only pretend to possess real wisdom.

Today our biggest problems aren't even part of the mainstream debate in this election and many of those problems are denied by the major political players. The world's population grows by 100 million a year (97 million in 2007, more in 2008). Most of that growth comes among the most ignorant, poor, and dumb parts of humanity. While our intellectuals worry about global warming we are running out of fossil fuels and consuming an ever growing portion of nature as food, fiber, and fuel. Obama might present his policies as a radical departure from the past but I bet his Africa policies will just be an extension of the aid scale-up that Bush is already doing. The population and habitat destruction problems will be totally ignored. The doubling of Africa's population by 2050 will be ignored. This isn't magic. This is mass delusion.

By Randall Parker    2008 February 16 09:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 December 18 Tuesday
People Exaggerate Their Support Of Obama To Pollsters

Would liberal Democrats say they support Barack Hussein Obama in order to seem not racist while in reality not intending to vote for him? Sure looks that way.

A new national study of voters who say they might vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses shows a striking disconnect between their explicit and implicit preferences, according to University of Washington researchers.

When asked who they would vote for, Sen. Barack Obama held a 42 percent to 34 percent margin over Sen. Hilary Clinton. Former senator John Edwards was in third place with 12 percent. However, when the same people took an Implicit Association Test that measures their unconscious or automatic preferences, Clinton was the runaway winner, the favored candidate of 48 percent of the voters. Edwards was second with 27 percent and Obama had 25 percent.

Bethany Albertson, a UW assistant political science professor and Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor and inventor of the Implicit Association Test, emphasized that their participants were not a representative sample of Democrats but were self-selected volunteers who took an experimental test over the Web. The data came from 926 people age 18 and over who took the test between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5. Of that total, 687 people said they might vote in the Democratic primaries.

“In the past, poll numbers have often overestimated support for black candidates when compared to their actual vote percentages,” said Albertson. “Findings of this study suggest that this familiar pattern may be about to repeat itself in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.”

Who will Hillary Clinton face in the 2008 general election? Fred Thompsom? Mick Huckabee? Mitt Romney?

By Randall Parker    2007 December 18 10:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2006 November 16 Thursday
Silent Video Clip Viewing Best Way To Choose Winning Political Candidates

People who spend lots of time parsing sentences from political candidates are far less able to choose winners than those who pursue a shallower and quicker approach.

People watching short clips of silent debate footage are able to predict political election winners more accurately than predictions based on reports of economic conditions, finds a study supported by Dartmouth, the University of Chicago, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR).

"We found that snap decisions based on charisma are a good predictor of election outcomes," says Daniel J. Benjamin, an assistant professor of economics at Dartmouth and a fellow at ISR. "But you need to measure charisma with silent video clips rather than sound-on clips because knowing about candidate policy positions disrupts people's ability to judge the non-verbal cues that really matter." Benjamin was a co-author of this study with Jesse M. Shapiro of the University of Chicago.

After watching ten-second silent video clips of competing gubernatorial candidates, participants in the study were able to pick the winning candidate at a rate significantly better than chance. When the sound was turned on and participants could hear what the candidates were saying, they were no better than chance at predicting the winner. For the study, Benjamin and Shapiro showed 264 participants, virtually all Harvard undergraduates, ten-second video clips of the major party candidates in 58 gubernatorial elections from 1988 to 2002.

Researchers found that the accuracy of predictions based solely on silent video clips was about the same as or greater than the accuracy of predictions based on knowledge of which candidate was the incumbent and information about the prevailing economic conditions at the time of the election, including the unemployment rate and any changes in personal income for the year prior to the election.

You can imagine how political parties could use this information. The key is to choose candidates that look good when speaking. Hire some people to view silent clips of potential candidates from your party. Then persuade the highest scorer to run and put money behind that person.

What I'd like to know: Would still pictures be enough to predict winners? Just do it based on looks? I've read that this year the Democrats tried to field better looking candidates. If they did then I bet that helped.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 16 05:51 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
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