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Please don't vote because democracy is a local optimum

-8 Post author: Konkvistador 05 November 2012 08:09PM

Related to: Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity, Does My Vote Matter?

And voting adds legitimacy to it.

Thank you.

#annoyedbymotivatedcognition

Comments (210)

Comment author: Xachariah 06 November 2012 06:57:38AM *  9 points [-]

Does voting add legitimacy to a democracy? I've seen many people take it as a given (as Konkvistador does in this post), but I don't see why it is necessarily true.

In one sense competitive races with high turnout are legitimate in terms of "probably not stolen with corruption", and I agree that illegitimacy in the form of stolen elections can reduce turnout. But in another sense competitive races with high turnout are the least legitimate. They have the most controversy, the most regret, and the highest percentage of the public disliking the result and getting a turnover next race. In the US you get a spike of turnout in '92, then the Republican Revolution of '94, a spike of turnout in '04, then the democratic sweep of '06, Obama in '08 then the Tea Party takover in '10. These are not signs of a stable electorate that is happy with it's legitimate government. Just eyeballing a pair of 30 year graphs of "citizen satisfaction in the US government" and "voter turnout" seems pretty convincing to me that people go out to vote when they're most dissatisfied. Voter turnout thus seems to be a combination of dissatisfaction in government and a belief that you can change that government (which implies you don't like how it currently is).

For a hypothetical, which government do you think people are happiest with and consider the most legitimate...
a government where 90% of the population votes because they really want to get their side in power, and fuck those other guys... or a government where only 9% of the population votes because everybody is pretty indifferent between either party and don't consider it a big deal no matter who wins?
All things being equal (eg corruption level, education, etc) I'd assume people consider the second more legitimate. They are happy with how their government would turn out, and even though they could potentially have 10 times the voting impact, they choose not to exercise their right. By not-voting they aren't giving authority and legitimacy to rule to any one political party, but they are giving legitimacy to the system as a whole. They're saying that they trust the rest of the country to come to the right conclusion.

Anyhow I've gone astray. Why do you think that voting adds legitimacy to a democracy, rather than the opposite? I know I believed in that statement too, but frankly I think the only reason I believed it was because it was repeated so much. I would be interested in hearing the logic behind it, because at this point I can't remember why I used to believe it aside from repetition.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 10:22:40AM *  9 points [-]

Non-voting as a political strategy

I would certainly vote for a candidate that could belivably promise to replace democracy with something I thought worked better. But since I know I'm biased against the strenght of the Humean small-c conserviative argument against change (because it doesn't make good insight porn ), I would require a very high standard of evidence. I don't think I'd vote for Moldbug's Neocamerialism as a replacement for my cozy Central European Parlimentary Social Democracy just yet for example.

But consider that the high voter turn out happened in the examples you gave in a later comment because there where parties that promised fundamental change in the political system which included abolishing voting or changing its role in society. Without such an option casting your ballot is just demonstrating the system is working as intended. The overton window was not moved in those cases by the Demublican party moving slowly away from democracy year after year because it kept giving them more votes, but because of external change convicing people the old parties and the old system was lame. New parties arose who promised to change the system by which they arose (oh irony). But what if such new parties where illegal? And the laws enforced because people serving in the police forces or the benches still believe in democracy and saw those trying to work around them as scum?

Eastern European referendums in the 1980s and 1990s had high turn out too. But I bet local party meetings or mayoral elections (yes Communist countries had elections too a whole lot of them) in late 1980s Eastern Europe weren't well attended. The governments of Eastern Europe weren't scared of people participating in government or unions or whatever, they where scared of people abandoing their insitutions for alternatives. General elections are more party meetings than referendums today.

So ok where are we left? We have strong evidence that the obvious alternative (the one we where most familiarized with by our pro-Democratic education system), that of violent revolution, almost always works out badly. The American one was actually a revolt or secession not a real revolution. I mean old King George was still happily sitting on his throne in London when it was over no? He just had one province less as the elites in it managed a sucessful secession.

Lets think about alternatives. What if there was a massive loss of confidence in Democracy in face of new non-democratic societies elsewhere in the world that would radically outperforming democratic ones to the point the latter appear to be economically and socially stagnating. Sounds implausible? Well something precisely like this happened not 20 years ago. You first need such societies, but lets assume by some magic the State Department, Department of Defence and the NYT let them happen. Shouldn't we be seeing low voter turn out untill a party emerges that promises to abolish democracy? And then wins. Or untill a new government arises and simply peacefully pressures the old dinosaur to put up one final referendum to abolish itself. The Communist parties agreed to this because they had lost confidence in themselves and weren't willing to resort to enough repression (those that did are still around), why not the Democratic parties?

Non-voting as rationality enhancing

In Slovenia we have a proverb "vera je v nogah ne v glavi", religion is in the feet not the head. People who go to Church every Sunday, tend to stay very religious, people who stop going to Church tend to realize a few years later they aren't they aren't too religious even if their non-Church going wasn't because of a loss of faith. Humans rationalize their actions. Simply by voting you are tempting your mind to come up with excuses for why voting is good. Now sure not doing something that everyone else does also creates strong incentives for rationalizations. But seriously isn't there something creepy about millions of people going through a ritual on a particular day every four years? Isn't there something memetically adaptive about this strange display? Not-voting can be signaling, but so is non-beehive-keeping or non-church-going, the benefit beyond signaling is just the benefit of dumping the cost of sustaining a meme.

What would an anthroplogist from Jupiter say the individual Earth monkey gets out of bed and does this every four years? Would this include TDT-like commitment to non-defection for the good of all mankind or at least their polity? Or perhaps a long term strategy to abolish the ritual? What would ze say about what effect it has on their opinions about the activity? Remember at the end of the day if you go to vote and don't spoil your ballot you have to vote for someone. Are you truly saying people don't very often go blue or green based on the ballot they at first grudingly cast a few days earlier for the green candidate? And if you are blue and green and neither has in its tribal atire abolishing democracy...

Even if it is a bad political strategy, which I'm certainly open to since you make very good arguments (I upvoted your post), non-voting still seems a good sanity preserving strategy for the individual and perhaps a community of non-voters who would like to be sane on politics.

Comment author: Xachariah 07 November 2012 12:49:22PM *  4 points [-]

I am having trouble fully understanding your response. (Please take this as a lack of understanding on my part, and not as an slight to how you communicate.) If it is okay with you, I would like to just summarize what you said to me, then you can tell me if I understood correctly or not, then I would rebuttal in a later post after I'm certain I understand your argument. I would much rather converse with the strongest version of the argument than argue with a straw-man my mind constructs.

P1 - You would happily vote for a (party that supports) alternative to democracy, unfortunately no such (proven) voting options exist.
P2 - The examples I cite are not valid because they explicitly advocated a new system, but that does not hold true for this election. Governments are not moved by internal forces (citizens voting) but by external forces, and actively work against both external change (which is known) and internal change (which most citizens do not see).
P3 - If voting could change anything, they wouldn't let us do it. :-) (As a side note, I thought Solidarity was a political/voting union? Though I should note that as a product of US schools, my knowledge on Soviet politics is lacking.)
P4 - Even violent revolution doesn't usually work. Revolutions do not overthrow governing systems; they merely change who is in power in those systems.
P5 - A possible solution to end democracy is a separate system arising that proves itself superior. Then the people vote for it or the government itself accepts the new system as superior. As proof, this is how the old Communist States died. (I actually did not know this. Probably due to the US's selective teaching of history.)
P6 - Humans rationalize our actions. By taking part in democracy, you become accepting of democracy; by not taking part in democracy, you become less so. To go out on a limb and put it in my own words, if you are hit on the head by a baseball bat every week you'll eventually rationalize why it's okay... but if you have to hit yourself every week, you'll rationalize that it's the most important/moral/good thing any person could ever do. (I'm a bit lost on the creepy/memetic argument though.)
P7 - By voting blue or green, you align blue or green. It poisons your perception of the world blue or green. And both blue and green support democracy, so voting for either one poisons your mind to support democracy.
P8 - The purpose of abstaining from voting is to prevent your mind (and your group's mind, eg lesswrong) from being poisoned, which is bad. (Furthermore, because of our size/influence, it does not cost us much to abstain.)

I believe that most of them are true on their face: P1, P3, P4, P6, P7. P6/7/8 strike me as especially good arguments against voting. I think P2 is incorrect, but I had extra trouble attempting to understand that paragraph, especially the second half of it; so that may only be due to my (lack of) understanding. I am undecided on P5 because I had not heard about that historical precedent until now and must research more (and if anyone has a short summary they could link to, I would love to read it). P8 is tricky... P8 is part of the wisdom of lesswrong that I disagreement with but haven't yet put into a post. I suspect that, unless I'm very wrong in my summary, my rebuttal will primarily concern itself with P8.

(As a side note, I feel I understand your post much better now and also disagree with it much less after doing a paragraph by paragraph summary/restatement. It is a surprisingly enjoyable experience to read something I disagree with make so many valid points.)

If it is not too much trouble, could you verify that I have summarized your points accurately and I'm not reading your post as a straw man? Also, any clarifications would certainly be appreciated. This is a subject on which I'm still not fully decided (though do I lean heavily to one side), so I am especially interested in knowing all the facts and arguments, even if they go against my belief in this case.

Edit: I haven't abandoned this post, but I'm going out of town this weekend to help my brother move into his new house. So, I'll be rather late with a reply.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 01:18:19PM *  5 points [-]

I would much rather converse with the strongest version of the argument than argue with a straw-man my mind constructs.

I really like this approach myself and commend you (up vote) for taking it, quite some time ago I did something similar with the pro-democracy positon. You might want to read and comment on it so we can both see if I understand the regular thoughtful arguments in favour of democracy.

P2 - The examples I cite are not valid because they explicitly advocated a new system, but that does not hold true for this election. Governments are not moved by internal forces (citizens voting) but by external forces, and actively work against both external change (which is known) and internal change (which most citizens do not see).

Be careful here, I was originally trying to say citizens voting can't be used to change the acceptable policy options in certain directions. But if those policy options do become acceptable because of other reasons citizens voting can change the state in that direction.

Mostly however voting does very little of anything, especially because things that get people voting are nearly always things that escalate policy tugs of war.

P4 - Even violent revolution doesn't usually work. Revolutions do not overthrow governing systems; they merely change who is in power in those systems.

I think they sometimes can set up new governing systems, just that those efforts tend to end badly. To give examples the French Revolution besides the terror and its atrocities also ended up abandoning much of its ideals and started a series of destructive continent wide wars. I don't think I even have to explain what kind of horrible badness happened due to the Russian revolution.

A possible solution to end democracy is a separate system arising that proves itself superior. Then the people vote for it or the government itself accepts the new system as superior. As proof, this is how the old Communist States died. (I actually did not know this. Probably due to the US's selective teaching of history.)

Correct. Another plausible example is Apartheid South Africa abolishing itself. In that example you didn't even need to prove a superior system existed on metrics like lifespan or GDP, just that it was plausible a different one might work just as well and convince people making up the state apparatus or power to control it that it is morally & ideologically superior. There was some terrorism and foreign meddling pushing in that direction long before this happened so this isn't as clean a case as Communist Eastern Europe but I think it still evidence of how damaging a lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the people who are supposed to be upholding it is.

P6 - Humans rationalize our actions. By taking part in democracy, you become accepting of democracy; by not taking part in democracy, you become less so. To go out on a limb and put it in my own words, if you are hit on the head by a baseball bat every week you'll eventually rationalize why it's okay... but if you have to hit yourself every week, you'll rationalize that it's the most important/moral/good thing any person could ever do.

Yes.

(I'm a bit lost on the creepy/memetic argument though.)

Basically consider how this ind of behaviour looks from a memetic perspective rather than listening to why the memeplex justifies itself as another way to analyse it. I think we probably agree on the memetic perspective of how "going to Church" evolved. I assume we also agree that what the "going to Church" memeplex has to say about "going to Church" is probably false. We don't think God exists.

This isn't to imply that what "going to Church" had to say about "going to Church" was necessarily a priori false just because it evolved via memetic selection. It just happens to be so in that example. Being true can help a meme propagate quite well but it is not the only thing that can help it propagate.

By voting blue or green, you align blue or green. It poisons your perception of the world blue or green. And both blue and green support democracy, so voting for either one poisons your mind to support democracy.

Among other things. Not voting can be rationalized by "the country will be well governed either way" too and you'll feel a loyalty and belonging to the state. But I think this possible rationalizations is weaker and that voting at least in countries like the US is far more inspiring of pro-state and pro-democracy feelings of patriotism than non-voting-because-I-trust-it-will-work-great. In the low voting, high legitimacy example of say Northern European Social Democracies I bet the people who do vote are more likely to have a favourable opinion of government than those who don't. Maybe if more people voted the non-voters would be even more sceptical of the state, but I don't think that is what is happening. Perhaps the high legitimacy is there because of other reasons like ethnic homogeneity or relative prosperity and endures in spite of non-voting. And a lot of people in Northern European Social Democracies do vote. It is a hard social science question to settle without doing experiments designed specifically to address it.

P8 - The purpose of abstaining from voting is to prevent your mind (and your group's mind, eg lesswrong) from being poisoned, which is bad. (Furthermore, because of our size/influence, it does not cost us much to abstain.)

This is the reason I have more confidence in than the non-voting as a anti-democratic strategy. It wasn't the one I brought up in the OP because I thought it kind of a logical extension of the no mindkillers norm we have on this site. So we share some scepticism about P5 though I still currently believe in it strongly enough to consider encouraging people here to vote probably wrong for that reason in itself.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 09 November 2012 08:40:21PM 2 points [-]

violent revolution, almost always works out badly. The American one was actually a revolt or secession not a real revolution. I mean old King George was still happily sitting on his throne in London when it was over no? He just had one province less as the elites in it managed a sucessful secession.

I think I agree with you on the underlying issue, but I think you put it rather oddly.

What made the American case good is not what happened high up the hierarchy, but what happened lower down. Yes, from the point of view of England, the king was still standing, but from the point of view of America, the king was gone: the main change was at the very top. What was good was that so little changed at the low levels of government. As you say, the people who took over were already running things.

To take another example, the Glorious Revolution did change kings, with much less bloodshed than the American. Its change was all at the top, the replacement of a king and a shift in the balance of power between the king and Parliament. It did not disrupt the lower levels of government.

One reason most revolutions are bad is that they sweep things clean and governments are hard to build from scratch. Even harder if you get rid of the people with experience.

Comment author: TimS 06 November 2012 06:03:08PM 1 point [-]

I think you are confusing object level satisfaction and meta level satisfaction. Despite many policy disagreements throughout the years, the American people have agreed for about 150 years that the current form of government is the one that should govern.

In other words, Americans want a participatory democracy/republic. Voting is an expression of support for that model - thus voting enhances the legitimacy of the current system.

P.S. For cynics and public-choice theorists, I'm not arguing that the United States is a participatory democracy - that's a discussion for another time. I'm only explaining why the act of voting adds legitimacy to the current setup.

Comment author: Xachariah 06 November 2012 09:21:16PM 1 point [-]

Erm, I don't feel you've explained it though. All you've reiterated is that voting is an expression of support for the model, without explaining how that is.

Also consider that voter turnout can be highest when meta level satisfaction is lowest. Voter turnout spikes right before revolutions and civil wars; this is exactly people saying that they consider the system illegitimate and want it scrapped.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 06 November 2012 10:07:38PM 0 points [-]

Also consider that voter turnout can be highest when meta level satisfaction is lowest. Voter turnout spikes right before revolutions and civil wars; this is exactly people saying that they consider the system illegitimate and want it scrapped.

This sounds like a Muhammad Wang fallacy. (Even if Muhammad is the most common given name in the world, and Wang the most common surname, it does not follow that Muhammad Wang is the most common full name.)

Perhaps the people doing the voting and the people doing the revolting are not the same people. The voters may be rationally concerned to hold the system together because they correctly surmise that the revolutionaries are about to tear it apart.

Comment author: Xachariah 06 November 2012 10:44:10PM *  3 points [-]

It seems unlikely that the increases in voter turnout is comprised primarily of people happy with the system. 1930s Germany jumped to 85% participation before it became a fascist state. Iran jumped from 45% turnout in 75 to 90% turnout during the 79 revolution.

There's no room left in the demographic pie for non-voting revolutionaries at the numbers we're talking about.

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 November 2012 01:55:54PM 0 points [-]

All things being equal (eg corruption level, education, etc) I'd assume people consider the second more legitimate. They are happy with how their government would turn out, and even though they could potentially have 10 times the voting impact, they choose not to exercise their right.

That's one possible reason why they might refrain from voting. They might also be unhappy with how their government would turn out whether they vote or not. In my experience, people who don't care about voting are much more likely to be disaffected ("they're all idiots so it doesn't matter,") than they are to be satisfied ("they're all good enough as far as I'm concerned." )

I think that people who're enfranchised and largely satisfied with government are much more likely to participate in its operation than people who're enfranchised but unhappy. If most of the public agrees on the major subjects of debate between parties, the party lines will shift until they don't, and the people who're not too disenchanted with the whole system to participate will continue to have candidates the differences between whom they care about.

Comment author: gwern 05 November 2012 08:54:20PM 11 points [-]

More productive would be exploiting tensions: if someone claims voting is a fantastic idea because of 1 to millions odds of affecting the outcome, why don't they accept this same reasoning in other cases like existential risks?

Comment author: CarlShulman 06 November 2012 01:19:48AM 4 points [-]

Among other reasons, because :

  • they believe the odds for voting (voting and polling data are more solid evidence)
  • it's socially popular, and voting can be good for your social standing; people tend to live in politically segregated localities and communities, so for most people voting means affiliating with the groups your associates are connected with
  • there are huge marketing campaigns for voting since politicians and advocates have a vested interest in convincing people to vote for them, and in the process produce generic pro-voting spillovers collectively
  • voting is a cheap and bounded commitment (although political donations can be arbitrarily large)
  • voting affects current generations and fellow citizens more relative to future generations,
  • voting invokes coalitional thinking and group loyalty/morality more
  • consequences of votes, conditional on decisiveness, are revealed to a degree relatively soon
  • voting justifies reading about or watching politics for political junkies and policy wonks
Comment author: fortyeridania 06 November 2012 12:00:54PM 1 point [-]

I think the last reason is illegitimate, because it is symmetrical with the existential risk case. Just as voting justifies following politics, so does trying to decrease existential risk justify soaking up X-risk information. Therefore, someone who accepts it as a reason to vote should accept it as a reason to try to mitigate X-risks.

Comment author: drethelin 05 November 2012 08:56:50PM 2 points [-]

Vote Eliezer for President!

Comment author: jaibot 05 November 2012 09:12:45PM 15 points [-]

Great, now HPMOR will never get finished.

Comment author: shminux 05 November 2012 09:06:53PM 9 points [-]

Hmm, how would that world look, assuming he had his way? Billions spent on FAI research and cryonics? Mandatory basic rationality training? Legalizing polyamory marriage? Erecting statues of Bayes?

Comment author: FiftyTwo 06 November 2012 01:43:23PM 5 points [-]

To give a boring answer:

If we are assuming there wouldn't be any other major changes to the political structure (e.g. no bayesian party in congress) then the effect on policy outcomes would be fairly minor. For better or worse the president doesn't have that much direct power, and has to work with a lot of other interested groups.

Also I think people underestimate the domain specific knowledge in politics, there's no reason to believe that being rational would make Eleizer a particularly effective politician any more than a good doctor or lawyer.

The main specific power the president has is in publicity, so Eleizer could probably increase attention on existential risk and FAI issues, but how much concrete change that would make I don't know.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 November 2012 08:36:34PM 15 points [-]

I understand that you feel annoyed, but this post comes off (to me) as snarky and makes me feel annoyed. In turn, I am less able to take your request seriously.

Given the little that I know about your political views, I imagine that there is a large inferential chasm between us. And I don't dismiss your views out of hand. But if you're interested in convincing me that I shouldn't vote, a much better tact would be to rigorously argue for your views rather than making a curt discussion post.

Comment author: Konkvistador 05 November 2012 08:44:17PM *  0 points [-]

I would totally like to have written that but unfortunately there are meta reasons to not take such analysis as seriously on this particular date. I'll write at a later date, the irony is that LW might it considered more political on that later date when its actual political influence in terms of LessWronger voting behaviour is likely smaller.

Comment author: TimS 05 November 2012 08:49:05PM *  5 points [-]

And there are salience reasons not to talk about it other times. I defy the meta level concerns. Because of acausal trade, don't be coy for decision-theoretic reasons.

;)


Seriously, make your case if you want to. Or at least be explicit about the decision-theoretic reasons not to. You shouldn't be concerned that there will be affects on the election tomorrow.

Comment author: Konkvistador 05 November 2012 08:51:22PM *  3 points [-]

Yay, now lets go more meta since I'll tell you that I was totally aiming for this association. Up voted :D

Edit: Seriously, I totally will but on some later date.

Comment author: Kawoomba 05 November 2012 09:38:09PM 5 points [-]

Are you channelling your inner Will Newsome?

Comment author: Konkvistador 05 November 2012 09:43:58PM *  7 points [-]

Nuh uh, not cool enough.

Comment author: TimS 05 November 2012 08:53:12PM *  0 points [-]

As the map is not the territory, I decline to go meta, because we are already enduring it.


Edit: Apparently, some folks aren't clicking through my link in the grandparent, and don't get the joke. Or don't think it is funny. Too bad. :(

Comment author: [deleted] 05 November 2012 08:57:46PM *  0 points [-]

If that's the case, then I encourage you to take a break from engaging with people about politics on LW or otherwise. I know from experience how draining it can feel, especially for those of us with non-mainstream political views during political cycles.

Plus, as you said, today may not be the optimal day to have this discussion. Although I do look forward to reading your arguments on the issue once the election cycle is over.

Edit: My comment was written before I saw the following addendum to Konk's comment:

I'll write at a later date, the irony is that LW might it considered more political on that later date when its actual political influence in terms of LessWronger voting behaviour is likely smaller.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 05 November 2012 08:27:15PM 10 points [-]

Should be in the open thread.

Comment author: Rain 05 November 2012 10:27:52PM 11 points [-]

Please don't downvote this discussion post because moderating is a local optimum?

Comment author: The_Duck 05 November 2012 08:58:51PM *  7 points [-]

Downvoted because this post doesn't actually make an argument. Something this short belongs on Twitter, hashtag and all.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 06 November 2012 07:14:54AM *  4 points [-]

And if we push out of democracy, what are the chances the new optimum will be better? History is not encouraging on this point.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 02:14:27PM 1 point [-]

Pushing into democracy hasn't worked out too well either in most of the world.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 November 2012 12:16:25AM 1 point [-]

My point is that if you're lucky enough to live in a country that has a (semi-)functioning democracy, you shouldn't be pushing out of it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 05 November 2012 09:20:42PM 4 points [-]

Try to jump to a global optimum instead! It certainly won't end in bloodbath, dictatorship and collapse like the last three hundred times!

Comment author: Konkvistador 05 November 2012 09:49:01PM *  4 points [-]

Wait democracy doesn't lead to bloodbaths? Remind me again how democracy actually spread around the world in the past 200 years. Oh sure once everyone is X there won't be any war or much less war than otherwise, but that is a pretty lame reason to adopt X no?

Also you say dictatorship like its a terminally bad thing instead of an instrumentally bad thing. I don't even think that, I sometimes for the heck of it enjoy thinking no true dictatorship is a bad thing, like no true democracy is a bad thing. Oh you really should read the last paragraph from the linked section for maximum lulz.

Also what is this collapse you speak of? Collapse of democracy? Civilization? Well sure democracy has the nasty flaw of being an unsafe vehicle to crash in, I mean you could get Hitler or worse Communism, but it will crash eventually.

Replace it with something stable and more friendly to liberty like monarchy, its been done before. Maybe not so much a controlled demolition but a gradual evacuation is in order? Lets see if enough people vote their love of democracy with their feet to keep them running if we had a 1000 charter cities trying out alternatives. Indeed I bet if you set up a cloned Singapore or forty next to Greece or Spain or Mexico or Britain those democracies would have a very hard time running pretty soon.

Comment author: Multiheaded 06 November 2012 08:10:03PM 1 point [-]

Remind me again how democracy actually spread around the world in the past 200 years

I'm not even defending democracy, it has been looking worse to me recently, but... if democracy gives even a slight advantage in quality of life/human development over a bad autocracy that would've been likely to exist in its stead, then, utility-wise, even the bloodiest wars/revolutions that brought said "democracy" to a country must've been worth it! (E.g. a democratically imposed land reform that lifts the peasants out of poverty could easily be worth killing 0.1% of the population.) Or are you trying to pin even the general destabilization of the world order on democracy too?

(Genocides, etc committed by a democracy are not an argument, unless you can argue that a counterfactual autocratic regime wouldn't have done the same or worse.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 15 November 2012 05:24:22AM *  0 points [-]

Wait democracy doesn't lead to bloodbaths? Remind me again how democracy actually spread around the world in the past 200 years

This varies a fair bit from country to country. For example, in Great Britain, democracy came about from a slow evolution of government (even as there were intermittent revolutions most of the governing system stayed largely intact). In some countries (such as France) the process was decidedly more bloody and went back and forth. In other cases such as the US, there was a war with a goal of independence, and democracy came about as a secondary issue. In many cases, democracy has arisen as the result imposed by a conquering group, but when that has occurred it has generally been a tertiary goal, not the primary goal (e.g. Japan and West Germany after WWII) or at least a secondary goal (Iraq).

Oh sure once everyone is X there won't be any war or much less war than otherwise, but that is a pretty lame reason to adopt X no?

Really? That seems like a pretty strong argument to adopt X, especially as wars become more severe and the weapons involved in wars have more of a chance of creating an existential risk situation. Moreover, it isn't necessarily that zero wars will occur when everyone is a democracy (very few people would argue that the democratic theory of peace is perfect), but that they are substantially less likely than with other systems. See for example Western Europe now as opposed to 150 years ago.

Also what is this collapse you speak of? Collapse of democracy? Civilization? Well sure democracy has the nasty flaw of being an unsafe vehicle to crash in, I mean you could get Hitler or worse Communism, but it will crash eventually.

So I suspect that such crashes are essentially inevitable, but I'm curious why you think they have to happen.

Replace it with something stable and more friendly to liberty like monarchy, its been done before.

I'm confused here and wonder if there are definition issues at work here. What do you mean by "friendly to liberty"?

Lets see if enough people vote their love of democracy with their feet to keep them running if we had a 1000 charter cities trying out alternatives.

I really like this idea. Any volunteers or planned systems to try out? Futurarchy would be an obvious one.

Comment author: Konkvistador 15 November 2012 08:37:59AM *  2 points [-]

but that they are substantially less likely than with other systems. See for example Western Europe now as opposed to 150 years ago.

We can't be sure to credit democracy for this and not say most of the continent being part of the same military alliance or common market. One could make the case that the creation of the alliance (NATO) happened because the nations invovled where democratic and willing to cooperate, but historically it seems to have arisen from victory of the Western Allies in WW2 and it included countries such as Greece even when not democratic. Its mirror image the Warshaw pact also arose under similar conditions. It seems most probable that for the bulk of the second half of the 20th century the uneasy global peace between the USSR and the USA is what kept the peace in Europe. Long periods of relative peace are hardly unpredcedented in European history.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 15 November 2012 11:35:36PM *  0 points [-]

We can't be sure to credit democracy for this and not say most of the continent being part of the same military alliance or common market.

Sure, and we can't rule out the sheer risk of nuclear war, or anthropic issues (if every European war quickly escalates into nuclear war we might have a serious survivorship bias). Also it is possible that stronger taboos have simply made war less acceptable (although that might be due to democracy in part),.

Long periods of relative peace are hardly unpredcedented in European history.

The Concert of Europe is an interesting example to some extent as to how different the post World War II Western Europe looks from that. You had for example a large number of civil wars and revolutions, as well as proxy conflicts outside Europe and then outright wars like the Schleswig wars and the Franco-Prussian war. In contrast, there have been zero wars in Western Europe post-1945, whether civil wars, external wars, or proxy conflicts among the Western European powers. Moreover, much of the lack of war during the Concert is attributable to a drop in the number of conflicts between France and Britain which in that time period had become functioning democracies.

Comment author: Konkvistador 16 November 2012 08:01:51AM *  2 points [-]

You had for example a large number of civil wars and revolutions, as well as proxy conflicts outside Europe and then outright wars like the Schleswig wars and the Franco-Prussian war.

You need to familiarize yourself with British and especially French history if you think they didn't wage proxy wars in the Cold War era. The outright wars you mention happened after decades of peace at the end of this period as the system broke down more and more post 1848. Need I remind you the modern European peace also had its outright wars like the Yugoslav wars.

In contrast, there have been zero wars in Western Europe post-1945, whether civil wars, external wars

I thought we where talking about Europe not Western Europe. I'm sure I can pick and choose a subregion of Europe that didn't have any civil wars in that period quite easily as well.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 16 November 2012 02:00:53PM 1 point [-]

You need to familiarize yourself with British and especially French history if you think they didn't wage proxy wars in the Cold War era.

Do you have specific examples of them waging proxy wars with each other post 1945?

The outright wars you mention happened after decades of peace at the end of this period as the system broke down more and more post 1848.

The First Schleswig war is 1848-1851. The second is 1864. If you want to argue that the Concert only really worked until 1848 that's a viable argument, and I' agree that was a period of relatively high peace. But that's also only 33 years, about half the time between 1945 and now.

In contrast, there have been zero wars in Western Europe post-1945, whether civil wars, external wars

I thought we where talking about Europe not Western Europe. I'm sure I can pick and choose a subregion of Europe that didn't have any civil wars in that period quite easily as well.

My original statement was:

See for example Western Europe now as opposed to 150 years ago.

But it may be worth examining Europe as a whole then. Wikipedia lists if I counted correctly 52 European conflicts between 1815 and 1914. It lists 45 conflicts post 1945. That supports your viewpoint in that there's actually a higher average number of conflicts being started per a year in the post 1945 period. There's some complicating factors in that both lists have a variety of conflicts which clearly don't constitute outright wars. I'm not sure what criteria are best to use here to decide which conflicts count as wars and which don't, but an eyeball estimate looks like there are a fair number that shouldn't be called wars in both time periods.

Comment author: Konkvistador 16 November 2012 02:14:23PM *  2 points [-]

Do you have specific examples of them waging proxy wars with each other post 1945?

Not with each other but certainly with at least on other European power (the Soviet Union).

My original statement was:

Sorry, my mistake.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 16 November 2012 02:15:21PM 0 points [-]

Not with each other but certainly with at least on other European power (the Soviet Union).

Well, yes obviously. I'm confused as to how that's relevant in context.

Comment author: Konkvistador 16 November 2012 02:17:01PM 2 points [-]

I thought you where talking about the whole of Europe not commenting just on French-British relations.

Comment author: mwengler 05 November 2012 10:51:09PM 1 point [-]

I think anybody who thinks not voting will sway anything in any way to go out and not vote! While they are out, they can have a small number of children to bring the world's population down, and they can donate to their public radio station on the first day of the pledge drive so as to end the pledge drive early.

Comment author: TimS 05 November 2012 08:36:22PM 1 point [-]

If voting is only a local optimum, I'll accept that we shouldn't reinforce its legitimacy. If.


More broadly, you're on record as opposing any government system that tries to implement the expressed (or implied) desires of the ruled population. There are pros and cons to that position. But it is not really insightful to notice that rejecting "will of the people" as a source of policy goals implies voting is a terrible idea.

Comment author: quiet 05 November 2012 08:30:45PM 1 point [-]

What do you mean by 'legitimacy'?

How does activist non-participation accomplish anything when it looks no different from apathy to an outsider? Any medium you might use to spread your message can be used regardless of if you vote or not. You might as well vote for a lesser evil while claiming non-participation, unless you think a possible greater evil will be somehow more likely to dissolve its own power.

Comment author: TimS 05 November 2012 08:43:28PM 4 points [-]

What do you mean by 'legitimacy'?

Many political theories express the concept that the perceived "right to rule" of a government effects its efficiency and likelihood of continuing.

Do you disagree that voting reinforces the sense of the populace that the democratically elected government has a "right to rule"?


I mostly agree with your second point, but your first question seems unrelated - as if it exists only to be snarky.

Comment author: quiet 05 November 2012 11:36:23PM *  1 point [-]

but your first question seems unrelated - as if it exists only to be snarky.

Oh, that is unintended. Apologies. The last couple times I've encountered that word used it was a placeholder for "vague feelings of dis/approval", though I should probably give LW more credit. I still have doubts about the usefulness of 'legitimacy' as a metric.

Do you disagree that voting reinforces the sense of the populace that the democratically elected government has a "right to rule"?

No, I agree with that. Though, if the 'sense of the populace' was a reliable, efficient weapon of change then wouldn't democracy be the government of choice?

Also, this is my first post on LW. Hello!

Comment author: drethelin 05 November 2012 08:42:12PM -1 points [-]

The same way any marginal change accomplishes things. There are hundreds of vegan/vegetarian food options out there now because each of those people is willing to spend money to purchase them, even though each person is a tiny marginal difference. You don't need to march in the streets or donate money to soy hotdog research to help accomplish change. The fewer people vote the more and more obvious the problems with voting become.

Comment author: army1987 06 November 2012 12:13:51PM 0 points [-]

How does activist non-participation accomplish anything when it looks no different from apathy to an outsider?

Indeed. From me to not show up in the polling place is as strong evidence that I don't endorse democracy as is evidence that I can't be bothered to because I don't care either way/I'm a selfish CDTist and think my vote is too unlikely to change anything/I'd rather go shopping or something. The way to show that you don't endorse democracy is to go to the polling place and spoil the ballot.

Comment author: mwengler 07 November 2012 02:50:41PM 1 point [-]

I think it is dopey to be against a local optimum without even giving the hint of a proposal of a framework for getting something better.

Isn't there some theorem that random changes on complex systems at local optima have vanishingly small probability of being better? That the space of parameter space that represents improvements is tiny compared to the whole space? I know that random modifications of programs, circuits, and motors behave this way, I haven't done double blind studies but I've made lots more changes that degraded than that helped.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 05:14:05PM *  1 point [-]

Actually I've talked about this quite extensively in the past. I kind of assume the standard arguments should have been background knowledge especially since many people here read Moldbug.

See The Anti-Singularity for example.

Comment author: mwengler 07 November 2012 06:48:31PM -1 points [-]

Thank you for the link. I read it but not super carefully. It didn't seem to have anything to do with superior alternatives to democracy.

I suppose the implicit background knowledge I have is the quote from Churchill:

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

If you have looked at fascism in its various tried forms, communism in its various tried forms, religious and other dictatorships in their various tried forms, I think it is hard to disagree with that statement, and I can even see the feedback mechanism that democracy has for keeping things from getting too crappy for too many people.

In light of this knowledge, a "Boo, democracy" in the absence of some other form of government that would surprise and impress Churchill seems to be missing something that people with an adequate grasp of modern history would want.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 07:44:24PM *  3 points [-]

If you have looked at fascism in its various tried forms, communism in its various tried forms, religious and other dictatorships in their various tried forms, I think it is hard to disagree with that statement, and I can even see the feedback mechanism that democracy has for keeping things from getting too crappy for too many people.

Here I disagree, controlling for technology I'm not at all sure that limited franchise Republics weren't superior to democracy (indeed modern democracy is limited franchise as well, ask the children, felons and illegal immigrants). Monarchy doesn't look obviously worse to me either. You have to admit that our society as a whole, basically any modern source you pick will have a pro-democracy bias. I'm not saying this means Democracy isn't as great as you think it might not be that big a bias, but it is clearly there.

And it seems hard to figure out how strong this bias is. How does a single individual doing research fix that? Remember that North Korean society has constructed a narrative that lets them feel they have a superior system of government to all previous ones (I hope you agree classical Monarchy is better than that) and that it is the logical conclusion of centuries of moral progress. Aren't you a bit scared that they can do that? Where does power come from in a democracy? Good military skill? Management skill? No whoever convinces the most people of his or her agenda will have that agenda enacted... the power of flesh Conan. If the entire planet was North Korea how would you know something radically better is possible and not even that hard to acheive?

It didn't seem to have anything to do with superior alternatives to democracy.

Right it didn't, I'm sorry I should have made it more explicit. It is basically an argument that democracy is a very local optimum or not an optimum at all and is holding back technological progress. If you are reading Moldbug for the very first time I actually recommend you start with "An open letter to open-minded progressives", but if you don't enjoy his writing so far don't bother because he is verbose.

To give three possible superior alternatives to democracy I will cite:

  • Robin Hanson's Futarchy, which is basically just updating democracy to use prediction markets (great institutions). Vote for what you want, the markets discover the best way to get it by pooling together expert knowledge and incentivizing truth seeking.

  • Neocameralism by Moldbug which is basically to have the state be guided by the profit motive and have such overwhelming military force that uses crypto lock technology to enforce it has no reason to brainwash its citizens since they don't have the military force to matter politically. They can't seize the government/compaines assets. The profit motive together with the corporate structure keeps most of them from being hijacked by its CEO as well as keeps most of them nice to its customers (citizens). You can make sure it will be nice by give stock options to specialized efficient charities. Basically divide the state between the rent extracting part and the goodness generating part people expect, min-max both, pair them up in a single adventuring party and enjoy your munchkinized society. Obviously it kind of sucks if you discover things people really really like spending money on but hurt them, but hey democracy would collapse at that too.

  • Singapore's authoritarian free market friendly technocracy (theoretically a normal democracy)

Comment author: mwengler 09 November 2012 11:56:17PM 2 points [-]

The post you referenced didn't really talk much about neocameralism's structure. If indeed we do sell stock in the state, and the state then operates to maximize it's stock price, that sure strikes me as way worse than a republic.

First off, I'm not even sure what it means to own stock in the gov't. To own stock in a company is a highly complex thing whos meaning is spelled out in exquisite detail both in legislation and in the recorded court cases which have interpreted that legislation. As a result, we know there are real rights associated with the ownership that will be enforced by a very powerful government in an extremely predictable way.

If I buy stock in the sovcorp, who protects my property rights? The sovcorp? The sovcorp is run by executives. Why would they not simply, essentially, steal the corporation? It wouldn't be illegal for them to do so because being the sovcorp, they write AND interpret AND enforce the laws. Even for regular corps, we find the executives giving themselves large stacks of equity in the company every year. What is even the feedback mechanism to keep a board of directors and an executive management team from awarding themselves a majority of the voting power of the sovcorp? Of diluting the ownership outside the board and the executives until they get all the return?

How does the sovcorp prevent its own collapse in to a kleptocratic dictatorship?

In the case of a republican democracy, there is a kernel in place called a constitution. In some important sense, everyone with the franchise has one and only one non-transferrable share in the control of the sovcorp. These shares are just one form of control over one part of the structure, turns out money also gives people avenues of control, and money is not distributed even close to evenly. But having at least one portion of the control based, by kernel or constitution, on inalienable limited control rights prevents a small minority, even a tiny minority, from capturing the returns from the entire sovcorp by accruing all the control.

Of course a democracy as could a neocameral with transferrable stock, can still have coalitions form within it to the benefit of the coalesced at the expense of those outside the coalition. But with inalienable voting shares, an upper limit of inequality is essentially in place: the coalitions must be quite gigantic, requiring more than half of the enfranchised to consent, whereas in the transferrable stock case the coalitions could be quite small.

If I have missed the real point of the neocamera, please do tell.

Comment author: sam0345 10 November 2012 10:30:05AM *  5 points [-]

If I buy stock in the sovcorp, who protects my property rights? The sovcorp? The sovcorp is run by executives. Why would they not simply, essentially, steal the corporation?

There are cryptographic solutions to this problem: Suppose the stock/money of the corporation consists of crypto signatures. You can use threshold signatures to make heavy weapons only work for the leader most recently authorized by a majority of the board most recently authorized by majority of shareholders.

Of course the leaders could furtively @#$%^ the crypto in the heavy weapons but then democratic leaders can, and regularly do, furtively @#$%^ the vote.

Indeed, it is probably easier to @#$%^ the vote than the crypto, since most voters are idiots, and any one vote is not worth much, but most shareholders are smart, and the votes of the most important (and powerful) shareholders are worth quite a lot, so there are more concentrated interests upholding the integrity of the crypto, than the integrity of the democratic vote.

My objection is that Moldbug's solution ignores the dynamics of ruling elites - but then so does democracy.

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 01:39:37PM 1 point [-]

There are cryptographic solutions to this problem: Suppose the stock/money of the corporation consists of crypto signatures. You can use threshold signatures to make heavy weapons only work for the leader most recently authorized by a majority of the board most recently authorized by majority of shareholders.

I don't see how any amount of crypto can keep the management+board from favoring themselves in how they account the wealth. We have ALWAYS had good crypto available for money: gold is a sort-of atomic crypto. But gold does not stop the treasurer from embezzling, and if you control the accounting rules, embezzelment per se becomes unnecessary, you just write those expenses off mendaciously as some sorts of necessary expenses.

A sovcorp is just a business operation that operates outside of the law of secondary property rights corporations. We have plenty of natural experiments in this. Organized crime is a sovcorp. Fighting it out with other sovcorps associated with competiting criminal organizations, but also fighting it out with sovcorps we associate with gov't: police, da's, fbi, dea, etc.

If the mafia promised to pay you a "dividend" on its operations, you could expect to receive that dividend until they decided it was cheaper to NOT pay you. Crypto guarantees I am not buying counterfeit shares in your mafia, your sovcorp. Counterfeiting is not the problem if the sovcorp decides what property rights it owes to its non-controlling shareholders in real time, and by definition of a sovcorp, unconstrained by any outside rules of interaction.

My objection is that Moldbug's solution ignores the dynamics of ruling elites - but then so does democracy.

Democracy as implemented in the US republic certainly doesn't ignore this. We have FOIA laws, a gigantic structure of oathes of offices and internal controls on the enhanced powers sovcorp agents have. We have a system of "checks and balances" built in from the ground level, and enhanced much since it started.

What our republic does not manage is to make the dynamics of ruling elites disappear. What it does manage is to keep the ruling elites from running away with control over the whole system with no oversight and no transparency.

Constantly dealing with a real issue in human nature is the OPPOSITE of ignoring it.

Comment author: sam0345 11 November 2012 07:37:58PM 3 points [-]

I don't see how any amount of crypto can keep the management+board from favoring themselves in how they account the wealth.

The board contains major shareholders, who would mostly be in favor of honest accounting. It seems more likely to work, than that a democratic government would be in favor of honest vote counting.

Comment author: Konkvistador 10 November 2012 10:28:28AM *  1 point [-]

The post you referenced didn't really talk much about neocameralism's structure.

You need to follow several of the links in the text for that. I recommend you also search in this index of his posts. More on separating the rent extraction from do gooderism in government.

Also I'm really interested on your comments on the other two possibly superior alternatives I've outlined.

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 02:22:34PM 1 point [-]

Also I'm really interested on your comments on the other two possibly superior alternatives I've outlined.

I have read Robin Hanson over the years. I think prediction markets are likely a valuable methodology. They are hardly inconsistent with a republic. They can be used in determining policy, they can be supported, enhanced by legislation. I would look forward to the day that I can get an intrade account without having to jump through Irish hoops, the barriers the US has put in place are effective at least as far as stopping me from so far getting an account.

Futarchy in general is, in my semi-cursory view, not a challenge to the republic, but again a set of principles that the republic might be informed by in crafting its laws and policies. It seems to consist primarily of a lowering of the discount rate in calculating investment returns, that is, making far future returns count for more than we currently do. This is sort of simultaneously an empirical question and a values question. How much do we forego in the present to have a richer future: we all face this decision constantly in our personal lives as well as our public lives. Arguing strenuously to push the value of the future higher seems totally inbounds of what I would expect within republican (with a small r) policy debate.

SIngaporean authoritarianism seems likely to me not to scale. Singapore is smaller than the US in both diversity, size, and population. Just as one person can write a certain size computer program more efficiently than can 10, there comes a size of program where you have to learn how to team up the 10 people to get it done within a lifetime. Inviting Yew to run the US probably wouln't work, but he might do a nice job on New York City.

In any case one generally needs to formalize systems to get the benefit of scale. While conforming mortgages may have been the seeds of the recent financial world catastrophe, they were also the enablers of a gigantic growth in funding at lower costs for improving property. Sure, your personal banker treating each mortgage as piecework, not making a new mortgage until the bank had accumulated enough more capital to make the next mortgage, might not have made the mistakes the formal system practically institutionalized, the piecewise system would also have created a tiny fraction of the total mortgages at a much higher friction cost. Mass production allows you to magnify the value of good design, but it also magnifies the negvalue of your mistakes. That singapore can operate well as a Mom & Pop operation as long as Pop is Yew should give little evidence that a larger country already achieving productivity levels similar to Singapores would be anything but hurt by emulating that model.

Please let me know if I am missing anything you think is essential in Futarchy or Singapore.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 November 2012 11:39:13AM 1 point [-]

Please don't vote because democracy is a local optimum

I don't accept the (implied, or at least necessary) assumption that not voting is an effective method of increasing the probability that a better-than-democracy outcome will result. It is far more likely to just result in the local pessimum "extinction".

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 01:13:54PM 1 point [-]

If Communism in its decline didn't bring about Nuclear War I doubt slightly worse working democracy would either. And on nearly any other kind of existential risk the difference between a poorly working democracy like that of Iraq and that of the US is probably very close to nill. Indeed the better working democracy of the US is far more likely to produce technology that increases existential risk.

Also arguably "democracies" work better with less voter input. No voter input translating into elected government didn't seem to hurt Belgium.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 06 November 2012 01:23:54AM -1 points [-]

Whats your point? I like optimums.

Comment author: Konkvistador 06 November 2012 06:51:54AM *  1 point [-]

Global optimums are better, local optimums can be pretty sucky even compared to other local optimums.

Comment author: army1987 06 November 2012 12:03:43PM 2 points [-]

Yeah, but if you don't know how to locate other optimums, it can be risky to venture away from the one you're on.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 07:00:16AM *  3 points [-]

What are you talking about? Of course we know how to locate other optimums, experimentation. We just need to be systematic and small scale about it. If first world populations would tolerate new undemocratic charter cities or city states or seasteading colonies and help build them we could soon get as good or better data set as Aristotle had when doing political science.

Western governments, NGOs, the UN and all sorts of other insitutions have already done experiments by "promoting democracy" in places like Somalia or Rwanda with terrible results. Even outright invading countries and engagin in "nation building". The bad outcomes don't cause an outcry, because democracy and modernization and development are the same thing in the mind of the average educated Western person and to talk against them will get you nasty looks. You can maybe get away with hiding behind pacifism. That doesn't fix Rwanda or Libera though.

So you see we are already doing risky experiments with the lives of millons, we are just doing bad experiments. I propose smaller scale, systematic and actually designed experiments. From a uitlitarian perspective it is pretty darn hard to argue against it.

And if anyone scoffs at the positive reference to Aristotle's political science, then I should remind the reader he had a data set of hundreds of histories and constitutions of Mediteranean city states, descended from basically the same founding ethnic stock and similar religious practices. It is harder to judge why Jamaica diverged from Hong Kong in GDP per capita since the 1950s than why say East and West Germany did. Was it because of policy differences? Institutions? Different ethnic mix? Dominant religion? Culture?

Comment author: army1987 07 November 2012 09:45:25AM 1 point [-]

Good point, though it's not obvious to me that the system that works best in a town with population 40,000 is necessarily also the system that works best in a subcontinent with population 1 billion.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 02:16:16PM *  2 points [-]

If we see the small scale governments outperforming the more conventional larger ones by a wide enough margin but want to play it safe, maybe the take away is that the subcontinent shouldn't be under a single government.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 06 November 2012 01:32:25PM -1 points [-]

Ok, but the analogy presupposes a lot about the nature of government (there is a single coherent function being optimised, there are other achievable and better optimums, we have any meaningful influence on where on the curve we are) without really adding anything new.

What does discussion of optimums say other than 'there might be a system better than the current system?'

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 07:18:47AM *  1 point [-]

What does discussion of optimums say other than 'there might be a system better than the current system?'

It reminds people that it exist and that we should be spending some resources searching for it. Recall that "democratic" is the original applause light that Eliezer chose to explain the concept of the applause light.

As to the idea that it is unikely other acheivable and better optimums exist, are you seriously suggesting that mankind stumbeled upon the best possible or even a very good form of government built out of humans so early in its history? After what 200 years of experimentation? Monarchy has a track record of millenia that isn't obviously worse or better than democracy but that at least demonstrates long term compatibility with civilization and stability. Democracy has much weaker evidence in this regard.

Yet here we are loving democracy and despising monarchy without anyone giving it much thought. I have heard several explanations for this, but the one that I find fits best is that we where told as children that Democracy exists and is good. I'm not claiming with certainty we weren't told that for good reasons, certainly I bet we where told that by people with the best of intentions, but maybe the reasons, despite the intentions, weren't good. Its not like that never happens.

So why not try to have a good crisis of faith over it?

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 02:26:20PM 1 point [-]

Interestingly, Moldbug whom Konkvistador cites as an antidemocratic root, blogs about supporting Obama and attending an election night party.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 November 2012 05:04:04PM *  2 points [-]

The reason cited in that post (Romney! He sucks! ) isn't that interesting, he basically suggests voting for Obama for the standard revolutionary right wing reasons.

Dear conservatives! Eat the pain! There are two kinds of Americans celebrating tonight - true believers, and right-wing extremists.

I do recommend reading the entire post, its quite well written. Indeed I can't help but be convinced by the reasoning in this part:

Dear conservatives, I agree with you about Mitt Romney. It seemed clear to me that Mitt Romney was a basically decent and capable individual. Had America been what you thought it was, had the Presidency been what you thought it was, he would have been a perfectly fine man for the job.

But you cannot convince even yourself that America deserved Mitt Romney. Can you? Read your Maistre. Louis XVI, too, was a basically decent and capable individual - believe it or not. France could have thrived under him and his heirs to the present time. Indeed France without the Revolution - any European nation without the Revolution - would be the greatest nation on earth today. America not excepted.

Would France have deserved this triumph? Maistre says no. What she deserved was punishment, and God agreed. At least, if we can equate God with reality - a point on which theists and atheists can, I hope, concur. The reality is that France was scourged from end to end, and has not even come close to recovering. Why? As an atheist, I assert, it was a coincidence. Impiety proceeded tragedy, sure, but might not piety have proceeded it as well? As always, history proves nothing.

Dear conservatives, America's battle is yet to fight. It may not be your battle. But to hand it off to a basically decent and capable individual, a Mitt Romney, is to say: I see no battle. I would rather sleep. If there is a battle, God, I'm sure, will take care of it while I'm sleeping. Surely, with our model institutions and constitutions, we cannot lose. And if we do - it was a coincidence.

Dear conservatives, I have a question for you. Suppose God appeared to you in your sleep, and gave you a choice. You could lose your country, but keep your institutions and constitutions. Or, you could lose your institutions and constitutions, but keep your country. Which would you choose?

But I don't have to choose, you say! Au contraire, mon frere! I will save my country, by saving her institutions and constitutions! Which are the best in history ever! Look at all this corn and bacon! Dear conservatives, this is just your way of cursing God. Do you think he doesn't have enough fools and drunks to look after?

Do you know what terrifies me? What terrifies me is that not only do I not think America deserves Mitt Romney, I don't even think America deserves Barack Obama. After all, a couple of centuries of diligent looking-after has run us up quite a tab with God. A tab that will be paid or punished. What terrifies me is that while I see no collective interest in paying the tab, it doesn't seem to me that the punishment has even begun to begin. Barack Obama isn't exactly Robespierre, you know. "Capable" might be going too far, but "basically decent" isn't that much of a stretch.

What terrified me about Mitt Romney is that four years, eight years, of Romney would have been pure borrowed time. There was not even the slightest intention to pay the tab. Your intention, dear conservatives, was to sleep and be merry. Your debt is already terrifying. Fall on your knees, dear conservatives, and thank God from the bottom of your heart that you didn't put another decade on it.

I empathized with the emphasised parts particularly deeply. Much like Moldbug I think there is much to be terrified of. Democracy is not a safe vehicle to crash in. And I'm quite sure it will crash.

Comment author: gwern 11 November 2012 11:04:57PM 8 points [-]

You're convinced by that strange melange of moralistic sin reasoning and politics? (I have no idea what a purely secular version of that could be - what would be 'borrowed time' without his religious interpretation? A dollar of national debt is a dollar of national debt, be it run up by Romney or Obama, or run up early and left to compound versus a larger sum run up later.)

Beethoven is more appropriate here, not to describe Romney but Moldbug - "so he too is but an ordinary man!"

Comment author: Konkvistador 12 November 2012 07:19:30PM *  4 points [-]

He was writing for a different target audience gwern. Consider this an open letter to disappointed mostly God fearing conservatives from an atheist reactionary. I still found it emotionally appealing for reasons I explained in other comments. I don't doubt Moldbug wrote it under an emotional affect as I said elsewhere. I'm kind of disappointed that you read "debt" as literally as you seem to have. To de-pack the secular non-moralistic argument as I read it:

"We have been chipping away at the foundations of institutions we barely understand for centuries now, burning up inherited civilizational capital . The Romney's and even Obama's of the world are good enough managers to help treat the symptoms but not the causes of this for years or even decades to come, helping us to pretend that the fundamentals are sound while they get much worse."

Comment author: Multiheaded 11 November 2012 03:01:42PM 0 points [-]

Don't know about Konkvistador, but I was certainly disappointed by him making such a post, heh!

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 November 2012 05:14:29PM *  8 points [-]

I just knew the Socialist Russian commenter was you. :)

The post came off as bitter, as someone in desperate denial of how much he started rooting for Romney ever more the more the election date approached. But I liked it because of the bolded sentences in my other comment. I liked it because of how well it shows the sheer terror of the huge check reality is going to hand back to us one day if my and his model of the government and politics is correct.

Perhaps I was biased towards it because while on the day of the election I was apathetic, since I could barely see the difference between Romney and Obama both pro-wall street moderate theist stateist democracy advocates who like to bomb other countries. My apolitical stance crumbled when I saw everyone celebrating the win. The Facebook comments. The smiles on my friend's faces. The utterly creepy unity of thought. That I couldn't share. That I could never share. And I couldn't explain to them why, there is too little time, the singaling is so wrong, it would only cost me friends. I also knew I was far away from anyone else that even empathy towards me was not possible. So alienating. So alienating to see this in what I was as a child told was supposed to be my society too. Having to be quiet about it... I hated it, I hated all of modern Western civilization and wished it to disappear ground to dust by Chinese boots or drowned in an Islamic tide or surgically cut off from mankind to ensure the latter's survival, the wound sterilized by cleansing atomic fire. It activated my tribal brain.

The next night I couldn't sleep for hours. I couldn't help but see Obama's election as a sort of symbolic thing a signal "so right wing traditionalist reform is utterly impossible via elections, we aren't going to fix this are we? We can't fix this! It won't fix itself! GOD! Democracy won't fix itself! We are fucked. Probably since 1914."

To be perfectly clear I still think there is no real difference in an Obama or Romney win. Certainly nothing to worth voting for. But I've had compartmentalized beliefs about the world for some time. And the post election glow of so many people made me feel the implications of those beliefs in my belly and heart much like I had only felt the implication of natural selection being allowed to do horrible things to creatures after reading Back to the Trees. I found myself once again staring in the face of a world beyond the reach of God and I wanted it to go away.

Comment author: sam0345 11 November 2012 09:07:31PM 1 point [-]

We are fucked. Probably since 1914.

We have been about to be fucked ever since they declared that all men are created equal with inalienable rights, which foreshadowed the collapse of all the institutional barriers that the founding fathers created to protect against democracy.

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 10:53:46AM *  0 points [-]

Are you sure about cause and effect in your model? Moldbug says that the modern system, despite its democratic elements, is much less of a democracy than, say, America during the Gilded Age. And yet those memes about egalitarianism and inalienable rights that you seem to hate so much are more popular now than back then.

E.g. the Ku-Klux-Klan (1st and 2nd incarnations) appears to have been a remarkably democratic institution. Or take the USSR: it had anti-democratic policies, and was strictly controlled by an official, visible Party aristocracy - yet it promoted women's rights and equality. (Me and my parents + grandparents can testify about that last one.)

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 10:46:57AM *  1 point [-]

Good comment, although as you can see I don't share much of your feelings except cynicism and weariness. One thing, however: why have you said "right-wing traditionalist" instead of "right-wing authoritarian"?

To me, Moldbug looks so curious - and suspicious - partly because of his obscurantism/doublespeak about "traditionalism", which I take to be something like Sam below always argues: cultural controls and policing against egalitarian memes, official propaganda of property-based relations (such as slavery, feudalism or patriarchy) strict and obsessively enforced gender dominance, etc, etc.

Of all those, he has argued for chattel slavery and yet against discrimination by sexuality - but as Sam would tell you, those are part of the same model of dominance! Screw "democracy" it's boring anyway- what would you say about those?

Comment author: Konkvistador 12 November 2012 05:14:23PM *  8 points [-]

One thing, however: why have you said "right-wing traditionalist" instead of "right-wing authoritarian"?

A right wing traditionalist is authoritarian, but not all right wing authoritarians are traditionalist. I was hoping you would have noticed by now that I while I think he is right about progressivism and power in American society I have my own disagreements with Moldbug. BTW Moldbug hasn't argued for chattel slavery as much as pointed out that the modern educated person has only ever heard the straw man argument for chattel slavery.

So you want me to talk about traditionalism? I don't know if I can do so with justice as my brain is thoroughly modern due to upbringing. But I will try with my broken mind to point to some traces left behind by the poorly understood institutions we have lost.

Patriarchy as existed in 1900 Britain was probably an incredibly good arrangement for most people involved. On utilitarian grounds I'm pretty sure moderate patriarchy wins out over the sexual marketplace of today. Before you dismiss this out of hand pause to consider that we have data showing men today are about as happy with their marriages as they where 50 years ago, but women are much unhappier. And far fewer people marry today. Let that sink in. So even wives that really want to marry today are more unhappy with their relationships than women who may not have wanted to get married that much but did so because of social pressures and lived under the alleged horror of 1950s relationship norms. I don't know maybe married women are much much unhappier than unmarried women and its just marriage becoming (even more) broken and unmarried women are much happier? But if this is so, where is the evidence of this? I haven't seen it.

In addition to this parents experience a much smaller drop in happiness after the birth of children if they are married (a proxy in the US for a stable relationship where the father takes care of the child together with the mother-- I have no doubt the difference is smaller in Sweden where lots of people just remain in that kind of relationship unmarried). So how is abolishing moderate patriarchy working out when it comes to personal romantic and family happiness of average women?

And aren't you someone that cares about economic inequality? Let us again look at the numbers. What happened to the relative position of working class and middle class families since the 1950s. If it wasn't for technological progress they would be living materially much worse lives, de facto they need now two working parents to reach a relative position that one working parent could acheive before. And I don't think you will have trouble seeing how the loss of status of the archetype of "honourable working man" resulted in loss of political power and weakened non-monetary incentives for work which contributed to the erosion of the middle class and the implosion of the lower class into the rapidly decivilizing underclass. Speaking of which how do men and women like the American inner city? You know the one with "strong single mothers" and thuggish boyfriends. Oh but that is caused by material poverty and racism and... but that doesn't make sense if you think about it like at all. Since they where doing better on measures of social dysfunction when absolute material poverty and racism where much worse. I'm not arguing for material poverty and racism or that they made stuff better, but they probably can't be blamed for the negative changes since the 1960s.

This has all been utilitarian arguing, once you get to virtue ethics moderate patriarchy gets really interesting, but enough about that. Its getting late here and I have other topics I'd like to touch. Humans have instincts to display fierce egalitarian norms. These are misfiring in the modern world. And I'm not speaking of the macro scale, I'm speaking of the micro interpersonal scale. We have the same social instincts as foragers, but none of the institutions of foragers to channel these instincts and we've just de-constructed the farmer institutions that evolved much more recently around them too. Re-emergent status games are more vicious. What feels like the cure, the mechanism that in forager tribes ensured equality and everyone being a productive member of the tribe, in fact make things worse.

And recall even in the ancient tribe man the sly rule bender found ways to have formal equality between tribe members but informal hierarchy. Explicit hierarchical society one that does not endorse egalitarian memes is one that removes much of this hypocrisy. We say we are all equal, but Ung decides most matters. We say the Louis is in charge, and Louis decides most matters. Which do you prefer? The non-neurotypical in me longs for a society where things do what they say on the label.

In addition consider the effects of status competition in a caste system being partitioned very clearly into several different status ladders. Can you see the space it leaves to developing healthy and adaptive norms unique to each profession? Can you see the psychological benefits?

Comment author: Swimmer963 12 November 2012 10:11:41PM *  5 points [-]

And aren't you someone that cares about economic inequality? Let us again look at the numbers. What happened to the relative position of working class and middle class families since the 1950s. If it wasn't for technological progress they would be living materially much worse lives, de facto they need now two working parents to reach a relative position that one working parent could acheive before.

Are you claiming that the end of patriarchy caused an economic decline leading to middle- and working-class families being worse off to the point that both parents now have to work? Because if not, your argument is a non-sequitur–if the economy declined due to reasons unrelated to a less patriarchal structure, then patriarchy having persisted would have made families worse off.

Personally, I think it's less a story of economic decline, and more a story of there being more consumer goods. Nowadays there are cell phones, expensive flatscreen TVs, tons of video game consoles/entertainment systems, and other things to spend money on, and people who don't have those things feel materially pool–but in the 1950s, none of those things existed.

Comment author: Konkvistador 13 November 2012 09:14:43AM *  3 points [-]

Are you claiming that the end of patriarchy caused an economic decline leading to middle- and working-class families being worse off to the point that both parents now have to work?

Yes I'm quite explicitly arguing it contributed to it. I said this to Multiheaded right after what you quoted.

And I don't think you will have trouble seeing how the loss of status of the archetype of "honourable working man" resulted in loss of political power and weakened non-monetary incentives for work which contributed to the erosion of the middle class and the implosion of the lower class into the rapidly decivilizing underclass.

Comment author: Swimmer963 13 November 2012 10:52:42AM 6 points [-]

I guess the problem is that yes, I do have trouble seeing the "loss of status of the archetype of 'honorable working man'" leading to an overall economic decline that means both parents have to work–why wouldn't it be balanced out by the new archetype of the "independent working woman"?

I think I'm probably running into some belief bias here–I'm having trouble evaluating your arguments because, as a woman with a fierce need for independence, who is really enjoying life in this day and age, I deeply disagree with your premise that less patriarchy is a Bad Thing.

You're probably right that it's a bad idea for some men, though. Hell, I know some of those men–friends and friends' boyfriends who are in their 20s and still live with their moms. I'm also not all that familiar, personally, with the "American inner city" that you talk about. And I have no idea how to evaluate the fact that women are apparently less happy with their marriages–but if someone did a study on it and showed a correlation, then something is going on there.

However, there's no going back at this point (or, at least, I really think there shouldn't be). Why not wait until society settles into this massive, unprecedented change and creates some new archetypes?

Sorry. I'm really trying to look at your point of view with fresh eyes. This doesn't happen to me very often, that I have such a strong (and until now unnoticed) opinion on something that I can't properly think about the opposite being true. It's a somewhat unpleasant feeling, to be honest.

But gaaaaaah, I'm so entirely grateful that I don't live in the 1950s! And that's despite the fact that I've sometimes felt like arranged marriage would be just, well, convenient–the main reason I think it would be convenient is because it would be so much less time consuming, and give me more time to do whatever the hell I want with my spare time, as opposed to spending it dating, which I find tedious.

Comment author: Konkvistador 13 November 2012 12:10:09PM *  6 points [-]

I think I'm probably running into some belief bias here–I'm having trouble evaluating your arguments because, as a woman with a fierce need for independence, who is really enjoying life in this day and age, I deeply disagree with your premise that less patriarchy is a Bad Thing.

I appreciate your effort to remain open to considering this. I know it is hard to overcome personal experiences when social data contradicts them. It is even harder to overcome opinions that something that is good for us is not good for society as whole, you don't need to read Robin Hanson to see our brains aren't built for that. One of the reasons I dislike the personal being the political is that when it does people get very very defensive about any choices they've made in their personal lives, even when you merely point out they don't work out well for all people.

I'd like to discuss the role of loss of male status in connection to greater societal stratification more in either private correspondence or a separate discussion. I would ask we let that point rest for now so that it due to its controversial nature (and I'm less confident in the reasoning behind it anyway) doesn't steal attention from other points.

But gaaaaaah, I'm so entirely grateful that I don't live in the 1950s! And that's despite the fact that I've sometimes felt like arranged marriage would be just, well, convenient–the main reason I think it would be convenient is because it would be so much less time consuming, and give me more time to do whatever the hell I want with my spare time, as opposed to spending it dating, which I find tedious.

The social science is pretty settled that people we can be with in happy relationships are relativey common. For those of us satisfied with the other person(s) in our lives like to pretend those are unprobable outcomes. They aren't. Our actual selection process for partners also amounts to a pretty weak filter. The greater mystery is why we are so stuck signaling the traditional romantic narrative.

There is no strong utilitarian reason to implement those weak filters on the person itself if institutions can handle it better. You reap most of the benefits and you can get most of the good feelings of choice by picking between the three or four possible brides your family has suggested.

But gaaaaaah, I'm so entirely grateful that I don't live in the 1950s!

But how much do you actually know about the 1950s? The cultural icon of "the 1950s" is not only not the territory it isn't much of a good map either.

Comment author: MixedNuts 14 November 2012 01:54:56PM 3 points [-]

The social science is pretty settled that people we can be with in happy relationships are relativey common

Sources? In particular:

  • Why are divorce rates so high?
  • Why do people in this time and place expect to date around kind of a lot before finding someone they want to stay with? (Possibly they start out picky so no one works and then stop so many people do.)
  • Why am I attracted to only about a tenth of smart people in my age group enough to say yes if they asked me out, and only a couple percent enough to bother asking out myself? (Maybe it's uncorrelated to long-term suitability?)
  • Why, when I tried dating anyone who asked me out just to see how doing things normally worked, was it invariably catastrophic? (Maybe because I was living a lie in the first place.)
Comment author: sam0345 14 November 2012 02:51:09AM *  3 points [-]

I'm having trouble evaluating your arguments because, as a woman with a fierce need for independence, who is really enjoying life in this day and age, I deeply disagree with your premise that less patriarchy is a Bad Thing.

Yet strangely, I have never heard of a romance novel in which the heroine has an egalitarian relationship with a nice guy who picks up her socks.

Roissy would of course dismiss your self report as a shit test and the rationalization hamster running, but then you would say that your observations are more reliable than my and Roissy's observations, because you are female and can see the truth from inside, whereas I can only see it from outside.

Downloading a girly cartoon romance at random, labelled as a romance and intended for a female audience, and skimming it: Princess is much younger than the prince, and has been given to the prince to seal a peace treaty: The deal was that she was supposed to marry the King, but the King took one look at her and unilaterally changed the deal, giving her to the Prince instead. Prince treats her like the small brat that she in fact is. Prince is a leader of men, commander of the army, and has slaughtered various people in princess' immediate family. The deal is that her land conditionally surrenders to the prince's King as a result of military defeat, but the prince has to marry her so that her people get representation and her royal lineage does not totally disappear. Story is that, like the King, he does not want to marry her, because she is a small brat and much hotter chicks keep trying to get his attention, and she homicidally hates him because he has with his own sword killed one of her beloved relatives, and his army under his direct command has killed most of her other relatives (hence the marriage)

Skipping over a zillion frames of the prince in manly poses experiencing deep emotions, thinking about deep emotions, and talking about deep emotions, to the end, they start to like each other just in time for the scheduled wedding,. Final scene is that he goes off to war again and realizes he misses her. He wears the sword with which he killed her beloved relatives in every frame except for a frame when they go to bed, including the frame where he realizes he misses her.

Well I did not check every frame, but every frame that I checked he is wearing that sword, except when they were in bed. As far as I could tell in my somewhat superficial reading, he never regrets or apologizes for killing off much of her family, and treats her as an idiot for making a fuss about it until she stops making a fuss about it.

My account of the story is probably not completely accurate, (aagh, I am drowning in estrogen) but it is close enough. Prince, Princess, sword, arranged marriage, and sword.

So, I would say that the intended readers of that romance rather like patriarchy, and I would not believe anything they said to the contrary.

Comment author: Swimmer963 14 November 2012 12:42:03PM 7 points [-]

Yet strangely, I have never heard of a romance novel in which the heroine has an egalitarian relationship with a nice guy who picks up her socks.

I wouldn't know. I don't really read romance novels–I much prefer sci-fi and thrillers, of which there is more than enough to read. I've occasionally watched romantic comedy films–being dragged there by family members, usually–but a) I've never seen one that had a similar plot arch to what you describe, and b) I wouldn't go voluntarily anyway.

So you may be right that the 'intended audience' of that novel likes patriarchy, but I am obviously not the intended audience and I have no idea who they are.

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 06:27:18PM *  2 points [-]

Oh man. Sorry, but this is getting to me. I expressed frustration about perceived evasiveness, and then you frustrate me further by avoiding to mention what I've explicitly listed above!

I've said a million times: in theory I'm ok with absolute decision-making power concentrated in one ruler's hands, a succession mechanism can probably be figured out, etc, etc. When I'm talking about egalitarianism, I'm not specifically concerned with the interactions between a monarch and subjects!

Instead, I'd like to repeat:

...official propaganda of property-based relations (such as slavery, feudalism or patriarchy) strict and obsessively enforced gender dominance, etc, etc.

(let's drop the issue of censorship for a moment. I'm assuming you're against it and, like Moldbug, want "free speech" that simply can't change anything power-wise due to the ruler(s)' monopoly on force and weapons.)

Just give me a plain answer of some sort: what do you want power structures within a family and in the workplace to look like? Along which Schelling points should limits be placed on a father, a boss? A child, a mother, an employee, a customer, a partner? Ought there be universal limits at all, in your opinion? I think there damn well ought to be, and they should at least act as a rubber band on disproportionate personal power!

Comment author: Konkvistador 12 November 2012 07:04:17PM *  4 points [-]

I expressed frustration about perceived evasiveness, and then you frustrate me further by avoiding to mention what I've explicitly listed above!

I shared a lot of my stance on patriarchy and other kinds of institutionalized inequality present in traditional society. I didn't think I was being evasive. I mean you do realize that lots of readers here can't imagine an argument for patriarchy or feudalism at all right? But I can see why it seemed that way to you since we discussed a lot of this material already.

...official propaganda of property-based relations (such as slavery, feudalism or patriarchy) strict and obsessively enforced gender dominance, etc, etc.

So you where among other things asking me about particular policies and institutions that uphold or purport to uphold say patriarchy or a caste system? Things like the inquisition perhaps? The old conservative question of "instead of what" comes up. Let me quote Roy Campbell on this:

"More people have been imprisoned for Liberty, humiliated and tortured for Equality, and slaughtered for Fraternity in this century, than for any less hypocritical motives, during the Middle Ages."

He does not seem to be obviously wrong. Its incredible how often this happens when you try and actually read let alone take seriously social commentary written decades or centuries ago.

what do you want power structures within a family and in the workplace to look like?

Isn't this something else? Ok no prob I'll answer it.

I want workplace to be more forager and family to be more farmer. Nearly all of us are socialized to accept ridiculous amounts of workplace domination or what seems like workplace domination to our forager brains. We also get surprisingly little economic gain for this. Indeed I sometimes wonder whether us abandoning farmer values everywhere but in the workplace is a direct result of the rising demands of extreme-farmer-like behaviour in the workplace driven by signalling the market has been unable to correct (or has perhaps inflated?). The psychological toll was simply too large so we "loosed up" elsewhere to keep up with the workplace with bad results for our personal lives and mixed results for measured GDP.

In farmer family life children are treated as small adults with a unique duty to obey and eventually care for their parents. The parents have a responsibility to help their children fit in socially in their community (help them find a mate, an economic niche, make sure to maintain good relations with neighbours and relatives). The father holds greater formal power, while the wife holds great informal power. For neurotypical humans in farmer culture this is an arrangement that should in theory play to the psychological "feel good" triggers and talents of both. It also enables them to pair bond (preventing abandonment). It is a remarkably functional and stable institution considering it has had probably had merely 10 or 20 thousand years to form!

To give an example of dead legal Schelling points related to this, I think child custody should by default fall to the father.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 01:09:24AM 4 points [-]

I want workplace to be more forager and family to be more farmer. Nearly all of us are socialized to accept ridiculous amounts of workplace domination or what seems like workplace domination to our forager brains. We also get surprisingly little economic gain for this.

This is an industrial age phenomenon caused by industrial economies of scale.

Comment author: Konkvistador 15 November 2012 08:59:07AM *  3 points [-]

I agree. It has impressive productivity gains in say 19th century factory work, but I think its gains are much smaller than usually assumed in say a white collar setting. I think the cost to the well-being of the workers might now that we in the West don't starve any more outweigh the productivity gains. A good utilitarian counterargument can be made that we need every little bit of efficiency until we say cure aging or develop FAI.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 November 2012 01:45:28AM 3 points [-]

It has impressive productivity gains in say 19th century factory work, but I think its gains are much smaller than usually assumed in say a white collar setting.

Heck, I'm not convinced the gains in the white collar setting outweigh the loses due to the resulting signaling games. Especially now that routine secretarial tasks can be done automatically.

Comment author: TimS 15 November 2012 01:50:33AM 0 points [-]

This is surprisingly Marxist-flavored analysis from Eugine_Nier. Not that the post is wrong.

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 07:38:56PM *  -1 points [-]

Sorry, of course you're not evasive. We have a communication and inferential distance problem, I'd say.

Nearly all of us are socialized to accept ridiculous amounts of workplace domination or what seems like workplace domination to our forager brains. We also get surprisingly little economic gain for this.

Hehehehehehe!... has it never occured to you that - the "workplace" as such being an industrial-age institution - the domination in it that you so dislike (and quite rightly!) might be the institutional descendant of earlier family-like, harshly hierarchical structures? Imagine the power that a master held over an apprentice in a medieval guild, or the domestic slaves of Ancient Greece.

patriarchy

Isn't this something else?

Our definitions of patriarchy seem to be world apart. It feels to me as if the examples you cautiously list - "the father holds greater formal power"-with-caveats, or "child custody" - are, frankly, local and minor matters compared to the really systemic things!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy#Psychoanalytic_theories

Although the term patriarchy is loosely used to stand for 'male domination', as has been pointed out above, it more crucially means - as others have stated here: "The rule of The Father". So patriarchy does not refer to a simple binary pattern of male power over women, but power exerted more complexly by age as well as gender, and by older men over women, children, and younger men. Some of these younger men may inherit and therefore have a stake in patriarchy's continuing conventions. Others may rebel.... The patriarchal triangular relationship of a father, a mother and an inheriting eldest son frequently form the dynamic and emotional narratives of popular culture and are enacted performatively in rituals of courtship and marriage.[45] They provide conceptual models for organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family, for example, politics and business.

That's the big, scary shit to me. (Before anyone thinks about it, my father is just fine, lol! But... you've read e.g. Kafka, right?)

Some related feminist blah-blah, please take a look:

http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/2011/05/05/my-evolving-definition-of-%E2%80%9Cpatriarchy%E2%80%9D-noh/

Also:

The parents have a responsibility to help their children fit in socially in their community (help them find a mate, an economic niche, make sure to maintain good relations with neighbours and relatives).

Replace "The parents" with "The Great All-Benevolent Church", or "The state social services", and you'd be alarmed to say the least. Of course well-intentioned help and guidance are very nice... but who sets the guidelines for it, and how is the information about children's extrapolated volition communicated in your society? In today's families - humans being humans and all power corrupting most of them - we obviously see parents' convenience and unexamined prejudgices advertised as "for the children's own good". Would there be less of that in your farmer society, or more?

P.S.: how "allowed" should, say, experiments with polyamory be? Socially, economically, legally?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 03:50:45AM 3 points [-]

The thing about family-like hierarchical structures is that they fail badly when applied to groups larger than families.

Comment author: Konkvistador 12 November 2012 07:55:50PM *  2 points [-]

Hehehehehehe!... has it never occured to you that - the "workplace" as such being an industrial-age institution - the domination in it that you so dislike (and quite rightly!) might be the institutional descendant of earlier family-like, harshly hierarchical structures? Imagine the power that a master held over an apprentice in a medieval guild, or the domestic slaves of Ancient Greece.

Well duh. Decaying institutional wisdom, the workplace is a hastily assembled modern construct from sawed up bits of older institutions banged together. If you set up a new institution the traditionalists will point out that of course it will suck. "New institution" also includes trying to use necromancy to resurrect one that has been completely demolished. Traditionalists are fucked because they are like archaeologists looking at preserved DNA in the gut of a mosquito trapped in amber thinking they can now build a working dinosaur out of cardboard cut outs.

We've had this conversation with regards to Christianity and its mainline descendant Progressivism. Best bet seems to be to try and figure out how to build a new institution building institution. Those are also know as religions. See Mormonism's impressive functionality.

That's the big, scary shit to me.

You can't have patriarchy without the father having greater formal political and legal power than the rest of the family. The 1950s probably broke down partially because the father had informally greater political and legal power while formally having equal power which fucked shit up.

Replace "The parents" with "The Great All-Benevolent Church", or "The state social services"

Remind me again which of these has had millions of years of data to hone their heuristics? Also which of these has the most obvious incentives for good outcomes for children themselves.

Edit: Why is this getting down voted?

Comment author: TimS 12 November 2012 08:54:43PM *  0 points [-]

The 1950s probably broke down partially because the father had informally greater political and legal power while formally having equal power which fucked shit up.

That's probably true (especially if we add parallels sentences that say something about "whites" in place of "fathers.")

Given that, why should we return to the world where the father had great influence rather than abandon all the memes and ideas that remain that rely on that power disparity?

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 08:52:53PM *  0 points [-]

Okay, I confess: we have so little honest, trusted, hands-on information about old institutions, I just snap to assuming the worst about them even after adjusting for less decay.

You can't have patriarchy without the father having greater formal political and legal power than the rest of the family.

OK, what if "the rest of the family" is somehow weak/timid/socially clueless/foreign/under-networked/from a disliked minority/whatever, and can't bring informal/"soft" power to bear in a dispute with the father? Seen lots and lots of times in literature! Works with the wicked stepmother and the spineless father, too. I fear some kind of Stepford Wives shit, but replicated with Singaporean efficiency!

which of these has the most obvious incentives for good outcomes for children themselves

Obvious counterpoint. Unless it's a TDT-using family (and we don't see much practical TDT used in real life... besides the evolved pseudo-TDT of religious/Universalist ethics, that is), every family has incentives to have its children compete and beat other children in zero-sum games. A big church or a state have incentives to discourage zero-sum games for all children, and promote cooperation instead.

And that does happen in practice, I think: most everyone who lived in the USSR would agree that its brainwashing of children was benign in that particular area - teaching cooperation and suppressing zero-sum games. That was only the official intent, of course; policies to that intent might have been as inefficient as everything Soviet.

Comment author: Multiheaded 12 November 2012 08:02:23PM *  -1 points [-]

Wait, what? So you're OK with the hierarchy of a medieval guild or an Ancient Greek well-off household (meaning a household with 1-2 domestic slaves)? Because I'm categorically not. Those are basically examples of what power structures I'd like to avoid as much as the modern workplace!

Comment author: sam0345 13 November 2012 01:29:45AM *  1 point [-]

Just give me a plain answer of some sort: what do you want power structures within a family and in the workplace to look like?

Every long established functional family that I am aware of, where the couple remained married, the grown up children love and respect their parents, and so on and so forth, is quietly and furtively eighteenth century. Dad is the boss. When the kids were kids, Dad was the head of the family. The family was one person, and that person was Dad. Mum picked up the socks.

So, eighteenth century did it right, and it has all been social decay since Queen Victoria was crowned.

Show me a family where husband and wife fairly share the task of picking up the socks, and I will show you a family where dad sleeps on the couch and Mum's lovers visit every week or so to use the main bed.

It is just not in women's nature to have sex with their equals, so the egalitarian family just does not function. Legal measures to make it egalitarian invariably backfire and fail to have the desired effect. Maybe after some millenia of evolution, women will evolve the capability to have sex with their equals, but right now, does not work.

Comment author: Multiheaded 13 November 2012 02:08:22AM *  -2 points [-]

Thank you. Frankly, I feel that you're being honest with yourself about the kind of tyranny you want, while Konkvistador clings to his rose glasses. I'd slash your tires, but you're a worthy enemy.

Please take note people, I believe that this is the kind of social atmosphere that "neo-reaction" supports, whether its followers start out technocratic/utilitarian or not.

Comment author: TimS 13 November 2012 03:20:57AM 1 point [-]

we have data showing men today are about as happy with their marriages as they where 50 years ago, but women are much unhappier.

For a utilitarian to take this seriously, you need to make the argument that happiness reports are a reliable indicator of utility possessed. As you note, there are strong reasons (many connected to technological advancement) to believe that practically any alive today has more utility than the average person in 1600 (or perhaps even 1800). So that's some reason to distrust the assertion that happiness reports accurately report something that we should consider morally weighty.

Since they where doing better on measures of social dysfunction where absolute material poverty and racism where much worse. I'm not arguing for material poverty and racism and they may halp, but they probably can't be blamed for the negative since the 1960s.

Pending data about minority marriage rates in the 1930s and before, I think my response is "agree denotatively, disagree connotatively." Even without the gains from technological progress, it seems pretty clear to me that the average minority has more utility now than in 1930, even if the marriage rate is lower.


But the underlying issue is that I think that there are significant policy differences between the victorious community organizer and the losing business executive. There's a definite partisan slant about things like basic research funding and food safety regulation - I may be mindkilled about this, but I think any reasonable cost-benefit analysis shows one side is more rational about those topics than the other.

Still, there's always the possibility that I'm terribly mind-killed on this topic - causing me to overestimate the relative power of what I consider the saner parts of the political coalition of which I am a member. And the in-group / out-group smugness is terrible - deserving of being called out whether or not I'm in the in-group just this minute.

Comment author: Konkvistador 13 November 2012 09:23:23AM 5 points [-]

So that's some reason to distrust the assertion that happiness reports accurately report something that we should consider morally weighty.

I thought we where Bayesians here? It certainly is evidence people are happy or unhappy. We generally consider people's happiness or at least mental suffering to have moral weight.

Comment author: TimS 13 November 2012 07:00:31PM 0 points [-]

Yes, that was a bit of loose language. I agree with you that self-reports are reasonable measures of mood - and that mood is entitled to some moral weight.

But Multi discussed some reasons to believe that reports of mood are pliable and unrepresentative.

My point was broader: There's no particular reason to believe that positive mood is the same thing as, or even correlated with, utility. Utilitarians seek to maximize utility, not positive mood (infinite orgasms is not generally accepted as the utilitarian utopia).

Comment author: Multiheaded 13 November 2012 11:36:51AM *  0 points [-]

Issues that you already know to poke holes in a simplistic model of "happniess":

Stockholm Syndrome; enforced and coercive signaling games around happiness; wireheading; "forced orgasms" of various kinds; smiles painted on soul; internalized self-deception under social pressure not to betray unhappniess with the "virtuous" life; the structures of "Libidinal economy" and the assorted Freudo-Marxian stuff...

The family is the agent to which capitalist production delegates the psychological repression of the desires of the child.[41] Psychological repression is distinguished from social oppression insofar as it works unconsciously.[42] Through it, Deleuze and Guattari argue, parents transmit their angst and irrational fears to their child and bind the child's sexual desires to feelings of shame and guilt.

Psychological repression is strongly linked with social oppression, which levers on it. It is thanks to psychological repression that individuals are transformed into docile servants of social repression who come to desire self-repression and who accept a miserable life as employees for capitalism.[43] A capitalist society needs a powerful tool to counteract the explosive force of desire, which has the potential to threaten its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy; the nuclear family is precisely the powerful tool able to counteract those forces.[44]

The action of the family not only performs a psychological repression of desire, but it disfigures it, giving rise to a consequent neurotic desire, the perversion of incestuous drives and desiring self-repression,[44] as also said by Foucault in the preface, loving power and desiring "the very thing that dominates and exploit us."[45] The Oedipus complex arises from this double operation: "It is in one and the same movement that the repressive social production is replaced by the repressing family, and that the latter offers a displaced image of desiring-production that represents the repressed as incestuous familial drives."

You can probably see my line of objection, ja? I think you haven't given it as much serious consideration as I have given the far-right worldview, dude.

P.S. a quick google search also reveals that Alice Miller, a psychologist who survived Warsaw under the Nazis, has written a lot about abusive family structures from an anti-patriarchal/anti-authoritarian standpoint. Here is some anarchist (?) type ranting/blogging about the implications of Miller.

P.P.S. a paper that, in defense of Deleuze, criticizes Zizek's critique and rejection of Anti-Oedipus.

Comment author: Konkvistador 13 November 2012 12:18:26PM *  3 points [-]

Yes lots of other possibilities, I'm well aware of those. I wanted to emphasize it that the simple truth is, that when people say they are happy, you should take it as evidence they generally are happy or at least not suffering. I did this because if this isn't pointed out people will avoid updating as much as they should using the possibility of different explanations as a rationalization.

Be honest, do you think you would feel the need to invoke or investigate those alternative possibilities to explain away greater self-reported happiness in nations with lower GINI coefficents? We apply different standards of discourse for different institutions without having good reason to do so.

Politics is motivated cognition all the way down my friend.

Comment author: Multiheaded 13 November 2012 12:29:56PM *  2 points [-]

when people say they are happy

This depends not just on your definition of "happiness", but also on your definition of "say" :) How many pre-Victorian narratives by women/queers are you able to name at all without digging into Google? Only Jane Austen... and Mary Shelley's mom... and 1-2 others, I bet.

So, a lot of women might have, without having to worry their pretty little heads, "said" that they are happy through the testimony of their kind and caring husbands. Much like the Soviet people reported their happiness and contentment through their lawfully elected, not-at-all-rubberstamp representatives. Note that those second-hand assertions hardly ever mention sexual consent/rape or corporal punishment or other such things that we're curious about when assessing marriage. So could you please provide me with some statistics for e.g. matrial rape in 1700s Britain, to support your likely claim that it was not a serious problem? I'd be (pleasantly!) surprised if you could.

(What I wouldn't be surprised at is you quoting Three Worlds Collide about the space of possible attitudes to sexual consent. Well, as you can see sam0345 also has... interesting... views on consent. Isn't this evidence of how terribly dangerous - not just promising - it might be for us to become less paranoid and more tolerant in regards to patriarchy?)

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 November 2012 01:43:05PM 1 point [-]

I'm a bit confused here. Are you saying that people should not vote, because democracy is only a local optimum, and that's not good enough to lend legitimacy to?

But there's no quick and easy way to get to nonlocal optima. Democracy is a strong local attractor. If national voted participation dropped to 15%, it would be likely to spark debates on how to reach out to more voters, whether more people could be engaged if the process were made more convenient, etc. It almost certainly wouldn't lead to discussion of whether we needed to be trying out other systems of governance.

If there's some other thing you mean, I'm not getting it.

Comment author: mwengler 07 November 2012 02:45:30PM -1 points [-]

I voted.

We achieved a local optimum.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 05:17:58PM *  0 points [-]

Your comment doesn't really make sense unless you where trying to reverse my stupidity. Its quite plausible I'm stupid in a easy to spot way, but trying to reverse that won't give you good results.

You should make an argument that your vote was the rational choice of action (a debate already going on in the two threads I cited as related) and that democracy is good instead of just cheering for the "Yay voting!" tribe after seeing what you consider a "Boo voting!" tribe post.

Comment author: mwengler 07 November 2012 07:00:00PM 0 points [-]

On its face my comment seems to agree with your statements of fact, although it does suggest a value disagreement: that I like local optima while you are saying "boo local optima."

I do think you are wrong, but I don't have any idea of whether you are stupid. It seems plausible to me that we share enough values that if you knew what I think I know about history you would like democracy better certainly than some unnamed alternative.

What seems most likely to me is that you are naive and enjoy the feeling that you have found a clever solution that most people cannot see, that you enjoy that feeling so much that your threshold for checking the validity of he clever solution is unreasonably low. I only delve this far into my guesses about who or what you are since you bring it up by inferring that I think you are stupid.

In any case, to pick just a few of the top reasons I voted and am pleased that the local optimum we achieved is higher than we would have achieved if things had come out differently,

1) the "starve the beast" mentality is probably very wasteful. You never see (seems to me) successful private companies taking that approach at managing their priorities: when they are pursuing something they do what enemies of gov't spending would call "throwing money at the problem." While I am sure there are many better overall policy baskets than the two on offer in the presidential race this year, I am not a fan of underfunding. I think fewer things will be underfunded under Obama than under Romney.

2) national medical policy in the US is an expensive dog's breakfast. I think we converge on something better faster by keeping Romnbama Care and having the gov't work on improving it than by sending us back to the previous dog's breakfast which was essentially as expensive, but which left a lot more people uncovered.

If Romney had won I might still have posted "I voted. We achieved a local optimum." I would have been less energized to make that post because the local optimum under Romney would, under my values, been a bit lower than the one we are going to get under Obama.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 November 2012 08:18:45PM *  4 points [-]

I do think you are wrong, but I don't have any idea of whether you are stupid.

I was using stupid only to reference the title of Eliezer's post Reversed Stupidity is Not Inteligence. Also I wanted to emphasise that I think there is a good high possibility in my mind around say 0.2 or so that I'm utterly wrong on this. Also that I don't want to claim any high status from having such opinions.

What seems most likely to me is that you are naive and enjoy the feeling that you have found a clever solution that most people cannot see

Indeed I may just be high on insight porn. This would also explain why well written and argued out anti-democracy posts get up voted here (not in this thread obviously but check out my comment history or that of Vladimir_M or Athrelon or any of the dozen other reactionary rationalists) since we are a community of people self-selected for enjoying the feeling of insight. Arguably insight porn is a important reason for why say Marxism and other similar ideologies where heavily overrepresented in 20th century academia as well.

Also worth mentioning is the metacontrarian ladder. Opinions as tribal attire naturally imply opinions as signalling and that strengthens the common observation of the existence of intellectual fashions. For morality too obviously.

that you enjoy that feeling so much that your threshold for checking the validity of he clever solution is unreasonably low

I don't think this is so because I've spent a lot of time trying to steel man democracy for myself and reading political science written on it. And as I say in a different post at the end of the day despite having high confidence in the sucky-ness of democracy, and think it more likely than not several alternatives would be better, I still defer to the conservative argument in favour of democracy and indeed wouldn't vote to institute Neocameralism or Monarchy right now. Just out of curiosity do you recall any politically charged arguments that have basically convinced you but aren't comfortable implementing them because of Burkean concerns? Preferably ones that have a real shot of being implemented.

I think our community with its love of novelty and insight porn is particularly vulnerable to systematically under weighting that argument.

If Romney had won I might still have posted "I voted. We achieved a local optimum." I would have been less energized to make that post because the local optimum under Romney would, under my values, been a bit lower than the one we are going to get under Obama.

Do you consider democracy more a preference discovery machine, that is good at finding the preferences of the population and thus gives insight into the preferences of agents. Or do you think democracy is more a mechanism of aggregating information in a wisdom of the crowds way where the input of lots and lots of people leads to good outputs.

Please pick which you more strongly ascribe too even if both or neither apply.

Comment author: mwengler 08 November 2012 02:51:04PM 1 point [-]

Just out of curiosity do you recall any politically charged arguments that have basically convinced you but aren't comfortable implementing them because of Burkean concerns? Preferably ones that have a real shot of being implemented.

Abso-fucking-lutely!

1) I would abolish all tariffs and trade protections, that's how I would vote and argue. If given the power to do it unilaterally against the expressed will of the republic I would not take it.

2) I would abolish the income tax and fund the gov't with various forms of consumption taxes instead. I would phase in the differences probably linearly over 10 years. I wouldn't do it without the republic agreeing.

3) In the past I have made the aspirational statement "I am a communist until you are 18 and a libertarian after that." I consider the socialization of "parental" responsibility to be a brilliant way to increase production and lower costs. I consider the fact that you can't find a rich parent who doesn't "throw money at the problem" even as he cries in a hurt and angry voice that the government is stealing his money and wasting it by "throwing money at problems." I will argue this and cajole and persuade and vote accordingly, but I wouldn't take more than the Republic would give me.

4) I would eliminate rules about who has to pay extra for petroleum products and just let the price decide. If a farmer needs a truck to bring produce 100 miles, the economy is better off if he makes his capital investments reflecting a fair and straight market competition with the soccer mom bringing her 3 year old to pre-school in a Hummer. Shocking, but true. I am willing to wait for that wisdom to percolate into the republic rather than subverting the republic.

5) When I was growing up it was still illegal to have sex with my male friend but not with my female friend. This in the 1970s in a place no less opinion-leading than New York State! As it turns out, this is one that HAS percolated broadly into the current legal structure. I count that as evidence that my idea that republics can work.

And sex laws aren't the only win. In my lifetime telephony, commercial air and truck transport, and radio spectrum allocation have been heavily deregulated, risking it all on the market coming up with answers that work OK even for poor people. Strong evidence that republics can and do eventually improve the quality of their law.

Comment author: mwengler 08 November 2012 02:39:28PM 0 points [-]

Do you consider democracy more a preference discovery machine, that is good at finding the preferences of the population and thus gives insight into the preferences of agents. Or do you think democracy is more a mechanism of aggregating information in a wisdom of the crowds way where the input of lots and lots of people leads to good outputs.

Of the two I'd say something like 20:1 preference discovery over wisdom of the crowds.

This is me hypothesizing on the fly: every governing system puts day to day control in the hands of a tiny minority, and an even smaller group of people who have the time, resources, and legitimacy to manage that tiny minority. It is inevitable that the decisions will not please everyone, and in some trivial sense, it is inevitable that the decisions will not please anyone, even the single most powerful government leader, who must still find himself constrained by human nature and other realities.

Of the choices I am aware of, a republic with principles such as (near) universal citizenship and (near) universal suffrage results in the greatest breadth of consideration of the preferences of the population. If I had a choice between getting rid of the bill of rights or getting rid of universal suffrage, I would toss suffrage first. Voting is just ONE tiny way that the information flows up from the bottom to the top. Voting seems to put a nice catch-all loop around the whole process, but I'd want to keep the day to day guts, enabled by strong concepts of nearly universal rights, than to lose the day to day and have a mass of lied-to and oppressed people voting once in a while.

The problem with all alternatives I usually think of are they move MORE power into the day-to-day runners, which are necessarily a tiny minority. Even in a well functioning republic, it is hard to distinguish whether the legislators all get rich because the skills that make you rich are what make you electable or because they vote with a bias towards their own interests, at least every once in a while on the margin, or because they exploit inside information, or because they are handed wealth by those who wish to "befriend" them and influence them.

Of course in a republic it will always be all of the above, but the democracy component will be constantly throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the specially good results for the gov't insiders. FOIA, laws against secret donations, laws against many kinds of "gifts," laws about disclosure.

And then after democracy has done what it can to systematize limits on "natural self-interest" or "corruption," depending on how you like to talk about it, we get the election, where as long as we are still relatively free and secure in our rights, those incumbents who can be attacked as more selfish than helpful will be. So the interests of the governed will have MANY mechanisms for setting an environment where the interests of the governing are tightly limited.

So in detail, democracy provides a gigantic amount of discovery of preference in a deep way, with strong popular rights to information and to speak combining with contested elections to produce a system which almost looks like it is policing itself!

Compared to the essence of corruption control, the additional fact that democracy nearly by definition enfranchises a larger fraction of the population than do many other systems you mention (monarchists, religious or any other form of dictatorship, marxist/communist where traditionally choice is left to or at least heavily constrained by "ideological experts").

So yes, a preference discovery machine both broad and deep.

As to wisdom of crowds, its hard to distinguish between preference and wisdom. Most of what you use a prediction market for are predictions of what crowds will do. Obviously when predicting elections, but even when predicting future technological developments, the mechanism of prediction market seems to be to attract more information into the open by providing a mechanism for the small number of people with super information to profit from publicizing at least their opinion. There is a component, probably, where gov't seeks to placate people by doing X, but Y is actually better at placating them and democracy can in a sense help reveal that fact. (notice with propositions on California ballot, I learned that most Californians are de facto willing to pay $20-$100 million extra to execute a small number of people than to use those resources in ways that might prevent crime, a result which surprises me.)

So preferences, definitely.

Comment author: mwengler 09 November 2012 04:31:53PM -1 points [-]

Do you consider democracy more a preference discovery machine, that is good at finding the preferences of the population and thus gives insight into the preferences of agents. Or do you think democracy is more a mechanism of aggregating information in a wisdom of the crowds way where the input of lots and lots of people leads to good outputs.

A little more on preference vs wisdom. I don't think there is a bright line separating the two things, especially as implemented on the ground.

It seems to me that people generally believe, and state strenuously, that their preferences derive from superior wisdom. My Republican friend seems assured that if I understood how much wealth the Gov't destroys when it has resources instead of having them left in private hands, that I would, perhaps sadly, abandon many of my progressive goals for gov't because I would understand that their price is so high I would fill my electoral shopping cart less to the brim. I assure him that in a world where all children are raised wtih all the advantages of rich children that the excess human capital released could make his (rich) children at least as rich after taxes, and probably richer, than a program where he keeps his money for his children and poor children are left undeveloped. To me this is straightforward wisdom: Harvard and Yale produce great leaders whether seeded with with rich children or poor children, It is merely an excercise in science to determine what the essential features of a rich child's upbringing are that must be provided by the state to poor children to keep this virtuously productive cycle going, but the good news is we already have such great indications of success in our society.

In the absence of being able to agree on the wisdom of these various things, we argue over them. Write that story across the entire society, and mix it with thousands of other grand policy issues and petty, local policy issues that impact productivity in a local-scale way. Shake vigorously then hold an election. Surely the election is influenced by people's changing beliefs over which of the argued positions are wise and which are deluded. Surely those who are sure they are right and have the electorate turn against them will NOT agree the electorate is a wisdom-of-crowds producing machine.

But we could probably all agree that it is preference determining machine, and that most people prefer wisdom, so in a slow and clunky way, it approximates a wisdom determining machine. And it determines wisdom in that in a noisy fashion, good results that come from policies are reinforced by the voters to whom those good results flowed, EVEN when those voters are not part of an ascendant and vociferous minority. So you might never have convinced the captains of industry 100 years ago that unions needed more power, but 100 years ago voters sure as hell thought they did, and the long run result has (arguably) been a high level of quality production as, by law and then by custom, working conditions became safe, and pleasant, and respectful of the workers, who in turn were able to "join the team." So did this come about because voter preference was discovered, or because wisdom was discovered? The fact that nearly all of us hate wasting our efforts and our resources means that we largely prefer wisdom.

Of course, in my opinion, the vote also is better described as a preference machine than a wisdom machine when we look at some more extreme issues. Race in the U.S. (the mindkiller, but I think at least the two of us can keep our minds running while we talk briefly about it.) There is no question that elections in the sourthern states 60, 70 80 years ago were displaying the preference against having blacks integrated in to society. There can be little doubt also, in my opinion, that having had integration shoved down their throats, you can't find a majority anywhere for a miscegenation law, forget about banning blacks from a publicly funded state university or allowing their banning from a restaurant. Did the right answer change over that time? Probably not. It just took that long for preferences to change, and they changed partially because it was seen that having blacks included was preferrable (wisdom) and partially because hating a subgroup can only be propagated when it is propagated, and interfering with it tends to make it disappear.

Anyway, I think voting is a preference machine which because people prefer wisdom, is a slow and noisy wisdom machine.

I am reminded of the stock market about which the wise say, in the short run it is a voting (preference) machine, in the long run a weighing (wisdom) machine.

Comment author: Konkvistador 09 November 2012 04:45:17PM *  4 points [-]

Harvard and Yale produce great leaders whether seeded with with rich children or poor children

I find it very strange that you speak of Harvard and Yale educating "children", but I'm guessing you mean the Yale and Harvard's of primary school education.

I do however agree it doesn't much matter if you put rich or poor talented people into those colleges, their graduates will still be quality.

I do hope you realize that many poor children are not talented.

It is merely an excercise in science to determine what the essential features of a rich child's upbringing are that must be provided by the state to poor children to keep this virtuously productive cycle going, but the good news is we already have such great indications of success in our society.

Oh you probably don't. No problem I'll explain it to you. High IQ is useful for climbing out of poverty, this is a robust finding of social science. Poor children are on average dimmer than rich children. In the First world this is probably mostly due to genetics. IQ is mostly heritable. This doesn't necessarily the causes are genetic differences. But since we also know that above some very low plateau (nearer to mild abuse than mild neglect) education, better nutrition and nearly anything else tried doesn't show any sustained gains in IQ it is the explanation that best fits the evidence.

I do think that spending rich people's money to genetically engineer improved chances for poor people's children is a ridiculously wise investment for a society to make. If I thought the same potential of great gains existed for education, I would support making greater investments into it as well. But I happen to think that formal education beyond the primary school level is mostly a sorting mechanism with elaborate signalling races developing around it. Now don't get me wrong signalling is necessary, but escalating signalling races are negative sum games because they eat up resources.

I also think primary school education as it currently exists is very badly designed from the perspective of "do no harm to children", since it is practically designed to introduce conformity, stifle creativity and in general produce very weird socialization patterns (like what is this deal with sorting children into pseudo-military regiments based on their date of manufacture?). There might be good reasons to do so. Maybe such traits are good to have for the average person in our society. Maybe they are bad for the individual but have positive externalities for others. But I'm suspicious since the institutions claim that they are trying their best not to produce many of the effects they quite clearly do create precisely by their efforts.

In many ways primary school's best function is to serve as free day care that takes advantages of economy of scale (consider the organizational similarity between the average school and the average early 20th century factory). Parents do have to go to work and we believe their children can't work along side them and learn via apprenticeship as they did in previous eras. Arguably technology could soon make this function of school obsolete. Much of parental & adult supervision can be automated.

Now obviously the parent setting certain limitations on the day care machine before going to work sounds heartless, but describe in your mind a regular school day the same way a anthropologist from a different time would have. Sounds about as heartless to me.

Comment author: mwengler 09 November 2012 08:32:26PM 0 points [-]

I also think primary school education as it currently exists is very badly designed from the perspective of "do no harm to children", since it is practically designed to introduce conformity, stifle creativity and in general produce very weird socialization patterns (like what is this deal with sorting children into pseudo-military regiments based on their date of manufacture?).

First off, it seems to me the PRIMARY advantage of humans over other animals is that we can work cooperatively in highly complex ways in very large groups. I don't know if you've seen how our closest relatives the Chimps and Bonobos do in large groups, its not very inspiring. Humans are a domesticated animal, we have domesticated ourselves. And the domesticated humans appear to be by many measures the most successful creature on the planet, and certainly the most intelligent.

So should it really surprise you that a lot of the effort of school is to train cooperation? Presumably our evolved ability to cooperate is tuned to work up to maybe a hundred or a few hundred humans, before we start, very sensibly killing the strangers and stealing their women and children as slaves, before they do that to us. DNA is only one way to pass stored species knowledge down through the generations, culture is the other. And culture seems to have enhanced human productivity by factors of thousands over what it was when we first picked up the bulk of this genetic design 10,000 years ago.

My 15 and 13 year old daughters have cringed at the thought of being home schooled instead of being allowed to go to their underfunded and not very spectacular in any way suburban california public elementary and middle schools. I think you may be telling a micro story about the bathwater and missing the macro story of the baby. Schools do lots of great things. It is entirely possible they could do much better, but they are already way better than nothing.

Comment author: Konkvistador 10 November 2012 10:41:25AM 1 point [-]

My 15 and 13 year old daughters have cringed at the thought of being home schooled instead of being allowed to go to their underfunded and not very spectacular in any way suburban california public elementary and middle schools.

That is probably because they have friends and most of their social circle there. Surprisingly people have had friends and social circles for millennia before schools.

Comment author: mwengler 09 November 2012 08:06:30PM 0 points [-]

No problem I'll explain it to you. High IQ is useful for climbing out of poverty, this is a robust finding of social science. Poor children are on average dimmer than rich children. In the First world this is probably mostly due to genetics. IQ is mostly heritable. This doesn't necessarily the causes are genetic differences. But since we also know that above some very low plateau (nearer to mild abuse than mild neglect) education, better nutrition and nearly anything else tried doesn't show any sustained gains in IQ it is the explanation that best fits the evidence.

I think these are great examples of where "wisdom" and "preference" smear across each other's boundaries. The truths you cite above are matters of degree, we probably both agree on that. Where we don't agree probably is that the low hanging fruit of more better people and fewer expensive criminals and morons are the fairly large minority of poor children who are brought down by lousy home environments. You assert that here this is probably mostly due to genetics, implying we've got the environment "good enough" for either everybody or mostly everybody. I constantly hear of studies like Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects showing significant and persistent gains from early intervention with the right population. In the United States, that self-proclaimed paradigm of the first world.

Now as far as I am concerned, the more interesting point is NOT whether the US being a benign enough environment so that poor people with good IQ genes have already climbed out of poverty, or whether there is still plenty of raw human material unexploited. The more interesting point is that we have different preferences in those regards, and we can't easily separate our judgements on the preponderance of the evidence from our preferences. And in a democracy, I don't have to convince you necessarily that I am closer to right than you are, I just have to convince some complex mix of people and interests corresponding to what, with other factors, will tend to get me 51% of the vote. My aesthetic preference would be to actually convince you, that would be winning and make me more confident that I was right and not just deluded by my preferences. But by deciding the democracy is beautiful, by having a meta-esthetic, I can enjoy the process whether I am winning or not.

By the way, as far as the conclusion that above a certain fairly low threshold, grooming children for success is wasted, it seems rather telling to me that 1) you never see a rational rich person sending their children to inner city public schools and making them pay for their own community college and 2) you see an overrepresentation of the well off children who were groomed by their parents in the professions and what you might call the rank and file of elite jobs. Its funny that as many rich people who may believe the children will be fine, they hardly ever apply that reasoning to their own children. <sarcasm> If there were some reason to believe that they might be biased against reaching their conclusion that they should pay more taxes to educate poor children, then one might question their objectivity in reaching this "children are robust" conclusion.</sarcasm>

But of course, what is this? Just me diving deeper into the wisdom I see that supports the preference I have. If you are half the nerd I think you are, you will have clever and nearly compelling counterarguments to everything I have said.

Comment author: Konkvistador 10 November 2012 09:56:04AM *  3 points [-]

Have you read Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids? He makes a pretty strong argument that middle and upper middle class parents wildly over estimate the effects of more time and money spent on their children.

1) you never see a rational rich person sending their children to inner city public schools and making them pay for their own community college

Socialization of your children does matter, keeping them in desirable company is a good goal since on most measurable matters they have more impact than you as a parent do. Inner city schools aren't bad because there is little spending on them, indeed rural schools often get less spending on them yet outperform them. The surrounding demographics matter. The culture and incentives working on that demographic matters. We have seen schools have very little measurable impact on those except that more schooling reduces fertility.

Where we don't agree probably is that the low hanging fruit of more better people and fewer expensive criminals and morons are the fairly large minority of poor children who are brought down by lousy home environments.

We don't? I mean say there existed a pill that boosted lower class IQs to the national average, wouldn't you expect to see radical improvement? What if that pill cost thousands of dollars do we disagree providing it for free would still be an incredibly good deal? What if it wasn't a pill but a shot of retrovirus or subsidy of in vitro fertilization that takes advantage of screening for poor parents coupled with strongly promoting birth control to avoid unplanned pregnancies?

From things like the Terman study we know high IQ people create positive externalities they don't fully capture. Improvements in the genotype don't need upkeep and constant reinvestment. If you raised the average IQ of say Japan or Turkey by 15 points, you'd see nearly all of the positive effects of that persist for centuries after the program was ended. If you educate everyone to college level and then suddenly stop you see benefits persist for a generation or two at most. Investments in "nature" radically increase the gains expected from "nurture" too, since the opportunity cost of neglecting the care of a child rise dramatically in relation to the child's natural talent.

2) you see an overrepresentation of the well off children who were groomed by their parents in the professions and what you might call the rank and file of elite jobs.

You see them successfully preparing their kids for competence at those professions, I see nepotism ensuring slightly less competent people get entry jobs to excellent career tracks because of connections.

I constantly hear of studies like Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects showing significant and persistent gains from early intervention with the right population. In the United States, that self-proclaimed paradigm of the first world.

I recall plenty of studies showing effects of most programs do wear off. The problem is many studies (I'm not commenting on the particular paper you cited) have employed no control group selected on exactly the same basis as the experimental group. This makes it virtually impossible to evaluate the effect of the treatment on gains, and the problem is made more acute by the fact that enrichment studies often pick their subjects on the basis of their being below the average IQ of the population of disadvantaged children from which they are selected. This makes statistical regression a certainty- the group's mean will increase by an appreciable amount because of the imperfect correlation between test- retest scores over, say, a one- year interval.

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 01:23:07PM 0 points [-]

I recall plenty of studies showing effects of most programs do wear off. The problem is many studies (I'm not commenting on the particular paper you cited) have employed no control group selected on exactly the same basis as the experimental group.

I work for Qualcomm, which in the 1990s was told by many professors and competitors that its cellular phone technology was impossible, even by some that it violated the laws of physics. I examined these claims of error and thought they were ludicrous. Since that time, Qualcomm has quintupled its market cap and has over 50% market share in smartphone chip markets.

It is easy to build something wrong. I can "prove" all sorts of technical ideas are without merit by implementing them inefficiently, incorrectly. I can hire you a guy to tune your ferrari for you, and then go out and beat you on the track in my volkswagen. It doesn't prove ferarris are crap.

From a production standpoint, if you have 20 failed attempts and 2 that succeed, that PROVES the thing can be done. If a lot of people have build early education programs which attempted to abstract out a few features of early education that would matter, and they have failed, but two or three have succeeded, it does not mean the preponderance of the evidence is that early education is useless, it means that most people do it wrong.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 November 2012 01:31:42PM *  1 point [-]

If nearly everyone fails at producing a social result and one or two studies do produce it, seems much more likely the one or two studies are wrong about producing the result. Especially if it hasn't been replicated. This is ignoring that the incentives for academics are far from balanced and that the social scientist in question are very likely to have written the bottom line first just because of their ideological demographics.

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 01:25:23PM 0 points [-]

1) you never see a rational rich person sending their children to inner city public schools and making them pay for their own community college

Socialization of your children does matter, keeping them in desirable company is a good goal since on most measurable matters they have more impact than you as a parent do.

OK so you have just deepened our understanding of what successful programs applied to poor children must include to make the early intervention worthwhile.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 November 2012 01:37:42PM 2 points [-]

Keep them away from bad company? Hard problem if many kids are bad company.

Comment author: mwengler 11 November 2012 01:17:45PM 0 points [-]

Have you read Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids? He makes a pretty strong argument that middle and upper middle class parents wildly over estimate the effects of more time and money spent on their children.

I have heard Caplan talk about it with Russ Roberts. I have no doubt that Bryan Caplan is right at some level of detail, that there are plenty of things that any given upper class parent does that are less effective than others, that as with so many other production processes, there are efficiency gains to be had by bringing scientific approaches to studying the production.

What may be missed is the net. What is the net effect of rich people grooming their kids compared to the baseline of poor children being ignored and only beaten a little, and living in this "good enough" environment you get for almost free? You say nepotism, but I am sure that for 99.999% of jobs I have no idea whether the applicant behaves well because they are actually linearly descended from one of the 100s of millions of people I'd be presumably class allied with, but I have every idea whether their grooming, speech patterns, ability to self-deprecate, ability to approach tense situations with humor, calm, and even deference rise to the levels I am concerned about. I have every idea whether they become defensive when I am testing them. In short, what looks like nepotism to you is primarily me looking for the mix of characteristics that I understand are needed for humans to cooperate deeply and pervasively in a way that goes orders of magnitude what are genes without culture ensure.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 November 2012 01:43:46PM *  2 points [-]

Making up numbers (99.9999...%) as hyperbole is considered rude here. It is much less misleading to readers if you say that you are nearly certain. For example I am nearly certain job interviews on top jobs are often gained from social networks and connections someone without parents in those circles wouldn't have. I'm pretty sure the gains from such connections are nearly zero sum.

Comment author: mwengler 09 November 2012 08:24:25PM -1 points [-]

But I happen to think that formal education beyond the primary school level is mostly a sorting mechanism with elaborate signalling races developing around it.

This flies in the face of my experience. And I do believe I can cite evidence against it but it is not from studies per se.

I actually had a very good public school education, in a well off suburban school district in 1960s and 1970s Farmingdale, New York. In addition to this being a well funded district that people moved to for its reputation, I was sorted from 3rd grade through 9th grade into a special program with even better teachers and curriculum aimed at the top 2% in IQ terms of the district.

Even with that excellent background, it was not until Swarthmore College that I understood why missing a day of class could possibly be of any concern (because the pace was so fast). Further, I would estimate that I learned, hard to say, 10X as much science and math in 4 years at Swarthmore than I had in 12 years of Farmingdale.

I then spent 2 years as a technician working with radio astronomers at Bell Labs. Yes, I learned so much there that for a while I would tell people I did my undergrad at Bell Labs. But to be fair, it would probably be more analagous to having done my MS at Bell Labs. My undergraduate education was superb.

I then went to graduate school at Caltech, and surprisingly instead of signalling my sorting, I learned and did independent research, presented my results to the elite, and developed into somebody who could reasonably say that if he didn't understand a particular physics/astronomy presentation, that it was the presentation that sucked, not me. Yes, I learned LOTS MORE even in graduate school, in math methods and statistics/probability, and quantum mechanics and classical mechanics and, holy of holies, electromagnetics, my own specialization. Oh and in solid state physics, I was working on superconducting devices.

So my own experience is I learned gobs and gobs and GOBS of stuff in college and gradual school.

Does the possibility exist I could have learned this on the job? Sort of but not really. First off, classes were INTENSE, much harder than job. Second, jobs you tend to learn what you need to do your immediate task, classes front-load you with stuff, some of which you may never use, but lots of which you wind up trotting out over the next 50 years of your career.

So that's my personal experience. What is the evidence beyond that that school is real, not just signalling?

1) Greatest researchers tend to be at universities. They tend to prefer to work with students and post-docs (still an educational job IMHO).
2) Even the most iconoclastic geniuses in math and science will typically skip lower levels of education, but be brought in at unusually young ages to the highest levels of education. Wolfram graduated with a PhD from Caltech when he was 21 (IIRC) and was hired as a professor by Caltech at that point. Physicists and Mathematicians seem to want people from these programs, and it doesn't seem to me primarily because they are trying to skip having to make their own decisions on who to work with.
3) I interview for engineering positions at my company. We have information on where applicant came from and what degree we have, but our interviews are still primarily technological tests. We want to know if applicant knows CDMA and LTE and 802.11xxx and GPS and AWGN and dB and Matlab and all the things we associate with people who get stuff done. As a participant with others in the interviewing of others, I have NEVER heard a discussion of the quality of school or which degree the applicant had. It is always a substantial discussion. And our ranks of hires include people with BS and years of experience, as well as MS and PhDs with less work experience. At some level X years of experience seems to equate on average to Y years of higher education. But the point is both experiences are different and both are valuable in employees. We have plenty of PhDs from great places, plenty of PhDs from podunk places and plenty of BSs.

Comment author: Konkvistador 10 November 2012 10:43:31AM *  2 points [-]

So my own experience is I learned gobs and gobs and GOBS of stuff in college and gradual school.

Of course you did. But you aren't thinking opportunity costs here. People learn gobs and GOBS of stuff outside of college and high school. Like this site shouldn't exist if this wasn't so. ;)

And since outside of school people they learn stuff they actually use often (they basically are forced to do spaced repetition) or are interested in they arguably retain far more of that. Look at things school is supposed to teach us, like learning a foreign language.

Since I'm linking to Caplan I also recommend you read:

I interview for engineering positions at my company. We have information on where applicant came from and what degree we have, but our interviews are still primarily technological tests. We want to know if applicant knows CDMA and LTE and 802.11xxx and GPS and AWGN and dB and Matlab and all the things we associate with people who get stuff done. As a participant with others in the interviewing of others, I have NEVER heard a discussion of the quality of school or which degree the applicant had.

Remind me what fraction of students go into STEM fields. Then consider if this is true for people who hire say lawyers.

Comment author: mwengler 10 November 2012 08:20:38PM 1 point [-]

I think generally rejecting education as not cost effective is too clever by half.

If it was purely signalling, surely we would see interesting less expensive (in time and money) alternatives to send the signals, our economy is rather creative and adaptable in other ways.

Further to attribute my experiences in STEM to "but it might be different in STEM, what about the Lawyers?" If school is valuable in STEM but not in other things, make the case.

Further, we know school is valuable beyond signaling in business. Companies will hire people and PAY them to get MBAs. Not a result you'd expect if the MBA was primarily a signalling device.

I don't think either of us has the last word on this question, and it will likely be useful to think about how to make education more valuable. But sometimes things ARE as they seem, probably, actually, more often than not.

Even if Education is not uniformly the most efficient way to spend effort, if it is needed to produce resources, if it triples the value of 1/2 the people who go through, it pays for itself on average pretty quickly. Yeah it would be nice to fine tune it and squeeze more return and have less waste, but it would be a mistake to claim it was useless and then have to say "but maybe not for MBA" "but maybe not for STEM" I can tell you for finance, accounting, I think you'll be making exceptions, and rather than accept the claim on its face that things are not as they seem and then walk it back to maybe they are in this narrow case, maybe overall things ARE as they seem, but there are a few exceptions.

Comment author: mwengler 10 November 2012 08:40:54PM 0 points [-]

So my own experience is I learned gobs and gobs and GOBS of stuff in college and gradual school.

Of course you did. But you aren't thinking opportunity costs here.

Well, yes I am. I quit a job as a technician at bell labs to go get my PhD at Caltech. As much as I was learning as a tech at Bell Labs, I was not going to be given my own projects to pound on, was not even allowed to write my own papers by my boss (this varied across bosses at bell labs, mine published work I had contributed to without my name on the publications, telling me I was getting paid as a tech and if I wanted my name on pubs I should go to grad school). I was not going to go to the insanely great classes I attended at Caltech, although I was able to attend a class a semester at nearby Rutgers at grad level in physics.

I came out of grad school and got a job as a professor at a research university. Seven years as a techician in the 10 area of Bell Labs and I would have still been a technician. I might have moved in to development and been a 2nd class citizen member of techical staff.

You can tell me that you know better than the technical leadership in universities and at bell labs whether the MS and PhD are "worth it," but I don't believe you and have no reason to believe you without some evidence, just as I believe the people who went to medical school over the people who tell me I can cure my cancer with peach pit extracts, vegan diets, cleanses and vitamins.

The preponderance of the evidence is that people making micro decisions choose education, people making hiring decisions, choose the educated and even pay to educate their employees. To convince me that the market is systematically failing to this extent, you will need evidence beyond assertion and iconoclasm.

Comment author: mwengler 10 November 2012 08:43:15PM 0 points [-]

I should make it clear, I recognize I am sort of a poster boy for when education would make sense, in terms of being extra smart and in terms of the kinds of jobs I like to do. But your assertion of signalling value only "forgot" about STEM, MBAs, and people who want to be professors, and doesn't address the market failures of such seemingly efficient businesses as Bell Labs, Caltech, and Qualcomm in finding value in the educations of the educated and not just in their educability.