Scarcity of nuance

A good friend forwarded an article by Ta Nihisi Coates – extracts from his forthcoming book, apparently – published in ‘The Atlantic’.

I read it and I was profoundly disappointed. It was an article written for the faithfuls. He was singing to the choir.

The author makes fundamental errors of distinguishing between ‘average’ and ‘at the margin’. Uses exclusionary arguments. Broadbrushes everybody else and quotes out of context. Contradicts himself liberally (pun intended).

It should be possible to accept and argue

that racism remains an issue in America,
that America has indeed made considerable progress,
that many conscientious Whites have done their bit to remove the racism barrier,
that the election in 2016 was between two unworthy candidates,
that the more populist won (because of race, among other things)
and that President Obama did not do much for blacks (except tokenism as he ‘did’ for world peace)

Exclusionary and exclusive arguments and assuming what one needs to establish are the stuff of polemics and not scholarship.

Articles or books such as these, in the environment that the world finds itself, won’t shake up the establishment and narrative. They would worsen the divide. What is in short supply is ‘nuance’ and that is what intellectuals need to supply. What is in short supply has value. Polemics and polarisation are on offer plentily. No value. Sheer Economics.

But, nuance is hard work.

When speech is violence

Jonathan Haidt has a great interview with WSJ on April 1, 2017. But, the matter was anything but a matter of ‘Fool’s Day’.’

Some extracts from his interview:

People older than 30 think that ‘violence’ generally involves some sort of physical threat or harm. But as students are using the word today, ‘violence’ is words that have a negative effect on members of the sacred victim groups. And so even silence can be violence.” It follows that if offensive speech is “violence,” then actual violence can be a form of self-defense.

What are the causes for this shift. He names political polarisation as one of the causes. Campuses in the United States have become overwhelmingly left-leaning. There is no room for Right/Conservative professors on campus except, perhaps in Economics?

The second cause, he mentions, is that justice means equal outcomes now. That is very dangerous. Many developing societies have made that mistake and are now trying, with great difficulty and little success, to move away from equal outcomes to equal opportunity. But, if America is now moving towards or has moved towards equal outcomes, then that is one irreversible downhill slippery road to mediocrity and oblivion, if unchecked.

Jonathan Haidt points to that in his own, understated way:

Mr. Haidt argues, what happens on campus affects the “health of our nation.” Ideological and political homogeneity endangers the quality of social science research, which informs public policy. “Understanding the impacts of immigration, understanding the causes of poverty—these are all absolutely vital,” he says. “If there’s an atmosphere of intimidation around politicized issues, it clearly influences the research.”

Then, there are other causes – not necessarily minor. He points to ‘hyper-parenting’ although he does not use that phrase. Second is the attitude of Universities and colleges that treat students as customers and that customers are always right, in that great language of commerce. I am not sure if centres of leaning and knowledge should treat students as customers or just as students – with a mixture of compassion, understanding, justice and, importantly, discipline.

That is a great finish to the interview:

“People are sick and tired of being called racist for innocent things they’ve said or done,” Mr. Haidt observes. “The response to being called a racist unfairly is never to say, ‘Gee, what did I do that led to me being called this? I should be more careful.’ The response is almost always, ‘[Expletive] you!’ ”

He offers this real world example: “I think that the ‘deplorables’ comment could well have changed the course of human history.”

Well, after the last one week of President Trump’s audacious, unprecedented and dramatic somersaults, we do not know if history is merely continuing or is changing. That is an aside.

Back to Haidt and his ‘Heterodox Academy’. How big his challenge and how long the road ahead is, is underscored by these two stories. In case you had not watched this video, please do so (ht Harikiran). It is downright scary. It is from Australia. The disease is prevalent in all affluent societies. Perhaps, this is how the wheels of societies turn.

In the final analysis, one has to wish Haidt well. He is performing a very important task here with his Heterodox Academy. It is impossible to exaggerate its necessity in these times.

Disclined to discuss and hence, disinvite

The media outlets that are relentlessly pursuing Donald Trump should pause and do a story on the data that the Heterodox Academy had presented. See here and here.

Second part is more interesting. The Left proposed more disinvitations and disrupted events more!

It shines another spotlight an aspect of the ‘Regressive Left’ behaviour that needs to be highlighted. This is not ‘Left-Liberal’ but ‘Left-intolerance’. Really, we should come up something far more accurate than ‘Left-Liberal’. There is really nothing ‘Liberal’ at all about this behaviour.

Refusing to discuss problems will not solve them or make them disappear but make positions harden and rigid. In fact, discussion of a problem is, in itself, a step towards the solution.

The media’s non-coverage of the problems faced by European nations with respect to immigrants (primarily Sweden, Belgium and Greece) is objectionable not because it is unfair, immoral but because it is so stupid. It does not even help them advance their goals, regardless of my agreement or disagreement with them. It is so counter-productive,
self-defeating and hence, so stupid.

Avoiding hard questions is neither progressivism nor enlightenment. It is escapism. Escapism has never solved problems nor made the world a better place.

Since when ostriches with heads buried deep in the sand produced problem-solving leadership?

Further, from Prof. Jonathan Haidt’ Twitter handle: The Student Assembly in Cornell U. votes down a resolution to increase ideological diversity. We should worry for America, but not for the reasons many think.

Notwithstanding Haidt

Jonathan Haidt might conclude that conservatives are on to something. He might urge dialogue. He might start the ‘Heterodox Academy’. He might feature videos and put up lists of heterodox universities. He might encourage a dialogue between two Professors, one of whom is a ‘conservative’ and the other is a ‘liberal’. I put the labels in quotes because they are misleading and/or useless, for the most part.

Yet, the so-called ‘Liberals’ come across as the most intolerant and dogmatic. Anyone who is full of certitude cannot be a Liberal.

The Democratic Party in the United States is playing with fire. As before the elections, the media is playing along. What they are doing is very dangerous and might cause the polarisation in the American society to be almost irretrievable.

When Trump said, during one of his Presidential debates, that he would not comment on accepting the election result right, he was taken to task for being anti-democratic and as confirmation of the worst fears of the media and his opponent about his inherently intolerant, authoritarian personality.

Now, the outgoing President/administration, the Democratic Party and the media are playing the same game. It is good to see some Wall Street Journal editorial writers calling them out on this. See here and here.

This paragraph is important:

This effort is all the more pernicious because it poisons with partisanship the serious issue of foreign intelligence hacking, not least by the Russians. Foreign cyber-attacks have proliferated during the Obama years, but the President has never held any national government accountable. Even when officials fingered the Russians this summer for the hacks on the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Obama did nothing but wag a finger. [Link]

This piece in WSJ correctly points out that the Democrats and their media cheerleaders are doing exactly what they accuse the Russians of wanting to do: poison the result:

But why wait? U.S. intelligence services already know most of what they’re likely to learn. Release the evidence now. Let’s see if the Kremlin really did steal RNC emails, and let’s also hear from those who don’t share CIA Director John Brennan’s “high confidence.” The last thing Americans need is for an outgoing Administration that is still sore over losing an election to assist Vladimir Putin in poisoning the result. [Link]

The Administration too has embarked on a witch-hunt for alternative media that they and the Democratic Party wrongly believe contributed to the loss of their preferred candidate. They call it fake news outlets. This is undemocratic and almost Orwellian. That is also anti-competitive and anti-market economics. One must applaud the Wall Street Journal editorial writer for calling them out on ‘fake news’ too here:

Then the press reports as major news the non-story that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has endorsed an intelligence probe that has long been underway. Talk about fake news. [Link]

To read more about this nonsensical and dangerous crusade against ‘fake news’, see here and here.

James Taranto who curates an utterly interesting and delightful (it is my loss that I discovered it only recently) daily ‘Best of the Web’ for Wall Street Journal calls out many media outlets by name for their inconsistency (read, ‘hypocrisy’) here.

A Republican Elector refuses to be swayed by false and toxic propaganda to vote according to her ‘conscience’. Her last paragraph is a classic:

I noticed another theme in the thousands of missives I’ve received. They don’t seek to understand or persuade—only to insist. Most of these people want it their way and they want it now. As a mother of two small children, I know how to handle that. [Link]

It is not happening not just in the United States but almost everywhere. Reuters also reports, citing Sunday Times, that some in Britain are trying to argue that the British government should invoke another article (Article 127 of the European Economic Area Agreement) to leave the European single market. This is hair splitting. If Britain left the EU, EU would automatically ensure that Britain left the single market.

It is clear that a verdict that had a clear lead in Britain (outside of London and Scotland) is being thwarted by elites who refuse to accept a proper democratic verdict.

Perhaps, their logic works differently. Modern liberals do not discriminate between themselves and the rest. If they went down, they would ensure that the country (and even the world) went down with them.

Jonathan Haidt took pains to show that liberals swear only by fairness and equality. Nothing else matters to them and that it was not the most appropriate thing. He argued correctly that equality was not the only dimension of fairness but that proportionality between effort and reward was also a dimension of fairness.

BTW, does any of the above strike you as being fair? If so, you are a true Liberal!

Trump may just lose an election; what about America?

(As you would notice below, this was first written on October 7, 2016, before revelations of Donald J. Trump (DJT)’s remarks on women, his apology, his press conference with some of the women Bill Clinton has had relationship with, the second Presidential debate and the so-called distancing of Paul Ryan from DJT. None of the analysis below and the conclusions are altered by them.)

As I write this on October 7, 2016, at some level, the momentum that Ms. Clinton (HRC) wrested from DJT after the first Presidential debate seems to be staying with her. This is notwithstanding the supposedly better performance of his VP running mate over hers. From here on, it appears that it is her election to lose.

(1) The tax returns of DJT are not the real issue. Most of the serious corporate backers of HRC – Google and Apple, etc., – have their own tax issues to deal with. Tax avoidance within the scope provided by the law is staple practice for many individuals and institutions.

(2) Peggy Noonan writes:

The first was Mr. Trump’s 3 a.m. tweet on Alicia Machado. Actually, that happened a week and a half ago, but this week the thought really settled in: He’s going to do that as president. Once he tweeted crazy things a lot and then he sort of slowed and then he was sort of winning and then the mad 3 a.m. tweet told you: No, it will happen as president, only it will be more serious then. This is the week his friends, staff and supporters realized it will never stop.

We do seem to have a clownish and loutish candidate with little self-discipline. Never mind that the other candidate is too disciplined in her own undisciplined ways.

(3) This article mentions how the FBI handled HRC and all her witnesses (immunising all of them) in contrast to how it handled Bob McDonnell.

(4) Check out this piece in ‘Washington Times’ here on the treatment she had meted out to the ‘Clinton ladies’ and, more importantly, the coverage of the media of her.

In addition to the other issues raised in the article, these statements stand out for me:

People cut a lot of corners when covering the Clintons, eh Carl?

I guess having a porn queen representing Hillary’s campaign is just one more sign of the Clintons’ debasement of America. Apparently, the MSM does not mind being part of this debasement.

(5) Read what Peggy Noonan wrote on the Bill Clinton critique of Obamacare:

The second was Bill Clinton’s admission that ObamaCare is a mess, “the craziest thing in the world.” At a rally in Michigan he said “you’ve got this crazy system” in which millions more people have insurance, but “the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.” Later he tried to walk it back but you can never walk back an obvious truth….

… In another world, what he said would be front-page news every day.

 (6) Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the WSJ Editorial Board, wrote on Sept. 29 that only HRC stood between the American nation and the reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit President ever to enter the White House.

(7) 17 of the top 100 newspapers in the United States have publicly endorsed HRC. None for Trump yet.

(8) Jack Hellner wrote in ‘The American Thinker’ on October 8, the day after Trump tapes were revealed:

I have never seen a media so in the tank.  The media show every day their bias by what they report, how they report, and especially what they choose not to report.  Our freedoms are in danger, and since they have no actual accomplishments to tout for their chosen candidate, they have to destroy the other.

Under normal circumstances, there is scope and room for discussion on the good (few) and bad traits (surfeit) of both the candidates and their bearing on governance in the country in the world. On policy issues, it could be easily divided into domestic – security, social, economic and foreign – trade, diplomacy and geopolitics – categories and their positions analysed threadbare. If choices were made consequently, then they would be understandable even if not agreeable.

I am not naïve enough to think that all commentators, all outlets and journalists would engage in such an exercise. Some revel in polemics, trivia and some like personality weaknesses. Some like them all. But, never has there been an overwhelming outpouring of commentary on the weakness of the other than on the strengths of the favoured. In that sense, both the objects of and the analyses reflect the decay in America.

(9) New York University development expert William Easterly had analysed coverage in The New York Times between 1960 and 2008 and found that the paper ran some 63,000 stories on autocratic governments, a staggering 40,000 on their successes, and just 6,000 on their failures. Ruchir Sharma has recorded this in his book, ‘Rise and fall of Nations’

Now, think of the above from the systemic risk perspective:

If DJT won the election, almost all of the so-called intelligentsia and the media would be ranged against him and not just in the United States of America. Media in most of the rest of the advanced economies and in the English language press in the developing world would also be against him. That is a natural check-and-balance.

On the other hand, if HRC won the election, what would be the ‘check-and-balance’ on her? After all, they have painted her the saviour of the world from the menace of DJT.

The extraordinary Presidential impunity that she would wield because of the immunity that large sections of the intelligentsia and almost all of the media have pre-emptively granted her bode ill for the Republic.

The staff at Daily Bell summarised the situation well:

This is part of a larger destruction of Western culture and values and it is ongoing. What’s taking place is not happenstance, not in Europe, nor in the US. Freedom is being destroyed, but in a deliberate manner, to send a message and increase polarization. Many currents are swirling beneath the surface that make this presidential campaign an epochal one. [Link]

The world is chugging along somewhat thoughtlessly into deep waters or unchartered territory, depending on one’s preference for metaphors.

Whoever wins, the law of unintended consequences will play out. To reiterate, it appears that it is Hillary Clinton’s election to lose. But, the manner in which she is ascending the throne would haunt the world and America for a long time to come. The elites who are engineering this outcome will ensure that all of us are extinguished by their egregious conduct.

It is in this world that my children would be growing up into full-blown adulthood. God bless them!

(This was published in Swarajya)

A response to ‘Trumpism: a new era in world politics’

I visited Andrew Batson’s blog after a long time and was browsing through his posts of several months. Read this one fully.

I read the original article in ‘Project Syndicate’ he is citing approvingly. It is not quite, ‘It is not the economy, stupid’, as Andrew Batson notes. In fact, it is very much ‘It is the economy, stupid’.

Seems like a summary of various thoughts that would help the author and the reader, eventually, to arrive at a sensible and cogent narrative of events. Perhaps. That is the optimistic conclusion. It is not a criticism.

It appears that the author leans towards the explanation offered by Joschka Fischer that it is the ‘white man’s angst’. A recent article in Wall Street Journal, part of its series on the ‘Great Unravelling’ (of the American economy and society) seems to agree with Fischer. It is an important read.

If it is the ‘white man’s rage’, then the author seems to think that the causes are socioeconomic and that simply defeating Trump or Le Pen would not suffice. See his sentence here:

“if the social and economic forces that led to their rise persist, an increasingly angry populace will simply look for a new tribune.”

Also, he seems to be sceptical of Bradford de Long’s optimism. He is not confident that the political systems would implement desirable socio-economic policies in the future since it has failed to do so in the past (last thirty years?).

So, if one wants to fix accountability for the rise of Le Pen, Trump and Geert Wilders, what would the author recommend?

He does not go there.

His conclusion seems to be one of resignation. I am inclined to agree with that. It would have to play out just as the indifference of the political, policy and educated elites to the ‘insecurities and inequalities of our hyper-globalised age’ played out for thirty-five years or so. There was mere lip service to the concerns of the losers even as politically correct pursuit of ‘gender parity, and the legal and social emancipation of sexual minorities’ searched for and reached new heights and methods. The pursuit shows no signs of abating. The pronouns at Vanderbilt University may not be its most recent nor the most egregious illustration but it qualifies as a good exhibit.

The author concludes that liberal democracy is at peril. May be, he is right and may be he is not. But, assuming that he is right, one reason it could be at peril is that, like many others he has cited in his article, he is in no hurry nor does he show any inclination to name and shame the real culprits responsible for imperilling liberal democracy.

Where there is no accountability, there will only be disenchantment, cynicism and bitterness of the mobs with their own brand of justice that would be dispensed.

Since the crime has been committed and no one seems inclined to affix or accept responsibility, the process of retribution will follow its own logic and momentum now.

There is not much purpose served in wringing hands nor blaming Trump, Le Pen and Geert Wilders. They are mere cogs in the wheel of evolution whose law is that where there is cause, there will be effect. Now, it is the turn of ‘effect’.

Just sit back and watch and survive, with luck and prayer.

Pre-suasion

Read an interesting article by Lucy Kellaway in FT on Professor Robert Cialdini’s forthcoming book, pre-suasion. Some of the things he describes defy imagination but they are real:

Another brilliant piece of pre-suasion was in a recent letter in which he addressed the ticklish matter of succession. Mr Buffett introduced the subject by saying: “I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future.” By gratuitously dragging his family into it, he ensures that every reader would take what followed as gospel.

Mr Cialdini’s favourite study was conducted on 18-month old infants who were variously shown images of a single person and pairs of people. After looking at the pictures, the infants were asked to pick up things that had been dropped on the floor. The babies who had been shown pictures of a single person were three times less likely to cooperate than those who had been shown pictures of groups. “I’m glad I was sitting down when I read that,” he says. “It proved that if we drew background attention to an idea it is more important to us.”

It is an open secret that he is helping the campaign of Ms. Clinton. The fact that the campaign team has hired him is proof itself that these things exist and work. Scott Adams of Dilbert cartoons fame calls him the ‘Godzilla’ and credits him with the idea of ‘dark’ being used as an epithet associated with Donald Trump. Scott Adams’ latest blog post on ‘Why Trump does not scare me?’. Those who want to follow the U.S. Presidential campaign using the frame of psychology and persuasion can do worse than follow his blog.

The funny thing about Lucy Kellaway’s article is the following:

People read these stuff, nod their heads and later, in a different setting, if we suggest that such tactics are adopted, their reactions are a combination of the following:

(1) They are dismissive
(2) They think they are exempt from it (how much more stupid can one get?)
(3) They think these are conspiracy theories
(4) They think that people do not deploy them.

This strange combination of ego and naivety is astounding!