Natural Divisions

We might imagine that this nation is comprised of two camps. These camps are separated by the unique methods of thought I’ve describe in previous posts as Outcome/Process and The Individualist/Loyalist. Allow me to pain a picture of these camps

The Process Loyalist is concerned with those directly around him. He politically leans towards conservative libertarian. He respects patriotism and sacrifice. He finds the actions of others who do not think like him childish. He would rather purchase a tool than a finished product. Be believes that negative outcomes can and often do come from good intentions. A fight with a friend doesn’t last long and rarely results hard feelings.

The Outcome Individualist is concerned with the greatest good for the most people. She leans towards Liberal Socialist. She respects fairness and charity. She finds the actions of those who do not think like her to be the results of moral failings or evil. She views the present as it might be written in a future history book. She believes she’s been far to fair to those who would hurt others, and maybe it’s time she took the gloves off. A fight with her friend will remain in the back of her mind for some time, occasionally causing a friendship to end.

If these two camps set up right next to each other on the bank of a river, I wonder how long they might stay. If they should come to disagree on some particulars of water usage or hunting rights, how might they resolve those disputes? It’s my guess that the tents from the individualist camp might one by one pull up their stakes and move across the river. The Process Loyalists might build a bridge to remain joined with the others, but would slowly find their tenuous unity with the sister camp slipping away.

It is natural for groups to divide. All living things do so, from cells to countries. When the gulf between groups grows too large, forcing unity only breeds contempt. If division is inevitable, it is the Process Loyalists who must let it happen. The Individualists are naturally prone to separate into smaller and smaller groups. It’s only the overbearing grip of the Loyalists that forces any further association.

Morality of Rejection

The individualist thinkers are identifiable by their reaction to outrage. On almost a weekly occurrence some poor soul is subjected to the game of public name and shame by the media. Most of the folks deserve it, some do not. Justified or not, the mechanism of public shaming is hugely effective, and highly individualistic.

You might at first think public shaming would be a tool of those who care about loyalty, but the use of shame to expel a member shows not strong group cohesion, but rather highly individualistic thinkers. For them, expulsion is the only course of action because the individual cannot be corrected.

To further exemplify this, think of the times public figures have been made to apologize for an inappropriate comment. Do their apologies ever rectify the situation? Do they often return to their original social standing and continue a productive career? Does the group attempt to remunerate the situation to retain the member? No, the member falls off the map. They are metaphorically expelled from the group even though they apologized because that is how the individualists deal with conflict.

It does interest me that individualists should even take such offense at transgressions against a group. Their interests are, namely, themselves. If the actions of one member don’t directly affect another, what cause do they have to react?

The answer lays in the adoption of a moral code. Morality, as a system of absolute right and wrong, is something that can only has a place in individualistic societies. A moral man might ask “What is right?”, while a tribesman must ask “What is right for my tribe?”

Appealing to a greater sense of morality while the tribe dies makes as little sense as appealing to the individual, who belongs to no one, to think of his tribe. Both modes of though must use their own metric to derive a code of conduct.

A tribe struggling for survival has less room for abstract morality and may often permit behaviors that would been seen as wrong to the individualist. It can also less afford to expel one of it’s members for transgressions that did not directly threaten the welfare of the tribe. The tribe would have to operate with high Loyalty and low morality.

The individualistic society operates on an abstract morality because it’s members have no tribe to protect. They have no life or death scenario by which to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action, so they must invent a code of conduct. When a member transgresses against this moral code, it is the same to them as a tribe member endangering the survival of his whole tribe.

Knowing this we can understand the behaviors of the individualist. We can see where they draw their lines and how they defend them. We can also understand why what is an atrocity to one man is a necessity to another.


I’ve noticed something that has always been true, but only recently been visible to me. There is a factor in personal relationships called loyalty, and it is strongly lacking. No, I don’t mean that in the cryptic facebook update complaining about your ex sort of way. I’m referring to a very specific social construct.

Loyalty is effect of two competing forces that happen to both result in strong social bonds. The first is the pressure for conformity. Fear of rejection, and ejection, from a social group breeds conformity. People’s differences are compressed and their similarities expanded. This allows the smooth integration of desperate individual personalities.

The second is pressure towards acceptance. If you eject too many people from the group, your group ceases to exist, so there is a very real need to accept differences between individuals. Aside from behaviors that directly threaten the group or break fundamental rules, errant behavior should not result in expulsion.

The reason I wrap these two forces up in the one term loyalty, is because that word holds a lot of emotional weight and our monkey brains understand the emotion better than the concept. With a loyal group you can have both the assurance that you will not be rejected and the impulse to correct your behavior. It’s high corrigibility mixed with absolute belonging.

The alternative to loyalty is individualism. With individualism, the first factor of conformity is rejected. The individual stands alone and unique. Efforts to change the individual are seen as attacks. The second factor, acceptance, though often touted as a pillar of the individualist society, is also rejected. In it’s place lays indifference in the guise of tolerance. People are only allowed to be different as long as they remain tolerable and do not offend an abstract sense of morality.

Divergence form this abstract morality is dealt with through isolation and disassociation. If you do not agree with the group, you leave it rather than try to change it. If the group does not agree with you, they expel you rather than try to change or accept you. Individualism is a solvent to society.

Restricted Access to Urges

I spend much of my time and mental energy making decisions. In a sense, making decisions is all anyone does, the rest is just twitching of muscle fiber. In this process of decision making I’ve come to identify a push pull between high-level desires that involve future reward and low-level urges that involve pretty immediate reward.

Then there is a third form of decision making that I’ve come to recognize recently, preventative behavior. It’s not really a different type, it’s really just a form of the high-level stuff, but it’s still interesting. Preventative decision making is anything that modifies behavior in such a way as to avoid being exposed to a choice in which low-level urges might come into play. Largely this stuff is socially conditioned.

It came to mind when I was thinking about the social taboo on infidelity and open relationships. I don’t strongly feel the urge to cheat, nor do I feel interest in an open relationship. What strikes me as odd about that is I don’t think I made a choice about either of those. I know on an urge level sex is highly persuasive, so it should seem like a decision that requires heavy high-level counter balance to keep me from succumbing to urges. But my only experience of the matter is general indifference.

And that’s because I’ve steered clear of the choice all together. Through a mix of social conditioning and personal commitment to uphold said conditioning, I’ve never come close to having to make an actual choice. If I expand on this idea, I realize that there’s a whole host of behaviors I’ve never even considered, not because I’ve chosen not to, but because I’ve chosen not to choose.

I don’t think I’d ever murder, but the truth is I’ve never made the choice not to murder. I have taken steps to avoid ever even coming close to thinking about it. I’d never rob, steal, assault, vandalize, or in other ways break the law. Not by choice, but by avoidance of choice.

It leads me to the question, is it possible that without this aversion to situations that might present me with unfavorable choices I’d have a very different set of behaviors? Are criminals evidence that just being presented the choice to break the law is enough to enter an unwinnable situation? Would we all do the same stupid things if presented with the opportunities on a daily basis?

The next question that should follow is: Do highly regulated social structures result in lower crime and impulsive behaviors? Does social conditioning actually work for this stuff?

Guns Don’t Kill People, Problem Solving Does.

If there were one national debate to point to as the prototype of bad arguments, it would be the gun control debate. No, I’m not saying a particular side has poor arguments and is clearly wrong, I’m saying everyone engaged in the conversation seems to be doing a poor job of communicating their points. This is evidenced by the fact that, despite raging for decades, very little has changed in the eyes of the public. People who want guns still want them, people do don’t – don’t.

Like all good endless debates, the conflict arises from the warring factions actually having two entirely separate conversations that never meet in the middle. The pro gun control advocates are having a conversation about public well being. All the while the gun rights advocates are having a conversation about personal autonomy. You’d think those two concepts would make for an interesting and fruitful debate, but since both sides are unaware of the disjointed nature of their debate, they just see the arguments of the opposition as drivel.

Here is my big idea: people can be separated into two groups on any given subject; outcome think and process think. There’s already a hundred ways that people try to explain the divide between liberals and conservatives. The difference is my idea is much better than those other models, so listen to me instead.

Outcome Think just means that problems are identified and addressed by their outcomes. Billy is getting bad grades so we do what we need to improve his grades. In this case his grades are how education is measured and fixing the grades is considered the same as fixing the education.

With Process Think, there merely needs to be a system in place that is believed to lead to a desirable outcome. As long as billy is studying hard, his education is fine and grades may not be a valid indicator of that.

Neither of these ways of thinking are complete. They narrow the complexity of the problem down to easily defined variables. In the case of billy, both methods aim to improve his education, but because that is difficult to define they look at either grades or study habits. 

Ideally, both the process and the outcome should be considered, but that’s hard. Like, really hard. So instead people pick one or the other way of modeling their problems and stick to it. The one you pick has a lot to do with the political party you side with. On average liberals are outcome thinkers, conservatives are process thinkers.

Liberals see that the outcome of gun violence is bad. Conservatives see that the process of owning a gun is good. Everything after that is just mental gymnastics to defend that central viewpoint.

This divergence in thought process leads to yet one more distinctive characteristic of the two party system. The gap between outcome equality and opportunity equality. When it was pointed out that the number of women in congress is very low compared to the number of women in the country, liberals cried sexism.

In their minds, the only way to tell if the process was just is if the outcome fit their prescribed ideal. Since women are equal to men, and half the population is women, half of congress should be women. The conservatives saw nothing wrong because there was no rule in place barring women from election. The process was just, even if the outcome did not appear so. In their minds the ratio of men to women was a sign of women’s preferences rather than oppression.

Many people mocked the idea of outcome equality as being naive, but it was just a logical extension of outcome thinking. In that particular case, it was outcome thinking directed at the wrong type of outcome, but the thought processes was the same as other less ridiculed liberal agendas.

You aren’t Fit to Decide

A small thought experiment for you:

Consider the relative nature of fact. If you need persuasion on this matter, just read anything by Scott Adams. Consider how, for any given matter, there can be two completely contradictory perspectives – both of which are thoroughly real to their respective holders. If two experts on a given subject were to debate against each other in front of you, you would be not  suddenly become more fit to interpret the facts then they were, and since they do not agree,you can do little more than pick a side.

Now consider the matter of personal choice. You are tasked with choosing one of two options based on available information and projected outcomes. In a sense, you now play the role of the two experts debating.  It is your job to make arguments for and against each option. It is also your job to decide which argument is most convincing. If done honestly, all but the absolute worst options could be given persuasive arguments.

Given that the two experts debating does little to inform the layman, why do we assume that undertaking the same task alone will yield a better result. Considering that there is only one participant in choice making rather than two, the information and modeling of reality can only be worse, not better. The ability to pick between equal models does not go up when a participant is removed from the debate.

It can be said, then, that personal choice is nearly entirely arbitrary. An individual has almost no chance of (1) gathering relevant facts (2) synthesizing an accurate representation of reality (3) Making multiple viable projection models for each option (4) Objectively comparing the end states of each model in an exhaustive manner.

From this we might rightly conclude that rational choice is dead, or at least relegated to robots. It’s never been assumed that humans used true rational choice, as that would by definition require total knowledge and infinite cognitive power. Instead humans were thought to use a mixture of rational choice aided by heuristics.

I say that anything short of true rational choice is just heuristics. There is no way to mix the two. Our projections are heuristic, our comparisons are heuristic, and our reality is largely hallucination.

You are an Outlaw

Consider this scenario: All laws are enforced by a squad of robot police that are capable of identifying crime with 100% effectiveness. They see all, hear all, and ticket all offenses. Would you want to live in this system?

Most sane folks would say no. Everyone bends, breaks, or disagrees with the law in some places. But consider what that says about the legal system in place now. Our laws are only bearable if not enforced fully. A legal system that had full enforcement of the law would quickly uncover how deeply at odds with human behavior our codes and statues are.

I’ve talked a lot about driving in past posts, so I’ll use that example. It’s almost a certainty that the people who legislated the hands-free laws occasionally use their phones in the car. They also speed and drive with a BAC slightly over .08 from time to time. It’s impossible to imagine that they have not done those things at least once. They also probably don’t consider those hypocrisies as major moral shortfalls. And yet they advocate for harsh punishments on those very behaviors, and they’re not wrong to do so.

The law, as it is and will continue to be written, accounts for the inevitability that it will only be enforced some of the time. It is my intuition that laws have an inbuilt assumption of partial enforcement. No law maker could conceive that the police would catch every single person who breaks a law, and so they must write the law as a general deterrent. In aim of this, punishments for breaking a law are not made to be fair and just reprisals for the actual crime committed, but rather sufficiently harsh to deter potential law breakers.

The formula goes as such: Consider a fair punishment for a law (X). Consider the likely enforcement rate ratio (Y). X ($500 fine) divided by Y (0.5 enforcement rate) Equals punishment of $1000. In this way the risk/reward ratio of breaking the law is always evened out. In a mathematical sense your calculated risk of punishment is exactly the same as if the law had an enforcement ratio of 1.0.

This has the unique principle of making hard to enforce crimes come with disproportionately high punishments and commonly enforced laws having relaxed punishments. Real laws only somewhat follow that pattern. An example that breaks the pattern is the use of traffic cameras. These devices have a near 100% but have kept the same penalties as the less through police enforcement.

For right now the question of how laws should affect human behavior can be left unanswered. The technology to enforce the law is not here yet. It will have to be addressed at some point, an hopefully that comes before Connecticut rolls out it’s kill drones.