Paper Men

Men are being subjected to a particularly uncomfortable form of selection these days. I call it the line up. It’s the resume. It’s the dating profile. It’s not entirely a male issue, women are subjected to the hostilities of the job market as well, but the line up is a uniquely male experience.

Increasingly, individual males are having to represent themselves in a virtual format. They must boil themselves down to a list of qualifications, perhaps a picture, and slot that profile in along side a couple hundred others. It is a distillation of male utility. “Tell us what you can do for us. Tell us why you’re useful.”

The sad but predictable result of submitting to lineups is that fewer men find success. The broader the market, the higher the bar for entry. Odds are most men are somewhere around average in looks, capabilities, and credentials. Those doing the selection will want the best applicants and so will not select most men.

In a time where geography and immediate availability were significant factors in a man’s worth, average men had a chance. In face to face interactions, men could make up for lacking “specs” on their resume or dating profile by showing character and gameness. Those qualities are impossible to certify, so there is no place for them in today’s selection process.

This leads to a selection bias towards men who look good on paper. Photogenic, participated in higher education, took only high paying jobs, never made recorded mistakes. I know some men like and I do not consider them reliable. Never straying from the beaten path does not make strong men.

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Come Together

Before the dust even had time to settle and the smell of gunpowder still hung in the air, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., specifically blamed “political rhetorical terrorism” for the shooting. “I stand here today and say stop, we have to stop,” Davis said, urging the country to come together as Americans, not Republicans and Democrats.

At the same time, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) immediately called for more gun control. McAuliffe said “there are too many guns on the street” but then said the issue shouldn’t be raised today. A reported then remarked, “If it’s not the day for it, why are you bringing it up?” The governor said he talks about the need for more background checks on gun purchases and for closing the gun show loophole all the time.

There has never in American history been an act of violence so ready made for political punditry, and never have the democrats been so tone deaf in their response. Just as the republicans are framing this as an issue with partisan politics, the democrats feel the need to engage in some partisan politics. Of particular note, they look for answers that take the blame away from them and place it back on others involved in the events of the day. For them, the reasons behind this man’s madness are unimportant, only the fact that he had the power to enact his mad will.

If the democrats had any one smart on their team, they would be framing this as an attack on American ideals. Most assassination attempts are seen as the result of sad deranged mad men, not the logical extension of a political association. If the democrats let this stick to them, it’s a failing on their part.

That being said, while the republican response of “Come together” is the right one for the time, it rings hollow. When given a little more thought, what is really says is that we should embrace the homicidal psychopaths in hopes that they’re murderous intentions might be quelled. It is the same approach that has been failing to stop Islamic extremism for decades. We do not need to come together in a mutual compromise. We need to come together to reproach the aggression growing in political discourse and that requires the liberal portion of this nation to take a seat for a moment.

Climate Accord Unconvincing

I’ve been cajoled once again into wrapping my head around an insane political battle. This time it’s the US withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Taking the US out of a huge world unifying attempt to save the environment for the purposes of preserving coal jobs is exactly the kind of thing we all expect from the sea-monster-in-chief.  But I wanted to go a little further into the matter and see what reasoning other people were using to justify this deplorable move.

The first clue I got was the number $100 Billion. It’s the annual amount that was set to be raised by involved countries to ease poorer countries into environmental stability. Notably this amount is annual and a “floor” meaning the commitment was well expected to rise over time. There is no mention of how this burden was meant to be portioned up, only that it was the responsibility of developed first wold countries to do their part because they produce more green house gasses per capita.

Following a long tradition of using shame to coerce others into action, the left has taken a particularly subtle approach to convincing us we want the accord. This is done in two steps: first make us believe the accord has meaningful impact on the environment, then shame developed countries for their production of green-house gasses by describing them as disproportionate polluters. This is reminiscent of the white shame tactic here. Richer countries foot the bill because they are at fault for the problem. China, the primary global source of pollution, is seen by the accord as one of the poor countries and will likely not be held to the same standards as the US.

I think this all is another great example of the parallel systems of thinking butting heads. On the Paris side we have the Outcome Oriented thinkers who want to control a specific variable they see as an indicator of a problem. The Pull-out side sees how thoroughly some top down imperative could screw with the process of building a strong economy. The two sides don’t even need to disagree on the matter of climate change or the seriousness thereof.

In fact, climate is the only matter not up for debate on this one. The argument sits squarely in the economic ring. The Paris accord is about enforcing non-market pressures on the global economies to change their behavior. Drawing out of the accord is about avoiding the potential economic damage that might do. The problem here is that economic models are almost entirely useless. They are poor predictors of real world variables and no one can seem to agree on which ones to use. Therefore making your argument for or against the Paris accord in economic terms is accomplishes less than nothing.

Trump highlighted this fact by siting economic reasons to not ratify the accord, and those have mostly fallen on deaf ears. In a feat of mental gymnastics, one report called his numbers fake because they describe the economic impact assuming an actual execution of the plan set out be the Obama administration. Climate/economic models are at this point so defunct even those fighting for them don’t expect their execution in any meaningful manner.

 

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.

Loyalty

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.