Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Yet Another CEO for (Vice) President

In our last presidential election, Mitt Romney (and, before him, Herman Cain) made much of his background as a CEO and argued that it made him especially qualified to strengthen the economy. Given that our last CEO President was Herbert Hoover, it seemed a dubious assumption.  But no matter, I compared the most recent CEO Presidents and candidates I knew of and ranked them as follows:
Comparing CEO candidates for President, Mitt Romney is way out in front of the pack. Then again, I would put the disastrous Hoover second. Romney has better recession-fighting tools at hand than Hoover did and is less likely to be captive to dangerous conventional wisdom. . . . . Distantly trailing Romney and Hoover is Herman Cain who, although unqualified and prone to disastrous policies, is sane and appears to respect democratic norms. Distantly behind him is mad autocrat Perot. And bringing up the rear is Donald Trump, who we will all pretend is not there.
As for Trump, my assessment was:
To many of the Republican base, obnoxiousness is the most important quality in a leader. They equate obnoxiousness with firm and unyielding principle. So I guess is that if you regard obnoxiousness as the prime qualification in a leader, then Trump is perfect. Otherwise, I can't think of a single good thing to say about him.
Well now Trump has effectively locked up the Republican nomination, while Ted Cruz, the nearest he has to a credible challenger, has named Carly Fiorina as is running mate presumably either to balance the ticket or to counter Hillary Clinton by naming a woman.  I would consider the chances Cruz winning a brokered convention, going on the win the general election, and then being done in by one of his many enemies, leaving Fiorina as President to be essentially zero.  But maybe being runner-up for vice-presidency will make her a successful candidate in 2020.  So let me reevaluate CEO candidates, including Carly, in order of preference.

Mitt Romney.  Pride of place continues to go to Mitt Romney.  Romney is a decent fellow and would have been an okay President if only he hadn't belonged to a party that had lost its collective senses.

 Herbert Hoover.  Hoover's presidency was a disaster, but only because he was following an unquestioned conventional wisdom.  Hoover seemed to have it all -- extraordinary administrative competence, the moral authority of a great humanitarian, international respect, and such domestic admiration as to make him seem almost above partisan politics.  Under more normal circumstances, he would probably have been an excellent President.  It remains my firm and settled opinion that, although Hoover was bad, no one else in his place would have done any better; the that disaster the occurred was the only thing that made it possible to toss conventional wisdom aside and try something -- anything -- else.  

Carly Fiorina.  While Hoover was a successful businessman, Fiorina has mostly been a failure. While Hoover was universally admired and respected (at least until the stock market crashed), Fiorina has made herself a lot of enemies.  So I would prefer Herbert Hoover as President to Carly Fiorina. On the other hand, Fiorina appears to inhabit the same reality that I do.  She has run for office before. She has serious, considered positions on most major policy issues of the day.  She shows no signs of disrespecting (or simply not understanding) basic democratic norms.  In short, while I don't think she would make a good President, the prospect of a Carly Fiorina presidency does not induce any panic on my part, or even too much alarm.

Herman Cain.  Herman Cain was utterly and grossly unqualified to be President and did not understand many of the important issues facing the country.  On the other hand, he was a likeable guy and showed no signs of being either dictatorial or irrational.  Presumably he was sensible enough to listen to his advisers who did understand those issues and recognize the value of their knowledge. Unfortunately, those advisers would be Republicans. A Cain presidency would be alarming, but not quite in the panic mode.

Ross Perot and Donald Trump.  I was perhaps too flip in dismissing Donald Trump as even worse than Ross Perot.  On more sober consideration, it is a tough choice.  Both showed marked authoritarian tendencies and a complete failure to appreciate democratic norms, so consider it a wash in that department.  Perot was a serious candidate who knew and cared about national issues and had real policy positions and proposed real policies.  Trump is a bunch of hot air who not only doesn't know or care about national issues, he doesn't see any reason why he should know or care.  Perot was qualified to be President.  Trump manifestly is not.  And while Cain, though utterly unqualified, would most likely have listened to people who knew what they were talking about, Trump doesn't seem to see why knowing about the issues is important at all and sees his instincts as more important than knowing any actual facts.  The junior Bush had that trait, and it led to stupid, senseless war. Trump makes Bush seem downright wonkish by comparison.  So points to Perot on being qualified.

On the other hand, Trump is merely a buffoon. Perot showed signs of outright clinical paranoia.  Given the choice between a grossly unqualified narcissistic buffoon and a clinically insane President, I suppose even Donald Trump might seem like the lesser evil.  But then again, outright clinical insanity in a President would presumably be sufficient to trigger the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and have him declared incapable of carrying out his office and the Vice-President take his place.  Mere narcissistic buffoonery is not sufficient.

In short, the prospect of either Trump or Perot as President would make me panic.  Perot would be a more intense panic, but one with a reasonable prospect of remedy.  Trump would be somewhat less intense, but it would continue for four years.  Call it a tie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

So, What Does a Good Balance Between Depth and Breadth Look Like?

So, if one accepts my proposal that there is a trade-off between social breadth and social depth, that the trade-off is unfortunate because both are good, but that it is real nonetheless, where does that leave us?  Can a reasonable balance be found between depth and breadth?  And, if so, what does it look like and how can it be achieved?

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is Albion's Seed and its account of the Quakers and the remarkable degree of both depth and breadth they managed to achieve at the same time.  I am not suggesting that this achievement is limited to the Quakers.  Jains (I believe) have done something similar in India.  Jews have sometimes managed something like it in parts of Europe.  Early Christian communities were spectacular in both regards.  But the account of Quakers in Albion's Seed is the most detailed description I know of any of these societies, and most revealing.

The Quakers made a very deep social commitment to one-another.  Quaker communities in England pooled resources to allow members to move to America.  Quakers who could not afford passage came over in indenturement (about half did so), confident that their fellow Quakers would would help them rise above their condition and start a new life.  (This was in contrast to Virginia, where indentured servants, even if they outlasted their bondage, could expect little on the other end besides poverty and degradation).  Quakers formed extended commercial networks. doing business especially with each other and allowing each other special breaks. Throughout Pennsylvania they build "loving neighborhoods" of clustered farms, living in mutual support.  Quakers joined together for Sunday meetings, for church business meetings, and for gatherings like barn raisings and house raisings. Quakers were forbidden to take their differences among each other to court, but instead brought them to the meeting to be arbitrated.

This social depth was not without its problems, some of which are inherent to close-knit societies.  For a religion focusing so strongly on individual conscience, the Quakers were remarkable conformist.  The meeting regulated the minutest details of its members' lives, setting forth exacting standards of clothing and everything else, and requiring members who did not follow the rules to stand before the meeting and "take shame upon themselves."  Marriage required approval of the men's and women's meetings (and of separate meetings if the spouses belonged to different congregations), the opportunity of all members to comment on the marriage and voice objections, and the signing of certificates by numerous members.

But if this social depth could sometimes be stifling, it was not purchased by a loss of breadth.  Quite the contrary, Quakers showed a degree of breadth in their commitments almost unheard of in their day.  Pennsylvania had no established church and admitted all monotheists, even Catholics and Jews. Only Rhode Island granted broader religious freedom.  The Quakers admitted not only other religions, but other nationalities, particularly German Mennonites and other pietists.  They made a sincere effort to maintain good relations with the Indians and respect their rights.  (If they were not always successful, they did better in this regard than anyone else).  They were also the first people to challenge race slavery on moral grounds and to turn it back, not as economically unfeasible, but as morally unacceptable.  Significantly, David Hackett Fischer notes, they extended to everyone else the same rights they demanded for themselves.  While other people, from New England Puritans, French Jacobins, and Israeli Jews, were eloquent in proclaiming their own liberty, when given power they often did not respect the same freedom in others.  The Quakers did.  They rejected the long-standing assumption that freedom was a zero-sum game, that one person's (or group's) gain in liberty was necessarily someone else's loss and instead proclaimed universal "reciprocal liberty" for all -- a freedom rooted in the Golden Rule, that if you would not have other people infringe on your rights, you should not infringe on the rights of others.

How did they do it?  Fischer does not address this issue directly, but one can see some hints about what made such a combination possible, including some factors that may not be easy to duplicate.

Geography may have contributed.
Pennsylvania was a land of rolling hills and valleys "like waves of the sea."  (p. 580).  Each valley could form its own tight-knit community and be geographically separated from other communities to experience little infringement.

Quakers favored limited government.
Quakers were also unusual in distinguishing between state and society.  To many contemporaries, these were not distinct categories.  It was the state's responsibility to ensure a proper social order, including religious conformity, an all-encompassing social hierarchy, and the like.  The Quakers developed the radical concept that some things were simply not the government's business.  It need not enforce uniformity in society.  Rather, the separate communities regulated a wide range of behavior outside the state's purview.  The state's role was to ensure that these communities did not infringe on each other's peace.

Quakers cultivated rigid self-restraint.
Quakers were famous for their asceticism.  Even the Puritans seemed like hedonists by comparison. Quaker meetings had strict dress codes, amounting to a uniform.  Puritans favored recreation insofar as it was necessary to maintain physical and emotional health, opposing it only when people went overboard and indulged in recreation just for fun.  Quakers distrusted any recreation that did not also serve some useful purpose.  Their concept of the limited state did not keep them from outlawing "all prizes, stage plays, cards, dice, may games, masques, revels, bull-baitings, cock-fightings, bear-baitings and the like." (p. 552).  While Puritans were strict in forbidding sex outside of marriage and "unnatural" sex (i.e., anything that interfered with conception), they encouraged it within marriage.  Quakers distrusted sex even within marriage and were so prudish that women would not admit to having anything below the waist except for "ankles."  Puritans were supporters of education at all levels from elementary to university; Quakers distrusted education that did not serve a useful purpose and frowned on "needless" learning.  Even visiting and socializing were looked upon with distrust unless they served a useful purpose such as a barn raising.

Quakers were a commercial people.
I have come to the conclusion that capitalism really is "liberal" in the sense of encouraging social breadth because it encourages non-hostile interaction between groups and broadening of horizons in search of trade.  Quakers were merchants and traders, who did frequent business with each other, but also built expanded and far-flung networks.

Quaker immigration policy was religiously, ethnically, linguistically and (sort of) racially expansive, but culturally restrictive.
As previously mentioned, Quakers admitted all monotheists to their society.  The Quakers themselves were both English and Welsh.  They admitted a large German population and had German-speaking communities and a German language press.  They did not admit immigrants who were not white, but they went farther than anyone else in seeking (however imperfectly) to respect the rights of the black and Indian residents in their midst and include them in their society.  But they did expect non-Quakers admitted to their society to play by Quaker rules.  This did not mean becoming Quakers, or behaving exactly like Quakers, but it did mean behaving in ways acceptable and non-scandalous to Quakers and following something like their rules of self-restraint.  This meant not infringing on other people's peace, but also behaving with proper decorum, dressing in a plain style, and so forth.

While Quakers got along just fine with German pietists and made at least the attempt to find room for blacks and Indians, they could not abide the rowdy British borderers who became the back countrymen.  The borderers were a rowdy, hard-drinking, violent bunch, prone to taking the law into their own hands, and their young women wore scandalously revealing outfits.  The problem was not just that they did not play by Quaker rules, but that their numbers were overwhelming.  (Fischer estimates the total Quaker migration at around 25,000 and the back country migration as closer to 250,000).  The Quakers' first response to the borderers was to send them off the the frontier to serve as a buffer against hostile Indians.  But in the end the back countrymen's overwhelming numbers made them dominant.  (To this day, my law professor said that Pennsylvania is known as "Two fine cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- surrounding Alabama.")

So, what lessons can we take from that in this day and age?  Well, Pennsylvania geography is not readily duplicated, and becomes less relevant in the modern world.

Limited government is an interesting matter.  On the one hand, government is bigger now than ever before.  On the other hand, the Quakers' revolutionary ideas about the proper relationship between the individual and the state, and that many things are simply not the state's business, have by now become mainstream and are widely taken for granted.  I should also note here another shortcoming of very tight-knit societies. Just because a community enforces its mores informally without the intervention of the state does not mean that abuses of power can be excluded.  Quite the contrary, abuses of power can be rampant in close-knit societies, and be universally concealed and protected without recourse.  See, for instance, sexual abuse by the clergy.  The Quakers had the admitted advantage of not having a clergy and of being generally anti-hierarchical.  But cultivating separate, close-knit communities, each tending to its own with a minimal state merely keeping order between them.

As for self-restraint, certainly we don't exercise the same kind of self-restraint that the Quakers did, but I have gone on record saying that we exercise a lot more of it than we may give ourselves credit for.  Look at two lanes of traffic merging and how well everyone has developed an unwritten rule the each car shall let exactly one car merge ahead of it, no more and no less.  To fail to allow a car to merge ahead of you is to be unfair to the other stream of traffic.  To let more than more ahead is to be unfair to the other drivers behind you.  Or when traffic lights go out, the two streets do the same, with each allowing one set of car go through in turn.  (It is slow and inefficient, but peaceable).  Or look for a parking space in a crowded parking lot and notice how well respected handicapped parking spaces are, no matter how frustrating the lack of open spaces may be.  Foreigners visiting the US marvel that restaurants can leave condiments on the table without their being swiped, and that stores put displays of pumpkins and firewood in front, and the vast majority of customers carry them in and pay for them.  All fine and good, a social conservative may say.  It is certainly good that Americans are courteous drivers and respect private property, but that is not enough.  What about our shocking degree of sexual indulgence?  I suppose I would say that it is much exaggerated.  Americans fully condone sex outside of marriage, but not so much out of a committed relationship.  And in many ways our society demands an unparalleled degree of sexual restraint.  Throughout most of history, interaction between men and women has been closely restricted on the assumption that if men and women are allowed to mingle freely, nature will inevitably take its course.  Our own society allows free mingling but demands that people (read: men) put their libidos on hold except in appropriate contexts.  And it turns out that men are capable of doing just that.

As for the commercial nature of Quakers, well, our society is the most commercial that has ever existed and it has, indeed, done much to advance the cause of social breadth, though at the cost of social depth.  And, interestingly enough, this is something that many liberals freely acknowledge and deplore, while conservatives lament the result while remaining willfully blind to the cause.

As for immigration policy -- well, that is especially relevant nowadays, isn't it?  And I would take it to mean that racial, ethnic, religious and even linguistic diversity do not have to undermine a healthy society, and that differences in culture can be tolerated -- but with limits.  A society can open its doors to immigrants and maintain its social health, but it must make its rules clear, and it must make clear to immigrants that if you want to move to our society, you will have to play by our rules.  And finally, the Quakers' experience with back countrymen goes to show that a society not strong enough to enforce its rules will see them come to an end.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Life, the Universe, and Authoritarians

Once you start identifying liberals with social breadth and conservatives with social depth, suddenly it starts to explain a lot, and you start seeing examples everywhere.  (Yes, this may be partly the case of the man with the hammer who thinks everything looks like a nail).  Liberals reaction to outsiders is to engage with them (albeit in a superficial way), while conservative reaction is to disengage.  And when outsiders want to engage whether you want to or not, indifference to outsiders can be easily transformed into hostility.  Certainly it is not a new insight that many people can be immensely helpful, supportive and generally good to one another while also being cruel and merciless to outsiders.

And I started noticing this theme particularly in wildly caricatured form in science fiction.

Consider Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  The Federation is at war with their most powerful and ruthless enemy yet* -- the Dominion.  Our heroes encounter a race of super-soldiers called the Jem'Hadar -- merciless, suicidally aggressive, and with technology far beyond our own, all in service of an evil empire known as the Dominion, which is bent on conquest of anything that stands in its way -- including the Federation.  They can beam through our shields, walk through a force field, beam seemingly unlimited distance, and defeat the strongest star ship with ease. They also seem to know a disturbing amount about us, while we know very little about them.

Our side seems to have only one trump that may be able to match the Dominion -- Odo, the Changeling/shape shifter, a race of beings whose natural state is somewhere between gelatin and liquid metal, but who can assume any solid form they wish, together with its strength and power.  Our heroes set out in a new, super-powered ship to find the home world of the "Founders" (the leaders of the Dominion) and try to convince them that the Federation is no threat.  But the super-powered ship is attacked and as easily overpowered as any.

Everyone is captured except Odo, who escapes with his best friend, Kira.  Odo arrives on his home world, where the Changelings form a vast, shimmering sea known at the Great Link, in which the Changelings join physically and telepathically, in the bliss of eternal communion.  They can separate and act as individual beings whenever they want, or melt in and become a single being.  It is the ultimate expression of deep commitment, such as no solid can ever imagine. No Changeling has ever harmed or coerced another.  And the viewer starts to feel a sense of hope, that maybe the Federation has found an ally powerful enough to challenge even the Dominion.  Various distractions get thrown at us, mostly as red herrings to increase the shock at the Big Reveal.  The Changelings are the Dominion!  Hunted, hounded, and persecuted by the solids, the Changelings responded by seeking to dominate and control everyone else, "Because, what you can control, can't hurt you."  And so it turns out that the Changelings, who have achieved the ultimate depth of commitment, have done so only at the expense of all breadth.  And they are not merely conservatives, but supreme authoritarians, seeking to impose order on a chaotic universe and regarding anything not under their control as an intolerable threat.

Memory Alpha, speaking of the only other Changeling we meet as an individual:
She rationalized her kind's dislike for humanoids, and ultimately the war waged against them, by recounting the suspicion, hatred and violence they had experienced thousands of years ago when exploring the galaxy. Built on that prejudice, her mistrust kept growing and she was very proud that her kind, through the creation of the Dominion, had finally become the "hunters", controlling the destinies of hundreds of other races, "because what you can control, can't hurt you". She called the murders and deaths the Founders were responsible for after the creation of the Dominion as bringing "order" to the galaxy.
In short, despite the beautiful depth of the Great Link, the Changelings' rejection of any sort of breadth, their refusal to count anyone outside of their own kind in their moral calculus turned them into a race of monsters.

But I prefer a lighter-hearted piece linking conservatism to authoritarianism -- Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe, and Everything.  Deadly killer robots (in the form of cricket players) are on the prowl, threatening the very existence of Life, the Universe, and Everything.  Slartibartfast (whose name is presumably Magathrean for exposition) shows clueless human Arthur Dent an Informational Illusion about who is behind the killer robots:  (see pp. 65-66).
They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns which made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex.
. . . . . . . . 
The people in the group were clearly alien, if only because they seemed a little tall, thin, angular and almost as pale as to be white, but otherwise they appeared remarkably pleasant; a little whimsical perhaps, one wouldn’t necessarily want to spend a long coach journey with them, but the point was that if they deviated in any way from being good straightforward people it was in being perhaps too nice rather than not nice enough.
Is it too much of a stretch to say that the overwhelming niceness of the Krikketers is really just their social depth?  (Many a secular liberal has been surprised to find something like it at conservative Christian churches as well).  Their world is idyllic with only one disturbing thing -- their sky is completely black, with no moon or stars because they are in a dust cloud that cuts off all sight of the rest of the universe.  Indeed, they have no concept of a universe and are barely aware of the sky at all. As Slartibartfast Expositious explains:
"You see, the reason why they have never thought ‘We are alone in the Universe’ is that until tonight they don’t know about the Universe. Until tonight . . . .Imagine,” he said, “never even thinking ‘We are alone’ simply because it has never occurred to you to think that there’s any other way to be.”
Then a spaceship crashes down on their planet.  The idea of something falling from the sky simply never occurred to them.  (Um, doesn't it ever rain on Krikket?)  They use the ship as a prototype to build one of their own to shoot off and see if there is anything out there.  The Informational Illusion continues to show their first flight into space, and the sense of awe is so strong that even Adams briefly adopts a serious tone:  (See page 70).
The coldness and heaviness and blankness of it took a slow grip on Arthur’s heart, and he felt acutely aware of the feelings of the Krikkit pilots which hung in the air like a thick static charge. They were now on the very boundary of the historical knowledge of their race. This was the very limit beyond which none of them had ever speculated, or even known that there was any speculation to be done.  
The darkness of the cloud buffeted at the ship. Inside was the silence of history. Their historic mission was to find out if there was anything or anywhere on the other side of the sky, from which the wrecked spaceship could have come, another world maybe, strange and incomprehensible though this thought was to the enclosed minds of those who had lived beneath the sky of Krikkit. History was gathering itself to deliver another blow. Still the darkness thrummed at them, the blank enclosing darkness. It seemed closer and closer, thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier. And suddenly it was gone.
They flew out of the cloud.  
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.  
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.  
“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home. On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.
 And so they set out to destroy the rest of the universe.  As Slartibartfast explains to Arthur:
“Overnight,” said Slartibartfast, “the whole population of Krikkit was transformed from being charming, delightful, intelligent ...”  
"... if whimsical ...” interpolated Arthur. 
"... ordinary people,” said Slartibartfast, “into charming, delightful, intelligent ...”  
"... whimsical ...”  
"... manic xenophobes. The idea of a Universe didn’t fit into their world picture, so to speak. They simply couldn’t cope with it. And so, charmingly, delightfully, intelligently, whimsically if you like, they decided to destroy it."
Or, to be a bit cynical, from conservatives into authoritarians.  Their threshold of activation was extremely low!  Krikkiters never had to worry about the trade-off between depth and breadth because they never knew, and never had any concept of people unlike themselves or a world beyond their own.**  Never recognizing any need for breadth, the Krikketers were free to focus on depth and form a "charming, delightful, intelligent, if whimsical" society of great social depth.  Having no concept of breadth, they were completely unprepared when the need for it came along.  Different people have very different thresholds for when outsiders start to be seen as a threat.  To Krikketers, their threshold was met simply by knowing that a universe beyond their world existed.  And, the rest of the universe being completely outside their moral calculus, they had no compunctions about setting out to destroy it.

They prove remarkably efficient at it. They are ultimately defeated by a medium-sized galaxy, but it takes about 2,000 years and 2 grillion casualties.  “That’s a whole lotta stiffs,” says the judge at the war crimes tribunal.  Clearly coexistence is out of the question!  Yet the Krikketers are such obviously good people that the tribunal can't bring itself to destroy them.  So it locks their planet and star into a Slo-Time envelope until the end of the rest of the universe, at which point they would be released and could have their solitude, freed from the necessity of making and difficult trade-offs between depth and breadth.  But then it turns out that one of their killer robot ships got away and is preparing to release Krikket from its Slo-Time envelope so they can finish the job.  That is where our story begins.

But in the end, Adams couldn't face the implications of his own story.  If so extreme a preference for depth over breadth can make people at once so nice and so monstrous -- well, the implications are more than a little disturbing.  So it turns out that the people of Krikket are not responsible for their own actions.  They are actually being manipulated by an Evil Computer that brainwashing them to do things they would not otherwise do.  The real Krikketers, without its malign influence, have no desire to destroy the rest of the Universe, and really just want to be left alone.  Some of them are even considering sporting ties with the rest of the Universe, which would be seriously complicated if they blew it up.

And I will admit, after having stretched the story this far, it really is going to far to suggest that the Evil Computer represents a demagogic politician stirring up people who just want to mind their own business into hating other people.  The computer was manipulating the people of Krikket without any awareness on their part that it even existed.  Demagogic politicians, by contrast, are publicity hounds who stir people up very openly and definitely want everyone to know about them.

Still, ultimately demagogic politicians can transform populations of charming, delightful, intelligent (if whimsical) ordinary people into charming delightful, intelligent (whimsical) manic xenophobes. People who prefer depth to breadth may very well be more charming, delightful, intelligent (and whimsical) than people who prefer breadth to depth.  But they are also much, much more vulnerable to being transformed into manic xenophobes.  And any liberal who wants to argue the superiority of breadth over depth does well to start there.

_____________________________________________
*Well, except maybe the Borg.
**What about differences within Krikket?  Wouldn't there have been some?  Realistically, yes, it seems a safe assumption.  However, it is a well-established convention in science fiction that every planet except Earth is a Planet of Hats operating like a small-scale society where everyone is alike. Yes, I know it is utterly unrealistic, but it is a literary convention, dammit!  Deal with it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Liberals, Conservatives, and Authoritarians

All right, so back to authoritarianism, what is it?  I have suggested in my own taxonomy that liberals prefer social breadth to social depth, conservative prefer depth to breadth, and authoritarians take a hostile or punitive attitude toward outsiders.  We have to be careful here, as Jonathan Haidt often warns, to avoid definitions that simply conflate conservative with authoritarian, definitions like, "People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders."

But Haidt does endorse the work of researcher Karen Stenner on the subject.  This overview of her work is interesting.  Critical to the theory of authoritarianism is the theory of activation:
In an influential 2005 book called The Authoritarian Dynamic, Stenner argued that many authoritarians might be latent — that they might not necessarily support authoritarian leaders or policies until their authoritarianism had been "activated." 
This activation could come from feeling threatened by social changes such as evolving social norms or increasing diversity, or any other change that they believe will profoundly alter the social order they want to protect. In response, previously more moderate individuals would come to support leaders and policies we might now call Trump-esque. 
Other researchers, like Hetherington, take a slightly different view. They believe that authoritarians aren't "activated" — they've always held their authoritarian preferences — but that they only come to express those preferences once they feel threatened by social change or some kind of threat from outsiders. 
But both schools of thought agree on the basic causality of authoritarianism. People do not support extreme policies and strongman leaders just out of an affirmative desire for authoritarianism, but rather as a response to experiencing certain kinds of threats.
The third insight came from Hetherington and American University professor Elizabeth Suhay, who found that when non-authoritarians feel sufficiently scared, they also start to behave, politically, like authoritarians. 
But Hetherington and Suhay found a distinction between physical threats such as terrorism, which could lead non-authoritarians to behave like authoritarians, and more abstract social threats, such as eroding social norms or demographic changes, which do not have that effect. 
 Okay, so let's give credit for an important insight here.  People do not desire authoritarianism as such, they turn to authoritarian leaders for protection from threats, i.e., what really underlies authoritarianism is fear.  But people are divided into two either/or categories, ones who are activated only by an actual physical threat, and ones who are activated by any sort of change.

But there is another way of seeing things, treating "activation" not as an either/or, but as a spectrum.  Anyone feeling threatened enough will respond in an authoritarian sort of way.  But different people have different threat thresholds.  And here is where I think the liberal/conservative distinction and the belief that conservatives are more prone to authoritarianism than liberals can be valid.  People who prefer depth to breadth have a lower threat threshold from outsiders than people who prefer breadth to depth.  In other words, people who value depth over breadth (conservatives) take less of a threat to "activate" into hostility toward outsiders (authoritarianism) than people who value breadth over depth (liberals).

Or, put differently, people who complain about conflating authoritarianism with conservatism are right.  There is nothing "anti-other" about conservatism, although it is indifferent and incurious toward outsiders.  But people who equate conservatism with authoritarianism have half a point there too.  The more conservative people are (i.e., the more they value depth over breadth), the less it takes for them to feel threatened by outsiders and be "activated" into authoritarianism.

Recall Robert Altemeyer's iteration of the Global Change Game (pp. 181-182) with a group of players who valued depth over breadth -- conservatives Haidt would say, authoritarian followers according to Altemeyer.  They worked well together in their arbitrarily assigned groups, never showing the slightest aggressiveness or belligerency toward outsiders, but also not showing any interest in cooperation or interaction with anyone but their own sub-group.  "There were no wars on this night, not even a hint of a threat. The basic high RWA attitude seemed to be, 'You don’t bother us, we won’t bother you.'"  In other words, people who value depth over breadth have no desire to infringe on others.  All is well (or at least peaceful) so long as they are surrounding by other people equally unwilling to infringe.  But all it takes is a few belligerent types who want to infringe on others, and suddenly the others have little choice but to become hostile toward outsiders as a matter of self-defense.  (See Altemeyer's book, pages 32-34 and 183-186.  Especially interesting now is 183-186, describing how authoritarian leaders were good at making deals, but never learned to cooperate for the greater good.  Hm. . . ).

I should also add that an excessive emphasis on breadth over depth can lead to a pathologically low threshold of activation.  People who responded to terrorists flying planes into the World Trade Center by talking about loving one's enemies are enough to make anyone roll their eyes.  People who prefer breadth to depth are often uncommonly naive in not realizing that not everyone shares their priorities, that many if not most people in the world out there prefer depth to breadth and would rather just be left alone, and that a significant number are authoritarians and actively hostile to all outsiders.

And some people (not many, but some) are just inherently authoritarian, naturally hostile rather than indifferent to outsiders and eager to offend and intrude for the sake of offending and intruding.  (Or for personal gain).

Next, I will indulge in a bit of whimsy on how science fiction may be said to engage this issue.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I Suppose a Brokered Convention Can Happen Even If It Doesn't Make Sense

I previously argued that the Republican Party would grudgingly accede to a Trump candidacy and not hold a brokered convention.  The basic reason behind my argument was that a brokered convention was completely irrational.  No matter what the Republican Party wanted to achieve -- whether winning the Presidency, winning as many down-ballot offices as possible, damage control, or living to fight another day -- transforming itself into a circular firing squad would harm, rather than enhance, its chances.  Even a willingness for the party to harm itself in the interest of ideological purity or personal grudge seemed like a poor way to advance its goals.  Only a willingness to destroy itself for the good of the nation made sense, but that showed a degree of statesmanship that seemed most unlikely.

Well, speculation on how to find an establishment nominee who is neither Trump nor Cruz, or even to nominate Cruz despite his having fewer delegates than Trump, continues.  I still think the Republican Establishment will end up coming to its senses (though rather late in the game) and supporting Trump or at least Cruz.  At the same time, I have to admit that, irrational as a brokered convention is, previous convention deadlocks have been irrational, too.  The party knew, or should have known, that its behavior was self-destructive and could only lead to defeat, but it just couldn't resist the urge to clean house.

I still think that earlier convention deadlocks were different, not merely in degree, but in kind from a brokered convention today.  Appalling though the slow-motion train wreck could be, at least back in the day of contested conventions it was the accepted, indeed, expected, practice for the convention to choose the nominee.  If the power brokers chose a dark horse who was not particularly popular won, his nomination was nonetheless accepted as legitimate and the party faithful voters were expected to rally behind him.  These days it is the well-established practice that the nominee is chosen by voters and the power brokers are expected to recognize the people's choice as legitimate and rally behind him.  For the power brokers to defy the people's will and choose someone else is quite simply seen as illegitimate and far worse than even the worst convention deadlock back when conventions were expected to do the actual nomination.

But if the Republican Establishment refused to come to its senses and insists on denying the nomination to the people's choice, I can think of at least two possible reasons for their action that I overlooked last time.

The Republican donor class sees the Republican Party as its personal fief and is ready to destroy it rather than lose control.  That one is just a little to plausible for comfort, actually.

The Republican donor class still doesn't recognize how destructive such a course of action would be.  That sounds hard to believe, given that basically everyone else has been shouting such a warning at the tops of their lungs.  But then again, I have commented before on how breathtakingly dense elites can be and how skilled at confusing their own power and privilege with the common good.  So maybe the Republican donor class really is so stupid as not to realize that trying to impose their own candidate against the wishes of the voters amounts to political suicide.

If so, I really do need to start a new blogging category -- Why Are Our Elites So Stupid?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Another Quick Comment on Trump

Trump has now spelled out how he will make Mexico pay for a border wall.  He will put the squeeze on Mexico until they cough up the dough.  The squeeze will include tariffs on imports, fees on visas, a threat to cut off visas altogether and, above all, a threat to require proof of citizenship or legal residency to wire money out of the country.  Mexican immigrants to the US (legal and illegal) send remittances home to their families that are an important form of support.  Trump will threaten to cut them off.

The Washington Post has commented, sensibly enough, that there is a political flaw here in that Trump will be threatening a shutdown of remittances unless Mexico helps us -- to dry up the source of those remittances altogether.  Hm. . . .

But less convincing is that attempt to argue that the attempt is overly intrusive and will not be enforceable.  Why not?  How hard can it be for Western Union and other such services to ask for an ID whenever they wire money out of the country?  If liquor stores and airports can ask for ID's, why not money wire transfers?

I say this as one who hates and despises Trump and everything he stands for, but let's be realistic here.

Another Quick Note on Depth Versus Breadth

And if we are going to talk about the whole matter of depth versus breadth (and, perhaps, right wing versus left wing populism) this peice is a good place to start.  It is no secret that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are pitching to much the same set of constituents -- the white working class that has seen the good-paying blue collar jobs of yesteryear vanish.  Trump would bring them back by halting immigration (legal and illegal), while Sanders would offer government benefits to ease the hardship, but both agree on at least one measure to restore those good paying jobs -- protectionism. Both agree that a lot of those good paying jobs have gone overseas and been taken by Chinese workers making a fraction of what their American counterparts make. The hardship to the American working class has been very real.

Still, Vox takes Sanders to task:
"You have to have standards," the senator said. "And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States." 
From Sanders's point of view, this makes sense. He has recognized, correctly, that freer trade with countries like China has hurt a subset of American workers (while benefiting others). 
But there's one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: Limiting trade with low-wage countries as severely as Sanders wants to would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot. 
Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.
Note that this argument is meaningless if made to Trump and his supporters.  They don't care.  If his policies hurt people in other countries, that is the other countries' lookout, not ours.  The President of the United States should worry about U.S. interests, not anyone else's.

That is a common refrain I see among Trump supporters in blog threads.  For the first time, Trump will take our interests into account in setting immigration policy instead of the immigrants'.  I certainly don't think that is accurate.  Our immigration policy has always taken our own interest into account.  But it has made some attempt to balance our interests against the immigrants'.  What Trump supporters are really saying is not that Trump will take our interests into account, but that they will leave anyone else's out.  They may see this as a distinction without a difference, but we liberals (i.e., people who prefer breadth to depth) consider the difference very important.  I am reminded of the late, great columnist Sydney J. Harris, who always said that people who say that charity should begin at home really mean that it should end there.  Once again, I am not sure that people who prefer depth to breadth are aware of the distinction.  But we are.

But Bernie Sanders and his followers are liberals (or at least purport to be).  Hence, unlike Trump, Sanders cannot adopt a strong anti-immigration policy, much as many Trump supporters would like him to.  To a liberal, Trump's immigration policy looks very much like scapegoating a powerless minority, and our morality does not allow that.  But Sanders' protectionism, though it does inflame anger against scapegoats in the way that Trump does, really does scapegoat a vulnerable population in the sense that it makes the most vulnerable in the world bear the costs of his policies.  To a Sanders supporter, this is a serious matter.  To a Trump supporter, it is meaningless.

I should add that I think a lot of liberal opponents of trade don't fully comprehend the implications of their views.  It was much the same during the 1990's and uproars over the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Liberals wanted to link trade to labor and environmental standards; conservatives did not.  And it is true (as columnist Ellen Goodman said at the time) that there are serious problems to allowing multinational corporations to define global trade according to their own interest.  The environment is also global after all, and labor can be trans-national.  We need basic standards to avoid a race to the bottom.  But expecting all countries to have "roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States" is utterly unrealistic and asking the impossible.  To say that you don't want to throw people in China out of work, only for them to have wages comparable to ours is the equivalent of saying that you want everyone to have a pony.  Painful trade-offs exist and must be faced.  Sanders' approach, in all cases has been one of denial.