Misinformation Age

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In the olden thymes it was much more difficult to be misinformed than it is today, simply due to the fact that information flowed much more slowly that we see today. That meant stupid ideas and nonsense passed from person to person at the speed of foot, not the speed of light. Festus could truly believe that eating cow dung cured gout, but he was not at a university writing papers on it. Those papers were not being spread around the internet. He was simply boring his family with his crackpot ideas and maybe some neighbors.

The flip side of this, of course, is people were much less informed about the world than today for the same reasons. Literacy rates rocketed up with the advent of cheap printed material, but information still moved slowly. You can pack a lot of information in a book, but it still must be toted from one reader to another. It’s entirely possible that the newly literate of the 18th century were not much more informed about the world than the illiterate of the 15th century. Farmer John in colonial Virginia would know more about the Bible and local politics than Farmer Aethelred in the 15th century, but maybe not that much more.

We don’t think about mass misinformation very much today, but maybe we should think about it. That came to mind what I stumbled upon this posting the other day.

Women are predisposed by their genetics to have affairs as “back-up plans'” if their relationships fail, according to a research paper.

Scientists at the University of Texas say they are challenging the assumption that humans have evolved to have monogamous relationships.

The team’s research has put forward the “mate-switching-hypothesis” which says humans have evolved to keep testing their relationships and looking for better long-term options.

The senior author of the research, Dr David Buss, told the Sunday Times: “Lifelong monogamy does not characterise the primary mating patterns of humans.

“Breaking up with one partner and mating with another may more accurately characterise the common, perhaps the primary, mating strategy of humans.”

For our distant ancestors – when disease, poor diet and minimal healthcare meant that few people lived past 30 – looking for a more suitable partner was necessary, researchers assert.

Despite anecdotal claims about cheatng, no study has shown that humans are predisposed to monogamy or non-monogamy.

A study carried out by Rafael Wlodarski and a team of researchers at Oxford University looking into infidelity found a correlation between the length of a individual’s ring finger and the likelihood that they would cheat on a partner.

However, they stressed that they could not find a causal link.

I looked up the lead author and he is not a quack working on TV so this is supposed to be accepted as legitimate science. Just in case the reporter got the facts wrong, which is often the case, I looked up the source paper. The highlighted parts of the quote are the important bits. There have been studies using real science that strongly suggest humans in Europe are predisposed to monogamy. Genetic testing reveals that a tiny percentage of children are the result of adulterous relations and this is data going back centuries.

One could argue, and the paper does leave this open, that women scheme to have a ready replacement in case their husbands get eaten by a saber tooth. That’s not implausible and it would certainly show up in the gene pool as a heritable trait if it were in fact an adaptation.You could also claim that women secretly scheme to have an in-ground pool or a vacation to the beach. This sort of “research” is no longer science and well into idle speculation and propaganda.

This is also the sort of nonsense that is pleasing to the managerial elite because their religion tells them that monogamy and stable families are bad for the peasants. They may live like Victorians, but you people should give up your quaint notions of family, fidelity and morality, cause science!. This ties in with the assertion by feminists that women should have unlimited sex partners. A new movie called Bridget Jones’s Baby, which features a pregnant woman with three potential fathers of her baby, is the sort of idealized woman our betters imagine for your daughter.

That brings us back to where we started. In an age when information was scarce, misinformation was scarce. In an age where information is voluminous and moves at light speed, the same is true of the nonsense, which is much easier to produce in volume. The result is a misinformation age that erodes trust in authority because over time even the most naive grows cynical about what they see in the media. How many junk science stories like the one referenced here get posted before people think science is nonsense?

It’s not just science. The news media has collapsed under an avalanche of nonsense they created. No one believes anything they see reported. Government has approval rates in the teens. We are well into becoming a low-trust society that can only be held together by force. A big cause of that is the daily barrage of nonsense we get through the media. There used to be a time when the responsible made an effort to stem the flow of nonsense, but that’s no more. Instead, we live in a misinformation age.

It’s not going to end well.

The Hater’s Ball

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I got an e-mail from someone asking me questions about the alt-right. At first I thought it was a joke, but a little research revealed the person to be a reporter for a legitimate media site. Some guy from the Washington Post did a story on the hate think community the other day and he followed up with a primer for the good thinkers.  Hillary Clinton is planning to bravely take on the alt-right in a speech somewhere, assuming they can sober her up and keep her from toppling over. Now that the Cloud People have a label, they plan to demonize anyone that opposes them as members of the alt-right.

I’m not sure of the protocol on these things so I’ll leave the identity of my correspondent out of this, but the query had the feel of an e-mail blast hoping someone would respond. One question was “When did you join the Alt-Right?” It’s the sort of question asked by people who have spent their life accumulating credentials in order to advance in the bureaucracy. “Comrade, I joined Party after leaving University, where I got degree in ideology and policy.” Managerial class types just assume everything works like the exam system of the managerial class.

I don’t consider myself in the alt-right, but I suppose that depends upon how you define it. If memory serves, Richard Spencer coined the term Alternative Right and his thing is white identity and white nationalism. I have no interest in those things and I don’t write much about race. I’m a biological realist and I think most of what we are as humans is in our genes, but I think forming a white ethno-state is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The only thing dumber is the blank slate nonsense that comes from the managerial class through the mass media.

On the other hand, big foot journalists are now applying the label “alt-right” to anyone outside the government approved Left-Right orbit so maybe that does place guys like me in the club. John Derbyshire coined the term “Dissident Right” which is probably a better label. I don’t dream of a honky paradise. I just want one of the political parties to be slightly to the right of the Democrats of 1960. Half a century of cultural lunacy is enough. Let’s go back to what used to work for the bulk of the citizens.

None of that is important. What is important is the people in charge feel they need to do something about the growing hate-think community. Having Clinton waddle out in front of other humans is a high risk stunt, given her brain injuries, but having her take on the alt-right suggests the Cloud People are worried. As Hitler said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Maybe it was Gandhi who said it. I get the two mixed up all the time.

The reason the Cloud People are suddenly concerned about the hate thinkers is the numbers. In the 1980’s, Official Conservatism™ included people like Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Peter Brimelow and Steve Sailer. The people outside the sphere of acceptable opinion were the sort of people who handed out literature on street corners extolling the virtues of the Albanian political system. The hard core racists and radicals were small in number and comfortably outside the tent so no one paid any attention to them.

Over the last thirty years or so, one group after another has been cast out of the increasingly narrow sphere of acceptable politics. Conservatism is basically low-tax liberalism now. It’s not just on the right either. Old school progressives like Bernie Sanders are now outside the realm of the acceptable on the Left. Cesar Chavez would be a hate thinker today, simply because he strongly opposed illegal immigration on economic grounds. The difference between the Left and Right today is over patronage and how often to bomb the muzzies.

The result of several decades of purges on the Right is that the “alt-right” is now bigger than the Official Right™ and it certainly is where the cool kids are hanging out on-line. The hate thinkers are also younger, on average, than the old farts in the mainstream media. One of the strange things about the alt-right is it is populated with young guys with everything to gain from a rebellion and old eccentrics with nothing to lose from a rebellion. The young guys are clever and funny, while the old guys are brilliant at noticing patterns in society and human behavior.

The safe bet is the increased attention to the hate thinkers will result in a holding of hands and chanting of lines from the liberal catechism. Howls of racism and antisemitism will echo through the halls of officialdom. We got a taste of this in the primary when guys like Jonah Goldberg tried to slime Trump as a closet Klansman simply because David Duke said nice things about him. Among the Cloud People, being called a racist is the worst thing imaginable, so it is their most powerful abracadabra word.

The trouble is the hate thinkers really don’t care and they seem to relish this sort of attention. The gag you often see is “When I was a conservative they called me a racist. When I was a libertarian they called me a racist. When I was a Tea Partier they called me a racist. Now that I’m alt-right I don’t care what they call me.” Often, the response to the charge of racism is mockery. It’s really hard to shout people down when they are laughing at your efforts. That and the old guys have been called these things so often they don’t pay any attention to it now.

Welcome to the Hater’s Ball Cloud People.

Ruling Class Madness

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I ran across this tweet and I was struck by the one entry in the thread where Noah Smith says supply and demand do not apply to labor markets. It does not have a place in the discussion, but it is an example of something the managerial class types believe, in spite of everything we know about the world. Noah Smith, from what I gather, is one of the new breed of libertarians, who embrace central planning and the custodial state. I’m not a reader so I may be misjudging him, but I really don’t care all that much either.

What struck me is how common it is to hear economists and pseudo-economists make the claim that the laws of supply and demand do not apply to labor markets. In fact, they regularly argue that the axioms of their field don’t apply to all sorts of things that cause trouble for the orthodoxy. In that twitter post, it appears that some Progressives are now saying it is bad idea to build more housing in their favorite cities, because that will magically make housing more expensive. It’s nonsense, but how long before some economist offers a supporting study?

It is easy to pick on economists for stuff like this, because they deserve it. The managerial class is shot through with guys toting economics degrees, offering up statistical justifications for their favorite policy. Today the libertarian economist Tyler Cowen argues for more currency manipulation, which one would think is something libertarian economists would oppose. They routinely argue against manipulating the supply of goods and services, but for some magical reason it is good for the state to control the supply of money.

I’ve often compared economics to astrology because it is almost as empirically sound as astrology and it holds a similar place in the ruling class today as astrology did in the olden thymes. The rulers today bring in the court economists to read their figures and predict the possible futures. In the olden thymes the court astrologer was brought into to read the stars and tell the king what the omens meant. In both cases the ruler was simply looking for confirmation so that’s what he got from his trusted magician.

It’s not just the economists. Security experts are always on our televisions telling us about the need for government surveillance of the public. After all, it is a dangerous world out there and if we’re going to invite the world into your towns, we have to have cameras on every corner. If that bit of thinking is not crazy enough, none of them ever talk about what happens when someone we don’t like gets that massive data trove collected by the surveillance state. They just pretend that can’t happen, even though it always happens.

An axiom of data collection is that the easier it is to collect, the harder it is to protect. An axiom of life is that anything worth stealing, gets stolen. For a long time, liberals argued against the state collecting data on citizens for exactly this reason. If they can get it, they will misuse it and then someone will steal it. But, all the alleged experts on these issues tell us that the NSA is an exception so no one will ever steal this stuff or misuse it. One has to wonder how many times we have secret data stolen before they stop insisting it can’t be stolen.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know I have walked through the impossibility of open borders, self-government and individual liberty working together. If we do away with citizenship via open borders, there is no reason for anyone to have loyalty to the government. Things like patriotism and national loyalty stop making sense in a world of open borders. That means the state cannot rely on people “doing their duty” as they no longer have a duty to the state. How else will they get people to obey the rules?

The open borders types never bother to explain how their new borderless society will work or what would happen if it turns out to be something other than paradise. When anyone bothers to ask them, they respond like it is obvious, but to date no one has tried to explain how a world without borders could possible work. The best they can muster is something about “who we are” which is ridiculous in a world without borders,  as there is no “we” for us to be. It’s madness dressed up as morality.

Guys like Steve Sailer think all of this is deliberate. The people at the top not only understand the factual realities, they understand the implications of their preferred polices. They know the currency manipulation we see cannot last. They know open borders is doomed to failure. They know the surveillance state cannot work. They are just cashing in while they can. Wealthy interests pay them to keep the lie going as long as possible. It’s not a ridiculous possibility. To get to the top of the power structure, you have to be pretty clever, but also spectacularly devious and dishonest too.

Alternatively, they could see everything everyone else sees, but they have no answer for how to square all of these circles. Building more housing in major cities is what is needed, but the entrenched interests see no advantage and they have prominent spots in the managerial class. Running a surveillance state is a terrible idea, but no one knows how to put the genie back in the bottle so they just make peace with it as best they can. The libertarian economist knows the truth about policies like open borders, but he likes his job at the university too.

Sometimes, societies evolve down a dead end. Study the French Revolution and you begin to see that it was not so much a revolution as a collapse. The old order had reached a point where reform was impossible. The cost of maintaining it exceeded the benefits so it broke apart in big chunks like a building falling over in an earthquake. Perhaps that’s the issue faced by America. The current arrangements are unsustainable, but the cost of reform seems prohibitive, so all efforts are put into keeping the plates spinning, not matter how absurd.

There’s another possibility and that is our betters have been gripped by some sort of collective madness. This used to be the reason people gave for why the Germans went nuts and backed Hitler. Germany was the most advanced and sophisticated culture on earth and then within one generation it veered into barbarism. That’s not an answer that explains much, but to date no one has ever explained why the Germans turned to Nazism. Similarly, there’s no good explanation for why our rulers indulge in the madness we see on a regular basis now.

Something Has Gone Wrong

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“The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b. who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list.”

–Known Hate Thinker John Derbyshire

I’ve always liked that formulation. The term “magical thinking” is overused, mostly by people prone to it, like feminists and Gaia worshipers. Even so, the whole thought expressed above is a good starting point for understanding the other meat sticks around us. Most people invest their time in the social and personal, but a small number of people spend their time looking at the world, trying to understand it. Many of these people are insane, but highly functional.

The thing is, those modes of thought are manifestations of other features, more primal aspects of humans. These are qualities that can be observed in people everywhere. One of those features is the willingness to believe. We tend to think of belief as religious belief, but 20th century communists were the truest of true believers.The Nazis were pretty much a secular cult organized around a Utopian belief about the Aryan future. The Amish are entirely harmless, but true believers in their brand of Christianity.

The willingness to accept the assertions of others is not the same in all of us and it is not always tied to intelligence. It may be tied to intelligence, but criminals often have low levels of belief, despite having below average intelligence. College professors often fall for nonsense, despite having a very high IQ. Look at the number of physicists who were also communists.The great mathematician Blaise Pascal was a deeply religious Christian, who put his life at risk for his faith. This guy actually write a little paper on the subject.

A related quality is the thirst for perfection. Social justice, broadly defined, is the pursuit of human perfection. You never hear social justice warriors promoting half measures. Theirs is the pursuit of the perfect as they think things like crime, racism and immorality can be abolished. They are not just seeking a perfect society. They think they can make perfect people. The absurd and dangerous habit of policing the space between people’s ears with hate crimes and speech crimes in an obvious example.

Another basic feature of humanity popular in some HBD circles is altruism. The alternative being clannishness. This is one of those individual traits that is best studied in groups. Some people are less trusting of strangers than others and some are more willing to cooperate with others not in their kin group. In order to have a modern economy, you have to have a certain degree of trust between strangers so that people will plan for the future, take risks and so forth. You cannot have a modern economy in a low-trust society.

Despite the best efforts of the people in charge of our countries, it is the actions of millions of anonymous people doing the right thing for millions of anonymous people simply because they believe it is the proper thing to do. It’s not just the willingness to help others but it is the desire to be seen as honest and trustworthy by total strangers that makes a modern economy tick. By modern economy, I mean modern in the post-agricultural era modern. There’s some argument that technology is driving us toward the habits of a pre-modern economy.

Finally, the willingness to embrace the supernatural is defining feature of man. All of us, to a certain degree, believe in ghosts. Like altruism, the embrace of the supernatural is not universal. The women I see at the tarot card reader have a much higher acceptance of the supernatural than someone like me. There are people who are sure voices from the spirit world help guide their decisions. The concept of luck or fortune is basically another name for the supernatural. I’ve known computer programmers to prattle on endlessly about their luck at the casino.

Progressives accept all sorts of supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon. For instance, male college students will take advantage of drunk sleazy coeds because of a mystical force called “rape culture.” Progressives are convinced institutional racism keeps NAM’s down, even though Progressives control all the institutions.”Institutional racism” can be replaced with the word “ghosts” and their protests make more sense. Many people are absolutely sure Hitler will come back at any minute and restart the Third Reich.

The funny thing about all this is a proper human society needs a balance of these things as no one would want to live in a world of transactional, highly skeptical cynics. Vulcan is a nice science fiction construct, but it probably could not exist. We need the desire to improve in order to make society better. We need to trust one another in order to conduct large scale public works and organize for self-defense. Belief in the form of Western Christianity carried humanity forward for a thousand years or more.

Even the belief in ghosts has some value. It keeps people from violating social taboos, the logic of which is too complicated for most people to understand. The supernatural was a useful tool in public safety. Telling people that the bog was full of monsters kept people, especially kids, from going into the bog and getting lost. Many people live moral lives because they truly believe God is watching their every deed and taking notes so they can be judged in the after life. the excuse of bad luck helps sooth the effects of failure.

The trouble is that all over the West we see that these qualities have swung well into the range of dangerous. The willingness of the EU to fling open the doors to Muslim hordes is what HBD’ers call pathological altruism. Everything we can observe about people from these lands tells us that they cannot make it in a modern Western society. Yet, an overwhelming desire to help strangers is driving the mothers of Europe to sacrifice the inheritance of their sons to help the Muslims.

The American college campus is under the control of ideological fanatics, who believe in their causes so deeply they are willing to ruin friends and family on behalf of their cause. Thought crimes have become so common, we take them for granted. Readers of this blog take steps to make sure their employers are unaware that they read sites like this one, for fear the morality police will come calling. Supporting a candidate like Trump has become a private act of rebellion.

The only thing missing from this toxic stew is an excessive believe in the supernatural, but the hunt for hate thinkers is really just a modern form of witch hunting. Everywhere you look, the dials are all turned to eleven. The best qualities, at least the best mix of qualities, that allowed the West to rocket past the world are now in abundance and threatening the whole enterprise. Whatever governor or brake that was in place in the past has been lost and the engine is revving into the red zone.

Something has gone wrong.

Elite Catharsis

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There’s a column in America’s newspaper of record explaining how in this election the major media is committing suicide in an attempt to stop Donald Trump from winning the White House. This is a bit of a hardy quadrennial as some element of the press complains about the media in every presidential election. Usually it is the so-called conservative media doing the complaining, but you get some of the professional concern trolls wringing their hands over the bias. Whether or not they are more biased this time around is hard to know as it is hard to know if they can be more biased.

Even so, it does feel different this time. In past elections, the liberal media started attacking the Republican after the conventions, but their tactic was to appeal to the voters. That meant selling the themes of the Democrat and making sport of the Republican. In 2008 they kept reminding voters that Obama was dreamy and from Illinois just like Lincoln. In 2012 they reminded voters that Romney was in a weird desert cult and believed in magic underwear. In both cases the “reporting” was intended to sway the voters.

This time is different in many ways. The obvious difference is the so-called conservative media has locked shields with the liberal media in opposing Donald Trump.  The two big conservative journals are fanatically opposed to Trump. Fox News inadvertently made Trump’s campaign by having their attack poodles ambush Trump at the first debate. Even the usually reliable talk radio has been reluctant to back Trump. That’s changing as they figure out which way the wind is blowing, but guys like Glenn Beck are still waving the rainbow flag of #nevertrump.

The other way that things are different is in the tone of the coverage. The major media is not talking to us or even lecturing us. They are talking to one another. A very good example is in this bizarre editorial from a little paper in New York somewhere.

Donald Trump is heading to November like a certain zeppelin heading to New Jersey, in a darkening sky that crackles with electricity. He is fighting crosswinds and trying new tacks — hiring the head of Breitbart News to run his campaign, trying on a new emotion (regret) in a speech on Thursday night, promising to talk more this week about immigration, his prime subject. There’s still no telling what will happen when the gasbag reaches the mooring.

It could be that the polls are right, and Mr. Trump will go down in flames. But while that will solve an immediate problem, a larger one will remain. The message of hatred and paranoia that is inciting millions of voters will outlast the messenger. The toxic effects of Trumpism will have to be addressed.

The sneering tone is crude, even by the smug standards of the New York Times, but it has a strange feel to it. It reads like the bargaining of someone promising to be a better person, if they manage to escape the dangerous situation. You don’t say those things for anyone but yourself and maybe your maker. It’s a form of bargaining where you think having had a revelation, you deserve a second chance at life. That’s how this editorial reads. The Old Gray Lady is promising to be more responsible if she can somehow escape the horror that is Donald Trump.

I think what we’re seeing here is the result of decades of insularity of the political class. The people occupying positions in the media have been divorced from the rest of us for so long, they are truly revolted by us. All of the scary campfire stores they used to tell one another about how the people in flyover country are just a bunch of racist mouthbreathers has become their reality. They really think they are under assault. All those times they called the Republican a Nazi is feeling like a prophecy to them now. It’s the 1932 Weimar elections all over again.

That’s the other thing that seems different about this election. It used to be that the beautiful people were nice to our face, but they privately looked down on the hoi polloi. In many cases, they felt sorry for the normals. For better or worse, many of their social projects were well intended, even if they ended in disaster. That’s not the case today. The beautiful people really and truly hate the average American. They barely tolerate us. It’s why the Old Gray Lady is writing these revenge fantasies for after they have destroyed Trump.

This election is often cast as a revolt by the plebs, but it is really a revolt of the elites. It’s as if they have used the rise of Trump as an excuse to open up about how they really feel about traditional America. They finally have an excuse to let those hillbillies speaking “frontier gibberish” know exactly where they stand. You really see this on the Right. All across elite conservative media we see spasm of hatred toward those they used say they represented. Kevin Williamson at National Review even wrote a weird fantasy article about how poor whites should die.

Estates of the Realm

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For a long time now the pattern of American presidential elections has been that the primaries wrap up in late spring and early summer. The two candidates begin to take shots at one another leading up to their conventions in July. The Republican usually lacks the money to run an air war, so that leaves the Democrat free to pound away in key states with TV ads. The media, of course, swings in on behalf of the Democrat with a relentless drumbeat of attack ads telling us that the Republican is Hitler again.

Then we have the conventions and both parties begin running their ads and doing big campaign events. The media is still in the satchel for the Democrats, but the quantity of noise from both sides diminishes the impact of the media. They are left to cover speeches and interview people from both camps, usually swooning over the Democrat and playing gotcha with the Republican. Then we get the debates and the sprint to the finish as both sides focus on the toss-up states.

This time we are seeing something weird and different. The media is doing their part, but it is mostly the so-called conservative media leading the charge against the Republican. The Democrats have been running ads in the swing states, but they are mostly nonsense videos of Hillary from twenty years ago. They can’t show her today because she looks like death and sounds like she is about to turn someone into a toad. That and she appears to be struggling with serious health issues.

Trump is running his campaign away from the media and not running any ads. Instead he is doing these big events where thousands line up to hear him make his pitch. Trump is running the sort of campaign presidents ran in the 1940’s. The only thing missing is the train, but his private jet makes it a lot like the old whistle stop tour. He lands, does a speech and is off to the next town. On a weekly basis, Trump jousts with the media over their latest attack, but otherwise he has not done a lot of it.

We are seeing something strange this time. It is as if we have three elections going on at the same time. The Democrats are keeping Clinton hidden away for fear people will notice she is seriously unwell. Someone struggling with a cognitive disorder is better off in small rooms with a few people and that’s what we keep seeing. Her events are lightly attended, but there does seem to be an effort to keep her from standing in front of a large crowd. They probably worry that she could topple over like Bob Dole in ’96.

The other election campaign is the Trump barnstorming tour where he does these stadium shows for thousands. They are not running ads to promote these things. Instead, they are relying on word of mouth via social media. They also get local media coverage. Trump is deliberately banning the big foot media from his events and he is not paying for a plane to ferry around the press like we have seen in prior campaigns. Trump is running the first high-tech, grassroots presidential campaign in history.

Finally, we have the mass media election. This is where members of the media debate one another over the latest events. They used to count on the Democrats to supply the copy and some flaks to help sell this to the public, but this time is a bit different. Hillary’s poor health and long criminal history are preventing her campaign from putting her or her close allies in the media for fear someone may accidentally ask a question.

There is a medieval vibe to all of this as the estates of the realm are now fully insulated from one another. There’s also the obvious divisions within the estates, as there were in 18th century France. The media, serving as the First Estate, has a credentialed and high-born top with a rough and tumble, low-born bottom. The nasally twats writing at the NYTimes or appearing on the chat shows all popped out of elite colleges and come from upper class families. The bloggers and twitter monsters are uncredentialed rubes from the country.

You could argue that the forces behind Trump within the political class represent the noblesse de robe while the people backing Clinton are noblesse d’épée. The third estate, just as in 18th century France, is not entirely on the side of the former, but is not all that happy with the latter. The bourgeoisie, in our case, are academics, the vast array of business interests that feed from the public trough and those who profit from global capitalism. You are, in all probability, a free peasant.

It is not a perfect analogy and it is not intended to compare modern America to 18th century France. Sadly, we will not get to lop off the heads of the first estate when this is all over. It does help clarify the current crisis. The people chatting on TV don’t know you and they have no idea what you read or why you read it. The things discussed on blogs like this are as alien to them as proper dining etiquette is to you. Modern American society is now highly compartmentalized and fragmented and we see that in the campaigns.

Voluntary Obsolescence

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Way back in the olden thymes, I was chatting with an acquaintance, who owned a number of small niche publications. Each had five to ten thousand subscribers, who paid $50 per year for the publication. These were monthly hobbyist type things. Printing, postage and content costs ate up most of his revenue, but he was still able to take an upper middle-class salary from the business. He was never going to get rich from it, but he liked the action and it let him turn hobbies into a nice career.

At the time, he was telling me about his plan to move all of his magazines to the web. This was in the 90’s so it was the new thing. Newspapers and magazines were putting up websites hoping to reach a broader audience. He was very excited about it because he saw the cost savings. Printing and postage were his big line items so going digital meant a potential windfall. I remember asking him how he expected to charge people when he was putting his content on-line free of charge. He responded, “Hits. We’ll get more hits and then we can sell advertising.”

At that point I knew he and many others were about to commit suicide. I’ve been inside many banks and none of them ever accepted hits or site traffic as payment. The people rushing to shovel their content on-line simply had no idea why they were rushing to give their product away, but they were sure it was going to be glorious. The result has been the death of newspapers and many magazines. The New York Times, for example, loses money every quarter and only survives because a Mexican billionaire wants access to the American ruling class.

I get that same feeling when people talk about Uber and self-driving cars. From the perspective of an outsider, I see no reason why cities would sanction Uber or any of the other off-the-book taxi services. There’s nothing in it for the municipality. Similarly, why would any of the car companies sign off on robot cars? There’s no advantage for them to do it. Of course, taxi fleets of self-driving cars is about the nuttiest thing imaginable as it just means the death of a number of industries, namely car makers and car insurance firms.

Think about it. Your car sits unused most of the time. You take it to work where it sits all day. Then you take it home where it sits all night. You have a car for convenience, mostly. Pubic transportation,where available, is not good for running errands, going shopping or other tasks. Cabs are fine for some of it, but hailing a cab in the rain sucks compared to walking into the parking garage to get into your car. There’s a reason why rich people have car services and limos. They get the flexibility of their own vehicle with the convenience of a taxi service.

Now imagine that anywhere you are you can order up a Johnny Cab, having it pick you up and take you where you wish, at a low fee. All you do is pull out the phone and order it up and it comes by to haul you to work or take you to the market. It sounds wonderful, especially for old people and alcoholics. The question is, why own a car when you can get the service of a car, without having to own it, store it and maintain it? Hobbyists would still want a sports car or off-road vehicle, but most people have cars for practical purposes only.

Do a little math and you see that you use maybe ten percent of your car’s useful capacity. The hour commute to work and the hour home means two hours out of a day. Throw in some driving on the weekend and 90% of the time your car is sitting idle. Even assuming inefficiency, one care could serve the needs of five people, which means a world of Johnny Cabs is a world with about 80% fewer cars. That means 80% fewer car sales for the car makers. It also means 80% fewer insurance polices, tax stickers and all the other things that are based on people owning cars.

If you are in the car business, the plan should be simple. Buy enough politicians to kill off Uber and the robot car people. For their part, the pols should require little bribing as it is in their interest to kill the robot cars too. Instead, all of the car makers are announcing plans to produce robot cars aimed at the for-hire business. Uber is doing a test run in Pittsburgh with a fleet of driverless cars. Like those newspaper and magazine guys of the 90’s, the transportation industry is fashioning a noose for themselves out the new technology, so they can destroy themselves. Karl Marx must be laughing in Hell right now.

The Next Frontier

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Genetics, particularly gene therapy is the one area of science that could offer a species altering breakthrough. Flying electric cars would be a great, but they are a long way from reality. In fact, they may never be reality due to issues like battery technology. Most of what science is going to bring mankind over the next couple of generations is better, faster cheaper versions of the stuff we already have now. Think air travel over the last fifty years. The planes are better and faster, but otherwise the same as they were in the 50’s.

That’s not the case with genetic engineering. Here we could very well see some species altering technology. Imagine medicine being able to “fix” certain common genetic defects, thus eliminating the defect from future generations. Imagine the impact of gene therapy that causes the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells. Cancer kills a lot of people long before old age so “curing” cancer would be an enormous change for humanity. There’s also the application in the area of mental health. Imagine curing forms of mental illness like schizophrenia.

Right now, medicine is the most likely to benefit from genetic technology, but that’s not the end of it. Isolating genes for certain traits like height and eye color is well within reach and well within the realm of things that could be altered in embryos. Designer babies sounds horrible, but imagine your doctor telling you that for a reasonable fee, he can make sure your kid is above average in height. It’s not hard to see how people would do it and science would offer it. No one wants their kid to be a stumpy troll, even if the parents are stumpy trolls.

Once you start tinkering or even think about tinkering, the idea of decanting super-human babies joins the conversation. If you can make sure your kid is six foot or taller, why not go for seven or eight feet? That way, junior can look forward to a career as a basketball player. While you’re at it, give him sprinter’s speed and the eyesight of an eagle. The leap from a small change that eradicates a known defect to changes that create super-babies is not a big one, at least from an ethical point of view.

The problem is we quickly run into another barrier and that’s the complexity. Humans are very complicated machines. In fact, we are so complicated that we really don’t know how much of the human body works. Just look at diet and exercise. We sort of think that diet and exercise habits have an impact on overall health and longevity, but we don’t know. That’s why there are a bazillion opinions on the subject. It’s why every study you can find on the topic of diet, for example, has a contradictory study.

This story the other day about the challenges of virtual reality is a great reminder that we know very little about how the human mind works in even the most basic sense. Humans have been screwing around with virtual reality gadgets for a long time, mostly for gaming and simulations. The theory sounds good. Replicate the inputs of reality and the brain gets tricked into thinking it is in the imaginary world. The trouble is, it really does not get tricked. In fact, the better the simulation the worse the results.

The reason is the brain is a wildly complex and supple bit of biology that processes massive amounts of information in more than three dimensions, faster than anything we can create in the lab. The human mind appears to develop or come equipped with a model of the world, right down to little things like how fast an odor should travel from the source to your nose. It’s how those clever optical illusions you see on-line work. They rely on the brain anticipating, based on known patterns. As inputs come in the brain is a click ahead, anticipating what should be coming next. We think.

Then there is the concept of consciousness, which remains a baffling thing for science. Watch a puppy bark at a mirror and you know that self-awareness is a real thing that not all creatures possess equally, but how that works is unknown. Throw in something like self-deception that theoretically should not exist, but clearly does exist, and we are far away from the shore and into uncharted ocean. Tweaking  a gene to make for a taller person could result in madness as the brain is still wired for a short person, thus busting up the person mental model of the world that includes them as a short person.

Even so, CRISPR technology could be the great breakthrough that alters the human species, but it will be a long slog between making better corn and making super babies. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that the complexity barrier between the most rudimentary tinkering and engineered babies is so thick there’s no way for science to breech it. There’s also a cost-benefit component. Selecting for green eyes has a market, but selecting for super-intelligent giants that are prone to madness probably has no market.

All in all, if you are inclined to think about how humanity destroys itself, the place to start is genetics. If you are a wild-eyed futurist anxious to live forever or meld with robots, that’s never going to happen, but you can dream about it within the realm of genetics. More likely, the result is healthier, more robust people in the not so distant future. Imagine old age without debilitating disease and degenerating tissue.  You still age and die, but it is much more pleasant physiologically. That alone would alter how we think of ourselves as a species.

The Reformation

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This post on Marginal Revolution titled “In which ways is today’s world like the Reformation?” caught my attention.

I can think of a few reasons:

1. Many of the structures in places are perceived as failing, even though in absolute terms they are not obviously doing worse than previous times.

2. There is a rise in nationalist sentiment and a semi-cosmopolitan ethic is starting to lose influence.

3. The chance of violent conflict is rising.

4. Dialogue is becoming more polarized and bigoted, and at some margins stupider.

5. Tales of gruesome torture are being spread by new publishing and communications media.

6. The world may nonetheless end up much better off, but the ride to get there will be rocky iindeed.

I have been reading Carlos M.N. Eire, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650.  Yes I know it is 893 pp., but it is actually one of the most readable books I have had in my hands all year.

Somewhere in the comments, Steve Sailer brought up the comparison between the printing press and the interwebs, which is the obvious and logical one. The impact of the printing press on the Reformation is often dismissed, as its impact on Western culture is complicated and hard to understand so modern historians focus on the religious angle. That way they can say bad things about Christians, which is still a lot of fun for the people of the New Religion.

Still, the printing press is not the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. The Black Plague is the meteor, but the printing press is one of the first shock waves to emit from it. It’s hard for us, in our age, to imagine a world in which most everyone was illiterate. Even members of the ruling class could make it to adulthood without ever having learned to read. Many members of the clergy were functionally illiterate as they had no reason to read. There was nothing for them to read, even if they had the desire.

The printing press did a few things. The most obvious is it made literacy much more valuable to the commoner. Therefore, more commoners tried to master the basics of reading and writing. Cheap printed material suddenly made literacy a valuable, but attainable thing, so we got more literate people, which vastly expanded the number of people contributing to the wealth of human knowledge. In a short time Sven could learn about the innovations in French plow technology, because he got a scroll on it from the tinker.

That’s where the comparison to the internet falls apart. Getting a billion people on-line is not unlocking a great store of human potential. Mostly it allowed a billion dimwits to fill the available space with inane chatter. Spend five minutes watching cable news and you can’t help but long for the days when men got their news from newspapers and the town meeting. That’s not to dismiss the value of having the Library of Alexandria at our fingertips. It’s just that there was not a lot of untapped intellect sitting around in 1975.

The key comparison, maybe, is the speed that information moves. By the Middle Ages, the state and the Church had evolved systems to control the flow of information. If the lesser nobles were unhappy, they could only conspire with one another, which could only happen within the system. That’s easy to root out with spies and treachery. The printing press allowed one pissed off guy to spread his word quickly and do so well outside the official channels. Cheap printed pamphlets made it easy for a disgruntled minor figure to spill the beans on his superiors, to the wider masses.

The thing is, it’s not the information getting loose or the speed it travels. It is how the current structures can respond to it. The printing press exposed the great weakness of the Church and the state. They were sclerotic when it came to reading and reacting to new information. They evolved in an age of handwritten scrolls and private couriers. They lacked the tools and the awareness to operate in a world in which information moves quickly (relative to the age) and indiscriminately.

None of this was immediate. The printing press was 15th century and the 16th century was a pretty good age for the ruling elite of the West. By the 17th century, however, the wheels came off the cart. By the 18th century the English speaking world was adapted to an age in which information moves around quickly and indiscriminately. The Continent followed in the 18th century so by the 19th the West had a ruling system and a cognitive elite fully evolved to succeed in the age of the written word.

This is where one can find a point of comparison to our own age. The volume of information is obviously way higher today than a few decades ago, but much of it is bad information so we very well may be less informed. The real impact of the technological revolution is the ability of the ruling class to respond. The old ways of hiding things from the public and preventing trouble makers from spilling the beans to the public are not very useful in an age when someone can put the total output of an organization onto a thumb drive.

Defenders of the status quo inevitably have to rely upon size to carry the day. They have the the monopoly of force and the institutions to apply it. The challenger has to rely on speed, agility and cunning. If the big guy is just as fast as the small guy, the big guy always wins. What the technological revolution has done is give challengers to the status quo an edge in speed and agility. Hillary Clinton controls the mass media, yet she struggled to put away Sanders and is struggling to deal with Trump.

This is not a perfect comparison, but if you are looking for a way to link the current age to the Reformation, that’s the place to start.

Grinding To A Halt

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Anyone, who has decided to paint a room of their house, understands the difference between show work and no-show work. Show work is the stuff that has an immediate reward, like rolling on the first coat of paint. A few hours labor and you have something to show for yourself. On the other hand, no-show work is the preparation. It’s moving of furniture, laying down drop clothes, cleaning up trim work and edging the room. You start at dawn and by dusk it looks like you have done nothing but make a mess.

I first experienced this as a teenager working construction. One summer, I was put on a job of renovating an old brick house. My job, along with some other teens, was to first gut the place. In a week we had the place stripped to the bare walls, with a massive pile of rubble inside and one outside. By the following week, the rubble was gone and we were left with a bare building. By the end of the summer, the building looked the same, except for some repointed brick work, and other structural touch-ups.

Spending the bulk of the summer on a million little tasks that never seemed to amount to much was nowhere near as fun as gutting the place, but it was a great lesson. Progress is the million little tasks that accumulate into something big. It is not the big finish where things seem to happen quickly. Put another way, progress is the millions of snowflakes that accumulate on the mountain, not the avalanche that is set off by your yodeling. The no-show part of human progress can take generations, maybe centuries, while the fruits can be consumed in a decade.

The last thirty or so years, from the perspective of most people, has been an age of rapid progress. It is tempting to think that progress will not only continue at this rapid pace, but accelerate. In fact, what defines futurism and always has, is the belief that technological progress is accelerating and will do so into the future. After all, that why we have personal jet packs and flying cars, while our parents were on foot. Since even this rate of change is not enough to have us traversing the stars in a this century, the rate of change must advance quickly.

That is the most basic form of magical thinking. We want our wishes to come true so we imagine how they must come true. One of things you’ll always see with professional futurists is they are wildly optimistic about the future. They don’t imagine a humanity enslaved by sadistic robot overlords. They imagine a world where humans live in forever youth, perhaps mind-melded with artificial intelligence in order to transcend the physical realm. The future, according to futurist, is going to great, which is why they can’t wait to see it.

Given the age in which we live, it is tempting to think these guys are right, but look back through history and you see a different picture. Progress is fits and starts, often with dead ends and rollbacks. It’s not that current humans are smarter than the humans in those eras of technological stagnation. In fact, one of the big questions in evolutionary biology is something called the Sapient Paradox. On the one hand, humans had all the stuff to be modern humans, yet they went a very long time living much like pre-modern humans. Then all of a sudden, they started living like modern humans.

Not only does history tell us that these periods of great technological progress are rare, but science is telling us we may be headed for a stagnation. The technological revolution was built on the revolution in theoretical science that started in the late Middle Ages. Human understanding of the natural world, like astronomy, chemistry, physics, math, is what allowed for the practical application of these fields to give us cell phones and the internet. There’s pretty good evidence that the progress on the theoretical side has come to a halt and may have reached some sort of dead end.

This post by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder makes a good case that we have, at the very minimum, stalled in our quest to understand the universe. There has been no great leap forward for over two generations and not much of any forward progress in a generation, other than confirming some things worked out fifty years ago. When the foundations of technological progress have stalled, it is fair to assume that the showy part is about to run out of steam soon too. Look around and it is clear there’s not a lot of big improvements on the horizon.

The counter here is that genetics is where the action is and that’s certainly true, but progress here is at a snail’s pace as well. DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Almost a century later Crick and Watson discovered the double helix and founded what we now call molecular biology. Half a century on what we have to show for it is better corn. To think that we’re on the cusp of genetically enhanced humans assumes a degree of progress never seen in science and in direct contradiction to the deceleration we see in theoretical science.

That’s just the science end of things. Science, particularly theoretical and experimental science, requires abundance. The West got rich and then it got science. The West is old and in the worst financial condition since the fall of Rome. There are a few billion barbarians trying to get into the West in order to go on welfare. Even if that is an unfairly bleak picture, there’s no denying that we lack the will and wherewithal to fund something like the Manhattan Project or the Apollo missions.

The truth is, the future is probably going to be more of the same, or worse.