## Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

### Theories of Probability — Perfectly Fair and Perfectly Awful

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I’ve not heard nor read anyone remarking about a particular contrast between the classical approach to probability theory and the Bayesian subjectivist approach. The classical approach began with a presumption that the formal mathematical principles of probability could be discovered by considering situations that were impossibly good; the Bayesian subjectivist approach was founded on a presumption that those principles could be discovered by considered situations that were implausibly bad.

The classical development of probability theory began in 1654, when Fermat and Pascal took-up a problem of gambling on dice. At that time, the word probability and its cognates from the Latin probabilitas meant plausibility.

Fermat and Pascal developed a theory of the relative plausibility of various sequences of dice-throws. They worked from significant presumptions, including that the dice had a perfect symmetry (except in-so-far as one side could be distinguished from another), so that, with any given throw, it were no more plausible that one face should be upper-most than that any other face should be upper-most. A model of this sort could be be reworked for various other devices. Coins, wheels, and cards could be imagined as perfectly symmetrical. More generally, very similar outcomes could be imagined as each no more probable than any other. If one presumes that to be no more probable is to be equally probable, then a natural quantification arises.

Now, the preceptors did understand that most or all of the things that they were treating as perfectly symmetrical were no such thing. Even the most sincere efforts wouldn’t produce a perfectly balanced die, coin, or roulette wheel, and so forth. But these theorists were very sure that consideration of these idealized cases had revealed the proper mathematics for use across all cases. Some were so sure of that mathematics that they inferred that it must be possible to describe the world in terms of cases that were somehow equally likely, without prior investigation positively revealing them as such. (The problem for this theory was that different descriptions divide the world into different cases; it would take some sort of investigation to reveal which of these descriptions, if any, results in division into cases of equal likelihood. Indeed, even with the notion of perfectly balanced dice, one is implicitly calling upon experience to understand what it means for a die to be more or less balanced; likewise for other devices.)

As subjectivists have it, to say that one thing is more probable than another is to say that that first thing is more believed than is the other. (GLS Shackle proposed that the probability of something might be measured by how surprised one would be if that something were discovered not to be true.)

But most subjectivists insist that there are rationality constraints that must be followed in forming these beliefs, so that for example if X is more probable than Y and Y more probable than Z, then X must be more probable than Z. And the Bayesian subjectivists make a particular demand for what they call coherence. These subjectivists imagine that one assigns quantifications of belief to outcomes; the quantifications are coherent if they could be used as gambling ratios without an opponent finding some combination of gambles with those ratios that would guarantee that one suffered a net loss. Such a combination is known as a Dutch book.

But, while quantifications can in theory be chosen that insulate one against the possibility of a Dutch book, it would only be under extraordinary circumstances that one could not avoid a Dutch book by some other means, such as simply rejecting complex contracts to gamble, and instead deciding on gambles one-at-a-time, without losing sight of the gambles to which one had already agreed. In the absence of complex contracts or something like them, it is not clear that one would need a preëstablished set of quantifications or even could justify committing to such a set. (It is also not clear why, if one’s beliefs correspond to measures, one may not use different measures for gambling ratios.) Indeed, it is only under rather unusual circumstances that one is confronted by opponents who would attempt to get one to agree to a Dutch book. (I don’t believe that anyone has ever tried to present me with such a combination, except hypothetically.) None-the-less, these theorists have been very sure that consideration of antagonistic cases of this class has revealed the proper mathematics for use across all cases.

The impossible goodness imagined by the classical theorists was of a different aspect than is the implausible badness of the Bayesian subjectivists. A fair coin is not a friendly coin. Still, one framework is that of the Ivory Tower, and the other is that of Murphy’s Law.

### Spurious Invocations and Socialized Medicine

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Advocates for funding or for in-kind provision of medical services through the state — some degree of socialization of medicine — frequently assert that there is a basic human right to health or to medical services. But there is invariably a bait-and-switch, because health cannot be provided as a right, basic or otherwise, universal to human beings or even held by all members of a large, naturally formed community such as a nation; and a right to medical services gauged in terms other than consequences for health would be grossly implausible and otherwise unappealing.

It should be immediately obvious that there cannot be a basic right to medical services, because a basic right exists in any context in which there is a person, even when that person is in isolation. One cannot make a claim to the services of others if there are no others, nor can one make a claim to the use of technologies that simply don’t exist. That’s why genuine liberalism understands that basic rights aren’t claims to the services of others, but instead are claims to be free from various sorts of interference by others. Robinson Crusoe cannot see a doctor when he is alone on the island, yet can speak his mind whether he is alone or has neighbors.

Derived rights are another matter. Derived rights are founded upon basic rights, but may emerge in a social context and be informed by the available resources, including technology. And there might even be a derived right that, though only emerging in some context, were universal to some population and involved positive claims to goods or to services. To provide an argument that health or medical care were just such a right, advocates of socialized medicine would have to identify and explain a process of derivation. While some persons making the assertion that there were instead a basic right to health or to medical care are simply swept-up by emotion, doing so also short-circuits a recognition of responsibility for that identification and for its explanation.

There are advocates who speak and write of the social contract and propose to find support thereïn for socialized medicine at present levels, and perhaps at still greater levels. But what is here called the social contract is not the contract that Hobbesians or liberals once imagined to be adopted at the beginnings of civil society; rather, a set of expectations held by some members of a society is being called a contract, as if such expectations alone could somehow contractually bind everyone within that society. The need to identify and explain the derivation of an ostensible right to medical care remains unmet by the use of the misleading metaphor of a contract. (Perhaps Mr Crusoe expects Friday to begin studying medicine upon arrival, but what of it?) It might also be noted that reference of this sort to a social contract is profoundly conservative — in the original sense of conservative — because the principal informant of expectations about social outcomes is tradition. And, if such expectations did have the sort of moral force that is imputed to them by the invocation of the social contract, then practices such as the subordination of women in various societies could be defended by reference to the social contracts of those societies. Even if such defense is somehow progressive, it is utterly illiberal.

In any case, health itself cannot be delivered as a right universal to human beings nor within some smaller but still large and naturally formed community. Some people have dire medical conditions for which there is no effective treatment, so there is no right to health itself. One might acknowledge that indeed there is no right to health yet assert that there were still a right to medical care; but others have conditions that could be corrected only by diverting resources that would otherwise be used to provide medical treatment to different people; and it is incoherent to speak of rights as things that may be in conflict — indeed, the point of insisting that health or medical care were a right (as opposed to a lesser desideratum) is to make an over-riding claim. One might finally punt to an assertion that everyone simply had a right to medical care regardless of need; but, thus unlinked, there is no more reason to suppose an entitlement to some allotment of adhesive bandages and of aspirin tablets than to suppose an entitlement to an allotment of bubble gum.

The actual provision of medical goods and services under socialized medicine cannot be about rights, and so it isn’t about rights; it is instead a matter of politicized collectivist calculations. Essentially, popular opinion is motivated by a naïve and incoherent utilitarianism — trying somehow to maximize an implicitly quantified sum of human well-being (with perhaps odd lexicographical properties), but making exceptions here and there driven by pity or by respect for some people and enabled by blindness to the costs to others; and officials of various sorts try to keep some share of the public happy but more generally pursue their own interests. Those who are not served under the programme or who find their access to medical care reduced or even effectively ended by socialism are waved-away as unfortunate victims of practical limitations, previous talk of rights not-withstanding.

I’m not at all a fan of collectivist calculations; typically they assume quantifications that don’t hold, and otherwise they seem arbitrary in what they seek to maximize. But, if those calculations truly made sense, then one would want to consider the long run, to include the well-being of people in the future in one’s aggregation; and thereïn lies the rub. Unless one assumes that humankind is fairly soon to come to an end, there are more people yet to be born than are alive to-day. If there truly were a collective aggregate to maximize, then anything done to-day that impaired economic development in the future would be counter-indicated. If people in the future were generally wealthier, then they would enjoy better medical care and almost surely better health. If we allow for considerations beyond the medical, the case for economic development is greater still. And, because it cannot allocate resources with economic efficiency, socialized medicine is ultimately a drag on economic development and thus on medical progress.

Socialized medicine doesn’t deliver a basic right; it doesn’t deliver a derived right; in the long run, it means that more people suffer (though suffering itself has no aggregate across persons) and that at any given age a greater share of people die. Refusing to face these points doesn’t make one a nicer person; accepting the truth doesn’t make one uncaring. Forcing the innocent to swallow bad medicine is not kindness.

### The Hate Show

Friday, 24 February 2017

In George Orwell‘s novel 1984, people assembled each day for The Two Minute Hate. For two minutes, those gathered would feel and express their hatred of those whom they had been led to hate, by those whom they regarded as their guides. Orwell did not invent the idea of an interval or gathering for the purpose of hating. Such things are probably ancient, and were certainly called hates earlier in the 20th Century. Orwell hypothesized the formal institutionalization of scheduled rallies whose sole purpose was for hating.

Such gatherings are now routine, normalized. Some take place on a national or international level, on weekly or even daily bases. Others are smaller or less frequent. People collect in theaters or around television sets, and they hate. But few observers or participants see these gatherings for what they are, because the hatred is packaged as comedy. During these gatherings, there is very little in the way of clever violation of expectation, which is essential to intelligent comedy. Instead, there is ventilation — of disdain, of anger, of hatred, sometimes of fury — at those outside that group with whom the performers and audience identify. Treatment of hatred as comedy is not something new, but the acceptance of unacknowledged hatred as comedy has become commonplace. Gatherings for what most of us once would have called comedy have been increasingly displaced; our comedy shows have been replaced by Hates. We have Thirty Minute Hates, Sixty Minute Hates, Ninety Minute Hates.

The institutionalization has largely been private, but it has had something degree of state sponsorship, as when President Obama grinned broadly in response to Wanda Sykes’ expressed wish that the kidneys of Rush Limbaugh should fail, during the 2009 White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

When I last visited my parents, who willfully live in an ideological echo chamber, they made a point each week of sitting together and watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. They laughed at nothing; they smiled at nothing; because nothing on it was funny. Nor did it deliver any fresh insights. What it delivered was hatred. But that was apparently what my parents wanted — a Twenty One Minute Hate.

### Lotteries as Cost-Saving Mechanisms

Thursday, 23 February 2017

In decision theory, it’s useful to conceptualize all choices as amongst lotteries. Even a choice that has an absolutely certain outcome may be imagined as a sort of trivial lottery, where one outcome had the equivalent of a 100% probability and all other outcomes had the equivalent of a 0% probability. But most of the choices that people typically imagine may be made with certainty cannot, and things that actually can be chosen with certainty are not things to which people give much conscious thought. For example, in a restaurant. one cannot choose tea with certainty; one cannot even choose to order tea with certainty. One can chose to try to order tea; however, whether one’s language-processing centers and apparatus of speech will do what one wants is somewhat in doubt. But most people don’t recognize the vast majority of their choices as amongst lotteries because it isn’t particularly useful for them to make the recognition.

That said, it’s still interesting (to me at least!) to note how people respond to the things that nearly everyone does recognize as lotteries. If Group A wants the m members of Group B to do something for them, they can pay D to them each, for a total cost of m · D, or they can offer a prize P; and if m is a moderate-to-large number then almost always the least value of P that will motivate the group is rather less than the the value of m · D, even when there is no sense of supporting a worthy cause. In the clearest illustration, what Group A want of Group B is just money. Most people will give you a five-dollar bill for five one-dollar bills, but few will ordinarily give you that five-dollar bill for four one-dollar bills. However, perhaps a million people will give you five dollars for a one-in-a-million chance at four million dollars.

In the context of various social confusions, there are restrictions on selling chances at money in exchange for money.[1] But chances at money or at other prizes are fairly freely traded for information that is worth money. Think of how many times you are offered a chance at a large sum of money or at a valuable commodity (such as a vehicle) in exchange for taking a consumer survey or for providing contact information. You might refuse — I do — but a lottery is offered because information is provided by more people than could be motivated to do so for the same sum divided into simple payments.

It’s often claimed that people are irrational to make bets in which the price of participation exceeds the probability of the payoff times the size of the payoff. I don’t want to claim that; the issue is actually very nuanced. (There have been studies that attempt to estimate the extent to which a systemic misappraisal of probabilities affect behavior, but most or all of these studies are hopelessly tainted by the active desire to find irrational behavior and by some questionable presumptions concerning how uncertainty ought to be handled.) But, in any case, it’s interesting that a group can conserve its resources by using a lottery to motivate behavior. And, returning to the point that in reality almost everything is a lottery, one has to wonder to what extent the world more generally is getting us to do things on the cheap.

[1] The inescapability of lotteries is fatal to ordinary attempts to condemn gambling as immoral. That something were immoral or unwise would not ipso facto be sufficient to justify outlawing it. And outlawing payment in money while allowing payment in commodities is absurd.

### A Minor Note on the Myth of `admin`

Sunday, 12 February 2017

This evening, I was looking at a record of recent failed attempts to log into this 'blog. I found that relatively few attempts tried to do so with the popular username of `admin`, whereäs by far the majority were with the username `oeconomist` (that it to say with the second-level domain name). There is not and never has been an account here with username `oeconomist`; the would-be intruder was guessing mistakenly — but not unreasonably. If my logs are representative, then having an account name match a second-level domain name is less secure than having it be `admin`. With people avoiding `admin`, it is natural for crackers to try other likely candidates, including candidates whose probabilities are conditional upon the domain names.

Mind you that the reasoning of my earlier explanation of why the avoidance of `admin` doesn’t add a discernible amount of security if passcodes are properly selected can be applied to avoiding a username that matches a domain name. An account with a known username and a well-chosen password of m+n characters is more secure than an account with a secret m-character username and an n-character password.

Choose a username that pleases you. Choose a password that is long and that looks like chaos, and make occasional changes to it.

### No Need for Doors

Thursday, 9 February 2017

84 Lumber bought airtime within the broadcast of the 2017 Superbowl, and presented a video of a Latina mother and daughter travelling through what seems to be Mexico, plainly in hopes of entering America. Inter-spliced with the scenes of their travel are scenes of Americans, clearly constructing something. When the mother and daughter reach the border, they are confronted by a grey and terrible wall. But, as they seek for some hope, they find it — sunlight somehow shining through a section of that wall. Running to it, they find a door. In the awful wall, it was a great door that the Americans in the other scenes were building.

84 Lumber is being attacked for their video, on a theory that its purpose were to defend illegal immigration. Naturally, 84 Lumber denies that their message were any such defense; they now claim that the door were a metaphor for the institutions of legal entry.

I don’t encounter a lot of people who will honestly speak in favor of illegal immigration. They ought to do so. There is nothing wrong with illegal immigration. Nothing.

The vast majority of people who oppose illegal immigration or want greater legal restriction on immigration do not do so from racism, and I am very sorry that they have been slandered and libelled; but recognizing the inappropriateness of that accusation doesn’t serve to support a case for denying people entry.

Indeed, immigrants might come to our nation and do a variety of things that are violations of the rights of the people who are here now, or that are otherwise undesirable; but every genuine right that might violated by an immigrant could also be violated by someone born and raised here; more generally, every socially corrosive act that might be perpetrated by an immigrant could also be perpetrated by a native. A man or woman who was born here can violate the property and person of someone else; a man or woman who was born here can demand that his or her religion or language be give a privileged legal status; a man or woman who was born here can live at the expense of the taxpayers. None of these behaviors is made better or worse by virtue of where the person were born, nor by whether he or she were allowed to immigrate by the law. I will grant that groups coming from some foreign cultures have a greater share of members likely to do undesirable things of some sorts; but some groups native to America have a greater share of members likely to do undesirable things of some sorts.

There is a dire confusion of the legal with the moral, both on the part of those who insist that illegal immigrants are already in the wrong by virtue of having broken laws that are ostensibly ours in coming here, and by those who insist that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. Law can be wrong, and when it is wrong then it may be ignored without doing wrong. Those immigrants here in violation of law are neither wrong simply for being illegal, nor legal because they are not wrong to be here.

America is not a club nor a corporation. The persons and properties within the area occupied by America are not ipso facto in any way the property of all Americans. The right to trade, the right to give without condition, and the right to take that which is freely offered are not rights that in any way reflect nationality. Those who would do business with newcomers are within their rights; newcomers who would do business with those Americans are within their rights.

It’s offensively absurd to claim an entitlement to exclude people by pointing to state-managed infrastructure and programmes. They weren’t brought into existence through some sort of social contract; ultimately, they were effected through threats of violence; and generally they crowded-out alternative institutions that would have been created by free people. Of course, the welfare state cannot survive in a world of such freedom; it could not survive even if the progressives were allowed to pursue their wildest dreams of taxation, nationally or globally. But so much the worse for the false generosity and false security of the welfare state, which cannot avoid bankruptcy in this century, regardless of whether it keeps all of us trapped on one side or another of its jurisdictional boundaries.

Many people who are going or went through the process of legal immigration may feel that it is unfair for others now to jump the queue; but the queue should never have existed in the first place, and one only compounds the injustice by imposing it upon others.

There should be no queue, no wall, no need for doors.

### Fired-up

Thursday, 2 February 2017

I returned home on foot this evening, carrying various things. As I got back to the apartment complex and was going to enter by way of the vehicular gate, I saw and smelled what appeared to be a fire outside of the central front pedestrian gate, so I investigated.

Yup, there was a small fire inside of what appeared to be a pylon or one of those tall butt receptacles, which was within an inch or so of the building, if not up against it.

So I first got my phone to call emergency services. The first dispatcher switched me to a fire department dispatcher, who was a fool following a flowchart. I started to tell him There’s a small fire outside of 4050— at which point he interrupted me to tell me that he needed my location. So I told him my location exactly as I’d begun doing when he interrupted me — I didn’t note to him that I’d been doing just that — and I told him what was on fire. At this point, I wanted to put down what I was carrying, and go get a fire extinguisher, which meant getting off the phone. Of course, the fire was worsening and the burning object was collapsing in a way that could further fuel the flames. But the dispatcher was demanding my phone number in case we get cut off. I shouted at him that I’d told him what he needed to know, and wasn’t going to stay on the phone with him. My phone set resisted my attempt to hang-up, so I turned it off. I got-out my keys, got through the gate, was interrupted by someone who told me that there were a fire, put my packages down, went (barking about stupidity) to a case near the elevator, retrieved a fire extinguisher, then returned to put-out the damn’d fire.

I thought that I heard a fire truck, so I waited, and one indeed arrived. They decided that the fire were extinguished, and so went on their way. The complex manager showed-up, so I explained the situation to her. Then a cop showed-up so I explained the situation to him. Satisfied, he too went on his way. The manager stayed to deal with the clean-up. I grabbed my things, went on to my apartment, and grumbled sub-vocally about inhaling things that I didn’t want to inhale.

When I restarted my phone, I found that I had a message waiting. The dispatcher said that they needed me to call back to tell them what were on fire.

### The Endurance of Love

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Many months ago, sitting in the bistro that I frequent, I overheard a woman declaring Love never dies! Now, I really don’t know the context, and she may have been elliptically expressing some thought with which I would agree, but certainly love does sometimes die. I thought about how and why it dies.

There’s something often mistaken for love, that virtually always dies. That’s the romantic bliss that many people feel each in response to some other person. Given human variability, there is probably some small number of people who feel that bliss about some person, without cessation, for many decades and until these blissful people die. But it rarely persists for more than a very few years, if even that. People who mistake it for love involve themselves in ways that they should not. People who mistake it for love sometimes leave when they should not; the bliss evaporates and they think themselves no longer in love, or they do not feel the bliss in the first place and think that they never loved, because they do not recognize the love that they feel for the other person. As for me, I’ve never felt that bliss at all; I only know of it from reports; but I certainly have personal experience of loving someone.[1]

Real love is the distinctive, fundamental emotional response to finding a person whom one believes exemplifies one’s values. And when one believes that the other person complements one’s self, the love has a romantic aspect, a desire to build a shared life with that person. Those beliefs are usually unconscious. The typical person, when not in love, can make a list of what he or she would want in another person, only to find him- or herself later in love with someone who seems quite different from what was imagined. But, in all things, our actual values come-out in the course of felt desire, of choice made at cost, of action. In any case, that emotional response lasts for as long as one holds those values, believes that the other person manifests those values, and sees that person as one’s complement.

It takes rather a lot for that response to die, because there is so much to be undone. Some highly personal values of the lover must change, or the person loved must come to appear to be very different, in a negative way, from what was believed. I’m inclined to say that love doesn’t die unless it is killed. Sometimes it staggers along for rather a long while even when obviously mortally wounded. If no one kills love, then it lasts for the lifetime of the one who loves, and thus can abide beyond the lifetime of the one who was loved.

I think that many or most of us have seen love killed. I’ve more than once seen one person who felt but did not recognize love kill the love that the other person felt for him or for her, and then struggle to live with an unrequited love, perhaps never seen for what it were.

I certainly won’t claim that it is better to have loved and then experienced the killing of that love than never to have loved at all. But there is a self-awareness that can be salvaged from the wreckage. One doesn’t know whom one will love before one loves; but, after all, one emerges from a failed love with the experience of having loved, and thus of having one’s actual values expressed. Perhaps the other person wasn’t whom one thought, but it should be possible consciously to identify some of the attributes that one imputed to that other person which caused one to love him or her; a contrast with the discovered makes the imagined easier to see. Thus, one may have a more clear idea of what one may call one’s personal destiny, though this is a destiny that may not be reälized and might even be absurd.

Love that doesn’t die but that is unrequited or effectively unrequited is a different matter. One might still clarify one’s values, even without a contrast between the one’s earlier beliefs about a person and what one discovers about him or about her. But there may be no application of this knowledge; so long as one is in love, there is no next person to seek.

[1] Early in my relationship with my most recent girl-friend, she was deeply hurt to learn that I wasn’t joyful. She didn’t explain why she was hurt, and I did not understand during the course of that relationship why she had been hurt (and perhaps remained hurt). Now I infer that she mistakenly felt unloved.

### λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια;

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Years ago, National Lampoon had a monthly column that they entitled True Facts. The title was a joke, not because the contents weren’t true (they were an assembly of extraödinary news reports), but because facts cannot be untrue; something untrue is not a fact. Yet many people in various contexts were using terms such as actual fact, real fact, and true fact, almost as if it were possible for some facts to be false, imaginary, unreal. People still do, perhaps even more often. One can find lots of instances of people using imaginary fact; sometimes they do so ironically, but more often they are quite serious. By imaginary fact they mean a proposition that may be untrue, is likely to be untrue, or simply is untrue. In this retasking of the word fact, they’ve lost the use of the word to talk about facts, unless they add a word such as true. But, with that change in meaning, it not only becomes possible to use a term such as alternative fact to refer to a rival claim, but it becomes harder to see that untrue rival claims don’t have equal standing with true rival claims, as they are all supposedly facts.

We aren’t at all helped here that a great many people don’t understand the words true and truth. That’s not simply a problem of vocabulary. Truth is a hard concept, because it entails a meta-propositional act of mapping from a proposition back to itself. That is to say that, in most cases when we apply the word true or equivalent and certainly in the case of true facts, we are explicitly or implicitly making a proposition about a proposition. When we say It’s true that I went to the store, that actual referent of the grammatic subject is not I, but the proposition that I went to the store, yet the upshot of this sentence is merely what would be conveyed in saying I went to the store. We perhaps don’t need this device of recasting a proposition (I went to the store) as a meta-proposition (It is true that I went to the store), but it is useful because we are not omniscient, and must entertain propositions that are uncertain or discovered to be false; the concept of truth complements the conditions of falsehood and of uncertainty. Yet it is very hard to see that function, exactly because we use the concept to discuss itself. Truth is more easily named than described, if indeed a description is possible.

The difficulty in understanding the nature of truth makes it psychologically easier to embrace such notions as that all aspects of of past, present, and future are simply artefacts of individual belief or of group belief (expressed with formulæ such as truth is a social construct) or that what one wants or ought to want is to be treated a true. The word fact may then be used for components of narratives; embracing one narrative is seen as licensing one to accept propositions as fact that are alternative to components of rival narratives, and to reject propositions for no better reason than that they participate in rival narratives. Evolution of narratives is seen as licensing one to change the status of a proposition from fact to falsehood, or vice versa, even when discussing history. And we may even observe those socially identified as fact-checkers testing claims against narratives which are themselves never fact-checked, because the checkers implictly treat their favored narratives as the ultimate determinant of fact.

When Pilate asked What is truth?, perhaps he was truly curious as to the nature of truth, but he may merely have been asking why he should give a damn about it. Our political leaders have become ever more disdainful of truth. They have long offered us alternative facts, and their followers in each of our major political tribes and in most of the smaller groups as well have decided that, for them, these are the facts. Now we have an Administration that does so more baldly and less artfully. One might hope that this practice will explode on them; but, even if that explosion should happen, their opponents are likely to see an expansion of the envelope within which they may disregard the facts.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Thinking about there already being an effort to persuade voters that they must support whomever the Democratic Party nominates in 2018 and in 2020, I was naturally led to wonder what sort of candidates those would be; and thence, more generally, what politics would be like in about three years.

What politics will be is something within the context of what they can be, so I try to imagine the plausible scenarii. To me, these look very grim.

I expect the Republican Party to continue to reshape itself around Donald Joseph Trump, to be more informed by his poison. I don’t expect the dissenters within the Republican Party to enjoy much success, especially as I don’t expect them to find any help either from main-stream of the media or from the alternative led by Fox. Some of the better people in that tribe whom we call the political right will leave it, and even some people who were enthusiastic about Trump will see or sense where things are leading, and turn away; however, it will continue to recruit people who were not previously its members but are attracted to Trump or to Trumpism. And a very large share of those who were already members of that tribe will reshape their ostensible beliefs to fit the pronouncements and actions of Donald Trump.

(If Trump should leave office early, then the Party will presumably work to reshape itself around Michael Richard Pence, who will attempt to segue from whatever Trumpism then is, to a frightening social conservatism. But I don’t expect Trump to be removed.)

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Democrats are in a dark political death-pit. Their most recent nomination was decided as a struggle between what progressivism has become (and was always destined to be) and crony capitalism posturing opportunistically as that progressivism. The leadership ensured that the crony capitalist got the nomination, but the subsequent result was, if anything, to intensify the need of the leadership to pander to the progressive urges of the Party’s base. And the response of the base to Trump’s election has been to move still further left and to become more overtly violent.

That base is about 25% of the nation and of the voters. It likes to imagine itself as a plurality, as a majority, or sometimes even as the other 98% or as the 99%. But the political left has inflated its apparent size by taking disproportionate control of the commanding heights of our social institutions, and by implicitly coöperating with the political right (also only about a quarter of the population) to marginalize those with views that do not conform to the left-right framework; remarkably, the political right has kept the political left viable, and vice versa. (These days, about a third of the American population wants the state to be less involved both in matters of sex and of religion and in matters ordinarily classified as economic. That makes them a larger group than either the left or the right, but not larger than the two combined.) Given how small they actually are, the left (like the right) cannot take political power without getting votes from those outside their tribe. If the Democratic Party cannot free itself from the influence of those who continue down the path of progressivism, then it cannot return to power based upon a positive appeal; its hopes would lie only in Republican over-reach.

Which over-reach would certainly have recent precedence. In 2006 and 2008, the Republican Party was in its own death-pit. They’d stumbled into it under the influence of neo-conservatism. The neo-conservatives pursued two wars, guided by a theory that the people in Afghanistan and in Iraq were aching for liberal democracy and prepared to fight for it. And they pursued fiscal and regulatory policies that triggered a major financial crisis. The Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress, and then of the White House.

What pulled them from that death-pit was the Tea Party, which began coälescing with rallies, and then organized itself well enough to displace candidates of the Republican establishment in primary races. Those in the Republican establishment who held onto their positions fought vigorously with the Tea Party, which served to burnish the credentials of the Tea Party candidates and office-holders. Attempts by the left to treat the Tea Party Republicans as responsible for the prior actions of the neo-conservative Republicans were unsuccessful in persuading those outside the Democratic base. Ultimately, it seems that the Tea Party failed in its objectives; they did not succeed in capturing the leadership of the Republican Party, and some office-holders who had cultivated the support of the Tea Party betrayed their trust. The Tea Party appears now itself displaced by an uglier and angrier populism. But the Tea Party had the effect of allowing the Republican Party largely to free itself from association with the awful policies of the Administration of George Walker Bush.

That brings me to the Women’s March on Washington, and to its sister Marches in other cities. It is not impossible that these rallies could be the beginning of a process that could reälign the Democratic Party, pulling it from its death-pit as the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party from its own. The odds, however, are very much against that reälignment.

First, though a great many of the women who participated wanted to be heard, rather that to be told what to say by celebrities and by iconsdefinitely shouting No! to goddamn’d Donald Joseph Trump, but not all saying Yes! to what the Democratic Party or its progressive base have been offering — the objective of most of those who called and led these marches in the first place was not to reälign the Party, but to reälign women. A new leadership of reformers would have to be found.

Second, while the Tea Party did not much have to fight the Republican base, that is exactly what anyone seeking fundamentally to reälign the Democratic Party would have to do.

Those without much hope for the Republican or Democratic Parties as instruments of positive change sometimes turn to third parties. Some exist, others could be creäted. We’ve already seen a collapse of the institutionalized myth that third parties must always be formed either around one issue or around one candidate. The left and the right will join together, through the media that they control and through bi-partisan commissions, to fight the emergence of of a real alternative; but, if the left continues to get ever more repulsive to those voters outside of the left and right, then the right will have a greatly weakened partner in their unholy alliance to exclude rival views. I don’t imagine that I myself will find a party or Presidential candidate whom I can, in good conscience, support; but perhaps 2020 will be made less awful by the emergence of a better major party.