Austrian Economics Bollox

A citizen of the Internet shared this as if were gospel along with this comment:

Late Professor Steven Horwitz expanding on a Misesian theme. Monetary profit helps allocate resources to higher valued uses. Elsewhere, Mises spoke of profit in a broader sense, “profit” being the goal of every action. In any case, those familiar with what pundits (from the left mostly) tend to say about “profit” may be completely surprised by this take, since it is so contrary to what they often read and hear.

Of course, these are vapid words and wishful thinking. How and why do profits signal that value has been created? I dunno. They just do cuz I said so. The only thing that profits signal is a market that doesn’t understand the true cost of production and consumers can’t be bothered to do it themselves. Mattresses and shaving razor blades are two high-margin consumer goods with mattresses yielding 500 per cent profits and razor blades even higher. These profits represent economic rent and not value. The fact that imperfect information shrouds this excess does not make it ‘value’.

Regarding the mortgage market meltdown of 2007-08, there were houses being built into a market with no buyers. The same ‘value’ being created was demonstrably vapour. Say’s Law was off-target again. Supply does not create its own demand.

Is it no wonder that so many Capitalists are also Protestant Christians who believe in Bible tales as well? Even worse are the Christians who are not Capitalists but are exploited by Capitalism the same way they are exploited by their religion. I guess once you’ve profiled the gullible, you might as well just keep exploiting them until there is nothing left to extract.

The year is dead. Long live the new year.

Excuse me, but your data are showing.

I was writing a post for another forum to acknowledge the changeover of the years, and I decided to lean on Dall-E to assist with some image rendering. It appears that Dall-E’s concept of New Year is 2019—BC, before Covid.

IMAGE: 4 Dall-E Renders

Honestly, I am not sure what to say.

Levr Live year? Wot?

Live Yer 2019? Huh?

Lew Yhr Tib 2019? I’d like to buy a vowel.

Neew Ne IiR 2019? Hmmm… 🤔

I think we know when their training data ended. There is no future past 2019. Little did they suspect.

Know thyself

Oracle at Delphi Inscription

As this was just a reactionary post, I don’t have much to add. To paraphrase the Delphic ‘Know thyself’ inscription, know thy data.

Path to the Fall

By fall, I don’t mean autumn except perhaps metaphorically speaking. The accompanying image illustrates a progression from the pre-Enlightenment reformation and the factors leading to the Modern Condition and increases in schizophrenia in people, societies, and enterprises.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content.

This image is essentially composited from a later chapter in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. In it, he outlines a path that commences at the Reformation that led to Lutheranism and Protestantism and further to Calvinism (not separately depicted). Max Weber argued that Capitalism is inextricably linked to Calvinism and the workmanship ideal tradition.

McGilchrists argument is founded on the notion that Catholocism is a communally oriented belief system whilst Protestantism is focused on the individual and salvation through personal work. The essence of capitalism is the same.

Of course, history isn’t strictly linear. In fact, there are more elements than one could realistically account for, so we rely on a reduction. In concert with the Reformation but on a slight delay is the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which led not only to faith in science but then to the pathology of Scientism.

This Protestant-Scientismic nexus brought us to Capitalism and into the Industrial Revolution, where humans were devivified or devitalised, trading their souls to be pawns to earn a few shekels to survive. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution led to Marxism, through Marx’s critique of Capitalism, but Marxism has the same fatal flaw as Capitalism inasmuch as it doesn’t view people as humans. It does afford them a slightly higher function as workers, but this still leaves humanity as a second-tier aspect and even historicity is elevated above as a sort of meta-trend or undercurrent.

From there, we transition to Modernity, which yields the modern condition and schizophrenics in one fell swoop. This is no coincidence.

Although I end this journey at Modernism, McGilchrist is also leery of the effects of post-modernism as well as philosophy itself as overly reductionist in its attempts to categorise and systematise, valuing signs and symbols over lived experience. His main complaint with postmodernism is that it moves from the objective perspective of Modernity to the subjective perspective, and so there remains no base foundation, which is the shared experience. I’m not sure I agree with his critique, but I’m not going to contemplate it here and now.

In the end, this journey and illustration are gross simplifications, but I still feel it provides valuable perspective. The challenge is that one can’t readily put the genie back into the bottle, and the question is where do we go from here, if not Modernism or Postmodernism. I shouldn’t even mention Metamodernism because that seems like an unlikely synthesis, as well-intentioned as it might be. McGilchrist gives examples of reversals in the trend toward left-hemisphere bias, notably the Romantic period, but that too was reversed, recommencing the current trajectory. My feeling is that if we continue down this dark path, we’ll reach a point of no return.

It seems to be that it’s growing at an increasing rate, like a snowball careening down a slope. It not only drives the left-dominant types further left because an analytical person would reinforce the belief that if only s/he and the world were more analytical things would be so much better—even in a world where net happiness is trending downward—, but it also forces this worldview on other cultures, effectively destroying them and assimilating them into the dark side, if I can borrow a Star Wars reference.

Epilogue

I wasn’t planning to share this story—at least not now. In another forum, I responded to a statement, and I was admonished by Professor Stephen Hicks, author of the book of dubious scholarship, Explaining Postmodernism.

I responded to this query:

If you’re a single mother and have a son I’d suggest putting him in a sport or martial arts to add some masculine energy to his life. It’s not a replacement for the actual father but it can help instil structure and discipline into the core of his being.

— Julian Arsenio

“Perhaps this world needs less discipline and structure, not more,” was my response, to which Hicks replied.

The quotation is not about “the world.” It is about boys without fathers. Evaluate the quotation in its context.

— Stephen Hicks

“Disciplined boys create a disciplined world. Not a world I’d prefer to create or live in. We need more right-hemisphere people. Instead, we are being overwhelmed by left hemisphere types, leading to Capitalism and the denouement of humanity as it encroaches like cancer, devouring or corrupting all it touches.

“In the end, it is about the world, which from a left hemisphere perspective is a sum of its parts. Right-hemisphere thinkers know otherwise,” was my reply. He responded,

You seem to have difficulty focusing. From a quotation about fatherless boys you free associate to [sic] weird psychology and global apocalptic [sic] pessimism. Pointless.

— Stephen Hicks

“I’ll suggest that the opposite is true, and perhaps you need to focus less and appreciate the Gestalt. This was not free association. Rather, it is a logical connexion between the disposition of the people in the world and lived reality.

“Clearly, you are a left-hemisphere structured thinker. The world is literally littered with this cohort.

“I suggest broadening your worldview so as not to lose the woods for the trees. I recommend Dr Iain McGilchrist as an apt guide. Perhaps reading The Master and His Emissary and/or The Matter with Things would give you another perspective. #JustSaying”

His final repartee is,

And still, rather than addressing the issue of fatherless boys, you go off on tangents, this time psychologizing about people you’ve zero first-hand knowledge of.

— Stephen Hicks

Feel free to interpret this as you will. For me, his attempt to limit discussion to some notion he had in his head and his failure to see the woods for the trees, as I write, suggests that he is a left-brain thinker. Having watched some of his videos, whether lectures or interviews, this was already evident to me. This exchange is just another proof point.

I considered offering the perspective of Bruno Bettleheim’s importance of unstructured play, but as is evidenced above, he is not open to dialogue. His preference appears to be a monologue. This is the left hemisphere in action. This is an example of how insidious this convergent thinking is, and it makes me worry about what’s ahead in a world of people demanding more structure and discipline. Foucault’s Discipline and Surveillance comes to the forefront.

Underrepresented Class

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I’ve just finished reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary, having paused The Matter with Things to put it to bed. The book is divided into two sections. The first lays down the neuroscientific base whilst the second contains expository forrays. Technically, one might argue that there are three sections as the last unnumbered chapter seems to stand alone from the second part. It’s only one chapter containing some 36 pages, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. But this will not be a book review, as highly recommended as it is.

I’ve been a vocal proponent of hiring neurodiverse people into certain roles. Having read the book and absorbed the rationale, it’s easy to see how it aligns with and supports some of my own experiences. In particular, I’ve noticed that many companies hire autism spectrum on the Aspergers end of the scale. These people tend to be hired into IT and programming roles—functions already having reputations for being staffed with socially awkward and low EQ individuals, characteristics of people on the spectrum. It makes sense because left-hemisphere-dominant managers evaluate this hyper-left-hemisphere-dominant cohort as assets. Without getting too deep into the territory of stereotypes, in general, this group are laser-focused and doggedly pursue tasks at hand without tiring. I’ve met plenty of ADHD-diagnosed people in these roles, too—not as many, but also employed in technology-oriented positions.

The underrepresented class are right-hemisphere-dominant people. To be fair, I’ve encountered many Creative people in Agencies, but their right-hemisphere life is separate from their left and not appreciated in the workplace. They mainly exercise their right-hemisphere life outside of office hours on personal passion projects. I’d also be willing to bet that these people are not truly right-hemisphere-dominant. Rather, they have the ability to balance and allow the left hemisphere to take over during business hours.

In some cases, these people happen to have right-hemisphere insights into a project or have some creative inspiration off hours to benefit the work of the next day. But the right hemisphere is not time-boxed. It doesn’t function on demand. In fact, it shuts down on demand, and the left introduces bootleg knock-offs. Of course, this doesn’t matter, as it is probably better than their left-hemisphere managers and clients and good enough in their eyes. I’m not convinced they’d actually recognise the right-hemisphere solution as better because the left hemisphere prefers its own tribe anyway.

If you are reading this and you are saying, “They’re running a business. They can’t wait for weeks or months for a resource to have the epiphany of a creative solution,” you’ve made my point, and you’ve presented strong evidence that you are operating from your left hemisphere as well. There’s no shame in this. The first step is to admit there’s a problem.

My point is not to antagonise left-hemisphere-dominant people or the fact that they’re at home with other like-minded people. It’s only natural. They usually find right-hemisphere types to be too eccentric for their taste anyway.

But these right- or balanced-hemisphere thinkers, not given the space for their right-hemisphere to yield benefit, are likely in a Creative function, whether in art, illustration, copywriting, or some such. They are like unicorns outside of this context.

As for me, I am at times balanced and at times left. At other times, I’m purely right, though this is admittedly short-lived and unsustainable. But in a balanced state—in a right-shifted mode—, this is where my Gestalt comes into play. One of my roles is to evaluate processes. The left hemisphere analyses in components and pieces. Taking an analytical approach, I can document that the knee bone is connected to the shin bone and the shin bone is connected to the ankle bone and so on, but this requires context, something the left hemisphere is weak at. The left hemisphere will tell us that this is the bone connexion process, as it were. But it’s more than this. It’s meaningless without musculature and connective tissue and a nervous system and a circulatory system. And we’d likely want the person to whom the bones belong to be alive. And how do these bones contribute to function and perambulation? This is a larger system thinking approach.

System thinking is a recommendation for looking at processes, but this is right-hemisphere activity. Most people asked to perform this are left-hemisphere-dominant, so they give it short-shrift.

At the end of this rant, my point is that I hear all about equity, diversity, and inclusion, but this cohort is not only underrepresented but almost nonexistent. To be fair, many of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable behind your walls anyway, aren’t likely to prefer the constraint of your walls, and they’d probably feel like outsiders. But this is the challenge with true inclusion.

Classes are a left-hemisphere operation at the start—male, female, black, white, L, B, G, T, and so on. These are left-hemisphere constructs. But since you are already stuck in this place anyway, let’s consider expanding the neurodiverse class to include right-hemisphere people.

Anatomy of a Social Media Challenge

As a Social Justice Warrior, I tend to favour diversity and inclusion as a principle. As such, I follow some people who share this interest. In fact, most of these people expend much more energy toward this end than I do. The challenge I am about to convey is that some people don’t read beyond the subject line, and don’t even attempt to assess the underlying claim, let alone the issue at hand.

I recently engaged in a nonsensical interaction that I am sharing and dissecting. It started with this share, an image of the border outline of Nigeria with an overlay caption that reads: “Nigeria becomes the first country to ban white and British models in all advertising”.

I’d like to point out two items in particular. Firstly, the caption is fabricated. I’ll get to the source reference presently. Secondly, the re-poster aptly corrects the caption when he shared it—”Well, all foreign models, but HELL YEAH!”

Nigeria recently passes a law that essentially assesses a tariff or levy on advertising content using non-Nigerian talent. There is no mention of ‘white’ models, though British models would fall under this umbrella. This protectionist law stems from nationalism. I’d guess that ‘white’ people comprise less than one per cent of the Nigerian national population, but I could be wrong. This is well outside my area of expertise.

My response was to say “Down with Nationalism and the Promotion of Otherism.”
I may be misinterpreting myself, but it feels to me that this is denouncing racism and other forms of otherness.

Sabrina responds, ‘Why is not having white models in advertising a bad thing?” and “Isn’t the whole point of advertising [for] people to…see themselves… ?”
In response, I should have pointed out that the initiative had nothing to do with skin colour. Instead, I responded to the second question: the point of advertising is to sell product. Full stop. If people see themselves with the product, then great. Clearly, this comprises a fraction of successful adverts. More common is to make a connection to what they aspire to. It’s not about making a social statement—unless, of course, that social statement will sell more product. If an ad with a white model will sell more product, a business would be derelict not to employ one; conversely, if white models result in lower sales, a business would be foolish not to switch to the more successful vector.

Sabrina really goes off the reservation with her reply, somehow conflating Nigeria with the African continent. Attention to detail is not her forte.

At this point, I feed into her laziness and send her a link to an Al-Jazeera article addressing the law.

She leaves with a parting shot, and I quote: “Have you ever thought about the harm you might cause by playing devil’s advocate and “creating an argument”?”

She’s off course and then attempts to diminish my point by calling it ‘playing devil’s advocate’ rather than admitting that she hadn’t even considered the rationale and possible ramifications. She didn’t even grasp the main point, so I suppose I should forgive her for not noticing secondary and edge cases.

At this point, Dr Perkins adds her voice. Her initial question is valid, and as I responded, the answer is “No”. The race card was introduced by some narrator who didn’t know what game he was broadcasting. But then she goes on to “applaud Nigeria for making a [decision] centering [on] Blackness”, save to say that was not what prompted the decision.

Notice, too, that other people “Liked” the other comments, a testament to the principle of least effort of the bystanders, too.

I recognise that the original post anchored the conversation off the actual topic, but it was also very easy to track down the reference and note the content discrepancy. Granted, this takes time and effort, but so does responding on a thread and then escalating commitment to a non-cause. And for one tilting at windmills to be tossing around accusations of playing devil’s advocate. It’s not a good sign.

But wait, there’s more. I commented on this post on a second thread.

In this case, Dr Anderson suggests that this is just “a country celebrating its own citizens by recognizing their beauty and knowing they can move product just as good, and probably better than white women, to which I responded that this is a testable hypothesis. It’s either true that on balance white models sell more product or black models do. Again, don’t fail to miss the point that none of this is about white versus black models.

Somehow, LinkedIn can’t seem to keep their threads in order, but Ms Rice takes my hypothesis testing point as a support for racism before precipitating to full-on troll mode.

It scares me to see that there are two academic doctors participating in this thread, neither with a trait of attention to detail nor even a fundamental pursuit of evidence.

This is why it is difficult to engage with social media. You have no idea what level a commenter is coming in on. And even when spoon-fed information, they refuse to alter their position. In fact, they tend to double down on their wrongness.
Moving on…

Postmodernism is Bollox

A short podcast on the reason Postmodernism is rubbish.

Video: YouTube (added 2/9/2022)

Postmodernism is rubbish. It makes no sense, and here’s why.

The term ‘modern’ is analogous to the term ‘now’. It is a time reference that privileges the moment. With time, we have a structure of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Now fits into a structure of before, now, and later.

Conversely, where ‘modern’ means now, postmodern would mean ‘later’, it makes no sense to label an ongoing pursuit postmodern, anymore than tomorrow can run contemporaneously with today.

Just labelling something as modern is pretentious enough. It’s similar to labels such as New Wave or New Age. It’s just trying to privilege a movement by branding it new.

So, if Modern was the new kid on the block, how might postmodern operate.

Another problem with the term postmodern is that most people considered postmodern, did not consider themselves to be postmodern. In fact, many vehemently disagreed.

A reason for this disagreement, is that the term is not owned by the purported Postmoderns. Rather, it’s a disparaging slur by so-called and improperly named Moderns.

Apart from the nomenclature challenge, postmodern is a reaction to the promise of modernity, but the reactions differ by discipline. Postmodern art and architecture are different to postmodern literature, which is different to postmodern philosophy.

And since postmodernism is rather a disparaging catchall, those with ideas not conformant to mainstream doctrine get tossed into the bin. This means that any number of feminists and post-colonialists are thrown onto the postmodernist pyre.

Here’s some food for thought. I argue that postmodernism cannot have a privileged perspective, because it claims that there is no such perspective available. If a feminist or a post-colonialist is saying anything, they are pointing out, that one needs to look through their lens too. By and large, they are not claiming that it is the lens of lenses.

In essence, if the modern lens is red, they might recommend viewing the same events through a blue lens or from a different angle. Walk a mile in another’s shoes. This shift in perspective can make all the difference.

The difference between a modern and the bolloxed-up postmodern is that the Modern thinks either that they have the only lens, or in any case, they have the right one. Moderns tend to be absolutists and universalists, so subjectivists and relativists rather rub them the wrong way.

The final thing I’d like to say about postmodernism is the notion of Deconstruction as made famous by one Jacques Derrida and misunderstood and misapplied by millions since. I’ll spare you the instruction, but I like to capture the sentiment of the way it is misunderstood by suggesting my own term, Disintegration. Perhaps, I’ll share more on Disintegrationism™ in future. Meantime, it’s just the process of breaking systems down to their core elements to inspect the working parts. Disintegrationism notes that these pieces can be re-integrated into new systems, but it makes no claim that one is better than another because that can only be determined by purpose. Another thing Moderns tend to ‘know’, is what the purpose is. Conditionally, if I know what the purpose is, I can claim to know, by extension, what the best system is.

Abraham Maslow gave us the law of the instrument, popularly conveyed as the aphorism, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Moderns are hammers and insist that every solution can be solved as if it were a nail. Only, everything is not a nail. The postmodern reminds us that hammers don’t make the best knives or screwdrivers or spanners.

What are your thoughts on postmoderns and postmodernism? What about moderns? Is there a term you feel might better capture the essence of these two schools?

Fischer, One of Four Views on Free Will

I’ve finally returned to the second author of Four Views on Free Will. The first author was Robert Kane. Here, I was introduced to John Martin Fischer, who wrote a section on Compatibilism. I’ve never read anything by Fischer. Indeed, I have no familiarity with him or his work. Allow me to start by saying that I was not impressed. Before diving into the content, let’s just say that he was extremely repetitive and circumlocutive. I found myself questioning whether the book was assembled with duplicate pages. Hadn’t I just read that? I’ll spare the reader the examples.

I repeat myself when under stress

I repeat myself when under stress

I repeat myself when under stress

I repeat myself when under stress

— King Crimson, Indiscipline

The topic was 44 pages on compatibilism. The first 30 pages were compatibilism before he changed to his brainchild, semi-compatibilism. Full disclosure: I am not a compatibilist. My recollection is that the majority of contemporary philosophers are compatibilists. Joining Fischer are Dan Dennett, Frithjof Bergmann, Gary Watson, Susan R. Wolf, P. F. Strawson, and R. Jay Wallace. Historically, this cadre are joined by Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Mill. This motley crew has been opposed by Peter van Inwagen and historical figures, Arthur Schopenhauer, William James, and Immanuel Kant.

Semi-compatibilism is the idea that regardless of whether free will and determinism are compatible, moral responsibility and determinism are.

At a meta-level, Fischer repeatedly—I’ll discontinue using this term as, like Fischer, it will become very, very repetitive—invoked law and common sense. Law is not a moral structure in search of truth. It’s a power structure employed to retain the status quo. And, as Voltaire quipped, ‘common sense is not so common.’ This is an argumentum ad populum (appeal to popularity) fallacy. It also relies on belief and perception. I suppose he’s not familiar with Descartes’ Meditations. It seems he is trying to forge Compatibilism into a cast of soft determinism with hopes that no one notices the switcheroo.

Fischer targets some quotes buy Kant, James, Wallace Matson, and Nietzsche with the general critique that they are expecting too much of an agent by expecting it to be the cause of its own actions. Nevermind, that he is guilty of just this in attempting to parse passive and active agents—passive being insentient dominos and active being conscious entities.

I’m not convinced that maths is a strong point. He sets up a hypothetical scenario where physics has proven that causal determinism is true, so 100 per cent of everything in the universe can be known with certainty. But then he does two things.

First, he exempts human agency—cuz reasons. Second, he creates a parallel scenario where 100 per cent might be 99 or 99.9 per cent.

Second, he claims that because he feels free, he must be free.

Similarly, it is natural and extraordinarily “basic” for human beings to think of ourselves as (sometimes at least) morally accountable for our choices and behavior. Typically, we think of ourselves as morally responsible precisely in virtue of exercising a distinctive kind of freedom or control; this freedom
is traditionally thought to involve exactly the sort of “selection” from among genuinely available alternative possibilities alluded to above. When an agent is morally responsible for his behavior, we typically suppose that he could have (at least at some relevant time) done otherwise.

— Fischer, p. 46

Nothing is such that thinking doesn’t make it so.

It seems that when watching a movie for the third time, the victim who gets killed in the cellar won’t descend the stairs this time. Fisher must get perplexed when she does every time. Of course, he’d argue without evidence that an active agent would be able to make a different decision—even under identical circumstances. He insists that the agent possesses this free will.

Whilst sidestepping physicalism and materialism, he simply posits that consciousness is just different and not subject to other causal chain relationships—and that these cannot be deterministic even if everything else is.

I’m going to digress on his next point—that the person who knows not to cheat on taxes, and who does so anyway, is responsible as any normal person would be. Perhaps the person feels that the taxes are being used for illegal or immoral purposes and is taking the moral high ground by depriving the institution of these proceeds.

Around 2007 or so, I paid my taxes due minus about $5,000, which was the calculated amount of the per capita cost of the illegal and immoral Iraq invasion by the United States and its cadre of war criminals in charge. I attached a note outlining my opposition and rationale.

Some months later, the Internal Revenue department sent a legal request to my employer for the withheld sum. Payroll summoned me and conveyed that they were required to comply with the request. I told them my perspective and said if they could sleep with that on their conscience, then they were in their power. And so no nights of sleep were lost.

The point of this anecdote is to say that morals are social constructs. Clearly, Fischer is just an old-fashioned conformist. I suspect he thinks of Valjean as a bad person.

Like many if not most people, he employs a compos mentis approach, exempting persons of reduced cognitive capacity and those under duress or coercion, but he is not a proponent of the causa sui defence.

He has an entire subsection devoted to the libertarian notion of freedom. To recapitulate, he simply regurgitated all of the standard arguments and exempts the aforementioned agents and adds people under hypnosis, the brainwashed, and so on. Nothing to write home about—not here either.

In the next subsection, his focus is on consequences. He calls out Peter van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument.

Similarly, the skeptical argument about our freedom employs ordinary ideas about the fixity of the
past and the fi xity of the natural laws (putatively) to generate the intuitively jarring result that we are not ever free, if causal determinism turns out to be true (something we can’t rule out apriori). If this skeptical argument is sound, it calls into question any compatibilist analysis of freedom (that is, freedom of the sort under consideration – involving the capacity for selection among open alternatives). If the argument is sound, then not only both the simple and refined conditional analysis, but any compatibilist analysis (of the relevant sort of freedom) must be rejected.

Fischer p. 53

He leans on Borges’ garden of forking paths and claims (without support) that although the past might be fixed, freedom is the ability to add to the future, citing Carl Ginet as the source of this notion. He misses the point that that’s what the future is, tautologically. It adds now to the past and generates a future. Choice is not necessary for this function to operate, but he continues to insist on invoking it.

Standard Frankfort examples are referenced as well as Locke. Here he wants to point out regulative control—but he skirts the question of where the volition comes from by saying ‘for his own reasons‘, as if these reasons are somehow meaningful. In the end, he recites the scenarios, performs some hand-waving, and summons his accord with Robert Kane’s “dual voluntariness” constraint on moral responsibility.

He leaves us with the thought that if the Consequence Argument were true, it would be compatibilism’s death knell, but it’s not true (in his mind), so all is well in Whoville. Crisis averted.

Source incompatibilism is next. His focus here is on the “elbow room” necessary to exercise free will.

Elbow Room is the title of a book by Daniel Dennett originally published in 1984 and republished in 2015. I’ve recently read this on holiday, but I haven’t had time to review it. Please stand by.

His approach in this subsection is to attack opposing perspectives as reductionist. Of course, he’s right, but they are no more reductionist than anything he’s suggested thus far. Besides, simply injecting favoured concepts to add to a model to make it compatible with one’s hypothesis doesn’t make it less reductionist. It just makes the model more convoluted.

Here he attempts to elevate consciousness into a special category in order to shield it from the physics of the universe. We can’t say for sure what consciousness is, but you can bet it’s a magical place where practically anything can happen. OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole.

He uses the metaphor of trying to assess how a television works by only studying the components. Of course, if that is all one did, one would be left with questions. But that is not where one stops. To be fair, neuroscience has come a long way since this was published in 2007. Neuroscientists are asking questions beyond the hardware.

He sets up a strawman by labelling total control as a chimaera as if anyone is arguing that if a theory doesn’t allow for total control, it will not be accepted. He does allow that…

We do not exist in a protective bubble of control. Rather, we are thoroughly and pervasively subject to luck: actual causal factors entirely out of our control are such that, if they were not to occur, things at least might be very different.

— Fischer, p. 68

We agree on this point, but I feel that he underestimates the remaining degrees of freedom after all of this is accounted for.

He attempts to create a mental model with vertical and horizontal lines. At least he admits that he does “not suppose [to] have offered a knockdown argument” because he doesn’t.

Finally, he wraps up this subsection by invoking Nietzsche’s famous Munchausen Causa Sui statement in Twilight of the Idols. He attacks this rationale as being “both ludicrous and part of commonsense.” He loves his commonsense.

Next, he wants to convince us, Why Be a Semicompatibilist? Semicompatibilism just needs enough elbow room to assert freedom. I suppose that’s the ‘semi‘ part. It feels to me an exercise in self-delusion.

The main idea behind semicompatibilism is to shrink the target size of compatibility and focus centrally on moral responsibility and agent control rather than the larger realm of free will.

Fischer makes what might be considered to be a religious argument. We should adopt this perspective because it feels better and is in our best interest. He cites Gary Watson’s view of using indeterminism to undermine determinism, but he feels that rather etiolates control rather than strengthening it because it “becomes unclear that our choices and actions are really ours.”

In the next subsection, he leads with the argument “that moral responsibility does not require regulative control, but only guidance control, and further that it is plausible that guidance control is compatible with causal determinism.” At least, this is the story he’s sticking to.

In Fischer’s “approach to guidance control, there are two chief elements:
the mechanism that issues in action must be the “agent’s own,” and
it must be appropriately “reasons-responsive.””

As for the “agent’s own” constraint, he simply notes that counterclaims exist, but he asserts that he doesn’t accept them.

As for reasons-responsiveness, he cites his own publication written with Mark Ravizza, Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility, and declines to elaborate in this essay.

In the final subsection, he writes about the Lure of Semicompatibilism. I do feel he is lured by the concept and makes light of the label. He advances the notion that “Kant believed that compatibility and incompatibilism are consistent“. Say what? But he takes a weaker position on this claim, using the Kant name-drop for cover.

As I said at the start, I don’t know anything about Fischer, but he is obsessed with legal theory as if it has any bearing on philosophical standing. Perhaps I’ll include a summary from a quick internet perusal. After I’ve wrapped this up. He mentions moral desert, which is a concept employed in matters of restorative and retributive justice.

The section concludes with a list of publications by him and others. Perhaps I’ll list them here in future as an addendum. For now, I’ll pop outside of this edit window and see what I can find on John Martin Fischer.


John Martin Fischer (born December 26, 1952) is an American philosopher. He is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside and a leading contributor to the philosophy of free will and moral responsibility.

Hierarchies and Meritocracy

Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand chat for about 12 minutes on sex differences and personality, but that’s not where I want to focus commentary. What I will say is that Peterson continually conflates sex and gender, and I find that disconcerting for a research psychologist.

I’ve queued this video near the end, where Peterson delineates his conception of how the political right and left (as defined by him and the US media-industrial complex).

I feel he does a good job of defining the right, and he may have even captured whatever he means by left—radical left even—, but he doesn’t capture my concerns, hence I write.

To recap his positions,

Premises

  • We need to pursue things of value
  • Hierarchies are inevitable
  • [One has] to value things in order to move forward in life
  • [One has] to value things in order to have something valuable to produce
  • [One has] to value some things more than others or [they] don’t have anything like beauty or strength or…competence or…whatever…
  • If [one] value[s] [some domain] then [one is] going to value some [things in that domain] more than others because some are better
  • If [one] play[s] out the value in a social landscape, a hierarchy [will result]
  • A small number of people are going to be more successful than the majority
  • A very large number of people aren’t going to be successful at all

Conservative (Right)

  • Hierarchies are justifiable and necessary

Left

  • Hierarchies … stack [people] up at the bottom
  • [Hierarchies] tilt towards tyranny across time

Critique

I feel I’ve captured his position from the video transcript, but feel free to watch the clip to determine if I’ve mischaracterised his position. I have reordered some of his points for readability and for a more ordered response on my part.

To be fair, I feel his delivery is confused and the message becomes ambiguous, so I may end up addressing the ‘wrong’ portion of his ambiguous statement.

We need to pursue things of value

This is sloganeering. The question is how are we defining value? Is it a shared definition? How is this value measured? How are we attributing contribution to value? And do we really need to pursue these things?

Hierarchies are inevitable

Hierarchies may be inevitable, but they are also constructed. They are not natural. They are a taxonomical function of human language. Being constructed, they can be managed. Peterson will suggest meritocracy as an organising principle, so we’ll return to that presently.

[One has] to value things in order to move forward in life

This is a particular worldview predicated on the teleological notion of progress. I’ve discussed elsewhere that all movement is not progress, and perceived progress is not necessarily progress on a global scale.

Moreover, what one values may not conform with what another values. In practice, what one values can be to the detriment of another, so how is this arbitrated or mediated?

[One has] to value things in order to have something valuable to produce

I think he is trying to put this into an economic lens, but I don’t know where he was going with this line. Perhaps it was meant to emphasise the previous point. I’ll just leave it here.

[One has] to value some things more than others or [they] don’t have anything like beauty or strength or…competence or…whatever…

This one is particularly interesting. Ostensibly, I believe he is making the claim that we force rank individual preferences, then he provides examples of items he values: beauty, strength, competence, and whatever. Telling here is that he chooses aesthetic and unmeasurable items that are not comparable across group members and are not even stable for a particular individual. I won’t fall down the rabbit hole of preference theory, but this is a known limitation of that theory.

If [one] value[s] [some domain] then [one is] going to value some [things in that domain] more than others because some are better

We’ve already touched on most of this concept. The key term here is ‘better‘. Better is typically subjective. Even in sports, where output and stats are fairly well dimensionalised, one might have to evaluate the contributions of a single athlete versus another with lower ‘output’ but who serves as a catalyst for others. In my mental model, I am thinking of a person who has higher arbitrary stats than another on all levels versus another with (necessarily) lower stats but who elevates the performance (hence) stats of teammates. This person would likely be undervalued (hence under-compensated) relative to the ‘star’ performer.

In other domains, such as art, academics, or even accounting and all measurement bets are off.

If [one] play[s] out the value in a social landscape, a hierarchy [will result]

Agreed, but the outcome will be based on rules—written and unwritten.

A small number of people are going to be more successful than the majority

Agreed.

A very large number of people aren’t going to be successful at all

Agreed

Conclusion

The notion of meritocracy is fraught with errors, most notably that merit can be meaningfully assessed in all but the most simple and controlled circumstances. But societies and cultures are neither simple nor controlled. They are complex organisms. And as Daniel Kahneman notes, most merit can likely be chalked up to luck, so it’s all bullshit at the start.

In the end, Peterson and people like him believe that the world works in a way that it doesn’t. They believe that thinking makes it so and that you can get an is from an ought. Almost no amount of argument will convince them otherwise. It reminds me of the time Alan Greenspan finally admitted to the US Congress that his long-held adopted worldview was patently wrong.

Video: CSPAN: Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman and Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan Testimony

WAXMAN: “You found a flaw…”

GREENSPAN: “In the reality—more in the model—that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.”

WAXMAN: “In other words, you found that your your view of the world—your ideology—was not right. It was not what it had it…”

GREENSPAN: “Precisely. No, I… That’s precisely the reason I was shocked because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

To paraphrase musically

Video: Social Distortion, I Was Wrong

Motility, Automotion, and Agency

I just wrapped up chapter eleven of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve got only 35 pages to go to get through chapter twelve. I’ve been tempted to stop reading. Chapter eleven—and I am tempted to inject a bankruptcy pun here—has been more frustrating than the rest thus far. And yet I am glad to have persisted.

My intellectual focus these past months has been on agency. Et voilà, paydirt. Chapter eleven’s title reveals the context: Religion is a Team Sport. Let’s walk through this garden together.

A goal of Haidt is to educate the reader on his third principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. He establishes parallels between sports and religion. And here’s the thing—I don’t disagree. But here’s the other thing—I feel that are equally vapid—, with no apologies to sports fans or the religious. Let’s keep moving.

“A college football game is a superb analogy for religion.”

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Chapter 12: Religion is a Team Sport

He talks about the organising and unifying functions of both. But here’s the thing. It unifies the like-minded. Haidt claims to be irreligious and not be into sports, and yet he cites these as somehow desirable. I find him to be an apologist for religion.

I am not a psychologist, but if I were, I’d be tempted to claim that Haidt’s conclusions follow from his personal beliefs. He believes in morals, society, order, intuition, and institutions. He is a textbook Modern and an extrovert to boot. I think he also falls into teleological fallacy traps. Was that a play on words?

His goal is to fuse the positions of Darwin and Durheim. Along the way, he reminds us of the New Atheists, their publications, and their positions: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason; Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion; Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon; and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Although he views religion through rose-coloured glasses, he comes to the conclusion that religions have done a great deal of harm over the millennia, but the good outweighs the bad, especially if you consider it through a social-moral lens. But if religion creates in-groups versus out-groups, which they do, and religious in-groups outlive even non-religious ingroups, then this is a winning option. But what if you don’t like that option?

Personally, I am a collectivist, but this is not willy-nilly any collective.

Haidt contrasts the New Atheist vantage that religious belief is an evolutionary byproduct versus a position that what started as a byproduct evolved into group selection and then, perhaps, an epigenetic phenomenon.

Here’s my contention:

Borrowing from New Atheism, Haidt adopts the notion of a “hypersensitive agency detection device [that] is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy”.

The first step in the New Atheist story—one that I won’t challenge—is the hypersensitive agency detection device. The idea makes a lot of sense: we see faces in the clouds, but never clouds in faces, because we have special cognitive modules for face detection. The face detector is on a hair trigger, and it makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (seeing a face when no real face is present, e.g., ), rather than false negatives (failing to see a face that is really present). Similarly, most animals confront the challenge of distinguishing events that are caused by the presence of another animal (an agent that can move under its own power) from those that are caused by the wind, or a pinecone falling, or anything else that lacks agency.

The solution to this challenge is an agency detection module, and like the face detector, it’s on a hair trigger. It makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (detecting an agent when none is present), rather than false negatives (failing to detect the presence of a real agent). If you want to see the hypersensitive agency detector in action, just slide your fist around under a blanket, within sight of a puppy or a kitten. If you want to know why it’s on a hair trigger, just think about which kind of error would be more costly the next time you are walking alone at night in the deep forest or a dark alley. The hypersensitive agency detection device is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy.

Op Cit, p. 292

I fully agree with the assertion that the brain values fitness over truth, and I’ve commented in several posts that pareidolia and apophenia create false-positive interpretations of reality.

But now suppose that early humans, equipped with a hypersensitive agency detector, a new ability to engage in shared intentionality, and a love of stories, begin to talk about their many misperceptions. Suppose they begin attributing agency to the weather. (Thunder and lightning sure make it seem as though somebody up in the sky is angry at us.) Suppose a group of humans begins jointly creating a pantheon of invisible agents who cause the weather, and other assorted cases of good or bad fortune. Voilà—the birth of supernatural agents, not as an adaptation for anything but as a by-product of a cognitive module that is otherwise highly adaptive.

Op Cit, p. 293

For me, this supports my contention that agency is a wholly constructed fiction. The same agency we ascribe to unknown natural events, we ascribe to ourselves. And perhaps this ability served an egoistic function, which was then generalised to the larger world we inhabit.

I have an issue with his teleological bias. He feels that because we have evolved a certain way to date; this will serve as a platform for the next level as it were. I’ll counter with a statement I often repeat: It is possible to have adapted in a way that we have been forced into an evolutionary dead end. Historically, it’s been said that 99 per cent of species that ever occupied this earth are no longer extant. That’s a lot of evolutionary dead ends. I am aware that few species could have survived an asteroid strike or extended Ice Ages, but these large-scale extinction events are not the only terminal points for no longer extant species.

So finally, Haidt essentially says that it doesn’t matter that these religious and cultural narratives are wholly fictitious, if they promote group survival, we should adopt them. This seems to elevate the society over the individual, which is fine, but perhaps the larger world would be better off still without the cancer? Just because it can survive—like some virulent strain—doesn’t mean we should keep it.

Finally, given these fictions, what’s a logical reasonable person to do? I don’t buy into ‘this country is superior to that country’ or ‘this religion is better than that religion’ or even ‘this sports team is better than that’ or ‘this company is better than that’.

Haidt does idolise Jeremy Bentham, but this is more Pollyannaism. It sounds good on paper, but as an economist, I’ll reveal that it doesn’t work in the real world. No one can effectively dimensionalise and define ‘good’, and it’s a moving target at that.

No thank you, Jonathan. I don’t want to buy what you are selling.

News Flash: From the time I started this content, I’ve since read the final chapter. Where I categorically reject a lot of what Haidt proposes in this chapter, I tend to find chapter twelve to fit more amicably with my worldview. Perhaps I’ll share my thoughts on that next.

If you’ve reached this far, apologies for the disjointed presentment. I completed this over the course of a day through workaday interruptions and distractions. I wish I had an editor who could assert some continuity, but I am on to the next thing, so…

Bonus: I happened upon this journal article, and it somehow ended up here. I haven’t even read it yet, so I’ve got no commentary. Perhaps someday.

Rai, T. S., and A. P. Fiske. 2011. “Moral Psychology Is Relationship Regulation: Moral Motives
for Unity, Hierarchy, Equality, and Proportionality.” Psychological Review 118:57–75

Cover art source

Boris Johnson Resigns

In other news, Boris Johnson resigns. Another Conservative politician hits the bin. I’m neither Conservative nor Liberal, so I think I am in a place where I can comment as a disinterested observer. Of course, I am not fully disinterested; I am rather apathetic to it all. None of my horses is in the prevailing parties.

As I’ve been reading (too much) Jonathan Haidt, of all things, a Liberal apologist for Conservatives aimed at a Liberal audience. I have to wonder why Conservative politicians are so corrupt.

Hear me out. Before you accuse me of a hack job, allow me to explain. Are Liberal politicians corrupt? Of course, they are. Probably as corrupt. By and large, they have the same handlers and funding sources. But then why call out Conservatives as being corrupt?

According to Haidt and his Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), Conservatives collectively have more moral dimensions than Liberals and they have elevated ‘disgust’ triggers. This is what makes them more obsessed with ‘purity’.

According to MFT, Liberals have two moral dimensions: Care and Fairness, regarding the left side of the value pairs. Conservatives share these, but they also include Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.

“The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Haidt 2012

I am distracted for a moment by the epiphany that this explains a lot about why American police units operate the way they do—dysfunctionally from the Liberal and minority perspective. Whilst they care and want ‘fairness’, how they care is typically different (though there are clear overlaps), and ‘fairness’ means something different to them. Next, dogpile on loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Loyalty is to their group of other blue lives as well as their nationalistic and paternal fealty. Authority is them. They are the authority, and this is an inviolable relationship. Don’t question it. And then there’s sanctity. We need to clean up the neighbourhoods and cleanse them of criminals. The dirty people need to be taken off the streets as we perform our moral duties.

And I’m back. Whilst this intermission was a diversion, it is at the same time on point because they share this worldview with Conservative politicians—tough on crime, law and order. But what I am calling out is that if this is their worldview, they should be measured by a higher standard.

Distracted again, this also explains a lot about the outrage over Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Each of these people exposed unfathomable corruption, and Conservatives want their heads on platters. This reflects their viewing of the world through a deontological lens and as measured by a different sense of fairness.

I am not judging here. I am merely pointing out that their loyalty to country (or whatever) trumps the fairness mechanism. In a way, they see it as unfair that someone would have the audacity to betray their (notably corrupt) government. They even buy into the argument that they could have used the reporting mechanisms in place rather than air the dirty laundry in the public forum. These people find no discomfort in maintaining state secrets, even when the secrecy is for nefarious intent.

Back again. My point is that if these are primary drivers for Conservatives—fundamental attribution bias notwithstanding—, why do they subvert their own morals? For Liberals, there is no such subversion because they don’t believe these are relevant moral dimensions. This bleeds into the abortion debate—the sanctity of life: Life is sacred (and too much hypocrisy on the Right to unpack here), so you need to abide by moral code. Let’s not run astray again.

Wrapping this up, even if Conservatives are no more or less corrupt than Liberals, they are claiming to have a higher standard and yet they fail to abide by it. For a Conservative to call out a Liberal for the same violation is rather silly because the Liberal never agreed to the Terms & Conditions at the start.

Done

As I was mistyping the title, I realised that ‘resigns’ is ‘reigns’ with an inserted ‘s’. Nothing more.