Shame doesn’t scale

There are many reasons to celebrate the internet, not least the availability of the vast majority of written human knowledge at the fingertips of anyone with a browser and a connection. We are only scratching the surface of the possibilities of this incredible increase in the “velocity” of ideas and the interconnections between previously-disparate areas of study. The marketplace of information and thought has become exponentially more free in this generation. Who knows what marvelous inventions and discoveries might result?

There are many well-documented negative consequences of the internet too; groups of people with destructive or malicious intent can more easily find each other and work together.

There seems to be a growing trend, uniquely facilitated by the internet which, on the face of it, has the appearance of being positive and for the good of society but perhaps has regrettable long term consequences.

The concept of “shame” is a highly-efficient mechanism developed though evolution  to ensure socially-compliant behaviour by people in small groups. A tribe will ostracise and shun a member who acts against the common good, not using the designated latrine area, for example. This shaming has served us well as a species over thousands of generations, enabling us to live and work together far more effectively with surprisingly few conflicts. If you think that last sentence sounds incorrect, consider how many more fights and blood feuds we’d have in society if we did whatever we wanted without considering what the neighbours might think.

Perhaps shame loses its utility with scale, that is, the damage done by shaming a behaviour becomes too extreme compared to the benefit it may bring?

The most recent example that springs to mind is that of James Damore and his now infamous dossier as a response to a request for feedback following his attendance at several internal Google diversity seminars.

Despite the fact that the original document (here, complete with the charts and citations most media reports edited out) reads as a well-argued counter argument as requested, the internet outcry was intense enough to result in Google firing him.

The vast majority of criticism (maybe use alternate search engines to look for it) was ad hominen rather than explaining where Damore’s arguments were flawed.

Similarly, Justine Sacco was subject to an internet campaign of shame following an ill-advised poor taste joke on Twitter. She too lost her job as a consequence.

Regardless of whether or not the content of Damore’s dossier was accurate or had worth or whether Sacco’s joke was in poor taste, in an earlier age the consequences of both would have been unlikely to be so extreme.

There is a tendency to “pile on” on social media to shame individuals with whom we disagree. The left-leaning are particularly adept and enthusiastic in this but it is not exclusive behaviour by any end of the political spectrum.

Shame does not scale up well.

What might be the consequences of this increased consequence to shame at scale?

Bill’s Opinion

This blog itself is a great indication as to the consequences; anonymous and hosted in a country with some of the better internet privacy laws. I’d prefer to write this under my own name but the risk to my livelihood and privacy is too great.

But more broadly, how many of us have witnessed situations on social media where you would have wished to make a contrary statement or at least debate the point but were conscious of the risk of being subject to being labeled with one of the words with the ‘-ist’ suffix. My personal LinkedIn timeline is a classic for this; I see so much that I take issue with and would want to call out as incorrect or at least logically-flawed but the risk of collateral damage is too great.

So, the consequence is silence.

Note, the consequence isn’t that the contrary opinions go away, just that they are not aired in the company of those who will disagree with them.

So the ultimate consequence is increased polarisation of opinions where opposing views are rarer exposed to each other in the marketplace of ideas to compete to discover which is contains more truth.

It’s fashionable these days to suggest reasons for Brexit and Trump winning and often these might be only tangentially-related , but this silence of the shamed might have a very strong correlation.

Believe the action not its promise

China joined the club of countries vowing to ban diesel and petrol vehicles. France and Britain have made similar assertions.

In typically hubristic European style, the French and Brits even put a date by which it would happen… in both cases, at least 5 general elections’ time. To quote the pederast Keynes again, “in the long run, we’re all dead”.

China have been a little more circumspect; “in the near future“, was the inscrutable statement. By an amazing coincidence, this is precisely the timetable parents the world over offer in response to the question, “when can I have a pony?“.

Let’s assume the Chinese are going to follow the Anglo-Franco timetable and bring the ban in for 2040. What are the possible outcomes?

1. Automobile manufacturers will fast-track any existing R&D projects that will result in hydrogen/electric/cow manure cars in time to sell in 2040 at the same price or cheaper than the equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle… and they are successful.

2. Ditto (1) but they are unsuccessful; the cars don’t go as fast, far or cost more.

3. The current R&D projects are already due to complete well before 2040.

Looking at these in a not so random order;

Option (1) is all good, win/win for everyone and even the planet, with the not minor assumption that the Chinese can produce electricity without recourse to those pesky fossil fuels by then, otherwise we’ve just centralised the pollution.

Option (3) is pretty good for everyone too, but would suggest that government mandates don’t drive innovation, markets do.

Option (2) is a bit of a problem though, depending on the type of commitment made. In a country with a properly-functioning rule of law, there might be some delicate unwinding of legislation made by politicians who may be long departed to the retirement home or their final destination (presumably carried by eco-friendly hearses) .

If there’s a compelling feet to the fire type of commitment in place or an ideological bent to the governing party when the 2040 New Year’s Eve light show (the emissions from fireworks will surely be banned by then) happens, we might see some subsidies/tariffs/taxes given or imposed to get to that stated goal. i.e. more government intervention due to a “market failure“.

Bill’s Opinion

Originally, this part of today’s post was going to quote the story of the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894. The trouble is, upon further research, it looks like that might have been horseshit and was most likely to be an urban myth.

But perhaps there is still a lesson to be learned from the invention of the car?

Consider the major steps in the development of human transport:

  1. Human power – we could only move as fast and as efficiently as our own bodies.
  2. Horse power – we could only move as fast and as efficiently as horses or other beasts of burden.
  3. Steam power – we could only move as fast as a steam engine powered by coal could drive us.
  4. Refined fuel power – we could only move as fast as a petrol engine could drive us.

Those last 3 steps weren’t invented as a response to a crisis but as an innovation to realise an opportunity.

The hope that innovation will be sparked as a result of creating a purely false crisis (i.e. a new law) is not supported by strong historical evidence. Perhaps opportunity drives innovation more often than crisis?

 

 

One does not like green eggs and ham

Our recent investigation into the accidental UK Conservative Party leadership contender, Jacob Rees-Mogg, led us to discover the perfectly rational, balanced and sober Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore.

One of her recent offerings was on the subject of “hate crimes” and “online hate”.

Something must be done, she opines, there must be consequences.

Definitions are always a handy starting point when searching for the truth of a statement.

Firstly, what is “hate“?

In the English language it can have several related but different meanings; the opposite of love, for example. An extreme dislike of something or someone, perhaps. Without wishing to put words into Ms. Moore’s mouth, she seems to be defining it moore (see what I did there?) as an action than a feeling. Online hate, is the term she uses to describe this version of the word, suggesting the use of the verb rather than the noun version of hate.

Presumably she isn’t suggesting all hate must be banned? Hatred of olives, for example, would be a frivolous and difficult thing to legislate against. It might be straightforward to enshrine in law a ban on publicly-expressing one’s hatred for little green and black fruits however. Would that make the olive-haters suddenly, or even gradually, become lovers of olives? Of course not.

Defining the standard for what is hateful is equally tricky. Are you calling me rude names on the internet because you disagree with my point of view (here’s a few hundred words from Ms. Moore doing exactly that to JRM, without ever once critiquing his arguments)? At what point does that name-calling become online hate or even a hate crime? On Planet Guardian, it seems to be once we invoke certain physical, religious, racial, gender or sexual attributes.

At risk of invoking the slippery slope fallacy, who gets to define the limits of this definition and where does one apply for the job?

We might speculate that the flip side of online hate is offence. If the recipient of online hate takes offence, the hurt is amplified, which is perhaps the original motivation of the online hater?

Maybe there’s a clue in the way we phrase offence as a verb in the English language; we say that people take offence, suggesting that it’s a choice made by the recipient, not the hater offering it. The power is actually with the recipient.

Bill’s Opinion

Although we all know that we should strive for civility in our online discussions, we don’t always hold ourselves to that standard. However, to legislate to shut down those who are abusive risks collecting those with dissenting opinions or those with arguments we simply find uncomfortable in the same net.

Those of us who attract the attention of insulting or abusive online hate have several options available;

  1. Report threats of violence or incitement to violence to the police; this is an actual crime and has been for generations.
  2. Use the block button on whichever social media platform the abuse is arriving from.
  3. Log off, make a cup of tea and get on with real, not virtual, life like a grown adult.

When the rights of one group impact the rights of another

Australia is about to undertake a national vote survey on same sex marriage.

Luckily for the “Lucky Country”, because they are such laggards in this regard, there are plenty of current experiments underway around the world for them to observe and ensure they get it right.

Helpfully for our Australian friends, “g’day mates, chuck another baby in the dingo and chunder me up a fair dinkum blue“, we’ve produced the following cut out and keep handy reckoner to ensure that even the drunkest of them can get it right when the voting survey form arrives;

Does the Pope shit in the woods?

A relatively obscure British politician, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has recently been subject to some unrealistic speculation about his suitability to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

One of the reasons offered by his opponents to indicate his unsuitability is his belief that abortion is morally wrong.

Rees-Mogg is Catholic.

That people should be surprised that this should be his belief suggests a lack of basic knowledge of the teachings of that faith. That holding this belief would be seen as a disqualification for higher political office is interesting though.

Abortion is a very emotive subject to discuss and one which has many millions of words of debate dedicated to it. So, arrogantly, we’ll attempt to clear it all up over a couple of pages of a WordPress blog. Sit back and enjoy.

All arguments about when and in what circumstances abortion is justified flow from the answer to two questions;

1. At what point does life start, and therefore an abortion would be murder?

2. At what point do the rights of that life become equal to those of the mother’s?

Without answering these two questions, all the subsequent arguments about justifications in the case of pregnancies caused by, say, rape or incest, or those highly likely to result in extreme disabilities, are irrelevant.

It seems somewhat unfair and hypocritical of his opponents to demonise Rees-Mogg for stating a position on these two questions (“at conception” for both answers) without offering their version. If he’s wrong, surely they have a duty to explain how and why he’s wrong.

Rees-Mogg has obviously searched his conscience on this and used logic and reason to develop his position.

Of course, that’s no guarantee of truth but we must at least respect the process and, if he is to be criticised for his conclusion, we owe him the courtesy of using reason and logic to explain where his thinking is flawed.

So the real question for today’s post is this; why is the flaw in his logic not exposed when he is being criticised?

To prove this question isn’t a strawman fallacy, here’s several critics attacking the man not the argument.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Representatives from the abortion industry lobby seem reluctant to enter into a debate to explain why he is incorrect about human life commencing at the point that the sperm fertilises the egg.

In the absence of an explanation from them as to their reasons for the silence, we end up speculating and attributing motive, which is obviously a flawed approach.

One observation we will offer here is that people’s view on abortion seems to become less liberal the further away they are from being in a position to find it of use or convenience. That’s not an argument either way though.

Bill’s Opinion

People who are pro-abortion are generally reluctant to enter into a debate with those who believe life begins at conception because all alternative arguments require the acceptance of a sliding scale of human rights based on duration from conception.

There’s little precedent for this view in Western philosophical thought, so it’s a very difficult position to argue from and contains an internal contradiction; that the point of conception is when the clock starts. Either the point of conception is a critical milestone or it isn’t.

Of course, I may have got this completely wrong and Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at Bpas, may have a totally different argument and I’ve just put words into her mouth. It would be great to know, if so.

Whither Korea?

With all the posturing and hype assaulting our news cycle, one wonders whether Occam’s Razor might help us predict the most likely short and medium term outcomes. We won’t bother with trying to predict the long term as, in the words of a famous pederast, “in the long term, we’re all dead”.

The Main Actors

Kim Jong Un – North Korea’s current iteration of the dynastic dictatorship

Donald Trump and the USA administration and military

The South Korean leadership

The Japanese leadership

The Chinese leadership

For the purposes of keeping this exercise to a manageable level of complexity, we’ll ignore our previous advice and view those last three governments as individuals. Given that they are all led by an individual who will have the ultimate decision-making responsibility, perhaps this is an acceptable delusion.

What is Kim Jong Un’s motivation?

Firstly, let’s assume he’s a rational actor. It’s too lazy to write him off as insane and, anyway, if that were to be the conclusion of the other actors, their only rational course of action would have to be his immediate destruction as a self-defence strategy. As this has not happened, we must assume the other actors have assessed him to be rational.

Due to the isolation of North Korea, Jong Un has really only one main stakeholder, the North Korean population. True, China is supporting the regime but this is not out of fraternity but geographic necessity; there are no natural borders between South Korea (a NATO country) and China. Even a basket-case buffer state is therefore more acceptable than having the Americans parked next door.

Kim can care less about anyone else’s opinion other than the population he tyrannises. If they were to lose fear/faith in his rule, he would be dead. As Machiavelli said, “if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved”.

What is Trump’s and the USA administration and military’s motivation?

At its simplest level – regional stability and no further escalation of the threat of nuclear or conventional weapon use against the USA or allies.

In the case of Trump, there is also a domestic credibility concern. He was elected with an image of strength and was quick to flex military muscle in Syria despite previously stating a less-interventionist policy. North Korea is stepping over lines drawn in the sand and, with each step, he will be feeling the need of all politicians; to be seen to be doing something (regardless of effectiveness).

What is South Korea’s motivation?

Not to get nuked or be invaded.

A long way down the list of priorities after that would be re-unification, although, the longer the North Koreans are kept in solitary confinement on starvation rations, the higher the cost to be paid by the Southerners if that were to ever happen. There’s a well-documented height difference (3 to 8cm) between the two sides of the same genetic pool, for example. It might also follow that a divergence in IQ may also have occurred.

What is Japan’s motivation?

Not to get nuked or have a unarmed rocket fail on the way over a city.

There might be some elements within Japan who perhaps see a credible threat from North Korea as a good excuse to increase the Japanese military budget and take a more active role in the world. We’re a long way from Japan showing any signs of expansionism, apart from some nearby desolate rocks with oil underneath.

What might happen next?

1.   North Korea might attack South Korea, Japan, Guam or maybe even have a brain snap and attack China.

2.   North Korea might keep testing rockets and nuclear weapons as good internal PR.

3.   North Korea might stop rattling sabres and come out of the cold like a good world neighbour.

Bill’s Opinion

Short Fat Elvis with a silly haircut isn’t insane and he’s not stupid. He’s not going to launch a unprovoked attack on anyone if there’s a credible risk of a military response.

Similarly, he’s not going to risk presenting himself as weak to a population tightly-controlled by violence and starvation; opening up communications with the outside world would immediately show how dire their conditions are relative to everyone else.

Perhaps the simplest and therefore most likely solution is more of the same, a continuous cycle of rockets and nuclear tests but staying just the right side of international law or precedent.

If this is correct, then the real question is how great is the pressure “to be seen to be doing something” for the Americans? And that’s another question altogether……

Luke Sayers – 100% inclusive

We’re all different.

We’re all equal.

Only one of these statements can be correct.

If I differ from you in ability to sprint the 100m, let’s say it takes me 15 seconds whereas you can cross the line in 12, we’re not equal in our ability to run the 100m. We are different, diverse, perhaps.

Should I be disbarred from entering sprint competitions? Of course not.

Will I win one? Unlikely.

Consider Luke Sayers, replete with ribbon, CEO of PwC Australia, then;

What we’re trying to do at PwC is be 100% inclusive“.

Here at William of Ockham, we like precision of language. If we can agree on definition, we can start to sift through the noise to the truth.

So what might “inclusive” mean and, therefore, what would a totality (100%) of it look like?

Judging by this video and this statement on the corporate website, it means future partner admits will be 40% male, 40% female, 20% either male or female (cynically, that gives Luke an “out” to make it almost 60% male). It also means 20% of future partner admits will be from a “diverse cultural background“, rising to 30% in 2020.

What qualifies as a “diverse cultural background“? No definition is available. To repeat, without an agreement on definitions, we can’t find the truth. Is an ex-pat Harvard-educated Anglo-Saxon male called Bradley diverse enough for Australia, perhaps? What about a Parisian, educated at the Sorbonne? Tssk, those pesky definitions, eh?

There’s also a commitment to hiring people with disabilities, which was really the main focus of the video, but tellingly, no tangible metrics on that promise. Nothing about the ratio to be employed, nothing about their pay relative to their peers.

The chap in the video, Jeremy Kwok, has a vision disability. Given that a large component of the work of a corporate tax analyst and any other field of accountancy is analysis of financial data in spreadsheets, and that an ability to rapidly assess information on a screen is a foundational part of that work, how efficient is Jeremy compared with a hypothetical peer who has equal abilities in all other aspects? Would we expect them to be paid equally?

Does PwC pay Jeremy the same as his fellow graduates? We aren’t told.

Back to our original question. Perhaps being inclusive is to give a job to Jeremy, a person who, through no fault of his own, will never be able to glance at a spreadsheet and make an efficient analysis of the most appropriate course of action (which, as a client being billed by PwC by the minute, I’d desire) as quickly as a fully-sighted peer, but that job is paid at a lower rate?

What might 100% inclusive look (excuse the pun) like then? In the absence of definitions and metrics from PwC, one could be tempted by both the Strawman and the Slippery Slope fallacies here. For example, perhaps PwC are intending to offer jobs to every type of physical and mental disability such as those poor souls suffering in persistent vegetative state? Of course not. So is that being 99% inclusive then?

What of the 20% culturally diverse partners? Diverse from what, exactly? Being Australian? That should be a facile achievement given that 26% of the population in 2016 was born overseas. Again, for a firm that makes its revenue from counting numbers against defined rules, it is being very imprecise in its own backyard.

Bill’s Opinion

Luke Sayer is unable to articulate the concepts he is espousing in a way that most of the audience will understand. This might be for one of several reasons;

  1. The message is far too complicated for most people. In which case, why bother trying to explain it on a slickly-produced corporate video?
  2. He, and all of the corporate marketing team are incompetent and couldn’t distill the information into a precise message.
  3. It’s a flawed strategy that hasn’t been fully-thought through. The sentiment might be noble but the implementation requires far more introspection, analysis and a more honest assessment of what is feasible.

 

Occam’s Razor suggests option 3.

Poor old Luke. He’s confused feelings for facts and it’s made him feel warm and loved.

So, this song by his namesake is for him (replete with a chord progression plagarised from Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat).

https://youtu.be/uXNjMTTW58U

When you’re right, you’re right about everything

Consider this article in the Sydney Morning Property Advertiser.

Peter Hannam points out that the people of Houston bear a greater responsibility than most for this particularly disaster (10 dead at the time of writing this) because Houston hosts the headquarters or significant operations of several major oil and gas companies.

At the risk of over-simplifying his sophisticated and nuanced point, the flow of logic goes thus;

– The climate is changing catastrophically

– This hurricane was mainly caused by this catastrophic change in climate

– Human activity (burning fossil fuel) is mainly responsible for the catastrophic change in climate

– Houston is a major centre for the production of fossil fuel

– Therefore, everyone in Houston deserves this (un)natural disaster, including the 10 dead people, presumably

One wonders whether Peter has realised that this is the environmentalist equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church loudly picketing funerals of fallen soldiers? Love the sinner, hate the sin, anyone?

Let’s look at the flow of logic again. We’ll ignore the first one as there are plenty of resources on the internet where we could debate away whether it’s true or not.

The second statement is easy to prove or disprove; the data from the Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory of the United States can be found here. 1886 saw the most land-falling hurricanes, 1950 had the most major hurricanes.

Let’s leave aside the third statement for the same reason we avoided the first.

There’s little point debating whether or not Houston or Texas as a whole is or isn’t an oil and gas hub, just ask JR Ewing.

So, the last point; did everyone in Houston deserve this weather event? Of course not, there are many people living there who have never made their living from fossil fuels, including children, obviously.

In the meantime, one assumes that Peter has never benefited from anything manufactured from plastic, heated or cooled his home, worn nylon, taken an overseas holiday, driven a car or taken a taxi, etc. because he would obviously have to be considered as having the blood of 10 Houstonians on his hands, wouldn’t he?

Bill’s Opinion

Peter Hannam is an ambulance-chasing, virtue-signalling cunt who believes that his position on climate change justifies an extreme lack of human compassion.

See also Paul Ehrlich.

Is there utility in viewing the government as a person?

It may seem a strange question to ask but, if one listens out for the linguistic clues, the inference can be drawn that some people do indeed imbue their national government with personality traits.

Specifically, discussing what the government “thinks”, “wants” or “owns” suggests some level of consciousness and self, over and above the visible collection of elected and unelected policy setters and administrators.

Clearly it can’t be true that a government has a single view on most matters; the many individuals involved will all have nuanced and differing perceptions of the solution to a particular issue or even the definition of the issue. Perhaps in cases of extreme threats to all, such as a war, there might be some level of consensus but, even then, opinions will differ on specific tactics and details.

The fact that a concept is not real does not necessarily mean that there isn’t utility in the universal acceptance of the “delusion”.

For example, we all accept the integrity of money, despite the fact that it’s just words and pictures written on paper. It’s more useful to us to believe that the $100 note in our pocket really is worth, say, about 13 hours work of an unskilled labourer (i.e. USA minimum wage) than to overly question the concept of paper money, or indeed, fungible transfer of labour to a stored value. Why is it useful? Well, if we all go along with the idea, the idea works!

A government clearly isn’t a single homogeneous living entity, but perhaps there’s some value to be had by treating it as such? This is the question we wish to address in this post.

What concepts might apply to our “new” person, Mr/Ms/Miss/Mrs/Xhe Government?

Here’s a list, by no means exhaustive, of concepts which might apply to the new higher form of life we’ve just created;

  • We could assign motive to its actions
  • We could assume no internal dichotomy in its statements and /or actions
  • We could presume every statement and action is internally logically consistent
  • We could assume every statement and action is part of a highly-considered plan

Stop laughing at the back…..

No, seriously, if we view our government as a single entity, we should have tangible evidence that the four statements are true, or at least generally true.

The fact that selecting any national or state government and a random issue would quickly show that our four “person concepts” apply so rarely as to be most likely random coincidence tells us that the idea of viewing our governments as having human aspects is daft and falls apart at first contact with reality.

So, back to our original question;

Is there utility in viewing the government as a person?

Like the idea of a fungible way of transferring labour called “money”, is there still a worthwhile reason for suspending reality and taking the concept of a single, thinking entity called “government”?

Try as we might, we can’t think of one. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

This leads us to ask the obvious follow-up question;

Are there negative consequences in viewing the government as a person?

Taking our four concepts above, we can see plenty of problems;

  • We could assign motive to its actions

We’re going to be disappointed to learn that, even if an action had a motive behind it, the motive, or at least the individual who originally had the motive, is transient and highly temporary. It’ll be replaced by a different motive as soon as the individual concerned is replaced.

  • We could assume no internal dichotomy in its statements and /or actions

This runs the risk of misdirecting us when a range of government actions seem to be arbitrary and/or contradictory. “Why did the government give me a tax incentive to buy a diesel car five years ago and has now reversed the tax break in favour of unleaded petrol?”, for example. This could be quite expensive or worse on an individual basis.

  • We could presume every statement and action is internally logically consistent

Again, disappointment looms large for those of us who’ve fallen for the concept. It also risks us making regretful decisions based on what we might have thought of as an ethical position or moral compass. Joining the armed forces during a period of proclaimed non-intervention in foreign conflicts, for example.

  • We could assume every statement and action is part of a highly-considered plan

In a similar theme to the other points, we run the risk of taking personal actions (or not taking them, such as not saving for our retirement) based on an assumption that there is a credible and committed plan to provide for us.

Why on earth would you assume your government has any aspects of an individual person then?

Facetiously; because you’ve been poorly-educated and are unable to think for yourself?

More soberly, perhaps because the delusion is more attractive than believing the alternative? That is, the government is, at best, a collection of many thousands of individuals all with personal prejudices, agendas and varying levels of competence and incompetence.

Bill’s Opinion

The only utility in viewing one’s government as a person is mental comfort. It enables the believer to avoid confronting the possibility that practically nobody within the government has your best interests at heart and, even if they did, would be highly unlikely to have the competence or energy to do anything positive about it.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.