Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Flimsiness Of Catastrophism


Cyber-induced political faddishness seems to have reached an all-time high, especially if you measure things by factionalist self-unawareness. I will confess to having consumed more of this sugary topicality compared to what my ideal disciplined self would have tolerated in a fraction of the timespan. And certainly far more than my silence on the boring and predictable American Presidential Election cycle might've led regular readers to believe.

I keep tuning in on a weekly basis, from the same familiarly detached distance the average reader of this blog probably does. The insipidness? Everything from "Terrorism is a serious threat to our way of life" (roughly 2001-2006) morphing into "Counterterrorism is a front for gov't expansion & liberty encroachment, read Orwell" (roughly 2006-2014) then imperceptibly back to "Terrorism is a serious threat to our way of life, but doubly-seriously this time!" (2014-2016).

For nearly a decade, it was next-to-impossible to come across a respectable poll or to spot a positively received YouTube video mounting an irrepressible case for counterterrorism, with terrorism treated as The Biggest Issue Of Our Time. Perhaps this speaks more to my preoccupation with cyberspace opinions and failure to pay adequate attention to meatspace opinions. So be it. It's doubtful I'm missing all that much, seeing as prodigious geopolitical discussions mostly occur online anyway.

The online-specific clamouring for non-interventionism –– even isolationism, at fever pitch moments –– was partly driven by a growing fiscal distaste for Middle Eastern nation-building. Still, the piteous failure of this task played a comparatively minor role in molding public distrust of militaristic adventurism during the mid-to-late 2000s and early 2010s. The major component? Perceived governmental lies regarding civilizational threats posed by terrorism itself, distinct from the arguable criticality of nation-formation. Think back to all those chuckles the online world enjoyed when exposed to any "They'll follow us home!" mode of fearmongering courtesy neocons. But seemingly overnight, and for the second time already this century, this mindset pulled an about face.

Of course it did. What else could it do? Oh and look, the attitudinal shift tracks the highly-publicized emergence of ISIS. Shocker. But consider how Global Jihad is only a slightly higher harm-generator today compared to its effects throughout the 2000s, if you go by global metrics. That is; if one understands that a faultless and civil non-westerner being akbar'd in the name of Islamism is as bad as a faultless and civil westerner being akbar'd for identical reasons –– or at least when the respective victims' belief-clusters are barely dissimilar at all.

Non-coastal America is growing fonder of "All Lives Matter" sloganeering. Contrary to progressivist mind-reading, this is a good thing. It's good regardless of what it happens to be a reaction to. If you think it's a reactionary slogan, the downside is mutually-cancelling given the reactionary underpinnings of the original BLM slogan. If I am to nitpick either of the two, I'll stress how they aim for "All Human Lives Matter" and ashamedly exclude the moral status of non-human animals. If any lives are viewed as justifiably ripe for exploitation, it's non-human animal lives and not the allegedly marginalized ethnic groups. But let's just set that aside for now. Thanks to ALM, or A(H)LM, hardly anyone is going to come right out and say "Westerners Are More Important Than Non-Westerners" and this ties back to the 2000s vs. 2010s Global Jihad civilian casualties and the absence of drastic inclines in said casualties.

So why the arbitrarily recent panic? Why is it fine and dandy to make Orwell spin in his grave now in the name of safety-before-privacy overreach, counterterrorism and collateral damage... compared to back in 2009 or something? The per capita victim count in stable and relatively stable regions hasn't surged anywhere near the quantity required to match the present levels of panic. Despite omnipresent scandalous-news outlets and Europe's pseudo-apocalyptic "burning" status, we are still living in one of if not the most safest period(s) in human history. Cognitive scientists like Pinker, who have been made reputable by stressing such statistical slam-dunks, aren't telling catastrophists to "go back to sleep". They're recommending the occasional nap, since sleep-deprivation is known to elicit clumsy thinking.

Sure, my picking on Mainstream America for its 180 shifts on real vs. faux epidemics makes me the sort of person who goes after below-the-ground-hanging fruit. Frankly, I don't care. For once, effortlessness is mine to indulge.

To be clear, I hold nothing against the highly opinionated who change their minds, so long as they fess up to having done just that, instead of downplaying previous convictions. Hell, I probably fall somewhere within that highly-opinionated camp more than I'd like to admit, but then I was the first to admit publicly that my last major geopolitical prescription turned out to be a colossal mistake. Any other response would qualify for Sunk Cost Fallacy apologetics to save face. In that sense, I commend the few who go the next step and review past errors with a fine tooth comb. The intent being to broadcast self-reviews and pinpoint abandoned former positions, as doing so in public makes for a sound cautionary tale.

Just how often does this happen though? It should be frequent, seeing as shifts in general attitudes are anything but infrequent. But if you're masochistic like me and waste time doing longitudinal analyses of internet sensations like Stefan Molyneux and his YouTube channel or Freedomain Radio archives, you'll find a consummate example of a massively popular content creator who marches to the beat of vogue while most of his commenters intentionally overlook (or daftly fail to pick up on) glaring contradictions. An anti-statist, NAP moral absolutist who is yet to recant any of that strictness, but who casually engages in mainstream political cheerleading so non-stop partisan hack-like it would make Rep/Dem strategists blush. Again, this is admittedly below-crust-hanging fruit I'm going after, but the point needs to be made. Sometimes the easiest target is also the most consequentially suitable one.

More broadly, one can't help but notice large swaths of minarchist Paultards, most vocal around 2007-2013, having seamlessly shunned long-held Limited Government ideological fetishes in favor of neoreaction traditional left-wing Keynesian stances consisting of Fair Trade Tariffs, Labor Market Protectionism, with robustly tightened and unavoidably pricier border protections. All this, without a peep in the way of "Whoops, maybe the role of government is bigger than we've been willing to entertain for all those decades. Maybe this means proceeding with a bit more humility in future engagements with misguided devotees of Big Gov't". Of course, there is no catchall appropriate size for the role of gov't. As with anything else, its size is subject to fluctuation. If you find that off-putting, take it up with Contextualism.  

Throw in cultural anti-permissivism which is historically less Left/Right and more centrist in nature, and you're left with quite the interesting ideological synthesis. Traditionally centrist though it may be, anti-permissivism catering to pro-familialism runs afoul any hope to shoehorn laissez faire principles into the social sphere. So much for those sanctimonious "Libtards want to oppress you economically. Conservatards want to oppress you socially. It is only my political tribe that offers you economic and social freedom" platitudes.

Which brought me to the realization that more and more left-wingers are hopping on the backlash against "The Cultural Left" (whatever that's supposed to mean) and its agenda to "Destroy The Family Unit".

This is the strangest 180 of all. As I said, tradcons never really gave up on this grievance, but I couldn't have imagined it catching a second wind among influential sectors of the American Left. I'll be examining this in depth in an upcoming post. This writeup was actually supposed to contain that examination, but I got caught up in the above introductory rants and figured they serve a decent prelude to the main course.

Rather than posting yet another longwinded post, I'll leave it here for now and follow-up in a day month or two.

14 comments:

  1. Hello, I'm a completely new user here. Just wondering which books had the greatest impact on you as a philosopher?

    Thanks man.

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    1. Books tend to have marginal influence on my ethical and political views. Browsing SEP or IEP articles does far more to influence me to produce content and discover new angles through which to polish my thinking. Same goes for reading the sequences on LessWrong, other blogs, and many pdf papers by fringe ethicists advocating moral taboos like large-scale wildlife interventionism. Far more influential than any book I can think of at the top of my head.

      Books serve a different purpose, more style than substance, catering to my general enjoyment of prose. Recently I returned to Schopenhauer's "Studies In Pessimism", Russell's "A History Of Western Philosophy", Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" & "Crime and Punishment", all of which I enjoyed far more the 2nd time around. I guess you can say that those are my favorites, since they were the ones I felt the need to return to. Though if I reread other ones, I'd probably like them a lot more too. It's hard to rank books.

      Also, I'm an observer of philosophy, not necessarily a philosopher. I'm at that stage where armchair philosophers say nothing profound anymore, but professional philosophers (i.e. epistemologists, metaphysicians, etc.) tend to be a few steps above me.

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  2. Not the same Anon, but as someone who has gotten bored with the repetitive nature of forums and YT musings, what's the best way to take advantage of the blogosphere? Most of what I've taken in is usually referenced by someone I'm already tuned into and sometimes I follow recommendations on that blogs page, but I've never seriously learned my way around the landscape.

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    1. Not sure what you mean by "take advantage of the blogosphere". Are you looking for reading recommendations? If so, the archives of every site listed on my blogroll are worthwhile (but then I *would* think that, they're on my blogroll).

      If you're asking "how does my own blog get mass exposure?" I'm the last person you wanna ask. It probably involves networking & social media & being somewhat disingenuous by feigning interest in others' content.

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    2. I was more so asking on how to find decent blogs. I'm sure they are often buried under diaries and kittens.

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    3. So... me pointing to my blogroll doesn't cut it? I mean, just the archives (sequences) on LessWrong are enough to keep me reading for a lifetime.

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  3. Did you remove Lord Keynes's blog from your blog roll?

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    1. Sure did. Read his old stuff (anything from 2009 up until early 2015) and compare it to the lazier, polemical approach he takes these days. Way too much simplified pandering nowadays, plus his growing obsession with left/right lingo. Worst of all, he just recycles the same 4 or 5 topics over and over again ("open boarders suck, postmodernism sucks, multiculturalism sucks, neoliberalism sucks"). All well and good, if you don't repeat it numerous times in dozens of posts within a few weeks. And there's no signs of him slowing down either. Guy seems to actually believe that reiterating these views in bite-size posts will change something.

      Just tedious.

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  4. Pinker's work on violence/safety is ideological, not factual. Modern Industrialized state warfare has led to increased total suffering and mass murder on a scale never before seen. Pinker doesn't address this. Also fails to address the effects of climate change, mass extinctions, batural habitat destruction by man, and nuclear war. I shouldn't hafe to explain this to a self proclaimed "pessimist".

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    1. Pinker goes out of his way to include & extensively analyze violence resulting from state power. Sounds like you've only read the (many) shit-tier reviews of 'Angels' or barely even skimmed the work itself. Anyone who has read it knows full well that modernity's chief sources of violence have been religiosity & statehood. Both receive plenty of attention in 'Angles' (the book is ~600 pages long, ffs). It's the furthest thing from your typical ideological propaganda or hatchet-job, where a hack writer cherry picks his way to some grand historical narrative. The book corrals all available statistical sources & historical data. There are no idiosyncratic interpretations, just the use of modern statistical analysis. Sources show regions gradually morphing into centralized states & how this decreases per capita rates of violence. That this coincided with a general population boom (and thus an aggregate increase in victims) takes nothing away from the core thesis, that being the exponentially lower probability of any given person being mauled the next time they step foot outdoors. State violence is unavoidable, and 'Angles' doesn't tap-dance around this. Point is, it's proven to be far superior to everything that preceded it. Like it or not, nation states have a pacifying effect.

      Angels also doesn't deny the potential of a nosedive effect (due to CC, Nuclear warfare, etc) as that area falls outside the book's 'historical analysis' boundaries. Whatever occurs from here on out, it is inarguable that violence per capita has shrunk by orders of magnitude up until this point. Funny how so many political ideologues (typically left/right anarchists with parochial psychologies) simply cannot accept this. If it happens under statehood, to them it couldn't possibly have been beneficial.

      Also, nothing about wildlife mass extinctions should give a consistent pessimistic thinker cause for concern. My pessimism is primarily motivated by my anti-idyllic view of natural habitats & my concern for wild animal suffering. A non-existent species is an untroubled species.

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  5. It doesn't matter if per capita this or that improves when overall crime and violence is up compared to any other time in human history due to exponential pop. Growth in 20th century and continuing into 21st with no signs of slowing down. Pinker diminishes the harm of this by assuming all everyone should be concerned with is likely impact on any random person. More people = more victims. More people = more poverty. More people = more worst case scenarios (something you are always saying must be prevented at any cost to other values). True supporters of the maximin principle, Utilitarians, anti-natalists, etc should not pardon these oversights.

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    1. They're not oversights. You're assuming that the absence of strong states/centralization is exactly what would've kept the (human) population counts low, & is therefore just what the Malthusian would've ordered. How did you arrive at this? Further, how do you justify it in the wake of ebbed wildlife counts coinciding with centralization?

      One way to make your case is by pointing to regional clusters that are heavily decentralized, minarchist, or even anarchist/stateless... with correlations to lower human population counts (relative to centralized regions) across the last century or even the last few centuries. Based on my research, there are no such correlative effects to highlight. Decentralization is no bulwark against human population booms. In fact, a case can be made that a strong gov't is what's required to disincentivise (or forcefully stamp down on) reckless procreation. Though it's a speculative point, at this time.

      "More people = more victims. More people = more poverty. More people = more worst case scenarios"

      Yes, but I don't think Total Utilitarianism trumps Average Utilitarianism all the time, just as I don't think any type of utility formula trumps Prioritarianism in every case. I'm a multi-dimensional consequentialist, not a one-dimensional one who adheres to a strict utility calculus, or a strict priority calculus, or a strict equality calculus, or a strict sufficiency calculus... or a strict anything.

      But sure, some configurations of moral features call for total-minded prescriptions. I don't think this devastates 'Angels' as an insightful takeaway on human progress.

      Note that Total Utilitarianism can prescribe horrific outcomes, to quote from an old post of mine: "Consider how pro tanto establishments of true principles still work strictly arithmetically in hypotheticals with seven billion people who endure trivial -1 suffering levels respectively, accumulating to -7,000,000,000 utils overall, versus a state of affairs with just one person who endures a suffering level of -6,999,999,999 utils on her lonesome. If totality-minded tallies aren't foiled by the separateness of persons in the first ultimatum, they won't be foiled by it in the second ultimatum. Illustratively, we can just keep upping the ante so as to make the total view's distribution-insensitivity more lopsided, but none of it will faze the calculatedly holistic & anti-atomistic lens of the Total Utilitarian."

      Are you suggesting the reasonably moral thing to strive for here is "a state of affairs with just one person who endures a suffering level of -6,999,999,999 utils" over the one with "seven billion people who endure trivial -1 suffering levels respectively, accumulating to -7,000,000,000 utils overall"?

      Are you actually prepared to bite the bullet on this?

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  6. Any thoughts on Trump's win?

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    1. Ambivalent, I guess.

      My video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoFWp1B-9yQ

      Perhaps it's falsely titled. No real discussion on who was the better/worse candidate. I discuss nukes, nativism, borders, in-group/out-group irrelevance, nation states being far from outmoded, Muslim vs. Christian asylum seekers...

      Currently reading: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/146/president_trump_as_a_global_catastrophic_risk/

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