Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some Thoughts on Populism

Anyone trying to understand the popularity of Donald Trump among Republicans and Bernie Sanders among Democrats needs to understand the fact that both men are populists.

A populist is someone who appeals to the hopes and fears of the general population, generally against the ruling elite. That is the typical definition of populism, and it is certainly correct as far as it goes. But that does not explain why it is that populism only seems to arise at certain times and why it is that populists not only attack elites, but the weakest in society as well.

Populists are political opportunists. They seek to take over the elite, to become the alpha in society, and they seek to do so by creating a new coalition among a general population that for some reason feels itself under attack. I go into detail about social hierarchies here. Economic downturns are good times for populists because the general population feels itself slipping down the social hierarchy. Any movement toward becoming an omega is threatening, and it is natural for a social mammal such as humans to both lash out at those groups or individuals they consider to be omegas in society as well as at the elites they blame for creating the social conditions leading to their descent.

This is why both Trump and Sanders (and Ross Perot, in the 1990s) attack the elites as well as illegal immigrants and economic trade from developing countries. This remains the acceptable way to attack ethnic minorities, since outright in-nation racism is generally unacceptable.

My previous discussion of social hierarchies (linked above) also explains why it is that we have billionaires and elected elites emerging to attack the elites. This is a struggle for the alpha position (the Presidency) in American society, and because the presumed nominees seem to most people to be pre-selected (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton), they are the "elite" alphas who the populists wish to overthrow. The populist manages to distinguish himself from the "true elites" by "telling it like it is," by saying things the way people say them in private. This is why they can say "outrageous" things. To the majority, such rhetoric is refreshing.

The populist plays toward the people's ignorance and prejudices, making virtues of their vices, claiming truth and goodness for them. Specifically, the populist plays toward people's evolved tendencies, which may not fit well in modern societies. Listen to a populist, and you will hear folk psychology, folk sociology, folk anthropology, folk economics, and degrees of tribalism. They thus tap into people's emotions in a way those who know, say, actual economics cannot.

Populism is thus neither a specifically right or left movement. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements are populist in nature. And I have already noted that Trump (Republican), Sanders (Socialist), and Perot (Independent)  are all populists. If you listen carefully, you will not hear much difference at all in either their rhetoric or their ideas. Any preference for Trump over Sanders, or vice versa, expresses nothing more nor less than the political party tribalism of their supporters.

It is important to note that "populism" comes from the Latin "populos," which is more equivalent to the "folk" (volk) of Germany. The populist party that came to power using the rhetoric of the folk was, of course, the National Socialists. I point this out not to engage in the logical fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerium, but to make a serious point about the nature of all populist movements.

In the U.S. it has not been uncommon for populist movements to be concerned with money and banking -- the Greenback Party in the late 1800s and the Occupy movement of today -- in much the same way that the Nazis came to power in the aftermath of the devastation of the hyperinflation of the Wiemar Republic and ongoing concerns about debt. While we are not facing hyperinflation, or even much inflation (because businesses are still holding cash rather than investing it as capital -- but when that changes . . .), there is increasing concern about debt. This is something Trump has brought up in recent days. The Occupy movement has focused mostly on the "unregulated" banks (they are "unregulated" because the banks and financial institutions are in fact the most regulated sector in the economy, and all of the problems that came to a head in 2008 are a consequence of that fact) and the wealthy, making them prime pickings for a populist politician. Sanders fits the bill for them. But, honestly, so does Trump. Both preach fascist policies.

Sander's socialism is nationalist in flavor. He favors trade restrictions, is generally anti-immigrant, and is an economic nationalist. This has been observed from both the left and the right. Economic patriotism, whether left or right, is necessarily nationalist in nature. It doesn't necessarily have to be outright socialist in nature, like Sanders'; no, it can also be highly interventionist in nature, like Trump's. But favorable to freedom it is not, no matter the degree of "socialist" you prefer.

The use of the term "fascism" has mostly become a slander leftists use against anyone with whom they disagree, but I am using it in the precise economic meaning of the term. As has been observed by others, whether he knows it or not, Trump is essentially a fascist. The Salon article, perhaps not surprisingly, ignores Sanders' similar positions.

That populism is fascist should not surprise anyone. Fascism taps into our most primitive, primeval propensities and drives. It is populism. Those on the right are accused of anti-intellectualism; those on the left are anti-elitists (while supporting bringing to power their own elites) -- but in fact, each is a variation of anti-elitism. And both promise the masses that they will gain power, that their lives will improve, and that the minorities who have been oppressing them all this time (the 1%, bankers, Jews, illegal immigrants, foreign workers, etc.) will receive their punishment. If you hear people attacking the elites while attacking some kind of minorities, you have a populist on your hands.

And that's the bottom line of populism. It is deeply, fundamentally anti-minority -- whatever that minority may be. The opposite of the populos, the masses, the folk is the minority group or groups within society. The easiest to attack are those from other countries -- that's why fascism is always nationalist socialism -- but eventually, those minorities are within the country, marginalized as not being true members of the nation, of the folk. This story has already been told in other countries. We came close with FDR's Japanese concentration camps. We don't need the full-blown American version.

Cecil the Sacred

Walter James Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, is currently one of the most hated men in the world. His crime? Killing Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe.

Palmer has killed many animals in his life, including at least one other lion. Probably the only people who cared about those animals were animal rights activists. So why is everyone losing their minds over this particular lion? 

Cecil the Lion was a sacred animal.

Traditional societies often have sacred animals or even sacred species. Some Native American tribes considered white bison to be sacred. White elephants in India were sacred, as are cows for Hindus. Cecil, who was well known and tagged, became for many people a sacred animal. Killing Cecil was thus a dire sin for which Palmer will have to pay.

There is something deep in our evolved psychologies that want there to be sacred animals. Cecil fulfilled that deep need in many people. If you want to know why people are so angry about Cecil, you have to understand this aspect of our evolved psychologies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Uber Economy and the Distribution of Labor

One of Marx's more famous statements is that
as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. (The German Ideology)
While the possibility of the elimination of the division of labor have historically sounded utterly ridiculous -- especially given the immense benefits which have accrued from it for the entire human race -- it seems that we may have entered a time when we can do exactly the kind of things Marx suggested.

And it is all due to the Internet.

Uber/Lyft provide the model. If you want to be an Uber driver, you sign up. You can pretty much set your own times. You can work as much little as you'd like. You can work as a driver while also working at another job. So you could literally work one job in the morning and another job in the evening. And if you sign up on Airbnb, you can also work as a hotelier. Third job.

But what if this is only the beginning?

How many other kinds of work or services could be provided in this model? It is no longer impossible to imagine signing up for various jobs online to provide various services and working one in the morning, another in the afternoon, another in the evening, another after dinner, one thing today and another tomorrow.

And anyone with a blog can criticize after dinner.

All of this came about not because of communism, but because of the emergence of a new spontaneous order -- the internet. More specifically, the increasingly wireless internet. Marx was right that the emergence of a new social order would make such a life as he explains above possible; he was only wrong that it would (or could) at all resemble communism. It has turned out to be, in many ways, the absolute opposite of communism.

The combination of the free market and the internet is making many of Marx's goals possible. We just didn't get there the way he thought we would.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Observations on Dominance Hierarchies and Human Society

Humans are a species of social primate, so we should not be surprised to find we prefer to organize ourselves into dominance hierarchies. In fact, humans are unique in that we will organize ourselves into every kind of dominance hierarchy found among primates, as shown here.

Actually, two kinds -- multimale-multifemale groups and fission-fusion societies -- do not have humans listed, but this is wrong. The other groups in which humans are listed involve "family" units, while larger society actually falls into both  multimale-multifemale groups and fission-fusion societies. Corporations and governments involve the first, and civil society involves the second.

So dominance hierarchies are a natural part of human society and psychology. Thus we should not be surprised if we find people defending various dominance hierarchies, whether corporations or governments. Most interestingly, those most likely to defend them are the alphas (those with the most power) and the omegas (those with the least power). We find defenders of government among those who are in government -- particularly the elected alphas -- but also among what we would now call "marginalized groups," including women, minorities, and the poor. This may seem odd since, historically, marginalized groups are marginalized by the very governments which they defend. However, if we understand the psychologies of the omegas, we can come to understand why they defend the group that most oppresses them.

In wolf packs, the role of the omega is to hold the group together by being the scapegoat -- the one on which everyone's frustrations are expressed. Nobody really wants to be the omega, though it seems the omega is necessary for social cohesion. Since nobody wants to be the omega, we have the Klan dominated by poor whites; the most physically abusive husband are also, not coincidentally, found among the poorest, though anyone who sees himself as the omega male in any organization may become abusive. This also is why physical abuse increases during the Super Bowl among men whose team lost. Your team is a proxy social group, and when they lose, "you" lose, making you submissive to the winning team. To assert you are not an omega, you seek to find someone weaker to make the omega.

The ancient Greeks were brilliant with their development of tragedy, in which they could stage a scapegoat, creating a ritualized scapegoat that would eliminate the need for a real, physical one. In a democracy, this development is particularly necessary, since everyone is formally equal. At the same time, Athens was hardly universally equal -- only land-owning men were equal. This left women and non-citizens, particularly slaves. In the U.S., women have become included, as well as various minority groups, into society on more and more equal footings. While this happened first socially, throughout civil society, it is not uncommon for governments to come along as cap the social changes with legislation -- and, as a result, taking credit for the changes. What this does is ingratiate the former omega group to the alphas, with the result that the omegas in fact stay in place, though they have been ritually included. But they are included on the condition that they maintain loyalty to the alphas who "granted" them safety. Indeed, in social species we often see the alpha showing a certain favor for the omega, protecting them from the rest of the social group if things get too rough. However, the alpha will turn on them if the omega mistakes that favoritism for the granting of any real power. Favor must always be shown to the alpha.

The ones most likely to challenge the alpha are thus not the omegas. More, it is not likely to be anyone close to the alpha, either, as they are part of the coalition that keeps the alpha in power. Coalition politics keeps the alpha in power. No, the ones most likely to really challenge the alpha are those who are neither omegas nor the ones in the coalition. They are the ones always in danger of falling lower, and they are always wondering if they could and should be the ones in charge. It is out of this group within the social group where real challenges occur, where revolutions are spearheaded.

Of course, in order to succeed, the one(s) challenging the alpha will have to form a coalition, persuade enough of the group to join them. This may or may not include the omega, though it typically will not, since the omega is loyal to the alpha. Some in the alpha's coalition, though, may be persuaded to join the revolutionaries precisely because they want to be on the winning side.

These dynamics are most obvious in the political realm, but if we are honest, we find these dynamics among groups of friends, among various social groups, like among artists, and within organizations, like firms. In politics, it is not uncommon to use proxies from other social orders to shore up power. Poverty is such a proxy. Politicians use the omegas from the economic order to create more favoritism for themselves within the political order. Or from other orders (though this may be less obvious). Coalitions are central to maintaining power, regardless of what kind of power one is seeking to maintain. Corporate CEOs seek to maintain economic power through coalitions with governments, and politicians seek to do the same with CEOs -- this is the source of competition-crushing regulations and the regulatory capture that necessarily happens when regulations are passed. These are coalitions among the powerful, and they ingratiate the poor and oppressed to them (through the government more often than not) to help maintain their power. This squeezes out the middle class, from which all real challenges to the system -- political, economic, etc. -- necessarily come.

The fact that the middle class is being squeezed out of existence is thus a feature, not a bug.

Appropriate Literatures for Appropriate Psychological Levels

If people go through different stages of psychosocial complexity, it would make sense for our schools to teach whatever literature is appropriate for each of those levels. While there are different cultures throughout history at different levels of complexity, more complex societies also contain the less complex levels within them, usually among the younger people who are moving through the psychological levels themselves and creating local subcultures at that level.

For example, the world of ancient Greece around the time of Achilles and Odysseus was at the same psychosocial level as are the middle school children in countries like the United States. This doesn't mean that the ancient Greeks were more childlike; rather, it means that our society is so complex that movement through the levels are compressed. While the adults during the time of Achilles behaved like our middle school kids, the teens of his time would have not acted at all like our teens, but likely would have been more docile (of course, teens at the time were adults, so nobody would have thought them rebellious for acting like Achilles, either).

In our society, we therefore find levels of complexity that resemble tribalism (younger children, home life in general), the world of Homer (middle school kids and gang members), the Medieval period (older teens and social conservatives/Religious Right), the Enlightenment period (late teens to early twenties, most libertarians), and the postmodern period (the rest of adulthood for most, the egalitarian left). There are also integrationists and holistic thinkers, but society hasn't caught up with them quite yet.

This would suggest that certain works of literature would be most appropriate for different levels.

Grade schools should teach fairy tales, fables, and works that generally have animism as a theme.

Middle schools should teach the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. There are of course contemporary works that are at this level, such as the Harry Potter series. These are stories the students can relate to.

The ancient Greek tragedies were written when the Greeks were transitioning from an ancient world view to a "Medieval" world view. Thus, works such as these ought to be taught in that transition (8-9th grades).

Early high school ought to be taught Medieval works such as the works of de Troyes and Dante.

Late high school ought to be dominated by Renaissance literature and early Enlightenment works.

In college, students ought to be taught later Enlightenment works and Modernism.

Postmodern works ought to be reserved for the end of college, perhaps even grad school.

Integrationist and holistic works, like the works of Milan Kundera and Frederick Turner, are certainly grad school works, though many would have to get them on their own, since the only grad school programs providing such readings would be English and humanities programs. 

This sequence would allow students to read works with which they can, psychologically and socially, relate, while at the same time moving students through each of the psychosocial levels, allowing them to reach more complex psychological and social levels. Among the benefits is the fact that the more complex your psychology is and, as a consequence, the social level in which you can interact, the more successful you will be in life (by any variety of measures).

We could and should do the same thing with things like philosophy (which is also easily divided into these periods, with very good reason). Ways of teaching the sciences, social sciences, and other humanities would have to be developed to fit these levels of psychological complexity. But my areas are primarily in the humanities, so I'll leave the development of other areas to others.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Is Life? How Common Is It?

How common is life in the universe? To answer that, we have to first answer the question: what is life?

What is life? Life is a complex self-organizing network process capable of reproducing itself. In other worse, it is a self-organizing system capable of self-reproduction -- creating another, very similar self-reproducing self-organizing system.

Self-organization is a feature of the universe itself. And as an environment at a particular level of complexity is filled, new levels of complexity emerge to create new environments to be filled. Atoms to molecules to chemical cycles to living things to social species to humans and their social environments. Re-run the universe, and you get life. And you get life over and over and over in a variety of places. And you get human-type intelligence as well, eventually.

Life is extremely common because self-organizing processes are extremely common. Life is simply a subcategory of self-organizing processes. It is simply a certain level of complexity of self-organizing processes. Given that, we must assume that life is common across the universe.

If we assume that the number of atoms in the universe is 10^80 and that life is exponentially more complex than is atomic complexity, and that therefore life is likely exponentially less common, we could come to some number of living things that would suggest how common life may be.

First, consider that the number of atoms that make up the earth is about 10^50. That should give you some idea of how big 10^80 truly is. It has been estimated that the number of living things that have existed on earth throughout history is about 10^40.

There are various estimates of the number of habitable planets in the Milky Way. I'll pick a low number simply so we can extrapolate it to all the other galaxies. So let's say there is only 10 billion = 10,000,000,000 = 10^10. If there are 100 billion galaxies, that means about 10^20 habitable planets in the known universe. Thus, number of living things on earth multiplied by number of habitable planets is 10^60 living things throughout the history of the universe. So life is common.

More, we only have to have life emerge once per planet. That's only 10^20 times that self-organizing self-reproducing systems had to emerge. Given that atoms had to emerge 10^80 times, this is a truly small number of times it had to emerge. It seems highly unlikely it didn't, over and over and over again.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Science of Cultural Change Is Possible (and Necessary)

T. Greer asks the eminently sensible question Is a Science of Cultural Change Possible? I think it is, but Greer is more skeptical (while acknowledging the interesting work in the field so far).

Greer uses the example of changing views on marriage and family that have made acceptance of gay marriage even possible. The complex narrative of those changing views is provided as evidence that narrative is most important for understanding what happened. (The narrative is definitely worth reading.) However, the narrative, as unquestionably important as it is, in some ways doesn't explain why it is that a particular view of marriage came to dominate over what had been the dominant view. Why did the change occur? That's what a science of cultural change can explain.

Greer notes that in 1995-96, only 27% of the population thought gays should be allowed to get married, while in 2015, 60% agree with that position. That's a huge change in 20 years. But let's be honest -- the 27% in 1995 was a huge percentage compared to what it had been 20 years before, when it was in the single digits. That means there was a huge leap in support in basically a generation. That means that a huge number of people who once opposed gay marriage now favor it. How do we explain that?

Network theory explains it. When you have a network, you have a situation where you can have explosive change, or emergence. There is a tipping point where the idea, etc. spreads rather quickly. It usually occurs at about 10% saturation. Given the slowness of cultural change, such a massive change in only a generation is rapid.

Greer further asks some great questions:
Today countries with fairly similar economic and demographic profiles—such as much of Western Europe and Japan—have very different attitudes and expectations for the roles men, women, and children are supposed to play in family life. Things like the age at which children leave the home or marry can be quantified and coded with ease. It is much harder to quantify or code how much affection husbands are expected to show their wives, or how harshly parents should discipline their children. [5]
So what does explain these things? And more importantly, how can we verify if any proposed explanation is true? Is it possible to establish a science of family life? 
The answer to this is that one would have to create a set of network models for each of the cultural traits, from economy to culture to family to whatever other spontaneous order would be involved. There are patterns of psychosocial emergence that take place under changing degrees of interactive density within a population or culture (see the work of Clare Graves and those influenced by him). But these patterns both affect the economy and culture (and others) and are in turn affected by them. We would expect people to have different attitudes based on economy, interactive density, various cultural practices, degrees of trust, etc. Each of these can be modeled and layered on each other to create the rich variety we see in the world.

This may not satisfy many people who think that "science" means "precise prediction." But precise prediction is only appropriate for the simple sciences, like physics and (most) chemistry. It is not at all appropriate for the complex sciences, like biology, psychology, and the social sciences, where we can only ever make pattern predictions.

A great example of a pattern prediction is Turchin's prediction that there will be an increase in political violence in the U.S. in 2020. The research he has done strongly suggests there is a 50 year secular cycle of political violence in the U.S. (The exception, 1820, occurred during the Dalton Minimum, which caused temperatures across the globe to plummet, and may have had a dampening effect on people getting together publicly to get riled up together.) While he can predict that there will be an upswing in political violence, and he can recognize some general elements that drive the cycle, what he cannot do is predict what the precise nature of the conflict will be, what parties will be involved, precisely where the violence will erupt, and precisely what will trigger everything. Also, something could happen to increase or decrease the degree of violence. And 2020 is a more-or-less (within a year or two) prediction. So if it peaks a little early or a little late, Turchin would still be right in his prediction.

Turchin's work involves the creation of a kind of macrohistory comparable to macroeconomics. The patterns that emerge in each macro view involve the kinds of cycles one would expect if positive feedback dominates. Underlying this involves microhistory and microeconomics, which involves the actions of individuals and which is dominates by negative feedback. The fact that different kinds of feedback dominate at different levels of analysis suggests to me that we need to have both approaches if we are going to develop a fully scientific, fully complex understanding of history, culture, economics, or any other social phenomenon we wish to understand. No question that narrative is a vital element, but so too are network models, constructal theory, percolation models, emergence, self-organization, and other related mathematical approaches that will allow us to develop more scientific understandings of human psychosociology.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Camplin Creative Consulting Online

Camplin Creative Consulting is officially online! If you have any editing or proofreading needs, this is the place to go. Only $10 per page. I can also do writing consulting.