Game Theory and the Truce of the Ruling Elites

If you’re in the mood for a dark view of the world and of humanity, then boy oh boy I have the article for you: The Clash of the Civilizations. Some are content with mere pessimism. That isn’t enough for the author, W. Ben Hunt. He aims for the apogee of cynicism.

“Lots of quotes this week, particularly from my two favorite war criminals – Sam Huntington and Henry Kissinger.”

Such casual disregard about war crime and those who commit it. I’m impressed right from the start.

I’m not a Christian, but I find myself automatically putting something like this into a Christian context. I don’t just mean the mention of war crime. I’m talking about the entire article that follows it. The war crime comment just sets the tone. There are a number of reasons for my thinking of Christianity, both in terms of morality and history.

First and foremost, what brought Christianity to mind was the simple fact that the person who recommended the article to me is a practicing Christian. That person isn’t just any Christian. He is my father who not only raised me in Christianity but raised me to take Christian values seriously. I don’t know how my father would square Hunt’s views with Jesus’ teachings, assuming he would even want to try. I do know my father deeply struggles with his faith and how it applies to the larger world, but in the end my father is in the impossible position of any other conservative Christian. Simply put, Jesus wasn’t a conservative, not to say Jesus was a liberal, but he certainly wasn’t conservative in any sense of the word (politically, socially, or attitudinally).

My own values have a Christian tinge. I don’t care one way or another if Jesus ever actually existed, but the radicalism of the message itself has stood out to me for a long time (far more radical than can be allowed for by either mainstream conservatism or liberalism). Jesus was always on the side of the powerless, not the powerful (on side of the victims of such things as war crimes, not the purveyors of it). I was thinking about this lately in context of the Ferguson protests and, more importantly, in the context of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

You can agree or disagree with someone like MLK, but what is clear is that his view is in line with a Christian worldview. He was a Christian preacher, after all. Hunt’s philosophy, on the other hand, is just as clearly not in line with a Christian worldview. Hunt is advocating for something that is un-Christian or even anti-Christian.

I wanted to note that upfront. Hunt, as with those he quotes, seeks to defend Western society. But his interest seems to be more a desire to protect a particular power structure and social order, rather than any substance of the culture itself. Huntington and Kissinger were both advocates of American imperialism where mass violence was used to enforce the will of the American ruling elite (e.g., the Vietnam War). He is invoking American imperialism by relying on two major figures who have been the focus of serious accusations of war crimes, as he acknowledges.

Hunt shows no concern for Christian values, except maybe as they offer a contrast with non-Christian societies. He is not making a moral argument, at least not in the straightforward sense, or rather the morality he is proposing not of an inspiring variety. It’s more in line with might makes right, rather than love thy neighbor.

“Everyone has heard of Kissinger, fewer of Huntington, who may have been even more of a hawk and law-and-order fetishist than Kissinger”

I might point out that the Pharisees and Pontius Pilate were also law-and-order fetishists. They were likely hawks as well.

“But Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” argument is not just provocative, curmudgeonly, and hawkish. It is, I think, demonstrably more useful in making sense of the world than any competing theory, which is the highest praise any academic work can receive. Supplement Huntington’s work with a healthy dose of Kissinger’s writings on “the character of nations” and you’ve got a cogent and predictive intellectual framework for understanding the Big Picture of international politics.”

Basically, the author is arguing that the best way to understand the world is by listening to those who advocate for cynical realpolitik. Huntington and Kissinger are favorite thinkers of those in power. They speak for power and justify power. They are giving voice to those who rule the world. So, of course, they best explain the actual way the world is being presently ruled or at least how that rule is being rationalized in the minds of the ruling elite, whether or not the rationalization explains much of anything.

Hunt is going even further, though. He thinks that Huntington and Kissinger were speaking for reality itself. It is a cynicism so deep that it blinds him to genuine alternatives. It isn’t just the way the world is because how those in power have made it to be. He is going far beyond that. The claim is that it could be no other way.

“Huntington and Kissinger were both realists (in the Thucydides and Bismarck sense of the word), as opposed to liberals (in the John Stuart Mill and Woodrow Wilson sense of the word),”

By admiring them as realists, he is advocating realism. There is capitalist realism that has been dissected by others (e.g., Mark Fisher). The criticisms of capitalist realism parallel the criticisms of communist realism. But the view here isn’t using the Cold War rhetoric of either the freedom of markets or the freedom of workers. And it denies liberalism as being valid, liberalism both as progressivism and neo-liberalism. This is pure neo-conservatism. Ruthless power as its own justification.

That is the ‘reality’ Hunt lives in, and so it is the ‘reality’ he would like to enforce on all of the world. He can’t imagine the world any other way.

At the beginning of the article, the author included this quote:

“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”
– Samuel P. Huntington (1927 – 2008)

Many people would interpret a statement like that as an admonishment of Western imperialism. But one gets the sense that Huntington and Hunt takes that as a point of pride. We are the winners! Bow down and submit!

The above was the second quote. It immediately followed this:

“In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”
– Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996)

Combining those two quotes, what is implied is twofold.

First, the West is intrinsically unique and fundamentally different from all the rest of humanity. We are the pinnacle of civilization, at least for now (and, for many hereditarian reactionaries, we are also the pinnacle of human evolution).

Second, what keeps us at the pinnacle is nothing more than being better at maintaining power through “organized violence” (i.e., brute oppression and military imperialism). This is to say we are better at keeping everyone else down and in their place where they can’t challenge us. And by saying ‘we’ and ‘us’, I mean the Western ruling elite, specifically those who aspire toward an authoritarian oligarchy or paternalistic plutocracy. Actually, their aspiration is greater still, as is made clear in this article. They want to be part of a transnational ruling elite, not just in the US or even the West but across the entire globe.

To continue with what the author was saying about Huntington and Kissinger, he stated this,

“basically just means that they saw human political history as essentially cyclical and the human experience as essentially constant.”

Right there, that is what I zeroed in on. I just happened to be reading a book that I’ve had for some years, but only now got around to looking at in detail. It is Circle and Lines by John Demos. The subtitle is “The Shape of Life in Early America”.

There was a cultural transition and psychological transformation that had been going on. Demos sees it as a centuries-long shift, but I would identify it’s having begun much earlier with the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the ensuing developments during the Axial Age, during which linear theologies came to dominance (temporal existence as a one-way trip, a cosmic narrative with a conclusive and final ending; the prime example in the West being Christianity which is from the late Axial Age, having been built on preceding expressions and influenced by concurrent expressions of the Axial Age such as Alexandrian Judaism, neo-Pythagoreanismm, Greco-Roman Mystery Schools, Egyptian Isis worship, etc).

One might point out as an example, specifically a Christian example, MLK’s preaching that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This arc extends from the past into the future, as progress toward something. It is not a pagan cycle of return that repeats endlessly, ever coming back to what is, has been, and always will be.

The linear style of thinking had particularly taken hold in the West because of the Hellenistic tradition that was spread through the joint effort of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. It was reintroduced during the Renaissance, became a real force during the Enlightenment, and then violently disrupted the social order during the early modern revolutionary era. It was a slow process over millennia for it to take hold. It still hasn’t fully taken hold, as is shown by the ease of Hunt’s dismissing it out of hand. Hunt, instead, harkens back to an ancient cyclical view of humanity and the world, not only still fightng againt the Enlightenment Age thinkers but also the Axial Age prophets.

“Life is fundamentally “nasty, brutish, and short”, to quote Thomas Hobbes, and people band together in tribes, societies, and nation-states to do something about that.”

It is unsurprising that the author seeks support from a pre-Enlightenment thinker. But I doubt Hunt would accept Hobbes’ belief that all humans are equal, for the very reason that death makes life “nasty, brutish, and short” (any person could kill any other person). I’m also not sure how the cyclical view could be fit into Hobbes’ ideas about society (in Hobbes and Human Nature, Arnold Green argues that, “In short, stasis was the goal. Cyclical theories do not deny development, as Hobbes essentially did.”), since Hunt doesn’t seem to be denying development in his own cyclical theorizing, just denying progress as a fundamental force of transformation and improvement. Anyway, Hobbes is a weak foundation upon which to base a post-Enlightenment modern view of global society and cross-cultural social order (see Beyond Liberty Alone by Howard Schwartz).

“As such, we are constantly competing with other tribes, societies, and nation-states, and the patterns of that competition – patterns with names like “balance of power” and “empire” and “hegemony” – never really change across the centuries or from one continent to another. Sure, technology might provide some “progress” in creature comforts and quality of life (thank goodness for modern dentistry!), but basically technology just provides mechanisms for these political patterns to occur faster and with more devastating effect than before.”

In a nutshell: Competition between powers is the only constant. Nothing fundamentally ever changes or can change. There is no such thing as improvement. That is a stark worldview.

Besides moral criticisms, a main problem I have with it is that it doesn’t fit the evidence. Humanity has vastly changed over the centuries and millennia. The neighboring towns around where I live are not separate competing tribes or city-states that are in constant battle with my town. I can travel in most places in the world with relative ease and relatively little fear. For an increasing number of people, life no longer is “nasty, brutish, and short”.

These changes aren’t superficial, but have fundamentally altered how human nature has been expressed (possibly even at a genetic level to some degree, as research shows evolutionary changes can happen over shorter periods of time). John Demos speaks of this psychological level of change at the heart of social change, but even more profoundly it has been analyzed by the likes of Julian Jaynes and the Jaynesian theorists.

“The central point of “Clash of Civilizations” is that it’s far more useful to think of the human world as divided into 9 great cultures (Huntington calls them civilizations, but I’ll use the words interchangeably here) rather than as 200 or so sovereign nations.”

I agree that cultures are important, but this view lacks much depth. If you look very far into this topic, you quickly realize that dividing populations up into clearly delineated and broadly sweeping ethno-cultural categories is about as meaningful as doing the same with races, which is to say not particularly meaningful. These cultures are fluid and constantly shifting. They have porous borders and syncretistic pasts.

Democracy has become associated with the West, but it originated at a time when Greeks had more culturally in common with other Mediterranean people (including Near Easterners and North Africans) than with what we today think of as Westerners. Many of the major building blocks of Western Civilization originated from elsewhere. There was nothing inherently democratic, imperialistic, and colonial about Western cultures prior to these ideological systems having been introduced into the West. The West was utterly and quickly transformed in its process of becoming what it is today. Hunt is being plain ignorant in ignoring this fact.

“Marxism and liberalism are inherently optimistic visions of human society. Things are always getting better … or they will be better just as soon as people wake up and recognize their enlightened self-interest … as ideas of proletariat empowerment (Marxism) or individual rights as instantiated by free markets and free elections (liberalism) inexorably spread throughout the world.”

My sense is that Hunt is missing something centrally important. I’ve wondered if optimism isn’t actually the defining feature of liberalism and leftism. Maybe optimism at best is just a side result of a particular worldview. Liberals and leftists don’t necessarily see everything as progress. Rather, they primarily see it as irreversible, both the good and the bad. Not just irreversible, but also unstoppable. Hunt wants the world to stop so that he can get off. That just isn’t possible.

“For realists like Huntington and Kissinger, on the other hand, this is nonsense. Free markets and free elections are good things (as is proletariat empowerment, frankly), but these central concepts of liberalism only mean what we Westerners think they mean if they exist within the entire context of Western culture.”

These aren’t Western ideas in the first place. They evolved over a complex history that extends way beyond the West. The narrowness and superficiality of Hunt’s view is staggering.

“The West may very well want to impose the practices and institutions of free markets and free elections for its own self-interest, and China may want to adopt the practices and institutions of free markets (but not free elections) for its own self-interest, but the logic of self-interest is a VERY different thing than the triumphalist claim that the liberal ideas of Western free markets and free elections are “naturally” spreading throughout the world.”

I have no desire to impose anything on anyone. But if I did want to impose my own version of Western values on particular people, I’d begin with those who agree with Huntington and Kissinger. I would argue that it is Hunt who is dismissing Western tradition, not just as it might apply to non-Western societies but more importantly as it applies to the West. A linear view of change has become a central tenet of Western thought at this point. He wants to defend some abstract notion of the West by cutting out its beating heart.

Many liberals and leftists are the opposite of triumphalist about Western cultural imperialism. In fact, it is Hunt and those like him who are trying to create a new kind of Western cultural imperialism. He doesn’t actually mind imposing his ideas onto the rest of the world. What he fears is that the influence might be two-way. He wants near total Western dominance where we can protect the West with some utopian hope of cultural isolation.

Even his understanding of game theory is Western. He never explains why non-Westerners would want to submit to his game theory model of a truce among ruling elites. If non-Westerners refuse his desire that they play by Western rules as they inevitably would, what does he advise? No doubt, he would agree with Huntington and Kissinger in their advocacy of military force. Despite the rhetoric, it will always come back to violent power.

“A brief aside here on the distinction between personal beliefs and useful models. I’m not saying that I believe that authoritarian regimes and jihadist despots have some sort of moral equivalence to liberal governments, or that human rights don’t matter, or any of the other tired bromides used to tar realists. On the contrary, I personally believe that everyone in the non-Western world would be better off … MUCH better off … if their governing regimes gave a damn about individual rights and liberties in the same way that ANY governing regime in the West does.”

If that were true, Hunt better get up to speed. His ignorance of world history and world events is massive. The non-Western world is the way it is largely because of Western actions: wars, invasions, occupations, assassinations, coup d’etats, arming and training militant groups, alliances with authoritarian regimes (dictatorships, theocracies, etc), promoting fascism, military-imposed resource extraction, total control of trade routes, and on and on. If we don’t like the world we have helped to create, maybe Western governments need to start acting differently.

“But what a realist recognizes is that our personal vision of how we would like the world to be is not an accurate representation of The World As It Is, and – as Huntington wrote – it’s false, immoral, and dangerous to pretend otherwise.”

A genuine realist would acknowledge our social and moral responsibility for the world we helped create. Hunt is arguing for a vision of a Western society that doesn’t exist, except in his mind and in the propaganda of imperialists.

“Is a realist happy about any of this? Is a realist satisfied to shrug his shoulders and retreat into some isolationist shell? No, of course not. But a realist does not assume that there are solutions to these problems. Certainly a realist does not assume that there are universal principles like “free and fair elections” that can or should be applied as solutions to these problems. Some problems are intractable because they have been around for hundreds or thousands of years and are part and parcel of the Clash of Civilizations.”

Does this guy know anything about history?

The original Clash of Civilizations in Europe was between Greco-Roman culture and the tribal indigenous cultures. The memory of that clash was still so fresh that Thomas Jefferson could cite the pre-Norman English as an inspiration for American liberty (Normans having been the first serious introduction of Roman culture into Enlgand). Jefferson saw a free American society having its roots in the Germanic-Celtic people, not the imperial Roman tradition. There is no and never has been a singular unified Western culture.

“I think the crucial issue here (as it is with so many things in life) is to call things by their proper name.We’ve mistaken the self-interested imposition and adoption of so many Western artifices – the borders between Syria and Iraq are a perfect example, but you can substitute “democracy in Afghanistan” if you like, or “capital markets in China” if you want something a bit more contentious – for the inevitable and righteous spread of Western ideals on their own merits. This is a problem for one simple reason: if you think Something happened because of Reason A (ideals spreading “naturally” and “inevitably” within an environment of growing global cooperation), but it really happened because of Reason B (practices imposed or adopted out of regime self-interest within an environment of constant global competition), then you will fail to anticipate or react appropriately when that Something changes.”

I would agree with one basic component of that assessment. We should be clear in what we speak about. The failure of Hunt is that he lacks genuine understanding. Someone like Noam Chomsky would make mincemeat of his pathetic attempt at international analysis.

“And here’s the kicker: change is coming… It’s going to get worse.”

Sure. Liberals and leftists would be the first to say that. The difference is whether one accepts change or fights against it and tries to deny it. Hunt wants to defend the West against all change, to make sure all change is externalized along with all the costs.

Following that, Hunt goes on for quite a while about economics. That demonstrates the superficiality of his understanding.

There is a certain kind of person that sees everything as economics. To this thinking, all of the social order, all power, all culture comes down to economics. This is unsurprising for someone like Hunt. His career is in finance. That is his hammer by which all the world looks like a bunch of nails. Because of this, he is unable to look deeper into the historical and social forces that have made and are still making the world we live in.

This is an inevitable outcome of his worldview. He sees all change as superficial, which is to say nothing fundamentally changes. His attempt is to understand the change going on in the world. But since all change to his mind is superficial, it forces him to offer a surface level analysis. Economics are just the chips in the poker game, to be won or lost, but the players play on. There is only one game in town and that is the game of power.

The following is part of what interested my father:

“No, the existential risk is that the great civilizations of the world will be “hollowed out” internally, so that the process of managing the ten thousand year old competition between civilizations devolves into an unstable game of pandering to domestic crowds rather than a stable equilibrium of balance of power.”

Hunt supports his view with a quote from Kissinger. In that quote,

“Side by side with the limitless possibilities opened up by the new technologies, reflection about international order must include the internal dangers of societies driven by mass consensus, deprived of the context and foresight needed on terms compatible with their historical character. As diplomacy is transformed into gestures geared toward passions, the search for equilibrium risks giving way to a testing of limits. …

“Because information is so accessible and communication instantaneous, there is a diminution of focus on its significance, or even on the definition of what is significant. This dynamic may encourage policymakers to wait for an issue to arise rather than anticipate it, and to regard moments of decision as a series of isolated events rather than part of a historical continuum. When this happens, manipulation of information replaces reflection as the principal policy tool.”
– Henry Kissinger, “World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History” (2014)

Hunt wants a ruling elite who will paternalisticaly manage Western civilization and will manage the balance of power with the ruling elites of non-Western civilizations. This is a natural worldview for Hunt, as he manages a financial company.

He wants the world managed in the way a transnational corporation is managed. This relates to why he doesn’t think the center of power should be in nation-states. He envisions a transnational ruling elite that would somehow have greater power and influence than even the elected officials of governments.

This would also be an element that resonates with my father. He was a business manager for many years and then taught business management. My father’s entire worldview is steeped in the experience and attitude of the management model of solving problems.

Unlike Hunt and my father, I actually want a functioning democracy, not just in form but also in substance, a culture of democracy and an entire democratization of every aspect of life and governance. What they want is in reality an increasingly privatized technocracy, with maybe some outward forms of democracy by way of a paternalistic ruling elite that would use superficial rhetoric to make claims of representing the people (no different than any other ruling elite in all of history, as even kings claimed to represent the people). Hunt would also want that technocracy to be transnationalized. My father has a slight libertarian tendency and would be more wary of such transnationalization, but still not wary enough for my taste.

Here is where the author goes into detail about game theory.

“I’ll just introduce two key game theoretic concepts at the core of Kissinger’s warning.

“First, the proliferation of the most dangerous game of all – Chicken. […] Chicken is such a dangerous game because it has no equilibrium, no outcome where all parties prefer where they are to where they might be. […]

“Second, the dumbing-down of all political games into their most unstable form – the single-play game.When Kissinger writes about how political leaders come to see “moments of decision as a series of isolated events”, he’s talking about the elimination of repeated-play games and shrinking the shadow of the future. Most games seem really daunting at first glance. For example, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is famous for having a very stable equilibrium where everyone is worse off than they easily could have been with some very basic cooperation. But there’s a secret to solving the Prisoner’s Dilemma – play it lots of times with the same players. Cooperation and mutually advantageous equilibria are far easier to achieve within a repeated-play game because reputation matters. The shadow of the future looms large if you’re thinking not only about this iteration of the game and the moves ahead, but also about the next time you have to play the game, perhaps for larger stakes, and the next, and the next.”

The author is seeking a stable and unchanging balance of power. He doesn’t want a shared human society nor does he want progress, for free democratic societies are inherently unstable and constantly changing. He wants to create or return the world to some ideal holding pattern between superpowers. The game he speaks of is between elites. He doesn’t care about the rest of us. Democracy and freedom are of secondary concern to him, at best. What he is focused on is stability at all costs, a repeating game between the same players with the same results, an agreement among the powerful to keep the game of power going, a mutual understanding and respect among the world’s ruling elites.

I want to end by noting that, while in the middle of writing this piece, I did talk to my father about the article. He, of course, saw it through a different lens. All that I noticed didn’t occur to him.

He focused on the game theory aspect, apparently to the exclusion of all else (I doubt Hunt’s war crime comment even registered in his awareness to any great extent or, if it did, he probably just took it as humor). The likely reason for this is that my father shares many of the same assumptions and biases as Hunt, specifically the right-wing reactionary mistrust of “the people” along with a desire for an enlightened, meritocratic, and paternalistic ruling elite. The premises of Hunt’s argument didn’t stand out to my father as something to question and doubt. His offering the article to me was just a passing thought, just an expression of mild curiosity about how game theory might apply to international politics. The worldview itself was just background.

For me, game theory seemed like a small part of the argument, and the argument seemed like a small part of a larger worldview. Game theory was more just supporting evidence than the heart of the matter. My attention was caught by how it was being framed.

What to my father just seemed a bit pessimistic to me felt outright cynical. That is because Hunt and my father are conservatives, as contrasted with the liberalism that I espouse and they criticize. Much of conservatism, to my mind, has a disturbingly cynical bent and a fatalistic tendency, but to conservatives it is just being ‘realistic’. That is a ‘reality’ I’d rather avoid.

Let me wrap up with a couple of things about Hunt’s use of game theory.

First, game theory is inherently amoral. What I mean is that it can be applied to and used to justify various moral and immoral purposes. I’m not entirely sure about the universal applicability of game theory. To return to Christianity, I don’t see Jesus as advocating a game theory worldview. I’m thinking that game theory leaves a lot out, at least in a simplistic interpretation as Hunt is using it. However, if we weren’t to interpret it simplistically, how might game theory apply toward morality, rather than just toward self-interest of power and profit?

Second, Hunt is applying game theory only to the ruling elite. He is assuming that the ‘masses’ of the general public won’t be allowed to play, as long as people like him can control the playing field and the rules of play. But if Hunt were to be honest, he would have to confront this inconsistency. He claims that game theory fits human nature the best. In that case, why doesn’t it also apply to all humans, not just the ruling elite? Why not apply game theory to democracy, to freedom and liberty, to social responsibility and public accountability, to moral hazard and externalizations?

Hunt assumes that he is writing to an audience that either is part of the ruling elite, who aspires to be part of the ruling elite, or who sees their interests in line with the ruling elite. The related assumption he is making is that the rest of the population is too stupid, too indifferent, and too powerless to care or be able to do anything about it. Why does he make these assumptions? What if the average person refuses to play by the rules of the ruling elite? Should we expect that the violence committed against foreigners, as neocons recommend, will also be turned against us, the local citizenry?

What does game theory tell us will happen when the ruling elite gets too oppressive?

37 thoughts on “Game Theory and the Truce of the Ruling Elites

    • “Hunt seems to have had his wish already come true.”

      Yeah, it does seem that Hunt’s fantasy is our reality… sadly.

      His writing is more about his worries that this ideal world he loves so much might come to an end, if the truce among the ruling elites were to end. He sees the greatest danger to the ruling elite is if they turn against one another in another world war or some other disruptive forms of vying for power. He thinks each regional ruling elite should respect the turf of the other regional ruling elites and join together in keeping the masses oppressed and in line.

      “Interesting read”

      That is an interesting read.

      I think he has the right idea that money has ruled America because other forms of power weren’t dominant for most of American history. We haven’t had monarchy since the revolution. We haven’t had theocracy, except a little bit early on at the local level. Even government and military were limited in power and scope for a long time, relative to Europe. Yet there was always a ruling elite from the founding of the country, and that ruling elite had only wealth, land ownership, class status, and social connections as their means of control.

      Slavery was a major part of that plutocracy, even in the North. The entire economy was entangled with and dependent upon slavery. Slavery was the key to what made the entire plutocracy possible. That is why, after the ending of slavery, the plutocracy had to turn to more traditional forms of power by pushing for and taking control of a big government and big military while also increasingly using religion as a political tool.

      As we move further away from the era of slavery, I wonder how this will impact our society. We have new generations of immigrants that have no connection to the history of this country. As an immigrant nation, the hold of the past is much more nebulous.

      “I myself am not against a paternalistic system, but it must genuinely be in the best long term interests of society and of the people as a whole, which this system is decidedly not.”

      Well, it depends. Any opinion I have about almost anything is determined by the context. There are better and worse forms of paternalism. That is obvious by looking at other countries. I have my doubts that even the best paternalistic system is necessarily the most optimal system possible. I want a free society, whatever that requires.

      • The issue right now is the plutocracy and frankly, that a substantial proportion of the population is simply unable to understand what is happening.

        A true democracy is totally contingent on having a very well educated, well informed, and civic minded populace, which I don’t think is a realistic expectation. That’s the big problem.

        A sort of technocracy, but governed by scientists, engineers, sociologists, and historians I think would be likely to address the problems. The scientific method would be applied … to politics.

  1. Another serious problem I think is that this is what a large segment of the American population seems to want.

    I don’t get along very well with my father too. He’s the authoritarian conservative type – which sounds like your parents.

    Have you ever read the Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer? The average RWA of the US as a whole is probably much higher than compared to the other Western nations.

    Perhaps a final rhetoric is the nature of Republican attacks. Notice in their politics, they often say “restore”. I presume that means “restore” back the US to world superpower status away from challengers such as China and for the average white working class person, restore them (when ironically they’ve suffered from right wing policies more than anything else).

    The rhetoric here is that they mean to reverse the gains in the Civil Rights, certain gender rights movements, racial tolerance, social groups like gay marriage, and certain other groups – that this is somehow to “restore” the US to greatness (the right really believes that this is responsible for the US decline rather than their policies, which may sound crazy, but it’s what they believe).

    • I see many things as goind in cycles. These past decades, the US has been in a reactionary funk. Maybe it’s a Cold War hangover.

      The thing is my parents used to be a lot more liberal-minded, back when I was a kid. Even someone like Reagan was such a starry-eyed optimist and quite socially liberal. There was a more positive era between the ending of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the War on Terror. The Cold War was winding down and the world seemed to be getting better in many ways.

      Part of it was that people were simply ignoring the ways certain things were actually getting worse: stagnativing wages, growing child poverty, deindustrialization, offshoring jobs, mass incarceration, growing police state, etc. But my point is that people like my parents were being carried along by a collective positive mood. They raised me to be a liberal. I get my liberal worldview, attitude, and values from my conservative parents because when I was a kid they and the entire country was going through a liberal phase.

      It wasn’t until the 1990s that there began to be a shift. It was the rise of Fox News and right-wing radio. That was also the time when my family had moved to the Deep South, the land of the most reactionary and cynical right-wingers. 20 years in the Deep South really warped my parents minds.

      Environments really do determine so much of what we become.

      My point is that I think we were in a reactionary phase of a larger cycle. Like everyone else, my parents were just caught up in the mood of the times. But I think the cycle is shifting into a new phase.

      Some of it is generational. There are new generations now that have no memory of the world wars, the Cold War, Vietnam War, etc. Even 9/11 is just a childhood memory to many of them. These young adults have an entirely different worldview and they are extremely socially liberal.

      I don’t know what that will mean other than change is happening. During times of shift, there are opportunities for new things to emerge. I think will likely enter another progressive era that will be followed by another world war or cold war. That is the best prediction I can make, but it is just a wild guess.

  2. Maybe. I don’t like generalizing generations, but when such a proportion of a population conforms, it’s hard not to.

    I think that the boomers did very poorly because they grew up in abundance. They never faced difficulty in their youth and grew up in the post-WWII boom economy when wages rose, when essentially the gains were shared. It was a Keynesian economics era, and in some ways, there was social progress.

    But economically, things changed. I suspect that generation X and generation Y will be closer to that of the Depression/Greatest generation in that regard. Job stability is bad. Wages are stagnant and often falling. There’s a lot more uncertainty and I think that a lot of people realize that these were self-inflicted problems.

    I believe there was a theorist who noted that abundance could be in some ways as bad as scarcity because it breeds a certain arrogance, wastefulness, and an idea that something is for granted.

    • I wonder if this also fits into Moore’s law.

      We became dependent on technological development that happened in a steady predictable way. Companies depended on constantly increasing memory which decreased more radical innovations. If Moore’s law severely slows down, that will force entirely new thinking and greater innovation in entirely new directions.

      Everything is shifting: technology, economics, demographics, etc. Many of the patterns and trends of the 20th century won’t continue. This will likely lead to many conflicts along with new innovations. I’ve thought that we are long overdue for a major paradigm change.

      Eastern countries economically, politically, and militaristically challennging Western countries will probably help the paradigm to happen as they will bring new cultural elements to the global scene. It will shake everything up.

  3. Maybe. Hardware slowdown might drive some pretty impressive gains in software. There’s plenty of room for growth there. Hardware-wise, there are a few experimental technologies that might get a few generations worth of faster chips, but you are going to run into physics.

    There are going to be very real bottlenecks though. Peak (easy) oil is happening. The easy to get oil is gone. The rest is stuff like tar sands, which is heavy and difficult to refine. The EROEI is dropping. Coal too is like that. It goes something like anthracite to bituminous to sub-bituminous to lignite with energy dropping each turn.

    You know one question that Americans did not ask themselves after the BP oil spill is – why do they have to drill offshore? The easy oil is gone. That’s why. On the upside, it might make photovoltaics more cost competitive by virtue of necessity. On the downside, it’s not politically possible to get a real move onto renewable energy.

    I think there will be some innovation for sure. But there are also going to be some nasty surprises that were predictable, that most people were willfully ignorant of. The financial crisis is perhaps a good example of such a crisis. The unwillingness to invest in green infrastructure in particular will be a serious flaw I think.

    • Willful ignorance has a way of correcting for itself by bringing upon itself its own destruction. It will be a rude awakening, but when that happens the real fun will begin.

      I was talking to my dad about Moore’s law. He has worked with computers for a half century. As a factory manager, he worked with the earliest computers that private companies were using. He is much more aware of technological developments than I am, despite his being an old guy.

      He was telling me about a couple of things.

      First, there is a new satellite system that is being developed. It is able to look at the entire internet system in a region and analyze how it is operating. By redirecting connections and flows of data, it is able to massively increase the efficiency of the entire internet system (I think my dad said by a third).

      Second, the data plan he has for internet, cable, and his phone allows more gigabits than the local internet can even handle. The limitation isn’t his computer, but the network. Many countries have far faster networks than the US, because we haven’t invested publicly like other countries. Cloud computing has also become more important. Most of the processing is increasingly being done elsewhere than on the devices themselves.

      If you combine all these innovations, memory and processing speed could quickly increase. It is improvements in the entire system that will likely drive innovation in the coming decades, not the memory of individual devices. Innovation will simply shift in new directions, but innovation itself is unlikely to slow down.

      The same goes for energy. Old energy sources becoming depleted is the best thing to happen. It will force investment into alternative energies. What we have refused to do willingly we will be forced to do out of necessity. And necessity is the mother of invention.

      The biggest thing that will change in the future aren’t individual technologies. Rather, it will be infrastructure. This will definitely include informmation and energy infrastructures. It might also include transporation infrastructures, maybe a return to mass transportation systems or else self-driving vehicles (or likely a combination of both).

      It is interesting to think how all these new infrastructures will combine and build off one another.

  4. 1/3 or about 33% isn’t actually a lot when it comes to computers. Strange, but it’s exponential at work.

    To put it into perspective, 33% more efficient internet on a typical connection may mean going from 50 to 66.7 Mbps for home broadband, which is not huge.

    You’d have to talk orders of magnitude to be huge. If we could go from megabits to gigabits, I suspect things would radically change the way the Internet works.

    The problem with energy is that North America does not have leadership. Leadership in wind arguably goes to Denmark. Solar, probably Germany. East Asia is investing aggressively in infrastructure due to its suppression of consumption.

    The thing is, infrastructure is incremental. If you lose and the other nation is improving incrementally, then the gap may be one that is extremely difficult to close.

    That’s why I am pessimistic about North America.

    • My point is that it isn’t any single thing.

      Many tiny improvements of many different technological aspects can magnify into massive improvements overall. This satellite system is just one example. It’s just one step of development. We have no reason to believe that there aren’t thousands of ways to increase efficiency and other improvements.

      All change is incremental until it builds to some point and then it happens very quickly. The continental railroad system was created in a single generation, after a period of time when the technology of trains had been developing for a long while.

      Leadership will emerge in North America when conditions demand it. We are dominant in the world right now. We have little motivation to push the edge of innovation and improvement. The US in particular is most concerned simply with maintaining power at the moment. But as China becomes a real competitor Americans will respond competitively.

      I think there are two many factors involved to predict anything in any particular direction. I’ll stick with the simple conclusion that we just don’t know where it is all heading. Almost anything could happen with how much is changing all over.

  5. I don’t share your optimism on “when the conditions demand it”. They almost certainly do already.

    For most Americans, there has been a steady decline in real wages, living standards, job security, and I would argue several other measures of well-being.

    By measures of PPP, China may actually have exceeded the US in 2014. Granted that is with more than 4 times its population, but that buys impressive power nonetheless.

    If economic leadership does swing, getting it back will likely be much harder than say, Sputnik, particularly as the competition will be much more power economically relatively speaking than say, the USSR. The US will be competing from an infrastructure disadvantage this time, and possibly several other built in drawbacks.

    An example is manufacturing. It is incremental by nature. The problem is that all of that infrastructure will have to be built from ground up. Meanwhile, the other side is already improving theirs.

    • “I don’t share your optimism on “when the conditions demand it”. They almost certainly do already.”

      You keep wanting me to portray me as an optimist. I don’t fit into that narrative. It’s funny that I was these past few days interacting with another person who seemed to think I was a pessimist because I was being skeptical about his optimism.

      The difference between you and I is this. I’m not an optimist to your pessimism, anymore than I am a pessimist to that other guy’s optimism. Rather, I’m a radical skeptic. I’m agnostic about pessimism and optimism. Our positions aren’t in polar opposite, but at a tangent. That is why we talk past one another.

      Here is what I’m saying.

      People respond to the times. For example, there weren’t any more great people during the American Revolution. It’s just that particular conditions made certain kinds of thinking and action both possible and highly probable, and revolution followed. I’m suggesting that humans in the present and the future are unlikely to be much different than humans in the past.

      We live in a lazy time for Americans, and it is unsurprising that Americans act in a lazy fashion. Even poor Americans are relativley comfortable compared to most people in the world and compared to most Americans in the past. When that comfort decreases further, there will be different responses to those different conditions. The social safety net and mass incarceration are the only things keeping another revolution from happening right now in this country.

      It’s the conditions that are unique, not the people.

      (Part of my thinking here is influenced by the book “Why the West Rules — For Now” by Ian Morris.)

      “For most Americans, there has been a steady decline in real wages, living standards, job security, and I would argue several other measures of well-being.”

      Yet most Americans are comfortable. We aren’t yet at the point where a large number of Americans are extremely desperate, as was seen during the Great Depression. But at this rate it won’t be long before the conditions drastically change. Desperation is increasing. Give it some time.

      “By measures of PPP, China may actually have exceeded the US in 2014. Granted that is with more than 4 times its population, but that buys impressive power nonetheless.”

      I never claimed things wouldn’t change. In fact, my entire argument is that things will likely change in drastic and unpredictable ways. Pessimism and optimism simply don’t apply when there are too many unknowns.

      “If economic leadership does swing, getting it back will likely be much harder than say, Sputnik, particularly as the competition will be much more power economically relatively speaking than say, the USSR. The US will be competing from an infrastructure disadvantage this time, and possibly several other built in drawbacks.”

      Sure, things will be different. Conditions are always changing. The US is different now than when dealing with the USSR. China isn’t the USSR.

      The former has some major demographic challenges that the latter never had, specifically the fact that they have the largest and fastest growing aging population in the world. Also, there is a whole generation of kids growing up without parents because the parents are far away working in factories. Those two conditions alone are a recipe for a revolution in China, if they aren’t careful. The US is in a much more stable position than China at present, but of course that could change.

      “An example is manufacturing. It is incremental by nature. The problem is that all of that infrastructure will have to be built from ground up. Meanwhile, the other side is already improving theirs.”

      The US does have its share of problems. Still, the death of American manufacturing is exaggerated. It has actually been growing, even with all the offshoring of jobs.

      It is hard to know what infrastructure will be necessary in the coming decades. China’s authoritarian government can do mass investments. That can lead to great results and great disasters. There are some cities that the China government has built, but no one wants to live there. The USSR had similar problems. The US system can seem inferior in many ways, but it still is more adaptable because it involves far fewer mass investments.

      • True – China faces demographic challenges, but there are some things you miss.

        “It is hard to know what infrastructure will be necessary in the coming decades. China’s authoritarian government can do mass investments. That can lead to great results and great disasters. ”

        The issue is that if there is some new technology that does prove very useful, China is far more likely to invest in it and spend the money needed.

        “There are some cities that the China government has built, but no one wants to live there. ”

        In the 1960s, and 1970s, Japan was very polluted. Ulsan, South Korea, today the richest city was once its most dirty.

        To me the real question is if China’s growth will slowdown if it reaches a midwealth nation.

        • “The issue is that if there is some new technology that does prove very useful, China is far more likely to invest in it and spend the money needed.”

          I agree that is one possibility, but its opposite is also a possibility. A new technology might succeed or fail. The greater the invesement, the greater the success or the greater the failure. It’s a big gamble. So, China is in a position to either win big or lose big. OTOH America’s potential and risk are less extreme.

          “To me the real question is if China’s growth will slowdown if it reaches a midwealth nation.”

          It seems to me that China has already picked many of its low-hanging fruit. Any further progress will demand much more effort.

          It is easier in many ways to develop an underdeveloped economy than to develop an already developed economy. Communist China was able to start from scratch. It is similar to how the US could much easier reinvent its own economy in the past.

          There is a weakness in success because a society becomes heavily invested in a particular way of doing things. The US has already gotten to that point. China is quickly heading in that direction, though.

          I wonder if the future is less likely to be dominated by either the US or China. While the empires fought each other, the American Revolution happened. It was all the fighting that weakened the empires and allowed the revolutionary era to happen.

          US competition with China is just a continuation of the Cold War. Maybe that isnt where the real change is going to come from. I still see it all as being far too unpredictable.

  6. The other issue is that you tend to see stuff like this happening:

    I think that many Americans have this big myth of theirs that the US is still number one in everything. It goes something like this:

    Made in USA: Top quality in the world
    Made in China: It’s only made in China because of its cheap costs

    Sometimes that view is justified. Sometimes. But unless there is a massive investment towards the future, then regaining it is hard. The challenge is that the other side has been investing in improvements the whole time – and has never stopped.

    The problem is that as manufacturing goes away, so does the innovation. Japan is a good example. Today many regard Japanese cars as superior to their American counterparts. If it means anything, I’m a former GM employee. Korea, Taiwan, and a few others have made similar gains.

    Judging by the trajectory that China is on, they will make comparable gains too. The problem is that they have a much larger population.

    I suspect that a failure to invest in education is an example.

    A loss in a productive work force
    – Lead time to build world leading education facilities
    – Lead time needed to train said workforce
    – Time needed to build other supporting infrastructure and to allow educated workforce to gain experience
    – Time needed to gain a competitive advantage

    It’s a lot harder to displace an entrenched leader than it looks. All of this too is equally dependent on the ability to make short-term sacrifices for these investments. Given the unwillingness of Americans to pay higher taxes, that’s not looking good. At least until the Baby Boomers lose leadership, things are not changing.

    What is appalling is how self-inflicted these losses are.

    • You might find Ian Morris book a good read, a detailed and fact-filled analysis. I’m getting to the end of it where he discusses the future. What he says makes a lot of sense to me. Simply put, he doesn’t see any easy way to use the past to predict the future. Changes aren’t likely to be steady and linear.

      He does see a shift toward the East, but that could play out in many ways. The US could decline. Yet that decline might be equivalent to what happened to the British Empire, which is to say not necessarily all that devastating. Or it could be much more dramatic, especially if a world war or pandemic is involved.

      It is anyone’s guess.

  7. Hard to say.

    The US does have one huge advantage, shared by Canada and Australia. It is quite rich in natural resources – as compared to say Japan, Korea, Germany, and even China (large but low resources per capita).

    Agriculture, certain natural resources for example, will continue to be huge exports. But the problem is that this is not enough to employ everyone.

    The US still needs to manufacture, it still needs a large vibrant technology sector, and so on. Truth be told, so do all of the Western nations.

    The reason why the East Asians were able to advance is because they suppressed consumption by about 30-40%. That’s the opposite of what the West has been doing, which is to maximize consumption. Problem is, I don’t think people “get it”.

    • I doubt most people anywhere in the world “get it”. It isn’t just an American thing. It is a global problem, rather than a local problem.

      Morris talks about the issue of how America and China are locked together, what some call Chimerica. Anything that takes one of these countries will cause major problems for the other as well. That is a major difference now than during the Cold War when the two global superpowers had independent economies.

      Morris also talks about how every age gets the thinkers that it needs, although such ages are large spans of time. The Axial Age was anywhere from several centuries to a millennia, depending on who you ask. There was mass turmoil, decline, and destruction before that age finally got the thinkers it needed.

  8. Perhaps so.

    That is one of the reasons why I am more open to a paternalistic society than most people are. The Dunning Kruger effect reigns supreme here. People follow charismatic leaders for example, which do not always have the best interests of society at heart.

    That is why I am open to the idea of people being “too dumb for democracy”. It’s not something I “want” to believe. But it is something that the empirical evidence suggests is a dangerous risk.

    Either you have an extremely well informed democracy or there’s great risk that it does not work. It’s a 1 or 0 here.

    As far as the relationship between China and the US, the debtor is always at a drawback. An example is how the UK owed money to the US after WWII. During the Suez Crisis, the US was able to leverage that. China might be able to do the same over something else.

    The question is what. A dispute over something like Taiwan would be the obvious answer here, but there may be something else at work.

    • “That is one of the reasons why I am more open to a paternalistic society than most people are. The Dunning Kruger effect reigns supreme here. People follow charismatic leaders for example, which do not always have the best interests of society at heart.”

      I understand your doubts. I’m not sure paternalism would work any better in a country like this. Paternalism works well in Germany, Scandinavia, and Japan. But those are ethnically homogenous high trust societies, precisely what the US is not.

      The paternalism we are likely to get isn’t the kind we’d likely want. We don’t even have to guess what kind of paternalism we are likely to get. We have a long history of paternalism. Many of the elite founders put into place a plutocratic patriarchal paternalism based on slavery and classism where rich white men ruled and the majority were disenfranchised. If we returned to paternalism, I’m not sure what would keep us from repeating our history.

      The Americans who advocate the most for paternalism are right-wingers, specifically the very group that used to entirely dominate America: middle-to-upper class WASPs. They are the ones who still have much of the power. They are the ones who want to regain the power they lost. And they are the ones most likely to rule any new paternalism.

      The rest of Americans fought so hard for democracy specifically to fight against paternalism. If the paternalism had worked out well in our society, there would have been less demand for democracy in the first place. At the same time, it has been the fact that paternalism has remained so strong in this country that democracy has been near impossible to implement.

      That is quite the conundrum.

      “That is why I am open to the idea of people being “too dumb for democracy”. It’s not something I “want” to believe. But it is something that the empirical evidence suggests is a dangerous risk.”

      The people are in some sense “dumb”. But also the paternalistic class in America is also dumb. And that very paternalistic class is the group with the incentive and the power to keep everyone else dumb as well.

      We aren’t ruled by charismatic leaders. The majority of the most powerful people in government aren’t elected officials. They are the supreme court judges, the military leaders, and the heads of various agencies (alphabet soup agencies, regulatory agencies, etc). Then behind those people there is a web of power that never sees the light of day involving various private interests and connections.

      This is the real paternalism that already rules our country. Presidents are just figureheads who mostly follow the orders of unelected officials who control the parties and the entire bureaucracy.

      What makes Americans so dumb is to think we actually have a democracy. Now, that is dumb. It is all rhetoric and propaganda, some of it pushed by charismatic leaders but even moreso pushed by technocratic masterminds.

      So it seems to me.

      I don’t know that I exactly have faith in democracy. It’s just that my response is similar to Ghandi’s supposed response when asked, “What Do you think of Western Civilization?” The response was that, “I think iIt would be a good idea.” Ditto for democracy.

      “Either you have an extremely well informed democracy or there’s great risk that it does not work. It’s a 1 or 0 here.”

      At present, it is a moot point to my mind. For the most part, I don’t think we have a functioning democracy, informed or not. There is some functioning democracy in certain places at the local level, but not at the national level. It has nothing to do with an informed citizenry, since we’ve never had a functioning democracy at the national level. I’m just suggesting we try democracy first and then criticize it for is actual failures, not for the failure of an imagined democracy that exists only in campaign words and patriotic propaganda.

      Our disagreement isn’t over whether American democracy is good. Rather, it is over whether or not it exists… and what it would mean for it to exist.

      “As far as the relationship between China and the US, the debtor is always at a drawback. An example is how the UK owed money to the US after WWII. During the Suez Crisis, the US was able to leverage that. China might be able to do the same over something else.”

      Debt is imaginary. In itself, imaginary debt is meaningless.

      The only thing that gives American dollars and hence debt any perceived meaning is the American military. As long as our military is the strongest, the debt doesn’t matter. But if our military ever stops dominating the world, our entire economic system will be shown for the empty farce that it is. That would possibly mean the collapse of the entire global economy, not a happy result for anyone.

      The relationship between the US and Britain is far different than between the US and China. That was also a time when national economies were still more separate and the global economy less intertwined. Everything is much more complex and messy now.

      All of that is beyond my comprehension.

      “The question is what. A dispute over something like Taiwan would be the obvious answer here, but there may be something else at work.”

      I haven’t a clue. I’ve been feeling wary about predictions of the future. I’m not sure if anyone has much of a clue. But maybe it’s just me that is clueless. It would be comforting to think that someone out there might have a clue.

  9. I’m typing this on my phone do hopefully no typos.

    You are right that society is not a democratic one, I think. I would like to express my thoughts on this. It is a plutocratic society. The rich hold the power.

    I think that there has never been a true democracy. Perhaps like Marxism, it is simply not an achievable ideal.

    What about if it exists? A prerequisite to that is a highly engaged citizenry with the interest, knowledge, and time to get it done. Another is that they have to accept the concept of the scientific method. It presents a very big chicken and egg problem.

    Adding to this strain is that the US has a history of anti intellectualism and various other problems such as the political history of race.

    I think that you are right the white wealthy want to keep it the way it is. But the wealthy are the only ones who benefit.

    What is needed are people who view leadership as a burden and a responsibility, not something that one profits off of at the expense of their national interest.

    • “What is needed are people who view leadership as a burden and a responsibility, not something that one profits off of at the expense of their national interest.”

      That has occasionally existed in the US for brief moments when some great figure comes to power. But it is extremely rare, the exception to the rule. We need something more than an exceptionally wise leader every few generations.

  10. I suspect that one of the reasons why many nations that did succeed is because the people in power adopted a mentality that they had to use their power to benefit society.

    Perhaps that may be one of the reasons why the Nordic nations advanced very rapidly.

    Another thing I would hesitate to guess is that as corrupt as the Chinese leadership might be, they have largely managed reforms that have benefited society as a whole. That might change in the future (it has throughout Chinese history), but for now, it is the average person that benefits.

    My thoughts echo this guy’s (and I actually disagree with him on a lot, as I think he’s a racist, but this article is well written):

    It would also corroborate Eamonn Fingleton’s ideas on the true nature of East Asian governments.

  11. Let me know of what you think of Mr. Unz. Anyways, he’s a small minority, so there isn’t much political power there.

    I actually think many positions considered ‘liberal’ in America are more clearly conservative. I’ve argued before that American liberals have felt the need to play the role of traditionalists because most American conservatives have abandoned that role, instead embracing reactionary right-wing politics.

    That is because the political left would be considered centrist in most of the Western world and the political right is off the radar as it is so far to the right.

    Unz actually reminds me of Canadians on the political right – his views are not too dissimilar.

    The real concern is that there isn’t a real left at this point. A real force that can address the serious deficiencies in the US economy. I would argue the same problem is hurting Canada and Australia right now.

    • “That is because the political left would be considered centrist in most of the Western world and the political right is off the radar as it is so far to the right.”

      I agree. I’ve made that argument as well.

      IIt seems to me that liberals aren’t actually the opposite of conservatives. You could call them centrists or simply say they exist at a slight tangent to the left-right spectrum.

      Only left-wingers can be genuine opponents to American conservatives, especially in terms of reactionary right-wingers.

      “The real concern is that there isn’t a real left at this point.”

      That is the central concern. Only a radical left could shake up the system and offer something genuinely new and innovative. But the far left has been disempowered and silenced. Even the moderate left finds itself constantly struggling against the centrism of mainstream ‘liberals’ and Democrats.

    • I like Unz’s idiosyncratic take on things. He certainly isn’t repeating the party line. He seems to have a nimble enough mind to make interesting points. Here is one example:

      “Over the last few decades America’s ruling elites have been produced largely as a consequence of the particular selection methods adopted by our top national universities in the late 1960s. Leaving aside the question of whether these methods have been fair or have instead been based on corruption and ethnic favoritism, the elites they have produced have clearly done a very poor job of leading our country, and we must change the methods used to select them. Conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. once famously quipped that he would rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 names listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard. So perhaps an important step in solving our national problems would be to apply a similar method to selecting the vast majority of Harvard’s students.”

      He took something Buckley said and turned it on its head. The argument he made was not one that Buckley likely would have made. Buckley was just making a mindless conservative attack on the ‘liberal’ intellectual elite. Unz, however, turns it to his own purpose and in the process undermines the standard mainstream conservative perspective.

      I also like that Unz takes data seriously. I don’t get the sense that is cherrypicking the data that fits his beliefs. He seems to be genuinely responding to the data and trying to make sense of it. That is an attitude that hasn’t been promoted by most mainstream conservatives.

      “What we immediately notice is a long list of enormous variations in the tested IQs of genetically indistinguishable European peoples across temporal, geographical, and political lines, variations so large as to raise severe doubts about the strongly genetic-deterministic model of IQ favored by Lynn and Vanhanen and perhaps also quietly held by many others.”

      I think I have seen that article before, and it is a worthy article to revisit. I’m impressed that he both takes the data seriously and applies real insight to understanding it. Specifically, he takes the data from two race realist ideologues and uses their own data to make the opposite argument. That is the type of thing I love to do with reactionary claims.

      That said, I didn’t think his criticisms of Gould were particularly insightful or useful. Calling Gould’s interpretation of data as fraud is something I’d expect more from the reactionary right-wingers and dogmatic ideologues. That criticism lacks subtlety and nuance, lacks carefulness of thought and intellectual humility. I’m not saying Gould can’t be criticized, but a more balanced and fair-minded criticism would be preferable.

      As a counter to Unz’s criticism, I’d offer the following:

      “Some caveats are in order here. First of all, Holloway and his colleagues analyzed fewer than half of the skulls in Morton’s collection. Second, their analysis, far from being “straightforward,” was highly technical and based on many judgment calls, as were those of Gould and Morton. The divergent results depend in part on whether to include or exclude certain skulls that could unduly skew estimates of brain sizes. Third, neither Morton nor Holloway et al. corrected their measurements for age, gender or stature, all of which are correlated with brain size.

      “Finally, at least one of the PLoS authors, Holloway, is obviously biased against Gould. The Times quoted Holloway saying: “I just didn’t trust Gould. I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme.” Holloway faulted Gould because he “never even bothered to mention” a 1988 paper by John S. Michael that found Morton’s conclusions to be “reasonably accurate.” But Holloway and his co-authors stated that the paper by Michael, written when he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, “has multiple significant flaws rendering it uninformative.””

  12. The Unz review and the American Conservative are pretty much one of the few well written right wing articles.

    I was loathe to link some of their more “politically incorrect” articles here, but if you search around, they do have them. In general, they tend to believe that “black culture” is responsible for their own shortcomings vs the Asian “model minority”.

    Lots of reading material for you.

    Anyways, see here on race

    East Asian

    On gays

    But yes, credit should be given where it is deserved and Unz provides a fascinating, if not controversial counterpoint to much of the mainstream media.

    • Unz is a real mix. He is definitely intelligent and loves to use data. He reminds me of an HBDer like hbdchick. Both of them have some limits to their thinking.

      Unz’s writing on IQ is way above average. It also contradicts the HBD view. He is taking seriously the influence of environment. That is significant as there is a lot more scientific understanding at present about environmental influences than about genetic influences, because the latter are so hard to study.

      I then read his article about crime. I was surprised that Unz would write such a detailed analysis while being so uninformed about what has already been done in the field. There is already plenty of research that has shown the racial disparities in various social problems disappear when poverty and economic class are controlled for.

      Why does he think that crime wouldn’t be as environmentally influenced as IQ? If anything, one would intuitively suspect that crime might be way more environmentally influenced than IQ because it is about social behavior (i.e., how people act in a social environment).

      I assume he simply hasn’t researched that field in very much depth. He seems to assume that he can take some data in isolation and analyze it himself, without any knowledge of the entire history of data and attempts at analysis. It’s as if he wants to reinvent the wheel, instead of looking to the readily available explanations of those who already invented the wheel.

      It isn’t intellectually lazy. He did put effort into that piece. But there is some kind of intellectual carelessness about it. I normally expect that from reactionary sphere, but I was hoping Unz wouldn’t fall into that kind of simplistic thinking.

      The gay articles were the least interesting to me. There really wasn’t any there there. Genetic determinism is a deadend at present and for the foreseeable future.

      The problem with those kinds of arguments is that they are weak. They are pure speculation. The evidence used, when any evidence is used at all, is highly selective (e.g., cherrypicked).

      One can speculate almost anything on little to no evidence. I’m not sure it is even worthy of calling them scientific hypotheses because they are at present nonfalsifiable. The mechanism that would make any of this possible is left unexplained (in clear scientific terms) and so there is no way to even know how to go about testing it or even arguing about it.

      These speculations can neither be proved nor disproved, and so they live on forever in the reactionary sphere. Then reactionaries complain that scientists don’t take seriously their non-scientific hypotheses.

      I’ll give Unz credit where credit is due. I do the same thing with hbdchick. They both have great minds. But a mind ultimately can only be as great as the info that gets fed into it.

  13. On that note, I think that he also should be given credit for being some of the few sources critical of neoconservatism, the wars, and Israeli policies.

  14. Unz is very fascinating. He is very clearly not a dumb person in a sense. Yet at the same time, he has a great deal of deep analysis, and a great deal of shallow analysis. A strange contrast.

    Lofgren I think is a more interesting guy. Let me know what you think of him.

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