Monday, August 30, 2010

Nerds in Politics

I got peeved by a phrase in this morning's Steve Sailer post about education reform:

"A Democrat turned Republican turned Independent, Bloomberg struck the press as the perfect non-ideological technocrat..."

Bloomberg hasn't struck the press as a technocrat because he's changed parties or because he's non-ideological (he's actually quite ideological). He's mostly struck them that way because he's a big nerd. Pretty much everybody who's heard him speak knows that.

This got me thinking about the fascinating topic of nerdy politicians. You'd think there wouldn't be any - pols need social skills almost as badly as pimps - and yet for some reason there are. At least three obvious nerds - Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich - have made it much higher in post-WWII American politics than Bloomberg ever will.  

Further afield, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who ran Portugal as a dictator from 1932 to 1968, and who was named the greatest Portuguese person ever by Portuguese TV viewers in 2007, beating his closest rival (an unreconstructed Commie) by a better than 2-to-1 margin, was a big, big nerd. 

John Major always struck me as nerdy, though I don't know enough about British politics to be sure of this. This guy is definitely a nerd though.

I could probably name a dozen or two less prominent examples. On average nerds definitely make for more conservative politicians than normals, though there have been exceptions.

Weirdly enough, I think I do know why nerds can become successful in politics in spite of being spectacularly unsuited for it: we tend to be more interested in policy than almost any other group of human beings. And in order to affect policy one usually has to go into politics.

Shaking hands, kissing babies, making morally-questionable deals, managing subordinates - all of this is distasteful to nerds ("This would be a great job if it weren’t for the people", Richard Nixon), but if those things are the price of getting a chance to change the course of history, some nerds are willing to work at it.

In contrast, hyper-social politicians like Bill Clinton tend to enjoy the political process as an end in itself and are blander than bland on policy.

As a Russian-born history nerd I couldn't resist the question of whether or not a geek has ever governed The Motherland. The likeliest candidates would probably be Peter III, Paul I, and Yuriy Andropov. None of these were terribly important though, so I could well be wrong about them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ideology and Profit

A standard leftist critique of the world in which we live is that it's entirely run by money, that the powers that be only ever care about profits, etc.

But nothing could be further from the truth. I see ideology trump the profit motive every day, in both big things and small.

One of the clearest, though obviously not the most important, examples of this phenomenon can be observed in team sports.

What is the most obvious way for team owners and leagues to earn more money? The answer's simple: making teams monoethnic. Believe me, the Fighting Irish would be a lot more popular than they are now if all their players were actually Irish. It wouldn't even matter if they ever won anything. The Soviet Union never had a hope of winning the soccer World Cup when I was a kid, yet the streets literally went empty every time the national team played an important game. People will root for their own no matter how much they suck for the same reason that parents routinely sacrifice the world for their mediocre or imbecile kids instead of dutifully supporting other people's little geniuses.

A profit-maximizing setup for the NFL would have a Black team, a Mulatto team, an Irish team, an Italian team, a couple of southern White teams, a Midwestern White team, etc. Such a league would be so much more popular than the current one that it would actually take money away from most other leasure-oriented industries. Music, movies, travel, hiking - everything except for porn and hard drugs would suffer a severe downturn in popularity. If you know of any other types of entertainment that could reliably outcompete simulated race war in the public mind, I would like to hear of it.

And yet team owners are completely powerless to change the laws that ban the monoethnic setup, laws that are clearly depriving them of historic profits. So much for the power of money to influence policy.

Some would say that the reason why the reigning ideology effectively bans monoethnic professional teams is to minimize ethnic conflict. These people are idiots. The easiest way to minimize ethnic conflict is to have monoethnic countries, and the reigning ideology is obviously against that. Also, experience shows that tournaments involving ethnic teams don't have to lead to any violence at all. During my Soviet soccer-watching childhood Dynamo Tbilisi's roster was 100% Georgian, Ararat's was 100% Armenian, the Ukrainian teams were overwhelmingly Ukrainian, etc., and yet ethnic conflict across the old USSR couldn't be more dormant at that time. This was mostly due to the post-WWII Soviet state's discouragement of mass population movements. As a result, the average citizen still lived in the roughly monoethnic environemnt of his ancestors.

If the people who run things in the modern West want to discourage ethic strife, they're obviously tackling the wrong end of the problem.

By the way, I only picked sports to illustrate my point because it was the first example that occured to me. In pretty much every other industry ideology lords over the profit motive 9 times out of 10.

The easiest way to make money in Manhattan real estate would be to bribe local politicians to relocate housing projects to Whocaresville and to build luxury towers in their place. Yet this would make Manhattan even less NAM-mmy than it already is, so it's ideologically unacceptable.

Any US airline could increase its profits if, like Asian ones, it started hiring only young, attractive women as stewardesses. And yet they're powerless to change the rules that don't allow them to do that.

Thousands of firms could become more efficient if, when hiring, they relied on actual IQ tests instead of on imperfect proxies like what colleges applicants went to. But that's been declared illegal too.

And so on. The idea that money is the biggest motivating factor on the big stage is naive.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reasoning and Truth

Steve Sailer has posted about a subject that's fascinated me for years: why does reasoning lead to self-deception more often than to truth in most people, even when this reasoning is applied to the simplest of topics, topics in which the truth is practically lying on the surface? And I definitely include myself in "most people" here - over the years I've managed to reason myself into believing oodles of things that now seem utterly false to me. And if experience is any guide, a lot of what I believe now will seem false to me in the future, moreover, some of it will be definitely proven to be false. And of course the errors in my "reasoning" will turn out to have been idiotically simple. 

Did reasoning evolve in order to help us win arguments with people or in order to help us search for any sort of objective truth?

True rationality, though rare, does exist, and if the computer on which I'm typing this wasn't built on cold-bloodedly rational principles, I wouldn't be able to make this post. At the end Steve wondered where and when such true rationality originated.

I may well be wrong about what follows, but I have a hunch that a lot of it originated with farming in northern latitudes. We know from archeology and from written sources that in antiquity northern European farmers lived on isolated homesteads, not in villages. When combined with primitive farming technology, the harsh climate could only feed so many farmers per square mile, so they had to spread out. In isolation, the struggle with nature must have taken precedence over struggles with other people. Nature can't be bullshitted into anything, but people very much can be.

It's interesting to note here that the north of the temperate belt of the eastern side of Eurasia was always covered with steppe, not farmland. The Yellow River valley - the cradle of northern Chinese civilization - is located roughly at the latitude of central Spain. And the nomads who roamed north of there seem to have lived in groups.

Most conscious reasoning is rationalization in support of notions we would subconsciously like to be true and which we want others to believe, usually for our own, selfish, subconsciously-determined reasons. The two are obviously linked - the most effective BSers are the ones who sincerely believe in what they're spouting. You've got to convince yourself before you can hope to convince others. It seems that BSing skill would increase one's evolutionary fitness in most social setups, with relative isolation being the only setup that could work in the opposite direction. Hence, a search for the origins of rationality would be a search for historical conditions that favored relative isolation.

I'm sure that truly rational (i.e. unemotional, unselfish, completely conscious) thought is rare in all peoples and in all cultures. However, if in one society 1% of all the men have a tendency to consciously think rationally 1% of the time, while in another only 0.1% of all the men tend to think like that 1% of the time, then differences in scientific and technological achievement would probably arise under certain circumstances. Historically these circumstances have definitely included the urbanization of formerly farming populations, but I'm sure that there would be lots of other preconditions too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

An Old Song

While I was in college and for a year or two afterwards, I occasionally played acoustic guitar. I mostly made up little melodies like these, but several times I unsuccessfully tried writing complete songs. Since I now have a blog, I decided to record one of those unsuccessful attempts and to post it on YouTube.

It took several runs through the song to finally remember all of its demented lyrics, but the guitar part came back to me almost instantly. For some reason human beings tend to remember movements better than words. The sound quality sucks, but since it's not a very good song to begin with, I doubt that better recording equipment would have improved it much. Of course one of the greatest things about music is that you don't need to be any good at it to enjoy playing it, so, as funny as it may seem, I had some fun recording this thing today.