Why I Value Logic Over Data

Some people think the most rigorous way of thinking about the world is “empiricism”, their word for looking at the “facts” (accumulated statistical data) and making up their minds on that basis.

There are at least two glaring issues with that approach:

  1. The decision about which facts to research and include have a strong influence on your conclusion; this is a problem with forming theory from history, which Mises discussed at length in his works
  2. The facts may not be disinterested; they may be purposeful fabrications or distortions of the public record, produced by propagandists and other agenda-driven entities, or they may be erroneous outcome of an act of unintentional negligence

Number one is always a risk because the hardest person not to fool is yourself, and most people won’t even realize they’re selectively picking data points until they’ve already been happily surprised to realize the facts agree with them and their mind is made up.

Number two is far more sinister because it corrupts the entire empirical enterprise. You can’t reason about the facts when they have no connection to reality.

Few people, if any, take the time to sniff through their sources. They see some number, they assume it was compiled accurately or honestly (or both!) and get on with reasoning from the data. The questions of methodology, competency and partisanship are not part of the equation, and if they were considered, one might be taken aback at just how long it takes to conduct a verified empirical study.

Using logic is more efficient. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is trying to mislead me with bad data. I can think about the logical structure of the argument in question and make up my own mind about its soundness.

Secret Secrets Are No Fun

Why are media people, including owners, allowed to have (and acknowledge) non-public conversations? Whose interests are served by that practice?

SULZBERGER: If I could interject, we had a good conversation there, you and I, and it was off the record, but there was nothing secret, just wanted to make sure. The idea of looking forward was one of the themes that you were saying. That we need to now get past the election, right?

I mean what bullshit! If there was nothing secret, why was it off the record?

Review – The Party

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers

by Richard McGregor, published 2010

Thus it is obvious that the only visible, tangible government we have is made up of these professed agents or representatives of a secret band of robbers and murderers, who, to cover up, or gloss over, their robberies and murders, have taken to themselves the title of “the people of the United States”; and who, on the pretense of being “the people of the United States,” assert their right to subject to their dominion, and to control and dispose of at their pleasure, all property and persons found in the United States.

~Lysander Spooner, “No Treason, no. 6, The Constitution of No Authority“, 1867

The “secret” at the heart of this book is that the nation of China has been ruled, since 1949, by an unelected confederacy of gangsters calling themselves “The Communist Party of China”, who wield extra-judicial power over Chinese society up to and including superiority over the so-called sovereign government of China. In other words, the Chinese government does not discipline members of the Party, but rather members of the Party discipline members of the Party, and everyone else.

I see three interesting questions raised by this fact, none of which appear to be addressed by the text:

  1. How is it that a private “political” organization (ie, mafia) came to control an entire country like China, including its government?
  2. If members of the Party are not answerable to the Chinese government or the Chinese people, who are they answerable to (what restraints, if any, are there on their power and why)?
  3. If the Party controls everything and is the real source of opportunity in Chinese society, why wouldn’t a rational, ambitious person make it their goal to enter the Party and thus enjoy their rewards?

The first question is not addressed because this is not a work of history as much as it is an exploration of the mechanical functioning of Chinese politics. But the question should interest us nonetheless, because if it has happened in China, it’s possible it could happen somewhere else, or more cynically, that it has happened somewhere else (I’m not talking about the USSR, or Cuba, or North Korea here…) and may be it is happening somewhere else right this moment. If murderous gangs can get control of extremely populous, ancient and fairly homogenous societies as a kind of accident of history, there is nothing to be done about it. But if there is some kind of predictable pattern to this kind of exploitation, there may be a similarly predictable pattern for defending civilization against it or unwinding such a menace once installed.

The second question is not addressed because the book’s focus is really about China narrowly, not China in the context of international political structures. Within the domestic domain, the author suggests that the Party’s control is essentially ironclad. If you can murder tens of millions of people by starvation or as collateral in a kind of cultural war, and continue on in power, you don’t seem to have many internal threats to your power. What is it that seems to get the Party’s panties in a bunch? The risk of failing to impress the outside world with a spectacular 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when revelations about a mass infant poisoning via tainted baby formula come to light. Why doesn’t a market for political control exist within China, but it does seem to exist outside of China? Who is a realistic potential hegemonic external ruler of China in the post-colonial era?

The third question is not addressed because it is taken as given by the author that the Party is an immoral institution and thus no reasonable person would want to participate in it. The people who stand outside the Party, or who are demonstrated as being victims of it, are painted as the good guys, just trying to get by, while the Party members highlighted are discussed in menacing terms, from afar, almost like a kind of wild animal whose motivations do not merit spending time trying to understand. But if your society has been co-opted by a secret band of murderers and thieves, isn’t joining forces with them your best and most rational chance for survival, at least while a domestic market for political control seems non-existent?

And what of our own society, in the West generally and in the United States specifically? It seems like choosing not to be political, to not only avoid participating in politics but to avoid membership in political parties and ambition within their institutional frameworks, seems to be a choice to cede social and even a measure of individual control to those who choose otherwise. Why play the victim? What good is morality when it is a tool of your own undoing?

Of course, a party that everyone is invited to join has no advantage in exploitation, so it must have some meaningful criteria for excluding people and thus ensuring a supply of victims from which it can extract its privileges.

Why Are Journalists Considered Credible And Authoritative Sources Of Information?

From the blog of Mencius Moldbug, Is journalism official?:

When I think back to when I thought I was getting an accurate history of reality from the Times, I am full of amazement. I mean, when you read the Times, you are reading stories that were written by people. Their names are right there. “Steven Erlanger.” “Don Van Natta.” “Andrew Revkin.”

Do I know these people? Do I trust them? Do I have any reason to believe they are doing anything but feeding me a mile-long crap sausage? Why should I? Is it because they work for an organization called “The New York Times”? What do I know about this organization? How does it select its employees? How and why does it punish or reward them? Do I have any damned idea? If not, why do I trust its correct views on everything? Why not trust the Catholic Church instead? At least its officials make up cool names for themselves, like “Benedict XVI.” Imagine if all Times reporters had to choose a Pope name. Would this make them more, or less, credible?

You can see this quite clearly today when you look at journalists’ Twitter feeds. It is amazing what they put on these for the public to consume. More amazing still that they have any credibility left. Just try it yourself sometime. Read or watch something in the news, then look up the journalist’s Twitter feed and see if you consider what you just read/heard differently after the fact.

How Memes Get Twisted

I recently removed my read copy of TJ Stiles The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt from the shelf and paged through the introduction. I enjoyed the book both in the way it was written and in learning of the life and times of this esteemed capitalist and thought it might be nearing time for a re-read as I am certain that I would appreciate certain details differently now than when I first read the book almost 7 years ago.

One passage stood out to me right away as evidence in favor of this supposition because I do not remember it at all:

His strength of will was famous indeed. Vanderbilt had first amassed wealth as a competitor in the steamboat business, cutting fares against established lines until he forced his rivals to pay him to go away. The practice led the New York Times, a quarter of a century before his death, to introduce a new metaphor into the American vernacular by comparing him to the medieval robber barons who took a toll from all passing traffic on the Rhine.

I was floored re-reading this (well, as floored as I could be in the dim moments before bedtime). If you’ve heard the “robber barons” meme in contemporary discourse, its typically trotted out as a catch-all word to disparage a person who is extremely wealthy, implying perhaps to a criminal degree not in the sense that the wealth was acquired illegally, but that no one should be allowed to be so wealthy. This is the latest evolution in the use of the meme. Maybe even five years ago, the meme was used to mean a large corporation or wealthy person who was exerting undue influence in society, against the social mores of the Left, synonymous with “capitalist pig.” The tie to “robber barons” was the implication that there was something overtly political, and unfair, about the activities of a person or for-profit institution with so much wealth.

Going back still further, the meme seemed to be a muckraking term favored by the Progressives on their march, associating any type of large industrial scale as seedy, sinister and exploitative– not captains of industry, but robber barons who achieve their size and wealth not by solving the world’s problems, but by creating arbitrary opportunities to siphon off resources by gumming up the works.

But according to this quote from Stiles, the meme originated in Vanderbilt’s heyday (early to mid-1800s) to describe his actions, and the actions which inspired the response were not the actions of a monopolist or large-scale corporate monolith as has become fashionable, but the opposite! At this time, Vanderbilt was the scrappy upstart pestering the “established” businesses and giving them their first taste of competition, and he was being pilloried for this by the establishment press. Today, businesses and businessmen are attacked for raising prices, whereas Vanderbilt was being attacked for cutting them– finding cheaper ways to provide the same service just wasn’t the “gentlemanly” thing to do. We see here the origin of the meme is a lot closer to the “corporate raider” personality of the 1980s than the “corporate titan CEO” of the 1990s or 2000s.

 

But Who Will… Destroy Organic Urban Communities?

From the “But who will…?” file of pro-government fallacies comes this latest doozy on how the development of the Eisenhower Expressway destroyed multiple ethnic enclaves in Chicago:

If you live in Chicago and you drive a car, you’ve probably been stuck in traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway. Oak Park resident Jillian Zarlenga sure has. “I spent a great deal of time on the Eisenhower inching towards the Harlem Avenue exit,” she says.

Sitting in traffic jams gave Jillian time to think — especially when she was working as a United Church of Christ chaplain at Elmhurst Hospital. “I had a lot of time sitting on the Eisenhower examining this huge area of land, thinking there must have been a lot of people that lived here before, and I was just curious where they all went,” she says. She also wondered about all of the buildings that were torn down. What was lost? These musings prompted her to pose this question to Curious City: “What happened to the people displaced by the Eisenhower Expressway?”

Short answer: Who cares? Make way for Progress!

Long answer: read the article. Sure to get those same Progressives in a tizzy.

The Oath Of The Brand

Imagine for a moment that you work for a big company (maybe you do), and that at the start of every work day, you and the other people in your department gather around a large copy of the company logo, place your hand over your heart and recite the “Oath of the Brand” like so:

I give my oath

to this brand

the greatest company in all the land,

and to the management

much like it, grand;

one organization, one vision, never to be divested of its capital,

with jobs and security for all.

What might you think of this company, and its desire to instill its values via a hypnotic morning oath like this? Would you think this company would be populated by workers who can think for themselves and question the decisions of management when they’re called for? Would you think management expects to be challenged and “kept honest” by its workers? Does it seem odd that there is no mention of customers and the need to serve them faithfully? Would this company seem to operate a bit like a cult?

Of course by now you’ve realized that I have simply parodied the American “Pledge of Allegiance”, recited mindlessly by millions of school children in public institutions every single morning, and by millions of government functionaries and politicians at certain solemn occasions. Why do our public schools do this? Why can’t our political system earn its loyalty through efficiency, effectiveness and good works, rather than by neurolinguistically programming developing minds too immature to notice they’re being manipulated? And why do parents tolerate such madness?

In case you’ve been out of school for awhile, here is the actual Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance,

to the flag

of the United States of America,

and to the Republic

for which it stands;

one nation, under god, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

As defined by the pledge, liberty and justice are clearly codewords for the good feelings one gets from honoring one’s fealty to the flag. And the “Republic” is not the country, but a particular system of political management of the country– there are other possible ways to politically manage the country, but the Pledge doesn’t really permit such thinking, it demands obedience. I read something a few months ago wherein a Progressive author was lamenting the way “right wingers” were now referring to public schools as “government schools,” the concern being that a public school implies something verging on objectivity, while a government school is what one finds in other, more authoritarian regimes, where the curriculum is strongly centered around building loyalty to the party in power. But asking small children to recite a pledge to their political management seems like a good place to start a case for arguing that what we have in this country are, in fact, government schools.

This doesn’t work for me. I don’t want my children’s education to include inculcated obedience to the state– I want my children to be able to think for themselves on this one. So this is another reason I am not interested in putting my children in public schools.

The history of the Pledge of Allegiance is pretty interesting.

And for a snarky treatment of the subject, try this skit by the “Whitest Kids U Know”:

“This is not a form of brainwashing.”

The Real Threat To Our Data Security

It appears the Russian government has the most sophisticated data hacking team in the world. If the headlines are to be believed, Russia not only hacked the DNC (and possibly Hillary Clinton’s own private email server running from her home in upstate New York), but they have hacked private medical records of US athletes. Edward Snowden, the notorious traitor weasel, is but a mere finger-puppet of the Russian state. And even if Russia doesn’t directly have its tentacles in Donald Trump — who confusingly wants to build an even bigger military to challenge Russia and seems furious that Obama “let” Russia annex the Crimea on his watch — it seems clear the Russian hackers are working overtime to corrupt American voting machines to ensure Trump’s election.

Will Russia’s intervention via criminal data attacks ever reach a limit? Have they no honor, no dignity?

Enough is enough! I say. It is time for every good, true patriotic American to stand up to the evil Russian Bear and say, “We won’t stand for any agency or institution besides our own domestic spy and national security apparatus, such as the NSA and FISA courts, listening in on our phone calls, rifling through our emails and hacking our data and private records!” After all, if they didn’t infiltrate our communications and information, they’d have no way to protect us from the Russians trying to do the exact same thing.

We’ve Always Been At War With Eastasia: Trump & Putin Edition

I’ve noticed a trend in the media during this election cycle wherein Trump is attacked anytime he says anything kind or even less-than-hostile about Russia’s Vladimir Putin. As an Enemy of Democracy(tm) and Registered Strongman Dictator(tm), saying anything other than a poorly veiled threat to commit nuclear genocide in the Russian Federation via NATO is apparently a slanderous and indeed, traitorous, thing to say. After all, the Russian state is clearly bent on world domination, much like Hitler, as evidenced by its involvement in Syria, the Ukraine and the EU gas pricing fiasco. This interventionist approach to foreign policy is totally different from the US’s interventions in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine, and the EU gas pricing fiasco because… well, nevermind, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia and that’s really all one needs to know about these complicated matters.

Is this not the most transparently stupid journalistic approach to American diplomacy there is? The logical end goal of some conflict with an enemy is to defeat them, by force or by fraud, and thereby to convert them into a friend, or at least someone who is no longer hostile. Surely, military dominance and intelligence stratagems are the American state’s preferred means of obtaining this goal over the last 70+ years of history, but do they have to be? If Trump can disarm Putin through charisma, wouldn’t that be just as good so long as a stable peace and a non-hostile footing can be achieved going forward?

Must Putin be the enemy of the United States of America from here until eternity? Why can’t the US state solve its problems without bloodshed, and why do the media jump all over a leading candidate’s overtures with cries of “Treason! Treason!!” if he adopts a tone less bellicose?

Why, to ask is to answer it, dear readers. We know where (and why!) the real traitors lie.