This piece is inspired by Paul Frijters’ post titled The Benefits of Being Dumb in Politics. I don’t actually think it is possible meaningfully/reliably to distinguish between politicians who are “really smart and great actors as well, who thus have no problems with telling outright lies and with backstabbing” and those autistic egomaniacs who “are sincere because they truly do not see the inconsistencies and selfishness in their own actions and those of others”.
11. KP: In fact political discourse (and indeed human discourse in general) is a complex, interwoven continuum of truth, lies and self-deception. I suspect that the most common mix in the political arena is that the politician calculatedly oversimplifies her own position and skates over its deficiencies, while equally deliberately demonising and exaggerating the shortcomings of her opponent. Nevertheless, she fundamentally and sincerely believes (rightly or wrongly) that her own position is markedly superior to that of her opponent. She accepts that effective communication with a mass audience of largely disengaged voters inhibits the conveying of nuance and complexity. [↩]Paul’s own attempted assignment of various particular politicians to each category appears to me to be at best arbitrary. How could one possibly reliably distinguish between the two categories without being able to read the politician’s mind? After three hours of interviews with Kerry O’Brien I still can’t really tell where Paul Keating is engaging in calculated bullshit and where he is deluding himself.
Nevertheless, the musings of both Pauls give rise to some important points. Not even the most intelligent and well-educated of us is as reliably reflective, analytical and rational as we like to imagine. All of us unavoidably make frequent use of heuristics in decision-making; all of us frequently exhibit cognitive phenomena like confirmation bias; and all of us mostly make moral judgements by a process that clinical psychologist Jonathan Haidt christened social intuitionism.
Moreover, there is cogent evidence that Paul Frijters’ somewhat uncharitable labelling of autistic egomaniac politicians actually identifies a widespread and perhaps even universal cognitive phenomenon, certainly one that is not confined to politicians. As far as I know, the phenomenon was first labelled as a politico-literary trope by George Orwell in
Animal Farm 1984. He called it doublethink:
by Prashant Bharadwaj, Leah K. Lakdawala, Nicholas Li – #19602 (CH DEV)
While bans against child labor are a common policy tool, there is very little empirical evidence validating their effectiveness. In this paper, we examine the consequences of India’s landmark legislation against child labor, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Using data from employment surveys conducted before and after the ban, and using age restrictions that determined who the ban applied to, we show that child wages decrease and child labor increases after the ban. These results are consistent with a theoretical model building on the seminal work of Basu and Van (1998) and Basu (2005), where families use child labor to reach subsistence constraints and where child wages decrease in response to bans, leading poor families to utilize more child labor. The increase in child labor comes at the expense of reduced school enrollment. We also examine the effects of the ban at the household level. Using linked consumption and expenditure data, we find that along various margins of household expenditure, consumption, calorie intake and asset holdings, households are worse off after the ban.
The paper is here.
It was quite a few years ago – last century in fact – that through Martin Gardner’s ‘Mathematical Recreations’ column in Scientific American that I first learnt of Raymond Smullyan. It was in a review of either The Lady or the Tiger or What is the Name of this Book, two of Smullyan’s books of logic puzzles.
One of Smullyan’s creations is the island of Knights and Knaves, where the knights always tell the truth and knaves always lie. OK, so that’s just an adaptation of the well-known island with two tribes – a tribe of compulsive truth-tellers and another of compulsive liars – and the western (English-speaking) anthropologist who’s confronted with the task of deciding whether a native is from one tribe or another. Smullyan’s contribution to that genre of logic puzzle was to expand it by adding new categories and orthogonal complications: ‘Normals’ who tell the truth about 50% of the time, as it suits either their own interests or those of the puzzlist, and the sane and the insane.
Sane knaves know the facts and lie about them, insane knaves compulsively lie about their delusional view of the facts; sane knights compulsively tell the truth about the facts that they know while insane knights compulsively tell the truth about their delusions.
One of the numerous downsides of the rise of feminism is the demise of righteous masculine anger. Continue reading
I recall about twenty years ago now, I was taking a law tute in Legal Theory. The lecturer was pretty awful and spent huge amounts of time in his lectures explaining why his side of a particular debate – with H.L.A Hart the opponent as I recall – was the right side of the debate. I happened to agree with him about his criticism, but it wasn’t a particularly edifying way to teach. And he went on and on flogging a horse which, if he hadn’t nailed it to the racetrack would have been pushing up the daisies.
Conversation on whatever the topic was was skittish and it gradually drifted to what a terrible course this was. I didn’t resist this drift with any great strength, and so we ended up in this tute with pretty much every student united in the view that this was an awful course. I was having a mild out of body experience – which is to say that I was just observing all this, thinking that it wasn’t particularly my job either to defend the lecturer, or to insist that we study the tute question. Had any of the students wanted to do this I guess I might have done so.
So we had a problem. And there was a kind of silence – because all this stuff had come out. Now what? I didn’t say anything. Eventually through the small talk or whatever was going on someone said “So what can we do?”. Then, in a dangerous moment of insight I said “Well you could blow up the building”. Continue reading
For some people, other human beings are only ever a means to an end. The source of their self-esteem is their ability to realise their own personal vision. They see themselves as powerful creators and believe ideas like empathy, altruism and justice are just tricks the weak use to enslave the strong. As they see it, only those who lack power or self-respect would allow themselves to become servants to the ambitions of another.
The trick modern market societies use to tame egoists is to get them to see money as a natural way of measuring success. The idea that money is both a measure of personal worth and a source of power, convinces egoists to use their talents to serve others rather than dominate them. Because today’s more impersonal market societies are able to harness it for public benefit, they have a higher tolerance of egoism than the communitarian societies of the past.
One type of news item I notice often – because it confirms a belief that I like to maintain – reports that a recent psychological study has found that the most effective way to give yourself a quick happiness fix is to do someone else a favour. The most recent I remember reported, for example, that while visiting a favourite place might lift you out of the glums, doing someone a favour was more likely to do it. So when I visited a local coffee shop that offered ‘delayed coffee’ recently I made a point of buying one.
A ‘delayed coffee’ is a cup of coffee that you buy for a complete stranger. You pay for the coffee and at some later time someone else who’s stuck for the price of a coffee can come in and get one free of charge.
Can’t remember who first pointed me to ‘Becks in Paris‘. Whoever it was, I’m grateful.
[The] blog imagines Beckham’s internal monologue as he collides with the Parisian intellectual tradition – the glittering surface of a footballing icon cracked open by existentialism. Golden boy deconstructed.
The man responsible is a lecturer in French philosophy at the University of Cambridge. The blog has, it seems, become a cult hit of sorts with Andy Martin now travelling about giving talks on ‘Becksistentialism’. All very British.
Here’s the second half of entry #8, ‘In the café’:
‘Sartre has this phrase,’ says Eric. Voué à l’échec. Doomed to failure. Nous sommes tous voués à l’échec.’
I stared into my coffee. It looked brown and sludgy like the Seine on a bad day. I had a suspicion Eric was never going to get a job working for the Samaritans. To be fair, he must have troubles of his own.
‘And yet,’ he said – I reckon he must have noticed I was looking a bit off-colour right then – ‘this failure, it is liberating, non? For the very idea of success – this is the illusion. Continue reading