Reflections from my Panama Cruise, I

I just returned from my Panama Canal cruise.  Reflections:

1. As I’ve mentioned before, cruises are in one sense a great test case for open borders.  Workers from all over the world come together to run one some of the world’s most sophisticated technology and please some of the world’s most demanding customers.  Most of the workers’ lives are harsh by First World standards but great by Third World standards.  And wherever they’re from, the staff work together like Prussian officers.  It’s a marvel of multinational management.

2. As I’ve also mentioned, though, the entire cruise industry also depends on immigration restrictions.  Cruising is affordable because labor costs are very low by First World standards.  Under open borders, these well-trained, highly motivated maritime workers would take advantage of the far better job opportunities available on dry land, drastically raising the price of cruising.

3. If you’ve ever wondered if capitalism is turning human beings into machines, taking a cruise will feed your fears.  The cabin stewards, for example, spend 10-12 hours a day making every room on their watch spotless.  Then they disappear into the lightness belly of the ship, re-emerging the next day to begin their duties again.  An occasional shore leave aside, they work seven days a week.

4. If you’ve ever wondered if cosmopolitanism can really function, taking a cruise will feed your hope.  Filipinos, Mexicans, Ukrainians, Romanians, Jamaicans, Chinese, Brazilians, and dozens of other nationalities don’t just “get along.”  They show more team spirit than any American workforce I’ve seen.

5. Modern American politics vanish on a cruise ship.  There’s zero social justice rhetoric or attitude to be found; passengers and crew all take severe inequality for granted.  You might think that’s because the customers are demographically Republican, but there’s also zero nativist rhetoric or attitude to be found.  Elderly American Republican guests interact amicably with foreigners of every description.  There’s no sign that they’re “making an effort” to overcome their xenophobia; they just apolitically accept the cosmopolitan world that surrounds them.  The cruise culture runs on good manners and shared humanity, not identity politics.  And yes, you really can turn the identity volume dial close to zero – which is where it belongs.

6. What does the crew think about global development in general, or immigration restrictions in particular?  I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I didn’t ask… but their actions speak louder than words.  I’d guess that 90% of the workers originate from the Third World.  The fact that they’ve left their home countries behind to serve spoiled First Worlders is a deafening vote of no confidence in their societies of birth.  And when I see the this massive ship running like clockwork, it’s easy to see the wisdom of their decision.  Business isn’t perfect, but it far more deserving of their admiration and loyalty than the demagogic governments they’ve left behind.

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Rainwater’s Motivated Reasoning

Lee Rainwater was one of the most prominent liberal sociologists of the Great Society era.  He spent 23 years at Harvard; here‘s the Harvard Gazette‘s memorial to his work.  To be honest, though, I never heard of him until last week.  Yet after I stumbled upon his 1966 Daedalus article, “The Crucible of Identity: The Negro Lower-Class Family,” I was surprised that any academic would so candidly admit to motivated reasoning.  When I discovered that he was an intellectual leader of his generation, I was stunned.

Here’s what stunned me; Rainwater’s in blockquotes, I’m not.  He starts off promisingly enough:

The first responsibility of the social scientist can be phrased in much the same way: “Tell it like it is.” His second responsibility is to try to understand why “it” is that way, and to explore the implications of what and why for more constructive solutions to human problems.

Then he runs right off the rails:

Social research on the situation of the Negro American has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of Negroes, (2) to disprove the racist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages Negroes suffer lies squarely upon the white caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality whites would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

If you wanted to “tell it like it is,” of course, your goal would not be to “disprove” any ideology, but to fairly evaluate it.  Similarly, your goal would not be to “demonstrate” that responsibility lies squarely upon anyone, but to accurately apportion responsibility.  In any case, it’s hard to understand how both (3) and (4) could be true.  If whites would be better-off if the system were dismantled, how can the “white caste… derive economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system”?  I suppose you could treat “the white caste” as the subset of whites who profit, but then the claim is almost tautologous.  Or you could be really defensive and say, “He means ‘gross benefits,’ not ‘net benefits.’”

Are Rainwater’s words really so damning to his own intellectual tradition?  Well, imagine I wrote:

Social research on the situation of the American immigrant has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of immigrants, (2) to disprove the nativist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages immigrants suffer lies squarely upon the native caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality natives would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

Would any judicious reader trust my work on immigration after this declaration?  No.  Why not?  Because I’m talking like a trial lawyer who wants to win a case.  The whole point of research, in contrast, is to stay open to the possibility that you’re wrong.  Sure, you’ve got suspicions.  But you’re supposed to not only verify your suspicions, but energetically look for counter-evidence!  Furthermore, you’re supposed to not just follow these standards yourself, but monitor your intellectual teammates.  The fact that your intellectual subculture wants X to be true urges self-scrutiny, not self-congratulation.

Speaking of that, how’s this for self-congratulation?

The successful accomplishment of these intellectual goals has been a towering achievement, in which the social scientists of the 1920’s, ’30’s, and ’40’s can take great pride; that white society has proved so recalcitrant to utilizing this intellectual accomplishment is one of the great tragedies of our time, and provides the stimulus for further social research on “the white problem.”

What’s most striking about Rainwater’s article, however, is that he provides a wealth of empirical evidence against his own point (3).  Indeed, most of the article is standard “culture of poverty” sociology, documenting high levels of irresponsible and criminal behavior among the underclass.  How then does Rainwater reconcile his theory with the facts?  Again, by the power of motivated reasoning.

Yet the implicit paradigm of much of the research on Negro Americans has been an overly simplistic one concentrating on two terms of an argument:

White cupidity———–> Negro suffering.

As an intellectual shorthand, and even more as a civil rights slogan, this simple model is both justified and essential. But, as a guide to greater understanding of the Negro situation as human adaptation to human situations, the paradigm is totally inadequate because it fails to specify fully enough the process by which Negroes adapt to their situations as they do, and the limitations one kind of adaptation places on possibilities for subsequent adaptations. A reassessment of previous social research, combined with examination of current social research on Negro ghetto communities, suggests a more complex, but hopefully more vertical, model:

White cupidity creates

Structural Conditions Highly Inimical to Basic Social Adaptation (low-income availability, poor education, poor services, stigmatization)

to which Negroes adapt by

Social and Personal Responses which serve to sustain the individual in his punishing world but also generate aggressiveness toward the self and others

which results in

Suffering directly inflicted by Negroes on themselves and on others.

In short, whites, by their greater power, create situations in which Negroes do the dirty work of caste victimization for them. [original punctuation]

Notice: As an ethnographer of black poverty, Rainwater offers little or no data on “white cupidity.”  Furthermore, a straightforward reading of his own evidence is that irresponsible and criminal behavior is, as usual, maladaptive.  All he directly documents is the final clause – the intra-racial “dirty work of caste victimization.”  Only motivated reasoning allows Rainwater to casually interpret these facts as proof of that the “white caste” is to blame for anything.

You could naturally protest that Rainwater is right for the wrong reasons.  Maybe so, but this protest misses the meta point.  Namely: If a brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholar of the 1960s could be right for such wrong reasons, the brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholars of today could easily be mired in their own brand of motivated reasoning.  Indeed, so could you.  Or me.  There’s no easy remedy, but the first step is being hyper-aware that we have a problem.

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Choosing Slavery – A Bewildering Choice

Is every choice a person can make legitimate? I honestly don’t know.

What if you choose to be a slave?

Choosing slavery seems to be the choice to kill off your liberty, just like suicide is the choice to kill your own body. Yet I am less uncomfortable with the choice to commit suicide (even though I don’t like that choice) than I am with the choice to be a slave. I doubt you’d be able to regret killing yourself after it’s done, but you’d certainly be able (and even likely) to regret– for a long time– choosing to be a slave.

Once you’ve chosen to be a slave, how do you change your choice if you come to regret it? If you can change your mind are you really enslaved?

I think about this when I see how many people choose to celebrate being a “citizen“, which I consider to be the choice to be a slave to a collective; a government or a nation. Will that collective ever really let you change your mind once you’ve accepted the terms of your enslavement?

I understand the promised benefits of this arrangement. I can see why some have the desire to belong. I also realize that if certain conditions are met, the government in question will consider you a “citizen” regardless of your wishes. If you believe this government’s claim is bogus to begin with, I don’t really see much point in paying tons of money and fighting for years to make this government withdraw its claim to you. I’m more thinking about those who make this a big part of their personal identity and are proud of it.

If you choose to be a slave to a collective in such a way, is that a self-destructive choice? It sure looks like it to me.

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Police State

What is a “police state”? What does that term mean to you? Is America a police state?

The dictionary defines a police state as:

a political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures.

Well, OK…

The US government is a political unit.

“Repressive” is in the eye of the beholder. It feels repressive to me, but for someone who is free to listen to rap, watch sports, v*te, and eat Cheetos, and that’s all they want to do, it probably doesn’t feel repressive. Sure, it could be worse, but it could be a lot better.

When police can molest (or murder) you based upon “laws” which don’t even exist except in their minds, and they get to “investigate” their own acts, you have “arbitrary exercise of power by police”. And when they can drive in unmarked cars, entrap you by using a false identity online, and wear masks to hide their identity while ganging up and beating you, you have secret police.

And when the rest of government supports those police, and upholds the made-up “laws”, you see the nail being hammered into the coffin.

To me, the simplest description of a police state is when the police have more power than the average person and are treated as though they have extra rights.

So, yeah, America has become a police state in my opinion.

If you disagree, what do you believe and why.

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Alternative Social Media, Identity Politics, & Birthright Citizenship (27m) – Editor’s Break 105

Editor’s Break 105 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: whether alternative social media platforms like Minds, MeWe, and Dtube can achieve mainstream status like Facebook and YouTube; the value for voluntaryists to engage in identity politics on either the left or the right; the concept of birthright citizenship and whether Donald Trump can effectively abolish it; and more. (Apologies for the audio quality.)

Listen to Editor’s Break 105 (27m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”.

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Discounting Identity

I recently remarked: “Appealing to your identity is a reason to discount what you say, not a reason to pay extra attention.”  Why do I believe this?

Well, suppose you want to make people agree with you.  You’ve got two main routes.

  1. Offer arguments in favor of your view to change what listeners sincerely think.
  2. Make continued disagreement feel uncomfortable so listeners pay you lip service.

Only #1 is epistemically respectable.  But it has a major downside: Good arguments are scarce.  #2 is epistemically sleazy, but it has a major upside: It is open to everyone, regardless of the merits of their views.

So what rhetorical route should we expect speakers to take?  Well, if you’ve got at least halfway-decent arguments, you’ll probably make them – hoping to change your listeners’ minds as well as their words.  In contrast, if your arguments are flimsy, you’ll probably play on people’s emotions.  You won’t really convince them, but at least they might act convinced.*

What does this have to do with identity?  Simple: When someone you disagree with appeals to their identity, it is usually uncomfortable!  If I want to discuss the prevalence of sexual abuse among Catholic clergy, and a listener responds, “As a Catholic…” they’re not-so-subtly telling me, “You better tread lightly, lest you insult my faith!”  If I want to discuss the right to burn flags, and a listener responds, “As an American…” they’re not-so-subtly telling me, “You better tread lightly, lest you insult my country!”   The same goes for all of the standard appeals to identity – religious, national, ethnic, gender, etc.  When you invoke them, you are undermining the truth-seeking mission of the conversation – and the reasonable response is to discount what you say.

But can’t identity provide extra information?  Once in a while, yes.  But again, the truth-seeking route is normally to simply share your extra information without making identity an issue.  In special cases, admittedly, you can’t certify your credibility without mentioning your identity.  For example: “I’ve attended Catholic Church for 32 years, and never seen the slightest sign of clerical sexual abuse.”  Even here, though, truth-seekers will acknowledge their identity casually to keep information flowing freely.

In any case, your identity provides far less information than you think.  For two reasons:

  1. Belonging to a group lets you learn lots of details about the group, but this depth comes at the expense of breadth.  Being Danish teaches you a lot about what Danes are like.  But the more energy you invest in your Danish identity, the less you learn about non-Danes.
  2. The more you identify with a group, the worse your myside bias normally becomes.  When you invest energy in your Danish identity, you grow more likely to overestimate the wonder of Danes and underestimate Danish shortcomings.

By analogy: Each of us knows more about our own lives than anyone else on Earth.  But the more you dwell on your own life history, the less you’re likely to know about what life is like for anyone else.  Furthermore, the fact that you know lots of details about your own life does not make you a reliable judge of your own merits and failings.  Quite the opposite.

The knowledge that identity provides is cut from the same cloth as self-knowledge.  Indeed, it’s probably worse, because the social sanctions for personal arrogance are far stronger than the social sanctions for group arrogance.  Even your parents and closest friends will roll their eyes if you say, “I am the greatest.”  But among people who share your identity, declaring “We are the greatest” might even make you friends.

The “discount appeals to identity” maxim can plainly be abused.  An Indian nationalist could selectively use it against Pakistani nationalists – and Pakistani nationalists could return the favor.  But the same goes for any de-biasing rule.  You can’t make the whole world reasonable.  But you can still be the change you want to see in the world.

* Needless to say, both claims are only tendencies; people with good arguments occasionally appeal to emotions, and people with bad arguments occasionally make them anyway.

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