Are You Being Played?

I suspect Scott Adams has been playing his listeners. I’ve suspected this for months, but have only discussed this with one person. Until now.

I’ll go ahead and tell you now what I think has been going on.

I believe he is using the technique of “pacing and leading” to get his “conservative” listeners to change their minds on “climate change” (and a few other topics as well). He plays the neutral “voice of reason” with his audience who seems to mostly be Right Statist, but he is much more Left Statist than he lets on. (I so dislike using the terms “Left” and Right” in political discussions, since there’s really only Statist or not. Yet sometimes it seems necessary to examine the interplay between these mirror images.)

Back when he first started discussing the topic, I got the distinct feeling this was what he was doing. In spite of his protests of “I’m just looking at the argument– I don’t know because I can’t know. I’m not a climate scientist.” it seemed to me he was going to take the alarmists’ side when it was all said and done. He gave clues to that effect. Because he is a government supremacist, after all.

And this is the general arc of what I’ve watched happening.

He started off leaning slightly to the skeptical side. So as to agree with the listeners he was (apparently) wanting to influence. Pacing them. He has been slowly and carefully moving slightly more to the alarmist side since then. Two steps forward and one step back. Leading them to where he seems to want them to go.

He has straight out said he uses persuasion (and hypnosis) techniques in his writing and podcasting. He has described these techniques and pointed out examples when they are used by others. Then he uses the techniques on his listeners. He’s doing it right in the open. I believe his intent is to influence his listeners to move away from Right Statism toward Left Statism– maybe to bring them to a center position.

Can I prove it? No. He would say I’m mind reading and there is no written or stated evidence that this is what he wants to do. As I’ve said before, since I can’t read minds I am left with reasoning out what someone is thinking by their actions. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. The future will tell.

I still listen to Scott because I find him interesting and because I still find it informative to get insight into the workings of the statist mind. But I try to mentally vaccinate myself against his persuasion while doing so by knowing what he’s doing. Who knows if I’m protected sufficiently.

Years ago, when I first started reading his Dilbert blog, he once claimed to be “libertarian, but without the crazy stuff“. I pointed out that the “crazy stuff”, as he defined it, is also called consistency. Consistency, based in principles. Things which get in the way of a full-on embrace of statism. Once you believe it’s OK to govern others and use government violence to force others to do what you want and stop them from doing what you don’t want them to do, there seems to be nothing that’s too far to justify. This is the road he travels. He expects you to follow. And he may be tricking people into following him.

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The Most Controversial Belief

Because I’m both a Libertarian and a loudmouth, I’m frequently hit with questions about libertarianism (and the Libertarian Party). Recently this one came up:

“What is the most controversial belief of Libertarians?”

Could it be our support of immigration freedom (and, generally, freedom to travel)?

Or our demand for separation of school and state?

Perhaps our hard-line support for gun rights?

Or our stand for legalization of all drugs?

How about our advocacy for keeping the government out of the sex lives of consenting adults (including marriage, and including sex for pay)?

Or our belief that who you do or don’t do business with — including for healthcare and retirement — is your decision and no one else’s to make?

My answer: It’s all of those, and others. But it really boils down to one issue.

The most controversial belief of libertarians (and partisan Libertarians) is the belief that you’re generally both more entitled and more qualified to run your life than someone else is.

Who considers that belief controversial? “Mainstream” politicians and their supporters.

Why do they consider that belief controversial? Because they consider themselves entitled and qualified to run your life for you, whether you like it or not. And, of course, to bill you for the costs of their supervision.

Politics isn’t persuasion. Politics is force.

Whether the issue is immigration, or education, or self-defense, or drug use,  or sex, or commerce, or, heck, what color you paint your house or how long you let the grass on your lawn grow, the political approach is not to present an argument and trust you to make the right decision. It’s to decide “for” you, then beat you down if you disobey (or fail to pay them for their services).

Libertarianism — even the “political” variety — isn’t really very political at all. It’s anti-political. As one fun meme puts it, libertarians are “diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone.”

Libertarians only recognize one valid constraint on your actions: A universal, mutual constraint against aggression, also known as initiation of force.

The simple version, courtesy of Matt Kibbe: Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.

When you throw the first punch, or pick someone’s pocket, or otherwise forcibly interpose yourself between someone else and that someone’s life, liberty, or property, you’re not running your own life. You’re trying to run theirs.

And that’s the only thing libertarians agree you should be stopped from doing or penalized (in a manner consistent with restitution, not “punishment”) for doing. Even if it’s “for their own good.”

If you’re down with that idea, congratulations: You’re a libertarian.

If you’re not down with that idea, I hope you’ll think it through more carefully.

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We Need a Substitute for the Word ‘Support’

I support good things because I’m good!

Almost every time someone uses the word ‘support’ it sounds nice but means something nasty.

When people say they support something, it usually means they want governments to make laws that will advance that thing. Legislation is not like business, or family, or society. Those institutions require persuasion and value creation to get the thing you support to win. Legislation is a different beast. The single feature that distinguishes governments from every other institution is that they initiate violence to back everything they do.

So when someone supports something by wishing there were government action, ‘support’ has a very different meaning from the nice one we give it. The nice kind of support might mean you invest your money in or say nice things about something. ‘Support’ as most often used, however, means desire for government action.

To bring clarity and prudence, we should use a more accurate phrase. Try this out with yourself and others, and see if it changes the way you think about things.

Every time you see the word ‘support’, replace it with the phrase, ‘advocate violence on behalf of’. That’s what it usually means.

That’s why supporters of things tend to be regressive and uncivilized. To advocate violence on behalf of something is the approach of very bad children and animals. Humans can do better in 99 out of 100 situations.

In fact, if you modified the statement to ‘advocate the initiation of violence on behalf of’, you could do better 100 times out of 100. Violence sucks, but as a defense against violence may be the least bad approach. Initiating violence never is.

It’s also interesting when you consider the fact that most ‘supporters’ – of wars, drug bans, wage mandates, border walls, land use restrictions, etc. – would find it unthinkable to initiate violence directly on behalf of these things. How many, when they say they support bans on fossil fuels, head to their neighbor’s house with a gun and promise to cage or kill them if they don’t destroy their car and buy a Prius?

But those same people happily vote for people to vote for bills to fund other people to hire others to order others to send threats to their neighbors, the ultimate end of which is the same should they refuse to comply.

The state is that great obfuscating abstraction where we hide our violence in a fog of procedure and collectivism.

It is the most dangerous institution in human history.

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Owning the Past

Nobody asked but …

My excellent fellow writer and contributor here at EVC, Kent McManigal wrote a piece recently in which he pointed out that racism is not a permanent affliction.  It is only enduring when the holder of racist views continues to stoke that fire.  I believe, for instance, that the Governor of Virginia has tried to dodge the bullet instead of owning his past.  It appears that he has given no evidence that he is no longer a holder of racist views.  Please be aware that I know that a negative cannot be proven, but a preponderance of evidence can support a change of sentiment.  So far, in my opinion, the Governor has not shouldered his burden of persuasion very well.

Kent used himself as an example, and I was inspired by it.  I grew up in the middle south, in the “border state” of Kentucky.  But as with every place else, human stupidity ruled the roost.  A racist atmosphere blanketed daily life.  Black people were ignored and separated.  The only counter influence I ever had was from my mother, a native of the Boston, Massachusetts area — she was an egalitarian generally, but she was saddled with preconceptions of a Boston sort — one group of snobs may be believed as better than some other group of snobs.  As for myself, the established order was set so I hardly even knew that black people existed.  But my purpose today is not to recite details of my personal trip from biased state A to biased state B.  As regards race, however, state B is far ahead of state A.  Everybody is on a journey from biased to unbiased in any particular area.  I have a bias against hominy, but I have grown to like grits, corn nuts, hoppin’ john, and pozole.  I have a bias against a collective of human beings, but I have grown to like voluntaryists, individualistsanarchists, entrepreneurs, libertarians, agorists, philosophers, Austrian-school economists, objectivists, and empiricists.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

 

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Why Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates, Was the True Education Visionary

When it comes to education reform, there are generally two camps: those who want to improve the existing mass compulsory schooling system through tweaking and tuning and those who want to build something entirely new and different. Not surprisingly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was in the “think different” camp, advocating for school choice and vouchers, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates backed the Common Core State Standards and other incremental reforms within the conventional mass schooling model.

The Efforts of the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into K-12 education over the past 20 years, including $280 million toward Common Core, which people of all political persuasions came to despise for its standardization and government overreach. Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation announced an additional $10 million to train teachers on “high quality” curriculum. The charity is on track to reach its goal of dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars to K-12 education by 2022.

These huge philanthropic efforts, combined with the nearly $700 billion a year that US taxpayers spend on K-12 mass schooling, means Americans spend more on education than any other country but with far more dismal results. Chipping away slowly at standard schooling may not be doing much good.

Jobs Saw the Need for Disruption

Steve Jobs recognized this. He saw that true educational transformation requires disrupting the entire mass schooling model. As he did with his revolutionary Apple products, Jobs envisioned an education system that is innovative, experimental, and individualized for each learner. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, Jobs asserted his support for vouchers and entrepreneurial educators:

 I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…You could have twenty-five-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is, I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

For Jobs, vouchers were only one piece of the education transformation puzzle. He realized that an incremental approach to reforming the existing mass schooling model does not work because of the power structures and bureaucratic tendencies inherent in conventional schooling. In the same Smithsonian interview, Jobs said:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Two Different Experiences, Two Different Outlooks

The vastly different education policy approaches favored by Gates and Jobs may be due in part to their own childhood schooling experiences. Gates attended a private day school, Lakeside School, in Seattle, Washington, and said in 2005: “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had a far less favorable reaction to his public schooling. He recalled:

School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five-year-olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.

While both of these tech moguls dropped out of college to start wildly successful businesses, their opinions on K-12 education policy reflect many of the differences that came to symbolize their respective companies. Apple’s visionary motto of “Think Different” challenges the status quo, while Microsoft’s “Empowering Us All” may just capture the next incremental change on a well-trodden path.

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Appeasing Robin Hanson’s Critics

Appeasement is greatly underrated.  As I’ve explained before:

Didn’t the Munich Agreement prove for all time that appeasement doesn’t work?  Hardly.  Despite its well-hyped failures, appeasement is an incredibly effective social strategy for dealing with the unreasonable and the unjust… also known as 90% of mankind.  Whenever someone makes bizarre demands upon me, my default is not to argue.  Instead, I weigh the cost of compliance.  If that cost is small – and it usually is – I let the babies have their way.  If you bump into me in the grocery store, I say “Sorry.”

Doesn’t that open the floodgates to additional demands?  Not in my experience.  One symbolic gesture is enough to placate most of the unpleasant characters I encounter.  After my concession, we usually go our separate ways.  And even when I repeatedly interact with the same unreasonable, unjust person, at least my appeasement makes it hard for them to imagine that they have to get back at me for my past wrongs.

Despite their scorn, almost everyone knows that appeasement works.  How do I know this?  Because everyone appeases to cope with social realities.  Recall your day.  Did you experience some unreasonable, unjust treatment?  Probably.  If so, did you escalate the conflict until reason and justice prevailed?  Probably not.  Why not?  Because it would be a Pyrrhic victory, likely to leave you unemployed and alone.

But I have to confess: When Twitter lashed out at Robin Hanson last week for asking a perfectly reasonable question, my emotional reaction was, “These people cannot be appeased!  We must not yield a single inch to this mob!”  And it wasn’t hard to construct a superficially solid argument to support this emotional reaction.  Namely:

1. Robin’s question was reasonable.

2. His tone was not only polite, but friendly.

3. Virtually everyone who knows Robin personally vouches for his sincerity and kindness.  Several (including me) were happy to publicize this information.

4. His critics’ main reaction was still personal abuse, condemnation, publicly “taking offense,” etc.

5. Faced with people so unfair and so unreasonable, isn’t escalation the only viable option?

Could I be wrong about (1), (2), (3), or (4)?  I doubt it.  But on reflection, there is so much that (5) is missing.

First and foremost, it forgets about the audience.  In any debate, you’re officially talking to your opponents, but it’s quixotic to imagine you’re going to persuade them.  In reality, you’re trying to persuade spectators.  And as the story of Jesus so famously reveals, calmly enduring abuse, returning good for ill, looks good to spectators.  I don’t know how many people Robin persuaded, but he would have persuaded far fewer if he lost his cool and treated his opponents the way they treated him.

Second, the argument against appeasement ignores long-run persuasion.  You’re not going to persuade people when they’re upset.  But eventually, many people will calm down.  Once they do, they’re more likely to reconsider their original position if you acted nobly throughout.

Third, long-run persuasion is especially important in the face of a moral panic – and the social justice movement seems a prime example.  In such situations, (a) many people are only upset because other people are upset, and (b) many current abusers will eventually find themselves among the abused (as in “The revolution devours its young.”)  I would not be surprised if some of Robin’s more prominent critics eventually find themselves on the wrong side of “their side.”  By appeasing these critics today, returning good for ill, you raise the likelihood that when they’re unfairly treated, they’ll consider the possibility that they treated others unfairly in the past.

If that ever happens, I’ll welcome them with open arms.  Knowing Robin, he’ll do the same.  Appeasement is far from fool-proof, but commitment to it really does pay off.

P.S. Wouldn’t real appeasement just be to lie, “What I fool I was, you’re absolutely right” – or just to remain silent in the first place?  The answer, of course, is that appeasement is a continuum.  When I say appeasement is overrated, I’m not claiming that you should go to the endpoint.

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