Thursday, February 08, 2018

On the Egalitarian Approach

I've spent, I don't know... two or three years of my intellectual, cognitive life trying to figure out why I'm bothered so much by causes I feel I believe in. It seems a lot of people starting at the same point fall into this trap of going - if I don't like this feminism then I must be alt-right or some shit.

I feel though, for all my efforts I've managed to perceive a crucial distinction between a cause and how it is prosecuted. And most of what I don't like is 'the egalitarian approach'. 

Most people would, like me, not believe in a hardline form of egalitarianism. A core belief that everyone is so equal, that should you find yourself in the situation where you have one last chance to appeal your death sentence, their pretensions to egalitarianism would not equate a highly experienced and respected defense attorney and a randomly selected friend on social media. 

I believe most of us are not so egalitarian that we would say 'go ahead and spin that wheel because everyone is as good as everyone else.'

Most of us can readily recognise contexts in which egalitarianism can just fuck right off. Courts of Law, Sporting Contests, the Military, Festival Lineups, Restaurant Menus... but we seem curiously unable to recognise public discourse as one of these domains. Particularly when looking in the mirror.

And here's the kicker, for right-wing agendas, having an egalitarian approach is much less of an issue than it is for left-wing agendas. Namely, because right-wingers tend to support vertical heirarchies and non-egalitarian outcomes even if the make allusions to merit that are wrong.

Thus if you are wanting to tighten up on immigration in order to spend less on your immigration projects it doesn't matter too much for your agenda if a bunch of idiots grab tiki torches and march on some church. If people raise an uproar over them and their cause a right-winger can come right out and say 'we hear you, we were just legislating a crack down on public freedoms and right to assembly.' So if people take it upon themselves to represent a cause or agenda in an incredibly stupid way, it doesn't hurt too much if you are fundamentally anti-participation.

But the left wing is all about participation. But is much worse at distinguishing between advocating for participation/self-determination/equal opportunity/the pursuit of happiness and letting any old nob advocate for you.

For example look at this picture:
pro-social Helen Mirren, whom in the first coverage of this piece was also praised for holding her bag on her lap rather than placing it on a seat, is crowded out by the much derided and maligned 'manspreading' next to her.

But now let's change trains and hop on this one. This video was shown to me as an example of a white privileged male engaging in police brutality towards a woman of colour. But it's a terrible video. It depicts a pro-social police competently carrying out his duty in accordance with a law designed to protect the public and a belligerent teenager engaged in anti-social behavior. 

I must admit I haven't watched it to completion, so maybe it turns real real nasty at some point, but within the first 4 minutes of the video, I'd be hard pressed to identify anything in the officers conduct that is even remotely questionable while the 18 year old girl manages to completely incriminate herself as well as the bystanders who manage to profess their ignorance.

And here's the thing, police abuse of power and institutional racism is a serious fucking issue, that deserves to be taken seriously. The people on the shitty end of this stick need really good advocacy not just in institutional and official reviews but in the public sphere as well.

At about the 2 minute mark the girl says 'this is so fucking unfair you have no right to take me off the train because I had my foot on the seat because I was comfortable like that, there's no law...' and it's important to note that these are not statements of fact but of opinion. At one point bystanders question the officer as to what law, what rule. All of the visible bystanders appear to have smart phones in which case they could also look up the rule themselves... which I did it's on page 4 in quite large print. And unfortunately if you don't know something it can still be illegal. I didn't even know LA had trains, doesn't stop the trains from working.

Virtually everyone in this video owes the officer an apology, and the girl who failed to comply with the officers instructions probably owes an apology to everyone on the train for delaying them by acting like a petulant child. At best, she would have had a potential damages claim for her public humiliation and psychological distress, except that her own contribution to the situation is now well documented and most of the humiliation she owes to the well intentioned bystanders filming the incident and publishing it online.

This is the egalitarian approach's severe and crippling limit. You can't have advocacy with no quality control or you wind up giving grist to the people standing in the way of progress, and you become someone that hampers progress.

Now recently I'd been trying to educate myself on postmodernism, and my exploration of Michel Focault has rather than being enlightening, a stupefying experience for me. I just pulled this off his wikiquote page to defer to a community's sensibility of what is a fair quotation:

I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced. When I study the mechanisms of power, I try to study their specificity... I admit neither the notion of a master nor the universality of his law. On the contrary, I set out to grasp the mechanisms of the effective exercise of power; and I do this because those who are inserted in these relations of power, who are implicated therein, may, through their actions, their resistance, and their rebellion, escape them, transform them—in short, no longer submit to them. And if I do not say what ought to be done, it is not because I believe there is nothing to be done. Quite on the contrary, I think there are a thousand things to be done, to be invented, to be forged, by those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they are implicated, have decided to resist or escape them. From this point of view, my entire research rests upon the postulate of an absolute optimism. I do not undertake my analyses to say: look how things are, you are all trapped. I do not say such things except insofar as I consider this to permit some transformation of things. Everything I do, I do in order that it may be of use.

I am not smart enough to decipher (lit. de-cipher) what the fuck Focault is actually saying - does power exist or not? Even being charitable and extending a benefit of a doubt that Focault suffers largely from translation - like no philosopher I have ever come across before, I haven't found an example of Focault yet that approaches intelligibility. Even the more penetrable quotes like: 'Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?' are functionally vacuous like 'LISTEN has the same letters as SILENT.' 

My inability to understand what the fuck Focault is talking about is only so relevant as it concerns egalitarianism- does it inspire confidence in me that a randomly selected friend of mine on social media is going to understand what Focault is talking about.

Whatever Michel is advocating, he is himself a terrible advocate for himself. I have to defer though to the fact that he is regarded as a highly influential philosopher, and let's now look at one of the philosophers he influenced, Judith Butler:

"When we say that gender is performed, we usually mean that we've taken on a role; we're acting in some way…To say that gender is performative is a little different…For something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman…we act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or simply something that is true about us. Actually, it is a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time."

To some extent I get the same thing, I'm not smart enough to really penetrate what is being said, although with Butler whose native language is the same as mine, what might be more accurate is to say I don't understand in her theory of gender performativity why she wouldn't say instead the much simpler and well supported conclusion 'we are what we do.'

Now steering back to egalitarianism, I have a thorough non-understanding of postmodernism, largely because thus far in my exploration it has a seemingly well deserved reputation for finding the most complicated way to say nothing at all, I have absolutely zero faith in virtually anyone I know being able to hold this philosophy in their head and understand it when they come out to advocate against our existing power structures.

What I think happens instead is that people incompetently license themselves to act on a very popular intuition that we are who think we are and thus nobody has the right to tell us who we are. And that intuition isn't nuanced enough to work in society. (that's an interesting argument to have, but another post altogether).

Let's take a breath and illustrate this point through the concept of delegation.

Management economics is a concept touted by the creators of 'Manager Tools' a business podcast explained in a 4 minute video here. But for my purposes it's a pretty basic principle that leads into a pretty basic rule of thumb. So if you have an organization where one person up the top is paid $1 million dollars and a person below her is paid $10,000 and both of them can do the same task to the same quality, it should be done by the person who is paid less. 

This is 'management' economics because it is to do with delegation, a manager actually gets to choose which tasks they do themselves and which tasks people reporting to them can/should do. And some managers are bad at delegating tasks hence they need the principle explained.

Basically if you are paid more, then your obligation is to do only the tasks that only you can do, and anything anyone paid less can do as well, you delegate to them. That's the principle.

Now, what if they can do it, but not as well? Here is the rule of thumb: if there's a task that somebody paid less than you can do to 70% of the quality you would, and you should, delegate. (Strictly speaking you could break down the salaries and numbers and come up with an exact economically rational quality threshold of when to delegate and when to do it yourself, however you are paid a lot of money to spend your time on the most effective and productive tasks you can accomplish, and scrutinizing every delegation decision to precision is probably self-defeating.) 

Now the question: what's 70%^5? or .7 x .7 x .7 x .7 x .7? 

It's in the neighborhood of 16%. 

This describes a situation where the rule of thumb becomes chained - a problematic situation. Here the person earning a million delegates a task to 500k person because they can do it 70% as well, they in turn look at 300k who can do it 70% (but 49% as well as 1M) as well as them and they delegate it down again. 300k delegates to 120k and 120k delegates ... until some entry level staffer on 25k a year is faced with completing a task originally put on the CEO's desk and the 70% rule has compounded to 10% relative to the CEO.

Now substitute the millionaire with someone like Ta-Nahesi Coates or Malcolm Gladwell, advocating for progress in the issue of institutional racism. And substitute someone 10 rungs down the organisational chain with the bystanders filming the officer removing a teenager from the train. Up top you have journalists who are very good at making articulate and intelligible arguments and down the bottom you have people who don't understand basic but unintuitive concepts like the rule of law, public goods, public property, consumer rights and who haven't bothered to even fact check themselves that indeed putting feet on the seats is against the rules.

Who do you want advocating for the cause?

And more to the point, this isn't an example of delegation, it's an example of the Donning Kruger effect wrapped up in a sense of righteousness that excuses one from having to understand anything. There's no hierarchy delegating the task of holding public servants accountable down the line. What the internet and social media have facilitated is not an increase in chained-delegation, but a complete lack of deference. 

Consider that a 22 year old woman managed to get herself arrested and charged, defending a person who broke the rules and failed to comply with reasonable requests for cooperation, in the absence of any objective use of excessive force and it was all documented including by the officer's body cam. 

That's moronic.

Go right-wing though, and it isn't quite the same. Now you are on a train at 1am in the early hours of a Saturday morning travelling home from a big friday night wondering which patron of the train is going to vomit on the floor. Here though, a white man in his mid 40s who didn't complete high school and has struggled on and off with unemployment and substance abuse problems decides to appoint himself to the front line of the war on terror by harassing a man with a higher concentration of melanin in his skin. 

His qualification to 'fight terror' are that he has a valid ticket to be on this train and he's a little loaded. He's not even 10% as capable of identifying a terror cell as a counter-terrorism expert working for a regulated and state sponsored police service. You yourself may be eminently more capable of fighting terror than he, simply by being able to visually discern between an Islamic Jihadist and a Hindu Engineering Student which he cannot. But that doesn't mean you even meet the quality threshold to do anything about terrorism.

There are things everyday plebs can contribute towards civilization. A campaign like 'if you see something, say something' though is not a strict act of delegation, deputizing every citizen to take the laws into their own hands. On the right-wing, the campaign strictly speaking, if you scrutinize the words, a call for citizens to defer to proper authorities. To report activities to people capable of dismissing it or pursuing it.

One thing everyone can do on the left-wing though rather than forming para-legal kangaroo courts because of your inherent cynacism to any formal institution, is refrain from arguing and simply reinforcing social norms. This is the best advice I've heard. Rather than saying 'don't you think what you are saying is racist Ted?' it means saying 'okay Ted, but we don't discriminate based on race here.'

There's also a problem with deference too. Expertise has it's limits, fields like psychiatry and economics and nutrition are a rich history of problems and corruption. However just because a field of expertise is contentious doesn't make it the equal of complete ignorance: you should still defer to an expert critic to advocate against established orthodoxy. 

There's this documented psychological phenomena called the Donning Kruger effect, and word is it has caught fire on discussion boards and is now often employed as a fallacy, but it is a real thing. In summary it's the phenomena where the less you know about something the less you assume there is to know, and so you overestimate your own proficiency.

Consider the distribution of IQ, I've never actually sat a formal testing for it, and it doesn't really matter what you think of IQ, the point is it's normally distributed and documented. So two-thirds of the population have an IQ between 85-115, if you have an IQ of 116 that means that sitting at a table of 6 people, you are the smartest person at the table. At 120, if you are in an elevator with 8 other people in it, odds are you are the smartest one there. So by 120 you are already going to have lived a life where you were one of the top 10 performers in school, people will have been telling you how smart you are all your life and this notion will have constantly been reinforced. But to be confident you have a crack at being the smartest among all your facebook friends, you actually need an IQ of at least 144. that's 1/336 people rare. 

This argument is specifically bogus in all kinds of ways, and that's because I'm not smart enough to make a better one, but the key thing is to note the implicit hubris in tackling a nuanced and complicated issue in a public setting with no formal training. Even if people have told you you are smart all your life, the sea is vast and full of all kinds of people and there are intellectual giants that would stomp on you, and there are certainly social problems too complicated and nuanced and cross-disciplinary for you to have anything substantial to offer on your lonesome... Sadly the smartest people alive are often but one intellectual elephant in a sea of intellectual mice repeating arguments that have evolved through hearsay and motivated reasoning and confirmation bias and appeals to ignorance.

If it's your thing, it's kind of amusing to look up Chomsky on Zizek on Youtube, and to a lesser extent Zizek's response. Chomsky accuses Zizek of posturing and lacking any content. Zizek's response is basically a rambling content-less rant. Zizek thinks he's a really smart guy, and the notion is being reinforced. That notion is revealed as fragile when Chomsky more or less dismisses him and his intellectual tradition, then if you want to see yet more hubris, dip below the lines and look at the kind of 'intellectuals' that comment on youtube videos featuring Chomsky or Zizek and ask yourself how much value any of their comments add. 

If the answer to that is 0 value, then I've at least gotten somewhere in illustrating the problem with the egalitarian approach. 

Public discourse I believe, is subject to economies of scale. Certain people are better at dissuading and persuading than others. Notably competent experts and comedians. One of them can sway the tide of public opinion if given the right platform and not shouted down by their own idiotic supporters. Like champion warfare, the sway of public opinion can be carried by the outcomes of two single combatants. I like comedians because comedy is disarming, meaning they are better than most at getting through partisanship and making people reconsider a previously held belief. Competent experts are transparently ideal because they aren't prone to all the fallacies the general public can intuitively lapse into.

Including myself, I don't know a single person I'd have confidence in to debate a character like Jordan Peterson. If there had to be a debate I'd want someone like Robert Sapolsky or Noam Chomsky to champion me, and I feel like Sapolsky is too nice a guy to get into such a debate, and Chomsky is too mean a guy to debate Peterson, and perhaps we all should be taking a cue from them. 

What I feel happens is, that on the right side of the political spectrum the tendency to look for hierarchy and defer to a champion perhaps in part explains the rise of Peterson's popularity. Whereas on the left-side of the spectrum, the inclination to advocate for Trans-rights, Disability advocacy, Post-Racial etc. inclines one to not rally behind elite white men like Sapolsky or Chomsky and instead form mobs of 'equals' who are easily derided and dismissed for their lack of consistency and coherency, yet sadly can have a half-assed impact on politics as centrist left parties make ill conceived tokenistic gestures towards them to secure their vote. 

An excellent example of the left-side of politics getting this champion-warfare right is Billy-Jean King vs Bobby Riggs in the 1973 exhibition match, "the battle of the sexes". The movie is well worth watching if you really get a bad taste in your mouth over the thought of deferring to someone better able to champion your cause.

The big problem for the left of course, is the fallacy fallacy, which is that if you commit a fallacy it doesn't mean you are wrong, it just means your argument doesn't prove your point. Margaret Court lost to Bobby Riggs, which as we know doesn't justify a pay gap between female and male tennis athletes - something we now know only because King threw down and handled Bobby Riggs. Any listeners, and particularly partisan listeners will seize on the fallacy fallacy to feel in the right and dismiss your position, so proceed incompetently with caution. 

I would guess, that most people on most issues gravitate towards a position of not caring. Then there are noisy motivated minorities on either side. I don't give a shit if angry young men go Alt-right and make shitty arguments and alienate themselves. I do care if advocates for vulnerable groups make shitty arguments and successfully alienate the very people they are fighting for and set progress back another 10 years.

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