Tag Archives: rationalism

Materialism and Empircisim are Easy; Idealism is Hard

Empiricism vs Idealism:

Empiricism begins with the hypothesis that there is an objective reality independent of humanity and we may use inductive logic to learn about this reality through our senses. We can experiment and test the validity of our ideas. The scientific method is a method of empirical testing to prevent common fallacies and errors. Empiricism does not assume a priori knowledge. This is also called Philosophical Realism or materialism.

To recap some basic concepts, rationalists believe knowledge is acquired independently of sensory experience. Empiricists argue that knowledge is based on sensory perception. Rationalism involves ‘pure reason’ (priori knowledge); empiricism involves evidence (posteriori knowledge). Rationalism is top-down (deductive); empiricism is bottom-up (inductive).

Consider a stick in a glass of water. To the empiricist, the stick is broken because it visually appears so. However, when the empiricist dips his hand into the water, the stick is obviously not broken. To the rationalist, it’s not broken, but rather the water makes it seem so due to refraction. The rationalist defers to theory (refraction) to justify the stick not being broken, without having to dip his hand to see for himself.

But there are seldom ‘pure empiricists’ or ‘pure rationalists’–it’s usually a hybrid, in which Kant cleverly devised a philosophical device called the ‘synthetic a priori’ to reconcile this. Many empiricists don’t reject all theories of physics (such as Newton’s law of gravitation), if there is abundant experimental evidence to support them. Empiricism leads to theory, the latter which can be defined as an ‘object’ (which Kant called a noumenon), that exists outside of sense or perception. From The theory of phenomena and noumena:

For example, to explain why the wires in an electric toaster are hot, we invoke the underlying cause of an electric current in the wires; the toaster and its wires, and the heat, are phenomenal, and the electricity is noumenal. Or, in modern language, the toaster and the hot wires are empirical and the electricity is theoretical. As David Hume pointed out, there are no empirical causes, only correlations; all causes are underlying — noumenal — or theoretical. Theoretical science tries to describe the noumenal world, and thereby explain the findings of empirical science. Everything you read about molecules, atoms, electrons, quarks, the curvature of space-time, black holes, the Big Bang, etc. is about noumena.

This is related to Platonic idealism, which is different than Idealism as presented by philosophers such as George Berkeley. Platonic abstractions are not spatial, temporal, or mental; hence, they are not compatible with the latter idealism’s emphasis on mental existence. Plato’s Forms include numbers and geometrical figures, making them a theory of mathematical realism. This makes it a form of materialism, and is related to philosophical realism–the belief that the existence of reality is independent of our conceptual schemes, perceptions, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc.

Although realism and materialism are often used interchangeably, realism involves mathematics and Plato’s forms, which are things that are ‘real’ even though they are not physically so. A rationalist is a realist, because rationalists make use of abstractions (like math). The empiricist tends to reject these abstractions, and may gravitate towards materialist interpretations as being the basis of reality (such as dunking his or her hand in the water to verify that the stick isn’t broken, instead of deferring to refraction theory). But realism is like materialism, as the stick being intact is a property that exists outside of the mind, but realism is an abstract approach (use of theory) determine this knowledge (epistemology) and empiricism is sensory (literally, a hands-on approach). Hierarchically, realism is a subset of materialism. So while realism is materialistic, not all materialism is realism (empiricism and materialism, for example, being linked but the former distinct from realism).

Science involves ‘objects’ such as theories that exist independent of perception and mind. Religion is often associated with idealism in that, epistemologically, it requires faith–by ‘pure reason’ alone, establishing a ink between idealism and rationalism. Rationalism can be applied both in a religious context but also a scientific one.

Empiricism and realism are ‘easy’ because the former lends itself to ‘binary thinking’, specifically, verificationism (the doctrine that a proposition is only cognitively meaningful if it can be definitively and conclusively determined to be either true or false). Empiricism, unlike rationalism, takes the easy way out by never having to commit to a theory. If the empiricist can’t observe it through sense, he can simply reject it. But realism is also ‘easy’, in the synthetic sense, by reducing abstractions to objects that we take for grated as ‘true’. It’s easier to just accept that 1+1=2 than try to go further to understand why it’s so. For example, the statement, ‘rising life expectancy is good’. ‘Good’ is abstract and hard to define, besides it being implied (or objectified) that ‘good’ is contrasted from what is ‘bad’. ‘Life expectancy’ is also an object, as it is something that is measured scientifically and exists outside of sensory perception. Most of the media and pundits, whether it’s Bloomberg, Wall St. Journal, or The Economists, deal with things that can be categorized either ‘true’ or ‘false’ (such as ‘the economy is weak’ or ‘the economy is strong’), with evidence brought forth either opposing or supporting the initial premise. Or objects-as-issues (such as wealth inequality, economic growth), that are often reduced to a binary state of being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Idealism tends to reject object-based reasoning. Although idealism may have a grand theory, vision, or narrative (such as eschatology), it doesn’t rely on empirical, sensory, or object-based means of supporting it. [Materialist philosophy also has 'grand narratives', an example being Marxism, which is based on economic theory (an object), not theology.] It avoids reductionism (in terms of rejecting scientific-reduction in the forms scientism, cognitivism, positivism; but it also rejects verificationism (which is a form of reductionism. Idealists aren’t too fond of empiricism, because it tends to be binary and reductive.)–but also idealism rejects low-information discourse, which is related to binary thinking) preferring complicated, nuanced, and circuitous forms of discourse and invoking teleology. For example, for idealist, civil dissenters fit within a ‘grand theory’ of societal collapse. But aren’t dissenters empirical evidence that agrees with ‘grand theory’? Yes, but it doesn’t matter, because to the idealists the reality has already been constructed in his mind. To be fair, this is similar to how physicists rationalize string theory, because the theory can always be modified to account for any evidence that could disprove it. Or in another way, for an idealist, everything is subsumed by the theory. Teleology is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose or goal. For example, a teleological explanation of why forks have prongs is that this design helps humans eat certain foods; stabbing food to help humans eat is what forks are for. Likewise, a teleological explanation for dissenters is not that they are having a bad day, but rather because they are actors of a grand eschatological narrative. For a materialist, rather then evidence being subsumed by theory, the theory keeps being modified or is so broad as to encompass everything (which is a criticism of string theory).

As an example of ‘easiness’, an empiricist, if asked to predict something, may predict the sun will rise and fall. This is virtually certain to be a correct prediction, based on his empirical observations of the sun rising and setting. A realist would arrive at the same conclusion based on his knowledge about geophysics and astronomy, but to the idealist he too is missing the point of the question, because predictions are not supposed to be ‘obvious’ and the realist is caving into reductionism, just as the empiricist also engages in reductionism. An idealist, counter to what the objectively-determined odds say, in his mind, chooses odds are different.

Predicting economic stability is likely a correct prediction (based on empirical evidence, specifically, economic data and historical data; and ‘microeconomic foundations’–an attempt to apply the principles of science and physics to economics, to make the latter more rigorous) but conflict with an idealist whose ‘grand vision’ is of instability or eschatology. But ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ regarding the social sciences can be hard to define. Two people can bring forth evidence to arrive at opposite conclusions regarding the same issue. It depends how such evidence is interpreted and it’s context. For example, nominally, the national debt is high, but interest payments are low relative to GDP. By avoiding objects and binaries (verificatonism), the idealist may avoid having his beliefs being falsified.

Idealism is a search for Absolute Truth. It assumes there is a design and purpose to the universe and the human mind, and by discovering this purpose they can understand everything.

Idealism creates teleology. Everything has a function and purpose, and therefore everything has a final cause. This world is highly deterministic. Idealists rely almost purely on deductive logic. They create an artificial set of governing axioms. They can then use deductive logic to answer any problem within their Idealist world.

The idealist, in his mind, knows what is true and is not searching for it. Truth (ontology) for the idealist exists in the mind; for the materialist, it’s in objects. Both sides can either bring forth axioms (rationalism) or empirical evidence (empiricism), both of which are under the category of epistemology.
I also disagree here:

Empiricism takes considerably more effort to understand reality, but the ideas it produces are more consistent even if knowledge remains incomplete. Empirical reality may seem dangerous, as it disproves some moral preconceptions in religions and ideologies. Is it not better to accept reality whether it is pleasing or not?…

A real theory can be practiced in reality. Electrical theory: light bulb. Evolution: Genetic Engineering. Creationism: Nothing. Marxism: 100 million dead, but otherwise nothing.

Although empiricism has pretense of knowledge (because of spokespeople like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Nye, who use the ‘scientific method’ as a very convenient crutch), idealism is harder because it doesn’t involve ‘shortcuts’ (such as mathematics, sensory perception , scientific method) that materialism and empiricism employ. For a scientist, a sufficiently low ‘p-value’ can be sufficient, but the idealist isn’t placated as easily, asking, ‘but what if…’ or questioning the validity of the data itself. Idealism involves more mental gymnastics (or teleology) to make empirical reality and theory agree (such as reconciling theology with evolution, or sporadic incidents of ‘civil unrest’ as being a harbinger of impending economic and social collapse, not merely some people having a bad day).

Also, the author seems to be stumbling into the oh so tempting trap of scientific absolutism, overplaying his hand. Marxism is actually a materialistic philosophy (because economic theory is at the core of human behavior and reality, not metaphysics), not an idealistic one.

A mistake made by naivete atheists who think they are being clever is assuming that there is dichotomy where Christianity must oppose science, when such a dichotomy doesn’t necessarily exist. Many Christians understand and accept physics and evolution, and it’s possible to be both a Christian and an engineer or a biologist. Religious philosopher David Ray Griffin discusses this in his book God Exists But Gawd Does Not:

David Ray Griffin argues that progress on this issue will be impossible unless we distinguish between two radically different ideas of a divine creator, which he calls “Gawd” and “God.” Whereas there is overwhelming evidence against the existence of Gawd, there is also overwhelming evidence for the reality of God.

Atheists commonly default to this construct or strawman version of god, which the author calls ‘gawd’. An idealist may be well-versed in theory (such as evolution, quantum mechanics, and relativity) but understand that those things are merely approximations of reality, and that there will always be phenomena that cannot be explained by theory. For example, why don’t galaxies spill apart, because they are held together by ‘dark matter’, but the problem is physicists have no idea what dark matter is even though it’s thought to make up five sixths of the universe’s mass. A materialist may argue that there are no phenomena that can’t be explained by theory.

Related, Sean Carroll, in an excellent post Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy, opposes attempts to reduce philosophy to competition against science, or that how philosophy must oppose science, arguing that they can complement each other (a philosophical question being answered using physics), a view echoed by American philosopher of science Tim Maudlin, whose work on physics also incorporates philosophical elements.

Philosophy is useful for organizing ideas, beliefs, and concepts about the non-tangible, non-sensory world–things such as politics, epistemology, religion, morality, ethics, perception, consciousness, etc.–into some form of hierarchy or framework, analogous to the concept of categories in math.

Although reductionism is often frowned upon by idealists, it’s hard to avoid objects and binary thinking when trying to be persuasive. In trying to convey an opinion/perspective/declaration about something, that likely implies one opposes its opposite. There was a recent debate on Scott Aaronson’s blog, spawning significant related discussion elsewhere, but also a lot of internecine disagreement. Just saying ‘immigration is bad’ is too simple (object-based reasoning). The appeal of mathematics is once something is proven (either true or false), further discussion is no longer necessary (for that specific math concept, at least), whereas debates in the social sciences an liberal arts can be unending, as they don’t as easily yield to binary outcomes.

Scott, Utilitarians, The Rational Middle, Scientism, and Liberals

But he has no enemies to the left, and no friends to the right, which means that all his friends are his enemies, and all his enemies are his friends.

It would seem like there’s a mutual respect and camaraderie between Scott Alexander (and also Scott Adams), who represents the ‘rational middle’ or ‘rational left‘, and those on the ‘rational right’, which includes elements of NRx an the ‘alt right’. The ‘mainstream right’, on the other hand, probably doesn’t know who he is.

Scott does an adequate job entertaining opposing views, or at least more so than most or all ‘mainstream’ leftists. He at least discusses topics that we (HBD-enthusiasts,alt-righters, etc) may find interesting, and even though we may disagree with the conclusions he arrives at, many leftists wont even consider these topics, pretending they don’t exist and completely shutting-out debate.

In Solvent, the rise of centrism and the likes of Scott is about a ‘return’ of the pendulum to the middle after swinging too far to the left in 2012, now with the post-2013 SWJ backlash and gamergate, moving to the middle again, online at least. The ‘rational left’, unlike the welfare left, is generally opposed to Communism, collectivism and other elements of the ‘welfare left‘.

As an example of how the ‘rational middle’ differs from the ‘welfare left’ , consider the recent leftist, pro-Sanders outrage over Hillary not tipping at a visit to Chipotle. To the Sanders’ supporter, what immediately comes to mind (just by the headline, without actually reading the story) is, ‘what a stingy, mean person!’ The rationalist, however, considers the possibility that maybe Hillary paid with a credit card, making it impossible to leave a tip in a jar, or that Hillary didn’t have any spare change, or that she was in a hurry and tipping didn’t come to mind, or that Hillary doesn’t carry pocket change with her, or that someone else paid for it. The point is, there are other, more plausible explanations for why she didn’t tip besides being her being a bad person. As it turns out, Hillary paid $21 for a $20 meal and didn’t dip. So what. It’s not a big deal, but the radical left is looking for any excuse to portray Hillary in a negative light, understandably. Rationalism isn’t about excusing reprobate behavior, but rather considering the most plausible or likely explanation for something.

Also, the post-2013 SJW backlash has to do with a disillusionment among millennial Obama voters over the failure of liberalism. From 2008 to 2012, there was much optimism by the left over Obama, which soon faded. OWS, for example, went nowhere. And student loan debt is still higher than ever, and the job market still sucks for many millennials despite record high profits & earnings. Millennials realize that leftism isn’t working – it hasn’t lived up to its expectations.

As part of the post-2013 wealth and intellectualism synthesis, millennials want to be rich instead of being poor, and that means not attacking the rich, as leftists do, but going with the ‘flow’ and trying understand how wealth is created, learning financial independence and literacy, being rational, and understanding economics, finance, and the link between socioeconomic outcomes and biology. In light of the failure of OWS and the disappointment of Obama, many millennials realize that it’s more productive to emulate the rich and successful than waging class warfare and holding class envy. High-IQ people are also getting rich in web 2.0, while other smart people are making headlines with physics discoveries, and many millennials aspire to be like these tech and science luminaries, not poor, disgruntled, low-IQ losers who pound sand. People get rich and successful by creating value and producing merit, and despite the social and economic problems that still persist, the meritocracy is largely intact. With the left losing the economics war, now millennials realize, as part of the post-2013 centrism ‘boom’, that maybe the system, for it’s flaws, isn’t so bad, and that making money and being self-sufficient is better than fighting a futile war against the tide of civilization and progress.

‘Theory’, whether it’s economics theory or a theory in math or physics, have become the new ‘sacraments’ of post-2008 America. Empiricism is also important, too. The idea is that math and physics (theory) can fill the gaps of knowledge and explain the world. This is like Scientism 2.0, but I don’t mean this pejoratively. Science is preferable to low-information social justice and pandering. People aren’t falling behind because of institutional racism or greed, but rather because some people aren’t smart enough to be competitive in our hyper-competitive ‘results-orientated’ economy.

Pragmatism and utilitarianism need not be the exclusive domain of the left. Right-wing versions of pragmatism and utilitarianism can also exist – programs like eugenics, more funding for gifted education, high-tech funding, lower taxes, the occasional financial bailout, high-IQ basic income, etc. Euthanasia and rationed healthcare (by IQ, for example) are ways to maximize resources and reduce entitlement spending, in the spirit of utilitarianism but with a right-wing bias.

But I don’t think Scott is your typical SJW-leftist.

Exactly so. Scott will furtively acknowledge differences in IQ, but refuses to even conceive of differences in agency.

That’s better than being oblivious. Scott has a lot at stake. His blog is very popular and he’s trying to branch into fiction. Being too closely associated with the ‘alt right’ may detrimental to the ‘good will’ he has built over the years as a liberal. The ‘rational middle’ seems to be the ‘sweetspot’. It’s a formula that seems to have worked very well for him as well as Scott Adams and other bloggers. The ‘rational middle’ will criticize both sides, whereas mainstream liberals will only criticize the ‘right’. Criticizing both sides and not being beholden to either the red or blue ‘tribe’ helps build your intellectual credibility, even it makes some of people mad, as Scott showed in his ‘hate mail’ post. Detractors tend to be very visible and vocal in their feedback, which belies the popularity of centrism and the ‘rational middle’, or at least as shown by traffic figures. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are other examples of ‘rational’ leftists who have have received more criticism from the left for going against the grain in criticizing feminism and Islam than they have ever received from the right, yet Dawkins’ star keeps rising as his credibility grows by criticizing the the more irrational elements of his ‘tribe’.

Scott takes centrism seriously, to a fault. I remember posting on his blog awhile ago and he got annoyed that I used labels like ‘left’ and liberals’ on one of my comments, and I had rack my mind to find a way to re-word the comment without those terms. As a part of the ‘rational right’, I believe in realism and rationalism should be a guiding principle, but I don’t hesitate to use labels.

Trying to ‘convert’ Scott, or having him see the error of his ways, is futile, nor should we want to. He will do his thing; we will do ours. Through his anti-reactionary FAQ and other posts, he has brought more attention to NRx than most bloggers, as his blog is immensely popular.

Intellect: The Universal Solvent

In late December 2015, Scott Alexander’s How Bad Are Things article went massivly viral, with accolades from both right-wing and left-wing communities and forums, which got me (and others) thinking about how Scott is consistently able to transcend the left/right bulwark. Normally, people write articles for a specific audience or clique in mind, and spillovers [1] are uncommon. For the right, it’s National Review and Brietbart articles, for example, which are read and written by conservatives. For the left, it’s Mother Jones and Salon, both read and written predominately by liberals. But Scott’s articles seem to appeal to everyone, with audiences as diverse as NRx on the far-right, to socialist and Marxist communities on the far-left. It’s especially impressive, however, how Scott was ingratiated into the NRx community/movement [2], almost becoming an ‘honorary reactionary’, despite being somewhat critical of NRx and holding political and social views that could be antithetical to NRx.

So how did he do it. It boils down to four reasons, which I will expound on:

1. He’s competent and authentic, which helps him forge bonds with other smart people irrespective of ideology.
2. As well as a good writer, he’s a good ‘listener’, entertaining both sides of an argument instead of bludgeoning readers with only his beliefs.
3. The post-2013 centrism ‘boom’ and the rise of the ‘rational middle‘ and the ‘contrarian mainstream’, in rejecting ‘low information’ partisanship, demagoguery, sentimentalism, and sensationalism from both the left and the right.
4. Related to number 3, a recent demand for more evolved, in-depth discourse.

Consider the L. Ron Hubbard quote above, but replace ‘communication’ with ‘intellect’ or ‘competence’, which are almost interchangeable. NRX, unlike the ‘mainstream/Fox News’ right, is more intellectual, with themes of theology, philosophy, epistemology, existentialism, sociology, futurism, economics, and history imbued in NRx writings, rather than just petulant ‘libs bad/cons good’ screeds. But NRx is obviously right-wing, yet Scott and the ‘rational left?’ are able to forge some middle ground with NRx and the ‘alt right’, with intellectualism as the solvent allows these two groups that are otherwise in many ways ideologically dissimilar to commingle. Ideologically and intellectually, Scott is neither a phony nor a poseur, and he exudes authenticity. Being a mental health worker, Scott bears witness to the ‘human condition’ on a daily basis, lending his firsthand account to issues that are otherwise obfuscated by academia or trivialized, editorialized, or sensationalized by the pageview-powered digital media. It doesn’t get anymore authentic than that. In writing about mental disorders or ingroup/outgroup dynamics, many people – both on the left and the right – can relate, having either experienced ostracization or mental illness themselves or knowing someone who has. Scott is knowledgeable (specifically, in his domain of human psychology and internet subcultures), and that’s how you reach across the aisle – through competence, and being forthright and open-minded, which I discuss in more detail in Why Dale Carnegie is Wrong. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, in our post-2013 centrism boom, arrogant, low-information [3] zealotry is generally frowned upon, especially by other smart people and online. For example, Scott, being a psychologist, has the intellectual credentials to support his opinions, while also being charitable towards his intellectual opponents, and that makes him respected by all sides. [4] It’s virtually impossible to create an argument that is so strong as to be impervious to criticism from the other side, and trying will only make you seem arrogant and unintelligent, not worldly and persuasive.

Scott’s success is also symptomatic or emblematic of a tectonic shift in online media and journalism from sensationalism and partisanship that was characteristic the pre-2013 era, to post-2013 era of centrism, ‘long form’ journalism, and rationalism, filling an insatiable demand by millions of smart, young people, especially since 2013, for the unvarnished, unmolested truth instead of pleasantries wrapped in a pretty bow of political correctness. But at the same time, millennials have also become impervious to sales pitches, hype, and demagoguery. The smartest generation not only detests phoniness and insincerity, but are masters at detecting it. In an era of fact checking and defensive writing, skepticism is the new earnestness. If you think you are going to impress the smartest, most empirically minded generation ever with your bold proclamations, over-generalizations, and partisanship, you will be put in your place (as Malcom Gladwell learned the hard way in an AMA where astute Redditors poked holes in his pseudoscience flim-flam). The purist of truth – the good, the bad and the ugly – is paramount, and this is evidenced by how taboos are being smashed, with the rise of the ‘contrarian mainstream’ – stories and websites such as Slate, Thought Catalog, Wait But Why, Vice, Daily Elite, Quillette, and Scott’s blog, Slate Star Codex, that introduce potentially controversial ideas (such as that parenting may be ineffective, why IQ matters, etc) that may have been samizdat just as recently as a decade ago, but are disseminated to a much larger audience and with much approval instead of offence. Smart people on both the left and the right choose Truth, even if feelings aren’t spared, over being spoon-fed pablum. Taking offence too easily and holding ideological grudges (even if it’s against Hitler) impedes the free flow of knowledge, is un-intellectual (too provincial), and is seen as inauthentic.

Centrism neither new nor original; it’s a device Bill Maher has used for comedic effect, for years, poking fun at demagogues on both sides, but it seems to have taken the internet by storm since 2013 or so, probably as part of the post-2013 SJW backlash, and with the rise of ‘rationalist culture’ which rejects emotive demagoguery. In the years following the election of Obama, the pendulum swung too far to the left and now it’s returning to the middle (or at least online it is). This reversion to the middle is not only observed on popular social news site like 4chan, HackerNews, and Reddit, but in even academia; for example, the liberal bias in the social sciences, which for years went undetected or ignored, is finally getting much needed coverage. This ‘reversion to the middle’ could explain is why there is a backlash by ‘normal’ liberals against SJW-liberals. People see that the ‘rational middle’ is about empiricism and facts rather than being wed to a flimsy ideology. That’s why in recent years ‘social news’ sites like Reddit, 4chan, and HackerNews have become so popular – going so far as threatening the turf of the dumbed-down mainstream media – and even though these sites have different subcultures (some of them possibly quite offensive to the uninitiated), they all converge in rejecting partisanship, sentimentalism, and sensationalism in favor of nuance and intellectualism – specifically, truth and understanding.

Between 2008-2012, both the right and the left were duking it out over Obama, Obamacare, and OWS, but with Obamacare not going anywhere, OWS a failure, and with the economy and nation in autopilot mode, perhaps a pervasive, almost cynical, centrism has dawned, almost a resignation that change is impossible. From 2008-2012, both the right and the left had high hopes, but now empty handed, with gridlock, the status quo, and ‘politics as usual’ winning. As a result, ‘Preaching to the choir’ seems to be going out of fashion, whereas in the pre-2008 era people were more inclined to obediently rally behind causes. With the back-to-back disappointments of Obama and Bush, the choirs have disbanded, and people are disaffected and tired of the shallowness and pandering that constitutes much of modern American politics. Instead of dumbing it down, you have to smarten things up. There is a budding demand for more evolved political discourage, and people, particularly smart, well-informed people online on either side of the political spectrum, are tired of the stale, insincere platitudes, factual inaccuracies, and pandering from politicians. [5] But, interestingly, they are tired of low-information pundits distorting or oversimplifying the views of politicians, which is why some on the ‘left’ are defending Donald Trump, arguing that Trump is more than just a hairpiece, but rather a brilliant tactician who is playing the media rather than the media playing him. Scott Adams, another major figure of the ‘contrarian mainstream’, also argues this point.

From The Archdruid Report, Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment:

The centerpiece of most of these insults, when they’re not simply petulant schoolboy taunts aimed at Trump’s physical appearance, is the claim that he’s stupid. This is hardly surprising, as a lot of people on the leftward end of American culture love to use the kind of demeaning language that attributes idiocy to those who disagree with them.

This agrees with how smart people, on both the left and right, are tired of puerile, immature discourse in the media’s coverage of politics and politicians, even if such language is directed at politicians they [these smart people] don’t personally endorse. In the post-2013 era of centrism and intellectualism, ‘truth’ and ‘understanding’ transcends political ties. Being childish is the antithesis of being smart.

Despite the empty rhetoric about hope and change that surrounded his 2008 campaign, after all, Obama continued the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush so unswervingly that we may as well call those policies—the conventional wisdom or, rather, the conventional folly of early 21st-century American politics—the Dubyobama consensus.

And this second passage shows the failure of both the left and right, paving the way for centrism.

This bipartisan dissatisfaction is echoed in a column America the Unfair, by Nicholas Kristoff, and in a Forbes article Why ‘The System’ Is Rigged And The US Electorate Is Angry:

“A common thread,” writes columnist Nicholas Kristoff, “is that this country is no longer working for many ordinary citizens.” The anger is bipartisan, although the lists of suspected villains differ.

This rise of centrism is exemplified in a blog post on Medium, The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb, which went viral, about how understanding your opponent is as important, if not more, than understanding your own views, and how merely understanding is perhaps better than trying to change minds.

As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point for them, you don’t truly grasp the issue. We can bemoan political gridlock and a divisive media all we want. But we won’t truly progress as individuals until we make an honest effort to understand those that are not like us. And you won’t convince anyone to feel the way you do if you don’t respect their position and opinions.

A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with: Don’t try to “win.” Don’t try to “convince” anyone of your viewpoint. Don’t score points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to “lose.” Hear them out. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell your environmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after your brother made his pro-fracking case.

For example, Scott doesn’t pigeonhole either side, instead considering the merits and faults of both, with perhaps a small bias of his own, but otherwise letting the reader decide and not making his bias so obvious that it draws too much attention to itself. In a 2015 article LOOKING A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH, one of Scott’s most popular articles ever, he weighs both the merit and the faults of anti-SJW moment, and how the anti-SJW movement may have overplayed its hand by crossing the line into extremism at the cost of credibility.

First, he considers the merits of the anti-SJW argument – how the SJWs are behaving like bullies by going after innocent administrators and teachers:

Or to be even more cynical: social justice was supposed to be Yale’s weapon against Caltech and Podunk. But now Yale students are using it against Yale professors and administrators, and now it’s a problem. It’s like the police beating up city council members with the truncheons they usually reserve for poor ghetto-dwellers; you can bet there will be a newfound concern about police brutality at city council meetings.

But then he criticizes anti-SJW extremism, arguing how extremism backfires by becoming the medium instead of the message:

I think that is the problem. When creepy white supremacists criticize social justice, they’re at no risk of taking over the wider SJ-critical movement. As the old saying goes, white supremacists are the best argument against white supremacy, and most of them couldn’t take over a blanket fort with a flamethrower. But rhetorically-gifted Yale professors who get thinkpieces published in The Atlantic are exactly the sort of people who would take over the wider SJ-critical movement, become its most important voice, and define what it means both to the rest of the world and to its own members.

He doesn’t even call it anti-SJW, but rather ‘SJ-critical’ which, perhaps, is less politically polarizing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Scott’s articles are thoroughly researched and well-written – pretty much on par with professional journalists, whose job is it to write articles that have broad enough appeal to sustain a large readership, but still edgy or contrarian enough to keep people curious and coming back, and yet not so partisan or judgmental as to alienate too many potential readers. Professional writers have a knack for creating content that appeals to a lot of people – almost by anticipating the reader, tapping into the reader’s thoughts, fears and desires, while composing the message in such a way as to cross political and economic barriers, almost like walking an ideological tightrope. With subtlety and tact, playing the ‘middle ground’ or ‘splitting the difference’, can help spur discussion on issues or perspectives that are overlooked, or to introduce new, potentially controversial ideas to an audience that is not yet inculcated. Using this incrementalist approach, Scott has been effective at nudging the Overton window on certain issues, particularity in raising valid criticisms of SJWs.

But also, Scott and his blog can be likened to the hub of a giant bicycle wheel with each spoke representing a viewpoint or ideology that he links out to, similar to Marc Andreessen on Twitter:

….Mr. Andreessen is like the hub of a wheel with each spoke representing a differing view/perspective that links back to him, creating a symbiosis of sorts between the hub (Andreessen) and all the people (spokes) he interacts with. But also, Mr. Andreessen cannot be pigeonholed as either being resolutely ‘left’ or ‘right’, as his views encompass the full-range of the political spectrum…

Instead of being insular, by constantly linking out, you become the source or the hub. People come the the ‘hub’ to see whats trendy, what’s important. Another example of a successful hub is Peter Woit’s immensely popular physics blog, Not Even Wrong, which everyday is visited by leading physicists and mathematicians, as well as thousands of science enthusiasts the world over, because Mr. Woit has positioned himself as a ‘go-to’ source for the latest happenings in physics, by constantly linking out, even to things he doesn’t agree with. Personally, he’s skeptical of string theory, but he links to eminent string theorists all the time, demonstrating not only open-mindedness on his part, but how intellectual bonds are stronger than ideological ones. Two physicists who disagree about the structure of the universe can find common ground in their high intelligence, their appreciation of science, and their quest for truth and understanding.

[1] There is perhaps a bigger spillover for left-leaning content than right-wing content. Conservatives like iSteve, for example, share Salon, Slate, and New York Times articles a lot, but liberals seldom share National Review, Breitbart, or iSteve articles. Conservatives may be more likely to entertain opposing views than liberals.

[2] Some argue NRx is not a movement, because a ‘movement’ implies revolution, and NRx is supposed to be counterrevolutionary.

[3] Although one could consider the likes of Vox Day and Moldbug to be zealots, they are very well-informed of the issues and competent, which make them authentic and intelligent, and not ‘low information’. As I explain below, people, especially online, are tired of low-information zealotry. Also, many on the ‘alt right’, as opposed to the ‘mainstream right’, do a pretty good job entertaining opposing viewpoints. The ‘rationalist left’ also does a good job in this regard, too, compared to the ‘mainstream left’.

Take, for example, the Frankfurt School, which many on the right dismiss as simply ‘Cultural Marxism’, and this is largely correct, but there is a small upwelling among the ‘alt right’ to re-examine it, as Frankfurt School, despite being ‘leftist’, is critical of both mainstream liberal and conservative critiques. Low-information, mainstream liberals just blindly assume democracy and freedom will fix everything, and the Frankfurt School is critical of this reductionist view.

[4] How about Paul Krugman? Isn’t he competent and an expert? He’s not a hub, only entertaining views he agrees with, with a tendency of turning his ideological opponents into straw men. Also, he’s too liberal, too indoctrinated to a preexisting orthodoxy to appeal to rationalists.

[5]That’s why Hillary’s recent ‘Hispandering‘ was met with so much derision, even from the left, whereas if this occurred in 1996 there probably would not have been much of a backlash. Nowadays, people see right through it.

Defending ‘Theory’ and Rationalism

Lib Nicholas Nassim Taleb takes another shot at Dawkins.

As for the passage itself, there’s room for both theory and empiricism, as I explain in an earlier article Falsifiability, String Theory, and Policy:

1. Algorithms save time, versus having to do everything individually. Whether it’s movies or video games, computer simulations have become so realistic as to be almost indistinguishable from reality. Although some problems such as turbulence remain unresolved, algorithms do a reasonably job of approximating reality. Why waste time with heuristics if an algorithm is 99% accurate and can be done instantly?

2. Scientists who create theoretical models understand the limitations of their models, and also have ways of measuring the plausibility of said models based on various preconditions without having to explicitly test their theories. Many physicals laws, for example, must obey conservation of energy, must have various invariance properties, and not ‘blow up’ under various limits and extremes and give reasonable answers otherwise. All of this can be verified mathematically without experiment. Once a model passes the ‘smell check’, tests can be run on it. However, as in the case of theoretical physics, constructing appropriate models is hard enough, let alone testing them.

3. Theory can proceed verification, not the other way around. General and special relativity were later verified with tests. Same for Maxwell’s equations, which predicted the speed of light, and later verified.

4. Scientists are aware that trajectory models cannot predict whether someone will throw a baseball or why he would want to throw it, yet Taleb assumes that scientists are unable to make this categorical distinction between a closed-system and an open one.

Liberals like Taleb want to promote ‘leveling’ – the belief (also shared by other pop psychology charlatans) that humans (especially smart ones) are irrational. ‘If smart people occasionally make mistakes, we can’t trust smart people to make decisions’ To the left, the ideal state of man is irrational, egalitarian, and primitive, not civilized.

Unless someone is clinically insane, everyone acts rationally in their own best-interests (homo economicus), but IQ determines outcomes, with smarter people having more fortuitous rationalizations. A stupid person may rationalize buying lottery tickets, for example, which it’s why it’s appropriately called the ‘stupid tax’. In the strictly mathematical sense, playing the lottery is irrational (due to the negative expected value for the participant), but less intelligent people rationalize playing it. These people act irrationally due to the availability of a priori knowledge (such as the odds of wining the lottery, which are available to the public), but other instances are not so obvious such as whether or not the stock market is in a bubble, in which case there is much more ambiguity. To settle this, in Defending Rational Markets, I argue there are two types of rationality: ‘real time’ rationality (based on what is happening now) and post-hoc/a posteriori rationalism (after the fact). For example, if someone observes that a stock has risen linearly from $40 to $60 in twenty minutes, would it not be so irrational for him to assume it will rise to $61 in the 21st minute? So he buys. But then the SEC halts trading of the stock and fraud is revealed. He loses everything. In retrospect he acted irrationally.

But if there’s ambiguity, doesn’t that invalidate certain models, particularly financial models? Not necessarily. The theory of Rational Expectations implies that even if everyone is uncertain, the aggregate of guesses will lead the ‘best’ answer, or in other words, the best guess for tomorrow it today’s forecast. For example, in predicting GDP growth, some economists will predict a number that is too high; others, too low. Since financial markets involve thousands of agents (stock brokers, hedge funds, day traders), the ‘committee’ is very big, meaning that it’s unlikely that everyone will be wrong. Regarding #1, financial models (such as Brownian Motion and jump diffusion) based on Rational Expectations do a reasonably good job approximating real-life financial markets. Even ‘fat tails’ and most ‘black swans’ can be accounted for if the models are sophistical enough. For the market to be irrational would imply that there is some sort of arbitrage. Option pricing formulas forbid arbitrage, and in real-life there is no arbitrage observed in option pricing, in agreement with the underlying theory.

Related:

Irrational Investors Don’t Exist
Defending the EMH

Reactionary Realism

From Poseidon Awoke, NRx: Against Platonic Rationalism:

I believe that the Dark Enlightenment is the realization that we are currently governed by pseudosciences, which were created out of the Enlightenment exuberance for the human ability to reason (rationalize). What the children of the Enlightenment did not understand was the limits of human cognition and the laundry list of cognitive biases that humans have. As such, we cannot simply think our way forward, deducing from first principles… we have to actually measure and experiment. We have to measure our mental models against the real world. Today, the pseudosciences assume that they are correct because they are logically consistent, but when the real-world outcomes to not match their imaginary models, it is because of some witchcraft (some evil crimethinker), rather than the fact that the imaginary model is not founded on observable truth.

Agree that democracy is a pseudoscience that (as I explain yesterday) requires its subjects suspend disbelief. But I’m not so quick to join the ‘humans are irrational’ bandwagon, because that often segues into turning IQ into a handicap, a tactic common among the left and liberal pop psychology charlatans. If smart people and their models are occasionally wrong, do you think less intelligent people will fare better? If a rocket blows up on the launchpad, do we fire the rocket scientists and replace them with ditch diggers? I would argue that all humans act in a way that they individually perceive as rational, but the rationalizations of smarter people tend to produce better results both individually and for society.

If I had to rename the site, maybe it would be called Rationalist Reaction, Reactionary Rationalism, or Reactionary Realism. The idea is to reconcile free will/ individualism/autonomy within a reactionary and deterministic framework, where the ‘social order’ is both an economic and biological one. This is similar to compatibilism. The example of Hobbes’ river, in contemporary society, is analogous to IQ and other biological factors. For example, the meritocracy by IQ, which means that individuals have free will and self-determination within their cognitive limitations. People with low IQs and genetic markers for violence are influenced by these biological factors to make poor life decisions, so while they have free will to make choices, these choices are often bad.

Conservatives tend to want to preserve the ‘status quo’, but biology helps by creating new caste systems within America, especially since 2008, stratified by IQ, with smart people tending to rise to the top and the less intelligent wedged between the cracks. Thus, Social Darwinism may, in fact, be compatible with conservatism, as both are a means to preserving a social order – the former by biology and the latter by rule of law, culture, and customs – or, preferably, by some combination of both. Rationalism is the understanding of this process, the entanglement of biology with socioeconomics, but it also goes beyond that, to understanding macroeconomics, and to the rejection of superstitions and wishful thinking by the embracing reality even if we don’t always agree with it or like it.

The suggestion that some people are intrinsically better than others is antithetical to egalitarianism and is a view many conservatives, liberals, and libertarians find offensive, wishing it weren’t so. They create these ‘myths’ to explain it away – we need more spending on social programs, more wealth redistribution, stronger families, less regulation…etc, etc. I’m sympathetic to the last two, and indeed stronger families will make for a better society, but it doesn’t change the fact some people are still, at the biological level, better than others. That’s the problem with Thomas Sowell…although he’s right about economics, he dismisses the role of biology and its connection with economic outcomes, arguing like liberals do that to posit such a link is racism. Biological and economic reality throws cold water on these ‘myths’, as evidenced by growing wealth inequality, or how smart, rich people tend to produce more economic value than poorer, less intelligent people. Or how high-IQ people create technologies and research that advances civilization, sometimes getting wealthy in the process, too. Again and again, the research is clear: IQ is biological and strongly influences socioeconomic outcomes. Therefore, some people, upon conception, must better than others – if ‘worth’ is measured by the potential to create economic value and advance civilization, which I think is pretty important. One could argue, of course, that not all high-IQ people are productive, useful members of society, and this is true, but, by in large, the there is a positive correlation between creative output and IQ. In other words, IQ is more than just a number, as much as many were it were.

Some libertarians and conservatives, to their credit, even in rejecting the idea of biological determinism, acknowledge that some people are superior to others by virtue of their economic, scientific, and social contributions.

But back to the subject of policy, if smart people occasionally draft poor policy, that doesn’t mean smart people are the problem. We need better policy and leaders.