Monday, April 25, 2011

Sociologist could benefit by talking to me

I'm going to step out on a limb again and say that someone who is supposedly smarter than little ol' me has got it wrong. Again.

In this TED video, sociologist Sam Richards almost gets it right, but then he gets sidetracked and caught in the quicksand of the "progressive" mindset. I'm mostly talking about his first exercise in empathy (in the first 3:30 of the video) where he uses the Chinese and Americans in a thought experiment. Watch at least that part then come back and read the rest here.

If, as in his example, "the Chinese" got fabulously wealthy by mining and exporting American coal back to China, then they are buying it from the property owners. Right? Well, in the absence of government, they would be. That's where he misses the point.

Now, he admits that the Chinese only got access to this coal through political deals with Rulers. Deals that enrich the Rulers at the expense of those who actually owned the coal. Why doesn't he think about who owns the coal, and why they are not able to exercise that ownership? Why doesn't he see where the problem originates? The State is the root of this problem; not the resource or those who acquire it.

Where I think he gets it wrong the worst is that he assumes that the Americans in this scenario would be stupid enough to blame the Chinese people and resent their prosperity when the culprits are the political deal-makers in America. They are the thieves. Politicians are always thieves. They are good at making unaware followers blame someone else, though.

Maybe some people are too stupid to see who is really to blame, but that "political elite" better not bet their lives on it.

Now, watch the rest of the video. The funny thing is that he makes the assumption that you and I haven't already put ourselves in the shoes of those who are defending themselves from violent invaders. Or, am I really that different from you?



  1. "Sociologist could benefit by talking to me"

    He's getting it wrong because it benefits him to get it wrong.

    First, concluding common sense doesn't create publicity because it doesn't sound impressive. Imagine the press release: "Everything you thought is true. Carry on."

    This is also why he focuses on empathy. It's good rhetoric for the cameras. Indeed, he's pathetically transparent: look at his posture at around :50. "I care about empathy. I'm such hot shit." But, I want to get to my point so I'ma put the rest of this below...

    Second, as Mencius Moldbug once said, "But there is a certain set of received opinions about life and the world that tends to go with these cultural tropes. In many ways, these opinions happen to correlate, often in very subtle and counterintuitive ways, with the interests of people like me. I don't believe this is a coincidence, although it is certainly not a conspiracy."

    In the case of an academic, they generate new opinions in this selfish vein. This is almost certainly one of them.

  2. Comment exceeded Blogger's arbitrary 4000-char limit. I offer to put stuff like this up on my own blog if it bothers you.

    "How is it possible we can be so poor over here?"
    "I care about poor people so much! I'm hot shit."

    Posture again at 1:55. "That's contemptible and I'd never steal from the poor."
    ("I'll lie like a rug and steal from everyone instead.")

    Okay, that's it. This guy isn't an academic at all. He's a stage performer who happens to have a degree.

    "Where I think he gets it wrong the worst is that he assumes that the Americans in this scenario would be stupid enough to blame the Chinese people and resent their prosperity when the culprits are the political deal-makers in America."

    I'll have to disagree. Most people really are that stupid.
    Heck, they think American universities, healthcare and banks are private - it's not even difficult to lay the perception of blame for their failures on the market. The people in power can sell complete whoppers and the very fact they have power makes people swallow them, almost no matter how much it hurts their throat to do so - look how far the gov had to overreach even to create the Tea Party, let alone actual effective rebellion.
    The obvious response to the TSA is to cancel all plane trips and go instead by car or boat. Yeah, how much did that happen? And yet they think they have a right to be indignant if they actually get the pat-down or photographed naked. Look, if you throw a steak to a dog, don't expect to keep your steak just because you told him not to eat it. It would be better if the TSA would play nice, but they won't and you know it, so who's really responsible here?

    This issue is actually pretty important, because: who owns the oil?

    Well, in actual fact the elite own the oil. It definitely goes wherever they want it to go, and nobody else's decisions make a difference.
    However, they like to pretend to their populace that they can gain property titles. Those titles can be revoked on a whim, but that's carefully kept concealed. Do they want to sell the titles? Are they offering them because people will actually get upset if they don't think they own their land? And yeah, their peoples are stupid enough to believe it's true.

    Similarly creepy, Saddam etc. never needed to keep their deals secret. They're not democracies. They can't get voted out. "Don't like us seizing all the oil? Tough."

    The upshot is that apparently dictators think if their populace knows they control the things they do in fact control, they will lose control of some of them.
    I would bet this is probably true, because their control was gained illegitimately.

    It is quite possible to legitimately gain property title over an entire country, and the moral right that implies.
    Legitimacy aside, dictators do have such titles. However, if their citizens knew/admitted this, it would probably mean dire consequences for the dictators. Hard to mine the oil when everyone's either left or on strike, for example. And that's even if they still mistakenly believe it's legitimate.
    If they realize it's true and illegit...well...

  3. Also, I thought it was obvious but on reflection I'm not sure.

    It's not even about oil. And actually, as far as one can in a system based on coercion, Americans do own the oil. Bought and paid for.

    That's just the progressive mythology that wealth is finite and great wealth must therefore come from depriving someone else of their 'rightful' wealth - which supposedly justifies depriving someone of their actual property rights.

    And for the record, I empathize with criminals. I just also empathize with their victims. And as it was the criminal who forced the situation into a choice between punishing them or the victim - the victim could have happily left the criminal alone - then I decide to punish the criminal. (One reason I favour restitution over jail is that it makes this direct, rather than relying on deterrence.)

    And hey look, that's a metric by which you can always decide who's the actual victim. Saddam could have ignored America but America made themselves Saddam's business.
    Iraqis could have left Saddam alone but Saddam made himself their business.

    The most important empathy, however, is empathy for yourself. If you can't accept one of your own feelings, how are you ever going to admit that someone else can be genuinely feeling it?

    Also more prosaically it will affect you whether you acknowledge it or not, but if you don't admit, you won't plan with it in mind.

    "Are they brutal killers, or patriotic defenders?"

    That would be both. Once a coercive system is established, good answers start disappearing. Eventually you're left with only bad and less-bad.

    Luckily, it is necessary to buy into the system for this to occur. If you can admit that insurgents and the U.S. soldier are all BOTH brutal AND patriotic, that they both love their children and are sadistic killers, then you can treat them as they deserve.

    Namely, inform them of their brutality, give them steps to stop, and if they don't - you just granted them moral responsibility. They're now aware but choosing to do it anyway, consciously and intentionally, and you can go ahead and shoot them off your lawn. (As long as you never agreed not to.)

    Though be aware that revenge is sour. The condition for being able to shoot Mussolini is that he already be dead. If you're capable of successfully shooting them off your lawn, you almost never need to go that far to achieve your ends.

    Just like America doesn't need to shoot anyone off some oil.

  4. Alrenous- Of course you are welcome to post comments of any length on this blog. You have some really great thoughts and I truly appreciate them and the time you spend on them. Thank you!

  5. You're most welcome!

    I enjoy writing them, so I'm likely to continue. I spend the time on them because it helps me think clearly - which means it's unlikely you'll be deprived of that effort because I get bored of it, or because I was doing it for the accolades or something.