Blue Wall Voices Project

“One year out from the 2020 presidential election and without a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, a large share of voters –about four in ten (41%)–say they have not yet made up their minds about who they plan to vote for in November 2020. These ‘swing voters’ either report being undecided about their vote in 2020 or are leaning towards a candidate but haven’t made up their minds yet. With a substantial number of votes still up for grabs, this analysis looks in-depth at this group of voters to explore the policy issues that could swing these voters to vote for either President Trump or the Democratic nominee.”

-Ashley Kirzinger, et al, “Blue Wall Voices Project.” Kaiser Family Foundation in cooperation with the Cook Political Report. November 7, 2019.

Four in ten of Americans on their preferred political platform.

Change Your Conversations/Life

tl;dr: Discussions with people with love and respect done in the spirit of discovery of truth can be a powerful force for personal change. Without love, respect and a concern for truth, discussions devolve into signalling group allegiances and programming / deprogramming The Others and is best avoided.

Anti-idiotarianism: Opposition to idiots of all political stripes. First coined in the blog named Little Green Footballs as part of a post expressing disgust with inane responses to post-9/11 Islamic terrorism. Anti-idiotarian wrath has focused on Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers in the Western political left, but also routinely excoriated right-wing politicians backing repressive ’anti-terror‘ legislation and Christian religious figures who (in the blogosphere’s view of the matter) have descended nearly to the level of jihad themselves.”

-The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.4.7, October 30, 2019

“But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.”

-Adam Hughes, “A small group of prolific users account for a majority of political tweets sent by U.S. adults.” Pew Research Center. October 23, 2019.

Let’s start with the obvious. The baseline is that no one cares what you think, about anything. People don’t want to read your “hot take” about the news of the day. They don’t want to hear about how the world would be so much better, if only you were installed as Emperor of the World. You’re not going to be Emperor of the World.

Even if Emperor of the World were a position for which they were hiring, if you were picked, it’s a certainty you’d fuck it up, as would anyone. Socrates, Buddha, or Jesus might be able to pull it off, but they wouldn’t want the job. You cannot liberate people and rule them at the same time.

For any discussion, this is the central question. Is it going to be an open ended process of discovery searching for truth? Or does it serve some other purpose, like binding a group together around an established ideology? The answer, at least 1 out of a 1000 times, is the latter.

There are people that want, more than anything, to be part of a group, to share in a collective power, even if it is a small share of that power. Discussion, in this context, is programming. With one side trying to program or deprogram the other.

But, people following a program are idiots. Merriam-Webster defines “idiot” as a foolish or stupid person. In this context, I think a better definition of idiot is: a person that subscribes to a particular ideology in order to be accepted as part of a group, thinks their opinions are correct (though they are idiosyncratic reflections of the opinion of their group), other people are wrong, and other people desperately need to hear what they think, whether they want to or not. There’s little point in talking to idiots, or people acting like an idiot.

Everyone acts like an idiot, every now and again. But, for many, being an idiot is a calling. The goal is promotion of the partisan, whether it is true or not. Although, many of these partisans are true believers, even if what they believe isn’t true.

The sanest strategy is not to get in the business of programming others and to try to avoid other people programming you. Avoid discussions of this sort, unless you deeply care for someone and feel an obligation to help pull them from the path they have chosen. Just be careful to give higher regard for your relationship rather than to your ideas.

If you eliminate those types of discussions, what’s left? Let’s assume we are contemplating an open ended discussion as a process for the discovery of the truth.

  • Why engage in a process like this one?
  • Who should we have these discussion with?
  • How should we do it?

Sometimes talking our ideas through with someone else helps us to develop them, particularly if that person disagrees with us. It allow us to confront problems or aspects of a problem we might not have considered otherwise.

But, our feelings about the other person are key. While it is possible to have civil discourse with people we don’t like, it’s best to have these discussions with people we know and like. If you don’t know or like someone, you are going to be less open to what they are saying. It becomes easier to become partisan or be contrary in a way that blocks a useful exchange of ideas.

What is useful discourse? Paul Graham has a helpful essay, “How to Disagree,” that talks about a hierarchy of disagreement:

  • DH0: Name-calling
  • DH1: Ad hominem, personal attacks.
  • DH2: Responding to tone
  • DH3: Contradiction
  • DH4: Counterargument
  • DH5: Refutation
  • DH6: Refuting the central point

If most of the discussion is equal to or less than DH3, it probably indicates that it isn’t useful. We can safely avoid conversations that drop down to these levels or we believe will quickly devolve into them.

In sum, we know what good discussions look like. If you don’t care for the person and there’s no forward progress to be made, end it. As an act of kindness, let them have the last word. It’s trying to get the last word the prolongs conversations that are better off dead.

Excavating A.I.

“Datasets aren’t simply raw materials to feed algorithms, but are political interventions. As such, much of the discussion around ‘bias’ in AI systems misses the mark: there is no ‘neutral,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘apolitical’ vantage point that training data can be built upon. There is no easy technical ‘fix’ by shifting demographics, deleting offensive terms, or seeking equal representation by skin tone. The whole endeavor of collecting images, categorizing them, and labeling them is itself a form of politics, filled with questions about who gets to decide what images mean and what kinds of social and political work those representations perform.”

—Kate Crawford and Trevor Paglen, “Excavating AI
The Politics of Images in Machine Learning Training Sets.” Excavating.AI. October 2019.

Joe Biden and the Problem of Corruption in U.S. Politics

“While Democrats pursue the impeachment of President Donald Trump for pressuring foreign countries to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, they are left making an argument that is at once true and electorally and ethically compromising: What Trump did — and continues to do — was an impeachable abuse of power, and it should be considered separately from the question of what Hunter Biden did.

The problem for Democrats is that a review of Hunter Biden’s career shows clearly that he, along with Joe Biden’s brother James, has been trading on their family name for decades, cashing in on the implication — and sometimes the explicit argument — that giving money to a member of Joe Biden’s family wins the favor of Joe Biden.”

—Ryan Grim, “Joe Biden’s Family Has Been Cashing in on His Career for Decades. Democrats Need to Acknowledge That.” The Intercept. October 9, 2019.

Trump is corrupt and terrible. But, let’s also acknowledge that this is a problem in U.S. politics that crosses parties and exists at every level of government.

Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict

Conclusions

Globalisation/migration (domestic vs external inequality) and educational expansion (education vs property inequality) have created new multi-dimensional conflicts about inequality, leading to the collapse of the postwar left-vs-right party system.

Why didn’t democracy reduce inequality?

Because multi-dimensional coalitions are complicated.

Without a strong egalitarian-internationalist platform, it’s difficult to have the low-education, low-income voters from all origins vote for the same party.

Racism/nativism & higher education = powerful forces dividing the poor if there’s no strong uniting platform.

-Thomas Piketty, “Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict.” EHESS & Paris School of Economics Sciences Po, January 24 2019

h/t Boing Boing, which provides a nice overview. Open Question: Am I a member of the Brahmin Left?

Conversations with Conservatives: Lies We Tell About Ourselves & Others

  1. I was eating at a place that has communal seating. An older white man, mid-70s I’d guess, declares himself a conservative, and later, within the context of another table with, presumably, fellow conservatives says, lightly paraphrased: “Women would rather not work. The only reason they do so is because of economic necessity.”
  2. An older white man, mid-60s I’d guess, starts up a friendly conversation in small town America and quickly turns the conversation to how great a job President Trump is doing. My lack of enthusiasm makes it clear I don’t share his point of view. In a subsequent conversation, he claims he can walk six miles in an hour. As a runner, six miles an hour is a 10 minute per mile pace, which I do on my easy running days. While I’ve heard that there are Olympic race walkers that can do a mile in six minutes, I think there is no chance that this man can walk that fast. I say so. He doubles down and assures me he can do it, and would I like to join him? I tell him if I were to do so, I’d need to run.

These two exchanges got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. Does Conservative 1 not have any female family or friends that could let him know that economic independence is an important precondition for many kinds of self-actualization, which is just as important to women as to men?

Conservative 2 raises a more interesting question. Is he making this kind of out-sized claim about his ability because he is insecure? Or, do these kinds of lies serve a signaling function? By pretending that I’m impressed and taking this claim at face value, am I letting him know that I value our relationship over some kind of “objective truth”, which signals that I am part of his political tribe? By not doing it, am I signaling the opposite? Was this the point of this obvious, white lie?

And, is this also going on in the first example? Maybe the point of claiming that women don’t want to work is to shore up the rationalization of patriarchy among conservative men and to form them into a tribe of shared interests? The reality may be besides the point.

Extend this out far enough, and it starts looking like a feature of our times: left, right and center. Aren’t antifa leftists, liberal Democrats, and pretty much everyone else with a political viewpoint basically trying to signal that they buy into a particular narrative? And don’t all of these narratives have winners and losers, with the losers being some kind of Other to the tribe with that particular set of beliefs?

A Dead Cat Bomb on Google’s Dining Room Table

” A day after the dead cat was thrown on the table, [i.e., when Boris Johnson claimed he liked to make model buses out of old crates] twitter user @MrKennyCampbell realized that Johnson’s incoherent rambling about model buses was also a Google bomb. Previously, searches for “boris bus” on Google threw up that lie about how much the UK sent to the EU, and Johnson’s tacit agreement with it. Now the same search shows stories about Johnson’s passion for making model buses. References to the big red Brexit bus and its slogan have been pushed off the top Google hits, effectively consigning the story about Johnson to relative digital oblivion.

This is such a brilliant example of political search engine optimization that it’s hard to believe someone as buffoonish as Johnson would be capable of pulling it off intentionally. Nonetheless, whether it was fiendishly clever planning, or an unbelievably lucky improvisation, there’s no denying the episode stands as an object lesson in how to combine the dead cat strategy with a Google bomb to great effect.”

-Glyn Moody, “Boris Johnson, UK’s Answer To Trump, Offers A Masterclass In How To Use The Dead Cat Strategy Combined With A Google Bomb.” Techdirt.com. July 2nd, 2019.

Outer Limits — Real Life

“Today, one of the best predictors of one’s political orientation is the density of the neighborhood they live in; people who live in the suburbs are also more likely to get their news from broadcast and local television. Taken together, this means suburbanites see fewer strangers in their everyday lives, and fill that void with sensationalized accounts of ever-present, creeping danger.

This creates fertile ground for reactionary, conservative political movements. While most suburbanites still get a majority of their news from these older media sources, more of them are getting it from apps like Facebook and Nextdoor, where the ideas broadcast through outlets like Fox can fester person-to-person. In this way the suburbs get the social functions of the city street, but with suburban-style tools of control and segregation.”

—David A. Banks, “Outer Limits.” Real Life. June 20, 2019.

Something that occurs to me is that the prevalence of far-right conservative ideas among the 65 and older set in the United States might be a symptom of loneliness.

If you have few friends and little social connection, are unemployed, and are considered a marginal Other, you might start looking for belonging wherever you can find it. A Ku Klux Klan outfit might give a sense of relevance back to a person who has grown old and has no experience with being marginalized.