Archive for June, 2013
A Few Extremists

The Milligan psychological experiment is the one in which ordinary people were willing to torture to death someone on instructions form an authoritative scientific figure. But recent commentary claims many participants knew it was faked. Accounting for this reduces the proportion of people willing to torture someone to death to about a third.  While this is a reduction, there still appears to be a significant minority willing to kill people for the greater good.

The results overshadowed the ethical standards. It appeared that sixty-five percent of people would torture someone to death, if pressured to do so. The results made their way into both psychology and cocktail party conversation. But were they correct? At least one woman doesn’t think so. Gina Perry, for her book, Behind the Shock Machine, traced as many participants in the Milgram experiment as she could, and re-examined the notes of the experiment. Milgram claimed that seventy-five percent of the participants believed in the reality of the experiment, but Perry puts the number at about half. The change makes a big difference in the results. The people who didn’t buy that they were actually shocking people were far more willing to increase the intensity of the shocks. They wanted to know how far the experimenters would go in the ruse, while the experimenters were wondering the same thing about them. Those that believed that they were shocking people were much more likely to keep the shocks down low. While Perry still thinks about a third of the people would crank up the shocks even if they believed, that’s a big drop in overall percentage.

That the majority of participants in the experiment were not willing to murder for the greater good is not as protective of society as it might appear. The reason why is clear in this op ed by Paul E. Marek:

I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War II. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since.“Very few people were true Nazis,” he said, “but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.”

We are told again and again by experts and talking heads that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unquantified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.

The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars world wide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behea

The fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history.

d, murder, or execute honor killings. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard, quantifiable fact is that the “peaceful majority” is the “silent majority,” and it is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China’s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people. The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a war-mongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across Southeast Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians – most killed by sword, shovel and bayonet. And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery? Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were “peace loving”?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt; yet, for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by the fanatics. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don’t speak up, because, like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Afghanis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians and many others, have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us, watching it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts: the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Erik Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements outlines the reasons why people to join extremist groups. In tough economic times, the number may increase. Tough economic times, such as those which are or will be experienced in much of the West, will undermine the legitimacy of existing institutions. The erosion of our cultural capital makes society less resistant to toxic ideologies and their resulting behaviors.

Corporate and other psychos form a component of any society. In the West in normal times their influence is constrained or even made to benefit society. If the path for power hungry maniacs to get power and wealth is through giving people what they want for less than they are willing to pay for it, we all benefit. But when they get wealthy through manipulating government regulations to stop competition, and expropriating the wealth of others through executive fiat then we all suffer. Much of the green energy “revolution” has simply been extortion and a transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy. Ditto with the post 2007 bailouts around the world. These measures make us poorer

Measures  which make us poorer reduce our standard of living. The reduction can be delayed through increasing debt. But given the debt is created to fund consumption or inappropriate investment, a drop in living standards is inevitable. It is simply a question of when and who experiences it, not whether there will be any such reduction.

Graphic courtesy of Orphans of Liberty

Year of Revolutions

The progressives have done an excellent job of overthrowing traditional conservative values. Of course, there have been some unexpected consequences:

The fact that it is no longer socially unacceptable to be a lying, cheating conman, as long as you are successful at it. Greed is good, and so the achievement of wealth by any means available, as long as you beat the system and don’t get indicted, is the epitome of human achievement and worth.

Truly our modern way of life is not sustainable. Not because of environmental degradation, but cultural ones. They have created a system that can not perpetuate itself through time. Something that can not continue forever will not. But betting on when reason will reassert itself is betting on a Black or Grey Swan event. It will be a source of regular consistent losses, until the extreme event comes in. Hence comments such as this from Jesse:

I have lost quite a bit of money underestimating the willingness of frightened men in positions of power to engage in financial shenanigans, outright fraud, and seemingly irrational support for the rationally unsustainable. And I hope never to forget that lesson. Fiat is a powerful drug.

But there will be no sustained recovery until the financial system is reformed, and so we will continue on in a state of fragility, as so eloquently expounded upon by Taleb.

C.A. Fits explains just how bad things are in this video.

There are many trying to maintain the lie, seeking to obscure rather than reveal reality. They may be misguided, or acting from baser motives:

“A credibility trap is a condition wherein the financial, political and informational functions of a society have been compromised by corruption and fraud, so that the leadership cannot effectively reform, or even honestly address, the problems of that system without impairing and implicating, at least incidentally, a broad swath of the power structure, including themselves.

The status quo tolerates the corruption and the fraud because they have profited at least indirectly from it, and would like to continue to do so. Even the impulse to reform within the power structure is susceptible to various forms of soft blackmail and coercion by the system that maintains and rewards.

And so a failed policy and its support system become self-sustaining, long after it is seen by objective observers to have failed. In its failure it is counterproductive, and an impediment to recovery in the real economy. Admitting failure is not an option for the thought leaders who receive their power from that system.

The continuity of the structural hierarchy must therefore be maintained at all costs, even to the point of becoming a painfully obvious hypocrisy…..

As Jesse goes on to point out. The problem is not restricted to the Anglo-sphere:

Their success has been propelled by the dominance of Anglo-American financialization, and the rise of oligarchies in Russia, China, Latin America, and India. Countervailing power has been co-opted and subsumed. Any opposition has become marginalized and isolated.

When reality reasserts itself it will do so globally. The correction will leave many people bewildered. Their old certainties crumbling along with the values of their fiat money.

The resulting reversion to the norm can have the impact of a thunderclap. So government becomes complicit in the control fraud which it abets, perhaps for certain policy ends, so that finally only those without conscience can abide it. And that is the genesis of the credibility trap, and the ascent of the careerists, and white collar sociopaths.

“All the truth of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.” Charles Dickens

History will repeat. It will be another 1848 year of revolutions, but at a global level. Revolution and repression will be aided and abetted by technology. We can but hope it will be the best of times along with being the worst:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” Charles Dickens

Graphic courtesy of Jesse

USA today

The Law of Markets cites Daren Janescu:

No one ever mistook a half-eaten Pop Tart for a weapon. And that is precisely why you are forbidden from saying ‘bang, bang’ while wielding a half-eaten Pop Tart. If this still makes no sense to you, that is because you are not crazy. But try, for a moment, to put yourself into the twisted psyche of a progressive authoritarian, and ask yourself this question: What is the message being sent through such rules, and the lesson being taught through their enforcement?

The Law of Markets adds:

Jonescu, of course, notices these people are insane but he also makes the larger point that there is a method in their madness. Their larger if unconscious aim is to make us uncertain of our own instincts, in this way to surround us with rules of what’s impermissible for actions that were once commonplace as a form of social control.

Theodore Dalrymple points out that political correctness is even more insidious:

You make the shrewd observation of how political correctness engenders evil because of “the violence that it does to people’s souls by forcing them to say or imply what they do not believe, but must not question.” Can you talk about this a bit?

Dalrymple: Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

However you want to look at it, political correctness is inimical to a free society. As such it is parasitoid. It will undermine the institutions and customs which have created the freest, wealthiest societies the earth have ever seen. In their place they will create stagnant deteriorating societies. Ones in which it is not allowed to question the orthodoxy. Left unchecked, it will create a new dark age in the Western world.

What is normal and accepted practice changes. Some societies change faster than others:

Among the Volga Bulgars, Ibn Fadlan found a strange custom:

When they observe a man who excels through quick wittedness and knowledge, they say: “for this one it is more befitting to serve our Lord.” They seize him, put a rope round his neck and hang him on a tree where he is left until he rots away.

Commenting on this passage, the Turkish orientalist Zeki Validi Togan, undisputed authority on Ibn Fadlan and his times, has this to say:25 “There is nothing mysterious about the cruel treatment meted out by the Bulgars to people who were overly clever. It was based on the simple, sober reasoning of the average citizens who wanted only to lead what they considered to be a normal life, and to avoid any risk or adventure into which the “genius” might lead them.” He then quotes a Tartar proverb: “If you know too much, they will hang you, and if you are too modest, they will trample on you.” He concludes that the victim ‘should not be regarded simply as a learned person, but as an unruly genius, one who is too clever by half”. This leads one to believe that the custom should be regarded as a measure of social defence against change, a punishment of non-conformists and potential innovators.

Currently we reward the likes of Steve Jobs. In other times, and in other places we would not. No prizes for guessing which society will generate more wealth and well being for its people.