Thursday, June 16, 2016

Risk, Damage and Fairness: who pays the costs?

edited 11/6/20
"You don't just start off using statistics. It all depends on the assumptions you can live with. If you can live with my assumptions as a statistician, I can use my statistics on your problems." -- John Flueck, Ph. D., Chairman, Dept. of Statistics (1972), Temple University. (In conversation. -- EGR)

Hazard & Harm: focussing on "externalities." Who is to determine the balance between the rights of those who "practice moral hazard" (put others at risk) and those who suffer from it? How can we weigh the value of the free expression of an individual's even risky behavior against the possibly heavy costs it may inflict on those otherwise non-involved? (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?) Who can be relied on to make such a judgment a fair one?

For example, how does a situation such as the Dec 14, 2012 elementary-school killings in Newtown, Connecticut come to be? From a gun-user, we are told. But, is it only an aberration? Or, to judge from the more than sixty mass killings in the United States since 1982, does there lurk a strong probability for repeats of the same?

Some suggest that more gun-control is the answer. Is it? How much gun-control? Are there no other influences that carry much of the responsibility? And more practically, what would-be "cure" is politically possible? (See Gun Fun or Safe Citizens? Must We Make Tradeoffs?)

Maybe there are other approaches we might explore besides gun-control. Perhaps we should "look at the stats."

What Are You Taking for Granted? Don't ignore important presuppositions by hastily suggesting the following:
a. Identify the risky behavior and the undesirable outcome each as members of different event-sets.
b. Assign the individual event-instances a probability-value.
c. Assign each event-instance a "market"-value.
d. Use the formula for expected value, EP: EP = probability value times "market"value.
e. Compare the EP's and and give preference to the event with the larger EP.
(For more on assumptions, see Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?)

It's a sad fact that even rather elementary mathematics tends to intimidate too many "educated" US citizens. Otherwise they might recognize that the significant problem here is that the mathematics may only generate and obscure important assumptions. These assumptions, among others are:

1. Event-type Specification: How do we define the event-membership? (This is not a matter of pure mathematics!)
2. Causes-Effects Confusions Avoided: Are the two sets, the causes and effects, the "same kind" of event -- or events, at all? (An attitude is not the same thing as a rock!)
3. Non-Controversial Prioritizations Possible: How shall we measure event-importance? On what basis do we prioritized outcomes? (This, too, goes beyond mathematics.)
If we insist on avoiding any issues that make our mathematics foggy, we will likely encounter -- in today's US of A -- little consensus on how we should identify events and how we should value their importance.

Answers might be looked for in what we, as Americans, believe are reasonable and fair trade-offs in dealing with social risk in the pursuit of optimizing personal freedoms. But whose estimations of value and possibility can we trust to be fair?

What is Fairness? A Simple Conception Let's think of it this way: every transaction among people comprises a wager. Every social exchange you participate in involves a bet that you'll end up as well or better off than you would be by refusing the exchange. One way to attack this potentially complex tangle of considerations is to examine what "fairness" seems to mean to many people.

There is a long-standing concern that comes up whenever the issue arises of paying for public expenditures, in the US, for example, public schools: "Is it fair to compel individuals to pay for things they won't use?" This question is sometimes generalized to "Why do we have to pay any taxes? Why not leave the issue to markets to decide?"

However, if we examine the notion of fairness operating behind such complaints we discover it overlooks some important concerns of even those complaining. The rules for fairness that seem to be at work here is a reciprocity of costs and benefits in a simple exchange: you pay for what you get; you get what you pay for. That is what fairness is often claimed to be. (Overlooked here is how the "price" should be set.)

We should expect, then, that in a fair situation, those who pay to defray costs of some expenditure either willingly donate to it or receive imminent benefits from it. On the other hand, we would expect that in a fair situation, those who receive benefits either or accept them as charity, or pay to defray costs to some lesser extent, e.g. if only to indicate a willingness to be sociable.)

What About Wagers? But this all-too-simple model fails to consider to important aspects of cost and benefit:
1. people often wager their well-being, their fortune -- they call it "an investment" -- to support values they pursue, whether imminent or, often, quite remote.
2. people often receive benefits as investments made by others to be husbanded toward those values, as when they accept a scholarship to study medicine; or buy bombs to serve a cause. Or they accept benefits as entitlements.
Education is a good example here of such a value. But, so too is military service. Or running an honest business. But don't overlook less comfortable examples of people in pursuit of establishing racism, preparing for an apocalypse, or ushering in utopias. Examples abound of ideologically-based paranoias, or of crusading zealotry that promotes attempts to restructure society, either for the "common good," or for the sake of an overlordship.

So a more complete model of fair exchange is this. Those who pay to defray costs of an expenditure either:
a. willingly donate;
b. contribute to moral debts, e.g. veteran disability payments.
c. make a wager, e.g. invest to defend or pursue their own valued ends, whether imminent or remote; or,
d. receive imminent benefits
But, if we recognize that even what appears to be an imminent benefit, say, a new car, can turn out to be a lemon, then "imminent benefits" can be included among "risky bets" where the payer believes the risk to be minimal. Moral debt contributions, e.g. taxes, can be subsumed under "risky bets," also. (Think of them as contributions to avoid penalties for non-payment of varying size or probability of infliction.)

These considerations let us reconstruct the "Payer's Model of Expenditure" to being either those who incur payments greater than benefits received are making:
a. a free donation; or,
b. a (more or less risky) wager.
On the other side, however, those who receive the greater benefits than what they pay out are
a. accepting charity,
b. receiving entitlements;
c. husbanding the investments, the wagers, of others; or
d. paying to defray costs or engaging in symbolic participation rituals.
We rely on "communities of hope" to flesh out this model through their actions.

What are Communities of Hope? They are virtuous, or not, depending on one's perspectives. They are comprised of people who risk their well-being or time or wealth in order to gain what they believe are future benefits for themselves or others, or to forestall what they believe are future evils.

They are often little more than skeletal patterns of interaction or organizational structures that support, whether consciously or not, common goals. Note well: one community of hope may not be recognized by others as either desirable or benevolent. What makes such a group, e.g. alCaida, a community of hope is that its members see each other as contributing to an "improved" world by their efforts.

Common examples of communities of hope are:
• Well known charitable organizations, religious or secular.

• Those who choose to have children or to teach and care for them.

• Educators or trainers of adults, for whatever end.

• Pessimists who nevertheless refrain from suicide.

• Optimists who imagine that their suicides will contribute to desired goals.

• Those who argue that there are better ways to do things.

• Those who dare publicly express disapproval or support of the status quo
It's that thought that counts. Don't let examples of corruption or incompetence becloud the realization that without the implicit hope, fairness would be a pointless concern.

Will Altruism Bring Trust and Fairness? It seems that what the various Communities of Hope listed above have in common is an altruistic outlook. But this does not help us with our search for someone to trust to be fair in evaluating and apportioning the costs and benefits of individual actions, even morally hazardous ones, against those of the recipients of the consequences of such actions.

Hope is apparently still, as the ancient Greeks perceived it, not so much a defense against the evils loosed by Pandora on the world; but, an evil in and of itself, duping mankind, toys of the gods, into putting up an entertainingly pointless resistance to those evils. Any act, perceived as altruistic by some may be perceived by others as pathological altruism.

Pathological altruism is any practice or action, performed for altruistic reasons, that nonetheless tends to produce harmful results, either to its practitioners or to the targets of the altruism. See Pathological Altruism Barbara Oakley, et al (2012) Oxford University Press

An interesting example is Gandhi's prioritization of truth over non-violence: see Was Non-Violence Gandhi's Ultimate Goal? Gandhi saw non-violence as a generally useful, but not absolutely necessary means to the pursuit of truth.

A Broadly Contrarian Approach? Maybe we ought to back off trying to dupe, persuade or coerce people into some kind of common ethos, a mind-meld, that will enable sufficient similarity of value prioritization so that we can trust them to be fair by a common standard. (See Fair Share vs. Fair Play).

Let us -- Hear! Hear! -- disregard the cants and dogmas, the failed formulae of traditional Conservatisms and Liberalisms. Let a "natural" selfishness reign, constrained only by laws that protect an effectively productive society that provides each person with the real opportunity to obtain a modicum of creature comforts and freedom to pursue intellectual and artistic interests. (See Believer vs Atheist, Conservative vs Liberal, and other distracting frauds.)

Methinks someone might have thought of this ere now. (See Bestowing Trust)

--- EGR

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gun Fun or Safe Citizens? Must We Make Trade-Offs?

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. -- Churchill

For the fanatic with a hammer, every problem is a nail. -- Adage

Fun vs Risk. Like dodgeball, horseshoes, darts, and archery, shooting guns can provide a great deal of enjoyment. But like all of the activities mentioned there is often more than a small element of risk involved in them.

But it is only by learning to carefully balance benefits pursued against costs risked that we develop important skills and moral strengths. We do not live in a Garden of Eden. So it is that guns, whose unskilled handling is particularly risky, still provide us an educational tool for pursuing, maintaining and defending important qualities of life.

Preference ≠ Morality. Unfortunately, many people tend to mistake their personal preferences for moral principles. This has happened on the many sides of the arguments for gun control. Particularly where kids are involved, the emotional din raised by presumed adversaries tends to drown out any careful examination of the issues involved. Disputants postulate cabals who would threaten our peace and freedom by imposing their own favorite hammer to solve anything that looks like a problem.

So it is that we read of “gun guys” who are sure that anything that looks like a problem can be dealt with a well-placed bullet. Standing up to them are “educators” who sit on their high horses and accept no trade-offs for their fervent belief that it is only more “education,” schooling and higher degrees that will pacify the savage breast. Despite this name-calling and caricature, we can, nonetheless, start somewhere to seek common understanding.

Two Principles for Decision. There are two general principles that, I suspect, would be acceptable to almost all participants in the “debate.” The first is Fair Balance of Benefits and Costs. This principle can be formulated in this way: In proportion to the severity of the costs risked, those who benefit more should assume greater risks.

For example, private gun ownership could be restricted to members of private gun clubs who must buy insurance to pay for damages caused by their members. Clubs would incur liabilities for uninsured damages. This likely high expense would probably make it worth the members’ trouble to screen applicants for membership and to regulate their activities. Maybe in this way the “monsters” who some imagine are the only ones who misuse firearms might be separated out from legitimate users, even if such monsters have already been born into club-member families. (See, for further example, Six things Americans should know about mass shootings)

The second principle is this: Nothing is a means to an end if it’s ineffective to that end. That is, things that don’t or wouldn’t work to achieve a goal, cannot be reasonably argued to be required.

For example, one of the weaker arguments for unrestricted private gun ownership is that it provides a counterforce to government (federal, state, city?) use of armed forces to deny us our Constitutional liberties. A similar nightmare was given expression both in the 1984 film Red Dawn. and its 2012 remake, involving foreign rather than local would-be conquerors. The 1984 teenagers manage to put up a significant resistance with locally cached weapons against Russian invaders and their Cuban and Nicaraguan henchmen. So, clearly, AK-47’s, rocket launchers, even, are needed by us common folk, by us Washington D.C. outsiders, to keep government tyranny in check.

Does anyone read military history anymore? Better yet, has anyone watched the Military Channel lately and seen how Iraq’s Red Guard was shredded and Saddam Hussein’s government toppled by U.S. military might? In two different wars? Which American weekend survivalist warriors -- even if they had access to weapons much more powerful than AK-47’s (and were teenagers) -- could hope to stand up against U.S. special forces, combat drones and spy satellites?

U.S. Armed Services members take an oath to protect the Constitution; not, as in Nazi Germany, to obey the whims of some Supreme Leader. Besides, in a government such as ours with so many competing organizational, political and functional units, it is highly unlikely that any one group could secure the obedience of a sufficient number of weapons-controlling bodies at all governmental levels to bring the Red Dawn nightmare into reality.

Better to organize politically to pursue and maintain what you value, than pretend to prepare for a conflict, for a Spartan military existence, for which few people, even gun enthusiasts, seem inclined to trade away the comforts of job, family and daily life. That Americans are not Spartans is shown by the fact that there is no military draft which might reasonably spread the costs of national defense to those who most benefit from them. However, most people are content to go about their private lives and let the few Spartans among us, together with a large number of newly immigrated, impoverished or adventuresome young people, serve in our own “all professional” military services.

Being effective politically means learning to trade-off cherished habits to foster political stability and functional consensus. Some of these tradeoffs follow (note links):

1. Stop sneering at politicians. It’s a difficult job. No one is a worse person for making compromises.

2. Reduce name-calling: it produces pointless stereotyping and reification. Practice the self-control you preach to your kids.

3. Realize (and act accordingly) that your (or your group’s) special hammer is one among many. Your perception of problems may not be anyone else’s. Negotiate turn-taking. Learn to tolerate and be civil to those people you do not like. Indeed, don’t think you have to like people just because you tolerate them.

4. In solving problems try to deal with concrete issues. Avoid arguing about vague theoretical, especially incendiary, statements, e.g.” Is abortion really murder?”

5. Don’t expect to settle an issue once and for all. Situations change. Priorities change. People change. Consequently, policies may need to change. Expect negotiation to be a repeated process.

6. Finally, don’t expect even the most enthusiastically celebrated consensus to persist as people come to believe they misunderstood what they were agreeing to; or, how to achieve the agreed-to goal.

Vigilance and political participation are the price of liberty and justice. The lazy, the distracted and the complacent risk losing both of these.

For references and to examine related issues further, visit the hyperlinks given in the text and also see Trading Off "Sacred" Values.

--- EGR

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“Data-Driven”: a slogan to distract from organizational disagreement?

“There is a difference between numbers and numbers that matter. This is what separates data from metrics.”-- Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin (3/4/1) Know the Difference Between Your Data and Your Metrics
Assumptions in using data. A number of assumptions are necessary to turn “raw data” into something useable. What must be developed, if not already on hand, is a workable consensus on Terminology (concepts), Goals, and Methods of implementation. (For short, let us call this TGM-consensus.)
A workable TGM-consensus is one with sufficient depth of agreement on all the items, TGM, to enable control of production. (See The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision)

Whether or not TGM-consensus can be developed is highly sensitive to the kind of organization one is dealing with. In many, not all, businesses there is TGM-consensus. The proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes: do they consistently -- not necessarily always -- produce a saleable product? If so, there is TGM-consensus.

In politics, religion, the “soft-sciences” and all levels of education[1], different agendas compete: widespread TGM-consensus is often lacking. Again, the proof is in the pudding: is there is persistent debate as to what the pudding should look like, the ingredients needed, the production procedures, and the evaluation methods? Then TGM-consensus is likely rare. And, neither vociferous admonitions, nor seductive pleas to become “data-driven” will make up for these lacks.

Much current promotion emphasizing “data-driven” approaches are little more than ploys to get worried persons to adopt prepackaged TGM-programs without critical pre-evaluation. Such pre-packaged TGM-programs, unless carefully examined for congruence with the TGM-environment to which it will be applied, will likely result -- to judge from past examples -- in a ritual charade of evaluation. (See Causal Charades: organizational rituals of evaluation)

Dealing with “Raw” Data. Here is some “raw” data.


What can you do with it (them)? What do you have to know about it (them)? Suppose I let you know that it (they) is (are) “data” gotten trying to measure someone’s physical development? What other information do you need?
Would it matter, if instead of “physical development” I had written “moral development?” Of course it would. The “data” inasmuch as it is relevant data -- some of the symbols might be mere construct effects of the instrumentation -- do not resolve by themselves any questions about development. [2]

A More Everyday Example. A clear example can be given as follows: suppose we have two persons standing together at normal speaking distance, facing each other. Call them Harry and John. Some noise issues from Harry. Consider the following possible descriptions of Harry's behavior:
a. Harry emitted the sound-sequence: /2aym+ gowing+3 hówm1 /.

b. Harry said, "I'm going home."

c. Harry told John he was going home.

d. Harry informed John that he was going home.

e. Harry surprised John with the statement that he was going home.
We can easily imagine a situation where all of these descriptions are true of what Harry is doing. But given a, -- which is the "physical" data of Harry's behavior in b, c, d and e -- neither b nor c nor d nor e need be true. What supporting information do we need to draw any inferences from the data? Here are some possibilities: [3]
1. If Harry is a babbling idiot, a might be true and none of the rest.

2. If Harry is reciting aloud a line from a script, a and b might be true and none of the rest.

3. If John already knew that Harry was going home, a, b, and c might be true but none of the rest.

4. If John is never surprised by anything Harry does, but did not already know he was going home, a, b, c, and d but not e might be true.
Data is the mere tip of an “iceberg.” If you want to trust data, you have to trust a lot more: parts which are usually submerged; and, often hard to fathom.

Why is data often ignored? What may be perplexing is that even in organizations which have long traditions of TGM-consensus, possibly very relevant data is paid little attention to. Why might that be?

Ask , perhaps cautiously, “Qui Bono?” Who stands to benefit, who stands to risk loss, if the data are paid attention to? One reason for the exaggerated drum-beating for “data-driven” undertakings is distraction. The organization’s present TGM-consensus may be either decrepit, or fail to address the burning issues. So, an emphasis on likely irrelevant data draws attention away from deeper disagreement about either terminology, or goals or method. [4] Addressing TGM issues would upset someone’s applecart.

The most vociferous advocates for improvement may be those most wanting to stifle it.

To examine these issues further, see Moral Education: Indoctrination vs. Cognitive Development?)

--- EGR

[1] See Charades of Evaluation: mis-connecting cause and effect

[2] To see how this code-string can be used as data see the article reference given at the end of the essay, Moral Education: Indoctrination vs. Cognitive Development?

[3] See Measurability and Educational Concerns

[4] Quantification is appealed to especially if it is believed to promote one’s agenda in discussion and investigation. However, Deborah Stone offers some telling criticisms about this practice especially as it is used to squelch open discussion. See for example, "Using Quantitative Procedures Wisely".

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In Politics (Conflicts of Interest), No Hard Facts -- only Stonewalling.

edited 11/8/20
POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Word Book (1906)

All professions are conspiracies against the laity. -- George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)

When any organizational entity expands beyond 21 members, the real power will be in some smaller body.-- C. Northcote Parkinson

From any practical perspective, Ambrose Pierce has hit it bullseye. Politics is like poker. It doesn’t matter too much what actual cards you hold: no one can see everyone else’s hands, anyway. What matters is bluff, reputation as a player, and betting resources.

If an organization is large enough and has many subgroup interests, even bald-faced lies can be promulgated and survive despite numerous refutations.

Politics is not a search for truth, but an attempt to minimize costly conflict by adjudicating competing claims for resources. Actual engagement in such attempts is directly proportional to the perceived power of the would-be participants. Every person is seen as a partisan, every organization has an agenda. No one is above suspicion of self-aggrandizement.

No better example can be found than in the issue of global warming. Those who perceive it as a threat to what they value, the Warners, contend with others, the Dismissers, who perceive it as of little consequence, as merely a strategem by the Warners to divert resources to their own use.

Scientists who support the Warners are seen by the Dismissers as merely pursuing their own agenda. Science is an interest group. Those who support the Dismissers are seen as blind, and selfish, unwilling to yield their slightest privilege in the face of disaster. So long as there is no person or group recognized by both sides to be credible and disinterested, so long will nothing be recognized as a “hard truth.”

But good ol’ horse-trading among those mutually perceived as too powerful to be ignored will often work to reach some consensus, so long as possible actions -- usually those short of revolution or warfare -- are not thought to be too damaging to the majority interests.

When a politician –indeed, any person -- invokes “hard facts” to support his or her position, what s/he means is “items that I or people whom I trust recognize to be hard facts.” Budget income projections, for example, are not “hard facts,” since the real issues, the political issues, revolve, not only around whom you can trust to determine future income, but on how the money is to be spent.

In a culture where everyone is suspected to be primarily a partisan of one sort or another, there is no authority which all may have recourse to. Actually, what the invocation of “hard facts” means is: “shut up and do what I think is best.” It is a stone-walling tactic.

At this point a supporting strategem is brought in to play: the touting of “leadership”: e.g. “What is needed is ‘real” leadership!” All sides do this, because all persons in positions of leadership are partisans: they have a stake in protecting the perks of their leadership and their status as moral persons. (See Leadership vs. Morality: an Unavoidable Conflict?) In addition, the status of every member of a followership is tied to the status of those whom they follow.

The broadest consensus – especially, the broadest -- tends to be shallow and evanescent. This is because personal and even group perceptions of value, of priority and of need fluctuate often frequently and violently. So it is that any consensus resulting from some personal and group interest has to be frozen, written “in stone” as it were, for lengthy periods of time by employing such practices as promises, oaths, contracts, elections, terms of office, hereditary titles or other traditions. (See The Quest for Loyalty: Oaths, Promises, Contracts, & Vows.)

For references and to examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision

(Photo courtesy of Petro Vlasenko --

--- EGR

Thursday, June 2, 2016

It’s Effective? Effective For What? Maintaining working relationships.

Never underestimate the effectiveness of a straight cash bribe.—Claud Cockburn, British Journalist (1904 – 1981)
Dependency. History and common experience show this: mutual dependency helps ward off severe conflict. Even though minor struggle is not unusual among people, they shy away from anything more than small-scale quarrels with those they believe they might need. Successful diplomacy begins and ends with smiles.

Even though disagreement may arise, hostility can be constrained by careful avoidance of “contentious questions.” People may propose different courses of action, each proponent vaunting his or her own as the most “effective.”
However, avoiding contention runs its own risk: it is that false consensus may develop that hides discord across a broad span of issues. (Just consider the present relations between China and the United States.) Mutually dependent people tend to hide their antagonisms. Smiles mask scowls. But this disinclination to confront one another can get out of hand. An “elephant in the room” can soon multiply into a herd. (See Hiding the “Elephants-in-the-Room” )

For example, during the 19th Century, Britain’s Queen Victoria, the “grandmother of Europe,” hoped to promote international consensus -- among the ruling classes, at least -- by marrying off her children into royal families across Europe. (See What Does Consensus Mean, Anyway?) Ironically, in the 20th Century the combatant countries of World War I, thanks to Victoria, had come to be ruled by individuals related by blood or marriage.

However, the parties to the argument seldom just walk out on each other. They need each other’s help to garner political and general public support to reach their many other more general goals. So, even though they disagree on a particular issue, they maintain their connection by avoiding more basic, and even more contentious questions.

Their disagreements often result from perceived disagreement on moral issues, believed by many, many Americans to be not subject to compromise. We might reluctantly agree with Claud Cockburn’s quote above as to the effectiveness of a cash bribe. Nonetheless we might still question its morality. (Woe the American who must try to do business in a foreign country where bribery is a long-established tradition. It is still a violation of American law.)

Other questions threaten to open even deeper divisions if introduced into broad public venues. Is homosexuality just another life-style? Should women be treated as equals to men? Is marriage only a man-woman relationship? Are Whites a superior race? Should children receive sex education? Should English be the official US language? Should sex be restricted to marriage? Does patriotism require that American history be taught without mentioning social, racial and class antagonisms? Is there only One True Religion? Is Scientific Authority to be accepted? Should forms of discomfort be employed as teaching methods if persuasion doesn’t work?

Effectiveness: more Group Dynamics than Science Unless there is well-established technical information available to be used by evaluators we can trust, effectiveness is generally judged relative to the interests of those evaluators or of their employers. Effectiveness is not infrequently defined by disregarding causes and effects not believed to promote the evaluator’s professional success.

And yet, many firms and institutions are organized so that political, i.e. control and marketing, decisions are isolated from influence by the technical functions supposedly needed to achieve the organization’s goals. Salesmen informally promise customers what engineers cannot -- within budget -- achieve. Marketers kick and scream about “government regulation” that requires them to mention the “counterindications,” i.e. dangers, of their products -- if only in rapidly sotto voce-- accompanied with distractive videos of frolicking people apparently in the best of health.

You’ve Gotta Accentuate the Positive... Just as universities have dropped many entrance and graduate requirements, so have major manufacturers done away with quality controls. They calculate quite rationally that the financial risks of product recall are often small enough to bet that their customers will misperceive dysfunctions as random occurrences. The “Buy Brand Names!” doctrine, so cleverly inculcated via our media, appears to be the only educational goal needed by citizens, .i.e. consumers, in a “free” market economy. (“Fashion mavens” have known about this for centuries.)

The upshot is this: even in apparently technical disputes, effectiveness of a proposed means is judged by focusing on short-term benefits disregarding those costs whose identification would undercut enthusiasm for the proposal. We see this everyday in advertisements for new drugs, or for adult education, health clubs, or chocolate-covered goji berries.

Eliminate the Negative … The other side of the coin is, of course, the Blame Game. The winning trick here in (mis-)judging effectiveness is to strongly characterize those who resist one’s obviously superior, commonsense, legal, moral and non-fattening proposal as not merely “part of the problem,” but as The Problem, Itself.

So it is that “burocrats” not political favorites, “reckless kids,” not faulty equipment, “gluttonous consumers,” not unhealthily confected foods are the reason for the discontents that plague the “righteous, “ who stand in judgment of the miscreants. (See Losing the Series; Blaming the Bat Boys)

Decision-makers in many organizations are routinely buffered from the full consequences of their actions. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making? ) Such “leaders” tend to “solve problems” of production and politics (marketing), by sacrificing organization members often farthest from the arenas of failure to the leaders’ own continued incumbency. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

Socializing Cause and Effect Out in your backyard, you hit a golf ball a little to hard. It bounces off a neighbor’s tree shaking down quite a few leaves, which cover a storm-water drain near his house. Rain and wind arrive shortly after. Your neighbor’s drain backs up. Water flows into his cellar recreation room. Damages are extensive.

Which damages, if any, did you cause? Which are effects of your acts alone? Before you venture to answer questions about your responsibility, notice that a crucial assumptions must be addressed. Is the depiction of events in the previous paragraph a sequence of links in a unitary cause-and-effect chain? Or, are the events somewhat independent, a mere temporally sequenced recounting of possibly many causes and pre-existent conditions?

For example, the drain may have been clogged up prior to your hitting the golf ball. Or the drain may have functioned well but the downpour have been so intense that the overflow would have happened without the covering of leaves. Or, even, a previous rain may have caused some of the damages.

You can no doubt see that the social and legal consequences for you are likely to be very different how the sequence of the events is described and evaluated.

Let’s extend the scenario. Your neighbor, though unhappy about the damage, does not hold you responsible for it. He knew the drain was already clogged. The following week a stranger entering his property slips on those leaves and breaks both a leg and a cellar window. An alarm goes off. The police come and apprehend the stranger who turns out to be a notorious burglar.

Ought you be commended as a very-effective crime-fighter?

For additional information and to continue this train of thought see, Cause & Effect: essential belief, misapprehension, moral hazard?

--- EGR

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Are Humans Rational? What’s At Stake?

..(we) retained utility theory as a logic of rational choice but abandoned the idea that people are perfectly rational choosers. -- D. Kahneman , (2011) Thinking: Fast and Slow, p.314

Reason is not a Tribe --Circle of Reason

…the growth of organizations themselves may create conflict where no previous consciousness of conflict existed. -- K. Boulding, Conflict and Defense: a general theory. (1963, p. 145)

What’s at stake? The dream of almost every “leader” in the history of mankind: subjugating others without feeling guilt, or without provoking moral opprobrium. Adding to the many god-given missions, we find: cultural superiority, Manifest Destiny, tribal primacy, economic efficiency, saving democracy, mental-physical health, Critical Thinking, beauty, racial purity and school reform. Throughout history these ideas have been used to separate people as worthy or unworthy of respect, social acceptance, or, even of life itself.

Into this crowd of ideological slogans struts Rationality, of ancient and solemn pedigree. Rationality has been recently refurbished as a touchstone of practical and moral dominance for a new crusade, which like many of its predecessors, will identify those to be privileged and those to be subjugated.

Many of Rationality's present enthusiasts pursue the dominance of a “Tribe of Reason.” This tribe is presently a loose confederation that, once achieving dominance, will likely struggle among themselves to createa hierarchy of "professions" -- with the usual assymetrical distributions of privileges and obligations. (A good deal of this sorting out and privileging has been done already in higher education.}

Every organization, every profession in our society has a stake in being perceived as a member of the Tribe of Reason in order to safeguard its economic opportunities, if not its moral status. (See, for example, America’s Interfaith Structure ) Rationality makes intolerance of so-designated Irrationality morally acceptable.

Even the most-focussed human minds encounter major impediments, both psychological and social, to rationality, the optimal pursuit of what they value. And theorists have long hoped to clarify rational action by seeking to mathematize notions of rationality. But they have met with mixed success. (See Kahneman, cited in epigraph and also, Is It Reasonable to Be Logical?)

The ephemerality of thought and the oscillations of taste and mood seem to offer no small reasons why thought processes appear more or less random and why decision appears to decay away from standards of optimality, e.g. utility theory(!) But is apparent randomness really irrational decay? Or, actually, a manifestation of values pluralism? Why must cultural variation or mental vicissitude diminish the status of persons or organizations to the point of being in need of, or open to, subjugation?

For references and to examine these issues further, see Pluralism and Rationality: the Limits of Tolerance

--- EGR

The Quest for Loyalty: Oaths, Promises, Contracts, & Vows

re-edited 6/14/20
During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man. -- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Part 1, Chapter 13.

"I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.". -- The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler (August 2, 1934)
Oaths Pursue Loyalty. Loyalty is commonly understood as constancy of commitment to a person, idea, or institution. In many cultures, across the centuries, oaths, vows, promissory notes, contracts, and ceremonies employing similar documents and procedures have been used both
a. to “convince” their sponsors that those making the oath, promise, etc. will, in fact, behave as indicated sworn to in the ceremony; and

b. to provide the oath-takers justification for their obedience and conditions of sanction should they violate it.

When the acknowledged controllers (the pledgees) of organizations wish to call their subjects to obedience, they invoke such things as fidelity, faithfulness, constancy and commitment, demanding, indeed, coercing oaths, vows and the like to help the oath-takers (the pledgers) meet “their” goals and expectations. It is common rhetoric to refer to a collective, e.g. we, our, society, humanity, the corps, the race, the nation, etc. to disguise the often very individual pursuits of an Autocracy.

Even in nominally democratic societies, leadership groups tend to favor laws, pledges and the like that support their continued incumbencies. Gerrymandering, poll taxes, restrictive identification procedures, extension of the definitions of felony to many victimless crimes with consequent disenfranchisement of offenders, for example, have been used throughout the United States to maintain incumbency. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

A Delusion of Lawfulness? It may appear that promissory customs are, in fact, rites of reciprocal self-delusion: the pledgee can trust the pledger to obey the conditions of his oath; and, the pledger can rely on the pledgee to provide benefits of some sort, or refrain from inflicting costs on the pledger. Trust abounds. And Trust is Good. (See Bestowing Trust.)

But pledged behavior has hardly the certainty of natural law. Oaths, promises, vows, and contracts help support a hope, an illusion, a Myth of Reliability, that the world need not be as chaotic, as whimsical a place as our experience tells us it is. Psychologically, promises and oaths are a comfort, as much an act of faith on the part of the recipient as on the part of the promiser. (Think of wedding vows.)

The Nonconforming. Many people actually seem to feel they are “bound” by their oaths, their promises, but history shows these are rarely members of powerful elites. In much of the World, might makes right, especially if religious leaders throw their weight to support the mighty. However, those who can exact pledges do take precautions, which shows they are not taken in by any delusion of trust: they establish or support enforcement cadres, e.g. military or police forces -- secret or otherwise --, or offices of indoctrination, often called “educational systems.”

Nonconformists can expect to be, initially, cajoled by invocations of pledges made, vows taken, or contracts signed. If disregard persists, one or another of the Faiths of Someone’s Fathers will be enforced with dungeon, fire or sword. To add insult to injury, resisters will be called, disloyal, sociopathic, criminal, turncoat, traitor, heretic, etc.; such names, otherwise perhaps not hurtful, are used to justify the sticks and stones that break their bones.

The mechanisms of control vary from threat of execution to unspecified lesser punishments: e.g. loss of rights or privileges, social opprobrium, self-shaming. In Nazi Germany, men were conscripted into the Wehrmacht, willy-nilly, and thus subject to the oath given above. Many, many who resisted were summarily executed.

“Criminality,” if Punished, May Serve Some of the Submissive. The submitters who benefit substantially from the “protection” offered by pledgees welcome, if only secretly, the punishment of criminals and resisters “properly” caught. The servants of autocrats fear, often as much as their masters do, the revolt of the masses.

The existence of revolt warns the pledgees that their promises, minimal though they be, ought be fulfilled if only to forestall more widespread resistance. Thus, oaths and promises, unless under extreme conditions, e.g. martial law, though they offer the semblance of shared faith, in fact rest on the tension of mutual mistrust.

The Issue of Choice. Morally considered, oath-taking, if not done under compulsion, is a choice, which incurs responsibility. But it may also be a habit inculcated more or less subtly with social pressure. I remember being coerced, as an eight-year-old, during church services into taking an oath to not ever go see the film, “The Moon is Blue.” I didn’t even understand what that was about. But I did what I was told. (As the twig is bent, so grows the tree -- supposedly.)

Overt coercion is often, in our society, recognized as invalidating the oath or the contract. (Except, it appears, if those compelled to pronounce pledges are public school pupils, or military draftees.) But it is confusing to many that the oath-taker may not be not relieved of responsibility of crimes he commits in following orders obeyed consequent to the oath. Winners in battle define the atrocities of losers as “crimes.” Their own misadventures are described, at worst, as “collateral damage.”

Should we, as rational people, choose to renege on our oaths, promises, vows and contracts as whim dictates? Nothing so far considered leads us to this conclusion. But it should nudge us to consider occasionally reviewing our promises, etc. and acting as our enlightened self-interest permits -- not merely our whims, impulses or urges -- in re-evaluating, perhaps, even, disregarding them. You can bet our political, religious and social “leaders” do this all the time. Historical examples, recent and ancient, abound.

The key consideration for the conduct of interpersonal affairs is that the activities of people can harmonize without their ideas about ends and means being in agreement – Nicholas Rescher Pluralism (1995) Oxford. p.180

Hobbes got it wrong. Lacking common compulsion we need not lapse into a war “of every man against every man.” Enlightened self-interest, which includes taking into consideration the interests of those people and institutions we love and admire -- or, even, just tolerate -- would likely do the job as well as the coercion, the dungeon, the fire and the sword of any Leviathan.

“It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.” – Aeschylus (5th Century B.C.)

To examine these issues further,
see Constricting Social Ideals: breaking the values-action link to ensure "stability.";
also, Leadership as Usurpation.

--- EGR