29 July 2018

So there was this article...

It was mostly someone with a disability talking about why it's hard to get the existing system of (alleged) supports for someone classified as they are classified to impose "allowed to use a laptop" on the professoriate.

So, let's see.

We've got a system that functions to turn conflict into a fight for control, which in effect means the existing organizational system exists to maintain control.

We've got at least three judgement-driven taxonomies.  (The profs, if they agree (snicker-snort), the support system, and the person, all have a different judgement driven taxonomy about what counts as "disabled".)

The entire notion of "disabled" rests on the presumption of a prescriptive norm which all meet.

There's a lot of wrong involved.

You can have success, or you can have control.  It's an exclusive "or".  This is a robust result from operations research back in the 1940s, which is probably much of why everyone hates operations research.  As an effective way to prevent change, this kind of control fight is quite excellent, and any hierarchical system is run by people determined to prevent change.  (If you're at the top of the heap, change makes you worse off.)

Judgement-driven taxonomies are inevitably materially false.  Arguing about them turns into exercises in social power. (For a semi-safely-historical example, look at the Cope-and-Marsh bone wars of the late 19th century.) 

Prescriptive norms are a tool of authoritarian control; "you must do this".  The norm -- presuming it doesn't come with a methods discussion, careful peer review, and error bars -- doesn't represent the population; it represents what the person in authority wants.  (Even with the error bars, it represents a specific population at a specific point in time.)

(No, I don't think a kid trying to get an education should start off knowing this stuff; that doesn't mean their sympathetic outrage results in an effective choice of tactics.   Especially given an environment where the older, wiser, and institutionally funded people have made such terrible errors and created a system to prevent effective change or more useful results.)

What to do instead?

Make sure the system has materially defined success criteria which are the thing used to generate feedback.  This is NOT "graduates X percentage of entering students"; it's something closer to "nothing is ever more than Y difficult to do for anybody".  (There are several devils in those details, but evaluating teaching is not about "is it possible to learn this?", it's about "did we make this more difficult than the material requires?")

Crush all use of judgement-driven taxonomy; taxonomy, outside comprehensive and testable statistical approaches, is a tool for concretizing bias in ways that make it harder to argue with.  (This is a system constraint; no judgement-driven taxonomies.)  For electronic devices in class, this goes two ways; of course you can have them, of course you're not going to use them in ways that make anyone else's learning more difficult.  ("difficult" needs to be measured, not asserted.)

If you want to constrain infrastructure to wider utility and to do it effectively, you need to specify a broad range of actions in specific material terms, you need to include actions the owners of the infrastructure want (e.g., deliveries), and you need to make it widely known that being out of compliance makes it unlawful to charge for services on those premises.  So, for example, the courier companies and the post office can specifically and without penalties refuse deliveries to commercial entities if the force required to move a set mass of package up the ramp is too high.  A legislator interested in doing a good job puts this in the commercial building code, makes it retroactive, and sets the amount of force based on a broad study of mobility aids.  ("special" is not only bad politics, it's materially wrong; the practical difference between someone with a mobility aid, someone with a baby, and someone with a lot of packages is small.)

28 July 2018

Increased communication speed breaks moral systems

I feel very stupid.

It's really that simple; it had to be simple to be so darn pervasive, but it also explains why you get cults around news organizations.  The cult is a defense of the stability of a moral universe.

Every time -- I think television is a historical example now; printing and radio and mass literacy sure are -- you get an increase in communications speed, you get a massive social crisis.  This makes no sense in some respects, because those things tend to come in with improving economies and standards of living.  What's the problem?

The problem is that moral systems do not and cannot scale; they're driven by feelings, and the feelings are established in childhood in a fixed context.  (Nuance is not a capacity of infants.) Communications speed drives the rate of change in the context.  If you have to walk a few hundred miles, work some place for six years, and walk back to bring mechanical improvements you then have to convince locals to fund or adopt, it takes close to a generation to change anything.  If you can download instructions from the internet, everything speeds up, and the context shifts faster than the rate at which people can emotionally reconcile themselves.  Especially if the change is viewed as disadvantageous, this becomes intolerable.  If you have everybody convinced that they'll suffer for eternity if they're bad -- remember that good and bad are inescapably contextual judgements -- you get the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the wars of religion; a lost century, rather than a lost decade.

It explains the intense loathing of public education; public education came in as a means to generalize concepts like "submission to authority", but as soon as it turns into "here are the ways to get along with strangers" it's a problem to any  moral system.  (Anything that says "your feelings aren't always important" is a threat to any moral system.  That moral system needs to get itself copied into the future.  Moral systems are all fundamentally "if the king is upset, everybody is upset; don't upset the king".)

It explains why ostensibly moral systems collapse throughout history to "I am right" on the part of some autocrat; it was always like that, it just usually had the justification of a functioning social system.

Since moral systems aren't required to organize society -- boundary-driven social organization, rather than prescriptive rules, works fine -- this is not in principle a problem.  Severing the chain of cultural transmission for the existing moral systems, in a time when we're guaranteed a millenium of instability (no agriculture, awful weather events) and a century or so of migration (because those places aren't inhabitable anymore) is likely a challenge.

25 July 2018

"The Campbell had orders King William had signed"

So over here, Charlie talks about the way Brexit is going.

Charlie's scenario ends with the UK re-entering the EU but without the previous exceptions; going to the Euro, full Schengen, and so on.

I think this is an excess of optimism.

First off, it's really not clear there's going to be anything in place able to do the negotiating; a collapse of legitimacy is not inevitable, but sure seems likely.  (Food shortages are an inherent collapse of legitimacy.)  Having the monarchy step up isn't impossible, but the EU's response to a direct overture from a crowned head nigh-certainly involves insisting on a legitimate -- that is, democratically elected -- government.

Secondly, and much more importantly, getting rid of governance is the point to the exercise.  Sane people who are willing to acknowledge the idea of facts and that there are actual facts which are a constraint on what is possible are able to recognize that money is a social institution, not a material thing.  It's only real if we all agree that it's real.  The folks pushing Brexit aren't in that category of sane people.  ("Government is bad" started for racist reasons, but then Randite economic delusions got into it.  Brexit is just another manifestation.)  They truly believe that money is as natural and as pervasive as gravity, and if they could only get rid of the government entirely they would have more money because all those regulations would go away.  (Regulations are mostly there to keep your commercial practices from being either fraud or lethal.  Might want to keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complaining about regulation.)

This is absolutely barking mad in several ways, but, well, if you model post-1990s politics as the Mob taking over it's surprisingly plausible.  No rule of law would be something they wanted.

(If you are in the UK, you might want to think about water purification.  Your modern gravity filter system is surprisingly cheap and compact.)

24 July 2018

Incrementalism has limits

There's a natural desire to not change too quickly; it's unpredictable and unpredictable is risky.

You can't get off a local maximum gradually.  People won't stand for it; stuff gets worse, and keeps getting worse, and now you want it to stay worse?  Why don't we just go back up there?

Breaking agriculture doesn't just take the peak off the local maximum; it disposes of the entire rise under the local maximum.  And it disposes of the entire rise into an ecologically damaged world with a carrying capacity way under a billion humans.

(Is there there another local maximum?  Maybe.  We'd have to go look.  We'd have to go look on the "every nerve and sinew" level.)

Thing is, people know this is in general.  If you say "we should organize society by some means other than patriarchy", and you're speaking to practical people who aren't in the habit of abstracting anything, you're heard to say "there should be no male judges for at least the next hundred years".  Anybody male who wants to be a judge is immediately opposed.  (Never mind the people who figure you're trying to put them into the category of those who may be licitly coerced into sex.)  This is why you get such violent swing-back from any increase in social generality; the hierarchy re-asserts itself.  The system exists to stick to that local maximum.

Sometimes, yes, it gets replaced with something else.  This is usually associated with cities reduced to rubble and a tenth or more of the population dying.

This time, the local maximum kills everybody.  It would be good to go find another where all might live.

15 July 2018

What I think is going on

There's a certain "what is going on?" feeling attached to watching a whole bunch of white supremacists advance politically, despite obvious present evidence that this is going to make everybody worse off economically.

I can't claim I think this is easy to explain -- it took me awhile to get what I think is a handle on it -- but it is explicable.

I think it's important to remember that white supremacy is a loot-sharing agreement, and that it is out of loot.  (Open-loop economic systems are a different problem and I should put that in a different post.)

Thing is, white supremacy has been out of loot for a long time; the fix, for the entire 20th century, has been to enforce relative status.  This isn't economically useful at all -- it's massively economically harmful! -- but it makes people feel better.

This gets presented as a narrative where there's a corrupt status-quo which seeks to prevent the white supremacists from feeling good, and a white-supremacist movement politican who will overturn the status quo; once that happens, the white supremacists can go back to feeling good.

The "feeling good" part rests on "I should have as much social status as I think I should have, or  else I will commit violence until I get it".  The violence is an inherent part of the feeling good; there is no amount of deference that will keep a white supremacist system from assaulting and murdering people, because the tangible proof that these things are permitted them is a required part of the feeling good.  (Fascism is not more complex than the assertion that white supremacy is the laudable norm.)

Under that overt position, there's a narrative that says "you work hard, and should get more benefit from your labour, but instead of doing what they should (and reinforcing your superior status), the mechanisms of colonization have been shifted from race to money so that you've been impoverished.  The mechanisms of colonization should be returned to their original purpose, as is the people's will!"

This is how the 2016 US election got framed; that the Democratic candidate was inherently at fault for advancing the view that the status quo requires the mechanisms of colonization to be about money, and that illegitimate means were used to keep the democratic candidate who recognized that this is the problem from getting the nomination.  This is not materially accurate; it's also about as white supremacist a narrative as could possibly be constructed.

Now, we know with enormous confidence that the way you have an increase in the general prosperity hasn't changed since cities were invented; if you are open, cosmopolitan, and support the rule of law without regard to wealth, class, race, creed, or origin, everyone is much better off.

The tricky cognitive leap is recognizing that this is not important.

What's important is how well a given system gets copies of itself into the future.[0]  That's it.  Material reality does not reliably intrude on political processes even in times of famine.  "But we would all be richer" does not matter.  "There would be less death and violence!" does not matter.[1]  This is the great and troubling insight from biology, and why I think the right hates evolution and wants to make sure it is never widely taught; pointing out that every question of social organization is a selection contest potentially removes the utility of their very successful approach of creating a moral tangle.  (The best lack all conviction because they've been suckered into an insoluble problem.)

(No, seriously.  Morals are feels driven by your early childhood norms.  Morals are not a basis for policy.)

Systems consist of stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Copied into the future is a constraint.  Not a feedback; how well the thing performs is not relevant very often.  (This is one of the common errors of 19th century social thought, that how well something performs matters.  Relative success at copying matters, but that is not even slightly the same thing as an absolute measure of material performance and it's surprisingly distant from a relative measure of material performance.)

If copying is a constraint, what you mostly get is what people understood when they were five.  (More or less; axiom formation.)  It has to be simple.  It tends to revert to the primate default.  The primate default is "I have status when I can hit who I want and take what I want and fuck who I want.  I want as much status as I can get."  The primate default isn't sufficient to support a neolithic village, never mind an industrial culture, but it will socially parasitize anything.

Something else from biology; you can't expect a stable system. You can't expect a meta-stable system.  Odds are, there just isn't one to be had.  How organisms behave is a function of environment, which includes the other organisms, which includes the other organisms of their species and their social system.  How it is advantageous to behave depends on what's currently the usual way to behave.

(So you can in fact expect a period of prosperity to get parasitized by opportunists seeking primate status, and there likely isn't an inherent structual means of preventing this.)

So the right, which is using (more or less), "we always win/we're the best", "anything I can take is mine forever", "you all do what I say", and "wealth is virtue", gets copies into the future readily.  It's simple; it gives social advantage; it appeals to long-established multi-generational norms; it provides a reasonable approximation of primate status.  It doesn't do this evenly and by an analysis of absolute advantage[2] it does it incomptently.

(Yes, really, incompetently.  Five generations is nothing. Fifty generations -- thereabouts of a thousand years -- isn't all that much.  Open-loop economies are certain to fail; it's the economy you've got when the loop is closed that matters.  It's hellish tough to get people to acknowledge that need to close the loop.  It costs them status, and we're machines for preferring death to loss of status.  Buggy, buggy primate wetware.)

So what's going on is a move to insist on the historical norm -- the violent status-enforcement of a post-loot white supremacy and the late-capitalist end-game of seeing who can have the largest pile of cash when the economy has ground to a halt -- in preference to acknowledging material circumstances, because the instant the material circumstances are acknowledged, the requirement for a different social order is inescapable.  Whatever it is, it won't be what has been.  The prospect of change on that scale locks people up with the primate wetware bug.

What could a functioning set of axioms be?

  1. You're not special.
  2. Gang up on problems; share risks, share benefits.
  3. Responsibility cannot be shared; assign it accurately.
  4. Does generally realizable access to choice increase in the future?  (if no, fix it.  fix it now, because it will never get easier.)
  5. Insisting you're special merits death.  Material actions are insisting.

It'll work, if we can get there.

[0] look at the intensity with which black or native leaders are killed as they emerge.  Look at the intensity with which any form of non-corporate collective organization is subsumed or destroyed.  This is why that's important; no new system is to be permitted to get copies of itself into the future.

[1] look at the difficulty getting existing power structures to recognize that making recreational drugs unlawful does not help the general prosperity.

[2] you can view the great conflicts of the 20th century as circumstantially compelled cases of having to prefer absolute measures of performance.  You can flail around a long way to find examples of that happening without the clear existential threats, too, and maybe start to conclude that the refusal to look at climate change has a slightly broader motivation than greed.

02 July 2018

Replace works. Fighting doesn't.

Economic change happens disruptively; someone comes up with something new and the incumbent can't get to the part of the choice space involved.  (If the incumbent CAN get to the choice space, you don't get disruption.  Compare who made internal combustion aircraft engines with who makes gas turbine aircraft engines.)

Social change happens through ethnogenesis; people re-define who they are, or what the label they have been using means.  Ethnogenesis has a history of presenting moral reasons which conceal the economic motivations.  (Moral reasoning doesn't scale; trying to do this at current populations scales had better use the economic motivations directly.)

So, what do we need?

  1. presumptive social incorporation; follow the rules and you're in.  
    • As a statistical expectation, no current population centre is going to be one in 2100.  Better make the assumption that people are going to move around a lot now, because you or your descendants will be refugees.
  2. Profit as a measure, not a motive.  
    • "Do people agree that this adds something to the world?"; profit as a measure, very useful.  
    • "Did I capture as much of other people's income stream as I possibly could?"  Profit as a motive; actively harmful because it destroys value and creates as system which functions to destroy value.
  3. Income and asset caps
    • you can come up with reasons why this is fair and just, but a working economy requires this.  That's why you need it.  Once you get "I want to protect my good luck/act of theft" as a constructive principle, you stop having a working economy to the extent that "defend the loot" motivation holds
  4. Closed-loop economy
    • it's a small world, and there are a lot of us.  Everything has to either rot or be recycled.
    • Open-loop -- dig it up, use it, throw it away -- has run out.  it's going to stop; much better if we do that on purpose.
This is a hard sell in a conquest-is-virtue culture.  It has to win the fight with that conquest-is-virtue culture, too.  And there are about a billion details.  But so far as I can tell, if we can get a strong majority to define themselves in these terms, there's a chance.