The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

About the blog

Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

The ad hominem meme of a denier

PsychologyPosted by David McDonagh Tue, October 14, 2014 16:38:22

The fact that humans are always free to deny any fact or collection of facts, but not even one person is, ever, free to believe whatever they like.

... http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2009/06/08/the-psychology-of-crankery/

This article is basically a reply to the blogger Mark Hoofnagle on deniers that is at the end of the link above. It is an attempt to dismiss those he disagrees with without giving whatever they say any proper consideration. He seems to have it in for propagandists, as so many people do, but especially those he calls deniers. But this concept is an excuse not to debate with those he wants to dismiss.

We can say what we like but never quite believe as we like. Belief is not a human action but rather it is an ephemeral state of mind. Belief is only of the live mind, so it is not like knowledge in that respect. We may know something that we cannot immediately recall but that we might recall in about an hour, or maybe even a day later, but belief is what we think is the case just now, at the present moment, and it involves a fresh take, or a fresh judgment, on the world. Thus all belief is a slight test of what there is out there.

There is not ever any stable belief i.e. there is nothing even remotely like Popper thought was faith. Popper was utterly deluded on that rather stupid idea of mental stability. What allows people to reproduce contents similar to their past beliefs in their current beliefs, now, is the common external world itself moreso than the dendrites in our brains, though the latter have some input too. The air we breathe in is similar in content to earlier air we used, owing to what is external too, but there is more input of our assumptions into any belief than there is in the air we breathe in.

However, no actual belief can last longer that a fresh in-take of air. As we use air to refresh the blood so we, similarly, use belief, mainly in current action, or activity, that needs to be re-checked by our senses to check how we are managing with anything that we attempt to do, but any ephemeral belief-take will also spill over into theoretical abstract things too. Belief is to do with activity but many things we believe, most of which we suppose is on the horizon whenever that is in view, for example, might never be acted on by ourselves. However, any belief is going to be mainly used up in doing whatever we do e.g. we need to refresh it, by use of our senses, just to see whatever we are doing at any one time. Anyone blind person will be clearly handicapped in that respect, in all they do, for they will not be able to check whatever they want to do by the use of their eyes.

Some authors that Mark Hoofnagle is concerned with have written books denying the link between HIV and AIDS but I have not read any such book.

Karl Popper was right to hold that mere belief was not really germane to science, though he did, unwittingly, allow it in when he went on about honesty in science, which he associated with rationality.

Popper might also have noticed that belief is an excellent heuristic. Also, he might have noted that conjectures, also are not automatically right, no more than are our automatic beliefs, which also have the logical status of mere assumptions, so both equally risk error. However, the rule of assumptions in logic is that any assumption will allow us to make a beginning. Mistakes in the logic can only arise later. But the assumption might well be false, of course. Logic is about validity rather than directly about the truth.

However, Popper was roughly right to try to keep belief largely out of science; that science was to do with the objective account [that he called world three, or W3, which is objective] rather than only of what we have in mind [that he called world two, or W2, which is subjective]. Popper was right to attempt to shun subjectivity. He was also right that belief in pseudoscience is not germane to science either. Any conjecture will do to begin from. Science is ideally open to one and all. It tends to ignore the Irishman who says: “If I were you then I would not start from here!” We can start from almost anywhere. It hardly matters where we are coming from.

However, like DRS, I am very keen on belief. I think most people tend to conflate beliefs and values. The English language conflates those two aspects of the mind. In the philosophy of religion, the difference is made in a common distinction between “believe in” [i.e. value] and “believe that” [i.e. think is the case]. Beliefs are only just what seem to be the facts to the believer at any one time.

It is our values that mainly motivate us. We act mainly on our values but belief serves the passions but yet it is not quite the slave of them, as Hume said, for our beliefs have no fear of our values and what we believe never flatters us.

However, I think Hume was basically right.

Oddly, David Hume was the one author that Marx was not very hostile to, and that is what led me to read Hume in 1968. I found him roughly right then, as I still do now, but his terminology seemed exceedingly inept, especially as Locke, Berkeley and Hume himself mainly had only a verbal difference in their revision of what Thomas Hobbes said in his 1651 book. The terminology still does look to be very inept. In particular, what Hume calls irrational looks most rational to me, including all our automatic beliefs. The daft dogma that rationality requires choice, that Hume seemed to have adopted, seems to obfuscate reality for anyone at all who adopts it.

My prelude above is to the consideration of what Mark Hoofnagle says on the quite false meme of denialism, false as it holds that humans can decide whatever they believe when no animal, let alone no human, ever can. Belief is a reality principle in animals, as it is practical feedback from the world as to whether the animal is safe, or not, as well as being a practical need for whatever the animal wants to do. Belief cannot flatter, nor can it be controlled. Natural selection would have soon seen off whimsical choice in belief. It would have crowded out the need we have to see what we are doing, as well as if we are out of likely danger from predators at any one time. A reality principle, such as belief, will be a prerequisite of any animal activity.

But backward psychology seeks to serve what Francis Bacon called false idols [i.e. pigheaded memes, like denialism, that seems to satisfy the holders as an end rather than enlightening them about reality; they are basically expletives that refer to nothing real: constituted blanks] rather than looking at how humans actually are. Brain science is very similar.

Popper held that science was about testing. This looks, on the face of it, the opposite of trust, but Mark Hoofnagle is moaning that those he calls deniers lack trust. But what has trust got to do with it? We need to test theories rather than to trust people in science. It does not really matter much if ever we lack trust. We test ideas as if we do not trust them at all.

We are told that conspiracy theories are down to a lack of trust on the part of the people who adopt them; that such people also suspect a plot on the part of the authorities against the public.

That there may be such plots would not surprise me but I would not normally expect them to be effective. I do not doubt that corruption is fairly common, but presumably most organisations check for it. So most corruption fails to have much special or particular impact, though it will be a factor in the normal costs of firms, I suppose.

The idea that conspiracy theorists are paranoid looks not only false but also quite inept. I have spoken to many such propagandists since 1968 and I have never seen a sign that any of them were even slightly paranoid. That latter is a very personal disposition but conspiracy propagandists seem to adopt an external paradigm that is not at all related to the type of person they happen to be but rather to the world as their theoretical account would have it.

Ideally, any such conspiracy theories would boost science but in fact it seems that not many conspiracy theorists follow up the theory as much as one might expect them to do. Nor do those people they talk to seem to study science, or history, or whatever, as a result. In that, the conspiracy are propagandists not like the normal religious or political propagandists, who more often do seem follow up their ideas in reading books on the topics in question a bit more, even if those people they speak to still do not usually bother.

But paranoids do not think to ever be fair to their imagined enemies at all but rather feel as sure and as fearful of them as a normal person would be of an escaped tiger from the local zoo.

This analogy of conspiracy theorists to actual paranoids by Mark Hoofnagle looks completely inept to me. He seems to want to abuse the propagandists rather than to try to explain them with this analogy.

I ought to confess that I am a propagandist myself. I never did feel they were abnormal, no more than those who like going fishing or who indulge in any other intellectual interest or hobby; though I suppose that most propagandists would feel what they do is way more important than just a hobby. I became one in 1968 but I guess I did like them way before then. In 1962 I discovered that I not only did not believe in the Catholic creed of my parents, and the adults in general during my first ten years, but also that I never had believed it. I was just confused on belief in my early years. To say I believed in the Catholic creed seemed to be the correct answer when questioned but I never checked my actual beliefs prior to giving that supposedly correct answer. I have ever since tended to think since that most, if not all, of the nominally religious no more believed it than I ever did.

However, I never did like the creed very much in my early years and most of my peers, from 1962 onwards, seemed to value the creed more than I ever did. But not one became a propagandist for it, as far as I know. I immediately became a minor propagandist against it but I was keener on athletics than on propaganda up till 1968. All athletics are enthusiasts, or fanatics. I transferred my enthusiasm for exercise to reading in 1968.

Whenever Bertrand Russell runs down fanatics, as he repeatedly does in many of his books, I always tend to think that the author himself was also something of a fanatic. Surely they are only dangerous if they aim to do dangerous things. Most athletes are harmless despite being quite fanatical, for example. Most murderers do not seem to be fanatical but they do seem to be out to be harmful anyway.

Paranoids do tend to think they are way more important to other people than a normal person would do, especially to their imagined enemies, but they do not, particularly, claim special knowledge any more than most people do. Mark Hoofnagle seems to simply err there, in claiming that they do. We all do assume we know some things that others do not, and much of what we say to others is exactly to share some of this information with them, but Mark Hoofnagle attempts to say this is a paranoiac trait, and to then smear the conspiracy theorists/ propagandists with being paranoid. David Shpairo is cited as holding similar ideas, but there is no safety in numbers whenever one simply gets it wrong.

No one at all can willingly, or deliberately, overlook facts. No paranoid, even remotely, attempts to do that, even though they feel, quite strongly, that those individuals who they have supposed to be their enemies truly are their enemies. Paranoids do not, usually, think that everyone is out to get them. Nor do they often show disrespect for the authorities. If anything, they are unusually trusting, the very opposite of what our blogger, here, wants to say about the propagandists who are called deniers. Mark Hoofnagle writes as if he does not know much about paranoids.

Some propagandists might lie about theoretical issues but, as it is so clearly futile, my guess is that very few, if any, do, but, anyway, no one ever believes their own lies. Self-delusion is as unrealistic as the pet meme of denialism is, and for the same basic reason viz. we cannot choose whatever we think is the case.

We do make assumptions to make out whatever there is out there in the world but that is not quite the same as deliberately manipulating the opinion that we happen to have of the world. Mark Hoofnagle gives an unrealistic spin to the reality of how people are when he writes:

“Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity.”

No one has rigid beliefs. No one wilfully forms beliefs. Instead, the actual beliefs that all people have change quite automatically as they look at the world. Our five senses revises, and re-creates, our beliefs by the moment, as about as often as we inhale and exhale air. We use our beliefs to do whatever we decide to set out to do and we need to revise them to do almost anything that we do, whilst we do it, be it to go for a walk or to make a cup of tea or whatever.

Our belief-take is revised by the second and this is a sort of weak test on any earlier belief. The animal belief system is a bit like Popper’s philosophy of science, like making assumptions and then testing with a fresh panoramic assumption-take after some activity; or conjectures and attempted refutations, or trial and error.

What Mark Hoofnagle finds compelling in what David Shpairo says does not look one whit realistic to me. But as I have seen others, like Joseph Agassi, on self-deception, another myth, as both memes say equally silly and unrealistic things, so both do seem to reflect some popular theories about human irrationality [W3 memes] rather than the anything real about the human mind [W2].

Mark Hoofnagle then says a few things in favour of tolerance that I can agree with. He says the deniers are not liars in the way that they are often said to be. They are not evil plotters; that they err rather than they deliberately lie.

But then he says they are not worth arguing with! Why not? Because they are trapped in their own denialism! How can that happen? We do not seem to be told. But we can guess that he is not going to be adequate on most of this fallacy of his sheer ad hominem fallacy dismissal of the supposed deniers. The whole idea seems to be to attempt to dodge reasoning on Mark Hoofnagle’s part. Why does he prefer it to just dealing with the so-called deniers openly in debate?

I think I have said enough above to expect the theory of deniers to be false, if ever we were told. But most of the rest of what is written by Mark Hoofnagle on probability seems to have little, if any, bearing on this topic of supposed deniers.

Mark Hoofnagle repeats that deniers are of a certain personality type. But the conspiracy theorists, who he says they are very similar to the deniers, do not seem to be of any particular personality type. Nor do the religious and political groups I have looked at since 1968, from within the organisations that I joined and also from without with the many various rival groups to the ones that I joined. The various propaganda organisations seem to attract all sorts of persons; both within their branches [usually based on locality] and as to biases between branches. Some members within a branch are more extraverted, say, than others, and some branches are extraverted than others too, and in personality types all paradigms seem to attract all the various psychological types that we can find in the wider society.

I have also joined some non-ideological educational bodies, from about 1975 onwards, and they too seem to be no different from the ideological groups just because there is no overall ideology. I have yet to meet a single person in such groups that regard themselves, personally, as especially wrongly treated by others or by society as a whole as Mark Hoofnagle imagines the deniers do. They just never seem to talk about such things. With the ideological groups, the ideology has always been held as being quite impersonal.

Christian groups have been creationists, of course. Mark Hoofnagle says those do have a different style, as he says do the Global Warming deniers. It is ideology rather than personality that distorts their outlook with them, he says. He seems to be, as Thomas Kuhn was, proud to find excuses not to argue with people; thankfully Kuhn was often willing to break this bigoted principle.

I suppose this anti-debate meme, of which the meme of denial is one amongst many excuses for, is the main reason why human progress is slowed down. I do not like any protectionism in any case, but rather I prefer free trade but this anti-debate outlook of Polanyi/Kuhn and it is about the acme of protectionism. It holds progress back.

However, free speech should be free. We should not follow up recommendations if ever we do not want to do so. We have no duty to look into all issues that a propagandist feels to be important. The propagandist can be content with those who do want to follow up whatever he recommends. If he does his job well, there should be enough of them on any progressive issue.

Mark Hoofnagle feels it is wise not to argue with a propagandist, any of which he seems to feel is going to be a crank-pot in any case. He says: “To argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool” where a Dale is just some fanatical propagandist, or an enthusiast, as they might have said in the eighteenth century. But if any such Dale makes us look silly then maybe that is because he does know a bit more than we do on his pet topic.

As Popper said, we should learn from rather than to fear our errors. We are all fools anyway. A fool, I presume, is someone who ought to know better than he actually does. Well, we are all always like that anyway. We all remain ignorant to some extent. We all should know at least a bit more than we do. What merit is there in hiding that fact? Mark Hoofnagle does not show any merit in his keenness to cover up the fact that he can often look silly. That is the sort of thing that we all need to tolerate, in ourselves and in others too. But this denier meme is intolerant rather than tolerant of others.



  • Comments(2)//blog.la-articles.org.uk/#post134

Remembering Tom Szasz

PsychologyPosted by David Ramsay Steele Thu, August 07, 2014 19:32:06

We’re probably in for a fresh spate of critiques and reappraisals of the work of Thomas S. Szasz.

In 1961 Szasz published The Myth of Mental Illness (following an article with the same title, two years earlier). His many subsequent books would preach the same message, and most of these later volumes make much more entertaining reading than The Myth of Mental Illness.

Szasz’s reputation as a writer suffered on account of that early work. Because of its title and its key role in psychiatric controversies, it became the one work of Szasz to cite. People curious about Szasz would usually seek out that particular book. It’s rather dull compared to such sparkling later works as The Manufacture of Madness (1970), The Therapeutic State (1975), or Liberation by Oppression (2002). His Karl Kraus and the Soul Doctors (1976, later reprinted as Anti-Freud) is also captivating, but in this case partly because of the translated remarks of Kraus. Szasz’s own witty, oracular debunking style evidently owed a lot to the author of The Last Days of Mankind, as well as to Mark Twain, Ambrose Beirce, and H.L. Mencken.

Szasz argued that there is literally no such thing as ‘mental illness’. Mental illness is no more than a metaphor. If we speak of ‘a sick economy’, we know this is a metaphor. We don’t try to pretend that economics is a branch of medicine. It’s just the same with human behavior, human feelings, and human thoughts. These do not belong to the domain of medicine. But in this case, we may be tempted to think that there is a branch of medicine—psychiatry—which is competent to deal with problems of behavior, feeling, and thinking. This Szasz denied outright. He did not rule out as meaningless or useless everything that psychiatrists might do—he merely insisted that it was not medicine. He undoubtedly did believe, though, that psychiatry had done a lot more harm than good.

Szasz himself had a private practice as a psychotherapist, as well as being a professor of psychiatry. He defended being a professor of psychiatry by pointing out that few would object if an atheist were a professor of religion. He talked about his own practice of psychotherapy rarely and vaguely: he characterized it as having conversations with people in order to help them with their problems in living. As for helping them by giving them drugs, Szasz held that this should be permitted as long as it was entirely voluntary, but he himself was not a big enthusiast for the practice (and, for all I know, believed it was always wrong). He would say, for instance, that you don’t call in a TV repairman when you’re disgusted with the quality of the programs. This is an entirely typical Szasz bon mot. On the one hand, it strikingly clarifies one facet of the issue. On the other hand, there is a lingering doubt, is there not? For after all, if the entire scriptwriting and production process occurred inside the TV set, it wouldn’t be so obviously silly to get the repairman to fix up the script for It’s Always Sunny.

Szasz—an MD who knew quite a bit about medicine and the history of medicine—didn’t dispute that the realm of behavior often interacts with the domain of medicine. By drinking too heavily, a person may give himself cirrhosis of the liver, which is a medical problem. By bungee jumping a person may give himself a broken neck. What makes him take to drink or go in for bungee jumping is not, in Szasz’s view, a matter in which medical doctors have any special competence. What are commonly regarded as ‘mental illnesses’ are simply ‘problems in living’.

His books are eloquent in exposing and criticizing the absurdities which result when any and all human behavior is viewed in terms of health and disease. Even before such diseases as sex addiction, shopping addiction, and internet addiction had been invented, Szasz had accounted for them, and had pointed out the affinity of such afflictions with drapetomania (the disease diagnosed in some black slaves by a nineteenth-century doctor, the symptom of this malady being the slaves’ desire to run away from their owners) and the mental diseases identified by Soviet psychiatrists in people who criticized the socialist regime.

I first became aware of someone called ‘Szasz’ when I read R.D. Laing in the 1960s; at that time Laing was all the rage in England. At first the ‘anti-psychiatrists’ eagerly quoted their predecessor Szasz, but it soon became apparent that Szasz had nothing but contempt for the anti-psychiatrists. He didn’t like them because they were socialists and because he believed that they sought to glorify the mental states of designated mental patients. Szasz had no patience with those who imputed to mental patients wondrous insights denied to the rest of us. He tended to think of mental patients as, for the most part, a rather pathetic bunch who were often complicit in their own oppression.

Jonathan Engel (in his American Therapy, 2008) gets the chronology wrong and thinks that Szasz was a follower of the anti-psychiatrists. I have occasionally encountered people who suppose that since Szasz was a ‘radical’ in the 1960s and later says things that sound ‘conservative’, he must have undergone a political conversion. But the truth is that Szasz’s fundamental outlook was pretty much fixed by the 1940s and never changed. He was always a classical liberal, an anti-communist, and a ‘cultural conservative’ in lifestyle matters, though of course favoring the repeal of all prohibitions on drugs and victimless crimes. The biggest change he did undergo was from being a psychoanalyst (some said the crown prince of psychoanalysis) to being a hostile critic of psychoanalysis.

The volume Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics (edited by Jeffrey Schaler, 2004), which includes a brief autobiography, also contains an exchange of letters between Szasz and Karl Popper (this is given by Szasz in his reply to the article by Ray Percival). Here, Popper says he thinks that Szasz is ninety-five percent right about the nonexistence of mental illnesses. What Popper meant was that while he agreed with Szasz that the extension of the medical metaphor to every type of human ethical or lifestyle decision is preposterous, we can still reasonably conjecture that there are some few cases where a typical brain malfunction is the cause of some typical cluster of emotional and behavioral problems (even though we can’t yet identify the brain malfunction in question).

Not that Szasz would have disputed the truism that Alzheimer’s and syphilis can cause mental deterioration, and that there are sure to be many other as yet undiscovered diseases of the nervous system that have mental and behavioral symptoms. But he took the position that we can’t describe these as diseases until we have ascertained their physical cause.

In a typically Szaszian crisp summary (and possibly oversimplification), he asserted that we’re not entitled to talk about a disease until a pathologist can identify its presence in a corpse. A corpse can have cancer, bunions, or atherosclerosis. A corpse can’t have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or paranoia, let alone shopping addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder. No pathologist can detect the presence of these supposed illnesses by examining a cadaver. To Szasz, this meant that they could not be called literal diseases, even though he allowed that at some future date we might find that they corresponded, more or less, with some presently unknown literal diseases.

Szasz observed that once a genuine physical disease is identified, it tends to be taken away from psychiatry and given to general medicine, as occurred with syphilis of the brain and with strokes, and more recently with Alzheimer’s. Once these are classified as literal diseases with known physical causes, psychiatry can claim no special expertise in these areas. Szasz also pointed out the influence of ethical and religious fashion on psychiatric diagnoses: when Szasz started writing, nearly all psychiatrists held that homosexuality was a disease (this was the official position of the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 and the World Health Organization until 1990). Now most of them don’t. The switch is not in the least due to any new medical evidence, but purely to a re-adjustment of mores and ethical attitudes.

Although on occasion Szasz fully acknowledged that some human problems would eventually be attributed to presently undiscovered brain diseases, the general sweep of his rhetoric tends to give the opposite impression: “. . . we will discover the chemical cause of schizophrenia when we discover the chemical cause of Christianity and Communism. No sooner and no later” (The Untamed Tongue, pp. 215–16).

I agree with Szasz in opposing involuntary commitment of the mentally ill and I admire his exposure of much psychiatric silliness. But the route to those conclusions is not as simple as he believed. Szasz holds that there can be no literal disease of the mind, only a literal disease of the body or a metaphorical disease of the mind. This is strictly correct, but it does not have the sweeping implications he supposes. Szasz attacks people who employ the term ‘mental illness’, but his attacks fail if people are using the term to mean ‘a brain disease with mental symptoms’.

Various drugs can cause you to have hallucinations and infection by rabies will make you terrified of water. So we know that purely bodily changes can change your conscious states and your deliberate behavior in predictable ways, and we can’t rule out the possibility that some such bodily changes may happen without the intervention of drugs or of rabid beasts.

Szasz would say that until we have identified the physical cause (the lesion), we can’t assert the existence of an illness. But, as far as I can see, nothing prevents us from conjecturing that certain symptoms are accounted for by an illness whose existence we can’t yet observe directly. I know a lot less than Szasz did about the history of medicine, but I would even surmise that there have been such cases—consumption, epilepsy, and asthma spring to mind. But even if I’m wrong in thinking that there have been actual cases, it still wouldn’t follow that such conjectures are inadmissible. And if we can do this with physical symptoms, we can do it with mental symptoms: I can see nothing wrong in principle with hypothesizing that a certain cluster of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is accounted for by a brain malfunction. It’s literally, pedantically wrong to call this a ‘mental disease’ just as it’s literally, pedantically wrong to say that the sun rises, but such casual expressions are inevitably rife throughout language.

Involuntary commitment and other pretexts for imprisonment and torture are very common in our culture, and so is the endless re-iteration of the claim that victims of state coercion are ‘ill’. Yet these two facts are not as tightly connected as Szasz supposed. I can easily imagine a change in semantic fashion, so that state paternalists would say: ‘Granted, these people are not ill, but they are still a threat to themselves and others and therefore need treatment whether they consent or not’. And I can also easily imagine some people coming around to the view: ‘These people are indeed ill, but even sick people shouldn’t be forcibly incarcerated or given drugs or electric shocks against their wishes’.

Szasz wrote about forty books, even one (Faith in Freedom, 2004) devoted to a critique of the views of libertarians on mental illness. The one I found most disappointing is The Meaning of Mind (1996). As you read most of Szasz’s work, you become conscious of an odd lacuna: he repeatedly draws a bright line between consciousness and physiology, as though these are independent realms. This is the more remarkable because he is an atheist with no theological commitments. So, you wonder what he thinks about the relation of mind and brain. With The Meaning of Mind, we find out that he has no coherent view of the relation between mind and brain and (while the book does have a sprinkling of his usual piercing insights) his uninformed comments on those who have carefully elaborated various theories often miss the point and are at times painful to peruse.

Following protracted illness, and a few days after a severe spinal injury due to a fall, Tom Szasz exercised his right to suicide. I never met him but had various phone and email exchanges with him over a number of years. If I had met him in the flesh, I might have mentioned some of my criticisms of his views, though his always thick Hungarian accent might have been a conversational impediment, and I have heard from a reliable source that in his last years he became testier and testier, disposed to see any disagreement as betrayal.

Szász Tamász István (the surname comes first in Hungarian). Born Budapest, 15th April 1920. Died Manlius, New York, 8th September 2012.



  • Comments(1)//blog.la-articles.org.uk/#post128

A Defence of Political Correctness

PsychologyPosted by Nico Metten Wed, May 21, 2014 19:46:50

Libertarians seem to hate Political Correctness (PC). A lot of them see it as a statist ideology that needs to be fought. Certainly, PC has become a political tool for censorship. There are now laws in place that punish people for speaking out politically incorrect thought and for discriminating against the wrong people. This is without any doubt a very bad development and indeed needs to be fought.

However, does this mean that everything about PC is bad? Does it mean that a Libertarian has to be anti PC? First of all one has to say that the term is not very clear. Different people mean different things by it. It can range from 'taking care of your choice of words' to being synonymous to an egalitarian political agenda. The latter can certainly not be defended by Libertarians. However, I think there is an important idea in PC that I find attractive and that is compatible with Libertarianism. That is not to say that Libertarians have to be PC, but they certainly can be. Here is what I like about PC.

I would like to live in a society that is polite and peaceful. In principal we can of course think of a libertarian society in which people hate each other, but nevertheless leave each other alone. However, if people really hate each other, the peace within that society would certainly be fragile. Besides, I personally simply do not find such a society attractive. I would much rather live in a society in which tolerance and mutual respect is the norm.

How are we going to get there? In social situations, humans, like many other mammals are normally playing tit for tat strategies. That means that you always tend to reap what you sow. If you are nice to people, people will be nice to you. If you are hostile, you will get hostility back. Of course, I am not naïve enough to believe that this works with every single human being. There are certainly truly bad people, social predators that will hurt you no matter what you do. Those people need to be avoided under any circumstance and if possible, removed from society. But there are not many of these people and there usually is a brought coalition across cultures and races against them. They should not concern us too much here, as they are not a vital part of society. The vast majority of people, everywhere in the world is basically decent. They don't want to hurt you, even if they would get away with and profit from it. Ok, maybe if you make the incentive high enough, that changes. I would not necessarily trust every stranger with a suitcase full of my money, but for all practical circumstances this seems to be a good assumption.

However, if it is a good assumption, then how come people often end up in conflict with each other? One of the biggest sources of conflict is of course the fact that we live in a scarce world. One way of dealing with that situation is to start fighting over who is going to be allowed to use these resources. However, as David Friedman writes in his book 'The Machinery of Freedom” this is such a primitive solution that it is only being done by small children and great nations. A much Better way of dealing with it is of course capitalism. The division of labour and accumulation of capital has reduced the scarcity of all essential resources to a degree that no one needs to fight for it anymore. Or at least no one would need to fight for it anymore, if only politics was staying out of it.

Another big source of conflict seems to be intolerance. There are two countries in Europe that have developed real freedom in the past. One is Switzerland, the other is England. Both of course in very different ways. However, what I find interesting about it is that both countries have developed similar ideas about politeness. From a German point of view, the English rules of politeness are probably the most confusing thing to deal with, when coming to this country. German politeness is fundamentally different from the English one. Of course, different parts of Germany have different mentalities. The Rhineland around Cologne is much closer to the english mentality then say the one from Bavaria or Berlin. But none is really close to the english.

Before I came to this country I of course did some research on it. I asked people who had spend some time here, how they liked it. I got confusing answers. Half of them really loved it and could imagine living here. The other half however was the exact opposite. They really hated it and told me I could not trust the English. The picture that they draw was the picture of a country of liars and crooks. Very confusing. How could these two extremes be explained? When I came her to study a Masters degree, I got an idea where these differences in opinion came from. One half understood english politeness the other one did not.

Germans have a very direct mentality. Honesty rules. The concept of telling white lies only exists in extremes. If you ask a German for his opinion, he will most likely tell you exactly what he thinks. And if you don't ask him, chances are he will tell you anyway. In his criticism, he will most likely start by telling you what he does not like. I guess the idea is to prove that one is honest and trustworthy. “Look, I am not some slimy salesman trying to sell you a used car. You can trust me and to proof that to you, I am going to tell you the full nasty truth, because you deserve the truth”.

The English on the other hand seem to perceive direct criticism as a personal attack. Of course, the direct criticism of the Germans is an attempt to change things. Honesty might sound good at first, but what this is really all about is to put pressure on people to conform to a certain standard. Individualism and non-perfectionism is not welcome. The only way to escape this constant stream of brutal criticism is to do as everyone else does and to not make mistakes. A very humourless exercise.

Having been a free country, England on the other hand has developed a real sense of privacy. This might sound a bit ironic, giving that this country is by far the worst surveillance state in history. But on a personal level, people do respect privacy. That is why direct criticism is considered so rude. It is simply none of my business to criticise you, unless you explicitly ask me for it. Interestingly, although Switzerland is a lot closer to Germany, both geographically and culturally, it has developed independently a similar idea of politeness. In Switzerland privacy matters and German directness is unwelcome.

What does this all have to do with PC? It shows that tolerance is essential for a free society. In order to reduce conflict and make a peaceful society possible, people in England are willing to constantly outright lie to each other, whenever the truth becomes a bit inconvenient. They are not just willing to do this, but they are put under big pressure to do so. People who do not comply with these politeness rules are facing social sanctions. I have experienced this myself, by loosing some customers for being too direct with them. In my German mentality I thought, when someone hires me to fix the sound on a film, it would be best to start analysing what is wrong with the sound so that it can be fixed efficiently. Why waste time pointing out things that are already good. But starting out with negative criticism before saying anything nice was perceived as a slap in the face and they never came back. This, in my view is a good example of where politeness goes to far. It is just time and resource consuming. But that is the way it always is with social norms. They are usually simplistic and unable to differentiate between different situations.

Today we live in a very unequal world, with huge differences between poor and rich countries. These differences set in motion big streams of people of different cultures and races moving from unproductive to productive areas. That means inhomogeneous, multicultural societies will be the norm. In my view this is a very welcomed development. But even if you look at this with a bit of worry, it is clear that only states are powerful enough to reduce these streams in any meaningful way. Supporting these states is nothing Libertarians should have an interest in doing. We will need to find a peaceful solution to potential problems. The only way to make this work is by practicing some tolerance. You leave me alone and I leave you alone. We both don't antagonize each other.

PC in my view can be seen as an extension of politeness from protecting the privacy of individuals to protecting the dignity of cultures or races. If we make it acceptable for people to spread hostility towards other people for being different we will saw more hostility. Once started, these hostilities can escalate more and more and turn into and outright war. Some might say we already are in the mids of such a war. I would disagree, but even if this was true the answer would be tolerance. Everything else would escalate this war and that is certainly in no ones interest.

I see two big problems with PC as it is today. The most obvious one is that PC is more and more enforced by the state. If the state was to enforce politeness it would turn into a nightmare. Sometimes negative criticism is necessary. Only individuals can decide where the line between being honest and being polite is. The same is true for PC. Sometimes differences between groups matter and need to be addressed. When an employer does not have the right to pay his female employee less for the real risk of her becoming pregnant, then PC has gone too far. Only state laws can enforce this nonsense.

The second problem of modern PC is that it is unequally applied. Only certain groups are shielded from criticism while it is open season on others. A PC like that will lead to power imbalances and a force for bad. So in a way, we are not PC enough.

A voluntary PC that restrains unnecessary, open criticism of groups via social pressure is a good thing in my view. I don't think that this idea should be part of Libertarianism itself, but personally I find it very hard to imagine a free society without these forms of social rules. There is a reason, why similar ideas have emerged in both England and Switzerland. And I expect them to see in future free societies.







  • Comments(8)//blog.la-articles.org.uk/#post117

Kahneman 2

PsychologyPosted by David McDonagh Tue, March 18, 2014 11:14:30

Who truly thought up the idea of the econs?

On Start the Week at 9am on radio 4 UK Monday, 17 March 2014, Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University was the main guest. He says that he wants to say there are no econs. The econs are an imaginary species that never existed. Kahneman says they were thought up by the economists but real people are more like the other animals in being not rational, like the econs are supposed to be, but he says they are quite reasonable.

Humans as they are, says Kahneman, are in two minds of what he calls system one and system two viz. of fast thinking and slow thinking. Most human thought and ideas are of system one, or of fast thinking. It is almost, indeed Kahneman says, repeatedly, that it is, automatic. System two, by contrast, requires quite a lot of effort all too often and thus tends to be dodged by most people. But system one requires no effort, it is effortless and many of its ideas are retained by the slower more deliberate thinking of system two.

Kahneman feels that fast thinking leads to error. He finds lots of conformation bias. One lot of errors he names as anchoring. Court judges roll a dice and if it scores low then they tend to give out low sentences but if it scores high then they tend to think in terms of high sentences in the court cases they precede over. It is not only judges and lawyers who are thus influenced by random numbers that might be suggested by a roll of the dice, or some other source of suggestion, but we all are, says Kahneman. But we tend to see errors made by others way clearer than we do when we make them ourselves.

Any risk introduces a bias of two kinds. We greatly fear a loss and much more than we desire its equivalent in gains. Kahneman feels this is irrational as in money terms as he feels they will be exactly the same. He tends to feel that arithmetic is neutral.

Though he admits that he errs by fast thinking, like he says we all do, he is basically an unreflective man who seems to be in a permanent state of hubris. Looking at the human race in general, Kahneman says it is luck that seems to play a big part in their success.

At this point, the chairman, Tom Sutcliffe, said that the golf player, Gary Player, said that the more he practised the more luck he had.

Kahneman continues that when we are faced with dilemmas of loss on both sides, we tend to gamble almost recklessly though fear of loss on either side. But the discussion then tends to drift towards Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon that says that doctors should first do no harm but that high emotion can cloud our judgement so whether to operate on the brain is never that simple. Lisa Appignanesi holds that the French might well be right to hold that a crime of passion is beyond the free will of the criminal, thus he might not be responsible for even murder. She notes that it usually referred to males, as females were considered irrational or at least next to it anyway.

Michael Ignatieff was also there and they all seemed to agree that it was usually honour rather than passion that was at the fore in what has been called crimes of passion. In any case, I would say that we are as responsible for what we do in a fit of passion as we are under what David Hume would call cooler emotions. All our emotions are quite rational. A man in hot temper that might mean to give his wife a beating but he might well very soon, even instantly, cool down if she draws a gun on him. He might even lie that he was not about to hit her in that case.

Many of Kahneman’s sympathisers call fast thinking intuition. I think he is right to say it is just fast thinking but not distinct from slower thinking as he also says with the use of language though both are usually tacit. Slowness may well aid us to correct errors but so may later fast thinking. It seems to be clearly wrong of Kahneman to think it is radically distinct. Most insights will be tacit and very rapid indeed. But any assumption risks error. There is no epistemological royal road that allows some privileged assumptions, such as those of arithmetic, that do not risk error. So we always need to rethink. Error is likely so we need to check for it. Kahneman writes and talks as if he is unaware of his own folly. And it seems to be superabundant. Even when he admits to error in his own fast thinking, he seems to only do so as otherwise he might be openly claiming the superhuman status he seems to feel is truly his due. But buffoon status seems to be his actual due but he has been lucky. By playing to the gallery he has been given the Noble Prize.

Kahneman has said that if ever we think that we have reasons for our beliefs then that is often a mistake but that looks like yet another error of his, as we always believe what seems true to us at any one time and there is usually an abundance of known reasons as to why we think this, or that, is the case. None of them are likely to be errors as to why we believe even if the belief itself is a delusion. If a bush looks like a man from a distance, as one does in a garden that I pass most weeks, then I can see why I first thought it was a man, even though I now know it is a man-seeming bush only. If we think we know why we believe that will usually be right, thought sometimes we might not know why we feel a meme is..

Most people seem to doubt almost any belief that another challenges, even if only for a moment. We certainly forget most things. Most people will have forgotten most they believed the day before. When we recall things it is usually owing to some reminder in the present moment.

Kahneman feels our errors are not random but systematic, without us realising the fact. Well, it is quite true that we cannot err if we do realise it is an error, as Plato made clear over 2500 years ago. If an assumption seems to be the case, we will most likely make it again so our errors will recur till we realise that the assumption that we make is false.

As a Chess player in the 1960s, I often did, by fast thinking, see an error then look at many other moves then come back to use the error that I only again realised as such after I had pressed down the key on the clock after making the erroneous move. I might agree that slower thinking might well have checked that folly of forgetfulness. But Kahneman seems to think both that slow thinking is different in a radical way and that it gets more insights and both those ideas of his seem to be false. A slow insight seems to be out of the question.

Kahneman might now be wedded to his bogus idea that we have two radical ways of thinking, as he worked it out with his friend, Amos Tversky, who is now dead. I do not think there is a case for saying that slow thinking is more logical though I do think that logic is maybe to do with the external account, or logos, rather than of thought, it is a way of testing, as is also observation, rather than being psychology or the way we think. However, the mind does relate quite well to logic in that the mind does make assumptions. Any one of them can be false or true. Whatever it is what Kahneman calls system one or system two, fast or slow, it will be equally logical as logic is not about what is true or false but rather about only valid inference. What Kahneman calls conformational bias errors seem to be logical enough but errors only as they based on false assumptions. We need observation to check for the truth or falseness of what we assume. Systematic error may be owing to valid logic but false assumptions.

We are told by Kahneman fans that slow thinking is the great problem solver, that it is the star, as the recent Horizon team said. But nearly all insight seems to be very rapid. Most people might agree with me that insight is the acme of thought. If so, then why consider slow thinking as the star?

We are also told that we are not aware of tacit decisions that we make rapidly but that seems alien to my own experience.

A pet idea of the psychologists here is that we are not aware of tacit thought but I expect there is hardly anyone who is unaware in that way. But a lot of fast thought will be spent so quickly that we will soon forget it. Most of what we think, as well as most of what we believe, is hardly worth talking about, still less to remember. Belief and thought are usually very fickle. No live mind can discipline itself with ease to be loyal to any explicit theory. Most of the assumptions we make will hardly be confined to a single paradigm, however we are committed to it. We can embrace creeds at will but never believe them at will. To think is usually to rethink. So we rarely believe in any of our theories, certainly not any religion or in any political creed. To be committed is to do with our values rather than with what we think is the case.

The laziness and reluctance to ponder over things that is part of Kahneman’s case I have often experienced when I disliked the topic, but not often whenever I liked the topic. I never experienced that reluctance when I used to play Chess, for example.

The fans of Kahneman hate money and they most likely hate the market too. They prefer their college sinecures. They repeat, over and again, that money in particular gets us to err but they seem to overlook that the waste of money does provide an incentive to get us to think twice if we later feel we have erred. They say we spend impulsively but do we not later realise the errors owing to not having enough money? Or is it worth it for us, thus not a waste of money, after all?

They tell us that we are over influenced by what other people think, but then we need to think for ourselves just to get an idea of what others think. But the psychologists never seem to think that their criteria is more likely to be dysfunctional than is any of the many biases they might discover in humans. They repeatedly go on about redesigning the economic system, as if it was on par with re-decorating out a single house.

I do not think that the Noble Prize committee were right to award the Noble Prize to Daniel Kahneman but I do agree with them that they are right not to have a Noble Prize for backward psychology, or so-called brain science, as, like astrology,, psychology is a pseudo-science. It has no hope of telling the public anything substantial beyond mere common sense.

It is not clear that the rational assumption, said by the likes of Kahneman to be a vital part of economics has any effect on the main body of economic theory at all. As Gary Becker might ask, can its replacement ever affect the downward sloping demand curve? I tend to think not.

However, what is clearer is that David Hume and Adam Smith never held the same selfishness assumption that Thomas Hobbes made but rather they both agreed with Joseph Butler that Hobbes erred on selfishness. Like Kahneman, Butler held that humans were more like the other animals, that language was useful but over rated by the likes of Descartes and Hobbes. In this, Butler began the line of thought that led to the theories of Charles Darwin. Later economists like P.H. Wicksteed tended to also agree that Butler was right. So econs look as if they were mainly thought up by Kahneman himself, at least as he thinks of them. In common with all his other ideas, they do not seem to be as important as Kahneman thinks they are.





  • Comments(0)//blog.la-articles.org.uk/#post20

Kahneman

PsychologyPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 16, 2014 20:35:15

Are we truly in two minds?

With the aid of Daniel Kahneman, Horizon, the chief science TV programme on the UK media, a team of psychologists and programme makers set out to tell members of the public how they really make their personal decisions, or they did 24 February 2014 on BBC2 at 9pm. The title was “How You Really Make Decisions”.

We are told in the programme that we all make thousands of decisions every day, big ones or small ones, but they all involve a clash between logic and intuition. This clash, or conflict, involves, or affects, every aspect of our lives, we are told by this team. It affects our decisions as to what we eat as well as what we believe, but they say it chiefly affects how we spend our money.

The team go on to say that it turns out that our intuition dominates the normal wakeful mind but they say that most people do not seem to realise that. The Horizon team say that intuition is like a stranger, or alien, that takes over our mind. They say that we identify with deliberation, or slow thinking, but that alien fast thinking, so fast, that we often do not even notice it, makes most of the decisions.

But who does not notice tacit thought? Who identifies with only slow deliberation? This might be the case with the team, though I doubt it, but it is not likely that many will agree or feel that fast thought is alien. The team seem to want to replace the old idea of the Unconscious mind that works against us as an alien with mere tacit thought as alien. At least tacit thought exists. But it is hardly alien in any way whatsoever.

As the team report a few times in the programme, people do not like deliberation, so why suppose they identify with that rather than their normal tacit selves. Why assume that, beyond the extra cost of slow careful thinking, there is any strangeness or alien element at all in fast thinking? Journalists or academics may feel more at home with language but does the average person? Whilst it seems silly to say that slow thinking is alien, it seems yet sillier to say that fast thinking is strange.

The team says that we all see rapid tacit thought as though it was the thought of a stranger, as if it was another alien mind. I would not say they get it exactly wrong there, as deliberation is hardly alien to normal thought. What the team says looks like sheer hyperbole but, if anything, most of us are more at home when we are not deliberating. We seem to naturally to think tacitly. With deliberation we are often not relaxed. If we are tense then we usually do not feel at home and we are sometimes tense when we deliberate. But all that is contrary to what the team says.

Kahneman himself does not often use the word intuition in the programme, though he does endorse it by use a few times. His main distinction is between what he calls fast thinking and slow thinking instead. By fast thinking he seems to refer to what I would call tacit thinking. As it happens, Thomas Hobbes calls intuition fast thinking in Leviathan (1651). Hobbes does not see it as one whit illogical, nor does Kahneman in the programme, but he may well do in his books, but, unlike Hobbes, Kahneman does think it is radically different but it is the members of the team that say it is like a stranger. Anyway, intuition can only result in an assumption and, as the law of logic is that we can assume whatever we like, there is not much scope for irrationality from mere intuition. But Kahneman seems to erroneously think there is.

The team say that we like to think we are rational, but that, also, is a delusion. Current common sense rather likes the idea that we are irrational at times, that maybe we are usually so. Most people seem to feel that love is irrational and they seem be feel at home with the idea that they are often irrational. People that I meet tell me that they can relax with that idea.

We think mainly with intuition, the team says, but they feel that clearly contrasts with logic. We are especially prone to error whenever we go near money. This seems to be their main thesis, that money distorts our thinking. The team say they get this thesis from Kahneman, a top psychologist for forty years; who gets his insights from puzzles.

Kahneman feels that New York cab drivers are rather thoughtless, as they seem to him to show no foresight. They take things on a daily basis and clock off when they earn what they consider to be a full day’s pay but Kahneman notes that when it is raining there is usually more need for cabs, so they go home early as they earn enough sooner on wet days, whilst in the fine days they need to work way longer to get the same day’s pay. Kahneman feels they could work all day whilst it is raining and he supposes that they could then even take the whole day off on the fine days. They might then enjoy the sun as well as working less hours overall. Instead, they only seem to think of a day at a time, so they often need to work all day on the fine days but only for a while on the wet days. Kahneman feels they ought to think in terms of the whole year instead of one day at a time. Many might agree with him , if he ever put that case to the cab drivers, but it is not as solid as Kahneman thinks, for it is possible that they may have personal preferences for their current habit in some cases, if not in most cases. Note too that this does not relate well to Kahneman’s main thesis of fast and slow thinking, unless he feels they are doing only fast thinking on all this, which seems most unlikely.

The Horizon team ask some New York people what the occupation is of a man who is meek, mild and tidy: is he likely to be a farmer or a librarian? Most answer that he is likely to be a librarian, but the team say that he is more likely to be a farmer, as there are about twenty times more famers in the USA than librarians. So they say that the New Yorkers tend to err.

They do not notice that this is ignorance of the numbers in the USA, plus the bias towards the town life they are used to, rather than it is to do with fast or slow thinking. Indeed, why is the USA as a whole even germane? The team did not state they meant the whole of USA rather than what might be the case in New York. Why should the people they asked take the whole of USA as a base?

But the team, and Kahneman too, are like this throughout the whole programme. They feel they are clearly finding faults when the faults might just as well be in themselves. There are not more farmers in New York, so the whole thing is not so solid as the team seem to think it is.

Anyway, more thinking or slower thinking would not have told the people questioned that there was more than twenty times in farming than work in libraries in the USA as a whole had they not known that to begin with. They need information for that rather than mere deliberation. But the team do not seem to notice that.

This lack of information, or ignorance, relates neither to logic nor to intuition. And intuition is not one whit alien to logic. But the team tells us that it shows a lack of slow thinking but rather the using intuition or fast thinking instead. It is the team that seem to err there, and in more ways than one.

Kahneman then appears to say that those errors made by the public are not arbitrary or random but that they reflect bias. They reflect fast thinking. They reflect cognitive bias. They recur again and again, say the team.

We are then told of an experiment that shows that many people do not see things that the team, and a jury in a certain tail of a policeman called Conley, feel that anyone was bound to do, namely to see a fight that might be happening if we run by. We are told of a policeman, Conley, who was chasing a criminal but he bypassed a group of other policemen who beating up a person. When asked later in court, Conley said he did not see this fight but the jury thought he was a liar who had lied to cover up for the policemen involved. Conley said he was, maybe, too keen to catch the man he was running after at the time to notice.

One of the Horizon team, Chris Chabris, thought the jury was maybe unfair to call Conley a liar. Chabris did an experiment and found that fifty per cent of runners involved, ordinary joggers, just failed to notice the mock fight that he set up on the side of the route he set for them to run along as they ran past. So Conley might well have been honest rather than the liar that the jury held him to be.

This hardly seems odd to me. Many people are not very observant when focused on doing something else, like chasing a criminal, and Chabris did well to go against the main idea that Conley must clearly be lying here. But, once again, the example does not relate to fast thinking; let alone show us that fast thinking is of a different kind to slower thinking, as Kahneman and the team hold as their main thesis.

Fast thinking is then called system one whilst slow thinking is called system two, but why? I suppose it is to suggest a big difference. But this programme looks loose, as did the book that Kahneman published last year, when I looked at it. I mean to complete the review I began on that later. It is not as bad as it might be, but it is still clearly a very poor book.

Kahneman looks like a weak thinker to me. But he plays to a popular gallery about human rationality, or rather human irrationality. We might see this gallery as the Romantic paradigm that replaced the Enlightenment after 1789. This paradigm shift was more to do with mere fashion than being owing to a case of true intellectual progress, as Thomas Kuhn might say. As Popper admitted in his 1970s Schilpp reply to Kuhn, there are fashion changes, even in science, but it is far from being a good thing. Popper thought that it could even be the death of science if ever what Kuhn calls normal science actually becomes what Kuhn calls it. It was this sort of paradigm shift of fashion change rather than intellectual progress that brought about any success. The supposed of Keynes in economics in the 1930s was similar.

We make many decisions that we do not even realise that we make, the team continue to say. System one, or fast thinking, takes most decisions such that we may only notice two out of every ten decisions that we make. Our slow thinking is logical and rational. It is the mind we think of as ourselves, we are told, but most thought is automatic, or almost automatic, it is fast whilst slow thinking requires some work and so it is reluctant; or rather it is we who are often too lazy to undertake that work; we cannot be bothered, so we settle instead for the prima facie thought that the mind finds at once, the team tell us.

Here the team seem to be in two minds themselves for they say we are at home in deliberation and yet it is hard work. And they say do we truly not even notice our many tacit decisions? But is that the case? It seems not to me. We seem to be fully aware of our many decisions.

I think belief is automatic but not that our habitual, or usual fast thought, is but Kahneman and the team seem to be right for once on saying that deliberate thinking often involves work and the economists might tell them that work, unless it is a greatly motivated labour of love, is highly likely to involve some disutility. We feel a need to economise on what Kahneman calls slow thought, or system two. It may well be a false economy sometimes, of course.

Nor do I think that most people like language as much as the college trained team or Kahneman does. The team say that we identify ourselves as deliberators, that we think of ourselves as language users. But most people will, I expect, see what they calls fast thought, or what I call tacit thought, to be more like themselves at ease, or to be more natural or care free rather than that they identify with relatively unpleasant deliberation, that many people often do like to dodge, as the team say, unless it is on something that they normally like. Yet the team also say that is where the heart is with most people. This common academic over-rating of language and deliberation calls to mind some academic sociology that might get Kahneman and the team to rethink, as it suggests that the less educated masses might be more at home with tacit thinking, or that even some quite well educated people might be too.

Basil Bernstein in the 1960s noticed that there were two types of language codes, that he called the elaborated code and the restricted code. The restricted code tended to forever underestimate how much needed to be made explicit if one wanted to be understood, especially with strangers. Bernstein denied that he was making anti-working class points but he was clearly on about the majority of the UK 1960s population who would then be called lower or working class, however much his fellow sociologists were muddled on that meme.

Some noticed that even those called middle class also were often tongue-tied or seemed to hope that they did not need to be more elaborate, or explicit, to be fully understood, like the proles, or the proletariat, for the well-educated too rather hoped that those they were talking to could rather successfully just guess their meaning. On this paradigm, most people tend to identify with tacit thought rather than with deliberate explicit thought as the Horizon team and Kahneman tends to assume.

The restricted code is, maybe, suitable for close friends, or insiders who share assumptions and understanding on the topic, but with strangers or in the academic essays in the colleges the more elaborated code that made things more explicit was clearly needed. This was nearer the normal habit of the middle class, but far from being universal even with them. This need to be more thorough is taxing for most people, maybe even for most of those called the middle class too. It sometimes involves quite a bit of disutility. We are more likely to feel at home in the restricted code or even when we are completely tacit or silent.

But though deliberation requires more effort, it is hardly completely distinct from normal thought, even if it is more of a cost to indulge in or often even something of a pain in the neck at times that we would sooner refrain from exercising than to indulge in.

The plain fact seems to be that Kahneman and the team are not good at either fast or slow thinking but they seem exceeding at home in clear hubris when they say we are at home in mainly unwelcome deliberate or slow thought, as they are when they imagine they are truly finding faults in the irrational general public. They seem to err when they say tacit thought is like a stranger or that we do not even notice most of the tacit decisions that we make.

We are told by the team that slow thinking is the star but that it invents unrelated reasons to justify whatever we do, leaving the real system one, or fast thought, or what I call tacit motives to be completely forgotten. So we all make up a false self by rationalisation, we are told. This is a fond dogma that most people today may well agree with the team on, but it hardly seems to be true as far as I can see. It is a dogma of the cheap wisdom often called vulgar “cynical” but has little to do with the Cynic philosophers of old.

So the team say that our real intuitive self is denied or overlooked! System two, or slow reasoning, invents false reasons for what the impulsive system decides. Kahneman says that decisions are made without our knowledge but later rationalised but this looks like mistaking what many might call “cynical” ideas with wisdom. The team tell us that we are not aware of our impulsive motives very often, if ever at all. But the reality seems rather to be that we do not bother to make up bogus motives but it is true that we may not always tell others why we do as we do. Sometimes we might even tell others false stores about our motives, if there is a reason to do so. There is no reason to tell ourselves lies or rationalisations about our own motives. With telling others it would be lying , of course. But the team want to say that we lie to ourselves. That is not likely but it is a fond dogma with the Romantic gallery that the Horizon team are playing to.

We are then shown by the team two cases of wine selling. A small number is shown to people on bits of paper then they are asked how much they think a bottle of wine is worth. They all reply with answers that fit a small price range near the mentioned small number in dollars. Then a larger number is suggested to other people by similar bits of paper and when they are asked what they thought a similar bottle of wine was worth they came up with a higher price range, again near to the suggested higher number. The idea was that the suggested number had more impact than had the bottle of wine itself. Would any number do? The team tended to suggest that it might.

The idea seems to be that the two groups of people asked were led on by the suggestions rather than guessing a natural price for the wine, but the team tend to overlook that there is no natural price for any wine that the people being tested had foolishly ignored. Both prices will have been too steep for those who do not think much of drinking wine, like me, but both price ranges might have been well worth it for actual wine lovers. Prices are not so much a measure of objective value but rather money is just a means of exchange at any particular time.

Whether a price is too high is a personal feeling depending on how much money one has and how much the good on sale, here the wine, relates to other things we might want to buy instead, but all that seems to be as lost on Kahneman and the team, as were the number of farmers in the USA were lost on the ignorant New Yorkers who thought a shy man was more likely to be a librarian than a farmer if ever they met him in New York. Like the New Yorkers, they take their first assumptions almost uncritically; fast thinking maybe. But the team feel greatly superior to the New Yorkers. Kahneman, in particular, ironically smiles at the camera like some gormless fool as he reflects how very foolish the taxi drivers are.

One of the team says we remain loyal to earlier decisions rather than bothering to think afresh about the current one, as it saves thought in deliberate system two. We are told that psychologists have now found a hundred and fifty cognitive biases that usually lead to human error. Indeed, they call them errors in themselves. The team say that people pay too much attention to what they want now rather than to what they might want later on but they ought to realise that current and future desires are equal. But are they really equal? The team seem to make false assumptions in thinking. They seem to have more to learn from economics than to teach the economists. In treating arithmetic as if it lacks any bias, as if it must apply to all things neutrally, seems to be the team’s own pet error. We might call it an arithmetic bias.

Anyway, any assumption at all will risk error, and will introduce bias by any content. The team do not seem to realise that fact. They tend to assume that some assumptions might be risk free, especially those with arithmetic. They might learn from economics where marginal theory holds that extra units usually deliver decreasing diminishing returns in utility with uniform units.

Kahneman tells us about the Halo Effect, where we favour our friends, but the psychologists long to say that we do this unconsciously when it is plain to most people do so quite consciously. But maybe the team mean we do not just favour our friends but think they tend to lack faults, or we do not quite see their faults. If so, then that would seem to be a common crass dogma of current common sense rather than any factual finding of psychology, but it is the sort of dogma against the human race that we might expect the psychologists to adopt like they adopt the dogma of the Unconscious mind. They want to make a science out of their college study departments but do they have anything to say of import to anyone from their psychological study or from so-called brain science? It would seem not. They seem to have made exactly no progress since the day of William James in the late nineteenth century, and it seems reasonable to think that will be still the case in 500 years’ time too. No science of psychology was ever needed. Common sense is enough for interpersonal relationships.

Kahneman seems to be hinting at the old dogma of the Unconscious mind with his notion of fast thinking, a false idol but one that psychologists and brain scientists remain very fond of. It seems psychology never was, nor ever will be, a progressive science as it cannot truly do better than mere common sense but rather it seems to be merely a Politically Correct [PC] ideology and in PC alone it transcends common sense. In its futile attempt to make a case against the human race it tends to, forever, remain quite barren.

The reports in books on brain science read today almost exactly as they read in the 1960s, only the older reader now finds them harder to credit. Their repeated song of much expected progress on top of having already made more progress than ever before in the last fifteen years, a claim made on the UK radio once again this week, looks as poor as the Green’s perennial cry of wolf. This is especially the case when one recalls that an identical claim for brain science was made, also by psychologists on the radio, as well as in books, in 1968.

We are told by the team that impulsive spending is a bias, as is not seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and indeed that we are so riddled with bias that it is a wonder whether we can ever make a rational decision at all! But any assumption will be biased ipso facto. Any content at all will be biased. So all this is a typical series of brutum fulmen from the psychologists. As any assumption will be biased, so to think at all is to risk error, but it is also the sole means to any truth.

What about trained experts? Do they also err left, right and centre? Yes, say the team. Donald R. Kretz, a man in charge of the experts who keep a look out for terrorists in USA, carries out an experiment on his team of experts on terrorist threats to the public. He seemed about as un-self-critical as Kahneman is and he seems about as proud of his own mediocre ideas as is Kahneman too. He was very concerned about conformation bias, but he does not seem to be aware of Karl Popper’s idea of the duty, that we all have, to try to refute our own pet ideas, that might be the remedy to that common academic hubris problem that he clearly has about as much as this Horizon team has but Kretz does try an Agatha Christie type plot with many red herrings in a type of experiment on a group of anti-terrorist experts but he has a group of twelve mixed with some lay members too.

Could he trap them with his red herrings? That this plot was just a story-like plot, and that it was also aimed to trap the twelve seemed almost to be lost on Kretz, despite him being the author of the plot. He seemed to think that his own trap was a test at how backward the experts were on real cases, that the experts falling into this trap was on par with them getting the wrong result in an actual real case of terrorism. As it happened they all did fall for his red herrings apart from one, who was not one of the experts. So eleven get it wrong but the one who got the right answer was not an expert. He did see the author’s plot as well as the author did.

Kretz fools the experts to go for the known terrorist group within the plot, the Network of Dread whereas, in his plot, it is the previously non-terrorists, the cyber-hacking group, the Masters of Chaos, who were held by the author to be an emerging new terrorist threat but the team missed this, owing to conformation bias. Kretz feels his plot-experiment is informative. This looks like clear hubris, like the ideas of Kahneman, that arithmetic is unbiased, such that the amount of money now and the same amount in the future must be of equal value.

But the Horizon team return to their pet idea that it is exactly with money where humans get most confused. Money changes the way humans react to the world, they say. We hate to lose out; we hate the risk of loss too. We prefer to be safe. There is a bias of loss aversion.

We are told that economics assume that humans are rational. But how could that assumption affect supply and demand analysis? Would it affect the downward slopping demand curve that Gary Becker assumes, if it were to be dropped for the supposed truth that the team have that humans are irrational? It seems not, but the playing to the gallery of popular anti-economics of the psychologists continues nevertheless. It won Kahneman the Noble Prize for Economics after all. We are told by the team that he helped to create a new branch of economics called Behavioural Economics.

We do not look at what arithmetic tells us for we usually hate to lose more than we love to gain, they tell us. Kahneman keeps to his dogma that arithmetic is somehow neutral, or unbiased, here. But if humans prefer not to lose rather than to gain, as he says, it is hardly germane that both are the same in mere arithmetic. But this is ignored, or not even realised. So Kahneman feels it is a clear error to overlook it or not to realise the equal arithmetic, as it will therefore be the same in utility too, but that might not be the case, as it is not in equal utility with the case of diminishing returns. But that possibility seems lost on Kahneman.

If the disutility from loses is truly greater than the utility from gains, if this is how we are and how we are bound to be, as the team says, then it would merely be silly to equate the two, owing to equal arithmetic, as Kahneman and the Horizon team dogmatically, or thoughtlessly, say. They seem to suffer from a bias that arithmetic must be neutral psychologically to the extent that they cannot even notice it when they tend to refute themselves. This Popper might call reinforced dogmatism.

We are told that it was excessive optimism that caused the 2008 financial crisis. One psychologist, Professor Heish Shefrin, says he feels sure that it was only the assumption of human rationality that led to that financial trouble. The effect that money has on how people think was at fault. Conformation bias played a great role in that crisis. If the thinking of the bankers was not distorted by money then the trouble in 2008 could have been avoided, he says, and the Horizon team agree. They feel that a better financial system might have been designed if only we had earlier realised that people are not rational. Here they tend to overlook that the idea that man is rational has been held as being a very naïve idea at least since the Romantic paradigm took over from the Enlightenment one after 1789. Most people feel they have known that we are often irrational long since. It looks mistaken to me but it is the top idea.

The team feel they can find out quite a bit from evolution. We are introduced to the study of monkeys, where we might find clues to the evolutionary origins of human error and conformation bias. We might see where we got it from. We are taken to the island off Puerto Rico, called Cayo Santiago, with an academic researcher, Laurie Santos. The monkeys on this island are shown to favour friendly traders even though it costs a bit more but the team think this is irrational rather than that the extra friendliness is worth it to the monkeys. Ironically, the team seem to be fast to rest on this idea that the monkeys should not be biased towards the friendly traders, but there is no clear reason why not. The team seem to be critical about their pet ideas.

Kahneman is nowhere near as bright as he thinks he is, indeed he seems to be rather dim, but he is not as dim as most on this particular Horizon team, for most of the psychologist experts consulted during the programme, as well as the one who wrote the main script, hardly seem to think at all. They are Romantic champions of irrationality as against the naïve paradigm of the Enlightenment that held that man was rational. Romantics usually hold, as a dogma, that the normal person cannot stand too much reality, or truth, as T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) did, but the plain fact seems to be the very opposite, that most people do not like stupid people, like the members of this particular Horizon team seem to be, as do so many others in the colleges seem to be too. The people that man the colleges tend to suggest that the pre-college examinations they passed to get into college were an inverse natural selection that selected out, or favoured, the thoughtless instead of the brighter people as is supposed by common sense.

Many people often boast openly that they “do not suffer fools gladly”. They are thereby a bit illiberal there, but that is way more like the normal person is, than that it is impersonal reality itself that normal people cannot put up with. Note that it is not the reality of many unknown people out there are fools that the average person finds it hard to tolerate but rather the particular minority of others who they frequently meet, or they know, who they certainly think are fools. The Horizon programme did repeatedly unwittingly suggest that the team were made up of fools.

Anyway, the truth seems to be that it is sheer hyperbole to say that we are in two minds with fast and slow thought. As Hobbes said in his 1651 book, intuition is normal thought speeded up rather than abnormal or distinctly different alien thought of some distinct sort. It is merely faster, that is all. But, as any Chess player knows, the more time we have to think, the less likely we are to err. That is why we play Chess by the clock. Almost anyone will play way better if allowed to take as much time as they need over making a move in Chess. But we do not thereby use a different sort of thought when we think things over slowly.



  • Comments(2)//blog.la-articles.org.uk/#post19