To Intensify Heinlein…

…Democracy is based on the idea that a million idiots can make a better decision than a single intelligent person.

I suppose the obvious rejoinder would have something to do with sour grapes. Still, the following facts are not in dispute: this is the first government in Canadian history to have been found in contempt of Parliament. It is led by a PM so hostile to facts that he tried to end the collection of demographic data vital to informed policy decisions.  Federal scientists1 are forbidden to talk publicly about their research. This is a PM so indifferent to science that he chose as his Minister of Science and Technology a man who regards evolution as a religious issue, a PM who urged voters to “question their leaders” while refusing to answer more than five questions per public appearance. It is a government which, while in opposition, fought tooth and nail against Liberal measures to regulate the financial industry, then took credit for those measures when they shielded Canada from the worst of the meltdown. This is a prime minister who retains the services of convicted fraudsters, whose ministers are facing charges for breaking election spending rules, whose foot-dragging on climate change is so egregious that it has provoked an international call to suspend Canada from the Commonwealth. A PM who has mandated that he and his cronies no longer be known as “The Canadian Government”, but rather, “The Harper Government” (which is, at least, a distinction that distances the rest of us a bit from his actions). And let’s not get into the greatest suspension of civil rights in Canadian history, back at last year’s G20.

None of these facts are in dispute; and these arrogant, corrupt initiatives were undertaken when the Harper Administration was in the relatively weak position of minority rule. Canada has just rewarded that behavior with a majority. Even Beverly Oda retained her seat: Bev fucking Oda, the Not Girl, caught red-handed. Re-elected.

What a bunch of ignorant, shortsighted fucktards we are. What a great downhill ride we’re in for.

There’s not much to do, now. Just buckle down and hang on, and hope that four years down the road there’ll be something left worth salvaging. And maybe remember the words of Kara Thrace, as she watched the endless ranks of centurions clanking down the muddy streets of New Caprica: “We do what we always do.

“Fight ‘em ’til we can’t.”

————————

1I know one federal biologist, charged with monitoring wildlife populations over time, who was actually told by a Harper flack: you collected data last year. Why do you need to waste taxpayer money collecting it all over again?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday May 03 2011at 07:05 am , filed under rant, scilitics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

88 Responses to “To Intensify Heinlein…”

  1. You could always move across the border…

    …oh wait no, scratch that :P

  2. Yeah, we have to fight ‘em all right… but I’ve been doing it all my life and you get tired. So disappointed and disgusted that people actually think having a control freak megalomaniac is better for the country than not. Just goes to show you that people just want a strong daddy.

    Makes me sick.

  3. Thank God we’re not alone in the realm of Fucktardery. The US is still in the lead, tho.

  4. So sorry to hear. You guys are still to the left of most Democrats down here, though. With any luck, the next few years will bring you a series of high-profile, low-consequence scandals that will bring better electoral fortunes to come. That said, I thought Bush II had poisoned the well so extensively that the Republicans would be in the wilderness indefinitely. See how well that turned out.

  5. And I thought we in the US were unique in having corrupt, ignorant morons in charge. I guess the difference, ours were appointed, they wear black robes, and serve (apparently, big corporations) for life.

  6. “Democracy is based on the idea that a million idiots can make a better decision than a single intelligent person.”

    “Better” is a value decision and who is better than the people to decide what is best for them? If we lived in a deterministic world with absolute truths then fascism would be the superior political system since only a fascist government could enforce the one truth that everyone should obey. Fortunately we don’t live in such a universe. Equally fortunate, neither the US nor Canada are pure democracies. The US is a constitutional republic and Canada a parliamentary republic.

    My understanding of the left in Canada is that they are in complete disarray and utterly incapable of setting aside their difference i order to form a coalition. So, maybe if their got their shit together they could be more effective an opposition. But… that would require lefties willing to not be self absorbed hysterics who’s only focus is on how they can be even more narcissistic than Jane Hamsher or Glen Greenwald. Will never happen.

  7. This sucks. Oh well, that’s one more point in favor of moving to somewhere in the EU instead of moving to Ontario or Quebec, asmuch as I loathe the idea of losing all my connections on this continent. Or, if I were to take it less selfishly, another reason to stay and fight, even if feebly as I do thus far.
    At least Canada has further to slide than the US, small comfort.

    May good government return in another four years, or if possible sooner.

  8. Noen said,

    “who is better than the people to decide what is best for them?”

    Jesus, almost anyone. We’re hardwired with all sorts of gut drives for things that were adaptive ten thousand years ago but which are downright dangerous now: everything from the instinct to gorge on fat and sugar right down to homicidal rage responses and alpha worship. Let a child choose her own meal plan and how much homework she wants to do; let an adult in thirties-era Germany or nineties-era Waco (or, for that matter, any practicing Catholic) choose their objects of veneration. Then tell me that people know what’s best for them.

    “My understanding of the left in Canada is that they are in complete disarray and utterly incapable of setting aside their difference i order to form a coalition.”

    You have been sadly misinformed. The leftist NDP rose to historic heights last night, winning 102 seats (I believe the best they’d ever done previously was around forty). They are now the official opposition. They slaughtered the Liberals, whose leader resigned in disgrace this morning (you may have been thinking of an NDP/Liberal coalition, but the Liberals are centrist at best — that would not be a coalition of the left by any means).

  9. “Jesus, almost anyone.”

    Well, I guess you know this, but you will never get “anyone” who can be disinterested. So intelligence is not the problem. Quoting from here (http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/raghuram-rajans-wrongness-rankles.html) cos I’m lazy, “… the common fallacy that autocratic governments answer to no one, and thus have a free hand to make far-sighted investments, as long as the despot happens to be an enlightened one. In fact, autocratic governments also have to answer to someone – but instead of the people, it’s usually a mix of army officers, party cadres, local officials, and mafia goons. There is always a selectorate, and they always have to get paid off.”

    So my (genuine) question as an outsider would be: why do so many Canadians think it’s a good idea to reelect Harper? Sheer tribalism? The devil you know? It’s all OK as long as you don’t raise my taxes?

  10. My understanding is that the election result is a artifact of vote count law (in much the same way as USA or UK).

  11. Was sorry to see this in the news. Liberals in the US used to say “fuck this, I’m moving to canada” when conservatives won, but I haven’t heard that phrase in a long time.

  12. I dunno Steve, Flanders… I think Harpo is well to the right of the Dems in the US. After all, he’s been talking about killing medicare here for nearly twenty years. Now he gets the chance to actually do it.

    I think that five years from now a lot of people here, esp. in Ontario, are going to be going “what the fuck happened here?”

  13. Wow, that sounds a lot like what happened in Austria (including the science hostility, re-electing criminals and so on) over the last one-and-a-half decades. I’m very sorry to hear this happened, but I’m getting less and less surprised when it does.

    It seems that there is no democracy left on this planet where politicians serve their people. What ever shall we do? )-:

  14. Now you know how many Americans felt in 2004, after Bush was re-elected. The first time could be passed off as a fluke; the second time, we knew exactly what we were getting and didn’t have any excuse.

  15. Sorry, Americans = people of the USA. It’s a hard habit to break.

  16. Now, at least the fight is clear. The enemy is right there in front of us and his actions will be mostly apparent. No more dickering around with prevaricating and self-serving allies. Now it’s on.

  17. Sincere condolences, lefty people of Canada.

    We can send care packages of aspirin and booze, maybe?

  18. At least its not a supermajority, so you won’t be following Hungary… I hope…

  19. Speaking as someone who’s countrymen actuallyre-elected George W. Bush, I can certainly sympathize. My advice is alcohol, and lots of it. My only concern is with some of the nightmare scenarios the right is flirting with for the 2012 elections, there simply won’t be enough booze in the world.

    But come on, listening to 30 seconds of *anything* out of Sarah Palin’s mouth, has to make you feel a *little* bit better about your country. The Right in my country has simply disconnected whatever chemical switches are responsible for producing emotional responses like shame or embarrassment, and that is an evolutionary adaptation with which inferior minds burdened with self-awareness simply cannot compete.

  20. ^ whose, not who’s. When ridiculing other dumbasses, it’s useful to make proper use of contractions.

  21. I remember thinking on W’s re-election that if even 40% of voters still wanted him after what he’d done, then the country just deserved him. (clearly I was naive)
    Now I have to somehow come to terms with the idea that I/we *deserve* Harper for my/our inability to educate the millions who think having him run the country is the *best* choice.
    On another note, I see people slowly starting to realize that there are better voting systems than FPTP. It may still take a few decades for change (largely because those in power never seem to want changes that might take them out of it!), but it feels like movement in the right direction.

  22. Peter Watts said: — “Jesus, almost anyone.” — Ahhh… who then? No humans surely. Only aliens have the requisite objectivity to make decisions for us?

    “We’re hardwired”

    No, we are not. We are not machines executing a fixed program. Or any program at all. We are free to choose between alternative courses of action. But if what you say is true, that our choices are fully determined from the big bang to now then the very concept of freedom goes aways doesn’t it? And if so then what are you complaining about?

    “verything from the instinct to gorge on fat and sugar right down to homocidal rage responses and alpha worship”

    If this is true then how do you explain atheism? If religious alpha worship is, in your words, “hard wired” then humans should no more be capable of going against their programming then your wristwatch can choose to tell the wrong time. Even supposed cultural universals like the prohibition against sibling inter-breeding cannot possibly be true. Because if it were true that there is a genetic basis for the cultural taboos against marrying your sister then there would be no need for the taboo in the first place. The claims made by the socio-biologists seem to me to be deeply flawed in their reasoning.

    “The leftist NDP rose to historic heights last night”

    Good to hear. I heard that after the last election a few years ago Harper’s party failed to win a majority but that the liberal/lefty groups could not take advantage of that golden opportunity to come together in a coalition. I hope they co-operate more in the future.

  23. Hey don’t look at me, I voted for Layton. Which means I did my part to turn Quebec a nice Orange color. :)

    Also Ignatieff wasn’t the only one to go bye-bye: Gilles Duceppe of Bloc Québécois infamy resigned after his party got splattered clean off the political landscape (which is what happens when you keep all your eggs in one province).

    So silver lining, basically .

  24. Well, at least you have more than two parties to choose from, up there in the Great White North.

    Somehow I suspect that this fellow might not be re-elected.

  25. Yikes, I stand corrected and apologize profusely for the previous post… I though that this guy was about to be voted out; I didn’t know he’d just been returned to office. My condolences.

  26. And how much worse could it have been if the polls they were spamming were right, on how the NDP were poised to take a majority. Thats what we were told here in little ol’ West side of the Country.

    Its not like we had any good choices, and its not like any of them are going to follow through with their promises.

  27. Yup, we’re Fucktards with a capital F …. BUT there were some reassuring signs. First, the Bloc is dead – specifically, they don’t get official party status – and frankly that’s a good thing. It was always more than a little bit offensive to have a bunch of folks sitting in parliament with the avowed purpose of breaking up the country. Second, the good folks in Quebec now have elected representatives who are PART of the federal process. How long that will last is a great question but it’s a start. Third, it would seem that the “natural governing party” (i.e. the Liberals) have been sufficiently humbled that they might have to rethink who and what they are all about – and that, as Ms Stewart might say, is a good thing. Which brings us to the Conservatives.
    Let’s face it – they got elected cause they were the least horrendous choice available. Will the world end? No – no more than it did when the NDP found themselves running Ontario – nor did it end when they were followed by “Slash and Burn” Harris. The bottom line is that things will change …. somewhat ….. BUT more than anything else we ought to bear in mind that;

    “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government ….. except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

    Winston Churchill wasn’t perfect either – but I think he is still hit that nail on the head.

  28. nor did it end when they were followed by “Slash and Burn” Harris.

    Schools still haven’t recovered from his cuts, though. The 407 is still bleeding money outside the country. (And has Flaherty ever returned a balanced budget — really balanced, that survived an audit?)

    We won’t die, true. But I’m not looking forward to getting seven kinds of shit kicked out of me, again.

  29. Anyway…..

    Suppose psychopaths in the US all moved to a single state. One in twenty five has a similiar diagnosis.

    Would they suck as much as us neurotypicals? At democracy? Or governing themselves?

    One self-confessed, very eloquent psychopath, who calls himself the “Notable ‘Path ” says only 1/10 of sociopaths are in the prison or criminal.

    They can be far more aware of the charades and stupid rituals that people keep. The smart ones, they claim that to them, we are open books. They claim to be able to read us,to can play us like a violin.

    This guy.. he says he is a sadist. And that he loves more, hurting people who hurt his friends. He’ll go full out of them, slander, ruin them.. them, even hurt them physically. He claims re relishes putting other ‘paths into their places. Loves playing mind games, scaring people, winning.

    He says ‘paths are the people who can get stuff done. Monsters, movers.. No conscience, no regrets. Better fear responses.

    His take is.. you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. So he cultivates a do-gooder image. His blog offers what looks like very sound advice on dealing with psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists( he has a special distaste for those idiots)

    So.. do psychopaths.. I mean, smart ones, IQ of 110+. Do they suck less than us? Their chief weakness is reportedly a lack of firm identity, and being very impressionable.

    Would Earth be better off if it were full of people who just have no conscience?

    Could they have a working society?

    Anyway.. his blog makes great reading. Guy should write more of that stuff and get it published. I’m told psychopath-self introspection is not really common.

  30. Do I see SF novel material here?


  31. Would Earth be better off if it were full of people who just have no conscience?

    Correction: full blooded psychopaths.

    How will we fare if we meet a species that has that kind of psychology? Is there a book about that..

  32. Democracy may have shitty downsides, but I’m afraid without it fuckers like these are even more likely to have power (and people we’d like to less likely to have it).

  33. What about the democracy where the more you can score on some very tough test of intelligence, deviousness and the like, the more your vote counts?

    Say, someone with an IQ of 150 who can spot a conman from a hundred paces and doesn’t measure 150 that because he spent half of his life solving IQ tests would have a vote weight of 50, your average 88 would have a vote of weight, say, 1 or 2.

    Also combined with a system, where all major pieces of legislation, would have to be approved, paragraph by paragraph, by a body of citizens volunteering for the task. The task of lawmakers would be to draft, clear, concise law and very good explanations, cases for each paragraph. Why the law has to have that kind of paragraph.

    There’d be discussion threads for each paragraph. Bad grammar would make your posts invisible.

    A bit of .. direct democracy. I know it is a very ugly word, direct democracy.. but I think it’s something many countries need.

  34. @ausir
    You have Myron for your avatar… (LOL)

  35. Condolences, Peter! This is a sad day for justice, democracy and sanity.

    Non-Canadians check out the infographic on the retarded Canadian voting system and be amazed and dismayed to see why this could still happen whilst 60% of Canadians voted liberal/ndp/greens: http://bit.ly/kx2OFK

  36. Actually I’m starting to think that idiocy isn’t the answer for why people have been voting for conservative governments lately. We’re not talking about stupidity, we’re talking about ignorance and fear, and the selfish voting that results.
    Conservative politicians keep as much of the populace as they can ignorant, and then they whip up their fear. Other elements of the population vote for them out of well-informed selfishness. Same difference in the result, really. The folks who are ill-informed are usually voting against their own self-interest. But calling them stupid or ignorant isn’t what will win them to our side. Helping them get informed just might.

  37. “these arrogant, corrupt initiatives were undertaken when the Harper Administration was in the relatively weak position of minority rule. Canada has just rewarded that behavior with a majority.”

    Well what did you expect? Public perception is all in a democracy. The appearance is that as a minority government the majority let them get away with these things through tacit approval. Then it looked like they got together to overturn the government in an election nobody but them wanted. I think the public can be forgiven for seeing them as complicit, don’t you?

    In a country where we only vote parties out how can you expect the people to vote out the party at the head of the most economically stable G8 country? You want to talk about arrogance? Let’s talk about the size of Iggy’s ego in thinking this was a good time to go to the polls. Let’s talk about all the people on the internet calling the electorate “idiots”. Iggy made the same massive miscalculation that so many people did: he confused his own opinion of himself with that of the electorate, and (judging by his lackluster campaign) assumed he didn’t need to convince the people to vote his way.

    Anyway, I suppose since we only vote people out, and you can’t really be voted out until you’ve been voted in, this probably means there’s a much higher chance of a change in leadership in five years. Maybe.

  38. Außenseiter said: “Would Earth be better off if it were full of people who just have no conscience?”

    Reminds me of that dear ol’ Achilles Desjardins in Behemoth: smart as hell, no remorse and the power of life and death at his fingertips. If it hadn’t been for his particular… habits, I wonder if maybe it might have worked out. Hell of a thought experiment in any case.

  39. You forgot that he passed a law mandating fixed dates for elections, then promptly broke the law and called an election (not the most recent election). His government was complicit in exporting a Canadian citizen to Syria to be tortured. His government refused to come to the aid of a 15 year old Canadian citizen being held, tortured and tried in Gitmo. His government, superficially against the death penalty, refuses to help Canadian citizens sentenced to execution in foreign countries. He calls for an election, breaking the fixed date law for a second time and then prorogues Parliament when the opposition parties state that they can form a government, a completely legal process in the parliamentary system.

    And then we can talk about his dirty politics. He airs attack adds against the other parties before an election is called and claims that it is not election spending. There were numerous incidents of liberal supporters receiving phone calls on the day of the election telling them that their polling station had changed.

  40. Given more than 60% of Canadians voted NOT HARPER I wouldn’t go blaming the voters for this so much as your stupid voting system.

    And will the Brits take this clusterfsck into account when they vote on AV today(ish)? Will they bollocks.

  41. Yo Watts: you’re too embroiled in your partisanship

    From your posts it’s clear that you’re a big Obama booster. Your lack of regard for Harper and the cons is also pretty clear. But I will wager you this…

    Even with Obama in the white house and Harper at 24 Sussex, Canada is still by an order of magnitude a saner place to live than the states.
    Given the orientation of the respective governments, you would think it was the other way around, but you of all people have the scars to prove otherwise.

    How much difference did Obama’s election make, really? The US is still all about kicking ass and getting paid, and as a bonus, a black president with a funny name rallies the right wing loons like they’ve never been rallied before. Can a president really change the country, change the people?

    Also, let’s have some respect for the voting public! The republicans fear slashing SS and Medicaid. They want to but they know the consequences, and so they don’t. Obama campaigned on ending the great military adventure. But look at the news lately: he can order a hit when he has too. Obama gives the order, someone pulls the trigger, Popularity goes up 9%. Political leaders, right wing or left are tolerated, but never entirely embraced, and the leaders know it.

    Same thing over here in Canada: the cons know the consequences of trying to gut Medicare. They will tinker with the system, but there will be no radical changes. Harper has already promised 6% annual increases to medical transfer payments through 2014. At that point we are less than 2 years from an election, so I think medicare and other core social programs are safe. Too much righwing assholery will lead to left-leaning provincial governments, and it’s the provinces who are ultimately in charge of education and healthcare.

    Don’t get me wrong. The next 4 years won’t be particularly fun. They cons will gut NSERC and the CBC, fuck climate change initiatives, defund the greens. Stevie will try to take the country to the right: that’s his lifelong ambition. He has been with us for over 10 years. Everyone knows what the man wants. How much he will accomplish is another question. How far was Obama able to take the US to the left?

    And then there is history. Who knows what kind of insane fucked up surprises await the world in the next 4 years? There may be a catastrophe in the offing, but I don’t think that the Harper government quite rises to that level. Obama didn’t save our souls. Neither will Harper damn us for all eternity. Peace.

  42. I thought the USA was fucked when they got Bush II. Then they got Obama, and I thought, for a minute, there may be hope. Then he revealed himself as just another bankster in blackface. And I felt somehow superior, ’cause although we had last year’s psychopath in charge, at least he had a short leash.

    Then it was 10 pm on Monday, and I realized that the country I knew and loved has passed into history. As this blogger describes, we elected a contemptuous fundamentalist who hates Canadians, their values and their democratic traditions. He told us this over and over again. And then, when he was caught with his arm in the cookie jar, all the way up to his chin, we rewarded him with a majority government and an untried, impotent opposition.

    I’m not feeling very superior any more. I feel like the bumpkin my prime minister believes me to be.

  43. noen came back with:

    “We’re hardwired”

    No, we are not. We are not machines executing a fixed program. Or any program at all. We are free to choose between alternative courses of action.

    Uh, no. Sorry, Noen, but all the neurological evidence contradicts you (not to mention pure logic: every effect has a cause, so every spark in the brain results from some previous cause — unless you’re going to try and invoke some kind of duallistic spirituality here, in which case, dude, you’re in the wrong saloon). Check out Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will” for starters. Or download the recent Nature podcast interview with David Eagleman (or read his research). Search this very ‘crawl on the “neuro” category for a sampling of recent papers punching holes in the whole free-will thing. Hell, just Google “Is free will and illusion?” Every popsci outlet from New Scientist to slashdot has been picking up the p-zombi vibes trickling down from the primary lit. Shit, even the US Legal system is starting to realize that the very concept of criminal culpability is at odds with neurological reality.

    But if what you say is true, that our choices are fully determined from the big bang to now then the very concept of freedom goes aways doesn’t it?

    Yes. Exactly. You’ve got it.

    And if so then what are you complaining about?

    I’m complaining because I have no choice. I would have thought that was obvious.

    “verything from the instinct to gorge on fat and sugar right down to homocidal rage responses and alpha worship”

    If this is true then how do you explain atheism? If religious alpha worship is, in your words, “hard wired” then humans should no more be capable of going against their programming then your wristwatch can choose to tell the wrong time.

    By that logic, there’s no such thing as a self-preservation instinct because after all, if there was, nobody would ever commit suicide. I get the sense you aren’t that familiar with basic principles of biology. The fact that certain traits are ubiquitous does not make every member of a species identical, even where those traits are concerned. Hardwiring can vary between individuals; but even different hardwiring is still hardwired. And individuals with identical hardwiring can manifest different behaviors, depending on developmental and environmental interactions. I like to fuck women; other men like to fuck men; still others swing both ways. Some people get off on pain, some on pictures of feet. But in every case the response is a sexual one; the same part of the brain lights up in response to the arousing stimulus. (In the case of foot fetishists, the part of the brain’s sensory strip that handles input from the genitals bumps up against the part that handles input from the feet; it’s a boundary especially susceptible to cross-wiring.)

    The whole basis of natural selection is an interaction between variation and preprogramming. Individuals have be different, or there’d be no basis for selection. And those traits have to be encoded genetically, or the adaptive traits wouldn’t get transmitted to subsequent generations.

    You’re right on one score; it probably is impossible for humans to go against their programming (and by “programming” I mean the whole suite of causal factors, environmental, developmental, and genetic, internal and external). The fact that we feel as though we’re making our own decisions is a compelling illusion, but free will as a real, standalone product of the conscious mind has been pretty thoroughly discredited. If the sources I’ve already cited don’t convince you, try reading Metzinger and Ramachandran; they’ve both written books on the subject for lay audiences, and you can find them on Amazon.

    Even supposed cultural universals like the prohibition against sibling inter-breeding cannot possibly be true. Because if it were true that there is a genetic basis for the cultural taboos against marrying your sister then there would be no need for the taboo in the first place.

    That makes no sense at all. How exactly would a genetic imperative manifest itself in a social context if not via something you’d call a “taboo”? A lot of cultural standards arise from hardwired imperatives; “taboo” is just another word for a shared gut reaction to something that we all know just ain’t natural, dadburnit. We recoil from the sight and smell of a rotten maggoty carcass not through a rational analysis of its status as a health risk, but because it evokes a visceral disgust response. Why does it do that? Because over time, some folks were disgusted by the sight of rotting carcasses, and others weren’t. The ones that weren’t were more likely to get sick and die from playing around in rotting carcasses. The others became our ancestors. Your incest taboo doubtless arose the same way; brothers and sisters fucking each other squick us out, but that’s just because those it didn’t squick out experienced greater inbreeding depression and didn’t leave as many descendents. (And at its base, it’s unlikely to be an actual aversion to breeding with relatives, per sé; more likely it’s an aversion to fucking anything that smells too familiar, which usually accomplishes the same thing.)

    The claims made by the socio-biologists seem to me to be deeply flawed in their reasoning.

    I don’t know which sociobiologists in particular you’re referring to, but given the arguments you’ve posted I’m wondering if you’ve actually read any of them.

    (This is Peter, btw. WordPress may list me as “Anonymous” because my session timed out.)

  44. Außenseiter said

    What about the democracy where the more you can score on some very tough test of intelligence, deviousness and the like, the more your vote counts?

    The title of this post notwithstanding, I disagree profoundly with a lot of Heinlein’s politics — but I have to agree with his take on the whole “smart people get more votes” approach. I think it sucks. There’s nothing about intelligence that immunizes you against corruption; in fact, very smart people vote for right-wing idealogues all the time, because it benefits them even though it guts society at large.

    This will probably cut my readership in half, but I kinda like the thought experiment he played in Starship Troopers: the people who get to vote are the people who’ve proven they’ll put society’s interests ahead of their own. Not sure about Heinlein’s execution of that premise — Abu Ghraib made it pretty clear that not everyone in the military is really invested in the whole betterment-of-society thing, and there are other professions that I think would qualify — but I believe the principle is sound.

    Whatever the system, as long as science fiction authors over six feet tall get to vote, I’m okay with it.

    Val said:

    We’re not talking about stupidity, we’re talking about ignorance and fear, and the selfish voting that results.

    Which is why I was careful to use the word “ignorant” (although granted, a literal interpretation of “fucktard” might imply a certain level of stupidity). Still, there’s no excuse for this “ignorance”. All the breaches I’ve cited, and a myriad others (see anony mouse’s comment) are available to anyone with internet access; it’s not like I have ultraviolet security clearance or anything. There’s no shortage of people trying to shine a light on this stuff; any ignorance out there strikes me as the willful variety.

    rm3154 said

    Yo Watts: you’re too embroiled in your partisanship.

    Eh, you may be right.

    From your posts it’s clear that you’re a big Obama booster.

    Oooh, you’re very wrong. Like many, I had high hopes. I continue to admire the man’s delivery, and his intelligence; I don’t see any Republicans out there that hold a candle to the man in terms of sheer brainpower and erudition.

    But his human rights record sucks as hard or harder than Dubya’s did. And his chronic surrender of political ground before battle is even joined has been really disheartening. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, I don’t know if he’s some kind of Jedi master who’s ten steps ahead of us and psyching us out, or if he’s just fucking up a lot.

  45. PW: I kinda like the thought experiment he played in Starship Troopers: the people who get to vote are the people who’ve proven they’ll put society’s interests ahead of their own.

    That is the general criterion for being a moral human being. Can I put my needs, fears, agenda on hold for a the greater good or a higher principle.

    Noen: We are free to choose between alternative courses of action.

    If I got the jist of noen’s remark, it’s that we can’t have it both ways – either people are utterly hardwired, in which case voting is meaningless and Peter objecting to how they voted is meaningless, and me objecting to his objection is meaningless because Peter could do nothing else, and further objection about my objections …ad absurdum. OR there is some freedom of choice, in which case people are free to vote badly, and Peter is free to be appalled, and I am free to comment upon his being appalled, et cetera.

    As long as we cast it dichotomously, as either/or.

    PW: Oooh, you’re very wrong. Like many, I had high hopes… or if he’s just fucking up a lot

    This freaked me out, because these two paragraphs could have been written by my husband, as in, the word choice, the tone, the opinion expressed are like, perfect. Creepy.

  46. Heinlein:

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of citizenship being granted in exchange for a term of civil service. It’s an interesting idea, albeit fraught with questions of practicality. But Heinlein’s narrow definition of the nature of that service being militarized is kind of wonky. Of course, Heinlein’s world conveniently had a bona fide alien menace bent on human destruction lending some sort of reasonable context to the idea, whereas in reality we just invent those things to suit whatever political narrative we’re slinging at the time.

    Democratic Potency Based on Intelligence:

    Another interesting idea to speculate about. Unfortunately, even though they are completely different concepts, most of our current methods for evaluating intelligence tend to overlap with education for one reason or another, and you’re still setting up a situation where poorer communities and minorities are underrepresented. Besides, at some point, level of intelligence is going to be less a matter of what you are born with, and more a matter of what drugs or procedures you can afford.

    What you really want is some sort of test of sapience, and I’m not aware of any way to do that that isn’t going to be highly subjective at some level, based on the prejudices of the tester.

    Obama:

    The reasons Obama enrages the right are fairly obvious, but I think he gets too much shit from the left. I know it is not hip to have reasonable expectations of people in difficult positions, and that in these circles we frequently demonstrate our unbiased acumen and purity by condemning all sides with equal measures of derision, but I always find it remarkable that people will credit his obvious intelligence and thoughtfulness, and then condemn a move he makes as if it were somehow ill-considered. Obama is a pragmatist. We’ve seen him frequently stop and evaluate the political reality, and re-adjust his aim to achieve what is possible, rather than go down in flames on principle and achieve or salvage nothing. Triage is a necessary battlefield discipline, and the U.S public didn’t do him any favors by voting back into power the dumber end of the same de-regulating assholes they had just voted out of power for enabling the whole financial crisis in the first place.

    Sure he’s pissed me off, especially with his frequent selling out of environmental front prior to the BP oil spill forcing him to take more of a stand. But I elected him to be intelligent and make those kind of realistic judgements, and to get things done. With a few notable exceptions I’ve seen him do that. People that voted for Obama because they bought into the pageantry of campaign rhetoric, are every bit as stupid as people we condemn for voting to re-elect W. Bush.

    Of course, if he really distresses you, don’t worry. The left in my country will wring their hands and backbite, curl up in their traditional fetal position, and soon he wont be in office any longer. Then you’ll get to really see the lie in the argument that there is no difference between the two parties as the Right, now unopposed and in control of every branch of government, completes their campaign to undo a hundred years worth of civil advancements, worker rights, environmental protections, and control over our own bodies. I disagree with the optimistic notion that that won’t happen. It’s happening right now. Two years ago I would have told you it would be inconceivable for even a conservative government to abolish the hard won rights of workers to negotiate collectively. You can pretty much forget science. Climate change? Please.

    The only thing I have left to hope for in my country, is that whoever the Right puts in Obama’s position will be able to form complete sentences and have at least the degree of competence of your average fry cook at Mcdonalds. Looking at the public polling of GOP contenders, I figure I’ve got maybe a 50/50 shot at that. Since the conservative Supreme Court has now removed any lingering legal illusions we might have had that elections will be controlled in the country by anyone other than major corporations, I just ask that the figurehead they put in place not be embarrassing on a basic human level, like a Trump, a Palin, a Huckabee, etc. Let us at least retain some sort of token dignity. A 100+ IQ President can’t be that difficult to fabricate.

  47. To be fair in Starship Troopers Heinlein very specifically pointed out other jobs that would qualify one for citizenship. Nurses, firefighters, ambulance drivers are the specific examples I recall off the top of my head.

    Because of the nature of the book the military gets the most emphasis but, yes, he made it more general.

  48. If my Canadian friends really would like to feel better about themselves today, this might help. This is my country:

    “Professional wrestler” John Cena, shirtless, announces the assassination of Bin Laden to a hooting crowd at Wrestlemania or some such, to a backdrop of Stars and Stripes forever:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/02/john-cena-osama-bin-laden-death_n_856263.html

    I’ll leave the irony of shirtless, steroid-riddled mummers putting on simple slapstick farces with manufactured villains and fanfare for frothing masses (many of which probably voted to re-elect W. Bush) commenting on the Bin Laden situation, for you to ponder. But this *has* to cheer you up. Or something.

  49. my problem with democracy is most people are not in a great position to make informed choice–whether they are smart or stupid, greedy or community oriented. The media greatly confuses people about important issues, or avoids those issues altogether. It is easy to use fear on ignorance

    Even if so inclined, does the average citizen have the time, energy and accurate information to become knowledgeable about economics, environment, climate, social costs and benefits? I’m not saying the average voter is a simpleton (though it seems that way at times) but that s/he is very busy with mundane immediate concerns and the world is a very big and very complex set of systems.

    the average citizen doesn’t even understand that smaller government means less social goods and protections. They do not understand that that tax money is recycled right into society via jobs, social programs, culture, healthcare, infrastructure, safety regulations, etc, etc.

    I do blame our voting system and voter apathy for awarding a majority government to the party that received approval from 24% of the electorate.

    All that said, i am always shocked by how gullible the voter is. Why do farmers vote conservative, their worst enemy? I know working poor and unemployed people who voted conservative. I know rabid atheists who voted for Harper. You would think in a world of record oil profits even the most ignorant voter would be wary of parties that endorse fat subsidies and tax breaks for the oil industry?

    Harper doesn’t even talk a good game about “the people” or “family values” or any other traditional political veil. Whenever he refers to Canadians, he sounds like he is speaking of foreigners who he barely deems human, an irritating obstacle that needs to be humoured at times. So, I just don’t understand him winning an election, except that a lot of voter apathy is people who wouldn’t have voted conservative if they had voted. They did not understand that refusing to vote was not a vote for none of the above, but a tacit endorsement of whoever did end up with the most votes. If every person who earns less than 25 grand a year and didn’t vote had added their vote to the NDP, we’d likely have Prime Minister Layton today.

    John Ralston Saul, in The Unconscious Civilization, discusses at length how helpful it is to conservatives to spread the idea that “all parties are the same” and “what difference does my vote make” and “politics is all corruption and greed”, because it never fools conservatives, only left leaning people and vulnerable people who feel powerless. Every time a conservative rolls back the social good, it reinforces powerlessness to the vulnerable people in society and they feel further disenfranchised from the political process. it’s a terrible ignorance fed feedback loop.

    I’m babbling because I am so upset and reeling from this election

  50. “Democracy is based on the idea that a million idiots can make a better decision than a single intelligent person.”

    Well, it’s often sold that way. Heck, to be fair, if the single person in charge is chosen by accident of (often inbred) birth, subjected to serious mind games and blatant flattery for their entire life, they can be pretty bad even compared to modern democratic politicians. I tend to forget that, but we’ve had some truly doozy leaders though history.

    As far as I can tell, the actual advantages of democracy are very different.

    1. Succession trends heavily peaceful.
    2. Revolution is usually short circuited before it happens.
    3. Government gets constant feedback about it’s actions and has to care.
    4. Ambitious types can get power without having to slaughter existing elite.
    5. Probably other stuff I haven’t thought of.

    Not that the disadvantages aren’t pretty glaring, as we have all just been reminded.

    I would appreciate it if someone would generate progress on the Churchill Initiative sometime soon. (Democracy is only the best option from a depressingly bad array of choices. Maybe someone could develop and test some choices that might be better.)

  51. 3. Government gets constant feedback about it’s actions and has to care.

    This was Dewey’s big point about the strength of representative democracy, essentially – the little guy is the one who knows where the shoe pinches, even if he doesn’t know why, and elections are a well-established way of canvassing his collective opinion on the fit of the shoe.
    Unfortunately, the “doesn’t know why” part of that statement allows little Duces like Harpo to frame the issues for the voter according to their own agendas.

  52. You’re totally right Mr Watts, and you’re not alone to think that now…
    For my part, I can’t believe Canada voted for Harper, I just can’t. I was proud to vote for Layton, I was sure my fellow canadians would see all the shit Harper did and take action against it…
    Deckard: “Second, the good folks in Quebec now have elected representatives who are PART of the federal process. How long that will last is a great question but it’s a start”
    You are right about something, Quebec tried something else. Unfortunately, the response of the Rest of Canada was to re-elect Harper and with a majority. It doesn’t take long to conclude that the good folks in Quebec are really really different from the ROC… which was, paradoxally, the message of the Bloc.

  53. Intelligence in and of itself is not a guarantee of… I don’t know what the proper term is, “honesty,” “integrity…” hopefully something less “And The American Way,” but anyway… however, I do think a basic civics test (like, say, the one we give immigrants) should be a prerequisite to vote. If you have to pass one to move to a country, why shouldn’t you need to pass one to influence its political processes?

    Even raising the entry level an INCH would weed out most of the Teabaggers.

  54. “Democracy is based on the idea that a million idiots can make a better decision than a single intelligent person.”

    Here is a list of single intelligent men who managed to gain the power over their societies without being elected by ‘a million idiots’ as you put it:
    Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, HItler, Mussolini, Ghadafi, even Hitler (Nazi’s never actually won a majority election – he gained his power through manipulating coalitions).
    I would challenge anyone to posit a real world ‘Benevolent Dictator’.Sure voter make mistakes, but some people are acting like Canada has elected a Robert Mugabe, which is hardly the case).
    Ontario has had nearly eight years of provincial mismanagement and massive tax hikes by McGuinty’s Liberals (and the G20 debacle was directly overseen and enabled by the McGuinty government and their ‘secret law’),
    That’s why Ford was elected in Toronto, and that is how the Conservatives got their majority, and how you may be looking at a Conservative victory in Ontario’s next election. Things will get worse for some people, better for others, but seriously, Canada hasn’t changed that much since 2006, and it’s not going to be a very different place under the Conservative Majority they elected..

  55. While I pretty much agree with each of your individual points, I can’t help but feel that when the most positive comment one can summon in regard to Harper is that he’s better than Robert Mugabe — well, that’s looking awfully hard for the proverbial silver lining…

  56. I’ve got this sinking feeling that civilization is heading downhill.

    That’s not to say that it hasn’t been slowly making its way there, it just seems the the signs are more apparent at some times more than others.

    I wish I didn’t feel so pessimistic about my own species…

  57. I’ve been trying to think of some scenario where a small group of “intelligent” people attempt to explain to much larger group of “non-intelligent” people that they will be ruling them in some manner where their opinion counts for more, that doesn’t involve the violent deaths of a small group of intelligent people. Unfortunately, as many of the rich have learned over the centuries, you don’t need to be particularly intelligent to wield a torch and pitchfork. Or a guillotine for that matter.

    I understand this is a fantasy commonly entertained by the losers of any major election. I recall shortly after Obama’s election, the focus of Fox News’ “reporting” for at least a week was the general level of ignorance of the U.S. public, which they illustrated by conducting pop-quizzes of the man on the street, and assembling gag reels of the more entertainingly ignorant. Of course, I also believe their official response to studies that indicated Fox News viewers were more prone to misinformation than people who got their news from other outlets was also something along the lines of, “Those guys are stupid!”

    But really, though, wouldn’t the notion of the the intellectually gifted ruling the intellectually impoverished be just another example of the “have’s” ruling the “have-nots”?

    In fact, if I were an intelligent person ( a proposition I am forced rely on my whimsical imagination to conceptualize), and I was designing a society to be ruled by the intelligent, at least in a purely self-interested fashion, it wouldn’t be very different from what we have now. I would design a system where the gifted find it considerably easier to enrich themselves, and the masses are given just enough of an illusion of rights, freedoms, and simple, accessible narratives of tribal conflicts and alien threats to keep them from lighting the torches, but which clearly favors the rich in every conceivable aspect, in the most absurdly lopsided fashion. So, as Peter observed, it’s not solely a matter intelligence you’re after, as that is still subject to rabid self-interest, and not necessarily, or even commonly, concerned with the Species.

    The interesting question, which I’ve had just enough beer to voice without putting my head through the nearest available section of unblemished drywall, is if this *is* the society designed to be run by soooooper-geniuses, where does that put us?

    Oh, I see. We all assumed we would be the ones with the votes that count in this Brainatopia. Well. Anyone want a beer? I like the way the bubbles feel on my tongue.

    I’m going to drink the rest this beer now, and try desperately to fall asleep without wondering whether I inadvertently fumbled at some sort of pro-Objectivist ethics argument here.


  58. I’ve got this sinking feeling that civilization is heading downhill.

    Hidebound, fearful reactionaries have been feeling that way about the future of our species ever since those damned fools came up with the idea that maybe climbing down from the trees and looking for more stuff or animals to kill and eat on the forest floor is a good idea.. not something that will kill everyone attempting it.

    Do not worry. You are not unique, and you can get help. I think there are even support groups for people like you. Conservatives Anonymous..or something.

    @PW
    I too, like the idea of military service being tied to votes. That or police service.

    There is lot of dangerous, unpleasant stuff that needs volunteer labour. Ecological conservation, waste-cleanup, policing, helping the poor, etc..

    Or say, doing badly paid scientific work. Or writing useful open source software. Or designing machines with no intention of patenting them. Putting the design out there, so it can be produced by anyone.
    Or working for free on other useful stuff.

    All of these things are about sacrificing monetary gain and benefiting.. well.. everyone.

    People who are willing to do stuff like that… they are more likely to be altruistic? Am I on the right wave here?

    Me, I would be happy as a living in a smallish house with no warm water, somewhere far from civilization, (provided there was a net connection). If I could get away with working for a living twenty hours a week, and spending the rest doing stuff I like or think is good for society… beats running the corporate rat maze in pursuit of whatever the fuck makes people do that kind of sfuff.

    Bathing nude, in cold clear streams is healthy and refreshing. Makes you feel your balls just froze off.. but that passes quickly… makes you feel alive.
    Ask the Siberians… they do that a lot.

    Chopping up wood for heating seems better to me than paying gas bills.

    Eating inexpensive food most of the time, what our ancestors ate back in middle ages.. what would be wrong with that?

    Spartans had the right idea about this. Luxuries are fine, but easy living corrupts.

    People who are willing to do stuff like that… they are more likely to be altruistic? Am I on the right wave here?

    I am a firm believer in the latin adage “Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum”. So, I inconvenience myself by carrying a loaded handgun at most times. I think it is supported by both game theory and sociobiology. If stakes of conflict are higher, people are less likely to go into a conflict.

    Even though I am living in a low crime area. Because you never know, when you will come into a situation where nothing but violence is the solution.
    Situations involving say, a half dozen drunk Nazis looking for someone to beat up. Happens sometimes.

  59. Now me, I used to think Starship Trooper was ‘way kewl, until that is I went blind (actually low-vision, but the phrase “went blind” is so evocative) & I thought back to the about how Juan is explaining about those stupid folks who, despite their disability, insisted on earning the franchise even if they couldn’t fight. Juan went on about they were given make-work joe jobs like counting the hair on a caterpillar’s back by feel. Boy, sorry my crappy vision is ruining your utopia!

    The current Mother Jone’s magazine is running an excellent article on why the Harpo-types are hardwired to hate science (the article is called The Science of Why We Hate Science”). Highly recommended.

    But if you really want to see the Conservative Party’s hatred of science in action, wait until the release of the Cohen Commission report. The collapse of the 2009 Fraser sockeye fishery apparently had nothing to do with lose of habitat, climate change or over-fishing. Nope, it’s all predation: salmon sharks, blue sharks, daggertooths, sablefish, lamprey and the common murre. See. It’s all natural, so we don’t need any stinking science.

  60. Sorry for not getting back to this sooner. Peter Watts said some stuff:

    “all the neurological evidence contradicts you”

    The neurological evidence does not show that we are “hard-wired” in the way that my PC is.

    “not to mention pure logic: every effect has a cause, so every spark in the brain results from some previous cause — unless you’re going to try and invoke some kind of duallistic spirituality here, in which case, dude, you’re in the wrong saloon”

    I’m not a dude and I’m not a spiritualist but I do enjoy interactions where one person takes one side and we argue, not yell, argue, for our positions.

    Logic does not dictate that every effect has a cause. Just the opposite, A –> B; B; therefore A, is an invalid inference. We cannot *deduce* A from B, we can only infer it.

    “Check out Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will””

    Sounds like philosophy rather than science to me. I admit that it is difficult to justify our sense that we can choose between alternative outcomes, free will, but if it is true that we have no free will then why are you arguing? Rational argument *depends* on our ability to choose correct arguments over incorrect ones. But if our choices are predetermined then ALL argument is pointless and there is no such thing as a rational action of any kind. And if that is true then what is the point of complaining about ANYTHING? Why have any laws at all? If all behavior was pre-determined from the moment of the big bang how can we possibly hold anyone morally responsible for anything they do? It would make no more sense to hold Jeffery Dalmer morally responsible for what he did than it would be to punish my car for the crash it was in.

    “Search this very ‘crawl on the “neuro” category for a sampling of recent papers punching holes in the whole free-will thing.”

    I’ve been reading your blog from when before it was a blog. You kind of play fast and loose with the conclusions you draw from the studies you cite. That’s fine, it makes for a good story, but it’s rather poor science.

    “Hell, just Google “Is free will and illusion?”

    I prefer to think. I can google anything and get any result I want.

    “Every popsci outlet from New Scientist to slashdot has been picking up the p-zombi vibes”

    I am sure that bad philosophy makes for good popsci. Nevertheless, I strongly disagree that it is possible we are p-zombies. It doesn’t make any sense and the arguments for them are embarrassingly bad.

    “I’m complaining because I have no choice.”

    Don’t be silly, of course you have a choice. When you go to a restaurant and the waiter asks what you’ll have do you say: “I’m a determinist, I’ll wait and see what I order.”? No, you don’t. If you have no choice but to complain then I have no choice other than to respond. If there is no free will we are not really having a conversation, we are just executing our predetermined scripts. You don’t exist, you are just an illusion generated by your biology. This is silliness.

    I have to go, I will resume this later today. Peace.

  61. Also, am I the only one who really doesn’t understand how a country with this retarded voting system can be called a democracy?

    Shouldn’t the definition of democracy include proportional representation? Otherwhilse, what’s the point of polling what the people want if you don’t hold to it…

  62. Or even the Alternative Voting scheme they use to select the Hugos, which makes even more sense. Over on my facebook page Val Grimm posted a great link to a felocentric introduction to AV voting, which I shall repost here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiHuiDD_oTk

  63. We fucktards mostly did not vote for Harper. The non-Harper votes varied regionally and riding to riding, sadly. Some of the vote splits were tragic. For less than 200 votes, we swapped a hard-working, experienced (popular!) Liberal incumbent for an unknown Cons…CAGE-FIGHTER. For reals…

    And…yeah…electoral reform. I mean, I Iove that Yukon has its own seat, for 32,000 people (a number which may include a few mangy bears). You could argue we need this for regional representation, but it’s also true that if every (or even some) 32,000 person neighbourhoods of the GTA, Greater Van, Edmonton, etc. had their own seat, this whole thing would go very differently.

    More political education, and education generally, please.

    I say hang in there…we’ll dump him next go around…

  64. @ Lanius-

    I’m not a conservative at all. The reason I made the comments I did is because the idea that people in power are so willing to do away with science could very well deal us all a dim future IMO.

  65. Picking up where I left off. Peter said:
    “The fact that certain traits are ubiquitous does not make every member of a species identical, even where those traits are concerned. Hardwiring can vary between individuals; but even different hardwiring is still hardwired.”

    How do you get “all behavior is hardwired’ from “there is variation in biological traits”? From the mere fact that biological traits are determined by DNA and acted upon by natural selection it does not follow that all observed behavior is genetically determined. Biology is not destiny. Identical twins, who are effectively clones of each other, have different finger prints. If the genotype *determines* the phenotype this would not happen.

    “Hardwiring can vary between individuals; but even different hardwiring is still hardwired”

    This is question begging. You have not shown that it is in fact the case that all behavior is hardwired.

    “I like to fuck women; other men like to fuck men; still others swing both ways. Some people get off on pain, some on pictures of feet. But in every case the response is a sexual one; the same part of the brain lights up in response to the arousing stimulus.”

    Again, from the fact that there are different sexual preferences it does not follow that those preferences are hardwired. The communication pathways go both ways. Not only can on region affect the cerebral cortex, the cerebral cortex can affect other regions of the brain. We re-wire ourselves on the fly. Do the regions in gay men’s brains that resemble those of women *make* them gay or because they were gay did their behavior make their brains resemble those of women?

    Through hours of practice a professional musician alters their own brain structure. It would be false to then section that musician’s brain and declare that the neural structures seen were “hardwired” and that this person was determined beforehand to be a musician.

    “free will as a real, standalone product of the conscious mind has been pretty thoroughly discredited.”

    Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.

    “How exactly would a genetic imperative manifest itself in a social context if not via something you’d call a “taboo”?

    How from the mere existence of taboos can you claim that they are genetically determined? If sibling inter-marriage is genetically disadvantageous and the incest taboo is a result of natural selection, then how do you explain the kibbutz syndrome? In the kibbutz children NOT related to each other were all raised in common. As a result the last thing any boy from a kibbutz wanted to do was to marry a girl from his own kibbutz. Yet the girls from the other kibbutz down the road, they were very attractive to him. Socio-biology cannot explain this.

    “A lot of cultural standards arise from hardwired imperatives; “taboo” is just another word for a shared gut reaction to something that we all know just ain’t natural, dadburnit.”

    But there are virtually no taboos. I choose the incest taboo because it is the closest to a cultural universal but it isn’t, not really. If sociobiology is true then I would expect to see many more universal taboos, but there are hardly any at all.

    “We recoil from the sight and smell of a rotten maggoty carcass not through a rational analysis of its status as a health risk, but because it evokes a visceral disgust response. Why does it do that? Because over time, some folks were disgusted by the sight of rotting carcasses, and others weren’t.”

    But in some cultures rotted meat is prized. The recipe is easy, kill the animal and bury it. Then come back in a few days when it’s nice and “tender” and dig in! Tasty! And the maggots are just an extra treat for desert. “Gut reactions” are no basis for scientific explanation.

    “Because over time, some folks were disgusted by the sight of rotting carcasses, and others weren’t. The ones that weren’t were more likely to get sick and die from playing around in rotting carcasses. The others became our ancestors. ”

    I can tell just-so stories too. Over time, those people who buried their catch were better able to survive hard times and it kept their food away from predators. The ones that didn’t get sick learned how to minimize the risk and passed their knowledge down.

  66. Actually I think that this is a good thing. When you have absolute power (House and Senate) it’s very hard to blame anyone or make excuses for your failures.

    Let’s face it though, the Liberals offered no alternative. They needed a ruthless politician as leader and instead chose a university professor type who couldn’t relate to the public (and vice verse). Iggy was too nice a guy and nice guys finish last. His really dumb idea that this was the right time for an election reminds one of The Charge of the Light Brigade. That ended badly too.

    I wonder how long before disillusionment with the NDP sets in? Oh well, four years now in which to unite the left/center.

  67. Bloody hell, can’t take it any more. Universal right to vote and universal right to stand for office are one of the great achievements of civilisation and human rights. Societies based on these principles have the most freedom and least discrimination anytime, anywhere (note that’s most and least, not complete and none) and people here want to throw it away?

    Want to ensure crooks don’t get into office? Iran has an impartial body of religious leaders who screen out all the unsuitable candidates.

    You’d prefer politicians work together for the good of the people and country rather than western style competitive parties? The old Soviet Union or mainland China. And if you think they create less pollution and environmental destruction than us capitalists, look up the Aral Sea or Three Gorges Dam.

    Want to live in a smallish house with no warm water, eating what our ancestors ate in the middle ages? Welcome to North Korea.

    People shouldn’t be allowed to vote if they can’t make informed decisions? Women, for example. Or blacks. That’s exactly the argument made against enfranchising such groups.

    Any right-wing oligarch would be delighted to enact most of the measures being suggested here.

  68. “Actually I think that this is a good thing. When you have absolute power (House and Senate) it’s very hard to blame anyone or make excuses for your failures.”

    I think that being elected with a majority is a step or two removed from having “absolute” power; however, the gist of your argument is right on – and we’ve already seen it – and it’s why the system “works.” It was really easy for Harper to behave like an (absolute) asshole in the last two parliaments – his failures were not his own – it was the “oppositions” fault. NOW who is going to blame? Bottom line is the government is not beholding to the opposition – it’s the VOTERS who will ultimately hold the final judgement.

    One of the WORST aspects of democracy is that the moment they get elected, politicians do NOT spend their time serving the voters or making the country a better place – they spend their time working to get re-elected. OK, let’s not fight that, let’s make it clear we are going to spend the next four years deciding if WE will re-elect Mr Harper. That might explain why Steve has so quickly moved to distance himself from privatizing health care – presumably something our favourite SF writer would approve of. Even if SteveO thinks it would be a wonderful idea, he knows it would be a REALLY bad idea to fuck with universal health care. For the same reason, the Conservatives will not undertake a lot of other dumb idea’s. In spite of all those who would suggest something otherwise, I think Canadians have a pretty good idea of who we are -and who we do not want to be. Cross certain lines, and the public will hand you your head – THAT will keep things real.

  69. Hugh said

    Bloody hell, can’t take it any more. … Any right-wing oligarch would be delighted to enact most of the measures being suggested here.

    What, even the Alternative Voting strategy presented by Reform Cat? Personally, I think that would solve a lot of problems.

    Here’s another measure that I think would help, and which a few jurisdictions are already sniffing around in terms of “recall” initiatives. But I say, fuck mere “recall”. I say we classify campaign promises as oral contracts, sealed when any given candidate or party receives a mandate. The moment they break a campaign promise, you don’t just recall them; you sue their asses for breach of contract.

    Of course, so many campaign promises are made in the absence of complete information. So many well-intentioned commitments go astray when the new bosses rise to power and announce that the old bosses left the cupboard so much barer than they’d let on. Tough. Maybe the prospect of endless litigation will discourage candidates from making promises based on incomplete intel.

  70. If it’s any help, we in Scotland just brought back the left leaning Scottish National Party and gave them the majority they were lacking last time.

    We still have Conservatives in London though.

  71. @ Peter:

    Sure, breach of promise lawsuits might work for awhile (if we can ever convince the courts that campaign promises are more than mere puffery), but the real problem up until now has been that any reform system has to go through a gauntlet made of folks with a real vested interest in keeping things they way they are now. A prof of mine once pointed out to me Canada is designed to fracture the power elites that, in other countries, challange the government in power.

    Let’s say someone comes with a really great idea (like your breach of promise idea) to reform the election system. First step: it is throughly investigated by committees of the house and the senate, both of whom generate reports advising the Government that the reforms are stupid, can’t work, would cost too much, are undemocratic, violate the Statutes of Westminster and are bad for your teeth.

    Then the Federal/Provincial Committees have big meetings and we hear the same BS, this time mulitplied by 13. Then the Commissions do their thing and the Cabinet decides. In the end, it either expires during the next election or ends up as a bucket of slush.

    I just don’t know. All we can really do is go issue by issue, screaming and yelling until it’s changed.

  72. There are two problems I can see with restricting the right to vote to people who contribute to society in some fashion.

    The first is that it opens the door to suggestions like this one: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ianmcowie/100010127/a-tax-based-alternative-to-the-alternative-vote/

    The second is… who doesn’t contribute to society in some fashion? Who’s to judge?

  73. aletheia:
    … who doesn’t contribute to society in some fashion? Who’s to judge?

    I will not stand here and be accused of contributing to society.

  74. noen said

    The neurological evidence does not show that we are “hard-wired” in the way that my PC is.

    A few years ago, a man in Florida was incarcerated as a hypersexual pedophile. Even in prison he couldn’t stop hitting on everything that moved. Then they found a tumor in his brain, and removed it; the pathology vanished. The literature is full of cases like this, extending all the way back to Phineas Gage.

    We can electrically stimulate the brain in a way that not only turns people into puppets — causing them to move their limbs involuntarily — but which has them swearing on their mother’s graves that they moved those limbs of their own free will. Persinger up in Laurentian can sometimes induce religious experiences by stimulating the temporal lobe. Victim’s of Cotard’s syndrome literally believe that they are dead, sometimes rotting.

    You should read this stuff. it’s amazing. All of these studies, and hundreds more, point to the brain as a machine whose hardwiring can be interfered with in pretty much the same way your PC can be: magnets. Electrical fields.

    I’m not a dude

    Ah. Dudette, then. Sorry for assuming.

    Logic does not dictate that every effect has a cause. Just the opposite, A —> B; B; therefore A, is an invalid inference. We cannot *deduce* A from B, we can only infer it.

    Not quite sure how this invalidates cause/effect — if you’re claiming that correlation is not causation I agree with you, but that’s not the same thing as saying that causation doesn’t exist.

    “Check out Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will””
    Sounds like philosophy rather than science to me.

    I don’t know why you’d say that, based on the title. Wegner’s a professor of Psychology, and that book is jam-packed with examples and case studies from the neurological sciences. (I will admit that the philosophers got the whole no-such-thing-as-free-will thing way before neurology even existed; but science has been making up for lost time in terms of hard data.)

    But if our choices are predetermined then ALL argument is pointless and there is no such thing as a rational action of any kind. And if that is true then what is the point of complaining about ANYTHING? Why have any laws at all? If all behavior was pre-determined from the moment of the big bang how can we possibly hold anyone morally responsible for anything they do? It would make no more sense to hold Jeffery Dalmer morally responsible for what he did than it would be to punish my car for the crash it was in.

    Well, yeah, that’s the crux of the issue. And it’s damn counterintuitive, because our own personal sense of autonomy is so profound. But I have to point out that you’re not really making an actual argument here; you’re basically stating that my claims can’t be correct because if they were, everything we hold to be self-evident about ourselves would be completely wrong. And that’s true, as far as it goes: but It can’t be, therefore it isn’t is not a logical statement.

    What I’m saying is that the data I’ve read about do support the claim that everything we’ve always held to be self-evident is wrong. And it doesn’t make sense to hold Dalmer morally responsible. (Which is not to say he shouldn’t be locked up; the man was obviously dangerous.) But the fact that a tumor can turn a law-abiding citizen into a pedophile is only the first step. The second step is to realize that the tumor is irrelevant: none of us had a say in the way our brains are wired, whether we’re afflicted by a tumor or not. And yeah, that gets into very scary territory that does violence to our deepest sense of right and wrong. But the fact that it’s profoundly disturbing does not mean that it’s untrue.

    I’ve been reading your blog from when before it was a blog.

    (Uh, what exactly was it, then? I’m a bit confused as to what it was you were reading.)

    You kind of play fast and loose with the conclusions you draw from the studies you cite. That’s fine, it makes for a good story, but it’s rather poor science.

    I’m not pointing you to my opinions on the ‘crawl; I’m pointing you to primary research papers which are linked through the crawl.

    I strongly disagree that it is possible we are p-zombies. It doesn’t make any sense and the arguments for them are embarrassingly bad.

    I’d be interested in your critique as to why the arguments are so embarrassingly bad; some fairly impressive heavyweights seem to take them pretty seriously. Myself, I find the p-zombie idea interesting, but not central. p-zombies are not conscious, and I know that I am. The fundamental question, conscious or not, is whether I have free will.

    Don’t be silly, of course you have a choice. When you go to a restaurant and the waiter asks what you’ll have do you say: “I’m a determinist, I’ll wait and see what I order.”? No, you don’t. If you have no choice but to complain then I have no choice other than to respond. If there is no free will we are not really having a conversation, we are just executing our predetermined scripts. You don’t exist, you are just an illusion generated by your biology. This is silliness.

    No. It is counterintuitive. It is disturbing. It seems ridiculous because it is at odds with our subjective experience. But it is not silly.

    The whole point is, we do feel like we have free will. We feel ourselves making decisions, actively pursuing choices. Your parody isn’t even a legitimate caricature; a real determinist would simply order reflexively, and the issue would never arise (autonomous or automatic, we all gotta eat).

    But now it turns out that the motor impulses that act on the choices we consciously “make” are already well under way before we’re even aware of having made the choice. The conscious decision to move comes after the motion has already begun. In and of itself, this does not disprove free will; you could always argue that some unconscious part of the brain made an autonomous decision, regardless of when the brain became “aware” of it. But what this does prove is, our subjective experience of making the choice doesn’t mean anything. It feels like a choice being made, but it’s really an executive summary of past events. So the strongest “evidence” of free will — the fact that we experience ourselves “deciding” something — is meaningless.

    Let’s break this down to the building blocks. Everything the brain does, conscious or not, is a function of firing neurons, yes? You cannot experience anything unless neurons have fired; that’s what experience is. So something has to provoke that activity before you can experience anything — maybe another experience, but then you get into a long regress. Ultimately, something from outside causes the brain to fire, something environmental. Something from nature.

    Something the brain has no control over.

    Now let’s look at the neurons themselves. They are chemicals and electricity; they are little sparking engines that obey the laws of physics. If there is enough calcium and potassium in the cache, enough current stored to jump the synaptic gap, if the impulse coming in from some adjacent neuron is enough to tip those balances — the neuron fires. How can it not? The laws of physics brook nothing else.

    That’s what thought is. That’s what experience is: little bags of salt and current, microscopic shrubberies each tipped with a thousand little spark plugs, firing or not firing in miraculously complex ways depending on inputs and outputs. Ultimately all those inputs come from outside of us, if for no other reason than that the outside was there before we even existed, and it was the only place we could get input from. All physical. All mechanical.

    Tell me noen, where in all this machinery is there room for free will? At what stage of the process do the laws of physics relax enough to let autonomy into the mix? Don’t talk about quantum uncertainty; I’m perfectly willing to admit that random noise can sneak into the mix. But randomness isn’t free will either. I’m no more autonomous if my behavior is ruled by a dice roll than I am if it’s run by pure clockwork. I may not be deterministic, but I am still mechanical.

    I would like to be autonomous. Believe me. But I don’t see how it’s possible — and a shitload of experts who know way more than I do can’t see it either.

    How do you get “all behavior is hardwired’ from “there is variation in biological traits”? From the mere fact that biological traits are determined by DNA and acted upon by natural selection it does not follow that all observed behavior is genetically determined.

    Not genetically determined, no. I explicitly defined the determining variables as ” environmental, developmental, and genetic, internal and external”.

    Again, from the fact that there are different sexual preferences it does not follow that those preferences are hardwired. The communication pathways go both ways….Through hours of practice a professional musician alters their own brain structure. It would be false to then section that musician’s brain and declare that the neural structures seen were “hardwired” and that this person was determined beforehand to be a musician.

    Yeah, but noen, I never said they were. I agree with you on this. I never claimed that there was a “musician gene” or a heritable “pianist circuit” (the higher-level circuitry of the brain isn’t programmed genetically anyway, beyond basic instructions like glial cells, start migrating! or Dendrites, sprout! The specific microcircuitry pretty much wires itself up developmentally, as I understand it).

    What I said was that we, as a species, have certain hardwired responses, by which I mean they’re built into us at a fundamental biological level — generally genetic, but there are cases when other variables change the programming. (That pedophilia-inducing tumor, for example. ) I also said that the concept of free will is incompatible with a mechanistic universe, but that’s a much deeper level of determinism than mere genetics. I think you may be confusing those two statements.

    “free will as a real, standalone product of the conscious mind has been pretty thoroughly discredited.”

    Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.

    So it is. And it’s also Wegner’s opinion. And Ramachandran’s. And Metzinger’s. Dennet’s too, if I’m not mistaken. And Rosenthal’s. And — hell, just follow the links. Read the lit.

    I’ve got philosophers and neurologists in my corner. They based their opinions on research, on data, on work they’ve done themselves. I haven’t done any of that work myself, but I’ve read about it; my opinion’s reasonably informed for a layperson’s but it’s really the actual scientists in the field that you’re arguing with, not me.
    Who’ve you got on side? Give me some names, and I’ll try to make time to look them up and read their arguments (because believe it or not, I am interested in disproving my current stance. It’s no fun being a puppet of entropy; I’d love to have reason to believe that I’m not one.)

    “How exactly would a genetic imperative manifest itself in a social context if not via something you’d call a “taboo”?

    How from the mere existence of taboos can you claim that they are genetically determined?

    I never claimed that all taboos were genetically determined: I claimed that genetically-determined imperatives manifested culturally as taboos. It’s right there in the sentence you just quoted. “All A are B” does not imply that “All B are A”.

    If sibling inter-marriage is genetically disadvantageous and the incest taboo is a result of natural selection, then how do you explain the kibbutz syndrome? In the kibbutz children NOT related to each other were all raised in common. As a result the last thing any boy from a kibbutz wanted to do was to marry a girl from his own kibbutz. Yet the girls from the other kibbutz down the road, they were very attractive to him. Socio-biology cannot explain this.

    Sure it can, and I already have, in my previous comment: ” And at its base, it’s unlikely to be an actual aversion to breeding with relatives, per sé; more likely it’s an aversion to fucking anything that smells too familiar, which usually accomplishes the same thing.” (Seriously, noen, you’ve gotta read this stuff more carefully; that was in the very same paragraph that you just excerpted.)

    “A lot of cultural standards arise from hardwired imperatives; “taboo” is just another word for a shared gut reaction to something that we all know just ain’t natural, dadburnit.”

    But there are virtually no taboos. I choose the incest taboo because it is the closest to a cultural universal but it isn’t, not really. If sociobiology is true then I would expect to see many more universal taboos, but there are hardly any at all.

    I think you’re still falling into the trap of assuming that determinism implies uniformity. Time and again you seem to take the stance that “traits vary across time and space, therefore sociobiology is wrong”. Sociobiology does not state that everyone is the same. Its fundamental premise is pretty modest, and to mind almost trivially irrefutable: that we are all products of Darwinian evolution, shaped by the same rules and processes, and that this legacy is reflected in the wiring of our brains as much as it is in the shapes of our limbs. (I’d even question whether it warrants status as a separate sub discipline; how do you disentangle brains from limbs when each affects the other? It’s all just biology, period.) As far as I’ve observed, the most vociferous objections to that premise hail from those with a vested interest in putting Humanity at the top of whatever heap they happen to be building. Admitting that we’re the product of the same processes that shaped every other species takes away too much of our “specialness”.

    But again, while it predicts ubiquitous laws, it doesn’t predict universal invariance. Quite the contrary. One well-known “law”, for example, states that mate selection is partially a function of reproductive energetics: whichever sex invests the greatest amount of energy in reproduction will be the choosiest mate-selectors, while those that invest less will be more inclined to fuck anything that moves. This has proven to be true across a wide range of species, and it holds in ours as well (both men and women fuck around, but men fuck indiscriminately; women tend to trade up). But even among humans, variation exists; there are a few cultures in which women keep harems of husbands (one of them is in Tibet, a couple of others in Africa — I forget the specifics). And lo and behold, it turns out that in those environments, the men invest more energy in reproduction than the women do. “Sociobiology”, if we have to use that word, predicts not uniformity but variation, as a function of specific conditions. The rules are stable; their manifestation changes all over the place.

    “We recoil from the sight and smell of a rotten maggoty carcass not through a rational analysis of its status as a health risk, but because it evokes a visceral disgust response. Why does it do that? Because over time, some folks were disgusted by the sight of rotting carcasses, and others weren’t.”

    But in some cultures rotted meat is prized. The recipe is easy, kill the animal and bury it. Then come back in a few days when it’s nice and “tender” and dig in! Tasty! And the maggots are just an extra treat for desert.

    Yeah, I know of a least one west-coast native population that does that. Don’t know of any tropical ones. I’d guess that selection pressure loosens up once one gets into cool areas that slow down enemy activity (although admittedly I’m just speculating here; no data at all).

    But again, you’re caricaturing biology. It’s as if I pointed out that people of tropical descent have elevated melanin to deal with higher UV, only to have you come back with “If that was true, Michael Jackson wouldn’t exist.”

    “Gut reactions” are no basis for scientific explanation.

    No, “gut reactions” are things that require a scientific explanation.

    “Because over time, some folks were disgusted by the sight of rotting carcasses, and others weren’t. The ones that weren’t were more likely to get sick and die from playing around in rotting carcasses. The others became our ancestors. ”

    I can tell just-so stories too. Over time, those people who buried their catch were better able to survive hard times and it kept their food away from predators. The ones that didn’t get sick learned how to minimize the risk and passed their knowledge down.

    Yeah, but your just-so story doesn’t explain the existence of the visceral disgust response (which, anomalous Amerind tribes notwithstanding, is pretty ubiquitous not only in our species, but in others). It doesn’t even address that response, which was presumably the point of the exercise.

    Mine wins.

  75. [snip]Peter vs noen cage match[/snip]

    I love this blog. :)

  76. Christ, Watts. Man, nothing like a political posting to start the walls of text being erected, although Peter and Noen’s exchanges have gone somewhere else entirely. That last post is great, Peter.

    FORTY QUATLOOS ON THE GIMPY SASQUATCH!

  77. HI!

    Peter said: — “You should read this stuff. it’s amazing. All of these studies, and hundreds more, point to the brain as a machine whose hardwiring can be interfered with in pretty much the same way your PC can be: magnets. Electrical fields.”

    I am not denying that we are machines of some sort. I deny that we are von Neumann machines like the one in my PC. I consider the strong AI position to have been refuted and I interpreted some of your remarks as supporting it. I apologize if I’m wrong. No one today believes, or ought to believe, that our minds are the software implemented in neurons but that we could just as easily be transferred to silicon. Ray Kurzweil’s dream of being uploaded into his PC’s hard drive is just that, a dream.

    In your books you’ve written about the Chinese room and you seem to dismiss it. That’s fine, you write fiction and you want a good story, but meantime Searle has won the day. Strong AI is defeated. The cognitive branch of phil of mind represented by Dennet and others is also withering on the vine.

    “But I have to point out that you’re not really making an actual argument here; you’re basically stating that my claims can’t be correct because if they were, everything we hold to be self-evident about ourselves would be completely wrong.”

    Yes, I am not making an actual argument, sort of, just an appeal. I was not trying to say that because the absence of free will is undesirable that is therefore cannot be true that we have no free will. But I think it is a concept that we cannot do without. I don’t see how we can make sense of the world if it is true and, if we truly have no free will then there is no such thing as rationality. I don’t like giving that up.

    “none of us had a say in the way our brains are wired,”

    I think we do have a say. If I choose to learn how to play the piano then I am participating in how my brain is structured. I have a say.

    “Uh, what exactly was it [the blog], then? I’m a bit confused as to what it was you were reading.”

    It used to be just a web page that you scrolled down and you had thoughts and news tidbits posted. I think that was back when Starfish was your only book. I like you Peter, this is not a hostile discussion we’re having. At least I hope not.

    “I’d be interested in your critique as to why the arguments [for p-zombies] are so embarrassingly bad”

    The argument for them is circular. Do p-zombies understand Chinese? No, but since p-zombies are indistinguishable from us then it is possible you are a zombie. You just think that when they peel off a layer of skin for a donor site that you are in pain. You’re not. You’re not a writer either since that would require an understanding of language and zombies don’t understand anything. There is no possible test that you or anyone could ever conduct that would show that you are a zombie. So… the concept is incoherent.

    “The conscious decision to move comes after the motion has already begun.”

    That was for a rehearsed action. The subject pushes a button as the clock’s hands move and yeah, his conscious decision lags behind that of his brain. But that is like playing the piano. We repeat an action over and over until it becomes embedded. Musicians have a saying “practice make permanent”. But I don’t think that means there is no musician.

    “Tell me noen, where in all this machinery is there room for free will? At what stage of the process do the laws of physics relax enough to let autonomy into the mix?”

    I think there is such a thing as intentional causation. I choose to raise my arm and my arm goes up. I think we are conscious moral agents, ok, maybe the free part is hard to prove but the rest seems self evident to me. Consciousness has a first person ontology. So if I feel I am in pain then I am in pain. I don’t think that pain reduces to C-fiber firings. I don’t accept eliminative materialism. I think that I am a self even though I arise from neurons and that I can act in the world and choose “freely” between alternatives. Even if that is untrue is seem to me I must live as though it were true.

    ” Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.

    So it is. And it’s also Wegner’s opinion. ”

    Um, that was a joke. I was quoting The Big Lebowski. I %#-ing love the Cohen brothers. The dude abides.

    “Who’ve you got on side? Give me some names”

    I never went to collage. My parents didn’t really help much. Because I am older now I have time to read and listen. I listen the most to the podcasts the University of Berkeley and mostly the philosophy and cog-sci podcasts. I didn’t have the advantages others had but I’m working on it.

    I like your science fiction with is odd because I don’t usually like hard sci-fi. For instance I love Stargate Universe (it has a plot!) but didn’t must care for the others in the franchise.

    “Seriously, noen, you’ve gotta read this stuff more carefully; that was in the very same paragraph that you just excerpted.”

    Oh I knew that. I was just hoping you wouldn’t notice. Sorry, I can’t help it, after all, it’s not like I had a choice or anything. ;)

    “Yeah, but your just-so story doesn’t explain the existence of the visceral disgust response ”

    What we find disgusting is, I believe, culturally fixed.

    I hope your leg gets better… it will. I worked for over ten years in a burn unit (not a nurse). You’re lucky, trust me.

  78. What we find disgusting is, I believe, culturally fixed.

    an open area of research, so maybe not entirely.

  79. That was for a rehearsed action.

    this is something I was thinking about the other day when someone in a forum mentioned that people can shake hands automatically and then retroactively assign conscious intent. but, shaking hands is a cultural thing, plus rehearsed all of the time. so maybe it comes down to things we do so often in our environment that it becomes hard wired. (and for some other place without handshaking, there would be an equivalent greet behavior).

    does anyone here know more about this and whether research has been done on intention in tasks that are very novel?

    and while they are being learned. versus after they are learned. etc.

  80. Edward O. Wilson reverses himself. He now denies kin selection. Kin selection does not exist.

    Where does good come from?

    But over the course of subsequent decades, Wilson came across evidence that made him doubt the connection between genetic relatedness and altruism. Researchers were finding species of insects that shared a lot of genetic material with each other but didn’t behave altruistically, and other species that shared little and did. “Nothing we were finding connected with kin selection,” Wilson said. “I knew that something was going wrong — there was a smell to it.”

    Wilson said he first gave voice to his doubts in 2004, by which point kin selection theory had been widely accepted as the explanation for the evolution of altruism. “I pointed out that there were a lot of problems with the kin selection hypothesis, with the original Hamilton formulation, and with the way it had been elaborated mathematically by a very visible group of enthusiasts,” Wilson said. “So I suggested an alternative theory.”

    The alternative theory holds that the origins of altruism and teamwork have nothing to do with kinship or the degree of relatedness between individuals. The key, Wilson said, is the group: Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes — including the ones that predispose them to cooperation — are handed down to future generations. This so-called group selection, Wilson insists, is what forms the evolutionary basis for a variety of advanced social behaviors linked to altruism, teamwork, and tribalism — a position that other scientists have taken over the years, but which historically has been considered, in Wilson’s own word, “heresy.”

  81. @noen

    Interesting. But to me seems as valid as kin selection. Is there a way to disprove it?

  82. …Democracy is based on the idea that a million idiots can make a better decision than a single intelligent person.

    Although you seem to have meant this in the typically statist way in which the single intelligent person is a hypothetical dictator who agrees with you on everything, I just realized that this phrase also captures the opposite argument, that government intervention in general is bad because, while not everyone is necessarily intelligent in regards to their own business, everybody is an idiot in regards to other people’s business.

  83. ScottC, on May 6th, 2011 at 1:48 pm Said:
    Christ, Watts. Man, nothing like a political posting to start the walls of text being erected, although Peter and Noen’s exchanges have gone somewhere else entirely.

    50 QUATLOOS on the humungo gedanken experiments of free will and nature-v-nurture not being solved on some guy’s blog!

    But, y’know, congrats to the contestants for being willing to wade in One More Time. Go, us!

    Rolling up my pant legs, here – have we considered that people judge the “natural” or “hard-wired” aspects of the whole of mankind’s sexual behavior based on their own sexual bahavior and the perceived behavior of their fellows? Nobody’s considered opinion is probably any good in that respect, and scientific study of it is really undoable, because (to go ahead and violate my own principle right away) what humans do with respect to sex is lie. Not because humans are hard-wired liars, just because there is tremendous social pressure with respect to mating and the social contract.

    And it isn’t feasible to hold up the poor guy with the brain tumor who suddenly become a pedophile, because we can’t be sure that he wasn’t a closeted pedophile before, and we have no information about how flexible the learned part of his sexuality is. In other words, we cannot say what changed in his brain (other than they removed a tumor), all we can see is his behavior.

    A closeted pedophile develops a disease the breaks down his general executive functions, or social embarrassment or even just increases the reward circuits for sexual gratification, and tips him over into acting out his previously closeted desires. Or, a man with no pedophilc bent has his brain altered to increase the flexibility of his sexual response, makes the connections more random, and unlucky for him, he accidentally pairs kids and sex. Again, all we see is the behavior. Of little utility for declaring human sexual responses are totally hardwired.

    Similarly, I would not declare that I have sex with men because Nature Dictated It In My Brain from my conception. noen’s right – my brain has been rewired a milllion times for all sorts of functions, including sexual desire. If I have sex wtih a partner with big brown eyes, then big brown eyes begin to look sexy in general. I have learned to find wrinkles sexy, no lie.

    With respect to Wilson’s reversal on group selection: Evolution is not directed, it just operates on the species in concert with the environment, and let’s not kid ourselves, the group is and has been part of the environment. If we assume man has been in small groups of dubious relatedness for 100,000 years, if a certain amount of cooperation improves everyone’s survival. evolution will select for it.

    Carry on…..

  84. ” plus rehearsed all of the time. so maybe it comes down to things we do so often in our environment that it becomes hard wired. (and for some other place without handshaking, there would be an equivalent greet behavior).
    does anyone here know more about this and whether research has been done on intention in tasks that are very novel?”

    My former Dept Chairman Rodolfo LLinas writes about this stuff, the Fixed
    Action Pattern
    http://willcov.com/bio-consciousness/review/Fixed%20Action%20Patterns%20%28FAPs%29.htm

  85. Not sure about p-zombies, but getting back to the election:

    http://shitharperdid.ca/

    If we had government-mandated internet, then we could force all Canadians to click through this site, as part of their civic duty.

    Proudly Quebecois on May 2nd, 2011.

  86. I was reading about it in The Economist and his agenda sounds the neo-con stuff that worked out so well for us over here. (I am being sarcastic. and from the us).

  87. Sorry for the delay in getting back to this. Trying to keep up the daily word count on the novel, and failing miserably.

    noen said:

    “I deny that we are von Neumann machines like the one in my PC. I consider the strong AI position to have been refuted and I interpreted some of your remarks as supporting it. I apologize if I’m wrong.”

    I think it’s too early to call. I don’t know if it can be definitively refuted until we can actually emulate a brain in software, then determine whether it’s “woken up”. The first part is only a matter of time, probably less than a decade (I continue to be intrigued by the IBM’s BlueMatter project); the second is more problematic, and why I continue to be interested in p-zombies.

    “No one today believes, or ought to believe, that our minds are the software implemented in neurons but that we could just as easily be transferred to silicon. Ray Kurzweil’s dream of being uploaded into his PC’s hard drive is just that, a dream.”

    Okay, then, how do you answer the incremental argument? Start with a cochlear implant to aid hearing; replace the whole auditory tract one neuron at a time by silicon prostheses that do the same thing. Not an upload; you’re simply replacing the working units of your brain with teensy machines that work the same way. This is in no way technologically infeasible (there’s been significant progress lately in neuro-silicon interfaces). Ultimately, you’ve replaced every cell in your brain with a synthetic analog that performs the same function. If you’re claiming (as you seem to be) that the end result is not a functioning brain, then where is the dividing line? Do we stop being ourselves when the last neuron is replaced, with the initial hearing aid, or somewhere in between?

    More esoterically, if strong AI is wrong — if intelligence and/or sapience are not a function of information flow through physical systems — then what are we made of? What is it about us that generates consciousness? (I fall closer into your corner about Kurzweill — even if my “consciousness” is in some way uploaded into software, it’s a copy not a transfer; I’m still stuck here in this miserable meat sack.)

    Yes, I am not making an actual argument, sort of, just an appeal. I was not trying to say that because the absence of free will is undesirable that is therefore cannot be true that we have no free will. But I think it is a concept that we cannot do without. I don’t see how we can make sense of the world if it is true and, if we truly have no free will then there is no such thing as rationality. I don’t like giving that up.

    Sure there is. It’s just that we don’t have a choice about whether we are rational or not.

    “none of us had a say in the way our brains are wired,”

    I think we do have a say. If I choose to learn how to play the piano then I am participating in how my brain is structured. I have a say.

    But the essential question is, what made you “choose” to learn to play the piano in the first place? You heard a gorgeous sonata at an impressionable age? A role model was a classical pianist? You wanted to impress potential mates with your cultural chops? Every choice you make is informed by a range of factors, and ultimately you don’t have control over those factors.

    I like you Peter, this is not a hostile discussion we’re having. At least I hope not.

    No, of course not. I’m having fun here. I just wish I had more time to spare for this time-consuming hunt-and-peck mode of communication I’m stuck with.

    “There is no possible test that you or anyone could ever conduct that would show that you are a zombie. So… the concept is incoherent.”

    I’d agree that the concept is perhaps untestable (although there might be metabolic correlates of zombiehood — a slightly lower temperature in the cortex, for example — that might serve in zombie detection. Of course, you’d need a nonzombie brain to establish a baseline state. Good thing I know I’m conscious.

    “The conscious decision to move comes after the motion has already begun.”

    That was for a rehearsed action. The subject pushes a button as the clock’s hands move and yeah, his conscious decision lags behind that of his brain. But that is like playing the piano. We repeat an action over and over until it becomes embedded.

    For Libet’s studies, sure. And I’m certainly not denying the reality of fixed action patterns. But Libet’s was not the last word; it was one of the first. We’ve since seen evidence that unrehearsed actions — complex multivariable decisions presented to naïve subjects — are actually inhibited by conscious reflection. We’ve got machines that can tell what image a brain is seeing up to 7-10 seconds before the brain itself is aware of its own input. If you’re a regular on the ‘crawl you know what I’m talking about.

    I think there is such a thing as intentional causation. I choose to raise my arm and my arm goes up. I think we are conscious moral agents, ok, maybe the free part is hard to prove but the rest seems self evident to me.

    Whoa. The “free” part is downright central. The reality or lack thereof of “free will” is what started this whole train rolling. If you’re giving me that point, we’re closer than you think.

    “I think that I am a self even though I arise from neurons and that I can act in the world and choose “freely” between alternatives. Even if that is untrue is seem to me I must live as though it were true.”

    This is exactly the crux of the issue. You have just admitted that you must continue to act as though something is true even if it isn’t. Could there be a more eloquent admission that you have no free will?

    Um, that was a joke. I was quoting The Big Lebowski. I %#-ing love the Cohen brothers. The dude abides.

    Oh. Sorry. Missed that. I too love the Coen brothers. (I think Barton Fink was one of their best.)

    Edward O. Wilson reverses himself. He now denies kin selection. Kin selection does not exist.

    Yeah, and about 150 other evolutionary biologists have called bullshit, piling onto him in a strongly worded rebuttal to Nature. I’ve been out of the field too long to know who’s right; I’m gonna wait until the dust settles and see who wins. Either way, though — kin selection, or group selection — ultimately it all comes down to gene selection. The only question is which approach best spreads the code.

    Hljóðlegur said

    And it isn’t feasible to hold up the poor guy with the brain tumor who suddenly become a pedophile, because we can’t be sure that he wasn’t a closeted pedophile before, and we have no information about how flexible the learned part of his sexuality is.

    So what if he was a closeted pedophile? He was closeted before; the tumor worked its magic, and he came out of the closet with his one-eyed purple trouser eel blazing; they cut out the tumor, and he went back into the closet. Any way you cut it, the tumor changed who he was; doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about sexual preferences or self-control. They’re both facets of the same system.

  88. I read with pleasure your amazingly coherent and extensive explanation of the non-magical mind, Mr. Watts.

    I have one contribution, small and late as it is: Dennett’s position is closer to compatibilism than determinism. The best explanation of it, I think, was written by Eliezer Yudkowsky: http://lesswrong.com/lw/r0/thou_art_physics/

    Here’s my attempt at a one-sentence summary: There’s no definition of “free will” which both matches our intuitions and fits “you make decisions because of irreducible magic” better than “you make decisions because of physics.”