Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Might it Be Possible to "Tune Out" or Neutralize Money in Politics? A Small Experiment.

I'd like to throw this out as a test project, in case there are any takers, or rather for now, mostly throw it out for comment and criticism to see if it can be taken any further.

Take a small town, say about 4000 pop., where people generally know each other, and can nearly all agree that the way we run elections is very dysfunctional compared to a normal hiring process. This would have to be a very unusual town for such a conversation to take place; maybe it would be a very small suburb of Redmond Washington. Liberals, libertarians, and conservatives would hold a town hall type conversation and almost all agree that the current prototype of an election is dysfunctional. They might then agree to tell the candidates "Save your money, no ads, signs, etc. We're providing a different forum for you to represent yourselves, and whoever ignores this will forfeit our respect for sabotaging the experiment we want to carry out."

Townspeople would spend a period of time, with face to face meetings and online debating forums figuring out what questions they'd want answered. Maybe a few of the sort of people who would normally become activists for one or the other party would supply the drive, looking into what was done by the town under the last mayor. Discoveries would be made like "Oh, here's one thing the mayor does that I never thought of, hiring concrete contractors; I wonder how he/she would decide which one to use."

Then candidates are interviewed one at a time in a town hall type setting with web and/or local cable broadcast. Each candidate will be called individually on one or more evenings partly to avoid time-wasting put-downs of the other candidates.

I think this would get national news attention and provoke discussion. There are plenty of stories of unusual situations in small town elections just because a man and his ex-wife are running against each other, or the (male) mayor goes trans-gender and has large breast implants (and to warm our hearts, the town chases off out of town demonstrators against such an "abomination" -- this one I actually heard about recently).

I realize the "normal hiring process" analogy has to be stretched and squeezed to fit the very different situation, but I think it's worth an experiment, at least, to see if we could capture some of the virtues of a process that has worked (and been thought out and rethought, and books written on it) that has worked well enough for private business.

What we currently do is as much like a normal hiring process as if the hirer couldn't even get the candidates into their office, but must watch them out the window performing circus-like theatrics; they don't get to ask questions, but the candidates shout out whatever they think is relevant over a bullhorn.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What did Saul Alinsky Really Say?

"I’ve never joined any organization — not even the ones I’ve organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."

This is one little quote from the guy who, according to the mythical
"8 Principles of Control" or How to create a social state wanted to make the world a totalitarian zombie factory.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

From Natural (or Naturalized) to Social Epistemology

I've been reading an anthology called Naturalizing Epistemology (1986) edited by Hilary Kornblith.

   "Naturalizing" epistemology has been heavily identified with W.V.O. Quine (author of the 2 first articles in _Naturalizing Epistemology).

   Others draw parallels between naturalized epistemology and the much earlier philosophy of pragmatism, or John Dewey in particular, as in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society Vol. 32, No. 4, Fall, 1996, "Dewey, Quine, and Pragmatic Naturalized Epistemology".  Or see Stich 1993 "Naturalizing Epistemology: Quine, Simon and the Prospects for Pragmatism".  The title alludes to Herb Simon, who is no doubt better known to lesswrong.com than most philosophical epistemologists.  [For some good articles and quite a few broken links, see: http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~kak7409/EpistPapersBySubject.html] Naturalized epistemology, like many other intellectual approaches (to whatever) has a strong and a weak program, or position.  The strong might be represented by Quine's "Why not settle for psychology".

   Basically, I think general naturalized epistemology aims to ground epistemology in something solid and material like people, and their scientific study -- as opposed to reasoning with purely mental constructs.  Another tendency that claims to be "naturalizing" epistemology is to study how "good reasoners" arrive at what they think is the truth, and this may mean trying to rigorously define how scientists think.

   "Why not settle for psychology" is to pass the buck or forward all questions to another department (e.g. psychology, sociology, history of science), as if the disciplinary traditions of philosophy have nothing to offer.  Do they really have nothing to offer?

   I think one way to not pass the buck is to focus on certain habits that seem to affect, or afflict, virtually all of philosophy when it deals with thoughts, truth, etc.  Namely to talk as if our subject is some "canonical knower", talking of what "is known" without reference to any particular knower, seeming to forget about the fact that I am in my mind and you are in yours.  Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" might be more naturalistic if he had written "So you think maybe you don't exist?  But then aren't you experiencing something, an awareness of words and/or pictures that seem to be inside your body.  Call that your 'self' and you can't avoid thinking it exists in some form, whether as a disembodied spirit cohabiting with a body, or a biological process, or a computer simulation.  This only works for your existence.  It won't convince you that I (Descartes) -- in fact I might be long dead as you read this."

   The main move in "naturalizing" epistemology without passing the buck is, in my opinion to keep grounded in the realization that there is only me knowing, or you knowing, or either of us believing mistakenly, and there are the processes by which we came to know or believe.  And the canonical knower is a fiction, and declarations like "it is known" or "it is knowable" are just to unclear.  This grounds me in the realization that the vast bulk of what I think I know is due to having gotten it from some trusted source.  It used to be trendy to say that would make me an "authoritarianism", but if "authoritarianism" is a real thing to be avoided, it can't just be something we all do because there is no alternative.

   There may be a "right" way to establish a scientific fact, but in almost all cases, hardly one person in a million has actually witnessed it being established.  The vast majority "know" it because they read it in a book.

   So we are left mostly with the sources we have chosen to trust, and the question of what can justify that trust.  I expect most readers of LW believe they do a good job or determining who to trust, and we all know people who we thing don't do such a good job.  Alvin Goldman, the only other author besides Quine allotted 2 articles in Naturalizing Epistemology is now (some years after the book was published) the best known proponent of one of two conflicting schools of Social Epistemology.

   I want to suggest if you approach naturalized epistemology right, then social epistemology is a natural outcome. Goldman treats the question of "Who to Trust" seriously in "Experts: Which Ones should you Trust?" in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol 63, No. 2 (7/2001)

   [NOTE: many online papers by Goldman are generously provided at

   If one were to teach general principals of knowing who to trust in K-12, what would these principles look like?  The following examples involve social reasoning as well as the intentional stance beloved of evolutionists like Daniel Dennett.

   One principle might be "look in the back of a magazine to see if its ads are directed to really gullible people -- if so, suspect the rest of the magazine is directed to really gullible people.  I suspect a great deal of our ability to discriminate trustworthy sources is based on somewhat similar rules of thumb.  So if the magazine that advertises the "X-ray glasses" says we will all be flying around with jet packs in a couple of decades (a typical example from the 1960s), enable bullshit detector.

   You might move to a new location, and at a block party, ask around about who is a good plumber or mechanic (on in some areas, where is it safe/unsafe to walk at night).  Somehow, I think most of us can do a reasonable job of deciding who to take most seriously and who is perhaps a blowhard.  Could that be taught in school?  There are few more important life skills.

   If on some momentous controversial issue, an advocate of some position sends me article after article that makes me ask "Is that the best they can do?  Is an  85 year old retired atomic scientist the best they can do to impress me with the case against Global Warming?" and similar questions depending on the article, this leads me to conclude that the supposed case they have against Global Warming is ginned up, and until I start hearing more impressive arguments, I will continue to think so based on analysis of what they have to say for themselves -- not because somebody else tells me they're full of shit.
  My knowledge of the literature is uneven, and acquired all on my own motivated by a sense that something is breaking down in terms of people's common sense about what venues to trust, and wondering what has brought this about and what to do about it.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A modest search engine proposal

How much AI technique could it possibly take for google (or something better) to do a decent job with
speechby:obama   attitude:positive   "Saul Alinsky".
I.e. "speechby:" and "attitude:" don't exist, but could, I believe be implemented pretty accurately, to see in this case if we can find any instances of Obama praising Saul Alinsky.
claims such quotes exist, but their one attempt to demonstrate it is laughable -- something vaguely like a paraphrase of an Alinsky statement, but which has, in fact the reverse sense of what the supposed "original" meant.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Obama Confession" by Andrew Hodges

I just have to give an example of the strange places some Americans have gone fishing for the truth.  Psycho-history once had its day, but that day is long past, except in right wing daemonizations of Obama which are big sellers.

If you're tempted to buy this, let me suggest looking at this review of another book by the author called A Mother Gone Bad: The Hidden Confession of JonBenet's Killer

Here is one excerpt from the review "he concludes that the misspelled word "bussiness" all by itself indicates that a woman did it because of several random words that he himself, out of the blue, associates with that word. Yes, it really is that bad!"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Applied Memetics, Godwin's Law, Leo Strauss and Reduction ad Hitlerum

According to Wikipedia, Godwin's law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1".

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Myths About Saul Alinsky (and Obama)

Lately, right wing sources have been circulating a fictitious set of 8 "levels of control"  or "How to create a social state" that Saul Alinsky was supposed to have written, which led off with
  1) Healthcare – Control healthcare and you control the people

This myth is so thoroughly digested and accepted that answers.yahoo.com will spit it out as the answer to "What are the 8 levels of control as outlined by Saul Alinsky?" (last time checked: 2014-08-18).
Yet is very easily shown to be a total fiction.

Alinsky has been dead for over 40 years, yet essentially no trace of the myth exists any web page prior to 2013.
If you Google { alinsky "Control healthcare and you control the people" }
with a custom date range 1/1/2000-1/1/2013 you get 9 hits which all seem to not really be that old; but an unrestricted search gives 85,600 results (note that Google gives different results for different people based on their records of what you've shown interest in -- so your mileage may vary)

So, apparently nobody ever heard of Alinsky saying  "Control healthcare and you control the people" before 2013, though he's been dead since 1972.