Archive for November, 2010

Why I am not Sure About How Society Works

If a man thinks he understands the world well enough to fix it, he is called a Utopian – until he gets caught, when he is called a mass-murderer. Obviously, such arrogance is unfounded, but we all need a certain amount of understanding to function, so most of us have certain models of society which, while simplified, nevertheless help us think about the world around us. I’m going to share one of my models, which is a model of morality within society.

One model, variously espoused by Nietzsche and Ribbonfarm, is that morality comes from a few charismatic individuals who don’t much care about groups but care about their own private sense of nobility. Everyone else cares about the group and externalises their morality, and so popular moralities must inevitably come from one of these charismatics. Personally I view this as absurd. You may as well say that because I don’t calculate the value of milk myself, the price I pay must have been determined by some charismatic individualist who has persuaded all the producers and consumers, and that it will stay static until some new charismatic individualist persuades us differently. Moreover, within this way of thinking, the great agents of moral change in our history would be figures such as Jesus (or perhaps St. Paul), Mohammed, Darwin, etc – but none of these people were particularly individualistic or concerned with “nobility.” On the contrary, they were very concerned with their own group, and came from strong and well-established schools of thought, which they advanced rather than overthrew.

My own thinking is that morality is, essentially, about choices. Saying you value nobility isn’t morality, it’s aesthetics. It becomes a moral question when you start to ask what you’d sacrifice for your sense of nobility. But my choices are not made in a vacuum. They are made as part of a continual process of me choosing, and in the context of lots of other people choosing, and these choices need to make sense in social and economic terms. More often than not, popular moral changes are driven by changes in that underlying socio-economic basis. There wasn’t a charismatic individual who persuaded everyone that pre-marital sex was no longer sinful – it’s just that contraception became widely available. This is not to say that charismatic individuals can’t affect popular morality, but that their capacity to do so is very limited. No matter how charismatic an individual, his views will not catch on unless they resonate with people. By and large, you can only tell people to do what they want to do anyway. A charismatic individual, by huge effort, can change the day of rest from Saturday to Friday or Sunday. But he can’t change the number of days in the weekend. It’s not merely that modern (non-serious) Christians behave nothing like how Christ taught. It’s that ultra-serious 17th century Christians behaved nothing like how Christ taught. Everyone just reads into these things what they want to. Beyond tinkering around the edges, what a charismatic individual can do is provide a story as to why we are doing what we were going to do anyway. So instead of having a midwinter festival to praise Saturn or Odin, we have one to praise Jesus, but the actions are the same.

In my view, people develop their morality by making moral choices. And therefore the people with the most developed morality are those who make the most choices – i.e. the people with the greatest scope for action. Whereas if all your actions are hemmed in by (perceived) necessity and so you have very few moral choices, your sense of morality will be very limited. People with full bellies debate whether it is justified to steal a loaf of bread to feed their starving family, while people with empty bellies just steal the loaf and don’t worry about whether it’s justified. In other words, morality is not an imposition of the weak on the strong, it is the self-limiting process that the strong buy into. The weak have no need for a morality at all.

Therefore I see society as divided into three broad groups: the amoral weak, who have made few choices of necessity and hence are likely to act badly if given serious moral choices, e.g. children; the immoral, who have developed a moral sense but choose selfishly or poorly; and the moral, who have developed a good moral sense. And I think that is the heirarchy of any well-functioning society or organisation; moral -> immoral -> amoral, with the immoral being constantly squeezed and forced to conform.

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Why I am not Always Sincere

Tyler Cowen imagines a chess game, where the human race plays an alien race for our survival. How should we decide what moves to play? Tyler proposes a group of 4 Super-GMs with access to a range of computer programs. My comment was as follows:

I propose that we have a group of chess experts who would be responsible for deciding the procedures under which the moves would be carried out. These procedures could be very specific or very general, it would be for the experts to decide. The Expert Group would be divided into two sections – a General Group of about 400 experts, and a Senior Group of about 100 experts, and procedures would have to be accepted by both groups to be approved.

There would also be one Super-Expert, who would be responsible for implementing the procedures, and would be able to employ huge teams of staff running the computers, etc. There would also be a Council of 9 experts to make sure that the Super-Expert was following the procedures properly, and that the Expert Group were passing proper procedures. Unfortunately there aren’t very good standards to judge what it means to pass proper procedures, so the Council of 9 will basically make stuff up as they go along, but hey, they are experts so it’s all good.

The Council of 9 will be chosen by the Super-Expert, subject to approval by the Expert Group. Both the Super-Expert and the Expert Group will be elected by popular vote. There will be campaigns run encouraging everyone to participate in these votes, even if they know nothing about chess.

This is so obviously the best way of playing a chess game that we will soon expand it to the entire public sphere.

Why I am not as Keen as Many about Free Speech

The following is from Uncommon Law, by A. P. Herbert.

Engheim, Muckovitch, Kettelburg, Weinbaum, and Oski v. R

    Free Speech – Why?

This was a petition to the Crown by certain British subjects, made under the Bill of Rights, and referred by the Crown to the Privy Council.

The Lord Chancellor: This is a petition to the Crown by certain members of a political party who were convicted of holding a public meeting in Trafalgar Square contrary to the orders of the Home Secretary and police. The petitioners are keenly interested in the “Hands Off Russia” movement, and although there is no evidence that any person in this country proposes to lay hands on Russia, they have been in the habit for some weeks past of gathering at Lord Nelson’s monument on Sunday afternoons and imploring the few citizens present to keep their hands off that country. At these meetings banners are held aloft which invite compassion for persons in a state of bondage, and songs are sung expressive of a determination to improve the material condition of the human race. These at first sight unobjectionable aims have unfortunately inflamed the passions of another body of citizens, who interpret them as an unwarrantable interference with the affairs of their own country, and have therefore banded themselves into a rival movement whose battle-cry is “Hands Off England.” This party, though their banners and their songs are different, express the same general ideals as the petitioners, namely, the maintenance of liberty and the material advancement of the poor and needy. Their principal song has a refrain to the effect that their countrymen will never consent to a condition of slavery; while the songs of the petitioners assert that many of their countrymen are in that condition already, and resent it. So that at first sight it might be thought that these two bodies, having so much in common, might appropriately and peacefully meet together under the effigy of that hero who did so much to ward off from these shores the hateful spectres of tyranny and oppression. When, however, it was announced that the two movements did in fact propose to hold meetings at the same time and place, the police were so apprehensive of a disturbance of the peace that both gatherings were by order prohibited. For it appears that the spectacle of the national flag of these islands is infuriating to the petitioners, while the simple scarlet banner of the petitioners is equally a cause of offence to the other movement, although that same colour is the distinctive ornament of many institutions which they revere, such as His Majesty’s Post Office and His Majesty’s Army.

These, however, are political matters which fortunately is is not necessary for this Court to attempt to understand, though we may observe that an age in which it is possible to fly across the Atlantic in thirty hours might be expected to hit upon some more scientific method of deciding by what persons a given country shall be governed. The “Hands Off England” movement obeyed the order of the Home Secretary, but the petitioners did not; their meeting was begun, and was dispersed by the police. They were prosecuted and fined, and they now ask for a gracious declaration from the Throne that these proceedings were in violation of the liberties of the subject as secured by the Bill of Rights, and in particular of the rights, or alleged rights, of Public Meeting and Free Speech.

Now, I have had occasion to refer before to the curious delusion that the British subject has a number of rights and liberties which entitle him to behave as he likes so long as he does no specific injury or harm. There are few, if any, such rights, and in a public street there are none; for there is no conduct in a public thoroughfare which cannot easily be brought into some unlawful category, however vague. If the subject remains motionless he is loitering or causing an obstruction; if he moves rapidly he is doing something which is likely to cause a crowd or a breach of the peace; if his glance is affectionate he is annoying, if it is hard he may be threatening, and in both cases he is insulting; if he keeps himself to himself he is a suspicious character, and if he goes about with two others or more he may be part of (a) a conspiracy or (b) an obstruction or (c) an unlawful assembly; if he begs without singing he is a vagrant, and if he sings without begging he is a nuisance. But nothing is more obnoxious to the law of the street than a crowd, for whatever purpose collected, which is shown by the fact that a crowd in law consists of three persons or more; and if those three persons or more have an unlawful purpose, such as the discussion of untrue and defamatory gossip, they are an unlawful assembly; while if their proceedings are calculated to arouse fears or jealousies among the subjects of the realm they are a riot. It will easily be seen, therefore, that a political meeting in a public place must almost always be illegal, and there is certainly no right of public meeting such as is postulated by the petitioners. It was held so long ago as 1887 by Mr. Justice Charles that the only right of the subject in a public street is to pass at an even pace from one end of it to another, breathing unobtrusively through the nose and attracting no attention.

There are, in fact, few things, and those rapidly diminishing, which it is lawful to do in a public place, or anywhere else. But if he is not allowed to do what he likes, how much less likely is it that the subject will be permitted to say what he likes! For it is generally agreed that speech is by many degrees inferior to action, and therefore, we should suppose, must be more rigidly discouraged. Our language is full of sayings to that effect. “Speech is silver,” we say, and “Silence is golden”; “Deeds – not words”; “Least said – soonest mended”; “Keep well thy tongue and keep thy friend” (Chaucer); “For words divide and rend,” said Swinburne, “but silence is most noble till the end”; “‘Say well’ is good, but ‘Do well’ is better”; and so on. The strong, silent man is the admiration of us all, and not because of his strength but because of his silence. The talker is universally despised, and even in Parliament, which was designed for talking, those men are commonly most respected who talk the least. There never can have been a nation which had so wholesome a contempt for the arts of speech; and it is curious to find so deeply rooted in the same nation this theoretical idea of free and unfettered utterance, coupled with a vague belief that this ideal is somewhere embodied in the laws of our country.

No charge was made in this case of seditious, blasphemous or defamatory language, and in the absence of those the petitioners claim some divine inherent right to pour forth unchecked in speech the swollen contents of their minds. A Briton, they would say, is entitled to speak as freely as he breathes. I can find no authority or precedent for this opinion. There is no reference to Free Speech in Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights. Our ancestors knew better. As a juridical notion is has no more existence than Free Love, and, in my opinion, it is as undesirable. The less the subject loves the better; and the less everybody says the better. Nothing is more difficult to do than to make a verbal observation which will give no offence and bring about more good than harm; and many great men die in old age without ever having done it. The strange thing is that those who demand the freest exercise of this difficult art are those who have the smallest experience and qualifications for it. It may well be argued that if all public men could be persuaded to remain silent for six months the nation would enter upon an era of prosperity such as it would be difficult even for their subsequent utterances to damage. Every public speaker is a public peril, no matter what his opinions. And so far from believing in an indiscriminate liberty of expression, I think myself that public speech should be classed among those dangerous instruments, such as motor-cars and fire-arms, which no man may employ without a special licence from the State. These licences would be renewable at six-monthly periods, and would be endorsed with the particulars of indiscretions or excesses; while “speaking to the public danger” would in time be regarded with as much disgust as inconsiderate or reckless driving.

What is in my mind is well illustrated by this case; for the evidence is that the one manifest result of the “Hands Off Russia” movement has been to implant in many minds a new and unreasoning antipathy to Russia; while the cry of “Hands Off England” has aroused in others a strong desire to do some injury to their native land. We find therefore that there is no right of Free Speech recognized by the Constitution; and a good thing too.

Why I am not a Centraliser

From an exchange I had with my brother:

Me:

I have been thinking a lot about what you said when you were in London, that it doesn’t matter if knowledge is more and more dispersed while power is more and more centralised, because government can always aggregate the knowledge and act on it if they promote good people. Do you really believe this?

Him:

i certainly agree that you’re right to point out an inherent challenge with modernity and the complexity of governing large groups of people. but it is something we have to live with. perhaps I was just being practical and suggesting the way to cope, rather than saying “it doesn’t matter”. the fact is that however “small” or “large” government is, few would argue with the premiss that it should have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on in the country and that is always going to be hard for one man to get his head around.

three thoughts –
1) hasn’t the act of being a successful leader always been more about choosing and inspiring the right people around you (whether useful for loyalty, strength, knowledge, ruthlessness or whatever) rather than knowing everything?
2) aren’t we stymied in our leader’s ability to process the vast amounts of knowledge we have, in equal proportion to being helped by the fact that he can access a vast amount of recent data if he needs to, rather than waiting 5 days for a guy on horse-back to deliver him a subjective, data-less account of a particular situation?
3) In support of your assertion that leadership in government has changed, Tony Blair says in his book that running a government in the information age is less about policy papers and chatting to the permanent secretaries, and more akin to being the CEO of a private sector company. I think he’s right, and his probably relates to your point.

what are your thoughts?

Me:

I think you misunderstand me. My objection is not that David Cameron doesn’t know much. My objection is that a group of 500 really high-status people doesn’t know much. Who those 500 people are is up to you, depending on who you think runs the country – the House of Commons, or the upper Civil Service. Either way, it’s about the same number of people, from about the same social and educational backgrounds. 200 years ago those 500 people had a chance of running the administration. Now, they have no chance of running the same administration… but instead of making the administration more devolved, we have made it more centralised. More power to people who know less. And the results are predictable. You say Tony Blair compares running a government to being a CEO. Interesting, considering he has never been a CEO. But of course he’s an anomaly – normally you become “CEO” of the country as a result of sterling success as CEO of smaller organisations. You see how I kid? How many of the people running the government have ever been involved in running any enterprise that could make a profit or a loss? Almost all of the 500 MPs are career politicians, and all of the 500 civil servants are career bureaucrats. They know next to nothing about the wider country, and are drawn from an incredibly narrow social/economic/ethnic class. And this is necessarily so, because if you are not a career bureaucrat you couldn’t navigate Whitehall, etc. But hey, if we promote the right people, the knowledge will magically appear, like the Emperor of China’s nose.

And let’s take the CEO analogy further, because a company has market discipline. A CEO is answerable to the board and the shareholders, and there is a clear way for them to judge him – the bottom line. But how do we judge the government? If a CEO claimed that he had trebled spending on the largest division, but had not increased turnover, he would lose his job immediately. Yet Tony Blair treats it as an accomplishment. Clearly something is amiss. Or consider education, seeing as you want to go into it. Who is the education system supposed to serve? Children – but they don’t vote. In theory, their parents are supposed to be some kind of proxy, but realistically this works badly at best, because parents don’t really know (and many don’t care) about the schools. And even for those parents who care, education is only one issue among many, and what they care about is not schools generally, but their local school. But there is a group of people who really know about the education system, and really care about it, and are leveraged into a bloc. And so the education system is run for their benefit.

Teachers and administrators do not work for a living they vote for a living.

Note that this is not the case at a private school. Nor does this have anything to do with the fact that the parents are customers. This wasn’t the case at the free schools that existed prior to the 1944 Education Act. It was because the free schools were local, serving their local communities, and the parents could change them. If changing your local school’s curriculum means getting a different party to win the next General Election, you may as well give up and send your child to a fee-paying school. If changing your local school’s curriculum means voting in a different board of governors… that’s doable.

And this is what I’m talking about. It has nothing to do with “small” or “large” government (although of course I am opposed to large government). The point is that over the past 200 years knowledge has become diversified, yet government power has become concentrated, and the result is that the government doesn’t work. You may say that the government has lots of data, and that’s true, but GIGO. No-one knows what this data means. For example, sticking with education, there has been an explosion in the number of students taking “soft” degrees over the past 20 years, media studies being the classic example. So is this the marketplace in action, or is this students treating university as a consumer good? And how on earth can Whitehall tell the difference?

The solution is – must be – devolving power away from central government and to lower levels. Or rather, de-centralising. 200 years ago the British state was much more localised, and even 100 years ago this remained the case. But one of the disastrous legacies of the Attlee government, which has never been undone, is to aggregate all the power to Whitehall. And this fails because:

1) Local communities have far more knowledge than Whitehall ever can
2) Local communities are far more responsive than Whitehall can ever be
3) Systemic problem of capture
4) People cannot escape

(2) is incredibly important. You have to devolve power, not just administration. Having NHS trusts instead of central administration is meaningless when the trustees are appointed by, and answerable to, Whitehall. That’s just fragmenting the locale of administration, not devolution of power. True devolution of power would have the NHS trust answerable to (say) the local county council.

And (4) might be the most important. The point is that if West Sussex runs crappy schools, then people will leave and go live in East Sussex. This is really good on two levels. Firstly, it means that if administrators screw up, it doesn’t matter too much, because people can still get good services from some other administrators. But secondly, it means there will be competition between the administrators, and best practice for them to follow, and so on. And so there is a race to the top, instead of mediocrity.

Look at the USA, which is basically the most successful country in the world since it was founded. Why? Some people say because of the independent culture… but why is the USA’s culture like that? Culture is not independent of institutions. And the truth is that the USA’s federal institutions are a complete joke. But that doesn’t matter, because the USA has (or had until recently) a truly devolved system of power. So when the Rustbelt states legislated themselves into irrelevance with pro-union laws, that didn’t slow America down too much, because people simply moved south and west to more free-market states. And some American states are poor and poorly run (Mississippi, say) but that doesn’t slow America down too much because Mississippians can go get jobs in nearby Texas.

So, I fundamentally disagree that this centralisation is something we have to live with. In fact, I think it is something we cannot live with. I do not think any country can long be governed in the fashion that we are. My view is that the growth of government bureaucracy is strangling the country, and that unless things change dramatically we are going to come to a sharp reckoning. Now, this does not mean that I am predicting that we will have chaos on the streets and Duncan’s horses eating each other. Probably we will be wise enough to avoid sharp reckonings, and our current government is certainly working on the problem. But the warning is there. Rome had approximately 300 bureaucrats in the time of Augustus. The Western Roman Empire alone had more than 200,000 by the 4th century AD. I leave it to you to decide when Rome was better governed.

Why I am not as Alpha as Roissy

One of the central tenets of “Game” is that women value men mostly by “status” – which is a fairly vague and manipulable thing. Hence a man who learns “Game” will be much more attractive to women and can leapfrog over other men. And if men accumulate status over time, they can become more attractive to women. Men, however, value women by looks, which merely decline over time, and female value is fixed relative to each other. So the high school nerd might one day marry a supermodel, but the ugly girl in high school will never, ever marry the captain of the football team.

There is much truth to this point of view, but it paints an incomplete picture. Part of the reason it’s left as this generalisation is because the “Game” community is mostly written by and for men, who are naturally less interested in how women can raise their value. But perhaps it’s also because it amounts to a status claim – that we men are these cool, rational beings who apprise women instantly and permanently, and you women are locked forever in place. It flatters the male ego to think like this, but it’s not really true. I’d like to explore why.

Appearance is not just Looks

Given a group of women, most men are going to rank them in the same order of physical attractiveness. However, that is not merely based on innate looks – it is also the way a woman walks, dresses, and acts. To give an extreme example, a woman burping or picking her nose is really unattractive. Simply put, a woman behaving in a feminine way is much, much more attractive to men than one behaving in an unfeminine way – and women know this, at least subconsciously. That’s why when a woman shows interest in a man she will often open her eyes wider, play with her hair, lick her lips, etc… if you look at any list of IOIs, you’ll see that they’re all things that make the woman more attractive. Which makes sense – if she’s trying to make herself more attractive to you, it stands to reason she’s interested.

However, many of these things operate subconsciously, which is why some women do them badly. I knew a girl who would chew her hair when she got nervous, such as when an attractive man approached her. Yeah, not so attractive. These behaviours can be learned and improved on, which is why mothers tell their daughters to smile and not frown, and why in years past finishing schools were popular for young debutantes. Small and subtle differences in the way you behave make a big difference in how others see you. And then there is the area of clothes and makeup – I don’t think anyone would deny these make a huge difference.

Pedestalisation

PUAs talk about (and warn against) pedestalisation, but I don’t think they really consider what it is. But really, it is elevating a woman much higher than her “true” worth. Well, the very fact that this is such a widespread male practice ought to be a bodyblow to the idea that female Sexual Market Value is fixed. Now, I’m actually not as down on pedestalisation as many are – you need a little bit to make a relationship worthwhile. As Samuel Johnson said, “Were it not for imagination a man would be as happy in arms of a chambermaid as of a duchess.” And no, pedestalisation is not only done by betas. Everyone does it, to a greater or lesser extent, which is why everyone needs to guard against it.

Therefore, a woman who makes it easy for men to pedestalise her will raise her SMV. Part of this is the feminine behaviours outlined above, part of this is vulnerability, and part of this is simply not doing anything to de-pedestalise herself. Men have an innate tendency to pedestalise the women they are interested in, but that can be destroyed, as in this rather disgusting story. Did the woman really become more or less attractive for that one incident? No. But she de-pedestalised herself.

White Knighting

Men have an innate wish to protect vulnerable women. It’s biological. The “Game” community deride it as white knighting and they make good points, but the unalterable truth is that men do this stuff anyway, because we’re programmed that way. I remember when I was younger talking to an incredibly attractive woman, and she was telling me about her mum died, and she started crying. At that point I’d have done anything for her – and so would just about any man, if we’re honest about it. It may not make sense logically, and we may try to guard against it, but a woman who acts vulnerable makes herself more attractive.

Now, I am not defending White Knighting, or saying that women who exploit it make themselves more attractive. That girl didn’t want me to do anything – she was just telling a story and got swept away in her emotions. If she had used her tears to try and get me to run some errand for her, it would have likely worked – but it would also have made me resent her. This power, like so many kinds of power, only works when it’s not used.

Her past

PUAs like to say that a woman’s sexual past counts against her. Well, yes and no. In theory it might, but it can’t count against her if you don’t know what it was. Women lie, and if they lie well enough you will never find out.

Overall, on the scale of 1-10, I think girls can go up/down a maximum of 2-3 points based on these factors. Perhaps that’s not as much of a change as a man can make, but it’s still an awful lot, and I think the PUA people would do well do bear it in mind. Now, am I saying that I can write a book about this stuff and sell it to women? That millions of women can follow my tips to improve their SMV? Nope, because I think almost all women know this stuff already. It’s obvious. I’m not so much describing stuff that women could do to improve their SMV, but stuff that women do do to improve their SMV. And men should bear it in mind.

Why I am not a Democrat

There are two common views of democracy. One is the sentiment, most famously expressed by Winston Churchill, that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.” The other is the expression of Abraham Lincoln, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is worthwhile and valuable in itself. Strictly speaking, these arguments are distinct, but nowadays they have become very blurred in the popular imagination. Discussions against the first point get derailed into arguments on the second point, and vice-versa. Speaking against democracy has become heresy, and the word democracy has become infinitely plastic.

I will deal with the second concept first, that democracy is good in itself. I remember as a brainwashed teenager saying “Even when the people are wrong, they are right,” and meaning it. But it’s obviously Orwellian doublethink. If the democratic process declares that the moon is bigger than the sun, it doesn’t make it so. There is an objective reality out there. And majoritarian ethical claims are not much better. A common theme in books about the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany is to fulminate against their abuses of the democratic process – which is to miss the point completely. Sure, the way the Nazis came to power was far from ideal, but the real problem was their actual policies. The Holocaust was a bad thing because genocide is wrong, not because they failed to live up to the democratic process. No matter how much popular backing you enjoy or appropriate procedures you follow, mass murder remains evil.

Nor is Germany the only example. Democratic governments have done some truly horrific things over the years. And this is only a tiny sample. A majority doesn’t make evil things good, and democratic governments do horrible, horrible things.

This is when the second claim comes in – that democracy may be flawed, but it’s better than any other system. Unfortunately, this claim is not evaluated properly, because it’s never advanced neutrally, only as a retreat from the position that democracy is good in itself. So modern British democracy is compared to a tyranny – Soviet Russia, perhaps – and we declare that democracy, though imperfect, is the best of all possible systems. But why is this the comparison? If we compare 1930s Spain to present-day Abu Dhabi, democracy stops looking so hot. The two rising powers in the world are India and China, and it is far from clear which has the better political system.

If we want to evaluate a political system fairly, we must first draw up a set of criteria that we wish it to fulfil, and then compare it to other systems, on the merits. But the moment you do that, you realise that democracy is not in fact a political system. It is an adjective which can be applied, to a greater or lesser extent, to a variety of political systems – and partisans of certain systems then claim that other systems are “undemocratic,” to mean they are inferior. What we also see is that the same political system can have widely differing results, depending on the underlying culture and institutions of the country – hence when Western political systems have been applied to the Third World, the results have been decidedly mixed.

There is no single best form of government, only the best form in a certain situation. Unfortunately the widespread belief in the goodness of democracy interacts with the belief in its efficacy to create a kind of democracy ratchet, whereby the franchise can only ever be expanded, elected bodies are almost impossible to abolish, and reform only operates in one direction.

Mencius Moldbug wrote, far better than I ever could, about the positive and negative aspects of democracy. In short, democracy is good when the voters act as trustees, trying to advance the interests of the body politic collectively, and giving the same consideration to the other trustees. Democracy is bad when the voters act to advance their own interests, and assume that the other voters are doing the same. The first case is the democracy of the 18th century, which would not nowadays be regarded as democratic, the second case is the democracy of today, which is clearly dysfunctional. The question, therefore, is how do we improve things? I shall address this in a future post.

Beta In The Movies

Obviously, everyone loves Being John Malkovich, and the emotional centre is John Cusack as Craig, the hapless beta turned malevolent puppetmaster. There is a scene where he has arranged to meet his co-worker Maxine in a bar, and he is obviously jonesing on her. This is one of his most beta moments in the movie, and that’s saying something. My commentary is in the square brackets.
(Maxine sits at the bar, watching her watch. Craig rushes into the room, frantic, out of breath. He spots Maxine andplops himself next to her.)

CRAIG: Made it. Maxine. Maxine, Maxine, Maxine. [Sweaty, desperate, supplicating, apologetic]
MAXINE: Just.
CRAIG: Buy you a drink, Maxine? [Supplicating, beta]
MAXINE: You married?
CRAIG: Yeah. But enough about me. [The more I think about it, the more this is a surprisingly good line. Some variation on “it’s complicated” would have been weak here.]

(Maxine laughs. The bartender approaches.)

CRAIG: What’ll you have?
MAXINE: The usual, Barry. [Notice how she is more familiar with the bartender than her date. She never once uses Craig’s name]
CRAIG: (to bartender) I’ll have, like, a beer. Like a Budweiser, or something. [Nervous, wordy]

(The bartender walks away.)

CRAIG: I like you. I don’t know what it is exactly. [IOI, needs to follow up strong though.]
MAXINE: My tits? [Shit test.]
CRAIG: No, no, it’s your energy or your attitude or the way you carry yourself or… [Shit test failed.]
MAXINE: Christ, you’re not a fag are you? Because I don’t want to be wasting my time.

(The drinks arrive. Maxine’s is in an enormous fishbowl of a glass. It’s bright blue, with fruit and marshmallows swimming in it. Paper umbrellas stick out of it, and plastic monkeys hang from the rim.)

CRAIG: That’s the usual?
MAXINE: Don’t let the girly shit fool you. It’d blow your shorts off. (Maxine downs it like a shot of whiskey. She pushes the empty glass to the bartender.) Set me up again, Barry.

(The bartender walks away with the empty glass.)

CRAIG: I’m not a homosexual. I just like women for more than their bodies. I guess you could say I’m the new American male. [C’mon, even Craig can see this is terrible. Shit test in 5, 4, 3…]
MAXINE: You’re a fag or a liar. [Yep.]
CRAIG: (backpedaling) I mean, I am really attracted to you.
MAXINE: (mocking) I mean, I am really attracted to you. Jesus, you are a fag. We can share recipes, if you like, Darlene.

(Maxine gets up.)

CRAIG: No, wait! I like your tits. I love your tits. I want to fuck you. [Total supplication and failure]
MAXINE:(sitting) Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Not a chance. (Maxine’s second drink comes. She downs it, pushes the glass toward the bartender.) So, tell me about yourself. If you can get your mind out of the gutter long enough, dog-boy.
CRAIG: Well, I’m a puppeteer… [Note that he just takes the abuse]

(The bartender comes back with Maxine’s drink.)

MAXINE: (to bartender) Check.

I’m of course not criticising this scene, it’s painful and funny and it shows us just what Craig and Maxine are like – a snivelling beta and a bitch, respectively. But I find it fun to imagine how an alpha version of Craig would have handled it.

(Maxine sits at the bar, watching her watch. Craig strolls calmly into the room, and sits down next to Maxine, makes eye contact with her, and smiles.)

CRAIG: Hello.
MAXINE: You made it. Just.
CRAIG: Thank heavens I’m not too early.
MAXINE: You married?
CRAIG: Yeah. But enough about me.

(Maxine laughs. The bartender approaches.)

CRAIG: (says nothing)
MAXINE: I’ll have the usual, Barry.
CRAIG: (to bartender) I’ll have a beer.

(The bartender walks away.)

CRAIG: I like the way you carry yourself. You have an attitude that says you take no prisoners. [Sincere neg.]
MAXINE: Does that mean you like my tits? [Shit test.]
CRAIG: I’ve not seen enough to judge. What are your tits like?
MAXINE: Spectacular.

(The drinks arrive. Maxine’s is in an enormous fishbowl of a glass. It’s bright blue, with fruit and marshmallows swimming in it. Paper umbrellas stick out of it, and plastic monkeys hang from the rim.)

CRAIG: That’s the usual?
MAXINE: Don’t let the girly shit fool you. It’d blow your shorts off. (Maxine downs it like a shot of whiskey. She pushes the empty glass to the bartender.) Set me up again, Barry.

(The bartender walks away with the empty glass.)

CRAIG: Don’t think you’ll blow my shorts off with one drink. I’m not that easy.
MAXINE: Are you a fag?[Shit test]
CRAIG: Why, are you trying to set me up with someone? I don’t do blind dates.
MAXINE: Jesus, you are a fag. We can share recipes, if you like, Darlene.

(Maxine gets up.)

CRAIG: Adios.
MAXINE:(sitting) Well, maybe we might get somewhere. (Maxine’s second drink comes. She downs it, pushes the glass toward the bartender.) So, tell me about yourself.
CRAIG: Well, I’m a puppeteer… (The bartender comes back with Maxine’s drink. They start to relate)

Honestly I still think Craig gets blown out like this, but this is much better, and even if it fails, he still has his dignity, and wallet, intact, unlike in the original.