Archive for March, 2011

The Beta’s Fate

Lord Lundy from his earliest years
Was far too freely moved to Tears.
For instance if his Mother said,
“Lundy! It’s time to go to Bed!”
He bellowed like a Little Turk.
Or if his father Lord Dunquerque
Said “Hi!” in a Commanding Tone,
“Hi, Lundy! Leave the Cat alone!”
Lord Lundy, letting go its tail,
Would raise so terrible a wail
As moved His Grandpapa the Duke
To utter the severe rebuke:
“When I, Sir! was a little Boy,
An Animal was not a Toy!”

His father’s Elder Sister, who
Was married to a Parvenoo,
Confided to Her Husband, “Drat!
The Miserable, Peevish Brat!
Why don’t they drown the Little Beast?”
Suggestions which, to say the least,
Are not what we expect to hear
From Daughters of an English Peer.
His Grandmamma, His Mother’s Mother,
Who had some dignity or other,
The Garter, or no matter what,
I can’t remember all the Lot!
Said “Oh! That I were Brisk and Spry
To give him that for which to cry!”
(An empty wish, alas! For she
Was Blind and nearly ninety-three).

The Dear Old Butler thought-but there!
I really neither know nor care
For what the Dear Old Butler thought!
In my opinion, Butlers ought
To know their place, and not to play
The Old Retainer night and day.
I’m getting tired and so are you,
Let’s cut the poem into two!

Second Part

It happened to Lord Lundy then,
As happens to so many men:
Towards the age of twenty-six,
They shoved him into politics;
In which profession he commanded
The Income that his rank demanded
In turn as Secretary for
India, the Colonies, and War.
But very soon his friends began
To doubt is he were quite the man:
Thus if a member rose to say
(As members do from day to day),
“Arising out of that reply . . .!”
Lord Lundy would begin to cry.
A Hint at harmless little jobs
Would shake him with convulsive sobs.
While as for Revelations, these
Would simply bring him to his knees,
And leave him whimpering like a child.
It drove his colleagues raving wild!
They let him sink from Post to Post,
From fifteen hundred at the most
To eight, and barely six–and then
To be Curator of Big Ben!. . .
And finally there came a Threat
To oust him from the Cabinet!

The Duke — his aged grand-sire — bore
The shame till he could bear no more.
He rallied his declining powers,
Summoned the youth to Brackley Towers,
And bitterly addressed him thus–
“Sir! you have disappointed us!
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! . . . My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!”

The Aged Patriot groaned and died:
And gracious! how Lord Lundy cried!

“Lord Lundy, Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career,” by Hilaire Belloc

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Rhyming History

It’s hard to draw conclusive lessons from history, because the sample size is limited, and the evidence is surprisingly scanty. Estimates of historical GDP are basically guesses. No-one really understands why crucial events took place. Even on simple matters, there’s no clear answer. Was Cleopatra beautiful? Dio says she was stunning. Plutarch says she was nothing special, but extremely charming. Neither met her, and there’s not much else to go on. Naturally, Hollywood’s take is the convenient one.

Despite this, history is the best guide we have. So when AMcGuinn praises absolute monarchy, I tend to look at the historical record. I’ve just finished a biography of Edward I, who was about as absolute a ruler as you could wish for, and half the book was about politics. If Edward didn’t placate the country’s important stakeholders, he wasn’t going to be king for long. Edward I is one of our archetypal “good kings” not because he was immune from politics (every ruler governs through a system, no individual has total power) but because he was strong and wise enough to placate his stakeholders, unlike his grandfather, father and son.

That’s why I side with Aretae: our nominal systems of rule are fictions. There are always stakeholders, even if you pretend that one man is completely in charge, and some matter more than others, even if you pretend we’re all equal. As Aretae points out, the economic realities are unavoidable, and I would merely add that, contra AMcGuinn, a system of stable laws, binding on the rulers as well as the ruled, are to the benefit of both. Look what happens to the rate of interest on English government debt between 1680 and 1700.

Aretae is of course right that what we would all like is a stable, disinterested, all-powerful entity that would set up and enforce a minimal form of government, and otherwise leave us alone. But I don’t see how such a thing is realistic. Here in second-best land, I think constitutional democracy is still the best thing going, but it needs a different set of checks and balances. As an initial measure, I would like to see the vote taken away from all government employees and anyone receiving benefits. Further measures can then be taken as appropriate – evolution, not revolution. To counter any charge of self-interest, I would of course be happy to give up my own vote in perpetuity as part of the reform. The aim is not to make my own vote more powerful, but to change the incentives facing voters.

The Great Divide

Mencius Moldbug is one of my favourite writers, but he’s much stronger when writing about America than the rest of the world. For example, he is fond of saying that all non-American political divides date from post-WW2. Britain is an obvious counter-example. The political divide in Britain dates from 1922-3, with the Conservative expulsion of Lloyd George and subsequent general election. That set up the divide which has persisted ever since, between Labour on the socialistic left and the Conservatives on the bourgeois right. The centre ground has shifted back and forth, but the relative positions of the parties on every major issue have remained just where they were. If you heard a debate on any topic from 1924, you could immediately tell which party the politicians belonged to.

And where does that leave the Lib Dems? 1922-3 set them up as a kind of muddled middle, where they have remained ever since. But who does their presence benefit? I had a university friend, an ardent Labour supporter, who thought that their existence benefited the Conservatives. If only Labour and the Lib Dems would merge, he loved to tell me, they would win every election. If Labour and the Lib Dems merged, I used to reply, they would win the next election, then lose every election for a generation.

My friend’s theory was based on the idea that the Lib Dems are the right wing of the Labour Party, and that if they were to merge then all the Lib Dem voters would simply vote Labour. Yet: if there is so little difference between Labour and the Lib Dems, why don’t the Lib Dem voters just vote Labour? They would get a lot more benefit from their vote if they did so, yet instead they prefer to campaign quixotically for a change in the voting system. If Lib Dem voters would rather “waste” their votes than vote Labour, what does that tell you? Why don’t Lib Dem activists and donors give their time and money to the Labour Party? If they would rather run separate overdrafts than a joint surplus, what does that tell you?

In other words, the reason Labour and the Lib Dems don’t pair up is that they really aren’t a good match. Note that it was a Labour fantasy that they would merge in the early 00s (much as there are some Conservatives now fantasising about an eventual merger). You never hear any Lib Dems saying things like that. My friend was quite right that Lib Dems and Labour share a dislike of the Conservatives, but he was wrong to see the entire party in that prism. There are as many Lib Dems who dislike Labour even more – hence, in part, the current Coalition. This gives the Lib Dems a serious problem – they stand Janus-headed, betwixt and between – but it also gives a serious problem to anyone trying to snaffle their vote. In other words, if Labour merged with the Lib Dems, Labour voters wouldn’t merge with Lib Dem voters.

In fact, in the medium/long term, it wouldn’t matter which merged with the Lib Dems – going to a pure two-party system, the voting distributions would end up the same either way. I think the Conservatives would be the main beneficiaries of this change, because of the dynamic effects. By forcing people to choose between not-Labour and not-Conservative, it would create much greater accountability on the effects of Labour policies, not just their intentions, and it would destroy the BBC’s attempts to marginalise the Conservative Party.

I could of course be wrong. If the current Coalition does indeed cause the Lib Dems to disintegrate, we may find out. Once the AV referendum is over, they will have some tough choices to make.

The Economics of Charity

Last night I went to a fundraiser for the situation in Japan, and as part of it they had a charity auction. Any money raised for disaster relief made me happy, but I couldn’t help notice that the economics of it seemed all wrong. For example, one of the items auctioned was 4 adult tickets to Chessington World of Adventures. Now, a quick glance at the website tells me that they sell for £110, yet at the charity auction they were sold for £30. And this phenomenon was repeated across the night. Would it not be better to sell these items commercially, and then donate the proceeds to charity? It would raise more money… but it would be less visible, and it wouldn’t gather a bunch of people together to congratulate each other on how generous they are. The entire evening seemed entirely about showing how great the attendees are, and very little about the actual victims.

File under “Charity isn’t about helping.”

Of course I’m worth it. But is she?

Workshy Joe responds to my last post.

A lot of what he said can be summed up as “you’re not special.” Yep, agreed. Or rather, I am special, but I fall within a bell curve. Everyone is a creature of routine to a greater or lesser extent. Not everyone is diagnosed with OCD. Everyone feels bad at times. Not everyone has major depression that destroys years of their life. When I say I’m weird, I don’t mean that I’m a genius, or that I think substantially differently from everyone else, or that the normal rules don’t apply to me. I think I’m a reasonably ordinary guy with some strengths and some problems. But those problems and differences are real, and not just my own inventions to make myself seem like a precious snowflake, and the fact of the matter is that I strike most other people as weird.

The most interesting part of the post is when he compares Game to a foreign culture. Now, the key to game is procedural knowledge (“know-how”) rather than propositional knowledge (“know-what”), because it’s no good understanding Game theoretically if you can’t put it into practice. So, is it painful to take part in this foreign culture? I find it so strange that he thinks the answer is obviously no. To me, the answer depends on the foreign culture. If you don’t like spicy food, then you’re probably not going to enjoy Indian culture (or at least their cooking). Now, if you get a really good job in India, then that’s going to be worth the occasional curry. But any way you look at it, there’s a trade-off here.

Game is very much a foreign culture to me, and from my perspective it involves eating a lot of vindaloo for very little pay. I’ve been trying it for several months now and it really has been a painful experience. Now, I am not happy stuck in my rut, but it does not follow that I will be any happier outside it. Maybe there are other ways I can improve myself, and perhaps some of them involve more gain and less pain. Or maybe this is just depressive thinking, and making excuses, I don’t know. What I do know is that feeling sorry for myself is not much of a strategy.

**Joe is right that exercise, regular sleep and CBT can all help. However, if they’re suffering from depression, telling someone to take exercise is rather pointless. Anti-depressants can be a kick start, as can anti-anxiety medication and diet changes. However, you should bear in mind that what you tell your doctor is not necessarily as confidential as you would like it to be – particularly if you are contemplating suicide. The downside of seeking help honestly is that you may end up involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Sad, but true.

Is the Game worth the Candle?

Some men are naturally alphas but are being held back by what they believe are societal boundaries, so they hide their light under a bushel. They “act beta,” not because they really want to act that way, but because they think it is how they are supposed to act, or that it is a winning strategy. For this portion of the population, Game can be a life-changer, because not only is it a better strategy, they will become happier and more at one with themselves. It may be painful at first to overcome social conditioning and discard cherished notions, but it will be well worth it in the end.

Now, I have certainly learned some things from Game. Don’t supplicate, and be outcome-independent are two big ones. However, there are other factors at work. Firstly, I am weird. Not in a bad way necessarily, but I definitely stand out. Game talks about how being indifferent to social convention is a good thing, but let me tell you right now that they are very selective about which conventions they break and how! One of the reasons that I have a tendency to act beta is that I am not well-attuned to social situations, and it causes me to err on the side of caution. Needless to say, women hate weird. Standing out from the crowd is good, but only in a popular way. Everything else is death.

Secondly, I am a creature of habit. I have a degree of anhedonia, which I think this is part of the reason why I am susceptible to depression, and this alters my experiences relative to most people. When you aren’t experiencing pleasure in things, then the fact that something is familiar becomes the decisive factor – almost the only factor. Familiarity offers safety, but more importantly it offers comfort. Novelty cannot compete. Indeed, it becomes a game to create familiarity for just this purpose. I once ate the same sandwich for lunch every weekday for a year, not because I liked it any more than any other sandwich, but because having this pattern was comforting. And I’m no longer in that pattern, so I’ve never eaten that type of sandwich since. As well as being weird, this behaviour is disqualifying in its own right. Women like variety, change, excitement and novelty. I crave routine.

Finally, I am anti-social. I dislike most people, and I hate social interactions. I have never wanted to be popular, but rather my fantasies have always been about withdrawing from society. Trying to interact with people is exhausting to me, and it has only got worse as I have got older. And this is perhaps the most crippling of all. It’s not merely that most women like pro-sociality. It’s not merely that being anti-social lowers your status. The biggest drawback is that I meet fewer women, so even if NAWALT I’m unlikely to meet the exceptions.

At this point you may be thinking I have Asperger’s Syndrome or something, which would be understandable but false. I knew a girl at university who had Asperger’s, and that’s not me. I can pass as normal, but it takes a great effort. She was like a caricature of me, and completely clueless about it too. But I shouldn’t mock, because she was also much more intelligent than me.

Now, people change over time, and I have changed in the past and no doubt will again. In particular I suffer from severe anxiety and I would definitely like to change that. But much of this stuff is not really changeable – I can act in a more pro-social way, but I can’t make myself enjoy it. Following the precepts of Game therefore requires going fundamentally against my nature – and it seems that the prize at the end is rather lacking. I don’t even want sex with lots of different women. What I mostly want is emotional support and comfort, which the practitioners of Game tell me I should give up on.

Now, I don’t think I’m a beautiful unique snowflake who deserves to be loved for who I am. Deserve has nothing to do with it. If I don’t try and make myself more attractive to women, I will probably never have the kind of relationship I want. But is it worth it to go down that route? I cannot help feeling that it is a huge amount of pain for questionable reward. I know I’m an odd, crotchety fellow (I think Alpha Game would call me a gamma) but I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this way.

It’s Nice to be Important, but it’s More Important to be Nice

At BHL:

If you saw a drowning child and could easily save her, you’d think you’re obligated to do so, even if it ruined your $500 iPad. If you’re obligated to ruin a $500 iPad to save a child’s life, then you’re obligated to forgo buying the iPad in the first place, and should just use the money to save lives.

This gets exactly to the heart of what morality is. The moral law being propounded here is all-consuming – if you have generalised positive obligations to others, then it immediately becomes clear that your moral responsibilities are going to dictate all your actions. There is no room to pursue anything other than morality – the moral law is a tyranny.

But if you saw a drowning child and could easily save her, do you really have a responsibility to save her? Sure, it would be nice to do so, but do you have any obligation? One of the reasons I think the Common Law is sublime is that it gets this question precisely right. It says that if you’re the child’s parent or babysitter, or you’re the lifeguard at the pool, then you have a responsibility. But if you haven’t taken up a duty of care towards the child, it’s none of your business. As Lord Keith said in Yuen Kun Yeu v Attorney General of Hong Kong (PC) [1988]

Liability in negligence… [does not arise if a man] sees another about to walk over a cliff with his head in the air, and forbears to shout a warning.

It is confusion about this issue that is at the heart of disagreements about morality. It is why utilitarians are frequently trapped into saying that it’s wrong to love myself better than you. It is the difference between what it means to be nice – help old ladies across the road, save drowning children, wink at homely girls – and what it means to be moral – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t break your promises. They are completely separate issues.

The political implications should also be clear. Unfortunately, in the real world there is no way to achieve that kind of government, so we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.