Philosophy

There is audio, video, and transcript at the link.  I introduced Cass like this:

The Force is strong with this one. Cass is by far the most widely cited legal scholar of his generation. His older book, Nudge, and his new book on Star Wars are both best sellers, and he was head of OIRA [Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] under President Obama from 2009 to 2013. Powerful, you have become.

So tonight I’d like to start with a survey of Cass’s thought. We’re going to look at legal theory and then go to Nudge and then consider Star Wars, how it all ties together, and then we’re going to talk about everything.

On every point Cass responded clearly and without evasion.  We talked about judicial minimalism, Bob Dylan’s best album, the metaphysics of nudging, Possession, the ideal size of the Supreme Court, the wisdom of Yoda, Hayek, why people should choose their own path, the merits of a banned products store, James Joyce, why the prequels are underrated, and which of the first six movies is the worst of the lot.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: Let’s take a concrete example from real life: Jedi mind tricks. Obi-Wan comes along and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” And what does the stormtroooper do? He goes away. Now, is that a nudge?

SUNSTEIN: No, it’s a form of manipulation. So — .

[laughter]

COWEN: OK, but how do you draw the metaphysical categories? It seems like a nudge that just happens to work all the time.

SUNSTEIN: OK. I’ll give you a quick and dirty way of getting at that…

Here is another:

COWEN: If you were to pick one character from Star Wars who would nudge you — you get to elect them; you’re the only vote. Even Samantha doesn’t get a vote, just Cass — not your children — which character would you pick? Whom would you trust with that nudge? It’s a universe full of Jedi here, right?

SUNSTEIN: Yoda.

COWEN: Yoda?

SUNSTEIN: I trust that guy.

COWEN: But I worry about Yoda.

SUNSTEIN: I trust him.

Finally:

SUNSTEIN: Thank God for libertarian paternalism, that Luke has a choice. The Sith, by the way, like the Jedi, respect freedom of choice. In the crucial scene in Episode III where the question is whether Anakin is going to save the person who would be emperor, he says, “You must choose.” And so there’s full respect for freedom of choice. Nudgers have that. Good for them.

COWEN: Bad guys always tell you the deal, and then they say, “Choose evil.” It seems the good guys always mislead you.

There’s this funny tension. Star Wars makes me more nervous about nudge. I’m not like this huge anti-nudge guy, but when I look at Obi-Wan and Yoda lying to Luke — “Ben, Ben, Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” How many times have I heard that in these movies?

SUNSTEIN: It’s fair to ask whether Obi-Wan and Yoda had it right.

There is much, more more…self-recommending!

View story at Medium.com

The robot administers a small pin prick at random to certain people of its choosing.

The tiny injury pierces the flesh and draws blood.

Mr Reben has nicknamed it ‘The First Law’ after a set of rules devised by sci-fi author Isaac Asimov.

He created it to generate discussion around our fear of man made machines. He says his latest device shows we need to prepare for the worst

‘Obviously, a needle is a minimum amount of injury, however – now that this class of robot exists, it will have to be confronted,’ Mr Reben said on his website.

Here is more, with pictures of (slightly) injured humans, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

A reader has been asking me this question, and my answer is…no!

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it is a stimulating and wonderful book.  And if you don’t believe me, here is The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Hanson’s book is comprehensive and not put-downable.

But it is best not read as a predictive text, much as Robin might disagree with that assessment.  Why not?  I have three main reasons, all of which are a sort of punting, nonetheless on topics outside one’s areas of expertise deference is very often the correct response.  Here goes:

1. I know a few people who have expertise in neuroscience, and they have never mentioned to me that things might turn out this way (brain scans uploaded into computers to create actual beings and furthermore as the dominant form of civilization).  Maybe they’re just holding back, but I don’t think so.  The neuroscience profession as a whole seems to be unconvinced and for the most part not even pondering this scenario.

2. The people who predict “the age of Em” claim expertise in a variety of fields surrounding neuroscience, including computer science and physics, and thus they might believe they are broader and thus superior experts.  But in general claiming expertise in “more” fields is not correlated with finding the truth, unless you can convince people in the connected specialized fields you are writing about.  I don’t see this happening, nor do I believe that neuroscience is somehow hopelessly corrupt or politicized.  What I do see the “Em partisans” sharing is an early love of science fiction, a very valuable enterprise I might add.

3. Robin seems to think the age of Em could come about reasonably soon (sorry, I am in Geneva and don’t have the book with me for an exact quotation).  Yet I don’t see any sign of such a radical transformation in market prices.  Even with positive discounting, I would expect backwards induction to mean that an eventual “Em scenario” would affect lots of prices now.  There are for instance a variety of 100-year bonds, but Em scenarios do not seem to be a factor in their pricing.

Robin himself believes that market prices are the best arbiter of truth.  But which market prices today show a realistic probability for an “Age of Em”?  Are there pending price bubbles in Em-producing firms, or energy companies, just as internet grocery delivery was the object of lots of speculation in 1999-2000?  I don’t see it.

The one market price that has changed is the “shadow value of Robin Hanson,” because he has finished and published a very good and very successful book.  And that pleases me greatly, no matter which version of Robin is hanging around fifty years hence.

Addendum: Robin Hanson responds.  I enjoyed this line: “Tyler has spent too much time around media pundits if he thinks he should be hearing a buzz about anything big that might happen in the next few centuries!”

Very often they are passed down father to son.  Here is a recent paper by Avdeenko and Siedler:

This study analyzes the importance of parental socialization on the development of children’s far right-wing preferences and attitudes towards immigration. Using longitudinal data from Germany, our intergenerational estimates suggest that the strongest and most important predictor for young people’s right-wing extremism are parents’ right-wing extremist attitudes. While intergenerational associations in attitudes towards immigration are equally high for sons and daughters, we find a positive intergenerational transmission of right-wing extremist party affinity for sons, but not for daughters. Compared to the intergenerational correlation of other party affinities, the high association between fathers’ and sons’ right-wing extremist attitudes is particularly striking.

Here is a sentence from the paper:

Young adults whose parents were very concerned about immigration to German during their childhood years have a 27 percentage point (60 percent) higher likelihood of also expressing strong concerns about immigration as young adults.

This of course should make you less confident of your anti-immigrant views, if indeed you hold them.  Similarly, the intergenerational transmission of particular religious beliefs is also a strong reason not to be very confident in them.  If you get your religious beliefs from your parents and other relatives, through whatever mechanism, rather than from God, well…why are your parents a more reliable source of knowledge about this question than anyone else’s parents?

That is a William Hazlitt essay from the Edinburgh Magazine of 1828, reprinted in Table-Talk (scroll to p.165), focusing on why the political uses of nicknames are so problematic.  It retains some relevance today:

The only meaning of these vulgar nicknames and party distinctions, where they are urged most violently and confidently, is, that others differ from you in some particular or other (whether it be opinion, dress, clime, or complexion), which you highly disapprove of, forgetting that, by the same rule, they have the very same right to be offended at you because you differ from them.  Those who have reason on their side do not make the most obstinate and grievous appeals to prejudice and abusive language.

…a nickname…is a disposable force, that is almost always perverted to mischief.  It clothes itself with all the terrors of uncertain abstraction, and there is no end of the abuse to which it is liable but the cunning of those who employ, or the credulity of those who are gulled by it.  It is a reserve of the ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance of weak and vulgar minds, brought up where reason fails, and always ready, at a moment’s warning, to be applied to any, the most absurd purposes…a nickname baffles reply.

…the passions are the most ungovernable when they are blindfolded.  That malignity is always the most implacable which is accompanied with a sense of weakness, because it is never satisfied with its own success or safety.  A nickname carries the weight of the pride, the indolence, the cowardice, the ignorance, and the ill-nature of mankind on its side.  It acts by mechanical sympathy on the nerves of society.

…”A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man.”

There is more excellent analysis at the link, most of all on how the uses of nicknames avoids and runs away from the careful making and unpacking of specific charges.  Hazlitt notes the nickname can on the surface sound quite innocent yet nonetheless be a form of powerful invective.  For a while the Whigs were called “the Talents,” yet in a manner reeking of implicit scorn.

From Hazlitt, here is another scary part:

I have heard an eminent character boast that he had done more to produce the late war by nicknaming Buonaparte “the Corsican,” than all the state papers and the documents put together.

Here is a brief summary of the essay.  Hazlitt remains under-read and underappreciated.

For the pointer to this essay I thank Hollis Robbins.

Or perhaps I should rephrase that question: what would neo-reaction be if it were presented in a more coherent analytic framework?  (You’ll find other takes here; I like it better with the hyphen.)  Here is a list of propositions, noting that these are an intellectualized summary of a somewhat imagined collective doctrine, and certainly not a statement of my own views:

1. “Culturism” is in general correct, namely that some cultures are better than others.  You want to make sure you are ruled by one of the better cultures.  In any case, one is operating with a matrix of rule.

2. The historical ruling cultures for America and Western Europe — two very successful regions — have largely consisted of white men and have reflected the perspectives of white men.  This rule and influence continues to work, however, because it is not based on either whiteness or maleness per se.  There is a nominal openness to the current version of the system, which fosters competitive balance, yet at the end of the day it is still mostly about the perspectives of white men and one hopes this will continue.  By the way, groups which “become white” in their outlooks can be allowed into the ruling circle.

3. Today there is a growing coalition against the power and influence of (some) white men, designed in part to lower their status and also to redistribute their wealth.  This movement may not be directed against whiteness or maleness per se (in fact some of it can be interpreted as an internal coup d’etat within the world of white men), but still it is based on a kind of puking on what made the West successful.  And part and parcel of this process is an ongoing increase in immigration to further build up and cement in the new coalition.  Furthermore a cult of political correctness makes it very difficult to defend the nature of the old coalition without fear of being called racist; in today’s world the actual underlying principles of that coalition cannot be articulated too explicitly.  Most of all, if this war against the previous ruling coalition is not stopped, it will do us in.

4. It is necessary to deconstruct and break down the current dialogue on these issues, and to defeat the cult of political correctness, so that a) traditional rule can be restored, and/or b) a new and more successful form of that rule can be introduced and extended.  Along the way, we must realize that calls for egalitarianism, or for that matter democracy, are typically a power play of one potential ruling coalition against another.

5. Neo-reaction is not in love with Christianity in the abstract, and in fact it fears its radical, redistributive, and egalitarian elements.  Neo-reaction is often Darwinian at heart.  Nonetheless Christianity-as-we-find-it-in-the-world often has been an important part of traditional ruling coalitions, and thus the thinkers of neo-reaction are often suspicious of the move toward a more secular America, which they view as a kind of phony tolerance.

6. If you are analyzing political discourse, ask the simple question: is this person puking on the West, the history of the West, and those groups — productive white males — who did so much to make the West successful?  The answer to that question is very often more important than anything else which might be said about the contributions under consideration.

Already I can see (at least) four problems with this point of view.  First, white men in percentage terms have become a weaker influence in America over time, yet America still is becoming a better nation overall.  Second, some of America’s worst traits, such as the obsession with guns, the excess militarism, or the tendency toward drunkenness, not to mention rape and the history of slavery, seem to come largely from white men.  Third, it seems highly unlikely that “white men” is in fact the best way of disambiguating the dominant interest groups that have helped make the West so successful.  Fourth, America is global policeman and also the center of world innovation, so it cannot afford the luxury of a declining population, and thus we must find a way to make immigration work.

By the way, here is Ross Douthat on neo-reaction:

But while reactionary thought is prone to real wickedness, it also contains real insights. (As, for the record, does Slavoj Zizek — I think.) Reactionary assumptions about human nature — the intractability of tribe and culture, the fragility of order, the evils that come in with capital-P Progress, the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion — are not always vindicated. But sometimes? Yes, sometimes. Often? Maybe even often.

neoreaction

Anyway, let’s continue.

Who are the important neo-reaction thinkers?

Those who come immediately to mind are Aristotle, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Jonathan Swift, Benjamin Franklin, John Calhoun, James Fitzjames Stephens, Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, and Lee Kuan Yew.  For all of the fulminations against neo-reaction, the intellectual movement is not a flash in the pan.  Of course these thinkers were not operating in the cultural matrix laid out above, nonetheless they embody varying elements of elitism, non-egalitarianism, historical pessimism, and culturalism.  The most significant neo-reaction thinker today probably is Steve Sailer, who often comments on this blog in addition to writing his own.  By the way, both F.A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard were drawn to neo-reaction in their later years, and perhaps a separate post could be written on the complex connections between libertarianism and neo-reaction.

The miracle to my mind is that neo-reaction as an intellectual movement was relatively dormant for so long, not that it is coming back or will persist.

And maybe some of you are upset that I am even covering this topic, but neo-reaction, in varying forms, is a (the?) significant ideology in China, India, Russia, and Japan, and it is growing in popularity in Western Europe and of course America, where it has captured the presidential nomination of one of the two major parties.  It seems odd not to discuss it at all.

Is neo-reaction a racist movement?

I don’t “hang out” with neo-reaction, whatever that might mean, so I cannot speak from first-hand experience.  Still, I see overwhelming circumstantial evidence, including from the MR comments section, that the answer is yes, neo-reaction is very often racist.  (And by “racist” I mean not only a particular set of beliefs, but how they are held with a kind of obnoxious, self-pleased glee.)  If you read through the above propositions, it is easy enough to see why racists might find neo-reaction a congenial home.  And that is an important critique of neo-reaction, namely that the doctrine, when stated explicitly or understood clearly enough, encourages a very harmful racism and a variety of other forms of bad behavior.  Even if not every neo-reaction thinker is a racist himself or herself.

The early stages of the Trump campaign show clearly enough how publicly propagated neo-reaction disturbs the fabric and rhetoric of society.  And there is a cruelness to the humor one finds in neo-reaction which is all too revealing; more generally neo-reaction just does not seem so conducive to a deep generosity of spirit.

That all said, I think it is a category mistake to dismiss neo-reaction on the grounds of racism or prejudice.  There exists a coherent form of the doctrine perfectly consistent with the view that different races are intrinsically equal in both capabilities and moral worth, even if such a variant tends to get pushed out by the less salubrious elements.  Furthermore calling neo-reaction racist, as a primary response, seems to personalize the debate in a Trump-like way, ultimately playing into the strengths of neo-reaction and distracting the liberals, in the broad sense of that term, from building up the most appealing vision of their philosophy and doctrine.

Liberalism isn’t actually an automatic emotional default for most people on this planet, so being a scold is in the longer run a losing strategy.  I believe many current “democratic mainstream” thinkers genuinely do not understand how boring and unconvincing they are, as they live in bubbles filled with others of a similar bent.  And while neo-reaction does not get exactly right the nature of “the golden goose” in modern America, that is a question which modern progressivism rather aggressively avoids in its attempt to view the wealthy as an essentially inexhaustible ATM.

What about me?

As an undergraduate, I was deeply struck by my readings of the Spanish and Salamancan friars who protested against the New World enslavement of the Indians, as they were then called.  You can start with Bartolomé de las Casas.  Here was a doctrine that was anti-slavery, anti-oppression, pro-reason, pro-liberty, pro-individual rights, and analytically egalitarian, and on top of that based on actual real world experience with the subject matter.  On top of that, the overwhelming empirical fact is that people are far too willing to go tribal when it comes to politics.  We don’t need to encourage that any further, nor am I excited by the notion of setting tribe against tribe.

The world could be facing some fairly dicey times in the decades to come, mostly for geopolitical reasons.  I view the Spanish friars and their successors and offshoots — Montaigne, David Hume, Adam Smith, William Wilberforce, John Stuart Mill, Edmund Silberner, Martin Luther King  Jr., Gene Sharpe, Thomas Schelling, and some of the EU founders, among many others — as providing better and more useful guides to our world than neo-reaction.  Looking earlier, toss in Buddha and Jesus Christ and some of the Stoics as well.

Still, it would be a big mistake to simply dismiss neo-reaction, even though there are some rather easy and facile ways to do so.  It’s a wake-up call for the fragility of liberalism, a doctrine which sinks all too readily into its own dogmatic slumbers.

A non-relative male paying for a meal was once so anomalous that it was considered — and not always incorrectly — prostitution, says Moira Weigel, a Yale University PhD student and the author of the just-published “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating,” with police officers staking out bars and restaurants and even arresting daters.

That is from Emma Court.  See also Jason Brennan.

There are some people who are destined to become adjectives. Pick up a David Hume book you’ve never read before and it’s easy to recognize the ideas and style as Humean. Everything Tolkien wrote is Tolkienesque in a non-tautological sense. This isn’t meant to denounce either writer as boring. Quite the opposite. They produced a range of brilliant and diverse ideas. But there was a hard-to-define and very consistent ethos at the foundation of both. Both authors were very much like themselves.

Robin Hanson is more like himself than anybody else I know. He’s obviously brilliant – a PhD in economics, a masters in physics, work for DARPA, Lockheed, NASA, George Mason, and the Future of Humanity Institute. But his greatest aptitude is in being really, really Hansonian.

He really likes the book.

Contracting:

America, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, and Brazil, though the latter may be in flux.  Tunisia and Iran are problematic, but arguably hard to call.  Saudi may be headed toward collapse, but I don’t think you can say they are less free just yet.  Ethiopia is losing more political freedom, though still making very real economic progress.

Advancing:

Mexico and Colombia, if only by consolidating previous gains, and still there is a chance of a turnaround in Argentina at some point.  Latvia?  Where else?  You could make a (modest) case for India and some of the smaller African countries.

Neutral:

Japan, South Korea, Canada, and much of Western Europe though many of these cases appear fragile to me.

Overall this is not a thrilling ledger.  I haven’t listed most of the smaller countries, but in the longer run they often follow the lead of their larger neighbors.

File under Not Good.

One strategy I sometimes recommend to people is that early in their career they live in the place where their industry is headquartered. Bay Area for tech, New York for finance and publishing, LA for movies, Michigan for furniture and cars, Nashville for country music, etc. Soak up everyone’s expertise. Study. Learn. Even if you don’t want to start the next Google, you’ll learn a lot by way of “network intelligence” from physically living in Silicon Valley. But feel free to leave and join a lower-cost-of-living secondary market if and when you begin to feel perpetually not-quite-good-enough. This doesn’t mean moving to the boonies, but to a place where there’s plenty of industry activity but less happiness-hurting status jostling.

Here is more from Ben Casnocha.  Here is an email I wrote to Ben about related themes:

Talk, though, I think is in this case deceiving.

Take non-billionaires.  They (like billionaires) gossip an enormous amount.  Yet it is still ultimately a self-centered activity.  It is a way of processing the self. I am not saying there is *no* concern for other people involved, but talking about other people is very often mainly a way of talking about the self.

Now, if one billionaire says “isn’t XXXX a bigger billionaire than I am?,” I think this is often somewhat similar.  It is still a way of consuming being a billionaire.

It’s a bit like how people enjoy complaining.  When people complain about events on their vacation, that is very often (not always!) their mode of enjoying.

It’s as if being a billionaire isn’t real until you complain about it, and compare yourself to the others.  Think of “manufacturing vividness” as what is going on here, in the ultimate anthropological sense, more than just mere status games.

Hi from Hunan!

I agree that status is addictive, but I do not in general think of it as zero-sum.

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes).  A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs.  They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.

To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late.

Here’s a line from Martin Wolf:

Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton note, in addition, a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse.

(Addendum: note this correction.)

For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners.

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority.  Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here?  And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem.  It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true.  But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two.  It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.  Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done.  But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick.  Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus.  But how to do that?  That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it.  It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes.  It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure.  And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway?  Let’s hope we don’t find out.

In the Empire of Amerigo there is heated debate about the priorities of the polity.

The Egalitarians push for much higher military spending, on the grounds that many poor people around the world require Empire protection from aggressors or at the very least from severe external pressure.  The Egalitarians have a subcult, called The Samanthas, who favor direct military intervention in very destructive civil wars.  They are willing to cut domestic spending on social services to achieve this end, even though their founder did not draw this exact same conclusion.

The opposing party The Three-Percenters favors much higher social spending to the nation’s less fortunate citizens, who are for the most part within the global top three percent.  The Three-Percenters are an openly elitist party, and they emphasize how place of birth determines an individual’s moral worth, Amerigo coming first of course with no prize for second place.

The Egalitarians have been pushing hard for affirmative action.  It turns out that no one on the country’s Supreme Council has a military background, and they believe this should be rectified by an explicit system of quota.  Furthermore only a few members of the legislature ever have killed another human being in service of their country.  So the military point of view, as would be required to implement true egalitarian social justice, is badly underrepresented in the upper tiers of government and society.

After the great wage equalization of 2104, it became the common view that willingness to die and more importantly the willingness to kill for one’s country — or not — was the most fundamental remaining difference among citizens of Amerigo.  The self-proclaimed Proud Killer Faction earns some of the lowest wages in the country, yet they continue to push for greater recognition at the federal level, realizing it is not enough to control several state governments.

So far the Three-Percenters have the more popular view, because after all humans are naturally elitist and clubbish, and so their coalition rule has remained unchallenged for several terms of government.  Yet virtually all philosophers and academics back The Egalitarians, with some radicals even endorsing the Proud Killer Faction.

Addendum: There is another, now-vanquished faction of The Egalitarians, called The Medicoors.  They argue the strange and indeed untenable view that those on the verge of death have almost infinitely less than anyone else, even the very poor, and so a true egalitarianism means everything should be redistributed their way to prolong their lives, even if only for a short period of time.  They ruled the government for almost a century.  At first they were mocked for the doctrine of being “Forward Lookers,” and then finally they were defeated by the success of their own efforts.  Medical technology raised life expectancy to three hundred years of age, thereby inducing voters to think of themselves as nearly eternal, at least for the time being.  Some seers have predicted that eventually the Medicoors will make a major political comeback…

A study published (paywall) today (May 16) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that when we act unethically, we’re more likely to remember these actions less clearly. Researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University coined the term “unethical amnesia” to describe this phenomenon, which they believe stems from the fact that memories of ourselves acting in ways we shouldn’t are uncomfortable.

“Unethical amnesia is driven by the desire to lower one’s distress that comes from acting unethically and to maintain a positive self-image as a moral individual,” the authors write in the paper.

To investigate, Maryam Kouchaki, a behavioral research specialist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and her colleague Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School conducted nine separate studies with over 2,100 participants. Over the course of their work, they found that people remember the times they acted ethically, like playing a game fairly, more clearly than the times they probably cheated.

“We speculated…that people are limiting the retrieval of memories that threaten their moral self-concept and that is the reason we see pervasive ordinary unethical behaviors,” Kouchaki wrote in an email.

Here is the full story.

A longtime faithful MR reader sends me this:

Here’s a question I seem to recall you asking before (What? Me search?) but could probably use an update…What are the phrases which allow you to stop reading, safe in the knowledge that you won’t learn anything?  My classic examples are “bankster” and “feminazi,” which were great when they were current because they normally appeared so quickly in any given argument. But they’re both a little dated now, so while they’re still accurate, their base rates are too low to be really useful.

My current favorites are “Drumpf” and “media bias,” the latter being particularly strong since it negates both Trump AND Sanders adherents. I’m also fond of “obstructionist” but you usually have to read a ways to get to it. Anything that suggests that any officeholder or candidate is unintelligent works great, but there’s no catchphrase, and “stupid” can appear with enough honest referents that it doesn’t work on it’s own. (I’m tempted to add “prior_approval,” but that’s cheating.)
Thoughts? (Or those of your readers if you’re inclined to ask.)

A few points:

1. Simple lack of content is by far the number one reason why I simply “stop reading,” not objectionable catchphrases.

2. Perhaps more arrogantly, I like to think my pre-selection filters already keep me away from such cases, or they have indicated to me I have some reason for reading on nonetheless.

3. As of late I have found the word “extreme” to be a special turn-off, at least in the context of politics.  Better to just sub in the phrase “I feel it has to be wrong but I am not going to tell you why, so I’ll just snobbily hint at its inappropriateness, while simultaneously and falsely pretending to have a connection to what is commonly thought.”

I also am not keen on reading the two words “Main Street,” unless it is a biography of Sinclair Lewis, or perhaps something actually did happen on Main Street somewhere.  Even then I wonder.  Nonetheless my favorite Afghan restaurant — with halal fish and chips by the way — is on…Main Street, Fairfax.

Your thoughts?  What do the bankster feminazis out there have to say on this?

The idea of a general confusion about the nature of capitalism and what its alternatives really look like was revisited later on by Tyler Cowen.

“I would focus most of all on the issue of ideas,” he said. “Do the people of this country still believe in capitalism? And I know that if you listen to Bernie Sanders, or look at some polls, a lot of young people have more sympathy for what they call ‘socialism’ than ever before, but I don’t think they mean real socialism. If you ask Americans questions such as ‘Do you support trade?’ the answers are more positive today than they were five years ago. …So if you look at a lot of basic issues of tolerance, belief in the system, people accepting consumerism, heralding innovation, I think, mostly, people here believe in capitalism.

Here is the full report, also including John Taylor and Alan Krueger and others.  Here is Fortune’s take on me on Trump and Sanders.  They caught me on an optimistic day.  Here is the video link for the whole session.

If you’re ever invited to the Milken Institute Los Angeles conference, I recommend it highly.  They have about the highest quality presentations and presenters I can recall hearing in a long time, maybe ever.  One reason for this is simply that they do not let people go on for too long.