Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Functionally, Modern Media are Priests, Preachers, & Shamans


My main interest is seeing what insights religion and religious dynamics can provide to moderately moral systems and institutions. Education is obviously moderately moral. Since the mid 90's, politics has become increasingly moralized. It had a major inflection point during the end of the Bush years when "everything is political" became widely accepted and operationalized as "and anything political is moral" as soon as it affects the right kind of minority.

The inflection point to "the political becoming moral" exposed interesting media dynamics. Exposure occurred due to a confluence of Trump's triggering of the media, twitter's transparency, and digital media's click-bait trap.

Rather than just dealing with something superficial like "fake news", I think the deeper question now hitting us is,  is the media now functioning as a priestly class within society?

I think the answer is yes, but let's see.





PRIESTLY CLASSES: FUNCTIONAL ANALYSES

Google scholar doesn't come up with many articles on the functional roles of priestly classes. The easiest reference is Encyclopedia Britannica's

The function of the priest as the mediator and maintainer of the equilibrium between the sacred and the profane in human society, and as the stabilizer of the social structures and the cultic organizations, determines the various criteria for holding the priestly office.

That's not too big a worry. Most intelligent, well read people not biased by new atheistic evangelism will probably come up with something similar to this.  Western priestly class societal roles include:

  • communication of moral norms
  • norm boundary maintenance
  • norm adjustments to direct costly commitment increases so as to expose free-loaders and heighten in-group out-group distinctions
  • the embodiment of and perceived control of existential concerns
  • societal coherers 
    • via maintenance of institutions which enable interaction,
    • pro-social preaching,
    • facilitation of common experiences via rituals and common meta-narratives
    • communicating norms in explicit terms
    • authority figure heads
    • rule of law for less than quasi-criminal offences (i.e. judgement & mediation of social offences)
    • maintenance of slow cultural change rates (via cultural conservatism and maintenance of moral code books & meta-narratives)
These ideas generally come from Scott Atran's In God's We Trust and my own readings over the years and life-experiences.

To generalize, it seems like you end up with the following major roles

  1. Norm maintenance (especially making norms easy to understand and policing them)
  2. Costly commitment display direction
  3. Existential concern expression / embodiment (shamanism)
  4. Public square hosting
  5. Common experience & common narrative facilitation
  6. Social change rate guardian



TEST


Now let's test how a couple of different institutional roles perform these functions. The hope is that they'll be some major distinctions between different institutional players.




Police
Politician
EducationOld new mediaModern news media
Norm maintenance
yesyesyesyesyes
Costly commitment display direction

rarely
(war)
sometimessometimes
(war, heroes)
yes
Existential concerns


sometimes
yes
Public square

yesyessome whatyes
Common experiences & narratives

oftenyessome whatyes
Social change rate guardian

yesyesnot since the 50'syes

Yikes!!!

Let's look at the difference between the old media institution and modern media.




Old news media
Modern news media
Change degree
Norm maintenance
yes


Often concerned with patriotism and national cohesion.  Less concerned with correctly steering discourse and more concerned with providing information needed for discourse.
yes


Much more concerned about directing things to social justice issues and "proper" political policies. Concerned about being on the "right side of history".  Less concerned with national cohesion and more concerned about social justice issues (which over time ensure cohesion - at least in a utopian way)
large
Costly commitment display direction
sometimes


Mainly directed costly commitments during times of crises like war. But also steered costly commitments by highlighting heroic behaviour.
yes


Very concerned about highlighting heroic behaviour.


News is often presented in terms of heroes and villains.
large
Existential concerns

yes

Concerned about Orange-man-bad hysteria, climate change hysteria, life-coaching info, etc.

The difference is the level of hysteria and the embodiment of sensationalistic fears which are minimally rational (in the conventional sense)

see this post
huge
Public square
some what

Used to share info on public events, but was not interactive and could only show a sample of ppl
yes

Twitter and social media enable interaction between people.
huge
Common experiences & narratives
some what

Used to maintain general discourses about national narratives and judeo-christian heritages. Minorities were often left out (melting pot promulgation)
yes

Very active in pushing certain narratives. However narratives are generally polarizing.

Similarly many pushed experiences (the resistance, 2nd A etc) are tribal in nature. Even those which are common (voting) are presenting in polarized terms (vote for the right side)
moderate
Social change rate guardian
not since the 50's

Old media used to guard social change rates. The 60's split news media a bit. But, generally up through the 80's news was "conservative".
yes

Social change rate is seen as inhumanely slow. There is no question modern news media is pushing for huge rates of change here. Some modern media are, of course, conservative. But, the news media and journalism is generally very progressive.
large




CONCLUSION

It seems hard not to conclude that modern news media and journalists are potentially fulfilling a societal role akin to that of older priest classes. This certainly doesn't mean that they are leveraging supernaturalness.  Rather, it means they have fallen into a natural cultural-evolutionary landscape-well.  These wells have certain, reasonably well understood, religious like group dynamics, and certain caste-like roles.

Usually priestly classes were positioned somewhere between merchant classes and nobility. They tended to have very distinct behavioural differentiators.  One thing that strikes me about news media is their hubris. They act like the preppy popular kids from high school. As an entity, their politics certainly is not representative of Canada or America as a whole. I've seen estimates that their political orientations are monocultural at the 90%+ level.

The Washington beltway strikes me as class diverse as a 19th century seminary. They also strike me as equally ecumenical and bubble-oriented.

I have no estimates about the extent to which journalists tend to associate with elites versus commoners. But, one thing that does strike me as relevant is their interest in being connected to sources of power in order to get news.  The term "ladder climber" comes to mind - sell out a lower class connection for a higher class one.  Religion tends to temper these tendencies. But that is probably because religion promotion tends to occur by way of norm adherence. Journalism is much more meritous. And yet, here we see an interesting turn. Merit (good journalism) is no longer provides much of a reward. It is increasingly replaced by activism and, what religious folk tend to call "priest craft", which basically means the concentration of moral messaging to that which is popular and results in the elevation/popularization  of the messenger.

So what I think we see is the development of journalists who now leverage the power of moral activism for the growth of their own popularity. While this is probably nothing to be overly concerned about, the landscape of new news media has now changed in ways that are highly resonate with old priest class functional roles.  This creates some very interesting superpositions.  To me, the most interesting one is the shamanistic role.


ADDENDUM

One of the other big signals that modern news media are tending to priest class functions is aspirant elite dynamics.

If you wanted to move from a position of little power into one of great power you've got a couple of options
-getting really rich
-become a politician
-becomes a narrative shaping journalist

Peter Turchin really focusses on the role of aspiring elites.  During elite over-population (such as we now have) elites either get forced down into commoner status due to an inability to field increasingly high consumption costs. Similarly, the fitness advantages of moving out from the commoners become s increasingly significant (commoner exploitation grows exponentially during phases of elite over-production).  Of the three options above, becoming a narrative shaping journalist strikes me as the easiest thing to do.

A benefit of activist journalism as a path into aspirant elites is that the process provides a religious-like sense of having helped out.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


Atran, S. (2002). In gods we trust: The evolutionary landscape of religion. Oxford University Press.

Dawson, L. L. (Ed.). (2003). Cults and new religious movements: a reader (p. 297). Oxford: Blackwell.

Hunt, S. J. (2017). Alternative religions: A sociological introduction. Routledge.

Lee, W. E. (2005). The Priestly Class: Reflections on a Journalist's Privilege. Cardozo Arts & Ent. LJ23, 635.

Singh, M. (2018). The cultural evolution of shamanism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences41.

Smith, J. E. (1994). Humanism as a quasi-religion. In Quasi-Religions (pp. 15-44). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Taylor, V. E. (2008). Para/Inquiry: Postmodern religion and culture. Routledge.

Wilson, D. (2010). Darwin's cathedral: Evolution, religion, and the nature of society. University of Chicago press.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Adaptive Groups & Authoritarian-based Moral Change

The other night I watched a "conversation" between Douglas Murray and Sylvana Simons on political correctness. The arguments were fairly tedious. Basically

  • Structural oppression exists. Respect is important. Because respect requires so little effort to produce so large outcomes, resistance to respectful behaviour that can positively correct structural oppression should be a universal norm enforced by peer pressure, and probably the rule of law.
  • Free speech is essential for western democracies. That means understanding that there will be speech we don't like. But the cure (moral and speech authoritarianism) is worse than the disease.


Background Argument

The progressive argument is, on the surface, quite strong. Many religious dynamic conversations I've observed apply an identical logic:
  • there's a norm that no longer makes sense in our society
  • changing it isn't a big deal
  • the outcomes are quite big for a small percentage of people and the cost is quite small for a large percentage of people
  • therefore resistance to it is an act of overt aggression because individual reward vs individual cost differentials are huge! Don't be a cro-magnon levelled bigot.
There are two issue with this class of argument
  1. It assumes cost-benefits should be judged on an individual-individual level.
  2. It assumes a rational change perspective with respect to groups.

Judging Cost-Benefits via Individuals 

Issue 1 tends to get discussed ad naseum. I'll avoid doing that. I'll simply suggest that, what tends to happen in practice is that one's preferred minorities tend, in practice, to get lumped together when looking at benefits. Thus, people don't look at what may benefit an individual of minority X, they tend to look at what what may benefit individual X and then assume that needs to happen to all individuals from X's minority group.  The issue (and strength) is that as long as your minority groups are fairly small, there is no functional limit to how many benefits they should receive because the individual costs to members of the large group will always be very small.

For example, if I have a minority group of 1k individuals in a 100M population, a payment of $10 to each minority is a relatively small individual cost, but the benefit to each minority is $1M. Surely $10 is worth that level of reparation! Extend this to multiple minority group and as long as your logic is based on incremental rather that net costs for majority individuals, it takes you a very long time to hit any type of ceiling. If you don't think this is true, imagine a Canadian making $100k a year, paying 50% in taxes (hidden and overt). About 20% of this goes to the social net. Assume half of this goes to worse off individuals. That individual is already giving about $5k to worse off individuals, which can probably be understood as a conglomerate of disadvantaged minorities. The calculus of small costs and big benefits hasn't stopped working here. It tends to only stop working when the RATE OF CHANGE is too big.



Irrational Change Resistance (especially on innocuous things) is Rational

Issue 2, the limits of rational change logic is often rejected. But, this is the Achilles' heel of Sylvana Simon's argument. The main issue is that while the counter-argumentis factually correct, it is rhetorically weak.

Adaptive groups tend to have a number of unique qualities to them. These qualities result in them being able to balance (to varying degrees of success, over varying time spans) tensions between multiple levels of selection. Evolutionary transitions to higher levels of selection require
  1. Extreme dependence
  2. Coordination
  3. Conflict minimization.
Human groups obviously don't reflect a major evolutionary change (say from a single celled organism to a multi-celled organism), but certain groups do reflect, for certain periods of time, functional units of selection. Groups which are able to provide fitness enhancements to their members which exceed group costs tend to have certain behavioural similarities. Adaptive group behaviours which end up sympathetic to evolutionary transition logic come from a variety of research traditions:
  • Ostrom's common pool behaviour
  • Atran's psychology of religious groups
  • List & Pettit's group agency work
Other work is obviously framed from an evolutionary perspective, often directly influenced by evolutionary transition logic:
  • D.S. Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral
  • some of E.O Wilson's sociobiology work
  • Peter Turchin's secular cycles work
  • Whitehouse's cultural evolution work
  • various cultural evolutionary scholars.

    Resistance to Usurpation

    One of the main issues with adaptive groups is their resiliency against usurpation. Groups which are easily redirected by sub-groups, including expert sub-groups, tend not to be adaptive over time, or at least tend not to display the signals people tend to use as proxies for adaptiveness. Why? List and Pettit's Group Agency has the most cogent and convincing logical arguments I've found. But, D.S. Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral is the easiest to understand.

    Usurpation enabled for rational ends also enables usurpation for other ends. The ability of individuals or small groups to control large groups tends, over time, to result in tyranny or exploitation. This is especially true for groups which suddenly change norms.

    Fast rates of norm change rarely provide the time necessary for the evolution of secondary exploitive controls. Thus, revolutionaries who break a system in order to fix it find what instead is created is a haven for exploitation. Slow change often, but not always, avoids this. This is because balancing behaviours have a chance to develop.

    Practical vs Factual Reality

    So obviously fact-based rational change should be immune to resistance? Actually, the answer is no. Factual reality and practical reality, as D.S. Wilson says, are two entirely different cups of tea. Selection occurs on practical reality (fitness increases which are blind to whether something is factually true), not factual reality. Factual reality may be correlated with practical reality, but it isn't where selection happens.

    In fact, what usually happens is adaptive groups tend to leverage quasi-factuality as;
    • a costly commitment display,
    • a free loader detection tool which tests whether an individual really gets the group's zeitgeist,
    • an in-group out-group behavioural divider.

    Net Results

    The net result is adaptive groups have a much more complicated relationship with seemingly arbitrary norms than is normally thought. Groups which are vulnerable to dictatorial control by special interest groups tend not to be adaptive, or if they are adaptive, tend to quickly loose the signals people use to judge adaptiveness. This latter point becomes especially true as the publicity of the power struggle increases.

    The implication is that adaptive groups can rarely change quickly. Pressure to do so extracts huge social cohesion capital costs. These costs are hard to assess and tend to be complex (in the technical sense) and non-linear in nature.  Thus, seemingly inconsequential things, like pronoun usage, may actually produce huge adaptive group signal flags. Or they may not. The only way to really tell is look for the dynamics that occur when they are pushed, and then take into account how much social cohesion capital you think you can burn up before the group loses its adaptiveness. The problem is, group adaptiveness tends to be non-linear in nature and often one extra straw can break the camel's back.


    Contextualization


    The best way to contextualize these issues is not in terms of a hyper-loaded issue like pronouns. Rather, it's to look at how religious groups (which tend to be very adaptive) respond to purposeful change on seemingly arbitrary and pointless norms.

    Imagine if a sub-group in Islam or Judiasm decided eating pork would provide huge benefits to a small group of people who didn't have any other source of meat, and that to prevent this group from being prejudiced, every other Jew / Muslim needed to accept and support the change to pork eating.

    There's no question this is an arbitrary norm. One could say that failure to acquiesce to this group's demand is illogical. The only problems raised are problems resistors make for themselves. Indeed, the pork example would likely have net caloric and taste benefits for people. It wouldn't have any linguistical complications nor any interpersonal norm/structural changes. But there's no doubt that it would rip each religion apart.

    Conventional rational logic can't explain why people would sacrifice whole societies (and engage in huge wars) for something of such little intrinsic value. And yet it is obvious that they do. The only explanation is the adaptive group one I've presented.

    To think that many of today's social progressive change issues won't impact the adaptiveness of modern groups is naive. But, as I say, it is a rhetorically weak position to take. The issue isn't the rationality of the "ask" but the adaptive dynamics it broaches.


    You can slowly ramp up the amenability your society has with respect to change rates, but if the norms constraining the tension between within and between group selection haven't had time to solidify, then you're probably just going to implode the whole thing.


    Further Reading

    If you want to learn more about the specific logic of change, I'd strongly suggest List and Pettit's Group Agency book. It is excellent!

    If you want to get a better sense on why groups, especially those based on moral and religious morals, are adaptive, I'd suggest Darwin's Cathedral.

    If you want to get a better sense of the logic of sacred values I'd suggest Scott Atran's In God's We Trust.

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    US Civil War - Picking a Model


    In the first post in this series I laid out a couple of scenarios I see as plausible for inflection into a US civil war.


    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3




    Scenario 1

    A second Trump term from 2020-2024  causes increasing low level left-wing extremist violence rationalized by hyperbolic "Trump will never give up the presidency" hysteria which then justifies a "resist at any cost" ethos. Violence levels should get going in 2021 -2024 via gradual ramp-ups.

    I view this type of conflict as likely, but of insufficient magnitude for the "civil war" term.

    Scenario 2: Revolt against Democratic Authoritarianism

    A second Trump term is followed by a reactionary 2024-2028 Democratic president who pushes hard on authoritarian solutions such as gun control, border dismantlement and abortion defense. Censorship and quasi-criminalization of "hate" (political) speech triggers right wing extremists. Violence emerges as the right starts protests and starts becoming overtly violent against "counter-protesters". This may be justified as a reactionary response to perceived existential threats against most types of conservative public sphere participation.

    I view this conflict vector as moderately likely. It should peak around 2026. Total violence levels should be moderate (probably similar in magnitude to 1960's / 1970's violence levels, albeit with more spatially concentrated outbreaks). The dynamics however, are more civil war like than  1960's/1970's political violence. I think this is the lower-bound Turchin envisions with his Structural Demographic intra-elite competition theory.


    Scenario 3: Politicide by a Reactionary Right


    After a 2020-2024 Trump presidency, things simmer during a Democratic presidency of 2024-2028, but things don't explode. In 2028 an oscillation back to an even more reactionary (populist/authoritarian) Republican president leads to significant radical left-wing violence which infects decent portions of what has hitherto been the center-left. There is a strong over-correction from the authoritarian right who justifies extra-legality as necessary and tacitly unenforceable by foes and an all-but gone political center.

    I view this type of conflict as the most likely.  It is likely to have enough system energy to spiral into  "civil war" like dynamics. Violence occurs in 2028-2029, largely emerging from radical left wingers, but egged on and resonated by emboldened and frustrated right-wing extremists.



    ANALYSIS


    Only Scenario 2 and 3 warrant civil war analysis.  Both vectors seem to resemble ethnic based civil war conflicts (where ethnicity is interpreted broadly and includes identity fused politico-moral ideologies with strong adaptive group dynamics).

    Scenario 2 Analysis

    Revolt against Democratic Authoritarianism

    Scenario 2 seems to resemble the gradual violence ramp ups Sambanis sees characterized in Nigeria. Democratic rule of law has a hard time cracking down on instigators due to its inherent penchant for equality under-the-law. An inevitable spiral into one-dimensional identity based criminality will worsen rather than weaken this basin trap. I think Tommy Robinson's recent conviction for contempt of court, based largely on his identity and its "proof" of intent, demonstrate this attractor basin.

    This type of civil war will therefore largely involve confrontation over messaging mediums. This is akin to the low level civil war which preceded US independence. Journalists, outspoken B-celebrities like Kaepernick, Alyssa Milano, Steven Crowder, Candace Owens, Ana Navarro, etc. will be the main assassination targets. Social media offices may get a few rage-based suiciders.

    Open conflict will largely be limited to protests. This fits in with a Sambanis riot vector. Government officials will usually be one step behind protest violence. This may be purposeful (e.g. Portland) or just due to incompetence and a few nefarious oversights (e.g. Charlotte). Families and communities will polarize. Commerce will polarize and identity will increasingly be a key to public sphere participation (e.g. Raverly, Master Card & Bank of America).

    Dynamics are  "ethnic" in nature, but are more akin to Sambanis' anti-colonial or nationalistic strife vector and a polticide human dynamic.

    Pluralism returns when:
    • people get sick of the limitations this causes on commerce and public sphere participation
    • the US settles on a mid-sized polity solution where a new balance of power is maintained via semi-formal group of states alliances, somewhat similar to pre-civil war North-South dynamics.
    I would guess pluralism would return somewhere around mid 2030's


    Scenario 3 Analysis

    Politicide by a Reactionary Right

    Scenario 3 violence inflection is around 2028-2029, and emerges from a violent reactionary right. The vector is less a series of riot based ramp ups and more a concerted nationalistic strife. Fighting is largely about "if you don't like this country - get out" and "fascist resistance". Because I suspect this would involve fewer years of ramp up, I suspect it will either be a momentary blip of violence, or a more serious political purge using the force of law backing up mob-based political oppression.

    Outcomes are much more chaotic (in the technical sense of the word). But, if things do explode, they're much more likely to involve governmental force. Say, for instance, forcing California to capitulate its "illegal" sanctuary cities or potential border wall tear downs.

    I would guess the ramp up and ramp down from this "civil war" would be much quicker and much more damaging to democracy as we know it.


    REFERENCES


    Cederman, L. E., Wimmer, A., & Min, B. (2010). Why do ethnic groups rebel? New data and analysis. World Politics62(1), 87-119.

    Lyall, J., & Wilson, I. (2009). Rage against the machines: Explaining outcomes in counterinsurgency wars. International Organization63(1), 67-106.

    Lyall, J. (2009). Does indiscriminate violence incite insurgent attacks? Evidence from Chechnya. Journal of Conflict Resolution53(3), 331-362.

    Sambanis, N. (2004). Using case studies to expand economic models of civil war. Perspectives on Politics2(2), 259-279. 

    US CIvil War - Models of War

    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3



    A quick literature review shows a  couple of ways to classify civil war types
    1. economic, including resource predation
    2. ethnic
    3. coups
    4. genocides
    5. politicides
    6. self-determination (similar to my mid-sized polity bifurcation idea the other month)
     Sambanis' excellent paper on civil war suggests some feedback and feedforward between different aspects of civil conflict. For instance, an attempted coup may or may not start a civil war and a civil war may or may not start genocide or politicide.

    I'd also add, that my own thinking (from a cultural multi-level selection frame) suggests we may have to distinguish civil wars of supremacy, like those focused on genocide or politicide, from those which are ostensibibly supremacist but are more aligned toward bifurcation into stable mid-sized polities.

    Near the end of his paper, Sambanis gives a list of some vectors out of which civil wars emerge;
    1. violent anticolonial movements
    2. international wars
    3. occupations
    4. coups
    5. proxy wars fought in a third country
    6. riots
    7. intercomunal (ethnic, religious or ideological) fighting
    8. nationalistic strife

    Background

    Here's a list of quotes from the Sambini paper. It should give people a flavour of things. His paper seems to take a systems (multi-scale perspective) and to be aware of process issues, including complex emergence and (probabilistic) structural attractor basins.



    "Finally, both Collier & Hoefller and Fearon & Laitin find that democracy does not significantly reduce the risk of civil war and that ethnic fractionalization does not increase it—although, according to CH, ethnic dominance increases risk. CH and FL seem to agree that countries in the middle of the democracy-autocracy spectrum and those with political instability are more prone to civil war"

    "Thus, we come back to the distinction between micro- and macro-level research on civil wars that I made earlier. It is true, as argued by Stathis Kalyvas in an earlier issue of this journal, that motives for violence vary wildly at the micro level and that micro-level and macro-level determinants of civil war often do not directly correspond to one another. But analysis at different levels of social conflict will necessarily reveal different causal patterns."

    "The disjuncture between micro-level actions and macro-level identities that Kalyvas expertly demonstrates implies one of two things: the variation at the micro-level is irrelevant to the question of civil war onset, or civil war is such an aggregate concept that it is not useful as an analytical category. Supposing the latter, if civil war includes coups, riots, gang violence, crime, and genocide, are we right in analyzing civil war as distinct from all these other forms of violence? If what we are trying to explain is the outbreak of civil war, then the process of interest is that by which divergent incentives and myriad personal calculations generate civil war rather than another type of violence. The theories proposed by CH and FL assume that civil war is a distinct category of violence and try to explain when and where civil wars are likely to occur. But these theories can partially explain many forms of violence—even organized crime—and are not specific to civil war. We must therefore consider a wider array of both micro- and macro-level theories, including ones that explain how emotions, ideology, revenge, or coercion can interact to produce collective action that culminates in a civil war."

    "Thus, terrorism, coups, and riots may be leading indicators of civil war (and may precipitate civil war), yet we must explain why in some countries we observe those forms of violence without also observing violence escalation into civil war. A general theory of political violence must explain how and why we shift from one form of violence to another, and it must analyze civil war as part of a dynamic process."

    "quantitative studies of civil war fail to account for the effects of low-level violence that typically precedes war, reducing both income and growth by reducing investment and encouraging capital flight. This is particularly true for studies using data sets that code civil war onset during the year that deaths cross the 1,000 threshold (as is common in the literature), even though armed conflict may have been occurring for several years."

    "that may be irrelevant if the civil war was motivated by religious difference and fueled by repressive government policies. The opportunity-cost argument does not apply well to “volunteer forces” such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that are more concerned with ideology than with looting."

    "Some analysts classify wars fought by ethnic groups as ethnic wars.80 Others argue that ethnicity is just a cover for economic motives,81 personal hostilities,82 criminality,83 or an assortment of other objectives that are not truly ethnonationalist at their core.84 But even though many conflicts can become ethnicized after they start, and ethnic mobilization can be used by political elites to support nonethnic rebellions, it may be significant that ethnicity is mobilized in some wars but not in others. After all, many rebel groups are organized within ethnoreligious parameters (in Burundi, recruitment follows tribal lines; in Lebanon, recruitment and alliance patterns follow religious lines ). A common-sense definition of ethnic war is a war fought between ethnic groups over issues that relate to ethnicity. It does not matter whether ethnic identity can be manipulated by elites pursuing private goals; the fact that ethnicity lends itself to manipulation and can be used to motivate collective action is in itself significant"

    "I have been arguing that we cannot understand the causes of civil war without looking both below civil war (at individual level violence) and around it (at different forms of organized political violence)"

    "For many countries caught in a conflict trap, civil war is a phase in a cycle of violence. By isolating civil war in quantitative studies, we choose to focus on an event rather than a process, and we discard a lot of useful information that explains how we end up having a civil war"

    "In sum, organized violence is the result of four interacting factors: the demand for loot, the demand for political change, the opportunity to mobilize criminal or insurgent groups, and the mechanisms (relational, emotional, cognitive, or environmental) that characterize claim making and resource extraction. And there are important links between political and criminal forms of violence: while a strong state can deter the escalation of a conflict to violence, criminal and political violence can reinforce each other and thereby undermine a state’s authority and capacity."
    Some of the most useful insights from the case studies discussed here come from analyses of the dynamics of conflict in countries where civil war did not occur despite a large number of risk factors...A strong state can afford to be accommodating or repressive, at low cost.134 But even accommodating policies may not effectively curb opposition if the state is weak and therefore cannot uphold its end of the bargain"

    "Nondemocratic states can use selective repression more easily than democratic ones can to reduce the risk of conflict escalation. Thus, a government’s likelihood of using repression or accommodation—and the effects of these approaches—may be determined by state capacity and regime type combined. The conflict escalation potential of incomplete repression strategies may explain why democratization increases civil war risk. A democratic or democratizing regime cannot easily use repression, because the state’s enforcement apparatus becomes weaker as its activities become more transparent. The state is therefore less able to root out opposition in its early stages."

    US Civil War - Thinking About Models

    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3


    For the last couple of years (2015 or so) I've occasionally mentioned my worries that the US might enter into some type of civil war. This idea gradually gains traction each year.  While some of this interest is likely due to click-bait dynamics and journalist's need for new topics of interest,  some prominent academics like Peter Turchin are also worried about it.

    Here's a superficial take from the ground by Tim Pool that seems like mandatory viewing.



    My old thoughts were based on backlash to Hillary Clinton authoritarianism, corruption, one-sided justice and the elevation of political cronyism on an international stage at the expense of US workers.  Whether or not a Trump figured emerged was rather beside the point back then.  The demonization of Romney as "the next Hitler" started to solidify my thinking around political multi-level selection dynamics. Turchin's book "Ages of Discord", obviously did nothing to dissuade my thinking. The emergence of severe Trump Derangement Syndrome supports an "attractor basin" interpretation of the spiralling social dynamics. The massive shift of left-wing politics to the far-left and the near total elimination of center-politics in popular discourse has given me few reasons to doubt the basin-based death spiral.  Right now, it's more an issue of time and severity.

    Turchin's Jan 2017 bottom end prediction is 5 fatalities per million per 5 years sometime in the 2020's. That would mean about 1500 "civil war" deaths.

    As we move forward in time, the main issue is how many US presidential turn-overs will be required for violence to really ignite? I think a Dem win in 2020 will energize but not spark things. The simultaneous removal of the wall and authoritarian based gun restrictions will certainly set things on a knife edge. I think Kamala Harris is a true existential threat here. But, I don't think things would really get going until you get a more strident pull back from the right during the next cycle. I have a hard time imagining someone more extreme than Trump, but that is almost assured. And, I doubt that reactionary figure would have many of Trump's Reaganesque economic foci or "luck".

    But, because I think a 2020 Dem win is extremely unlikley, I think 2024 or 2028 will be the focal points. I suspect Trump Derangers will be extremely upset by Trump's 2024 win. Many extremists will rationalize violence as the only answer to the "inevitability" of a Trump takeover. Taunting such loons doesn't help. Nor can the activist media resist the siren call of these basins of lunacy.


    What I suspect will happen is 2020 to 2024 things will heat up. In 2024 Dems will likely regain the White House and its symbolic importance. The only exception I can see is if Nikki Hailey decides to enter the fray (and survives the legacy hand-off set-up). Thus, I see the damn bursting in the 2026 midterms, or more likely in 2028.

    A mid-term based explosion seems very unlikely. The violence cycle seems to me to be more about appearance than actual governance issues. In 2028 you'll either get a 2nd Dem presidential term, or a hard reactionary return/revolt back to (extreme populist) Republicans. Either way, this should be the tinder point.

    If the Dem's get a second term and push hard on gun control, and the radical-authoritarian left decides to prevent all expression of opposition, then kaboom. I just don't see how this won't happen. The only hope is that the Wall is up so that the existential threat the right feels is posed against the nation is diminished. But, the second term will embolden the far-left to purge the populace of all its "racist" legitimization tools - protest will be considered "hate", social media will be forced to or choose to expel "hate", and Fox will feel the pressure of "fake news" and "incitement" legislation.  The damn will burst. Right wingers will not acquiescence, and the militias will get nasty and suicidal. The (just) demonization of targeted assassinations and street violence will be so hyperbolized, I suspect you'll have lots of far-right adjacents who, like the Swalwell gun poll, will choose to accept the label of insurgent rather than be coyed by it.

    If reactionary Republicans push out a second term Dem in 2028, then I think progressives will go crazy. The main result here is just lots of street violence. The Proud Boys - Antifa ground marking pissing contest dynamic springs to mind. At worst, this would fold into 60's era "Days of Rage" type violence.

    These two scenarios set up the models I think are most useful to look at for the potential/likely US "civil war".

    Next Post - the models...

    Monday, June 24, 2019

    Cultural Multi-Level Selection - "Just So" or "Good to Go"

    There's an interesting conversation up on Letter Wiki between David Sloan Wilson (from multi-level selection fame) and Massimo Pigluicci (from the Extend Evolutionary Synthesis fame).  Massimo's challenge to David is to explain how a multi-level perspective on historical events is informative and falsifiable.  From the jist of the conversation, I'd wager that Massimo leans toward a "post-modern" complexity science frame.

    BACKGROUND

    For those not up on complexity theory in the social sciences, people tend to split into two main camps:
    1. There are post modernists who tend to view complexity/chaos as a lens or metaphor for analysis. They basically see small factor effects or emergence as necessarily obviating causal or deterministic reasoning. Cillers is the major reference here. Each discipline, however, has their own context specific experts. In education it is Davis & Sumara, Keith Morrison, and increasingly Mark Mason.
    2. There are also (probabilistic) determinists. This group is probably most characterized by a more sciency crowd who takes strange attractor topology fairly literally. This view sees human cultural tendencies in terms of knowable-enough attractor basins. For some, like D.S. Wilson, this comes from gene-culture mechanisms. Others take a more sociological view (like social psychologists) and just accept the existence of cultural basins, which while not rigidly determistic do tend to produce analogous structures over and over again despite a decent amount of surface feature chaos. In education, Koopmans and Reigeluth are probably the best examples. Peter Turchin is a good general reference optimized for historical thinking.

    ANALYSIS

    Massimo asked David to produce some concrete example of what (cultural) multi-level selection can say about specific historical events, and how it can be falsified in order to prove it is not some nice sounding "just-so" pseudo science.

    The debate settled down to a challenge to meet Tinbergen's four questions for an evolutionary process
    1. function
    2. history
    3. mechanisms
    4. development
    Let me see how I'd answer this for cultural multi-level selection approach to education.

    Function
    Tensions between adjacent levels of selection mean that educational systems are torn between focussing on behaviours optimized for large group focus and smaller group focus. This may involve a focus on large group equity wherein individuals give up some degree of localized optimizations in favour of broader coherence and efficiency of scale effects. This may involve the creation of a large group styled morality for education. This may involve limits on how far one can advantage or fail to advantage any particular sub-system including identity based groups. The small group orientation focusses more on localized optimizations at the expense of large group defined norms. This may involve setting up a gifted charter school or focussing one's teaching and teaching philosophy on academically oriented or rank based endeavors.

    History
    Educational histories like Tyak & Cuban's Tinkering To Utopia strongly suggest quasi-periodic oscillations between things I interpret as large group orientations and things I interpret as smaller group orientations. Over time the system expresses deterministic chaos toward a higher level of selection.

    Emergence largely happened in the West in the early to mid 1800's. This is when the public system emerged as a competitor to religious based community "schools". These systems gradually took over from private tutor arrangements and formal boarding schools for older, affluent and academically proficient students.

    Mechanism
    Education is adaptive. It provides real benefits for those who pursue it. This may occur directly via skills, or directly via "ritual-like" acceptance into a caste. Today, accreditation exemplifies part of this process. But social grease still abounds (what's the main purpose for getting into Harvard....). Thus real fitness, including long-term probabalistic fitness is part of the mechanism. Variation between people's orientation to education and adherence to its norms is another mechanism. Heritability of these orientations as per the various educational attainment and IQ inheritance, is the last mechanism.

    The unit of selection if culturegens (Richerson & Boyd's gene-culture elements). These have varying and unspecified levels of gene-culture mixes in them. Selection is happening first at the cultural level, but over long periods of time, it is resonating with other sources of selection at the gene level. The interface between gene's and culture is under-specified, and I suspect the main point of contention with Massimo. I would just point to the clear historical trend for larger polity sizes over human history and point out that cultures with long histories at large polity sizes tend to fare much better in large civilizations than do individuals with sparse genetic history at a large polity size.

    The default explanation for this is, of course, drift. But it could also happen by cutting off the low z tails in a pro-social distribution (via war, famine or other periodic event), or by selecting for high z tails via increases reproductive success (the Genghis Khan progeny idea) or by increased survivability (the rich people tended to have more kids that survived idea).

    Development
    I think I've already mentioned enough to give a rough idea on how this may have developed.

    Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Reframing the Fabric of Reality for Complex Systems Modelling

    Joe Norman had a tweet about a rather ambitious project in complex systems theory







     I see three big muses with respect to this endeavor
    1. Charles Peirce's pragmatics as interpreted from a modern (systems) complexity frame
    2. Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the sacred
    3. Reformulation of "reality's" fabric, like Einstein did moving 3-space into 4-space, or Peirce (and others) did for the concept of infiinity.

    Peircean Pragmatics

    I'm no expert on Peirce so I won't go into any detail here. Philosophers are always a good muse for scientists. To often we get caught up in details and start forgetting about bigger metaphysical questions.

    Peirce's main contribution here might be on the functional irreducibility of precision when time/effort/tools/community are considered. At some point knowledge (hence system framing) progress yields increasingly marginal benefits. Thus full system framing of complex systems faces non-linear effort/informational bounds. A 1% increase in frame details may require 1000x as much work as the previous 1% change. The degree of complexity/chaos (Lyapunov exponent) characterizes this difficulty (up to a point at least). The problem is this fractality is theoretical and doesn't account for interpretational divergence. This is where things really get crazy (as post-modernists tend to attest)


    Intuition & Forward Prediction


    Kauffman did a bang up job of things in Reinventing the Sacred. However, it was not well received. I just don't think people were ready to think about the implications of moral based forward intuition. Nor could most people get over the baggage associated with anything that came across, explicitly or implicitly, religious. Acadamia's recent acceptance of the science of religion and the role "irrationality" plays in social systems should increase acceptance of this work.

    Kauffman's main point as I remember it was that rationality and science is fine for backward looking explanations, but is ill suited for forward looking things at anything other than micro-time scales and things with low to no complexity.  Once you start getting into the edge of chaos, intuition becomes much more accurate. While I don't think he ever states this, part of the reason is transformation and the Hawthorne effect (things being studied tend to improve). Just having something in mind can alter small factors enough to produce significant outcome differences. Morality (or its equivalent) becomes an excellent frame from which to analyze futures deep in the edge of chaos.

    This has lots of implications for complex systems framing. It implies that you have to endogenize human morality or irrationality into your fabric of "system reality".  But, you quickly hit complexity's wall of small factor effect indeterminancy - you never know what will and won't matter.


    Reforming the Fabric of Reality

    I think that leaves complex system folk, like Joe Norman, having to think about some very significant meta-physical questions. How do you quantify and model process meta-physics, especially when emergence is a significant reality?

    I'm not sure this can be done without thinking about a new frame/fabric upon which to place social dynamics.

    What would this fabric need to have or to endogenize at the fabric level?
    • gene-culture co-evolution
    • human quasi-irrationality
    • morality's (or equivalent's) small effects influence (as per Kauffman)
    • Peircean pragmatics, particularly the interative triangulation of precision with non-linear effort costs
    • some sense of indivisibility. Peirce's (re)conception of infinity as a non-Cantor set seems to be an example to model. Process meta-physics is one example of how this was operationalized. I suspect something equally as radical is needed for complex systems framing....