Further Annals of Libertarians Discovering Capitalism Sucks

I alluded to Larry Correia’s feelings being hurt by the action of Apple, Google and Amazon against conservative social media service Parler. As a reminder, Parler as well a being a privacy-data nightmare had such weak moderation processes that it was beset with issues with threats of violence.

Larry, who has been tirelessly pushing electoral fraud conspiracy theories since last November is rushing to the defence of Parler.

“Now comes the part where leftists suddenly love free enterprise and companies being able to do whatever they want… Okay, can all the small businesses open? Nope. Only companies that benefit leftist orthodoxy get to do what they want, and if you disagree with this double standard, obviously you hate–the leftist has to look at the printed word and try to sound it out–cap e tall ism?”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/01/11/bow-before-appgooglezon/

The “leftist orthodoxy” in question being “don’t murder Mike Pence” which…well I know I agree with that principle but I would not want to be too bold in claiming everybody I know on the left agrees with that on principle. I know for a fact that “let’s not other throw the government” isn’t exactly leftist orthodoxy. The principle on the left is more “we know that there are legal consequences for asking for people to break the law because we have a basic understanding of the nature of law, politics and common sense”

Larry goes on to explain:

“In principle I’m usually in favor of letting businesses do whatever they want. You know what else I’m usually against in principle? Bombing Japan. Yet strangely, after Pearl Harbor, circumstances changed, and things which were previously disagreeable become necessary. Go figure.”

ibid

True, all out war is a circumstance in which normal rules of interaction between nations are suspended. Which…well…isn’t that an argument in favour of big tech clamping down hard on a platform being used to encourage the over throw of your country’s constitution? To be fair, you don’t visit Larry’s Facebook page for clear thinking.

“So basically, if Home Depot and a cabal of every building supply store in the country wants to ban an entire class of citizens, that’s fine, just grow your own trees, cut them down, and shape them into lumber yourself. Oh… except once you’ve put in the labor and grown the trees, then the saw companies say no chainsaws for you either. I guess you should just build your own chainsaws from scratch.”

ibid

Their should be a word for this — “suspended epiphany”. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people online walk up to an idea and get close enough to see the generalisation and realise that their core beliefs are just fundamentally misguided and then…well, just not take that step.

“Like I skimmed the comments to this post yesterday, and it was as expected. HUR DUR YOU SAID NO BAKE CAKE! Oh yeah… That’s totally the same thing. Because remember that time the entire baking industry colluded to deny bread to all gay people, and when the free market responded and somebody opened an LGBT bakery the powerful oven industry stepped in to shut them down… You fucking dopes.”

ibid

He is correct that it is not the same thing. The difference is that women, people of colour in the USA, gay men, lesbians, trans people, disabled people and a whole host of other people who have faced systemic and overt prejudice for years and years genuinely HAVE faced the situation where the individual “freedom” for business to discriminate that conservatives & libertarians have championed, has been so widespread that it the outcome was the same as massive collusion by business to exclude, discriminate and denigrate them. It’s exactly what people have been trying to explain to you for years and what you have so tirelessly scoffed and scorned them about.

Ownership of commerce is political power. That is either true or it isn’t. If it isn’t then Larry has no complaint. If it is then…well the question is one of whether these big corporations are using that power for good or ill and for that we can’t ignore WHAT was going on with Parler.

Hey Larry! Don’t you know that the “evil corporation” is a boring cliche of SJW message fiction? You should because you literally told us:

“The hoighty-toighty literati snobs prefer heavy handed, ham fisted, message fiction. (show picture of sci-fi readers giving up in frustration as they read yet another award winning book where evil corporations, right wing religious fanatics, and a thinly veiled Dick Cheney have raped the Earth until all the polar bears have died and the plot consists entirely of academic hipster douchebags sitting around and talking about their feelings)  

https://monsterhunternation.com/2013/01/16/how-to-get-correia-nominated-for-a-hugo-part-2-a-very-special-message/

You also were opposed to any limits on big tech in 2014

– “We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality.”
Wrap your brain around that hypocritical bullshit. We must protect the internet from evil corporations? What about the NSA reading all our stuff? What about the government deciding what can and can’t be said, and Progressive senators trying to pass “Kill Switches”? I’m not a fan of Google, but Google can’t send a SWAT team to my house to kill me.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/07/21/elizabeth-warrens-11-commandments/

It is a bit late in the day for Larry to discover that Elizabeth Warren had a point but it is noticeable that the step big tech took that tipped Larry over the edge was them clamping down on speech aimed at inciting violence to over throw an election.

A novel repercussion

The right-leaning social network Parler is facing an uncertain future after being removed first from the Apple app store and then from Google and finally by being denied cloud services by Amazon. The stated reason is the poor level of comment moderation which has led to large numbers of violent threats and incitement on the service, particularly in relation to the January 6 violent attack on US constitutional processes. However, even before recent events, the weak moderation problems were causing issues for the platform:

“The surge of #sexytrumpgirl posts highlighted a broader dilemma for Parler: The site’s lax moderation policies, in keeping with its claims to being a bastion of free speech, could make it a magnet for pornographers, escort services and online sex merchants using hashtags targeting conservatives, such as #keepamericasexy and #milfsfortrump2020.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/12/02/parler-pornography-problem/

However, the action against Parler is being framed by the many on the right as part of an active suppression of conservative views. Former Sad Puppy leaders, Larry Correia and Brad R Torgersen have waded in. Brad making yet another bold attempt to unwittingly murder irony:

“Larry Correia’s excellent take (this morning) on Big Prog Tech’s attack on Parler got me to thinking about how so much of what’s transpiring in America right now, is the result of lies. Or rather, people unmooring themselves from the idea that there is an objective truth.”

https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/5585072674852253

The calls are coming for conservatives to boycott companies that they regard as being anti-conservative. Sad Puppy Sarah Hoyt has been promoting this ideas using the slogan “Not One Red Cent” for some time.

Ah, yeah but about that plan…What’s one of those companies listed above? Amazon? Oh…oops…

“However, since last night, this has TRULY become an emergency, not because of what Amazon will do or won’t do to ebook fiction (more on that) but because a core of my readers will now refuse to buy from Amazon under any circumstances, which means that I’m going to lose a lot of my income (and Amazon won’t give a flying fig. But I get your outrage, I understand, and yet you’ll only hurt the writers, UNTIL WE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE.)”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2021/01/10/vignettes-by-luke-mary-catelli-and-nother-mike-and-book-promo-and-some-blather-by-sarah/

Ouch! Capitalism sucks apparently! It’s almost like there is an issue with the guy who owns the means of production being an unaccountable man with enough money to ski down huge piles of coins like Scrooge McDuck (details here).

“Otherwise I’m going to ask you NOT to carry on this boycott. We right-leaning-indies are going to lose half our sales. That’ll hurt Amazon, sure. Kind of. PROBABLY honestly at the rounding error level. But it will KILL us indie writers who have a contingent of conservative fans.”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2021/01/10/vignettes-by-luke-mary-catelli-and-nother-mike-and-book-promo-and-some-blather-by-sarah/

So there you go, not one red cent apart from any red cents where a proportion of the red cent might go to Sarah Hoyt.

Starting February: Debarkle

I’ve been mulling over for some time (years tbh) writing a history of the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempt to hijack the Hugo Awards. A few things have put me off doing so. Two of the obstacles is any account needs at least some treatment of RaceFail and of the Requires Hate story and they are rabbit holes of controversy (but there are ways through that I think). However, one issue is an end point. In terms of Larry Correia’s frustration at not getting an award, the 2016 Dragon Award ceremony, which also saw Vox Day’s Castalia House getting its participation trophies, is an obvious place to stop. You can finish a story there and say “and the puppies went away and had their own awards”. It is unsatisfying and misleading though.

The appeal with finishing the story there is the main action of the Puppy Debarkle ends there with things petering out with the collapse of Sad Puppies 5 and the process reforms blunting the impact of Rabid Puppies 3 the following year. However, the point of writing about the Debarkle is the wider context. Fandom has had its fair share of squabbles, kerfuffles and scandals but what makes the Debarkle interesting in particular is the connection with wider events. The Sad Puppies presented their unexpected fannish-insurrection as primarily a question of aesthetics, as Larry Correia stated in his first attempt to hijack the Hugo Awards, this was an attempt to frustrate the “literati”. Contrariwise, the opposition to the Puppies contended that they were a politically reactionary movement.

It is this second issue that frames any discussion. It’s not a difficult proposition to demonstrate, that the Puppies were a politically reactionary movement motivated by a dislike of the left in general and the advocacy for women and people of colour and LGBQTI people more specifically. By late 2016 the Puppies of all stripes were barely pretending otherwise and, of course, Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies never pretended otherwise. But a more open question is whether the process of the Debarkle radicalised the Puppies or whether a growing social rift in America (and beyond) was radicalising them regardless?

I don’t know the answer to that question but it is the kind of question I could get a better answer to if I attempt this. Of course, placing the Puppies in the context of the politics also gives a point in time to look back from and say “how did we get here?” That point looks very much like January 6 2021.

Take, for example, this artefact of current right wing discourse in the wake of the attempted putsch in America’s capitol:

“Apparently Sarah Hoyt is the only non-cuck at Instapundit.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2021/01/give-girl-her-props.html

Or, looking in a different direction, imagine being a future historian and trying to explain all the context to this tweet:

Neither GamerGate nor the Debarkle by themselves explain events and both were shaped by social forces that were hard to see. Yet, rather like the tracks made by invisible particles in a bubble chamber, the revealed shifts in attitudes and changing political coalitions that were also leading up to changes on a bigger scale. Within a short time, political upsets in the US and UK (Trump becoming the Republican Party POTUS nominee and the Brexit referendum) saw right-wing, populist, anti-rational positions taking hold of national policy. Where they motivated by the same thing as the Puppy movements? We can debate that but the Puppies generally thought so (Brexit more than Trump oddly).

Five years after peak-Puppy, in the hell year that was 2020 notable figures in the Debarkle were pushing firstly covid-19 conspiracies, followed by attempts to mobilise anti-lockdown protests, followed by anti-mask wearing propaganda, followed by anti-vaccine propaganda. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election defeat, chief Sad Puppy Larry Correia was a notable booster of “steal” conspiracy theories and his posts on the topic were widely shared in conservative circles. Meanwhile, since late 2017, Vox Day was an early adopter and promoter of “QANON” the free-floating anti-rational meta-conspiracy theory and also an early advocate in 2020 of the need for Trump to seize power by force to ensure a second term.

The Debarkle (in particular peak Debarkle in 2015) presaged events in a microcosm but also later events clarify questions. At the time, it was an open question as to how politically extreme many of the Sad Puppy leaders where, there even people who attempted apparently good-faith arguments that Vox Day somehow wasn’t that extreme. Supporters of the Sad Puppies would often point to Sarah Hoyt (a woman and an immigrant to the US from a non-anglophone country) as clear evidence that the Sad Puppies were neither sexist or racist. I believe that even at the time the evidence demonstrated that their argument was flawed but with 2020 hindsight, the manner in which Hoyt refers to the VP-elect of the USA Kamala Harris is a much simpler refutation of the idea that she somehow is immune to sexism and racism.

Nor would it be sensible to write about the 2015 side-plot of the infamous Tor Boycott without pointing to Mad Genius blogger and one-time Castalia House author Peter Grant stating in the wake of yesterday’s attempt to overthrow the US constitution that: “If I were in D.C. today, I’d be in the Capitol along with the protesters.” If you’ve overtly placed yourself to the right of the leaders of the Republican Party (and for that matter the very right wing current Vice President of the US) and are contemplating civil war because you’ve fully bought into a stab-in-the-back mythology of stolen victory…well…”“extreme right wing to neo-nazi, respectively” was always a very apt description. How much time did we spend dissecting the various political positions that notable Puppies might have in an attempt to tease out the nuance of their politics? It’s a lot easier to sum up as “I’m not sure what they thought in 2015 but within five years they’ll be demanding the violent overthrow of the government in a far-right putsch.”

I’ll post more about the structure and the schedule of Debarkle as a blog series. Obviously, and as always, comments and corrections will be more than welcome, indeed expected — particularly as most of you were there at the time and many of you were actively involved in countering the Puppies for years before I stuck my oar in.

People may enjoy the figurative aspects of this

I haven’t linked to former Sad Puppy outlet Mad Genius Club in a long while and nor have I discussed my compatriot Dave Freer’s unusual anecdotes for some time. I am a man of some restraint but when Dave literally loses his shit how can I not link to it?

The background is that he has hinted for some time about a bureaucratic dispute he is having with the local government of Flinders Island, where he lives (off the coast of Tasmania). In today’s column he provides the context and well, the punchlines write themselves that I will leave it to readers to pick their preferred ones.

“One of my current one is where the local council with the power vested in them by the state, are protecting my neighbor from our (two people’s worth) sewage treatment wastewater. I live on a farm, a long, long way from a neighbor and we are both well above the wastewater outlet. The chance of my wastewater getting to a neighbor… would take a Biblical flood. And beside the fact that the poor fellow would be far too busy building an ark to care – the dilution would be hundreds of billions to one. But that doesn’t stop the council extracting hundreds of dollars for doing nothing of any value, and forcing me to spend thousands of dollars to achieve absolutely nothing that I couldn’t for five hundred, and harassing the hell out of me. The designer, plumber, the seller of the specialized bits the designer mandated did give some degree of ‘value’ for their rent (back of an envelope – about the same as trad publishing – where the writer earns around 6-8% on that paperback, and 93-94% go to these other fellows). Of course I don’t actually need any of those, and could achieve the same without them, but their services and goods are worth something, just nothing like what I have to pay — because the government mandates I use them, and pure rent-seekers make sure I do.”

https://madgeniusclub.com/2021/01/04/besides-wood-chippers/

Yes, poor persecuted Dave is being oppressed by the government who are making the unreasonable demand that he (checks notes) deals with his own faecal matter properly. I…no, no, there are just too many metaphors here to choose.

Bonus Straw Pup Poll: More crimes against statistics

I haven’t mentioned Larry “former accountant” Correia in my last post. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that he is still pushing claims of statistical anomalies that don’t amount to anything. I think he’d put a lot of faith in the Texas bid to sue everybody in the Supreme Court but that came to nothing.

The latest claim he is pushing is from here https://web.archive.org/web/20201216091355/https://www.revolver.news/2020/12/statistical-model-indicates-trump-won-landslide/

“The model provides substantial support for the allegation that the outcome of the election was affected by fraud in multiple states.  Specifically, the model’s predictions match the reported results in all other states, i.e. states where no fraud has been alleged, but predicts Trump won majorities in five disputed states (AZ, GA, NV, PA and WI) and 49.68% of the vote in the sixth (MI).   In other words, the reported Biden margin of victory in at least five of the six contested states cannot be explained by any patterns in voter preference consistent with national demographic trends. 

Oh my golly gosh! Well that’s it, we should all just pack up and go home! Case closed!

Ah…no. I’ll grant there is both some subtlety and brazenness here but the statistical sleight of hand is very basic. It’s just a variant on the similar fallacy we’ve seen elsewhere.

When I saw ‘model’, I assumed it was going to be one of those wacky predictive models that get rolled out before election day. However (and this is the subtle bit) there is at least the appearance of an attempt at a serious attempt to model state-based voter behaviour using demographic data. That’s interesting but I didn’t dig very deep into it because their conclusion (above) has almost nothing to do with how good or bad their model is. To see that we need to backtrack a bit.

At issue are six “disputed” states:Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These states each had very close elections where Donald Trump lost by a very small margin or at least small enough that they were his best hope of disputing the votes and changing the outcome. The article characterises them as states where fraud has been alleged but in fact Republicans have claimed fraud in many states. These states are special not because of claims of fraud but because the vote is close. That’s not even necessarily a cynical move by Trump’s legal team — obviously they’d focus on the places were they have the best chance of changing the outcome.

The article goes into great depth about the model and the data. In the end it boils down to two sets of figures for each state (except for Hawaii and Arkansas – for reasons not stated). Every state has an actual share of the vote from Trump and a predicted share of the vote for Trump. The actual and predicted values are close and highly correlated. The article doesn’t show it as a scattergram but I’ve drawn one for you all because what better way is there to look for STATISTICAL ANOMALIES [sound effect of thunder].

The dot in the bottom left is DC and while it is in a sense a statistical anomaly, it’s not a surprise and it’s also not something the writers of the article care about. In fact they don’t care about any of the states that are a bit further away from that very tidy line of best fit. Why not? Because the model is almost irrelevant to their argument.

On the whole the model predicts a slightly higher share of the vote for Trump overall than actually happened. Calculating the difference [actual – predicted] the average is -1.11%-points. Four of the ‘disputed’ states are all close to this average. Two (Georgia and Arizona) are less close but the most extreme of them (Arizona) is still closer to the mean than Utah (for example).

Statepredictedactualdifference
MI49.70%48.60%-1.10%
PA50.00%49.50%-0.50%
NV50.30%48.80%-1.50%
WI50.70%49.70%-1.00%
GA53.20%49.90%-3.30%
AZ54.80%49.80%-5.00%

In fact, the data AS PRESENTED IN THE ARTICLE is largely unremarkable for the ‘disputed’ states. Only 11 of the states listed had differences where Trump did better than the model, so it’s safe to say that these states (or at least four of them) aren’t anomalous at all when judged by the mystery model.

So what’s anomaly claimed in the article? Ah! In five of these states the difference in vote share would have been enough to allow Trump to win! WHAT’S THE CHANCE OF THAT!

Yup, it’s a statistical version of begging the question.

The model predicted overall (and in most states), a higher vote share for Trump than what he got. However, in most states this did not change the outcome. Which states did it change the outcome? Why, the ones with close votes of course! The “statistical anomaly” is that the chance that states that Trump is disputing with claims of fraud are also those states that in the model he had some chance of losing and then did actually lose. I guess they could argue that Arizona was unlikely given their model (which we have no reason to believe is correct) but even their, it’s difference from the model is less than New York, Utah and DC (the two Biden wins had MORE Trump votes than the model predicted!). Unless the writers of the article want to claim Utah was a hotbed of Biden cheating (which makes no sense on any level) then even the most extreme example of the ‘disputed’ states was well within the degree to which the model failed to predict.

The argument can be paraphrased as “If Trump had had a slightly higher share of the vote overall then he would have won five more swing states.” That’s true! Trump would have won more states if more people had voted for him but they didn’t and he lost.The states he lost were states in that broad zone of swing states.

Here are fourteen states in terms of the actual share of the Trump vote. The “disputed” states are the ones, unsurprisingly on that cusp from 48.5% to 49.9% were Trump might have won if he’d got 1.11%-points more of the share of the vote. That’s not a statistical anomaly, it’s just arithmetic (again).

StatePredictedActualDifference
VA46.40%44.90%-1.50%
ME47.80%44.90%-2.90%
MN47.30%46.30%-1.00%
NH48.50%46.30%-2.20%
MI49.70%48.60%-1.10%y
NV50.30%48.80%-1.50%y
PA50.00%49.50%-0.50%y
WI50.70%49.70%-1.00%y
AZ54.80%49.80%-5.00%y
GA53.20%49.90%-3.30%y
NC51.60%50.70%-0.90%
FL51.60%51.70%0.10%
TX56.40%52.90%-3.50%
OH54.00%54.10%0.10%

The GoP War on the word “statistically”

Some times you just want to put your hand on somebody’s shoulder and say in a sad and weary voice: “Just stop, you are embarrassing yourself”.

Surrounding the current state of affairs in the US Presidential election are various Trump supporters (including some Trump supporters who claim they aren’t Trump supporters) crying “fraud”. The evidence they have produced is so thin that they are often retracting bits of it themselves but claiming that the shear volume of BS that they have produced demonstrates that the claims must be true.

Amid that is the word “statistically”. Here is an example. An article by “Scott Hounsell” in RedState. It has fewer of the more blatant attempts at fake fraud claims but instead attempts to throw a cloud of suspicion over the election. Note the use of the word “statistically”:

“Additionally, turnout in 2016, as a percentage of registered voters, was just 79.80%. This year, the state jumped to a statistically impossible 92.26%, a 12.46% increase over their 2016 numbers. In a state when Democrats statistically lost more voters than Republicans, we are supposed to believe that a 12% increase (largest ever) swung majority to Dems, by a factor that not only overcame the margin by which Trump won the state in 2016 but also erased any gains Republicans had in registration (by losing less) and gave Biden a 20,000 vote lead?”

https://redstate.com/scotthounsell/2020/11/05/excuse-me-while-i-call-bs-n275572

Fair enough, that paragraph does have statistics in it but quite what the writer thinks the word “statistically” is supposed to add (other than BS) is unclear. And “statistically impossible”? What on Earth is “statistically impossible” supposed to mean? I was already getting annoyed with seeing “statistically improbable” being thrown around on dodgy Facebook pages but at least those words made some sense.

A figure by itself is just a figure. If we are talking about the probability of an actual piece of data then “statistically” i.e. within the methodology of the discipline of statistics, we are comparing that figure with some model of the figures — for example an existing distribution derived from a theoretical understanding of the figures and/or past experience. The US election figures are boringly unremarkable. Turn out is up but outcomes aren’t very different from 2016. That’s the context and that doesn’t point towards data being “statistically impossible” but if you are going to invoke the djinn of statistics then you invoke what comes with it. To claim a figure is “statistically improbable” then you need to show that STATISTICALLY i.e. show that when compared to some valid model that the figure would only very rarely appear UNLESS some key assumption about the model was violated (eg massive fraud). Simply saying “statistically” a lot doesn’t make a number dubious, that’s just magical thinking.

The Eve of Something

…but we don’t know what.

By virtue of time zones, it is already Tuesday 3 November here. In a normal year, this would be Melbourne Cup day — the big Australian horse race that everybody bets on and people wear hats and get drunk. This year, things are a bit more subdued.

Meanwhile, it is still Monday in the USA. The final vote tally for the US Presidential election won’t be known for awhile but tomorrow things will be changing rapidly towards a conclusion. The polls and the models point toward a victory for the Biden/Harris ticket. Over shadowing those polls is the fact that Trump won last time and, more darkly, that Trump may not accept defeat even if he does lose.

Nate Silver at 538 is busy reminding people that a 10% chance is not a 0% chance https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/im-here-to-remind-you-that-trump-can-still-win/ There are uncertainties of many kinds, particularly around Pennsylvania and Florida where the chance of a Trump winning the state is much closer than in national polls.

In addition, the polls and models are unlikely to have adequately compensated for a number of factors:

  • Increased early voting
  • Potentially increased turn out
  • Attempts at voter suppression
  • Attempts at vote intimidation

There are also claims of a “shy Trump voter” bias in the polls — more centre-leaning Trump voters not wanting to say they are Trump voters out of shame or fear. This last one I am doubtful of.

Back in 2016 I thought it would be interesting to see how people associated with the Sad/Rabid Puppies movement would shift (or not) during the Trump years. As reflected more broadly in the polls, people who were already solidly right wing have only consolidated more in their support of Trump. Where a number of notable Sad Puppies were dubious (or even hostile) towards Trump during the GOP Presidential nomination process all those years ago, most shifted towards some degree of support by the election (or at the very least overt hostility towards his opponent). In between times, that has only strengthened. John C Wright and Sarah Hoyt shifted from sceptical/grudging support to full on Trump-advocacy. Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have been more circumspect and adopted an ‘anti-anti-Trump’ position. I don’t think either of them have overtly said they’d vote for him but their anti-Biden position is unambiguous and also shallow (focusing on Biden’s age and his dodgy son — qualities which don’t distinguish him from Trump). Vox Day has been an avid Trump supporter and remains so.

On the whole, most of this former leaders of the Puppy groups remain bullish about the election. There is an underlying belief that Trump is very popular and the polls are very wrong. That is compounded with a confusion about how wrong the polls were in 2016 — as if dismissing the result of the popular vote for constitutional reasons also (magically) means the polls got it wrong that Hillary Clinton was more popular than Trump.

Adjacent to the Puppy leaders we have other puppy-characters like Michael A Rothman being super bullish on Facebook:

“Mark this as my official prediction:
Trump wins electoral with at least the same margin as last time.
Trump likely wins popular vote as well.”

https://www.facebook.com/MARothman/posts/10217545584647542

That seems unlikely.

If the opposite happens and Biden’s win is more substantial then maybe some Republicans will re-evaluate their support of the Electoral College. That will be interesting to see. Because of the above, I’ve ended up watching Utah conservatives extolling the virtue of the EC, even though it remains a bad deal for Utah conservatives (the way the Senate works is a different question). Ironically, the 2016 election would have been an opportunity for Utah Republicans to leverage the EC by voting Democratic and ironically giving themselves far more influence over the GOP as a result…but that’s not how people actually vote or behave.

Speaking of which, I was gifted yesterday a cursed item: a book! Entitled “Divided we Fall: One Possible Future” it is a political-science fiction anthology edited by the pseudonymous Mack Henckel and according to the cover features:

“Stories by Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, Jon Del Arroz and More!”

The premise is all the bad things that will happen to America if Trump loses. This is the flip side of the apparent bullishness: a deep seated fear of what happens next.

You won’t be astonished to hear that it isn’t very good but let me reassure you that even by standards of Hoyt’s, Torgersen’s and Arroz’s writing, it isn’t very good. Indeed, all three are more than capable of word-smithing readable fiction — they aren’t inherently bad writers and Hoyt in particular gains a lot more clarity when she writes fiction. This book though, is rushed and poorly edited both in a broad sense and in a copy-editing sense. It falls even below my extraordinarily low standards for typos.

Torgersen’s persecution fantasy is that the Federal Government will outlaw the Mormons:

“Ephraim Roberts watched the feds from behind his own sunglasses. Until six months prior, he’d been among their number. The injunction—which had come swift on the heels of the church having its tax-exempt status revoked—had put paid to any plans Ephraim had of retiring on a federal pension. He’d watched two nephews and one niece go to jail during the early days, when idealistic church members still actively challenged the blockades that had sprung up around every single Latter-Day Saint temple in the United States.”

Secret Combinations by Brad Torgersen, in Divided we Fall: One Possible Future

Jon Del Arroz’s story is more unpleasant but is basically just trolling for outrage. Sarah Hoyt’s story is quasi-autobiographical which has the unfortunate effect of making it read like one of her not-intended-to-be-fiction columns. The protagonist lives in Colorado and in 2016 is considering voting Libertarian but is persuaded reluctantly to vote for Trump. Unlike Hoyt, the protagonist is gay and has a liberal wife but the dialogue from either of them reads like direct quotes from her columns. For example take this dialogue about Covid19:

‘“Sure. Very dangerous, if you’re like 80. Maybe. Look, I did a deep dive into the Diamond Princess numbers. It can’t be that dangerous. Those ships are plague vessels at the best of times.”
“Ah.”
“And what they’re doing is putting an entire country under house arrest. A lot of the economy won’t come back, can’t come back.’

Teach the Children by Sarah Hoyt, in Divided we Fall: One Possible Future

Anyway then tomorrow happens and society collapses:

‘Well, you know what happened. The election was called for Joe and the Ho, and Trump didn’t dispute it. And things got crazy. Really crazy. It was hard to know what was actually happening, you know, because the news was all bizarre. They’d started the fiction with their Tales of the Covid, and they just ramped that up. The Green New Deal was going to save us. The Native Americans were coming out of the reservations to teach us to love Mother Earth. Police were disbanded. The committees of reconciliation…’

Teach the Children by Sarah Hoyt, in Divided we Fall: One Possible Future

The story rapidly skips into an apocalypse society but the protagonist and friends keep the faith and at the end have started a kind of religion whose faith is the USA (a theme Hoyt has used before).

…and so on. Yes, obviously the anthology is an attempt to make a quick buck (and a quick book) but the fear mongering is both cynical and sincere. That combination is quintessentially the story of the Puppy years — a mix of grift, confabulation and paranoia.

If you want to watch something both depressing and funny, watch a ‘libertarian’ dance around Trump’s taxes

The New York Times has revealed details about Donald Trump’s tax returns https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54323654

“The president paid just $750 (£580) in federal income tax both in 2016, the year he ran for the US presidency, and in his first year in the White House He paid no such taxes in 11 of 18 years of tax records examined by the newspaper The president has managed to lower his taxes through reporting hefty losses on his businesses After the success of The Apprentice TV show he did initially pay significant taxes – $95m over 18 years. But he later got most of that back via a $72.9 million federal tax refund. The refund remains under review”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54323654

People have speculated for several years now why Trump was hiding his tax returns and the general consensus was that they would show that he paid very little taxes due to claiming heavy losses. Those losses would damage his claims to be a successful business man and also imply that he might be cheating on his taxes. So the New York Times report is both a bombshell and also unsurprising. Trump is not the best liar in the land, he’s just the most enthusiastic. As deceptions go, this one was particularly transparent.

It is still damaging for Trump though and the reaction from his supporters has been notable. However, the world of US politics is not a simple binary one of Trump fans versus Trump non-fans. One of our many blog themes is that categories rarely have simple boundaries. Dividing the world into A and not-A reveals fractal spaces between the two: the hot dogs in the space of sandwiches, the submarines in the world of ships. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Witness Larry Correia. Libertarian, gun-rights advocate and, according to Larry, a valiant defender of freedom and scourge of the big city New York elites. Larry has never had an easy relationship with Donald Trump. When Trump was nominated as the GOP Presidential candidate, Larry was angry:

“You ignorant low information bastards. Motivated by fear and anger, you overlooked every gain made over the last few cycles, and traded it in to a lying huckster democrat for some magic beans. So you could stick it to the establishment, by electing the shit bird who funded them.”

http://monsterhunternation.com/2016/05/04/on-the-election/

Larry was under no illusions about Trump’s capabilities except the same one lot’s of people were under: he thought Trump would lose badly. Fate had other things in store for us all and left Larry with a dilemma. Larry’s ‘libertarianism’ is little more than anti-leftism and with much of his readership and many of his more vocal supporters endorsing Trump’s policies, the overt anti-Trumpism was not going to sell well as a position. So Larry has fallen into a political position best characterised as anti-anti-Trump — itself an interesting example of somebody trying to occupy a conceptual space that naive logic would suggest is indistinguishable from being pro-Trump.

The anti-anti-Trump position is a tricky one because it largely requires its advocates to avoid talking directly about Trump and instead focus on the opponents of Trump. However, among many things, Larry is also a former accountant and the issue of Trump’s taxes is a hard one to avoid. Yet, Trump’s position is also essentially indefensible and indeed, consistent of Larry’s former description of Trump as a ‘huckster’.

The solution is to try and dance around the issue, claim nobody else knows what they are talking about, while never actually engaging with Trump’s situation at all.

“So big picture time…First off, “morality” doesn’t have jack shit to do with taxation. You pay what you legally owe. Nobody willingly pays the government more than they legally owe.This has always been this way since America has had income taxes. There is endless court precedent. You pay what you legally owe. That’s it. If you pay less than you legally owe, then the government will fine or imprison you. If you pay more than you legal owe, the government will laugh and laugh, because you are an idiot, and you deserve to be poor.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/09/28/no-you-idiots-thats-not-how-taxes-work-an-accountants-guide-to-why-you-are-a-gullible-moron/

Maybe Larry think taxation rates and tax laws are immutable or maybe he just thinks that for this part of his argument? Maybe, that’s a tendentious defence of a businessman’s taxes but…it’s not a very smart or insightful point to make when that businessman is the President of the USA. Meanwhile, back in reality, “fairness” is a common and reasonable standard against which to judge the outcomes of tax policy. Are very wealthy people paying less tax than much poorer people? That implies 1. an ethical problem 2. a social problem and 3. a really poor way of funding your government. That third point is true EVEN IF you think the overall level of taxation should be low.

“Is it unfair that rich guys can employ Gandalf level CPAs and take advantage of more complicated tax laws, while regular people use TurboTax? Yep. But in the meantime, as long as those tax laws are there, the rich guys would be utter fools not to take advantage of them.”

It is unfair but taxation has nothing to do with morality? Hmmm, and also Trump isn’t just a random rich guy but the guy with distinct power over the taxation system. True, he doesn’t have the power to write tax legislation and these tax returns pertain mainly to before he was President but the records do pertain to his overall competence, his attitude towards public service and his public image.

“Your feelings don’t mean shit. Same as the rest of us, Trump owes what he owes. And the IRS will determine if that number is accurate or not.”

The feelings of US voters towards the US President in an election year shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. What also should not be lightly dismissed is the extent to which Trump is using his office to enrich himself and shield himself from legal accountability. Further Larry skips neatly over one of the key reasons why Trump was paying so very little tax: Trump has significant debts. Those debts aren’t news but the New York Times story confirms much that was already know (eg see this 2017 piece https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/your-day-one-guide-president-trumps-conflicts-interest/ )

“But Vladeck, an expert in national-security law, says there’s a larger problem here. “More fundamentally, there’s the concern that a president who is personally on the hook for significant loans that come due while he’s the president might take official actions, or appear to take official actions, that are meant to alleviate the personal financial pressure he faces,” Vladeck tells Rolling Stone. “Indeed, there’s a reason why the federal government generally won’t give security clearances to those who have significant debt — it’s because they’re too much of a risk. So, too, apparently, is the President of the United States.””

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/trump-tax-returns-new-york-times-debt-deutsche-bank-irs-1067422/

The most powerful person in the USA is deeply indebted to numerous people. He may be in debt to the IRS as well. He may or may not be in debt to the Bank of China. The impact of all of these all compromise the decisions Trump makes regardless of ideological stance.

But, you are all stupid because Larry knows more about taxes than you do. Actually, I don’t doubt for a second that Larry knows a LOT more about the US taxation system than I do — it really would be hard for him to know less. However, what is notable is that nowhere in his two-thousand word defence of Trump does he ever point out anything that Trump’s critics are getting factually or technically wrong about taxes or taxation.

So why is this depressing? Larry Correia’s dislike of Trump is genuine but like so much of the US right, the entrenched opposition and hyper-partisan positioning means nothing will shift. The right has abandoned not just morality but also ideology, leaving only ties of allegiance.

Ideology is genre

Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is set to reward many of those who helped advance Brexit with seats in the House of Lords (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/01/truly-the-lords-becomes-ever-more-a-house-of-ill-repute ). It’s move that could be described as cynical if it wasn’t for the fact that this dual feature of political ennoblement (a reward and helping cement legislative power) is exactly how the House of Lords is supposed to work. I’m not going to spend time looking at all the ways that the UK’s upper chamber is a broken awful thing because the arguments are obvious. Rather, what has caught my interest in one name in particular: Claire Fox.

At one level Fox being made into a Baroness by Johnson is unremarkable: she was a self-styled libertarian who stood for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. The remarkable aspect is that Fox was once a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. That incongruous fact in turn looks less incongruous to anybody who has followed the very strange ideological path that the alumni of the RCP have taken over the years.

The current iteration of the RCP is the online contrarian magazine Sp!ked — a website that 80% of the time reads exactly like other ‘intellectual dark web’ outlets like Quillette but which every so often frames things in terms of Marxism. Reading it is both dull and dizzying: dull because the arguments it uses are the usual cliches about SJWs and cancel culture and dizzying because you would think the whole enterprise would explode from cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t of course because that’s not the ways ideologies work.

Here is Sp!ked reacting to the recent House of Lords appointments:

“Yet now, following the publication of the government’s list of new peers, these same Lords-lovers have decided that the second chamber is a foul, rotten institution, after all. Why? Because the newly ennobled include Tory pals of Boris Johnson, including his brother, former minister Jo Johnson, and, even worse, some Brexiteers. Three of the new peers in particular have rattled the one-time cheerleaders of the second chamber’s plots against democracy – former Labour MPs and Brexit stalwarts Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart, and former Brexit Party MEP, and friend of spiked, Claire Fox. That’s it, the Remainer elites cry: get rid of the Lords!”

https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/08/03/abolish-the-house-of-lords/

It’s an almost quintessential Sp!ked piece, an overt left-styled radicalism (abolish the Lords!) but actually geared towards defending the actions of a Conservative Prime Minister and supporters of radical-right coup in British politics. The piece opens with the line “The liberal elite in this country has no shame” but shows no embarrassment that one of the new lords is a long time associate of the group.

The journey from cookie-cutter clone of other 1970’s Trotskyist groups (bold slogans and selling newspapers) to ally of the far right and member of the House of Lords is a long one. In the 1980s the RCP used their media-savvy to put better production values into their publications and shifted to a glossier magazine format with “Living Marxism”. The magazine re-christened as LM continued even as the RCP itself atrophied and the ideological stance shifted away from Trotskyist to something else. In the late 1980’s journalist George Monbiot wrote a long analysis of the shift of the group from the left to the right:

“As you wade through back issues of Living Marxism, you can’t help but conclude that the magazine’s title is a poor guide to its contents. LM contains little that would be recognised by other Marxists or, for that matter, by leftists of any description. On one issue after another, there’s a staggering congruence between LM’s agenda and that of the far-right Libertarian Alliance. The two organisations take identical positions, for example, on gun control (it is a misconceived attack on human liberty), child pornography (legal restraint is simply a Trojan horse for the wider censorship of the Internet), alcohol (its dangers have been exaggerated by a new breed of “puritan”), the British National Party (it’s unfair to associate it with the murder of Stephen Lawrence; its activities and publications should not be restricted), the Anti-Nazi League (it is undemocratic and irrelevant), tribal people (celebrating their lives offends humanity’s potential to better itself; the Yanomami Indians are not to be envied but pitied) animal rights (they don’t have any), and global warming (it’s a good thing).”

https://www.monbiot.com/1998/11/01/far-left-or-far-right/

The evolution of LM to Sp!ked was precipitated by a major defamation case in which the British news network ITN sued LM after LM had pushed a conspiracy theory that ITN had fabricated evidence of Serbian war crimes in Bosnia. Ironically one of the longest recent analysis of this trial was published last year in Quillette (I say ironically because arguably Sp!ked and Clair Fox’s “Institute of Ideas” created the template for outlets like Quillette, even if Quillette plays the same trick but claiming moderate liberalism as the framing for advancing far-right ideas). The Quillette piece is a two party essay looking at the trial and its ramifications. Part one is here https://quillette.com/2019/11/01/denial-and-defamation-the-itn-lm-libel-trial-revisited-ii/ and here is a relevant quote from part two:

“Hume, and LM’s publishers, Claire Fox and Helene Guldberg, were unrepentant. “We apologise for nothing,” Hume told the press assembled outside the High Court in London immediately after the verdict. “But we will not be appealing. Life is too short, and other issues too important, to waste any more time in the bizarre world of the libel courts.” Facing bankruptcy, Hume and Guldberg shuttered their magazine and immediately relaunched it as Spiked-Online, while Fox became founding co-director of the Academy of Ideas, an LM-associated think-tank initiated before the magazine folded, which continues to operate under Fox’s sole directorship today.”

https://quillette.com/2019/11/01/denial-and-defamation-the-itn-lm-libel-trial-revisited-i/

This is all really just background to a wider point. There is one view of ideology that would find this all as inexplicable. It is the view that imagines ideology as distinct categories but also if it admits any fuzzy edges then they would between close neighbours. In this view ideologies are systems of thought with rationally connected ideas — the ideas maybe wrong headed but only because they arise about false assumptions about the world. In this view, ideologies are of a piece. It’s a peculiar view because really it is taking Marxism as the template for ideologies should be like even thought it is a view of ideology that isn’t particularly Marxist.

For example, Marxism in all its forms is very theory heavy. Marx himself had not just a detailed model of economics but also a view of history and a deep philosophical model. However, this is a very unusual example of an ideology. Beyond Marxism (and even within Marxism if we include all the movements that have called themselves Marxist) it is unusual for ideologies to have all these components. Marxism itself would repudiate the idea that ideologies are defined by combing an economic theory with a philosophical stance. Where we see this template-for-ideologies come take root is really with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, where she attempts to match those aspects of Marxism with her opposed positions (naive free market capitalism as an economic theory and a confused logic-essentialism for a philosophical stance).

I would contend that ideologies function more like fictional genres. They acquire elements over time and those elements may be in active conflict with each other. They also have cultural and aesthetic components that shape everything from patterns of speech, colour choices and even typography. That idea of ideology as aesthetic is most pronounced within fascism but there are elements of it in all ideologies which makes it possible to cosplay the ideas of one ideology as the ideas of another.

That doesn’t mean that the logic of ideas is irrelevant to ideology. We can connect ideas via the implications they have as well as how they impact with reality. Sooner or later we trip over curbs or run into brick walls. Our imagined worlds bump and scrape against the unimagined one. The stability of an ideology over time and over large numbers of people implies at least some degree of coherence. However, the capacity of individuals to adhere to quite novel combinations of ideas or to rationalise their own interests as high-minded principle is essentially unbounded.


Some other coverage:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/jul/08/davidpallister.johnvidal1
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/23/former-communist-claire-fox-standing-as-mep-for-farages-brexit-party
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/jul/08/davidpallister.johnvidal1
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/01/truly-the-lords-becomes-ever-more-a-house-of-ill-repute
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-uses-tories-ira-jibe-to-target-lady-brexit-claire-fox-snjc6v23b
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claire_Fox
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party_(UK,_1978)

Pandemics & Politics

The soup of conspiracy mongering about the covid-19 pandemic has never truly settled on a clear story. Even as the virus began spreading internationally, reactions ranged from claims that China was exaggerating the numbers of people infected to China was hiding the ‘true’ scale of infection. The common theme with conspiratorial thinking is that genuine doubt, genuine ignorance and genuine shifts in opinion about a novel situation are actually examples of deceit. There is a paradoxical relationship with authority and expertise in any conspiracy theory as the claims of deception always imply that the authorities genuinely do know a lot more about the true state of affairs than everybody else but are lying about it.

The most recent iteration of covid conspiracy-mongering is the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video which has sprouted out of anti-vaccine conspiracies. You can read more about it here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/14/plandemic-movie-discredited-dr-doctor-judy-mikovits-how-debunked-conspiracy-theory-film-went-viral but there is also a good analysis of conspiracy-theory thinking which uses it as an example here https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-plandemic-and-the-seven-traits-of-conspiratorial-thinking-138483. The conspiracy is being promoted among some sections of the media in the usual just-asking-questions/exploring-the-controversy way:

“Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus.The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program “America This Week” hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall.”[1]

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/24/media/sinclair-fauci-conspiracy-bolling/index.html

What the various conspiracy theories have in common is a belief that pandemic fears and public health measures are specifically a plot against Donald Trump. The details vary (or even contradict each other) but they aim to support a motive for the imagined conspiracy i.e. that the ‘ruling classes’ have manufactured pandemic fears as a way to undermine Donald Trump. To support this idea conspiracy-theorists point to pre-pandemic articles discussing how Trump might cope with a pandemic (e.g. this one by Ed Yong in 2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/outbreaks-trump-disease-epidemic-ebola/511127/ ) as evidence that people were ‘planning’ to use pandemic fears against Trump.

Ironically, across the world many political leaders have gained popular support as a consequence of the pandemic (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/05/13/some-world-leaders-popularity-grows-along-with-coronavirus-case-numbers/ ). This pandemic poll-boost has helped politicians both on the left and right and isn’t tied to any particular policy measure nor even whether the covid-19 response was particularly successful. Clear messaging and decisive policy appear to be the main factors but even the shambolic Boris Johnson gained an initial popularity boost (although he eventually squandered it https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/14/poll-uk-government-losing-public-approval-over-handling-of-virus ).

The reality of natural disasters, including pandemics, is that they can often boost the standing of national leaders. Nor is it difficult to gain support because it is mainly a halo effect from the leader being seen in the company of competent people doing their jobs at a time when people will naturally hope for national unity. It actually takes some effort to mess up. Notably, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, managed to do this during the 2019/20 bushfire crisis leading to a rapid plummet in support and humiliating scenes of firefighters refusing to shake his hand. Conversely, Morrison saw his poll numbers boosted during the pandemic, mainly by not repeating the same basic errors he had a few months earlier.

In short, natural disasters are more likely to boost a national leader than undermine them. As a plot against Trump, a pandemic would be a terrible idea: all Trump would need to do is look presidential, let experts speak and pat them on the back. Of course, there is a counter-argument here. A pandemic may well be an actually electoral boost for most politicians but specifically a problem for Trump. As we have seen, Trump has spectacularly failed but this was entirely due to his own incompetence and the incompetence of his cronies. Even so, in late March, the pandemic led to Trump’s approval numbers steadily improving, only to be undermined by Trump’s inability to handle a crisis.

In short, as a plot against Trump, a pandemic would only undermine Trump’s popularity if Trump was actually a uniquely bad president. Of course, he is actually a uniquely bad president, so I guess that is one thing the conspiracy theories have going for them.


[1] Apparently Sinclair media have since changed their plans https://twitter.com/WeAreSinclair/status/1287110687093714944