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Three Simple Policy Heuristics

2015 September 3
by Ian Welsh

A number of people (and most of those who run our societies) don’t understand the policy default: “Be kind.”

There is a widespread belief that life is shit, “hard choices” have to be made, and those hard choices usually involve someone else suffering and dying.

Life may well be lousy, but most “hard choices” don’t have to be made, and those hard choices are one of the main reasons why life is lousy for so many people.

The most important thing to understand is this: Harm ripples, kindness ripples. People you hurt go on to hurt other people.  People who are treated with kindness become better people, or more prosperous people, and go on to help others. Yes, there are exceptions (we’ll deal with those people), but they are exceptions.

First: Do no harm.

Again, people who are abused, go on to abuse others. Rapists were often raped before they raped others. People who have no money can’t buy other people’s goods. People who are crippled physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially cannot contribute fully to society and tend not to make those around them happier or more prosperous. Rather the reverse.

While it is necessary to imprison some people for committing crimes (though far fewer than most societies imprison), it is not necessary to make having been convicted an economic death sentence. People who can’t get living wage jobs (or any job at all) when they get out of prison gravitate back to crime.

We don’t want people raped in jails, because many become rapists themselves and virtually all are damaged by it. When they get out of jail, we have to deal with that damage. We don’t want them stuck in solitary confinement for long periods of time because brain scans show this inflicts traumatic brain damage, and, yeah, we wind up having to deal with those people when they get out.

If someone runs out of money, we don’t want them to lose their primary residence. Even if you are soulless, you shouldn’t want a society that creates homeless people; it takes far more money to support someone on the street than it does to pay for almost anyone’s mortgage or rent. We don’t want people who are sick to be denied health care because they become pools for disease. We’re treating these people eventually anyway (when they turn 65 or become so poor they qualify for Medicaid), which is far more expensive than dealing with their illnesses when they first present themselves.

We don’t want to destroy other countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc.) because their people become refugees with whom we then must contend; this produces scads of angry people, some of who may wind up killing us, and it further ruins their economies, rendering them unable to buy our goods (except our weapons.)

Damage to others who live on the same planet as you can come back to haunt you. Damage to others in your own society will come back to haunt you.

So, first, do no harm. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are radically rare. Almost every bit of harm we do to others through government policy is a bad idea. The only common class of exception is covered in rule three.

Second: Be kind.

As the harm you do others comes back to you (insofar as you are “society”), so the good you do comes back to you. I almost don’t know what to say about this, as it is so brutally obvious. Happy people are better to be around. Prosperous people are better to be around.  Healthy people are better to be around.

Only when goods are legitimately scarce is there reason not to help make other people better off, and, in those cases, it is only applicable to the scarce goods, and only until you can make the goods no longer scarce. Short on food?  Ration and plant more crops.

But in today’s society, all the significant shortages of the goods which matter most are artificial; we have more than enough food to feed everyone. America has five empty homes for every homeless person. Europe has two empty homes for every homeless person. Clothing is cheap as hell. Internet is vastly overpriced. Our main sink is just carbon: We need to spew less of that, and we can do that. Our second main limitation is the destruction we are imposing on biodiversity, but we could produce our food with far less impact on the environment if we wanted to, and, even in the short term, we’d be better off for it.

People need stuff: food, housing, safety, education. None of these things should be in shortage anywhere in the world, including safety.  They are in shortage because we choose to act greedy, violent, and selfish when we do not need to.

Third: Remove the ability or reason for people to do harm.

Humanity is not a race of saints. It does not need to be. Most people are neither good nor bad, they are weak. They do what the social and physical environment disposes them to do, with the social environment being far more important in the modern era.

Still, some people are bad. The hard core is probably around five percent of the population. And many other people are damaged, because our society has damaged them. They take that damage out on others.

The most dangerous class of malefactors are incentivized to do evil. Think bankers, corporate CEOs, billionaires (almost all of whom do evil as routine). These people do evil because they profit greatly from it, BUT (and most of you will not believe this) what makes a profit in the modern world is overwhelmingly a social choice. The government chooses who can create money, what counts as profit, who is taxed how much, who is subsidized how much, what is property, how much it costs to ship by rail vs. road, etc, etc.

There are independent technological and environmental variables, but they are overwhelmed by social variables. Change the variables and you change the incentives.

The policy is simple: Take away incentives for people to do evil. Take away their ability to do evil (aka. excessive access to money.)

Those who continue to do evil, lock them up. Do it completely humanely, no rape, no violence, no solitary confinement. But make it so they can’t do evil. While they are in prison, try to rehabilitate them. Norway has half the recidivism rate of America for a reason: Rehabilitation does work for some people.

When they get out, bring them back into society. Make sure they have housing, food, clothing and so on. If they do evil again, lock them up again.

None of this is complicated, in principle. This is simple. This is straightforward. It is work, mind you, we must stay on top of incentives and ability, and not allow anyone to become so rich or so powerful that they are able to buy the rule-makers or be above the law.

None of this should be controversial, though it is. None of this is new, these strands of thoughts go back to Confucius, Ancient Greece, and beyond. They are only controversial because it is in the interest of many for these ideas to be painted as such. And many people, having done evil, develop a taste for it.

Running a society well is hard, in the details it is complicated, but in principle, it is simple. Do the right thing. Make it so that people do well by doing the right thing. Make it so people who do things that are harmful to others stop doing them.

When you want a good society to live in, inculcate these principles. Until then, know that you will only live in a good society briefly and by chance.


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53 Responses
  1. Lisa permalink
    September 3, 2015

    A very interesting article:

    https://newmatilda.com/2015/09/02/right-wingers-lead-simulated-global-politics-game-guess-how-many-virtual-people-they

    Right-Wingers Lead Simulated Global Politics Game. Guess How Many Virtual People They Killed.

    “For a snapshot of the Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) psyche, in Altemeyer’s own words:

    “By now we know quite a bit about them… high RWAs have been proven to be relatively submissive to government injustices, unsupportive of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, supportive of the Experimenter in the Milgram situation, high shockers themselves in a ‘punish the learner’ situation, punitive towards law-breakers, mean-spirited, ready to join government “posses” to run down almost everyone (including themselves), happy with traditional sex roles, strongly influenced by group norms, highly religious (especially in a fundamentalist way), and politically conservative (from the grass roots up to the pros, say studies of over 1,500 elected lawmakers).

    “They also have remarkably compartmentalised minds, endorse a multitude of contradictory beliefs, apply a variety of double standards to their thinking on social matters, are blind to themselves, dogmatic, fearful of a dangerous world, and self-righteous to beat the band.

    “Right-wing Authoritarians are also relatively prejudiced, against just about any racial, ethnic or nationalistic minority you can think of, and against homosexuals, women… atheists, and other religious people who happen to belong to different faiths.”

    “Social Dominance Oritentation (SDO) involves a more ruthless, gratuitous dog-eat-dog pursuit of hierarchy and inequality than RWA. In an ideal SDO world, the ‘strong’ in society oppress the ‘weak’ by whatever means they can, whether consistent with tradition and authority or not.

    Whereas RWA is known to be driven primarily by fear of change and difference, with an anxiously aggressive quest for certainty, simplicity and the familiar, SDO has a different personality profile.

    It is predicted not by the fearful, rigid, closed-minded personality of the authoritarian, but by antagonistic personality traits, including the ‘dark triad’ of personality; psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. These personality correlates share with SDO a “dark core” of callousness or lack of empathy, and dishonesty.

    Being cruel and ruthless simply feels satisfying to the socially dominating psyche, particularly when the target is weakened or vulnerable. Lying comes naturally. There is no conscience to appease.

    Although different from one another, SDO and RWA both correlate with conservatism or right leaning political orientation, and together explain almost all of the variance in prejudice. They are understood as two distinct pathways to conservatism and prejudice.”

  2. Keith in Modesto permalink
    September 3, 2015

    How about a political movement (larger than parties, putting pressure on politicians) based on The Three Principles and the Four Freedoms (FDR):

    The Three Principles:
    1. Do No Harm.
    2. Be Kind.
    3. Remove the Ability or Reason for People to Do Harm.

    The Four Freedoms:
    1. Freedom of Expression
    2. Freedom of Belief
    3. Freedom from Want
    4. Freedom from Fear

    That third principle needs to be shorter and more pithy. Maybe “Quarantine Bad Actors.” Or “Prevent Evil.”

    I feel a little silly suggesting starting a “movement” around these ideas. Like, what’s the point when we can’t really change anything. There’s so much momentum behind the greed and exploitation. I imagine that many of the most successful in the business and political arenas would regard someone really committed to kindness and not harming others as weak and a failure.

  3. V. Arnold permalink
    September 3, 2015

    Heuristics; how do YOU define that?
    Plain English please!
    Language is both a weapon and a communicator; please choose one…

  4. Dan Lynch permalink
    September 3, 2015

    Very well said, Ian. You morals should be obvious but they are not, particularly in America, due to our Puritan & slave-owning cultural heritage that emphasized sin, punishment, and control.

  5. EGrise permalink
    September 3, 2015

    Here’s what I don’t get: why is it that people who “make the hard decisions” seem to be widely admired? Why is the ability to make “tough calls” that inevitably harm people seen as a virtue?

    (And especially when those hard decisions are not very hard, like W’s decision to go to war with Iraq.)

    I understand the RWAs that Lisa points out above, but that’s hardly the entire population. I guess part of it is our culture of military hero worship, part of it is the surprising (and to me, puzzling) deference given to business executives. What else is going on here?

  6. S Brennan permalink
    September 3, 2015

    Generally, I agree Ian, but as my father once said to me about evil men; “for some men, the only thing they understand…is a well placed shot”…and so it goes.

  7. Lisa permalink
    September 3, 2015

    What the eveidence for people like the RWAs means is that they HAVE to be identified and politically neutralised otherwise they will ALWAYS cause havok. The ‘bullet’ idea for the SDOs has a certain charm though …lol….

    But we in the GLBTI comunity learned the hard way that these people have to be constantly fought against. Everytime they say something in the media (etc) there is immediately a counter attack. their points of view have to be endlessly shot down.

    You can never negotiate or compromise with them. Even if you try they will reject or betray you as soon as they can.

    They will never change their opinions, but you MUST stop them recruiting and influencing others You cannot afford to be seen as weak to them or they will go for you even more…

    They are like cockroaches…might be being a bit unfair to cockroaches though.

    A real weakness of non-GLBTI political activists is that they don’t take these people seriously enough and don’t fight against them enough either as followers or as leaders.

    If nothing else they are a ready made army that can easily be mobilised against anything good basically, either to stop things happening or to roll stuff back.

  8. Brian permalink
    September 3, 2015

    This is stupid. There are only so many thing a policy needs to be viable. To provide overall safety to its populace, to promote itself, and to promote the procreation of its populace.

  9. Lisa permalink
    September 4, 2015

    Brian, “To provide overall safety to its populace, “, makes sense but ‘safety’ is a nebulous concept unless you use rigourous risk analysis and probability theory.

    Then there are cultural, social and historical reasons why one society accepts certain risks while another won’t.
    Take the US as an example, many seem happy there to accept the very high risks to safety attached to low regulated gun wonership.

    “to promote itself, “. Not sure what that means.

    “and to promote the procreation of its populace.”.
    That is a very value laden statement, not very practical and it has some nasty side affects..
    No society can have an infinate popualtion. At some point here has to be a levelling off. Just imagine the US with 3 billion or 30 billion people, 300 billion? Unsustainable of course.
    That’s like arguing for ‘unlimited growth’, simply not possible.

    So a pro-procreation policy may not make sense from economic, social, resource, environment and infrastructure reasons

    Plus does that mean a policy shopuld disourage or ban contraception? What about abortion? Or those people who do not procreate, should they have sanctions against them for not procreating? What about homosexuals, or lesbians both of which tend to have lower (but not zero) rates of procreaton?

    So evaluting the success of a policy using that criteria makes no sense at all.

  10. September 4, 2015

    Always easy to decide to do the right thing as long as someone else is paying for it, which is the all too common liberal position of today. Social safety nets galore, but do it with imaginary money in the form of debt and the pretense of taxes the rich and corporations because rich people and corporations are evil, while promising tax cuts for everyone else.

    I maintain mostly contempt for the position of doing the right thing while insisting on paying lower taxes and maintaining that government debt can be used instead. Not accusing you, Ian, of holding that psition, but it a position all too common in our nation.

  11. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 4, 2015

    Bailouts and tax cuts for the rich and corporations cost far far more than all the “welfare” programs in the world, and the evidence is they produce worse growth than high tax policies. But continue, I never expected most people would understand something as simple as “do well by doing good” or “concentrate on positive externalities”.

  12. JustPlainDave permalink
    September 4, 2015

    I suspect that for a non-trivial number of us it’s not that we don’t understand the concepts – it’s that we think they’re just a little harder to systematically apply than implied. Work the heuristic through the articulations all the way down to the program level and out to front line service delivery across something more meaningful than a handful of particularly top of mind (and amenable to coarse-grained analysis) issues and one might have something practical – as it stands now this is aspirational.

    Aspirations are nice, but in the absence of a detailed understanding of implementation (and associated challenges – specifically to include the political / policy level) that’s all they remain – “nice”.

  13. September 4, 2015

    Sometimes I wish that values and judgements of good and evil were universally agreed to and that the practice of good rather than evil were somehow enforceable — without the usual coercion and frequent resort to force, sometimes lethal force.

    “First do no harm” — sounds good, except that it’s open to interpretation over what constitutes harm and plenty of dispute can and does arise over whether an eventual greater good justifies immediate harm.

    Thus harm of one sort or another to the patient is frequently justified in the practice of medicine because modest (or sometimes great) harm at the outset of treatment can lead to a desirable outcome. This in spite of the Hippocratic Oath…

    Imperialism, genocide and other political evils have been justified on a similar basis.

    If doing harm could be eliminated altogether, the argument runs, the eventual greater good would disappear. Is that what you really want?

    “Be kind” — sounds wonderful and obvious, except that: “kindness” is another of those mutables.

    Kindness that is little more than condescension is hardly kindness at all by my lights, but if it comes wrapped in a courtesy bubble, who is one to complain? “Bless your heart,” is a well-known Southern gibe — indeed, can be an insult — but it’s so genteel and such a superficially kind sentiment, isn’t it? Well, that’s the point…

    Genuine kindness on the other hand can often go unrecognized or be taken for granted while an ersatz kindness is hailed.

    And again, that which is considered kind on one level may be considered cruelty on another. For example, the Inquisition was sure that its manifest cruelties were justified by the kindness of salvation… it took hundreds of years to convince the Holy Office otherwise…

    “Remove the ability or reason for people to do harm” — toughest of all: who decides?

    Let us say we know that the actions of the financial sector and the cohort of contemporary CEOs — and the governments that follow their leads — are harmful in both the short and the long term, and we want to change it, but we can’t. We find through repeated efforts that we can’t influence or change the harmful actions of these people and institutions in any substantive way at all. We have no affect on their abilities. And only one another’s point of view affects their reasons for doing manifest harm. They all agree that their actions are justified, no matter the immediate or long term harm to others. And they all agree that anything we would do that might affect their abilities or reasons for doing harm to us would be harmful to them. Therefore, aren’t they justified in doing whatever they can to prevent harm to themselves?

    If only the values and judgements of good and evil were somehow universal…

  14. V. Arnold permalink
    September 4, 2015

    @ Ché Pasa
    September 4, 2015
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Very good post; well written and reasoned.
    I’ve basically given up on America and Americans as a functional society/governed people.
    Class, ever present, has reared its ugly head to the fore.
    Learned helplessness and infantilism has rendered American citizens as broken tools; to be used towards their own enslavement. They have been captured by neo-feudalism; not to be called serfs; because they are not tied to land; but indentured and exploited just the same.
    These missives do nothing to lead a way out of the ancient trap of control.
    But this, with Chris Hedges offers a path;
    https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/chris-hedges-bernie-sand

  15. Brian permalink
    September 4, 2015

    Lisa,

    Humans are free, with exceptions in certain cases. Governments, as groups of humans cooperating, are free in the same way as it’s constituents, and have to obey the same restrictions to freedom.

    We are free, but to be physical we need to obey the laws of physics. To be alive, we need to consume energy in matter form and we need to propagate ourselves. To be multi-cellular we need to provide a common cellular goal (usually safety) and benefits for the cells to interact together effectively. To be part of a tribe, we must harmonize with a tribe structure.

    As a government is a set of humans, it must obey the same restrictions as it’s populace. It is free to do whatever else. That means, the government must propagate itself, must provide a common goal for it’s populaces, and must harmonize with whatever supra-state (i.e. Western Civilization). It also must allow it constituents to propagate, to be able to feed, and to give them safety (or not jeopardize safety).

  16. V. Arnold permalink
    September 4, 2015

    @ Brian
    September 4, 2015
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    “Humans are free, with exceptions in certain cases. Governments, as groups of humans cooperating, are free in the same way as it’s constituents, and have to obey the same restrictions to freedom.”
    “We are free, but to be physical we need to obey the laws of physics. ”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    That is the largest load of bollocks I’ve seen in a very long time.
    Just what planet are you living on?
    Rhetorical question; please do not answer…

  17. September 4, 2015

    I don’t know where “Bailouts and tax cuts for the rich and corporations” entered the discussion, Ian, because I certainly intended no reference to them. I was referring to politicians who promise to reaise taxes on the evil rich and are talking about one percentage point on the top bracket, which it tokenism and pandering to working class voters without actually doing anything — effectively a lie.

    My whole point was the average “Democratic” voter who wants the government to spend money on welfare programs to help the poor, certainly a “right thing,” wants a long term unemployment program, which he sees as the “right thing,” wants mor health care provided by government, another “right thing” to do, and then says he does not want to be taxed to pay for any of it, he wants to “tax the rich and corporations” to pay for it, and to have government borrow more money to pay for it. He doesn’t care how it gets paid for as long as he doesn’t have to pay more taxes.

    Or are you only talking about doing right things that don’t cost money?

  18. September 4, 2015

    I have only these things to say:

    “You are what you eat, what you hear, what you touch, what you experience, what you smell.”

    “If one keeps the company of those who are wise then one shall acquire wisdom. If one keeps the company of those who are foolish and careless then one likewise becomes foolish and careless.”

    “How one behaves and thinks at any given point in time depends on whose books they’ve been reading lately.”

  19. Peter* permalink
    September 4, 2015

    @Bill H

    You can also be sure that many of those Liberal Democrats would balk at the idea of reducing their earnings to create jobs so that those poor need not beg for relief from the government but have income to survive. Both Parties have given up on the idea of creating jobs with livable wages for a large demographic and the debate is only how to maintain the surplus population without an uprising or a dramatic reduction in their standard of living.

    The same is true for many people who claim to want to do the ‘right thing’ about Global Warming, they will support many ideas even ridiculous technological ones but not the heresy of lower consumption and reduced affluence without which any remediation plan is doomed.

  20. nihil obstet permalink
    September 4, 2015

    @Bill H and Peter

    Yeah, those wretched Americans and especially Liberal Democrats who don’t want to fight over the crumbs from the economic table! Counterproductive self-sacrifice is so noble! Here’s a depiction of how most Americans can’t see reality.

  21. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    September 4, 2015

    I get the impression that the Peters of the world will be heartbroken if the scientific and technical people–pulling The Mother Of All Rabbits out of the hat–actually find a way for us sybaritic sinners to maintain our high-tech civilization without that Virtuous Reduction Of Consumption which the Peters think is required for our spiritual as well as material salvation. 😛

  22. vera permalink
    September 4, 2015

    Lisa, it would be really great if you stopped equating evil people with a particular political persuasion you dislike. There are good and bad eggs in any group, including the ones you identify with.

    Woodpecker. Where do I start? I guess I will make it simple and just say, I am astonished you are putting your faith in rabbits pulled out of hats. LOL. I guess that’s what’s happened to people who used to believe we’d be colonizing Alpha Centauri any day now. Sad, really. 😉

    Good article, Ian. I would slightly disagree and say the most dangerous evil people are violent psychopaths, and solitary confinement seems particularly fitting for them. How else do you make sure they never harm anyone every again, including fellow prisoners or guards?

  23. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    September 4, 2015

    Tsk, shame on me.

    How dare I be such a blasphemous heretic as to question the transcendent wisdom of the Butlerian Mujahideens’ Kobayashi Maru scenario?

    Will sackloth and ashes satisfy Vera’s wrathful Green God(dess?), or must I flog myself as well? 😈

  24. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    September 4, 2015

    *sigh* I meant “sackcloth”, of course. 😛

    I can haz edit feechur, plz? :mrgreen:

  25. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Hah. Anyone who can write so glibly about the “the transcendent wisdom of the Butlerian Mujahideens’ Kobayashi Maru scenario” surely must be a Star Trek fan. With luck like that, I should buy a lottery ticket! (Just kidding. The odds suck.)

    Now. What is it really you wanted to say? (Provided you decided to skip the rabbits and the hats.)

  26. Lisa permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Vera: “There are good and bad eggs in any group, including the ones you identify with.”

    Oh I agree, but that particular grouping is a type of personality that is drawn to that type of politics.

    Notice that is not necessarily the traditional conservative or the (in the UK/Australian tradition) liberal politics at all. Both of which have long traditions of rationality and can be reasoned and compromised with.

    But that Right Wing Authoritarian personality type (or worse the Social Dominance) type graviate and either lead or follow such extreme ideologies.

    If you compare an Eisenhower Republican to the current crop, or in Australia a Menzies Liberal to Tony Abbott, you really see massive differences.

    By todays standards an Eisenhower/Menzies conservative was a raging left winger. because deep in their hearts, they (conservative as they were economically or socallyor racially or sexually) were rational people.

    That link I gave on them doing war games…and blowing up the world demonstrates their lack of rationality. The classic US types of this are the religious extremists and neo-conservatives and everyone know what disasters they are.

    Because they are non rational they never even succeed at achieving their ‘stated’ ideological goals, which is usually just a lip service/PR thing for something more emotionally fundamental that drives them.

    There is a great Superman poster from 1957 saying: “your school lke our country is made up of many different races, religions and national origins.
    If you hear anyone talk against … because of race, religion or national orgin tell them THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMERICAN” (their emphasis)
    In todays’s US poltics that is raging left wing stuff now…..

    What seems to have happened is, that conservative parties in many countries started to utilize these people as foot soldiers in the late 70s and 80s to push various social and economic ideologies (like neo-liberalism).

    This seemed like a ‘good idea’ at the time, problem is they have now have a heck of a lot of internal clout within such conservative parties, far more so than their total societal numbers justify.

    But watching Republican candidates falling over themselves to end abortion in the US (for any reason) shows their clout now. Those ‘foot soldiers’ so useful as a support base to end unions and push neo-liberal economics now have taken on a life of their own and there is a continual ‘ratcheting’up in their demands.

    The ‘political bones’ they got thrown to get their support for neo-liberal economic ‘reforms’ is not enough. You see that in abortion, some restrictions were thrown their were, then more and now a Republican candidate HAS to be totally against abortion for any reason to have any chance to get up now.

    This has happened again and again in societies that have tried that.

    Look (breaking Godwins Law) this happened in Germany, in the end Hitler had to slaughter the leaders of the SD and destroy the organisation. They were the classic RWA types and were useful ‘foot soldiers’ to get the Nazis into power, but they went out of control and the industrialists and military told Hitler to get rid of them..which he did.

    As we know later on they came out of the woodwork again within the other areas of the Nazi party and the military (etc)…but that is another story for another time.

    The US Republican party made such a ‘faustian’ bargain too, now look at it…..

    As I said we in the GLBTI communties know them real well and know that they have to be shot down and excluded from politics all the time. Give them an inch and the knife slips into your back. Because they are non rational there can be no compromise with them, you cannot try and ‘use them’ because they just go further and further, especially if some of those Social Dominance types get in charge of them, if that happens then they will do cruel things just for the sake of doing …cruel things..

  27. Lisa permalink
    September 5, 2015

    This is qute clever an ‘Authoritarian’ score test. ther is actually a lot more to this and a lot of subtilties as well, see http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    For example,
    you might very strongly disagree (“-4″) with one idea in a statement, but slightly agree (“+1″) with another idea in the same item. When this happens, please combine your reactions, and write down how you feel on balance (a “-3″ in this case).

    ___ 1. The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just “loud mouths” showing off their ignorance.
    ___ 2. Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.
    ___ 3. Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
    ___ 4. Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.
    ___ 5. It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and
    religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create
    doubt in people’s minds
    ___ 6. Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.
    ___ 7. The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.
    ___ 8. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.
    ___ 9. Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.
    ___ 10. Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.
    ___ 11. Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.
    ___ 12. The “old-fashioned ways” and the “old-fashioned values” still show the best way to live.
    ___ 13. You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority’s view by protesting for women’s abortion rights, for animal rights, or to abolish school prayer.
    ___ 14. What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.
    ___ 15. Some of the best people in our country are those who are challenging our government, criticizing religion, and ignoring the “normal way things are supposed to be done.”
    ___ 16. God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
    ___ 17. There are many radical, immoral people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
    ___ 18. A “woman’s place” should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are
    submissive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.
    ___ 19. Our country will be great if we honor the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the “rotten apples” who are ruining everything.
    ___ 20. There is no “ONE right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.
    ___ 21. Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy “traditional family values.
    ___ 22. This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society.

  28. Lisa permalink
    September 5, 2015

    I’ll add, being transgender, that in the US in particular we are right in the front line fight with people like this.

    Fights for basic rights, bathroom bills, murders and all the rest.

    The various right wing and/or religious groups have deliberately targetted us after their loss over marriage equality. yes that is true claim, read the briefing notes….

    Plus varous individuals and groups (including a section of the old psychologists who were total transgender oppressors) are right in the fight now. Heck in Canada transgender reparative therapy was just ended in February this year….

    Concentrates the mind when you have large numbers of people dedicated, publically, to destroying you….

  29. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    That test precisely shows what I am objecting to in your writing, Lisa.
    For example:

    “6. Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.”

    In my world, there are perfectly decent atheists, and there are plenty of as.holes atheists (some of whom project a very authoritarian, my way or the highway point of view). I have seen the same with the trans community. You pick on one group, just as they pick on someone else. That is what I object to. If you want to pick on somebody, pick on the as.holes. That would be refreshing, because these days, they seem to be everywhere.

  30. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Ian, it’s not that people who make upper level policies don’t understand “be kind.” They think that’s for weenies and losers.

  31. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    One last comment on the article, since I am not sure if Ian interacts with the commentariat:

    “Take away their ability to do evil”

    Doable with some forms of evil, not doable with others. Only some evil is criminally actionable. That I see as the chief weakness of your heuristic. Good post, though!

  32. Peter* permalink
    September 5, 2015

    @vera

    Evil, is a word too closely associated with religious beliefs and inquisitions to be safe to use to describe the behavior of anyone other than ourselves and the occasional Hitler. There are other terms that can be used to describe aberrant behavior that don’t require exorcism to correct.

  33. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 5, 2015

    It is doable with more things than you think: what is criminal is societally decided; but what is just as important is who you give money to, as I noted above, and that is almost entirely socially decided.

    I interact sometimes, it depends.

    Violent psychopaths get the press, but they do very little of the damage.

  34. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Peter, what term would you prefer?

    Ian, well, if you count the state of the planet, and count people who intentionally start wars and violent conflicts on the grand scale, then violent psychopaths do quite a bit of the damage. The fact that the white collar ones usually hire someone else to do the dirty work does not change that reality.

    Still, though, would you have a problem with solitary confinement for a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Ted Bundy?

  35. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Psychopath is a diagnostic. Are the CEOs and senior executives of the major financial firms all psychopaths? I doubt it. Without their money and desire, the actual psychopaths don’t get hired. Granted many of them either are sociopaths or psychopaths and the rest tend to operate as if they were.

    Certainly they are not violent psychopaths.

    No, I don’t support locking them up in permanent isolation either, though a case can be made for permanent detention in such cases, and if someone is actually violent frequently and without benefit to themselves, you can keep them in restraints when they’re around other people. That’s rare, though, and usually indicates need for pyschiatric hospitalization.

    Further Reading:

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/how-the-structure-of-everyday-life-creates-sociopathic-corporate-leaders/

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/ethics-101-the-difference-between-ethics-and-morals/

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/what-is-an-economy/

    http://www.ianwelsh.net/too-much-money-chasing-the-wrong-returns/

  36. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Ian, I claim that many things are not criminally actionable; in turn, you do not address this except assuring me that I am not giving it enough leeway. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

    Take this example: when a man hits his wife, his action is criminally actionable. However, emotional and verbal abuse is not criminally actionable… yet they can constitute a lifetime of sneaky cruelty and destructiveness rebounding not only on her, but other family members also. I doubt there is any society that would think such things ought to be criminalized. I don’t. Yet I do consider it a serious evil that needs addressing. How do you propose to deal?

  37. Peter* permalink
    September 5, 2015

    @Vera

    Dahmer and Bundy are the extremely rare examples of human Predators but are businessmen or women who knowingly make decisions that kill people any less guilty of murder? The latter group of respected people are certainly responsible for many more deaths than any serial killers.

    Politicians and Leaders have to be judged under a different metric because their power to kill was delegated to them, at least in so called democracies, by their subjects. Voting in this system means all who participate share some of the guilt for the Leaders actions. Once Leaders receive the voter mandate they often abuse their power and no one in power would allow voters to decide to or not to go to war.

  38. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Peter: Human predators are not rare. Only the kind who run amok amidst blood and gore are rare (though most do not get caught, so we don’t know exactly how many there are.) But you were objecting to the term “evil” to describe egregious harm. What do you propose instead? It seems handy, and I don’t see any reason why I should leave it in the hands of the Church or its Inquisitors.

  39. Lisa permalink
    September 5, 2015

    As I said Vera the test is more subtle that it appears, so the whole context and explantory notes have to be read.

    References like that to religion are testing the appeal to a person of an authority, how much do they want (need?) that to validate (and/or lead) their opinions. This is particularly relevent in an US context, though (of course) far less in other countries.

    The author makes the point that in the USSR their RWA’s at the time would be supportive of the Communist Party, just because it is an authority.

    The actual political beliefs are irrelevant in that context.

    Note that these thing are all statistical in nature so there will be athiests who are just as inherently authoritarian in basic nature as someone strongly religious.

  40. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 5, 2015

    I would suggest that happier people are less likely to be nags, Vera. Create a better society, and you’ll have less of that.

    Let me give an example: every senior executive on Wall Street and in the major banks knew that fraud was occurring. Using RICO and fraud statutes they could all, easily, have been prosecuted and all their money and power taken away from them.

    Making so many people lose their jobs, houses and so on is a far more serious evil. The laws to deal with it were on the books, and not enforced. Domestic violence increases when the economy is worse, I’ll lay you long long odds so does nagging.

    Perhaps you should actually read the articles I linked.

  41. Lisa permalink
    September 5, 2015

    It is not too dfficult to work out good polcies from bad ones.

    The basic test should be: “is someone going to be physically and/or economically and/or emotionally hurt by this”.

    And ‘evil’ policy is one that deliberately seeks to harm someone.

    A bad policy is one where some people are hurt even if there are a majority that benefit, that it is predicted in advance but is accepted as ‘the cost of doing business”, noting that the ‘losers’ nearly always tend to be the weaker members of society.
    Of course many policies are like this and some would argue that it is the majority that matters, but the issue here is whether or not those being hurt are compensated for that.

    You can easily expand the logic to ‘really bad’, ‘terrible’ and ‘atrocious’ policies….

  42. vera permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Ian, perhaps I should, and perhaps I will. But the fact you evade instead of answering me does not inspire confidence. And I won’t even delve into your devaluing the example I gave by referring to other types of evil as “more serious.” Surely that depends in part on the situation a person finds themselves in… Or are we suddenly playing the game of one upmanship? I cite you an evil and you see my evil and raise me a mega evil? If so, I ain’t playin’…

    Lisa, that makes sense. It’s a point I was making as well, perhaps from another angle.

  43. Peter* permalink
    September 5, 2015

    Vera,

    The word evil may be handy and easy to use but it is too subjective and although you may use it well others will use it as a tool to brand those they fear.

    We’re discussing what some humans do to other humans so the word inhumane might be a more accurate and less malleable term to describe the damage people do to others, from denying people rights to killing them. Calling someone or some action evil seems to claim to know why they behave that way which is often impossible to determine.

  44. JustPlainDave permalink
    September 6, 2015

    This: “is someone going to be physically and/or economically and/or emotionally hurt by this” is a bad metric.

    Every policy of significant scale hurts someone in some way. Frequently this isn’t foreseen or intended, but that’s what’s happens. This is why implementation is the key issue. Until one can move from ideology to implementation it’s just empty rhetoric.

  45. vera permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Peter: I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I just emerged from a small flame on another site where people like to brand opposing view holders as bigots. For some people, it seems that it’s invariably “us” vs “the bigots.” I doubt that avoiding the word evil (or bigot) will help here.

    There is a long tradition of using the word evil in philosophy. People talk about natural evils vs human-made ones. Or wonder why there is evil in the world, and so on. I do agree with you that at times, it suggests that there is a motivation to do mischief on purpose, and while we cannot see into another heart, I find it useful as a reminder that indeed we humans do sometimes harm on purpose.

    There are those who make it their business to keep affirming there are no “bad people” and I tend to think — though this meme has propagated most among well-meaning progressives — that bad people were the originators and early spreaders of this meme because it provides a very effective smoke screen for them. 🙂

    I think “harmful behavior” serves as another way to talk about evil. Inhumane works too but is more of a synonym for “cruel.” Dunno. I guess I myself find “evil” a time-honored word that evokes exactly what is meant to evoke — harm that goes beyond the merely incidental.

    You figure we can discuss and collaborate effectively without resolving this issue in any definitive way?

  46. Peter* permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Vera,

    I can only promise to try to be fair in my responses and appreciate your POV even when I disagree. I hope we can agree on many subjects but I have many radical views that frighten and anger some people.

    People who believe that there are no bad/evil people are just as deluded as those who believe there is a supernatural force called Evil and it’s difficult to have rational discussions with members of either group.

    Progressive is another word/description that I find hides as much as it reveals, sorry I couldn’t resist my Quixotic urges to repair our lexicon.

  47. vera permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Peter, I will be looking forward to learning more about your radical views. 🙂

    I have a theory… a hunch, that agreement is overrated. It’s nice when it happens, but it has it’s dark side too, as in groupthink. I am more inclined to think that the way forward is for us to learn to work together despite differing views (and worldviews). I find that speaking with folks who hold inimical views is possible as long as we both treat each other well.

    I suppose I am saying as long as there is agreement to “be kind” — all sorts of discussions become possible. Not that it’s easy, though… being kind… and also recognizing when the other side is unable/unwilling to be kind no matter what else is said, and walking away is the only sane option…

  48. Peter* permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Vera, I’m inclined to agree with you that groupthink, gatekeeping and propaganda plague much of the discussion on the interwebs today and without a diversity of views little understanding can be gained. I try to be kind and avoid personal attacks but have little ability to ‘suffer fools gladly’ anymore or those with an agenda or are selling snake oil.

    I’m not as optimistic as you seem to be about differing people or groups working together to solve any of the critical dilemmas facing humanity or the biosphere. There are too many vested interests, too much wishful thinking and ingrained conditioning to wake up enough people to the reality of our Death Cult civilization.

    I don’t mean that people should stop trying to bring about change but they should also begin preparing themselves and anyone else who is interested to face the challenges that the fall of Industrial Civilization will present. This may include assisting in the dismantling of civilization as we know it before too much damage is done for the biosphere and humanity to recover.

  49. Lisa permalink
    September 6, 2015

    JustPlainDave: This: “is someone going to be physically and/or economically and/or emotionally hurt by this” is a bad metric.

    Naturally I disagree.

    “Every policy of significant scale hurts someone in some way. “. hence the need for proper calcualtion of impacts and compensation mechanisms. Plus the accurate calcualtion of possible impacts. If a policy will harm 10% of the people it affects, then obviously it is a bad policy. 0.1% is more acceptable, because compensaiton systems can easily handle that amount.

    Plus there has to be scaling, physical harm is obviously more important than (say) emotional harm. The acceptable thresholds for physical harm have to be a lot lower than for economic/emotional harm. Something along the lines of say 0.001%, 0.1%, 1% might be an acceptable rule of thumb. Both economic harm and emotional harm can be compensated for, physical not so easily of course.

    Nothing new in this Stafford beer was putting this idea forward in early 70s..along with the technical mechanisms to do it. Given today’s computing power and knowledge such things are not that difficult to do.

    The reason we do not debate this properly is that the de-fact rule nowadays in our neo-liberal societiues is that polcies are designed to benefit the top 1%, with a political calculation being made on the ‘acceptable’ percentage negatively affected.
    That means those with political/economic advantage have a lot more clout than those at the bottom. So even if the negatively affected is 10% or 20% heck even 50%, if it is affecting low power people then a policy will go through nowadays.

    I mean if you look at the Australian State and Federal Govts (both parties too) Aboriginal ‘ethnic cleansing’ efforts since the late 90s (coincidentally from the start of the mining boom!!!) these are not policies that would get up if you applied my proposed decision rules. But they are perfectly alright under current ones (with 90+% very badly affected).
    Do you know that a Labor Federal Gvt tried to compulsarily aquire a lot of Aborigine’s homes? Not something they would try in a middle class suburb in any city.

    This is not formula for effective decsion making. Hence the disasterous quality of decisions in many places now, including a majority of the west. When even Germany is facing crumbling infrastructue then you know something is going wrong.

  50. vera permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Peter, I am not an optimist. I am a possibilist. As long as there are some odds that a good result is possible, I believe in putting one’s energy into those (however small) odds and running with it.

    Odds for what? Human survival. Keeping some of the good things that this crazy civilization brought us. Learning to get along so well that a new level of collaboration (with each other, with Gaia) is possible.

    Civ is dismantling itself already, faster than any single human’s agency could aid. If anyone is working the hardest at it, it’s the banksters. 😉

    Preparing oneself… many paths. Which one do you walk?

  51. JustPlainDave permalink
    September 6, 2015

    Or – just a thought – we could think about implementation measures that would *catch* and “prevent* the instances of harm a given policy causes as unintended collateral!

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time with federal and provincial program and policy people and – to their credit – I have yet to see any decide what pulled out of the air percentage of population is acceptable to fuck over. Lots of wishful thinking as to what any given policy / program was going to be able to achieve, but fortunately nothing like what you appear to view as acceptable.

  52. Peter* permalink
    September 7, 2015

    Vera, I can’t do much walking these days so I plan to take the RV path.

  53. vera permalink
    September 7, 2015

    Not bad, Peter, as long as there is gas. And there will be, for a while yet. 🙂

    Dave, “I have yet to see any decide what pulled out of the air percentage of population is acceptable to fuck over.”

    Good catch. Is Lisa a psychopath? That sort of reasoning chills the heart. Though Machiavelli might approve.

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