The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Political Consequences of Mental Models

Sense is sense, no matter who says it:

Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd if the Middle East would be more stable with Gaddafi and Saddam in power, Trump replied, “Of course it would be.”’

There comes a point where one must ask—ok, well, this point has come again and again, but really: Are the West’s leaders destabilizing the Middle East deliberately?

Q. “Stupid or evil?”

A. “Both.”

I know someone who worked with Cheney and believes that Cheney honestly thought that removing Saddam would make the world a better place. Also (and the person I know is a smart, capable person) that Cheney was very smart.

But smart in IQ terms (which Cheney probably was) isn’t the same as having a sane mental map of the world. Being brilliant means being able to be brilliantly wrong and holding to it no matter what. Genius can rationalize anything.

Human thought is mostly an unconscious and uncontrolled process. What comes up is what went in, filtered through conditioning. We are so conditioned and the inputs are so out of our control during most of our lives (and certainly during our childhood) that our actual, operational margin of free will is far smaller than most believe.

We interpret what we know through the mental (and emotional) models we already have. Thoughts are weighted with emotion, recognized and unrecognized, connotations far more than denotations.

Machiavelli made the observation that people don’t change, they instead react to situations with the same character and tone of action even when a different action would work better.

This doesn’t mean one cannot undergo ideological changes, it means character changes only very slowly, and that we have virtually no conscious ability to change our thinking, actions, or characters on the fly.

This is true for both the brilliant and the stupid, though the tenor of challenges for both is different.

You see much of this in Hilary Clinton’s vast hatred and enmity towards Russia. She is a child of the Cold War.

You see it in the repeated use of force in situations where force has failed to work over and over again.

You see it in the inability to tolerate democratic governments of opposing ideologies despite the fact that destroying them, after a period of autocracy, generally leads to worse outcomes than simply working with them. (See Iran for a textbook case.)

And you see it in the belief that the US needs to run the world in tedious detail, that regular coups, invasions, garrisons, and so on are necessary—along with the endless, sovereignty-reducing treaties described in “free trade deals.”

These policies are insane, if one assumes a minimum of public spiritedness. They have not worked. They will not work.

But they do work in the social sense: They create successful lives for the people who devise and implement them. They are rewarded with money and social approval, they receive feedback which screams, “Continue!”

Over fifteen years ago Stirling Newberry told me, “Insiders understand possibility, outsiders understand consequences”.

Insiders are rewarded for acting in accordance with elite consensus, and very little else.

Outsiders, not being part of that personal risk/reward cycle are able to say, “Yeah, that’s not going to work”.

They are both right and wrong.

The science of conditioning, which was strong from the late 19th century through to the 60s, has faded out of the intellectual limelight. But viewed through the lens of conditioning, much that makes no sense makes perfect sense.

We are ruled by people who are what they have been conditioned to be, and we are what we have been conditioned to be: We are passive consumers who shut up and do what they are told by their teachers or bosses.

Conditioning extends well beyond observable behavior and into thought, and the structure of knowledge. Intellectual structures are felt, and each node and connection has emotional freight. This is true even in the purer sciences, and it is frighteningly true in anything related to how we interact with other humans and what our self-image is.

It is in this sense that the disinterested, the outsider, those who receive few rewards for acquiescence, are virtually always superior in understanding to those within the system. Outsiders may not understand what it “feels” like, but the outsider understands what the consequences are.

This is true far beyond politics, but it is in politics where the unexamined life, the unexamined belief structure, and the unexamined conditioning, are amplified by long levers to brutalize the world.



This Is Why I Always Give the Benefit of the Doubt to Left-wing Opponents of the Regime


In France, There Is a Cost to Executives for Laying People Off


  1. It is in this sense that the disinterested, the outsider, those who receive few rewards for acquiescence, are virtually always superior in understanding to those within the system. Outsiders may not understand what it “feels” like, but the outsider understands what the consequences are.

    Mmm, probably, but I would say that would-be outsiders would definitely benefit from being able to understand the mental models of, well, both other insiders and outsiders, and I wouldn’t underestimate how much of a handicap it is not to be able to do it.

  2. Steeleweed

    Interesting that John Michael Greer at Archdruid Report makes a similar point.

    “…the yawning gap between the abstract notion of progress that we all have in our heads and the rather less pleasant realities to which this notion has been assigned.”

    @Mandos: I suggest that outsiders better understand the mindset of the insiders than vice versa. Outsiders have been inundated by the insider view all their lives, to the point where outsiders have to make significant effort to avoid accepting it as ‘the easy way out’ and a path to social, professional and financial advancement. I understand my libertarian relatives much better than they understand me, because I grew up in the same culture they did. They lack the post-youth exposure to other views I’ve had.

  3. Steeleweed

    Ben Adler at WaPo makes a related point, that voters are not thinking through the consequences of their beliefs.

  4. I suppose it depends on what you mean by “outsiders”. I took it to mean people critical of the outcomes of existing political processes without having direct influence thereon, as opposed to people who are in general the objects of policy outcomes.

  5. someofparts

    In the corner of the world where I am obliged to live and work, ordinary sensible talk as it is practiced here is literally impossible anymore. Everyone I work with would be incapable of understanding any portion of this conversation.

    When the people around me make a good-faith effort to listen, despite not really understanding what they are hearing, they wind up listening for buzz words they recognize because that’s all they can do. When they hear one they jump in – wrenching the conversation into whatever direction their associations with that buzzword takes us. Before I have time to blink, they have “translated” whatever I was really saying into a new frame dictated by the meanings they attach to the buzzword they recognized.

  6. “But smart in IQ terms (which Cheney probably was) isn’t the same as having a sane mental map of the world.”

    Or even a reasonable one. I grew up in a family of very high IQs and was utterly repelled by my surroundings. My younger brother was told, for instance, that he was so smart that he didn’t need to have any friends and that the reason he didn’t was that no other children were “on his level.”

    My sister went on to run a red light and hit a cop car and then tried to blame the cop.

    I was castigated for playing football and “acting like a football player,” never mind that I was graduating in the top tenth of my class without trying. The point was I was not trying and if I had been I could have been valedictorian or something. I preferred playing football and having friends, which made me an outsider. I pretended I had been adopted.

    Very intelligent bunch, but could not get out of their own way.

  7. S Brennan

    Couldn’t agree more; from my FBook:

    S- Brennan
    October 4 at 10:08am

    THE CRAZY MAN SPEAKS!!! Every “serious person”, be they, [D] or [R], knows Trump is just plain crazy, just listen…

    “…asked if he believes the Middle East would be better today if Gadhafi of Libya and Hussein of Iraq were still in power, responded, “It’s not even a contest.”..and seemed to endorse a stronger President Bashar Assad, while admitting he is “probably a bad guy.”

    “You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there — it’s a mess — if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there — it’s a mess — it’s [Syria] going to be same thing.”

    What a lunatic huh? Every “serious person”, be they, [D] or [R], knows war is a fun way to show you are “serious”. That’s why we must continue the issue-less bashing of the man, that is, if you want to be taken “seriously”

  8. markfromireland

    Sense is sense, no matter who says it

    Yes Ian, considering both the information itself and the source of the information is good standard intelligence analytical proceedure.


  9. Ian Welsh

    I do. I consider him somewhat more sane than the average of the Republican presidential field.

    Take that as it’s worth. 😉

  10. Bruce Wilder

    There is a generational vector involved as well, which may be critical to how we in 2015 are experiencing the insider / outsider dichotomy.

    There are times in history when outsiders, having invested deeply in criticism find themselves tasked with devising a better world, and that is when we find out how much or how little the outsiders understood about how things worked, about what was possible or feasible.

    If their practical knowledge is sufficient or their improvisations are lucky, a new system comes into being, in the wake of the failures that gave outsiders their revolutionary chance. The outsiders become insiders as the new order prevails. These founding insiders have a feel for how and why the system works, and well-founded rationales for many of the precautions they take, in response to the counterfactuals they anticipate, but anticipating either prevents or fulfills those expectations. Their successors as insiders experience only what happens, not what was prevented. Succeeding generations of insiders have no experience of the system breaking down entirely or having to push aside the incumbent insiders of a system failing even on its own terms.

    Insiders of a later generation may not know how the system works or may not care. aka, stupid or evil: if the system is sufficiently “automatic” that it requires little more than a ceremonial leadership at the top of its supervising hierarchy, insiders will have an unfounded faith in the permanence of the system in which they operate — that is the “stupid”. Insiders may also find that they have a personal interest in practices that cut corners, expedite or otherwise subvert the system, and deprive the system of the resources necessary to renew and reproduce it for the long run. This is the “evil”, familiar as corruption or laziness or any number of other subtle failures.

    If there is a doctrine that explains and rationalizes the system, that doctrine may be made elegantly simple, prior to being pared gradually into a ritualistic cargo cult, as those with genuine experience fade into distant memory. If the evolving doctrine also rationalizes corrupt practice, its value to insiders will paradoxically increase even as practical usefulness for the ostensible purposes of the system declines toward zero. I think this is the story of economics since WW2: economics, particularly Keynesianism but also such esoterica as taken up by operations research types (see Whiz Kids, of which McNamara was a second-generation example) was vitally useful in organizing the war effort and a post-war global economy. The academic doctrine was given an elegant textbook treatment by Samuelson that stripped away all experience and understanding of institutions, so that successive generations carried no memory to feed a practical judgment. Gradually, economics came to align with the libertarian cargo cult that seeks prosperity from “markets”, and the basis for neoliberalism developed. Neoliberalism’s prescribing corruption recommends itself to insiders even as its rhetoric of market freedom and strong institutions evokes the right emotional connections to protect it from popular backlash.

    We are having a great deal of difficulty seeing any alternative. It is easy to project onto Cheney as representative of our political opponents, but the Left has not been effective in attacking the corruption, per se. It is easy to see the Iraq invasion as cargo cult foreign policy: bomb them and democracy will come. It is harder to tackle the failure of the Iraq Reconstruction. But, the latter is really vital, because it goes directly to how to make a society work. The Left needs both a critique of why neoliberalism fails and a positive answer, concerning what works, what is necessary and sufficient.

  11. Adams

    “Insiders are rewarded for acting in accordance with elite consensus, and very little else.”

    Chuck Todd is toast then, but will be elected to the “unconscious uttering of truth” hall of fame in the same class as Kevin McCarthy. They will be awarded an ankle monitors.

  12. Ian Welsh


    agreed on much of that and have written articles related to that issue. For example, the failure of the post-war liberal elite to create successors.

    Iraqi reconstruction failed for a ton of reasons, but I think the best is summed up as “anyone stupid enough to do the Iraq war, was too stupid to do it smart.”

    Smart competent people would never have invaded in the first place, and certainly wouldn’t have occupied the country. So the policy self-selects for incompetence.

    As for how to make countries work, I can tell you how to do it. But it’s like a recipe: first get the ingredients, and the ingredients include control and a people who want that type of country (and world, because most countries don’t have the necessary freedom from the international system.)

  13. The mental models of insiders is not particularly interesting to me.

    What is more interesting, even baffling, are the mental processes and constraints of insiders, especially of putative reformer-activists, that make them so completely incapable of honoring their avowed intentions.

    I’ve written about a half dozen diaries with titles including the phrase “the plutocrats are laughing at you”. Rather than link to them (some are probably not available, as the earliest ones were only at firedoglake), I’ll link to a more recent diary of mine, which flogs the same basic theme, sarcastically, Anti-TPP “Activists” blow 400 Conch Shells, Defeat TPP Henchmen Representing 40% of World GDP

    I suspect a combination of learned helplessness, cooptation of leaders, and fear of failure is involved. Amongst other factors. (On fear of failure: If you define success as blowing 400 conch shells, well then, by God, what I think of as the farce in Hawaii was a rip-roaring success! Getting rid of self-delusions involves facing the fact that the overall goal – defeating TPP – is as remote as ever. And that may be extremely painful for some people to deal with.)

    So, in the spirit of confession, allow me to confess that I’ve completely failed in MY anti-TPP efforts, also, insofar as I unambiguously define (as recommended in the book “9 things successful people do differently”) my interim goal as getting enough volunteer effort to knock out a pro-democracy, anti-plutocracy, anti-TPP web application that I have been designing, within a month. Heck, even within 2 months might leave enough time to propagate its use, even if the vote is in about 90 days.

    Not only have I failed to gain a single volunteer, I haven’t even gotten any answers to my requests for aid. (I’ve probably sent about 40-50 such emails.) Not even a negative response….. (Regarding which, I was listening to Gary Null’s show on, today, and he spoke about emails from/to activists getting spiked by censoring software, of the sort deployed by China. So, maybe my failure has gotten some ‘help’….)

    In case anybody is interested, I’m talking about what I call “Voter’s Revenge”. I have some reasonably pretty pictures of what it would look like, if actually coded and hosted, at

    My latest thinking is to try an push it as a business. While I’m typically underwhelmed by so-called “activists”, the entrepreneurs I’ve met at tech meetups typically have a much more “can do” attitude. The book “The Lean Startup” is sort of a cult favorite within their ranks, so “pivoting” as often as necessary (away from failure, hopefully towards success) is not something you’d have to argue with them about.

    “Voter’s Revenge” is what I call a negative vote bloc application (also a “posse”), and the only positive vote bloc application that I can recall, that’s been implemented and used, was by a for-profit company. I’m talking about votizen. Votizen is not currently available (it was acquired by, then buried for reasons I have no knowledge of). There’s a very good intro to votizen’s capabilities still up on youtube, here:

    Well, enough about my current failures. If anybody can recommend entrepreneurs with $$, who are interested in saving the vestiges of democracy, feel free to point them in Voter’s Revenge direction. (Almost all design artifacts are online, so they currently don’t need me for anything. I may or may not suppress an intitial seeding with code, since entrepreneurs tend to prefer IP protection, which is sort of the opposite of the open source model that I’ve been pursuing. BTW, the code that I have posted at github is just Visual Studio boilerplate code, somewhat rearranged.)

  14. metamars

    “What is more interesting, even baffling, are the mental processes and constraints of INSIDERS, especially of putative reformer-activists, that make them so completely incapable of honoring their avowed intentions.”

    Yikes, what a gaff! I meant:

    “What is more interesting, even baffling, are the mental processes and constraints of OUTSIDERS, especially of putative reformer-activists, that make them so completely incapable of honoring their avowed intentions.”

    The insiders of a corrupt machine, are, practically by definition, part of the problem. Activists are supposed to be part of the solution, but when it comes to fighting the plutocracy, they’re about as effective as one can reasonably expect a conch-shell blower to be.

    The question (which interests me) is WHY? How do they justify being so clueless? And what psychological factors can possibly predispose them to their clueless-bubble-world?

  15. Jessica

    If some of the advanced economies were run intelligently and the US leadership was alone in its stupidity, then analysis of that leadership would make sense. However, looking at how the EU handles its economy, or the Japanese theirs, I would say that bad leadership extends through the entire first world. The reason is that the entire power structure evolved to run industrial economies, but first world economies now are driven more by knowledge than by capital/infrastructure. At least since Reagan/Thatcher, the folks running first world countries have been in plunder mode, with each fragment of the elites taking whatever it can. They no longer have the capacity to function as a whole for any purpose other than one: to defend their zombie rule and to prevent any successor system from arising.
    To the extent that Russia and China are run a bit more intelligently (not humanely, but more cunningly), that is because they have not yet completed building out the infrastructure of a first-world nation and so the same type of industrial capitalist system that is completely obsolete here still has a bit of shelf life there.
    By the way, how China handles its current economic difficulties will show whether they still have an elite capable of building their nation (or getting everyone else to do it to be more precise).

  16. Jeff W

    “What is more interesting, even baffling, are the mental processes and constraints of OUTSIDERS, especially of putative reformer-activists, that make them so completely incapable of honoring their avowed intentions.”

    I wonder about that also. Why do activists in Hawaii blow conch shells while, meanwhile, striking Air France employees at the company headquarters are literally ripping the clothes off of the backs of the executives?

    I don’t think the answer is “learned helplessness, cooptation of leaders, and fear of failure.” (Cooptation of leaders might play a role in the decline of labor in the past 40 years.) I think it really is something along the “mental models” (although I thoroughly despise that term itself) that Ian suggests: one part of the “mental model” is that demonstrations (or, lately, “occupations” which is, to me, even less effective) are “the way protest is done” (Ian calls it “Showing Up and Playing Nice”) and another part is that those in power are “supposed to” be responsive to the demands made by others—if enough people “show up” and “voice” their opinion loudly enough, well, something’s “got to” happen. If nothing does, well, that’s “the best we could do.”

    If that is, in fact, the thinking, I’ve never understood it (and maybe neither do the French). I was not at all surprised, for example, when, after about 200,000 people protested in Hong Kong in 2014, tycoon plutocrat Li Ka-shing said that, while he “understood the ‘passionate pursuits’ of Hong Kong students,” they should “return home immediately.” (It’s sort of a protest-as-therapy model—getting what you want is out of the question; the best you can hope for is being “heard” and “understood.”) Millions can stand on their heads and whistle—everyone can marvel at the “right to protest”—but no one in power will budge until he or she is directly affected (assuming those in power do not themselves want to make the change).

    That actually gets to Ian’s point about “insiders” and “outsiders,” rewards and consequences—or, to put it in more behavioral terms, those who arrange the contingencies (the “insiders,” i.e., those with wealth, power or both) do so so as to get reinforced (e.g., get “rewarded”); the fact that others (the “outsiders”) are subject to adverse consequences of all sorts (e.g., substandard working conditions; degraded, polluted environments; layoffs, recessions, “austerity”; demeaning treatment; lousy quality of life, etc., etc.) is largely irrelevant, if not wholly invisible, to them. (The “mental models” of the “insiders” may take all those adverse conditions, if they are acknowledged at all, as evidence of that the “insiders” are somehow doing the right things and the “outsiders” are somehow doing the wrong things.) Only by bringing some adverse consequences to bear on the insiders—Ian likes shunning and shaming but I imagine ripping a few shirts off has its effect—can the outsiders hope to bring some influence to bear on the situation. That hasn’t made it very far into the “mental models” of lots of activists, maybe—although it did, apparently, for marriage equality activists—but things can change.

  17. JustPlainDave

    metamars, potential participants are not receptive to your project because it fails to understand the principal attraction of branding oneself as an outsider – it’s *easy*. If one is an outsider all one has to do is say loudly and longly that the insiders are idiots and doing it wrong. If one is an insider, one has to embrace the whole greasy enchilada all the way from morals, through ideology, to implementation, mitigation of externalities, etc. Asking outsiders to act like insiders without an extensive social movement framework, based only on interaction with an app – tough sell.

  18. *rings victory chime for JPD*

    Bingo. The problem isn’t having right ideas, it’s having an idea of what to do when you can’t quite implement your right ideas, and more importantly, convincing everyone else that you have an idea of what to do when your ideas are not precisely implementable.

  19. Hugh

    As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in Moral Man and Immoral Society,

    “The moral attitudes of dominant and privileged groups are characterised by universal self-deception and hypocrisy. The unconscious and conscious identification of their special interests with general interests and universal values, which we have noted in analysing national attitudes, is equally obvious in the attitude of classes. The reason why privileged classes are more hypocritical than underprivileged ones is that special privilege can be defended in terms of the rational ideal of equal justice only, by proving that it contributes something to the good of the whole. Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold. The most common form of hypocrisy among the privileged classes is to assume that their privileges are the just payments with which society rewards specially useful or meritorious functions. ”

    I have problems with the word “conditioning” because, to some extent, it lets our elites off the hook for their crimes and misdeeds. The whole edifice of elite power and privilege rests on the often falsified notion that they know more, and more importantly, better than the rest of us. Elites that can not perform lose their reason to exist. It doesn’t matter if they were “conditioned” or if they are “self-deceived”. It is not about what they know, or think they know, but what they, as those who know “better” than we do, should have known. Hoocoodanode is the one defense elites can never legitimately use since it reduces them to the rest of us. I think though that Niebuhr touches on the one point which undercuts any argument for elites. They not only put their good ahead of ours. They substitute their good for ours. And because they maintain they are so much smarter than us, they can not argue that they did not know this is what they were doing.

  20. markfromireland

    Somewhat apposite as we’re talking of models and folks what use ’em.

    Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science
    Joris Luyendijk
    The award glorifies economists as tellers of timeless truths, fostering hubris and leading to disaster

    Read in full: Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science | Joris Luyendijk | Comment is free | The Guardian

  21. S Brennan

    Don’t let the “Nobel Prize” fool you?

    Uhm…there is no “Nobel Prize” in economics, for decades, economists and their puppet masters begged the Nobel Committee to no avail. So…what is a bunch of fraudsters to do when they can’t make the con? That’s right, you double down…and start awarding yourself fraudulent awards. “Nobel Prize” economists are no different than those who claim that they are black when they are not.

    But in the US media, the aforementioned puppet masters also own all the media outlets, the fraud is abetted and so, the American mind is filled with the nonsense coming from the mouths alchemists, astrologers and economists.

    Lying liars telling lies 24/7/365

  22. Ian Welsh

    None of the social sciences are, indeed. Economics is worse than most of them, in my opinion, because economists tend to think they are, and they model much more formally. That magnifies errors .

    Plus neo-classical economics is just BS. Its axioms are observably untrue: people aren’t rational, don’t maximize utility (assuming utility is more than a metaphysical quality), and so on.

  23. metamars


    another part is that those in power are “supposed to” be responsive to the demands made by others—if enough people “show up” and “voice” their opinion loudly enough, well, something’s “got to” happen. If nothing does, well, that’s “the best we could do.”

    I agree that this is a delusion amongst some of the clueless activists. But what percentage of activist, and the public in general, are so naive is unknown, and I doubt it’s even a large minority.

    A seminal event in the evolution of my thought on the question of what could constitute effective activism followed from my experience protesting the imminent Iraq invasion under Bush the Lesser. Congress had recently voted to authorize the use of force, and so I knew we were going in, as the Bush Administration was instigating the whole thing. The demonstration was in Washington, I had less than $200 in my bank account, I had a sprained knee, and the fix was already in.

    It turned out to be the 2nd largest anti-war demonstration, but no Republicans showed up (though they lived in town), and perhaps 1 or 2 Democrats (I can’t recall, exactly). Unlike my extremely humble circumstances, our “public servants” were getting paid well over $100K/year. And yet, they couldn’t be bothered showing up. Certainly, they weren’t short of cab fare….

    The Republicans and Democrats just waited out the demonstrations, doubtless not pausing at all in pursuing their true agendas.

    I’m not against large demonstrations, per se, and in fairness, we should recall that they were key in ending the Vietnam War. The question for TODAY, though, is “Do they work TODAY?”

    They might conceivably work if the public kept repeating them every 2 months, say. But even then, not tying them to elections, is just plain stupid. As Randi Rhodes used to put it, “Election day is the one day of the year (or two) that YOU are the boss.”

    Just like the “insiders”, apparently, I tend to look at these questions on a cost/benefit basis. The cost for going to Washington, D.C., from Princeton, NJ (my point of departure), was a day’s worth of time, and something like $35 in bus fare. For protesters coming from California, the costs in time and $$ are much higher.

    Now, what does it cost to cast a vote? 1 – 6 hours of time, and no money, whatsover.

    As I’ve said before, the public is FABULOUSLY rich in votes, and the corporations are worse than dirt poor in votes – in fact, they have no votes, whatsoever.

    So, where were the activists who were organizing voters to “take out” the warmongers during their next primaries? Nowhere to be seen amongst my contingent from Princeton. Nor, that I can recall, anywhere else in the large crowd that garthered in Washington.

    Some such activity subsequently occurred, notably by MoveOn, but it was basically a ruse by Democrats, as we found out.

    Where are the real peace activists, who aren’t pawns of the Democrats? Where are the real anti-plutocracy activists, what aren’t Trojan horses of the plutocrats, themselves?

    I find them to be conspicuous by their absence. I suppose we should give honorable mention to the Green Party, but I find their efforts to grow their ranks, outside of elections, to be grossly inadequate. (In fairness, I don’t follow them. OTOH, I don’t SEE anything in public venues, here in NJ, from their existing base.);

    So, in summary, I think you correctly identify a existing strand of naive thought in a fraction of activists, and in an even larger fraction of the population, in general. However, the activists are supposed to be the moral ones, whose function is analogous to an immune system. Are they not, in fact, morally obligated to be as clever as possible? Are they not morally obligated to try and come up with the best strategies for changing the system (a completely different affair than just allowing people to blow off steam)?

    These are the people that annoy me the most. Our failure is a collective one, and the public, and I’m not sympathetic to viewing the public as solely victims of the heartless plutocrats. They are also guilty of not exerciZing their democratic rights, in the pursuit of “a more perfect union” and being, what the ancient Athenians called, in the context of their democracy, “idiotes”. (From which we derive “idiots”).

    Ah, but the activists are supposed to operate at an even higher moral level than your average, run of the mill Joe.

    If you agree that they are thus morally obligated to be clever, then I think you have to agree that they have failed.

    And again, the question remains, why? I certainly cannot entertain the idea that the so-called “activists” are really naive enough to believe whatever rot about ideal American democracy is taught in grammar school.

  24. metamars

    @ JustPlainDave

    Well, speaking for myself, an identity as “outsider” has no special drawing power. I assume it has no special drawing power on most people.

    I think most people also don’t aspire to being “insiders” (a pretty disgusting lot, collectively, as it is). However, they have basic needs and desires (health care, being able to afford decent food, good schooling for their kids, take a modest vacation, etc.)

    The TPP will affect their ability to maintain a middling quality of life, and devastate the opportunity to pass on to their children those same capacities.

    That, IMO, should be motivation enough for sincere activists, as well as, say, the more civic minded 1/3 of the populace, to look for a way out of their increasing marginalization.

    Having said that, it certainly would be easier if whatever existing social movements exist here in the US, were early adopters.

  25. Jeff W

    Thank you for your response.

    I agree that this is a delusion amongst some of the clueless activists. But what percentage of activist, and the public in general, are so naive is unknown, and I doubt it’s even a large minority.

    I get where you’re coming from but what’s the alternative theory? You took part in the second largest anti-war demonstrations in US history. There were 100,000 protesters in New York and protests around the world. What did any the people who took part in those protests think? If they weren’t thinking that, in some way, the powers-that-be would be responsive to their actions, what were they doing there? If the fix was in and the Democrats and Republicans did not pause at all in pursuing their agendas—and I agree with all that—what was the theory under which all those people were protesting? What was supposed to happen? (That’s not a rhetorical question.)

    Ian said, in that post I linked to in my first comment, “When all those people show up, all their names should be being gathered, local lodges should be being created, and so on. So far that hasn’t been done.” Certainly, some sort of ongoing mobilization for purpose of causing “pain” (not physical pain but the sort of discomfort that forces people to act) would seem like a good idea. If there were some mobilization, we might have seen activists organizing voters to “take out” the warmongers but that doesn’t seem to be—to get back to the topic of the post—part of the “mental model” of how demonstrations work. Perhaps it should be but it’s not.

    Sure, activists are “morally obligated to try and come up with the best strategies for changing the system,” I guess, but they’re subject to whatever constraints their “mental models,” their environmental histories (their “conditioning”)—not to mention time, energy, and resources—imposes on them. I don’t view it as a moral failing (although it might be that also)—it’s really a behavioral issue. If someone is used to pursuing Strategy A—“that’s how activism is ‘done’”—it’s difficult to think of pursuing Strategies B, C, or D, even if those strategies might be more effective. (Obviously, there are other factors—organizational issues, territorial turf battles, egos and all that—but I’m saying the constraints of one’s own “mental models” would be enough.)

    And you’re right—people vote and corporations don’t. But if, on the one hand, people get to vote, in terms of candidates or policy, only for A or A′, rather than for something very different—or if they can’t even imagine something different—and, on the other, voting is set up kind of like a Prisoner’s Dilemma, where a majority of like-minded voters might risk splitting the vote, tossing an election to some candidate or policies not preferred by the majority (which is the perennial argument against voting for a third party), then, in essence, yeah, people have the vote but the deck is stacked very much against them getting what they want.

    Demonstrations and voting are supposed to be ways in which to effect change—that’s what people’s “mental models” say—but they can’t, at least not in the way they’re supposed to, because (1) “the system” is responding to something else (in one word, money) and (2) in the case of voting, “defecting” to a third-party outside the system means you might end of with something you really don’t want. It is utterly and completely a behavioral issue, although it is usually not framed like that. I think people’s “mental models” are changing; the Occupy movement, the record-low voter turnout in the midterms of 2014, the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US—are indications that people are not just not satisfied with the status quo—they’re not satisfied with the usual explanations of why the status quo is what it is (e.g., it’s the other party’s fault).

  26. Spero Larres

    If they weren’t thinking that, in some way, the powers-that-be would be responsive to their actions, what were they doing there?

    While I don’t remember the exact timeline, I don’t think that Congress authorized the use of force more than a short amount of time before the demonstration that I participated in. Thus, speaking for myself, I thought there was a chance, before the authorization of force, that demonstrations might work. Thus, I can easily grant such a viewpoint to others.

    That is a very different situation from well after that demonstration, and even more different from farces like the 400 conch shell blowing “activists”, in a resort town of Hawaii with population less than 2,000.

    It’s hard for me, in 2015, to understand how anybody can expect large demonstrations working (at least if they’re only as numerous, or less numerous, than the demonstrations against the Iraq invasion), in large part because of that recent history. As for why anybody might still think so, you’d have to ask them. Probably, if they actually THINK about it, they’ll have to admit that demonstrations would have to occur at least as much as during the Vietnam War, and they’d probably have to be much more disruptive (shutting down cities, e.g.).

    In light of research showing that government is of, for and by the richest 3%, and the fact that incumbents were re-elected with over 90% success in the last election, it becomes harder STILL for me to fathom any such belief.

    Of course, if anti-Iraq-size-and-frequency marches won’t derail something like TPP, how anybody can expect that conducting farces like the 400 conch shell blowers (SIMULTANEOUS blowing, though it be!) would make a fig of difference is completely beyond me.

    I’m still baffled. (Mind you, this would be a welcome research project, where researchers sit down real-life activists and make them explain themselves. I’d like to see that done, in large enough numbers to be statistically significant, but I certainly am not going to attempt that.)

    In the book “Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” (highly recommended, BTW), we learn that increasing skill levels in many fields are largely due to improved training methods, which are the product of evolutionary trial and error processes.

    The “activists” not only show little sign of learning anything – as far as I can discern, anyway – which we would be tempted to take as an indication of them being being so naive that they also believe, in 2015, that

    in some way, the powers-that-be would be responsive to their actions


    This is a clearer indication of some sort of mental aberration, that baffles me.

    I have previously made some points about the incompetence of American activists, which seems to spiral endlessly down the toilet bowl, instead of evolving and adapting in the direction of greater competence, in a diary called “Towards Mobilizing Successful Activism Against the Plutocracy”

    A few quick examples of the appalling lack of poiltical strategizing by reform-minded citizens (across the political spectrum):
    1) Failure to recognize and/or teach the relative ease of disrupting Democratic and Republican “business as usual” electoral activity during primaries (the mathematics of the relative ease of defeating an incumbent during a primary, as compared to a general election, can be understood by a 12 year old child.) Note that disrupting Democratic and Republican primaries doesn’t preclude voting 3rd party in a general election. Note, also, that while voting for a non-incumbent does not mean that his/her replacement is any better, it can demonstrate a degree of political muscle that lays the groundword for even more muscular electoral action in the future. As the public’s electoral muscle grows, it can force the election of decent candidates.
    2) Failure to use existing internet technologies as organizational tools. See, e.g., the quotes above about’s use of mapping to facilitate local introduction and organization of reform minded citizens. Learn about the use by Beppe Grillo – an Italian comedian – of the use of facebook to spark his political reform movement’s growth.
    3) Failure to study and appropriate the lessons of many Latin America nations in taming a far more repressive plutocracy than we have in America, and then to propagate those insights to the public at large. Oliver Stone, in his film “South of the Border” was told “There is a new actor here – the social movements”.
    4) Failure to drive the approval ratings of the Democratic and Republican parties into the toilet – not necessarily with a view towards benefitting 3rd parties, but with a goal of forcing otherwise complacent citizens to pay more attention to the political process; and thus to force more reform candidates into the 2 parties as well as to facilitate the growth of 3rd parties. A (somewhat unambiguous) subgoal to the goal driving the D/R ratings into the toilet: Educate at least 35% of the American public about the techniques used to frustrate reformist forces that do arise within the D/R parties. See this diary, by John Emerson, about Karp’s “Indispensable Enemies”

    in the case of voting, “defecting” to a third-party outside the system means you might end of with something you really don’t want.

    The issue of vote splitting needs to be taken head on, and Voter’s Revenge does take that on, via it’s requirement to recommend an alternative candidate based on random input to a non-biased algorithm (which doesn’t prohibit outside-the-main-VR-system-organizing for a desirable candidate). From Updated: Prepare to Ride! Web Application Specs to Take Down the Plutocracy: “Transpartisan Negative Vote Bloc” aka “Posse”

    • The system will not favor any alternative candidates, except on a purely random basis. (The reason to favor a single, alternative candidate, on a random basis, is to avoid vote splitting.) Randomness will be guaranteed via an algorithm which is published well before the determining, random event which it will use to seed the algorithm, and thus select a challenger. (An example of such an algorithm: the integer remainder of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, at closing time, on the 5th business day before Primary Day, divided by the number of official challengers in a given race. The candidates will be ranked alphabetically, and the candidate whose alphabetical rank matches the integer remainder of the DJIA will be the randomly selected favorite challenger of the system.)
    • The system will not attempt to prohibit discussions by posse members to favor a particular challenger, but may segregate such discussions (if, indeed, it supports such discussion within the system at all, say via forum or threaded comment section). Of course, the system has nothing to say about what discussions posse members have outside the system, respecting their freedom of speech, and freedom of association.

    In spite of the above, I’m sure that a positive and negative vote bloc system would play very well, together. You’d have to create a “wall” between the two, and just incorporate what I’ll hastily describe as a narrow, but visible gateway between the two websites.

    When the public learns to flex enough of it’s collective political muscle such that desirable candidates stand an excellent chance of winning, via utilizing positive vote blocs, fine and dandy. Until such time, voters can just leverage their participation in negative vote blocs, throw monkey wrenches in the well oiled Democratic and Republican election machinery, and start to put the fear of God into incumbents.

  27. Carolina

    “I know someone who worked with Cheney and believes that Cheney honestly thought that removing Saddam would make the world a better place. Also (and the person I know is a smart, capable person) that Cheney was very smart.”

    I believe this is what we in our family call “Smart in class; dumb on the bus.”

    Our kids already know the difference.

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