Archive for the Category Social trends

 
 

The poor, the sick, the sad, and the lonely: Blaming the victims

Most people will want to skip this post, but it’s something I need to get off my chest. One unfortunately aspect of the internet is that it lifts off the lid, and exposes all the dark sides of human nature. One of those dark aspects is the urge to blame the victim.

1.  The sick

If you follow sports, you will eventually come across a case like Derrick Rose, or Kawhi Leonard. These are players that suffered severe injuries, and had trouble getting healthy again. At some point medical science is no longer able to identify the problem. They look healed but they still felt pain, which got worse when they played. When that happens, sports reporters start whispering that it’s a mental thing, that these players are weak. This despite the fact that when healthy, these men were among the toughest in the league, willing to mix it up with much bigger players under the rim. We get frustrated that they aren’t healed yet—and that the problem cannot be identified—so it’s their fault. (This year it’s Markelle Fultz who is being picked on.)

Medical science may be impressive, but there is still a great deal that it doesn’t understand. If you go to the doctor and complain about chronic intestinal pain, there’s a good chance that he or she won’t be able to pinpoint the problem. Indeed there are lots of things that cannot be identified in X-rays or blood tests, including severe back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine headaches, and dozens of other illnesses. We get frustrated with people who have these hard to pinpoint problems, and label them “hypochondriacs.” Or we say they have a low threshold for pain—as if anyone knows the pain felt by another person. Yes, it’s true that the pain is “all in their head”, but that’s equally true of someone suffering pain from a “phantom limb”, and someone who has their hand on a hot stove. Where else would the pain be?

2.  The sad

It’s even worse with mental illnesses. People suffering from depression are told to just “snap out of it”, or think positive thoughts. They are viewed as losers.

3.  The lonely

There has been recent discussion of “incels”, people who are celibate but who would prefer to be in a romantic relationship. The non-lonely often tell them to just “lower their standards”, as if they had never thought of that. Or join a church. Please, just stop. Even worse, one prominent pundit implied that tech firms might want to get rid of these awful people. After all, one incel in Canada murdered some people.

4.  The poor

Like you and I, indeed like almost everyone, poor people often make bad choices. But the last thing they want to hear is someone telling them what they did wrong. Consider a young woman at the bottom of society (in terms of looks and education). Her life is pretty bleak, with only a few men to choose from. Having a child would provide some meaning to her life. She finds the best man she can, but in the end he walks out on her, leaving her a poor single mother. Or maybe he beat her and she walks out on him.  Sure, she might have been able to stay slightly above the poverty line by becoming a low wage, childless, “incel” worker with nothing in life to look forward to; but not everyone can live that way. Yes, poverty is bad, but being physically ill, mentally ill, or lonely might well be worse.

I understand that there are people out there who are deserving of blame. Think of the famous case of the worker who is on disability for a bad back, but is discovered out skiing. (Or Trump with his “bad feet“.)  These people exit. But unless you have clear evidence pointing in this direction, do not blame victims for their plight. Just don’t do it.

If I were to generalize, I’d say that the biggest mistake made by conservatives is to view the unfortunate as “losers” who are to blame for their plight. In the case of incels, both the left and the right piles on.

On the liberal side, the biggest mistake pundits make is to rank people by how much sympathy each victim deserves. Don’t tell people that their suffering is less bad than someone else’s. YOU DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE IN THEIR SHOES. For all we know, the most miserable person in America might well be a billionaire. These pundits base their opinions on social science, whereas they ought to spend more time reading great literature.  There’s more to life than money.

HT:  Scott Aaronson, who has a much better post.

The truth that dare not speak its name (or perhaps two truths?)

There’s a very good new post by Benn Steil and Benjamin Della Rocca that explains why the BOJ does not emphasize the exchange rate channel in their monetary stimulus:

In September 2016, the Bank of Japan adopted a new strategy to boost the flagging Japanese economy: “yield curve control,” or YCC. The aim was to widen the gap between long- and short-term interest rates, by keeping shorter-term (10-year) government bond (JGB) rates at 0%, as a means of encouraging bank lending. . . .

BoJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has trumpeted the policy’s success in boosting lending. As shown in the bottom left figure, though, lending did not increase because of the mechanism underlying YCC—that is, a widening of the gap between what banks pay to borrow funds short-term and what they receive from borrowers longer-term. . . .

What happened, then? After YCC was announced, the BoJ’s pledge to hold 10-year JGB rates at 0% pushed bond investors to find yield outside Japan. . . .this caused the yen to fall sharply, which boosted exports. . . .

[S]hortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, the Obama administration admonished Japanese authorities for public statements calling for yen depreciation. Abe and Kuroda learned the important lesson that one may only target the exchange rate if one does not speak of it.

Off topic, I don’t often blog on the Lucas Critique.  I wonder if anyone has commented on its applicability to the concept to sexual harassment.  Suppose that over a period of decades society does not take charges of sexual harassment very seriously.  In that environment, there may well be very few false claims of sexual harassment.  However if policy changes in such a way that accusations are presumed to be true, and also result in severe consequences, then the Lucas Critique predicts a sizable increase in false accusations.

That does not mean that harassment charges should not be taken more seriously than in the past, and also result in serious consequences.  (On balance I think they should, despite the Lucas Critique problem.)  Rather it suggests that this is not an easy black and white issue.  There is almost certainly some degree of presumption of guilt that would be counterproductive.  Imagine a world where everyone (and I’m including men, as this group is also sexually harassed fairly frequently) could destroy the lives of anyone they disliked.  No one would want that kind of world, which means that no one who claims that accusations should always be believed is telling the truth.  We are all skeptics, it’s just a matter of degree.

The world (and especially the internet/media) is like a giant high school, where we are all expected to conform to popular belief.  When that consensus changes, we are expected to dutifully fall in line.  I transferred from that high school to utilitarianism when I was in my 20s.

PS.  Here’s Scott Alexander:

About 30% of the victims of sexual harassment are men.

It’s too late Mitt

Here’s the latest

The Republican National Committee is following in the footsteps of President Donald Trump and supporting Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, according to an RNC official.

Gee, I wonder why they changed their minds?

And here’s Mitt Romney:

Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.

It’s too late Mitt.

Meanwhile the President’s press secretary is asked whether Trump thinks Muslims should be banned from Congress, and is unable to answer the question.  She doesn’t know the answer.  Let that sink in.  Too bad they didn’t ask her whether Trump thinks gays should be put in prison; I’d guess she doesn’t know the answer to that question either.

PS.  Steve Bannon opposes immigration from Asia because he believes it might change our culture, by which he means white culture, not American culture.  (Blacks and Hispanics don’t count to white nationalists).  Even before the election we can be pretty sure that a large majority of white Alabamans are going to vote for Bannon’s preferred Senate candidate, a guy who has said that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress and gays should be put in prison.  I know quite a few Asian immigrants, indeed each Saturday morning I hang out with about 40 of them.  And I can confirm that they do not share the culture of whites living in Alabama.  Unlike Bannon, I see that as a good thing.  I am happy that Asians keep pouring into the country.  I look forward to our culture changing.  And there’s nothing Bannon can do to stop it.

PPS.  The deficit is about to get much bigger:

The deficit will hit $1.05 trillion in 2019 and $1.1 trillion in 2020, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, if Congress passes the tax cut legislation it’s currently negotiating, along with disaster relief and other measures meant to avert arbitrary limits on spending established several years ago. The tax cuts alone would add about $150 billion to the deficit each year, on average, with other likely changes pushing that up by another $25 billion per year, or so. Deficits will only get larger, unless there are major cutbacks in spending or new taxes in the future.

I can’t wait to see the GOP bring about “major cutbacks in spending”.  The deficit was $585 billion in Obama’s last year in office.  Recall how the GOP insisted that Obama’s deficits would bring down our economy?  Now the deficit is about to explode during a period of economic expansion, when deficits usually fall.  Hey, what could go wrong?

Ideologies follow the tribe

Here we have conservatives defending a guy who molests teens:

A group of 53 Alabama pastors signed onto a letter pledging their support for alleged child molester and Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Update:  The Newsweek story may be fake news, as elsewhere it’s reported the letter was from months ago.

And here we have a conservative at the National Review who is uneasy with left wing attempts to censor art:

HBO is at this moment streaming Hacksaw Ridge, a film by Mel Gibson, who in 2011 pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an ex-girlfriend who had alleged that he had assaulted her so viciously that she was left with a black eye and two broken teeth. HBO has no policy, as far as I know, against distributing movies starring Christian Slater, who once served 59 days in jail after pleading no contest to assaulting a girlfriend. The films of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Roman Polanski remain ubiquitous. Hollywood history is rife with personalities who have done much worse things than C.K. and whose films have not been subsequently suppressed.

So what’s going on?  Weren’t conservative pastors supposed to be the sort of people who condemn this type of behavior?  And isn’t it people on the left who used to strongly defend artists from censorship?  (Corporate or government)

Here’s one possibility.  Conservatism is moving away from religion and toward the cult of the strong.  Conservatives take increasingly pleasure in mocking the left as a bunch of sensitive snowflakes.  Sexual harassment is seen as a “feminist” issue.  Conservatives are increasing drawn to “alpha male” leaders, even if they have a history of abusing women.  When I was younger, that sort of man (Kennedy, Clinton, etc.) was usually thought more likely to be a Democrat.  Republicans were seen as nerdy types.  Now a major GOP presidential candidate brags about the size of his . . . er . . .  “hands” during a debate, and a Senate GOP candidate brandishes guns at campaign rallies.  A House candidates assaults a reporter, and is still elected.

On the left it’s a different set of issues.  The left once liked intellectual types who were unconventional, and didn’t want to live according to boring suburban morality.  Now people like Woody Allen and Louis CK are reframed as powerful white men who take advantage of less powerful women.  It’s a point I make repeatedly—there are no fixed definitions of left and right; ideologies evolve over time, and will continue do so in the future.  Who knows, maybe liberals will once again embrace eugenics.

You might say that the 53 pastors are not representative of conservatism, and the liberals who want to ban films are not representative of the left.  Maybe so.  But I recall just a few years ago hearing about a fuss over Halloween costumes at Yale, and thinking it one of the most bizarre stories I had ever read.  Now (just a few years later) hysteria about “cultural appropriation” is widespread on the left, and indeed is being taught in public schools all across the country.

Never assume that just because something seems outlandish it won’t eventually become conventional wisdom.  And history shows that it’s the outlandish ideas on the left that are most likely to persist.  The right generally loses these cultural battles, at least in the long run.  Which ought to cause some soul searching on the right.

The GOP moves sharply to the left on pot

Just when you think that you have politics figured out, you learn something new.  Vox has a post showing that support for pot legalization is soaring, from 23% in the 1980s to 64% today—and the rate of increase is actually accelerating.  Much of the recent increase comes from Republicans, where support for pot legalization has soared from 34% to 51% in just the past three years.  That puts the GOP to the left of many (most?) left-wing politicians, even in liberal states like Massachusetts:

How can we explain this?  It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Trump, who opposes legalization and picked a reactionary Alabama drug warrior as his AG.

There are thousands of people in prison for marijuana crimes.  The public understands that these people shouldn’t be there, but the elites still won’t give in.

Some day we’ll look back on this the way we look back on Jim Crow laws, and wonder, “What were the elites thinking?”

PS.  Watch the comment section.  Two or three people will say “Yeah, they shouldn’t be in prison for pot, but they might have committed other crimes, so it’s OK.”

PPS.  Good to see more and more GOP senators speaking out on Trump (Corker, McCain, Flake, etc.)  Almost all GOP senators have total contempt for Trump, it’s just that we only hear from those who aren’t running for re-election.

PPPS.  For the first time in my life I understand the Joe McCarthy era.

PPPPS. When the next terrorist bomb goes off in Europe, I’m going to have to work really hard to avoid thinking that they deserve it.