Angels on pins

I’ve argued before that those who don’t believe in HBD are creationists.

In a similar vein, if this argument or this argument is fundamentally different than an argument about how many angels can fit on a pin, I’m not sure how.

Pour yourself your favorite drink and enjoy. This is modern society, apparently no more sophisticated than it was many centuries ago.


10 Responses to Angels on pins

  1. dearieme says:

    It all depends whether it’s a dressmaker’s pin or a joiner’s pin. Obviously.

  2. Handle says:

    There’s a great section in Justice Souter’s dissent to Gratz v Bollinger. The context is that it was argued that Michigan could get all the racial diversity it wanted (something “legitimate”) by doing a Texas-style “top 10%’ers” plan, and without specifically considering race individualistically (kinda sorta illegitimate) and checking the numbers with whether they achieve some kind of cloudy critical mass race quotas (supposedly illegitimate)

    In contrast to the college’s forthrightness in saying just what plus factor it gives for membership in an underrepresented minority, it is worth considering the character of one alternative thrown up as preferable, because supposedly not based on race. …
    While there is nothing unconstitutional about such a practice, it nonetheless suffers from a serious disadvantage. It is the disadvantage of deliberate obfuscation. The percentage plans are just as race conscious as the point scheme (and fairly so), but they get their racially diverse results without saying directly what they are doing or why they are doing it. In contrast, Michigan states its purpose directly and, if this were a doubtful case for me, I would be tempted to give Michigan an extra point of its own for its frankness. Equal protection cannot become an exercise in which the winners are the ones who hide the ball.

    Au contraire! “Deliberate Obfuscation” is clearly an advantage and “Hiding the Ball” is how they get it done.

    The point is, though, that you actually can’t blame the advocates for making these nonsensical arguments, and it’s not really fair to call them “creationists”. They know the facts as well as you or I do. It’s The Court that has written the rules of this discussion, and makes them talk in this incoherent way.

  3. James says:

    (*Check typo in the title.)

    Sailer quotes Dalrymple approvingly:

    In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. … I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

    I disagree. Firstly, rulers have an incentive to prevent the ruled from coordinating their actions, and common knowledge makes coordination easy.

    I’m quite sure that “affirmative action” is foolish. I might suspect that, say, 80% of people with IQ>130 think ill of “affirmative action”—but I’m less confident about this. My estimate, and confidence in it, of how many people think that I think that they think that “affirmative action” is foolish is even lower. But if Harvard professors were to raise their hands and admit that “affirmative action” is retarded, these estimates and my confidence in them would all shoot up to 100%. In that case, the best means of rebooting the government would be more evident, and my confidence in this project’s success would be higher.

    Even in the last months of WW2, as defeated German soldiers were streaming back from the front lines, there were amongst them many who still believed in Hitler, and that he was planning a surprise counterattack from deep within the country. It’s really difficult to be sure of other people’s beliefs, in the absence of common knowledge—even when one’s own beliefs about some notion are very certain.

    Another reason why our rulers won’t admit the stupidity of “affirmative action” is that in general, they have little incentive to fight falsehood. I’m beginning to realise that “Ruler X acts as though he believes Z, even though Z is clearly false” is not to be remedied exclusively by furnishing society at large with eloquent disproofs of idea Z.

    Consider the following model of human terminal goals:


    Status is the subjective sensation of being in a position of power over other people. In the ancestral environment, this meant having privileged access to women, resources etc., and the ability to obtain the support of the majority in a dispute. Today, this sensation may or may not entail a significant amount of real power. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo has very high status, due to e.g. public adulation, but lacks commensurate ability to influence the lives of arbitrary citizens.

    Impact is the sensation of actually exercising power. For example, Krugman has impact when the Fed implements his ideas, and Blair’s desire for impact was sated by his involving Britain in the Iraq war (war is one area in which elected politicians, or at least the PM, still have significant power). Obviously, impact is only possible to the extent that someone has real ability to influence people’s lives in a predictable way (if only via money). High status is satisfying in itself, but a professional sportsman might find his achievements on the field or in the ring to be inconsequential, and therefore seek impact e.g. by founding a charity or school, entering politics or becoming a manager.

    Deontology is rationalised emotion. For example, most people experience a compelling emotion when someone treats them inequitably, or they see someone else in their in-group being treated inequitably. The rationalisation is, “That’s unfair”. This rationalisation is taken, by naive people, to be a sufficient motive for action: “Phenomenon Y is unfair, therefore we must prevent Y from happening”.

    Hedonism connotes extravagance, but in this context it refers to all pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance activities, e.g. obtaining an attractive partner. Status and impact-seeking are varieties of hedonism, but prominent enough that it is sensible to highlight them separately.

    Nepotism means care for family and friends.

    Utilitarianism denotes care for other people outside one’s family and friends, i.e. strangers. This may be care for everyone within some limited nation, or for all humans or sentient beings, or for some weighted combination thereof, and one’s measure of welfare may be (like mine) “pleasure – pain” or something else.

    • Foseti says:

      Thanks. I really shouldn’t blog in the evening

      • james wilson says:

        “Is the voracity of discussion indeed so insatiable as the appetite of the grave?”, asked Russell Kirk. “Three checks upon the empire of unbridled discussion seem possible; the deliberate revival of the concept of traditional wisdom, the growth of public boredom with talk and with change itself, and the coming of catastrophes which teach men to distrust their own opinions.”

        Catastrophes we get, but every conservatives should know to leave the boredom of talk to the left.

  4. James says:

    That these six high-level terminal goals adequately model human motivations is relatively uncontroversial. A more controversial claim is that the first five heavily predominate, in most human brains and in everyday circumstances.

    This doesn’t mean that most people are psychopaths—but it seems to me that outside close relations, most people’s idea of “benevolence” is far more deontological than utilitarian. They may wish to be fair to strangers and to respect authority, but to reason in a deliberate, consequential way from the terminal goal “increase everyone’s welfare”, whatever that may entail, is uncomfortable and unusual.

    A problem in our societies is that power is spread very thinly, amongst a plethora of bureaucrats, professors, media workers, NGO employees etc. None of these people’s individual activities have a drastic effect on the life of the nation. Thus, their utilitarian sub-agents remain shut out—in most people, utilitarian goals only predominate in grave circumstances (e.g. when deciding whether to launch a nuclear strike).

    The incentives of the average professor do not encourage him to confront egalitarian mistruths and absurdities. This won’t do his status and impact any good. The gradual leftward shift of the Overton window is an implicitly recognised Schelling point for those who already have status and power. If to push the Overton window leftwards implies “affirmative action” craziness at this point in time, then to combat “affirmative action” is to challenge the ruling class’s Schelling point, which has numerous powerful stakeholders, however little they may care for the policy itself. Hedonic and nepotistic incentives, for those who seek employment in academia, the media or the civil service, are similarly furthered by endorsing the status quo, and thereby achieving respectable employment rather than being shut out by others whose status, impact, and jobs are at stake.

    This leaves deontology. On a small scale, deontology corresponds quite clearly to some behaviours rather than others. For example, if I take 2/3 of the cake and give you 1/3, when both of us have contributed equally to procuring it, I am obviously being unfair, and therefore (according to deontology) I should do differently. Deontology is likely to coincide with utilitarianism (given some TDT considerations), in circumstances such as these.

    However, in the evolutionarily novel environment of markets, politics and massive populations, deontology can bend to serve almost any cause. Material inequality is unfair, therefore communism. Or, rights-infringement is unfair, therefore libertarianism. Or, racial inequality is unfair, therefore affirmative action. An unfortunate mental equilibrium therefore emerges in most people: deontological goals (and by extension, catharsis of moral emotions) are satisfied by having them adapt to the needs of status, impact, hedonism and nepotism. Thus, deontology provides only a weak barrier to the malign influence of these other four terminal goals. This involves a degree of self-deception or “flinching” from uncomfortable truths which, it seems to me, is well within the capabilities of most people.

    It is unrealistic to expect human nature to change. Therefore, the objective of utilitarians should be to encourage the growth of institutions and a political structure that channels the other five high-level terminal goals in a responsible, utilitarian direction. Average bureaucrats and professors cannot be expected to practise a high degree of ongoing, self-abnegating utilitarianism for endogenous reasons, so they must be placed in circumstances that align their status, impact and wealth with utilitarian outcomes.

    An alternative is to concentrate power in one person. A dictator knows that his individual actions have profound consequences, so his utilitarian sub-agent is somewhat empowered. As long as the dictator’s utilitarian sub-agent is of average prominence or better, and he is wise, he is likely to govern benignly. But there remains the bad emperor problem, wherein the dictator is succeeded by a person whose utilitarian sub-agent, or wisdom, is unusually lacking—this problem lacks a convincing solution.

    The two methods can be combined, if the first stage of the governmental reboot is a strictly limited period of dictatorship by a person reliably judged to be benevolent and wise, during which a renewed apparatus of bureaucratic-constitutional-democratic government is installed, the institutional decay from many decades of non-utilitarian subversion having been lustrated.

    tl;dr: however stupid affirmative action may be, there are two reasons why the ruling class is running with it:

    1. To admit mistakes, however egregious, is a misstep in the game of political power: public knowledge creates vulnerability.

    2. Diffuse sovereignty turns government into a coordination game. The incentives of an individual member of the West’s ruling class, given the state of today’s institutions, are furthered by shutting out everyone who doesn’t conform to a certain Schelling point. The Schelling point is: push the Overton window leftwards. (Of course, this isn’t a random solution: since intelligence is highly leverageable in modern civilisation, and neurological leftists—those whose deontological impulses are particularly egalitarian and universal, rather than authoritarian and racist—are more intelligent on average than neurological rightists, most people with a crumb of power are leftists. Status, impact, hedonism and nepotism are apolitical, but deontology isn’t infinitely flexible.)

    At this moment, affirmative action is an obvious next step in the leftward progression (which may ultimately lead us off a cliff). Members of the Cathedral probably believe in negro smarts and “affirmative action” as much as Lenin believed in communism, i.e. not very deeply, but just enough to keep deontology on side.

  5. SOBL1 says:

    If the Ivies have the best and the brightest, then only the ideologues who are power hungry believe in AA. The non-ideologues might talk that game, but their study groups will be full of Asians and Jews. If they get a black project partner, they bitch and moan about it. Considering how few blacks/hispanics are at Ivies and confined to several safe majors, it is a miracle if the libs interact with any in class at all.

    • James says:

      No, the ideologues who are power hungry do not believe in AA. Or rather, they believe in it about as much Carla Bruni believes in socialism. If the power-hungry ideologue’s sister’s life was at stake on his providing the correct answer, he would almost certainly say that racial achievement gaps are due primarily to intelligence. However, absent such grave circumstances, humans are amply capable of self-deception, flinching from the truth and compartmentalising.

      People can’t decide to deceive themselves, but they can certainly deceive themselves unconsciously.

  6. It isn’t like ‘angels on a pin’ because the arguments about the nature of angels among scholastics was *honest*.

    What has been transcribed here is dishonest.

    The situation in implementing race preferences is of course very simple and straightforward: some (self-assigned) races are given preference in almost all selection and allocation procedures.

    The complexity, the ‘scholasticism’ comes purely from dishonesty; not from the situation being described.


    Those who ‘do not believe in HBD’ – evolutionary adaptation within the human species, are *not* creationists – because most creationists believe in adaptation. As do all farmers and animal breeders, and doctors and scientists working on infectious disease resistance.

    Creationism is about the origin of forms/ species – not about adaptation – and not all those who dispute that natural selection explains the origins of form are religious.

    From Aristotle through Goethe, D’Arcy Thomson and CD Waddington and so on to the modern theorists of choas, complexity, fractals etc; there is a school of biology that argues there are a fixed and finite number of forms underlying species, and truly new forms cannot be evolved.

  7. Bell-mare says:

    “I’ve argued before that those who don’t believe in HBD are creationists.”

    It’s interesting to note that from a historical perspective, this statement is essentially literally true.

    The main driving force behind the abolitionist movement was evangelical christianity; people who took the Bible so literally as to mean that the slaves really were their brothers, and so that enslaving them was an affront to human dignity.

    (We’ll ignore the part about how the Bible was written in a slavery-normative period of history and, while its authors would certainly object to certain excesses in the institution, certainly never condemn it entirely)

    The main driving force behind creationism was, you guessed it, evengelical christianity; people who took the Bible so literally as to conflate Genesis with Geology.

    And these really were the same people, give or take a generation. The best illustration of this fact are the respective careers of William and Samuel Wilberforce:

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