Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Arnold Kling: the significance of Dunbar's number

Arnold Kling writes:
"Referring of course to the Dunbar number that marks the boundary between small-scale society and large-scale society.

The public operated in the sub-Dunbar sphere. You were concerned with your own family, friends, and co-workers.

The elite managed in the super-Dunbar sphere, running government and large organisations, including mass media. The public knew that the elites were out there, but the public felt no direct connection to the elites. When elites contested with one another, the public were largely bystanders."
There's a lot more at the link.

Kling is a libertarian economist who thinks in terms of models applied to an amorphous social reality. This makes him an over-reductionist. The right way to think about society is:
  1. Social formation - society as it concretely presents itself.
  2. Mode of production - which generates the class structure and social dynamics.
  3. Human nature - which defines the human elements from which behaviour originates.
Orthodox Marxism gets (1) and (2) right and ignores or misunderstands (3), hence its utopian perspectives.

The more enlightened bourgeois intellectuals like Kling think the world is constituted from (1) and (3) and forgo a class analysis - we see ahistoric, universalist categories such as 'public' and 'elites'.

Kling is better than most, though. The orthodox neoclassical economists simply present patently ideological models of (1), with (2) and (3) being replaced by the atomised egoists of homo economicus. Steve Keen is not a Marxist but his critique of this is not inaccurate.

The idea of the Dunbar limit is a powerful one. It allows the concept of nationalism to be approached without misleading ideas that it's either an empty illusion (a logical consequence of neoclassical economics) or that it's some reactionary antithesis to an ideal state of perfect global compassion and universal love. We can safely leave the latter to the overly religious, the social-liberals and SJWs.

In practice people care about their immediate circle, people they know individually and find they like. They care about the concept of their nation insofar as their co-nationals conform to an ideal of behaviour: one which they believe - with substance - buttresses the stability of the institutions and relationships which guarantee their security and their way of life: an ideal-supertribe of generally-amicable 'us'.

There is a lot to be said about a correct theory of nationalism, and how relevant, useful and indeed functional the phenomenon may be in the 21st century.

But without Dunbar's number the analysis doesn't get very far.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

'The Fifth Wave' by Martin Gurri - new blog featured here

New blog on the sidebar: 'the fifth wave' by Martin Gurri. As often cited by Arnold Kling's blog.

"The same unmodulated whine about present conditions circled around and around, without even the ambition to achieve wit, depth, or originality:
    The internet is the enemy:  of rationality, of democracy, of truth.  It must be regulated by enlightened minds.

    The public resembles an eight-year-old who is always fooled by tricks and lies.  For its own protection, it must be constrained by a Guardian class.

    Populism is the spawn of lies.  Even if it wins elections, it is never legitimate, and must be swept away by a higher authority.

    Climate change is a scientific mandate for torturous economic and political experiments, implemented by experts. To deny this is worse than error – it’s a crime against humanity.

    Hate speech, offensive words, fake news, deep fakes, privacy violations, information bubbles, bitcoin, Facebook, Silicon Valley, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Brexit:  all must be controlled, criminalized, exploded, broken up, exposed, deposed, or repeated until the right answer is obtained.
None of this was up for discussion. None of it was uttered with the least semblance of self-awareness.  In the same breath, a speaker called for the regulation of the web and the education of children in “tolerance.” If I had pointed out the contradiction, the speaker, I’m certain, would have denied it.  Tolerance, for her, meant the obliteration of opinions she disliked.   ..."

So long, Marianne .. and Michele

Albert Einstein wrote the following, in a letter of condolence to the sister and son of his long-time closest friend, Michele Besso, upon his death, four weeks before Einstein's own (18th April, 1955).
"Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
Leonard Cohen wrote an emotional final letter to Marianne Ihlen, the woman who inspired his “So Long, Marianne” and “Bird on the Wire,” just days before her July 29th death.
‘Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.'
She died two days after receiving it; he died three months later.

There's quite an art to the final goodbye.

Leonard Cohen's work is a Rorschach diagram, a  mirror to your own pre-occupations and persona and signalling needs .. .

Friday, July 19, 2019

The cline of fearlessness

There are many class-gradients across capitalist society: income, wealth, power, intelligence, health, genetic load.

Let me add another one.

Life within contemporary bourgeois elites is perhaps the safest it has ever been anywhere. Disputes are not normatively settled by inter-personal violence. Coordination is via transactions not threats. There is a premium to being generally affable rather than intimidating.

(These are rules - there are individual exceptions which are normally deprecated).

This suggests that capitalism as a complex self-reproducing system selects - in a biological sense - for smart, high-trust, non-violent individuals in its elites. People who are the opposite of the suspicious, family-and-clan-oriented, rough types who were the success stories of pre-capitalist elites.

In a word: capitalism selects for liberals. Who have smaller amygdalas.

Surely this explains a lot?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

We are too slow and thin

We see phenomena as separate which are really one thing. So electrostatic forces of attraction and repulsion versus magnetism. They are projections of a deeper unity in SR.

We cleave apart the time and space components but not symmetrically. If the unit of time is the convenient second, the corresponding unit of space is the light-second, 300,000 km.

This is the scale of stars, not people.

When we separate space and time we find the new, partial phenomena are related by a factor of the speed of light squared. Thus magnetism is weak compared to electrostatic forces; Newton's gravity captures time-curvature, ignores spatial-curvature.

We are spatially-narrow and temporally--large (light years!) and we move slowly in the galactic frame.

No wonder we see the deeper reality skewed.

The purest view of the universe is surely from the viewpoint of the photon. Yet for itself, its proper time is zero.

How can it even exist?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Capitalism is for wimps

File under speculative.

In the days before capitalism (feudalism etc), productivity was static, the Malthusian trap operated and the economy was zero-sum. Basically if you could grab it, or could network well so that you and your mates (normally male kin) could grab it, you were ahead.

This placed a selective premium on males with superior aggression and leadership/followership qualities (such as loyalty) - and females who thought that men with such attributes were good prospects.

There were always wimps of course. Alleles which determine personality, body morphology and aggression are scattered across the autosomes (the 22 pairs of chromosomes which are not X or Y, sex-determining). Many men will have had more feminine bodies and less aggressive demeanour.

Undoubtedly there was also a measure of balancing selection. Wimp niches.

Nevertheless, on aggregate, these were very masculine-feminine gendered societies. Shakespeare's plays give us a clue. How uncomfortable they feel these days!

Don't get me started on the Bible.

Capitalism, dominant over the last centuries, lives in a world of contracts across time and space. Individual capitalists are quite weak: they can't force their customers to buy from them, they can't eliminate the competition by force. (That doesn't stop them trying sometimes, but the system depends upon the majority not succeeding and not even trying: three cheers for effective competition).

What does capitalism select for?
  • Intelligence - the ability to conceptualise abstractions
  • Affability - getting along with strangers
  • Lack of physical aggression - can't do business with guys who beat you up.
Here is the real story of the so-called 'feminisation of society' which has been blamed on the women's movement and feminism. Capitalism's very requirement for feminine psychological attributes has called forth feminism to articulate the roles which women can - and are encouraged to - fill.

Gay men also find many niches, particularly in the media and in areas of high social-interaction.

As manual, blue-collar  work recedes to zero this trend will surely continue. I was looking at the candidates for the next Tory leader and prime minister: Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart.

They'd all be classified historically as wimps.

Has there been time for capitalism to have significantly changed allele frequencies (wimpier men, more assertive women) to optimise psychological fit to its functioning?

Hell, yes!

We're talking about the bubble here, the ruling elite. Not the whole of society. Offspring diffuse in or out.

Outside the bubble, the masses sometimes look like a different species.


I'm using the term 'masses' here as a synonym for those people not part of the 'smart fraction' (qv). IQs less than 105, say, .. and not so prosocial. It's no accident that politicians such as Trump, Farage and Boris Johnson, who have some rapport with the masses, are never plausibly characterised as wimps.

Wimp-language, aka bubble-speak, characterises them as populists, monsters, unstable, anti-intellectual, uncontrolled.

Sadly, the masses don't seem that impressed by the blueblood wimps.

Will this toxically-masculine breed of populist politicians find a new incarnation of capitalism which can bind the Caliban-Morlock masses back into the fraying project? A new and more successful Blue Labour? Or a socially-conservative one-nationism?

It should be an interesting few years.

Humorous titles of philosophy works

Listed here. I have extracted some titles for you.
  • David Enoch, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice If p, therefore p”, Utilitas (2009)
  • Peter Unger, “I Do Not Exist”, in Perception and Identity (Cornell, 1979)
  • Neil Sinhababu, “Possible Girls”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2008)
These papers are generally hidden - gated - but I thought it might be worth writing a mini-post on each of them.

Remind me to.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Forget Boris, it's Gove vs Hunt

Consider this scenario. Boris is one of the final two and wins the leadership election in the party-at-large on a policy of Brexit for sure (I think this means on WTO terms or something like it). Parliament doesn't agree and passes a no-confidence motion. There is an election.

A wavering-leave Tory Party is squeezed between the Brexit Party .. and the Labour and Liberal Parties, all of whom come out for Remain. They hoover up the votes of Conservative Remainers. Despite all of Boris's alleged rabble-rousing charms, the Tories are decimated: welcome to the new Lib-Lab-SNP government.

If Boris prevaricates in October, the Brexit Party continues to grow: a slow motion version of the above.


Boris is not the strategic thinker to get out of this hole. Logically therefore, he should not be one of the final two.

Hunt is surely the Remainers best bet. Smart, media-friendly, politically adroit.

He met with Trump - normally the mark of a supposed-winner.

Gove, once he gets past his immediate Class-A difficulties, is more Brexiteer-friendly, more ballot credible, a sop to the party-faithful. His problem is that he's too cerebral for these populist times. He doesn't look like a prime-minister: he's better cast as best-friend.

So logically, the process should return Gove-Hunt for the further party-ballot in the hope that either of them has the intellectual and political skills to navigate the very survival of the Tories where no solution currently presents itself.

Will Tory MPs see it that way, or will they panic and put Boris on the list - hope against hope that empty charisma will by some magic pull them through?

See the title of this post.


Note: this is an analysis of the best options for an intelligent Tory party interested in long-term survival. It does not represent my personal opinions as to who would be best PM.

None of the above would be a start.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Who does the dirty jobs?

On June 7th 2019 Daniel Finkelstein wrote this in The Times:
"A Jeremy Corbyn supporter makes the case for ‘fully automated luxury communism’. Daniel Finkelstein tries to take it seriously

What is socialism? I don’t mean what is it against, or what is its objective. I mean what is it? How does it work? Let me give an example. Under socialism, who works in the human resources department of the organisation that makes the ink that is used on Twix wrappers? Why do they? How much do they get paid? Who decides that? Do we still make Twix? Why?

"In more than a century there have been millions of socialists and millions of words written about socialism, but none of them has provided a convincing answer to any of those questions. All we have are dozens of practical attempts to introduce socialism, each one a disaster. And each one disowned once it has collapsed. The problem isn’t that socialism doesn’t work, you see, so much as that we have never really tried it."

What is capitalism's answer to this question which is, to be precise: who will do those necessary jobs that people won't do voluntarily, without compulsion.

Capitalism's answer is the existence of a class of individuals who lack the means to provide a living for themselves - and who thereby need to work as directed by their employer.

Not everyone can live off benefits as some mythmakers seem to believe.

Obviously Daniel Finkelstein does not propose himself to do that HR job - he enjoys his work.

But the Twix-ink-HR thing is still just a tedious job, something currently done by a protoplasmic robot of medium cognitive skills known as a white-collar worker.

The brutal answer is that socialism has nothing to do with this issue. It's capitalism that will eventually succeed in displacing that unreliable, idiosyncratic, over-emotional human in favour of an automated, infinitely-replicable system with the physical/cognitive skills to emulate - or more likely improve upon - that HR guy's performance.

Mr Finkelstein should read his own newspaper (The Times June 10th 2019):
"Tengai robot is just the job as an unbiased recruiter

The world’s first recruitment robot is said to have many of humanity’s qualities but few of our faults.

Tengai, built in Sweden, has the social skills needed to put job candidates at ease, apologising if it interrupts, asking them to take their time, and gently asking questions again if an answer is vague or beside the point.

Yet it will not discriminate because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, background or appearance. Nor will it do what many human recruiters do, subconsciously favouring a golf-playing applicant if they themselves love golf.

“It was very important for us to have a recruitment process that was free from prejudice,” said Karl Öhlander director of Upplands-Bro council, northeast of Stockholm, which last week became the first organisation to use Tengai to help to fill a post, in IT. “We all have lots of prejudices but the robot stops these from getting in the way.”
Mr Finkelstein's own job will probably hold out for a few decades further, although his usual tendentious style of reasoning seems amenable to automation.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Another Bucket List item ticked off

So far I have ticked off two of my life's bucket-list items:
and today I can add a third one:
  • Calculating the advance of the perihelion of Mercury in General Relativity (2019).
Admittedly the calculation was choreographed by the extremely friendly "Exploring Black Holes: Introduction to General Relativity" by Edwin F. Taylor, John Archibald Wheeler and Edmund Bertschinger. [Now out of print, but PDF chapters are available here - they auto-download].

The book uses algebra and calculus rather than tensors, and bases itself on the Schwarzschild metric rather than Einstein's field equations.

The Schwarzschild metric (Taylor and Wheeler)

So that is some hand-holding! Nevertheless the conceptual analysis is clear and the result comes out, despite approximations, pretty accurately.

I did the calculations!


Why does the elliptical orbit measurably precess? Because the metric isn't sufficiently flat at Mercury's orbital radius. As Mercury approaches the sun at perihelion it ventures into more deeply-curved spacetime. Locally radial distances increase and time slows.

Mercury dwells longer here than Newton thought.

Here's the PDF of the chapter on Mercury's anomalous precession.

While it dallies, its constant orbital momentum is still swinging it around the sun. When it laggardly rises, it's moved farther around than it thought. The ellipse-axis has advanced.

Now I see it.


What other items do I have on my bucket list? I have one, but it's secret.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Positioning The Brexit Party

The Brexit Party came second yesterday in Peterborough with 29% of the vote (on a low turn-out). Labour won with 31%. Labour and Conservatives dropped their votes from the previous election by 17% and 25% respectively. The Brexit Party has, of course, only existed a few months.

Newspaper reports suggest that the Brexit Party is positioning itself as a socially-conservative vehicle for the skilled working class. This is, I suppose, where Labour was in the nineteen fifties. There have been a flurry of economic reports showing how unconstrained immigration of low-to-medium-skilled workers undermines pay-rates and crowds indigenous workers out of housing in metropolitan areas.


It's easy to be mesmerised by the rolling masses of the liberal-left who propel Labour's Momentum wing, and who have flocked to the Liberal party and the Greens in the face of Labour's Brexit angst. They are clearly a sizeable electoral block, energised by the decay of the neoliberal project which once promised them glittering lives in a new, modern, rewarding, creative, hi-tech borderless world like something out of 'Friends'.

'Friends' with benefits, you might say - but now without them.

Stagnant economic growth underpinned by enduring poor profitability has eroded such prospects, although the dream lives on.

Curiously, it's the leftist déclassé professionals who are conservative, hearkening back to a roving, atomised Euroglobalist vision which has receded to an elite only and will not return. Change UK?


Those less-skilled workers, abandoned by Labour, are looking for new solutions. Will they find them?

If British capitalism is not going to coalesce into some pan-European economy then it will have to seek its alliances elsewhere. America beckons. It's the only other choice given patterns of trade and capital flows.

From a newly-nationalistic America (Trump is a symptom, not a cause despite all the noise from US liberals) the UK as a tied vassal-state on the borders of the EU is useful. It's their plan B in a struggle against China, Russia and occasionally Europe itself.

In such an alliance structure, the free movement of labour and the general dominance of Euroliberal ideologies are no longer so salient. Social-conservatism has some space to gain a purchase, reflecting the more communalist needs of those tied to actual places: towns and cities. The Brexit party has somewhere to grow into here, which could absorb the Brexit wing of the Tories which speaks to similar concerns and interest groups (there is a national bourgeoisie of smallish companies in the UK who are pro-Brexit or agnostic).


There is equal space for a socially-progressive liberal-left party (to use their own preening self-description). This is probably what Change UK thought they were doing in their more intellectual moments. In reality much more horsepower is needed to break apart existing party institutions.

But an assemblage of Labour (after disposing of its working class base) together with George Osborne-style Tories and non-sandal-wearing Liberals could make up a community of like-thinkers on the left. Its lack of real-world options beneath the rhetoric could drive it mad, though.

Perhaps we end up like America: Trumpish-Republicans vs. rainbow-alliance Democrats:  Farage/Johnson vs. Corbyn/McDonnell.

Do you like what you see?

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Note found in a bottle

Wandering the beach in late spring I found a bottle lying negligently, wedged between two rocks. Inside was this badly-stained note, no doubt the last words of a suicidal leftist, a final message to an uncaring posterity.

I guess pomposity, long-windedness and earnest seriousness are typical of such moments and such people.


"Some people think ideologies and theories succeed in dominating the popular imagination because they are true.

A cursory look at the culture wars and the dominant memes of the liberal mainstream media show that to the contrary, ideas are taken up and weaponised to programmatically advance the interests of this or that faction.

Much identity politics (which has almost completely replaced Marxist class analysis) is there to rally this or that elite faction and their allies in an ongoing battle for their greater privilege.

Well-educated, aspirant white liberals protest vehemently against 'racism' .. to rally 'minority ethnic' forces behind their own efforts to get more of the elite pie.

No empirical study of root causes is ever undertaken, vociferous moralism is what's needed.

The lack of sub-Saharan 'heritage' individuals in the top echelons of liberal bastions (TV, the broadsheet press) testifies to the hypocritical instrumentalism at work here.


Marx said humanity only sets itself problems it can solve:
"Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation."

Karl Marx 1859, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.
What did Marx mean? That if a social transformation was going to happen, it could happen. The solution would present itself and be compelling to the masses; a promise of a change for the better which would be actually delivered, in some way. This was what happened in the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the destruction of absolutism.

Intellectuals can imagine many things, including many utopias disconnected from the recurrent practices which constitute social reproduction.Such utopias are, by definition, unrealisable; if attempted they lead to unforeseen and baleful consequences.

Mass political and economic organisations are a response to the problems posed to the masses by the ups and downs in the fortunes of capitalism.

Social-Democratic parties are easy to explain, and historically pervasive (until now, with the atomisation of the organised working class).

Communist Parties, with their utopian perspectives, are not stable and succumb: either to putschist vanguardism or social-democratisation. Strangely, they never quite vanish.

Today, in the decaying period of the pure neoliberal project, we encounter the lowest levels of class consciousness in the masses ever encountered. The contemporary politics of protest is the politics of a resentful fraction of the proletarianised middle class, abandoned in relative 'gentile poverty' by the super elites. The tragedy of the left has been to confuse this politics of identity and entitlement with a genuinely anti-capitalist movement.

Never was the accusation of petit bourgeois opportunism more apt!

... I suppose at some level it hardly matters what happens to these mobile blobs of protoplasm, each with their own set of self-indulgent, self-serving confabulatory narratives .. but while a shred of humanity remains there will always be struggle .. ."


I wondered if I should give this bottle with its pathetic message to a museum or something, but decided to chuck it into a municipal waste bin instead.