Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hypocrites stand up for Liars! While others hold out for truth...

= Hypocrites abandon all pretense of supporting competitive markets = 

Amici-curiae-cato-instituteOhio has a law on the books that criminalizes "lying" (as determined by the State) in political discourse.  In opposition, P.J. O'Rourke and the Cato Institute have filed what one observer calls "the funniest -- and possibly best -- amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court, ever."

Yep… maybe, to today's snarky-smug cynics it's "best," but I'm getting tired of this fellow who has spent his life ridiculing any standard of decent behavior, no matter how loosely applied.

Sure, there was a long stretch in my youth when giving the finger to "standards" was a necessary phase and boy did we boomers take to it!  The most self-righteous generation in history used our mighty Power of Indignation to take on all sorts of stodgy, repressive authority: right on!  Breaking ancient taboos that ranged from racism and sexism to uptight "morality" over normal human libido… a whole industry burgeoned around the ethos of "screw you dad!" And in large measure -- despite his heroism against Hitler and all that -- Dad had it coming.

But self-righteousness can become a nasty habit and it is currently poisoning America, in particular.  Moreover, it just downright stupid to claim that there are NO standards that decent people might universally apply.  Like "don't deliberately harm people."  And "don't repeat deliberate, out-and-out lies that you've been confronted with, countless times and that you know damned well to be false."

Cato-HypocrisyIn denying even that extremely loose and generous definition of "lying," P.J. O'Rourke's credibility is like the so-called "libertarian" "scholars" at Cato, an intellectual brothel, bought and paid for by an oligarchy that hires mouthpieces to concoct rationalizations and excuses for an oligarchic putsch that will end real competition, real capitalism, real competitive enterprise and real freedom. We'll say anything you want, oh masters who pay the bills.

They fulfill what has become a complete (and unnoticed by media) betrayal of Adam Smith and the American founders -- who knew very well one core fact: that the truest enemy of freedom and fair competition has seldom been civil servants.  Across 6000 years, most of the time, those good things were routinely crushed by cabals of cheating, competition-suppressing owner-feudal lords. The same caste that Smith and the Founders denounced.

In this particular case, it's no wonder that O'Rourke and Cato snark and sneer and ridicule -- calling today's tsunami of organized lying "part of political discourse." The ability to lie without consequences is fundamental to the Koch-Murdoch-Sa'udi campaign to destroy American aptitude for pragmatic negotiation and instead stoke Civil War. (In fairness, it was part and parcel of the far-left, back when they were the most looming threat to freedom. Even today, the left spawns something called "postmodernism" that also denies the existence of any kind of verification or truth.)

No scientist would ever have any truck with such nonsense.  Nor any medical doctor, teacher, journalist or any of the other clades of knowledge who are declared to be enemies by this new Know Nothing movement. Yes, much in life is contingent, arguable, unproved or at least tentative, but the crux of science is that we build a hierarchy of improving models.  And there comes a point where we can say "that's simply false."

Cato-O'Rourke-Fox-News-Supreme-CourtThe Big Liars' goal - to make slander and deception consequence-free - has a perfect illustration: Fox is the only "news" outlet ever to sue not for protection from inadvertent errors or accidental falsehoods but from any accountability for relentlessly repeated and knowing lies.

Oh, the snarks by Cato and O’Rourke can be funny and indeed, they have a point. As illustrated in Kurt Vonnegut's classic satire "Harrison Bergeron," law-centered “solutions” to human deficiencies in character are inherently problematic.  Naturally, one can concoct a worst-case version of an anti-lying law to ridicule as an example of statist-meddling, thought-policing and nanny-finger-wagging prudery. O'Rourke is really good at skewering that sort of thing.  We boomers specialize in sarcasm. (And our vastly better kids will make a great world, when our sanctimonious boomer asses shuffle off this mortal coil.)

But that is not how anti-deception laws would work in any real America, and O'Rourke knows it.  Any such law would have to put stiff burdens of proof on the accuser that an assertion was deliberately public, known to be factually false, that the perpetrator had ignored repeated confrontations with the truth, and that the perpetrator was abusing a position of public trust.  Moreover, the sliding scale of penalties would consist almost entirely of retractions.

Indeed, one potentially great outcome would be public fora for weighing factual evidence, as I describe in my Disputation Arenas paper. Looseness is an essential feature of American life and no one will go after internet polemicists bandying stupid-ass untrue jpegs.

But there has to be a backstop!  A point where relentlessly repeated lying by media hits a wall called Proved Truth. A point where the resulting shaming actually reduces the public credibility of the Goebbels-level Big Lie machines, out there.

That sort of thing will not suppress discourse.  It will sway discourse toward something we used to be good at.  Conversation.  Fair argument.  Debate.  Comparison of real evidence. And, ultimately, a word that the Murdochians do their best to rail against, hobble, cripple and destroy… negotiation.

Only dig it... the whole thing will soon be moot as technology provides us with actual, bona fide lie detectors.  They aren't here yet, but as this article shows, researchers are zeroing in.

== A Miscellany of much smarter people… ==

…than the Cato sellouts surrounds us!  Let’s start with a woman who is incredibly American. "A California woman who applied for American citizenship had her application rejected because she identified herself as a “conscientious objector” who will not bear arms for the United States because she objects to war on secular moral grounds." She wrote: “As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out,”  so, let's see -- taking a self-righteous moral stance on abstract principle, knowing that (1) the matter is of moderate memic importance and (2) that she'll actually suffer very few negative outcomes…?  Yep. She's already a real American. Proud to keep her.

Is MJ Harmless?  I have always liked California's outspoken, slightly weird but fantastically effective Governor Jerry Brown. He so often hits the nail on the head. "California Governor Jerry Brown said he is not sure legalizing marijuana is a good idea in his state because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned."

Oh I can hear howls from most of you, out there. And mark me: it is terrific that we are finally moving away from the insipidly insane and counterproductive Drug War!  Marijuana is a lesser problem and should be treated as a minor vice, compared with so many others. And yet…

… those who go too far the other way and say it is not a vice, at all, are coo-koo birds.  Sure, as with alcohol, millions can use it once a week with no deleterious effects. And even habitual users aren't dangerous to others, the way alcohol abusers can be!  And yet… those who deny MJ's one major down side are hypocrites or blinkered fools.  For a large fraction of heavy users, it is an Ambition Destroyer.  It mellows guys down below the energy level it takes to get up and get innovative-transforming work done.  You all know guys like that.  And just because MJ is not the problem that puritan idiots said it was… that doesn't mean it's not a problem at all… one that we should keep thinking about.

And you can see the common theme with my screed about the mockers of all standards (above).  Just because a prudish system was 90% wrong, don't compound the travesty by ignoring the 1% that was core and right.

Is the "age of the gun" as the Great Equalizer over?  See a thought-provoking argument that the past 700 years have been the Age of the Gun - when barely-trained infantrymen were the basis of military power. Says Chris Phoenix: "The implication I see is that Enlightenment ideals may have been based on, or at least supported by, the fact that a fairly small amount of work and training could create an army out of ordinary people.  But a quadcopter-mounted gun beats an infantryman.  So what happens, socially, when the leaders no longer have any fear at all of the people?"

Jefferson-rifleMy answer: It all depends.  This assumes that citizen militias cannot have quasi equivalent quadcopters. An Orwellian state would make sure of that.  But an Orwellian state does not mix well with the ethos that still reigns in the civilian population from which the military draws its recruits.  (The Animal House ethos that P.J. O'Rourke embodies.) Which makes it very hard to make a cohesively repressive occupying force, or a very large coterie of defection-free henchmen.  See this illustrated in the 2008 film about drones called SLEEP DEALER.   And in my own novel EXISTENCE… and in this discussion of "The Jefferson Rifle."

Oh, but finally… These guys are a hoot!  The "New Monarchists" actually dare to show their faces… as we near the anniversary of the week when two microcephalic grandsons of Queen Victoria ignored every plea by real statesmen and plunged the world into a war from which today, a century later, we are still recovering.  Indeed, these guys are focusing especially on the Romanov (czarist) house and even suggesting Putin marry into it for legitimacy!

Oy!  Talk about microcephalic!

Want an irony?  My short story "The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf" makes the argument for a mild constitutional monarchy better than any of these guys do! So does Robert Heinlein's DOUBLE STAR.  And mind you, neither of us really believed it!  I mean Gee Wiz, if you're going to make a case for the preposterous, at least make it sound vaguely plausible.


david.j.mercer said...

Teachers have truck with ALL KIND of nonsense. I take it that you haven't been anywhere near an elementary school in the midst of Diversity cheerleading madness recently?

Shane said...

Any such law would have to put stiff burdens of proof on the accuser that an assertion was deliberately public, known to be factually false, that the perpetrator had ignored repeated confrontations with the truth, and that the perpetrator was abusing a position of public trust

Given the propensity of prosecutors to go after anyone for anything they can find a law to leverage against them, I'm very reluctant to support your idea that there should be any law against lying beyond the slander/libel that we have.

I just got done reading (Balko @ the Washington Post) about how the executive branch aggressively uses the banking laws regarding deposits over/under $10K to go after people who are innocent of causing any harm. Even if such people are ultimately acquitted, the resources spent fighting are devastating.

I can just see some incumbent politician using their influence over a DAs office to basically hammer a challenger with lawsuits over supposed lying.

Brother Nihil said...

It seems that you celebrate innovation and competition uber alles – what we might call the "Satanic" values. What makes these so sacred to you? Where is it written that we must "get up and get innovative-transforming work done" every day? A great many people would prefer to live in a more stable, mellow society that doesn't celebrate constant disruptive change -- isn't that much saner and healthier? I think your mentality is quite extreme, though you like to present yourself as a voice of moderation. What drives you to moralize in this way so relentlessly? Life is very short and we're all headed for the same place; I don't see the value in being so neurotic!

As far as postmodernism and the Englightenment go, I find the latter to be somewhat of a fraud in view of the former. Weren't those early Enlightenment philosophers operating from a Christian worldview, according to which there was a divine order to the cosmos that human reason could discover? Isn't progressivism rooted in Protestant (indeed Puritan) notions of human perfectibility and salvation? If the universe has no objective purpose or designer, then Enlightenment notions of progress become arbitrary human inventions, as subject to deconstruction as any others. The Enlightenment Cult may prevail because it has the biggest guns with which to exterminate its enemies, but let's stop pretending that it has some kind of superior moral status. That's just "Whig history" and propaganda.

Alfred Differ said...

The Enlightenment philosophers most attached to the idea that there was a divine order that could be understood through human reason were mostly from the Contential tradition. The Scots varient to which Adam Smith contributed was much more empirical and not wedded to the notion that humans would understand it. Some were atheists to boot. Painting the Englightment as a monolithic philosophy is not only incorrect, it suggests a reader has little experience with the source material.

When it comes to what a great many people want, I have no doubt they would like a more stable, mellow society. Push that too far, though, and it becomes a stagnant society to which many of us have objections. There ARE people in the world who will settle for that, but give them a chance to make the lives of their children better and you'll see just how selfish they can be when it comes to wanting innovation and competition. 8)

Howard Brazee said...

I'm not sure that having marijuana illegal is a good idea, because we lose our competitive edge by having so many prospective taxpaying workers in very expensive prisons.

David Brin said...

Brother Nihil you are aptly self-named. It would be one thing if you lived in a shack off the grid and were not gladly, ungratefully (and hypocritically?) utilizing all the benefits of freedom, science, market dynamism, and eager-beaver creativity …

… in order to snark and sneer and express contempt for all of those things. Ultimately, what you postmodernists try to do is demote science to "just another incantation" amid the hilarious irony that in so doing, you are wallowing in a soothing and self-serving… incantation… that bears no relationship to what science is… or why it works so vastly better than any incantation-based system.

Yes yes, by all means, toke away and snarl at us. We makers have made the world rich enough so that we can afford lots of guys like you. One out of ten-thousand actually come up with a snark of criticism that is new, original, on-target and thus useful!

And we can afford that ratio. Because criticism is the only known antidote to error.

David Brin said...

I have made clear that I am deliriously happy that the fever of the insane drug war is finally breaking! At last!!!

But choosing a side and declaring it 100% right is the very insanity that is tearing apart our pragmatically successful civilization. and the 1% harm that marijuana does is still significant enough to merit scrutiny and continuing discussion of a lesser vice.

LarryHart said...


Teachers have truck with ALL KIND of nonsense. I take it that you haven't been anywhere near an elementary school in the midst of Diversity cheerleading madness recently?

I know that's the stereotype, but my kid just finished six years of elementary school, and I didn't get any sense of her teachers doing what you describe. Yes, there is a certain cheering of diversity, but not the reality-ignoring political correctness that schools are commonly accused of.

If anything, I get the sense that the kind of thing you are talking about, if/where it happens at all, is driven by administrators and politicians, not by teachers per se.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin, I just read the detailed article you linked to about the new lie detectors.

And I still have personal misgivings about how they might "work" on me. No, I'm not claiming I'm so clever I could beat the thing. I'm claiming (from past experience) that I'm likely to register "lying" on the most innocuous of answers. Because I seem to react to the vibe that the interrogator gives off that intimates "Come on, you KNOW you're guilty, so just admit it."

And I have to believe I'm not unique in that regard.

Tony Fisk said...

An 'Existence' prediction:
Scientists figure out how to remove the P from your pee

David Brin said...

LarryHart those who can defeat lie detectors are often sociopaths… and there are not detection systems for THOSE...

LarryHart said...

It's important to consider what a "lie detector" actually detects. There is no such thing as a machine that knows the truth value of a statement independent of the person's perception of its truth. For instance, the following scenario (which is only slightly different from one in the article) is pure fantasy:

They asked where I was born, and I said "Chicago". Something from the machine cued them to suspect I was lying, even though I've known all my life that I was born at a particular hospital in that city. Years later, on her deathbed, my mother confessed that I had actually been born in Mexico and was brought here illegally as a baby. I was totally shocked and surprised, but somehow, the lie detector had known I was making a false statement.

If such a thing were possible, they wouldn't have to bother with the interrogation. They could just answer the questions themselves and get a readout from the machine whether the answer was true or not. President Obama could have guessed "Osama bin Ladein is hiding in Jerusalem" and then seen if that statement was true or not. If false, he could guess another spot until it finally registered "true", and there you'd have him.

No machine in the next millenium is going to work like that.

So what is a lie detector actaully detecting. Typically, they claim to detect signs of apprehension or stress. That may indicate a lie, but it might also indicate something else. In my own case, I am apparently succeptible to the idea that "They're not believing my answer", and that registers physiologically as a "lie".

Not exactly sure where I'm going with all this, except to conclude that it depends on your defintion of what a "lie" is (and what the machine's definition of a lie is as well).

sgs said...

On lying:
* Politicians rarely lie. They use what Teddy Roosevelt called "weasel words". You think that he's saying one thing, but if you listen closely, he's not. For example, Mitt Romney never said that Jeep was moving its production to China (an assertion that may have lost him Ohio.) He said "I read an article that said ..." He very probably did.

* It's trivial to fool a lie detector. Just make sure that your spokescritter *thinks* that what he is saying is true.

* Any politician knows that how you say something is more important than what you say. In any case, political speech is mostly bluster, rah-rah, dog whistles, and high-level generalizations. Not much to get a hold of there.

DavidTC said...

Criminalizing lying is stupid, and incidentally is not considered a a violation of human rights.

However, I've always thought society might be much better off if there were a lot more *lawsuits* for slander, especially to fight political lies.

David Brin said...

Notice that I said lying that is "violation of a public trust" and that penalties would be mostly retractions.

What? you are used to it being a crime for advertisers to lie, in commercials. Or shouting a lie that the theater is on fire. It is a spectrum and right now we are being torn apart by a tsunami of accountability free, deliberate and relentlessly Nuremberg-spewed lies told lyingly by outright liars.

I fee pretty safe that reasonable folks can draw a generous line that only sets an example of the most outrageous civilization destroying jerks.

Paul451 said...

Re: Criminalised Lying.
The anti-lying law seems to be similar to fraud or defamation law, just with the requirement to prove harm removed. Hence, it should be no worse than anti-defamation and anti-fraud laws, and likely to be more narrowly written than those. (Especially if the burden remains on the plaintive/prosecutor to prove an actual "lie", not just an untruth. Ie, an intent to deceive.)

That said, the idea of politicians criminalising lying is amusing. "And after the vote, the legislators headed outside to the awaiting prison bus." Was it Heinlein's Venusian political system? After finishing his term, every Venusian politician is automatically imprisoned for corruption. It saves time.

Re: Weasel words.
I suspect telling a carefully phrased truth with the intent to induce the audience to believe a lie, would be covered by any competently worded anti-lie law. Proving intent would be the difficult part.

Officially, 10% of liars can pass polygraphs, 20% of non-liars fail. So you are definitely not alone. (In practice, I'm told, about 50% of people "fail" at least one question.)

However, in a large sample, 20% false positive would be unacceptable. So the standard is lowered to near worthlessness. Hence so few serious threats caught by polygraphs in institutions that use them routinely (such as high-ranking moles in the CIA.)

With the proposal for autonomous airport "lie-detectors", it's impossible for the false-positive level to be low enough to allow traffic (millions of people), yet still catch bad guys.

Say one drug mule every million passengers. An unprecedented 99% accuracy would still have 10,000 people being strip-searched/probed/etc for every one drug-mule. Ie, the falsely accused would make up 9,999 of every 10,000 searched. And to reach that extraordinary 1% false-positive rate, the false-negative rate would need to be raised significantly; so most unprepared drug-mules will make it through without tripping the alarm. And prepared mules will be able to develop simple methods that fool the machine (say, eye-drops or beta-blockers.) And the easiest method, of course, would be to use naive mules. No reaction if they truthfully don't know what they are carrying.

For terrorists, where you are looking at one bad guy per hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of passengers, even with an impossible accuracy of 99.9%, you'd have hundreds of thousands, up to millions of people being falsely accused of terrorism for every actual underwear bomber. And since terrorists already do dry-runs to see if they are on a watch-list, then they'll trigger this alarm when they aren't actually carrying the bombs, when they are still lost in the noise of false-positives. Some dry-runs are done with the "martyr" told the bomb is real, at least according to fiction, to test their loyalty, obedience, resolve... gullibility? So only the cell-members who repeatedly beat the system under real-world conditions would be given the actual bombs, meaning that the system won't stop the actual bombers, it will only falsely label millions of innocent people.

Tacitus2 said...

Regards criminalizing "lying". Look at the furor surrounding various Fact Checking/Truth Squad operations. They are not free from partisan or even subconscious spinning. In general we should not create laws that can't be enforced. Too many of them become partisan cudgels.

On a happier note, David have you ever made it to Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis? Marvelous place, claims to be America's longest established SciFi bookstore.

Just celebrated their 40th anniversary


Tacitus2 said...

Grrrr, wonky link, try this:



Larry C. Lyons said...

The problem with current lie detectors is not only the unacceptibly high percentage of false positives, but that with training, you can defeat any polygraph system or voice stress analyzer. So any system depending on such is bound to be compromised very quickly.

Carl M. said...

I for one, look forward to the day that we arrest everyone who says the New Deal got us out of the Great Depression.


Naum said...

On the downside of marijuana, I get the concern for some, but from personal experience, in my younger years, it was a powerful agent in the other direction -- as a software developer, it gave me clarity, more focus, more lucidity; a "stilling" of my mind and more flowering creativity and innovation. I'm not alone in this -- see the history of computing -- it is replete with similar stories.

If I lived in a state where marijuana was legal, I'd be eager to experiment.

I don't think this is limited to creative class workers either -- manual laborers have been aided by marijuana use (to offset drudgery and repetitiveness of tasks) or chewing cocoa leaves, etc.

Again, not proclaiming that there is no harm for ALL in marijuana use. But OTOH, it's hypocritical to be against legalization and not lobby or support alcohol prohibition.

LarryHart said...

Do all fiction writers go to prison, then?

If a malicious (or merely incompetent) employee incorrectly inserts an individual's name into a database of sex offenders, does that constitute a lie? Implicit in the question--does that constitute an assertion of fact? Implicit in that question--do forms of information processing other than verbal sentences constitute assertions of fact?

A lesson I learned from the Star Trek TNG episode "Darmok" is that so much of our language is self-referential metaphor. If I claim to live in a "Spartan" dwelling, is that a crime because I don't literally live on the Pelopenisian land mass in Greece? If I claim that GW Bush's executive power grab after 9/11 eerily reflects Hitler's after the Reichstag fire, the judge might not think it appropriate to make the comparison, but is it then a lie?

LarryHart said...

Seems to me I'd be successfully accsued of lying every time I use my debit card at the grocery store, when it asks me "Do you want cash back?" The literally correct answer is "Yes, and lots of it!". However, in order to complete the transaction without costing my bank account more money than necessary, I have to answer "No".

Less snarkily, I recall a cynical paean to the quality of sincerity which went something like "If you can fake that, you've got it made." Seems to me that advances in lie-detection would end up encouraging (evolutionarly speaking) those who can best fake sincerity to their own advantage.

Eluvatar said...

Speaking of modern monarchists on the internet, I would be interested in seeing you write about "Dark Enlightenment" -- an internet movement opposed to what they name "demotism" and the enlightenment.

If you are fortunate enough to have no idea what I'm talking about, there is a description of their views and rebuttal I found interesting, which also link to some of the proponents of these views.

Tony Fisk said...

Our esteemed leader downunder has had at least one of his quotes immortalised:

"All politicians lie."

Most recently he has been pilloried (even from within his own party) for reintroducing honours with a monarchic link.

Add this to the noticeable lack of a science ministry in his cabinet, and his relations with former PM 'Ju-liar*' Gillard, and I realise that Monty Python called it, forty years ago!

*Hello? Politician!

Paul Briggs said...

Regarding the "Robot Lords" essay: it seems to me that one overlooked possibility was that the same breakdown in civil authority which would allow rich individuals to possess their own private drone fleets would also allow for crowdsourced assassinations by drone. That would give ordinary people a weapon against the oligarchy, who are few and publicly known. It would also mean that Daily Kos, RedState, Anonymous, and random groups of reddit and YouTube commenters would basically have the power of Kira at their command.

Paul451 said...



Paul451 said...

The California state Senator, who talked of licensing 3d printers during the panic over 3d-printed guns, has been arrested for fraud and possible weapons trafficking.


Paul451 said...

A 250km wide asteroid (Chariklo) between Saturn and Uranus has been discovered to have a ring.


Actually two rings, 2 and 7km wide, 9km apart, 390km radius. Discoverers predict, but have yet to detect, shepherd moons stabilising the rings.

Robert said...

Here's an article from the New York Times concerning the abuse of subsidies and the coddling of... the rich. Personally I think we need to pass a new Constitution Amendment, allowing for federal referendum votes. If a Referendum gets 100,000 signatures it is put on the ballot. Allow people to vote if they want to strip subsidies to businesses, legalize gay marriage, allow women to have free birth control, and other such things. And have these referendums be binding.

In short: bring democracy back to the people.

Rob H.

Eluvatar said...

Thanks, Paul451!

I either missed or forgot about that one... :-$

matthew said...

I would only support binding federal referendums if there was:
a) a super majority requirement
b) very strict referendum financing laws e.g. no donations totaling more than $100 or so
c) a very activist court working to overturn such laws on constitutionality bases. With judicial review *before* the laws were enacted

As we have seen in Oregon and California the initiative process can work wonders. It also can be used to persecute a minority or institute the will of a well-heeled corporation or church.

David Brin said...