Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetric—it’s not about physics... but politics

Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA - that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.

The worst aspect of all this has been the devolution of politics into cliches, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward science… along with every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. And not all of it from the right! The far-left contains plenty of anti-modernists.

But why?

Isaac Asimov once commented"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Or take this from another commenter: "Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favor of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith."

Hm, replace "bumper sticker" with "snarky Facebook Jpegs." This depressing article -- America Dumbs Down -- in Canada's MacLeans Magazine certainly offers a litany of statistics suggesting that at-minimum, the citizens of the United States are splitting in twain -- with half the country going out o' its ever-luvin' mind.

== Do I sound depressed? ==

In this new article, America's Cult of Ignorance is No Match for Asia's Cult of Intelligence, Texas professor John W. Traphagan suggests that this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. Other nations are not sabotaging themselves this way, they are pushing education, intellect and admiration for accomplishment:

“It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.”

Polarization-politicsSo… Is there any way out of this third phase of the American Civil War? Both sides are more politicized these days, but it's not equal.

A recent Pew study of the American political landscape breaks down the population into eight groups, seven of them engaged in politics at least to a degree and the other mostly on the sidelines. Three are highly ideological and politically engaged — two that lean to the Republicans, one to the Democrats. Four other groups are “less partisan and less predictable” in their political views, what the study calls a “fragmented center” that poses challenges for both major parties:

“The most loyal followers of the Republican Party account for about one-fifth of the total population, more than a quarter of registered voters and more than one-third of politically engaged Americans. The Pew study labels these two Republican groups as “business conservatives” and “steadfast conservatives,” writes Dan Balz in The Washington Post. Almost nine in 10 people in each group are white, and about six in 10 in each group are men. Two-thirds of steadfast conservatives are 50 or older…” The study also appraise divisions among liberals and leftists.

Personally, though I respect Pew, I find their categories silly to the point of uselessness. For reasons I go into, elsewhere. Nevertheless, the article is interesting.

politics-outrge== The Good Billionaires ==

Smart billionaires are worried. They see their own futures being endangered by the dumb billionaires. Those who got rich by paying attention to trends — like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… and Warren Buffett… are starting to see a truly scary prospect on the horizon. Torches and pitchforks. Or one word that says it all (look it up).


The dire, freedom-wrecking consequences of wealth disparity were discussed long ago by Adam Smith. They were the root cause of both the French and American revolutions — one of which resolved the situation with moderation, the other with self-defeating pain. And the tradeoff is starkly portrayed in an article by billionaire Nick Hanauer, on Politico: The Pitchforks are Coming...for us Plutocrats:

Hanauer-tumbrels-capitalism“Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

This kind of “smart billionaire” will be our secret weapon, in the fight for our Great Experiment to continue.

Nor is Hanauer alone. We know that most of the tech billionaires have joined Warren Buffet in rejecting the winner-takes-all mantra of Fox-style economics. But how about midwest agri-business leaders?

Greg Page is executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., the largest private company in the U.S. Page participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” of top business leaders that forecast the U.S. economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change.

page-climate-change Page describes the northward movement of the American agricultural belt. As average temperatures have risen over the past decades, the growing season in the northern plains has grown, while heat waves further south have baked America’s traditional agriculture producing states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

==Looking for Solutions==

What can the rest of us do?

lesterlandMayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America's political system. Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics.

Start with the TED talk by Professor Lessig called "Lesterland" -- a program detailed in his book, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption -- "a map for a democracy we could reclaim."

Or view Steve Wozniak's 3-minute video: America's Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.



Tom Crowl said...

I'm all for good hearted and thoughtful billionaires.

However in my opinion that will not be enough to fix the problem... which is ancient.

I'll suggest that there have ALWAYS been at least some more "commons-oriented" faction(I'll call it that instead of the Left) within every dominant powerful class in every civilization.

However the lack of sufficiently impactful "input from the bottom" nevertheless generally doesn't fix the problem short of some resort to some form of pitchforks and tumbrels.

Voting has been one approach... as has sortition (which needs to be expanded).

We have not only developed an uninformed public... we have cultivated it.

Our social structures both in scale and design no longer offer the almost daily experience with community decision which fosters that capability... and even occasional common sense.

This is why I believe 'banning money in politics' is a bad idea. It cuts off the experience of regular participation.

SO how about this:

Give every registered voter $50/year to spend on lobbying causes as they wish... along with (of course) a micropayment capability...

and that's it! No other contribution.

Is that a serious suggestion?

Not exactly... but not un-serious either. Its past time to get our heads out of the boxes.

As for banning money in politics... I've been hearing about it for 60 years.

God forbid it should happen... cause it'll be gamed. Better to go for limits, transparency, lower cost campaigns... and a citizens' network there to sousveil the whole thing.

If the billionaires want to help... Its not hard to do. Its a natural for the Internet industry.

And, of course, politicians pay no attention to contributions anyway as they'll happily tell you... so what the hell! They've got nothing to lose.

P.S. This has nothing to do with believing that the crowd has any great wisdom... but rather that they'll be just as self-interested as the top of the pyramid is with their lobbying.

I believe a diamond shaped distribution requires a careful balancing of forces from all sectors... and the tendency toward upward concentration suggests that its the bottom that needs the megaphone.

And they also need experience with governance.

Tom Crowl said...

I essentially support Lessig's goals.

He'd sure raise that money a lot quicker if people could just click a button for the mere $3 he's asking for right off... but its a lot of hassle to give small money.

THAT'S the essence of how transaction 'friction' comes into play with scale... and distorts how money operates in many, many more ways than just here.

Decision (objectives + actions) could be considered perhaps THE fundamental characteristic of life vs. non-life.

Money is inescapably a technology related to those functions at its very root and from its creation.

I can't prove it. I recognize it can bring problems... but I think its an urgently necessary tool...

And since I don't believe it can naturally grow from a small seed.. (because its very functionality doesn't arise w/o significant population penetration)...

It needs some attention and pushing from any who think it just MAY be a needed capability...

(which Dr. Brin has very much done though more in the context of its potentials for journalism and with which I agree).

SO this is what I'd like to hear the billionaires comment about. Because if they're waiting for the garage startup... its not going to happen that way.

It actually needs the attention of those Internet billionaires.

In the long run its in their interest too.

Para a Posteridade e mais Além said...

no the leftist wave is long gone

in the long run ...billionaires have more shares

Asymmetric transmission of linearly polarized political waves and polarization angle dependent of political wave rotation

and old human waves don't rotate....much

Jumper said...

The cult of stupid is passed from parents to kids, unfortunately, and has a seldom-acknowledged effect on education which policy often fails to correct.

Unknown said...


I have read almost all of your books and am a huge fan of the content of your blog. Please, however, have someone with graphic design skills tweak your site's style.

The layout of text signals the structure of your argument to the reader. To be effective, however, the signaling must be consistent. Each variation in indentations, fonts, colors and offset should provide a unique signal.

Alas, your site is the visual equivalent of cacophony: variation without meaning. In this single post you use more fonts than a ransom note. You have five different text boxes serving at least three purposes (quotations, key ideas, something like section headings). Each text box has a unique style, rendering any signaling useless. You also have subsection titles set off with "==", a technique that last seemed fresh when nothing but basic ASCII was available.

I said "tweak" earlier, but I really meant "euthanize". Please.

(I apologize to the creator of you site's current style for my bluntness Given s/he is associated with you, I assume that this is a thoughtful person who may not deserve my invective.)