Daily Archives: July 10, 2011

Suckers in Politics

I’ve strayed from thinking about antifragility, and I’m now thinking about the sucker-nonsucker distinction that NN Taleb gives. In that article about antifragility, NN Taleb lists true-false as fragile under epistemology, but sucker-nonsucker is listed as antifragile. I’m not quite sure why sucker-nonsucker is listed that way, but I’ll think about it later. Talking about suckers is something Taleb does in all his books, so I’m at least familiar with the topic. I’d now like to think about how it applies to politics.

Because we’ve been studying Hitchens in class (for style, not content), the word credulous has been on my mind. Credulous seems to be one of Hitchens’s favorite words. Now, it seems to me that I should avoid political affiliation because it makes one more credulous. That is, when one joins a tribe, one is much more likely to believe that tribe’s claims than the other tribe’s claims. Of course, these political tribes push out so much spin that it’s not good to believe either one of them. However, one gobbles their propaganda quite easily when one identifies so closely with them. One becomes less skeptical and more credulous. Credulity isn’t great in and of itself, but it’s especially worse when the people you want to listen to are, for the most part, liars and thieves.

Now that I’ve described something more abstractly, I should try to come up with a more specific example. Let’s use the Republicans since I was semi-recently a sucker for them. They preach a philosophy of less spending. Yet, during Bush’s administration, they engaged in multiple (expensive) wars and nation-building missions, and they passed Medicare Part D. They expanded the welfare state. Even though their actions contradict their so-called principles, people still cling to the belief that this is what the Republicans are for. Of course, the suckers are now latching onto the Republican’s rebranding as the Tea Party. We’re for less spending, and this time we really mean it. Or at least, say many people who voted for all the wars, Medicare Part D, and the bailouts. Sometimes votes accidentally align with so-called principles, but that only happens when they’re trying to obstruct the other party.

I don’t want to argue that both parties are equal, but I do want to point out something from Democratic side. I believed President Obama wouldn’t expand the national security follies of the Bush Administration, but I was wrong. He engaged in a war with Libya and arrogantly believes he doesn’t need Congressional approval. (Really, this should be an impeachable offense to prevent overreach by other presidents.) He’s cracked down on whistleblowers and has essentially provided immunity for the law-breakers who engaged in torture, which is a heinous crime against humanity. Alas, I should know better than to believe in the rhetoric of politicians. Of course, the loyal Democrats delude themselves into thinking that principles really do matter and that the Democrats aren’t in the back pockets of corporate interests. They tell themselves, If only the Republicans weren’t obstructing everything, then Obama could pass all the great things we want. They like to believe that he’s not essentially a neoliberal.

Ideology is another source of credulity. Believing in an ideology, like libertarianism, makes people immune to reality. I remember I had a professor who used to remark quite frequently on the usefulness of modus tollens.

When viewed from this lens, politics becomes less about fixing things and more about doing the least amount of damage. Note that least amount of damage is not the same as least amount of work, so I’m not subscribing to a libertarian ideology. Notice that the Framers restricted what government could do. One should ignore any rhetoric from politicians and elect those who will do the least damage. Now, there are issues with picking whom to elect since these people are mostly sociopaths and charlatans. If we want to reform government, then we shouldn’t look for a savior who will fix everything. Instead, we should just try to find someone who isn’t a complete money-grubbing fraud. As a general rule, I think we’d be better off if we elected more ordinary people, as opposed to rich corporatists and career politicians. Avoid the businessmen and politicians because they’re more likely to be greedy and they’re probably better at knowing how to fool you than people who don’t spend all their time practicing that kind of skill.

I should also think about being informed on political matters in terms of the sucker-nonsucker breakdown. I don’t need to follow the horse race or be informed about the latest scandals. I should, however, learn enough that people can’t take me for a sucker.