Self in Society Roundup 3
Notes on atrocities in Ukraine, the "groomer" moral panic, vultures and regulations in India, Bryan Caplan's ideas, and more.
Welcome to my third roundup for Self in Society. Please subscribe, share, and consider a paid subscription. For my Colorado-specific commentary, see Colorado Pickaxe.
The news from Ukraine has been absolutely sickening. Human Rights Watch has interviewed people directly about some small portion of the war crimes committed by Russia’s military. Video and photos show people murdered in the streets (and again), murdered outside their homes, murdered while riding bikes, murdered after being raped.
Bojan Pancevski posted video of Russians saying they want to wipe Ukraine off the map—and add Poland and the Baltics for good measure. Although such warmongering is not universal in Russia, which has also seen protests of the war, it is widespread. 81% of Russians said they support the war. Maybe this is inflated because some people worried the poll wasn’t anonymous. Still! Obviously Putin’s nationalist propaganda is working very well in his home country.
Sergej Sumlenny notes, “Russian state-owned propaganda outlet RIA published the new programmatic article with the title ‘What Russia must do with Ukraine.’ The article reveals a detailed plan for a genocide, starting from full elimination of Ukrainian state. . . . It calls almost every Ukrainian a Nazi who deserves death.” In today’s Russian parlance, “Nazi” means anyone who opposes or stands against Russia in any way. In the name of fighting “Nazis,” Putin’s regime has become strikingly like the Nazi regime of history.
Note: Some Ukrainian soldiers appear to have needlessly killed Russian soldiers. That is really bad in itself and bad for strategic reasons. Let’s hope the government tightens troop discipline. Generally, one ought not stoop to the evil of the enemy.
Anatomy of a Moral Panic
Christopher Rufo said “a shocking number of [Disney] employees have been arrested for child sex crimes.” That’s bad, obviously. But is Disney with its 190,000 employees so unique? Billy Binion noted Rufo is Catholic. Daily Kos put together an extensive list of “Republican sexual predators, abusers, and enablers.” Some conservatives play the same game by smearing immigrants as violent criminals—even though immigrants on the whole are more law-abiding.
David French argues more broadly, “It’s not ‘pro-pedophile’ to back Ketanji Brown Jackson, and it’s not ‘grooming’ to oppose Florida’s new education law.” French also points out that some of the same conservatives who casually defame people as “groomers” also ignore serious allegations of sexual abuse by conservatives.
Radley Balko has out a column titled, “QAnon Goes Mainstream.” He begins:
There’s a common thread between attacks against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as being soft on child predators, the manufactured controversy on the right over whether teachers can mention homosexuality to students, and the anti-trans laws sweeping Republican-controlled state legislatures: We’re witnessing the mainstreaming of QAnon.
The GOP mainstreaming ‘groomer’ is just the GOP leaning into implicit calls for violence. Edgar Maddison Welch was the natural and probable consequence of ‘pizzagate, and QAnnon intended that result. The GOP intends the violence that will result from ‘groomer.’ That’s not to say they are legally responsible. But they are absolutely morally responsible, and they intend and aspire to the violence and chaos.
As disturbing as the ugly defamations by various establishment Republicans is the cowardly silence by those who know better.
Vultures and Regulations in India
Recently my family watched the first episode of PBS’s Earth: A New Wild, which discusses how humans and animals often learn to live together. Examples: China funded the birthing and rewilding of pandas; Jane Goodall encouraged African farmers to plant border forests so chimpanzees could migrate. (I also learned that chimps have been known to take human babies, which they regard as delicious treats.)
The most interesting part of the first episode to me, though, is about the near-total collapse of the Indian vulture population, which led to rotting carcasses and to large populations of feral dogs, which spread rabies. The culprit? The drug diclofenac, widely used in cows. India banned the drug in 2006. (Wikipedia has details.)
This seems like a straightforward case of an unintended environmental harm by private parties that government solved by regulation. I suppose various libertarians would argue that a tort response could have solved. (That would have involved the government’s court systems.)
The second episode of the show focuses on grasslands and about how predators force large grazing herds into tight, moving groups. This prevents overgrazing and fosters regeneration of the grasses. There’s a fellow in Africa and another in Montana who handle their cattle this way—bunch them up and move them often.
Caplan with Wiblin
Two of my favorite public intellectuals are Bryan Caplan and Robert Wiblin, so it was fun hearing them together on a new podcast episode. Caplan makes the following points (among others):
Labor regulations often cause unemployment, and unemployed people generally are less happy, even totally aside from the financial losses. Work usually is how people find their meaningful place in the world. And working even at an entry level job is how people gain skills to make more later. (For details see Caplan’s Labor Econ Versus the World.)
Open immigration would vastly improve the lives of large numbers of people. Moreover, not only has the United States successfully assimilated vast numbers of immigrants in the past, but today immigrants are even more aware of American or Western culture coming in. (For details see Caplan’s graphic work Open Borders.)
In basically normal first-world conditions (say, barring severe abuse), differences in parenting have little effect on outcomes for children. Caveat: Peers matter somewhat, and parents can affect a child’s peer group. (The conclusion that Caplan draws elsewhere is that parents should be relatively relaxed in their approach and have more kids. For details see Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.)
The “self-interested voter hypothesis” is wrong. People just don’t generally vote for their own obvious direct benefit. Example: Wealthier people tend to vote Democratic. Why? “It’s super cheap” to vote against your direct self-interest because your vote is highly unlikely to affect the outcome. That’s not to say that people vote for good reasons! A lot of voting is tribalistic. (For details see Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter.)
Philosophically, start with the “most naive, common sense” position and then see if there’s anything wrong with that. (Note: I disagree with some of Caplan’s philosophic views.)
Social desirability bias—basically, the tendency to promote policies that sound good rather than ones that have good outcomes—explains a lot of our political problems.
"EA is what SJ ought to be." Meaning: The effective altruism movement is open-minded, open to dialog and criticism, calmer, and results oriented, and the social justice movement often is none of those things. Indeed, the SJ movement has the potential to “fanatically make the world worse.”
Rent Control: “In first months since passage of St. Paul’s rent-control ordinance, housing construction is way down,” MinnPost reports. As Timothy Sandefur remarked, “Golly gee! Who could’ve predicted?” We need to free up the housing market, not more tightly regulate it.
Fantasy Kickstarter: “Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign has topped $41.7 million from more than 181,000 backers and is the most-funded Kickstarter in the crowdfunding site's history,” reports CNBC. He is an established fantasy author.
Languages: If you want to learn a foreign language, forget about regular school classes (or at least don’t prioritize them). Focus on immersion.
Will Smith: My suggestion was to ban Smith from the Oscars for a year. But, TMZ says, his “movie career (both as an actor and producer) appears to be getting put on ice.” Surely one overreaction does not deserve another.
Dystopia: Chinese leaders seem to get a special joy out of intentionally embracing dystopian tropes. Via Alice Su: “Shanghai residents go to their balconies to sing and protest lack of supplies. A drone appears: ‘Please comply with covid restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.’”