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Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Adam Alonzi


From the beginning Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, contends in his new paper “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” that software, given its brittleness, is not designed to deal with the complexities of taking a case through court and establishing a verdict. As he understands it, an AI cannot deviate far from the rules laid down by its creator. This assumption, which is not even quite right at the present time, only slightly tinges an otherwise erudite, sincere, and balanced coverage of the topic. He does not show much faith in the use of past cases to create datasets for the next generation of paralegals, automated legal services, and, in the more distant future, lawyers and jurists.

Lawrence Zelanik has noted that when taxes were filed entirely on paper, provisions were limited to avoid unreasonably imposing irksome nuances on the average person. Tax-return software has eliminated this “complexity constraint.” He goes on to state that without this the laws, and the software that interprets it, are akin to a “black box” for those who must abide by them. William Gale has said taxes could be easily computed for “non-itemizers.” In other words, the government could use information it already has to present a “bill” to this class of taxpayers, saving time and money for all parties involved. However, simplification does not always align with everyone’s interests. TurboTax’s business, which is built entirely on helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinth is the American federal income tax, noticed a threat to its business model. This prompted it to put together a grassroots campaign to fight such measures. More than just another example of a business protecting its interests, it is an ominous foreshadowing of an escalation scenario that will transpire in many areas if and when legal AI becomes sufficiently advanced.

Pasquale writes: “Technologists cannot assume that computational solutions to one problem will not affect the scope and nature of that problem. Instead, as technology enters fields, problems change, as various parties seek to either entrench or disrupt aspects of the present situation for their own advantage.”

What he is referring to here, in everything but name, is an arms race. The vastly superior computational powers of robot lawyers may make the already perverse incentive to make ever more Byzantine rules ever more attractive to bureaucracies and lawyers. The concern is that the clauses and dependencies hidden within contracts will quickly explode, making them far too detailed even for professionals to make sense of in a reasonable amount of time. Given that this sort of software may become a necessary accoutrement in most or all legal matters means that the demand for it, or for professionals with access to it, will expand greatly at the expense of those who are unwilling or unable to adopt it. This, though Pasquale only hints at it, may lead to greater imbalances in socioeconomic power. On the other hand, he does not consider the possibility of bottom-up open-source (or state-led) efforts to create synthetic public defenders. While this may seem idealistic, it is fairly clear that the open-source model can compete with and, in some areas, outperform proprietary competitors.

It is not unlikely that within subdomains of law that an array of arms races can and will arise between synthetic intelligences. If a lawyer knows its client is guilty, should it squeal? This will change the way jurisprudence works in many countries, but it would seem unwise to program any robot to knowingly lie about whether a crime, particularly a serious one, has been committed – including by omission. If it is fighting against a punishment it deems overly harsh for a given crime, for trespassing to get a closer look at a rabid raccoon or unintentional jaywalking, should it maintain its client’s innocence as a means to an end? A moral consequentialist, seeing no harm was done (or in some instances, could possibly have been done), may persist in pleading innocent. A synthetic lawyer may be more pragmatic than deontological, but it is not entirely correct, and certainly shortsighted, to (mis)characterize AI as only capable of blindly following a set of instructions, like a Fortran program made to compute the nth member of the Fibonacci series.

Human courts are rife with biases: judges give more lenient sentences after taking a lunch break (65% more likely to grant parole – nothing to spit at), attractive defendants are viewed favorably by unwashed juries and trained jurists alike, and the prejudices of all kinds exist against various “out” groups, which can tip the scales in favor of a guilty verdict or to harsher sentences. Why then would someone have an aversion to the introduction of AI into a system that is clearly ruled, in part, by the quirks of human psychology?

DoNotPay is an an app that helps drivers fight parking tickets. It allows drivers with legitimate medical emergencies to gain exemptions. So, as Pasquale says, not only will traffic management be automated, but so will appeals. However, as he cautions, a flesh-and-blood lawyer takes responsibility for bad advice. The DoNotPay not only fails to take responsibility, but “holds its client responsible for when its proprietor is harmed by the interaction.” There is little reason to think machines would do a worse job of adhering to privacy guidelines than human beings unless, as mentioned in the example of a machine ratting on its client, there is some overriding principle that would compel them to divulge the information to protect several people from harm if their diagnosis in some way makes them as a danger in their personal or professional life. Is the client responsible for the mistakes of the robot it has hired? Should the blame not fall upon the firm who has provided the service?

Making a blockchain that could handle the demands of processing purchases and sales, one that takes into account all the relevant variables to make expert judgements on a matter, is no small task. As the infamous disagreement over the meaning of the word “chicken” in Frigaliment v. B.N.S International Sales Group illustrates, the definitions of what anything is can be a bit puzzling. The need to maintain a decent reputation to maintain sales is a strong incentive against knowingly cheating customers, but although cheating tends to be the exception for this reason, it is still necessary to protect against it. As one official on the  Commodity Futures Trading Commission put it, “where a smart contract’s conditions depend upon real-world data (e.g., the price of a commodity future at a given time), agreed-upon outside systems, called oracles, can be developed to monitor and verify prices, performance, or other real-world events.”

Pasquale cites the SEC’s decision to force providers of asset-backed securities to file “downloadable source code in Python.” AmeriCredit responded by saying it  “should not be forced to predict and therefore program every possible slight iteration of all waterfall payments” because its business is “automobile loans, not software development.” AmeriTrade does not seem to be familiar with machine learning. There is a case for making all financial transactions and agreements explicit on an immutable platform like blockchain. There is also a case for making all such code open source, ready to be scrutinized by those with the talents to do so or, in the near future, by those with access to software that can quickly turn it into plain English, Spanish, Mandarin, Bantu, Etruscan, etc.

During the fallout of the 2008 crisis, some homeowners noticed the entities on their foreclosure paperwork did not match the paperwork they received when their mortgages were sold to a trust. According to Dayen (2010) many banks did not fill out the paperwork at all. This seems to be a rather forceful argument in favor of the incorporation of synthetic agents into law practices. Like many futurists Pasquale foresees an increase in “complementary automation.” The cooperation of chess engines with humans can still trounce the best AI out there. This is a commonly cited example of how two (very different) heads are better than one.  Yet going to a lawyer is not like visiting a tailor. People, including fairly delusional ones, know if their clothes fit. Yet they do not know whether they’ve received expert counsel or not – although, the outcome of the case might give them a hint.

Pasquale concludes his paper by asserting that “the rule of law entails a system of social relationships and legitimate governance, not simply the transfer and evaluation of information about behavior.” This is closely related to the doubts expressed at the beginning of the piece about the usefulness of data sets in training legal AI. He then states that those in the legal profession must handle “intractable conflicts of values that repeatedly require thoughtful discretion and negotiation.” This appears to be the legal equivalent of epistemological mysterianism. It stands on still shakier ground than its analogue because it is clear that laws are, or should be, rooted in some set of criteria agreed upon by the members of a given jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the rulings of law makers and the values that inform them be at least partially quantifiable? There are efforts, like EthicsNet, which are trying to prepare datasets and criteria to feed machines in the future (because they will certainly have to be fed by someone!).  There is no doubt that the human touch in law will not be supplanted soon, but the question is whether our intuition should be exalted as guarantee of fairness or a hindrance to moving beyond a legal system bogged down by the baggage of human foibles.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed by Nikola Danaylov of Singularity.FM

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed by Nikola Danaylov of Singularity.FM

Gennady Stolyarov II
Nikola Danaylov


On March 31, 2018, Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, was interviewed by Nikola Danaylov, a.k.a. Socrates, of Singularity.FM. A synopsis, audio download, and embedded video of the interview can be found on Singularity.FM here. You can also watch the YouTube video recording of the interview here.

Apparently this interview, nearly three hours in length, broke the record for the length of Nikola Danaylov’s in-depth, wide-ranging conversations on philosophy, politics, and the future.  The interview covered both some of Mr. Stolyarov’s personal work and ideas, such as the illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong, as well as the efforts and aspirations of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. The conversation also delved into such subjects as the definition of transhumanism, intelligence and morality, the technological Singularity or Singularities, health and fitness, and even cats. Everyone will find something of interest in this wide-ranging discussion.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website at http://transhumanist-party.org. To help advance the goals of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, as described in Mr. Stolyarov’s comments during the interview, become a member for free, no matter where you reside. Click here to fill out a membership application.

How Marcus Aurelius Influenced Adam Smith (No, Really) – Article by Paul Meany

How Marcus Aurelius Influenced Adam Smith (No, Really) – Article by Paul Meany

The New Renaissance Hat
Paul Meany
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Adam Smith’s appreciation for the Stoic emperor’s writings is evident in his own work.

Ancient Roman bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna – Photograph by Gryffindor

Who Was Marcus Aurelius?

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was the last of the five good emperors of Rome. He was born in 121 AD, reluctantly became emperor in 161 AD, and reigned for 19 years until his death in 180 AD. His reign was punctuated by numerous wars during which he repelled Rome’s enemies in long campaigns. When not at the frontiers of the empire, he spent his time administering the law, focusing his attention particularly on the guardianship of orphans, the manumission of slaves, and choosing city councilors.

Lord Acton memorably stated, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Lord Acton’s aphorism is, for the most part, true, but there was one exception to it in history: Marcus Aurelius. He famously had a keen interest in philosophy. Perpetually practicing self-control and moderation in all aspects of his life, he was the closest any person ever came to embodying Plato’s ideal of the “philosopher king.”

While on the front lines of his campaign against the German tribes, Marcus Aurelius wrote his own personal diary. This was originally titled Ta Eis Heauton, meaning To Himself in Greek. Subsequent translations of the text changed the title numerous times; we now know it as Meditations. In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes his personal views on the Stoic philosophy.

He focuses heavily on the themes of finding one’s place in the cosmic balance of the universe, the importance of analyzing your actions, and being a good person. Asserting that one should be judged first and foremost on their actions, he decisively urged us to “waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” Meditations is a masterpiece of Stoic philosophy, brimming with insightful, emotional and, most importantly, useful observations on morality and the human condition.

Who Was Adam Smith?

Adam Smith was a Scottish moral philosopher who is renowned as one of the first modern economists. He was born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy and died in 1790. He is famous for his two seminal works, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. His work was massively influential on classical liberal thought as he was one of the first defenders of the free market.

In The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith articulated a persuasive case for the efficacy and morality of a free-market commercial society. Ludwig Von Mises, speaking about Smith’s works, wrote that they “presented the essence of the ideology of freedom, individualism, and prosperity, with admirable clarity and in an impeccable literary form.” Classical liberal economist Milton Friedman often wore a tie bearing a portrait of Adam Smith to formal events.

Adam Smith’s Readings of Marcus Aurelius

These two figures lived in vastly different times, under vastly different circumstances, so how did Marcus Aurelius ever influence Adam Smith? The answer lies in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Stoicism was one of the three major schools of Greek philosophy in the ancient world. It was founded in Athens in the 3rd century BC by a man named Zeno of Citium. The name “Stoic” was given to the followers of Zeno, who used to congregate to hear him teach at the Athenian Agora, under the colonnade known as the Stoa Poikile. Over time, Stoicism expanded and developed sophisticated views on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

While Stoicism posits numerous views on a huge variety of topics, its most interesting and relevant observations are on ethics. The Stoics were concerned with perfecting self-control which allowed for virtuous behavior. They believed that, through self-control, one could be free of negative emotions and passions which blinded objective judgment.

With a peaceful mind, the Stoics thought, people could live according to the universal reason of the world and practice a virtuous life. Marcus Aurelius described the ideal Stoic life in book three of Meditations, writing, “peace of mind in the evident conformity of your actions to the laws of reason, and peace of mind under the visitations of a destiny you cannot control.”

Adam Smith was educated at the University of Glasgow where he studied under Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson was a Scottish intellectual and a leading representative of the Christian Stoicism movement during the Scottish Enlightenment. He hosted private noontime classes on Stoicism which Adam Smith often attended. Smith’s preference for Marcus Aurelius was encouraged by Hutcheson, who published his own translation of Meditations.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith referred to Marcus Aurelius as “the mild, the humane, the benevolent Antoninus,” demonstrating his deep admiration for the Stoic emperor. Marcus Aurelius influenced Adam Smith in three main areas: the idea of an inner conscience; the importance of self-control; and in his famous analogy of the “Invisible Hand.”

Our Inner Conscience

Both Marcus Aurelius and Adam Smith believed that the key to understanding morality was through self-scrutiny and sympathy for others.

Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations in the form of a self-reflective dialogue with his inner self. He thought that moral conviction lay within “the very god that is seated in you, bringing your impulses under its control, scrutinizing your thoughts.’’ He interchangeably referred to this inner god as the soul or the helmsman and believed that it is a voice within you that attempts to sway you from immoral doings; we now call this a conscience.

Similarly, Smith emphasized the role of people’s innermost thoughts. A key aspect of Smith’s moral philosophy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is the impartial spectator. Smith theorized that morality could be understood through the medium of sympathy. He thought that before people acted they ought to look for the approval of an impartial spectator.

“But though man has… been rendered the immediate judge of mankind, he has been rendered so only in the first instance; and an appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher tribunal, to the tribunal of their own consciences, to that of the supposed impartial and well-informed spectator, to that of the man within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of their conduct.”

The Importance of Self-Control

The Stoics listed four “cardinal virtues” — wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance — for which they held great reverence. These were believed to be expressions and manifestations of a single indivisible virtue. Smith used slightly different names, but he endorsed the same set of virtues and the idea that they were all facets of one indivisible virtue.

Smith and Aurelius had a mutual appreciation for the virtue of self-control. They both believed in an impartial, self-scrutinizing conscience that guided morality: while Aurelius called it the God Within, Smith called it the Impartial Spectator.

Marcus Aurelius said, “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The primacy of self-control is intrinsic to the Stoic philosophy. In a similar vein of thought, Smith writes that “self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from all other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre.” This respect for self-control was encouraged and cultivated by Smith’s Impartial Spectator and Marcus Aurelius’ Inner God.

The Invisible Hand

Marcus Aurelius argues that we must work together in common cooperation in order to improve humanity as a whole. He argues that we “were born to work together.” Aurelius stressed the vital nature of human cooperation.

“Constantly think of the universe as one living creature, embracing one being and soul; how all is absorbed into the one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass, and their wonderful web and texture.”

In The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith’s defense of the free market is expressed through the analogy of the Invisible Hand. Smith argues that in a society of free exchange and free markets, people must sympathize with one another and understand how best to benefit their fellow man in order to better their own situation.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

The transaction will not occur unless the parties involved demonstrate their sympathy for the interests of others. In the analogy of the Invisible Hand, Smith argues that we must think of others before ourselves and consider how best to serve our fellow neighbor. This famous passage bears a striking resemblance to the previous passage by Marcus Aurelius who also argues for the importance of conscious cooperation among people for the common good.

We Are All Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

A Roman emperor seems like an unlikely intellectual influence for a classical liberal thinker such as Adam Smith. Upon closer inspection, however, Smith and Aurelius are like two peas in a pod: both men believed that the root of morality lies within the self-scrutiny of one’s conscience; both believe in the primacy of the virtue of self-control; and both believe in the importance of sympathy as a tool for cooperation and the betterment of civilized society.

No thinker is entirely alone in their pursuit of truth. All people discover truth by building upon the previous discoveries of others. This explains how an emperor came to influence so strongly an Enlightenment moral philosopher and economist more than a thousand years after he had passed away. I believe that the best expression of the development of such ideas was written by a medieval philosopher and bishop, John of Salisbury, who spoke of the wisdom of Bernard of Chartres:

“He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”

We are all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants in the pursuit of the system of natural liberty and prosperity that Adam Smith sought during his lifetime.

Paul Meany is a student at Trinity College Dublin studying Ancient and Medieval History and Culture.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

 The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
October 28, 2017
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David Kelley is retiring from The Atlas Society, which he founded in 1990 under the name of The Institute for Objectivist Studies. But I can’t imagine David with an “emeritus” moniker retiring from the world of ideas that he has helped to shape.

I was at the founding event in New York City that February nearly three decades ago. I spoke at Summer Seminars and attended one-day New York events in the 1990s, and I had the privilege of working for many years with David at the Atlas Society. Knowing The Atlas Society and David as I do, I offer my own picks for his three greatest intellectual hits.

First, in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, he explained that Objectivism is an open philosophy—indeed, that to be “open” is what separates a philosophy from a dogma. Objectivism originated with Ayn Rand, is defined by certain principles, but has its own logic and implications that might even be at odds with some of Rand’s own thoughts. The philosophy is open to revision and new discoveries. One implication of David’s understanding—and of the virtue of independence—is that individuals must come to the truth through their own minds and their own paths. David, therefore, rejected the practice of too many Objectivists of labeling those who disagreed with some or much of the philosophy as “evil.” In many cases they are simply mistaken. He rejected the practice of refusing even to speak with individuals who called themselves “libertarians,” arguing that the only way to change someone’s mind is to address that mind. David saved Objectivism from becoming a marginalized cult.

Second, David advanced Objectivism by showing that “benevolence” is one of the cardinal virtues of the philosophy. He argued that the logic of the ideas that constitute the philosophy leads to the conclusion that it should take its place among other virtues like rationality, productivity, pride, integrity, honesty, independence, and justice. His book Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence is an intellectual gem that has yet to be fully mined for the value it can offer to those who want to create a world as it can be and should be, a world in which humans can flourish.

Third, David identified three world views in conflict in today’s culture. The Enlightenment ushered in modernity, which values reason, with its products of science and technology; individuals, with their rights to pursue their own happiness; liberty, with governments limited to its protection; and dynamic free markets, with their opportunities for all to prosper. Opposing modernity, David sees premodernists, who emphasize the values of faith, tradition, social stability, and hierarchy. He also sees postmodernists, whom he describes as “vociferous foes of reason, attempting to undermine and expunge the very concepts of truth, objectivity, logic, and fact.” They see these and all values as “social constructs”—all except their own left-wing dogmas and their desire to use force to bend all to their soul-destroying whims. Those wanting to understand the values battle in our culture in order to win it for civilization must have David’s essay “The Party of Modernity” in their hands and its ideas in their minds.

David Kelley created The Atlas Society to further develop and promote Objectivism, the philosophy he loves. As he steps back from the day-to-day responsibilities of his position, I know he’ll devote more time to pursuing the ideas that give him so much joy and the rest of us so much enlightenment.

Dr. Edward Hudgins is the research director for The Heartland Institute. He can be contacted here.

In conjunction with other department directors, Hudgins sets the organization’s research agenda and priorities; works with in-house and outside scholars to produce policy studies, policy briefs, and books; contributes his own research; and works with Heartland staff to promote Heartland’s work.

Before joining Heartland, Hudgins was the director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, which promotes the philosophy of reason, freedom, and individualism developed by Ayn Rand in works like Atlas Shrugged.  His latest Atlas Society book was The Republican Party’s Civil War: Will Freedom Win?

While at The Atlas Society, Hudgins developed a “Human Achievement” project to promote the synergy between the values and optimism of entrepreneurial achievers working on exponential technologies and the values of friends of freedom.

Prior to this, Hudgins was the director of regulatory studies and editor of Regulation magazine at the Cato Institute. There, he produced two books on Postal Service privatization, a book titled Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, and a book titled Space: The Free-Market Frontier.

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The New Renaissance Hat
Sean Malone
September 10, 2017
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Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds.

“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”

This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.

For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.

He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.

Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.

Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.

Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.

As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.

And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.

Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.

Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.

And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.

Punching Doesn’t Work

But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.

And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:

When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?

Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.

In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.

The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.

We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.

People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.

Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.

And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfires and pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.

Principles of Persuasion

The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’s approach.

In the psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, he describes what he calls the “Principles of Persuasion.”

One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…

Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.

It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering.  One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge – or a shortcut – to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.

You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”

In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.

Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.

In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.

Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.

And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.

Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.

Making Friends From Enemies

There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.

Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.

It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.

But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.

Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.

“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.

Sean Malone is the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
July 4, 2017
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Academics like to say that we teach “critical thinking” without thinking too critically about what it means to think critically.

Being Critical, Not Thinking Critically 

Too often in practice, people equate critical thinking with merely being skeptical of whatever they hear. Or they will interpret it to mean that, when confronted with someone who says something that they disagree with, they either:

a) stop listening (and perhaps then start shouting),

b) find a way to squeeze the statement into our pre-existing belief system (if we can’t we stop thinking about it), or

c) attempt to “educate” the speaker about why their statement or belief system is flawed. When this inevitably fails we stop speaking to them, at least about the subject in question.

Ultimately, each of these responses leaves us exactly where we started, and indeed stunts our intellectual growth. I confess that I do a, b, and c far too often (except I don’t really shout that much).

To me, critical thinking means, at a minimum, questioning a belief system (especially my own) by locating the premises underlying a statement or conclusion, whether we agree with it or not, and asking:

1) whether or not the thinker’s conclusions follow from those premises,

2) whether or not those premises are “reasonable,” or

3) whether or not what I consider reasonable is “reasonable” and so on.

This exercise ranges from hard to excruciatingly uncomfortable – at least when it comes to examining my own beliefs. (I’ve found that if I dislike a particular conclusion it’s hard to get myself to rigorously follow this procedure; but if I like a conclusion it’s often even harder.)

Teaching Critical Thinking

Fortunately, people have written articles and books that offer good criticisms of most of my current beliefs. Of course, it’s then up to me to read them, which I don’t do often enough. And so, unfortunately, I don’t think critically as much as I should…except when I teach economics.

It’s very important, for example, for a student to critically question her teacher, but that’s radically different from arguing merely to win. Critical thinking is argument for the sake of better understanding, and if you do it right, there are no losers, only winners.

Once in a while, a student speaks up in class and catches me in a contradiction – perhaps I’ve confused absolute advantage with comparative advantage – and that’s an excellent application of genuine critical thinking. As a result we’re both now thinking more clearly. But when a student or colleague begins a statement with something like “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I believe…” that person may be trying to be critical (of me) but not in (or of) their thinking.

It may not be the best discipline for this, but I believe economics does a pretty good job of teaching critical thinking in the sense of #1 (logical thinking). Good teachers of economics will also strategically address #2 (evaluating assumptions), especially if they know something about the history of economic ideas.

Economics teachers with a philosophical bent will sometimes address #3 but only rarely (otherwise they’d be trading off too much economic content for epistemology). In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to “get to the bottom” of what is “reasonable reasonableness” and so on because what ultimately is reasonable may, for logical or practical reasons, always lie beyond our grasp.

I could be wrong about that or indeed any of this. But I do know that critical thinking is a pain in the neck. And that I hope is a step in the right direction.

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Envy Kills – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Envy Kills – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
June 25, 2017
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The gunman who attempted to slay Republican Congressmen at a baseball practice had a Facebook feed. Before it was deleted, everyone could read his vitriolic attacks on the rich, his denunciations of capitalism and corporate culture, his calls for high taxes and wealth redistribution, and, of course, his push for Bernie Sanders to be the ruler of us all. We all know the litany of gripes that drove him.

And yet, when the folks at National Public Radio were reflecting on his motives, the hosts declined to speculate. They feigned to be completely mystified how a happy, charming, good soul such as this could have turned to violence. Had the tables been turned – say an alt-right agitator had shot up a civil-rights protest – there would have been no question about the motivation.

One reason for the failure to connect the dots here concerns the loss of awareness of the destructive effects of envy. When was the last time you heard a sermon against it or observed a media figure casually recognizing its evils? Condemnation of envy as a motivating force for the destruction of life and property has nearly entirely vanished from the culture. This is probably because so much of modern public policy is based on it and depends on encouraging it. What was once one of the seven “deadly sins” is now a baked-in part of our public ethos.

What Is Envy? 

Let’s return to the classic understanding of what envy is. It is part of the general vice of looking negatively upon the success of others. It is different from mere covetousness. To be covetous means to desire something that is not yours to have. It is also different from jealousy, which means to look upon the success of others and wish it were yours too. Jealousy can lead to emulation and that can be good. It is not the same as zeal, which is to feel inspiration from the good fortune of another to adapt your own life to also experience good fortune. (This commentary is taken straight from St. Thomas Aquinas.)

Envy is distinct from all these. It observes the excellence of others and desires it to stop. It sees the fortune of another and aspires to punish it. Envy is actively destructive of another’s successes as an end in itself. It is not even the case that the realization of envy brings happiness to the person who wants to harm others. It merely achieves the goal of satisfying the anger you feel when looking upon the happiness of others. It tears down. It harms. It hurts. It crushes, smashes, and kills. It begins with resentment against others’ achievements and ends in the infliction of personal harm.

To review, you notice a nice house. To say, “that very house should be mine,” is to be covetous. To say, “I want to buy a house like that,” stems from jealousy which leads to emulation. To say, “I aspire to a life in which I can afford a house like that,” is zeal. Envy is to say: “I want to burn down that house.”

Envy is a ubiquitous problem but it is not felt by everyone. Let’s say you have a person with a naturally aspirational personality. He or she looks at life as a trajectory of opportunities for success; it is a matter of will, intelligence, and creativity, and he or she believes in all those things. There is no room for envy in this person’s heart. The success of another serves as inspiration and drive to perform, not tear down.

But let’s say another person has no such outlook. He or she imagines himself to be intellectually limited, unskilled, uncreative, bound by a restricted personality or a lack of will. In this case, life seems like a series of routines not to be disrupted, and begins to resent others who pass him or her by in the struggle to achieve. This person is ripe for feelings of envy, that is, the desire to harm others who perform better than their peers.

Every successful person has to deal with the problem of encountering the envy of others. You might begin your career thinking that your excellence will be rewarded. You find that it sometimes or often is. At the same time, it incites envy as well, and you have to deal with knives in the back, hidden attempts to undermine you, plots and conspiracies to stop you from advancing. It is a sad fact but a reality every successful person has to deal with.

Medieval mythology described envy as the “green-eyed monster” because it looks at any sign of wealth with an aspiration to bring an end to it. The legend of the “evil eye” goes back to antiquity and denotes the profound fear all people have felt concerning envy. In Judaism, the rabbis taught to favor the “good eye” which calls for us to rejoice in the fortune of others, while the evil eye is the opposite impulse.

The world’s most famous anti-envy charm comes from Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. It is the Nazar, a glass eye in blue, black, and white. The idea of this charm is that it looks back at the evil eye and neutralizes its influence in your life. So far as anyone knows, it originated in the 15th and 16th century, which is not a surprise given the rising wealth of the Ottoman Empire. The merchants felt envy, and, as wealth grew, so did everyone else. This culture learned that popular hatred of wealth was something to fear, because it truly threatened the basis of people’s livelihoods. Even today, you see the Nazar in the cars, homes, boats, and keychains of average people. Even the Istanbul airport features a huge Nazar above the baggage claim.

The Politics of Envy

At some point in the 20th century, we normalized envy as a political idea. Down with the rich! His success must be punished! The 1% must be pillaged! Redistribute the wealth! All these ideas trace to an ancient idea that was widely seen not as a virtue or a good motivation but rather a socially destructive sin.

Indeed there is a burgeoning academic literature that seeks to rehabilitate envy as a motivator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It leads people to oppose unfairness and inequality, and hence builds the kinds of political institutions that many progressives favor. To be sure, there are good reasons to be upset and yell at the immorality of unjustly acquired wealth, but keep in mind that the problem here is not the wealth as such but the means of acquisition.

Real envy makes no distinction: it is unhinged loathing that ends in destruction. It seems like an implausible thing to do, take a sin and convert it to a political virtue. But there is a hidden truth here that people are unable to face: modern political institutions are in fact built on an ancient vice, institutionalized and unleashed.

Envy can seem relatively benign when it is embodied in political institutions. This is why Bernie Sanders can imagine himself as a preacher not of violence but of peace. “I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said of the gunman on the baseball field. “Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society….”

But what about whipping up masses of people who shout for the violence of the central government to loot and pillage people merely because they are wealthy? Some forms of violence are apparently acceptable.

If you teach with every speech and every article to sow hatred and encourage people to blame others’ successes for their own plight, you are playing with fire. Sometimes the seemingly benign veneer is torn off and this ends in bloodshed.

Both sides of the great ideological splits of our time are rooted in vices. While we are quick to recognize the evil of race and religious hatred, we do not like to think about the insidious effects unleashed by hatred of wealth and success. Maybe it is time for the Nazar to make its way from the Ottoman region to our own. We need some protection from the evil eye that modern politics is working daily to unleash.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong – Article by Dan Sanchez

What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong – Article by Dan Sanchez

The New Renaissance Hat
Dan Sanchez
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One of Saturday Night Live’s most popular skits in the early 90s was a mock self-help show called “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley.” Smalley, played by now-Senator Al Franken, would begin each show by reciting into the mirror, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me.”

This was a spoof of the “self-esteem movement,” which in the 80s had been all the rage. In that decade, self-esteem became a hot topic for motivational speakers and almost a book genre unto itself. In 1986, California even established a self-esteem “State Task Force.” But by the next decade, the movement had degenerated into an easy late-night punchline. Even today, Smalley’s simpering smile is the kind of image that the term “self-esteem” evokes for many.

Generation Barney

The self-esteem movement is also widely blamed for its influence on American schools and families. In the name of building self-esteem, teachers and parents showered children with effusive, unconditional praise. In the name of protecting self-esteem, kids were sheltered from any criticism or adverse consequences. The sugary rot spread to children’s television as well. Many of today’s young adults were raised on Barney the Dinosaur, who gushed with “feel-good” affirmations just as sappy as Smalley’s.

I am reminded of a moment from my own education career in the early 2000s. I had designed a classroom game for preschoolers, and one of my colleagues, a veteran early childhood educator, objected that my game involved competition and winners. “Your game can’t have a winner, because that means other kids will be losers,” she explained.

According to critics, this kind of mollycoddling has yielded a millennial generation full of emotionally fragile young adults who, in the workplace, expect praise and affirmation simply for showing up, and who can’t cope with (much less adapt to) constructive criticism. It is also partially blamed for the rise of politically-correct university “snowflakes” (aka “crybullies”) and their petulant demands for “safe spaces” on campus.

An Unknown Ideal

Ironically, these criticisms would be heartily endorsed by the father of the self-esteem movement. The whole thing was kicked off by an influential 1969 book titled The Psychology of Self-Esteem, written by Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014), a psychotherapist and one-time colleague and lover of Ayn Rand. It was the first of a long series of books by Branden about self-esteem, which included The Disowned Self (1971), Honoring the Self (1983), How To Raise Your Self-Esteem (1987), and The Power of Self-Esteem (1992).

In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994), his definitive book on the subject, Branden expressed deep dissatisfaction with prevailing discussions of the concept, especially after the movement became an explosive fad in the 80s. In that period, the concept of self-esteem was distorted by what Branden called “the oversimplifications and sugar-coatings of pop psychology.” Branden declared that:

“I do not share the belief that self-esteem is a gift we have only to claim (by reciting affirmations, perhaps). On the contrary, its possession over time represents an achievement.” [Emphasis added here and below.]

As Branden understood and explained it, self-esteem was an action-oriented, tough-minded concept. If Branden had been Stuart Smalley’s therapist, he would have advised him to stop mouthing empty self-compliments into the mirror and instead to start building real self-esteem through deep reflection and concrete action.

Branden especially deplored how badly education reformers were getting self-esteem wrong. He wrote:

“We do not serve the healthy development of young people when we convey that self-esteem may be achieved by reciting “I am special” every day, or by stroking one’s own face while saying ‘I love me’…”

He elaborated that:

“I have stressed that ‘feel good’ notions are harmful rather than helpful. Yet if one examines the proposals offered to teachers on how to raise students’ self-esteem, many are the kind of trivial nonsense that gives self-esteem a bad name, such as praising and applauding a child for virtually everything he or she does, dismissing the importance of objective accomplishments, handing out gold stars on every possible occasion, and propounding an ‘entitlement’ idea of self-esteem that leaves it divorced from both behavior and character. One of the consequences of this approach is to expose the whole self-esteem movement in the schools to ridicule.”

Branden further clarified:

“Therefore, let me stress once again that when I write of self-efficacy or self-respect, I do so in the context of reality, not of feelings generated out of wishes or affirmations or gold stars granted as a reward for showing up. When I talk to teachers, I talk about reality-based self-esteem. Let me say further that one of the characteristics of persons with healthy self-esteem is that they tend to assess their abilities and accomplishments realistically, neither denying nor exaggerating them.”

Other-Esteem

Branden also criticized those who:

“…preferred to focus only on how others might wound one’s feelings of worth, not how one might inflict the wound oneself. This attitude is typical of those who believe one’s self-esteem is primarily determined by other people.”

Indeed, what most “self-esteem” advocates fail to understand is that other-reliant “self-esteem” is a contradiction in terms. Far from building self-esteem, many of the counselors, teachers, and parents of yesteryear obstructed its growth by getting kids hooked on a spiritual I.V. drip of external validation. Instead of self-esteem, this created a dependence on “other-esteem.”

It is no wonder then that today we are faced with the (often exaggerated) phenomenon of young, entitled, high-maintenance validation-junkies in the classroom and the workplace. Their self-esteem has been crippled by being, on the one hand, atrophied by the psychic crutches of arbitrary authoritarian approval, and, on the other hand, repeatedly fractured by the psychic cudgels of arbitrary authoritarian disapproval.

Almost entirely neglected has been the stable middle ground of letting children learn to spiritually stand, walk, and run on their own: to build the strength of their self-esteem through the experience of self-directed pursuits, setting their own standards, and adapting to the natural consequences of the real world.

Branden also noted that self-esteem is not promoted by:

“…identifying self-worth with membership in a particular group (“ethnic pride”) rather than with personal character. Let us remember that self-esteem pertains to that which is open to our volitional choice. It cannot properly be a function of the family we were born into, or our race, or the color of our skin, or the achievements of our ancestors. These are values people sometimes cling to in order to avoid responsibility for achieving authentic self-esteem. They are sources of pseudo self-esteem. Can one ever take legitimate pleasure in any of these values? Of course. Can they ever provide temporary support for fragile, growing egos? Probably. But they are not substitutes for consciousness, responsibility, or integrity. They are not sources of self-efficacy and self-respect. They can, however, become sources of self-delusion.”

This helps to explain the emotional fragility of young people obsessed with “identity politics,” especially the perverse pride in group victimhood that pervades the campus left. It also speaks to the agitation and resentment of today’s crop of white nationalists and other right-wing “identitarians.” As Ayn Rand wrote:

“The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a “tribal self-esteem” by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe.”

Authentic self-esteem promotes, not codependency and fragility, but independence, enterprise, resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset: exactly the character traits that individuals, young and old, need more of in today’s economy and political climate.

It is nothing short of tragic that the confusions of the so-called self-esteem movement have turned an indispensable concept into an object of ridicule and blame. Far from being the source of our problems, self-esteem is the missing solution.

dan-sanchezDan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writings are collected at DanSanchez.me.

This article was originally published on FEE.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Trump’s Ego Is Actually Too Small – Article by Dan Sanchez

Trump’s Ego Is Actually Too Small – Article by Dan Sanchez

The New Renaissance Hat
Dan Sanchez
******************************

Long before Donald Trump became a controversial political figure, he was a household name famous for his phenomenal ego.

He first rose to fame as a larger-than-life real-estate tycoon. By cultivating the media, Trump became the poster boy for the gilded, go-go 80s: a brash, ostentatious capitalist antihero who plastered his name on skyscrapers, plazas, hotels, casinos, and resorts. At one point he even sought to rename the Empire State Building after himself, calling it the Trump Empire State Building Tower Apartments.

And in the 2000s, with his hit reality show The Apprentice, he became the godfather of the “famous for being famous” celebrity culture of that period.

Even now that he is President of the United States, his public persona is characterized, not only by his filter-free utterances and his divisive policy positions, but by his egomania: his braggadocio and his “I-alone-can-fix-it” self-importance.

His fans would disagree, but for the sake of argument, let’s grant that his ego is indeed a character flaw. Is the problem really that his ego is too big? Or is it actually too small?

The Fragile Self

As Nathaniel Branden, the late psychotherapist who pioneered the psychology of self-esteem, once wrote on his blog:

“…sometimes when people lack adequate self-esteem they fall into arrogance, boasting, and grandiosity as a defense mechanism—a compensatory strategy. Their problem is not that they have too big an ego but that they have too small a one.”

And in his book Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Branden wrote:

“Sometimes self-esteem is confused with boasting or bragging or arrogance; but such traits reflect not too much self-esteem, but too little; they reflect a lack of self-esteem. Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a comparative standard. Their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else.”

If anything, Trump is not self-oriented enough, but rather far too other-oriented. He is unhealthily preoccupied with receiving from others favorable comparisons to others. This is exhibited in his tendency toward vanity: his fixation on receiving due credit from the media and the public for the relative size of his hands, of his crowds, and of his “ratings” (as if his presidency was just an extension of his career as a reality TV star).

It is a fragile ego, and not a strong one, that so urgently needs external props.

Such weakness of ego is especially dangerous in a commander-in-chief of a superpower’s armed forces. The media exacerbates that danger by only giving Trump the adulation he craves whenever he threatens or attacks “rogue nations.” As Gene Healy wrote after Trump authorized a missile strike against the Syrian regime:

“His drive-by bombing has already earned him strange new respect from neoconservative #NeverTrump-ers, who appear to believe that the mercurial celebreality billionaire is at his least frightening when he’s literally blowing things up. Centrist pundit Fareed Zakaria echoed that grotesque logic on CNN: ‘I think Donald Trump became president of the United States [that] night.’

As much as he disdains the media establishment, Trump revels in this sort of praise. It may not be long before he free-associates about it in interviews: “my airstrikes – which got terrific ratings, by the way….” And when the glow fades, he may be tempted to light it up again.”

Collectivist Crutches

Some of Trump’s biggest fans also evince fragile egos, especially the growing fringe of white nationalists.

As Branden wrote:

“It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”

And as Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness:

“The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a “tribal self-esteem” by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe.”

Of course, it is not only the political right that suffers from ego-deficiency. The identity-politics left, like the “identitarian” right, is also preoccupied with collectivist comparisons. The left dwells on an inverted sort of superiority based on group victimhood. Social justice warriors participate in the “Oppression Olympics” as a way to win what Rand called “tribal self-esteem” to make up for their lack of individual self-esteem: to shore up their small, weak egos.

But since the individual self is the only true self, “tribal self-esteem” is a poor substitute for the real thing. A spiritual diet that relies on such ersatz fare results in malnourished egos, as expressed in the pained, frantic screeching of many campus protestors.

These millennial “snowflakes” are condemned as narcissists. But if anything, they too are excessively other-oriented: obsessed with their group identity (defined by their similarities with others), with the inferior societal position of their group compared to other groups, and with receiving due recognition from others about the social injustice of that state of affairs.

The Strong Self

Branden characterized self-esteem as “the immune system of consciousness, providing resistance, strength, and a capacity for regeneration.” He wrote:

“The question is sometimes asked, ‘Is it possible to have too much self-esteem?’ No, it is not; no more than it is possible to have too much physical health or too powerful an immune system.”

The ugliest aspects of today’s politics largely stem from a problem of emaciated egos, not overweening ones. If we would but reclaim what Branden called “the disowned self,” we would become more enterprising and resilient, less emotionally needy, less prone to wallow in resentment, less reliant on demagogues offering political solutions to economic frustrations at the expense of others, less dependent on group identity as our source of individual self-worth, and, contrary to caricatures of individualism, more civilized and sociable.

dan-sanchezDan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writings are collected at DanSanchez.me.

This article was originally published on FEE.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

The New Renaissance HatCamilo Gómez
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With the recent rise to prominence of right-wing populist parties across Europe, it’s refreshing that Iceland has remained largely immune to such nationalistic rhetoric. On the continent, figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalizing on what political scientists are calling a third wave of European populism that began after the international financial crisis of 2008. These parties are characterized by their anti-immigrant, and specifically, anti-Muslim sentiments. They fashion themselves the “protectors” of their homelands’ traditional culture against cosmopolitan globalism.

Yet, tiny Iceland has resisted this dirty brand of politics because of the rise of social movements that challenged the power structure of the Icelandic political establishment after the financial crisis of 2008. Unlike in other European countries, these social movements transformed themselves into a political movements, filling the vacuum of traditional center-right and center-left political parties, while also preventing far-right political projects from succeeding.

For starters, Iceland is a relatively young country that only became independent in 1944. It is a parliamentary democracy, based on coalitions because the Althing (parliament) has 63 members but a single party rarely has a clear majority. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland has been governed by the right for most of its history, either from the liberal conservative Independence Party or the center-right agrarian Progressive Party.

This changed after the international financial crisis of 2008, which led all three Icelandic commercial banks to default. The crisis generated massive anger as Icelanders didn’t know what was going to happen with their savings. This led to massive protests that culminated in the resignation of the Prime Minister who was a member of the Independence Party.  Consequently, in April 2009, a left-wing coalition by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement formed a government together for the first time in the country’s history.

This grassroots activism led to the appearance of outsider political projects like the now defunct Best Party, which started as political satire but ended with its leader Jón Gnarr winning the mayoral election in Reykjavík in 2010. More importantly, grassroots activism was further encouraged by the Panama Papers, which revealed that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and his wife, had an undisclosed account in an offshore tax haven. The ensuing protests became the largest in Iceland’s history, and made the Prime Minister resign. This led the way for the Pirate Party — a loose collection of anarchists, hackers and libertarians — to rise in prominence. Because of the Pirates, the national discussion shifted to a more socially tolerant narrative of a society willing to be open to the world.

Thus, Iceland’s 2016 elections presented very different options from the relatively traditional Independence Party and Progressive Party or the Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement. In addition to the Pirate Party,  voters could also choose from the Bright Party, an eclectic socially liberal party, and the Reform Party, a new liberal party formed by defectors of the Independence Party. The elections led to a center-right coalition between the Independence Party, the Reform Party and the Bright Party.

Rather than blaming immigrants for their problems, Icelanders confronted the political class and created new parties that didn’t resemble the wave of far-right populism. Now even the government realizes that Iceland needs immigrants, skilled and unskilled, to fulfill the demand in different aspects of the Icelandic economy. Contrary to other countries in Europe, and despite its size, Iceland had been willing to receive refugees, and the number of immigrants in Iceland keeps growing year by year. In times of demagoguery, Iceland remains friendly to foreigners. One can only hope that the world learn from this small country that foreigners bring prosperity.

Camilo Gómez is a blogger at The Mitrailleuse and the host of Late Night Anarchy podcast. He can be found in Twitter at @camilomgn. He is a Young Voices Advocate.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.