Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Margin of Error

Sorry, pet peeve time.

Reason, discussing Chris Christie’s candidacy:

Not only did Christie not get the traditional “bump” in polling that candidates get when they first officially announced, he’s dropped from 4 percent to 2 percent in a Monmouth University poll over that time period. With a 5 percent margin of error, it means Christie’s support could be at 0 percent.

He could be at 0 percent? No, that’s not what that means. I suppose I should give credit for not saying he could be at -3 percent, but clearly he can’t be at 0 percent unless the 2 percent in the Monmouth University poll were just flat lying.

He could be at nearly 0 percent, yes. Those 2 percent of a very small poll could be the only people in America who support Chris Christie’s presidency. But that’s still non-zero.

It’s like a “statistical tie”. If one candidate is polling at 30% and another at 20% in a poll with a 5% margin of error, that doesn’t mean the two are tied. It means that there is a VERY SMALL probability that they are tied, but that there is a very high probability that one candidate has a sizable lead.

I understand that in America’s public education system and Kardashian-driven pop culture, we’ve reached a state where most people think numbers are hard. But they’re not this hard, people!

Humans Are Pack Animals Who Pretend To Reason

We think we’re soooo smart.

Humans. We think we come up with our political positions through reasoned analysis, and then join the political party that’s aligned to our beliefs. We’re ideologically honest and consistent. We’re dispassionate referees looking at evidence and argument and making informed choices.

And we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, right?
The truth is that this is all a bunch of bull. We’re pack animals. Human reason has done amazing things for us as a species, but we’re still pack animals imbued with an “us vs them” mentality, and that continually trumps the weak “reason” we rely upon.

I was struck by this by two posts I’ve read recently. The first, of course, was Kevin’s post from yesterday. It was a great post about the cultural and religious differences between the South and the rest of America. Two passages are directly relevant to what I want to discuss today:

Another interesting thing about Southern culture is how it tends to leave its mark on surrounding cultures. There are reasons why in particular heavily Catholic south Louisiana, pre-dominately Catholic Hispanics in Texas, and the Catholic Cuban-American community in Miami are more conservative than Catholics in New England and the Midwest. Those Southern values of individualism, hard work, personal responsibility and family values have rubbed off on those communities.

Here’s an exit question: do you think many secularists replace religion with a belief in the state and social justice and that’s why they’re hostile to limited government? Let us know in the comments.

In the first passage, he points out that seemingly disparate groups (Catholics in the South vs Protestants in the South) frequently find themselves having more in common that what should be clearly defined allegiances (Catholics, regardless of location). To me, this suggests a more fundamental principle at work–we align our beliefs to feel comfortable with those around us, not based upon objective reason.

His second passage suggests the hubris of human reason. He’s asking whether secularists “replace” religion with belief in the State, and this explains why atheists tend to fall on the left side of the spectrum.

As for that second passage, let me quote Warren @ Coyote Blog, about how political forces must align opposite to each other–highly polarized, in fact–by simple explanations of group dynamics:

So here is my theory to explain many party political positions: Consider an issue where one party is really passionate about something. The other party might tend to initially agree. But over time there is going to be pressure for the other party to take the opposite stand, whether it is consistent with some sort of party ideological framework or not. After 9/11, the Republicans staked out a position that they thought that Islam as practiced in several countries was evil and dangerous and in some cases needed to be subdued by force of arms. In my framework, this pushed Democrats into becoming defenders of modern Islam, even at the same time that domestic politics was pushing them to be critical of Christian religion as it affected social policy (i.e. abortion and later gay marriage). Apparently, the more obvious position of “yeah, we agree much of the Islamic world is illiberal and violent, but we don’t think we can or should fix it by arms” is too subtle a position to win elections. I fear we have gotten to a point where if either party is for something, they have to be in favor of mandating it, and if they are against something, they have to be in favor of using the full force of government to purge it from this Earth. And the other party will default to the opposite position.

Expecting most partisans to be ideologically consistent is expecting pack mentality to be trumped by reason. The fact that it rarely is suggests that being a member of a pack is such as strong emotional evolutionary drive that people will reason themselves into other positions rather than fight the orthodoxy.
You see this consistently in politics. When Bush was in power, Republicans dismissed concern over warrantless wiretaps as the ravings of civil libertarians who were more worries about the feelings of terrorists than the safety of our nation. Put Obama in the White House, and suddenly it’s government spying on our most treasured private secrets! When Bush was in power, the anti-war left was in the streets, demonstrating about our illegal war. Put Obama in the White House, and the left goes silent while suddenly the right slams Obama for his actions on Libya.

In these cases, we’re more worried about solidarity with our pack than adherence to ideological consistency. Now, that’s not everyone. There are outliers. There are still hawks on the right that want Obama going into the Middle East guns a-blazin’. There are still those on the left more willing to cheer Edward Snowden than Obama on government intelligence. But it’s amazing how quiet those folks are today.

Most people, however, are blind to this inconsistency. They find rationalizations to change their position to become consistent with the position of their pack. They smooth out outlying positions by segmenting themselves into one part of their political party (i.e. they’re a Conservative, not a Republican, or they’re an Environmental Democrat, not a class warrior). But over time, it’s amazing how closely their beliefs tend to mirror those of their party.

So, back to Kevin’s question: do secularists replace religion with the State?

I think they do, but not consciously. Going back to Coyote’s point about people defining themselves in opposition, what you’ve seen in the Republican party is that Republicans have become “the party of the religious conservatives”. Secularists look at that party and say to themselves, “I am not like them. I am not a member of that pack.” They seek out alternative packs. For some, who are much more stridently in favor of small government, they end up in the libertarian camp. For most, though, they end up falling in with Democrats. Democrats seem so much more like themselves.

Why are Democrats the secular party, despite the fact that they’re overwhelmingly Christian just like the Republicans? Well, as Coyote states, when the other party tries to own religion, you take the opposite position. Republicans are loudly the party of the “traditional Christian values”. Democrats may still be Christian, but they don’t wear religion on their sleeve quite so heavily.

So those who are turned off by religion jump in with the Democrats. From there, the cognitive dissonance of identifying with leftists on religious grounds works its magic until they slowly start coming around on other issues. They start seeing Republicans as not as compassionate as their new comrades. They start believing that because their new friends view “compassion” as being in favor of government redistribution of wealth, they start to believe in redistribution. In short, they start aligning with the people who surround them and actively distancing themselves from those against them. To quote Kevin, those leftist values have “rubbed off on them”.

The same thing happens the other direction. After 9/11, there was a serious rift in the Democratic party between those who were more security-oriented and those who weren’t. Republicans already owned the “strong national defense” brand, and many Democrats started to break with their old party on that front. What happened? You end up with people like Dennis Miller, who was a leftist prior to 9/11, ended up on right wing talk radio. Was he always a conservative in disguise? No. But the issue of high importance to him [fighting terrorists] caused him to change pack, and he couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance of not accepting the pack’s other beliefs as well. Christopher Hitchens is another good example. He broke with the Democrats over Islam, and over time started finding himself more and more in agreement with Republicans on other matters. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

Even libertarians are not immune. We like to believe we’re free-thinkers, and we certainly consider the circular firing squad to be our favorite pastime. But the libertarian purity tests have the aggregate effect that we end up defining ourselves as far to the extreme as possible to distance ourselves from “the Coke/Pepsi parties”. As a result, people end up describing themselves as “small-l libertarians” or “libertarian-leaning Republicans” because we’ve defined our brand to be so extreme that many are not willing to associate with our pack. I was once told–by Eric, the founder of The Liberty Papers, no less–that I seemed “too normal” for libertarianism.

Going back to Kevin’s points about religion, this is also the case with atheism. So many people who don’t believe in god call themselves agnostics or “spiritual”. Atheism as a brand has a reputation defining itself as anti-religious, and that brand’s reputation is heavy on defiance, non-conformity, and anger. People are scared of that brand, don’t see themselves as part of that pack, so they shy away from the label entirely. Niches, whether political or religious, tend to become insular and more extreme as they define themselves opposite moderation.

So, what’s the takeaway? Well, it’s first and foremost to recognize who and what we are. You can’t solve a problem unless you identify that it’s a problem at all. Pack mentality is one of the key attributes of confirmation bias. It’s one of the key reasons we engage in appeal to motive in arguments–we fundamentally see “them” as being motivated by everything that’s evil and wrong with the world while excusing our side as well-meaning even when wrong. And when we follow Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, we are explicitly allowing pack allegiance to trump ideological consistency. We value “our side” winning more than we value the truth.

We have natural tendencies towards pack mentality. This is part of our evolutionary biology. But it’s dangerous, and doesn’t have any place in the modern, multicultural, globally interconnected world in which we live today. We need to recognize it and guard against it. Because when you actually sit down and break bread with the people who seem so different to you, you find out that we’re really not as different as we seem. We need to come around to a world that’s not “us vs them”, because when it really comes down to it, it’s all just “us”.

Epic Takedown Of “You Didn’t Build That”

you didn't build that

Over at Cafe Hayek is a must read takedown of the entire “YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT!” charge.

Don Boudreaux lays out a cohesive, detailed, and very compelling case against the entire mentality behind “you didn’t build that.” In one sense, the charge is true. Whether public or private, the infrastructure and the products of an entire worldwide market in goods and services is a key enabler to allow entrepreneurs to be successful. This includes things like government roads, education systems, etc. This is true, and not really a point of argument.

But the “you didn’t build that” charge takes it one step further and places the credit for successful entrepreneurship at the feet of all that infrastructure. If this were the case, entrepreneurship would be easy. But it’s not. It’s what entrepreneurs do to create value above and beyond all that infrastructure that makes them successful. And that’s a story that isn’t well-written anywhere–until now.

I try to set a high bar for linking off-site, since I so rarely post. I do it when I see something that really deserves a read, and this post cleared that bar easily.

The Moon Is A Harsh Movie


So I heard that they’re going to make a movie out of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

I was, of course, immediately thrown into unabashed excitement. But then I thought about it. And my excitement became thoroughly bashed.

I’d like to think Hollywood can make a good movie out of this. I mean, I don’t expect any Professor Bernardo de la Paz soliloquies about rational anarchy. Just like you can’t make a good movie with a 40-page John Galt speech*, some of what de la Paz goes into will be way over the heads of the typical audience member. It’s not that I want a Heinlein fanboy or hardcore libertarian directing this movie, because that’s one way that you can turn an awesome book into a preachy, boring position piece.

Still, there are some pretty interesting things in the book. It’s the book that actually gives a realistic account of what anarchy might actually look like. A scene where some young hooligans who were slighted by a tourist pick a random guy out of a diner to adjudicate their “case” against him? I could see that actually playing well on screen, and introducing people to the idea of polycentric law at the same time.

And TANSTAAFL? I’ve hoped for years that this concept would catch on.

But then, I remember what happened to Starship Troopers.

And I get very scared. This book is about themes that *should* resonate with everyone. Freedom. Self-determination. A “powerless” colony being plundered for their wealth trying to fight back. And I know they’re going to F it up.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe they’ll get it right. And maybe cats will start walking through walls.
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Brad’s Beer Review: Falling Rock Tap House, Denver CO

So, my job took me to Denver early this week. When I go to Denver, I usually try to manage two things:

  1. Visit my co-contributor here at The Liberty Papers, Stephen Littau.
  2. Visit my favorite beer bar, the Falling Rock Tap House.

As it stands, I often get to do both at once, as I did this time. Of course, Stephen and I were so lost in conversation that I didn’t even think to have the waitress snap a shot of us enjoying our time there, so all I can offer is their sign outside.

The Falling Rock Tap House has a motto: No Crap On Tap. And boy, do they ever live up to that motto. They have ~70 taps, and about ~70 bottled beers, and you won’t find Bud, Miller, or Coors on draft*.

That said, extensive draft lists aren’t uncommon these days. What’s particularly impressive about the Falling Rock is that they really go to lengths to have a very well-curated, interesting beer list. About half of their offerings are local CO beers, with the rest being the best-of-the-best of what they can get their hands on nationwide. Yes, you will frequently find Russian River, Dogfish Head, Jolly Pumpkin, The Bruery, Lost Abbey, etc. And it doesn’t stop at the US border, with some good Belgian offerings.

In addition, while (like any bar) they have a great collection of IPAs, they are not by any stretch of the imagination limited to IPA. They carry great examples of a wide range of beer styles. They have some amazing offerings during the Great American Beer Festival (and usually have a “Beer MC” to announce what’s being tapped because they move through beer so quickly during GABF). They have a number of yearly events, with their “Dain Bramage” strong ale & barleywine festival occurring during the cold** Denver winter.

Finally, as it pertains to beer, they have one thing that many decent beer bars don’t have–servers who REALLY know beer. These aren’t waiters and waitresses that only know whether beer is dark or light. They can give well-informed descriptions and comparisons of beer. So if you’re new in town trying to figure out what obscure local Colorado beer to order, you’re in luck.

In short, these guys know their beer.

Outside of beer, they of course also offer food. I’ll be up front. The food is greasy bar food. That said, the food is extremely well-executed greasy bar food. I really like their deep-fried mushroom appetizer. It’s large button mushrooms, breaded in a mildly-spicy mix, deep-fried and served with dipping sauce. Simple? Yes. Tasty as hell? Absolutely. They make good burgers, sandwiches, wings, fries, etc.

I generally consider myself to be a “foodie”. However, that doesn’t mean food has to be fancy. It just has to be good. And Falling Rock food is good.

Last, but not least, is that Falling Rock is an excellent value. All the food is reasonably-priced, and beers are well-priced for the quality and rarity of the individual brews. Stephen and I had 5 pints between us, the fried mushroom appetizer, and each had a sandwich (a burger for him, pastrami sandwich for me). The total bill came out to ~$58. That’s very reasonable.

If you’re ever out in Denver, I highly recommend visiting the Falling Rock. And having someone like Stephen to share your meal with is even better.

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