Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Why [Most Of] You Should Vote Third-Party

So… People talk about a vote for Gary Johnson being a vote for Hillary (even though some say he poaches more Dems than Reps), and how a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump.

I mean, almost nobody is actually excited about voting FOR Trump or FOR Hillary, but they’re scared that a vote for a third party increases the odds that the anti-Christ from the other party will get elected and destroy America. So the stakes are, of course, VERY high.

But really… What is the penalty for voting third party? What is the penalty for most of the people in the US? Does a third-party vote really make a difference to the outcome?

The answer is no. And we have the Electoral College to thank(?) for that.

According to Wikipedia (I know, it’s not the MOST reliable source, but it’s close enough for government work), somewhere around 73% of Electoral Votes are basically already sewn up. Those are from states that are historically not competitive in the slightest.

From the results of presidential elections from 2004 through to 2012, a general conclusion can be reached that the Democratic and Republican parties start with a default electoral vote count of about 191 each.[8] In this scenario, the twelve competitive states are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, and North Carolina.[9]

For example, I live in California. I know flat out that Hillary is winning California. And thus Hillary has effectively already locked up California’s electoral votes simply by winning the nomination.

So a vote for Trump in California accomplishes nothing. It is a wasted vote. In fact, it’s worse than that, because it’s a vote that–should he be elected–signifies that he has broader national popular support than he does. And a vote for Hillary? Although I’d be voting for the winner of my state, again, it’s a wasted vote. And it signifies again a broader amount of national popular support than is warranted.

And in a state like Alabama, for example, the reverse is true. Trump will win Alabama handily. It’s not in play, so your vote for a major party candidate does NOT meaningfully affect the outcome.

What about a vote for Gary Johnson (or Jill Stein)? Well, even though it’s unlikely either one will win, every vote cast for either them is effectively a vote of no confidence in the major party candidates. My vote doesn’t do anything to change the likely outcome of the election, but it sends an actual message to whichever R or D wins. It sends the message that I don’t support either of them.

Of course, some will ask “what if”? What if something really strange occurs and my vote is the deciding factor in whether or not Trump wins California, or someone in Alabama is the deciding factor if Hillary wins there? My answer to that is simple: if California or Alabama are actually “in play” in 2016, it means that one candidate is winning in a landslide, and at that point not only do individual votes not matter, individual states don’t matter.

I understand the idea of voting pragmatically, of voting for the major party candidate that could possibly stop your dreaded, horrible, evil opponent from taking the Oath of Office.

But for roughly 392 Electoral Votes, your vote does NOT affect the outcome. There is NO penalty to voting third party. It’s not a vote for the opposing candidate.

So why not try it, just once? If you’re not happy with either candidate, and you don’t live in one of the dozen or so “swing states” where the individual state outcome might decide the election, vote your conscience. Unlike Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’m pretty sure a vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself on November 9th.

The Social Media Revolution–An American Spring?

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Regular readers know that I–an irregular contributor here–have long said that the power of the internet is as-yet poorly understood and mostly untapped. Sure, we’ve seen the Arab Spring, but what is the internet really going to do in America beyond providing us endless hours of cat videos?

Well, Scott Adams [of Dilbert fame] suggests that it’s broken down our electoral politics and is turning us into a direct democracy:

The media has led you to believe that this is a presidential contest between Democrats and Republicans. But Sanders is barely a real Democrat and Trump is barely a conservative Republican. If Bloomberg jumps into the race, we will have three candidates with ambiguous party affiliations. So maybe there is a more helpful way to frame this contest.

Naval Ravikant calls it The American Spring, and points out that social media has become the real conduit to power. That’s a revolution. We the People are on the brink of replacing the entrenched powers and their monied interests. If the patriots in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early primary states put both Sanders and Trump in commanding leads, they will be – in effect – firing the government. But they would also be firing the system of government that was created by the Founders. Direct democracy via social media – chaotic and ugly – is about to replace the Republic. No longer can a strong leader ignore the will of the people when it is pounding on every door and tapping on every window. The Republic was designed to give elected officials the power to decide for the people. But the elected elites have lost their legitimacy and The People are on the brink of taking back power.

I’ve said before that technology has led America to an increasingly centralized society, culture, and government.

  1. The printing press itself was the first step in creating durable broadsheet dissemination of information to a wide audience. The pen is mightier than the sword, but owning a printing press is like being the general of an army of penmen.
  2. Newspapers have followed an overwhelming consolidation and much of their news-gathering is centralized via the AP. And they had real power, because you “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
  3. The introduction of radio enabled a true real-time broadcast to allow single voices to reach much more widely than ever before.
  4. TV came along, and video truly killed the radio star. Because of the expense, consolidation into the “big 3” networks meant that the largest corporations could filter and control the presentation of information to the masses.

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“Television”. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Each step increased the flow of information. But each step also drove the control of which information would flow into a narrower and narrower group of people. But technology marches on, and the filters of broadcast media are increasingly being sidestepped, democratized, and subsumed. It started with Cable, as the cost of getting into the television business dropped dramatically, and the appearance of the 24-hour cable news station widened the number of voices in the market. But nothing has come close to becoming relevant as quickly as the internet and social media. We now see major news productions no longer driving the reporting, but rather highlighting the tweets of feet on the ground. And Presidential primary political debates are taking questions from YouTube “stars”.

The internet has been around the “mainstream” less than 20 years now… Since then, it’s basically broken or fundamentally changed multiple business models in all sorts of industries, as any unemployed former travel agent will tell you. Politically, by 2004, blogs had changed the political landscape enough to give us Rathergate. But 2004–a mere 12 years ago–only brought us the first inklings of the social media future with MySpace. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all of these hadn’t even been invented yet. Essentially the “modern” social media landscape was built in ~2006, with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and integrated with the “computer in a pocket”, the iPhone and Android devices, over the following few years. We’ve been living with it for only a decade.
The first decade of television was exciting, but raw. Everyone could tell that this was something new, and something important. Much like they can tell with the internet and social media now. It created new stars and obsoleted many former ones. It changed the world of politics. Much like internet and social media has done since. And now, as streaming video is replacing broadcast video for more and more households, and with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu becoming production companies in their own right, the traditional hold of the TV networks is breaking with it.

The “out of the blue” appearance of Ron Paul and now Bernie Sanders? Voices who have spent decades with no “mainstream” platform are now finding their audience. The growth of “outsider, anti-establishment” candidates gaining real traction? This is due to media conglomerates no longer being able to control the message and marginalize them. These candidates, rightly or wrongly, stand in stark contrast to the politicians who have been screwing us over for years while growing their own power. And can you imagine the quick changes in public opinion on the gay marriage, medical/recreational marijuana legalization fights, and civil liberties issues without a democratized communication platform like the internet? And the internet is not only domestic–it’s making these changes on a global scale.

So, what is the point? Well, it remains to be seen. We are witnessing the greatest social transformation the world has seen since at least the invention of television, but probably since the creation of “mass media” at all. We’re seeing the replacement of “broadcasting” with “narrowcasting”, or “sidecasting”, or “targetedcasting”, or “peercasting” or whatever you want to name it. But the fact is that information no longer only flows downhill from the powerful to the rest of us. Now, while each of us may individually be no more powerful than we ever once were, all of us are collectively more powerful than any individual media magnate or opinion-maker on the globe. While much of Scott Adams post goes into suggesting an idea that I don’t think will ever come to pass, the question of demolishing our system of government is well under way, whether the visible structures of government change or not.

Is this a good thing? Will it advance liberty? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly different, and the world–be it politicians, media folks, leaders of industry, etc–hasn’t quite figured out the implications of that yet.

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.

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