Note for the Fourth of July

The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.
Neal Stephenson

799 years ago today

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
– Magna Carta, 15 June 1215.

798 years ago today

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Magna Carta, 15 June 1215.

Brilliant geostrategic summary

How Geography Explains the United States – By Aaron David Miller | Foreign Policy: “Canadians, Mexicans, and fish. That trio of neighbors has given the United States an unprecedented degree of security, a huge margin for error in international affairs, and the luxury of largely unfettered development.”

Reminds me of classes as an undergraduate at Georgetown.

Moral Tastebuds and Culture War

Jonathan Haidt’s theory of moral foundations is one of the most interesting approaches to the ongoing social strife that I can remember. Here’s a basic explanation; read the whole article for an application as the battle space of the culture war shifts from the social to the economic. There’s even a fascinating WWII analogy!

To make sense of these cultural variations, I created a theory in 2003 called “moral-foundations theory.” My goal was to specify the “taste buds” of the moral sense. Every human being has the same five taste receptors – tiny structures on the tongue specialized for detecting five classes of molecules, which we experience as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Yet our food preferences aren’t dictated just by our tongues. Rather, they depend heavily on our cultures, each of which has constructed its own cuisine.

In the same way, I aimed to identify the innate psychological systems that were given to us all by evolution, and that each culture uses to construct its unique moral systems. For example, you’ll never find a human culture that makes no use of reciprocity and has no conception of fairness and cheating. Fairness is a really good candidate for being a moral taste bud, yet cultures vary greatly in how they implement fairness. Consider this quote from the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient Babylonian legal text: “If a builder builds a house and does not construct it properly, and the building collapses and kills the owner, the builder shall be put to death. If it kills the owner’s son, the builder’s son shall be put to death.” You can see the psychology of fairness here, but this is not quite the way we’d implement it.

Drawing on the work of many anthropologists (particularly Richard Shweder at the University of Chicago) and many evolutionary biologists and psychologists, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that there are six best candidates for being the taste buds of the moral mind: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

AGW panic ending with a whimper

I shall look forward to the future progress of this with considerable interest; many people from across the spectrum have taken notice of the Economist piece.

AGW panic ending with a whimper – Eric S. Raymond

The Economist, which (despite a recent decline) remains probably the best news magazine in the English language, now admits that (a) global average temperature has been flat for 15 years even as CO2 levels have been rising rapidly, (b) surface temperatures are at the lowest edge of the range predicted by IPCC climate models, (c) on current trends, they will soon fall clean outside and below the model predictions, (c) estimates of climate sensitivity need revising downwards, and (d) something, probably multiple things, is badly wrong with AGW climate models.

The Great Experiment – NY Times

Anybody can form a perfect Norway, a nation of five million people. But there is no country on earth with our size, our racial diversity, our mix of religions that is close to bringing most of its citizens the rights and comforts of the modern age.

The overall view of the column is more positive than I tend to be, but this is a wonderful line and quite true.

The Great Experiment – NY Times

David Brooks – Rules for Craftsmen

The governing craftsman has to be able to know how many votes each side possesses. He has to avoid the narcissistic question: What do I want? He has to ask instead: Given this correlation of forces, what is the landscape offering me?

Read the whole thing; this is the essence of governance, nearly all of the time.

David Brooks – Rules for Craftsmen

Paper of record or church bulletin of the left?

This is one of the wonderful things about a mainstream press. It can help promote civil discourse, rational thinking and an improved society (I thought this recent debate led by a New York Times religion writer was a good step in the right direction). When the paper of record becomes a particularly virulent propaganda arm for one side in the culture war, those things don’t happen — and I hope we can agree no matter which side we take on hot-button cultural issues.

Paper of record or church bulletin of the left?